Blog

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Winter Road Trip

First of all, Happy New Year!

Don’t you love it? All the “newness” in the air, resolutions already forgotten, the days getting a little bit longer, opportunity for change. On the other hand, some things will never change, like me and my love for road trips!

When traveling in the United States, it isn’t all that often that I visit places I’ve never been to. But the southeastern corner of Arizona is one of those places. Or, more accurately, was. Think Tombstone and Bisbee, Chiricahua National Monument, and both sides of Saguaro National Park. I’ll confess to driving through at least one of the Saguaros long ago, but this time I got some pretty fantastic hiking in. In my quest to trek in all sixty of the National Parks in America, (probably more by the time I complete them all!) Saguaro was number twenty-eight. Closing in on halfway. Woot!

While many gather ’round the Christmas tree in familiar surroundings, I’m usually at least a couple thousand miles from home, more if possible, and if I can be in a foreign country, even better. For me, the name of the game is ESCAPE CHRISTMAS, and southern Arizona worked beautifully.

I wasn’t sure how good it would be to go to Tombstone when everything was closed for the holiday, but it turned out to be quite magical, when the fact that the town is a money pit and tourist trap is taken into consideration. Being there with just a few other souls wandering the empty, dusty streets with no particular place to go and all the time in the world to get there, gave me the sense that I was experiencing the desert hamlet as it used to be on a quiet day in its heyday.

Tombstone

The Boot Hill Graveyard, the OK Corral, Tombstone Courthouse, and Wyatt Earp House were all locked up tight– and all require a fee to get in. No fake gunfights were echoing through the air on Christmas. Instead, I could hear the wind blow, like the moaning of ghosts of old Tombstone. I donned my Santa hat and took me-style snapshots in the harsh Arizona sun, the stiff breeze threatening to pull the red felt cap off my head, and requiring a light jacket. No, this is not one-season Arizona territory, but I still ended up with a sunburn on my nose worthy of Rudolph.

While Tombstone is flat, Bisbee, about twenty-five miles down SR 80, is one of those attractive, artist-infested hill towns, like Jerome and Chloride to the north, that Arizona is so talented at creating. Another near-deserted venue, Bisbee reeked slightly of snobbery.

Bisbee

It’s still worth a walk around to see some interesting graffiti and restored buildings, but tread carefully: the roads and the sidewalks seem to be one in some places, or at least it’s not entirely clear which is which. A handful of times I found myself in the middle of streets with motorists approaching, and they weren’t all that pleased to have to stop for me. Bisbee is as hilly as it looks, so if you’re looking for an easy walk this isn’t it. And if you want a good shot of it from above, about the only place to get it is from SR 80 on the way in or out of town.

A mile out of Bisbee is the enormous Queen Mine, also closed on Christmas, though tours are available the rest of the year. The defunct copper mine, closed since 1975, is impressive enough to resemble a miniature Grand Canyon. A viewing area offers an overlook, but is surrounded by a fence. It’s also windy as all get-out, so good luck getting pictures with a cell phone or small camera, or if you have long hair and don’t want it in the shot! SR 80 continues south into Douglas, the last town before the border with Mexico.

That was my first day in southern Arizona.

I planned on hiking at Chiricahua National Monument the next day, but the weather was so cold and windy with occasional piercing raindrops, that I had to rearrange my plan. Staying in the pleasant Quality Inn in Benson, which offers a free hot breakfast, I decided to google “Things to Do in Benson, Arizona,” and came up with the moving idea to visit a local donkey rescue. Forever Home Donkey Rescue is owned and operated by a delightful couple named John and Tish. Located ten miles from Benson proper on a road so far out of the loop that huge, staring cows share the lanes with motorized vehicles, the rescue has twenty-six adorable and friendly donkeys at this writing. John was so kind as to give me a full tour, even providing vittles to hand-feed the cuties. Later, I was invited into John and Tish’s beautiful Sante Fe style home. I left feeling like I was part of the family. Interested in visiting? Call first so they know you’re coming.

Donkey Rescue

I made it to Chiricahua National Monument the following day. I’m not a fan of winter, but ended up hiking in the finest of snowy conditions that can be imagined: fifty degrees, with a a few fresh inches on the ground, sparkling trees dripping with ice melting in the warm sun, startling blue sky, incredible scenery.

