Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Apples in Spaaaace!

The Romance Troupe

If you're reading this, you're likely here for the "Home for the Holidays Blog Hop." Click on the button above to visit the Romance Troupe website and see what the other stops for more recipes and book buzz are along the way.


Leave a comment with your email address on it to be entered into the Romance Troupe GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY!!!  First prize is $450+ (it depends on how many authors we wind up with) on an Amazon gift card or with Paypal cash. Wow! Second prize is 1 ebook from EACH participating author.

When you leave your email address, be sure to leave a space before and after the "@" or say "at" instead, so the spambots can't find you.

If you've never been here before, welcome! Herein follows one tasty recipe, a bit about a book connected (ever so slightly) to said recipe, and then there's an extra CONTEST FROM ME as well. Win! Win! Win!

German Apple Pancake

The recipe says this can serve as many as 6, but don't count on it. It's too yummy.

3 large eggs (I use the liquid kind, which would be 3/4 c.)
3/4 c. milk
3/4 c. white flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbs. butter (unsalted preferred)

1 lb. tart, fresh apples (Pippin are great, the recipe says, not knowing my book. I use Granny Smiths.)
1/4 c. melted butter
1/4 c. sugar
powdered cinnamon and nutmeg

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Beat together the eggs, milk, flour and salt until very smooth. In a heavy 12-inch skillet, melt about 1 1/2 Tbs. butter. As soon as it is quite hot, pour in the batter and put the skillet in the oven. (I use a round cake pan for this, but maybe they want the pan being already very hot by the time the batter hits it, to speed things along. I've never had a problem.)

After 15 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for another 10 minutes. The pancake should be light brown and crisp. Keep an eye on it.

During the first 10 or 15 mintues of baking, the pancake may puff up in large bubbles. If it does, pierce it thoroughly with a fork or skewer.

While the pancake is baking, prepare the apple filling. Peel and thinly slice a pound of apples. Sauté them lightly in 1/4 c. butter and add 1/4 c. sugar. Season to taste with cinnamon and nutmeg. The apples should be just tender, not too soft. About 8 to 10 minutes of cooking over a medium flame should be plenty. (The filling can be prepared ahead and reheated just before serving.)

When the pancake is ready, slide it onto an oval platter (or even a circular one, sheesh), pour the apple filling over one side, and fold the other side over. Serve at once, slicing pieces off crosswise.

This isn't just for breakfast. I think I got it from The Vegetarian Epicure, but don't make me swear to that. Keep reading to the bottom for another chance to WIN A FREE BOOK!

I had to learn a bit about apples—or more correctly, apple dishes—when I wrote Applesauce and Moonbeams. This is a humorous soft sci fi novel mostly based on the moon, where one family in particular owns dozens of large apple orchards. That's right, apples on the moon. Well, I think it could work!

I researched craters that were of a likely size that could be covered with domes and pressurized to make good, industrial-sized orchards. You see, this is one of the first crops grown on the moon, with the first seeds planted during early colonization days—at least in my future history. To get foods in from Earth requires expensive transport, so anything actually grown on the moon would become a staple.

Thus when people in the book were eating, I had to give them some likely apple dishes to dine upon. They couldn't eat the same thing all the time either, so that list had to be a fairly lengthy one. There's apples, applesauce, apple fritters, apple muffins, apple this and apple that. Luckily, this wasn't a cookbook so I didn't have to figure out more than a dozen or so.

And how about drinking? Apple juice, sure, but people like the harder stuff as well. I gave 'em hard cider... and mead. "Mead's not apple," you tell me, but mead is honey, and those apple trees aren't going to produce apples unless our starring family also raises bees.

Being apples, I had to throw in some Garden of Eden references as well, even though there are no serpents on the moon. (Unless you count Aunt Evie. Or Our Villain.) (And I won't mention how Our Hero's last name is a play on "Lucifer.") (Whoops, mentioned it.)

It's the breakfast
of the astronauts!
Applesauce's heroine's family were originally the Tangs. When they discovered they couldn't market their apple juice under the family name for some obscure legal reason, they became the Applegates instead. Our Heroine is Pippin, and her cat (featured on the cover) is the multi-faceted Jonathan. Both names are types of apples.

book cover for Applesauce and MoonbeamsPippin doesn't like the family business very much, but she's next in line to take it over. Instead, she's an artist—a very avant garde one who doesn't do anything in the traditional manner. Unfortunately for her, innovation is not welcomed by her society. Neither is her inability to maintain a proper look like the Fashion Police prescribe, or her growing tendency to get into trouble. She has only six weeks left to prove herself as an artist before her dragon of a great-aunt (see Evie, above) will force her into the company vice-presidency.

But now Jonathan the Cat is acting odd. In fact, Jonathan's begun to use her paints to spell out messages...

I hope you try (and like!) the book. You can go on Smashwords and get a really long free sample, unlike the short one at Amazon. Here's the main page on my website that points the way to different places and formats (it's in print as well) you can buy.


This is MY contest, separate from that of the Romance Troupe. Leave at least a name and your email address under the comments section to get email updates from me (I'll only do this once in a blue moon, so as not to annoy you), and be put in a drawing to get a free ebook! You'll be able to choose from any ebook of mine, even the newly-revised TOUCH OF DANGER, which isn't out quite yet, but will be released as soon as that famous-artist cover illustration is finished. OR if you don't want to post your email address here, you can go to my website, click on the "contact" link, and leave your name AND EMAIL ADDRESS there where things are so private Yahoo insists on putting it in my spam folder. I'll keep checking there, though. (Doing it that way won't enter you in the Romance Troupe's contest, though.) Heck, let's make it TWO WINNERS for this, okay? Final day to enter will be, ah, November 30.

Remember, leave a comment and email address here to enter both contests. Good luck!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Wonder Rules

Things a WW Movie Should and Should Not Include 

1. The basic concept of Wonder Woman: A woman. Not a caped man with boobs.

2. The actress who plays her should be chosen because she can ACT. There are lots of pretty actresses who can act, but not all pretty actresses can. Wondie doesn’t have to be the most beautiful woman out there. It would be so nice if she didn’t look like a cut-out Hollywood lead actress type. Male actors are allowed different looks; why not female?

