Louisiana Day Trip

Last year’s Midwest road trip around Lake Michigan allowed me to visit the last two states I had never been in and officially claim that I had visited all fifty states within the United States. However, I realize that in a way, this claim in regards to having a clean perspective of all the states is basically flawed. Yes, I can state that I have consciously been within every state, but having only the opportunity to drive through a state without stopping to visit a site and being unable to take a photo within the state is pretty much the most minimal perspective that one could experience within the state. In 1975, after growing up in Florida, I applied to and was accepted at the University of California, Los Angeles. With a rental trailer full of my personal items attached to the family car, my parents, my sister, and I drove across the country to drop me off in my new life in Southern California. We crossed through seven states on the one way journey, which included a stop at the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, and Las Vegas, with no camera to record anything along the way. In the years since, I have been able to revisit Las Vegas and explore other areas of Nevada; made a few visits to Arizona, including a multi-day stop at Grand Canyon National Park; had a few visits to New Mexico to experience its national parks and Roswell; had a couple of visits to Texas, including a day stopover in Houston, a couple of decades ago, where a friend was able to give me a personal tour of the NASA space center; added a stop in Tupelo, Mississippi, during my Central Plains road trip to experience a small National Battlefield Park and Elvis Presley’s childhood home; and made a stop during a small road trip with my mother in Huntsville, Alabama, to attend the wedding of an early childhood neighborhood friend, giving me the opportunity to visit the space museum at the same time. However, the only state on the 1975 journey to which I had not had a chance to return was Louisiana. It was time for me to extend my personal perspective of the bayou and Cajun culture.

All of the other states around Louisiana I had visited as part of an extended road trip or as a stopover tied to another trip, but this had made Louisiana an outlier, making it difficult to include it on any future broad road trip, so I decided to plan this as a solo trip. A two day road trip back and forth was way too long to consider for what I considered to be a single day visit, so I considered a simple round trip air flight schedule. I realized that the humid swampy environs within the Mississippi Delta region would make a summer trip overly hot and uncomfortable, so I considered planning a spring weekend trip which would not interfere with my volunteer tutoring schedule. I then discovered that the tutoring program for which I was volunteering would be ending its school year in mid-May, giving me an open week just prior to the lead-in to the Memorial Day weekend. This provided me with the opportunity for a quick Tuesday to Thursday hop over which would avoid weekend travelers and upcoming summer vacationers. Using an online travel service, I booked my roundtrip flight schedule, two nights at a local inn in New Orleans, and a rental car. Luckily, my planned schedule just avoided weather and other travel issues that forced flight cancellations shortly after my return. The timing of my short vacation turned out to be perfect.

After flying in on a nice Tuesday afternoon and making my way to the inn in a New Orleans neighborhood midway between the airport and the French Quarter, I had my first chance to sample a bit of Cajun and Mexican fusion in the adjoining restaurant with a Louisiana crawfish quesadilla, before going back to my room to plan out the next day. My goal for my one day trip was to split my time experiencing the nature of the bayou and exploring the culture and wonder of the French Quarter. I had researched on the national park service website before my trip about the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, which honored an historic Louisiana smuggler who joined Andrew Jackson’s forces in battling back the British army at New Orleans during the War of 1812. The park and preserve is actually located in six different locations, including the Barataria Preserve, a natural bayou preserve just a few miles south of New Orleans. My plan would be to drive down to the preserve right after breakfast and enjoy a few nature trails during the cooler morning hours, then head back up to the French Quarter to explore the small 80 block historical wonder of New Orleans.

Barataria Preserve images

The next morning I headed over the Mississippi River down to Barataria Preserve and arrived before the Visitor Center had opened. I grabbed my camera and walked down the quarter mile Visitor Center Trail. Along the way, I found the entrance to the mile long Palmetto Trail was closed for service, so I went back to the Visitor Center, which opened shortly after I returned. I was informed that the Bayou Coquille Trail Head, a mile up the road, was open, so I drove up to the parking area and walked down and back the half mile trail, taking more pictures. Despite the signs directing visitors to not feed the alligators, I did not come across any gators, snakes, or mosquitos during my walk. It appears that it was too early in the morning for them, but not too early for some lizards, hawks, or flies. I got my taste of the bayou and was able to drive back up to the French Quarter by mid-morning.

French Quarter images, New Orleans

At the southwest corner of the French Quarter, I found a long-term parking lot to park my rental, then spent the next three hours walking the famous cultural area of New Orleans. I looked out over the Mississippi River on the Moon Walk in front of Jackson Square, while streetcars passed by. I bought playing cards from a voodoo gift shop. I had a combo Cajun lunch and listened to a street group playing jazz in front of the Supreme Court building. I experienced the unique architecture style of the corner hotels and apartment buildings, then checked out the jazz musician statues at Musical Legends Park on Bourbon Street. I strolled slowly through the Louis Armstrong Park across the street from the north side of the French Quarter. The cultural beauty was amazing to experience. After my long stroll through the French Quarter, I circled back to the parking lot and drove my rental back to the inn. For dinner that night, I walked down to another nearby restaurant recommended by the clerk at the inn and enjoyed another Louisiana meal, a classic Po’Boy. As I flew back home the next day, I truly felt I had experienced the Louisiana culture.

 

A Year of Reviewing Indie Books 2021

Last year, 2021 started out in a scuffle with the breakdowns from 2020, then began to project hope with positivity through the summer until COVID and world political disruptions arose again to bring concern back to broad populations. Marketing opportunities for my two self-published books were still tampered down with COVID uncertainty, and political rifts even reached down to my community HOA board which disrupted projects and maintenance procedures, but the summer calm did give me a chance to take on a road trip around the Midwest states, fulfilling one goal of claiming to have visited all fifty states in the United States. At the same time, the same uncertainties I faced in 2020 in connecting with fellow indie authors once again lowered the number of works I was able to read and review from the previous year. Last year, I only had the opportunity to read twelve books during the year, but it was a good year for reading, as I only rated one book with 2-stars, three books at 3-stars, seven books with 4-stars, and finished out the year with a 5-star reviewed book.

