Category Archives: adventure travel

Dear Tom (and Ray), I met prejudice/ignorance today.

Loess Hills

Loess Hills.

I know I haven’t posted in a long time. Sorry. Been insanely busy re the upcoming move to Montana. But I have to say something about what happened today, and I’m including Ray because he’s a Midwesterner. Upper Midwest, but that’s okay.

I was chatting with this guy who had a real cute dog, a Scottie. I love Scotties, attitude and all. They are like little bearded hairy men. (Oh, by the way, when big ol’ Jake goes to puppy camp he’s greeted with, “Hello Sunshine!” He’s a happy camper!)

Anyways… I was chatting with this guy. He was here in Napa enjoying the sunshine. He’d driven down from Portland because he wanted a break from all the rain- which we happen to be having for a minute. Our weather has been beautiful.

We discussed the rain. We discussed my recent stop at PDX, landing in the midst of a horrific downpour. If you get off one of the little planes you have to walk through the downpour to get to the terminal. We were all soaked.

I mentioned my parents. Told him that they’d retired to Southern Oregon.

He asked, “Oh, did they move from California?”

I answered, “No, they moved from Iowa. We’re all from Iowa, I’m not a native Californian.” (‘Cuz yeah, I’m proud as heckfire to be from Iowa.)

He said, “Oh. Iowa. Bunch of illiterate evangelicals there.”

And I was like… “Um, what?”

He said, “Yeah, everyone is stupid religious. Nothing there but cornfields and ignorant racist white farmers.”

I asked, “Have you been to Iowa?”

He shrugged. He said, “I’ve read about it.”

Hey Tom, and Ray, I wanted to punch him in the face.

This is what I deal with on the West Coast. People who think they know the Midwest even though they’ve never been farther east than Vegas (or maybe they’ve flown to NYC). People like this dude, who was about as white as a slice of Wonderbread, who think everyone in the Midwest is a toothless dumbass church-goin’ snake-handling redneck filled with hate and vitriol; that we’re uneducated hicks who stupidly refuse to accept the superiority of the West Coast elites who should be in charge of EVERYTHING.

I don’t care if he had a nice dog. I wanted to kick the living shit out of him.

But I didn’t. I said, “You know nothing about Iowa. Have a safe drive back to Portland.” And I walked away.

Tom, you would have been proud of me.

XOXO! Julia

The Loess Hills: I grew up here, played here. My ancestors lived and died here.

Did I mention the University of Iowa Writers Workshop???

Besides, Iowa is home to one of the best bugs in the world – Fireflies! If you watch the video you’ll discover that we’re not all toothless yahoos.


Dear Tom, it’s been a helluva ride!

No, not leaving yet, but I’m about to close up shop temporarily.

We’re moving to Montana! I’ve dreamed of this for five years. Oscar saw the light… at last! As his job has become more and more untenable/onerous and California has become an increasingly challenging place to live.

All I can say is~ yes.

About damn time.

We recently returned from a ten day visit to the ranch. We babysat the cows, horses and dogs. Split and stacked two years worth of wood for our daughter and son-in-law, and met with a real estate agent in Bozeman. We put in an offer on a house and lo and behold… it was accepted right off! (Although my husband pulled a Chip Gaines and tried to fool me into thinking the offer had been rejected! Shiplap ho!)

Thus begins the hard work. I have to get our house on the market. Fingers crossed, it will sell ASAP. We had the hardwood floors refinished while we were away. Lookin’ good, I tells ya!

Yes, I do have two twenty-ish kids here, one of whom is pretty flummoxed at the idea of her parents moving. We are leaving the only home she’s ever known. Even though she doesn’t live with us, the idea of us gives her roots. I get it. My kids are the sole reason I’ve stayed.

But, all things must change. Seems like everyone I know is transitioning in one way or another. We wish us all the best!

In the meantime, enjoy the view from my new backyard! I know Jake will!


The Bridgers from our new backyard!

XOXO! Julia


Dear Tom, I fed the piggies and I returned home to a mystery.

Went to Montana to visit my daughter and son-in-law. As you know they live an amazing life. Eight thousand acres at the foot of the Crazies.

in the shadow of the Crazies

Looking toward The Crazies from the back of the calving shed.

Six hundred head of cattle. It’s near the end of calving season– I always go during calving to help with the new yearling bulls and the bottle calves. This time I had four bottle calves to feed (one calf each from four sets of twins) and two piglets. The piglets are hilarious. You’ve never ever seen two animals so excited about food, not ever, not once in your entire life. They pretty much turn somersaults when someone shows up with the slop bucket. (They do have an automatic feeder in their enclosure.)


Yummy food scraps!

Pity they’ll be bacon at the end of the season but in the meantime they lead a terrific life!

