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.



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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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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!





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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

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Melissa Burovac

From travel to romcom and beyond – an evolution of my writing

In 2012, I embarked on a solo RTW trip that lasted nine months. I had never traveled solo before, and have a healthy dose of social anxiety plus a great fear of getting lost with my poor sense of direction, so this was an enormous undertaking for me. I had help getting prepared from traveler friends, creating lists of places to visit and gear I might need along the way. I put my furniture in storage, not knowing what to expect for how long I would be gone, sold my beloved Jeep Cherokee, and bought a one-way ticket to Mexico. I got a ride to the airport in Lihue, Kauai, carrying only a backpack containing clothes, a point and shoot camera, a 13” Mac laptop, and a water filter. A couple months after my 40th birthday, I was as ready as I would ever be.

During my travels I visited nine countries: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Cuba, Australia, Cambodia, and Thailand. I encountered natural disasters in most of the countries — two hurricanes, a volcano eruption, an earthquake and a wildfire. As I blogged, my friends joked they knew where I was by where the natural disasters were occurring. “Something exploded? Let’s see where Melissa is!”

Blogging as I traveled was mainly to let my mother know I was still alive. I had childhood dreams of being a writer, but those got lost in the flurry of making a living after college and were completely forgotten. When I returned to Kauai after my trip I didn’t expect such a reaction to my blog; people were amazed I traveled for nine months, mostly solo, and that I didn’t die in the drug wars of Mexico, or some other place they only knew from news reports. Or even that as a woman, I was able to make my way through the world without trouble — some trouble, but not much. The women who followed me online were especially impressed and wanted to know how I did it all by myself. As I heard, more and more, “You should write a book,” I recalled those forgotten dreams of becoming an author and decided to give it a try.

Wandering was born from my blog posts, mostly written in bars and cafes around the world— a little bit drunk, a little bit lost, and toward the end, a whole lot homesick from being alone. This first book of mine was self-published in June 2014.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, though. I was working full-time as a bookkeeper, writing full-time after work — mostly from the back of my truck at the beach with a $200 laptop — and I was exhausted. I lost touch with most of my friends, and was a little depressed with the sudden lack of freedom.

Finally, though, Wandering was finished, published, and it was the most exciting thing in my life to see a book I had written in print. I immediately had dreams of writing more books, but didn’t see enough income to allow me to quit my regular job. I sent copies to every major outlet and publisher I could find online but no one picked up the book. While visiting my sister in Portland I took copies to Powell’s and sold them as used just so I could go back a week later and see my book on the shelf at a bookstore.

So what comes next? I wanted to be a full-time writer but it wasn’t working out exactly as it had in my daydreams. I didn’t have another book planned, and couldn’t begin to imagine what to do with myself.

One afternoon I was flipping through articles about writing on the internet and came across one about romance writers. The three women depicted in the article were raking in huge monthly incomes from churning out romance e-books, and I thought to myself, How hard could it be to write a romance novel?

I was sitting at a bar in Portland, drinking Bloody Marys and turning my imagination to writing a quick, sexy romance novel to generate some income — and I failed miserably. This is actually the only non-fiction scene in my second book Sylvie Writes a Romance.

I love to read classic fiction, sci-fi, horror, biographies — really, anything but romance novels. In my snobby view of the writing world I didn’t consider romance novels as literature, but just a means to pass the time, and not even as “real writing.” I was completely confused when I couldn’t write anything in that genre that was remotely good. It opened my eyes to how much work any type of writing entails.

I came back home to Kauai and bought a couple used romance novels at a thrift store, and sat down to read them. The books weren’t grammatically complicated, and didn’t contain any lofty ideas, and I sat down to write again, never actually finishing either of them. I just wanted to write something for a mass market so I could concentrate on writing something more profound.

I failed again and again, never writing anything I was happy with. But these failures evolved into a new project about a writer trying to write a romance novel and failing, turning to online dating to meet men and hoping to learn the meaning of romance. It’s more comedy than romance, which suits my style much better.

Sylvie Writes a Romance was born, and published in 2016.

Since Sylvie was written, I have been working on a sequel, plus trying my hand at writing a biography. I hope to have both published this year, and still have my sights set on a full-time career in writing.



Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance


Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:


Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance


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Wandering - Melissa Burovac

Wandering Kindle sale – April 8 – 15, 2017


Because of Jennifer S Alderson‘s new group Travel by Book, I’ve arranged for a special sale of Wandering. Beginning on April 8, 2017 you can buy the Kindle version for only 99 cents! During the week, the price will slowly creep back up to the regular Kindle price of $4.99, so get it in the first couple of days for the best deal. Please share this post with anyone who might enjoy a fun travel/adventure book, and sign up for my blog for sales, short stories, and a first look at my new adventure book coming out later this year.

Wandering is the true story of my first RTW trip…


Traveling solo as a woman certainly has its ups and downs, but Melissa Burovac will be the first to tell you to embrace the adventure as you encounter it.

Facing her 40th birthday as a single woman in a job she was tired of, Burovac decided to do something. Always keen for adventure, she chose to buy a one-way ticket to Mexico—and quit her job, sell her beloved Jeep, and store all her belongings.

Though she’d gone on trips abroad before, Burovac didn’t feel like she’d ever earned the title of “traveler.” But that was about to change.

Wandering relates the adventures, and misadventures (she encounters so many major weather events that her friends start predicting where the next disaster will strike based on her next destination), of her nine months traveling through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Cuba, Australia, Cambodia, and Thailand.

Her stories will crack you up—and they will inspire you. As someone with no sense of direction, no ability to plan, and plenty of social anxiety, her experiences prove that anyone who wants to travel can!


Happy reading!



Check out my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance


Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Recent articles:


Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance


Kauai Adventure Photo

Birthday Week Kindle Book Giveaway

It’s that time again – the annual Wandering on Kindle book giveaway. Get it absolutely free between now and March 28th!

Check it out on Amazon.

Wandering tallies her hilarious as well as poignant experiences as she travels from Mexico through Central America, sneaks into Cuba, and journeys from Australia to Cambodia and Thailand. Read about her misadventures with crocodiles and the times she encounters erupting volcanoes…and two hurricanes…and a wildfire.

Burovac’s stories will make you laugh while reminding you that life is an adventure—and sometimes you just need to pack a bag and get lost.

Wandering on Kindle – Holiday Sale

Beginning today and ending on Christmas, the Kindle version of Wandering is on sale!

Get it at Amazon – Wandering.

And as always, you can read it absolutely free with Kindle Unlimited.

As a Christmas present to me, leave a review!


Stay tuned, my next book will be out in 2016!

Thank you!

Birthday week Kindle sale!

From March 22 – 29, 2015, the Kindle version of Wandering will be on sale to celebrate my birthday!  Get it if you haven’t already!

Find it on Amazon.


In other news, progress is being made on the new book!  I hope to have it ready for publication by the end of the year!


Thank you!


Valentines scuba

Kona pt 3 – more snot and some whales

I woke up bright and early and ready for my four-dive day.  At Jack’s Diving Locker, they label the all-day people as ‘Dive Animal.’  I like that.  I walked to the shop early to scope out their GoPro gear and bought a new underwater housing; my camera started behaving mostly normal again (Why do you put rice with your wet electronics?  To attract an asian person to come fix it.  Is it a racist joke if you’re calling them smart? Probably.  Sorry, I giggled.  But I think I heard it from my Japanese boss).

Anyway, the new housing didn’t fit with my new red filter, so that will be someone’s gift.

Jack’s is a clean, professional dive shop with all the newest gear and gadgets for sale, and I waited there for about an hour before they even considered getting us to the boat; not super efficient.  The boat was nice, though, and I loved the crew.  We went all the way down to Kealakekua Bay at the Capt Cook monument, which took nearly an hour.  We had to go that far to find a place out of the continuing north swell, although the wind was still kicking pretty hard.  The first dive was good, and super cold again, and if you assumed that I had snot in my mask all day you would be correct.  Immersion in cold water for extended periods does not make a runny nose stop.

The fish and reef were about the same as 2 Step, without the cool ray and turtle.  The best part was getting in close to the rocks and watching the waves crash from about 20 feet below.  I had no trouble keeping off the reef, and the fish were happily swaying with the current.  The weirdest part was watching the only couple from the boat, they held hands for the entire dive.  Almost an hour.  And then they held hands during the surface interval.  And again throughout the second dive.  At times I would just stop and watch them instead of the fish, they were fascinating – two skinny, regular-looking white people, maybe in their late 20s.  Glued together, no matter if they had to turn around, or were stuck on the reef, or one was having equipment trouble.  Never let go.  I almost want to say it was romantic and Valentinesy but no, it just seemed pretty inconvenient for the most part.  And a bit ridiculous.

