Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What Are These Ghosts Doing?

I'm currently staying with my husband in a haunted jail hostel in Ottawa, Canada. I'll write more about it in the days to come, but for now, we're wondering what these ghosts are doing. We woke up to find that all of our toiletries were opened and oozing in the plastic bags we'd put them in. (Thank goodness!)  The cap came off his deodorant. The toothpaste is everywhere. And the screw-top lid to our travel-size shampoo was off and shampoo filled the bottom of that bag.

I know the people who stayed here didn't have access to amenities like ours. Are they jealous? Or are they just trying to mess with us? (Pun intended.)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Travelocity Top Secret

I'm not a gambler by nature. Adventurous, yes. A calculated risk-taker sometimes. A gambler, no. But when I saw the mysterious Travelocity Top Secret Hotel option on their website as I browsed for an overnight hotel on our way to Canada, I almost couldn't resist indulging in this grab-bag approach.

What did I have to lose? I figured. We were only staying there overnight. It was simply a place to rest our heads before we got up in the morning and went on our merry way.  Even if it sucked, we could tough it out for the night. Besides, I was looking at budget hotels anyway. Why not gamble on better accommodations at the same, or an actually lower price? Surely Travelocity wasn't going to put us in a raunchy, scary, oh-my-God-we're-gonna-die hotel, were they? They wanted our business, right?

I hesitated all day.  So I asked myself, Do I feel lucky?  And yes, I did.

So - click. I booked our mystery room.
How could I resist? A 3-star hotel was a step up from the budget hotels I was looking at, and $63 was less than those budgets hotels, too.
Here's where they put us:
Holiday Inn Grand Island (Buffalo / Niagara)The Holiday Inn on Grand Island, NY.

We arrived at night and walked into the spacious and busy lobby. We were road-weary and ready for bed, which was a shame because the hotel had tons of amenities that we didn't have time to explore. There were indoor and outdoor pools, restaurants, room service, massage and reflexology spas, wedding services, a coffee shop, etc., etc. But we were just there to sleep.

The next morning we got back on the road and passed by beautiful waterfront houses and wished we had time to explore. Our Top Secret deal was a great bargain. Definitely worth the $63 price. I would have even paid the full $115 they were asking.

The lobby

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Few Faces From the Fair

My favorite part of the county fair is going to all the animal barns. Here are a few of the faces I saw at this year's Butler County Fair in Ohio.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The London Olympic Opening Cermonies

The Bird's Nest in Beijing. Does London's stadium have a name? I don't know it.

I'm sure there's much talk today of last night's Olympic Opening Ceremonies in London. Here's my two cents: It was weird, but I watched.

I liked the idea of sharing London's history and really enjoyed all the references to literature. The transformation of the stage from grass-covered farms and fields to the Industrial age was a neat idea. But it all seemed to drag on. Especially the digital age piece. They really lost me there.

I was thrilled that they introduced all the nations in record time. I loved seeing the circle of colorful nations once they were all in place. And planting the flags all together was perfect.

I liked seeing David Beckham carry the torch. Especially when they told us how much he's advocated for his hometown of East London to experience economic growth.

I drifted off during the part with James Bond and the Queen, but gather that other people liked it.

Rowan Atkinson was a surprise. I wonder why they picked him? I liked his schtick. It kept me entertained.

I admit, I was a little disappointed with having seven (?) unknown athletes bestowed with the honour of lighting the torch. Seems like someone more worthy should have had that honour. But the torch itself was spectacular. Kudos to Danny Boyle for that.

But overall, when my husband asked me which I liked better, Beijing's or London's opening ceremonies, I didn't even hesitate: China. Hands down.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Guest Post: Distracted Driving

by Michael Jones

In the past, Julie has written about Keith, our son’s best friend in the Air Force. He was tragically killed in an automobile accident while home on leave two years ago. Keith was an extremely nice, likable young man who was always polite and laughing the few times we met him. Mac had planned on running in a marathon with him and actually completed the Air Force Marathon in his honor the following September. 

Recently, Ohio passed a texting and driving law. (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/06/02/ohio-outlaws-texting-while-driving.html) Imagine our surprise while reading the article to discover that Keith was mentioned by name as one of the reasons for passing this bill. It really drove home the dangers of distracted driving.
In my opinion, this was a wonderful law that is long overdue. I did, however, have one problem with it: the bill does not enforce the ban for people over the age of 18.
I run three to four days per week. While running I have to continually be on the lookout for cars and other dangers. Thank God I pay attention. At least once per week, I have to quickly get into a ditch off the side of the road due to distracted drivers. The number of times in the past two weeks a person under 18 has been driving? 0. The number of times that a person over 18 has been driving? 3. I know this because as they swerve by, I see them looking down and often see their children in the back seat.

Really? Is it that important to get the text read or sent right then? Not only am I in danger, but their own kids are as well. Have we become so selfish that we need to risk other lives to communicate? It was not even 15 years ago that we were able to go to the store or on a date without needing to text or make a phone call. Now we do it while we drive?

