Write Anywhere 084: Montana Food Hop

by Kristin Nador/@KristinNador

Are you a food adventurer? Do you like to travel through food?

I’ve always been an adventurous eater. I think I owe that to three things: Continue reading

Write Anywhere 083: Montana Mountains

by Kristin Nador/@KristinNador

Do you ever wish you could get away from it all?

One of this year’s many challenges has been to keep on task with my Write Anywhere goals of finding interesting and inspiring places to stir up my writing creativity. Finances, Keeper Hubby’s health, as well as my own aches and pains, have kept me home at times when I would have liked to go out exploring new spots and practicing my writing and photography skills.

I love the challenge of going other places for two reasons: it helps me be present and focused by making specific times for creativity, and it helps me push down the symptoms of panic disorder that would prefer me to lock myself away. Sometimes that’s hard to deal with, but my creative voice is more valuable to me than the discomfort I deal with when I make myself vulnerable by getting out in public venues.

I didn’t expect the situation to change much through this year and had resigned myself to that fact with more than a hint of frustration. But at the end of fall sweet Hubby made it possible for me to take a much-needed caregiver’s break to explore a fascinating place with some of my favorite people. Continue reading

Write Anywhere #74

We’ve reached the last part of my August travels. It’s been a wonderful journey that I’ve enjoyed reliving by sharing it with you here on the blog. I know most of you have probably caught up with me at this point, but just in case, here is how the adventure went down:

Driving down Interstate 44 towards Tulsa, I reflected upon all my experiences over the past week. No matter how much you want to shield your children from hurt in this world, it’s going to happen in one form or another. As devastating as their experience was, I was proud of how the kids were handling it. I knew they would be okay.

I also discovered  Continue reading

Write Anywhere #73

Two more stops on my August adventure to make it back home. Have you seen where I’ve been so far?

The moments spent with BAM and his parents flew by. Though life would always be different for them, they began to fall into the regular routine of their lives. Time for Nani to get out from underfoot.

Sent off with big hugs and a few tears, I headed out early on a Wednesday, with lots of time for reflection during the eight-hour drive. I decided to take a quick detour to a place that had been calling me to exit the interstate and explore it for decades.

Write Anywhere #73: In A Cave

Meramec Caverns, entrance

leading the way to the caverns

Meramac Caverns has long been on my ‘explore this’ list. I can remember from my youth the billboards and barn roofs painted with the familiar advertisement along Interstate 44, which follows much of the path of the original Route 66 through Missouri.

Meramec_Caverns_Barn_(162826555)

Meremac Caverns Barn advertisement, photo courtesy Brett Moore, Creative Commons

Meramac Caverns is the largest cave system in Missouri, which is known as ‘The Cave State’ with about 6,000 identified caves. After exiting the interstate, I followed a beautiful tree-lined road about ten miles to the entrance.

Meramec Caverns, entrance and stores, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

Meramec Caverns from the outside

The outside of the cave looks rather kitschy, with some storefronts, a restaurant, and a ton of gaudy souvenirs for purchase, but once you walk into the actual cave system itself, the atmosphere changes, literally. Even though it was ninety+ degrees outside, plus high humidity from an abundance of rain the day before, inside the cave the temperature stays at a steady and cool sixty degrees.

At first I thought I’d get the chance to walk through the cave on a self-guided tour, but it ended up being much bigger than I thought. All visitors must take the tour with a uniformed guide. Our group gathered to about 75 people before they herded us into the first wide opening.

Meramec Caverns, The Ballroom, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

The Ballroom

According to historical accounts this area of the cave held an abundance of saltpeter, also known as potassium nitrate, an important ingredient in gunpowder. It was mined for saltpeter from the 1700’s right through to the Civil War.

While the cavern was in Union hands, a small contingent of Confederate soldiers attacked the Army’s mining venture. Legend has it that one of those soldiers was the infamous bank robber Jesse James, who along with his brother Frank, later used the cave to hide from the law. The owner of the cave, Lester Dill, found some artifacts that were traced to a train robbery at Gadshill, Missouri that Jesse James was known to have been involved in, so it could be true.

After its saltpeter days up through the 1940’s the huge entrance was given a floor and used as a dance hall, and today is known as the ‘Ballroom’. They built a stage for bands to play Saturday night dances and Sunday night gospel singalongs. The echoes in the room would make for a freaky awesome sound. Wonder what some modern-day electric guitars might sound like?

