Living The Dream: 11

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

DECEMBER: BACON

The bedroom was cozy, with windows facing a small neighborhood park, empty at that time of night. Nelson had his own bed next to mine and he slept soundly. I didn’t. How had I ended up at this home in Albuquerque? It must be the beer. This isn’t like me, to go home with strangers, but I felt safe and relaxed. Unusual to say the least.

When we’d walked back to my truck, they’d offered me a place to stay for a few nights, a chance to unwind after weeks on the road. I followed them and drove up to a small but well lit home nearby. The front yard held a teardrop trailer and an SUV. I pulled in on the left, out of their way hopefully, and let the boy out. The winter sky sparkled above, cold and distant. The lights in Angie’s home drew me in. Jonnie was in the kitchen already, putting on water for tea.

“The room is back there, the one at the end of the hallway. Make yourself at home, Jenny. We usually make tea and hang out on the porch, catching up on the week’s news. You can join us if you like?”
I shook my head and shuffled back to the bedroom. I was settling in my boy when Angie popped her head around the door.

“Your bath is ready. Come on, it’s in here.”
The bath overflowed with bubbles, the windows steamed, and candles flickered on the countertop.

“I thought you’d like a little pampering. Anyway, I’m going to be outside with Jonnie, to see what he’s been up to without me. It’s hard not living together right now, but I need to finish my master’s degree here before I go back south. Oh, blah blah, you don’t need to hear this. Go relax. See you later or not. Coffee’s usually ready early so help yourself. And Nelson can hang out in the back yard, it’s fenced. Good night.”

She closed the door behind her and Nelson’s footsteps followed her down the hallway. The backdoor closed behind the three of them. The house grew quiet.

“We’re off to the Farmer’s Market. Do you want to come with us?” Jonnie finished his second cup of coffee. “It’s pretty amazing at this time of year, what with all the winter treats like raw honey and candy, all wrapped ready for Christmas presents, as well as wreaths made from the local trees. It’s fun. I’ll even buy you a hot cider.” Jonnie stood up from the kitchen table as Angie appeared, pulling on a winter coat and a woolen hat.

“Sure, it’s okay with Nelson though? The one in Santa Fe won’t let him come in.”
Angie nodded and handed me the leash. “No worries, he’ll be fine. I know the manager. You can be my visiting niece and she won’t ask for more than an assurance that he won’t mark everything. Okay Nelson, you’ll behave?”

Nelson fetched his leash, waiting for the slow coach humans at the front door.
Clouds had followed from the North East corner of the state and threatened a snowstorm. I huddled deeper into my jacket. Nelson looked as happy as a raven with a dead mouse. Comfortable and content with the world, he trotted alongside as we walked and talked. Angie led the way through the park and onto more back roads. The sun peeked out occasionally but not often enough to melt the frost on the grass. Nelson sniffed, marked, and sniffed some more. He was a happy boy.

“We thought of buying land down south, near the Gila National Forest but the idea of living without power or baths put us off. I like my comforts,” said Angie with a laugh. “We own a home down by Elephant Butte Reservoir, not that there’s much water these days, but it’s nice to be near a lake, live quietly and still live in a real home, you know. Don’t you miss living in town?”
“We’re only four or so miles outside of Oliver, so it’s not bad. And it’s worth it to me, to live where no one cares what we do or how we do it. I don’t really know how to build to code, or really what that even means, but Mark and I, well, we got to play and make shelters and gardens and all of it without anyone judging us. That can’t be beat.”
Jonnie slowed down to ask about the water and electricity.

“Not that I understand that stuff, I work in the museum down there, cataloguing acquisitions and talking to all the school kids. I like the job, I get to leave at the end of the day and not worry about anyone or anything. Perfect. I go home, make some food, pet the cat, and watch movies. At least, when Angie’s up here.”

She slapped him playfully and linked her arm with his. They chatted away as we walked.

“I don’t know that I could go back to teaching, not yet anyway. You’re right; it’s easier when you don’t have to worry about anyone. The café has been perfect for me, a way to meet the locals, network, and get involved in the community. Mark has had a harder time of meeting people but he’s made some friends, some closer than others. I don’t know if they’re aware why he’s left. I’ll have to tell them I guess, when I go home.”
Angie and Jonnie glanced at each other. “Do you still think of it as home then?”

I nodded, surprised at myself. “Yes. Yes, I guess I do. It’s good to talk about the place, the people. I hadn’t realized how much it suits me there. Or how proud I am of how we learned how to do things for ourselves. It’s kind of amazing really, we used to just accept what we’d been told, you know, by the supposed experts. But then we started to question them and we’d look into things ourselves. I learned a lot.”
The lights changed and we crossed another side road, and found our way through the mass of cars and bicycles parked haphazardly in front of the market.

“If you lose us, Jenny, there’s a café just there, see it? We’ll find you there at noon, okay? Come on; let’s face the mayhem. There’s this family who make the best burritos. You’ve got to try one. And for you, Nelson, bacon?”

He trotted happily, tail high and proud.

Click on the book cover for a link to where you can buy a copy if you want more NOW!

Book Awards in LA

I wake to see a young fella in the bunkbed opposite mine with his hand in his boxers and a boner (small), and yes, the bunkbed was only three feet away. I rolled over and waited a moment before climbing down and heading out for the day.

Airbnb. Yep, it’s not always to be trusted to deliver the goods. Don’t tell the young fella how unimpressed I was though. I’d arrived in LA for an awards dinner in the downtown LA Live Complex. It all sounded great. It did. The Great Northwest Book Festival had named Van Life to be the Grand Winner of their 2017 Contest. Not bad, in fact, I was pretty chuffed. A flight, dinner, award, a chance to meet writers, agents, publishers and all of that festival stuff.
Or so I thought.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back up, Sleam. The contest was one that had popped up on my social media during the new year, a ripe time for me to send out my books, looking for a wider readership. So, I sent in Van Life and promptly moved along to the next project. It’s how I work. I’m not really keeping track, I send out ideas, books, projects, cartoons and photographs nearly every day, figuring if anyone’s interested that they’ll  be in touch. Rejection then is less of an issue, you see?

Anyway, March rolls around. Late one night, an email comes in saying, you’re the winner of the Great Northwest Book Festival. “The” winner, oh, you poor fellas, you got that wrong, I thought, you’re meant to say “A” winner. But no, they meant that the book was best nonfiction and Grand Winner both. Wow! Seriously? I was thrilled. I couldn’t sleep. The next couple of weeks was spent organizing a trip to LA for the ceremony, finding pet-sitters, a flight and a room through Airbnb. Hence the bunkbeds.
I’d found a studio apartment near downtown, only six or so blocks from the event, flexible check-in times. Perfect. I didn’t mind that Kam, the host, said it was a shared space. “I’ll be in the room with you, it’s quiet and clean.” Fine. And for downtown LA, the price of $60 seemed fine too. I made the booking, paid the price, and then a confirmation email arrived. Check in after 8pm. I’d be in bed #1. That should’ve warned me. If there were only two beds, surely it’d be obvious? Oh well, no worries and when I asked to check in earlier Kam gave me the directions, warning me not to talk to anyone on the way up, the landlord wanted it to be a secret…yeah, right.

