Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Smack in the middle of summer, the birds' chirping is relaxed, gossipy but not the keyed-up mating cries of spring. The crickets and bugs hum gently, a low buzz that invites a friendly visit to the fields.  The plants are a deep green, the deepest green before the first tinge of gold that will strike them next month. I've been walking on paths through the woods, through the fields, and last night along our road where I met a kind old gentleman who pointed out the hundreds of crayfish in our creek. Neither of us ever saw anything like it before--just amazing. No idea why there are so many, in previous years I maybe saw five, most years none. But this year they are abundant. The mosquitoes are scarce, the evening breezes steady and I'm almost always barefoot outside in the thick of it.  Summer vacation is the best.

I have a to-do list today, though. I made it in pictures to share.
Pull these thistles, plus two more giant bullthistles that snuck up to 5 feet tall.

Pick these peas.
Read. Right there in that hammock. With a popsicle.

Go through this back-to-school list and these coupons.

Scrub this empty, defrosted freezer and leave it OFF.

Buy lumber so I can finish this back garden. I have BIG plans for that far corner spot, as you can see the other five are doing just fine this season. This work in progress is nearly wrapped up.

Remember, all comments are a chance to win an autographed copy of Madeleine Mysko's new book Stone Harbor Bound so you, too, can kick back and enjoy a little summertime fun.

Spill it, reader. How's summer in your neck of the woods?

Monday, July 27, 2015

beach read giveaway

It's sweltering and I spent most of Sunday hanging out in a hammock reading a book (The Long Way Home by Louise Penny--sublime. I wept at the end.).  A genuinely fantastic use of sultry weather, I rocked gently with my feet up and made no apologies for my sloth.  My hammock is on the southeast corner of our front porch, surrounded by flowers, always in the shade, and the constant breeze keeps it pretty bug-free.  There's no finer place to enjoy a book. Today I trekked a couple hours north to deposit a truckload of teenaged boys to summer camp and on my way home I jammed out to Barry Manilow at full volume. There's only one radio station when one travels that far north, so Manilow's Greatest Hits CD got me back home and between "Mandy" and "Even Now" when I paused to catch my breath I found myself wondering whether he was, in fact, married and did I read correctly he'd married a man?  "Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl..."  Driving along I couldn't for the life of me recall ... but I sure remembered all the words to his songs.

But back to the reading. A staple of summer fun includes a great beach book. Fortunately for you, I've got just the thing:

Doesn't the cover SCREAM "Awesome Beach Read?"

Stone Harbor Bound by Madeleine Mysko is Bridle Path Press's latest offering and I finally got to read it a couple weeks ago. The setting is Stone Harbor, New Jersey, a charming beach town where generations of families visit year after year.  It's described so exquisitely I could taste the sweet tang of peach ice cream sold at the stand downtown and feel the grit of leftover sand between my toes and flip flops.  The story is a hopeful one, characters who've lost their way converge upon this spot to find themselves, love and happiness. "We have arrived, Gallagher children!"--you'll discover yourself riding along in the backseat and vicariously experiencing the journey to the seashore between the pages of this lovely book.

I had the pleasure of meeting Madeleine Mysko last month while I was in Baltimore with my writing group. She's elegant, articulate and intelligent.  Madeleine definitely understands the craft behind good writing and her work is considered and graceful.  There's a lot of poorly edited, random slop out there peddled as "literature" and "good reading," trust me when I tell you Stone Harbor Bound is a good read. You can order your own copy (I gave you the link) for the price of a movie ticket (but this book will offer you three times the enjoyment of anything currently playing, so it's definitely a better deal) OR you can enter my giveaway to win an autographed copy of this Fabulous Beach Read.

How do you enter? Easy--each comment in the comment box all week is your chance to win. I'll pick a lucky winner on Monday and mail out the book.

Spill it, reader. Where's your favorite summer reading spot?

And BTW, Barry did marry Garry. I looked it up when I got home because my curiosity was KILLING me.

Friday, July 24, 2015

little wagon on the big prairie

This is one scattershot blog lately, isn't it? I mean, most people go on vacation and post about it in some sort of categorical order. Our Yellowstone trip is getting a real mashed-up treatment, but trust me, when you buy my new book next winter, you'll say to yourself "Enduring her crappy blog posts all summer was totally worth it because Across the River is SUCH a great read! I'm glad she gave her blog short shift so she could spend quality time revising and editing it!"


Way Back When we were planning Our Yellowstone Vacation I mentioned the Laura Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, SD to my people.  I grew up loving the books, I'm of that age, and just like Laura, my family moved west when I was young and I saw much of the same things at the same age. Team Testosterone was enchanted by the idea of sleeping overnight in a covered wagon. In fact, they were so charmed by this notion, they kept bringing it up. "Mom? Did you book that night in the covered wagon yet?"

