Posted tagged ‘Alaska’

Alaskan Wildlife

June 16, 2013

A huge pod of Orcas showing off.

A huge pod of whales showing off.

Who doesn't want to see a real whale tail?

Who doesn’t want to see a real whale tail?

Last week I finished my blog post with a promise to post wild life photos taken in Alaska. Well, I keep my promise but these photos are a tiny fraction of what Alaska has to offer. Also, all of these were taken in their natural habitat. They were photo opportunities, lucky happenstances of being someplace at the right time with a camera ready to point and shoot.

Boreal Owl Denali NP

Boreal Owl Denali NP

I hope you enjoy them.

One time I was on a tour of Resurrection Bay, near Seward, AK, and a huge pod of Orcas swam very close. The captain cut the engines and announced we couldn’t move again until they left. The day was cold and drizzly and very overcast. Most of the passengers stayed inside the cabin drinking hot coffee and cocoa.

I’d brought warm rain gear and headed out to the deck and watched that family of about 15 Orcas of all sizes romp in weather they obviously enjoyed. Never got a photo. Too entranced with the show. That lasted for about 40 minutes until they did something like a synchronized “farewell” and took off.  AMAZING!!!

Dahl sheep enjoying warm temps at the roadside in Denali.

Dahl sheep enjoying warm temps at the roadside in Denali.

As I mentioned last week, photos such as these and lucky happenstances while traveling or in life can be the fodder that feeds a writer’s creativity. For those not writers, these sightings and memories of them either captured in our brains or by a camera, might inspire a painting, a collage, a mosaic, a screenplay.

Or perhaps most special of all—inspiring others with your memory and retelling. I think that’s part of why I was so happy to learn my friend and her sister loved their trip to Alaska and at least my friend hopes to go again. I’m sure she will. I’ll bring her with me.

And that concept inspired elements in the first two books of my Dessert Dames series, but most especially a chapter near the end of the second book, More Than a Trifle, that takes place in Alaska, in a very special place one of the friends decided would be the perfect place for her second marriage—starting it in a place new to both Katy, the friend getting married and her future husband Aidan.

You can see bears anywhere, even in Anchorage.

You can see bears anywhere, even in Anchorage.

But Katy brings her closet family and friends with her to share the beauty of that place and her second chance at happiness. I loved writing those scenes and all the time I wrote them I was surrounded by photos I’d taken of that place on several different visits to Alaska.

Have you ever listened to a friend or family member talk up a place they visited and then got lost in their photos? What did you do with that feeling? Those memories the photos or story embedded in your brain?

Caribou near Fairbanks

Caribou near Fairbanks

Bald eagles are abundant and always hungry.

Bald eagles are abundant and always hungry.


Shivery Memorial Weekend

May 26, 2013

Loons on Plummer Lake

Loons on Plummer Lake

Memorial Day weekend and here in Wisconsin—at least in this corner—we’re wishing the weather were a bit warmer so we could get outdoors and enjoy what’s supposed to be the unofficial opening weekend of summer.

We aren’t even close around here. Some of us still have our furnaces on especially at night since the temps drop low enough to think the calendar is stuck on March not the end of May.

So, since dear hubby and I are home and caring for our disabled son, I’ve had time to remember other Memorial Days and times we were able to be celebrating the holiday somewhere else and with people and loved ones not around here today.

Take for example Memorial Day 1993. My first trip to Alaska and on this particular day we visited the Portage Glacier, saw a pod of whales in Turnagain Arm when we traveled the highway from Anchorage to the Glacier. We also saw several mountain goats up close and personal as they picked their way around the steep sides of the mountains not 15-20 feet from the highway’s edge.

Wouldn’t see that in too many places.

Reflections on Plummer Lake

Reflections on Plummer Lake

Or Yosemite Valley riding a bike on a beautiful trail again getting up close and personal to some of the most beautiful acreage ever. I spent more time getting off and on that bike to take photos and since the bike was quite decrepit and didn’t have very good brakes—well, let’s just say the day was memorable for great scenery and a bike ride I never want to repeat.

