Category Archives: Travel

The One-Way Mirror, by Carole Howard

Violinists sometimes claim they play the most difficult instrument. After all, there are no keys to press that automatically produce “C#.” Nor are there frets, as on a guitar neck, for guidance. You need to just know where to put your finger. For every single note – and there are so many of them. (Have you guessed I’m a violinist?)

I have to admit, though, that pianists have it rough, too, with two different lines of music, one for the left hand and one for the right. As if that weren’t enough, the two lines are written in different clefs. (Non-musicians: let’s just say that black dot on one of the five lines of a musical staff can mean different things depending on which clef it’s in.)

Each group has a point. Or, as my friend’s mother used to say, “There are pros and cons on both sides, and they’re all bad.”

Having been a fiction writer who dove, somewhat naively, into memoir-writing, I see that there are pros and cons in both genres. In this case, of course, they’re not all bad. But they sure are different.

My first novel was character-driven. I could use incidents from my own life, but got to pick and choose, and had the freedom to make up whatever I wanted. Having come from the corporate-writing world, it seemed heavenly to give free rein to my imagination, my creativity. Readers didn’t know which parts were fact-based and which were fictional. When people asked if the protagonist was really me, the short answer was no.

And yet, there was that intimidating blank-canvas thing.

The second novel was a murder mystery. Only a little was drawn from my life, and the canvas wasn’t so blank because mysteries have to be constructed in a certain way so they wind up being….. mysterious. Red herrings, false clues, buried truth. So the “rules” were comforting. But they were difficult, very difficult, to follow.

Like I said, pros and cons.

My most recent book is a travel memoir about five volunteer trips, each two months long, to the developing world. It’s not a travelogue: no recommendations for hotels or restaurants. Yes, it recounts experiences I had while traveling – some funny, some inspiring, some surprising, some sad. There was the time I was twenty feet from a silverback mountain gorilla with nothing between us except trees. Or the time I coached sex workers on their presentations to colleagues about the correct use of condoms. We used wooden props – use your imagination!

But the point of telling about these moments in the memoir is not necessarily, “This is great – you should do it too.” There’s a lot more. Character. Reflections. Truth. Certainly, the tools for writing fiction were also crucial for memoir: setting the scene with physical description, creating tension, using punchy dialogue. But making it all into a story was quite a hill to climb.

The strangest thing about having written a memoir, though, is realizing there are a whole lot of people out there who know some pretty intimate stuff about me. Not only do I not know intimate details about them, I don’t even know who they are!

When I’m speaking at a book store or library, this asymmetry is particularly disorienting. And there’s irony, too: People in the audience, if they’ve read the book, know how uncomfortable I feel about public speaking, and yet here I am, speaking publicly. Through the looking glass, or should I say the one-way mirror?

I guess it’s like being naked when everyone else is clothed, aka EVERYONE’S WORST NIGHTMARE!!

  •     *     *     *

Carole Howard wrote Deadly Adagio, a mystery with a musical undertone set in West Africa, published by Indigo Sea Press.

2 Comments

Filed under Carole Howard, fiction, music, musings, Travel, writing

What a Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful World by Sherrie Hansen

There’s no better way to spend a wintery day than to plan a summer vacation. My home in northern Iowa got over ten inches of snow on Thursday night and Friday. The murder mystery we had scheduled for that night was cancelled due to 40 mph wind gusts and blizzard conditions. Thankfully, we didn’t lose power, because I was busy online, reserving rooms and planning our late May, early June trek through Wales, Ireland and southern England.

england-lamb

Now that Mark and I are both in our 60’s, our goal is to take an adventurous vacation every year for as long as we’re able. Everyone we know says, do it now, while you can. We’re following their advice. We don’t want to be one of those couples who works too hard and waits too long to see the world, only to lose their health, their mobility, or one or the other of them to death.

sw-13

Last year, when we were in Scotland, we walked 7 to 10 miles nearly every day of our 2 1/2 week trip in order to see things like the Fairy Glen, the cows grazing on Claigan Coral Beach on Skye, the Fairy Pools, the ancient Standing Stones on Arran, the ruins of Findlater Castle on Cullen Bay, and Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire.

