Everyday adventures

Happy Little Lists

March 01, 2024

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

It’s no secret that I love a good list. In addition to ordinary to-do lists, I make seasonal fun lists, list of books I want to read, and more. I even have a “Do Not Do” list

(Maybe I love lists a little too much?) 

“Attack of the Killer Lists” notwithstanding, I think lists can be a good way to corral things you want to remember, provide you with alternatives to less healthy activities, even be a source of happiness and uplift in and of themselves. These lists are fun to make!

Here are 15 Happy Little Lists you could make:

  1. Happy Little Things—keep a running list of all the little things that make you happy. It might be only one each day, week, or month, but over time, that list will grow. (An alternative to the Happiness jar.
  2. Favorite calming and soothing activities for when you start to feel stressed out. Having this ready ahead of time can keep you from crashing and burning.
  3. Places you want to travel. I’ve started a five-year travel wish list because I’m not getting younger or fitter, and time is not slowing down.
  4. Possible little adventures and big adventures you could schedule each week (from Laura Vanderkam’s book Tranquility by Tuesday.)
  5. 100 dreams, also a Laura Vanderkam idea. 
  6. Short, fun activities you can do when you have a few free minutes and you don’t want to scroll your phone.
  7. Books/movies/music you want to consume this year. What new artists are you interested in, and what movies or books are you looking forward to this year?
  8. Places you want to explore, or restaurants you want to try in your hometown. A good way to support local small businesses as well as have some fun!
  9. Quintessential [insert your home state] experiences—beyond your hometown. In Florida, these might include visiting Disney, eating key lime pie, hitting the beach, wearing shorts in February, seeing an alligator in the wild, visiting the Everglades. What makes your state unique? If you moved out of your state, is there anything you’d regret not seeing or doing?
  10. Best dining experiences you’ve ever had. What made them so special? I’m thinking of a dinner at The Olde Pink House in Savannah, GA. Savoring happy memories, whether of a meal or some other experience, increases enjoyment of life.
  11. Favorite books/movies/music. Maybe it’s time to revisit them?
  12. People who inspire you to be the best and happiest version of yourself. Who do you care about who you don’t want to disappoint? Who would you like to emulate?
  13. Things you’re looking forward to. Maybe it’s a summer vacation, a visit with family, or even an afternoon spent doing only what you want to do.
  14. Things you want to learn. Maybe you want to try a new hobby, learn a new language, or figure out how to do a simple home repair. Learning new things is sooo good for our brains and our mood
  15. Tiny ways to treat yo-self.

 What would you add to this list of lists?

Everyday adventures

Field Trip Friday—The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

December 09, 2022

Welcome to Hogwarts 

Every now and then, you have to leave the real world behind and have a little fun. That’s what I did on Tuesday with my friend Mary. Ever since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Studios Florida, we’ve wanted to go check it out. But we’re Muggles with jobs and responsibilities and busy schedules, so this was easier desired than done. Finally, Mary took the initiative and chose a week she could make work, and after some back-and-forth, we found a day we were both free. If there’s one life lesson that keeps slapping me in the face, it’s “If you want to do something, don’t wait—there may come a time when you won’t be able to do it and you’ll live with regret.”

So off to Harry Potter World we went.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually split into two parts—one section, Diagon Alley, in Universal Studios Florida and one section, Hogsmeade, in Islands of Adventure. Pause here to admire the marketing genius of Universal Resorts: if you want to see the entirety of Harry Potter World, you have to buy a Park-to-Park ticket. Fortunately, they also offer ticket deals for Florida residents, and while the entrance fee was not cheap, it was doable. I also think if you’re a Harry Potter fan, it’s worth it to spring for the entire experience.

Diagon Alley

Hidden behind the London waterfront, is Diagon Alley.  Before you even enter the area, you can see the the Knight Bus (which in the books, picks up stranded witches and wizards), and 12 Grimmauld Place, the ancestral home of Sirius Black’s family, and the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. I missed this, but apparently house elf Kreacher looks out of an upstairs window every few minutes.

Once you enter Diagon Alley, you’ll find in adorable detail many of the locations made famous in the books and movies, including Gringotts Bank (topped by a fire-breathing dragon, see below), Ollivander’s wand shop (“Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 BC”), and the Leaky Cauldron (a restaurant). In one shop, you can trade U.S. currency for Gringotts bank notes, which you can use to buy things in the Wizarding World as well as a few select places in Universal Orlando.