My chauffeur dropped me off at Venice Beach, just outside the Ale house. Okay, so it was Debbie from Albuquerque. We’d sat next to each other on the plane at 5.30 am and chatted most of the way. The Boston in her took over as she drove down to the beach though, pretty funny to hear her bitch out the other drivers that Saturday morning. We swapped numbers, and I wandered to the ocean, snapping photos as I went. Then a text popped up on my phone: Karen, my one close friend in LA, asked if I was near the VW bus in the photos. Yep. Why?
“I work at the Ale House.” I turned back and found her there, of all the places to find myself, I was only walking distance away from my sweet friend of many years ago in New Mexico. We made plans for the Sunday and she went back to work.

My afternoon wore me out. It’s a hard life, sitting on beaches, drinking beer and eating salads while taking photos. It is. I was worn out. So it was time to check in to the Airbnb and take a shower before the grand dinner. A metro ride for an hour, more walking, and then following Kam’s instructions, I found myself in the studio apartment. A German woman greets me and introduces me to David, both staying there with Airbnb. Two sets of kid-sized metal bunkbeds face me. A sheet cordons off another bed, where, according to Eike, three men live and share the apartment. Kam, his brother and a roommate.
“This isn’t going to work,” I muttered but settled in, taking a shower. All fresh and cleaned up for the dinner, I sit down at the sofa and quickly write the acceptance speech requested of me. That’s the appearance fee, for me to say something about the process of how I write and publish.
Eike disturbed my train of thought. “Have you seen my Tablet? I can’t find it. I had it this morning. Oh no, what if it’s been stolen?” She threw out all of her stuff from the suitcase, panic seeping into her voice. “There were six men in here last night and I felt safe and now this, I don’t feel safe. This is bad. I must leave. I won’t find another place at this time on a Saturday night. I must stay. This is bad.”

Yes, it had been stolen. Yes, six men stayed there, a girlfriend of one of the unofficial/ official roommates, Eike and myself. In the studio room that was listed as just Kam and I.

Okay, so back to the story. The dinner. I arrive early at the restaurant, full of all the pretty people of LA, money in their blond hair, loud look-at-me voices, laughter ringing out as false as the Awards Ceremony turned out to be. Yep, my cynical self had been right. All image and no substance. This was no Book Festival. No agents, no publishers, no seminars, no one from the Industry. Instead I sat at the bar with a pint and my smartphone, taking photos of the surroundings and eavesdropping happily.
The Maitre’D called me to the private room. The size of my self-built home in New Mexico. Enough for four tables and a plastic podium for those important speeches. Bruce, the organizer, raced over, introduced me to his wife, Debbie, and sat me at a table with a family from Kentucky. The teenage daughter had won a prize. We made small talk for the next three hours. Oh my. Very nice people. Not going to help me get an agent though. I sipped a beer slowly, taking it all in and trying not to laugh at the authenticity of Bruce’s gushing introductions to each winner. That’s all we were, ten writers, some with family and some alone, all getting  nicely printed and cheaply framed certificates.

A festival? Not by any means. But in theory, they’ll be sending me an appearance fee. We’ll see, right? In the meantime, back at Airbnb, one of the roommates is there with his girlfriend and they start yelling at each other about how there’s no privacy. They ignored my hellos and strung a curtain between the bunkbeds and their shared bed in the other corner. I fell asleep with ear-plugs and a pillow over my head.

The rest of my weekend in LA was spent back on Venice and Santa Monica Beach, wandering around with Karen, laughing at life, at the fake LA scene, and with Karen teasing me that so many people stared at me, trying to work out if I was someone famous. “It’s because you don’t care, it makes them suspicious.” It was the cowboy hat, striped shirt, baggy boy shorts and scruffy boots, but that’s my opinion.  I did get men approaching me later on over my dinner asking to take my photo though…those directors and film makers, you know how it is for us middle aged women in “men’s” clothing…

Now I’m back in New Mexico, it’s snowing. The lovely certificate is on my shelf. And I write a thank you note to the organizers. Polite as ever, I was raised right after all.

Living The Dream: 10

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

 

JULY: ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE

 

I woke up to the sun shining in through the bus windows. The sky was streaked in gold and periwinkle. My sweetie was snoring next to me. The wind gently rocked the bus, but in a good way. I yawned and stretched my legs. I climbed out of bed and took three steps to turn on the coffee pot. I stared out another window at the mountains to the south of us. Tall and craggy, they loomed over the valley we lived in.
I got dressed in the usual jeans and red tee shirt, found my new cowboy hat, and poured out a fresh brewed Joe. I opened the door quietly and stepped down on to our almost finished porch. The paint smell had finally blown away.

I stretched tall and touched the tin roof above before bending forward to scratch my toes. I looked all around and once again was overwhelmed by how beautiful the desert can be. Sitting down on the bench we’d made yesterday, I put my feet up. The coffee was perfect. The sky lightened into a teal and orange stripe fest. The silence enveloped me. I sighed. I drank the coffee.

 

“What the hell?”

In front of me stood a small animal. Furry. Four legs. Tail tucked somewhere underneath. She looked like a roast chicken that had been left drying out on the dining room table.

A stray dog, in other words, she looked like a border terrier mixed with something, I had no idea what. I put my feet to the floor softly and she flinched but didn’t run away. The poor little bugger was all skin and bones, panting even now in the cool morning temperatures. I stood up, talking gently the whole time. I took a couple of steps and climbed into the bus, grabbing a green cereal bowl and filling it with water. I couldn’t think of what to feed her.

I came back out and she’d gone. I stood there, water in hand, and started to cry. It was hormones, honest. I put the bowl on the wooden platform and sat back on the bench. Out from under my feet she crawled past me and crept over to the water. She drank half and then burped like a pro. I laughed out loud and she jumped, running back under the porch itself. I could see her through the flooring.

I drank some of my tepid coffee and started to talk. I described the bus and how we’d found it. I told her about the mice and rats. I mentioned my favorite colors. I just talked a bunch of crap really.

The dog came out and sat in front of me with her head tilted. She had long spindly legs and that scruffy wiry creamy straw-like fur that terriers are known for. On her top lip, she’d grown a short moustache. She licked her lips as I spoke.

“Are you hungry, Frida?”
She knew what I was offering and her tail made an appearance, wagging slowly and cautiously. I stood up.

“Well, let’s see what you might like, shall we? Come on inside, don’t worry; the fella snoring is one of those good ones. He’s a keeper. He’ll be nice to you, I promise.”
I looked behind me to see her at the top step, nose working furiously, aimed at the new kitchen. I squatted down and opened the fridge. We had some beans, rice, and tortillas, Mark’s leftover hamburger and fries, a bag of tomatoes, coffee, cream, and beer. Oh, and some eggs. I pulled out what I wanted and put everything on the counter above me. I found another bowl, blue this time, and half filled it with the rice, an egg and some burger and stirred it all together. I headed back outside with the little girl at my feet, staring at me expectantly.

I put the bowl by her water and stepped away.

She sat. She waited. She licked her moustache.
“Go on, it’s yours.”

 

We walked the property with the sun rising behind us. I walked and talked out loud to the pup. She bounced like a puppy, forgetting herself and chasing at leaves and flies. She looked up when I chatted. She played under the pinions and in the sand, digging furiously at a small hole. I wandered over to see what the fuss was and she stopped to stare at me. I squatted down to her height. I leaned against a banana of a boulder. She dug some more. Suddenly a mouse ran between her legs and I squealed. Frida lunged after the little creature and gave chase. I heard her excited yelps growing more and more distant. I waited. She didn’t come back when I thought she would.
I carried on walking. I reached the back half of the forty acres and came across a few deep holes, seemingly old ones, hidden by branches cut from a nearby juniper tree.

