My Quarantine Reading List

I see so many posts online from friends asking for new book recommendations, so here’s a list of the books I’ve read in 2020 — I hope you can find something to spark your interest.

I’ve only added the books I’ve enjoyed; no sense in sharing the others. For the full list you can see them on my Goodreads Challenge, both the good and the bad.



This isn’t a list of my favorite books of all time, although some of them have been added to it (The Inspector Gamache Series!). Maybe that will be my next list.

I hope you can find something interesting and new to read, and remember: supporting authors is not only buying books, but getting them from your library as well. Don’t forget to leave reviews!

Are you on Goodreads? Be my Goodreads Friend.


Read a good book lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!


Add these to your reading list (and request them at your local library):

Death, part 2

Read Death, part 1 here.


Death was changing into her swim suit in the locker room. She used to swim a lot when she was Alive, but it had been many years since her job had taken her to a pool and she thought she’d get in a few laps while she was there. Not that she needed the exercise — she was a Skeleton, after all. She wouldn’t be able to feel the cool water on her skin or even smell the chlorine. But Death could remember those sensations and the physical act of jumping into a swimming pool was enough to conjure up the memories. 

Her next Name was scheduled to be at the lap swim in half an hour. Death took a final glance at the spreadsheet on her iPad before closing it into the locker with her Cloak and Scythe. Allison Marie Stevens. 72 years. 5’5” tall. Curly, medium-length blonde hair. Blue eyes. Retired. Widowed, 3 adult children. High School Pool. 

Death activated her Powers of Similarity and assumed a similar look to what she imagined Allison Marie Stevens looked like. She glanced in the mirror on her way to the pool and stopped to stare at her new, freshly-wrinkled skin. Vanity still had a strong pull in the Afterlife, and she had half an hour before her appointment, so she reverted to her Image of Self and became the leggy 24-year-old athlete she had been in her former Life. 

Death had lived through the phases of aging like a person of typical lifespan. She had been an athlete most of her life, slowing down as the decades added up until the day came when she could only take gentle walks with her cane. She counted herself lucky that her End arrived before she was totally bedridden, and because of that, didn’t feel guilt for her assignment at the pool.

But still, why not look like a 24 year old in a bathing suit when you have the chance?

Death did a half-turn to check out her butt in the mirror. Looking good, she thought, and gave herself a flirty little wink as she exited the locker room and walked onto the pool deck. She tucked her hair into her cap, adjusted her goggles over her eyes, and dove into an empty middle lane. 

Even though Death technically didn’t have skin and couldn’t feel the temperature of the water, one of her strongest memories was the shock of the cold when she first dove into a pool. She added some goose bumps to her Appearance for a more realistic experience. 

Swimming is a lonely activity for the most part. With her head underwater and staring down at the tiled black line of her lane, Death could only contemplate her Existence. She remembered when she was in high school, conjugating French verbs as she swam to stave off boredom; she didn’t need to do that anymore, having Infinite Knowledge as one of the job perks. Her work took her around the world occasionally and she needed to speak every language, but only when a war or natural disaster overwhelmed the local offices. 

Her mind turned to her next job as she counted off lengths of the pool with her steady freestyle stroke. Allison Marie Stevens was 72 years old. Had she accepted the idea she might die soon? Death recalled a businessman, 96 years old, who fought his End thinking he still had to control his children’s lives and his material empire; he couldn’t imagine how the world could still spin without him. But an End is an End, and everyone’s got one. Since he refused to Pass quietly and take the Leisurely Option of Afterlife, he was assigned to the Bureau of Timetables and Scheduling and now was one of Death’s most reliable subordinates. He never called in sick, and often opted for overtime when asked.

But Allison Marie Stevens? It was time to find out how she would accept her Fate. Death pulled off her goggles and cap and hopped out of the pool. Better for the lifeguard if she took care of work in the locker room. 

As she walked through the door, Death saw only one woman sitting on the bench in front of the lockers, and since it was Time, it had to be her. Normally, Death wouldn’t chat up her assignments but it was a slow day. She retrieved her towel and Scythe and sat down beside Allison Marie Stevens.

“Did you have a nice swim?” the older woman asked Death, who had so enjoyed being in her 24-year-old body that she forgot to resume Similarity. 

No matter. Most older women didn’t have a problem chatting with a younger woman. At a certain age, or with a certain satisfaction of life, jealousies become irrelevant. Allison Marie Stevens gave Death a quick once-over glance, taking in her long legs and youthful shape and perhaps thought momentarily about her own youth, and smiled into her eyes. 

“The water was cold,” Death replied, knowing no such thing. “Are you prepared?” she asked, although she wasn’t sure if she was talking about the swim or the Afterlife.

“I’m always prepared,” Allison Marie Stevens said, holding up a long-sleeved swim shirt. “At my age, dear, I’m ready for anything.”

That was all the answer Death needed, and touched the woman with her Scythe. 


Again, just a draft, maybe it’ll be a real project soon. I hope you enjoyed reading.


Need a book to read? Check these out:

Death, part 1

Death walked into a bar. She found an empty stool, leaned her Scythe up against the polished wood counter, and ordered a gin and tonic from the bored-looking bartender. She flung the black hood off her head and looked around as she waited for her drink. 

Is this where I’m supposed to be? she wondered, taking in the faces of the few patrons in the room. She had had a rough day; two of her employees had called in sick, although she was sure they were faking. Death had divided up their lists among the remaining employees but they had grumbled and moaned about the extra work and she had ended up taking most of the assignments herself. She had saved the man at the bar for last, knowing how badly she’d need a drink after such a long day.

It wasn’t like being a Grim Reaper was such a hard job — plenty of worse occupations in the Afterlife. Death picked up her drink and took a sip. Weak. 

She wouldn’t, for instance, want to be one of those called upon to do “parlor tricks,” as she thought of what the Dead summoned to Seances had to do; that was a job best suited for people who always had to be the center of attention in life and couldn’t let it go after they Passed On. If you’re with us now, rap on the table three times! Most people think the gypsy or witch or whoever is running the seance fakes the knocks on the table, but really only when that department is overbooked.

“Can I get you another?” The bartender startled Death as she sipped and the last of her drink came out the holes where her nose used to be. 

“Yes, please, and don’t be so shy with the booze.” 

He sauntered off with her empty glass and began chatting up the woman sitting solo at the end of the bar. Death might get a stronger drink but she’d pay for her remark in the amount of time spent waiting for it. 

She pulled an iPad out of her Cloak to check on her last assignment of the night. Infinite Pocket Space, one of the perks of the uniform. She could have stashed her Scythe in the pocket but no one seemed to notice it anyway. Let’s not forget it at a bar again, she reminded herself. Luckily, as an Unseeable Object, the Scythe was exactly where she had left it after a few too many drinks; she only had to break into the bar the next morning to retrieve it before work.

Still waiting on her drink, Death scrolled through her daily list. All but one name had a check mark next to it, and she read across the columns of the spreadsheet: Kenneth David Black. 51 years. 5’8” tall. Short brown hair. Brown eyes. Construction worker. Single. The Red Hammer. Vital statistics, occupation, and location of death were usually enough data, although occasionally she had to text the secretary at the Office of the Nearly Deceased for more information.

