"" Writer's Wanderings: June 2011

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Taste of Australia in the Caribbean

Last year on our dive trip to the East End, Grand Cayman, we were disappointed to discover that one of our favorite restaurants, Portofino, was closed and being remodeled into a new restaurant. Unfortunately we missed the opening of the new restaurant by a week. This year we discovered a whole new favorite restaurant in the remodeled facility. The new name--Tukka.

When we heard the new owner and chef was from Australia, we couldn't wait to see the offerings for dinner. Ron Hargrave has transformed the old Portofino establishment into a colorful Aussie atmosphere with a Caribbean flair. He came to Grand Cayman from Queensland, Australia and has been working in many of the top restaurants on Seven Mile Beach since 1998.

Hargrave has designed a wonderful selection of dishes that are augmented with bits of Australian flair. For instance my delicious yellow tuna on top of a risotto that was laced with savory extras was surrounded with a drizzling of sweet balsamic vinegar reminiscent of what we found on our last trip to Australia. As we waited for our dinners, we watched other beautiful dishes pass by our table including several kabobs from the "barbie."

For lunch you can order one of my husband's Aussie favorites, a hamburger with beetroot. There are still lots of Caribbean favorites featuring the famous jerk seasoning and we were excited to learn that Hargrave is continuing the tradition of a Sunday brunch.

Be sure to make a reservation and get a table on the porch for dinner. The sea breeze is wonderful and you will have a front row seat as Chef Ron tosses some scraps to the tarpons in the water and the frigate birds that soar above like pterodactyls from the dinosaur age.

Oh, and expect some wonderful Aussie hospitality. As a matter of fact, you can escape that busy stretch of Seven Mile Beach on a Walkabout Wednesday deal that includes a ride to Tukka's for dinner.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Books For The Road - My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir

Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Diagnosis Murder, the list of Dick Van Dyke's accomplishments goes on. In his memoir, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, it seems that luck had only a little to do with his career. In his humble way, Van Dyke credits so many others with his success when in reality it appears that his choices along the way are what made him the successful entertainer he has become.

Early in his career Van Dyke determined that he would not take on roles that he would feel uncomfortable with his children seeing him perform. And his internal drive was to make people laugh. He has accomplished both. While his personal life took some turns that were a bit unseemly at times, alcoholism, a divorce and a long time relationship with another woman, he treats all of those involved with respect and kindness in his writing.

The book takes you along a nostalgic path when television and entertainment was less raw and more centered on a higher standard. Cutting edge was when Mary Tyler Moore as Van Dyke's TV wife wore a pair of capri pants that were considered a bit tight. As I read along and relished the memories of good clean fun on television, I wondered what lies ahead? Are there any boundaries any more? Rather than pushing the edge for art's sake, how about stepping back for decency's sake, for the sake of our children, for the sake of the future of us all? Ah, but my soap box is a bit too weathered for today's world I'm afraid.

Great read for the nostalgia!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Least Glamorous Sport--Scuba Diving

Don't get me wrong, I love scuba diving. What I don't love is looking like a wet waddling half-drowned long-haired cat each day. As I describe a dive trip, "It's putting on the gear, jumping in the water, getting wet, and drying out ten days later."

Glamorous? Check out the gear. First of all there's a dive skin or a wet suit that you struggle into as if it were a body girdle. All those body flaws that make you cringe in the dressing room while trying on bathing suits are accentuated in all black--unless you are as daring as the lady we saw today in a psychedilic frenzy of colorful dots on her dive skin. Wonder what the fish think of that?

Next comes the swim fins that may make you a bit more agile in the water but definitely are not for a fashion runway. A bouancy vest fits tightly across your middle when fastened and adds bulk to your physique. The vest is attached to an air tank that weighs about 30 pounds. Attached to the tank at the top is a bevy of air hoses that lead to an air pressure gauge, your vest for inflation if necessary, a regulator (the breathing mechanism that fits in your mouth through which you recieve the most valuable substance underwater--air) and a secondary regulator in case your dive buddy runs out of air and you are gracious enough to share yours.

