"" Writer's Wanderings: August 2017

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Pickleball Around The World

So what is Pickleball? One of the fastest growing sports for all ages. It was said it was for seniors but the players are getting younger everyday. We even have middle school students coming to learn to play on occasion from the nearby school. And, to my surprise, it has spread to many other parts of the world. So, I guess we can start packing our paddles when we travel.

Back to the original question. Pickleball is a little like tennis but played on a smaller court with paddles that look like table tennis but are a bit larger and a ball that resembles a whiffle ball. Check out the video here.

So where do you find Pickleball outside the USA? Canada, Finland, Australia, France, India, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the UK. Did I mention Costa Rica? Yes. There is a couple from Washington who moved to Costa Rica and is now setting up tours for Pickleball groups to come and play and sightsee and play. Our Pickleball group may be going. Sounds like it could be fun. Travel and Pickleball. Best of both worlds.

Lighten Up! Leave The Everyday Purse At Home

I've said it before and I'll say it again, when sightseeing there is no reason to load yourself down with a heavy purse that will just make you tired halfway through your day. Time after time I see women going through the TSA security check with a purse the size of a carry on. Now that's fine if you are just getting from one place to another on a business trip or a visit with relatives, but if you are intending to tour on vacation, take a vacation from that huge baggage that will only give you a pain in the neck.

Opt for a small purse, one that can be worn across your body and in front of you for more security while you are out and about. How small you ask? Maybe we should back up and see what you absolutely need to carry with you.

You won't need all those store value shopper cards. Clean them out of your wallet and leave them home. All you will need is your driver's license or passport and one or two credit cards. Wow. That really reduces that wallet. Maybe you could get by with a smaller one of those as well.

Carrying all of your cosmetics including your nail polish in your purse? Why? Put your makeup on before you go on tour or take a vacation from it all together. A little lipstick may be all you need to perk up that I'm-on-vacation-look. If you must have perfume or fragrance, find a light perky scent in a small sample size.

Don't keep collecting change. Use it up as soon as you can with your next purchase. Some foreign coins are very heavy.

Now let's take a little inventory, Lipstick, maybe a sample perfume, small wallet with two cards and driver's license, a few coins, a small comb, a small pack of tissues, sample sized pain reliever and antacid, a small hand sanitizer and your cell phone. Add to that the hotel key when you get it and you are good to go. I know. I know. The withdrawal symptoms may come but once you relax and start enjoying the scenery you won't miss any of that other stuff. And your neck and back will thank you at the end of the day. You might even like it so much you'll make changes when you get home.

The only place you need a big bag is if you're heading to the beach. My suggestion is find a canvas bag you can tuck in your suitcase and fill when you need it with the beach essentials like sunblock and water and a towel or two. And of course that beach book!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

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. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Books For The Road - The Annie Pickels Story


Several years ago (2012) to be exact I wrote and published In A Pickle, the first novel of the Annie Pickels Story. Here is the back cover teaser:

Annie Pickels, a 65 year old widowed pickle entrepreneur is in real trouble. One of her city farmers is growing marijuana on his rented plot of land. Annie, thinking it is marjoram, uses it as a secret ingredient in her pickles. Insisting Tommy is a nice young man, Annie discovers his beloved Mary Jane is not the name of his girlfriend when Annie is arrested for cultivation and sale of marijuana. But Annie knows God always takes care of her. On a cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2, Annie met Arnie, the man who may solve her impending legal dilemma. Elma, Annie's best friend, knows that Arnie is just what Annie needs in her life. But is he? Annie's niece thinks Arnie is out to fleece her aunt. Is she right? Or is Arnie the one who can get Annie out of the pickle she's in?

Now the story is completed in Pickle Dilly. Here's the teaser:

Annie Pickels, a widowed pickle entrepreneur, and her best friend Elma are off to London for a little holiday. While in London things are happening back home that threaten to cause the loss of Annie’s farm property. Once again she will rely on Arnie, her friend who is a lawyer but who wants to be so much more in her life, to help her out of trouble. A trip to Alaska and a meeting with her deceased husband’s family solves some of her problems but there are still questions to be answered. How far will the people who want her property go to get it? And, is there room in her heart for Arnie, the one Elma keeps telling her is the “man of her dreams”? It’s a dilly of a pickle Annie finds herself in but with friends, family and faith the answers become clear.

