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Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Picking up the Pieces

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When I did my first autobiographical post in February, you can bet that I planned on doing the second one long before now. Rather than waste time trying to figure out why it has taken me so long to get back to my life story, let’s just pick it up where I left off.

My father died in 1977, when I was ten years old, and everything changed dramatically. Life wasn’t much fun anymore. My family was devastated, no one more than my mother, who lost the love of her life. I know a lot of people never had parents and families at all. I’m not whining and making excuses or comparing my losses to anyone else’s. All that aside, my father’s death crushed my family. We would do a slow unraveling that would end in many explosions over the years. I can relate everything that went wrong back to that event.

But my mother, a woman with no more than a high school diploma, somehow kept us going. I don’t know how she managed. She certainly didn’t go into debt to do it, nor did she have to work three jobs. She retired at a reasonable age, too. Mom was a hell of an amazing woman, keeping six kids clothed and fed, including one daughter in college in Brooklyn and another daughter with a severe disability. For a long time I was under the impression that she had nothing to live for after my father died. That’s the way it seemed for many years as I watched her drag herself through the long days without Daddy. I know better now, for she had her kids to live for, even if much of her died with my father. Her heart didn’t beat the same again for years. I believe that it took her a full fifteen years to be able to accept his death.

Mom missed out on retiring and growing old with her love. On happily reflecting back on their many years together. On the slow-moving RV with Dad behind the wheel and Mom the passenger and navigational assistant. Her life would eventually get better. She would find another passion, but never another man. No one could replace Daddy.

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As for me, the death of my beloved Daddy, who instilled his love of the outdoors in me, taught me to ride a bike and swim, and was my first hiking partner, awakened two things that would change my life nearly as much as his death did.

As tough as it is to find anything positive in the death of a loved one, particularly an untimely demise, there’s always something you can point to, and sometimes you have to. Perhaps the two positives I’m talking about would have come out anyway, even if Daddy had been there. I’ll never know for sure. But the pall that shrouded my family definitely influenced me to seek different worlds, even if they weren’t real.

Around this time, I started to write. Maybe at first, just a few notebook pages here and there. Later, hundreds and hundreds of pages that went into binders. By the time I hit my early teens I had already written a book of over a thousand pages! Typed, it would probably only be half that, but that’s still five hundred pages. One thing was always for sure: the lives of my characters were always a hell of a lot better than mine. They had whole families, not broken ones, and they were always in love and did a lot of kissing. Well, I guess some things haven’t changed. 🙂

The other thing I began to lean on was maps. I loved maps. I still love maps. (Sorry, no GPS for me!) Mom had a set of Encyclopedia Americanas that were old even then, but I couldn’t get enough of them. The books were on a landing between the first and second floors of our family home. The landing measured about six feet by six feet. Enough room for a narrow bookcase, and plenty of room for me to sit and pull out the volumes.

Encyclopedias

My first love was a map of California, but the whole United States was all right with me. Hardly a surprise that I turned into a traveler whose first love is her own country. Another fact: I lived in California for five years. Not a big stretch of the imagination, right?

These two necessary escapes would serve me well throughout my life.

I promise not to let three months go by before I write the next installment.

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Daring Tales of A Determined Woman: Welcome to El Calafate, Patagonia

Back in March I did my first Patagonia post. Here’s the second in a three-parter.

You’ve arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and are eagerly awaiting your Patagonian adventure. Maybe your first “hop” is El Calafate. Here’s what to expect.

El Calafate, a three hour flight from Buenos Aires, is a jump off point for day trips to Lago Argentino, Perito Moreno Glacier (in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares) and Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, amongst other destinations. These were the three choices of my travel companions and I, and may be yours, so for the sake of space, I’ll concentrate on them.

Before I go any further, however, let me say this: if you’re a hiker like I am, this would presumably be your fantasy destination. After visiting I have to admit that I’m not heavy duty enough to spend that much time battling the elements of Patagonia on foot. I visited in the dead of summer. The days trips we took offered chances for short, informative hikes, and that was satisfying enough for me. The closer to a getaway vehicle, the better for when the unpredictable weather decides to take a turn for the worse…or much worse, which can happen pretty darn quick. Also, keep in mind that the road conditions can be horrendous at best, so if you have the idea of renting a car, just be well prepared. At the very least, know how to change a flat. We saw several drivers dealing with them., and you may be miles and miles from any kind of assistance.

