Two Women in a Car: California to Alabama Day Seven

… not to mention the cat. This is the seventh and last day on a road trip I took 30 July to 05 August 2016. FEllie writer Debra found a new home in Alabama. Traveling in her Toyota Yaris with her and her cat Loki across the United States was an experience I’ll never forget. Now was the time to say good-bye and head home.

Pensacola, FL to Orange County, CA
05 August 2016
2020 (est) miles

We squeezed every moment we could into our departures, Debra to her new home in Andalusia and me to California. Debra has 87 miles. Me over 2000.

imageWe checked out of the motel at 11:00AM, and God was good. A Starbucks appeared on the 15 minute trip to the airport. One last cold brew for us.

Navy planes were much in evidence in Pensacola: in the souvenirs, billboards, and signs. Something to explore on my next visit.

Pensacola airport is the best ever. No traffic in. Debra parked in front of AA departure so there was time and space for our goodbyes. Only me at the check in counter. Only me and a flight attendant in the security queue. Only me getting a bagel at Einstein’s for lunch. Clean, pacific, no hassles, friendly and free WiFi. I picture heaven this way.

Dallas was more frenetic but rife with Starbucks, high-end shops, and mobbed eateries. I had three hours. One gate change to wile away the time. Noted lots of places to charge devices but most in constant, frenetic use.

Arrived at John Wayne Airport before 10PM PDT. Surprised that and illegally so, the shuttle driver was waiting for me. On the negative side, he was new, his navigation system failed, and he’d never been to Orange County. Sigh. After he wandered around UCI for awhile, I became his Garmin and directed him home. He worked on his cell the entire trip, nearly causing four accidents, punctuating the night with swerving cars, screeching brakes, and horns blasting.

Now safely home. I said hello to Marino, the Icelandic sponge, and slept for ten hours. Garden, cats, family, and house thrived.

imageI chose this photo for my final one. Took it at the Pensacola marina Thursday night. A beautiful end of the day, a hint of wide vistas in our futures. A lovely farewell till we meet again …

Trip report respectfully submitted by Michelle K

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Two Women in a Car: California to Alabama Day Six

… not to mention the cat. This is the sixth day on a road trip I took 30 July to 05 August 2016. Dear friend and fellow writer Debra found a new home in Alabama. Traveling in her Toyota Yaris with her and her cat Loki across the United States was an experience I’ll never forget.

Andalusia, AL to Pensacola, FL
04 August 2016
87 miles

No longer facing long miles to Debra’s new home, today would begin a two-day journey to return me to my home.

Excited about drinking in this Alabama town, I woke at 3:30am raring to go. At that hour, only Loki shared my enthusiasm. I hurried Debra through her coffee and we headed to the Walmart Superstore, open 24×7, where Debra picked up cleaning supplies and items to tide her over till the moving truck arrives.

imageWe dropped off the packages at the house. We checked out the green pecans and ripe figs in the backyard. Also the great job Debra’s realtor’s husband did on installing a mailbox.

We then headed back to the Econolodge where we packed the car and checked out. Checkout took awhile as the desk clerk and another worker removed leeches from a planter in the driveway. We then dumped Loki and most of Debra’s road trip burdens at the house. Loki hid in a closet.

For lunch, we headed up 29 North to Hilltop Meat and Seafood Company where we enjoyed shrimp meals with Debra’s realtor Shirley Tew. Wow, really good! The owner brought out sausage samples that Debra declared were the best she’d had in a long time. The place had character and fabulous food at a reasonable price.

Returned to the house where Loki would not be consoled. Then to Alabama Soap Lady where we received steep discounts, great products, and lovely conversation. At Barista Joes, we met the barista himself who supplied us with iced coffee and launched a conversation about Prohibition and whisky making in Andalusia. The shops sit across the street from the Andalusia Public Library. Debra and I were much heartened by the friendliness and generosity we received.

The trip to Pensacola took almost two hours. Most of the 87 miles entailed country roads through wooded areas. Crossing into Florida was only noted by a Dalmatian from the sidewalk who scarcely lifted his head and never opened his eyes.

imageThe trip ended with less calm. The last half hour went lickety-split on the 10 West and we fought mid afternoon traffic while looking for motels that no longer existed. We landed at the historic district Days Inn. I had Jaco’s mahi tacos at the waterfront and contemplated a boat in the marina called PainKiller.

The trip winds down, but friendship and adventure never ends.