People can say that kids are wrong for texting while driving, at school, at a restaurant, church, etc. But what are we showing them? I see more adults doing the same thing. It is amazing the number of times I have been driving down the street or highway and notice the cars swerving next to me or in front of me. I have seen grown women, bending over  intheir seats to retrieve something while almost side -wiping a semi. I have seen near collisions and avoided others, only to see the person speeding off and texting or doing something that causes them to keep their eyes from the road.

I am not a saint. I admit that I have texted and talked on the phone while driving. It is a hard habit to break. I need to continually remind myself that whatever it is, it can wait. I often find myself handing the phone to my daughter while in the car. That way she can answer it or make a call if needed. Hopefully she is also seeing that there is nothing so important that it cannot wait until we get where we are going.

Put the phone down, enjoy the scenery and don’t drive distracted. It is not only your life you are placing on the line but also your kids' and complete strangers' as well. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Guest Experiences

For a team-building exercise yesterday, I had to describe my best and worst guest experiences (for us all to learn from), and I thought I’d share mine here.


Boarding the ship for a Carnival cruise. It didn’t seem to matter that the crew did this every week, or that they’d been away from their families for months and thousands of miles. They all had smiles on their faces and acted as excited about this cruise as we were. I think they’d been trained to remember that while this was not their first day on a cruise, it was ours, and we were the guests.
Our bags were whisked away. A dance party was starting on the Lido deck. The music was blaring, the drinks were flowing, and we were immediately on vacation even though our boat hadn’t even left port. There was a towel animal on our bed and a list of activities to keep us entertained.
I must say, Carnival did everything right in getting us into a festive mood.

Then there’s THE WORST:

Who could resist this face?
This smile is worth standing in line for an hour.
The worst guest I experience I’ve ever had was at the Galeries Lafayette  in Paris, France. The bad customer service there still boggles my mind.
We’d promised my daughter that she could pick our activities for a day since she’s been such a good sport about traipsing through art museums and historic buildings and things that probably weren’t as much fun for a kid as they were for us. So she chose a day of shopping. She’d saved her own money and was looking forward to going to the biggest department store in Paris: Galeries Lafayette.
We found a cute bathing suit for her (despite the lack of help from any sales assistants) and cheerfully went up to the counter to complete the purchase. We stood in line until it was our turn. The clerk told us that we were at the wrong counter, then pointed us to another counter about 30 feet away. We shrugged and went over there, but when the clerk finally looked up, she said she was closed and that we’d have to take it to another counter. She pointed. We trekked off to the next register, stood in line, and were again directed to take our purchase elsewhere. It happened again and again. I was getting REALLY frustrated. It was getting ridiculous – would no one at this store take our money???
If it hadn’t been my daughter’s “day” I would have left, but this was her outing and we were buying this Parisian swimsuit for her, so I continued moving to the end of each new line, wondering when someone would finally take our money. I think it took 7 attempts and we were, by that time, on another floor in a hideously long line of other dismissed customers.
We stuck with it that day, but I will NEVER go back. I like to think I’m a fairly patient person, but they tested that theory a little too much.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Our Ducks are in a Row

My husband and I were long, long overdue for making our wills. But today that finally changed and we did it. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about it. I didn't know if I'd feel one step closer to death, or feel somber, or unsettled. Frankly, I didn't know what to expect.

I was pleasantly surprised to find I felt very relieved. There is a calming reassurance to knowing that you've put things in order. There's comfort in knowing that it's written down on paper. I don't know why we waited so long. (Yes, I do. We're lazy that way.)

What I found during the process was that my husband and I shared the same mindset even more than I'd thought. When issues came up that we hadn't decided beforehand, we turned to each other and gave the same answers; we were unified in what we want. If anything, it solidified the idea that we're married forever and that we've decided these things as a team.

We walked out of the lawyer's office with a sense of accomplishment. It made me feel good. I'm sorry we waited so long, but am glad that we finally got our ducks in a row. And that nothing happened to us before we did.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Comic Relief

In the midst of heated conversations and tragedy, we need a bit of comic relief. I saw this limo advertisement in Willebroek, Belgium as I left the concentration camp. I needed a bit of comic relief at that moment, too.

The limo sign is actually attached to the crumpled-wheel smart car.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Blaming Victims

No picture today.

I didn't want to jump on the bandwagon of people commenting/editorializing about the tragic shooting in Colorado, but then someone said something that just ticked me off.

I haven't watched any of the news coverage. I've seen headlines and photos, but that's it. I've purposely avoided it. But I can't really keep my head in the sand; it was, naturally, the top water cooler topic at work today -- just not in the way I expected.

A co-worker said that there was a discussion on one of the news stations about whether or not parents should have even taken their children to a midnight showing (issue #1) of Dark Knight (issue #2). What did I think?

