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The Star Trek Convention: Cosmos, Celebrities, and Causes

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprises. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man had gone before . . .”

 

The world’s most famous split infinitive became a part of our cultural identity fifty-one years ago. A show that almost didn’t get made, twice saved by the first fan-based letter writing campaigns. It was canceled after three seasons but continued in syndication. Now a half century later, there have been five televisions series (with a sixth on the way), an animated series, six movies based on the original series, four based on the Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:NG), and the “reboot” films by J.J. Abrams referred to as the Kelvin Timeline. That’s a lot of Star Trek in five decades.

But it did more than entertain. It was different the previous space adventures that warned us that the cosmos was dark, dangerous, and out to get us. Star Trek is hopeful. It is a future where humanity survives its worse impulses and reaches out to take out its place among the stars. It also dealt with controversial topics, such as racial equality, war, and greed. They inspired both boys and girls to become scientist and astronauts.

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of ST:NG, which continued the tradition, changing “where no man had gone” to “where no one had gone” to demonstrate this would be a more inclusive storyline. They also added the struggle of what does it mean to be human with the sentient android Data.  Women’s roles were even more prominent. For example:

  • Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) as the head of the medical department
  • Fleet Admiral Alynna Nachayev (Natalija Nogulich) as Captain Picard’s immediate senior officer, who will also appear on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (ST:DS9)
  • Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), a senior security officer
  • The mysterious Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), tending Ten Forward, a futuristic bar.

I was four when the first episodes Star Trek: The Original Series (ST:TOS) aired in 1965, so I can say I literally grew up with it. I’ve seen all of the ST:TOS episodes at least twice and some maybe a dozen times, thanks to re-runs, video tapes, and now DVDs. When the opportunity arose, I went where I had not gone before, the Star Trek Convention put on by Creation Entertainment in Las Vegas at Rio Hotel and Resort. This year the event’s focus was the celebration ST:NG’s thirtieth anniversary.

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To say it was overwhelming at times would be an understatement. The convention center of the Rio was decorated with banners and photo backgrounds, where fans could pose and snap a selfie. A good number of attendees were dressed in simple to very elaborate cosplay. Three unique gallery displays attracted attention these included a set reconstruction of ST:TOS bridge; an array of props, photos, and a replica of Ten Forward from ST:NG; and presentation of props and costumes from new Star Trek: Discovery. Photo Ops and Autographs sessions with the actors were available, for a fee. There at least three panels going on simultaneously and there was the exhibition hall where you could shop ‘til you drop.

 

A fandom convention requires that many participants display their love with the flair of a peacock. The Star Trek convention was no exceptions. There were Star Fleet officers and denizens from the far reaches of the galaxy. The creativity and the eye for detail were impressive.

 

The gallery displays were well done and set up like small museums. They were well worth the short wait in line.

  • ST:TOS Bridge set: a recreation of the bridge with flashing lights and sound effects. You could tell someone put a lot of work into making it as accurate as possible. For a fee, you could have a photo taken of you seating at one of the stations, including the captain’s chair.

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  • ST:NG Ten Forward set: The set itself was rather dull just a beige and brown bar, but for a fee, you could have your picture taking with one of the stars of the show sitting at the bar. The best part of this room was the display of props, photos, and memorabilia from the shows seven-year run.

 

  • ST: Discovery: This gallery was filled with props, costumes, and photos from the new series. The sleek designs and elaborate detail each item showed an emphasis on detail that will not be lost on the screen. And as a bonus, you could have your picture taken in the commander’s chair, a gift from CBS.

 

Throughout the weekend there were opportunities to get autographs and photo-ops with some of the actors. Most of the time you paid a fee, received a ticket, and then waited in line. They had this down to a precision dance. For the photos, you waited in line, stood next to the star, flash, and you’re done. You’d return a few hours later and pick up your photo. For the autographs, you stood in line with the item you wanted to be signed and sticky-note with your name for personalization, you handed them to the actor, they signed, and off you go. With the numbers waiting there was no time for chit-chat.

As multiple panels were happening at once, and since I haven’t mastered the art of being in two places I once I chose carefully. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Q & A with Astronaut Mae Jamison – She spoke about how seeing Nichelle Nichols on ST:TOS inspired her to set her goal to one day go into space. She went on to discuss her current project, 100 Year Starship with the aim of interstellar travel within the next 100 years. (Ms. Nichols also surprised the audience by joining Ms. Jamison on stage.)

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  • The Women of Star Trek – Moderated by Gates McFadden, the women discussed the changing role of women as reflected in characters of the Star Trek franchise. One panelist said that when she saw Whoopi Goldberg on ST:NG for the first time she called out, “Mama, Mama there’s a black lady on TV and she ain’t no maid.” This young woman is now volcanologist (Just to be clear, she clarified she studies volcanoes not Vulcans).
  • Remembering Leonard – A brief film documenting the actor/director Leonard Nimoy’s life and his struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The feature was beautifully presented with remembrances from his wife, children, and grandchildren.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Panel – several members of the cast (Rene Auberjonois, Nana Visitor, Terry Ferrell, Armin Shimerman, Aron Eisenberg, and Max Grodenchik) sat on the couch and talked about their time together. It was generally expressed the end of the show was bittersweet because they didn’t want the show to end but it had run for seven seasons and hundred and seventy-six episodes, it was time to move on.