Death leaned over the bar to retrieve a napkin from the plastic container; The Red Hammer was written in block script with, of course, a red hammer below the words. When she first read the name that morning she imagined a sort of Soviet Era decor, but beside the downtrodden workers it seemed typically American. A place near the downtown construction sites for the workers to relax before heading home to their families. Kenneth David Black had remained after his coworkers left, having no family to hurry home to.

A fresh gin and tonic slid across the bar and bumped into the iPad, spraying droplets of drink onto the screen. Rude, she thought.

“What’s your name, honey?” Death asked the bartender in the sweet yet Compelling version of her voice.

“Nicholas Swift,” he answered.


“Edward.” No one thought to question Death’s Compelling voice.

Death wiped the gin off the iPad with the napkin, sipped her new drink — marginally better — and sent a quick text to her secretary. Find out when Nicholas Edward Swift is scheduled, and put my name down. She didn’t tolerate rudeness.

Knowing she was at the right place, Death swiveled on her stool to analyze the customers. Only four men remained, and only one met the description of Kenneth David Black. An easy one to end her night; much easier than on a crowded subway or in a football stadium. She picked up her drink and walked to the back corner where he sat staring at his phone and sipping a beer. Calling on her Powers of Similarity, Death assumed the guise of an attractive woman with eyes and hair just a shade different from Kenneth David Black, according to the rulebook: When forced to interact with the Nearly Deceased, a similar-looking identity will foster familiarity.

She certainly didn’t need to interact with her target to get the job done but thought she may as well have a couple more drinks while she was at the bar, and company never hurt.

“Hi, I’m Morgan. Do you mind if I sit with you? My friends didn’t show up.”

Kenneth David Black took a last look at his phone, glanced at Death, and gestured to the chair opposite himself.

“Have a seat. I’m Ken.”

“Buy me a drink?” She shook the cubes at the bottom of her glass. He wouldn’t need his money after tonight anyway. “Gin and tonic,” she said. Sweet and Compelling.

Ken gestured to the waitress rolling silverware into napkins and shook his beer bottle at her. He said, “And one for the lady,” as she walked toward the bar.

Death was not one for chitchat, even before her End. Apparently Ken wasn’t either, and they stared at each other awkwardly waiting for the drinks. 

Maybe I should just get it over with, she thought, but she hadn’t yet given any consideration to what Manner of Death he would have. The rulebook stated: Choose a Manner of Death suitable to the location and situation of the Nearly Deceased. The rule was not specific and allowed the Giver a little creativity if he or she chose. The most obvious for Kenneth David Black were heart attack and choking on his drink. Perhaps a slip and fall on the newly washed floor on his way to the restroom. 

“Come here often?” he asked. 

Oh Lord, where’s my Scythe? Death thought. The conversation was obviously going nowhere interesting. 

“Excuse me a moment.” She walked to the bar and retrieved her Scythe as the waitress deposited new drinks on the table. 

“I only ask because you look familiar, maybe I’ve seen you in here before.” He looked Death up and down, his eyes lingering where her breasts would be if she still had them; Ken saw her Image Projection — a compact, athletic build with very little in the way of actual projections on her chest. He stared anyway.

“This is my first time,” she answered. “I just happen to be in the neighborhood for work.” She tried to get him to focus on something more in the area of her face. “Would you say you’re happy with your life, Ken? Did you have dreams and goals? Is this how you saw your life 20 years ago?”

“My dream right now is to get you back to my place. Watta ya say?” He lifted his beer for a sip, flexing his construction-worker arm muscle.

Death sighed, then leaned over and touched him with her Scythe. Kenneth David Black coughed and slumped in his seat, a trickle of beer leaking from the corner of his mouth. 

Sometimes no company was preferable. Death picked up her Scythe and reclaimed her seat at the bar. “One more, please,” she said to the bartender and checked off her final Name for the night.



Just a rough draft of a new project. Not sure where it’s going yet.


Stay safe and sane, and thanks for reading.

Need a book to read? Check these out:

One Lonely Wren

The following short story was written for Literary Cleveland; the idea was to gather stories from many different writers about some aspect of a particular day in Cleveland: May 12, 2020. The editors are stitching them all together for one story taking place all around the city. I’ll post the link to the final story when it is available; here is my contribution:

One Lonely Wren

May 12th, 2020 dawned bright and clear in Beachwood, Ohio. A late cold front brought snow and below-average temperatures to all of Northeast Ohio earlier in the month, but the 12th showed promise of being the real first day of spring. The last of the daffodils scattered throughout the yard turned their yellow faces to the sun while an array of bright red, pink, and yellow tulips bloomed, and the old Maples and Oaks began to unfurl their new leaves.

The first bird to greet the day with song was a solitary House Wren, warbling his cheerful tune atop a birdhouse in the garden behind the house. As the day grew brighter and the sun rose, hundreds of avian voices joined him while birds searched for food, mates, or just celebrated a new day. Between the earliness of the hour and the reduced traffic owing to a good proportion of folks still working from home, the varied songs of the birds rose clearly above any ambient city noise and the day promised a certain cheerfulness as the temperature crept up into the 50’s.

Bird migration was in full swing and pairs flew together in and out of the woods to find places to lay their eggs. Most of the birdhouses were occupied by various brown Sparrows and mesmerizingly blue Eastern Bluebirds, who were busily searching the ground for twigs and dead grass to line their nests. The lone Wren sang his long, happy song from several perches in the yard near his chosen house: he sat on the fence and called; he flew to the roof and called; he landed on the back of a pickup truck and called. In between songs, he picked up small twigs and disappeared into his house to build, sometimes carrying a stick so big he spent minutes finding the perfect angle to fit it into the hole. His mate had not arrived yet, but he didn’t give up, he kept up his bubbly song.

Red Northern Cardinals chased each other from feeder to feeder, the males and females easy to distinguish. Red House Finches and startlingly bright Yellow Finches flew in groups, as well as speckled black European Starlings and shimmery Common Grackles. Several orange Baltimore Orioles took turns at their feeder sucking the juice out of orange halves, and Gray Catbirds and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks took their place when the Orioles flew off to the trees. Call and response was heard from dozens of bird species as they prepared their nests in the woods around the house. The House Wren continued to sing alone.

This particular Wren, the only one of his kind in the yard, had been singing non-stop from his birdhouse for a couple of weeks. Would he ever find his mate to share the home he was so busy furnishing? He likely migrated from far south, as Wrens are known to winter as far away as South America and hatch their young anywhere from there to northern Canada. Was he such an efficient flyer that he arrived in the north far ahead of any others, or would he be the only House Wren to pick this part of Cleveland for his home? These worrisome questions didn’t seem to bother him as he went about his routine of building and calling.

As the day turned from a cool morning to a warm afternoon to a chilly evening, the frantic activity of the birds lessened as they flew off to their nesting sites for the night. In the twilight after sunset, one lonely wren still called, never losing hope for his future.


I hope you enjoyed my story. Maybe it took your mind off the craziness of the world for just a couple moments; if so, that is success. I had a page-long list of things that happened on May 12 that I could have written about, but most were kinda depressing. Focusing on nature (and staying off social media) helps keep me sane.


Although I still haven’t been recalled to work, I have not been writing much. In fact, almost not at all. My days have been spent working in the gardens (pulling weeds, mostly) and hiking in various parks with Lucy while taking pictures of anything interesting. You can see some of my wildlife photos on the Wildlife and Flower Photography FB page and my Etsy shop.

