Wednesday, July 30, 2014

a fast getaway and another animal story

We took a little road trip Sunday and drove across the entire Upper Peninsula.  Pretty area, lots of gorgeous views of Lake Michigan.  Lots of property for sale, too.  I though we'd enjoy more of a stop-and-play-often kind of trip, but one brief hike to a lighthouse, eighteen holes of mini golf and five ice cream cones later, we had yet to find anything besides motel rooms for $49, mostly without vacancies. 

So, we kept driving.

Monday we crossed the five-mile bridge spanning the two shores of Lake Michigan, from there we took a ferry and experienced Mackinac Island.  

First things first, the Fort, which turned out to be a fantastic interactive history lesson on both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.  

Then we ate some fudge while enjoying more views of the island.

Our hotel had a wonderful patio and porches.

Everyone agreed that renting bikes and riding the circumference of the island was the best part of our stay.  We did a bit of hiking and climbed over 200 stairs to the top of a limestone arch.

(Our hotel was right next to the ferry dock.)

Everyone agreed that island life was quaint and peaceful.  The no-car rule made it especially nice, no noise, only a little horse pollution, and kind of old-fashioned.  We ate like kings, toured the "haunted theater" and stopped in a gag gift shop where the boys bought pranks like some powder that makes drinks solid and sticks of "gum" that shock you when you pull out the offered piece.  Interesting side note:  the electric shock didn't work on me. 
We strolled around after dark and admired all of the lovely homes, the Grand Hotel, the landscaping (it's illegal to pick flowers on the island and people take their gardening VERY seriously) and the lit up bridge across the strait.  A tall ship came into port, and two large barges churned past in the distance.  Lots to take in.

Meanwhile, back at Chez Green Girl:

That, friends, is the stray kitten the boys found while riding bikes last week.  It was surviving hanging out in the field north of our house.  Mr. B and Mr. G came streaking back for the cat carrier to catch it.  I agreed, figuring no way would they capture a stray cat.  Ha!  Shows what I know!  Minutes later they returned with this beat-up kitten; it had scars on its belly, head and butt and was meowing to beat the band.  Well, a day (and lots of food and water) later, it's everybody's buddy.  Tentatively named "Chester" until we get it to the vet next week for proper gender identification and shots, he/she is living on the screen porch in the lap of luxury.  So far it has the following points in its favor:
* doesn't bite
* uses the litter box
* appears perfectly healthy
* purrs and is friendly to people
* acts wicked cute, especially when it chases its tail.
My guess is it was a farm kitten that got too curious and wandered off.  It's very small, probably about 7 weeks old.

To sum up, we had a fast vacation and probably now have another pet, which I hope proves to be a good mouser because Jax only moves when he hears kibble hit his dog dish.  I plan to bring the cat with me into the garden to see what it does ...

Don't forget--I'm giving away a copy of Mary Petrie's novel At the End of Magic.  Each comment is a chance to win--drawing another lucky winner this Friday!

Spill it, reader.  Have you been to Mackinac Island?

© 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 25, 2014

first winner! next up!

Tiffany!  You're the first Summer Book Giveaway Winner!  Email me your mailing address and I'll send you The Scarlet Wench!

Who's in for another chance for a free read?  My bloggy pal, Mary Petrie, AKA Minnesota Matron, has her debut novel now in print. 

 Leilani O’Brien is relieved when her husband and four-year-old daughter, Holly, are killed in a car accident. Glad to be freed from a failing marriage and the demands of motherhood—and horrified by these feelings—she settles on suicide as her only option. Across town, college senior Delphi begins to ‘see’ Holly—a persistent image begging for help. Skeptical and scared, Delphi eventually acquiesces to both her psychic gifts and Holly’s pleas, until she stumbles into an unthinkable betrayal and finds herself searching for two missing mothers, Holly’s and her own.

You know the drill--each comment is a chance to win a copy!

In other news, Mr. B has his cast off.  Mr. D's Legion baseball team is winning in the playoffs.  Mr. T is at camp and I took advantage of his absence to repaint his bedroom (which looks GREAT, by the way--painted it "Crushed Stone," very manly color).  Soccer and baseball are DONE.  The children took a bike ride today and brought home a kitten they found in the ditch (boy or girl?  we cannot say yet, but it sure makes a racket).  We've got raspberries, lettuce, zucchini and peppers ripe and ready to eat.  I've figured out the raised bed situation for the greenhouse (stay tuned for pictures!).  We're the perfect combination of busy and lazy around here, hydrated with lemonade and mostly eating sandwiches except at breakfast.  I also discover extra boys lurking around every corner, so Team Testosterone is definitely making the most of their summer vacation.

