Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

How fortunate for me that the WP Photo Challenge is so unexpected.  I didn’t expect to have Monday alone in St. Louis, but most of my friends left on Sunday, so I had unexpected found time to explore on my own.  I like to go the seamy, trashy underbellies of a city when left to my own devices.  I know – that’s unexpected.  I was downtown with no car, and wanted to find the local river, you know the Mississippi.

It’s not a particularly well-known river in these parts.  That’s because it’s so hard to find.  That was unexpected.  There were no signs pointing the way, no tours advertised in the hotel lobby.  I had to ask a passerby how to get to the river front.

By the way, St. Louis is not the only place with strange statues, but you tell me, is she a bit odd?

Most cities flaunt their river fronts with chic shops and restaurants.  Some places combine the two like good book stores where you can browse among thousands of books, choose something, and sip a cup of coffee in between moments of distracted staring out the window at the beautiful river.

I found myself unexpectedly going in circles trying to find the Mississippi River in St. Louis.
I found myself unexpectedly going in circles trying to find the Mississippi River in St. Louis.

The first person directed me in the general direction towards the river.  I finally got close enough to catch a glimpse of his idea of, “Go straight down this street and you can’t miss it.”  Finally, I caught my first glimpse of the great Mississippi.  Can you find it?

I worried that the parking lot attendant would demand money from me for walking through his lot.
I worried that the parking lot attendant would demand money from me for walking through his lot.

Do detour signs make you dismal?  When you motor in unfamiliar cities, confident that your GPS or map skills would direct you to your destination, have you ever found that the recommended street was unexpectedly closed for construction?  Fortunately I was on foot because there were plastic construction fences everywhere. The closer I got, the more nervous I became that here would be no hole in the fence, and I would have to recalculate, make a u-turn, and find an alternate route – again!

Downtown foot traffic was light on Monday.  You should have seen it after the Rams v the Bears game on Sunday.
Downtown foot traffic was light on Monday. You should have seen it after the Rams v the Bears game on Sunday.  I was relieved to get closer and see that there was an exit.

Fortunately I saw one other person walking my way, so I knew he had come from the other side of the red barrier somewhere.  Once I squeezed past the plastic rope barricade I reached the chic restaurants and bars.  I don’t know who else could, though.  Streets in Atlanta proved hazardous to me and to Cheryl, a friend of mine, four years ago at NCSS, but those streets and sidewalks were silk roads compared to these.

Mind the street.  Spiky heels are not recommended.
Mind the street. Spiky heels are not recommended.

Have you ever driven through an unfamiliar town at night and it seemed that someone had hijacked all the street signs so that GPS, iPhones, and traditional maps were useless?  Now I know where they put those signs.

At night they must light these up and flash a hologram into the sky so drivers can see them.
At night they must light these up and flash a hologram into the sky so drivers can see them.

This must be very helpful when you walk with your handsome date in your platform heels down a dark street to go to a bar with a great dance floor.  Keep in mind that the sidewalk, though a little wavy, might have been walkable, but if you unexpectedly veered into the street, the least bit tipsy, you would probably not make it home with all your bones attached.

SFW 2013 Streets of STL114

It was so cold that your feet might have slipped on the icy bricks.  By morning only slush remained seeping between the cracks.

The reflections were good, but I missed seeing what hours they opened.  I think you went to the website to warn them you were coming before they sent someone to open the door.
The reflections were good, but I missed seeing what hours they opened. They didn’t expect visitors.  I think if you wanted to visit, you needed to go to the website to warn them you were coming so they could someone to open the door.

I wondered how any of the business in this area stayed afloat, even when there were no flood waters.  I unexpectedly encountered the famous St. Louis Wax Museum.  It looked particularly inviting with professional signs admonishing me to carry cash if I wanted to see their evil, life-like monsters.

I took a picture of their faces in case I needed to report them to the police.
I took a picture of their faces in case I needed to report them to the police.  It was unexpected to feel so molested in the middle of the morning.

There was some traffic in front of one restaurant.  Their tables remained outside for anyone who wanted to enjoy the stiff breezes taking the temperature down to about 12 degrees.  The traffic ambled along as it ate up the street.

The other street traffic jogged up to the vehicle and walked along beside it for a ways.
The other pedestrian, a construction worker, jogged up to the vehicle and walked along beside it for a ways – a real SMV.

