I never know how I’ll find inspiration for my beachy rom com. Cue visits to the near-to-me North Carolina coast. Its gazillion bridges set off creative light bulbs.
Read on to see how bridges helped me highlight my fictional Gull Island setting AND play up differences between my two main characters, City Gal Kate and Island Guy Luke.
Photo by Cat Michaels: Bridge to Roanoke Island and the Outer Banks
Bridges and Main Guy, Islander Luke
Imagine a balmy, sub-tropical May morning
on my fictional Gull Island, North Carolina.
Now ride along with my rom com's Main Guy Luke
as he crosses the Intracoastal Waterway on his way to work.
Check out the photo below I snapped last summer. It's a real bridge
we often travel over North Carolina's Intracoastal Waterway.
You might say it's my bridge-spiration -:D.
Inspiration photo by Cat Michaels: Bridge over ICW to Ocean Isle Beach
Bridges and Main Gal, City Gal Kate
Island newcomer Kate is up next.
She just arrived from her Connecticut home town
for a summer contract gig on Gull Island.
She's crossing the same bridge Luke
and having her own bridge experience.
Want more beach-y, bridge-y love?
Meet me at my YouTube channel
for more coastal inspirations
that are bringing my rom com to life.
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Writerly inspiration comes from anywhere....even bridges! I hope you enjoyed this peek into my rom com, and it has you wanting more.
* What summertime vibes did you pick up in these excerpts?
* What did you discover about Luke? Kate?
* Are you on team Kate or team Luke when it comes to bridges? Love ‘em or hate ‘em? I’m ok with small bridges but long, tall ones? Not a fan.
* Luke blasts Jimmy Buffet to get in a summertime mood. What's YOUR favorite summertime/beachy tune?
Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Everything about this past April felt stormy and difficult.
Sure, my life was good compared to many, but something wasn’t right. Finally swallowing my pride, I admitted I was burned out and decided to do something about it.
Read on to see how I learned to rebound from burn out.
On top of a pandemic and the world’s general craziness, there was a lot going on for me this spring.
Rebounding from Burn Out
With Hub’s encouragement, I signed off from authoring and socials to re-energize.
At first, I felt guilty.
How could I leave the work I labored for nine years to establish? But I had been running on empty too long. Stepping away was the best thing I could’ve done.
I didn't accomplish anything earth-shattering with my two months away, Instead, I filled my soul with little moments that added up to happy ...
See more of how I learned to rebound from burn out
by connecting with people, creativity and nature
in my 60-second video diary below.
Back to it
After 8 weeks, I'm slowly returning to writing refreshed and enthusiastic. I'm moving at a steady pace. No more toiling 7 days a week, posting all over socials.
I even dropped 6 of those
miserable pandemic pounds
and cannot wait to lose 6 more!
Life feels lighter.
And I aim to keep it that way
how to care for myself
and avoid burn out.
Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted is the pits. What tips can you offer to avoid burn out? I’d love to hear your ideas (I may need them some day!). Please share in the comments below.
Book Groups * Reading Circles * Book Clubs * Buddy Reads *Bookstagram
Whatever you call them and whatever their form, these brilliant events connect bibliophiles with a shared love of reading and build lasting friendships.
I’ve been in a neighborhood book club for nearly 15 years, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Over the years, we've lifted each other as we shared births, deaths, new jobs, moves and marriages.
It’s challenging to keep a book group fresh and fun, but I learned a few tricks over the years. Read on to find my top ten tips for starting or igniting your bibliophiles.
THE most important trick
with new or established book groups ...
Get your book group
on the same page
before you begin!
Hold an organizational meeting
and agree up front
on these 10 things first ...
Some groups pick only romance, thrillers or non-fiction or rotate among different genres. Others have a theme, like Debra’s book club, that delved into Newberry Award winners for one year. My book club is flexible, but we agree to stay away from violence, erotica, and divisive religious or political content.
Check out the sample below of our group's picks from the last 14 years.
Which of these novels have you read?
Any favorites on there?
2. Book selection
One reading group I know designates a single person to pick what the group reads. Our book club host, the discussion facilitator, offers 2-3 titles she’d like to lead, and the group chooses one by consensus. That way, everybody has a turn with a book they love, and we discover fab books we’d never consider on our own.
Is a book's length important to the group?
Some people want quick reads under 350 pages. Others are open to longer tomes, like the brilliant The Lincoln Highway and its nearly 600 pages.
How about budget? Book buying gets expensive, so consider books you can borrow from the library. Many libraries even offers book club kits, multiple copies of the same title you can check out for an extended period.
