Category Archives: writing

Reunification by John E. Stack

It has been a while since I’ve written about foster care, but I felt that I needed to share this.  If you know anything about foster care, then you know that one of the main objectives is reunification of the child with their birth parents.  As a foster care provider, aka foster parent, our job is to keep the child safe until the court says it is okay for the child to go home.  We have found that this may take a year, eighteen months or even 3 years.

If the birth parents do what the courts ask, then they will receive temporary custody of their child(ren).  If all goes well, then after six months they will receive full custody and the Department of Social Services (DSS) will step out of their lives.  If not, then parental rights will be removed and the child will be put up for adoption.

In the eleven years that we have been foster parents, we have had one child be returned to her mother.  We have had several where the birth parents have signed their rights away and had decided from the beginning that they could not provide a stable home for a child.  The one that did go home was a special situation and her mom did everything she needed to do, plus some.

Anyway, number twenty-two, may be the second child to make her way back home.  I’ll call her Abbie.  We received Abbie when she was two weeks old.  She had gastrointestinal problems which resulted in colic.  Most babies out grow colic in about four months or less.  Abbie’s lasted about five and a half months.  About two and a half months ago, the court decided to give her placement with her grandfather.  This was encouraged by DSS. We figure it was because in a relative placement they do not have to pay the monthly stipend.

Since the move, her grandfather has contacted us several times a week, sometimes to ask a question and others to send pictures.  He lives real close to Abbie’s mom and dad, so they have supervised visitation as often as they want it. This past week, we received a message from mom.  She wanted to know if we could come to Abbie’s first birthday party.  Of course we did, and we did everything we could to make it.

Abbie didn’t seem to know us at first – almost as if she was mad.  After about 30 minutes, she started to warm up.  She showed us how well she could crawl, which she was just starting before she was moved.  Now, she is cruising around the furniture getting ready to walk.  She has continued to put on some weight and appeared to be a truly happy toddler.

So, at the end of the month the mom and dad will find out if the courts are going to let them have their little girl back.  They have been working real hard to do all the things the court required.  She has her grandfather wrapped around her little finger, and I do believe her mom and dad too.

Maybe, just maybe, we are getting ready to see a second, successful reunification.  God’s miracles are often surprising and we are so happy to see this family receive his blessings.

In the meantime, we are at a crossroad.  Are we supposed to continue traveling this overwhelming adventure called foster parenting, or are we at that time in our lives where we need to allow someone else to enjoy the bumps, twists and turns of a path that usually ends in a broken heart.  We have been praying about this, but we can’t see where God has given us an answer, yet.  We are both at or near the age of retirement (I just turned 65 and I won’t say how old my better half is) and we are raising our nine-year-old.  Keep us in your thoughts and prayers that God will tell us what to do.  That is how we started this journey and it is only right to end it that way.

I have a friend who moved away to another state and he called me recently to say they had completed foster parent training.  They had been asked to do respite care (short term) for a two-year-old (I believe).  Anyway, her time was up and her other foster parents were going to get her the next day.  His question to me was “So, how do you deal with this?”  My response was something like this, “First off, I never told you it would be easy.  Second, you have to realize that even your own kids were never your own.  In turn, this one is not yours either.  Third, prepare for a chunk of your heart to be ripped out and know that it hurts like hell.  Fourth, don’t be to big or to tough to cry, and know that it is okay when you do.  After the bleeding stops, God will heal that spot and will place another little one in your arms to help in the healing.  Take some time to regroup.  Suzanne says that every child in care deserves to have foster parents grieve when they leave.  Otherwise, you are not doing your job.  Love you guys.”

Have you ever considered foster parenting?  Know that if you do, you can change the lives of the children you care for and better yet, you can become a person that you thought you could never be.  You will know great blessings and many broken hearts.  People use the excuse that they could never let the children leave because they would fall in love with them.  For some children, you could be the first one to fall in love with them.  What a concept – to be loved so much by someone they couldn’t bear to let you go.  That’s called a family.  Take a chance and change a life.

 

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

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Size Matters – to Me

As a reader, I have a general book length that I prefer reading. As a writer, I found I did, too. When I wrote my first book, it just naturally came out to about 75,000 words which equals roughly between 250 and 310 pages of either a Mass Market Paperback or the larger Trade Paperback, and can vary even more with e-books.

I guess most of the books I read are classified as traditional mysteries, historical mysteries and cozies with an occasional fantasy or adventure thrown in, and these books are all in that general word length mentioned above.  I almost always read every day for at least an hour, sometimes more, so one could say I read a lot of books.

