Winter of the World – A Book Review

When I review a book, my intent is not to bore you with a synopsis you can easWiner of the Worldily find many other places on the web. My hope is to convey to you my experience with the book; how I was affected by the story. I am not paid to review any of the books I discuss in this blog – I do so because I have affection for words and stories and I want to share that passion with my followers. I hope I am able to inspire others to read.

I had very little knowledge of world events between 1933 and 1949 until I read Ken Follett’s Winter of the World. Mr. Follett gave me an education in the politics and subterfuge that led to World War II, while expertly portraying the people affected by those events. Mr. Follett is a master of storytelling; his characters are so well developed I felt I knew them. The plots and subplots built and unfolded with a well-paced rhythm that held my attention from first to last.

Unlike other stories full of fluff, don’t skip a paragraph when reading one of Mr. Follett’s novels – you might miss something. The kaleidoscope of plots and subplots move along quickly.

I laughed, I cried, I screamed (silently) at Mr. Follett for allowing certain events to unfold. I held my breath and bit my nails. I was also appalled by the cruelty people commit against each other. That is what a good book should do – it should make you feel.fall of giants

There is something for everyone in Winter of the World; love, loss, intrigue, drama, and even sex. I highly recommend this and the first book in Mr. Follett’s Century Trilogy Fall of Giant (1911-1924). But, neither book is for the faint of heart – we are talking heavy, thought provoking reading. I suggest downloading the books to your electroEdge of Eternitynic reader – you cannot tell how thick the book is that way!

Mr. Follett has released the third book in the trilogy Edge of Eternity. I’m planning to read it over my next vacation and will review here.

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Football in Ft. Lauderdale

After many years of protest, I finally agreed to attend a Baltimore Ravens away game in Ft. Lauderdale/Miami, Florida. Six months in advance, we began planning our trip. We decided to make it a group event; one of the members of our group put an event on Face book. Although there was more initial interest, in the end five couples committed.

thCAQWCNRZ

I am fortunate that my cousin loves to plan travel (she isn’t a professional but should be). She found a terrific boutique hotel in Ft. Lauderdale just a block from the beach, shopping and dining – The Granada Inn. I hesitate to disclose this place because I want to save it for myself!

Let me assure you, it is not easy to get five couples with different tastes, expectations and budgets to agree on a place to stay! In fact, we had a difficult time agreeing upon the city in which to stay. Key West, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale were all contenders. But, once we discovered the Granada we were all pleased – it seemed to fit all our needs.

The staff and owsuite6-3ner of the Granada were so accommodating and welcoming. By booking so far in advance, we were able to select which room we wanted. My husband and I selected room 6 – a luxury suite with a full kitchen, living room and king bedroom. Room 6 is on the ground floor with direct access to the pool.

Whether it was just good tiLa-1863-smallming on our part or some other factor, I am not sure. But, our small group seemed to have the inn to ourselves – at least the pool. We took full advantage of the privacy of the tropical court yard and pool. We were there for five days and most afternoons you could find our entire group lounging by the pool sipping our beverages of choice.

Ft. Lauderdale Beach is beautiful. Several years ago, Ft. Lauderdale was renowned as a party beach – frequented by college students. In recent years, the city has undergone a transformation. Today, the resort is chic destination with shopping and dining dotting the beach front.

The contingent of Ravens’ fans in Miami that week was awesome – everywhere we went we encountered purple clad tourists in town for the game.

floridanMy husband and I found a terrific place for breakfast a short drive away on Las Olas Boulevard – The Floridian Diner. Highly recommended. On our second visit, the manager gifted us with ball caps to bring back to Baltimore.

Most evenings, our group split up opting to dine on different schedules and at different restaurants. However, one evening, we piled into our cars and headed at to a popular taco joint we had heard about. What we didn’t expect was the two hour wait!

Next door to the taco place we found Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza – no waiting even fothCA7QR0WFr our large crowd! Parking was a challenge because their lot is small and they do a good take out business but we found street parking – no worries.

The food at Anthony’s was wonderful and the service terrific. The next time you are in Ft. Lauderdale, visit Anthony’s!

I have to tell you; tailgating in Miami is a world different from tailgating in Baltimore. First, it was 90 degrees that Sunday compared to cooler temperatures in B-more. In Baltimore, fansregular folk like us cannot get anywhere near the stadium to park – at Sun Life Stadium we could have – but didn’t – purchased a pass and parked in the stadium lot. Instead, we parked across the street.

We (I) was surprised at the party atmosphere outside the stadium. Music, food vendors, and other fun things were available before you even entered the stadium. We had a blast and, for the most part, Dolphin fans were congenial.

The Ravens pulled off a win that day making it an all around wonderful time.ravens
We spent that last evening relaxing, recovering, packing for our trips back home and planning our next away game trip! We plan to catch our Ravens in Miami, Tampa and New Orleans next year! Stay tuned here for updates!

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A Trip Down the Weeki Wachee or A Day with the Manatee

Last fall, my husband, son and I took a short weekend trip to the small town of Brooksville, Florida.  Our plans included a day trip to the beach but, we were rained out.  As an alternative, the three of us ventured out to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park for kayaking.

Now, my idea of kayaking was an easy paddle on flat water.  I thought we would spend an hour or so on the water working up an appetite for lunch.  Oh, was I in for a surprise.

From launch to pull-out, the average trip down the river takes about three hours.  I am not in very good shape.  Remember, I’ve been sitting behind a desk cranking out numbers; not in a kayak pulling on paddles.  I was very hesitant but, my son persisted and my loving husband promised to tow me if necessary.

The very nice people at http://www.paddlingadventures.com geared us up and thCAD06XK8pushed us off.  I had heard about Weeki Wachee but, for some unknown reason, I pictured a swampy dark river.  What I discovered was a pristine spring fed river flowing at about 5 miles per hour.  The water was so clear, the bottom was visible. 

To my pleasant surprise, the current in the river moved us along at a good pace so we did not have to paddle very much.  However, the river twists and turns – sometimes sharply – sending us (me) headlong into hanging tree limbs, the river bank and other assorted river hazards.    No worries, I quickly regained my kayaking skills and maneuvered around the curves well.

The average depth of the river is 2 to 4 feet but, there are several deeper pools along the way that provide an opportunity for a quick refreshing dip.  At one such pool, we beached our kayaks and my husband stepped out to take a plunge. 

A young couple was approaching from down river.  The girl pointed to a manatee approaching in the water.  I shouted for my husband to look but, he ignored me – he thought I was poking fun at him actually.  But there was a very large manatee moving towards us.   It was thrilling to watch such a large animal swimming so gracefully.  thCA312V7B

According to the young couple, the manatees are very friendly and will allow people to pet them.  However, it is against the law – manatees are endangered.  We did not touch this one.  We watched in awe as the blubbery mammal moved effortlessly through the river.

We encountered two more manatee along the way.  They were much smaller than the animal we met earlier in the day and were feeding on the vegetation along the river bank.  Fortunately, we did not see the resident alligator!

At a particularly sharp turn in the river we located a pool rumored to be bottomless.  thCA55T9V4Overlooking the pool is a tall tree attached to which is a small wood platform of sorts.  Several teenaged boys climbed the tree and jumped into the pool. For a few moments  I wished I was younger and more agile – I wanted to climb the tree and jump off too.  Common sense prevailed and we moved on.

The kayak route is about 5 miles long.  The current pushed us along for the first four miles and the river remained clear and inviting.  However, to reach the pull-out location, we had to paddle through an area of the river bordered by homes and boats.  There was no current so we had to paddle.  It was a tough mile (next time I’ll take an electric trolling motor).

At some point, the quality of the water declined as well.   We found ourselves paddling through brown, murky, foul-smelling water.   I was eager for the trip to be over at that point.

All-in-all, our trip down the Weeki Wachee was a lot of fun.   We are planning another visit to the area and another trip to the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. 

Save the Manatee

Manatee are considered endangered a the international level mostly due to human activity.  In the past 40 years, 34% of all manatee deaths have been attributed to watercraft collisions.  

Visit Save the Manatee to learn how you can help save the massive beautiful creatures.

About Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Home to the famous underwater mermaid show, Weeki Wachee offers something for the whole family.  You can watch the show, ride Florida’s only spring fed water flumes, swim at Buccaneer Beach, or take a riverboat ride down the river.  

Two hours west of Orlando and only 45 minutes north of Tampa, Weeki Wachee is a convenient alternative day trip that offers affordable, active entertainment – a nice change of pace from the major amusement parks.

To learn more about Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, visit:  http://www.weekiwachee.com/

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Where did 2013 go?

I have debated what to write in this, my first post in a year.  Should I offer an explanation or just begin posting as if no time had passed?

I believe a brief explanation is in order.

Early last year, I assumed a new role in my 9 to 5 job, which included much more responsibility and a major project.   That part of my life consumed most of my waking hours.  The project is finally winding down and I have reclaimed several hours in my day – those are the hours I use to write. 

I have a number of great topics to write about in the coming weeks.  Thank you for stopping by.  Check  back each Saturday for a new and entertaining topic.

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Theme for 2013 – RE-ENGAGE

 My theme for the new year is RE-ENGAGE, starting with my blog.

 I have a number of ideas for future posts I hope will cause you to think, smile, laugh out loud, or to otherwise engage in life.

 Something that has been on my mind recently, as it has been most Americans, is school security.  Specifically, I have been wondering about the viability of a corps of volunteer school security officers.

 These volunteers, after thorough background checks, would patrol school zones and hallways.  Equipped with cell phones, they could alert school authorities and police of suspicious activities.

 I have a 15 year old son in high school.  Over the past few weeks, especially after Sandy Hook, he has been talking a lot about violence at school.  Although he tells me he is not afraid, I think he is.

 I reassure him as much as I can and I counsel him to talk to me or another trusted adult if he ever feels threatened or if he feels like perpetrating a violent act on someone else.  We discuss the senselessness of the recent school shootings and I encourage him to consider alternative solutions. 

 On the afternoon of 12/21/12, he called during his walk home.  I heard relief in his voice.  Despite the numerous threats to local schools, the day passed without incident.

 Having lived through the violence of racial desegregation of the local schools in the 1970’s, I know what it is like to go to school frightened every day.  I do not want that for my son or for any other child.

 So, I ask you, do you think a corps of well trained volunteer security officers would help prevent school violence?  Would you like to see members of this group in your child’s school?  Do you think this corps would be met with resistance or welcomed?

 Leave your comments – they are appreciated.

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Holiday Travel That Won’t Break the Bank

We’re just around the corner from the hustle and bustle of the holiday’s, and rather than staying at home, why not take a dream vacation?  Create new memories and bonds with your family and friends, start new traditions. Drop your oven mitts and spatulas and get pampered at every meal with amazing cuisine. Cruise lines go above and beyond for the holidays and cruisers can enjoy unique amenities such as holiday parties, special holiday drinks, holiday menus with seasonal favorites and even special holiday entertainment.

 While traveling during the holidays might seem expensive, here are some tips for holiday travelers and favorite holiday destinations that won’t break the bank.

The Caribbean, why not exchange the blustery winter winds for warm beaches and turquoise blue water? Spend the holidays with the sun on your face and the sand between your toes. The Caribbean offers endless opportunities for a winter getaway, and often at very reasonable prices. Enjoy the benefits of visiting multiple islands while enjoying delicious meals and exciting and unique on-board activities.

The Caribbean is notorious for exciting holiday celebrations that can make a trip truly memorable. St. Kitts is a great example for a holiday getaway. The island’s national carnival runs from December 15 through January 2 – activities change every year, but vacationers can expect lively parades, revelry and folkloric performances.

The Holidays are a great time to visit Europe, or go early and do your Holiday shopping. You can experience the romance of Prague, the history of Berlin, and the artistic flair of Salzburg all without the summer tourist crowds. A river cruise is one of the best and most affordable ways to get the most bang for your buck when traveling in Europe. With river travel, you see all the sights of such major European cities as Munich, Paris, and Amsterdam, and you don’t have to worry about hotel charges or confusing train schedules.  To get in the holiday spirit, consider taking a Christmas Market Cruise. Europe is known for its charming Christmas markets, with the most famous being in Cologne, Vienna, and Nuremburg. You can munch on freshly roasted chestnuts while perusing the home-made goodies.

