"" Writer's Wanderings: 2017

Friday, December 15, 2017

Cruising The Danube - Getting There

This trip was going to be a challenge from the beginning. We had scheduled a Danube River cruise for just after Thanksgiving but we also had two Caribbean Cruises scheduled to begin just after the river cruise and then we'd have our snowbird season in Key Largo after that. A packing nightmare to say the least. Winter clothes plus warm weather clothes plus dressy clothes for the holiday cruise and added to all of that just regular clothes for our Key Largo time along with the usual odds and ends that we both enjoy having at hand while we're there (Bob's radio for one, my crock pot for another).

We set off to drive to Miami the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We always make it a three day drive with our usual stops in North Carolina and North Florida. Every inch of the car was packed tightly. After one more night in Fort Lauderdale, we drove to Miami and boarded our Austrian Airline flight to Vienna.

The flight from Miami was direct so we had no connections to worry with. The temperature was a sunny 80 degrees as we checked our luggage full of sweaters and winter coats. For once I was able to sleep on the plane and as we were wakened for "breakfast" I felt pretty good. Breakfast was a large muffin that looked more like a small dry cake but the coffee was good.

The plane descended for landing. The closer we got to the ground the more it was obvious we were landing in the middle of heavy snow. I closed my eyes. Miami - 80 degrees and sun. Vienna - 34 degrees and snow. This was crazy.

We collected our luggage and found our way through the subway system to our hotel in the heart of Vienna. The hotel was near a beautiful cathedral and a Christmas market--which was why we were there, to see what the Christmas Markets were like. Luggage deposited in our room which was luckily ready for us, we set out into the cold and now rainy weather to explore.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

For A Woman (Or Man) Your Age

[Another look back at a post from 2005. I'm a little better getting my checkups now. At my age, I have to be.]

My husband's very faithful about getting his yearly checkup with the doctor. I'm not as good. After skipping a couple of years, I decided to bite the bullet and make the appointment. Part of the problem was that the doctor I was really beginning to feel comfortable with moved out of town. (Hope it wasn't because of me.)

I found another doctor much closer to home and covered under our insurance policy (gotta love those insurance agencies). The appointment went well. I gave blood at the lab and signed up for the mammogram and, at the suggestion of the doctor, a bone density test. The bone density is so that we will have a base line to judge whether or not my bones are thinning or I'm just shrinking from drying out in the hot sun (I wish--we have 12" of snow today).

When Bob comes home from the doctor's office, he's usually a little agitated because the doctor uses the phrase, "...for a man your age."

"What is that supposed to mean," he rants. "For a man your age. You just don't want to hear 'for a man your age'."

I generally humor him and soothe the bear in him with some chocolate chip cookies.

So, the other day, I finally get my report on my bone density test and what does it say? "You have normal bone density FOR A WOMAN YOUR AGE."

Where are those chocolate chip cookies?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Remembering My Modern Dance Moment

It will be more than 50 years this June since I graduated from high school. Somewhere in my freshman year (that would have been the first year in high school--before the middle school concept), the Phys Ed. teacher decided to have a unit on modern dance. To this day, I still do not understand what that had to do with my physical education. It should have taken place in a music class--one that I'd never take.

I don't want to appear to brag, but I was good in gym class. I played a good game of basketball, could hit well in softball, and would have loved to have gone on to Olympic training in gymnastics--I even made the cheerleading squad in junior high. I was too shy to make it in high school. And then she threw this modern dance unit at us. We had to pick out a piece of music and interpret it in some kind of physcial movements. Not all of us had dance lessons. I'd had them but that was when I was 4 or 5 years old. Obviously no one saw anything in me then to encourage my mother to continue with them.

There was a piece of music on one of my LPs that sounded like a busy person so I decided to imagine a secretary at work. I bustled around on an excercise mat, did a couple somersaults, squated as though I were sitting at a typerwriter, and, in general, felt like I had made a real fool of myself. I can't remember my grade. I didn't care what it was. I just wanted it over with.

We went to see Movin' Out, the musical, a few years ago. It is Billy Joel's music arranged into a story about coming of age during the 60s-80s. While the musicians sit above the stage in the background, there is a troupe of extremely talented and energetic dancers who, through dance only, portray the action. It didn't take but a minute for me to recognize that there before me, in much better looking costumes than yellow gym suits, was the modern dance unit from my past. There were a few elements of ballet thrown in, but other than that, the physical movements, the gymnastics, the portrayal of anger, grief, etc., through the movements on stage, were right out of that gym class.

So, 50+ years later, I finally get it. I wasn't so far off back then. I should go back and get take a look at that grade. I'm sure it should have been better than it was.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Heroes In Mouse World

[Anticipating another trip to Disney, I thought I would repost this memory from 2005]

We just spent the week visiting the Mouse in Orlando. There were 15 family members on the last leg of the trip aboard the Disney Cruise ship the Wonder. Our niece is one of the entertainment crew members and we were there to support, cajole, and generally let her know she's loved as well as enjoy our granddaughter's first trip to the World and the Wonder.

Throughout the World and the Wonder little girls of all ages are addressed as "princess" and most wear the costumes of Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Sleepting Beauty, etc. They stand in line with their parents (or are carried if they don't walk yet) to garner a signature from the Disney characters. The Princess characters, however, are the main attraction. What little girl doesn't dream of being a princess?

All of this seems a little one sided to me. Where are the male heroes? The ones who rescued all those princesses? Why aren't we promoting them with costumes and signature books? Well upon examination, I realized that most little boys would not dress to look like Peter Pan, Prince Charming, or even Mr. Incredible (that would require tights). Moreover, their fathers would not let them dress that way.

Finally, in my search for heros and heroines, I found they wore costumes made of everyday stuff--jeans, shorts, T-shirts. They were the ones who took a vacation with the family and found themselves exhausted from giving their kids the best time they could in a world of fantasy and dreams. One father commented on the bus to the airport, "It was great. I'm tired. But it was worth it."

And it is.

We watched our child play with his child and become a child again. He exchanged memories with his brother of long-ago vacations as children. Who would have imagined that what we did in the moment to entertain and please them as children would have lasted as fond remembrances of shared experiences? It almost made me feel like a princess again as I walked next to Mr. Incredible (in jeans, not tights).