The only bad thing is I've had knee trouble and I'm still waiting for a proper and thorough diagnosis.  It's vexing and definitely cramping my style.  I'm not ready to trade in my running shoes for a swim skirt and water aerobics, but complications will require a lifestyle change.  Total bummer.

Spill it, reader.  How's your summer shaping up as we close out July?

Monday, July 21, 2014

World Blog Tour

I'm picking a lucky winner FRIDAY to win an autographed copy of M.K. Graff's new mystery The Scarlet Wench--don't forget each comment is a chance to win!  M.K. Graff invited me to participate in the World Blog Tour, a chance to talk about my own writing and promote a few authors I know.  If you haven't yet, click back to read more about M.K Graff and then it's on to ME!

As for me, I've published two novels and co-written a nonfiction guide to writing: 
Whipped, Not Beaten
Kicks Like a Girl
Writing in a Changing World
Links to my books are all over this blog.

The first thing people usually say to me after they've heard I wrote a book (or two or three) is, "Wow.  You actually wrote a book?  What's that like?"

The answer: long, tedious, fascinating and fun.  But then you have to sell the book, so it become dreadful.

I'd rather talk about my current project, not the books I've already finished writing. Are other artists the same way?  Prefer to talk about the quilt or painting or piece of jewelry they're in the middle of creating instead of the last few they wrapped up?  I'm currently working on a Young Adult novel, a huge departure from the humorous stuff I've done.  My main character, Kelly Brannigan, is a high school senior who works at a bike shop and lives in a rough end of town.  After one of her best friends is the butt of a cruel joke perpetrated by some popular football players, she plans revenge ... everything spins out of control and the consequences become bigger than anyone can handle. The novel deals with a lot of stuff teenagers see--sex, harassment, bullying, social status, peer pressure, drug use, violence.  Kelly's a smart young woman, but immature and impulsive.  It's fun to write about characters who live so different than me, and challenging to delve into the emotional roller coaster that teenagers ride--I'm more stoic and not much of a Drama Mama as a rule, so getting that dramatic edge and whittling out all of the characters' various reactions through the book has been challenging.

My writing can be classified as "chick lit," but I don't think I write 100% formula.  I write humor.  I write about ordinary people, not New York magazine editors or Real Housewives.  I write about friendships and jobs and relationships with families and finding the sweet spot where a woman's ambitions and her love life fall into place.  My books appeal to women and men, which surprised me because I intended women as my audience.  I believe the crossover is a result of being funny and developing characters with many layers to their lives.

Why do you write what you do?  Ah, that's a good question!  I write about what interests me, characters with careers that would be fun (florist, public radio, martial arts).  I write humor because I can't help it--there is so much serious in the world.  Years ago I remember needing a palate-cleanser after reading a bunch of depressing Oprah Book Club picks and struggling to find anything that wasn't about abuse or drugs or some other horrible misfortune.  Life is full of depressing stuff.  Then I started writing the kind of books I'd like to read--something fun, light, indulgent that would leave people feeling happy afterwards.  So far I've successfully done that.  

The other question people usually ask is how or when do I write.  The short answer is when I can.  I have three kids. I teach, edit, volunteer, run a household and manage a formidable garden.  Writing books means plopping my butt in a chair and staying focused on the project for at least a couple hours at a stretch.  I'm easily distracted, so I cannot work with any noise or people around to interrupt--which means I usually get my work done during the school year when Team Testosterone is gone.  I dedicate a few mornings each week to my latest book.  Writing is mostly revising, tweaking and changing things.  I think about what I'm working on all of the time, but the actual word count productivity happens between the months of September and March, when I'm strapped into my desk and pushing down the keys on my laptop.  I compose, revise and rewrite everything using my laptop.  Then I use my writing group for feedback.  Then I work on fixing it.  Writing a book can take a couple of years.  Tell me again how you read my book in two nights? 

Next Monday, July 28th, the World Blog Tour will continue with these fine writers:  
Mary Petrie over at Minnesota Matron (author of At the End of Magic)
Suzanne Casamento at Question of the Day  (author of Fingerprints)
Carolyn K. Boehlke  (author of Chasing the Moon and Literaria)
Check them out!

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Scarlet Wench

One of my writing partners is M.K. Graff, author of the Nora Tierney series.  To know M. K. is to fall in love.  She's one of those warm, interesting, friendly people to whom hospitality comes as easy as breathing air.  She's curious about the world around her, thoughtful beyond compare and compassionate.  I call her "sister" and my life is richer for knowing her.

Plus she's a terribly clever writer.  (You can read her blog and book reviews here!)  Her Nora Tierney mystery series is placed in England, and they're "cozies," which means they aren't chock full of blood and gore.  More suspenseful and character driven, the settings come alive and for an armchair traveler they help me feel like I know the U.K. quite well.

