Oh! The Places You’ll Go, and the Friends You’ll Meet!

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The Treasury in Petra.

I love to travel. Aside from experiencing new cultures, participating in exotic adventures, and seeing breathtaking natural and historical sites, I love the people I meet while traveling. In the past few years, my husband and I have traveled to many different countries.

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Machu Picchu, Peru.

We’ve hiked the Inca Trail, cycled through the Sacred Valley in Peru, kyacked across Lake Titicaca, and witnessed the wonders of Machu Picchu. We climbed the Mayan pyramids in Belize, ziplined over a tropical forest in Mexico, and watched turtles hatch on a moonlit beach. Cycling through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama was a highlight as we pedaled along dirt paths through verdant tropical jungles below active volcanoes spewing ash and smoke into the air.

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Cycling in Nicaragua.

Vietnam and Cambodia, with their long history of armed conflicts, were sobering experiences. We’ve visited Buddhist temples in Thailand and saw the famous Golden Buddha. Hiking through the desert in Jordan, we were awed by the striking colors of Wadi Musa and the massive sandstone ruins at Petra. We floated in the Dead Sea and stood in the spot where Jesus was baptized on the banks of the Jordan River. In Argentina and Chile, we hiked past calving glaciers and climbed mountains offering stunning views of glacial lakes and rugged wilderness.

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The Golden Buddha.

All of these experiences were incredible, but my fondest memories are of the fellow travelers we’ve met along the way. It’s amazing how, after only a few weeks, you get to know people so well, many of whom we still connect with on Facebook.

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Patagonia with friends.

Some of our best friends are a couple from Edinburgh, Scotland, and a woman from Australia. We met in Peru, and arranged another meeting in Argentina. That worked out so well, we’re getting together in Florida. Another adventure with good friends awaits!

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Mayan Pyramid, Belize.

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Autumn Adventure

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View of Blackwater River valley.

October is my favourite month of the year. I love the beautiful Autumn days when the sun hangs low on the horizon and shines with a soft golden light, and the sky is a pale robin’s egg blue. A few golden leaves cling to the deciduous trees and many more carpet the ground. These days are all the more precious because of the certainty they won’t last. Winter, with its cold, snow, and darkness, looms in the near future.

This week I went for a bike ride along the Alexander McKenzie Heritage Trail (also called the Nuxalk/Carrier Grease Trail). The trail has been used for thousands of years by the local Indigenous people as they traveled between villages and traded oolichan, a small greasy fish. The explorer, Sir Alexander McKenzie, followed this route in 1793, in his search for an overland route to the Pacific Ocean.

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We started our ride in the frosty morning air and cycled for several hours, enjoying the magnificent views. The trail winds through an ancient Douglas fir forest along a ridge overlooking the Blackwater River. It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a bike, but I ignored my aching butt and bumped over roots, squeezed between tall trees, and steered around piles of bear poop.

Memories of this perfect day will keep me warm in the cold months to come.

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An old grave along the trail.

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The end of the trail.

Stepping Back In Time

The area around Drumheller, Alberta, contains one of the richest deposits of fossils in the world. More than one thousand complete skeletons of extinct dinosaurs have been found in the area. The thirty-five million-year-old fossilized remains of long dead creatures are scattered across the rugged terrain. The land is stark and resembles a moonscape, but it’s also astonishingly beautiful. Ochre-colored hoodoos with their mushroom-like capstones and colorful stripes of sandstone, coal, shale, and mudstone dominate the landscape.

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Badlands hoodoos.

As a child, I spent hours scouring the eroded hills, coulees, and canyons of the Alberta Badlands searching for fossils. It’s been years since I was last in Drumheller, but this summer my husband and I took our nine-year-old granddaughter to see this unique area.

Needless to say, Drumheller has changed. In the summer, the small town of seven thousand is packed with tourists who are eager to tour the nearby world class Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology, which is filled to the brim with both plant and animal fossils. The museum has many interactive exhibits and life-size models of fascinating creatures. We even watched a paleontologist wield a fine-haired brush as he carefully removed centuries old dirt from a new fossil find.

