Glad you're here!

Welcome to my personal blog. Squirrel(!) is such an appropriate title for this spot on the Internet. This began as a way to share the journal from my walk across England with hubby Jan. That trip is archived here for you to enjoy (June of 2012), but now when you visit you'll read my crazy musings on everything from horses, to cars, to grammar, to books, baseball, or weasels. Don't get whiplash trying to figure out a theme; just watch out for the squirrels!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Training in Big Woods and Old Stomping Grounds

Minnesota's Big Woods--a gorgeous place for training--or enjoying.
With just a month to go before our trip, walking continues at a somewhat leisurely pace. I'll have to be pushing the miles alone after this coming week since Jan heads off to his annual week at Boy Scout camp in Wisconsin.

Fortunately, my youngest (of three) brother Pete has ramped up his hiking, too, in preparation for the move his son and daughter-in-law are making to Colorado in a couple of weeks and the visits Pete plans to make to the mountains. And because Pete has been hiking, his beautiful girlfriend Tami has been dragged into the "sport" as well. We even found out the hiking spirit moved her to go shopping for Merrill hiking shoes!! And so we're adopting them as our hiking partners in crime.

Pete, Tami, Me, Jan -- Hiking Partners in Crime

My litle bro and I

Hidden Falls in Nerstrand

Iconic Minnehaha Falls
Last weekend's training distance was about 15 miles. We went for more waterfalls--a hidden little gem in a southern Minnesota state park called Nerstrand Big Woods. And then a Minneapolis treasure--the beautiful Minnehaha Falls.

When I was a kid our gang would walk here to the base of the falls and follow the creek to the Mississippi River. Nostalgia!
Both of these were nostalgia walks for me since I grew up three blocks from Minnehaha Falls park, and my grandparents
regularly chose Nerstrand for extended family picnics. We got in some rolling hills and some flat distance. Mostly it was awesome fun just to be able to add mileage with great company in a beautiful state!

 Check out some more pics from our Fourth of July hiking weekend!

Our gorgeous Nerstrand training camp.
Hills ahead!

The best hiking partner a girl could want!!

Out on a limb with the Mighty Mississippi behind us.
Peter being mean to Tami and rocking the branch.

It looks as if we don't really get much hiking in--we're too busy goofing off. But we figure that's part of the training, too. If we don't get our picture-taking muscles in shape, how will we get gorgeous photos of the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond?

So we empty the rocks from our shoes and go on to the next pre-adventure next week!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mega Mall and Waterfall--Walk Training Underway

So serious about training.
With exactly six weeks until we leave for Scotland on August 6th, I've determined that it's time to ramp up my walk training in earnest. Jan and I are avid hikers all the time, but our park hikes and neighborhood walks generally run from 3-6 miles, squeezed into weekends when the weather is good and we have no other obligations.

Our planned 95-mile hike through the Highlands will take eight days and consist of three 14-mile days, two 12 mile days, two 10s, and one nine miler.
So--in the next six weeks we'll be taking some longer treks around home just to test boots and get used to uneven terrain and hills.

Tough terrain right in our own backyard.
To that end we started out this past weekend at Minnesota's premier, super difficult hiking Mecca:  The Mall of America.

Yes, cue the laughing emoticon, but the weather didn't cooperate with our desire to walk. When a thunderstorm came rolling through at the time we wanted to leave, we gave up on our outdoor choice and headed for Nickelodeon Universe--the indoor amusement park at MOA. While there are no rocks, hills, roots or lochs at the world's second-largest indoor shopping mall, there is fantastic people watching, literally miles of floor to walk, and lots of really good bad food. We were so proud of ourselves for limiting junk intake to one Tim Horton doughnut each!

My faithful & loved Lowa boots.
I made the indoor trek about testing some new arch support inserts in my old faithful hiking boots. We walked approximately three miles, did stairs at every opportunity (even the escalators), and in the end my biggest takeaway was that I might not need to buy new boots. The next few hikes will tell, but I know the decision has to happen very soon so I'll have more than a month to break in new footwear.

Nickelodeon Universe--it's a jungle.
One corner of MOA always smells like this. Le sigh...
A random Cat Hat (for Miss E?)

After the MOA journey on Saturday, we took a 90-minute drive on Sunday to one of our favorite Minnesota state parks: Minneopa. It's special for a couple of reasons: it's one of the last places we took our beloved Magic The Wonder Border Collie for a long walk before we lost her to old age a couple of years ago;  it's also got a really cool waterfall that was the inspiration for the falls in my first book series' little town Kennison Falls.

Minneopa/Kennison Falls

The weather was much nicer for this walk and we clocked around seven miles. Instead of
Testing the ankles on root steps
smooth flooring and Tim Horton, we had rocks, roots, craggy paths, and 100-calorie almond packs. And instead of people-watching we got Minneopa's wild, no-cattle DNA bison herd and wild flowers. At half the distance of our longest days to come in Scotland--it was good
to get out on some truly uneven ground and start getting the ankles in shape.

More about long, weird training walks to come along with the saga of my right leg--which has this new tendency to fall asleep unexpectedly while I'm walking. I'll let you know...

Jan and his resting rock.


Friday, June 16, 2017

A New Adventure

The West Highland Way--from Milngavie to Fort William.
It's been a while (a long while) since I've been active here on my blog, but it's time to crack open the Squirrel's Diary and take you on a brand new adventure we're about to write. Just shy of two months from now, Jan and I are flying off for Scotland and yet another long walk. We're hiking the West Highland Way--nearly 100 miles of gorgeous Scottish country along the "bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond" and through the fabled Highlands.

To say we're excited is understatement. In addition to our hike we'll have several days in Edinburgh, a couple in Glasgow, and two in Inverness. We know there will be too little time to see all the sights, but we hope to hit the highlights and perhaps absorb some culture along with some famous Scotch Whisky!

We leave on August 6th, so between then and now I'll track our "training" progress as we prepare for 8 days of walking. Stay tuned for the weird ways we get ready and some fun facts about Scotland as we learn them ourselves.

Check out our old travelogue from our 16-day hike across northern England five years ago. It's the memories of that truly spiritual trek that have spurred us to make another trip to the U.K. Come on along!!

Stunning Loch Lomond--the largest loch (by surface area) in Scotland.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Happy Week After Christmas--I hope your celebrations were wonderful!  And - - happy "Welcome Back to The Squirrel(!) Blog Day!  I've been letting this site languish and be no more than an archive for the online diary of my trip to England this past summer. It's always been my intention to start blogging again in the new year -- and a nudge from one of my best writing buddies has given me just the launch topic.  I was invited to take part in an ongoing hop from blog to blog of writers talking about their own "next big things."  So I'm back here to update you on the story that's almost finished and ready to send off to my agent and editor.  

At the end of the post you'll find some links to other authors telling you about their works in progress (aka WIPs). I hope you'll click through and circle around to see what's coming.  And check back during this week to see who might be blogging their next big thing next week.

So--drum roll--here are ten questions I was given to answer about Liz Selvig's "Next Big Thing."  

1. What is your working title of your book?

The original title of this manuscript was “Angelwings.” But I already know that won’t be the final title. I’m currently calling it “The Horsewoman’s Hero.”

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is a very, very old idea—and an old book actually. It’s a revision of my very first manuscript and really just grew over a long time as I got to know the characters.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

This is definitely a contemporary romance. The story takes place in the fictitious town of Kennison Falls, MN – the place I created for my first novel, “The Rancher and the Rock Star.”

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters  in a movie rendition?

I have photos of the two people who I’d love to play Chase and Jill. Do you remember the gorgeous old Diet Coke commercial where all the women in the office ran to window at break time to watch a construction worker remove his shirt and drink a Diet Coke? The construction worker was Lucky Vanous and he’s the perfect Chase. As forJill, she’s a beautiful ex-Miss World Sweden. Nobody would know her, nobody would recognize her. Trust me that she’s a beautiful, doe-eyed, dark blonde!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A woman with Olympic hopes, a man with a heart-breaking secret, a magical dog, a teen with purple hair, and a cranky farmer with a giant horse and the surprising key to everyone’s happiness, form an unlikely bond during a summer that flips dreams upside down and nourishes the unlikeliest of loves.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have a wonderful agent, Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein from the McIntosh & Otis agency. She’s patiently awaiting this manuscript, as is my editor at Avon, Tessa Woodward. I don’t have a contract for the book yet, but I was promised that they want it—so I’m excited!

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Oh, the answer to this is almost embarrassing now—I worked on this story for years when my children were little and when I was toying with the idea of being a romance writer. Once I finished “Angelwings” in 2005, I marketed it and actually found an agent to represent it. But, truth to tell, it was a first draft, really. I consider the “real” book to have been written in the past six months – and I’m so thrilled with how it’s turned out.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I think people who enjoy books by some of my biggest inspirations will like “Horsewoman’s Hero.” Robyn Carr, Katherine Anderson, Susan Anderson, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Bernard.  I think I have my own style—and I love rich, layered stories—but these wonderful writers are who I strive to be like.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

This book is purely and simply a work that’s grown out of years of daydreaming and favorite movies, and ways I always imagined a hero of mine would act. I feel like I’ve been living with Chase and Jill for a very long time. I love them dearly!

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

This book  has a very special dog in it--Angel, the black and white mutt with the batwing-shaped ears. Angel shows up just when she's needed most, and has an uncanny knack for getting her new people to exactly the spots they need to be in, precisely when they need to be in them! Is she magic? Is she just a smart puppy? Or, is she even more special than that?

I’ve also brought back a few of my favorite secondary characters from “Rancher,” so anyone who’s read that will be glad to know Gray and Abby each make cameos, as do the wonderful cockatiels Lester and Cotton. And, of course, it wouldn’t be Kennison Falls if The Sisters (Gladdie and Claudia) weren’t there to save the day in their own inimitable ways!

Plus, there are some really fun new characters, like the irascible old farmer Robert McCormick. And—if you love horses, I have several beauties for you:  Dragon, Jill’s talented black thoroughbred, Belle a beautiful golden Belgian, and Gypsy, the gorgeous Clydesdale who gives birth to the funniest foal this side of Black Beauty: T.N.Tatters. 

And, as usual, there'll be the four things I always put in my stories:  horses, a British accent, a Beatles reference, and an elderly person. You'll have to read it when it finally comes out and search out each reference!

So--there's my WIP for you. I plan to turn it into my "bosses" by mid-January, and I'll definitely let you know what the plans are for it after that.

Now for a couple of other  Big Things -- please check out these awesome blogs from some cool writers: Jennifer BernardMorgan Q. O'Reilly, Boone Brux.  

Ans thanks for checking out my blog today. I promise more random fun in the New Year. (Maybe I'll do "Diary of a Wimpy Writer.")

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Journey's End: SuperLambBananas to War Horses

Liverpool - Day 3

A note: Forgive me for this slightly longer-than-usual post (“surely not,” you say, “how is it possible they could get longer?”) but this marks the last official travelogue entry. Read on to find out what a Superlambbanana is and see a clip on the making of the play “War Horse.”

Since yesterday was all things Fab Four, we needed to take a day to explore Liverpool’s non-Beatles treasures, of which there are many. And to shop. 

The Walker Art Gallery
We started at Liverpool’s beautiful and beloved Walker Art Gallery. The building opened in 1877, but some pieces in the vast collection date back much further. According to the guide book, John Lennon called it “the Walky Through Gallery,” and Liverpool’s private art collectors have been enthusiastic and generous with bequests of art.  We spent several hours in the Walker and certainly didn’t even scratch the surface of the wonders held there.

We got a special treat when our friend Joy texted (as she’d been doing for a day and a half to make sure “The Pool” was treating us well!) and asked if she could come meet us for tea one last time. We met in the tea-shop atrium of the art gallery and had a lovely hour-long (hour-short, really) reunion with her!
Here I am with Joy -- tea and cookies at the Walker!

Here are just a few of the treasures we explored in the gallery after we finished tea:
The most famous portrait of Henry VIII hangs in the Walker.

Lower right is a portrait of Elizabeth I

Self portrait by Rembrandt.

There are modern galleries too. More on Jan and modern art below.
Maggie May's cafe - the Scouse is advertised bottom of the board
After we finished in the Walker (we could have spent two days there and not studied everything), we hit the streets to find some good souvenir shopping and take a few (haha, okay a TON) of pictures.  We found a cute café on Bold Street called Maggie May’s  that served homemade Scouse. Liverpudlians take their nickname, Scousers, and the name of their distinctive dialect Scouse, from an old, old traditional stew. The version I had was hearty but very mild, similar to the beef stew we make at home—totally yummy!
The Liver Bird adorns all public structures
Hahaha! Liz & Phil masks!!
After lunch we hiked back to the River Mersey, ate ice cream at Albert Docks, found some t-shirts we liked and  a few more Beatles souvenirs (we couldn’t really have a completely Beatle-free day). 

Random Beatles themes pop up all over.

The Sign
 Here I need to mention one of my very favorite silly things about Liverpool:  the SuperLambBanana. It’s 17 feet tall and weighs several tons and was developed for a 1998 exhibition, the  ArtTransPennine Exhibition. The artist intended it as both a comment on the dangers of genetic engineering and to honor the history of Liverpool since both sheep and bananas were once common cargos in the city's docks.
The 17-foot  SuperLambBanana
 In 2008, as part of Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture, 125 miniature replicas were created. They were painted and sponsored by businesses in the area and the mini Superlambananas were located throughout the Liverpool region. We didn’t make it to the original, which is moved periodically around the city, but we did find quite a few smaller ones. And, I bought my own to bring home!

A parade of mini SuperLambBananas
Ceramic replicas in the store window -- I have the yellow one!
 We wound up at our second museum, the Tate Liverpool, a modern art gallery that’s one of four Tate museums in England. We went to a special exhibition of three impressionists from three centuries: Joseph M. W.Turner (18th Century), Claude Monet (19th Century) and Cy Twombly (20th Century).  It was fascinating, and while Jan only solidified his opinion of modern artists—claiming our dog Magic could paint as well as Mr. Twombly (apologies to any of his fans) we both reaffirmed our love of Monet. I really could live in a house filled with his paintings.
Monet's Poplars

Turner's Sunset

Twombly's . . . Autumn? - Jan's (not) favorite.
We capped off the night with a bus ride to south Liverpool and visited Calderstones Park, a beautiful old park near Menlove Avenue and Forthlin Road—the streets where John Lennon and Paul McCartney grew up.  But, in truth, we didn’t go for that reason.  Calderstones featured prominently in a not-yet-published book I wrote several years ago. I have plans to resurrect it very soon—so this was research, pure and simple!  I’ll give you a preview of the beautiful park, but stay tuned for another post on Places from “Isabella’s Song.”  All my Alaskan writing buddies will remember the story!
One entrance to Calderstones Park - For my  CPs in Alaska - where that first kiss took place :-)  More in another post!
 Finally, we had to make our way back to the hostel for our last night in Liverpool. It was sad. Jan was surprised at how much he enjoyed the city. I am simply in love with this place I’ve been thinking about for so many years—to see the sights I’ve been researching was amazing! Oh, wait, I’ve already said that.
In the morning we had plans to take a National Trust tour to Mendips (John’s home) and 20 Forthlin Road (Paul’s home) before hopping on a train back to London. Here are some of the Liverpool sights buzzing through my brain as I tried to sleep!

The reception desk at our hostel.

Yellow Submarine doors to the bedrooms. When you open them . . .

. . . you see George in the submarine window!

Michelangelo in front of the Walker

The traffic circle in front of the museum -- The Wellington Column is on the right.

An English schoolgirl.

Liverpool shopping

The Pier Head on River Mersey

Day 3 ½  - From Liverpool to London

The weather held for us as we made our way for the last time to the Liverpool waterfront. We had to meet our tour group at Kings Dock—right next to our favorite Albert Dock. We had time to explore just a little and watched the Liverpool Echo Wheel and found the John Lennon Peace Memorial that had been dedicated by his son Julian and his ex-wife Cynthia just a few years ago. It’s really one of the prettiest modern sculptures!
The Echo Wheel
John Lennon Peace Memorial
The National Trust tour van - only 15 people per tour!