After the Ballroom, the tour guide took us back further into the cave system, and the air became damper, and of course, it was pitch black without lights. The guides would flip a switch and lights came on ahead of us, then flip another and the lights turned off behind us. I could see why they didn’t want people just wandering around on their own. The roar of an underground river bouncing off the cave walls combined with the dark gave me a bit of vertigo. The group had to cross a bridge over the river (which was really the size of a large creek) and I have to admit I tried to hold on tight to the rails. Only problem, everything is coated with a film of dampness, so that didn’t make me feel any more secure.

Several areas offered a close-up look at stalagmites and stalagtites, the perfect recipe of water and minerals that happen in limestone caves, dripping and growing centimeter by centimeter over thousands of years. They placed clear plastic walls between visitors and mineral formations to prevent any contact with them, as something as innocuous as skin oils can damage them and stunt their growth. It was very hard to take any good photos in the dark and cramped conditions (seventy-five people trying to look at the same rock in a cave is cramped!) but here are a few that turned out:

Meramec Caverns, stalagmites and stalagtites, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

stalagmites and stalagtites with a pool of water

Botryoid mineral formations, Meramec Caverns, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

Botryoid formations: grape-shaped

large stalagmite, Meramec Caverns, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

large stalagmite

We moved up and down throughout the cave system, and at one point a climb of almost forty very steep stairs had the tour guide asking ‘those with knee and cardiac issues’ to wait at the bottom. I climbed the stairs huffing and puffing with most of the group to view the famous ‘Wine Table’. It’s a very rare formation, with only one other in the world in Italy. My lungs did not appreciate the rarity, but instead complained about how out of shape their owner was.

The final stop on the tour was the spectacular Stage Curtain. You can tell where it gets its name:

Stage Curtain, Meramec Caverns, Missouri, photo by kristin nador

The Stage Curtain

And harking back to a time when Americans were much more easily entertained, we sat down in theatre seats in front of the Stage Curtain for a light show.

Hokey and simplistic now, it was a technological thrill during its time. It’s the original light show owner Lester Dill installed to showcase this natural wonder. The tour guide has to throw switches for all the lights throughout the show, so if you are there in person, you mostly hear the clicking of the switches. Dill was very proud that Kate Smith actually came to sing ‘God Bless America’ there in front of the Stage Curtain in the 1940’s, and the governor of Missouri gifted the cave with the American Flag light. They can only leave it on now for 25 seconds or the bulb burns out.

After the tour guide led us back to the start of our journey, I found a bench near the tour start, and pulled out my phone. It was a little too dark to see my own writing on paper, so with a note-taking app, I wrote down some of my impressions and worked on  sensory phrases that described what I experienced. A scene in my in-progress historical fiction calls for my protagonist to sneak into a series of limestone caves being used to store and age kegs of beer, and the sensory phrases I came up with will hopefully enhance that scene. My lungs appreciated the bench rest as well.

The strangest part of my visit to Meramec Caverns had to be coming out of the cave into the noonday sun. It took a while to adjust to the brightness and the heat seemed so much hotter than it should have after spending almost two hours in the cool of the caverns.

I headed out back onto Interstate 44 with plenty of time to spare to make it back to Tulsa. Or so I thought. The last and most bizarre part of my adventure would start only about thirty miles ahead.

Where did you write this week?

Write Anywhere #67

This post continues my August travel adventure and personal inner journey. If you’d like to start from the beginning, click here. I hope you’ll come along and discover like I did, that you can find the fuel for creativity anywhere, in any situation, if you choose to keep your heart open and make room for it.

Musician Daughter’s voice broke as I listened on my cell phone. She stumbled with the words emergency room, blood tests, and ultrasound. No medical explanation, they told her.

Then the loneliest of words: miscarriage.

“Should I come now?” I asked, working to keep my voice steady.

“No, wait. I think we’ll be okay.”

I called her each day for three days, wanting to offer love and support, but also not wanting to intrude on this most intimate of wakes between husband and wife.

For three days I grieved, I cried, I prayed, I prepared. I lamented the 441 miles between us, which might as well have been a million. I imagined how they felt, and cried some more. I grieved for life lost, for hope crushed, for hearts broken.

Then,'”Could you come now? We need some help.”

“Of course. I’ll be there tomorrow.”

Write Anywhere #67: Rest Stop

Mural, Missouri Rest Stop

Mural, Missouri Rest Stop

I packed my Prius and headed out first thing in the morning. The drive from Oklahoma to southern Illinois, six hours for the normal driver, takes me over eight hours because of my back issues and all the stretch stops I have to make. I didn’t mind. It gave me time. I needed time to empty myself of myself. Musician Daughter, Musician-in-Law and Destined To Be A Musician didn’t need someone else to worry about, care for, or be uncomfortable around. I had to button down my own emotions to be able to let them release theirs. I needed to think about the words. What words could I say?

