Book Publication List

The Lacy Steele Mystery Series:

Morning Cup of Murder (September 2011)

Christmas Steele (November 2011)

Building Blocks of Murder (January 2012)

Family Case of Murder (April 2012)

Arch Enemy of Murder (September 2012)

Class Reunion of Murder (February 2013)

Wedding Day of Murder (September 2013)

Icy Grip of Murder (April 2014)

Ladies Circle of Murder (May 2015)

Last Resort of Murder (May 2016)

 

The Sadie Cooper Mystery Series:

Pecked to Death (August 2012)

Slumbered to Death (December 2012)

Salvaged to Death (July 2013)

 

The Justice Seekers Series:

The Vigilante Club (May 2012)

Orchestrating Justice (April 2013)

Vigilante Vendetta (January 2014)

 

The Shadow Realm Series:

The Shadow Grasper (December 2011)

The Shadow Talker (December 2011)

The Shadow Seeker (January 2012)

The Shadow Lifter (March 2012)

 

The Kings of Montana:

Cowboy Down (August 2011)

Cowboy Lost (August 2011)

Cowboy Found (September 2011)

Cowboy Proud (September 2011)

Christmas with the Kings (November 2011)

 

The Queens of Montana:

The Cowgirl Code (March 2011)

One Classy Cowgirl (April 2011)

Cowgirl Undercover (May 2011)

Cowgirl on the Run (July 2011)

The Cowgirl Who Loved Horses (October 2011)

 

The Honeywells of Kentucky:

Wild Stallions (December 2011)

Wild and Wounded (December 2011)

Wild Pride (December 2011)

Wild and Unbroken (January 2012)

Wild and Free (January 2012)

 

Mission of the Heart Series:

Worlds Apart (November 2012)

A Stone’s Throw (March 2013)

Common Ground (TBA)

 

Brothers Courageous:

Shooter (March 2012)

Gunner (April 2012)

Spotter (May 2012)

Point Man (July 2012)

 

Paradise, Montana Series:

Bumpy Road to Paradise (January 2014)

Purgatory in Paradise (February 2015)

Reunited in Paradise (July 2015)

Growing Pains in Paradise (January 2016)

 

Stand-alone Titles:

Murder on the Brain (February 2012)

A Christian Cougar (April 2011)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (August 2012)

The Pajama Affair (November 2011)

For the Girls (September 2013)

 

 

 

“It’s Steele Christmas”

*This is a short story in the Lacy Steele Mystery Series. It may contain spoilers if you haven’t read the first few books*

It’s Steele Christmas

“The Smithsonian is going to call soon and claim your grandmother’s VCR as an antiquity,” Jason said.

“Don’t knock this VCR. Without it, I might not have been able to preserve my favorite Paula Deen cooking shows,” Lacy said. She picked up the remote for the maligned VCR and pressed play.

Lacy’s mother groaned. “Lacy, not that again. I gain weight watching that show. “

“But it’s the Deen family Christmas special,” Lacy argued. “It’s festive.”

“Pick something normal,” Frannie said.

A Very Brady Christmas?” Lacy suggested.

“Mom, Lacy doesn’t understand normal,” Riley said. “You have to put it in terms she can relate to. Tell her to watch whatever would be playing on the TV if she pressed her nose to Cindy’s living room window.”

Jason’s ex-girlfriend, Cindy, was one of the beautiful people and always had been. The mention of her made Lacy frown and dig her heels in. “We’re watching Paula Deen.” She turned the television to a moderate level and swapped the remote for a spatula.

“Tell me again why I’m here,” Jason said. Before him sat a perfectly aligned row of candy eyeballs. A minute ago they had been in an untidy pile. Now they looked like a line of macabre souvenirs from a deranged serial killer. Or the work of a bored OCD cop.

“It’s Christmas Eve, cookie decorating day,” Lacy said.

“Yes, but why am I here?” Jason asked.

“Forced family bonding time. It goes better if you don’t struggle,” Tosh said. He put his arm around Riley who was deftly piping dozens of little black hats on snowmen.

“What are the eyes for?” Jason asked.

“For the reindeer,” Lacy said. Everyone in the family was allowed to cut and decorate cookies however he or she wanted. Usually Lacy was better at eating than frosting, but this year she had spent time plotting her cookie design. So far they were shaping up to be her best yet. The shapes had stayed after she baked them, unlike years past when they swelled and oozed into each other so that she ended up with indiscernible frosted blobs.

“I’m going to frost them, and you’re going to stick the eyes on,” she continued. “And you can’t take your time aligning them perfectly because the frosting will dry. Just plop them on and move on with your life.”

“I lack the ability to plop, but I will try to align them quickly,” Jason said.

“Here’s the frosting,” Lacy’s grandmother said. She set a large bowl of brown icing on the table.

“Letting Grandma make it for you was a good call,” Riley said.

“I could’ve done it,” Lacy muttered.

“Yes, and we could’ve had our stomachs pumped.”

“No one’s stomach was pumped,” Lacy said.

“No, we suffered a night of food poisoning instead,” Riley said.

“How did you get food poisoning from frosting?” Tosh asked.

“I thought it had eggs in it. I didn’t know it was only butter and sugar,” Lacy said.

