"" Writer's Wanderings: 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017

Books For The Road - A Good American

How could a good Englishman write a good book called A Good American? He moves to America of course. Alex George was born in England but moved to Missouri. His day job is law but it's his side job that had me reading and reading and reading.

A Good American is the story of an immigrant couple from Germany that actually land in New Orleans rather than the usual New York City. They come about the same time that my father's father's family came to America. Perhaps that is what drew me in at first. The story continues with their struggle to survive and find their place in America. They settle in a town in Missouri that thankfully has many German-speaking residents.

As the story goes on, the children are added and the restaurant they establish goes through many changes as the years go by. George is great at taking you through time and establishing the culture of the years as the family grows and develops. The challenges and the heartbreak, the joys and the discoveries keep you reading and weave you into the lives of the Meisenheimers.

Some mysteries and surprises along the way add to the interest and keep you turning pages. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through time. I'd recommend it as a great take-along to keep you occupied through your travel time. Meanwhile, I'm going to look for his next one.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Credit Limit - A Short Story

[This is a fun little story that was inspired by my stint as a florist.]                                                             
  CREDIT LIMIT

Jack Griggs couldn’t believe his good luck. It was a sign, surely a sign. He had finally turned a corner in life. Good fortune smiled on him. It was the shiny red plastic sticking out from the folded paper that caught his eye. He almost passed it by assuming it to be just another piece of litter on the city streets. Red was his favorite color. It piqued his curiosity. Stooping to pick it up, he immediately recognized the litter as a credit card receipt wrapped around the credit card itself. It was just ten in the morning and the day was immediately promising despite the cloudy skies. Here was his silver lining.
It was amazing how a little find like this could lighten your step and put a whistle on your lips. Jack ducked into a Starbuck’s a few doors down to contemplate his good fortune and plan the rest of his day.
“What can I get for you?” the counter girl asked as he perused the menu of specialty coffees.

“I’ll have a latte,” he said. His hand explored the credit card in his pocket. He could feel the raised numbers. “You know, it’s such a great day, I think I’ll treat myself to one of those big cinnamon rolls too,” he added.
Jack found a seat in the corner to examine his found treasure. Normally, he would rummage through trash cans for carbons or slip a wallet out of a pocket or purse to get hold of a little credit to supply him with the necessities of life, but today it had been right there in front of him on the sidewalk.
Jack was always careful not to take any credit from the customers he met at the garage where he parked cars all evening for a living. A living. That was a laugh. The money he made barely allowed for a roof over his head and food in his belly.
There were other necessities of life just as important. Necessities that added to the quality of life such as a new stereo system, a lounge chair, a microwave (an absolute “gotta have” for a bachelor), some great jewelry and a few other wants and desires not affordable on his income. Jack was very conscientious about his credit spending. Each time he used someone’s plastic, he was careful to keep a low limit to his new credit line. Rule number one, he never assumed there would be more than a thousand left on any credit card account. He’d made that mistake once and was sure he’d been caught when the credit card was denied. And, rule number two, he got his shopping done quickly, before the card could be reported stolen or the bank catch on to unusual activity. He didn’t worry about the owners of the cards. After all, he figured, his “gifted” credit was covered by insurance through the bank. Banks and insurance companies had plenty of money to throw around.
This find was such incredible luck. As Jack examined the receipt, he noticed the buyer had filled in his address and phone number. Here was all the information he needed for identification. The receipt showed today’s date so the card was probably not missed yet. The stores had opened less than a half hour ago. If he hustled, he could get that new entertainment center he needed for the stereo system and maybe a new TV to boot. That might stretch his limit a bit, but, hey, this was his lucky day. He’d take a chance. He drained his cup and headed off for an electronics store in a neighboring town.
Jack arrived at his apartment around lunchtime. He unloaded the entertainment center and new TV from his pickup and fixed himself a sandwich. Between bites of bologna and swigs of beer, he set up the speakers, receiver, CD player and the new TV.  With a second beer in his hand, he relaxed in his lounger and snapped on the TV with a push of a button on the remote. Ah, life is beautiful, he thought.
The remote control in his hand gave him a new sense of power. Flipping through the channels, he suddenly came upon a ridiculous looking bee with bunches of flowers in his hand. He pointed the remote, ready to click again, but stopped, intrigued by the message coming from the oversized yellow and black insect. Sunday was Mother’s Day.
Jack thought about his mom who was half way across the country from him. She was the one who had given him his education on credit cards. All through his high school years, she had worked for a credit card company in the department that dealt with stolen cards and card numbers. It was just the two of them at home. She had shared her work stories with him each night at dinner. Ma had always insisted he be home for dinner each night. His friends had razzed him relentlessly about that, but now he was glad he’d been home. Ma didn’t realize what valuable information she had imparted.
Sure, why not send Ma some flowers? Maybe then she’ll believe I’m really doing all right. He picked up the phone book and searched for a florist across town and in a different zip from the one listed on the credit card receipt in his hand. He dialed the number and got a cheerful, “Flowers by Chris. How can I help you?”
“I’d like to order flowers for my mother. It says in the phone book you wire them. Will she get them today?” He had never sent flowers before and felt a little stupid asking.
“We can call a florist in that area and see if they have a truck going out late this afternoon. If not, they will take them tomorrow and she’ll still have them in time for Mother’s Day.”
“O.K. Can we send that special arrangement with the teapot like in the TV ad?”
“Luckily you called early enough. It shouldn’t be a problem.”
Jack gave his mother’s address and phone number. “Just sign the card, ‘your son’.”
“Will you be putting this on a credit card?” the florist asked.
“Yes,” replied Jack reaching for the credit card and receipt. He recited the numbers.
“I also need your zip code and phone number for verification.”
Yessir, it was his lucky day. He had those.
“Excuse me a moment, please.” The voice disappeared for an uncomfortable period of time. Maybe he’d reached the limit on the card. Jack was almost ready to hang up when she returned. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I had to make sure I was right. We have a special contest going on at the shop promoting Mother’s Day and you have won. You are the 25th person to order the teapot arrangement. If you can come in to the shop, we’ll give you certificates to a free dinner for you and your mother at Chez Restaurant. Of course, if your mom’s out of town you can always take someone else. Can you come in today to pick them up?”
Wow, Jack thought, the luck goes on. Chez was a classy place. What could it hurt? If I get there as soon as possible, everything should be O.K. The card is still working. If it wasn’t, they would have refused my order. “I can be there in about an hour. Thanks.”
“What is your name?”
He didn’t like having to give a name. What should he tell her? He looked at the name on the card, “Wilson, Chuck Wilson..”
Jack arrived at the florist shop an hour later. It was a little store in a strip mall. There was only one girl behind the counter and a man looking through a picture book of arrangements. Probably ordering flowers for his mother, Jack thought.
“Can I help you?” the girl said looking up from her order pad.
“Sure. I called in an order this noon and you told me I’d won dinner out.” Jack beamed. No, there was no limit to his luck today. The girl looked at the man who suddenly closed the book in front of him. He turned to Jack smiling as though someone had told a joke. Jack felt like he’d missed the punch line.
“Let me introduce myself,” he said, “I’m Chuck Wilson, Detective Chuck Wilson.” Two men in uniform appeared from a door behind him.

