Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Travel Adventures in Virginia!

For the last stop on our travel adventures this month, I’d like to take you to the last state we lived in before settling in Pennsylvania.

While my Army husband was stationed in Washington D.C., we lived in northern Virginia, first on base and later a few miles south in a house of our own. Virginia is a well-rounded state. It’s technically southern, but you wouldn’t know that in the northern part of the state. It has huge cities (including the metro D.C. area that merges into Arlington, Crystal City, and Alexandria. Did you know that the Pentagon is in Virginia, not in D.C.? So is Arlington Cemetery.) It has beaches and lakes and plenty of trees and rolling hills. It has history galore. And it has scenic getaway trails.

QuanticoI’m sure everyone knows Quantico Marine Corps base is in Virginia. Did you also know that there is a town of Quantico? It’s not part of the base but it is surrounded by the base you so you have to drive through it to get there. The photo on the left is in the town, along the pier.

Everyone also knows Virginia was a major part of Civil War history. Fredericksburg is in the lower part of northern Virginia, a short drive from Quantico and D.C. FredericksburgBattlefieldMonument(short in distance that is, but possibly a 3 hour drive if you hit traffic at the wrong time!). It’s not a big city and other than some one way roads, it’s easy enough for any average driver to maneuver. For those into history, be sure to stop at the Battlefield.

If you’re looking for family fun, King’s Dominion amusement park is a favorite of the area. It’s a bit south of Fredericksburg, right off I95.

KingsDominion-coaster  KingsDominion-bungy

For nature lovers and adventurers, head west to the Appalachians and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Not long after hubby convinced me we had to have a Harley (he was retiring from the Army and figured he’d earned it!), and after I got used to being on the bike (which took all of about a half an hour, never mind I was terrified of the idea), friends came down from New York and we ventured to western Virginia to take a trip from the starting point of the Blue Ridge Mountains down as far as we could in one day and still get home to the kids that evening.

A gorgeous trip! Do it by car instead if you have to, but I highly recommend it at least once.

While you’re out that way, you might stop at Natural Bridge and walk the trail. Be sure to take walking shoes! Boots, especially new boots still stiff, make the stairs to NaturalBridgeget to the trail, and I mean plenty of stairs, a little hard to handle. Once you get there, though, your feet won’t matter. Take the path alongside the bridge back into the woods where you’ll find a cave or two, a Native American encampment, and plenty of photo ops!

Transplanted Virginians soon learn that while grass may be hard to keep green during the summer, and you may need good hiking boots to pull weeds from garden patches in your front yard to prevent rolling down the hill azaleaswith one good pull, there are plants that love the Virginia dirt and weather. Azaleas thrive there. So did my morning glories and hollyhocks. My roses, not so well. But then, I’m a rather lazy gardener. I’m sure they’d do great with a touch more care.

Oh, and never mind it’s a southern state. It does snow, also. Even an inch of snow is likely to close everything down, though, so unless you’re one of snow
those “must-have” people at work (as many are in the area), you can kick back and enjoy it from your front porch until it melts, often later that day.

Another thing I loved about living in Virginia and driving stonewallaround during daily errands as well as traveling as we could was all of the stone walls and wood fences, plus the walking paths and bike trails.

It could take me a month’s worth of blog posts to show off all of the gorgeous photos I grabbed during the seven years we lived in the state. I do miss it at times. I miss being able to metro into DC from Alexandria. I miss the amazing history so close and all around us (our house stood where part of the fighting took place). I do not ever miss the traffic or having to time whenever I want to go out to be sure I don’t come close to rush hour where a ten minute drive can turn into an hour, or house prices being three times (appr.) more than they are here.

Overall, Virginia is an incredible state and well worth a visit. 

If you read my post on the 1st of the month, you got a hint about why I chose travel as this month’s blog theme. It’s November, Nanowrimo month. Today is the last day to hit 50,ooo words of a new novel to be called a winner. Personally, I think anyone who makes a good attempt is a winner. My novel this year follows a biker on a quest, a strictly literary venture, that begins in Pittsburgh and ends … in Virginia. More or less. It does and it doesn’t.

I’ve yet to get close to reaching the end of the first draft. I have hit 46,000+ words as of last night at 11 pm, which leaves me 4,000 today to finish. I’ve had to do an incredible amount of research for it, although I’ve never before bothered to research during Nano, and almost never during a first draft. (Sometimes I do a bit before I start just to get my setting straight in my head.)  This one is impossible to write without research. It’s running through small town America. I’m excited to see where it leads me.