“In Lacy’s defense, the eggs gave it a light, pleasant consistency,” her grandmother said. “I think she might have been on to something.”

“Mom, you don’t have to defend everything Lacy does,” Frannie said.

“She defended me,” Lacy’s grandmother said in a rare fit of defiance.

“Anyway, Mom made the frosting and Jason’s helping. There’s not much chance of Lacy messing up the cookies or winding up in the hospital again this year,” Frannie said.

“Mom, you know better than to say that. You’re tempting fate,” Riley said.

“They’re going to be great,” Jason said.

“Suck up,” Tosh coughed.

Lacy ignored them all and focused on frosting her cookies. She had never mastered the art of the piping bag. Instead she did it the old fashioned way by smearing them with a knife. She told herself she preferred the more rustic look, but the truth was that she envied Riley’s piping skills. Still, as she examined her little brown deer, she had to admit they looked pretty good, almost as good as Riley’s snowmen. She handed her first cookie to Jason and concentrated on making a second.

“Uh, Lacy, do candy eyes come in different sizes?” Jason asked.

“Yes.”

“Did you buy the large ones?” Jason asked.

“Yes. Why?” She paused to inspect the deer he was holding aloft. The eyes took up two thirds of its face.

“I’ve heard of doe-eyed, but that’s a bit much,” Frannie said.

“That is one surprised deer,” Tosh said.

“It looks like it landed on an electric fence,” Riley added.

Mr. Middleton entered the room then and, unaware of any previous conversation, offered his own opinion on the cookie. “Why does Rudolph look constipated?”

They were all laughing. Lacy knew it was ridiculous to be overly sensitive about Christmas cookies, but she couldn’t tamp down her wounded feelings. She had tried so hard this year to plan the perfect cookie.

“I’m going to grab another bag of powdered sugar,” she said. She stood and left the room. No one hailed her back. They were so deep in laughter over the bug-eyed cookies; she doubted they noticed her absence.

The extra sugar was in a container in the garage. Her grandmother bought it by the skid and stored the extra in a plastic tub outside. She would never admit to crying over a reindeer cookie, but her eyes were clouded by something, so much that she missed the last two steps out the door. She pitched forward, her head crashing hard on the concrete. Everything faded to black.

“Wake up, y’all.”

The familiar smell of gooey butter cake wafted under Lacy’s nose. Her eyes popped open. Paula Deen stood bending over her, holding a piece of cake just out of reach under her face.

“What?” Lacy said. She reached for the cake. Paula snatched it away.

“It’s time to wake up, y’all,” Paula said. She stuffed the cake in her mouth and wiped powdered sugar off her lips.

“Paula Deen, what are you doing here?” Lacy asked. She sat up feeling remarkably unbruised after her tumble down the stairs.

“I’m here to show you what life would be like without you,” Paula said.

“Why?” Lacy asked.

“Because you asked me to,” Paula said.

“No I didn’t,” Lacy said.

“Well, you would have eventually. Thought I’d save myself a trip,” Paula said.

“Am I dead?” Lacy asked.

“Something like that.”

“Wait, how are you here? You’re still alive,” Lacy pointed out.

“Honey, I’m a manifestation of your inner consciousness. Let’s be glad I’m not a talking cupcake,” Paula said. “Now, stand up, we have to go.”

“Where are we going?” Lacy asked.

“We’re going to see what the world would be like if you’d never been born,” Paula said. The garage around them swirled away into dust.

“What happened?” Lacy asked.

“You weren’t here to live with your grandmother. Her house was bulldozed years ago.”

“But why? Where’s Grandma?” Lacy asked.

“You can’t guess?” Paula said. She tried to snap her fingers, but they were too greasy from the butter cake. She swiped them on her pants and tried again. This time the snap worked and, in an instant, they were in a different place.

“Where are we?” Lacy asked.

“Prison,” Paula said. “Where hard criminals do hard time.”

“I’m not sure I have the stomach to see this,” Lacy said.

“Brace yourself, y’all. We’re goin’ in,” Paula said. They whisked weightlessly through the solid walls of the prison, zooming around corners until they came to a small windowless room. Lacy’s grandmother sat in the middle of the room, cocooned by a gathering of younger women.

“And that’s the difference between knit and purl,” she concluded as she held her needles and yarn aloft. The other women clapped and began talking among themselves as they tried to replicate her technique.

“You’re allowed to have knitting needles in prison?” Lacy said.

“They’re safety needles, the kind given to children so they don’t poke themselves in the eye,” Paula explained.

“Hey, that’s the kind Grandma always gave me when she tried to teach me,” Lacy said.

“It’s almost Christmas. Aren’t you having any visitors this year?” one of the women asked.

“No, my daughter and granddaughter are much too busy this time of year,” Lacy’s grandmother said, a sad smile on her face.

“Mom and Riley don’t come to see her? Why not?” Lacy asked.

“Do you really want to know?” Paula asked.

“Yes, I want to see what they’re up to,” Lacy said.

Paula snapped her fingers and suddenly they were in New York.

“Oh, I miss Manhattan at Christmas,” Lacy said. The city was perfectly decorated and snowy. They strolled Fifth Avenue, admiring the windows.

“Come this way,” Paula urged. They veered into one of the fancy buildings, floating up several flights of stairs.

