November 2020 – BOOKS ABOUT REMARKABLE WOMEN

Although all novels are fictitious, many are based in full or part on real facts. They often detail genuine historic times and the lives of real people. I find I often enjoy novels more than true autobiographies or biographies about famous people. They weave the history of remarkable lives into story—which is often more engaging and enjoyable to read. As a woman, my favorites are about other women. I like reading about how they became the heroine of their own lives and not the victim, of how they juggled the problems of multiple roles and the minority status of being a woman to reach for more and to accomplish more. Audre Lord once wrote: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Books about women who have overcome obstacles, made their way in the world against unusual odds, or bravely chosen an untraditional route for their lives inspire and empower other women to also reach for more.

For my November blog I wanted to spotlight some books and novels that tell the stories of some remarkable women. The ones below are contemporary books, some set in the past, some more biographical than others, but each tells the story of a woman who followed a different drummer to a unique destiny. It should be remembered that this is never an easy road for any woman to follow and the success of any woman who makes a difference and leaves a legacy should always be celebrated.

The first book I remember reading about a remarkable woman was actually about a young girl on the brink of womanhood. Her name was Anne Frank and the book I read was a diary Anne kept—which of course was not planned as a book to be published. Annelies Frank, called Anne (1929-1945), gained fame after her death through the publication of her diary in ANNE FRANK: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL. As a Jewish girl, thirteen-year-old Anne penned her thoughts in a dark time of hiding during the German occupation of her Amsterdam hometown. After two years Anne’s family was found, arrested, and sent to Auschwitz, and later to another concentration camp where Anne died. Anne’s diary was found, given to her father after the war, and eventually published. … Most know this story as the book became a classic and was made into a film. But to me as a young girl reading Anne’s dairy brought a time of history alive to me in a painful, personal way. For Anne’s private account made me “feel” and imagine that time in a way history book accounts never did. In addition, Anne’s incredible optimism in a harsh, cruel time, her desire to “think of all the beauty still left” and her belief, in spite of the evil and cruelties she saw, that “people are really good at heart” stayed tucked deep into my spirit and still influences my thinking.

From the serious to the humorous, I also loved Ree Drummond’s book THE PIONEER WOMAN: BLACK HEELS TO TRACTOR WHEELS. I discovered and enjoyed this light-hearted novel long before Ree Drummond’s fame rose as high as it is today. The book is a fun and delightful love story of how Anne Marie (“Ree”) Drummond, a city girl, heading to Chicago to pursue a law degree, unexpectedly meets, falls in love with, and marries an Oklahoma rancher. She called Ladd Drummond The Marboro Man throughout the book, making you laugh at the unlikely match Ree makes to a fourth-generation rancher on a remote, 430,000 acre spread. The book shares the hard transition Ree faced in settling in to this new life, the teasing, the adjustments, and the difficulties –all in a warm-hearted story … The book doesn’t share the story that follows, though—and I’ve always wished Ree would write another. Extroverted and hungry for company, Ree started a blog later in her life, around raising four kids, feeding cowboys, and living on her Oklahoma ranch. Amazingly, it took off like gangbusters. The blog’s popularity soon morphed into a TV show and a stack of cookbooks, all filled with Ree’s own recipes and personal photographs of her home and life on the ranch. Today, more success has followed, and Ree and her family have a restaurant, hotel, retail store, and bakery in Oklahoma along with a huge fan base. Although many people have seen Ree’s TV shows or picked up one of her cookbooks, I’ve found that few people have read her personal novel and how it all began… so look for this book and expect a lot of laughs and smiles!

Another humorous novel I very much enjoyed is by Peggilene Bartels, who is the reigning chief of the town or Tantum (or Otaum) in Ghana, Africa. As a young woman in her twenties, Peggy moved to the United States to work as a secretary at the Embassy of Ghana in Washington DC. Amazingly after she had worked at the embassy for nearly thirty years, she got a letter one day, and then a phone call, telling her that due to a death in her family that she’d become “king” of her hometown village of 7,000 people in West Africa. “You are now the new king of Otaum!” the caller told her. The novel tells Peggy’s story of returning to her village and taking up the difficult job of becoming a ruler in what she soon learns is a very problematic situation. This is a wonderful story about what one woman with courage and determination can do. Be sure to read this one for a peek into a very different culture from ours in America. You’ll love it.

Stepping back into the past again, I also greatly enjoyed a novel celebrating the life of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a Black woman who was President Abraham Lincoln’s wife’s dressmaker. The book MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER is written by Jennifer Chiaverini, a New York Times Bestseller. The story dips into the very private life of Mary Lincoln, and her family, from the fictional perspective of her dressmaker and trusted friend. It’s a marvelous story, spanning a lengthy period of history, and following the relationship of these two women into the White House, through the trials of the Civil War, and almost to Mrs. Lincoln’s death. Other books have been written about the unlikely friendship of Elizabeth and Mary but this was my first to discover. Elizabeth, a former slave, who endured great hardship in her earlier life, became not only a skilled seamstress and friend to Mary Todd Lincoln, but established a successful dressmaking business, became a civil activist, an author, and served on faculty at Wilberforce University in Ohio. For a glimpse into a slice of history you might not know much about, this is an interesting, well researched and well-written book.

