Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Park The Car - The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park

I love destinations where upon arrival a car is not needed until time to leave, where plentiful activities are within walking distance. Such is the case at The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park. Located in rural Pennsylvania between State College and Lock Haven, my wife and I recently enjoyed a beautiful autumn weekend here with a group of friends.

The Nature Inn enjoys the distinction of being the only lodging facility located within a Pennsylvania state park.

The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park

Situated in a mountain valley and near a fresh water lake, the Inn offers spectacular views.

Nature Inn - View from porch

Foster Joseph Sayers Lake

Visitors are within walking distance of a beach, although during this crisp October morning, nobody was daring enough to embrace the cold water!

Brrr. No beach goers in late October.

Besides swimming and sunbathing, the park also offers fishing, organized nature activities, bird-watching, boating (several launch areas and permanent docks), miles of marked hiking trails, and an abundance of well-maintained rest rooms conveniently located throughout.

A delicious hot breakfast is included with lodging at the Nature Inn. During our stay we feasted on scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, sausages, oatmeal, french toast, and potatoes. Healthy choices include a yummy yogurt parfait, fresh fruit, cold cereal, and OJ. Of course, coffee and tea are also available.

Lunch and dinner are not served at the Inn, but guests are welcome to bring their own food and have free use of the outdoor grilling facilities.

Grilling facility and outdoor picnic area

My friends and I grilled steaks, baked potatoes, and carried in salads and snacks. The Nature Inn also offers boxed meals, but they need to be ordered ahead of time. A great value, I could barely finish my scrumptious ham and cheese ciabatta sandwich. Another option, a local restaurant delivers pizza and subs.

The Nature Inn has been awarded the prestigious LEED gold certification for energy conservation. Their website provides an impressive list detailing many ways the facility is green. Some of the attributes not listed that I noticed in our room are automatic shutoff of room lights, a digital display of energy use detailing the carbon footprint during our stay, bulk liquid body wash and shampoo in shower dispensers (prevents waste from unused soap bars and shampoo bottles), and my favorite: toilet paper rolls without a center cardboard spool.

LEED Gold Certification
The sun sets early during October, so our outdoor activities were curtailed after dark. No problem. We made use of the second floor meeting room   actually a library with an impressive collection of field guides   to play cards and board games. Boring, you think? After a long day enjoying crisp, fresh air, I was eager for sedate activities.

Are there bald eagles in Bald Eagle State Park? You bet. This year while hiking I only caught a glimpse of one as it flew by overhead. During a visit last year, I spent a long time observing a nesting eagle through binoculars in a tree on the opposite shore of the lake.

Interested in visiting? I highly recommend you give it a try, especially if you enjoy nature and peaceful solitude. You'll find a friendly, courteous staff who are eager to please and comfortable surroundings. You can find all of the details at their website:

Park the car. You won't need it.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

What is the #1 question that people ask of me?

Whenever people discover that I write novels, they usually ask a lot of questions. I don't mind the questions and enjoy answering, especially if it provides me an opportunity to make a sale! It's been my experience that most people, particularly avid readers, are fascinated with the idea of writing their own novel.

Why do I believe that? It has to do with the nature of their questions. Sure, I get the obvious questions like: What's your novel about? Is it a part of a series? Where can I buy your book? But the questions where people express the greatest passion have to do with the process: How long does it take to write a novel? Where do you find the time? How did you get started? Can you really make money writing? How did you find a publisher?

"Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."
"Tos city-on-the-edge" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

During the course of these conversations, I've had people confess that for years they've held within a deep desire to express themselves in writing. For some, it's the first time they've ever openly admitted it.

God bless these folks, because I was like them many years ago until determination drove me to get started. I hope they take the plunge and wish them much success.

