Weekend Recovery

Hello, friends!  Happy Tuesday.  

I’m afraid these last few days, I have been rather lazy.  I spent half the day Friday and most of Saturday up at Texoma, working at a labor of love event at my old Camp.  I had a great time, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.  I especially loved being back at a place I hold so near and dear to my heart.  

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For the record, all of these pictures were taken on my iPhone.  I didn’t take my camera since we spend most of our time working.  

This was my first Labor of Love weekend, and it was a wonderful experience.  It was a chance to work with members of our community, several of whom had been through tough times, and to listen to their stories.  I’m also thankful for the chance to do something good for a place and people that I love as opposed to what I normally do, which is whatever I feel like doing, mostly for me.  

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One of my absolute favorite things about being at Camp is sitting out under the night sky and looking at the stars.  There, away from the city light pollution, the universe opens up, and you can really appreciate how vast and endless the sky really is. It’s a wonderful experience, to just be, to listen to the wind and the trees and the night crickets.  It’s a great reminder that life isn’t all hustle and bustle and money and material things.  

The next morning, we woke up at 6:30, ate a quick breakfast, and went to work.  Our task for the day was clearing out dead brush and tree limbs (and whole trees!) from the pathway to the low ropes course.  There were two separate bonfires for the brush.  One was pretty much the most impressive fire I’ve ever seen.  It was huge, basically the size of a small room.  The other fire, while pretty, was not nearly as impressive.

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Although altogether a very worthwhile and rewarding experience, there are things that happen when you work in the woods all day.

1) You get dirty.  Like, really dirty.  Filthy.  The good thing is everyone around you is just as dirty and smells just as bad as you do.

2) You get bug bites.  Even if you wear bug spray, chances are, you will still come home with bites all over your body.

3) You get scratched up.  Trees are scratchy!  Briar thorns are even scratchier!  I’d rather drag a whole tree up a hill than carry a bush of that prickly mess.

4) You twist muscles that you didn’t even know you had.  I haven’t been able to walk properly on my left ankle since I got home.  Instead of bending outward like I rolled it, however, it bends inward.  Weird.  

5) You come home extra sleepy from all the sun and working and pass out for about 48 hours while your body recovers.

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However, I’m happy to report I’ve come home to all good things.  I will fill you all in soon, I promise!  Until then, I need to keep revising and working on the blurb for the back of the new book.  July 1 is fast approaching!  

Love to all!

A Post for Mother’s Day

My earliest memory is of my father leaving me out on the front porch of our apartment in Austin.  I was about two at the time, my mother was at the laundromat, and my dad had forgotten something, so he walked me back to our home and left me on the front porch while he ran in to get it.  It was at that time that I made what may have been the first conscious decision of my life and walked right back to my mother.  Now, we lived in a big complex and the laundromat was a fair distance from our front door.  I can’t imagine what neighbors must have thought, seeing this toddler just strolling through the parking lot by herself, but eventually, I made it back to my mother.

For those wondering, yes, my dad got the metaphorical beat down of the century for leaving me alone on the front porch.

The impact a mother has on the life of her child is pretty much impossible to describe in words, because no word will ever do her justice.  Love.  Unconditional.  Strength.  Sacrifice.  Protection.  Support.  Encouragement.  Friend. So, instead of making this about me and her impact on my life, I’m going to share hers instead.

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I really don’t know what’s going on in this picture.

The first thing I tell people about my mom is that she was born Susan Elizabeth Jones and later went on to marry a Smith.  How terrible is that?  I mean, seriously.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad she married my Daddy and I definitely wouldn’t have it any other way… but from Jones to Smith.  I can’t think about it for too long or else I get sad.  But they’re soul mates.  They’re best friends.  They laugh together.  They’re honest with each other.  They can talk about anything with each other.  They’re supportive.  They’ve been together through thick and thin, and they came through everything together.  They’re my inspiration for what I hope for in a relationship.

