The Joys of Travel

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Unknown

“You only have a few magnets on your U. S.  map,” my boyfriend, Roger, said to me after one of our dates. “We’ll have to fill in the rest.”

He captured my heart with that statement. We married soon afterward and enjoyed traveling every year. I removed all the magnets that represented my solo trips because the map now chronicled our lives together. Our travels included visiting family members, often returning to the same states multiple times. We’ve joyed trips to Canada, cruises to the Caribbean, the Bahamas and a trip to Australia and New Zealand. However, our main goal was to visit all 50 states. During the ensuing years, we managed to add new states to the map.

On our most recent trip, Roger and I planned to fly from Missouri to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to spend one night and part of a day and then drive to Rapid City, South Dakota. Our late evening flight was delayed causing us to miss our connection in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Delta Airlines gave us a voucher to stay at a hotel in Minneapolis. We each received an emergency pouch containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and a few other essentials. In addition, we were given stand-by boarding passes for a flight out the next morning. One catch-all the flights were completely booked giving us an almost nil chance of flying out the next day.

We returned to the airport early the next morning with hopes of taking the first flight out. Passengers arrived at the gate taking their rightful place in line. With only about six minutes left to board, our names were called. With a sigh of relief, we boarded the plane. We landed in Sioux Falls around noon and immediately began our five-hour drive to Rapid City. When we arrived, we were surprised to see thousands of motorcyclists.

One of the residents explained that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is held annually in Sturgis, South Dakota for ten days during the first full week of August. More than a half million people were in attendance.

Our goal was to visit the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial and Custer State Park the next morning. The massive sculpture at Mt. Rushmore of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln is impressive. In Custer’s State Park, we saw a bison lumbering along on the side of the road. I got a great picture.

To stay on schedule, we left for our nearly nine-hour drive to Jackson, Wyoming hoping to arrive before the check-in desk closed at midnight. Hotel key retrieval arrangements were made just in case. On our long drive, we missed a deer by about four feet. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture because I was too startled.

We saw a bull elk which was too far away to get a decent picture. We arrived at our hotel with ten minutes to spare and collapsed for a long, comfortable night sleeping.

The next day, we toured the city of Jackson in Wyoming’s Jackson Hole valley taking in the charming western style features. One of the most interesting sights was the Jackson Hole’s Elk Antler Arch which presents a perfect selfie-photo op. I toured the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum, and we took a stagecoach ride during our visit. We drove through the Grand Teton National Park. The Grand Tetons, known as fault-rock mountains, occupy a majority of the Jackson Hole valley where people enjoy mountaineering, camping, and fishing.

Our drive through Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world seemed disappointing at first because we didn’t see any bison. We saw elk, donkeys, and shortly before the end of our journey, we finally we saw bison, thousands of bison. We took pictures of them running in the distance, fighting over a female, and nursing baby bison called red calves. The bison crossed the road, sometimes stopping and causing an hour and a half traffic jam. Drivers were warned to stay away from the wildlife, but sometimes the wildlife came to them. We took pictures of the bison, some up close and too personal.

There is a difference between bison and buffalo. Although we use the terms interchangeably, the American bison is native to North and South American and Europe while the buffalo resides in Africa and Asia.

Our trip to South Dakota and Wyoming completed our bucket list of visiting all 50 states. Our map is now complete. Perhaps we should add to our bucket list, “Fill in a world map.” What do you think?

 

 

 

 

Writer’s Confessional Part Five

It’s said that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you’re gifted with eloquence. Or, if I tell it like most people have heard it, the gift of gab. Well, I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone. Too many lips on the same surface for my taste. But, what I won’t bullshit you about is as soon as I saw the green of Ireland I fell in love. I already felt a pull toward the land of Skellig Island off Portmagee, which is southwest of Dublin, also the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren’s. Setting foot on the earth where God granted a little more green than other places, the magic of the island was captivating. Larger modern cities like Dublin, Cork, or Killarney, they have their own mystique, their own magic in music, the people, the pastel-painted architecture, the history, the beer. Take away those larger cities and I’m left with nature so beautiful it’s overwhelming. So much history, blood, and struggle poured out into the land I can’t possibly fathom what life was like a thousand years ago or beyond. It was inspiring, as an artist, a writer, as a person with Irish blood.

