The Season by John E. Stack

Merry Christmas.  Early.  Yeah, I know that it is still a few weeks away but down here in North Carolina we received an early Christmas present.  We got an early snowstorm that dropped around 10 to 12 inches on us.  It’s just God’s way of telling school teachers, “You’ve worked way too hard this year, so take a few day off.”  Gotta love it.

Even if we have to make it up, it was good time off.  I did grade a few papers but also started cleaning up and organizing our upstairs. I got the Christmas tree up and Allie helped me decorate it.  Our stockings are already hung by the fireplace and the manger scene is lit in front of the house.

Tradition is a big part of life.  If you try to break tradition, lots of people get really upset.  But hey, if it works, why change it.  We have a 9 ft. artificial tree that we picked up about twelve years ago.  It’s old but still looks very real.  A few years ago we decided to buy a smaller tree, about 6 ft.  Everyone we looked at looked so fake.  We even ordered one and had to send it back.

Sometimes we tend to lose sight of what Christmas is all about. It’s about giving, not receiving.  It’s about providing money for a decent Christmas dinner for a family whose dad lost his job.  Maybe it’s about learning that a family can’t afford to buy gifts, and your Sunday school class picks up gifts for all the kids.  Maybe watching your daughter save her money all year to buy gifts for another child her age who lives in a poor neighborhood.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  God loved us enough to send his Son to save us.  He was given humble beginnings and died as a sacrifice on a cross.  For us.  All of us.  Talk about a gift.  It is difficult to imagine a love so great.  It hard not to tell people about it.

I may not be politically correct, but I know what I believe.

Whether you believe or not, whether you celebrate Christmas or something else, I pray that this holiday season brings you much joy and happiness.  Blessings to all.

 

*** John E Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Olivia’s Sweet Adventure and Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo.

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My Christmas Card List

My early adult years in the mid 1960’s were spent as a military spouse and as such, friends were most likely people who had shared my husband’s and my life. Military bonds tend to run deep, because they frequently involve hardships. So when friends are made, they often remain so for life, at least for me.

For instance, my husband, Byron and I were assigned to a small radar site in northern Montana, six miles from the Canadian border as the crow flies and thirty-eight miles from the nearest town, population 10,000. Temperatures reached minus 50 degrees that first winter and sand storms were the norm in the spring and fall. Twenty-eight houses comprised the living quarters for families and a small BOQ (bachelor officer quarters) held two or three single men. We were lucky to have TV, but the signal was interrupted every 18 seconds or so with the sweep of the radar antenna. Once every three months, we had a doctor, dentist and priest/minister rotate to our site for a few days, so neighbor helped neighbor, regularly. We became family, a concept particularly meaningful to me, having been orphaned early in my life.

I imagine you have an idea what I’m trying to say about how deeply military families extend and grow to include neighbors and friends. And in each place Byron and I were stationed, our original family of three became larger and larger. From our first deployment, I decided to create a Christmas card list so I could keep up with my family no matter where we all were.  Even now, fifty-five years later, after a divorce even, I’ve kept up with many people from those wonderful military days. From Montana, the people across the street, Cliff and Shirley had a daughter who babysat for our son, Rob, when he was three. Cliff has passed now, but Shirley and I still stay in touch. Then when Byron was teaching aerospace studies at North Texas State University to ROTC students, several of those students are still exchanging Christmas cards with me.

Three years in Germany added to the list and New Mexico and Texas did too, and I gained another friend when I was lucky to invade my husband’s remote tour (without family) to Iceland for a two week R&R (rest and recuperation) visit. And during Vietnam, I spent time with my in-laws since I lived nearby. Our last assignment was in Montgomery, AL at Maxwell Air Force Base Wing Headquarters ROTC and we lived just outside the back gate of Gunter Air Force Station, so the family we gathered there were not just military, but members of a Scottish society and civilians alike.

My husband and I may have divorced, but not my through-the-years friends. In fact they became even closer to me since I’d lost part of my family. And I made new ones from neighbors, church, and various interests.

Yesterday, I received a Christmas card from my sister and enclosed was a poem that I just have to share with you. It says everything I feel about my Christmas card list. Perhaps you have your own version.

 

The Christmas Card List

There is a list of folks I know
All written in a book,
And every year at Christmas time
I go and take a look.
And that is when I realize
Those names are all a part
Not of the book they’re written in,
But deep inside my heart.

For each name stands for someone
Who has touched my life sometime,
And in that meeting they’ve become
A special friend of mine.
I really feel that I’m composed
Of each remembered name,
And my life is so much better
Than it was before they came.

Once you’ve known that “someone”,
All the years cannot erase
The memory of a pleasant word
Or of a friendly face.
So never think my Christmas cards
Are just a mere routine
Of names upon a list that are
Forgotten in between.

For when I send a Christmas card
That is addressed to you,
It is because you’re on that list
Of folks I’m indebted to.
And whether I have known you
For many years or few,
The greatest gift that God can give
Is having friends like you!

Author Unknown

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.
Join her here each 11th of the month.

 

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SLUGGER – By Maribeth Shanley

Sweet Slugger

I remember this day.  I put Slugger and Pooker in the back seat.
Pooker immediately climbed over into the front passenger side.  As I got in the car,
I looked back at Slugger.  This photo of him captures the essence of who he was.  He was laid back, sweet and had the biggest heart of any dog I’ve known.
*****

Slugger’s unexpected death marks the end of an era for Bob and me.

On Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, Slugger passed. We thought and, more, hoped that he would be with us at least another year or two. It wasn’t meant to be.

Bob and I woke around 6 a.m. as one of our dogs was flaying on the bed. Getting knocked by a foot, we were startled out of our last few minutes of sleep. Bob sat up and turned on his bedside lamp. It was Slugger who was thrashing. We thought he was having a terrible nightmare, so we tried shaking him awake. No amount of shaking helped. It seemed he had lost control of his body.