Yosemite? Absolutely—and we have returned—but no bike ride for me.

Plummer Lake at sunset

Plummer Lake at sunset

Or we’ve had a few Memorial Day weekends up north at my sisters’ cabins. Those were fun weekends mixed with the work of opening cabins, doing clean up and landscaping to prepare for many more summer weekends. The one that I remember most vividly was maybe 2002 or 2003. My husband and I had a trailer hitch on my escape so we were elected to haul a trailer filled with furniture for the cabin my one sister had purchased. Beds, mattresses, kitchen appliances, living room furniture, kitchen set, lawn furniture, you name it. I was so proud of my Escape for handling that hauling job well, not to mention dealing with that holiday traffic.

Memorial Day means many things to different people. But the reason for the holiday is to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country. Before that became officially a holiday, about this time of the year families would trek to cemeteries to clear away winter debris from family plots and graves and leave flowers or some token of remembrance. That custom predated the Civil War—our bloodiest one with the highest body count. As a result the current concept got rolled into the family custom.

Last years' flowers on Memorial Day

Last years’ flowers on Memorial Day

Two great reasons to celebrate the day not only with preparing for summer but also for remembering those we’ve lost in war or just because…

I’ll be doing that also over this weekend.

I hope your weekend is a great one. That you have time to celebrate the promise of summer along with remembering those you miss in your lives.

See you next week, probably a day late as I’ll be at the Wisconsin Romance Writers Conference. Wish me luck. Three of my books are up for awards. Whether they win or not, the weekend will be great to learn more of my craft in the workshops and visit with writers for two days.

Glacial Adventure

October 14, 2012

In Anchorage, getting ready to fly

On my first trip to Alaska to visit my son I fell in love with the state he chose to make his home as an adult. I’m sure several reasons were involved but first and foremost was the fact that he loved the state as much as he loved the state where he was born. Second reason was the spectacular scenery. And on that trip I got a chance to see many scenes and sights that awed me. That awe grew with each visit I made and the special opportunities I got to see sights and places not all visitors might one.

Many of those memories and photos taken on the trips helped me create the Alaskan settings for my book Fireweed which you got a glimpse of in my last post.

Sure, there’s a highway but, flying is faster.

But one special experience is still one I treasure. What might it be you ask?

My first plane ride with my son as pilot. And what a ride we had. Parts of it reminded me of the scene in the first Star Wars movie—now Episode 4—when Luke Skywalker and his group of X-wing fighters drop down into the jagged metal maze in and incredible air duel with the Evil Empire’s aircraft. Since my youngest son—16 years younger than my Alaskan son—watched it all the time, I was quite familiar with the scene. Well, on a portion of that flight I thought I was in something similar though no aerial battle was going on.

How could that be?

Approaching Knick Glacier. Impressive…

Because my son squawked a question over the headphones asked as we approached the Knick Glacier about 50 miles east of Anchorage. It’s located at the northern end of the Chugach Mountain Range. The glacier is quite large and was one of the first I’d seen from the air on this trip.

What was his question? Well, he asked if I wanted and adventure and did I trust him?

Really…what answer could I give. Yes I wanted an adventure and of course I trusted him. Alaskan glaciers are monstrous, imposing and to be respected. This flight was my first up close and personal experience with one. And we got very close. We flew up to it, low over it, followed it up into the mountains and through one of the passes the glacier has formed. My son told me about and showed me the crevasses which can be very dangerous if one falls into them.

Heading into the crevasse.

Above one which was quite wide and deep with glacial melt rippling down the mountain into the glacial streams of the valley below, my son dropped the plane into the crevasse. Down we went deeper into the depths of the ice. I felt the chill, saw the glacial blue striations of the ice so compacted by time it turned color, other striations of black or dark gray from the bits of eroded rock etched away from the mountains by the ice.

