When in the swamp, do as the swamp folk do

DSCN0349 In our impromptu family reunion trip to the South, we encountered many different new experiences. We checked out Pensacola’s white sands, we visited the Black Water River State Park, and even braved the array of fresh seafood from the Gulf, including some awesome seafood nachos at Flounder’s on the beach:


Some of us traveled to the exotic Waffle House for cheesy grits and fresh ham, even.  The South is a marvelous blend of interesting tastes and experiences!

DSCN0428Then there’s the swamp.

My son-in-law was excited about the possibility of seeing alligators in the wild at the Black Water River Park, but although we did see several living things, an alligator was not one of them. So we went to Alligator Alley across the border in Alabama instead.

This place advertised over a hundred alligators (at least the adults…there was a slough of young’uns, too), and we got to see quite a few.

DSCN0424 Of course, as in any swamp, alligators were not the only occupants:


And of course, the day would not be complete unless everyone got to hold an alligator!!



And of course, the obligatory, “Will the guy get eaten feeding hunks of hairy wild pig to the wild alligators?” DSCN0435On the way out,DSCN0437 Yurie had to check out the other wildlife–glad that fence was there. That guy looked like he meant business!

So we counted to make sure we had all the children, and left the swamp, reminiscing on everything we’d seen and also so much we hadn’t seen, that lived just under the water’s shadowed edge…



Konnichiwa! to our new guest from Japan

We’ve embraced the idea of an exchange student once again, after a good many years. The last one we had was Patric from Sweden, and I remember his favorite thing was to walk by K and her friends watching Titanic and tell them “The boat sinks.”

(oops–spoiler alert!)

But that was probably 13 years ago, and Ayako several years before that, so we thought we might try it again.  We have been blessed with a lovely young woman named Yurie from Tokyo, Japan. She has meshed with the family very well, and we are learning from each other all the time–mostly about cooking!

She’s very active, and so one of the first things they did was all go on a walk up the hill into the woods. Doctor Do-Be-Doo is clearly playing Indiana Jones here; I’m not sure they came home with anything purely archaeological in nature. 🙂

She’s a very hard-working student, which is a good example for our two at home. Even though she’s still working on her English (which is pretty good, considering!), she decided to take up Spanish here– I’m not sure how she keeps her brain from spinning. And she’s adapted to staying in a family with some special kids. So that warms my heart. 🙂

But like I said, she loves to cook. Her family has spent considerable time in the US, so she’s interested in all sorts of food. She’s been here almost two months, and we STILL haven’t gone to McDonalds. Can you believe it? But she’s showed us how to make sushi, homestyle–so much easier!!– and Japanese curry, while we’ve made Cuban black beans, Mexican food, Indian chicken and all kinds of stuff. One day we finally had meat and potatoes, and she’s like, “Is this American food?” Poor kid.

And she made her grandmother’s famous cheesecake. BEST CHEESECAKE EVER.

Yurie is very sweet and brought all sorts of nice things for the family, including this stunning kimono for Little Miss. The worn out tennis shoes add such a fashion statement, don’t you think?

This has been carefully hung up and saved for a special occasion, for sure.

We got to go camping in The Vehicle one weekend, anyway, but then Himself got signed up for a community theatre show and all the weekends got blocked out. Yurie and the Doctor got drafted to work back stage and even to have a few lines onstage, too, so it’s been an interesting experience.

She finds that Americans, particularly the students, are not as ambitious and hard-working as those in Japan, which doesn’t surprise me a lot. But we’ve adjusted her school schedule so she has more than just academics, like food, and broadcasting, and she also signed up for intramural basketball and hip-hop dance lessons, so she’s a busy girl!

She’s looking forward to the holidays as much as little kids do, so we’ll have a chance to demonstrate what Americans do for some of these holidays, as far as celebration. Her parents have celebrated Halloween and Christmas before, from their previous time here, so we’ll see if we do it differently. Probably. I bet she’s never had frozen pizza for Thanksgiving. (Long family story waiting to be shared).

We’re hoping to travel later in the year and take her to Florida at Christmas, to Asheville, and who knows where else. The program she’s exchanging with has organized trips as well where she can see all about DC and NYC and other places in a tourist sort of way. Any suggestions as to what’s “not to miss” for a nine-month visitor to the States?

