Hearing the Call of the Wild in California

Because many people think of Alaska when they hear the name of Jack London, it can come as a surprise that his home and grave are in California. Or maybe that was just me. Located in Sonoma, near the cute town of Glen Ellen, Jack London State Park is an all day treat.You might want to visit fall, winter or spring though as summer can be brutally hot. London, the author of such well known stories such as The Call of the Wild, White Fang and Sea Wolf, was born and raised in nearby Oakland.

London bought this property in 1911 with his second wife. They lived here in the cottage while their dream home was being built. The dream home was called Wolf House and was to be truly magnificent. Beauty Ranch, as London called the property,was his playground, laboratory, and office. London and his wife were enthusiastic outdoor people, riding horses and hiking all over the property, often entertaining guests there. London was very interested in agriculture and used sustainable practices before those were trendy. Many of his ideas failed but you have to give him points for trying and throwing a lot of money at it.

I particularly enjoyed visiting the cottage where the Londons lived while Wolf House was under construction. There is a short video clip about the cottage and the Londons once you enter. The cottage contains his study, his desk, and most poignantly, the sleeping porch where London died in 1916 as well as his wife’s room. The cottage is a short drive from the museum and grave and has different opening hours and a separate admission price. The flower gardens and views of the vineyard are really lovely there.

Tragically, Wolf House burnt down right before the Londons were to move in. The ruins of the house are starkly beautiful and you can roam around them easily. The path to the ruins is well marked from the museum. The museum is housed in the House of Happy Walls, the home that Mrs. London built after Jack’s death to live in herself and develop as a museum for her husband’s work. The museum has exhibits about London’s travels, especially aboard the Snark. There are items from those travels as well as many editions of his books and photos. There is a gift shop in the museum.

Jack London was cremated and his ashes buried under a rock on a hill,near the graves of two children who had lived on the property before he purchased it. London’s second wife was also buried there after her death in 1955. Charmian London must have been a fascinating person in her own right. You learn a lot about her here at the park and she protected Jack’s legacy well. There is a short walk through the woods and up the hill to the gravesite from the museum.

Because the London home is part of the larger state park, there are picnic tables and several other hiking trails that you can enjoy. There is a per vehicle entrance fee into the state park.

Visiting Jack London State Park is well worth the time. You get a beautiful setting in Sonoma close to many wineries, hiking trails, and lovely picnic spots. The museum, ruins of Wolf House, the cottage and the gravesite all convey a real sense of Jack London and his life there. The docents at the cottage are friendly and knowledgable about London and recommended a recent biography, Jack London: An American Life by Earle Labor as a good place to start reading about London and his unconventional life. Great place to visit and learn more about an American author.

Finding the wild horses of Chincoteague

imageimageimageimageimageLike most girls in the 70’s, I read and loved the horse books ,Misty of Chincoteague and Stormy, Misty’s Foal. For a lifetime, I have imagined a herd of wild ponies and could picture them swimming in the sea between the islands. The unique place names of Chincoteague and Assateague rattled around in my brain until I finally realized they were real islands and not that far from where my brother lives. So, I packed up my daughter, my mother, and our bags and we drove to Virginia’s eastern shore to Chincoteague to track down those horses from those long ago stories.

We stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast called the Island Manor House. It is across the street from sister property, Miss Molly’s Inn. It was at Miss Molly’s, that author Marguerite Henry stayed as she wrote Misty of Chincoteague in 1947. There is a plaque out front commemorating that visit. Every shop on Chincoteague sells copies of that book as well as the others in the series. The public library right down the street, has a wonderful display of horses and horse books to lure you into the bright and cheerful library. There is even a bronze statue of Misty on the west side of Main Street.

Those familiar with the story know that the wild horses live on Assateague Island, which is a National seashore and wildlife refuge. We biked over to the island, enjoyed climbing up to the top of the lighthouse, and of course, spending a day at the beach. The wild horse herds roam freely and it is fun to go out to see which horses you can spot from the road or the walking and biking trails. The big event happens each year at the end of July when the Pony Swim is held. The herds are rounded up and then they swim across the Assateague channel to Chincotesgue where the foals are auctioned off. This is hard for a lot of people to see as the foals are taken from their mamas. The remaining herd then swims back across to Assateague to roam freely for another year. Proceeds from the auction support the Volunteer Fire Company and is necessary to maintain the health of the herd in numbers that the island can support. The Pony swim and auction figure prominently in the book series.