When the crevasse narrowed so the wing tips of his small plane nearly touched, he took the plane upward and we flew until we went through the pass the glacial created.

See the blue tint? Sure hope we don’t meet another plane coming toward us.

Then down the other side where we saw herds of mountain goats some climbing down the steep rocky mountain side to graze and others heading upward to safety after filling their tummies.

That trip through the crevasse was my Star Wars experience. I’ll never have another glacier sighting like that one but it’s one I’ll always remember and who knows, maybe someday I’ll find a reason to use parts of it in a scene in a book.

Out of the crevasse above the glacier.

See what happens when I have to go through photos looking for something specific? I found something entirely different and got a chance to remember an awesome adventure with my oldest son.

Above the glacier and into the high pass

Mountain goats feeding

More goats

Heading back to Anchorage

See you next week.

Look: Gauntlet Thrown

October 10, 2012

For several months now I’ve been following Lorna’s Voice, a blog always humorous, well-written, and showered with many awards. Of course, those descriptions also reflect the blogger. Well, she’s not well written but certainly well put together. 🙂

But yesterday she lobbed a challenge my way. Now this lady was finished a triathlon–something I’ll never attempt much less finish. So when she challenges me at something I can do, well, I pulled up my seasoned woman panties and accepted.

What else could I do??

Anyway, the challenge was for me as an author to comb one of my books for the word LOOK. Then when I found an instance where I thought the paragraphs surrounding that word’s placement would entice readers, I post those paragraphs for my readers. Hopefully, she wrote to me, my choice would entice them to check out my book.

You can see why I had to pick up that gauntlet…

Available January 2012–print and digital

So my choice of book is Fireweed, a mystery/suspense of corporate intrigue and espionage with an Alaskan setting. I have the top level executives on a corporate retreat at an isolated fishing lodge where, death, fire, nature and snipers soon take my characters’ minds off business to focus on staying alive. To read more about it with a longer excerpt, go here.

I also have to tag 5 other writers whose blogs I follow with the same challenge. Here they are with links to their blogs.

Stacey Joy Netzel

Florence Fois

Patricia Yager Delagrange

Donna Marie Rogers

Jamie Kersten

Fireweed: Look excerpt

“Talk, Caitlin, don’t think,” Mike snapped and heaved another rock into the river.

Her visions of a pleasant stroll along the river while discussing his morning phone calls to his brother Brian, Beth, and her friend’s parents vanished. Whatever he was doing, he had a reason. He never wasted actions, especially when fishing was involved. He threw a few more stones into the fast flowing river.

Okay, something had him spooked. Ignoring his singing request, she babbled instead about her breakfast conversation with Charlene. “So I told her I’d make time to talk privately with her when we return from fishing. Oomppph–” She collided with Mike’s broad back. He’d stopped abruptly as he rounded a bend in the river.

“Keep talking…” he commanded as he steadied her with one hand.

Following orders but running out of talking points, Caitlin segued into a boisterous, off-key rendition of “North to Alaska” and peeked around him toward the river ahead. “Sheesh!” she added new words to the lyrics. “Look at that!”

“Yeah, look, but keep singing.”

Two cubs and a huge brown bear sow were lunging at the salmon swimming upriver. The cubs weren’t very successful, but mom was dead-on accurate. Getting lunch was on her mind. That and feeding her cubs.

“You think my singing will keep them away?” She dropped the fishing rods and rummaged in her fanny pack for her camera.

“Talking lets them know we’re here.” He shot her that grin that deepened the laugh creases at his eyes and the corner’s of his mouth. “Your singing should keep them from our section of this watery restaurant. Most of all, we won’t scare them. That’s the worst, according to Gus. Except for getting between a sow and her cubs.” He scrutinized the bears as she snapped photos.

“So we fish here and be watchful.”

“Yep. But only one of us will fish at a time.” He picked up a rod and handed it to her.

