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A day in Berkeley

Oxford St
Oxford Street across from the Berkeley campus

As a writer who works from home full time, it’s easy to let inertia set in and never leave my house except to fill my cupboards. But I’m an explorer at heart—as is my husband—so we made a commitment to spend at least one day a month sightseeing or hiking somewhere within a few hours’ drive of our house.

Last weekend, we chose Berkeley. A few years ago, when I was visiting to give a workshop to the San Francisco Romance Writers, I ran along the water to the Berkeley Marina—and had lunch and dinner…somewhere—but I hadn’t been downtown since I was seventeen.

It was definitely time to go back. The decision was helped by the relatively short drive—about 75 minutes when the traffic is good, which it happily was earlyish on a Saturday.

I’m certain there’s lots more to do in this fun, pretty college town, but we started and ended with food—there are plenty of options for plant-based eaters like us (we chose Saturn Cafe and Flaco’s)—and spent the time in between visiting UC (Cal) Berkeley’s pretty campus, and exploring Tilden Regional Park, which borders the campus up the hill along the east side.

The park’s botanical gardens have native plants representing California’s wide variety of climates, and lots of quiet, green spaces to wander.

These are a few of my favorite shots from that day.

eucalyptus trees
I love the colors on the peeling trunks of the eucalyptus trees! Blue and gold are especially fitting since they’re the University of California colors.
Sather tower
Sather Tower is hard to miss
view of SF
View of the East Bay and San Francisco (across the bay on the right) from Grizzly Peak in Tilden Regional Park
view of san pablo bay
View of San Pablo Bay from Grizzly Peak (facing NNW)
Gwen at botanical gardens
At the Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Redwoods in the botanic garden
Found this guy hiding in the ferns at the botanic garden
Found this guy hiding in the ferns at the botanic garden

What are some of your favorite places to visit near you? (Or me, for that matter. I’m always looking for gems. 😉 )

Check out this page for more travel/road trip posts. Also, many of my small trips end up on social media instead, especially Instagram.

Oh, Montana (and Wyoming)

mountain pond
Pond above the resort as the sun crests the mountain

Oh, Montana. On Sunday, my husband and I—empty nesters that we now are—traveled to southwestern Montana to meet up with old friends, some of whom we haven’t seen since before the turn of the century. (I’ve been waiting for an excuse to use that phrase…)

Catching up was great, and doing it in a wild and beautiful place like Montana and northern Wyoming made it fabulous.

Here are a few of my favorite memories from our trip.


I don’t think I’ve seen so many stars since my parents drove us into the mountains in Utah at night and we lay in the back of our little pickup truck on the side of the road.

Out in isolated Chico Hot Springs (about an hour’s drive southeast of Bozeman, and maybe thirty minutes from the northern entrance to Yellowstone at Gardiner), there is little light to interfere with the view.

The stars. Were. Incredible.

Billions and billions of them filled the sky and the Milky Way looked like a band of gauzy clouds. We sat outside in the growing chill for hours, following the path of anonymous satellites and catching sight of shooting stars.

Absolutely breathtaking.


I adore the mountains and ocean in almost equal measure, and one of my regrets is that Sacramento doesn’t have either the low mountains that cling to California’s coastline or the tall peaks that hug its eastern border.

In Southwestern Montana, on the other hand, the mountains roll in seemingly endless waves across the land. Some soft and green with pine trees, some brown with long grass, others barren or snow-covered with gray rock jutting toward the clouds like blades of a knife.

Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana
Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana


I haven’t been to Yellowstone since I was eight. Pretty much the only thing I remember is Old Faithful and bears. On this trip, we hiked into northern Yellowstone—crossing into Wyoming after entering the park—to visit Hellroaring Creek, a clear, rock-strewn flow that feeds into the Yellowstone River.