Jack stood, mouth half open, as the florist explained, “Detective Wilson is a good customer of ours and realized his credit card was missing when he came in to order flowers for his mother this morning. When you gave me the zip and phone number, I recognized it as his. I phoned him when you said you’d come in to pick up your Chez certificates.”
“Guess it’s my lucky day. We weren’t certain you’d show up.” Wilson smiled. “I would have hated to call your mother and ask her how she enjoyed her Mother’s Day flowers that were purchased with a stolen credit card.”
“What about the certificates?” Jack asked the florist and realizing what a stupid question that was the moment it was out of his mouth. It didn’t look like he’d be able to use them now.
“I just made that up. There was no contest,” the florist said sweetly.

As they handcuffed him, Detective Wilson noted, “By the way, you maxed the card out with your flower purchase.” Jack grinned sardonically. Not only had his luck run out, he’d reached his credit limit too. He wondered though, would a mother have turned in a son who sent her flowers for Mother’s Day? 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Diving Papua New Guinea


  [This is an essay from our first trip to PNG in 2003 to dive. We returned again in 2004 and did see the mantas on the second trip. Since then we heard that some of the liveaboard boats and particularly the one we enjoyed have pulled out of PNG because of the increased danger of travel there. While some would say it's not a problem, we preferred not to take the chance.]