3. She has abilities beyond those of normal humans, which have come about through Amazon Training, which she continually practices. Amazon Training is only partly about the physical. She has to train her mental and spiritual self as well. She has a few magical tricks here and there, a few industrial ones as well, but Amazon Training got her where she is. This way her powers remain within a woman’s control. (And marketing WW can expand to include all kinds of athletic goods.)

4. (What, you want the gods to give her instant powers, too? The gods gave a statue life. Isn’t that enough of a miracle?)

5. She EMPOWERS in a positive manner. This is her basic theme. She protects, yes, but she also helps people stand up for themselves. She aids the disenfranchised: women, children, LGBTs, persecuted/exploited minorities, the 47%, etc. Wonder Woman is not only a feminist, but also a humanist. She is not grim; she is delighted to see humanity advancing in so many wonderful ways, though it’s true enough, it’s still taking a lot of steps backward. She makes friends easily because she tends to think the best of people.

6. Therefore, a movie should not be about huge, faceless battles or quien es mas macho, but about PEOPLE. About characters and human situations. Instead of shiny explosions and non-stop action sequences whose only purpose is to shock ‘n awe, Wondie’s movie should reach into the very hearts and souls of her viewers and shake them awake, give their emotions a roller coaster ride before they emerge triumphant along with Wondie. Maybe they’re even enriched by the experience, maybe enlightened as to the human condition. You can still have awesome action sequences, but they should have layers of emotional depth to them.

7. Unlike the current run of her book and all too many runs before that, Wonder Woman should not find her legitimacy through the definitions given her by men. She is herself. Her culture is that of women. It is through that femaleness that she defines herself and makes her way through the male-centric world. She glorifies being female, and thus because of that, being human.

8. WW should have a solid reason for being in the world, and not just because she followed the first man she ever saw back into it because she fell in love. She should have a mission which logically follows her basis of helping the world in these very troubled times. It’s an emergency situation, this world we live in. She is going to help us.

9. Which doesn’t mean that Wonder Woman cannot love. She shouldn’t be shackled to one man, though, to keep her in her “proper” woman’s place. Not until she’s had the chance to experiment, try a whole bunch of different types, and make a reasoned choice. Which may turn out to be wrong for her, so she tries again. Romance does not take up the entirety of her story line.

10. The Amazons are a perfect society. Per the Perez (and WMM and others’) origin, they never rejected men, but were faced with building their culture without them through NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN. They have ancient roots, but have not stagnated. They have futuristic technology in many areas. They have a little magic as well. Their peaceful philosophy ("Gaea's Way") has made their culture healthy, constantly growing, and happy. As such, our exposure to the Amazons should be kept at minimal levels (like Earth was in the original run of Star Trek so Kirk could make his own hard decisions), because when characters are introduced within a dramatic structure, they must have that dramatic structure applied to them, which so often in the past (poor Hippolyta!) has meant that many Amazons have been made evil or mentally ill or stupid or just people you wouldn’t like to be around. Amazons are the rock beneath Diana’s feet, the solid basis for her life, mind, and purpose. Diana is the embodiment of Amazon-ness, but she is young; she is still learning it and growing into it. While empowering others, she is still learning to empower herself.

11. Diana worships Greek gods. Gods are not merely immortal capes. Gods are gods. They are personifications of nature and/or the human condition. As such, gods (or at least the Greek gods) can possess humans to deliver messages, or appear as humans (or animals, or showers of gold, etc.) to do same. Wonder Woman does not talk directly to gods as gods. The idea! She can see her gods at work in the world: Artemis as the moon, Apollo as the sun, Zeus’s thunder in a storm, Hestia’s blessings on a happy home, Hera’s increasing (positive) strength as women recognize their own power, etc. Diana could very well converse with such minor mythological creatures as nymphs, satyrs, and even a witchly sorceress like Medea. Herakles is still human enough to converse with.

12. Wonder Woman is not Superman. She can’t juggle planets on her pinky, or knock a skyscraper out of her way. She is mid-level, and can be injured from her efforts. She is not an instant-healer, though I’d suspect (and we’ve seen on occasion) that she has advanced Amazonian healing methods at her disposal. (But the Purple Ray is a cheating deus ex machina, and should be forgotten.) Battling is hard, tiring work for her. Unlike Supes, WW trains. All the time. She has learned SKILLS. (For some reason I often picture Diana close-fighting in Jackie Chan-style, utilizing whatever objects are close to her in entertaining, innovative ways.) WW’s mission is not to defend against attack so much as it is to prevent that attack from ever happening in the first place. Her first approach is reason, compromise and empathy. She will strive to help her would-be opponent reach a level where they can meet with like minds and find a win-win compromise. Her final approach is violence. She can also use violence when the attack comes on suddenly and there is no time for reasoning.

13. Wonder Woman is not Batman. She doesn’t just run around sorta fast and maybe jump a bit off hidden mini-trampolines to get things done. She has astonishing physical prowess, beyond what we’d think humans are capable of, but not remotely at Kryptonian levels. She also has thought out her personal philosophy so she knows just what lines she will cross and which she will not. Her mission is to help people, which means she also follows up because in her world, violence has serious consequences. Her goal is not to keep the threat at bay, but rather allow a wonderful future for people to enjoy in peace. If every other option is gone and the danger is imminent, she will kill, but the act will haunt her afterward.

14. Wonder Woman uses gadgets famous with the audience. The magic lasso, which makes people tell the truth. (Love the way it sounded in the recent TV pilot.) The Invisible Jet, which allows the non-Kryptonian quick transportation. WW may or may not fly. If she flies, it shouldn’t be super-fast because again, she is not Kryptonian. She may use Hermes’ winged sandals; she may not. She may levitate; she may glide on air currents using levitation. Quite often and unexpectedly I find people giving me the Amazon Salute, so this should be included. As should be the Spin, immortalized in the Lynda Carter series and gleefully copied by both kids and adults. Personally, I don’t believe in Diana Prince other than as a rarely-used deep-cover disguise for Wondie, but she can Spin into different costume variants as well (and increase the available action figure line).

