Swimming with Snakes

During the time my husband, Rick, and I lived in the country, some neighbors down the road told us we could swim in their pool. We hadn’t been swimming in a long time, and   we wanted to go one day when they were out of town, since we thought we would feel more comfortable that way. We walked down the forest-lined road where we’d spotted eagles and weasels occasionally, only to find that the pool filter had broken.  Since we were surrounded by wildlife, it was starting to resemble a pond. There was scum on the  surface of the water, and it was teeming with life. (My husband said he saw some frogs jump in.)

We didn’t really want to get into the infested pool, but we really wanted to swim, so pretending it wasn’t any different than a natural body of water, we took the plunge.     After swimming several laps, I noticed something out of the corner of  my eye, and            I turned to find a two-foot snake happily swimming beside me.  I wasn’t sure what     kind it was, but I didn’t take the time to find out. I said something to Rick, and we     swam to the edge of the pool and climbed out as quickly as possible.

Watching it from the safety of the deck, my husband thought it was a king snake, since   it was black with light yellow rings. They’re not poisonous, but no one wants to be bitten by anything, and we knew someone who was bitten by a king snake and became ill.  Rick used a net with a long handle to scoop the serpent out of the water, taking it to the woods which bordered the back yard, and we felt all was clear.

I got back into the pool, enjoying the cool temperature and exercise, but it wasn’t long before another king snake, closer to three feet in length, swam alongside me. Moving at Olympic speed, I once again hurried out of the water. Rick pulled the creature out, but  we decided we’d had enough nature for one afternoon. I realize now how much filters can help a pool, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as bad if we’d been in a city or town.    I think we learned our lesson concerning messy swimming pools.

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My Love Affair with Sicily by Margie Miklas

My Love Affair with Sicily book cover


Margie Miklas/ Author

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My husband, Rick, and I lived in the country for more than five years. One afternoon we drove through the countryside to pick up a car we’d had repaired. The clouds had been building for awhile, but I didn’t think much about it as I pulled onto the road to leave   the shop. A truck appeared and wedged itself between Rick’s blue car and my brown one.

The wind had picked up, and pine trees swayed near the highway. They looked like they could fall, so I hit the accelerator in our muscle car and zipped away from the area. Just before going over a hill, I glanced in the rearview mirror, but I didn’t see our car or the truck anywhere.  I stopped at an intersection and waited. Still no sign of either vehicle.

Worried, I traveled back down the highway, soon coming upon a car on the right side      of the road, facing the wrong way. Part of a pine tree was on the car, and two passengers sat in the front seat. I got out of my car and approached a surprisingly calm woman with her passenger’s  window down, and I asked if they were all right.  She assured me they were fine, and I walked a few more feet toward a giant pine tree covering the road com- pletely. It looked so much larger on the ground than it did while standing, and pine     scent was everywhere.

I used to hear that we shouldn’t drive barefoot, and this was the only time I ever did. What a coincidence that it’s the only time I’ve had to climb onto a broken pine tree to peek at the other side. I still saw no car or truck–only another enormous pine blocking the highway.

There was nothing I could do at that point but run back to my car over bits of pine bark and broken glass and drive home.  I felt sick, trying to figure out what happened. Had a tornado come and carried the vehicles away??  It didn’t make sense.  And what about the car I did find? Where did it come from?  I vaguely remembered passing a car on my left earlier, but it was facing the opposite direction when I came back. The driver must have slammed on the brakes when the trees fell, turning the car around inadvertently.

I hurried home, and my heart sank when I didn’t find our blue car in the driveway. Where could he be? Trash can lids had been blown twenty feet or more from their cans, and leaves along with small branches littered the yard. I had no idea what to do after I went inside the house, so I sank onto  the couch and prayed. I don’t know how much time passed, but I started feeling that I needed to go out and hunt for Rick some more.

I had just grabbed my pocketbook and was about to head out the back door when the phone rang, and I snatched it up to hear the sweetest voice I’d ever heard. Rick told me  he was okay, but a tree did hit his car. The road was blocked, so he drove toward home another way, stopping at someone’s house to call me.

Greatly relieved and exhausted, I went outside when he finally arrived. A badly-cracked windshield and long dents on our car’s hood told me part of the story, and I waited to hear Rick’s after a long hug.  He said everything seemed to happen in slow motion. He tried to stop, but it was too late, and in addition to the tree hitting the car, he ran into   the tree. He was able to back out, which did even more damage to the car, and he turned around to go the other way. I must have just missed being hit, since one of the pines fell in front of the truck and another was in between it and Rick. But what about the truck? What happened to it? Rick told me the driver drove over the tip of one of the trees, since he was trapped in between the two.

We were so relieved that no one was hurt, we didn’t worry much about having to replace our windshield. Our car was kind of old, so we didn’t have the dents repaired, and they were a reminder of how close we can come to calamity.