“Who lives here?” Lacy asked.

“Riley. When Barbara Blake died, the inheritance passed to her.”

“But that was only a million dollars. An apartment like this would be at least ten,” Lacy said. They floated into Riley’s luxury apartment and hovered. A phone rang.

“I’m coming,” Riley called, huffing and puffing from an adjoining room.

“Is she still pregnant?” Lacy asked. Pregnancy was the only time she had ever heard her sister breathless.

“Oh, you’ll see,” Paula said.

Riley waddled into the room, her large frame filling the doorway and spilling over. “Exactly how many babies does she have in there?” Lacy asked.

“None,” Paula said.

“Riley’s fat?” Lacy said.

“Without you around, all the treats went to her. She’s struggled with weight her whole life. Weight finally won,” Paula said.

“Hello,” Riley said as she picked up the phone. “No, I don’t have the money. I’ll ask my husband as soon as he gets home.”

“Did she marry Tosh?” Lacy asked.

“Without you around, she never came home to meet him. She married someone else.” Just then the door opened and Robert came through.

“Riley, I’m home,” he called.

“About time,” Riley said. “Did you bring my cookies?”

He handed her a box from Levain Bakery. Riley opened it, took out a cookie, and bit into it. When she had swallowed, she spoke. “The loan company called. They found us.”

“I’ll get my suitcase,” he said. “Take what you can carry.”

“I’m not leaving here without those silver candelabras,” Riley said.

The conversation moved into the bedroom. Lacy saw Robert pull out a leather bag and rifle through it. “Who do you want to be this time? The Bernsteins?”

“No, last time we were the Bernsteins I had to play kosher. I’m not giving up bacon again,” Riley said.

“The Kosters then,” Robert said.

“What’s happening?” Lacy asked.

“They’re grifters,” Paula said. “They live life on the run, taking what they can scam from other people.”

“Are they happy?” Lacy asked.

“She eats her feelings and he’s having an affair. Eventually they’ll get a divorce and try to steal from each other, but not before they bring a couple of kids into the world and inflict their misery on them,” Paula said.

“Does Mom know?” Lacy asked.

“Your mama sees what she wants to in Riley,” Paula said.

“Where is she?”

Paula snapped her fingers and they were in Greenwich Village. “Mom is here? Why isn’t she in Florida?”

“She and your father divorced when Riley was ten. She came here to ‘find herself’ and never left,” Paula said.

“This place smells like incense and B.O. My mom would never be here,” Lacy said.

“Wouldn’t she?” Paula said. She stuffed another piece of gooey butter cake in her mouth.

“Where did you get that?”

Paula shrugged.

“Can I have a piece?”

“No,” Paula said. “Now pay attention.”

“You’re a lot nicer on TV,” Lacy muttered, but people filing into the cavernous room caught her attention. “Is this some type of fitness class? That makes sense. Mom likes to take care of herself.”

“There she is,” Paula said. Lacy’s gaze followed her pointed finger. Her mother’s hair was longer than she had ever seen it, straight and parted in the middle.

“All right, ladies, are we ready to get started?” she called.

“Mom’s the instructor?” Lacy said. “She does like to boss people.”

Her mother turned on some tuneless music and began contorting her body into impossible positions.

“My mom teaches yoga?” Lacy said.

“Hot yoga. It’s about to get real warm in here, y’all.”

She watched a few more minutes as her mother continued her stretches. Sweat beaded on her partially exposed back. “So, she’s a hippy?”

“Not hardly. In addition to teaching this class, she works as a waitress for a restaurant in Chinatown. After she burned through her settlement, the divorce from your dad left her broke. At night she sleeps in a studio over the restaurant. Her bedroom is above the kitchen. It smells like fried wontons.”

“What about my dad?” Lacy asked.

Paula snapped her fingers. In an instant, they were back at the home where Lacy grew up. “He didn’t move to Florida?” Lacy asked.

“He couldn’t. Your mother took his retirement in the divorce. He’ll work until he dies,” Paula said.

“Is he happy? Does he have friends? Does he date?” Lacy said.

“Twice a year he goes fishing with some buddies. He goes to church on Sundays. He dated a few people, but it didn’t last. He still says Frannie was the love of his life.”

“Does he go to Tosh’s church?” Lacy asked. She was sure Tosh and her father would be friends, at least.

“He did, but…”

“But what?” Lacy asked.

“About a year ago, Tosh went missing.”

“Missing? What do you mean missing?”

“He gone,” Paula said.

“But you know where he is, don’t you?”

“Are you sure you want to see? It’s not pretty,” Paula said.

“Show me.”

Paula snapped her fingers and they were suddenly at a house Lacy recognized. Even if she had never been there, she would have known the house by its décor—dozens upon dozens of taxidermy rodents.

“Why are we at Pearl’s house?” Lacy asked.

“Have you ever seen the movie Misery?” They floated toward Pearl’s bedroom. Inside, Tosh was chained to the bed.

“Pearl kidnapped Tosh? I guess that makes sense. Except she was arrested for her husband’s murder. I helped get her off,” Lacy said.

“She was tried for his murder, but it was a hung jury,” Paula said.

“What about Michael?” Lacy asked.

