Friday, October 6, 2017

Road Tripping

For the last four years, we have traveled west for two weeks at a time, logging in anywhere from 3500 to 5500 miles. While I love traveling and look forward to making more trips when we move into retirement, there are a few observations I’ve made and tips I’ve garnered while on those journeys. This last time, I jotted a few of them down, as much to remind myself next time around as to pass them on to anyone else who may be contemplating a many-mile road trip.

1)      Always, always bring water and/or other non-sugary drinks with you rather than rely on stopping and buying them, at least for the first day or two. Unsweetened ice tea works pretty good for me when I get tired of just plain water. Staying hydrated when you’re sitting for hours is a good thing for many reasons. I have to admit, though, I really enjoy the Coke with lots of ice at the first McDonalds along the way.

2)      Never pass up the opportunity to stop at a rest area, because the next one might be 60 miles away. (And after drinking all that water/tea/whatever, you’ll need to stop frequently!) Getting out and stretching avoids muscle cramps and road fatigue and gives your eyes a rest. In some states (like Iowa), we’ve found rest areas are not far apart. In others (South Dakota, I’m talking about you), not so true.

3)      Don’t bypass the scenic lookouts you see along the way. Who knows if you’ll pass this way again? You will learn a lot about a particular area if you just stop and have a look at Points of Interest.

4)      Have a planned route in mind, but be willing to vary from it if you have the time. A side jaunt we made while driving through Nebraska (another long state that can rather bend your mind) was to go north to see the Scottsbluff area and Chimney Rock. It only set us back a few hours and turned out to be someplace very scenic that we’d never visited before. Plus, they had lots of books at the visitor center.

5)      Visitor centers are a rich source for information, sites of interest, and did I mention books? The folks who staff them are usually friendly and willing to talk about their area and answer any questions you may have. They’ll tell you the best places to eat, where to get pizza, and when places open and close.

6)      Maps, tour books, pamphlets and brochures will proliferate overnight, on their own, and without your permission. They will soon take over your vehicle. I’ve tried to limit myself on what I pick up, but they often just jump into my hand and insist they go with me. Using my phone has helped reduce some of the paper, but there truly is nothing like looking at a real honest-to-goodness map. I’ve learned how to fold them so I only see what I need to for a few hours. By the end of the trip, they’re often well-worn and have served their purpose.

7)      Sometimes you just need to get off the Interstate if you want to see America. In doing so, you may give up the nicer motels and chain restaurants, but you’ll see how other people really live, good or not.

8)      Keep a log or journal of what you saw, where you stayed, what you did. Even if it’s just a few lines jotted down at the end of the day, it’s fun to look back later and remember the trip with more than photos.

9)      Speaking of photos; take lots. Take more than one of the same thing. You can always go back and delete. Post some on social media as you travel. It’s another way of keeping track of where you’ve been.

10)  Last, but not least in any way, make sure the companion/spouse/friend/kids/pets you are traveling with are people you can spend hours with, in close spaces, for days at a time, without wanting to strangle them. Okay, I confess, the strangling part does enter your mind about day three. I’ve traveled with all of the above, and it’s hard to remain in a good mood all of the time when you just want to get the heck someplace where you don’t have to leave for a couple of days. Traveling with kids and pets deserves its own list of tips, and since our kids are grown and we’ve opted to leave the pets at home, we didn’t have to worry about that. But I do have a long memory for how we coped with them.

For myself, the destination has been very worth the journey, but to stay sane you want to make the journey as pleasant as possible, too. Meltdowns will occur, and the best way to overcome is to remember that we all get tired and frustrated (especially when you realize you’ve driven 50 miles in  the wrong direction), but some of the worst times become the ones we laugh about even years later. The last place we stayed on the trip home, the motel clerk said, laughingly, that he couldn’t count the number of couples who check in, saying, “Just give us two beds. Doesn't matter what size. I’m not sleeping with him/her tonight.”


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

It was a day when we felt joined by something so far beyond us, we couldn’t help but pause to observe it in awe. After months and weeks of listening to sad, fearful and appalling news, it was something that brought people together in a good way and gave us a chance to dwell on an event over which we had no control. Yet, it seemed to bring joy and a feeling of camaraderie with the entire country. Even if you weren’t in the path of totality or weren’t able to watch it in person, you probably saw it unfold on TV or the Internet. Solar Eclipse Day 2017, when the shadow of the moon swept across the heartland and many people stopped to look up (with the proper eye protection!) and to appreciate a most magnificent display of celestial beauty. I dare to say nothing we could produce here on earth could rival the show the sun and moon managed to put on for most of the afternoon, and we didn’t have to buy tickets to attend.

