North to Alaska!

Gayle Greg and Dad_HomerThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

My father always enjoyed the Johnny Horton song, North to Alaska (see the YouTube video here: Starting June 9, that classic country hit became our theme song.

My dad, husband, and I started our northward journey flying into Anchorage via Alaska Air from Great Falls, Montana (about 90 miles from my parents’ home in Denton, MT). My father had been planning this trip for more than two years, saying, “If I make it to 80, I want to see Alaska.” He turned 80 last July so plans kicked into full swing autumn 2016. We didn’t go for the gold nor dog mushing, as Johnny sings about in the song noted above, but we did many other activities.

Dad couldn’t travel alone, my mother didn’t want to go, so he asked me to accompany him and he would pay my airline ticket and cover most of the lodging. My husband went with us for two reasons: (1) so he could see Alaska, too, and (2) to help me with Dad, especially in case of emergency. I’m happy to report nothing bad happened to any of us; the entire trip went smoothly and we visited all the places we planned. Well, one not-so-good thing happened: my luggage didn’t return to Montana with us and had to be FedEx’ed from Seattle to Casper. And, truth be told, the “land of the midnight sun” was difficult to get used to as far as sun sets between 11:30 pm and Midnight and sun rises between 3 and 4 am – thank Heaven for darkening curtains in the lodging facilities!

Alaska Range

Trip highlights include:

  1. Two cruises into Resurrection Bay and the Gulf of Alaska via Major Marine Tours out of Seward – one featured a national park ranger as we cruised through the Kenai Fjords National Park on a wildlife watching excursion and the other was shorter and specific for whale watching (we encountered 6 humpback whales during the journey!
  2. Trip to Homer (basically the end of the road, like Seward) and toured the Ocean and Islands Visitor Center operated by the Alaska Maritime National Park staff as well as visited with our friend author/writer/professor Nina McConigley who was presenting at the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference in Homer.
  3. A stop at Potter Marsh, a bird and wildlife refuge on the outskirts of Anchorage where we saw (up close!) a mamma moose with twin calves.
  4. A bus tour in Denali National Park where we encountered Dall sheep, caribou, Alaskan brown bears (including a mother with two yearlings), and a single wolf; and we became part of the “30 percent club,” seeing Denali Peak/Mount McKinley on a clear morning! (The mountain rises more than 20,000 feet and is often obscured by clouds).
  5. Two days in Fairbanks with a dinner at Denny’s, the northern-most Denny’s Restaurant in North America (Dad’s dinner choice for one of the nights) and a visit to Creamer’s Field, a migratory bird refuge where we saw nearly 100 sandhill cranes!
  6. Glaciers, glaciers, and more glaciers! Including Portage and Exit, both south of Anchorage on the way to Seward, and a large glacial ice field near Palmer, northeast of Anchorage.
  7. Wildlife, wildlife, and more wildlife, including moose (many moms with twins), eagles, sandhill cranes (including one near someone’s front door outside of Homer! And hundreds of them at Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks), sea lions, and (my favorite and what I really wanted to see) sea otters (including one up close in the Seward Harbor).

Sea Otter

What did I come away with from this trip? Memories with my father and husband, the joy of experiencing nature in some awesome and inspiriational settings, gratitude for the opportunity to see this amazingly beautiful state (and have the time with my dad and husband), and even a few writing ideas for a book and some short stories (I may weave Alaska into my pet rescue romance work-in-progress).


North to Alaska – that song rings ever more steadily in my mind, and I’m thankful to have had the privilege to do go north to Alaska! And, at least the temperature was higher than -40, as Mr. Horton sings in his other Alaska-oriented song, found here:

What places have you visited that inspire you to write, maybe even to write something new?

Alaska mountains and river

See more photos of our Alaskan vacation on my Facebook page where I’ve created a Photo Album titled Alaska 2017:

Brown Bear_Denali Park.jpg

Gayle and Greg_Alaska

Gayle M. Irwin is an award-winning Wyoming author and freelance writer who enjoys traveling and nature photography as well as writing. She finds inspiration in nature and animals as well as history and people. Her pet books for children and adults teach valuable life lessons, such as courage, perseverance, and friendship. She is a contributing writer to magazines and newspapers, including pet stories in the Colorado-based Prairie Times, and her short story about a rescue dog, titled Jasmine’s Journey, will appear in the August Chicken Soup for the Soul release called The Dog Really Did That? This will be her seventh contribution to the Chicken Soup series. Learn more about Gayle and her work at

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Aloha Me!

Stephen Buehler CCWC2015 - 2It’s that time of year again. Time to prepare for Left Coast Crime. This year it’s in Hawaii. It’s called Honolulu Havoc – March 16-19.

Having the conference in Hawaii is great and it’s not.

honoluluhavocbannerOne of the down sides is that it’s expensive. It’s a 6 hour flight from Los Angeles and even longer from other parts of the country. The only way to get there is to fly. Usually you have an option to drive and perhaps save some money. The Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort has five pools and 20 restaurants and bars and 22 waterfront acres. It sounds great. But it also sounds expensive and it is. The convention rate is $209. Next year in Reno it’s only $82.

I’m willing to suck it up and pay these rates. But it also means it will probably be the only conference I go to out of state this year. (Bouchercon is in Toronto).  More importantly, a great number of my friends and fellow authors won’t be attending. As I look at the Attendees list, there is a great number of people I’m not familiar with. I know I will meet new people and that’s a good thing but I’d also like to hang out with some of the folks I usually see at conferences too.4-people-group-with-me

I’m on a panel: Performing Sleuths: Standing Ovations. I assume I’m on the panel as my protagonist in The Mindreading Murders is a magician. But that novel is not published yet whereas the other panelists have published novels with their performing characters. I kind of feel like a fraud. But I’m going to let the audience know what the circumstances are and go from there. Even though my novel isn’t published yet, I feel I can contribute to the discussion.