FROM MOUNTAINS TO SEAS
PAPUA NEW GUINEA


            “Shout our name from the mountains to seas, Papua New Guinea.” The strains of their national anthem still play in my mind. I expected a great dive adventure. I didn’t expect to fall in love.
            Perhaps it was waking anchored in calm inlets to hazy purplish sunrises with the distant call of exotic birds, or looking out at the lush green islands of Milne Bay that contrasted sharply against the clear blue skies and deep azure waters that drew me in. Without a doubt it was meeting the wonderful people of the villages that dot the islands so far away from the usual conveniences we take for granted.
            Silently the dugout canoes sliced through the water from each village as we neared. Men, women, and children in canoes congregated at the sides and back of the live-aboard with fresh fruits and vegetables to trade for staples like rice and sugar. Some displayed crafts of wood and shells to sell or trade for T-shirts. Some fished. But all watched as we came and went in our dive gear. We were the entertainment for the day.
            The paradise above was magnified in the treasures below. Abundant colorful marine life in all shapes and sizes played over a patchwork quilt of colored corals. An abundance of lionfish, countless varieties of nudibranchs, endless fields of anemones each with their guardian clownfish, and the unusual—the hairy ghost pipefish All of it kept us going back for more. On this 10 day trip, we were limited only by our ability, stamina, and common sense.
            Diving the wreck of the WWII bomber Blackjack was one adventure that stretched our diving skills. Blackjack (made legendary under the command of Capt. Ken McCullar who died on takeoff in another aircraft) was commanded by Capt. Ralph Deloach when she ran out of fuel in a turbulent storm during a bombing run to Rabaul. The pilot attempted to ditch on a shallow reef but missed. The plane skidded into deeper water but all members of the crew were rescued by the nearby villagers of Boga Boga. She now rests in 165 feet of water.
Under the supervision of our divemasters, the more experienced and adventuresome did a decompression dive to 160’ to photograph the props and the gun turret that still turns on the well-preserved body. The rest of us went to 130 feet. Swimming out over the wreck, we had an excellent view of the plane and the divers below.
            A visit to Boga Boga village followed. School children sat on grass mats laid in rows on the dirt floor of their school and participated in a grammar lesson that resembled Wheel of Fortune without Vanna. The pens I handed out went quickly—the children swarmed around me as if it were candy. We shopped the craft market set up specifically for our visit and talked with the villagers. Smiles abounded, some stained red with betel nut juice.
            At breakfast one morning, we learned a trap that had been lowered the night before and baited with chicken now yielded a chambered nautilus. Cousin to the octopus, the nautilus lives at depths of 2000 feet but rises to about 500 feet at night to feed on crab and shrimp. No telling us twice to suit up. We descended to 60’ to photograph and examine the mysterious creature that occasionally peeked out of his creamy shell with the tanned markings.
            Although my husband and I were both nearing 100 dives when we arrived in PNG, we had never encountered a seahorse. Knowing they were at Observation Point, we carefully combed the area. Just as we were ready to give up, I looked down to find a yellow seahorse clinging to a bit of reed in the sand near where my hand rested. We were as excited as the shark hunters who had spotted some hammerheads a few days earlier and the photographer who ended up in the middle of schooling barracudas.
            Mornings came early and no one missed the 5:30 a.m. call to rise before breakfast and go ashore to visit the Bunama hot springs before the heat of the day made it impossible. On shore, a mother and her children greeted us. “My children want to see the white people,” she said. They followed us through their village to the path that leads to the hot springs about a half-mile into the jungle. The tall grasses and bushes gave way to a clearing filled with steam from the boiling springs of hot mud and water that bubbled through the stone floor. We waited a couple of times for the geyser to perform, took the posed tourist shots and then left as the sun began to heat the morning sky.
            On the way back through the village, a friendly teenager, proud of his pet, allowed the braver souls to hold his five foot green tree snake. I marveled at the simplicity of their life as we passed by the huts on stilts, mostly open with some cloth draped for some privacy, and the “kitchens” separate from the sleeping huts that were equipped with a fire pit and a few pots and pans.
            A manta ray cleaning station was scheduled for our last morning dive before returning to Alotau and the trip home. We dropped to 30’ and surrounded a small bommie that the mantas were known to frequent. All of us knelt in the sand, bowing to the slight current, watching the waters around us wondering if they would come. The sun shone down, its rays played on the rocks and coral. I suddenly realized it was Sunday. We looked as though we were worshipping at an altar. The mantas never appeared but there was ample opportunity to give thanks for the wonderful sights we had seen and the people we had experienced in the paradise called Papua New Guinea.





Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Origami

On our last visit to Japan, I watched my six year old granddaughter as her little fingers nimbly folded and turned and folded until a frog emerged from the square of paper she had started with. She placed it on the table top, used a finger to press down and release at the right spot and the frog jumped. She giggled. I beamed. Amazing.

Origami has been around for a very long time. It is impossible to pinpoint where or when it started but since China is credited with making the first paper, perhaps it began there. Once the Japanese started the origami however, it was made into quite an art form. Many of the standard patterns for origami animals have special meaning. The popular crane stands for honor and loyalty--perhaps because the crane mates for life.

Our ladies at church will be learning to make butterflies for our Butterfly Brunch this year. Chocho, the Japanese word for butterfly, is a symbol for young girls as they spread their wings and emerge into beauty and grace. Two butterflies dancing around each other is a symbol of marital happiness.

Kaeru, or frog, is a symbol for good fortune and often travelers will carry one to insure safe return from their journey. I guess with all of our travels I should put in an order to my granddaughter for several of her frogs.

Origami is not difficult to learn but does require patience and attention to detail. Precise folding is important as well as crisp folds. Many craft stores have origami papers and they can be ordered online of course. The origami paper is usually thin although some of the more colorful papers and the foiled papers are a little thicker. Actually you could practice with a piece of computer paper that is 20lb. or less. Just be sure to start out with a perfect square of paper.

Our ladies will be using paper from the 100 Yen store that I bought when we were in Tokyo. The 100 Yen store is like our dollar stores. Here is a video of what we will be doing. Maybe you'd like to follow along. Happy folding!

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Old Toys - A Short Story, Part 2

[I need a little writing time so I thought I would cheat on my travel posts a bit with some short stories I wrote a few years ago. It will free me up for working on my neglected novel. If you missed part one yesterday, click here.]

