Top Ten Reasons There’s No Place Like Home

Ten reasons weary travelers look forward to coming home.My spring and summer gallivanting ended a month ago, and so far, staying put is all I want to do. Here are ten reasons there’s no place like home.

10. The people at here speak my language. Not just English. But midwestern English. As in talk about sweet corn, State Fair, heat, humidity, sleeping weather, and knowing how many miles you’ve driven by the number of gravel roads passed.

9.  When something is misplaced, I know it’s somewhere in the house rather than in another state, another country, or snuggled up next to the dirty underwear in my suitcase.

8.  It’s easier to stay organized at home than on the road because…

7. …everything is in its proper place. Except when #9 occurs, which is far too often.

6.  Iowa in August and September is so beautiful, I can hardly stand the thought of being gone for even a minute of it.

5.  Sunday worship with believers in other parts of the world is a blessing, but Sunday worship with our local church family is a blessing and a comfort.

4.  Cooking in our kitchen means being able to eat everything on the table, including dessert, without asking if it’s dairy-free.

3.  At home, when #7 rather than #9 is in effect, there’s time to think deeply and do what I like to do best–get lost in writing.

2.  Home is where I can Facetime often with two of my grandkids, play with the other one whenever we want, and share the day with our daughter and son-in-law.

1.  For 39 years, whenever I’ve had to travel without the Man of Steel, he’s the one who makes the house feel like home when I return.

What makes you say, “There’s no place like home?” Leave a comment.


Top Ten Differences Between Latvia, Istanbul, and Idaho

Travels to Latvia, Istanbul and Idaho led to these top 10 comparisons about 3 very different places in the world.Thanks to 2016 summer travels I have set a globe-trotting personal record which quite possibly will stand for the rest of my life. In the past 2 weeks I have sojourned in Latvia for a special needs family camp, in Istanbul during a 24 hour lay over, and in Idaho for our annual Shadow Valley Family Reunion Camp. Below are the top ten differences observed in the three places recently visited.

10.  In Latvia, the coffee is delicious. In Istanbul, the teas are delicious. At Shadow Valley, anything on a cool, mountain morning tastes heavenly.

9.  The Soviet-era accommodations at the Latvian special needs camp were adequate. The small, newly renovated, family hotel in Istanbul where we stayed was a beautiful jewel. Our pop-up camper on the side of an Idaho mountain feels like home.

8.  The streets in the old city of Riga, Latvia are immaculate and populated by tourists. The streets of Istanbul are filled with people and garbage. The mountains of Idaho are reached by winding along gravel roads traveled by very few people.

7.  The Latvian countryside sports the biggest snails I’ve ever seen. Cats swarm the streets of Istanbul. Giant slugs slime any Idaho gravel road that skirts a river or stream.

6.  In Riga and Istanbul, there’s no lack of pigeon poop. Deer poop rules the roost in Idaho.

5.  Latvian vistas are Narnia-like. Ocean vistas are breathtaking in Istanbul. Mountain vistas stretch deep, long, and wide in Idaho.

4.  In Latvia, I answered to “Jolee” because most people there dropped the final “n.” In the Istanbul Grand Bazaar, I was called “La-dee, La-dee” but rarely answered because my suitcases wouldn’t hold the carpets, purses, scarves, and trinkets street hustlers were selling. At Family Camp I answer to whatever I’m called: “Jo,” “Jolene,” “Aunt Jolene” or “Miss Jolene” depending on the age of whoever is speaking.

3.  Most Latvian food was an adventure in unfamiliarity. Kabobs in Istanbul were amazing. Food at the Idaho camp is a parade of yummy family favorites.

2.  In Old Riga, there are churches everywhere. In Istanbul, there are mosques everywhere…though the Armenian Orthodox Church was across the street from our hotel. At Idaho Family Camp, church is a gathering of people rather than a place.

1.  The special needs family camp in Latvia provided the blessing of time to talk to moms. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul offered the blessing of time to walk and drink in a foreign culture. Shadow Valley Family Camp gives the blessing of time to connect with family and to think and dream and write.

Where have travels taken you this summer? Leave a comment.



Mrs. Pollifax on a Fantastic Friday

As it turns out, the protagonist of my current work in progress matches the qualifications set out years ago.Next week, I’m flying to McLean Bible Church’s Accessibility Summit. That upcoming event combined with mystery novel that’s my current work in progress makes this post from 2011 quite timely five years later. Before you read, you should know that the protagonist of the new series wears sensible shoes and underwear, contains her cellulite, and has absolutely no accent. At least not where I come from.

It Worked for Mrs. Pollifax

I am in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia (just outside Washington DC) for the Accessibility Summit at McLean Bible Church. To be accurate, the Summit begins later today, and I’m hanging out in the hotel business area because a new heater and AC unit is being installed in my room. My theory is that the CIA has hidden cameras in all hotel rooms in these parts, so they decoded my mutterings when the noisy heater woke me repeatedly in the night. Who says our government isn’t responsive?