Her latest book is The Scarlet Wench.  Set in the Lake District at a vacation lodge, a troupe of actors has arrived to rehearse and perform Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit.  A body turns up...and then another...and the intrepid Nora Tierney, along with her hunky detective sidekick Declan Barnes, are on the case to solve the mystery of WHODUNNIT.

Sound good?  It is.  I've enjoyed all three books in this series.

Want a copy?

I'm giving away an autographed book to one lucky commenter.  Each comment in the box equals a chance to win M.K. Graff's latest installment in the Nora Tierney series.

Spill it, reader.  Tell me why you love a good mystery!

 © 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


After a long, hard day's work of editing my manuscript, we sprawled around our wonderful rental house.  We had to get our strength back for the next day: Amherst!

Upon our arrival in this beautiful college town, we parked and found the Fresh Side Eatery, which we assumed to be a spot for quiche, soup and salads.  Wrong!  Our menus revealed we'd found the most delightful place for Asian food and I tried Vietnamese Coffee for the first time.  A quick trip through a bookstore landed me with Amherst College t-shirts for Team Testosterone and we were off to explore the Dickenson homestead.

 The grounds were as pastoral as you might imagine.  Emily's love of nature comes through her poetry and it took no effort to pretend she was floating past in her white nightgown after rambling through a field in pursuit of a bumblebee...or perfect word.

We toured the garden and grounds surrounding the Dickensons' houses--one lived in by Emily, the adjacent owned by her brother.  Quite a family scandal surrounding Emily's brother, but more important than his torrid affair with a co-worker's wife is how involved the Dickensons were in establishing Amherst College.

Emily's distaste for the public was notorious.  I knew she didn't attend church services after she was a teenager.  I did NOT know the church was directly across the street from her house.  And the Dickensons were founding members of that institution, as well.  It's remarkable how civic-minded the  people of Massachusetts were, they valued communal property and intellectual pursuit much more than economic gain. 

 No photos are allowed inside the Dickenson house, but most of the property displayed belonged to the family and our tour guide was informative and enthusiastic about her topic.  One of the very best parts of the tour came at the end where we learned that Emily's poetry was written purposely open-ended.  She suggested different words/phrases not as revisions, but as alternate versions of the poem.  When I saw her work for that way the very first time and heard her method explained, it made me curious to see more and gave me a whole new appreciation of her genius. 
 Just on the edge of the grounds are two silhouettes, Emily Dickenson and Robert Frost.  It was in this spot that mystery writer MK Graff realized the title of her next work (the moment is pictured above)!  All of MK Graff's books have a color in them, her latest is The Scarlet Wench.

We left the Dickenson place to explore Amherst College and I left convinced that it would be a grand thing to expose at least one of my sons to such an education.  The museum was particularly impressive and free to the admiring public.

On our way home we stopped at Salem Cross Inn for another traditional sort of New England meal.  From cocktails through dessert it was fabulous.  This historic spot is on a working farm and we enjoyed a post-dinner walk around the grounds.  Above is one of the flowers I couldn't identify--any ideas? 

Massachusetts farmland is rolling and looks exactly like the history books of my youth depicted colonial America.
We spent the following day working and back in Concord, but I'll leave you with this one discovery.  We walked up the road from our rental house and followed a path that took us deep into the woods.  All the footpaths seem to date back to Native American times, edged by low stone walls and tamped down by countless feet.  We came upon this Shaker cemetery, perfectly tended, yet unreachable by any vehicles.  Amazing!

© 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 14, 2014

Virtual Garden Tour

Clever and witty and hostess of the best family dinner discussions under the sun, Common Household Mom also gardens!  She's organized a Virtual Garden Tour over at her blog, Deep Thoughts of a Common Household Mom.  You can dig into all kinds of garden walks over there, but before you leave, take a stroll with me around this place.

 We've got a prairie about a week from blooming well, but you can see the spots of early black-eyed susans, ox-eye sunflowers and bee balm.

 Around the corner, we're between blooms--some balloon flowers are hanging on, the lilies haven't opened yet for the day (lazy, aren't they?), the coneflowers are getting started.

In the back yard I favor "hot colors" like orange, yellow and red.  Tropical Wisconsin.

Then just around the corner, everything is WHITE.  Peaceful in this shady glade, newly extended with hostas and ferns donated from my aunt and uncle.

Then white daisies merge with all kinds of colors from lilies, delphiniums and phlox.

This is my newest addition: my dad helped fence around my vegetable garden!