We also met a pair of 15-year-old Norwegian girls, best friends who are super-Beatles-fans. They’d planned and saved for a trip to Liverpool for several years and talked their mothers into making the journey. They were as excited (or more) as I was to visit John’s and Paul’s houses. It was pretty amazing to see how the Beatles have transcended generations.
In front of Paul's home -- our Norwegian girls are left of me!
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside either house, but we could shoot away outside. The most interesting fact about John’s home is that it was bought and given to the National Trust by Yoko Ono. Turns out, Liverpudlians think quite highly of her. She’s become a great champion of preserving the Beatles’ heritage and of making sure John’s memory is kept respectfully.
In front of Mendips - John's home.
The houses have been restored to the condition they were in and have much of the same décor as when John and Paul lived in them. It was interesting to see how well-off John lived with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George compared to Paul, who’s house was in a government-owned development.  Yet, each home held ghosts of both happiness and sorrow. It was really moving.
But, the tour had to end and we had to high-tail it back to our hostel, pick up our suitcases and schlepp back to Lime Street Station. From the time we got off the tour to the time we caught the train was only an hour. It was a quick good-bye to a really, really cool place! 

Last adjustments in front of our hostel.

The train to London.
But we had no time to feel nostalgic once we reached Euston Station in London. It was now nearly 5:00 p.m. and we had tickets to see the play War Horse at 7:30.  Our first cabbie had the job of getting us to St. David’s Hotel – one of several small hotels built in a set of terraced (row) houses on a leafy horseshoe of a street. 
Our hotel for the last night.
We ditched our suitcases, walked half a block to an Italian restaurant, ate and hurried back to change clothes. By 7:00 we were hailing a black cab and got the greatest driver ever. First of all he thanked us for telling him where we wanted to go. Then he thanked us for giving him half an hour to get 2 ½ miles. Then he took a route I couldn’t have followed along with on a GPS! He told us all about how long it takes to become a London cabbie and once we reached the New London Theatre with eight minutes to spare, he told us he was surprised to get us there on time – something he hadn’t disclosed when we’d started. I have to say, London traffic is not a place for wimps.
A quick Italian dinner spot!

Our last night in England couldn’t have been more amazing. If you EVER get the chance to see War Horse on stage, grab it! The story is touching but the technology of the horse puppets is incredible. If you’d like  a snippet, check out this link:
One word: Stunning.

We left the theater once the play was over and couldn’t quite bear to go right back to the hotel, so we rode the tube to Picadilly Circus. Celebrations were underway for the Italian football (soccer) team who’d just won the semi-finals of the Euro-Cup. Between the flying Italian flags and the shining lights and the crowds to well-rival anything at Times Square in New York, we had a bright and shiny end to our trip to England. A truly stunning trip it was, from beginning to end.
Italians celebrating Euro-Cup victory

It's actually Ripley's Believe it or Not museum--but it's gorgeous at night

Picadilly was bustling even nearing midnight.

I made Jan take this pic of us reflected in the Underground train window. It was a most excellent night.
 We were definitely a comical sight the next morning, dragging our 48-pound suitcases and stuffed back packs around the London Underground. Plus, I had a bright blue Beatle’s bag. We were walking neon signs blinking out “Beware of Tourists.”  But other than a few stares and a few naughty words under my breath when I had to haul the suitcase up the fourth flight of subway stairs, we made it to Heathrow in good time and absolutely nothing went wrong with the schedule or the flight.
That's me advertising tourism in the UK!
 Just like that we were back in Minnesota with parents, kids and hot, hot weather.  It was good to be home. But it will be quite a long time before we no longer miss the cool English breezes, the blue suburban skies, and the rain-soaked moops we shared with so many new, wonderful friends.  Would I recommend this trip to anyone else? In a 192-mile heartbeat!!

Thanks, England, for a living dream!