Now to reiterate my review standards from the past year’s postings, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3-star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4-star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5-star effort.

To start out, the one work which I rated at the 2-star level hinted at a suspenseful mystery thriller, but severe plot errors, blended with the grammatical and typographical errors, could not reach the promise of fulfilling the suspenseful thrills. The three 3-star works provided basic enjoyable tales in multiple genres. In the procedural mystery, a private investigator, who is a former police officer, takes on a missing person case that turns into a job of protecting an innocent from a Russian cabal. The horror story has a couple leading their neighborhood in a battle against a zombie pandemic. The sci-fi fantasy has new residents of a future domed colony on Titan, one of Jupiter’s moons, discovering their family history has a more mythological, extraterrestrial foundation.

In the 4-star zone, one of the works was introduced to me by my neighbor, who was friends with the indie authors of the tale. The epic Bermuda Triangle yachting saga reaches across several genres from gambling thrill and heroic defense against villainy to legendary sci-fi fantasy to create an impressive adventure for readers who can keep up with the multiple themes within the epic. The other six 4-star books stretch across a broad range, including one historical non-fiction psychological comparison of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley, and late 1800s American mass murderer, Anton Probst. The fiction works include a tough romance between a teacher getting out of an abusive relationship and one of her recently-paroled adult students working to get his GED, a murder mystery investigation novella based in London during the early height of the COVID pandemic, a romantic thriller between a teen sci-fi author and an artificial-intelligence entity who join up to fight a villainous business tech exec, a sci-fi thrilling start of a trilogy where a group of friends begin to deal with the news of an asteroid heading toward earth, and an action adventure treasure hunting tale with a recovery gang trying to solve the clues of a Knights Templar map while defending their actions against another group seeking to take the same treasure.

The last book I read for the year turned out to be the one 5-star book in my reviews. Innocent Bystander by C.A. Asbrey is the third book of The Innocents Mystery Series. Set mainly in the 1870s American Wild West, the leader of a train robbery gang and a female Pinkerton detective agent connect to track down the agent’s sister who has run off to San Francisco to marry a man that has a history of marrying wealthy women who mysteriously die shortly after the wedding. Normally, I would have started with the first book of the series, but the first two books of the series had already achieved a sizable number of good reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, and since my goal is to help fellow indie authors, I decided to read the first book of the series that was still light in reviews. Of course, the excellent reviews for the first two books were a good indicator of how excellent a storyteller I was about to experience and prove deserving of a 5-star review.

Even as it was a light year of reading, it was a good year of reading and enjoying the creativity of fellow authors. With my two self-published works, I hope readers feel they live up to the standards I have used to judge the works of my fellow indie authors. If avid readers do check out Legacy Discovered and Disappeared and Found and decide to purchase and read either or both of them, I hope they decide to let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

 

2021 Emmy Voting

The continuing pandemic has fluctuated the past year, as the arrival of vaccines have helped ease conditions, but continuing misinformation and a deadlier variant has continued to upend the hopeful rebound. For me, I had to conduct my volunteer tutoring virtually and only needed to fill my car’s gas tank about three or four times this year, until it finally felt safe for me to handle my most recent road trip around the Midwest this August. At the same time, the fluctuations of the year also continued to affect television production of new broadcast and streaming shows, and as a member of the Public Relations Peer Group of the Television Academy, I noticed how the fluctuations once again affected the scheduling of the nominations and voting for the 2021 Emmy Awards, as it did for the previous year. This year’s nominations were announced in mid-July, but the viewing and voting platform was not open online until mid-August with only a two week period to view and vote by the end of August. This viewing period was also tighter for me, since I had just returned from my road trip and needed to catch up on other concerns before I could focus on binge-watching the nominees in categories I was eligible to vote on. The rules for voting require Academy members to view all nominees in a category before voting, but for series or limited series nominees, members only needed to view one episode of the six provided of each nominee in order to vote. I cleared my schedule for the final week of August and was able to view the nominees for five categories and vote on them.

This year, I wanted to include the Outstanding Competition Program category, because one of my favorite programs was a nominee. This is one of the few categories where broadcast and cable has an advantage over streaming programs. Only one nominee, Nailed It!, was a streaming original on Netflix. CBS’s The Amazing Race and NBC’s The Voice represented the broadcast networks, while Bravo’s Top Chef and VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race represented cable programming. It was obvious that since some other regular past year nominees were not on this year’s list, the pandemic had affected the ability to produce some of these close competition shows. A couple of the shows demonstrated creative adjustment in dealing with the COVID restrictions, as Top Chef had to replace their competing chefs’ grocery store race and purchase segment with a computer pad order and delivery segment to handle food supplies for the cooking challenge, and The Voice had the audience displayed on a wall of monitors behind the celebrity chairs, as well as the competitors’ families presented virtually on monitors as well. However, I was aware of how the pandemic had affected my favorite competition show, The Amazing Race, as I remember watching the full season earlier this year, when it was announced at the opening episode that this race was filmed just before the pandemic shut down global travel. It was decided at the time that the airing of this race would be delayed and was finally aired as the pandemic was easing earlier this year. The goal of blending global culture and perspective is still an inspiration in this competition series, so it still deserved my vote for the Emmy.

