Monday, July 31, 2006

Typically, I don't have alot to say about politics, except to my husband. For the most part they bore me. However, I am not fond of our Commander in Chief, whom I call Bushy. I wasn't fond of his father either. I guess Junior is trying to win a war for his daddy. If senior had finished the job the first time, we probably would not be in this situation now. If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the desert. Anyway, my husband spent 20 years in the Army and I can't express how happy I am that he is retired. At the same time I can empathize with families who have sent loved ones to Iraq and Afganistan. The soldiers are doing a tough job and luckily they have the support of the country and the love of their families. Nothing like the soldiers who when to Viet Nam. I have a nephew who spent a year in Iraq. He came home safe and sound and did not re-enlist. The military is not for everyone. It is a tough, dirty job. You risk your life for little pay and no thanks. The international community is once again looking to the US to help with the cease fire in Lebanon. How can we, tell Israel to stop the bombing when we are doing the same thing in Iraq? Anyway, pretty soon the US won't have any allies. Even T. Blair is getting fed up with Bushy it seems. And Bushy and Connie have to appeared to have had a falling out. Keepn it up Bushy and you will have no one to do your dirty work for you. Well, I am really all over the board with this post. And as I don't feel that I am making sense or getting anywhere I guess I will end for the day.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

New 7 Wonders of the World In Newsweek this week, there was a short article about a competition to select the New 7 Wonders of the World. It seemed pretty interesting to me so I thought I would do a speech about it. We are having a speech contest in a couple of weeks and I agreed to be the target speaker for the evaluation contest. To write my speech, I needed more information so I went to the 7 Wonders web site; The foundation, is hoping that as many as 100,000,000 will vote for the most worthy of the 21 historically significant, man made landmarks. 77 landmarks were submitted for consideration. The 21 finalists are:

  • The Acropolis
  • Machu Picchu
  • The Colliseum
  • The Kremlin
  • Hagia Sofia
  • The Eiffel Tower
  • Taj Mahal
  • Ankor Wat
  • Alhambra
  • Kiyomizu Temple
  • Christ Redeemer\
  • Great Wall of China
  • Petra
  • Pyramids at Giza
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Stonehenge\
  • Sydney Opera House

You can vote for up to 7 wonders for free. You can only vote once. However, if you have one special wonder that you would like to vote for you can ... for $2. For your cash, the foundation sends you a .pdf certificate that you can frame. Too corny, but it will make a good prop for my speech. You can vote throughout the rest of 2006 and the first half of 2007. The New 7 Wonders will be announced on 7 July 2007.

My special vote was for the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, Turkey. It is a beautiful structure filled with mosaics. It sits across the street from the Blue Mosque, another structure that merits a place on the list.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Places to see before it's too late: The Great Wall of China The Forbidden City The Panama Canal Spain Portugal Istanbul, Turkey (again) The Great Pyramids Valley of the Kings Australia New Zealand Niagara Falls Vancouver, Brithish Columbia Seattle, Washington Costa Rica Brazil Machu Pichu, Peru Moscow St. Petersburg Oz Copenhagen Amsterdam
Surfer and Friend, Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii, 2005
Hornet's Nest I finished reading Hornets Nest by Patricia Cornwell yesterday. This novel is not about Dr. Kay Scarpetta, but it was pretty entertaining. We have three, high powered female police officers; the chief of police (Hammond)and two deputy chiefs (West and Goode)trying to crack the case of a serial killer named Pumpkin Head. And a young reported by the name of Andy Brazil. Andy's father was a cop and died when Andy was young. His mother is an alcoholic, leaving him to be the parent in the relationship. Andy is fit and attractive, everyone that sees him lusts after him. Gay, straight, doesn't matter all are ga ga over him. He works as police beat reporter and a volunteer police officer. I never heard of such a thing. Anyway, he gets to ride along with our Deputy Chief West and he thinks she is more than just a great cop. Deputy Chief West is a 40 something professional with two bad habits...smoking and junk food. Because she spends most of her time behind a desk she is not as fit as she used to be. She owns a cat named Niles who believes he is descended from the ancient Egyptians. Yes, Niles actually narrates parts of the story and provides clues to his beloved master, that help her solve the crime...or at least a portion of it. Anyway, she is selected to work with Andy and to keep the reporter out of harm's way on his ride alongs. Unfortunately, whenever they are on the street together they get a lot of dangerous calls. Depute Chief Goode is less than honorable and having an affair with an on-air TV news personality. She feeds him stories to scoop Andy's printed articles. She is competitive and wants to be the top cop. Little does she know, that is not her destiny. I was glad she got the axe in the end. With cops like that, who needs bad guys. Police Chief Hammon is probably in her 50's. She is in a less than happy marriage and has two grown sons. She is fit and takes care of herself. Her husband does not. And that is part of the problem. She is smart and likes her job. Anyway, this crew, gets their she-male and all live happily ever after...or do they? The ending left room to continue. I missed Dr. Kay, but it was nice to read something else by Cornwell. The story kept moving, but sometimes felt disorganized. bjf