As Bob climbed out of bed, I pulled Slugger close and held him in my arms as I stroked him and assured him he was safe. As long as I was holding him and stroking his head, he was calm. We both knew in our hearts that this was the end for our sweet little boy. Bob dressed as I reassured Slugger and kissed his head. Bob then climbed on the bed, and I handed Slugger to him, but not without another terrible bout of  lost control.

Once dressed, I leaned over the bed and picked Slugger up and carried him down to our jeep. Bob grabbed a blanket and a towel. He helped me climb in the back seat with our little bundle in my arms.

If you’ve ever had to climb especially into the back seat of a full-sized jeep, you know how difficult that is especially holding a child; in my case, a fur child. It’s like trying to climb a rock wall without the ability to grab something to hoist yourself up. With Bob’s help, we slid into the back as Bob helped me wrap the blanket around Slugger and slide the towel under his body. We had no idea what to expect next.

The Myrtle Beach rush hour was underway as Bob maneuvered his way through traffic as he had to slam on his brakes several times. Driving in Myrtle Beach is a nightmare any time of the year, but especially during the summer season or any major holiday.   Like leftover turkey, there was still leftover traffic from Thanksgiving weekend. The torons (a variation of morons for tourists) were still in town. Couple them with transplants from all sorts of States who brought their unique bad driving habits with them and you have a mess. There are several daily accidents on the route we were taking.   I gently reminded Bob that a seatbelt didn’t secure Slugger and me.

Slugger rested in my arms as Bob made his way to Banfield Hospital which is located at the back end of the PetSmart store.

Once Bob parked the Jeep, we walked into the store and began walking toward the back end.  As we passed the last aisle and made eye contact with Tracey, one of the receptionists, she said something to the other receptionist, got up and guided us to one of the exam rooms. Tracey intuitively knew why we were there.

Two year’s prior; we carried Slugger’s brother in only to find out he had diabetes. The familiar, kind receptionist, with a sad expression on her face, guided us to the room, said something and shut the door. Moments later, a vet assistant came in and asked a few questions. She pulled up Slugger’s computer record typed something in and told us she would get Dr. Chapman. Before she left, I tried to lay Slugger on the folded orange blanket the assistant placed on the exam table. However, Slugger immediately began thrashing again. So, I picked him up and backed up to the bench where I sat holding Slugger.  The assistant forced a sad smile, nodded approval, and left the room.

A few seconds later, Dr. Chapman followed by the assistant entered the room. The doctor picked up the orange blanket and tried to place it between Slugger and my lap. She acknowledged there was not much she could do for our boy as she also gently suggested that it was time for Slugger to leave. With tears in our eyes, we both acknowledged that we knew his time had come.

As I held a former fur child, Munch, so many years prior and felt her body go limp, I swore I would never go through that again. Now, however, I knew it was the only alternative. I also promised years ago that, if I can be there, no fur child of ours would ever die alone. Unless I die in my sleep, I hope I am not alone when I die. Therefore, how could I allow my child to die without being lovingly held close?

I pulled Slugger to my bosom reassuring him that it would be okay. As he stroked Slugger’s head, Bob, still standing also reassured him. The insertion of an IV into a vein caused a lot of blood, as the doctor quickly wrapped a bandage around Slugger’s leg to hold the IV and stop the flow. She talked to us, but I don’t recall a word she said. I’m sure she was explaining something when her assistant walked back in with a tray. As she inserted the first needle into the IV, she said, this will relax Slugger so he can pass quietly. She then stuck the second needle in and, because of what I was sensing from his body, I asked if it was instantaneous. She said yes as I also felt Slugger’s heart stop.

Dr. Chapman and her assistant left the room as I pulled my phone out of my pocket and began searching for the cremation service we used for both Pooker and Sissy, our cat who died shortly after our move to the Myrtle Beach area. Sissy was 21 when she passed in Bob’s arms.

As I talked to the female owner and spouse of the business founder, when I told her where we lived, she explained that they didn’t drive that far out. However, after I told her we wanted to bring Slugger home so our other dog, Bailey and our two cats, Skeeter and Sassy could say good-bye, she acknowledged that she would make an exception. After all, we were permanent customers of the crematorium.

We explained our plans to the assistant who reentered the room. She retrieved a coffin-shaped box and laid it on the table. Bob helped me put our little boy in the box, remove his harness, and cover him again with the blanket we wrapped him in for the journey. As we walked out, we could hear gasps from the other two receptionists. Everyone knew both Slugger and Pooker. They were a favorite pair for the hospital staff.

As we arrived home, Bob carried the box with Slugger into the house. Bailey met us at the door. He was curious about where we had gone and where Slugger was. Bob lay the open box on the floor. He had questioned whether Bailey, who celebrated his first birthday in June of this year, would be traumatized. My gut told me he would not be as I reminded Bob that we gave Slugger the opportunity to say goodbye to Pooker. “My intuition tells me it’s a good thing to do. That way, Bailey won’t feel confused as to what happened to Slugger. Nor would the cats.”

Bob stood as I sat on the sofa. Bailey sniffed Slugger as did Skeeter. Sassy was asleep somewhere else in the house. Later, I realized that my intuition was right as I acknowledged that Bailey’s behavior was calm as if he recognized that death was the natural order of life.

Slugger is now in the hands of the crematorium owners. They will return him to us in a few days. They will place him and the blanket in a small box with scroll carvings on the lid and a gold plaque on the front. It will read:

SLUGGER
OUR SWEET LITTLE BOY
YOU GAVE US MORE THAN WE COULD GIVE YOU

Bob calls me the queen of catalogs because of all the catalogs I receive. I’ve been shopping over the internet way before it became popular, so everyone who gets a list of catalog buyers gets my name and address. I do love my catalogs with all the merchandise I can dream of buying. One item, in particular, speaks to me. It’s a doormat which reads, “Ring the doorbell, let me sing you a song of my people. The dog.” As such, let me sing you a song of my Slugger and Pooker. I promise not to keep you too much longer.