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Lone Sneaker

There it was in the middle of four lanes of traffic--the lone sneaker--sitting forlornly on the cold pavement waiting to tell its story. How does one sneaker find itself in the middle of a street separated from its mate?
  • It was tossed out the window as a joke by a passing car full of teens
  • It held on to the roof of the car where someone had rested it while they opened the door and then finally fell off exhausted, bouncing across the asphalt until finally coming to rest against the median strip (the mate fell off earlier)
  • A dog, thinking it great fun to tease his master, ran off with it in his mouth only to become confused by the traffic and dropped his prize in the middle of the street
So many possibilities stream through the mind when you wonder how one lone sneaker can end up in the middle of the street. But wait--perhaps the sneaker chose to sit there and watch life fly by speculating on where all the cars are going.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Musical Sound Bites

[While this was written 12 years ago, the trend has not changed. I still crave holding a hymnal in my hand and seeing notes on a page as well as words. Oh well, the world will move on without me I guess.]

There's a new trend in worship music today. It has moved away from the old hymns and into the realm of what seems like "musical sound bites". They are choruses made up of phrases that for the most part don't tell any story. They are meant to praise or invite God into your life. They don't say a lot about how or why. I'm sure they are meant to be simple but I've never found it easy to read the words on a projection screen and follow someone's voice instead of following musical notes. Even if you don't know how to read music, you would at least know when your voice is supposed to go up or down according to the arrangement of notes on a page.

In today's hurried and media blitzed world we have learned to compartmentalize and extract only that which we think will influence. The sound bite is the tool of the spin doctor. We're told that this is how the new generation receives their information. We used to call something like that Cliffs Notes. The sound bite is even shorter. Can you imagine reducing Moby Dick to a couple of sound bites? Or how about Gone With The Wind? The Bible?

A friend of ours calls the new choruses the 7-11 songs--seven words repeated eleven times. Not too unlike the convenient store chain, we can pop into church and pick up just the needed items and be out in a jiffy rather than shopping through the larger grocery store and seeing what else might satisfy the hunger.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Surviving Winter

[It's fun to go back and read old posts from years ago. This one I wrote in January of 2005. Since then we have become snowbirds. No more winter blues. I wonder, was this prophetic?]

The snow is falling slower today. The flakes are a little bigger and I can almost say it's pretty. Almost. You guessed it. I am not a winter-fun-in-the-cold-and-snow person.

The bears have a good way of passing the winter. Find a cozy cave, curl up, and go to sleep. When the first signs of spring begin to warm the earth again, you stretch, open your eyes, and come out into the warmth of the sun.

But maybe the birds do it better--at least the smart ones. They fly south for the winter. Warm breezes, plenty of berries, the sound of the surf, steel drum music...Oh! Excuse me, I was daydreaming.

Unfortunately I am neither bird nor bear. Time for another cup of hot chocolate and some garden catalogs to pour over. Please, Spring, don't be late!!

Friday, December 01, 2017

A Treasured Christmas Memory

That first Christmas with all five kids was very special. The twins were 12 and Andy was 9. Our newest additions, Cheryl, 6, and Don, 5, had arrived at our home permanently in October. The three older boys were still getting used to this "sister stuff". They knew how to relate to Don--he was a boy--but they gave Cheryl space, not ignoring her, just allowing her to do her thing until they could figure out what that "thing" was. I don't know that they ever have.

We had moved Christmas up a day to Saturday. That morning, Andy awoke early as usual (his record time was around 4:30 a.m.). He waited a decent amount of time, opening his stocking gifts while the rest slept, then began the process of getting the rest of the household up by waking Don. It didn't take long for the rest of us to be up and into the family room.

We have an orderly process of unwrapping gifts one at a time starting with the youngest. Don opened his and was immediately enthralled. Cheryl opened hers next and the enthusiasm and excitement has yet to be matched by anything I've ever seen. As they each played with their gift, I looked to the older boys to watch them scurry to the tree for theirs. To my amazement they sat in awe of Cheryl and Don, mesmerized by their expressions of joy over Santa's gifts to them.

I heard a sniffle and turned in the direction of the sound. Ron (one of the twins) wiped his nose on his sleeve. I chose not to correct his behavior. It was better left unnoticed at that age that he had been so touched emotionally. A moment later, composure regained, he observed, "Wow, this really is their first real Christmas."

Moments later, paper flew and boxes spilled their contents of goodies as the rest of the treasure was discovered under the tree. But that one moment in time when love became the focus of Christmas will always be treasured in my heart.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

More Christmas Decorating Challenges

[Years ago when I had more energy and drive, my Christmas decorating included, in addition to Williamsburg style decorating, the traditional route of a red and green color scheme. Here's a post farom 2004 that tells one of my favorite memories.]

Sticking with the traditional, the colors I chose each year to decorate our home were always red and green. We had green and red stockings for each of our three boys thanks to my mother's new found interest in knitting Christmas stockings on her knitting machine. She was using the extra money she made selling them to pad the Christmas account she used for the grandkids.

When Cheryl and Don joined the family, it was time for two new stockings. Don still wasn't speaking well but nodded when Grandma pointed to green for his stocking. Cheryl, never one to lack decisiveness, blurted out her choice immediately. "Purple!"

"Mom," I pleaded, "you can't be serious. Not purple."

"Purple is what she wants. Purple is what she gets." It was spoken with the authority of a grandmother/mother.

For many years Cheryl's stocking was the centerpiece of our mantel hanging amidst all the greenery and fruit and, of course, the red and green stockings of the boys. I was writing an essay about our first Christmas one day and looking for a lesson in it all. It came as God's answers always do, quietly and with great impact.

Purple, Karen, is the color of royalty. Every year you hang that purple stocking, you celebrate the birth of a king.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Williamsburg Decorating Memories

[Another post from 2004 when I was reminiscing about Christmases past and some of my challenges with Williamsburg decorations.]

My wonderful husband got into the Williamsburg Christmas decorating craze too. He used the pattern in the Colonial Williamsburg Decorates for Christmas by Libby Hodges Oliver to make a board that fit above the front door for me to cover in fruit and greens. The best way to describe it is to think of an oval cut in half lengthwise, then covered with nail brads every 2-3 inches. You wire the greens flat against the back, stick a pineapple on the nails in the middle and surround it with apples (and sometimes lemons). It looks beautiful when finished and was always a point of conversation when we had guests.

The problem with the beautiful display came during the season that our weather fluctuated between near spring temperatures and freezing wintry days. The fruit took a beating from all the temperature changes. On the night of our Sunday School Christmas party it was a little warmer and as I began to greet guests, I noticed they were wiping something from their heads as they entered. It wasn't raining or snowing, I thought curiously. Then about the fourth set of guests to arrive were closer friends who were willing to admit that they were getting "juiced" waiting for me to answer the door.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Williamsburg Decorating

[This week I thought I would look back at some of my posts from previous years. This one is from December of 2004]

Last night I spoke to a group of Home Economics teachers about creating Williamsburg Christmas decorations with fresh greens, fruit, and dried materials. As I demonstrated, I recounted some of my experiences with my own Williamsburg decorations from years past.

