Tag Archives: travel

Reflections ~ Back into the Rising Sun


I’ve just returned from a brief trip to a bit of my past. For ten years I lived in Plains, Montana. A tiny town of 1,065 in a county that holds 11,365. I’m pretty sure someone counted a few cows. It is a beautiful place that changes slowly, and in some ways not at all. Other than a few drive-throughs, I haven’t been there for 14 years.

My primary reason for going was to see my mother. A lady who has twice beaten cancer, only to find it sneaking back up on her. In typical stoic fashion, she is dealing with the consequence in a cheerful, “today is a good day” manner. Her attitude does much to show others the world is a better place when you do what you can, but accept the unchangeable with grace.

The trip served other purposes, too. Plains is where I met my husband. It is where dreams were born and dreams died. The Interstate Highway between Seattle metro and Plains (I-90) is littered with places that were part of bringing my husband and me together. We both traveled that road often enough. All those stopping places, Cle Elum, Ellensburg, Tokio, Four Lakes, Naughty Ladies Park (private joke based on a brief meeting with a theatrical group), Two Mile Road, St. Regis. I’m sure there are others.

The drive also consists of three passes, Snoqualmie, 4th of July, and Look Out. The last of which nearly cost me my future husband when he totaled his T-Bird on a sheet of black ice. The next morning I rescued him in Kellogg. Memories – dancing through my mind as I drove into the rising sun. I took my time, not pushing to cover miles, visiting moments long buried in the rush of life.

When I arrived a storm moved in. At first it was only wind – scary in the heart of a fire season. Breathing was not all that comfortable without air filtered through air conditioners. But then rain came, too. Not enough, but things did cool down – and the lights went out. Mini panic ensued until I (with the help of her ever watchful caregiver) was sure Mum’s oxygen was covered. It was nearly midnight when power returned – and stayed on, and her condenser was operational. The storm did, however, clear the air and the next day sported beautiful, blue Montana skies.

I took a drive to visit a hillside near a lot my husband once owned and from where I could see the property that had been my home. The road was overgrown and not really passable. Again caught in the wrong footwear, I couldn’t really hike it, either. I think, perhaps, the goodbyes I said years ago were meant to be final. At least now I know that.

I visited a friend who had lost her husband a year ago. She did not know about Doug’s illness and death. The visit became much harder than I had anticipated. She, however, is moving on and will remarry soon. I am truly happy for her.

Then there was a dear friend who has been near to both Doug and me for many years. A person who has helped us both in business and personally and seems forever faithful. Dinner was a real opportunity to unwind and enjoy conversation I had sorely missed.

I stayed in the guest house of a client and friend that has followed me wherever I went in the world. Then, there is the lady who cares for my mother with genuine love and consideration.

Yes, it was an important trip, a trip to touch that place I remembered and see if it was still there. It is. Now it is my past. I don’t belong there anymore. It has moved away by remaining the same-but changing. I will always love those hills and will find pleasure in visiting when the need or opportunity presents itself. Sometimes moving forward requires the active pursuit of sorting through the past to find the bits from which to build the future.

There is a beautiful song by Anne Murray called, You Needed Me. When I once told a friend I had found the hero of all my favorite love songs – this was one of them – still is.

“You gave me strength to stand alone again/to face the world out on my own again”

That strength is only one of his lasting gifts to me. There is a tomorrow and I intend to pursue it.


Filed under Personal Journeys

Book Reviews ~ and a trip down memory lane.

tui-snider-unexpected-texasA friend of mine contacted me and asked if I would mind taking a look at a little book she has come out with entitled, Unexpected Texas.  Admittedly, my time in Texas was not something I would care to repeat.  Yet I found myself remembering some of the things I did enjoy. Browsing through Tui’s delightful little book some of the special little treasurers that are so exquisitely “Texas” popped into my mind.

Tui begins with just a hint of the lesser known aspects of Texas history.  It did not all start and end at the Alamo!  There is a deep and rich history that includes a sizable German immigrant community throughout the state (primarily from pre-World War I Germany), a strong Spanish and Mexican influence (it was part of Spain at one point), a bit of French influence (likewise), a fierce independence (it was a separate nation for awhile), and its own celebration of Emancipation.

