"" Writer's Wanderings: March 2019

Friday, March 29, 2019

Solving The Ear Pops While Flying

Pressure changes as a plane takes off and lands are sometimes very annoying or even painful for some people. It has never been a real problem for me unless I have a slight cold but who hasn't heard a young child complaining loudly when it happens, unable to understand?

Adults and older children can chew gum and that helps. Holding your nose and keeping your mouth closed while you try to exhale will usually clear the pressure as well. For the really little ones, it's a good idea to have a small bottle ready for them. I know you can't get liquids through TSA but you can mix formula or find some juice once you are through security. If they are sucking on the bottle, it will help to clear the pressure in their ears.

There is another old trick and I've seen a flight attendant use this for a child. You take two styrofoam cups, put a tissue in each and wet them with warm water. You hold them to your ears and you can get some relief from the pressure.

Of course now I find that there is also a product that will help. It's called EarPlanes. They are earplugs that are specially made to ease the pressure in your ears, gradually adjusting it to the new altitude. I have no idea if they work but apparently the product has been around for 25 years. (Where have I been?) There is also a smaller version for children but I didn't find a lot of reviews to say how the child sized plugs work. Adults seemed to really like them but I'm guessing a child might object to plugs in their ears. Best bet is to check with your pediatrician to see what they suggest.

Happy flying!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Books For The Road--Murder On The Orient Express

It's always hard to know what to download for an audio book on the road trip home from Florida. Our tastes in reading are a little varied. I thought perhaps we were due for a classic mystery and Agatha Christie came to mind. I don't recall ever having read it and I doubted that Bob had so it was our first book to listen to as we set out from "sunny" Florida--it was actually pouring rain.

The audio book took a little getting used to. The reader was doing a lot of accents for the various people in the story and his British narrative was a bit heavy. Eventually though we got used to it and I think he lightened up a bit as we began to understand who the characters were.

For those of you who have never read this well-known novel, it takes place on the Orient Express, which is a train route through Europe. Back in the day, it was the best way to get from Istanbul to Paris. The story includes Hercule Poirot, the famous detective in many of Christie's novels. He boards the train as a last minute change in his schedule and finds himself having to solve the murder of a man aboard the train. The train gets stuck along the way in a snow bank so Poirot has plenty of time to figure out all the likely suspects.

The whole audio book is about six hours long. About five hours into it, we made another coffee stop at McDonald's and as we are exiting the car Bob exclaims, "I know who did it!" and then proceeds to tell me. "I think I saw the movie."

Oh yes, he was right. But in case you haven't seen the movie or read the book, I'll leave you guessing. It was a nice "read" and a good book for the road trip.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Put The Phone Down!! You're Cruising!

Okay, so maybe talking about cruising will help me through my cruise withdrawal symptoms. Or not.

Recently at one of our Florida sunset times, we were discussing the use of cell phones and the cost of phone calls at sea or while traveling. We've had a few calls come through from our son who is developmentally handicapped and sometimes doesn't remember that we are traveling. The other kids have no excuse *smile*. Depending upon where you are and who the carrier is, the charges can be anywhere from around $2 to $10 per minute. So, I ask you, how important is that cell phone to you and can you cut the umbilical?

If you just gotta have that device for your mental stability or whatever, the first thing you want to do is turn off your data roaming. That will save you a ton of unintentional charges.

Connect to the ship's WiFi if you need to stay in touch with the outside world. Download your messages to your computer or phone and then disconnect so you will not use up all your minutes just by scrolling through and reading. If you must download something, then reconnect, download and disconnect again.

Another good way to keep from using internet minutes or getting stung with charges from unintentional use is to keep your phone in airplane mode until you need to use it.

Incoming texts are hard to control but will not cost you as much as phone calls. Texts usually cost around 50 cents a piece sending or receiving unless you have a good data plan. And that's my next suggestion.

If you really must have that phone ready at all times, check with your carrier for the best kind of international rate. That still may not help you at sea but at least when your feet touch solid ground at a port, you might get a better rate.

All in all, except for an emergency, do you really need that cell phone while you cruise? Put the phone down and enjoy the activity and the scenery and the people around you. It may take a day for the withdrawal symptoms to recede but you'll come home a lot more relaxed.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Buffet Blues

It's been five months since our last cruise. I'm having extreme symptoms of cruise withdrawal. We do have another planned but it's not until 2020. To make matters worse, I still have newsletters and messages showing up in my inbox tempting me and calling for me to explore various aspects of cruising. I should unsubscribe but I can't. I'm hooked--line and sinker hooked.

The latest posting I looked at was one from Cruise Critic telling me the eight things I should avoid on a cruise ship buffet. Actually, we usually avoid the buffet altogether on a cruises unless we are in a hurry because we have an excursion scheduled. I like to call it bumper plates--a crowd of people holding plates and trying to find their way around the food stations.

While the article is interesting, it's also a bit frightening. Avoid the sushi it says. Well, probably not a bad idea at the buffet but don't avoid the Asian themed restaurants that make up the fresh sushi and if there is sushi at the buffet stick with the veggie sushi or watch to see how often they are replenishing. I've never really heard of anyone getting bad sushi. The ships really don't want any sick passengers.

Some of the suggestions involve cleanliness and they make a good point. For instance if you are getting an ice cream cone from a self-serve soft-serve machine. you might want to use a napkin to turn the handle. After all, you're going to touch something that others have touched and then hold a cone in that hand to eat from.

A suggestion not on their list is that after going through the line and serving yourself (if indeed that is what the ship allows you to do) then sanitize your hands one more time before eating. If you carry your own sanitizer, you can get the kind that's not so harsh on your hands although, a lot of ships are using a nicer, kinder sanitizer now.

If you have good self-discipline or don't care about extra pounds for your time at sea, then by all means eat at the smorgasbord. Otherwise, eat in the dining room and make wise choices. Avoid the buffet blues when you step on the scale upon your return home.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Through My Lens--Dobson, NC

Love driving back through South and North Carolina. Seeing the early signs of spring returning to the north.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

In Anticipation Of Spring--The Ugly Duckling

On the road, heading north, hoping to see some signs of spring when we get there. In anticipation, I thought I would post this piece from the past, published in 2006.

The Ugly Duckling

Two white swans appeared this spring in a marsh area near our home. Each Sunday morning as we traveled to church, we would see bird watchers with binoculars and cameras spouting long lenses, observing the couple.

It wasn't long before the obvious happened. The couple produced an egg and it soon hatched. The offspring looks nothing like his parents. He is gangly, oddly fuzzy, and gray. He reminds me of Hans Christian Anderson's story, The Ugly Duckling.

Since I seem to be into analogies lately, I drew this one. A new Christian is like an "ugly duckling." He starts out eagerly following those before him. He's a bit awkward at times as he begins to learn scriptures. But before long, he becomes more graceful as he is filled with God's grace. God gives him a new look--clothing him in pure spotless white.

I will watch the little swan as he adapts to his world and I will think about how God is still feathering my life with his grace and remaking this "ugly duckling."

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Green Flash At Sunset

When people first hear the term "green flash" as it refers to the sunset, they tend to be disbelievers. Actually it takes a little experience to finally see the green flash because most people don't understand that the flash is not like fireworks or even a flash camera going off. It is just a small dot of green color that lasts for a second or two before the last of the sun sets into the horizon. The short time that it lasts is why it is called a flash.

Seeing the green flash, which is the refraction of light when the sun is low in the sky, is easiest if you are viewing a sunset over water and you are at sea level. When there is nothing but water on the horizon the green spot, if the conditions are right, will be very clear.

