Traveling to the Sunshine State

I have had the good fortune to spend the week in Florida, the Sunshine state, and finding a brief respite from the rainy, cloudy days in the Pacific NorthWET, as I call it. Here’s the view from the hotel in Lake Wales, a lovely small town in rural citrus and cattle country.

The early morning fog:

Gorgeous sunsets after 80-degree days (I have to remind myself it’s November!)

My husband and I were at the World Speed Shooting competition, the Steel Challenge, and this is part of the range, where we were set up to sell match shirts and hats. (I even sold some books!)

And you never know around these parts:

All in all, a great trip and loved the sunshine! Oh yes, and I tried fried green tomatoes for the first time ever. Not bad!

Published in: on November 3, 2012 at 9:01 pm  Comments (5)  
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Writing the West in Albuquerque

I just returned from the 18th annual Women Writing the West conference, held this year in Albuquerque, NM. This is always the highlight of my writing year, traveling to a new state each year, catching up with old friends and making new ones.

WWW is a great support group, a non-profit association of women and men writing and promoting the Women’s West. As our website states: “Our stories are set in the Western United States — past and present — but our organization considers the “West” as more than a geographic location. The West represents a way of thinking, a sense of adventure, a willingness to cross into a new frontier.”

Our organization gives the WILLA Literary Award in several categories, one that I’m proud to say I won last year in Young Adult fiction. If you’ve published a book featuring a woman or girl set in the west in 2012, you are eligible to enter this prestigious contest.

As I left home last week to catch a plane to NM, I was greeted by the most beautiful sunrise. Unfortunately, I was driving on the freeway and wasn’t able to stop to take a picture. As the sun painted the horizon with burnt-orange brush strokes, a low-lying sea of fog hung over the water, indigo trees and mountains rising from it. It was a good omen for a good conference weekend.

I landed in Albuquerque to an equally spectacular sunset, which I was able to capture through the plane window.

At the conference, I heard a moving, inspirational keynote presentation by Susan Tweit on “Writing from the Heart” and met Anne Hillerman, daughter of novelist Tony Hillerman, and best-selling author Sandra Dallas (a WILLA Award winner). I also did a practice interview in front of the camera with Laureen Pepersack, which turned out not as terrifying as I thought it might!

After the conference, I had enough time to browse Old Town Albuquerque.

Our conference location, the Hotel Albuquerque:

A lovely weekend, filled with sunshine, friendship, information and support! We’re already planning next year’s event in Kansas City, MO!

A Montana Book and Research Tour

I recently returned to my native state of Montana for a mini book and research tour–another enjoyable “Thelma and Louise” trip with my sister-in-law. I always love traveling through Big Sky Country.Hittin’ the open road.

Flathead Lake at Lakeside, MT.

One day it was 73 degrees and the next… Only in Montana!

My research led me to a stop in Ovando, MT at Trixi’s Antler Saloon and at a museum dedicated to the 1940s world-renowned trick rider.

Not only did she do tricks on horseback…

But when the stage was too small, she twirled her ropes while riding a unicycle!

Another stop took me to a museum dedicated to World Champion Bronc Rider Fannie Sperry Steele.

Fannie’s “dress” chaps, made of calfskin and still in pristine condition.

Fannie Sperry Steele’s house on the ranch at Gates of the Mountains near Helena, MT

My tour ended in Missoula at the Montana Festival of the Book, where I helped work the Women Writing the West table with Beth Hodder and Pam Tartaglio.

What a fun trip. And now I’m off to Albuquerque, NM for the WWW conference!

Finding ‘Prescott Blue’

Over Memorial weekend, my DH and I visited our future retirement home near Prescott, AZ (pronounced like Press-kit). When my sister-in-law was there with us a year ago, we coined the color “Prescott Blue,” which is like no other sky–often not a cloud to be seen, just clear, vivid blue. While Phoenix was 90 degrees, Prescott was 60-70, with a cool breeze. And, they boast 300 days of sunshine, while we in the Pacific Northwest have 300 days of clouds.