The day Bob and I met both Slugger and Pooker took place shortly after losing our first little boy, Skipper. Skipper also died from diabetes which is common in Schnauzers. However, unlike Type 2 diabetes for humans, canine diabetes is a death sentence. It behaves as does Type 1 human diabetes.

Skipper died the first evening we moved from Naperville, IL to rejoin Bob in the Nashville, TN area.

Skipper wasn’t gone long before Bob expressed, “Maribeth, you need another dog.” Unsaid was the same for him. “We” needed another dog to fill the hole left by Skipper.

Skipper was a Miniature Schnauzer. We fell in love with his breed, and, so we decided to find another miniature.

Bob contacted a professor who taught at the University of Tennessee. He owned and showed schnauzers. He gave Bob the name of a married couple in the Knoxville, TN area who bred and showed schnauzers. The couple’s two females had just birthed a litter each. Most of the puppies had been spoken for, but, from talking to Bob said they had a male who would be a perfect match. That puppy was Slugger.

The day we drove to John and Diane Steffy’s house, I felt completely detached from reality. I was still deep in mourning of Skipper, My Little Boy Blue. We sat on their sofa as John brought two puppies into the room. One of the puppies was energetic and playful. He ran around the room chasing toys. The other puppy walked over to me and raised himself so that his front paws rested on my knees. As I looked at him, I immediately fell in love with him, so I picked him up as he rested on my lap. Still feeling removed from the event, about a half hour later, Bob said, “It’s decision time, Maribeth.”  I responded, “Well, if I have to choose, I chose this one (on my lap), but I’d like to take both of them home.” Although I was in a fog that day, my intuition was not at all asleep. I could tell from their behavior that both puppies were emotionally attached.   Diane Steffy said, “John and I will leave you two alone for a few minutes.”

Once gone, Bob asked, “Can we afford both puppies?” I am the designated financial officer in our marriage, so I knew from the huge profit from our Naperville home, we could indeed afford both. I said, “Yes.” The matter was settled. The Steffy’s returned to the living room, and we were soon on our way with the two puppies.

As we headed back to the Interstate, we decided to stop at the Petsmart store just off the exit to buy the boys collars and leashes. The smallest puppy who won my heart immediately fell to sleep. The happy-go-lucky dog who also sat on my lap now was wide awake. I could intuit that he wasn’t as sure of what was taking place as was his half-brother.

Before leaving the Steffy home, we learned that the puppies had the same father but different mothers. The smallest puppy was nine-days younger than the larger puppy. I had already decided that the larger puppy would be named Slugger after the Louisville Slugger baseball bat. I believe that Skipper had communicated that name to me during an earlier event. Bob liked the name. He would choose the name for the younger puppy.

As we pulled our vehicle into the Petsmart parking space, I could tell that Slugger still didn’t feel comfortable. I’m sure he could sense that my first choice was his smaller brother. Nonetheless, I was determined to change Slugger’s mind.

The puppies in the cart were a hit in the store. Once we made our purchase, a red collar, and leash for Slugger, and a blue collar and leash for his brother, we walked out to the parking lot. We opened the back door to our SUV, placed both puppies on the inside pad and put their collars and leashes on.   Bob grabbed the little puppy while I grabbed Slugger. The minute we put the puppies on the ground I saw a visible change take over Slugger. He was now confident that he was where he was supposed to be. It was amazing to see this event.  My intuition was alive and well. Slugger was going home.

Life with the puppies was a trip. Soon Bob asked if he could name the smaller puppy Pooker. It was a loving nickname he had given Skipper whom he would walk every day after arriving home from work.

One Sunday morning, as I sat at the kitchen table, I heard a strange noise. I called up to Bob and asked, “What are you doing up there. You’re making a lot of noise.” He answered, “Nothing. I’m sitting at my desk reading the newspaper.” I then thought, Uh, oh, what are the boys up to? I got up, walked into the foyer and turned to my left which was the dining room area of our very open floor plan. There the two dogs were. Pooker was down at one end of the huge dining room window, and Slugger was at the opposite end. The window sat only inches from the floor. They were facing each other as they ate the window sill working their way to the middle. The house and sill were brand new. We had purchased a spec house just in time before another buyer put a check down for it. And so began the story of our two sweet little boys who both grew to become wonderful grown-up boys. With all our hearts, Bob and I hope that one day, we will reunite with Slugger, Pooker and all our past wonderful fur children.  They all taught us far more than we taught them.  They love unconditionally, never consider divorce and bring us joy every minute they are near.

Until we meet again, sweet babies, play hard and love harder!

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Getting Older by John E. Stack

Hey all, I was sitting around the other day and I noticed that my joints hurt.  My knees were killing me and I could hardly straighten my back.  When I tried to stand it was mission impossible.  I hobbled to the bathroom to get something for the pain and what I saw nearly scared me to death.  I think my house is haunted.

We have this great big mirror in our bathroom.  I try not to look too deeply into it because I’ve read too many stories where you see something that is not supposed to be there.  I have read where people see other worlds, where people can walk into the mirror and transport somewhere else, people walk out of the mirror from who knows where, or they may see something really scary.  I think that may be what happened to me.

Anyway, I decided to look into the mirror to check and see if there was anything wrong on the outside of me.  Much to my surprise, looking back at me was an old guy with really gray hair and glasses.  He was fairly chubby, and generally looked like he had been put through the wringer.  Bad thing was that when I moved, so did he.  Every move I tried, he duplicated.  I knew that it must be a haunted mirror or some kind of trick my wife was trying to play on me.

