Mother Nature’s Storytelling Prompts

Devil’s Rock and the Giant Bear

devilstower picture

One of the most frequent questions that writers get is “Where do you get your ideas.” Most writers I know scoff at that question. I don’t. I am as interested in that question as any reader.

My ideas have come from overhearing a conversation, mishearing a phrase (The Salem Witch Tryouts, for example), watching a movie and wondering would what have happened if the a plot choice had gone a different way….in short, there are story prompts for writers everywhere I look. I have notebooks full of them, and I’d need to write for a thousand years to write them all.

I visited one of Mother Nature’s story prompts in Wyoming on my most recent trip out to visit The Best Grandbaby In the World™ in the Bay Area. Devil’s Tower has been inspiring stories for ages. The Arapaho have one, the Cheyenne have one, the Crow, the Kiowa, and the Lakota. They all feature a big bear, making scratches on the rock. And, like most storytellers, every tribe’s story is just a little different.

Me, I wondered why this particular natural wonder inspired so many stories. My trips out west have taught me that there are so many wondrous formations ready to inspire story in travelers. So, here’s my contribution – Devil’s Tower is formed in the same way as many other western natural wonders – carved by rainwater washing away softer rock to leave only the igneous. Most times, the striations this causes are horizontal. At Devil’s Tower, they are vertical. The perfect prompt for a storyteller’s imagining of a giant bear with giant claws trying to reach something at the top of Devil’s Tower (which many of the Native Americans called Bear’s Tipi, or Bear’s Lodge).
Can’t you just imagine the generations of Native Americans camping out under the stars at Devil’s Tower, weaving their stories about why this formation is different from the others?


Revisiting the Wedding Roadtrip: Maid of the Mist

Our road trip across the country on the way to our daughter’s wedding has begun! We’re taking the slow roads, avoiding the interstates, stopping to walk through the little towns we pass through if they catch our eye. For the next few weeks, we will be footloose and fancy free. And then we will be parents of the bride. So, please welcome my husband, Jim, to the blog. Jim is the photographer in the family, and he will be taking pictures and giving updates on the trip from his perspective.

Maid of the Mist is Misnomer – More Like Maid of the Sluice

Day 4 – July 18, 2012

I woke up at the Holiday Inn in Waterloo, NY and Kelly was gone! She left a note saying she was getting caffeinated. I took this opportunity, after a few sips of hotel coffee to revisit the fitness room (Kelly used it after our swim last night. I chose instead to sit in the Jacuzzi and a few minutes in the sauna), the usual cardio but also a Universal machine.  Got a few sets in. Moving weight does feel different than my usual BowFlex workout.

Kelly and Yelp identified a good breakfast place called Connie’s. The only downside was it was cash only.  The place is a diner and fairly busy, We had timed it to be a big rush that came in a bit after we did. We both had big and fantastic omelets.  I had Rye toast and Kelly had wheat.  Bill was only 13.02 then back on the road.

Took Rte. 20 most of the day. Driving not as much fun as the day before.  Together we picked todays destination, Niagara Falls and Maid of the Mist.

We arrived in Niagara later than we planned, about 2.  I have been to the Falls 3 previous times. The second time we were returning from my stint with NASA in Ohio near Christmas.  I inadvertently drove over the bridge and entered Canada. While this was pre 9/11 we didn’t have anything but drivers license for the adults so we turned right around and were readmitted to the USA. Second time was three years ago when I was on my way to Kent State to work on some experiments. We got totally confused and drove around and around, unable to find the Falls and intent on not going to Canada.   We mistakenly wound up on Goat Island, with a $10 parking fee. It was a great mistake as we got a great view of the Canadian Falls as well as the US ones.  Reminiscing complete.

The parking lot was filled but there was a garage with $5 parking all day (it was late in the day and all the open pay lots were $10. A short walk got us to the Falls and a sprint to Maid of the Mist. We  were sure we would have to wait hours to get onboard.  4 entrances with a line of about 3 people so we quickly got the observation deck and opted tp go straight to the Maid. ($15.50 each for observation deck and Maid). No line whatsoever. We picked up our fashionable blue ponchos and walked right onto the boat.  We climbed to the observation deck and made our way to the stern and within 3 minutes we were off.  First “stop” was the American Falls with Horseshoe Falls in the distance on the right.  Soon we were face on the Falls and I understood why we needed the ponchos!  I made the good decision to not bring the new camera so was relegated to snapping with the cell phone.  The wetness or fast clicking caused the app to fail and the phone to lock up (I couldn’t read the display in the light and mist). Removed battery, rebooted and took some more.  Google Goggles later showed I did get some good shots but I haven’t looked to see if they were from land or see.  We then moved to a closer look at the much more magnificent Canadian Falls.

