Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Getting Lost --> Finding Me by Patty Blount

People close to me love to tease me about my sense of direction.

I haven't got one.

At all.

I mean, I still get lost on Long Island and I've lived here since the '80's and -- hello? It's an island!

But the thing is, it's a serious problem for me because it formed a fear of travel in me. I never went anywhere by myself unless I was sure I could find the way home. When I got my driver's license, I remember driving to my grandparents' home in College Point.

This was not a long trip.

College Point is a section of Queens, New York that's located right on the northern tip of the borough. We lived in Flushing -- a section that's literally just south of it. Take a look:


My home was the purple star (bottom right). My grandparents' home was the red star (top left). The route I needed to take -- indeed, the route my parents had been taking since I was BORN (!) is shown in yellow. This is a ride that should have taken 10 or 15 minutes at best, depending on how many traffic lights I hit on Francis Lewis Blvd.

I got my mom's car keys, waved good-bye, and nearly had a heart attack when I found myself on the ramp for the Whitestone Bridge heading to the Bronx. (Shown as Rt 678, above).

Luckily for me, there was one more exit ramp before the bridge. I took it and ended up in Whitestone. Understand that everything in this section of Queens is numbered. And I still couldn't find my way out.

Back in those days, I navigated my way through life based on landmarks. On the corner of 20th Avenue and the Whitestone Expressway (about the center of the map above), there was a small amusement park there when I was a kid. This was swamp land -- like LITERAL swamp. Tall marshy grass, lots of huge puddles that never seemed to fully evaporate. Today, it's shopping centers and office buildings. But Adventure's Inn and right behind it, The Aero Slide -- a huge slide with multiple lanes you slid down on top of a carpet or burlap scrap -- were the landmarks I used to make my right turn. And less than a mile further down, on Linden Place, stood the old Flushing Airport, home of the Skytypers, who now fly out of Republic Airport. After about an hour of driving around Whitestone and hitting one-ways or bridge supports, I FINALLY passed the amusement park and realized where I was, arriving at my grandparents' house in time for dinner.

*sigh* I wish I could tell you my directional sense improved, but sadly -- it did not. I set off for Laguardia once and ended up at JFK -- and was proud that at least I'd found AN airport.

My dismal sense of direction finally improved when I began studying ways to learn north from south that did not depend on numbers. Long Island has no grid system, so figuring out where the sun is was a critical skill. Is it in my eyes? Then I'm probably going west (because in those days, I was certainly not awake in time for an eastern sunrise).

Before I was published, I learned two of my favorite authors, Jeff Somers and Sean Ferrell, would be appearing at a New York City venue. My teenage son had to take me because even though he couldn't yet drive, he had a fully evolved sense of direction and -- wonder of wonders -- knew how to use the subway system. You can read about that escapade here. That trip was so plagued by mishaps, my son and I STILL crack up when we hear the term Oompa-loompa.

When I got my first publishing contract, awesome agent Brooks Sherman (not my agent, mind you) invited me to participate on a YA author panel he was moderating at a New York City theater called The Cell. I forced my entire family to accompany me -- for fear I'd end up in New Jersey. It was a lot of fun for me -- speaking with authors Nova Ren Suma and Dan Krokos. I'm not sure they'd agree because I never did get invited back.

But the day soon came when I HAD to travel by myself. I made myself ill over the thought. (For an idea as to how ill, just play the Pepto-Bismol jingle.) I studied Map Quest print-outs, bought a Garvin GPS system and called venues for directions. I walked all the way to the Javitz Center from Penn Station for Book Expo because I had no idea which train to take. And I managed to find New York's City-As-School High School, where I spoke to a standing-room only crowd about SOME BOYS.

Remember how badly I'd wanted to say no when I learned I'd have to travel alone tortures me. If I had, I'd have missed out on the most engaged group of students I've ever addressed.

Now I have GPS on my phone. I drove to South Carolina -- alone! -- and lived to tell, though I had nightmares I'd end up starring in a real-life version of My Cousin Vinny. I made it to my publisher's anniversary party on a New York City rooftop venue and even though I cheated and took a taxi, still consider it a victory. I traveled to Milwaukee for the Barbara Vey Weekend by myself, and to Atlanta for the RT Booklovers' Convention by myself.

