Road Trip: Post #4–The Shack Up Inn


My job for the road trip was to scout out lodging for each stop. Cliff then reviewed my choices and we made a final decision.

Menopause was a wake up call for me.

Take some chances.

Live big.

Seek new experiences.

Don’t get stuck in the status quo.

But I shocked Cliff  when I sent him the link for The Shack Up Inn. 

After all, it only took one stay for me to say no forever to Motel 6.


Yep,  sharecropper shacks moved to a working plantation in  Clarksdale, Mississippi, heart of the Delta Blues.

“The Ritz we ain’t” is their motto.

We picked the Red House.


Here’s Cliff in the kitchen.


Here’s the counter where I blogged.


This is the bedroom, and the door you see leads to a screened porch.


The shack was as clean as the decor is funky:



A few of the other shacks:



The grounds are decorated with tired machinery, vehicles, and such.

Shack Up Inn

Cliff found a walking trail along the edge of the crop fields. He returned with this lovely flower. Any guesses what it is?



A Blues Club is crammed with even more vintage things.



Confession time:

I know staying at the Shack Up Inn wasn’t really an act of great bravery.

But it felt kinda brave.

I loved it!

The re-purposing of the shacks and all the artifacts hit a chord in my preservationist heart.

The mood of the place suits the steamy and sultry sound of the region’s music.

The price is right, too.

The chocolate glazed doughnuts tasted delish in the morning.

And for a menopausal lady, I slept better in that old shack than I have in years.



Road Trip: Post #3– Serendipity!


Remember The Serendipity Singers? That’s when I first learned the word, and I’ve loved it ever since.

Road trips, in their best moments, often whisper or shout serendipity.

In Chattanooga, I opened my email to find a note from my agent. She was pleased with the revision I sent her of my Jersey Shore novel.


The novel features an eleven-year-old kid who fights to keep the frog figure on an antique carousel.

An hour later, Cliff raised his head from a travel brochure:  “There’s an old carousel here. We’ll go!”

We crossed the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge that spans the Tennessee River:


and walked to Coolige Park.

The Herschell-Spillman Company is the only carousel manufacturer to put a frog on their machines.

This was a Dentzel Carousel. I didn’t expect to see a frog.


But then I spotted him.

Serendipity waiting for me with a froggy grin.

Choosing which carousel figure to ride is always a tricky decision.

Cliff  considered the elephant and the tiger but decided on the camel.

Easy decision for me this time!

I put my hand on the frog’s head when the ride ended.  “I’m hoping you’re a good omen.  A sign for my book.”

The frog didn’t answer.

He just kept grinning.


What about you?

Has any serendipity come whirling your way lately?

The Serendipity Singers, who formed an American folk group of the 1960s, are best know for their first hit, “Don’t Let the Rain come Down/The Crooked Little Man.”

serendipity singers


Road Trip: Post #2– Imagined Lives


Model railroads and baby boomers!

So many of us grew up experiencing the mystique of an electric train set.

My Uncle Mel set up ours at Christmastime in the basement.

Cliff’s mom sacrificed her dining room table for trains during the entire month of December.  What a mom!


At the Chattanooga Choo Choo, you can check out the Model Railroad Museum.  The scenes are set in the Chattanooga of yesterday.


I put myself into the scenes, wondering about another time, another place, another way of life.


With midlife comes reflecting, lots of reflecting.

On our choices,  Our situations.  Our experiences.

Do you ever imagine living another life in another place or another time?


Road Trip: Post #1–The Chattanooga Choo Choo


Two weeks ago, Cliff and I set off on a road trip. The newlyweds left  North Carolina in July, and we offered to drive down their second car. Destination:  Dallas, Texas!

This seven post series will chronicle highlights of the trip . I’m hoping to add some insights on midlife, inspired by six days on the road.  (I promise to be brief.)

We spent our first night at a lodge in the North Carolina Mountains. Night Two was here, at  the Chattanooga Choo Choo. I thought we were staying in a regular hotel room  at the former train station. Cliff surprised me by booking one of their restored railroad cars.