The longer I sit here and people watch, the more glaringly apparent it becomes that I’m not in Kansas (yes, I live in Iowa, but please work with me) any more. Even though I read plenty of David Baldacci thrillers, Lisa Scottoline legal mysteries, Mrs. Pollifax CIA romps, and other fiction set on the East Coast to prepare me for this culture shock, it didn’t work. This midwestern gal is jaw-droppingly agog at the accents (this morning’s mix included British, Australian, Jersey, New York, and perhaps German), not to mention the fashion show that began in the Chicago airport yesterday and shows no sign of ending any time soon.

The most noticeable fashion statement thus far is the knee high, calf-hugging boots with three inch heels. Sported mostly by younger women who don’t yet realize “Bunion Builders” is the CIA code name for these boots, they look – well – really expensive, uncomfortable, and positively anti-midwestern.

The second most noticeable statement has been skin tight leggings, sometimes worn with bunion builders, sometimes under baggy, flowing shirts, and sometimes with short shirts and presumably thong underwear since no one had unsightly pantie lines. Apparently, fat jiggles are not considered unsightly in this neck of the woods. This is also anti-midwestern. In that part of the country, there are more fat jiggles per capita, but their owners tend to keep them well hidden.

I’m coping with the culture shock as well as can be expected. So far, I’ve resisted the infrequent urges to buy a pair of bunion builders, squeeze into leggings, or purchase thong underwear. Quite a feat of self-control for this midwestern, former school teacher who holds the door open for strangers, wears flat shoes and khaki pants, and knows better than to hug a Lutheran.

Just to be on the safe side, I’m making a list of anyone who looks like they work for the CIA, starting with the guys installing the heater in my hotel room. Once I get back home, I’ll mail it to the agency with an instructive note about how to make their spies blend in a little better, possibly by hiring midwestern women with sensible shoes, contained cellulite, sensible underwear, and absolutely no accent.

It worked for Mrs. Pollifax.
It could work for me.
Ya, shure, you betcha!

Top Ten Reasons to Love Southwest Airlines Today

3035470-inline-i-1-southwest-airlines-unveils-modern-colorful-redesignLast weekend’s trip to the Accessibility Summit conference was wonderful, as always. But this trip included a bonus perk: the flights too and from the conference were wonderful, too. In fact they were so wonderful, I feel compelled to list Southwest’s top ten wonderfulnesses since previous posts on this blog have bemoaned travel travails associated with this airline.

10. No flight delays. Not one. Most of the time we got to the gate early.

9.  The early Sunday morning flight from DC to Chicago Midway had only about 3 dozen passengers. So my flying buddy and I sat in the front row. With extra legroom. The perfect opportunity to pretend we were flying first class. And I was the first person off the plane for the first time in my whole life.

8.  2 bags free. Which for an author carrying books to sell is money in the bank.

7.  Southwest now has free gate-to-gate WiFi. Which, if I had enough tech savvy to figure out how to make it work, would have been a real perk. My flying buddy got it running on her phone, but she didn’t know how it happened, so she couldn’t teach me.

6.  They still serve free snacks. Pretzels and peanuts.

5.  Southwest has Goldilocks layovers. Not to long, not to short, but just right.

4.  Their magazine is about more than travel. A few years ago, it had an article about Harvard Medical School’s Brazelton Institute, dedicated to healthy development of infants and young children. It was a boon to the research for Does My Child Have PTSD?

3.  Some of their employees must moonlight as stand up comedians. More than one of them have jazzed up the safety instructions at the beginning of their flights so people actually pay attention. And maybe even laugh.

2.  Those same employees can also use the perfect combination of humor and steely determination to keep 40 eighth graders–on their way to DC for a class trip–from running amok on a crowded plane.

1.  Southwest flies out of Des Moines, so after a long day of air travel home is only a 45 minute drive away.

What’s your favorite airline? What makes it your favorite? Leave a comment.

Top Ten Reasons to Take a Fall Road Trip

fall colors

10.  Gas prices are hovering around the $3.00 mark.

9.   The weather’s comfortable during the day and not too cool at night, so you can turn off both the AC and heat while you’re gone.

8.   You’ll be gone on those warm fall days when the Asian soy beetles and box elder bugs swarm the south side of the house. That means you won’t be letting critters in whenever you go in and out.

7.   Pumpkin spice lattes are available at every pit stop.

6.   You can sleep with the windows open when you arrive at your night time digs.

5.   Watching farmers bring in the harvest makes for an captivating drive.

4.   So does viewing the fall colors along the way, especially along the Mississippi River valley.

3.   Good weather makes it possible to stop and walk around a prairie lake that’s too windy, too cold, or too hot most of the year.

2.  You might be present when a two-year-old is enthralled by the first fuzzy-wuzzy caterpillar he’s ever seen.

1.   Driving west on your way home, watching a magnificent sunset can move you to tears.

What do you love about fall road trips? Leave a comment.

Back in the Saddle Again

back in saddle

Contrary to what a literal interpretation of the above title implies, the no-longer-afraid-of-heights-and-horses genie did not work any magic at our house over the holidays. Neither the man of steel or the woman of aluminum will be riding horses in the near future. Or until hell freezes over. Which could be today with a predicted high of -7.

But I digress.