There were five nominees for Outstanding Television Movie: Lifetime’s Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia, HBO’s Oslo, Netflix’s Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square, and Amazon Prime Video’s Sylvie’s Love and Uncle Frank. It was interesting that none of these movies appeared to have a current time frame. Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square was not specifically set in a specific year, but the town square set was totally constructed within a closed studio, and the story of an angel and her trainee seeking to change a Scrooge-like rich woman who is trying to evict a town’s population being told in a continuous musical format has an old Hollywood style to it. Two movies are based on historical fact, as Oslo provides a behind-the-scenes rendering of the Norwegian diplomats involved in the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord between Israel and the PLO, and Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia is a biopic about soul singer Mahalia Jackson during the 50s and 60s in the Martin Luther King era. Sylvie’s Love is a common touching love story between two young adults who connect in a record store in the 50s, are separated and then reconnect in the early 60s, while Uncle Frank is a tough tale of a homosexual man who must deal with his very southern family during a patriarch’s funeral in the 70s. It was a tough decision, but I was impressed with the creative conflictive presentation of Uncle Frank for my vote.

The five nominees for Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series was also difficult to decide, especially since I only had time to view the opening episode of each series. HBO had two nominees with I May Destroy You about a woman dealing with a date rape, and Mare of Easttown with Kate Winslet as a small town tough detective having to take on a tense murder case. The three other nominees were streaming offerings with Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit about an orphaned girl who becomes a chess prodigy while dealing with a drug addiction caused by the orphanage, Prime Video’s The Underground Railroad about a slave couple trying to escape to freedom through a real underground train system, and Disney+’s WandaVision about a superhero couple in a 50s sitcom. I feel I would like to have seen the full series of each nominee, but I felt more enticed by the dramatic mystery being presented in Mare of Easttown which received my vote.

There were eight nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series, but only one was not from a streaming service, ABC’s Black-ish. Netflix had three nominees with Cobra Kai, Emily in Paris, and The Kominsky Method. HBO Max had two with The Flight Attendant and Hacks, while Hulu came in with PEN15 and Apple TV+ presented Ted Lasso. The Flight Attendant and Cobra Kai did not seem to truly belong in this category, as the main story arcs were more dramatic, thrilling, and suspenseful, even if some of the characters had a comic seasoning in their reactions. The comic flavoring that enticed me more was the cultural conflict stories of Emily in Paris and Ted Lasso. In the end, Ted Lasso with its opening arc of a Texas champion football coach being hired to coach an English football (soccer) team was an easier series to understand the culture conflict comedy, so it got my vote.

The eight nominees for Outstanding Drama Series proved to be the hardest to consider. The thematic range was broader than the other categories. The only network series nominee, NBC’s This Is Us, has had a few seasons dealing with a family drama told between the present and the past. On cable, FX Networks’ Pose focused on the dramatic competition within the LBGT urban community. Under the hyper sci-fi, superhero dramas, Disney+’s The Mandelorian and Prime Video’s The Boys pulls out the CGI power. Netflix’s two nominees, Bridgerton and The Crown, deal with British royalty drama, even if Bridgerton is in the early 1800s, while The Crown was focusing on the historic drama in the arrival of Diana in Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale continued its dystopian future drama, while HBO’s Lovecraft Country has black family members who have faced the racial prejudice conflicts in the 20s suddenly having to face the monsters in the world of H.P. Lovecraft. It was amazing to experience the breadth of racial inclusion within these series, but Lovecraft Country drew me in a little better, so it got my vote.

The 73rd Annual Emmy Awards is scheduled to air on Sunday, September 19 at 8PM ET on CBS. We’ll see at that time how my votes match with the actual winners. It continues to be an honor to provide my voice in deciding the recipients of the Emmy Awards.

Update: The Emmy recipients of four of the categories I voted in were presented at the 73rd Annual Emmy Awards on Sunday, September 19 on CBS. The Emmy recipient for Outstanding Television Movie was presented at the Creative Arts Emmys on Sunday, September 12, which aired on FXX on Saturday, September 18. The Outstanding Television Movie Emmy went to Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square. During the annual Emmy Awards on September 19, The Outstanding Reality Competition Program went to RuPaul’s Drag Race. The Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series went to The Queen’s Gambit. The Outstanding Drama Series went to The Crown. The one Emmy award that matched my vote was the Outstanding Comedy Series which went to Ted Lasso. Congratulations to the winners and the other nominees.

 

Midwest Great Lakes Road Trip – Part 4

My Midwest Great Lakes trip was now heading into the east Lake Michigan part of the tour. The boat tour around Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was the last scheduled boat or park tour on the trip, so my last two stops at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes National Park would be just personal exploration hiking tours, requiring no advance bookings. I fully expected to be able to see both sites in one day of travel. I checked out of my comfy motel stop in St. Ignace, had breakfast in a diner down the road, and headed for the Mackinac Bridge, the main connection between the two Michigan peninsulas. The Mackinac Bridge was a part of Interstate 75, allowing me to enjoy a limited access expressway for the first time since I headed up to Duluth through Minnesota. However, the bridge was going through its own summer road repair season as traffic was reduced to a couple of lanes on the southbound side. The bridge crossed over the connection strait between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, giving me a good view of both lakes as I crossed over, which allowed me to now claim that I have had the chance to see all of the Great Lakes in my lifetime. Just a few miles south of the bridge, my path directed me off of the interstate, which was heading down the center of the Lower Peninsula, onto US routes that were headed along the Lake Michigan shores of the peninsula in order to get to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which only led to more cross traffic and summer road repair season sections along the way.