Right at the bridge linking the two islands is the Museum of Chincoteague. Besides wonderful exhibits about island life, artifacts from the islands and the original Fresnel lens from the lighthouse, fans of the books can see Misty and Stormy who are preserved in all their taxidermied glory. There are several exhibits about the books and the people featured in the series. Well worth a stop.

There is a lot to do on the islands besides following Marguerite Henry and her horses. There are miles of trails to walk and bike, sunset pontoon boat cruises, the lighthouse, the beach, birding opportunities, shops, restaurants, and great ice cream. Bring your mosquito spray in the summer as those pests are voracious. You will see families with children carrying the Misty books and excitedly looking for the wild horse herds. 40 years after first reading Misty of Chincoteague, I felt like those kids clutching their books, so excited to be where the wild ponies roam and swim.

Helpful websites

Little House in the Ozarks

 I remember vividly the day in 4th grade when my best friend, Katrina, told me that our favorite book series was going to be on tv.  Little House on the Prairie was the book and the tv show became a favorite too.  I have read all the books and the follow up series that continued once Laura and Almanzo moved to Missouri.  I have read biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder and books by other Little House super fans like The Wilder Life.  We took our kids when they were little to DeSmet,South Dakota to the Laura Ingalls sites there and to Walnut Grove , Minnesota to see the outdoor drama , the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant and to stand on the banks of Plum Creek. But I had never made it to Mansfield, Missouri to Rocky Ridge to see the house that Laura and Almanzo lived in for the bulk of their lives.  Well I finally made it in April 2021.

My husband and I arrived on a stormy afternoon at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum just outside of little Mansfield.  A $15 ticket gets you into the museum and both houses on the property.  The museum was very good. It was chock full of family possessions- Pa’s fiddle, Mary’s Braille slate, clothing, needlework, family photos and books, displays about each member of the family and displays from the tv show as well.  You can easily spend an hour or more in the museum before you get to the gift shop.  The gift shop was doing a good business with all the books, pioneer toys, patterns to make pioneer clothes, and souvenirs of all types. 

The next stop is a short walk from the parking lot to the old white farmhouse that Laura and Almanzo called home.  The tour is guided and the guide told about how Almanzo made so many of the cupboards and items in the home.  The kitchen has short counters to best fit “Half pint” Laura who never hit 5 feet tall as an adult.  All the items in the home are original to them.  Laura’s desk where she wrote all the books is there and the bedroom is just as they left it. The house is a warm, comfortable normal house and you can picture them in each room.  

Daughter Rose built a lovely rock house towards the back of the property for them in 1928.  She wanted to give them something more comfortable than the old farmhouse and outfitted it with new furniture and electricity.  Laura and Almanzo  lived in it for 7 years and Laura wrote the first four Little House books while living there.  They moved back down to the original farmhouse after that as they were homesick for their original home.  Rose was an attentive daughter and bought them their first car as well.  You can read all about Rose in Little House on Rocky Ridge and several other books in that series. The tour of the rock house is self guided and the house is empty as Laura and Almanzo took much of the new furniture back to the farmhouse with them when they moved out. 

In the Mansfield cemetery, you can visit the graves of Laura, Almanzo and Rose. They are very nondescript but easy to find as there are signs to “ the Wilder graves”.    Also in the main square in town is a bust of Laura.  

The real life story of the Ingalls and Wilder families is very different than the way the Little House books presents them.  Their lives were hard and full of moves and change.  Of course there is controversy about what Laura wrote about and what she left out. And questions about how much help writing the books she may or may not have had from Rose who was a successful writer before the first Little House book was written.  Reading some of the biographies and companion books to the series can fill in a lot of those gaps.  But nothing can change the love that I have and passed on to my kids for the stories of Laura, Mary, Ma and Pa and Carrie and odious Nellie Olson.  The only Laura site still on my to do list is in Wisconsin.  Anyone up for a trip to the Big Woods?

Laura’s writing desk

Pa’s fiddle
The rock house that Rose built for Laura and Almanzo.
The bust in the main square in Mansfield

Oregon (Trail) or Bust!

I have been obsessed with the Oregon Trail and the stories of unimaginable hardship and endurance for a long time. I guess that makes me a “rut nut”.  The trail has all the elements of a great story with danger, disease, wide open spaces, violence, controversy,  tragedy, triumph, despair, deceit, romance,politics,an epic journey- you name it, the Oregon Trail had it. 

I am lucky to live just a few hours south of the trail so have enjoyed visiting some of the stops on the trail like Fort Bridger and Fort Laramie over the years.  I have followed the Donner party as they headed to California, visiting Donner pass and Sutter’s Fort.  See my blog post about Sutter’s Fort for more on that experience.  But this month, I convinced a friend to go with me to Scottsbluff to see some of the most iconic sights on the trail. 

So, off we went just a few hours northeast from home to Scottsbluff, Nebraska.   Travelers heading west across the plains didn’t have much to look at until they got to what is now the panhandle of Nebraska. So their first sight of huge rock formations really impressed them.  First up was what they named Jail and Courthouse Rocks since that was all they could really compare them too. There is a dirt road out to the parking lot for these two formations.  One other car was there when we pulled in on a hot day. There are paths to the formations and benches if you care to contemplate the scene.  You do have to watch out for rattlesnakes, just like our pioneers did.  We walked about and took some photos and then drove on to Chimney Rock. 

Chimney Rock is the most mentioned feature in pioneer journals and letters.  The Native Americans had a more colorful name for this spire, dubbing it Elk penis.  There is a visitor center here with a small but really good museum.  The entrance fee is $8 and the exhibits include items from the trail and great old photos, maps, interactive exhibits about the people who came by wagon and the people who were here before them. They have a gift shop that has a very good selection of books about the trail, pioneers, Native tribes, pony express riders etc. , the bathrooms are spotless and have fun informative information on the doors of each stall and in the mirrors.  Very creative use of bathroom space!  You see Chimney Rock from the visitor center windows and from an outside space but there is a short dirt road to drive from there to get a bit closer to the rock. We did that drive and there is a cemetery at the end that is interesting to walk around.  There is so little development around Jail, Courthouse and Chimney Rocks that you really can picture wagon trains rolling by. 

On we went to Scott’s Bluff. Poor Hiram Scott was abandoned by his friends here in 1828 and he reportedly crawled miles until he finally died at the base of this bluff that now bears his name.  Rather an extreme way to get something named after you.  The visitor center was closed because of Covid but the ranger at the entrance station stamped our National parks passport and gave us the run down. We opted to hike the Saddle Rock trail that started on the valley floor and climbed 500 feet up to the top of the bluff.  This is a great trail, easy to follow, twists and turns for great views of the area, has a tunnel through the bluff to walk through and is well maintained.  We enjoyed the walking paths at the top to see out over the entire area in all directions and we could spot Chimney Rock way off in the distance as well as the North Platte River meandering through the valley.  You can also drive to the top of the bluff if you don’t want to hike it.  There are a few shorter trails in the park and some covered wagons and oxen placed for some very evocative photos.  Right next to the park is the Legacy of the Plains museum which is chock full of farm equipment, household items, pioneer information and some wonderful quilts plus a short video of the area and the people who have made the valley home. Well worth a stop with clean bathrooms, friendly volunteers and a small gift shop as well. 

Next we headed out onto dusty, empty dirt roads to locate the recreated Robideau trading post that served the trail as pioneers rode through the Wildcat Hills. The post had a forge, wood for the journey, and other trade goods and is mentioned in pioneer diaries. We found the buildings which were locked but fun to walk around before we continued on to some pioneer graves.  There is a marker here remembering the estimated 20,000 people who died along the trail and are mostly buried in nameless graves. There are 4 anonymous graves and one with a name and some information about the young man who died of cholera. This spot is windy, dry, far away from modern day reminders so you can easily picture a wagon train coming by.  The Oregon trail is known as the longest graveyard in the country as 1 in 10 people died on the trip. As those of you who played the popular Oregon Trail game know, disease and accidents killed the vast majority with attacks from Native tribes accounting for less than 400 deaths.  

Back in town, we visited the grave of Rebecca Winters, a Mormon emigrant and mother who died of cholera on the way.  Her grave has the iron wagon wheel rim that was inscribed with her name and left to mark her grave in 1852. The grave was found by the railroad and there is talk of moving it yet again but as of now, it is between the railroad tracks and US 26. 

For this trip, we had found all the Trail sights we had on our list so we finished our time in Gering with a trip to the tasty Gering Bakery, stopped in to a few very nice antique stores in town and pointed my filthy dusty vehicle home.  But, have no fear fellow rut nuts, I have another blog post coming that covers my forays into Wyoming !  So stay tuned…

Books I recommend for this trip include the very helpful free National Historic Trails  Auto Route interpretive guide by state that you can get at park visitor centers.  Also a fun read is Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail where he follows the trail with mules in 2015.  I also liked The Indifferent Stars Above about the Donner party by Daniel James Brown and Where The Lost Wander by Amy Harmon.  What are some of your favorite books that take place on or about The Oregon Trail? 

Blasket Island Bliss


Walking the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland is one of life’s great delights.  Hills, sheep, green, castle ruins, bee hive dwellings, old churches, interesting rocks and graves, fairy trees, friendly people, narrow lanes that pass for roads- it is all good.  Add in a fascinating island excursion that was home to several authors and the trip becomes perfect.

Start your Blasket Island trip at the Blasket Island Center which is on the mainland in Dunquin. This excellent interpretive center tells you the story of the inhabitants of this island, how they lived and why they all eventually moved off the island. The stories are fascinating and there are artifacts,photos, video exhibits and more to enjoy.  There is a cafe to grab a bite.

Sign up for a boat trip over to Great Blasket  and head down the historic twisty pier, which is one of the most photographed places on the Dingle peninsula.  Sheep were herded up the incline and fisherman used to carry their catch in baskets up to the top on a nearby path.  The cliff and the ocean below make for a dramatic start to the ferry ride.

The boat ride over involves a small raft that takes you to the bigger boat and then 20 minutes across the water.  Another raft deposits you off at the dock on Great Blasket.  We rode over at the start of the tourist season so shared our ride with a woman taking a spinning wheel to make products that she sells from an old cottage on the island.

This island is not like any other I have been to.  There is very little in the way of infrastructure- only one cafe to get drinks and snacks and use a bathroom.  No stores, no t shirt or postcard stores.  It is a somewhat steep walk up from the boat past the ruins of the cottages.  There are several walking tours every day that you can join to hear about the inhabitants and what life was like before they all left the island in the 1950s.  Several descendants of those islanders give the tours and have wonderful stories of what life was like here and how isolated it was even though a stones throw from the mainland.

The cafe has a hostel so if you want to spend a night or two and hike the island and stay overnight, you can.  We took a picnic lunch and sat at the tables outside and had an amazing view of the island and the water.   Seals were sunning  below us on the sand.  We hiked some of the trails but did not have time to go the whole way around as you do have a timed boat return. The views of the Atlantic are just spectacular from anywhere on the island.  All that blue sparkling around you is a lovely sight.

So, what authors have ties to Blasket Island you ask?  This small island community produced a number of people who wrote and published accounts of living on the island.  Islanders knew their way of life was unique and coming to an end and luckily for us, they wanted to share those stories.  Peig Sayers dictated her memories to her grandson and you can read her autobiography, Peig.  She was renowned as a great oral storyteller and lived on the island from 1892-1947.  Two other books are well known, the first The Islandman, recounts the life of fisherman/farmer Tomas O Criomhthain and Twenty Years a Growing by Muiris O Suilleabhain describes growing up on the island with his grandfather.   Life was not easy and idyllic, there was hunger, isolation, extreme weather, and danger. The community dwindled over the decades and by the 1950s, the few that were left were relocated to the mainland.  Many Blasket islanders immigrated to Springfield, Massachusetts.   A recent book, From Great Blasket to America by Mike Carney tells the story of his childhood on the island and his new life in America.   Some visitors to the islands who came to study the Irish language have also written accounts of their time on Great Blasket.

Western Ireland is beautiful. The Dingle peninsula is spectacular and Great Blasket is a must see.  The next stop west is Newfoundland.  Go for a day trip or go and camp overnight but do go, you won’t ever forget it.

Hemingway in Cuba

When you think of Hemingway, Cuba comes to mind pretty quickly   After all, he lived here for years, fished here, drank a lot here and wrote several of his best known books here.  So, on my recent trip to Cuba, I couldn’t wait to see where I might cross paths with Ernest.  It didn’t take long once we arrived in the village of Cojimar, on the outskirts of Havana.  Cojimar was the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea and as I watched small fishing boats leaving the dock, I could almost picture it. Hemingway had his fishing boat here and often ate and drank at a local bar that still stands.  There is a bronze bust of Hemingway here that is a nice place to read a few chapters of The Old Man and the Sea and to look out onto the water but Cojimar is no longer a sleepy fishing village.

A short drive takes you into Havana where there are several Hemingway spots to explore.  First up is the Hotel Ambos Mundos.  Hemingway rented a room here for 7 years in the 1930’s.  He stayed in room 511 and it has been kept as it would have looked in his time   There are some photographs and memorabilia in the hotel.  Hemingway started writing For Whom the Bell Tolls while staying here.  He did then move to a house outside of town that is open to the public but our tour was not allowed to visit as the admission fees go to the government.  Visitors from outside the United States or on a different type of visa should try to go if they can.

Havana has two bars that are connected to Hemingway that I found.  The first, Bodeguita del Medio brags that it is the home of the Mojito.  The inside is full of photos and objects and signatures of famous customers.  A lot of famous people have stopped in over the years, including writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Nat King Cole.  Hemingway reportedly came here as well but was not a regular.  To find where he usually hung out, a walk of 8 or 9 blocks brings you to the Floridita.  There is a life size statue of Ernest at his favorite place at the bar that you can elbow your way to to get a picture.  Daiquiris were his drink of choice here and there were many people enjoying one while I was there .  Other famous writers who have visited the bar include Ezra Pound, Graham Greene and John Dos Passos. There are photos and memorabilia to look at but it is a crowded spot so don’t expect to find a quiet table to enjoy that daiquiri.

Cuba is a fascinating place to visit.  The people are warm and friendly.  Drinks are cheap.  Crime is low.  None of that has changed since Hemingway made his home here.  It is easy to see why he fell in love with Cuba and its people.


Looking for Jamie Fraser in Scotland

     I have been a huge fan of the book series Outlander for well over 15 years.  I have read all 8 and am eagerly awaiting the ninth book which is due out soon.  I even got to meet and have dinner with author, Diana Gabaldon, several years ago when she spoke in Greeley.  What a fun night that was and she patiently took pictures and signed books for all of us crazy fans.  So, it should be no surprise to all of you that when I was recently in Scotland, one thing I had to do was an Outlander tour!  Scotland is enjoying a resurgence of tourism because of Outlander, the STARZ show,  and they are very good sports about it really.  I like the show too but still think the books are WAY better.  Sam Heughan is awesome as Jamie though so no complaints there!

     So in Edinburgh, my tolerant daughter, who was not into Outlander at the time,  and I signed on for a full day Outlander tour with Rabbies Tours. Oh yes, friends, you can join fellow Outlander fans and a kilted tour guide like our man Grant, and indulge your wee passion for Jaime and Claire and all things Outlander.   We started out just outside of Edinburgh with a stop to see a real standing stone. Listening to the soundtrack from the show as we drove along just put you in the right mood. Then it was off to the very picturesque village of Culross which was used as the fictional town of Cranesmuir in the series.  We saw Geillis Duncan’s house and the square where Jamie freed a young lad’s ear which was nailed to a post. Our guide told us how the series used bits and pieces from one location and another and how much they had to build up around each location then haul it all away once filming was done.  We got to go to Castle Doune or Castle Leoch as we know it. Monty Python fans will recognize the castle from the Search for the Holy Grail as well.  The kitchen there was used as inspiration for the set design for Mrs. Fitzgibbon’s castle kitchen. Leoch was fun to roam around and the gift shop had a outlander costumes for you to try on for photos. You too can look like Claire but guys shouldn’t even attempt to look like Jamie, sorry guys.   We had lunch in Linlithgow where the evocative ruins of the castle that Mary Queen of Scots was born in are before we headed to Blackness castle which served as Fort William in the Outlander series.  This is a great stop as  you could picture Black Jack Randal flogging Jamie and in another great scene, Jamie climbs through the window to rescue Claire. All of that was shot at Blackness castle. Last, but not least, we stopped at Lallybroch. This old manor  house is not open to the public but the owner charges a parking fee and you can park and get out to see the front of the home.  We had a great time taking pictures at the fictional Lallybroch and one of our tour members came prepared with a sign saying “ looking for Jamie Fraser” that everyone used as a photo prop.  A good time was had by all.

This one day Outlander tour was a lot of fun and all the sights are just a short distance out of Edinburgh.  To get to Culloden battlefield , you need to get way up north in the Highlands . Of course, I had to do that so we set out on a two day overnight trip which included Culloden. This is of course, a real battlefield and figures prominently in the Outlander story line. Our guide, again with Rabbies tours, had wonderful historical background about the battle and the clans. We found the    real clan Fraser stone on the battlefield  which is well visited  with a lot of flowers even though our Jamie is fictional, the clan is real.  Culloden is windy and boggy and eerie and no trip to Scotland is complete without seeing Culloden. 