THE OLD TOYS (Part 2)

. . .Scrawled across my new flowered wallpaper was, “Give me back my toys!” in red crayon.
            “How did that get there?” Chris exclaimed and walked across the room for a closer look.
            We phoned the sheriff’s office to report our find. A quick inventory of the house showed nothing was missing or out of place—just the message. The sheriff came and went without offering a clue.
            Why the message? Who knew about the toys? And, how did they know they were missing?
            Sleep came slowly. Our privacy had been violated. It was hard to feel comfortable and secure. Startled from dozing off, I listened intently, my eyes searching the room for what had woken me. From somewhere in the house, I could hear soft sobbing. I shook Chris.
            “Do you hear it?” I asked
            “Yeah, but where’s it coming from?”
            We crept around the second floor and decided the noise was from the attic. The door was stuck too hard to pull open quietly. We put our ears to the door. It was definitely a child’s cry. Between the sobs, I could hear, “I want my toys. Please, give me my toys.”
            I looked at Chris in disbelief.
“Could we have a ghost?” Chris frowned.
We struggled with the door. When it finally came open, we hurried up to the attic only to find everything just as we had left it after finishing our work there.
            “Let’s go back to bed. We can look into this in the morning. It must be some new noise this old house is creating,” Chris said in a tone that told me he was unconvinced of his own theory.
            I lay awake until dawn. I knew what I had heard and it was not some new noise from the old house. I refused to accept a ghost as a viable explanation and I was pretty sure the mice hadn’t learned to talk.
            Chris was still in the attic checking out the beams when I left to get some milk and bread from the old general store up the road.
            “You’re the new people in the old Farley house, aren’t you?” the white haired gentleman at the cash register asked.
            “No,” I replied. “We bought the Brookstone house.”
            “Yes, but it was Farleys who built it. Strange folks. Hear tell they use ta put the little fellow up in the attic for days until the schoolteacher would get after them for keeping him home.” I could feel my face pale. Where was this leading?
“Had a hard time with him in school though…always stealing everything he could get his hands on. Never did find a lot of the stuff he took. Old widow Holmes tried to be a friend to the little feller once. He stole from her too. She finally decided it was useless. She couldn’t afford to lose all her jewelry.” His fingers brushed the stubble on his face. “Don’t know what ever became of them Farleys. Well, no mind. Enjoy yer new home.” He handed me my receipt and bag of groceries.
We spent another night listening to a child crying. After the Farley story, Chris and I had doubts about the old house causing the noise. I shivered as I thought about the Farleys. Ridiculous. I don’t believe in ghosts, I told myself as I dug deeper into the bedcovers.
I went to Mother’s and retrieved the old toys. They had not proven to be as valuable as she thought, but what the little elephant contained was. Another dealer had examined the toys a little more carefully. The elephant separated to reveal a hollow space that held a diamond brooch and a large emerald ring.
Perhaps, I thought, our “ghost” was a little more interested in these than the toys.
It was not the most comfortable position to spend the night, but we crouched behind the pile of lumber and insulation still in the attic. If our ghost made another visit, we were ready for him.
The branches of the large cherry tree next to the house scratched against the roof. Suddenly the sound became more rhythmic. We recognized the pattern of footsteps on the roof over the porch.
From his vantage point behind some boxes, the sheriff motioned us to stay still. A black silhouette filled the attic window. Slowly the bottom half raised up and the chilly night air spilled in. I drew my sweater tightly across my chest.
The dark figure crawled through the window, turned and shut it behind him. A small beam of light from his hand fell across the toys we had set on the floor.
“Aw right!” we heard him exclaim in a hushed voice. He crouched over the toys and began fumbling with the elephant, trying to get it apart. Just as the elephant popped open, the sheriff switched on the newly installed light.
Our ghost was a young boy of about sixteen who looked more frightened than we had been.
“What’s your name son?” the sheriff asked.
“Farley,” the boy swallowed hard. “Jacob Farley.”
Jacob was the grandson of the little boy who had been locked in the attic so many times. His grandfather had hidden the toys in the eaves to play with while he was locked away and, later, had found them to be a good hiding place for the items he stole. When they moved, some of the toys had been left behind. Jacob’s grandfather had rambled on for years about his escapades and the attic with the secret toys.
Unfortunately, Jacob didn’t want the toys for the memories they held. He needed money. He overheard us talking about the toys when he searched the attic one night. He decided to play the ghost and scare us into returning the old toys to their hiding place.
I watched the sheriff put the young boy into his car. I felt sorry for him but hopeful. Maybe now he would get the help he needed to get off the drugs he would have purchased with the money from the brooch and ring.
“Guess what?” Chris said with a smile, returning from work a few nights later. “No one knows anything about the jewelry. The widow’s estate doesn’t list any of it. If no one else can prove it’s theirs, in a few months, it will become ours.” The gleam was back in his eye. “Now that jewelry is worth some money, I’m sure.”
“There you go again,” I said punching him in the arm. “But this time I agree with your monetary outlook. I can think of some ways to spend the jewelry money.”
I put my arms around him and lay my head on his chest. “A nursery wouldn’t be a bad project. After all, my aunt always said, ‘new house—new baby’.”
“But this is an old house,” Chris protested.

“Yeah, but it’s an old house with potential.”


Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Old Toys - A Short Story, Part 1

[I need a little writing time so I thought I would cheat on my travel posts a bit with some short stories I wrote a few years ago. It will free me up for working on my neglected novel.]         