Bug

In Romania, we went up and down hundreds of flights of stairs  to see Dracula’s Bran Castle. We strained our muscles to the max  to walk down steep inclines to the sea in Cornwall to see Tintagel Castle and again, in Clovelly, Devon. It wasn’t easy because we’re not in the greatest shape, but we did it, and we’re going to keep doing it as long as we can.

Romania - Castle

This year, we’re off to Wales, Ireland and the south of England. We got a great price on our airline tickets, and have pinned down where we’re staying. Our first three nights will be spent exploring the coastal paths, beaches and sunsets of southwest Wales at Cardigan, where we’ll be staying in an restored, 18th century, attic apartment.

airbnb-cardigan-wales

We’ll move on to Northern Wales, where our home for three nights will be Glyn House, in Capel Curig, in Snowdonia in the Welsh mountains.

airbnb-capel-curig-wales

From there, we’ll catch the ferry to Ireland, a new country for both of us. We’ll see the historic area north of Dublin from Hollow Stream B&B in the village of Kingscourt, which boasts a pub with live Celtic music the first Friday of the month. Perfect timing!

airbnb-kingscourt-ireland

Our remaining time in Ireland will find us in a luxurious 1930’s home near Croom village in Limerick, a stone house in Killarney, Kerry, from which we can visit Dingle, on the far southwest coast of Ireland, and a 250 year old Georgian house in Cashel, Tipperary.

After ferrying from Dublin back to Wales, we’ll spend one indulgent night at a Georgian restaurant with rooms on the Llyn Peninsula on the far west side of Wales.

airbnb-plas-bodegroes-llyn-peninsula-nw-wales

On our first night back in England, we’ll be cozied up in a 17th century Cotswold stone farmhouse home in Evesham, close to Chipping Campden and Stratford upon Avon, and more important, my cousin Sarah and her family in Bicester. The B&B is beautiful, but it was the rare Soay sheep they keep that called out to me and said, “Boooook.”

airbnb-sheep

Our second to the last stop of the trip is just north of Devon, near the southern shore of England. If I don’t come home, this is where I’ll probably be…

airbnb-durweston-uk

Our last two nights will be in a sweet Victorian cottage in Kent, somewhat near Gatwick Airport for ease of travel. We tried to think of ease and comfort when making a lot of our reservations… queen or king beds, no steep staircases or ladders leading to loft bedrooms, quiet countryside locations with plenty of parking, pretty gardens for relaxing,  two or three nights per location, and views to the west so I can watch the sun set.

sw-36

Even more important, I tried to find places that captured my imagination. As I learned when we stumbled upon St. Conan’s Kirk in Loch Awe, Scotland, an idea for a book (Wild Rose) can spring up from the most unanticipated locales. The same thing happened when I heard “Nathan” playing the pipes in front of Eilean Donan Castle and caught a glimpse of the pirate boat in the cove (Shy Violet and Sweet William).

the-wildflowers-of-scotland-novels

It was an old legend on a castle tour that primed the pump for Golden Rod, coming this summer.

sw-121

 

I’m not sure what about, or even if this trip will result in a new book, but it wouldn’t surprise me. My mind is already tantalized after choosing the places we’ll be staying. I can’t wait! If it’s still cold and snowy where you are, I hope you’ve enjoyed thinking about summer for a few minutes. If my quick travel preview didn’t do the trick, pick up a book and escape to a faraway place where the wildflowers are blooming and a summer breeze is blowing across the Atlantic. (Yes, that’s a hint.)

Until then, mar sin leat.

