Thursday, December 22, 2016


  1. 1.
    a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

Did you know that feeling awe may be the secret to health and happiness? 

" studies show that it's a dramatic feeling with the power to inspire, heal, change our thinking and bring people together."  Paula Spencer Scott, Parade

We've all felt it. 

That feeling of being struck dumb by something wonderful. We've all experienced, at one time or another, that compelling emotion of being paralyzed by something so beautiful, it tickles our very soul. Now scientists are discovering that this crave worthy emotion is a part of being human that we all need - not just crave.

5 times I was struck dumb:

1)  Watching my hero, my beloved Kahlesi, being rescued by Drogen, her dragon. It may not be real, but it was the most compelling drama I've ever witnessed on television - cable at its finest. Daenerys flies off, for the first time - flaxen hair flying - to safety. I love Game of Thrones! And the books are even better. George R.R. Martin is a genius.

Drogen and Daenerys

2)  Seeing my first cone shaped volcano in Costa Rica, burping fire. Nicaragua has 19 volcanoes and Guatemala has 37. Holy cow! They are a sight to see. 

Volcan Arenal in Costa Rica 

3) Riding the Transformers ride at Universal studios. The combination of 4-d is thrilling! And insanely real. Insider tip: Take advantage of the single rider line.

Transformers, Universal

4) My fist zipline - a whopper in Fortuna, Costa Rica. We flew 600 feet in the air. Gulp. And one line was a mile across. Yikes! It was like wobbling on the outside of a tiny (and out of control) mountain gondola in a James Bond movie, waiting to rescue a monkey. 

Sky Adventures in Fortuna, Costa Rica

5) Visiting the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich in Belize. We took an ancient (it sure seemed that way) ferry - pushed by a fellow with a big stick - across a wide jungle river. Then we stepped out into the past - awestruck by the architecture. There's nothing better than following the footsteps of old ghosts in a city that was covered with jungle and all but forgotten. 

Xunantunich, San Ignacio

Bring on the awe! 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Thrill Me!

Thrill me. Scare me. Read me!

A few months ago I saved a Stallone quote. You never know when a sound bite of wisdom from Sly Stallone will come in handy. Old Sly was being interviewed, when he said something that cocked my ears like a curious cat. It was the kind of comment that was very self aware, humbling and funny. He was talking about when he wrapped his Southpaw around the role of Rambo. Iconic, right? Who else could play it? O.K., maybe Arnold or Bruce. These days, I'd pick Tom Hardy. Yum. 

Stallone said he was the 11th choice for the Rambo character. "They were just about to hire a chimp." he said. Good one Sly!

Well, at the same time, I was reading the wildly creative, The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy. A dark, futuristic re-imagining of the Lewis and Clark adventure west. That's when I discovered that the local author was hawking a new book. A book of essays compiled to help authors put the thrill in their writing. Thrill Me is the title. The book also has an eye popping visual on the cover. See above. 

I've read a lot of books on the craft of writing. Benjamin Percy's was different. It was very generous and full great advice from a unique and humble perspective. Entertaining advice too. It was like getting the nasal flu shot. It inoculated you against bad writing with no pain. Plus, unlike the nasal mist, it really helps!

At the end of Thrill Me, Benjamin Percy talks about being inspired by Sylvestor Stallone. A.K.A, Rocky Balboa. Or Rambo if you prefer. "Go the distance," he tells his audience. 

In a nut shell, be like Rocky. Work, fight hard and don't give up. This is great advice for whatever challenge you are facing.

I love the Grrrrrr.

Benjamin Percy wrote Go the Distance in my book. Will I be able to do it? Will I be able to persevere the trials of publishing my novel, The Chorus of the Crows?

Well, I don't know. But then again, I did save that Stallone quote. I might have some fighting spirit in me.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Nature Traveler

"Over the years, I have found that travel allows me to discover personal priorities that are discernible only when the chatter of daily living melts away. And with this discovery, I can re-calibrate the basics of life; this is especially true when the travel is in nature."

Katherine Hanson
Special to the Star Tribune

Sedona, Arizona

I was inspired by the above snippet from an article in the Star Tribune, to wax poetic about travel. I guess I can relate to Katherine's feelings. Maybe you can too. Travel, especially nature travel, means the whole wide world to me. And I've only scratched the earth's varied and beautiful surface with a little stick. 

5 top chicken scratchings:

1) Hiking on a narrow path, 2,000 feet above the stunning Waipo Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii. Hugging the left. Because the drop off was an epic 2,000 foot vertical slide.

2) Swinging through trees like a monkey in Costa Rica. (tethered to a zip line mind you, since I can barely open a jar of pickles) 

3) Utilizing mountain roads in Central America no better than a lonely cow path. Is it a road if there are no other vehicles, no bridges over mountain streams and no other signs of life other than locals on horseback? I guess so. We made it.

4) Hiking to see the fury of Pele first hand, again, on the Big Island of Hawaii. There was a man ahead of us that literally brought a little stick. It was in his back pack. It turns out, he brought it with him for the sole purpose of sticking it to the lava. To watch it burn. 

