"" Writer's Wanderings: March 2013

Friday, March 29, 2013

Books For The Road - The Mentor by Ryan Shelton

Baseball season is upon us. The opener is March 31 this year. I cannot tell a lie. I've been waiting all winter for this! I love baseball. So when a novel called The Mentor by Ryan Shelton came to my attention, I couldn't pass it up. You see, it's all about baseball!

The Mentor tells of a teen who has just graduated high school and has lots of talent that hasn't been displayed on the field because his coach has showcased his own son and benched Vincent Preston more times than not. Having no one to believe in him--kids make fun of him, he's essentially a loner, and has absentee abusive parents, he is about to give up on ever getting to go to college with a scholarship. His English teacher has noticed something special in him though and introduces Vincent to her husband, a former scout for a professional team. Grandpa Dean coaches Vincent and mentors him. Vincent learns more than just how to pitch and it serves him well as he faces some challenging times off the field as well.

It is a good wholesome story for teens and adults and I enjoyed all the baseball talk. Learned a lot about fastballs, too. So if you want to feed your baseball fever pick up a copy!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Travel Gift Registry for the Wedding

So what would you rather have for a wedding gift a can opener or a trip to Cancun? Towels or time in Tahiti? Brides and grooms are taking a new route when it comes to gift registries. They're opting for gifts that will help them take a memorable honeymoon.

There are several online sites where you can plan and register your dream honeymoon trip and friends and family can contribute pieces of it. Some of the sites charge a small percentage to cover their credit card fees and the setup of your travel web page. There are also extras to choose from as well including e-vites. Some sites are free and supported by advertising or may pass along your information to other advertisers so be aware that, as my hubby says, nothing in life is free.

Traveler's Joy, one of the larger sites, allows you to see what others have planned. For example, Brandi and Adam Balding who were married in February 2010 planned their honeymoon for Maui. Their web page has pictures of their engagement and a little story of why they chose Maui. The cost of the honeymoon is broken down into mostly $25-50 increments. For example you can buy a $30 portion of their airfare. Breakfast in bed went for $20. They included other activities like deep sea fishing, snorkeling, and a romantic dinner in historic Lahaina. Obviously family and friends nixed the skydiving. 

The prices of gifts are a little higher in the sample registry at Honeymoon Wishes. But again, it is the same principle. Higher ticket items are broken up into increments.

The Big Day is more than just a registry. They are a wedding planning site offering all sorts of services from choosing your wedding dress to cakes and hairstyles and specialty ceremonies.

Another site, The Honeymoon, is another planning site and registry dedicated to the honeymoon. It offers lots of ideas of places to go and things to do. Their sample page also has everything broken down into increments.

One of the larger free sites is HoneyFund which was founded by a couple who claim they started it because of all the high fees on the other registries. When you are setting up your page here, you will be given some options and there could still be a fee, albeit a much smaller one, involved depending upon your choices.

A novel idea for a new generation! Can openers wear out. Towels need replacing. Memories last forever.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Manatees, Dolphins, and . . .Fireflies in the Sea?

As I write this, I am looking out my window at a spring snowfall and wishing we had spent more time in Florida. It was wonderful to be able to get outdoors and play tennis and go kayaking. Our tennis skills improved some but have a long way to go. Our kayaking skills. . .well, all I can say is that it took us a week to figure out how to get into the thing without getting soaked.

Once we had the kayaking down though, we set some lofty goals. We estimated some trips were close to two miles. The truly exciting times though were when we found sea critters. The bay area on the west side of Key Largo was not very deep and had lots of areas where there were reeds growing under the water. The gardens of reeds were home to some good sized crabs that provided a bit of entertainment along the way.

We had seen dolphins on several days out in front of our condo but always from our lanai and never with a camera close enough to capture them in time. Even though we didn't have a camera with us on our kayak outings (definitely needed a waterproof one) I hoped we'd see dolphins. The dolphins never came out to play but one afternoon we got a special treat. A mother and baby manatee.