Added to all of that is, believe it or not, weights. Some people wear them on a weight belt around their waist or, like us, in specially made pockets of our vests. The amount of weight you need to be able to sink even with all that equipment is based on your body weight. The more you weigh the more weights you need. Sounds silly doesn't it? A diver should have weights equal to 6-8% of his/her body weight. A 150 pound person would wear about 12 pounds.

To finish the ensemble, there is a swim mask that needs to be sprayed with soapy substance and rinsed before fitting it snuggly over your eyes and nose. You know your mask fits properly when, after diving for a morning, there is an impression left in your skin where the mask has been. (The mask imprint usually lasts the rest of the day.)

Once a diver is geared up, the diver moves to the back of the boat carefully tring not to get the swim fins tangled as he/she totes the extra 40+ pounds to the dive platform where, holding the swim mask and regulator in place with one hand, the diver takes a giant stride off the boat into the water and begins the adventure. Did I mention the waddle?

In the water, the diver deflates the bouancy vest and gradually (if there is enough extra weight) sinks beneath the surface. When the desired depth is reached, with a little air in the vest if needed, neutral bouancy is acheived--a bit like being weightless in space. All the unnatural, unglamorous shenanigans and attire to get to this point are forgotten as the beautiful world beneath the surface of the ocean unfolds before you. For 40 to 60 minutes, you glide through the water and explore and remember that it is all worth it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Vacationing Swiss Robinson Family Style

Did you have a treehouse as a kid? I never did. Mom didn't like us climbing trees. But we did build a treehouse of sorts for our kids. It was on stilts and overlooked a ravine so it felt like you were in a tree. Recently, I learned of a place in southern Oregon that is a resort full of treehouses!

The Out 'n' About Treehouse Treesort is near Takilma, Oregon. There are several treehouses to choose from for overnight stays. They vary in size and accomodations. Some include a bathroom and others share a common bathhouse. Prices vary as well and start around $120 for a smaller treehouse.

According to their website, they had a rough start getting licensed but were able to prove the worthiness of their treehouses and have now even established the Treehouse Institute of Takilma where you can learn to build a sturdy treehouse retreat of your own.

Lots of activities are available as well. Take a look. It may just be the unique vacation you are looking for.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Real Thing - Coca Cola

It's been quite a contest over the years. Coke vs. Pepsi. To our family Coca Cola has always been "the real thing." This year the drink company celebrates 125 years of its tasty cola drink. On May 8, 1886, Dr. John Pemberton carried a jug of the cola syrup to Jacob's Pharmacy in downtown Atlanta where they mixed it with carbonated water and sold it for five cents a glass.

Atlanta is the home of Coca Cola. The World of Coca Cola Museum looks like a fun spot to visit on a vacation stay or if you're in Atlanta on business and have some free time. Of course if you're a Pepsi fan, you may want to just go to Sone Mountain and indulge in your favorite drink there--that is if they sell Pepsi in Atlanta.

On the Coca Cola website there are quite a few recipes for using Coke in cooking/baking. My favorite has always been Chocolate Cola Cake:

1 18.5-ounce devil's food cake mix
1 16-ounce bottle Coca-Cola®
2 tablespoons grated orange peel
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 16-ounce package confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons powdered chocolate drink mix such as Nestle's Quik
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350°F; grease 13x9x2 inch baking pan. Prepare cake mix according to
package directions, using 1 1/3 cups cola in place of water and stirring 1 tablespoon
grated orange peel in batter. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes until
wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Invert cake onto wire rack cool
completely. Cake may be made and stored, tightly wrapped, up to two days before

Frosting: Beat butter in large bowl with mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy;
gradually beat in confectioners' sugar and chocolate drink mix until smooth. Beat in
1/3 cup of remaining cola, remaining 1 tablespoon grated orange peel and vanilla
until thoroughly blended and smooth.

Monday, June 20, 2011

If You Can't Go To Paris, Go To The Movie

This weekend we saw Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson in the lead role as a writer who is enamored with the city of lights, Paris. By Cinderella-like magic, at the stroke of twelve, he is picked up by a car and transported back to the 1920s, the time period he finds so interesting in Paris. There he meets Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso and his mistress, T.S. Eliot, and a slew of other writers and artists of the day. The portrayal of those figures was fun and fascinating and tested my historical memory--the one that I should have acquired by more study of history in school.

What we enjoyed as much as the storyline, maybe even more, was revisiting places we'd been to in Paris. Much of the movie contains street scenes and shots of many of the places we have explored including the Montmarte where Picasso had his studio, the Orangerie where Monet's water lilies are displayed, and the bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, where many of the famous writers (before their fame) wrote in the upper rooms that were offered rent free.

The story was delightful. The scenery whisks you away to Paris. And you can glimpse what might have been. All in all, if you can't get to Paris, go to the movie. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Off To The Pig Races?

Our adventure at the African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton, Ohio, included several other activities than just driving through and feeding the animals. Included in our ticket was a chance to ride a pony and a camel as well as an animal encounter time where handlers brought out four different animals including a python that you could have your picture taken with for $5. The kids (and those willing adults) all got a chance to touch the animals.

But the excitement continued at the Naspig race track with the running of the pigs. Featured in the race was Pig Daddy, AJ Oink, Swinhart Jr., and Mario Spamdretti. I didn't know pigs could run that fast. The question is, what motivated them? Food or the fear of becoming bacon? Whatever it was, it entertained the crowd gathered in the stands and I think there may have been a bit of off-track betting going on. One dad said his son owed him lunch.

If you decide to visit the African Safari, allow for at least four hours so you can see the animal show, take advantage of the rides, cheer your favorite pig, and drive through the preserve at least twice(depending upon traffic and animal congestion, it takes twenty to thirty minutes each time).

Oh, and don't wash your car before you go. Don't know why they haven't opened up a car wash close by.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

This Safari's Not in Africa!

Our car passes through the open gate in the fence. We've been told by the gatekeeper not to open our windows until we pass the orange marker. I instantly see why. A herd of deer led by very large reindeer with good-sized antlers surrounds our car and sizes up the contents of the food pellets in our large feeding cup. The adventure begins. . .

African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton, Ohio, is an amazing day of laughter and fun. The main attraction of course is the drive-thu area where you take your car along a graveled road and feed the animals you meet along the way. The deer, llamas, buffalo, guanaco, and several other very large animals roam free within the fenced acres of the drive-thru.

As you enter you get on free cup of food and a little advice on how to feed the animals. Mostly it involves your comfort level and how willing you are to have animals poking their heads inside of your car--and they will! We started out tossing handfuls of food out but then tried holding the cup which almost becomes a tug of war. The suggestion is to let them have the cup if it becomes too much of an issue.

It was a little difficult to hold a cup of feed and take pictures at the same time. My granddaughter who accompanied us was a little leary on our first drive-thru (you can drive through as many times as you like on one ticket) so I was doing the feeding. As I tried to take pictures of a buffalo who was headed straight for us, I didn't see the other buffalo coming up along side. My window was still open and suddenly there he was--head inside my window, drooling on my lap! Thank goodness for automatic windows. He got the hint as I tossed what was left of the food pellets out along with the cup and closed the window. The grand in the back seat doubled over laughing.

On our second drive-thru after lunch, we bought two cups of food and a bag of carrots (all for $10) so we could feed the zebra and giraffes. Thankfully the giraffe did not drool through our sun roof. As a matter of fact, the giraffes were probably the most delicate eaters.