The Yellowstone River from a suspension bridge on the Hellroaring Creek trail
The Yellowstone River from a suspension bridge on the Hellroaring Creek trail
Hellroaring Creek
Hellroaring Creek

Here there be bears. Luckily—though some in my party might have disagreed—we only saw paw prints. And a bison!



Afterwards, we returned to Mammoth Hot Springs near the park entrance and walked around the mounds built up over the years by the (literally) steaming springs. The landscape is like something you’d find deep in a cave or on some imagined, hostile planet.

A mound at Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming
A mound at Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming
Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming
Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming

We ended our day trip watching elk eat, bugle, and even lock antlers, both at Mammoth Hot Springs and in the town of Gardiner, just outside the park’s Roosevelt gate.

Elk hanging out in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming
Elk hanging out in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming


I try not to worry too much about work when I’m on vacation, but my goal is to look at my story for at least a few minutes every day so I don’t lose my momentum. With Scrivener for iOS and a new hard-case bluetooth keyboard for my iPad, I managed to stay immersed in my manuscript while sitting on the lodge porch in the cool morning air, sipping hot tea, and soaking up the view of the turning trees.

View from the lodge porch at Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana
View from the lodge porch at Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana

Honestly, that’s not even work. That’s the dream.

Oh, Montana.

What are some cool things you’ve seen on vacation? Where would you like to visit next?

image of boxes in basement

A graduation, a retirement, and a(nother) move

image of graduation ceremony

If it seems like I’ve been a bit distracted lately, I have. Life’s been busy at Casa de Hernandez, pretty much for the last year.

In March of 2015, my husband was preparing for a September deployment to Afghanistan for six months when the Air Force said, “Never mind, we need you in Florida in three weeks instead.” Cue the scramble, and the complete upending of all of our summer travel plans. And, of course, a small celebration that he’d be staying Stateside (though I’m pretty sure some part of him was disappointed at the location change).

We’re good at adjusting course on short notice, finding adventure in the unexpected. Some people are adrenaline junkies who find their joy by jumping out of planes, climbing Meru, or surfing 30-foot waves. We like to travel and explore, and move. (Good thing, right?)

image of boxes in basement

And, while it’s been fun letting the Air Force pick where we go, exploring places we might never otherwise get to know, we’re finally in a position to choose for ourselves.

This month, our youngest graduated from high school and my husband retired from the military. So, we’re off to California. Sacramento, for now, while my husband goes back to school, with an eye toward moving to the coast in a few years.

image of moving boxes in living room

Yes, I’m still working on my next two Scrivener courses. Yes, I’m still working on Men of Steele #3. All are coming along slower than I’d planned, but the classes will be live by the end of summer, and I intend to have MoS3 out before the end of the year.

For the next few weeks, though, I’ll be filling up my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages with pictures from our cross-country trip and some new adventures. Feel free to follow along and share your own.

Got any fun plans for summer?

Minute Man statue

The study of Mass (Cape Ann, Cape Cod, Concord)


Rockport, MA (Cape Ann)
Rockport, MA (Cape Ann)

I’m an explorer at heart, so living in such a history- and beauty-rich place as Massachusetts has been fabulous. But now that I only have five weeks (!) until we hit the road for our post-Air Force adventure in California, I’ve been trying to visit a few more places on my must-see list before we leave.

Last weekend my husband and I jogged around Cape Ann (part of our training for an upcoming half marathon) through Gloucester and Rockport. I loved the seaside views, the inviting and walkable main streets, and the beautiful homes. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot of pictures because I didn’t want to stop every three minutes (because running) and it was drizzling most of the time.

house with buoys
Gloucester, MA
Rockport beach access
Rockport beach access
lobster traps on restaurant roof
Lobster traps on the roof are a thing on seafood restaurants around here…

On Sunday hubby and my youngest son took me to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod for Mother’s Day. So much fabulous ocean time in one weekend! And New England—parts of it anyway—is just so darn quaint. That’s one thing I’ll definitely miss.