So many options for how to gather these days! Not like when our book club started in 2008.
My neighborhood book group was adamant about rotating monthly meetings in our homes. The toughest part was coming up with dates and times we were all free to meet. It still isn't easy juggling jammed schedules, and we adjust when we need to.
Other bibliophiles don’t want to mess with house-cleaning and hosting, so they meet at nearby coffee shops or book stores.
You can also read with Jenna, Reese, and Oprah, or join one of a gazillion online groups.
Christine, The Uncorked Librarian, from near-to-me Asheville, North Carolina, runs one of my favorite online groups. She features delicious travel/foodie/bookish monthly content and keeps a lively Facebook page that draws book lovers from around the globe.
Our book group switched to virtual during Covid. Zooming monthly with my bookish friends during lockdown was a lifeline!
Carmela is crazy about her buddy read with one other friend.
Aiming for a bigger circle? Five to 15 peeps is best. It’s a manageable number for hosting and conversation. Plus, unless you live in a castle or meet at a commercial site, you’ll need a sizeable space to fit everyone.
If you’re a serious reader, you won’t be happy if you’re dying to talk about the book you love and the group never discusses it because they're too busy socializing.
And if you’re a social butterfly, being with bibliophiles geeking out over their reading experience won’t suit, either.
Our book club does both ...
First, we discuss the novel for as long as it takes (usually 30-45 minutes).
Then we socialize after (also as long as it takes -:D).
6. Communication and Organization
Nobody wants a time-suck.
For me, that would be messing with administrivia, so I was delighted when Margaret Ann was in our book club. She was a one-woman army who loved keeping everything and everyone together.
When Margaret Ann moved away (boo-hoo), Donna found us a free online tool, Book Club. This app coordinates and sends meeting reminders, suggests books to read, tracks book choices, maintains our meeting calendar, manages RSVPs, and can fly us to the moon (just kidding about that last one, but it felt like it could!).
7. No Pressure
Life gets in the way, so make it easy for people to take part.
Our group has an unwritten rule: no pressure.
They understand that I don’t set out fancy food or decorate when I host. Those things aren’t in my wheelhouse, and they stress me out. Instead, I find finger food at Trader Joe's to prep in five minutes, cut a few blooms from my garden, and offer simple beverage choices: water, iced-tea, coffee and wine. That’s it. They’re happy and I’m not stressed.
No guilt if somebody can’t make a reading, either.
Our group encourages people to read book summaries if they can’t finish a novel (gasp!)
just come to relax and mingle with friends if they need a break from work or kids.
Change is a fact of life, so expect it. Over the years, our book group has lifted each other through births, death, marriages, moves, new jobs, joys, and illness. My group even invited me to do author readings and were beta readers for my last book. (Hope they will also beta read my rom com.)
Besides reading, what else do your bibliophiles love? Encourage them to bring those passions into the group. For instance....
Linda decorates a table straight out of Southern Living
and whips up a low-country meal
to match the setting of her Pat Conroy book.
Grace is brilliant at finding author interview videos
for her non-fiction picks
that leave us eager to dive into her fomerly-dry-to-us subjects.
Rosie can't wait to match food, drink, decorations and clothing
to book themes.
Me? I enjoy facilitating (my background before authoring) and experimenting with different ways to talk about books. Once, we kicked off Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven by talking about the most unique skill each of us could bring to a post-apocalyptic civilization and how we'd personally survive.
Another time, I ran Literary Scrambled Eggs. Slipping quotes from our book into plastic eggs, I asked people to guess which character uttered them (it was okay to look in the book - see #7 and #10).
Even if you talk serious book stuff, always leave room for fun.
Our book club gets together outside book club for lunch, coffee, or downtown strolls.
That's a wrap for my top ten book club tricks, so now you know!
If you're in a book group ....
I'd love to know what you enjoy most about it. Which of these 10 tricks have you used or might consider? Do tell what tips you'd add to this list, so we can try them, too.
And if you're not in a reading circle ....
what would your ideal one look like?
Please share in the comment section.
All photos by Cat Michaels except where noted
CAT'S CORNER ON BREAK UNTIL JUNE
I am beyond excited!
I'm hosting a grand family reunion at the end of April...
first time in five years
I can hug my peeps in person
first time ever meeting 3 new Littles!
I'm taking a break to focus on this precious family time
so no Cat's Corner for May. Can't wait to share more -:D!
Catch y'all in June!