We strolled through Knockturn Alley, the “seedy underbelly” of the wizarding world—dark and spooky, anchored by the shop Borgin and Burkes—just the place to go if you want to get out of the hot Florida sun while you search for objects of magical properties.

Before leaving Diagon Alley, we rode Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (fun) and, yes, we drank a butterbeer.

All aboard the Hogwarts Express

To get from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade, we boarded the Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross Station. From Platform 9 ¾, of course. The short train ride left us on the outskirts of Hogsmeade, which, amazingly in sunny Florida, retained snow-capped roofs.

Hogsmeade nestles up against Hogwarts Castle, where we walked through the passageways of the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry before joining Harry and his friends for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a “scenic dark ride” where, among other things, you follow Harry through a Quidditch game and escape from the Whomping Willow.  

In Hogsmeade, we also braved Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which was a true roller coaster, and left us screaming and laughing…and staggering a little since it was a bit more exciting than we were expecting!

To recover, we went to sweet shop Honeydukes, where I bought a chocolate frog and some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

My friend and I had a fantastic time exploring Harry’s world, and there were so many things to see and do that I would be happy to go back. I loved seeing kids and even some adults dressed in Hogwarts’ robes—it was so fun to feel immersed in a magical world for just a day.

Harry Potter magic

I have really fond memories of reading the Harry Potter books to our son and later, going to see the movies as a family. For me, forgive the pun, the series has been magical. As the series progressed and our son grew up, eventually I was reading the books just for myself! In fact, I preordered the last in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and read it over the course of a day or two when it was released because I didn’t want anyone to tell me how it ended. The first and last time I’ve ever done that.

Hope you’ve enjoyed a peek into the magical world of Harry Potter—and that the next time an opportunity for some silly fun comes your way, you take it!

When was the last time you had a fun and silly everyday adventure?

Everyday adventures

Field Trip Friday—Whidbey Island, Washington

July 15, 2022

From Fort Casey State Park--Mt. Rainier in the distance

I’m still sorting through the notes, photos, and impressions of my recent trip to California and Washington. I’ve always embraced the simple pleasure of anticipation, but I’m still figuring out how to savor and extend the good memories of experiences like travel once I return home. I mostly just dive back into everyday life and all its attendant activities without taking time to savor my trip. It’s a work in progress!

Before everything becomes one confused blur, I thought I’d share just one day’s explorations while I was in Washington.

Whidbey Island

I went to the Seattle area to visit my wonderful friend Kerri. Kerri is the best tour guide, though you’d better wear comfortable shoes if you want to keep up with her. For example, on the day in question, we took a brief ferry ride to Whidbey Island where we visited:

The town of Langley 

Bayview Farm and Garden 

The Chocolate Flower Farm

Greenbank Farm 

Meerkerk Gardens 

Admiralty Head Lighthouse at Fort Casey State Park

I know, right? My pedometer only logged a bit over 11,000 steps that day.

It would take me thousands of words to record all that we saw and experienced just that one day, so I’m just going to hit a few highlights.

We started the morning in the charming little town of Langley. We checked out the whale bell (“Spy a whale, ring the bell”) and a few of the shops, where I saw a number of tempting purchases that I would have made, except I was saving room in my suitcase for our next destination. 

The whale bell at Langley
Steps to the beach

I’ve been dying to go to the Chocolate Flower Farm, where they specialize in dark maroon colored plants and those that smell like chocolate (their most popular plant is a chocolate cosmos). They also sell products like raspberry and chocolate jam, chocolate candles, and cocoa butter-based body products (that make you smell like chocolate). We were too early in the season for the chocolate plants, but it was still a beautiful place to visit, and I stocked up on the items I knew I wanted to bring home with me.

Chocolate Flower Farm residents

Kerri had never been to Meerkerk Gardens before, so we spent some time exploring the walking trails, and sitting beside a pond listening for birds. Once we were away from the entrance, we saw few people—just birds, salamanders, rabbits, and one very startled deer. Not surprising, as Meerkerk has 10 acres of display gardens and 43 acres of woodlands.