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Wedding Day

Fortunately, my mother’s dull last names are the only boring thing about her.  Her past and present are full of laughs, awkward stories, and fulfilled dreams.  One of my favorite story from her childhood is one that her two older brothers like to tell.  My uncles, by the way, are hilarious.  They’re probably partly where I get my twisted sense of humor from.  They’re ten and eight years older than my mom and they’ve always told her that she was an accident.  Poor kid.

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Anyway, the story goes that Jack and Ron (the uncles) were tossing a football around in the front yard.  Mom was about three at the time, and she was toddling around the yard, not really paying much attention to anything.  Well, Jack tossed that football, hit her square in the back of the head, and she face planted.  Fell right over.  My uncles thought they’d killed her.

Okay, writing it down, it doesn’t seem like a very funny story, but the way my uncle tells it is just flat out hilarious.  And she was totally fine, so you know.

Besides, she totally broke my finger with a football when I was in seventh grade, so there you go.

 

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My grandmother, June (whom I called Mimi) and my mom, probably a year or two before the football incident.

My mom is the one who taught me to follow my dreams.  She is a huge inspiration to me because her own dreams came true.  She told me that, growing up, all she wanted to do was fly.  She wanted to be a flight attendant.  And that’s exactly what she did.  Her favorite stories from her days of flying include the time she had KISS on her airplane and she got to see what they looked like without makeup.  She also met Alice Cooper.

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Earning her wings.

While neither of us could have possibly known at the time, my mom has encouraged me, from about the time I showed the slightest hint of a personality, to express myself.  She taught me to be creative.  She read to me constantly.  I still remember sitting on the couch in our apartment in Austin, eating raisins, playing with stickers, and reading books.  She gave me blank sheets of paper and markers.  She sang to me and played me music.  It’s no wonder, after that kind of childhood, that I would grow up to be who I am.

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Teaching me to be artsy from an early age.

We even wrote a poem together when I was 2.  It still hangs on the bulletin board in our kitchen.  I guess it counts as the first thing I ever co-wrote.

Momma Kitty Poem

I have a big fat                                                                                                                                                        Calico Cat!                                                                                                                                                                 Her name is Momma Kitty                                                                                                                                         And she is oh so pretty!                                                                                                                                             She likes to eat and play                                                                                                                                         Then sleep most of the day.                                                                                                                                    She’s white and orange and black,                                                                                                                               A most unusual cat!                                                                                                                                                   Oh, I love my Momma Kitty                                                                                                                                        But she’s not so itty-bitty!

By: Jacqueline and Susan Smith                                                                                                                      12/11/90

Momma Kitty was the cat my mother rescued from the dumpster behind her work.  She found her and her kittens and rescued her.  My mom loves animals, if possible, even more than I do.

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This is Momma Kitty.

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Oh, look! A cat tree!

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Feeding ducks. She really likes ducks. And chickens.

One of my favorite things about my mother is how close I am to her and how honest she has always been with my sister and me.  From the time we were born, she treated and talked to us as equals.  She always engaged us, even before we were old enough to understand.  She’s so open, in fact, that she’s able to tell us that, growing up, she never wanted children.  Thanks, Mom.  Thanks a lot.  Glad you changed your mind.

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Let’s be honest. She does look pretty miserable with that baby doll. Glad that’s not me.

She looks happy in these pictures, right?

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Admittedly, not as happy as she does with Mickey Mouse…

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Really, I wonder why I love Disney so much.

Or this enormous teddy bear…

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But you know, as far as kids go, I guess we’re okay.

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In all seriousness though, as much as we like to tease her for the things she says, especially gems like…

Me: Do you want to relive my childhood and paint Easter Eggs this weekend?                                                    Mom: No.

… I don’t know anyone who is more proud to be a part of her children’s lives, or who has scarified more than she has for our family.  There is literally nothing she would not do, not only for my sister or me, but for anyone that she loves.  She just has that gift.  She sees the goodness and beauty in everyone.  She is always genuinely happy for friends and loved ones even when she’s not happy herself (which is pretty rare, but we all have our days).  She knows and loves everyone, and everyone knows and loves her.  She sees the goodness and beauty in everyone.  It’s something I admire most about her, and quite frankly, something I truly envy.  Very few people have that gift.

