Category Archives: positive attitude

Another Writing Career Reboot – Considering the Offer

The emails expressing interest in the first two books of my mystery series raised a number of emotions. First, I was quite surprised by the timing, about five weeks after submission. Second, I was thrilled with their enthusiastic comments indicating that the team had clearly read both manuscripts. Third, I was cautiously optimistic given my experience with a previous publisher. Fourth, I was skeptical since the particular publisher, Zimbell House Publishing, requires an author’s investment.

I’ll go right to the heart of my dilemma. In the 1990s when I set out to be a published author, I was told that I should not have to pay anything to reach that goal. Furthermore, the vanity press was not used by real writers and real writers groups did not recognize a self-published individual as a legitimate author.

I don’t believe that such a stigma continues today. Furthermore, what ZHP offers is not self-publishing services but a partnership between the publisher and author. I knew about this requirement when I allowed my manuscripts to be matched with ZHP on the Authors.me website and put the issue in the cross-that-bridge-when-we-get-there category. ZHP’s emails brought me to the bridge.

The process I went through is not important. I considered many things that any writer would when evaluating a publisher’s offer. In the end it came down to these questions:

  • What will ZHP provide in ancillary services, such as marketing tools?
  • Does the organization/team seem up to the task based on what is known about ZHP?
  • Is the investment amount reasonable and feasible?
  • If not ZHP, what am I waiting for?

My research was limited to reviewing the author list and product catalog via the ZHP website and asking process and contractual questions of the acquisition manager. I also took a look at ZHP’s footprint on Amazon and the internet in general.

An unfortunate reality stuck in my brain: The 2016 publisher that went out of business while working on my book was known to me personally as were writers published by the company. I was also familiar with the publisher’s personal work ethic. None of that knowledge or familiarity helped me get my book published by that publisher.

Clearly limited information and a leap of faith would play an important part in my decision about ZHP. The most important question – What am I waiting for? Do I think there’s a publisher out there who will take on a first-time author free of charge or even give me an advance? Will that publisher provide all the support and the higher royalty rate that ZHP promises? How many more months or years will it take to find that theoretical publisher?

With some nervousness, but mostly confidence, I signed the contract two weeks later. Much progress has been made on both books in the intervening months. Check out my Books tab for info about the Kate Starling Mysteries series and an opportunity to review the first book, Mistaken Identity.

The partnership has worked for me in my particular circumstances. It may not be for everyone. But it is an option available in this 21st century and I am delighted.

Give Harmony a Chance

Does anyone else feel like they woke up one day not long ago and everyone in the USA seemed a bit tense? Maybe it’s because I’m retired and have more time on my hands to notice what’s going on around me.

My uniform for my previous day job of 40 plus hours per week included a set of blinders. It was almost impossible to catch the day-to-day drama of being a citizen.

Even my first year of retirement was focused on personal projects that had been ignored and postponed for years:  yard work beyond an occasional mow, house work beyond the occasional vacuum, sorting through stacks of items stowed in the garage or spare closet, writing the book I started years before.

And then it was 2015 and the Presidential election caught my attention. One of my first posts in May 2016 was about Trump running. Rereading that post recently I was amazed how both correct and wrong I was in my speculation. But that’s another issue.

I don’t believe the election or Donald J. Trump himself caused the tension in our citizenry. But it occurs to me they both exacerbated the soup of divisiveness that had been simmering for years. A soup, by the way, which is now a full-fledged and very large pot of Mulligan stew.

Although I dwell on this situation during my evenings digesting the day’s news, I don’t know precisely how we got here or what can be done to go back to “better times” or even if the “better times” are merely my personal fantasy.

I suspect that we need to listen to each other’s ideas without judging, perhaps by viewing the idea from the other person’s perspective. Okay, I know what you’re thinking: It’s impossible to truly walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I agree, but the effort to do so would be a beginning.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Before you lash out to criticize or rebut something really stupid said by someone who is clearly an idiot – Stop, take a breath, and ask the person politely, “Why do you say that?” or “What makes you think that?” Don’t be aggressive or accusatory or denigrating. Stay calm and ask.
  • Before you forward an email, text, Face Book post, or Tweet – Think about the consequences. Will this information do harm or good? Will receiving this information inflame or relieve the recipient? Do you want to be responsible for perpetuating hate or unease? Do you know things NEVER leave the internet?
  • Before you respond to a statement, question, or accusation – Slow down and consider what you are about to say. Did you understand the other person’s words? If not, ask the individual to repeat or explain. What can you say that would be positive?  What do you know about the subject? Should you do research or ask more questions? Above all, DO NOT try to FIX the person’s thinking.
  • Remember it’s not about YOU, so don’t take it personally. Even if it seems at first glance to be about you, it probably isn’t. Ask yourself why you’re angry or upset and make sure you approach the issue calmly.