Now that I'm a lot older and hopefully, wiser, I'm still directionally challenged. (It's become my family's favorite past-time to stop me in the center of some vast space and ask me to find North. It takes me a good 10 minutes to puzzle it out...) But I don't FEAR getting lost to the extent I once did and no longer become ill at the thought of traveling solo. I used to think getting lost was time wasted, time I could never get back. Now I think it's just part of getting where I need to be.

Writing is a lot like that... I used to balk and cry and feel utterly spent when I had to delete sections of a manuscript or backtrack for several chapters to unravel a subplot that fizzled. Now I consider that part of my way-finding process. In school, we learned that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But in real-life, I've learned that "shortest" doesn't always mean "best." For me, those side trips reveal character -- usually mine :)










Monday, August 21, 2017

WINNIE AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD HOTELS (HOLLY SCHINDLER)



This is Winnie:

Actually, her full name was Winnie D. Pooch, and she was my childhood dog (like that name didn’t already totally tip you off).

And she is the reason why we stayed in the nastiest, scariest, weirdest hotels on the planet.

We never boarded her. Not once in 17 years. It honestly never crossed anybody’s mind. She was just always with us. She was in the car when Mom picked me and my brother up from school—or dropped us off in the morning. She went to the grocery store (weather permitting), she went on weekend camping excursions in the RV (which is where she’s standing here), and she was along for the ride on every extended family vacation we ever took. She went to Texas and Fort Gibson, OK and Branson, MO—etc., etc., etc. She was a Maltese, really small (MAYBE 6 lbs at her heaviest), easy to carry, totally innocent looking, and she was allowed into every single museum or shop we ever went to. Every. Single. One. Once, we took her to an outdoor restaurant in Texas. It was hot as hades, and all we wanted was something to drink. At first, waitstaff was going to kick us out (just couldn’t have a dog in a place where food was being served), but after about thirty seconds, we were getting bowls of water all around.

It wasn’t like she was an angel. She was prone to mad barking fits (once, she tried to “kill” a lifesized concrete buffalo on a trip to Oklahoma). She wouldn’t have known “sit” or “stay” or “c’mere” were ever words that applied to her. She sure knew “go,” though. (As in, “Do you want to go?”)

Always.

Anyway, when we were on the road (sans-RV), back in the ‘80s, we generally ran into dog trouble when it came to finding hotels. Honestly, part of the reason for that was that my dad would never push it when told “no dogs.” He would never explain she was housebroken or wouldn’t bother anyone (as long as there was no concrete wildlife in the room or walls of mirrors—THAT was a disaster, don’t get me started). He never even offered to pay a pet fee / deposit. If someone told him no, that was that. And we were on to the next place down the road. Which was every bit as likely to say no dogs, too.

Where we wound up? Oh, man. Places where headboards fell off, where no one was allowed to walk barefoot on the carpet, where the cleaning crew once left this note for us taped to the bathroom mirror: “THIS PLACE SUCKS!”

Yes, it did.

But the thing is, I remember every single one of those places. I remember every shady character I met at an ice machine. I remember every long-winded story one decidedly wacky guy told me poolside while Winnie dog paddled (actually, Mom said she was just walking on top of the thick pool sludge). We still joke about that housekeeping note and about being sure, in Wentzville, that the stuff on the rug was actually leftover chalk (from a recently deceased body’s chalk outline).

Maybe you do remember the bumps in the road more than you remember the times of smooth sailing. Well—the bumps and how you dealt with it, or the sheer fact that you all got through it. Maybe we all even get hungry for disruptions and surprises working their way into the everyday humdrum—and that’s part of the reason we go on vacation in the first place.
 
Maybe, too, that’s why we gravitate toward fiction—maybe that’s also a trip, a vacation from the norm. 

Maybe, in the end, we most like winding up in the places we least expect.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Summertime Fun!


Summer has been flying by!
with a new YA book release in May:
And ending on the note of waiting to announce good book news (!!!)

Love that new book contract smell!! #ahhh #booknewscomingsoon #squeee #IheartEMLA

A post shared by Laurie Boyle Crompton (@lbcrompton) on

We've barely had time to breathe, and I've barely had time to write! (Including blog posts - sorry!!)
We did get a trip in to visit Butler, PA, where I grew up.
This is, of course is the opposite of our theme this month of LEAVING home, but here is a video of my husband jumping into the pool in slo-mo reverse so that's kind of similar, right?
HA! See you next month!!