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  • A Science Trek – Scientists from Cal Tech spoke three times over the weekend about the search for planets, especially Class M planets like Earth, and the upcoming solar eclipse. They are finding more planets within the “habitable zone” every day, so we are getting closer to being able “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.”
  • Star Trek: Discovery – Four hours were devoted to introducing the newest Star Trek series, Discovery. Panels included storyline, actors, creatures, and comic/novel tie-ins. This show will be a bit different. First is the time line, Discovery will take place ten years before ST:TOS and shortly after Star Trek: Enterprise. This means we could see a young Sarek (Spock’s father) or Christopher Pike as a new graduate from Star Fleet Academy. The second is the focus of the stories will be below decks, where most of the franchise focused on events on the bridge this one will be following a young woman whose role on the ship wasn’t revealed, only that she is human but raised on Vulcan. The third, and most controversial, is that it will air on CBS All Access subscription service in the United States. Yes, we will have to pay to watch it.
  • Various stars gave one-on-one Q & A sessions, including George Takai, Walter Koenig, William Shatner, Sir Patrick Stewart, and Rene Auberjonois. Brent Spiner and LaVar Burton interviewed each other. This gave them also a platform to promote their favorite causes. For example, Mr. Auberjonois and Doctors without Borders; Mr. Shatner and Hollywood Charity Horse Show raising funds to support equine therapy groups; and George Takei and his support of LGBTQ organizations. These sessions whether in the large main hall or one of the smaller venues were full of stories, laughter, and few tears.

The exhibition hall was full of everything Star Trek, from clothing and toys to memorabilia. It was best to visit first thing in the morning as fewer shoppers were filled the aisles. I bought a few things. As I forgot to bring any earrings, I had to buy some Star Trek chevron ones. There were also tables where some actors were doing autographs in addition to the previously mentioned ones. I visited with Nichelle Nichols, James Darren, and Michael Doran.  As this time was less pressed, it was also a time for a short conversation. My favorite vendor was the girls at LLAP (Live Long and Prosper). This small business founded by Leonard Nimoy and his granddaughter Dani, offered some well-made t-shirts, jewelry, and memorabilia. A portion of all proceeds goes to COPD research. Dani, her mom Julie (Leonard’s daughter) and their friend, were warm and friendly. I don’t usually bond quickly with people, but when I said my farewells at the end of the weekend, it felt like saying goodbye to family.

 

Overall, the convention was well organized with a variety of events to keep everyone entertained. Creation Entertainment puts on several conventions for different fandoms throughout the year with ticket prices that vary depending on the perks you are willing to pay for. For example, general admission will get you into the venue space permitting (if all the seats are full you miss that event.) Gold level, on the other hand, gets you reserved seating in the front of the auditorium, autographs and meet & greets. I went with Copper level, so I knew I had a seat halfway back for the panels, like Sir Patrick Stewart, if all the general admission seats were full. But I could help feel like I was “nickeled and dimed” as some events required an additional fee to attend, even for the Gold level (Captain’s Chair Level, they were included). When you spend $400 or more to attend a convention, it’s disappointing when you get there and find you can’t attend all of the activities without additional cost.

The Rio Hotel and Resort was a lovely venue. Situated on the other side of Interstate 15 from The Strip, it was a more relaxed location. During the summer on Thursdays they show a movie by the pool under the stars, this week it was Galaxy Quest, which I enjoyed watching again. The only issue I had was the daily $22.99 “resort fee” added on to my bill that I was never told about until check out. When I made my reservations, the only amounts listed were the room and taxes.

It was a fun but tiring weekend. I’m glad I went, but would I do it again? Probably not. Though not as crowded as San Diego Comic-Con, it was significantly more expensive.  I think I would prefer a smaller fan convention. My hope is next year to visit the San Diego Who Con (a Doctor Who convention) or Gaslight Gathering (a Steampunk and Victorian convention).  Though another smaller Star Trek convention isn’t out of the question.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Crowds, Cosplay & Comics: Comic Con 2017

Last week I attended San Diego Comic Con International at the convention center on the harbor in San Diego. This is a semi-regular event for me, my husband has attended most years since 1972. When we were newlyweds, I went with him every year but when we returned from Japan in 1997, the Con I remembered was no more. It had morphed from a small convention of 18,000 members to a whopping 90,000 people. This year the estimated attendance was a massive 130,000. With numbers like that it causes difficulty moving just from one panel to another.

 

The large crowds do allow for some wonderful people-watching and cosplay gazing. I’ll admit the cosplay was cool – lots of Wonder Woman outfits this year. The cutest was an Elsa (Frozen) / Wonder Woman mash-up – she wore Elsa’s blue gown with Wonder Woman’s chest armor, tiara, and sword in blue (Sorry no pic, her mom declined when I asked if I could take a picture). The oddest one was the bearded Wonder Woman, he told me his wife helped him create the costume.

 

Despite the large crowds, there were some panels worth facing the crowds and attending. Here are three I went to:

 Star Trek: The Next 50 Years – Authors Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross (The Fifty-Year Mission) along with Scott Mantz from Access Hollywood looked back over the last fifty years of Star Trek and speculated on where the franchise will boldly go during the next fifty years. They looked at how the television program and the movies have inspired generations to explore careers in science and technology – both male and female, and of all ethnic and racial groups due to the strong characters in the series. They cited the importance of Uhura (ST:TOS), Benjamin Sisco (ST:DS9), and Michael Doren (ST:NG) as role-models to name a few. It wasn’t easy to deal with the serious topics of equality and war, but under Gene Rodenberry’s leadership, determination to preserve his vision, and tenacity to stand up to network executives he won most of the time. One example when he backed down was that of Majel Barrett being demoted to Nurse Chapel from Number One in the original pilot because the network said no body would believe a woman as second in command.

Most of the lore they discussed was familiar, but they talked about a new movie in the works as well as a new television series – Star Trek: Discovery. Discovery is reported to take place ten years before ST:TOS, but it’s unclear if that is before or during the same time as ST: Enterprise. It will launch part one of the pilot on Sunday, September 24 following NFL Football and 60 Minutes, then part two will stream on CBS All Access immediately following. All remaining episodes will also be available on CBS All Access. It was discussed if fans would be willing to pay the approximately $4.95 per week to watch the weekly series. I’m sure I will find out more at the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas next week (more on that to come.)