We were almost through with our day by the time we got to Fort Casey State Park and Admiralty Head Lighthouse. We were just in time to get photos of a ferry approaching, with Mt. Rainier in the background (see photo at the top of this post). 

We followed this trail...
To this view

Exploring new places, especially those as beautiful as Whidbey Island, is one of my favorite simple pleasures. And while the climate in Washington is much more comfortable than the climate here in Florida, I can’t help wondering what beautiful places I’m missing here because the humidity and heat keep me indoors. It’ll be a few months before I’m ready to spend any time outside that I don’t have to spend—but I’d like to make time to do more exploring. Between Covid and caregiving (and maybe the teensiest bit of laziness), I’ve spent more time in my home over the past two and a half years than anyplace else. And while I love being at home, I’m ready for some outside stimulation.

Have you had any summer adventures lately? Do share in the comments below!


This Is 27--Happy Birthday, Tank!

February 18, 2022

Though like all registered American Quarter Horses, Tank turned another year older on Jan. 1, his actual foal date is Feb. 18. For reference, a 27-year-old horse is roughly equivalent to a 78-year-old human. (And to answer the question nearly everyone asks, horses live an average of 25-30 years.) 

Tank is finally starting to show his age, though he’s still in remarkably good shape for an old guy. I’m currently working with his vet and farrier on a non-life-threatening lameness issue that is keeping me from riding him. Even so, we have had to turn him out alone in a smaller enclosure because he was goofing with the younger horses and galloping around like a maniac because of the cooler weather. He still gets plenty of grooming, carrots, and treats, and I’m going to look into alternate activities to do with him while he’s temporarily sidelined, and for when riding is permanently off the table. Maybe I can teach him to paint

At the end of this month, we will have been together for 18 years. I’d wanted a horse since childhood, and when my husband and I were contemplating relocating to Florida (his home state) from California (mine), he sweetened the deal by promising that I could have a horse if we made the move. I don’t think either of us really thought that would be possible, but I filed that promise away for many years until time and finances made it possible to consider. Tank has been one of the best investments of time and money I’ve made in my life.

Tank has been a friend and partner through adventures, he’s taught me lessons in patience, sacrifice, kindness and courage. During our rides, he’s helped me dig deep to conquer fear. I’ve learned to put aside my own comfort to give him what he needs when he’s sick or injured (twice a day visits to the barn to flush wounds or medicate eyes during the height of summer heat and humidity…). I’ve cried into his mane, and allowed the sound of him munching hay soothe the sore spots in my heart. We’ve gone on trail rides, explored different types of terrain and jumps at Fannin Hill Farm, and hit the water together at a lake and the beach. I’ve spent hours just hanging out with him while he grazes. And as a bonus, I’ve met some of my closest friends at the two barns where he has lived. I’ve written about our experiences many times here on Catching Happiness. A few highlights:

I wrote about the process of finding him for the AQHA’s member magazine: “Why, Yes, That Was Me in the December Issue of America’s Horse.”

I’ve “learned to speak horse” and hosted horse birthday parties.

I’ve imagined what it would be like “If My Horse Had an Instagram Account.”

I’ve learned so many life lessons along the way, like this one.

And I’ve shared some of our more mundane experiences in “Look Mom, No Cavities!” and “A Little Off the Top and Sides and…Belly.”

Here are a few photos from our time together. Happy birthday, Tank—thank you for all the simple pleasures and everyday adventures!

Fannin Hill

Our first day together

Beach boy

Experimenting with riding without a bridle

Ho ho horse

In his prime, with a shining summer coat

The two of us just hanging out

Summer 2021

Tank and Paloma, the first of his lady friends at our new barn
Contemplating life

On the trail

Happy New Year 2022


Signs of Normalcy?

October 22, 2021

I ran some errands this week. It was very exciting.

If you’re like me, you’ve been putting off errands, or ordering stuff online, or just doing without, because The World is Awful and What Difference Does It Make If I Have Potted Mums on My Front Porch Because No One Will See Them Anyway.

But Florida’s COVID numbers are down, and I needed to drop off some books at the library and buy groceries, so I figured, why not throw caution to the wind and go to a nursery and buy some pretty mums to brighten up our porch and lanai? You know, add a little fall cheer to our décor. (Plus buying fall flowers was on my Fall Fun List.)