Scored another great picture the second night!
As I was researching the scientific reasons for the green flash, I found that it can also be seen at sunrise. More people are likely to watch a sunset than a sunrise though and in Florida, sunsets are a great social activity. If you've ever been to Key West and gone to Mallory Square for the sunset you will find a festival every night.

With my new camera, I was fooling around taking pictures of the sunset the other night and I actually caught the flash of green. It's a little difficult to see since it's such a small dot but it's there. Proof. Finally. There is a green flash.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

John Pennekamp State Park, Florida

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is in Key Largo at mile marker 102. If you come to the Keys, you will learn quickly that directions are always given by mile marker and bayside or oceanside. The state park is oceanside. The state park has all sorts of activities to offer on the water, or the beach or in the nature trails that are there.

Our Florida kids were visiting us for the weekend and we decided to check out the aquarium that we heard the park had. After seeing the aquarium at Marathon, it was a bit underwhelming but still interesting. We sat for a while and watched some beautiful video of the coral reef that identified and explained the nature of much of the sea life that can be found in the coral reefs of south Florida.

There is a whole list of snorkeling opportunities, diving, kayaking etc. on the website for Pennekamp and you might want to make it a stop for a day of adventure. I wouldn't suggest doing it during spring break if you don't like crowds. This was a mid spring break weekend and the beaches were crowded and the boat trips packed with people. Our son had fun pointing out all the "spring breakers". He's lived in Florida now for about 20 years and picks the spring breakers out by their pink to red skin from trying to tan in a week.

We walked one of the trails that Bob and I had explored several years ago. I'd forgotten that it ended in a fruit orchard. There were several key lime trees and a couple of mango trees that were producing fruit but not yet ready for picking.

With the temperature and humidity climbing, we decided to head back to the condo and cool off in the A/C. Our tans were a little more seasoned and didn't need any more sun.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Through My NEW Lens!

Getting older doesn't hurt quite so much when your husband gets you a great birthday gift and then gives it to you early. I have a new Canon PowerShot SX740 HS. It's going to take a little getting used to but so far I'm loving it! Here's a taste of my learning pics.

Close up of sunset.

Contrail in the sunset.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Growing Pineapples

Our condo building in Florida has large concrete flower boxes at each level where the elevator is. On our floor the box holds a beautiful blooming pink bougainvillea and two plants that I first thought were bromeliads. Turns out they are pineapple plants.

The one plant has a fruit on it that is about 8 high and looks like it will be ready for harvest before long. The other plant that produced a fruit last year now has a baby pineapple growing from one of the offshoots of the plant. I don't know who will harvest them as I don't know who planted them but it is fascinating to watch them grow.

I did a little research and learned that pineapple plants are supposed to be easy to grow. You buy a pineapple from the store and cut off the top about 1/2 inch or so from the base of the leaves. Now the several sites I visited for directions differed in how you should start you plant. One suggests just popping it in the ground (or pot) with the 1/2 of fruit still on it. The other site said to remove some of the fruit before rooting the plant.

There were also differences of opinion about rooting in water vs. rooting in the soil but all the sites said that the plant will grow quickly once it gets started. It will not, however, produce any fruit for 2-3 years.

Now the question is, do I start one at home and then bring it with me next year to make sure it flourishes and doesn't dry out while I'm gone or do I just treat it as a houseplant and take my chances on its survival while I'm gone? If I want to take it all the way to producing fruit, I have a 2-3 year commitment to the "baby." Hmmm. I may just stick with getting my pineapple from the grocery already grown, harvested, sliced and ready to eat.

Friday, March 08, 2019

I Be Cool!!

This was the second hottest February on record for Florida. At one point there were 37 records broken throughout southern Florida within 18 days. Lest anyone should think I'm complaining--I'm not. Well, maybe just a little but it still beats the chilly, cold temps back home. It does make it more uncomfortable for playing Pickleball through.