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Downtown Drumheller boasts the world’s largest dinosaur. At eighty-six feet tall, the model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex is massive. We climbed the one hundred and six stairs to the dinosaur’s mouth and peered through sharp, three-foot long teeth at the bustling town below. With the influx of tourists have come other attractions. The go cart race track is a big hit, as is the bungie trampoline and rafting the Red Deer River.

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World’s largest dinosaur.

After we toured the museum (and went go cart racing and bungie trampolining), we escaped the crowds and hiked into the Badlands. It was like stepping back in time. With the sun beating on our backs and hawks soaring on the warm air currents high overhead, we climbed down steep ravines avoiding the sharp, unforgiving spines of prickly pear cactus and struggled to keep upright on the scree-filled slopes. It wasn’t long before we made our first find.

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Scattered amidst the rubble were dozens of tiny bits of fossilized dinosaur bone. We tested each rock to see if it was a fossil by touching the tip of our tongue to the rock. If our tongue stuck, we knew we’d found a fossil. Each find was exciting as we imagined what exotic creature the bone fragment was from. The best part was the look of wonder on my granddaughter’s face as she discovered the millions of years old fossils. This hands-on experience is something she’ll never forget.

 

 

 

 

Finding My Tribe!

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The trip begins.

After having four romantic suspense books published and contracted for a fifth, I thought it was time I attended the premiere romance writers’ conference in North America. RWA 2018 in Denver, Colorado was my first national Romance Writers of America conference. Living in a small, northern town is isolating, especially if you write romance.

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From the start, the energy in the busy conference hotel was an almost visible force. To be surrounded by two thousand other romance writers was a dream come true. I’d found my tribe. These were my people. I met New York Times best selling authors, midlist authors, traditionally published authors, self published authors, and those authors just beginning their journey to publication. I had a conversation in the lunch line with a woman who has published more than eighty romance books. What a legacy!

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Schmoozing with Roz Denny Fox, author of more than eighty romances.

Everyone had a fascinating story. There were doctors, lawyers, teachers, forensic specialists, police officers, young moms, grandmothers, and even a few men. We all had one thing in common…a love of writing and reading romance. Meeting fellow authors I’ve connected with on social media was terrific. A shout out to my fellow Wild Rose Press authors. What a great group! To be able to share experiences and talk to like-minded people was a joy.

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The Wild Rose Press gang.

I was humbled by the kindness and friendliness of my fellow attendees. We encouraged each other and celebrated our successes and empathized with our failures. One message I came away with was the importance of supporting each other in this constantly changing and challenging industry.

After a very long flight home and a lost suitcase (now found) I am slowly recovering from all the fun, food, wine, and networking. I am definitely looking forward to my next RWA conference. I need more time with my tribe. New York anyone?

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Exciting Times!

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Wow! What a week. My romantic suspense novel, published by The Wild Rose Press, has just been released on audible. Narrated by the awesome Bill Nevitt.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2K6K2QA

iTunes: https://apple.co/2tftxvg

Sharla-Jean Bromley returns to her hometown after a seventeen-year absence with vengeance in her heart. From the very beginning, her plans go awry when she meets devastatingly handsome Josh Morgan, the man to whom her father left half of his multi-million dollar lumber mill.

Josh, suspicious of Sharla-Jean’s reasons for returning to town after such a long absence, vows to keep control of the company he feels is rightfully his. She is equally determined to prove she can run her father’s mill, even though it means working side-by-side with Josh, a man whose very presence evokes an attraction that is increasingly difficult for her to ignore. In the process, they must overcome a villain who’s determined to destroy both the lumber mill and their lives.

Will Sharla-Jean succeed and heal the anguish that has long filled her soul? Will she and Josh find the passion of a lifetime?

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And…drum roll…I received a contract offer from The Wild Rose Press for my fifth romantic suspense. Secret Betrayal will be released in early 2019.

The ride continues.