 

 Comics Arts Conference #5: Lassoing the Truth: Marston Verses Wertham in the Wonder Woman War –  The Comic Arts Conference is an academic conference within Comic Con study the role of comics in society, as well as the history and art. The topic was looking at William Moulton Marston, a psychologist and creator of Wonder Woman, who wanted to empower America’s youth and especially the girls to reach for something higher. He believed that if women were in power, the world would be a better place and free of war and poverty because the female of our species was more nurturing and empathetic than the males. When Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist, wrote his book the Seduction of the Innocent (1954) he blamed the rise juvenile delinquency on the proliferation of comic books.  Wertham attacked Marston, who passed away in 1947, and his creation. Wertham felt it promoted S&M and lesbianism. He also felt that Wonder Woman gave girls a false sense of their abilities, and encouraged them to be un-feminine.   Time has shown that Wertham’s thoughts couldn’t be further from the truth. Wonder Woman has inspired countless girls to grow up and be soldiers, pilots, and police officers (and much more).

The panel included several notable participants: The first was Trina Robbins (The Legend of Wonder Woman), who I met at my first Comic Con in 1984, a comic book writer and historian. The other was Christi Marston (The Wonder Woman Network and Family Museum) William Moulton Marston’s granddaughter, whom I’ve wanted to meet.   Also leading the panel were Doctors Travis Langley and Mara Wood, whose book Wonder Woman Psychology: Lassoing the Truth was released this month.

 

 Tales from the Comic Book Crackdown – This was more than a panel, it was a performance by the Captured Aural Phantasy Theater, led by Ben Dickow, about EC Comics publisher of titles such as Tales from the Crypt and Weird Science. , Within the pages of their comics, there was clever commentary about the issues of the day including racism and McCarthyism. This “panel” was a presentation about the publisher of EC Comics, William Gaines, being brought before the U.S. Senate to testify in a hearing that would lead to censorship of comic books in 1954. Presented with music, slides, actual testimony from the hearing, and with additional commentary by comic historian Grant Geissman, it entertained the audience as well as informed them. The group, working with the Gaines family, hope to bring a full production to the stage in the fall. I heard about this hearing but listening to the actual testimony and looking at the actual pages of comics in question was enlightening and entertaining.

 

Many fans will wait days in line to get into Hall H, where many big stars appear to promote the latest blockbuster films – Thor Ragnarok, The Kingsmen II, and Justice League just to name a few. I personally won’t go there, for two reasons. First, you can spend the entire day waiting in the heat (the line is outside) to see one panel, and given what the cost of membership is to me it’s not worth it. Second, most of the events will be posted on YouTube so I can see them later.

Confession time – I did stand in one line, but only for ninety minutes, to get an autograph. It was worth this shortish wait for five minutes with John Barrowman. Best known for his roles in Doctor Who and Torchwood (Captain Jack Harkness), and is most currently in Arrow (Malcolm Merlyn). When I asked him, with a new Doctor in the wings wasn’t it time for a Doctor/Jack reunion? His response – “Hell, yes!”

 

One major attraction of Comic Con is the Exhibition Hall. Here publishers, writers, authors, and Hollywood studios vie for your attention. There are opportunities to see artists at work, get autographs, free swag, and of course for shopping. This year I was in the company of my husband’s eleven-year-old sister.  This being her first Con, she was a bit overwhelmed but reported that it was “freakin’ fun” and that I, her sister-in-law, was “really cool.”

The Exhibition Hall, the size of six football fields or more, could keep anyone busy for the four-day run of the convention. I bought a few books, a Star Trek t-shirt, a Doctor Who t-shirt, and Sarah Jane Pop! Toy. I stayed well within my budget for the weekend.

 

It was a long, exhausting weekend, but a time to spend with my husband and catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. According to my Fitbit, I walked 52,191 steps (approximately 22 miles) over the four days. Most days we left my parent’s house at 6 AM to get parked and didn’t hit the sack until nearly midnight.

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Hubby and me. (photo courtesy of Dave Davis Photography)

I am just now recovering from the long, active weekend I’m off on another adventure. This will be the last of the summer as I return to work on 7 August. This week I’m heading north to Las Vegas, Nevada (not to be confused with Las Vegas, New Mexico) for the 50th Anniversary Star Trek Convention. To boldly go where I’ve never gone before.

Until next time remember the door is always open and the kettle is always on.

 

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Finding My Tribe

This morning I’m in a fog, caused by a mixture of exhaustion, joy, and inspiration. I’m still processing my week at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference (SBWC), five and a half days of workshops, panels, speakers, and networking.

 

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The Hyatt Santa Barbara – host to the SBWC 2017

 

Going to the SBWC has been on my to-do list for a long time. I had been a storyteller since I could talk, but I stopped when traumatized by the critique group for a creative writing class in college. In November of 2007, a friend dared me to join her for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and complete a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in thirty days. Flash forward to November 2010, I went to an event with my husband and took my notepad with me, after all, I had to get my 1667 words done that day. I planted myself in the corner of a couch and scratched away. With my nose buried in my words, I was unaware of a man’s approach until he spoke. “Young woman what are you doing and why aren’t you enjoying the party?” I look up, and it was Ray Bradbury. I had met Ray at other events and had found him easy to talk with. I told him about NaNoWriMo, my word goal, and my story. He smiled broadly, complemented my plot, and then said, “When you’re serious about your writing, you need to go to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.” He made me promise I would go one day. Ray, I kept my promise, and I’m glad I did.

I know that most think of writing as a solitary endeavor. While the actual writing is often done holed up somewhere and shunning the world, writers are very social creatures. Writes go out into the world to gather information, observe, and get ideas.

At a conference, it’s finding like-minded people.  When you discuss writing with non-writers, after the initial expression of admiration or surprise if you continue to talk about writing their eyes glaze over or they begin looking around the room for an escape.  When you talk writing with writers, they nod in understanding, sympathize, and celebrate. You understand them and they you.

