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.
Imagine springtime in the American southeast. Brilliant azalea and camellia blooms. Moss-draped trees. Oodles of history and charm. How about cool breezes on miles of uninhabited islands dotting the Atlantic Ocean? And wild horses roaming there?
You’ll discover this and more near Beaufort, North Carolina’s fourth-oldest community founded in 1709. Ranked as "America's Coolest Small Town" by readers of Budget Travel Magazine in 2012, it's still very cool!
Less than a three-hour drive from our home near Raleigh, Hub and I love visiting, especially in off-season, when crowds are gone and the sub-tropical climate dials back.
Join me in a photo walk to Beaufort to explore this gem for yourself.
Psst...know before you go
Get your Beaufort straight and pronounce it right!
We’re talking Beaufort (BOE-furt), North Carolina, here.
Not to be confused with South Carolina’s historic Beaufort (bYOU-furt).
Use that South Carolina pronunciation on Front Street,
and locals know you’re a tourist.
But since you're in the South, they'll be too polite to correct you -:D.
Where in the world ...
Beaufort, NC, stretches along Taylor’s Creek, a stone's throw across the channel from tiny, uninhabited Carrot Island. The town nestles near other such small land masses that make up a spiderweb of “inner barrier islands." They drape along one side of the Intercoastal Waterway that bumps into the Outer Banks, a 200-mile/320km string of larger barrier islands, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
History and Architecture
Walking through Beaufort is like living through three centuries of maritime history. A good place to start is the Old Burying Ground. Spread under stately trees between the Methodist and Baptist churches, the cemetery is a National Historic Landmark that pays tribute to the town’s earliest residents.
Take a quiet stroll on your own. or download an audio or printed tour, for a deep sense of time and place. You'll pass Revolutionary and Civil War veterans resting among too many children who died so young. We found fresh flowers resting on some graves and liked to think they were placed by today's 21st-century descendants who remembered their ancestors still.
Historian Hub and I are in our element meandering through Beaufort's 12-block historic district.
Three centuries of homes and quaint gardens radiate out from Taylor's Creek on Front Street. The eclectic mix of architectural styles showcases then-current trends when houses were first built and reflects Beaufort’s growth since the 1700s.
1900s - Modest cottages and arts-and-crafts bungalows
1800s -Glorious ginger-breaded, multi-porched Victorian
Elegant “Gone with the Wind”/Tara-style Greek revivals
command the waterfront
1700s - West Indian-style
Built by seafaring merchants and mariners as ‘temporary’ quarters between voyages,
these homes, still flanked by towering live oak and camellia, rest near smaller homes also constructed more than 300 years ago.
It’s not a straight shot by car to the Atlantic Ocean, but it's fun!
Skirt three bridges.
Cross small inlets.
Zoom over the huge Intercoastal Waterway.
Wind through Morehead City, a neighboring shipping port.
In 15 minutes, you'll reach the the town of Atlantic Beach on the eastern tip our Crystal Coast, another barrier island that stretches for 85mi/137km.
It can be COLD on the Crystal Coast as when we visited in late winter.
That wind off the sea sets your teeth chattering! Bundle up and brave the windswept boardwalk. It’s worth the chill to leave footprints in the sand and watch wintry clouds dance over the waves.
No worries. It doesn't stay cold for long in this sub-tropical climate.
A few days later, we bask in 70F/21C temps at Pine Knoll Shores, five miles farther down the Crystal Coast. How about that Carolina-blue sky!
Aquariums and Wild Horses and Light Stations – Oh my!
Pine Knoll Shores is also home to one of three North awesome Carolina State Aquariums. It's a must-see if you have the kids along.
We enjoyed our last visit there in 2017 doing sea turtle research for my chapter book, Sweet T and the TurtleTeam.
You'll also want to venture beyond Beaufort in the other direction to Harkers Island. As the crow flies, Harker’s Island is 8 miles northeast of Beaufort. But in this coastal region sprinkled with a gazillion waterway barriers, it’s a 30-mile trip by car.
Head to the National Park Service’s (NPS) Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitor Center and (of course) cross more bridges of all shapes and sizes. The Visitor Center houses exhibits that tell of Core Sound and the National Seashore across that waterway.
It’s also home to the sole means of public transportation to the uninhabited park. There are no paved roads at the National Seashore. Leave your car in the lot and hop on one of the small, open-air ferries to visit.