First insight:  No matter how old you are, there’s nothing like sleeping in a cozy, elegant Victorian railway car to make you feel NOT so old and NOT so Victorian.

The Chattagnooga Choo Choo is a member of  Historic Hotels of America, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Learn more about these wonderful hotels here.

Gratitude, Life, Menopause

Me and the Mice: A True Story


A post by artist Helen Hawes:

Iʼve got a mouse problem.

I can hear them in the walls scratching their way through my hard earned insulation.

At night they party while I lay awake planning the next dayʼs strategy for all out warfare, dreading the morning when I know I will find their prima materia left behind in my silverware drawer.

They even appear now and then fearlessly scampering, in broad day light, across my kitchen or living room floors.

The tenants are concerned and threatening to move out.

I am catching four and five a day in my have- a- heart traps. Still they keep coming. I have trapped well over twenty so far. I am both frantic and ashamed of my franticness.

Like the mice, all my worst fears seem to be coming out of hiding.

Who will see my dirty house?

Who will discover what a bad mother I am, an irresponsible adult, unable to control things around me?

The mice are in charge here. Nothing I can do. Like aging and death, the granddaddy of all my fears, these mice just keep on coming. Desperate and angry, but still not ready to kill them, I spend a small fortune on sonar devices. I put them everywhere.

“Now,” I smile crazily to myself, “I can speak mouse.” I can tell them in no uncertain terms to leave and never come back.

With an evil chuckle, I carefully place the last sonar device inside my oven, a very popular gathering place. I collapse into bed, hoping for a morsel of peace.

In the 90 degree heat I can barely breath and dreams of small hairy four leggedʼs dance in my head. Between nightmares, I call on every available deity for help, praying that the mice will be gone in the morning.

Finally, in the first faint glow of daylight, exhausted from a sleepless night, I stagger into the kitchen, where horrified I discover I can still hear the dreadful clicking of claws and high-pitched squeaks. There is a celebration going on in my oven.

I am not proud of what comes next.

On this hot muggy summer morning in 1986, at 21 Line Street, in the countryʼs third most expensive city to live, beside myself, in a fit of fury and self loathing, I decide to incinerate the hateful creatures.

I turn the oven on to its highest temperature and leave the scene of my murderous intent.

I go and sit on the coach in the next room, glowering and white knuckled in my pajamas, preparing myself for the price of victory.

I didnʼt have to wait long. In a very short time, from the next room, I smell burning plastic, and see sparks coming from the wire that leads to the closed door of the mouse cafe.

My fire alarm begins to wail. I had forgotten about the sonar devise I put inside the oven.

I race into the kitchen, grab a Santa Claus cooking mitt from the hook, and yank the red hot mechanism out of the oven. I feel the heat burn through the mitt, yelp in pain, and let the device drop hissing into a molten heap on my tile floor.Then I too drop to the floor and sit crying and defeated.

Moments of black despair pass as I remain locked in the final stages of a losing battle. At last I give up. I surrender. The battle stops, the dust settles, with nothing more to lose or gain, I can see what is really here.

I turn and pick up the melted device and bring it towards me. Its double speakers are spaced like eyes and the burnt out wires are standing on end like a cartoon of someone startled. A melted seam along the bottom sags open to reveal a toothy grin.


There looking up at me is the funniest, most lovable face I have ever seen. The device has transformed while in the oven and melted into this unimaginable creature that now sits smiling in my lap.

I begin to laugh and laugh and then the tears begin to flow. I feel such a kinship with this silly frantic face, all frazzled and dazed, yet smiling in a wide grin.


This is me, more lovable than I had ever dreamed I could be.

In this moment I see how precisely in place everything is to bring this image before me, how perfect my antics, how perfect my fear, and most importantly, how perfect the mice. I sit thanking god for the mice that brought me to this moment of sheer delight in the perfection of now!

Epilogue: The next day the mice were gone. Their job here was done. They had received my unconditional love. I had tasted the bounty of surrender and laughed with compassion at my illusions of control.

The sonar device, a gift, gratefully received, now sits on my altar of metaphors.