“In jail in Minnesota awaiting trial,” Paula said.

“Grandpa?” Lacy asked.

Paula made the sign of the cross. “Rest his soul.”

“I’m fairly certain you’re not catholic,” Lacy said. “What about Joe and Suze, Kimber and all my other friends?” Lacy asked.

“C’mon,” Paula said. She snapped her fingers.

“Wait, what about Tosh? Is he going to be okay?”

“She’ll let him go eventually. Or she’ll stuff and mount him. The future’s a bit cloudy on that one,” Paula said. “Here we are downtown.”

Only it didn’t look like downtown. Not only was it dreary and deserted, but it seemed darker somehow. Finally it dawned on Lacy what was different. “Where’s the Stakely building?”

“Demolished, of course. Only the other deal fell through and nothing ever took its place. Now it’s just a depressing pile of rubble.”

“And Joe?”

“Still in prison, in the infirmary. I fear he’s not long for this world,” Paula said.

“What about Suze?”

Paula snapped her fingers again. They flew to another familiar abode. “This is Barbara Blake’s house, Riley and Tosh’s home,” Lacy said. Except instead of being the cute bungalow it had been under Barbara Blake’s tenure or the stylish craftsman it had become under Riley and Tosh, it was a rundown heap with boarded windows. They passed through the walls into the living room. A pile of trash was in the middle of the floor. The pile moved and Lacy yelped.

Suze sat up and pushed a mess of dreadlocks off her face. “Time for food, Squiggles,” she said. She used a rock to bash open a can of vegetables, not caring when the liquid gushed onto the floor. She picked up a spoon, scooped some peas, and set it on the floor. In a little while, a mouse skittered out and began tentatively nibbling the peas. Suze watched with a smile.

To her right, another mouse scampered out of its hiding place and began edging toward the spoon. Suze picked up the can and flattened the oncoming mouse. “No, it’s for Squiggles!” she yelled.

Lacy turned away. “I’m ready to see Jason.” If everyone was so bad off without her, she couldn’t imagine how much worse Jason was.

“Are you sure? You might not like it,” Paula said.

“Positive. Take me to him,” Lacy said.

With a snap of Paula’s fingers, they were suddenly in a beautiful ballroom filled with dancers. Two of the dancers Lacy recognized. Jason, bedecked in a tuxedo, led Cindy around the floor at a dazzling pace. They were both beaming.

“I think I might be sick,” Lacy said.

“I warned you it wasn’t pretty,” Paula said.

“I thought he’d be miserable. Look at them. They look like they’re filming a toothpaste commercial. If I stick my foot out, will she fall?” Lacy asked.

“Keep watching,” Paula said.

Jason’s phone rang. He led Cindy to the side of the dance floor as he took the call. He talked for a minute before stuffing the phone back in his pocket. “It’s work. I’m so sorry, but I have to go.”

“So soon?” Cindy said.

“I’m sorry,” Jason said. “Let me take you home.”

“Don’t be silly. I can get a ride with Melody. Be safe tonight.”

“Sure thing,” Jason said. He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss on the lips.

“Stop that,” Paula said when Lacy began trying to ineffectually scratch Cindy’s eyes out.

“All this time he insisted Cindy meant nothing to him, but the minute I’m not born he goes running to her willowy, blemish-free arms,” Lacy said.

Paula snapped her fingers and they were at Jason’s house. Jason was just opening the door.

“How did he get here so quickly?” Lacy asked.

“Time lapse.”

“I don’t know why we’re here. He’s just going to change and go back to work,” Lacy said, only he didn’t. Instead he opened the fridge and peered inside. Sighing, he closed the refrigerator and headed for the couch. He turned on the television, drummed his fingers restlessly on the remote, and turned it off again. He stood, walked to the table, and picked up the mail. There was one Christmas card, a corporate greeting and picture of a Christmas tree. Jason propped the card in the center of the table and returned to the fridge.

“What’s he doing? Why isn’t he going to work?” Lacy asked. As if in answer to her question, he took out his phone, dialed, and spoke.

“It’s Cantor. Thanks for the call. No, nothing wrong, I just needed an out. Later.”

“He lied?” Lacy whispered. Jason never lied, ever. She watched as he took out some lettuce and made a salad. When the salad was prepared and the work area clean, he sat, picked up a fork, and set it down again. He stood, walked to the counter, and began rifling through drawers. When he found a candle, he held it triumphantly aloft before lighting it and setting it in front of the tree card.

“Merry Christmas,” he muttered and started to eat his salad.

“That’s so sad,” Lacy said. Knowing that he had purposely ditched Cindy went a long way toward restoring her warm feelings toward him. “He’s bored and alone.”

“It gets worse,” Paula said.

Jason finished the salad, washed the bowl, stuck it in the dishwasher, and opened the cupboard. He put his hand on a box and withdrew it.

“What is that?” Lacy asked. “Is that millet? Jason doesn’t eat millet.” She stood on her toes to read the boxes in his cupboard. “Kasha, buckwheat, quinoa. What is going on here?”

“Lacy, Jason’s gone gluten-free,” Paula said.

Lacy gasped and covered her face. “It’s worse than I thought.”

“Maybe you should wake up now,” Paula said, only her voice sounded funny. “Lacy, wake up.”