These vessels seat about 50 people on their short ride to the famed Diamond Lady, the Cape Lookout Light Station, on Cape Lookout National Seashore. Spend a few hours there before boarding the ferry back to your car. (btw ... the NPS maintains a small visitor center, so you'll have snacks, water and restrooms at the Diamond Lady. Whew!)
If you have time, board another ferry to Shackleford Banks on the southern tip of Cape Lookout. If you're lucky, you'll glimpse some of the herd of more than 100 wild horses there.
According to the NPS, we don’t know for sure how the horses got to this barrier island. Legends about horses swimming ashore from sinking ships are not proven. However, there were shipwrecks along the coast and the horses are recognized as Colonial Spanish. Early European explorers also brought horses and colonists/settlers bred horses. Earliest recorded events link horses to our barrier islands in 1585.
Photos: NPS, Cape Lookout National Seashore
Score at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum
While you're on Harker's Island, don't miss the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum located adjacent to the NPS parking lot. This free museum, recently re-opened after two years of renovation from a hit by Hurricane Florence, offers interactive displays about the culture and history of Harkers Island.
The museum also houses a dream-come-true library for lovers of waterfowl life and wooden seabird carvings. Over the centuries, decoys created by Island residents have evolved from utilitarian hunting aids for keeping food on the table to stunning folk art.
You can take the elevator, but we opted to walk up to museum’s third-floor observation deck. Its killer 180-views of Core Sound and distant barrier islands will knock your socks off!
What’s a trip to Beaufort (or anywhere!) without trying local food? During our weeklong stay, we swooned over tasty pulled pork and juicy fried shrimp plates from Roland’s BBQ.
Gotta add yummy Southern sides: mac-n-cheese, hush puppies, slaw, butter beans and, of course, iced tea (unsweet, with lots of ice and lemon, please!).
Sure, you can spend the day
on the water
and hit the bustling downtown
for shopping, dinner or nightlife.
But we love
visiting Beaufort off-season
Hub and I can’t wait to return!
What’s your favorite small town to visit? If you’ve been to Beaufort, what else did you enjoy there? Please share in the comments, so we can virtual visit there, too.
Photos by Cat Michaels except where noted
You’re scratching your head. Your favorite author just asked you to be on her Street Team to help launch her new book debuting in a few weeks. It sounds exciting and daunting. Should you accept?
To help potential members decide when I invite them to join my Street Teams, they understand in advance exactly how they can support me and what’s in it for them.
I give them a book summary, my first chapter, and an overview of how my Street Team will roll. On top of this nitty-gritty, I also want them to know it's okay to decline – they’re still a valued part of my community of readers.
Read on to find 6 questions I answer for my potential crew that's modeled on my recent middle grade release, Just Between Sam and Me, co-written with Rosie Russell. They'll l help you decide about hopping on a Street Team, too.
1. What’s a street team anyway?
A street team is a group of 20-30 bibliophiles
who come together (in a private facebook group) for 4-5 weeks to ....
... enjoy the company of other bibliophiles
... support and advise
Cat and Rosie
with the release of their new book for tweens
in the weeks before it debuts
and especially during launch week
Enjoy their sneak peek of
the first chapter!
2. Why should I join a street team. What's in it for me?
3. How can I help the street team build book buzz?
* Share your ideas about building book buzz with the authors
4. What about writing a book review? Is it required?
5. How will we stay in touch?
6. How much of my time will this take?
if you’ve never been on a Street Team, would you join one now? (Hey, please let me know if you’re up for a Street Team for my women’s fiction coming out in 2022 -:D?)
If you’ve been on a Street Team, how was that experience for you?
What else might potential Street Team readers want to know?
How have you created a successful launch for your book and a meaningful experience for your Street Team?
Please share in the comment section.
Check out my video interview
on the Tutfish Show with Jennifer Milius
for more good stuff
about street teams (18.10).
Finally – signs this wretched pandemic is winding down!
Vax’d and masked, I recently wandered the newly re-opened J. C. Raulston Arboretum on a fine spring afternoon with my BFF. I hadn’t seen her *IN PERSON* for nearly 14 months!
Join me on a photo walk to reset your lockdown life with sights and signs of hope from spring 2021.
I once led Sunday tours around this free-to-the-public 10-acre arboretum and botanical garden. It's an oasis tucked behind a busy street in Raleigh, NC, that's administered by North Carolina State University. But the arb has been closed per our state’s pandemic guidelines for more than a year, and I’ve missed it!
