Surprised and Grateful

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As I settle into the rhythms of life at home, I have received two wonderful reminders of my Beauty & Grace Journey throughout South Dakota.

The first came from the Midwest State itself, in the form of a newspaper story about my Beaut & Grace presentation to The South Dakota Women's Prison Book Club.

The story was written by Del BartelsDel Bartels, a reporter for The Pierre Capital Journal Newspaper, published in the state capital of Pierre, SD.

Del's story appeared online the day after my September 30th prison book club presentation. I was thrilled and assumed the online exposure would be the full extent of the story's publication.

As the age-old saying goes...never assume.

My new SD friend, Vonnie Karlen Shields, sent this copy of The Pierre Capital Journal's October 2nd edition with a front page story and full color photo of the two of us and a turn to p.3 with the continued story alongside a photo of me with the outstanding SD Women's Prison Warden, Wanda Markland

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Talk about surprised...and grateful to Vonnie and Warden Markland for making that presentation happen. And thanks to Del for sharing my Beauty & Grace experience with the Pierre Community and beyond.

Then yesterday, as I was attempting to catch up on 12 days of mail, errands and client work that accumulated in my absence, I stopped to see Jen Heaton Reisdorf, owner of @Bookworm Books in East Aurora.

Jen had messaged me that there had been a recent run on my books and she needed more. As we chatted about my South Dakota Book Festival trip, she noted the story in The East Aurora Advertiser as the catalyst for bringing people into the store to purchase Beauty & Grace.

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Realizing the story must have published while I was away, Jen retrieved her office copy of the paper and opened to a half page story with two color photos.

Again, I was surprised and grateful for the recognition by my new hometown's newspaper. And for the book lovers in East Aurora for supporting my work and Jen Reisdorf's gem of a local bookstore in our community.

Good to go away. Good to come home.

A South Dakota Festival of Books Memento

October 6, 2019

It’s Sunday. The final day of the 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books. Many of the authors here are from the area. They arrived on Wednesday and will return back to their everyday lives later today.

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As for me, I’ve been in South Dakota for ten fun-filled and adventurous days. It’s been an amazing, life-changing experience, but I’m ready to go home. Tomorrow morning, bright and early I'll be on my way—-back to my family, to new writing projects that await and to my own bed.

Yesterday’s festival was another tremendous opportunity to meet readers and sell my books. I spent most of the day at my author’s table chatting with those attending the festival.

Some wanted to share the book they are trying to write. Some wanted writing and publishing advice and are now going to send me their manuscript or rough draft.

The majority were interested in my work and when our conversations came to an end, I was continually thrilled and honored when they purchased one or more of my books.

I also donated some books—-one to the South Dakota State Library three to the South Dakota Women’s Prison. It’s one of my true pleasures to share my books with those who might not otherwise be able to read them.

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Between the chatting and selling, I managed to attend two presentations by other authors (both about women’s sufferage efforts in South Dakota) and lead my own Beauty & Grace presentation before a wonderful audience of appreciative fans.

And I made time to wander through the exhibition hall for a project I’d planned as a festival memento.

I took a book festival poster and flipped it on to the white side and approached my fellow authors and asked for their autographs. While I wasn’t able to get to all 64 of the invited writers, those who did sign, filled my poster perfectly with signatures from basic to artistic.

My plan is to take this poster and frame it alongside the printed side of another.

Then, when I get home, I’m going to hang this South Dakota Festival of Books memento front-and-center in my office and use it as a reminder of what I have achieved in my author’s career in getting here….and all the places I have yet to go.

Finding Your Writer's Purpose

Seven months after a chance meeting with a woman at a Florida Beauty & Grace Presentation, followed by her sharing of my book with a friend in South Dakota, I experienced my first day as an invited author at the South Dakota Festival of Books.

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As I found my assigned author table in the exhibition hall and arranged my display, I wondered if anyone would be interested in my books, or even want to purchase them, 1,300 miles from where I live and write?

In the same context, I reflected on the first of my two author presentations scheduled for later in the afternoon. I’d titled the presentation “Finding Your Writer’s Purpose.”

While I was sure of the value of what I would be offering, I had mentally prepared myself for an audience comprised solely of the South Dakota woman who had read Beauty & Grace and encouraged me to apply to the festival.

My first surprise of the day came as I was putting the finishing touches on my display. While I was two hours ahead of the official opening of the exhibition hall, a slow but steady stream of people started passing by.

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Actually they did more than pass by. They stopped and chatted, wanting to know about my work. It was only a short time before one of those with whom I chatted returned and purchased two of my books.

At this point, it was time to head to the Deadwood Pubic Library for my presentation. The day was sunny and warm and the library close by, so I decided to walk. As I turned a corner to arrive at my destination, I was impressed by the iconic building before me.

Based on a nearby historic marker this library was one of more than 1,600 throughout the United States generously funded by the philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.

Ground was broken on March 28, 1904 and the Greek Style Building was officially dedicated as the Deadwood Public Library on November 8, 1905.

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Entering the library, I was completely caught off guard by the fact that two people were already seated, awaiting my presentation.

As the time drew near for me to begin, more people joined with those two until all the chairs were filled and more had to be added. By the time I started speaking there were over 40 people in the audience.

I asked if I could take their picture to show my kids that their mom was a famous author—-which explains the smiles you see in the photo of the front half of the audience.

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From that point it was a fast-and-furious 45-minutes of encouraging those gathered to find their writer’s purpose, whether as a family historian, a blogger, a newspaper/magazine writer, a Pr/media consultant or an author.

The collective of men and women of all ages took notes, asked questions and were an incredibly supportive audience, for which I will be forever grateful.

Afterwards a few individuals approached for some one-on-one exchanges and then I returned to the exhibition hall for a group author book signing.

The hall was now officially open and filled with 65 authors, an assortment of vendors and crowds of book lovers.

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For the next three hours I met people from across South Dakota and beyond. We chatted about the festival. They shared their book genre favorites. They asked about the topics of my four books. More often than not, they chose one to purchase. Some who attended my presentation stopped to thank me and bought books as well.

Finally, at 5pm, my first day as an author at a book festival came to an end. I was exhilerated and exhausted all at the same time.

I was also grateful that people who love to read now have my books in their hands, to experience the redemption and renewal of my Beauty & Grace characters, to become immersed in the spirit of my beloved Crown Hill Home and to share in my slice-of-life Heart & Soul newspaper columns and WBFO radio commentaries.

And to validate that I have found my own writer’s purpose.

A Whole New Definition

One thing I’ve learned in my short time in South Dakota is that things are defined differently here than back east in New York State.

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I learned that lesson most pointedly during my 186-mile drive from the state capital of Pierre, located in the center of South Dakota, to Deadwood, set on the western-most border.

For the most part, the landscape along my drive was rural and open, dotted occasionally with round bales of hay, metal storage bins and cattle in the far off distance. It was only after a scenic detour that my vista changed.

After encouragment from people I’d met during my trip, I decided to break up my highway journey by taking the driving loop through the Badlands. This is a world-renown national park comprised of canyons, ravines, gullies, mesas, hoodoos and other such geologic  forms that have been formed and shaped by hundreds of years of eroding winds and rains. As it turned out, it was a hauntingly beautiful experience.

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As I exited the Badlands, my truck’s GPS directed me along some roads far removed from the main Route 90 Highway. So far off, in fact, that I eventually found myself driving on a dirt road.