There are many more Outlander film sights near Glasgow where the show is filmed on a sound stage but we didn’t get there on this trip. So, if you are a fan of the books and the show, I highly recommend an Outlander tour from Edinburgh. Not only do you get to have fun with film locations but you see beautiful Scottish scenery and meet fellow Outlander fans.   After spending a whole day on the tour, my daughter came home and read the first few books and watched the show and can now be counted as an Outlander fan like her mother.  Or at least a fan of Sam Heughan…




Finding Michener’s Centennial in northern Colorado

My son and husband love the mini series Centennial.  They have watched it countless times.  I enjoy it too but am more familiar with some of author James Michener’s other huge books like Iberia, Hawaii, and Texas.  Every time I finish one of his massive books, I feel like I should have earned college credit in that subject.  So yesterday, with my friend Carol, we went to the Michener library on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado for an exhibit on Day of the Dead art and when we saw there is a permanent Michener exhibit one floor up, we headed upstairs to see what we could find.

James Michener was a writer who wrote  50 books in 50 years.  His Tales of the South Pacific won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 and became the musical South Pacific.  His book Centennial became the much loved mini series and was shot in and around Greeley.  Michener donated most of his papers and materials to the library at UNC and the library houses the notes, outlines, proofs ,notebooks, photos ,and artifacts from his novel Centennial, as well as 1,000 linear fee of correspondence, unpublished manuscripts and personal papers.  Besides being a writer, Michener ran for Congress in 1962 and served on various committees.  He died in 1997.

The Michener exhibit showcases photos, letters and book covers.  But some of the more interesting objects were campaign buttons from his congressional run, notebook used by him while researching and writing Centennial , a map of the local area where the mini series was shot and photos that Michener took himself .  But clearly, the weirdest item was a display of his dentures!  They caught our eye for sure but it did seem pretty strange to include.  I found the stained glass panel of Centennial character Potatoes Brumbaugh more fun.  I was told it used to hang in a restaurant named after that same character in Greeley years ago.

Michener dedicated this library in 1972 and I loved this quote from his dedication speech.  ” A library is a temporary resting place where the great ideas of the world are kept in order”.

Consider that Michener once said’ I spend about two years thinking about a book, two years doing background work, two years writing and whenever I have abbreviated this schedule it has been to my detriment”.  I have never taken two years to read one of his books but they are hefty.  If that is too daunting for you, make some popcorn and settle in for the mini series Centennial which is wonderful. It is a 12 part series that traces the history of a fictional town in Colorado through the people who settled it over the centuries.  The cast included Raymond Burr, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Conrad and Lynn Redgrave to name just a few. My family can quote entire episodes.  Or watch South Pacific.  Or stop in at the Michener library and see his dentures.  However you choose to get to know James Michener, you will be entertained and better for it.



Heidi’s Real Switzerland

One of the books that I loved as a girl was Heidi by Johanna Spyri.  It is the story of an orphan girl named Heidi who goes to live with her grumpy grandfather in the Alps.  She makes a best friend out of Peter, the goatherd and Klara the town girl.  The book was published in 1880 and has been translated into 50 languages.  Movies and cartoons have been made.  I have never been able to see beautiful Swiss mountains and not think about Heidi.  So, when I saw that we were going to be close to the real Swiss town that inspired the author to write the book, I had to go!  I made my college age daughter watch the newest movie version of Heidi so she could go with me with the same level of excitement. Not sure she was as excited but she humored me!

From Zurich, we took a train about an hour to Sargans, did a quick transfer and within a few minutes we were in Maienfeld.  This little town and the alps nearby were the setting for Heidi.  Author Johanna Spyri walked and hiked here frequently and thus Heidi was born.  We got off the train and quickly found a Heidi gift store a block from the station.  They sell all kinds of Heidi souvenirs and snacks.  The cashier told us it was a fairly long uphill walk to the Heidi attractions and since I was limping from an injury, that was a concern.  On weekends in the summer, there is a bus that meets the train to take visitors up to Heididorf but we were there during the week.  A kind woman shopping in the store took pity on us and drove us up to the village.

Once we arrived at Heididorf, we bought tickets at the museum and gift shop building.  Yes, even more Heidi souvenirs and books to purchase!  There are bathrooms there and some snacks and drinks for purchase.  There is also the “smallest post office in Switzerland” inside and you can buy a Heidi postcard and send it home with a special cancellation stamp as a souvenir.  We did that and then headed out to see the attractions.

Kids will enjoy the live goats and chickens in the farmyard.  There are statues of Heidi and Peter.  We headed to the replica of Heidi’s house first.  Lots of rooms set up as a typical Alps home with the book characters placed in the rooms.  There was a smaller mountain hut to look through as well.  The buildings are set with a lovely backdrop of meadows and mountains behind them.  It is peaceful and pretty.