Hey, it’s worth trying.

Grand Canyon Adventure – End of the Journey

Since December 19, 2016, when Anne brought up the idea of hiking at the Grand Canyon, there was a month or two of research, three monthly attempts to make a reservation at Phantom Ranch, and over 60 training hikes of various lengths and durations culminating in the final (and I must say awesome) success of the Grand Canyon hike itself.

IMG_0445The importance of training for this type of hike cannot be overstated. If one wants to hike the South Kaibab (7.5 miles) or Bright Angel (10 miles) trails, one must understand the seriousness and brutality of the “up-ness” and “down-ness” of this hike. If you plan to stay at Phantom Ranch your load will be lighter than if you plan to camp out. In either case practicing with your full load is important.

I suppose the amount of training is relative to age (i.e., the younger you are the less training you need). Okay, I’m sure that’s true, but one should nevertheless take my advice into consideration.

We drove the 2600-mile round trip between Missouri and the South Rim, taking three days going and two days to come home. Driving through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona is worth the time if you have it. The wind turbine and solar panel farms are incredible.

20180429_173240_resizedThe volcanic lava fields seemingly springing forth from a desert mesa in New Mexico are mind-blowing. The rock formations across the Southwest United States are not only beautiful but humbling.

20180501_115025But there are cities, small and large, that are interesting too. We stopped for the night in both Amarillo, TX, and Albuquerque, NM. And it didn’t hurt that we had great weather. But oh that wind!!!

IMG_2281IMG_2250On our way to the canyon, we spent an afternoon in Old Town Albuquerque (established in 1706). The area is charming and the shopping opportunities abound. Each locally-owned store has its own story and character. Here’s a link to a bit of history: http://albuquerqueoldtown.com/index.php?page=history .

Our return trip started early the day after our hike out. We grabbed a quick breakfast along the interstate and headed to Amarillo—about half-way home. Anne and Shayna had the perfect place in mind for our celebration dinner. We’d driven past the “no-way-you-can-miss-seeing-this-place” location on our way to the canyon. Perhaps a little over-the-top, but it held a special place in their family history.IMG_0434

IMG_0438We drove from our hotel on the east side of Amarillo a little farther east to The Big Texan Steak Ranch. Nothing about this establishment is small—not the sign outside, the huge dining room, the desserts, nor the 72-ounce steak which is free if you can eat it ALL (including baked potato and salad). (Check it out: https://www.bigtexan.com/72oz-hall-fame )

IMG_2395Certainly one cannot overlook the charm of the roving singers, two men who can perform, without hesitation and in harmony, ANY song that is requested.IMG_0441

Our steaks and baked potatoes were cooked to perfection and delicious. By the way the young man did not meet the 72-ounce steak challenge that night.

IMG_0452Having started our adventure with Margaritas, we toasted our successful trip with the Big Texan’s super-large Margaritas with super-large jalapeño garnish.

And on to the next challenge.

Grand Canyon Adventure – Back to the Top

20180504_054922_resized_1The full moon-glow competed with the rising sun above the canyon wall as we readied to depart Phantom Ranch.

We had enjoyed our stay but were eager to accomplish the rest of our challenge. As promised the weather was great, starting off a little cool, but we’d be shedding our outerwear soon enough.IMG_0354

The walk to the bridge across the Colorado River and the Bright Angel Trailhead was less than a mile from our cabin. Our muscles were covered in Anica salve and we were ready to meet the challenging 10-mile hike UP-UP-UP to the South Rim. IMG_0361Oh, by the way, we had no choice. The only other (feasible) ways out were by mule or helicopter—neither of which were acceptable.