Another novel about a remarkable woman I enjoyed reading was THE AVIATOR’S WIFE, by Melanie Benjamin, about the early life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In my review of the book on Goodreads I wrote: “A really interesting fiction and history mix about Anne Morrow Lindbergh – Charles Lindbergh’s wife – and the daughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. After they married, many do not know that Anne learned to fly like Charles, traveled with him on many flights, and became the first licensed female glider pilot in the U.S. I liked learning more about the Lindberg’s lives … and about Anne’s life. Her book GIFT FROM THE SEA has always been a favorite of mine … but I learned a new side of her in this novel. I loved her spunk in learning to fly with Charles and in being his navigator on many harrowing trips.” The book uncovered aspects of this prominent woman I knew little of.  We often assume women of great prominence and wealth enjoy only happiness but they also have their personal trials to battle. Although much of Anne’s life is well known, like the kidnapping of her son, the truths given in this novel were new to me. After reading this book I can more easily understand why Anne wrote: “I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God. …Woman must come of age by herself … She must find her true center alone.”

When I read GRANDMA GATEWOOD’S WALK I had never heard of Emma Rowena Gatewood (1887-1973). In 1955, she told her Ohio family she was going on a walk but didn’t mention where she planned to go or how long she might stay. She wore sneakers, simple clothes and packed her extra clothing, supplies, an army blanket, an old shower curtain and some money into a pillowsack tote and set off to walk the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail (AT). “I thought it would be a nice lark,” she told reporters later.  She was 67 years old, the mother of 11 children and 23 grandchildren, and she became the first woman to hike the AT alone in one season. Emma survived many perils and problems, which the book details beautifully, but the book also delves into the hardships of Emma’s life before she set out on her hike, helping you to see the courage she displayed as a younger woman that she, undeniably, drew on to later hike the AT. I was privileged to meet the book’s author Ben Montgomery, the journalist who gathered all Emma’s story and then wrote it. As a hiker myself, the book was truly humbling to me. I hike and walk only maintained park trails and would never brave, at midlife, the overnights and hardships of hiking the full length of the Appalachian Trail as Emma did. This book is a great read about a heroic woman. Don’t miss it!

I read the book KISSES FOR KATIE with my Book Club group, my first time to learn about Katie Davis Majors. A Nashville Tennessee girl, Katie, with every advantage, was senior class president and homecoming queen, ready to head away to college, when she went on a short mission trip to Uganda. In Jinga, Uganda, the orphan children touched her heart.  Against her parents’ judgment and all her friends’ advice, Katie returned to Uganda at the end of her senior year to work teaching with the orphans.  Life in Uganda was not easy and the way was hard – and you can’t help but think of Katie’s youth, as you read her story, and that she traveled to Africa alone and without family or friends. But she persevered and in time founded Amazina ministries and fostered thirteen children. “Courage is not about knowing the path,” she wrote. “it’s about taking the first step.” This is a beautiful story of one young girl’s courage to do what she feels God is calling her to do. Katie is now married, has adopted the thirteen children and has a child of her own, and is still working in Uganda. She has also written a second book about her work in Africa called DARING TO HOPE. You will find some beautiful YouTubes of the work of Katie’s ministry on the amazima.org website. This book will really touch your heart.

Another heart-touching book, and a better-known story than Katie’s, is Malala Yousafzai’s in the bestselling book I AM MALALA. When the Taliban came into Pakistan, Malala courageously continued to attend school and to speak out in ways women under the Taliban, were not to do. In 2012, at fifteen Malala almost paid with her life for refusing to be silenced and for continuing to study and learn. On the bus home from school, she was shot in the head at point blank range and wasn’t expected to live. But ten days later she woke up in a hospital in England and after months of surgeries and rehab, Malala made a new home in the UK. She has continued since to vie for women’s rights and in 2014 won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. Every day Malala works and fights for girls to receive safe and quality educations. She wrote, “We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” Recently, she attained a college degree to better prepare her for more work ahead. “I tell my story not because it is unique,” she says, “but because it is the story of many girls…. Do not wait for someone else to come and speak for you. It’s you who can change the world.”

To close this blog, I want to mention a sweet warm-hearted novel  by Richard Maltby, Jr, called MISS POTTER about the life of Beatrix Potter. This book was also made into a movie also titled MISS POTTER and was a total delight, if you haven’t seen the movie, I encourage to find it and to look for Maltry’s book about Potter’s life. Helen Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) was born into a well to do family in South Kensington outside of London, England.  Beatrix was smart and industrious and studied under a number of governesses. She and her younger brother Bertram both loved to draw and spent hours out of doors making sketches of their many pets and of the animals around the family’s property. Her parents hired art teachers and Beatrix became an adept scientific illustrator and greeting card designer. In a time when women of her class usually simply married and stayed at home, and when working “in trade” was frowned upon by British society, Beatrix was unusual. Maltby’s book tells all of this story in a captivating way and how Beatrix went on to become as well known and beloved author of children’s books. I loved the special insights in this story of how Beatrix envisioned her book characters as so real that she conversed and talked with them and felt she could even visually see them as she worked. The movie story tweaks a few facts in Potter’s real life, but both book and movie are a delightful look at a talented, unusual, and independent young woman of her time. I love Beatrix’s quote: “I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations” and her more humble comment:  “If I have done anything, even a little, to help small children enjoy honest, simple pleasures, I have done a bit of good.”

