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For the Love of Bread

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This summer, I returned from a two week vacation to Nova Scotia and discovered I had  gained six pounds. I complained to my husband, “Honey, I thought lobster was low in calories.”

“Not if it’s prepared in cheese sauce and served over fried potatoes,” he smiled.

Like many dieters, I decided to stop eating bread. After all, it’s those nasty carbs that make us gain weight, right? I knew saying no to bread would be a challenge for me. I routinely ate toast with peanut butter for breakfast. Even so, desperate to drop the vacation weight, I started eating oatmeal instead. Which by the way, I could only manage to consume if I heaped brown sugar on top. Over the next few days I pondered how unnatural it felt to not eat bread.

Bread is the staff of life. It has been around since the dawn of agriculture. Revolutions have occurred over the price of bread.

Bread is multicultural. Mexicans make tortillas, the French are known for baguettes, New Yorkers love bagels, and Greeks eat pita. Bread comes in all sizes, colors, and textures. It can be leavened or unleavened, and made with wheat, rye, oats, or corn.

Bread is a symbol of hospitality. According to scripture, the first Christians gathered for fellowship and the breaking of bread. Bread is so important to life it became the symbol for Christ’s body as part of the Eucharist. How can I give up something of such cultural and spiritual importance?

This morning I measured the peanut butter and enjoyed a little slice of life.

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What Do You Look for in a President?

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Have you decided which presidential candidate you will vote for on election day?  What qualities do you think make a good president?  I examined each candidate according to my own criteria to make my decision.

First, a good president needs to care. He or she must listen to the people he or she serves.  Second, a good president should be trustworthy. Someone you can count on to fulfill the duties of the job. Our president must be a good communicator, since they speak on behalf of our nation. America needs a strong leader who can take appropriate action if our country is threatened.  Temperament is also important. Our president must be able to handle the pressures of the office under stress. As top executive, the president needs to choose competent people for his staff. He or she must be a good delegator of responsibility.  Since our nation is head over heels in debt, we need a leader who will not waste taxpayer dollars. Finally, the best presidents are those who have overcome challenges in their past. They are fighters who do not give up easily.

After considering all of the above qualities, I believe my dog, Buddy, would make a terrific president.

img_5145Buddy cares. He listens to my problems after a bad day.  He can be trusted to come when I call his name. Buddy is a great communicator. He whines when he’s sad and wags his tail like crazy when he’s happy.

Buddy barks whenever he feels threatened. He’s never bitten anyone, but he has the capability to. As far as temperament goes, he’s sweet and calm.

Buddy is a great delegator of responsibility.  When he’s hungry, I feed him. I even pick up his poop for him.

Buddy would never put up with wasteful government spending. He makes sure every crumb I drop is put to good use.

As many of my friends know, Buddy has overcome challenges. In 2013 he suffered from paralysis in his hind legs due to a herniated disc. After surgery, and physical therapy he regained his ability to walk. Buddy is a fighter.

Buddy is my candidate for president. Oh,  I forgot, he’s not on the ballot this year.

Write in?

 

 

Web of Wonder

 

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One September night I noticed this spider web above our back door. The web looked scary. What if the architect dropped in my hair when I walked through the door?  As I looked closer, I appreciated the beautiful way it glistened under our porch light. The spider worked  hard to create a masterpiece. Why should I tear it down? After all, the web snared flying insects before they entered the house.

I strained my eyes to try and find the spider. The web hung several feet above my head. In the center I made out a small orange fuzzy looking ball. If that was the spider, it looked harmless.

I asked my family to take a look. Our daughter was visiting at the time. She knew  the spider was  a spotted orb weaver. “I had one build a web on my balcony,” she said. “I didn’t tear it down because it built an amazing web. It died after a few months.”

For her sake I didn’t disturb the web that night. But after a few more days, I wondered how big this web could get. What if I can no longer get through the door without feeling its sticky threads on my face?

