The Girl Behind The Window


Pa (Ben), Adam, Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright -not the dudes most people associate with Halloween but I do!

Dear Readers – I wrote this post a few years back to honor Nevada’s 150th birthday. which was on October 31, 2014. Yes, arguably the nation’s wackiest and most haunted state was admitted to the union on Halloween.  Happy Birthday Nevada.

One of the best things about growing up in Reno was we got Halloween off from school. If the 31st fell on a Saturday or Sunday, we’d get the following Monday off.  If weather permitted, we kids would run down to the main drag (Virginia Street) to see the Admittance Day parade hoping to get a glimpse any celebrities who happened to be in town and there were generally quite a few.  Among the many I saw were Red Skelton, Wayne Newton, Bertha and Tina (performing elephants), Bob Newhart and Shari Lewis (with Lambchops, of course.)

However, the Cartrights (from the TV show Bonanza) were the only regulars. I suspect their appearance was mandated by their publicists to prepetuate the myth that the show was actually filmed in Virginia City and not LA. However, the Cartwrights really did know how to ride horses. Little Joe, the cute one, always rode a pinto (and who cared about the other Cartwrights.)

They’re all dead now and probably no one under 60 remembers their show. But Halloween will always mean the Cartwrights riding down Virginia Street.


Bowers Mansion

There are many haunted places in Nevada as it has over 80+ ghost towns, however, my favorite is Bowers Mansion.  It was built in the valley between Reno and Carson City by Sandy Bowers, a man who struck it rich during the mining boom and his eccentric wife, Eilley. Rumor has it that their daughter, Persia, who died tragically at age twelve, haunts the children’s playroom on the second floor. However it could be Eilley, who, after her husband died broke, told fortunes and had seances in the mansion. Eventually she lost her home to debtors and moved to San Francisco where she died penniless and desparate. Nevada is full of tragic boom and bust stories like hers.


Girl in the Window, Edvard Munch

To the right of the mansion is a county-owned picnic ground and swimming pool where I spent many an afternoon within view of the children’s playroom, Sometimes I could feel Persia Bowers watching me, always hungering for the life I lived. If I felt brave, I’d walk up to the tiny graveyard which holds the remains of the Bowers family.  Strange things are said to happen up there: cameras refuse to work and a chill air prevails all year long. But it’s the overwhelming sadness of the place that always gets to me.

Okay, just to embarrass my children, here are some my favorite ghouls:


Bridget as ???


Demon with funky angels


Keisha, Flapper Girl and Maitre’d?




Katie, the babysitter, as Pancho Villa

Middle Earth


Serpentine duck – quite a dapper gent who’d probably just been to Harrods


I must admit that after seven days London grew on me, especially the parks.  Hyde Park, for example, is so large that even on a beautiful Sunday afternoon you can enjoy a lovely walk along the Serpentine, watch the boaters, listen to the speakers at Speaker’s Corner or feed the ducks without feeling the crush of humanity.

However, it was the Cotswolds I really want to see.  They are a string of medieval villages located in an area northwest of Oxford and the southwest of Birmingham. Once upon a time I read that the Cotswolds were the inspiration for Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  Having been there, I can believe it.


The real life home of Bilbo Baggins?


View of the countryside from St. James Church, Chipping Campden.

This area flourished in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries primarily because the wool industry.  For this reason many of the churches in the villages are known as “wool” churches (though they really should be called “sheep” churches, don’t you think? Without sheep there would be no wool!)


One of the “wool” churches – St. James in Chipping Campden.

Two things that struck me about the churches and graveyards in the UK were: 1.) Crypts of the illustrious dead (generally wealthy patrons) are located inside the church or under plaques in the floor.  Westminster Abbey must be the final resting place of thousands of illustrious dead.  2.) In the countryside, gravestones for the not so illustrious are spread all around the church – some quite close to the actual building.  This tends to make English graveyards and churches a bit more spooky. This and the fact that they are centuries old.