Now, as background, I am the daughter of farm woman, the granddaughter of a farm family from Wyoming County, NY. Dirt roads are nothing new to me. In fact, I was almost a teenager before my grandparent’s Curriers Road was earmarked for paving

Along with those dirt roads came my family’s farm tradition of crossing the cows. As implied, farmers often owned land on both sides of the road. To preserve the nutritional value of their pastures they would move their herd from one side to the other on a regular basis.

This process involved the farmer opening the pasture gates on both sides of the road and prodding and pushing the cows until the very last one crossed. In actuality, there were usually one or two leaders in the herd and where ever they went, the rest followed. So, after a few times, a “follow the leader” crossing process became pretty routine.

And that’s what ran through my mind as I got about two miles down this South Dakota dirt road and saw a cautionary “cow crossing” sign.

It was less than a mile before I saw a herd of black cows in the distance. However, no matter how hard I strained my eyes, there were a few things missing----like a farmer and some fences.

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The closer I got to the oversized bovines the more I realized that in South Dakota, a cow crossing sign meant just that. Cows could be independently crossing the road at any time!

Like I said. I come from a family of farmers and traditionally would not be overly concerned about driving alongside some cows. However, I’d just spent five days motoring through national parks where the constant warning was to respect the animals that roam freely across their roads, or suffer the ravages of a damaged car….or worse!

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Deciding to err on the side of caution, I stopped a good distance from the cows who were meandering from pasture to dirt road to pasture. Sometimes they went backwards, sometimes forwards, always at a pace that clearly indicated they had no concern about my presence in their rural landscape.

Finally it got to where there were only two cows left in the road. To be honest it almost seemed as if they were purposely toying with me to see just how long it would be before I tried to make a break and speed by them.

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As the last of the herd took steps onto the green grass pasture, I slowly started inching past them, keeping a wary eye to ensure that none of them might decide to take dead aim at me and my red rental truck.

As it turned out, not a moo was mooed, not a charge was mounted. And I as cleared that last cow, we stared at each other for a long moment in which I breathed a deep sigh of relief…..by any definition of the term.

Pledging My Allegiance to South Dakota

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The first half of my South Dakota Adventure has been a wondrous combination of events, places, culture, cuisine and people.

Now at the halfway point in my trip and with The 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books approaching, I decided to finish up my free time with a tour of the South Dakota Capital Building, located in the state capital of Pierre.

This gorgeous building was constructed between 1905-1910 with a large addition/annex added in 1932. It is a combination of Colonial Revival, Classical Revival and Renaissance Styles of construction.

The building contains four floors. The first defined by a massive entry area highlighted by four statues set into the walls. They are individually titled, Wisdom, Courage, Integrity, and Vision and were designed to embody four aspects that all South Dakotans share.

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Within this area also stands a series of glass enclosed display cases. They pay homage to South Dakota's First Ladies in the form of miniature replicas showcasing the dresses worn by each woman to the state inaugural ball. Included are individual portraits photos as well as pictures of their families and other related mementos.

Completing the first floor are two hallway art galleries where portraits or all the state's governors and the supreme court justices are displayed and a Medal of Honor Hall recognizing South Dakota recepients.

The second floor houses the offices of Governor Kristi Noem, and other state officials, along with a stunning rotunda area. The dome of the rotunda is 96-feet high. The bottom ring of the dome is designed to resemble a string of ribbons joined together, symbolizing the eternal nature of government.

The dome interior is decorated with sixteen images of the Tree of Life, acanthus leaves representing wisdom and a pasque flower, which is the state flower.

The third floor is the location for the House of Representatives and the Senate legisative offices and chambers, with the fourth floor providing galleries for pubic viewing of legislative sessions.

As impressive as the architecture of this building, the materials used to construct it are impeccable. Marble, brass and high quality woods fill each floor along with stained glass that elevate windows and transoms to works of art.

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Then there are those special touches like curved masonry walls, hand stenciled ceilings and hallways, floors of marble, glass and concrete laid out in intricate designs, ornate water fountains, overstuffed leather furniture and a couple of old time phone booths, complete with phones, albeit non-functioning!

I spend over an hour wandering the capital building's hallowed halls. I found their beauty and sense of pride to be reflective of the spirit I'd encountered in the time I'd spent in the great state of South Dakota.

Inspired, I decided to stop into the governor's office and let her know.

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As I approached the massive double door entry with a gleeming brass plaque reading, "Governor," I will admit to a bit of trepidation. After all, she is the highest government official in the state and I am only a visitor. Then I saw the second sign on her door.

"Please Walk In"

And that's just what i did.

Immediately I was greeted by one of Governor Noem's aides. Without pause, I shared my enthusiasm for the natural beauty of the state and the friendliness of the people. I went on to extol the state prison system, where the previous night I'd spent two plus hours with women inmates, and finished up with high praise for the beauty of the State Capitol Building.

By the time we were done chatting, the governor's aide had written down my name and my website and assured me that she would share my New Yorker's perspective Governor Noem.

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As I departed from the building I felt good that the governor would start out her week getting at least one positive review of her work and her state.

I felt equally good in realizing that, despite being from a state 1,300 miles away, South Dakota is part of my nation. And within my allegiance to those united states, it was my citizen’s right to walk into in her office and say helllo.

A Book Club of Special Readers

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Since publishing Beauty & Grace, I have shared my writer’s story with book clubs from Pennsylvania to Oregon, New York to Florida and states in between.

It’s been a meaningful journey, with moments from each gathering forever etched in my storyteller’s soul.

Here in South Dakota, my primary focus is the Festival of Books, which takes place later this week in Deadwood.

However, there has also been a book club on my schedule—-a group of 12 women I met last night for a Beauty & Grace discussion unlike any I have, or ever will, experience.

The club was started by a woman named, Vonnie Shields. This energetic lady holds a number of life titles including wife, mother, teacher, volunteer and community leader. She also is a book lover of the most extraodinary kind with a deep desire to share her literary passion.

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That’s one of the reasons Vonnie was appointed Director of the South Dakota Humanities Council. It’s also why, fifteen years ago, she decided to start a book club at the South Dakota Women’s Prison.

When Vonnie emailed me that Beauty & Grace was the September women’s prison book club selection, she explained that the struggles of my book’s characters, locked away in an asylum, offered parallels to the lives of the women in the prison. She also felt Beauty & Grace’s redemptive storyline would resonate with the book club members and provide hope about their own lives and their futures.

From that email, I became dedicated and determined to take part in the club’s September book club discussion.

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Five months of correspondence, pages of background checks and approval forms and a lot of finger crossing later, the wonderful warden, Wanda Markland, (pictured here) gave her approval for my attendance. Vonnie and I made a date—-September 30th, 6:30pm at the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre.

What I never imagined was the excitement my presence at the book club would generate. From Warden Markland to the book club members, they made me feel like a rock star as I entered the impenetratable double door system and went behind the walls.

But, to be honest, I wasn’t sure of this Beauty & Grace presentation. What would these women want or need from me in talking about my book? What could I offer that would matter?

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As it turned out, the women only wanted and needed to talk about the ways in which the book allowed them to escape within its pages. They talked openly about the similarities between the challenges faced by my characters and their own situations. They expanded the discussion to friendships they have developed in prison and the importance of the support they provide each other. As they spoke it was clear that Vonnie’s love of books had connected these women in ways that were essential to their well being and their dreams for the future.

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An amazing two-and-half hours later, the women and I had extended our discussion beyond the club’s alloted time. Concluding the meeting, Vonnie announced the next book the women would be reading, I felt a pang of sadness, knowing these special readers would be moving on from Beauty & Grace to another author’s characters and storylines.