Chiricahua

This shot was taken on the Heart of Rocks Loop. I set out to do the Big Loop, but because of a trail closure due to the snow, had to modify my hike. I was hardly disappointed. I had to use the Lower Rhyolite Trail, which would have added three miles to an already 9.5 mile hike, but this trail was so satisfying, I had to let that plan go and just enjoy what was in front of me. Best decision I made the whole trip. Pressure off to finish a twelve miler in the snow on one of the shortest days of the year, I took pictures to my heart’s content. The way I look at it, now I have a reason to go back to this remote and unspoiled park. Gotta hike the whole loop next time! Side note: Chiricahua has no fee, is open 24/7/365, and other than the visitors center (and bathrooms) being closed for the government shutdown, it was business as usual here.

The last big event of my road trip was Saguaro National Park, named for the often immense cactus that dominate the landscapes. This was the one that I had concerns about due to the government shutdown, but the park was open. Like Chiricahua, you had to be creative about finding a bathroom. But any hiker knows how to do that pretty easily.

Saguaro has two units: Saguaro East and West, on either side of Tucson, Arizona. I much preferred the West Unit, though the weather may have had something to do with that. The East Unit is at a higher elevation, and at least for me, the desert vegetation was much denser and more interesting. But the West Unit begins north of the stunning Tucson Mountain Park, and the Hugh Norris Trail is here. Don’t miss this one. It’s not on the list of suggested hikes on the park website, so I almost did. All told, it’s a long trail, but to get from the trail head to the ridge from the short Bajada Loop Drive is only about two and a half miles round trip. If you’re anything like me and seek out the best lunchtime view you can find to make your Facebook friends envious, this one is definitely for you. Miles and miles of cactus, mountains, and sky. Trifecta! Sigh.

Saguaro

A warning: very little parking is available for any of the trails in the park. But if you figured out how to pee, you’ll figure out how to park, too.

From here it was back to Phoenix to fly home.

Really nice way to spend winter vacation from school.

Really nice to be done with Christmas for yet another year.

 

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Losing Fur Babies

goody and gert

It’s been a pretty rough morning for me. I’ve lost another fur baby, one that has been making my days brighter for ten years. Gert, my little black bunny friend, has crossed the Rainbow Bridge to see Goody, her life mate. Imagine the flopping of two lop-eared lovers when they see each other again!

On my most recent trip, (the subject of my next blog,) I noticed how many people travel with animals now. Never have I seen more fur babies in an airport. Something tells me that with the world the way it is these days, and not getting any better, humans have to rely more on living, breathing things that don’t judge them, expect very little, and give so much more than they receive. Sitting here in my empty home without the gentle tap, tap, tap of little feet above my head, reminding me that Gert’s there waiting for me, I can certainly relate. She’s been gone less than twelve hours and I’m already lonely.

Gert first came into my life in 2009, after a particularly cruddy breakup. She was the better choice for me. I already had Goody, her sweetheart, but having them both around was truly double the love. Ahh, the stuff that bunnies can get up to! I’ve read that two rabbits can be very hard to pair. I’ve done it twice without a hitch. Goody had already had one girl love. Gert was her second. As for my relationship gone bad, I’ve hardly thought about him since, and never heard from him again. But Gert stuck with me through thick and thin. As a matter of fact, she waited for me to get home from more and longer trips than any bun I’ve ever owned. Not that she was pleased about that, but she managed to win the heart of her babysitter even while her beautiful heart waited patiently for her traveling mommy to walk through the door again.

I’ve owned buns for a good deal of my life, and all of them have been with me for at least seven years. Only one has outlived Gert. I was really hoping that she would set the record, but I knew she was getting weaker. Nevertheless, she was a fighter. Gert went partially blind after an eye infection about a year ago. One day while I was at work she took a tumble, broke some teeth, and stopped eating and pooping. However, a trip to my amazing vet had her back to health in a few weeks. Gert had a bit of a renaissance after that, getting plump and seeming like a new bunny again, in spite of her nine years. But there’s only so long that an old body can feel new again. In the end, the decision between diminishing quality of life and just not wanting to deal with loss is a tough one. Gert made the choice on her own, stretching out in a comfy box bed I made for her, and was gone within an hour.

I’ve been bawling all morning. Nothing lights up Facebook like the news of the passing of a beloved pet. Been taking comfort in the kindness of people I’ve never met before. The kindness of strangers. This isn’t any easier than losing a human being that you love. The silence is just as deafening. The sense of loss is equally as strong. The knowledge that my whole routine has to change now, again, is debilitating. And the questions, of whether I made this important little fur ball’s life as best at it could be, swirl. I can only pray that the answer is “yes.”