Happy Reading everyone. I hope you enjoy these and many other books out there about remarkable women who have made a difference in their worlds.

Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.

October 2020 -THE ARMCHAIR TRAVELER

About twelve years ago I wrote an article that was republished in several newsletters about how writing books helps to transport me to other places and lives. However,I also experience the same joy traveling to other places and lives by reading books. Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote: “Travel far, pay no fare … a book can take you anywhere.” My life has never brought me the opportunity for great travels, but in books I have visited far away places and sampled lives in other countries I’d never have experienced otherwise. Though books I jump on a magical tour bus, taking me off to wonderful places.

I love the British Isles and books have taken me on many adventures to England, Wales, and nearby Scotland and Ireland. I love England’s quaint villages and towns, so different from ours in Tennessee, and I especially like authors who take me visiting there—classic authors like Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, R.F. Delderfield, Phyllis Whitney, Agatha Christie and Beatrix Potter. Romance authors Julia Quinn and Mary Balogh have carried me off more recently to rural villages and vast country estates in their lovely regency titles. English author Anne Perry has swept me away to London through her intriguing Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries, like The Cater Street Hangman, and Anna Lee Huber has kept me enthralled with her delightful Lady Darby books set in different spots around the British Isles. I also loved every one of James Herriott’s books about a country vet in the Yorkshires, beginning with All Creatures Great and Small.

As a younger reader I discovered Nora Roberts through her romance series set in Ireland that made that beautiful coastal scenery and Ireland’s small towns come alive for me, especially the Irish Trilogy starting with Jewels of the Sun. Michael Phillips took me to Scotland in his books, too, like Angel Harp, and M.C. Beaton took me visiting time and again to Scotland with her humorous coastal mysteries about Hamish Macbeth. Recently I’ve traveled to more remote Scottish towns and to the Cornwall coast in Jenny Colgan’s captivating stories—and in fact, I’m reading one of her books right now.

Always wishing I could travel to France, I first visited there as a girl reading the Madeline books, and later Collette’s Claudine novels and Dumas’s books like The Three Muskateers. More recently I traveled to France and down the Seine on a bookstore barge in Nina George’s charming novel The Little Paris Bookshop and to Paris, also, in Colgan’s The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris. Moving on to Italy, I loved visits there through E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View and Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun. And Susan Elizabeth Phillips book Breathing Room, set in Tuscany, was also a fun read.

Although most books I read set abroad are in Europe, I’ve ventured further to Botswana, Africa, many times via Alexander McCall Smith’s Ladies #1 Detective Agency series—a total delight with every book. I’ve taken adventures to other countries, too, with unlikely spy Emily Pollifax in Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series. I also enjoyed trips to Canada, earlier as a girl, with Nancy Freedman’s Mrs. Mike and L.M. Montgomery’s beautiful Anne of Green Gables novels. And in recent years I’ve enjoyed following Louise Penny’s stories about Inspector Gamache, with The Beautiful Mystery still my favorite of that Canadian series.  For trips to Alaska I’ve traveled with my friend Shannon Brown, writing as Cathryn Brown, in her Alaska series romances. I’ve also ventured to many unusual spots, like to Israel and Jerusalem, with Laurie King’s character Mary Russell and Sherlock Homes.

Back in the U.S. I’ve traveled to a lot of state parks in Nevada Barr’s ranger mysteries and I’ve come to know and love small towns in North Carolina in Margaret Maron’s wonderful mystery series about Judge Deborah Knott, beginning with The Bootlegger’s Daughter. And, of course, I’ve read every one of Jan Karon’s Mitford books, set in small town North Carolina, too. There are so many wonderful Southern authors I’ve traveled with, too many to ever mention and applaud here … but I loved reading all Eugenia Price’s Georgia coastal books, Carolyn Hart’s fun Death on Demand mysteries, Susan Boyer’s South Carolina Lowcountry series, and Deborah Smith’s engaging books set in the Georgia and North Carolina mountains. … I also enjoyed, and still follow, Rita Mae Brown’s Sneaky Pie books about Harry and her pets who solve small town mysteries and murders in rural Virginia, Sherryl Woods books like The Sweet Magnolia series, and Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mysteries set in New York’s earlier days.

As a horse and cowboy lover, I read every Zane Grey mystery set out west and I like Linda Lael Miller’s romance books about cowboys and ranches, too. A favorite recent book that I laughed a lot over was Ree Drummond’s story of marrying her cowboy husband The Marlboro Man  in Black Heels and Tractor Wheels, a fun read worth looking for. Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles mystery series keep me traveling frequently back to Pecan Spring Texas, and authors like Robyn Carr, Susan Wiggs, and Debbie Macomber keep taking me on wonderful trips out west and to the Pacific Northwest coast.

Book visits as an “Armchair Traveler” never have to end—because there are always more books to discover! “That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.” [T. Laliri] … And, yet, J.L. and I also love to travel, explore, and hike nearer to home, so one day we decided to begin sharing our adventures in guidebooks. First, we wrote a hiking guide to take you on trails in the Smokies. Then we took off and visited all 56 Tennessee state parks and wrote another guidebook called Discovering Tennessee State Parks. So you can “armchair” travel to our world here in Tennessee—and plan a trip here, too!