The year we adopted our two youngest children who were five and six at the time, I made my usual arrangement of fresh greens and fruit on the dining room table. The greens formed a gentle S shape radiating from a grouping of candles in the center. Along the greens I had placed apples, pears, oranges, pinecones, and mixed nuts. Halfway through the Christmas season, I would replace the fruit with fresh and use the old in a fruit salad. (We always ate healthy during the Christmas season to keep my decorations looking fresh.)

One night we were expecting guests for dinner. As I began to set the table. I noticed something different about the fruit in my arrangement. I blinked. Sure enough, someone had taken a bite out of each piece and placed it back on the table again. There was no time to replace the fruit so I just turned it over and hoped my guests wouldn't examine it later.

I was pretty sure I knew who the culprits were although there's no telling if my other three boys might have done it to be funny. Whoever did it created a wonderful Christmas memory that makes me smile to this day. Actually, I remember smiling a lot that evening every time I thought about the little teeth marks hidden in the underside of the fruit before me.

Friday, November 24, 2017

One More Memory

One more grandma post. This comes from another grandchild who always has gems of wisdom to share. This is from several years ago and I often use it when I'm speaking to groups.

Once in a while it is good to see the world from a different perspective. Here's what I learned this week from my four (almost five) year old grandson (Caleb):

1. Always color dolphins blue.

2. Chocolate chip cookies will get stale if you only eat half of one and save the other half for after dinner.

3. Watching only 3 minutes of Home Alone will elicit 30 minutes or more of questions about strangers.

4. The countdown for a shuttle launching goes like this: 4. . .3. . .2. . .1. . .Admission!. . .Blastoff!

5. When a tropical storm gives you lots of puddles, make paper boats to float in them.

6. Wisdom: If you want to be smart, eat Smarties!

7. If you snap your fingers you can think faster.

[The older I get the more I snap my fingers.]

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Not So Wordless Wednesday

As long as I'm on a grandmother kick in remembering sweet times with grands, here's one more. My favorite picture for Thanksgiving. TJ had a brand new sister the year this picture was taken. We were visiting and helping out with the new arrival as well as fixing Thanksgiving dinner. TJ wanted to watch the turkey cook. He did give up when he figured out it was a regular oven, not a microwave, and would take a few hours. I smile every time it comes to mind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Through The Woods. . .

Another grandmother story. I still love this one. It was written in 2007.

My Grandparents Bought Me This T-Shirt

We have all seen them. They hang in the souvenir shops of every tourist stop. “My grandparents visited [you name the place] and all I got was this T-shirt.” I don’t usually buy a lot of souvenirs for my grandkids when we are traveling. There’s not a lot of room in the suitcase that many trinkets. But on occasion I do try to bring back something that will satisfy their curiosity when they express an interest in where Grandma and Grandpa are going.
On our “once in a lifetime” cruise to Antarctica, I tried to find something that was symbolic or educational to bring home to our young grandchildren. Tyler, the oldest, was four years old at the time and was the only one who had a little understanding of where we were going.
“How cold are the icebergs? Can you walk on them? Does it snow all the time?”
I was desperate to find something that would peak his interest and lend to his education. Trust me. There are not a lot of souvenir shops in Antarctica and bringing back a baby penguin was out of the question. In the ship’s gift shop, I found fleece vests with Antarctica embroidered on the back. The girls, I knew, would enjoy the clothes, but no so Tyler. I bought one for him anyway just to have something to give him.
Back home, as I unpacked the vests, I remembered all his questions about icebergs and snow. I stared out the window at the heavy snow that was falling as I anticipated our visit with him and his sister. Like an avalanche, the idea struck me. Why not give him an iceberg for his souvenir—a mini-iceberg!
Wading out into the snow, I packed a large plastic container with the white stuff, snapped a lid on it and set it in the freezer for our visit.
At Tyler’s house that weekend, the fleece vest got tossed over his head as I anticipated. (His father always did the same thing with gifts that were clothes.) Then I pulled out my special souvenir. His eyes widened and he took the mini-iceberg from me and set it on the floor in front of him. “It’s so cool, Grandma!”
He and Danielle took little penguins from one of their toy collections and played with them on the iceberg and before he went to bed that night, he had to float it in the bathtub with him. He was careful not to let it melt too much (already he was learning about global warming) and it went back into the freezer for another day.
Souvenirs don’t mean a whole lot to others, especially children, if they haven’t experienced the place they came from. When the souvenir is something that will impart a little knowledge or understanding of another place, it becomes much more valuable.
What is it you can whet your grandchild’s appetite for learning with when you look for a souvenir to bring back from vacation? It doesn’t have to cost a whole lot. Save a couple coins from a foreign country. Make a recipe from that country or region for them to taste. Find story books unique to where you visited that you can read with them. And be sure to send them a postcard!

T-shirts are usually three for ten dollars and don’t last past the second washing but a memory shared through a unique souvenir will last a lifetime. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Over The River

This is an article I wrote quite some time ago--at least 12 years since we have been married 49 years now. My mother-in-law passed on a few years ago but the stories still remain and many more are being told. Golden stories will circulate at everyone's Thanksgiving table. Cherish them.


 “Over the river and through the woods…” begins to play in my head about this time of year. Actually, it is more like “over the interstate and through the town,” and it’s not always to Grandmother’s house we go.
For more than thirty-seven years now, we have attended the Robbins’ Family Thanksgiving. Over the years the number in attendance has fluctuated between 25 and 40. Many of those are overnight guests who arrive at the host home on Wednesday evening. Six or eight cooks stay up most of the night to make two turkeys, stuffing, and gravy. It takes that many because there is always the debate to stuff or not to stuff. Then sentry duty to be sure the losing side doesn’t attempt any covert operations. Oh, the stories I could tell about those late nights.
The rest of the meal is brought in by assignment. My assignment for thirty-six years has been the relish tray. Everyone has a special dish, most of which have been handed down through the generations. My husband inherited the onion casserole from his uncle, and his brother whips up a broccoli casserole from an aunt’s recipe. These are very important assignments. They keep a family legacy alive.
Great Grandma Robbins (my mother-in-law) inspects each dish as it arrives—not to see if it’s made correctly, but rather to honor the memory of the family member it represents. As each dish arrives, the stories begin to flow. Helen used to teach literature…Dave was quite a woodcrafter…Arch was stationed at Okinawa… The stories are rich in history as well as genealogy. They give a glimpse of times past and a connection to the present that promises hope for the future.
“Storytelling is a monumental act. In its finest hour it becomes a psalm of praise and thanksgiving for the love and connection of family,” says Eileen Silva Kindig in her book, Remember the Time…? Whether people gather around campfires or kitchen tables, stories passed on through generations become the thread that binds relationships and preserves history. Family stories give us a sense of who we are and where we come from. They give our grandchildren inspiration, a sense of humor, courage, and confidence.
Children can see pictures or visit museums full of old cars that need a crank to start them up, but a story about Uncle Henry who fell on his face in the mud while cranking up the old Ford captures their imagination—especially if Uncle Henry was on a first date with his new lady friend.
Family stories are more than just history. They can teach morals and ethics as well. They tell about patience, inner strength, hope, facing fears, and heroism. They instill pride and pique curiosity.
My two-year-old granddaughter already knows how to operate a simple computer. Someday I hope to tell her stories about life before computers. Those days when we had to use pen and paper, envelopes and stamps. I will tell her about the computer that her Grandpa put together in our basement, how it sprawled across half of the unfinished room, and had huge tapes that spun around as it “thought.” All of that now fits into a device you can hold in your hand, use to talk with someone, and instantly send photographs of the Thanksgiving Day turkey.
I can hear her in a few years exclaim, “You didn’t have a computer when you went to school, Grandma? How did you survive?”
And Grandma, the storyteller, will just smile and say: “We managed. Pass me some more turkey and I’ll tell you how.”