Trip report respectfully submitted by Michelle K

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Two Women in a Car: California to Alabama Day Five

… not to mention the cat. This is the fifth day on a road trip I took 30 July to 05 August 2016. Dear friend and fellow writer Debra found a new home in Alabama. Traveling in her Toyota Yaris with her and her cat Loki across the United States was an experience I’ll never forget.

South Baton Rouge, LA to Andalusia, AL
03 August 2016
349 miles

Summary: Eureka! We arrived.

Full story: we left Baton Rouge, Louisiana at 6:18 this morning. We rode into the sunrise. The dark clouds made good on their threat, and the horizon lit with sheet lightning, with scattered bolts and thunder. Loki made her opinions known with howls and punched the mesh doors with fists and claws that rocked her kennel. Fortunately for all our shattered nerves, the storm lasted less than an hour. Great news: the storm washed the dirt of five states off the red Toyota.

Nearing the end of Louisiana, we finally saw the familiar green mermaid and ordered cold brewed coffee. Not a beignet in sight.

The landscape was now lush with creeks and rivers feeding dense forests. At 8am, we entered Mississippi. Casinos and fishing trawlers dotted the gulf coast. We sped by Biloxi sampling the entire state in a mere 80 minutes.

imageWe entered Sweet Home Alabama, Debra’s new state of record, before 9:30. The freeways are beautifully maintained and junctions easily followed. We took back roads to her new house, arriving by 11:30. Her home is a charming 1940 red trimmed white house with two bedrooms, an office and two baths. The kitchen has an island, a separate dining room, laundry, and cabinets and built in bookshelves. The backyard is immense.

Checked into the motel and had a buffet lunch. We cruised through stores including a super Walmart. Met with Debra’s wonderful realtor who went through the house with us, talked to her mail lady, and led us to city hall where Debra arranged the utilities to start tomorrow. City hall and the rest of downtown surrounds a traffic circle and is stunning. Very old south.

Gas is $1.83/gal.

We also found a darling coffeehouse called Barista Joe next to the Alabama Soap Lady. Sadly no Starbucks. Her moving van will deliver her stuff between 10-12 August. Plenty of time to prep her house and map the community into her psyche.

I’m doing laundry again while another flash/bang storm rages overhead. Scared everyone out of the pool. We’re exhausted, so I expect we’ll wash this mugginess off and head for bed.

Road trip is over. But wait: we’ve another road that looms bElote us. Tune in next time …

Trip report respectfully submitted by, Michelle K

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September 2016 First Friday Breakfast with Author Jenna Rhodes

On the first Friday of September 2016 (okay, too excited to wait), we are having breakfast with author Jenna Rhodes.

Jenna Rhodes (a pseudonym used by R. A. V. Salsitz), was born in Phoenix, Arizona and is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery novels. She also writes under the names Emily Drake, Anne Knight, Elizabeth Forrest, Charles Ingrid, Rhondi Vilott Salsitz, R.A.V. Salsitz, Rhondi Vilott, and Rhondi Greening. Rhodes has been writing since she was in 3rd grade. She has published over 50 books and short stories. She can be found at

Her books in the Books in The Elven Ways series:

For this warm September breakfast, I’m having smoked trout soufflé with a white peach and blueberries, and iced chamomile ginger tea. Jenna, what are you having?

Freshly squeezed orange juice (we have 2 trees in our backyard, one navel and the other valencia), one eggs florentine (two muffins’ worth seems excessive), watermelon spears on the side.

imageSounds wonderful! So tell us about your writing process from concept to draft to revision.

Idea concepts usually come to me with a character, or two or three. This character will have unusual circumstances which will have to be explored, understood and solved. Often I can see the end clearly, and it’s the getting there that is the fun when I outline the book.

When I am writing, I try to do at least 2000 words a day. My day starts with reviewing what I’ve done the day before, the easiest way for me to get back into the voice and rhythm, and then onto the new stuff. As far as outlining goes, I fall in between a pantser and a thorough outliner. I’ll often have a situation set up but not strictly so that when I roll into it, there can be surprises and plot reversals as they occur to me. My beta readers have dropped out (one is working on finishing her PhD and the other is busy being a single Mom and neither have time for 600 page rough drafts), and I don’t have an agent, so revisions are a challenge. It’s always best to have fresh eyes. Luckily I have a great editor/publisher all rolled into one with Sheila Gilbert of DAW Books.

Tell us about The Elven Ways series. 

imageTHE QUEEN OF STORM AND SHADOW is the fourth and finishing book in the quadrology, The Elven Ways, an epic fantasy series. Mysteries had to be solved, destinies met, and love realized. Book one, THE FOUR FORGES, written under the pen name of Jenna Rhodes, got a starred review in PW, and the others have been reviewed well in general. I hope my readers like the ending we’ve reached.

