"" Writer's Wanderings: January 2019

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Panning For Gold


How much better to get wisdom than gold,
to choose understanding rather than silver! Proverbs 16:16 (NIV)

            The great Gold Rush in Alaska in the late 1800s helped to make Fairbanks a center for gold mining and a supply station for those testing their good fortune in the rivers and mountainsides in the area. It was here that our pre-cruise tour of Alaska began.
At ten in the evening, the sun still provided light as our bus from the airport pulled into hotel parking lot. While one imagines Alaska to be cold and snowy, it is actually quite comfortable in July and August and can even get into the upper eighties on a sunny day in the interior near Fairbanks.
Despite the time difference from home, we fought to stay awake a bit longer to explore the grounds and catch up with other members of our group who had arrived earlier. We buzzed with excitement about our excursion to the Eldorado Gold Mine the next day and some of us may have even wondered as we rested our heads that night if we would strike it rich when we learned to pan for gold.
After breakfast the next morning, we boarded buses for the trip through wooded hills full of rugged terrain and pine trees. We watched for moose and other wild life native to Alaska and, as if on cue, they appeared at intervals during our drive to the gold mining area.
Upon our arrival at the Eldorado Gold Mine, we boarded an open-sided train for a trek through the territory that is still mined today. At one point, we entered a permafrost tunnel and a guide explained to us the various mineral and rock formations that tend to produce the most gold.
Our next stop was the giant sluice box where the folks of Eldorado Gold Mine still search for gold. As water is poured over the sluice box filled with soil, gold, a heavy metal, falls to the bottom and separates from gravel and other materials that are washed away. It is the same principle as panning for gold but much more can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time. Guides thoroughly briefed us on the procedure of panning for our own gold and eagerly we set off to our luck.
The Eldorado operation is set up for the leisure tourist. We sat on stools at large troughs of water, warmed to keep the visitors happy, and swirled the materials from our “poke,” a little pouch of dirt and stones taken from the same pile where the gold was mined through the giant sluice. I could imagine a crusty old miner from times past as he spied our lavish setup—a whoop and a holler and a shake of the head as he led his donkey away for some serious panning.
It took a little patience, some rhythm and coordination to begin to slosh the water around in the pan and not lose everything. As the pan is shaken, the gold falls to the bottom. The larger stones can be removed and what is left is sludge that needs to be rinsed and rinsed and rinsed again as the pan is gently swirled partially submerged in the water. Eventually what is left in the bottom of the pan is purple and black sand and little flecks of gold—or if you are very fortunate, a gold nugget.
There were no gold nuggets in my pan but what a thrill it was to find little shiny flakes of gold stuck to the bottom. I carefully picked each miniscule flake out and dropped it into a small vial that was provided us. When we were done, I had perhaps a couple of dollars worth of gold flecks. It cost me another fifteen dollars to get them mounted into a small globe on a gold chain to show off my great gold discovery.
How much richer would we be if we used the same patience and diligence to wash away the sludge of everyday life to find God’s precious metals of wisdom and understanding?
May we see the wealth of wisdom in your grace, Father. May it enrich our lives and spill over into the lives of those around us.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Costco For Travel?

Okay Costco shoppers, you know the savings on meat, veggies, household supplies, etc., but did you know that Costco also has deals on travel? We've booked several cruises through them now and have been very pleased with the results. Not only did we receive a good price on our stateroom, we also received onboard credit that was refundable if we didn't use it. In addition, there were a few other perks dependent upon which cruise line we were booking.

While I knew about the cruise deals, I didn't know about the vacation package deals you can get. I perused a few online at Costco Travel.com and found some interesting places and prices. Now of course you need to get a Costco membership but with the savings on travel, it will make up for the price of membership.

Especially appealing to me are the packages for animal safaris in Africa. There are several including trips to Botswana, Tanzania and South Africa.

Packages abound for Disney and Universal in Orlando.

Wherever your destination you may want to take a look at the possibilities with Costco for savings. As always, do your homework and remember--"if it's too good to be true, it probably isn't true," so compare.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Some Thoughts On Safety As You Travel

While we have not fallen victim to a pickpocket or a scam, we have been approached and tested. My first pickpocket incident was in Paris. I was wearing a fanny pack which was supposed to be a safe way to carry valuables. A lady with newspapers draped over her arm approached me and indicated that she wanted to sell me a paper. I kept shaking my head and saying "no" and thinking how can she not understand that in any language. I don't like people in my personal space and when she got too close I backed away, stomped my foot and gave a much more forceful "no!" When I did I realized my fanny pack had already been opened and she was only a moment away from grabbing its contents. The kicker was that I had had trouble myself getting the zipper opened and closed and yet she did in the space of seconds without me even noticing as the newspapers covered her clever maneuvers.