12 Comments

Filed under photographs, Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing

A Rainbow in Winter by Sherrie Hansen

In real life, it’s called a bad case of the blues, losing hope, or hitting rock bottom.   In a book, it’s called the black moment – that devastating culmination of circumstances when all momentum comes screeching to a halt, when you think things are so bad that they can’t possibly get any worse, and then, they do – that time when all hope is lost.

bbinn-storm

The thing that saddens me is that, whereas the characters in the books we write and read almost always come around to a happy ending, in real life, when we come to a dead end, we sometimes (often?) really do give up and walk away from the things that could bring us true happiness.

az-quills

We all know that summer comes for only a season, and eventually, must ease into fall – which leads to the desolate cold of winter.

az-purples

In some cases, it’s even given a name – SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. I’ve been prone to it for years. It can be depressing and debilitating. It can mean death to your dreams and the end to your goals.

az-window

In my book, Sweet William, Lyndsie and William seem to have finally overcome the issues that are keeping them apart when tragedy rips their dreams to shreds. The scenes that follow are some of the blackest I’ve ever written, but because of the pain they have to work through, their joy is deeper, and the ending, more sweet than any before.

bbinn-sunset

When we hit a wall, we have two choices… we can crawl into a cave, cry ourselves to sleep, and settle in to hibernate for the winter, and maybe beyond.

az-pink-heart

Or, we can spend our winters looking for bright spots.

az-planted

az-aloe-colored

az-rock

Because there are rainbows in winter, and rainbows in deserts, and flowers and dashes of color where you might least expect them, and inspiration in odd places.

bbinn-winter-rainbow

And the sun keeps shining even on the coldest days.

az-cactus-blue

It may be blotted out, or obscured for a time, but it is there, giving warmth and melting the snow away from your heart, and making you ready for spring.

bbinn-winter-2016

The next time you feel hopeless and blue, read a book, maybe even THE Book.

az-chapel

Horrible things will happen, maybe even things that are worse than whatever is making you sad.

az-co-sunset

And then, wonder of wonder, there will be a resurrection, and out of the ashes will come new life, and somehow, you will find a happy ending.

az-rainbow

Have faith. There are rainbows even in the desert.

bbinn-rainbow

13 Comments

Filed under photographs, Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, by Carole Howard

I’ve been thinking longingly about a sailing trip we once took with friends in the Caribbean. It was a certain version of heaven. A catamaran (to minimize seasickness), with a crew (we don’t know how to sail a boat) and good company. Blue sky, gentle waves, cooling breezes, white sand. There was little to interrupt our tranquility.   And there were pina coladas to boot!

My current longing has nothing to do with the climate, the boat, the rum, or even the friends. It was, rather, that once we left the dock, putt-putted out of the harbor, cut the motor and raised the sails, we were completely out of touch with the mainland. There were no cell phones. No internet. The captain could call ashore if necessary, but that was pretty much reserved for emergencies. We had no idea what was going on in the rest of the world.   Aaaaah. Right around now that sounds pretty good.

Every time I open the computer to my home page, The New York Times, or listen to the radio in the car, or even look at Facebook to keep up with the adorable antics of my grandchildren, I’m laid low with any one, or more, of an assortment of unpleasant emotions. Fear. Dismay. Anger. A sense of powerlessness. Depression.

There’s the situation in Aleppo – not to mention the rest of Syria – and the ones in Yemen, South Sudan, and elsewhere. If you don’t know what’s going on in those places, I envy you, but a lot of it involves children who are dead, injured, or starving.  And massacres. It’s more than I can bear.

And then, of course, there’s the election.   (If you’ve read any of my blogs, you’re not surprised I feel this way.) Chasms where once there were “only” cracks. Our current national fracture has even wended its way to my town, a beautiful historic community with an agricultural tradition where citizens have always gotten along pretty well. Since the election, there have been two incidents that, in the context of this town, were shocking. One was the defacing of a Jewish cemetery, and the other an explosive, almost violent, public meeting about a blue line down one of our streets to demonstrate appreciation for our local police department. Things like this just don’t happen here! But now they do.