15. There should be no man vs woman conflict. Feminism is not anti-male. All men are not evil; all women are not good.

16. Wonder Woman has ancient roots, but is very au courant as she leads us toward a bright future. Yes, she should battle Nazis on occasion since they symbolize the opposite of what she does, but there are modern Nazis in the world. Many. Most don’t recognize themselves as Nazis (or similar philosophies), but some do. Wonder Woman does not have to be a creature of the past, forever stuck in WWII. She is the present. She is our future.

17. Wonder Woman can (and has!) operate/d in just about every genre known with panache, unlike the vast majority of her cohorts. Somewhere in a movie series (yeah yeah, we haven’t seen the first movie yet), we should see variations pop up.

18. Wonder Woman operates on a global level. Not just in the good ol’ USofA, or in Western countries. To her, humanity is one big family she is a contributing member of.

And there I’ve gone and ended this on a preposition. What are your absolutes for a Wondie movie?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Leaf Peeping in New England (part 2)

(Part one is here)

View from the Long Trail House room balcony, Stratton Mt., VT

We pulled into Stratton Mountain’s lodge at dusk. Dusk came early, an hour earlier than it does back home. But the lodge was fabulous. I had a suite with a fireplace!!!, and a balcony overlooking, well, a small lodge pond with fountains. Each floor had a free laundry (yay!) (Hope the guy who left the sopping-wet black long johns in the dryer didn’t mind me taking them out so I could put my stuff in. They’d been in process when I arrived. Two hours later, he still hadn’t retrieved them.), and the cable was MUCH more extensive than any other hotel’s.

A lodge village was adjacent. Almost all the stores had construction people in them. The stores themselves had been stripped bare, or had various bits of lumber in them. They were being prepped from scratch for the ski season ahead. About three blocks in was a restaurant that was open. I wasn’t that hungry, and ordered a salad with an appetizer-sized quesadilla. Godzilla could have filled up on it. (And been quite happy, since it was deeelicious!) I ate half, got the rest put in a doggy bag (the suite had a fridge and microwave), and decided on a wee bit of hot chocolate for dessert. It arrived: a King Kong-sized parfait glass, half-filled with hot chocolate and half-filled with whipped cream. Out of politeness and because it was just a drink and not, you know, a real dessert, I consumed the whole thing. (It made up for the restaurant not being able to produce decent iced tea. Once again, a Yankee iced tea tasted like it had been brewed with a hefty helpin' of old coffee grounds.)

The next morning I watched The Patty Duke Show and Mr. Ed as I ate my quesadilla’s remains. Checked email from my cover artist to discover she didn’t remember that I’d made a special webpage with all her instructions, so I had to try to track that down on my iPad through accessing my office email archives so as to email her the url again while I made my way outside to be 15 minutes early for the bus.

Whoops. I was only 30 SECONDS before the “butt in the seat” time, but I did manage to make it. AND send the url.

Mt. Washington. You can see the train track that goes straight up its face, like an exclamation point. Note also the uber-ritzy resort. No, we did not stay there.
Today’s travel brought us to some quick stops here and there with nice views. We drove past Mt. Washington, Vermont’s highest mountain (or did we do that the day before?), and then through New Hampshire. The proliferation of maples and other colorful trees mix more evenly with spruces and pines in NH. The landscape was ever so slightly not as impressive, foliage-wise, although the mountains were fabulous because that’s what mountains are. I love mountains, as long as I don’t have to drive in ‘em.

View from patio at the Red Jacket Resort at North Conway, NH. The room door leading outside to this tiny patio had a small sign that said: "Door locks automatically. Please take your key with you." Yes, I'm sure people just waking up and taking their coffee outside to enjoy the morning, while dressed in little or nothing, would take note of that sign.
I must have mixed up the order of previous sites because we still saw a lot today, but at dusk (so early!) we arrived in North Conway at our hotel. It was so-so. The tour provided dinner for us because (I think) the town didn’t have that much going for it food-wise, or other restaurants weren't easily accessible for us bus-tour types. Dinner was nothing to write home about. And the next morning I didn’t get a wake-up call.

Wake-up calls are IMPORTANT, especially when the tour is timed so precisely. Every night I’d program a wake-up call through the phone, set the radio alarm, and set my iPad (which I’d practiced with several days before departing, to see when the alarm would go off and when it wouldn’t. The iPad has to actually be on to sound the alarm, so I recharged every night and left the iPad on while doing so.) Anyway, the radio often wouldn’t work because the stations turned out not to be 24-hour stations, and morning would arrive with only a slight hissing sound. One hotel’s phone programming didn’t work, so I had to call the front desk and have them set it up. One hotel’s phone programmed, but never called me. This happened again at this hotel, and I stopped at the front desk on the way out to inform them of this mechanical failure.

They told me that since we were on the tour and phone calls weren’t included in the price (we’d been told at the beginning of the tour that if we made any calls or incurred any other extra charges, to be sure to pay before we left), they TURNED OFF our alarm programming along with outgoing calls. Uh, isn’t that something they might warn us about beforehand?

So we toured Maine that day. All through Vermont, NH and Maine we kept passing lots of pretty lakes. We went past Maine’s largest one (according to our tour director, though the map seems to show a larger one to the south), Sebago Lake, just before we came into Portland. There we stopped at the harbor for lunch and shopping, and the director gave us TMI about how he was attracted to a girl who worked at the local bakery. This meant that many of the group took off at a dead run to tell the girl and embarrass both. Why do people do this?

Lunch was delicious, but when I ordered the iced tea (yes, we’re going into this again) I told them how much I distrusted Yankee tea. They assured me theirs was great. It was not. I took a sip and told them I didn’t like it. They took the glass away. When I got the bill, they’d charged me about $3 for the tea. The bill had to go through the manager to get the tea taken off. Other than that, lunch was tasty.