I had left my filter connected to my camera since I tethered it before I realized it would’ t fit the new housing; I had decided to give it to Shanti for helping me arrange my trip.  And I left it somewhere on the sea floor.

We found out between dives that the afternoon and night Manta Ray dives were cancelled due to the weather.  No more ‘Dive Animal.’  The second dive was much like the first, cool, but with lessening visibility and getting rougher.  By the time we were done I couldn’t feel a couple of my fingers.  I never thought diving in Hawaii could be so cold, even with Bill’s extra wetsuit on top of Pablo’s.

On the way home we saw dolphins chasing the boat, and whales breaching here and there.  We stopped a couple times to watch, and most people had never seen a whale up close before.  This was also about the time that we found out that all communications on the island were down.  We didn’t know at the time, but a construction worker grading some land hit a pole which knocked out all phone, internet and cell communication (except TMobile.  Crappiest island service provider was the only one working).  Seems like an important pole like that should be a little more protected.  Besides the couple and me, all the other divers were married guys whose wives were shopping.  Each of them was supposed to call for a ride when they got out of the water.  Each of them was staring at their phones, scratching their heads, wondering what their wives were gonna do when they didn’t call.  And we were almost three hours late because we dove so far away and kept stopping for whales.

When we got back I was able to reschedule my night dives for the next day, even though I was planning on driving north to see some friends.  But I had exactly 18 hours between the end of the night dive and my flight home, and like one diver told me, “If you’re going to give yourself an embolism, the manta dive is the only one worth it.”

And off I went to Humpy’s for a couple post-dive drinks.


Kona pt 2 – Snot diving

My first dives on the big island were completely unlike what I expected.  Since a northwest swell had started to come in, and all the dive companies I called were sold out, I could only find a company to take me on a shore dive.  Bill, at the Hawaiian Dive Shack, didn’t want to fill up a boat and cancel so he was turning away business.  But he was willing to jump in my car and take me somewhere.  To me, this meant picking him up at his shop, driving to the nearest pier, and swimming out; therefore, I didn’t bring much beyond my dive gear.  To Bill, a decent shore dive was an hour away, which I didn’t realize until 20 minutes into the drive when I finally asked him where we were going.  We drove to Honaunau Bay, or 2 Step, by the Place of Refuge.  The bay is called 2 Step because of the two rock steps to get into the water.  From a short distance I could see the Place of Refuge; if a criminal or defeated warrior in the old times could reach Pu’uhonua before being caught, he was given protection until no one was looking for him anymore.

Bill and I suited up and made our way to the steps for our first dive.  The swell was starting to come in so there weren’t many people in the water; instead, most snorkelers were standing around the steps wondering how they were going to get in, the water was surging and crashing on the rocks with each set wave.  We sat on the steps, put on fins, waited for a big wave, and let it suck us off the rocks.  After a short swim out, the visibility was good and plenty of fish were happily swimming along.  The highlight of our first dive was a spotted eagle ray cruising by, he let us swim with him until we were pretty far out and decided to turn around.  Half-way through this dive I noticed that my GoPro had condensation inside the housing, it was a panic moment.  But nothing to be done about it, it was either ruined or not at that point, so might as well finish the dive.  We saw a couple turtles, stayed out until I thought I was going to freeze to death, and my Dayquil wore off.  I had borrowed Pablo’s wetsuit, and it wasn’t nearly thick enough to keep me warm; I was mostly thinking of the $9 per dive over four days that I would save by not renting a suit, and not that I’m always cold.  I’d say ‘lesson learned,’ but I knew better already.  I did warm up a little trying to get out of the water through the waves, it’s easier to get sucked off a rock going in than to ride a wave in and not bash my head getting out.  Especially in front of a crowd, wondering how it would turn out.

I dried off my GoPro, Bill changed our tanks, we ate granola bars, and got ready to go back out.  I had taken four Dayquils before I left to make sure that my nose would stop running and my ears would clear, but since I hadn’t expected such a long drive I hadn’t brought any more and my cold came back.  Not enough to stop me from diving, though.  We made our daring entry through the waves, again, to the amazement of all the people standing around with fins in hand, and swam to the other side of the bay.  I didn’t risk bringing my camera again and just enjoyed the scenery.  My mask was brand new, and even though I used plenty of defog, I had to continually let in water, swish it around, and blow it out to get a clear view.  When my cold medicine wore off for good, about 10 minutes into the second dive, every time I cleared my mask I blew snot into it, which left slimy slug trails across my vision.  Awesome.