The poor old guy looked really bad.  Maybe if he hit the gym, lost some weight, and tried to iron out some of those wrinkles he might not look so bad.  Then I noticed something familiar about him.  He looked a lot like my dad.  He had the same nose, but his ears weren’t big enough.  He had lots of hair, though it be gray, where dad had hair on the sides and back, but none on the top.  It just couldn’t be my dad because he has been gone for many, many years.  Must be a coincidence.

Something strange was going on and I had to figure it out.  The more I looked the more I realized that it couldn’t be me.  I wasn’t that old.  Last I looked I was around forty-five, and that guy wasn’t even close to that age.  But, wait a minute, my daughters are forty-two, forty and nine.  When did that happen?  I might be older but not that old.  It seems like the girls just got married only a short time age and Allie was just getting ready to start school.  Where did time go?

I was starting to feel sick.  My stomach hurt.  I was dizzy.  I could hardly see because my bi-focal’s were dirty.  Bi-focal’s?  Yeah, okay.  Anyway, I just wasn’t feeling all that well.  I thought that maybe if I passed out, things would be back to normal when I woke up, even if I was at the hospital.

I decided to check one more thing before I called the doctor.  I would check my driver’s license because it would have my birthdate and a picture.  As I looked at it I could tell the picture had been altered.  I knew it.  My wife had been up to her practical jokes again. Well, maybe not. With these dirty glasses, who can tell what they are looking at.

Then something else fell out of my billfold.  It was a red, white and blue card that said welcome to Medicare.  As the tears poured from my eyes, I knew it must be true.  That wrinkled up old guy had to be me.

It is hard to believe, but yes, this is the year I thought I would never see.  In a couple of days I will be sixty-five.  Two to be exact.  Life has been good but these last few years have flown by.  It is almost time to retire, but not quite.  I still have a nine-year-old to help raise.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the ZooOlivia’s Sweet Adventure and Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo.

 

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Well I’ll Be!

Although I live surrounded by neighbors, I don’t necessarily see them every day. In fact, sometimes I won’t see a single soul for maybe even a week. That’s not unusual since I’m retired and most people who live near me are younger and have jobs that keep them away during the day. And I’m the type who almost always has a project or two lined up to keep me busy, many times inside.

Since I live alone, I don’t always have someone to bounce ideas off of unless I use my phone or email, so I’ve become one of those people other people like to make fun of, because I talk to myself. Do any of you ever do that? I honestly don’t know why, but I don’t talk to myself out loud. I whisper, and only when I am alone. How strange is that?

Occasionally, when I’ve been out shopping or whatever, I’ve actually seen and heard people talking out loud to themselves, so I’m assuming I’m probably not THAT unusual, but I have no idea why I whisper. Maybe, my inner-self thinks it’s weird to talk to oneself, so if I whisper no one will notice? But if I’m alone…that doesn’t seem to make sense. I decided it wasn’t that big a deal and not serious enough to be concerned about so I just go about my activities as usual.

Often, my friends and family contact me via email, so I spend a part of each day conversing with them silently. However, my son makes it a point to phone me usually once a week or so. Most of the time these days, when my phone rings,  it’s a political ad, someone trying to sell me something, or someone trying to scam me, so if I don’t recognize the name on my Caller ID, I just ignore calls, and as a result, there may be days when I don’t speak with anyone.

I noticed the last few times my son called, my voice was hoarse and my tone was elevated and he asked if I was okay. I assured him I was fine, but started to be aware of my voice sounding differently. I also noticed I was having a little trouble swallowing and decided, since I had my annual check-up coming up, I’d run this past my doctor, just to make sure all actually was okay.

So, my appointment came and my doctor checked me over and asked if anything was different than before and I told him that I felt well except for the slight difficulty swallowing and hoarse voice. He said it was probably normal, but he’d recommend me going to see an Ears, Nose and Throat doctor, just to make sure. So long story short, I went to the ENT doctor, who did a thorough check and this is what he said, “I think you’re fine. It’s not uncommon for us, as we age, to get dry mouth, which you’ve told me you have, so my recommendation is to drink more fluids when eating. That will take care of the swallowing difficulty. And for the hoarse voice, I suggest you talk out loud to yourself during the day. That will keep your vocal cords warmed up and working for when you do need to say something to someone.”

Well I’ll be! Can you believe that? Have you ever heard of a DOCTOR prescribing talking out loud to yourself as a cure? This has become my favorite story to tell my friends. Hahahahaha!!!! Maybe those people I saw and heard talking to themselves were following their doctor’s orders!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Best of Both Worlds By Maribeth Shanley

Life is full of surprises. Some things you plan; and, well, some things turn up as complete surprises!

When Bob and I first discussed where we were going to retire, we had three destinations on our list.

We lived in the Nashville, TN area, so we decided that we might stay in the area but purchase a refurbished house in the historic district. Our second choice was in the Smokie Mountains area. In particular, we thought about living near the city of Gatlinburg. Our third choice was to move to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

As we weighed our choices, we decided that we loved both the ocean and the mountains. Thus, we decided to move to the Myrtle Beach area and then, later, purchase or build a small cabin in the Gatlinburg area which lies on the north side of the Smokie Mountains.

We loved Nashville, but it didn’t have anything more to offer us. Gatlinburg did. So did Myrtle Beach. Had we stayed in Nashville, we would have had to travel to both Gatlinburg as well as to Myrtle Beach. Gatlinburg was about four hours away, and Myrtle Beach was twelve hours away. Retiring in Nashville was the first casualty of our decision.

Gatlinburg was where Bob, I and all our critters had spent at least ten Christmases. The town is lit up like a fairytale during the season, and there’s so much to see in the area. On the other hand, it gets cold in the winter. Sometimes it snows. Did we want to be cold in the winter and shovel snow? The answer was no. Thus, the decision to permanently relocate to Myrtle Beach, yet purchase or build a small cottage in the Gatlinburg area became our plan.