Both books are a humorous adventure that includes trips to the Caribbean on the Queen Mary 2, London and Alaska. Readers who have fallen in love with the characters, Annie, Elma and Arnie, have begged me to finish the story. It took a while but now it's here. In a Pickle has a new cover that coordinates with Pickle Dilly. After all Elma, the fashionista, would want the books coordinated.

In A Pickle and Pickle Dilly are now available on Amazon in paperback and ebook format. Enjoy!!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Eclipse Adventure

Like so many other Americans Bob and I spent a good part of our afternoon on Monday (8/21) watching the eclipse. In our area it was about 80% which was pretty amazing in itself. It was a very hot afternoon and I was glad our setup allowed us to stay indoors. Thank goodness for south-facing windows.

While Bob had made a pinhole viewer with a shoe box, I opted to go the route of using the binoculars to project an image onto white poster board. It wasn't hard to set up. I took the lid of Sunday's pizza box and cut a hole just large enough to fit over one side of the binocular lenses. The instructions said the less light leaking in around the lens the better so we duct taped any gaps we found. I used my camera's tripod and taped the binoculars to it so it would be steady.

We had some foam board downstairs leftover from Christmas gingerbread houses and I used that for my projection screen. Once it was set up, it worked like a charm. We had to move it from the family room window to the kitchen window as the sun moved but we didn't have to go out in the heat (it was 90) and humidity.

I was amazed at how well the pictures came out that I took with my phone. And the video shows how the clouds passed over the sky as well. Thankfully at 2:31 PM, full peak time, the clouds parted and we could see the moon cover 80% of the sun.

We're ready now for 2024 when it is due to be a total eclipse in our area.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Grandma’s Journal

Do you keep a journal? Journaling is one of those things that I toy with now and then. I used to be a diary-keeper when I was a teen and young adult but life got busy with five kids and I fell out of the habit. Now, with all the writing I do I find that I have a kaleidoscopic journal that is in colorful pieces here and there. I keep a blog and journal on many of my trips—especially if it is to an interesting place like China.

Here and there in my writing I am influenced by my grandchildren. Usually it is because they have provided a good laugh. Case in point: One night we got a 1-800-Grandma call from our oldest grandson, Tyler. It went something like this:

"Tee-hee. Grandma? Can you come and give my Daddy a spanking? Tee-hee-hee."

"A spanking? Why? What's Daddy doing?"

"Well, he's your son and he keeps teasing me."

"Yes, he's my son, but what's he doing?"

"He flipped me with his sock. And it smelled, Grandma! Tee-hee-hee."

"Tyler, is this a 1-800-Grandma call?"

"A what?"

"Never mind. But if your Daddy needs a spanking, you better call 1-800-Grandpa."

Guess I still subscribe to the just-wait-until-your-father-gets-home threat. Tee-hee-hee.

And then there was the time when Kotomi, who was about four, walked up to Cinderella at the Disney World Castle and asked, “So, where’s the prince?”

I could go on but then I’d just be taking advantage of your listening ear—or make that reading eye. The point is that these are precious memories worth noting somewhere because along the way, they are often forgotten and too soon these little people will be grown up with little people of their own. What fun to be able to share the memories of their young lives with each other and their parents who may not have the time to write it down. And what a precious treasure for the future generations.

Journals come in all sizes, shapes, and price-points. When I was younger, I used a diary with the lock that had a one-key-fit-all to open it. Then I advanced to a seventy-nine cent spiral notebook when I figured out anyone could get into the locked diary.

Whatever type of journal you may choose, a clothbound fancy parchment-papered book with a raffia ribbon or a spiral notebook, put it in a place where you will see it often and remember to record those warm fuzzy moments with grands. And even if they aren’t so fuzzy, it may help you to see them in a different light. A journal is a map of a journey. Not necessarily where you are going but where you have been. It’s nice to look back once in a while.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Grandma’s Got a Brand New Bag

[It's time for some more Grandma stories. I wrote this several years ago when these two grands were much younger--oh, so was I!]

Tyler and Danielle can hardly sit still in the car. They are on their way to pick up Mamaw Patty from work and have lunch with her. Their excitement is hard to contain because they know that their grandmother will have a brand new bag of goodies for them to explore during lunch. They pick Mamaw up at work and head for McDonald’s.

