"" Writer's Wanderings: September 2017

Friday, September 29, 2017

Another Road Trip Stop - The Corn Palace

In 1892, the city of Mitchell built its first corn palace as a way to prove to the world that South Dakota had a healthy agricultural climate.The palace was to be a gathering place where city residents and their rural neighbors could enjoy a fall festival with stage entertainment. It would be a celebration to top off the growing season and harvest.

In 1905 a second palace was built as the festivities outgrew the old one, only to be followed by a third building built between 1919 and 1921 when the second one proved too small as well. In the 1930s steps were taken to recapture some of the character of the original Corn Palace and minarets and kiosks of Moorish design were added.

Today the Corn Palace is more than just a building where the Corn Palace Festival continues to take place each year in late August. It is also a venue for many other celebrations and some sports events such as high school basketball. But its charm goes way beyond the inside activities.

Each year the Palace is redecorated with naturally colored corn, grains, and native grasses. There are thirteen different colors or shades of corn including green corn. A different theme is chosen each year and the murals are designed around it.The Corn Palace is known around the world as a folk-art wonder on the prairie of South Dakota.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Would You Live In A Hole In A Rock?

While you may have visited a "hole in the wall" restaurant have you ever visited a "hole in the rock" house? If you are out in the Moab, Utah, area you might want to check out Hole N" The Rock, a 5,000 square foot home carved out of sandstone. For real!

Albert Christenden, originally from Sweden, worked in the uranium mines in America. Upon retiring from the mines he and his wife located to Moab, Utah, where Albert began creating a home--from the sandstone mountain. He and his faithful donkey, Harry, excavated 50,000 cubic feet of sandstone to create the living space. There are fourteen rooms that are heated by a large fireplace with a 65 foot chimney.

It took twelve years to create but was not completely finished when he died in 1957. His wife, Gladys, continued the work of finishing his dream. In order to survive she set up a restaurant and gift shop where she sold jewelry that she made. She died in 1974 and is buried with her husband at the site.

In addition to being able to see this unusual home, there is also a petting zoo with live animals (Harry passed on long ago and is mummified) and many of Albert's paintings and sculptures are on display as well as Gladys' doll collection.

Just another one of those stops to break up the monotony of a road trip. If you'd like to preview it before you put it on your itinerary check out the Hole N" The Rock website.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Where Does Unclaimed Baggage Go?

This is hard to believe but a facility in Alabama is the collection center for thousands of pieces of unclaimed baggage. I can understand there being a lot of lost baggage but I can't imagine anyone leaving a bag on the luggage belt to go round and round until it's eventually set aside and after 90 days of trying to find the owner, sent off to be disposed of in Alabama. Now that doesn't mean it is trashed. Oh no. Let me explain.

It all started with Doyle Owens back in 1970. He was apart-time insurance salesman in Scottsboro and the son of a general store merchant who had a friend working with a bus company in Washington, DC. The friend asked Owens if he might be interested in buying lost luggage from the bus company and reselling the contents. Owens saw an opportunity and took his pickup truck to DC for his first load. His wife, Sue, sorted the contents, priced it and the two set up a table and sold what they found.The business eventually grew to include luggage left behind at taxi companies, car rentals, commuter trains and of course the airlines.

Eventually it became one of Alabama's most unique businesses, the Unclaimed Baggage Center. The center was purchased in 1995 by Doyle's son, Bryan and now covers a city block. And of course it is open to the public for exploring and buying items left behind and unclaimed by travelers from all over the globe.

Everyday at 2:30 PM you can have the unique experience of watching as baggage is opened and discoveries made. Some of the more unusual things that have been found are a shrunken head, a 40 carat emerald, a suit of armor, and the ever popular vacuum packed bag of frogs. As they open the luggage and go through the contents there are four piles it can end up in, clean it, sell it, trash it or give it away. I'm assuming the clean it pile ends up in the sell it pile eventually.

There are bargains to be had at the store. IPads, cameras, clothing (a Versace dress was found in one suitcase), etc. A vase was sold for $80 and later found to be worth $18,000. Unbelievable isn't it that people would not be able to track down that kind of valuable stuff! And then there was the camera from a space shuttle (it was returned to NASA) and a missile guidance system for a fighter jet (returned to the Air Force).

If we are ever anywhere near Scottsboro, Alabama, you can bet we're making a stop.

Monday, September 25, 2017

An Ice Cream Graveyard

Several years ago we did a road trip through the New England area to see the fall leaves in full color. It was a great trip and one stop we made was especially fun--the home of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream in Waterbury, Vermont. There was a tour that explained their ice cream production and of course sampling.

