Relaxing Ferry Rides, Effective Marketing Workshop

One of the many really big BC ferries

One of the many really big BC ferries

Beautiful waters between the mainland and Vancouver Island, BC

Beautiful waters between the mainland and Vancouver Island, BC

A recent trip across the water to Vancouver Island and a terrific author marketing conference was both enjoyable and exhausting. Thank goodness for the restfulness of the ferry rides coming and going over calm water. Alas, I saw no orca pods. I suspect they were elsewhere than along the route of the big ferries.

Each of the hands-on workshops put on by Promontory Press were excellent, giving me pages of ideas to implement over the next several weeks and months. I’ve found that tackling too much at once nets me nothing but frustration, but taking a one-step-at-a-time approach works better. Meeting other authors who admitted to similar struggles with the marketing end of book publishing left me feeling that I wasn’t alone. Rather, we can help each other in myriad ways, including simply nodding knowingly with a quiet comment, “I know what you mean. I feel that way, too.”

Working with the different staff at Promontory Press helped me feel that they were there to help me and all the other authors, that our struggles are their struggles and that their successes will be reflected in our successes, too.

I look forward to my next invitation to visit with them as we celebrate having met our mutually-determined goals.

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The barrier islands off the Georgia coast

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One of many very old Live Oaks on St. Simon’s Island

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Spanish Moss festoons nearly every tree on St. Simon’s Island

A recent visit to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia netted me an impromptu suntan. I never realized how intense the sun would be when I hunkered down on a bench to enjoy the sounds of the seabirds and watch the boaters putt-putting past, some of them intent on finding a good fishing spot, others simply enjoying time on the sun-splashed waterway.

The extensive marshes that protect the mainland helped explain why several of the locals claimed that hurricanes rarely did much damage to the nearby homes, as the wind-whipped waves first have to traverse the canals between the islands and then move through those marshes before making true landfall.

Of interest as well were the huge live oaks that I saw. Their branches, though still mostly bare, seemed to spread outward like the prongs of an umbrella over the ground where their roots were located. The Spanish Moss that hung from many of the trees also gave an almost unworldly patina as they swayed in the breezes that always seemed to pick up at dusk.

If you’ve never been to these islands–mostly a haven for wealthy snowbirds and weekend day-trippers–put them on your to-do list. At least in spring. The temps and humidity of summer are likely to be too much for those of us used to a drier, more temperate, climate.

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Why Air Travel Isn’t Fun Anymore

sky_blue_airplaneI recall when getting on a plane was the start of an adventure that began with a minimum of hassles during the boarding process, reasonably comfortable seats, free meals (even if the food wasn’t gourmet) and easily found luggage at the baggage claim areas.

Not anymore.

Take, for example, my most recent series of flights which began innocuously enough. We boarded and I felt myself lucky to find a spot in the overhead compartment for my carry-on luggage. A gentleman behind me graciously offered to help me place it above my head. My window seat felt cramped, but at least I could offset my sense of claustrophobia by staring out the window every few minutes. Unfortunately, the view was of the tarmac, where we sat and sat and sat for too many minutes, which gradually extended to hours. The reason given? A mechanical difficulty that eventually brought the plane back to the terminal, but the captive passengers were not allowed to deplane.
When we finally took off, I was counting the minutes to landing and debating with myself whether I would make it to my next connection.

Turns out I was two minutes late, even after answering the call over the loudspeakers in the large terminal that I was on my way. That way included a dash down one escalator, trooping down two more sets of stairs, a ride on an underground tram, a rush up another escalator and race down the terminal to the gate.

Forty-five minutes later, I had been rebooked on another carrier to another city not on my original itinerary. Three hours later, I boarded again and endured another flight, this time in the middle seat, squashed between a gentleman who had to weigh at least three hundred pounds and a squirming eight-year-old who alternately wailed and pouted that Daddy (behind us in the next row) wouldn’t give her more food.

Arrival for my final flight began badly, when I learned that it had been cancelled, no reason given. When I and another passenger inquired, we were treated as if we didn’t deserve to know. Yet another rebooking then occurred, but only as a standby passenger, said flight not to take off until another three hours had elapsed. Were I not to get on that flight, I would have to stay overnight, for which I would be issued a voucher for a nearby hotel. Although my day had already extended to eighteen hours of flying time, I was refused said voucher until and unless I couldn’t get on that final flight. More waiting time elapsed.