I had an idea.  I’ll gently sweep out the web. The spider will probably stick to the broom. I’ll place the broom in the alley overnight and give the orb weaver a chance to escape without killing it. Then my daughter won’t think  I’m a murderer. I’ll be rid of this problem. I grabbed the broom and quickly carried out my plan before I could change my mind.

The next day I discovered the web was back in the same place. I couldn’t believe it. The spider must have hidden behind the porch light when I swept the web away. In twenty- four hours it rebuilt its web.  Then I saw it. I realized the orange fuzzy ball really did have legs and was scurrying down toward me. Yikes!

 

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I took a deep breath and my fear slowly dissipated. The spotted orb weaver was definitely a master builder. My plan to get rid of it failed.  Why don’t  I just let it be?  So I did for another week…

Until the exterminator came for his routine visit. “How are things?” he asked.

“I only saw one roach this month, and it was lying on its back.” I replied. “But there is a large spider web above the back door.”

The exterminator smiled, “I’ll take care of that.”

After his visit, I didn’t see a trace of the web above the door. I kind of missed the spotted orb, but after all, it was only a spider.

During the first week of October we prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. We expected the worst, and were relieved when Matthew did not make a direct hit on the Florida coast.  Orlando experienced winds strong enough to down trees in the area.

The day after the storm I noticed our porch light tilted sideways. As I looked closer I saw a smaller web hanging between the light and the side of the house.

Unbelievable, I thought. This spider is some escape artist. Its web was swept down. The door frame where it made its home was sprayed with poison. Somehow the spotted orb weaver built another web that withstood forty mph winds.  It will not leave until its ready. So now I wait. Maybe I’ll wear a hat when I go out.img_7704

 

 

Florida’s October Surprise

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Dear Fellow Floridians,

Like many of you, I’ve watched approaching hurricanes with anxiety and dread.  I’ve turned on the local weather every few hours.  I’ve prepared to the degree I can prepare. And like you, I’ve seen storm warnings that didn’t materialize. So as Hurricane Matthew churns its way through the Caribbean Sea, I wonder, what will happen this time?

I remember Hurricane Charlie in 2004. My daughter drove to Orlando when forecasters predicted the storm would make landfall near Tampa. Charlie surprised everyone when it missed Tampa, but passed through Orlando.  We never really know what is going to happen until the storm is closer.  Hurricane Matthew has that same kind of unpredictable nature.

So fellow Floridians, instead of worrying, let’s try to relax and think of positive things associated with hurricanes.  Since we have the opportunity to survive without power, we won’t be dogged by political ads on TV.  Without hot water, or maybe even any water, we can have bad hair days and no one will care. We can have romantic dinners of cold canned food by candlelight. After the storm passes, we can grill all the meat that defrosted in the freezer, and invite our neighbors over. We just need to look on the bright side.

All that wind and rain is good news for roofers. Building supply companies all over the country will benefit.  Downed trees provide work for tree removal companies. Local stores benefit from the sale of bottled water and batteries. A good hurricane can stimulate the economy.

Surfers love the high waves that only a big storm can provide. The storm surge can dredge up sunken treasure from pirate ships. Gold might even wash up on shore. A hurricane can deliver great finds for beachcombers.

Teachers and children love vacation time from school. Power outages encourage old fashioned activities like reading books, drawing, and writing.

During the days prior to a hurricane’s arrival, local weather reporters become big celebrities. This is their time to shine. They  stir up the drama and excitement! Today I tuned into Channel 13 to see a weather reporter predict the wind speeds of Hurricane Matthew for early Saturday.

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I hate to say this, but it looks like we’re doomed!

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Being

 

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Have you ever visited a place you could never forget? For me that place is Long Key State Park.  Located in the Florida Keys,  Long Key is a great place for being. When I say being, I mean a time to live in the moment. It’s an experience marked by feeling more closely connected to the natural world.  When our activities slow from a sprint to a crawl, we can better appreciate all of creation.

