Making a House into a Home for the Holidays

Building a house, remodeling, or just sprucing it up for the holiday season can be difficult. Sifting through boxes for dishes, clothing, make-up, spoons, paperwork scattered among the sawdust and color samples during the construction process can become more than most of us bargained for. Is it worth the hassle?

We typically remember, special events and holidays in life. But we try to forget what it took to make those precious times happen. Those accomplishments, along with our pleasant memories such as gathering for a birthday or another Thanksgiving, makes a house a home. Humans are visual creatures. We like nice things and surroundings. That doesn’t mean we need to sit at a table with linen tablecloths or fine china and crystal goblets. But something as simple as the home decor or a well-maintained house can make the event more festive.

I’m proud of the house we built. And I’ve come to the conclusion; the joys far outweigh the challenges faced creating it. Recalling one of those crazy construction times in my life, I now chuckle.

It was Friday afternoon, when the dust from the carpet installers truck had settled down on our gravel driveway. At that time, we had been building this house for more than three years. I was excited to finally get a beautiful bedroom to sleep in rather than a construction zone. Thoughts of how we got to where we were, swirled in my head as my husband and I stood in the bedroom doorway admiring our new carpet.

Remembering a time when there was no water and sewer, no electricity, no house, there wasn’t even a road or driveway leading to this weathered rocky bluff. Electricity was the first thing to come down the driveway. After months of camping and hauling water in from miles away, the cold weather forced us inside. It was hardly what you would call a house when we moved. There was a shower curtain for a door to the only bathroom in the house. Dishes were washed in the bathtub, and laundry was washed at my sister’s house ten miles down the road. The bedroom had been temporarily set up in the basement until walls could block out the shrapnel in the great room where the mason chipped stones for months to make the twenty-one-foot-high fireplace.

The house was far from finished, but I was happy to have the bedroom carpeted. Putting things back together took most of the evening. The dressers were carried in and the drawers reinstalled. The paintings hung and the bed remade. With a quick bit to eat and a relaxing soak in the hot tub with a drink, we were ready for a good night sleep.

Exhausted, we both plopped into bed! Tossing and turning restlessly, led to little sleep that night. I was uncomfortable. My hips were going to sleep with the pressure of an overly firm mattress. It was so strange; my sleep number bed had been set at forty-five now was at twenty-five. The lower number seemed to command the mattress to expand. It was nearly three in the morning when I felt my husband sit up in bed. I looked at him with the sleep number controller in his hand.

Well, you’ve probably already figured out. Our controllers were swapped. However, it wasn’t until that moment, that we both came to that same awareness. He lay awkwardly in a hammock while I perched on top of an overinflated balloon. His setting went from seventy up to one hundred. You would think at that point we would dial the appropriate numbers on each side, turn over and finally get some sleep. That was not the case. For the next hour, we laughed. And about the time we started to drift off to sleep, one of us would start laughing again.

Remembering all the funny little stories that happened to us while building this house is just as important as the big holiday get togethers. Our muddled messes are just as precious as those accomplishments. Those everyday blunders help create the magic that turns a house into a HOME. The trinket from this experience, that I may find useful when writing children’s stories, isn’t that we made a mistake by being in too big of a hurry. The trinket is more about creating pearls in our lives. Just like an oyster, people need hard times to make that beautiful shiny gem of a pearl. Lives that are littered with mistakes, adversities, and annoyances have a much better chance of creating a sparkling, fun, and exciting life.

Ridin’ The Storm Out

Do you ever find it difficult to sleep after reading a disturbing news article?  If so, you may relate with this story. Last night I was plagued with thoughts of the homeless and hurting in the path of Hurricane Dorian and the Typhoon hitting Japan. Trying to concentrate on my breathing and then counting sheep just wasn’t working. I finally drifted off to sleep, only to wake a short time later thinking of a voyage we made across the Atlantic. It was a world cruise ship facing its last leg of a long journey, when my husband and I boarded in Venice.

It was a small cruise ship serving only eight-hundred guests. Touring many countries through the Mediterranean for the past week, we had now begun chasing the setting sun across the Atlantic Ocean. From our stateroom I watched the African coastline fade into the distance. Getting upgraded to the stateroom on the back of the ship sounded great until we realized the last room on the ship gets all the smoke from burning garbage each night and it’s a rougher ride!