Keeping the price of reading under control is a challenge because I really enjoy keeping up with my favorite authors who have to be prolific in order to keep their publishers. And publishers seem to understand this, so they have encouraged authors, especially best-selling ones, to recommend their favorite books to the public through companies who promote current books (as if authors didn’t have enough to do in marketing their own books). Note: I seriously find it hard to believe that some of the authors listed as recommending some books actually have read them, much less have the time to recommend them. Okay, call me cynical. But, I don’t want to miss out if so-and-so says it’s really great… What to do? Opps, I got a little off track.

Lately more and more opportunities have become available for books to be offered at a discount, both in print and in e-book form and not all the books are current. Some are classics or books that were popular years ago, went out of print and have just become available again (largely due to Print-on-Demand).  Sometimes the books are free or $.99, or $1.99, sometimes more. These books help my budget, provide good PR for the authors and keep their name “out there.”

Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention, but recently I noticed a trend where a favorite author has a new book out and in my rush to get it, I didn’t check the word-count or length of the file or page count, and after I’ve downloaded it to my Kindle, I find out the book is only 55 pages long. True, I may have only paid $.99, but I feel cheated when the book was not advertised as a novella. It’s easy to check when purchasing, but I’ve been excited and in a hurry and downloaded before checking a few times now. That won’t happen again!

When I read a book, it takes time for me to discern the plot of the book and get the characters straight and usually by 55 pages, I’m really getting interested, not ready to close the cover. Here I’ve invested my money, time and effort and (granted) senior memory in this book and it’s already over. That makes me very unhappy. Has anyone else noticed this trend, or is it just me? Makes me want to mumble, “Grrrrrrr!!!”

With some really favorite authors I’ll wait impatiently however long it takes for the next book in their series to come out and I’ll pay the full price at release date (or pre-order price), but I can’t afford to do that with all my reading material, so from now on, I’ll watch carefully to see how long the book is before I order, because I want to be a happy reader.

How about you?  Have you noticed this size thing? Does it matter to you?

 

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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The Mystery of Life by Sherrie Hansen

It’s been two months since I blogged – but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing.  In late October, I dashed off a Christmas play called Count Your Blessings which has since been performed by the Sunday School at my husband’s church to rave reviews and a few laughs, too.

Blog - 1Sheep

Blog - 1Christmas program

In November, I wrote the first 50,000 words of my first ever mystery, Seaside Daisy, set on the Wild Atlantic Way in Dingle, Ireland. I’m loving my main characters, Daisy Fitzpatrick and Cavan Donaghue, and even Aunt Sheelagh and that spawn of the devil, Darcie Sneem.  If you liked my ghosts in Golden Rod, you’ll love Granny Brigid and Captain Donaghue. It’s been great fun reliving the days we spent in Dingle and Killarney and touring the Wild Atlantic Way as well as all our other Irish adventure in early summer 2017.  Participating the the annual NaNoWriMo writing challenge was a great way to jump start my novel and discipline myself to write every day in the month of November.

 

Here’s a sneak peek at what you have to look forward to in Seaside Daisy:  When Daisy Fitzpatrick discovers a treasure chest filled with gold unearthed by a storm in a sea cave near her granny’s Dingle Peninsula shanty, she rents out her seaside shop and loft apartment, buys an old mansion in Killarney, and overnight, finds herself a celebrity with a grand new life. A few months later, the local priest in Dingle ends up dead and the police claim the gold she found was on his land, not hers. When Daisy loses everything, including her friends – both tried and true and new and fickle, can she find it in herself to start over? The Wild Atlantic Way might be a hard foe to tame, but the townsfolk of Dingle, Ireland soon learn that even the roar of the sea is no match for a Fitzpatrick with their mind made up.

Blog - 1Celtic Crosses

When December 1st came, it was time to set Seaside Daisy aside and begin writing a murder mystery for New Year’s Eve at the Blue Belle Inn, the bed and breakfast I own and operate when I’m not writing. Of course, I had a million other things to catch up on after doing little but writing the whole month of November. I also needed to tweak the Christmas program before rehearsals started and plan and create characters for our February mystery. And, I wanted to make some of my Celtic Crosses to go with my Danish books and my Wildflowers of Scotland novels in case people wanted to buy them for Christmas gifts. And, of course, since I was thinking about Seaside Daisy, some Irish crosses, too. That’s where I got sidelined. 