After two years holed up at home (thanks, Covid), I'm sprucing up my writing room. My creation station isn’t fancy or budget-breaking, but it works for me. I repurpose furniture. Surround myself with tech gadgets, old-timey treasures, and stuff that makes me happy and productive.
Hey, want to see where I'm writing my rom com? Perhaps you'll find an idea for your creation station, too. Don’t be shy! Come on in and have a look around at my writing room.
1. Ace Your Space
If a trainstation is where the train stops, what's a workstation?
You don't need to spend tons of money on your creation station. I repurpose whatever I have on hand for an eclectic mix that brings me joy.
My writing room is a converted guest bedroom in our cozy yellow cottage. The room is anchored by the 20-yo, L-shaped desk my employer provided when I worked remotely in a high-tech firm.
A 1960s maple hutch picked up at an estate sale displays family photos and stuffies that remind me of my children’s book characters. The cabinet's double doors hide messy computer cables, printer paper and office supplies.
I cover my walls with whatever suits my fancy:
2. Tools of the Trade
Thank you, paper clips,
for not being like staples that can't commit.
— Jimmy Fallon
Wherever your space, splurge as much as you can to fill it with tools of your trade. I love my trusty 2013 MacBook Pro. It's paired with dual screen monitors, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse that make book formatting, graphics and editing a breeze.
Best, I can take my creation station anywhere just by unplugging my laptop.
Having an ergonomic work station is super-important.
Years ago, I developed a repetitive motion injury from long hours of writing. I'm better now after therapy and torturous steroid injections. That's why I have a customized ergonomic keyboard tray to keep me pain-free. An inexpensive bamboo stand from Amazon raises my monitor to the proper height to prevent neck and shoulder strain.
Music brings a warm glow to my vision,
thawing mind and muscle from their endless wintering.
-- Haruki Murakami
Can you work when it's quiet? I can't. I need sound. Soft background music. Nothing loud. Never distracting song lyrics.
Orchestral movie scores make up my playlists. Scores from composers like John Williams, James Horner and Michael Giacchino over YouTube and Apple Music pump me up every time.
4. Room with a View
There’s a world out there. Open a window, and it’s there.
— Robin Williams
Tall windows fill my creation station with light
and glimpses of the world outside.
When I want a break from writing,
all I need to do
is look up to ...
….keep an eye on the weather
…. watch my garden in all its seasons
… enjoy the parade of kids biking, running, and skipping down the sidewalk
… wave at Marvin, our friendly mail carrier
5. Play Time
The supreme accomplishment
is to blur the line between work and play.
Gotta have a playful creation station or else work is, well, too much like work.
My collection of happy things started decades ago when Mama gifted me a Star Trek action figure. Since then, I've added more.
An old-timey printer's tray rescued from a salvage yard
is filled with print blocks from back in the day and teeny treasures from Mama's stash.
They're paired with Great-grandma Belle, who watches me from her horse and buggy.
Love that she was a 'modern' woman in the late 1800s, who drove her own carriage!
6. People Who Need People
Stages of working from home:
Yay I get to work from home.
It would be nice to talk to people.
I hope that pigeon sits in the window today.
– Mark Agee
As much as you love your creation station and its flexibility, you'll want to find ways to connect with other humans. My creation station does just that.
Like most of the world,
I felt lonely and isolated during Covid.
I’m grateful for
the Zooms, Meets
and Facebook Rooms
that kept me connected
with family and friends.
Hooray for virtual workout classes
(and my bookcase
for doubling as an exercise station)!
Thanks for your company on my writing journey!
Over to You
It doesn't matter if you work in a palace or a broom closet.
The trick is to make the most of your space
and have fun with it,
Where's your workspace or home happy place?
What do you like most about it?
What tips do you have for making the most of a creation station?
I'm always looking for ways to make my space better, and I'd love to hear your ideas.
Please share in the comment section.
We rarely get more than a dusting of snow here in central North Carolina. When we do, we declare an unofficial holiday – Snow Daze! Excited kids play outside until dark. Parents shiver and watch. We head to bed early in exhausted delight after downing quarts of hot chocolate. And the snow melts the next day like it was never here.
Join me and see for yourself what a rare southern snow is like on this Snow Daze photo walk through my ‘hood.
1. Anticipation is keeping us waitin' ...
Excitement builds days before.
Forecasts tease us with possible snowfall amounts and storm tracks.
Most times, the wintry weather misses us.
But once every year or so,
the predictions come true.
And just like that....
Snow Daze mania takes over!
Folks in northern climes, who are used to snow falling all winter, think we're nuts. We ignore their eye rolls and revel in our frenzy.