I got a cute little magnet for the fridge that shows a panicking lobster in a pot. Got another tee shirt. I always tried to get a magnet and at least one tee from each state, and each morning as I struggled to close my luggage I wondered why I had to do that. I dunno. Our director had told us about a kitchen shop he loved, and because we had a little time, I wandered in. And wandered out with kitchen implements. Yes, on vacation I bought kitchen implements. One was a scraper I’d been looking for and one was one of those push-pull measuring deals Alton Brown uses. I hadn’t been able to find either in stores back home.

Is this not the world's cutest lighthouse?
Then it was time to cruise! It was a surprise thrown in because the weather was nice. We saw a bunch of lighthouses around Portland, and rode some fun wakes like a roller coaster. We could actually see the very tip of Vermont’s Mt. Washington from the harbor. I must have taken a zillion pictures, and just as we got to the prettiest lighthouse ever built, my camera battery gave out. Yes, already. It must have been old.

Thank heaven I hadn’t been able to find said battery when I was doing preliminary packing for the trip, for I’d gone out and bought another. Then I found the battery. That meant I had two backups for the trip. I’d made sure the final backup was in my purse instead of my luggage, so I was able to pop it into the camera and get those lighthouse pics! Manoman, are they going to make great paintings!

Getting back on land, we all headed toward the nearest bathrooms. This was a one-seater, and the line began to stretch around the restaurant that housed it. Our Fearless Leader was distraught that we needed bathrooms. Really, Brandon? What, do you wear astronaut diapers? He had the bus take us back to the visitor center, which had a few more toilets available, and this time (unlike when we’d first arrived in town), the cruise ship hadn’t just arrived with a load of liquid-filled passengers.

From Portland we traveled a bit south to Kennebunkport. Now, Kennebunkport is one of the nicest-looking towns you’ll ever see, but it’s spoiled by having Bush vibes. The Bushes have grabbed the best real estate in town, and that day all flags were flying there, meaning George H. was in residence. Yes, they fly flags, just like Windsor Palace does when the queen is there.

I think we missed the Changing of the Ex-Presidential Guards.
The bus dumped us downtown for shopping, strolling and fudge-buying. I got lost about three times, but downtown’s pretty small and if you walk far enough, you can figure out where you are. We had more than enough time, and I said what the heck, and decided to check out the many art galleries.

Wow, wow, wow! They had fabulous artists on display! Here was Ken Muenzenmayer. “Hey, I took a class with him,” I told the owner, who was actually impressed. Other artists who stood out to me enough that I wrote down their names to research were: Li Wang, Ellen Pelletier, Dan Michael, Charles Movalli and his wife, Dale Ratcliff. (I hope those links work for a long while. If not, Google a bit and you'll find some paintings by them.) I’d KILL to take a class from the last two. Their work takes your breath away. The owner of the Landmark Gallery told me that Movalli had once told him in a class, “Once it looks like a kitten, you don’t have to add whiskers to it.” He said the guy paints with large brushes and it seems haphazard until suddenly everything comes together. Wow.

We got into our hotel and prepared for a lobster dinner that was included in the tour. I’ve had bits and pieces of lobster in various stuffings and chowders through the years, but I’ve never had lobster-lobster. Yes, I’d once stood for forty minutes next to the tank at a Red Lobster (I had ordered food for a party, and RL had lost my order; so professional), and decided I’d never order lobster because these guys looked like they had personalities. But I ordered lobster this night.

Still less messy and 'roid rage-y than what I witnessed that night!
It SHOCKED me the way people laid into their lobsters! First of all, the things were about five hundred degrees. I kept burning my hands on mine. The woman across from me gave a Xena yell and attacked hers with sheer Hulk fury, spittle flying out of her mouth. It was scary. And the lobster wasn’t really anything special. I could have gotten the same texture from shrimp, the flavor was nonexistent, and I SWEAR to you, I got distinct, “They murdered me. I was scared. Now I’m sad,” vibes from poor Mr. Lobster.

Never again. I promise the lobster world, I’ll never have a whole lobster. I apologize.

Man, one of these days I’ll go vegetarian.

View from the Nonantum Resort, Kennebunkport. Just around the bend and beyond that thin stretch of land, is the Atlantic.
Anyway, we went back to our rooms afterward. Since I was traveling alone, I sometimes got tiny rooms stuck in odd places in hotels. This was the case here, but this tiny room had a skylight, a marvelous view of the harbor, and a little woodstove-type fireplace. Darling!

I couldn’t get the phone alarm to program, so I did it through the desk. I couldn’t get the room temperature to moderate. I couldn’t get the wifi to work. “Sometimes you have to step outside in the hallway to get it,” the desk told me. The guy came up and showed me how the thermostat I was trying to program was the one for the stove and not for the real room heating/AC. He pointed me down the hall to a PC where I could print out my boarding pass.

I wasn’t wearing my shoes, but I padded down the carpeted hallway. The PC froze on the middle page of the boarding pass process. I sat there muttering low-level curses when a man from South Africa? (he had a very odd British accent) came up, assured me that PCs and Macs were pretty much the same thing and to stop being a baby and move over, he’d do it for me. (Okay, he didn't quite phrase it that way, but the meaning was sorta there in a superiority kind of way.) And the PC froze on the middle page of the boarding pass process. Ha!

So I went back to my room in defeat. My room key wouldn’t work. The front desk was actually about a half-block away, and I was in my sock feet. For some ungodly reason I’d actually overheard and REMEMBERED two of my fellow passengers talking about their room number. I knocked on their door and got them to call the desk.

Got new keys. Got the heat/AC working. The wifi fizzled after two minutes. Decided to hit the sack.

More Kennebunkport. (I took this pic because I needed a full horse to finish a Montreal picture with a carrage in it.)
Breakfast the final day. I decided to ask a large table with four people seated if they minded me sitting there, and they assured me it would be fine, and pointed me at one of the three empty seats where I would be welcome. When I returned from the buffet they informed me I could NOT sit there, as they had seated some (absent) friends in my place. Nice of them to tell the new guys that I was sitting there already. (I'd arranged the setting to show I'd be sitting there, just in case.) I took the remaining empty chair. ANYWAY, when everyone had all their food, the others announced grace, a guy said it, and the woman across from me opened ONE eye to stare at me throughout the prayer. Like I was making a fuss, sitting there quietly as I was. Maybe she was waiting for me to burst into hell-flame. Sheesh.