Then, the next week, when I came up with the following premise for our February 15 and 16 mystery dinner, I was so in love with the concept that I wanted to write it immediately! And the menu – well, be still my heart. 
Food - Seafood Mornay
Oh Venus – Make My Dream Come True (or is that too much to ask?) a Mt. Olympus Murder Mystery by Sherrie Hansen – When the Roman gods have a horse fall gravely ill that cannot be healed using any of their powers, they call in Dr. Brown, a gifted veterinarian from Iowa, to try to find a cure. When Dr. Brown restores the horse to health, the gods invite her to a relaxing stay at Mount Olympus Spa “on the house.” “Sorry, Charlie,” she wrote to her husband, “but since I am having such a divine time, I am going to stay on at the spa as a Valentine treat to myself.” After all, she knew that he was not going to buy her flowers or chocolate or take her out to dinner. A few days later, when her worried husband arrived at Mount Olympus Spa to surprise her, she was found dead from an arrow in her heart. Now Jupiter, Mars, Diana, Vesta, Neptune, Pluto, Venus, and Dr. Brown’s husband are all suspects. Figure out who killed Dr. Brown, and you could be the lucky sleuth who gets your dinner free!MENU:

Mount Olympus Tortellini Soup, Green Salad and a Roll with Your Choice of:

Chicken Carbonara a la Jupiter with Parmesan Cream Sauce, Bacon, Mushrooms and Peas on Bow Tie Pasta OR

Pork and Parmesan Stuffed Manicotti a la Mars with Spinach Artichoke Alfredo Sauce and Italian Cheeses OR

Seafood Mornay a la Venus with Swiss, Shrimp and Imitation Crab on Puff Pastry Hearts on Scallop Shells OR

Italian Meatballs a la Vesta in Tomato Basil Cream Sauce with Provolone Cheese on Garlic Toast Rounds OR

Roast Vegetables Diana with Spinach Artichoke Dip on Wild Rice with Italian Cheeses

A choice of Our Homemade Desserts including Italian Cream Cake and Amaretto Whisper Cheesecake will be offered for $5.00 each. Optional Beverages $1.50 each. You may bring your own wine, beer and champagne. A charge or $1.00 per stem includes uncorking as needed. Dinner and Mystery $24.95 each. Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, North Central Iowa.

MM - Midsummer Night's Murder
But since December 31st comes long before Valentine’s Day weekend, I knew I needed to get cracking on my December mystery. I finally found time to write it the week before Christmas and I love the way it turned out.  Here’s the story:  I was in Paris, France on New Year’s Eve, 1979 to ring in 1980. I had been living in Germany for 2 1/2 years and couldn’t wait to experience a unique French menu and entertainment. When we arrived, the host hotel “surprised” us with a German dinner and “oom-pah” band to play polkas! So, remembering that night, I’m preparing the French meal I was dreaming of to go along with a mystery called The Unresolved New Year’s Resolution.

 

BBInn - heavy snow smaller

Our New Year’s performance is sold out, but we will be doing a repeat performance on Friday, January 18 at 6:30 pm. Here’s the scoop:  When someone tries to put an end to newbie 2019’s hopes, dreams and ambitions before it even has a chance to get started, the New Year is forced to go into hiding. If guests can’t determine who is guilty of attempting to stop the New Year in its tracks, 2019 won’t come out of hiding, New Year’s resolutions will remain unresolved, and 2018 will continue on in infamy! It’s up to you to solve the mystery of who’s trying to put an end to 2019 – time traveler Claire Voyant, numbers fanatic Flo Bia, computer geek Y2K19, Back to the Future opportunist Biff Baby Back Baby Back Baby Back, devilish incumbent 2000 Haight Teen, politician Lane Duck, 64 year old Rhea Tyree, and old timer Lester Day, who longs for the good old days when all his troubles seemed so far away… One lucky sleuth will get their dinner free.

Menu for December 31, 2018 and January 18, 2019:

French Onion Soup, Green Salad and a Roll

Your choice of:

French Steak with Cheddar Chablis Sauce and Red Potatoes OR

Herbes de Provence Chicken and Bacon with Roquefort Cream Sauce on Mashed Potatoes OR

Chicken Cordon Bleu Crepes with Ham and Swiss Cheese Sauce OR

Seafood Stuffed Salmon on Wild Rice OR

Roasted Vegetables with Spinach Artichoke Dip on Wild Rice with Cheese

Dinner and mystery $29.95 each. Our featured desserts will include Blueberry French Cream Pie and Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake and will be offered for $5.00 each.

