Next Stop…..Deadwood?

by Tammy Trail

Mt. Rushmore

One of the perks of working for a school district is not having to work during the summer months. This allows me to have quality time with my family and friends, and especially be able to spend time with my mom. I was able to do just that this year. She kept me busy cleaning out her basement, but we also enjoyed playing endless games of Five Crown and Yahtzee.

Another perk is traveling. Our family hasn’t always been able to take summer vacations. Our budget doesn’t allow for anything too extravagant, but they have become our excuse to visit relatives in other states. My favorite vacation to date was a trip we took to South Dakota last summer, originally intended as a Trail Cousin Reunion. However, it turned out to be just three families since the others were not able to make it after all.

Our host, my husband’s cousins from Minnesota, had recently finished building a large vacation home in South Dakota between Sturgis and Deadwood. We had never been north of Nebraska, so this was an adventure. My daughter, her husband and three boys traveled in one car, and my husband and I followed in another with two teen boys.

North Dakota scenery

North Dakota scenery

I absolutely loved the scenery. Big trees and wide open land. Breathtaking views. I loved everything about South Dakota. Our first morning there, I awoke to feel the awkward sensation of being watched. I looked out of the window near my bed to see a small doe wandering so close that if there had not been glass between us, I could’ve easily reached out and touched her.

Four wheeling was on the agenda for the first day. I stayed back with the little people, so that the big people could enjoy themselves. When the party returned to the lodge that evening, I heard the boys talking non-stop. You know how teen boys are— usually you have use a crowbar to pry anything out of them. They had enjoyed themselves riding four wheelers on trails over hills, through water, and close to the edge of dangerous roll-offs. That first evening was spent grilling and enjoying each other’s company.

North DakotaNorth Dakoa


The next day was my turn to go four wheeling. I opted to sit in a buggy type four wheeler called a “Razor” with my husband in control of the driving. It was everything the boys had told me and more. As we bumped through the wooded areas, all we could see were trees before taking a curve where a small stream crossed our trail. Although we got dirty and wet, the scenery was just breathtaking. My husband’s cousin led the pack, and more than once he had us stop before going over some rough terrain. Rocky would stand on the rocks to guide us by pointing in the direction he wanted the wheels to go, so we didn’t get the bottom of the vehicles hung up on large rocks or roll over in a dry ravine. He did a great job as our guide.

Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore


We also did some sightseeing at Mt. Rushmore, which was a great stop for the grown-ups but not so much for the little ones. Seeing the heads of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt carved out of the rock was awesome. I can’t imagine the patience it must have required to undertake such a project. Later we made it up to the little ones by stopping for some ice cream in the park. The whole family agreed that it was a wonderful vacation, and we’re looking forward to doing it again–if not this year, next summer for sure!

North Dakota



Aussie Culture

Growing up, though we who lived on the Door County peninsula shared the same Lake Michigan shoreline, another “culture” meant the “townies” versus those of us from the country. (Not sure what they called us.)

Not having many travel opportunities as a child (a big deal to cross the bridge) I longed for travel and appreciated exposure to different cultures.

As an adult, I’ve been blessed to have traveled quite a bit domestically and internationally and the sound of different languages and accents spoken at airports has always been music to my ears.

One place I’ve always wanted to visit, but haven’t yet is Australia.


Only 2% of Australians live in the yellow area

When my youngest son, Nick, left for college, we were pleased to discover that his  roommate was from Australia. Danny had wanted to come to the US and play football for a small southern town where American football was a big deal. He found that at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, where he and Nick were not only roommate but teammates-Nick, a tight end for the Ragin’ Cajuns and Danny, a punter.


Danny-left, Nick-right

Nick enjoyed experiencing another culture through his roommate and shared a few interesting observations from time spent with Danny.

  • When Danny would say, “open the boot,” Nick learned it meant to open the trunk.
  • When the weather turned cold, Danny asked Nick if it was cold enough to “rug up.” Nick came to understand that this meant to wear a sweatshirt.
  • I think it rains more in Louisiana than it did in Australia and Nick had a good laugh when he saw Danny barefooted and bare-chested, sprinting across campus carrying his shirt and shoes. Apparently that’s what they do in Australia when it rains.
  • Nick also had to laugh when Danny learned the phrase riding “shotgun” but would call out “shotgun” then go to the wrong side of the car.


    Danny experiencing an American Fourth of July with Jake (Nick’s big brother) and Nick

Danny returned back to Australia after four years with the Ragin’ Cajuns and Nick hopes to visit him sometime. I just might have to travel with him.