Holy Trinity, Stratford on Avon, final resting place of William Shakespeare

At any rate, it wasn’t the ghosts who cut our trip to the Cotswolds short (we only stopped in one village) – it was the fear of driving narrow country roads in the rain! Next time I go, I’ll rent a driver to go along with the car!


Ghoul outside St. James Church



Medieval marketplace



Tomorrow – my favorite haunted house.








Dear Rick Steves –

StevesOn page 1019  of your travel guide Great Britain (the Twentieth Edition) you assert the following:

“Driving in Britain is basically wonderful – ”

No offense to all my British friends, but what were you smoking?

Of course, you amend this comment slightly by including the following admonition: “. . .once you remember to stay on the left and after you’ve mastered the roundabouts.”   Oh yeah.  No sweat. Those roundabouts are a piece of cake!


The P sign which in Britain means that the driver has just passed his driver’s test and should be avoided like the plague. Can’t they have a T sign for tourist?  Please!

Bless you for pointing out that other readers found driving in Britain to be a “nerve-wracking” and “regrettable mistake.”  Otherwise I would have felt like a real wimp.

By the way, when you suggest that nervous readers buy a green P sign to put in their car window, does that sign really mean “pansy-ass driver on board”?

As much as we enjoy your travel guides (I think we’ve bought over thirty of them!), I must point out the following changes that should be made to your section on driving in Britain based our recent experiences:

1.  In Britain (unlike the USA), rental car companies are perfectly happy to rent stick shifts (manuals) to people who haven’t driven one in over in twenty years, and are most likely to:

drive on the wrong side of the road
slam on their brakes in a roundabout
 frantically flash their green P signs hoping for mercy from the locals

Here’s our story: We decided not to attempt driving in London (as we could barely find our way around on foot) but to instead begin our driving-around-England portion of the trip at Heathrow Airport.  So, our last day in London we took the Underground to Terminal 3 where we’d been advised the car rental companies had their booths.

(You might mention to your readers, Mr. Steves, that apparently the only function of the car rental booths at Heathrow is to direct you to the their shuttle buses.  So don’t waste a lot of time, energy and patience by futzing around at the booths inside the termination.  Just catch a shuttle.)

Once we got to Avis we found out the rental reserved for us was a stick shift and that an automatic would cost an additional 50 pounds a day. At that point we probably should have said thanks but no thanks but alas, as in any good horror movie, we foolishly went ahead with the rental.  Cue the theme from Jaws!

2.  Make sure to caution your readers to test a GPS system before getting on the road and not after.

Our story: We decided to spring for the GPS foolishly thinking it might prevent us from getting lost but, alas, the Avis employee-in-training who programmed the gizmo for us made one slight mistake.  She thought we were Italian. I don’t know why.  I thought we were speaking English. Of course,  I didn’t turn the darn thing on until we were exiting the parking lot.

3. Another good thing to point out is, GPS systems do not work the same way in Britain as they do in the US.


One lane road we ended up on for miles and miles until finally asking for directions from a real human being.

Unlike the navigation system on our Prius, which beeps to alert you of an upcoming turn, in Britain a beeping GPS means you’re going over the speed limit. So  don’t immediately take the next exit off the motorway every time the darn thing beeps or you could find yourself on a one-lane road out in sheep country!


Thank you providing these instructions as to how to enter an exit a roundabout however, what if the cars aren’t all white and gray?

Another thing you should mention is, if you miss an exit, instead of the familiar “recalculating” message Yanks are used to, a British GPS system will take its time to calculate another route and it will get back to you when it’s good and ready.  So stop the car if possible and give it time to think.  (we didn’t and ended up circling around Winchester for about an hour before spotting the M3 sign and telling Miss GPS to bugger off.)

4. On page 1023 you make the following assertions which I believe need clarity:  “Outside the big cities and except for the motorways, British roads tend to be narrow. In towns, you may have to cross over the center line just to get past parked cars.  Adjust your perceptions of personal space: It’s not “my side of the road” or “your side of the road,” it’s just the road – and it’s shared as a cooperative adventure.”


