Ahh…The West Coast…of MICHIGAN

Hiking these days before our first hard frost of the season is hard — EEE. Need I say more?

So last Friday, instead of hiking into the woods for a few hours, we drove to the West Coast…of Michigan. South Haven and area, to be precise. It’s about a 75 minute drive away, and well, well worth it!

Stop #1 was just outside Van Buren State Park where I wanted to see where this one trailhead went. There were usually 1-3 cars parked there. That day there were none. That meant for us Carlsons that it was not crowded. I assumed the trail most likely ended at Lake Michigan, but I wanted to duck my head into the glorious woods for just a little bit. After all, 55 degrees is rather cold for scary mosquitoes to be flying about. Wrong! Within five minutes, one of them found Jeff. Back to the van.

Stop #2 Van Buren State Park Beach…or rather, it used to be a beach. Today it’s just a sidewalk leading to a small bit of sand and then water. For the past year we’ve noticed the beach getting smaller and smaller. Now it’s about 40 feet closer to the dune, and not really a beach at all.

Still pretty, though. 










We became a little nervous when we discovered the outhouse we’ve used during our winter adventures for the past 15 years now sported a padlock.

But all worked out well when we found the main – flush – bathrooms were open.

And one amazing Eagle Scout finished his life-vests-for-children project. Pretty amazing: Borrow-Use-Return. Thank you, Deegan Boyles.

Stop #3. We at lunch at a park picnic table in the sometimes sun (partly cloudy), where we were as far from woods as we could get. It was a typical Carlson Picnic, cold and windy. At least there was no precipitation. There, were however, bugs: bees, flies, gnats, a butterfly. Back in the van, I’d let a sweat bee in on my side. Jeff looked out his side window after getting in to spot a mosquito hovering just outside. Those guys sure do like my guy.

From there it was a quick stop at DeGramchamp’s. (Stop #4) No more blueberries (except some dried or frozen), but there were cranberries as well as pretty fall flowers.

Stop #5. On to South Haven’s North Shore beach.

When we last visited it (our first time there), we found out it cost $10 to park for the day. No half-days, no hourly parking. $10, period. However, that price is only from May 15-September 15, so for us, that day, parking was free. Hurray.

Waves are choppier on the north side of the Black River which goes through South Haven and into the Lake. The North Beach is also immense, at least compared to the South Beach. Only a handful of people were on the north side, including us.

Stop #6. Southside Beach. This has the pier going out to the famous red lighthouse. Similar to our last visit, waves were washing over the channel wall and onto the pier. We kept our feet dry and bodies safe on dry sand.

We walked the beach to find three very brave children, swimming in Lake Michigan in October. It was still only 55 degrees out, but the lake temperature was a balmy 66.

Stop #7. Just past halfway home, we made our last stop at a farm market/ apple orchard. If were weren’t on this diet, I would have bought up all 3 dozen left of their amazing smelling donuts. Instead, I bought a gallon of cider and a bag of apples. Just as good.

I did take a double look (and photo of) this gigantic apple, covered in caramel and rolled in nuts. Oh, my.

Until next time, West Coast.


The Scenic North Country Trail at Kellogg Experimental Forest, Mosquitoes, and Wounded Knee

Last Friday (Jeff’s day off), I decided it had been two weeks since our last hike and my body nearly shook, craving to get into the woods again. I did leg-strengthening exercises all week to prepare my knee for the hopeful hike. Our previous hike was slow and each step rather painful (7 pain level), especially going downhill (9), even using Jeff’s hiking stick in addition to my own.

Ya know? What’s the balance of life? Stay home and remain painfully free but immobile, or walk slowly and painfully (only 4-ish pain level) through God’s glorious woodland? I choose the latter.

The exercises paid off. Friday morning, after doing last moment leg lifts and wrapping an ace bandage tightly about my knee, off we went to the Kellogg Experimental Forest near Augusta. It was 77 degrees with temperatures rising to mid-80’s by the time we were done.