And so I’ve been thinking about the sailboat interlude and considering cutting myself off from the news, including Facebook. It feels drastic – and, frankly, I don’t know if I could actually do it – but it would just be temporary, to allow my emotional immune systems to regroup. On the boat, I had no choice, but to self-isolate is a different matter.

I’ve been more-or-less of an activist since the 1960’s, and it would feel eerie to be unmoored from the rest of the world’s events. The deep blue sea. But it feels worse to mourn for my country and the world. The devil.

I’m not advocating giving up. I’m glad others are out there fighting the good fight. This would only be a sabbatical. But I’m not sure it’s a responsible thing to do.

Advice, please?

  •     *     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a musical murder mystery set in Senegal.

 

14 Comments

Filed under Carole Howard, musings, Travel, writing

A Local Evening in Germany

A few days ago, my son came to help me put up Christmas decorations and, wanting to reward him, I offered to take him and his girlfriend to dinner at a restaurant of his choice. He chose a local family-owned German restaurant here in coastal, west-central Florida. We go there often and are friends with the owner and his lovely wife who immigrated here a number of years ago. Just stepping inside their restaurant always makes us feel as though we have traveled back in time and are journeying down memory lane, once more.

We were a military family and we lived in Germany for three years. Our home was in Morbach snuggled in the Hunsrück Mountains near the Mosel River and not far from Luxembourg. At the time, it was a rather small village with delightfully helpful people and was not an area known much to tourists. So, most of our friends were either fellow Americans or German neighbors or people we met while we were there.

Every chance we got, we traveled around the country, trying to cram in as much history, art and culture as possible and as I looked around the restaurant at all the beautiful objet d’art that decorated the rooms, I was reminded of some of those experiences. Folklore fascinated me and how it was manifested in artwork and in particular, woodcarving. In the Black Forest, I met an artist who sold me three of his works that he had hand carved. He explained that the styles might be different in each, but they were based on German fairy tales, folklore and history.

The first object was a witch with a cat sitting on her shoulder. It was 8 ½” tall and carved with large strokes of the cutting blade which, amazingly didn’t hamper the detail of her figure or face or of the little animal. This technique actually created shadows and wrinkles and character.

Witch with cat

Witch with cat

The next object was a mask about 11 ½” tall.  I was captivated by the fact that the carving totally followed the grain of the wood; the center was the tip of the nose. It had to take real planning to imagine ahead of time how to accomplish the carving. The kind of thinking-ahead required of a chess player, I thought. Amazing!

 Carved Mask

Carved Mask

And the last object was a mountain climber which measured 22” from the top of his upper hand to the bottom of his lantern.  The carving technique on this work was similar to the witch with the wider carving strokes and was also rendered from a single chunk of wood, except for the feather in the climber’s cap, and of course, the metal lantern. I found it enchanting that the lantern actually lights up and hangs from the ceiling by the climber’s rope. Since then, I’ve seen this piece often copied because of its uniqueness and popularity.

Mountain Climber

Mountain Climber

Germany will always be a special place to me. I have wonderful memories of good times, good people, and good experiences that I shall cherish always. Opportunities to spark those memories again and again abide in my local German friends. Thank you, Dagmar and Uwe.

Do you have a place or people that remind you of a cherished previous time in your life, just by going there and seeing it or them? I’d love to hear.

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

8 Comments

Filed under Art, blogging, Coco Ihle, musings, Travel

A Vacation Horror by Thornton Cline

I am still standing today after 11 near death experiences.

I am still standing today after 11 near death experiences.