I’ve been talking about my concerns about attending. But there’s a lot of positives as well. My writers group, Travis Richardson and Sarah M. Chen will be there. We have put together an Author/Reader Connection where 6 people can meet up with us on Friday night and we will talk about how the three of us have had over 55 short stories published in recent years. Plus we buy our guests the first round of drinks and give them some books.

Also, by the time LCC rolls around, I will have The Mindreading Murders out to my beta readers. After the conference, when I’ve incorporated their notes, I’ll be ready to send that out to agents and publishers.

Another thing I like about Left Coast Crime is that I get to be a big fish in a small sea. Since only about 500 people generally attend LCC I can stand out more. Bouchercon typically has over 1,500 attendees and I tend to get lost in that big crowd.airline-jet-in-clouds

Even though I put the 6 hour flight as a negative, it’s also a positive. I get to read and write undisturbed for 6 hours!

Here’s the thing I tend to overlook – the conference is in HAWAII!!! Where’s there a beach and sun and ocean and new places to explore. My perfect vacation always includes a beach.The End!

Yes, I have some trepidations about the conference but the closer it gets the more excited I’m becoming.

How do you feel before a conference?  Does the location really matter to you?

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Stephen Buehler’s short fiction has been published in numerous on-line publications including, Akashic Books. His Derringer Nominated short story, Not My Day appeared in the Last Exit to Murder anthology. Seth’s Big Move will appear in the LAst Resort anthology in April 2017. He is currently revising his novella, The Mindreading Murders, into novel length. It’s about a magician, psychics and of course, murder. He is also currently seeking a home for his mystery/comedy P.I. novel, Detective Rules. By day he is a script/story consultant, magician and lives with a dog named Seymour.





Get Your Motor Runnin’ – It’s Travel and Conference Season!

Parents and GayleThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

As this post goes live, I am traveling. It’s Mother’s Day weekend, and I’m visiting my parents in Montana. If the weather cooperates, I’ll be taking them on a spring-time drive through the heart of central Montana, stopping at sites along the Missouri River, having lunch in a quaint Montana town, and celebrating the special woman who is my mother. I’m looking forward to spending several days with my parents and to reminding my mom how important she is to me. Without her, I may not have become a writer.

As the author of several books, five Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, and numerous magazine and newspaper articles, my writing journey began EONS ago. I grew up an only child in Iowa, living on a small acreage outside of town, with a mother who didn’t drive a car and a father who worked nights at a factory. PICTURE THIS: RECLUSE, NO SOCIAL LIFE. But, we had farm animals, I had pets, I had TV, and I had an active imagination. PICTURE THIS: WRITING BEGINS AT YOUNG AGE. My writing began with crafting scripts for TV shows like “Bonanza” and “Starsky and Hutch.”

Or, if you prefer the Starsky/Hutch theme:

(Never sent a script in until I was about 30 — by then other shows were on, and though I thought I had a great idea to share with producers, the script was mailed back to me.)

Beartooth Mtns. RiverThen, I dabbled in poetry (our little property with nature all around was my inspiration). Then, I moved into short stories. Throughout the course of my writing infancy, with no formal training except junior high and high school English, my mother encouraged me. When I took journalism classes in college and wrote for the school paper as well as for the literary magazine, her smiles and compliments kept me focused and moving forward. After college, I submitted work to local magazines, became the editor of the West Yellowstone News, and continued dabbling in poetry and short stories. Again, Mom’s encouragement was not short in coming, and because of her support, my determination grew to where now, at more than 50 years of age, I am a published author as well as short story and magazine freelancer and newspaper features and column writer. Sharing my appreciation for mom through an in-person visit and going for a special drive and a special lunch is the least I can do for the woman who has been there for me since Day One and encouraged me to pursue the desire of becoming a writer. My mother truly is one of my greatest treasures and best blessings.

rckypark_elkmtnsA few days after I return from that Montana trip, I hit the road with fellow Casperite and Writing Wrangler Neva Bodin; we’re going to the Colorado Christian Writers Conference together. She and I have both attended this conference in years past but it’s been a few years for each of us. I’m looking forward to sharing time and experience with this lovely and talented lady, and I’m also looking forward to all I will learn during conference and then apply those lessons and knowledge to my writing life.

I enjoy traveling. I also enjoy conferences. Alas, the CCWC is likely the only writing conference I’ll attend this year. Wyoming Writers, Inc., has its annual conference in early June, but the non-profit for which I work part-time has a major fundraiser that same weekend, so I’m unable to attend that conference. Another conference I’ve gone to in years past, Get Published! which takes place in Bozeman, Montana, is that very same weekend as well (this is a time I could really benefit from being cloned, in order to take in each event!).

Gayle_Lea_Casey_Leah_booksigningOne learns so much at a writer’s conference: craft, marketing, indie publishing, new avenues and new genres to explore. And, we get to meet great people with whom we share a strong interest: other writers, editors, literary agents, speakers, publicity agents. And we all have something in common: the love of words. That commonality, that link, forges friendships and many of those fellow writers/friends become encouragers. We could very easily be competitors, but I find a majority of writers like to build one another up, and that’s a wonderful blessing!

My travels aren’t done after conference. My husband and I have tickets to see Celtic Woman at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado in mid-June, and I’ll be returning to that venue later in the summer to see Christian performers Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and others, and to also hear inspirational author and speaker Max Lucado. I’ve never been to Red Rocks although I live only five hours away, and this summer I get to go twice! I AM EXCITED to experience both events!

