NEW BOOK! 111 PLACES IN COLUMBUS THAT YOU MUST NOT MISS

I have just signed a contract for my latest book 111
PLACES IN COLUMBUS THAT YOU MUST NOT MISS (Emons) to come out later in 2019. From
“Cowtown” to the biggest town in Ohio, Columbus has always been an incubator
for new ideas and products. As home of The Ohio State University (yes, the
“The” is capitalized) it is a college football crazy city with an intellectual
flair and a test market for everything from brews (Starbucks) to burgers
(McDonald’s, White Castle headquarters) to beer (BrewDog) to ice cream (Jeni’s,
founded here). The intellectual firepower
of some 50 colleges and universities combined with research powerhouses such as
Battelle and Chemical Abstracts draw great minds from all over the world.

This book will cover the well-trod and not-so-much: from Thurber House and Greenlawn Cemetery to lesser-known spots like the Butter Cow and Aubergine Dining Club — the biggest/smallest, unique views, haunted/abandoned places, romantic spots and more.  More information about the 111 Places guidebooks.

CHECK THIS ONE OFF: ADVENTURES IN CATSITTING AND “MIDSOMER MURDERS”

Me in "Causton" --Midsomer Murders

(Reprinted from Housesitmatch.com)
There are those who claim to be world travelers. They may have cruised to the most exotic and far-away destinations, while shuddering at the poverty, unrest and harsh (to First Worlders) living conditions. While monied (or having saved their money) such travelers only skim the surface. They are unwilling or perhaps afraid to look under the hood and experience what people and places are like firsthand.

This brings to mind a dear but wealthy friend. She complains about the beggars and “gross-smelling” streets of many of the world’s most amazing places. By doing this she fails to recognize that 99.9 percent of the 7.5 billion humans inhabiting this planet aren’t Masters of their Universes but live limited resources. They are doing the best they can with what little they have.

Yet to be honest, I could have been like that, but for personal circumstances and a lifestyle which enables me to look at the world differently. Not cushioned by a husband, demographically similar, like-minded friends or even the extra cash which affords conventional travel. However, once opened to different options, the mind can be incredibly inventive. Enter pet and house sitting.

While I had heard horror stories from people who had tried it while they were in college or did it as a favor for a friend or acquaintance, services such as Housesitmatch.com take away much of the guesswork, from what under less carefully curated circumstances might easily fall into the category of “from hell.”

With the right people, places and or even animals, house sitting enables travel and can lift the lid from a culture, allowing you to inhale the essence and beauty of being out of place and even time.

Such was my recent experience in Ilford near London. A middle/working class stewpot of Asians, Middle Easterners and some Eastern Europeans. As a white American Midwesterner I was definitely a minority. Yet, I loved it.

The people I met, including my petsitting hosts, were honest, open and kind to me as I navigated unfamiliar territory. I constantly lost my way trying to figure out the location of cash machines or restaurants that were open on Sunday. From the Asian lady who balanced my nails – she barely spoke English – to the Indian family who made sure I found the right (unmarked) bus stop.

And even when meeting the Muslim shop owners I felt welcome. They patiently allowed me to try on dozens of sparkly bracelets, finding bigger sizes to accommodate my larger American knuckles. In this way my days were full of reminders, that despite our physical and cultural differences, we humans mostly share the same desires – to be needed, respected and heard.

My feline charges included Kitsy, a female tortoiseshell, Sparkle, another female and Sir Phineas a larger male ginger, who expected me to open the kitchen door for him. Yet he was perfectly capable of using the automated cat door.

They were outdoor cats, which I was unused to, and Sparkle had a proclivity for bringing in mice. I hadn’t experienced this before (nor did I want to), since my own cats had always been inside. But one of the advantages of house sitting to travel is that it allows you to grow in unexpected ways. So I went from staying up half the night worrying about the kitties if it was raining or cold, to waking up and finding them all sleeping in the same room with me.

I stayed downstairs since the cats weren’t allowed upstairs and everything I needed was on the first floor, including a comfortable couch. Frankly, I was exhausted and fell asleep right away since every day was an adventure and even going to the greengrocers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables could be a challenge and a journey.

And when Sparkle brought in the inevitable first mouse, thankfully alive, I quickly surrounded it with wine bottles. Using a large cup and a piece of paper, I trapped it by sliding the paper under the glass and carrying it outside to be released. The poor little thing was more scared than I was and was kind of cute. Hopefully I didn’t give it a heart attack…and I didn’t even have to ask the neighbor for help! I was ridiculously proud of myself.