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Last October we rented a small RV from Cruise America and spent a few days in Long Key State Park. There, every campsite is oceanfront property. The rhythm of the waves is a constant soundtrack. Gentle sea breezes keep mosquitos away.  Most of the sites are lined with trees to afford privacy from neighbors.  Something amazing happens when you park an RV, get out comfortable camp chairs, and sit down facing the ocean. You don’t want to leave.

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When asked,  “What did you do while you were there?” I responded, “Nothing, and it was the best nothing of my life.” I loved to sit and watch the birds at low tide while they pecked among natural debris to find food. When they flew  away I watched a lone ant marching in the sand. Maybe he was a scout for the rest of the colony.  In the evening I saw the soft glow of moonlight reflect upon the surface of the water. The next morning the sky was ablaze of color as the sun rose above the horizon.   I realized that all of this nothing really was something. The world was full of life but I was always  too busy to notice.  I grew to appreciate the little things.

 

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So why did I need to go all the way to the Florida Keys to be?  That’s definitely food for thought.  For me, being requires several days of low activity and uninterrupted time in the outdoors.  If those conditions are met in a different location so be it. Camping in one place for several days definitely lends itself to being.  As I write this I am saddened to realize my one experience of living in the moment happened almost a year ago.  How ironic to make doing nothing my new goal.

Being is a state of rest that we rarely experience. According to the book of Genesis, after God created the earth, he rested on the seventh day.  I like to imagine God in a state of being. On His day of rest, God saw everything He had made, and said, “It is good.”

When have you experienced being? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Let’s support each other in being more and doing less.

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Football Sentiments

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OSU Band forming script Ohio

Football season is fast approaching. Here’s a little about my background. I graduated from Ohio State University and never attended a game. That has to be sacrilegious. I’m not much of  a sports person. Here’s the rub. I’m married to a guy who is. Especially when it comes to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

It’s Labor Day weekend. This morning I asked my husband, “What are we going to do this weekend?” He responded, “The Buckeyes are playing tomorrow.” Say no more.

For most of our married life, I avoided watching football on TV. I would busy myself around the house or go shopping. If I was home, the sounds of the game made a nice soundtrack for whatever I might be doing. The announcer’s voice became background noise for grading papers.

Once in a blue moon I’d sit down and watch  a championship game. I always had trouble concentrating on what was going on. All I knew was somebody grabbed that football and carried it across the goal line to achieve points. The football was so small and the players seemed so far away. That situation improved with the arrival of our big screen TV.  I can see better, but I’m still confused about the sport.

Last year I made a real effort and watched every  game.  Somehow my husband tolerated my interruptions whenever I asked, “Please explain, what’s going on now?” I really appreciate instant replays.

I would like to be a football fan.  Real fans look like they’re having so much fun. All that cheering and carrying on.  Real fans wear their team’s shirts. They have tailgate parties and eat all kinds of grilled meat. Isn’t that kind of primal? They get pumped up and they stay pumped! The fans stay committed through bad weather and losing seasons.

So I’m planning to watch the Buckeye game tomorrow. The big test is will I really watch, or sit there looking at Facebook on my phone? Go Bucks!

 

 

 

Rhyolite

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The word got out that gold was found.

Near Death Valley, Nevada ground

Miners moved west, eager to see

Beckoned by limbs of the Joshua tree.

News spread quickly, could it be true?

Men staked claims, a settlement grew.

Named it Rhyolite for the rock,

Soon its riches would be unlocked.

For five short years Rhyolite boomed.

Railroads, diners, and dim saloons

Five thousand people called it home.

Signs of progress, only on loan.

Panic traveled throughout the land.

Investors ceased to back the plan.

The rock contained so little gold,

Buildings stripped and materials sold.

The town went bust in 1910.

Quite a loss for wagering men.

Families left, the desert returned.

Seizing remnants of lessons learned.