Grizzly_YNPMy husband and I also hope to visit his side of the family in the Carolinas sometime this summer (plans are still being formed), as well as take a trip to one of the most beautiful places in the world: Yellowstone National Park. Although I’ve lived away from that unique environment for nearly 20 years, it has never left me – I love visiting the Yellowstone area and I look forward to experiencing the vastness of the park, the beauty of the meadows, and the magnificence of the mountains again this year.

Then, of course, there are the jaunts to our cabin with weekend stays and weekday dinners. Our mountain hideaway is only 20 minutes from our house, so my husband and I can go at a moment’s notice and relax for several hours (or, in my case, write!) before returning home. In fact, we hope to host a belated birthday gathering for “the man” who turned the big 6-0 in April!

Cabin_Oct2014Travel, conferences, friends, family – I anticipate a great summer is in store, and I welcome it with thanksgiving.

What conferences and/or travel to you anticipate with excitement this summer?



Gayle_Cabin_Writing_smallerGayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and two dog devotion books: Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and nature. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from animals and the outdoors. Visit her website at

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V is for Visualize

nancyjardineThis post is by Nancy Jardine

My letter for today in this April A to Z challenge is V.

If you thought the letter V is one of the less used words of the alphabet then you’re likely to be inclined to vomit after reading this post as I use it heavily to describe a short vacation that I took just last weekend. Post A-to-Z Road Trip [2013]

I live in the village of Kintore, Aberdeenshire, north-east Scotland (marked with the neon green X on the map) and the main venue for my 4-day trip was the island of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland, accessed by ferry from Oban.Map of Scotland

I’d like you to visualize the shortest route that could be taken between the two mentioned places.

There are lots of mountains in between so taking a route directly south-west between the green cross and Oban isn’t possible- there are no direct trunk roads. There are some very minor roads, many of which are forestry tracks, but none that can be used without adding considerable time onto an already longish journey. I’ve often gone north to Oban via: Elgin; Inverness; Loch Ness (waving to our famous Nessie monster); Ben Nevis (not climbing the highest mountain in Scotland, though I did that many years ago); and on to Oban. That route is just short of 200 miles and at best a 3+ hour journey, though more likely 4 hours since the roads are single carriageway (one lane going in each direction) for most of that route. However, my trip last week was a guided coach tour and the route was a bit different.

Can you visualize the approximately 270 mile trip as the 22 tourists joined the coach last Friday?

My husband and I boarded the coach at 6 am in Aberdeen, after a 4.30 am rise. From Aberdeen, we headed south to Forfar; Perth; Dunfermline (not on the map but ‘sort of’ close to Kircaldy (pronounced kir-kaw-di); Edinburgh; Glasgow and north to Oban. A 50 minute ferry took us over to the Isle of Mull, the arrival at our hotel around 6.15 pm.

Twelve hours on a coach might seem like a very boring journey, with only two ‘toilet/quick sandwich and coffee’ stops (the coach did have a toilet but, call me fussy, I prefer to use non-moving facilities) but it was a fantastic journey. It meant a sore backside but a lot of viewing! What made it a spectacular journey was the tour guide, Alistair Walker, who was a veritable mine of information. Alistair pointed out  – historical buildings and historical data about the clans of yesteryear who inhabited the areas; geological features; farming and pastural information (like how old the new lambs were likely to be in the fields as we passed by); roadside sculptures (part of the regeneration of ex-industrial areas); new industries; railway information; with special emphasis on bird life to be seen from the coach – virtually everything of interest along the whole route.

I’m not at all religious but if I were I surely would have felt very blessed because the weather was so favourable for April during the whole trip. A solid blue sky and no Scottish mist or rain makes such an incredible difference to a visit anywhere!

Nancy Jardine
Alan Jardine reading inscription details at Iona Abbey.

The high level of entertaining and useful commentary continued as we visited the tiny island of Iona on Saturday. It was so easy to visualize what a great vantage point St. Columba had when he chose to build his monastery and abbey. The views down the sound of Mull are very impressive. St. Columba’s early wooden buildings, and the subsequent Benedictine abbey, eventually fell into disrepair, but by Victorian times it was noted as an area of great historical importance – for secular and ecclesiastical reasons. A little reconstruction work was started to secure the area and it’s stone treasures for the future. However, the main time of restoration came after the Second World War when the ruins were assessed and rebuilt as close to the Columban/later Benedictine originals as possible. The abbey buildings now available to the public are great to wander around. The abbey graveyard is said to be the resting place of many early ‘Scottish’ kings- though actually how many remains shrouded in the mists of time. What is excellent is that definite records exist for the burials of various Lords of the Isles- highly important people during their eras.

There are a number of good sites on the internet for more information in addition to this one:

Dscn5680In the original state, St. Columba’s monastery and abbey buildings; gravestones; and impressive stone crosses were protected inside the vallum. This was two high earthen banks with a deep ditch between, similar to the type which would have been used in early Celtic hillfort construction and ancient Roman encampments. On the island of Iona, the vallum also created the distinction between the monastery and the secular world beyond the grassy banks.

It’s interesting to add that a nunnery, an Augustinian convent, was established inside the vallum sometime after the foundation of the nearby Benedictine monastery in 1203.

The Abbey Museum boasts a wonderful collection of carved standing stones as well as the outside huge, carved stone crosses – their Celtic designs being the originals that are readily copied in many contemporary crafts.

In ecclesiastical circles, there is some dispute over who created the famous illuminated Gospel ‘Book of Kells’ manuscripts. However, what is less in dispute is the fact that it is certain that the Book of Kells was produced by Columban monks closely associated with the early monastic community at Iona. The Book of Kells manuscripts are based on a “Vulgate text (late 4th Century Latin translation of the bible which became the official Roman Catholic version), written on Vellum (prepared calfskin), in a bold and expert Version of the script known as insular majuscule”.Book of Kells wiki If you want to view the original Book of Kells, you’ll need to take a different trip over to Ireland, to Trinity College in Dublin.