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So excited on my graduation day!

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So excited to see my sister star in Little Shop of Horrors!

My mother has taught me the importance of loving and enjoying life, even when times are tough, and to appreciate every moment.  True joy is such a gift, and as rare as it is, it’s also so easy to find just in the simplicity of living.  Very few things in life bring my mom greater joy than the simple act of celebrating and decorating for holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas.  She is quite literally obsessed.  Around here, we call her the Holiday Hoarder because of how many decorations she puts out.

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My mom is the reason I am who I am.  She inspires me to be the best I can be, and I hope and pray every day that I make her proud, as proud as I am to be her daughter.  I love you, Mom, and I am looking forward to many more years of laughter, awkward stories, good food, weird movies, and simple celebrations of life.

Happy Mother’s Day!

PS – I’m sorry that no Mother’s Day gift we give you will ever be as good as Stephen King’s Misery.  I really just don’t know how we’re going to top that.

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Dreams

I have weird dreams.  I always have.

When I was five, I had a dream that a giant macaroni noodle monster with purple spots was chasing me around the mall at Christmastime.  It eventually followed me back to my house, jumped out at me, and I woke up screaming.

A few years ago, I dreamt that my high school class took a field trip to a train amusement park.  All the rides were trains, you moved around the park on a train, you stayed in a train, it was kind of neat.  Then I woke up and completely forgot about the dream.  Until about a year later, that is, when I dreamt I was showing my best friend around the same train amusement park and telling her all about my high school trip to that same place.  That was strange.  How did my subconscious remember what my conscious mind had forgotten?

What really weirds me out is when I can feel what’s happening to me in my dreams.  For example, I’ve had several dreams about tornadoes.  Even though I’ve never experienced a tornado personally, I can always feel the pressure in my head and my ears whenever one is around in my dreams.  Another time, I dreamt I was shot in the back and I could actually feel my lungs filling up with blood.  I’m not sure what was going on there.  Just the other night, I dreamt that I was dying of cancer (probably because I’d been up late rereading The Fault in Our Stars).  Death, in that dream, was actually a very peaceful process.  Hazy and grey and relaxing.  I could feel my loved ones around me and I remember whispering, “Wait for me.”

Last night was probably one of my weirdest dreams of all.  It started off in the house of someone I’d known in college.  Then there were dinosaurs.  Then aliens.  Then an escaped serial killer.  Then a satanic ritualist.  Then zombies.  It was pretty much everything that scares me in one horrifying dream.  On top of all of that, I had no idea where my camera was.  Then, at one point I had to search all over for something to kill zombies with because they were marching down the street, and the best I could come up with was a bowling ball.  I don’t think I’m what you’d call Zombie Apocalypse Material.

One day, I think I’m just going to sit down and rewrite every dream I can remember.  There’d be a lot.  I can’t tell you about the scariest dream I’ve ever had, because I actually managed to rewrite it into Between Worlds, but after it’s released, I’ll be able to tell you.  It’s one that I’m certain I will never forget.

What’s been your weirdest or creepiest dream?

 

Taking Pictures

I got to answer a lot of questions over my book reading and signing weekend in Denison.  Several questions were of course, about the book and about the publishing process, but the question I was asked most frequently is one I’ve been getting all my life.

How old are you?

I was an early bloomer.  I went from a tall and slightly gawky kid to a 5’6, curvy preteen practically overnight.  Starting at age ten, people tended to think I was much older than I actually was.  When I went in to take the test for my middle school, people thought I was testing for Sr. High School.

Then I got to college… then grad school… and something strange happened.

People still thought I was in high school.

I have to admit, I kind of loved it.  I love that people now look at me and think that I’m younger than I actually am.  It was no fun being the giant kid who looked six years older than her classmates.  I’m still flattered every time I get carded for buying alcohol (though that only happens now when I’m not wearing makeup).