Last year’s Nanowrimo novel turned into Moondrops & Thistles. Next month, I’ll feature that book here on my blog, with stories behind the book, plus a short blog tour hosted by some great people willing to do interviews or simply turn over their blog space for a day. Please be sure to follow where I’ll be, as I’ll also have a giveaway at each stop, plus a special promo basket from my own posts.

Thank you to all who have followed along on the journey this month! I’ll see you next month
. Smile


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Travel Q/A with Stephanie Burkhart to Denmark!

Today we have author Stephanie Burkhart with us to talk about her travels in Denmark, with a romantic story thrown in! Steph’s post is a nice transition into next month’s blog theme/events. More on that later.

Loraine, thanks so much for having me on the blog today. When you put out the call for a travel blog, I had to jump at the chance. I joined the Army back in 1986 and some great opportunities to visit several different European countries.

Q: What countries have you traveled to?

A: France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Austria, and of course, Germany. My favorite German city is Berlin, but I was stationed In Muenster, Fulda, Bad Hersfeld, and Hanau.


Q: Which city did you enjoying being stationed at the most?

A: Bad Hersfeld for sure. I made some great German friends while stationed over there, Anke and Iris, and I had enough free time to get out and explore. I was in Bad Hersfeld shortly after the wall fell and that was quite an experience meeting East Germans for the first time and watching the wonder and amazement in their eyes as they crossed the border and saw the differences between the east and the west.

I loved LullusFest. Every year, during a week in October, the town lights a bonfire in a pit in the main square and has a week long celebration to honor St. Lullus and the founding of the city in 852. The bonfire stays lit the entire week. They make a "schnapps" called LullusFire specially for the occasion which has a cinnamon taste to it.

In fact, my husband and I were both stationed in Bad Hersfeld. I was an MP and he was a fixed radios for HHT 3/11th ACR. 

Q: How did you meet? 

A: Actually, we met in Butzbach, Germany in October 1990. We attended PLDC together. (Primary Leadership Development Course) This is an intense one month long leadership course needed to get promoted to Sergeant. Brent and I were in the same "squad" together.

I thought he was drop dead gorgeous, but I sat in the front and had to turn my head around to "oogle" him. He thought I was looking at the guy next to him. Brent would often tease me about my New England accent. Our first date was to a Pizza Hut in Giessen, Germany during the weekend we had a pass in PLDC.

We graduated in November 1990. During that time, American units in Germany were gearing up for Desert Storm (Gulf War I). After graduation we went back to Bad Hersfeld. Brent asked me to marry him on Christmas Eve. Sigh…


Q: Where did you get married? In Germany or the States?

A: Neither. We got married in Denmark! It was a low-key event, but just right for us, considering. When people ask us about it, they're often impressed to learn we were married in Denmark. Our wedding certificate is in 5 different languages – Danish, English, French, German, and Spanish. In fact, Brent was given the option to change his name to mine. The Danes were very liberal in that regard.

Q: Why did you decide to get married in Denmark?

A: Neither one of us wanted to get married in the States. I was from New Hampshire and not on great terms with my family. Brent was from California and I think he knew that his family would "freak me out," so to speak. In Germany, there was a 6 month waiting period before a marriage could be preformed and we simply didn't have the time to go through all the paperwork and rigmarole. You can be married in 4 days in Denmark. I jokingly tell my friends "It's the Vegas of Europe" because 4 days isn't nothing compared to 6 months.

Brent and I wanted a 14 Feburary 1992 wedding date, but then he came down on orders to go to Ft. Drum so we needed to move up the date. I think that was in May 1991 right before he left for a 90 day deployment to Kuwait. Later, those orders got rescinded, but we decided to get married when he got back. He returned late September 1990 and we elected to get married in November that year. That would give the Army enough time to process our "married" paperwork and ensure we got in the Married Army Couples Program.


Q: How did you travel to Denmark?

A: We left on a train out of Bad Hersfeld. We took a combo of fast/slow trains so it took us about 5-6 to arrive in Falster, Denmark. In Hamburg, our train was driven onto a boat with tracks and when we got to Falster, driven off. It was really kind of cool. Falster is an island in southeast Denmark. There are over 400 islands in Denmark.

