Sunday, November 26, 2017

Road Trip to Acadia

Kate Sullivan woke before her alarm. Although 14-year-old Madeline and 16-year-old Chloe were less enthusiastic, Kate couldn't wait for their road trip to Maine. Adam worked long hours, especially during football season, but this year he promised to take the first week in June off for a family vacation. She dumped the tray full of ice from their freezer on top of the bottles of pop and water in the cooler and slung the tote bag of snacks over her shoulder.

"Let's go!" she called out through the house that had been in her family for generations. Sometimes she could still see her Grandpa Clayton on the front porch swing with his arm around her grandma. Hurried footsteps drummed through the house as both girls rushed past her and into the attached garage to claim their seats in the family's Expedition. Adam was just behind them, snatching an apple off the counter and taking a bite before flashing Kate a smile and grabbing the cooler by the handle.

"Are you sure it's a good idea to be trapped in a vehicle with two teenage girls for fifteen plus hours?" He wrapped the arm with the apple-occupied hand around her waist and kissed first her lips and then her nose.

The sweet scent of a Honeycrisp filled her lungs and she licked the lingering juice from her lips. Kate grinned up at him when he pulled back. After six years of marriage, he still knew how to make her insides all gooey. More importantly, he still tried. They glanced through the screen door into the garage where the girls were waiting in the back seat, faking gagging at their parents' display of affection. She giggled. "You know, they might be wondering the same thing about us."

"That's true. At the very least, it'll be interesting, if not entertaining. Lead the way, copilot. Lead the way."

Kate headed to the packed up vehicle and climbed into the passenger seat while Adam slid the cooler behind his seat and then took his place behind the wheel. Adam backed out of the driveway, closed the garage door, and they were on their way.

Within just a couple hours, they were out of Ohio and not long after that the landscape began to change. From the time Kate was little and went on vacations with her dad, mom, and sister, Elizabeth, she recognized the valuable time spent in such close quarters with her family, singing to the radio, playing traveling games, and just talking. Kate's eyes grew misty as she clutched her pointer and middle fingers, the number years before Chloe graduated and went off to college. Truthfully, it was never far from her mind. Madeline would fly the nest a few years after that. These were the days to make memories.

They stopped for the night at a campground in New York and then continued on up the East Coast the following day. They reached Maine by late morning and Mt. Desert Island, where Acadia National Park is located, by early evening. After checking into their hotel in the quaint touristy town of Bar Harbor, they had some dinner and rested. The next day was sure to be an adventure . . .

Friday, November 24, 2017

Time for a Change

This is my first blog post, my first attempt at writing anything, as J.L. Riffle. "Why the change, Jen?" you may be asking. Well, I don't know exactly, but I know it's time.

I don't know a lot about a lot, but I do know one thing with 100% certainty: change is a part of life. Often it's the hardest part of life, but sometimes it's a breath of fresh air. Like, for example, that first warm spring breeze after the deep freeze of winter. That's one of my favorite changes, topped only by the crisp, woodsy scent of fall after a scorcher of a summer. You know what I'm talking about, right?

Jen Stephens was my name when I didn't like who I was. No, that's not correct. I didn't KNOW who I was. I was married. I had two great kids. I was a teacher and I had a fun hobby as a writer. But who was I? Sadly, I had to go through a valley to figure it out, and unfortunately so did people I care about, but the thing I learned about valleys is they can be a moment of rest and relief if you let them. No, you don't have a mountaintop view. Yes, there are long, dark shadows. Yes, there is loneliness, and often confusion, as well as the utter desperation, but when you scream out, "WHO AM I AND WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE CONTRIBUTING TO THIS WORLD???" and you hear your own voice echoing back to you, it's kind of a bit of a revelation.

I am ME! And I have a voice! I have a big heart and consequently a lot of feelings, which isn't always a great thing, but it allows me to connect with people on a personal level. I've been through hardships, I've caused some hardships, but now I feel like I understand myself and my unique place in this great big world a little better. It's time.

When I was young, I think I mentioned this in my previous blog post a few months ago, my dad and stepmom would take my sister and me on vacations, usually into the Great Smoky Mountains and often on a hike or two. Over Christmas break when we would visit, I remember going cross country skiing on trails in the Michigan woods. I didn't know it then, but an intense passion for nature and hiking was being instilled in me.

Fast forward about 25-30 years. I was a newly divorced single mom with another failed relationship under my belt (talk about a slam to your self-worth), and a friend, whom I met through his daughter and one of my students, suggested that I "get out of the house." He took me on the first hike I'd been on in years and years. It felt nice. A few months later, we decided to try having a relationship. Truthfully, there wasn't much trying involved. Some, yes, but this relationship was as much a breath of fresh air - and as NEEDED - as that hike. Yes, I needed this relationship to open my eyes and see what a good relationship looked and felt like. It was time. I was ready. And four years, and MANY hikes later, I am so blessed to call Brian my husband and my hiking partner for life.

"Why are you telling us all this, Jen?" you may be asking. Well, because it's time. And it's not anything most of you don't already know. I'm a pretty open book. I'm not opposed to sharing my struggles as well as my triumphs because I know I'm not a phenomenon. I know there are individuals who are experiencing the same things, and while they don't want to hear, "I know what you're going through, and everything will be alright," they also don't want to feel alone. You are never alone. And I am living and breathing proof that as long as you keep putting your feet on the floor each morning, God's not done with you yet. Grieve the chapter you just finished for as long as you need to, and then turn the page and start writing a new one.

I'm also telling you this because it is time to take Harvest Bay outdoors. My brilliant and supportive husband has encouraged me to write about what I love - nature and hiking, traveling and camping. So, I'm in the process of beginning book #1 of the Harvest Bay Outdoors series. It will likely take me some time as I am also working on completing my Masters of Education in Reading this year, but the process has begun. The working title ("working" means it IS subject to change) is Wilderness Experience and it will feature Kennedy, the sister of Adam and Owen, for those of you who have read The Heart's Journey Home and The Heart's Lullaby.

I will also be working on turning this blog into a travel blog of sorts written in the viewpoints of some of my characters. (That was my husband's idea!) It's taken me some time to wrap my brain around this idea, but now that I have, I think it will be FUN! I hope you will think so, too. I also hope it gives you the inspiration to get outdoors and experience nature with the ones you love. In my opinion, it's my favorite way to get quality time with my husband and girls, and quality time is the best gift to can give a person - it's priceless, it can't be taken back, and it comes in one size fits all. Lots of happy memories have been made on the trail!

On that note, happy belated Thanksgiving! I hope this holiday season is the most memorable yet!