This is a magical place,
where you can walk on water …
Get married in the White Garden gazebo …
Check out a bee hotel …
Or just enjoy being outside in nature
and out of lockdown
on a perfect spring afternoon.
More than 200 dedicated volunteers
maintain the garden’s nearly
5,000 different kinds of plants
collected from around the world.
Today is even more special because
I’m meeting my BFF at the arb,
and it’s the first time we’ve met face-to-face in more than 14 months!
We’re still masked,
as everyone must be on state property,
but we don’t care.
It’s sheer joy catching up IRT and strolling together.
We chatter away,
passing happy daffodils
watched over by a towering green giant,
who waves at us with massive, outstretched limbs.
I think the gardens are just as happy to see us
as we are to see them -:D
the green giant’s pal, Cousin Itt,
nods with approval ...
as merry waterfalls dance for visitors.
Looking up …
Bending close …
or looking down …
you never know
what you’ll discover
around any corner
at the arboretum.
I hope you’re finding signs of your #BackToNormal life, too. If so, please share in the comments. We're all eager for good news and hope -:D
photos: by Cat Michaels
A message pops up on your screen from an author you follow, asking you to be a beta reader for her new book. She encloses a book cover and chapter draft and will send you the full manuscript if you’re interested in helping.
Are you excited? Curious? Skeptical? Flattered? Hesitant? All of the above?
Read on to discover what a beta reader is, what it means for you, and why beta readers are like gold to authors.
Be sure to scroll down for your *free* download of the
Guided Questions for Beta Readers
I use with my team.
Then catch leadership and writing coach Jennifer Milius and I
in convo about beta readers,
my writing struggles during Covid, and more
on the Tutfish Show podcast and YouTube channel.
1. What’s a beta reader?
Besides being the second letter of the Greek alphabet, beta refers to the second in a series of events.
As a beta reader, you’re the second set of eyes on a manuscript after the writer is satisfied with a first draft. That precious draft represents months of toil, but as author Louise Penny says, it's typically “smelly” and ready to be made better.
That’s where you come in as beta reader.
The author is entrusting you with that smelly manuscript in exchange for your honest feedback they use to tweak their tale.
In essence, you’re agreeing to be an unbiased second set of eyes to help craft a final book that’s the best it can be.
A beta reader is someone who....
reads an unfinished (but polished!) manuscript
and gives the author honest feedback
on how the story, characters and plot hold up.
2. What does being a beta reader mean for you?
Being a beta reader is an honor AND a big ask. It requires a chunk of time and willingness to offer honest, concrete feedback beyond I like the book. Consider the points below to decide if beta reading is right for you:
Are you comfortable accessing a double-spaced, 8x11 portable document file (pdf) online? Most manuscripts are in pdf because its fixed format works across different software platforms and ensures your feedback references are literally captured on the same page as the writer's master copy. Some people print the pdf and read it as a hard copy, but most download to a tablet or computer for a virtual read.
Once my beta readers are on board, I send them a downloadable MS word worksheet with about 2-dozen guided questions to keep handy for jotting down their feedback as they read.
What kind of feedback do authors ask of beta readers?
Check out how I work with my team.
Download my free
Guided Beta Reader Worksheet
from my website HERE.
My beta readers handwrite comments on a separate sheet of paper or keystroke directly onto the worksheet. I ask them to include page numbers or chapter references, so I don't go crazy looking for suggestions in a 30K-word manuscript.
While I appreciate hearing positive comments, I encourage ideas to make my books stronger. I want my beta readers to be brutally honest in their feedback and not pull any punches.
3. Why are beta readers like gold to authors?
As a beta reader,
you partner with the author.
You become a crucial part of the writing process.
is invaluable in morphing that smelly first draft
into a stellar tale that’s ready for everyone to read.
I adore my beta readers
and am beyond grateful to them!
Their feedback majorly improved the first draft of Just Between Sam and Me, co-written with Rosie Russell. For instance:
Discover more about authors and beta readers
in my conversation with writing coach Jennifer Milius
on her Tutfish Show.
We discuss co-writing (0:17),
my struggles authoring during Covid (5:17),
making lockdown life brighter with a fairy garden, (10:08),
and lots more.
Catch Jen and me on the Tutfish podcast HERE
Watch us on YouTube
Is beta reading for you?
That level of commitment is not for everybody. My potential beta readers know right away in my ask that there are no worries if they decline my invitation.
Bibliophiles, if you’ve been a beta reader, how was your experience?