Watching people’s reactions to the eclipse was almost as much fun as the event itself. Many who traveled hundred, even thousands, of miles seemed more than willing to put up with crowds and inconveniences for the chance to see the moon blot out the sun. How good to know we have not gone beyond the ability to appreciate such a natural event. People even applauded at the peak and when the diamond effect beamed sunlight past the moon’s rim.

Where I live, we experienced about an 80% eclipse and that was quite amazing. Clouds threatened to blot out the sky, but at the moment of the most coverage they added to the eerie, hazy gray light cast by the sliver of sun.

I’m sure the towns and communities that were in the path of the eclipse are happy and relieved it is finally over, after a summer of so much hype, but a takeaway lesson for everyone might be to appreciate what is beyond us, and to let it take us out of ourselves, if even just for a few moments. Let the summer of ’17 go down as the one when, for a few hours, we looked up.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

New Release by Patricia Kiyono!

 Today I'm helping author Patricia Kiyono celebrate her newest release. Patricia writes sweet romance stories, and this one sounds like a winner. I love the cover, too! Please read on to find out how she did some very special research for her book. Let's give Patricia and her book a warm welcome.

The Road to Escape by Patricia Kiyono

Book One in The Escape Reunion Series, a multi-author project



After I signed on to write the opening book of the Escape Reunion series, I started brainstorming conflicts for my main characters. The hero was relatively easy – he was a widower who’s struggling to keep his alpaca ranch going all by himself. His wife’s death ten years earlier caused him to alienate his children, and his feelings of guilt prevent him from forming a relationship with another woman.


The heroine was more difficult. Originally, I thought to give her a phobia I possess – my complete abhorrence to animals. All animals. I don’t mind looking at them, but I cannot touch them. What greater conflict for a woman with this malady than to start a relationship with a man who lives and works with animals? Of course, I eventually discarded that plan, because I honestly couldn’t figure out how to resolve that conflict. Twenty years ago, I nearly left my entire family when hubby and the kids brought home a Bichon Frise. Try as I might, I couldn’t come up with a believable scenario to make an animal-phobic woman agree to marry a rancher – unless the rancher gave up the ranch, but then that wouldn’t be cool if he had to give up his livelihood for her.


Anyway, once I got my conflict in order, I started my research. But there’s only so much one can learn from reading articles online, watching YouTube videos, and talking to people. In order to get a true feel for alpaca ranching, I had to spend time on an alpaca ranch. So I started corresponding with a few local experts, and finally drove out to Blendon Pines Alpaca Ranch in Hudsonville, MI. Fortunately the weather was relatively cool, so I wore jeans (so stray kittens and smaller critters wouldn’t touch my legs), long sleeves and a jacket (in case I brushed up against an alpaca), and gloves. I got out of my car, wondering how silly I’d look if I covered my head with a ski mask.


Fortunately, the inhabitants of her ranch were friendly, but not overbearing. In other words, they didn’t try to touch me. And Lynn Scholten showed me around, answering my many questions about her daily routine as well as the current challenges alpaca farmers face. Hopefully, I depicted the profession accurately in The Road to Escape.


Author Bio:

Patricia Kiyono was born in Japan and raised in southwest Michigan, where she lives with her very tolerant husband, near their five children, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Her first career was teaching, which she still does part-time at a local university. In addition to writing, she likes to sew and scrapbook. She also loves to travel, always on the lookout for special locations and historical details for her books.



Tom Cooper left his high-pressure law practice in Indianapolis for life on an alpaca farm in the tiny northwest Indiana town of Escape. Though he continued to practice law, the farm provided a good life for him, his wife, and their four children. But when his wife died, grief consumed him and the children all left. He’s resigned to doing things alone, but a disturbing medical diagnosis could change things.


Laurie Matthews left her nursing job in shame. The town of Escape has welcomed her, and she now owns the local diner. She’s attracted to the handsome widower who comes in for coffee and a hot meal, but keeps her distance, because everyone she’s ever loved has died – her grandparents, her parents, her husband, and one other.


A romantic relationship isn’t on the agenda for either of them, but when the diner falls on hard times, Tom steps in to help, paving the way for them both to escape the loneliness in their lives.