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Camp Payback


Camp Boyfriend #2                                                                                                                              Young Adult Contemporary Romance                                                                                       Released April 29, 2014                                                                                                             Published by Spencer Hill

Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Alex has big plans for camp this year, starting with making it the best summer ever. Having fun and breaking some rules will get her the payback she wants against her parents and her ex-boyfriend. Because of his disgusting texts, she’s headed to a super strict all-girls school in the fall. Then she meets Javier and revenge doesn’t seem nearly as important as getting to know the troubled loner determined to keep a low profile at camp. But Alex’s trouble-magnet personality and Javier’s need to stay in the background don’t mix nearly as well as their irresistible chemistry. With her home life eroding under her feet and her last year of summer camp speeding to a close, Alex wants to make her mark on the world and squeeze every bit of fun out of her time with Javier. Too bad her old plans for revenge turn back on her just in time to ruin everything. Will she lose Javier too?

About the Author

J. K. Rock is the pseudonym for YA writing partners – and sisters-in-law - Joanne & Karen Rock. Although they started out sharing an annual shopping trip, they ended up discussing their favorite films and books, joining the same book club and talking about writing…a lot. Their debut novel, Camp Boyfriend, is the first in a three-book series plotted during family pool parties. Their creative partnership is unique in that they enjoy passing a book back and forth, each adding a chapter and fine-tuning the chapter before. Years of friendship has yielded a shared voice and vision for their work that makes writing a pleasure. Learn more about Karen and Joanne at http://jkrock.net

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My Review

Having read previous books in the Camp Boyfriend series, I realized right away that Camp Payback is a little different than the others. It immediately delves into the deep-seated family problems Alex Martineau has lived with for years. Being the black sheep in her otherwise “perfect” family, she is used as an example of a problem child     on her parents’ extremely popular blog, Wholesome Home, and in their best-selling book. And to make matters worse, there’s a chance they’ll host a talk show.

But what bothers Alex the most is her parents’ threat to send her to an all-girl boarding school in the fall because of a crude text sent by a former camp boyfriend, Vijay.  Her revenge will be having the best summer of her life at Camp Juniper Point in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, whether that includes Vijay or not. What Alex doesn’t count on, however, is how much people can change.

Acting impulsively when she arrives at camp, Alex unwittingly sets off a chain of events she never expected, with life-altering results.  She brings Javier, an exotic, troubled seventeen-year-old, into the mix, soon learning that her problems pale in comparison with his. Javier can’t afford to let a girl with Alex’s high-profile into his life, but her strong personality and drive make it difficult for him to avoid getting into trouble. The last thing he needs.

With her ex-boyfriend rearing his head and the constant threat of banishment for Javier, Alex has to stay on her toes to keep some peace around her while dreading her future in the fall, but then she accidentally discovers where her penchant for drama might take her.

Camp Payback deals with several issues teens face today, along with relationships,       and Rock leads Alex and Javier through lessons in listening and understanding as they continue on their way to finding maturity–and their lives.

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A Mountain View

Although my husband and I had been to the lovely city of Asheville several times, it     was usually just for the day. When we decided to spend a couple of nights, Rick studied   a guide book.

“This looks like a good area to stay in,” he finally said. “Let’s try this hotel.”

I looked at the book, noting a mountain view on the side away from the road. When we checked in a few days later, I asked the woman behind the counter, “Does it cost more  for the mountain view?”

She gave a little laugh. “No. Its costs the same.”

I didn’t think it was an odd question, since many hotels charge more for a good view,    but we took our bags upstairs and settled into our room, admiring the small mountain about a hundred yards away, and noticing a little settlement of trailers next to a railroad track.

“I wonder if the train ever bothers the people who live there,” I said.

“I would think so, since they’re so close. Maybe they’re used to it, though.”

It didn’t take long for us to realize we weren’t in the right part of the city. There weren’t many places to eat nearby, and we ended up having supper at the Holiday Inn across the street from our hotel.  Although it had a nice atmosphere, we had hoped for something    a little more special.

When we returned to our room, tired and ready for a good night’s sleep, we slipped into bed and dozed off. About two in the morning we both sat up straight, unsure of what  was happening until we realized a super-loud train whistle invaded our eardrums.  The pictures on the wall above our heads rattled, and the whole room seemed to vibrate. It reminded me of an episode of “I Love Lucy,” except our bed stayed in place instead of moving around the room.

It took us a little while to recover from the blast of sound and earthquake-like shaking, but we finally managed to go back to sleep.  Not much later, maybe an hour, we were bolted upright again. The room shook and the noise screamed, and we waited for it to end. It’s difficult to remember, since it happened years ago, but I believe we went to sleep again, only to be awakened a third time.

Exhausted the next day, we wondered how the people who resided next to the tracks  were ever able to sleep with such a loud noise sounding throughout the night. Then      we did something we’d never done before. We checked out early. I figured the train     was the reason the clerk thought it was amusing that we asked about the mountain   view, and a man on the elevator told Rick it’s not bad on the other side of the hotel.