If you haven’t been a beta reader, would you consider being one? (oooo….let me know if you’re interested in my adult women’s fiction once I finish it! -:D)
Authors, what strategies have you used with your beta readers?
How have beta readers helped you?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
2021 hasn’t been better than 2020 so far.
On top of political turmoil and skyrocketing Covid numbers, my anxiety shot through the roof during a 48-hour span when my car battery died, a front molar cracked, and a leaky water pipe flooded our laundry room and adjacent hallway.
I know I'm blessed to be healthy and have a roof over my head when so many struggle. Still, it takes every coping strategy in my tool box to push away worries, and I constantly battle to stay upbeat. Here’s what I've done to shake off seven funks in Covid 2021. Hope something here helps you, too.
Funk 1: I am glued to the news, and it is mostly AWFUL
Like many Americans, I can’t get my head around the takeover of the U.S. Capitol, and I fear more civil unrest and division. Plus, global updates on Covid and its variants are constant gut punches.
I know what you’re thinking. Nope.
Can't totally turn off current events. This is history in the making, and I want to be present. Instead, I decide on a "newsfeed-light" – quick morning and evening check-ins, plus lots of good-news feeds.
Funk 2: I can’t sleep
Always a night owl and light sleeper, the strange dreams and restlessness I experienced at the start of the pandemic return to haunt me. It takes forever to nod off, and I get up a few hours later, exhausted and edgy, moving through the day like a zombie on 3 or 4 hours of sleep.
Never a nap person, I don't consider a daytime snooze. And since I devour books digitally, reading to chill before bed doesn’t help, either.
Funk 3: I don't feel like posting on social media
I don’t feel I have anything engaging or uplifting to offer my friends and followers. Can't bring myself to post on my Facebook or Instagram pages, despite a FOMO.
Funk 4: My heart isn’t in writing
There’s a school of thought that advises authors to write every day, no matter what. That doesn’t work for me. Authoring is hard and lonely during the best of times. In Covid days, I'm beyond weary and mind-maxed to write a jot.
Funk 5: I worry about our nation’s divisiveness
Funk 6: Everything feels hard; where's the joy?
Aside from not sleeping, this is the worst. So even if I don't feel like it, I make myself find something fun to make those happiness endorphins kick in:
Funk 7: I fret about surging Covid rates and mutations
I'm beyond lucky to be one of the first in my circle under new CDC guidelines to get my Covid shot. YIPPY!
I encourage eligible friends and family to keep trying for theirs despite the frustrating process and limited supplies.
My dearest wish is that everyone gets vaccinated as soon as possible, and we return to a more-normal life. I can't wait to see family, give hugs and go out in public!
Ups and Downs
So far, my fight against the funks is mostly successful.
But they always loom like Pigpen’s cloud, threatening to bring me down. I can’t always fight them off. But I'll keep trying.
My wise author pal, Julie Gorges, suggests finding one inspirational word to pursue for personal and writerly growth in 2021. My inspiration word is perennial.
Like the hardy perennials resting now in my garden, I'm hunkering down to survive a pandemic that feels like a million winters. Like blooms that return each spring, I'm determined to pop up when Covid goes away, refreshed, healthy and blooming gloriously among others who kept me company in long, dark months.
What makes your heart happy in hard times? If you experience stress and anxiety during Covid, I hope you, too, can keep your funk to the curb. Please share in the comments what’s working for you. I’d love to hear, and give it a try.
Once upon a time, two children’s book authors met in cyberspace and discovered they had much in common. As their friendship grew despite the 1,500 miles that separated them, so did a story idea for tweens.
In 2018, that story idea crystallized, and the two writers started working together to create a purr-fect tale of courage and kindness for tweens:
Shy Olivia just wants to do her best in 6th grade
and care for the animals on her family farm.
But the new girl at school
to turn that world
So Olivia pours out her heart
in a journal to the only one who truly understands …
Read on for my answers to four cool questions readers asked about my writing journey and new release, Just Between Sam and Me. Then scroll to the end and click over to co-writer Rosie Russell to find her answers to four different questions from our readers.
1. Were you inspired [to write] by your English teacher in High School?
– Peggy, Wisconsin
Mr. Nelson, my sixth-grade teacher at Tracy Elementary in Norwalk, Connecticut, was first to recognize my passion for music and writing.
My 7th-grade English instructor at West Rocks Middle School, Mrs. Martinson, was the one who truly encouraged my writing and taught me the elements of grammar and sentence construction. I remain grateful to both of them, and hope they know how much they’ve done for me.