It made sense to spend the night in De Smet, it was almost 9 hours into our drive, so we'd be ready for some entertaining side trip. I booked a large wagon over the phone with a lovely woman named Ann and remembered to toss sleeping bags into the packed truck.

Now, Team Testosterone doesn't really know much about Laura Ingalls Wilder. We tried Farmer Boy as a read-aloud, but they got bored about halfway through. They never watched the TV series, however, they know I own a Complete Set of the Laura Books and I explained to them a little about her story as we turned off the Interstate towards Ingalls Homestead.  They exploded out of their seats when we pulled up, eager to investigate acres of wide open prairie.

Inside the cozy old-fashioned store we saw all kinds of useful and interesting things. The boys played a quick game of checkers while I checked in and got our wagon key. We learned that since we were staying overnight, we would enjoy free rein of the exhibits--just kindly shut the door of each building when we leave. The attractions would close to the public by 6:30, so we had time for the last covered wagon tour of the day before they shut things down. Team Testosterone and I hopped aboard.

Here's the story: Many years ago a LIW (Laura Ingalls Wilder) fan made her way to De Smet to pay homage and she fell in love, bought this property with her husband and built this place. The buildings are all historic, everything in them and around them is hands-on and authentic. The Ingalls Homestead is a labor of love and passion. What made this whole tour so special was the pages from the book blown up and framed beside each object, building or activity--highlighting the connections that make the LIW books so special.

The covered wagon took us to the one-room schoolhouse where girls donned bonnets and dresses, boys wore straw hats. We took our seats and the schoolteacher gave us a lesson about prairie education, actual people from De Smet who were in Laura's books and a few cool facts about the time period.  The school experience was interactive and we all had fun, even Mr. D who had to demonstrate how naughty kids got punished (standing against the wall with his nose inside a chalk circle).

After our wagon ride we were offered horse rides, but we were hungry and unpacked in our covered wagon to have supper.  Then we helped ourselves to everything the Ingalls Homestead had to offer--activities like twisting straw to burn (like Pa and Laura did in The Long Winter) and making corncob dolls like Laura's doll Susan in Little House in the Big Woods.  We explored a sod house, barn, live animals, garden, prairie, cropland, log cabin, barn, history of settlement and the church.  The kids ran and yelled and blew off steam while learning all kinds of cool stuff in a huge, safe environment.  Mr. B discovered kittens in one barn, Mr. G figured out how to lasso cattle.

Sleeping in the covered wagon was a unique experience, a lot like a tent, except with more cubbyholes to store stuff.  We had plenty of room and enjoyed the vast, huge silence of the western prairie. Ingalls Homestead has clean bathroom facilities, even hot showers available for campers. We didn't have a fire, it was quite warm out, but there was a fire ring.  No, we didn't circle up the wagons with all the other campers, everyone was pretty spread out, but that's in tune with a modern-day sensibility about privacy (one shared by Pa Ingalls).  Cozied up beneath the canvas tarp, I listened to the wind and drifted off into a great night's sleep. 

Worth it? Totally. I'd recommend this experience in a heartbeat. My sons said it was a highlight of our vacation, they had fun AND learned--and teenage boys are hardly the demographic for this venue, so this is high praise. This place is cleaned, cared for and the interaction with our hosts added to the charm. Plus, where else can you park it after a long day's drive and just let the kids run wild and loose without any restraint? Not at a hotel, that's for sure. Ingalls Homestead was the perfect spot to spend the night under the big, starry sky.

Mr. G exiting the covered wagon to chase a pheasant.

Eating we didn't have salt pork and fritters.

The main exhibit shows each location of LIW's books with important parts pulled out for old fans to remember and new fans to enjoy.

It's like a LIW Wall of Aweome, really.

Sod houses are dark and small. No thanks.

Pump it! Pump it real good!

Our campsite at sunset. Mr. D is going to check on the horses. Or stretch his legs.

So many buildings to explore, it took us a few hours to work our way through everything even without a guided tour.

In our excitement I forgot to get a picture of us tucked in for the night, but this is my exit shot. You can see where beneath the big bed a mattress has been tucked away, a table slides out from beneath the big bed for eating or card playing or planning out the next leg of a westward journey.
Spill it, reader. Would you go? Have you gone? Are you a Wilder fan like me?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

the main event

To recap: Mr. G's big birthday surprise involves face paint, payback and a main event. This experience will be testosterone-fueled and may require Mr. D to grow out his hair into a mullet. The yelling, the hype, the intensity will be unparalleled by any other experience known to mankind.

Tuesday the kid opened the box...

Read the tickets and grinned...

And then it really hit him...

Holy moly! Five ringside seats at WWE SMACKDOWN next month!  Big time match-ups with some of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the sport!


There will be trash-talking, chair smashing, pile driving, tag-team brawling and something called a "tombstone."  (And, we shall assume, there will be a fair amount of hyperbole with some extemporaneous name-calling.)