As the women gathered where Vonnie and I were seated to receive their October books, I heard a voice say the women had something for me. Turning toward the group, one of the women stepped forward and bowed as she presented me with a beautifully printed thank you card.

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Giggling like school girls we savored the moment as my presenter explained each one of them had written to me in this card. They wanted me to know just how important it was that I took the time to come and share the Beauty & Grace journey with them.

Doing my best not to cry, I promised that I would read each note and savor the card as a special reminder of the time we shared.

As Vonnie continued to try and move us out the door, one of the women spoke the words we were all thinking “I don’t want this to be over..” To which I immediately added, “Yeah, it feels like we should get in our jammies and have a sleep over.”

Silly? Perhaps.

But it was as close to a “not-allowed-in-prison” hug as we could all share.

Volksmarch

So far my trip to South Dakota has been an amazing learning curve of people. history, culture and food. Today that learning curve taught me a new word—-Volksmarch.

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According to the American Volkssport Association (who knew there was such a thing?!!) the meaning of the word is a walking event. Also termed, “volkswalk”. In Germany, these events were originally termed Volkswanderung - "volkswandering." and evolved into Volksmarch in the United States.

Though walking is the primary activity, the volkssporting movement also includes bicycling, swimming, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing. Special provisions allow for people with disabilities to participate in most events.

Depending on the event, participants will walk a distance of 3.1, 6.2 or 12 miles or longer, on a pre-determined outdoor path or trail, with the aid of posted signs or markings, or a map and a set of written directions. Worldwide there are more than 7,500 Volkssporting events each year, with an estimated participation of 10,000,000 people.of all ages and abilities participate. 

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I was completely unaware of Volksmarches until I met Jill Hendrix at the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival. The festival was the first stop along my South Dakota journey and I was immediately drawn to Jill’s Wyoming Silvers artisan booth for the gorgeous horse jewelry she creates.

Within minutes of my wandering through the displays of her work, Jill approached and we began to chat in a way that felt like we were best of friends. Before we were done, we’d bartered one of her beautiful necklaces for one of my Beauy & Grace Books and Jill invited me to go for a hike on Sunday.

When explaining the hike she said it was a local event in which she’d taken part once before and wanted to do again. She gave a name to the event that I’d never heard before but stuck in my mind as the Harry Potter “bad guy” Voldemort. Whatever. I was pleased to have connected with Jill and looked forward to sharing more time together.

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Over the ensuing three days, as I met more South Dakotaians, whenever I mentioned this “Voldemort “hike, they immediately nodded in recognition, correcting my terminology to Volksmarch. They then continued to extol the significance of the hike linking it to a memorial they named as Crazy Horse.

It wasn’t long before I realized that this so-called hike was much more than a casual walk through the woods and decided it might be prudent to do some research.

What I discovered was that Jill’s hike is officially titled, The Bi-annual Crazy Horse Volksmarch. Started in 1985, it is a 6.2-mile woodlands ramble to the world's largest mountain carving in progress in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. It is also is the most popular organized hike in the United States, with 15,000 walkers participating in their best year.

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WOW!

With a bit of trepidation, I set off Sunday morning to meet Jill in the Crazy Horse Memorial Information Center. Despite the South Dakota Weather Forecast of sunny and warm, my early morning drive to the memorial was filled with clouds and rain.

My mood was one of tempered excitement as I wondered if this 6 mile walking hike would be a stretch for my body?

Passing through the admission gates (where the fee for the day was waived in exchange for a donation of canned goods) I followed the flag waving volunteers to the appointed event parking lot.

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Following in a line of cars, I found myself rubbing my eyes to clear my vision as I thought I was seeing people on horseback directing drivers to their parking spaces.

A few feet closer and I realized it wasn’t the foggy morning or my eyesight playing tricks on me….there were women and men on horses moving from car-to-car as they guided them into their appropriate spaces. Clearly this was going to be a most interesting day.

Jill and I made out way to the registration area and waivered our rights to any injury claims the day continued to be dark and dreary.

I mentioned to Jill my wonder about the demanfrds of the hike and if I would be up to the challenge. She kindly encouraged me with assuances that I would be fine and then offered that we would take our time and stop, if and when needed, along the way. I appreciated her positive approach, despite railing against the thought of having to stop in the middle of thousands of hikers, like some old lady .

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Setting out we joined in a group of hikers from across the United States. Men, women and children of all ages, shapes and physical abilities. Picking our way through the clearly-marked, wooded trail, Jill and I found a walking pace that suited us both, chatting as we went.

People passed us, we passed others. Some relied on walking sticks, some powered using their own strength. There was even a woman 8-months pregnant, hiking with an entourage of husband and family ready to deliver the baby if need be.

It wasn’t long before I realized that this hike was not about competition or even endurance. It was about the chance to prove to oneself that it was doable and to experience the wonder of standing within touching distance of the 640-foot high Crazy Horse Memorial.

And to answer your question, yes, Jill and I stopped along the way, multiple times. Yet we were far from alone. And as we sat to catch our breath at 6,000 feet above sea level, we chatted with others doing the same.

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Two of those people were Ed and Brenda from Minneapolis, Minnesota. We met them as Brenda was waiting for Ed to get up from his boulder seat and start hiking.

As Ed rocked his body in motion to help him rise, I asked Brenda if I could help him? Smiling sweetly, she answered, “No. He’s fine.” And she was right. After a few forward and backs, Ed managed to pull himself up and start walking.

Jill and I partnered with the MInnesota couple for a while chatting about our lives and our communities. In the midst of our conversation Brenda shared that over the last three years Ed had lost 175 pounds.

She continued that part of his motivation was his lifelong dream to hike to the top of the Crazy Horse Memorial. I turned to Ed, who was making his way up the mountain one step at a time, and asked him about his weight loss and how he felt realizing this life dream. With a glow in his eyes, Ed told me about his measuring belt—-the belt he used to wear that now wraps around him one and a half times. He said he uses it to inspire others.

When at last Jill and I reached the top of the memorial, the sun had burned through the dreary clouds . Between my euphoria at completing the hike and standing next to the imposing head of Crazy Horse, my writer’s brain was in overdrive. There were so many stories to be told in this moment in time. Where to start?

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Fortunately, Volksmarch organizers placed craftsman currently working on the memorial around the site to answer questions and provide information.

.To my amazement, one of those craftsman was at the top, actually standing outside the protective fencing, on the edge of the mountain. Armed with a barrel of questions I made my way over and fired away.

The young man said he has been on the project for the last three years. He is not a sculptor or a mason. Rather, he is someone who can follow the guidelines of the 3-d designs and CAD drawings of both the mountain and the sculpture as it was dreamed and designed in the 1940’s by Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish-American designer and sculptor.

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As he continued to describe the next stages of sculpting of Crazy Horse’s arm and the horse that will support the arm, I tried to imagine the time frame of such complex and demanding work.

Asking that question, the young man said the hope is that it will be done in another 50 years. The fact that I will not be alive to see that completion washed over me within the realization of the complexity of this project.

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With my writer’s curiosity fully satisfied, Jill and I took our leave of Crazy Horse’s domain. The retun walk was a straight shot along a dirt and gravel driveway made to accomodate oversized drilling and digging equipment. Between our euphoria over reaching the top of the memorial and the downhill slope of our path, we only stopped once—-to shake out some stones that had become trapped in my sneaker.

