Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Caribbean Ports of Call (Frommer's)

If you're planning to take a Caribbean/Bahamas cruise, take a look at Fromer's Caribbean Ports of Call, it has great information for planning excursions and looking at different ports of call. (I found the book at my local library). The Cruise I went on stopped at Key West, Freeport and Nassau.

I've also put together some cruise tips that might help to make your trip more enjoyable.

Cruise Tips - Carnival Cruises 
  1. Take a copy of your passport (showing number) in case you lose it. Give the copy to someone else in your party, in case you lose it.
  2. Gratuities/Tips: You can usually pre-pay gratuities. The pre-paid gratuities are split between all the staff. 15% is usually added to drinks (alcoholic and soft drinks). Note: I believe the Maitre d' is the only one who isn't included in the pre-paid gratuities. There are envelopes available if you wish to give an additional tip to one of the staff.
  3. Onboard spending – You use your sign and sail card for everything and settle up the bill at the end of the trip. You can keep track of your account on your television in the cabin (enter the folio number from your card) or go to the guest services desk. Food and non-alcoholic drinks are usually free (tea/water/coffee/juice). (You are charged for soda) You use your card for gambling too but make sure you cash it out at the Casino before the end of the cruise.
  4. Meals - Meals are included unless you go to the specialty restaurant. You will have the same table for each meal (choose the seating time when you book the trip). There is a buffet open most of the time if you choose not to go to the sit down dinner and also a hamburger and pizza bar. The buffet is the best place for breakfast too. There are usually two formal dinners on a 7-day cruise. On those evenings there are photographers set up over the ship. You can choose which pictures you want to purchase once they are developed. It’s a good night for a family picture. (Look on the web site for clothing suggestions, but Carnival is more casual than some of the other cruise lines)
  5. On the last night you will leave your luggage outside your door for collection (between 8 and 11:30). Keep a bag for items you will need for the last night and the following morning. If you prefer to carry all your luggage off the ship, you will be able to leave earlier.
  6. Duty free – When you board the ship after visiting a port, they will take your duty free and give it to you when you return to your home port (check on limits for your state - Texas is very limited on duty free alcohol).
  7. Entertainment – They will leave a list of entertainment for the following day in a box outside your cabin door or on your bed.
  8. Spa - On the last few days of the cruise, they have reduced prices.
  9. There aren’t too many coat hangers – I take wire ones (from dry cleaning) and leave them after the trip.
  10. Credit Cards – You can use dollars at many of the ports, but if you want to use credit cards at the international ports (Freeport and Nassau) check with your credit card company to see if they charge overseas transaction fees (some credit card companies charge 3% to convert to dollars)
  11. Excursions - I've read some bad reviews on some of the excursions, especially the beach ones. I suggest that you check the weather at the port before booking a beach day excursion. Most of the time they have spots available once you board the ship. For many of them you can't return to the ship if it's raining and sitting in the rain for 4-5 hours isn't much fun. Carnival will also refund the excursion fee (for onboard spending) if you find that their price isn't the cheapest. It's better to book the excursion through Carnival because if there is a delay and Carnival don't know where you are, they might not help you to get back to the ship before departure if you haven't booked through them.
  12. Child Care - There is a wonderful Camp Ocean on the ships for children of all ages.  They do a great job at keeping the children entertained.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield is one of my favorite reads this year. It's different from the books I normally read (cozy mysteries) and does have bad language in it, but he has set his story in what most of us imagine a poor town trailer park and its residents to be.

The Flood Girls is a softball team. Most of them live in a trailer park in the town of Quinn (population 956), Montana. The main hangout of the locals is Laverna's The Dirty Shame bar. Laverna's daughter returns to Quinn after leaving a wake of chaos behind her, her father has died and she befriends a 12 year old boy who loves sewing and sequins. Throw in the volunteer firemen, a few alcoholics, a group of husky women silver miners, and a new church where the women all wear home made blouses of the same Simplicity pattern along with long jean skirts and the story is off to a flying start.

Monday, April 25, 2016


For years I've been collecting certificates and information about ancestors, but it wasn't until recently I started putting it all together. I'm fortunate that on both my mother's and father's side of the family I have cousins who have done extensive research and I have a lot of information from them, but it can become an expensive hobby.

Start by asking relatives for information and ask for any birth, death, marriage certificates they might have. A few years ago, I asked some of my older relatives if they would write one or two pages about their childhood and about family which gave me a look into their lives at the time (and a few scandals).

There are also several places online where you can access information without paying (WikiTree is a good one). Apart from several aunts, I am the first one in my family to move to another country so all my ancestors lived in Scotland or England so my research is a little different from those who may have traveled to the U.S. by boat.

