"" Writer's Wanderings: 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

CLEMET Zoo - The Trumpeter's Nest

A couple of years ago we had our granddaughter at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and were thrilled to watch little trumpeter swans following mommy all over the pond where they had nested. They were soft fluffy cuteness and we enjoyed revisiting to see their growth over the summer. If I recall correctly they were sent to another area to try to reintroduce the trumpeter swans into the environment as they are slowly disappearing.

This year we were excited to see the pair of swans nesting again. Well, mom was on the nest and dad was sleeping nearby. Trumpeter swans mate for life and it was good to see this pair still together and healthy. They are the largest of all waterfowl measuring up to six feet in length and can weigh almost 30 pounds. Their trumpet sound can be heard all over the zoo when they are excited.

We stopped and mom eyed us for a minute. They choose to make their nest which is about 5 feet in diameter near a walkway. The nest is always in the same spot each year. Bob jokingly said, "Can we see what you've got in there?" A moment later, mom stood up and sure enough the nest was full. There were about a half dozen eggs the size of my fist in there.

She stepped around them carefully and then stuck her head under a couple and moved them a bit. Once she liked where they were positioned, she turned herself around and sat back down. Either the eggs needed to be turned or she was just trying to make it a little more comfortable.

Bob thanked her for her kindness and we walked off feeling we had witnessed something special.

That's why I love the zoo so much.



Friday, May 19, 2017

Flashback Friday - The Smokies

One of our first vacations with all five of our kids was to the Smokey Mountains. We rented a beautiful house on a mountainside near Gatlinburg and drove to it from our home in Ohio. We had a station wagon at that time (later we would graduate to a van) that we packed up and headed south. There were no problems with it until we reached the mountains and began the climb.

Our youngest son, newly adopted at the age of five, did not have good speech skills yet. He is developmentally handicapped and at that point in life had few words in his vocabulary communicating mostly with grunts and sounds and hand signals. What he did and still does have is a great smile. He smiled all the way to Tennessee.

We began to notice the car not getting much acceleration up the inclines. We would make it to the top of one holding our breath and hoping that the next one would be okay. At one particular incline almost to our destination, the car crept along slowing and slowing almost to a stop. We were so close to the house. Bob didn't want to turn around and try to find a service garage at that point so he kept the pedal pushed to the floor and his hands tight on the steering wheel.

 I don't think any of us were praying out loud. Maybe I didn't realize it and I was. The kids had been very quiet feeling the anxiety of the situation with the car not having any power. Suddenly we heard a loud pop and for a moment the car lurched and chugged then began accelerating on the incline. Before anyone could say a word we heard a chuckle from Donny and then, "God fixa car!"

Not only did God fix the car (it ran like a charm after that) but it was definitely a break through in Don's language skills.

Oh yes, the rest of the vacation. We hiked. We relaxed in the big hot tub. And we fished. The fishing was the other dear memory. It was a stocked trout pond. Now imagine trying to keep track of five kids who were pulling in trout one after the other. Finally one of the attendants said, "Ma'am how many fish do you want to take home? You know you buy them by the pound."

I looked at the kids and the pile of fish. Yikes! "I think we'll stop now." It was a quick but successful fishing session and we enjoyed the fresh trout on the grill for dinner.

And then there was the indoor skydiving. But that's another flashback for another Friday. Fond memories.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Avoiding The Local Travel Scams

The older we get the more likely we are to be targeted for scams. Seniors are thought to be less savvy than younger travelers but no matter what your age, those who feel they can cleverly scam you out of money and/or possessions are ever present in the tourist areas of the world. I could tell you what the most recent scams are that I read about but by the time I post this and you read it the scammers will be on to something different. So here are a few common sense things to remember as you are out and about in foreign places.

Whenever you are approached by someone who wants to stop you and talk or sell you something be wary. When in Paris several years ago we were approached not once but three different times with the is-this-your-ring scam. Someone would run after you with a ring in their hand and ask if it was yours. If not, they would offer to go off and sell the ring. Of course you are not going to go with them so they will conveniently let you pay them half of its value and then you can have the ring to pawn or sell yourself. Others have approached us with items to sell and one almost succeeded in emptying my fanny pack which was in front of me and under my jacket.