We’ve lived in Myrtle Beach going on four years. We love it here. We both love the beach and, although we only went to the beach twice this year, we have promised each other that next year, we will go more often. I much prefer the ocean over a crowded pool. Plus, I love that, regardless of the time of year, there’s always an ocean breeze.

As we considered our small place in Gatlinburg, one day we walked out of our garage to see that our neighbor three doors up had an RV parked in front of their house. Martin, the husband, was out at the vehicle, so we strolled up to say hi. As we stood in his driveway talking to him, Linda, his wife strolled out with a tub of items she was carrying to the RV. They were headed out the following morning for a two-week jaunt to Montana. The couple invited us to look inside, which we did. After a long discussion about how they have enjoyed their RV and planned to go away at least once each month for a week or two, we walked back to our house.

I usually make all the financial decisions. I don’t recall how that happened. However, I seem to be the one who can make things happen. Bob lovingly refers to me as the CFO. I usually chuckle when he does.

The more I thought about Linda and Martin’s RV the more I liked the idea. Over the past four years, I managed to pay off everything, including a new car and jeep. Also, we own our home. We did that by cashing in two of our 401 plans. As I thought about an RV vs. a small cottage in the mountains, I thought, A cottage would be nice, but it would be a static venue. On the other hand, an RV would mean we could plan trips to many places, including the Gatlinburg area. It made sense to me to go the RV route vs. buying a second home and feeling compelled to use it vs. visit other areas of the country.

I brought up the issue to Bob, and he agreed with my reasoning. I then talked to Linda. She told me that they had made the same decision, i.e., purchase an RV vs. a permanent cottage in the mountains. They loved the freedom of their RV.

It didn’t take much more consideration before Bob, and I made the decision, then the leap to go purchase an RV.  We now own a 29 ft. RV that could sleep up to eight people. In other words, it’s big enough for us and all our critters, two small dogs, two cats, and four parrots.

RV
We purchased our RV four months ago. Our first trip was up to a campground in North Carolina. It was a trip we made where we stayed five nights for free, and it was part of the purchase of our RV.  Little did we know, there was a catch. We had to sit through a sales presentation where we could join Travel Resorts of America. We weren’t all that pumped up about sitting through the presentation and were pretty sure we wouldn’t join. So, on day two, a fella came by our site in a golf cart and took us around the campgrounds showing us all the amenities. As we sat through the presentation, I began to realize it was a very good deal for not as much money than it would cost us over the long run if we didn’t join.

After the presentation, Bob and I discussed our options. We managed to buy one of their packages which gives us free stays at three of their eight sites anytime we want to visit the sites. The three sites define our three “home bases,” which are free to use for as long as we want each trip. Also, we get to stay at the remaining five sites for $10/day anytime we want to visit. The sites are located in various States up and down the east coast.

On top of that, we have access to some other sites that are part of the Travel Resorts of America across the country for only $10/day. Normally, campsites cost $40-50 per day, and that doesn’t include the gas you purchase to get to and from the sites. So, we signed up.

We’ve been camping every month for the past four months and enjoying every minute of our new adventure. Three of those trips have been at our home-base campgrounds. Thus, those camping fees have added up to $0. One of those trips was a trip up to Ohio.

Hurricane Florence was due to come onshore, and as it moved toward the SC/NC shores, it was scheduled to be a category three hurricane. We had already experienced a category one hurricane two summers ago, and after moving into our current home, we decided a category three hurricane would be far scarier. The category one was scary enough.

At first, Bob wanted to stay home. However, after we purchased a generator for $900, and discovered that the generator would only power up one appliance and one lamp, we changed our minds. Being newcomers to natural disasters, we thought a generator would power up the entire house. So, once we realized the limited capacity of the outrageously expensive generator, we decided to take it back, get a refund and call one of our three home bases, to escape the hurricane.

We called the campground in NC where we first stayed. They were under a flood warning, so, we called the Ohio facility which was not one of our home bases. We discovered, however,  that they were offering members a free stay vs. the normal $10/day fee as a “hurricane” courtesy. We spent the following day, pulling in everything from the outside and securing them in our garage and house. We then loaded up our RV and headed out.

When the hurricane hit, the Myrtle Beach area basically suffered a category one. The brunt of the hurricane caused far more damage in North Carolina. Nonetheless, we didn’t have to sit through even the scary winds and rain of a category one hurricane. Plus, we thoroughly enjoyed our four days stay in Ohio where we will return to stay again and enjoy some of their amenities like horseback riding.

Reg. Pilot Mtn

Recently, we spent four days in North Carolina at a campground for which we paid the full charge. However, it was still a great trip. We camped at the base of Pilot Mountain in North Carolina and only fifty miles south of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

 

Pilot Mountain is beautiful, especially when the morning skies to the south are lit up with the pink of a rising sun, causing the granite rock that juts up on the top of the mountain to appear pink as well.

The temperatures were crisp during the evenings. The days were cool but pleasant. It was pleasant sleeping under a few quilts with our two dogs and cats sharing the bed with us.

Our birds also enjoyed the trip. Their three cages sit above the cab, and we always bring plenty of covers to keep them cozy and warm during the evening. Our African Grey parrot, Jasper, especially likes traveling in the RV. His cage sits next to the window so he can watch outside as we drive down the highway. He sings and talks the entire time. The cats love to travel as well. They spend most of the drive time under the driver’s and passenger’s seats. It’s warm under there. The dogs love it too.

When Bob drives, Slugger, our thirteen-year-old Schnauzer sleeps in his bed the entire trip up and back. Our other Schnauzer, Bailey, who is still a puppy, takes advantage of me by climbing up on my lap. I don’t mind at all. This last trip, I drove both ways. Bailey slept on a pad in between Bob and me. Bob’s not the sucker I am. He prefers no pets wiggling around on his lap.

We’ve decided to stay home for Thanksgiving. We were planning a trip to the Outer Banks. However, we decided to add on to our downstairs patio instead. We’ll visit the Outer Banks next summer when we can go swimming in the ocean.