I took my sketchbook with me but didn’t pull it out, surprising myself, since everything there is a sketch study. I took as many photos as I could though, a lot of the flavor of Ireland waiting to be written or drawn.
One thing that caught my writer’s mind was the concept of the fairy myth and folklore. I didn’t see it marketed anywhere. As an American you can go to any craft store and find ceramic garden fairy’s, fairy doors, mushrooms to go with the fairy’s, etc. I found it odd, but satisfying that they didn’t market the fairy myths or the idea of leprechauns for the touristy crowd throughout most of the country. There was a particular store, but it was done in a commercial way rather than done by craftsmen or artisans.
But what are your thoughts on Irish myths and folklore? Conjure your concept of a leprechaun in your mind. Some might consider a character from a movie wearing green pants and coat with scary bright orange hair, a sinister angry face, or maybe something from a children’s book a little softer, more inviting with a rainbow and a pot of gold. In my mind, it’s a bit of both. I did see something that caused me to think of just those kind of stories, though.

We landed on Irish soil during the sunniest week Ireland will ever see this year (I actually got a sunburn). As we enjoyed the shade in Cork’s shopping district I noticed a man that looked a little separate from everyone else, like he was floating through the brick and mortar landscape of shops and the modern world. He was about my height, five feet nine inches tall, squarer in the shoulders, dramatically so. The man’s hair was not the stark orange-red that most people think of when they think Irish heritage, but it was a deep rusty red, a windswept mess. His clothes were bland in color, plaid shirt, and twill pants, hanging off him like they didn’t belong. As we passed him a shiver danced across my skin because his stare in his craggily and pitted face was blank almost as if he was looking off somewhere that no one could see. I asked myself if he was seeing something other than the fast-bustling pedestrians needing to get their tourist trap purchases back to their hotel rooms before they went off to the next pub to have a pint or if he was so displaced in time lost to all the people around him. It scared me a bit, his blank stare, his ghostly demeanor. But I brushed it off and continued to wander through Cork with my hubby. But I couldn’t get the man out of mind so when I saw another person that was so similar in features, a smaller frame, feminine this time, I started to pay more attention and this new set of characters came to life in my head. It was exciting.

There were other instances where this happened too. A dilapidated house in the middle of a flourishing neighborhood outside of Dublin, the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, with its jewelry made by Vikings, or the sheep and cows littering the landscape disappearing into the rocky green hills, or the castles that would pop up just around the bend on the narrow road. It was a compelling and fantastical place.
So, as a writer what am I trying to tell myself? What did I learn while I was on the green island? I would say that I need to go outside more, wander a bit, even if it’s to a city or park I’ve been to several times. Pay attention to what surrounds me and stop being so apathetic to my city, towns and parks nearby. Do a little digging into the history of the places and I might just find a story somewhere left in the cracks of time.

A Writer’s Confessional Part Four

A lot has been on my plate this month. I decided to start my own business, my art illustrations and my jewelry the focus. It’s entailed time away from fiction writing but directed me towards writing copy for the marketing end of my business, where I got my ideas for my jewelry and art. It brought me back to around the time I began attending the Deadwood Writer’s Group. I was writing a children’s picture book. I’d developed illustrations which now I am selling as prints on my Etsy page, www.wjkartisandesigns.com. It’s an exciting time in my life and I’m glad and grateful that I get to share these artworks in my own way now.

Another aspect that’s filled my attention is all that goes into starting a business. Finance, marketing, social media, product development – more jewelry and illustration development. It’s a bit nerve-racking to fit everything in, meaning my artistic nature and my need to write juicy and intriguing romances. But a smart woman, when I thought doing both was crazy, told me, “Why can’t you do both?” Her encouragement toward my success and happiness has always been given right when I needed it. So, thanks Mom. Love you!

On other exciting news, I’m going to Ireland soon. I’m not even there yet and I’m already inspired. What kind of stories will sprout from my visit, the brogue, the people, the colors, the constant green that everyone talks about? My heart gallops to fiery beat of a stampede when I think of all the opportunities that have become evident these past few months, words that have been spoken by friends and family. I’ve heard encouragement before, but this time, as my friend and sister of the heart, Jo Self- who is also a branding/strengths consultant for business and the individual, would say, I listened to what the universe was trying to tell me and am using the strengths I’ve been given to make positive things happen.

The Truth About Golf

I understand why some people give up on golf far too soon—before they develop a passion for the game. It challenges even the most seasoned players, requires lots of practice, and can be quite costly. For instance, Callaway’s Great Big Bertha Epic driver will set you back $500. If you want to put the club to use on a prestigious course, such as Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, you’ll have to pay another $500 for green fees. But there is ample opportunity to contain costs. You can purchase less expensive clubs; and you can play public courses in hometowns like mine for $15 a round. So considering that the financial outlay can be reasonable, I believe it’s basic intimidation that most often squashes love for the sport before a devotional spark has the slightest chance to ignite. Understanding the truth about golf may help you approach the sport with greater affection.