Reaching the final descent area, we came upon an oversized sign.

The message was simple yet clearly reflected the spirit of Korczak Ziolkowski and the craftsmen who have and will continue to create this monument. And people like Ed whose lives have been changed by their desire to stand with Crazy Horse on his mountain.

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And me, who through my writer's dream was invited to come to South Dakota for the Festival of Books and am enjoying that opportunity to the fullest by experiencing the wonders of this region...like the here-to-fore unknown Volksmarch at The Crazy Horse Memorial.

Someday, a half century from now, I dream that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will travel to South Dakota to witness the completion of The Crazy Horse Memorial in all its glory.

When they do, I hope they they will read this story and see this photo and know who they are and where they come from.

Pier NOT Pierre and Changing the Palate of a Community

After almost two full days of South Dakota adventures, I finally got to something related to my writing and books.

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Saturday from 11am to 2pm, I enjoyed signing copies of Beauty & Grace at the charming Prairie Pages Booksellers. This independent book store is nestled into the Main Street of the City of Pierre, South Dakota’s state capital.

My hosts for the signing were Cassie and Sam, store employees and so much more. Both of these young women are passionate about books and their community and they welcomed me, along with all who entered the store, with a genuine warmth.

Throughout my signing I met booklovers who not only purchased copies of Beauty & Grace, but knew of me as an author. They also had heard that I would be speaking at the South Dakota Women’s Prison.

They expressed gratitude for my part in helping to make a difference for the women incarcerated there. It was pretty humbling to have a bit of renown in a city 1300 miles away from my hometown of Buffalo

Partway through my time at Prairie Pages, I dediced to broadcast a Facebook Live interview. Although Cassie and Sam were hesitant, it turned out to be a lot of fun….particuarly when we explored my inability to properly pronounce the name of their city.

While it is spelled, “Pierre,” in this part of the world South Dakotans pronounce it “Pier.” Check out the video for a first person view.

When my time for booksigning came to an end, I got back on the road to Rapid City. My plan was for some sightseeing fun before my author duties next week at the Women’s Prison and the Festival of Books.

Following Sam’s recommendation, I headed into downtown Rapid City for dinner at a place called Tally’s Silver Spoon.

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As I made my way to the restaurant, I glanced in the long line of oversized windows that define its exterior. What I saw was an interesting juxtapostion of diner style booths and forrmica tables set with fine linens and glassware.

Stepping inside I was intrigued by a circular bar enhanced by overhead contemporary lighting. Sosphisticated seating of round tables with dark wood chairs surrounded the bar area, again set with fine linens.

With the restaurtant at full capacity, I slid over to the bar and found an available seat next to three gentlemen who clearly were friends. As I ordered a glass of wine and a pasta dinner, I caught snippets of conversation among the three that further led to me understand that they were Tallys regulars.

When my dinner was served, the gentleman next to me asked about my dinner. It only took a few exchanges for us to realize that we were both Irish.

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From there we advanced to a first name basis ( his was Daniel) and began chatting as if we were old friends. Amid stories about our families and our communities Daniel also gave me a thumbnail history of Tallys.

He explained that before the new owner took over, it had been a diner—- a function it still filled during the day. Yet now at night, Tallys transforms into a fine dining restaurant with innovative cuisine such as Foie Gras of the Moment, Madako Cherry Shoyu Octupus Salad and Bison Maytag Marsala Mushroom Pasta.

As we finished our dinners, Daniel and I took a selfie and exchanged emails, pledging to stay in touch. He then introduced me to the gentleman next to him as his husband and the next man over as, Ben. We then spoke for a few momemts before the trio departed.

As I finished my glass of wine, the story of Tallys kept running through my mind. I wondered about the person who had the ability to envision a diner into such a unique restaurant . As the bartender passed, I asked if the owner was around. He cast a glance to where the three men had been sitting and replied, “I think so. His cell phone is still there on the bar.”

Within minutes the owner, Benjamin “Ben” Klinkel, returned to claim his phone. Without hesitation I began asking questions that led him through his career, begining with dishwashing duties in his grandfather’s restaurant at the age of 6, through culinary school in Oregon where he made a connection with Anthony Bourdain that resulted in a mentorship with a world famous chef.

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The end result of that chain of experiences brought Ben home to Rapid City where he is now the owner and executive chef of two successful restaurants. It’s a demanding career that this determined young man describes as “a responsibility” to create food in his community that allows people to learn that dinner can be more than a baked potato and a steak.

Before I left, I asked if I could take his picture outside of one of those former diner windows. In the dark of the night, with the backdrop of his staff and a full house of patrons, Ben patiently posed while I tried to capture all that I’d learned about Tallys and its owner in one snapshot. Somehow, I’m pretty sure we got it done.

Fourteen Days to The 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books: Day 14

I did it. I arrived with my overstuffed suitcase in tact, ready, willing and able to begin my ten days of book presentations, signings and related events. But before my author adventures, there was a South Dakota tradition I wanted to experience, one custom-made for a Buffalo gal.

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Fifty four years ago, the State of South Dakota decided to undertake a yearly roundup of the buffalos in Custer State Park. Their purpose was to medically treat the herd for the highly contagious Brucellosis disease, which threatened their continued existence.

Today, that practice is still in effect for medical reasons as well as a way to maintain a balance between the bison and the available forage in the park. It also has become one of the great tourist attractions for the state, drawing over 14,000 people from around the world to what has become a buffalo roundup and arts festival.

When I realized I would be in South Dakota on the date of this year’s roundup, I made a plan to not only attend, but to be there as an “official” reporter. I was determined to get up-close-and-personal to these impressive animals for which my hometown is named. Retreiving my media credentials at the park and following the advice of the roundup organizers, I set my alarm for 4:30am and went to sleep dreaming of thundering herds.

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The thing about South Dakota is that their roads wind through gorgeous landscapes, often at perilious angles.

As I began my 45- minute drive to the park in the black of the early morning, those curves, coupled with the unreliability of my GPS in the mountainous terrain, kept me on the edge of my driver’s seat.

It was only as I came upon another driver, who I prayed was headed to the same destination, that I realized I hadn’t been breathing!

As our mini caravan continued on in the darkness, we slowly began to gather more adventurous travelers snaking our way along the two lane roads.

When the sign for Custer State Park finally appeared, I felt the blood return to my fingers that had been gripping the car’s steering wheel for almost an hour.

Glancing at my car’s clock, I saw it was 5:55. Officlally I was 20 minutes earlier than the suggested time to arrive in order to avoid a long line of traffic coming in to the park.

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At 5:58am, everyone in my caravan came to a halt as we drove over a rise in a hill to the sight of cars as far as we could see.

It took until 7:15 am before we were finally directed into the west viewing area parking lot, settling in among cars with licence plates from throughout the United States. Energy and excitement filled the early morning air as people of all ages made their way to the feed tent for the roundup’s traditional pancake breakfast.

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I chose to skip the pancakes and instead headed directly to my exclusive reporting vantage. I was anxious to get a good spot and to chat up my fellow journalists, whom I’d been told were an international group. Feeling priviliged with my official purple media credentials around my neck, I followed a roundup official’s vague directions to go beyond the feed tent and down the hill. Once again, South Dakota gives a whole new meaning to certain terms…one of them being “hill.”

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As I approached the cliff between me and my reporter’s assigned spot, visions of movie scenes where the heroine tumbles and rolls down a rocky mountainside came to mind.

The fact that thousands of people were comfortably settled in their chairs at the top fo the cliff, ready to monitor my descent did nothing to enhance my confidence.