Between the panes of shattered glass,

Near empty ruins of the past,

Joshua trees still raise their hands

Calling dreamers to the promised land.

 

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A Joshua tree

I wrote the poem Rhyolite after visiting the ghost town which is located near  Death Valley National Park The ruins looked like a war devastated place. Fences and signs were erected to warn people of the dangers. The old buildings  could collapse and the grounds were frequented by rattlesnakes.

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It was hot, really hot, over 100 degrees, but we walked around and saw what used to be the jail, cemetery, railroad depot, and bank.

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railroad depot

I imagined what Rhyolite might have been like in its prime, with people bustling about. Rhyolite was founded in 1904, and grew to a population of five thousand by 1908. The town had electricity and a hospital. Then, after the mines proved to contain very little gold, people moved on. By 1920 the population was zero.  What was it like for those people who hung on as long as they could, to see businesses close, and friends moving away?

I noticed there were a few Joshua trees in the area. Joshua trees inhabit southwestern deserts. They were named by the Mormons, who thought from a distance they looked like a man with his arms raised. The image reminded the Mormons of Joshua from the Old Testament, who after wandering in the desert for forty years, led Israel to the promised land. The sight of a Joshua tree gave the pioneers hope in a better tomorrow.

Maybe the Joshua trees of Rhyolite are calling dreamers to follow a new dream, somewhere else.

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Chasing Memories

 

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Mohican State Forest in Ohio

Camping holds fond childhood memories for me. Our family spent many weekends tent camping in Ohio’s Mohican State Forest. Mom worked most of the day on Friday packing everything we needed. She planned the menu and packed the food, cooking utensils, and camp stove. Dad came home from work at five and we took off.

Once we arrived at our campsite, everybody had a job to do. My little brothers gathered kindling. Dad set up the tent and built the campfire. I carried water and helped wash the dishes. We used tin plates, bowls, and metal silverware, no paper plates or plastic ware for us! Looking back, Mom had the most work to do. Mom was always getting things in and out of the car to prepare meals.

At night we sat near the campfire, roasted marshmallows and told stories. When the fire died down, my brothers and I  crawled into the tent.  We told jokes and giggled until Dad demanded quiet.  Our parents lingered by the glowing embers, and the soft sound of their voices lulled us to sleep. The next morning the tantalizing smell of bacon and eggs prompted me to get out of my sleeping bag and hurry to breakfast.

We took a lot of walks through the campground by the river. Dad  loved to check out other people’s campsites to see what kind of tents or trailers they were using. He dreamed about an upgrade. Eventually he bought a small thirteen foot trailer that we took to the Smoky Mountains.

I’ve tried to get my husband and our children to share my love of camping. Our experiences have been memorable too, but only because they were disasters permanently etched into our minds. We live in Florida, and tent camping in the summer has its challenges. Last August my adult daughter and I spent a weekend camping at Sebastian Inlet State Park.

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Our humble tent in the shadow of an RV at Sebastian Inlet.

The first night was great. We wrapped tilapia and vegetables in foil and roasted our meal in the coals of the fire. A cool breeze kept us comfortable. On Saturday afternoon a horrendous storm forced us to take shelter in the car. Water flooded the floor of the tent.  When the rain slowed to a drizzle, we grabbed our bedding and stuffed it in the back of the car. About an hour later, we laid our felt covered air mattress out to dry in the late afternoon sun. The breeze disappeared and the temperature rose. Wiping the sweat from my forehead,  I discovered our firewood was wet. How would we cook our bean burritos? One of our neighbors came to the rescue  by giving us some special fire starters which ignited the wood.  After dinner I read the warning label on the fire starters, “Do not use for cooking.” Maybe that’s why the burritos tasted weird.  Exhausted from battling the heat and storms, we retreated to our tent after sunset, only to be attacked by sand fleas! My daughter was nursing flea bites for a week afterwards.