Then began yet another nail-biting wait for the previously-booked passengers to board and a slow calling of the names of the other dozen or so passengers like me, who had been placed in standby status.

Mine was the last name called to board that flight. My seat? Almost at the back of the plane where the pressure changes on take-off and landing was of unpleasant intensity. Arrival at my destination occurred 21 hours after I had arisen to catch the original plane.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, my return flight included another readjustment after I learned that the seat I had originally reserved on plane number two had been eliminated when a smaller jet was substituted for the original one. No advance warning was provided regarding this change. The gate attendant acted as if it really wasn’t my concern that this change had been made. Once again I was moved to the back of the plane. Blessedly, a window seat that enabled me to try to ignore the snoring of a nearby passenger and his head, which pressed uncomfortably against my shoulder after he descended into sleep.

How common does all this occur? I’d love to hear from others who have endured similar nightmarish experiences when simply attempting to fly from point one to points two, three and four.

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Pueblo Petroglyphs

Check out the rabbit

Check out the rabbit

Birds and a Rattler!

Birds and a Rattler!

Although I’ve glimpsed them before, petroglyphs continue to amaze and intrigue. Most are quite old and reflect what was important to the American Indian groups that made them.

While in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I jumped at the opportunity to check out a gathering of petroglyphs surrounded by a modern residential subdivision. Believe it or not, one had only to walk into the protected area (behind people’s backyard fences!) to see them.

Etched onto dark-colored (sometimes black) volcanic boulders that resembled a collection of piles a giant might have created, the etchings stand out against the darkness of the rocks and remain where they were originally drawn, shining in the sun for all to see. It was easy to speculate on the artists who created them and how they must have lived many years ago.

I spotted a figure that had to be a representation of a rabbit, and another rock showing birds and a coiled snake, very likely confirming that rattlers existed there, too, as well as a grouping of people’s faces, perhaps suggesting a gathering to share the bounty of the gardens of the Pueblo peoples who inhabited the area then and now. What I don’t know are which Pueblo members created these etchings on the rocks. Within the boundaries of New Mexico can be found the artifacts of nearly twenty different Pueblo peoples, each with their own language, though their way of life was similar enough to other American Indians that they sometimes met with more well-known tribes (such as the Zuni, Navaho, and Hopi) in large groups.

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Cross-Cultural Mixes

Minnie Mouse socks and jhanjara anklet bracelet

Minnie Mouse socks and jhanjara anklet bracelet

I have always been intrigued by the differences ( as well as the similarities between and across cultures.) For example, in so many cultures, breads are important additions to many meals. How many cultures can you think of that use a flat bread, often in a circular or oval shape?

This past holiday season, I was treated to two more examples of the mixing of cultures via dress. One might even call them icons, inasmuch as the elements served as representatives of different cultures. The picture to the right is one example: a delightful pre-schooler wearing Minnie Mouse socks and Indian anklets with tiny bells (called jhanjara). It was easy to hear her coming as she joyfully tripped from one room to the other, those little bells around her ankles tinkling with each step.
Yet another example was an East Asian woman wearing a beautiful red Salwar Kameez outfit. Because the outside temperature was much colder than she preferred, she had topped her traditional Indian dress with a gorgeous wool Norwegian sweater perfect for protection against the chill!

In considering how poorly the representatives of different nations sometimes communicate with each other, I was struck with how “right” it seems to see the above combinations of different cultural dress. I suspect the attitudes of the wearers also reflects the acceptance and melding of different cultures as well.

Here’s to every individual embracing the wide variety of cultures and their values in our world, irrespective of national boundaries and languages!

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Fair Weather Fandom

iminthIn 2012, the Seattle Seahawks had a good season that captured my imagination when they almost-but-not-quite made it through the playoffs. As a result, I paid much closer attention to their games through the 2013 season. I was thrilled when they won the Super Bowl.

Throughout the 2014 season, I have made a point of watching as many of their games as possible. In one case, I was at an airport one Sunday and when a huge cheer went up from a nearby sports bar, I was compelled to ask another passenger scheduled for the same flight what the noise was all about. He beamed and reported that the Seahawks had just scored a touchdown. He also knew the score at that point, so I wended my way onto the plane anticipating that my team was on its way to winning that game, too. (Which they did.)