Memories of his children filled his thoughts for the rest of the drive to the Cooper Alpaca Ranch. He pulled into the driveway and drove past the house toward the barn. Maybe some hard work would take his mind off his worries.

Opening the wide barn door, he let his eyes adjust to the light inside. The large door opened to an aisle with stalls on each side. His grandfather had raised horses, but when Tom inherited the farm and converted to alpaca ranching, he’d put additional doors on the sides of the barn so that the animals could easily go outside. Like on most alpaca farms, the females were kept separate from the males and met only for breeding. On this crisp spring day, only a few females remained inside. He shooed them out, locking them into the female pasture. Then he got a wheelbarrow and cleaned out the barn floor, taking the alpaca beans outside to the manure pile.

Working on his chores calmed his mind, and his mood lifted.


The Road to Escape can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Kobo.


Patricia Kiyono can be found on Amazon and at her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest. 




Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Long and Winding Road


                Honeymoons are supposed to be a romantic time, right? A chance to get away and have fun before settling into the routine of married life. I guess we must have somehow missed that memo when we started out on ours. Of course it might have had something to do with being twenty years old and not really having a clue what we were getting into.

                It began 45 years ago, June 17, 1972, when the two twenty year olds headed north for that fabled few days of R&R. The first night we spent not in a honeymoon suite, but in a cabin in the woods, with no running hot water. It was the family cabin, and I’d been going there since I was 12 years old, but…..we got lost on the way, because I was sure I knew how to take the short cut. Ha ha. By the time we got there it was late and since we were in the middle of the Manistee National Forest, miles from the nearest restaurant, we made our own dinner, a packaged spaghetti dinner, courtesy of Chef-Boyardee. It was wonderful, or maybe by that time we were just starving.

                The second leg of our northern journey found us in Wilderness State Park, where summer had yet to begin. I remember struggling to set up our tent on the shores of Lake Michigan while the wind tried mightily to take it away. But we were seasoned, determined campers and we finally won out. The next day we set off on the ferry for Mackinac Island. Having never been there before, I was really excited, until the waves got the better of me. Saying the lake was rough that day is an understatement. I recall seeing kids, who had been on the upper level of the deck, coming inside soaking wet. Well, that took care of thinking maybe getting some air would alleviate my increasing nausea. It really helped a lot when my new spouse turned to me and said, “You do look a little green.” Lovely. On top of it, someone had parked their baby stroller in front of me, so even if I'd needed to make a mad dash to the railing, I would have had to climb over the baby block. Thanks goodness we reached the island before that became a necessity, but then I spent the entire day worrying about how I was going to get back to the mainland without going through the same ordeal.

                I will admit the island was beautiful, and in those days anyone could enter the Grand Hotel and look around the lobby and wander the long veranda without having to pay. Considering their dresscode, I’m amazed two young hippie-looking kids didn’t get kicked out, just based on their clothes. I don’t remember what else we did that day, besides eat fudge and think about the trip back. Thank goodness by the time we did board the return ferry, the wind had died down and the lake had calmed, and we were able to ride on the upper deck. It was such a relief.

                Driving across the Mackinac Bridge was another new experience for me, and it’s hard to imagine that bridge was only fifteen years old at the time. We camped in Newbury, where folks said to watch out for the bears. New husband assured me they would be no problem. I was certain I heard one sniffing outside the tent that night. While making dinner on the campstove (spaghetti again!) one bruin did run through the campground with an entire entourage of campers following with their cameras. I watched the parade shaking my head at their foolishness. Then the bear turned and stopped to sniff the air, undoubtedly he’d caught scent of my spaghetti sauce. Figuring my safety was more important than dinner, I made a quick leap into the car. After a few minutes, new husband stopped whatever he was doing to look around for me and seeing me in the car asked what the heck I was doing in there. I pointed to the bear who was still within sight. He shrugged. Okayyyyy, better he gets you than me. Needless to say, neither one of us was eaten by the bear.

                But I did get chewed up by something much smaller when one night the weather finally turned warmer and we left the flaps up on the tent windows. Much to the delight of the neighborhood no-seeums. Have you ever seen a no-seeum? Well, I hadn’t either and even when I woke up to find a rash of tiny little bugs floating in front of my face, I wasn’t sure I was really seeing them. But I felt them, that’s for sure, to the tune of probably a hundred tiny red bites all over my face and arms. Boy did they itch! A trip to a local drugstore garnered me an oily lotion that was supposed to help with the itch. It didn’t, but I dutifully smeared it on and then for most of the rest of the trip all I could say was, “Don’t touch me.”

