Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Monday, January 28, 2013

What to do on a rainy day in Philly town

Rule #6 – A writer needs to honor traditions, for there are stories within.

     It was a dark and stormy night…
     Okay, so it wasn’t a night but it was a dark and stormy weekday. That made it the perfect time to visit Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute. We parked in the museum garage off of 21st St. We walked in and dodged a few school field trips making their way to the buses. We walked right up and got our tickets to go into the museum and see the Titanic exhibit. And we had 10 minutes before we moved on schedule through the Titanic Artifact exhibit which is at the Franklin Institute until April, 2013. Never have I moved through a public venue that quickly. Okay, once before.  I visited the Alamo in the pouring rain and we had that venue all to ourselves too. It really does pay to be a water-logged tourist.

RMS Titanic - photo from History.com
     My sister and I ventured up to the third floor, where he artifact exhibit begins. As we walked in, we were handed a boarding pass, with a name on it.  Our passes had our class of travel on it too, along with a bit of a back story about the person who we “were”. Then it was time to make our way to the dock, where the past became the present.

     The exhibit begins with the building of the Titanic in Belfast.  Wrenches and bolts used by Harlan and Wolff Shipbuilders are safely secured under glass. Pictures of the crews at work are on display in this section. A portrait of Thomas Andrews, Titanic’s designer, and Lord Pirrie, the president of Harlan and Wolff, are on display. Then we move from the dock, passed suitcases and trunks - some salvaged from the wreck – up the gangplank, as if we were boarding the vessel to the B deck of the ship.  We move into the ship at the point of the Grand Staircase.  This portion of the exhibit is recreated from the photographs and design drawings left behind. I stop for a moment on the portion of the steps open to visitors and imagine myself descending the stairs, meeting friends before we continue to D deck for dinner.
Recovered stair cherub - Photo from History.com

     The tour takes you down the B-deck corridor to the First Class rooms.  You see salvaged personal items – decanters, glasses, shaving gear, and currency – from the First Class cabins on display. You also see a recreation of a typical First Class cabin.  Everywhere, there are written descriptions of the activities of the passengers at this level of travel.  Life on board ship was quite luxurious.  Titanic boasted the latest of modern conveniences, such as electric lighting, private lavatories, and in-room heaters.  We learn, too, that an average First Class ticket cost around $2800 – in 1912 economic dollars. That is around $70,000 now.

Dishes were displayed as you see them here, in sand from the ocean's floor - Photo from History.com
     Next we move to Second Class. Again we get a glimpse into the life on board for Second Class passengers.  Stories line the walls about passengers and their travel plans.  We see recovered china and glassware from this area of the ship. We see a typical cabin from Second Class. Many more personal items – a business perfume sample, whiskey bottles – are on display here.  This seems to be the “business class” of 1912 – comfortable but not luxurious or ostentatious.

Recovered silverware - Photo from History.com

Salvaged pocket watches - Photo from History.com
     As we walk down the reconstructed corridor from Second Class, I have an eerie feeling.  We move to the Third Class, where the White Star Line made most of its money.  Third Class passengers board to escape persecution in their homelands.  Third Class passengers look for a better life in America.  Third class passengers are the “cash cow” for ship lines in the early 20th century.  Their cabins are smaller, with bunk beds.  They are packed closer together in their quarters. But the cabins are clean and have running wash water on tap in the cabin! Such a luxury this is for the Third Class passengers! We see many personal passenger artifacts here, some that we’ve seen in James Cameron’s movie – eye glasses, waistcoats, currency. There is no denying, however, the knowledge that many of our grandparents and great-grandparents traveled to America in lodgings such as these. It makes one humble, it does.

     There is a ramp that brings the visitors from the third floor down to the second. On your trip down the ramp, you feel vibrations and hear the engine noises.  You are now heading into the heart of the ship – the engine room.  Many artifacts recovered from the stern section debris field are on display in this section along with their placement referenced in the pictures on the wall.  We move into the darkness, where many more personal artifacts are displayed.  Then there it is – the iceberg – or a replica of the typical iceberg. This is one that you can touch and get a tactile idea of the cold encountered by the passengers on that fateful night.

     Then you have a chance to see how the RMS Titanic, Inc. recovered the artifacts. There is a 3D representation of exploring the ship from the eyes of the robot rovers. And as you complete the visit, you see the list of passengers. They are broken up into survivors and deceased. It’s interesting to note that the amount of First Class passengers who survived seems equal to the amount of Third Class passengers who perished.  Here is a vivid reminder of the inequities built into the class system of travel.  Here it hits you how many lost their lives that night.  Here is a chance for a prayer to their memory.

     My sister and I have a chance to see if our “person’s survived.  As First Class women, we both know our chances are better than good. Sure enough, we both survived, as did everyone in our parties – even the men.

     The Franklin Institute is well worth the trip even without the special exhibit. We both got to play with all the other hands-on exhibits, since the museum was virtually empty.  There are interactive exhibits on weather, astronomy, and wellness. The Institute boasts of the only walk-through heart.  But the Titanic artifact exhibit is on that should not be missed.