Stay safe and sane, and thanks for reading.

Need a book to read? Check these out:

  • Wandering – non-fiction travel/adventure/humor
The Mystery of the Rainbow Flowers by Melissa Burovac

Enter the book giveaway for The Mystery of the Rainbow Flowers

Enter the book giveaway for The Mystery of the Rainbow Flowers

The Mystery of the Rainbow Flowers by Melissa Burovac

In celebration of my newest book, I’m having a giveaway for The Mystery of the Rainbow Flowers! To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post – it’s that easy! For those readers in the United States, I’ll send you a paperback; for those in other countries I’ll send the electronic version of your choice.

In a few days I’ll randomly pick 10 winners. Leave a comment and enter!

The Mystery of the Rainbow Flowers is a Young Adult book, but I think people of any age will enjoy it. Here’s a summary for you:

Lucy and Matthew, along with their old black lab Harley, are reluctantly doing yard work on a beautiful spring morning when — whoosh! — all three are whisked away to a strange land filled with mysterious rainbow-colored flowers.

With no sign of civilization, they must fight for their survival amongst wild animals and discover the reason why they were transported.Growing up with video games and shopping malls, will the children be able to survive by finding food and building fires while stranded alone? Will the rainbow flowers lead them on a path to safety or harm? Why were they taken from their safe home to that strange place?

Find out the answers as you follow two kids and a frisky dog on a journey of discovery and wonder, hardship and environmental disaster. See how they help make their world a better place to live.

The Mystery of the Rainbow Flowers by Melissa Burovac

As always, I’d love a review on Amazon or Goodreads! With so many books out there, the ones with reviews are the ones that get noticed. Please take a moment to write a sentence or two, it means a lot.

Thank you, and happy reading!

Other books to check out:

Wandering – non-fiction travel/adventure/humor

Sylvie Writes a Romance – romantic comedy

Sylvie Falls in Love – romantic comedy part 2

Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler – adventure/ocean fiction based on true stories

Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler - Melissa Burovac

Kindle sale for Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler – get it this week!

It’s a happy 4th of July book sale!

From now until July 9th, pick up the Kindle version of Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler for only $1.99! For less than a cup of coffee, you can spend your day relaxing and reading an ocean adventure.

Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler - Melissa Burovac

Get it on Amazon!

Sail from California to Mexico to Hawaii, surfing and smuggling drugs.

Two boys growing up together in a small California town are the best of friends. One conforms to his parents’ wishes and follows a preset path to a career; the other creates his own path, sailing the world, surfing and smuggling drugs to Hawaii.

Watch their lives diverge and reconnect through the years with tales of action and adventure, brushes with the law, Mexican cartels, and lost families and friends. Do they regret their lifestyles and the consequences of their choices as they approach old age?

Based on the true stories of surfers, sailors and pirates on Kauai. 

Amazon reviews:

“This was written as a narrative of the sailors life and his philosophy of life. She also protrays his feelings about the life he has led. A good read.”

“Great character development. Terrific adventure. Fun read.”

“Loved this tale of two unlikely lifelong friends. Sailing, island living, and all of the adventures that go with kept me happily entertained until the end. Another win!”

See more reviews here or leave one after you’ve read the book.

Aloha and happy holidays!

Holden Arboretum - wander with melissa

Two weeks in Cleveland

Holden Arboretum - wander with melissa


I’ve been in Cleveland for just over two weeks now.

And now I’ve stared at that sentence for about half an hour with no thought of a follow-up. I always imagined I would run into a time where something like post-vacation depression would set in, but thought I had enough of a plan to avoid it. I haven’t gotten a job yet, but most of the containers are planted, seeds are started for the garden, small projects on the house underway, and I’ve taken Lucy to a couple parks to explore. I didn’t really count on being so exhausted that I don’t want to do anything but sit around and read. I could easily have the entire interior of the house painted and a good start on remodeling our upstairs bathroom in the time I’ve lounged around but maybe next week… I haven’t even put all my clothes away yet.

seedlings - wander with melissa


I find that driving in traffic is still enough to make me tired. It’ll be a while before I’m completely used to so many lanes and so many cars. And so many losers hogging the fast lane. When I go to my parents’ house, I take all the small one- and two-lane roads instead of the highways; it adds an extra 40 minutes but the scenery is nicer and I’m not stressed out when I arrive.

In coping with post-Hawaii syndrome (which, when Googled, brings up a lot of info on rat lungworm disease), I bought a membership to Holden Arboretum and Lucy and I spent the morning there yesterday. Spring is just beginning to explode there so I will go back in two weeks to stroll through the Rhododendron and Azalea gardens when they are blooming. Our highlight was the baby geese – tiny, fluffy, fuzzy yellow balls with beaks swimming in between mom and dad in the ponds. Mama Goose did not love Lucy staring at her, even across the water. It’s hard to be a wildlife photographer while walking a hunting dog.

Baby geese - wander with melissa


The real reason I went to the arboretum was to visit Mark’s tree; a Quaking Aspen was planted 25 years ago in his memory, but when a new path was constructed around the lake his tree was in the way. It’s probably more trouble than it’s worth to transplant a common tree after 20 years, so his tree is young again and quite beautiful.

Mark Braun's tree - wander with melissa


For the most part, the weather has been rainy and cold in Cleveland. I asked my mother today when the rain usually stops and she told me this is the worst she’s seen in years. Figures. In the meantime, I’ve got two bird feeders strategically placed outside the windows of my office to keep me entertained; birds don’t mind cold rain as much as I do. I’m learning my bird names and will possibly join a bird-watching group if I can find one that is not entirely comprised of really old people. We have black-capped chickadees on the suet feeder (poor planning on my part, nobody wants suet when spring happens – I’m learning), while the seed feeder has attracted sparrows, robins, nuthatches and a cardinal. Peregrine falcons hunt the woods behind our house (and I have been throwing our food scraps a good distance away in hopes of attracting mice to attract more falcons), and I see the occasional woodpecker. Both black and brown squirrels have tried (and failed) to get the bird seed, and I see a random chipmunk. Deer are usually in the far woods, but my trail of yummy food leading to a salt lick has yet to entice them close to our house. A nuthatch family has moved into our birdhouse on the front lanai, and this afternoon a hummingbird buzzed my head – the first I’ve seen this year. I ran inside to stare through the window at the hummingbird feeder but she hasn’t found it yet.

Black capped chickadee - wander with melissa


This seems like a ton of bird activity, and I love watching it, but I can’t help thinking about how much I miss my fish. Some mornings I wake up and think I’m late to meet Mei at the pier for a swim before I realize where I am. I suppose in time I will adapt to land, like the earliest fishes with feet. I did apply for a job at the only scuba shop around yesterday – I plan on taking a dry-suit course before I stick even a single toe into the water here.

Perhaps the next time I post I will be meaningfully employed. Or perhaps the rain will stop and I’ll start building a tree house in the woods instead.

Say hello to the fishies for me.



Looking for a book?

Wandering – non-fiction travel/adventure/humor

Sylvie Writes a Romance – romantic comedy

Sylvie Falls in Love – romantic comedy part 2

Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler – adventure/ocean fiction based on true stories – now available on Nook and Apple! Click the link!

Stock photos on Adobe Stock

Sign up for this blog on the homepage to get updates on Cleveland life, and watch Hawaii Ocean Photography for extra photos!

Lucy Easter - wander with melissa

A dead man’s toilet paper

I’m sure you’ve been hanging on to the edge of your seat, waiting to find out if I made it to Cleveland. So yes, here I am, safe and sound.

After two blizzards and getting stuck in both Minneapolis and Bloomington, Illinois, the weather was a perfect 50 degrees for the final drive to Cleveland. I can’t say I loved the route of the trip without my planned sightseeing, but there will be time to go back and see what I wanted to see. Especially since the job I was so psyched to come home to was given to someone else while I was sitting in the snow – I have some extra time now.

The final mileage was around 4,200 after wandering around trying to find a way around the storms. In that time, I was only in one near accident – a baby blue semi, which I passed with the pedal down since it was swerving crazily, ended up getting off at the same exit when I stopped for gas. I was sitting at a red light at the bottom of the exit ramp, looking around, and noticed it in my rear view mirror, barreling down the road behind me. A long, loud squeal of brakes from the out-of-control truck, which made Lucy try to dive to ground, alerted me to the idea that my tailgate (and grandmother’s end tables) might not survive the next few moments. I had a few empty feet before the car in front of me and quickly stabbed the gas pedal, the result being I had an inch in front and about an inch in back – no contact. It was a scary moment and the asshole truck driver calmly acknowledged the bird I flew from my window. If anyone deserved it, he did.

In 4,200 miles, that truck was the only instance I thought I might have an accident. A few crazy, fast drivers swerving through downtown traffic scared me, but I forced myself to remember that plenty of people are good drivers and as long as I pay attention I should be fine. What really pissed me off was the random cars and trucks that sat in the fast lane and wouldn’t budge for anyone. I can’t understand why the don’t get the rules; if you’re slow, get out of the way. Seems pretty simple.

Thanks to Apple maps, I was never lost. I have to take a moment to praise this glorious bit of tech – for me, it might be the greatest invention of all time. Pre-internet, I never went anywhere without several folding maps (that never ended up folded along the original creases) plus handwritten instructions on every turn I had to take to reach someone’s house. After that, I had a glove box full of of MapQuest printouts for every destination, with scribbles on each of them when I encountered a closed road or a friend told me a shortcut. With the advent of portable GPS, my family pitched in together to get me one since they were tired of me calling at all hours when I was lost; I loaded the city I was preparing to drive through on my computer from a disk, connected the GPS, and had decent directions if I regularly updated through my dial-up modem. Now, my phone can find me 20 different ways to get to the same place, and I found some beautiful spots to drive through that I would never have found otherwise. This might not seem like a big deal to some people, but I can look at a sunset and have no idea which way is north, so yeah, it’s huge to me.

Now I’m in Cleveland, and the metroparks are as beautiful as I remember. I had one day before my sister Mary and I had to move her from her rental house to the house we bought, so I haven’t done much exploring yet. We have a house on 3 acres, complete with a fenced-in yard for the dogs and a forest with deer and squirrels and turkeys. The house must have been built for short people; I can’t use the upstairs shower, and I’ve hit my head five times already on the ceiling fan in my bedroom. But the outside is wonderful, with deer-fenced gardens and lots of room to plant whatever I want.

our house - wander with melissa


Today I took some time to go to a garage sale; I saw pictures of garden tools online and couldn’t wait to get started (April showers bring May flowers, and it’s been pouring for a couple days so I’m just preparing). I found the house about 40 minutes away (thank you, Apple maps), and went right to the garage. I quickly loaded up half my truck bed with tools for $50 (ridiculously cheap for what I got), then headed into the house to poke around. I feel that Mary is more in charge of the indoor decoration, while I am in charge of outdoor, but it doesn’t hurt to look; I can text her pictures if I feel like I want something. None of the furniture interested me, but I walked into the kitchen and realized that EVERYTHING was for sale. I picked up an unopened carton of vegetable broth and saw the expiration date of 2007 – put it back. Since we had just moved, I grabbed one of the multiple 12-packs of toilet paper sitting out, bought it for a dollar and headed for the door. That was when I heard what the sale was for: a man had worked his entire life at the same blue-collar job, finally retiring and getting his pension – then poof – heart attack three weeks later. Dead.

Now I have a dead man’s toilet paper, and that’s the least of the problems I have with that scenario.

Before I wax poetic on death (which is really unlike me, but Mary opened a bottle of Proseco and that might be why I’m so full of feelings right now), I’ll finish the day. I took a wrong turn out of the sale (I didn’t have my maps up yet), and ended up in a very familiar-looking square; it was a place I knew from my childhood, but couldn’t quite place why. Upon turning the corner, I quickly parked – Dick’s Bakery! The place where my mother would take us after swim practice if we were good. I always got a chocolate chip cookie, and that didn’t change today. Well, except that I got a dozen. I have my own money now. And I had them for dinner. Adulting at its finest.

I went to my parents’ house to pick up boxes I had mailed from Kona, which filled the rest of my truck. It was nice to be reunited with my scuba gear, but the prospect of it sitting unused for months makes me sad. The water temperature in Lake Erie is 43 degrees today, up from 34 when I last checked, so maybe next month.

My father is doing well, more lively than I had imagined after starting chemo; we are arguing over a riding mower in his shed. He originally offered it to me for our immense lawn; since then, he has listed a dozen things seriously wrong with it (since it is as old as I am), and decided instead that I cannot have it and he will buy us a new riding mower from Home Depot as our housewarming gift. I sat on the old tractor today, noticed the cobbled-together battery cables he mentioned, the flat tires (original), the dull blades (original), the choke that doesn’t choke, the heavy crank to engage the mower, and thought, “I must have this.” I don’t even know how I’d get the old beast to my house, rent a trailer, perhaps, it’s too big for my truck bed. So I told my father I wanted it, and he said “let’s go to Home Depot and look at mowers; they’ll deliver.” No way. I want that beast. It is solid, as only machines built 30+ years ago are solid. It’s roughly twice the size as a comparable mower, and only has one single belt (original) that runs everything. I’m currently looking up names of mythological creatures to see what fits. (Just got an email from my father as I’m writing this: “Forgot to tell you, no brakes on the tractor.”) I’m going to evade the issue of a new mower until I show up with a trailer and haul the old thing away.

I cut with mowers when I was young, although I don’t remember this particular one. And I really don’t understand why my father has this monster since his house is on about a quarter acre. But along with the other garden tools and power tools he is giving me (also could say he is “unloading”), it seems to be a part of history, a bit of my childhood comes back with each – the grill they don’t use anymore, the shovels and rakes, the hoses and drills and screwdrivers. Just like driving through neighborhoods and feeling the nostalgia of my youth (even though after 30 years new buildings are everywhere), the tools in my parents’ basement bring back so many memories. I could recognize the smell of WD-40 anywhere. It’s strange to be here, without a doubt. Everywhere I drive used to be open fields and are now office parks and malls. I haven’t even ventured downtown yet. And, if you read the past blogs, my grandmother’s tables made it no problem. More crazy nostalgia.

grandma's tables - wander with melissa


All in all, though, this is a good new adventure. I’m going to build boxes in the forest to attract falcons and hang feeders for hummingbirds; not the dolphins and manta rays I used to photograph, but all wildlife is life, and all of it is beautiful and worthy of appreciation. Daffodils are blooming and the trees are beginning to leaf out. Lucy and I will explore the area’s parks, which are immense, and I hope to find hidden spots all around this city to hike and fall in love with the land. Lucy and her new best friend Coco are getting along tolerably well, as much as a 9-year-old dog and a crazy 2-year-old can coexist. Lucy lives for the moment when Coco hauls herself out of bed, thinking she has a whole day of playtime ahead. She’ll learn.

