Lessons Learned: Trains are always fun

One of my Christmas presents from last year was a certificate for an overnight stay on an excursion train, and we redeemed my certificate this weekend. Mike and I took Friday off from work to start our adventure, which began early morning when we were awakened by a huge storm that came in the night. Our power went out so we had to take our showers, get ready, and finish packing in the dark. Our journey was delayed by an hour, so that wasn’t too bad.

We had a two-hour drive to our destination: Trego, Wisconsin. We stopped in St. Croix Falls for breakfast where we visited with my sister, brother-in-law (Pam and Dean), his sister Denise, and her step-granddaughter Thelma from Iceland. We met Thelma in California, three years ago, when she came with her sister for a visit. We loved seeing her. She’s such a cutie. The visit got us back on track (pun intended), and we didn’t feel as rushed or frazzled like we did when we first left.

After visiting the smaller towns along the way, we arrived at the new train station five minutes before check in. The Wisconsin Great Northern Excursion Train moved their headquarters from Spooner to Trego, and this was the company’s second day at their new location. We watched as the engine attached the 7th car to the rest of the train. By the sound of the wheels screeching and the loud clunking, I don’t think the train liked the new, curved track.

On board, the porter directed us to our room, a little sleeping cabin complete with bunk beds and a bathroom with toilet and sink. The sink was cool. The basin, a stainless steel bowl, dropped down over the toilet. The water from the faucet stayed in the bowl until you raised the basin up again and let the water drain through a narrow, long slot. The cabin looked like it had all the original hardware intact. I wondered what it was like back in the day when the sleeping cabins were new. We’re thinking our car was built in the late thirties or early forties.

Once we dropped our suitcases off, we went to the lounge for appetizers and drinks. At six o’clock we left the station. I held on to the table in front of me as the cars clunked noisily across the curved rail. We were in the sixth car out of seven. Behind us was the first class passenger lounge and cabins with the kitchen. Our car had a lounge and sleeping cabins. The other cars included another dining/bar area, sleeping cabins, a lounge, the generator, and a bar that included a dance floor with a disco light.

Mike in the lounge of the train car where we stayed.

Mike in the lounge of the train car where we stayed.

We were served dinner as the train took us through a few small towns, an abandoned park with a miniature Ferris wheel, a junkyard with old cars and trucks, and a photo opportunity stop next to the Namekagon river. Again I wondered what it was like back in the day when trains were the mode of transportation, and how a person would react to seeing the territory for the first time. The miles of trees and a winding river had to be awesome and overwhelming.

The Namekagon River

The Namekagon River

The train ride was approximately three hours long. Once we were back at the station, we walked through the cars, took pictures, and had a nightcap at the disco bar. When we turned in, we had the air and the fan blasting in our cabin. We never heard the storm outside, but we knew it came when seeing puddles in the sand and dirt.

After breakfast, we had to leave. We enjoyed our little adventure on the train. I’ve always liked trains. When I was little, we grew up near a railroad track. When the train stopped in town to load up, the caboose stopped near our house. The conductor let us play in the caboose until the train was ready to leave again. Now that would’ve been fun, to stay in the caboose overnight!

Now I’ll have to take a train ride across the states and see how I like it. Maybe even ride the bullet train.

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Lessons Learned: The Celebration – Not the Gift

When I was in kindergarten, I made a candleholder as a gift for my dad. I was so proud of my blue aerosol cap creation. I decorated the outside with glitter, and I poured the plaster into the inside of the cap to help hold the tapered candle. On the day I was supposed to bring my candleholder home, I was sick and had to stay home from school. The next day, I looked for my candleholder but couldn’t find it. Only a few remained on the table and those had names on them. I had to take home one of the candleholders that remained. I was devastated. I cried when I got home. I cried in the bathroom right before I gave “the replacement” to my dad. “I didn’t see it! Honest!” My dad said and tried reasoning with me, thinking that I was crying because he had seen the gift before I gave it to him. I finally had to give him the gift, but it wasn’t the same.

I laugh now when I think about that uneventful day. How that little gift meant so much to me. Life is so different when you’re a child. It was all about the gift. Now, I’m just thankful that I can spend time with my dad. I didn’t give him a candleholder this year. I gave him something he’d enjoy more – a 12-pack of Coors Light.

I hope you all had a chance to celebrate Father’s Day. Whether it’s with your real dad, someone you admire, or with your own child. I hope your day was great.

Lesson Learned: The Wait was Worth It.

For approximately 30 years I’ve kept a bottle of Brolio, Chianti Classico, perched somewhere in my house. It’s been in my wine collection as I’ve moved from place to place with every other wine in my collection long gone and replenished. This one Brolio stayed intact and had a mission. When I bought it, I decided that I wasn’t going to uncork the bottle until I was a published author. Saturday night I opened the bottle.

I wanted my sister Pam and her husband Dean to be part of the uncorking so I had to wait a few months until they arrived from California. They’ve known about my Brolio from the very beginning. Even my husband and kids knew not to touch the wine as it waited in a cupboard or wine rack throughout the years.

Brolio 2013

That night, as we gathered around the counter for the uncorking, we were skeptical about how the wine would taste. Chianti doesn’t have a thirty year shelf life. Dean poured the wine into our glasses while Mike used a sifter to separate the disintegrated cork from the liquid. My husband was the first to take a sip. He’s the brave one. He survived it so we followed. The wine wasn’t bad, just past it’s prime. The significance of uncorking the bottle meant more than drinking the wine. I was thrilled to finally tap the bottle with my eBook Gitana – Life Plan published.

The wait was worth it even though the uncorking took less than ten minutes. We decided to continue the celebration with a drive to Vino in the Valley, a semi-outdoor restaurant and one of Wisconsin’s best places to dine. We drank plenty of wine (and beer) at Vino to make up for the little sip at home.

Pam, Me, Mike at Vino in the Valley

Pam, Me, Mike at Vino in the Valley

WisRWA Conference

Yesterday I returned from the three-day WisRWA conference that I attended in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin which is just outside of Milwaukee. The annual event includes sessions given by prestigious speakers, a raffle to help raise money for literacy, networking, agent/editor appointments, and the announcement of the year’s Fab Five and Write Touch contest winners. If you are an aspiring author, I would recommend entering the Fab Five contest.

The keynote speaker at this year’s conference was Michael Hauge, a story and script consultant/lecturer who has worked with screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, executives, and film funding agencies. He held two sessions on story mastery, how to write the main character’s outer and inner journey. DiAnn Mills, a NY Times best-selling author was another guest speaker, and she spoke to us about emotional conflict. Both were great speakers. I didn’t have a chance to talk to Michael in person, but I did chat with DiAnn on Sunday, and she’s just a little sweetheart…all 96 pounds of her.

I love conferences with great speakers. I drove home on Sunday feeling rejuvenated and excited to write again. To me, that’s a successful conference.

Now I wish I had more hours in the day to vanish into my office to write. I will get there, one day, but for now I’ll take advantage of the spare time that I do have. My conferences are done for the year with only a weekend retreat in October remaining. This summer will be dedicated to writing.

Tina and me, WisRWA Conference 2013

Tina Susedik (on the left) and me with the roses we received in recognition of our first eBook sales at the 2013 Wisconsin RWA Write Touch Conference.