Keep a notebook and make a list of information/dates you are missing.

Top 10 Free Genealogy Websites ~ Teach Me GenealogyOnce you have as much information as you can gather, sign up for the 14 day free trial on Ancestry.Com. If you start inputting information you will get tips that will help you. Also, many members have copies of census pages which you can download/copy without having to pay an additional fee.

Genealogy Programs:
I have found Family Historian a good program to store data and isn't overly expensive, but the charts aren't that great to print and frame.

Also consider a scrapbook to house your memories from relatives and certificates/census pages. At least if you ever lose access to your data you will have it in print.

Have fun and enjoy getting to know some of your long lost cousins. I found someone in a country on the other side of the world who has connections with my family just by doing a Google search for a relative with an unusual name.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Chocolate Cat Caper by Joanna Carl

Chocolate Cat CaperThe Chocolate Cat Caper by Joanna Carl is a cute story and interspersed between the chapters was a little tidbit of chocolate trivia.

From the cover:
After giving up her career as a Texas trophy wife, Lee McKinney finds herself in a Michigan resort town, keeping the books for her aunt Nettie's luxury chocolate business. But she soon discovers that her new life isn't all truffles and bonbons.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Coal Miner's Bride by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

A Coal Miner's Bride is from the Dear America series by Scholastic. This one is by Susan Campell Bartoletti. Each of the books is written in diary form and gives us a glimpse into the life of the young girl.

Anetka Kaminska lived in Sadowka, Poland during Russian rule in the late 1800s. Her mother had died and both she and her brother were living with their grandmother while their father immigrated to America in search of work. He finally sends for his family, but shocks Anetka when he tells her, in a letter, he has found her a husband and as part of the "bargain" the man sends them boat tickets to travel to America. What she finds is a harsh life in a loveless marriage where coal miners were expected to purchase goods only from the "company store." Often they were not paid in money at all but with scrip that could be used to "purchase" from the store.

I like these books because you hear the thoughts and worries of a young girl at a specific time period and it's a great way for readers to learn about the history.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Hearth Tax

Medieval kitchen fireplace © Richard Croft cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph ...I've been researching where my ancestors came from in England and Scotland and have come across some strange records.

While census records have been invaluable they only go back so far. What I came across today was a list of people in Suffolk (only men and widows are shown) in 1674 who were required to pay a Hearth Tax (First Chimney Act 1662). The Act was passed to obtain more money for the coffers of King Charles II.

Be it enacted that from and after March 25, 1662, every dwelling and 
other house within England, Wales and Berwick on Tweed shall be chargeable 
with the annual payment of 2 shillings for every fire hearth and stove within 
such house, to be paid yearly by even portions at the feast of St. Michael and 
the feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the first payment to be paid 
at Michaelmas, 1662. 
Note: Those who are shown as certified means that they have a certificate of poverty and do not have to pay the tax! Deficient means they failed to pay the tax.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Taylor wasn't a dynamic book; there was no mystery to push the story along and no tragedy looming. As described by NPR, it is a domestic story about a family and a house. Although it is beautifully written and her writing is smooth and flows easily, the story wasn't overly enticing.

From the cover:
The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture . . . From Red's father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s to Abby and Red's grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling and lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Miss Dreamsville by Amy Hill Hearth

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth is set in the 1960s in Naples, Florida. I thought Ms. Hearth captured the time period well and by putting together a group of women from different backgrounds, she was able to cover what was going on in the south at the time. Each member of the literary society had dealt with some prejudice or another. Through the books they read, and subsequent discussions, the group find out a little more about each other.
One book, Jackie stated, "describes exactly how I feel - In the second half of the twentieth century in America, woman's world was confined to her own body and beauty, to charming of man, the bearing of babies, and the physical care and serving of husband, children, and home. Priscilla, referred to as negro, (African American) couldn't understand why white women wanted to work outside the home, which is something all her friends and relatives had to do (or take in laundry) to support the low wages their husbands and fathers received.
The book would make a great book club read with lots of discussion.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Food - Acidic vs. Alkaline

Because of our environment and what we eat (processed foods) most of us don't have the correct pH level in our bodies. We tend eat more acidic foods than alkaline (see list here) One suggestion is to drink lemon water first thing in the morning to counteract the differences.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I find that book club reads are rarely ones that I would choose myself, but I've read so many delightful and interesting books through the club and Graeme Simsion's novel is one of those.
The Rosie Project is the story of two incompatible people: Don who is a socially challenged professor of genetics and Rosie, a barmaid.
They meet through The Wife Project in which Don has designed a questionnaire to find himself a partner. Although Don sees from the outset that Rosie is unsuitable, nevertheless he helps her in a quest and they become friends (that's oversimplifying the story, but I don't want to give anything away).
Don has Aspbergers tendancies and Rosie also has "rules" that she adheres to. Don prefers the standardized meal system and has a 7 day plan for meals (his pantry is organized by days of the week) and Rosie only eats sustainable food, making meal time complicated.
While reading the novel, I could almost hear Sheldon Cooper/Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory) narrating it!
This is one of my favorites reads this year.