(Published at Inspired Parenting.Net, November 31, 2005)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Cruising - Pool Deck Etiquette

Unfortunately, the most popular place on a day at sea is the pool. Not necessarily that everyone wants in the pool. No, you'll find few actually getting wet. What you will find though is are plenty of loungers. They will grab their lounge chair as early as possible and spend the day there. I don't mind their spending the day in a lounge chair. I do mind that they place their books, bags and towels on a chair and then go off to who knows where and not return to the lounge chair until much later.

You will find that there are notices to say that any unattended lounge chair for more than thirty minutes will be vacated by the pool attendant and you will come back to find your things removed to somewhere else where you will have to collect them. I have yet to see this actually happen. And who can blame the pool attendants. They run the risk of facing the ire of those who feel ownership of their lounge chair.

It's an age old cruising problem that has yet to be solved. One of those things in this world that will not change until the hearts of people change. Territorial disputes have started plenty of wars and the cruise ship pool deck could be a microcosm of that very thing. I think I missed the boat (or in this case the ship) with the plot in my mystery, Death Among The Deckchairs. I should have had the reason for the murder involve a lounge chair dispute. Oh well, maybe I'll write another one- Death Among The Deckchairs 2.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Power Of A Word In A Foreign Language

If you have ever ventured out on your own in a foreign country you have probably found at least one or two instances where no one around you spoke English. Most areas where there are tourist attractions have locals who speak enough English to understand and be understood. Off the beaten track however is a different story.

One of my favorite memories of our 18 days through Europe in an Audi is getting lost on our way to Stresa, Italy. We were traveling with Bob's brother and his wife. The boys pulled up to some men along the way and got out the maps and tried to explain that we wanted to go to Stresa and were lost. The two men were very animated as they rattled off in Italian what we assumed were directions. All seemed good until one man pointed in one direction and the other pointed in another direction. Huh??

Bob and his brother got back in the car and we waved goodbye. We set off down the road and I asked if we knew where to go now. No, came the answer and our Italian isn't any better either. Thankfully not long after that trip rental cars came with GPS.

It's always good to know a few words in the language of the country you visit. Thank you, how much, please, and hello are good. Rest room doesn't always work and neither does bath room. You may end up in a lounge or a Turkish bath. Toilet seems to work well in most places.

Knowing the words for gasoline might be helpful if you are driving. I found a fun article at Smarter Travel. It's a good smile read.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Cruising-Testing The Water

Not sure if you would like cruising? Here's a way to try it out. Take a short 4-5 day cruise. Many are very affordable and you can eat, be entertained and have a room often for less than $100/night. Most of the cruises visit the Bahamas but there are some that do a port or two in the Caribbean and if you live on the West Coast, ports in Mexico.

A couple of years ago we took a short cruise on the Norwegian Sky. We had never sailed with the Norwegian Cruise Line so it was our opportunity to try out a line as well as just take a few days of pampering. What we had forgotten until we showed up in the embarkation line to check in was that it was spring break. We were surrounded by a flurry of 20 somethings, most obviously dressed for the pool to save time. Around us here and there were a few gray heads and a couple of families. We looked at each other, laughed and decided it could be an interesting couple of days.

We were impressed with how the ship's crew handled all the spring partying by setting up a buffet for the young people so they didn't have to leave the pool deck if they didn't want to. That kept the dining rooms less busy. There were still a lot of seats in the theater even if you got there just before the show started. Since we were up "early" and to bed "early" we didn't run into the partiers all that much. Someone wanting to camp out around the pool might have been disappointed but it didn't bother us as we're not sun and pool people.

What did happen was we had a good time, good food and were duly impressed with Norwegians service and handling of the Spring Break situation. Because of that we booked another cruise with them for this year.

Four and five day cruises don't interest us that much. We are avid cruisers and even a seven day stint doesn't seem long enough but it might just be what you are looking for if you want to try it out, not spend a lot and have to worry about whether you like it or not. Want to test the waters? Here's a link to a Cruise Critic post that lists several different short cruise options.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Books For The Road- The Little House On The Prairie

My book club gets me to read things I never would have chosen myself. It gets me out of my mystery/detective niche that I find myself in more often than not. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder was more popular in the 70s about the time that I was elbow deep in diapers and baby food. I did watch the series though with Michael Landon and enjoyed it. So, here I was faced with reading a book written more for a younger audience.

I couldn't find the first books in the series in ebook format so I ended up with the third, The Little House On The Prairie. The books, written by Wilder, are about her childhood as her family became part of the great settlement of the West in the late 1860s. I didn't know quite what to expect but I was drawn into the story and enjoyed it. I may even be tempted to read the whole series.

Here's the teaser about the story:

The adventures continue for Laura Ingalls and her family as they leave their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin and set out for the big skies of the Kansas Territory. They travel for many days in their covered wagon until they find the best spot to build their house. Soon they are planting and plowing, hunting wild ducks and turkeys, and gathering grass for their cows. Just when they begin to feel settled, they are caught in the middle of a dangerous conflict.

If you are looking for a feel good book with a bit of history and want to learn about life as a pioneer, this would fit the bill. It would also work as a great audio book to listen to with the kids on a road trip--that's if you take the batteries out of their electronics.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Scoring Onboard Credit

Almost every time you book a cruise it comes with some kind of onboard credit. Depending upon who you book it with and when you book it will make a lot of difference in the credit you find in your account when you board your ship.

A travel agent will often give you credit as a thank you for booking with them. Sometimes we've found that it is credit for booking at a specialty dining venue rather than just outright dollars to your account. More and more though we've found that agents are giving dollars credited to your account for spending on the ship.