Another time, again in Paris, we were approached with a scam we recognized from one of Rick Steves' books. A gold ring was dropped and we were asked if it was ours. When we said no, the person who picked it up said they would sell it to us for a small price--half of what we could get at a jeweler's. When we said no again, he shrugged and went on his way. This actually happened to us twice in the same day.

A tourist needs to be aware. If something is too good to be true it is. Take care of your valuables and don't carry them around with you if you are on tour. There is an article I happened upon that has some great advice. One of the tidbits was to carry a "mugger's wallet," a wallet that has an old credit card, a minimal amount of money and maybe a business card or two from somewhere. If you are held up, you give the mugger the wallet and take off. He thinks he's scored and your real valuables are in a front pocket safe and sound.

If you are a little uncertain about traveling in foreign places, you might want to take a look at the article--Staying Safe In Port.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Outsmarting The Lounge Chair Hogs

At the condo pool the other day we arrived for a little swim and time in a lounge chair to just read and enjoy the warm weather. Almost half of the chairs were covered with a towel or had an article of clothing on them and there were fewer people in the pool who could account for the reserved chairs. It reminded me a little of a sea day on a cruise.

Deck/lounge chair hogs are hard to outsmart but it can be done. The problem is that I don't care to get up that early in the morning to beat them to the pool to claim a spot. It's just not that important to me. Sea days will find the pool area crammed with people. The only thing that keeps them away is rain.

Now there are signs posted on every cruise ship I've been on, and it's also mentioned in the daily news that is usually available, that you should not abandon your deck chair for more than a half hour. If you do it is supposedly fair game for someone to remove your things and take your chair. The problem arises in that you don't necessarily know who's been away from their chair for the legal amount of time unless you've been lurking on the deck above and watching. And a towel left behind could just be a used one waiting for the pool staff to tidy up.

If you absolutely must have a chair and aren't sure of what's available the safest way to get one is to ask one of the pool attendants. If there are going to be angry words, let the staff handle it. Otherwise, you might want to try one of these other methods of handling deck chair hogs I found on Cruise Critics board discussions.

For me, I'll just circle on the deck above for a bit and watch the fun and then go find a quiet spot somewhere to read--some book like Death Among The Deckchairs perhaps?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

What Makes Florida Sunsets So Beautiful?

Sunsets, and sunrises for that matter, are very beautiful. God's creative handiwork seems to be even more amazing in the Florida sunsets we see. His science behind them tell us that the colors are created by the sun's rays directed at the particles in the atmosphere are at a different angle in the morning and the evening.

Why do Florida sunsets seem more beautiful? Maybe it's because when we are in Florida we take more time to look at them. Of course the reflection on the waters in and about Florida help as well to expand the explosion of color. In winter the sunsets are even more likely to be colorful because there is less humidity in the air--at least according to one of the local weathermen.

Whatever the science or explanations or miracles behind them, it's a joy to end the day with anticipation of a masterpiece painted in the skies on the horizon. Wherever you are, take time to enjoy them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

What Do You Do With Your Cruise Card?

You present your cruise documents to the smiling agent behind the counter and she hands you a plastic card that resembles your credit card or drivers license. It's your key to everything for your cruise--boarding the ship, opening your stateroom door, charging purchases on board (those will eventually show up on your bill), and on some ships the way you reserve seats in a show or a table at the specialty restaurants. And what do you do with it?

I hold it in my hand until we've passed the photographer and boarded the ship. Once on board, it goes in my back pocket. That's usually where it stays only to come out to be used or placed in the designated spot in the stateroom so that I'm not looking all over for it before I leave the room again.

Some cruise lines offer a little flip wallet type holder that has a small map of the ship tucked into one side and you can tuck your cruise card into the other side. But even that I keep tucked in my back pocket or my small travel purse when I need to have a purse on shore. Why? It's habit and once established hard to break but that's okay. I almost always know where my cruise card is.

Some people like to keep their cards on a lanyard so they are handy and less likely to be left behind somewhere. Some of the lanyards can get quite creative and if you're so inclined, you can get the materials you need at most any craft store--ribbon or beads, a plastic holder for the card and or a clip to hold the card. If you decide to make a lanyard with a clip (or one of those spiral key rings on the end of it) and no plastic holder, you can ask on the ship for your card to be punched so that you can hook it on.

