Portable Magic

"Books are a uniquely portable magic" says author Stephen King. My teen granddaughters have read most of Mr. King's books and this middle-school-bound boy will soon be too.

An academic achiever and gifted athlete, my oldest grandson is an easy-going kid who happily takes a book along wherever he goes. Visiting my family last month, they took Grandma to the local Mexican restaurant. Look at that smile...just a quick one before he got back to his latest Rick Riordan novel. At 11, he loves electronics too...but parental time limits or discipline can interfere. Oh how I remember being sent to my room as a kid...often in a huff or tears...but pretty soon I'd be lost in a book.                                                                          

I take Grandma credit of course; spending hours reading to my grand kids even as babies. I love his focus here, hanging on my every word! I still give books as new baby gifts, read stories to the classrooms I work in and take turns reading a page with the twins as they practice expression and the rhythm of their voice. I recently joined a writing class that has us sharing our pieces orally....podium and mic included! Reading aloud is good for the soul. 

'Mystery Reader' when he was in First Grade
Love the Share Chair

One of his favorite places is the library; especially now that school's out for the summer. He devoured this heavy, two handed coffee-table sized book; Percy Jackson's Greek Gods by Rick Riordan, in 24 hours.
I scoped out my local library and got my card so we'll be ready to browse when he comes to visit next month! Barns and Noble is another favorite place; they all choose this over Target or a Dollar Store when given a choice. Even without a purchase, they're excited to see new releases they can look forward to and displays of trending authors or genres to watch for.
The twins are fine with the 'kid's section' and the older girls can handle adult and young adult material....but this is the hardest age....almost 12. Ready for challenging and engaging stories; but not mature content. Luckily he enjoys history...especially those in photo-journo style.

Big brother using his time wisely at his brother and sister's games, and at their First Communion earlier this year. "Reading gives us someplace to go, when we have to stay where we are," says Mason Cooley.

I am so proud of the young man this kid is becoming. My wish for him is to always believe in his smart, sincere, kind and funny self; and that his sense of fairness and rightness will guide him along the educational pathways of school and life. Remember that books are a lighthouse in the dark, a window into ourselves, a doorway to the world and a cozy blanket for comfort. Love you, DB!

And Fifth Grade is a wrap!

Inspired With Write Words

Session Days, Dancing Nights
 Women writing words; this was the group of bloggers I joined in Las Vegas last month. It was the annual Bloggers At Midlife Conference...the very first one for me. These friends I've made through Facebook and Blog posts greeted me in real life with hugs, laughter and excited chatter including "come sit here" and "you look exactly as I thought you would!" I could feel the instant camaraderie as we danced the night away at the Osteo Bi-Flex Disco Party!
We enjoyed two days of sessions filled with self discovery, branding and publishing expertise and technical updates. In reflecting over my notes and my time spent one-on-one with many of these new girlfriends, I kept noticing key words..words that empower me to get back in the game with my mind and eyes opened wider. I call these motivating terms Write Words.

                                     The words that inspire and motivate me include:

We influence our readers with every word we write. We should be using the power of our words to influence the market place, the social conscious and the younger generations. As someone who is aging actively and positively; I need to view my writing as a message; public relations, advertising, medical, educational and entertainment fields need to realize it's time to drop the "old folks" image and focus on the youthfulness of boomers and beyonders. Walker Thornton and Lynne Spreen discussed ways to shine a positive light on the strengths, wisdom and power of growing along. 

The beautiful Glenda Harrison presented this word while discussing the loss of her beloved mother; "great pain can lead to a greater purpose" she told us. I too found healing in loss; found my ability to go it alone without my editor husband in the next room. To me this means always digging deeper, going the extra mile. By continuing to participate in blogging communities, attending this conference,  branching into difference genres...I've discovered an inner strength that's reflected in my writing. Thank you for such a beautiful word that describes perfectly what we do, Glenda.

Several panelists spoke about the importance of evergreen pieces...those that are usable again and again or can easily be repurposed. I've totally had this wrong; believing it was lazy or pushy...sort of like saying "you didn't read it a year ago so I'll try again!" Now I see the benefits of reusing my Mother's Day tributes or my Dad's war story every Veteran's Day. Whether a timely piece or one for the ages; our archives of essays are still empowering and meaningful! Thanks to all of you who made this word take on greater meaning.