If ancient history is more your style, Greece offers highly-affordable travel during their off-season of November – March. Discover the mysteries of the Acropolis in Athens or climb the legendary Mount Olympus before exploring the romantic Greek isles. The fact that many big-name resorts are closed during the off season allows visitors to experience the more intimate, local side of Greek life.

Additional tips for holiday travelers:
Splurge on a balcony – more room in your cabin for presents and decorations.
Ask yourself – do you prefer to spend the holidays in port or at sea?  
What is your preferred balance of sea days and ports days?

For more information and for help booking your affordable holiday vacation, contact:

Carole Novak, Vacation Specialist of CruiseOne
410-877-8232   c.novak@cruiseone.com

Associate of Franchisee, S. Perkins and Associates, Abingdon, MD  www.SailWithSara.com

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The Handmaid’s Tale. A Feminine Dystopia.

The Handmaid’s Tale. A Feminine Dystopia..

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Memorial Day Rememberance

I was struggling with what to post this week that would be interesting and topical when I opened Facebook and found my inspiration.

We are all planning our Memorial Day weekend parties and celebrations.  Many of us not even giving a second thought to what, or I should say who, we are honoring. 

General John Logan

Before the end of the Civil War, southern women began decorating the graves of fallen soldiers and on May 5, 1868, General John Logan issued General Order Number 11, proclaiming Memorial Day on May 30, 1868 – the first time flowers were placed on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery.  In 1971, Congress passed the national Holiday Act making Memorial Day a Federal Holiday.

Although Memorial Day was first set-aside to recognize men who had lost their lives in the Civil War, after WWI Americans began honoring men (and women) who lost their lives during any war.  Today, we take the opportunity on the last Monday of May to honor all the men and women who serve or have served in our armed forces.

I do not take this holiday lightly.  I am the wife of a retired Marine, mother of an Iraq war veteran, and   grand-daughter or a WWII Marine veteran.  My husband and I have proudly traced our ancestry to men who fought for the right to be called free Americans during the Revolutionary War – Nathaniel Owings, Joshua Owings Sr., Anthony Ribble, Henry Ott, and William Salmon.  Other ancestors fought to defend their ideals on one side or the other of the Civil War – John Sawyer, Jonathan Van Horn, Frank T. Driver, August J. Garth, John and his son Elijah Jackson, and Andrew Finch.  Horace Roberts, defended our flag in Korea, and we held our breath during the Vietnam Conflict (war) while Dennis Lamont, Roy Roberts, Jimmy Roberts, and Ronnie Mullins defended our American principles.

Matthew (in uniform) and Emory Roberts
Marines

Vernon Driver – Marine
and Marie Driver

John Sawyer – US Civil War

 

Monday morning, my husband will stand on a mound beside some of the best men I have had the privilege to know – a group of fsoldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines; Greg Remaly, Harry Rush, Les Jones, and Bob Starks.  They will not be taking target practice with a rifle or pistol.  They have replaced their weapons with golf clubs – but they have not replaced their Esprit de Corps.  They are Marines and I know that, to the last man, they would eagerly wear their uniform in defense of these United States.

From the halls of Montezuma

To the tees in Myrtle Beach

They will fight their certain battles

In the traps and on the greens…

I jest, but it is because of their earlier sacrifices that they have the right and privilege to participate in a leisurely pass-time without fear of hostility.   They have earned it.  To them I say good luck.

To all the other men and women who wear or have ever worn the uniform of an American soldier, sailor, airman or Marine and to the families who continue to support them, I say Thank You.

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Down the Ocean, Hun

It used to be that the Ocean City, MD season did not start until Memorial Day.  However, with the advent of the annual Spring Fest – usually held the first weekend in May, things get started a little earlier.

May in Maryland can be a little iffy, though.  One can never be very sure what the weather will be from one glorious May day to the next.    Rain and clouds with chilly temperatures dampened my desire to attend Spring Fest but the promise of 80 degrees and sunny skies prompted me to pack my bags and end east and what a fantastic weekend it was!