So, next month, Mr. G, his dad and brother and two buddies will watch this epic contest and display of athleticism LIVE! I drew the short straw (in a totally rigged contest to see who would get to go) and will stay home and watch it on TV if only to catch a glimpse of my people ringside. The boys are already discussing which t-shirts to wear and signs to make, Mr. G is Team Undertaker while Mr. B is pure Dean Ambrose all the way.

Spill it, reader. Have you ever watched WWE? Old school or new school? My favorite wrestler hands-down is The Rock. I always thought he brought some class to the sport.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

a bear of a hike

We're back from Yellowstone, head colds gone, laundry caught up and ready to celebrate Mr. G's birthday today. Before his big surprise reveal (stay tuned!) I'll tell you a little story about our big adventure in this amazing park.

We love to hike in the mountains, it's one of the things we most look forward to when we head out west. After spending some time looking at trail maps to calculate distance and altitude, we settled on Mount Washburn for our BIG climb of the trip. This mountain has a ranger station on top, providing a satisfying end to a climb. We ventured up on a chilly afternoon, the wind whistling past our ears as we rose higher.
Cheerful wildflowers punctuated our journey above the treeline, the clouds, up and up and up.
After more than halfway up the mountain, Mr. B and Mr. G were done. I mean, literally laying on the trail refusing to move, DONE. I agreed to accompany them back down the mountain where we'd hang out until Mr. D and Mr. T finished their excursion. We took our time on the descent, resting and admiring the views, discussing our plans for the rest of the day. Back at the truck we snacked on trail mix and water, and after about an hour I decided I'd head back up the trail with our binoculars to see if Mr. T and Mr. D were coming back down the mountain just yet.

I was halfway to the trailhead when this guy runs back to his car and starts digging around and setting up a tripod. He called to his wife to get out of the car and take a look. What did he see?

Galumping down the mountain, right next to the trail I was about to start hiking up, was a grizzly bear!
That bear kept coming. Mr. G and Mr. B and I watched in stunned amazement. After it got this close, we scurried back into the truck because we'd read plenty of warnings. Kids, Yellowstone is NOT a zoo. The wildlife are wild, unregulated and prone to attack people when threatened. Plus, that bear was BIG. We stared at it as it passed directly in front of our truck and I wondered if the guys on the mountain were okay. A few minutes sooner and I'd have been closer to that bear than I'd want to be!
Ten minutes after the bear had continued down the mountain I spotted Mr. T at the top of the ridge. He and Mr. D had a partner, a man who had spotted the bear on his solo climb down and was happy to finish his hike with some company (for safety!). Mr. D figured the bear was about 1/3 a mile away from them, they kept it within sight much of the way.

The guys did make it to the top of the mountain where they signed a book at the ranger station, saw a mountain goat and enjoyed breathtaking scenery. They took some great pictures and read about the soldiers who used the lodge at the beginning of the century before the National Park Service had rangers to watch over the park. I'm a little sorry I missed it, but then again, I'd have missed the front view of that grizzly if I had stayed on the trail with them.

Besides, my feet were plenty sore from a halfway hike anyway.

Friday, July 10, 2015

honest to pete

Mr. G's birthday is coming up soon and we've gotten into the habit of giving events and experiences instead of stuff to the boys. Last year he went to a Brewer game, for Christmas he got tickets to watch an Iowa-Wisconsin college basketball game. This year he asked for some football cards, a binder for his extensive card collection, and some pages. Such a modest request, plus we still like watching the kids unwrap something on their special day.

Football cards, binder and page inserts have been ordered--and so have tickets to a very special event.

We've never taken the kids to anything like this before. Heck, Mr. D and I have never been to anything like this before ourselves--we've bought tickets to a Renaissance Fair, an opera, the circus and car races but never, ever to this. Without a doubt this is one of the weirdest, most outrageous things I've ever laid out my Visa card to purchase, but when Mr. G opens this envelope, he will go positively crazy with excitement.

1. There will be face paint.
2. There will be payback.
3. There will be a main event.

Spill it, reader. Can you imagine what we've got in store for our youngest?  
I'll let you in on the surprise next week...with pictures. And stay tuned for a book giveaway!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

the worst?

Getting stung by a jelly fish?

An airline jerking you around, forcing you to spend an extra day before you arrive?
Grabbing on to a bunch of stinging nettle?

Perhaps poison ivy?

Wicked, blistering sunburn?

This week I vote that a summer cold/flu is the worst. Feverish and sweaty when it's already humid, sore throat, achy, stuffy head, runny nose...

Excuse me while I gripe my way over to my spot on the hammock where I've been mostly napping and wiping at my face with kleenex.

Spill it, reader. What's the worst that's happened to you this summer? Let's commiserate.