Friday, July 21, 2006

Las Vegas Here We Come. We are going to Las Vegas in August for a long weekend. We figured that we may never get again so we decided we better get some show tickets and picked Love and Cirque du Soleil. I have been a fan of the Beatles for as long as I can remember. In fact, my mother purchased my first album for me when I was in the first grade, boy was that a long time ago. Our show tickets are for 10:30 on Sunday, August 13. We will need to make sure and take a nap that day. We are actually going to Vegas for our niece's wedding. I thought hotel rooms in Vegas were supposed to be cheap. Not so cheap on Friday and Saturday nights that's for sure. This long weekend is going to cost almost as 10 days in Belize. Luckily, we were able to use flyer miles for the airline. Anyway, it is going to be a fun time and we are going to have a good time. I can hardly wait. It will be nice to have some time off of work and see my Al's brother and his family. It seems that that is the only time we see family anymore...weddings and funerals. We are flying in to Vegas on Thursday and leaving on Monday afternoon. I am not renting a car because we plan to stay close to town and the strip. Most of the hotels have a shuttle service from the airport and I understand public transportation is pretty good...trams, etc. We are staying at the Flamingo Las Vegas. This is also where the wedding will be held. I need to get into research mode. I am sure not going to spend all of my time in the casino, but you never know...we may actually win some money. I am not really a gambler tho and don't expect I will lose much money, although Al might. I was quite surprised when the wedding invitation arrived. I did not realize that Las Vegas was a "wedding destination". I know people have been eloping there for years...Anyway, it will be fun. Maybe they will have an Elvis impersonator at the reception.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Xunantunich, Ancient Mayan City To get to the ancient Mayan city of Xunantunich we had to cross the river on a hand-cranked ferry. The site was quite large and the pyramids were pretty impressive with all of the carvings. Because my legs were sore from my caving adventure I did not climb to the top, but Al did and he said the views were great. He took a lot of photos so I could see what I was missing. We spent a couple of hours walking around the site. It was very hot and humid that day and we drank at least three bottles of water. Not too much to say so I will leave it at that.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Slippery When Wet