However, as someone who is hoping to expand her business and get her name out there in the world of fiction, I figure I need to be a little more professional, a little more mature, and that means people need to know that no, I’m not a kid, I’m actually a lot smarter than I act, and I do know what I’m doing.  That’s why I contacted my photographer friend for a photoshoot.  The picture that I use on all my social media sites was taken back in 2010.  I wanted to look a little older and a little more professional, and I think she’ll do an amazing job with the pictures.  Her photography is AWESOME.

You can find her website here: http://www.kaylynnkrieg.com

And her Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/kaylynnkriegphotography

We shot around one my favorite areas, White Rock Lake.  It’s perfect because that Lake happens to be one of the most notoriously haunted spots in Texas, and I even mention it in Cemetery Tours!

The Lady of White Rock Lake is a legend that every Dallasite knows.

To quote Kate Avery in Cemetery Tours“You’ve never heard the story?  The Lady of the Lake is the ghost of a woman who’s said to haunt this area.  According to the legend, she drowned in this lake sometime during the 1920’s.  Some say it was a car accident, some say she killed herself.  But over the years, several people driving around the lake late at night have reported seeing a young women, dressed in a wet gown, stopping drivers and asking them for a ride home.  Then, once she’s in the back of the car, she vanishes and leaves a puddle on the seat.”

A friend’s father absolutely insists that he’s seen this woman.  They used to live around the lake.  My friend and I used to drive around the lake late at night looking for her, but I have yet to actually see her.  Maybe one day…

The photoshoot was a lot of fun, and Kaylynn is just so fun to work with.  The only downside was I had my first allergic reaction to a plant!  Okay, scratch that.  I’m allergic to all plants, but usually, they only make me sniffle and sneeze.  I’ve never had a reaction just because I came into contact with one, but wow, it stung.  I know it wasn’t poison ivy, because I checked the area and besides, I’m not allergic to poison ivy (ironically).  At first, I thought I’d accidentally scratched myself or sat in an ant bed, but it just turns out that there is this one plant that really does not like my skin.  Or vice versa.  It still hurts a little, but the pharmacist just told me to use some hydrocortisone cream and take a Benadryl and I should be fine.

And that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about me.

On the bright side, Cemetery Tours got another great review.

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You can check out her FB page at: https://www.facebook.com/Billyewrites

Good night, everyone!

AuthorFest in Denison

This will be my second post of the day, but I simply have to tell you all about my weekend in Denison.  It was incredible.  Absolutely one of the best experiences of my life.  

It started out on Friday night with a book reading at Devolli’s Italian Restaurant and Homestead Winery. 

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Simply being at a winery and Italian restaurant, I knew it was going to be a great evening.  Fettuccine Alfredo might be the best dish ever created by man and come on, I’m Episcopalian.  We love wine.  We’d probably baptize with wine if we could.  

It just so happens that this Homestead Winery has the absolute best wine I’ve ever tasted in my life.  

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Move over, California.  Texas wine is officially where it’s at.  This particular bottle is called Rose of Ivanhoe, and oh my goodness, it is delicious.  It’s a sweet red, even sweeter than Merlot.  I know some people might not like very sweet wine, but I love it.  My friend and I had originally intended to go and order food, but of course, we both ended up with bottles of wine instead.  Hey, I needed a souvenir from my first public reading, right?  

After making my purchase, we ordered our food and the book readings began.  I was so, so nervous.  Despite my history in musical theater, I’m not a very good public speaker, especially when I’m reading words that I’ve written.  Fortunately, I had Fettuccine to help calm my nerves.  

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I actually ended up doing pretty okay.  I used my “theater voice.”  It’s a lot lower and calmer than my usual tone, which pretty much sounds like a Southern version of a Valley Girl.  I’m not kidding, I have the dumbest sounding voice.  

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Right were I belong… amidst all the wine barrels.

After everyone had read, we had the opportunity to meet with readers and even sell a book or two.  I also did a book swap with one of my friends, James Peercy (also the organizer of the event) for a copy of his third book and the sequel to The Wall Outside. 