By late mid-morning, I reached the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Center in the nearby town of Empire and got some exploration tips from a ranger. I drove up into the park and turned off onto a scenic drive in a forested area along the top of the dunes. I found a parking area and hiked up a small path to a point where the open sand dunes sloped sharply down to a small shore along Lake Michigan. The views were fascinating and inspiring. It was also amazing to see the number of people who decided to try and walk down the steep slope. The perspective of understanding how geology, an ice age, and time dug out the deep areas that became the Great Lakes was in full view at this overlook. I took my photos and headed back to the car. I completed the scenic drive and drove back down to Empire, where I had my first non-tote bag lunch at a busy café near the visitor center.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore montage


After lunch, I drove out, following the mapped out directions that would lead me down to Grand Rapids, where I would reconnect with the interstate highway system into Indiana. However, the dreaded summer road repair season, including a twenty mile northbound detour for one small section of a fully closed road, created delays in my time schedule. Once I got to Grand Rapids and back on the interstate highway system, it was in the late afternoon, and I realized that I would not be able to make it to the Indiana Dunes National Park Visitor Center before it closed. I headed directly to the Chesterton hotel I had booked my room and checked in for the night. After getting my dinner, I connected online to determine my hotel options for the final segment heading back home. Since my visit to Indiana Dunes National Park was now moved to the morning, delaying my start back west, I decided that the little side drive up to the southern portion of Wisconsin was not necessary. The rural area around Bayfield and Apostle Islands had given the Wisconsin perspective, so after visiting Indiana Dunes National Park, I was going to hop onto Interstate 80 and head back home to Colorado. I booked a hotel stop west of Des Moines.

The next morning, I enjoyed my hotel breakfast, checked out, and headed directly to the Indiana Dunes National Park Visitor Center, where I got some guidance from a ranger on the best trails to experience. Indiana Dunes was the smallest of the five natural destinations I had planned on this tour, and it was interesting to see that the central, easily-accessible beach area between the two ends of the park was still under the Indiana State Park system with an entry fee, while the national park areas were free. Per the ranger guidance, I headed to the eastern side of the park to a parking area near Kemil Beach. Since Indiana Dunes had only been re-designated from a national lakeshore in 2019, it was interesting to see that the park signs still had not been updated to Indiana Dunes National Park. I started out by taking a small hike around the forested Dune Ridge Trail, then I walked up the road to the small sand trail out to the beach area. The dune and beach area was a lot more level than the impressively steep slopes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, but I still admired the simple natural vibe of the southern lakeshore of Lake Michigan in this newly re-designated national park.

Indiana Dunes National Park montage


After taking in another great perspective, I drove out of the park and hopped onto I-80 just a couple of blocks away. I reached my hotel in Des Moines that night, and then made it back home the following day. As I was driving through Iowa on the first day of this trip, I was amazed to see the many wind power farms along the way, so on the way back home, I stopped at a rest area in Iowa and took photos of a nearby wind farm. It was a perspective that was just as important as visiting the national parks, as it demonstrated our ability to continue to learn how to use the wonder of nature to empower us all. This was another great road trip.

Midwest Great Lakes Road Trip – Part 3

At the second Duluth hotel I stayed at, I considered my schedule for the next two days of my Midwest Great Lakes trip. Due to the tight booking at hotels and tour transportation that I had already experienced during the Isle Royale National Park and Voyageurs National Park segment of my trip, I felt that I needed to book both nights to cover myself during this time. According to the website, the Apostle Islands grand tour would cover three hours, and I surmised that I would then be able to travel across the Michigan Upper Peninsula within the afternoon to arrive at St. Ignace, where I figured I would be able to take the ferry over to Mackinac Island and enjoy a dinner in a horse-buggy town before ferrying back to St. Ignace. I found a room available online at a small hotel in St. Ignace and booked it for the next night. I then considered that the next day I would be able to cross the Mackinac Bridge, head down to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for a quick view, then make it down to the recently re-designated Indiana Dunes for a quick stop before checking into my next hotel. I found an available room for that second night in a hotel in Chesterton, right next to Indiana Dunes, and booked it. I felt I was ready for the next two days.

The next morning I got ready to head over to Bayfield, Wisconsin, where the tour boat was scheduled to depart at ten, but I would need to check-in early at nine-thirty. Since Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is actually closer to Duluth than the Isle Royale departure point I dealt with two days ago, I did have the opportunity to enjoy the hotel breakfast amenity before checking out and heading east to the Wisconsin border. Since Isle Royale was considered to be a part of Michigan, the moment I crossed the state border into Wisconsin, I knew I could technically consider that I had now been in all fifty states, but I decided to hold off on the celebration until I had crossed into the Michigan Upper Peninsula later that afternoon. Even though I was driving along the upper lakeshore of Wisconsin, I still noticed a few dairy farms along the way giving me the agricultural perspective of the state. I circled around small Bayfield Peninsula jutting off the north side of Wisconsin into Lake Superior and reached Bayfield, a much larger town and take-off point than Grand Portage in Minnesota. Instead of a small pier, the tour boats were taking off from a larger marina harbor with multiple piers and a car ferry dock for visitors seeking to get over to the largest Apostle Island, Madeline Island, for a chance to drive around an island. I parked on an unlimited parking side street, grabbed my last tote bag lunch and camera backpack, and then headed to the check-in center next to the marina.

The tour boat was much larger than the Isle Royale transport boat, and I found my seat on the open upper deck on top of the center cabin, just behind a young family. Our boat slowly backed out of the harbor and started up North Channel between Madeline Island and Basswood Island. As we traveled through the various islands, we experienced the sandstone cliffs next to the luscious forests on the islands. One island had been the site of a sandstone quarry, and we were shown a place where blocks of sandstone had been left when the quarry was closed. As we went further north, we saw where the lake had created sea caves into the sandstone cliffs and was shown one of the sea stacks, a jutting rock islet from one of the islands. As we reached the northernmost island on our tour, the island’s name, Devils Island, showed itself as the lake waters began to rock our boat as well as splash against the sea caves under the lighthouse on the island itself. As we turned and headed back, I took the time to bring out my last tote bag lunch and enjoyed it. We found quieter waters as we headed around Raspberry Island and admired the quaint lighthouse along the side. The islands were an amazing perspective of the power of Lake Superior, and an interesting comparison to the ridge island of Isle Royale.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore montage


The three hour tour actually came closer to being four hours in length, so after a quick stop in the gift shop after leaving the boat and heading out the marina pier, I found my car and headed off east for Michigan. However, besides the extra hour on the boat tour, I also realized that I had not taken into consideration that I was changing time zones at the Michigan border, losing another hour on the afternoon trip. In addition, besides the Michigan Upper Peninsula not having a smooth interstate expressway across it, I continued to experience the Midwest summer road repair season on the US and state routes along the way. This led to me finally arriving to St. Ignace by ten that night, way too late to take the ferry to Mackinac Island for a relaxing horse-buggy dinner. Since I had already booked my hotel room for the next night down in Indiana, I knew I would not have time to enjoy Mackinac Island the next morning and would have to apologize to my friend for having to pass up his recommendation. I headed for my night stop and found out it was a small old-fashion comfortable motel with the owner living on the property. I parked in front of my room door and used the old-fashion metal key to enter the room. In a way, it was good that I had booked the next night’s hotel room back in Duluth, as I did not need to worry about having a Wi-Fi connection. Instead, I jumped into bed and relaxed into thinking about my next day heading into the Michigan Lower Peninsula.