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Forest Bath

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I went for a walk in the forest behind my house today. Nothing unusual in that. I walk every day, sometimes twice a day. My companion is Jazz, a German shorthaired pointer. She used to be filled to the brim with energy and loved to race through the trails and leap over logs. But now she’s a grand old lady of fourteen, and our pace has slowed. She’s deaf and riddled with arthritis, but every morning she whines for her walk.

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Jazz in sniff mode.

At first, our agonizing, slow walk frustrated me. We move at a snail’s pace. Jazz pauses at every bush, every rock, and every clump of grass to sniff before she plods on. Walking her seemed a chore. I found myself looking at my watch more often, thinking of all the work awaiting me at home, all the things I should be doing. When the mosquitoes were bad, this slow wander through the bush made any exposed skin a prime target for the ravenous beasts.

 

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Wild rose

But then, I had an epiphany of sorts. For the first time, I looked, really looked, at the forest we traveled through. I marveled at the vivid colors of the wild flowers growing amongst the thick mat of greenery under the fir and poplar trees, a spider’s web glistening with drops of dew, ants scurrying in the forest litter, the intricate veins on a raspberry bush leaf, the tiny fronds of feather mosses, pollen floating on a puddle. And the smells—the sweet, musky fragrance of sap rising in the trees, or the spicy, honeyed scent of wild roses, and damp earth after a rain shower. Squirrels chitter in the branches, birds chirp and flutter, and the wind rustles the leaves. Every day I discover something new, something small, something wonderful.

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Intricate trails left by the leaf miner caterpillar

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Oregon grape

The Japanese call this shinrin-yoku, which literally means ‘forest bathing’. Once I took the time to really experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the surrounding forest, I enjoyed our walks again. Just like Jazz, every morning, I look forward to our time together discovering nature, one slow step at a time.

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Arnica

 

 

A Friday Gal in a Monday World

She was a Friday person in a Monday world. That’s how people described my mother. She always smiled, was always happy, always fascinated by other people. I was with her one time when she stopped a harried mother of three rambunctious toddlers on the sidewalk and told the woman that the color of her blouse brought out the blue in her eyes. When the woman realized mom was sincere, a smile broke over her face, and she walked away with a strut in her step, her day a bit brighter.

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Mom always asked how you were doing, and she cared, really cared. Due to complications from severe osteoporosis and life-long diabetes, she was in constant pain, but you’d never know. She forced a smile and went out and talked to people and made them feel better. Her philosophy was that no one really wanted to hear about your aches and pains, so put on a happy face and get on with your life.

Years of attending functions with dignitaries for my father’s work honed her social skills and she was an excellent schmoozer. She met Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, a variety of Hollywood celebrities, and even Colonel Sanders from KFC, when they visited our small town in the North, and she’d have them feeling comfortable in minutes.

Mom was my biggest supporter with my writing career. She was always eager to share news of my latest book release with anyone she met. I’ll miss her, that’s a given, but I’ll take her lessons to heart and try and follow her lead. With luck and practice, I too will become a Friday gal in a Monday world. Love you, Mom.

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What Was Your First Book Love?

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I’ve always been an avid reader, but when on my eighth birthday my grandmother gave me a Trixie Belden Mystery book, I was hooked. I stayed up long past my bedtime, with the proverbial flashlight under the covers, and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Something about Trixie and her friends drew me in and held me mesmerized.

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Beatrix ‘Trixie’ Belden is a fascinating character. She’s a thirteen-year-old, spunky, freckle-faced tomboy who loves horses, struggles with Math, and hates doing her chores. More to the point, she isn’t a goody two shoes like the too-perfect Nancy Drew. Along with Trixie’s two brothers and her best friend, Honey Wheeler, her rich neighbor, and other friends, she forms a secret club to perform public services and solve mysteries in the small community of Sleepyside-on-the-Hudson. The Bob-Whites of Glen went on many exciting adventures. I wanted to be a Bob-White.