buoys for sale in Ptown
door in Ptown
Pilgrim monument in P-Town
Pilgrim monument in P-Town
buoys on pier
Are you sensing a theme yet? Pier in P-Town.
beach in Ptown
Gwen at Herring Cove Beach
At Herring Cove Beach
Cape Cod National Seashore
Cape Cod National Seashore

Another example of a nice downtown is Concord. On Tuesday, my writer friend Maura Troy came up from Connecticut for the day and we walked the town. Since I’ve already been to the Thoreau and Alcott homes and Walden Pond, we toured Old Manse (Ralph Waldo Emerson’s family home) and the Old North Bridge battle area where “the shot heard ’round the world” marked the first victory for the colonists on the opening day of the Revolutionary War. (The “shot heard ’round the world” was coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson in the Concord Hymn, a poem that’s engraved on the statue “Minute Man” at Old North Bridge, which was in his family’s backyard.)

Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia rented Old Manse for three years early in their marriage, and literally left their mark on the place. Sophia liked to record interesting moments by inscribing them into the glass window panes with her diamond wedding ring. Seems kind of rude to me—especially for a renter—but it’s cool from a historical perspective. Hawthorne was inspired to write Mosses from an Old Manse here, which inspired the home’s name.

emerson's desk
Emerson’s desk, which he often took outside to write
Hawthorne's desk facing the wall. It ratchets up and down to change height.
Hawthorne’s desk facing the wall. It ratchets up and down to adjust the height and angle.
writing on the window
Sophia Hawthorne’s writing on the window
fire buckets
Every family had to have their own fire buckets and respond to a neighbor’s fire or risk a fine
Old North Bridge looking west across the Concord River
Old North Bridge looking west across the Concord River, and the Battle of Concord monument
Concord river view
View across the Concord River from the backyard of Old Manse
Minute Man statue
Statue “Minute Man” by Daniel Chester French (sculptor of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.)

Up next before we move: Whale Watching! And a few other adventures.

Are there any places near where you live that you want to/really should visit? Make a plan to do it this summer!

La pura vida in Costa Rica

Playa Jacó from a nearby hill
Playa Jacó from a nearby hill on our morning hike.

Over the winter break, we traveled to Costa Rica. In addition to time at the beach, I got to meet my oldest uncle—who married a Costa Rican woman and moved to Central America in the late 50s—and many cousins and extended family for the first time.

What a beautiful country! Lush, fog-capped mountains, gorgeous beaches, and lots of jungle. Paradise.

San Jose had incredible temps in the mid-to-high 70s (Fahrenheit, obvs) during the day, with cool breezes and plenty of sunshine. On Christmas, I wore a light sweater to sit outside on the restaurant patio. The weather reminded me of the California coast. Surrounded by tall, green mountains, this centrally located city is breathtaking, but sits several hours from the ocean.

Gwen on a coffee plantation
Me on the coffee plantation
coffee bean plant
Coffee beans on my cousins’ plantation
Costa Rica Mountains
View from a highpoint on the way to Jacó from San Jose.

After a quick visit with my new-to-me family—including  tour of their small coffee plantation—we spent almost a week on the Pacific coast in Playa Jacó. My weather app said it would be 85° F every day, but apparently that really means:

Temps in Jacó
Wait, it feels like what???

Jacó was a two-showers-a-day kind of place. The minute we left the condo, we were covered in beads of sweat from head to toe.


To cope, we usually spent the middle of the day inside—can you say siesta?—or in the water. The ocean temperature was probably in the low 80s. Absolutely perfect. We tried to either hike or run early in the morning, and catch the sunset every evening.

Playa Jacó
Playa Jacó on a morning run.
dog on trail
This little dog “led” us to the ruins of a half-built party venue on the side of the hill overlooking Jacó.
Ruins of a party venue in Costa Rica
Ruins of the party venue
Everyone came out for the sunsets on Jacó Beach.