Some of our morning play was in temps that began in the low to mid 70s with the humidity levels at 80-90%. By the time you set up your chairs and got your gear out, you were dripping wet. And then you had to go out in the blazing sun to play. I was perishing by the end of the first game or two.

Bob noticed a lady playing with a long sleeved shirt on and we both wondered how she could with all the heat. When he questioned her, the answer was "I be cool." When she saw our puzzled looks, she explained that it was an IBKul shirt that was made of special material and had sleeves that were partly mesh to allow air flow.

Now skepticism is my middle name and when I searched the internet and found the shirts--and the price!--I was truly unsure of the whole thing. A women's clothing store is walking distance from our condo and I knew that was where our friend got her shirt. Bob encouraged me to go and check it out, buy a shirt and see if it would help keep me playing longer.

I had a 40% off coupon for the store and soon found a shirt that was short sleeved and a little less pricey than the long sleeved ones. Unfortunately when I got to the checkout, I was informed that the coupon didn't cover those shirts. Of course. What was I thinking?

I debated. Then justified the purchase by saying my birthday was coming soon, right?

The next day I put my new shirt on and wondered. Sure the material was a little lighter than my cotton Tees that I play in but was it really that special? Would it really keep me cooler? I joked to Bob on the way out that I couldn't play because I was too cold but I really didn't feel a difference until--

Out on the court I realized that I had what felt like a cool breeze blowing over my shoulders but I knew that wasn't possible in this heat. I played and I played. And I stayed much cooler! I don't think I can afford a wardrobe of these shirts but maybe just one more so I have a spare to wash between Pickleball days. The shirts also have an SPF rating of 50 as well.

I'm sure there are other products on the market like this but this one I can definitely say works. It would be great for those who truly need to stay cool on a hot beach and keep the sun from burning.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Safe Sunscreen For Coral Reefs

More and more tourist areas associated with ocean beaches and reefs are banning the sale of sunscreens with the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate in them. Studies have shown that these chemicals are having an adverse effect on the health of coral reefs most especially in high tourist areas.

It is estimated that between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen, equivalent to 25-60 million bottles of sunscreen wash off of snorkelers and swimmers each year. With ocean and coastal tourism growing each year, the problem will only get worse if not curtailed soon.

So what are we to do? Chance skin cancer? Nope. Thankfully there are safer sunscreens being marketed that will protect us as well as the environment. We just have to be aware of them. Here is a list of those that are said not to contain the harmful chemicals.

*Mama Kuleana Waterproof SPF 30 Reef-safe Sunscreen
*Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian SPF 50 Natural Zinc Sunscreen
*Little Hands Hawaii SPF 35+ All-natural and Organic Sunscreen
Manda Organic SPF 50 Sun Paste
*Raw Love SPF 35 All-natural Mineral Sunscreen
Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen
All Good SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen Lotion
Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion
Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen
Badger SPF 30 Unscented Sunscreen Cream
Raw Elements SPF 30 Certified Natural Sunscreen
Stream2Sea SPF 30 Mineral Sunblock
Loving Naturals Clear Body SPF 30+ All-natural Sunscreen
Reef Safe Oxybenzone Free Biodegradable SPF 50 Sunscreen
Banana Boat Simply Protect SPF 50+ Sunscreen (spray, not lotion)

Banana Boat is the only product I recognize as a popular sunscreen but I would wager a guess that many of the major makers will be revising their products soon. Hawaii has already banned products with those two chemicals in them and Florida has legislation pending to do the same. (Key West has a local ban.) Grand Cayman is promoting the use of chemical free sunscreen and I wouldn't be surprised to see law passed there as well.

Check the labels before you buy and help keep our coral reefs healthy.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Share The News!!

Help me get the word out about my new novel, Fort Lonesome. If you know someone who enjoys romance with a little suspense mixed in, they'll enjoy this read. Here's the teaser:

Ginnie Scott looked forward to the beginning of a new life in Fort Lonesome. She felt a new sense of freedom leaving behind the parents she had so deeply disappointed. She was starting fresh as a preschool teacher where no one knew her past. Little did she expect that the past would catch up with her.

