thanksgiving day

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving to all my firefly and online friends...

Like most of you, I have been busy cooking for the last few days, and haven't gotten a whole lot else done. But today is the payoff. My hubby and son and I are off to my brother's house, where most of the family will be gathering for fun, laughter, and good times. We haven't all been together for Thanksgiving in years. Sadly, my sister and her family aren't here, but we're seeing them in February at the big family reunion. So it's all good.

No Africa pics, sad to say; I didn't get it done in time. You guys have seen more of my trip than my family! Anyway, I'll be back online tomorrow with a new blog with lots to report. Maybe I'll even wrangle a family photo today. I'd love to see yours, too!

Leen is right that I forgot to nail down the details on the contest. (Do you still doubt that I got lucky with my photos??? I'm an organizational nightmare).

Anyway, can't wait to talk to all again, but until then, may you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I'm grateful for my family, my friends, and the joy I can find in everyday life. I'm grateful for all of my really enrich my life. And one of the things that Africa reminded me of--I'm grateful to live in this great country of ours, even in difficult times. We are so, so lucky, and I don't ever want to take that for granted. How about you? I'd love to hear what you're all thankful for this year...



ps: for those of you who were wondering--the photo was taken from the balcony of our room in Zanzibar...

pss: I was fortunate enough to read Susan Elizabeth Phillips' new book, "What I did for Love," and it was an absolute joy. A fun, sexy romance with great characters and a cool hollywood setting. Honestly, I had to force myself to put it down so that I could get a little work done. SEP fans can start the countdown...

The Delta...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hello everyone--

I'm back to the blog, and ready to go forward on the stories of my African adventures. You'll probably laugh, but I actually members of my family are suddenly checking the blog. They say I tell all of you more than I share with them. :)
Before I go on with the stories, however, I want to make a quick comment on the camera I chose for the trip. Many, many of you have remarked upon the great quality of my photos, like the one to the left. (Botswana, the savannah, at sunset--remarkable, huh?) As most of you know, I was no photographer before this trip. In fact, for most of the last ten years, I took what few photos I wanted to take with a disposable camera. That's right; a disposable camera. That was really the full extent of my experience. This is perhaps why its taking me so long to organize my new digital shots. I really don't understand the whole process. But I was going to Africa, right, land of stunning sunsets and magnificent animals. Even I knew I needed a camera. So I did what I always do: I began researching. I spent literally months psyching myself up to buy one of those tricky digital SLR cameras with some mondo lens. Then a friend turned me on to an article about the "rise of the megazooms." No, it's not about dinosaurs. These are digital cameras, with an attached lens, that zooms out to pretty darn remarkable distances. After MUCH research I chose the Olympus sp-570uz. You can check it out at With this little baby, I went from a lazy, who-cares kind of photographer to someone who took more than 1300 pictures in a month. And you know what, almost all of them were at least in focus and a lot were flat out great. I'm not one for product placement in this blog, but I can't recommend this puppy highly enough. Really, I should be their spokesperson; if I can figure the camera out anyone can. :)

So now, on with the show. We arrived in our first "bush camp," deep in the savannah surrounding the delta in the mid afternoon. The time of day is relevant because of the temperatures. Believe me, mid afternoon is when you do not want to be traveling. I thought Debbie and I were going to pass out in the small plane that flew us from Chobe to the camp. I was fanning myself like crazy, and staring down at a landscape that was like nothing I had ever seen before. Africa from the air is just mesmerizing; round mud and thatch houses, round cattle corrals, dry riverbeds, and elephants walking through burn zones where every single tree is black as ash. Our camp, called Lagoon Camp, turned out to be a collection of elegant tents (not an oxymoron, surprisingly) and a main eating hall/library/bar/game room area. We drove up in our open air safari vehicle and were greeted by a nice young man who had a tray of cool drinks and a basket full of cool, wet towels. Heaven!

That evening was our first real game drive. The four of us loaded into the truck (I brought everything short of a defibrillator) and off we went. The roads were terrible--not even roads, really, just rivers of sand--but from the get go, it was magical. We saw jackals and zebras and lots of water buffalo. In fact, here's one of my favorite shots from that first game drive. We came around a corner and there was a small pride of lions, rolling around in the tall grass. As I said earlier, cats are cats are cats. I love this picture because he seems to be looking right at me.

We sat in the truck for a long time, just watching the lions--lions!--hang out and play and finally fall asleep. So about seventy two photos later, we headed back out, and by now the sun was beginning to set and I was about to experience my first African sunset on the savannah. See photo above. Magnificent experience. Then the driver and the tracker (he's the guy who follows the animals' tracks in the dirt and finds them), pulled over beneath a gorgeous old baobob tree and we had wine and appetizers out in the open. If I had known then that my camera had a flash, I would have photos of this for you, but oh no, that would have required reading the booklet, which I was too busy to do. So I lived in the moment but didn't capture it for you. I'm sure you can imagine it, though... and it will probably appear in a book someday.