So I did. And I bought one of those cute little pumpkins the squirrels love so much (but I’m putting that on the screened lanai instead of the porch, so there, squirrels.)

This week is the first time I’ve felt somewhat normal in oh, 18 months or so, partly because I’m doing “normal” things—buying groceries, decorating for fall, planning a family get-together (someone will see my mums!), focusing on seasonal pleasures like pumpkin spice lattes (had one of those this week, too).

I know in some ways nothing will ever be the same. Still, I’m encouraged to find that the simple pleasures of seasonal decorating, flowers, good things to drink, even running pleasant errands, can bring me joy again after such a long stretch of unhappiness and anxiety.

I hope you’re finding some signs of normalcy in your life—please share any simple pleasures and everyday adventures you’ve enjoyed recently in the comments below!


A Fall Fun List—the Something to Look Forward To Edition

October 08, 2021

Photo by pure julia on Unsplash

It feels like it’s been a long, long time since I had something to look forward to. Sure, I’ve had the occasional outing or simple pleasure, but they’ve been few and far between. During Florida’s hot summer months I tend to conserve my energy, as evidenced by my tiny summer fun list.

I don’t usually make a fall fun list, but this year I’m going to. I need something to look forward to. And so do you.

The importance of anticipation

Having something to anticipate with pleasure helps us to imagine a more positive, hopeful future, rather than a litany of work, bad news, and stressful events. Planning a future simple pleasure or everyday adventure gives us a small feeling of control. When my planner pages have a coffee date with a friend or a notation that I intend to catch up on my magazine reading instead of only doing work and errands, I feel a small mood boost. I’m going to do my best to do all of these before the first day of Winter, Dec. 21.

My fall fun list

  • Resume attending touring Broadway productions at the Straz in Tampa. First up: Tootsie at the end of October. 
  • Go see Dune in a theater with my husband.
  • Decorate my house for fall.
  • Do my current jigsaw puzzle. It’s not fall-themed, but I’d like to put it together before buying any more puzzles.
  • Buy some fall potted flowers—mums or?
  • Walk at a local park or recreation area with my husband and dog.
  • Eat dinner at Bern’s Steakhouse with another couple. We’ve had to cancel this meal twice because of COVID. 
  • Choose a new set of inserts for my planner for 2022. 
  • Plant some cool season veggies and herbs. Hope springs eternal, despite some pitiful efforts in the past. 
  • Read and/or write outside…once we get a real cold front.
  • And yes, drink at least one pumpkin spice latte.

What are you looking forward to this fall?

Thank you to Laura Vanderkam, whose fall fun list inspired this post.

Everyday adventures

Field Trip Friday—Silver Springs

April 23, 2021

“There’s one!” I pointed.

The rest of the passengers on our glass bottom boat swiveled their heads to the rear of the craft, where a large mass floated beneath the surface: a manatee!

The guide gently reversed and drifted over the creature, and we could see him (her?) grazing on the grasses at the bottom of the river.

Those two blobs are manatees

My heart lifted, as we looked down into the crystal water, or up to the cobalt sky dusted with puff-ball clouds, or to the river’s banks where cypress trees dipped their toes into the turquoise water. Anhingas dried their wings and alligators lounged in the sun. For 90 minutes, we moved slowly up and down the Silver River on a glass bottom boat, while our guide told us about the springs, the wildlife, and the history of the park.  After a year of pandemic precautions, stress, and upheaval, it felt so good to be out exploring in the world.

Sometimes conditions combine to create a situation that is more than the sum of its parts. My recent visit to Silver Springs State Park was one of these experiences.


It started when my friend Kerri, a teacher from Washington State declared she was coming to Florida for her spring break following completion of her Covid-19 vaccinations. We’ve made it a habit to try to see each other once a year, often on her spring breaks, when we meander around the country exploring (and, of course, catching up on what’s been happening in our lives). Because of Covid and other factors, we hadn’t seen each other in three years! That’s a lot of catching up.

We decided this year to meander up central Florida and into the panhandle, where she planned to meet some friends she’d known since high school. I was game, so we set out. Our first destination is the subject of today’s Field Trip Friday.