We stayed and were married in the city of Nykobing, Denmark. Our hotel was very modernish – reminding me of an IKEA, if you can believe it. Our first day there, we went to city hall, filled out our paperwork and paid our fee – 500 Krone, I believe, which was equal to $100.00. We arrived on 10 NOV. Between 10 and 14 November, we explored Denmark. 

First, we visited Copenhagen. The city is fascinating and nothing I'd ever seen before. There a lot of building with spires and spirals. The royal residence is near the ocean. Denmark has a queen, Margrethe. At the time of our visit she was in her 50's. Now, I believe she's in her 70's. We took several pictures of the palace. The flag was flying overhead, but we didn't go in. We walked the docks and discovered several cruise ships. 

We also went to Legoland in Billund, Denmark. It took us 5 hours to get there and we had to travel by boat again. When we got there, the outside was closed due to weather, but we were able to walk around and check out the Lego exhibits. The Legoland in Billund is the oldest Lego theme park and was built in 1968. Most people get stuff like crystal or jewelry for marriage gifts. Brent and I gave each other Legos. It was sweet. It was "us."


Q: What were your impressions of Denmark? 

A: Both Brent and I will have always fond memories, but not because we were married there. It was the little things. We gave the taxi driver from the train station to the hotel a little extra tip and he thanked us with a warm smile using English. The citizens and people didn't mind speaking English with us. We enjoyed the beer – Tuborg, especially and Carlsberg. We liked the traveling by train and seeing Copenhagen and Legoland. We thought it was "us" when we went to city hall and the rain started drizzling and we had to get out an umbrella. The A-HA song, "I Call Your Name," from "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," reminds me of our stay and marriage in Denmark. It was released around that time, but the music summed up the notes of our stay and visit in Denmark as well.

Q: Have you written about Denmark in any of your stories?

A: Actually, yes. In my short story, "Feast of Candles," which is in the 2011 Christmas Collection from Victory Tales Press, my hero, Drake deBrettville comes from the island of Falster in Denmark. He travels to Napa Valley, California to meet the heroine, Lily, all because of a bottle of wine. Sigh…I'm a romantic at heart.

Steph, thanks so much for sharing this romantic trip and beautiful place with us! We also visited Copenhagen while my husband was stationed in Germany. We missed Legoland but it sounds fascinating.

Funny that after knowing each other for several years, I didn’t realize you’d been stationed on Fort Drum. That would have been helpful as I researched my last novel! More about that next month.

Interested in finding Steph’s work? Visit her website, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Specials! Buy Books!

I never, never go shopping on Black Friday. I don’t like to shop, except for books and art/office stuff, and I don’t like crowds. This makes today a stay-at-home day for me every year. I do sometimes buy online, though.

Today the 20-40 degree days here in western PA have taken a pause and we’re expecting 60 and sunny! The perfect day to go plant the rest of my spring bulbs while I still can.

Before I do that, I thought I’d join in on the fun (or at least many people apparently think it’s a lot of fun!) and offer my own Black Friday specials.

So here goes:

Moondrops & Thistles
Ebook at 70% off today and tomorrow only! Use coupon code KL68T -- only at Smashwords

OR if you want it in print, today (Friday) only I'll give $3.00 off a personally signed edition. Makes great Christmas gifts! Use the contact page at for details about how to buy today for $11.95, shipping included (retail 14.95).

For those who prefer shorter and spicier books, the shorter, spicier version of Moondrops is only $0.99 through the end of November as a Nanowrimo special, coupon code  CY54Y only at Smashwords.  (This book is not erotica.)

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If you’re looking for other books as Christmas gifts, give a try and go through your local independent book seller!

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AUTHORS!  Have a Black Friday special going on? Post it in the comments!
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Travel to Sugar Mountain with Elaine Cantrell!

Today we welcome author Elaine Cantrell who is here to tell us about her visit to Sugar Mountain, North Carolina. Thanks for being here, Elaine!

Sugar Mountain

Once upon a time on a very cold day a young father and mother put their two sons in the car for a drive to Sugar Mountain, North Carolina. They were on their way to look at some vacation property. 

The children didn’t like to ride for such a long distance so their mother bribed them. ‘We’ll have dinner at McDonald’s if you’ll be good,’ she promised. It was hard to be heard over the noise made by the younger boy’s imaginary pink rabbit. (The younger boy always spoke for the rabbit.) The father didn’t like the rabbit. When the younger boy made rabbit ears with his fingers and put the rabbit on his shoulder, he growled, ‘Get that rabbit off me.’ 