Lucy and Coco - wander with melissa


Those are the big updates for now, and I hope to share some of the beauty of Cleveland with you soon – did you know this is the 50th anniversary of the burning river? I have been assured that it is much cleaner now.

Aloha from Cleveland!





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Eeyore under Cloud - wander with melissa

My personal cloud

Eeyore under Cloud - wander with melissa

This is basically what I’m down to, now: a giant cloud following me across the mainland. No matter where I go, up pops an “unprecedented spring snow storm.”

I was stuck in Minnesota for three days (see blog post here) although being at Colleen’s house made it quite pleasant. I checked the weather, saw that it was all clear until I reached Cleveland, and off I went. Somehow I woke up to another blizzard this morning. And just to make certain I wasn’t again being too dramatic with my accounts of how bad the weather is, I looked up the definition of blizzard: “A blizzard is a storm with “considerable falling or blowing snow” and winds in excess of 35 mph and visibilities of less than 1/4 mile for at least 3 hours.”

Blizzard. Check.

I believe it is now safe to say that I have my very own cloud (and if you’re a fan of Whinnie the Pooh, please hum “I’m just a little black rain cloud” as you read this).

I didn’t leave Colleen’s house for any significant amount of time during the storm, and finally we decided I should see some little bit of Minnesota before I left. What’s indoors and fun to do? Mall of America! Mini Golf. Aquarium. Roller coaster. Movies. Video games. Shopping. The largest mall in the United States, with over 96 acres of things to do. And some crazy man chose that day to pick up a child he didn’t know and throw him over the third-floor balcony. We followed the news from home instead of going; they had apprehended the man and reopened most of the areas that were closed, but as the mother of a same-age child, 5 years, Colleen was pretty rattled and didn’t want to bring her children there. I can’t blame her, I would be freaked out as well, wondering if it could happen again. The news doesn’t have much on the condition of the boy except to say that he is alive with life-threatening injuries. I sincerely hope he recovers and can somehow get back to a normal life.

goose in snow - wander with melissa

So what else is there to do in the evening after a blizzard that doesn’t require me to freeze to death? How about a meat raffle? The corner bar has a weekly event where for $1 you have a chance to win a chunk of uncooked meat – deer, cow, it doesn’t really matter. This is a big deal in winter in Minnesota, where nearly every bar has at least one raffle each week; in 2014, it is estimated that Minnesotans spent nearly $32 million vying for their chance to win meat, with part of the proceeds going to charity. Hopefully, some of it went to the American Heart Association.

We missed that evening’s meat raffle, so headed to Punch Pizza (amazing), and the grocery store for more eggs to color for Easter, then a rousing game of Disney Codenames before bed. This may sound fairly dull to the average person, but not having my own children, I was quite happy to chase Colleen’s through a store, half-heartedly telling them they didn’t need all the sugary, wonderful items they wanted her to buy (because I wanted them, too). It was almost like my evening of alternate reality – if I were a mother I think I’d be very much like Colleen, except only half as fun. We settled on cheese curds and donuts, two very Minnesota things. Both worth it, although I left my souvenir cheese curds in her refrigerator and am missing them very much right now.

Punch Pizza - wander with melissa

With another weather check, I decided that Lucy and I were clear to get traveling again; even though snow was still piled up the roads were dry. Two legs of the trip remained – Minneapolis to Peoria, Peoria to Cleveland, with the only storms in sight over Cleveland, but I could deal with that upon arrival. As I stated before, I had a beautiful start through the mainland – Washington, Oregon and Idaho were scenic and the weather was mostly lovely. Montana gave me nice weather until it was time to leave, then cold rain. And ever since then it has been junk. With all the places I really wanted to drive snowed under, I am ready to just get to my new home. I passed up the chance to see ‘Iowa’s largest frying pan’ (9 feet wide by 14 feet long and can fry 88 pounds of bacon at once) and the world’s largest truck stop (although I couldn’t help but see that one from the road with parking for 900 trucks) trying to hurry to the final stop.

About two hours south of Minneapolis the sun came out, and by the time I reached Peoria eight hours later the temperature was nearing 60 degrees. I stopped at the first exit to get a hotel room, ready to stretch out and perhaps read a book. No rooms available. I had been nearly the only person in Idaho and Montana at the hotels I was in, so this was unexpected. I asked the woman at the desk to call a few other places, no rooms. A big conference was in town, I was told, and the entire city was sold out. Lucy and I got back in the truck and stopped at the next town. No rooms anywhere. Exhausted and dismayed, I stopped at a gas station thinking I might have to bust out the remaining 8 hours of my trip that night, and asked about the next town east. Bloomington, the man said, and they have plenty hotels. I pulled in half an hour later, went to the first one I saw – Days Inn – and got a room for the night.

I have vague memories of Days Inn from long ago, maybe childhood trips, and remember it being a fairly nice motel. Perhaps they haven’t done any repairs to the rooms since then. On the positive side, it performed very well on the sniff test, so rundown or not, it’s pretty clean. Lucy and I took our evening walk and passed another hotel, and from our vantage point, that one is where the local farmers bring their prostitutes on Saturday night. I’m quite happy at the Days Inn.

Still thinking the weather was good for the remainder of our trip, Lucy and I settled in and started to pick our route. I’ve gotten into the habit of cross-checking radar with each town we will be passing through, and around 10:30 last night I found a major storm coming up, passing over Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio – all my possible routes, unless I want to drive an additional 5 days instead of one. The phrase ‘out of the frying pan (Minnesota) and into the fire’ (Ohio) came to mind, but that would imply it was warm. Nothing to do but see what happens overnight.

storm - wander with melissa

Lucy and I got up at 5 a.m. to go outside for an update and were greeted with hail and high winds. Lucy is smart and refused to leave the doorway. I am not, and was rewarded with hail hitting my eyeball for the second time this trip. I don’t know why I need to look up to confirm it is hailing. We went back to bed and at 8:30 a.m. two inches of snow had accumulated on the ground, with continued high winds. I booked a second night. Lucy and I each have our own bed (although I woke up smooshed into the tiniest corner possible without falling off as usual), and the weather looks good for tomorrow – over 50 degrees again all the way to Cleveland, where it will be snowing.

Lucy in her bed - wander with melissa

I looked up some things to do in Bloomington and decided to dig the souvenir bottle of booze from Montana out of my truck. Perhaps later I’ll wander across the parking lot to The Cracker Barrel for dinner.

I’m trying to decide what life is telling me with these storms. They’ve blocked my route, ruined all my sightseeing, and are preventing me from getting to my destination. They’ve cancelled my plans to visit friends in snow-covered mountain states, but unexpectedly allowed me to spend time with Colleen. Over the past few years I’ve paid attention to the universe, at first crying and begging and throwing tantrums like a child to get what I want (and still not getting it), then later giving up and just going with what comes. I left Kauai when I truly didn’t want to, and Big Island welcomed me with a job and a house within days of my arrival. A year later, Big Island let me know it was time to go and a house and job appeared in Cleveland. But being stuck in limbo (an appropriate metaphor for Bloomington) is not something I understand. Perhaps it’ll make sense next week.