We were going to spend three days at Caves Branch and we planned to participate in at least one of the caving adventure that they offer. We decided to go Cave Tubing. I figured inner tubing in a cave would be pretty know the humid rainforest. Any way, this adventure also included some climbing. I wanted to make sure that I did not put myself in a situation that I could not get out of so I made sure to ask our guide about the climbing part. He assured me that the climbing portion of the adventure was relatively easy. You have to understand he is a very fit 20 something and most people that stay at Caves Branch are very fit 20 somethings that also happen to be adrenaline junkies. I, on the other hand, am pushing past the best years of my life and am in less than perfect physical condition. But I thought, what the hell, you only live once. Famous last words. We get up the next morning and eat a good breakfast. Lunch will be a picnic in the cave. Now you have to remember, we are in Belize at the end of the dry season. In fact the river bed flowing in front of our cabana is bone dry. Not a drop of water. Very important to note when you plan to go inner tubing in the river, especially if you actually want to float... We load up and head out. We drive out thru the orange groves to the tubing site. We have to walk a short distance to the river. We climb down the bank and get wet. Yes, there is water in this river...but shallow. Because we are actually going against the current we have to paddle into the cave. The cave was actually pretty cool. You wear a headlamp so that you can see. There were some really interesting formations and the water was wonderful. You float about 2 1/2 miles into the cave and at points along the way you portage your inner tube and do some rock climbing. You can climb up and look at Mayan artifacts and ceremonial fire pits. It was on the final descent that disaster struck. We were on our way down from a high climb. The trail was wet and slippery. Anyway, we had good boots and were moving down cautiously, I felt good. My husband said to me "Let me go first". I said "no, I have it". Before my next step I slipped. It felt like I was falling forever, but I only fell a few feet. I did wrench my knee pretty good, but somehow I managed not to hit my head or face on the rocks. The ancient Mayan spirits were looking out for me that day. I figured everything happens for a reason. I took one for the team. Had my husband gone first, he might have really been hurt as he has osteoporosis. He would have surely broken something. So that's my story and I am sticking to it. And this is where the safety and first aid training of the guides really comes in handy. I am glad that I provided some practice for them. Well, not glad, but you know what I mean. After I made it safely to the bottom, I told our guide that I was not doing any more climbing that day. He said were finished anyway. We ate lunch in the cave and floated back to the world. All in all is was quite a good day. At one point along the float, we all turned of our headlamps. I did not know how black black could be. Tomorrow: Xunantunich

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Belize City

After our three-day sojourn on Caye Caulker we boarded the water taxi for the mainland and Belize City. We stayed at a small hotel on the Belize River just a short walk from the water taxi dock and the Swing Bridge. After we got checked in, the proprietress drove us to the airport so that we could pick up our rental car. Bright and early the next morning, we headed to the Western Highway and the next adventure in our trip. We were heading to Caves Branch Jungle Lodge. We had a jungle cabana reserved and waiting for us. Caves Branch: I was really impressed with this place. The only fully electrified building is the main lodge (although that is changing with the new construction). Breakfast and dinner are served here in a community setting. After dinner you can stay and read, play a board game, visit with fellows adventure junkies, or go back to your sleeping quarters. The owner of Caves Branch is a Canadian expat. He hires troubled teens from all over Belize to work as guides for the caving adventures. They are trained in first aid and rescue operations. His team travels where they are needed in Belize to help in the event of a disaster (natural or otherwise). Caves Branch provides all levels of facilities. For the budget minded you can camp (about $5 a night) or stay in the bunkhouse (about $15 a night). If you want a little more privacy, you can rent a cabana or suite. Our cabana had a ceiling fan, oil lanterns, and a private commode. It also came with a cat. Loved the cat ;-) We had to use the jungle shower. I loved the jungle shower. I want one at home. The water was just the right temperature. Tomorrow: Cave Tubing

Adventures in Shopping

IKEA...the Swedish Wal-Mart. I had to go to Atlanta and while I was there I decided to visit the IKEA store. What an experience. I did not imagine all that they would have there. I previously checked out their website, but it really does not compare to the physical store. You can purchase complete bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens. You can purchase the art work to hang on your walls and containers to store it in. Rugs for your floors...check. Linens for your bed...check. I was impressed. And so are many Atlanta area shoppers. The place was packed. I could do some serious damage to my credit card in this store. Having said that, everything was very reasonably priced, but it is hard to take it all in in one trip to the store. Because it was lunch time we decided to eat. Of course my husband had "Swedish Meatballs with lingonberry (sp) sauce". I had chicken salad. The buffet style restaurant was as efficient as the retail space. We also made a furniture purchase. Almost by accident, I found the style of chair that I was looking for. Is was comfortable so my husband was easily swayed. We selected the wood finish and cushion style that we liked and made our way to the self service warehouse to gather our goods. Simple and well organized. I can't speak to the customer service, because this really is a self-service store. I guess if you keep overhead down you can keep prices down. The only location that I can recall seeing employees was the cafeteria. I don't have children so I can't speak to the day care/play area. All in all it was an enjoyable shopping experience. I will go back to do more shopping in the future and I will take a list with me. : )