They arrived in Sugar Mountain and drove up the side of a mountain where they met a real estate agent who took them into a beautiful condo. But the beauty of the condo couldn’t compete with the beauty outside. From the balcony they saw hazy blue mountains stacked one behind the other. In a valley far below they saw the small town of Banner Elk. And it was so quiet! No sound could be heard except the sighing of the wind through the trees. The air was so clean it amazed the mother and father. They bought the condo and then went to McDonald’s to reward the boys and the pink rabbit for being good. 

Every year after that, they took the boys to Sugar Mountain. It was ten to fifteen degrees cooler than it was in South Carolina where they lived so everybody appreciated the relief from the heat. They went hiking and visited some truly wonderful wilderness areas. The children never grew tired of visiting Grandfather Mountain, so named because the mountain looks like a grandfather’s face and beard in profile. Grandfather Mountain had bears that people threw peanuts to. The bears scared the imaginary rabbit. He was afraid they’d eat him alive, but the younger boy assured the rabbit that he would protect him from the bears. 

Sometimes they went horseback riding. The pink rabbit rode on the front of the younger boy’s saddle and urged the horse to go faster. The first time the older boy went riding he found he didn’t like it. ‘I want off right now!’ he yelled, but since they were in the middle of a rough trail he had to stay on the horse until they got back to the stables. 

The boys liked to go river rafting too, but the mother thought the water was too cold. She went shopping at the Tanger Outlets while the river rafting was going on. 

Blowing Rock which was about twenty miles away was one of their favorite outings. The little town looked like something out of a storybook and had so many wonderful shops and restaurants. Once they actually went to the blowing rock and walked out on it. According to legend the wind blew an Indian maiden’s lover back to her after he jumped from the rock. That’s a colorful explanation for why even the snow blows upside down near the rock. 

One thing that the mother enjoyed but the boys and father didn’t was going to look for furniture in Lenore which was only a few miles away. Everybody enjoyed going to Linville Caverns which were miles underneath the surface of the earth, but the rabbit didn’t like it when they turned off the lights. The father sometimes played golf, but none of the other family members liked golf. When the boys were small they always took them to the Tweetsie Railroad, a small amusement park. 

Sugar Mountain is a popular winter ski resort, but the mother never enjoyed this. She was (and is) far too uncoordinated to ski. 

And of course they went to movies, toured the Mast General Store (an old fashioned general store in business since the 1800’s), found some super restaurants, and explored all the little towns and byways in the area. 

But the best thing of all was the beauty of the place and the total relaxation and peace. 

Over the years the boys grew up and stopped going very often, but soon they had children who went with their grandparents. The pink rabbit is still going too. He attached himself to the younger boy’s son. The grandfather doesn’t mind the rabbit too much now. His son was not ruined by playing with the rabbit so he guessed his grandson would be fine too. 

Sugar Mountain

Sugar Mountain is located in the North Carolina high country in Avery County. It’s between Boone and Banner Elk. I recommend you stay at The Highlands at Sugar if you plan to go there. Even if you go in the winter they have an indoor pool, a weight room, a game room, a sauna, and scheduled activities sponsored by the resort.

Sounds wonderful, Elaine, and a wonderfully romantic setting! If you’ve used this as a story setting, please let us know which book.

If you want to check out Elaine’s romances, go to her
website or blog.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Travel to Idaho and Montana with Libby Serkies!

Today we welcome Libby Serkies, budding novelist and non-fiction writer! Libby is from my hometown area of central Illinois and she’s here to talk about her visit to Idaho and Montana. Welcome, Libby!

Years ago one of my older brothers was an over-the-road truck driver, and had spent a week driving through Montana. He spoke of the skies that went on forever and the breathtaking mountain views. The way he spoke of Montana made it sound like a place I wanted to visit - plus, he said, “Libby, you have to go see this place.” I have always had a love of travel - I just have had limited opportunities to do so! In 2008, I was fortunate enough to have a job that included some national marketing trips - and the trip that still to this day stands out in my mind as “the one” was one I took to Idaho and Montana. 

Canada from Idaho

I flew into Boise, Idaho one Sunday evening in late June. Nestled in a valley, Boise was spectacular from the air, and the area surrounding it was stunning to behold. My trip really began the next day, however, as I completed my business in the city and set out driving up the western spine, following the Snake River for a time, and then crossing the Salmon River. The opportunities available for anyone who loves the outdoors abound in this area - fly-fishing, rafting, camping, bicycling, sitting on a porch reading a good book (and these are just the warm weather activities!) - and daylight in the summer lingered long after what I was used to! The scenery was so stunning that at multiple times, I pulled off the road to take pictures. 