For Christmas, we’ve decided to spend it in our favorite Christmas town, Gatlinburg. We’ll stay in a campground just outside the town. We tow our Jeep whenever we camp. The Jeep gives us lots of mobility.

This next year we plan to take a trip up the east coast, all the way to Maine. Along the way, we’ll stop in Rhode Island, my birth State. I want to visit the beach I used to go to as well as eat clam cakes at Aunt Carrie’s not far from the beach, Sandy Point. It’s beautiful along the beach route which will give me a little bit of nostalgia and will introduce Bob to a part of the country he hasn’t yet traveled.

In a year or two, we plan a big adventure. Bob has traveled out west. I have as well, but only by air. I was once at the edge of the Rocky Mountains where I picked up my brother and his girlfriend and brought them back to where we lived in Illinois. However, I was only able to get a small glimpse of the Rockies.   A trip out west will be a spectacular adventure for me. We’ll drive out by taking the northern route, then return traveling through the southern route. We’ll get to see a lot of the west, and we’ll take our time doing it. We’re talking about a month-long trip.

Despite the threat of hurricanes, we’re happy we chose to live at the beach. Fortunately, the Myrtle Beach coastline is indented, so it misses many of the hurricanes. When they do come on shore, they are the tail of the storm. We’re also happy we now have a means of enjoying the Smokie Mountains and Gatlinburg. Also, we will be taking a trip back to Nashville to see some of our friends and enjoying some of our old stomping grounds. Best of all, we will do all of that and more while driving our rolling home while towing our Jeep enabling us to go wherever we want while we’re camping.

We have indeed discovered the best of both worlds. We live at the beach.  Plus, it has been a wonderful, unplanned surprise to realize we have lots of trips to look forward to in our future.

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Filed under fun, Maribeth Shanley, Travel, writing

The Latest Buzz on Books by Sherrie Hansen

 

Please indulge me… I don’t mean to brag, but both of these reviews were recently posted on Amazon Canada by a new reader of my books. They touched me so deeply that I wanted to share them with you. If you’ve questioned what my books are about, or whether or not you should try reading one of them, perhaps this will help. Thank you in advance.

Daybreak in Denmark (3)

NIGHT and DAY

“Sherrie Hansen’s book Night and Day blew me away.

This was my Sunday afternoon read and the storytelling was so engaging I didn’t stop turning the pages until I was finished. But it still me kept me up late into the night because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

This NEVER happens to me! First, I can’t remember the last time I finished a book in one sitting! Second, it’s rare that I lose sleep over a book unless I’m reading it!

Night and Day is not a typical contemporary romance novel. It is sophisticated, mature, exceptionally written, and deeply, emotionally engaging. I am not a romantic, not really, but Night and Day has me questioning my cynicism, believing in romance, and seeing men through a new lens.

Sherrie Hansen is not only a beautiful storyteller, but she is also an accomplished writer. Her characters are vivid, realistic people that carry the weight of their pasts into their current lives. I identified and bonded with Jensen, a late-30s unmarried woman clinging to her roots while at the same time aware that time is ticking and she’s failing to realize her dream of having a family and a happy ever after.

Jensen leapt off the pages for me and became real, a friend I wanted to have, a woman I wanted to be. Jensen has little character quirks that if not well-written (and seldom are) can be off-putting, but under Hansen’s careful handling, they become endearing, sometimes a little maddening, but an integral part of who Jensen is and what makes her so believable.

Night and Day (1)

Jensen is loved by two men – Ed, who gives her the physical love she needs, but his own painful past prevents him from letting go emotionally and Anders, who loves her with all his heart, who tells her in his words and his emotional support but can’t be a presence in her life because they are separated by distance and their own stubbornness.

The story is so skillfully handled that I couldn’t predict the outcome until towards the end of the book. And it wasn’t a prediction by then, it was Hansen leading me to its beautiful conclusion.

Another element to this book that’s important to note is the deep ties Jensen has to her past, to her great-grandmother, Maren, who emigrated to the US from Denmark. A bundle of letters written by Maren in Danish tell a story of love, romance and difficult choices. Hansen deftly weaves the two love stories together using the letters as a catalyst for the growing relationship between Jensen and Anders. It’s beautifully done.

Night and Day is an emotional rollercoaster of a romance novel. It’s contemporary but set in the early days of internet, when dial-up connections were slow and unreliable. This is a clever inclusion as it adds an intense element to the story telling, an atypical roadblock on the often, rocky path to love.

I think this was Hansen’s first book and it is so obvious that she wrote it with love in her heart. I did not want this book to end, ever. I didn’t want to let go of Jensen’s story. I cannot wait to read Daybreak, Sherrie Hansen’s sequel to Night and Day. I just have to wait for another lazy Sunday afternoon because I have no doubt how I will be spending it.”

Quilt - bear

DAYBREAK

“Sherrie Hansen is a storyteller and understands the vagaries of life in all its messiness. She doesn’t write perfect characters which ironically is what makes her characters perfect.

They are right and wrong in their thoughts, their relationships, their selfishness and their desires. They struggle with the difficulties they encounter, get side-tracked by them so badly sometimes that they lose sight of the big picture. Like every single one of us!

Daybreak - N&D

It’s almost impossible to review this book and do justice to it at the same time. It had me on an emotional roller-coaster from page one because the interplay and conflict between the characters is so identifiable.

This extended to the relationship between Jensen and her parents, Jensen and Anders, Jensen and Bjorn (her stepson), Anders and his son, Anders and his boss and so on.

Daybreak sunset

It subtly showed that life is not perfect and that sometimes everything spins out of control in a way that takes you away from what you believed were your dreams, your beliefs, your priorities. In their desire not to hurt one another, Jensen and Anders do exactly that. Their story left me fuming and crying and frustrated. But also made me reflect on my own behaviour towards the ones I love and what truly is important in life.