I was seated next to a man. When coffee was served, his wife to his other side put sugar in his cup for him, then sugar in her own, cream for him, then cream for herself, and then reached over to stir his coffee for him, then stirred her own. She was done up like a Stepford, and he looked like he'd had a moderately busy day on the farm, all grizzled and rumpled. Later I asked around, and people told me about the "religious" group. Then I recalled an earlier day of the tour, saying something about the possibility of going to a psychic we'd seen along the way, and some woman getting all hissy. She was one of the group. Sheesh again.

But all in all, the other passengers were fine. I learned not to talk politics. The ones who (loudly) voiced an opinion—which happened rarely—had poorly-defined issues with Obama. We had one very short lady who seemed like Betty Boop’s crazy cousin. She talked in a loud baby voice (how she loved the attention!), and everyone knew she would buy anything pink, especially purses and travel bags. (And fudge.) I think she bought three travel bags during the trip. She was funny in a crazy cousin way. Good in small doses, but maybe not for eight days.

The crowd ran to middle age and older. They came from all over the US, except for New England, and one couple had flown in from Australia. One of the women often required a wheelchair. (Every place we went could accommodate the handicapped.) I wondered how her husband, who could make two—well, one and a half—of me, could handle things. He often toted her wheelchair when it wasn't being used, plus lugged their other stuff, and often did this on steps and steep surfaces. (The wheelchair was stowed under the bus when not in use. Also stowed under the buses was Evil Tour Director's bike, which he used in his off-hours. He rode almost all the way around Martha's Vineyard when his group was shopping.)

Brandon alternated who got to leave the bus first: drivers' side, door side, or starting from the back. I noticed that many people waited until the seat before them had completely emptied out before they got up, retrieved what stuff they wanted from the bins overhead, and eased out into the aisle. I'm afraid that by the end of the trip, I had trained myself to pop up out of my seat as soon as the people in front were starting to get out, so I'd be ready as soon as they'd finally managed to toddle down the aisle. Unfortunately, this means that I am now one of those people who emerge as soon as the "you may get up now" message comes through on the airplane. I grab for my stuff in the bin and stand in the aisle between the chair arms so people in my row can also get up and start arranging things. Efficiency, people. Efficiency!

I was traveling alone because I’m basically a hermit, but there was supposed to have been another single traveler on the trip. She was to have come with two other ladies, who told me over breakfast one day that she was a parole officer, and that the previous week one of her parolees (what do you call them?) had sicced his three dogs on her and they had bitten her. She would be fine, but at that point they weren’t sure if she’d have to start rabies shots or not. If she did, the shots would have to be administered on a strict schedule that she couldn’t meet if she went on tour. Hope they threw the guy in jail for a long, long time! Hope she’s really okay.

Being a single rider meant I had two seats to spread out in. I soon made a nest with my junk. There were a few empty rows in the back, and sometimes others would go back there to take a nap or stretch their legs. We were discouraged from using the bus bathroom for anything other than an emergency. On the final day, due to seat rotation (every day we moved 3 seats clockwise, so no one could stake a claim on the good seats) I was sitting near the back, and the ladies across from me had to use the john. They reported that there were signs in it that told men not to stand, and that there was also a sign that had a big “#2” on it, with a line crossed through it, like going number two was prohibited.

Astronaut diapers, I tell you.

Boston is just a short ride from Kennebunkport. We arrived there about 10 AM so people could catch their flights that had been ordered to be noon or later. Mine was at 5:30. Many others had such late flights. Some of us got dropped off back at the Hilton, where I sat next to the two oldest ladies from the group (it was the final trip for one of them, whose husband was having bad health problems. She was in her mid-eighties.), and we had lunch at the hotel restaurant. The iced tea was still rotten.

Bidding them adieu, I walked to the airport instead of taking the shuttle (exercise!). It took over an hour to get through security. They stopped me. “That’s an iPad in there,” I said helpfully as the guard got on latex gloves to search my carry-on. She pulled out an unopened bottle of sunscreen. Oops. I thought I had that in my other luggage. She GLARED at me and didn’t say a word as she dropped it into the trash.

Read for a couple hours, got an awful lemonade from Wendy’s, found a Cheers shotglass for Francine (at work)’s collection and what the heck, got one for me as well, and got in the plane. As the doors closed, someone screamed in the back. “My baby!” Something something else. All of a sudden a hysterical woman was running to the front. “Let me off! Let me off!” She had a companion who was trying to calm her. They huddled with the attendants, let off a few more shrieks, and finally the door opened. It took the attendants three trips to make sure their carry-ons were gathered, and then we had to wait for people to go through the cargo hold to get their luggage. “Family emergency” was all we were told.

Top to bottom, left to right: Vermont (maple leaf), poor little Maine lobster, Plymouth pilgrims, Norman Rockwell's very funny self-portrait cover, Martha's Vineyard, The Spouter Tavern (that's a whale there) from Mystic Seaport, and a disappointingly blah Boston magnet that I got before I determined that I was going to start collecting INTERESTING magnets, dammit!
Then home again, home again. It cost a hair under $100 to park my car at the airport. I took 433 photos. I bought, I think, eight tee shirts and seven refrigerator magnets. One big slice of fudge. Two kitchen implements. I had a bagful of hotel shampoos and conditioners. I also brought home an extra eight pounds that stuck around for almost a week before they disappeared one night, just like that. I was glad I’d taken an extra vacation day for recovery.

Bus tours are very economical ways to vacation. For 8 days I paid about $1800, if you include the final tip to Brandon and Keith (which our booklet suggested), and don’t include meals, souvenirs, or flight. All our breakfasts were included, as well as three dinners. Keith said our final mileage was just a couple miles over 1000.