Here’s a little humor to end this post – my first horrible review for a book. He could have titled it “Alcoholic Slut,” and said I’ve ruined women’s travel books for him. I should be upset but I think it’s kind of funny. Having sex once in the book (or twice?) over nine months is fairly low on the slut scale, in my opinion, although I did drink a decent amount to cope with being lost and lonely in strange countries. Either way, a review is a review and they all help in their own way. Funny thing, the day after that posted I had a little boost in online sales. Go figure. I hope no one was disappointed at the lack of porn.

Aloha from Illinois,


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Lucy in the snow - wander with melissa

Of duct tape and thunder snow

After a few great days at the start of my trip, Lucy and I have come to a snowy, skidding halt. Minnesota in a blizzard is the last place I would have imagined our travels would take us. How did we get here?

From Whitefish, Montana, Lucy and I headed to Great Falls to visit Kari, Keith and Kiara for Kari’s birthday. Along the way we picked up Colleen and Alakea at the airport as her birthday surprise. The next day, with the Horton/Kester clan plus Gaga, we travelled to Kathy’s parents’ house on Seeley Lake for the real party – a Polihale-style barbecue by the lake. It was cold but beautiful, and light snow held off until the next day. As a group we went to Kathy’s grandmother’s retirement home the next morning in Missoula for her 100th birthday party. It was also Kathy’s mother’s 75th birthday, which is why Kathy was visiting from New York. It was great to have so many of the girls back together again after a few years away from Kauai together.

Seeley Lake Montana - wander with melissa


Minor note – if you’re in Montana, buy anything with Huckleberries except the Huckleberry coffee. That was a mistake.

All was looking good as we continued the party back in Great Falls, and I set my date for heading to South Dakota to visit the Badlands and Bear Country, the only things I had planned for this trip and was set on doing. Mt. Rushmore has been on my to-see list for so many years and I finally had the time to explore the area.

We sat down for a final evening and looked at the weather, and what should appear but a monster spring storm, completely unprecedented and unwelcome. It seemed to be centered on the exact area I was headed – South Dakota; 18″ of snow predicted for the next day, with gusting winds up to 60 mph. My backup plan was Colorado – 12″ predicted. South: snow. West: snow. East: snow. North: maybe an escape. I decided to make a run north and see if I could get back to the Badlands after a couple of days – I wasn’t prepared to see snow for at least another 8 months!

The roads out of Great Falls weren’t bad, snow wasn’t expected until the following day and the rain was only a heavy drizzle. It was still an intimidating drive, but the quality of the roads were impressive. One aspect of this country I have greatly missed while living in Hawaii is the amazing system of highways through the mainland. I stuck to smaller roads to go north but they were smooth and well kept, and I could find a nice road to take me to any small town I wanted to go. I’ve had similar thoughts ever since I picked up my truck in Seattle – our highway system could be one of the great wonders of the world, as long as you don’t look at the local, potholed lanes in cities. In 1956, Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act and that made possible the trucking industry, transporting goods across the nation, and allowing wanderers relative ease to find interesting places to visit. I have been stuck in a pretty negative place lately when I think of our country and the direction it’s heading, but looking upon an act of greatness (even if it’s from the past) has been a welcome change.

I set my sights on Sidney, Montana, and took a lonely route where I didn’t see another car for nearly half an hour at a time. Without phone reception this was a little scary but the roads were perfect and the rain had stopped. I hadn’t quite gotten used to passing cars yet, still a bit intimidating, but every once in a while a slow truck was in my way and I was trying to outrun the coming blizzard. It’s not easy seeing around some of the monster semis hauling giant pieces of farm equipment, and I finally worked up the courage on a fairly straight piece of road with only some minor hills. I hadn’t seen another car pass in the other direction for a while, so chances were good that nothing would come out of nowhere but I’m sure you can guess what happened: a car the exact beige color of the road appeared as I was halfway past the truck. Nothing to do but a pedal-to-the-metal, butt-clenching burst of speed (thank you, Nissan) and cut-in the moment I had clearance. I silently apologized to the passing motorists for scaring them, but it was probably more dramatic in my head than in real life. It’ll be a long time before I attempt to pass another truck.

Montana deer - wander with melissa


I picked the Holiday Inn in Sidney, Montana to stop for the night and plan my next route, which I do not recommend if you happen to find yourself there for a cattle auction; people pounding on doors after midnight (don’t tell my mom, but I finally had to open my door to tell the man outside to shut the hell up and go away), and someone else’s food left in my refrigerator. Gross. On the positive side, it rated ‘pretty good’ on the hound dog sniff test (see previous posts for Lucy’s potential job calling).

So Lucy and I are planning our route by means of Google maps, NOAA weather, and phone calls. Mark had previously sent me his address in Colorado but made sure to tell me that his area was expecting a foot of snow and I should stay away. I saw phrases like ‘snow bomb’ and ‘thunder snow’ in the forecasts everywhere around me. I researched a route up into Canada and down through Michigan, and tried to find a way south but the storm was too big. I finally called Colleen (whom I had picked up in Great Falls for the party) and we calculated that I could make it to her house in Minneapolis just as the blizzard was predicted to hit. The drive was 10 hours, I just had to wake up super early and move. Thanks, angry man pounding on doors – I didn’t need to sleep anyway.

Lucy and I managed to wake up at 5 a.m. and fly across North Dakota. I didn’t stop at any of the scenic overlooks (yes, ND has some beautiful spots) or ‘the world’s largest buffalo’, or take pictures of the clouds of birds flying in mesmerizing formations over the fields. It was a full-on sprint across the state while listening to tips on how to keep your herd safe in the unexpected spring storm. The winds began picking up and driving with both hands white-knuckling the steering wheel, especially while passing a semi coming from the opposite direction, became essential. With only a few feet between me and the giant trucks, every time one went by accompanied by a wind gust, it was like someone threw a flashbang at me. I reduced my fluid intake as a precaution, and I don’t understand how Lucy slept through those, scared as she is.

Trying to maximize my gas tank capacity and make fewer stops led me to a bit of difficulty somewhere between Bismarck and Fargo, literally in the middle of nowhere. I was forced to take side roads in search of a gas station and lost about half an hour, but found the most pleasant people I’ve met so far on this trip. Lucy always pokes her head up when we stop, and the man at the ag center came outside three times in the 30-degree cold and blowing wind to see if she was okay. He told me I could let her out to wander around off-leash if I wanted (which would have added another two hours to lost time by the time I collected her), or she could wander around inside his store for some exercise. We took a nice, if cold, walk instead.

I’ve often exaggerated how I’m freezing to death, like when I’m getting into the ocean in the morning or the evening, or waking up in 50 degree weather in Hawaii, or outside in the Pacific Northwest in the 40s. But for once, in North Dakota, it was real. I couldn’t find my socks in the truck and hadn’t thoroughly thought out my wardrobe choices; I was thankful that I found a winter coat on sale in Washington.