Friday, August 18, 2017

Maine Misadventures (Alissa Grosso)

These days, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the majority of my extended family lives in Maine. None of them are from there. They're all from New Jersey. Before, any of them moved up there, in the summer before I started sixth grade, my parents decided to take us on a family vacation to Ogunquit, Maine. 

According to Mapquest it should have taken us less than six hours to reach our destination. It took us considerably more. I have been to Maine several times since this first trip, and I can assure you this is almost always the case. It's like some sort of optical illusion and is always further away than it appears.

Very early one summer morning, my parents, my sister and I piled into Mom's new Cherokee Chief to make our Maine maiden voyage. In an effort to save time, and break up the long (they had no idea how long!) car trip, my parents had decided that instead of eating breakfast at home, we would stop somewhere in Connecticut for breakfast. 

We were cruising along Route 95 in Connecticut when our stomachs began to collectively announce that it was time to eat, and so we began to look for likely places to stop, and then without warning traffic came to complete halt. This was not a slow crawl, we were simply stopped dead.

We waited in the car, but no one in the northbound lanes of the multilane interstate was moving. Then we did see some folks moving, but they were headed back in the opposite direction, making use of the grassy highway median. My dad decided this was a brilliant idea. After all, Mom's Jeep came equipped with four wheel drive and it wasn't too far back that we had passed an exit. So, he joined the  small stream of cars that was trying to make a break for it.

The police, though were arriving on the scene and quickly put an end to the retreat. Presumably some fortunate folks were able to make it back to the last exit, but we were not among their number. We were herded back into the stopped highway traffic, now a few hundred feet further back from where we had stopped before. 

Traffic remained at a complete standstill. Cars were turned off, and people began to get out of their cars and make the acquaintance of their new highway neighbors. News made its way back from the front lines. The reason for the traffic jam was an overturned tractor trailer carrying a load of swordfish steaks. It made our stomachs growl, even though no one in our car was particularly fond of eating swordfish. My family was not in the habit of traveling with snacks or water. So, we were starving and thirsty.

My dad stayed with the car, while my mom took my sister and I on a walk up the highway which had become a parking lot. We were, in our own weird suburban way, foraging for food. I think our hope was that we might find that just up ahead there would be some restaurant or convenience store that would be just close enough to the highway that we might be able to hike there and buy some food. We had no such luck. There was a Coca-Cola truck stuck in the traffic jam. Though many of the trapped motorists begged him, the driver refused to sell off any of his bounty. Eventually we returned to the car, empty handed.

The sun rose higher in the sky, and we began to wonder if we might spend the rest of our lives trapped on a highway in Connecticut. In all, we waited four hours in stopped dead traffic before the truck and the dead fish were cleared from the road. 

My sister, my dad and I on one of our other New England vacations.


I would like to say that the rest of our trip was uneventful, but this is Maine and traveling to it, is seldom uneventful. We did at least make it over the Maine state line without further incident, but shortly thereafter all hell broke loose.

Because of our four hour delay, we were running a bit behind schedule and were now stuck in the stop and go traffic on Route 1, that my father thought he would avoid by getting on the road super early. Looking out the windshield my mom saw what looked like smoke, and pointed it out.

My dad reassured her that it must be coming from the car in front of us. After all, our car was brand new, and my father pointed out, we were in Maine. It was the wilderness, and people drove all manner of beaters. My mom pointed out that it looked like the smoke was coming from our hood, and then my dad looked down and saw that the car's temperature gauge had shot into the red. There was some profanity as he maneuvered the car out of traffic and into a parking lot at the side of the road.

For the second time that day my mom was sent on a foraging mission. Dad told her to hunt down water and antifreeze. This time my sister and I stayed with my dad. When the car cooled off enough to open the hood and see what the problem was, it became clear that water and antifreeze alone, weren't going to do the trick. The radiator hose had a nice big hole in it. A few different people stopped to help, and eventually one of those helpers had some duct tape to repair the hose. 

Mom soon returned, too, in the back of a police car. It was all good, though. She had struck up a conversation with the cop in the convenience store when she saw that the name on his badge was the same as her maiden name. She told him our predicament and he gave her a lift back.