“And the other?” She grabbed her rod and stuffed her camera into her pack.

“Will stand watch on shore, near the gun, and keep talking.” He waved his hand, motioning her to throw her line downstream in an area of riffles and a decent distance from the feeding bears. “Gus says they eat their fill, then go off to sleep.”

“Suppose another bear family steps up to the river for lunch?” Caitlin grumbled as she selected her lure.

“That’s possible.”

“Squelching any quality time alone with no one around to interrupt us,” she grumbled as she finished attaching her fly.

“Don’t blame the bears. I suspect Gus will be leading the others here later so we won’t be quite so vulnerable or alone. Or we could head back…if you’re really concerned.” Mike watched the bears while he talked.

Stepping gingerly into the water, she turned from him. “Not on your life. Protect my back, Rafferty, and yours, too. It’s precious to me.” She found her spot and cast perfectly into a riffle of fast moving water near some partly submerged boulders.

A Special Uncle

July 29, 2012

Uncle Gene and Aunt Mimi in retirement

Eugene George Bernard Joseph Heinisch. Uncle Gene. Husband. Dad. Brother. Friend. Son. Employee. Volunteer.

We gather in this parish he loved to participate in the rituals of the faith he practiced all his life. Today is not the happiest of times to come together, but death is part of everyone’s circle of life.

Uncle Gene wore his 93 years well. He leaves us an awesome legacy because he touched our lives with his gentle firmness, his strong faith, his belief in family, and his encompassing love for us.

I first realized this when I was 8. My First Communion on an April Sunday. And it snowed–a lot. A real problem since I couldn’t wear those ugly black rubber buckle boots over my brand new white shoes. And I had to get to the car parked in the driveway a snowy distance from the door. What was I to do?

Well, Uncle Gene rescued me. He swept me into his arms and carried me out to the car. Obviously, he understood snow or rubber boots would ruin peep-toed shoes on a little girl’s First Communion Day. That wasn’t acceptable. Well, somebody captured that Kodak moment because I’ve seen the black and white evidence. And I learned Uncle Gene always seemed to be around or available when you really needed him. I could count on it—and did throughout my life.

When he came into our lives, I learned that some cars were called Studebakers, not Plymouths. I learned that there was such a thing as home movies, and during family celebrations Uncle Gene would film antics which today might go viral on You Tube. I learned that Uncle Gene was known for his hearty appetite and his love of homemade desserts. That meant more potatoes to peel, gravy to make, and the cake better not come from a box. I heard fascinating stories about the distant land called Alaska, then a US territory and the place he was stationed during WWII. His stories and descriptions got me reading more about that fascinating state. I learned Uncle Gene was a reader too. As adults we often discussed books we both had read. For many years we shared a love of James Michener and Leon Uris for the plots, distant settings, history, social customs and the epic stories.

The Family at zero picnic

Uncle Gene was a hard worker–up very early in the morning for his shift at the post office, then home for a bit before he went to his second job. Even when he retired from the post office, he found another job working for the schools. His hard work provided funds for his growing family. But as a child I loved seeing his “howdy” handwritten on envelopes he sorted at the post office. From him I discovered how hard everyone worked at the post office during Christmas rush–because Uncle Gene would tell the stories at family holiday gatherings.

Because of Uncle Gene, I learned that a man could concentrate on several tasks at once–if they were sports related. It wasn’t unusual to walk into his home and hear different games on multiple radios and yet another game on the TV. Since he read the sport sections of papers, he knew every statistic for every player on all teams or a sport. AS FAR BACK AS GENESIS.

He was the Heinisch equivalent of our modern computer search engines.

Family gatherings always included Uncle Gene and Uncle Savvy herding the kids outside to play something: baseball, basketball, football–whatever. Why I remember on his wedding day, he, Uncle Savvy and a couple neighbor kids played catch in front of the house. Of course someone caught the action on film.

