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

0315 Oxford Sandy

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).

Carlson_46 web

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.)

Crazy Summer Days and Family-Friend Time

Since I last published a blog post, we’ve had family and friends coming and going from our house. It left little time for me to work on my novel revision, but family always comes first.

Plus, we visited family in Wisconsin, who live a couple hours apart.

Family comes first.

Driving through the Wisconsin countryside, I’d forgotten how green and pretty it can be,

or how interesting the sunsets were.

So now we’re home for a bit, with no visits or visiting (because I’m on jury duty). Back to semi-normal life, and maybe I’ll even get some revisions done.

Historic Charlton Park


Last Saturday, we took a trip to a turn of the century (1900) village in Hastings Township: Historic Charlton Park. We thought it would be crowded on the weekend, but we’d assumed wrong. Only half the buildings were open and there were no volunteers in period dress. Even so, it is a great sampling of late 19th century buildings and items.

The first building we walked into was the carpenter’s shop. I was immediately struck by the smell and the of the memory it provoked of my grandfather’s out buildings on his farm in southern Ohio. His was a farm handed down the family for generations, the house and barn loaded with antiques – not unlike the visual intake of the Charlton Park Carpenter’s Shop.

There was a barber shop with backroom bathtub, a spring house for pre-electrical “refrigeration, a main street with a street clock…



of course, a one-room schoolhouse…

and the church which was locked but from the outside amazing natural stained glass windows.


There was also the pre-European history mentioned.

Another part of the park is the picnic and beach area. Because of the rain and high water lately there was barely any beach, and the back road was closed from high water.

Try going during the week for a more personal informational visit, or during any of their special events, like the Civil War reenactment. If you haven’t been there yet, or haven’t gone for a while, do. Here’s their website link:

History, Rising Flood Waters, and Michigan Coastal Lands

Yesterday, we took visiting Arizona family to the west coast (of Michigan) to do the Saugatuck Dune Rides and walk the cute town of Saugatuck, 90-minutes from our home. On Sunday morning, the forecast for Monday was for 90% chance of thunderstorms with 1″ of rain possible per hour during times. But weather is weather, so we waited until Monday morning to hope our one day to experience the coast would be viable. Even with reduced percentage For rain, and dark grey clouds, we left for our adventure.

We first went for the Dune Rides, one of five left in the entire country (with a second one also in Michigan). Our driver Nate, and his prattle, jokes, and historic information was perfect. Even I, who have done the rides several times as well as researched the area for my book, The Town That Disappeared, learned new things.

We had lunch nearby in a 6-month-new restaurant called The Guardian. The food was great; the waitress was amazing; and the history of the place (again with the history) was interesting, from horse barn to theatre to restaurant. Plus…famous guitars!

On to the town of Saugatuck. Being late June, we hoped to find a parking spot. It’s always so very crowded. First came the Water On The Road sign, Then a side street with several parking spots. We grabbed one of the first. This wasn’t our first time to Saugatuck. A bird in hand, and all.

Two shocks: 1) there were plenty of other parking spots and the streets weren’t at all normal-June crowded; and 2) the high water of the Kalamazoo River.

Condos across the river had been evacuated with the lower floors flooded. Parking lots were water. The Chain Ferry could not run because of high water and strong(er) current. Sad, but survivable.

The many cafes with outdoor seating and cute, artsy downtown stores were the same delight as always, with those blocks even somewhat crowded. This lifted my heart for the beautiful tourist town with rising flood waters.

I’d been to Saugatuck many times, but had never seen the river so high. Although it rained steadily all the way home, I was thankful the thunderstorm forecast with 1″ per hour was wrong for the day. But the Kalamazoo River is long – and runs through Battle Creek where we live. Rain anywhere along the river would make it rise.

Flood warnings remain in effect, but the stores, restaurants, and nearly all attractions in the Saugatuck area remain open. Go visit and support them. I thank you.

Goslings and Robin Chicks

May and June are marvelous times of new birth. The earth is alight with the colors of spring flowers, and penetrating the air are the sounds of birds starting new families.

Mid-May we spent four days at a friend’s cottage up north. I cannot convey in words how peaceful that was. There were, of course, plenty of Canada geese around with their newborn goslings.

One of the mornings we saw a family swimming past under the dock. However, the following morning, the adults honked and squawked for quite a long time. It was so different from the quaint line swimming by on the previous day. And then we saw them: two adult geese, still crying, and no goslings in sight. We could only assume they were the same two adults, and that their screaming was about their babies gone for someone’s breakfast (coyote? fox? bobcat?).

Then we drove home to find a robin had made a nest in our front porch plant pot. A couple weeks earlier, we’d discouraged nest building by removing the plant gathering two or three times a day. But being gone for four days not only allowed new nest to be build, but there was also a beautiful blue egg inside it. Too late to evict the bird. The following day, there was a second egg, then a third and a fourth. We started going out our garage door instead of the front. Babies were babies.