Pretty orderly in here.  The back third didn't get planted, but next year we'll expand into it. 
In the back you see asparagus, in front are peas, lettuce, spinach, blueberry bushes and some weeds.
To the back right is a raised bed of strawberries and rhubarb, up front we planted peppers (also pathetic this cold summer), onions, beans, tomatoes and basil.  The flags prevent my staff from accidents while weeding.
My front bed took all the squash, zucchini, broccoli and the bulk of tomatoes.
That berm behind it has really looked great all spring and summer.
Naturally we have volunteers sprouting from the compost bin.
The front porch is my absolute favorite hangout.  I replanted this front strip a couple of years ago with perennials because I got sick of fighting the weeds.  Now I can just enjoy it and pluck the occasional dandelion.

Our hollyhocks first opened two days ago and that clematis will hopefully trellis across the path someday.

A great year for lavender.
Another volunteer squash or pumpkin sprouted by the door.  We're curious to see what it will bear.
Raspberry picking started last week.

We're about a month out from pear season.
And finally, the shed/ginormous man-cave--all we did was hard-scape last year with grass and some trees.  It looks okay, but in a year or two I'd like to plant something along the edge of the building.  We laid down mulch and I'm waiting for inspiration.  Any suggestions, reader?
Remember, more Virtual Garden Tour can be found at Deep Thoughts of a Common Household Mom!

© 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Two weeks ago I caught up with my fabulous writing group in Massachusetts for our annual workshop. It's been 10 years since we first met at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and we've been supporting, critiquing, inspiring and improving each other ever since. This was our anniversary of sorts, so we chose a location that was of great literary importance (as opposed to meeting at someone's house like we usually do each year). We were light on manuscripts to edit, which meant we had lots of time to partake of the intellectual delights that the Concord/Amherst area of Massachusetts has to offer. Behold!

This sweet house is where we stayed--Sarah's Haven, located on a pond in a wooded area outside Worcester.  Hand crafted by an amazing woodworker, it was full of surprises--secret closets, hidden rooms--like a ship's galley, there wasn't any wasted space.  And cleverly designed, too!  Check out the entry way, set up for boots, coats, mittens:

And the pond:

 Naturally our first stop was Concord, Orchard House to be precise.  Everyone knows Little Women is one of my favorite books of all time and Louisa May Alcott ranks up there with Shakespeare on my Great Writers list.

I was reallyreallyreally excited to see Louisa's childhood home.  We had a great tour guide, too. She was incredibly knowledgeable about the Alcotts, their friends and their various involvements and didn't just stick to the script about Louisa's life.  I'd have loved to had lunch with her and talked more.  If we lived near, we'd be besties, I'm certain of it.

I didn't learn much new during our tour.  Louisa's father, Bronson, was a philosopher who kept his family in poverty, but his mind was so fantastic that guys like Emerson kept him around.  Louisa lived in a circle where Henry David Thoreau taught her and her sisters biology at Walden Pond, Ralph Waldo Emerson was a regular guest.  She and her sisters were surrounded by great ideas, minds, inventions and resources.   The interesting thing I did learn was how talented an artist her sister, May, was.  The house still has her drawings on the walls and window frames--she sketched on every available space and her work is truly remarkable.

 I had some deep thoughts outside of Bronson Alcott's chapel.  Not really.  I was mocking him for sitting around thinking all the time while his wife and daughters did all the work.  Imagine if the world hadn't been so sexist then...

Next stop:  Walden Pond.  I read four books at regular intervals throughout my life:  A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, Little Women, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  Based on this list, you might imagine how visiting Concord was a religious experience for me.
 The site of Thoreau's cabin where he lived for two years--in the woods, deliberately.  The pile of rocks to the side (visible below) are tributes from his fans.  Seriously, people, I was in Thoreau's woods!  Breathing the air he breathed!  Walking where he walked! 

And swimming where he swam/drank/bathed/did dishes!  I was pretty geeked out.

On our way out of Concord, my heart full and my head spinning, we stopped by Longfellow's Wayside Inn for dinner.  It looked as charming as you'd expect.  We dined on authentic colonial fare, including some of the BEST British ale on tap, Indian Pudding, potatoes and a steak Marni claimed she could cut with the side of her fork.  (I had a lobster roll.)

My third day in Concord involved edits on my manuscript (reader--I'm waffling between two titles:  Riding the Edge and Changing Gears--any thoughts?).  My dearest Screw Iowa Writers Workshop gave me brilliant advice and tuned it up so I'm ready to make final layers of revisions before sending this new baby into the world.  

Days four and five in the next post, I have groceries to buy, children to hassle and a garden to tend.  Meanwhile...
Spill it, reader:  where is your dream vacation?  What destination would inspire a religious fervor out of you?
© 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved