Colors and a Book

One of Miss C’s pictures from the passenger seat.

[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]O[/dropcap]h my goodness, what a weekend.

The weather was gorgeous, the colors were vivid. On Sunday, my friend Stacey had a booksigning event over in Winchester, Virginia, so Miss C and I hopped in the car and set forth to visit with her. Every time we crested a hill, the two of us screamed at each other about “OH MY GOD, THE COLORS!!!” as she went crazy trying to capture it all with the camera.

We also decided there needs to be an app for all those history markers along the side of the road because we passed so many, but who is going to stop on such a busy road just to read a metal sign, right? Later, when I got to my laptop, we learned there’s already an app for that.

OF COURSE there is. It’s a brilliant idea. I told Miss C we need to be a few years faster with these clever ideas as I paid and downloaded it. (Way to be, David Kocevski!)

Anyway, our friend Stacey and a few of her daughters were at the booksigning event, and even though we were at her house the evening before for a Halloween party, she and her posse greeted us as if it had been ages. Oh, to be loved.

She had a great turnout, and both her Girls Guide to Ghost Hunting AND the Boxcar Children Guide to Adventure book were completely sold out by the time I got there. Like, the store’s entire stock was g-o-n-e.

But of course, I snagged a few signed copies of Haunted Stuff because not only as gifts for others, but I am giving one away for free to one of YOU — my lucky blog readers.

Just use the widget below to sign up with an email: you get an extra point by writing a blog comment about your favorite Halloween memory or haunted object experience, and then the raffle widget will pick a winner at the end of the week!

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


This was stretching across our neighborhood after the storm just now.

You can *almost* see the double rainbow happening just above it, too.



A Day at the Carnival

One of my fave pics. Can a summer day at a carnival get any better?


Though Martin and I grew up in two different countries and cultures, we both share awesome childhood memories of carnivals. When it comes to the frequency of carnivals in a year, the Germans nudge ahead of the Americans, no doubt. Those Germans will throw a fest for any reason or season, whereas it’s usually just an annual summertime thing for Americans. Continue reading

History On The Mountain

Martin noticed it first. 

He didn’t say anything about it, but thought it was odd there were so many crosses leaning against such a large boulder on the side of the road. He assumed the crosses were for driving fatalities, and wondered how so many could happen at that one spot.

I didn’t see it.

I was too busy in the passenger seat, looking at our cell phone while navigating our way to Stacey’s house along a winding, tree-covered mountain road over the weekend.

It wasn’t until later that evening when we learned the story behind the rock and the crosses.

It was the point of impact when an airliner carrying 85 passengers and 7 crew members slammed into the side of the mountain on its approach to Dulles airport nearly 40 years ago.

We learned that little tidbit as we were sitting around in Stacey’s house, chit-chatting with the other adults. We were sharing stories of personal haunting experiences, things we remembered from childhood that scared us, or even things we experienced as adults that made us pause. This was to be expected, I suppose. Stacey is an author who has published several “horror-lite” books and articles, and with a background in anthropology and archaeology and a passion for both history and the paranormal, her stories are always good.

So, it’s not surprising that we were talking of such things.

However, I think it was one of her neighbors who first brought it up, and Stacey confirmed that the spot Martin had seen on the side of the road was, in fact, the scene of a violent and horrific tragedy that took place decades earlier.

Of course, once we got home late that evening, I got online and immediately researched it.

It was TWA Flight 514, and it crashed on December 1, 1974 shortly after 11 a.m.

The flight originated in Indianapolis, Indiana and had a lay-over in Columbus, Ohio. It was meant to land at Washington National Airport, but due to weather, was re-directed to land at Dulles Airport instead.

Almost 40 years ago, the tops of these trees were all razed at the same height. Many witnesses referenced a “lawnmower” effect, saying it looked as if one had been wiped across the tops.

Because it happened in 1974, there wasn’t an avalanche of information readily available on the Internet. Not like other, more recent airplane disasters.

But I did find quite a bit online, especially since that specific plane crash changed a lot in the aviation industry. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was split as to what caused the crash, and eventually it was decided it was a combination of many things, but mostly miscommunication and language used between the pilots and the air traffic controller. They learned that six weeks earlier, a United flight almost met the same fate due to the same miscommunication errors, but the pilots were able to divert the plane in time.

So flights became safer because of the lessons learned from the crash of TWA Flight 514.

And one of the first black brigadier generals in the U.S. Army, Brig. Gen. Roscoe Conklin Cartwright, died in the crash along with his wife. A book was written about the passengers and the changes made in the aviation industry.

But for whatever reason, this particular plane crash didn’t get memorialized like others, and in fact, one passenger’s family was still trying for some type of memorial at the site 25 years later in 1999, but the owner of the property wasn’t too keen on there being anything calling attention to the fact that something so horrible happened there.

So the crosses are there, and a small plaque listing the names of those killed. It’s not permanent. It’s just placed there, balanced on top.

But in that space, even without the small plaque and the crosses, I’m sure a person coming upon the spot would know something definitely happened there.

On Sunday, as we were driving home, I had Martin pull up alongside the boulders so I could get some pictures. I intended just to hop out, take a few, and jump right back in since it’s just a two-lane road there on the mountain.

But as soon as I stepped out and closed the door, Martin pulled away, leaving me there. He saw a space up ahead where he could park off to the side and wait for me.

But it left me alone in that spot.

And it was quiet.

I turned to face west, and could see the very trees that in the old black-and-white photos were razed and cut away decades ago. They’ve grown back, of course. But they’re not as thick and tall as those around.

I turned to the east, and faced the boulders.

When the plane hit, the nose cone slammed into the boulders and disintegrated. In my online research, I read many accounts made by locals who lived near the spot, who recalled where they were and what they were doing when they heard the sound of the airplane hit. Many said they could feel it, even being miles away. With the sort of force, the debris flew up the mountain and into the trees up there.

The most identifiable piece of aircraft was the tail with TWA on it. The rest was just bits and pieces, spread over a large part of the land. Even now, decades later, folks can still find things up there. In my Internet search, I’ve found blog and forum posts and pictures from as recent as last year, describing things like singed and dated clothing, credit cards, wires, and aircraft pieces found up in those woods.

I didn’t dare go up there myself.

My curiosity allowed for me to stand there at the boulders, but that was enough for me. For one thing, Martin and the kids were waiting for me down the road. But also, while I wouldn’t say I was spooked, I was definitely aware that there was an energy that demanded from me some respect and reverence. The idea of picking around up there and disturbing the area just didn’t appeal to me.

That kind of energy, the damage, the loss of life … I think that sort of thing stays around and gets absorbed in the places where these things happen. It was similar to how I felt in the 9/11 chapel at the Pentagon, at the 9/11 site in New York City, the Oklahoma City memorial site, and on the Civil War battlefields surrounding our area. And on the hill in Northern Kentucky where the Beverly Hills supper club caught fire and killed 165 people, to include some of my father’s cousins.

Life goes on, of course.

But I think it’s definitely worth something to pause, learn and reflect wherever history presents itself.

Good Life: Drink Wine, Eat Great Food, And Spend Quality Time With Good Friends

This weekend, I embraced one of the suggested instructions for a good life. 

Of course, it should be no surprise that it was the one involving great food and wine.

I didn’t expect to set off on my “Good Life” campaign so quickly, but when my friend Stacey — yes, the one and only amazing author Stacey Graham — invited me up to her house on the mountain on Saturday AND out for some wine-tasting with some of her girlfriends on Sunday, I not only accepted the invite, but found it the very best way to start off such an endeavor.

On Saturday, all five of us — Martin, me, and the kids — headed northwest to her home where she lives with her husband and five daughters to join them for a good, ol’ barbecue. Other couples were there with their children, so it was a full and happily chaotic house that evening.

We adults mingled and talked while the kids played on the trampoline and launched water balloons off the back porch.

The girls did not want to leave when we finally drove home sometime close to midnight.

But fortunately, we all returned the next afternoon.  While the men stayed behind with the kids*, we women went out and hit some of the local vineyards scattered around Northern Virginia after getting some lunch at a local Italian/Mediterranean restaurant.

Those are vineyards in the back there.

We ended up at the Dry Mill winery and stayed just because we liked the vibe so much. The whole place was a refurbished horse barn, and the two ladies behind the bar were so charming. We learned so much about the individual wines and the wine seasons, that we decided to just stay there for the rest of the afternoon.

So, as a group, we ordered some fresh baguettes and Brie cheese, and took our glasses out to the covered porch, where we sat for hours, talking and listening to the live music as it rained.

At one point, there were five women all together. But in that mix, the various hats we all wore included a published author, a professional scientist, two federal workers (one current, and the other not), a veteran, four mothers, two cousins, long-time friends, and friends newly introduced. All of us grew up in different places, took different paths, but all of us ended up in this area.

At that winery.

Drinking wine, eating great food, and spending quality time together.

Yup. I would say this very thing is definitely a part of the good life.

* The kids had yet another amazing day with Stacey’s girls. The dads took all of them down to a local park and swimming pool while we moms were out. We came home and found half of them passed out taking naps, they were so spent. Love weekends like that!


Martin is currently obsessed with the app, Sky Guide. Based upon your location, it shows the placement of the stars and planets, and identifies constellations.

He keeps walking around the house, turning these way and that, and saying things like, “If we were outside right now, and there were no clouds, we could see Venus right … here … and the Libra and Scorpion right … over … here …”

Flashback Friday: A Fun for All Weekend

Public punishment at Colonial Williamsburg

Last weekend was pretty awesome for all of us.

Once again, we traveled south to Richmond to spend the Memorial Day weekend with Martin. Not only were we blessed with three whole days together, but there was a twinge of excitement knowing it was the last time we would make such a trip since Martin graduates from tech school very soon, and will be home for good.

We decided to go all out.

Fortunately, several attractions in the area offered free admission for military members and we took full advantage at Kings Dominion (normal admission is $62 for adults/$40 for kids) and Colonial Williamsburg ($50/$25) since regular price as a family of five = never happening.

Since I didn’t get around to posting these earlier, I’m using this Flashback Friday to share some photos we took during our holiday weekend.

We hope yours was just as great.


On the swings with Jaz, who actually fell asleep during the ride.

An Army band!

Dancing while waiting in line.

That’s Martha Washington on stage at Colonial Williamsburg

The original skinny jeans

This little boy was so adorable: he was marching/pacing back and forth, guarding his little sister in her stroller.


“Forming a militia, you say?” Lola talking with a miniature minuteman.

This bookbinder was fascinating. If I ever write a book, I’m requiring it be bound by hand. 🙂

Hey, it’s Martha Washington rolling through town!

Looking through photos while waiting for lunch.

Pot pie.

Lola lifting iron in a colonial jail cell.

Jaz and Martin in the colonial jail cell.

Mother’s Day Weekend with Martin

Jaz in the schoolroom corner of the Richmond Children’s Museum.

The kids and I drove down to Richmond to spend the weekend with Martin.

Not only was it Mother’s Day weekend, but it was also the first opportunity Martin was able to exercise his new “freedom” from technical school.

Unlike our first visit with him a few weeks ago, Martin was able to wear civilian clothes, drive in a personal vehicle, leave the base, and stay overnight with us.

So, I booked our stay in an extended-stay hotel just outside the city, turned off all our electronics, and made the most of our time together.

The four of us arrived late Friday night with Martin greeting us at the hotel since he was able to get a cab and check in on time for us. He had everything set up for us: the pull-out couch done up for the girls and a crib for Jaz so all we had to do was carry our sleeping kids up to the room and toss them in.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to sleep in on Saturday morning because more than half the people in his dorms failed their room inspections and he was required to be back in his dorms for a 6 a.m. room inspection. But that didn’t stop the rest of us from sleeping in!

By late morning, all of us were together again, though, and the very first thing we did was head over to the nearby shopping center to get Martin some new clothes.

Seriously — the man needs new clothes. When I pulled up to his dorms on the post, he was standing outside waiting for us, wearing his old jeans and t-shirt. It’s an outfit he’s worn for years, but it was hanging off of him.

To be honest, I thought he looked sickly. Not that he looked pale and weak: on the contrary. Martin’s probably the healthiest he’s been his whole life right now. But he looked like he was swimming in his old clothes and it just didn’t look right.

So we snagged him some new jeans and tops, and I was so amused as he kept going back and forth, grabbing smaller sizes off the rack.

Next, we went to the grocery store for some food items, and we returned to the hotel to eat lunch and hang out.

We took our afternoon nap all piled up in the king-size bed.

We went swimming in the hotel pool.

We popped popcorn, ate Oreos, and watched a marathon of movies.

And then we threw all three kids into the room’s giant whirlpool tub before getting them in their pajamas and tucking them into bed.

It was so nice just being able to do that simple family routine again.

Fortunately, Martin was able to sleep in on Sunday morning.

Or rather, he was able to stay in bed after the kids woke us up shortly after sunrise. All three of them bounded into our room and leaped into the bed once they realized he was still there in the room.

We took our time with breakfast and getting ready for the day, packing up our things to check out of the hotel.

We decided to head to the Richmond Children’s Museum for the afternoon, which was a very wise decision on our part. That place is perfect for kids, with various learning corners and play areas. There’s a little “town” set up, where the kids could play in a grocery store, a bank, a school, a news station, etc. There was a giant apple tree where the kids could “pick” the apples. At one point, we lost track of Lola while everyone was running around/playing in the center “playground” of the museum.