Stay with authorized taxis. You can find out that information in tourist books or on board your cruise ship or at a tourist information booth. Otherwise you may be overcharged or be given counterfeit change.

Be aware of your surroundings. Travel in groups when possible or stay on the main roads and byways. While pickpockets may like large crowds, muggers will enjoy the less traveled alleys. Get a money belt but don't carry a large amount of cash. The best place to get money at an ATM is inside a bank or at the airport. It is less likely you will encounter trouble. And for goodness sake--don't take all your money out of your wallet or pocket or money belt at one time and hold it in your hand showing how much you are carrying.

Probably the scariest scam that we encountered albeit not directly was when we passed through Mozambique. While we were escorted with a tour group on our way to a safari in South Africa, others from our ship were exploring the capital city. Whether actual police officers or not, there were two instances of cameras being confiscated. We had been told that you could not take a picture of someone in uniform or an official government building. The camera owners were accused of taking forbidden pictures and were told that if they paid a fine they would return the camera. One man was told they would detain his wife too. Luckily they returned wife and camera when he emptied his wallet for them. I think I would have left my camera on the ship.

Whether home or abroad, common sense is the best thing to travel with. Don't leave home without it.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Marking Time Between Trips

We have several months before we embark on our next journey. There comes a point where you get all caught up with things at home and wanderlust begins to set in again. Some of that will be solved by a few trips closer to home but a little wandering around the web helps as well. One of my web sojourns led me to an article about some unusual places to stay in various spots around the world.

Bali, Australia, Mexico, British Columbia, Georgia (USA), France, Italy, the article listed ten. They ranged in price from $250/night to $10,000/night. So practically speaking I'd probably opt for the one in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, although Mexico is not a favorite destination. The house is interesting though. Made to look like a collection of sea shells it has an inviting feel to it. I checked its listing and the price shown was actually $308 but the offerings are many including the pool. Several pictures I found from TripAdvisor shows the inside is as unique as the outside. Most reviews were good.

On the other end of the scale is the 11 acre estate in Los Altos Hills, California. Now if I won the lottery and had more money than I knew what to do with and I was a Beyonce fan (she stayed there for her Superbowl appearance) I'd consider it. Sleek and modern. Rooftop garden with views of the valley. Of course a pool and a spa and a pricetag of $10,000/night. Maybe we could get four other couples to go in with us. That would make it only $2.000/night. Ah, dream on.

My real choice though would be the Parisian Mansion in Saint-Germain en Laye, France. It's a moderate $1650/night. Built in 1679 by the same man who designed the Chateau in Versailles, it has seven bedrooms and sleeps 12. Splitting the cost on that would make it actually affordable. It's 20 minutes outside of Paris. Oh, and did I mention it comes with a housekeeping staff. Wonder if we could get a chef too?

Ah, dreams, the stuff that makes life more interesting.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Electronics Ban On Airplanes

Just when you thought security clearance couldn't get any more difficult along comes another change. A short time ago all electronic devices larger than a cell phone were banned from flights to the USA from a list of Middle East countries. Supposedly there was a concern that a bomb could be put in the device that was difficult to screen in the usual carry on screening.  Apparently the screening of checked bags is more thorough or more able to detect a device that has been tampered with.

You can stow your devices in your checked luggage although I have read that some airlines are concerned that all those lithium batteries could be dangerous down in the hold. That could be why the proposed ban on electronic devices on flights to the USA from Europe is still awaiting approval.

The last place I want my Surface tablet, my camera and my e-reader to be when I travel is in checked baggage. Not only would I be concerned about damage, since anyone who has watched the loading and unloading knows how those bags are tossed, but I'd also be concerned about possibility of theft either in the transport or in the baggage claim. So what's a wandering writer to do?

I searched for information and suggestions online and found a few. None were really acceptable. Clean the memory of your computer and store it in the cloud then download what you need. Sounds feasible as long as your computer arrives with you. If not, you will have to wait until the new one is purchased. Still, your valuable information will not be lost.

