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...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Majors or Minors?

Rule # 15 – Write your observations

     Decisions… decisions… Do I want Oriole Magic? Or do I want someone to “Knock my ‘Sox off”?
Does it really make a difference? I mean, it’s only baseball, right? Well…you be the judge.
     We live in nirvana for baseball fans. We have two major league teams, Orioles and Nationals. Add to that the many minor league affiliates all over Maryland and Virginia. So, a true baseball fan doesn’t need Comcast or FiOS to get MASN or MASN2 to get their baseball fix. Live games are all over. But at what price? Is this the arena for the rich or occasional fan? Or can anyone play?
Mile post for minor league teams and locations
     The answer is a definite yes…and no. Let’s take a look at this dilemma starting with true numbers and a sample set of teams.
     The Bowie Baysox are the local (like down the street from me local) Class AA team for the Orioles. They play in Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, just off Routes 3 and 50. Drive down to PG Stadium and park for free. Tickets to the games range from $10 to $18, depending on where you sit. The stadium itself is smaller in size, so it doesn’t take many tickets for a sellout.
Prince George’s Stadium – home of the Bowie Baysox
     The venue is geared toward children. There is a carousel in the right field concourse area, along with a playground. The game I was at also had Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird and Sylvester the Cat in attendance. Louie, the Baysox mascot, was all over the crowd, talking to the children, taking pictures with them, and as the centerpiece for many of the between-inning games.
Bugs Bunny greets Baysox fan
Louie leads dancing between innings
     By comparison, Oriole Park at Camden Yards is “the Bigs”. Here is where the players make some big money, and the prices for items show it. Tickets can run from $20 to $75 dollars, depending on your seat – and the team the O’s are playing. Yankees, Red Sox, and any other division winners from the year before command higher ticket prices. Parking isn’t free downtown. Lot prices fluctuate from $35 dollars at the Hilton garage to $9 for distance parking and a nice hike to the ballpark. Some of the garages are hooked into Parking Panda, so you can get a discount by purchasing ahead online.
Oriole Park from the left field seats
     Camden Yards does its best to be totally fan friendly, no matter the age of the fan. The Little Bird playground area has batting cages, pitching practice, picture areas, and more. The Orioles have many kids’ days in their home schedule, where kids can run the bases after the game. Many players sign autographs by the dugout during pre-game warm-ups.
     Food at both stadiums is comparable in price. I bought a cheeseburger, fries and a beer at the Baysox game for $17.50. I didn’t find any crabcakes, or ethnic foods at the Baysox stadium like there is at Camden Yards.
     Basic economic theory says that the more competition in an area, the better it is for the consumer. Well, there’s plenty of competition for consumer’s sports dollars around here. With the Nationals and Orioles at the major league level and a variety of minor league teams within an hour or two from home, this area is saturated – and for our benefit. Oriole Park becomes Yankee Stadium south when the Yankees come to town. It becomes Fenway south when the Red Sox come in. It’s actually less expensive for a Boston or New York fan to take the Amtrak to Baltimore, get a Camden Yards ticket and stay over here than it is to go to a game in their own home park.
     For baseball purists, though, it doesn’t matter where you play the game. The Baysox play exciting baseball, just like the Orioles. The game I saw recently saw the Baysox jump out to a 6-0 lead. They held a big lead until… the 8th and 9th innings when Portland came back and made it close. The Baysox play like their big brother Orioles in that respect. Many Orioles are sent to Bowie as part of Buck Showalter’s revolving door policy for players. On any given evening, you could see Matt Weiters or Jonathan Schoop working their way off the disabled list at Bowie. The Baysox boys are making names for themselves. I recognized many of them from spring training in Sarasota. Here’s a familiar one – Yaztremski. Yes, Mike Yaztremski is the grandson of Red Sox legend Carl Yaztremski. He’s working his way to the bigs at Bowie.
Pregame fanfare at Camden Yards

     So which location has the best deals in baseball? It depends on what you want. Close up and small stadium leads you to a minor league park, like Bowie. Lower prices for a family event takes you to a minor league park, too. If you want the big league party experience, a major league park like Camden Yards is your place. Plan your visit to either type of park through mlb.com. Here you can scroll to your favorite major league team's website. Within your team's site, you can get to their minor league affiliates. From there, just pick your seat, buy your ticket and enjoy your baseball experience.
     I'll see you at the Ball Park!