Grant Richards’ life had been through some deep valleys. Just as he thought his heart might mend from the loss of his wife, Becca, he had to cope with his daughter’s perilous brain tumor. Then Bonnie’s new preschool teacher arrived to throw his life into more turmoil. Was she Becca’s ghost? The resemblance was uncanny.

Martin Westfall ruined Ginnie’s life with his rash promises and failures to fulfil them. He’s found her again and this time he won’t let anything come between them, not even a little girl and her cowboy father.

Fort Lonesome, Florida, is classified as a ghost town but the only ghosts in town are the ghosts of the past that come into Grant and Ginnie’s lives. Will those ghosts bring the two together? Possibly, but only if they can overcome their fears and find the hope they need for the future.

Available at Amazon in paperback and ebook editions. 

Monday, March 04, 2019

Florida Bay Mornings

It is 6 AM and I am wide awake. Try as I might I can't seem to get back to sleep. I give up and decide that I might as well get up and make a cup of coffee and have my devotions on the lanai as the sun comes up. Since we face west, I will not actually see the sun peek over the horizon but I know from past mornings that the sky will turn beautiful shades of pink, lavender and salmon before the sunshine finally fills the sky. This morning there are several puffy white clouds as well which remind me of pink cotton candy as they reflect the morning sun.

As beautiful as that scene is, it is only enhanced by the arrival of an osprey who is hunting for his best fishing spot to catch his breakfast. He has to share it with a white heron or crane who is delicately wading through the waters on shore on his long spindly legs, pausing now and then to wait for a passing fish.

The osprey perches on a springy palm branch on the tree in front of our condo. He sits quietly and watches for an easy catch. Not satisfied, after a few minutes he flies to a palm tree to the right of me almost out of sight. I can see him if I lean forward. He sits patiently. Waiting. Waiting.

Suddenly he swoops down to a spot in shallow water right in front of me and struggles in the water. I imagine claws wrapped around a nice juicy mullet in the water. The osprey flaps his wings and flounders in the water. They are not birds that land in the water and float as the pelicans, terns and cormorants do. Water sprays up in the struggle and finally the osprey takes off.

I look expectantly  to his claws but they are empty. Poor guy. The fish won this round. I know the feeling. Too often I am actually feeding fish rather than catching fish.

The osprey flies off, I assume, to another spot or to dry his wings or both. He certainly can't go back to the nest empty handed. I can only imagine the squawk of mate and offspring. Luckily no one depends upon me to put fish on the table.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Our Introduction To Cuban Coffee

In southern Florida, you can't go anywhere without seeing the signs, "Cuban Coffee". I always wanted to try it but was reluctant. Neither Bob or I like espresso and I assumed it was like an espresso. When my youngest son, a non-coffee drinker, returned from a visit with his older brother in Miami and said he had enjoyed having Cuban coffee--twice, I knew I had to try it.

Just south of where we are for the season, there is a cafe we pass on our way home from the grocery store that has a sign outside advertising the Cuban coffee. The other day we finally stopped and tried it. Bob got the plain Cuban coffee and I got the Cafe con leche. We sat down at one of the tables and blew across the hot liquids, then took a sip.

Bob kind of frowned. The Cuban was espresso-like but not exactly as strong and bitter tasting. While I understand that somehow in the process of brewing, there is a kind of sugar added but yet the coffee/espresso is not sweet-tasting. It wasn't bad but not our favorite.

My cafe con leche was a favorite though. It's a little like a latte but doesn't seem to have as much milk. It's nice and sweet and has a wonderfully mellow flavor. On our next pass, we stopped and ordered two of these and enjoyed them once again.

If you are in the Miami area, you need to try it. There is a large Cuban community in southern Florida and some great food to explore as well as the coffee.

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