Golf Truth #1: It takes skill to get that little white ball flying in the air. Practice.

My first golf experience was with friends during high school. Mark was the only one of our foursome who knew how to play, and he was a patient teacher to the rest of us. Margie, Lisa, and I were athletic, so Mark probably thought we would easily learn this sport too. But taking three beginners out on a course is not the best way to introduce newbies to the game unless you’re looking to play the longest round of your life. Because Mark was dating Margie, I think he was okay whiling away the time.

The girls and I struggled to transform our softball swings into anything useful. Heck. We would have just liked to have gotten out of the Whac-A-Mole ground-pounding mode that was beating our confidence into oblivion. We were A-W-F-U-L. So bad that I’ve blotted out most other memories of that day.

But there was that one shot . . . when I struck the ball just right. It didn’t roll across the ground like it had every other time I hacked at it. This time it took flight, sailing skyward.

Personal triumphs, like lofting that little white ball for the very first time and sinking a pitch from seventy yards out, are what keep us golfers coming back. We hit the driving ranges and work on our long game. We find our putting strokes on the practice greens. And we test our fortitude by chipping out of six-foot bunkers. We want to emulate the pros, who make it all look so easy.

Golf Truth #2: It takes positive thinking (and an impressive outfit) to build a good game. Believe in your ability (and wear something that boosts your confidence).

The view of Lake Michigan from Arcadia Bluffs is as spectacular as the golf course.

Arcadia Bluffs is the number one ranked course in Michigan, where my husband booked a Memorial Day afternoon round for the two of us. That springtime day in The Great Lakes State was partially cloudy and projected to reach sixty degrees at best—chilly for me. If I had my way, all golf days would be eighty degrees and sunny, but northern Michigan isn’t known to bend to my will. So, I dressed in five layers of clothing to help me deal with the brisk air and fluctuating winds that would make the atmosphere feel ten degrees colder.

Trust me when I say that it wasn’t easy deciding on all those layers. My slacks and shirts were running a bit tight at the time, and I refused to invest in new pieces of clothing to accommodate my expanded waistline. I was counting on losing the ten pounds I kept complaining about.

I opted out of getting a propane heater for the golf cart even though I was shivering. “It will warm up,” I hoped. Standing beside our cart and waiting for our tee-time, Greg and I admired the seemingly endless and beautifully blue Lake Michigan, lying beyond the grassy bluffs and rolling terrain of the course. The view rivals that of Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, whose own gorgeous shoreline constrains the massive freshwater lake and prevents it from inching farther west.

There were several groups of men on the grounds but no women that I could see until a couple came in from their round. The model-gorgeous young lady loudly talked about how pleased she was with her 46. Whether that was her score on the front or back nine, I didn’t know. I was sizing her up and observing how attractive she was in her stretchy, black, Nike golf pants and matching jacket. Black is a great choice when you want to look slimmer, but she didn’t need the help. I wondered how she could possibly have been warm with so little to wear.

The only other woman on the course, besides me, looked like an expert—as if she could appear on the cover of Michigan Links Magazine. I compared myself to her and realized my silhouette resembled that of the Pillsbury Doughboy, plump and round. I wore a black sleeveless golf shirt just in case the temperature rose; a long-sleeved pullover because I was pretty sure it would not; and three jackets of varying thicknesses for extra protection.

So, there I was: at a mental disadvantage for golf because I didn’t feel comfortable with my weight, let alone with what I was wearing, and I had never golfed a 46 in my life.

Whether blessing or curse, the sky released a downpour. It wasn’t supposed to rain. Greg and I rushed into the clubhouse to see the storm cell on radar and ask the pro-shop attendant if we could delay our start because of the wet and cold conditions. Ideally, the rain provided me with the opportunity to change my negative mindset and prepare to golf my own best game.

Overly-critical thoughts about ourselves can have disastrous outcomes in golf. Adversaries trash-talk to mess with our heads and destroy our confidence. We shouldn’t crush our own spirits with self-condemnation. Knowing this, however, didn’t prevent me from beating up my real opponent before she had even taken her first swing.

Greg and I got a reprieve. The storm cell moved quickly, and there was a half an hour before another group was scheduled to tee-off. With no one pushing us, I expected to be able to relax.

We teed off, and I plowed through first-hole jitters by hitting a decent drive. Still, the ambiance of the exceptional course overwhelmed me. My next shot landed in a seven-foot-deep bunker and I had trouble chipping out. I took a nine on the first hole and berated myself for the embarrassing start. My focus during the next few holes was just as much on the mental battle I was having as it was with the physical trial to strike the ball well.