We ate lunch one day at the Palace Restaurant and Saloon, on “Whiskey Row” in old-town Prescott. Opened in 1877, it is the oldest frontier saloon in Arizona, and has hosted such famous people as Wyatt and Virgil Earp and Doc Holiday. On July 14th, 1900, The Palace was destroyed by the Whiskey Row fire. The ornately carved 1880’s Brunswick Bar, which is still in use, was carried to safety across the street to the plaza by patrons, and the saloon was rebuilt for $50,000 within the next year. The movie “Junior Bonner” starring Steve McQueen was filmed there in 1971 as was a scene from “Billy Jack” and “Wanda Nevada.”

Prescott Courthouse and park hosted a juried art fair through the weekend. Arizona is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary of statehood this year.

Prescott-area terrain. It’s not just flat sandy desert, but is at 5,400 feet at the base of the Bradshaw Mountains and has a population of 40,000. Chino Valley is a small rural town 16 miles north of Prescott and that is where we will be relocating upon retirement.

Our Chino Valley neighborhood.

St. Louis Arch: Gateway to the West

St.Louis this weekend had nothing on Seattle as far as rain goes! It has poured rain in buckets most of the time I was there. But I managed to visit the famous St. Louis Arch.

The Arch is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition. It was completed in October 1965, and at 630 feet, it is the tallest man-made monument in the United States. Visitors can ride a “pod”-like tram (five seats, very cozy!) to the top and view the city on one side and the Mississippi River on the other. The tram takes one million visitors to the top annually.

In 1947 a competition challenged architects to design a memorial that would symbolize the dramatic story of westward expansion. Eero Saarinen‘s entry was the winner. It wasn’t built until the early 1960s and took two years. Workers struggled against high winds, biting cold and searing hear, along with dizzying heights and uneven surfaces. Saarinen died while undergoing an operation for a brain tumor at the age of 51 in 1961, before the Arch was finished. His other work includes the TWA terminal at JFK Airport, NYC, and Dulles airportWashington, D.C., and the General Motors Technical Center in Michigan.

Rockin’ out to Ted Nugent

I’ve been in St. Louis, MO this weekend, where my husband’s organization USPSA had a booth at the NRA Show. Many, many great people! Today I attended a concert by Ted Nugent, the “Motor City Madman.” Born and raised in Detroit, he formed the Amboy Dukes in 1965, and as a solo act has had a run of successful albums, including Free-For-All, Cat Scratch Fever and Double Live Gonzo! He is an avid proponent of hunting rights and the second amendment.

Getting Ted Nugent's autograph

Although I’ve never been a huge hard rock fan, I enjoyed the music today, and I even stood in line to get Ted Nugent’s autograph! It was a fun day in St. Louis.

Published in: on April 16, 2012 at 3:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bye-Bye Penske

After three days of cool, rainy and windy weather in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, we finally crossed the line into Florida and sunshine! We had been driving through corridors of pines through several states and seeing lush, green pastures and cattle. It’s funny, because when you think of Florida you normally think of beaches or swamps, not cattle ranches. I couldn’t help but think what my dad and our neighbors would’ve given for such lush green grass. But on the other hand, eastern Montana does have some of the most nutrient-rich grass in the nation, even though it’s green only a few months of the year. In fact, during WWII, the Armed Services requested Montana grain because it was so rich in protein.

St. Pete's Beach

We decided to spend a “down” day in St. Pete’s Beach and the weather cooperated nicely, allowing us to spend the afternoon at the beach. It was good not to have to pack up and lug suitcases in and out of a new hotel for at least one night.

The next day: Frostproof and the end of the 3,040-mile journey, unloading the match equipment and saying Good-Bye to Penske Truck! Hooray. We picked up a “normal” Ford Escape and commenced the last few days in vacation mode.

Cherry Pocket

We ended up eating twice at a funky and fun restaurant called the Cherry Pocket Steak and Seafood Shak, in the middle of a fishing camp near Lake Wales, FL. We sat outside, enjoyed the warm evening and a singers with guitars, playing “oldie-goldies.” Great food, fun atmosphere. We highly recommend it!

Our last port-o-call, Boca Raton, where Dave’s Navy buddy, George and his wife, Francoise, live. We had a great visit, wonderful walks on the beach and outdoor dining at the Patio Bar and Grill, overlooking Deerfield Beach. Our friends took us to see “Butterfly World“–what a fun and fabulous place that is!