What did I think? I thought that question was akin to asking what a rape victim was doing out walking alone at midnight. It's the same as asking a rape victim what she was wearing or what she had to drink. It's ridiculous, is what I think, and TOTALLY IRRELEVANT.

How dare the news media find some way to make these parents seem in any way at fault for "putting their children in jeopardy." This is not about good parenting. This is about a man committing a horrendous crime against innocent people. Parents who took their children to a midnight showing are in no way complicit.

This is exactly why I didn't tune in to the news in the first place. I knew they'd find some way to either exonerate the criminal or blame the victims. It makes me sick to my stomach. I can't handle the news of the actual crime on top of that.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Anniversary

Today is my twelfth wedding anniversary and I spent part of it talking to my son about his upcoming wedding plans. Time goes by quickly...

As Mac talked about his wedding details, I thought back to my wedding day. It was absolutely perfect. My mom and step-father worked themselves to death getting their farm ready for my special day. I got married in their rose garden as violinists played and our friends and family gathered around. Then we moved to the backside of the house for a picnic-style reception where all the kids could run and play.

I remember the wedding in bits and spurts; flashes of memory. I remember worrying a little because the caterer hadn't arrived and the wedding was about to start. I remember thinking that my dad was walking way too slow as he led me toward my soon-to-be husband. I remember that my son's shoes hurt, and that he cried, but that I thought the tears had a lot more to do with him having to share his mother than the pain in his feet.

I remember the Best Man's toast. I remember my brother playing our wedding song on the stereo outside. I remember finally sitting down at the end of the day and unwrapping wedding presents and being completely, utterly exhausted.

My wedding was casual, down-to-earth, and perfect. Absolutely perfect. It set the tone for our marriage, if you ask me.

More than anything, I remember the excitement and elation at knowing that my best friend was now also my husband. It's been 12 years since, and I still pinch myself for being so lucky.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Underground Manchester

The cavern leading into the other chambers.

"Imagine it," our guide Ed encouraged us. "Every night you face the same question: go to the shelter, where it's stinky, crowded and noisy. Where you probably don't get much sleep. Where your neighbors have come after downing a few pints at the pub to make it through another night at the shelter and then are sick and belligerent while they're down there.

It's pitch black. A doctor is walking around spraying everyone with disinfectant. There are 30 toilets for 1300 people. Chances are, you're not going to get any sleep down there and you'll have to work in the morning.

So, do you do it? Do you take cover in one of Manchester's bomb shelters? Or do you stay at home and risk it?"

Ed painted the scene as we stood in the opening chamber of Manchester's largest WWII bomb shelter. I tried to fathom what it must have been like. I could see the remains of a few notches in the brick and stone wall where the bunk beds had been fastened. I looked over to the not-so-private toilets. We were already underground, so I couldn't imagine having to extinguish all light and spend the night here in pitch black darkness. But neither could I imagine worrying about Nazi aircraft flying overhead and bombing my city while I slept. It's not in my realm of experience.

The shelters were bigger and more spacious than I'd expected. They'd been built in the 1830's as a canal route for boats, and ran under the Great Northern Warehouse which was now owned by the Great Northern Leisure Company, who let Manchester Walking Tours have access to the length of tunnels they still owned for the Underground Manchester Tour.

Though we're not at war right now, and bomb shelters would do no good against nuclear attack and any other threatening attack we'd face in this day and age, the tunnels are still hidden away, with no access other than that granted to the tour company.
In order to get in, we'd headed into the AMC Theatres and then were ushered into an office by a security guard who then let us into a locked down that lead down into the chamber where we stood with Ed, imagining what choices we might make if we'd been faced with air raids by the Nazis.

"On Christmas night, 1940, they heard a lot of commotion and loud noise and bombing. There was panic in the shelter. The next morning when the 'All Clear' was given, some people emerged from the shelter to discover that their homes, a few minutes walk from the Camp Street Shelter where they'd stayed, were gone."

Ed went on to tell us that it wasn't until after the war that a fascist named Moseley who'd left England and was a Nazi supporter, told American interrogators that Hitler had never planned to bomb that area. He'd been taken by the grandeur of the Midland Hotel, where our tour group met that night. He planned to use it as his headquarters once Germany occupied England. With 68% air bombing accuracy, he didn't plan to drop any bombs in that general area.

But the people who lived there in 1940 didn't know that. All they knew was that they might or might not survive the night. They thought they'd have a better chance hidden underground in a bomb shelter. If only they could get up the gumption to stay there. Or did it take more courage to risk it and stay home? That was the question, night after night, after night.

Friday, July 20, 2012


My brother is headed to London and asked me-- ME -- what he should pack. He said since I travel a lot, and I'd just been to England, he wanted to know what I thought. What I thought was  -- Wow. You made my day. He didn't know it, but his question made me feel like people see me as the traveler I want to be.