The back in the saddle reference is purely metaphorical–as is the hell freezing over phrase–so maybe the previous paragraph wasn’t a digression, though this one is in danger of becoming one.

Back to the topic at hand.

After an autumn filled with writing-related travel and pitching in to help rellies move, along with two December weekends devoted to Christmas travel and house guests at our house this past weekend, the hubbub is officially over.

I am back in the saddle again.

Back in the saddle that is preparing blog posts on Mondays, visiting Mom on Tuesdays, delving into writing and speaking projects Wednesdays through Fridays, and working around the house on the weekends. Back in the saddle without interruption for all of January and February.

A very boring saddle.

And a totally welcome one. Because it offers the long stretches of time needed to disappear into the story land of the mystery novel waiting to be completed. A story land replete with real horses and real saddles, which are fun to image riding because there’s no danger of falling off and getting hurt.

Now that’s my kind of adventure.

Which is why I’m glad to be back in the saddle again. A metaphorical place were I plan to stay for most of January and February. Yippie yi yo kayah!

Once Again, There’s No Place Like Home!

no place like home

What can happen in one short week?

  • A country bumpkin can drive through Chicago both ways without mishap and with correct change for the toll booth.
  • A bargain shopper can buy steal-of-a-deal new snow boots at an outlet store.
  • Old friends can spend a day together and pick up the conversation right where it ended almost 30 years ago.
  • Co-authors can hammer out the direction of a new book…and laugh a lot in the process.
  • One writer can enjoy lunch several days running with publishing house personnel, an agent, and special needs ministry colleagues.
  • An Iowan can navigate Grand Rapids, Michigan all week long and not get lost once.
  • The same Iowan can flawlessly execute a Michigan left turn. (Cue applause)
  • A writers’ conference can result in complete strangers becoming fast friends over coffee and hand outs.
  • The trees along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore can be beautiful enough to bring a person to tears.
  • Arriving home after a wonderful week reminds weary travelers of a truth that bears repeating, though clicking one’s heels is optional…

…There truly is no place like home!

Off to My McFarthest Spot

Harding County Jump Off

In just a few hours, I’ll be on my way to the McFarthest spot where Hiram and I lived for seven years. We moved there in 1978, two shiny new college graduates with our first grown up jobs. Seven years later, we returned to Iowa so our three-year-old son could be closer to doctors and a children’s hospital.

When we left Harding County, a tiny bit of my heart stayed behind, though I didn’t know it way back then. But with the passing of years and decades, it calls to me disguised as longings for the immense sky and the cool night air, for elbow room and old friends. In answer, I pull out my mystery novel manuscript and let my imagination take me there.

But this week I’m making the long drive west and north to do background research.
I want to smell the air, see the small towns, and hear gravel ping against the fender.
Feel my stomach lurch as the car rounds the curve at the crest of the Jump-Off.
Remember what it was like to live without cell phone service and wireless wi-fi.
Visit the school where I once taught, where a former student teaches now.
Hug old friends.
Share old memories.

All in an effort to pour this far away, precious place and the kind of people who live there into a fiction story. So readers who don’t live there and don’t know what they’re missing can fall in love with my McFarthest spot. So the remote and vast land that captured my heart 28 years ago captures their hearts, too.

Are you there yet?

Top 10 Comments When Camp Dorothy Met Thelma & Louise


10.  Dorothy: I don’t want to go on this trip, Jolene.

9.    Dorothy: That’s a dirty bean field.

8.    Dorothy: Look Jolene, another barn quilt.

7.   Dorothy: That corn field doesn’t look very good. Too dry, don’t you think?

6.   Dorothy: My, my the river’s low.

5.   Dorothy: Can you believe all the windmills? On both sides or the road. There’s another batch.

4.   Dorothy: Oh, I’m so tired I can hardly stay awake.

3.   Jolene: Mom, why don’t you lean recline your seat and take a nap. There’s a pillow in the back seat.

2.   Dorothy: Don’t tell me what to do, Jolene. I’m enjoying seeing the countryside.

1.   Jolene: Sigh.

Photo Source

Top 10 Travel Helps Yet to Be Invented

noxious weed

I arrived home from Alaska (the flowers above are considered a noxious weed in Kodiak) and Idaho almost a week ago. However, my life feels stuck in a hamster wheel  of non-accomplishment. To make returning from vacation easier, perhaps someone could invent the items in this week’s top ten list.

10.   A jet lag eliminator.

9.    Automatic weed puller.

8.    Automatic plant waterer.

7.    Automatic flower dead header. Hmmm….a theme is emerging.

6.   Email/mail scout to eliminate spam and junk mail. The deluxe version could include an authentic sounding response feature, too.

5.   Refrigerator restocker.

4.   Suitcase with washer/dryer combo to launder clothes on return trip.

3.   A put-everything-back-where-it-belongs robot that could, say, take the hanging plants off the patio and back onto their hooks.

2.   A vacation photo sorter with a sensor that beeps when your photos bore others. This refers to other people’s photos only, since mine are never boring or too numerous.

1.   A painless healthy diet restorer.

What invention would make life easier for you after a vacation? Leave a comment.