When I left Portland, I had packed a few things into the bed of my truck that wouldn’t fit inside (since I had packed far too many sets of useless clothing – why did I think I needed 8 sundresses for this trip?). One large item I picked up from Clare was a set of my (deceased) grandmother’s dainty, light-weight end tables. I had wanted them when she died, and I never thought I’d be in Hawaii for so many years, so she kept them in storage for me. I nested them inside one another, wrapped them in bubble wrap and put them in a large plastic bag to keep them watertight, then taped the single package shut; tie-downs kept them in place. As the wind picked up I could see bits of the bubble wrap poking through as the gusts began to rip the bag open, already weakened by the severe cold. The packing tape froze and slowly stopped sticking. With holes in the bag, the tables caught the wind and forced the straps to loosen, and somewhere near the Minnesota border I began to worry that the whole mess would take flight, land on someone’s windshield, and cause a 20-car pileup. Again, my imagination amazes me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it and pulled off right before downtown Fargo to assess the situation. My plan was to tighten the straps, add another, and buy some duct tape to close the holes in the bag; I would get new plastic bags when I got to Colleen’s house and redo the entire setup for the final stretch home. I found some duct tape and covered the holes while my truck gassed up, but it wasn’t sticking like I thought it should. Damn cold. I though duct tape fixed everything. I got back on the road, conscious of the time since Colleen had texted that it had started snowing in Minneapolis and I was still about three hours out. As I came off the entrance ramp into downtown Fargo traffic, the first piece of duct tape took flight in the wind, apparently unhappy with being asked to work in the extreme temperature. Two other long strips began to flap over my tailgate but were putting forth a better effort at sticking. I pulled into traffic and headed for the fast lane, trying to make up for lost time. Moments later I passed two state patrol trucks in the median, one of which pulled out right behind me, and don’t you know that’s when the second strip of tape let loose, caught the wind, and landed smack on the trooper’s windshield before sliding across and flopping to the ground. I prepared to get pulled over by sliding in front of a semi in the middle lane, but hopeful that there was too much traffic for him to stop me and give me a ticket for littering. The trooper came up next to me, flashed on his lights, and pulled over the car in front of me! I sincerely hope he was doing something bad that I didn’t notice and didn’t get my ticket. As the last length of duct tape gave up life about half a mile later, I noticed the Adopt-A-Highway sign of the Fargo Jaycees; I’m going to send them a donation when I get home for picking up my trash. I just wanted to get out of there.

Also while in Portland I noticed Lucy’s fear of walking under bridges; I thought it was the noise the cars make while driving on the steel grate material they use on some of them. Turns out she’s afraid of all bridges. Minnesota has a lot of overpasses, and since we had been in the truck for nine hours, Lucy was wide awake. With every approaching bridge, Lucy stared until we drove under, then made a mad dash to duck by trying to jump off the seat to the floor (which was full of random bits of travel stuff). Get back on the seat, stare at the bridge, jump to the floor. Over and over. It was funny until it started furiously blowing snow.

snowy Minnesota - wander with melissa


We had managed to beat the snow until about an hour outside Colleen’s house, but it came on like a true blizzard. Almost immediately I was on the phone with her trying to figure out where to go or what to do. If I could just make it a bit closer, she could grab a friend and pick us up but I was still too far away. I was considering stopping at a hotel, so close to my destination, because the wind was causing an almost total whiteout, even though the roads were still fairly clear. I thought driving through downtown Portland highways in the dark, in rain, during rush hour was the worst I could encounter on this trip, but a blizzard in Minneapolis during rush hour beat that hands down. I was shaking, since it’s been about 20 years since I’ve driven in snow, and Lucy diving under bridges wasn’t helping. As I was about to quit and pull off the highway I saw blinking orange lights ahead of me – a wide-load truck hauling a backhoe, going 55 mph as opposed to the 70+ of the veteran winter drivers around me. I snuggled in behind it and followed those flashing lights, sometimes the only thing I could see, for the remaining 29 miles of highway to Colleen and her family. After a few miles of slow, suburban driving (in 4×4 of course), I crawled down the final street to see Colleen and her children building a snowman and waving me down. After 11 hours of driving, little food or water, cramps from holding the steering wheel against the wind gusts, seeing them outside looking for me became my new definition of happiness.

ukulele - wander with melissa


After a beautiful snow day, watching TV with Alakea and Kala, listening to Haku play ukulele, and cocktails with Colleen (Huckleberry liqueur is a million times better than Huckleberry coffee), I’m preparing to leave tomorrow to make a dash south. It’s still snowing here but I have a job interview to get to (and I really really want the job), and the snow lets up about an hour away (although now I see a massive storm over Ohio). This has been a lovely break, especially since Lucy and Makoa have been playing so nicely, but it’s time to get to the end. South Dakota will have to wait for the next trip.

Aloha from freezing Minnesota,




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Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler – adventure/ocean fiction based on true stories

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Lucy in Idaho - wander with melissa

Whitefish, I’m in love.

Today I find myself in Whitefish, Montana. I could live here.

I did some hiking and sightseeing in Coeur d’Alene (which I haven’t yet successfully spelled correctly without Googling), and it is a beautiful town. I was going to dedicate this post to CDA (easier to spell), but then I got to Whitefish and now think it’s a dump in comparison. Whitefish is easier to type, too.

Lucy and I drove around Lake CDA, which is quite a distance, and really is breathtaking. Long, long lake surrounded by evergreen forest and snowcapped mountains, with a windy road along one side. That about sums it up. I was looking for a picturesque spot for sunset photos and severely underestimated how long it would take to drive around so most of it was seen in partial darkness. We had our first wildlife scare on the way – deer running across the one-lane road. Fortunately, I was driving at annoying-tourist speed.

Lucy in Coeur d'Alene - wander with melissa


We packed up the next morning and drove the steep mountain roads into Montana, and I have to admit I was somewhat terrified at times. Signs posted every few miles told me to watch for ice, or that the bridges are icy, or the shady spots are icy, and since I haven’t driven in snow in years I immediately assumed the entire roadway was a giant sheet of ice. I spent hours barely going the speed limit, sometimes under and hoping my Hawaii license plates would allow people to forgive me, while imagining my truck sliding off the mountain, tumbling several times, and ending in a fiery crash at the bottom in a fluffy pile of snow. Realistically, though, it was only drizzling, most of the snow was melted and not a drop on the road, and I am accustomed to my imagination running off in random, horrible directions. The temperature was in the low-40s and I didn’t see any evidence of other people hurtling to their deaths. The scariest part was at one of the peaks before the curving 6% downgrade, raining and foggy with snow cover all around in the forest, and I was at least happy I couldn’t see enough through the fog to the bottom of the valley. Needless to say, we lived, although I really could have used those CBD gummies I bought in Portland – just for this occasion – which were buried somewhere in the back of my truck.

After surviving the first few miles of Montana, we turned up toward Whitefish on mostly one-lane roads; these were pretty clear and the driving was much less stressful. All in all, though, my journey thus far from Portland has had me poking Lucy to wake her up every few minutes to tell her how beautiful it is. Or that she’s missing a herd of cows.

I had randomly selected The Pine Lodge in Whitefish and made a reservation that morning (since it is now even colder and rainier and I will not be camping), and it was a good choice. This is a great place to stay, right along the Whitefish river but just outside town. Lucy sniffed the carpet, but only a fraction as long as in CDA, so it is definitely a clean place. I thought that might be a niche job for my dog – hotel cleanliness inspector. You would be rated according to how many seconds it takes Lucy to cover the room.