I wanted to try something new, something different from the popular Lemmien Trail loop. We’d hiked the trail enough times I knew where every rise and decline was, and dreaded the pain which would accompany going that way. The trail we took is not a loop, so made it easier for me to decide if/when we needed to turn around. We’d never made it as far as 89 before. Friday we did. And as it turned out, every step of our hike from the first step to the ground from our van was on – wait for it – The Scenic North Country Trail!


New trails are good. I love hikes, especially when we don’t meet a single other human on the trail. I really, really loved this hike. We don’t mind seeing other animal, but we only saw a few fish and chipmunks, 2 caterpillars,

and one giant bird swooping into the trees and out again. It looked a cross between a golden eagle and a baby dragon. Huge!

Only twice before we’d hiked past the Sugar Shack towards Highway 89, curious where it went, roughly following Augusta Creek, and crossing the Not-A-Horse-Trail Bridge. But before we’d returned shortly after the bridge.


This time I took my cross-country ski poles vs my hiking stick. They worked out well.


But since the trail was not often used, when I didn’t spot them in time to knock them away, my face broke through spider webs. Happened three times going to 89. I thought it a bit unfair on our return trip when my face discovered an industrious spider had remade a trail-crossing web. Just like the title of my memoirs:

The Road Less Traveled Often Involves Smacking Face-First Through Spider Webs Animal Encounters buy link

Through the wooded parts, we also hiked past a newly planted oak forest, a hidden sugar maple sapping forest, and a couple of meadows.


There were sections which looked more like deer trails than human trails, but the blue markers regularly told us which way to turn.


There’s a part of the North Country Trail which follows Highway 89 for a bit before turning north past Cheff Riding Stables. We didn’t make it too far along there, because…Highway 89! It’s a two-lane, speedy road with narrow shoulders.

But I did want to check out the sty about 150′ down the road, where I assumed the trail used to pass over.

When we moved here 15 years ago, we spotted the sty in a blink riding along 89. The steps went over a fence. Think of the Nursery Rhyme: There was a Crooked Man. About five years ago, Jeff surprised me and parked on a side road from where we walked over the highway bridge and down to the sty. The boards were rotting then and moss covered in the perfect fairy garden, but certainly not even then strong enough to hold a human’s weight. The trail still showed on both sides of the sty. This time, it was overgrown with no evidence of any trail going over.


It was an overall pleasant hike.

When we returned home, Jeff turned on the TV and the news was on, warning of the danger of EEE in seven Michigan counties, including ours! Telling people to stay away from woods or waters and not to go outside between dusk and dawn when the deadly EEE-carrying mosquitoes would be hunting for warm blood. Even the school evening sporting events had been moved to daylight hours. This was serious talk.

An interesting part to our story is that before we’d left for the hike, I—who normally decline bug repellent when offered; I’d rather swish them away with my bandana—made Jeff wear a mosquito repellent fan-clip while I wore two mosquito repellent bracelets. We hadn’t used either in years. Fortuitous, Spirit-warned, or plain creepy? Whatever, please take precautions when outdoors and be safe.

FYI, two natural mosquito repellents which work for some are mint or cinnamon.



Yankee Springs…and North Country National Scenic Trail (Again)

Got the word a week ago that I have a torn meniscus. Surgery needed, probably close to Christmas. You know doctors and their far-out schedules. So what did I tell Jeff I wanted to do on his day off last Friday? HIKE! It had been so very long since we spent any time on a woodland trail, not just a boardwalk hanging onto a walker as precaution. I told him if I took pain medication and bound the knee really, really tightly, that I’d like to try a trail. He misses the woods, too. And I’m always in search of settings for my books. (Great excuse.)

So off we went, an hour north to Yankee Springs State Recreation Area in Michigan, between Hastings and Grand Rapids-ish; 5,200 acres with over 30 miles of hiking, biking, and horsey trails, plus a beach, and more. It’s very popular during the summer; not so much after school starts.

Oh, the marvelous quiet and smells of the woods. We didn’t meet a single other person on the trail. It was our private forest adventure. Granted, it took about twice as long as usual to hike the Hall Lake loop. I wasn’t sure I would make it all the way around, and before getting out of the van thought I’d be doing great if I just made it to the lake and back. But we did the entire loop! (90+ minutes vs our normal 45 minutes)

Can you tell what made this white streak down the middle of the trail without looking ahead?