Here are some other fun facts about Australia:

  • Captain James Cook first landed on Australia’s east coast in 1770. In 1788, the British returned with eleven ships to establish a penal colony. Within days of The First Fleet’s arrival and the raising of the British flag, two French ships arrived, just too late to claim Australia for France.
  • Some shopping centres and restaurants play classical music in their car park to deter teenagers from loitering at night.
  • In 1975, Australia had a government shutdown, which ended with the Queen firing everyone and the government starting again.
  • No native Australian animals have hooves.
  • In Australia, it is illegal to walk on the right-hand side of a footpath.
  • Australia has 3.3x more sheep than people
  • If you visited one new beach in Australia every day, it would take over 27 years to see them all.
  • Australia’s first police force was made up of the most well-behaved convicts

Writing prompt: Study a different culture and imagine your character landing in a completely new culture.

Coffee or Tea? Both! Straight From the Heart of India!

This month’s topic on Writing Prompts is…Coffee or Tea? How fun! Not only do I enjoy both coffee and tea, I’ve been blessed to have walked through a coffee estate in Tamil Nadu, South India as well as drink Darjeeling Tea in Darjeeling (almost 1500 miles northwest of Tamil Nadu in West Bengal, India–almost to the China border).

First, let’s talk coffee.

My husband’s family owns a small coffee estate in the hill station of Yercaud in Tamil Nadu. He says his mother gave him coffee in his baby bottle!

We’ve visited the family’s coffee estate a few times and have always enjoyed the thrilling ride up to the hill station…a 22 hair pin curve drive up the mountain along narrow roads. “Locals” eye us from the roadside. 🙂

Monkeys on the roadside on the way up to the Yercaud, Tamil Nadu hill station

We even wake up to these fellows peeking in the window! Once, the day after we left Yercaud, the local news reported that a herd of elephants had blocked the road for the entire day. I was both disappointed and glad that we missed that scene.

Below are photos of our visit into the estate, a tropical mountainside paradise…

Road in to the coffee estate. We had to rent a special Jeep to get in. At one point, I got scared and asked to get out and walk.

Road into the coffee estate. We had to rent a special Jeep to get in. At one point, I got scared and asked to get out and walk alongside the slow-moving Jeep. Do you blame me?

Inside the coffee estate on a cliff that overlooks the valley. When the British ruled India, they would come away from hot Madras and relax in these fertile hill stations.

Inside the coffee estate on a cliff that overlooks the valley. When the British ruled India, they would come away from hot Madras (todays Chennai) and relax in these fertile hill stations. Yercaud is filled with lovely churches, monasteries, convents, and spirituality centers. It’s the place where my husband ran miles to and from the church every day to serve at Mass…before school…barefoot.


Back to coffee…In Yercaud, the Catholic monks also own coffee estates.

Yercaud, Tamil Nadu. The monks own and operate several coffee plantations in Yercaud.



My husband and I on the misty mountain


Trees with black pepper plants growing up the trunks. Pepper is also grown on the coffee estates, along with oranges, jackfruit and other interesting flora and fauna.



Coffee plants beyond the rocks

Coffee plants close up

Coffee plants close up



Leaving the tropical south, let’s go north into Tea Country…

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 3.28.00 PM

And a 40 hour drive (about 1,600 mi) away from Tamil Nadu is Darjeeling, tea capital of the world.

And a 45 hour drive (1,557.4 mi) away from Tamil Nadu is Darjeeling, tea capital of the world. My husband and I also visited Darjeeling. Lovely tea gardens.

Lovely tea gardens of Darjeeling.

Here we are drinking Darjeeling Tea in Darjeeling in West Bengal, India.

Here we are drinking Darjeeling Tea in Darjeeling in West Bengal, India.

Driving around Darjeeling, the shops are so close to the road if you wanted to you could grab something off the shelves as you drove by

Driving around Darjeeling, the shops are so close to the road if you wanted, you could pull up and call them drive-throughs. .

Looking our from the tea shop over the city of Darjeeling.

Looking out from the tea shop over the city of Darjeeling.

Did a little shopping, too. Typical shop. We were purchasing shawls for the cooler weather.

Did a little shopping, too. Typical Darjeeling shop. We were purchasing shawls for the cooler weather.


And then back in warm south India, in Chennai, where (coffee or tea aside) a tender coconut drink is just what you need sometimes.

Thanks for coming along with me to India. It’s such a diverse land. Every trip is unique and amazing! If we here at Writing Prompts have “wine” as a topic, I’ve got a great story about drinking wine on the shores of the roaring magnificent Arabian Ocean under the glow of a full moon. One of my favorite memories!