     I was able to catch the artifact exhibit when it first toured the United States. That time, I saw it at the Maryland Science Center, in Baltimore. The premise was similar in that you “became” a passenger with a boarding pass, toured the decks and below decks, touched the iceberg and found out if you survived.

     This trip was different. It’s been 100 years since the great ship slipped beneath the Atlantic. It’s been 27 years since Robert Ballard and his team found her on the floor of the Atlantic. In that time period, many expeditions to the wreck site documented the damage. Much to Dr. Ballard’s chagrin, many more visited the site to recover artifacts, or some just to visit, at times creating more damage to the fragile ship. It truly is hallowed ground, a grave for many.

     Being close to the artifacts this time gave me an eerie feeling, just like my previous visit. These items belonged to people, with lives and families, histories and futures. Lives cut short by one fateful ticket. Yet, it made this visit even more precious. I felt the need to honor those whose lives were lost in some way. No one who visits the artifacts leaves without the experience affecting them in some fashion. My first visit sent me investigating everything written about the wreck. This visit had me reviewing much of the written investigations, including the strikes at the ship yard, and the politics behind the decisions made.

     The fascination with the history around Titanic will never stop. She tells a sad tale of arrogance, ignorance, cost cutting, fighting, foolishness and pride. It’s a tale told in other historical events, with just as great a loss of life. But this story resonates to this day. The politics of some of the decisions made add pathos to the story. And last year, her last survivor, Milvina Dean, passed away.

Milvina Dean, last survivor of the Titanic sinking - Photo from History.com

     We are still learning much from her, especially in the metallurgical area. She is responsible for a lot of the safety we now enjoy on cruise ships. Trans-Atlantic shipping is safer, thanks to many of the regulations that came about after she sank. She still talks to us from the deep. Her ghosts have much more to say to us. We just need to listen. And never forget...

Bow of Titanic now... 
(Thank you, History Channel at history.com, for the photographs.)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Getting my kicks

Rule #6 – A writer needs to honor traditions, for there is a story within.

     When my friends and I go to the movies, the biggest decision is what to see. One time, two friends and I stood in the lobby of the local multiplex trying to pick a flick we would all enjoy. Our choices on the visual menu were 3 shoot-‘em-ups from various time periods, one horror film (no thanks), a few teen/sex flicks (got enough of that teaching middle and high school), 2 combo head trip/chick flicks, and some animation. Seeing blood drawn was no fun for any of us. We didn’t want to think or analyze the film we saw. None of us were in the mood for the biology lessons and procreation primers that are seemingly a mandatory part of scripts. So there we were – 3 seniors with tickets in hand – walking into the G-rated animation film with no kids to use as excuses.

     As we watched Pixar’s “Cars”, I was entranced by the scenery artwork. It felt comfortable, like I’d been there before. Then, in one scene, Lightning McQueen and Sally are out for a drive and go through a tunnel. On the other side, there is a spectacular waterfall behind Sally as she goes over a curved bridge. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks – I was at these places! That was Havasu Falls in Arizona. I remember driving right by it and getting to the other side of the bridge, finding the sign for Historic Rt. 66. That was the trip Hub and I took driving to Phoenix AZ and back one summer. It got me psyched to look up more Rt. 66 locations and check them out.

     We got to do just that in September when we again traveled out west. Our drive took us across southern Indiana and Illinois to St. Louis. We drove south of the city and picked up I-44, which parallels Historic Rt. 66. As Hub drove, I got pictures of places I’m sure inspired some of the scenery in “Cars”. I could swear we passed the inspiration for Sarge’s Hut and Fillmore’s Tent. The two lane road lined up right next to the north side of the Interstate Highway. The Interstate was straight and high speed, but the old 2-lane was slower, windier, and looked like a lot more fun. But we were in a hurry to get to Hub’s cousin’s home in Oklahoma.

     But one of our touring days in Oklahoma took us back to the Mother Road. We went down to Claremore OK and drove on another section of the historic highway. Here the name is Patti Page Boulevard. Instantly, my mind started looking for doggies in windows, and people doing the Tennessee Waltz. Yes, that part of the road is named after the singer, who just recently passed away.

     We rode to the intersection of Patti Page Boulevard and Will Rogers Boulevard, and followed the signs to the Will Rogers Museum. Another Claremore favorite son! Worth a stop in to see what all of this was all about.

     The museum looks more like a building at a university than a monument to a rough and tumble cowboy image. Well, it is right across the street from Rogers State University.  But go inside, and Rogers homespun humor is evident everywhere. Admission is only $5, inexpensive for what you learn about a premier humorist and his time period. Artifacts abound. You can witness Roger’s transition from trick roper on the vaudeville circuits to a radio commentator, to author and philosopher. Many of his sayings are up for all to see. And many are so true today.

     Now many don’t know who Will Rogers was. Many will google his name and come up with many hits. But we have all used his words in our conversations. His wit and wisdom is timeless.

     How many of us “…Never met a man that I didn’t like”?

     “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” Check any mall today and this is happening.