Pictures are the property of Marge McGugan. No reuse without permission.

Text also appears in “A View from the Passenger’s Seat”, Arden on the Severn Newsbuoy, July 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Step Right Up in Sarasota

Rule #20 – Draw inspiration from anything and everything

     A trip to Sarasota was in the baseball cards this past March. Yes, I saw the Orioles play; but this year, I saw them in two different stadiums. The baseball was great and the baby Birds looked good… now if they can only stay healthy. Now many of you may wonder how much baseball a person can tolerate. What can someone do on the days off? Golfing is an option, but I don’t golf. But I do like to get into the local history of all the places I visit. Sarasota is the same – and there is plenty of local history on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
     It seems that Sarasota Florida was the winter home of the circus. Each winter season, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus would make camp the in Sarasota area to stay warm, practice, and develop new acts. During that time, performers would get some much needed rest. They could stay in one place for more than a few days at a time.
     In the early 1920’s, John Ringling and his wife, Mabel, fell in love with Sarasota and decided to have their winter home built here. They commissioned Dwight James Baum to design the home and Owen Burns to build it. The result was a combination design of Venetian palazzo and Middle Eastern palace with Sarasota Bay as the transportation canal. Building began in 1924 and finished just before Christmas 1926. The finished product is an estate, with Casablanca flair. What they built in the 1920’s is now the Ringing Museum complex, with a circus museum, art museum, performance venue, walking trails and gardens, and a mansion that rivals anything you’ve ever seen.
Entrance of the Ringling Museum, Sarasota FL
Lions guard the entrance

     Pull up to the front of the Ringling Museum and prepare yourself for a day of memories. Enter by land, Gatsby-style. Walk on to the property and head into the circus museum to your right. Here you get the chance to revisit your childhood circus dreams, with posters and playbills from the past. Stroll into the Tibbals Learning Center and immerse yourself in the circus times of the 1919 through 1938. You will find a 3800-square -foot miniature train garden with over 44,000 hand-made pieces. The detail in the train model is authentic. The activities displayed around the big top are down to the smallest detail. You will spend at least one hour touring this portion of the museum alone, learning about how the circus crew would set up the area with tents, trailers, and cages. The circus was a traveling city of its own.
Tibbals Learning Center entrance to the Circus Museum
Circus posters from towns across the country
Model of the circus big top, center ring action

Model of the circus chow tent - a performer has to eat too!
Parade into the Big Top
Detailed model of the entrance to a circus show tent
    In the circus museum, you will also find memorabilia from the early years of performances. A horse-drawn band wagon and calliope look like they can still draw a crowd to the circus parade. In an interactive portion of the circus museum, you can try your hand – or foot – at walking the tight rope, or riding bareback, or stuffing a clown car with people. Watch a video and transform yourself into a clown. The circus of today is not much different when you think of the types of performances, but the life of a circus performer certainly is.
Calliope wagon from the early 1900's
     Now take the time to hike past the banyan trees given to the Ringlings by Thomas Edison. These were mere saplings when John and Mabel lived here. Now, you walk past the set of the “Lion King”. The forest of banyans swallowed up some of the Ringling garden statuary. Walk among the trees and find many small surprises tucked into the roots of the trees.
Banyan trees - courtesy of Thomas Edison
Ca D’Zan, home of John and Mabel Ringling

      Next stop on your tour is Ca D’Zan, the Ringling Mansion. So far, you strolled toward Sarasota Bay and you can feel the temperature change as you near the water. Here, you have the option of a self-guided tour of the first floor only, or a paid guided tour that includes the second floor rooms. My advice? Spend the extra few dollars and tour the second floor. The first floor rooms are decorated to showcase the wealth of the circus owners. They are meant to impress visitors. As you tour the first floor, you are just waiting for a party to start. Go to the second floor and learn more about the owners of the Ringling Circus. See marble bath tubs and bath rooms. Walk on Italian marble staircases. Learn about how John and Mabel’s personal tastes are reflected in their bedroom décor. Pretend you are a guest of the Ringlings when you get to the guest bedrooms. And don’t forget to admire the tapestries hung in the second floor hallways. The Ringlings collected art masterpieces from all over the world. Their home became their showcase.
Main entertainment area for the Ringlings
Display of treasures from all over the world
John Ringling's marble bathtub
Pull your yacht up to the dock on Sarasota Bay
Join us for cocktails on the veranda
     Outside the house, walk around to the Secret Garden, to see more surprise treasures worked into the landscape. Stroll out on the rear piazza of the home. Imagine you are arriving for your visit by yacht and mooring at the Ringling dock. Step right up and become entranced by what you see. Walk into the Rose Garden, and find almost every type of rose available today. Many roses are hybrids and tea roses, and are used in the décor of the house.
Rose Garden