More iced tea, Jenna?  What did you find fun/intriguing about writing THE QUEEN OF STORM AND SHADOW, and what was difficult?

Two different worlds of magic collide, and I had fun setting up the invading magic users and the impact they have on the world to which they’ve been exiled. They’re a talented but arrogant bunch, and as the natives on Kerith often say, “It’s better to have Death come to your door than a Vaelinar.” The series in itself was difficult because it *was* a series. Each book has to be written as a stand-alone and also as a continuation. I had to find innovative ways to instruct the new reader as to what had gone before without boring those who had kept up with the series. It’s a joy for me, though, to unfolded the mysteries of each book, and hopefully with rewarding surprises.

Tell us about your next project and when it may be published.

I’m currently working on a contemporary suspense thriller, a couple of short romantic suspense novels for indie pub, and a YA/New Adult urban fantasy for DAW Books which hasn’t been assigned a release date (or pen name) yet, because I’m only half done on it. The Thriller I’ve titled The Demon Supper Club, the shorties untitled as of yet, and the YA/NA has a working title of THE LATE, GREAT WIZARD. The YA has the possibility of being a series as well. I intend to have all done by year’s end.

Wow!  Thank you for visiting with us, Jenna.

Dear reader, I hope you check out her books.  Let me pour us another virtual iced tea before you rush off to Amazon to buy a book in her Elven series or pre-order THE QUEEN OF STORM AND SHADOW.  I did!

Follow Jenna Rhodes at:

Twitter: @RhondiVilott

You can order her books at your local bookstore or on Amazon by clicking:

Her books in the Books in The Elven Ways series:

Happy reading!

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Two Women in a Car: California to Alabama Day Four

… not to mention the cat. This is the fourth day on a road trip I took 30 July to 05 August 2016. Dear friend and fellow writer Debra found a new home in Alabama. Traveling in her Toyota Yaris with her and her cat Loki across the United States was an adventure I’ll never forget.

Seguin, Tx to South Baton Rouge, LA
02 August 2016
446 miles

Quick breakfast in the Super 8 lobby and then on the road again. Side note, laundry, even the thin stuff, will not dry overnight in humid weather.

imageLoki likes her window sills as you can see to the left. She returned to her travel kennel in the backseat with no fuss. She is now resigned to the nomadic life.

We made it to the Louisiana border about 11 am. No long security corridor this time! It’s easy to leave Texas.

Good thing we stopped in Katy just before Houston for Starbucks. We found none in Louisiana.

imageOn a gas stop, we discovered this great farm stand and bought Louisiana black grapes and small peaches.

We crossed Louisiana with only minor slowdowns till we reached the environs of Baton Rouge. At 4pm, we hit horrid traffic on the bridge spanning the Mississippi River at the start of the Highway 12 loop. Took a long time to get to the bridge and then a geological age to cross it. Long enough to recount every bridge disaster movie we’d seen and time to meditate on our probable deaths. After we crawled onto the interstate, we realized the possibility of the congestion lasting the next 84 miles was very real. We crossed three lanes of traffic to make the last exit. By now it was nearly 6pm, so we checked into the first South Baton Rouge motel we found.

Little did we know that torrential rains would hit Baton Rouge with historic level flooding. A strange feeling to read this headline days after being there!

CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said Baton Rouge received twice the amount of rain in one 24-hour period than it normally receives in the entire month of August. The average for August is 5.82 inches, he said.
Some rainfall totals have exceeded 20 inches. Livingston has received 21.29 inches from late Thursday until early Saturday, he said. (CNN, 12 August 2016)

Reports of looting prompted officials in Baton Rouge Parish, La., to establish a curfew amid flooding that has killed 11 people. (UPI, 16 August 2016)

For those families affected by grievous loss, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

After settling Loki in the motel room and walking 45 minutes in muggy heat, we had a nice lemon pepper trout at Cracker Barrel. We tried to take a shortcut on the return, but had to backtrack. Now 8pm, it was even more muggy and hotter. It didn’t help that Debra recounted a horror film where a sentient road killed off a family.

I spent $2 drying the clothes from yesterday that were still wet. Laundry room was blessedly air conditioned.

Early to bed so we can beat the morning traffic. Tomorrow: Mississippi and Alabama or bust!

Trip report respectfully submitted by,
Michelle K

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Two Women in a Car: California to Alabama Day Three

… not to mention the cat. This is the third day on a road trip I took 30 July to 05 August 2016. Dear friend and fellow writer Debra bought a house in southern Alabama, leaving her California home of forty years. Traveling in her small Toyota with her and her cat Loki across the United States was an adventure and a time for me to see parts of the US I’d never seen up close.