While sipping coffee in bed early the next morning, the captain announced over the ship’s intercom we would be changing our original course in order to avoid a storm out at sea. We enjoyed a slice of sun on our deck throughout that entire day. It was the last sunset we saw from our balcony once the ship turned west.


Whitecaps waved a warning to those daring to cross the Atlantic. Over the next few days, I would not set my cup down without splashing coffee into the saucer. Coffee out of a covered paper cup was wasteful, but safer. While climbing the stairs to the restaurant for breakfast, we realized taking the elevator might have been a better idea. For as the ship began to rise, the next step up felt like a sandbag had been set upon my shoulders. It didn’t take many flights of stairs to figure out, if you waited to climb until the ship was descending it gave a sensation a bit like floating up the staircase.

This was not a glamorous trip with high heels and dazzling fashions. Forget about looking graceful. Hanging onto the rails, guests staggered down the halls to dine and be entertained.  The dining tables and countertops were wrapped in cellophane to keep dishes from sliding onto the floor.

The seas had grown more violent the second night. While a group of us were enjoying a game of Truth or Dare on the top deck, loud crashing waves splashed against the windows. Tired of fighting to stand up or even hear the questions and answers, we went to bed. My husband, the data junky pulled an inclinometer out of his suitcase. It was measuring our bed rising twenty feet up and falling twenty feet down.

The ship pitched madly throughout the night. As I stumbled in the dark from the bathroom back to bed, the floor was abruptly yanked from beneath my feet. “Lunge for the bed!” was my first thought. The farther the ship plunged downward the farther I fell. Remaining airborne long enough to think, “maybe lunging wasn’t such a great idea,” I finally landed safely! That night brought new meaning to the phrase, “a rough night.” Everything that was not secured into place, was on the floor the next morning.


Looking back on this trip, the wonderful qualities far outweighed a few days of rough water. We enjoyed many comfortable hours on board with excellent staff and a great group of friends. Some of them have remained in touch.

The title of this blog is an old song title by REO Speedwagon. And so, it’s seems fitting to use a verse from a Rolling Stones song to sum up the trinket I took from this journey that I may find useful when writing children’s stories. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you might find you get what you need.” No matter our age, gender, social status, faith, or political preference, life is more fun when everyone gets what they want. I got to visit a few places I’ve always wanted to see. My husband got the exciting voyage of crossing the Atlantic Ocean he wanted. It wasn’t the private forty-five-foot boat he had dreamed of taking. But if riding this storm out on board a larger vessel quenched some of that need for my husband, it made this trip worth every one of my bumps and bruises.


The “Bigger” Your Life, The Smaller and Less Important Those Sensationalized News Stories Become.

Flipping through those disturbing headlines can sometimes squelch our dreams. Fires blaze in Brazil. A tropical storm drenches Puerto Rico. Protests arise in Hong Kong. Is there any place safe for travel?

As autumn leaves fall, the awareness of another season ending raises questions. “Is life big enough? Is life too complicated?  As comfort levels change with each passing year, finding that middle ground between risk and fun can be challenging.

Thinking back to a morning more than a decade ago, to the biggest risk I’d ever taken, a smile arose within me.  Bouncing around in a Land Cruiser, headed for a safari in Ruaha River Camp on the way to our honeymoon was one of the most exciting times in my life. Even knowing all the risks, –if I had the chance, I’d do it all over again.

Our travel group had been in Africa for a couple of weeks. From the shores of Dar Salam to the mountains of Idunda, we hadn’t seen a single large wild animal, only a few extremely skinny dogs. Everyone was excited to experience the wildlife reserve in Tanzania.

Wide eyed dik-diks seemed amused with the automobile as we entered the park. Monkeys seemed untroubled by our presence. A couple of giraffes tangled with one another. Large hippos soaking in the river appeared harmless, until our guide informed us, those seemingly soft, slow looking creatures are more vicious than lions. A herd of zebras ran into the distance as our jeep came within thirty feet of a lion gnawing on dinner. A few miles down the road a mother elephant reared her head to protect her baby. Our guide whispered to freeze and then pleaded to be quiet as a woman started to whine.  But nothing had frightened me more than when the man I had just married walked within a few feet of a hippopotamus.

Throughout the safari it had been obvious, the park reserve was home to these animals that roamed free from fear of humans. Escorted to our sleeping quarters that first night, the guide warned, “Under no circumstance should you leave the protection of your Banda, the stone huts!”

It was getting dark. Minutes before the power to our bandas would be turned off, one of the women in our group screamed for help. With only sandals to protect his feet, my husband ran a few hundred yards through the long field grasses to their stone hut. Opening the door, a scorpion the size of my hand scurried across the floor in front of him. Surprise being his only defense, he quickly stomped on the venomous creature! Checking around the ladies cabin, he found what they labeled a “hamburger” spider, because of its size. Reassuring them there weren’t anymore… he said goodnight.

I was a nervous wreck as my husband walked back through the chest high grasses and into our banda. A rustling came from the bushes outside our window, interrupting his soothing words. There stood an enormous hippo. Slowly, we moved away from the window and laid quietly in bed. My heart had quit pounding in my throat, when my eyes fixed on an elephant. His trunk appeared in one window. His body mostly hidden behind the door as his tail swished between the bars of the other window. Exhausted with concerns, I became unconscious. Sleep consumed my night.

We woke to a brilliant array of colors painting the early morning sky. Peaking our heads out for the first time since our enormous friends had visited, we stood motionless and wide-eyed.  A large chunk from the edge of the roof was gone.

Even in the confines of a stone banda with barred windows, and in a jeep with the protection of an educated guide, there were still risks involved in that trip. However, I know there will always be risks in life. The trick for me is to gauge the fear factor versus the enjoyment and knowledge gained from the experience. Here’s a trinket from this safari experience, that I may find useful when writing children’s stories. Reach for dreams and you just may find, the “bigger” your life the smaller and the less important those sensationalized news stories become.



An Attempt to Find Logic in Something that Made No Sense at All

The book The Lion of Tupungato did not start out as a story. It began as a lump of clay. A strange pairing of a lion’s face in a flower appeared in the clay. My first thought was to throw this sculpture back in the bag of wet clay. It could be put to much better use as a pot. But something stopped me from squishing it!

Driven to figure out why this little guy had come to life, I began to write. The lion’s story blossomed as fingers flew over the keys and words appeared on the computer screen. Most writers make outlines and research their subject. But in my wildest dreams, I couldn’t imagine this becoming a book. It was a naïve attempt to make something that made no sense at all, seem logical.

This fable is about a lion and a young girl. They meet in a snowstorm. The lion restores faith to this girl and to a dysfunctional town. In the end, the lion is remembered in a very special way. After I finished jotting down most of the story line, I learned of some uncanny similarities between what I’d written and reality. Pansies can withstand a light snow or frost, they have medicinal qualities, and the French word pansie means remembrance. Did all these serendipitous connections just happen, or was this a legendary story just waiting to be told?

After finishing this heartfelt story, I decided to make one hundred of these little lion figures. Working on them when possible, has caused me to sculpt in the most unusual places. One of the clay pieces was brought to life in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. My husband was working on other business as I conjured up another expressive lion.

While forming the clay, it occurred to me that this one was going to be the forty-second sculpture. I was halfway to my goal. Numbers swimming around in my head had become more important than the lion I was creating. Noticing the clay was becoming contorted and unruly, I realized, my way of thinking had to change.

Looking at the blob of clay, I dreamed of a grandparent giving this lion figure to their grandchild. Imagining the joy it would bring as they sat together reading about the lion’s adventure, changed my way of thinking. A glimmer of hope warmed my heart. At that point, I wasn’t sure if sculpting became easier or if I just became more patient. Once I concentrated on the meaning behind this project, it seemed I was guided to work the clay and discover the hidden lion.

I have always enjoyed creating things and haven’t stop with this lion.

* The Lion of Tupungato is a very heartfelt story.
* Pansy, the Lion figure is pretty darn cute.
*Together, they’re an awesome gift set!

The trinket I took from this experience that may be useful when writing children’s stories, is that winning isn’t about the task of doing something for the sake of saying you did it. Nor is success simply about getting a “rock” in the “box” or chasing the “all-mighty” dollar. There will always be more boxes to fill and want of money. Time and time again I’ve found that one of the ways to happiness…is not to think about myself. But rather, think about the needs of others.