Chipping Campden – note the cars parked in all directions!

“Tend to be narrow” and crossing over the center line” should be amended to read: “Narrow as shit with no space for cars to park thus they park halfway up the curb, blocking your lane.”

“Cooperative adventure” should be amended to read: “Prepare to play chicken with oncoming traffic and make sure to wear your Depends!”

And, to that lovely bit of psychedelic advice:  “Adjust your perceptions of personal space”  I can only add that a little LSD might help.

5.  On page 1021 you state the following “The driving instructions in this book are intended to be used with a good map.”  We took your advice and purchased a map of Great Britain from AAA.


Find your way to Stratford on Avon using this map – I dare you!

Above is a close-up of the map I tried to use to find Stratford on Avon after the GPS wanted to take us on itty bitty backroads.  We almost ended up in Birmingham!  Deciphering maps of England should not be attempted by those people with a green P card plastered in their back window.

Perhaps the folks in Stratford on Avon had the right idea about how to handle traffic.  Close down the streets, set up a carnival and party the weekend away!  Rock on Will!

StratfordAll the world is truly a stage!


Your biggest fan, Jan

Ask the bloke on the corner, luv…



Map of our section of London. Note how the streets change names every block or so.


Just because you own a map, or two (or three)…

Just because you’ve read Frommer’s and Steves’ and have an excellent sense of direction…

Just because you’ve prepped for weeks doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find your way around the streets of London on foot without seriously pissing off whoever you’re sight-seeing with!

Actual conversation between me and my hubby:

“Give me the map! You’ve obviously gotten us lost!”
“Yeah, well you figure out where we are!”
Fifteen minutes later.  “I give up!”
“See, I told you!”
“Let’s stop at a pub and get a beer.”
“Oh yeah. That’s a good plan – have a few beers and then try to find our way home!”

Save your time, money and marriage and just ask for directions.


Trafalgar Square which we stumbled upon while looking for something else!

No, strike that. Londoners, though for the most part friendly, are much too busy getting wherever they’re going to stop and give you directions.  They’ll just shrug their shoulders and say “Sorry Mate!” …if you’re lucky.  If not, they may send you in the wrong direction (not on purpose, of course). We even ran into a policeman walking the beat who claimed he didn’t know where he was. “Ask the bloke at the fruit stand on the corner, luv,” he said. “”He knows the area.” But there was no fruit stand or bloke on the corner.


Another thing we just happened upon – the Changing of the Guard (literally at the tail end!) This event happens only on nice days. When it’s raining they do what’s called “a wet change” (sounds like diapers may have been involved doesn’t it?) They look a bit like Klu Klux Klansmen from this angle, don’t they?

The problem is the city’s flat.  There’s not one mountain on the horizon in any direction  to provide a north/south, east/west orientation.  And, if that weren’t bad enough, there’s this river running through town (the Thames) which does not run in a straight line. No, it winds through the downtown in a giant ‘s.’


The Tower Bridge. I must admit the many bridges along the river are handy for navigation. And they don’t change name mid-span.

Sometimes it will be to the north of you, sometimes to the south and God help you if you have the map upside down (a very easy thing to do). Instead of heading south, you could be heading north, soon winding up miles from where you wanted to be.

If the attraction you’re trying to find is on the Thames, no problem. Just walk along the water until you find it.

But if you’re looking for the British Museum,  which is somewhere at the intersection of Piccadilly, Soho and Covent Garden, God help you.  The area is full of alleyways and streets not on any map.  In addition, there appears to be an ordinance that a street cannot have the same name in Piccadilly as it does in Soho!


The lobby of the British Museum

Remnant of one of the four horse chariots from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus - one of the seven wonders of the world now preserved by the British Museum.

In contrast – a remnant of one of the four horse chariots from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus – one of the seven wonders of the world.  It’s sad to see it here and not in the country where it was built but then perhaps it might not have survived.