(image from Wikimedia Commons)

I think that’s enough Vs for today.

When I get some more time I’ll be writing on my own blog about the quick trip on Sunday to Tobermory (only 2 hours to wander) where I met up with another Crooked Cat Publishing author for a quick cup of coffee. Yvonne Marjot’s excellent contemporary women’s fiction novel is called ‘The Calgary Chessman’ and is set on the island of Mull. It’s hard to see but there’s a copy of her book in the local Tobermory shop that’s behind us in the photo, Yvonne living not far away from it. (Calgary in Canada is named after Calgary Bay on Mull) Till last Sunday, Yvonne was only a virtual Facebook friend so it was excellent to meet up with her ‘in the flesh’!

Nancy Jardine and Yvonne Marjot
Nancy Jardine and Yvonne Marjot

I’ll also be writing about my sail to the Island of Staffa – the origin of Felix Mendelssohn’s overture The Hebrides, Fingal’s Cave in particular. The Scottish Gaelic for Fingal’s Cave is An Uaimh Bhinn meaning ‘the melodious cave’.

The sail was wonderful, the waters out to the Atlantic Ocean very calm…to start with. I acquired a lovely  sun tan during the 3 hour sail but unfortunately by the time we reached the island the surge of the waters around the rocky island were too high for the boat to berth safely. We had hoped to walk along the pathway and into Fingal’s cave but I didn’t fancy being stranded overnight on an island that’s only inhabited by puffins and guillemots.

by Nancy Jardine
by Nancy Jardine

My trip involved a lot of coach travel, the estimate being 800 miles in 4 days but it was so worth it. I totally recommend ‘brightwater holidays – quality garden & Special interest holidays’ to anyone who might like to visit the sights of Scotland.

BTW- we also managed to pop in to Duart Castle, on Mull, before heading home on the Monday. Like many other Scottish castles Duart fell into disrepair but Duart was restored to a habitable condition by the Clan MacLean owners in the early twentieth century.Duart Castle

I love the area around Oban so much that I wrote about it in my contemporary humorous mystery novel Take Me Now which is being republished by Crooked Cat Publishing in ebook format on June 5th 2015. Look out for more information on the launch!

Wishing you all a great weekend!

Phew! I thought I was going to have a rest this present weekend but a fun family weekend is planned.

Nancy Jardine writes: historical romantic adventures; contemporary mystery thrillers; time travel adventure for Middle Grade/ YA readers (& loved by all who enjoy a great adventure) February

Amazon US Author page for books and to view book trailer videos:
Amazon UK

Final Nancy Jardine x 488

A re-launched sweet romance edition of this history mystery was published 27th March 2015.

Find Nancy at these places: Twitter @nansjar Facebook:

A True Adventure by Erin Farwell

IMG_3021_1I enjoy travel and have been fortunate to visit many places within the US, Europe, China, Africa, and the Caribbean. While all of my trips have been adventures on one level or another, the one that stands out as a true adventure was the trip to Slovenia. My father’s maternal grandparent, Jernej and Ana Marentic, were born in Slovenia and his mother was an active participant in a Slovenian/American women’s group in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

In September, 2014, Mike, Willow and I spent two weeks in Austria and during the second week, my father and stepmother, Harriet, joined us. They stayed a week after we left. During this second week, they planned to drive into Slovenia and see if they could find the place where my great-grandparents were born but after some discussion it was decided that I would drive them instead before I returned home.

One rainy morning, we piled into the rental car and with only a map and the name of a small town near the Croatian border we headed off to see what we could find. We stopped for lunch in the picturesque town of Lake Bled and then drove through the Bled-9forbidding capital city of Ljubljana, which was built during communist rule. As we continued south, we drove through beautiful country sides filled with orchards and vineyards. We arrived in Cromelj just after 5:00 pm and the entire town was pretty much closed for the day. We had no hotel, no idea where we were going to stay, eat, or visit the next day and despite the protests of my father that we would figure things out, I drove to the police station.

Two very nice men lead us to the church, where my father would want to meet with the priest, and the city hall records department. They drove us to a hotel, and there were rooms available until the police left and then suddenly, they didn’t have any and wanted us to leave. I drove around until we found a bar with people drinking outside, the only ones we had seen. One spoke English and soon was buying us drinks, introducing us to an older gentleman, and generally being happy and friendly.

Later, the men led us to a restaurant in the middle of the countryside and so far from town we never would have found it on our own. It was part of a working farm and also a few guest rooms over the garage behind the main building. My stepmother DSCF0391and I had an amazing dinner while the gregarious man and his friend took my father and drove him who knows where. We weren’t sure if we’d see him again, but we had a great meal and waited up until he was eventually returned to us, happy and unharmed.

The next day, we stopped at a grocery store and I purchased some boxes of chocolates to give as gifts and we headed to the church. The priest who answered our knock was youngish and unwilling to help as my father showed him letters and photographs he had brought with him. Finally, I nudged my father and handed him a box of chocolate under the edge of the table. Dad gave the candy to the priest and suddenly the man spoke perfect English and had actually been to Michigan a few years earlier. He became helpful, funny, and engaging. We had a great talk but after we left, my dad asked how I knew to give the priest the choDSCF0407colate but all I could say was that I knew it couldn’t hurt.

Our next stop was the records office where we met a helpful young woman who explained that all of the records my father needed were in fact in the capital city we had passed through on the way south. However, she gave us the email addresses of the people who could access the information my father needed. She also copied pages of the local telephone book and highlighted the names and addresses of people who were likely to be related to him, given the small size of the town and her generally knowledge of the people who live there. Before we left, we handed her a box of chocolate and she was surprised but pleased to receive it.