A hug from Tammy Bleck
The idea of branding our blogs or our name can be as simple as using a constant theme in our posts. Glenda does this with her fashion and style theme, as does Tammy Bleck with humor and Jodi Okun with finance. So many of you do this, while writing about other things as well. Your posts are presented with a familiar graphic or photo that draws us in; reminds us this is a credible source and interesting read. Gramcracker Crumbs started as a grandma with tons of grandchildren pictures and tales. I now bring my teaching and reporting background into my posts; write about fitness, aging, travel and becoming a widow. I learned my blog is considered 'lifestyle' and I'm free to write about anything. But...great food for thought here; should I rename it, 'brand' it or continue by using images that reflect grandmothering? 

Another word used frequently...to be ourselves, to shine a light on our uniqueness. I found this word on several note pages; underlined, circled and with arrows! This is a BIG one for me. Worry that someone else just wrote about the same issue. Unsure if my piece is polished enough or 'Elements of Style' worthy. I heard the words "no competition" and "everyone has a story" mentioned throughout the weekend from presenters, table mates and fellow pub crawlers. How many times did I ask students to write on command; to write about the theme/story starter on the board!? I loved reading the uniqueness of each one; their voice, their word choices, their various perspectives and experiences. I am grateful to you dear BAM friends, for this boost to my confidence!

What a fun way to hook followers, present a point and give your words visual variety! Thank you, MJ Tam and Debba Haupert,  for the wealth of  information, techniques and products. Although you also spoke to videographers doing live presentations; there are many ways to incorporate clips here and there into our written posts. I've taken lots of video and I now know how to upload them to my blog. Next up will be lining up interviews or action for a purpose. This is very new and scary for me; but I appreciate how your presentation beckons and intrigues me!

Signed copy and a new friend!

Other words I highlighted in my notes were Pinterest, promote, branding, quality and clarity. Each of these fit nicely into the comments above. I'm learning to better use Pinterest to promote myself and broaden my audience. I notice the authors who value quality over quantity, and appreciate those who consider clarity a tool to enhance rather than a necessity for the clueless. I was awe struck while chatting with  Elaine Ambrose, Kathy Gottberg and Doreen McGettigan; published authors who've shared their hearts and uniqueness to succeed.

B@M Managing Partners

BAMC16 was a gift. I learned so much and met so many amazing bloggers. Thanks to all of you who took the time to chat with my daughter and I around the table or over dinner and drinks. Thanks for the Marriott experience; the walking, the pool, the spa and shops. Most of all, thanks to our Fab Four... Anne, Teresa, Beth and Sharon...who set it all in motion! 

Out of Routine; Into The Moment

Away for almost a month; I was out of my comfort zone clothes, couch, town and routines. As I hugged my son goodbye at the drop-off curb, I felt a switch turn on inside; the switch that triggers anticipation, observation, excitement and awe.
People watching comes naturally; I notice how they're dressed, how much luggage they have, how young parents handle their little ones PLUS strollers, car seats and diaper bags. I wondered why men in suits carrying briefcases appear to be important; if  women about my age were going to visit their grandchildren or heading across the globe like me? 

Central Coast Ferry on our way
to Woy Woy. 
Their headmistress gave me permission
to snap a photo as they boarded.
I was happy to see my family and had a couple dates to keep with friends. Otherwise, I had nearly a month to take each day as it flowed. A spontaneous ferry ride for lunch, a local bus filling up with school children as I rode it home from the mall, a morning walk to the village, an evening with my brother's neighbors. I loved how these things just came about and I was ready.

An unexpected fall as that bus came to a stop kept me in the moment too! I stood up as we neared my corner, clutching my packages and holding onto the pole. But then I instinctively reached for a little girl's arm and down I went! Thanks to my training on 'how to fall,' I landed on my bottom, holding my bags and arms to my chest and then quickly standing up. I was fine....and grateful those kids didn't tell as they scrambled off and into mom and dad's arms!

Inscribed stones line the footpaths
of Old Sydney
Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I made a point to visit the places my husband and I enjoyed on our visit 14 years earlier. I also made a point to visit new and different things not mentioned in the brochures. Balmoral Beach is small, remote and covered in sparkling white sand. It's out of the way and not at all a big draw like Manly or Bondi Beaches. I loved the solitude; loved that I was there alone. I made time to read more history about Old Sydney...the original spot created for and built by convicts shipped over from England. It's all sandstone....this ancient part of the city.