I stood on the high point that looks over a dry riverbed, an arroyo as they say hereabouts. Sand and river rock lined the route the water must take if ever it flows. We’d still not had more than a slight rain so far this summer. My umbrella stared forlornly at me from the hook on the porch.

I sat down and listened hard. No furry footsteps came my way. I sighed and stood up and walked home. I took the western path, cutting under a ridge with sandstone ledges that scared me; the slightest extra weight could bring them crashing down on me. I spotted a small stumpy cactus that had thrown out a shocking pink flower. Just the one. I got close and stared. It was delicate yet chunky. Solid in it’s new growth, the flower didn’t move in the breeze. Or when I poked it with a stick.
The sand turned a burnt sienna in places, and in others a golden cinnamon toast. I was hungry. I picked up the pace. The sky was becoming more of a gunmetal gray than the periwinkle blue I’d grown used to. In the distance I heard a rumble. It wasn’t my stomach this time.

I walked fast through the silver pale green shrubs and the forest of tall cactus near our homestead. I heard Mark snoring still. I rounded the tail end of the school bus. On the steps sat Frida, with both the water and food bowls licked clean. Her tail wriggled and she stood up and ran to me. She stood on her back legs when I bent down. A lick on the chin, and that was that; I loved her.

 

“What the hell is that?” Mark yelled from the bed.

I ran inside. Frida followed a few paces behind. On the pillow next to my boy was a mouse. A dead mouse. Mark had scooted to the bottom of the mattress. His hair stuck out in all directions and he gave me a frantic look. “How on earth did that get there? Is this some kind of a joke?”
I laughed, which probably wasn’t a good idea. He scowled. I nodded behind me. “I think she brought you a present.”

“Who?” Mark pulled his knees to his chest and stared at me in a foggy daze.
Frida stepped closer to me and peered at Mark from between my legs, all sixteen pounds of her pressed into me for support.

“What’s that?”
Frida whimpered and shook slightly. I looked down at my scruffy new friend. “That is a dog.”

“He has a moustache.”
She, yes, she does. She has a name.”

“What name?”
“Frida, her name is Frida.”
“Oh, right. We can talk about this later, okay? Can you do me a favor now? Take the corpse away.” He pointed to my pillow. “You might want to wash that before tonight.”

I picked up the mouse with his bandana. Frida watched me with her head tilted sideways. Her one ear flopped and the other stood up high. She licked her top lip nervously. I smiled at her and looked back to Mark. “Isn’t she adorable?”
“Does that mean we’re keeping her?”
I smiled sweetly. “Did you want coffee in bed?”
“We should try to find if someone lost her.” Mark said sensibly.

“But what if they did and I have to give her back?”

He drank more coffee and leaned back against the headboard. I sat next to him. Frida looked at us from over the edge of the mattress, her little tufty ears following us back and forth. She watched as we decided her fate.

“What if it was your dog? Wouldn’t you want someone to give her back?”
“Yes, of course. Damn, now we’ll have to go to Oliver and try to find her family, won’t we?”
He nodded sagely, and lightly tapped the bed once. Frida needed no more encouragement and she bounced up. She stood there for a second, all eighteen inches tall, before she circled twice and curled up at his feet. Her eyes watched him closely.

“We can make some flyers or something. Go to the Post Office and ask around at the store and at the cafe. It’s a small enough town that they probably know the dogs’ names more than their neighbors.”

Mark was right; we’d have to go look, and make sure she wasn’t simply lost. To me, there was something wrong about how scared the pup was. That shouldn’t be allowed if she did indeed have a home nearby. Maybe someone dropped her off on the highway? Left her out here on her own?

“What about driving and asking the neighbors first? We could drive up Harold’s Way and ask around.”
Frida sighed and wriggled against Mark. He reached down and petted her absent-mindedly. I said nothing and left them to it.

 

“Hello? Anyone home?”

Mark shouted out of the car window. Three big furry dogs ran up to our Subaru and barked like crazy. Frida hid at my feet. The adobe house had one wall fallen in. A horse stood in a corral and watched us, flicking its tail. The German Shepherds soon got bored and walked back over to the shade of the porch. They didn’t stop staring. The house was pretty big but incredibly run down. Gutters half fell off the roof. Buckets lay everywhere. Empty bottles and trashcans lined the driveway. An old Chevy truck sat on blocks. The firewood pile had cacti growing out of it. The path to the front door was clear and well worn. Where was everyone?
I wanted to get out and look around. Mark wasn’t going to let me.
“Remember what Dieselhead Danny said, about how people don’t like visitors showing up uninvited? Especially folks they’ve never even met. We’re lucky we didn’t get shot.”
He looked around nervously, smoking as he checked his mirrors. “Do you have that note about Frida? We can stick it to the gate post on the way out.”
We turned the car around slowly, trying to avoid the stuff lying everywhere. The gate had been open when we drove up but I got out and pulled it shut behind us. I had some duct tape and I attached the description of Frida to the right hand side. That would get their attention.

 

One by one, we stuck notes on gates and sometimes on front doors, depending on the dog situation. If none charged us as we drove up, I was sent to do the deed. If the car was surrounded, Mark admitted defeat and we drove away with Frida on my lap. Her fur tickled. She leaned against me, nestling in for hugs when Mark wasn’t looking. We spent most of the morning looking for her owners but no one could help. Not that we met many people, but still, we did run into a few and not one recognized her. There was one last reclusive homestead on the way to Oliver we were told to check out first.

The gate was firmly shut but for some reason Mark insisted on going up closer. I got out to push the metal gate out the way when a voice shouted out to me.

“Don’t do that.”
Deep and strong, the voice was of God, booming out from the unseen. I spun around. A tall dark-skinned woman strode towards us. Frida whimpered and ran for the car, bouncing in and onto Mark’s lap. I was on my own here.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” I started in my polite middle class way when she reached me. At some six-foot or so, she made a remarkable first impression. The long legs reached higher than my waist. The tee shirt hugged a skinny wiry body devoid of anything extra, (that’s a polite way of saying she was flat-chested), the muscles shaped her arms into string beans, and her hair was a silver gray, and almost invisible it was that short. Her blue eyes took me by surprise. I didn’t expect that. I stuttered out the story of finding Frida. “Are you missing a dog?”
“I might be. Describe her again.” She had a no nonsense approach for such a strange answer.

“Surely you’d know if a dog’s gone, right?”
“Not necessarily. You see, I run a rescue here. That’s why I didn’t want the gate opened by strangers. Look up the hill and you’ll see my dogs are watching us closely.”
I looked and almost fainted. The hilltop was lined with dogs staring at me, bunches of dogs, all eyes focused on my healthy sized thighs, the color of a medium rare hamburger.

“How many do you have?” I shuddered in awe.
“Thirty-three. Or maybe it’s thirty-two now?” She smiled and suddenly I liked her. A childish mischief came out in the twinkle in her eyes. I grinned back.

“Let me show you Frida, she’s with Mark in the car.”
“Okay, that’ll work. I did get some dogs in recently that haven’t adjusted to the pack dynamic. They want to leave. I try to take a handful in to Santa Fe each month to find more permanent homes, you know, but that’s hard to do sometimes.”

We walked back, introduced ourselves, and she talked about the sanctuary. She’d had the place for fifteen years, starting with two rescue dogs that she found wandering her land. Mark watched us but didn’t get out of the car, Frida sat on his lap, and they both stared at us worriedly. Her little ears drooped at the sight of us.

“Is that one of yours?” I asked.