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The thirty-nine novels, authored first by Julie Campbell Tatham (first six books), and then by a series of other authors, were written between 1948 and 1986. I couldn’t get enough of Trixie Belden and her friends. I bought all the books and even convinced my mother to buy me a paper doll set.

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Though the books are a bit dated, young readers can learn a lot from Trixie. She was a good judge of character and relied on her gut instincts as she fought to be taken seriously in an adult world. The stories are exciting and engaging, with a mystery around every corner.

 

The Dark Side Of Travel

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Biking through Vietnam.

As anyone who reads my Blog knows, I love to travel…the more exotic and remote the locale, the better. I have terrific photos of unbelievable wilderness, awe-inspiring cities, unique wildlife, heart-stopping adventures, and warm memories of friends I’ve met along my travels.

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Hiking with good friends in Patagonia.

Travelling isn’t risk free though. Most tourists have suffered through bouts of traveller’s diarrhea, and there are many more frightening diseases out there—sleeping sickness, malaria, cholera, dengue fever, Zika, Chikungunya, tuberculosis, to name a few.

Most times, tourists return home disease free with only photographs and fond memories to remind them of their trip. Not always. Two months after returning home from a trip to Argentina, two months of suffering increasing pain and a slew of mysterious symptoms, many visits to my family doctor, the emergency room, and a hospital stay, I was informed some sort of bacteria or bug bite I’d contracted while on my trip to Argentina caused an inflammation that’s spread throughout my body to my joints and ligaments making it extremely challenging to walk.

I’m on a series of antibiotics, painkillers, and anti-inflammatories, and even though there are ups and downs, I’m beginning to feel better. The prognosis is positive. My symptoms should hopefully go away in four to six months. Not great, but not terrible. At least, there’s an end in sight.

Friends have asked if I’d travel again. Are you kidding? I could get sick or injured stepping out my front door. I can’t wait to head out on my next adventure. Africa, anyone?

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A Hike Through The Land of Rainbows

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Torres Del Paine

Torres Del Paine is a National Park in the southernmost end of Chile. Because of the rugged mountainous terrain, massive glaciers, waterfalls, and crystalline lakes, this park has been designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It was also the start of our four-day hike on the world-renowned W Trek.

On the first day, we hiked four strenuous hours up a steep, narrow, rocky trail to the base of Las Torres (The Towers), three granite pillars that soar 9,350 feet above a blue-green lake. The view of the Towers was breath taking. After another fours hours descending the mountain, we stumbled into camp, ate a delicious meal, and settled into our tents.

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Las Torres

The next day we trekked for five hours through grasslands, alongside luminescent tuquiose lakes, and crossed over raging rivers on narrow, wooden bridges. The view of the mountains and the deep blue glaciers in the distance was stunning. This was the famous Patagonia Flats—not flat at all, but rolling hills with some steep climbs and descents. Fortunately, we only had to pack a light daypack as gauchos on horses transferred our tents and sleeping bags. We ended the day at a small refugio (a type of hostel) where we celebrated the day’s hike with local wine and beer…for a hefty price, but worth every peso.

On Day 3, we hiked through the French Valley and up into the mountains to a view of Los Cuernos (The Horns), an outcropping of granite peaks that actually look like giant horns. The beauty of these black and gray-streaked rocks, and the roar of calving glaciers made the hike worth the struggle. We spent the night at another refugio and nursed our blistered feet with more wine and beer.

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Los Cuernos

Our final day of hiking was a short trek into Grey Lake with its incredible view of Grey Glacier, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap. At more than 187 miles long, the Ice Cap is the third source of fresh water on the planet. The weather is temperamental here with winds gusting in excess of 62 miles per hour. The first skill you learn is to hunker down when a gust blasts, so you don’t get blown over.

The glacier was stunning, but the winds were so fierce, it was almost impossible to hold still long enough to take photos. Tired and footsore, but energized by the sheer beauty of what we’d seen, we ended the trek with a catamaran ride across Lake Pehoe with its vibrant glacial-milk water.

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Intrepid hiker

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View of the Patagonia Flats