Because I’ve always enjoyed my “Armchair” travels in novels so much, I decided to also write some novels of my own to bring you traveling to my part of the world—and to different places around the Smoky Mountains I love so much. The picture here shows my four latest mountain books,Daddy’s Girl set in Bryson City, Lost Inheritance set in Gatlinburg, The Interlude set on the Millhouse Resort in Greenbrier, and Happy Valley set below the Chilhowee Parkway in rural Happy Valley.  There are nine more to enjoy, too, and with a new one publishing this spring!

We don’t travel far and wide—or to faraway places—even for vacation, but we have gone year after year to a lovely quiet island on the South Carolina coast, Edisto Island. So I thought I’d take readers there to visit, too. You can “Armchair Travel” to visit Edisto right now in my new trilogy, with two books out now and the third coming in the new year.

Do you love to travel? But is the ongoing pandemic keeping you a little housebound right now? Well, “escape” and travel in books! And remember: “A book is a magical thing that lets you travel to faraway places without every leaving your chair!” [Katrina Meyer]

See you next month! … And don’t miss also reading my October newsletter, too.

Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.] …  Thanks also to Unsplash for many free stock photos used in this blog post.

September 2020 – LIGHTHOUSES

After I completed my annual Smoky Mountain book this spring, I began to research and plan four new future books, that I’d envisioned earlier, focused around a Lighthouse on the South Carolina coast. As a past professor, I love to research and learn about new things, and I uncovered so many interesting facts and fascinating stories about lighthouses that I never knew before while beginning to plan these books. A lot of the gathered knowledge I found, and many colorful stories I unearthed, will find their way into my new Lighthouse books, but I decided it might be fun to share some of the information I’ve discovered in my September blog.

Lighthouse history: Lighthouses have an old history dating back 2000 years to remains found in Egypt and in Europe. However, the modern era of lighthouses that we are most familiar with began in the 1700s first in England, Wales, and Scotland and then in the U.S. not long after when the first American lighthouse was constructed at the Boston Harbor in 1716, called the Boston Light. Many more lighthouses were soon built along the Atlantic coast and then on the Great Lakes and the West Coast. Lighthouses served as well-needed navigational aids in this earlier time period. They warned boats of dangerous areas in the sea and they helped to guide ships into harbor, sort of like traffic lights and signs do on land. The purpose of lighthouses was always to light the way for ships at sea, to keep them from crashing against rocks or reefs in storms and bad weather, to help them find their way in the dark, and to act as points of reference for sea captains. Every lighthouse had its own unique appearance and its own individual system of flashes that let ships know exactly where they were long before modern navigational systems helped pinpoint the way.

A total of about 1500 lighthouses were built in the U.S. with the heydey of lighthouse construction between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today most lighthouses have been automated and few need a lighthouse keeper unless in special areas or as tourist attractions. There are about 700 lighthouses in the U.S. now, all maintained by the Coast Guard and also by those who work or live at each lighthouse location.

Thinking about a Lighthouse book: After learning about lighthouses in general, I began to look at pictures of lighthouses to decide what the “fictitious” lighthouse in my book might look like. I knew it would sit on a slightly rocky chunk of coastline on an island at the north end of Edisto Island with the Atlantic Ocean to the forefront and the North Edisto River to the side. Considering how many wrecks occurred in past at this location, many on a dangerous shelf of narrow barrier islands called the Deveaux Bank, I’m surprised a lighthouse was never built at this point, as there are lighthouses up and down the Atlantic Coast where other major rivers meet the sea. The small island I’m fictitiously using for my book setting is a quiet, practically unpopulated one, now in a conservatorship. Only a handful of people own land there and further future development is restricted on this island portion of Botany Bay Island, which is separated on all sides by water. In researching the history of the island I learned it had once been called Watch Island in the past with a small fort on it, so I took back that old name for the island for my story. I also decided to name the lighthouse the Deveaux Lighthouse, for the Deveaux Bank nearby and, fictitiously, for the family I’ve created who have kept the light through multiple generations.

It was amazing to me as I looked at all the lighthouse photos on the internet to see the huge diversity of shapes, sizes, and colors that lighthouses come in, like those above. What an incredible array of sizes and colors, from short and squat to tall, narrow and conical. They come in colors from simple white to diverse shades of red, green, gold, brown, and black and many are arrayed in Barber-shop or layered stripes, usually black-and-white or red-and-white. Some lighthouses are tall, wide, and large enough to live in, while others are tall and narrow with a steep, spiral set of metal stairs winding to the top. Others are squatty and not much taller than a person or built into another structure. Some sit right on a spit of land beside the sea, the lighthouse positioned so the light will be visible far into the nearby ocean. Others sit remotely out in the sea itself, often miles from land on small weather-swept, rocky islands or on manmade platforms. These especially, so far from land or people, looked the most lonely to me.