If you forget your lanyard, there is usually a gift shop on board that will be selling them.

What ever you decide to do with your cruise card, be sure you are consistent. If you aren't, you'll be spending a lot of time looking for it just like you do those ever elusive keys and glasses.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Meet The Spotted Sea Hare

Our second trip to Marathon's Aquarium Encounters this season yielded a new discovery. Our granddaughter was drawn to the tidal touch pool where she could touch the starfish, the conchs, the horseshoe crabs and several other marine species. As we watched her explore, I suddenly noticed a critter I'd never seen before. It was a sandy color with dark brown spots and looked just like a blob in the water. The attendant called it a spotted sea hare.

The critter in no way resembled a rabbit even with the term hare in its name. It looked like a large snail without a shell or a large slug. They are found in shallow waters mostly and eat algae. When disturbed they emit an inky substance like an octopus does. It does have a thin shell but the shell is actually inside its body.

This visit we also got to see the bonnet head sharks being fed as well as the huge 300 pound plus goliath grouper feasting on tasty chunks of fish. We will probably have one more visit unless our other granddaughter chooses an alternate activity when she has her stay with us. Wonder what else we might discover?

Friday, January 18, 2019

Books For The Road--The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

While standing in an airport gift shop waiting for my husband to pay for a bottle of water, I perused the book shelf. The Tattooist Of Auschwitz by Heather Morris caught my eye. Ever since studying the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust in a college history class I have been intrigued with that era and the amazing stories of survival. This book is a novel but it is based on a true life story of a fellow named Lale who became a tattooist at Auschwitz and survived to tell his story.

When I began reading the book, I didn't realize it was based on a true story. I just thought the author was telling the story from the imagined viewpoint of Lale and the girl he meets in camp, Gita. Here is the tease for the book:

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a T├Ątowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.
Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.
One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.
Along the story line there is a short time Lale is moved to Mauthausen in Austria, a labor camp that we visited when we did a river cruise and Bratislava, Slovakia, visited on that same cruise, was the home of Gita.  
The story is amazing as are so many stories of survival. The unique perspective of one who had to tattoo the arms of the incoming prisoners made it quite interesting. It may be a little heavy reading for some for a vacation. It's not a totally feel good book but it does end well and it is made even more interesting when you read the son's account of his parents and the research and interviews that brought the story together for the novel. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Ohio's Castle

Palaces and Castles abound abroad in Europe and Russia and many other countries. In America many of our large mansions could probably qualify as being labeled palaces or castles. One in particular just outside Cincinnati, OH, in Loveland was built as an actual castle by a man named Harry Delos Andrews.

Andrews was a World War I veteran who enlisted in the service as a medic because he did not like the weapons of "modern day" warfare. He would rather the war be fought on a more personal level as in the medieval days of knights with sword to sword combat.

After a long bout with meningitis and a failed engagement to be married, he became active with the scouts. His troop began camping out on some land that was donated and when the tents and equipment his troop had established on the land was lost to weather and vandals, he decided his troop needed some "stone tents." He built two structures on the land from stone.

Troops in the day were given names like bears, lions, etc. Andrews troop was known as the Knights of the Golden Trail in keeping with his love of medieval lore. Eventually Andrews decided to build a caste for his knights and the Lovelenad Castle came to be in the 1920s.

Today the castle is still guarded by the Knights of the Golden Trail. Scout troops are allowed to book a stay overnight at the castle and there are tours of the castle and its gardens for the public. Check out the details at the Loveland Castle site.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Breakfast Included--What Does That Really Mean?

One of the reasons we frequent the Hampton Inns is because when they say "breakfast included" we have a pretty good idea of what that means. Now it will vary at times depending upon where in the country you are. We've found grits in the south, a lot more oranges in the fruit section in Florida, and some other regional goodies on occasion that are extra special. But we can count on fruit, cereal, oatmeal, some sort of eggs, meat, pastries, breads, and juice and coffee. and their famous DIY waffles.

Other hotels offer similar breakfasts but there are those whose idea of breakfast might only be what they consider "continental." To me that always meant juice, coffee, and a pastry. Sometimes it includes eggs or cereal or toast. There is no standard meaning to "continental breakfast." If it's truly important it's good to ask ahead before booking.

Also be aware that in different countries, breakfast is a whole different concept than the American idea. In Italy we found breakfast consisted mostly of cheeses, crackers and what we would call lunch meats--ham, salami, etc. Juice and coffee were available (and tea).