What mystifies me, though, are those who claim that they would like to write a novel but don't know what to write about. It's the most common question that people ask of me:

Where do you get your ideas?

photo credit: Light Bulb via photopin (license)

I don't consider myself to be very observant, just ask my wife! Despite the fact that I would make a terrible detective, every day I stumble upon all kinds of story ideas. For example, during my drive to work one day I saw a good sized fish lying in the middle of a mountain road, far from any stream. How did it get there? Did someone leave it as a sign? Did a giant bird flying overhead drop it from its talons? I don't know for sure if that fish was dead or alive. Maybe it was one of those walking snakehead species that stopped in the middle of the road to sun itself. With just a little imagination that scene could inspire a nifty story.

 photo credit: fp091408-04 via photopin (license)

Even if you live a sheltered life and never set foot outside your house you can get ideas from daily headlines. For example, check out this link keeping with the "fish" theme that might sow the seeds of a horror or sci-fi novel.

Want to write a mystery? Try a variation of this true news article, concerning a doctor who sold babies after telling their mothers that their newborns had died. Terrible. You can't make up this stuff.

Read this sobering report  about the re-opening of Cheyenne Mountain as a precautionary measure to guard against the threat of an electro magnetic pulse. My post-apocalyptic novel, Earthburst, was inspired by this theme.

Want to write the next great military thriller? Consider this report about the Chinese drone army. Is comedy your thing? Read any article published by The Onion for inspiration.

You don't have to be a creative genius to come up with a story idea. Stories exist all around you begging to be told. Choose one and give it try. You might surprise yourself.

photo credit: Girl Writing via photopin (license)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why do we have a strong emotional connection to air crashes?

Statistics tells us that air travel is one of the safest modes of transportation. For example, during 2013, the NHTSC recorded 32,719 deaths from vehicle crashes in the United States while at the same time, the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives recorded 459 deaths from airplane crashes. This latter statistic is worldwide and not just crashes occurring in the U.S.

According to a recent USA Today article, airlines expect to carry 134.8 million travelers during 2015, a figure that I find staggering; I would never have guessed that. Doing some quick math, this puts the odds of being killed in an air crash at around 1 in 300,000. That's not quite as safe as the odds of being struck by lightning which according to NOAA is 1 in 960,000, but it's still safe enough for me to keep flying.

Since airplane crashes are so rare and the results so devastating, these events are decidedly newsworthy and receive deserved attention and analysis. We demand to know what happened, why it happened, what could have been done to prevent the crash, and what steps can be taken to ensure that the same thing can never occur again.  As a result of our demands, both government and industry tend to respond with uncharacteristic speed in implementing needed improvements.

Why do humans manifest such a strong emotional connection to air crashes but give barely a second thought to the much larger number of deaths from traffic accidents? In statistical terms, which represents the bigger tragedy?

I believe the answer lies with the fact that when we step onto an airplane, we relinquish total control of our freedom and place our lives into the hands of complete strangers. We humble ourselves and willingly consent to become prisoners of the crew. We park our butts into cramped, uncomfortable seats and wait for permission to loosen our seat belts and to use our electronic devices. We are told when we can eat and when it is necessary to return our tray tables to their fully closed and locked positions. Most humiliating of all, we must wait until the captain decides when we are allowed to go to the bathroom.

In any other scenario this behavior would be considered abusive, but we put up with it because we understand the high stakes involved and that sometimes safety trumps our personal dignity.

We place our trust in the crew and on the airlines in general that in return for our subjugation they will keep us safe. If the facts reported are true about the crash this week of Germanwings Flight 9525, then the action of Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz represents a gross betrayal of that trust and plays to our worst nightmares of being utterly helpless as an airline passenger. We can imagine being there and can empathize with those poor souls during their final moments. That's why we feel so emotionally connected.

To make matter worse, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr reported that Lubitz was a fairly experienced co-pilot with 630 flight hours and was "100 percent fit" to fly. Apparently, Lubitz's employer disregarded evidence of the man's alleged psychological problems. A black eye for just Lufthansa or an indictment of the entire industry?

Sobering thoughts for the next time you consider flying.

Do you agree with my analysis, or am I missing something here?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What I learned from Leonard Nimoy.

Leonard Nimoy, one of the world's most identifiable actors, passed away on Friday, February 27, 2015 at age 83. I attended a lecture that Mr. Nimoy presented at my college during my undergrad years. This was during the early 1970s. What I remember most from that lecture was how determined Nimoy seemed to distance himself from his role as Spock. After the presentation and during the Q&A, he voiced frustration with the crowd, because most of the questions centered on the Spock character.