And if you like fiction or nonfiction stories about India, my books are full of scenes from my times and experiences in Incredible India:

1coverCrooked Lines: On the shores of Lake Michigan, Rebecca Meyer seeks escape. Guilt-ridden over her little sister’s death, she sets her heart on India, a symbol of peace. Across the ocean in South India, Sagai Raj leaves his tranquil hill station home and impoverished family to answer a higher calling. Pushing through diverse cultural and religious milieus, he labors toward his goals, while wrong turns and bad choices block Rebecca from hers. Traveling similar paths and bridged across oceans through a priest, the two desire peace and their divine destiny. But vows and blind obedience at all costs must be weighed…and buried memories, unearthed. Crooked Lines, a beautifully crafted debut novel, threads the lives of two determined souls from different continents and cultures. Compelling characters struggle with spirituality through despair and deceptions in search of truth.

Beautiful beach and seaTsunami 2004 – Still Wading Through Waves of Hope – December 26th, 2014 marked the anniversary of the monster waves seen around the world. Is life restored back to normal on the shores of Nagapattinam, South India? Will it ever be? Like a sweeping wave, news of the tsunami fundraiser spread to a national level. Bishop Leo Michael became the ideal vehicle to collect, then ferry aid across the sea. He had lived and worked in the now tsunami devastated region for many years, spoke the native language, and had a counseling degree. TEN days later, trekking into impassable villages and decimated shorelines, the Michaels helped the widows and the orphans and those most affected by the tsunami.  TEN years later, the Michaels returned to the same villages and encountered surprising changes and a life-threatening situation.

Writing prompt: Write a few paragraphs about drinking your favorite beverage in a place in the world you would most like to visit or have visited. What emotions did you feel at the time?

104 (2)Holly Michael has enjoyed a writing career as a journalist, features writer, and a regular ghostwriter for a Guideposts magazine before authoring novels and nonfiction books. Married to Anglican Bishop, Leo Michael, Holly has three grown children; a lovely daughter Betsy and football-playing sons—Jake (NFL) and Nick (University of Louisiana-Lafayette). Kansas City, Missouri is home and she blogs at

Contact her at or on Facebook @ or Twitter: @HollyMichael


Thankful on so Many Levels

By Holly Michael

This Thanksgiving, I didn’t have roast turkey. No stuffing, either. No ham. No mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, or pumpkin pie, either. When we booked flights to India for a follow-up mission trip, the cheapest way to travel back to the US was to leave the day after Thanksgiving.

We went to India again because…

…Ten years ago, on Christmas Day evening, my husband (a pastor) and I relaxed after a long day at church.

Then the phone rang.

A call from South India. My brother-in-law DeCruze urged us to turn on the news. A tsunami had hit the shores of the Indian Ocean and many were feared dead. Thankfully, all family members lived inland and were okay, but my husband had worked and lived in the affected coastal region for years. Friends and children he’d cared for would have been swept out to sea in the early hours of December 26th (our 25th evening).

Just days later, after a major fundraising event, I stood on the shore of the Indian Ocean, surrounded by rows of tiny coconut trees. My husband approached and touched my arm. “Honey, you’re standing in a graveyard.”

I had no idea that the trees marked the graves of the children who died at sea. Tears fell from my eyes. We’d spent a week fundraising before flying to India. In the rush of it all, I’d handled everything well, even arriving in Nagatttinam to find smoldering piles of bodies still burning–more than five thousand died in this region. I took a deep breath. I’d come to help,  take pictures, and write a story for a Guideposts magazine assignment. I walked with my husband toward the men weeping in a smashed up fishing boat. In Tamil, my husband counseled them on the loss of their wives and children, the ones whose bodies were planted under those saplings.


Situations like that make me very thankful on so many levels.

Thanksgiving 2014, flying back from India, we visited those same villages and spoke with the people we helped, young children and teens, many now married. I’ve gathered stories of thanksgiving; hearts thankful to Americans for their help a decade ago and hopeful hearts through the struggles they still face living in a third world country. On the day after Christmas, I’ll be releasing a book: Tsunami 2004: Still Wading Through Waves of Hope.


The children from the Nagapattinam region have grown and are ready to begin new lives with money and interest from a CD deposited in accounts for them ten years ago. Hope is alive, but some stories were surprising and a common theme prevailed among the girls, now women, struggling with being female in villages steeped in old traditions. Wounds, never fully healed reopened and fresh tears flowed. Rupees won’t bring back the lost, but these young adults featured in my book have hope. They want to move forward with their lives.

Those in the remote fishing villages of Nagapattanim, South India expressed deep gratitude to America–to the school kids from Illinois who emptied their piggybanks and to adults from all over (especially in Northwest Arkansas) who generously opened their wallets on the heels of a major giving holiday.