It starts with a mad dash to Harris Teeter and Food Lion for milk, bread and toilet paper. (Yep, those items run out quick. Nope, we don't really need them, but they're our winter weather security blanket.)
Then we dig out snow boots and that pair of warm mittens Grandma knitted for us last Christmas, hoping we remember where we stashed them.
Parents hunt for shovels and ice melt. Kids pull out sleds and cardboard boxes. Anything to whoosh them down a snow-covered hill.
I assemble my Snow Daze staples.
2. Twas the Night Before Snow Daze ....
Breath plumes silver in frigid air.
There's an eerie nighttime sky,
ringing the moon.
We're sure now .....
snow is on the way!
When snow creeps in,
it's cold, dark, and past bedtime for most.
my social media feeds still
It's snowing in southern Wake County!
First flakes in down town!
We got an inch already on the deck!
Anybody know if garbage pick up is cancelled for tomorrow?
3. Ready, Set, SNOOOOOOWWWWWWWW!
Snow brings out the inner kid in all of us.
I'm so excited,
I hardly sleep a wink.
Can't wait for my first glimpse of the white stuff in daylight.
I'm up at dawn, camera ready,
to catch the best light.
The storm has moved on,
but in its wake....
a brilliant sunrise.
Our Covid-weary, winter world
is transformed and delicious,
dusted in white
like a cake
drenched with powdered sugar.
It's not long
breakfasted, booted, and bundled kids
giving the freshly fallen snow
Nothing short of a winter wonderland!
Kids are ...
building snow people
Snow Daze joy; Photo by Favorite Neighbor
I walk the hood, taking it all in
before dashing inside
to throw chili fixin's in the crockpot for tonight's meal.
Later, I dig out my trusty shovel to attack the sidewalk and driveway. This is the first time we had to clear them in five winters! I don’t mind. Tackling this fuffly stuff is my favorite kind of winter cardio. A thin layer of ice adds enough resistance for strength training, too. Best, when I tire, Hub finishes the job.
Cat Michaels' winter exercises
So Long, Farewell, auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye
Everyone reluctantly straggles inside
to warm up with chili or hot soups by the fire.
Some Littles even stash bowls filled with snow
in their freezer
to save for another day.
Good thing they do.
the snow melts away.
We hope we don't have to wait
another five years
for our next Snow Daze!
Have you experienced a Snow Daze in your part of the world? What do enjoy most about it? If you don't live cold country, what would you like to do during a snowfall? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
You never know where or when inspiration might strike, but I wasn't finding it back at the keyboard in my cozy yellow cottage, It was challenging to pen scenes for my beachy rom com while toiling in my office wrapped in a lap blanket, my portable heater blasting.
Sure, I could use my imagination to crank out chapters. Instead, I told myself beach living was much the same in every season and headed to the coastal village of Beaufort, North Carolina, for a wintry weekend. Despite below-freezing temperatures, I discovered delicious tidbits to make my summertime tale come alive.
So slip on your warmest coat (that sea wind is cold!), and join me on a photo walk in search of literary insights. We’ll explore deserted beaches, find fun at the North Carolina Aquarium, and wander the garden of an 18th-century Beaufort home.
1. Winter Beach
Horizons that stretch forever
Some things never change at the shore, and, my imagination shifts into overdrive the moment my ratty beach-walking shoes hit the sand. I'm already spinning ideas from this jaunt into my summertime rom com.
There are a few noticeable differences in a winter beach, however ...
... miles of deserted shoreline
... with only a few hardy (crazy?) souls
... ready to brave
My novel incorporates a fictionalized version of the Point, a pristine, uninhabited patch of heaven on the western tip of Oak Island, North Carolina. Without giving anything away, I'm plotting a bit of controversy about this space that puts my City Gal and Island Guy at odds with each other.
2. Gardens of Historic Homes
The gardener in me ...
falls in love with Beaufort’s lush gardens, with their cozy benches, potted pretties, and meandering paths tucked into small spaces throughout the village's six-block historic district. (btw, my protagonist's BFF lives in an old Victorian in my fictionalized version of Beaufort.)
Beaufort even has its own distinctive style of pointy picket fences that wrap many homes and gardens. Those white pickets of varying heights remind me of cresting ocean waves.
I decide to add a Beaufort-style picket fence outside my protagonist's bungalow.
The writer in me ..
is over the moon because these emerald jewels shout ideas for my novel. When the current owners of the 244-yo Rumley House graciously open their gardens to Hub and I for a close-up stroll, my imagination and gardener's heart soar.