Honeymoons are supposed to be trips to remember, and I guess mine was, too, but no wonder these are the things that stand out in my mind whenever I think about it. Maybe I could have titled this post, #thehoneymoonfromhell, but in reality it was the beginning of a long and winding road that has taken us down many different paths with many lessons learned.

This weekend, 45 years later, we are making another trip north, to Mackinaw City, but this time I’m opting for a hotel room where I hope to be safe from bugs and bears, and I’m going to try not to eat any spaghetti!


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Where Have All the Young Girls Gone?

          As a child of the fifties and sixties, I was a fan of folk music and I remember well the verse from Where Have All the Flowers Gone? that asked where have all the young girls gone? The answer then was they’d married soldiers, everyone. Today the answer very well might be, to the booksellers, everyone.  

          I began to notice the proliferation of the word girl in the titles of books a few years ago. It might have started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and then went on to Gone Girl and the immensely popular book and movie, Girl on a Train. Now, in a recent search on Amazon, I came up with a long list of books with the word girl on the cover. Here are just a few:  The Girl Who Lied; Girl on a Wire; Girl in Disguise; Girl in the Glass; The House Girl; The Girl Before; The Girl in the Ice; The Girl in the Garden; Bond Girl; Geek Girls Unite; Girl Undone; Girl Unbroken. Hardly a day goes by that the emails I receive informing me of new releases or books on sale doesn’t have at least one title with Girl-something in it. It makes you wonder, are authors purposely writing books that can easily use girl in the title?

          Having also grown up in the era of the women’s liberation movement, I remember when the moniker girl was frowned upon and even considered a sexist way of referring to someone of the female gender. No one wanted to be called a girl! It was I am woman, hear me roar, or it was nothing. So when did girl once again become acceptable? Maybe when women figured out it was okay to say the word girlfriend? Because who wanted to say “my lady or my women friends” when that made us sound…hmmm… older?

          The truth is most of us don’t mind another female calling us girls, but it can still be considered a putdown when a man refers to “the girls in the office,” or “all the girls I’ve known before.” How girl became popular in book titles is a mystery, except that I’m sure it has something to do with another familiar word, especially in the publishing world, Marketing. Because if one book with girl in the title sold, why wouldn’t 25? It’s an interesting concept, writing a book around a title, and I wonder how many bestsellers actually started out as just a title? Did Margaret Mitchell think of Gone with the Wind and then write the book? (Actually, I think I remember reading that she wanted to call it Tomorrow is Another Day.) If it were published today, maybe it would be called Girl of Atlanta or Scarlet Girl. And just how many titles can they continue to come up with that include girl? I guess as many as will continue to sell. There is even an HBO TV series called simply Girls that has a big following.

          In a way, it’s kind of nice that girl has been elevated to book title status and is no longer thought of as derogatory or even an outright dirty word. Nice that more main characters in books and leading roles in movies  and TV are female. Because, seriously, the older you get you start not to mind being called a girl.  



Friday, January 13, 2017

Confessions of a Christmas Movie Junkie

While I meant to post this a few weeks ago, I don’t think it’s too much past the holiday season to put it out there now. Because I just took my Christmas tree and decorations down this week, and I see a tree still up in my neighbor’s window across the street. So it’s not so far out of our radar just yet.

They’re all done now. Gone back into the vault until about the end of October when they’ll be trotted out again for our viewing pleasure. Some people love them, some hate them (like my other half), but they have become a regular on TV in the last waning days of the year. I’m talking about the deluge of Christmas themed movies that emerge and monopolize certain channels before we’ve even eaten the first bite of Thanksgiving turkey. I have to admit, I’m a bit of junkie when it comes to watching them.

People who can’t abide watching all these Christmas movies complain 1) there are too many; 2) they’re all alike; 3) the characters are all too squeaky clean. While the haters may be right on all three accounts, it’s for those very reasons that I watch as many as possible in those weeks before the holidays. They are my go-to movies when I can’t abide reality TV or the news anymore. This season especially they were a comfortable place to fall when a lot of other things in life seemed determined to drive me nuts.