What I don't remember is the graveyard. Perhaps it is something that has sprung from some innovative employee or marketer since our visit or the other logical explanation, I'm getting old. I found an article about it while surfing the net and while it might be more appropriate for a fun Halloween post, I decided to bring it to your attention now. After all, maybe you are in the midst of a fall foliage tour and could stop and check it out yourself.

The graveyard is both physical and virtual. It is the place where ice cream flavors are buried when they have passed away, out lived their tastiness. The dearly de-pinted, as they are referred to, are honored on gravestones that can be found in a graveyard just outside the factory. Each headstone has the name of the flavor, a cheeky poem and the years it was in production.

You can visit the virtual graveyard on the Ben & Jerry's website. There is a clever video of a funeral for a flavor and a list of 34 flavors that have passed into eternity--unless of course it gets enough votes to be resurrected.

One de-pinted flavor that caught my attention was Chocolate Comfort. Now how could anything chocolate pass away? Then I read the description. Chocolate truffle low fat ice cream swirled with white chocolate low fat ice cream. RIP! Low fat? White chocolate?

There are all sorts of links to interesting fun things like ideas for becoming your favorite ice cream flavor for Halloween. While it doesn't seem to involve eating it, I'm sure that it would help with the inspiration.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Lounging On A Long Layover -Airport Lounges For Economy Flyers

For a lot less than first or business class tickets you can get into those comfortable airport lounges with a little luck and ingenuity. We get access to United lounges and some of their alliance airline lounges with a credit card that we pay extra for. It still is cheaper than buying those premium tickets and when we have long layovers for our more lengthy trips, we enjoy being able to get out of the busyness of the main airport and enjoy some snacks and beverages as well as WIFI and other amenities.

But you don't have to pay fees for a credit card to gain access. There are day passes that can be bought and would be the way to go if you are not a frequent flyer. Of course those passes are predicated on whether or not the lounge is at capacity. You wouldn't want to try to get into the Ft. Lauderdale United lounge (or probably any other there) on a big turnover day for the cruise ships. Cruise lines drop their passengers at the airport and often there is a long wait before the flight home. We sat in the Orlando airport once when Disney dropped us off seven hours before our flight was due to take off. Thankfully we didn't have any little ones with us.

I ran across a great source for finding lounges in airports all over the world and how much a day pass would cost. I was surprised that they could go for as low as $20 in some cases. The site is actually called Sleeping In Airports and details places to sleep if you are delayed as well as hints for making yourself more comfortable. One of their pages though is all about airport lounges and lists hundreds of possibilities all over the world.

Go to the site and see if your next long layover might be in a spot where you can snag some time in a comfy lounge--maybe even take a shower if you desire. Also do a search online for airport lounge day passes and you will find several companies that will book your lounge time for you or sell you a pass that you can use for a limited time. You too can travel as though you paid first class.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Travel Companions Through Life

Forty-nine years ago my husband, Bob, and I traveled down the aisle and made promises that we've kept pretty well over the years. Little did we know when we made our first trip as a couple to the Hocking Hills of Ohio that we would become world travelers one day. That was quite a three-day honeymoon since we were the only visitors to the Lake Hope Lodge other than a large group of park rangers who were having some sort of conference.

My only souvenir (besides the memories) is an acorn. There was a large tank for heating oil or propane for the winter guests just outside our cabin window. We could hear the acorns rustle through the leaves as they dropped from the tree and then ping as they hit the tank. I still have the acorn. It's preserved in a chunk of plastic.

Since then we raised five kids, accumulated a gang of grandkids and made friends all over the world. What a great time! I'm looking forward to fifty next year.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Salvation Mountin

Maybe it's because I was preparing a talk for a ladies' retreat this week that an article caught my eye. My talk includes the mention of Elijah visiting Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. So when I came across a place called Salvation Mountain, well, I just had to take a look.

Leonard Knight was the creator of Salvation Mountain, the sole creator, and it was pretty much a life long work of his. It was begun in 1984 after he discarded his first idea of how to tell the world about his new found faith and the love of God. He wanted to build a hot air balloon and basically advertise the sinner's prayer so that others could find the peace and joy he had through Jesus.

The balloon never got off the ground and just about the time he was to leave the Niland, California area, he decided to make one last attempt at a monument to God's love. He began building a mountain.

The first attempt collapsed after four years of work. He learned that the sand and cement he was using was not strong enough to support the size his mountain had grown to. It collapsed. He began to make an adobe and straw structure that proved to be successful. The work grew to a height of 50 feet and breadth of 150 feet. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of paint, all of which have been donated, cover the mountain with artwork and scriptures and of course the central message of the sinner's prayer.

