Living in the Moment: Carhenge and Clouds #MondayBlogs #Carhenge #clouds

Context: Two years ago my husband and I (well, mostly my husband) started planning a trip to see the Total Solar Eclipse. Not the Partial Solar Eclipse which would be and was visible in Tallahassee. No, the Total as in TOTAL. And the Solar Eclipse, not the car.

Originally we were going to go to Madras, Oregon, and because my husband would need to bring a lot of gear, we would have to drive. Ah, those were innocent days when we talked about driving all the way to Oregon, maybe staying at a B-and-B close by, taking time to visit friends in the state, maybe try to squeeze in a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area . . ..

Yeah, well, my husband and I always have big ideas when we don’t have to act on them.

About a year ago, my husband learned that the Astronomical League would hold its annual national convention in Casper, Wyoming, over a few days before the eclipse. Casper was in the path of totality. Why drive all the way to Madras when we could save time (and money) by going to Casper? This was probably one of the smartest decisions we (ever) made. My husband is a member of the Astronomical League and so he was able to obtain hotel accommodations at a discount. The main hotel was already booked solid, but we were able to get one of the last rooms in Evansville, just outside Casper.

I left my husband in charge of the remaining accommodations for our trip, along with the itinerary.

The first two days of driving were not much fun as it seemed to take forever to get out of the southeast. Two-lane interstates where semi-trucks played leapfrog with each other and automobile drivers with frayed nerves jockeyed to get around them. Our first stop was Olive Branch, Mississippi; the second was North Kansas City, Missouri. By the end of the second day, I was convinced that I was too old for this kind of traveling and that I would need a stockpile of anti-anxiety drugs if I was ever to do it again.

In an upside-down kind of good fortune, we woke to a thunderstorm on our third day. We still had to get through Kansas and a bit of Nebraska before we’d reach Wyoming. We watched the weather and studied our paper maps. In times like this, our map apps are essentially useless. We found a highway we could turn on to from the interstate. Highway 36 aka the Pony Express Highway. We would be driving right into the storm, but it was moving fast and with any luck, we wouldn’t be wet for long.

The good fortune was in us having a need to get off the interstate. Interstates are presumably designed for speed but often they are at best boring, at worst ugly as sin with miles of billboards blocking what little scenery there might be. And those are the well-maintained interstates.

By contrast highways have a slower speed limit and fewer amenities such as rest stops but you get to see the country, you drive through small towns that you wouldn’t otherwise know existed. In Kansas we saw rolling green hills, miles of cornfields, dairy farms, cows lazing in the grass: it looked just like north New York, where I spent my childhood. I had no idea that Kansas could be so lovely. And the sky . . . so much sky. The storm had left behind some amazing clouds in its wake. Another thing you can do on a highway that you can’t do on an interstate: pull over and take pictures.

Outside Fairview, Kansas:

A “roll cloud” … look it up.

During our drive, my husband reminisced about other cross-country trips he had taken and how unnerving it could be to see the Earth’s curvature. So when I turned around, away from the roll cloud and saw another cloud just barely visible at the horizon, I got a little queasy.

Cloud BELOW the horizon

Another advantage of driving highways is you can have side-trip adventures. Carhenge just happened to be on our way.

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Next stop North Platte, Nebraska and then on to Wyoming! And Happy Labor Day to all of you (including me) who are grateful to have the day off!

P.S. I’m back to writing an original once a week with occasional interludes. We’ll see how long this lasts.

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Kevin Brennan is giving away a FREE ebook in exchange for an honest review. Go to his blog for details. Check out his current reviews on Amazon to see what you’d be missing if you don’t take him up in this great deal. I’ve read each one of his books and loved each one too. And wrote reviews for each one … otherwise I’d be in line for a freebie 😉

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Meet Guest Author, Luanne Castle…

Here’s a little backstory on how Luanne came around to creating her wonderful chapbook, Kin Types.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

As a child, I loved reading about times past. Biographies of famous women like Lucrezia Borgia and Annie Oakley let me experience life in the periods in which they lived. Historical fiction lent a sense of adventure to realistic depictions of old England or the American colonial period. Time travel became my favorite fantasy.

But I never associated those times with my ancestors. The people who came before me were my three living grandparents, and the oldest person I knew, my grandfather’s aunt. I thought they had always been old.