Her eyes fluttered. Jason’s face was startlingly close to hers, his eyes filled with concern. “Do you eat millet?” she asked.

“Why would I eat bird seed?” he asked.

“How do you feel about gluten?” she asked.

“I don’t,” he said. “Are you okay?”

“Fine, I think.”

“I’m sorry we were teasing you about your reindeer cookies,” he said.

“It’s not a big deal,” she said.

“Look.” He held up a cookie. Someone had added a bulbous red nose, puckered pink lips, and lashes to the oversized eyes. It looked adorable. “I think you win the cutest cookie contest.”

“Did you do that?” she asked.

“I did the nose. Your mom did the lips. Riley did the lashes.”

“Thank you. It feels good to be alive,” she said.

“I’ve always thought so.” He lay down beside her. The concrete was cold and she shivered. He draped an arm over her, warming her with his nearness.

A new, more disturbing thought occurred to her. “You didn’t call an ambulance, did you?”

“I’m afraid so,” he said.

“I don’t want to go to the hospital,” she said.

“You got a pretty good bump on the head,” he said.

“You know they’ll just keep me for observation,” she said. “It’s what they do every time I get a concussion. They’re so unoriginal.”

“Then I will stay and observe you,” he said.

“You don’t have to stay with me,” she said.

“What else do I have to do?” he asked.

She pictured him sitting in his lonely, undecorated house eating millet in front of a Christmas card and candle. “Absolutely nothing. In fact, I might be the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“I think this head injury knocked some sense into you. You’re speaking truth,” he said. Outside, they could hear the siren drawing nearer. Riley stuck her head out the door.

“We decided to move the cookie party to your room, as soon as you get checked in. It won’t be the first time we’ve spent Christmas in the hospital with you. And it probably won’t be the last.” She disappeared back inside the house.

“Do you want me to disinvite them?” Jason asked. “It’s going to be chaos at the hospital.”

“I sort of like the chaos,” Lacy said.

“It’s growing on me, too,” Jason said. “I guess these are our last few minutes alone. We should make the most of them.” He eased closer, his lips brushing hers. “Merry Christmas, Lacy.”

“Merry Christmas, y’all,” Lacy said.

“Hmm?” he said.

“Never mind,” she said and kissed him until the medics arrived with her neck brace and stretcher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 19 New Orleans To Point Clear, THE END!

We woke early in New Orleans, before the people with hangovers could stumble out for aspirin. Shopkeepers were hosing down their sidewalks. I don’t want to know why. We walked a few blocks from our hotel to here:

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Cafe Du Monde has been serving up beignets and cafe au lait for just about forever, so long that they have it down to a science.

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A delicious, delicious science.

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We passed by Jackson Square. I have no idea what it is, but ain’t it purdy?

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You can’t leave New Orleans without a few pralines. (Or maybe you can, but I can’t.)

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I chose this place because it looked like a mom-and-pop store in the middle of huge praline chains. Plus they said they had the best pralines, and you know how I feel about places that say they’re the best.

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But in this case, they weren’t exaggerating because OH, MY GOODNESS!! Seriously the best, best pralines I’ve ever had. (And I’ve had a few. Heh.)

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Since it’s our last night, I chose a sort of special occasion place on the coast of Alabama, in Fairhope, to be exact. I’d always heard the gulf shores are lovely. Turns out they are. For supper, I had fried seafood at an Italian place named Gambinos. (Somehow that made sense at the time. Also, it was delicious!)

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We spent the rest of the night swimming and enjoying the ocean at our wonderful, fabulous hotel.

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Tomorrow we head north again to Tennessee. (We’re planning to stop for supper and ice cream in Chattanooga, woo-hoo!) It’s been a wonderful, fabulous road trip. Thanks for tagging along!

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Day Eighteen: Houston to New Orleans

The day started off well. We went to the Breakfast Klub, a super-friendly eatery that specializes in made-from-scratch breakfast dishes bigger than your head. They also have awesome, bottomless cups of coffee, and not the thimble-sized ones. These are for serious coffee drinkers. Then we got to the parking lot and someone sideswiped the rental car, leaving a small but distinguishable scratch. We spent the next two and a half hours being shuttled between three police stations to try and make a report for insurance. Nothing says vacation like soul-crushing bureaucracy.

On the way to New Orleans at last, the scenery began to flatten out into marshes, sugar cane, and bridges. The massive bridges stretched for miles and miles. (One was eighteen miles, to be precise.) To take a break, we stopped at one of the visitor centers in Louisiana. What a delight!

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This is what rest areas dream of being when they grow up–clean, spacious, staffed with friendly people, and good smelling. Plus they have alligators!

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The wasted time made a massive dent in my near lifelong desire to see New Orleans. But we still had time for a po’ boy.

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The Parkway Bakery & Tavern is the place to go for these sandwiches. I got the oysters, which they only have on Mondays and Wednesdays. I can also heartily recommend the bread pudding. (Take note that they’re closed on Tuesdays.)

I was game for ice cream, but no one else was. That might have been a good thing since the baby had one of those diapers that’s so bad it takes a pit crew to change it.

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On the way to the hotel, we saw a bit of the French Quarter.