As I sit sipping Sweet Tea with Lemon (What else would I be drinking? It’s ten in the morning, and it’s already 101o F), I reflect on the past week and realize have found my tribe, as it was described by Grace Rachow, Director of the SBWC. Among a group where I’m not thought of as weird or a few degrees of center because this is family and they understand.

When I looked at the schedule for the week, I became overwhelmed. Even conferences for my pay-the-bills job were this full of choices. The day ran from 9 AM to 9 PM, and beyond. After I started to breathe again and Grace’s reassurance that I didn’t have to nor should I try to do it all that I came up with a plan.

 

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Bill helping me review the schedule.

 

There were two sets of workshops – morning and afternoon – with ten to fifteen choices each. Some ran the whole week, other just one or two days. I chose to spend most of my mornings in the Mystery Writing with Leonard Tourney. Leonard’s novels can be described as Elizabethan Mysteries. I’ve read The Bartholomew Fair Murders, I enjoyed it and can recommend his books.  My afternoons were spent in Crafting Short Stories with Yvonne Nelson Perry. She is the author of many short stories about life on the Pacific Rim. I also attended two one-day workshops, Submitting Short Stories with Mac Talley and The Art of the Query with Trey Dowell.

Lecture was limited, the workshops were mostly discussion and critique. For me, there were several key take-home points.

  • The reader participates in the creation of the story in how they interpret the images, actions, and voices in your story.
  • Even in a plot-driving story (such as mystery or fantasy), it’s still about character. If your reader doesn’t care about your protagonist, they’ll stop reading no matter how wonderful your plot is.
  • Dialogue has two purposes, to give information to the reader but mostly to help define the character.
  • Every scene must have a purpose, if it doesn’t move the plot forward, cut it.
  • Follow the directions of the agent/publisher when submitting.
  • Query letters should be mostly about the story and less about the author.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous about the reading my work in front of (what was then) strangers. My college critique group was more, “let’s see how many we can make cry today.”  My critique group back home in the high desert cut me no slack and were hard on my stories. I would sometimes go home licking my wounds, only to review  it a few days later and saying, “Damn, they’re right.” The critiques during the workshops were spot on but very gently delivered. I have some changes to make, but I will have a better story in the end.

In the afternoon and before the dinner break, there were panels with agents, new authors, navigating Amazon’s publishing platform, and Catherine Ryan Hyde, an SBWC alumna and author of Pay it Forward. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear her speak, I was taken out for the afternoon by friends who lived in the area.

One of the highlights of the day was the evening speakers.  Each had an inspirational message about writing and our role in the universe.

  • Fannie Flagg (The Whole Town’s Talking) “If you can’t not do it, you’re a writer.”
  • David Brin (David Brin Presents Chasing Shadows) “I’m paid to be interesting, not right.”
  • Lesley M.M. Blume (Everybody Behaves Badly) “There was a time when Hemingway was a struggling writer among other struggling writers.”

Of course, it wasn’t all work and not play. There was time to socialize and network. I enjoyed the Opening Banquet where Monte Schulz (Crossing Eden) told us, “I want you to be persistent. I want you to be passionate.” Midweek, as we were “hitting the wall” there was a poolside cocktail party. The event closed with an Awards Banquet, where the best work presented in workshops were honored.

Even though each day’s events were officially over at nine, it didn’t stop there. At 9:30, the Pirates came out to play. The Pirate sessions were time to workshop stories into the wee hours of the morning. I joined the Pirates let by John Reed most nights, getting an average of five hours sleep each night, which explains why I’m so tired today. It was interesting to hear works from writers that were not in my daytime workshops. Even when I wasn’t reading my stories, I was learning from the techniques and comments of the other writers in the room.

There were a few times I wander away from the conference. Most morning, I took a leisurely walk down the beach and ate breakfast at the East Beach Grill. It was pleasant sitting on a patio just feet from the shore, watching the waves roll in, and the birds fly by. One morning, my walk to me past the bird sanctuary. The sound of large cat announcing its presence startled me until I realized I was by the back fence of the Santa Barbara Zoo.

One dinner break, I walked toward Sterns Wharf. It was much further than I thought so I was late getting back but it was worth it. I found a Louisiana-style seafood place, The Drunken Crab. I had a lovely bowl of King Crab Bisque. The staff was welcoming and attentive. Nothing fancy, but it would be a good place to go with friends.

Before driving home, I made one last stop. I went to Sambo’s by the Beach. The original and only remaining Sambo’s Restaurant. There was one thing I had to order – pancakes of course. Looking at the decorations brought back a memory from 1979, the last time I ate at a Sambo’s. Following my senior prom, a group of us were hungry and stopped to get a bite to eat. Situated across the street from the beach, it has a beautiful view of Stern’s Wharf and the marina. That morning there were also runners as the annual 5K /10K Solstice Festival was that morning.

At the Awards Banquet, I was asked if I would come back next year. Ray Bradbury once said, “First you jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.”  I jumped off the cliff, and I not only found some stronger wings, but my tribe was there to catch me. I’ll be back.

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The Bridge to Summer Break

Summer is here, school is out, and the kids are home all day long.

When I was growing up that meant fun and adventure. We’d get up at sunrise, have breakfast, and then we were out for the day running around the neighborhood, riding our bikes in the canyons, and eating lunch at whoever’s mom would feed us that that day. If my mom had the day off from work, lunch was at our house. Everyone knew if we played our cards right, she’d let us hang out in the family room and play cards or watch television until time for dinner. We thought we were getting away with something – but the truth was she liked having us around.

As we got older, we could take the bus somewhere for the day. The beach, the zoo, or the library were popular destinations. Occasionally, it was a day at the mall and the afternoon matinee.

As the school year wrapped up, I asked my students (high school age, most receiving special education services) what they planned to do over the long break. Most responded, “nothing.”