Today, with the internet and news plastered with troubles in other parts of the world, we’ve become a global world, caring about those in distant troubled lands, praying for them, helping when we can. We also become thankful people, grateful to God for His protection and care.

On Thanksgiving, this year, as we thank God for our lives, our families, and our freedom, let’s look beyond our borders to those less fortunate and say a prayer for them.

And as we look forward to the Christmas and the topic of Christmas Traditions, let’s consider where our family traditions came from. Do you have ancestors from another country? What traditions can you trace to other parts of the world? Here’s my recipe for Turkey Curry, India style.


Ingredients Chicken/Turkey – 1 lb (cut into pieces) Onion – 1 (sliced) Kuskus – 2 tbsp Cashews – 4 Corriander seeds – 1 tbsp Green chilly – 5-7 Cumin seeds – 1 tbsp Coconut – 1/2 cup (grated) Yogurt (Curd) – 1/2 cup Ginger-Garlic paste- 2 tsp Cardimon – 3 Fennel seeds – ¼ tsp  Bay leaf – 1 Cloves – 2  Cinnamon sticks – 1 Oil – 2 tbsp Salt – to taste Cilantro – for garnish

Method 1. Soak kuskus in 1 cup warm water for 10 minutes and then grind it with green chilies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cashews, cardamom and coconut. Keep it aside. 2. Heat oil in a deep pan. Splutter fennel seeds.Add the bay leaf, cloves and cinnamon. 3. Add sliced onions and fry them till they are translucent. Next add the ginger-garlic paste and saute till the raw smell vanishes.  3. Add the chicken/turkey pieces and saute for 2 minutes. Next add 1 cup water, yogurt and salt to it. Cover and cook till the chicken is almost done. 4. At this stage add the ground paste and add the water required. Check for salt and let the kurma simmer for 5 minutes. 5. Garnish with cilantro. This goes very well with barottaaapam and idiyappam.


Happy Thanksgiving!

On a Treasure Hunt

TrailerPainting_t620I told you a bit about my “treasure-hunting” uncle in an earlier post [here]. He and my aunt have both passed on, having never really hit it big. But they always had that hope. They were always on a treasure hunt.

Perhaps Uncle Bill’s forebears went West in the late 1800’s along with thousands of others, seeking gold. Few of those struck by gold fever found the treasure they sought. But many stayed on, having found a treasure of a different sort.

This picture is not of my treasure-hunting family, but this is kind of how they started out, that first trip. What sent them down this path? A friend told them about a summer vacation destination where they could dig for gems. They hopped in the camper and set off. After talking to the owner and operator, it seemed like a good post-retirement source of income.

Not everyone finds treasure buried in their backyard. I’m not sure I’d recognize it if I did. Many gems in their raw form just look like rocks to me. But just for you, I found a list of destinations, if you’re interested in a treasure-hunting vacation. I’ll list a few of them, but there’s a better list available at Travel Channel’s History site [here].

gemstonesWhat’s your preference in gems? Opals? Emeralds? Diamonds? My personal favorite is aquamarine, since that’s my birthstone.

  1. Opals: Bonanza Opal Mine, Denio, Idaho, or Juniper Ridge Opal Mine, Lakeview, Oregon
  2. Emeralds: Emerald Hollow Mine, Hiddenite, North Carolina
  3. Diamonds: Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro, Arkansas
  4. Aquamarine: Gem Mountain Gemstone Mine, Spruce Pine, North Carolina

Are you close to one of those, or passing through there on your next vacation? Might be a good day trip or aside to your other plans. In case you aren’t aware, the Blue Ridge Mountains are gemstone rich!

If you prefer precious metals like gold, Roaring Camp in Gold Pine Grove, California is a good place to go.

There are also Thunder Eggs or Geodes, found in Rockhound State Park, in Deming, New Mexico. Find meteorites in Glorietta Mountain, New Mexico, and Brenham Township, Kansas. Dive for Jade in Jade Cove in Big Sur, California. And pick up some turquoise at the Royston Mine in Tonopah, Nevada. I love turquoise and always thought there was only the blue-green variety. Until I visited The Grand Canyon last summer and found white, pink, and purple turquoise in the nearby gift shops.

Many people find these treasure hunts great fun, as well as an educational experience for their children. This would be especially true of the dinosaur fossils found in Devil Hills, South Dakota. Wherever you choose to look, treasure is often near. Many times we have to search for it or dig for it. But it’s there.

Happy hunting, treasure seekers. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…” Matthew 6:21 NKJV

Betty Thomason Owens