Friday, March 22, 2019

Photo Friday: The Rees-Dart Track, Part I

Before I start with the photos, just a reminded that this week (or next) is #Fi50–-Fiction in 50 (words). The March prompt is “Whenever.” Have at it, wordies!

Also: I apologize for the wonky fonts. I can’t seem to clear them out and make it good, at least not with the iPad. Skip the text and enjoy the pictures :)
Background: My husband and I and our 21-year-old son are spending several months traveling and tramping in New Zealand. We arrived on the South Island Dec. 28, 2018, and spent January hiking like crazy with Dave’s brother and his wife, before sending them home and settling into a home base in Christchurch, allowing me a bit more time between adventures to get some blogging and writing done! I’m posting photo reports on our major tramping trips.

Rees-Dart, Part 1 (Days 1-2)

In two trips to New Zealand, I’ve tramped at least 10 different tracks, if you count all the trips of at least one night. Out of them all, I have to say that the Rees-Dart loop is my favorite. The scenery is spectacular pretty much every step of the way, and while the track is busy, it is difficult enough to keep it from being overwhelmed as the famous walks (the Routeburn, Milford Track, etc.) are.

The trip also requires a roughly 20-km car shuttle, up a pair of dirt roads with stream crossings, which aren’t always passable.
We got lucky. The roads were good enough for the passenger car that was half our shuttle operation, and the weather remained good for our entire trip (darned near unheard of!). We did take the precaution of leaving a day or two worth of food in the vehicle at the end point, just in case. If we were going to be stranded there, we were NOT going to be hungry!

Day One
We began the day by driving from Queenstown and setting up the shuttle, which means it was lunchtime before we ever started hiking. Oh, did I mention that pretty much every day’s hike was 10 miles or more? Still, we figured we could manage the tramps in the average times posted, and generally did pretty well at it.

Right off the bat we had to cross a stream, and were delighted to do it with dry feet. Little did we know that soon we’d be crossing more streams, ones we couldn’t leap (well, I couldn’t. Eldest Son managed some spectacular leaps), then slogging through boggy fields for miles. Feet did not stay dry. 
Unsuspecting trampers, heading down to the bogs.

Some streams did have bridges, often very bouncy swing bridges! This one had a load limit of one person.

The river bottom was often boggy, but the scenery pulled us forward.

Finally, about a half hour after I wanted my dinner, we reached the hut. One of the pleasures of NZ tramping is the fantastic hut system, and we really liked having the refuge from cold, wind, and sandflies. Sometimes it was chilly even indoors, however, and everyone had her own way of dealing with it.

The next day was one of the real toughies—up and over the Rees Saddle, a serious climb and an even longer descent on the other side.
Somewhere up in there we knew there was a saddle we had to cross.
When we came to the final climb, it was about as steep as we thought a “trail” could be (we learned differently on a later tramp).

And when we got to the top, Eldest Son was waiting patiently.

We finally started seeing the really big mountains, and the glaciers we’d come for. We were also painfully aware that our hut was down beyond the bottom of the photo at the confluence of those valleys. 
Crossing Snow Creek—one river we were awfully glad had a bridge!
Dart Hut
Once again, we found our hut just about the time we didn’t want to go another step. Camp never looked so good! 

We’d be at the Dart Hut for two nights, in order to day-hike Cascade Saddle—stay tuned for some big glaciers!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Writer’s Wednesday #amwriting

Plenty of distractions still in my life, but I’m here to say I’m still writing. In fact, progress on Death By Library has been good. I’ve completed the first read-through and made extensive editorial notes, and am about halfway through the MS trying to apply those notes.

That’s pretty much all the writing—even this blog has fallen a bit by the wayside—but I did manage to submit one short story last week, so that my March submissions so far are... 1.

Oh—and I wrote an opening line for the WriteClub19 contest. So maybe I’ll even manage to enter that!

That’s about it for writer activities. We had a few nice outings in the last couple of weeks, but Friday’s horrible shooting in Christchurch rather put me off of everything for a few days. In the end, I found that the best thing I could do for my own sanity was to crawl inside my MS and stay there, though today it all came out in a horrible all-day headache.

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. Sometimes you can’t tell the shadows from reality.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Middle Grade Monday: The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

By the way, I love this cover:

Title: The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate
Jacqueline Kelly
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co, 2015. 315 pages (hardback)
Publisher’s Blurb:
Callie’s younger brother Travis keeps bringing home strays. And Callie has her hands full keeping the animals—Travis included—away from her mother’s critical eye.