I like bus tours because they give me a quick, overall view of a region. I get to be able to point at a TV show later and yell, "I've been there!", plus I now know where I want to return to to spend more time. Like after this trip I want to paint some along the Maine or Martha's Vineyards shores, and maybe on the streets of Woodstock, VT.

Caravan furnishes a booklet with all your info, including how much to tip various people and what to bring along with you. (Sunscreen, travel alarm, etc.) Even so, one of the older ladies on the tour hadn't packed a sweater or jacket. We worried about her, but she said she was doing fine.

Brandon gave us lots of info on other vacations. Caravan's #1 tour is Costa Rica, which Brandon says he's been on and wants to get his parents to go as well, because it's fantastic. (Me, I've had several very bad past lives south of the border, and have never been tempted to wander farther south than Florida.) He says that the best time to travel is in mid-season, which allows time for tour workers to figure out what their job is without them being burnt out by it all yet. If you're older, you want to travel in late August or early September to avoid kids. If you're going to Alaska (Caravan doesn't go there, but Brandon did Alaskan tours before he switched to Caravan), you definitely want a land-cruise package. Save the cruise for last so you can relax. Try if at all possible to get multiple days in Denali. Don't go until June. (He showed us pictures of him changing bus tire chains in a snowstorm on May 29.) If you go on the Yellowstone tour, hit in July or August because earlier won't get you as long a whitewater ride because the river they do it on hasn't risen enough yet.

Next year: Trying to decide: Alaskan land/sea excursion ($$$) or Caravan’s “Mt. Rushmore, Grand Tetons & Yellowstone” tour, which would allow me to see an old stomping ground I’ve been wanting to revisit, as well as do some location research for my novels if I tack on a couple extra days before and after. Then again (and this is days later that I write this), I may take the Yellowstone tour with a Casper add-on, and then take a separate Amtrak "Empire Builder" ride, which would hit three cities I want desperately to see. Do you have an opinion? Have you taken any tours you’d like to recommend? Do you want to ride along on my next trip? Maybe we can raise a little heck!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Leaf-Peeping in New England (part 1)

I’d been wanting to take this tour for years. It was Caravan’s bus tour of New England. The leaves would be at their peak; I’d kept track in 2012 and made notes on the 2013 calendar. I cleared out the memory on my cameras, made sure I had extra camera batteries (thank goodness), and caught my flight, despite the fact that it had been changed to a much earlier one. I’d hoped I’d be able to sleep in at least on the first day of my vacay. It turned out that I wouldn’t be able to do that until I returned home.

I’ve been deathly afraid of flying, and have been trying to improve my attitude. Slowly things have gotten better, and this time there was hardly a glitch. I still can’t look out the windows, but I don’t go into meltdown and it’s been years since I squeezed a seat arm until it broke. During this Delta trip I got an EXTRA two packs of those delicious Biscoff cookies they serve, oh boy! (recipes here and here)

So I arrived in Boston around 10 AM, which was 2 hours earlier than I’d originally planned; time to check in to the Logan Hilton and hit the subway. The Hilton had a free shuttle to the subway. Boston’s subway has long stretches where metal screeches upon metal until you think you’ll scream. At one stop, an older lady got on with two adorable dachshunds. She pulled them onto the seat beside her, and people came forward to get cell pics of the cuties. Remind me to bring Purell and Clorox wipes next time I ride. The subway ticket machines (located in the underground part. For above-ground locations, you have to board the back cars and pay next to the conductor) are flanked by two burly men who help the newbies figure out what’s what. I managed quite nicely on my own, thank you, unlike Washington, DC’s confusing fare setup. $5 got me to the Museum of Fine Art and back. That’s route GreenE.

Wow. The MFA. It has a really confusing map. Frankly, I don’t think the map is correct, because every third room I had to stop someone to ask where I was, and I’m pretty good at maps. Since it had been a long time since breakfast and that Biscoff, I began in the large central courtyard and the in-house restaurant. Nice panini! Rotten tea. High prices. (But overall not too bad, as I’d gotten free admission because—surprise!—presenting one’s Bank of America debit card to pay for admission on the first Saturday of the month or somesuch means that BoA will pay your admission. How about that?)

The ancient Egypt collection was fascinating, if dry in places. Ar ar. There was an interesting exhibit from Iranian women photographers, but the Sargent display in the rotunda was disappointing. However, I did find a marvelous book of his watercolors in the store, which is tied into the show that will be there, well, starting the week that I’m writing this. I bought that online when I got back, as the paperback version must have weighed about twenty pounds alone. Tough to pack. ($9 to ship.) (Just got the UPS notice it’ll be delivered tomorrow. Oh boy! The pictures are gorgeous and so bold!)

Anyway, some fine artwork there and of course I high-tailed it to mainly the Impressionism section. They had a Van Gogh or two that was lovely. (Of course.)

Back to the Hilton with no stop at the aquarium; time was running short. I’d Googled Logan airport and there were a few high-rated restaurants there, but apparently they’re behind security. (I couldn’t find them on the way out because they were in different buildings.) So it was the Hilton for dinner (fairly nice, but too expensive for what you got; bad tea again), and then upstairs to attend the first meeting for our tour group.

Our group at the Calvin Coolidge place. I'm 5th from the left way in the back. Sunglasses peeking out.
We met Brandon, our tour leader, and Keith, our driver (I have one note that says his name was Dwight, yet I could swear Brandon kept calling him "Keith." If I'm wrong, Dwight, I apologize!!!), and received our final instructions. Caravan now offers 14 New England tours a week during peak leaf season, so that meant we had an Evil Double Bus shadowing us.  (They were the AG Autumn Gold group as opposed to us, the FC Fall Color.) We alternated our schedules daily so as not to arrive places the same time they did. (At one stop Evil Bus got the worse hotel. Ha ha! They had the people who signed up later than us.) As would happen every day, we were told times for when breakfast in the hotel opened, when our luggage was due to be set outside our doors for pickup, and when we were expected to have our butts in our bus seats.