Silver Springs

Silver Springs was one of the first tourist attractions in Florida—glass bottom boats have plied the 5.4-mile river since the 1870s and the story goes that they were invented here. But once Disney, Sea World and Universal Studios opened theme parks in the Orlando area, visitors began to drop off. The river also suffered from environmental problems associated with fertilizer runoff and septic outflow (eww). In 2013, the Florida Park Service took over control of the attraction, and merged it with the adjacent Silver River State Park, creating the current Silver Springs State Park. The Park Service seems to have done a great job restoring and preserving the river. Hiking, mountain biking, equestrian trails, camping, and various educational exhibits complete the state park complex.

A glass bottom boat tour is a great way to explore the river (choose from 30- and 90-minute options), but if you prefer, you can rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard. No swimming is allowed. Thirty springs make up the Silver Springs group, and the largest one, Mammoth Spring, provides about 45 percent of the flow of water.

Glass bottom boat

But we didn’t come to Silver Springs to look at water. We were hoping to see the animal “trifecta”: alligators, manatees, and believe it or not, monkeys.

We knew there’d be no problem seeing alligators. Here’s one for your viewing pleasure:

Say “cheese”

And as you know from the intro, we were lucky enough to see manatees, too. But monkeys? Why are there even monkeys at the park? Well, it seems that in 1938, entrepreneur Colonel Tooey decided to bring monkeys to Silver Springs to enliven his Jungle Cruise boat ride. He placed his primates on an island in the river, not realizing that the monkeys could swim (apparently he thought he was buying non-swimming squirrel monkeys rather than the rhesus macaques he wound up with). All the monkeys escaped the island, and their descendants swing through the trees along the Silver River, as well as spreading out into the Ocala National Forest and other areas. (The monkeys can be aggressive and some carry a virus harmful to people, so we weren’t tempted to get close to them. This photo was taken with a long camera lens!)

Silver Springs on the silver screen

You may have caught glimpses of Silver Springs on the silver screen. Scenes from Rebel Without a Cause, Moonraker, Creature From the Black Lagoon, six Tarzan movies, and Sea Hunt were all shot here. In fact, you can still see props from several shows in the clear water, including sunken statues used in the 1960s Bill Cosby/Robert Culp show I Spy.

Silver Springs was ideal for getting out of the house during a pandemic. We could be outdoors, soaking in sunlight, walking, talking, taking photos, drifting on a lazy river and still feel safe. Even thought things aren’t “back to normal,” getting outside and seeing a new place is good for the spirit. And I think we all need that right now.

How can you take in inspiration and adventure in this pandemic world? Is there someplace you feel safe visiting as spring days get warmer?


Strange Days

April 06, 2020

A little bit of spring from California a couple of years ago

Life continues to feel surreal. Most of us are down to visiting the grocery store and staring at our own four walls. My big outing of the week is a trip to the barn to take care of Tank. If I happen to run into anyone, we stand at least six feet away from each other and shout pleasantries. Weird.

Nearly everyone I know and the majority of the people I follow on social media or the Internet is relentlessly trying to remain positive and encouraging, and I could not be more grateful. My mother-in-law sent the whole family an email with only these words:


I have no idea what life will be like once this is “over.” Will it ever be over? Did someone hit a reset button somewhere?

I’ve been too tired and distracted to do much of anything, and even my reading has suffered. I don’t have a lot of work deadlines right now, but I do have personal writing projects I’d like to pursue, and I can’t seem to motivate myself to do them. I’ve tried breaking them down into smaller and smaller bits, but so far haven’t found a small enough bit to accomplish.

But today is the start of a new week, a week in which I will continue to enjoy simple pleasures and maybe even an everyday adventure or two—for example, I need to pick up a few items at the grocery store today—wish me luck! I will try again to be more productive with my time, whether I use it to clean up a mess (have you noticed the Persistence of Messes even in times of pandemic?), or to write a haiku, or to otherwise play around with words hoping to find the magic combination that resonates in my mind as being something I want to share. 

I will read books from my unread shelf, and library books that have been stranded with me. I will take Luna for walks, and brush Prudy. Tank is scheduled to have his yearly vaccines this week. I will make dinner, and do laundry, and otherwise keep our home a place of safety and comfort. My husband’s business is considered essential, so he is still going to his office, though it is closed to the public and only one other employee is working there with him (the rest are working from home).