I finally go to the river’s edge.  It lapped peacefully at the shore as though it might have been the beautiful McKenzie River in Oregon.  With the exception of my visit that morning, no one else visited that I saw.  One truck looked like it wanted to commit suicide.  I took several pictures to see if it actually completed the act, but it must have waited for me to leave before rolling to its demise.

See the truck thinking about jumping in?
See the truck thinking about jumping in?

I snapped a few pictures of the bricky bank and the boats navigating the murky waters, then headed back to catch my shuttle to the airport, satisfied that I had seen the unexpected seaminess of St. Louis.  Here are a few more pictures of the beautiful Mississippi to upload to your memory before I go.

What are some of your unexpected experiences in strange cities?  Click here for more of the unexpected.


Best “Don’t Do This” Travel Tips

take off your shoes and make yourself at home

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any way you choose.” Dr. Seuss

Over the years you would think I would have everything mastered for seamless travel.  Each trip is memorable for something I shouldn’t do. Here are some of them so that you can avoid the pitfalls that trapped me.

St. Louis Arch and Old Courthouse in the background.
St. Louis Arch and Old Courthouse in the background.

1)  If you fly for business, don’t book your flight far in advance of your meetings. I booked my flight in early August to attend a November conference. Two days ahead of time I entered all my meeting times into my online calendar for the first time. The meeting I chaired started at 4:00 p.m and my plane arrived at 5:00 p.m.

2)  Don’t trust the “change your flight plans insurance” to cover mistakes like, “I didn’t know I had a meeting scheduling conflict.”  While it may not be your fault, it is not the airline’s fault either, and insurance doesn’t cover that.  Read the 45 pages fine print.

3)  When you connect flights, make sure you get to the right gate and not the one next to the right gate. Make sure that you keep checking for changes in the gate. Don’t read something engaging, or you might miss your flight, and they don’t hold the plane for 20 minutes after take-off for you to get on. (Apparently, they don’t call your name over the intercom either.)

4)  Book through United Airlines rather than US Air. If you miss your connecting flight, they will get you on another flight without charging you anything. I’ve done that twice. Both American and US Air did not help.

5)  Don’t print your ticket up at home.  If you are lucky, when they print your ticket at the airport, you might get a “Pre-Check” ticket, which is given randomly. Or you can buy them through Homeland Security for $100 for 5 years. The application may kick you offline, and you have an interview, but Pre-Check is like gold.

6)  Since Pre-Checkers don’t have to take their shoes off, don’t wear buckles on your shoes.

7)  When you do miss your flight, and they book you on another flight, and you leave the customer service counter without a printed ticket, don’t assume that you can get your confirmed seat without a ticket. This happened to me twice with two different airlines. Both flights were overbooked, and the clerks were rude.

8)  When the clerk tells you that there are no more seats on the flight and you have a ticket don’t assume that there are no more seats. Wait until the plane loads. Stand near the counter and look old and helpless. If there is a seat, he or she will find it just to get you out of his hair.

8)  Watch what you wear when you fly.  I wore a blouse that had shrunk and raised stitching.  The naked airport scan indicated that I was carrying illicit something in my blouse.  The TSA agent had to put her gloved hand in my bra to check for hidden contraband even though I assured her there wasn’t much in there.  On her third check, the agent got mad at the naked picture reader behind the plastic curtain.”It’s just stitching. There is NOTHING THERE!” she announced in a loud voice

9)  Don’t try to joke with the TSA agent when they are searching in your bra for drugs and counterfeit money.

10)  Don’t overpack your carry-on luggage even though you don’t want to pay for checking a bag. If you can’t squeeze it in the overhead bin, the attendants and passengers get angry. If you can’t lift it, look old and helpless, and sometimes people help. Sometimes they just get irritated. Best to check it at the last-minute, if you can. Better to pack light!

12)  If you are going long distances on a full train, don’t assume that you have been assigned to the correct seat.  I went to the restroom and came back to an occupied seat.

13)  If you sit next to someone who either stinks or has on too much perfume, consider drinking all night.  At least in the dining car, you can choose who you sit with. (to a point).