To be continued…

Midwest Great Lakes Road Trip – Part 2

The first part of my road trip journey around the Midwest Great Lakes had been more about driving, re-adjusting, and re-planning on the go, but now I woke up at four in the morning in my Duluth hotel to prepare and set off to my first scheduled destination, Isle Royale National Park. Because of the early start, I was going to have to miss the included hotel breakfast amenity, but my lunch was already set. Before starting on journey, I had made and wrapped in plastic bags five sandwiches, which I placed in a small ice chest with five apples and diet sodas. I put the ice chest in the trunk with a small tote bag filled with five cookie packs, providing me with five simple lunches to save time and money on the trip. On the first two days of my journey, a rest area stop and a fuel stop were the locations of my first two lunches, but now I realized, after going over the boat schedule for the Isle Royale visit, that I had inadvertently and properly prepared the only option I would have for lunch on the island. I started driving up a state route to Grand Portage, the boat departure location to the national park.

Grand Portage was a small town, and the boat was docked against a singular short wooden pier next to a small wooden office cabin and extending from a small grass and gravel lakefront lot with ill-defined parking strips. The cars of my fellow passengers pretty much filled the small lot, and the captain with his two crew members gave us a short safety presentation before checking us on board. I took a seat on the outside of the cabin, holding my lunch tote bag and camera tightly in preparation of a rolling journey. After an hour and a half on the water, the boat came up along the southwest corner of the island where the captain pointed out a hundreds-of-years old ancient tree that had survived on the tight rocky coast. The island’s forest stretched tightly against the shoreline, barely providing any sort of beach area. The boat then headed into the Washington Harbor inlet within the island’s southwest tip to a short pier next to the visitor check-in center named Windigo. After covering my entrance fee and getting input from one of the park rangers, I decided to hike a small trail up to an overlook on the southern part of the island. I only had a few hours to explore before the boat return check-in, so it seemed to be the best choice. Even though the island has a decent population of moose and wolves, I did not come across any of these creatures, perhaps luckily. However, the trail was tight within the vibrant forest, forcing me into a balancing act of a walk in many sections. The colorful assortment of small red, white, and blue berries gave a natural American tone to the flora. At the overlook, I could just barely see over the trees a small pond on a small open grass field. I enjoyed my lunch, stashed the trash in my tote bag, and hiked back down the trail to the visitor center, taking some beautiful camera shots. Because of the isolation of the island, the rangers requested that visitors avoid using waste receptacles near the visitor center, taking trash back to the mainland for disposal, due to the meager schedule of waste pickup service at the island from the mainland. I made it back in time for the boat departure check-in, and I and my fellow passenger were given a close view of the lighthouse just beyond the harbor on our way back to Grand Portage.

Isle Royale National Park montage


As we were informed, Isle Royale National Park is the least visited national park in the lower forty-eight states, but it was very obvious why. With only a few low passenger boat transportation options to the island and a very short summer visitation season, Isle Royale is one of the hardest national parks to visit. The only other option a potential park visitor has beyond the small commercial group of transportation boats is some type of personal access to a lake boat or sea plane to take one to the island. I truly lucked out in getting that last seat available on the commercial transport to be able to visit a remarkable national park.

Once I made it back to my hotel in Duluth, I realized that I would need to find another hotel for the next night after I made my trip to Voyageurs National Park. I went online in my hotel room and lucked out again as a motel just a few blocks away had one open room available for the following night. At the same time, due to nearly missing out on Isle Royale, I went online to check out the boat tour schedule two days away for Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and was able to book one of the last remaining seats on the second Grand Tour boat. The next morning, I finally enjoyed the breakfast amenity I had missed the day before and then checked out of the hotel before heading northwest towards Voyageurs National Park.

My original idea was to head to the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center around the southwest corner of the park for the possibility of a lake boat tour, but I had just discovered that this option was not currently available, so I headed to the Ash River entrance and visitor center along the south central side of the park. This location provided several hiking trails and overlook spots at its location along a tight section of Kabetogama Lake. The park ranger at the visitor center gave me the best trail options in the area and suggested I also check out the lake overlook behind the visitor center. In a calming moment, when I walked up to the overlook, I found five young woman stretched out on the rocky overlook, reading in their relaxed state, while a few motor and sail boats enjoyed the waters below. It was a relaxing state for me as well. On one of the other trails recommended to me, I reached an overlook viewing a large pond created by dams made by beavers in the park. Basically, my visits to Voyageurs and Isle Royale had provided me with a new perspective on the forest and lake environment of the Midwest. I enjoyed my next tote bag lunch on the last trail head, and then headed back to Duluth to check in to the second hotel, so I could plan for the next phase of my trip, after which I could claim that I have been in all fifty states in the US.