When a storm blows change into town in the form of a visiting veterinarian, Callie discovers a life and a vocation she desperately wants. But with societal expectations as they are, she will need all her wits and courage to realize her dreams.

Whether it’s wrangling a rogue armadillo or stray dog, a guileless younger brother or standoffish cousin, the trials and tribulations of Callie Vee will have readers cheering for this most endearing heroine.

My Review:
As a sequel to a Newbery nominee and winner of multiple awards (see review), this book had quite a bit to live up to. To my mind, it did it, though it left me looking for another sequel, which I do hope Jacqueline Kelly will write. The story continues to show Calpurnia as a girl who has a sharp intellect and the kind of curiousity that leads to either trouble or a good education.

Calpurnia manages to do both. Thanks to her grandfather, who is almost as marginalized in the family as Callie Vee is, she is getting a solid scientific education. But there’s a lot to overcome, even besides the tendecy of her younger brother to try to make pets of the most inappropriate animals. No one besides Grandfather takes Callie’s desire for an education seriously, and I kept getting frustrated on her behalf (not that she needed my help—Callie is perhaps unrealistically aware of the unfairness of the social limitations of her position).

It’s not that so much really happens in the story. It’s that every step of the way she is getting closer to needing to break out and insist on having her own way, and the process is fascinating to watch. I hope that there will be more books, and that Callie will get to go to school in defiance of everything that her parents assume about her future.

My Recommendation: 
This is a worthy sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, and a good book to remind us that the “normal” thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do, and social expectations can be a prison.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."   

Friday, March 15, 2019

Photo Friday: The Hollyford Track

Time for another photo essay! This time, we're heading out on the Hollyford Track, in the second week of January. 

Background: My husband and I and our 21-year-old son are spending several months traveling and tramping in New Zealand. We arrived on the South Island Dec. 28, 2018, and spent January hiking like crazy with Dave’s brother and his wife, before sending them home and settling into a home base in Christchurch, allowing me a bit more time between adventures to get some blogging and writing done!

The Hollyford is an interesting track, because you have two choices: you can do an out-and-back, including a 10-mile stretch along Lake McKerrow which is reported to be awful, with no views to redeem it, or you can get a flight in to Martin's Beach from Milford Sound and hike one way (there's another cheat, which we used, as you will see). Naturally, we chose the flight, and as we had two cars, we managed to set up a shuttle, leaving one at the Hollyford Trailhead and driving the other to Milford Sound

We had to make an early start to meet the pilot's schedule. We were on the tarmack on schedule, ready to board... that little thing? We thought it was tough getting five people, our packs and food into one car, but the plane looked even smaller! Fortunately, it was bigger than it looked, and we all fit, including the pilot.
Even at the airport, Mitre Peak is an ever-present feature.
The flight was fantastic, even if it was just "transport," not a "scenic flight." We flew the length of Milford Sound, then north along the coast several miles to Martin's Bay.

Once deposited--very smoothly--on the grass runway, we had to find the track (harder than you'd think) and walk about 3 miles to the Martin's Bay hut, in and out of beech forests.
Creek beds were the only open spaces, and we had to be glad it hadn't been raining the last couple of days.
The hut gave us access to the beach, where we spent the afternoon exploring quite happily.
Millions of shells! I resisted the urge to collect any, knowing I'd have to carry them.
One of the major attractions was the seal colony a half mile away. The rocks were crowded with seals, including many adorable babies.
All alone. The mothers leave the babies to go hunt, and with so many seals around, it seems to be a safe practice. We kept our distance, but occasionally drew their attention anyway.
The second day we had several miles to hike--but first cheat #2: a jet boat that took us up the 10-mile lake, plus a few miles up the river, saving us 2 full days of slogging. It was also both a scenic ride and a fun one, as the wind was brisk and by the upper end of the lake, we were slapping through a substantial chop while admiring the towering peaks.
Our driver, or maybe his assistant, who got out at the entrance to the river and settled in to fish for an hour or so.
For the next two days, we walked a wide and easy path up the Hollyford River, which at this point was a pretty flat stream. There was only one point where we had to climb a bluff to deal with a narrow part of the river valley. The forest is pure Fiordland--rain forest, beech trees, giant tree ferns, moss, and birds.*
I really like tree ferns :)
Big or little, ferns make fiddleheads.
We overnighted at the scenic Hidden Falls Hut, where there were only 3 other people (there had been a half a dozen besides us at Martin's Bay). 
Messing around outside requires either diligent slapping at sand flies, or a good application of DEET. The sand flies aren't a problem when hiking, but they love to hang around the huts!
After a long day hiking, we enjoyed sitting indoors, looking out at the view while reading and writing (thanks to my husband, Dave, for the photo of me, our son, and our sister-in-law [hiding under a hood]).