For the sake of storytelling brevity and my pride, let’s just say I made it down the hill without tumbling (one small slip doesn’t count) and took my place along a fenceline of camera-toting, lens-loaded journalists.

Considering the early hour and the time most had arisen to arrive, pretty much everyone along the fence was in a state of sleep, or at least semi-consciousness. Except, of course, for me, who was so excited to be there and share the story of the day with all of you….NOT.

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Once again the same mountains that interferred with my GPS made live broadcasting impossible. Undaunted, I recorded a few videos to post later and then began looking around, trying to figure out how to occupy myself until the estimated arrival of the buffalos——some two hours later.

Thankfully, a gentlemen claimed a spot alongside me on the fence. He was a 70-something retired research scientist, presently living in Texas, but truly a citizen of the world.

For the next two hours we shared stories of our lives. His involved residencey in six different states and travel to all 50, along with adventures in every continent of the world. He focus at the roundup was to capture that “one” photo that would satiate his photography hobby/passion.

We whiled away the time until at last we heard the far-off sound of what roundup veterans around us assured us was the approaching herd.

Word spread through the gathered crowds like an electric energy as people started standing and trying to spot any sign of the buffalo’s approach.

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Then the moment came. With a “there they are,” shouted out from the hill, the first brown dots began appearing on the far off landscape.

Within minutes the thousand plus buffalo were wrangled by horses and their riders along with pickup trucks and their drivers across and down the rolling hills into a fenced off area leading to pens. Everyone who had waited hours to witness this roiundup cheered and clapped in respectful awe.

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Riding alongside the herd was a trio of flagholders on horseback. The American flag led the way followed by the South Dakota State Flag and a POW flag—an inspiring sight that brought another round of applause from the audiences on both sides of the viewing areas. And for a few moments the Buffalo grazed while the horses, riders, trucks and drivers got into position to drive the buffalos into the waiting pens.

The lull in the action didn’t diminsh the crowd’s appreciation for the majesty of these animals that are a part of our nation’s history and heritage. It was almost magical to be separated only by wood and wire while observing them.

But suddenly our shared reverie was disconnected as riders commanded their horses to begin moving the herd. Slowly edges of the gathered animals started moving forwarded as mandated. Conversation among all gathered began to ripple as the energy of the brown furry beasts transferred through us. Then the eternal power struggle of man v. beast played out before our very eyes as the buffalo took control of the roundup to the delight of every person watching.

It was surely a South Dakota Roundup adventure custsom made for this Buffalo Gal.

Fourteen Days to The 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books Day 13

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Today I took flight to South Dakota for the beginning of a number of adventures, some planned and…. as I was about to discover….some complete surprises.

In the planned department, after landing at the Rapid City Airport, I drove to Custer State Park, located in the Black Hills. This is South Dakota's largest and first state park, named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer.

My purpose for this stop was two-fold. First, to pick up my media credentials for the park’s Buffalo Roundup happening the next day, and which I am going to attend and write about. Second, I wanted to explore the art festival that partners with the roundup as an annual park tourist attraction.

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The festival is defined by rows of white tents housing artisans who craft paintings, jewelry, candles, metal work and sculptures, wood carvings and furniture, stained glass, pottery, paper art, leather goods and felt and knit handiwork .

It’s a laid back atmosphere with country and folk music drifting across the grounds from live performances happening throughtout the festival.

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Also as you miight expect at the Buffalo Roundup and Art Festival, there are Buffalos for sale, of every shape and forml to take home as mementos.

I had a great time wandering the festival grounds, admiring the wide-ranging artists and chatting with them about their crafts.

Invariably, our chats evolved into a give-and-take that ended in conversation about my part in the South Dakota Festival of Books. Our creative passions immediately became common bonds that allowed us to engage on very personal levels.

After working my way through the festival grounds, there was one particular artist to whose tent I returned. It was filled with hand crafted glass jewelry, each piece more beautiful then the next.

When I first stopped at the tent I lingered long enough over a display of horse jewelry that the owner wandered over. Introducing herself as Jill, owner of Wyoming Silvers, she explanined the technique she used in creating the gorgeous jewelry—-more out of pride in her artistry than trying to make a sale. I told her about the horses my family once owned and from there we were trading stories like old friends.

When we got to conversation about my book, Jill gave me one of her business cards with her address.. She said she wanted to buy a copy of Beauty & Grace and asked that I mail it to her. I told her I wanted to buy some of her jewelry and suggested we work out a book-for-jewelry trade. Without hesitating, she agreed.

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As we finished the details of our big business transaction, we began talking about our plans for the remainder of the weekend. Jill said she was going to the Volksmarch at the Crazy Horse Memorial, a mountain monument under construction on privately held land in Custer County that one day will depict the Oglala Lakota Warrior, Crazy Horse. She explained it as an annual 5-mile hike up to the arm area of the unfinished sculpture. She’d done it once before and thought I would enjoy it.

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This is where the first surprising adventure of my South Dakota trip comes in.

Jill then asked if I wanted to go on the hike together. Without hesitating, I agreed.

So early Sunday morning a jeweler and a writer will share an adventure based on a conversation about their passions and the immediate bond that conversation created.

And so my South Dakota adventure begins….

Fourteen Days to The 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books Day 12

It’s nitty gritty time for packing as I leave for South Dakota bright and early tomorrow morning.

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While I have my clothes, shoes and accessories ready to go, I’m still working on the odds n ends—-things I use everyday at home and would be lost without on the road. One of the prime items in that category is my jewelry.

I realize that to most jewelry is an accessory. To me it is a marker, a reminder, a memento of meaningful people and places in my life.

A few pieces of my jewelry fall into the family heirloom category, but most of my earrings, rings, neclaces and bracelets are costume pieces purchased at a special event, while traveling, or given from someone with love.

While packing my jewelry for this trip, I realized that I have pieces directly related to my writing and my books. When it comes to Beauty & Grace, I am honored to own a beautiful handmade pearl bracelet. It was given to me by a woman who has become one of the most stalwart supporters of my writing work. She is also someone I have only met in the online world of Facebook.

Her name is Sylvia and she now lives in California, but we share the pride of having both called Eden, NY our hometown. In fact, that’s how we connected on Facebook a few years back.

From there it’s been a gradual evolution to where we message and email regularly, sharing our challenges and celebrating our successes. And in Sylvia’s case, praising my work and recommending it to others.

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It’s a joy being a writer, but it’s solitary, sometimes lonely and often nerve-wracking as you struggle to imagine, dream and craft words into stories and books people may never read, no less enjoy.. That’s where Sylvia’s bracelet comes in.

I expressed my writer’s insecurities to Sylvia one day. In return, she offered words of kindness and comfort . A bit later she followed-up with a message that our conversation caused her worry. As a result she was sending something that she’d made for me and I was to watch for it.

A few days later, as promised, a package arrived from my Facebook friend. When opened, it revealed a glowing pearl and silver bracelet. It was only on closer examination that I saw a charm attached with a seven letter word of encouragement.

“believe”

Like I said, it’s nitty gritty packing time. No doubt, despite my best intentions I will leave something at home that I wanted to bring—-but it won’s be my Facebook friend Sylvia’s bracelet. That bracelet will be on my wrist for all 11 days of my journey, evidence not only of Sylvia’s friendship and abiding belief in me as an accomplished author, but a reminder that I need to believe in myself that way as well.

Fourteen Days to The 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books Day 11

In and around planning and prep for my South Dakota trip, life goes on.