Voyageurs National Park montage


To be continued…

Midwest Great Lakes Road Trip – Part 1

A year ago, I had planned to take the major road trip that would officially allow me to claim having been able to experience all fifty states in the USA. However, the COVID pandemic forced me to delay this trip as travel restrictions rose up to fight the virus. Two years ago, I had viewed this trip in a simple format by flying to Chicago and renting a car to drive around Lake Michigan to experience the two states I had never visited, Michigan and Wisconsin, and the last state where I had only visited by changing planes in an airport, Minnesota. Yet, with travel restrictions creating new barriers even as they slowly started to lift, I realized this trip will need to be taken solely by car on a major road trip. I mapped out a path where I would drive from Colorado through Nebraska to Iowa, before turning north toward Minnesota. I noticed during my planning that Iowa had a small national monument along the Mississippi, Effigy Mounds, and decided to put this side trip into the schedule. In Minnesota, the goal was to visit its lake-based national park, Voyageurs, and then head over to a town in the northeast point of Minnesota, where I could catch a boat ride in Lake Superior over to Michigan’s lone national park, Isle Royale, which just happens to be closer to Minnesota and Canada than Michigan. After this boat visit, I next planned to head around Lake Superior into Wisconsin in order to take a boat cruise around the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore at the tip of a small Wisconsin peninsula. After this cruise, I would then drive across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to get to the Mackinac Bridge, the one connection over to Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. When I described my trip’s plans to a friend, he recommended that I take the time before crossing over the bridge to take a ferry over to Mackinac Island, where the small town on the island has no automotive transportation, only horse buggies to take visitors through the town. I added it to the schedule, and then plotted my path into the Lower Peninsula, planning a stop at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan. On my initial planning, I had not included Indiana Dunes, but when it was recently re-designated as a national park from a national lakeshore, I added it to my national park bucket list. After this final stop, I plotted my road journey to loop back up into Wisconsin to get a perspective of its farming and urban areas before heading back home. After getting fully vaccinated from COVID, dealing with a family issue, HOA concerns, the passing of a dear neighbor in my community, and the medical issues of a close friend, I finally prepared and set off on my journey in the middle of a hot summer, but I was about to discover that even with all of my planning, this was a trip where I was going to have to adjust and adapt more than with any other road trip I had undertaken.

My first day of the journey was basically a long drive through the heart of Nebraska into Iowa, where my destination was a small hotel just north of Des Moines, which I had booked online the night before. This has become the foundation of handling a modern road trip, using hotel Wi-Fi and my laptop to judge the next day’s schedule and book the next night’s hotel at each stop’s journey along the way. However, I was going to discover that this trip was going to need a bit more adapting in this process. Per my initial plan, the next day I would check out Effigy Mounds and then head to a hotel just outside of Voyageurs, but I quickly discovered online that there were no hotel availability near Voyageurs. I also confirmed that there were no hotel availability near the boat departure point to Isle Royale. The closest hotel opening for either location was in Duluth at the western tip of Lake Superior, centrally located about over two hours away from both destinations, as well as just a bit west of Apostle Islands, my next destination after the two national parks. The hotel was available for the next two nights, but was fully booked for the third night following, so I booked both nights to cover the three destinations and started to plan the schedule. As I thought it over, I felt it might be best to try and see Voyageurs before checking in to the Duluth hotel, which would be difficult with the side trip to Effigy Mounds, so I made the decision to drop Effigy Mounds from the schedule for the next day. The next day, I headed straight up the interstate into Minnesota, heading through the St. Paul side of the twin cities, but it still took longer than I had hoped as I approached the Duluth area. I began to realize that I would not reach Voyageurs until around late afternoon, which would not be the best time to experience the park, so I went to the hotel I booked in Duluth and checked in early.

Once I was in my room, I logged in to the Wi-Fi on my laptop and checked on basic information for Voyageurs for the next day. After checking on Voyageurs, I went over to the Isle Royale page on the nps.gov site to check on the boat schedules at the departure point for the following day. There was only one boat handling two trips to the island from the Minnesota departure point, and seating was fully booked. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get a chance to explore Isle Royale and check it off my national park bucket list. Suddenly, I decided to check on the boat schedule for the day I had planned for Voyageurs and found the boat had one last available seat available for its morning trip. I immediately booked the open seat, and swapped the schedule to visit Isle Royale before Voyageurs. I also realized that I would need to get up at four in the morning in order to make the boat check-in at the departure point around nine. Since, I was now delaying Voyageurs for another day, I also realized that I would need to find a third hotel night in Duluth for the Apostle Islands visit. This trip was fast becoming the most complicated road trip I had ever taken on. I could hardly wait to finally get to my first schedule designation on this trip.

To be continued…

 

A Year of Reviewing Indie Books 2020

What more can be said about a year as historically disruptive as 2020. With a COVID pandemic that inflamed divisions within and among countries, the norms of exploration, economical developments, and the social aspects of gathering with friends and family were upended. It disrupted the standard marketing opportunities for me to promote my two self-published works, pushed back on my grander travel exploration plans, and upended the processes for my HOA board of which I am the current president to help maintain and improve the community. One would think that I would have more time to read and review more of my fellow indie author works during these homebound times, and I did read a few more than the previous year, but I feel the uncertainties of the past year reduced connections with other fellow authors, which is one of the reasons that I was only able to read and review fifteen books for the year. I did rate one novel at 5 stars and had rated two novels at the 2 star level, putting most of the books in the 3 to 4 star level. Basically, it was an enjoyable year for reading.

Now to reiterate my review standards from the past years postings, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

The Silver Horn Echoes: A Song of Roland, the one novel that reached that 5 star effort last year was an interesting historical fiction based on an eleventh century epic poem about an heroic figure in a battle during the conflict between Charlemagne’s empire and the Muslim realm in Spain. The skill in fleshing out the characters and building up strong storylines leading up to the main battle actually led to the book being mentioned in the final paragraph of the Wikipedia article about the original classic poem on which the novel is based.