We weren’t concerned: it’s an enclosed environment with lots of areas to play. But there were many corners and rooms where she could be. We found her in the theater room, up on the stage, performing a puppet show for about ten people (a mix of parents and kids). I’m not even kidding: they thought it was a part of the museum.

She had a storyline, each character had a specific voice, and everything. Martin and I stood in the back, filming part of it and taking photos. It was too funny.

Lola performed a ten-minute puppet show for museum guests.

The girls dressed up in the race car area.

Getting treated by Dr. Lola in the back of the ambulance. Actually, I’m really taking a nap. 😉

As the kids stuffed scarves into this wind tunnel, Martin controlled where the scarves shot out.

After the museum, we ate a late lunch at nearby Galaxy Diner which had a retro/futuristic space theme and really good food. It’s not often that all three kids eat ALL of their food at a restaurant, but they did.

And even Martin and I finished our plates, although we both regretted it later. It was the most both of us ate in one sitting in a long time.

But worth it!

After that, we went to a nearby movie theater to watch The Croods, and by the time that was done, it was time to drive Martin back to Fort Lee.

Yet, we couldn’t give him up right away, so we drove into the family housing area to find a playground. That’s one of the most reliable things about a military base: if you find the housing area, you will find a playground.

We let the kids run around for about an hour, hoping to wear them out for the road trip back up to Northern Virginia. It worked. By the time we really did drop Martin off at his dorm, the kids were very tired.

Which meant they were a little grumpy, too.

Nobody wanted Martin to go.

But fortunately, he only has one month left before he can come home for good with us.

We can’t wait.

A Day at the Races

Heather and me in our hats.

I love when good things spontaneously happen.

Last week, I got a message from my friend Heather (who served in the Air Force with me in Germany and now lives in the DC area) asking if I’d be interested in attending the Virginia Gold Cup horse races with the kids over the weekend, as her family had an extra ticket.

Despite having grown up in the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area, I had never been to a horse race. I wasn’t sure what it involved, how long they lasted, or whether the kids would genuinely be interested.

But I said yes anyway.

And then I remembered at least one thing I knew about horse races, and I asked if I needed a hat.

As it turned out, I did need a hat.

But I don’t own such a hat appropriate for horse races.
But fortunately, Heather is very crafty and offered to whip one together for me. All I had to do was show up with the kids. So that morning, after careful research on the Internet on proper horse race attire, I gathered my crew and went to dress them up only to realize they didn’t have proper hats either.
Thank goodness for Old Navy! (I promise, I wasn’t paid to say that.) There was one on the way to the races, and not only did we find great floppy hats for the girls, but they had a straw fedora for Jaz.
He refused to take it off the entire day.
I swear, my son was born with style.

No outfit is complete without a chocolate chip cookie stain.

So, we made our way there only to get stuck in “special event” traffic which meant it took more than an hour to get from the highway to the field. And even worse: Heather and her group lost all cell phone connection and couldn’t connect with me to tell me where to meet her when I finally got to the field. There were several entrance gates, and hundreds of cars, and a sea of people.

However, Heather is not only crafty, but very resourceful. She found a friendly volunteer named Fred who was helping in the parking lot, and asked to use his phone. When Fred heard about our situation, he offered to meet up with me when I got to Gate Three by having me call his cell phone back, and he would help us find our group. Heather relayed all this information to me over his phone, and I told her I would get there.
But the odds of me getting there seemed really bleak because as soon as I pulled up to the first gate, which was Gate Nine, I saw that they had closed off all the other gates. I rolled down my window to speak with the police officer directing traffic.
“I’m suppose to get to Gate Three,” I said. “Is that down the road?”
“You have to turn here at Gate Nine,” said the officer. “There is no other parking elsewhere.” And then he waved me through Gate Three.
As I pulled in through the gate, all I saw was bumper-to-bumper cars. Rows and rows of cars and people with barely a way to navigate Amelia the Minivan. I cautiously followed the vehicle ahead of me, trying to decide my next step as we passed attendants waving us onward.
As we crested a small hill, I stopped in front of the nearest attendant who stood waving an orange flag. I rolled down my window.
“Hi, I’m lost. I’m suppose to be in Gate Three, but I got sent here to Gate Nine. I’m suppose to meet someone at Gate Three.”

The older man studied my face.

“Are you the lady who was suppose to call me?” he asked.
I looked at his name tag.
It was Fred.

Miss C took this photo!
He had me pull over to the side and wait for him to get on his golf cart. When he returned, he pulled up to my window again.
“How did you find me?” he asked, a bit astonished. “I was waiting for your call to tell you they closed all the other gates.”
I shrugged. “I just sort of … you were where I stopped …”

He shook his head and smiled.