Finally, this book, like Night and Day, was beautifully written and exceptionally edited, two critical components of a five-star book.

I shall be reading a lot more of Ms. Hansen’s books.”

Sherrie - book signing

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Project Done by John E. Stack

Hi All.  It has been a while since I have been here, but I went through a rough time with lots of stuff on my mind and just not in the mood to write.  Anyway, I decided that it was time to once again try my hand at writing.

Last summer (2017), I undertook a remodeling project in our master bedroom and bathroom.  I waited all summer to build a door that would serve as the entrance to our master bathroom.   After everything else was complete I was able to start the door.  It took a while but since I was designing it as I went along that was okay.  The hardest part was getting the rail installed correctly since the instructions assumed that I knew a lot about installing barn doors.  Well, I finally completed the construction and finished the door with a paint wash (mix of 1/2 paint and 1/2 water).  It really allowed the grain in the door panels to pop.  I was pleased and Nana was pleased.

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Then, Suzanne (Nana) found a cabinet that she really liked.  It had a barn door covering half the front but was much larger and heavier than what we had room for.  Anyway, I had some time at the end of summer to start work on redesigning the cabinet and to start building.  I decided I would take their suggestion of using pocket screws and glue for assembly.  This would keep any of the screws from being visible and fewer holes to be plugged or filled.  Before the end of August, I was about 90% complete, but had to stop due to school starting.  Isn’t it funny how work really interferes with what you really want to do?  This is as far as I got…

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I knew that I needed to find time to work on it but with school going full force and life itself finding extra time was difficult.  Then we had a hurricane and our district decided to play it safe and close school on a Thursday and Friday.  Mostly, the weather was beautiful, so… I worked on my cabinet and finally completed it.  I did a paint wash on this one to match the original door, mounted the hardware and door and school started again.  This was as far as I got…

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Well, only a short time went by and I was able to get it hung in place.  I do need to replace the pully bolts with some a little longer, but it is now complete and being used.  The left side hides supplies behind the door like deodorant, TP, cleaner, etc.  Sooner or later the right side will be used for some type of decoration.  I’m happy with it and Nana really likes it.  So, it was worth the time taken to construct it.  I did cut some corners from the original plan.  Instead of using 3/4 inch plywood, I used 1/8 inch plywood which was a lot lighter (it was heavy without the back).

Instead of buying a hardware kit, I fabricated the hardware from two 1 inch iron bars and two clothes line pulleys.  I cut it to size and painted everything black.  It’s not fancy but it works.  Here is my finished product…

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I also designed it to be hung using a cleat so if we moved we could take it with us.  Sometimes you can’t leave all that hard work and creativity behind.  I hope you all have a great week.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Olivia’s Sweet Adventure, and Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo.

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Filed under children's books, fun, John Stack, life, writing

Hurry-Cane Michael

For a couple of days now, I’ve been glued to my TV trying to keep up with the latest movement of Hurricane Michael. I live in New Port Richey, Florida, close to the Gulf of Mexico in west-central Florida. It’s 3:30 in the afternoon on this tenth of October, 2018 and we are experiencing bands of gusty rain squalls from this storm, which is almost 500 miles northwest of here, as the crow flies. I’m quite safe, but what has had me so intent on my TV screen is friends who are not.

One friend, along with his family, lives and owns a grocery store in the Apalachicola, Florida area, just about dead center of “ground zero.” Another friend is visiting her friends in Crawfordville, directly south of Tallahassee, not far from Michael, who has, at this point, just gained landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, just one mile-per-hour shy of a Category 5. That’s 155 miles per hour that it is spinning and causing havoc! Can you believe that? The weathercasters are saying this storm is one of three of the strongest storms in history to breach an American coastline.

I went through Hurricane Irma last year and that experience is still fresh in my mind. And as a Floridian since 2002, I’ve ridden through a few hurricanes and tropical storms since I moved here.

Some people have asked me why I would choose to live in such a dangerous place. I’ve actually thought about the answer to that question and have decided there really isn’t a place I’d want to live that is any safer, these days, anyway. I grew up in NJ. There’s snow there and hurricanes too. I’ve lived in Indiana where there are ticks in the grass. Ewww! I know, poor excuse. Montana got down to 50 degrees-below-zero the first winter I spent there and I vividly remember a storm that produced baseball sized hail right after I planted hollyhocks. Grrrr! I lived a couple of places in Texas where I had to deal with scorpions in one place and pigeon mites in another. Alabama was pretty safe except I moved from there to be closer to my son as I grew older.

My conclusion is every place will have advantages and disadvantages and now that I’m here, I’m stayin! I like the warmer weather until summer hits and I’m truly blessed to have a neighbor behind me who has a hurricane-safe-rated house. So, last year, during Irma, I sat securely in her house keeping an eye open on my house. Everything turned out okay and the only thing I lost was a wonderful old backyard hedge, which I replaced with a vinyl fence.

My friends I was worried about, I’m still worried about because I’ve gotten word they have lost power. So, at this point, my action calls for heavy prayer, but actually, that’s the action I started out with and it usually works the best. Please help me pray? I’d appreciate it!

Update: It’s Thursday the 11th and I heard late last night that my friends are safe. Thank goodness. I’m continuing to pray for all those others who have gone through this monstrous storm, and I also pray that Hurricane Michael will hurry out of the U.S. so we can start the healing process.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Merry of Soul, She Sailed on a Day, Over the Sea to Skye – by Sherrie Hansen

The next leg of our Scottish journey felt like coming home. We make it a point to see new places and things each time we come to Scotland, but we also plan return visits to places we didn’t get enough of the first time around.  Scot - Skye sunset

Coming back to the Isle of Skye on the ferry from Harris felt like meeting up with an old, familiar friend for a quick catch up. We saw a phenomenal sunset while we headed back to our B&B, a newly built addition with a comfortable bed, an amazing, spa-like bathroom and a beautiful view of Loch Dunvegan. Only two things marred our visit – more midges and a sad state of affairs at a much-renowned Stein pub where we’d had wonderful meals twice before. We were truly shocked when our waitress ignored us for over an hour before taking our order, not even bringing us water or a menu, while the Scots at the table next to ours ordered, ate, paid and went their merry ways. I won’t go into the details, but it was the first time we’d been treated rudely, probably because we were Americans, on any of our journeys. When our dinners finally arrived, my meat was tough and undercooked. I would have left without paying, but my nice husband took care of the bill and we departed completely mystified at the treatment we’d received.