My first rest stop on the trip was just over the Oklahoma-Missouri border, about 90 minutes into the trip. It’s a nice rest stop, with clean bathrooms, cozy couches, fresh coffee, and rows of travel brochures. I walked several laps around the sidewalks and did my physical therapy stretches where I could, to a few quizzical stares. I walked into the visitor center, and a welcome hostess asked me where I was headed, and if I needed help finding a travel brochure.

“Thanks, I know where I’m going.”

The rest stop had a Route 66 theme, and offered weary travelers picnic tables, each covered with a nostalgic diner or gas station-designed gazebo.

Rest Stop, Missouri Interstate 44 photo by kristin nador

I strolled through the empty shelters, watching eighteen wheelers pull in and out of the parking lot, and reflecting on my own nostalgia: Musician Daughter when she was a baby, a toddler, a young girl. When I could soothe any hurt with a band-aid, a hug, or a cookie.

I felt empty and helpless, her pain now beyond a mother’s consolation. I sat down at a picnic table and got out my notebook, and wrote words. Words to the heavens, words to darkness’s depths, words not to be shared, but words to wash the debris of grief from the wound in my heart.

I had the liberty to grieve later, now I needed to help them with their grief that couldn’t be postponed, each time they passed a nursery never to be used. They didn’t need another person asking questions, wanting details, offering polite sympathies.

I watched an old man get out of a car and make his way to a picnic table. A scruffy three-legged dog hobbled behind him. The dog sat at the man’s feet while he lit up a cigarette. The man began to cough, and the dog put a paw on his knee. The man rubbed the dog’s head, and he relaxed and laid down across his feet.

rest stop interstate 44 missouri photo by kristin nador

I realized they didn’t need to hear any more words. They just needed someone to be there, when they need a hug, or a hand to hold. Or when they didn’t. Someone to let them cry. They needed a safe ear to listen to their words, if they chose to memorialize with them, when words are so inadequate, but all we have.

I headed back out to the interstate, wedging my car among tractor-trailers, and moving towards the next rest stop, and the next. As the sun settled behind me in the West, I reached my destination. Arms ready for any and all hugs requested.

Where did you write this week?

The Digital Age of The Writer: Review of WANACon

'Speaking', courtesy chiarapassa, Creative Commons

‘Speaking’, courtesy chiarapassa, Creative Commons

by Kristin Nador/@KristinNador

Last weekend I attended the first all-digital writing conference WANACon, produced by Kristen Lamb and her WANA International group. If you’re not familiar with WANA, it stands for We Are Not Alone, and refers to an attitude of service and support among writers while making career choices for success. Check out either of Kristen’s books We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide To Social Media and Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer for more insight into the WANA way.

I wanted to give a review of this conference, as it was history-making event. If you want a technical overview with screen shots, check out Kristen’s post:

All You Ever Wanted To Know About The Writing Conference of the Future – WANACon

screen-shot-2013-02-05-at-11-43-46-am

It started with a simple click to PayPal to pay and register. Then I was notified by email of the passwords needed to ‘enter’ the conference. Another click on the link, enter the password, and there I was, socializing with my fellow conference attendees in the ‘lobby’ while still at home relaxing in my sweats. We got to know one another through a group IM chat. Attendees came from all parts of the U.S. and the world. How often does this Okie girl get to hang out with people in Australia and Saudi Arabia? That was kind of cool.

The conference started on a Thursday evening and ran each day through Sunday. At the scheduled times, we ‘entered’ the virtual classrooms. There were two classrooms: one for classes and one for agent pitches. Yes, just like at live writing conferences, you could sign up to pitch to an agent. You had the ability to IM chat, ask questions with audio, or show everyone your lovely face with video.

During a workshop if you had a question, a click of a button let you ‘raise your hand’. After a class ended, we herded back out into the ‘lobby’ to schmooze until the next one. The classes covered all the information you’d expect to find at a writing conference: writing craft, publishing trends, social media platforms, e-books.

Just like a live writing conference, I soaked in information until it oozed out of my brain. The top epiphanies swirling around in my head right now:

“What is your business model?” (Yes, authors, you are a business.)

“Sell the hook, not the book.”

“Always be a professional.”

“Define your dreams.”

“Agents ARE looking at your social media platform.”

“Invest in cover art: we do judge a book by its cover.”

“What do you want social media to do for you? Figure it out, then you can make it happen.”

“A villain is the hero of his own journey.”