Flying into El Calafate gives you a good idea just how remote this landscape is.

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Then, the town appears and a really big plane lands at a really small airport.

Tour operator Patagonia Dreams has an office at the Comandante Armando Tola International Airport in El Calafate. Too early to check in, we stopped by and booked all our trips the morning we landed. Please note that the website quotes prices in Argentinian pesos (ARS). Divide the price by the going rate for the day, somewhere between 37 and 39 ARS to US dollars. The trips book up quickly, so do it as soon as you can. We lucked out and were able to get on the three tours we wanted, starting that evening.

We checked into our very cozy hotel picked by Tripmasters. No complaints whatsoever about their choices. You have the option of changing what they pick. We didn’t and were very happy in all three destinations.

El Calafate is a boom town with an ample amount of restaurants and the same rugged feel of, say, Fairbanks, Alaska. Middle of nowhere aspect aside, I managed to score a gluten free pizza and a meeting with Pennywise at MAKO fuegos y vinos. In Patagonia. Go figure. Just one of those days that will stay with me forever, you know?

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Later that afternoon we were picked up at our hotel for our first excursion, across the Patagonian steppe to the banks of Lago Argentino. Just a quick note on pick-ups: none were on time. They were either late or early. This seemed to be true all over Argentina. I suggest to be ready ahead of time, and be prepared to wait. Roll with it. Like with anything you have no real control over. Getting crochety isn’t going to get you far, and hey, there are enough Ugly American stories out there. Don’t be one of them. Please?

This tour included a short hike on a picturesque trail along the edge of the enormous body of water, and a hearth-made meal in a cave as the sun set on the opposite side of the lake.

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A great start to our Patagonian experience!

The following day we started out early on a tour to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, home of the world famous Perito Moreno glacier, a massive chunk of jagged ice that’s nearly the color of the sky even on gray days and, unlike most glaciers, is growing instead of receding. Buses evidently run between here and El Calafate for a cheaper price than the tour, but I recommend spending the extra money (which isn’t that much, all things considered.) And if you’re in reasonably good health, don’t even think of missing the chance to hike on a glacier, crampons provided and incredible pictures guaranteed. This is a must-do experience to add to your “special day” file.

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This tour includes a (frigid!) boat ride across Lago Viedmo. Expect to be on the road a total of about eight or nine hours to see the glacier, have lunch, and do the two hour glacier hike.

Speaking of world fame, Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine makes all those “world’s best national parks” lists, and the entry is well deserved. But just the trip from El Calafate was one of my favorite ever life experiences. If you’re booking through Patagonia Dreams, ask for Sylvester as your guide and Alejandro as your driver. (They aren’t paying me to say this.) Your guide will pick you up at your hotel in a normal-looking vehicle and transfer you to this monster, that I nicknamed The Beast:

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It’s a Mercedes! No idea what kind, couldn’t find it online. What I do know is that when other drivers saw us flying along the dirt back roads to Torres Del Paine they moved over! Sylvester and Alejandro treated us to an impromptu safari that included guanacos, rhea, and South Andean deer.

Keep in mind that if you’re coming from Argentina you will need your passport to cross into Chile. You’ll complete the long but incredible day with four new stamps, two from Chile, two from Argentina. In between you’ll view the famed triple-horned Cuernos del Paine and fall in love with stunning lakes and waterfalls.

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Weather permitting, a short hike to Salto Grande Lookout to view the spectacular falls of the same name is also a possible. This is the last stop before heading back to El Calafate, about three hours away, including the time it takes to recross borders.

Whew! What a three days! I’m exhausted just remembering it!

Next stop: Ushuaia, also known as “The End of the Earth.”

Until then, start making that Patagonia dream come true!

 

Daring Tales of A Determined Woman: Spending Money Wisely

Magic Bus

Hey, it’s been a while since I did an opinion piece, so I think it’s about time! Today, let’s cover one of my favorite subjects: money, and spending it wisely.

Listen, it’s true: I do a lot of stuff. I travel as much as is humanely possible in the time that I have and with the money I earn, hike like a fiend, write and publish books. Because of these experiences that people see as expensive,  I guess I give the unfortunate impression that I’m made of money.

“She must be a trust fund baby.”

“She must have an inheritance.”

“She must have someone paying her bills for her.”

Actually, surprise! None of the above are even close to being true. No trust funds or inheritances here! And I’m single, live alone, and have no one to fall back on. What is a fact, however, is that I know what my priorities are and I spend my money smartly.