In addition to the animals in the drive-thru, there is also a walk-thru zoo of sorts that features monkeys, alpacas, parrots, a white alligator (did I mention there was a white zebra too?), various waterfowl and several other species that were fun to look at.

Feeding ourselves was almost more reasonable than feeding the animals. There is the usual snack-type faire of hot dogs, hamburgers, etc. It was a big chilly to venture into the ice cream shop but it looked large enough to be a favorite stop.

All this fun. . .But wait!! There's more. . .

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Best Past Vacations -- The French River 4

When our annual two week fishing trips to the French River in Ontario, Canada, began I can't be sure. The earliest I show up in a picture of our Canadian trips I must have been about four or five years old. The Northern Pike my dad caught was as long as I was tall and it made for a good trophy picture. Tales of seaplane rides to remote lakes and grizzly bear visits in the night added to great family stories but there are many other treasured memories.

I can still smell the pine, hear the whisper as the wind blew through the needles. The river water was icy cold--probably because it came from colder regions. Only on very warm days were we brave enough to jump in and then only to scramble out as quickly as possible. Blueberry picking despite the fear of bears. And fishing.

The water in the river was so very clear that it was hard to tell how deep it was near the wooden dock near our cabin. We would use a couple of my father's old fishing rods and reels to fish from the dock. I could put a worm on a hook since--well, I can't remember a time when I couldn't. I would bait a hook and lower the line into the water. There was never need for a bobber to tell you when a fish was biting. I would just watch until a fish had its mouth around the worm and then jerk up to hook it. To me, the fish seemed big but bigness is relative and I was still pretty small.

The last vacation we spent at the French River was semi-sweet. Dad had decided to buy property at Put-In-Bay, Ohio, and build a second home where we could spend weekends and summers. On the day we left, the first electric light fixture was installed in the cabin where we'd stayed. Progress was moving into the back woods.

Perhaps to lighten the mood or perhaps just because he was who he was and loved a good joke, Dad had some fun as we crossed the Peace Bridge and stopped to clear the border. Those days all you had to do was declare you were a U.S. citizen. My grandfather always had to have his naturalization papers with him though. He would hand them to my dad who would pass them to the border guard. The border guard would then ask if everyone else was born in the U.S.

Instead of just saying "yes" this time Dad said, "The kids and I were born in Ohio and my wife was born in Kokomo."

The border guard looked in the back seat at my mom and asked, "Do you have your papers?"

"Kokomo is in Indiana. I'm a citizen," she replied with a red face. Embarrassed or angry? I can only guess.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Best Past Vacations--The French River 3

Our French River adventures in Ontario, Canada, not only gave my mother some good stories to tell but my grandfather as well. There were lots of great fishing spots in the area but some were only accessible by sea plane. At least a couple of times during our annual two week stay, Dad and Grandpa would fly off to a remote lake and fish for the day.

There was only one time I remember them taking my mother who also loved to fish. I think it was the year there was a high school or college student staying with her family in a cabin near ours who offered to babysit my brother and I. I remember that being a great day. She showed us how she could dissect a frog. Wonder how my mom felt about that? But I digress. . .

The sea plane could only accommodate two passengers for some reason so my grandfather offered to be the first in to the lake and the last out. He boasted he wasn't afraid of bears. But as he sat in the boat and fished while he waited his turn, he noticed the head of a bear moving through the water and the bear was headed right for him. He started rowing. The boat apparently didn't have a motor. He rowed his best trying to out maneuver the bear which eventually either gave up or was scared away by the return of the plane.

We always knew when Grandpa was retelling his adventure whether he told it in English or his native Bohemian. His eyes grew bigger and bigger and his hands would gesture more and more. Of course his fish stories were like that too. Hmmmm.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Best Past Vacations -- The French River 2

The French River in Ontario, Canada, was my father and grandfather's favorite fishing place (see post) before Dad decided to have a second house at Put-In-Bay, Ohio. The twelve to fourteen hours it took for us to get there was excruciating for two young kids but Mom managed to keep us entertained with games, coloring, and stories.

