Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Your Tour Guide Returns

Have you ever dreamed of discovering sunken treasure? If so, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum would be right up your alley. Long ago, the waters around the Keys presented difficult navigating for ships. As a result, it wasn't unusual for wrecks to occur, taking lives and other precious cargo to the bottom of the sea. To this day, underwater archaeologists look for mysterious sunken treasures from long ago.

One of the most famous of these hunters was Mel Fisher. His dream of finding treasure began as a child when he read Robert Louis Stevenson's, Treasure Island. He and his crew were successful in discovering many lucrative shipwrecks, but Fisher had his cap set to find the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha which he had read about in Potter's Treasure Diver's Guide. It was a royal guard galleon with 40 tons of gold and silver aboard which sank in a devastating hurricane along with other ships in 1622.

For 16 years he told his crew every morning, "Today's the day", until finally it happened. They found the ship. Thousands of artifacts were discovered worth many, many millions of dollars. It was considered the richest treasure find since the discovery of King Tut's tomb. Mel Fisher was truly an example of what can happen when you never, ever give up.

We saw gold and silver, emeralds and goblets, jewelry and pirate muskets.

This small sampling shows the beauty and detail of the artifacts found by Mel Fischer.

And we we saw something else that widened our eyes. For those of you who recall me writing about our local sculptor friend, Don Wiegand, upon entering the museum the first thing we saw was a bronze sculpture Don did of Mel Fisher.

Talk about finding a touch of home in Florida!

If you get a chance, I strongly recommend you visit the museum. You won't regret it.

Next time I'll show you one of the highlights of our trip...the home of Ernest Hemingway and the fabulous felines that live there.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Just Call Me Your Travel Guide

A few weeks ago, Hubby and I traveled with Son and Daughter-In-Law to spend a few days in a tropical paradise. And we didn't even need to leave the United States to do it.

On a dreary, chilly St. Louis Thursday morning, we hopped on a plane and flew to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Then we took off our jackets and rented a car, driving 3 and one half hours to arrive at our destination...Key West. At first I wasn't thrilled about such a long ride from the airport to our hotel, but then I realized the obvious. We were driving through the beautiful Florida Keys! A tough job, but we soldiered through it anyway.

What a place. Our hotel was a stone's throw from the ocean. It had stunning views with palm trees everywhere, a long boardwalk from which to view the sights, and best of all it was totally pet friendly. Each day an artist sculpted something interesting from sand for the guests to enjoy. This guy was my favorite:

Speaking of pet friendly, I think it's fair to say that pretty much all of Key West is pet friendly. People brought their pups to restaurants, bars, and shopping. In one restaurant I saw a cat napping in a comfy chair while the bartender's dog sat politely next to a bar stool and a customer's pup lounged beneath his table, perhaps waiting for a handout.

How about these cute boxer pups I discovered sitting outside a bar on Duval Street?

Nothing like a puppy fix to make a good day even better. But wait, there's more. Key West has chickens that roam pretty much wherever they want. Apparently the chickens belong to no one in particular, but everyone seems to love them. Unfortunately the chickens are a wee bit camera shy. You can see them fleeing from the photographer (aka me) below.

A huge boat race was going on that weekend and one night some of the enormous million-dollar boats were lined up on Duval Street for the fans to take a look. The streets were packed with people. I pointed out a man carrying a parrot and cockatoo. The next thing I knew...

What can I say? Proof that anything can happen.

This is your travel guide signing off until next time when I'll bring you more salty tales of Key West.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

NaNoWriMo Winner 2014

Each time I participate in NaNoWriMo, the arc of my enthusiasm is predictable. The first third of the month, I'm excited and writing with abandon. The second third of the month, I'm steady, but starting to sweat. The final third of the month I'm crawling toward the finish line as though it's a distant mirage while NEVER allowing myself to write a contraction (I get more words that way) and cursing every five minutes for thinking it was a good idea to NaNo.

The result? I have another NaNo manuscript completed. Well, not exactly completed. With 50,134 rough, raw, and rambunctious words, there's still a whole lot of work to do. But that doesn't matter. Thanks to the gentle persuasive efforts of NaNoWriMo, in the past six years I've written 4 manuscript drafts. Three are part of a romance trilogy, and the fourth is an historical fiction piece.

It's been a daunting task, but what a rush now that I'm done. I have four manuscripts under my belt. Even though they're not nearly ready, at least I have something to work with. And that's the beauty of NaNoWriMo. It's the perfect exercise to get words on paper daily and complete a major goal.

I'm happy I did it, but glad NaNo is over. My house has dust bunnies running rampant and the sound of Christmas carols is throwing me into a state of stunned panic.