Brandon told a chilling story about the one time he left someone behind. He counts everyone at least three times before the bus leaves. That time he’d counted, but while his back was turned a woman had gotten off to take one final shot. The bus took off without her.

In the side mirrors, they spotted her running and stopped. Brandon apologized profusely, but the woman clammed up in fury at being left behind. Finally he begged her to tell him what he could do so she wouldn’t be angry with him. “I’m not angry at you. I’m furious at my husband!”

That’s right, her husband had let the bus take off without her in the seat beside him.

So Brandon counted us every chance he got, and I got in the habit of getting up at 5:15 every day. I was never late for the bus, though once it came very close.

Our first day was touring Boston, for which we got a local guide. We zipped around in circles and, what with the overcast and drizzle, I became extremely disoriented. We must have gone by the Common five times. I did mention to the guide at one stop that I’d written a book where one scene took place at a former Boston hotel that had been the site of a horrific fire in relatively recent times. I couldn’t remember the name of the place (the Hotel Vendome), but described the street it was on. He pointed out what he guessed it was, but I thought I’d recognized a building about three minutes earlier from Google streetview that I’d done my research from. Thrilling to see the area in person!

We saw Paul Revere’s church (the one where they hung the lanterns), and were reminded that Paul came into things late and was stopped before he got too far. But he had a good publicist, unlike the others who made it through. Rest stop was in a very large food court downtown (the block had a comics shop), and though I wasn’t hungry (danger, danger, Will Robinson!) I joined the others and got a little nosh for second breakfast. It was an éclair, but instead of chocolate and a top pastry layer, its thick custard held three pieces of fruit. Healthy!

At every stop most of the group searched for places to buy fudge. (Also “adult beverages.”) That’s right. I don’t get it. The only good fudge is stuff you make yourself, off the back of the Hershey’s cocoa tin. (And even then you use Nestle’s for best results.) But they were persuasive and by mid-trip I’d bought a slice of fudge. It wasn’t very good.

After Boston we toodled off to Concord and Lexington. There were nice visitor centers and a green, colorful with autumn foliage, to admire. At Lexington the historic bridge where the “shot heard round the world” was fired, was closed to the public due to the government shutdown. (Thank goodness we weren’t on the Western Parks tour [Grand Canyon, etc.], where EVERYTHING was closed! Caravan scrambled to turn that into a Mystery Tour and refunded the money for anyone who didn’t want to operate that way.) The bus turned a couple of corners and we saw the bridge from a distance. It’s a nice wooden bridge. A few people on the bus loudly complained that we couldn’t stop, like it was the driver’s fault. Jerks.

Plymouth, Mass. Our lunch stop was far too short, and there were legitimate complaints about that. For the rest of the trip we had adequate time, or maybe we learned not to order so much food. I know my lunch (at a recommended café) was fairly meh, with an awful clam chowder. But from there we strolled to see the Rock, which was just a rock, and a pieced-together one at that. And very possibly not the correct one at all, to judge from what Wiki has to say. Anyway, someone has etched “1620” on it and placed an ostentatious neo-Classical foofarah over it. Big deal. I was much more impressed with the pole in the water at Jamestown that marked the edge of the fort there (1607, folks), and the guide there pointing out into the river, saying that 20 feet farther was likely the landing point.

Plymouth also has a mockup of the Mayflower that is NOT federally protected, because it was open. Though the day was overcast, I got a lot of good pictures of boats in the harbor. You see, I was taking pictures to make paintings this winter. New England has scads of picturesque boats. (I’m trying to find places in NC with similar sights, but so far have only found marinas wintering expensive yachts.) Unfortunately, the view outside my hotel window in Hyannis that night was not so picturesque.

The next day we hopped onto a 45-minute ferry—a huge affair that could take loads of buses and trucks and cars in its hold—to Martha’s Vineyard. Talk about a charming location! The bus drove around a bit, then dropped us off for lunch, shopping & sightseeing. After a lovely, wubbly lunch at a lovely, wubbly café (I gave them five stars on Trip Advisor!), the sky fell in. After about 20 minutes the rain stopped, but I’d been walking down some charming little streets and hadn’t been able to find cover. Good thing I was not only wearing a hooded raincoat but my wide-brimmed painting hat. Not an aesthetic pairing, but useful. My things dried out about two days later.

We’d learned that due to a recent storm, Chappaquiddick (or “Teddy K’s Downfall”) was now a separate island from Martha’s Vineyard, and a ferry that took about 2 minutes ran to it. I wandered down an alleyway that I noticed was filled with a line of cars. It was for said ferry. I was too hazy to notice Chappetc. in the near distance, darn it. Then it was back on the bus, over to the next town, and dropped off (more harbor pics!) until time for the ferry back. A lot of us wound up sitting on benches (getting sunburns under the now-blue sky), either watching the sea or staring blankly with Vacation Brain into the distance. Vacation Brain usually hit around 2:00 each day, when you reached your limit on touring.

The next day we wandered around Rhode Island because there’s not much of Rhode Island to wander around in. It’s a pretty state, and everything’s near one beach or another. A local guide joined us for Newport, a gorgeous little Navy town that also has all kinds of mansions in it. We toured The Breakers, a Vanderbilt affair in which the term “conspicuous consumption” was first coined. Holy moly. I took notes, and have now reworked my back yard to mirror theirs. You like?

Next came Mystic, CT, where we drove past Mystic Pizza (no, I’ve never seen the movie) and saw a living museum of a waterfront community. There I spoke to a lady in a horse carriage, conducting tours (no takers at the time). She’s also an artist, and we encouraged each other. Nice lady. So-so “living museum,” but maybe if someone were into such it would have been more interesting. There were two high school-age teams of rowers there, and for a while I thought they’d get on the water to practice, but they were just fiddling with their VERY long boats and practicing working in unison on getting them from the mainland to the dock, and then almost into the water without crashing into anyone. Then my camera battery died, and they decided they’d done enough. Good timing!

I had planned to take laundry across the street from the hotel (of COURSE I’d researched beforehand!), but Brandon assured me that the next night would be much better, machine-wise. Instead I set out for a decent meal. There was a fancy steak place a block away, but I wasn’t dressed for it. Instead I aimed for “Go Fish,” a friendly-sounding family-type kind of place.

