"" Writer's Wanderings: August 2017

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Throwback Thursday - The Sandlot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Is My Stuff Safe In The Hotel Room?

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Do You Haggle When You Travel?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

When You Travel Should You Give To Panhandlers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Books For The Road - The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 07, 2017

National Park Travelers Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 04, 2017

Don's Excellent Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Stampeding Manatees?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Keeping Up With The Changing Cruise Scene

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

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

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

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