“Do the research. If you don’t, others will and slam you for it.”

“What’s my word cloud?”

Lest you think it was all business and no fun, hilarity abounded in the comments, and Sunday was ‘Pajama Day’ and those brave enough showed up on their video cameras or snapped a photo and entered the ‘PajamaCon’ contest. I learned a lot, made some friends, and felt I got my money’s worth. All from the comfort of my own house. Being able to attend from my own home is a special help to me right now, as I continue to go through physical therapy, and travel is not good for my condition at all.

To sum up, here are my pros and cons for a digital writing conference:

Pros:

  • Save on travel costs
  • Schedule availability
  • Can continue with everyday life (I didn’t have to get a cat sitter)
  • Advantage for those with physical disabilities or other special health needs
  • Save money on restaurants, bars, cabs, and the like
  • No rubber chicken dinners (unless you cook rubber chickens like I do)
  • No box lunches
  • Pajamas!
  • Won’t mess up your diet (unless you want to)
  • Easier to engage in in-depth conversations with others that can be hard for introverts to initiate
  • Already on your computer so you can follow along and put into practice what you learn about social media
  • Can take important calls or emails if you need to
  • No worries about long bathroom lines
  • Pajamas!
  • No need to cancel attendance for weather reasons
  • Don’t have to sit in airports
  • No DUIs (Friendly PSA: NEVER Drink and Drive)
  • If you miss a session, there’s a recording for that
  • Pajamas!

Cons:

  • Occassional audio issues, but nothing that wasn’t quickly fixed by TechGuy extraordinaire Jay
  • Conversations in the IM chat box during a presentation can be distracting if you’re easily distracted (like me) – all those conversations wouldn’t be happening in a live event without lots of stink eyes being thrown around – but an easy fix of closing the chat box can help you regain focus
  • If presenters are a little less tech-savvy, they can miss questions from the audience, but a good moderator makes it all seamless. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Jami Gold. You rocked it!)

WANA International will be offering more online conferences in the future. Will online conferences take the place of the traditional writing conference? I don’t think so, and we should continue to support them. With information in the publishing business changing as fast as you can say Jeff Bezos, online conferences may be a good way to supplement in person conferences to keep abreast of what’s happening.

I’ll be attending an in-person writing conference in Oklahoma this year, but I’ll be looking forward to the next WANACon as well.

Find out what other participants thought of WANACon:

My sincere thanks to all involved with WANACon. It was great. I’ll be back.

Do you like writing conferences? What are your pro/con list for an in-person writing conference? Would you consider attending an online writing conference?

Write Anywhere #55

by Kristin Nador/@KristinNador

Do you enjoy travel? I enjoy the sights and activities but there’s also have a weird thing I like about it.  I’m talking about the act of getting to your destination and making it back home. It’s like a contest to me. Who will win: me or all the crazy things that usually happen and upset my pre-conceived ‘perfect schedule’?

Like the time I was driving my daughter to college in Oklahoma from Florida and I got a flat tire with my Suburban in Birmingham, AL late on a Saturday afternoon when the Crimson Tide were playing and everything in the city shuts down. Or the time we were moving to California and I was driving a U-Haul through the mountain passes near Albuquerque, NM at 7 1/2 months pregnant in a snowstorm. Or the time I travelled alone on a plane with a 3 year old and a 1 year old and my youngest decided to reach out and grab a piece of cake on the serving tray and throw it down the aisle. And he never even moved off my lap. I still haven’t figured out how he did that.

This week I got to tag along with Keeper Hubby on some business travel and took a side trip to visit Musician Daughter and her little family. Nothing strange happened, but I did get to grab a few minutes of quiet writing time in an unusual place (for me).

Write Anywhere #55: Airplane

View from my window seat

I haven’t flown very much, and it normally makes me a little anxious. I sometimes have ear pressure issues, too, and this was no exception. My ears plugged up and I basically couldn’t hear during the flight. This was also my first night flight, and something about no sound and the night made the flight magical.

I hunkered down in my window seat, got out the pen and Moleskine notebook I had crammed into my jacket pocket and did some free writing. Here are some lines that came out of that:

a line between ground and sky, flight and fancy

checkerboard fades into mist

my breath slows

specters of clouds, phantasms, real or imagined

machine lumbers into night

frozen in midair, frozen in time

silence is the door

beacon comforts me like a heartbeat in the black

jeweled gardens below

lightning bugs

islands of light

diamond civilizations

I was down there and now I am here

No Pulitzer prize in those lines, but it’s fun to write whatever comes into your mind at the time. I need to make it a more regular practice in my writing.