Sandstone walls, steps, narrow walkways and terraced gardens. The weathered sandstone breakwater along the harbor changes color with the rising and setting sun. Barangaroo Reserve, reclaimed land of the indigenous people, is the newest addition to the busy harbor area. Centuries old sandstone formations line the water's edge; many smooth enough to sit a spell in the shade.

The Opera House has several theaters and venues inside. It's iconic full sail image is recognizable the world over. I took photos years ago; took the tour and learned about it's history. This time I walked around to the front....the view cruise ships see as they round the curve into Sydney Harbor. I climbed the layers of stairs, checked out the underground level and strolled through the 200 year old Botanical Gardens next door. 

Didgeridoo wind instruments
I was so tuned in, so aware of street activity and music. The sound of boat horns, train tracks rumbling, babies crying, performers singing or playing instruments and the various languages being spoken around me. The smoothly run Overseas Passenger Terminal was captivating with it's constant buzz of worker bees. 
As I strolled the cafe and boutique promenade, I captured this funny store sign; French Connection United Kingdom is the label. A sale sign in the window pulled me in to browse. I rarely buy white tops, but found one in thick cotton for $20 AUS. Without my glasses on, the sparkly design on the front seemed pretty subtle. Bought it! Tried it on back at the hotel and ooops... a nice fancy F on the front! 

Cruise ships come and go every day. Sometimes three or more sit in dock while commuter ferries and tourist-filled boats zig zag around them. I met my high school girlfriend as she and her husband disembarked from the Millennium on my last day in Oz. Another unexpected pleasure walking and talking in the warm rain. And finding my picky-eater self enjoying a chicken pot pie at Pie Face, a favorite Sydney lunch spot. I'm glad I stayed around the terminal dock to watch their ship get underway that evening. Amazing how something this huge maneuvers out, around and away so easily. As it grew smaller, fireworks filled the sky! 


What a cool way to end my stay in Australia. The plan was simple; let's meet early at the pier.
It was the best of times, letting the day unfold spontaneously. 

 Going home brings a sense of anticipation too. I had a flight and procedures to follow which put me back in travel routine. I looked forward to seeing my younger brother waiting at the other end of my journey. It felt good knowing I'd soon be back in school pickup line, my granddaughters' asking "please, Grandma, can we go to Dairy Queen!" I've been home several weeks now; back to day-to-day chores, work and favorite TV shows. 
The best part about getting away on an adventure is still with me though.... 

The Savoring
 I'm writing stories for my blog, creating another Gramcracker picture book, 
still talking about it.

The Reflection
 I feel a sense of peace from spending days and nights with my family
 on the other side of the world. 
I feel accomplished by journeying solo, figuring things out for myself and discovering that I'm much more capable than I thought! 

The Dimmer Switch
 That switch that turned on the moment I stepped out of my son's car has not really turned off. It's dimmed for now; awaiting time and opportunity for next time!

Ten Travel Tips I've Learned Along the Way

  I. PACK small; pack light     

 I managed with a carry-on size roller bag and a canvas briefcase. My backpack and duffel bag were tucked inside; ready for weekend getaways or day tripping.

 2. EXCHANGE CURRENCY at a trusted bank
Airport and city kiosks will charge a fee. The big name banks give the best exchange rate with no fee. I had $300 American to exchange,and was able to get cash off my Visa card since my ATM cards didn't work anywhere. All I needed was my passport and credit card and about 5 minutes of the teller's time. Australian currency is different colors; making it easier to select the bill or coins you need.

3. FAMILIARIZE yourself with language and cultural differences before you depart

Countries that drive on the left also ride bikes and walk on the left. That means stay to the left when you're on footpaths, in airports and queues. Pedestrian crossings say Look Right.
Morning coffee is pretty much universal. Hotel and motel rooms provided an electric pot for boiling water; freeze-dried coffee and tea and containers of milk. Most rooms had a set of wine glasses...acknowledging that wine is best enjoyed with proper glassware!
       English speaking countries use different terminology and expressions; don't be shy about asking for clarity; you'll soon find yourself using them too.