He said he wants to travel light; just a backpack if he could manage it. He's going for a week. I think he can definitely manage it. He ran through his list of clothes and I suggested he bring a jacket and umbrella and re-think whether he needs a nice outfit. He's in charge of his own itinerary. What would he need a nice outfit for? It would require another pair of shoes, too. He wondered whether he needed a real camera, or whether his iPhone would do. Definitely just an iPhone. His pictures are solely for his pleasure.

The actual advice I gave him doesn't really matter. What mattered to me is that he asked me. And seemed to look at me as some sort of expert. I'm not, but I appreciated it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


In the Parc Royal, across the street from the Royal Palace in Brussels, there is a park lined with sculptures that honor Brussels. I wanted to take pictures of them all, but didn't. Maybe next time. I thought it was enough to capture this picture of a Brusselsprout with other same-shaped sculptures in the background. There's one Brusselsprout sculpture called "Brusselicious," but I don't think it's this one. I think it has a miniature Manneken Pis standing on top of it.

Something to look for next time I go...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Touring the Theatre of Dreams

My plane landed in Manchester, England and I headed toward the immigration desk.
“What’s your purpose in Manchester?” the uniformed customs officer asked me.
A look of puzzlement and suspicion flickered across her face. “Pleasure? What do you mean?”
“I’m just visiting for the weekend,” I stammered.
“Are you visiting someone?”
“Do you know anyone in Manchester?”
“No.” At this point, I was kicking myself for not saying I was there for business.
“What are your plans?”
I grasped at straws. I didn’t have any real plans yet. “To visit Old Trafford?”
“What do you want to do that for?” the Customs officer at the next desk asked.
Ah. So I’d given the wrong answer. I’d read in my Lonely Planet guide that Mancunians (as Manchester residents are called) are not keen on the Manchester United team. Here was evidence in person, echoed again on my cab ride to the hotel.
“You sure you want to do that?” the cab driver asked me when I inquired as to how far the stadium was from my hotel. I wasn’t sure at all, but it seemed like something I had to do while I was there. After all, I was a big fan of David Beckham’s H&M underwear commercials. And my daughter played soccer at home. So, yes; I wanted to see Old Trafford.
It was pouring rain when I went with my timed group to start the tour. We followed our tour guide to the executive seats below the words ‘Sir Alex Ferguson’ and stared across the green, green pitch to the players’ seats on the other side of the field. The guide took a roll call, asking each of us where we were from.
Vietnam. Venezuela. China. Atlanta, Georgia. Scotland. Canada. Cincinnati.
“So, I didn’t hear Manchester from any of you,” the guide continued. He was right. There was no one local there. It confirmed what I’d read: Manchester United was not beloved by the locals.
“You’re sitting in the executive seats,” he went on. “Notice they’re nicer, padded, and have armrests. A seat in this section would cost you £7,000 for the season. “
£7,000! But I thought Manchester United wasn’t popular! £7,000. Wow.
“I’ve had season tickets for the past 43 years,” our guide told us. He pointed to his seats in the next section. “It cost me about £900 this year.” Ah, a dedicated fan. A few people on the tour asked how they could get tickets. It wouldn’t be easy, we learned. Games were always sold out. Which puzzled me. I thought they were unpopular??
From there we toured the player’s dressing room and ran down the opening where they entered for the games. We took turns sitting in the players’ seats and listened to the guide tell us about the 11 who died in the 1958 airplane crash.
When it was done, we exited through the gift shop. Nearly everyone bought something to remember their visit. Half the men wore their jerseys out of the store. I bought soccer gloves for my daughter and carried my ‘Champions Manutd. Megastore’ bag out into the rain. Then, as I left the enclave of international visitors I’d spent the last hour with and mingled again among the Mancunian crowd, I wondered whether I should hide the bag before someone saw it. Otherwise, I was bound to be questioned about my interest again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jumper at the Arndale