Can't you just picture the intimate conversation my characters will have in a romantic garden nook?
Not sure how it will play out yet,
but I must write a scene
where my characters gather
under a magnificent 200-yo live oak.
Maybe they'll share secrets in that private space?
Confess tender feelings?
Or a bird poops on them?
It is a rom com, after all <wink>.
3. North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
One of my characters spends much of her time at the fictional Gull Island Aquarium, so my
visit to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is another gift to my writerly muse.
I almost roll up my sleeves at the aquarium's touch tank because my characters have a light-hearted encounter there, and I want to experience it.
But I chicken out when those beady-eyed creatures glide by me. I can not bring myself to tap a squishy sting ray.
Could you tap a ray with two fingers on its fin?
Sting Rays, touch tank, NC Aquarium
I’m bringing back a sea turtle team
from my children's book,
Sweet T and the Turtle Team,
but with a playful, romantic twist
for grown-up readers.
The over-sized ceramic turtle
in the aquarium's children's area is pure fun
to climb upon.
Don't be surprised if you discover a scene in my novel with a critter very similar to this fella.
Literary inspiration aside ...
being inside the North Carolina Aquarium
on a cold winter afternoon
is magical in every way!
Jelly fish, crabs & colorful fish - NC Aquarium,
Over to You
Thanks for keeping me company as I discover literary inspiration in amazing places on the wintry North Carolina coast. (Hey, have any ideas for fun scenes for my book from our stroll you care to share? I'd love to hear them!)
This trip fuels me forward as I aim to break 30K words on my rom com in the next 30 days. Cross your fingers for me?
If you’ve been to a winter beach, what was your experience like? Where’s your dream spot for a perfect cold-weather escape? What places have you visited that you can imagine as the romantic setting for a novel? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
Photos: by Cat Michaels
Scaredy Cat has been working overtime lately:
YOU want to write a novel in 30 days?
Good luck with that!
In 2020, more than a half-million authors from around the globe accepted the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) .30-day November challenge to hit 50K words for their novel. Since I’m a thoughtful writer who avoids self-imposed stress, I was never tempted to join NaNoWriMo when penning my short children’s books.
Until this year. Gulp.
I’m pushing Scaredy Cat aside and joining NaNoWriMo. It's all Cheerleader Cat's fault. She convinced me to do NaNoWriMo this year ...
You love a challenge!
AND you need other people around to keep going.
PLUS, only 20% hit 50K words,
so no worries if you don’t hit that number.
Plus, Cheerleader Cat assures me these eight simple strategies for tackling tough tasks will have me gaining on my 80K-word rom com in no time. Call me Crazy Cat, but I'm jumping in!
1. Set Reasonable-for-You Goals
TBH, I’ll proudly be among the 80% who won’t reach 50K words in 30 days.
I’m taking off Thanksgiving week and will not work 12-hour days or weekends like most NaNoWriMo 50K-ers. Instead I’m aiming for a reasonable 15K words. I can do that without headaches or panic attacks [crossing fingers here].
Photo: "240/365 National Novel Writing Month begins" by the girl who owns the world is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
2. Spiff Up My Creation Station
I can write in the hubbub of a coffee shop, but cannot concentrate if my office is a mess. Gotta clear distractions, yet cozy my creation station with a few tchotchkes to keep the mood fun and light.
My secret sauce?
...having the last book Mama read before going into hospice tucked under my keyboard.
My mother's collection of romance novels filled every corner of her home. It was sheer luck I found her final book resting where she laid it on her nightstand before she left us. (Can you guess her book's title that's partly hidden below?)
Mama was the one who always encouraged me to write, so it's especially comforting to have her presence nearby as I push myself.
Cat's Creation Station
3. Queue Up a Playlist
Streaming orchestral movie music on YouTube while writing is my thing. Any selections scored by the likes of John Williams, James Horner or Michael Giacchino keep me chill and creative for hours.
4. Prevent Middle Mire with an Outline
I already outlined my 30 chapters – just a few sentences summarizing each – and created an Excel worksheet to track word count. Of course, once I get into my tale, my characters tell me where they want to go, but that rough outline keeps us from getting mired in the middle.
Yep. Crafting a delicious mid-section is my biggest challenge, but I have a few ideas about those scenes taking up 50% of my beachy rom com:
If you care to share your ideas
for clean and delicious beachy rom-com middle scenes,
I’d be over the moon to hear them.
Just drop them into the comments below
shoot me a private email, and I’ll consider all.