Eventually we made it to Ogunquit. Phone calls were made to the local Jeep dealership. As it happens, our car was subject to a recall, and they would be able to repair it, though they would need to order the parts to do it. We were lucky that the town was pretty walkable and even had a cute little trolley that drove around. For the week that we were there we relied on our feet at the trolley to get to everywhere we were going.

Mom's Cherokee was repaired in time for our return trip. It was a blissfully uneventful return trip. We were brave enough to attempt a few more trips to Maine in the Cherokee. They did not always go well. Later, as an adult I would end up driving some Cherokees of my own, they also did not take to New England travel. On the plus side, though, thanks to my 1987 Cherokee Wagoneer I became something of an expert at changing radiator hoses.

I know it's a bit late in the summer, but if you are planning a summer road trip to Maine here are a few tips that I have learned the hard way:
  1. Always eat breakfast before you leave. It's the most important meal of the day, and I know it's tempting to think that you'll have a nice, big breakfast on the road, but take it from me, plans do not always work out, swordfish steak trucks to do not always stay upright and you'll be thankful you had the foresight to eat a healthy breakfast when you are trapped on an interstate highway for hours on end.
  2. Bring snacks and water.  Even if you follow tip number 1, it's still a good idea to always have some snacks and plenty of water. That said, drinking too much water can lead to other complications if you do happen to get stuck in a four hour traffic jam.
  3. If you're going to Maine, maybe don't drive a Jeep. My experience has only been with Jeep's in the Cherokee line, so maybe you'll be safe in a Wrangler or a Patriot or something, but do you really want to chance it? I know it sounds crazy, but any Jeep I've ever drove or ridden in has not been happy about driving to Maine. I've traveled to Maine via Nissan Xterra, Plymouth minivan and Honda CRV without much fuss, just saying.
  4. Wherever you go, take notes. You never know, your travel misadventures might just make for an entertaining blog post at the least or, who knows, they could wind up being the inspiration for a movie. (Michael Arndt who wrote the Little Miss Sunshine screenplay was at least partly inspired by his family's own adventures traveling in a VW bus.)
Alissa Grosso's travel misadventures could fill a book, but she hasn't written that one yet. She is the author of the books Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. You can find out more about her at alissagrosso.com.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

First Vacation by Jody Casella

The summer I turned fifteen, my family rented a station wagon and we drove 1250 miles to Memphis, Tennessee to visit relatives for a week.

Except for camping trips, my family never went on vacations. I had never been more than five hours away from my home, unless you count a trip on a plane to Florida when I was six. But I don't remember that trip. 

I remember the Memphis trip. 

Twenty hours of my mother and stepfather in the front seat. My little brothers bickering in the Way Back. My stepfather shouting back at us that he would pull over if we made him mad. The heat building in the car as we traveled south. All of us begging my stepfather to turn on the air conditioner. 

He wouldn't. 

Not until we crossed the state line into Tennessee, something I still don't understand. I mean, he'd rented the station wagon with air conditioning specifically so we could, you know, turn on the air conditioning when it got hot. Supposedly, we'd get crappier gas mileage if the air was on. And this was a man who was tight with his pennies. So tight, that he made a point of buying ice cream that nobody liked because then nobody would eat it. Get it? 

Memphis was a wonder to me.

The sun. The heat. The Mississippi River rolling by at the edge of what seemed a sparkling city. We went out for dinner, which we rarely did at home. Ate foods I'd never heard of like barbecued pork sandwiches and crawdads. Played tourist at the Peabody Hotel and on a riverboat cruise.  

My family held it together as well as we could. On our best behavior for the relatives. Reining in our usual dysfunction until we couldn't manage it anymore. And then my brothers bickered and fought. My mother yelled at them. I walked out of the room whenever my stepfather walked into it. 

I hated him and I didn't even know how much until that vacation. Maybe it was the twenty hour car ride and the close proximity to each other. Seeing the contrast between how we lived with how our relatives were living. 

And isn't that what travel does? Opens your eyes up to new places and people. Introduces you to different ways of living. 

I celebrated my fifteenth birthday in a lovely home in Memphis. There's a picture of me standing in front of my cake, something chocolaty that my aunt baked for me, my stepfather looking on. I'm wearing a bathing suit because we'd just gone swimming. And my stepfather is looking on because he was always looking on. 

Sometimes when you travel away from home, you are finally able to see it for what it is. 

A few weeks after we left Memphis, my mother and stepfather divorced. I never saw him again. 