Louise stepped closer.

“Yep, she came in last week. She hates it here. The other dogs are much bigger. This isn’t really the place for a dog like her; she’s too vulnerable. Too small.”
“How did you end up with her?” Mark piped up, curious after all.

“Her owner died of old age and in his sleep. The EMTs brought her here when no family came forward. They’re pretty good like that, taking care of more than just the emergency patients. You could say that she came here reluctantly.”
We stood next to each other in silence. In the Subaru, Frida sat on Mark’s lap and licked her nose nervously. The storm hovered above the hills to the north of us, which were lit by a streak of sunlight within a mix of dark gray and baby blue clouds. Ominous.

“Can we keep her?” Mark said it first. I grinned at him and he smiled back briefly before focusing on the woman next to me. She stood quietly scratching her shaven head absently.

“On one condition,” she answered after a moment spent assessing us both. “You come help me here with the dogs and the property. My husband left me last spring, for a woman with two cats.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I need help, with maintaining the place more than anything, but also taking four or five dogs to town each month to find them homes.” She broke into a toothy gapped grin that made me nod my head without thinking it through. She stuck out her hand to mine. I shook hers and I didn’t wonder why.

She stepped closer to the car and leaned down and into the window. Mark held onto Frida. Louisa laughed softly.
“Don’t worry, she’s yours. I’d say she’s about three years old, and I know she’s had her shots and been spayed. I have the records for you. She’s a good dog. Thanks for taking her.” She petted the pup gently. Louisa looked into Mark’s eyes. “I’ll see you on the weekend, shall I? Not too late, I get up a six.”

LA for an award? Sure, I’ll go.

It must be an elaborate hoax, right? That my latest book won an award? That I’m being flown to LA tomorrow for a dinner downtown?

I’m packed, I figure even if it is a hoax, I might as well spend the weekend in LA. I haven’t been there in over 25 years, oh shit, that makes me old. Well, is there a big difference between that innocent yet brave kid and my current self? In some ways – no. I write, she wrote, we’re both restless and curious, not satisfied by the mundane but needing to find out other people’s stories and experiences. I’m excited to land in LA early in the morning and have the time to wander around, take the bus to the beach, wander up to Santa Monica to eat fish and chips at the British Pub that I remember.

The first time in LA, I was 22 years old with a backpack, a handful of dollars and one address in Venice Beach. I walked, talked, explored and stayed with a friend I’d met in Germany a year or two before. We’d gone to Freiburg University together, she was a good student, me not so much.

This time, I have a flight, a credit card, a small daypack, and no addresses. I’ll be staying at an Airbnb place near LA Live where we’re having the Awards Dinner. I can walk there and back easily and take the metro in the morning back to the beach before my flight Sunday night. Short and sweet a visit.

Is is hoax? What do I wear? What do I say at the ceremony?
What do I want from the experience? To network and talk to agents and publishers. To find a larger readership. To know that I am a writer after all these years. It’s real. It’s not a hoax.

From the website:

GREAT NORTHWEST BOOK FESTIVAL NAMES “VAN LIFE” FOR TOP HONORS

A woman who decides to hit the road with a van, three animals and her adventurous spirit is the grand prize winner of the 2017 Great Northwest Book Festival, which honors the best books of the late winter/spring.

Author Sarah Leamy’s “Van Life” (CreateSpace)  is the story of a writer who decides that there’s more to living than working retail and yearning for adventure. So it is that she takes two dogs and a cat on a rollicking trip through the back roads of the Northwest, stumbling across rural villages and a microbrewery or three. Her stories of the locals, the scenery and her family of animals are funny, poignant and ultimately a satisfying read for any armchair adventurer who dreams of doing something similar. Leamy and others in the competition will be honored in a private ceremony later this month.

 

Living The Dream: 9

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Click on the image for a link to the whole novel if you can’t wait.  

DECEMBER: HOW TO

“I’m not sure, to be honest. Mark’s really good at improvising, that made it all a game, you know?” I reached down and petted Nelson’s head, reassuring myself.   “Mark just knew how to look at what we had lying around, and then create from that. He taught me a lot, that’s for sure. I’d not really built anything until we got to the land. I was the dreamer, the researcher, the teacher but he taught me how to play.”
“Your home became an art project then?” Angie sat back and finished her enchiladas. Jonnie was still eating but listening fully. It was good to talk. I hadn’t stopped yet.

“Yeah, I guess so. We had fun; making plans, playing with the materials. I love how our home was so, well, organic I guess. We didn’t really know what we needed until it became obvious. It was all so different to living in the nice little home in Olympia, gardening and watering with the hose, walking to town if we needed to pick up something. This was a whole new world for us. For me.”

I drifted off for a moment, picturing how Mark and I’d created such a home within months.

 

 

 

 

JULY: ART PROJECTS 101

 

 

“Are you sure that’s level, Jenny?”

I stepped back a few feet and looked again. It seemed pretty good to me and told him so. I walked around and checked from all the other angles. Yep, pretty good. I came back to the first post and took up my grip again. Mark let go of the four by four and grabbed his tools. A new cordless drill and a pocket full of screws made the boy so damn happy. He attached a crossbeam to another angled piece of two by four. The posts now stood up on their own. The porch was taking shape.

Impressive.

Next he had me hold more lumber in place as he screwed in the eight footers and tied it all together to make a basic framework for a roof. We’d dug the holes earlier in the day before it all got too hot. No cement but rocks and sand packed in tightly seemed to be enough to keep everything solid. Our plan was to build six uprights and create a frame of two by fours for a shed-like roof. On that we’d simply screw in the old eight foot sheets of corrugated tin that were stacked up near the driveway. Reuse and recycle had become our new mantra. In Santa Fe, Mark had discovered Habitat for Humanity where you could buy lightly used building supplies. It had become a favorite place to visit. Sinks, furniture, plumbing, electrical, you name it, they stocked it. Mark loved coming home from his errands with a box of screws that cost him only a dollar. Or that time he’d bought a kitchen cabinet made of old metal, absolutely rat proof and perfect for his next project. Yep, the homestead was coming along nicely and at a great price.
Mark set up a platform to stand upon by using his dad’s table. He started laying the lumber out for the next stage. I held pieces in place, trying to keep my face out of the direct sun. I didn’t want to look like some of the women around here. Much too wrinkled for my tastes.

“Can you go get some roofing for me?” Mark stood up on the table as he worked. “I’d say we can get this part done today and build the actual platform in the morning. What do you think? Are you up for another hour or so?”
“Sure, let’s get as much done as we can. I’ve still got some energy. I’ll go get you a sheet.” I wandered off down the dirt track and off to the right. Under another bunch of short stumpy trees I found the stack of old tin. I picked up a piece and brought it back to the school bus. I passed it up to him.

“This roof will make all the difference. Can’t you see us sitting on the deck for our morning coffee?” I was excited at seeing our first real building project come together.
Mark grunted as he worked. “Next time get a couple of sheets, okay?”
“Oh, right.”
Back and forth, I carried dirty, somewhat rusty, roofing. I set him up with what he needed, passing screws, tin, bottles of water. He worked. I helped. The roof was done. Nothing moved when I shook the posts. It all held firm.
“Good job.” I congratulated my boyfriend. “What do you need now?”
“A bath? A shower? A pizza and a beer.”
“Okay, let’s see. I have a beer for you. Does that work?”
He jumped back down and stood there admiring our work. He opened a beer and drank a good part of it before answering me. “That’s much better. Thanks. But what do you say to us staying in town tomorrow and getting a motel room?”
“Really? How decadent of us. I’d love it.”
He grinned and sat down in the shade of his new patio. He looked up at new roofing and nodded to himself. His shirt was drenched and his hair lay flat for once. The burnt toast color suited his face nicely. I stayed lobster pink, a rose by any other name.