Occasionally it was lonely. And there was one especially scary moment when after enjoying the delightful West End play “Motown: The Musical” I trusted Google maps instead of my host’s recommendations (she works for London transport) to get me home. I took the tube (subway), per Google’s recommendation, to Barking, a rough, abandoned, and dangerous neighborhood at night.

If you ever get to London, they are always working on the tube and recommending alternative routes, which should be explored in more depth before blindly accepting GPS/app suggestions.

Gangs of youths roamed the darkened streets and I did not want to find out who lurked in the trash-filled alleys as I searched for the right bus stop. After 20 terrifying minutes of waiting I finally got on the right bus. Thanks to the instructions of a driver whose bus was going in the opposite direction I made it back.

Never was I so glad to get home to that cozy, warm flat! I wept with relief when I finally closed the door. But that’s travelling! And even when you’re with a large organised group the unexpected can occur. And travelling is always unsettling, there’s no doubt about that.

But next time Google tried to take me to Barking, I pulled out the tiny map my host gave me and located the much faster (and safer) train to Ilford. And from then on, I went low-tech, peering at the map or asking pointed questions to tube workers, who are more than willing to help find the most efficient and/or convenient route. House sitting enables travel but you need to listen to local advice when you get there.

In addition to my hosts and their cats, and thanks to saving money by house sitting to travel I was also able to visit Wallingford (the original “Causton”), Thame (pronounced “Tame”), Dorchester on Thames and other villages associated with filming the popular TV series “Midsomer Murders” for research.

I had applied for a petsit there with a couple who had two cats. House sitting in Europe appealed to me. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out, but they graciously invited me to visit anyway. There are unexpected dimensions when house sitting to travel. You make all kinds of friends.

Both my hosts and the region (Oxfordshire) exceeded my expectations. It was one of the most amazing and picturesque places I’ve ever been to. And I even actually got to hang out with the regulars at the village pub, one of who actually was a murder victim in the episode “Bad Tidings.” Talk about living the dream….

And so being a tourist is fun, no doubt about it. But taking that extra step into someone else’s shoes and into their home – and even caring for their animals – is like a fresh wind blowing into your mind, whisking away the cobwebs of rigid thought and self-doubt, a reawakening of the beauty of life and its endless possibilities.

House sitting enables travel by saving you money, it works for me. It can change you from the inside out in a way that far surpasses conventional travel.

Kitsy and Sir Phineas

“LUCK:” OF SACRED COWS AND PROSPERITY ELEPHANTS

schooled by a cowRecently I returned from India, a two-week adventure involving stops at half-a-dozen cities, writing and photographing sites for a major magazine. Unlike most pre-packaged trips where the travel agency takes care of small details like hotels, transportation, food and visits to preordained tourist spots, my friend Bev and I were pretty much on our own, although we used Holidays at India, a boutique travel agency that mostly caters to Europeans, for some tours and hotels. I was also dealing with a cultural tourism representative who helped organize and coordinate contacts and visits to the necessary places. To accommodate our budget, we flew via Air India during the “off” season — April, the beginning of their very hot summer. And steerage was still packed during the 13-hour flight.

When I’d mention the excursion to friends and others, they would say things like, “Lucky you!” But luck had very little to do with it and I knew this when I got the assignment back in February 2015. Rather than go into the ups and down and occasional craziness involved, I’ll cut to the take-away: Keep going. If one thing doesn’t work out, try something else. The motion thing also worked well in terms of the physical demands of the trip itself, which involved climbing steep steps and navigating uneven pavement, walking for miles on end and dragging luggage everywhere. (Hint: Use two equally weighted medium bags, even if you have to run out the day before and buy one. It’s far better than a single heavy suitcase in case you have to schlep the thing up a flight of stairs against a huge mass of people pushing in the opposite direction, like Bev did at the train station in Pune.)

I also came away with a couple of insights about fortune. I met my new BFF Ganesh, which I later learned is the Hindu elephant god of wisdom and learning and remover of obstacles, at a temple, also in Pune. He was so sparkly and colorful that I purchased a mini-version of him and immediately put him in a prominent place in my office. Within a week of my return, I had several pending assignments and a huge contract, which I thought had been closed, suddenly opened up for bidding.