Now, that said, I’m a firm believer in spending your hard earned dough on what you love. Me, I love traveling and hiking and books, so I forego other things and activities to do what I want to do most. I’m going to tell you some of the stuff that I choose not to fork over any cash for. For me, they’re a waste of money. But what’s a waste for me might be very important to someone else, so that person should spend their money on it. Don’t take it personally. I’m telling you what works for me, a single woman living off one salary and stretching it pretty nicely. And the first step to doing that is to identify what you prioritize, so you can get rid of what you don’t.

Let’s first take the example of traveling. If I travel as much as possible it means that I’m home as little as possible! That doesn’t mean I’m going to live in a dump. But it does mean that owning my own home probably isn’t at the top of my priority list, nor is an expensive car. Homes and cars are also money gluts, and I need money to travel a lot, so do you see how that works? Why would I spend a whole lot of funds on things that aren’t my priority when I can save that money toward my true loves? By the way, I rent a duplex that I consider my home, and own a car that I adore. Best of all, I get to take five to eight vacations a year! Win-win-win.

Next example: hiking. It’s an illusion that hiking is an expensive hobby. Sure, you need the basics: boots, a backpack, poles if you have knee problems or if you just want poles. That’s about it for me when it comes to equipment. If you plan to hike long distances, in the winter, or camp, you’ll need more stuff than that, and it might get pricey. But the way I do it, hiking is basically a freebie. Oh, and I should mention that most of my travels include hiking. Isn’t that great the way those two things go together?

Here are couple of things that are wastes of money for me, based on my first two priorities. First: joining a gym. Mother Nature is the world’s biggest gym, you can use it whenever you want, and it’s free. Why would I pay money to work out? Second: getting my nails and toenails done. No way in the world I’m spending my money on these things. Long, fancy nails are a burden when you’re running around the world dragging your own bags and sleeping on airplanes for twenty hours. As for those great pedicures most ladies love, those ladies don’t have feet like mine that hike fifteen hundred miles a year. Enough said, right?

The point being: sacrifices have to be made to get what you want, unless you’re made of money. Trim the fat, or don’t complain that you don’t have the funds to do what you love.

Some things can’t be sacrificed. For me, writing and publishing books is one of those things. I’ve been honing my craft for forty years. Self-publishing was not my original choice, but I’ve put a lot of time, energy, and money into it, to the point that I’ve learned to do much of it cheaper and easier. The choice between having pretty fingernails that are just going to get broken on a hiking trail and having my cover artist create a bang-up cover for me is a  no-brainer. To tie all this stuff together, when I travel I hike by day, write by night. My priorities fit together so nicely!

In a certain weird way, I’m flattered that people think I’m loaded when I’m really not. So if you’re one of those people…thanks! But the reality is that I don’t waste money. Every penny counts.

You have to eat, sleep, and get to work everyday. After all that is taken care of, pick your priorities wisely and stick to them.

 

 

“Families Matter” Release Day

April 25th is here, and so is my seventh book, “Families Matter.”

Families matter. But the secrets of our loved ones can be devastating. Or overwhelming. Or heartwarming. Sometimes, the truth is better left hidden, but is out in the open for the world to see.

Just ask Emily, Julie, Kiki, Megan, and Hillary, women struggling to come to terms with the decisions of of their loved ones. Women repairing cherished relationships. Women learning just how tough it is to break family ties.

Women like us.

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Five short stories that are compelling, easy to read, great for lunch break or that ride to work on the bus.

Available from your favorite retailer in digital format, and from Amazon in print. Click here to start reading today:

https://brendakstone.com/welcome/books/

Thank you for your support, and for you interest in my writing!

The Dirt on The Girls of Glam Rock

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Well, it appears that our friends Motley Crue are having a moment right now with the film version of their memoir The Dirt. I can’t even count how many times someone has asked me if I’ve tuned into Netflix to get my Motley fix. Why so many questions? Because everyone knows that I’ve penned a series of books about 80s rock. Written as memoirs of groupies and rock stars, The Girls of Glam Rock Series was heavily influenced by The Dirt and several other balls to the wall tomes by rock stars who lived the life, some whom have survived to look like hell (like Motley) and some who lost their lives because of the decadent lifestyle of earlier years.