“How about our goal is for finishing the deck tomorrow, putting across the wood to make some kind of platform, and making sure it won’t move in the wind? It won’t take me too long. I’ll probably be done by lunchtime and we can go to town after that and relax for the night.”
I sat next to him and leaned back. I gave him a short sweet kiss.

“When you do that, if you don’t need me, I want to get the painting done inside. It can air out when we’re away for the night. What do you think?”
“Yep, that works. But more importantly, what’s for dinner? I’m starving.”
I opened the cooler and rummaged around for a second, then pulled out the hot dogs and a pack of whole-wheat buns. Mark grinned.

“I think I need to eat something a bit healthier tomorrow night, but for now, no complaints. Do you need help? I’ll go wash up a bit if that’s okay?”

“Sure, go for it. I’ll make us a fire.”
He wandered off to the car and pulled out a five-gallon container of water. He filled a bucket, found his soap, and striped down to his boxers. He washed. I watched. It was a good evening at the homestead.

 

The night trickled along easily. We had a sweet routine of work, cook, drink, and then daydream. We’d chat about the different ideas for homes, and how could we do it, get a home base by winter? It was dawning on us both that this was a bigger project than imagined. He was growing into the idea of yurts and teepees and stuff like that, each being quick and easy to set up, even if you had to pay more upfront. I wanted us to build with stones taken from around the land, or even better to make adobes and create some funky weirdly shaped dome home. The labor-intensive options didn’t get his enthusiasm for some reason. We were chatting about compromising with a yurt that had straw bales set around the base for extra insulation when we saw flashing lights heading up our driveway.

We both stood up. Visitors? At this time of night?

Mark threw on a couple more logs so we could see what the hell was going on. Three large huge sounding trucks pulled up next to our campsite with their spotlights blinding us but I couldn’t see what was going on. Who were they? I shaded my eyes, unsure as to where to look or talk. A voice from the darkness spoke.

“Do you have a permit for that fire?”

A door opened and in the distance more vehicles rumbled down the driveway. For us?
“What’s going on? What do you mean, a permit?”

Mark walked into the light. I lost sight of him.

I felt naked in my shorts and tee shirt under the bright lights. I never had been one for standing on stage in front of strangers. I wanted the darkness back. I wanted the silence back.
The fire trucks kept their engines running. I moved into the shadows and tried to work out what was going on. Mark was surrounded by some ten firefighters in full gear. Helmets, boots, reflective coats, the lot. Radios beeped and voices bounced off each other.
“Didn’t I meet you the other day?”
I jumped and coughed. Next to me stood the man from the EMT vehicle in the parade.

“No, but I saw you at the Independence Day event. I caught a candy you threw.” I replied in surprise.
“Oh that’s right,” He smiled. He was smaller than I’d pictured, with a bit of a belly stuck out over his pants, and his skin hadn’t tanned like most peoples round here. But he was in uniform, what can I say? I liked uniforms. His dark hair was cut military style, and he had a salt and pepper moustache that didn’t make me laugh out loud. He smiled again. Perfect teeth. That must have cost his parents a fortune.

“I’m Graham. I’m with the Fire Department.”
“Jenny. I’m new to town. Welcome to my home.” and I blushed. It was too dark to tell, thankfully. I wanted to giggle. I stifled another cough instead.

“Have you ever thought to join the department? I could do with some sweet female energy. There.” He stepped closer. Nice aftershave.
“Really? You could? I mean, what do you need? At the department?” I didn’t tell him that I hate blood and can’t stand anything bigger than my campfire. ‘Hot’ scares me. He didn’t scare me. Well, not like that. His green eyes held me captive as he talked about volunteering. I had no idea as to what he said. I watched his mouth. Nice soft lips he had.

I suddenly realized that a couple of men were throwing dirt on our fire. They stood around in a group and with shovels in hand, messed up our very nice new fire-pit. I was  none too impressed.
“Hey, what the hell are you doing?” I stood between them and the smothered flames.
Mark jumped in and explained to me how there was a countywide ban of open fires. The wild fire risks were too great, he’d been told. In the Jemez Mountains some fifty thousand acres had already burnt up this summer. Everyone was scared. Especially as they were all waiting for the monsoon season to kick in.

“No more fires for us, eh?” He smiled nervously. “And if their boss shows up, we’re in trouble. They’d have to give us a ticket. But since we’re new and haven’t been here long enough to hear about that kind of fire ban, we’re okay this time. The Fire Officer told me it’s a fine if we get caught with another fire. Bummer eh?” He whispered and stared behind me, “Hey, honey, who’s that watching us?”
I turned to see the Graham head back towards the Fire Engines. A couple of men, and I think one woman, walked up to him.

“Hey Chief. Are we done yet?” someone asked him.
“Yes, let’s call it in and go back to Oliver. Did you make sure the fire’s out?”

“Yes sir.”
Graham waved at us both politely and climbed up into the lead vehicle. The other volunteers came and shook our hands first, almost apologetic for disturbing us, and they too left.
We stood in the dark and watched their lights grow smaller and smaller, with no sounds but for an owl to keep us company.

“Bedtime, I guess?”

Living The Dream: 8

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Click on the image for a link to the whole novel if you can’t wait.  

 

JULY: TOURISTS

“You look damn pink for a New Mexican.”

The man stared at me, taking in the fried shrimp color of my arms and legs, and the boiled lobster of a nose. “Are you sure? Don’t you come from the Midwest or something? We do.” He turned to his wife and introduced her. “Maggie, these two live here now and I’d thought she came from Ohio or something.”
His wife giggled nervously and pulled on her denim skirt, trying to bring it past her knees.

“I’m impressed,” she said, “but don’t you get bored in a little town like this? There’s nothing to do, no mall or movies or anything like we have in Lafayette.”

Her skin glistened with sunscreen and her tidy brown hairstyle wilted. She smiled though, enjoying the newness of everything even as she complained. Her white sneakers shone in the afternoon light. The sky, as usual, offered no break from the relentless sunshine and heat.

Summer. July Fourth to be exact. Oliver had it’s own Independence Day Parade. How cool is that?

The man stood next to Mark and asked about the festivities here. Mark lost his cool edge by admitting we’d only been here a couple of weeks.

“But you live here now?” The woman piped up, taking a gulp from a can of sweating coke. She held a pink plastic cowboy hat, and tilted her head so she could look up at him. All of five foot nothing, she had to lean back to see into Mark’s eyes and from where I stood, I half expected her to crash backwards against the truck. I have the same problem being five foot five to his six foot two.

Hundreds of motorcycles, a few sedans and more than a handful of trucks parked along every free space in front of the stores on the highway. Straw hats and baseball caps gave a minimum of shade to tourists wilting in the dry heat. Elm trees offered dappled cover to the lucky ones. Town was packed. I was glad we’d parked up the north end of town, as we’d be able to get out of here whenever we wanted. The Fire department had stopped all traffic. At each end of town stood one of four volunteers with a big red fire engine. Suddenly I wanted to wear a uniform like theirs. Although, perhaps not in this heat. The firefighter wearing full gear and even a helmet had sweat dripping off her nose and she wiped her forehead repeatedly.
Horns blasted. Whistles blew. The parade had started. Tourists cheered encouragement. I hopped up and down, craning over the heads of all the kids near by. It was in the nineties and dry, not a humid percentage to be counted. No clouds came to threaten us with those monsoons we kept hearing about. Not a drop in sight. Mark kept up the conversation.