The tall building on the right is called the Arndale.
But the jumper was actually on a 5-story car park
at the Arndale Mall.
I landed in Manchester, England, dropped my bags at the hotel and raced out into the rain to begin my 48 hours in England’s 2nd largest city. I decided to get out of the rain and do the Old Trafford tour and headed to the Victoria train station. It took me a while to remember that  I could speak English again and expect it in return.  Or so I thought.
“The tram’s not running. Didya hear why?” the Metrolinks employee asked me. I shook my head.
“There’s a jumper at Arndale.”
English, yes. But I had no idea what he was trying to tell me. A jumper. Someone jumping onto the tracks? Someone who jumped the queue and didn’t pay? Something completely different? I was clueless. And I guessed Arndale was a place, but it meant nothing to me.
“You’ll have to take the bus. Follow me.”
So I followed this gray-toothed man in a Metrolinks jacket back out of the train station while he peppered everyone we passed with the same question.
“Didya hear there’s a jumper at Arndale?”
“Police have everything blocked off. There’s a jumper at Arndale. You’ll have to go around.”
He turned back to me as he positioned me just out of the rain. “He picked a ‘ell of a day, din’t he? The bus’ll be along in 12 minutes or so.”
Naively, I still hoped for the best.
Soaked from the waist down where my umbrella failed me, I boarded the bus with the other passengers who’d been derailed from their tram. We got on and gossip volleyed back and forth.
“Hear he lost his job.”
“Oy. My heart bleeds for him,” one man said sarcastically.  “He’s not the only one.”
“If you’re gonna do it, do it straightaway,” one twentysomething said as she shook the rain off her pink head.
“Can’t he jump faster?” someone else said behind me.
So it was a suicide jumper. I’d been afraid of that. The police had blocked off several streets that also intersected with tram rails. It was 11:00am.
I finally connected with another tram that took me to Old Trafford and forgot about my morning. Then, around 4:30pm I headed back the way I’d come, taking the tram to Picadilly where I’d transfer back to Victoria Station.
But when I got to Picadilly, there was a Metrolinks guard blocking the escalator to my tram.
“Sorry, miss, you’ll have to go back to Picadilly Gardens and then walk. There’s been an incident and the city center is blocked off.”
An incident. The jumper. He must have done it.
Sure enough, as I wandered in circles trying to figure out which direction I was headed, I came across the yellow taped barricade near a building emblazoned with Arndale at the top. I saw the police erect a blue tent just down the block, close to the building. It was only about five stories high there; a parking garage. Before the tent went up, I saw a blue tarp on the ground.
The jumper.
So he’d done it not long before I’d arrived. He’d spent the day on the roof of the Arndale Mall from what I surmised. He’d stood in the rain deliberating all day. Soaking wet and depressed beneath the steel grey skies, he’d jumped.  I wonder how many times he’d wavered and what finally drove him to jump?
I thought about him all evening. The sun broke through the clouds and turned the sky a silvery pink. It was a beautiful sunset, but he missed it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

We've Come a Long Way in Taking Pictures

Over the weekend, I was sifting through old pictures, trying to pick out some good ones of my son to include in the slide show we'll have at his wedding reception. I didn't expect it to be hard. It wasn't until we went through a hundred snapshots without finding more than a handful to use that I realized the problem: we didn't take very good pictures when he was young.

Photography as a whole has advanced to a completely different level with the shift from film to digital photography. But what that means for the quality of snapshots isn't just the ability to crop and enhance photos that didn't turn out so well. What it's done is change the way we take pictures.

Back in the days of film and flashbulbs, we took a picture or two and weren't really sure what image we'd captured until we got the pictures developed and saw the finished product. We used film sparingly; flashbulbs even more frugally, so we didn't waste film by taking shot after shot. Now we click away, knowing we'll delete whatever shots we don't want. This wasn't the case when Mac was young.

So we're left with a lot of bad pictures. Boring pictures. Pictures that make you wonder what the intention was in the first place.

Even more noticeable is that we used to take pictures that captured the whole person and the scene, rarely doing close-ups that show a person's face. As I sifted through photos, most of them were nondescript shots from across the room, making Mac appear tiny or non-featured, and aren't exactly what I want to project on a large screen at his wedding.

What I've got are dozens of pictures like this:

When what I want are hundreds like this:

I'll have no trouble picking out pictures of my daughter for her wedding. But most of Mac's photo montage is going to be more current day

Sunday, July 15, 2012

After the Festival

"Look, Mom! A man on stilts!" Lily ran toward the carnival worker and watched in awe as he juggled and danced atop his long-legged stilts. A group of children gathered and Jeremy performed, acting as though he were about to topple over before finally creating balloon animals for each of the children to carry home.

The festival ended and the workers began tearing down their booths and displays, tucking away the crumpled dollar bills that had been handed to them one-by-one during the course of the day. Lights flickered out and staffers yelled their good-byes to each other as they exited toward the campers set up behind a line of trees to the side of the festival grounds.

Jeremy tottered over to Lori, who was just pinching the padlock into place on her elephant ears booth.

"What do you say we get out of here and find something decent to eat?" Jeremy asked her.

"Anything but fried food," Lori agreed. "And sugar." She sniffed her shirt. "Sorry. I stink like powdered sugar. Job hazard."

"Just goes with how sweet you are," Jeremy said.

"Ha ha. Like I haven't heard that before."

She and Jeremy started walking toward the camper alley. "I'll just pop in my trailer and change real quick. Which one is yours?"

Jeremy pointed to a retrofitted tour bus. "That's mine."

"Wow. It's big. Well, I'll meet you back out here after we get changed."

Jeremy nodded toward the bus. "Meet me there. We'll take my wheels."

Lori quickly scrubbed herself clean, hoping to wipe off some of the clinging residual sugar scent. The clean shirt helped, but when she grabbed a chunk of hair and held it to her nose, she knew it was a lost cause. The odor of frozen dough and confectionery sugar was ever-present. She hoped Jeremy wouldn't mind too much.

She hurried down to his bus and knocked on the door. Jeremy opened it with the push of a button and Lori climbed aboard.

"Oh," she said as she stopped abruptly on the stairs. "I thought you'd be ready."

Jeremy shrugged. "I am."

"But-," Lori stopped. Jeremy was dressed in black now, instead of the carnival red and white stripes. "You're going to keep wearing the stilts?"

Jeremy looked straight ahead through the over-sized windshield. He'd found it best not to watch the looks on other people's faces when he told them the news. "They aren't stilts," he said. "It's a birth defect. My legs are unusually long. There's nothing I can do about it."

Lori remained frozen on the steps. She examined his legs as they stretched from the gas pedal of the bus, all the way back to where Jeremy sat in a custom-fitted seat designed for his height. She'd been about to ask if this were some kind of joke, but Jeremy's monotone and stoic demeanor told her it was not. She let her eyes travel further, up his stiffened frame to the tight clench of his jaw. He stared straight ahead, waiting for her final judgment.

She followed Jeremy's gaze to the now-darkened field. She remembered his charm as he wandered around entertaining the children; his friendly smile and approachable manner. She remembered watching his languid steps as he roamed around the grounds, promoting fun and festivity.

Lori loosed her grip on the bus rail and stepped up so she was level with Jeremy.

"I'd kill for a salad," she said.

He smiled and his shoulders relaxed. With a flick of a button, he closed the door.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Few Favorite Shots from the Balloon Festival

The Hot Air Balloon Festival in Middletown, Ohio almost seemed like it might be a bust -- again. We've gone three times, but had yet to see a hot air balloon take off because of weather conditions. There was a red flag for a while yesterday and we thought we were going to miss out again. But then the flag changed to green and the balloon crews fired up.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The New CVG: Cincinnati Airport

Play area for kids.

I read in the newspaper that CVG (Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati airport) plans to revamp into a one-terminal airport. As a former Delta hub whose Terminal 3 was a nightmare of long lines, I was surprised to read this and could only conclude that the airport must be close to closing. I've been flying out of Dayton the past few years where the lines for ticketing and security are much, much shorter.

But I flew out of CVG a few weeks ago on an international flight and was very impressed with the clean, spacious surroundings inside the airport terminal now. It's absolutely beautiful. And sadly, uncrowded.

They've included roomy waiting areas and plenty of places to plug-in. As someone who routinely endures long layovers, I've come to appreciate that. They also built a kids' play area (pictured above) where kids can sit and pretend to fly an airplane.

My flight plans usually depend heavily on low fares and ease of getting in and out of airports. I'd ruled CVG out before, but now it's back in the game.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I wrote a few days ago about a cooking class I took in Brussels and how it made me miss my son But I'd also like to share what it was like to actually take the class.

I got a taste (pun intended) for just how global Food Network and the Cooking channel have become when I took part in a team-building exercise at Mmmmh! in Brussels. Mmmmh! is part cookwares shop/part cooking school and we were there for our own competition. Here we divided into teams and then worked with a chef to create appetizers, dinner and dessert for the group.

The Menu:

Green Gazpacho with sourdough croutons
Shrimp with Curcuma on a bed of grilled peppers
Pine-nut crusted Chicken Kabobs with crunchy parmesan mash
Pan-fried Berries, Mascarpone Espuma and Violet Caviar

I noticed that all of us knew the basics, though we'd never done them in our own kitchens. Blanch the peas? No problem. Fill a ciphon and insert gas cartridges? Mix violet syrup and sodium alginate then squeeze the droplets into a calcium bath? Well...good thing there was a chef nearby.

We raced around, pretending we were MasterChefs and Iron Chefs, and plating our dishes as well as any restaurant could. We were having a blast.

As in any kitchen, conversation was lively and I got to know all the participants that were there for the training I was in Brussels to facilitate. They came from England, Germany, China and Belgium. They were so friendly and shared their thoughts on work and culture. I learned their hobbies and had fun cooking with them, tasting the dishes we were tasked with making.

In the end, the judges held their tastings and rated each dish for texture, taste and appearance. I'll toot my own horn for a second and let you know that my team won. But in the end, we were all winners because we got to eat the fabulous food we made! And that's when I learned my first Dutch phrase: Smakelijk! (Delicious!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Man Bites Log