“The good Lord is looking out for you,” he said. He pointed to the heavens. “He is certainly looking out for you. If you didn’t think so before, well, doesn’t that just tell you something?”

He swung his arm around, indicating the massive amount of people and vehicles.

And then he pulled away in his golf cart, waving for me to follow him into the thick crowd of people in nice clothes and huge funky hats. I couldn’t believe how many people will haplessly (maybe drunkenly) wander into the path of a moving vehicle, but I held my breath and crawled. Finally, the crowd seemed to clear and we were on the complete other side of the field. He indicated an empty space where I could park just yards from the track. He pulled up along side me to the window again.

“Your friends are right over that hill, in spot 50,” he said. “You just walk straight over and you’ll see them. And don’t forget: He is certainly looking out for you.”

And then Fred drove away, off to guide another lost person.

Just as he said, we found our friends not far from where we parked. Heather and her husband Chuck introduced us to their other friends, and before I knew it, Miss C was off in another spot on the rail with a bunch of girls her age while Lola and Jaz stayed back with me.

The three of us plopped down in the thick grass and had a picnic of chicken, strawberries, and potato salad, although Jaz really just wanted to finish off an entire box of Cheeze-its. Every so often, the bugel called, announcing another race, and we all stood up to cheer for the fastest horse as they passed us.

We really had a good time. Jaz got approached by countless women fawning over his fedora and low-key attitude. During the races, there was always someone around to hoist up Lola so she could see the horses, and there were plenty of snacks and people to watch to keep them entertained during the down time.

After taking so many photos with all those ladies, he just couldn’t take one more!

Needless to say, though, everyone was exhausted by the time we drove home. There’s something about being in the sun and fresh air all day that can really take a lot out of you. All three kids went to bed early that night, which was awesome for me.

I texted Martin throughout the day with photos and updates, too. He agreed that we may go next year. He has yet to attend a horse race himself.

He has plenty of time to get himself a hat.

My outfit without the hat.

Virginia Beach

I drove more than three hours south to attend my good friend Monique’s 30th birthday celebration in Virginia Beach. I snapped this picture toward the end of my journey, just as I was approaching the Hampton Roads bridge tunnel. To my right was the Hampton Roads Bay. To my left was the Chesapeake Bay leading out to the Atlantic Ocean. It was truly breathtaking; I’m always amazed by the vast and open ocean.

The Girls

Martin, Miss C, Lola and I drove south today to visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.Our visit to this site was definitely a step back into history in more ways than one. A group of students from my Northern Kentucky high school visited there today as well. Specifically, these two sisters – Katelyn (left) and Erin (right) – were once my babysitting charges.

This picture is deceiving. The sky was overcast and gray most of the day, but after our tour, as we walked the gardens in the back of house, there was a break in the clouds, revealing an amazing blue sky. I managed to get a few shots of it before the clouds closed again.

When they learned their school’s chorus group would perform in an inaugural music festival in DC this week, they contacted me to arrange a visit. Their group’s trip to Monticello seemed the most appropriate, so that’s where we met them. Their mother was there as a chaperone, as was my former middle school guidance counselor, so it truly was a reunion for all of us.

As Katelyn and Erin showered Miss C and Lola with tons of attention, their Mom and I recalled their younger days.

We did the math and realized I began babysitting them when Erin was only a year old, and Katelyn was four.

The girls talked about the memories they have of me from back then, of the times they visited the high school to watch me perform with the chorus and drama department. Now, they are performing with those very same groups, themselves teenage babysitters.

Even my former guidance counselor recalled stories about me.

This was our reason for the Monticello visit. I used to babysit these two girls when I was in high school. When I first started watching them, they were one and four years old, but now, they are in high school themselves. (That’s their Mom and their friend in the front.) They were in DC to take part in an inaugural music festival, so we were fortunate to meet up with them and visit!

It was so neat to have Martin hear of that time in my life, and it was even more surreal to see Katelyn and Erin interact with my daughters. I took many beautiful photos of Monticello today, but this photo – taken at the visitors center – is my favorite. It honestly seems like only yesterday Katelyn and Erin were so little, and I know it’ll be yet another blink of an eye before my two are grown up, too.

They call ’em the Blue Ridge mountains for a reason! In this photo, Miss C walks along the garden next to Thomas Jefferson’s home.
Lola was bundled up in her fuzzy green dinosaur outfit.
I snapped this photo of Miss C in the hallway underneath the house, which joined the kitchen, cellars and stalls.
Miss C racing around the visitors center as we waited for our friends. She is that kid. 😉