I hear that The Dirt is having a renaissance. It’s back on the bestseller lists. Motley is making lots of dough so they can have more cosmetic surgery to please their much-younger wives. And it’s a great read, though Nikki Sixx is claiming now that a lot of it is fabricated. Stop the world! But hey, fiction is what I do, so who am I to gripe? What a lot of viewers probably don’t know is that The Dirt is old stuff now: it was originally published in 2001, when it was still okay to reminisce about treating women like, well, dirt. I’m guilty of reading it three times. I consider it one of the best pieces of research I could get my hands on for my own books.

Yeah, I was there. (No, not in L.A., though I did move there in 1994.) I lived through the 80s. It was a magical time. But I wasn’t a groupie, so my “research” isn’t first hand. I had to hit the books to create my own. The Girls of Glam Rock Series is a fictitious account of young women coming of age in the mid and late 80s. Is it politically correct? Nope. Is it based on real people? Nope. Would I have wanted to live this life? Nope. But was it fun to write? Yes.

There are plenty of books out there (and on my shelf) written by actual groupies like Pamela Des Barres, Sweet, Sweet Connie Hamzi, and Roxanne Shirazi for your viewing pleasure. But to the very best of my knowledge, my series is the only fictionalized account of “the groupie life” on the market.

Let me make this clear, if my motto doesn’t already: I don’t write about weak women. These are not just girls spreading their legs for a rocker that looks like Brett Michaels, and I don’t believe that the most famous groupies are trash. In my series, Dandelion, Highway Child, Carolina, and Tulip are rock solid. They’re ambitious ladies with healthy egos and staying power. To be in their line of business, they have to be. But that doesn’t mean they can’t have some good, dirty fun. And it doesn’t mean they always like it. Sometimes, they bite off more than they can chew.

From Carolina, in Girls Gone Groupie, the first book in the series:

It’s time for one o’clock, two o’clock!”  Geronimo suddenly appears with his pants unzipped.  “And you’re gonna be six o’clock!”

            This must be some kind of great honor, so I sing, “Oh, thank you!”

            A clock game!  What could be better than that!

            More girls are being brought into the room and they’re stumbling and giggling, too.  The same three guys who pulled the cover off Smut’s instruments are putting us in a circle.  So cute!  Are we going to play something like Ring Around the Rosie?  Or wait, Mother May I? 

            “Oh, can I please be the Rosie and everyone can make the ring around me?” I throw my arms around the neck of one of the big bruisers.

            “Huh?” He looks at me in confusion, but then he must remember the rules of the game.  “But don’t you want to be six o’clock?” he asks.

            Six o’clock!  Of course, I want to be six o’clock!

            My stomach isn’t feeling so good now as Mr. Big tells me to bend all the way over and put my hands on the floor in front of me.  What a terrible position to be in with wine in my belly!  And then that awful man makes it worse by throwing my dress over my head so I can’t see anything!  But I peek up from underneath it and see that Dandelion, Highway Child, and the rest of the girls all have their hands on the floor in front of them, too, and then the shouting starts: “Four o’clock!” “Eight o’clock!” “Eleven o’clock!”  and the three members of Smut have their pants around their ankles and are running around behind our girl circle like silly little boys playing with their hot dogs.

Carolina Clampett may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but she knows what she wants. And of all the groupies, she’s the one who gets the most of it.

Looking to read a great series and relive more of the 1980s after seeing The Dirt?

GGG Kindle Cover.jpg      Gunning for Groupie Gold Cover      Live Vicariously Through Me Kindle Cover

Check out my BOOKS page.

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

Cover Reveal for my Seventh Book!

Cover Reveal

Seems like just yesterday I was trying to figure out the whole game of self-publishing to get my first book out to the world. Today, I’m revealing the cover of my seventh!

Do I have the entire game figured out? Definitely not. I’m in better shape than I was, but still have a lot of things to perfect. It has been a full two years since I started out. In some ways, things have gotten easier. In others, more difficult. It’s pretty simple to get frustrated in this business, and not nearly as simple to get your name out there and sell a few books. I’ve hit the whole spectrum of emotions. But, onward!

“Families Matter” is a collection of five short stories about women in conflict. It’s the fourth installment in my Women Like Us Series. This time out, I tackle the touchy subject of dealing with family member that aren’t always playing fair. Here’s how the back cover reads:

Families Matter. But the secrets of our loved ones can be devastating. Or overwhelming. Or heartwarming. Sometimes, the truth is better left hidden, but is out in the open for the world to see.