The hut sat in one of the few large clearings we saw on the hike, and we appreciated the views of the peaks that offered us.

We didn't hike long the next morning before finding the hidden falls that gave the hut their name. The creek makes a 90-degree turn at the bottom of the falls, and it took a bit of prying to get a view!
The author, enjoying the cool mist from the falls.
There were no creeks to ford on this tramp, but not every bridge gave the fullest sense of confidence. It seemed stable, but the angled support, not to mention the rocks on top of it, made me think the thing had seen some fierce high water.

By mid-day on the last day, I was looking at the end of the trail. Nice to see the cars and cross one last bridge to get to a clean shirt and some potato chips!
Swing bridges are a super-common thing around New Zealand. I have yet to encounter the minimalist version found on some less-developed tracks, the 3-wire bridge, which is just what it sounds like.
*About the birds of New Zealand. New Zealand birds evolved with no land-based predators--no land-based mammals, in fact. As a result, many are flightless, and nest on the ground, or in holes in trees. Unfortunately, when humans came, first the Maori brought rats, then the Europeans brought more rats, then rabbits, possums and various deer-like critters in order to have things to hunt. When the rabbits got out of control (duh!), against all advice, stoats, ferrets and weasels were imported. As a result, in the last hundred years many endemic species have gone extinct, and many more are endangered. The forests that were deafening to Captain Cook are nearly silent. Even the difference between our 1996 visit and now is noticeable.

The good news is that a nation-wide campaign to eradicate the predators is underway, and in some areas, including the Hollyford Valley, the progress is audible. Extensive trapping has reduced the number of predators enough to allow fantails, riflemen, tuis, and bell birds to come back to the the forests, though other, rarer birds are confined to certain off-shore islands that have no predators.We are grateful to those--including Air New Zealand--who come up with the funds and put in the hard work to make this happen.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Cozy Mystery Review: Murder Between the Pages

Time for another review with Great Escapes Tours!

Murder Between the Pages (The Nina Foster Mystery Series)
Cozy Mystery
1st in Series
The Wild Rose Press, Inc. (Crimson Rose) (December 19, 2018)
Paperback: 264 pages
ISBN-10: 1509223673
ISBN-13: 978-1509223671
Digital Print Length: 190 pages

Publisher's Blurb:
It’s a sad day for librarian Nina Foster when she discovers her good friend, bookstore owner Wildeen Bergman, dead on her office floor. Worse yet, another friend, romance writer Zelma Duke, becomes the police’s prime suspect. Nina knows Wildeen had something on Zelma. Was it enough to warrant murder? Handsome Stephen Kraslow, owner of the local newspaper, joins forces with Nina to find out the truth. The quest takes them on a dangerous journey of twists and turns before they reach the final outcome.

My Review: 
This was a quick, fun beach read, perfect for my southern-hemisphere summer holiday. It starts off strong, catching the reader’s attention without being over-dramatic, though the line-up of suspects is a little obvious. I can forgive that in a book that makes it easy to zip right through in 2 days!

Nina, the main character, is the head librarian in her fictional town just north of Seattle, WA, and I loved the library details. She seems like a good boss, too, which I can appreciate. In general, the author does a great job of creating a sense of place, and I enjoyed trying to line up her fictional places with the real thing.

I was somewhat less impressed by some of the details of the writing. I felt at times like another edit was needed to make the prose a little smoother, the dialogue a little more real. These issues, however, never rose to the level of preventing me from enjoying the story. At times I thought the romance element was working too easily, and the author forgetting Nina’s issues, but she fixed that complaint within pages of me thinking it!