Salmon River

As my trip continued up to some of the most remote (and northern!) parts of Idaho, I vividly remember one moment. I arrived in Naples, Idaho late in the morning of June 24th, and as I climbed out of my car, I smelled lilacs. Sure enough, a huge lilac bush was in the midst of a glorious bloom. I remarked on it as I greeted my business contact, and he said, “You arrived at just the right time. The mud season is over and spring has sprung!” For someone who is used to lilacs being over and done with around Mother’s Day, this was a treat! Before I left this particular slice of heaven, I walked to the edge of their property and took a few pictures. As I turned to the right, Montana was in my sights…turning a few degrees to the left and the rolling hills I saw in front of me were Canadian! The unspoiled beauty of these surroundings are hard to do justice to with mere words, but as I breathed in the fresh air and took in the splendor before and around me, I knew this was a place I would want to come back to. 

Naples ID

And then I was on the road heading toward Kalispell, Montana. The beauty of this trip was compounded by the fact that I was often “off the beaten path” and traveling blacktop and 2 lane roads rather than interstates. As I drove, I often glimpsed beautiful log cabins and homesteads with bright red or green roofs peeking out among the evergreen trees. I tried to place myself on the inviting porches and imagine the never-ending views the inhabitants must enjoy. At least I hoped these views were enjoyed -- I would hate to think anyone took them for granted. 

My favorite part of the trip, however, had to be cruising around the western edge of Glacier National Park. I have used the word awesome a lot in my life before, but holy cow this was AWESOME!!! Driving from Kalispell and heading to Great Falls took me right past the Apgar Visitor Center and I detoured into one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I walked around the visitor center and heard people talking about the “Going-to-the-Sun Road.” Color me intrigued…! Those who know me know I can strike up a conversation with anyone, so I did! I asked about the road and was told it was a route through the interior of the park that provided some of the most incredible views there were. But, there was a problem -- the road wasn’t open because there were still 8 feet of snow on it and the park service had not been able to completely plow it yet! I marveled at the fact that even though it was almost the 4th of July, some roads were still buried in snow! Remember dear friends, I grew up among the fields of Central Illinois! 

Glacier National Park

The route I traveled took me from Boise through Ceour d’Alene to Naples, Idaho and then from Kalispell to Great Falls to Billings, Montana and was nearly 1100 miles of magnificent scenery and inspiring vistas. I can’t wait to return!

Libby, thank you for sharing your incredible journey and photos with us! Today is an appropriate day to feature Idaho, I should let you know, since hubby is from southern ID and today is our anniversary. Smile

It is absolutely beautiful and I’d encourage anyone to visit.

You can find Libby on her blog, at least now and then!

-- -- --

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Travel to Maine with Nessa Burns Reifsnyder!

Today we welcome Nessa Burns Reifsnyder, co-owner of Fabricate, a fabric and scrapbooking store in Bar Harbor, Maine. Her family history in Maine dates to the 1830s. Born and raised in NYC, Nessa moved to Maine in 1982 and has lived there ever since. Along with her duties at Fabricate, she’s a freelance writer, editor, and designer. Welcome, Nessa!

As a resident of Vacationland (Maine’s longtime nickname), my contribution to this blog seems like a slam-dunk. What’s more, I reside in the most Vacationlandy place: Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park. But I’m actually hoping to broaden your considerations of my home state beyond its rugged rock-bound coast. Moreover, my written observations will be less chrono-linear than previous entries..more like residential tourism.
Maine is an enormous state--so large that, in my southern Maine college days, my trip home to NYC was exactly the same distance as my friend’s trip home to the northernmost county of Maine. While most of our visitors confine themselves to Maine’s 3,500 miles of coastline (encompassing countless coves and harbors, ragtag fingerlets of land and some precious sandy strips), there are 33,215 square miles to Maine all told, once the sea is in your rearview mirror.