Here I am, to the right, all layered up like a bloated tick!

Weather-wise, we were very lucky. The first couple of days the weather was (as the Brits would say) brilliant.  Sunny and so mild that we left the windows open at night.  I’d followed the weather reports carefully for weeks before the trip and thus packed appropriately (or so I thought) – no winter gear. My plan was to layer if the weather changed. I didn’t think my husband would be so cruel as to actually take pictures of me all layered up.  Let me tell you, it’s not a good look for anyone who weighs more than ninety pounds.

The day we decided to see Dover Castle started out sunny and our hopes were high. By the way,  if you want to witness the efficiency of the British, just visit Victoria Train Station.  There are lines on the floor leading you to the trains, the bathrooms, the ticket counters.  It’s truly idiot proof.  And the trains are clean, run on time and keep you well informed of your location.  (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck on a train in the US which, after being delayed for days, quickly dissolved into a scene from some zombie apocalypse movie when the food ran out and the toilets overflowed.)


There’s the castle – now where are the signs telling us how to get up there?

Dover Castle, according to Rick Steves (who was losing credibility by the day), is an “easy, well-marked,  fifteen minute walk from the train station.”  Ha!  It sits on top of a hill overlooking the the English Channel.  You can see it as you enter the small sleepy town but can you get to it?  Aye, there’s the rub.  After cavorting around the town for over fifteen minutes searching in vain for the “well marked” route,  we ran into a lady carrying groceries who showed us the path to the castle.


The unmarked path to Dover Castle

This path led to a seemingly endless staircase which only got us half way up the hill. From there we followed the road up, up and up again. We’d barely managed to reach the top when the clouds menacing the channel suddenly appeared overhead, driven by strong and icy winds.  Then came hail.   Hail, I said. Followed by thunder, lightening and a wind strong enough to sweep you into the Atlantic.

Never travel to England in October without a winter coat!

A few pics for you…


Storms moving across the Channel. They move fast and hit hard!


Dover Castle

View of 12th Century Church and 1st century Pharos (Roman Lighthouse) from Dover Castle.








What year is it, she gasps…

The clothes are clean, the cat has forgiven us for leaving him at the animal hospital, the luggage is mostly put away, but, alas, I have no energy. The sun, a fuzzy ball hidden behind cloud layers, adds to the dreamy illusion that, although I am back in the states, I haven’t made itjetlag home. Worse yet, I believe this condition will never end and that, like a character in a science fiction movie, I will be stuck in a limbo between time zones forever.


View from the Tower of London. Building designed by Dr. Seuss?

England (London in particular) is a country of stark contrasts. Built next to the remnants of medieval castles are modern structures seemingly designed by Dr. Seuss. Neither seem quite real, separated as they are by centuries. I felt haunted by Lady Jane Grey as I stood on the walls of the Tower of London looking out at the rising skyscrapers of modern London. What would she think if she could see London now? Don’t ask me why I channeled Lady Jane and not one of the many other people executed on the chopping block.LadyJane Perhaps because my ancestors left England in order to avoid prosecution for their beliefs, the same beliefs which sealed Lady Grey’s fate. I hope she was comforted in the end by a vision of a time when the mighty Tower would be rendered small and puny by history.


The moat around the Tower filled with blood red ceramic poppies meant to honor the dead of WWI.

I must admit – I don’t get the whole crown jewels thing. Luckily the day we were at the Tower it was stormy enough to scare away most of the tourists and the line to see the royal trinkets and baubles was not long otherwise I’d be even more perturbed by the ostentatiousness of all the jeweled crowns, orbs, ceremonial plates, solid gold teapots and emerald-bearing serving spoons which I’d stupidly waited in line to see.  Good grief! It was all a little too much for my Yankee sensibilities. Especially as they are stored in a castle famous for savagery and blood-letting. As I said, I don’t get it. Blood and greed together are not  pretty, even if their value is inestimable.