“Ooh, what’s in the bag, Mamaw?” Tyler says before she can fasten her seat belt. He knows she’s not going to tell him but it’s worth a try.

Danielle rolls her big baby blues and says, “I know.”

Tyler scowls. “What?”

“Something good.”

They rush to sit beside Mamaw Patty while their mom, Lori, orders lunch. Patty reaches into her bag and hesitates. She’s drawing out the anticipation and enjoying their eager faces. Slowly she begins to pull out the supplies for the day’s project—fish foamies, glue, wiggly eyes, markers.

By the time the fries are gone and the last bite of hamburger disappears, Tyler and Danielle each have a colorful angel fish with wiggly eyes to take home. And to Lori’s delight, Patty has enough in her bag to give the kids a project to work on when they get home.

When Tyler and Danielle come to Grandma Robbins’ house, their enthusiasm is directed to my toy closet. Each time they visit there is always something new to be discovered. Sometimes it is just the latest toy from a Happy Meal. I like a smaller portion of fast food and discovered I could order a kid’s meal and save the toy for my closet. Or perhaps I’ve been out and seen something on sale that I could add to the collection that grows as they do while I try to keep up with their expanding interests. My toy closet is easily accessible and each grandchild is quite proud that they can go into it on their own and choose what they will play with. 

What’s your bag? What do you do that is special and unique for your grands? It doesn’t have to be fancy. Maybe you like to bake or cook and have a specialty that they can always associate with you. Perhaps you love to read and always have a new book ready to share in a special chair or corner of the garden. An ongoing project like a doll house that is only worked on at your home. A hobby or talent that is your specialty to share.

Your “bag” makes you unique in your grandchild’s eyes. That is one of the things they will associate with grandma and grandpa. They will remember that there was something special just for them, wrapped in your love, each time they visited with you. Keep it fresh but keep it uniquely yours. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

It's A Zoo Day!

In the several years that we have purchased a zoo membership to our Cleveland MetroParks Zoo we have never regretted it. It allows us to go as often as we like and we never feel like we have to see everything in one visit. As a matter of fact, sometimes we just go because we want to walk around and get some exercise and, well, of course see what the animals are up to.

That was our goal on our last visit a few days ago. It was a beautiful day. The temperatures were in the 70s and the humidity was low. My kind of an August day. We started out as usual going past the Colombo monkeys and the checking on the rhinoceros and then stopping in to see if there were any animals in the Sarah Allison Steffee medical center that were being looked at, operated on, or getting a check up.

As luck would have it there was a small kangaroo having a routine medical exam. He was obviously sedated although he didn't have his eyes closed. I think they were looking closely at some spots on his skin. One of the best observations we got to make there a few years ago was when one of the monkeys was having a root canal. It's always fascinating.

Our route took us up to the new tiger exhibit that is always a pleasure to see. This day though there was only one tiger and he was sleeping on one of the tiger passages over the top of the walkway. I wondered if he was the new arrival, Hector.

The grizzlys were out enjoying the sunshine and several of the other bears were enjoying some treats including the sloth bear who was working to get a coconut out of a tire where his caretaker had hidden it. They do that to challenge the animals and keep them interested in new things in their environment. She was disappointed that he took the coconut inside his habitat to crack it. We couldn't see it but we could hear it as he worked to get it open.

The giraffes were enjoying all the kids who were feeding them. Our little giraffes are growing.

We passed the outdoor koala and decided to forego the Australia exhibits for the day. Instead we opted to visit my favorite merkats who always entertain us and then sit for a spell and watch the elephants "delicately" pull together mouthfuls of hay and stuff it in their mouths. They each consume between 100-400 pounds of food a day. I can't imagine how they eat all that dry stuff without taking a drink of water now and then.

We had to detour from our usual walking route and for a good reason. There's something new coming! It's just been fenced off and equipment is beginning to be put in place. Just as we enjoyed watching the progress of the tiger exhibit and before that the elephant exhibit we will enjoy checking up on this new one that will be for the leopards and red panda. More reasons to take more zoo days!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Throwback Thursday - The Sandlot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Is My Stuff Safe In The Hotel Room?

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Do You Haggle When You Travel?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

When You Travel Should You Give To Panhandlers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Books For The Road - The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 07, 2017

National Park Travelers Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 04, 2017

Don's Excellent Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Stampeding Manatees?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Keeping Up With The Changing Cruise Scene

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

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

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

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