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Day in the Water

One of the best days of my vaction was the one in which I went "Swimming with Sharks and Rays". I have a love/hate relationship with sharks...any large fish really. I love "Jaws", but I dont want to be eaten by one...or even slightly damaged. Anyway, I could not imagine my ever willingly entering water in which Sharks were swimming. But I did. We signed up for an all day snorkeling trip with Salvadore. We would stop at three sites as well as San Pedro for lunch. Our first stop of the day was Shark and Ray Alley. Salvo and his mate threw some fish (shark) food into the water to bring the sharks up to the boat. Now, these are nurse sharks and they tend to be pretty docile, but they are still sharks. Most of the sharks were of a pretty good size and looked pretty menacing. Anyway, after a few minutes, Salvo tells us to get our gear on and "slip gently into the water". And I'm thinking, "Slip gently into the he crazy"? Anyway, I got my snorkel gear and carefully entered the water...I did not want to land on (or touch) anything with fins and large teeth. I have to tell you, it really was the most amazing experience. The Sharks stayed close, but not so close as to be intimidating. And the Rays seem to be as curious about us are we are about them. They swoop by as if playing a game of tag and when you reach out to caress them they roll away. It is almost as if they want you to chase them. I tell you, this one snorkeling adventure was well worth the sunburn. After Shark and Ray Alley we headed to Hol Chan marine preserve. In the native Mayan language Hol Chan means "deep channel". We saw numerous fishes and corals. It was really beautiful. We did not see any sea turtles on this trip. We then headed to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye for lunch. San Pedro is a larger city with numerous resorts and more people. San Pedro is just as run down and tired looking as Caye Caulker, but with none of the charm. I'm glad that we did not spend the money to go over on the water taxi. We were not impressed. And very happy to get back to our quiet, relaxing caye. On our return trip, we stopped at the Coral Garden in the hope of seeing some manatee. We were in luck and one large one was resting on the sandy bottom. As I mentioned previously, there are rules and regulations regarding the observation of the manatee. We kept our distance and after a little while the gentle giant slowly ambled (if a manatee can amble) away. Tomorrow: Into the Rainforest

Friday, July 14, 2006

Caye Caulker

After we made our decision about where to spend our vacation we had to decide where we were going to stay and what we wanted to do. We knew that we wanted to spend some time at the beach, go snorkeling, and relax. After reading our guide books and doing some research online we decided to spend our beach time at Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker is charmingly run-down. You are forced to slow down here because there is not much else to do. In fact the island motto is "Go Slow". Make sure you take a book to read for those lazy afternoons. And spend some time talking to the locals. We met an elderly gentleman name Chocolate who is a bit of a local legend. He almost singlehandedly saved the Manatees in Belize. His efforts resulted in guidelines that local guides must follow if they want to take tours to see the Manatees. He had more stories to tell than we had time. It was an interesting afternoon. You can take snokeling/diving trips to the reef, swim at the Split, or take the water taxi to San Pedro for the day if you need a little more excitement. Because we traveled just before the start of the rainy season there were not too many tourists around and that was just fine with us. You can walk from one end of the caye to the other end in about 20 minutes. The main modes of transportation around the caye are walking, biking, and golf carts. The main modes of transportation to and from the mainland are air and water taxi. The island airport is small (as are the planes) but efficient. Make sure to take your dramamine for the 15 minute flight because it is a bit rough. I used the patches for the first time and I highly recommend them if you suffer from motion sickness. We were the only couple to get off the plane. We called for a taxi (golf cart) and headed to our guest house. We stayed at Tree Tops Guesthouse and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The rooms were clean and the bed was comfortable. The rooms stayed cool even without air fact we did not have air any place we stayed. The room rates were reasonable and we slept very well there. Tomorrow: Swimming with Sharks