My father had accomplished what he had set out to do in this charming little town but we had one more stop to make. We returned to the police station to see the officers who had been so kind to us the day before. They were not in at that time but DSCF0412everyone in the building had already heard about us. We left them with a huge box of chocolates and a few of the officers stepped outside to wave to us as we drove away.

My father, stepmother, and I still tell the stories of the crazy man in the bar who kidnapped my dad but found us a room for the night, the uncooperative priest who was bribed with chocolate, and the police officers who gave us so much help. Sometimes the best adventures happen when all you have is a map and a general idea of where you want to get to.

Learn more about me at:

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Celebrating Friends

Gayle_ChrisjpgThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

In a few days, I’ll take that big ol’ jet airliner (see Steve Miller Band’s song on YouTube) west and southwest. I’m traveling to Phoenix for about five days then spending two-and-a-half in Las Vegas (and looking forward to meeting Mike Staton and having lunch with him while I’m in the area!)

Two friends from college and their families live in the Phoenix area. One of my friends has lived there for nearly 25 years and the other became a snowbird about three years ago (he and his wife winter in AZ and summer in WY … I try to not let the green-eyed monster of jealousy rise too high when I think of this couple!) A woman I’ve known for nearly 20 years lives in the Los Angeles area; she’s an elementary teacher and spring break for her occurs during the time I’m traveling – so we’re meeting in Vegas for a few days. During that time I will have my 54th birthday, and my girlfriend and I are going to hit the town for dinner and a show! While in Arizona, my friends and I are going to enjoy several adventures, including visiting Old Tucson Studios and possibly a spring training baseball game. I had hoped my husband would join me on this part of the trip, but work and church obligations keep him in Casper. Although I’d love hubby to join me, I have my friends to spend time and share adventures with, and I’m grateful for that.

AZ 2013_Sarg Cactus and Sky

I have another friend that I’ve known for more than 30 years who, last year, was diagnosed with a very rare form of stomach cancer. He’s my age. He’s gone through multiple surgeries for the cancer and for infections thereafter. Needless to say, the world of he and his family has been rocked … so has mine. This person and his wife mean a great deal to me – they are the brother and sister I’ve never had. Last week I gathered with them for a dinner. Despite the uncertainty they face and the major setbacks they’ve had, they still maintain a great attitude. We had a wonderful time, sharing laughter and memories … and a few tears.

I’ve also shed a few tears over my elderly dog Cody during the past several days. He is nearly 17 and has had some great struggles. One evening I returned home from work to find him nearly comatose. We suspect he had a stroke. He rebounded the next day and has had several up days lately; we even took him to our cabin on the mountain last weekend. We treasure each day we have with him despite the getting up several times in the night due to his health conditions and being very tired. Cody’s old soul is tired, too, and one day he won’t be with us any longer. Although to be expected with his advancing age, the idea of losing him breaks my heart – he’s been, and remains, a cherished friend.



I have a bracelet that I wear nearly every day. It has colorful beads, and the word “HOPE” secures the ends. I look at that and try to remember hope is alive and well when a person digs down deep and perseveres. Each of those colored beads represents someone special in my life, friend or family member I care about. I look at the word “HOPE” and whisper a prayer over each of those individuals I think of when I view the bracelet on my wrist. I will be wearing it on my trip.

bracelet_HOPENo one knows the future. We live in the present and we create good (or bad) with what we have. I am thankful for friends, those I’ve known since elementary and high school with whom I still maintain a relationship; my colleagues at work; my writers’ group; my fellow Writing Wranglers; and my neighbor and surrogate mother Marian, who helps with the dogs SO OFTEN. I celebrate each one who has often shared hope with me in times of loss. And, I choose to remember the good times, such as my dog Cody barking loudly at a dog or person he thought was out to harm me (small dog, big heart, that boy!), or the many years of friendship I’ve shared with my friends in Arizona, California, and Wyoming… or wherever they may live.  Gayle with Stacy and Cindy


I know you, too, cherish your friendships for I’ve seen postings on this blog about people you care about. And, I cherish you, my Writing Wrangler friends, because we share a love of writing, we’ve come to know each other more personally, and you have been an encouragement to me through the years I’ve “known” you.

So, as I prepare to wing my way to a sunny southwest and bask in the beauty and joy of friendship with some special people, I toast you all! I celebrate you, my many other friends, and my family, those near and far!


Gayle and Greg with friends in Mesa, AZ
Gayle and Greg with friends in Mesa, AZ


Gayle & Mary outside is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and two dog devotion books: Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including The Dog Did What?, released August 2014. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at


SageBigAdventureFront-small   SageLearnsShareFront-small   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014  Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final  Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice CoverWalking_FrontCover_small

Fear of Falling

propic11_1_1This post written by L.Leander, Author of Fearless Fiction

Have you ever taken a fall that changed your life? I have. During my childhood, of course, I fell off my bicycle (yes, I was riding a girl’s bike, and yes, I fell on my private parts), off the monkey bars on the school playground (that one resulted in a chipped front tooth), off tree limbs and being pushed off the raft at the lake by some bully or another. (What they didn’t know is that I had been through lifeguard training and I could whip their butts if I really wanted to).

I have always been in a hurry. I was never sure why, but I had to be the first to get to an event to help get things set up, the first to turn in a term paper, the first to volunteer for duties at my children’s school, such as being room mother and offering to chaperone trips, writing my books, buying old kitchen items that no one wasin a hurry collecting yet (that made me a bit of money) and every other aspect of my life. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been advised to slow down, to no avail.