In my last blog, I shared about how I should have died when I was only two-years-old, which is documented in Chapter Two: A Toddler Almost Lost of my Indigo Sea Press debut book, “Not My Time to Go”.
In Chapter Three: A Vacation Horror, I had just finished third grade. Summer had begun, and I was headed to the lovely, pristine beaches of Mathews County, Virginia with my sister, Robin and my parents. We ventured out in our 1959 green Rambler and headed east to the beach. We were cruising down Interstate 64 East, singing songs and sharing stories of how great our vacation would be.
The sun was quickly setting as we took the New Kent County exit and headed down a lonely, two-lane highway, Route 33. It was now very dark.
“Keep your eyes on the road,” my mother warned.
There was an eerie fog that had settled on the highway. It was so dark that even two bright headlights looked like tiny candles flickering in the night. The road creepily wound beneath large trees which draped over the road. It was very rural and there was no one around for miles. Everyone in the car was silent and still. For Robin and me, it was a scary place to be.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a bright light flashed down on the right-hand side of the highway.

Phyllis screamed. “Bob, watch out for those poles.”
My dad swerved left, now seeing for himself the long poles jutting out in front of us. It happened so fast that no one had time to think. Bob steered to the side of the road and slammed on the brakes, taking us from 60 mph to zero in seconds. Robin and I were thrown as the car stopped. We were stunned. Speechless, we sat there in the dark trying to catch a breath. I was shaking violently. I never demonstrated much outward affection for my sister. But that night, I reached over to Robin and held her close, comforting her.
We stared at each other like zombies, slowly realizing that we were alive and in one piece. We had no cuts, scratches or bruises, nor any broken bones. We stepped out of our car and noticed the long skid marks our car had burned onto the left lane.
There was an old construction truck parked awkwardly in a rough dirt driveway. No one was in the vehicle, which was sitting perpendicular to the road. It seemed strange for someone to leave a truck parked like that, its back end barely clearing the right lane. There was no note left on the truck nor was there a rag attached to the truck indicating that it was broken down.
We looked closer and realized that passing that truck would have been fatal for us. We stared in disbelief—jutting out the back of the truck were eight long four-inch wide solid steel poles.
The truck had been parked in such a way that the poles extended over the entire right hand lane of the dark two-lane highway. These poles stuck out low enough so that if Bob hadn’t swerved to the left lane when Phyllis screamed, they would have cut off the top of our car. We would have instantly been killed, our head severed from our torsos.
Then a strong wave of peace flooded my body. I felt like I had been touched by the hand of God. I felt renewed by a new sense of confidence and purpose. At that moment, I felt reassured that I could go on with my life know I was protected by God and His angels.

3 Comments

Filed under blogging, books, Mike Simpson, Thornton Douglas Cline, Travel, writing

And to All a Happy Thanksgiving

It would seem churlish to write about anything other than Thanksgiving today.  (The other thing on my mind is the election and, believe me, that would be even more churlish.)

Problem is, everything’s already been said about Thanksgiving (including by me: see  Happy Any-Holiday, Wherever You Are).  As deeply as  I feel all those things, I don’t want to write in cliches.  So instead, I’ll post the Thanksgiving scene from DEADLY ADAGIO.  As with much fiction, this particular scene is based on a real-life experience.   It’s a different kind of Thanksgiving, but the basics are there: family, food, fellowship, gratitude.

Set-up: someone in the official American community in Dakar, Senegal, has been murdered.  In this scene, a couple of guys from Washington are in Senegal, investigating.  I’m leaving one name blank for those unfortunate souls who haven’t yet read the book and don’t know who’s been murdered.

  •              *               *              *

The two bland men with skinny ties who were seated on either side of Bruce were introduced as being “from Washington, to help with the investigation.”  Unsmiling,  but without the puffed-out chest Emily had expected, those guys somehow managed to look stern and submissive at the same time.  Maybe that was their intention.  And they didn’t realize it was 1998, or maybe they just hadn’t bought new ties since the ’80s.  These must be the guys from the FBI.

When they were seated, Bruce started off by asking her the routine questions she couldn’t believe he needed to bother with: name, age, marital status, address, profession.  She wanted to scream at him, “Come on, Bruce, this is me.  Emily!  We’re in the orchestra together.  You know Pete, too.  You know my name and my marital status and does my age really matter?”  She controlled herself, though, because she didn’t want to demean him in front of his Washington-guys.  Demeaning wasn’t nice and, besides, it wouldn’t be a good way to gain his trust so he’d divulge.