14)  When you drive at night in strange towns, and your GPS tells you the streets to take, don’t assume 1) that they are not torn up, and 2) that they are not one-way streets.  In South Bend, IN, fortunately, there was a parking lot that led to the one-way street that went the direction I needed to go.

SFW 2013 STL Lights 114

15)  If you are going back east in the winter, don’t forget to take more than one coat. Costco sells down coats that roll into a little ball.  St. Louis hit twelve degrees with the wind chill factor. California winters do not prepare travelers for that.

Here are some pictures from my trip to St. Louis, MO. I hope you will enjoy.

What travel “do not do what I did tips” do you have?

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Two

Many things come in twos.  I find it hard to be original here.  I’m using two hands to type these words, two ears to hear the dishwasher churn away, and two legs waiting to carry me on a walk with Sally at 3:00.  So I looked in my photo collection to find pictures of two.  You guessed it – there wasn’t much to choose from.  Here are a few.

2 Dogs

This pair of opposites posed at a craft fair in Palm Springs with their owners.

2 windows

For these two windows life is a bed of roses looking out at the picturesque town of Solvang.

2 birds

These two fellows fought for prime real estate on Santa Monica Pier.

two rows of fruits

Seattle, Washington’s Pike Place Market merchants added brightness to the gray November weather at last year’s NCSS Conference.

For more ideas see Cee.


Improve Your Novel With Physical Exercise

It takes me about 2 hours to write a chapter which averages 1,300 unedited words per chapter so far.  For two hours I barely move a muscle except my fingers, which are flying.  In Avila I had a routine of answering emails for 2 hours in the morning, walking for 3 hours or about 8-9 miles, then writing two chapters in the afternoon and evening with just a little walking in between the two.  I didn’t do any strenuous exercising.

About 2 months ago I hired a personal trainer, S.M.A.R.T Fitness, in Visalia, CA to help me get in shape in lose weight.  They are not paying me to advertise for them, but what a great experience it has been!  I go three days a week at around 10:00 each morning, so I have been able to keep my routine of answering emails and comments in the morning and taking care of CCSS business before I go out.

stairstepper elyptical

I arrive around 10:00 and get on one of the cardio machines.  I like to start with the  elliptical machine for 10 minutes.  By the time I finish, I look pretty much unacceptable to go anywhere but home.  If my hair had been combed to start, it’s wet and curly by the time I’ve done 10 minutes.  Then I finish the half hour “warm”-up – really that’s a “burning hot”-up on a stationary bike.  That machine has a fan on it.

After I’m exhausted already, Dan or Eddie is ready for me, and they are the most wonderful trainers I’ve ever had.  Don’t tell them that.  I tell them both that they are mean, and they are.  What is wonderful is that they customize the workout to what I need, but didn’t know it.  Yesterday Dan had me doing push-ups.  I can’t do push-ups.  I couldn’t do them when I was 15, and I still can’t.  Can’t is not in their vocabulary, so they cheat.  Dan wrapped a belt around my middle.  I put my hands on a big tire, stretched my legs behind me and spread them for balance.  The first time I lowered myself about an inch toward the tire, and he had to pull me up with the strap.  After about 4 puny starts, I started trusting him to be able to pull me up so I wouldn’t fall flat on my face when I went down.  I went all the way down to the tire.  He still had to pull me up, in fact we had to stop and put on a wider strap because the narrow one dug so hard into my belly, but I actually got down by myself.  Of course, he told me that I did it.  I know he cheats, but it’s ok.

push ups on a big tire.

Eddie worked on stretching my legs one day.  I thought I was going to die.  Really.  My legs don’t stretch.  I can put them up at a 90 degree angle with great pain.  He rested my heel on his shoulder, cupped just above my knee to keep it straight, and gently pushed my leg forward until I yelled 8/10 on the pain scale.  What I meant was 11, but ok, I settled at 8, and he held it there for about 2 minutes, I think.  I couldn’t breathe it hurt so badly, but pretty soon, I was breathing deeply in and out, and I could feel my leg becoming more comfortable until the main level was 0.  Then he moved my heel, just slightly and the pain came back, but it was bearable.  He did some more horrible things to my legs before letting me up, but amazingly, the next day I wasn’t even sore.  That was a couple of weeks ago.  The next time he did it, he could actually move my legs much farther, and much easier without so much pain.

picture this with a whole lot more pain, and 90 degrees not 45.
Picture this with a whole lot more pain, and 90 degrees not 45.