You can find James on GoodReads here: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5822062.James_William_Peercy?from_search=true

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More pictures of inside Devolli’s :

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And the evening outside :

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The next day was a bit busier.  We all met at 8 AM at James’ office before splitting up.  AuthorFest coincided with Free Comic Book Day and an event called Bark and Paws, for all the dogs of Denison.  

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My first destination was a sports ticket store called Box Seats, also a participant in Free Comic Book Day.  

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I was partnered up with Debbie Reece author of the incredible children’s story, The Christmas Pumpkin, so we each set up our books and waited for customers! 

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I’m thrilled to announce that I sold all my books for that designated area.  Two of my friends, however, stopped by to help me.  My dear former co-workers and friends, Terri and Shannon, stopped by, not only to buy a copy of the book, but to bring me flowers and lavender bath soap!  How sweet is that? 

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Love these ladies.

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After our time at Box Seats, we packed up and walked over the the Book Rack, and independent used bookstore, where I actually dropped off ten copies of my book for the wonderful ladies who work there to sell.  

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The Local Authors section of the Book Rack.

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Linda and Carol, two of the ladies who work/volunteer there, are just two of the kindest and sweetest souls I’ve ever met.  I feel like I’ve known both of them for ages, and I hope that Cemetery Tours will bring them some business!  

After the Book Rack, Debbie, James, and I headed over to the Denison Library to have our book readings recorded and to donate books to the drawing and the library.  That was pretty cool, though I was even more nervous reading for a camera than I was fora  live audience.  At least if I mess up in front of an audience, they’ll hopefully forget it.  Recordings don’t forget!  Fortunately, though, I think I did okay.  Of course, I didn’t see the footage, but I’m going to hope it turned out alright.  

After the reading, I was starving, so I ran down to the local coffee shop for a sandwich, a drink of water, and a strawberry smoothie for my dad who was there helping me out.  I am sad to say that that strawberry smoothie never made it back, as I tripped and fell not once, but twice, thanks to the stupid heels I so stupidly chose to wear that day.  The sandwich was the only thing that made it back in one piece, but of course, once I sad down, I dropped that too.  It was in a plastic container, and when I dropped it, I was surprised to see tan, yellowish mush leaking out of the side.  I thought, What the heck did they put on this sandwich?!  Fortunately, it turned out to be a side of applesauce.  Unfortunately, that applesauce got everywhere, including my shoes, so everyone was running around and handing me napkins and making “spill” jokes for the rest of the day.  

But hey, it makes for a good story. 

The event really wound down after that, but I ended up selling/donating all but nine of the books that I brought!  I also gave away dozens of postcards and business cards, and was even able to spread the word a little about Between Worlds!  All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience at a reading/signing event, except perhaps the applesauce on my shoes.

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Alan J. Martin, Scott Morgan, Jackie Smith, Amber Norrgard, Debbie Reece, John Morgan and James Peercy. Photograph courtesy of Claudette Peercy.

 

Thank you all for everything!  I can’t wait until next year! 

 

Road Trip Essentials

Hello, friends.  I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend.  Mine involved a lot of running around, being on my feet, and road-tripping back and forth to Denison, a small town in the Texoma area, about an hour away from where I live.  I am honored to have been asked to participate in Turo’s (formerly known as RelayRides) Road Trip Essentials Campaign (https://turo.com/), so this weekend of road trips really could not have come at a better time.

I love road trips.  Ever since I was little and my family would drive down to San Antonio every summer, road trips have been my absolute favorite way to travel.  Sure, flying is fast and efficient, but nothing compares to watching the world pass by outside your window.  The trees, the buildings, the clouds, and the highway road signs are all integral parts of what makes road trips worthwhile experiences.  Nothing, not even soaring through the sky, compares to the freedom of the open road.  So, without further ado, I present my compilation of Road Trip Essentials.