He was a golfer, and I recently learned he had a very large collection of putters. I guess golfers need putters like some women need shoes. However, I remember some of the pants he wore for a golf game. I suspect these wild colored pants might still linger hidden at the bottom of some box. Or perhaps they got passed on to Mike, being the eldest son, maybe for a significant birthday.

When Uncle Gene actually did retire, he and Aunt Mimi spent many winters in the southwest. While they might have wanted to avoid the winter cold, I think Uncle Gene had additional reasons. Like he could golf more often and maybe even sneak in some watching of spring training activities for whatever baseball teams were in the area.

Uncle Gene loved to travel. He and Aunt Mimi took that Studebaker on a honeymoon and traveled out west–with that movie camera I mentioned. Of course he took bits of film, and of course we got to see those natural wonders on film when they returned home. I think he and Aunt Mimi must have visited all the states during their married life. Their enjoyment of road trips outlasted Studebakers’ existence. But since they couldn’t drive to Hawaii, they never got there.

And I remember that tandem bike…perhaps many of you remember it, too. I suspect Uncle Gene purchased that bike at a bargain rate and bought it so he and Aunt Mimi could take bike rides around town. On their rides, they often stopped by my home, perhaps for a glass of water or a little treat like a cookie—if it was made from scratch.

They always looked so cute together on that bike. And every once in a while one might hear a “cotton picking” phrase slip from Aunt Mimi’s lips over something displeasing her. Then Uncle Gene would calmly say, “Now Meem…”

Uncle Gene was a frugal man. He’d been through the depression. He knew hard times. He understood how to get the most use from whatever he had. He worked hard at his jobs, with his sports, around his home, for his family, his church, his teams, his charities–such as the summer festival at the old Marytown abbey on 39th Avenue. He was frugal in budgeting his time but generous in how he shared it. His thrifty nature and hardworking ethic allowed him and Aunt Mimi to raise and educate their 6 children and to enjoy their retirement by doing the activities they both enjoyed. They played together well in their retirement.

They were a couple who truly did pray together, play together, and stay together–for 60 plus years.

Three generations zero picnic

To celebrate his 90th year, his family held a “zero picnic.” The zero idea was to celebrate all important zero birthdays and anniversaries family members had that year. Or so they told Uncle Gene. They did this because Uncle Gene didn’t think a fuss should be made over him.


As I look around I see many of those same faces here today. Because that zero day was all about Uncle Gene. Because he was the kind of guy who was always there for us. For 90 years. That party allowed us to play “remember when” memories of good times and bad times coupled with memories of trips or sports Uncle Gene and Aunt Mimi experienced with others. We also made memories that day. I’m so glad that “zero” event happened.

I’m so happy Uncle Gene married my Aunt Mimi. I’m joyous he taught us by example to be upright, inquisitive, adventurous, thoughtful, hardworking. Because he was.

So today we come together here in this church. Again it’s about Uncle Gene. We mourn his death and our loss but celebrate his attaining the eternal reward he worked for every day of his life. He lived his faith. We honor that and send him to Our Lord.

Uncle Gene with my sisters

I suspect he’s watching over us now–unless he’s playing some heavenly golf game with family and golfer pals he’s joined in the eternity we refer to as heaven.

We were blessed to have him with us this long. Uncle Gene, we will hold you forever in our hearts. We are better because you were in our lives. Your legacy will go on. We promise.

When Eagles Come Visiting

April 22, 2012

A symbol of our country

Yesterday Oreo wanted to go out on the balcony which overlooks the lake. She likes to watch whatever is going on in what she considers her territory. Since it was Saturday and our neighbors had company for various reasons, Oreo was definitely on patrol.

Once I opened the balcony door I looked to the south and spotted two very large birds standing on one of our complex’s piers. This isn’t unusual especially if the day is sunny and nice which it was. However, the size and shape of these birds were not the ones we usually see–various kinds of ducks, geese, some kingfishers, gulls, and every once in a while a hawk or falcon.

But these didn’t appear to be any of those.