The formal layout for the Rose Garden

     Past the Rose Garden, you will see the Art Gallery. The Ringlings collected so many masterpieces that they could not display all of them in their home. So John Ringling commissioned a three-wing art gallery be built on his property. All the art treasures are now located in the Gallery. Plan to spend several hours admiring Renaissance art from the masters.
     When I visited, I spent approximately six hours at the museum and only made it through the first floor of the Circus Museum, the Ca D’Zan house, some of the grounds, and a quick walk (or jog) through one wing of the Gallery. You better believe that next year I’m going back. I’ll start by planning my visit using the museum website, www.ringling.org. Here I can plan my route, check for garden programs for the young (and those of us young at heart), check for featured art displays, and more.
     Step right up, boys and girls of all ages, and be amazed!

Photos are the property of Marge McGugan. No reuse or reprint without permission.

Parts are reprinted from "A View from the Passenger's Seat" by Marge McGugan, Arden on the Severn Newsbuoy, May-June 2015 issue.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Excuses... excuses...

     It is now June 15. The entire month of May is history. We are officially half past June. And this is my next post? Oy, vay!
     They say that life gets in the way of writing. And it really does. In this past month-plus, I have been working on other projects. I know it's a lame excuse, but it is true.
     I've been at Oriole park as often as my season tickets permit. I would have been there on May 3rd for the Tampa Bay Rays game, but some local insanity caused the game to be moved to Tampa. So I rescheduled my tickets for tomorrow, and I will see the O's play the Phillies at Camden Yards. My brother - a Phillies ticket holder - called me today to ask - no, beg my O's to be easy on the Phillies. Bro, the O's have been playing hot and cold running baseball. Your guys have the same chance to win as we do.
     My trusty garden is in varying states of completion. The front beds were done a few weeks ago. The back ones are in process. Ma Nature has been a pain in the tush with hot and humid weather before it's time. These HHH days are always accompanied by mega rain showers. It would have been done sooner, but each day I want to devote to outdoor work, has had interruption after interruption. I hope now that things seem to be settling down, I can get the back yard finished and looking great. At least the power washing was done.
    There were a few trips tacked into all of this hiatus stuff. A trip up to my sister's for Easter dinner was in order. That is now a two-day event, and I'm not complaining at all. I was back up to Philly at the end of May to see my nephew graduate from Rutgers Camden. In between, I went to Harrisonburg Virginia to see another nephew graduate from James Madison University. While in Virginia, I needed to make payment on my daughter's wedding venue. I can' forget my trip to Massachusetts, either. I needed to get up to see my son's family.
     Some writing did get done. My Newsbuoy article was on time, along with the two others I was committed to for the last edition. My church newsletter was done and out on time. That's a purely editorial gig, but it still takes time to collect the articles and organize the edition.
     After all that work, my computer decided to take a dive. Now I am typing this on a new system, while my old files are copied from my external back-up drive. And three hours later.... guess it's all those pictures.
     Now to set more goals for the summer months... I will post again in the next few days. While on my trips, I collected more fodder for this blog. Now to sort through it all and write about it. I am going to enjoy all the baseball I can. I will also go sit by my community beach as often as Ma Nature allows. I will even out my farmer tan - mainly because my mother of the bride dress requires it. And I will relax more this summer. There's only one trip planned before the big wedding day in Virginia and that involves wedding planning. I will shop my two picture book manuscripts to other publishers, too. My garden will look great too, by the end of the summer.
      And all of this will happen........ when?
     Can I get an "oy, vay"?