An Alternate Ending: …TAKE TWO

How many times have you finished a project only to start over? Like for those of you that fish; when you’ve waited all day for that big walleye, and as you pull it into the boat, you lose it, and recast your line. Or, if you’re a gardener; who has planted seeds that rain has washed away, you replant. And then there are those of you that like to sew; that have ripped out a seem on a dress that is too tight and resew it to fit.  Writing has been like that for me.

First draft, second draft, third, fourth, and fifth draft. I lost track of the number of times I rewrote The Lion of Tupungato story-line . It was hard for me to “scrape off” what I thought were great chapters, that in fact, were nothing more than muddy build-up; in order to create an interesting and passionate story. Taking a step back to study what I had created, and then carefully placing just the right steppingstone into the readers path, was backbreaking.

Let me show you an example of one chapter that was taken out of the book. I can’t give away the highlight of The Lion of Tupungato story. However, at one point something miraculous happened, to help this young girl gains strength. This chapter called, Bully Schmully, was simply too preachy and didn’t move the storyline along in the right direction, and so it was deleted.

That night, Isabel tossed and turned, thinking and worrying about Max and his terrible behavior. Remembering all that Pansy had taught her, Isabel got an idea, “Together, our class is much stronger than Max. We’ve got to stick together.” With her great plan to stop Max, Isabel had an extra spring in her step as she hopped into the school bus the next morning. She smiled at Lucia and Elisa who sat in the bench behind Max. Isabel whispered to each of the girls.

Max turned around, glaring. Gradually a squint appeared, and a grin arose. It was an awkward moment for the three girls. And then he began to laugh, “Listen to the three of you going on and on about that senseless Fiesta. It’s over, and you’re like three baboons, still chattering about it. In fact, the total sum of brainpower sitting on that bench right now is dumber than a baboon. I’ll bet you don’t even know what a baboon is.”


The girls looked at each other. Smirking, they paid no attention to him, as they turned their eye to the passing hillside.

Max soon moved his attention to the boys. Picking on Jose for sitting with Julio, and then poking fun at Julio. Max spared no one from his hurtful words. “Ho-o-liO…what a girly name,” Max chanted. Look at your skinny girly neck and hands. As Max was about to repeat his chant of Ho-o-liO, Isabel gently nudged Lucia and winked. The three girls started to sing a very popular little song about the cockroach. It goes like this, “The cockroach, the cockroach. He cannot walk anymore. Because it’s missing, because it does not have a little foot to walk.” They sang, “La cucaracha, la cucaracha…” over and over. Soon the boys had joined in singing. And before Max could say any more, all the kids were singing and laughing—and more importantly, ignoring him.

Max’s snide comments continued, on the ballfield, in the library, the lunchroom, and especially on the bus. Whenever someone with authority wasn’t around, Max took advantage of the tender ones that bruised easily. Even Jose and Julio didn’t hang around with Max anymore. 

During a stormy ride home, the bus went off the road. Everyone huddled together. They spread warm jackets and coats over each other. Snuggling in shoulder to shoulder, Isabel unwrapped her left-over sandwich from lunch. Admitting to herself, “I’m so hungry I could eat two sandwiches.” She didn’t take a single bite. Holding out her hand she offered some to Jose, Julio, Elisa, and Lucia. Isabel confessed “I know one bite wouldn’t fill anyone stomach, but maybe it’ll fill a tiny hole in our hearts.”

Max Smith sat alone at the back of the bus, frightened, hungry and cold. Watching the other children, he started to cry. “I miss my old friends back in Saint Paul. They’re nicer than these kids.”


Isabel had only one bite left. She licked her lips, as the food came to her mouth. Looking up, Isabel saw Max crying. Knowing what it felt like to be isolated, she walked to the back of the bus and handed Max the last bite. Unhurriedly, he savored the jabali, and mixed vegetables, tucked in between the chewy dark-grained bread. He paused, swallowed his mouthful, and then cleared his throat. “I… I’m sorry for picking on you. Thanks for sharing your sandwich with a cranky, big bully.”