Bruce finally tiptoed into reality with questions about how long she and ______ had known each other, how well they knew each other, where they met, whether they knew each others’ families.  The Washington guys took notes on those skinny pads that she’d seen TV cops use.  Emily wondered if their note-taking was redundant, and they compared notes later, or specialized, with each one wring about one kind of thing.  She wanted to try to notice when their note-taking sped up and slowed down — maybe that would shed some light on the things they were particularly interested in.

When Bruce asked how they’d first met, she lost track of her status as interviewee and sank into the sweet nostalgia of remembering her friend.

It had been just before Thanksgiving.  Emily had gone to the Peace Corps office to offer to invite a couple of volunteers to her family’s celebration, knowing it was a particularly tough time for the young ones, especially, to be away from home.  It turned out there was a new Peace Corps Director, and when she made her offer to him, he said they’d be hosting all the volunteers.

“All the volunteers?  Do you have any idea what you’re in for?  Do you know how hungry those kids can be?”  She’d entertained volunteers in the past and knew first hand.  The brownie consumption alone was impressive.

Knowing the family would be in for a shock, Emily volunteered to help with the preparations, though not the meal itself, which she’d share with her own family.  She got in touch with ________ and the two women spent the next few days together, concerning themselves with how to approximate turkey with all the trimmings in West Africa.

“Fifty volunteers, so about 50 pounds of turkey.  How many turkeys is that, do you think?” asked _______.  “Anyway, I’m sure we can get them through the Commissary.”

“No, no, no, you’re thinking of people back home.  These kids are really hungry.  Fifty kids means at least 100 pounds of turkey, I’d say.”

“A hundred pounds of turkey?  How will we ever be able to cook all that?”

They found a bakery that would cook six big turkeys, leaving _______’s oven available for 100 or so baked potatoes — 50 sweet and 50 white.

Another logistical challenge was salad for fifty.  Here in West Africa, any locally-grown produce to be consumed raw and unpeeled had to be soaked in an iodine solution, then rinsed in (previously-boiled) water to combat the iodine taste.  The Peace Corps doctor and Embassy doctor were unanimous and adamant about this.  Many of the volunteers, young enough to consider themselves immortal, cut corners — and some paid the amoebic price — but ________ and Emily had shed their senses of immortality long before.  They gathered large buckets for lettuce-soaking and peeled the cucumbers and tomatoes so they wouldn’t require soaking.

________’s maid, Yacine, enlisted four family members to help.  When Emily and _______ tried to explain the origins of the Thanksgiving meal to Yacine and her helpers, they realized how difficult it was to explain something so culturally specific to someone from another culture.  They also realized how incomplete their knowledge was.  Between pictures, words, and pantomime, though, everyone wound up understanding a little and laughing a lot.

In the end, _______ and Emily became so close from preparing for the meal that their families had Thanksgiving together, with the 50 volunteers, of course. There were no leftovers except bones.

*          *          *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery with a musical undertone.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Carole Howard, Travel, writing

A Day at the Beach by Steve Hagood

excited-23789_640

My wife’s family decided they wanted to take a trip together a few summers ago. After much discussion, and making and changing of plans multiple times, they decided they’d like to spend a day at the beach. The beach they picked was on Lake Michigan. As we live on the other side of the state, it would be almost a three hour drive to get there. As fun as it sounds to travel across the state to spend a day with your in-laws, I really didn’t want to go.

My plan was to start a fight with my wife the night before the trip, and she wouldn’t WANT me to go. Fortunately, I’m an expert at picking fights, and I pulled it off just as I had planned.

So, bright and early the next morning I was in the car headed to the beach. Obviously, I had lost the fight.

I drove the car that included my wife, Jenni, who had recently had hip surgery and was still in pain, my daughter, Aley, who was eight months pregnant at the time, and my stepdaughter, Chelsea, who was fourteen-years-old. This was going to be a fun drive.