The story is fascinating and I will put links to the information I found below. Leonard Knight died at the age of 82 after a stay in a care facility because eventually he was a victim of dementia. All those years though he never faltered in his quest to make known his love of God and the importance of telling others. An organization has now picked up the cause but I think it is more to preserve what has become a beloved piece of folk art. Have a look at the links and if you are ever on a road trip in that area take time to have a look. It's on my list now too.

Salvation Mountain "official site" - has detailed biography and history of the site.

Salvation Mountain Wikipedia

Salvation Mountain FaceBook page

Salvation Mountain, Inc,  - the group working to preserve the mountain

Monday, September 18, 2017

Ranch Vacations - Are You A Dude Or Guest?

In all our travels we have never considered a stay at a dude ranch. Perhaps it didn't cross our minds or make the bucket list mainly because we have no desire to get on a horse. The last time I did I thought I wouldn't be able to walk again. Of course that was after having climbed Mt. Fuji and I couldn't make it back to the bus on foot.

Even so, the time before that when I was coaxed into mounting a horse at the ranch in Uruguay where our World Cruise group had an event (Carol and Carolyn, if you read this--I still love you) it was not pretty. The mounting or the dismounting. I was pretty proud of myself for following through though.

No, a dude ranch wouldn't be for us but it might for you if you love horses, the outdoors, and all sorts of activities that center around a working ranch. The question I had was what was the difference between a dude and a guest. Turns out, not much.

The term dude usually referred to a guest who gets involved by doing chores around the ranch like rounding up livestock and such and the term guest referred to someone who likes to watch someone else do the work. I'm guessing that for insurance purposes most of the dude ranches are really guest ranches where there are lots of activities but they don't really involve hands-on ranch work.

In the research I did online I couldn't find a ranch that even listed roundups as part of the activity or even feeding the livestock. There were a few where you could get a little more up close and personal with supervision. I'm sure they exist. They just didn't pop up in my search box before I stopped looking.

There is an association of Dude Ranches however and if you are interested it would be a good place to start looking. It's called (drum roll) the Dude Ranch Association. They explain the types of activities to expect. I must admit that while the horseback riding does not appeal a lot of the other stuff did, especially the trout fishing.

So dudes and dudettes, as my husband would say, if you are looking for some wild western adventure or just some home on the range relaxation put some Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers music on your playlist and check out the ranches. Who knows you might even find one of Trigger's descendants there.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Laptop Bans On Airlines

While I haven't seen it highly publicized (perhaps because it's old news and there is so much other fodder to feed on) there is an easing of the ban on laptops in carry-ons when flying from certain countries nonstop into the U.S. The problem apparently was that there were airlines or airports that did not do an adequate job of screening or did not have the equipment to screen that was approved by the Department of Homeland Security. There had been reason to believe that terrorists were planning to and/or had the capability of carrying a bomb on board with a laptop.

The checked luggage apparently goes through a security check that is different than carry-on luggage and is a better way to see if there i
s an unwanted device hidden there. Now the airlines, mainly those flying out of the Middle East, are complying with the standards set by the DHS and the ban has been lifted for several.

I'm still leaving the laptop at home for this next overseas trip. It's time to take a break from some of the electronics. I'm not even taking a camera this time although I will rely on my cell phone for pictures and of course a connection to family and friends but that will be minimized as well. I'm not ready to disconnect all together.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Caribbean Hurricane Season - Deals and Dangers

Harvey, Irma, Jose. Who is next? And where will they travel? It's been quite a season already and there are still a few weeks to go. We can easily see why there are deals to be had during the hurricane season in the Caribbean if you are willing to take the chance that a windy woman or malevolent man won't upset your plans with their bluster.

When Ivan hit the Cayman Islands a few years ago it was quite a shock. They were famous for dodging the hurricanes that usually passed to the north or south of them. It's that way with some of the other islands as well--at least during certain times of the hurricane season. I found an article on SmarterTravel that helped to explain why.

The water heats up and feeds the tropical storms that turn into hurricanes but it doesn't heat up all over the area at the same time. In June and July the Gulf of Mexico waters are warmer. In August and September, the  Northern Windward Islands (Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, etc.), Leeward Islands (U.S./British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Maarten/St. Martin, Guadeloupe Islands, etc.), Greater Antilles (Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, etc.) are more likely to see storms build to hurricane strength from the warmer waters. In October and November, the western Caribbean and Southeastern U.S. are more likely to see a hurricane although I always thought the danger was pretty much over by the end of October.