At first I thought we were seeing a dolphin surface but when no distinctive fin appeared and the gray bump in the water submerged again, we paddled over for a closer look. As we sat still in the kayak and looked around we suddenly realized that two manatees were swimming below us. The water couldn't have been any more than eight feet deep so we got a good look. They weren't shy. They swam under us several times as they foraged for tasty bits from the garden of reeds.

Every so often we would see the little one surface--nose only, for a breath of air. Mom had bigger lungs and stayed down longer. The leftover bits of reed, mostly the roots, began to litter the surface of the water as they enjoyed their lunch. We paddled on down to our destination and then took another look at the two on our way home.

The next evening, Bob happened to be on the dock and saw another manatee foraging in the reeds around the dock area. He snapped the couple of pictures here with his phone. Great encounters but something more mysterious was about to appear.

One night after we said goodbye to our grandkids, instead of going back up to the condo we decided to take a stroll on the dock. It was a quiet night with just a ripple of waves in the water. I looked out and blinked several times not believing what I saw. Fireflies in the water?

Unseen during the day because they are so small, jellyfish were sparkling in the night time. They are bio-luminescent and when disturbed, light up from an internal molecular or chemical reaction. The ripple of waves would make them light up. They looked like little blue fireflies in the water. It was mesmerizing. . .and so much nicer than watching snow fall when the daffodils are getting ready to bloom.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Orlando Universal Studios - Harry Potter

Confession. We are big Harry Potter fans--mostly thanks to our kids and grandkids. When we were in London a while ago, we visited the Warner Brothers studio where the movies were filmed and wandered through the Great Hall, the Gryffindor dorm, saw the purple bus, and the large model of Hogwarts used for many of the outdoor shots. So when we knew we would be passing by Orlando we decided to make a small detour and see Universal's take on Harry Potter.

The morning started out really cold for Florida. The temps were in the 40s F but were expected to climb into the upper 60s. I guess that's why we saw some teen girls with short shorts whose goosebumps made their skin look like someone had used a spell on them.

Tickets were a bit pricey for the park. For two seniors it cost us $189 and that only got us into the park that had the Harry Potter experience. I guess it was still cheaper than a one day visit to Disney World and who could put a price on a one time bucket list item?

We arrived early at the park. Our hotel, a Hampton Inn, had free shuttle service to the park which was only about a mile and a half away. Tickets purchased, we stood in line and smiled at the way the Floridians were bundled up. It was easy to pick them out. They certainly were not wearing shorts.

The gates opened and we, along with a throng of others, headed straight for the Harry Potter area. Bob had read that it was best to visit it first before the lines got long. After a brisk walk we arrived at an archway that led to the train station and the Hogwarts Express had just arrived.

Beyond the train, the road took us down the middle of Hogsmeade. I must admit it was a little more thrilling than the street at Warner Brothers. Probably because these were actual structures and were out in the open. It seemed very appropriate that the roofs were covered in snow even if it was fake.

At the end of the street we stopped in awe as Hogwarts loomed before us. The wait line was only 15 minutes but I almost wished it had been longer as we wound our way through the displays inside. Pictures talked to us but thankfully none of the pathway moved like the stairs did in the "real" Hogwarts.

The ride was great! It is mostly simulation but it does move through the school as well. You feel like you are flying with Harry. We visited the wand shop where a wand actually chose one of the young girls in our group. Her parents were given the opportunity to buy it for her. There was a small roller coaster that we rode but passed on the loopy large one and instead wandered through the shops that offered all sorts of Potter paraphernalia.

When we were done with Potter, we wandered through the rest of the park and rode a few more things in Seuss land and the Marvel section. There weren't a whole lot more rides for seniors and there were some that required you have a child with you to ride. Add to that the water rides (which we wouldn't have tried even if the weather were warmer) and we were pretty much done with the park by 3. We found some distraction in the Discovery center in Jurassic Park. It was fun to watch a dinosaur egg hatch.

Returning to the Potter area, we bought two butter beers (kind of a cross between ginger ale and cream soda) and sat down to people watch. There were a lot more people milling around and wait lines were now up to 45 minutes. Still, this was not high season for the park. I can't imagine what it would be like mid-summer.