As do the cows. It’s a great life for a cow. A rancher lives and dies for his/her cattle. They come first- always. Plus what’s not to like about roaming eight thousand green grassy¬† acres? And if you are a cow, as in a girl, you are likely to live out your life on said eight thousand acres. And the occasional steer, like my sweet boy Hank of last year.


My little steer.

This year I got to teach a premie to nurse- sat her on my lap. She was the cutest thing ever! But it was challenging to feed four babies at once. They spend a whole lot of time butting each other. I could feed two at a time– brought the new cattle dog, Nip, into the calving shed with me to occupy the other two.

Plus it was my birthday. I got to Montana every birthday since the year before my daughter got married. She took time out of her insane calving schedule to bake me a luscious cake.


Lemon cake with homemade lemon curd and raspberry jam filling and marscapone frosting.

But I returned home to a mystery. How did one of Jake’s old backyard toys end up in the lavender patch in the front yard? Remember, both our gates are padlocked and our fences are six feet high.


The mysterious moving stuffed elephant.

Was it dropped by an owl? Did a bobcat decide it wanted to play with a stuffed elephant? Was it, oh, I don’t know… Bigfoot? A youthful Bigfoot?

Seriously– How did the elephant end up in a patch of lavender in the front yard? The elephant has been in the backyard since Jake was a puppy. He neither destroys nor loses his toys.

I have got to order that game camera. Oh, and Jake still smells skunky.

XOXO! Julia

Dear Tom, I miss you!

I heard from Ishbel the other day. She’s been on my mind, although I know she’s all right. She was married to you, after all, so I know just how tough she is!

But I know your family misses you. I miss you.

Here’s all the news that’s fit to print~

I’m still pretty much a mess. But there are worse things than broken things. As you well know. I did take Jake to the beach last week. The surf was so high we couldn’t do much beach combing.


Also a woman wearing a pashmina tried to hit Jake with a ball thrower. Seriously. She was at the far end wearing her blue pashmina (I hate pashmina’s because they are so pretentious) and white slacks. She was using her ball thrower to dig a hole in the sand with her golden retriever who was, as this is an off-leash beach, off-leash.

Jake bounded up to them, all happy, his entire body wiggling like a puppy and a look on his face that said, “Hey, wassup? What y’all doing over here?”

Her dog just looked at Jake, but the woman started swinging that ball thrower at him. So I yelled, “Hey, lady, knock it off! Don’t you dare hit my dog!” I called Jake back to me. He came right away, with a look that said, “Is she crazy or what?”

She’s lucky he didn’t bite her or grab her ball thrower and run off with it.

So I yelled to her, “If you’re going to have your dog off leash you can’t be swinging your ball thrower at other dogs when they approach.”

Two other dog walkers witnessed the incident and turned around, walked the other way, as did Jake and I. This is only a spit of a beach on the best day. The surf was so high there wasn’t much walking to be had. Unfortunate. But a beach is still a beach!

Fortunately for Jake, we discovered a new park in Napa. It’s off the beaten path. There are no cars, and he can be off leash. He made a new friend, one whose owner did not swing his fishing pole at Jake.

My Vionics – shoes to help plantar fasciitis. I think they are super cute although since it seems I have a stress fracture of my left heel as opposed to plantar fasciitis they really aren’t helping a bit. Gotta see a man today about a cast…


Oh… And you’ll be both pleased and disconcerted to note that my youngest (in the center) went skydiving for her birthday. She is now certified. Whatever that means. I’m trying not to look. Seriously. Can’t look.


Her instructor is Israeli which makes me feel better. Nevertheless…

Okay. I’m done. Gotta go swimming before I get a cast. Oh I so don’t want another cast…

XOXO! Love you, Tom! Julia




Dear Tom, Bigfoot struck again!

Seriously. No frakkin’ shite.

I’ve been keeping quiet about this because y’all will think I’ve lost my marbles. Well, maybe I have…

Two weeks ago, about 7 a.m., I went out into the backyard. I was alone. Hubs had left for work and the dog was already in the car. Usually the dog goes out first thing in the morning, but that particular morning he refused to go outside and instead wanted to get into the car to wait for our hike. Thus I figured I’d take the opportunity to feed my wild birds. It’s hard to feed the birds with the dog around because he barks like a maniac.

The setting:

My backyard. We have a fenced backyard. A line of majorly tall redwood trees. A six foot wide easement behind the fence that used to run all the way from the main road to the end of our block, opening into what used to be an orchard. On the other side of the main road is forest, a creek bed, and more forest. Both our gates are padlocked. Locked. No one can get in without either climbing over, in which case Jake would go after him, or breaking down the gate. Which would make a whole lot of noise.