Van Horn, Tx to Siguen, Tx
August 01, 2016
471 miles

Driving home from the steakhouse last night about 10pm, the Yaris shared the road with a line of horses and their riders. Yep, we’re still in Texas.

Days Inn. People keep calling us ma’am. For Breakfast, I ate part of a waffle in the shape of Texas–the southern part, of course. Loki liked our motel room because it had a window sill to lounge on. But it was time stuff her in her kennel and hit the road again.

imageToday the landscape was flat and barren, slowed in parts with construction. We mostly sped the highways at the posted 80 mph. Where the road cut through hills and buttes, we saw the strata of history in Texan sandstone. This picture shows the layered cut.

For those who like to study the more macabre, the road kill early on were skunks which lafter gave way to raccoons.

Birdsong now sounds much different than what I hear in California.

Our last fill up was $1.85/gallon. That was here in Texas.

Tragically we were without any Starbucks for the first three hundred miles or more. Just outside San Antonio, we saw the first green mermaid logo. The chilled drinks (cold brew coffee) came in handy for the heavy traffic though the city. We did take the Anderson Loop which helped some. Now we’re seeing much more vegetation.

imageWe checked in at the first motel we found after San Antonio. A Super 8.  We enjoyed some wonderful southern food at the Dixie Grill shown at the left. At 10pm, commuter traffic was still heavy, even denser than it was at 6pm.

More Texas tomorrow!

Trip report respectfully submitted by,
Michelle K

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Americanization Teachers: Lillian in the Doorway and 1920s Lore Part Two

lillian with shoes copyWhat drove me to write the 1924 romance novel Lillian in the Doorway?

I won’t talk of the progression of interests that brought me to write about women living in boardinghouses far from home, hoping to find love. Each woman had left home for a reason: gangsters, grief, family demands, or family expectations. Why I wanted to explore living in a Basque boardinghouse where the past collides with the present is also a story for another time.

What brought these single women to the orange ranches? Besides escape and the dreams of a better future. A job of course. In 2013 I read an OC Weekly article where I shouted EUREKA! Perfect. My boardinghouse women would be Americaization teachers.

The Lost Mexicans of the Bastanchury Ranch was the article title. These first few lines drew that shout from me.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Kelly had worked as an Americanization teacher in the citrus camps of Orange County, tasked with schooling Mexican immigrants in the art of good citizenship. During the day, she taught women how to sew and cook American meals like casseroles and pies; at night, the Michigan native recited basic English phrases before audiences of men so that they could use them at work

These words supported various scenes when my Lillian in the Doorway characters talked about their work. In this first book, I show Lillian leaving the shed where she teaches. Except for a brief encounter with Mexican ranch kids, we don’t actually see Lillian teach. That will offer fresh opportunities for the other three books in the series. Since Lillian was an opinionated woman, I had more fun with her scathing remarks about the students, teachers, and the program goals. And in showing her friendship with Maria.

The large ranches in the north Orange County area, beginning in the late 1800s, needed workers. Ranch owners brought hundreds from Mexico. After a time, the Americanization teachers taught them American culture, clearly not for assimilation, but undoubtedly to make the white community more comfortable.  The Mexican children attended a different school than their white and Basque counterparts.

Again I did much research and much consideration on how much of the Americanization philosophy to include in the story. I knew the focus had to remain on the romance between Lillian and Jens. Still that romance was nurtured and deve loped through her job.

Although the Americanization classes continued through the early 30s, they ended for an appalling reason. My series stops before the historical event, so it’s not addressed in Lillian in the Doorway and probably won’t be in the other three books.

From the same article …

Sometime that spring, new management and a consortium of white business, political and civic leaders went to the Ranch’s schoolhouse and told the Mexicans they had to leave. “The Americanization centers in which these people had been taught how to buy homes and make themselves a part of the American community,” Mackey wrote 18 years later, “were now used for calling together assemblages in which county welfare workers explained to bewildered audiences that their small jobs would now be taken over by the white men, that they were no longer needed nor wanted in these United States.”

Many were American citizens, but repatriated only because they had a Spanish last name. They were loaded on trains and dumped in Mexican provinces where they knew no one. Their children–born in the United States–did not even speak Spanish.

The stories of these ranch workers were recorded in the 1960s for an oral history project and archived at California State University at Fullerton.  Several of the interviewees were Americanization teachers.

Lillian in the Doorway by Michelle Dutton is available on Amazon.

Happy reading!

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