I will take it one day at a time. Life goes on, even in these strange days. 

And how are you doing?

While avoiding too much news, I have found some solace online. Here are some links you might find inspiring or helpful:

If you have extra time on your hands, you could do worse than joining Yale University’s “The Science of Well Being” course, available free through Coursera.

“Pandemic Positivity” downloads from Positively Present.

I’m partway through watching this TED Connects video with Elizabeth Gilbert.

And finally, I leave you with this, the best thing I’ve seen online all week (thanks for sharing, Kerri):

Stay home. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Love you all!


So What Do You DO With Yourself Now?

March 23, 2020

Are we there yet?

With much of the US (and the rest of the world) either “social distancing” or “sheltering in place,” all you extroverts and work-outside-your home folks must be going crazy. While my day-to-day life hasn’t changed that much (I admit I miss the library), I can certainly sympathize with the frustrations of having your schedule turned upside down, and having to fill hours of the day productively rather than stewing and worrying uselessly. Yes, of course, you can binge watch TV or movies, or read, but here are a few more simple pleasures and everyday adventures for while you’re sheltering at home:

Bake something. Blow the dust off your bread machine (do people still have those? I do!), mix up a batch of your family’s favorite cookies, or use up the over-ripe bananas in banana bread. I find baking very calming, not to mention yummy.

Take a walk in nature. Obviously, you should only do this if you can do it safely, but there really is something so uplifting about getting some fresh air and sunlight. (Plus, you probably need the exercise—see first suggestion.) 

Take an online art class. Laure Ferlita’s online watercolor classes are fun, accessible, and reasonably priced. She just launched a new one last week, Spring Wreath. (No affiliation except friendship!)

Doodle with Mo Willems, Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence. Primarily aimed at kids, but still fun for adults! As he says, “You might be isolated, but you’re not alone. You are an art maker. Let’s make some art together.”

Watch and listen to the Berlin Philharmonic in their digital concert hall, free for 30 days, if you register by March 31. So soothing.

Participate in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Stay At Home Book Tour. The first event was today, but there’s one every day this week, and if you can’t join live, there will be replays available. Learn about it here.

Fill your mind with positive, encouraging, and uplifting things, like:

This post, by Dani DiPirro of Positively Present.

This interview with author Rebecca Solnit. Her book A Paradise Built in Hell, “describes how in the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters…human beings tend to respond by banding together, not tearing apart.”

No doubt this is a hard and scary time. Let’s get through it together. Share the things that are helping you in the comments below!

Artist's dates

Field Trip Friday—Books and Bites with Author Lisa Unger

February 21, 2020

Lisa Unger with yours truly

It’s been far too long since I allowed myself either an artist’s date or a Field Trip Friday, so today I rolled them into one and headed to Tampa for a Friends of the Library event featuring bestselling author Lisa Unger

Unger is the author of 17 novels, her books have been published in 26 languages, and she’s been nominated for multiple awards, notably two Edgars* in 2019, an honor only a few authors can claim. She describes her work as “character-driven psychological suspense,” and I can attest that her books are hard to put down. I've only read a few of them, so I was excited to see how many I have left to enjoy. My next read will be the signed copy of her most recent book, The Stranger Inside, that came home with me! 

After we enjoyed lunch provided by local restaurant La Segunda, Unger shared some of her background and her writing process. Then she took questions. After her talk and the question and answer period, she signed books and chatted with attendees. Her husband kindly took the photo of us together that you see above. 

A few things that I found especially interesting:

Her family moved a lot and Unger was frequently the new kid. “The page was my first home,” she said. (Me, too!)

She’s been a writer all her life (“I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t define myself that way,” she said), though she didn't think she’d be able to write for a living, a belief influenced by her engineer father who didn’t think writing was a job.

She inherited her love of story from her librarian mother, who shared all types of books and movies with her daughter as she was growing up. Of her mother’s bookshelves, Unger said, “If I could reach it, I could read it.”

After attending college in New York, where she studied all kinds of writing from poetry, to screenwriting, to journalism, Unger took a job in book publishing, because it was the closest thing she could find to her dream. She worked in publicity, helping authors with book tours and planning events, and was so good at it that her time available to write kept shrinking.