   THE OLD TOYS


            The blackness made me shiver. I pulled the quilt up higher to snuggle into the warmth of the bed. There was certainly no light pollution out here in the country. That was why we moved here, to get away from the pollution of the city’s lights, air, and noise.
            What woke me? A glance at the alarm clock told me I had only been asleep for two hours. I turned over, closed my eyes, and tried to relax. I’m not used to all the creaks and groans of the old house yet, I thought, and drifted off to sleep again.
            “How did you sleep last night?” Chris asked as he stood looking through the glass in the kitchen door. “I slept like a baby. Isn’t it great? Not one horn…not one screeching tire…not even a barking dog.”
            He opened the door and breathed deeply. “And smell that crisp morning air.” Cold air swished into the kitchen sending a shiver down my spine.
            “Close the door…please,” I pleaded. I was never as energetic as Chris in the morning. I needed a cup of coffee—make that two cups—and a little time to get my eyes open. Chris, on the other hand, bounded out of bed each day, eyes wide open, energy level high and ready to burn.
            “I’m glad you had a good night,” I said. “I guess I’m going to have to get used to some of the house noises. Something woke me up a few times.”
            “Well, maybe once we get up in the attic and do some repairs…improve the insulation…” Chris was making his mental list. “…some of that noise should be taken care of. Lots to do. But that’s what we expected when we bought this ‘house with potential.’ Right?” He grinned as he playfully pulled my hair.
            I was beginning to wonder if I was ready for this house with potential. After my second cup of coffee, I pulled out the box of tools I needed to start stripping the old wallpaper in our bedroom. The stereo played a little music to work by and I began my task of soaking, scoring, and scraping.
            The wallpaper began coming off the old plaster walls easier than I had imagined it would. The putty knife made soft scratchy noises as the paper fell to the floor. I began to notice, however, that the noise didn’t always stop when I did.
            It’s the radio, I reasoned. I turned it off for a time, but the noise persisted.
            Mice. We must have mice in the attic. Grabbing the broom, I headed for the attic door. Mice didn’t frighten me. A snake could send me into a major frenzy, but mice I could handle.
            The door to the attic was stuck tight. I remembered the realtor having it open the day we walked through the house. The dampness from all the rain the past week must have made the wood swell. I laid the broom down and gave a good tug.
            It gave way suddenly, setting me flat on my backside. I made a mental note to add planning the attic door to Chris’ list.
            The attic was cold. Chris was right. If we didn’t get more insulation, our heating bills were going to be astronomical. The stairway was dark and smelled of old wood. My childhood fear of the dark clutched at my throat. As a rational adult, I knew there was nothing to be afraid of, but the old chilling feeling was still there.
            Dust particles danced in the beam of light that filtered in through the small shuttered window at one end of the big old attic. I crossed to the window to open the shutters and light the room. I didn’t mind mice as long as I could see them.
            Cold air swept in from a small space where the double-hung window had not been closed completely. I pushed down on the window and it slid into place. At least the mice would be warmer.
            I surveyed the room. The air was full of dust and it had the musty smell of years gone by. With the addition of a skylight or dormers, it would make a perfect studio for my ventures into the creative arts.
            I looked carefully for the evidence of little visitors but, with limited light, it was impossible to tell what, if anything, inhabited the attic. The wallpaper was top priority today, I told myself. I added mousetraps to my mental list.
            Saturday morning, Chris complimented me on my wallpapering job just before he left to pick up the insulation to begin his work in the attic. I cleared away the breakfast dishes, humming a nonsensical tune as I cheerfully looked forward to spending the day with Chris—even if it meant stuffing insulation in the attic. I was still a little stiff and sore from my week of wallpapering but it would be fun to work on a project together. I looked forward to a little companionship.
            Country living did have its drawbacks when it came to a social life. Neighbors were farther away. “Folks are pretty friendly once they get to know you,” the realtor had assured us.
            Chris returned from the hardware store and lumberyard with his supplies and we carried the things up to the attic. I didn’t understand exactly what he was doing but I helped by fetching and holding as he measured, cut, and nailed pieces of lumber into place.
            “This should reinforce the roof,” Chris explained. “Maybe it will cut down on those creepy noises you claim you hear at night.”
            As Chris stretched out over one of the eaves where the floorboards ended, he stopped and stared down. “Well, how about this?” He went down on one knee and braced himself with a hand on a rafter as he reached out and pulled something out.
            “This attic must have been a special hiding place for someone.” He handed me a wooden tiger, then an elephant of a lighter wood, and the engine and box cars of an old train.
            “Oh, won’t they look beautiful on the shelves next to the fireplace,” I said. I examined each item with the attention of an archaeologist on her first dig.
            “Wonder if they’re worth anything?” Chris stood and took the train engine from me to examine for himself.
            “Just like you to think in terms of dollars and cents,” I teased. “I’m going to take these downstairs where they’ll be safe from our urban renewal project.”
            After dinner, I cleaned the dust off the toys and set them on the fireplace shelves. They fit perfectly. My first antiques. I was excited as I envisioned the fun it would be adding to the collection.
            “Honey, I know you think I’m materialistic, but I really think we should take those toys to a dealer and have them appraised in case they truly are valuable…for insurance purposes…you know.”
            “I know.  I planned to get back to the city for a visit with Mom tomorrow. Why don’t I take the toys? She’ll know where to have them appraised.”
            Dinner was a little late after my trip in to see Mom but I couldn’t help it. I forgot how bad the traffic was heading out of the city for the suburbs. Chris and I talked about my trip to town while I finished putting together a chicken stir-fry.
            “The antique dealer was an older gentleman who had his own collection of antique toys in his home,” I told Chris. “He invited Mother and I to visit his home on my return trip.”
            “So, what are they worth?” Chris asked grabbing a piece of green pepper before it was dumped in the wok.
            “Not as much as my mother seems to think they are.” I laughed. “I had to leave them with her so she could check out a couple more places.”
            “Now who’s materialistic?” Chris teased.
            “Well, I thought it would be good for Mom to have a project. She seemed real excited about doing the research. Who knows? Maybe this will be a venture into a new career.”
            “Antiques?”
            “Why not? She could use a good hobby.”
            It had been a long day. I sighed as I reached the top of the stairs and turned toward my bedroom. A hot shower and the prospect of a soft pillow to cushion my head enticed me. I flipped the light switch and stood aghast in the doorway.