Hey, you might even be named a contributor
in my acknowledgements
if I use your ideas -:D>!
5. Stick to a Daily Writing Routine
A structured day helps me hit my word count goals:
6. Get Moving
I cannot sit still.
After hours of writing and thinking hard, I need my yoga, walks, workouts or Pilates. Love walking outdoors in the woods best, but in-person or virtual workouts cut it, too.
This ambivert needs people, so I'll...
8. Smile and Laugh Every Chance
Our neighborhood’s unofficial Children’s Hour begins around 4:30 as young‘uns fresh off the school bus converge in a mad dash to play together.
Theirs is a joyful release of unbridled pleasure and pent-up energy across yards, bikes, swing sets, basketball hoops and trampolines dotting our street.
Listening to children’s laughter is THE best way to end anybody's workday, don't you think?
What would you add to Cheerleader Cat's eight ways to tackle tough tasks? Have some helped you with past challenges? Any an absolute bust? Please share in the comment section.
And before you go …
Please drop your rom-com middle ideas
in the comment section
shoot me an email.
Cheerleader Cat and I can't wait to see what YOU come up with!
Photos by Cat Michaels except where noted
National Novel Writing Month Logo: NaNoWriMo.org
Hello, you beautiful autumn season! Old Sol has once again gifted us with equal hours of daylight from the September equinox. Now nights are longer in the northern hemisphere as the southern hemisphere slides into more daylight and springtime. After five months of stifling heat and humidity here in North Carolina, I’m ready for warm scarves and hot chocolate!
I’m sharing six things I love about this season in a photo walk that will make you fall for Fall, too.
Plus, my blogging friends from West Virginia to New Zealand (where it's springtime!) share what they love about this time of year in our blog hop, Making the Most of the New Season. Be sure to scroll to the end of this post and click over for more smiles and inspirations from around the globe.
Growing up in Connecticut in a 100-yo home,
flanked by two majestic sugar maples towering over our small front yard,
autumn meant one thing to us kids …
We’d rake huge piles and jump into them from high off the porch. I don’t know how we did that without breaking any bones. We were lucky the worst thing that happened was landing on dog poop!
As an adult, I discovered the trick of adding natural areas to my back yard, where I let leaves stay where they drop. However, I hand-rake the front lawn, preferring this old-fashioned method over powering up a noisy leaf blower. It’s my special form of autumn exercise.
Peeping at Leaves
Being a native New Englander, a love of autumn tints, especially against iconic New England stone walls and white-spired churches, is ingrained in my soul. Today, the colors of the near-to-me Blue Ridge Mountain leave me ooh-ing and ahh-ing.
Crunching Leaves Underfoot
Have you ever walked across fallen leaves? Your feet play a symphony of crunchy crescendos guaranteed to make you happy.
2. GARDEN COLORS
Since moving to North Carolina, I learned about plants that thrive in our mild winters. Fall has become the time to swap out my summer garden beds for glorious winter colors before the first frost hardens the soil in late-October.
3. COOL TEMPS, WARM CLOTHES
Ahhh…that first hint of crisp, dry autumn air!
Off with the lightweight outfits! Time to bring out your sweaters, long pants and that scarf you started knitting last winter but never finished.
4. PUMPKINS, SPICE, AND EVERYTHING NICE
Perception researchers at John Hopkins University recently found that Americans are attracted to the scent pumpkin spice because its powerful smell triggers familiar, cozy memories.
Photo: Jill Wellington on Pixabay
I’m on Team Pumpkin:
pie, bread, cookies, Cheerios, Pop Tarts, pancakes, marshmallows, PSL at Starbuck's.
You name it.
If it’s pumpkin, I want it.
Yep, even that new pumpkin-scented toilet paper!
And is there anything better
than a trip to the patch with your Littles
to search for THE perfect pumpkin?
Well, maybe watching the TV classic,
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,
with a cup of pumpkin spice latte <wink>.
Cat's Niecelette in the pumpkin patch
Photo: B. Hall
Speaking of Halloween – what more can you say about the greatest celebration in a kid’s calendar? I adore greeting costumed little trick-or-treaters at our door, who are already on sugar highs dreaming about their loot.
Last Halloween in the midst of Covid, I set out 70 individually wrapped bags of sweet treats at the end of our driveway, and waved from the porch at wee ghosts and goblins streaming by. My Halloween goodies were snapped up within an hour! I'm already stocking up for this year's visitors.
6. BEACH TRIPS
Finally, my biggest guilty pleasure – taking a fall beach trip to the near-to-me North Carolina coast. It sounds contrary to traditional summertime visits BUT during autumn on the coast …
Prices are lower.