If you guessed rain water which had eroded the pine needles and other leaf debris on its way downward, you would be correct.

There’s something to be said about walking at a snail’s pace. It had rained as we were leaving our driveway in Battle Creek for the hike. (Did I mention we were desperate to get into the woods?) But we remained thankfully dry for our entire hike (not counting the glowing perspiration and squished mosquitoes). The anticipation of rain in the woods probably kept most people away. Yay for us.

About 50 yards into the woods, I commented to Jeff that because of the recent rains, we might spot some mushrooms. I looked down, and there at my feet were mushrooms a-plenty. Ha! And more to come over the entire trail length. Ha and ha!

I knew that the North Country National Scenic Trail ran through the park, but how delightfully surprised I was to find we actually walked over a section of it. In fact, we had done so many times before because we’ve hiked this trail often.

I thought to stop to rest on a log a couple of times, but three things prevented me from doing so: ticks (been there before), becoming a mosquito fest, and a wet bottom. (From the earlier rain!)

The NCNST is about 4,600 miles. I’m sure we won’t cover it all. I don’t think we’ll cover it all. That would be an interesting happening to have on a bucket list. If I kept a bucket list. But maybe, just maybe after my knee surgery…





Riverwalk, North Country Trail, Marshall, MI

Happy Labor Day! I hope you’ve been able to get outside and appreciate nature this weekend.

It’s been over a month since we last took a real hike, in the woods (because of injured knee, and awaiting the MRI report and any follow-up). Since I was feeling a bit better, and DH had a day off, he hoped I would be able to do part of the boarded Riverwalk in Marshall, Michigan. This stretch is familiar to us. It’s along the Kalamazoo River, and also part of the Scenic North Country Trail. To be cautious–I really didn’t know how far I could walk–I took my dad’s walker, which comes in handy when you can’t walk well.


Usually I would take about 100 photos in a 90 minute hike, but I was concentrating on working that walker. Where we parked was an in area where there are about two dozen feral cats. We’ve seen a woman feeding them there before. Past the cats and onto the walk along the river.


One of the hydroelectric dams along the Kalamazoo River.

We did see a great blue heron and a great big spider.

DH, who grew up in Wisconsin where there are many deer, first spotted the deer across the river. We’re guess it was a doe and two nearly grown fawn (without spots, so…yearlings?).


And there was our normal sighting of soft-backed turtles on their regular log.


All in all, a successful trial hike in the great outdoors.

Now to see what the MRI shows…

My Cone Flower Forest

Eight years ago, when a wind storm took out many trees in our yard, causing it go from shade to sunlight, we not only could now grow grass instead of moss, but also have a veggie garden and flowers. One of the first plants I bought for our sunlit yard was a small pot of wilted purple cone flowers (Echinacea purpurea).

They bloom in July and are fairly long-lasting as far as flowers go, into mid-August, when the petals begin to die back. This summer, because of knee injury, I’ve done a lot of front yard sitting and watching the flowers’ growth with the procession of fauna visitors.

First came the beauty of the flower, looking like a crown.

Then came the butterflies, sipping up the nectar.

After about two weeks of flittering butterflies, other insects arrived. Whereas the butterflies fluttered gently from one flower to another, insects are apparently more territorial when it comes to my human presence. In fact, they consistently chased me away – variety of bees, flies, and wasps. I respect their choice of “no photos, please”.

Humans also benefit from tea made from these plants. You can pick bloom, leaves, and root; steep them in boiling, slightly cooled water; strained; and enjoy.

Or simply buy a box at the store.

And lastly in the life of the multipurposed coneflower, as early fall changes the plant to dry, prickery cones on brown stalks, and I contemplate cutting them down, in flock golden finches to collect the seeds. (Seven finches in the photo below from two years ago.)

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God is so good to have created such a versatile flora which so many of his creations can enjoy.

Backroads to Eateries

Because of Jury Duty, and then injured knee, summer hiking has been limited this past month. BUT, there has been a few days when we’ve taken backroads between farm fields, and through woods and small Michigan towns to reach an eatery.

The rides have been great. But the company is outstanding.