Many lighthouses built on the shore, or on large islands near the shore, included a complete series of buildings, or Lighthouse Station, in addition to the lighthouse. This station often contained eight or more structures that usually included a small keeper’s house or storage building connected to or beside the lighthouse, where the Lighthouse Keeper stayed during storms or at night to be close to keep the light ever burning. The station also usually included a large Lighthouse Keeper’s home in a spot nearby, built to house the big families with eight to twelve children  that people had in the 1880s and early 1900s. These Lighthouse Keeper houses were often large two-storied homes with spacious living areas, many bedrooms, and wide porches. Additionally the Lighthouse Station grounds included several smaller cottages for assistant keepers or visiting supervisors, a bell house or fog house, storage buildings, a boathouse or two, one or boat docks, a well for water, fuel storage buildings, a garden area, and an outdoor “necessary house” or bathroom. Often the Lighthouse Station was fenced or walled all around with pathways leading between the different areas. The Station looked almost like a small community…. which explains why many of these Lighthouse Stations were more easily converted later to tourist resorts with cozy, seaside inns, gift shops, rental cottages, and museums. You may have seen one of these famous inns, the Portland Lighthouse and Inn, pictured above, on a visit to the coast of Maine or in looking through lighthouse photos or paintings.

Because most lighthouses were deactivated by the mid 1900s, they were frequently sold to parks or individuals to convert to tourist destinations or even to renovate as private homes. Today, many lighthouses are actually for sale at bargain prices to those who will fix them up, allow tourist visits, and who don’t mind living in often remote locations. You can visit many lighthouses along the Atlantic and Pacific coast, and abroad as well. We recently visited Hunting Island Lighthouse, shown in the photo at left, at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina, not far from Edisto and Beaufort. Many of the Huntington Island Light’s old station buildings have been preserved, and at this lighthouse, too, you can climb to the top of the lighthouse on steep spiral stairs—if you are able—to look out across the ocean from a platform near the top.

I envisioned and planned that the Deveaux Lighthouse in my story has been converted into a tourist destination with the original Keeper’s House enlarged and renovated into the Deveaux Inn. Visitors can stay at the inn or simply tour the lighthouse, and a ferry takes guests to and from the island, which is accessible only by boat. The four books in this new Lighthouse Sisters series, take you into the lives of the four grown Deveaux daughters, Burke, Gwen, Celeste, and Lila, who grew up with their parents Ella and Lloyd Deveraux at the scenic Lighthouse Station on Watch Island. Each book focuses on the story of one of the daughters specifically but you will meet them all in the first novel, tentatively titled Light the Way.

I have always been fascinated with lighthouse stories, wondering what it must have been like to grow up in such a remote location. I’ve often seen old photos of Lighthouse Keepers lined up with their families outside a lighthouse and wondered at their lonely and often harsh life and about the choices that took them there. Early lighthouse keepers in America and abroad endured great hardship and often risked their lives in storms to keep the light burning or to perform daring rescues at sea. I hope to weave some of those old tales into my books along with the ongoing stories of the daughters’ current lives. I hope you’ll enjoy wandering down to the sea again in these four future books….In the meantime you can visit the South Carolina Lowcountry area in my Edisto Trilogy books: Claire at Edisto, Return to Edisto – both already published – and Edisto Song coming this Spring 2021.

[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.] …  Free Stock photo thanks to Unsplash, Deposit Free, and Dreamstime for photos used in this blog post.

 

August 2020 – TN PARK WALKS

In these times when life is quieter, and we are all staying closer to home, I want to encourage you to still find time to get out-of-doors in nature. It has been proven to be healthy and healing physically and emotionally. Even if you can’t travel abroad, take cruises or long trips, you can still head out for a day to one of your state parks.

J.L. and I discovered the joy and pleasure of our parks in Tennessee while visiting all 56 of them to write our guidebook DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS. For my August blog post I thought I’d tell you a little about some special places to take a walk or hike in the wonderful parks in each TN area. If you don’t live in Tennessee, I’m sure your state’s parks offer an equal diversity of beautiful and interesting places to see, along with lovely trails and quiet pathways to enjoy. We’re already finding that to be true as we work on a second guidebook to state parks in South Carolina.

In planning our Tennessee parks guidebook we decided to divide the book according to the three divisions of TN: East, Middle, and West. We started our visits in the eastern tip of TN, visiting all the east parks first, then moved on to Middle and West TN until we reached the last park near the Mississippi River border. In the guidebook, and in others we’re working on or have published, like our Smokies trail guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER, we tell you clearly how to get to each location, detail the best things to do and see, and include color photos to enhance the discussion.

There are 18 wonderful parks in East Tennessee. Since we live in Knoxville, we could easily drive to these, enjoy a day exploring, and come home to sleep in our own bed at night. We discovered mountain parks like Frozen Head and Roan Mountain, lakeside parks like Warriors Path and Harrison Bay, and parks celebrating historic sites like Red Clay and David Crockett’s Birthplace. Some of our favorite walks and trails in the East Tennessee parks that we especially enjoyed are:

(1) The 2-miles Round Trip (RT) Mountain River Trail along the Watauga River at Sycamore Shoals State Historic area in Elizabethton. This is a pretty walk and easy for anyone to enjoy, and of course we also explored the park’s historic fort and museum.

(2) At Big Ridge State park in Maynardville you’ll find a beautiful park with many amenities, but also with several scenic hiking trails. Our favorite is the 2-miles RT Lake Trail that winds around the perimeter of the lake and back. If you start at the eastern end of the trail you can see the old Norton Gristmill, too.

(3) Panther Creek State Park on Lake Cherokee in Morristown offers panoramic lake views, many amenities, and a number of interesting trails. We especially enjoyed the 0.6-mile Seven Sinkholes Trail and the mile long Old Wagon Trail along the creek.