2. Have you experienced tornadoes? They must be scary!
– Ariane, California
For sure! I dodged tornadoes travelling between rural schools as a resource teacher outside of Wichita, Kansas. I spent many spring evenings in my basement while tornado sirens wailed.
sHowever, it wasn’t until I moved to North Carolina that I experienced two tornadoes that claimed lives, touching down within miles of my house. I was alone both times, so I understand the terror that one of our characters feels when she faces a similar situation.
I also lived through Fran, a Category 3 hurricane that spawned tornadoes and toppled about two-dozen trees in our yard. Incredibly, those giant oaks missed hitting our home by inches. We were lucky they didn't crash through to the bedroom as we slept.
The trees also blocked our driveway, so we couldn’t drive our cars to get help until a neighbor with a bobcat arrived and pushed them aside.
Since we lived in the country then, we were also without well water and electricity for 10 days. It was absolute misery in late summer's heat, humidity and misquotes.
And yes (no spoilers), Rosie and I weave several of these stormy experiences into our tale.
3. What’s your favorite middle-grade book you read as a tween?
– Sue, Connecticut
I still smile remembering The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. A smart children's science fiction novel by English author Eleanor Cameron, this book enthralled me with its mix of adventure, fantasy and whimsy while featuring brave kids who take risks doing the right thing.
And my all-time fave middle grade read as an adult?
Hands down – JK’s tales!
4. You write realistically about Olivia’s horse, Star.
What experiences did you have with horses that helped you?
– Theresa, North Carolina
I knew enough to know I didn’t know enough!
I spent a weekend at a working horse farm in Southern Pines, North Carolina, to experience these animals up close and personal. I learned they are beautiful and BIG!
(Hey, take a photo walk through my equine weekend HERE.)
Rosie and I are grateful for the many equine insights shared by our very own Horse Whisperer, Judy Hart, who once raised horses in the Pacific Northwest. Judy's insights helped us write realistic equine scenes.
Sam and Friends
Just Between Sam and Me is making its way to young readers around the world. Best, Sam is sparking important convos between kids and parents about kindness and bullying.
Hey, see for yourself what the buzz is all about.
Click the video link below
to watch a preview of
Just Between Sam and Me.
to order your copy of
Just Between Sam and Me
from your favorite e-book retailer
in paperback from Amazon
Don't forget ...
before you go,
click over to meet Rosie Russell in Kansas City
for her reader questions
How have experiences from your childhood shaped your professional life? What other questions might you have for a children’s book author? What was your favorite book as a tween? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
This year has been a marathon of 365 days that tests our humanity. We’re sooooooo ready to kick 2020 to the curb! Our world has a way to go before we defeat covid-19, but we’re gonna make it.
In my last post of 2020, you'll find ideas to keep your spirits raised with an attitude of gratitude AND:
Some days, I want to scream.
Then I take a deep breath and remember how lucky I am. During a global disaster when many have lost everything, I have food on the table and a warm place to sleep.
I am learning to be grateful to wake each morning without a cough or pain and my sense of smell intact!
This year heightens my appreciation for each moment and every simple gift. I admire the way my writerly pal friend Julie Schooler always puts such a positive sparkle on her approach to life. She makes me smile as she shares three things she’s grateful for in what she terms "our banana-pants crazy 2020."
Read Julie's uplifting post HERE
In addition to Julie’s top three on her gratitude list, my guilty pleasure and happy place has been bingeing on Hallmark’s Christmas movies.
Conventional and formulaic, Hub and I giggle over dialogue cliches and laughingly predict the disastrous turning point that happens 30 minutes before the Big Kiss Final Scene. We know there will be a happy ending. where kindness always wins along with cocoa drinking, tree trimming, and cookie baking.
btw: also happy to see more diverse actors and story arcs in this year’s offerings!
50+ Fab Free Children’s Books
Many budgets are tight this holiday season, so I’m sharing a way to light up your Littles with literacy. I teamed with more than 50 children’s book authors for an awesome December Children’s Book Giveaway.
Check out the our collection and download your FREE faves by clicking over to Book Funnel for your HERE
Offer ends 5 January
(btw….you'll spy a familiar feline face in this #DecemberChildrensBookGiveaway collection ... free chapter download of Just Between Sam and Me -:D.
Free Streaming Event:
Messiah from Duke Chapel
This year, our holiday traditions are morphing into virtual streams we can safely enjoy.