Note: The Rosie Project movie is currently in development.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything by Nancy Martin

The first thing I noticed about the cover of Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything is that Miss Ruffles resembles my dog Rosco. She has the same personality too.
I first came across Nancy Martin's Mysteries when I read The Blackbird Sisters mystery series and Miss Ruffles is every bit as entertaining. Set in Texas, she gives the characters Texas size personas along with enormous belt buckles and big hair.

I enjoyed the book but there were a few things that didn't tie up nicely for me - spoiler alert

Thursday, March 31, 2016

50 State Reading Challenge Update

Reading challenge update: (Note: the map doesn't correctly show all the states read and has added Hawaii although that box wasn't checked!)
My World Map

If you're joining my in the challenge, let me know and I'll add a link to your blog.

If you're having trouble finding books, look at the list by state here.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Upstream by Melissa Lion

Upstream by Melissa Lion is a young adult book. It's set in Alaska and I was surprised to learn that Ms. Lion doesn't live in Alaska because she captured life and descriptions beautifully and sets the reader firmly on the frozen tundra.
Although the book was short at under 150 pages, she packed a lot in. After witnessing a tragic accident, the main character, Martha has trouble coping and distances herself from people she knows. I won't say more than that as it might spoil the story. Along with an intriguing tale, are tidbits about Alaska. I had never heard of Turnagain Arm or the Bore Tide which is one of the largest in the world. Nor did I know that Alaskans receive Alaska Permanent Fund Checks each year, based on oil revenue.
If you're looking for a book set in Alaska for the 50 State Reading Challenge this would be a good choice.
I was fortunate to find the book at my library on the Friends of the Library shelf where all books are ten cents - a bargain.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Rape of the Fair Country by Alexander Cordell

Alexander Cordell's book is set during the uneasy times in 19th Century Wales when the owners of iron and coal mines were destroying/raping the once beautiful land. I remember reading the book in the 1960s (suggested by our history teacher) and following a family (the Mortymers) during the turbulent times was much more enlightening than studying dates and events in the classroom.
Trade Unions were becoming popular among the British during the Industrial Revolution where working conditions were harsh. In the iron works, men were scalded and maimed, children as young as five were sent to work and the money they were paid was not British tender, but brass coins minted by the owners and could only be used in the company store which itself had high prices. Pay day was at a local pub, also owned by the company and the paymaster was usually late, enticing men to drink a large portion of their paycheck before they received it. The Chartist Movement made demands, hopeful they would have Parliament representation, rather than just rich landowners as members of Parliament:
  • All men to have the vote (universal manhood suffrage)
  • Voting should take place by secret ballot
  • Parliamentary elections every year, not once every five years
  • Constituencies should be of equal size
  • Members of Parliament should be paid
  • The property qualification for becoming a Member of Parliament should be abolished 
Then there was conflict with the Irish who were willing to work for even less money and made striking with the union a useless task and resulted in even lower wages and higher prices at the company store.

You can watch a video from the Heritage and Cordell Museum at Blaenavon here.

I thought of my river, the Afon-Lwydd, that my father had fished in youth, with rod and line for the leaping salmon under the drooping alders. The alders, he said, that fringed the banks ten deep, planted by the wind of the mountains. But no salmon leap in the river now, for it is black with furnace washings and slag, and the great silver fish have been beaten back to the sea or gasped out of their lives on sands of coal. No alders stand now for thy have been chopped as fuel for the cold blast. Even the mountains are shells, groaning in their hollows of emptiness, trembling to the arrows of the pit-props in their sides, bellowing down the old workings that collapse in unseen dust five hundred feet below. Plundered is my country, violated, raped.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith

The Forever Girl was a little different from the famous No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books and had no quirky characters like Mme Ramotswe that Alexander McCall Smith has a gift for creating. It was, instead, a book about relationships, both those of children/teenagers and of their parents. The Cayman Islands give a beautiful and colorful backdrop to the story, contrasted with the dismal skies and gray stone buildings of Scotland. He also gives us insight into living on a small Caribbean island, with its rich residents and poor workers (who mostly come from Jamaica). Although I always like Alexander McCall Smith's writing, I would have liked some of the other characters developed a little more, that of the Jamaican house help for example rather than focusing on the self indulgent rich.