Being the “speech teacher,” I would inquire for more detail, working on one last chance to teach better communication skills. “Define – nothing. Are you sitting on your bed twiddling your thumbs? Or sitting on the floor with your fingers in your ears?”

They give me polite laughter at the attempted joke.

Nothing means playing video games all day. Things have changed since I was a kid.

The moment they say admit that they have no real plans for summer, students that have been with me awhile know what is coming next.

We just spent the last five months reading a novel together as the platform to work on their language goals. This year we read Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson.

We talked about the main characters, Jesse and Leslie, spending time stretching the wings of their imaginations bringing Terabithia into existence. It was in this land of their making, they learned the power of friendship, how to face the giants in their lives, and how it was important to give back to the world what they had learned. The ending is bittersweet, there were a few wet eyes and sniffles as we finished the reading.

Before we get back to how this relates to my student’s summer, let me explain why I read to my students.

I am not a reading teacher, my pay-the-bills job is providing Language, Speech, and Hearing Services to high school students. I use reading as a platform to meet their goals. It is through reading, I can introduce them to vocabulary and grammar in context. The stories demonstrate the use of critical thinking and problem-solving skills in a wide variety of settings. Most importantly, it is through reading we learn how to deal with strong emotions in relative safety, especially empathy.

Now, back to our main topic – What are you doing during Summer Break?

After they have told me that they plan on spending their summer in their dark, probably smelly, bedrooms staring at a monitor for two months, I take a deep breath and smile. “Is that the best you can do? Where is your sense of adventure? Where is your imagination?”

They roll their eyes.

“Are you ready for your summer assignment?” I continue.

From the freshman, I get wide-eyed looks of disbelief – homework over summer? The older students roll their eyes again and say, “We know, we know – read.”

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This is their assignment, printed on stationary –

Dear Students,

It’s time to say goodbye to another school year. Where did it go? These past ten months have gone by too fast. I have watched you learn, discover, and become young adults.

I’m going to ask you to do three things over the Summer:

  • Read every day for at least thirty minutes (longer would be better). Read anything: sports magazines, comic books, the manual for that new video game, or novels. You don’t need money to do this – the public library is free. The librarians will be glad to help you find something of interest at your reading level. Take advantage of the library’s summer reading program and book browse. (To browse a book – pick up a book and start reading. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to finish it. Return it and get another book. If you like it, finish it and then ask the librarian to help you find other books by the same author or in the same genre.)
  • Get some sun on your face every day. That means – go outside. Play basketball in the park. Go for a walk. Ride your bike. Have fun.
  • Come back to school in one piece. I don’t want to see any broken students in August. I want you back safe, healthy, and ready to learn.

Take care and have fun. I look forward to seeing you all in the fall.

Students that have done my summer homework report that they had a fun break, learned something new, and were ready to be back at school. Those that didn’t report they had an okay break and are not ready to be back a school.

If you have students at home for the summer and they’ve decided that hibernating in their bedrooms and vegetating is how they are spending their break, might I make a suggestion?

Encourage them to come out of the dark and join you in the sunshine. Make it a family activity to go to the library, take a hike, or do something new.

I have no children at home. It would be easy for me to park myself at the computer and surf all day. But I know that I’d be hurting both my physical and mental health. So, I read, write, take the dogs for walks, borrow my friend’s children for a day, and plan adventures. In other words, I follow my own advice to my students.

I’ll admit those last few weeks of the school year I was so looking forward to a break from getting up at 4:30 in the morning, being responsible for a hundred plus students, and facing the daily pile of paperwork on my desk.  But I also know that come the end of July, I’ll be ready to cross back over the bridge a start another school year.

I wish you all, my beloved readers, a happy and safe summer. And don’t worry, I’ll be posting my adventures so you can share in the fun too.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Memorial Day, a Day of Rememberance

Repost from last Memorial Day – sorry for the repeat, but I’m a bit under the weather and these thoughts are still relevant as they were last year. I’ll be back up to speed next week. 

Please don’t wish me a happy Memorial Day. Please don’t thank me for my service today. Today isn’t about celebrating the first weekend of the Summer season, backyard barbecues, or fantastic deals at the mall. Today is a memorial service, a funeral of sorts.

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Let me explain.

Today, I went to the Victorville Memorial Park as requested by my American Legion post to participate in the Memorial Day ceremony. While waiting for it to begin, I had a conversation with Rene De La Cruz, a reporter for the Victor Valley Daily Press. We discussed the meaning of the day and the “celebrations” we saw, and frankly, we found it a little disturbing.

We have three holidays to honor our military. Veteran’s Day, a day of giving thanks and honor to those who have served during all of the wars and conflicts. Armed Forces’ Day, a day to celebrate and encourage those currently on active duty, a holiday that is largely forgotten. And Memorial Day, a day to remember and honor those who paid the ultimate price and gave their life in service to us, the people of the United States of America.

Memorial Day came out of the Civil War. General John Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, gave this order: “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

He called it Decoration Day and chose the date because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. And at the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield (and future President) gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. That day 5,000 came to decorate the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

The day became alternately known as both Decoration Day and Memorial Day, the name was not official until 1968. It was fixed to the last Monday in May, rather than the 30th, in 1971.

Okay, history lesson over.

For me, Memorial Day is a somber day. A day I approach with a tear in my eye and a heavy heart.

I remember as a child, there were friends whose fathers, uncles and older brothers didn’t come home from Vietnam.

I remember friends and colleagues that didn’t come home from Desert Storm, during my time on active duty.

I remember friends whose sons and daughters, brother and sisters, wives and husbands haven’t come home from the current conflicts.

I remember my great-grandfathers, who served in World War I. Great-grandpa Kimball, my maternal grandmother’s father, never made it home, he was one of the many soldiers and sailors who died in the flu pandemic at the end of war. He died and was buried at Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia (His last “duty station” was my first.) Great-grandpa Nelson, my maternal grandmother’s step-father, was a shipmate of Great-grandpa Kimball’s and told wonderful stories about him.