As I became a teen, my grandfather began to tell me stories about our ancestors, and while they were interesting and I remembered them, I still didn’t put these relatives in my mind’s image of the Gilded Age and before. But then, when I was in college, my grandfather decided to show me his large collection of antique family portraits…

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A Confession and a Book Review: Kin Types by Luanne Castle #bookreview #poetry

First, the confession: I’ve been away in body as well as in mind. For two years my husband had been planning this road trip. For one year, it’s been almost an obsession with him and then with me. And, into the mix, as if it weren’t enough to be planning and obsessing over a road trip, I started a course of study that might lead me to a “second career.” (See my previous post here.) Sometimes I think I purposely set up roadblocks to writing. Anyone else I know would have been blogging about this trip, before and during. But not me. No, I was discreet. Only those who had a need to know knew of our plans. Now I’m back to my hot, humid home and our three cats who have (yet again) proven that they are loyal to whose-ever hand that feeds them, be it my hand or the pet sitter’s.

I’ll write about our trip later. For now I’ll just say that we drove to Casper, Wyoming, to view the Total Solar Eclipse. We saw it. It was a sight that will last me the rest of my life. Now, on to my review of Luanne Castle’s chapbook: Kin Types.


Click on this cover to go to Finishing Line Press.

I took Kin Types on the road with me. It’s a very slim volume of poems which I received in the mail only a few days before our trip. I slipped it into one of my bags, sensing that the thirty pages of poetry and prose belied a depth and density that I’ve come to anticipate with Luanne’s writing. And yet I still wasn’t prepared for the wealth of stories I found among those pages.

Our first night out, in Olive Branch, Mississippi, I pulled Kin Types from my bag, thinking I would read a poem or two while my husband showered, before we turned off the lights. Instead, I read all the poems, totally captivated by the stories of Luanne’s ancestors. In her acknowledgement, she wrote:

for those who came before me

whose stories I was privileged

to try to inhabit, if only for a moment

Thanks to Luanne and another friend of mine (I’m talking about you, Jane), I’ve developed an interest in my own ancestry: who was it that came before me, what happened to them, how (if at all) their existence has informed my own, besides the obvious connection of DNA. So, with a slight chill, I read the first sentence of “The Nurturing of Nature and its Accumulations”:

Anything that happened to my grandmother before she got pregnant imprinted the genes she shared with my father and then with me.

When we study our ancestry, we are trying to learn about ourselves. It’s an ego trip. It’s “all about me.” There is that element in Luanne’s poems, that she unearths these stories in order to learn more about herself, about how “those who came before” her made her who she is today. With Kin Types, though, the self interest is but one element. Luanne writes these poetic portraits with such sympathy, with such deep understanding (appreciation, perhaps even love) for the circumstances each ancestor faced and suffered through, that they almost literally walked off the page and into my heart. The most poignant of these is “And So It Goes,” a prose piece that reads like a novel, the courtship and separation (through death) of Pieter and Neeltje, their beginning and their end. Americans like to romanticize our ancestors’ struggles as they set new roots in what was a “new” world, trying to escape poverty or boredom, oppression or suppression. But their lives, especially the women’s lives, were not the stuff of romantic adventure:

Neeltje did things without fanfare or explanation, and that’s how she died. [. . .] he realized that even though she’d been at his side since their teens, he had the sense he didn’t know her. [. . .] He’d made her a mother many times over, but she had been only a girl.

Death is everywhere in these poems, as it was everywhere in the lives Luanne writes about:

Nine children born to Neeltje. Two funerals. (“And So It Goes”)

Gerrit is buried / twice, once in Santiago and / later near his brother in Kalamazoo. (“More Burials”)

His dark blond curls were so / like her brother Lucas when a baby / and not yet the young man she kissed / in his black coffin. (“New Life, New Music”)

She listens to her husband outside the church / door, reads the casualty lists, hovers around / those waiting. Now her big brother’s letter / like his touch on their dying mother’s cheek, / is enough. (“Once and Now”)

One, / two, and then a third was lost / and a fourth born. (“The Fat Little House”)

Death is everywhere but so is life. The death of babies, of brothers to war, of women dying without “fanfare or explanation” occurs among the birth of babies, the growth of families, the setting of roots. It is history; not just that of Luanne’s ancestry but of everyone’s ancestry.

What Kin Types did for me, both as a writer and a reader, is help me realize that my own family history, presumably boring and uneventful compared to those who can claim lineage to kings and generals, was anything but boring and uneventful for the people who lived those lives. Their lives might only be expressed in a few handwritten lines across decades of census taking, a marriage certificate here, a death certificate there. Only a few photographs may exist. But each atom of information is a spark to a story.

Like DNA, the histories found in Kin Types are the building blocks of a poet. Luanne’s poetry gives her ancestors’ stories a living, breathing quality that make them unforgettable. I’m grateful to Luanne for sharing her histories and for inspiring me to continue my own exploration.