In Middle Tennessee there are 26 state parks, more than any other region, and our biggest delight in exploring these parks was in finding interesting caves and rock formations and a plethora of stunning waterfalls. We hadn’t expected to find so many glorious waterfalls or caves and rocky bluffs so far away from the mountains of East Tennessee. Some of our favorite walks and trails in Middle Tennessee were:

(1) The short Indian Rock House Trail in Pickett State Park in Jamestown, and the Hazard Cave and Hidden Passage trails, all leading to high rocky sandstone bluffs, unusual geological formations, and natural rock bridges. This park isn’t far from the Big South Park Recreation area either.

(2) Closer to Nashville the Cedars of Lebanon State Park also has trails leading to sinkholes, caves, and bluffs and on the half-mile Cedar Glades Trail, with interpretative signs, you’ll spot endangered plants and the rare cedars this park is named for.

(3) To spot some truly stunning waterfalls, be sure to walk the 1.5-miles River Trail at Burgess Falls in Sparta, TN. The path winds along the river side to overlooks at four different waterfalls, each falls bigger and more beautiful than the last.

(4) At Rock Island State Park, you’ll discover another interesting park to explore with more glorious waterfalls. Stop at the Great Falls Overlook to view the falls there, trek down a portion of the Caney Fork River Gorge trail, walk the 0.5-mile Blue Hole Trail, and don’t forget to drive over to the Twin Falls Down River Trail to see two glorious falls rushing out of the rock wall before dropping 80 feet to the river below.

Moving on to West Tennessee, the terrain begins to flatten out more, but we still found a rich diversity among the 12 parks here with more fine walks and hikes to enjoy:

(1) At Natchez Trace, a vast state park, we stayed overnight in the beautiful park lodge and walked a number of the park’s trails, especially enjoying the long footbridge leading across Cub Lake and the quiet trails along the lakeside at Pin Oak Lodge.

(2) At Pickwick Landing on the southern border of West Tennessee at Counce, TN, we discovered several lovely scenic trails winding along beautiful Pickwick Lake. We especially enjoyed  the 1.2-miles Nature Trail behind the park’s fabulous inn and the Island Loop Trail near the park cabins.

(3) The Reelfoot Lake State Park at the far northwest end of the state at Tiptonville was another favorite spot, and we loved exploring the boardwalk trails leading out into the lake. The first, only a half mile, starts at the visitor center where you’ll also learn the history of this unusual lake. Taking a tour around Reelfoot we also discovered and walked several other trails we found at the campground at other scenic points along the lake’s 22 miles of picturesque shoreline.

I hope you noticed, while reading this blog post,  that all the park trails I mentioned are “short” ones. I wanted to stress that in the state parks you’ll find many short, easy, and well-maintained trails. All the family can enjoy these walks while also having a fabulous day exploring the parks and their many historic and natural sites.

Do plan some days this last month of summer to visit one of your nearby state parks. Take a picnic, enjoy the August sunshine, and have fun getting out-of-doors.. Also, if you live in, or plan to visit in Tennessee, pick up a copy of our state parks guidebook or our Smokies hiking book at your favorite bookstore or order either of them online through Barnes & Noble or on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Lin-Stepp/e/B0028OJMPA%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Also, If you bought and enjoyed our TN state parks book, please considering following the link above to leave a short review on Amazon about our book. Thank you!

Enjoy this last wonderful month of summer and I’ll see you in September! … Lin

[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]

July 2020 – HIKE MORE. WORRY LESS.

“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.” -Mary Davis

With July and warm summer weather here, I hope all of you will find ways to get out into the healing wonder of nature. After many of us have been cooped up for so long with the corona virus going on and quarantines in many places, I think our inner being literally hungers to get outside again—to take a walk, look up at green trees and into the blue sky, stick our toes into a cool mountain stream or lake, and see some of the beauty of nature again. There is something healing to our souls, uplifting to our minds, and definitely good for our physical well being in getting outside in the natural world. The smile on my face in this photo at right, which appeared on the back of my first published book, shows how happy and peaceful taking a walk in nature always makes me feel. I never fail to come back happier and more refreshed, less stressed or worried than when I left.

To encourage everyone to get outdoors more, I thought I’d talk about some of the special state parks and hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains that we especially like. All are discussed in detail in our two area guidebooks, Discovering Tennessee State Parks and The Afternoon Hiker. If you have not picked up your own copies yet, you’ll find them filled with details about walks and hikes you can take in the Smoky Mountains or Tennessee’s parks, along with directions to each, discussions of things to do and see, and hundreds of color photos. With social distancing still important, do your research and find places to visit for your walks and hikes that are in less populated areas, rather than joining the “madding” crowds where so many congregate. To be more careful and safe, take a picnic to enjoy before or after your walk versus seeking out a crowded restaurant, and always take home, or safely dispose of, your trash when you leave. Remember the motto: “Leave no trace.”