Isabel said, “Max you need to learn what I figured out from Pansy.” Facing him she softly said, “I know you’d rather be back home in Minnesota, but you’re not! And you can make the best of it here with us or you can make yourself miserable. Either way, you’re stuck here.”

Max reflected, “Ya well, you guys have been, friends all your lives. I’m an outsider. None of you ever really liked me. You all think I’m a big nasty rich kid that doesn’t belong here. You never include me in your jokes. When I try to say something to make others laugh, you turn away.”

Isabel gleaned a hint of innocence in Max’s eyes that she had never seen before. Very carefully, Isabel approached a tender subject, “Max, I’m not sure if you realize how much you hurt people.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just teasing you guys.” Max started to guard his feelings.

“Maybe you could work on being more careful, not to make jokes about someone you really don’t know. And when you think you’re being funny, make sure the one your teasing is laughing. Because if they don’t think it’s funny, –it’s not!”   Let me show you from a different prospective. You made fun of our local celebration. That’s a huge National Independence Day Fiesta. You weren’t only making fun of Lucia, Elisa, and me; you were making fun of our heritage, who we are, and what we believe in.

“Gee, wiz, I felt left out, because I wasn’t invited. It sounds like I was the only one that wasn’t at the celebrations, and so I didn’t want to sit and listen to all the fun you guys had without me. I guess that’s not your fault. I’d better go apologize to Lucia and Elisa.”

“There’s one more thing I think you need to know, Max. “Julio is skinny. And you might think it’s good to be lean, so you pick on him to make sure he doesn’t think he’s better than you. When in reality; Julio is skinny because his mom can’t afford food. Julio doesn’t eat breakfast. Have you ever taken the time to notice, most of his lunches are usually a stale piece of bread?

“Boy, I really feel bad about saying those things to Julio.”

What it really comes down to Max, is that it doesn’t matter if you’re big or little, male or female, or even if you’re a lion or a baboon. All living things need to be treated with respect. And if you show them respect and understanding, you’ll probably get the same from them.

“Wow, I never thought of it that way. I thought you guys were picking on me. I guess I’d better go say I’m sorry to everyone. Hey, Isabel, don’t take this wrong. I always thought you didn’t talk to people because you were stuck-up, but you’re really nice.”

That night every single child, even Max, huddled together waiting for the bus driver to return with help. Isabel wiped fog from the window with her sleeve. Peering out into the distance she saw a glimmer of light. “It must be getting close to morning,” she thought. As the glow began to grow rapidly, two beams of light came over the hill. Help had arrived! Isabel woke the others. Joyfully, they ran to meet the oncoming bus.

The trinket I took from this experience, that I may find useful when writing my next children’s story was not to underestimate the power of young people. They are smarter and more capable than some of us adults give them credit for. I learned, allowing the reader to find their own answers, brought a deeper meaning, and more authentic feeling in the ending.


I Couldn’t Believe It…Then I began to Laugh!

Most of my life, I’ve been called a tight-wad, –and I just couldn’t see it.

People use labels all the time, to understand each other, as well as, to work on negative characteristics in ourselves. However, I believe there are two problems with labeling. One; often we simplify to the ridiculous. And two; most of us can’t see our own quirks anyway. Especially if those traits have negative undertones.

Take me for instance: I’m thrifty, maybe. Prudent, often. Economical, Heck ya. Careful, most of the time. Frugal, possibly. –A tight-wad, I can’t see it. And so, to figure out if this were true or not, I started listing things that might be considered traits in someone who is a tight-wad.

You know you’re a tight-wad if you…

  • Spend twice as long in the grocery store, checking every item to be sure the larger size is really the best bargain, before you put it in your cart.
  • Wear your old jacket to go to the store, when you’ve got a new coat in the closet.
  • Cut the lotion bottle open and use a rubber spatula to scrape every –last drop.
  • Wrap up and take home the used bar of soap from your hotel room.
  • Write as few words as possible, to get your point across. Like this list, instead of a paragraph.
  • Make silly, cheap Christmas cards, instead of buying those big beautiful Hallmark cards.
  • Take your kids with you EVERYWHERE you go, so you don’t have to pay for a sitter.
  • Don’t buy something until the money is there. Yes, that’s a tight-wad, dodging those extra interest fees that most don’t mind paying.
  • Tear a paper napkin in two, give one half to your husband and take the other half for yourself.
  • Bend down and pick-up those pennies, most people walk over. (Even if it’s heads down!
  •  Find your husband making jokes; copper wire comes from you, stretching pennies.