Before you leave that seaside, though, let’s consider what a coastal sojourn here brings you. Unlike a typical ocean resort vaca, featuring miles of warm beach sand under your bare feet, Maine’s waterfront is jaggedy, stony, slippery with seaweed and salty as brine. It’s not hard to imagine how generations of fisherfolk have made their living here; Maine’s coast is the essence of a working waterfront. The ocean waves that stretch out beyond the pinkish granite shore are given to shift color like a moody captain: dazzling blue sapphire on a sunny day, scowling greenish when the clouds are lowering gray; sometimes becalmed into glassy stillness, other times frothed with waves that blast up against the rocks in restless sprays. (You might try Schoodic Peninsula in Winter Harbor if you want to see how majestic and skyward our waves can get. This lesser-known adjunct to Acadia National Park is a massive shelf of granite thrusting right out into the Atlantic. Schoodic’s where my family goes when we want to feel like we’re “vacationing” on a free day.) 

Did I mention the temperature of this temperamental ocean? At the peak of summer, you’ll be lucky if your toes are testing Maine’s stretch of the Atlantic at 60 degrees F. Way downeast, just before Maine ends and New Brunswick begins, the typical summertime water temp doesn’t rise above 52. So…Maine offers more of an inspirational waterfront vista, not so much a romping ocean playground. Leave your blow-up floaty toys at home. Now, perhaps you’re the hardy type who will dive into and swim around in this ice-chest, but for me, many years of wade-in attempts have always stopped at the ankle—and my feet ache just recalling the ice-water rippling over my instep.

You may be wondering why they call portions of Maine “downeast”; this age-old term (truly, centuries old) refers to the prevailing southerly winds along our coast that carry ships “downwardly” east. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to visit the main portion of Acadia National Park, a gorgeously preserved island gem that captures much of what makes Maine’s coastline the perfect vacation retreat; numerous other seaside towns are worthy of your tourism, also (Camden, Boothbay Harbor, Freeport, Kennebunkport, York, and so many more in between them). Having done that, let’s turn to the north.
Inland, the predominant color is a lush, dark green: the persistence of pines and spruce, with birches and maples elbowing in. Maine has 17 million acres of forest, from whence the masts of 18th and 19th century ships were formed, as well as telephone poles, bowling pins, drum sticks, and the pulp that became unfathomable reams of paper. But Maine’s working forest activities have not spoiled a vast wilderness to savor. If you take Interstate 95 north from Bangor, an hour’s journey will bring you to the Medway exit: the gateway to Mount Katahdin. NessaReifsnyder-MountKatahdinThe park surrounding Maine’s highest mountain peak is quite unassuming and controlled by the state, not the federal government. Regardless, there’s no denying the majesty of the mountain. The Native Americans in this state story-tell legends and folklore about Katahdin, and when one sees the mountain even from a fair distance, it’s not hard to imagine why. Even though Maine has more than 50 mountains (and you’d do well to visit any number of them, either in summer to hike, or in winter to ski or snow-sled), Katahdin arises mystically from its surroundings and dominates the forested region that rings it. I have to admit, I am biased: my mom hails from Millinocket, the last town before one enters Baxter State Park and Katahdin territory. But this site is as quintessentially Maine as any cove or harbor. If you’re an outdoors type, there are many camping and hiking opportunities around the Katahdin region, and then there’s the Holy Grail: climbing the mountain itself. I fervently wish I had that kind of stamina…but remember that part up above where I mentioned going home from college to NYC? My Maine roots run deep, but my city-girl heritage prevails.

I’ve taken you downeast, and somewhat up north. Well, Maine rolls onward from Katahdin, north to the Aroostook County region. My Québecois and Irish ancestors originally settled up here in the early 1800s. If you continue driving a couple of hours on Route 11 north from Katahdin—retracing a military road first plotted in the 1830s--you’ll find a river valley of rolling farm fields and wide open skies. My visits to what Mainers call “The County” always make me feel closer to my ancestors, because the scenery and the population have not changed much in the intervening century.

The top border of Maine is traced by the St. John River, a waterway for which the word “mighty” is not an exaggeration. Along with the river, numerous lakes and ponds provide water views and vacation spots, including Eagle Lake—“L” shaped and verdant, nestled into the valley. My great-great-grandparents were among the first settlers of this unsung little town.

Winter sports are a draw in The County; the town of Fort Kent is the site of the CanAm Crown Sled Dog race every winter--a qualifier for the Iditarod--and has hosted events for the Biathlon World Cup. There’s even a snowmobile highway (the Interconnected Trail System, or ITS) that allows visitors to traverse Maine’s north woods. 