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Music

Good music is almost as essential to a good road trip as the road itself.  Some driver and passengers get by just listening to the radio, but I’ve never trusted popular music stations to play the music that really makes a long drive what it should be.  A good road trip mix, for me, consists of classic rock, alternative 90s, and maybe a power ballad or two.

A Friend

Don’t get me wrong, driving alone can be great, enlightening, and liberating, but road trips are always more fun with a companion.  That way, you can take turns driving, you have someone to talk to, someone to share snacks with, and someone to navigate while you try to figure out where in the world you’re supposed to turn to make it to the next state.

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A Notebook

Some of the best memories are made on the road, so I always like keeping a journal or a notebook close by to jot down instances or funny moments along the way.  The road is also a great place for new ideas or revelations.  As a writer, road trips have always been very inspirational to me.  The right combination of road, memories, and music can do wonders for the mind.  In fact, it was on a road trip just a few years back that I came up with the idea for a new series.  I am currently working on the first book in that series now.

A Camera

You never know what you might encounter on the open road, so it’s best to be prepared for anything.  Cameras are a great way to capture the world around you, and keep those moments with you.  My camera goes everywhere I go, especially to new and exciting places.

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My friends posing with cameras on a road trip.

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Flowers on the side of the road.

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A Rest Stop

I don’t know about you, but I love rest stops.  Once or twice on every road trip, someone needs to stand up, stretch their legs, re-fuel the car, etc.  These rest stops are usually gas stations or small diners along the road, but my favorites are the ones with snacks and small souvenir shops.  I started collecting post cards on a high school band trip to Orlando, and I haven’t stopped.  I have postcards from Louisiana, California, New Jersey, Florida, all the way to Scotland.  I also love having access to all the snacks I could ever hope to eat.  On the road, you eat what you can get, so no one will care if you want to eat an entire package of beef jerky with an entire bag of Cheetos for lunch.  If you ask me, it’s the best kind of lunch there is!

Snacks

This, I guess, falls into the previous essential.  Snacks and drinks are vital to an enjoyable road trip.  You have a long drive ahead of you.  You’re going to want to stay fed and hydrated.  I personally prefer water, but I know a lot of friends who just have to have their sodas and energy drinks if they’re going to be traveling.  What I don’t consume in carbonated drinks, however, I make up for in chocolate.

A Blanket

Road trips can be chilly, especially if the person you’re with is a little warmer in nature than you.  I tend to fall into the cold-natured group, so naturally, I never travel without a jacket or a blanket.  I think being cold-natured is something of an evolutionary adaptation that comes from living in Texas.

A Sunrise or A Sunset

For me, no road trip is complete without a beautiful sky.  Most of the road trips I take now begin before the sun rises, but several in my past have gone on well into the night.  My favorite road trip I’ve ever taken was a ninth grade band trip to Midland, a small town to the west.  I remember listening to “Good Riddance” by Green Day and driving directly into the setting sun.  It was one of the most incredible moments of my life, simply because, at that moment, everything seemed right.  Watching the sun rise or set from a new perspective is my absolute favorite part of any road trip, even more so than the destination itself.

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You may have noticed I left out the essential Good Book.  I believe books are vital to any trip, especially for longs nights in hotel rooms.  Traveling, however, I can never seem to focus on reading.  Blasphemy, I know.  But I love to watch the world outside, to live in the moment, and to concentrate on the adventure.  While reading is an adventure in and of itself, I never get a lot of it done on the road.

Happy traveling, friends!

Seedlings

Good news, everyone! 

MY SUNFLOWER SEEDS ARE OFFICIALLY SEEDLINGS!

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They are brand, brand new, less than a day old.  I’m so excited to see them, though!  I hope I can keep them alive long enough to see them grow into big, strong, beautiful sunflowers!  

In other news, I’m still super busy getting ready for the readings and signings this weekend.  I’m really excited, but really afraid I’ll forget something or somehow end up doing something wrong.  I’m not sure what I could possibly do wrong, but nothing is impossible.  

Anyway, this is going to be a short post, but I will get back to regular blogging soon!