Destination: Homeward bound

Miles and miles and miles
Miles and miles and miles

After three driving days and 18 hours in the car, I was toast. I haven’t traveled alone in, like, ever. No college road trips because I was married and having babies. No divorcee road trips because I was scraping together a living and raising three kids. So this was a new adventure. But I have to admit–I liked it! Tiring as it was after five hours in the car. Frustrating as it was when I got ‘turned around’. (Notice how I got in touch with my testosterone there and didn’t say I got lost?!) I was large and in charge of when I ate and where I slept. I stopped when I wanted to and began the day at my leisure. No television. I blogged. I read.

I did come pretty close to muscling my way home in one day because I was so over the driving. But I knew I couldn’t do didn’t want to drive 11 straight hours. Over the trip I spent a lot of time talking myself through situations (“Just pull into the lot and look at the map.” “Take the next exit and get off 90–as long as you go west, you’ll get there.” That kind of thing.) So me-myself-and-I talked me down and decided that there was no way I should drive over 1600 miles without taking a couple side trips on the way home.

And so I did.

Stop #1 was Sioux Falls, South Dakota where I’d read about a gorgeous park right in the middle of the city. And beautiful it was. Falls Park sits along the Big Sioux river, the banks of which are Sioux quartzite, which, according to a handy green historical

Falls Park Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Falls Park–Sioux Falls, South Dakota

marker, is “silica-cemented quartz sandstone” which was formed by “wave action on the floor of a of an ancient continental sea” a billion years ago. The Big Sioux descends in a series of waterfalls which have in the past been harnessed: the ruins of a 19th century mill still stand, as well as a Sioux Falls Light and Power building that once housed a generator.

parkmeBut most surprising was the fact that visitors walked along the banks and out onto the rocks to the edge of the falls! I was hesitant at first, but when in Rome … The park was a beautiful place to stop and take a short hike to stretch my legs before I was on my way again.

[Funny side story: I’m following Google maps, skirting through a pork (1)slightly industrial area when I caught a distinct whiff of pork. Like smokey, spicy, roasting or grilled meat. I thought maybe I was channeling my husband who is fanatic about any meat product smoked and salted. Me talking again: “You can’t just imagine pork–maybe there’s a BBQ restaurant smoking meat nearby.” And then I saw the parking lot sign: Smithfield. Those workers must be perpetually hungry working in such deliciously hazardous conditions!]

Stop #2 was Austin, Minnesota, where my handy dandy Roadtrippers app told me I could find the new SPAM museum. Now I know foodies turn their nose up at the stuff (heck, nearly everyone I know finds SPAM revolting) but I grew up eating it. Maybe it’s an acquired taste–but I like it. My only reservation was that B (he of the smoked pork cravings) wasn’t with me to share the joy and I felt a little disloyal going without him. But only a little. I knew I’d find some great peace offerings souvenirs to bring him. And I did: a SPAM mug, a SPAM tee-shirt, and a few packaged SPAM samples. It’s difficult to describe a museum dedicated to a canned meat product, but link here to a short video clip I took that will give you a glimpse into this great SPAM emporium. And to top off my meat-o-ganza, I stopped across the street at Piggy Blues BBQ and dined on BBQ pork tacos. 

And then, finally, this little piggy went all the way home … and  I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. 

Lush and lavish: Amy Snow (review)

Amy Snow
Tracey Rees
Simon & Schuster

Life just seems to move at a slower pace in the summer. Afternoons are hot and humid, the evenings languid. We spend a lot of time on the deck and not so much time in front of the television. It’s a time when we try to break free from our daily routine.  Amy Snow, a novel published earlier this month, makes for a great escape. One of this novel’s blurbs reads: “An abandoned baby, a treasure hunt, a secret. As Amy sets forth on her quest, readers will be swept away …” Pretty accurate, I’d say.

Wealthy heiress Aurelia Venneway finds a newborn baby naked in the snow. Without a thought to propriety, she bundles the little girl under her cloak and rushes into the parlor.amy snow Lady Venneway is cold and distant; she’s just lost yet another pregnancy and the foundling is like a slap in the face. The orphan (named Amy Snow by Aurelia) is banished to the kitchen while the entire household staff tries to keep her out of Lady Venneway’s sight. For a time, Amy is Aurelia’s play thing–eight years younger, she adores the headstrong lady, and is game to join in any of Aurelia’s escapades. And then the two young women grow to be best friends. It’s harder now to stay invisible to Lady Venneway, but the consequences if Amy doesn’t are humiliating. When Aurelia becomes deathly ill–and the prognosis is dire–she demands that her parents permit Amy Snow to be her companion.

The real story begins after Aurelia’s death. Turned out of the house immediately after the funeral, Amy Snow is on her own. Or is she? A mysterious letter is secreted away in her skirt–and Amy soon begins the work of getting to know the real Aurelia Venneway. Before her death,  Aurelia arranged a scavenger hunt, of sorts, for Amy, each clue giving her specific directions: find Enwhistle’s bookshop; stay in Twickenham for three months; travel to Bath. At the end of her travels, Amy doesn’t simply adore her friend blindly but rather with eyes open to Aurelia’s charms … and her faults.

What adds even more fun to the novel is that it was an unsolicited manuscript, submitted by writer Tracey Rees to the Richard and Judy ‘Search for a Bestseller’ Competition–which makes the author’s story a bit of a fairy tale, just like Amy’s. Amy Snow kept me turning page after page–like the post title says, the novel is lavish. If you want to get lost in a world of nineteenth century manners, velvet dresses, carriages, stately horses, dashing young men, and strong-willed women, Amy Snow is perfect for your blanket or beach chair reading.