“Yes, well, we moved here from Olympia, Washington. We’re building a place outside of town, in the valley out to the west of here. It’s a rough road or I’d offer to take you,” Mark said, lying through his bandana.

She asked all about what brought us here and when. The details. It was a good practice run for us. What to say, and what not. The city lifestyle they understood. The compost toilet didn’t go over so well.
“You what?”
“Shit in a bucket,” answered Mark helpfully.

She put her hand to mouth as if to stifle a scream of disgust, or to call down the wrath of some god for our disgusting heathen ways. I coughed and covered my giggles as they made excuses and wandered off to stand in the full sun. Mark held out his bottle of water to me and I took it. He wore his usual blue jeans and a faded green tee shirt that he’d found at a thrift store. His face looked the color of cinnamon and tasted of sweat and smoke. He’d grown a goatee and kept his curls under the bandana.

A cheer went up and I stood on my toes to look to the south end of town. You can see one end from the other; it’s that small here.

“There. The Fire Dept. is leading the way. You should join them, Mark. Make some friends and get involved. Right?”
“Why not you? You’d look good as an EMT.”
“But I hate blood.”
“There is that,” he conceded.

A fire truck passed us with a man in seventies style aviator sunglasses waving at everyone he passed. The sirens boomed suddenly and we all jumped, squealing in surprise. He grinned and threw candy at me. I caught a melted ginger sweet and ate it, smiling to myself. Mark nudged me.

“Got a new boyfriend already, eh?”
I laughed, glad that he wasn’t the jealous type by any means. I poked him back. Pointing behind him, I joked, “and you just want a little ass.”

A donkey strolled past us and Mark laughed, hugging me to him. The donkey had a blanket on its back with a poodle sitting upon that, and an older couple walked and talked to each animal, stroking ears and tapping tails. The donkey pooped as it walked.

Next along came tan or twelve young kids in costumes, ranging from Spiderman (he’s still cool?), to ninjas, Madonna, and cuddly Pooh bear and friends. Quite the gang, they took candy from the audience instead of throwing any. I’d already eaten mine and had nothing to offer the four year old in a George Bush mask.

A couple of old beat up cars drove past at two miles an hour with local twenty-somethings leaning out of windows, waving flags and laughing hysterically. People walked by, some brought dogs wearing stars and stripes, others brought goats, horses and even llamas. A motorcycle crawled along and in the sidecar sat a clown who didn’t smile. Very odd.

Lastly four or five middle-aged cheerleaders strode past in big boots and not much else, doing handstands and cartwheels. The tourists liked them a lot.

The parade was over.

After standing in the full sun, I’d wanted some cold water or a shower or something. Mark suggested we follow the crowds (such as they were) to the tavern and get a beer before heading home.
“It’s not like it’ll be any cooler back there, is it?” he reminded me with a grin.

“You’re right. It’s no better there, heat-wise. But at least I could get out of my tee shirt and lay in the hammock under the junipers.”
“Well, I like that idea too. Hmm, half-naked girlfriend in the desert? Or a beer at the tavern followed by half-naked girlfriend in the desert? It’s hard to decide.”

We walked with the donkey’s people. I wanted to ask a ton of questions even though my brain was fried but the husband, an old guy with long black dreadlocks said to get in touch some other time and gave me a business card. The Donkey’s card that is, Frodo The Burro had a local number. I pocketed it, thanking him.

“Did you win the bet?” a rather sun and wind weathered woman in brown leather chaps and sport’s bra asked Mark. He blushed and looked over to me for help.

“What bet?” I asked politely.
“Oh, we make a kitty of a dollar a guess as to how long the parade will last. I heard this one was eighteen minutes. One of the better ones.” She shook his hand, introduced herself, and studiously ignored me. As we came to the corner and crossed the road, she passed him a piece of paper with her address on.
“I don’t have a phone but come by some time.”
Mark glanced down at the paper. When he looked back up, she’d gone down some small alleyway. “She lives half a mile away from us, Jenny. That’s probably our closest neighbor. Should I tell her?”
I pulled him into the bar as he made to follow her. The door swung open and I pushed him through the crowds in front of us. A cheerful and very sweaty waitress headed over but I waved her off. She smiled briefly and then focused on a family of four behind us. We stepped up to the bar instead.

“A pale ale for me, thanks Mark.” I headed out to the porch for some fresh air.

 

I tripped over a dog lying in the middle of the doorway and almost fell off the porch. The mutt barely flinched. He raised his big brown mastiff head and stared at me, decided I wasn’t worth the attention and fell back to daydreaming. I found a corner where I could lean against the wooden edge and looked out over the parking lot. Filled to the brim with Harleys and the weekend bikers, I noticed a scattering of clean sedans and family wagons from out of state. That reminded me that I wanted to find the DMV next week and change my own plates. Get a New Mexico license. Post Office box. The list grew as I waited for Mark and my pint.

“You’re the new couple out down Gringo Gulch, right?”
I turned to see an older cowboy checking me out. I put out my hand and introduced myself. “Yes, in Pete’s place, I guess.”
“How’s it going out there for you? Hot, ain’t it?” He grinned widely and settled in next to me. His blue jeans were worn to a pale shade of gray. The black tee shirt was tucked in place with a leather belt. The cowboy boots were working boots and not for show.
“George. My name’s George Whitlow. Pleased to meet you, Jenny. I’d toast you but you’re without a drink.”
I grinned and explained my boyfriend was waiting at the bar for us.

“Don’t worry. Once the staff starts to recognize you, your pint will be already poured by the time you try to order. The benefit to living here in tourist season.”
We started chatting about the land and Oliver and what the plans are. Daniel lived out in the hills to the south of town, and he described the roads to get his place as being impassable in the rainy season. There was a short cut from his road to ours. I didn’t trust those short cuts any more.
“We keep hearing about these rains but I haven’t seen anything yet. Is it really that bad?”
“It can be.” He wiped his neck and talked of one year how the big rains flooded out his stables and he’d had to move the horses up hill, tying them to the trees and watching over them even as he got soaked himself. “I couldn’t risk them getting spooked and running off because of the lightening strikes.”
“So what did you do?”

“I pulled up my collar, pulled down my hat, and settled in for a long night.”

“Since it rains like that, how come our neighbor hauled in a few truckloads of water last week? Isn’t it about to rain again?”
“You mean Danny Dieselhead?”
I nodded. “Does he grow his own food?”

Daniel kinda laughed. “Yep, he likes to grow his own.”
Mark showed up with drinks for the both of us. I introduced them to each other and sipped the cold beer. It hit the spot perfectly. Good shot.

“If there’s so much rain, is this a good place to do rain catchment?” asked Mark.
“Yep, you’d need a huge tank or three to store it all for the times of year when there’s nothing. It’s been a rough year around here; the weather’s been strange. Very dry and windy. It makes the fire department nervous. They’ve banned fires and are on the watch for anything risky. No fireworks today, for one. That didn’t go down well with some in town.”

“Even if they know why not?”
Daniel laughed bitterly. “We’re a town of outlaws. We don’t like to be told what to do.”
A young woman in her early twenties came out of the tavern and walked up. She nodded at me and turned to our new friend. Her hair was long, black, and loosely tied in back. Her skin was like a milky coffee with a splash of honey.