            “Chris!” I screamed. “Chris, come here!” I heard his hurried steps come up the stairs behind me. He stopped short as I pointed to the wall. Scrawled across my new flowered paper was, “Give me back my toys!” in red crayon.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Courage

A while back there was a contest for flash fiction that I entered. What is flash fiction you ask? It's a short, very brief, story written for impact with the implication that there might be more there than meets the eye. This is what I came up with and I won! 

As I read it again, I think of our children, now grown, and their courage to move through life and all its challenges. 

And I can't help but think of who that Father is standing in the water waiting to catch this child. 

COURAGE

One foot found the bottom step hidden just below the water’s surface. He paused, peeked around the ladder for assurance and then began the climb. Each step took him closer to the top and further from the security he knew.

The water below was dark, foreboding. He swallowed hard. Would his racing heart pound its escape through his chest?

He stopped at the pinnacle. It looked a lot higher from here. Carefully he positioned himself atop the warm metal and sat down. He hugged the bar next to him, arms aching from the pressure.

This was the moment. One last thought surged through his mind. He could return the way he had come. But, no. They were all there. Waiting. Watching.

His eyes turned to his father who stood waist deep in the water.

It was okay. Daddy had his arms open wide.


He let go.


Friday, April 07, 2017

FIRST Robotics Competition - Cleveland, OH

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology or FIRST was founded back in 1989 by Dean Kamen. It is an amazing organization that gives kids an opportunity not only to advance their skills in science and technology but to learn to work together as a team, become leaders, improve self-confidence and so much more.


My husband, Bob, has volunteered to help out with their Buckeye Regional robotics competition for several years. This year we got home from Florida a little too late for him to participate but he wanted to see what was going on so we ventured down to the Wolstein Center on the Cleveland State campus last weekend to check it out. It was my first glimpse of things in person and I found it very interesting.


Each year in January, teams are given the requirements for their robot's functions. This year they had to be able to pick up discs that were actually gears and put them on a pulley that sent them to a person who assembled them to start their "rocket ship" propellers moving.

Another activity was to shoot nerf balls into a funnel that I think was to add fuel. The last minute of the round was a mad dash to a rope that the robot had to climb to hop on board the rocket or space ship before it took off. The alliance team (made up of three individual teams) who got the most points won.It became obvious that the gears and the climb got the most points because we didn't see but one robot who was very good at shooting the nerf balls.

It was amazing to think about all the components that went into making the robot function to fulfill all the requirements. Not only did the mechanics have to work but their was a thirty second time where the robot worked off of a pre-programmed function. After that the kids controlled the robots.


We stopped down to the pit area where booths were set up for each team to work on last minute details and adjustments. Another area was the practice field where certain components of the competition were set up for teams to practice on. It was fun to see the robots up close and watch as the kids and their mentors worked to solve problems and improve efficiency.

All in all an inspiring event. It gives you confidence for the future.



Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Milledgeville, GA - The Old Governor's Mansion

One last stop on our way north before the final push to reach home was in Milledgeville, Georgia. If not for a young cousin who was appointed Curator of Education and Public Engagement, we would not have known about this wonderful little town in Georgia and the beautiful mansion that is being preserved as part of Georgia's history.

The town at one time was the capital of Georgia and the mansion built in 1839 served as the residence for Georgia's governors for 30 years. The mansion's history threads throughout the Antebellum, Civil War and early Reconstruction phases of the state's history.


During the Civil War, the mansion headquartered General Sherman on November 22, 1864 in his "March to the Sea" from Atlanta.


After the war, Georgia's seat of government moved to Atlanta and  the mansion was abandoned but eventually was given over to what is now Georgia College in 1889. It served several college presidents and housed military women for a time.