When you book while you are on a cruise you will also get onboard credit from the cruise line. It's one of the incentives for booking your next cruise before you finish the current one. (Bob's incentive is that I won't get off the ship until the next one is booked--or so he says). Usually the cruise line will only ask for a minimum down payment and if you change your mind about the cruise you chose, the down payment can be applied to another cruise you choose later.

There was one time where we truly scored big with onboard credit. We were cruising with a line we hadn't used before and were given credit for being newbees. When we registered with Cruise Critic on the roll call list for the cruise someone contacted us and said that if we would say they recommended the line to us they could get credit and we would as well. Cha-ching. And then our travel agent graced us with a little more credit. We ended up having so much left at the end of the cruise that we went on a shopping spree in the gift shop--something we almost never do.

Be aware that sometimes the credit will be applied to your overall bill so depending upon the conditions of your cruise booking, you may just let that credit be applied to the gratuities you accrue. Be sure to check your bill a time or two while you cruise just to be sure you don't leave that credit onboard. You can't save it. So if nothing else, if it looks like you haven't used all your credit, indulge in the spa, eat a special dinner, or go shopping! There's always a sale day at the end of the cruise.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Stretching Your Palate

Having a son who lives in Japan with his family and is married to a Japanese lady who grew up in Japan, we have been challenged many times to try new foods. Most of the time it works out well. When I saw a list of 13 things you really need to try in Japan, I wondered if they had introduced us to all of them. We need to go visit again. I think there are a few we haven't had yet.

Mention sushi and a lot of people will wrinkle their nose and shake their head or they will order California rolls. They've never tasted the true wonders of sushi or shashimi. Yes, there is raw fish involved but until you have tasted salmon or whitefish that is truly fresh and made correctly with the right seasonings, you cannot imagine the wonderful buttery taste.

Yakatori is a favorite. It's often chicken (sometimes chicken parts) on a stick and is an amazing treat. There are other meats that get grilled on a stick and are tender and wonderful with great seasonings.

There are lots of dishes that I would never have tried if we had visited on our own. Restaurants specialize in things like shabu shabu and okonomiyaki (one of our grandkids favorites). Shabu shabu is served with hot pots of broth and you cook your meats and vegetables in them--quickly because the meats are sliced thin, and then dip them in different sauces.

Okonomiyaki is like a pancake that is cooked on a hot griddle in the middle of your table. When we went to the restaurant, our grandkids (even the littlest) took turns cooking the pancakes. You order the different ingredients that you want and then make your own pancakes.

There are many foods that I see my son trying while he is there. I shake my head in wonder. He was my picky eater. It just proves that you don't know if you'll like it unless you try it. But if you're going to try it, make sure it is authentic. Tokyo is a great place to find any kind of restaurant you might want whether Japanese or not. Just remember that a Mexican or American restaurant may not be quite the same as you are used to back home. It's like trying to find good authentic Japanese food in America.

Here's the link to the 13 Japanese Snacks list. The writer suggests taking a tour with guide who will help you through the taste testing--that's if you don't have the privilege of family members to guide you.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Cruising - If I Were A Rich Woman

Luxury cruise lines. Penthouse suites, butlers, special restaurants, free laundry. If you had deep pockets would you take advantage of the best a cruise line has to offer? You might. There are some ways to get a bit of luxury or at least the feeling of such if you make some good choices.

Our World Cruise 2015 on the Crystal Serenity was the closest we ever came to cruising in true luxury. When you plan to spend 108 days on a ship, you want to be sure you're going to enjoy the food and service and amenities that come along. While it was the most expensive cruise we've taken, we shaved some cost by doing most of our excursions on our own, booking a room without a veranda which was one of the least expensive on the ship. We were still able to enjoy all the amenities offered the World Cruisers but without the butler and the penthouse view.

If you are looking to go all out consider one of the smaller luxury cruise lines like Crystal, Silversea, Seabourn, Paul Gaugin, Regent, the list goes on. See your travel agent or search online for luxury cruises. Check and compare amenities. Most offer all beverages, gratuities, specialty coffees, and many include excursions. Weigh the amenities against the cost and your interests (there are often themed cruises) and decide if you will take advantage of all of them. If you are going to indulge but then end up complaining about the cost, it would be better to go with a line that is ala carte where you can pick and choose as you go.

There are some cruise lines that are not as expensive and if you want to go in style, you might consider booking with them, off season, and upgrade to a suite. Many of the suites come with special amenities like spa time, lounges only for suite occupants, early boarding, dining at specialty restaurants, etc.

Like all travel, you need to decide what your likes and dislikes are, your comfort level (Would you really like having a butler unpack your clothes and draw your bath?) and of course what you can afford to spend. Given the choice, I'd take two less expensive cruises over one that costs as much as two--unless I were really really rich.

Monday, November 06, 2017

It's A Pocketful Of Christmas!

It's here! It's available on Amazon! And it's a great quick read for the holidays. A Pocketful Of Christmas is a novella and takes place in a little town in Pennsylvania. Here's the teaser:

When you give the miracle of love will you get double back? A small Pennsylvania town will soon discover if that is true. In Hollitown, Joseph is not looking forward to his first Christmas without his wife. When he discovers that eight year old Keri is hurting as well from missing her father, Joseph finds that a pocketful of Christmas can bring joy again into both their lives.

Uplifting and inspirational, I hope the story will bring joy into the hearts of my readers. I've had it in my pocket for quite some time now.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Making Travel Mysterious and Fun!

Am I ready to move out of my comfort zone? Maybe. I've found something that just may get me to budge from the all the planning and details of a trip. It's called Pack Up + Go. Here's how it works.

First you set a budget, a per person limit for a 2 night/3 day trip and set a date. The date needs to be at least four weeks in the future which makes sense for booking and for the agents to find the best prices. It is suggested that if you are traveling near a holiday that you pad your budget a bit more since travel during holidays is generally more expensive.

Then you fill out a survey that asks questions about what you are interested in when you travel and what you are comfortable with as a mode of transportation (road trip, airplane, bus, train). Do you prefer action, relaxation, culture? What kind of dining and entertainment do you like? Outdoors vs. museums? There is a survey example on the website so you can get an idea of the questions.

Once you checkout with payment, the agents go to work planning your getaway. They will do all the booking for your transportation and accommodations. And they will put together a packet full of suggestions for things to do, where to eat, and things to see.

A week before your departure date you will be given information on the weather at your destination, what to pack and where to go to depart for your trip.

Just a couple of days before your departure you receive an envelope with your destination enclosed along with the packet of recommendations for what to do, see, eat, etc. But wait! you don't open the envelope until you get to the point of your departure. It would spoil the spontaneity and surprise.