We wandered slowly through the park again and out to the City Walk which is really outside the park. This area is full of shops and restaurants and entertainment complexes that have live entertainment at night. Our shuttle back to the hotel was not due until almost seven so we ate our dinner at Bubba Gump's very slowly and then caught the last few rays of the sun. After all we were headed north in the morning and who knew how far we would get when the sunny sky would turn cloudy?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Books For The Road - When You Come Home

Our church book club likes to read a variety of books and when we were introduced to When You Come Home by Nancy Pitts, it became our biography/memoir choice for this year. The story of Daphne (Kelley) Gavin and her young soldier husband was featured in Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation. Pitts is Daphne's daughter and she tells the complete story in When You Come Home.

You meet Daphne just as she is about to meet Raymond Kelley and fall in love. Pitts takes you through their love story and the beginning of their married life which coincides with the beginning of WWII. It isn't long before Raymond is called to duty and finally shipped overseas. Daphne sends her soldier husband a poem called When You Come Home and it becomes a link between them when Raymond is killed in action. While sad, it shows the complexity of emotion and the plunk which made Brokaw call this the greatest generation.

Well written, it is a great glimpse into the emotional and factual everyday life that went on while America fought for its ideals in that great war. If you like WWII genre and want a warm-hearted story this is for you. A few tissues might be needed along the way though.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Hunting for Vacation Rentals? There's An App For That!

Ever play a pin ball machine? I'm talking about the real ones not the virtual hand held games on your iPhone or tablet. The ball would get released and bounce back and forth hitting targets, setting off lights, and scoring points. And then, just before it disappeared at the bottom of the table, you got a chance to propel it back through the game again with the side flippers. It was erratic and often tense if you were truly competitive.

While playing pin ball might be fun, when it comes to choosing a vacation rental for that dream getaway the last thing you want is erratic and tense. The new Dwellable app for your iPhone or iPad delivers a clever and engaging way to search for the perfect spot at the price that suits your budget.

I was amazed when I downloaded it to my iPhone at how easy it was to navigate. The home page is a video of the ocean washing up on a beach and it asks you "Where are you going?". Well actually the search bar has that printed on it. Click there and you're off!

If you don't know where you're going and just want to look around, you can go to All Destinations and find the states listed there. Pick one and your next stop is a listing of cities or areas depending upon the state. From there, you begin to find listings for vacation rentals with the number of beds and price right up front. And it's all done in beautiful photographs with more information about the rental when you click on it.

It's pretty seamless and if you get to the end and don't like what you found, you can hit the Home spot at the top and get another chance at it. Kind of like those side flippers on the pinball machine but if you're a traveler like us, you won't mind exploring more.

Let's see, Alaska, Clam Gulch. Ah, only one rental there. A note pops up asking me if I'm always the first to arrive at a party. Not many listings here yet. It promises more listings soon. I check out the other end of the USA, Florida. Now I could be bouncing around this place for quite a while. Lots of listings.

I can hear those pinball noises in my head and the points are racking up. I'm a winner! I found the perfect place. And I didn't even have to put a quarter in. The app was free!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Theater of the Sea - Islamorada

Just down the road from where we were staying in Key Largo in February is a place called Theater of the Sea. We've passed it by often in many visits to the area but never took the time to visit. In talking with someone we met at our complex, it was highly recommended as long as we didn't expect a Sea World experience. When our son and his family came to visit, we all packed into the van and went to check it out. Are we glad we did!

No, it is not Sea World but we thought it was in many ways better. The shows were great and we were much closer to the animals performing than we would have been in a bigger venue. Your ticket covers all the shows which includes a dolphin performance, sea lion show, a ride down the canal where the dolphin joins you, a couple of nature walks, and a parrot show.

The park area is landscaped beautifully and quite shady. There are several pools which hold turtles, rays, fish common to the area, and the ever popular nurse sharks which the guide feeds as you watch. I wasn't sure I'd want to get my hands as close as she did even if they were the more placid nurse sharks.

There were also a few pens with alligators although those are a little more exciting to see in the wilds of the Everglades National Park. And the parrots were on display between shows.