So of course I grabbed the binoculars and took a closer look.

At the same time, those two birds had gotten Oreo’s attention. She was in full alert stance. (Now this demeanor can be difficult for her since she’s only about 10 pounds and looks to sweet to ever be in ferocious guard dog mode. Of course, I’m a bit prejudiced about that.)

Ever vigilant--Oreo

She had good reason to be alert.

Those two birds were mature bald eagles. At their size they could easily latch onto Oreo and take her off somewhere as an appetizer.

Fortunately, yesterday they were too busy watching for unwary fish. Anyway, I brought Oreo back into the house and exchanged my binoculars for my camera. Of course, while I was taking the two photos with this post, I was wishing I had a really powerful telephoto lens but I don’t. However, I did get a photo moment to remember.

What I missed however was getting a shot of them flying very low and close to our balcony. I watched them entranced from inside through our large picture window. I could clearly see their feathers delineated. They were that close and that low.

Their wind spread was enormous.

They flew into the small grove of tall trees just to the north of our building.

Now I know I’m not seeing things when every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of a huge shadow of a bird but never see the bird. I think they’ve been around here for a while though I don’t know that they’ll stay. But actually seeing those two raptors yesterday, up close and personal, seemed like a gift since I’m used to seeing bald eagles in Alaska, sometimes on travels in our western mountain ranges, and in far northern Wisconsin where my sister has a summer place on a lake.

Oh, for a better lens...

Perhaps these two are taking a weekend away from home, hitting the city life for a taste of lake trout, coho or perch instead of rainbow trout, or grayling or Alaskan salmon varieties.

Maybe they will soon be heading back to wherever they came from. If they don’t, I’ll need to be even more vigilant when Oreo goes outside.

But I’ll still always remember Saturday’s sighting of the eagles. Wouldn’t you?

Not my photo, but this was what I spotted from my balcony

A Birthday, A Bottle of Wine, and Snow

January 15, 2012

Birthday Sunrise

Today, I’ll be guest blogging on Stacey Joy Netzel’s website for her Sunday Share. She asked me to talk about my book Fireweed. She is reading it now and has lots of questions for me to respond to. And as you all know, I love to talk. J And I think you might enjoy reading about how this book came about. Plus I’ll be available to answer questions my answers might inspire. And if that doesn’t entice you, I’ll be giving away a digital version of Fireweed to some lucky commenter who stops by and chats before Wednesday. At least I think that’s the day Stacey set up.

So take a minute and click over to visit me at Stacey’s cyber home today.

This was a busy week. We got our first measurable snowfall of this winter season–really late for Wisconsin. But I can’t complain since my Alaska son and all Alaskans residents are REALLY dealing with snow. When I talked with him on Wednesday night he said they were expecting another minimum 18 inches of the white stuff on top of the already 90 inches on the ground.

Winter patio

Now that’s some snow!

Another reason this was a big week was another birthday for me to chalk up. It was a great one even though it was very low-key. At this point, birthdays to me mean I’ve survived another year and all its experiences and hopefully have grown wise as a result.

Oh, and besides a great meal that my hubby made he also made his famous key lime pie. And we had a very special bottle of wine. It was a spectacular wine: delicious and brought back memories of the perfect day we spent in the Paso Robles area of CA with my brother and his wife doing wine tours. And of course, days and trips such as that one also helped me gather background information for my recent book Seasons of Wine and Love.

Here’s a linkto the boutique winery where we bought this particular bottle of Nadeau Syrah 1997. The vintner even autographed it for us. He also took us into the ageing cellars where he pulled samples of wines not quite ready to move on to the next stage of his life. He gave us a sample of the wine we had for my birthday and when we bought a few bottles because we loved it, he told us to take it home and lay it down for a few years.

What a grand Syrah

Well, I’ll tell you this. He was so right.

So this bottle of wine is significant for many reasons and I’m keeping it forever.

Thanks for stopping by today.