Back roads also give you other interesting human sites, like the house in the hills with three confederate flags in front. Or the run down trailers which were surrounded by high wire fences. Or a back road with a bridge out, with no detour instructions, only a sign reading “seek alternate route”.

We don’t eat out much at all, maybe six times a year, until this summer, that is. I tried to pick items from the menus which I would not prepare at home. I suppose the most interesting food item I had this summer was a French toasted cinnamon bun.

I could handle eating this about once every other year. But it was so, so delicious. So.

I actually prefer my own cooking, but this summer’s eatery adventures have been great, almost like being on a cruise.

Eat well. Get into the woods or other nature surroundings. Spend time with those you love.

Kellogg Experimental Forest Mini-Hike


Once again, last week we found ourselves on the North Country National Scenic Trail. This section passed within the 716-acre W. K. Kellogg Experimental Forest, about a twenty-minute drive from our house. No, we have nothing to do with studying trees through MSU, but we certainly appreciate them.

Within the forest are several trails open to the public, as well as various activities throughout the year, including the sale of maple syrup which they tap and boil down on site (yum).

For the past couple of years, they’ve planted near the office a butterfly garden, more specifically, a Monarch Waystation for migrating monarchs. This year the garden has flourished, and certainly meets the need.

Here is a shot I posted on FaceBook to let people guess what it could be. Now that you know it came from the Experimental Forest, perhaps you have a clearer starting point. (Confirm your answer below.)

Unfortunately, my bum knee kept us from hiking too far this time. Although, we did walk beyond what we had originally planned because, you know, we just love the woods! Even in pain, I need to be in there. There is something very soothing in the quiet of the forest, draining away so many troubles of the world.

Along Augusta Creek are a few places where they have placed benches. I’m considering blowing up one of these to stir my summer memories during winter. Perhaps I could even place near it a tiny bubbling fountain to sound like rushing water. Ah.

But then again, I love winter hikes as well, especially since they are sans mosquitoes.

And to answer the mystery photo question above, yes, it is refracted light off the creek running under the covered bridge. I believe there is even duckweed floating past as well.

May you also make lovely visual summer memories, and perhaps later recall them for settings in your own stories, or simply remember for your own pleasure.

Vacation overlapping Jury Duty

What does a Carlson vacation look like when jury duty overlaps the two weeks of vacation time? (And, yes, I tried three times to get it switched, and was three times denied.)

Each evening I waited for the call to be summoned, making us unable to plan even overnight trips. Although, we could’ve gone away the first weekend, but the heat index was 105. (Inside at home or inside in a strange room/building?)

I was called in for jury summons twice, and sent home twice. I have three more evenings to wait-and-see as Jeff starts back to work tomorrow.

Because my knee decided to swell up and be all ouchie during this time off, we only went on two nearby “hikes” — to Bridges Park and Fort Custer.

We played games, did hobbies, listened to music, and took two Sunday afternoon drives in the pretty countryside.

We normally eat restaurant food about six times a year. This 2-week vacation, we ate out three times. (Whaaaat?) They included interesting and varied dining adventures.

Since evenings were our own, we planned different “travel” meals to go with DVDs or TV shows. For example, we had Belgium beer, mashed potatoes and carrots, and endives, as we watched a Belgian detective. Another evening we had shrimp on the Barbie, with chips (i.e. french fries), Australian wine, and watched an Australian mystery. Summer cottage pie went with an English show, etc. And, just like on a cruise, we had dessert every night the first week. (Tasty at first. Weight gain and ugh-too-much sugar by week two.)

We also traveled to the Magic Capital of the World, right here in Michigan. Visited a cemetery there and two magic shops; even bying some magic tricks. Abracadabra!

Of course, there was the day trip to the gorgeous West Coast (South Haven) – even with limited walking on my part – where we watched waves, bought blueberries, and ate lunch below a moose.

Again on the home front, besides exceptional company and food, I also made oregano oil, and sat watching butterflies feast on our flowers, and the wind blowing through our trees. Gotta love the moments.

All in all, although it was not the vacation we would have planned for a two-week break, it still was wonderful time spent together, experiencing both new and old things.