I feel warm and fuzzy about commemorating Gert’s life here. It’s the least I can do for a little black bundle of bunny joy who offered so much and asked for nothing more than fresh carrots and spinach and a good head scratch.

I love you, my little old lady. Under my feet and forever in my heart.

See you on the other side.

btos

 

 

Happy New Year, Happy New Release

Two Sides to Every Story Kindle Cover

Happy New Year!

I had to move it up once due to family commitments. But release day for my sixth book is finally here!

Two Sides to Every Story is my first novella, and the third book in my Women Like Us Series. The series was born out of writing (and selling) short stories about every day women with every day woes. Women like my two main characters:

Meet Carla and Molly.

Carla’s marriage and family are devastated when her husband Bob blindsides her with the demand for a divorce. Molly is the “other woman,” so in love with Bob that she’s ready to take him and his four children in, regardless of the consequences. Carla and Molly are living the same story. Or is it different?

Every story has two sides. And sometimes, those two sides become one, in the most interesting of ways. Just ask Carla and Molly, women with grace under fire and courage when they need it most.

Women like us.

**************

Two Sides to Every Story, as well as my other five books, is available on the BOOKS page of my website, in both digital and print forms.

Wishing everyone an amazing 2019, and happy reading!

 

 

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Priorities

A lot of things have happened over the past several weeks that have made me think about priorities. We all have them, but sometimes, well, they get a little off track. I definitely count myself in that boat right now. Throw in the usual crap of my most unfavorite holiday on the calendar, and you have a recipe for disaster. Or at least, a heck of a lot of unnecessary stress. I’m trying to get myself back to where I need to be. The past few months haven’t been all that pleasant in the life of me.

I was supposed to put out a book on December 17th. I’m writing this on December 19th, and guess what? No book. Writing and publishing is a huge priority to me, usually near the top if not at it, but one of the situations that I found myself in trumped even that.

A young woman in South Carolina who has been struggling for years with a potentially deadly addiction was very close to losing her life in early November. That young woman is my beloved niece. She managed to pull through and is proving to be a real fighter, even if she has a long way to go. I chose to reschedule my book launch for January 7, 2019 to make an emotional and exhausting, but also wonderful visit to see her for the first time in a handful of years.

My Love

This was a bigger dream come true than putting out one hundred books. To be able to spend even the limited amount of time I had with my clear-headed and determined niece was an invaluable experience. If I had to make a credit card commercial, I’d put it like this: Motel rooms for three nights: $200. Flight to Greenville/Spartanburg Airport: $61 with frequent flyer miles. Rental car: $200. Time spent with family: priceless.

Priorities. Sometimes they get messed up. Sometimes they change positions. Sometimes people derail you. This one was a position change. But mine have been mixed up lately, too. So, it was a double whammy.

For most people, family is their number one priority. But when you come from a broken clan like me, blood relations may fade into the background, at least until something goes wrong. Unfortunately, that’s the case in my dysfunctional brood. Sickness or death seem to be the only things that can bring us together, and even that’s a temporary state of tolerance. Too many differences end up getting in the way again, at least for some of us. Sides are drawn, and the armies retreat back to where they came from until the next bomb drops.

The same thing happened on the familial landscape with this recent major event. But, at least for me, when the dust settled, the soldiers on my side of the cease fire were not only more plentiful, keeping them there became much more of a priority. So much so that I’ve hardly touched any manuscript I’ve been working on in the past month.  That has to and will change, but right now I’m kind of enjoying a new sense of camaraderie. Too bad that someone has to suffer in the process. How’s that for irony?

The other priority that has been moved to the back burner is traveling. Though as a teacher, the time between the beginning of the school year and Christmas vacation is traditionally the toughest grind of the year, and nearly impossible to make an escape from, so I guess I have an excuse. I didn’t even disappear for Thanksgiving like I usually do. Next year.

Well, guess what, winter break has arrived, and I’ll be out of here in just a few days. My time away from home will be used to get my head back into the right place for the coming New Year.  I have to leave a few things (people, situations) behind in 2018 and not look back. Get them priorities back in line, and start feeling like me again. If anyone had told me ahead of time what the past four months would be like, I would not have believed it. It’s pretty hard to knock me off my game. But the deed has been done.

Hmm. I have three more presents to wrap, a suitcase to pack, and a few good-byes to say before I fly away to yet another great hiking trip. Once I’m in that plane seat on December 24th, Christmas is over for me for another year. I can sigh with relief and hope life will go back to normal. Wait, let’s make it better than normal. With priorities straight and the open highway in front of me.