Where did you write this week?

Question: Do you have a fear of flying? How do you deal with it?

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Write Anywhere #45

by Kristin Nador/@KristinNador

Did you have a good 4th of July? Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays, for a number of reasons. In spite of all our troubles America is still a great country, where you can do just about anything and succeed, or screw up and try again. 4th of July is one of those feel-good holidays and it has a casual commitment level as compared to Christmas or Thanksgiving. You can go for the gusto and march in a parade, shoot off fireworks, have a cookout for your entire family, or just stay in and watch the orchestras play the 1812 Overture during the DC fireworks on TV. It’s also a great holiday for reminiscing about history and the good old days.

I didn’t do any of those things to celebrate, except my regular tradition of watching my favorite cheesy sci-fi movie ‘Independence Day’ and stand in my driveway watching all my crazy neighbors shoot their fireworks during a drought and burn ban, hoping none would land on my roof. Instead I thought what better way to commemorate our country’s 236th birthday than to travel along The Mother Road, or at least my little piece of it.

Write Anywhere #45: Route 66

Route 66 was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System. It was a major corridor of travel from Chicago to California until the Interstate Highway system made Route 66 obsolete. It carried the  wagon trains before there was a road. Later it carried the hopes and dreams of Dust Bowl survivors looking for a better life in California. During its heyway in the 50’s and 60’s it opened the western states to new ideas, development and family driving vactions. It even was the basis of an iconic television series.

There are still portions of Route 66 in use, including a section here in Tulsa, OK. I took a drive along the route for a fun afternoon. There is still evidence of its travel history with car lots and motels reflecting a 60’s flavor along the way.

donuts since 1967!

Those in Oklahoma, as well as those in Oklhoma, welcome you! 😉

Some structures, like parts of the highway itself, are in disrepair.

not quite sure what this used to be, but it was in front of an abandoned garage circa 1960’s

Others have been restored, like the Meadow Gold Sign.

I lost my way once I reached all the downtown road construction, so I pulled over and got out my notebook.

Thinking about it, I realized I’ve had a strange connection to Route 66 for most of my life. I grew up a few blocks from the Route 66 leg that runs through St. Louis. I worked at a store on Route 66 in high school. Summer nights spent at the Route 66 Drive-In. Our first apartment as a married couple was located one block south of the busy thoroughfare. I drove a 26′ U-Haul truck while 8 months pregnant through Route 66 towns like Oklahoma City, OK, Amarillo, TX, Tucumcari, NM and Barstow, CA when Keeper Hubby was stationed on the West Coast.

Many years after that when we first came to Tulsa with all our earthly belongings stuffed among three little kids in a beat-up station wagon, we stayed at a lovely motel on Route 66 whose claim to fame were roaches the size of your thumb. We moved up from that station wagon, and the motel moved on. This is how it looks now.

I’ve travelled back and forth from St. Louis to Tulsa so many times now I know the towns by heart: Joplin, Springfield, Lebanon, Cuba, Rolla, St. James, Union, Pacific, Valley Park, Fenton, Sunset Hills, Kirkwood, Webster Groves, St. Louis. Last year I took a weekend trip with Artist Daughter on the Chicago loop of what used to be the Mother Road and had more adventures.

I think Route 66 embodies all those things that are distinctly American: the pioneer spirit, adventure, freedom, entrepreneurism, quirky individuality, and our ultimate interconnectedness as Americans. Of course I had to write a little flash fiction starring Route 66.

Not as good as this little ditty.

Where did you write this week?

Have you ever travelled on Route 66 or its newer incarnations, Interstate 55, 44 and 40? Any adventures?

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Healthy Writer Wednesday: The Search For Healthy Eats On The Road

I’m still on the road. I’m having a great time visiting with Musician Daughter, Musician-in-Law and Destined-To-Become-A-Musician Grandson. Tomorrow I’ll end my visit in a very small town in the Midwest and head for bright lights of the big city. I’ll be doing book research for two or three days. The only drawback to my adventure has been my eating habits. A couple days they looked like this:

This place was featured on The Food Network for a good reason-yum!

The rest of the time my eating habits looked like this:

Too much fried is not good for the soul...ugh

So now that I’ll be traveling to a new place I need to get a new food plan. That’s where you come in. Got any good tips for eating healthy while traveling? What are good snacking foods to take along in the car? I have a small cooler with me – I want to fill it with things that are:

  • healthy
  • portable
  • not messy

Suggestions?

Question: What healthy foods do you take on a road trip? Do you ignore the food police and just indulge when you’re traveling?