When we stayed in France, one of the hotels only offered coffee, juice, baguettes and some cheeses. Luckily one of the women in our group had brought a jar of peanut butter and we passed that around. I'm sure the French were not happy with us.

In England you may receive a full English breakfast with eggs, "bangers" (large sausages), toast, potatoes, and of course, juice and coffee. And included with that will be a scoop of baked beans (not the spicy kind).

Many hotels and B&Bs are catering to the American tourist and others who may be traveling from other countries and cultures. One such hotel in Tokyo offered one of the largest breakfast buffets I've ever seen. I don't care where in the world you came from or what your body's time clock said it was, there was food for you. Along with the traditional Japanese and American choices, I remember spaghetti too and cheeses that Europeans would enjoy. It was amazing.

In China, being a large group of Americans, our hosts usually made some kind of eggs for us and provided bread but it was accompanied by an unusual assortment of side dishes--even one morning, boiled peanuts.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Standard, Deluxe, Suite--What Kind Of Room To Book?

In many ways I think it's easier to figure out what kind of stateroom on a ship to book than it is a room in a hotel. Cruise websites usually have some good diagrams of room layouts and mostly the stateroom's position on the ship and whether or not there is an obstructed view are the main things you look for.

Hotel room descriptions are as broad and different as the types of hotels there are. A standard room is usually the lowest priced but even then they often offer different types of beds--single queen, two doubles and sometimes two queens. 

But some of those same rooms in another hotel might be labeled deluxe for a bed larger than a double or two rather than one. A deluxe label might be applied simply because there's a coffee maker or refrigerator and microwave added. The deluxe room is one that is compared to other rooms in the same hotel. What is deluxe room in one hotel is not necessarily the same deluxe in another. (While hotel chains try to standardize their room selections, we've found some differences among them as well.)

And then there's the suite. Just what is a suite? A suite can range anywhere from a room with a couch in it to a sitting room with the bedroom off to the side and/or a kitchenette. The kitchenette may be only a counter with a sink, small refrigerator and a microwave. Other suites we've found have had a full apartment sized kitchen. In one hotel, we were told we were being upgraded to a suite and it turned out to be just a larger room on the corner of the building.

Of course after you decide on your standard or upgraded room, there's always that little description "with a view." Sometimes that view may only be seen by putting a cheek to the window and looking down an alleyway to the "view." Ocean front hotel are notorious for calling it an ocean view if you can see even a sliver of the water from your window. 

As I always say, do as much homework as possible before you book especially if it is for more than a night's stay. I can do with most anything for one night but as we discovered years ago on our first get away trip after the twins were born, two nights of looking up at a ceiling that was water stained, peeling and bulging was too much. When I cried myself to sleep, Bob booked the rest of our stay in a nicer hotel and we enjoyed a much nicer stay even though we stretched out budget thin.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Fish Names

There are scientific names for fish and then there are the names commonly given to them those of us without a degree in marine sciences use. Back home some of the more common fish names are:

  • perch (did someone see them perched somewhere?)
  • rock bass (these guys usually are found hiding in the rocks)
  • walleye (hmm, eyes?)
Here in Florida the fish we catch off the dock have some common names too:

  • snapper (these come in a variety of color names but were they named for snapping at something?)
  • needlefish (that's easy. They look like a needle)
  • grunts (this is an easy one too. Watch the video and listen closely. They grunt.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Through My Lens --Aquarium Encounters

Revisited the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters in Marathon with our grandson. Love this place. Here are some photos from this visit.

Fluffy is an alligator snapping turtle.

Of course one of the best encounters is feeding the sharks. Grandpa told him they make you keep one hand behind your back in case the shark bites the other you'll still have one good hand.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Robotic Answer to Germaphobia

There have been many reports online and on TV about places we stay when we travel not being truly clean. I remember vividly the video my daughter-in-law pointed out that was taken of a hotel maid wiping out the drinking glass with the same rag she'd used to clean the bathroom. I've only used paper cups since then.

Another daughter-in-law after an experience with bedbugs at a vacation rental, has often mentioned how to check for them. (I'm guessing my sons take these things in stride. So happy the wives look out for them.)

I've never thought too much about the sheets on the bed. I realize assuming makes an. . .well, you know the saying, but I've always assumed the sheets have been changed and they are fresh. Along comes a Rosen report from NBC that says, hold on, maybe not. Sheets were sprayed with invisible inik of some sort and the crew checked out of the room. Another crew checked into the room as new guests after it had been "cleaned" and ran an infrared light over the sheet to find the words "not clean" that the other crew had left.