I was always excited about some new project or other. I had bouts of depression that would last for several days or a month. I did go to the doctor but this was in the 70’s and he prescribed me Valium, which I took for a while, but I was too tired all the time and had children to take care of and a job I loved.

I had the normal falls and scrapes as I walked through my childhood years and a few throughout my next forty years or so. I fell a few times in Mexico because the sidewalks are so uneven and if you aren’t paying close attention, down you go.

MariachiThree years ago while returning from a Christmas Fiesta (on the island where we all hung out during the hottest days of the winter) I jumped off the boat taxi to help Ralph get down. I realized someone else was assisting him so I left to get us a seat on the few benches while we waited for a pulmonia to hire to take us home. Of course, we had had a few Margaritas, along with the best food and dancing you could imagine. At any rate, one minute I was standing up and the next moment I had fallen on my head. I was so embarrassed. All our friends were running to see if I was all right. I had fallen from my feet to my head (don’t know how I did that, but I did), a knot was beginning to form and there was blood – eek!

Friends walked me over to the benches while I kept saying, “I’m all right.” It wasredcross suggested that I needed to go to the Red Cross and be checked over but I declined. Instead, we went home in an Arriga (a red truck), Ralph helped me in the house, and I decided nothing was wrong. Of course, I wouldn’t allow myself to fall asleep just in case, and took no pain pills even though my head was throbbing. The next morning I was happy to be alive, even though my eye was black and blue, and I had spent the entire night thinking I was going to die all alone in the dark living room while hubby slept!

Lucky for me it wasn’t serious. I did go to the doctor the next day but he wasn’t too concerned and  explained that I’d probably had a slight concussion. So, I continued along my frantic path. I had what I thought was a Type “A” personality and didn’t think a bump on the head would change that.

As most of you know, two years ago I had another concussion. Hubby and I had gone to pick up my new glasses. We took the bus as far as we could, picked up the glasses, and had to make our way across a very busy street with crazy drivers. Ralph wasn’t feeling too well that day. Of course, I was ahead of him (clearing a path, ha ha) and when I looked back to see if he was all right my toe caught the edge of a piece of sidewalk and down I went. From feet to toes, exactly the same way it had happened the year before.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll I could think as I fell was “I can’t pass out, Ralph doesn’t speak Spanish.” And then I passed out. Two kind Mexican ladies came running and Ralph and the two women helped me get up. The ladies said “Es muy mal, yo necessito un doctor.” (It’s very bad, you need a doctor). Ralph looked concerned too. I shrugged it off and refused, saying I was fine. Ralph extricated my clip-on sunglasses that were embedded right above my right eye and I confess, the blood was pouring at a pretty good rate. Ralph insisted I go to the Red Cross, the ladies hailed an ambulance, and off we went. A very kind nurse stitched up my head, I saw a doctor who must have been all of 16 who told me to rest, paid my $6 and left, with instructions to return in seven days to have the stitches removed.carousel

This happened on a Friday. When I tried to go to sleep that night everything spun around and I couldn’t get my bearings. No matter how I tried to position myself, the bed spun round and round, like a merry-go-round. I was afraid to lift my head at all. After an insane night, at 4:00 a.m. I called my good friend who is a nurse and she came over to take my vitals, assure me my blood pressure was all right, and made me promise to go to the doctor on Monday.

On Monday I was still extremely dizzy, so we hailed a taxi and went to the doctor’s office. His first words were “What a terrible job of stitching – you’ll have a big scardoctor there.” I told him I didn’t care about the scar, just how I was feeling. He explained that I had “shaken brain syndrome” from hitting my head so hard on the concrete. He gave me something for the dizziness and pain and sent me home to rest. Friends and well wishers came to be with me and it helped me take my mind off the way I was feeling. My face didn’t look so good, but I knew it would go away.

black eye

If you’d like to know more about symptoms and treatment of concussions, here’s the Mayo Clinic Link.

Here ends part one of my (“Fear of Falling”) post. Stay tuned for the rest of the story in my next blog post.

Have you ever taken a bad spill?  Did it change your life?  I’d like to know!

Books by L.Leander:

Inzared Queen of the Elephant Riders Video Trailer

INZARED bookcoverkindle

Inzared, Queen of the Elephant Riders






Inzared, The Fortune Teller Video Trailer


Inzared, The Fortune Teller (Book Two)






13 Extreme Tips to Self Publishing








13 Extreme Tips to Marketing an ebook








You can also find L.Leander here:

L.Leander Website

Amazon Author Page

Facebook Author Page

L.Leander Books Blog

L.Leander’s Book Reviews and Interviews


Relishing Summer

Gayle_BozemanFamilyChristian_smallThis blog post by Gayle M. Irwin


During summer it’s easy to “relish” – watermelon, apples, ice cream, ice tea, the occasional strawberry daiquiri or margarita (or both!): all quench a parched throat, dry from summer’ warmth.

But, there are other things to “relish” as well these days: the season itself with respite from snow and cold; hikes and walks in woodland splendor; laughter of children; companionship of family and friends – treasures of summer’s majesty.

Writers Group at CabinI’ve been fortunate to relish – and revel in – many things this season, like cabin solitude and cabin time shared with family and friends, including my parents, and good friends such as my writer’s group just a few weeks ago; and the spider-webbing of my writing through new magazine and blog opportunities, several of which will be published this fall. I recently received the new copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What? and had my first sales of the book last Friday! I spoke at a library and senior center in a town about 90 miles south of Casper and connected with more dog people, and later this month I travel to Colorado to speak at the Fort Collins Senior Center. I relish these opportunities to share uplifting presentations with a call to action – to help animal rescue groups in the area. During this particular weekend I will continue my travel south to New Mexico, to visit a friend I’ve known more than 35 years, and then drive back north with a stop in Colorado Springs to visit places I’ve not seen, like Garden of the Gods and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. I’m also planning to share dinner with Doris McGraw!