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There’s client work, family commitments, change-of-season tasks around my home, book presentations,.work on my new book and the basics of laundry, cooking and cleaning..

Somewhere in and among all that, I’m trying to get enough sleep to ensure that I am strong and healthy during my 11-days on the road.

One of the things not on my schedule right now is down time, but that is exactly what I enjoyed tonight thanks to my special friend, Michelle.

Weeks ago, Michelle and I partnered on a project for her business. She works in the field of medicare insurance and is one of the leaders in her industry as she is deeply commited to her clients and their health care needs. When we completed our project, Michelle and I spent some time chatting and she aske about my upcoming trip.

As I reviewed my South Dakota timeline, Michelle decided that before I headed west, I would need some pampering. Not waiting for me to respond, this sweet lady called her daughter, an accomplished esthetician who owns her own skin care business (https://www.holisticskincaresolutions.org) and arranged a facial, days before my departure.

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She then instructed me that, following my facial, I should plan on dinner at her home. As I gratefully agreed, I found myself looking forward to the prospect of being so wonderfully pampered.

Since then, in addition to life happening (see paragraph one ) my last-minute, to-do list for this South Dakota trip has gotten longer and more detailed as my addled brain keeps churning.

With the date for my facial and dinner approaching, it was clear that self care and relaxation were simply not going to be an option. Yet I didn’t want to offend my thoughtful friend by refusing her kindnesses.

This morning, when Michelle sent a text confirming our dinner and time, I decided the best tact was one of consideration. I replied that if her schedule was too busy, I would understand. We could postpone or cancel. Immediately she replied, “Let’s do it!”

And so we did.

Despite running late for my facial, forgetting a hostess gift for Michelle and delaying our dinner time, I followed her pampering plan from start to finish. By the end of the evening, my body felt refreshed (thank you Melissa!) , my mind was relaxed and my soul was renewed by the loving care of Michelle and her daughter.

And thanks to my wise friend I will be heading off to South Dakota feeling good …not just about myself, but about my life that goes on with the love and support of so many wonderful people around me.

Fourteen Days to The 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books: Day 10

I am blessed with two wonderful children who give all they have to ensure I am protected, cared for and don’t fall too far off the societal curve.

While my son’s care tends to focus on keeping me current in our shared field of Pr/Marketing as well all things sports, my daughter is relentless in sending me emails, texts and messages about the latest cultural and lifestyle trends. She is also thoughtfully generous in gifting me things she believes will improve my life.

While I am grateful for the amazing items my daughter chooses for me, I tend to have the same reaction to all of them. An immediate, “Oh wow! This is awesome. I can really use this.” Followed by a need to read the directions of whatever helpful life aid she’s provided, which inevitably results in my tucking it all away until I have, “ time.”

Such was the case with a gift my daughter gave me at least ten years ago---long enough that I had no idea I had it. That is until a recent reorg of my family room. In the very back of my family room closet, stuffed into a black plastic garbage bag I discovered a Shacke Pak - 4 Set Packing Cubes with Laundry Bag.

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For those uninitiated, Shacke is a company that has created a packing system of various sizes of, “cubes” that help compress, organize and store clothes when traveling.

As I unwraveled this packing system, a vague recollection of my daughter gifting me these cubes floated through my brain. No idea when or why, but it had her fingerprints all over it.

Additionally, at the bottom of that black garbage bag I retrieved two clear oversized plastic bags with black print covering one side. With a quick glance, I realized my daughter had also gifted these complimentary suitcase compression bags, used to reduce the size of packed clothes by forcing the air out of the clothing-filled bag.

I am sharing the story of my compression packing cubes and bags because today, I did my best to shoe horn 11 outfits, all coordinating accessories and complimentary shoes and boots along with an assortment of jackets and coats., into one suitcase for my upcoming South Dakota sojourn.

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The thing is, this suitcase of outfits doesn’t just contain clothing for my body, it holds my first impression wardrobe calling cards as I meet The South Dakota Festival of Books organizers, fellow authors and readers who attend this prestigious event.

That’s why this morning at 9:30 I started trying on clothes, coordinating tops and bottoms, adding belts and accessories and choosing the perfect footwear to finish each outfit. An hour and a half later, while I felt good about my festival wardrobe, comparing the looming stack of clothing on my bed versus the empty cavern of my nearby suitcase,I knew I was in trouble.

Then it came to me…..the packing cubes and compression bags!

Digging into that black plastic garbage bag, I retrieved all parts of my daughter’s thoughtful travel gift and did what I should have done a decade ago. I read the directions. I next went and watched a Youtube video on the Shacke packing process. Then I took the leap and spent the next hour undertaking a “practice” pack, to see what might overflow my suitcase and have to be left home.

As it turns out of my all outfits, accessories, boots and shoes are making the trip.

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That’s right, those two compression bags fit five coats in the space of one, while the cubes accomodated the rest of my perfectly matched outfits in four groups that fit neatly into my suitcase. Beneath them are the six pair of boots, one pair of shoes and a pair of sneakers.

And as I write this blog, I"m grateful for the practical gift my daughter gave me a decade ago. And I'm psyched that over eleven days, I’ll have eleven outfits to wear!

Fourteen Days to The 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books:  Day 9

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I’ve finally come to the week in which I’ll begin my South Dakota journey.

To prepare for being away from my home for 11 days and to organize myself for three Beauty & Grace Presentations/Signings, one lecture and two book signings I’ve created a check list of chores.

This list details outfit choices and a “dry-run” packing of my suitcase, taking care of my bills for the first week of the new month, putting my house and gardens in order, getting laundry done to ensure I don’t run out of socks and underwear, touching base with various South Dakota individuals to confirm my participation in my non-book fest events and writing this daily blog.

There’s also researching and planning my activities for the five days between my South Dakota Women’s Prison Book Club Presentation and the South Dakota Festival of Books. Last week I wrote about some of those plans, including my interest in attending the Custer State Park Annual Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival.

As I gave thought to the spectre of this annual roundup of 1300 Buffalo for medical check ups to maintain a strong and healthy herd, my storytelling muse began chattering in my head, reviving up my writer/reporter’s adrenaline.

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In short order I knew that I didn’t want to just witness this roundup, I wanted to professionally share the adventure of what I saw on my website and social media posts.

I called the Roundup and Arts Festival Organizers. Using my best Irish charm, I shared my expansive journalist/writer’s background and coupled that with my dairy farm family heritage and my farm manager experience in breeding, training and exhibiting horses.  I then asked for media credentials to be able to get up-close-and-personal to the buffalo roundup and tell the story.

The response of the person who’d answered the phone and listened to my presentation was direct and simple. “You need to talk to the person who issues those credentials. Let me put you through to his voicemail.”

Undaunted, I repeated my relevant resume and my quest for media credentials and asked for a return call.

The next day, I tempered my patience in waiting for a return call until mid-afternoon. At that point I redialed the event organizer’s phone number. This time I simply asked to be connected to the person in charge of media relations. (Old dog….new tricks!)

That’s how I met the lovely Lydia. She affirmed that, while my request was late by festival standards, it could be honored pending the completion of a roundup application. It was at this point my storytelling muse ramped up my adrenaline into a bolder request than just media credentials.

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In watching videos of the roundup, I’d noticed pickup trucks riding alongside the horses and riders as they guided the buffalos from the plains to the pens. In the bed of those trucks there were people riding and taking photos.

I wanted to be one of those people. And that’s what I blurted out to Lydia.