If you are willing to take a chance on a trip to the Caribbean during the hurricane season you may just snag some really good deals. Cruise ships usually offer lower prices as do resorts in the area. Just be sure to read the fine print and if you are nervous and take out travel insurance but remember there's fine print to be had there as well. I can't speak for the resort areas but I know the cruise lines will change course and ports of call if there is the chance of being caught in a bad storm and especially a hurricane. While there have been horror stories of a few bad cruises those are the exception, not the rule.

While experiencing a hurricane is not a pleasant prospect there is usually enough time to get out of Dodge before it hits--unlike the tornadoes we experience in the Midwest that give little or no warning. Resorts and cruise lines want you back as soon as they can have you. There is sure to be compensation if your plans are blown away. (A friend was given full credit toward another cruise when Irma changed their vacation plans.)

You are not living dangerously by planning a trip to the Caribbean during hurricane season. Just be as cautious as you would crossing the street and look in all directions. And on some of those islands hit this year the tourist dollars are going to a welcome sight for their rebuilding.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Books For The Road - Casey Stengel Mysteries

In anticipation of working toward a third book in this series I have combined the first two Casey Stengel Mysteries into one volume. Murder Among The Orchids and Death Among The Deckchairs are available in one book now on Amazon. Here are the teasers for the two:

Murder Among The Orchids: Among his beloved orchids, Mr. Popelmayer lay as if he'd gone down swinging. Casey and her detective friend, Max, discover more than one bizarre and exotic turn to the mystery of Mr. Pop's death. Did his daughter, Cattelya, or his son, Garo, want an early inheritance? Or perhaps his first wife has had her revenge. The answer lies in the Costa Rican Forest of Orchids.

Death Among The Deckchairs: All Casey wanted was a relaxing cruise where she could visit with her daughter, the cruise director, but suddenly she finds herself in the middle of a murder at sea. Who would have guessed the beautiful young woman dead in the deckchair next to her had an enemy who would use her love of the sun to end her life? When Max joins Casey, what she thought would be a romantic ending to her cruise becomes an intense search for evidence. Somewhere among all the dermatologists holding a conference on board ship is a killer. Is it the victim’s doctor husband? Or one of his co-workers? And how does the shark expert fit into the puzzle?

Two for the road!

Monday, September 11, 2017

I Don't Make This Stuff Up!

Being a novelist you might think that some of my posts sound like fiction. Some are but I always tell you when it's a short story or I'm promoting a book. This story is true and happened last week when Bob and I decided to get a little exercise at one of our favorite places, the CleMet Zoo. (By the way, the photos are of the new Asia Highlands exhibit under construction.)

We sort of have a route we take and we had just stopped by the medical center to see if any of the animals were getting a root canal or other procedure. There was nothing going on so we continued toward the bridge that goes over the creek and up to the tiger exhibit. There were several kids with their moms on the bridge running back and forth and looking in the water. As we started on to the bridge we heard the loud call of a monkey.

Hmmm, I thought. Is there a new exhibit nearby with a monkey in it? There are some changes going on at the zoo. New exhibits being started so it was possible. Most of the monkey and gorilla population though is way up on the top of the hill quite a ways from where we were.

As we passed the kids who were still a little excited and one of the moms Bob said to her, "I thought all the animals were in cages." He was being funny as she was trying to obviously gather her kids together to move on.

Her face pinked a bit and she said with a smile, "My son asked me to make one more monkey call."

"That was you?!" I said with amazement. "You could have fooled me!"

I'm not making this stuff up--but I am saving it in the file. It's sure to fit into a story somewhere.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Stunning Coasts

Sometimes I wonder how travel articles come up with their lists. The most recent one I checked out was The 9 Most Jaw Dropping Coastlines. We've been to three on their list: the cliffs of Dover in England, the Queen Charlotte Drive on New Zealand's south island and the 12 Apostles in Victoria, Australia. They are amazing and I'm sure the other six on the list are as well but not on the list were some others we have seen that are amazing as well.

The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland are stunning. Windy but stunning. They are located near Liscannor Village in Co. Clare on the west coast. The cliffs are said to be formed from compacted mud, silt and sand that has washed down to the ocean for over 320 million years. Amazing considering the pounding they get from the ocean.

Another fascinating coast is west coast of Italy where Cinque Terre is . The five villages sit on cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea. Beautiful vistas can be enjoyed from each village and if you are up to it, you can walk a trail that leads you through each one. If not, take the train that stops at each. Whatever you do be sure to enjoy the local pasta.