Downhill time…and up hill…and downhill…and up hill…

So here’s the thing about a huge chunk of the Wild West. It looks like this:

Every time I cruise through this wide open land I think of all those places in the world where we keep hearing that people are living overcrowded and have no room to breathe. Brother, they could breathe here. Well, depending on the altitude. (shaking my fist at my continual nemesis…thin air)

This one is in Idaho. So is this one:

Space…once again a frontier.

Now I suppose someone owns all this. They probably wouldn’t want to donate it. But  geez, it seems like such a waste to just have it all hanging out there.

The other thought that crossed my mind as we drove through hundreds of miles of dead brown land in Utah and Wyoming was an historical one. What if you were a young lady from Pennsylvania or Kentucky or Indiana and your husband insisted on taking you west by wagon train to a place that looked like this? I mean, really?  “My dearest, we now own 36 acres of this scrubby barren land. All our own. Isn’t that wonderful?”

I think I’d have been telling him to pack me back on the next train east. Speaking of trains…out here they double-deck them:

Reno is a delight, thanks to a sweet young lady named Penelope. 🙂

Nana and Penne

We didn’t have nearly long enough to get to know each other, but I’mhoping this is the first of many visits to come. Her smiles are radiant; her mother and father practically glow in the dark from lack of sleep, but she’s just turned three months old, and she’ll be on track before you know it. I’m just pleased we met.

On the way home at last…and we change plans at the last minute to avoid wildfires in Colorado.Arches National Park will wait for us another day. Our detour through Utah takes us many places…across the Oregon Trail, through a lot of high desert, where we found these silent sentinels:

Then we came across the Bonneville Salt Flats , which are an awesome sight–just white all across the desert, almost like snow or a sandy beach, but when you walk down to it, it’s a crunchy crust of salt. A very different vista, and one that leads shortly to the Great Salt Lake and the desalinization plants.  The next couple of days we spent tuned to the news, trying to make sure we didn’t catch up with the fires.

I heard something about a C-130 crashingvery near where we were in the Black Hills, working in the effort to put the fires down.:(  We saw huge swaths of burnt ground and a couple of places where fires were actively burning. Here’s hoping for a good dose of rain to get them all put out!

We make our second visit to Mount Rushmore this trip, securing E’s big X on his bucket list. Little Miss showed him all around, even under the mountain in the workshop. Because of the holiday, they had actors portraying the four presidents, walking around and greeting people in full historical costume in 100-degree weather. Bless their overworked hearts.

We leave you with the quintessential picture of Little Miss…destressing in her usual manner:

Clearly this is not a “vacation”; no time for fun!

I originally meant to post here most days, but with learning how to set up/take down the RV, navigating and making sure “here” gets to “there” it just hasn’t happened. But we’ve finally landed in Elf Country (yay!) and so let me share a little visual history of our trip to date:

Crossing the Missouri River

Entering the Badlands

Castles in the rock



More Badlands











The White River. For some reason. Looked muddy to me.

Start off with a crash, end up with a bang… *sigh*

Well the road trip didn’t go quite as well today as we had hoped it would. We covered the agreed amount of territory, and are ensconsed safely in a KOA near South Dakota. We had dinner, and all the hookups seem to work. Huzzah for that.


(thanks for the graphic depiction)

Before we got four blocks from our last night’s stay, someone ran us up on a curb, jarring loose the clip that held the cabinet doors for our glassware in place, and it came crashing out all over the floor. Little Miss nearly had a heart attack. So that was the morning excitement.

Then in the afternoon, after we filled up with gas–at which time I nearly had a heart attack, filling a 40+ gallon tank!!– when I pulled away from the pumps, the back of the motorhome caught on the concrete post and ripped open one of the compartment doors. Then Chase nearly had a heart attack, because she’d just finished saying how she didn’t want to be the first to ding the motor home. GOOD CALL. YOU WIN. Oy.

SO we fixed it with–say it all together now– DUCT TAPE.

Hopefully it will hold till we can get it somewhere and get a new door on it. But for tonight, we’re busy gnawing the cork out of the bottle of merlot since we forgot a corkscrew. So a little extra fiber will do us good. More adventuring tomorrow. Can’t wait. right?

On the road again, books in hand

So I’ve started the latest book/research tour which will focus on the western end of Montana, where we’ll learn about the Montana vortex, which will figure largely in volume four of the Clan Elves of the Bitterroot series, and also attend a booksigning at Fact and Fiction in Missoula June 23 from 10-1.