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Tomorrow we finish New Orleans and head for our last day. Sadness.

Day Seventeen: San Antonio to Houston

We were warned to get out of San Antonio early. (Not in a malicious shoot-out-at-noon way, but in a you’ll-be-stuck-in-traffic way. Apparently I-10 on this route becomes a parking lot on most days.) But we couldn’t scoot out of San Antonio without visiting my mom’s favorite TV preacher, Pastor Hagee.

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Cornerstone church was ultra-huge, but the music was good and so was the sermon. And the people were friendly. And the baby got to play with toys instead of hotel ice buckets and toiletries. It was a win for everyone.

Due to our early departure, the three-hour trip was fairly uneventful. In fact, we arrived too early to check into our hotel. So we went here to feed the police horses some carrots. They know when you’re coming and flock toward the treats. It’s adorable.

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Did I mention it was 99 degrees? It was 99 degrees. We drove by the water wall, but didn’t get out. Because it was 99 degrees.

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Then we found a bakery, Uncommon Bond. The chocolate chip cookies, oh, the chocolate chip cookies. They’re 3.50 per cookie, but they’re worth it. Seriously. (Take it from a connoisseur.)

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The bakery was in Montrose, a strip full of quirky stores and antique shops.

Next we went to our hotel, a Sheraton Suites near the Galleria. For the uninformed, the Galleria is the country’s fourth largest mall. To beat the heat, we swam for a bit and then grabbed supper here.

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Good Dog Houston makes upscale hotdogs. They’re good, so good that I forgot to get a picture.

For dessert, we headed here. They make ribbon ice, sort of a creamy shaved ice milk. They also have sno-cones with all-natural syrups. My daughter, who is allergic to all food dyes, was able to have a sno-cone for the first time ever. It was a grand day.

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After, we drove around Memorial park, a giant green space in the middle of the city. There were people out walking. They must not have gotten the memo that it was too hot for that sort of thing. Houston seems like a lovely city, especially when viewed from the safety of our air-conditioned van.

Days Fifteen and Sixteen: San Antonio

Before heading to San Antonio, we needed to finish Carlsbad Caverns. We arrived bright and early to head into the darkness seven stories below ground.

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We explored one mile of the cave, called The Big Room.

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That left 30 miles of cave we didn’t explore.

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It was a cool and moist 56 degrees below ground, something we would remember fondly as we headed into the heart of Texas hill country, San Antonio. As we made our way southeast, we spent a long time on a highway in the heart of oil-boom country. All we saw were oil trucks, pipelines, and crews and crews of men, trucks, and equipment working on them. It was oddly fascinating. Then we hopped on I-10 and the fascination came to a halt. Let me just say that there is very little for a very long way and then all of a sudden you’re in San Antonio, which is huge.

Last night, exhausted from our long day, we grabbed a bite at The Big Bib, a BBQ joint. (If you don’t eat BBQ while you’re in Texas, they don’t let you leave, I think.) The Big Bib is one of those Mom and Pop-type places that makes you smile when you walk in, probably because it smells so good and you know you’re going to get good food, which we did. In fact, the food was pretty spectacular.

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See that sweet potato casserole? Nom, nom, nom. Delicious! PS. All this food isn’t for me. I shared it with both my kids. Just felt I needed to put that out there before people start mailing me anonymous memberships to Overeaters Anonymous.

The next morning we went to the Riverwalk. We parked at the far end of the walk. (At The Pearl, an outdoor marketplace. It was also free to park.) We then hailed a river taxi, the best way to see everything. (You pay $15 and can hop on or off anywhere all day.)

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And my husband got to add some new birds (a yellow crowned night heron) to his bird list.

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(We also saw some neo-tropic cormorants and black bellied whistling ducks.)

If you’ve never been to San Antonio, let me explain that the Riverwalk is fifteen miles of scenic downtown, comprised of shops, restaurants, and this place.

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Despite the fact that the Alamo battle took place in 1836, you still get a sort of sad, reverential feeling when you step inside. Or maybe it’s because you’re waiting in nearly hundred degree weather in a line that looks like this.

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It’s worth the trip, if only to see this flag which riled my fighting spirit.

Come and Take it

You want this cookie?? You’d better come and try to take it!! But I digress…

The river walk is beautiful, even if you never leave the boat. (Considering the high temperatures and crowds of people, you might be better off never leaving the boat. Bring water. And don’t go on the weekend that 85,000 Seventh Day Adventists are there for their annual conference like we did. Oops. At least we had the pork products all to ourselves.)

We left the river walk and headed back toward our hotel for supper. We stopped off at a ginormous shopping mall called La Cantera and ate at a place called Whiskey Cake.

Normally I don’t condone eating at chain restaurants on vacation, preferring instead to eat locally. But this is a regional chain that cooks from scratch using locally sourced ingredients. I would give it a mixed review.

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My BBQ pork Bahn Mi was meh. But their eponymous whisky cake was fabulous.

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After such a long, hot day, nothing sounded better than a dip in the pool. Nothing except fresh, warm cookies hand delivered to my door, that is. Thankfully Tiff’s Treats offers such a service.

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They come packaged like an engagement ring. Coincidence? I think not.