Top Photo: The meltdown personified

Middle:  Helen, in joyful recognition

Bottom:  Helen with her grandson

Helen with Grandson

Helen Hawes has been a practicing artist since she was six months old, when to her mothers dismay she was creating dramatic wall murals with the overflowing contents of her diapers. Later she worked with architects to continue the wall mural theme with more archival materials.  As her imagery and scale changed she began to work as a consultant for a software company in Boston.

Another aspect carried forward from her childhood is the joyful discovery of cross species communication that has been ongoing since the day she arrived. This has enabled her to listen “innocently” to her drawings, drawn blind and in collaboration with the “body in situation”, which is limitless. She works with groups and individuals sharing this process to empower others to ground themselves in a palpable connection between direct experience and unconditional awareness.

She lives and works in Vermont, where she co-owns a small creative arts retreat center (  She is a Focusing coordinator/trainer,practicing artist, and walker in the woods..  She and her three sisters give collaborative Playshops, which intertwine each of their specialties, music, visual arts, writing, and animation, into a film that each participant takes home with them. To date the workshop has been given in Sweden, NewZealand, Vermont, and the next will be in North Carolina. Keep an eye open on Facebook for the Four Sisters’ Playshops.


Dansko: My Happy Menopausal Feet and a Giveaway!

Fall Shoes

In May, I wrote about the woes of my menopausal feet

When Dansko offered me a pair of shoes to try, I jumped at the chance.

Here’s the company’s credo.  (I perk an ear when I read “support” when it comes to my feet.)


I chose basic black, the Olivia flats.


My feet are thrilled.

They’re dancing happy!

I”ve been wearing the shoes everywhere:  in the house, walking around town, out for a day of shopping and adventure, and on my travels.  Here I am on grandson’s Mazen’s porch.


My fall shopping list includes another pair of Danskos!

Giveaway:  Danskos is offering a free pair of their shoes to one Friend for the Ride reader. The winner gets to choose from the Marseille Collection. Check out the choices here. For a chance at winning, simply enter a comment saying you’d like to win. Contest ends on September 20.

Giveaway Winners!  Congrats to Anne, who won the Blow Me cool Fan, and to Lisa, Beth, and Silvia, who each won a novel by Kimberly Griffiths Little.

Grandchildren, Grandmother

Grandma Update: Board Books!

Mazen, right from the start, liked books.  What more could a writer grandma ask for?

Here are some winners!

His mom and dad read this one with amazing gusto. Lots of clippity clopping along with happy chaos!

Clip Clop

 Sturdy tabs help small hands turn the pages in Baby Colors.


Who doesn’t love  a peek-a-boo book combined with rhymes and a surprise mirror at the end?

Peek a Who

Baby’s face becomes a fox’s: “Good night, my little fox,”  a candy: “Good night, my sweet,” a dumpling: “Good night, my little dumping,” and plenty of others.

Good Night

Llama’s got all the cool moves!  Mazen is learning to zoom right along with him.


Delicious foods and familiar endearments are just the recipe in these two titles.

You Are My Cupcake

Babies adore looking at other babies. Voila!  Babies everywhere!

Babies Everywhere

Sometimes toddlers are lickety quick, and other times they are slow, slow, slow. Celebrate  the concept of speed with Duck and Snail.
Quick Duck

Slow Snail

Celebrities often miss the mark when they write children’s books, but Spike Lee and his wife are right on!  They capture the personality of a very determined baby.

Please Baby Please

Bathtime, lift-the-flap, and touch and feel splash together in these bright photographs.

Bathtime Peekaboo

Babies are babies all over the world!

Global Babies

And two classics!

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See features the tissue paper collages of the beloved Eric Carle.

Brown Bear

And last but not least, meet the creatures who love Little Gorilla. And since this book ends with a first birthday party,Little Gorilla makes the perfect gift for that landmark occasion.


Speaking of first birthdays, look who’s turning ONE:


This grandma is on her way to the bookstore soon. I’m going to scout out some new books to add to my pile of presents.

What about you grandmas and moms and aunts and caregivers out there?  Any titles to suggest?