Flea market holiday

flea market
A favorite vendor sells succulents in every container imaginable.

Twenty-five years ago I was newly divorced, a single mom of three, and holiday weekends had a tendency to drag on. Add to that I had just broken up with my boyfriend and a little diversion was in order. My dad, never real keen when it came to understanding relationships, thought an hour ride in his classic car to a flea market–with three kids in the back seat, mind you–would cheer me up. (And you wonder why he was married three times?!) We got lost. The kids had to use the bathroom. It was hot–circa 1950-something classic cars don’t have air-conditioning. I don’t really remember much about the day other than that drive. But something must have stuck because I still return at least once a year to that same flea market.

We people watch. Eat carnival food. Buy baked goods from the Amish. And hubby always has to chuck puppies under their chin, and look at me with his own puppy dog eyes, as if we can take home every puppy for sale. (Or bunny or kitten or guinea pig or … ) Sometimes Memorial Day in Michigan is cold and rainy, so we have to wait until July 4 or Labor Day. But this weekend the weather was about as postcard perfect as it comes: 80 degrees, blue sky, and just a hint of a breeze.

It was also crowded. We parked half a mile away and waited in line to get in. The main aisles were packed–but there’s a buzz when it’s busy, an energy that is absent on dreary weather flea market holidays.

flea market
Amish woven rugs!

This year I was on a mission. The woven Amish rugs I’d purchased ten years ago (and machine washed) were unraveling so badly I demoted them to the basement. For the past few years, the color selection has been just ‘meh’. Browns and tans. But this year I saw the bright jewel tones from two stalls away–BINGO! I was in business.

We also found a little treasure I’ve never tasted: cider slushies. Just cider in a slushie machine, no sugar or additives. Autumn meets summer. The consistency was a little more crystal-y than, say, a 7-11 Slurpee, but I think that might have had to do with the sugar content? Whatever the case, we’ll stop again for one of those goodies.

So a couple miles of walking, two hand-woven rugs, a package of molasses cookies later, it was a wrap–a perfect day trip with my hubby, who, by the way, is that boyfriend I once broke up with so many, many years ago.

Write now with Writer

Last year I started using my Chromebook for most things webbish. I liked the quick and easy access to the internet–and since I don’t do anything fancy like Writer Google app gaming or film editing, a Chromebook can meet just about all my screen needs. Recently, I started attending a Writing Circle at a local studio and was a little worried when I arrived sans paper–but with my Chromebook!–only to find out that there was no wifi.

Thankfully, the studio owner had the solution: Writer. Available in the Chrome Web Store or at the Writer website, the app is billed as an Internet typewriter that is “the coolest … distraction-free writing tool around.” And it is.

Flintstones computer

I was a bit put off at first by the outdated retro green on black screen, but that was easily changed in settings to the more boring standard look of any other word processing tool. Now truth be told, when I have access to wifi, I’ll use Google docs. (I mean, it’s a Chromebook, right?!)

But the biggest boon for me is that Writer is also functional off-line. Mind you, I have no idea how this works–my mind sees technology working a little like those tiny behind-the-screens dinosaurs in The Flintstones. I figure there must be a little critter or two carving my words on the Writer screen.

But it works like a dream, so I don’t care how. Writer is available as a free app, but I paid to get the premium for (wait for it!) five dollars a month. After I’ve typed off-line, I save the document and export it to Google Drive when I reach wifi again. I’ve had only one minor glitch and when I emailed tech support, I got an email within an hour or two offering some solutions.

The app is the project of web developer John Watson, who also has some pretty cool projects linked on his Google+ profile. According to his About page, John, God bless him, still uses Oxford commas.

How could I not love the app?!

Blogs I love: part 1

I read quite a few blogs and would love to share my favorites with you. Here’s my first installment of Blogs I Love:

blogs I love

Caty Dearing
Caty writes about being a wife, mom, teacher, and writer. She’s a refreshing mommy blogger because she’s incredibly insightful and doesn’t shy away from tackling difficult subjects in an honest manner. (Read: she’s not all beauty hauls and recipes and cute kiddie photos.) She’s also a woman of faith, but she is thoughtful, not heavy-handed. I enjoy her posts … and I’m hardly a mommy blogger. Grandmommy, maybe!

Drink More Decaf
Imagine chucking it all and living in an RV, roaming the country from East to South to the Great Wild West, stopping every now and then to settle in somewhere for a week or two or three. Sounds romantic, right? Well that’s exactly with Sharon, Dave, and their dog Frodo did–and you can follow their adventures and her musings on her blog Drink More Decaf. Sharon gives me a glimpse of a life I think I might love, sharing the ups and downs along the way.

And So It Goes
Janet Givens is a woman of a certain age–like me!–but she’s  not about to sit back and let life pass by. Janet has opinions and she isn’t afraid to share them in thought-provoking posts. A recent favorite of mine is about clothes lines–but not about the beauty and nostagia of them as I might write–and the ecology, economy, and liberty they might afford us. Janet also served in the Peace Corps in their over 55 program, and the book about her experiences, At Home on the Kazakh Steppe, is on my TBR pile.

Denice’s Day
If you read my blog, you’ve probably followed some of my links to Denice’s Day. Denice is a Renaissance Woman, in my mind. She’s a reader, blogger, photographer, baker, and quilter–I swear there’s nothing she won’t tackle. (And do well, by the way.) Her posts let me peek in on things I’ll never attempt, not because I wouldn’t want to … but because I just don’t have her talents. I’m also one of the lucky ones who can call her friend and let me tell you–our coffee dates never last less than 2 or three hours!

That’s it for Round One of Blogs I Love … I’ve got plenty more where these came from. Until then, pop by any one of these blogs today and you’ll be happy you did.