Happy Holidays.

Christmas 2018

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: I Love My Car!

If you read my posts, (and a few people actually do,) it may come as a surprise to find out that I love my car. Me, the blogger who blabs about what it means to be a good person. Me, the loudmouth who claims that winning the lottery is an evil that no one should have to suffer. Me, the one who crabs endlessly about how fast the average American drives. I love my car? You have to be kidding!

Now, here’s my disclaimer. I’m not one of those people that have some hot sports car that a drop of dust can’t fall on. See, my car is twelve years old now, she has 145,000 glory-filled miles on her, and frankly, she’s starting to get kind of crotchety. Stuff is needing replacement to the point that someone else might run to the nearest car lot and get a new set of wheels. But not me. Because remember, I love my car.

Here’s my secret: in my entire half century on earth I’ve only owned five cars. And of those five cars I still have two of them. I once owned three cars at one time. And my last three cars have visited 30, 40, and 42 states, respectively. You might say that I buy cars that are built to last. Because it’s not like I’m that easy on them. While I may not be a speed demon, or drive incessantly just for the sake of driving, my cars go the distance in every sense of the term. Nine thousand mile road trips, driving through Midwestern floods, climbing steep mountain passes in Wyoming or Colorado, creeping through Death Valley in 120 degree temperatures…my girl has done it all. In fact, she’s been places most people I know have not been to, and has also been places that she probably should not have been to. Let me introduce you:

Boog

Ain’t she sweet? Yeah, I agree.

She may not look tough, but that’s just a cute disguise. She’s a killer.

I’ll admit, my cars are like family members to me. We’ve been through some poop together. I’ve spent a lot of time on the road, so it’s only natural that I have a real affinity for my vehicles. Which is why it isn’t as easy for me as it is for others to go to that car lot and drive another one out. The thought of having a car payment holds little to no interest for me, even if it means having something that others are envious of.  I’d rather travel several times a year and fix the one I have when necessary. And let’s face it, there are only so many cars out there that fit the criteria for my rides: compact, adorable,  good on gas, convertible. Lastly, they obviously have to be durable. Because we’re going places!

Anyway, my little darling gets a lot of attention even if she isn’t new, shiny, and costly. Mine isn’t the only face she brings a smile to. I think that people are reminded of the blue Bugs of old when they see her. It’s a nostalgia thing. She’s got it going on.

To many, cars are a status symbol. To me, my cars are history. Not only do they have it, but they have my past wrapped up in them. I retired my last car, a metallic pink Geo Tracker, with 193,000 miles. Forty states, twenty some-odd National Parks, (most of them with my beloved mother in the passenger seat,) five years exploring the nooks and crannies of California from my Los Angeles home base, twelve years total, and I bought her used with 20,000 miles on her. How much life did that car see? A heck of a lot.

The Bug has this on her resume: 42 states, even more National Parks and Monuments, ten years of seeking and finding hiking trails from coast to coast, rock concerts. We once stumbled upon a fresh murder-suicide in Arizona. Crawled up Pike’s Peak amidst gigantic SUVs. Floated through the aforementioned flood in the northwestern corner of Ohio (yes, my wheels left the ground!) A lifetime in twelve years.

So yes, I’m getting out my credit card later this month. Giving my little Bug some new guts. Getting her back to fighting shape. Merry Christmas, baby! Here’s to rolling 200,000 miles!

And making some new history.

 

Daring Tales of A Determined Woman: Cover Reveal for My Sixth Book

It’s that time again: my sixth cover reveal! Hard to believe that I’ve written and published five books. Such a dream come true!

I talk a lot about my Girls of Glam Rock Series, as it’s so close to my heart and so much fun to write. Two Sides to Every Story, however, is from my “other” series, Women Like Us. Without further adieu, here’s the cover:

Two Sides to Every Story Kindle Cover

This may be my favorite cover of all my books. Took my breath away when I saw it! Shout out to my cover artist Syneca Featherstone.

I’m in the proofing stage right now, and plan to release the book on Monday, December 17th, just in time for a last minute Christmas gift. Two Sides to Every Story is the first novella I’ve ever written. Here’s how the back cover reads:

Meet Carla and Molly.

Carla’s marriage and family are devastated when her husband Bob blindsides her with the demand for a divorce. Molly is the “other woman,” so in love with Bob that she’s ready to take him and his four children in, regardless of the consequences. Carla and Molly are living the same story. Or is it different?