If you don’t already know Luanne, please visit this post where she graciously answered my questions about writing poetry: An Interview with Luanne Castle.

You can get your own copy of Kin Types at the Finishing Line Press website: Kin Types.

Please visit Luanne at her blogs: Writer Site and The Family Kalamazoo.


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Living in the Moment: Sort of #MondayBlogs #TEFL #TESL

I feel that I owe you all an explanation. I’ve been … hmmm … relatively absent over the last few weeks. Some of you may have noticed. Some not. No matter.

A few weeks ago, I turned 60. And my husband retired from his state job. And I started looking into a second career. Yeah, pretty much all on the same day.

I am happy that my husband is retired for many, many reasons. The least of which is we have a big trip planned for later this summer and it’s a lot easier for him to work on the logistics from home. Another good reason is his health. His back got so bad for him last winter that he couldn’t stand up straight. He was hinged at his hip, his back flat like an ironing board. The guy is 6 feet tall. I’m 5 feet 4 inches. We are not supposed to literally see eye-to-eye. He has been proactive about seeing doctors (including physical therapists, chiropractors, and now an orthopedic surgeon) as well as developing an exercise routine that has greatly improved his posture and reduced his chronic pain. Reduced but not eliminated. More doctor appointments are in the future but at least he has the freedom to focus on his health and not be sedentary for 7 to 8 hours a day.

My favorite reason for his retirement is he is spoiling me. Most nights I come home from work to find dinner ready. I don’t have to go grocery shopping any more. I don’t even have to vacuum up the cat litter. I still do my own laundry but that is personal choice.

I would probably be more spoiled if I hadn’t decided to enroll in an online program for TESL/TEFL certification.

TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language

TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language

The acronyms are used interchangeably but usually TEFL refers to teaching in other countries like China and TESL refers to teaching immigrants. I don’t have plans to teach in another country, but I’m interested in moving out West where there may be some immigrants wanting to learn English.

Why, oh, why, am I pursuing a course of study when I already have two graduate degrees?

Shortly before I turned 60 (an age, by the way, I had been looking forward to), I realized that I really, really, really didn’t want to continue with my current job past 62. But if I retire then, I’ll still have three years before I’m qualified for Medicare. I’ve estimated that my health insurance premiums would take at least 3/4 of my pension. I need another source of income, at least for those years and possibly beyond.

So my dream is to work part-time as an ESL tutor.

Actually, this isn’t a new interest of mine. I had looked into certification many years ago at my local university. The one class I took was underwhelming in content and inconvenient for my work schedule. I also worked at my local library as a literacy volunteer for a while. But it wasn’t until I started working on my current course of study that I realized that maybe, just maybe, this was what I should have been doing all along. I just hadn’t had the imagination to pursue it when I was younger.

Well, there’s no time like the present. Actually, all we really have is the present.

And I have a limited amount of time in which to complete my certification. It’s self-paced, but there’s an “expiration date.” The course work is very interesting. I’m learning a lot about my own language (us native speakers take so much for granted), and I like the challenge of coming up with my own lesson plans. I have to use my imagination.

Now some of you (well, maybe one person) might wonder why I’m not thinking about self-publishing as a way to earn some extra $$$.


Okay, in all seriousness, I still have a novel in the works, but it’s on the back burner until I finish my studies. I do want to self-publish, but I’ve set my expectations for market success pretty low. I can’t be in it for the money.

So I’ll continue to be fairly absent from social media and blogging for the next couple of months. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think of each of you often.

I’ll leave you with a few photos I took at the bay side of St. George Island recently. My husband was working on a time-lapse of the clouds, while I sat and sweated.

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At Long Last: Book 2 in The Changelings Series by Katie Sullivan!

My good friend, Katie Sullivan, is publishing her second book in The Changelings Series: The Rise of Kings! I read her first book, Into the Mist, and loved it. I was a beta reader for The Rise of Kings and loved it. Read on for how to get your own copy!

Well, 2 years after it was promised, Book 2 in the Changelings saga is finally here. It doesn’t matter that it was essentially written four years ago – which, coupled with my desire to expand the story – caused me so. many. freaking. continuity errors I nearly lost my mind – it’s here now. It’s here…

via On the Eve of Battle – The Rise of Kings — The D/A Dialogues

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More Summertime Reading Fun: My GRL by John Howell is Featured on Ereader News Today for $.99 — Fiction Favorites

My GRL is featured on Ereader News Today for $.99. Here is the blurb. Can an ordinary guy overcome the super ordinary to stop a terrorist plot? John J. Cannon, a successful San Francisco lawyer, takes a leave of absence from the firm and buys a boat he names My GRL. His intent is to […]

via #My GRL is Featured on Ereader News Today for $.99 — Fiction Favorites

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Semi-Traditional Book Review: Reading in Progress #MondayBlogs #bookreview #memoir

Usually I don’t review a book I haven’t yet finished. I definitely don’t review books that I don’t plan to finish (for whatever reason). I’m making an exception here.