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Wandering bison,            Yellowstone

 

When our children were younger, my husband and I took them camping out of state. During a trip to Yellowstone we were apprehensive about our decision to camp after a park ranger told us a herd of bison stampeded through the campground the night before. Contrary to the safety and warmth I experienced as a child, our night in Yellowstone was a night of terror when we heard a bison snort just outside our tent. To our surprise it snowed that night. My husband got up early and built a campfire, but the kids and I refused to shed what little warmth was afforded by our sleeping bags. Maybe our situation would have improved if we had brought bacon for breakfast.

This year my husband and I planned a trip to Canada. We reserved an oTENTik in Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. The park website displayed a photo of a structure with cabin-like walls and a canvas roof. The website suggested we bring sleeping bags, food, cooking utensils, and a cooler. Although there was no cooking permitted in the oTENTik, we could cook in a community kitchen nearby. Since we were flying, we packed our sleeping bags in a suitcase, along with packets of dehydrated lasagna, and a small pan to boil water.

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Our oTENTik

 

When we arrived at Fundy, the oTENTik was clean, equipped with bunk beds, a gas heater, table, and chairs. We walked over to the community kitchen and discovered we needed to build a fire in a wood burning stove to cook.  During the previous week we slept in hotels and dined on delicious Canadian seafood. We had no firewood and forgot to bring matches.  Did we really want to go buy those things to cook freeze-dried lasagna? The town of Alma was only a five minute drive away. So we drove into town, picked up a pizza, and brought it back to our campsite. We really lived off the land. Modern conveniences have weakened my  pioneer spirit. I want to enjoy living in the great outdoors without doing all the work. My experiences with camping as an adult gave me a new sense of appreciation for my parents.

Did I already mention Dad eventually bought a trailer?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret of the Cereus

 

ILWS6012Buzzards glide in a cloudless sky; rock squirrels hurry on the ground.

Lost in the shadow of the prickly pear, the Cereus makes no sound.

A lazy cactus with sprawling stems, supported by kind neighbors,

Watching and waiting for the perfect time,to begin its secret labors.

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Coaxed by one grand sunset, each Cereus bud unfolds.

Delicate white petals, with centers of soft gold.

A fragrance like vanilla, spills forth from every core

luring a local sphinx moth to pollinate…before…

The first light of the morning forever shuts each flower.

Without complaint or question, they meet their final hour.

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The secret of the Cereus, revealed one moonlit night:

Fulfill the maker’s purpose inside the span of life.

Buzzards glide in the cloudless sky; rock squirrels hurry on the ground.

Life resumes in the desert heat; but the Cereus makes no sound.

 

I wrote the poem “The Secret of the Cereus” two years ago. Like many busy people I’ve  complained about how little time I seem to have.  What if you only had twelve hours to accomplish your mission in life? That’s how much time a Cereus has. This flower only blooms one night out of the year. So what is the Cereus doing the rest of the year? Getting ready!

Although the Night-Blooming Cereus can be cultivated in tropical areas, its natural habitat is the desert  of the American southwest. According to Desert USA, the Cereus is rarely noticed due to its plain characteristics. A member of the cactus family, the Cereus grows in the shadow of other desert shrubs. It has sparse, gray, twiggy stems which break easily. These stems can grow anywhere from four to eight feet in length. The Cereus can look like it’s dead, but it isn’t. That’s where the secret comes in. All year it is preparing to bloom!

On that one special night groups of Cereus all bloom at the same time. This event makes it possible for the sphinx moth to cross pollinate between flowers so fruit can be produced. The Cereus produces a red elliptical fruit that is actually edible!

I’ve never seen a wild Cereus in bloom. Tohono Chul Park near Tuscon, Arizona is reported to have the largest collection of night-blooming Cereus in the U.S. The park hosts Bloom Night which is open to the public. Imagine walking at night on a trail in the desert. Above you the sky is filled with millions of stars, and at your feet the path is lined with luminaries. In the distance, the cry of a coyote breaks the silence sending chills up your spine. The air is heavy with the sweet fragrance like vanilla, and then you see scores of beautiful white blooms glowing in the moonlight! Bloom Night is number one on my bucket list!