Oh, my goodness, –I guess, I am a tight-wad! Yup! I’ve done everything on this list more than once. And my husband has said that….  After much deliberation, I’ve decided, –I like being a tight-wad! However, I am going to work on spending more time thinking of others, spend more on charities, and spend more time on me.

The trinket I took from this experience and may use when writing children’s stories: Learn to laugh at ourselves. And don’t put too much faith in, or weight on, one person’s perspective. A child isn’t going to become a tight-wad because of this blog. Nor is a child going to be confident because they read The Lion of Tupungato, about an animal that helped a young girl find her strength. Children are secure, because of many, many wonderful people, and situations throughout their lives. –Nonetheless, I’ll keep writing stories of self-esteem for grandparents and parents to read with their loved ones.

Is It Just Another Ordinary Day or Will It Be Special?

The sun was beginning to peek through the clouds. A handful of children scurried through the maze of parked vehicles. A young girl yells, “I’ve got it!” Retrieving the foul ball, she runs it back to the ball field. The baseball bleachers were packed. Safely behind the backstop, stood a boy of three years. Hanging onto the fence, he rolled back and forth on his push-bike, waiting for the crack of the bat. The loudspeaker announced, “Next at bat, number ten, Dan Evens.” –Swack! Grandma, Grandpa, sisters, brothers, Mom, Dad, neighbors, and classmates cheered!

There are few things more precious than a community gathering at a high school baseball game. I used to think sports was all about labeling for the “most competitive or most aggressive”. But I’ve learned, that the most honorable trait found in sports; is building endurance, by challenging and strengthening the body and mind! And in doing so, even the meek and thin-skinned, find self-esteem.

Fashion statements, fast cars and cellphones, came in last place among this crowd. A food stand selling peanuts and popcorn, hotdogs and hamburgers, candy and drinks didn’t outshine the scoreboard. Another day or place might have been filled with distractions from social media. Disconnected from the unrealistic flicks and clicks of others, today was about being a team. It was about being together.

Earlier that morning, the game had been postponed. While puddles were raked and covered, spectators seemed to patiently wait. They enjoyed the cool breeze, and the unique warmth of sunshine on this long-awaited spring morning. No-one seemed to be in a hurry today.

An older man leaned forward in his chair and asked the little boy resting on his bike, if he knew Chase Bennett.” Intensely looking at the man, he nodded and proudly answered, “You’re his Grandpa!” It isn’t uncommon for the parents and grandparents of sports teams, to know and care about each player and their families. Many of these high school graduates; will be heading off to college in the fall, and have expressed hopes of returning, to repay the old and help the young.

It was the last inning. This wasn’t the first time the bases were loaded. In the second and fifth inning, the third out, had left points on the field. This time, it was a home-run. The dugout was abandoned. Everyone on the west side of the bleachers jumped to their feet and applauded! The little boys’ wide eyes peered through the fence at the team.

Today’s game wasn’t the flashy world series. Despite the fact, there was nothing flashy about this day; this ballplayers’ accomplishments, might be more important to him, than graduation. For the best days in life, are not the ones we expect. The most important times are the ones that build our self-esteem and confidence.

The trinket I took from this experience, that I may use when writing children’s stories, is to remember that each child is like a tiny camera. They are watching and recording those insignificant words or gestures from peers, parents, and teachers. Even though we may be at the same ballgame, each of us will take away a different perspective. A day that is just an ordinary day to you, might be very important to your child.



The Thrills and Threats of Traveling

Let’s face it, traveling is hard. Maybe it’s the unknown that is so alarming. Although crossing over difficult terrain is tiring, isolated areas where there are no warnings, nor help –can make the voyage daunting.

The Appalachian Mountains are calm, graceful and timeworn. However, her roads are anything but forgiving. Narrow, wobbly, curving roads through the highlands were never made for large, fast moving vehicles. Even with the temperate weather conditions, the roadbeds have heaved. Tires kiss the rounded edges on hairpin turns. Dimpled low, soft asphalt, pitches its riders from side to side.