“Dad? You’ve got to take us home now. Mom said.”

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Click on the image for a link to the whole novel if you can’t wait.  

Awards! Contests! Festivals! 

http://www.greatnorthwestbookfestival.com/

The Great Northwest Book Festival just honored my book VAN LIFE as the Grand Winner of their 2017 contest! I’m thrilled and delighted! They’re covering the cost of the flight out from NM to the awards dinner in LA and even are giving me an appearance fee. Bruce, who wrote to me, wrote: “Congratulations on a fun and page-turning read. Definitely one of the most fun reads I’ve seen in a while.”

http://www.greatnorthwestbookfestival.com/ for a link to their winners’ page.

For me, entering contests and festivals is a chance to find new readers as it’s mostly been word of mouth, going to events, chatting up strangers and handing off books and business cards. The opportunity of a book festival award opens more doors, tells others that my stories are compelling and that self-pubishing works. It does. I’m doing much better for myself these days although I’ll be honest, it’s a small time business, locally focused.

My goal then for this year? To find an agent. To have a chance at getting my books known nationally and internationally – it’s doable since I have a small steady following of readers here in the US and in Europe. I just need to build on that. And I will.

Living The Dream: 7

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Click on the image for a link to the whole novel if you can’t wait.  

DECEMBER: THE BIG CITY

“Old town? Downtown? Uptown? Which one did you want?” The young woman looked up Central Avenue, tugged a long woolen scarf tighter, and hugged herself against the biting wind. “I think you’d probably be happier just up the road, Nob Hill. It’s kinda artsy, lots of small businesses, cafes, restaurants, a movie theatre, that kind of thing, and more your style I’m thinking. Yep, Nob Hill is where I’d go if I were you. There’s this amazing clothes store, kind of a consignment place. Bonanza sells funky stuff from all different decades. It’s really cool, you know?” She nodded to herself and then smiled. “I think I might go there myself today in fact. Yes, yes, I think I will. Well, nice chatting to you and I hope you enjoy your visit. Bye then, bye.” She huddled in the doorway of the café and pulled out her smart phone, ignoring me suddenly.

I pushed past her gently and found myself in line at a counter before I’d had a chance to look around.

“Next.”
“Me? Oh me, right?”

The menu above the counter went on and on. What with the music, the chatter and laughter all around, and a crowd of dinnertime customers pushing against me, I stared uncomprehending.

“Mmm, do you mac and cheese?”

“With or without chile?”
“Without, and a mug of decaf too please?”

I stood aside and waited as she rang me up. Fifties décor filled the huge cavernous café. Bright color photos and movie stills lined the walls, weird odd keepsakes from Route 66, and even two ancient gas pumps stood under the neon signs for the bathrooms. I took my number and found a seat in the far corner next to a window. The place was packed, loud, and anonymous. It wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for but oh well. My head was silent for once, words and memories drowned out by the wall of noise around me. Tired and hungry, I waited quietly.

 

“Okay, Nelson, what do you think? A walk around the neighborhood before we find a motel for the night?”
Nelson sat up with a huge wide yawn and jumped out to sit next to me. His light cappuccino fur looked ragged. I felt bad for him. Later, later tonight, I’d brush my boy. I should probably look for some better dog quality food too, we’d been buying cheap crap found in gas stations and tiny rural stores, and it was time to take more care of my boy. I’d been neglecting him.

I hooked on his lead and we took off down Central. A Friday evening in December is a busy time in Albuquerque apparently. Couples, families, students, all walked in and out of the various stores, selling books, new and used clothes, music, and even food. Food. A real live co-op. We stopped and looked in a window to see shelves of organic veggies lined up, bottles of juice and sodas, a deli in the back, and yes, it looked to have a pet food section. Perfect.

“We’ll come back in a bit, Nelson, okay? Grab you a bone at the same time if they have them.”
Cyclists raced past us, yelling at each other over the screech of buses, semis, and trucks all commuting home in the wintery dark. The wind dropped and streetlights kicked on. Christmas was just around the corner and the holiday spirit filled the stores with farolitas, strings of colored lights, everything on sale, and all the paraphernalia for the shopping frenzy to come.

“I wonder where we’ll be, eh?” I looked down at my curious pup as he sniffed and marked every tree we came across. “Do you want to go home?”
Nelson froze. He stared up at me and wagged his tail, low and slow.
“Not now, I didn’t mean right now. I’m sorry Nelson, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. But soon, we’ll go back. I don’t know that we’ll stay but we’ll go back. It’ll just be weird without Mark and Frida though. I don’t know if I can stick it out…” I wandered along, talking out loud to my four-legged friend.
“Excuse me?” A hand stopped me in my tracks. “Can you help?”

A middle-aged man with dark brown hair in a ponytail and wearing a ragged but well loved leather jacket stood back a step awkwardly. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I was looking for Kelly’s? Do you know it? Am I even close?”

Nelson wagged and approached the man. I relaxed and looked around in confusion, unsure as to how far we’d walked. Opposite us, a sign proclaimed, “Art walk Fridays. New works and local bluegrass band here at Kelly’s Brewpub 6 p.m. Free.”

I pointed silently, not trusting my voice after days alone.

The guy laughed in delight. “Isn’t that just the way? Same at the store, whenever I ask for something, it’s right in front of me. Now I feel like a right idiot.” A wide smile lit up his brown eyes and I couldn’t help but smile. We chatted for a moment as he waited for a break in the traffic. Suddenly he turned to me.

“Hey, do you want to come? I’m meeting my wife at six, so I’m probably late, but anyway, come on. Oh there she is. Angie. Angie.”

A tall slender figure hidden in a long ankle length leather coat waved to us. She grinned widely and pointed to the propane heaters on the patio, motioning for us to join her.

“Oh hell, why not? It’s not like we had plans, right Nelson?”

He wagged and peed on one more tree and we all ran across the six-lane street, laughing at the crazy wind that suddenly battered us and died out again before we reached the sidewalk.

 

“Angie, I just met this young lady, but I don’t know her name yet. I’m Jonnie.”
“Jen, and this is Nelson. Hi.” I held out my hand to his wife, suddenly shy, unsure of myself. Nelson nudged me out the way and sat at her feet, tail thumping silently. Angie knelt down to pet him, letting him sniff her hands before touching his coat.

“What a beautiful boy you are. How handsome.”

Nelson smiled. He knew those words, he heard them often enough. He looked over at me, checking in, and smiled his wide toothy grin when he caught my eyes watching. Thump. Thump. My boy’s been lonely, I guess.
I followed Jonnie and Angie to her table under the heater. Nelson sat between Angie and me with Jonnie opposite, facing the street. The tables all around were packed full despite the bad weather. Music blasted out from the speakers by the door to the restaurant.

“Is it always this busy?” I looked at the beer menu. Sixty beers on tap confused me for a second but I found one familiar to me and ordered that. My new friends chose a couple IPAs brewed on site. Jonnie shook his head and shrugged.

“We live south of here, in T or C. Well, Angie? Why did you pick this place to meet me?”
She leaned back and undid her scarf. Her hair was surprisingly short, a buzz cut of silver and black. “It’s on the old Route 66, like in all those movies we love. And it’s nearly always this busy on a Friday evening. I thought you’d enjoy the vibe, remind you of those college days of ours, Jonnie.”

The beers arrived and she took a sip, toasting us both. The waitress returned with a small bowl of water and a treat for Nelson.

“So tell us about yourself, are you a student here or something?”