Crowds are thinner.
Air and water temps remain delightful.
Autumn at Oak Island, North Carolina
Restaurants still serve mouth-watering
And there's no waiting in line for your seafood platters!
And that autumn sky over the beach at sunset?
Pier on Oak Island, NC
OVER TO Y'ALL
So many reasons to fall for Fall! What would you add to my six picks? What's your favorite memory about this time of year? I’d love to hear what you think. Please share in the comment section.
And before you go.....
After 15 months of lockdown, I was ready to climb a (small) mountain (on an easy trail) near my North Carolina home.
A baby boomer in good shape, I was never the extreme outdoorsy type. I also don't like heights. And in summer’s heat and a knee brace to help tendonitis from too much walking, there were less than six degrees of separation between me and wimpdom.
Undaunted, I discovered two 60-minute hikes in the western North Carolina mountains with incredible summit views. Join me in a photo walk to a 400-foot waterfall in Chimney Rock State Park and up 5,500-feet at Craggy Pinnacle Trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Each of the challenging-to-me hikes was about 40 minutes from our log cabin base in the village of Black Mountain. Armed with camera, carry bag, sunscreen, trusty hat, water bottle, and Hub, we headed south on twisty NC highway 9 for the first hike at Chimney Rock State Park.
Day 1 - Chimney Rock State Park
The Chimney Rock
544 steps to an ancient monolith at 2,280 feet
Fun Fact: Dirty Dancing was filmed at Lake Lure on the outskirts of Chimney Rock. Look for the lake at the top of The Rock.
Ok, today’s adventure was technically two treks in one. I always wanted to visit the iconic 535-million-year-old Chimney Rock, for which the state park is named.
The Rock, as it’s affectionately called, is reached by a winding 500-step staircase OR by riding an air-conditioned elevator inside a tunnel. I opted for elevator to save my knee for the longer walk ahead.
Once the elevator deposited us on the observation deck, we still had 44 steps up a narrow steel staircase to reach The Rock.
Gotta be careful walking around at the top because it’s a bumpy old rock with uneven, slippery surfaces.
I decided against maneuvering a narrow outcrop to the flagpole on the topmost layer. Just standing within 10 feet of that ginormous flag that can be seen for miles gave me chill bumps on a hot summer day.
the lower part
of this monolith.
Chimney Rock State Park
Hickory Nut Falls Trail
1.7-mile, up-and-back “easy” walk to a 400-ft waterfall at 2,590 ft
Fun Fact: Remember that waterfall scene from Last of the Mohicans? It was shot at this waterfall!
Once done ooh-ing and ahh-ing over The Rock, Hub and I rode the elevator down to today’s real challenge, the Hickory Nut Falls trail. This hike curled around the around the base of The Rock to North Carolina’s second highest waterfall at the summit.
I took it slow in the heat, stopping to rest my knee and snap photos. Even so, I was hot and huffing on the steady upward haul. I wasn’t sure I could make it to the summit, but hikers passing on their return lap assured me the first sounds of the fall’s rushing water were just around the next clump of towering rhododendron.
Another fun fact:
Day 2 - Craggy Gardens
Craggy Pinnacle Trail
Moderate 1.4-mile, up-and-back trail to a 5.5K -foot summit with a killer 360 view
Fun Fact: Craggy is named for jagged rock outcroppings or “crags” peppering the mountains here. Shrubs and grasses at the trail's summit added that “garden” feel. Craggy Gardens also bursts with thousands of purple rhododendron blooms each June.
My next challenge, Craggy Pinnacle Trail, was 20 miles west of Asheville, off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I was hesitant about attempting a more remote, rugged hike. Didn’t help that Craggy was in active bear country. Gulp.
(A bear had visited our cabin that night, tipping over an empty garbage can. Plus we spied a black bear moseying along the Parkway near the trailhead.)
When we reached the trailhead, crisp mile-high mountain air gave me courage.
I could do this!
Starting under a canopy of weather-beaten trees gnarled by the harsh climate, Hub helped me scamper over stepping stones and endless narrow crags. I was extra cautious after sliding on bits of broken rocks strewn on the trail.
from Craggy Pinnacle's outlook platform
at 5.5-miles high ...
all photos by Cat Michaels, Lumix GX7 and iPhone
Over to You
Where’s your favorite outdoor escape? Mountains? Woodlands? Or do lakes and oceans call you? Please share your special place in the comments, so we can dream about visiting there, too.