All too soon, our cross-country journey came to an end.

We left Florida in 80-degree weather, wading in the surf and walking on the sand.

Deerfield Beach in Boca Raton, FL

And we woke up the next morning to this “welcome home” sight!

"Welcome Home"

Travels with the Penske Pair: Part IV

We had hoped to stop in the Gulfport MS area to take an airboat tour of an alligator ranch, but the weather had turned downright chilly (a reminder of home!) so we decided to forgo this stop.

Our next stop was in Mobile AL for a tour of the battleship USS Alabama in Battleship Memorial Park. The Alabama was commissioned in 1942 with Captain George B. Wilson in command and

USS Alabama 5-inch/38 cal. Side Gun Turrets

served in World War II in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. She was decommissioned in 1947, assigned to reserve duty, and was retired in 1962. In 1964, Alabama was taken to Mobile Bay and opened as a museum ship.

The below-decks tour was a fascinating look into history and how the crew of 2,500 men lived, worked, ate and slept. The ship is 680 feet long and 108 feet wide and weighed in at more than 45,000 under battle conditions.

The park included an

aircraft pavilion, and one of the displays commemorated the Tuskegee Airmen who were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces and served during World War II.

Another tour took us through the USS Drum (SS-228), a Gato-class diesel-

USS Drum Submarine

electric submarine and the oldest American WWII submarine in existence. There were 52 submarines and more than 3,600 submariners who made the ultimate sacrifice in WWII.

The inside of the submarine pointed up the need to be young, slender and limber! It’s a good thing I don’t have to do this job.

Inside the USS Drum

More Magnolia Mount Photos

Hart House. The first mayor of Baton Rouge

It wasn’t clear whether this house was originally part of the plantation acreage. Robert Hart was the first mayor of Baton Rouge and in 1899 was instrumental in getting bonds passed to improve education, including a new school for black children.

Girls' bedroom in the Magnolia main house

Overseer's House

Sick Room Sign on Overseer's House

Sick Room for Slaves

Slaves' Quarters

Inside Slaves' Quarters

Quite an interesting and sobering look into part of our country’s history.

Published in: on March 10, 2012 at 4:03 am  Comments (1)  
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Travel Adventures Part IV

Magnolia Mound House Parlor

Baton Rouge, LA, offers several plantation tours. Because of the size of our ride, I selected BREC’s Magnolia Mound, which looked easily accessible. The on-line site I found at first listed it on Sharp street, which we found quite easily…except, Magnolia Mound was nowhere to be seen. A stop at a gas station nearby netted no information—no one had heard of it! On the trusty smart phone, we found the “real” address on Nicholson street, about 10 miles west of where we were.  Still have no idea how the address came to be listed wrong, but we finally arrived.

On 16 acres of the original 900, the architecture is called “vernacular,” influenced by early settlers from France

and the West Indies. The property includes a 200-year-old historic museum house, an open-hearth kitchen with a kitchen garden, overseer’s house, a slaves’ quarter house, crop garden, pigeonnier, and carriage house.

We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and marveled at the cooking processes of the day. fireplace, with a brick oven built into the wall for baking, and the devices, such as a “toaster,” a metal frame to hold two pieces of bread that one could turn for toasting on both sides. With no refrigeration and winters not cold enough to collect ice, food was buried in the ground in large crockery olive oil jars from Europe. The pigeonnier housed squab, a delicacy in early America.

This plantation is kept up by the Baton Rouge’s park system, offering educational programs, workshops, lectures, festivals, and other special events to illustrate and interpret the lifestyle of the French Creoles.

That evening we found Boutin’s Restaurant, a “Cajun music and dining experience.” This certainly was a great experience, from  the boudin sausage (casings stuffed with rice and sausage) the crab-stuffed catfish entrée I had (complete with corn maque choux, Cajun rice AND a stuffed potato!), to the folk music band. Their music reminded me a lot of the old time groups my dad used to play fiddle with. A great evening—I recommend Boutin’s.

The next day we had planned to stop at Moss Point near Gulfport to take an alligator ranch boat tour, but the sunny southern weather had turned downright cold, with clouds, rain and wind. Next stop: Mobile, AL!

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