     “The short memories of the American voters is what keeps our politicians in office.” That’s fodder for a whole ‘nuther blog, folks. Along with “If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of Congress?” and “A fool and his money are soon elected.”

     My personal favorite is “Common sense ain’t common.” So true!

     His philosophical musings stick with me the most. “You know horses are smarter than people. You never heard of a horse going broke betting on people.”

     And “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket.”

     Or “Rumor travels faster, but it don’t stay put as long as truth.”

     And “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.”

     “Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.” Sounds good to me.

     “Live in such a way as you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”

     “All I know is just what I read in the papers, and that’s an alibi for my ignorance.” This applies now to getting news from any source including the “net”.

     On taking chances… “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is,” and “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

     Visiting this museum put me in touch with a wit I had only heard about from my parents. I saw some film appearances by Rogers. But mostly, he was present on film clips. Here at the museum, you can see full films, full speeches and complete routines. You can also watch parts of the Broadway hit, “The Will Rogers Follies”.

      There’s more to see in parts of Historic Rt. 66. It doesn’t connect the way it used to. But it’s still here. There are still great sights to see. Check out the Mother Road routes on the internet. Just relax, go for a drive and have some fun.

     Now it’s time for a great Will Rogers saying…

     “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

     So I will.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Rule # 51 – Keep on keeping on.

Dear Hub,

Yesterday was January 1. Happy New Year! We didn’t spend it together this year, because we couldn’t. You celebrated with your folks, and my folks, and the Spunkys, Rusty and Romeo, and all the other family members who went before us. You have a unique perspective on this New Year, which I don’t have. Nor do I intend to have it for quite a long while. But it’s time to do some reflection on the past year.Oh and do I miss you!!! So much!!!

When I think about the year, it comes in lyric-form. I keep thinking about the songs we listened to, and what they say to me now.

“Ch-ch-changes! Turn and face the change.”

So much has changed! I have to do things on my own now. Completely on my own. Now I have to rely on my friends, where before I was the friend people relied on. You know me, stubbornly independent. But sometimes I always hope someone takes over and makes the decisions for me. Not to happen anymore, it’s not. I have to be more decisive now.

“Merry Christmas, Darling. We’re apart, that’s true.”

New traditions took over this past holiday. I’m sure you were ready to serve up the name of a good shrink when we all showed up at the cemetery on Christmas Eve with your bottle of Stoly. We toasted you with a shot and shared one with you. We will do that every year from now on. Yes, it looks silly. Maybe, stupid even. But the move got us through the day. We remembered you and the goofy things you did. I didn’t have to cook this year, and, know what? I could get used to that. I may be cooking next year, who knows? But in any event, we will miss you and the way you directed all the present opening that went on around our tree. Yes, Hon, I added more travel ornaments (I can hear you groan!). I will continue to add more. The bear tree went up inside this year (more groaning). But I get the feeling you really liked all the decorating we did. But now – at least after this Sunday – it will be time to clean it all up. That’s always been a sad time for me. I think for you too. But we have to make room for new things happening this year. Can’t do it with the old stuff hanging around, taking up space.

By the way, how DID you knock back that Stoly? I thought I swallowed liquid fire when I did that shot!

“This is our song. It might be quite different, but, now that it’s done. I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind, that I put down in words how wonderful life is when you are in my world.”

I know I’ll be hanging on to the memories as I clean things out in the next few months. We have a memory box set up and ready for special items that are yours.

I’ve got another “crash” planned, too, that included something you’ve been after me to do for a while now – clear out the office. Well, “Sandy” had us spring a leak in the ceiling. So guess what I have to do now, so it can be completely fixed. See? You are still in my world… I am going to do some color changes too. And we will finally get the steps and hallways done with this crash. It’s only me to worry about right now. But I know you won’t let me sit and mope over everything. It’s a blog-worthy event in life. So I need you to keep me writing. I have my bottle of Writer’s Block wine uncorked and ready to go. Here’s hoping I can sell the doggie book, finish the snow dance book, and get started on Esther Bunny. Now I can visit the Canadian province she lives in, and see what it’s really like.

The hardest part will be finishing the job our son started in the basement. That was your “cave”. I just have to remember to do this in baby steps, a little at a time. And never start a project like that without tissues handy. Tears seem to come very easily anymore.


This is not the way I wanted to start 2013. I wanted us both to celebrate the start of the year together, telling the little Mayan dude to stick the calendar wheel someplace. I wanted us both to plan trips together around the lower 48 for this summer and fall. Now I have to do this by myself.

“Don’t worry. Be happy!”

Now I have to make a conscious effort to be happy. I can do this. I’ve always been good at smiling through pain. But really, we have a lot to be happy about. We had a great life together. We have great kids and a fantastic grandchild. We have great friends and extended family. I think I’ll be all right… eventually. But make sure I know you’re around, ok?

“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

I remember saying that to you in the hospital, especially on the last few days. I will always remember the last time you kissed me. It was such a privilege to be with you at the end. I’ll keep going on, but it won’t be the same. You are and will always be such a part of my life. The best part, to be sure… I’ll never let go of the memories.

But now it’s time to start anew.

“And I’ll always love you!”