Mom was a reader and a great storyteller. I look back and wonder sometimes if the some of the stories she told were made up just to try to keep my brother and me in line. One vacation night we had some popcorn from the lodge that was a part of the grounds where our cabin was. We brought it back to eat and sat on the porch of our cabin for a while enjoying it. But as with all active children, we sat it down and took off to another adventure.

The popcorn remained on the porch, forgotten but still fresh enough for its smell to carry through the woods. That night after we were tuckered out and tucked in fast asleep, my mother said she was reading at the table inside when suddenly the whole cabin started shaking. She was afraid to move but when she finally got up to investigate with flashlight in hand, she saw that there was popcorn scattered all about the porch. She concluded that a big grizzly bear had decided to feast on our forgotten popcorn.

Now there are a few snags to this story. First of all it was nearly impossible to read by the dim oil lamp. Where was my dad and grandfather in all this? And why weren't they awakened by the shaking and noise if it was so great? The question remains, was there really a bear or did Mom just want to make sure we would clean up our leftovers in the future?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Best Past Vacations -- The French River

Do you have a favorite childhood vacation memory? I do--many, as a matter of fact. But the memories surround the place that we always spent our two week vacation before my father built a vacation home. We went to Canada.

My father and grandfather were avid fishermen. So was my mother but since my brother and I were too young to be left on our own she didn't get to fish as often as she wanted. The place we went to was on the French River near Noelville, Ontario. I always thought it was somewhere near the northern Canadian border but it is actually situated east of Lake Huron about even with the top of the "mitten" of Michigan. To my child's mind, 12-14 hours of driving seemed enough to get me to the North Pole at least!

The cabins we stayed in were rustic to say the least. Fifty-five to sixty years ago, they had no electricity there yet since it was not a populated area. Our refrigerator was an icebox--literally. Every couple of days, the iceman would come and check to see if we needed a new block of ice. He would set about a foot square block into the metal compartment of the insulated cabinet that served as our "refrigerator."

Our lights at night were oil lamps that lent a warm glow and made everything cozy and at times mysterious.

The stove was wood-burning and I have fond memories of my grandfather getting up before dawn and banging around as he got a fire going in it to cook his famous pancakes. He would also make a morning trip to the community well and pump full a pail of water for us. In those days, that kind of well water was considered premium. I wouldn't be surprised if it was showing up in plastic bottles today.

Of course with all this rugged outdoor living, came the not-so-pleasant outhouse. During the day it was not so bad as we could see to get there and there were no critters of the night to be wary of. At night however, the outhouse was off limits to my younger brother and me. Mom preferred our safety and always came prepared with a bucket for our emergency needs. She would have loved our modern day portable chemical toilets.

My brother and I were always asleep early and missed out on some of the creepy adventures that took place after dark. Mom loved to tell stories and her favorite was one that made the cabin shake. . .

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Books For The Road - The Red Tent

"My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust. This is not your fault, or mine. The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing. That is why I became a footnote, my story a brief detour between the well-known history of my father, Jacob, and the celebrated chronicle of Joseph, my brother." So begins Dinah's narrative of The Red Tent, written by Anita Diamant.

Dinah is the daughter of Leah and Jacob mentioned in Genesis 34 in the Bible. The scriptures tell of a rape and the avenging actions of her brothers but Diamant has taken her story and said, "What if." What if Dinah had really been in love with her accused rapist? What if he wanted her as his bride and she willingly fell into his arms?

In the telling of Dinah's story, Diamant takes the reader into the everyday lives of the women of the period. Dinah's mothers/aunts, Rachel, Leah her birth mother, Bilhah, and Silpah, the wives of Jacob, her father, raise their daughter in the ways they were taught passing on to her their knowledge of gods and goddesses, of midwifery, of spinning and weaving and all of the other necessary household activities left to the women. Diamant has been criticized for taking liberties with the Bible story but her work of fiction explores the customs and beliefs of the times. The Red Tent is central to the women's lives. It is where they can gather, away from the men, during menstrual cycles and birthing of children and develop the strong relationships that helped them survive the harshness of life.