Scot - Skye sunset 2

The rest of our time on Skye was delightful. We enjoyed our room and the nice breakfast treats left in the refrigerator, and went to sleep dreaming of the opportunity to see some of our favorite spots from two years ago. After taking in the scenery on the loop from Dunvegan to Sligachan Valley, we followed the highway toward Armadale Castle and Gardens, on the east side of Skye, which we had not seen our first trip.

Scot - castle ruins

The gardens were lovely and the ruins of the castle were serene and full of interesting historical images. Our hike through the forest was as brief as we could manage as the dreaded midges were once again out in full force. Thankfully, after we left the castle, we found a locally manufactured concoction made with natural ingredients and essential oils that did seem to deter the little buggers, as well as soothing the bites I already had.

Scot - Dornie

We stopped at Dorney and Eilean Donan Castle on our way to Loch Carron. Eilean Donan, the only place besides the Glasgow airport that we’ve seen on all three visits to Scotland, is the setting of Shy Violet, and plays a role in Sweet William. I truly do feel a connection to this castle. I took a copy of Sweet William along to give to one of the servers at the Castle café just like I did Shy Violet two years ago, and to my delight, they remembered me! The woman we gifted the book to even had a connection to the house on the front cover. Like so many aspects of our trip, the whole thing felt meant to be.

Scot - Eilean Donan

I had the same pleasant sense of déjà vu in Loch Carron. The idea for Golden Rod was born while I was there two years ago, and it was great fun to leave copies with the owner of the B&B where we stayed and the owner of the Waterside Café, which is mentioned in the book.  We revisited Lochcarron Weavers (and left with more wool remnants), stopped at my favorite craft shop (which had almost burned down in a forest fire the week before).

Scot - Fairy

I bought a wee Scottish fairy, and saw the incredibly scenic overlooks we discovered last time. But from there on, everything we saw and did was entirely new. We had two incredible meals, one at Lochcarron Bistro that included some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Scot - Lochcarron bench 

The next day, we set off for Applecross, a charming seaside village at the end of one of the steepest, scariest mountain roads I’ve ever been on. Mark navigated the narrow, winding road quite well, and our little Honda put forth a valiant effort while I tried to snap photos whenever I could. One didn’t dare stop to shoot a photo midway up the incline for fear you’d never get going again. It was that steep.

Scot - Applecross

Once we rounded a series of extremely sharp hairpin curves, we walked around the summit and stretched our tense legs. From there, it was downhill to Applecross, a very secluded town on the water, where we discovered a delightful garden that was being restored to its former glory.

Scot - garden

It was totally unanticipated, and one of my favorite stops of the entire trip.

Scot - Mark in boat

Coming down the mountain via the coastal road was a different kind of adventure, with wandering, remote single track roads lined with wildflowers, boothies, sheep and hairy coo, punctuated by the occasional fishing village. The one thing we never saw was a gas station, and we breathed a sigh of relief when we glided into Lochcarron on petrol fumes and miraculously found a gas station that was still open.    

Scot - Hairy Coo

The weather that day was warm and sunny, and perfect for exploring. We stopped frequently and stumbled upon a few gems on that trip over the mountain. I even discovered the work of a potter whose main shop was back in Strathcarron. I left with several little dishes and hearts made by Vicky Stonebridge at Balnacra Arts & Pottery, all in her signature pastel colors and whimsical designs. If ever I live in Lochcarron, I will visit her studio often.

Scot - pottery

The next morning, after another wonderful Scottish breakfast, we said goodbye and left for Fort William, a stopover on our way to Kilmartin Glen, our last major destination.

 Scot - SW House

On the way, we finally found the spot where I took the photo that is on the front cover of Sweet William. I say finally because we’d looked and looked and never found it two years ago.

Sweet William Front Cover

The trick was, you had to get out of the car and hike past an old church ruin to get to the spot where you could look down into the valley to see what I fondly call Rabbit Hill Lodge (in my imagination and the world of Lyndsie and Violet in Sweet William.)

Scot - Fort William

From there, it was more mountains and a drive through the Spey River valley to Speybridge. We heard a bagpiper playing at the summit and watched a storm approaching from the west. The storm followed us all the way to Fort William and while it doused our sightseeing efforts, it didn’t deter us from poking around downtown and finding a restaurant that had room for two. I had haggis with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), served with a whiskey peppercorn gravy.

Scot - Haggis

By this stage of the trip, we felt very aware of the fact that our vacation days were drawing to a close. I remember wondering if this would be the last time I got to enjoy haggis. I think it was – and a good note to end on, it was.

Scot - FW church

Sunday morning, we decided to try a Scottish church once more, and found a lively congregation much like what we’re used to at Zion, in Hudson, Iowa, where my husband is the pastor. They had guitars and sang songs we knew, and the pastor was easy to listen to and even witty at times. While the people were very friendly and welcoming at both churches we visited, this one was more relaxed and joyous and felt like home.

Scot - skye - rhodo close

It was hard to imagine that we would see anything in our last few days in country that would rival the sights we’d already enjoyed, but Kilmartin Glen did just that. It’s called saving the best for last.

Until next time…

Scot - Skye 

(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, while living in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, decorate vintage homes, and travel.)

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

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