November is almost over and I'm out of touch. What's been going on with you?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

NaNo Update

It's late. My eyes are bleary and my fingers are tired. Indy is curled in a little knot asleep at my feet while Bogey has commandeered my lap (and part of the keyboard).

Why do people participate in a mass group writing marathon like NaNoWriMo? Could it have something to do with being competitive? For me I suspect so. The question "What's your word count today?" has become my favorite phrase. And as soon as I hear what someone else has done, my petty little self sneaks back in to type more words because then I wrote more than they did.

It's the end of Day 13 and here's where I stand: 32,023 words.

Please don't tell me where you are. I'm too tired to stay up any later.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hello NaNo, Good-bye Sanity

It's almost here. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) happens every November. It's basically a writing challenge with the goal of producing a novel in 30 days. You can't start writing until November 1, and you don't stop until one of the following things happens:

  • at least 50,000 words have been completed
  • the clock announces midnight on November 30
  • you toss your computer out the window and give up

Last year I opted out of NaNo and felt guilty as a teenager caught cheating on their final exam. So this year, I'm back in and have been working on a rough outline and my main characters. Planning in advance is okay, and for me quite necessary. I'm not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of writer.

Part of the fun of NaNo is sharing the agony with other writers. My own writer's group is doing a NaNo kickoff party tonight where there will be much gnashing of teeth and discussion of strategy. Some writers will get together to work throughout the month in a true example of the many ways misery loves company. Marathon writing is a requirement. Editing is impossible. Achieving 50,000 words is priceless.

This will be my fourth NaNo project and will give me my fourth "novel". Don't I sound prolific?

To keep me on track, I'm going on blog break. I hope to post a few updates. After all, somebody has to hold me accountable, right?

If you're interested in jumping on the NaNo bandwagon, check out the NaNo website.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wee Wee Wee

Son's dog, Brady, often comes to stay at my house. Here he is modeling the latest in doggie fashion, with an expression that clearly says, "It isn't easy being green."

Brady is a Cairn Terrier with more issues than I can count. He's allergic to grass and tears his hair out so methodically that he looks like the poster child for a hair replacement commercial. To keep him from chewing his sides naked, he has his own wardrobe.

When it thunders, Brady barks non-stop. If he's outside, he charges around the yard while barking hysterically as though determined to scare away an evil hobgoblin.

He also has a food obsession and will grab anything edible from your hand, from your plate, or from any other place he can stretch tall enough to reach. Thwarting Brady can make eating dinner a true challenge.

Brady's latest accomplishment is "marking". He will occasionally do this at his house, but by far prefers to do it at other people's homes. Curtains and sofas are his favorite targets. Since this creates numerous problems for all concerned, Brady now has a new piece of wearing apparel.

Yes, it's a doggie diaper. Brady wore his diaper for the first time to Daughter's house on Sunday, since he particularly likes to mark when visiting her. We held our collective breath and discovered...success! Not once did Brady lift his leg. He was a perfect gentleman.

It may sound crazy, but it works. Diaper on when in the house, off when outside. Now the furniture is dry and the curtains remain spot free.

Who'd have thought doggie diapers would become our family's new best friend?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Illusion or Reality?

I have a friend from high school who loves to put pictures of herself on Facebook. There's certainly nothing wrong with posting selfies. In fact, it seems to be a pretty popular pastime. Friends do it. Celebrities do it. Even random people I've never met (nor am sure I want to) do it.

What caught my eye about my friend's picture is the way her face looked. Lovely. Line-free. Luminous. Now I know she's in great shape, but really? She's the exact same age as me. I've seen her in person (recently) many times. I decided her picture had to have been photoshopped, airbrushed, and/or tweaked in some way.

The idea put me on a quest to find my own photographic fountain of youth. I finally settled on one and experimented. Because if anyone needs to be "youthened" it's me.

My before picture, complete with bags, lines, and wrinkles:

After some minor photo fooling around:

H'mmm. Almost like a mini face-lift without the cutting, stitching, or pain. 

From what I've observed, in the competitive world of author pictures on book covers, actors playing roles, or a head shot on the cover of a magazine, appearance counts. But will there be a disconnect when the inevitable meeting occurs and the face doesn't match the photo? Or maybe people have come to expect that few things are what they appear to be, particularly on-line dating sites where I wonder if photo-enhancing may result in some major disappointments.

I have to admit, I'm vain enough to prefer my "improved" version. Primarily because that's how my brain still thinks I look. Needless to say, it's always a shock when the mirror tells me something different. 

So what do you think? Is photo enhancing a blessing or a curse? Would you do it if it might help your career or are you a this-is-me-take-it-or-leave-it kind of person?

If you're interested in the app I used, it's called Perfect365. This app was free to download to my iPhone. And if you want to do crazy things to your photo (weird makeup, wigs, etc), Perfect365 can do that, too. (Note: I am not being compensated for this post. I stumbled across the app and thought it would be fun to share)

I'm curious. If you've found a cool photo app (preferably free), please let me know. I may have become addicted. 

By the way, just for fun I tried to de-age and beautify Indy. The app scanned his picture and told me "face not recognized".

Okay, so maybe I need a shave.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Yum Yum

Bogey loves his kibble. He meows with ecstasy over the wet canned food he gets every morning. And he absolutely adores his kitty treats. He'll even sit up and beg like a dog to receive one.

Unfortunately, Bogey loves everyone else's food, too. If he gets a chance, the dog food bowl will be emptied. Unguarded people food will disappear. He even figured out how to open the refrigerator for random food raids while the peeps were away at work. Thankfully, I now have a new refrigerator he can't open. Bogey is not happy. If cats could curse, my ears would be ringing.

Yesterday I came home to find a brand new bag of doggie dental chewies torn apart and emptied. It had been sitting on the kitchen table. My highly advanced powers of deduction told me Bogey must have knocked it to the floor, then he and Brady (Son's visiting dog and the only creature I know that loves food even more than Bogey) devoured the contents.

Their sweetly scented breath confirmed my suspicions. Since Brady eats only special food due to his history of pancreatitis, I told Son what happened. I haven't received any frantic phone calls yet, so I'm assuming the treats merely made Brady's teeth pearly white, rather than throwing his pancreas into revolt.

I must admit food tends to drive me as much as it does my critters. I love to fantasize about what treat I'll have once I get home from work. Ice cream? Chocolate? Popcorn? Pizza? It's no wonder I'm having more and more difficulty buttoning my pants.

And now it's Fall. The season of decadent eating has begun. Between Halloween candy, pumpkin bread, and Christmas cookies, I'm afraid I may need either a 12-step program or a plus size wardrobe.

I need help. How do you keep a handle on your cravings?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tuesday Ladies League

Last year I joined a bowling team. It was the first time I'd bowled since high school. I told my teammates not to expect much. In fact, my main contribution so far has been my exceptionally high handicap.

However, I've discovered trying something a little new and different can pay off. We have a blast on our girls night out laughing, talking, and even enjoying a cocktail or two. I've met a lot of funny and terrific gals.

My season 2 of bowling started in August, and guess what? Last Tuesday I bowled the best game of my (admittedly limited) bowling career. Doubters see evidence below.

Yes, it's true. I bowled a 158. Of course I followed that game by bowling a 108, but no matter. I got a taste of success. Sometimes if you keep plugging away, wonderful things can happen. Heck, I even got a story out of bowling. "The Tuesday Night Ladies League" appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life (now available in bookstores and on Amazon). It tells how stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something new energized and inspired me.

This week bowling night brought another surprise bonus.

A former bowling teammate brought her therapy dog (in training) to the bowling alley. His name is Woody, and he's quite the handsome fellow. He laid quietly on the floor while zillions of bowling balls rumbled down the alley before crashing into pins. What a good boy. I know he's going to make an awesome therapy dog.

Have you tried a new activity lately that made you feel great?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Told You So!

My daughter organized a group to participate in "Trails for Tails", a fundraising event for Five Acres Animal Shelter. Her intrepid team is pictured above. She turned it into a true family affair by recruiting me, her sister-in-law (my daughter-in-law), and my sister. Can you guess who's who?

Prior to leaving for Trails, we had a serious talk with Daughter's step-son who plays competitive hockey and is also a huge Blues fan.

Daughter: "You ought to come along in case Dave Backes (captain of the St Louis Blues hockey team and board member of Five Acres Animal Shelter) is there."

Since he's nearly 13, he blew us off with a blithe, "Backes won't be there, he's busy with hockey stuff" reply. His eyes never once left the hockey video game he was playing. Oh well...

Anyway, we were lucky enough to have perfect weather for the 3 mile walk. I'd say several hundred people (and almost as many pets) attended.

At 9 a.m. sharp we were off and walking. Although we had runners on our team, they took pity on the rest of us and walked, too. Otherwise they'd have left us behind in their dust.

Just after we crossed the finish line, guess what? Daughter spied a special someone and snagged a picture to seal the deal.

Yep, it was HIM! She texted the photo to a certain young man who quickly regretted not listening to the ladies. Luckily, Daughter had enough empathy to refrain from saying, "I told you so!"

What a perfect day and great fun raising much-needed money for my favorite animal shelter.

*Pictured from left to right in team picture: two of Daughter's best buddies, Daughter, my sister, me, and my daughter-in-law. Daughter-in-law is holding her pup, Brady.