By the end of the second dive, getting out of the water was way more challenging.  There were no longer any other people swimming, they were all standing by the steps.  Bill and I floated for a couple minutes watching the set waves, which were pounding the rocks, forcing the people to run back and forth, tripping over each other to get out of the way.  In the end, it was either ‘just do it,’ or swim all the way around to the shallows by the Place of Refuge.  We just did it, and no one was hurt, just a banged tank; it was kinda fun, really.  As I sat back on the rocks taking off my fins, a man walked up and said ‘good thing he was with you.’

The ride home was a guided tour of the side of the island.  Bill was great, and wanted me to stop anytime I saw something interesting.  I also learned about his entire life.  He opened his dive shop when he moved to Kona, and has since been buying the stock from every shop that goes out of business.  His place is packed with gear.  He knows all the prices of every item of every competitor, and at the end of our trip, he gave me a regulator and a shorty wetsuit to put on top of Pablo’s so I wouldn’t be cold, even though the rest of my dives were with a different company.  All for free.  Super nice guy.

The rest of my day was fairly uneventful – a nap, a trip to the hotel gym after I finally saw a full-length mirror for the first time in months, and horrible pad thai.  Good times.


Kona 2015

written at humpy’s alehouse, kona 2-11-15

I really didn’t want to go to the big island by myself.  I had a week off work, little money, and no desire to spend more time alone.  Shanti talked me into going, and after all, what was I going to do at home all week?  The same things I do every day, including complaining about my upstairs neighbor, and being alone anyway.  There was a big northwest swell coming in and my favorite camping spot would be too junky to swim, and way too big to surf.

I spent an evening trying to find flights, hotels, dives, cars, all the necessary vacation things, and failed.  I’m just not a good planner.  Every time I found a piece of the puzzle, I stressed that the other pieces would sell out before I could book them; for some reason, Valentine’s Week is extremely popular in Hawaii.  Another depressing thought about being alone for vacation.

But Shanti persevered and booked my entire trip, except for the dives.  I had called in advance and made those reservations; there’s no reason to go anywhere if I can’t get in the water.  Dive shops have a much friendlier cancellation policy than airlines.

There are always little surprises when you let someone else book trips for you; I hadn’t realized that my flight from Kahului to Kona was on a puddle-jumper plane.  Normally I don’t mind them, but to get an idea of the conditions, a school in Kona cancelled because the wind gusts ripped off the roof that day.  And there were lots of kids who had no idea of what ‘indoor voice’ means.  Its pretty intense on a small plane, and I forgot my headphones.

We landed successfully and I retrieved my rental car.  I had a choice of a blue, four-door Hyundai or something that resembled a Smart Car.  I still envisioned that Andy might join me and I wasn’t sure either of us could fit in the tiny car, even separately, so I picked the Hyundai.  I made it to Island Naturals to buy food, and ultimately to the Holiday Inn Express.  Shanti had printed me maps for everywhere I needed to go.  She’s so awesome.  I sometimes wonder how I got through life before her.

By the time I got to my room at the Holiday Inn it was dark.  I had three bags: one of camera gear, one of Pablo’s borrowed scuba gear, and a tiny sack with some clothes.  My room had two beds and I immediately decided that one was for sleeping, the other for snacking and napping.  The building next door contained a pizza place called Longboards, specializing in taro crust, and I ordered a medium to go, for my snack bed.  After an hour walk to reacquaint myself with Kona, I had been there for a couple days with Shanti, Pablo and Jason a few years ago, I came back to the largest pizza I’d ever seen.  And it was a medium.  I started to argue that they made the wrong size for me when I saw the large walk past, for a group of about 20.  My pizza could have stuffed eight people easily, and it took up almost half of my snack bed.  I ate about four people’s worth, thought I might never walk again, and threw the rest in the hallway so I wouldn’t be tempted to start eating again in ten minutes.  I didn’t even want it for breakfast, I never wanted to see that pizza again.

One of the reasons I finally relented and went on a trip instead of saving money was that my upstairs neighbor had a house guest for the week.  I love my neighbor, but my house just wasn’t meant to have a downstairs apartment; every movement she makes is amplified and echoed, and I haven’t had a full nights sleep in months.  Two people above me meant that I wouldn’t sleep all week.  And wow was I surprised, sitting on my snack bed with my ridiculous-sized pizza, when all I could hear over the TV was the people above me pounding across my ceiling.  Fuuuuuuuucccckk.

At least I still had some Nyquil left from my cold.

But I’m on vacation, and the diving starts tomorrow.  All up from here.