It actually wasn’t bad the first couple hours. It was straight west on I-94. As we were closing in on the state line I said, “Do we know where we’re going? What exit we’re taking?”

Jenni said, “No.”

That probably would have been good information to have before we left. You wouldn’t think that a lake that covers more than 22,000 square miles would have be hard to find. And you’d be wrong.

Jenni received a text message from her sister, who was ahead of us, and learned that we needed to take exit 33. I was in the middle lane of a three lane highway with exit 33 fast approaching. I also happened to be talking to Aley and I tend to… lose focus on my driving when I’m talking. Sure enough, before I knew it exit 33 went by in a blur.

All three of the women in my car felt the need to tell me I had missed the exit. Like I didn’t know.

“No problem,” I said. “I’ll just go to the next exit, turn around, and we’ll be back on track.”

It’s important NOT to show fear in this situation. They can sense fear.

The next exit was another four miles down the highway. Four miles is a long way when your driving is being critiqued by three women.

I made it to the exit, got off and back on headed east. I soon found, to my distress, that there is not an exit 33 headed east on I-94. How can there NOT be an exit 33 headed east, I wondered.

“Ok, no problem,” I said. “I’ll go to the next exit and get turned around again.”

As we approached the off ramp Aley said, “I don’t think you can loop around like you did last time, Dad. I think this is another highway.”

“We’re good,” I assured her.

I took the exit and off we went, headed north on Highway 31. My passengers pointed out that we wouldn’t have been driving in circles if I hadn’t missed the exit to begin with.  “Thanks for the tip,” I said, giving serious consideration to opening the door and jumping out of the moving car.

It’s funny how perspective can change one’s outlook. Just twenty-four hours prior I had not wanted to go to the beach. At that point I’d have sold my soul to be there.

Mercifully, an exit appeared and I was able to get turned around again. We merged back onto I-94, drove a mile, and there it was… exit 33. I took the exit, thus ending the debacle. Or so I thought.

Jenni was getting directions in real time via text message from her sister. She told me to go straight all the way.

“Straight until we hit the lake?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“All right,” I said, “I can handle that.” And then the road dead-ended, with no lake in sight.

Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” So I did.

The peanut gallery started up with, “Are you sure this is the right way?”

I had no clue if it was the right way, but I didn’t let on. Remember, you can’t show fear. Fortunately, God cut me a break. The road we were on wound around to the right and back to the left and there before us was Lake Michigan.

I parked the car and we found the in-laws. I then hauled about 100 pounds of crap, like a pack mule, across the sand to the spot that they had picked.

There were three boys in our group, ranging in age from 7 to 11. They were excited to be at the beach. They ran down to the shore, into the water and right back out. The water was frigid. And that was the extent of the swimming for the day.

My brother-in-law said, “How about we go get lunch?”

Go get lunch? I just drove two and a half hours and hauled a hundred pounds of crap across the beach, and he wanted to go get lunch?

He volunteered to go get pizza. When he returned, we found a nearby picnic table and ate. Then the gang decided to go shopping. It had taken longer to get to the beach than they had spent on it. Now they were going shopping.

Aley and I demurred and headed back to our stuff.

I sat back and started to read. Aley dug a hole and lay down with her swollen belly sunk in the sand.

Everybody at the beach sits facing the water. It is a beautiful site, but all the interesting stuff happens on the beach. So I did read, but hiding behind sunglasses I was able to people watch as well.

There are many interesting sights on the beach that day. Like the guy in the Speedo or the pregnant lady in the bikini – unfortunately that one was with me. An old guy slept nearby with his mouth open and his upper dentures resting precariously on his bottom lip.  A little boy cried bloody murder because he had sand in his suit, and was desperately trying to take it off while his dad yelled at him to not too. In his defense, if I had had sand in my suit I would have been crying too.

After everything that had happened, I did end up spending a fun and relaxing day at the beach with my daughter. When it was time to go, I hauled the 100 pounds of crap back up to the car, loaded it in the trunk and started for home.