One of my favorite cruises is to the Norwegian fjords. They are breathtaking. Wonderful cliffs, lush green vegetation, waterfalls. Either entering or exiting the Geiranger Fjord the cruise ship will slowly cruise in or out and you can leisurely enjoy the magnificent coastline.

And then there's the iconic coastline near Cape Town, South Africa, and the fjords of the South Island of New Zealand and. . .Well, I just don't see how you can pick out only nine and I'm sure there are many more that I haven't seen. There are lots of nooks and crannies in this world to be explored and appreciated.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Connecting To Iceland

If you live in the Cleveland area you no doubt heard the news that Iceland Air and WOW Air will soon (May of 2018) start flights out of Hopkins to Reykjavik, Iceland, and beyond. What a great opportunity for travelers who are looking for cheaper fares to Europe. Both airlines offer flights to many points in Europe from their base in Reykjavik. But I say why go on to Europe when you can have Iceland?

Our trip to Iceland in 2016 was amazing--so much so that with the new opportunity to fly direct from Cleveland we will seriously consider another trip. Last year we drove to Toronto to catch our flight to Iceland. It saved us $800 less gas money and it's just a five hour drive from our home without traffic. It took us eight hours getting home again because of the long line getting back into the US and then hitting rush hour traffic in Buffalo. It's only 20 minutes to Hopkins for us and usually we can avoid any traffic. Already I'm excited!

Iceland is a little pricey for food and lodging but it is an amazing place to visit. If you are at all interested in the Northern Lights, the best time to go is between September and March. Our trip was in early September and the lights were on! We missed the best night however as we were in flight and then the next night we were so tired we missed a second great night. Still, we did get to see them and experience the wonder.

Be aware though that if you go later than September you may be limited in your travel as the weather will turn on you and there will be many places that will close for the season. But the country is beautiful. We loved the food. The people were wonderful. Yes, I definitely see another trip in our future.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

To Pre-Book Or Not To Pre-Book Those Cruise Extras

More and more we find ourselves booking our cruise extras ahead of our cruise. Usually several months before your cruise the line will publish its excursions for the cruise and then allow you to book them before you board. They will also let you book specialty dining and spa treatments. So we take the time to check out the things we find most important to us.

On our holiday cruises we especially take the time to book our specialty dining nights. The specialty dining is usually filled up quickly on those cruises since it is such a special time of the year. If you get on board and find that you booked on a night you'd rather eat in the dining room (don't want to miss lobster night or prime rib night) then you can either cancel or if there is another free spot, change to another night.

We don't usually use the spa other than Bob enjoying the thermal suite. He will usually buy his package on the ship as soon as we board--after he's checked to be sure it offers what he wants. Keep in mind if you are prebooking that days in ports will be less expensive than days at sea. Just be careful to not book something close to the end of an excursion you take. They don't always return on time.

And speaking of excursions--depending upon our itinerary, we will prebook the excursions that we just absolutely don't want to miss. While we do a lot of exploring on our own or booking tours that are not part of the ship's offerings, there are some that we want to be sure we make it back on board when the ship is ready to sail. Usually the more interesting excursions will sell out quickly so those are best if prebooked. There is a window of opportunity to cancel your excursion if your plans change. Be sure to check the cruise line's policies.

Hope that helps you make your decisions. The more you cruise the more you'll figure all these things out on your own. But then even after more than 50 cruises, we find things always change. Keeps us on our toes.

Monday, September 04, 2017

The Guiding Night Light

We weren't quite half way through our 2015 World Cruise when Bob decided he couldn't cope with the bright light in the stateroom bathroom in the middle of the night. Those night time visits when nature calls were waking him up too much with the bright light when he flipped the switch. So when we reached one of the ports in Australia where there was a large flea market, he found the answer to his problem.

We couldn't get a regular night light because the bathroom outlet was only for electric shavers. But there sitting on one of the tables with a whole bunch of other gadgets was a battery powered motion sensored night light. He was so proud of himself for finding it. We bought it and a battery and hoped it would work. There was no coming back to return it but the price was somewhere around $12 if I remember correctly and we figured it was worth the gamble.

Back on the ship, Bob set up the night light and it worked like a charm. Enough light to see what you were doing in the bathroom. No more fumbling for where the switch was on the wall and no bright light flooding the stateroom before the bathroom visitor closed the door. More importantly, it didn't wake you up so much you couldn't get back to sleep.

That little gem has been tucked into our suitcase for every trip we take. We use it at home as well. Ours takes a 9v battery but I've seen some online that take AAAs. It's a great investment if you are someone who needs a bathroom break during the night. Check them out at Amazon or Walmart. Just enter a search for them. There are lots to choose from.

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