Another suggestion was to purchase some sort of container that would show you if someone tried to access your computer while in transit. It is said that those who are malicious could plug in a USB drive and load a program that would allow access to your computer later from a remote location. Now how they would have time to do that while it is going through security and being loaded on a place is questionable but it is feasible I guess.

I can live with not using my Surface while I fly. Living without my e-reader is a little harder but I can read on my phone if necessary. The question is how will the airlines respond who have restructured their entertainment to be accessed by WiFi on board through a passenger's device?

It all seems to be getting quite complicated. But backing up to the original reason for banning the devices--the fact that the screening of carry ons is not as effective as checked bags doesn't make sense. Let's get the screening fixed.

We've lived with having to take our shoes off, learned math with the 311 bag and even put up with imaging devices to be sure we didn't have something explosive (other than normal physical functions) in our underwear. What next? Guess I'll be dusting off my old Royal and oiling the keys.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Crooked River - Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The Senecas and the Mohawks each had a name for the river that divides east from west in the Cleveland area. The Mohawks named it Cuyohaga which meant "place of the jawbone" probably because it makes quite a turn near Akron on its way from Geauga County to Lake Erie. The Senecas however named it Cuyahoga which meant "crooked" and that was the name that stuck.

There is a bridge on Route 82 that passes over the Cuyahoga Valley and in this time of early spring with the trees just getting their spring green dressing, it is breathtaking. As we cross over and I look out into the valley I can only imagine the awe that must have been in the hearts of those who first settled here.

Not only is our river  a gem but the valley which is largely owned by the National Park Service is teeming with wildlife and adventure. Those reports of the Cuyahoga catching fire are true but it seems that it is all old history now as the approach of the last fire nears the fiftieth anniversary mark. The river has been cleaned up thanks to many volunteers and ecology minded industry leaders.

The Erie Canal that runs parallel to the river between Akron and Canton has a tow path that has been restored and extended. Blue herons, eagles and river otters can be found along the waterways. Plans are being made for canoeing the river. A new visitor center is on the horizon in addition to several already there. And of course there is the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway that makes available all sorts of train adventures including the Polar Express during the holiday season.

The CVNP is one of the few national parks that is free to explore. Lots to learn. Lots to see. Much to explore. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Air Rage - Don't Loose Your Cool

Who knows if there will be another air rage story by the time this posts but the latest was another ridiculous explosion of bad behavior, this time on the part of the air passengers. When I saw the latest incident with the brawl in the Ft. Lauderdale airport over Spirit Airlines cancellations of flights, I joked that it was tough for all those cruise passengers to leave their ship and hit reality again. But really, when you have made plans and they all of a sudden go bad to worst it gets frustrating. There's no reason to lose your cool though.

Instead of starting a fight, put that energy into alternative planning. There is always a way around a problem even when it seems out of your control. Take a deep breath and think. It may cost you some extra money and/or time which may not seem fair but getting to your destination whether home or somewhere else will give you a few degrees of separation from the event and certainly a cooler head to go about finding compensation for your inconvenience or problem.

Hopefully airlines will ease off on their overbooking after some of the recent bad customer experiences but there are also a few things we as passengers can do as well. First of all arrive at the airport early enough so that you are not rushing through security. It's not a fun experience. I get that. But be prepared for it and don't get there so late that if there is a line you aren't tapping your foot and making your blood pressure soar. Having time for a cup of coffee or a perusal of the airport's venues will put you in a better mood for the next hassle--boarding.

Most airlines order their boarding either by customer priority or by seating arrangements. The most organized is when they board from the rear of the plane to the front and/or the two inside seats first then the aisle seats. Unfortunately everyone feels they are owed priority with their loyalty points and they jostle for position in the lines that are assigned them. It is laughable that the first two lines to board are getting longer and longer as loyalty points are liberally handed out.

Of course if you are among the last to board, you may lose opportunity to put your luggage in the overhead. No one wants to be asked to check luggage that has valuables in it. That's why I always suggest trying to get your carry on down to one that will fit under the seat--just in case.