We had been on the road less than five minutes when Aley said, “This doesn’t look right. I think we’re going the wrong way.”

 

Steve Hagood is the author of Chasing the Woodstock Baby from Indigo Sea Press. To learn more about Steve visit his website http://www.stevehagood.com

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under fun, Humor, life, memory, Steve Hagood, Travel, writing

Where Were You When…..?, by Carole Howard

Those of us who were around at the time will always remember where we were when we heard about JFK’s assassination. I was in my dorm room, blissfully unaware of what was going on, until my raucous roommate told me how the universe’s axis had just shifted.  The man who would turn out to be my husband was in a small town in Senegal as a Peace Corps volunteer.  He had to figure out what the kid who spoke only Wolof was trying to tell him.  And it was the same with 9/11.  We were in Paris, in a rented apartment.  TV, yes, but no CNN.  We felt very cut off and extremely American.

I imagine most people don’t feel that way about hearing that Captain Sullenberger landed a plane in the Hudson River. But I do.

My husband and I were in an internet cafe down the block from our apartment in Accra, Ghana. If you’re visualizing a spiffy computer-filled and highly air-conditioned room, stop. There were internet cafes like that in Accra, but not the one in our neighborhood.   This one was very hot and mostly frequented by kids playing video games with very loud rap music as background. Its chief advantage was location.

We went every day after work. On that day, we “opened” the NYTimes and saw the news about Sully. We’re New Yorkers, so it was “our” Hudson River in “our” city in “our” country. OHMYOHMY. We wanted to talk to everyone in the place about it, but being the oldest ones and the only foreigners made conversation difficult. Thank goodness we had each other to share our amazement with.

I just saw the movie Sully, which I liked a lot. Plus I loved my mental trip to “our” internet cafe in Ghana. Without the rap music as background.

How about you?  Is there anything you associate with the particular place you were in when you heard about it?
Our Accra neighborhood

Our Accra neighborhood: This is our end of the street, in the morning, looking down towards “our” internet cafe.

  •     *     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery set in Senegal, around the corner from Ghana.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Carole Howard, memory, Travel, writing

A Gigantic Ball of Twine by Christine Husom

There is a lot of pride displayed in the small town of Darwin, Minnesota. And at the center of it all sits the world’s largest twine ball that was rolled by a single person. It is thirteen feet in diameter, weighs 17,400 pounds, and has a circumference of forty feet. It sits in a display case, a plexi-glass gazebo, across from the town park. Plus it boasts its own museum in an old train depot that sits behind it.

I’d seen the twine ball before, but stopped in again this past summer with a few friends. We were admiring the ball when a friendly woman emerged from the museum and invited us in.

She told us about Francis A. Johnson, a man who had lived his whole life on a farm in Meeker County. He started rolling the ball of twine in his basement in 1950. He spent four hours every day for twenty-three days. At some point he moved the ball to his front lawn, and continued rolling. As it got larger, Johnson used railroad jacks to enable him to keep the ball round. Mr. Johnson wrapped for a total of twenty-nine years and built a circular open air shed to house it, protecting it from the elements.

When Johnson died in 1989, the city of Darwin moved the gigantic ball into town.

In the museum there are photos of Weird Al Yankovic who paid a visit to the town and wrote the song, “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” in 1989 as a tribute.

The woman also showed us the ingenious pliers Johnson made from single pieces of wood, without using any glue, or pins to separate the pieces. They open and close, but don’t function as true pliers. He carved the smallest one from a match. The largest is seven feet tall and unfolds to be about twenty feet long. And it has twenty-four more little pliers—the smallest is less than an inch—carved on its handles. Amazing!

If you are in touring through Central Minnesota, west on Highway 12 from the Twin Cities, it’d be worth your while to stop in Darwin and take a long look at the “World’s Largest Twine Ball Rolled by One Man.”

 

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series

3 Comments

Filed under Christine husom, life, Travel, writing