Friday, July 24, 2015

Seven Million Wonders

Thought for the day:  There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.  [Walt Streightiff]

[courtesy of morguefile]
Do you think kids are more aware of the wonders in the world because they examine things more closely than adults? Nah, I think they just naturally have more leisure time to look, notice, and appreciate. Too many adults are wound up in chores and responsibilities, so noticing the seven million wonders (and then some) of the world kinda gets stuck with a low priority.

Have you ever hitchhiked? In the fifties, and into the sixties, it wasn't at all unusual for people to get from here to there by standing on the side of the road with a hopeful smile and a thumb out, and it wasn't unusual for vehicles to stop and give them a lift, either. Well, there's a somewhat unusual hitchhiker making his way across the united States right now. It's a humanoid kid-sized robot named hitchBOT. This little fella, designed by a couple of Canadian researchers, has already thumbed his way across Canada and Europe, and now, it's California or bust. As of this past Friday, he's making his way from Marblehead, Massachusetts to San Francisco. Like Blanche Dubois, this little dude is reeeeeally relying on the kindness (and curiosity) of strangers, because he's completely immobile on his own.  People have to pick him up, drive him for a ways maybe to do some sightseeing, (Take pictures, I'll bet... wouldn't YOU?) and then prop him up on his kickstand for the next good Samaritan who comes along. (And hopefully, he'll get his batteries recharged along the way, too.) Pretty cool.

Wouldn't it be fun to hitchhike around the world? We could see some of those seven million wonders... on the cheap. Alas, most of us are leery about hitchhiking these day, but how about if we take a look at some of the wonders together? Right here, right now, and definitely on the cheap. Don't worry. Not seven million. Not even close. These are just some of the more unusual things I've come across in my research. Who knows? Maybe you'll find a new-to-you wonder here.

[Wikipedia- credit: Dyhorus]
Okay, let's start with the Great Articulated Elephant of Nantes, France. This remarkable pachyderm is twelve meters tall, eight meters wide, and made from forty-five tons of wood and steel. Even cooler? He walks, and can carry up to forty-nine passengers at a time for a forty-five minute stroll.

[source: wikimedia]

How about this cool-looking place? It certainly hits all the right notes when it comes to originality, doesn't it? This music school/ conservatory, is located in Huainan City, China. You have to scale the steps inside of the violin to get to the grand piano building. Together, they make beautiful visual music.

You like roller coasters? How about this one... located in Yokohama, Japan? (Hang on!)

The Cave Hotel is located in the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa. Judging from the other pictures I saw, people who stay there aren't exactly roughing it. Except for maybe the brave souls who chose to sleep on one of the beds set outside on a ledge. You know, up close and personal with whatever wild creatures might wander by.

Check out this room. Rustic, yeah, but kinda cozy, too, and a little nicer than what Fred and Wilma had, I'm sure. The hotel lobby is reeeeally nice. Cavernous, you might say. And luxurious.

I took this picture at Bok Tower Gardens in Florida a couple years ago. At the time, I wasn't sure what kind of lily pads these were, only that they were the largest I'd ever seen. Turns out, they're Victoria Water Lilies. And as big as these are, they're small in comparison to the Victorian water lilies found in the Amazon River. Those monsters can hold up to seventy pounds!

I used to think I was a bad-ass for walking-running-dancing over the ol' swinging bridge at one of our state parks in Maryland. It was a little scary when someone (usually someone named Smarticus) purposely made the foot bridge rock and roll. But that was nothing compared to some of the Tibetan foot bridges around the world. Check out this one, located in Clavier, Italy. This bridge, one of three suspended over the San Gervasio Gorge, is 470 meters long.

This video gives you a better idea of what it's like to walk over this bridge:

[credit: AFP/Getty]

Obviously, this hanging restaurant in Brussels, Belgium, is intended for high dining. Twenty-two people are strapped into their chairs around a table suspended from a crane 180 feet above the ground. Obviously, it is also intended for high rollers, too. Would you believe it costs $340 a person? No potty up there, either. If someone's got the urge to go, the whole kit and kaboodle has to be lowered to the ground, and everyone has to wait while the needy person uses the facilities. Then they all get hoisted back up again. Impossible for someone to keep a low profile under those circumstances, eh?