Two weeks later, June 2, they started hatching. New life was fascinating to watch from our kitchen window. There were two, maybe three, adult robins bringing worms to the chicks. I’d sneak onto the porch for a quick shot now and then when the adults were off worm-hunting. I was amazed with how quickly the feathers started growing.


Suddenly, after just two weeks hatched, they started moving about the nest, stepping ontop of each other, watching a bee fly past, scratching their necks, mostly crying out for more food, but also trying out their wings without leaving the nest.

This was also the time we noticed neighborhood cats on the prowl. Did you know (from a 2013 study) domestic, free-ranging cats kill about 1.5 billion birds and 6.3- 22.3 billion mammals each year?

Saturday morning, there was only one fledging, chit-ing for food, and hopping from pot to pot to railing. And repeat. An adult robin brought him four worms, then flew to the nest, poking around for about a minute before flying off. Had the other three flown off? Did cats get them? Having not witnessed their departure, we simply don’t know.

Saturday afternoon, the nest area was vacant. Again, we hadn’t seen what expired, but hoped it wasn’t the bird.

Sunday afternoon (yesterday), as I was typing this post, I heard the distinctive “chit-chit-chit” near our front door of a robin chick. I checked the nest from the window. Empty. I stepped outside, barefoot, in 58 degree weather to try to follow the sound. It stopped before I could determine the location. Plus, my feet on the cement were getting cold. So I stopped my search.

I’ll never know what actually happened to the four robins, but it was an honor to witness new life from egg to fledgling. I wish them well.

Michigan’s State Parks – 100 Years Old

We hadn’t realized this fact until last Friday when we hiked through one of Michigan State Parks. The first state park in Michigan was established in 1919. Happy Centennial!

Last Friday, we hiked a loop in Fort Custer State recreation Area (a.k.a. state park) for an hour and 40 minutes. The only other people we saw in that time were three men walking off-trail through a field with a butterfly net.

It was a pleasant warm summer Michigan day. Yes, the mosquitoes were out, and so were the deer fly, but not enough to make us wish for winter hiking.

From rains the last few weeks, we were delighted that it was only muddy in three spots we had bushwhack around.

As I mentioned, there were no people on the trail, but the woods were alive with the sounds of birds. We did see deer tracks in the mud, one small black snake scurrying across the trail, and a chipmunk running wildly across the trail. We also came to a section of trail between two lakes where a snapping turtle guarded the path. He turned his body to follow my steps as I passed. He reminded me of Gandolf saying, “You shall not pass!”

Wishing you a good June, with adventures small or grand. Perhaps you’ll try out a new Michigan State Park trail this summer during its special anniversary celebration.

Wonderwhere Roads

We recently were able to explore some Wonderwhere Roads in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Our only regret is that we no longer have a wonderwhere vehicle. We downsized to one means of transportation, a van, and sold our 24 year old Suzuki Sidekick for scrap.

When we lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota, with the nearest city our size or larger a six-hour drive away, Jeff and I sent many hours exploring wonderwhere roads in our wonderwhere Sidekick.

Wonder what a wonderwhere is? If you haven’t guessed it by now, it’s usually a seasonal dirt, mud, rock, or sand road, usually wide enough for only one vehicle to traverse, going off into the untamed wilderness. Oftentimes, there would be fallen trees across the road — simple enough to climb over or walk around when you’re hiking; not so much when you’re driving. But it sure makes for interesting times.

Once we were literally driven off the road by two men in a pickup truck, who sped towards us on the one-lane path without veering, with snow-filled ditches on each side. Yes, at the last minute, Jeff chose the ditch over a head-on crash, deep in the heart of the Black Hills where there was no cell phone reception.

Even with that one negative people-experience, whenever we pass one of these “roads” off of the asphalted roads, we say to each other, “Wonder where that road goes?” If we had the time back then while in the Black Hills, we’d go off exploring. I didn’t capture too many road photos in the Hills since I was bouncing inside the car too much.

Boulder Hill Road   IMAG0015

Today, if we had a proper vehicle, we’d explore, as well. As is, the backroads (Seasonal) in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are…exciting. Up one road we started to explore, our tires nearly got buried in the sand. On another, the potholes were more like barrelholes, with marsh on either side, so there was no way to avoid them, as we prayed for either a higher carriage or someplace to turn around. You’d think we’d learn by now, but we still hold onto that hope of exploring, plus, Wonderwhere Roads are have become a part of our Carlson adventures.

Sandy Road.JPG   Aral Hill Rd B


Sure, there is the uncertainty of not making it out with our vehicle, especially a van. We know we could always hike out. It’s not too-too distant to a paved road. But even so, getting a tow truck back in there would be questionable.

Last time up north in Michigan on one of the seasonal roads, we came to a dead end where a couple with a baby and two large dogs sat in their vehicle. They’d been waiting for a couple hours for a tow truck, but didn’t know the name of the road they were on, so had given vague directions. The dogs had apparently triggered a light in their car which then ran down the battery. As we always carry jumper cables with us, we were glad to help them out.

Oh, the adventures. Gotta love them. (And then I get to chisel those experiences into bits and pieces which often ends up in my novels. What fun.)