Of course timing is very important when it comes to witnessing Bloom Night. It can occur anywhere between the end of May and late July. If you go to the park’s website, you can sign up for the bloom watch. You’ll receive emails to notify you of the progress of the Cereus blooms.  It might be something to plan a vacation around, providing you own your own plane!

Ever since I learned about the night-blooming Cereus I try to not complain about a shortage of time. After all, this flower only lives for one night. It accomplishes what it was created to do, at a time when no one may notice, and it never complains. Do you have a destination you have always wanted to visit, or something you would like to witness? Leave a comment and tell me about it.

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Photo of Night-Blooming Cereus, courtesy of an Orlando gardener.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trains, Tracks, and True Colors

IMG_6589The Sunday lunch dishes have been cleared away and my family sits in their assigned seats at the dining room table. Once again, Donovan’s soft familiar voice singing,  “Try and Catch the Wind”  floats through the room. The box is opened, the board unfolded, and the dice is rolled to determine who goes first. We are preparing to play Ticket to Ride USA, a board game created by Days of Wonder. My family just can’t seem to get enough of this game. It’s a weekly ritual.

Each player receives a small plastic bag with 45 train cars and five destination tickets. From the five tickets, they decide which three to keep. During their turn players draw two cards which match color coded tracks on the board. Once you collect enough cards to match the track between two cities, you can place your train on those tracks. It usually takes several turns to build the route on each destination ticket, all of which are kept secret from the rest of the players. Challenges arise when destinations  overlap and your train is blocked by another player’s train. That’s when the whining begins!IMG_6607Every Sunday each family member  uses the same color of train cars.  Like I said, this is a weekly ritual! I will refer to each player by color to protect their identity.  As in most families, each player’s  personality influences the way they perform.  Player Blue is the rule stickler, always at the ready to consult the rule book. Player Red complains whenever she is blocked and suggests we need to change the rules.  Player Red also apologizes profusely whenever she blocks anyone, but I wonder if she really means it. Player Yellow usually keeps more destination tickets than she is capable of completing, and loses more often than anyone else. Player Black takes the most risks, and they usually pan out in his favor! His performance amazes everyone because he is always consulting his cell phone and looking as if he’s not engaged in the game.

The game ends when one player’s train stock is reduced to two cars, signaling one final round for all players. Player Blue is kind of sneaky. He can look like he has a lot of train cars left and then place them all at once on a six space track. It’s a virtual train wreck for the other players who might not be expecting the game to end. To no one’s suprise, Player Black  is usually prepared for the finish, and comes out on top, or at least second. Player Red sighs and says, “I love this game, even if I don’t win.” Meanwhile, Player Yellow grumbles and writes down the winner’s score in our Ticket to Ride Hall of Fame notebook.

During the game, points are scored for train cars as they are placed between cities on the board. Additional tickets can be drawn throughout the game. Since we use the 1910 Expansion, we play the mega game. The mega game awards bonus points for the most number of trips (tickets) completed. Player Black holds the family record for completing 16 trips in one game! The average number of trips for the rest of us is 7. The winner is not known until point values of completed trips are revealed at the end of the game. Incomplete trips are subtracted from a player’s final score.

If you play this game, Game Knight can help you improve. Click on Ticket to Ride then go to strategies. Read how you can decide which tickets to keep, when to place your trains, and how to constantly watch what your opponents are doing so you can block them before they block you.

After losing for many weeks in a row, Player Yellow threatened to quit last Sunday. She was so distraught about losing that she didn’t even score her points at the end of the game! What a sore loser! Like I said, personalities are brought to bear with this game. But one thing Yellow knows is that she will never win if she quits. Yellow is always hopeful. Soon a new player will be moving to Orlando. Player Green will really take our game off the rails!