My Kindle edition included an interview with the author, some comments on how she researched, and discussion questions that were helpful for our book club. If your copy doesn't have that, go to your library and find some of the discussion books written about The Red Tent. The background information is very interesting and informative.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Summer Farmers Markets

It's early in the season here in NE Ohio but the farmers' markets are already beginning. We took advantage of a beautiful Saturday morning and stopped in at Medina's first market on the square for the summer. Even though we ate breakfast before we went, everything looked delicious.

There were a few early crops like lettuce, asparagus, and garlic seed stems. Yup, you read that right. The man selling mushrooms was giving away the seed stems from his garlic bulbs before they could bloom. He said that the bulbs will get bigger if you don't let the top plant bloom. According to him, they are great in a stir fry--kind of an onion/garlic seasoning.

We tasted wonderful Ohio maple syrup. Sampled maccarroons and homemade bread, drooled over strawberry-rhubarb pie and wondered at the good looking treats just for dogs. And then we saw them--the first strawberries of the season. I'm not sure they didn't come from somewhere a bit to the south of us but there was no mistaking that homegrown look. We succumbed.

As a matter of fact we succumbed quite a bit. I came home with a loaf of bread, a quart of strawberries, a bag of spring greens, 16 oz. of maple syrup, and a homemade graduation card for my niece.

As the growing season progresses, we plan to return a few times and indulge in the fresh produce as well as enjoy the arts and crafts that are exhibited.

Why not spend a little time at a farmers market near you? You can search here for one in your area.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

NE Ohio - Holden Arboretum

Someday. I really hate that word. Maybe because someday usually doesn't come. But this week, someday arrived with beautiful sunshine, cooler drier temps, and a fresh breeze. We packed up some Subway sandwiches and drinks and headed for Holden Arboretum, the place that I've always wanted to visit--someday.

The Holden Arboretum which is located near Kirtland, OH, was started in 1931 with a bequest from Albert Fairchild Holden. It was a way to memorialize his daughter Elizabeth who died of scarlet fever in 1908 at the age of twelve. Mr. Holden died at an early age but his surviving daughters and others caught his vision and the arboretum was begun on 100 acres of donated land in Kirtland Township.

The original 100 acres has grown to 3600 with 20 different trails that take you through various types of trees, shrubs, flowering plants and bushes, landscape ideas, ponds, lakes, creeks, wildflowers. . .the list goes on.

We spent the whole morning wandering around several trails and never saw everything. Of course there is always something different to see as the growing seasons progress and different plants come into their bloom. The lilacs were just finishing up and the rhododendrons were in full bloom along with a few azalea varieties as well. Huge colorful bushes were naturalized into a beautiful area that features the rhoddies. My favorite was a two-toned variety of white and deep pink.

The waterscapes were lovely as well although the walk around Corning Lake was by way of an overgrown grassy trail that didn't give a lot of vistas of the lake. We did get to hear a cacophony of bull frogs though.

Most of the plants and trees have identifying plaques near them so if you see something you like, you can jot down the name and look it up in at your local nursery.

Plenty of places afforded the opportunity to sit and enjoy the sounds and sites of nature. We spotted a couple of beautiful black squirrels scurrying through the woods and could hear bird calls but since we are not great bird spotters, we didn't see them. Ah, the sounds of nature, I thought. And then Bob's IPhone pinged with an email message.

Still, someday turned out to be a great day. By lunchtime we were hungry and ready to sit a spell at a picnic table and enjoy our sandwiches and chips. Someday we need to do it again. Maybe in the fall when the leaves are so colorful. Or a little earlier in the spring next year when all the lilacs are in full bloom. Yeah--Someday we will return.
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