But to mix religious metaphors, on the yin (dark) side, I thought it would be hilarious to “tip” a sacred cow by handing it a rupee note. Cow-tipping being a Midwestern thing as in, on a Saturday night in your one-stoplight hometown, you go into a field where the cows sleep standing up and push them over. Of course I would never do such a thing because it not only is physically dangerous and traumatic for the animal but I would probably try to knock over a bull, which would end badly. But while at the Taj Mahal in Agra, I did come face-to-face with a cow and proffered it a 500-hundred rupee note, after finagling a friendly native to photograph the event for Facebook posterity. Several people saw and warned me not to do this as the cow would eat the equivalent of about $10. So I switched to 20 rupee note. The cow walked away, an annoyed look on its face. Within a couple of hours, bug spray exploded in all over my bag, I stepped in huge pile of cow dung, and upon returning to the hotel, found a major spill inside my makeup bag due to a mysterious distribution of very expensive face cream. I deleted all the pictures of myself with the cow but kept this one photo as a reminder not to mess with Mother Nature and what other people consider holy. Some might call it – groaner alert! – bovine revenge.

Sometimes it’s good to challenge yourself. You may make mistakes, but you might find a “lucky” Ganesh to inspire you try again or at least get moo-ving in the right direction. And if you need any additional motivation or information please check out my updated list of events and conferences for the fall!

AN EMBARRASSMENT OF (RHYMES WITH) RICHES…OR “COUNTRY CLUB WIVES” HAS BEEN OPTIONED AS A TV SHOW!

Foreshadowing, anyone? Photo courtesy of
The Women’s Book.

I always like to joke that I am an overnight success story of 35 years. Fade to…

The late 1970s, the apartment that I shared with my then-husband. He had just finished reading the initial draft of my first novel THE PIPE DREAMERS. I didn’t believe him when he told me that it was bad (actually he said it sucked, but I’m trying to be nice here). But I went ahead and sent it out anyway, convinced that literary fame, fortune and a movie deal were in the offering. I even had it cast, with Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving as twenty-year-old Vietnam war protesters  (Steven Spielberg was Irving’s husband at the time, so it could have been a twofer and he could have directed it, had John Sayles, my first choice, passed on the project).  Turns out though, the ex was right and it took about a gazillion drafts and two-and-a-half decades for THE PIPE DREAMERS to even be commercially published.  And after a few years of being a professional writer and journalist, I stopped fantasizing about the Academy Awards.

Fast forward to October, 2014. I am having lunch at a restaurant, minding my own business. In fact, that afternoon I am booked to take a refresher course as a precinct judge for our local election – a rare chance to mingle with the public, since I work at home and have indoor cats — when I get an email from my publisher. “You own the TV rights to your novel COUNTRY CLUB WIVES,” he basically states. “I was contacted by a TV production company who is interested in possibly developing it as a series.”

I was so shocked I practically spewed salad everywhere. My server came over to make sure everything was OK and I ended up spilling the beans, figuratively of course. I have a tendency to confide in strangers when unexpected life events take place. It may not always be prudent but sometimes it makes great literary fodder.

To make a long story short and with the help of my agent, Bob Diforio, I have signed an option deal for a TV series for COUNTRY CLUB WIVES with Insight Productions, out of Toronto (Canada, not Ohio).

Like most writers, I’ve had that “legend in my own mind” thing going in my head ever since I first set pen to paper (remember typewriters?).  And this certainly is a delightful and unexpected confirmation of decades of hard work. But it’s been one day at a time,  the way I’ve been taking everything these last few years, something I would have been unable to do in my impatient-for-success early career.

But Colonel Sanders and Grandma Moses might need to move over…A little.

 

Live Your Best Life

CLICK ON THE LOGO to learn about more risky business: My most recent crowdfunding campaign. CLOSE ENOUGH FOR GOVERNMENT WORK: AMERICA’S PRESIDENTIAL LIBARIES (Loconeal, 2016). Good times, fun with POTUS, cool perks!

What sometimes causes the most resistance can yield astonishing results. On the day I was scheduled to leave for a vacation, we had the worst snowstorm of the season. I was greatly looking forward to it – the vacation, not the blizzard — even though I had just lost a major stream of income, and the replacement stream, while promised, had yet to materialize. And some eight inches of the nasty white stuff with a nice varnish of ice added suspense to the possibility of reaching my final destination, although perhaps not the one I was hoping for.