Tui’s book focuses on places and events in and around the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.  I lived in the area for several years and I sincerely feel she has picked some of the best examples of Texan quirkiness and general cultural interest. And, she’s right.  There is a bank and a church in every town of any size.  She doesn’t mention it but you need a road map to know if you are in a dry county or not and at least one town is split down main street.  Texan’s can be the friendliest, or the most aloof (I never figured out the code on that one).  Here are a few quick notes on some of her discoveries.

Tui’s description of Antique Alley took me back to a number of pleasant bits and pieces.  It sounded very much like First Mondays in Canton (east of Dallas and a bit north of Athens).  Yep, people with everything from card tables to the latest in motor homes.  Crafts, imports, garage sales, and some of the most fascinating antiques you’ll find anywhere.  Whole “towns” that spring up overnight for a few days or a week, trade like any carnival or traveling show, and then off they all go – somewhere over the horizon.


Courtesy Rodalena
Photograph, Blogger, Author

Speaking of Antiques, the “German town” area in hill country is a great place to visit for a number of reasons. First, Texas hill country is beautiful.  New Braunfels, Kerrville, Fredericksburg, and Boerne are all German heritage communities with wonderful October fests and antique shops that market pieces that go as far back as immigration.  Tui explains that the Texas-German dialect has developed rather differently than the mother tongue and in as many different ways as there were immigrants.  The speaking of German became a misdemeanor in some places in Texas during WWII.  Many Germans were sent to internment camps.  This derailed the preservation of a unique dialect and many of those who still speak it are in their 60s.  Hans Boas has created the Texas German Dialect Archive in an effort to preserve this piece of history.

Another stop on Tui’s tour is Archer City.  Tiny little Texas county seat (Pop. Less than 1,800) with a lovely courthouse and one of the most famous bookstores in the country; Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up.  Should you be among the uninitiated, Mr. McMurtry is the author of many books including Lonesome Dove.  This is a huge book store with a stock of some 200,000 books shelved in 4 buildings which take up a full city block.  Homey, well decorated, and with a stock ranging from collectors’ editions to used book treasures with budget prices, it is a fascinating place to explore the written word.

Little cubby holes, interesting activities, and even a buried space alien.  Tui leads you through a number of day trips and describes the world in gentle humor.  Who knows, her narrative may inspire you to look at your own home town in a different way and discover unexpected treasures right under your nose!

Tui Snider is a freelance writer and travel blogger specializing in offbeat sites, overlooked history, cultural traditions, and quirky travel destinations. Her articles and photos have appeared in BMIbaby, easyJet, Wizzit, Click, Ling, PlanetEye Traveler, iStopover, SkyEurope, and North Texas Farm and Ranch magazines, among others. She also wrote the shopping chapter for the “Time Out Naples: Capri, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Coast 2010” travel guidebook. Unexpected Texas is her fism-head-shot-tuirst book.

For Tui, travel is a mindset. Her motto is “Even home is a travel destination,” and she believes that “The world is only boring if you take everyone else’s word for it.” She has worn a lot of hats in her life – literally – and is especially fond of berets. Her first book, Unexpected Texas is a guide to offbeat and overlooked places within easy reach of the Dallas – Fort Worth region of North Texas.

You can find Tui all around the web. Feel free to say hi:

Amazon author page
Offbeat & Overlook Travel Blog
Facebook author page

For visitors to my site, Tui has selected the following prizes:A paperback of the book, an Unexpected Texas notebook,and a bag of sea salt dark chocolate caramel candy. The latter is a nod to the ancient sea that created the salt mines for Grand Saline! She wanted a tie-in with something historical for this stop on the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Filed under My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Current times, Personal Journeys

Visiting Adventurers

This week I have something special; a guest blog by an author who took the opportunity to immerse himself in the land and language of his subject.  This post originally appeared on The Thrill Begins  and was presented by a dear author friend, Donna Galanti.   The topic and the process intrigued me.  Someday I hope to visit those parts of the globe that have shaped who I am and what I write.  May I introduce William Burton McCormick, author of Lenin’s Harem.