I approached the playoff games this season keeping my fingers and toes crossed that the Seahawks would again make the playoffs. (My fear was that this formerly fair-weather fan’s wishes would become the “kiss of death.” Thus, I have not mentioned the Superbowl to my friends and acquaintances who have another favorite team.)

In the interests of full disclosure, I admit to having been a nearly-rabid Cornhuskers fan when I lived in Nebraska. But how could I not, when they were winners in the day and everyone in our neighborhood sported team flags and other paraphernalia. While my son couldn’t be bothered, I usually repaired to the garden and listened to the games on a portable radio, cheering loudly after each touchdown. My cheers usually blended with those floating out the open windows of my neighbors until cold winter winds chased us all indoors to watch the game on TV with the sound muted, the better to hear our favorite radio guys calling the game.

Now I find we are going to the Superbowl, after a playoff game no one could have predicted. Perhaps that last 5-minute reprieve was the result of receipt of a late-Christmas present to me: a much-coveted Seahawks jersey with my favorite kicker’s number (4) on it. Hey Hauschie! Regardless of why they won or how much luck and prayers had to do with it, it was trilling to join others in that Woodinville lounge screaming our lungs out when we made it to the end of the game tied and then won in overtime.

You can bet I’ll be glued to the telly watching the Superbowl this year, too!

Go, Hawks!

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A Find I Never Expected – Bisbee, AZ

One view of the Lavender Open Pit Mine

One view of the Lavender Open Pit Mine

Another view of the Lavender Open Pit Mine

Another view of the Lavender Open Pit Mine

Bisbee, AZ is at a much higher elevation than Phoenix, and located very near the Mexican border. When we arrived, one step outside the car rewarded us with far colder breezes than anticipated. After all, we figured that the farther south we went, the warmer it would be. However, I recall that it was 25 degrees F that day. Thank goodness I had my parka with the fur-lined hood!

We explored the Queen Mine that began mining copper in the 1800s. Inside the mine, the temperature and was an almost-balmy 46 degrees. Although this mine stopped being worked in the mid 1940s, the nearby Lavender open pit mine remained active until the mid 1970s; its depths were spectacular in the bright sun.

I also discovered a terrific vegan restaurant in Bisbee and a store that sells hundreds of different flavors of olive oil, in addition to jars with the label, “Frog Balls.” In actuality, those jars contained delicious pickled brussels sprouts. Yes, I sampled them, and would have taken some jars home had I not been flying.

This little town, previously housing more than 10,000 souls when the mines were working, is much smaller now, and caters primarily to tourists who wander south from the big city, as well as those less inclined to stop in touristy Tombstone with the cowboys who re-enact the “fight at the OK corral.” That violence actually took place in a bar, according to one of the actors we spoke with.

Never been to southern Arizona? Go and explore. There are many things to see there, including the caverns we didn’t get a chance to explore, and the stargazing opportunities at the Kitts Peak Observatory. Those are just two of the places I plan to visit on my next trip to warmer climes—which means planning my visit when the temps are above freezing, preferably in the 70s!

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Arizona Flora

A classic view in Arizona

A classic view in Arizona

A recent trip to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Scottsdale, Arizona, yielded a plethora of unique shapes–in spite of the unseasonably cold weather that had me thankful to have worn a parka.

Ironwood shapes were an added set of sculptures that commemorated the contributions of Phil Hebets who, in 1980, “originated a tree boxing methodology that enabled over one million native plants to be salvaged rather than bulldozed.” One result of his technology is the municipal ordinances in places like Tucson that require that native plants be saved and replanted in developments. Nothing looks more out of place in a desert landscape than a green lawn more appropriately found in northern climes.

Additionally, although not yet the season for them, I found some blossoms that portend how colorful a desert landscape can be in the warmer spring months when butterflies and hummingbirds visit the area.

If you’ve never been to the botanical gardens in Scottsdale, I recommend them. The entire facility (not counting the gift shops) can be found outside. You can walk the trails, even climb a high hill that overlooks the gardens. Although located very near major thoroughfares with whizzing cars, I found myself imagining having been transported far from civilization as I wandered among the saguaros (so tall and stately) and the barrel cacti (resembling plump circles as they squatted on the ground). Even the more recent contributions of Chihuly took on a desert-like persona as they welcome visitors near the entrance.