Now I know that airlines are charging more and more for checked luggage. Maybe if they would ease up on that some of the air rage might dissipate. That, less overbooking and a little more knee room might make flying a bit more fun and less of a hassle. All I can say is thank goodness they don't allow guns on planes. There's enough blood shed in the road rage incidents.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Ordering Coffee Abroad

Our education in ordering coffee abroad started with our first trip to London. My husband didn't have much of a problem since he drinks his black. I on the other hand was surprised when I ordered coffee with cream and got a cup of coffee with whipped cream on top. I stirred it in and drank it. It wasn't too bad but the coffee itself was way stronger than we were used to.

Observing the locals is probably the best way to learn things. When I heard someone order coffee, white, I realized that was the way to order what I wanted. We eventually solved the problem of the strong coffee by ordering a pot of hot water as well to dilute the coffee.

Well on to Australia. Unless you order your coffee flat white, you will get something that resembles a latte with foamy milk. Coffee still comes a bit strong and more espresso than a regular brew.

Cappuccino is the way to go in Italy although in most cafes the locals are really into their espresso. We sat with our cappuccinos in Rome at a side walk table and watched through the door as locals who were often triple parked and blocking the road ran into the cafe, ordered their shot or double shot of espresso, stood at the counter and chucked it down, then ran out to move their car before they could be ticketed. Oh, and watch out for those cappuccinos on St. Mark's Square. They can get expensive. Read about them on another post of mine.

Probably the closest thing to ordering coffee that resembles what we get at home is to order an Americano. It's sometimes brewed or else it is espresso that is not nearly so strong. Get it "white" if you like cream in your coffee or ask for a little milk in it.

The safest way to get your coffee the way you like it is to find a Starbucks or a McDonald's. McCafes are popular everywhere and one of the best was in Singapore. Starbucks is popular in Tokyo but you'll have a harder time finding one in Australia. For some reason they don't seem to be as popular yet. I'm sure they're working on that, mate.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Australia--Trying To Master The Language

What? You're American. You speak "English". Don't Australians do the same? Sort of.

When our son went off to Townsville as an exchange student at James Cook University, we got our first introduction to Australia. It was love at first sight and we've been back many times. The first thing we learned was that Cairns was pronounced "cans". Cairns is close to Townsville and is the city where we always stopped to access the Great Barrier Reef and as a stopping off place before going on to Papua New Guinea for diving.

Along the way and several visits under our belt, we learned that Melbourne is not pronounced "mel-born" but rather "mel-bin", Canberra (the capital) is "can-bra" and Brisbane is "bris-bin". Sydney is still Sydney although with an Australian accent it is a little more romantic sounding (think Crocodile Dundee).

Of course even the country is not always referred to as Australia but rather Oz. Why? I'm glad you asked. Australians love to shorten words. The people are called Aussies and the shortened version of Australian is Aus which sounds like Oz. Think that's confusing? Take a look at the words below.

Brekky is breakfast
Maccas is MacDonald's (BTW Burger King is called Hungry Jack's because someone had already trademarked BK in Australia when the company wanted to open the franchise there)
Mozzie is a mosquito
Servo a gas station
Bottle-o a liquor store
Docket is a bill or receipt
Fair dinkum - true, genuine
No worries has of course been adopted by many to mean no problem

So as you see, English is not English everywhere it's spoken--at least not the "Queen's English" as so many refer to the original English as it came from the United Kingdom which was known as Great Britain or the Commonwealth or. . .It does get confusing. We always claim to speak American. People just nod and smile in understanding.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Making The Connection

Nothing is worse than missing a connection that you really wanted to make. Connections in the airport. Connecting with your ride. The connection you need to get from one place to another. But for me the biggest disappointment is picking up my phone and seeing that I missed connecting with one of my kids or grandkids--especially the ones who live on the other side of the world since we have a narrower window to connect in with the time difference.

Then there is the problem with a poor connection. It happened not too long ago on a video chat. The little warning bar kept telling us we had a poor connection. We solved it by going to another app.

Communicating with loved ones is what keeps us connected to one another. Keeps us caring for each other. Keeps us in a relationship. In the "old days" we dialed a phone. Today we touch the numbers on a screen. But it does take power to keep those lines open and connecting.