After disembarking we found some steps winding halfway or so up the American Falls so we climbed and did a mini version of Cave of the Winds. Any of you do Cave of the Winds and Maid before? Should we have done Cave as well?

After many more pictures we descended then reascended via elevator and walked out on the observation deck.

Hungry (no lunch again) we walked a bit and decided to get out of Dodge so we retrieved the car and asked GPS to plot a route to Cleveland.  We are doing a mostly “blue road” trip so we told gps to avoid freeways.  I didn’t like the route it picked so looked at its map and picked my own.  Kelly was helpful with her IPad as were looking for 62 and I was having a hard time making sure I was on it. Turns out there are 3 62’s all parallel to each other one block away, the merge when we leave town.

Kelly and Yelp, with my navigation ignoring the annoying gps telling me to take a U turn  found the French Pub. It’s name must derive from a family name as it is as American as French Fries (which we new via Yelp).  Very nice and very reasonable. I had a steak sandwich while Kelly had a huge vegitable lasagna (plus soup and salad bar). Unlike the steak sandwiches invented by the gods in Philadelphia this was a real steak on a roll.  I ended up using a fork and knife. The French Fries were too good to pass up so Kelly and I shared them.

Car continuing to deliver about 45 mpg indicated, gas gauge fixed itself.  We did have a stretch on day 3, with the gauge problems where I was down to 38 mpg or so.  Gas is 3.55 to 3.60’s. I miss the 3.20’s in Bangor a few weeks before out trip.

We finally got close enough to see Lake Erie. Pulled off at some town beach, open only to town residents. The water was closed due to pollution however. Wind turbines lined the shore with Buffalo in the distance.

Finally arrived in PA near Erie. Kelly and Yelp identified a Quality in near Erie for only 69 so that became our destination, arriving about 9:30 pm.  I was re-hungry so Kelly offered to stand me to an appetizer and a drink.  The hotel had a restaurant that closed right after we ordered. Appetizers didn’t delight me so I went for an Angus burger and a rum and diet coke. Kelly went for beer battered mushrooms and a Corona. She did not like the mushroom and picked some steak fires off my plate.

Too tired to write up the days adventures, will wait for morning of Day 5.





Revisiting the Wedding Roadtrip: Howe Cavern

Our road trip across the country on the way to our daughter’s wedding has begun! We’re taking the slow roads, avoiding the interstates, stopping to walk through the little towns we pass through if they catch our eye. For the next few weeks, we will be footloose and fancy free. And then we will be parents of the bride. So, please welcome my husband, Jim, to the blog. Jim is the photographer in the family, and he will be taking pictures and giving updates on the trip from his perspective.

Secret Cave narrowIf the surface is hot, go underground

Day 3 – July 17, 2012

I slept very well, had not slept much the night before. Kelly got up first and asked if I wanted coffee or anything as she headed off to the free breakfast.  As expected it was all carbs but, much worse, a $40 charge if you took ANY food out of the room or ANY drink. She couldn’t even get her coffee.

She decided we would hit the road.  We were not having any luck and hunger won out, we stopped at McDonalds. Blueberry oatmeal for me and big breakfast for Kelly (thanks for the piece of bacon). I had a large coffee and Kelly a small. When oh when will I learn that I DO NOT LIKE MCDONALDS COFFEE. It does not sit well, it does not taste good.  I drank very little. A good thing about the McDonalds was that it had a hotel coupon book we had been looking for.

Read more

Revisiting the Wedding Roadtrip: Report From Jim: Ben & Jerry’s

Our road trip across the country on the way to our daughter’s wedding has begun! We’re taking the slow roads, avoiding the interstates, stopping to walk through the little towns we pass through if they catch our eye. For the next few weeks, we will be footloose and fancy free. And then we will be parents of the bride. So, please welcome my husband, Jim, to the blog. Jim is the photographer in the family, and he will be taking pictures and giving updates on the trip from his perspective.

Hole in Door

There used to be a deadbolt in that hole.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Wedding: Vermont – A Nice Inn, with Undertones of Stephen King

Day 2 – July 16, 2012

K went to get breakfast and work while I showered. She couldn’t get the door open. The dead bolt knob turned but the bolt would not retract.

Read more

A Visit to Mall of America

So Not a Shopper, But…


…I finally visited Mall of America in Minneapolis Minnesota. It was overwhelming. 4 stories of shops and things to do.

