"" Writer's Wanderings: November 2017

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.

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