But there’s obviously a bit of space between here and there, and my friend Chase and I are learning the skills needed to pilot this motorhome on the roads of America. Here we are at my sister Shawna’s house (yes the famous gardening speaker and expert)  just outside Chicago:

Okay, so maybe it’s cheating, making your first stop someone’s house instead of the open wilds, but it worked for us. 🙂

The day today was beautiful and we spent most of it at the Shedd Aquarium downtown. (Insert prayer of thanks here that I don’t have to drive in Chicago ever. Huzzah.) The Shedd is right on Lake Michigan, and Little Miss had great fun taking pictures of the city skyline and the water. We attended the beluga whale/dolphin show and a 4-D movie taken from the Planet Earth show on Discovery, as well as their new Jellies exhibit:

 I could have spent all day in that section. It reminded me of the one at the Monterey Bay aquarium.  How mesmerizing and calming that pulsating action is!

Dinner, of course was that famous Chicago deep dish pizza, amazing and delicious.

On to the Dakotas tomorrow if all is well. Considering us two gals haven’t ever driven a monster like this before, I’m a little proud that we’ve managed to get the hang of it.  Little Miss has gotten very comfortable in the “vehicle” as she calls it–the two days before we left, she stayed in it almost all day, coloring and just hanging out.

But just to show she gets out, too, here she is with her cousin Sammie outside the Shedd in the Children’s Garden:

and also inside the sub in the play area downstairs:

And lastly I’ll leave you with the picture of some spider crabs we took in a creepy cave setting. More pictures from the road tomorrow!!





A lonely road

This month I took a real walkabout, driving out west for several reasons, including booksignings, a master writers’ class and some research/picture gathering for the Elf Clan series.

The first week, I gloried in the Adventure of the Road. For the first time in a long while, I had time alone. Miles and miles of it. I love seeing new places, so while good old I-80 was a familiar friend, this time I drove across Nebraska to Colorado, new territory.

(I’m not counting the time I nearly got arrested in Colorado when M was a baby, when the trooper thought I was trying to outrun him to the state line. I wasn’t. And I still don’t think cigarettes are a good idea.)

Surprised to find that Colorado wasn’t all snow-topped mountains, at all. In Denver, I took photos of the places my characters visit in my post-apocalyptic story, which I’m getting back to if I can ever finish the contracted work I have. 🙂

(I know. Complaining about “having to write.” Ridiculous.)

Then I went on to Golden, where the muse on the mountain, Margie Lawson, imparted great wisdom and I met some wonderful sister writers. I’ll talk more about this experience here.

Unfortunately, my body didn’t adjust well to the 8,888-foot altitude, and it colored the rest of my trip. But seeing the continental divide from the top was spectacular, especially at sunset:

Then back down out of the mountains through all the high desert I ever want to see, on the way to Reno and back. I don’t find that scenery in the least inspiring, all tan and brown and scrub green. The mountains both north and south are much prettier in my estimation.

And then there was this, which is not in fact a bunch of metallic Tinkertoys, but a gas refining plant in Sinclair, Wyoming.

And this, which is called “Metaphor, the tree of Utah”:

See more about it here at the Weird Roadside Attractions site.

But right about there, on the way back, the trip began to fall apart. I was still woozy from the altitude issues, heading back into the mountains. My camera had some kind of lens error issues and quit working. The van’s “check engine” light came on and started blinking at an alarming rate.

I realized being out on the road alone wasn’t really all the adventure I’d expected.

I’d had a wonderful day with B and her friend in Reno, wishing there was more time, finally getting a grown-up trip to the casino (we each went in with $20–he came out with three or four dollars, I have a receipt for seven cents, but B won $60. So I guess we’re even), and a walk in the forest with the ebullient Elbee. My sister Shawna rescued me on the last day and let me crash there while we determined that the car was just needing routine maintenance service and would make it the rest of the way home.

So I survived, coming home a little more tired and a much better writer. Ready for booksignings the next two weekends, and nearly ready to get back in the routine.

Oh yeah, and I received two contracts for more novels while I was gone, one for my vampire thriller, and another for a lawyer-over-40 romance. Seems to me I’ll have plenty to do, staying home cozy in my office this winter. Here’s to the Adventure, and here’s to the comforts of Home after a long trip away.