We’re selling our 131-year-old Connecticut home that’s been in our family for over six decades. I always looked forward to the 500-mile trek from North Carolina to visit there. I didn’t realize my pre-pandemic stay would be my last. Sigh.
In the beginning ...
The two-story white Colonial on Harriet Street, surrounded by towering New England maples in its compact front yard, has nurtured our four generations. My parents bought the home in 1958 for approximately $14K from a just-retired New York Times journalist. That was a princely sum at the time. Dad worked hard to pay the mortgage and support four kids and Mama on a teacher's salary.
Mama and Dad were proud of the 1,500-square foot home perched on the corner of O’Brien Street, across from a peaceful Civil War-era cemetery.
Neighbors dubbed Dad the Mayor of Harriet Street for his generous ways and readiness to lend a hand. It was a title he cherished.
During this past decade, the house on Harriet Street sheltered three generations of us under one roof. We jokingly called it Hotel 21 because people were constantly coming, staying or leaving. Three of my siblings (myself included!) boomeranged back at different times as grown-ups.
Our parents loved being surrounded by family and friends, and they welcomed everyone with open arms and unending mountains of food. The house was crowded and noisy, but our parents never minded.
As a teen, I was embarrassed by the bedlam, wishing for a calmer life in a bigger space. As an adult, I see our home in constant turmoil but always brimming with love and joy. To this day, I don't know how we jammed so many people into so many small spaces and without getting on each other's nerves too much.
The cornerstones of Mama and Dad's 50+ years together were family, faith and country. They lived their creed every day and passed those values to us.
Our parents also wanted to live out their years on Harriet Street. And they did.
Mama passed in 2011. Dad remained in the house, with care from family and health-care aides after his stroke, until he passed at age 92 in 2017.
My three siblings and I left the nest long ago. My nieces and nephews, Millennials with families and careers of their own, lived everywhere from New England to Idaho. Given the area's blazing sellers’ market, my sister, the last of us to leave after moving back to Harriet Street to help care for Dad, decided she was ready for a new start, too.
Sorting 63 years of 'treasures'
Dad encouraged us all along to sift through the house and take what we wished, so we had a head start winnowing down six decades of stuff. No easy task!
While Dad was a minimalist, Mama saved EVERYTHING!
Then there are the intangibles we can't carry with us. Memories of the ups and downs of everyday life. Family traditions started on Harriet Street that are ingrained in our hearts.
Most of the time, we didn't realize those precious moments of living created lasting links that shaped a life and defined us.
We marked Christmas, birthdays, graduations, engagements,
winning touchdowns, scholarships, good report cards and more.
Family times in the back yard
We corralled lawn chairs and chatted for hours,
shaded by Mamas's sprawling Beauty Bush
that she forbade Dad to prune.
Marking the seasons
Dad loved sports and organized softball, kickball, badminton and croquet for us in the back yard as soon as the weather turned warmer.
We added an above-ground pool for a time while my parents could still tend it, spending hours floating and splashing during lazy summers.
Autumn brought another tradition – leaf-raking and jumping into huge piles. We scattered more leaves as we barreled into our piles, so we'd have to contain them all over again. But what fun! Sibs and I were lucky we weren't hurt hurling ourselves down four feet from the porch into leafy heaps waiting to catch us.
There was no shortage of activity during our cold New England winters. Aside from our schoolwork (Dad was a teacher, so of course studying came first!), we looked forward to ...
* Ice skating on Five Mile Pond
* Building snow forts
* Playing outside until mittens froze and teeth chattered
*And always ...
shoveling the sidewalk and front porch!
Fun, Food and Love
You couldn't turn around on Harriet Street
without bumping into food, conversation, children or hugs.
Make no mistake: It wasn't perfect.
We argued and fought.
Cried over hard times.
I rebelled as a sullen teen.
But Harriet Street held fast.
Always there when we needed it.
Our parent's home went on the market Memorial Day weekend, Mama's rose bush in the front yard blooming in anticipation
The MLS posting made it real. Every photo from the listing spins a memory, especially the shot of my childhood bedroom, nestled high on the second story next to Mama's Beauty Bush.
Those images twist my heart, and I feel torn. Like the title of the last book Mama read, it is bittersweet.
I’m sad to see the end of an era.
Relieved to settle our parents’ estate
and have closure.
I hope the house on Harriet Street
is scooped up by a family,
who will love it
and discover as much joy
as we found in our home
over the past 63 years.
Have you had to say good-bye to a home you loved? Settled the estate of a loved one? What was that experience like for you? What memories and treasures did you carry? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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