5) My husband and I both agree, that our best night ever was in Granada, Nicaragua. It was our first night. New Year's Day. As we walked through the colonial city, we peeked inside home after home, witnessing elaborate Christmas shrines. It was so different than we decorate here. They really were shrines. Bright, festive and holy. Then, we had a marvelous steak dinner, serenaded by parrots and fortified with Flor de Cana rum. The best in the world if you ask me. Afterwards, we trolled around town, stopping at a towering old church. We were serenaded again, by hundreds of voices rising to the rafters in Christmas song. The acoustics were inspiring! Lastly, we picked up two Tonas (the local beer) and wandered back to our room. We sat on a warm balcony with the whole trip ahead of us, talking travel. Sigh. Memories. 

There's always some unforgettable memory on each and every trip. I could go on and on. Like this summer, while rounding a desolate turn on a dry, desert road of nothingness. Immediately, after rounding the bend, the scene turned to eye popping visuals of towering red rock country. In Sedona, Arizona. The landscape was lunar, like the leavings of a child's mud sculpture. Massive, martian and as seductive as a Georgia O'keefe painting. The only other experience that compares, so far, not talked about in 1-5, was heading down another windy road years before. This time, we were in Costa Rica. Our first trip. We rounded a turn and there, in the distance, sat a towering cone shaped volcano belching fire. We were hooked. Five trips later, the waves of Dominical beach draw us back with their perpetual siren song. The scarlet macaws of the Osa peninsula shriek from on high. And the pirate bar in the Dominical hills serves up our favorite burger with a side of rum!

I feel like travel is the fertilizer of life. It can turn nasty mental weeds into beautiful winter blooms. It nourishes the soul, sustaining it through the down times. It gives the traveler wings. 

When a trip is in my rear view mirror, photos are my favorite souvenirs. Thanks for looking.  

Happy travels!

P.S. Leave me a comment with your favorite travel memory.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Great Conversations...

"All stories are in conversation with other stories."
Neil Gaiman

 Behind the Beautiful Forevers was the first selection for a book club I attended briefly. It was hand picked by a member who has traveled to India and seen the beautiful and the antithesis first hand. Normally, I would never pick up a book like this. It's a harrowing non-fiction tale of the inhabitants of the Annawadi slum. Trust me. If it was fiction, it would be easier to absorb. Unfortunately, it is disturbingly true. But, that being said, it is beautifully written and enlightening. As an aspiring writer, I'll never forget how the author describes little yellow flowers as the open beaks of baby birds. Dazzling imagery. There is so much ingenuity in almost all of the characters. Like teenage Abdul. His talent is foraging for recyclables. He digs, sorts and scrapes together a meager existence for his entire family. In fact, exceeding their income far above others in their slum. And then there's Asha, clawing her way to the top by utilizing every means available to her. Rarely an honest mean is ever selected. In fact, Angela, from my book club, described honesty as a luxury in Annawadi. There's no truer statement. 

The most powerful character for me was Fatima the one leg. Her plight becomes a main plot point as the book progresses. 

You'll never forget the fighting spirit of these unforgettable, real life characters. 

 I'm just starting to admit to people that I'm writing a novel. After telling my cousin Jane about my story, she noticed definite similarities between my novel and the one she had just finished. So she handed me Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger and told me to read it. She said she could barely put it down. She said that for awhile, it had been her go to book for nocturnal reading sessions. So I dove right in. Research, right? During the day, mind you.

The voice of teenage Frank narrates the novel. He's the son of a Methodist minister. Unfortunately, the life of Frank and his family become awash in un-ordinary deaths. A literal laundry list of his neighbors and even sadder still, people much closer to him. The small town scene comes to life visually. The train takes off and doesn't stop. And the characters are real citizens of the time. My favorite character was Gus. He was living in the basement of the church across the street from the central family. And plenty of mischief ensues from that simple fact. There's a bonus for us Minnesotans too. It's set here.

 Being of devious mind, I guessed what the mystery revealed in the end. But it didn't matter. It was still a great book. 


"Our son will be your son now." 

The diminutive sentence above is the heart and soul of the haunting book LaRose by Louise Erdrich. It is an affecting story of loss, love and the lore of a whole culture of people in North Dakota.

I learned about Native American life in the book. The good and the bad. The old and the new. There were so many well drawn characters. Like the wise beyond his years LaRose. The 5 year old boy at the center of the story. But there are many namesake LaRose's hanging from the family tree like beautiful wind songs. We meet all of them in the book. The mystical backstory of the first LaRose was my favorite part. 

The conflict occurs when Landreaux, LaRose's father, accidentally kills his neighbor's child while deer hunting. The lives of all of the central characters are subsequently torn apart.  Landreaux resorts to the old ways for guidance. He visits a sweat lodge and is compelled to give away his son, to make amends for the one he killed. 

I wish I would have purchased this book at our local Minneapolis book store, Birchbark Books, owned by the author. Because then I could have acquired a signed copy. It was so good.

Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Stephen King