To the right (yes, I learned how to move the photos in the blog--thanks, Kim!) is my last photo of that first day. It is sunset obviously. I found sunrise and sunset particularly shot worthy. I don't know if it was because focusing could be optional or because I loved the colors. Either way, this is a water buffalo in the tall grass.
And that's enough Africa for the day. So here's the news so many of you have been waiting for: the Sisters essay contest starts on Monday. We'll be collecting your essays--no more than 250 words, please--about your sister, or someone who is like a sister to you. The winning essays will be posted on the website for everyone to enjoy; and the best of the best will receive advance readers' copies of True Colors. As promised, two of these will be earmarked for fireflies, so be sure and identify yourselves. :)
Can't wait to read them!
Aloha for now,

Botswana Magic

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hello one and all--

I'm back to give you the next installment on my amazing African adventure. As you can see by the cool photo on the right, I did learn to use my camera (phew!) and managed to take well over one thousand pictures. Those of you who read the blog regularly, will surely point out that the cheetah is sitting down. Yes, it turns out that I was right about that little part: moving animals are very hard to photograph when you're a beginner. Fortunately for me, cats are lazy. That's one of the things I saw firsthand: a cat is a cat is a cat. It doesn't much matter if it's your housecat or an adult male lion. They're sublimely cool, relaxed, playful, and mostly, lazy. Of course, when you're hanging out beneath a noonday sun that is baking the earth to granite and making you sweat where you stand, laziness seems like a virtue. :)

So, where did I leave off? I believe my last post was about Zim and Zam. After that, we were off by small plane to Botswana. If you look on the map, you'll see that it's just above South Africa. The is where the Kalihari desert is, or most of it, and if you're like me, you've seen a lot of Discovery Channel and Animal Planet shows set in this area. We were not in the desert, thank goodness, as I hear the temps can reach 128 degrees IN THE SHADE. Assuming you can find shade, that is. Anyway, we were in an area called the Okavango Delta. It's a vast network of swamps and rivers and lakes, much of which stays wet even in the heart of the dry season. The cool thing about that is--you guessed it--the animals come from all over to drink the waters of the Okavango. Our first stop was a lovely resort in the Chobe National Forest area, run by a company called Kwando safaris. We had a great room, overlooking the river. We could lie in bed, read a book, and watch baboons and warthogs dashing in front of us. Water buffalo stood crowded along the river, and on a gorgeous sunset cruise, we saw crocodiles, elephants, hippos, and millions of gloriously colored birds.

What I remember most about this part of the trip was that I saw my first real African sunset. (In Zimbabwae, we experienced the sunset from a distance as we were running to catch our ride at the crazy-busy-heartbreaking border). I have tried to put the first sunset pics HERE, but I have no idea how to do it, so I guess they'll show up on top. The first one is the beautiful sunset, and the second shows the boat we were on, sipping wine, taking pics, and watching God's gorgeous light show. It was fantastic. And yes, we did spy a few fireflies. :)

I was also lucky to get news from Pam Shelton (Botswana Book Project) just before I left. In the same week I was down there, she received a shipment of almost seven thousand books, which she set about distributing to local schools. So thanks to all of you who helped me gather and donate books. They made it down and were much appreciated.

Well, we only had one day on the Chobe River, and then it was off to the start of our safari, so I guess this is a good stopping point for today. Now I'm off to speak at the Rose City Writers group in Portland, Oregon. I'll check back in when I return...

Remind me to chat a bit about all of tv shows now that I'm mostly caught up. Remind me, too, to give you all the new scoop on True Colors. There's lots to tell. I see that it's finally up on Amazon and So it's beginning...thanks to all of you for the support along the way. The cover looks great and the reviews have been pretty darn good. I guess soon I'll start hearing (and reading online) what readers have to say. That's always interesting. And you all know what that means: contest time. I know a lot of you have been waiting patiently and now the time is right.

So that's on the agenda for next time. Safari and book publishing. What a combo. Send in your questions and I'll try to answer.

Thanks for tuning in.



Out of Africa...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jambo everyone (that's Tanzanian for hello and welcome!)

I'm finally back from Africa and there's so much to tell I hardly know where to begin. First and foremost, though, I have to thank my wonderful friend, Kim, for holding down the fort so ably while I was gone. It was great fun to read all her blogs and your answers when I got home. It felt as if I'd never left at all. Honestly, I think Kim was much funnier and more interesting than I usually thanks! Now I'll try to live up to her standard in the weeks and months to come.