A few other things I greatly appreciated about the book were that Nina is given a compelling reason to do her sleuthing, and that she doesn’t withhold evidence from the police. She cooperates with the investigating officer as much as she can, and accepts that the flow of information is pretty much one-way. I really appreciate that, as I get twitchy about stories where the sleuth hides things from the cops, something that can get you in real trouble!

My Recommendation: 

While I wouldn’t call this one of the best I’ve read, I will say that it was no chore at all to read it, and I can recommend it for times when you just want an easy read.

About the Author:
Linda Hope Lee has written contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and mysteries. Other pursuits include watercolor painting, photography, collecting children’s books and anything to do with wire-haired fox terriers. She makes her home in the Pacific Northwest.
Author Links
Twitter: @lindahopelee
Purchase Links
Amazon    B&N
There's a give-away, too! Enter the Rafflecopter to win a $10 Amazon gift card. But if you want a copy of the e-book, I have one to give away on my terms. My terms are: leave a comment, and I'll enter you in a random drawing for it unless you say you don't don't it.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Photo Friday: Milford Sound

Background: My husband and I and our 21-year-old son are spending several months traveling and tramping in New Zealand. We arrived on the South Island Dec. 28, 2018, and spent January hiking like crazy with Dave’s brother and his wife, before sending them home and settling into a home base in Christchurch, allowing me a bit more time between adventures to get some blogging and writing done!

I thought I had already shared photos of Milford Sound, but it looks like I didn’t. Since it’s a bit too much to add to the Hollyford Track report you’ll see next Friday, it looks like it will get a post all of it’s own!

Milford Sound wasn’t really a destination for us, but we did end up passing through three times—once at each end of the Hollyford Track in January, and again last week at the end of the Milford Track. I’m mixing in photos from each occasion.

The drive to Milford Sound--a 2-hour dead-end road from Te Anau--has plenty of great scenery, but it reaches it's peak as you near the pass through the coastal mountains.

There's a pull-out on the road, just so every car-load of tourists can take this picture. We were no exception.
The mountains rather defied the impulse to build a road through--the Milford Track, a 34-mile hike from the end of Lake Te Anua (I'll get to that report eventually) came first by several decades, but wasn't the most practical way to get tourists in. In the 1930s, work began on the Homer Tunnel, which wasn't completed until the 1950s, thanks to a little upset in Europe that stopped work. The tunnel remains a single lane road--it used to allow traffic both ways with just room to squeeze by, but too many large buses and campervans made that impossible. You now wait up to 7 minutes at each end for your turn.
Waiting for the tunnel
Fortunately, while you wait, there's plenty of fantastic scenery to enjoy. We were there on sunny days, but in 1996 my husband and I came through in the rain. We couldn't see as much of the mountains, but there was a waterfall every few yards along the cliffs all around.
Glaciers and permanent snowfields up high feed the falls we saw on our sunny days.
Another standard form of entertainment is the kea, the world's only alpine parrot, and claimed to be the world's smartest bird. They certainly have the curiosity of an intelligent animal, and can do serious damage to a car or a backpack (or carry off a single boot--we learned to tie boots together when drying them outside overnight, as a linked pair is too heavy for a kea). Vaguely grey-green-brown on top, there is a startling patch of orange visible under the wings when they fly.
This kea was exploring the cars in the parking area by the tunnel very thoroughly. It seems to be holding some rubber bit it may have pulled off the bottom of a victim.
After seeing the kea at the pass, the sign at the coffee shop in Milford Sound didn't seem so unreasonable:

The west end of the tunnel is at the base of an even more impressive cliff. You can't see the top here, but you can probably tell why they didn't build the road over it!
Homer Tunnel, west end. The tunnel slopes downward to the west, by what was at the time, at least, an unprecedented degree. The avalanche shed pictured protects the opening.
Before we reached the sound we had to stop another time or two, including at The Chasm, which was fairly impossible to photograph, but gave me this portrait of the artist and several other tourists.

We reached Milford Sound in time to check into our dorm at the Milford Lodge (it's a place to sleep, sort of. The main recommendation is that it's there), and then see the Sound in the last light of the afternoon.

Mitre Peak (just left of center) is the iconic emblem of Milford Sound, rising 5000' straight out of the water. It is, as you can see here, actually just the chopped-off end of a long ridge. The glacier that formed Milford Sound ground away the rest.

After our look around, we made dinner in the communal kitchen at the lodge/campground. We did try to eat well!