Welcome to the Desert Botanical Gardens

Welcome to the Desert Botanical Gardens

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Classic barrel cacti

Classic barrel cacti

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Feathered Friends and Frenemies

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The angry Blue Jay

My bird feeders have generated hordes of new visitors this year. In the spring, I was pleasantly surprised by yellow finches who seemed to have realized that my finch feeder was full and waiting for them to partake—which they did, sometimes four and five at a time! The brilliant yellow of the males made for a delight of bright colors against the more drab coloration of the females, who tend to prefer solitary dining.

Then this fall, after lots of rain that refilled the usually-muddy pond behind my house so that it now resembles a small lake, I suddenly was bombarded by an aggressive blue jay, who expressed his frustration by dive-bombing me when I dared to venture onto the back deck. He tried numerous times to partake of the largesse at the wooden feeder, but it swung too vigorously when he attempted to land on either side. The only time he remained on it was when he realized he could cling to the roof, but that meant he was too far away from the food and whenever he leaned toward it, the feeder nearly tossed him on his head! The other feeder (not pictured) is set up for small birds and is spring-loaded to close whenever a larger bird or a squirrel attempts to steal the food. After several such attempts, the local squirrel population has learned to leap wildly for the little wooden feeder and then to hang from the roof and scoop up the food, scattering lots of it on the ground for later gathering forays. But the blue jay just couldn’t keep trying to get at the food from the tray.

More amazing was the willingness of the red-winged blackbirds, males and females alike, to gather on the smaller feeder, sharing what it held, flying off, alerting more of their kind and then coming back for more. I’m having to refill it at least once a week, and we’ve yet to have snow. Perhaps the cold weather is just enough to have limited their usual foraging so that they now depend more on what I put out than what they would otherwise have to search for.

Regardless of their reasons for seeking out my feeders, it is fun to watch them, including the ferocious blue jay, who squawked irritably at me until I set out a small bowl of food in the now-empty flower container. So there, Mr. Jay! Now be nice and stop dive-bombing me!

Red-winged blackbirds

Red-winged blackbird

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Real Estate and My Novels

sold signOne of my several careers over the years has involved real estate sales and service. It’s hard to believe but sixteen years ago, I considered myself an original “April fool” for jumping into the real estate game—one reason related to my love of reviewing open houses when I was a teenager dreaming of what my house would look like.  That dream probably related to the fact that my dad was in the service and we moved around a lot—always renting since we were rarely in any one place more than two years. In one case, his duty station lasted a mere nine months. I think that was the year I was in one school for 13 days!

Back to the realty gig: like most totally green realtors, I knew nothing when I began, even though I’d taken the requisite pre-licensure course and passed the state-administered test. Each transation thereafter became a learning experience, one that ensured I would seek, and eventually obtain, several advanced designations, the better to know what I was doing and to serve my clients.  As important as that advanced training was, remaining open to the needs of each client—seller or buyer—informed my work.

The stories of other realtors and their experiences with their clients also added to what I knew. And all these encounters—the good, bad, ugly, funny, gruesome, dangerous, and just plain stupid—all became grist for the particular mill in Granddad’s House. Some of the realtors who appear in that story are also found in Just Friends, and in another book called Choices, which won the Grand Prize (http://chantireviews.com/2014/09/23/the-official-list-of-the-chanticleer-2013-grand-prize-winners/) in the Chanticleer Book Reviews and Media Contest for 2013.  It remains to be seen if those same realtors show up again in as-yet-unwritten stories in the series taking place in the fictional town of Evergreen, Washington.

People often ask if I miss my work as a realtor since I retired from that role. Yes and no. I still remain open to answering questions my friends ask, usually for their relatives or acquaintances. But, I don’t miss the often-frustrating actions of banks since the 2007-2010 Recession, whose decisions buyers and sellers still hang on with often too-long bated breath. Requiring that buyers prove they have the money to buy a home has always been wise, something some lenders forgot in the craziness of the period 2002 through 2008. But triple-checking bank accounts and demanding to know about every little thing is going way too far in the direction of total mistrust.  Would that the happy medium is soon achieved.

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