TetonsIn July I spent time with another friend, someone I’ve known about 30 years, when he and his family visited Teton National Park, therefore, I was fortunate to return to a lovely part of my state: Jackson, the Tetons, Yellowstone National Park. My parents visited at the end of July, and in September my father and I will visit national parks in Utah as well as the Grand Canyon. I’ve been to a few of these places; my dad never has. At 78 years of age, he’s put this trip on his “bucket list,” and I will “relish” sharing this vacation – and nature’s grandeur – with him.

I relish writing, speaking, travel, knowledge, my pets, family, and friends.

Many people make relish from summer gardens – I remember my mother doing that for years. I am neither a cook nor a gardener so my “relish” is a savoring of life’s sweetness when certain opportunities come my way: enjoyment of friends and family; sharing my passions, talents, and gifts in a variety of ways; and creating memories … and anticipating more in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

What “sweetness” will you be relishing soon? SAVOR!!



Gayle with book buyerGayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God. She is also a contributing writer to editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including the latest dog book The Dog Did What? to be released August 19, 2014. She also writes for WREN (Wyoming Rural Electric Network), Crossroads, and Our Town Casper magazines, as well as for the Casper Journal, Douglas Budget, and River Press newspapers, and she’s had articles published in Creation Illustrated magazine. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. Learn more at


Walking_FrontCover_small       Dog Devotion Book_Cover_FinalChicken Soup_DogDidWhat_Cover    Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014    SageBigAdventureFront-small     SageLearnsShareFront-small

On The Move

propic11_1_1This post by L.Leander, Author of Fearless Fiction

Since I’m still on the mend from my hospital stay and following doctor’s orders to rest, I’m sharing a post I wrote on my blog in the fall of 2013.

It’s that time of year again when I’m on the move. I don’t travel incognito; in fact, I’m very visible in my shorts and tank top, as I shiver uncontrollably in a Midwest airportwhile I wait for my flight to board. The weather here this week has dropped below sixty degrees Fahrenheit and my thin blood longs for the tropical heat Mexico. The trees here in Wisconsin are turning lovely shades of orange, red and yellow and the weatherman says there will be frost tonight. There are pumpkins still on the vine and lots of them already set out as fall decorations on porches and driveways in our rural area. Time to leave. Another month and there’ll be snow. Lots of snow.snow I donated my boots and coat to Goodwill a few years ago. I’m unprepared for this chilly climate. My feet are freezing all the time and I look like an Eskimo, layering clothes to keep warm. I grew up in Michigan and loved the winter and the outdoor sports it offers. Not any more. My idea of an outdoor sport now is lying on a tropical beach holding a drink with an umbrella in my hand as I watch the wavescaress the white sandy beach.umb A few years ago I migrated to Mexico for the winter and now I can’t seem to get it out of my blood. I do my best writing there. I haven’t quite decided if it’s the perpetual sunny days, the fact that I walk everywhere and have time to think, the beautiful blue ocean water, or a combination of them all. I get great ideas and I write about them. I am anxious to return.

You may have seen me in an airport or bus station scribbling madly on a receipt I pulled out of my purse because it’s the only piece of paper I can find. You may have heard me dictating into my portable recorder as I sit patiently in the waiting area. I’m the one toting two Kindles, a computer, a guitar and fiddle, an iPod and a tiny suitcase (I do change my clothes you know!) and whining to the ticket agent that I cannot possibly tag my guitar as luggage. Sorry for the inconvenience to all of you in the line behind me, but my guitar is like my best friend (it pulls me out of a lot of the writing doldrums) and I can’t possibly leave it behind or treat it inhumanely. air Oh, I almost forgot, I am toting a big loveable man along too. My husband just shakes his head and smiles as I struggle to board the plane with all my paraphernalia. He even offers to help but I usually tell him I’m fine. (I do have a sense of pride you know – he’s not the one who needs all this stuff!).

We settle into our seat on the plane and I type a few words into my laptop until I am told to turn it off. Once I get the ok again I go back to writing. The trip seems short and when we arrive I embrace the balmy tropical heat. I can’t wait to get home, open the door and stow our stuff and head to our favorite corner restaurant for a bowl of wonderful homemade Tortilla Soup and the most awesome Margarita you’ve ever had.

My girlfriends are returning in the next couple of weeks and we’ll get back into our routine of weekly beach trips and pool days, monthly pedicures and craft classes. Hubby and I will meander down quiet streets to greet old and new friends, take in the opera, and hit the flea market. I’ll meet up with my weekly music group and we’ll jam.

My writing group begins in November and I can’t wait to get together to exchange ideas and critique each other’s manuscripts.

Summer has been fun – no, wonderful. We have been to local Wisconsin parades, corn roasts, Amish breakfasts, music festivals, family reunions, camping and the like. I have spent the better part of every day at the local library writing. Hubby and I have had lots of fun, but I am not inspired to write because I’m too busy! No matter. By the end of next week I’ll be back in my little casa and resume a somewhat normal life.

I love the fact that we use public transportation in Mexico and don’t drive. I lose weight and I feel good! Daily trips to the market yield lots of fresh fruit and veggies and a little taco stand on the corner makes the most delicious lunch you can imagine for only $2.00 U.S.

Inzared was born in Mexico. I learned about her life and did all my research there. She has lots more to tell me as I write the second book in the INZARED Queen of the Elephant Riders series. I can’t wait to hear from her. We’ll have the best chats, I just know!