 

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Click on the image for a link to the whole novel if you can’t wait.  

Solo Travels: Tips for women

http://www.fempotential.com/scared-solo-female-traveler/

“Aren’t you scared?”

Just yesterday a friend asked me if I ever got scared camping on my own, travelling on my own. No. I don’t. There’s more to it than that, but simply put, no, camping on my own is where I am happiest and most relaxed. In towns, in cities, surrounded by people, traffic, noise, music, talking for the sake of filling in the silence, no, that is not where I relax.

Last year, I had the honor of being a panelist on a discussion about the art of solo travels. Overland Expo West 2016 had almost 10,000 people all interested in vehicle dependent travels, whether local or worldwide; we all were there to get inspired.

To hear the stories from others who just have the wanderlust in their blood like I do was reassuring for me. I’ve been settled for too long now, and I’m restless again. I have been for the last few years, working towards getting on the road again.

That weekend at Overland Expo, I talked about crossing the States at 22 years old, hitch hiking with a small backpack and no credit cards or money, just following my distracted ideas of what to do next. I talked about riding my 1976 Yamaha XS750 across the Midwest repeatedly even though it would break down every other day, street performing in Guatemala, and driving the high elevation passes in Colorado in a 1973 VW Beetle. I never knew what to expect — these stories are part of me. I lost my two front teeth in Tarancon, Spain. I woke up on a train in Switzerland, not quite sure which country I was in. Hitched to the Munich beer festival. And yes, I travel alone. And I like it.

I admit, I once traveled with someone. It was 1989. Steve joined me in Chicago, a friend from my small hometown. I was walking down the streets in the city, knowing we’d find each other somehow but since neither of us had phones or hotel rooms, it would be a challenge. I walked with my backpack clunking away against my hips when I saw Steve sitting on a bench smoking. I sat down next to him and took his smoke.

We crossed to Maine, New York, Washington; we took trains, hitched, and then stayed at random homes of the families we met along the way. It wore me out. Steve let me make all the decisions. It wore me out. The responsibility. The constant discussions as to what we would eat that night, where we would sleep.

There have been other moments, a week here and there, spent on a road trip with a friend, but nothing as extended as that initial travel with Steve, bless him. Since then, I tend to go off on my own, I’m happier that way.

You see, it’s that on my own, I’m free to follow my nose, or rather the signs that capture my attention. It’s usually the ones that say ‘lake’ or ‘4wd only”, and off I go. I generally have a loose plan, places I’d like to visit if I’m in the area. I set a few goals, for small weeklong trips and for the extended travels. These days with the Internet, I plan a lot more, looking at photos, reading forums, and asking for suggestions. Whether I follow the ideas, that’s another story. I tend to forget to read my own notes.

 

Since I’ve done a bit of everything, backpacking, hitching, motorcycles, busses, trains, VWs, trucks and now a van I’ve learned that I have to be aware of what I bring. Packing has become more complicated nowadays, as two dogs and a cat come with me. I’ve made a short list for this latest configuration, and with the idea in mind that I might have to abandon ship (van) in an emergency, all the necessary items must fit in a small backpack too. I can leave the rest. I have before, in a dead VW bus in the middle of nowhere Missouri. I never did see that red camper again. I miss that van. Oh, well. But it was an adventure…

I love that I can eat what I like and when I like. Frito pie for breakfast? Bacon sandwich before bed? Chocolate? Cheese and crackers? Veggies and eggs? Whatever I like, when I like. It’s wonderful and one of the biggest perks for me.

As a solo traveler, I interact much more with locals. Since they appreciate how trusting I am, it’s always come back to me that these strangers treat me with the same level of trust.

As a twenty-two-year-old, I was hitching through Wisconsin, heading north to catch a ferry across to Michigan. My destination was a tiny village along the small blue highways in the Midwest. A truck pulled over, and two men started chatting to me. Two men and myself as a young woman? I talked to them, the father and son, and they offered a ride, but first they wanted to call ‘Mother’ and ask about dinner. I listened in as one of them chatted away, grinned, and said it was okay with her but I had to agree to come over to meet her! We ended up sharing a meal, they put me in the son’s bedroom, and dropped me off at the ferry in the morning, after introducing me to the Ferry Master. Safe? Yes, I remember them so clearly all these years later.

You see, I’m curious. The people I meet and their stories feed me. I also found that when I first crossed the States alone that many families I met wanted my stories of other states, places, towns, ones they had never visited themselves. My anecdotes of their own country paved the way for their hospitality. It was a trade in a sense. The armchair travelers got to explore their own country through me.

But I have to admit, I’m not very safe. I go places I shouldn’t. No one really knows where I am these days. I follow roads, conversations, and dreams. I have no back-up plans. I take risks. I fly by the seat of my pants and all without a safety net. I like it. Traveling like this wakes me up. Opens me up. To answer the question I started with, have I ever been scared? A couple of times. That’s all. First was when I had to get myself back from the South of France as an eighteen-year-old who’d been fired from her nanny job. I had a passport and a plastic bag of clothes. No money. No credit cards. And this was before cell phones, not that I would have called my parents, I preferred to get back and then tell them. I didn’t like to worry them! Poor buggers. I stowed away on a train, stole food, had a guard try to rape me, smashed him in his privates, and locked myself in a bathroom on the train. That was the first big solo trip and the sense of achievement at the end was incomparable: “I can improvise. I can get out of trouble. I should keep traveling!”

And I have. Looking back, even in the last ten years of ‘settling’, I took a ferry back from Alaska and a salmon cannery down the Canadian coast, camped all over the Southwest, spent three months in the Northwest, took a winter living on communes in North Carolina and Tennessee, rode my motorcycle across Wales and Ireland, studied in San Francisco, and had many other random shorter trips in the States. Not bad, not bad…

In my twenties, I just traveled without thought, it was an addiction, a need. I couldn’t sit still for more than a few months. I settled for a while but that addiction has kicked back in. I built a home, worked, settled and now the last few years, the need to explore new places has taken over.

If you haven’t traveled alone before though, you’d need to ask yourself: Where are you happiest? How do you spend your days? Are you mostly surrounded by friends and co-workers? Or do you work alone? Live alone? What are your social needs in other words? Think about what stresses you out and what makes you relax. For me, time without words, yes, I know, ironic since I’m a writer, but still, empty heads talking at each other wears me out. I like silence. I like mountains. And I like the company of animals more than people. But that’s me…and then after a couple of days alone, I love to sit and chat to friends and strangers alike. I have the energy and desire to hear their stories. To tell mine. To connect. Knowing yourself is one of the amazing benefits of solo travels, you have to take care of yourself and you will. There’s no one else.  Each time, I learn new rhythms and routines that are mine, pure and simple.

Close friends still ask, how do you find meaning when you have no one to share the experiences with? But I do. I write. I photograph. And simply sitting next to a lake in the mountains alone with my dogs, I know that our world is magical, stunningly beautiful whether I am there or not. I am a very small speck in a huge world and that is reassuring to me. I relax.

There is an art to solo traveling and the more I travel alone, the more I appreciate nature and the random conversations with people I meet. I am not afraid. I am open to life and adventures…and after doing this since I was a teenager much to my mum’s horror, I’m getting the hang of it. Finally. The question for me is where next? And when?

To hear more about Sarah Leamy’s solo travels, check out her book, Bring a Chainsaw & Other Stories From My Solo Travels

Solo traveler Sarah Leamy shares why she loves to solo travel and why it doesn't scare her to see the world alone.