Now in its eighty-eighth year, the annual presentation of G.F. Handel’s Messiah at Duke Chapel is one of the oldest and most beloved musical traditions at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. This year, that tradition continued with a livestreamed Messiah concert on Sunday, December 6.
You can listen to this blissful recording of that concert until 6 January by clicking over to Duke Chapel HERE
Catch you in 2021
I'm taking a break from authoring and social media until 4 January. I want to enjoy our downsized holiday celebration for two instead of despairing we won’t be with family for the first time EVER.
Maybe we'll bake cookies
(like they do on the Hallmark channel - Tee Hee)
Or set up Gear-Head Hub’s funky transportation ornament tree,
We'll sprinkle more jolly holiday villages
throughout our home
to warm the season.
What's up for you these last weeks of December?
Whatever it is, my wish for you is to ...
SHOW LOVE, GRATITUDE
Sitting here, happy, tired and stuffed-brain, but taking a moment to share insights into my crazy-busy-hectic-happy book launch week with co-author Rosie Russell.
It's been an endurance test of stress management with an attitude of gratitude.
Stress Management Roller-Coaster
Co-writer Rosie Russell and I are over the moon that our new book for tweens, Just Between Sam and Me, debuted on 2 December at #113 in Amazon’s ranking of children’s books about bullying.
But what a journey to get there!
Our tale has been 22 months in the making - delayed by my Covid-stalled muse during lockdown. Plus Rosie and I always fought tech gremlins; however, nearing our 2 December finish line, those tech gremlins attacked with a vengeance. Of course!
– Our paperback was stalled in review process, so it was not available on the first day of launch.
– Rosie’s Facebook account may have been hacked, and she couldn’t access important launch day posts.
– The day before launch, I started working at 4.30 a.m. because my mind wouldn’t stop spinning about everything that needed to get done.
– 10 minutes before a podcast interview with Jedli on Reading with Your Kids, a ginormous pressure washer truck pulled up to my neighbor’s house and started pounding out its super-water-shooting motor. I tore out of my office and raced to the closet in the back of our home. Hunkered down by Hub’s shirts in that tight space, the WIFI dropped. Sigh. I scurried back to pressure washer mania. ARGH!
I stress over these things,
But I know.
Yep. Minor first-world problems.
I remind myself to be grateful for the ability to hassle with them.
Keenly aware that millions are
with serious issues of
and social inequities.
Haunted by the image of a young girl,
crying and clinging to her blankie-wrapped baby doll
being forcibly evicted from their home.
as I learn of Covid deaths
among family and friends just these past weeks alone.
by staggering numbers
of Covid deaths rising.
by political divisions battering our nation.
Remembering these things
snaps my launch anxiety
Attitude of Gratitude
Dad once made a habit of writing down all his blessings, and I Iearned that trick from him.
I will never take for granted having a roof over my head, warm place to sleep, food on the table, or ability to pay my bills on time. Nor my fab family and friends, whom I long to see in person but doing so only over ZOOM these days.
My work on Sam has been rich with a co-writer, launch team, writing pals, and blogging buddies who support my authoring journey. I'd be lost without them. They raise our purr-fect tale of courage and hope for tweens and help it score fab book buzz that makes authors do the happy dance.
Speaking of book buzz ....
Will you kindly bear with me for a moment of shameless self-promotion as I share review snippets that have my buttons bursting?
Smiling wide here -:D!
One last bit self-promotion, please?
(Promise that's it for the year <wink>.)
Sam, Rosie and I would be honored
if you'll click below
to learn more about
Just Between Sam and Me
where to find a copy
at your fave bookseller.
btw,,,,We're running a launch sale through 10 December:
ebook slashed to $.99 US
paperback discounted at $7.99 US
December Bookish Giveaways for Young Readers
I’m teaming up with an amazing slate
of 58 authors
to bring you
free books and chapter samples
for holiday giving.
Winding Down 2020
During the Reading with Your Kids podcast taping today, host Jedli asked what'd I'd be writing next. I’ve had a feel-good women’s fiction rattling around in my head for over a decade. It’s time to get it out of my brain and onto paper.
But not until Just Between Sam and Me winds down.
Then I’m taking off the end of December to watch the sun set over the river, write my Christmas cards, and gratefully enjoy a Covid-Safe Holiday for Two with Hub, And we'll say 'good riddance!" to 2020!
I’ll crank it up again in 2021 with the next step on my writing road, whatever that is.
I hope you'll stay well
and enjoy special times
to make your heart happy
with your loved ones.
2021’s gonna be a better year for all of us!!
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