I'd also like to thank all of you for sticking around while I was gone. And I missed hearing from all of you; I really did! I wondered what was happening in your lives, and what you were reading and what you thought about the television shows we all watch. As you can imagine, I was definitely out of the American cultural loop while I was gone. No television for a month, no magazines, no american newspapers, no phone calls to friends and family (or very few at 8 dollars per minute), and no books that I didn't bring with me in my SINGLE carryon piece of luggage. All of this during the last weeks of the election (don't worry--I tivo-ed everything and am watching all the debates and analyses now), and the stock market meltdown. For a news junkie like me, it was a strange and surreal experience. And don't even get me started on what was happening on my beloved Prison Break....

So yes, traveling to Africa was an experience unlike anything I've done in my life. To be honest, as perhaps I have mentioned in this blog before, I planned obsessively for almost a year for this trip. But for most of that time, it was all rather abstract. I knew I was flying for 22 hours to a continent that had stringent health requirements and plenty of seen and unseen dangers, but I didn't think much past my lengthy to do list. It wasn't until the last week before leaving that I started to actually get a bit nervous. I think I shared that with all of you...or was I trying to be strong and adventurous? I can't recall. Anyway, I was nervous, and in my unexpected bout of anxiety, I was sadly reminded that I am not a young college student anymore. I knew this of course, but I didn't really KNOW it, if you get my drift. But I woke up one morning and looked at all the meds I was taking and thought about the fact that I'd be hours and hours away from my son if anything bad happened, and I started to pace. My son thought I was an idiot, of course. "Mom, I'll be fine. Relax."

And then, after all that planning, we were suddenly off. Flying from Seattle to Amsterdam to Johannesburg. And here's what I can say about Africa: It rocked the house. I absolutely LOVED LOVED LOVED it. Every part, every place, every experience. Nothing was as I'd expected it to be. I'd worried about the heat, the bugs, the poverty, the animals, and being American. All of those worries were moments of my life wasted.

Now, obviously, with a four week trip, there's too much for a single blog. I'd end up writing a book instead of a blog. So I'll probably be writing about the trip for weeks, mixing it up with what's going on here. Does that work for all of you? I hope so. I'll try to keep as much of it as I can in some kind of chronological order so you get a good idea of the trip itself, and as always, I'll answer all of your questions. I'm still working on the one thousand photographs I took. Can you believe it? I took more photos in a month than in all the years previous to it. I didn't realize when I was snapping away how freaking difficult it would be when I got home to download and organize and go through all the shots. But I'll do it for my fireflies, never fear! And yes, to those of you who worried along with me, I did get some fabulous pictures, which I can't wait to show you.

Like the two pictures above. The second photo is a memento of one of my very favorite moments on the trip. I was lucky enough to meet with a remarkable Masai warrior, a man named, Parieto, and learn about his life and his people. He even invited Ben and me into his home and then sat out on the rim of the crater for sunset with us. At the end of the evening, he gave me a beautiful beaded bracelet that one of his wives had made. It was totally cool. When I get to that part of the trip, I'll have lots more photos and more information. But for now, I'm starting at the beginning...

The top photo is of the four of us--African adventurers. We are, from left to right: Ben and me, and my father, and his wife, Deb. Hard to believe that only a year ago we were sitting in a pub in Washington, talking about how great it would be to travel together and now here we are, standing in front of the world famous Victoria Falls in Zambia.
From Johannesburg, we went straight to Zambia, and into the town of Livingstone, named after the famous adventurer himself. We were plunged instantly into the whirlwind of small town African life--uniformed children walking literally miles to school and back each day, people gathered on street corners, talking, drivers zipping crazily to and fro on the "wrong" side of the street. In the distance we could see the smoke-like vapor from the thunderous falls. It all looked impossibly dry and golden to us Washington staters. Sadly, the worst part was the border between Zambia and Zimbabwae--Zim and Zam to the locals. With all of the things going on in Zam, people in that country are starving. We saw a steady stream of people--many of them women and children--walking endless miles for bags of rice and maize. It was truly heartbreaking, and made us wonder how we could help.
We spent only a night in Zambia and then it was off guessed it, safari. Which word, by the way, means journey in swahili. Some claimed that it was coined by Livingston when he came to Africa. So, I'll take a few days to gather my safari photos together and check back in with you soon...
On a more ordinary front, I read Chelsea Cain's novel, Heartsick, on the plane. It was fairly graphic and quite violent, but I loved it, what can I say? I'm looking forward to the sequel, which I believe is called Sweetheart. Anyone else out there read these books?
Thanks again to everyone for sticking around, and to Kim, for being such a wonderful blog surrogate. :)
Kristin the adventurer