I went into a store that sold only salsa and hot sauces of every different kind. Sampled some, but ended up not buying any, as we were on the road.

Molly has got to shop this place in an upcoming book! It’s huge, and there’s always something going on. We skipped the roller coaster (although our friend Roz assured me it wasn’t quite as awful as a full version adventure park version).

Instead, we went to the Star Trek exhibit. Fun. When are they making the next movie? I’m curious to see where they go from here.

20140609-065427-24867355.jpgBest thing of all? The giant Lego Transformer. Now I know what to get my grandson for the next dozen years. It will take us that long to make something like this.

Revisiting the Wedding Roadtrip: Mount Washington

Our road trip across the country on the way to our daughter’s wedding has begun! We’re taking the slow roads, avoiding the interstates, stopping to walk through the little towns we pass through if they catch our eye. For the next few weeks, we will be footloose and fancy free. And then we will be parents of the bride. So, please welcome my husband, Jim, to the blog. Jim is the photographer in the family, and he will be taking pictures and giving updates on the trip from his perspective.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Cog Railroad

Mt. Washington Summit Sign

Day 1 – July 15, 2012

Left about 30 mi utes behind schedule at 8:30 am.  First stop was to top off the gas. I had filled up the day before and logged 15 miles when I got back to the gas station.  Put in an additional 2.4 gallons, too nervous to see if could over fill it more.

Then a car wash for ” the ultimate” , the car is “looking good”. Kelly said that if anyone told her I’d stop and get a wash before hitting the road she would have said they were crazy.

Hit 95 s to Newport then onto rt 2.  Since all either of us had that morning was coffee we were both interested in breakfast: we had no half/ half so I tried whipped cream in the  coffee, very rich and very good.

The fast food in Newport was not enticing so we kept driving.  In the small town of Norridgewok we drove by a busy little place called “What’s for Supper.

I had a good cheese omelet, bacon, held the home fries but could not pass up the toast. And I am glad I didn’t. The toast was great, thick home made wheat.

Kelly wanted a low carb breakfast as well but her eyesight betrayed her, she orderedm” the double” which was French toast, home fries, bacon, sausage and two slices of thick cinnamon bread. Oh and 2 soft boiled eggs. She gave me 1 sausage. [I thought I was ordering the 2 egg, 2 bacon, 2 toast breakfast…I left a *lot* on my plate…but I did sample everything.]

Breakfast was 16 so 20 with tip.

Pleasent drive into the white mountains of nh and the town of Gorham.  We planned a trip to. Mt Washington but how to get there? Drive or cog railroad. I thought the cog would be fun, and easier on the car. But I couldn’t find it! The gps did not have a listing for cog railroad but did find the co way scenic railroad. So a pretty long slog past the auto,road through bustling N Conway. Pull in as talk to a guy helping with parking, conversation reveals this train is not the cog and doesn’t go to the top of mt washington. Just another 35 miles, turns out the cog will cost about 125 for both of us.

Turns out driving would have cost about 33 and taking a van would have cost 60.

About an hour to the top on the cog, pretty cool and we concentrate on scenery.

In the 60s at top. Pretty decent views, some fog. Spent an hour exploring and using the new camera.

Trip down was 35 minutes.  Slight rain below 3000 ft.  As we walked to the car I remarked again on what a great looking car. It was parked next to a very clean nice looking Lexis. I think the Sonata looked better. [Still boggled he washed the car. Already over hearing how good it looks…although it does look good.]

Where to eat, to sleep or drive.  The astute among you will note no mention of lunch, as there was no lunch.

There is a beautiful scenic overlook in Conway that we went to a million years ago when the boys were small. We watched a sunset while eating Subway we bought across the street. Subway was still there so we parked, ran across the road, ordered and went back to eat at a picnic table.  We each got a foot long and switched half. I had roast beef on flat bread and Kelly had turkey and cheese on some good bread.  Diet iced tea for me and water for Kelly.

Used hotel coupon app to find a hotel.  Big problem, the hotel needs the coupon and we have no way to print. The nice checkin lady at Merrill barn let me email her a picture( used iPad to snap a picture of coupon on the screen). 89 bucks , which means 97,  includes a breakfast of carbs, home made muffins, cereal and fruit.  Can I pass the muffins by?  I have been strong, but human this past week.

A big challenge will be exercising and eating low carb.

Car Info: In addition to looking sharp, got an amazing 45.7 indicated, 267 miles traveled; we are only 175 miles from home however.

Nearly 400 miles of range left. And the driving is in the white mountains, amazing.