We went to the other side of Asheville near the Biltmore House, where we should have gone in the first place, and checked into a decent hotel with no railroad tracks in sight.   There we had a good night’s sleep, and we easily found restaurants and interesting shops, which made our time there better.


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The Making of Nebraska Brown

The last thing eighteen-year-old Ann Leigh remembers is running from her boyfriend in a thick Nebraska cornfield. This morning she’s staring down  a cool Italian sunrise, an entire continent from the life she once knew. The events of the eighteen months in between have inexplicably gone missing from her memory. All at once she’s living with Tommy, an attractive, young foreigner asking for her continued love. Though he’s vaguely familiar, she recalls a boy named Shane in America who she reluctantly agreed to marry.

Juggling a new world while her old one is still M.I.A is difficult enough
without the terrifying movie scenes spinning a dizzy loop in her mind: glimpses of a devastating house fire, a romance gone wrong, an unplanned pregnancy, and a fractured family–each claiming to be part of who she once was–a girl and a past somehow discarded.

Ann Leigh must collect the pieces of herself to become whole again, 
but she doesn’t know who to trust especially when Tommy’s lies become too obvious to ignore. And above all, her heart aches to discover what became of the child she may or may not have given birth to.

The Making of Nebraska Brown tells the story of one girl’s coming apart from the inside and the great lengths she’ll go to reclaim herself and find her way home.




The Making of Nebraska Brown, by Louise Caiola

Watch the awesome trailer!  http://youtu.be/f9IHCQy0g2k 

My Review

Masterfully written and wonderfully descriptive, The Making of Nebraska Brown takes us from Nebraska to Italy and beyond. This is Ann Leigh’s journey to finding herself. And as she fits together the pieces of her fragmented past, so does the reader.  As the story progresses, questions become louder and we are drawn in more.

Haunting, lyrical, and heartfelt, The Making of Nebraska Brown covers the full spectrum of human emotions as Ana Lisa struggles to understand where she came from and who she really is.  With the quintessential Italian boyfriend, she’s thousands of miles from  her family, finally realizing that part of her life is missing. She must struggle to mend her mind on her own, unsure of anything in her past or her present. But is she Ann Leigh or Ana Lisa, as the Italians call her?  Her life is a mystery she must unravel.

Louise Caiola’s deep, complex novel stays with you, and I found myself thinking about the characters and their plights almost as if they were real.  It’s also the kind of book which can be read again immediately and seen in a different light.



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Fire Alarm!

When I was in college, a few girls thought it was fun to pull the fire alarm and force everyone out into the night air. It didn’t happen often, and I didn’t mind too much, since  I was out there with my friends and it was a a little exciting. But now that I’m an adult,   it doesn’t go over as well–especially since I take life more seriously than I did then.

My husband, Rick, and I drove a few hours to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina recently for   a couple of days in spite of rainy, cold temperatures. The weather had improved our last day there, and we settled in for a good night’s sleep. For some reason, shortly after I lay down, I thought about the large number of units in our all-wood building and realized  the place is a fire trap.

A few minutes later a strange bleeping sound started, and I wondered if the fan in the room was having problems. Before I could investigate, Rick told me it was a fire alarm. When we checked outside, all of the lights on the front on the building were blinking, and the noise became louder as we opened the door. Soon an employee of the hotel informed us that they didn’t know what was caused the alarm to go off, but they wanted everyone to exit the building in case it was a fire.  Not what I was hoping for.

I took just enough time to slip on some pants under my gown and put on some shoes and a coat, not worrying about what anyone would think about my appearance, and we started out into the chilly air to cluster with the hodgepodge of hotel guests.  I felt uncomfortable next to a group of young guys, but a pajama-clad family put me at ease.  (No one even glanced down at my embarrassing display of jacket, long gown, and pants.)

Two fire trucks had arrived by then, and we wondered if the firemen were going into every unit. Knowing that would take a long time, I hoped they could figure it out some other way.  In the meantime, we discussed everything from sports to the lack of film development available. Everyone seemed to assume there wasn’t a fire, and Rick kept saying he wasn’t worried, since even the closets had sprinklers. (Of course, he also said he hoped they wouldn’t go off and get everything wet.)

Less than thirty minutes after the escapade began, the firemen waved us back inside,   but Rick and I had trouble relaxing and falling asleep.  We were relieved, of course,         to be back in the room, since there wasn’t a problem.

The only other time I’d been ousted from a hotel was a few years ago when the alarm      in an old building went off three times in one evening!  We heard they’d been having trouble with it, but I really thought it should be fixed.  After getting locked out of the stairwell the second time it sounded, I stayed in the room the third time, which is one reason they need a new system.

I hope you’ll never have to evacuate for a real or unreal fire.

Rick, feeding seagulls at HH 001

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