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Our biggest surprise about San Antonio was the size. It’s huge, and tonight we learned that Houston–tomorrow’s destination–is four times bigger. Fingers crossed that means four times the cookie bakeries.

Day Fourteen: White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns

The best kinds of surprises are the ones that sneak up on you. That’s what New Mexico did for me. I didn’t expect much from it—mostly desert, maybe a few cacti. But it’s been so much more. First there was the stunning beauty around Albuquerque, followed by the artistic majesty of Santa Fe. Then we swung in from the west and got to enjoy the stunning vistas around Los Lunas.

Our hotel, a wonderful Holiday Inn Express, was located in Belen. (Pronounced B’lynn.) The people we encountered there were so friendly and almost seemed to find it fascinating that we were from Ohio. (Fascinating and Ohio aren’t words that often go together. Ohio is more like the flour and baking soda of baked goods. Can’t make a cake without them, but on their own they don’t taste so good.)

Today we saw a different side of New Mexico when we headed south to here:

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White Sands National Monument is one of those places you’ve vaguely heard of before but don’t really know what it is. Well, let me tell you—it’s a whole lot of fun!

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We went based on the recommendation of friends who are from the area. (Hi, Kriss and Felicia. Thanks!) I’m so glad we did. Not only is the sand like nothing you’ve ever experienced before—it’s cool to the touch and packs like snow—but it’s uncrowded and you can sled to your heart’s content. (The gift shop on site sells kids’ sleds for 14.99, along with sled wax for 1.99. You can sell them back before you leave for 5.00 for the sled and 1.00 for the wax.) Expensive, but worth it. Or bring your own sled. Either way, this is a site that is not to be missed, especially if you have kids.

Unfortunately the nature of a road trip is that we always have to get on the road. After way less time than we would have liked, we re-sold our sled and headed east, stopping first for lunch in Alamogordo.

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Caliche’s is a local frozen custard chain that also makes a mean chili dog. (The chili dog began to feel especially mean when we headed east through the mountains.) But we stumbled upon a picturesque little ski town in the middle of a lush national forest. So beautiful!

After we made our way through the mountains, the land flattened out and became scrubby again and then we arrived here, our sixth and final national park of the vacation.

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*A note about the weather—Be prepared for anything when you travel in the southwest. Here is my husband borrowing my mother’s sunglasses. (This will henceforth be referred to as his Elton John phase.)

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It’s easy to think that, since it’s the desert, you will only need shorts and lightweight t-shirts. Those have comprised the majority of our wardrobe, but we’ve also experienced temperature variations from 107 to 59 degrees. And it has rained almost daily for the last week. An umbrella would have been a marvelous idea.

Back to the park. In all of our vacation research, we somehow missed the fact that the caves close at five. We arrived at a little after six. The bat flight program starts at a quarter ‘til eight. The gift shop closes at seven. As you can see, the math doesn’t add up. We waited for the bats a long time in the amphitheater. When they finally arrived, we had to keep an active, tired baby completely still and silent. He did better than expected, lasting a good forty-five minutes before we had to flee the arena.

Here is a glimpse of the cave. Unfortunately you have to turn off all devices in time for the bat flight, but it was fairly spectacular.

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Tomorrow we return to the cave before heading into the heart of Texas. Yee-haw!

Day 13: Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert

The Wigwam Motel, cute as it was,did not supply breakfast.

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We headed into the town of Holbrook and stopped at Tom and Suzie’s diner.

All of Holbrook looked vaguely familiar, probably because (by its own claim) it’s the home of the movie Cars. 

Heading east again, we made our way toward the Petrified Forest National Park. But first we had to stop at a rock shop to look for petrified wood because no one can possibly see or have enough petrified things. (This is what happens when your husband teaches a summer camp on geology.)

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Finally, we arrived at the park.

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They had an awesome visitor’s center, and this was the small one. If you’re looking for an uncrowded, cheap ($10 entrance fee) national park, stuffed with dinosaurs and fossils, this is your place.

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The above is what petrified wood looks like. Here are some dinosaur bones, found near the park.

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It’s a hands-on kind of place, which was good for my daughter who earned a junior ranger’s badge, her third this summer.

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Word of warning: It’s hot and sunny. Dress appropriately and bring water.

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Keep your eyes out for wildlife and tracks, like these:

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(The ranger thought they might belong to an ibis, a bird I had never heard of before. Judging by the size of its feet, I also wouldn’t want to meet it in a dark alley.)

After the Petrified Forest, we headed slightly north to the painted desert.

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For supper we ate at Pete’s Cafe in Belen, and excellent New Mexican restaurant where everything is made from scratch.

*A word about the weather. It’s raining here, and it’s cold, too cold to swim in the outside pool. So far the only times I’ve needed my jacket on this vacation were in the Grand Canyon, the desert in Arizona, and New Mexico. Thankfully, it might help break their drought. Tomorrow we head west toward the border. Something tells me I might not need my jacket there.

Days Eleven and Twelve: Grand Canyon to Holbrook

We had reached our farthest point west. It was time to head back east. Reluctantly, we left the luxury of our hotel in Vegas and headed toward the wilderness of the Grand Canyon. But first we passed the Hoover Dam. IMG_1164

(My dam picture didn’t turn out. Did I mention I’m horrible at photography? Sorry.) IMG_1167

And we couldn’t go back east without eating at In-N-Out.