If you don't like the idea of dangling from a crane while nibbling on hors d'oeuvres, maybe you'd prefer this. In Toronto, Canada, you can walk hands-free on top of the CN Tower, which is (gulp) a measly 356 meters high...

[wikipedia- credit: Artur Stizelczyk]

The Crooked Forest in Poland is made up of 400 pines, which were planted in about 1930. No one is certain why those trees have such sinuous trunks, but they sure are neat-looking.

[wikipedia- credit- Arnault]
Unlike the so-called Pink Forest in Ireland, which a photographer achieved through the use of Photoshop, Lake Retba in Senegal really IS pink, and its startling color is caused by bazillions of salt-loving algae. The algae's pink color offers it some protection from the intensity of light reflecting from the salt, and depending on weather conditions, the shade will vary, but it is always some shade of PINK.  Not only does this water post no health hazards, it's actually an anti-oxidant, and is used in some dietary supplements. Just the thing to make people feel... in the pink.

[Wikipedia- credit: Reinhard Jahn]
The Iquazu River forms the border between Argentina and Brazil, and there you'll find the Iquazu Falls, which are such an amazing sight, when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt saw them, she allegedly said, "Poor Niagara!" Indeed. Niagara is only about two-thirds the size of these falls, which range from 60-82 meters high, (197-269 feet) and 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles) wide, with 275 (!) individual drops. Yowza. That must really be something to see. And hear. (Muffs might be helpful.)

I don't think you'll need those muffs in here. It's probably eerily quiet until someone speaks. This is the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand. Mosquito-sized glowworms turn the cave into a magical wonderland.

[credit: Bruce hood]

It's just a short hop (kinda sorta) from New Zealand to Australia, so let's check out this Floating Forest while we're in the area. Let's just say the twentieth century shipwreck of the SS Ayrfield has grown in unexpected ways.

[wikipedia- credit: TerjeN]

Next stop... Norway, where we can hang out for a little while at Trolltunga Rock. (You aren't afraid of heights, are you?) See the teeny tiny people (relatively speaking) standing on the ledge? Kinda looks like the mountain is sticking out its tongue, which makes sense. Trolltunga means... troll's tongue. 

[wikipedia- credit: Myroslava Rakovets]
For a cozy escape from the wide open spaces and dizzying heights, how about a stroll through the Tunnel of Love in the Ukraine? It's five kilometers long, and a favorite place for peaceful walks. It's actually a tunnel for an amusement railway. I don't know if the railway is still active, but I, um, hope not, seeing as how people like to take romantic walks there. Nothing very romantic about running for your life from an approaching train.

[credit: Olivier Grunewald]

I saved my favorite for last, so we can stay a little longer to admire it before heading back home. This is the Dallol Volcano in Ethiopia. What vibrant color! Although some people claim it has blue lava, that isn't the case. The lava from this volcano is the same fiery color as any other lava. The electric blue color is caused by the combustion of deadly sulfuric acid. It must look absolutely amazing in person. (Might have to wear a gas mask, though.)

Okay, that's it. Have you seen any of these places in person? What's the most unusual place you've visited? Any unusual places you want to visit? Whether you're going someplace amazing and exotic this weekend, or staying close to home, I hope you see lots of wonders.

The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.  [Ralph W. Sockman]

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.  [William Blake]

Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: thus is your time on earth filled with glory.  [Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn]

                                           Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Some of Our Favorite Minions

Thought for the day:  The reason we grandparents get along so well with our grandchildren is we have so much in common. The kids are enjoying their first childhood, and we're enjoying our second. 

L to R: Jaiden, Devyn, Aaron, their cousin McKenzie, and Kymber

As always, we had a super-duper time with our grandchildren this past weekend. Among other things, we share a common appreciation for the very best in sophisticated potty humor, general silliness, and... the Despicable Me movies. We especially love the minions. So, natch, we all piled into two cars on Saturday, and ventured out to see the Minions Movie. 

In addition to the five cuties in the picture, our group also included our son, daughter-in-law, and her thirteen-year-old sister. Oh, and Smarticus and me. To tell the truth, Smarticus and I were somewhat dubious about the wisdom of trying to see this movie the day after its release... and on a Saturday, yet. I had visions of what Saturday matinees looked like back in the fifties... you know, with hordes of rowdy kids making lots of rude noises, while throwing candy and popcorn at each other. (Wet root beer barrel candies reeeeeally stick well in hair... or (ahem) so I've heard...) But no. Our son was right, and we were wrong. The theater wasn't even all that crowded. And I must say, the kids who were there were very well behaved. So we really enjoyed ourselves. It's a super fun movie, and when I asked Aaron afterwards what his favorite part was, he said, "The whole movie!" So there ya have it. A two thumbs up from the Swiderski clan.