For my first hike discussion … If you’ve read my latest novel HAPPY VALLEY, you may remember Juliette and Walker hiking trails around the Abrams Creek Campground in the Smoky Mountains, not far from their homes in the Happy Valley. This is a quieter part of the mountains where you can take a walk or hike and avoid big crowds. A favorite trail of ours that begins directly behind the Abrams Creek Campground is the Cooper Road Trail. It’s an easy, wide roadbed trail suitable for most anyone, and you can walk as far as you’d like—even all the way to the trail’s end in Cades Cove! You’ll find picnic tables and a nice restroom in the campground, and there are several other fine trails here you might enjoy walking, too, like the Rabbit Creek Trail, Cane Creek or Beard Cane trails and the Little Bottoms Trail that climbs over Hatcher Mountain and down to Abrams Falls by a back route. But the Cooper Road Trail is the easiest and it’s always a beautiful walk.

If you don’t know the Smoky Mountains well and are staying near downtown Gatlinburg, you will find a wonderful little trail winding right out at the end of town, nor far from Nantahala called The Gatlinburg Trail. You may remember it from my book LOST INHERITANCE as Cooper and Emily often walked their dogs, Brinkley and Mercedes, there—and this is one of the rare Smoky Mountain trails that welcomes dogs. The trail winds along the stream and over a low ridge, passing the rocky remains of old homesteads. It’s a great short trail, good for all ages. There are free parking spaces near the trail entrance, and if these are full there is a reasonable pay lot by the winery. Nearby you will also find other trails, not packed with tourist traffic, like the Sugarlands Trail. There are also several wonderful walking trails off the Roaring Fork Nature Trail like the Twin Creeks Trail that Delia and Tanner hiked in my novel DELIA’S PLACE or the walk to Grotto Falls on the Trillium Gap Trail.

In the summer season, I’d advise avoiding the more popular trails—where you will find heavy tourism, crowded parking lots and facilities, and many more people on the trails than you might like. Although these trails are beautiful, you might want to avoid: Laurel Falls, the Chimneys, Alum Cave Bluff, the start of the AT at Newfound Gap, the paved hike to Clingman’s Dome, and anything on the Cades Cove Loop.

Instead, choose trails in less “touristy” areas, which are equally picturesque. On the Townsend-Cades Cove side of the mountains, try one of the trails off the Tremont Road like the West Prong or Lumber Ridge trails, the trail to Spruce Flat Falls out of the Tremont Center, or the Middle Prong Trail at the end of the Tremont Road. The latter is one of our favorites, a broad trail following the stream past waterfalls and cascades. If you want to see a bit of Cades Cove without getting into the heavy traffic there, park right before the road begins and hike the Rich Mountain Loop Trail to the John Oliver cabin. This will give you a chance to see a lovely part of the cove and a historic home without getting into the crowds. You might remember Jenna and Boyce hiking this trail in my book TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW.

Another less crowded area of the Smokies where we just hiked last week is in the Cosby area of the Smokies. From Gatlinburg follow Hwy 321 east to the right turn leading into the Cosby Campground. Along the road you’ll pass the trailhead for Gabes Mountain Trail leading to Hen Wallow Falls.  Rhea, Carter, and Carter’s son Taylor hiked to this falls in my book SAVING LAUREL SPRINGS. On our last visit to Cosby, J.L. and I hiked parts of two trails not far from the picnic and campground area—the Low Gap Trail and the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail. The latter is a lengthy trail, eventually connecting to the AT, but you can hike as far as you feel led through the woods, along and across the streams. Low Gap is a steeper trail, but it parallels the creek for much of its journey with many pretty cascades. Not far away from Cosby is a lovely stretch of the Foothills Parkway, too, which you can drive a portion of for some stunning mountain views.

A final area in the Smokies where you can walk and picnic and enjoy a quiet day is in Greenbrier. This area is also off Hwy 321, passed along the route to Cosby. Turn down the Greenbrier Road to find wonderful pull-offs along the Little Pigeon River and many fine trails you’ll enjoy. One hike you’ll discover is the Old Settlers Trail, that Alice and Harrison rode their horses along in my book FOR SIX GOOD REASONS. The Grapeyard Ridge Trail also winds off the Greenbrier Road to reach Injun Creek Campsite in 3.2 miles. Two of our favorites trails in this area are the Ramsay Cascades and the Porters Creek trails. The Ramsay Cascades is a challenging trail, walking to a stunning waterfall and back. You might remember taking that hike with Mallory and Lucas in my book THE INTERLUDE. You’ll find the Porters Creek Trail at the very end of the Greenbrier Road. The parking lot at this beautiful trail is sometimes busy, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom, but once you head up the trail, things grow quieter. We love the diversity of this pretty trail. Much of the pathway hikes along the stream with many scenic spots along the way. After a mile up the trail, a side path leads over to a preserved mountain cabin, cantilever barn, and springhouse. You can sit on the porch of the old cabin to eat your lunch and imagine what it might have been like to live there deep in the mountains. Remnants of rock walls and a little cemetery can be found along the route and further up the way is Fern Falls, which trickles down the hillsides for about forty feet. In the spring sweeps of phacelia cover the upper trail and on the lower trail are many glorious wildflowers.

Even though it’s summer, it is often cooler along the Smoky Mountain trails, which wander under deep shade trees and along cool rushing mountain streams. Wear comfortable clothes, good athletic shoes or hiking boots, carry water with you—and perhaps spritz yourself with bug spray—and I guarantee you’ll leave your worries behind while walking one of the mountain’s quiet and memorable trails.