It was a cold morning. Maybe 28′. Frosty. I went out to check my mealworm feeders first. When I walked back to the deck I spotted this footprint on the first step leading up to the deck~


I did a double take. That is not my foot. Besides, as you can see, I was wearing flip-flops.


If you’d been there, you’d actually have seen that the foot was much wider than mine, (not to mention the fact that my little toe does not look like that!) and you would have observed that the person/thing only placed a portion of its foot on the step. I couldn’t find any additional footprints because the deck itself was wet.

I freaked out.


My husband said- artifact. I said- artifact of what? A foot?

And it gets even weirder. Just last week I found two footprints on the step leading up to the deck~ a right foot and a left foot, huge footprints. I ran to get my husband and grab my phone so I could take a picture. Unfortunately as we both ran outside, Jake ran out with us, tried to take the turn too fast, crashed onto his side, and rolled right over the footprints (the deck was icy) and he smeared the prints. We could see them, but not clearly. Not like the print above. Jake smushed the toes. Here’s what remained after his smears had dried somewhat and the deck had thawed- you can see the dog hair where he fell:


So what am I to make of this?

A. How did a person manage to climb over a six foot fence, at night, yet make no noise whatsoever? Because German shepherds do bark… at everything.

B. Why would said person be walking about barefoot when it’s cold and wet outside? We do have winter here…

C. Why are these feet so dang big?

D. Why me?

In other news, we went to the PBR in Sacramento- OMG! It was soooo fun!

Miss you, Tom! XOXO! Julia


Dear Tom, New Year’s Wishes…

1. Wish you were here.

2. Wish (and hope and pray) 2016 will be a whole lot better than 2015 has been. Not just for me and for those I love, but for the entire world.

3. Wish I was drinking. (Pity I’m not much of a drinker.)

4. Wish good things for all my family and friends and, yes, even for complete strangers.

5. Wish Vikings, Game of Thrones, and Orphan Black were already here!

And I do have a few writer-ish twitter-ish people to thank– You, Ishbel, your wonderful children and grandchildren (Marie has been a most dependable touchstone!), my doggie muse, Jake, Stephane and My French Heaven, Jaye, Penny, Lawrence, Annie, Stephanie, Anita, Tina, Marylin, Steven, Mat, Sandra, Lex, Greta, Roberta, Alicia, Passive Guy, Ray, Tim, the Iowa Hawkeyes, the San Francisco Giants… plus anyone and everyone I may have forgotten to mention.

To 2016 and new beginnings– Let us see if an even number can trump the odd 2015!


Dear Tom, the ghost wore shoes with wooden heels…

and he clomped around at night.

I wish I was a better artist. I’d draw you a picture. This was one of those rare occasions when I saw an entire ghost – or to paraphrase Dan Aykroyd from Ghostbusters – a full body apparition.

Let me explain~

The house we rented in La Roque Gageac was ages old. Who knows when the foundation was first laid? It has been a residence of sorts since, quite possibly, Gallo-Roman times. The village itself definitely existed at the time of the Viking invasion of France. The Vikings raided La Roque Gageac when they sailed up the Dordogne River. (I do hope Rollo was one of the raiders!)

That’s a whole lotta history! Let’s face it, this region is where Lascaux is located.

Prehistoric cave paintings, Lascaux.

Prehistoric cave paintings, Lascaux.

But the house has been renovated since Gallo-Roman times. Obviously. Because we had indoor plumbing times three. Although two of the three bathrooms were built into the actual rock wall. Which was sorta cool even when one considers the bats sleeping just outside the shower vent. But yes, remember, French bats. Cute bats.

But back to the ghost… No, he wasn’t Rollo. Darn!

Rollo (Vikings)

Rollo (Vikings)

Here’s how it happened. Because I was busy directing traffic around our cars while everyone else unloaded luggage at the lower end of the Roman road so we could schlep the luggage up the Roman road (think steep hill) and then I had to find a place to park (harder than you think), I was the last person to enter the house– aside from the little bat sleeping behind the shutter who was actually the last person to enter the house.

So being the last person to enter the house, I was the first person to explore the house because everyone else decided the first thing to do was open a bottle of wine and sit out on the terrace. And drink it. France…

I walked upstairs and felt him before I saw him. Felt him the second I entered the bedroom to the left of the stairs. Then I saw him, standing over by the window. He wasn’t flashy, he was rather pedestrian. But still he was dead. My youngest daughter had already called dibs on the biggest bathroom sans bats. So this was her room.

It’s never a good idea to arrive at a rental house in France and announce to your family drinking wine and enjoying the view from the terrace that the house is haunted. I decided to keep my mouth shut. I figured I could just suck it up and ignore Mr. Ghost.