In the month or so I’ve gone there irregularly I’ve lost 5 pounds, and I feel great.  I know that the great amount of sitting that I’m doing isn’t quite as harmful as it would be if I weren’t exercising.  I no longer have sciatica nerve problems like Steinbeck had because he wrote so many hours a day.  I get out with people, sometimes seeing people I know.  I’ve made new friends and been inspired by what they are doing with their bodies.  For many it is almost like physical therapy.

After an hour of torture with Dan and Eddie, I limp drive home, have lunch, and settle in our little trailer to write for two hours.  I go to that place because it was so successful while I was in Avila.  It is quiet.  I take my cell phone, but not my home phone, and Puppy Girl and I go out and sit for 2 hours.  She either sits behind my back, beside me, or puts herself to bed.

Pg puts herself to bed

After about 2 hours of writing, then we go for a 2 or three-mile walk to loosen up again.  I haven’t been able to write two chapters a day while I’ve been home, but that’s ok because I got such a great head start while I was in Avila.  My characters are coming along meeting all kinds of challenges.  It’s a fluffy chick flick kind of romantic book since I am going to get it done in one month, but I’m loving it.  Two of the three women are now in love, and there have been some romantic love scenes, even.  By romantic I mean mostly dialogue, in which the guys say all the right things (of course-it’s a chick flick not a guy flick).  I’m not too graphic, so you all will have to use your imaginations.  I even think my mother would have enjoyed it.  That’s a little bit of understatement sarcasm.  My mom lived on romantic novels.  I had so many of them when she died, I didn’t know what to do with them.  They have no economic value, trust me.  But I digress from the value of exercise on improving your novel-writing.

Exercising gives me time to talk about my book with others and see what they think of it, or imagine the next scenario.  Today I recited the plot to my friend Sally as we walked several miles.  That was fun, and we both walked a little longer because it took a while to tell the story.  I saw my friend Bev, who I hadn’t seen in years, at the gym, and told her that the story is partially set in her condo at the coast.  That was fun.  Dan, my trainer, didn’t even know I was writing a book, so I had a chance to casually market it even before it’s written.  Not that Dan is EVER going to read a chick flick romantic kind of book, but it surprised him that I was writing something.  It’s always nice to surprise your trainer.  They are always surprising you with some new torture.  Uuuuuuuggggggg!  GRUNT REAL LOUD – It makes the trainers take it easier on you because they think you’re at your limit.  I cheat too!  hehehe

My conclusion is that exercise is essential to writing.  People tell you stories that you might end up using in your story or in another story, and you feel better and stronger.  You have a chance to interact with folks, and tell them what you are doing, and so far people have been surprisingly interested, and it’s just a chick flick.  Just think if I was writing an amazing historical fiction!  Maybe next time!  🙂 5-6-7-8, just two more.  Give me one more.  Oooh, I’m SO SORE!  (But my fingers are unscathed and happy!)  🙂

You can go to their Facebook page and see all kinds of videos.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

Layers conjures all kinds of images for me.  As a gal from the Midwest, I learned to dress in layers, but layers envelops us at even more basic levels than that.  These pictures all came from our Accidental Vacation to the Oregon Coast then down the northern California Coast.

For example, here is an example of the air we breathe.  When we can see it, we can tell it comes in layers.  The more layers you see, the less you see what’s behind the layers. In this case, a hillside obscured by layers.

Klamath River in Klamath, California

Trees grow layer after layer, year after year.  When we harvest the tree, we shave layers off it to shape it into a form that pleases us.  Then we add layers of protective coating to it so that it stays beautiful forever.  If we add too many layers of even clear varnish, we lose the beauty, and it can chip as it becomes brittle.

Oregon Trip 201320130913_0090r
Myrtle Wood Factory next to the Oregon Dunes KOA north of Coos Bay, OR.

This next picture has so many layers that it distorts the picture.  Layers do distort.  This next picture has so many layers that I can’t even count them all.  Maybe you can.

Oregon Trip 201320130913_0099r
A window display in Florence, Oregon

How many layers did you count, and what were they?

To see more wonderful layers, click here.