If you visit enough castles and museums in England I guarantee you will get royally confused by the royals. To help us understand the royal succession we bought a book about the Kings and Queens of England which I attempted to read. Holy Shamoligans! Here’s the lowdown on those dudes: It all started KingsandQueenswith the House of Wessex, a bunch of Saxon warlords who took over after Roman rule came to an end in 802. They were eventually beaten by William the Conqueror (a Norman). And when his descendants started to falter, the houses of Beaufort and Tudor, Lancaster and York moved in for the kill resulting in the house of the Plantagenets which ruled for 300 years. In 1455 the infamous War of the Roses (actually a thirty year clash between the houses of York and Lancaster) ended up with the Tudors back in control (a whole lot of backstabbing and scheming went into this turnover). When Elizabeth I died without heirs, the son of Mary Queen of Scots (James I) was crowned King of England. His coronation helped insure that Scotland would stay a part of the Kingdom (very clever). The Stuarts (as they called themselves) ruled until Bonnie Prince Charlie lost the kingdom to the German house of Hanover. During WWI the Hanovers changed their name to Windsor for obvious reasons. So there you have it. An idiot’s interpretation of the history of the English aristocracy!


Big Ben and the houses of Parliament

In order to live like Londoners, we rented a flat for the week. It was nothing to write home about but clean and safe. My God, really safe. We were across the street (more like an alley) from a barracks housing the Queen’s brigade, and round the corner from the very modern New Scotland Yard. Two, maybe three, blocks over was Buckingham Palace and just down the road, the houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Each morning thousands of commuters dressed in suits and carrying briefcases exited nearby St. James Underground station, walked past our flat in unison, marching off to jobs we figured were with the government. Across the street was a pub and just beneath us a small market run by an Indian family. We went out for lunch most days but, exhausted after walking all over London, generally opted for take out from the nearby Marks and Spencer for dinner.

For months I’d fantasized about  taking day trips to places outside of London – Bath or Stonehenge, maybe.  Trust me, there’s an unending list of must see places supposedly close enough to London to visit in a day. “Supposedly” being the operative word.  The problem is that there are twelve major railway stations in London! Twelve!  And they are all in different districts and they all service routes to different parts of England.  We were fifteen minutes walking distance from the Victoria Station which services towns in southeast England – Dover, Canterbury, Rye and Hastings.  However Bath is serviced via the Paddington Station, probably an hour’s walk from our flat.


Easy day trips, my arse!

Thus if you factor in the time spent getting across London via the tube, a bus or taxi, those “easy day trips” become days to endure (unless of course, you’re Rick Steves who has his own transporter and magically pops up at railway stations fresh as a daisy for a “day’s jaunt.”  Sometimes I hate that man!)

After note from Jan: I’ve been advised that the reason the ceramic poppies are being “planted” in the moat around the Tower of London is to honor the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI. Click here to read a moving blog post about WWI and how it affected one author’s family.

Next: Freezing our butts off in Dover, a carnival fit for the Bard, and “stay on the left Joel and mind those curbs” – tips for driving in England. Basically, don’t.

By the way – what year is it?




The Best Part of Blogging!

For me, the best thing about writing a blog has been getting to know other authors and bloggers out there in the cyber world. They pick me up when I feel like crap, comment on my often silly blogs and keep me entertained with theirs. And not only that, they let me take time from gazing at my own navel to explore theirs (okay – their virtual and not actual navels).


Cinda Mackinnon, A Place in the World

My first interview was with my neighbor, Cinda MacKinnon. Funny story – we lived next door to each other for many years unaware that we were both working on novels! It is true – writers have a hard time admitting their advocation, especially if they’re writing fiction.

Actual conversation I had at a party:

Wendy: “So you’re a writer?”
Jan: “Well, yes.”
Wendy: “How are sales going?”
Jan: “They’re not.”
Wendy: “I know someone who wrote about cheese. Her sales are through the roof.”
Jan: “Damn, I wish I’d written about cheese.”