Great-grandpa Nelson, “Gramps” as we called him, loved it when we would recite poems to him. In Flander’s Field by John McCrea, was a favorite of his. I memorized it and recited at a school Memorial Day assembly when I was in junior high school.

IN FLANDERS FIELDS

by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872 – 1918) Canadian Army Medical Corp

In Flanders fields, the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place: and in the sky

The larks still bravely singing fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved: and now we lie

In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe

To you, from failing hands, we throw

The torch: be yours to hold it high

If ye break faith with us who die,

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields

Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915, during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium

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On this day, remember those you gave the greatest measure and sacrificed themselves so you can spend the day sunning yourself on the beach, go to the mall and live your life without fear.

Until next time, remember – the door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Not a Mom, but I do Mother

Today is Mother’s Day, my least favorite day of the year.

I often go out of my way to stay home on the second Sunday in May. The reason being I get asked the same two questions every year, not just by strangers but by friends who should already know the answers.

  • What did you do for your mom for Mother’s Day? Nothing, given she died 21 years ago this November. The most I can do is go put flowers on her niche. I will always miss my mom.
  • What did your kids do for you this morning? Nothing, I have no children unless you count the ones with four legs and fur.
Furbabies

Argos and Rowdy Girl, my furbabies.

Cheryl Lacey Donovan wrote in her book The Ministry of Motherhood that “Mother is a verb. It’s something you do. Not just who you are.”

But the truth be told, as an educator (both public schools and Sunday School) and a Girl Scout leader, I have mothered a lot of children.

You don’t have to give birth to be a “Mom.” I have many friends who have fostered, adopted, or been step-mothers. This doesn’t make you any less of a mother. What makes you a mother is loving a child unconditionally through life’s bumps and turns.

If you’re lucky like me, you’ll have a few who will bestow upon you the title “Other Mother” or “Auntie.”

One young man, who still calls me Auntie, had the staff at the high school convinced I was his real aunt. This backfired on him, when he was in trouble instead of calling home they threatened him with calling me. I’d give him an earful, and when he got home, he’d get it a second time.

Another young man, broke my heart when he told me, “You’ve been a better mom, than my own mom.” It was a bittersweet moment, in that I was glad I was there for him, but I understood what he meant.

The students who belong to the writing club I sponsor at the high schools often look to me to be a mom/auntie. Sometimes I forget that then a mom tells me, “Thank you so much for being such an important mother figure in my girls’ life!” It makes the hassles of paperwork, scheduling, and fundraising worth it.

Then there are my “mini-me” girls, who are now taller than me.

I’ve known Erin since she was six and she was in my Sunday School class. Her mom and I came to be “sisters.” When I’ve taken her places, even with you mom with us, people thought she was my daughter as her coloring and build are more like mine than her tall, dark mother. Through the years I have been a teacher, Girl Scout leader, and friend. She’s in high school now and doesn’t need me that much anymore, but that’s okay, I can still make her roll her eyes at my dumb jokes.

My other mini-me, Jessica, is another that looks more like me than her own mother. We met in the beginning orchestra of the local community college when she was ten. We both were learning to play the cello. She was this cute little thing whose toes barely touched the floor when she sat to play. Now in high school, her playing makes me sound like I’m still very much a beginner.

Erin and Jessica are the same age. They attend the same high school. They are best friends, and it’s my fault.

What is funny is neither of them remembered when they first met. I introduced them one afternoon when I had a Christmas cooking baking party with them and Jessica’s siblings. I had four children – Erin (11), Jessica (11), Kaylee (10), and Derrick (10) – in my small kitchen baking cookies. The kitchen was a mess, the cookies were impressive works of art, and they were happy, giggly kids.

 

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Jessica, Me, and Erin

I love “my kids” and don’t you mess with them. I can be a fierce mama bear and will defend my cubs as quickly as their real mothers would.

The world is full of both wonderful women and men, who care for children, guiding and mentoring them. Just because they didn’t give birth to these children does mean they care any less than their parents do.

Let me wish you, the mothering non-moms out there, a “Happy Mother’s Day.” You too make a difference in the lives of the children. And though you may never be told “Thank You,” it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

 

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The Wolf and the Butterfly

Once upon a time, in the dark forests of eastern Europe, there was a creature that changed its victims into wolves. Not really, but there is a disease that gave people red lesions on their faces and reminded a thirteenth-century physician of a wolf’s bite. In the seventeenth century, the same rash would be described as a butterfly spreading across the face. But the name “lupus” (Latin for “wolf”) stuck.

Those who have known me for a while know I’ve been dealing with chronic joint pain, rashes, unexplained fevers, and fatigue. After seeing half a dozen doctors, multiple blood tests and examinations, I have a diagnosis – lupus.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body, including skin, joints and/or organs. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Fever
  • Butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose
  • Sun- or light sensitivity (photosensitivity)

It isn’t contagious; you can’t “catch” lupus. And it isn’t like cancer that can be treated with surgery and/or chemotherapy.

It doesn’t go away, but it can be managed with diet, exercise, and medication. It’s not going to kill me nor stop me from writing, traveling, or drinking tea.

For more information, go to the Lupus Foundation of America.

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I’m not going to share with you a litany of my symptoms and treatment, what I am going to share are things friends have said trying to be helpful. I know it’s easy to mean well and say the wrong thing. We often blurt out the first thing that comes to mind or speak without thinking. Over the past five years, if I had a nickel for every time someone said something unhelpful to me, I could have a night out at the Cicada Club.