Researching the Historical Novel in the Former Soviet Union

BadgeEvery author who wants to write a historical novel set in a foreign locale has a fundamental problem: How does one overcome language barriers, cultural differences and temporal and physical distances to get the perspectives of those living in a bygone era?  The problem is further complicated when the historical setting is the early Soviet Union, where information was lost or locked away and official versions of events were distorted to glorify the Communist Party.

I encountered this problem when I first began Lenin’s Harem, my historical novel about the Latvian Riflemen, the doomed vanguards of the Russian Revolution.  The Riflemen were arguably the first great heroes of the Bolshevik Revolution, but they would fall out of favor both with Soviet government and to some degree their own people in later years. Finding unbiased information on the American side of the Atlantic was nearly impossible. History books, even ones on Latvia, made only fleeting references to them. Certainly no source provided enough detail to write narrative fiction.

But I was determined to get the story no other Western writer had yet touched. So, to pierce the veils of history and totalitarian regimes, I moved to Latvia, living in Riga sixteen months to unearth the facts.

It was a daunting experience at first. I arrived in Latvia, knowing little of the language, knowing nobody, not even where I was going to live.  But, for me, there was no other way to do it. I had to immerse myself completely in the land, the people and its history. I rented an apartment in the center of the city and began to explore the country and its past. I met with historians, museum curators and journeyed to every place depicted in the novel. The longer I stayed, the more the region’s tragedies became clearer to me.  Nearly every family had lost someone to the World Wars or Stalin’s purges. I saw the pictures of smiling children who would die on prison trains and went to the graves of soldiers murdered by their own generals.


The biggest challenge, by far, was that much of the information simply wasn’t available in English. To communicate with older historians and specialists on the Latvian Riflemen, I had

to use translators. But this was frustrating and expensive. Because of the Soviet occupation

of Latvia through 1991 much of what had been recorded was in Russian rather than Latvian.

So, as a next step, I set off for Moscow for a fifteen month course in Russian at Moscow State University. My spoken Russian is still terrible, but I used the knowledge I gained at the university to help me with written translation. The time in Moscow also gave me access to the Russian point of view on these events. It gave the book an additional perspective.

Sword and Otherssm

There’s no reason to transport yourself across the world to sit in a room studying. No matter how busy I was I always took time to journey to some location or meet with some key person.  Yet, as my research amassed, I began to spend those long winter nights writing twelve or fourteen hours at a sitting, often until five or six in the morning. I didn’t want any distractions. No internet, no television, only a few music CDs for entertainment.

During this time, I accumulated so much research that I spent the next years cutting through it and polishing Lenin’s Harem into the best, most accessible book I could muster. I knew no one would read a dry historical account. It had to be a gripping, human narrative. Solid entertainment with a warning underneath about the dubious rewards of defending totalitarian regimes.

I thought I had succeeded, but I decided to test it. I wrote a short story about a Latvian revolutionary in a similar style and submitted it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, a publication known firstly as popular entertainment and secondly as a tough market to crack. When the story, “Blue Amber”, was accepted, I knew I had the right balance between fiction and history. In fact, the work was eventually nominated for a Derringer award as one of the year’s best.

Then, it was on to submitting the novel and Knox Robinson Publishing picked it up. I was honored to see something to which I had dedicated so many years finally realized.

Was it worth it? Well, strictly in financial terms, unlikely. Living years in Eastern Europe is not a way to make money. But measured in life experiences, inspirations for further works of fiction and an accurate, gripping novel as end product – I think I have succeeded.

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Author Bio:

William Burton McCormick was born in Maryland and raised in Nevada. He graduated from Brown University with degrees in Ancient Studies and Computer Science and earned an MA in Novel Writing from the University of Manchester. He is a published fiction author and a member of Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.  William is Hawthornden Fellow for 2013.


Lenin’s Harem Synopsis:

Lenin’s Harem is the story of  Wiktor Rooks, a ruined aristocrat swept up in the chaos of World War I, who by twist of fate finds himself a member of the elite guard of the Russian Revolution, a group of Latvian soldiers known colloquially as “Lenin’s Harem” for their loyalty to the Bolshevik cause. Concealing his aristocratic past from his enemies, Wiktor hides in plain sight while the Russian Empire crumbles around him. But where does he go when the revolutionaries win?

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Current times