This weekend I started reading Kevin Brennan’s memoir-in-vignettes, In No Particular Order.  Readers of this blog already know I’m a Brennan groupie fan and I’ve pretty much snatched up everything he has written. Most of the vignettes are actually from his blog, previously published so-to-speak, so I’ve already read most of them; however, reading them as part of a collection is a different experience. Even though I remember the few I’ve read so far, having these writings in context adds a depth that one usually doesn’t get from the untethered blog post.

Before I go on to explain why I’m writing a review now, when I’ve only read a quarter of the vignettes, I do want to note that while this collection could be read in a weekend, you could also take your time with it. Which is what I plan on doing. Each vignette is only a couple of pages long. So, for example, if you have a few minutes to kill before your next meeting (and you really, really don’t want to check your email again), you have time to read one of Kevin’s vignettes in its entirety. You can read one of these vignettes in less time than it takes to smoke a cigarette (if you’re so inclined) or boil an egg or preheat the oven. So you can read In No Particular Order as fast or as slow as you like.

Now, why am I writing about this book when I haven’t even finished it?


“Everybody has at least one book in them. The book that is their own life.”

As Brennan notes in his preface, “most people’s lives don’t add up to a narrative that would interest many readers […]”; and yet, he’s managed to reflect on various experiences in his own life that, while not necessarily out of the ordinary of many others’ experiences, are still unique experiences because they happened to him, not them. In reflection he adds layers to the experience that assist the reader in understanding how even the experiences of a teen-ager shape the mature man or woman we later become. He ends his preface with the quote above and my first thought was, “Yes!”


“When you indulge in a personal nostalgia trip you have to be ready for some revelations that might shock or disturb … Understandings that you might be remembering people inaccurately, or that you weren’t as meaningful to them as they were to you.”

Throughout my life I’ve kept a journal of one sort or another. Some of the very earliest ones I either destroyed on purpose (watching it burn in the trash barrel at the far edge of our backyard) or simply lost (oh, to have that record of my first few months in California!). Reading (or trying to remember) old journals allow me to engage in nostalgia. They bring to mind people I haven’t had contact with in 40 or more years; experiences that make me pinch myself in wonder that I’m still alive. For the most part, that “personal nostalgia trip” is a precursor to an episode or two of depression. Nostalgia turns to self-berating for all the stupid decisions I’ve ever made, all the bad behavior I engaged in.


I’m taking this collection slow because of my own propensity to wallow in the past. Brennan’s writing, his reflections and remembrances, are short enough to be a jumping off point for me, if that makes sense. With a novel, I’ll get sucked into the plot and characters and their world and maybe even forget about my own world for a while. With a memoir, especially one of vignettes, I tend to reflect on my own experiences in-between. I don’t just read the vignettes; I consider them for lessons on how to look back, how to integrate (or let go of) experiences that are not fond memories. I have a tendency to dwell on the negative in my life, although …

“[w]hatever the case, here I sit now, happy as a panda in the bamboo grove, having made a series of decisions that led to a personal kind of heaven.”

Kevin could have written that for me. Despite all the negative experiences I’ve had, I’ve wound up (through no calculated intelligence of my own) in an enviable situation: happily married, a home to call my own, and a new horizon awaiting my husband and me.

So if you’re still on the fence about whether you should plunk down 99 cents for Kevin Brennan’s memoir-in-vignettes, well, all I can say is, I’ve certainly gotten a lot more out of In No Particular Order than the 99 cents I put down, and I’m not even finished.



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Two new pieces are included in Kevin Brennan’s In No Particular Order, plus an original preface

What’s not to love about a collection of vignettes by Kevin Brennan for only 99 cents? I can’t think of anything either so go and get yourself a copy of In No Particular Order!

Source: Two new pieces are included in In No Particular Order, plus an original preface

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Kevin Brennan’s In No Particular Order is Now Available on Amazon!

Guess what? In No Particular Order is now live on Amazon! Here’s the blurb: It’s true that life is linear, but the living of it is all over the map. In this memoir-in-vignettes, novelist Kevin Brennan (Parts Unknown, Yesterday Road) examines his life the way memories occur in the wild: in no particular order. Whether […]

via Got LIVE if you want it! — WHAT THE HELL

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