Five of the novels landed in the 4 star zone, including the second book in Doug J Cooper’s time dimension series, Bump Time Meridian. When he reached out to me in 2019 to beta read the opening book in the series, I informed him that I was tougher with time travel stories due to the basic time travel conundrums that are difficult to gloss over. Doug continues to prove excellent writing skills with interesting story lines and entrancing characters. However, dealing with the time travel mythology added a bit more complexity in the reading, but the suspense and thrills were still enough to entice sci-fi action readers.

Three of the other four star novels land within the mystery genre, with two of them set in earlier historical times. One focuses on an investigative reporter in 1926 New Orleans looking into the murder of a wealthy businessman, adding a touch of the roaring 20s creole in the mystery. The other historical mystery brings a dark civil rights view in the 1960s Deep South, as a few parties seeks the truth behind the murder of a black musician and fellow band member, as the white mayor and police chief tries to brush the case aside with a false story. The third mystery is set in current day with a member of a police consulting firm being asked to help out the local police with a murder case while doing undercover work in a local bakery. The last four star novel is a romantic drama set during the Vietnam War when a pair of lovers is separated by one being drafted in the army and then going MIA after an ambush on his unit, another strong tale set back in recent history.

The seven works that landed at the 3 star level were in multiple genres. Three were mysteries, one under a police murder investigation that develops a conflict of resolution, while the other two focuses on main private eye characters. Two fell under the medieval fantasy fiction with a Game of Thrones persona. One was another sci-fi time travel story that focuses on a hidden human race within modern culture with the secret ability to time and space shift within their life spans, while the last work was a short story collection in the horror genre.

The two works that fell short in the two star range dealt with struggling characters, one battling hidden shadows and the other dealing with personal demons from alcohol to the death of a friend which he caused. In both works, a complicated plot structure and the difficulty in finding empathy within the characters made the stories difficult for me.

It basically was a good and enjoyable year for reading. With my two self-published works, I hope readers feel they live up to the standards I have used to judge the works of my fellow indie authors. If avid readers do check out Legacy Discovered and Disappeared and Found and decide to purchase and read either or both of them, I hope they decide to let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

 

2020 Emmy Voting

This year has affected a lot of us, health-wise, financially, socially, and politically. For me, my plans and ideas to promote my new novel have been disrupted, as well as my hopes to have a few more exploratory road trips. However, I know that I have still been in a better position than many others on this planet. As a member of the Public Relations Peer Group of the Television Academy, I have been more aware of how much this year has affected the entertainment industry, upending television production for new broadcast and streaming shows during a time when people are looking for comfort in isolation. It also slightly affected the process and timeline for the nomination and voting for the 2020 Emmy Awards. The announcement of this year’s official nominations came out in late July and the online viewing platform for the nominated programs opened up in mid-August, creating a tighter timeline for viewing and voting, since the voting deadline was August 31. The rules for voting require Academy members to view all nominees in a category before voting, but for series or limited series nominees, members only needed to view one episode of the six provided of each nominee in order to vote. In the end, I had time to view and vote for the top four categories.

In the Outstanding Television Movie category, there were five nominees this year, all of them basically within the 90 minute to 2 hour range that I feel fit within a standard television movie length. HBO’s only nominee was Bad Education, a historical drama based on the true story of an embezzlement scandal of taxpayer money in a Long Island school system in the early 2000s. The other four nominees were all from Netflix with two of the nominees being post series wrap-ups, with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie providing a rough escape thriller from the AMC drama series, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend providing the comedy series with a comic wedding and rescue fun ending. Netflix’s third nominee, Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: These Old Bones, was another country-style heart-tugger in the same style of previous Dolly Parton network special stories. The final Netflix nominee, American Son, was an interesting adaption of a play which takes place in one location in a basically extended single scene, a police station waiting area late at night where a recently separated mixed race couple is desperate to find out about the event in which their eighteen-year-old son was involved during a police interaction. Even as the agonizing argumentative interaction between the characters and eventual surprising unveiling of truth provide a much more complex grey perspective, the story’s theme still touches on the current social conflict on policing and race, which encouraged me to give this nominee my vote.

The Outstanding Limited Series category also had five nominees this year from Hulu, Netflix, FX Networks, and HBO. The two Netflix series both centered on a young woman within an unequal power situation. In Unbelievable, a young teenage girl is unfairly pressured by police and friends to admit that her claim of being raped was a lie. In Unorthodox, a young woman seeks to escape the Hassidic Jewish culture and a forced marriage in New York City, secretly flying off to Berlin. In both series, the thematic perspective is subtly presented. In Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere, the complex perspectives of trying to resolve racial and wealth inequality subtly powers the story line. In a more historical tale, FX Networks’ Mrs. America delves into Phyllis Schlafly and her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s. All four of these nominees have very important themes and issues behind their storylines, but HBO’s Watchmen with its DC comic universe background to present its racial and political conflict perspective more powerfully attracts its audience, encouraging me to give it my vote.

Eight nominees landed in the Outstanding Comedy Series category, but NBC’s The Good Place was the only broadcast network series to get a nomination, a continuing sign of the way that streaming era has upended the electronic video entertainment universe. Even more telling is this was the final season of The Good Place which gained this nomination. Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek was also nominated for its final season, while FX Networks’ What We Do In The Shadows also provided a boost to basic cable programming. HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Insecure demonstrated how premium cable programming seeks to produce comedy without sexual or language restrictions, making it edgier. Netflix’s Dead To Me and The Kominsky Method provided more balance to its comic storytelling, but once again, Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was still stronger in providing a more balanced positive view of comic perception, which is why it received my vote.

For the Outstanding Drama Series, there were also eight nominees, but only one was new to the nominee list, Disney+’s The Mandalorian, a series that impressively brought Star Wars action and thrills, even though each episode was only a half hour long. Dark themes continued to play within AMC’s Better Call Saul, BBC America’s Killing Eve, HBO’s Succession, and Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, whereas Netflix’s three nominees found a little better balance: The Crown with its strong historical perspective, Ozark with a slightly lighter touch in its criminal theme, and Stranger Things which continued to maintain its sci-fi fantasy balance with its young protagonists in the retro 80s, even with its darker end to its third season. Stranger Things pulled in my vote for this year.