MM - Blue Belle

So that’s what I’ve been up to and why I’ve been too busy to blog. I didn’t even mention writing our Christmas letter since my husband did most it! I hope you enjoyed catching up and that you’re having a great holiday so far. Blessings to all of you as we look ahead to a hopefully wonderful 2019!

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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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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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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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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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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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How Did the U.S. Arrive at an Impasse? By Maribeth Shanley

In the era of Donald Trump and the Evangelical Republicans, we keep hearing that candidates and their voters have become divided into two distinctive camps.  Hatred of the other camp has become that divide.  The empty Supreme Court seat left vacant first by Justice Scalia and then by Justice Kennedy have become the pinnacle battleground for the two camps.  How did we get here?

Having no credentials to discuss the history of this impasse, I still have thought long and hard about how we have turned our backs on reaching across the aisle to become two closed, armed camps.  Even our closed arm posture signals how closed off to political compromise we have become. 

Trump folded arms2     Trump folded arms

When did we become so closed off from each other politically and ideologically?

I believe it began with the inauguration of our first non-white, African American president, Barack Husein Obama.  Ironically, the birth of the impasse was born during the first period in our U.S. history when equality had shown itself in all its glory. 

In 1863, as our nation approached its third year of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

With President Obama’s election and 2009 inauguration, it seemed that we the people had finally ripped up one of our last and most brutal forms of hatred, and contempt for a group of people, most of whom arrived in the U.S. in chains.  We had our first African American president. 

As President Obama began to serve his first four years, he went to work trying to repair the broken economy that coincided with the 2008 stock market collapse which followed in the wake of 2007 housing market crash.   The Tea Party movement reared its ugly head immediately after Obama’s 2009 announcement of his plans to give financial aid to bankrupt homeowners.

A major force behind the movement was a group called the Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group founded by businessman and political activist David H. Koch of the infamous Koch brothers. 

Following the announcement of the financial bailout of bankrupt homeowners, on February 19, 2009, CNBC reporter Rick Santelli, while reporting from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, called for a “tea party,” a reference to the 1773 rebellious action taken in Boston, MA.   On December 16, 1773, angry colonists acted out the protest directed at Colonial Britain for imposing “taxation without representation.” The rebels dumped 342 chests of British tea into the harbor.

The 2009 Santelli call to action inspired over fifty conservative activists to unite against Obama’s agenda as they scheduled a series of protests, including the 2009 Taxpayer March on Washington.  This union of conservative and libertarian activists encouraged sympathizers and supporters to carry forth the protests turning the ultra-right sentiment into a movement that began to impact and infiltrate the internal politics of the Republican Party.  Although the Tea Party isn’t a separate or independent party, members of the Tea Party Caucus vote like a significantly farther right party than do the established members of the GOP.  Today those Tea Party politicians are referred to as the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives.

That ultra conservative sentiment and ultra-right voting tendency came full force into view after the 2010 mid-term election when the Republicans beat out the Democrats across the nation and took over the majority vote in the House.  An interesting admonition of this election was the deplorable turnout of registered Democratic Party voters. 

Statistics demonstrate that Democrats don’t vote as religiously as do Republicans, especially during non-presidential elections, i.e., mid-term elections.  Where the voter turnout during the 2008 General election hit a 40-year high, largely due to the overwhelming popularity of Barack Obama, the turnout during the 2010 Midterm election suffered dramatically.  In 2008, 57.1% of the voting-age population cast ballots; but, two years later, the cast votes dropped to only 36.9% of the voter population.  Then a rebound in voter turnout occurred in 2012 when Obama ran for his second term.  The turn out for President Obama during both the 2008 and 2012 general elections was due largely to Obama’s campaign success in expanding the electorate through successful inspiration to turn out both new voters and black voters.  Again, however, during the 2014 mid-term elections, voter turnout dropped dramatically resulting in the lowest turnout in seventy years.  Generally, Republican turnout during midterms is three percent higher than the Democrat turnout.  Following that pattern, the Democratic Party lost the Senate to the GOP in 2014.

During the Obama era, something more subtle was in the works.  There was resentment among many white groups within the population.  That racial divide was always there. However, it again became evident during the Obama presidency, and it began almost immediately.  Several incidents prove as definitive evidence of the still vibrant racial divide.

For example, that divide became evident the moment  President Obama declared in July 2009 that a white police officer acted “stupidly.” The police officer answered a call to investigate a possible break-in at the home of  Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.   