Along comes the Cleansebot to the rescue. Thanks to a FB friend, I discovered this little gadget that apparently is taking off. The Kickstarter I saw had over $170,000 dollars, well past their goal. Is Shark Tank next? But I digress.

The Cleansebot is a small portable device that you can set lose between the covers on your bed and using UV rays, it will cleanse away any nasty bacteria lurking there. There is also a hand held extension that will let you sanitize those TV remotes and phones, etc. in the room.

So I guess if you are truly worried about such things, there is a solution. I'm not sure I'm ready--and no, it doesn't get rid of bedbugs.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Where The Dolphins Play

The Florida Bay is where the real dolphins play--and not with a football. The other day we were standing on our lanai and looking out at the kayak/paddle board traffic when all of a sudden we realized they were all stopped. All around them the water was churning. We watched with fascination.

There must have been a half a dozen dolphins either feeding or playing with the pelicans. The dolphins would swim to one spot and the pelicans would scramble to catch up hoping that the dolphins would scare up some easy catches for them. Just about the time the pelicans would settle, the dolphins would swim back to another spot and the ever hopeful pelicans would take to the air again.

The whole scenario played out for a good twenty minutes but by the time I was able to get to the dock to take video the fun had moved further down the shoreline and I think the pelicans were worn out. They didn't seem to be catching up to the speedy dolphins.

While I didn't get this activity recorded, last year I caught the dolphins playing with their food. We watched on keep tossing his fish and catching it again. Here's that video.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

It's Stone Crab Season in South Florida!

Looking forward to our first trip down to Marathon to our favorite place to get stone crab claws. The claws are perfect and the view over the water nice. Well worth the trip. Here's a little about the claws and the crabs that supply them (the sea critters, not the humans):

Stone Crabs. You see the signs all over the keys. When you see the price, you have to wonder if they are worth it. Oh yeah. They are.

The Stone Crab is found in more places than Florida but it is certainly very popular here. Crab season is from mid October to May. There are regulations for both commercial and recreational trapping of crabs. Commercial fishermen can put out as many as 100 traps while a recreational fisherman is limited to five traps. Once the crab is caught, one or both claws can be harvested. The crab will have more chance of survival if only one is harvested.

The amazing thing is that the claws are regenerated. It takes anywhere from a few months to a couple of years depending upon the age of the crab. Of course the removing of the claw needs to be done correctly as well.

Female crabs with eggs are not allowed to be harvested. If they have an orange sac on the underside, they must be returned to the water without harvesting the claws.

So how does the crab survive without its claws? It becomes a scavenger keeping to places where they can conceal themselves since they are defenseless until new claws form. Apparently though, the main predator, the octopus, can easily prey upon them whether they have claws or not.

How are they prepared for eating? Unless you are catching your own, the places selling Stone Crab claws will have cooked them (I'm assuming steaming) and put them on ice. They will crack them for you or sell you a mallet. The claws are thicker than most other crab and lobster claws we've encountered.

A mustard sauce is a popular condiment for the claws.

 Mix together a cup of mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons horseradish, 1 teaspoon mustard (brown spicy works best), 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and salt to taste.

A pound of claws sells for anywhere from $20 to $35 or more depending upon size and the market you visit. Small claws come 6 or 7 to a pound. We found some delicious good sized ones at The Fisheries in Marathon. Upstairs in the bar, you can order individual claws for $2.50 each. A great place to taste them and decide if you like them.

It was a forty-five minute drive one way for a light lunch of claws but it was worth it. Beautiful day. Wonderful claws. Great outing.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

A New Day Dawns

The condo we rent for the winter season faces west to the Florida Bay. I love getting up early enough to watch the sunrise. Yes, in the west--sort of.

You see, even though I'm looking west, the changes as the sun begins to light up the new day are amazing. This particular morning the sky looked a bit dark gray with some large clouds hovering over the water.

As I watched, the water suddenly turned a pinkish color. The gray of the clouds lightened as the water became a bit more pink. Clouds tinged with pink just before beginning to turn to their fluffy white color.

Suddenly the sky began to take on the beautiful blue sky color to frame the clouds that now had no gray color but were a bit tinged with yellow from the sun that I was sure was rising behind me to the east.

No one paints a morning sky like a God who attends to every detail. As a new day dawns, a new year begins. And I am convinced that God will continue to be in every detail.

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