Photos courtesy of

Books by L.Leander:

Inzared Queen of the Elephant Riders Video Trailer

Inzared, Queen of the Elephant Riders 


INZARED bookcoverkindle







Inzared, The Fortune Teller Video Trailer Inzared

The Fortune Teller (Book Two)









13 Extreme Tips to Self Publishing










13 Extreme Tips to Marketing an eBook









You can also find L.Leander here:

L.Leander Website

Amazon Author Page

Facebook Author Page

L.Leander Books Blog

L.Leander’s Book Reviews and Interviews





Kilimanjaro by Erin Farwell

IMG_3021_1In 1999 my husband and I traveled to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro and see the Serengeti. With my house a disaster, I try to remind myself that I can accomplish difficult things if I put my mind to it and thus I share the following:

I knew where the top of the mountain was by the absence of stars. Kilimanjaro’s presence was as demanding and powerful at 1:00 am as it was in sunlight. We judged our distance to the summit by the stars. Where full blackness ended and the stars began, this was our destination.serengeti-kilimanjaro-andy-freeberg-3-039w-pano

This trip had been planned for almost a year. Now, in the cold and dark, five days without a shower and two more until I’d feel hot water again, it didn’t seem like such a good idea. Up to this point we hiked in daylight but we started for the summit just after midnight, with only a few hours rest behind us and a long trail ahead.

The heavens twinkled with stars unfamiliar to my north-of-the-equator eyes. The night was unmarred by streetlights or other light sources except for our headlamps that lit the trail before us.

I climbed slow and steady behind my husband who followed a pace or two behind our guide. The rest of our group was ahead of us, their headlamps shining on the trail above. I was the slow one, unofficially voted least likely to succeed. Always last. Still, I climbed, determined to make the summit.

The scree, a loose mixture of gravel and volcanic ash, was as slick underfoot as the mud on the trail the first day of our climb. Five days ago, monkeys had leaped from branch to branch kilimanjaro-machame-route-day1in the rainforest canopy, marking our progress. We have been above tree line for three days, now. At 16,000 feet bushes and grass were also below us.

The steep pitch of the trail and the scree required us to use switchbacks. A few short steps. Turn. A few more steps. Turn. Slowly, we gained elevation. The summit was at 19,340 feet. The highest point on the African continent. Step. Step. Turn. Step. Step. Turn.

By 4:00 am we had hiked in the dark for 3 and had at least four hours to go. My body ached and my feet were sore. One member of our group lost the battle with altitude. He passed us, returning to base camp. I wanted to join him.

Our guide looked me in the eye and said, “Mama, you can do this. Keep going.” He turned and continued climbing. I followed.

Walking had become a mindless activity. Step. Step. Turn. Step. Step. Turn. I followed the lights of those who led. The landscape was hidden in the dark. I wanted to go back. I wanted to continue. Yesterday had been my birthday. I wanted to be able to go home and tell people that at 37 I had summited Kilimanjaro.

I raised my head to gauge our progress against the stars. They were close. Stars!

I stumbled on a rock. The trail demanded my attention. I raised my eyes again.

Mount KilimanjaroI stopped. The stars had moved. How could the stars have moved? Headlamps. I had not seen stars but the headlamps of people who were ahead of us. The void of the mountain still loomed over me. I turned my face back down to the trail.

Oxygen became scarce, my breathing labored. Mike’s was as well. Our guide continued his steady pace, unaffected by the altitude.

Yesterday the porters who carried our gear to the last base camp had raced ahead of us and then stopped for cigarette breaks along the trail. I gasped for breath as I passed them happily puffing away. I hated them.

The realization that I could make out bits and pieces of the landscape brought me back to the present. Morning was near. Looking up, I could see the saddle of the crater’s edge, Stellar Point. From there we would follow the rim to the top. Close, but not close enough.

Light slipped along the terrain. I could make out the tired features of my husband’s face, thekilimanjaro-climb1 bored look on our guide’s. The scree became a seen enemy, the trail harder because it was visible. Fatigue, lack of oxygen and the sight of the steep winding trail forced me to focus mentally and physically on the task at hand.

Looking behind us to the east, we saw the sky glow orange with the coming sun. An ocean of clouds surrounded the mountaintop, moving with its own tides. It made an island of a nearby peak. There was nothing below. The rest of the world was lost. There was no place to go but up.

We reached Stellar Point in full morning light. My husband took pictures while I lay in the scree. “Look,” he said. “It’s beautiful.” Then he panted at the effort it took to say those few words.

I lay on my back, looking at the sky, exhausted. I wanted to go down. Now.

Our guide sensed rebellion. He pulled me to my feet and turned me to face the crater. It looked deceptively shallow. Then I realized that the small line running near the edge was a trail. The people on it were not visible to the naked eye. The glacier on the other side of the rim was a mass of vertical lines of icy blues and grays.

“Look.” Our guide directed me to follow the line of the crater to a far edge. I could see the sign that marked Uhuru Peak. Freedom Peak. The summit. I could see the summit. If I could see it, I could get there.

We picked up our packs and started around the rim. At a lower altitude, the walk would have taken less than 20 minutes. With 50% less oxygen than we are used to, it took over 40.

I staggered slightly, feeling drunk. I couldn’t walk a straight line.Kilimanjaro-Climb-Tours

The trail cut through an ice field. Wind had turned the ice into sharp-pointed stakes. I was afraid that I would fall and impale myself. Blood on one of them let me know that this had happened to someone. The guide walked behind me, ready to right me if I tipped too far.

I expected to see the sign around each bend and was continually disappointed. I felt as if I would never catch my breath again.

kilimanjarosignAnother bend. No expectation now, but there it was.

“You are at Uhuru Peak, 5,895 meters. The tallest point on the African Continent. The largest free-standing mountain in the world.”


You can learn more about me at:

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