Why Not Free Author Visits? (An ABC List of Author Personal Expenses)


Many schools, etc. ask authors to present for free. But being a writer is an occupation, not a volunteer job. With my first book, I once spent five hours, including travel time, in costume and with props, for six presentations, sharing my story, experience, and expertise. My payment was lunch, and the secretary bought one book. I recently read that the average American author makes about $300/year.

Being an author is a job, a career, an occupation. It takes both time and money.

A. The Writing

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Ideas flow. Equipment is needed to proceed. A computer is an essential tool for a writer, along with jumpdrives, pens, and reams of paper and notebooks.

The writing of a book can take years. My first book took four years from first page to publication, including countless hours in research. After the author’s initial draft comes hours immersed in revisions, then chapters sent through a critique group or whole novel to beta readers, followed by more revisions. Then come the editor’s suggestions, with more revisions or even rewrites. For several of my books, I have paid a freelance editor in NY to edit my stories before the publishing house editor ever sees it. (1-3 cents per word for novels)

Authors who self-pub must pay for a cover illustrator to be competitive. ($200-$3,000)

powder-horn-of-mackinac-island-300dpi   The Town That Disappeared 333x500 Sandys   War Unicorn 200x300

B. Book marketing and promotion

Arranging for swag (promotional items) for postal contacts and face-to-face encounters takes both time to put together and money to print out (e.g., letters, postcards, fliers, brochures, business cards, bookmarks, invoices, stickers, etc.)

Setting up social media accounts and contents takes time, along with constant updating, as well as keeping updated in the tech world. If you don’t have the time or knowledge yourself, hiring someone for the initial set up requires more money. There are also upgrades, which again costs.

The author needs to be involved in social media groups, contributing, commenting, responding.

There are also numerous book promotional ads which can be purchased, with author hopes of bringing in sales, which may or may not happen.

Professional author photos are a must (and not cheap, but well worth it).

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C. Visits, not including travel costs of vehicle, gas and mileage

School visit equipment to purchase: microphone, mic stand, amp, chords, laptop, jumpdrive.


Props and costumes.IMG_1214



There are also summer festivals with vendor fees, which also require your own tent, table, chair, tablecloth.



Does this sound like an exhaustive list? It’s not.

So, what do you think? Should authors do free visits?

Lovely and Torturous Michigan Summer Hike

It was near 90 degrees last Wednesday morning, with humidity in the 80% area, and rising, with wet sand and mud trail, but that was the best-looking day for a hike for the week. Hotter. More humid.

It’s hubby’s vacation time, and my jury duty time, meaning we’re not going far. After I was released early from jury duty on Wednesday, (although I still needed to report the rest of the 2 weeks), we drove to nearby Fort Custer Recreation Area for a lovely hike.

It was amazing to get back into the woods. Lovely, lovely, lovely. I love the woods. I love the lakes and streams in Michigan. All that green and blue. So relaxing. Even with the mucho poison ivy along the trail edge. There was beauty and wildlife in a 360 degree swipe.

However, summer hiking, especially in hot and humid weather, means – da-da-daaah!- mosquitoes.

It was a very quick (hour) hike, only stopping for one short water break, and long enough to snag a few photos. (I do hope you appreciate that last bit.) Jeff said when I stopped in the sunlight, he saw a cloud of mosquitoes around my head.

Even in jeans, long-sleeves, and wide brimmed hats pulled over our ears, I kept swiping my bandana across my face and neck. Jeff said with all his face bites, it will look like he’s a teenager with acne.

A jogger (from the fort?) came from behind us. He had a few leaves tucked into the front of his cap, and a 2′ branch of leaves tucked into his back collar – natural mosquito shoo-ers?

Take a picture. FAST. Before they take another pint with our 3-second stop.

Out of the woods, and walking on the asphalt road back to our van, the mosquito swarm eased up, along with our pace. I was then able to appreciate at leisure all the many varieties of wildflowers around me.

Along the trail was also field walkways of bergamot mint. (Can you say Earl Grey Tea?)

So enjoy your summertime hikes. As for us, we’d rather wait till fall and winter. (Yeah. Maybe not able to wait THAT long.)