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A few hours later, we arrived.

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This is the view from our cabin.

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(That’s an elk, in case you’re wondering. We saw several, all females and babies.)

It was raining and stormy, preventing us from hiking. (Apparently it’s monsoon season. Also apparently there is a monsoon season in the US.) But there was this.

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We stayed at Maswick Lodge, the Grand Canyon’s affordable alternative for families. There was no air conditioning, but miraculously when we arrived it was a cool 78 degrees. The temperature dropped until we began to feel chilly. (Until we went into our room where cool air wouldn’t reach. It was like sleeping in an oven. Thank you, person who invented air conditioning. I love you.)

For supper we ate at Maswick, a cafeteria-style place known for convenience and low prices (relatively speaking. Nothing in the park is ever cheap.)

The next morning we took the red line shuttle west to Hermit’s Rest. (They had me at hermit.)

The highlight of this trip was this guy.

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A California Condor!! It flew about ten feet directly above our heads, but no one was camera ready at that point. After the shuttle tour, we loaded up the car and headed east toward the Watchtower. (Don’t be scared, this is not going to be an attempt to recruit you into the Jehovah’s Witness protection program.) This watchtower was built by the Santa Fe railroad and had awesome views of the canyon.

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We left the park and headed east toward Flagstaff where we stalled until it was time to go to our restaurant.

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Black Bart’s is a steakhouse musical review that hires local college kids to sing between waiting tables. Not only was the food delicious, but it was so much fun.

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I could have stayed much longer, but alas we continued east to here.

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If you recognize the Wigwam Motel, you might be a fan of Disney’s Cars. It was the inspiration for some of their scenery and has been an iconic part of Route 66 for a long time. The rooms are exactly what you’d imagine, but they’re cheap with cable and internet. Tomorrow we continue east for a bit before heading south and we lose our first hour. We have loved gaining three hours on this trip. Tomorrow we begin to pay the piper for our greedy time hoarding.

Days Nine and Ten: Zion National Park to Vegas, with a Baby

Our last morning in Zion seems forever ago because apparently two days in Las Vegas can have that effect. I remember that we hiked near a river. The rest is a blur. This was our cabin.

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This walk leads to one of Zion’s most famous walks, The Narrows–a hike through the river. This sounded fun to me, but there were deep spots and some rushing currents, not exactly ideal for a one year old. The river walk, however, was fully paved and wheelchair accessible. We took the stroller. A good time was had by all.

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We dangled some piggies in the water.

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And said goodbye to Zion.

Before we left Utah, I had to try a sugar cookie at Swig in St. George. (Utah is all about the sugar cookies. I have no idea why.) IMG_1087

They specialize in cookies and sodas with flavor shots.

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The cookies were awesome. And I drink soda maybe twice a year, but my Coke with coconut was so good it might make me a convert. A couple of hours later, we arrived in Vegas.

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It might be a law in Vegas that you have to eat at a buffet. I’m not sure, but to be safe we ate at the Garden Court Buffet downtown. It’s not as grand as some of The Strip buffets, but at $15.99 for prime rib, it’s a much better value. We cruised the strip and saved our explorations for day two. Here’s a word about our hotel. It wasn’t on the strip, and that’s a good thing. I read somewhere that it’s better for families to stay a bit out of the way, and it’s advice I would give to anyone with kids. Not only did we not have to walk through a smoky casino every time we wanted to go to our room, but we avoided the crowds and noise. (And our pool was open later, unlike some of the strip hotels.) Plus our place had swans. It was a win-win. IMG_1102

Day two began at the Venetian. I was on a desperate hunt for Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery, the vacation restaurant I most wanted to see. After wandering nearly as long as Moses in the wilderness, we finally found it. IMG_1111

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*Side note. I recently discovered Thomas Keller’s chocolate chip cookie recipe from his cookbook Ad Hoc. It’s amazing and my new go-to chocolate chip cookie. We finally found our way out of the Venetian where the family took a Gondola ride.

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We dipped into Caesar’s to escape the melting heat and some guy stripped down to his skivvies and dove into the fountain. IMG_1140

The excitement was too much for the baby.

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We ended our blazing day of exploration at Serendipity 3 and a frozen hot chocolate. It was crazy expensive and also crazy good.

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*Side note: We ate at the original Serendipity in Manhattan near out 10-year anniversary. That was before I heard they were shut down for an overflowing rat problem. Still good chocolate, though. We went back to the hotel for a siesta/swim session. After our rest, we regrouped and headed further out of town to Hash House A Go Go. Oh, my.

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Everything is made from scratch, including these biscuits with peach jam.

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And their specialty–fried chicken and bacon waffles.

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After supper we headed back to The Strip to fulfill my daughter’s wish to see New York, New York. IMG_1150

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We went to the Hershey store.

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And then this:

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The Shake Shack. Sigh. I wish I would have had room for an entire meal. Alas, I had to settle for a chocolate shake. (And stand in line forever while my family waited patiently.)

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It was worth the wait. For me, I mean. Heh.

Tomorrow we head back into the wilderness, literally. We’ll be away from civilization, internet, and even air conditioning for a while. Wish us luck.