In the late 1990s, a move was made to begin planning for the mansion's historical renovation which began in earnest in 2001. The interior has been restored and reconstructed to reflect the period when Georgia's governors were in residence. The furniture is from the period and some is original, obtained from the families of some of the governors.


Our tour was led by a lovely young lady who is a docent for the mansion. Our cousin was unfortunately out of town the day we stopped. The mansion was also exhibiting some men's and children's clothes from the period that were quite interesting.


The town of Milledgeville is a college town but is quaint and, at least on our visit, quiet. We found a parking spot a little closer to the center of town and had our pick of small shops and restaurants. Liking the name, The Local Yokel, we entered and had two delicious sandwiches for lunch before continuing on our trek north.

The only thing missing was sunshine but then we were heading north. It was time to get used to the idea that our sunny days were going to be fewer.





Monday, April 03, 2017

The Villages In Florida - Adult Disney World?

If you are a retiree and have been anywhere near Florida, you've heard of The Villages. It is a 55+ age restricted development that has exploded in population and it all began as a trailer park.

In the 1970s a business man from Michigan, Harold Schwartz bought land and established the Orange Blossom mobile home park. About ten years later he lured his son, H. Gary Morse, away from his Chicago advertising firm to come and join the venture. The two built a golf course and didn't charge the residents to use it. It began to attract more people to purchasing in the park.

By 1986 they were selling homes, building more golf courses, recreation centers and even a hospital. Since then the growth has been phenomenal. And why not? The over 60 population has grown immensely with the baby-boomers and a generation to follow that.

The population in April of 2016 was said to be 156,000 and has surely grown since then as new "villages" are breaking ground. Each section of the over-all development which is about 31.2 square miles has its own town center including a recreation center where there are planned activities all day long. Golf courses abound. For the monthly fee paid by residents, they can participate on the nine hole courses. The larger courses require an additional fee.

Line dancing, Pickleball, tennis, swimming, billiards, track and field, polo, arts and crafts, music, the list goes on and on. Residents share their talents and interests with each other so the activities are quite varied and there is literally something for anyone.

Shopping is close by and oh, did I mention that the best way around The Villages is by golf cart? Maybe this is where the Disney comparison comes in because there are trails and tunnels everywhere only for golf carts so it looks like one giant amusement ride. Golf carts are personalized and may look like a Rolls Royce or a Mercedes Benz in miniature.

Houses range from $150,000 to the millions of dollars. The Villages is located 20 miles south of Ocala and 45 miles northwest of Orlando--where the real Disney World is. The difference is that the activities are for seniors at The Villages. As a matter of fact, children are only allowed to visit for 30 days.

It is clean and relatively safe from crime although there have been some nasty rumors about black market viagra. But that's only rumor, right?






Friday, March 31, 2017

The Ringling - The Circus Museum

After wandering around the grounds and gardens of The Ringling, we headed for one of the two buildings that house the Circus Museum. It was ten o'clock and the doors were finally open.

The first building held lots of circus wagons and calliopes. There were all sorts of circus posters from the 1800s on up.


It was a little difficult to tell sometimes which items were original and which were reproductions. We tried reading a lot of the stories behind the exhibits but some were set so low that it was hard to read without getting down really low. At our age, that's not always an easy thing to do.


The kitchen display and narrated story by someone who had been with the circus was very interesting but what really surprised me because I had never thought of it was that they traveled with their own blacksmith shop to do repairs.

One of the most impressive displays was a large Pullman car that was the mobile home of the Ringlings when they traveled with the circus. There was a large dining area, parlor, and a his and hers sleeping rooms connected by a bathroom that had hot and cold running water piped in from water tanks below the car. Of course a room for the servants who cooked and served on the road from the kitchen that was also in the car.


A video we watched about the beginnings of the Ringling Circus was very informative and interesting. I had no idea that there were originally five brothers who started their circus and eventually bought out the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Fascinating also was the cannon that was used to shoot a human out and into a net. As we read the description we learned that the propulsion was strictly from a spring mechanism inside. The gun powder that was ignited had nothing to do with the propulsion and was just for show. The spring mechanism however was a closely guarded family secret.


The second building housed more memorabilia including some of the costumes worn by the more famous of the performers and clowns. Another area had some hands on activities that could give you a chance to walk a "tightrope" although it was attached to the floor. Another small video screen displayed a clown who was explaining and demonstrating one of the types of clown makeups. I was amazed at how quickly and smoothly he painted his face.


The main attraction in the second building however was the huge miniature circus that took up most of the first floor. The 3800 square foot, 1/16 th scale model features all the components of a huge three ring circus operation. You enter the room and walk along the area where the train cars unload the animals, equipment and people and proceed to see where all the various parts of the circus are set up to operate. The kitchen, the service tents, the costume tent where the performers dressed, the areas that held the animals (400 horses were used to help set up everything), the blacksmith tent--it just went on and on and surrounded the large circus tent that housed the three rings where performers were moving around.

There was a sideshow and a menagerie. Each of the figures whether human or animal were very detailed. I thought there was something wrong with my eyes as lights began to dim but when miniature lights came on in the display, I realized that it was cycling through a day into night.