Anyone who thinks, the Rocky Mountains are just another range like the Cumberland Gap, is in for a rude awakening. Don’t let the wide buffering shoulders along the byways fool you into thinking it’s an easy journey. Pushing west across the country, the first of many summits are met. The extreme height and sharp jagged ledges, slow traffic. Road signs warn of a six percent decline in grade, along the mountain road. The pass is soon closed, when October warms of winter storms brewing.

Ice crusted signs warn of an eight percent decline in grade. Gaining speed in low gear, tires slip slightly on the first switchback off the summit. Driving conditions decline. The speedometer begins to escalate. Riding the brakes with a hope of reaching the lower foothills before they heat up and fail, makes for an exasperating trip. The challenge is far from over as altitudes climb higher.

Many of the wild mountain ranges have been tamed with contoured roadways, warning signs, guardrails, and more. Some areas, safer than others. The most untamed territory I’ve ever encountered, was on the way to a little village called Idunda, located at the top of a mountain range in southeast Africa. The trip in and out of Idunda was more intimidating than any place I’ve traveled in the United States. It was not the unreliable vehicles, the hilly topography, or even the rainy weather, but rather the nonexistent roads that commanded respect from intruders.

Three old, worn-out Land Cruisers slowly rolled off the city street of Iringa and onto the dirt. It wasn’t long before the deep swells of the African grasses, blocked the windshield. The driver admitted his concerned about the treacherous travel conditions. “Our people in the village are very appreciative, that you traveled so far and are risking your lives to visit them.” At which point, a fellow traveler replied, “Aren’t people in the other vehicles risking their lives as well?”

Only the driver and luggage remained in each of the Land Cruisers, as they cross unsafe rotting logs, serving as bridges. It was a relief to get out and stretch my legs, after being cramped in the backseat for hours. Precarious walks over numerous ravines, was the only choice.

The wilderness had not yet been suppressed by lorries, crushing trails into the landscape. There were only meager footprints from these villagers. Water was hand carried from nearby streams. Indigenous wood rocks sticks, and straw, created most of their homes and tools. Listening to the rain hit the roof, I lay awake in the middle of the night, wondering if our group would be able to leave the next morning. April was monsoon season.

Huddling around a smoldering fire, we breathed in the misty morning air. While warming hands with a breakfast bowls of rice and beans, we contemplated the risk of heading out on the eroded, muddy paths. As we packed the old dilapidated automobiles with a few belongings, the sun began to offer some hope.

It took the better part of the day, to visit many of the small towns along the mountainside. Medical facilities were scarce. Offering rides to the weary and sick, the caravan of three separated, in order to get passengers to their different destinations. Our driver talked in Swahili to a man sitting beside him. Their conversation came to an end. The gentleman thanked us and got out of the vehicle.  As we continued down the mountain, the driver informed us, “This traveler was returning home after attending your wedding. For this man to join us; he had taken the bus from Iringa to the end of it route at Kyvalomos, where he had walked nearly nine hours, stopping only when it got dark.” We learned that it was customary for people along a traveler’s path, to welcomed them as family into their homes.

Our Land Cruiser forged on through the muddy foothills. Turning into a slight decline, we began to sink. The axel was packed in mud and the wheels had lost their grip. Without cell coverage, it became obvious, we were on our own. Darkness fell. Working under the glow of the headlights we secured a winch from the front of the vehicle to a tree. However, it had not been installed correctly and as the steal cable pulled tight, the bumper came loose. With the possibility of spending the night, in an area where malaria ran rampant, it was hard to think clearly. Huddling into the backseat, the glare of headlights flicker through the window. The others in our group had come looking for us.

It’s easy to enjoy nature along a well-maintained mountain pass in a reliable vehicle, where help is readily available. It’s not so easy to be bold and fearless, when stranded in unfamiliar territories. Here’s the trinket from that experience, I may find useful when writing children’s stories. There are going to be those mountaintop experiences as well as time spent in mudholes. –Truly appreciate the good times and graciously except the tough times. –Wonderful news since our trip to Tanzania: Due to medical advances, there are half as many malaria deaths.