All and all it was a good vacation. 





Sunday, August 13, 2017

Food, Glorious Food: the Way the Moores Travel (by Jodi Moore)

We didn’t travel much when I was a child. Perhaps that’s why I have such a hunger to explore.

We decided early on to give our two sons a taste of adventure. 

 

Breakfast is, of course, the most important meal of the day, especially when shared with Tigger.


Thankfully, both my husband’s and my jobs offer travel opportunities on a regular basis. Although we can’t always travel together, it’s delicious when we can.



And while our family loves a good meal at our local Olive Garden, 

 

our rule for travel is simple: we try to stay away from chains and instead, enjoy the local “cuisine” of the area.

We’ve been blessed to share a few meals in other countries such as England:


Note: Yes, we’re eating pasta here. My hubby is a “pasta-tarian”, so we found him an Italian restaurant  in London one night. This is our Lady & Tramp pose, since that was our first movie. Don’t worry. I had bangers and mash the following evening.

A definite thrill was sampling food at one of Gordon Ramsey's restaurants!


Because the above son is in theater and was cast in Saturday Night Fever on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, we were able to visit him and enjoy amazing delicacies on the ship:

Yep...there's my pasta-tarian again.

…in Belize:


…in Puerto Rico:


…in St. Maarten:

…and in Mexico. Okay, that’s just Larry and Steve being silly, pretending to shovel coal into the oven, but there was a woman along the trail who made us scrumptious homemade tortillas!  

         
Of course, our travels in the U.S. never fail to whet our appetites. Hawaii has amazing tropical delights:


As well as Florida...Alex is silly too.


Wyoming was extra friendly and inviting:

Village Inn, Caspar, WY

And Omaha baked for us!
Wheatfield's, Omaha, NE

Sometimes our tastes run fancy:

Washington, D.C.

Other times, we want what the area’s famous for:

Matzo ball soup at the famous Katz's, NYC

Nathan's, Coney Island, NY


Serendipity, NYC
           
We’re ALWAYS up for a diner:

Daytona Beach, FL
 
Sand Castle Diner, NJ
         
Or a good slice of pizza:

Frank Pepe's, Norwalk, CT




Oops. Nothing to see here, folks.


So whether we’re traveling back in “times”...

Medieval Times, Orlando, FL
Or enjoying the sweetest spot on earth…

Hershey Park, Hershey, PA
 Our trips always leave us full...heart, soul and tummy.

 We're already looking forward to our next excursion. Join us!


 There's always a seat for you at our table.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Vacations on Repeat

When you travel, would you rather go back to the same place year after year, or would you prefer to explore new vistas every time?

Whether by nature or nurture (probably a little of both), I like to visit the same places. Growing up, we vacationed every summer at a lovely inn in Northwood, New Hampshire, called Lake Shore Farm. We always went for the last week of August, along with several other families we knew, and over time we got to know other families who were on the same schedule.

At the time, Lake Shore was owned by a family, the Rings, who had owned the home since the 1800s and had operated the inn since the 1920s. They offered clean rooms and three meals a day at their rambling farmhouse (plus more modern annex) with square dancing on Friday nights, swimming and boating on the lake, and acres of woods to explore. And if you were going on a day trip into the White Mountains, Mrs. Ring would pack sandwiches for you.

For a suburban kid from Long Island, New York, this little piece of the country felt like heaven. Looking back on it, I know it wasn't wilderness, but it felt like it.

The inn sat at the top of a long sloping lawn that stretched down to the lake (paradoxically called Jenness Pond) where there was a dock for rowboats and a small beach for canoes. You could play all sorts of games on the lawn, and we did: tetherball, volleyball, kickball, croquet and lawn darts (grownups only). Then there was the woods, with a path that led to the private beach where you could go swimming, with the squishy, icky lake bottom beneath your toes and sudden cold spots that would send you squealing back to warmer water. If you walked off the path, you could pretend -- and we kids did -- that you were deep in the forest primeval. You could take out rowboats and have splash wars, or sit at sundown and listen to the loons and feel like you were absolutely alone in the world.