Once you are at your point of departure, you open the envelope and, as the name implies, Pack Up + Go.

So, what do you think? I'm thinking it would be a fun little getaway. Once we are through our current travel plans, I think we might try it out. It's only a couple of days and we choose what we want to do once we are at our destination. I tried to find complaints about the agency but couldn't find anything negative online. I say we give it a go.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Cruising With An Eco-Wake

So, okay, I made up the Eco-wake thing, but how do you make the transition from an ecological footprint to something that happen on the water?--most of us don't walk on water. Cruise lines are becoming more and more conscious of what they are doing to the environment. It used to be that as long as you were in international waters you could just dump the holding tank and throw the garbage overboard. Not any more.

There are more regulations that are enforced and lots of improvements to ship design and systems within the ship that lessen the impact of our cruising population on the environment. Many of the cruise lines are very proud of their efforts and when you are cruising with them will explain much of what they do. One example, waste water that is processed well enough to be able to drink. 

There is a list of environmentally conscious cruise lines, some river cruises and some ocean cruises, at Smarter Travel. Two of the big ones are Disney and Holland America. Since we cruise often with Holland America I can tell you that they do make quite an effort and encourage passengers to be more aware of recycling and reducing waste. Waste cans in the rooms are slotted so that you can separate paper from other waste.

In the article it mentions that we leave a bigger impact when we cruise than we do on land. I guess I don't quite understand that except that a ship needs to use fuel and has emissions but then so do our cars. I'm just glad that there are improvements being made to the industry since I'm not giving up cruising and I do want to have places to visit that are still beautiful and clean.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Where Do You Hide Your Valuables When Traveling?

From secret pockets in sneakers and flip flops to a canister you bury at the beach to an empty lip balm container, there are a lot of ingenious ways to hide your credit cards and cash when you travel. Of course there is the usual tuck-in-your-waistband pouches for guys and I found a pouch that tucks in a bra for women. The problem with those is getting to them easily. The waistband not so hard. The bra I would think would be a bit tricky but then I guess this is for hiding it away not using it on the go.

I love the lip balm idea for hiding a little extra cash. There is a video on the Smarter Travel website that shows you how to empty the gel and insert the money. Clever.

The flip flops were clever as well but I wonder if the credit cards might work their way out of the compartment as you walk. They have them for both men and women at the SlotFlops .com site, cost $29.99.

KangaRoos made a little more sense. There is a hidden pocket in the side of the shoe that can hold a couple of credit cards and some cash. They are available on Amazon and at Payless.

There is also underwear with secret compartments for cash/credit cards/passport. Do a search online and you'll be amazed at what you find.

One of the suggestions I found on several sites was to carry a dummy wallet. You get an old wallet and fill it with several expired gift cards or dummy credit cards like you get in the mail sometimes. Add a dollar or two and let the pickpocket find that or toss it at the mugger and run.

Some of the best advice is to be sure you don't carry all your valuables in one place. Leave most in the hotel safe and carry only what you need. Use smaller denominations rather than carrying larger bills. We always take two different credit cards. We've been on a couple of trips where our main card was compromised and the bank had to cancel it and send us another. That usually takes several days if you are out of the country (or in Hawaii as we were once). Having the other card saved us having to deal strictly in cash and searching for ATMs all the time.

The article reminded me of my creative mother who folded a $20 bill, pulled out a collar stay and inserted the bill into the collar of my brother's shirt instead. She was worried that his fraternity pledge class would be taken out to the middle of nowhere without any money. I think it came in handy.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Travel Advice Network

If you have followed my blog at all over the years you've seen me refer to TripAdvisor, a lot. So I thought it would be interesting to see where all of that began. Back in 2000 several cofounders including Steve Kaufer who is presently the President and CEO started out with more of an experiment in building a data base for travel information and grew TripAdvisor into a consumer driven review site. At one point, it was owned by Expedia but it gets much more complicated.

The TripAdvisor Media Group that has been established now includes many of the sites that I depend upon for information. Smarter Travel and Cruise Critic being the main ones as well as Independent Traveler, Seat Guru, Vacation Home Rentals, and the list goes on. Who knew? Not me--until I began my researching.

I was going to give you a history of Cruise Critic as well which actually began back in 1995 but has now been incorporated into the over all family of TripAdvisor Media Group.

I'm sure they operate independent of each other but still, it makes me wonder how much my consumer dollar is being drawn into one specific group. The TripAdvisor Media Group was praised for its growth and expansion in an article from 2012 that I found on The Harvard Business Review site. For those of you who understand the business end and the technical fields better it might be an interesting read.

For now I will continue to search and review through TripAdvisor. While it seems to be cornering the market online for travel, I still think it is one of the best places to do your research before taking a trip.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Cruising Pet Peeves

With several cruises on the near horizon, I found a Cruise Critic article about things that drive you nuts on a cruise. Since there's been a pretty big lapse of time between cruises, I thought I ought to peruse the article and refresh my memory. Are there things that drive me nuts on a cruise? Well, maybe some.

The first day aboard where every department of the ship is offering those just-gotta-have packages. We avoid most of them. We already have planned in advance for any excursions we want to take and booked our special restaurant nights. After our embarkation lunch, we book the thermal spa for Bob if the ship has one. Then we are off to explore the ship and get our bearings being careful to avoid the areas where we know all those special deals are being pitched.

One of the mentions in the article is all the photographers wanting to take your picture. If we can, we avoid those. If not, we smile quickly and go on our way. We rarely look at them and we haven't bought a picture in several years. At least now I don't feel so guilty as many of the ships are not printing pictures until you've looked at the digital files and order them.

We've gotten around slow internet by finding a MacDonald's in port. Love the coffee. WiFi is free and usually a lot better than the ship. On sea days when you just gotta check email, we download it then go off line to read it and respond. Once mail is ready to be sent, we go online again. But in these days of retirement, we find that email is not so important as it once was and after all if you are on vacation, you should be free of those (although retirees don't have vacation, we just take trips).

I did find one new item that is worth checking out. The only way to get a really good cup of coffee on a ship anymore seems to be in the coffee bars that charge for it. But hot water is free at the buffet and if you bring a french press and some coffee grounds, you can make your own. I may just have to try that. I do have a french press and I'm sure taking a Keurig would be against the rules.

The article gives you some "zen" ideas to get past the pet peeves or things that bug you on a cruise. My age-old sage advice--chill, walk away, keep your expectations at a lower level then be pleasantly surprised when they are exceeded. Remember to ask yourself when you see a problem "Is it really my problem? or someone else's to solve." Be a cruiser not a crusader. Enjoy the good parts.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Germ Phobia? Or Just Gross? When You Travel

There out there. Those who go through gallons of Purell and won't touch a thing touched by someone else. And some of them travel with us. So what's germ phobia? Or what's just plain gross? Here are some thoughts.