Holding my breath and hoping, I waited for her reply. It came in a simple ten-word statement. “You’ll have to call South Dakota Tourism.”

Inspired by my storytelling muse once again, I Googled the tourism department, dialed the number and chatted for a few moments with the receptionist. In short order, she graciously transferred me to Katlyn Richter, possibly the most personable individual to ever work for a tourism agency.

Not only did Katlyn listen to my review of my journalist’s background and storytelling experiences, she commented and asked questions about my varied career, as if she found it interesting. I really liked this girl!

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I followed up by stating that roundup organizers were granting me media credentials (ok…maybe my muse overstepped her boundaries a bit on that one, but we were on a roll.) I then made the big ask for a space in one of the roundup truck beds.

Continually-charming Katlyn explained that journalists from around the world attend this buffalo event for the chance to film, photograph and write about it. She added that most request their media credentials and special viewing privileges months ahead of the September event date. Sweetly apologizing, she proclaimed that due to my tardy timing, there were no places left in any of those truck beds.

As my muse comforted my disappointed heart, she also went to twirling around in my brain, trying to think of an angle that might somehow get me onboard a truck.

A cancellation list!

Those were the words that flew out of my mouth as I asked Katlyn to please create a list where she could put my name at the top of those ready, willing and able to answer a 5 am phone call that one of the truck bed riders was unable to make the roundup and I could now climb onboard. Not missing a beat, Katlyn cheerfully agreed and we said our good byes.

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The next day, I received confirmation of my press credentials. I immediately emailed Katlyn with the approved application and thanked her for her time in chatting with me. I also expressed my appreciation for adding me to the 5am Roundup Morning/Last Minute Call List. Not surprisingly, she responded with a thanks for the follow up and a hope to meet me, one way or the other, on roundup morning.

The great Walt Disney is credited with saying, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Here’s hoping between my muse’s dreaming and Katlyn’s kindness, as the sun rises on Custer State Park this Friday morning, I’ll be climbing into a truck bed, ready to do it….experience the adventure of a lifetime.

Fourteen Days to The 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books: Day 8

While there is much to look forward to during upcoming my South Dakota journey, day-to-day life goes on and demands my attention.

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My reality today dealt with the fact that when I return from my trip, it will be the second week of October.

In Western New York, that means the arrival of snow is an imminent possibility and a plant-killing frost is pretty much a definite.

While I don't have acres of gardens anymore, I do have a porch filled with plants and flowers that I nurture all summer and then welcome into my dining room to endure winter and wait out the return of warmth and sunshine.

While my time right now is fully booked, I knew leaving my plants on the porch until my return would be tempting the weather fates.

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So today I transitioned the porch furniture, cushions, pillows and rug to their respective storage places and brought all my plants into the kitchen to clip, pinch and transplant for their winter hiatus.

Of course, more than a few other of life’s realities interrupted my "gardening” task. As a result, my outdoor-to-indoor plant transition took more of my precious , pre-trip time than I’d planned.

Yet by the end of the day, my dining room was filled with greens and flowers and the promise of summertime beauty, no matter when Mother Nature commands the arrival of wintry weather.

Fourteen Days to The 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books: Day 7

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One week from today I will wake up in the great state of South Dakota. Custer City to be exact.

 My morning will start early as I roll out of bed at 5am and into the hills of Custer State Park for the Buffalo Roundup. I can feel my storyteller’s adrenaline already ramping up in anticipation of witnessing 1100 Buffalo being herded from the plains into pens where they will be recorded, inspected and cared for, before releasing them back into the wild.

However, by night’s end I will have switched directions dramatically as I meet with the woman whose invitation began my South Dakota journey. Her name is Vonnie Shields. She is the current Chair of the South Dakota Humanities Council (SDHC). She is also a book lover of the most passionate kind.

Vonnie’s book fervor has not only shaped her life, it has inspired her to a legacy of community service in coordinating authors and scholars for SDHC events and discussions, as well as promoting the council’s “One Book SD” program, where state residents are encouraged to read a selected novel or memoir throughout the year.  Her book love affair is renown throughout South Dakota and in 2013 earned her The South Dakota Humanities Council Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Award.

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In her personal life, this busy lady belongs to three book clubs and that is where Vonnie and I intersected.

Back in February of this year I was on a Beauty & Grace tour of Florida. At one of my presentations/signings  a woman purchased two copies of my book---one for her and one for her friend in South Dakota. At the time, I found that sort of amusing. Who in South Dakota would want to read my book?

As I soon found out, Vonnie Shields was that South Dakota reader and not only did she like Beauty & Grace, she wanted to suggest it to her book club as their September read.

Now book clubs are my meat and potatoes when it comes to traveling across the United States and introducing people to my work. To think that readers in South Dakota—a land far removed from my Buffalo, NY hometown---would be choosing to read my unknown author’s work was exciting and inspiring.

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Then Vonnie further explained her book club.

It’s a group she founded ten years ago based on her desire to share books with women she believed to be in need of support and inspiration. She set the membership at 12 and extended an invitation to join. And that’s how the South Dakota Women’s Prison Book Club began.

When Vonnie emailed to ask me to ship 12 books for the club, I was honored and immeasurably inspired. Writing is many things to me, but one of the most essential is the opportunity to share stories that can make a difference. In choosing Beauty & Grace, Vonnie explained that my book’s storyline of women who were institutionalized, often for reasons beyond their control, who struggled and yet survived offered a redemptive element that she felt would reach and impact the women prisoners.

It only took me a couple of emails with Vonnie before I was volunteering—pretty much begging—-to join the book club’s discussion of Beauty & Grace, in person. I had no idea how I was going to manage the trip, but I knew sharing the Beauty & Grace journey with the members of this book club would be life-changing—something I did not want to regret missing.

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The steps from begging to presenting have taken time and a lot of communication. Even though I’m a beloved mom and Nana and a good Irish Catholic girl, to boot, the South Dakota Prison System still required that I pass their sniff test. Three pages of information and affadavits later, I submitted their paperwork and then began worrying about any unpaid traffic tickets in my past!

Thankfully, I passed the investigation with flying colors and next Friday evening will be given a pink padge that will allow me entry behind the prison walls.

I’m not going to deny a certain concern over how I will react when those prison doors definitively close behind me. At the same time, the prospect of sitting with the 12 women of this book club and sharing my work that, for months, I wrote by “living” within the walls of an asylum, is deeply compelling. No doubt, I will learn more from them than any writer’s wisdom I can share.

It’s going to be quite a day, next Friday, the first full day of my South Dakota journey. And I am deeply grateful for Vonnie Shields and and her book lovers passion for making it happen.

Fourteen Days to The 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books: Day 7

Based on independent research, book festivals are becoming a national pastime, with at least 70 festivals happening across the 50 United States.

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In the case of the South Dakota, in 2003 the state’s Humanities Council Center decided to initiate their style of festival as, "... an opportunity to celebrate reading, writing and the literary arts on a grand scale."

Since that time, the council has become a well-oiled promotion machine, deseminating festival information to the general public and building a fan base via their website (http://sdhumanities.org/festival-of-books//), their highly interactive social media sites, an entertaining blog and a subscription-based email newsletter. The result of their efforts is an audience of over 4,000 book lovers who attend the festival over its four-day run.

For authors like me, who are presenting and exhibiting at the festival, council organizers are an incredibly proficient and supportive group. They regularly email and mail information on exhibition and presentation locations and times, festival dos and dont's and must-see tourist attractions. Additionally, they ably herd we authors through individual email check-ins with specific follow up details.