Because guests could be anywhere on the rather large property, the Rings had a big, old-fashioned hand bell that was rung for meals. This chore was a coveted prize among the kids, so much so that Mrs. Ring kept a sign up sheet in the kitchen, and one of the first things you did when your family arrived was to run to the kitchen, yell "hi" to Mrs. Ring, and grab the sign up sheet to see when you could get your chance to ring the bell. When your turn came, you made sure you were in the kitchen early, and you watched the clock tick off the seconds until you could go. When it was time, you took off running! You exploded through the house, ringing the bell, often accompanied by a bunch of other kids just for the fun of it. You rang the bell up the staircases, through the rec room, into the bathrooms, through the entire residence, all around the outside, ringing that bell the whole time. And then you'd arrive back, winded and grinning, at the front door and deposit the bell back in its place of honor in the kitchen.

Honestly, I'm getting a little choked up, remembering.

Across the street was a duck pond. Every day, Mrs. Ring set aside stale bread in a bucket for the kids to feed the ducks. So every morning after breakfast, we'd grab bread and go feed the ducks. The duck pond was also full of frogs, which this suburban kid with an abhorrence of all things slimy and wet learned to catch with her bare hands.

I'm telling you, this place was heaven.

There were no TVs in the rooms or in the common rec room. Instead, we played ping pong and pool (although at night, we had to cede the pool table to the adults). We played all the card games we knew and learned new ones. The moms often did crafts at night -- crocheting and embroidery and turning pompoms into little animals -- while someone read a book aloud to a bunch of kids. I remember "Rabbit Hill" by Robert Lawson was a perennial favorite. Another group might sit around a table, working on a puzzle. Even that could get competitive, hunting for the right piece. A radio might be tuned to the Yankees/Red Sox game as the season wound down into the final stretch, but more often, conversation was the only buzz. Over in the kitchen, at the table near the soda machine, the "big boys" (my oldest brother and his friends, in their teens) would play Risk long into the night.

At Lake Shore, I met my first Samoyed and my first Great Dane. I met a girl with a prosthetic leg -- it never slowed her down, and I remember vividly watching her hurl herself off the dock into the water -- and a girl from Canada who became a pen pal for a while. I did my first babysitting and my first dog-walking. I did a lot of growing up there, and a lot of writing, and a lot of dreaming.

When they tell you, in birthing classes, to think of a peaceful, safe place to go in your mind during labor, that's where I went. The lake, the house, those memories.

Unfortunately, all the pictures are at my father's house, mostly on his Super-8 films. I promised him the next time we visit, we're taking the films to Costco to get them transferred to digital so we can watch them again.

The one thing I do have is this little book from 1976 that contains the recipes and history of the Ring family and the house. Mrs. Ring did make some great food -- her spice cake in particular was amazing -- but it was the experience more than the food that I remember.


I'd rather have these memories of a place I visited again and again than the experience of going to lots of different places over the years. You?





Thursday, August 10, 2017

I'm Ready To Go! by Sydney Salter

I love, love, LOVE to travel because experiencing new places enhances my two other favorite things: reading and writing.

I usually try to read something related to my destination. My daughter is heading into her senior year, so all of our recent travel has involved a small liberal arts college - or four. Last fall a trip to  Minnesota prompted me to read Sinclair Lewis' Main Street, a delightful novel that brought texture and history to the small towns we visited. I also made a point to read more F. Scott Fitzgerald, making the drive past his old house in St. Paul a particular thrill. I also try to bring home a few books with local flavor to read later - and that's when the real delight of travel comes. I love being able to really picture a city that I have experienced myself. I think it also helps my writing to see how other writers use location in their storytelling.

Sometimes I work on fiction while I travel. Part of the search for a great college fit has involved finding the cutest coffee shop in town. If only the love for a cute coffee shop always correlated with the love for the college! I've enjoyed adding to my WIP while my daughter keeps up on homework. Most of the time when I travel, I leave my WIP simmering, and limit my writing to my daily diary entry. I can't pretend that these are polished words - but it's always enough to spark the richer memory of some detail I might otherwise forget. Most trips - even to a liberal arts college in the middle of Ohio - lead me to some sort of story idea or potential character. That's the best part of travel - so many new experiences, so many new ideas.