And now, while I continue in catch-up mode, how about a re-run?  The following post originally ran in October of 2012 under the title, Never Too Old to Play.


Thought for the day:  It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.  [Margaret Mead]

We can never be young again, but doggone it, that doesn't mean we can't enjoy our second childhood. As many a psychiatrist has said, it's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to us.

Even the ol' pessimist Fredrich Nietzsche said, In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.

And Plato said, Life must be lived as play.

Jeez Louise, who are we to argue with those guys? I mean, they were two seriously smart dudes.

So play we must.

Let's investigate our capacity for fun, shall we? Do you have any toys left from your childhood? I only have a few.

It was pretty much the standard in our extended family to pass toys around. Whatever toys I received from my older cousins, I'd later pass on to the younger ones, so I was really surprised to come across this little china tea cup in my parents' house when we were cleaning it out after my father died. As far as I know, it's the only piece remaining from the tea set I played with as a little girl. I don't exactly play with it anymore, but it makes me smile every time I look at it.

This is the only original toy I've kept in my possession since childhood. My aunt made the pouch in about 1954 or so, and my ball and jacks have resided in it ever since. At one time, some of the jacks were brightly colored, others were shiny, and the ball actually bounced. (Now the ball kinda goes THUD.)

These little China dolls were sent to me in the late '50s by military friends who were stationed in Japan. The dolls sat on display  in my mother's china cabinet for years, and over time, the elastic bands holding the arms and legs gave up the ghost. About twenty-five years ago, my father replaced the bands, and my parents sent the dolls to me as a Christmas surprise.

Okay, second question: Since you've been an adult, have you ever bought a toy for yourself?

I did.

What can I say?

I fell in love with Alf.

Okay, here's another one for you. Have you ever bought a toy for your child or grandchild because you wanted to play with it? Boy, oh, boy, have I ever! I could hardly wait for my kids to be old enough to play Stratego, to build models, and to create magic with an erector set. Reading my favorite children's books to my kids and grandkids is even more enjoyable than it was when I read them for the first time as a child.

Does anybody still buy you toys?

Smarticus and I usually give each other fun little gadgets to play with, because we're both overgrown kids at heart. But my favorite... my absolute favorite toy he ever got me is this:

Can you believe it???? It's a genuine original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Bubble Bomber!!! Woo HOO!

Every time I saw the commercial for this toy on TV, I went nuts for it. Kept telling my hubby how I wished our kids were younger so we could buy it for them. (Right.) And ta-DA, he gave it to me for my birthday! (Can that man take a hint, or what???)

It is the coolest thing ever! You put in soap solution and a little bit of cooking oil, which warms up, so when you release a bubble bomb, it's filled with smoke. The bubble hits the ground, goes POP, and out comes the smoke. It's probably been close to thirty years since he gave it to me, and I still love it. It is still the coolest toy ever. (One of these days, I suppose I should let the grandchildren play with it...)

                                                    Okay, one last one to show you.

Isn't he adorable? When you squeeze his belly, he wolf whistles, and says, "I go bananas over you."

                                              Your turn. Tell me about your toys.

A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who doesn't play has lost forever the child who lived in him and who he will miss terribly.  [Pablo Neruda]


Oh yeah, I've got a really neat jump rope, too, and a couple hula hoops. Last time I jumped rope with some of the grandkids, I fell on my arse. I thought it was hysterical, but my son and husband were mortified. Said I couldn't play anymore.

Think that'll stop me from playing next time ...?

Oh, no, no, no. I'll just be more cautious.

                                    Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

                                                I will not play tug o' war.
                                                I'd rather play hug o' war.
                                               Where everyone hugs instead of tugs,
                                               Where everyone giggles and rolls on the rug,
                                               Where everyone kisses and everyone grins,
                                               And everyone cuddles, and everyone wins.
                                                             [Shel Silverstein]


One last thing. I thought you might like a simple summer recipe. I used to cook and cut up chicken breasts to make this salad, but this time, I picked up a rotisserie chicken on sale. Smarticus and I ate the wings and legs so it couldn't get away, and then I cut up the white meat. (Reserving some, of course, for our resident felines.)