Every story has two sides. And sometimes, those two sides become one, in the most interesting of ways. Just ask Carla and Molly, women with grace under fire and courage when they need it most.

Women like us.

Women Like Us, you say? Here’s how this series came about.

Remember those old magazines True Story and True Confessions? Several years ago I heard they paid pretty good. I had no idea they were even in existence anymore, and I had to go all the way to New York City to find one! But I poured through the copy I got, found the “formula” for writing them, and ended up selling thirty of them over a seven year period. Unfortunately, the magazines are indeed defunct now. However, writing friends of mine thought I should publish similar stories. The Women Like Us Series was born! While I satisfy my need to relive the hair metal 1980s in the Girls of Glam Rock Series, the Women Like Us books are about the here and now, and deal with everyday women with everyday problems. It’s a great mix of characters in my repertoire!

Check out all my books here:

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

Thank you ahead of time for your support!

 

Daring Tales of A Determined Woman: Slow Down!

Road Rage

In my humble opinion, everyone is allowed to have at least a handful of pet peeves. I haven’t been all that shy about writing about some of mine in the past several weeks. The Christmas craze, lottery madness, and confusing beliefs about what makes someone a good person are bound to make my blood pressure rise and my fingers move madly on the keyboard. But if you want to know what really gets me going…well, I’m going to tell you whether you want to know or not! It’s the way people drive. And what better time to expound on the subject that a few days before Black Friday and right after I bash Christmas?

I spend a lot of time behind the wheel not only of my car, but of rental cars and the cars of other people. Though I choose not to drive in foreign countries, since it’s bad enough to maneuver in a familiar environment and on the side of the car and the side road we drive on, I have driven in forty-nine out fifty states. (I wasn’t blessed with the keys to a rental when I visited Hawaii.) The things I’ve seen drivers do to get one car length ahead of someone is flat out embarrassing. Here are a few of my big favorites:

*Crossing over two or more lanes on an interstate or divided highway from the passing lane to exit.

*Passing on either side when a red light is clearly up ahead then throwing brakes on after sliding between me and the car in front of me, so that I have to slam mine on to avoid a rear ending that will be my fault.

*Accelerating and whizzing past me when one lane turns to two, only to end up next to me again at the next stop light. (I fantasize about this one. Expect a toot and a wave from me, perhaps even a thumbs up, because you deserve it. You beat me to the red light. Good for you!)

*Tailgating. Don’t even get me going on this one!

Truth is, perfectly nice people turn into animals when a steering wheel and four tires are involved. Add a cell phone and the ante goes through the roof. Add a child or two and the whole equation gets plain scary.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I’m always questioning the motivation behind someone who will cut me off within inches of my life and theirs, too, when there isn’t another car behind me for half a mile.  Here are my theories: Impatience. Ignorance. Competitive spirit. Lack of control over one’s life. Anger. Unhappiness. Stress. “It won’t happen to me” syndrome. Or simply, boredom. Clue me in, crazy drivers. What makes you slow down only long enough to get a gander at a deadly accident, then put the pedal to the metal? What makes you drive over curbs and fail to stop for your fellow worshipers in a crosswalk five minutes after you leave a holy dwelling? How about the brainiac that runs a red flashing school bus sign? What, may I ask, is the gain?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m no angel when it comes to road rage. But I’m usually reacting to someone getting in my five-miles-over-the-speed-limit comfort zone. Case in point: the poor lady with two kids hanging out the window that decided to tailgate me, then proceeded to swerve and toot and giggle after I touched my brakes to back her off. Did I intentionally switch lanes when she tried to get by me? Check. Did I offer her some sign language lessons? Check. But my crowning achievement was when she pulled up at a fresh stop light behind me, still having herself one hell of a good time at my expense, and I swaggered out of my VW Bug cop-style with pen and paper in my hand, and pretended to write down her license plate number. She wanted to get away from me for a completely different reason after that little event. Score!

Listen folks, I give myself enough time to get places. I break for squirrels. Like the cutie at the top of the page, I’m not above slowing down to piss you off. Because here’s the message: IT AIN’T ALL ABOUT YOU!!

As we head into this holiday season that most people have forgotten the meaning of, do the world and yourself a favor and slow down. That person you’re flipping out on could have just buried a loved one. Or had a session of chemotherapy.  Or was degraded by someone who is supposed to love them. Or just decided not to commit suicide and instead, to face another day. With that thought in mind, is it really that important to beat them to the next red light?

And hey, Happy Thanksgiving, too.