It has definitely been a trying time for the entertainment industry this year, so it will be interesting to see how my votes match up with my fellow Television Academy members this year, when the Primetime Emmy recipients are announced at a more pandemic virtual Emmy Awards Show airing on ABC, Sunday, September 20.

Update: It was an interesting pandemic awards ceremony on ABC, Sunday, September 20, with host Jimmy Kimmel standing alone in the main theater while nominees and other guests connected in from home or other locations, a most interesting virtual show. The awards for three of the categories I voted in were presented during this show, while another category award was presented on the last night of five Creative Emmy Awards shows, which aired on FXX on Saturday, September 19. The Outstanding Television Movie Emmy, presented during the Creative Emmy Awards show, went to Bad Education. During the main Emmy Awards Show, the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy went to Schitt’s Creek, and the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy went to Succession. The only Emmy Award winner that matched my vote was in the Outstanding Limited Series category, in which the Emmy went to Watchmen.

 

Big Bend Road Trip during a Pandemic Time

Last year was a busy year, but also a frugal year as I held off taking a vacation road trip like in previous years. The major road trip that I postponed was a Midwest road trip around Lake Michigan in order to visit the two states I have never visited and the one state left in which I had only visited by changing planes in a major airport within the state. When I had created my initial plan for this trip, there was also two national parks included in the trip, but since then, a national lakeshore had been re-designated as a national park, adding it to the travel plan. I currently have this trip planned for the summer, but since I missed taking a trip last year, I decided to check out doing a quick spring break trip to another national park still on my list to visit, Big Bend National Park.

Five years ago, I had planned to visit Big Bend with five other national parks on a road trip from Los Angeles to Colorado, a trip I wrote about in an earlier post on my site. Unfortunately, Big Bend was just too far off the path for me to visit on my limited timeline, so it became an outlier for any potential future trips. When I considered adding a second trip for this year, I researched whether I could do a quick trip covering Big Bend with a visit to the Alamo in San Antonio and a quick tour of Louisiana, a state I had driven through once with no stops. However, it became obvious that it would take longer to travel to all three of these locations in just a week, so I pared down the trip to just Big Bend National Park. As a road trip, I determined that it would take two days to drive down to a location near the park, one day to visit the park, and two days to drive back home. In my planning, I noted the potential to stop in Roswell, New Mexico, to check out the UFO sites on my way down and to possibly visit Bandelier National Monument near Santa Fe, New Mexico, on my way back. However, as I looked to finalize my plans, the specter of the current COVID-19 outbreak began to rise up.

When spring break week arrived, the coronavirus information was just recommendations of social distancing. I considered that since I would be driving alone within my car and traveling to a more remote section of the country, I should be fine. I went online and discovered that motel options in Marathon, a small town nearest to Big Bend, were booked up, but I found a motel in another close-by town, Alpine, to the west that had a direct road connecting it to the western entrance to the park. I booked a room for the two nights, then booked a room in Roswell for a night on the way down to Alpine. The next morning, I took off.

I reached Roswell by late afternoon, which gave me time to check out the International UFO Museum in the downtown area. The admission price was inexpensive, and the museum was an interesting display of photos, artwork, and presentations in a large hallway. It didn’t take long to experience the displays, which were interesting, regardless of one’s opinions regarding extraterrestrial visitation. My motel also took advantage of the ET reputation, projecting a space alien welcoming all earthlings. I enjoyed my night, but woke up to find the area surrounded by fog. I wondered if I had uncovered an omen.

I drove south out of the fog and made it to Alpine by mid-afternoon. I was alerted by the motel manager about potential closures at Big Bend, so I went online to check the conditions of the park. All visitor centers were being closed, but the park entrances were still open. The next day, I headed down to Big Bend. When I got down to the entrance, I discovered that rangers were not manning the gates, meaning that my annual pass was unnecessary, as entry was now free for all visitors.

Mule Ears Formation, Big Bend NP

Mule Ears Formation, Big Bend NP

Big Bend was a wonderful southwest ecosystem of desert and mountains with flat areas of cacti and yucca around buttes and rock formations. My exploration took me down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to where the Rio Grande exits out of the St. Elena Canyon. It gave me a chance to walk down to the edge the Rio Grande and look across to the cliff wall on the Mexico side of the river. Viewing the park during the opening of spring proved to be a most comfortable time as the outside temperature was in the comfortable 70s, which is probably why this was the park’s prime visitation period, since people would want to avoid the desert hot days of summer. It was a good day to discover this bend region of Texas.

Rio Grande at St. Elena Canyon, Big Bend NP

Rio Grande at St. Elena Canyon, Big Bend NP

When I got back to my motel after my day in Big Bend, I stopped in for dinner at a nearby diner where I had enjoyed dinner and breakfast earlier before going into the park, only I noticed that now every other stool at the bar had been covered to create distancing between guests. Concern that the diner would have to close in a couple of days was prevalent between the cook and waitress. Back at the motel room, I went online and booked a room in Santa Fe for the next night. I drove up the next day and discovered that I was just one of a few guests in the Santa Fe hotel. The hotel had to close their small dining room and was supplying the booking’s promised morning breakfast as a grab and go bag. Restaurants in the city had already closed down per government distancing rules, forcing me to get dinner through a fast food drive-thru. I also discovered that nearby Bandelier National Monument was now closed, so this stop was now dropped from the trip. The next day as I finished the drive home, I discovered that gas station marts along the way had needed to close their public restrooms as visitors had been stealing soap. I also noticed attendants at the gas stations were taking time to go out and spray disinfectant cleaner onto the gas pumps. I made it home from a very enjoyable quickie road trip to deal with stay at home orders and depleted grocery shelves. I hope to survive this pandemic concern and get an opportunity to take my bigger Midwest road trip in the summer.