Start with having to take your shoes off going through security. While I don't think I'm a phobic I don't appreciate my bare feet traipsing across a cold floor. And yet I will go barefoot in so many other places. I used to get by the shuddering experience by wearing socks even with my sandals and then just popping them into my back pack once I was through security. Now we have Global Entry which fast tracks us through TSA as well. Shoes stay on. If you are over 75, you can also leave your shoes on. I'm getting there but I do have a few years to go.

Speaking of covering your feet, the other place is in the airplane's restroom. Not here I might be phobic but I can't imagine those restrooms getting sanitized before every takeoff. Neither can I imagine all those guys (sorry men) and even some ladies who don't sit well always hitting the mark. Definitely take some socks at the very least for a trip to the restroom or put your shoes on.

When we enter our hotel room one of the first things to be touched is the TV remote. I've seen all sorts of warnings that it is probably the germiest thing in the room. We don't usually think of that or bring disinfectant wipes to wipe it down. We have seen some hotels advertise with a card next to the remote that is has been sanitized. Okay. Not phobic about this one. Should I be?

Water fountains. Mom always yelled "don't put your mouth on that thing!" Now we're told that they could be harboring bacteria. Well, dehydration could harbor a lot of ills. We buy a bottle of water once we are through security. Yes, it's expensive in the airport but at least I don't have to listen to the echoes of Mom yelling at me. You hear the voice of your departed mom too, right?

My Purell is always in my purse or back pack. I don't go through gallons of it but I do try to remember to take some precautions when I feel it necessary and always before we eat when we've been out and about. I think I walk a healthy line between phobic and common sense.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Books For The Road - Love And Other Consolation Prizes

No apologies. I am a fan of Jamie Ford. He is not a prolific author but I have read all three of his books now and am eagerly anticipating another. I can understand why the books take a while to write. In a word, homework. He does his homework in researching the historical background for his books. This latest, Love And Other Consolation Prizes, revolves around two World Fairs held in Seattle, WA. One was in 1909, the other in 1962.

As Ford says in his Author's Note in the back of the book, "my de facto muse seems to be a never-ending appetite for lost history--the need to constantly turn over rocks and look at the squishy things underneath." And one could certainly say there were squishy things under this historical rock.

The story revolves around the life of a boy, Ernest, who was raffled off at the 1909 WF. He was brought to this country by a slave trade that bought children in China and sold them or indentured them to those shall we say on the more shaded side of life here on the west coast. While this was history, I couldn't help but think of the problems we have today with underground sex slave organizations.

Eventually Ernest and a girl who was on the same ship end up at one of the classier brothels of Seattle back in the early 1900s. Now this could have been a dicey story that I would have put down if he had treated it any differently. While he doesn't sugar coat it so much that you don't feel the pain and the anxiety of the times, including all the groups opposed to the seedy side of life that was a part of Seattle then (and probably now) who marched and threatened but didn't seem to actually make life any better for those caught in the life style that for some was their only hope of survival.

Ernest and Gracie and Maisie (another girl whose mother ran the brothel) become great friends. Ford takes the reader through their journey by contrasting their lives in 1962 with their early years in 1909. I was afraid of getting to the end and finding a resolution that would disappoint me but Ford came through with a great ending that satisfied my involvement with the characters.

Great read to take along wherever you are going. Just be aware that while he handles the story with great sensitivity, it is still a story that might not appeal to those who may not want to look at the more shady side of life no matter how redemptive.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Oktoberfest - Put In Bay, Ohio

Every October Put-In-Bay, Ohio, sponsors an Oktoberfest. We have been going for quite a few years now. It's a great autumn celebration with lots of food, a band, (which this year was outstanding) and a time for us to visit with family that lives there.

This year it seemed it was a preview for our river cruise that is coming soon on the Danube River. I'm looking forward to the schnitzel. I remember from years ago the schnitzel that filled a plate and all the trimmings that went with it. This year though at PIB I opted for a knockwurst which was delicious along with the kraut, cabbage and potato pancake.

Bob enjoys apple dumplings and there is one booth at the Oktoberfest each year that features them. He insists on going to Oktoberfest on Saturday because the one year we went on Sunday, the apple dumplings were sold out. He got his wish this year and delved into the dumpling and ice cream with great appreciation.

The 25 piece band, The Deutscher Musik Verein, according to its facebook page is from the Cleveland area and is a non-profit that performs about 20 times a year. They were so much fun and the music was terrific!

If you are looking for a great getaway for a day or a weekend in October check out the possibilities at Put In Bay. Book early though if you are staying overnight. This is becoming quite a popular venue. We live close enough to make it a day trip but were amazed at how full the Miller Ferry was at 10:30 when we arrived. The festivities start at 11 so I guess everyone was thinking that was a good boat to catch. For more information on Oktoberfest and the island, check out Put In Bay. com.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Through My Lens - A Walk In The Park

The weather this October has been spectacular. Unfortunately the dry days have not helped with the changing fall leaf colors. Many of the leaves are just turning brown or just dropping off the trees. Spectacular fall color vs. spectacular sunny weather. Tough choice but with the sunny weather comes opportunity for nice long walks together. Here's a few pictures from our walk along the towpath in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Books For The Road. . .Or Home

The weather this fall has been spectacular. Except for a few spotty days of rain and a cold day, it has been sunny and warm. When that happens, it's time to take full advantage. I've been doing some reading on our deck, a cup of coffee beside me and sunshine filtering through the waning leaves. I haven't had a lot of time to read the last few months. I've been busy writing--trying to supply some reading material to entertain others. So this weather has invited me to relax a bit and enjoy.

Here are some books you might like to indulge in on a nice fall afternoon--or if your weather is turning colder, next to a warm fire snuggled in a soft blanket. The Annie Pickels Series, The Casey Stengel Mysteries, Divide The Child and my favorite, Ruby. 

The latest release is a novella, A Pocketful Of Christmas:

When you give the miracle of love will you get double back? A small Pennsylvania town will soon discover if that is true.

In Hollitown, Joseph is not looking forward to his first Christmas without his wife. When he discovers that eight year old Keri is hurting as well from missing her father, Joseph finds that a pocketful of Christmas can bring joy again into both their lives.

A Pocketful Of Christmas is available in both paperback and kindle at Amazon. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Have You Ever Missed The Boat?

It's probably not kind to say this but some of the best entertainment on board a cruise ship is found standing on the promenade deck and watching as people run for the ship just as the gangplank is about to be taken up. We've heard screaming, pleading, seen a husband leave his wife trying to catch up, watched as a woman discarded her shoes to run faster and more.