That night we all went to bed, well, all except my husband who was still using his Kindle to check out baseball scores. I was having trouble sleeping in my little single bed, tossing and turning. I turned over and low and behold, there he was, in profile, standing by the window.

I got the feeling he wanted me to open the shutters. I didn’t like it, not one bit. Nevertheless I tiptoed past him and opened the shutters. I needed to let some light into the room anyway. Even the best of ghosts are disconcerting.

I slept fitfully. Felt better once the hubs finally came to bed. The ghost was quiet all night so in the morning I was willing to let bygones be bygones. Until my youngest daughter walked into our bedroom. She was shaking. She’s never seen a ghost in her life.

“There’s a ghost in my room.”


“Mom, don’t you walk away from me. Is there a ghost in my bedroom? Over by the window? Go look.”

Double damn.


“Get rid of him, mom.”

“I can’t.”

“Wait a minute… You knew he was here, didn’t you?”


“When did you first see him?”

“Um, um, yesterday?”

“And where did you see him?”

“Um, in your room?”

“And you didn’t tell me???”


“I am not sleeping with a ghost. I’m sleeping in your room from now on. Or you’re sleeping in my room. Or dad’s sleeping in my room. I don’t want to see him any… He’s gone.”

“Moooooooooom!” It was my older daughter. She’s also never ever seen a ghost. “Moooooooom! There’s a ghost in our bedroom.”

My youngest and I ran downstairs.


“Over there, by the window.”

Sure enough, there he was, staring at the window.

I said, “Open the shutters.”

Eyes wide, my daughters stared at me. “Are you insane? You open the shutters.”

So I had to open the shutters.

Neither my husband nor my son-in-law could see the ghost, although my son-in-law did kill the largest spider I’ve ever seen that was a. indoors and b. not in a horror movie.

So we moved my youngest daughter’s twin bed into our room and the three of us slept together every night. Didn’t stop the ghost. He clomped around the house, always turning up at one window or another.

The worst night was our last night. We had to get up at 4 a.m., leave by 4:30. We had a two, two and a half hour drive to the Bordeaux airport – we all had flights leaving around 8:30.

At 1 a.m. (I know because I glanced at my cell phone) I was awakened by the loud clomping of wooden-heeled shoes on our wooden bedroom floor. First he stopped over my bed, then walked around my bed and stopped to look down at my sleeping husband, then he headed to my daughter’s bed. I sat up and I said, “No.”

He vanished then, but of course so did my night’s sleep. One must guard one’s daughters from wandering ghosts.

Let me try to describe the gentleman~ He looked to be in his forties, but then he could have been in his thirties. I’m not sure how rapidly people aged back in those days, you know, several hundred years ago. He was 5’7″, maybe 5’8″. I’m guessing he weighed (in life) around 150 pounds. His hair was sort of chestnut brown in color, no gray, and it was coarse, a little wavy. He had it pulled back. It wasn’t super long, rather it was just long enough to tie back at the nape of his neck. His forehead sloped and he had a low hairline. As in a low hairline. I don’t exactly know how to describe hairlines. I only know I have a big forehead. His forehead sloped down to his eyebrows, which were thick and kinda bushy.

His eyes slanted down at the outside corners. And like most parents he had bags under his eyes. But he wasn’t wrinkled.

His nose was straight, wide, a little bulbous at the tip, and he had a receding chin, a bit of a double chin, actually. Small but nice ears. He wore a long forest green overcoat or jacket, homespun, definitely homespun. I could see the weaver’s work. Under the overcoat was a shirt, white, with collar and cuffs but not like we wear today. I just know the collar stuck up above the jacket and the cuffs showed below the sleeves of the jacket. He wore short pants. They came to his knees and they were fitted, not baggy, not pantaloons. Stockings and pointy shoes with wooden heels.

He never smiled. He never spoke. He mostly stared out various windows but he seemed interested in us. Especially in my daughters but not in the way you think. I got the distinct feeling he was looking out the window because he was waiting for his own daughter. He wasn’t sad, he was more… pensive. Worried. Concerned.

I wonder what happened. I wonder how he got stuck between worlds.

It was one of my most extraordinary ghost experiences. This is the first time I’ve seen a ghost manifest with such clarity and this was the first time anyone in my family has seen a ghost, period. It’s always been me. From the time I was a kid, just me.

I wrote to the owner of the house, asking him if he knew anything about a ghost. He didn’t respond. Who knows? Maybe my email went into his spam folder. But I’d sure love to know the history of the house. And as I said, I wish I was a better artist. I’ve never been good at life-drawing. (Or dead drawing.)

P.S. We all made it home safe and sound with our luggage. We had ourselves quite an adventure.

XOXO! Julia