Nope, it was a high-class joint. I decided what the heck, splurge on vacay. Besides, there were only a couple of people in the huge joint, and I could slink into a dark corner. The food arrived, looking like it was ready for its own Food Network Magazine cover shoot. Wow! Fancy-wancy. But icky-wicky, it was utterly bland. And I had to send the tea back. What is it with Yankees and iced tea? It’s not a difficult beverage to concoct. Why do they have to boil it or add peach flavoring to it or let it sit until it turns rancid or brew it where coffee has been? Anyway, I gave them a poor-ish review on Trip Advisor, and THEN noticed that everyone else on the site had done the same. Why don’t I read these things before I go?

The next day we traveled north to the Norman Rockwell museum in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. (Yes, we were back in Mass.) You know, I didn’t used to like his work at all, but now that I’m beginning to see what angle he was coming from, I kind of enjoy it. He was like the brilliant Mort Drucker or even Daumier, only operating in different venues. Satire and social commentary, that was him.

I’d seen the huge show at the NC Museum of Art a year ago, and it seems that had more to it than this museum. However, I was there for the studio, which I photographed and paced off. I asked questions, and the guy there absolutely ignored me while answering others’ questions. Hm.

Rockwell’s middle (?) son has a wing in the museum to show his modern art. Yawn. But the guy also collects toys, particularly action figures. Marvel was well-represented, with a few DC characters. The guard there and I couldn’t spot any Wonder Womans. Rrr…

Somewhere along the line we wandered into New York state, just to say that we had hit it as a special addition to the tour, but also so we could catch the right roads to come back into Vermont to catch a monument to the Green Mountain Boys (Revolutionary War, remember?) that was kinda meh, but had public restrooms and a souvenir shack, yay. Also, a fiberglas moose — one of those animals that so many cities have where they have artists decorate different ones. A lot of folks had their picture taken next to Mr. Moose.

Then it was off to Plymouth again. Wait, this one was in Vermont, Calvin Coolidge’s birthplace. Brandon played a short DVD bio to prepare us for it. I noticed that the video was all about how Cal had grown up and become governor, where he did some important things. It didn’t mention much at all about him being prez, other than that his father (who really didn’t have the authority, as he was just a notary or some such) swore him into office in the middle of the night when news of Harding’s death reached them.

The only thing I ever really heard about Silent Cal was the joke about him attending a White House dinner. The woman guest to his side said, “I have a bet going that I can get you to say five words.” “You lose,” he told her, and returned to his meal.

But the birthplace had lovely autumnal views, with the hills rising all around the farm. I think there was a fudge shop, but don’t quote me on that. There were lots of apple trees, and here, more than any other stop, there were zillions of rotting apples lying on the ground. When you walked around, you had a tendency to get rotten apple stuck to your shoe soles.

I got this Woodstock gentleman to pose for me. "Don't look at the camera!" I commanded, and he didn't. This was an extra shot. Woodstock is CRAWLING with tourists. I got a lot of good people shots.
It’s all starting to get hazy to me, and some of these stops are out of order. We stopped in Woodstock, VT, which is just about the cutest, most New England-y town you could ever imagine. Shopping! Lunch! It even had a covered bridge, though its bridge had been re-built in the Sixties. I had lunch at a place where they served excellent tea and promised them I’d review them very well. (Oops, must remember to do so.) The tour director from the Evil Bus sat a few seats down from me at the bar, and we listened to a semi-crazy lady who had no version of an Indoor Voice talk about some of the wild and wacky things she’d done. Evil Director told me that their tour, AG, stood for “awesome group,” unlike our group. Boo! We made up for it later that afternoon, when our bus passed Evil Bus. Our people made rude gestures at them, and we could see Evil Bus Director shaking his fist at us. Fun.

I checked out a library book sale (danger! danger!) because the library had a john (they encourage the public to make a donation if they were going to use it, which I did and did) and emerged from the building with a book. Evanovich. Smokin’ Seventeen. Blech. I’d sworn off buying one of her books ever again, but at least she didn’t get any profits from me. I needed a book so I wouldn’t finish the Lois McMaster Bujold book I was halfway through, and was saving for the plane home. (Turns out I still haven't finished that, as I finished SS on the trip home.)

We had one food rule on the bus: We could bring in anything we wanted except ice cream. Ice cream got messy. It seemed a shame to leave Vermont, which seems to have an ice cream place on every corner, without some, so on the way back to the bus I stopped at a creamery and ordered a SMALL milkshake. "Milkshake?" the girl behind the counter asked me, puzzled. "Oh, you mean a frappé." (And she pronounced it "frap.") So she made me a malted milk one. Small. "Whoops, made too much," she told me as she handed me a very large covered cup. Bravely, I did manage to drink it all over the next half hour on the bus. (I'd kind of hidden the cup as I boarded.) Tasted like a chocolate shake to me. One with high butterfat content. Mm!

Not the Vermont Country Store, but down and around and up a hill from it.
Where else? Oh yes, the Vermont Country Store (you likely have one of their catalogs in your mail box) has a bunch of public toilets at their large store in Weston, VT, so all the tour buses make a stop there. The staff come on the buses when they’re about to leave and hand out catalogs, maple candies, and rum cookies. I didn’t get a rum cookie, but the lady said they had a liquid center and MAN! did the bus reek of rum as everyone was chowing down! What marketing. Put in big bathrooms if your store sits along a lonely stretch of road, and the crowds will come. (I shopped at the store across the street.)

Quechee Gorge (VT) had a couple souvenir stands, public restrooms (you’re getting that these are important, yes?), bus parking, and a FABULOUS view of the gorge. I have some very narrow canvases that are going to be painted with views of this, if I can figure out how to do it right. It’s going to call for a lot of abstraction, since there were gorgeous rocks everywhere.

Tomorrow: THRILL to the rush to get to the bus! FEEL the death pangs of the poor lobster! PAY for airport parking!