We didn’t see quite as much wildlife as I had hoped, but still had several encounters with monkeys, saw a colorful parrot in flight, glimpsed a sloth hiding high in a tree, and watched crocodiles sunbathe beneath a bridge. The beach was chock full of tiny crabs, and we also saw cutter ants, a couple of iguanas, several green-and-black frogs, and lots of little lizards.

Monkey on a wire
This electrical wire on the mountain was like a monkey highway.

Here are a couple of super short monkey videos.

capuchin monkey in a tree
Capuchin monkey “hanging out” in Manuel Antonio National Park.
sign: don't feed the monkeys
Keep the monkeys wild!
crab tracks in the sand
Crab tracks in the sand.
Beware of crocodiles sign in Spanish
Beware: cocodrilos!
Crocodiles on the highway to Jacó.
Crocodiles on the highway to Jacó.

Some of the things I noticed:

  • Stray dogs are everywhere, in the city and at the beach, but they pretty much leave everyone alone. However, the dogs force homes and businesses to keep their trash in containers several feet off the ground so the dogs don’t get into it.
  • Costa Rica is very environmentally conscious. I loved that they had both regular and composting trash bins, and recycling was common as well.
  • Eggs aren’t refrigerated in the grocery stores. I guess this is okay. It must be working for them. I don’t eat eggs, so it didn’t bother me. 😉
trash bin
Everyone keeps their trash up off the ground, out of reach of stray dogs.
trash bins in Jaco
Organic (compostable) and inorganic trash bins were common in San Jose and Jacó.
eggs and food in grocery store
We saw eggs out on the shelf like this at all the grocery stores.
Tree embedded in curb.
I got nothin’.

If you get a chance, definitely visit Costa Rica for a taste of La Pura Vida! (Translation: The Pure Life, but also a greeting, a general expression that life is good or life could be worse.)

New York-New York: Back-to-back conferences in Manhattan

times square

At the end of July and early August, I spent two consecutive weekends in New York City, mingling with my kind—aka writers, you know, the ones who understand why I stare at the wall and call it “working”—exploring the busy streets on foot, attending workshops, and giving my own presentations (on Scrivener and self-publishing).

The first weekend, I attended the Romance Writers of America (RWA) annual national conference. Imagine 2000 writers and industry professionals, 99% of them women, talking plot, characterization, self-publishing, industry trends, writer’s block, query letters, and work-life balance.

The fun goes from sunup till midnight for four straight days. Once conference starts, you could easily never leave the hotel. After you’ve faced the mad crush of Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen, and Broadway—think facing off at the line of scrimmage—you might not want to. 😉

[click an image to enlarge]

Gwen and Keely with plaques
Can you tell I woke early and spent the morning on a train? Keely Thrall and I won signed quotes from Nora Roberts at the Golden Network retreat on Wednesday.
central park west
Running down Central Park West before the conference starts on Thursday.
fruit stand
A fruit stand we found on 8th Ave in Hell’s Kitchen on the way back from dinner. I loaded up on snacks.
Hudson River
Running north on the Hudson River Friday morning.
Kiss and Thrill friends
All but one of us from managed to attend RWA this year. It was great to catch up with each other in person.
Highline Trail
The Highline Trail (an old elevated railway turned multi-use path).
Hudson River and Highline Trail
View of the Hudson from the Highline Trail.
Funny ad on building
This ad made me laugh on my run to the Hudson River. You can just see the USS Intrepid at the bottom right of the picture.

The following weekend, I returned for the annual Writer’s Digest (WD) conference, an event for all types of writers in both fiction and nonfiction. In my unscientific visual survey, the 800 or so writers, agents, and editors in attendance appeared to be split roughly 50/50 between women and men. That definitely affects the atmosphere (not better or worse, just different).

Since WD is affiliated with a magazine rather than a membership organization, most people didn’t know each other—and many of them seemed to be earlier in their writing career—but everyone was friendly and excited. I met three people in the first hour, just standing in line to register (wrong line, oops) and sitting on the hotel’s mezzanine. Along with the workshops and keynote speakers, the pitch slam—like speed dating with agents and editors—was a huge draw.