20180504_060900_resizedThe three of us hiked together—at the same pace—until we made it to River Rest House, about 2 miles from the trailhead. Of course, you may remember it was all uphill paralleling the river on our way to Phantom Ranch. Therefore, this trek was all downhill with a gradual slope and less rocky path.

Once we passed the rest house we started up the familiar step-like, rocky, switch-back trail. In short order we hit a rather steep log and rock formation. It was at this point that Shayna darted by me and said something like, “See you at the top.” I thought she meant the top of the particular structure we were climbing. Following suit, Anne apologized for passing me so she could move at her faster rate. It was then I recalled the “everyone at their own pace” rule and I realized “the top” meant the South Rim.

But what the heck, I felt great, in little if any pain, and the day was beautiful. Oh, and we were hiking in the Grand Canyon.

Remarkably, I made it to the half-way mark at Indian Garden by 9:45, four hours from our Phantom Ranch departure time. There were a couple exciting moments getting there but I was pacing myself well, drinking water, and snacking as directed. I was actually on track to meet the 6-9 hour window for completion. (SPOILER ALERT: It didn’t happen.)

One of my exciting moments came when I fell off a rather large rock while reaching my foot to a smaller rock to step down. Apparently uninjured, I was in the process of getting to my feet when a group of young men came up the trail. They offered me help and easily hoisted me to up and guided me to a chair-high rock. I confirmed my lack of serious, if any, damage. We chatted for a bit before resuming the hike. They stayed with me as we crossed several creek-like streams of water crossing the trail. At some point I told them I was okay and they resumed their normal pace and were out of sight quickly.

These young men were the first of many “trail angels” who I met that day. There were also several individuals who were coming down from the top who brought messages from Anne and Shayna to the “lady in the red hat.” Strangely enough, these messages were rather comforting.

Anne and Shayna waited for me at Indian Garden. The young men were there too. Everyone seemed glad to see me. I didn’t realize I deserved so much concern. Of course, in retrospect, I get their point.

Anyway, we left Indian Garden around 10 am and I was quickly alone at my slower speed. 20180504_082046_resizedEven coming upon the 3 mile (from the top) rest house I felt great. My legs and hip were okay. I was okay. There was just enough shade along the way to rest occasionally. Each time I stopped I took a picture.20180504_110225_resized

The last picture shows Indian Garden toward the middle of the photo. I’d come a long way. But I was approaching the 1.5 mile (from the top) rest house and I was running out of juice. My resting periods were getting longer than my hiking periods.20180504_125457_resized

I asked a young couple who were heading down how far it was to the 1.5 mile rest house where I planned to refill my water container. As with most hikers, the woman said, “About 10 or 15 minutes.” No one ever knows the distance in feet/miles. During our chat I mentioned I was low on water but planned on filling up at the rest house. She earned her trail angel status by insisting, without hesitation, that I take a bottle from her supply.

Ironically one of the men who carried a message to me earlier in the day on his way down was returning to the South Rim. He helped me fill my newly acquired water bottle—twice—at the 1.5 mile rest house and walked with me for a brief period, definitely qualifying as a trail angel.

It was about 2:30 pm and I was sitting on another shaded rock contemplating my boots when I noticed someone stopped close to me. I looked up and the nice man said, “How are you doing?” or something like that. I was feeling sort of woozy so conversation wasn’t my priority. I don’t think it took him long to realize I needed some assistance. I had not come to that conclusion yet, but I was not looking at me sitting on the rock.

It was then that Anne called. She and Shayna had made it to the top and wondered where I was on the trail. Before my cell phone went stone cold dead (remember all the pictures I was taking?), I was able to communicate where I was and that a nice man had just offered to help me finish the hike.

Turns out Tim, my new hiking friend, was an experienced hiker who had done the North Rim trails and South Rim trails numerous times. He understood what was happening to my body. I really didn’t want to eat or drink anything more. I felt like I would explode. He made me eat some gummy bear-like snacks and drink more water.

As we walked and rested, he explained why I needed to do that. He told me about a time he had fainted during a hike in the Grand Canyon and a Park Ranger had stayed with him and walked him out. I told him he had officially paid-it-forward by helping me. Did I mention he was carrying my pack as well as his own? Yes, another full-fledge serious-class trail angel.