Back in the building with the ticket office, the upstairs houses the museum about the author and the book.  There are good exhibits about Spyri’s life and writing and costumes from the most recent Heidi movie.  They have copies of the book in many different languages and formats and an exhibit on the cartoon that is very popular in Asia.

One thing we didn’t get to do that I would really have liked to is the Heidi Adventure Trail.  This is an almost 2 hour walk uphill to the Alp where you follow 12 illustrated markers that tell the story.  The views and the huts at the top are reportedly very scenic.  With a bad foot, I wasn’t able to do that on this visit.  My daughter and I had to walk down through the town of Maienfeld back to the train station, which is a lovely walk.  Frequent trains to Sargans and back to Zurich or onward to other destinations are easy to catch.

If you are in the area and are a fan of the Heidi, it is a pleasant stop.  I would not go out of your way to get there unless you have young children with you who might extend the visit by enjoying the animals and play area.  I was happy to see the area that inspired one of my favorite childhood books and would highly recommend the latest movie adaptation filmed in 2015.

Southern Sampler


On a recent trip to Georgia and Virginia to visit family, I managed to find all kinds of book nerd delights. Several authors I was well acquainted with but many local finds were unexpected. As blog readers know by now, I have a particular soft spot for Edgar Allan Poe and was happy to add another brush with Poe to my collection. So, without further adieu, here is what I found rambling about the South.

Author Eugenia Price fell in love with St Simons Island, as have I. After visiting Christ Church Cemetery, she became interested in some of the island’s early settlers which lead to her St Simons Trilogy ( The Beloved Invader, New Moon Rising and The Lighthouse ). You can follow her stories with visits to the Lighthouse and to Christ Church. She went on to write many more well loved books, some set in Florida but also a series set in nearby Savannah. She is buried in the Christ Church cemetery near the graves of those characters she brought to life in her books.

Leaving St Simons and an hour up the coast to Savannah, you are in the land of all things Good and Evil. John Berendt’s 1994 book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, is set in Savannah. You can tour the Mercer House where the murder in the book happened. There are all kinds of tours of the city based on the book. A trip to the evocative Bonaventure Cemetery where the original sculpture for the book cover was originally located is a must. That statue has been moved to protect the cemetery from being overrun with fans of the book but the cemetery offers beautiful flowers, moss draped trees and tombs of unique design. While at Bonaventure, I stopped by the grave of Poet and author, Conrad Aiken. His tomb was mentioned in Berendt’s book as well so is well marked for anyone looking for it. I have not read any of Aiken but after finding his grave, I feel like I should check out his poems and writing. There are many organized tours of the cemetery though the actual cemetery that figures in the book is located in nearby Beaufort.

Once I had my fill of tombs and moss and blooming azaleas, I headed back into the historic district of Savannah to hunt down Flannery O’ Connor. Flannery wrote many short stories and two novels set in the South which are often full of grotesque characters and happenings. Southern Gothic is the term often used to describe her writings which include A Good Man is Hard to Find and the Violent Bear it Away. She was born in Savannah and lived in this house until her mid teens. The house is open limited hours for tours. I didn’t get to go in on this visit so will have to go back. She lived and died in Milledgeville, Georgia and there is a museum there in her memory as well so you could easily add on a visit there to round out your O’ Connor pilgrimage.

Savannah and St Simons island are wonderful destinations for food, beaches, architecture, history, music, gardens and for book lovers! I next headed to Richmond, Virginia to visit my mom. I am there frequently so have done all the major Civil War sights. Richmond too has an awesome cemetery for those who want to find civil war generals and officers and even a few US Presidents ( and one confederate one) but on this trip I skipped all of that. Instead , I took my nephew to Belle Isle for a school project.

Belle Isle is an island in the middle of the James River in downtown Richmond. It is the subject of the book, Hell on Belle Isle, Diary of a Civil War POW by Don Allison. Belle Isle was a Civil War prison for captured Union soldiers. The diary of Osborn Coburn, who spent months starving and freezing out in the open on the Island during the war is a heart breaking read. Thousands of captured soldiers suffered and died here by neglect, including Coburn. Today, it is a green park area where you can walk all over the island and enjoy the rocks and rapids in the river. But the sight of the Tredegar Iron works right across the river is a stark reminder of what this area was like in the 1860s. Tredegar is now a very well done museum of the Civil War which you can tour before or after your visit to Belle Isle.