Old Town in Bogota Colombia

Cinda spent most of her youth outside of the United States – in Costa Rica, Germany, Panama – to name just a few places. Her debut novel was set in the cloud forests of Colombia and involves adventure, romance, the search for identity, and, a place in the world (which is coincidentally the name of the book – A Place in the World). I learned many things from Cinda about the culture of Colombia, its food, its unique animal kingdom, as well as the ecological, political and cultural challenges central American countries face. I got a chuckle when she told me what appealed to her most about returning stateside: Watching re-runs of I Love Lucy and other popular sitcoms she’d missed! She confessed that she almost became a re-run addict!


I guess this is a picture of the spaceship. Looks like Duke is contemplating a ride.

Next I convinced another expat, Duke Miller, to allow me introduce him to the world following the release of his novel, Living and Dying with Dogs. Of course he hardly needed an introduction to the world.  As an aid worker he’s been around it more than a few times, seen and done things that most of us can only imagine. I loved the story he told about his friend, an amateur spaceship builder and crime fighter in the Mexican town where he lives.


Drawing by his talented daughter Nuala.

Next up to bat was Irish author Colm Herron who’s actually written a number of books, one of which (The Wake or What Jeremiah did Next) is due to be re-released sometime this fall. Besides being charming and hilarious, Colm is also one of the nicest persons I’ve ever met.  He written so many reviews for so many other emerging writers that it’s mind-bloggling. I loved the fact that after a fairly successful career as a young writer, he gave up writing “to live instead.” I think of those wise words often as I blog, tweet and pin the remainder of my life away.


John Thomas Wood, Keeping up Seattle

John Thomas Wood writes both non-fiction and fiction. He’s also an amazingly talented artist. Besides his book on speaking to young girls about sexuality (Be Smart; Be Strong), he’s written Keeping it Up in Seattle in which he explores all forms of sexuality in a very forth right and unflinching manner while telling the story of a single dad dealing with a sixteen year old daughter.

Jennifer Hotes is a mystery, an enigma and the inventor of…


Jennifer Hotes, Four Rubbings

kindness. She told the frightening tale of sensitive little girl’s night spent in a cemetery. Now most of us would want to put that memory far behind but Jennifer used it to tap into the feelings of alienation that teens and pre-teens often feel in her novel Four Rubbings. Bravo Jenn – well done!

Mary Rowan

Mary Rowan, Living the Beach and Playing by Ear


Mary Rowan. Wow, what can I say? How many of us have been bitten by idol worship while at the same time feeling either too fat or too thin or too pimply or too – take your choice – anything not perfect according to Vogue magazine? Countless millions, I’m sure. But this lady had the courage to write about it and how it affected her protagonist’s life in Living the Beach. I’ve been assured this is not her story but she wrote about it so brilliantly that I was surprised it was not a memoir!

Charlie Costello

Charlie Costello, Burma Bikes and Bejing Bikes

Lastly Charlie Costello, world traveler, photographer and organic gardener. I spent the very last day of the last century with Charlie  waiting for the ominous Y2K bug to take down all the computer systems running  the world. We were on the twenty-fifth floor of the Kaiser Building in an office with spectacular views of San Francisco getting a set of programmers guides in the mail to a Danish bank. The bank was threatening to the final million dollar payment to our company unless those guides were delivered by the end of the century so our necks were really, truly on the line. Miracle of miracles, the city th-1did not go dark, life carried on!

Since then I’ve watched Charlie pursue his passions all over the world with good humor and love in his heart.

(If you don’t remember the Y2K bug, in 1999 many people became convinced that when the internal clocks in the large computer systems running the financial institutions would not be able to rollover as they had on previous years and would shut down or worse.  The reasons are, to be honest, beyond me.  And the reasons why we did not have a financial armageddon are also beyond me!)

Anyway, I’m hoping when I return from vacation that I’ll be able to arrange interviews with other authors I’ve met via blogging.  I always learn so much!