When one of the audience members pressed him about being Spock, he accused her of being a Klingon. We got a good laugh at that, except I don't believe he was trying to be funny. I believe he had meant it as a pejorative.

It was clear to me that the man wanted to be taken seriously as Leonard Nimoy and not as Mr. Spock. He also wanted to be recognized for his many other achievements as an actor, director, and writer. I understand this. Don't all of us want to be taken seriously for who we are?

It didn't surprise me to read in a Leonard Nimoy Obituary published by, "In the years immediately after "Star Trek" left television, Nimoy tried to shun the role..."

Nimoy's portrayal of Spock was so iconic that I will forever associate him with that character. Apparently, so does the rest of the world as revealed in these words from the obit, "Although Leonard Nimoy followed his 1966-69 "Star Trek" run with a notable career as both an actor and director, in the public's mind he would always be Spock."

In time, Nimoy accepted his association with Spock and grew to embrace it. Another quote from the obit:

"Of course the role changed my career— or rather, gave me one. It made me wealthy by most standards and opened up vast opportunities. It also affected me personally, socially, psychologically, emotionally. ... What started out as a welcome job to a hungry actor has become a constant and ongoing influence in my thinking and lifestyle."

Whenever someone passes, it provides us all an opportunity to reflect on that person's life and learn from it. Given the Nimoy/Spock duality that dogged this man to the end, we come to realize that everything we do and say impacts how people perceive us. Nimoy could not escape the perception people had of him as Spock. In my opinion, that association was a positive one. As he acknowledged in the above quote, it served him well.

Very few of us achieve the popularity of a man like Leonard Nimoy or his beloved character, Mr. Spock, yet all of us are perceived as a persona of our own making among the circle of humanity we touch.

How are you perceived?

A sobering thought with an implied warning. Beware of what you do and say. It may become forever associated with you.

Live Long and Prosper.

Monday, February 16, 2015

What does the popularity of HBO's Game Of Thrones say about Humanity?

Consider these facts:

Number of countries in the world = 196

Number of United Nations member states = 193

Number of countries viewing the 2015 Super Bowl  = 180

Number of countries viewing HBO Game of Thrones = 193

Should we doubt the veracity of HBO's claim? I don't know, but even if this number is a bit stretched, it would still seem that Game of Thrones is insanely popular. Possibly one of the most popular TV series of all time. It's certainly one of my favorites.

[As an aside, I was curious about which three countries don't watch Game of Thrones? I searched the web but could find no answer.]

In case you aren't aware, the show is based on author George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy saga, "A Song of Ice and Fire," which is currently a five book series.

Makes me wonder, what must it be like for viewers in some of those other countries?

"Faster! Must be in front of TV by Sunday at 9 PM."
photo credit: via photopin (license)

Frightened from watching the show, bush children scan the sky for dragons.
photo credit: Kgalagadi via photopin (license)

Brutal, man, I can't watch this red wedding scene.
photo credit: via photopin (license)

Some other interesting facts gleaned from the HBO documentary, Game of Thrones Season 5, a Day in the Life which speak to the scope of the show.

Number of countries where season 5 is being filmed = 5
The documentary showed scenes from Dubrovnik, Croatia; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Seville, Spain; Osuna, Spain.

Number of sets used for filming = 151

Number of cast members = 166

Number of crew members = approximately 1,000

Number of extras = 5,000

Number of people who applied to be an extra = 85,000

Is it any wonder that the average budget for each episode is reported to be six million dollars. Obviously, HBO wouldn't continue to spend this kind of cash unless it received high ratings which begs the question, why is this show so appealing? What does it say about 21st century humans who are so enthralled with this fantasy?

Let me put it in perspective...

Perhaps the answer lies with the parallel to reality. I won't get into specific examples so as not to spoil things for those who haven't had a chance to watch the show or read the books. If you are already a fan, you'll understand what I'm writing about.