Eventually, she had an epiphany. “I was in the wrong job and I was with the wrong guy. I wasn’t doing the thing I wanted to do. I’d never even tried.” She decided she could live with failure, but not a “slow fade to nothing.” She kept her job (but broke up with that guy), and started writing every day, making it a priority to work on a novel she’d started at age 19.  One and a half years later, at age 29, she finished.

When Unger completed her novel and went about trying to find an agent for it, she admits she was scared. It wasn’t just her book that was on the line, it was her identity: “Who am I if I am not this?” she said. Fortunately for all of us, that book found an agent, and that agent got Unger a two-book deal. Angel Fire, the first of four books in the Lydia Strong series, was published in 2002. (Miscione is Unger’s maiden name.)

It takes her nine months to a year to complete a first draft, followed by several more drafts, as well as “the second part of the creative process,” which she explained is the discussion and incorporation of notes she receives from her husband, editor, and agent. These help her manuscript to become the best possible book. It takes another year between when the book is first turned in until it’s ready for publishing. She never opens the finished book, because by then there’s nothing she can change about it!

She met her husband at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West. It was love at first sight, at least on her part, she said. They’ve been married for 20 years, and have a 14-year-old daughter.

On writing books:

A lot of people want to write a book, even make plans to write one. It’s an accomplishment just to finish a manuscript. Whether or not it gets published.

You should do it because you cannot not do it. Getting published is beside the point. It’s always about the work, the writing.

I’ve been feeling very blah about writing lately (witness the lack of entries on this here blog), and while I’ve been making it a point to sit down to write something nearly every day, I’ve definitely been lacking a spark. I’m so glad I took the time to go to this author talk, because not only was Unger herself charming, warm, and easy to approach, she inspired me to come home and sit down in front of my laptop. It’s a start. 

*Edgar Allan Poe Awards, presented annually by the Mystery Writers of America

To learn more about Lisa Unger and her books, please visit lisaunger.com, or her Amazon author’s page.


Trip Highlights: Acadia and Bar Harbor

October 07, 2019

One of the planned highlights of our trip to New Hampshire and Maine was our time in Acadia National Park. We spent two days exploring the park, and nearby town of Bar Harbor.

We had made reservations for two nights in Bar Harbor, which was wise because Bar Harbor was bustling, even in the shoulder season between summer and “leaf peeping.” We would have spent too much time inching through traffic and finding parking. Our hotel, The Acadia, was right on the village green and we were able to walk most of the town.

Acadia covers about 38,000 acres—and we saw only a fraction of its forests, lakes, ponds, meadows and rocky coastline.

We began our visit with a trip to Hulls Cove Visitor Center, and a drive on the auto loop road up to Mt. Cadillac where you can see forever—or at least as far as Bar Harbor.

Frenchman Bay and Bar Harbor

The next morning, we began our explorations of Acadia at the Wild Gardens of Acadia, which we happened to pass on our way to the Ocean Path trail head. Intrigued, we pulled off the road to find an area of the park that displays in microcosm the different types of growing conditions in Acadia, including mixed woods, meadows, and marshes. We walked a little way down the Jessup Path, a boardwalk leading through woods and meadows to a roadside pond.

Jessup Path

Ocean Path is a 4.4 mile round trip from Sand Beach to Otter Point. The path runs right next to the loop road, but there are many places to climb away from the road to explore the rocks and take photos of the scenery. It’s an easy trail, but it was pretty crowded and if we had been visiting in the summer, traffic on the road would have been disruptive and bothersome. We entered at Sand Beach and walked to Thunder Hole, before turning around to walk back. Thunder Hole wasn’t thundering, unfortunately.

Ocean Path, Sand Beach in the distance

Thunder Hole...not thundering

We drove to Otter Point, where we saw no otters, but did see some waterfowl.

Our next stop was Jordan Pond House for lunch and their famous popovers. We sat on the lawn where we enjoyed a view of the Bubbles, and a cool breeze kept the wasps from being too annoying—they’re drawn to the strawberry preserves served with the popovers. Our waiter told us during high season, the kitchen turns out 4,000 popovers a day!

Jordan Pond House from the lawn

The Bubbles


We wrapped up our day with more exploring, shopping, and eating in Bar Harbor. And then, the next day, onward. Where did we go next? Stay tuned…