I feel certain that any corner of the world, seen for the first time, will inspire a writer.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Weird Stuff by Joy Preble


It's the weird stuff of travel that I like. (Okay, I like all of travel, but that's not what this post is about)
The World's Biggest Ball of Twine kind of stuff. The off the beaten path, hey it's the Mustard Museum kind of thing. The kind of thing you find in the wonderful Atlas Obscura and by traveling the back roads and keeping your eyes open everywhere to the adventure beyond the obvious. (Haven't ever peeked at Atlas Obscura? Here's the link: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places

One Spring Break we headed down to Rockport, Texas. Do you know there's a 1,000 year old tree in Goose Island State Park? They call it the Big Tree. I'm not sure if it's really the biggest, but there's a sign that says it is and that's good enough for me.


Another time I was doing research for a book that I ended up shelving but in the process, I visited both the Texas Prison Museum and the Funeral Museum all in one day. Saw Old Sparky in one and learned the origin of the phrase 'you're a basket case' in the other. So during the Civil War, sometimes the dead were so torn apart that they had to be scooped up in the baskets. And the phrase stuck. In all seriousness, they are both respectfully done, and both with fairly awesome gift shops. Because who doesn't want the possibility of buying a t-shirt that reads, "Texas Bed and Breakfast: Two Hots and a Cot" ? Or checking out a variety of wonderfully strange caskets?


Headed to Chicago? Make sure to visit suburban Niles, where you can hang out at the Leaning Tower of Pisa... YMCA. Yup.


Driving south? Giant peach in Georgia.


Haven't even mentioned Houston's Art Car Museum or Orange Show.
Or my favorite hot dog place in Chicago:

Or Pea Soup Anderson's outside of San Luis Obispo.

And that's just the very tip of the weird travel iceberg. The world is filled with wonders.

What's your favorite travel oddity?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Leavin' on a Jet Plane ... Or Maybe a Bus (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is traveling and/or leaving home.  The first time I did both in a big way: the summer after high school, when I lived in Mexico.

My high school Spanish teacher, Señor Haakenson, led a group of high school and college students to Mexico every summer.  I didn’t bother to ask my parents, because I was kid # 7, and we didn’t have a ton of extra money.  So imagine my surprise the day Señor Haakenson showed up at my house to urge my parents to send me to Mexico, just because I was good at Spanish.  They actually said yes!

We took a bus all the way there from Wisconsin.  (I still don’t like buses.)  We stopped in San Antonio, then spent a few days in Monterrey, which was like any other big city, except that they spoke Spanish.  Mexico City for 10 days.  Wow.  My favorite memories: the floating gardens of Xochimilco, the pyramids, the Ballet Folklórico, fantastic murals and sculpture, churros ... and wandering around by myself.  Everywhere.  Freedom!
 
Pyramid of the Moon
 
We spent most of the rest of our trip in Guadalajara, where we lived with Mexican families and attended the Escuela de Artes Plásticas and, as I recall, did no studying whatsoever.  That summer, we mostly just lived.  In Spanish.  For me, speaking and thinking and dreaming in Spanish.  I was so immersed that one night, when a group of us went to see a just-released American movie at a theatre, I kept looking at the Spanish subtitles because English had become my second language.

To fully immerse myself in the language, of course, I had a cute Mexican boyfriend.  (Heh heh.)  Alberto sang and played guitar, beautifully, although he never ONCE serenaded me under a balcony, unlike the boyfriend of a girl in the family with whom I lived.  (Naturally, I felt cheated.)  I also had to conduct a romance entirely in Spanish, and let’s just say it wasn’t always an easy task at 18.

Alberto and his guitarra

All these years later, I still remember vividly my little “brother” Beto, who was adorable, and my “brother” Genaro, who was gruff at first but eventually learned to joke around with me because I offered him no other options.  And Lalo, a friend of Alberto, whose brainy and dry sense of humor and kindness probably made him, ultimately, my favorite Mexican friend from that summer.  I just happened to fall for the musician first.  Story of my life!

We did amazing things that summer, all of us.  I particularly loved the long walks I took by myself, all over Mexico City and especially Guadalajara.  Many years later, I found the letters I wrote home, talking about my adventures and my solitary rambles.  I also found out that my mom had read each letter, nearly had several heart attacks, and told everyone that her baby girl was wandering around Mexico BY HERSELF and would likely be killed or SOMETHING.  She never breathed a word of her fears to me, though, because she decided that I should have my adventures.  And hopefully not die.

Since then, I’ve taken long walks by myself and had epic adventures in cities all over the world.  But that summer was special, and the start of it all.  I’ll always be grateful to Señor Haakenson and my parents for that.