It seems that, upon arriving home from a trip to China, Gates found a jammed front door. Gates and his driver began to push the door in, leading a neighbor to call the police to report a break-in.  Sparked by failed communication and acute misunderstanding on the part of both parties, the arrest was the result.  That arrest created a national discussion around racial profiling which is still a current topic whenever there is a white police officer involved in an incident with a black adult male where the black male winds up killed.  Later it was determined that the incident was a mixture of cause and effect that was fueled by the mix of race (white officer and black “offender”), class (professor and police officer), and displaced respect on both parts as well as the element of police authority.  The professor who felt he was being mistreated based on his race soon realized he was not in control of the situation.  Instead, due to his role of authority, the police officer was in control.

Of course, the racial issue was at the center of a secret meeting, headed up by Mitch McConnell.  During that meeting, McConnell and the other GOP members swore they would do all they could to prevent the reelection of Obama.  After all, there was a subtle shiver running through much of the white population in the U.S.  The shiver was the utter shock that a black man was now sitting in the White House. 

Probably the most notorious example of GOP obstruction came during Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland as the successor of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.  Republicans refused even to allow the interviewing of Garland, leaving the seat vacant for the duration of Obama’s presidency, March 16, 2016, through January 3, 2017.  One of the major excuses used by McConnell was that 2016 represented an election year which meant a lame-duck president shouldn’t have the opportunity to seat a new Supreme Court Justice.  Never mind that in 2018, also an election year, the man who sits in the White House and who is under investigation for multiple alleged offensives has been allowed to nominate a justice for the seat vacated by retired Justice Anthony Kennedy.  Such is the power of the majority party who, through the apathy of Democratic Party voters who chose to sit out the 2014 mid-term elections thus giving the majority to the GOP.  It is that same party of course which remained as the majority after the 2016 election of the outrageous phenomenon called Donald Trump.

Speaking of the Donald, it was he who stirred up the birther issue in which President Obama’s origin became questionable.  Trump is a notorious conspiracy theory believer.  Given his propensity toward conspiracy theories, it is not a coincidence that during Obama’s presidency, he was plagued by other trumped up conspiracy theories such as the allegations that he secretly practices Islam.  After all his middle name is Hussein.  How much proof is needed to prove his real religion?  

There were also other minor conspiracy theories such as the belief among some that Obama was the antichrist of Christian eschatology which portends the end of times.  All those conspiracy theories were believed not only by uneducated people, but they were completely embraced by educated people as well.  Especially true was the birther issue which laid claim that President Obama was not born in Hawaii, but instead his mother gave birth to him while living in Kenya and that his birth certificate was a fake.

The biggest irony of all was the election of Mr. Birther himself, Donald J. Trump.  During the first two years of Trump’s presidency, he has been responsible for fueling the fire of divide.  He is notorious for holding rallies even when they are unnecessary.  Those rallies, however, give the ultimate producer of TV the opportunity to keep his base of 30-some-percent voters riled up.  Ironically, many of those voters voted for Obama twice.  However, during the last few decades, those voters have felt ignored and left behind.  Many of them come from industries that are fast becoming obsolete.  Where presidential candidate Hillary Clinton promised to retrain those workers needing to be retrained, Trump has spent his first two years bringing back or fortifying the obsolete industries that employed these voters. 

Realistically though, if a person thinks about the events of the last ten years, and given all the consternation surrounding the Obama administration, it was predictable that a female president could never follow the first black president.  That is the case especially given that the opposing candidate is the conspiracy theorist himself, Donald J. Trump. 

Trump has also spent his first two years playing out his insane jealousy toward Barack Obama as he deliberately undoes as many advancements Obama accomplished during his tenure.   Trump is a consummate narcissist who spends his time carping and disparaging anyone who criticizes him.  He spends his time either watching TV and tweeting subjecting all of us to his lack of knowledge, refusal to learn and, in general, chaotic craziness.  His only accomplishment is the fear he has instilled in the GOP members of his party so that, a Representative or Senator has only two choices, continue to work toward reelection or quit as in retire.  Even the older, more conventional GOP members run scared of Trump’s threats to primary them.  Lindsey Graham is one of those who tow the Trump line to keep his job.  Until we can be rid of Trump and have a more stable, sensible career politician in the White House, we are doomed to continue to live as a divided people.

*  *  *  *

(Note:  Here is an interesting piece of modern history.  Until February 7, 2013, the state of Mississippi had never submitted the required documentation to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, meaning it never officially had abolished slavery. The amendment was adopted in December 1865 after the necessary three-fourths of the then 36 states voted in favor of ratification. (https://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/02/mississippi-officially-abolishes-slavery-ratifies-13th-amendment/)

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