Pemaquid Point, Maine

I’m not alone in being one of those vacationers to Maine who spend their summer week there thinking, “Boy, it would be wonderful to live here.”  Some people do grab a real estate guide and plop down money on a house, sure that they’re buying a little piece of paradise; an escape to a simpler, easier life among the pine trees and lighthouses of Maine.
Thank God I read Max Alexander’s book Man Bites Log: The Unlikely Adventures of a City Guy in the Woods, or I might have added my name to the white pages there.
Alexander is a former Hollywood/New York entertainment columnist who decided to trade in his fast-paced celebrity life for acreage in Maine where the state’s welcome sign promises a glimpse into 'The Way Life Should Be.'
Alexander wasn’t one of those people who is shocked to discover that living in a rural area is hard work; he was prepared for that. But through him, I realized how much I am not ready for a life wading through mud, chipping through ice, and having suspicious neighbors watching and waiting for me act like the out-of-stater I am.
Instead, Alexander gives us a look at how much he comes to embrace trading in his fast-paced work and deadlines for hours spent splitting logs and tapping maple trees for syrup. He runs for local government and goes door-to-door campaigning. He gets to know his neighbors, his family, his land, and in the process – himself.
He does not present  life in Maine as less than idyllic. Rather, he presents it as a place to dig in and get your hands dirty and shape an existence there; something that I, and surely hundreds of other people, aren’t really committed to doing.
I loved living in Maine vicariously through Alexander's memoir. But Man Bites Log opened my eyes and helped me realize that while Maine is a fantastic place to vacation, it is not a place where I’d be happy living. I’ve picked out plenty of other vacation spots for that. J

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Word Choices That Make You Wonder

I saw several signs when I was in China in which the translations just didn't quite work. Those are always fun. I saw two in Brussels and share them here. I can guess at what the first item on this menu was meant to say.
Sorry it's so blurry. The top item reads: Gaspacho, crudeness, bread and butter.
I think they meant crudites.  :)

But I have no idea what this is supposed to mean:

Monday, July 9, 2012


Travelers and tourists are advised to ask locals for insight on what restaurants to go to and what to see or do in a particular city. I’ve done this often, usually with mixed response. Sometimes the locals guide me to hidden gems that I might not have otherwise discovered. Sometimes I’m steered toward activities I already know about. And sometimes, I get the impression that the locals don’t really know much about their own cities at all.

Such was the case in Brussels. I was there for work and collaborated with a group of Belgian colleagues. We headed out one night on a city scavenger hunt, which I was all-too-eager to do. I thought surely, here was my chance to learn more about the city than I’d done on my own. I put on my walking shoes and got ready to roam.

The organizers of the event were an outside company who specialize in team-building activities such as the game we were about to play. They gave us our instructions: figure out the clues and use the handheld GPS to find the items pictured or described. We were to go to those spots, take a picture of the team and answer some questions. It sounded like fun. I was ready to start.

And that’s when I learned that I knew more about the city than any of my colleagues who worked there. They read off questions that only I could answer since I’d poured through guidebooks before traveling the Belgium. I’d already covered miles, walking around the city sight-seeing. In fact, we cheated a little and skipped some spots because I already had pictures of them on my camera. It seemed that I was the authority on our team; the only American, and the most knowledgeable about the sights to see in Brussels.

Then, as we walked, we passed the Museum of Musical Instruments (Mim).

“Have you gone there?” one of the women asked me.

I hadn’t. I’d read about it, but hadn’t given it much consideration. We have something similar in Cincinnati.

“You should go,” she continued. “There’s a nice café on the top floor where you can have a meal or a drink and it has beautiful views of the city.”

The next day it rained, and I followed her advice.

I paid my 7 Euro admission and the woman at the counter gave me a headset. “When you get to an instrument you want to hear, just plug this into the jack. There is only music, no commentary.” Which is perfect, is it not?

I headed into the museum and began with the woodwinds. Since I play the flute I was immediately drawn to them. I plugged my headset into the jack and heard the beautiful lilting sound that I expected. And I thought – this is the perfect museum for a person traveling alone. With your headset on, you are isolated anyway, and have no option other than to enjoy the music on your own. It was one of the few places where I didn’t miss having a companion. I was content to listen to some instruments for a few seconds; others until the recording had completely come to an end. I only wished that there were benches to sit on. I might never have left.

What surprised me was the instrument the pleased me the most. It was one I would not have expected: the accordions! Crazy, I know. I circled back to that display a few times.

I did also venture to the top floor café. It was still raining, but the views were no less stunning through the rain-spattered windows. If the weather had been nicer, I would have enjoyed my Kriek on the terrace. I made do sitting at a table by the floor-to-ceiling window.

I’m not sure I would have gone to the museum if it hadn’t been brought to my attention by my colleague. I am often too restless to see things that I could see elsewhere in the world when I visit a city. I can see musical instruments at home. But it was a perfect diversion on a rainy day and a quiet place to wander. It seems odd to call a musical museum ‘quiet,’ doesn’t it? But it was just me alone with my thoughts and the music in my ears. The accordion music and me.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wanted: Female Companion

Wanted:  Female companion; must love being around water
20-something male seeks female who wants to frolic au natural in warm locales where we can swim and enjoy all aspects of water sports and play.
I’m good natured; I’m told that I have an irresistible smile, even-tempered, somewhat exotic in appearance, and not afraid to show my feelings to the world.
Only females who can appreciate my sense of humor, hearty appetite, happy-go-lucky nature, and my quirky smile need apply.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bike Sculptures

I keep coming across bike sculptures in my travels. Here are a few I've spotted in the past. Now that I'm aware of this trend, I may start looking for them purposely and add the new pictures to this page.