I have to wonder if the people who hate Christmas movies the most have even given them a chance. Because when you really get into watching them, you will find they 1) aren’t all that much alike, and 2) they usually involve people who are dealing with some very real problems. A few of the movies I watched included single moms who needed a place to stay with their kids; a family dealing with the loss of a son in the military; a corporate person sent to deal a blow to a struggling family business; a woman left with amnesia after an accident, who is taken in by a local widower and his family and the town. Okay, so maybe that last one stretched the imagination a little bit, but I was able to suspend disbelief, and it was a cute story. The best part is, they all had happy endings. Someone once asked me, why do you write stories that don’t reflect real life? I beg to differ that they do reflect real life, but my reply was, there is enough real life in real life. Let us have a few books and movies that give us what we all want—a happy ending. In today’s world, we all can use a little of that.

So I was sad to see those feel-good movies go, but then come to think of it we won’t have to wait till next fall to see them again, because there is always Christmas in July! I guess there is nothing like watching the snow fall on TV while turning up the air-conditioning in your house.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

            From as early as I can remember, I bought into the cowboy myth. Being a child of the 50s, it wasn’t hard to do. Roy Rogers and Gene Autry TV movies filled Saturday afternoons, and at night there was Marshall Dillon in Gunsmoke. My dad and I were avid watchers. Westerns were a staple of television fare at that time, and later Bonanza, the Virginian, Wagon Train, and High Chaparral became favorites, although my personal heroes were the guys on Laramie. One the good, stable, level-headed cowboy, the other a rough and tumble rebel. You had your choice. I had crushes on at least one cowboy in each series.

            Along with the cowboy heroes, I also fell in love with horses. I think it may have started when, on my first birthday, my dad gifted me with a wooden horse he had made. Rather than being a rocking horse, it sat on casters and so was mobile. All I could do was sit on it then, but later, according to my mom, I became a holy terror as I rode “Stormy” around the house, tearing up the linoleum and crashing into the corners of cupboards. I’m not sure how Stormy got his name, but he and I were attached at the wooden saddle, and I rode him hell bent for leather while wearing my cowboy hat, boots, and black jacket with white fringe.  At some point I outgrew Stormy so an extra board was placed under his body so he could grow with me. There was actually a pattern cut out for another larger “horse” that my dad intended to make, but he never got the opportunity. He passed away when I was five.
                Stormy and me on my first birthday.

            Westerns fell out of favor in Hollywood, and cowboy heroes were few and far between for a while. Then came Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Redford as Sundance was an outlaw but damn, he sure fit the cowboy myth to a T. As a more modern day cowboy, Redford played the Electric Horseman, and though he was a little older, he was still a “be-still-my-heart” character. Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot were also great cowboys in the made for TV movies based on Louis L’Amour novels. Then along came romance novels, and they helped fill the bill, and still do, with plenty of cowboy heroes. Needless to say, they’re among my favorite romances to read.

            Cowboys and horses. There is a lot of myth and romance wrapped up in each. I’m really not sure what the appeal has been for me, but it’s no surprise that it often works its way into the stories I write. It certainly did when I created the hero Chance McCord. This is an excerpt from a current work in progress, the second in the McCord Family Saga, that I’m calling Tetons by Morning:

            A week later a storm hit and besides blanketing the Tetons and the Buffalo Valley in another layer of white drove a pack of wolves that normally stayed to the north in Yellowstone to start hunting closer to the ranches. Bison, too, moved into the cattle pastures, and Chance was forced to go out every day and chase them away. Today, accompanied by the giant herd dog Mariah, he rode along the perimeter of the winter pastures, checking for any signs the wolves stalked nearby. The wind blew like needles against his face, and he hunched his shoulders to ward off the rawness that sank into his bones. After a day spent in the saddle his body always reacted to the cold and refused to move the way he wished it still could. Blame it on old rodeo injuries. Blame it on just plain getting older. Whatever, he simply wasn’t the man he used to be, the one who rode the meanest broncs this side of the Divide and lived to tell about it. Chance McCord, Top Bronc Rider at the Cody Night Rodeo. Chance McCord, Best All Around Cowboy at the Cheyenne Days Rodeo three years in a row. He had the belt buckles to prove it, and the memories of more nights spent sleeping in the back of his truck than he cared to count. In a way, it kind of ate at his soul, because now Chance McCord rode along the edge of the Bridger-Teton forest and looked for tracks in the snow.