Just ask Emily, Julie, Kiki, Megan, and Hillary, women struggling to come to terms with the decisions of their loved ones. Women repairing cherished relationships. Women learning just how tough it is to break family ties.

Women Like Us

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And here’s the cover:

BrendaKStone_FamiliesMatter_Kindle

Once again, I have to give praise to my incredible cover artist, Syneca Featherstone. All I have to do is get a vision in my head of how I want my book to look, and she does the rest. And yes, this is a plug, and I’ll do it on every cover reveal day!

I originally scheduled the release day for April 15th, but let’s face it, my friends, it’s never a fabulous idea to be on vacation on a release day. So, I backed it up to April 25th. Stay tuned!

Until then, you can find my other six books on my BOOKS page, or sign up for my free newsletter on my CONTACT page.

Thank you for your support!

Patagonia, Step 1: How to Get There Cheap

Patagonia BannerPatagonia. Just the word conjures up images of adventure, of journeying to the end of the Earth, of unreachable lands. Guided trips to Patagonia are thousands upon thousands of dollars. Most of the ones out there start at $5,000 and go steadily upward depending on how long you want to be there and what you expect to see. Because of the steep fees, I put it on my “someday” list, never imagining that “someday” was going to arrive so soon.

I have to give one of my travel companions kudos for finding this one. Wasn’t me! I heard through the grapevine that she was “going to Patagonia,” I contacted her and asked the price, and suddenly I was “in” on the trip of a lifetime.

So here’s the big secret: you don’t have to pay $5,000 or more to experience Patagonia. I did it for $3,000, with all side tours, food, and spending money counted in that figure. Here’s my usual disclaimer: I’m not an expert at this, I’m not endorsing any company, I’m not getting paid to advertise anything. What I am here to do is to explain how a relatively poor chick got to a land that most people only dream of going to.

Here’s where you start: Tripmasters.  Is this the perfect place to book a trip? No, because nothing is perfect. But if you want to get to exotic places for a less than exotic price, this is where you go. I’ve used them for several trips and have no major complaints. You also have to be a DIYer to use Tripmasters. If you want a strictly guided tour, sorry, pull out your $5,000+ and begin somewhere else.

Tripmasters has many itineraries to start with, or you can build your own trip. I did the Buenos Aires/El Calafate/Ushuaia package. For the sake of sticking with my subject, I’ll do separate posts on all the aforementioned venues,  but I’ll at least mention that you either start in Buenos Aires or in Santiago, Chile, and decide where you want to go and what you want to do from there. I’ve been to both cities, and they’re worth a couple of days time. They also offer the chance to rest up for the big thrill ahead.

Some trips you can kind of go with the flow and figure out what you’re going to do when you get there. I’ll point out the obvious by saying that this is true in Buenos Aires or Santiago. But if you’re going to do Patagonia on your own, do some research and figure out a few things at each of your destinations. We booked our day trips when we arrived, so I don’t think you have to book months in advance. A general game plan is important, however, so you aren’t wasting time once you get to this dreamscape, or scrambling to decide what natural wonder to prioritize. I highly recommend Perito Moreno Glacier, Lago Argetino, and Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, all day trips from El Calafate. The thrill of going to Ushuaia is more to brag that you were as close to Antarctica as possible without paying the ten thousand bucks, but the Penguin Island cruise is worth the much cheaper charge, and the town itself is pretty quirky for being the End of the World. More on both in later posts.

November to March is considered summer and peak season in Patagonia. Weather is always going to be a factor here, as I found out pretty quickly, another reason to decide what your objectives are for your trip. Take the word “summer” with a grain of salt when you’re talking about Patagonia. “Summer” weather features fierce wind and an ever-changing cornucopia of freezing rain, bold sun, and weeping clouds. The further south you go does not necessarily mean worse weather. In fact, the climate in Ushuaia, “the End of the Earth,” was much calmer than some of the points we reached from El Calafate, five hundred miles northwest. Also consider that you’ll be covering a lot of ground even if you’re going to be in a car or bus, with the weather constantly changing depending on where you are. Pack as a typical outdoors person: layer, layer, layer! And don’t plan for temperatures over 55 F.

Before I send you on your way to start planning your trip, here’s one more thought: if you’re considering renting a car and driving  yourself, at the very least know how to change a flat. Those are some rough roads around those parts, particularly to and from Torres del Paine National Park, and within the park proper. Consider leaving the driving to people who do it all the time.

Now, start dreaming of your first glimpse of Patagonia!

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