Unlike most stories, Game of Thrones has no leading protagonist and no specific antagonist. The many contenders for the Iron Throne engage in constantly shifting alliances to achieve their ends. Once won, the victor's claim to the throne is always tenuous at best. Can we not see this same thing happening in the real world?

Then there exists the moral ambiguity of the characters. Individuals in the ensemble cast are portrayed as neither all good nor all bad. They struggle with right and wrong from their own unique points-of-view. Morally centered characters often rationalize evil deeds. Evil characters are capable of showing kindness. There is both religious zealotry and moral debauchery. The helpless masses struggle to survive while caught up in the socio-political turmoil. They are just like us.

Game of Thrones is no fairy tale. There is no happily ever after. As viewers, we become attached to charismatic individuals, those with whom we can maybe identify with. Those characters die, or in most cases they are brutally slain. In real life, our dreams sometimes die, too.

Although fantasy, Game of Thrones reflects the larger game of life. No matter our similarities, differences, cultural preferences, or political persuasions we can live vicariously through the made up characters in that world. They allow us to feel comfortable with our own shortcomings.

Do you agree or am I off base? Feel free to comment.

Game of Thrones, Season 5 begins April 12, 2015 on HBO.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Winter Doldrums

Here we are once again in my least favorite time of year aptly labeled the dead of winter. The holidays are over, the super bowl is over, it's always cold, it's always dark, and the groundhog predicts six more weeks of the same. Ugh.

photo credit: via photopin (license)

No wonder the failure rate is so high for dieters this time of year. If we can't be active outdoors what is there left to do but eat? Overeating is one of the classic symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

+ Feel sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious.

+ Lose interest in your usual activities.

+ Eat more and crave carbohydrates.

+ Gain weight.

+ Sleep more but still feel tired.

+ Have trouble concentrating.

How many of these symptoms affect you?

That's not to say that winter is all bad. As a writer, this is my most productive time of year. There are fewer distractions. No yard work, no gardening, no outdoor improvement projects or repairs, and no need to keep the cars clean. The winter doldrums also present unique opportunities other than eating, sleeping, and watching TV. To combat SAD, consider some of these ideas.

1. The activities of your neighbors are also limited during winter, and they have less to do, so why not take the opportunity to get to know them better. Invite them to dinner. If you aren't sure what to talk about, play cards or board games to get the conversations flowing.

2. Learn something. Fewer distractions means more time for continuing education. Want to learn another language? Become better at tying flies? Take up knitting? Winter offers more uninterrupted hours than any other time of year.

3. Go south. We all need a break, so why not take a week or so and travel to warmer climes? Doesn't always have to be Florida or California. Try someplace new. Think outside the box. For example, I've never been to Brownsville, Texas, but I understand it's a nice place to visit with plenty to do. It's located on the southernmost tip of the state near the Gulf (warm and sunny). I'd like to check it out someday.

4. Fitness. Golf courses and tennis courts may be knee deep in snow, but there are plenty of gyms to visit to work off the calories from wintertime overeating. Introverted? Going to a gym not your thing? Buy a treadmill or elliptical machine for your home. Boring? Not if you listen to audio books while working out.

5. Instead of TV, try reading. It's better for your mind, forces you to concentrate, and exercises your imagination. Maybe you don't have the time or funds to travel to a place like Brownsville, Texas, but there are plenty of fascinating books on the history of Texas, if history is your area of interest. What about getting lost in a good novel? I prefer having a good chunk of time in order to stay engaged while reading. No time is better for reading than long, bleak winter nights.

What about it? Are there any other activities that you can suggest for my list? What strategy do you use to combat the winter doldrums?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Negative Interest Rates. Can someone explain this to me?

Would you deposit money in a bank that pays you negative interest? You could argue that with CD rates at 1% and the cost of living increase near 2% that we are already in a negative interest situation. That's not what I'm talking about. I mean real negative interest.

photo credit: via photopin cc

For example: You walk into a bank, hand over a thousand dollars, and the annual rate is negative 1%. Next year you withdraw your money and get $990.00 instead of your original one thousand.