As a book festival newbie, there have been times when I have had unanswered questions. Without exception festival staff, festival staff, from the director, Jennifer Woster Widman to the office manager, Carolyn Speakman have answered my calls and provided me information with a heartfelt enthusiasm that has made me feel welcome right from the start. A nice feeling for a gal from back east!

After fifteen years of presenting close to one thousand authors, the SDFB definitely stands out as a festival that fulfills its mission of "celebrating the written word in South Dakota, extoling the rich heritage of the state, and encouraging authorship, literacy and reading. And I can't wait to be part of this year’s celebration.

Fourteen Days to The South Dakota Festival of Books:  Day 6

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In addition to the festival of books, I am excited about the adventures that I will be able to experience in South Dakota. I say adventures because the specter of this mountain state is fascinating.

South Dakota gets its name from the Dakota Sioux Native American tribes, in whose language "Dakota" means “friend” or “ally.” South Dakota ranks 16th in size among the 50 states, encompassing 77,123 square miles and averaging ten people per square mile. Those numbers make it the fifth least densely populated in the union. 

Its nickname is based on the state’s most famous attraction, Mt. Rushmore. It is littered with iconic locations such as The Black Hills, Deadwood and The Badlands and defined by with historic wild west icons including Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. And based on the fossil finds that have been made in South Dakota, it’s clear that dinosaurs also once called it home.

In researching my adventure options, the one that I have found most engaging is the Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival at Custer State Park.

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Now before I endure outcries from any animal rights groups, this roundup is focused on approximately 1,300 buffalo and serves as a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.

That being said, the first thing about this roundup that caught my eye is that event organizers offer 20 riding positions to the general public.

That’s right. I could apply to be one of the riders who help corral these regal buffalos. Sadly, applications closed in early June, so I will be relegated to spectator status. That along with the fact that I no longer have a horse with which to roundup!

More than 20,000 people are expected to attend this year’s roundup and arts festival and I plan on being front and center on Friday morning 6am. That’s the time event organizers suggest people arrive to claim a prime viewing spot of the herd as they lumber from the prairie to the corrals. It’s a process that they estimate will take two and a half hours. And that’s only for half the total herd. The rest will be gathered in October.

When I originally read about this roundup, I added it to my list of possible South Dakota to-dos. However, once I saw this YouTube video, I knew I had to be there for what will surely be an amazing adventure.

Fourteen Days to 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books:  Day 5

Over the four days of the 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books, there will be two large group (all authors) signings and 106 presentations and workshops offered to attendees. The presentation/workshop topics will range from writing and publishing to the background stories of various author’s books, fiction and non. From my perspective, it’s a whole new world of 60 authors and book experts from whom to listen and learn.

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In reading through the festival line up, I’ve selected a full schedule of events to fill in-and-around my own presentations and the group books signings. One of those events takes place on Saturday night. In fact, festival promoters have titled it with the wild west moniker of “A Saturday Night Special.”

The presentation will be a one-man show featuring author, Craig Johnson, generally known as a mystery writer from the town of Ucross, Wyoming, population: 25.

Specifically, Johnson is known as the New York Times Bestselling author of 14 novels, two novellas, and a collection of short stories  that have won numerous awards including The Western Writers of America's Spur Award, the Will Rogers Medallion Award for fiction, the Watson Award for a mystery novel with the best sidekick and the Wyoming Historical Association's Book of the Year award.

The most well-known of Johnson’s books is The Longmire Series based on the character, Walt Longmire, sheriff of the fictional county of Absaroka, Wyoming.  The series is comprised of 21 novels that have been translated into 14 languages and won numerous awards. The Longmire series was also developed into a television series for A&E, debuting on June 3, 2012  as the cable network’s number-one original-series premiere of all time with 4.1 million total viewers. It ran for four seasons on A&E and three additional seasons on Netflix, where it is now available for binging enjoyment.

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In reading through various bios on Mr. Johnson, while his genre is noted as, “mystery,” the use of terms such as western, spur, horse, mountains, plains and sidekick left no doubt that his storytelling is flavored with a tinge of the wild west and a dose of cowboy.

While I acknowledge that a good story is a good story, Western sagas have never been my cup of tea. That being said, weaving mystery into the web intrigued me.

Knowing that I would be listening and learning from this accomplished author/executive television consultant, I figured I needed to at least read one Longmire book or watch one of the video episodes. Comparing my overloaded schedule with my Longmire intentions, I chose the video option.

For the ensuing 55 minutes (sans commercials, thank you, lord!) I was engaged, enthralled and emotionally stimulated, from laughter to tears. Sheriff Longmire (played by Australian actor, Robert Taylor) is lanky, scruffy and damaged goods following the death of his wife. Yet his heart is dedicated to the people of Absaroka County. That passion is what keeps him reasonably functional and alive.

The characters around him are quirky and appealing, even when you hate them. Most significantly, the storyline is tightly woven within Longmire’s personal struggles, his professional duties and the challenges of sheriffing in Wyoming, including Native American prejudices on both sides of that racial divide.

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The backdrop of the story is perfectly filmed, although in New Mexico, not Wyoming. Regardless, the scenes are filled with minute attention to detail in a land that is vast and rugged. To summarize, episode one of the first season was terrific and I now know what I will be binge watching during my long cold Buffalo, NY winter.

And now I am truly looking forward to attending Craig Johnson’s Saturday Night Special Presentation. Not because of his fame and fortune author’s career, but because of the characters he has created that, wild west cowboy or not, have infiltrated my soul.

Fourteen Days to The 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books: Day 4

One of the biggest thrills of being invited to the 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books is the opportunity to speak, not just once but TWICE! And yes, the specter of those two presentations is keeping me awake at night in excited anticipation.

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I am pleased to be presenting The Story Behind the Story of Beauty & Grace on Thursday of the festival at 3 pm on the main floor of the Deadwood Public Library. I have been traveling the country telling this story and know it is a compelling presentation that impacts audiences of every age and interest.

My other presentation will be my first, on Tuesday, opening day of the festival, this time at 1 pm on the main floor of The Deadwood Public Library. I’ve titled it, “What You Want to Write and Why.” This is a talk I will be crafting over the next few weeks, but it’s one I know by heart, as I have lived it.

As I say in my SDFB Author Video, I have been a storyteller all my life. It’s only in the last decade that I have truly understood that telling stories through written and spoken words is who I am, what I am meant to do with my life.

It’s taken me forty years and more than a few incarnations of my writer’s being to come to this realization. In that time I have written diaries, essays for personal reflection and public competitions, slice of life pieces for my Op-Ed newspaper column and my WBFO listener commentaries, detailed profiles for The Ridgewood, New Jersey Newspapers and a number of local, regional and national magazines, voice over and story copy for my WBFO Special Reporting duties and WECK talk radio show, scripts for my 64 and More year-long, international interview project, political campaign speeches, slogans and news releases for myself and other candidates as well as press releases for a host of clients from insurance agencies and national ad jingle writers to a world championship horse farm. And I have penned (actually typed) four books with a fifth on the way.

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I list the above not to brag about my accomplishments. Rather to clearly demonstrate that determining what you want to write and why is often a circuitous route. One with which I am intimately familiar and might be able to help others shorten, at least a bit.

The beauty of this talk is that with the caliber of attendees at this festival, I am assured of learning as much as I share and I look forward to interacting with lovers of words, language and books in our common journey of discovering who we are and what we are meant to do with our lives.