Hamilton, Ohio

Hamilton, Ohio

Brussels, Belgium
Outside the Bird's Nest in Beijing, China

Friday, July 6, 2012

Reminders of Home

A train station, but I did not take a picture of the teens and tweens.

As much as I love to travel, I hate to leave my family behind. Naturally, I prefer to travel with them. But for work, this is not usually possible. I’m okay for a while; caught up in all the excitement and newness of a place. But then, I’m usually caught offguard -- reminded of my family without warning, which makes me immediately homesick for them. It can be overwhelming, depending on the reminder.
I was standing at a train station in Brussels Noord when I was suddenly bombarded with thoughts of my 11-year-old daughter back home. It was Saturday morning and the train platform was crowded with young people waiting for a train to Antwerp (or maybe beyond that to Amsterdam). Group of 6, 10, 20 friends gathered around, chatting in French, Flemish and German. They jostled against each other laughing and sharing ipods and Cokes as we all waited for the train. Some were young, perhaps my daughter’s age, traveling in a group with a chaperone. Others were a few years older; teenagers out to have fun on a Saturday, all of Europe at their disposal.
That’s when I thought of Isabelle and wondered how different her life would be if she were growing up in Europe instead of home in America where parents drive their children to the mall or friends’ houses. American children are not quite so independent, especially in suburban areas. In fact, they are very dependent for transportation and entertainment.
I watched the young people at the train station and wished she had such freedom, cultures, and sights available to her. I wished she could simply board a train and see the world.


A few nights later at a team-building event for work, I was overwhelmed with missing my son.
We went to a place called Mmmmh. Here we divided into teams and then worked with a chef to create appetizers, dinner and dessert for the group. As in any kitchen, conversation was lively and I got to know all the participants that were there for the training I was in Brussels to facilitate. They came from England, Germany, China and Belgium. They were so friendly and shared their thoughts on work and culture. I learned their hobbies and had fun cooking with them, tasting the dishes we were tasked with making. They included me in all their enthusiastic discussions despite the fact that I was old enough to be their mother. And that’s when it hit me: they were all the same age as my son. I missed him.
Missing my husband was continuous. Every time I saw a couple eating at a restaurant or posing for a picture, I wished he were with me. The laughter I heard from groups reminded me of my mother. I wanted her there, too.
I love to travel, but I hate to leave. I wish I could pack my family in my suitcase and bring them along with me. Instead, I am reminded of them every time I turn around and agree with Dorothy: “There’s no place like home.”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

To See Or Not To See - That Was The Question

Marionettes on display in the museum we visited during intermission

In search of something new to do in Brussels, I stumbled upon a sandwich-board sign for a marionette show at Theatre Royal de Toone. It pointed down an alley to a courtyard and a cafe/bar, so I wandered down to find out more. The bartender said that there would be a show at 8:30. "Hamlet," he said.

A marionette show of Hamlet? How could I resist?

With an hour to kill, I headed back outside for a Kriek (Belgium's famed cherry beer). The surroundings were strange, to say the least. There were a few tables on the broken brick path and a few more plastic white tables in the unmown grass. We seemed to be in a courtyard behind buildings that were never meant to be seen from the back. It was rundown, but also had a backyard feel to it. Most of the people sitting there seemed to know each other. More people came and greeted them. I sipped my beer. I loved it there. Especially when we suddenly heard a Pink Floyd CD being piped in through an old speaker. I can't think of more perfect music for the scene before me.

Then, clang, clang, clang. Someone rang a hand bell. It was apparently time for the show.

We walked up two flights of stairs to the theatre. I was enchanted immediately. Wooden benches with calico-colored cushions lined the small room. Calliope music played and I felt like a kid on a merry-go-round, about to be entertained. Marionettes hung from the walls, stacked two rows high. It was magical. I wanted to stay in this attic hideaway forever. They didn't even need to put on a show.

But they did. The troupe of people I'd seen greeting each other outside were actually the puppetmasters (though I wouldn't know that until the curtain call at the end). The play began and I was dazzled by the artistry of it. These were not the marionettes I was familiar with as a child. The ones I'd seen were controlled by strings attached to a cross-bar. These marionettes were 3' high with stiff wooden legs that clomped across stage as the puppetmasters maneuvered rods attached to their heads and one or two strings controlling their arms. It was that simple. And yet, they made the marionettes come alive. We could often see their hands and arms moving the 'actors.' It just added to the experience. 
I wasn't supposed to take pictures during the performance, but I couldn't resist just one.
Hamlet began. It had all the drama and comedy of Shakespeare, and I think it followed the play pretty well, but I can't say for sure. I don't speak French and the entire play was done in French. I knew that going in and didn't care. I knew the play enough to follow along. The melodrama, action, changes of set scene, and costumed marionettes were wonderful. It was dramatic. It was whimsical. It was clever. It was fun.   

If you speak French, don't miss it. If you don't, see it anyway. To miss it would be a greater tragedy than the play itself.