To the cut-up chicken, add cooked pasta. Small shells, elbows, whatever. Add chopped celery, chopped onions, and halved grapes, both red and green, as well as canned mandarin oranges, mayo, and curry powder to taste. It's simple to make, and reeeeeeeally good. It's also tasty when made with shrimp instead of chicken. Heck, I'll bet it's even good without any meat at all...

(If you're interested in the actual recipe with actual measurements, let me know. I'm sure I must have the original recipe around here somewhere...)

                                      Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, July 10, 2015

On the Side of Miracles

Thought for the day:  There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.  [Albert Einstein]

So which kind of person are you... one who believes in miracles, or one who doesn't? One who sees the wondrous beauty of life and creation itself as miraculous, or one who believes everything can be easily explained by mere logic and scientific laws?

If you don't believe in miracles, perhaps you've forgotten you are one.  [author unknown]

Me? I'm on the side of miracles. Not that I don't believe in logic and scientific laws, mind you, but some things fall too far outside of my box of expectation to be explained away by simple logic or law. Like the little 18-month-old girl from Utah I read about earlier this year. She survived for more than twelve hours hanging upside down in her car seat after her mother's car skidded off the road and into a river. Police officers and firefighters claimed a mysterious voice called to them from the vehicle, saying Help me!  Not a child's voice, they said. Not the mother's voice, either, because she died on impact. But because of that voice, they kept working in the frigid water, and were able to rescue that miracle baby, who later fully recovered. There are many other tales of miraculous medical recoveries, of people awakening just as they are about to be declared dead, after an hour or more of attempted resuscitation. Of malignant tumors that miraculously... disappear. Of all sorts of wondrous things and instances of serendipity that defy explanation. Some people only believe in the miracles as described in the Bible. Some don't even believe in those. I'm more liberal. I watched one of my grandchildren push her way into the world, and although I could give you a medical and scientific explanation of how she came to be... I still see her birth and the beautiful child she is as a ... miracle.

 The word miracle comes from the Latin mericulum, a form of mirari, meaning to wonder, and I don't know about you, but the longer I live, the more wonders I see in this old world of ours. And the more grateful I am to be here to see them. Where there is great love there are always miracles. [Willa Cather]

So what's all this talk about miracles, you ask? Well, it's actually a roundabout way of introducing a brand new book by the lovely TB Markinson. Just released this past Monday, it certainly isn't a miracle that she's written another book, because this talented gal is some kinda prolific, but the word miracle is in the title...

                                                        Wanta see the gorgeous cover???

                                                                I know. WOW, huh?

                             Tagline: To secure a loving future, she must shed an addicting past.

                                                      Intrigued? Here's the blurb:

Newspaper publisher and world traveler JJ Cavendish continually feels pressured to live up to her Miracle Girl nickname. Not many people know she's living a carefully crafted lie. She may not hide her ties to the LGBT community, but she does hide past struggles with addiction.

When the Colorado native is handpicked to take the helm at a dying Denver newspaper, she ends up reconnecting with her long lost love in this contemporary lesbian romance. Only there's a catch. If JJ fires the most belligerent editor at the paper, she risks losing the love of her life.

Mid-afternoon office romps abound in this romantic comedy while also focusing on what it takes for a newspaper to remain relevant in this age of social media.

Must JJ lose everything in order to gain a life more fully her own?

I haven't had a chance to read this book. Yet. But I plan to read it, because TB's books are always well-written, touching, and about universal themes anyone can easily relate to. And this one is a romantic comedy! A romp! Sounds like fun.

Expectancy is the atmosphere for miracles. [Edwin Louis Cole]
(Pssst! I'm expecting this to be a really good book!)

A miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love.  [Marianne Williamson]

God gives miracles to those who believe, courage to those with faith, hope to those who dream, and love to those who accept.  [author unknown]

I'm gonna be away from the computer for a while. Gonna (woo HOO!) be spending some time with some of our grandchildren, including the not-so-little-anymore cutie I watched enter this world. But fear not. As Arnold Schwartzeneggar said... I'll be Bach. 

                               Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.