[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]

June 2020 – GAMES I’VE LOVED

In these quieter days at home I’ve been doing some of those “cleaning out” and “sorting through” housekeeping chores. On one of those cleaning days while looking through Family Games, I was met with a sweep of wonderful old memories.

Our lives are tied up with memories not only of the people and places we’ve loved and known, but with the good times and activities associated with them. One of those pleasures—threaded from my childhood through today—has been the joy of playing a multitude of board, card, and outdoor games. The list of different games I’ve played and enjoyed over my life is long … and that list is still growing, because I really love games!

The first games I remember as a child are old classics still around today—card games like “Go Fish,” “Old Maid,””Slap-Jack,”  and “Crazy Eights” … and simple board games like “Candy Land” and “Uncle Wiggly.”  I remember my mother taught me to play “Chinese Checkers” and later “Parcheesi,” two of her favorites, and Dad taught me to play “Marbles,” “Jacks,” and real “Checkers.” Both taught me how to create and play Paper Games, too, that they learned as children … “Tic-Tac-Toe,” “Dot-to-Dot,” and “Hang Man.” These were popular in my Elementary School years, too, because we could scribble them on school paper and pass them around to play.

Neither of my parents were big “game players,” nor was my older brother, but I learned games from my friends at school and while visiting at their homes in my neighborhood. My friend Paula’s parents loved games and puzzles. Paula’s mother taught us to play “Canasta,” “Rummy,” “War,” and many other games with playing cards. Mr. Ferrell taught us all to play backyard “Croquet.” Always a competitive player, he played to win, too, and set the bar high. Another neighbor, Mr. Hartman, created a huge lighted badminton court in his backyard and I learned that game at their house. His daughter Trish, my first friend who lived right across the street from me, taught me to dribble and shoot basketball later, too, and to play simple basketball games like “Horse.” Many of our best loved childhood and school-year games were played outdoors … “Hop-Scotch” and “Jump Rope” games like “Run-Through-School.” I played jump rope games on the playground, too, and on our neighborhood street. I still remember the sing-song jump rope lyrics of “Teddy-Bear, Teddy-Bear” of “Cinderella-Dressed-in Yellow” and of “Down in the Valley Where the Green Grass Grows.”

At school, in Girl Scouts, at summer camps and  in other groups we played “Bingo” and often played for prizes.  The game of Bingo started in the 1530s in Italy and it is one of the oldest and  most popular games in the world.  I remember as a young college girl being taken on dates to Deane Hill Country Club where Bingo was played for prizes as large as a new car!

Many of my play times and game times growing up were spent outdoors. On sunny afternoons in my neighborhood and on warm summer evenings near dusk, we played outdoor games like “Red Rover,” “Kick the Can,” Hide and Seek,” and “Mother May I.” If I close my eyes I can still hear the laughter of the voices calling out …”One-Two-Three on Steve!…I see you behind that bush.” Those were happy, innocent times.

A favorite Christmas gift every year—and often at birthdays—was a new board game. I remember an early one I loved was “Game of the States” that taught me all the states, their capitals, and facts about them. We played many board games… “Monopoly,” “Clue,” “Pay Day,” “Parcheesi,” “Sorry,” and “Careers.” Later with our children I played these all again … along with new ones like “The Game of Life,” “Battleship,” “Operation,” “Hi-Ho Cherry-O,” “Chutes and Ladders,” “Risk,” ”Cootie,” and “Mastermind.”

Through the years we also played many popular boxed card games like “Rook,” “Uno,” Phase 10,” and “Skip Bo.” Our repertoire of playing card games grew to include favorites like “Knock,” “Shang-Hai Rummy,” a multitude of Solitaire games like “Clock” and  of course “Poker,” played with chips, buttons, or pennies.

One of our favorite family games through all the years was “Clue.” It was wonderful fun to travel from room to room to try to determine, by elimination, “who” had murdered the victim and with “what” weapon. Especially in the years when I was reading all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries I loved this game … and I found my children and my husband loved it, too.  Naturally, we always had our “favorite” characters in that game and mine was always Colonel Mustard. “Clue” and the “Game of Life” were probably two of our all-time favorites that we never seemed to tire of playing.

My other favorite games were always word games … like “Scrabble.” I still think this is a fantastic game to help develop word and spelling skills.  J.L. and I battle heavily whenever we play this one, trying to come up with the most creative words and with words that will count the most points. A couple of other word games that are fun are “Upwords,” “Spill and Spell” and “Bananagrams” which comes in a cute, little zippered banana case, easy to carry when you travel!

Group and party games came into play in these years, too, “Charades,” “Trivial Pursuit,” “Pictionary,” “Twister,” “Jenga,” and fast paced games we all laughed over like “Catch Phrase.” I still like the old game of Charades, which is another old classic game. A parlor game, dating back to the 1700s in France, Charades has woven its way into many books, movies, and television shows over the years.

Even now J.L. and I keep discovering new games. A favorite of ours for a number of years has been “Mexican Train,” played with dominoes … and we continue to pull out and play our old favorites like “Yahtzee” and “Scrabble.”

I hope your life, too, has been peppered and flavored with a multitude of great games from your childhood years until today. I’m sure you probably have some favorites I’ve missed mentioning … and maybe reading my remembrances today, you’ll want to dig out a few old favorites to play one evening soon.

[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]