As I started to try and end a conversation with a granddaughter the other day, I said, "I have to go soon. My battery is getting really low."

Her answer, "Plug it in."

I smiled. A simple answer but one we don't always think about. We think we have power but we don't. Not really. There is a power source though that is greater than any other. The trouble is we don't always think to plug into it. We don't "dial" it up. Bottom line: we forget to connect to the One Source that can provide the power to get us through the tough times, to rejoice with us in the good times, to say "job well done", to comfort, to bring peace. How is your connection? Have you dialed up your Heavenly Father lately? He's always there to receive you. And his power is limitless.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Avoiding The Crush On Public Transportation

While grocery shopping the other day I had a pleasant time. Now if you know me, you know how much I hate grocery shopping. In the middle of a sojourn down the snacks aisle, a message popped up at the top of my grocery list. (I have mine on my phone). My granddaughter in Japan was using FaceBook messaging to connect with me. Hmm. I was sure it was past her bedtime over there. After a few exchanges and lots of emojis, I discovered that she was working on a video project for school that involved comparing transportation in Japan with some other places in the world.

Interesting project, I said, Japan should come out on top with all of their trains that connect to just about any place you might want to go. When all was said and done--well not done, she was procrastinating I'm sure but she sent me the link to a YouTube video that compared Tokyo with Mexico City. Take a look at it. Makes you wonder if you want to get anywhere near a subway train. (https://youtu.be/EK54OgkP8o4)

Yes, I can attest to the fact that the Tokyo trains can be that crowded but it usually happens on work week days during rush hours and when there is a holiday and you are heading for an event that hundreds of thousands are heading to as well. While the video shows orderly lines, it isn't always quite that way. So what's a tourist to do?

Whether it is Tokyo, Mexico City, Paris (just as crowded but less commotion), London (Brits do queue better) or any other major city of the world with a subway know that the trains will be packed at rush hours. Plan accordingly. The train or subway is probably the fastest way to get to your destination but the frustration and the crush could leave you with a bad experience.

In Tokyo you might wait til mid-morning but if you really have to get there first thing and it looks like the train is packed, wait for the next one. Sometimes the express trains are more packed than the ones that make stops and you will only be giving up a couple of minutes of your time.

In Paris, ask about the "tourist trains". When we were there, there were certain lines that hit all the tourist spots and the Parisians do not usually take those to work and back.

I've never been on the trains in Mexico City but I do know that if you travel to London you will learn quickly how to queue (line up in an organized fashion). It is quite civil and much less chaotic--at least it was when we visited. But the world is changing and no matter what it looks like today, it won't look like that tomorrow. That's what makes travel such an adventure.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Airplane Seats - Oh, My Achin' Back!

Several items from travel newsletters have come into my inbox that have to do with being able to sleep on a plane. Short of getting a business class or first class upgrade we are stuck with trying to sleep in coach. For Bob it's not a problem. He could sleep anywhere. For me, well, if I get a couple of nods I'm lucky.

I've tried all the hints. No blue screens-meaning I'm off the phone and computer before I try to sleep. I read. I take Tylenol PM. I don't have caffeine. I don't eat heavily before or during the flight. Etc. and etc. I will still be awake through most of the flight--day or night. Why? Well, it might be that the seat is so uncomfortable that I keep waking up from the back pain.

So, when I saw the new hints and suggestions, I suddenly wondered why coach seats are so uncomfortable. Turns out its because they have to be lightweight and sturdy. Adding lumbar support would add too much weight and the mechanisms to control it would need too many repairs thus not only causing more expense for construction but also for maintenance. I thought it was maybe because of safety but, no, it has to do more with the bottom line in the financial ledgers.

Apparently seats are designed for the average customer. I guess if you are too tall or too short you are out of luck but that still doesn't explain why they are shaped like a C.  The best I can do is to take a sweater with me and wad it up behind my back. Some relief but I'm guessing as I get older, there are going to have to be fewer trips and the extra money spent for more comfort. I'm off to negotiate with the "travel agent" I'm married to for some upgrades.

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.



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