Don't miss a freebie, deal, or new release.Join Now!
banner with headshot and name

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 any 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

The travel tree

pic of Bermuda airportI love to travel. I will forgo a new car, a fancy house, eating out, and an updated wardrobe for the chance to visit somewhere new. On many of our trips, we’ve bought a Christmas ornament to adorn what I call our Travel Tree.

Looking at the tree is a visual reminder of our travels over the years, and it always makes me smile.

Here are a few of my favorite ornaments from places we’ve gone specifically during the winter holiday for vacation. (We tend to alternate between visiting family and going somewhere new.) And while I was going through old travel photos, I noticed that we apparently like to put our boys in stocks for Christmas, so I added those pics too. 😉

Do you have a favorite tradition from this time of year? Do you tend to stay home for the holidays or travel?

(click any photo to enlarge)

Friends, fun, and combat medics in San Antonio

Image of my 2014 RWA conference name badgeMore than 2,000 romance writers and industry professionals have descended on the San Antonio Riverwalk for the Romance Writers of America National Conference. For the fifth year in a row, I’m one of them.

The conference workshops don’t start until tomorrow, but I’ve been here since Monday and I’ve been busy, busy, busy.


After a long morning of travel, I spent the afternoon and evening with three of my fabulous Kiss & Thrill blog sisters and a new friend. In addition to eating good food, chatting, and laughing, we brainstormed each other’s stories. I’m not usually comfortable getting feedback on my book or premise before the first draft is done, but after Monday’s session, I might be a convert. We came a ton of great ideas that I think will help get me back on track with Men of Steele book #2.


Yesterday kicked off with a sunrise bus ride to Lackland AFB where we visited the National Military Working Dog monument and spent the morning learning about how the Air Force security forces (military police) train, and their various missions. I had no idea that one in six new enlisted recruits enters the security forces.

Image of the National Military Working Dog Memorial

During lunch I got a chance to chat with a real live Air Force combat controller! It was the first time I’ve met a member of the special operations forces and it was great to learn about what motivated him to choose the USAF and special ops, and learn more about what he does.

After lunch we drove to Fort Sam for an informative session on Army combat medics. They showed us their state-of-the-art training facility complete with the sounds, smells, and feel of a real combat scene with life-like “casualties” that breathe, have pulses (or not) and blood pressure, and have gruesomely realistic injuries. We also had a Q&A session with several decorated medics who are now instructors at the school. As usual the tour with my Kiss of Death chapter was worth the trip to conference all by itself.

Image of an Army Combat Medic training simulator

We capped off the day with dinner and a fun speech by suspense author Wendy Corsi Staub.


Today I started with a sunrise run on the Riverwalk. Due to a lack of “you are here” stickers on many of the maps, I ended up running a couple more miles than I intended, but I can’t fault the view. From mid-morning on, the Riverwalk is packed with tourists, but before breakfast, the only people on this oasis below street level are the walkers, joggers, park police, merchants, and sidewalk cleaners. It was the break from chaos that I needed.

Photo of the San Antonio Riverwalk

Despite getting back to my room later than planned, I made it to my Golden Network (for current and former Golden Heart finalists) retreat on time, and what a day. Robin Perini, Jennifer McGowan, Cathy Maxwell, and many others shared their words of wisdom, I made new friends, and I finally met several online friends in person.

After three nonstop days, this introvert-at-heart was ready for some downtime. I skipped the madness that is the literacy signing, ordered room service for dinner, took a short nap, and just decompressed.

Now I’m ready for the conference to begin bright and early tomorrow!

Hibiscus flower picture

Exploring New England

Lowell_1I love to explore new places. My neighborhood, my town, the local area, and neat places within a day’s drive or so. It’s the reason I enjoy moving. I get to dig deep into areas I’d normally only cover with a quick pass.

There are lots of ways to find hidden gems. I start by running. I’ve pretty much covered all of Hanscom AFB on foot now (it’s a fairly small base), and I already found a new commuting route for my husband. You know, to shave his ten minute drive down a bit. 😉 (He deserves this after his long trip to/from the Pentagon every day for four years. We’re all excited to have him around more.)

Last weekend we took a drive just to get out of the hotel. We headed up to Lowell for lunch and then into New Hampshire to look around (and check another state off my list).


I’m excited that Lowell is so close. I remember learning about this birthplace of American industry in my Textiles class at Cal Poly, and I’d like to visit the Smithsonian museum up there. Plus, it’s a cute town with a great little vegetarian restaurant. 🙂

Even closer to home we have Lexington and Concord. (Did anyone else have to read April Morning in school?) The American Revolution started here, and I remember some really cool cemeteries from my visit as a teen. I’m not into the macabre, but the headstones have interesting inscriptions and date back to the 1600s.

Of course, we’re less than 20 miles from Boston, close to the beach, finally have easy access to the whale watching tours (I’ve been trying to do this for years!), not to mention the rest of New England, Montreal, and Quebec are within a day’s drive.

I’m not too keen on winter weather, but I’m looking forward to all of the cool places we have around us to explore. Maybe I’ll take up snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Really, the hardest part will be choosing where to go next!

Incredible Sedona



I was in Phoenix and Sedona over the weekend to say goodbye to a wonderful and amazing woman whom we lost too soon, my mother-in-law. Our reason for being there was sad, but Sedona is beautiful. The perfect place to celebrate the life of a beautiful woman who brightened the spirits of everyone she met.

If you ever find yourself driving between between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon (or Flagstaff), the (slight) detour through the valley of red rock is worth the trip.