Vermont Solitude

Another trip across country begins

I’m on the road again!

baybridgelightsWe’re heading toward grandson territory in California. This time, we decided to go through Canada. Passports in hand, we looked forward to conquering new lands.

20140606-121147-43907269.jpgWe only got as far as Lyndon, Vermont the first day.

We stopped at a B&B, where the proprietor made us feel like slackers — she and her husband retired, then bought and spent three years renovating a beautiful Vermont farmhouse as a B&B.

20140606-121147-43907892.jpgAfter 25 years, she clearly still loves the work, and takes care that her guests will be comfortable in one of the 5 unique bedrooms. Because we were her only guests that night, we picked the canopy bed room. Lovely night’s sleep.

20140606-121148-43908444.jpgThe breakfast was done on an AGA stove (I forgot to snap a picture!) and served in a dining room with an elegantly set table.

The little touches were everywhere. Flowers. Paintings, a huge photobook of the renovation process (they took the place down to the studs in some areas).

If you’re ever in Lyndon, Vermont, I highly recommend the Branch Brook Bed and Breakfast. They’re open year round, and love bicyclers, hikers, snowmobilers, skiers, and anyone with an interesting story to tell. 20140606-121149-43909022.jpg

I hope to be so enthusiastic and connected in my retirement.

On the Way to the Wedding Roadtrip: Reports From Jim — Brick Oven Pizza and S’Mores at Chalet View Lodge

1 day until the WEDDING!!!

I admit it was a bit of a blur; we met family at the continental breakfast while plans for the day were made. A hike was planned but my blister kept me sidelined and I seemed to have enough to keep me busy. Those who went on the hike climbed mountains and valleys for 5 hours and had a great time. My brother confided he worried a bit about keeping up but his pride wouldn’t let Kelly’s aunt outdo him!

The groom-to-be’s family kept with the casual and friends-and-family focus for the rehearsal dinner. Since most of the guests were staying at the Chalet View Lodge, they arranged for brick oven pizzas on the outside patio.

The rehearsal itself was very casual (Twenty Mile House, where the wedding would take place, was busy with another wedding). It was all the participants circled around the bride-to-be being told not to worry too much about it, it would all work out. And then on to the fun.

The hotel had an outside area with a brick oven for gourmet pizza so pizza, along with some great sides, beer, wine and mojitos were on the menu.  No toasts or speeches tonight, just good conversation.

Kristen is blessed with many friends with professional level baking skills so one group provided amazing desserts for the dinner (with approval from the hotel).

The hotel then set up a SMore’s area around a fire pit. The sticks were a bit short, which led to some interesting attempts to toast marshmallows. Fortunately, no one had their eyebrows singed off. The winning technique seemed to be to connect the sticks with marshmallows and then quickly eat the results before they fell apart.

After all the planning, dreaming and waiting the Wedding was tomorrow!

On the Way to the Wedding Roadtrip: Reports from Jim — We Arrive at the Wedding Venue

Winding Our Way to Graeagle

It was a 5 hr trip from SF to Graeagle, where we rented a house for the wedding. We could choose to travel back on I-80 (through the Donner Pass), which we had done on the way from Reno or the back route, about same time according to Mavis (and future son-in-law Pete). We took the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge (no toll in our direction-saved $5!) on 580 to 80 to Sacramento. We crossed a small bridge which cost $5 (no free lunch for us). Left SAC for 99 north to Yuba City.

The plan was to stop and get lunch, gas and groceries along this stretch. I assured Kelly we would have plenty of choices. We had none, there was nothing there.

In Yuba we stopped for gas at an ARCO that did not take credit cards (they did take debit). Decided to pass and had to wait for the guy in front of me to fill up before I could leave. Paid a bit more to gas up a few miles away but missed the Carl’s Jr where we planned to have lunch.  There would be more places  I said confidently (there weren’t) so we had “lunch” about 5 pm. Took 20 to 49. 49 was a twisty winding mountain road where I made up a lot of time.  We formed a sort of convoy with two other vehicles, an SUV and a truck carrying 5 or 6 bicycles (no idea who these people were). These two cars took curves at somewhat amazing speeds. I kept up for a long time but decided we were traveling too fast (seeing a highway patrol car helped convince me, as well as what little common sense I still possessed).

Mavis directed us pretty well with one mishap; she directed us to the “Old Golden Chain Highway”. The turn went into an apparent parking lot for road maintenance with a narrow dirt road leading up into the mountains.  I opted to skip this path and just continued driving figuring (hoping) Mavis would find another route. She did and put us on the “New” road which was paved and undergoing new paving (but minimal interruptions to our travels).

We were concerned that our rental house could be a scam (blame all those scare-tactic reporters) because we had minimal contact with the owner.