We've also seen those who have missed the ship and stood stranded on the dock as our ship pulled away. Two men who missed the ship threw their hands in the air and then doubled over--either from exhaustion or despair. They were met by two officials who handed them their passports, courtesy of the staff who had announced their names and waited for thirty minutes for them. They were on their own to catch up at the next port.

Another time the ship's crew lowered a boat that they use for maintenance to pick up a passenger who was crying on the dock when she missed the ship. That was an unusual courtesy and we suspect she paid for it and not just in embarrassment when, for the rest of the cruise, every time the ship's departure time was announced it was followed by "and that means you too, Mrs. ***".

So here are some tips to consider just in case you venture out on your own in port and run the risk of not getting back in time.

  •   If you want to see something in port that is quite a distance from the ship consider booking a ship's excursion rather than doing it on your own. The ship will wait for a booked excursion that is late. 
  • Take the daily program with you. The name and number of the port agent for the cruise line will be listed there. If there is a problem that's the place to start if you get to the dock and see the back of the ship as it sails away. 
  • Keep a copy of your passport with you. The cruise ship usually keeps your passport for the duration of the cruise for immigration purposes. Plus carrying your passport with you is not always a good idea with pickpockets plentiful. At least if they have not left your passport with the port agent, you will have a starting point.
  • Be sure you have a credit card with you just in case you find you need to book transportation to the next port. 
The best thing you can do for yourself is to be aware of the time you are expected to be back on the ship before it sails, account for any time zone changes that could throw you off by an hour and leave plenty of time for the unexpected, like traffic. As I say over and over, do your homework. Know how long it will take you to get to your destination and back to the ship. Then you too can stand and watch the others who run for the ship at the last possible minute.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Graffiti Art - Legal Or Not?

Have you ever stopped at a rail crossing and watched as train after train goes by covered in graffiti? We all know what it is. As Wikipedia defines it: writing or drawings that are scribbled, scratched, or painted illicitly on a wall or other surface often in public view. It goes on to say that it has existed since ancient times.

Today's graffiti in most cases is considered illegal and destruction of property no matter how elaborate the painting or design. In an effort to contain the rampant spread of would be street artists, many communities have set aside certain areas where artists can express themselves with their unique type of street art. It is said that there is an honor code and true graffiti artists will not paint over another's work.

Often times the art work is an expression of political views. I remember the artwork along the Berlin Wall. Some of it was still standing when we visited several years ago. Mostly though, it ends up simply being a "tag", someone's name spray painted on the side of a building or rail car or bridge. Those labeled as art and being recognized more throughout the art world are more colorful, designed well, and evoke the elements found in work that is considered artistic and valued.

You will see graffiti, art or not, in most any place you travel. There are some places in the world that are actually known for their artistic graffiti: Hosier Lane in Melbourne, Australia; Warsaw, Poland; Tesnov, Prague; Paris, France; Taipei, Taiwan; Zurich, Switzerland; Sydhavnen, Copenhagen, Denmark; Burghausen, Germany; and in the United States, Queens, New York and Venice, California. An article, 10 Places Where Graffiti Is Legal, is well worth reading if you are planning to visit any of those areas.

In my researching, I did find another interesting place online, The Graffiti Creator, where you can type in your name or other word and play with the colors and designs to create your own work of art. That's where my TRAVEL graffiti came from. Have fun!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Mini Road Trip - Gettysburg, PA

There are many ways you can explore the Gettysburg National Park. Self-guided and audio driving tours, bus tours, bicycling, hiking, and our choice, a licensed battlefield guide. Since John is a friend we made special arrangements with him but you can reserve a tour with a guide for up to six people for $75. It would be well worth it.

John met us and we spent a little time catching up as we walked to our car. He got behind the wheel and started us out with maps on which he'd drawn the battle lines for the three days of battle that were fought here, explaining the advancements and retreats. With the information from the movie and the museum, we felt a little more prepared and able to understand.

It was nice to have John driving. It gave Bob the opportunity to look around rather than have to concentrate on where he was going on the road. John began with some stops to see some of the Ohio monuments that were in the park since he knew that was our home state. All of the states that participated whether Confederate or Union are represented in the park. Each of the regiments usually have a monument placed at the spot where they held the lines or advanced.

When the battle took place of course there were not as many buildings and roads and as John explained, there was less undergrowth and trees. More open space meant that you had less cover to hide behind. The hills of Gettysburg were instrumental in the Union winning the battle. They had most of the high ground and with cannons that fired a little better than the Confederate side's they held their position.

Still the Confederate armies made a valiant effort, pushing back the Union soldiers in some spots and advancing. Over the three days however, there were 51,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing. Not long ago after reading Gods and Generals, I looked up the toll the Civil War took on our country. There were 620,000 that lost their lives, more than World War I and II combined.

Each time we stopped at a different vantage point and got out of the car, John would explain what part of the battle took place in front of us on which day. It began to make some sense as we compared it to our maps.

Our last stop was at the Soldier's National Cemetery. It is adjacent to the Evergreen Cemetery which is the cemetery for the town of Gettysburg. The general public is not allowed in the Evergreen Cemetery but that is actually where Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address. He was invited to speak along with Edward Everett. The dedication of the Soldier's National Cemetery could not take place at the actual spot where it is because they were still in the process of the reinterment of the soldiers from other hastily dug graves. On November 19, 1963, Edward Everett gave his two hour long speech followed by Abraham Lincoln's mere 272 words that obviously made a much bigger impact.

The cemetery is in a half circle surrounding the Soldier's National Monument. Many of the graves are marked "unknown". We were surprised to learn that there were actually some Canadians who also fought in the Civil War and are buried there.

It was a beautiful fall day and a wonderful three hours spent with a very knowledgeable friend who joined us for dinner as well. Bob still was looking for ice cream though and since it was a Friday night we thought we would try the ice cream shop again. To his delight it was open.

We never questioned why the shoppe might be called the Cannonball Old Time Malt Shoppe. As we stood outside while Bob ate his ice cream, a family with some young children came out and a man with a flashlight engaged them with some information about Gettysburg. Then he centered his light on a spot just above the door to the shop. There stuck in the brick was a small cannonball. It had been shot toward the town from a distance of 1800 yards according to the man who it turned out was a historical interpreter who dressed during the day in the period and gave talks to passers by.

It was the perfect ending to a wonderful day. I was amazed at the information I'd taken in. If only history had come alive for me in high school I wouldn't have struggled so much with it. I might even have enjoyed it.

 John R. Krohn is the name of our friend who is a licensed Battlefield Guide. He has a lineage that dates back to the Civil War and because of that it created the desire in him to learn more and eventually become a guide. You can contact him for reservations at the address and number on his card pictured here.

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