4. COMMUNICATION know how you'll keep in touch...both in country and back home.

Despite requesting international service before I departed, I was hit with a couple $100 fees right off the bat! I next tried switching SIM cards; but my carrier had mine locked! Instead of making calls back home to straighten out; I just used email, Facebook and Instagram messaging to communicate with my US and AU families...no worries! I did make an overseas call from the hotel once; cheaper than using my cell. Bottom line...call your provider, talk to a live person, read the small print!

5. ASK for help with a smile and a thank you. Graciousness is recognized worldwide

Traveling solo, I asked strangers to take my picture; usually I was able to return the favor by taking theirs. I contacted the hotel ahead of time; explaining my purpose and asking for off the beaten path, non-touristy places and activities. I had to ask servers for ice a couple times for swollen feet; how grateful I was when one delivered in a ziplock bag, another wrapped in bar towels.Vigilant about photographing children, I first asked permission of their teachers. It was granted with 'no worries'...the refreshing attitude of Aussies that I so love. These field trip kiddos were at the Harbor Bridge Museum.

6. BE FLEXIBLE, be patient...many countries/people operate at a slower pace than Americans

7. EMBRACE the unexpected and spontaneous; wonder and wander about!

On the way from the airport to my downtown hotel, I realized I was too late for Easter Mass. I asked my cab driver if we could at least drive by St. Mary's Cathedral. He kindly stopped so I could take quick photos and step inside.
I did not want anymore long walks; but saying yes to this bridge walk brought happy tears as I realized this is where my husband walked so he could watch me climb the bridge in 2002. Spontaneity begets serendipity...often the greatest gift of travel.

 8. LONG FLIGHTS are manageable....it's a mindset. Accept and adapt...you'll be fine.

I knew I'd be facing a long flight and prepared by wearing loose, comfy clothes, and packing necessities in a carry-on bag; change of clothes and shoes, medications, snacks and trial-sized everything.
I had no control with layovers, delays and cancellations...my big day of departure became an unusual situation. I adapted by making new friends and writing my first travel post about living in airports!
Flight attendants mentioned wearing compression hose; something I'll consider in the future.

9. ENJOY AND TRY unfamiliar food choices and presentations.

This was a big deal for me...a fussy, picky eater all my life. It started with asking for my morning coffee. Long Black? White Expresso? As soon as I explained I preferred coffee with milk or cream; the server appeared to understand. She brought  me a Vienna...strong coffee topped with whipped cream...like real cream whipped! It comes with a spoon and looks like a sundae...I was hooked! I stuck to familiar foods at first; beef burgers, fish and chips. But as the weeks went on, I needed variety. I tried lamb chops, duck, pot pies, and skinny red salmon slices...seemingly raw...in my salad. They were all delicious! Never ate lamb chops, duck or chicken pot pies in my life, and grilled salmon chunks with spinach are pretty much my staple at home. I noticed kangaroo burgers on menu listings, but no way!

 10. REACH OUT to a concierge or public relations personnel before you go.

I was going as a travel writer this time; but in New York City, I was a nervous grandma taking a teenager to the Big Apple. I talked with the head concierge at least once a week for months. By the time we arrived at our hotel, I was greeted at the front desk with hugs and hand holding to ease my stay and worries. I call ahead to ask for low floors near the stairs and what kind of meals are offered on site. I learn so much more from a live person aiming to please than I do from chain websites.

Wally in New York probably pictured a little ol' granny and was prepared to make me comfortable. Todd in Sydney found me in the lobby pub to see whom he'd been emailing with for weeks. Both of these gentlemen suggested places that were perfect for me!
       Local knowledge trumps guide books in my opinion.
                                  Happy Travels!

Cameleers in CamelLot

Camel Lot/Farm at Ayers Rock Resort
British explorers in the early 1800's quickly realized horses were not cut out for crossing the desert region of Australia's vast arid center. Afghan camels and their handlers were shipped to this remote land down under to facilitate pioneering and discovery in the Outback. Today, there are more camel stations and ranches here than in any other country. In this Northern Territory resort area, camels adeptly navigate up and down red dunes with the famous Uluru and Kata Tjuta rock formations always in view.

Cameleering is a real occupation; requiring book knowledge as well as hands-on apprenticing. They also learn the centuries old Afghan commands still in use today.