So we were once again resting and I was actually feeling better—drinking water and eating gummy bears. I knew Tim had exchanged texts with and subsequently talked to his wife, but I did not realize she sent her brother, Bill, and brother’s wife, Gina, down the trail to help. Also an experienced hiker, Gina took my pack from Tim, and soon suggested that he go ahead to the lodge. She and Bill promised to escort me the remaining mile-or-so to the top.

As my new coaches helped me ration the water and snacks and maneuver safely up the trail, I began to feel better and hike faster. I’m sure it was the euphoria of believing I was going to complete my adventure on my own feet, albeit with a great deal of encouragement from Gina and Bill. These two friendly souls are hereby dubbed my most supporting trail angels.

We made it to the top around 4:30 and Gina offered to accompany me to my lodge. She graciously hung around for several minutes then helped me get to my room. We said our goodbyes with my expressions of eternal gratitude for their help.

As I stood alone in my room around 5 pm—about 11 hours from Phantom Ranch—I surveyed with gratitude my luggage, slogged graciously by Anne and Shayna from the car to in my room.

I took a shower and located Anne and Shayna for dinner. We enjoyed a congratulatory toast, but decided we would properly celebrate this fantastic achievement with a final toast on our road trip home.

The final chapter soon.

Grand Canyon Adventure – Idea & Prep

I’m sure you’ll agree that many great ideas arise between friends while sharing Margaritas and a Combo Platter in a Mexican Restaurant. This is certainly true of the idea for our Grand Canyon Adventure. I’d like to say it was my idea, but it would never have occurred to me to suggest it. Fortunately, my friend Anne is very adventurous and sees no reason why the rest of the world can’t be that way too.

The idea wasn’t too far-fetched. Anne is an experienced hiker and even I have accomplished more than one long hike. My first thought was going to the South Rim, do a day hike, go back to the lodge and have dinner with a bottle of wine to celebrate.

Anne, had a better idea—hike to the bottom, stay at Phantom Ranch for 2 nights, and hike back to the top. Phantom Ranch?

Agreeing to do some research, I took some notes on a cocktail napkin—determine the best time of the year to go, best accommodations on the rim and at Phantom Ranch, and the best way to travel to the location.

What did we do before the internet? NPS.gov, the National Park Service website, led me to the specific pages for the Grand Canyon and Phantom Ranch. There are only a few ideal months for hiking at the Grand Canyon. It’s open year-round with some restrictions, but if you don’t want to be too cold or too hot, your just right time is April, May, September, or October.

Phantom Ranch offers cabins for four or dorms for 10 by gender. A cabin would be preferable for our small group of 3-4 ladies. Two nights (maximum allowed) would be preferable so we could rest and see some of the sites from the “bottom-up” perspective.

Given the state of air travel and our lack of a private jet, we decided that driving the 1300 miles from our state to the South Rim seemed easier, cheaper, and more fun.

The most difficult task, other than training for the hike itself, was making the reservations for Phantom Ranch—one of the most popular places in the USA. Although the system has since been replaced with a lottery, our reservations had to be made on the first day of a month for that month in the following year. That amounts to 13 months in advance. And the best shot was the first 90 minutes of that first day.

There are 75 phone lines (opening at 8 a.m. Central), 2 cabins each for males & females (16 beds total), plus 2 dorms each for males & females (40 beds total), and thousands of hopeful hikers trying for a month’s-worth of nights all calling on that first day of the month.

I called the reservations line to get some general information and recommendations but I also wanted to check out the call-cueing system. I thought I had done my homework when I made my first try in April 2017 for a reservation in late April 2018. I was disappointed by a busy signal or recording for 1 hour 40 min. By the time I got through everything for April 2018 was booked. The cabins for the entire month went in 15 minutes, dorms within 90 minutes.

I looked into other options—stay in area, do day-hikes, enjoy the scenery—in case Phantom Ranch did not work out. But we were determined to try for May, early June, then September and October.

Sometime before the May 1st attempt, I did more experimentation with phone lines & hold messages. There would be no way to rehearse the onslaught of first-day calls, but I needed an edge.

Then, on May 1, 2017, I called the number about 6:15 a.m., and was thrilled to hear the ring, followed by the hold message. Seemingly hours later—after listening to the message for at least a gazillion times and trying very hard not to cut myself off—I counted down to 8 a.m. and selected Phantom Ranch (option 1).