Absurd, you say? That is what Swiss and Danish banks have just started doing. You can read about it here:

Switzerland and Denmark institute negative interest rates.

Or Google: "Swiss negative interest rates"  for many other sources.

The rationale from Switzerland, as best as I can determine, is that the Swiss Franc has become so strong against other world currencies, mainly the Euro, that Swiss exports are too expensive, and it is hurting the Swiss economy. They want to discourage depositors.

Read that again: They want to discourage depositors.

photo credit: kurichan+ via photopin cc

How can banks stay in business if they discourage depositors and have no money to loan? I'm no great financial wizard, but even I know that something here does not compute.

The article referenced above warns that this practice could spread to other countries and eventually to the U.S. I've already started thinking about where to dig holes in my back yard to hide money.

photo credit: Eselsmann™ via photopin cc

This is so upside down that I wonder if those same bankers will start paying customers to borrow money. If they want to loan me a thousand and then have me pay them back $990.00 next year, then count me in!

Seriously, though, can someone explain this to me? I just don't get it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Diet vs. Exercise

Probably everyone who reads this has at one time or another thought about losing weight or getting in better physical shape. Some are self-motivated to do so and can set goals and follow a plan to reach those goals. Some need encouragement.

photo credit: andreskrey via photopin cc

Three years ago I started wearing a Fitbit and set a goal of walking 10,000 steps every day. At first, this was tough, but it became easier after I joined a group of other Fitbit users. We monitor each other's progress and can cheer or taunt via an app. Competition among peers can be a great motivator. My wife who is fiercely competitive kicks my butt every day.

I don't always hit 10,000 steps but have been fairly successful at walking a lot more than I used to. Recently I earned my Fitbit Africa badge for having walked 5,000 miles. It took me three years to do this which averages a little more than 4.5 miles a day. Not bad for an older guy like me, I guess.

So, you may ask, what has been the result of all this exercise? Have I lost any weight during the past three years?

photo credit: Tom Simpson via photopin cc

My problem has always been the other half of the equation. Losing weight takes exercise and diet. I wish it could be exercise or diet. Some of you responded to my recent Facebook post about the maple bacon cheesecake I enjoyed for dessert.

 Could you say no to this?

Maybe if someone would develop an app that would allow friends to compete over the amount of food they didn't eat, I'd have a chance to lose some weight. [Looks at above photo again] Well, maybe not.

What about you? Do you find exercise easier than dieting? Have you mastered both? Let me know. In the meantime, pass me the brownies!

photo credit: Daniele Muscetta via photopin cc

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Get Happy

I tried out a simple, free (and legal) idea about how to become a happier person. As a New Year's resolution, I decided to give my idea a two week trial from January 1 through January 14. I followed only one rule and am pleased to report that it worked well. Today, January 15, 2015, I am a happier person. At least for a little while.

Want to know what I did?

For two weeks I resolved to stay away from all news broadcasts. No TV, radio, newspapers, or Internet with the exception of local weather and traffic. How did this make me feel? Not left out of anything. Not isolated. Not lost in any way.


photo credit: .H0oT. via photopin cc

I avoided the endless stream of negativity that makes up the "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality of journalism. Didn't hear or see anything about terrorist attacks or Ebola or dirty politics or the latest computer hacks.

Of course, terrible things happened during those two weeks. I wasn't trying to fool myself into thinking that avoiding bad news would make evil go away. Life is a struggle, and eventually all of us have to overcome personal, political, and ideological challenges.

What I learned from the experience is nothing bad that happened during those two weeks negatively affected me in an immediate way. My days were more enjoyable not being weighted down and emotionally burdened with so much pessimism. As an added bonus, the extra time gained from not paying attention to the news I used to work on my latest novel.

The next time you're feeling overwhelmed with the world, I encourage you to try a news blackout. If you're too much of a current events junkie and can't bear the thought of being out of the loop for two weeks, try it for a day or two. Just as a vacation refreshes the body and soul. time away from bad news will work wonders for your emotional well being.

If you've already tried a media moratorium I'd enjoy hearing about it. If you're thinking about giving it a try, let me know. Then let me know how the experience impacted you.