The trip seemed doomed even before I left my driveway, which is where my car got stuck. So I did the only sensible thing. I stood in the middle of the street in my sneakers and jogging suit – I was going to Florida, after all – and yelled for help until a neighbor gave me a much needed push so I could slide from my suburb to the next to my son Alex’s house where he was to take me to the airport. Not our main one, which of course was much closer, but a smaller, mostly cargo military base from which my cut-rate airline was scheduled to leave, arguably the only departure out of Columbus not cancelled due to weather. Fortunately Alex has a four-wheel drive Jeep because my car got immobilized– again – in the middle of his cul-de-sac.

After what could understatedly be described as harrowing run to the airport and a zig-zag takeoff that involved periodic clenching of every bodily orifice to prevent possible evacuation of same, I was on my way. Thinking that this was probably more trouble than it was worth and I should have stayed put, despite the misery of the worst winter in recent history. Which was further cemented by the fact that, on the way to Miami, my rental car narrowly missed being mangled by a chainsaw that had bounced off the truck in front of me. But there’s something to be said for assured clear distance and I can now say I truly survived I-95.

Yet it was a wonderful trip. I stayed with friends in Naples, Miami and then went on a seven-day cruise with a singles group. Our ship, the Norwegian Epic, had a 4000-person capacity but our faction, consisting of 45 intrepid souls, had a personality footprint that far exceeded the average passenger, long married 50-50s (50+ years old/50+ pounds overweight) or consumers of the unlimited booze package aka it’s 5 o’clock 24/7.

On the next to the last day of the cruise, four of us went on a dune buggy ride in Cozumel. The outskirts of city were amazing – the shoreline was wild, untamed, like California before the 1960s population explosion. Part of the trip included snorkeling, something I rarely got to do but enjoyed immensely, once I overcame my fear of never being able to breathe again. After about 15 minutes of sheer terror, I could immerse myself in the exquisite world of underwater beauty and shimmering fish.

But when we dropped off our buggies, our tour guides said it was time for lunch. But what about snorkeling, we said. Well, if you really want to go, they said. Yes, our adventuresome group of four did. So they shepherded us to a nearby hotel, supplied us with fins, masks and breathing apparatus and indicated a mossy, slippery, concrete ledge to dive off of.

Um, I don’t think so…I took one look the crumbling sharp protuberance and indicated to my companions to go ahead without me. No way was I going to leap into the choppy ocean and hit myself in the head. I may be foolhardy but I wasn’t suicidal nor did I wish to partake of long-term disability which I couldn’t afford anyway.

But boy, was it beautiful and boy did I want to snorkel. But it obviously wasn’t meant to be, so I turned to walk away. Then a voice said, “I’ll help you get in the water if you want to.”

I looked up, and a slim woman of indeterminate age stood before me. “I will hand you the mask and fins while you use the ladder to get into the water.”

I hesitated. “Really? It looks dangerous.”

“Well, it’s fine if you are careful and use the ladder,” the woman insisted. “Swim alongside the wall and you can catch up with your group. But only if you want to.”

Of course I wanted to. But I was also scared to death. But then, who knew when I’d get another opportunity to snorkel? And I was a strong swimmer and in pretty good shape. And being a self-proclaimed weenie can get tiresome after a while. So, heart pounding in fear, I slid down the ladder while the woman patiently handed me my equipment. And soon enough I was splashing my way towards my group telling myself to pace my breathing so I wouldn’t hyperventilate and pass out. And sure enough 15 minutes later I was having the time of my life.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes life kicks the crap out of you and then takes unexpected detours. But sometimes if you jump in – well, in my case, ease in at your own speed – it works out. But the path you were supposed to take and the things you had planned never happen. So you have to improvise. And if that seems foolhardy to someone else, so be it.

But I needed that vacation. It was the first real one I’d had in years and when I returned, I was able to finish a book close to deadline, launch a crowdfunding campaign for my newest project, CLOSE ENOUGH FOR GOVERNMENT WORK: A GUIDE TO AMERICA’S PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARIES (Loconeal, 2016), and acquire new clients and contracts, hopefully stabilizing my income stream.

I call it living your best life. It’s unforeseen, unpredictable and at times, really frightening, because even though I am a creative person, a little security is always nice. But an unplanned-for divorce (is there any other kind?), a child’s illness (ditto on the unexpected), and a decision in my 20s to pursue a career as a freelance writer and hence avoid anything as mundane as having my own personal pension plan wreaked havoc with any savings I might have acquired. And no one preached financial literacy to girls growing up in middle-class Dayton, Ohio in the 1960s. But it’s never too late to learn, and I have…somewhat.

Looking at it another way, life could stop us dead in our tracks at any time. And few will probably spend their last moments thinking of their IRAs and bank balances. But you will remember the snorkeling.