In the mornings, the light is better!

There are, of course, many ways to see the area, most of them also excellent ways to extract money from tourists. Boat tours are very popular, with most of the participants bused in from Te Anau or even Queenstown, about 6 hours away. You can also rent a kayak.

Our "boat tour" was a 5-minute ride from the end of the Milford Track to the tour boat terminal on a little bitty boat with, alas, plastic side-screens that ruined the views.
Still Mitre Peak dominating the scene.
Another popular form of tour is the scenic flight. Ours was a transport flight, to get us to the start of the Hollyford Track, but it was still scenic.
The picture looks a little drunken because hey--small plane!
Pretty much everyone who visits the South Island wants to visit Milford Sound, and unfortunately it shows. Lodging is impossible unless booked months in advance, and the scene is a bit of a zoo. But every now and then the boats all go out, the airplanes and choppers stop, and peace prevails.

Photos and text Copyright Rebecca M. Douglass. Please do not use without permission. Linkbacks always appreciated.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

IWSG: I wrote something!

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! 
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to the IWSG page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! If it links to Google+, be sure your blog is listed there. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

This month’s awesome co-hosts are Fundy Blue, Beverly Stowe McClure, Erika Beebe, and Lisa Buie-Collard!
Be sure to drop in and visit them all!

And now for my post:

Well, another month has passed, and I only spent (counts on fingers) 13 days of it on the road, so I actually managed a little writing this month! I’m ridiculously proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished, even though it’s neither as much as I hoped nor as successful as I would wish. 

Here’s the report:
— The novel: I’ve read through 15 chapters (out of 21), making some changes and a lot of notes. On the drive home Saturday from our Milford Track adventures, I also thought through a plot point that bugged me, and came up with something that I think makes it work. Still have to get that worked into my notes, not to mention the book itself, but I wrote my thoughts down and they have so far stood the test of further contemplation.

—Short stories: I actually managed to finish and edit my story for the WEP post, and even read about a dozen of the other stories (still working on that one).

—I also revised and edited a chapter from a draft from NaNo 3 years ago (sigh) and submitted it as a free-standing short story. It got rejected, but hey, I submitted it! And I think it’s good enough to try to find other places for it.

—I made a first cut on editing (or at least pruning) the approximately 3000 photos I’ve taken so far here in New Zealand. Final edits, which I can’t do until I get back to a real computer, may take years :o

—Made my #Fi50 (Fiction in 50) post with story.

—Wrote 3 book reviews for my blog, and one photo post

Okay, not much compared to my usual efforts, but pretty good for what really amounted to just 2  weeks, during which time I had to deal with a lot of logistics as well. Just to keep myself honest, I’ll make a vow this month to re-submit both the recent story and the one I sent in for the IWSG anthology.

Now for the IWSG question of the month:  do I like to write from the perspective of the hero or the villain? 

Honestly, I’ve never tried writing from the villain’s POV. I can’t really see myself doing so, as I have trouble imagining myself into the mind of a murderer. In any case, I have to admit that I’m kind of a law and order and justice person, so I like to be on the side of the angels. Still, I guess it would be a good exercise.

I’ll let you all know if I try it!

How about you? Any triumphs, large or small, this month? 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

It’s Read an Ebook Week at Smashwords!

I’m a little late jumping on board, but my books are all on sale this week only at Smashwords, so jump on over and get them now!

The Ninja Librarian Series:
Book 1 (The Ninja Librarian) is free, and the others are just $1.00!

Pismawallops PTA Mysteries:
Death By Ice Cream is free; the others are $1.00

Halitor the Hero, A is for Alpine, and the BookElves Anthologies are all free!

Just click here to go to my Smashwords author page and find the books you want!

And please—if you read them, consider leaving a review on Smashwords, Goodreads, or any other review site. Authors live and die by reviews; it’s the best thanks you can give for an enjoyable read!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Proof of life...

Got “home” yesterday from hiking the Milford Track, so there’s no Monday book review or anything. Just a pretty picture (or two). I’ll get around to a full report eventually (after I report on the Hollyford, the Rees-Dart loop, the Gillespie Pass/Siberia Hut trip, and the Angelus Lake trip. And maybe some of our day trips...).

Above Mackinnon Pass, Milford Track Day 3.
Out the other side of the pass, looking at the emergency hut near the high point of the track.