Lucy and I were both super stressed from the drive so the first thing we did was find a dog park for her to run. Whitefish seems to be a very dog-friendly town, as evidenced by the 200 dog grooming, boarding, and pet stores we passed. We found a 5-acre dog park, mostly mud at this time of year, and she ran her brains out with another dog she met. And since she was already long-overdue for a bath, we went to a do-it-yourself dog wash store (omg who knew these existed??) and now she smells like strawberries. She hated every moment of it, and I ended up spending 10 minutes wiping down the walls and floors of the room since she somehow sprayed water several feet into the pet food area.

Lucy Whitefish dogpark - wander with melissa


Many of the roads in Glacier National Park are still closed so Lucy and I found a trail to hike that didn’t require driving through the snow up to the mountains this morning. I do want to hike Glacier sometime, but I’ll have to plan that better. We went to Swift Creek trailhead (I had chosen a different one but somehow couldn’t find it). Grizzly bear season is starting and warning signs were posted everywhere. I’ve wanted to see a bear for as long as I can remember, so we started down the trail with high hopes.

I imagined that my first bear sighting would be something like the first time I went scuba diving to look for Laverne, the famous Kona tiger shark. Totally excited at first, ready to observe and photograph one of nature’s most fearsome creatures; but when I finally saw her I hid behind a lump of coral, hyperventilating and peeing my wetsuit. And forgot to take a picture. (For the record, I was much braver each successive time I saw her).

Lucy and I started down the trail, camera in hand (new, crappy camera – my good Nikon died in Portland and the camera shop couldn’t fix it. I had to mail it to Nikon and I’m hoping to catch up with it further into Montana. I had to buy the best Nikon that Best Buy had to offer, which after my D750 is almost archaic. Still, better than my iPhone). The forest was completely silent, and the smell was something I had completely forgotten – glorious wet evergreen forest smell. The trail was icy in places and the going was slow. Lucy learned that if she dug a little hole in the snow she could stick her nose in and smell wonderful decaying things. She also learned that she loves deer poop.

Whitefish forest - wander with melissa


And while I’m thinking of poop – the trail was wonderfully clean, in terms of trash, except for… yes, dog poop bags! Really. It’s nice that owners are conscientious enough to pick up after their pets, but you have to take the plastic bag with you and put it in the trash! Poop bags of all the colors of the rainbow were along the trail. Idiots.

It took some time to walk the Swift Creek loop due to the ice, and we stopped off at the Creek overlook hoping to see one of the bears hunting fish (although I have no idea if bears do that everywhere, or if the bears here are like Yogi and just look for unprotected picnic baskets). I wanted to go to the lake to look for bears but it was two more miles of icy trail along a steep ridge and I had no desire to slide off the edge, so Lucy and I started back. I was trying to imagine what it would be like to run into a bear; I had no bear spray, and my hunting knife was last used to cut lemons and was currently residing in a bag with my kitchen supplies (but really I’d get mauled before I got close enough to use my knife – it’s more a morale knife than a hunting knife). I wondered what Lucy would do. As a Plott hound, her breed was originally bred to hunt bear – but my dog, who is frightened of bridges and rustling plastic bags and the squeak that doors make – who knows. In my head she is ferociously protecting me, barking and driving the hungry bear away, but in reality I could see her trying to hide behind my legs, tangling me in her leash and causing me to fall on the ice, then we’d both get eaten. 

Swift creek - wander with melissa


Enjoying the quiet and the relaxing smells of forest as we neared the end of the trail, dreaming of what to have for lunch, we were completely startled by a massive, shaggy brown thing running across our trail. A grizzly bear! Oh My God A Grizzly Bear! 

Much like in the ocean, I hid behind the nearest tree and peeked out, but thankfully I did not pee myself (much more obvious on land). Lucy was absolutely silent, standing rigid, staring ahead. I didn’t know what to do. I looked around and saw I was near the entrance to the loop so going back wasn’t an option; in fact looking a bit closer I could see my truck in the parking lot. I wondered what they would say if I called 911 and told them a bear was in the forest. So we waited, all the while peering out from behind a tree. It was totally quiet. Not even a chirping bird. 

And then I looked down at my feet. I thought I was standing on a stick, but it was a severed deer leg. The hoof, plus about 10 inches of bone with some fur. Lucy didn’t even notice it, she was still in guard mode. Time to move.

I hadn’t seen the bear for a few minutes, so we left the trail and crept quietly to the far side of the parking lot and reached my truck. After my heart started beating again I was upset I didn’t have a picture, so I left my driver’s side door open and Lucy and I cautiously headed back toward where we saw the bear. If we only went a little way in we could run and jump into the truck if we had a little head start. Supposing, of course, I didn’t panic and slip on the ice and become this bear’s first spring meal.

Whitefish deer - wander with melissa


We stayed out another half hour but never saw her again. More deer, squirrels and birds, but nothing else. It was a great day. And like with Laverne, I will be a little braver next time I see a bear. But I probably won’t be any braver driving. Wish me clear roads and blue skies for my next big drive tomorrow.

Aloha from Montana!





Help support the journey – Buy a book!

Wandering – non-fiction travel/adventure/humor

Sylvie Writes a Romance – romantic comedy

Sylvie Falls in Love – romantic comedy part 2

Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler – adventure/ocean fiction based on true stories

Stock photos on Adobe Stock

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Wander with Melissa - Melissa Burovac

Time to wander again…

Wander with Melissa - Melissa Burovac

It’s hard to write a retrospective while planning for the future. I thought I could easily sum up my years in Hawaii – nearly 15 of them – and move on, but started thinking 15 years?! Where did 15 years go? A full look back will have to wait until my mind is a bit calmer.

I recently made a tough decision to move back to the mainland – Cleveland, Ohio, to be more specific – in light of my father’s declining health. I moved out of my parents’ house during high school, went away to college, traveled, lived in several states, then moved to Kauai. I don’t think it’s possible to know your parents at a young age and after 30 years of almost total absence, I can’t say I know them at all. Better late than never, as they say.

The first leg of my journey begins on March 11 when Lucy and I fly to Portland, where we will putter around the city with family until my truck arrives in Seattle. A quick train ride to retrieve the truck, plus some visiting with friends in Seattle, begins the second leg when Lucy and I will drive cross-country and take in some sights I’ve missed throughout the years. I don’t think Lucy cares much about the Grand Canyon or Mt Rushmore, as long as they smell good, but perhaps we can find her a moose or a bear to bark at. I haven’t chosen my stops yet but I have three weeks in the northwest to plan the journey. My drive could be a few days or a month, depending on whether snow keeps flying; I’d like to cruise the mountains but after so many years in Hawaii I’m not sure I’m ready for high-altitude blizzard driving. Upon arrival in Cleveland, I’m going to get to work on finding things to do to make me forget that I swim in the ocean every day. And visit the parents.

I haven’t blogged much in the past few months and am hopeful this trip will get me started again. Keep an eye out for posts, and if I’m near your neighborhood let me know – friendly faces on the road are a welcome sight, and I’d love to stop in towns I’ve never had a reason to visit before.



Help support the journey – Buy a book!

Wandering – non-fiction travel/adventure/humor

Sylvie Writes a Romance – romantic comedy

Sylvie Falls in Love – romantic comedy part 2

Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler – adventure/ocean fiction based on true stories


Sign up for this blog on the homepage to get updates on the trip, and watch Hawaii Ocean Photography for extra photos!