On our way down, we stopped at the outlet shops in Delaware to take advantage of no sales tax.    We worked up an appetite from all that shopping so we stopped at Big Fish Grill for a small lunch of tilapia fingers and fried calamari.  The fish fingers were ample and cooked perfectly – served with house made tartar sauce, they were a meal by themselves.  The calamari was served with a mustard sauce (yum) and marinara.  We shared our small plates which were enough to hold us until dinner.

I booked a suite at the Princess Royal for Saturday night.  When we arrived, we asked for a room “near the glass” (the wall of windows looking out toward the ocean) and were given an upgrade.   The young man and woman at the front desk were very friendly.  The room was spacious and clean, with a balcony overlooking the indoor pool.

Without wasting any more sunshine, we quickly changed into our swimsuits, followed the call of the surf and headed for the glistening sand.  The weather had been predicted to be variably cloudy with a chance of showers – I am glad the prediction was wrong.  The sky was clear and the sun was hot in the sky.

After a long walk down the beach, we splurged on rental chairs – the weather was so nice we wanted to spend more time on the beach.  Beach chairs now rent for $7 each while umbrellas go for $15 each per day.  I noted that both chairs and umbrellas were in very good condition – they may actually be new this year.

Unfortunately, the water was too frigid for my taste so we kept our toes warm in the sand but a number of brave souls ventured into the surf for a romp with the waves.  It was fun to watch the children dip their toes in the icy water and run screeching up the shoreline.

No trip to Ocean City would be complete without dinner at Lunas Cactus Cafe my favorite for many years now.  Ladies and gents, if you do not mind a short drive, Luna’s is the place for freshly prepared, unique Mexican seafood.  I had the sea bass with corn and onion salsa, and roasted red pepper sauce.  My husband had the grouper with shrimp and scallops covered in a crab sauce.  Neither of us had room for desert!

Following dinner, we drove to the inlet for an evening walk on the boards.  During peak season, the drive would turn most people off simply because of the traffic.  However, the crowds are light in May and so is the number of joy riders, so our trip took only a few minutes.

Sunset on the boards…

 

Trimpers Rides and Amusements was open with a few courageous young people on board.  The pier rides were also open but without much business.   I noted, however, that the tram was not in operation.

Thrasher’s Fries was sizzling, though and despite having just eaten a very satisfying dinner, I started salivating!  They smelled so good.  No matter how full one is the aroma of freshly burnished potatoes cooked crisp in peanut oil will make one hungry.

I skipped the fries and the Dole’s popcorn in favor of a stroll down the boards holding my husband’s hand the way we’ve done almost every year for 35 years now.  The brisk ocean air blowing in our hair and the fragrance of summers past and future was a sufficient night-cap for us.

In no hurry to return home, we took our time packing and checking out of the hotel the next morning.  When we eventually dropped our key at the desk, I noticed several families checking in.  Given the number of belongings they were carting, I guessed they were arriving for a week.  More evidence that the “season” is expanding and more people are recognizing the value they can receive in the shoulder months.

Our plan was to stop for breakfast before making the drive across the bay bridge.  The problem with that was it was mother’s day.  There were lines at every breakfast purveyor we passed.

When you have had a great a weekend as we, nothing can ruin your good mood, not even hunger!

Across the 50th Street bridge and into West Ocean City we ventured looking for breakfast.  As a last resort, we turned onto Route 611 thinking The Green Turtle might open for breakfast.  No such luck.  Ready to turn around, we spotted a small dinner ahead.

The Decatur Diner opened in 2010 with seating capacity of about 50 and has enjoyed immediate success (according to the waitress).  There were only two vacant tables when we arrived and a growing line by the time we left.

We both ordered a hearty breakfast of pancakes/French toast, eggs and sausage.  The food was served quickly and was very tasty.  Unfortunately, my eyes proved bigger than my belly so I was not able to clean my plate but it was not for want of trying.

I will add the Decatur Diner to my short list of little gems off the beaten path in Ocean City, Maryland.

The remainder of our drive home was delightful.  All form of pleasure craft dotted the waterways.  White sails floated across the bay on the gentle breeze that promised another wonderful summer down the ocean, hun.

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