Or that it could be too small, lacking, etc. (we’d rented sight unseen except for two small pictures).

We drove slowly, with our hearts going a little bit fast, looking at every house number and comparing it to the tiny picture we’d seen of the outside.

Except for Mavis saying our house was on the right when it was on the left, we arrived and were very impressed (and relieved).

It was a beautiful house, with big driveway for many cars, 2 garages and a couple of decks.  We were not disappointed when we went in. We just wished we had food, so we could have a cookout for any other wedding guests who’d gotten into town that day.

On the Way to the Wedding: Jim’s Roadtrip Reports — California, Here We Are

For those of you who have been hanging on to read about the best part of the trip, good news: we’re almost to the wedding. Today’s episode sees us arrive in San Francisco, California for a visit with Daughter  (aka Kristen) and Almost Son-in-law (aka Pete) before heading to Graeagle, where the wedding will take place. Thank you for your patience as we unfold the story. I promise the wedding pictures will be spectacular.

A Home is Made of Family and Friends, But Walls and a Pool are Also Nice

We left Reno for the 5 hr drive to Kristen and Pete’s new house. The ladies were planning to go shoe shopping so Kristen went and picked up Kelly’s mom from Kelly’s sisters place where she was staying. She then joined us after work.  Kristen had done some pre-shopping that turned out to fill all needs so shopping was cancelled. We had a tour of their house, which has a nice pool and deck. The house will be filled with friends, family and much love and will make them a fine home.

We walked with Kristen and Pete to a local pizza place and had dinner before we left Kristen to deal with the 4,327 remaining wedding details.

We were uncertain where to stay in SF. Some prices were pretty high and the reasonable priced places disappeared by the time we were ready to make a decision. I found an Extended Stay America in San Rafael that was near the Ferry terminal.

Things did not start out well; the hotel was near nothing and wasn’t what Kelly wanted (a place in downtown SF).  Since Kelly booked the room (with my urging) she went in and found that they had no non-smoking rooms available. The clerk was nice and went and checked the two remaining rooms and chose the one with the least smell.  While we were unpacking the fire alarm went off and everyone had to leave the hotel. It was someone’s smoky cooking that set off the alarm and no fire so after 10 minutes or so we could go in.

We could barely detect any smoke, many non-smoking rooms we have been in had more smoke.  The room was nice and pretty big. We slept well.

It was a short, rather easy drive to the Ferry terminal but the parking lot was filled.We were directed to the paid parking at a nearby bus station ($4 a day). We just made the ferry by minutes and were soon on our way to SF. The terminal is near San Quentin and we got a good view of the prison.  The SF Ferry building is nice, we were too late at the first place we stopped for breakfast (on the water) but the place on the street was still serving. Except for being so backward that they didn’t have Splenda, which meant no coffee for me, they were very good.

We didn’t do anything in SF except walk and sightsee. We walked to Fort Mason, went to Ghirardelli Square and resisted all the treats except for the 2 pieces of free see salt chocolate they gave us as we go in, as you all know free chocolate has no calories.

I made a poor decision to eat dinner at Bubba Gumps on Pier 33 (or was it 39?). Nothing was wrong with Gumps, food was fine and people were nice, we got good views of the Bay-which is what I wanted- it just seemed too expensive for what we got. Some of that was my fault for trying the “Corona-Rita” which is a Margarita with a small bottle of Corona pouring into it.  The drink was good but over $11 (most places don’t put prices on their cocktails, more often than not they are what I expect or cheaper, seldom more).  The meals came without salads or any extras.

We made our way back to the Ferry terminal and all the great pastries called to me but there was just enough time to make the Ferry so I missed my chance for a good dessert, but I was not done yet.

The previous day Kristen and Pete and walked us through the grocery store next to the pizza place as Kelly wanted a cup of coffee. I saw some amazing looking Danish but made the poor decision not to buy one (I knew Kristen would not approve). On the Ferry ride back over I found another member of the chain and programmed Mavis to take us there. Disappointment as all pastries were gone! I took solace in two cookies which were just ok as I wanted a good Danish!

A primary reason to visit SF was to visit Kelly’s uncle who is in very poor health. It was recommended that we not stop by however so we never did get to see him. [This was very hard for me, but in no way did I want to jeopardize his recovery in any way — fortunately, I could visit him in another way: through a report on his innovative cancer treatment: . The report captures him perfectly, in all his interesting and crazy old man ways (he was a crazy young man, too…and middle-aged man…not only rode motorcycles up until his diagnosis, but taught motorcycle safety in several countries)].