Within 5 minutes I was connected to an agent. I was able to book a cabin for two nights for 4 women, order all our meals, and pay for everything in advance. We also booked rooms in the Bright Angel Lodge (on South Rim) for the nights before and after our hike, paying for those in advance as well.

More on getting there, getting to the bottom, and getting back to the top when the Grand Canyon Adventure is completed.

Drive versus No-Drive?

Have you ever wondered why one person is more “driven” than the next? Why do some people have specific goals in life, figure out how to achieve them, and establish a plan/path to get there? What’s more, that individual will roll with the punches, take an alternate route as needed, and revise their target to skirt any obstruction or switch to a more attractive opportunity.

Others are guided by circumstances or events in an ad hoc fashion. A friend may mention she wants to go into the Navy, describing the benefits of military service. Our subject rolls her eyes and smiles, but her brain is secretly digesting and analyzing the information. Before you know it our gal is in the Air Force and her friend has moved on to another idea.

I relate to the above serendipitous scenario. In fact, my life-path has been directed by a sequence of unforeseen events or circumstances. These nudges were provided by friends, family, and complete strangers, usually at moments when I was wondering what to do next.

Both approaches are okay. And I don’t think a person necessarily makes a conscious decision to go one way or the other. It’s just what happens.

So here’s my theory: Young Soul as opposed to Old Soul.

Young Soul might be eager to experience a particular challenge not faced in a previous lifecycle. Old Soul, on the other hand, may have been more structured in previous lives and wants to “go with the flow” this time around.

Of course, it may be the exact opposite. Old Soul has things left to do and sets out to accomplish a particular goal in this time. Young Soul doesn’t know what’s available, so-to-speak, so just lets circumstances guide their life activities.

Anyway, that’s my current speculation.

Things I Appreciate

Although brooding over an annoyance is easier, spending time acknowledging the things we appreciate makes life way more joyful. I’m not sure when or why I developed this positive attitude and I’m not going to claim I practice it faithfully, but I do recommend trying the “glass is half-full” approach.

The best time to focus on the positive is when something or someone negative pops up in your day. Simply, observe the nasty intrusion and discount its importance in your life. Yes, things happen and we must deal with them, but don’t spend time being resentful or angry. Take whatever action you must to eliminate the issue and move on.

Sounds really easy, doesn’t it?

For me it helps to step back and view the big picture—the scope of the universe, so to speak. When (if) I reach this wider perspective, the irritation is much smaller and, consequently, less important.

I also look for the benefits of the situation, no matter how bad the “downer” is nor how small the benefit seems.

When all else fails, I rejoice in all the people and things in my life that bring me happiness, prosperity, and success. Here’s a list of my favorite things to dwell on (in no particular order):

  1. Penicillin, flu-vaccine, ibuprofen, aspirin, and other pharmaceuticals—Pricing may be driven by greed, but the desire to create these life-altering, if not life-saving, drugs is to be commended. Even those that simply provide a way to alleviate muscle pain are blessings.
  2. Airplane, automobile, train, space shuttle and other marvelous modes of transportation—Why anyone would think it’s possible to fly in a machine is amazing, but to set out to invent that machine is extraordinary, and to succeed and lay the foundation for the evolution of air and space travel is phenomenal.
  3.  Eggs—We can only speculate what motivated that first person to conceive not only the notion but also the method to fry, poach, boil, or scramble these objects for food. To that creative individual I tip my hat almost every morning.
  4.  Wine, liquor, beer and other alcoholic beverages—Do you suppose fermentation was an accident that turned perfectly good fruit juice into a pleasant aperitif, digestif, or happy hour brew? In any case, thanks to those who accomplished and perfected the transformation!!
  5.  Ballet, Texas two-step, tap, ballroom and other forms of dance—The insightful choreographer of the dance is second only to the musical genius who composed the first piece of music or tweaked existing tunes to form another genre. What a pleasure to perform and observe!!
  6.  Freedom—How many centuries of tyranny did it take individuals to figure out humans have certain inalienable rights to pursue happy, secure, and prosperous lives & how many more did those individuals fight to achieve and maintain those freedoms? We may complain about logjams in Washington, D. C., but we should be thankful every day for the sacrifices made by our founding fathers and all who have and continue to serve this Great United States of America.