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Our Belizean Adventure

In March my husband and I began discussions about our vacation destination for the year. At first we thought about Boston as we have never visited the Northeastern United States. Also, I thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of some of the great places right here at home. You know, save money and all that. I even went to the bookstore and bought guidebooks and maps. By the time I called my husband to tell him about my purchases he indicated that he would rather visit Belize. In case you don't know, Belize is a small country in Central America...just south of Mexico and east of Guatamala on the Caribbean Sea. Belize was once a British colony and still has a large English speaking population. And you don't even have to exchange your money; they like US dollars. We had seen a National Geographic episode on Belize about five years ago and had several discussions about one day visiting the small country. Belize has a diverse that allows you to take three vacations for the price of one. You can go to the beach, the tropical rainforest, and the mountains. For the diver in you, Belize has the coastal area, hundreds of cayes (some inhabited and some not), warm turquoise waters, and the longest barrier reef in the world next to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. You can dive and snorkel along the reef with large numbers of tropical fish. You can swim with Rays, Sharks, Sea Turtles, and Manatees. The waters are as warm and friendly as the people that live there. The cayes are relaxation personified. I am still on Belize time two months later. If you are looking for adventure, take a trip to the jungle. There are several jungle lodges with facilities ranging from very simple (camping/bunkhouse) to spa retreats. You can take caving, hiking, zip line, and repelling adventures just to name a few. Most of these adventures require guides so you get the most bang for your buck. The guides are also trained in rescue and first aid just in case you have a mishap. The lodges are located in remote areas and your stay will most likely be all-inclusive (for a price of course) they feed you well and you get your money's worth. The rainforests of Belize are a bird watchers paradise, from petite humingbirds to huge vultures. And don't forget your binoculars. You can't imagine anything better than being awakened gently by the sweet sound of the birds in the morning. And you can't imagine anything more unworldly than the growl of the howler monkeys in the middle of the night. If you are looking for another sort of adventure, you can travel to one of the many Mayan archeoligical sites around the country. We visited Xunantunich and Altun Ha. If you want to explore the sites on your own, make sure to tell the guides at the entrance that you are not interested. If you do not tell them "no", they will walk and talk and charge you $20 at the end of it. All guides are identified as such (they wear badges) and can provide a lot of insight into the lives and cities of the ancient Maya. A good guide is worth the money. Renting a car in Belize is expensive. You have to put a large deposit and the roads (even the so-called highways) are not in very good shape. There are only three paved main highways in the entire country. You may want to take photos of your vehicle in case the rental company wants you to pay for damage upon your return. We did not have any problems, but I have heard stories. If you plan to do any shopping, don't pay the original asking price for anything. The locals will barter with you for their goods. We purchased some great slate carvings and other momentos. If you purchase any furniture made from the tropical hardwoods, it can be packed for you take on the plane (in the cargo hold of course). I regret that I did not purchase some of the chairs that I liked, because to ship them from Belize now would cost more than the purchase price. Oh, well, that gives me an excuse for another visit some day. Tomorrow: Research and Reservations:)


Feeling good today. Had to make a brief presentation at work and it went very well. The joke even worked. Toastmasters seems to be paying off. I did not even mind having my photo taken for a department presentation, which lately I really do not like to do. Speaking of Toastmasters, I am going to participate in a leadership program at Downtown Elementary, our partner in education. The plan is to go the the school and mentor the fifth grade class in their leadership and speaking skills. The hope is that this will help the children build confidence and the ability to express their thoughts in an orderly, thought out way. If nothing else, it should be interesting. They always have lots of questions and are not shy at all. If we can get them past the fear of thinking before they realize they have a fear of speaking we will have done our job.