If you look at Maine’s map, you’ll see there’s also a western inland area which is quite vast, bordering New Hampshire and Québec. Routes 201 and 26 both offer beautiful tree-shaded drives, with classic small towns along the way. In the autumn, “leaf-peepers” savor these roads for the brilliant colors at every turn and rise. In fact, all of Maine offers vivid, breathtaking foliage—my husband and I still talk about the drive to Aroostook we took one October, when the trees were so blazingly red-orange for miles around, they looked like lava flows. And the coast of Maine teems with tourist buses and cruise ships during October…all seeking the tree show.

The natural beauty of Vacationland is unquestionable. But Mainers, I’ll be honest, often have mixed feelings about our state’s appeal to the millions of tourists who cross our border each year. I own a shop in Bar Harbor (arguably, the most tourist-saturated town in the state) and as much as I am grateful for our visitors, I get really, truly tired of questions about where folks can find THE BEST lobster. (Just for the record: it’s a shelled, overgrown sea-spider, basically. Plunge that baby in boiling water, make sure you have melted butter handy, and it’s gonna taste the same regardless of which restaurant’s serving it up. Oh, it’s yummy all right, but Mainers do NOT eat it as often as you’d think.)

One last Maine sight we get asked about: the princely moose. Antlers flaring to either side of his head, massive snout snorting…where can you find this immense beast? I’m sorry to say that I cannot pinpoint a specific place where you’re likely to meet a Bullwinkle, although many of the places I’ve described above have plenty of moose in their wooded nooks and crannies. However, the likelihood of a moose sighting tends to decrease as you approach the coast—yet another reason to explore more of Vacationland than the average visitor does. 

As I wrote this, I kept thinking about Henry David Thoreau, one of Maine’s very first visitors from away—whose awestruck prose about this place helped set it in the national imagination. Here’s a beautiful series of observations from his book, The Maine Woods, that still resonate for my home state today. “Perhaps I most fully realized that this was primeval, untamed, and forever untameable Nature, or whatever else men call it, while coming down this part of the mountain [Katahdin]. We were passing over ‘Burnt Lands,’ burnt by lightning, perchance, though they showed no recent marks of fire, hardly so much as a charred stump, but looked rather like a natural pasture for the moose and deer, exceedingly wild and desolate, with occasional strips of timber crossing them, and low poplars springing up, and patches of blueberries here and there. … It is difficult to conceive of a region uninhabited by man. We habitually presume his presence and influence everywhere. And yet we have not seen pure Nature, unless we have seen her thus vast, and drear, and inhuman, though in the midst of cities. Nature was here something savage and awful, though beautiful. I looked with awe at the ground I trod on, to see what the Powers had made there, the form and fashion and material of their work. This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night. Here was no man's garden, but the unhandselled globe. It was not lawn, nor pasture, nor mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, nor waste-land. It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet Earth, as it was made forever and ever, — to be the dwelling of man, we say, — so Nature made it, and man may use it if he can. ... What is it to be admitted to a museum, to see a myriad of particular things, compared with being shown some star's surface, some hard matter in its home! … Talk of mysteries! — Think of our life in nature,—daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, — rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense!”


Nessa, thank you for being here today and sharing your part of the world! We visited Bar Harbor many years ago and were stunned by its beauty. When we get back, as we plan, we’ll have to stop by and say hello. (And enjoy the lobster Winking smile )

Want to find Fabricate during your visit to Maine? Find their Facebook page!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Travel to the Seychelles with Mona Risk!

Today we welcome Mona Risk, romance author, to talk about her trip to the Seychelle Islands. Mona has done a tremendous amount of traveling and often uses places she’s visited in her books. Welcome!

Loraine, thank you for hosting me on your blog. I want to share with your readers a most unusual trip to a far away country few have seen. 

When my husband sold—on behalf of his company—the engine for the Boeing 767 bought by the Government of Seychelles, he had to participate in the delivery mission. I was invited to go along on the brand new plane.

The Republic of Seychelles comprises 115 islands, south of the equator and west of the east coast of Africa. Seychelles is a comparatively young nation which can trace its first settlement back to 1770 when the French occupied it. The islands remained in French hands until the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, evolving from humble beginnings to attain a population of 3,500 by the time Seychelles was ceded to Britain under the treaty of Paris in 1814.

MonaRisk-LaDigueUnder the British, Seychelles achieved a population of some 7,000 by the year 1825. Important estates were established during this time producing coconut, food crops, cotton and sugar cane. During this period Seychelles also saw the establishment of Victoria as her capital, the exile of numerous and colourful troublemakers from the Empire, the devastation caused by the famous Avalanche of 1862 and the economic repercussions of the abolition of slavery. 