Everything was well organized. We went from show to show almost as a group. If you arrived later in the day, you joined in at a different time but still got around to all the shows. It takes about 3 hours to see it all and you could do it over again if you got there right at the beginning of the day.

 For the adventurous and those with deeper pockets, you can pay extra to swim with the dolphins and interact with the sea lions. A lunch patio is convenient for those who want to eat on site and on your way out, you can peruse the large gift shop.

All in all it was a great day as you can see from the pictures which describe better than I can with words this time.

[Postscript: We had lunch at Burger King after our morning outing at Theater of the Sea. To my husband's dismay, he discovered that we could have save 15% with a coupon from BK. The BK is just 2 miles south of the Theater. Worth the trip to get the discount coupon.]
He's smiling. Really!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Books for the Road - Picture Perfect

It is always a delight to discover a new release from Janice Thompson in my mailbox waiting for a review. I love her sense of humor which she so keenly infuses into her writing and Picture Perfect was just the perfect book for this time in my life. You see, it's got a lot of Irish heritage in it and well, my birthday is St. Patrick's Day. . .you get the picture.

Picture Perfect is related to the Bella series (Weddings by Bella) Thompson wrote but her new leading character, Hannah McDermott, is a photographer who specializes in weddings and thus the connection to Bella who owns the popular wedding center in Galveston. Of course life is complicated by her arch rival photographer, Drew Kincaid, who just might be of a line of ancestors her father claims feuded with the McDermott's in the past. Add to the mix Bridezilla and Hannah's life gets very complicated. Lots of tongue-in-cheek and wonderful Irish sayings make it a delightful read.

Download it to your ereader or pack the paperback into your carry on. It's a great easy read for the road.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Everglades - Nike Site

The Everglades is home to one of the best preserved Cold War relics--the historic Nike Hercules Missile Site called Alpha Battery or HM-69. We visited once before not long after it first opened to visitors but heard that now they actually had a missile on site. It is certainly a step back in time.

The tours are free and are daily at 11 a.m from mid-December to the end of March. After that, they are only on the weekends. Check the park's website for more information on times. It is about a 15 minute drive from   the Royal Palm Visitor Center where the Anhinga Trail is. The guides are often people who have worked at a nike site somewhere during the Cold War era. They make the most interesting guides, but on our second of two visits in February, we had a ranger for our guide and he did a great job as well giving us some good stories as well as history.

The Nike missile site in south Florida was the first line of defense against the threat Russia had set up in Cuba. Our missiles had nuclear warheads and were assembled in a small building on site. The painting on the side of the building (remarkably well preserved) was done during that time. They are still looking for the name of the artist. The reason for the nuclear bomb power was because we had a slim margin of error in hitting a plane with a missile. With the nuclear power, we could take out a fleet of planes with the explosion any where near them.

The men took shifts, being on call for instant action where, if needed they would roll out a rocket quickly from one of the three barns that housed them, set it up on a launch pad and then "run like ****" into the bunker where if the word came, they would push the launch button. That's a simplified version, I'm sure, but you'll get a little more info on the tour.

The bunker was actually open enough to be able to see into it and will soon be open for visitors to go into and get a better view. I found it interesting that the reason was because of lead paint. Yet, we were allowed into one of the missile barns which I would guess had lead paint since it looked as though nothing had been renovated.

As we stood in front of the huge doors of the missile barn, the guide and one of our men from the group pushed back the doors. It was very dramatic on the first tour we took as the guide didn't mention that the rocket was right there. The doors groaned, metal against the metal track, as the darkness inside was cut by the Florida sunshine and revealed a Hercules missile. For my grandson who has shot off rockets with his dad, it was very impressive even though he didn't understand the history behind it.

 When I think back to the time of the Cuban missile crisis, even though I was a teen, I remember how intense those days were. I grew up with the Cold War and the fear of nuclear war. We practiced ducking under our desks at school and covering our heads, hiding our eyes, as if that would have protected us. Seeing all of this at the Nike Site, always brings back those memories. We came so close.
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