It was also nice being in Midtown East, which despite boasting Grand Central Station, the United Nations, Park Ave, Madison Ave, and the Chrysler Building, was far less crowded than the west side.

Roosevelt Hotel lobby
The lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel from the mezzanine level.
grand central exterior
I stumbled upon Grand Central Station while walking down Park Ave on my way home from dinner the first night.
Chrysler building and Grand Central Station
The Chrysler Building at sunset, towering over Grand Central Station.
Inside Grand Central
Inside Grand Central. There’s even an Apple Store.
Ceiling inside Grand Central Station
Part of the ceiling inside Grand Central Station. Zodiac signs in the stars.
Freedom Tower
On Saturday morning I ran down Park Avenue–which was closed to cars for the morning–to the Brooklyn Bridge, then veered west to find the Freedom Tower and World Trade Center Memorial.
WTC memorial
World Trade Center Memorial, north pool. I was surprised how small the footprints of the WTC buildings were.
Storm trooper in doorway
The “guy” loitering near the door of this restaurant on Park Ave looked a bit out of place…
Patience the lion at NY Library
Hanging with Patience the lion outside the NY Public Library on 5th Ave.
Chrysler Building at night
The Chrysler Building at night from 5th Ave.
East River
Running on the East River on Sunday morning.

Back-to-back weekends in Manhattan was definitely exhausting, but I squeezed as much as possible out of both the conferences and the city. I had a fantastic time, reconnected with old friends, made new friends, learned lots, and came home motivated and inspired to get back to writing in my quiet little suburb.

Sightseeing in the suburbs: Thoreau-ly interesting

front of thoreau farm house
Thoreau Farm

Living in the Boston suburbs is cool because I’m close to the town of Concord—location of “the shot heard round the world” in 1775—which boasts the homes and gravesites of Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne, and Emerson.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

I plan to see all the authors’ homes while we’re here, but last weekend I visited Thoreau Farm. I had hiked around Walden Pond a couple of months ago—and visited the family gravesite last summer—so I wanted to finish the Thoreau “experience.”

walden pond
Walden Pond

Thanks to a very enthusiastic and friendly docent, I learned a lot.

Thoreau spent only eight months in the home of his birth, but Thoreau Farm is still significant because he was inspired by his mother’s stories of the place, and he returned often to walk the lands. It’s also the only Thoreau home open to the public, so there’s that. 😉

Thoreau Farm is not a typical restored homestead, but rather a place to learn more about the man, his life, his contemporaries, and why he’s important.

thoreau farm west side
Thoreau Farm-west side with kitchen gardens

You might be surprised by some of the people who were inspired by Thoreau, in person or in writing, whether with regard to the environment, or transcendentalism, or his thoughts on civil disobedience.

A few names you might recognize: Mahatma (Mohandas Karamchand) Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Muir, and Jack Kerouac. Not a bad legacy, eh?

Thoreau family portraits
Thoreau family portraits upstairs at Thoreau Farm

Some fun facts:

– Thoreau (along with his brother and two sisters) never married, though he and his brother both offered for the same woman. Her father turned them both down, deeming the family unsuitable for his daughter.

– He was born David Henry Thoreau, but switched his first and middle names after graduating from Harvard. Without a legal name change, of course.

– His careful observations about the weather and timing of various plants and crops have provided valuable historical data for the area with which to compare modern conditions.

– You can rent the upstairs room in the Thoreau house for a writing retreat.

thoreau farm writing desk
Be inspired by Thoreau


Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Walden (so far). [I’m reading in e-book, so I can’t offer page numbers, but all are from “Economy.”]

– “The great part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior.”

– “I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.”

– “And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.”

– “…the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched.”

If you travel to Boston, be sure to step off The Freedom Trail for a day or two and make your way to the suburbs!

freedom trail marker