Here are just a few:

  • You don’t look sick. Not all illnesses manifest themselves outwardly. I’ve become adept at “pulling it together” and not showing pain and fatigue.
  • You look good, did you lose weight? Illness can take a toll on a body and medication can cause weight loss or gain. Don’t go there; trust me, it’s best not to even mention weight.
  • Have you tried (insert name of drug or herb)? It really helped by sister’s friend’s gardener. You are not a doctor, don’t give medical advice. ‘Nuff said.

 Here a few things I find supportive:

  • Ask me questions about lupus. It’s okay to talk about it, really. It shows you are interested and want to understand.
  • Ask, How are you, today? Every day is different, some better than others.
  • Empathy and validation go a long way. I know it’s hard to know what to say but just saying, “That must be frustrating.” Or “It’s okay, I understand you don’t feel up to it. We’ll reschedule.”

 What if you’ve already said something unhelpful? That’s okay. Take a deep breath, apologize, and start over. You’ll be forgiven, after all, we are all just trying to do the best we can.

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As for me, this just means I’m traveling down a different road than I had planned. This one will have more bumps, hills, and curves, but I’ll just put one foot in front of the other and see where it leads.

Until next time . . . The door is alway open, and the kettle is always on.  di6xK6MrT

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A Day at the Getty Center

I enjoy living in a central location. It’s just a short jaunt to beach, mountains, or cultural events. Generally, nothing in Southern California is more than a three-hour drive, depending on traffic and weather, of course. When the opportunity arose to visit the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Getty Center campus during my Spring Break, I didn’t hesitate.

The Getty Center is the larger of the two museums managed by the Getty Trust. It’s perched on a peak in the Santa Monica Mountains above Interstate 405.  When I had visited there before around twenty years ago, the museum had just opened. I remember newly planted gardens, expansive views from the mountains to the ocean, and endless galleries.

My day started with a drive to Glendale to pick up my friend, Elizabeth. The traffic was horrendous for a Saturday. But fortunately, the Getty Center is a short drive from my friend’s apartment.

The museum has a large parking structure that was nearly full when we arrived. Parking is $15.00, paid at a kiosk, but the museum is free of charge. Once parked, guest’s bags are searched before boarding the tram that takes visitors up the museum. It winds its way up the hillside through a young forest of coast live oaks and delivers riders to the north end of the campus.

Throughout the day, the museum offers programs for adults and children led by trained docents. We arrived in time to join a garden tour. Though called a “garden tour” it was guided walk through the complex with buildings, water features, and plants discussed. Most of the trees are still on the smallish side since they are still young.

On the upper campus, it was pointed out that there is an intention color scheme – lavender, white, and green.  The jacarandas (pronounced [jakəˈrandə] as the name comes from Portuguese, not Spanish) were just beginning to bloom. In full bloom were rosemary, Spanish lavender, and white wisteria. In a few weeks, white and purple crepe myrtles will be in bloom. The colors stand out next against the backdrop of the dark green Italian stone pines.

When designing the museum, they selected the Italian stone pine because they are commonly depicted in Renaissance paintings. The travertine façades also link the Getty to the classical period as it is the same stone used to build the Coliseum and other great buildings of Europe.

The lower level is a sloping garden. At the top is a pool with water dripping down into it from an amphora shaped alcove. The water then pours into a stream that leads you down the hill and into the garden. The beds at the top are mostly succulents and grasses lining the sloping path until you enter the shade of the bougainvillea “trees” that divide the upper and lower gardens. As the footpath continue the colors change into a hodgepodge of mixed colors until you reach the Azalea Maze, an azalea hedge in intertwining circles in the center of the lower pool. The dark green leaves and magenta blossoms made for an impressive end to the walk.

After the tour, we visited the museum gift shop and had a snack at the café. Then it was time for the main event of the day, a program titled Selected Shorts: April Antics – Fictions and Foolery. I hadn’t heard of the podcast Selected Shorts, but the concept sounded interesting: actors reading short stories. There were four programs in total, I chose Saturday evening, because one of my favorite actors, René Auberjonois (Benson, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Boston Legal), was one of the performers.

program

The program was hosted by Jane Kaczmarek, who was thoroughly enjoying herself. René was the last on the program, so before he came on we were treated to readings by Joe Mande, Kirsten Vangsness, Sharon Gless, and Justin Kirk.  These performances were delightful and varied in topic and style.

My favorite of these would have to be between Sharon Gless’ reading of “Hat Trick” by Edith Pearlman and Justin Kirk’s reading “The Dummy” by Susan Sontag. Both stories, though very different in voice and emotional impact, were thought-provoking.

René performed “The Invisible Collection” by Stephan Zweig, an author and story I was unfamiliar with. The topic was perfect for the venue, an art museum. It was the story of an art dealer who visits an old customer of his gallery.

Afterward, we went lobby to wait for the performers to emerge. I had the opportunity to chat with Judith Mahalyi, René’s wife of fifty-three years, while waited nervously for him to appear. After he had greeted several other who had attended, including his daughter Tessa Auberjonois, he turned to me, eyebrow arched, “Tess?”

I acknowledged that I was. The smile on René’s face broadened as he put his hand out to me and announced, “My Twitter Pal!” (We’d been interacting on Twitter for most of the past year.)

With that greeting and handshake, my apprehension left me, I was no longer in the company of a celebrity but my friend, René.

We chatted briefly. I introduced him to Elizabeth. Then we wished him and Judith good-night and headed to the tram.

me & Rene

It was an enjoyable visit to the museum and good performance evening. I regret we didn’t arrive sooner so we could spend some time in the galleries, but they will be waiting for my next visit.

The Getty Museum also has a second campus in Malibu, the Getty Villa, where they house their antiquities collection. Admission is free; an advance, but a timed-entry ticket is required. Also, there is a fee for parking.