8:13 AM; the start of  our 10K walk

Why did I choose to come ride a camel and walk 6 miles around Ayers Rock in 100 degree heat? My long time friend, Heather has family working here. When she learned I'd booked my flights, she surprised me with this unforgettable experience...oh, the things we do for fun!
We started talking and laughing from the first hello hug to the last goodbye, goodbye, goodbye four days later.

I had been in Oz for 10 days, acclimated to the heat and had just completed a 5K a few weeks earlier...what's a few more miles! 80° coastal is much different than 100+ degrees in the Outback! By the time we started; folks were heading back to their air conditioned rooms. "Some begin in the dark with flashlights"she tells me. She's done this several times before.....with every relative and friend who visits. Reminded me of when we lived in Boston and the never-ending trips to the House of Seven Gables.

But this was a really BIG deal. Bottles of water, bug netting, hat, sunscreen and Hydrolyte tablets...I WILL survive! Excitement and awe fed my momentum in the beginning. Then I got sweaty; changed hats to keep the net looser and not obstruct my vision of the rock. Next I noticed I was always a couple paces behind her, still trying to keep our conversations going. Walking and talking counts double...but eventually I said, "I'll tell you later, I need to breathe right now."

Finally the first bench! And another person.....a young person....and she was resting! Okay, maybe I'm not as out of shape as I thought. When we caught our breaths and drank some water, we took each others' pictures. Not attractive, not even half way around....but what's exploring without documentation!

 We continued on to shady spots, more benches, water stops and moments just to stare at the formations created from erosion. Recent rains had brought varying shades of green to the Red Centre; the contrast with Uluru's ochre pigment was stunning. I felt the spiritual significance as hot, sandy soil slid through my fingers.

The sun grew hotter, my feet ached and I may have said "please God" under my breath while saying 'no worries" to Heather. A Hydrolyte fizzling in my warm water bottle did the (mind) trick: I knew I could make it! Three hours later, we saw the car park and felt the high that comes with accomplishment!  I'm forever grateful to her for getting me around the Rock! And grateful she later suggested we rest a bit, then walk to lunch; then walk and shop, then walk again to dinner. Without those ten minutes here and there....my legs would have never worked again!

Off we were early the next morning...5:30 early! This time it was dark and silent and coolish in the desert as we listened to instructions on how to mount a camel. Heather and I were given their "favorite" (read gentlest.) Sitting up front and hanging on, we leaned back as Darcy raised her front legs first, then the back as gracefully as a waking cat. Easier than getting on a horse, except we were now seven feet off the ground! Camels are roped together; but they know this five-times-a-day routine quite well. Ten camels make up a 'train' with saddles for 20 riders. We were there on Good Friday; which called for two tourist-filled trains.

Head cameleer Mark allowed us only phones. No need for nets or water bottles this early. He showed us the side-to-side rhythmic gait we'd feel and assured us the camels would not notice our weight.
After everyone was securely on and up; we started through bushy dunes with the first rays of day lighting our way. A mounted cameleer led the way; others walked along side.

 As the sun began to rise, we stopped at the highest point for photo ops. The cameleers patiently took everyone's photo with individual cameras while a professional photographer captured us all in formation with gorgeous backdrops.

Darcy is the caboose of this Camel Train
The Olgas/Kata Tjuta in the background

 Yulara is the community of resorts and shops; the local school and resident quarters. The permanent population is around 800; made up of staff and their families only. This includes both hospitality professionals and indigenous employees in training. Heather's son and daughter-in-law live and work here in management positions. We chose the beautiful Desert Garden Hotel for our stay.

Many rooms have views of Uluru. The restaurants offer great meals and the large pool keeps guests refreshed and relaxed. Just as in big city hotels, there's wifi, cable and electrical adapters available at the front desk. Native flowers and trees fill the grounds, like this tall, striking White Gum trees.                                                                  

We visited the Olgas, but I bailed on another walkabout; happy to just gaze at the 36 weather-smoothed, sandstone domes. Named after Queen Olga of Prussia; the Commonwealth government handed both Uluru and Kata Tjuta back to the aboriginal owners in 1985. Their original names and spiritual significance are restored and the land is now a National Park and World Heritage Listed.

 My first time ever sitting in a window seat...the views coming and going to the middle of the Outback were priceless! I can see the Social Studies teacher in my writing; the girlfriend getaway vibe....but mostly this: I'm growing more confident and braver as I grow along!