All of this was the project of one man, Howard Tibbals whose love of the circus prompted his huge undertaking. The circus is called Howard Bros. Circus and I'm guessing it's named after him. A labor of love.

We walked out of the building shaking our heads in amazement not only at the work of art but also at the thought that all of what we saw would, in real life, have been assembled and disassembled in one day as the circus usually only spent one day in a town--that is until they went into arenas where I recall they stayed for a week.

Alas, it is questionable whether there will ever be circuses in the traditional sense any more. As I understand, the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailley is going out of business after 146 years. The days of the greatest show on earth are alas a memory. The Feld Entertainment company who bought the circus in 1967 cited slowing ticket sales and increased costs. Ticket sales apparently dropped drastically with the removal of the elephants from the show due to pressure from animal rights groups.

As we left the last building, we could hear the calliope music and smell popcorn. Ah, the memories live on.






Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Ringling - Ca' D' Zan And The Gardens

Along with visiting some friends on the way home from Florida we wanted to stop in Sarasota and see The Ringling where the Circus Museum is. The Ringling is the name for the acreage that contains the home of Mable and John Ringling, the Ringling Art Museum and the Circus Museum. We arrived at the gate about 9:15 in the morning and were one of the first in when the grounds opened at 9:30.

The gardens are available for viewing early but the museums don't open unti 10. We wandered pathways that were peacefully shaded by huge banyan trees. Banyan trees develop roots that actually grow from their branches down to the ground. They are called prop roots because as the tree spreads out, the roots keep the branches from breaking off. The roots become so numerous and large on the older trees that sometimes it's hard to figure out which is the original trunk.

On to way to the mansion called Ca' D' Zan or House of John, we happened upon Mable's rose garden and I stopped to take a few pictures of the blooms glowing in the morning sun. Mable loved roses and the garden is well kept in her honor.

A secret garden bordered a walkway nearer the mansion and behind the garden that bedded a variety of blooming plants, were the graves of the Ringlings. I would have lingered a bit to read the headstones but a two foot long black snake slithered across the walkway and ruined my appreciation of the secret garden. I gingerly walked back to the main walkway.

The Ca' D' Zan sits on the water's edge and its resemblance to Venice and all things Italian is no accident. The Ringlings, and mostly Mable, loved Italy. They visited often and searched for the things they wanted to include with their mansion. While it was called the house of John, it was really Mable's and if I remember correctly, was deeded to her.

Our time there would not be long enough to tour the mansion but we walked around the outside and admired the stained glass windows, the huge terrace overlooking the bay and across from the city of Sarasota, and the magnificent entry doors and facade. Mable spent years decorating and putting the finishing touches on the thirty-two room and fifteen bathrooms. I'm sure it was quite spectacular inside. Unfortunately Mable would only get to live there a few years before she died.

The story of John and Mable Ringling is fascinating and deserves more exploration. I did not realize he was an art collector and a real estate developer in addition to having a diversified collection of investments as well as the famous circus begun by him and his brothers. The death of his wife and the stock market crash of '29 all but wiped him out. He continued however the construction of the art museum the couple had wanted to leave as a legacy and even though he was counseled to sell the collection when he fell into debt, he managed to finish the museum and in 1936 upon his death, the museum along with the other property was willed to the state of Florida.

If we ever get back to Sarasota, we need to put the art museum and the mansion on the schedule to visit. This trip, though would be dedicated to visiting the Circus Museum.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Migrating Back Home

The trunk of the car was packed without an inch of free space and the back seat of the car was loaded with what didn't fit in the trunk. It didn't seem like we had collected anything extra and actually had eliminated some things when we had Christmas with our Florida kids. Somehow it just didn't all go back in as easily as the first time. But the trunk lid closed and the doors all shut and so we started out heading north. Our trip home will take us on a different route than usual to allow us to visit some friends along the way and see a couple of spots we want to explore. 

Our first stop was Marco Island. We took the Tamiami Trail route (Route 41) west to Marco. Along side the road for much of the way is a canal and I started counting the alligators I could see. I know there were a lot more than the six I spotted in the water but they are hard to see as you are moving along. The Miccosouke Indians have a large reservation in that area. There is a village you can visit that I'd like to come back to some time and see. 

In about two and a half hours we were entering Marco Island. The landscaping was beautiful. When we met our friends for lunch, they told us that the town had received an award for all their trees. It was not quite as populated as I expected but then we didn't really spend a lot of time looking around. We enjoyed lunch and catching up with each other since our time together on our 2015 World Cruise. 

From Marco Island we headed up I-75 to Sarasota for the night. We arrived around 4:30 and checked in. After looking around on TripAdvisor and Google Maps, we settled on going out to St. Armands Key to find a place to eat. In some ways it reminded us of Fernandina Beach but a lot busier. We found a nice place called Tommy Bahama's and enjoyed a great light dinner. 

A stroll was in order since we'd spent most of the day in the car and we headed west to the beach. We lingered long enough to catch the sunset over the Gulf. The event was shared with several hundred other people who gathered on the beach to watch. A Florida sunset is an event every night. 



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