Seychelles achieved independence from Britain in 1976 MonaRisk-SeychellesTurtleand became a republic within the commonwealth. 

A day before D-Day we flew to Seattle and attended an official reception gathering representatives from the company that built the plane, my husband’s company who made the engine, and the Air Seychelles’ officials who came for the occasion. 

I will never forget the reception that welcomed us at the airport of Victoria, capital of Seychelles, as the President of Seychelles, himself waited for us at the bottom of the aircraft steps and shook hands with each one of us, including me!

The cosmopolitan Seychellois are a colorful blend of peoples of different races, cultures and religions.  At different times in its history, people of African, European and Asian origin have come to Seychelles, bringing with them their distinct traditions and customs and contributing to the way of life and to the vibrant Seychellois culture. 

Seychelles is a living museum of natural history and a sanctuary for some of the rarest species of flora & fauna on earth.

We spent three days and visited four islands during this trip.

Mahé, home of the capital Victoria and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. (pictured above) 

La Digue known for its beaches with thin golden sand and granite rocks, giant turtles and huge coconuts. One fell from a palm tree on my arm and probably broke a MonaRisk-Coconutbone, but I didn’t complain, and I refused to see a doctor although my arm swelled and hurt for the duration of the trip. Back home I couldn’t wait to have it in a cast.

Pralin that hides a rain forest called La Vallée de Mai, believed to be the original site of the Garden of Eden, where the tallest palm trees in the world bear female and male fruits similar to female and male sexual organs: the MonaRisk-maleCocoDeMerTreefabulous Coco-de-mer, the largest seed in the world. Nowhere else on earth will you find unique endemic specimens such as the jellyfish tree, with only eight surviving examples, the Seychelles’ paradise flycatcher and Seychelles warbler. A chapter of my paranormal fantasy, OSIRIS’ MISSING PART is set in the Vallée de Mai.

Cousin where I was eaten alive by ferocious mosquitoes. 

These are Birds!
From the smallest frog to the heaviest land tortoise and the only flightless bird of the Indian Ocean, Seychelles nurtures an amazing array of endemic species within surrounds of exceptional natural beauty.

Mona, thank you for sharing your trip and photos with us!  To find Mona Risk’s newest book, Osiris’s Missing Part, check out her website.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Travel to D.C. on Veteran’s Day


"No oppressed people will fight and endure as our fathers did without the promise of something better than a mere change of masters."
Abraham Lincoln, January, 1861

I lived just outside Washington D.C. for several years during the end of my husband’s Army career. Never did I tire of getting close to the nation’s capital to find the Washington Monument rising above the trees, or of walking different parts of the city (or the same) and being surrounded by such history.

It’s a humbling experience to study the monuments, especially the memorials to our armed forces. Regardless of the political arena present, past, or future, all Americans know (although maybe some knowledge isn’t as strong as it could be) that without our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and guardsmen we would no longer stand as a country.

Walk through Washington D.C., and you’ll be reminded of this over and over, in no small terms. You’ll also be reminded of the sacrifice that comes with freedom. From here, I’ll let photos we took through various trips into D.C. (and Arlington) tell the tale, along with a few favorite quotes. Mouse over the photos for the titles.



"Some people live an entire lifetime wondering if they've made a difference in the world.
Marines don't have that problem."
President Ronald Reagan


We came American.
We shall remain American and go into battle with Old Glory over our heads.”
General John J. Pershing

Korea Memorial
“The man who will go where his colors will go, without asking, who will fight a phantom foe in a jungle and mountain range, without counting, and who will suffer and die in the midst of incredible hardship, without complaint, is still what he has always been, from Imperial Rome to sceptered Britain to Democratic America. He is the stuff of which legions are made.”
Lieutenant Colonel T.R. Fehrenbach, US Army

Lincoln Monument
“Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as a heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.”
Abraham Lincoln


“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”
Thomas Jefferson


“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
General Douglas MacArthur


“Although a soldier by profession, I have never felt any sort of fondness for war, and I have never advocated it, except as a means of peace.”
General Ulysses S. Grant


“We are going to have peace
even if we have to fight for it.”
General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Lincolns HatRevolutionary Drum

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of men better than himself."
                                                               John Stuart Mill


THANK YOU to all Veterans
past, present, and future.