My family lives in nearby Ashland. Ashland was founded as a railroad town in the mid 1800’s and boasts some beautiful old houses, Randolph Macon College and the home of Patrick Henry and birthplace of Henry Clay. However, one house on the town walking tour caught my eye. 706 Center Street was the home of Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton. So, you ask? She was the childhood sweetheart of Edgar Allan Poe. He left her to attend the University of Virginia and she married another. Poe later wrote Tamerlane, probably about her. After she was widowed, they renewed their friendship. I attended Easter service at my mom’s church, which happens to be the church that Sarah helped establish. Be still my tell tale heart!

I learned all kinds of interesting local history from the Ashland Museum and guide, Nelson Vaughn. While there, we met local author Roseann Groat Shalf and picked up a copy of her book, Ashland, Ashland: The Story of a Turn of the Century Railroad Town. We had lunch at Hanover Tavern in neighboring Hanover, another spot full of history. I never get tired of visiting the south. There is so much to see and do and learn -from the wars that shaped our history to historical and literary figures to beautiful homes and gardens and countryside. My book club just finished America’s First Daughter about Patsy Jefferson. I should head up to Charlottesville and visit Monticello next. So much to see, so little time…


All Things Steinbeck

Two of my favorite books are East of Eden and Travels with Charley. So, when I was in Salinas, California recently, I had to stop at the National Steinbeck Center. For a Steinbeck fan, it is a must see and because the exhibits are unique and interesting, even a casual reader will be intrigued.

The Center is set up by book title so each twist and turn in the space delights with exhibits from that book such as movie clips, manuscripts, posters, and fun activities like a Steinbeck crossword puzzle, the truck from Travels with Charley, replica rooms from certain books etc.. There are small theatres or screens where you can watch the movie or play versions of classics such as Of Mice and Men. The gift shop is chock full of Steinbeck books, and fun items.

A few blocks down the street is the Steinbeck house which now serves lunch. When we were there, the house was closed but as we were taking pictures out front, several very nice volunteers noticed us and asked if we wanted to see the house. Yes!! We were treated to a private tour of the main floor and taken upstairs to see the non public spaces too. They have some excellent Steinbeck family photos and mementos in the house. Wish we could have had lunch there, will need to go back another time. Steinbeck is buried in the nearby cemetery but it too is closed on Sundays.

Salinas is a pleasant town surrounded by large strawberry and lettuce fields. In nearby Monterey, you can continue your Steinbeck pilgrimage to see Cannery Row, Ed Ricketts laboratory, and several statues and plaques about Steinbeck.

The National Steinbeck Center hosts an annual Steinbeck festival as well as a birthday commemoration each year. The archives contain correspondence, family artifacts, interviews, foreign book editions, manuscripts and photos. There are several introductory short films about Steinbeck and the area that you can watch before you tour the exhibits. I love that such an impressive museum solely revolves around an American author and his stories, many of which I have grown to love. The Center and the Steinbeck house also have some of the nicest volunteers and staff and there is a tasty Mexican restaurant just down the street! Are you a Steinbeck fan and if so, what book is your favorite?


Book characters as scarecrows in Cambria, California.


I was recently in beautiful Cambria, California to enjoy walking on Moonstone Beach and to visit Hearst Castle with a friend. We spent an idyllic few days walking the coastal trail to a lighthouse, driving up Highway 1 towards Big Sur and watching the elephant seals on the beach.

But we happened to be there during the town’s annual Scarecrow Festival which runs the month of October every year. They take scarecrows to a whole new level here! Most businesses participate by placing one or multiple very creative figures out front. Artists, surfers, animals, and ghouls galore are represented but my favorites were all the literary characters you could find all over town! Families were out with children posing with their favorite book characters which just added to the fun. There is a community wide contest for new entries each year and I understand that some of these scarecrows are saved and are placed in new locations around town from year to year as well. Creators start months in advance to craft these elaborate ” scarecrows”.

Above  you will find, Peter Pan and Wendy with Captain Hook, Edgar Alan Poe, Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter, Old Mother Hubbard, Cinderella, the dwarfs from Snow White and Ichabad Crane and the Headless Horseman as well as a creative rendition of Oh, the Places You Will Go.

Seeing all of these characters gave me a serious case of scarecrow envy.  But what character or author would I want to put in my own front yard? They used Poe, who if you have read this blog before, you know I have a soft spot for.  I loved their scene with him but now it has been done!  Maybe Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or something from my childhood like Nancy Drew or the Peanuts gang?  So many options.   Leave a comment and tell me what literary scarecrow you would place in your yard!