Once I gained control of my nerves, I began to see good results. The day progressed, layers of clothing came and went, and I shot a 100 for the round. Overall, not bad. I celebrated by buying a black and white, stretchy, athletic jacket and vowing to start my diet the next day.

Golf Truth #3: It takes knowledge of the sport to earn respect from other players. Study.

Even if swinging a club and striking a ball comes naturally, we need to acquaint ourselves with the rules governing play. Otherwise, we won’t make it past the driving range without alienating ourselves from seasoned players. They may forgive innocent mistakes made by beginners, but they have little tolerance for ongoing rudeness.

The Rules of Golf are long and daunting, and I’m not sure anyone knows them all by heart. Even golf’s greatest pros sometimes ask for clarifications from officials. The rules book is commonly tucked into golf bags and pulled out during competitions. But it rarely sees the light of day during more relaxed and friendly rounds.

If we care about the spirit of the game, and we should, we’ll grow in our comprehension of golf’s long history and honor the sport through fair and honest play under all circumstances. Golf’s two governing entities want to make the rules easier for golfers—of all levels—to understand and apply. The United States Golf Association and The R&A hope to achieve this goal by revising the rules. This is a unique opportunity for those of us enamored with the sport to directly influence the game by reading a draft of the proposed rules and providing feedback by August 31, 2017. Our suggestions could be the ones that are settled upon in the finalized rule book, expected to take effect on January 1, 2019.

Golf Truth #4: It takes patience to find the swing and strategy that work best for you. Pace yourself.

Watching a video of me hitting my driver, I was surprised to see how slow my backswing is. I’m tempted to swing faster but worry that I would lose accuracy with the change. It’s not worth that risk to me. There are other areas of my game, like putting, that I can benefit from improving instead of a major overhaul in my long game.

Being in a hurry on the course can be as big of a mistake as letting intimidation influence our confidence. The last time Greg and I were being pressed by another twosome, he and I evaluated our pace of play. We were coming in under time, as designated by course policy and indicated to us by the starter at the beginning of our round. As such, we could have defiantly held our ground and made the twosome wait at every hole. But the pace of play rule indicates that we should allow faster players to play through. This makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Why deal with tension if you could instead alleviate it by simply being polite?

In our case, Greg and I waved for the guys to move past us and then patiently waited as each teed up, swung, and sent their shots flying forward. We watched as the second golfer searched for his ball 100 yards farther from where it was actually lying. I felt really badly telling him that his ball never made it past the forward tees. Haste makes waste, as the saying goes; and in this case, a hasty swing off the tee made for a bad shot.

So yes, it takes time and commitment to develop a love for golf. You need to approach it like you would any other relationship. Get to know its history. Who are the greats that loved it first? Regularly focus your attention on it. Is one night out a week too much to ask? Invest in it. How much better could the two of you get along if equipped with the right tools and some counseling? Shake off the tense moments and bad results. Can’t you just see how spectacular you are together too?

Control the way you think and behave, and soon you’ll be head over heels in love.

I Didn’t Know How Special Sunday Afternoon Could Be…

Sunday, May 7, at 4 o’clock, the Ann Arbor Symphony played its final concert of the season at Hill Auditorium. It was one of their finest concerts! The music was magical. It just carried me away.

 

Arie Lipsky is a wonderful conductor. He knows how to bring the best out of every musician. It doesn’t matter what instrument he or she plays. He seems to know how to reach into each one’s soul and ignite that magic spark.

 

The program opened with the Overture to William Tell and the Overture to Semiramide by Gioacchino Rossini. This was followed by the Opera Choruses by Giuseppe Verdi. The choruses were sung by the Carillon Women’s Chorale, the Livingston County Chorale, the Livingston County Chorale Women’s Chorus and Measure for Measure, the men’s choir of Ann Arbor.

 

The acoustics at Hill Auditorium are perfect. You can hear every note that is played or sung no matter where you are sitting. It was an excellent choice for the performance.

 

The stage is very wide and goes completely across the front of the auditorium. It is a thrilling sight to see the entire orchestra sitting there and then to watch the four choruses file in and stand on the risers behind them. The womens’ choruses filed in from the left while the men’s filed in from the right. It was a splendid sight once everyone was in place.

 

The choruses sang while the orchestra played. The selections were: The Anvil Chorus from Il trovatore, the Gypsy Chorus and the Matador Chorus from La traviata, Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco and the Triumphal March from Aida.

 

After the intermission, the orchestra played Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 from Tchaikovsky and The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. The music was enchanting and the moment seemed to go on forever and then it stopped. The applause was exuberant, heartfelt and passionate. Everyone felt they had experienced something extraordinarily wonderful!