I highly recommend visiting either of the Getty Museums. Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Transitions

Living the high desert of Southern California, I hear two things consistently:

“I’m sorry.” Yes, people apologize to me when they tell them I live in Victorville. For those who live down the hill in San Bernardino or Los Angeles, Victorville and the High Desert Communities are the middle of nowhere. But the truth is, it isn’t. I live ninety minutes from some of the best skiing, camping, and hiking in the country. It’s two hours from the best beaches in the world.  And sixty minutes to three hours, depending on traffic, to some of the best music and theater venues in the solar system (okay, maybe I exaggerate a little.) I like that I easy access to both nature and culture.

“The weather must be boring. You’re either roasting or freezing.” Most think Southern California as a whole doesn’t have seasons, but that is misconception held by those who live in a place where the seasons are spectacular. Yes, it can be extremely hot in the summer, 120o degrees Fahrenheit, but it will cool down at night, unlike Las Vegas, NV. Autumn is cool, crisp, and golden as the mulberries and cottonwoods turn bright yellow; if we’re lucky we might get a little rain. Winter is our wet session. The surrounding mountains are blanketed with snow. Sometimes the desert valley will get snow or frost and when the sun reflects off the Joshua trees the effect is a crystalline landscape. This year, the rains were plentiful, so that means spring will be colorful, and so it has.

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Joshua Tree in Winter

We are transitioning from winter to spring, and the desert is draped with wildflowers. This brings the big city folks out into the desert and with them a few traffic issues.

I went out into the desert this week, early before the tourist arrived, and enjoyed the colorful show. They are starting to fade and may only last another week or so.  The most crowded location was the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Park, but I also visited the empty Saddleback Butte State Park, Old Route 66 between Victorville and Barstow, and Rabbit Springs heading east toward Lucerne Valley.

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If you decide to come out, remember to bring water and sunscreen, stay on the paths to not only avoid damaging the flowers but also the emerging rattlesnakes. Also, if you are blessed to see a desert tortoise, DON’T TOUCH! The tortoise is very susceptible to human bacteria.

The seasons are not the only thing in transition this time of year, so are the people. I have three friends beginning final preparations for retirement in June. This moved me to look at my planning, if all goes well, I will retire from the school district June 2022. It seems so far away, but it’s only six years.

And what will I do when I retire? Write, of course. At this time, I only write about fifteen hours a week. I look forward when I can do it full time.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Crossroads

I’m at a crossroads, staring at the intersection in front of me wondering which way to I go. I can even imagine the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz telling me, “That way is very nice. It’s pleasant down that way too. Of course, people do go both ways.”

I’ve just finished my most recent draft of The Princess of Sweetwater. It’s been through my critique group, beta readers, and historical fact checkers. I have been working on this story off and on now for six years. It’s ready for me to send to the editor for final revisions before submitting it for publication.

It begs the question, what do I do while I wait for the editor to complete her part segment this journey?

I can stay where I am. Sitting on the fence, waiting, and stewing about what the editor is doing, while I work on query letters and pitches.

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I can march on straight ahead into the high plains of New Mexico to start researching and outlining my next novel.  I do have a research trip already scheduled for October on my calendar. I also have a stack of books to read on ranches, trains, and the state of medicine at that time.

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I can turn right and cross the bridge to focus on writing short stories. I have two stories that need revisions, they have been rejected by one publisher but with a little tweaking could be sent to another. It would be a challenge and a little scary. I’m not used to writing short.

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I can turn left, go down into the valley, and pull out an unfinished, abandoned project.  Maybe it could be revitalized and finished. I have at least three of those in the files. Okay, it’s more like six or eight, but who’s counting?

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These are all constructive. They are moving me toward my goal. Each has a purpose.

There is no shortage of writing I could be doing, the problem is getting passed the paralysis of analysis. That’s what comes a map full of options. Working on the new versus revising the abandoned is the main conflict here. The new is exciting, but eventually, I must run back to adjust the manuscript from the editor, putting the project on hold. The old may have possibilities, they could be rescued, but they were left behind for a reason – they were either bad or boring – could they be fixed?

It is a conundrum. Pick one thing to do or juggle multiple projects?

I know I’m babbling here, partially because my teacup had been substituted with a wine glass – Vino Blanco from Joseph Filippi Winery – partially because I want to do everything. I know if I take on too much the writing will suffer. Perhaps I should focus on those pesky query letters and as well as read my research for the next novel, Sally of Terra Linda. But, April is Camp NaNoWriMo! Dang it, there’s another direction I could go.

So while I bang my head against the wall trying to figure it out, here’s a scene from The Princess of Sweetwater:

oakland station

 At the Oakland train station, Fernando led them to the train platform.

“Our car is the last one,” he said. “Yes, there it is. They are getting our trunks loaded. Let’s get on board.”

He helped the ladies climb the steps.

Once on board their private Pullman car, Princess Victoria removed her cloak and laid it on the settee. “Excuse me, I think I’ll freshen up.”

“Please, Your Highness,” Countess Josephine whispered. “May I go first?”

“Of course.”  The princess smiled.

“The train should depart shortly.” Fernando checked his watch. “We just need our staff to arrive.”

Princess Victoria paced the parlor and rung her hands. She hoped the train wouldn’t depart before she had a chance to try for the service door at the opposite end of the car.

When Countess Josephine returned, Princess Victoria moved toward the lavatory.

“Anna, accompany Her Highness.” Fernando propped the parlor door open giving him a clear view of the corridor.

“Pardon me, sir?” Two uniformed railway staff boarded the car, blocking Anna’s path. “I’m Jordan, your steward, and Philips will be your chef.”

Princess Victoria continued toward the lavatory at the end of the car, silently thanking the railroad staff for the distraction. She stopped, her hand on the lip of the open service door, her heart pounding like a sledgehammer on steel. The train whistle blew, she held her breath for a moment. With a final look over her shoulder, she slipped from the train and pushed the door closed.

A station attendant stopped her. “Miss, you need to re-board. The train is departing.”

“It is the wrong train,” she said, ducking into the depot as the train began to move.

The train would be several miles down the track before they realized she hadn’t returned.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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