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What I Learned This Week – 7/26/15

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This week I learned that I could build a hillbilly sound system.

My hillbilly sound system.

My hillbilly sound system.

When my preschooler son moved into a bigger bedroom, my husband designated the former nursery as his “man room.”

Well, then I designated the remaining bedroom as my room. Mostly craft/photo/exercise/sporting goods/genealogy storage, but also a tiny office space. Which, I figured, needed a sound system. You will notice that it features the portable CD player from my post a week ago. I also used the speakers from our old Dell desktop computer, which my husband and I both have almost discarded so many times, but they actually have really great sound.

"Dude, you're getting a Dell!"

“Dude, you’re getting a Dell!”

I rounded it out with my Sears mini boombox that is probably 30 years old. It once went to the electronics repair store to have a cassette tape removed that it ate (Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinkin’ Rich – Warrant). I don’t even think their are repair stores for cassette players anymore. People now even view computers as disposable. Everyone except me–I have resurrected my laptop with a new hard drive and a new power cord (Friday) in the 4 years I have owned it.

I placed it all on an ancient TV cart that my great-grandpa used in his TV repair business. I used an old Pepsi wooden crate to hold my extra headphones and cables.

Yes, my dear friends. This is me putting my Communications degree to good use.

And no one should be offended by me referring to it as a “hillbilly” sound system because I am hillbilly. I can prove it. Come dig through my genealogy storage bins ;-)

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
The Wind Could Blow a Bug ON SALE for only $.99 for a limited time & GIVEAWAY going on over at Goodreads (ends August 15, 2015)
When You Least Expect It AVAILABLE NOW!

My Perfect Burger

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It is summertime! The time for my husband to grill me up a delicious dinner while I hide inside from the swarms of mosquitoes. Now, you might remember from my previous posts that I am a picky eater.

Thus, you will never find any tomatoes on my burger–I would pick them off.

I wouldn’t stand for mushrooms.

Condiments such as mayo or mustard on my burger? Yuck.

Anything weird like feta or alfalfa sprouts or pineapple or olives is totally off the table.

No, my perfect burger has cheddar cheese–sharp cheddar is alright. American is barely passable, and usually only from McDonald’s. We are talking about home-made burgers here, preferably made on a grill (outdoor or the George–either is fine).

I like barbecue sauce on my burger. Yes, if I am somewhere else, ketchup will do. But, we are talking about my PERFECT burger here. I always use Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue Sauce. I put it on my bottom bun.

The Perfect Burger-In Progress

The Perfect Burger-In Progress

Then I need a white onion. I love onions. And raw, none of that sauteing business. I put a few rings or slivers on top of the barbecue sauce.

Next, the WELL DONE hamburger goes on top. Grade doesn’t matter, although a nice 80/20 usually does the trick. Years ago, before my husband was my husband, he and I found out that a bit of McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak seasoning mixed into the meat before cooking gives it a bit of a zing. Now I kind of miss the taste if we forget to throw some in.

The Perfect Burger

The Perfect Burger

I top it off with the cheese over it, then the top bun. Some nice dill pickle chips with it. Yum!

That sounds so good, I think I will go make that for lunch right now.

Pro-Meat meme. Meat. It's what's for dinner...

Pro-Meat meme. Meat. It’s what’s for dinner…

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
The Wind Could Blow a Bug ON SALE for only $.99 for a limited time & GIVEAWAY going on over at Goodreads (ends August 15, 2015)
When You Least Expect It AVAILABLE NOW!

What I Learned This Week – 7/19/15

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This week I learned that the movie One Small Hitch, is a really, really good movie. I stumbled upon it in a romantic comedy search on Netflix. It is a 2013 movie starring Shane McRae and Aubrey Dollar as two childhood friends pretending to be engaged for the sake of Josh’s (McRae) dying father. Awkward situations ensue.

WEEK-One Small Hitch

I will admit that it did start a little slow, but the leads are both adorable and it only gets cuter when they move into an apartment together. One Small Hitch is like While You Were Sleeping, except no one has to be pushed onto the railroad tracks and end up in a coma. A few people get punched in the face though.

This week I also realized that I have the best CD player in the world.

Best CD player

Best CD player

Yes, some of us without an iPhone or mp3 player with a screen still rely on such devices to make collections (mix tapes), “playlists” if you will, of songs that suit our fancy on any particular day.

I have a big CD player in my kitchen, but I wanted to listen to a CD while laying in bed. So, I headed upstairs to the electronics graveyard to find a small CD player. I knew we had at least one. Actually, I found two. One was a jogproof one that I had purchased one year for my birthday. It wasn’t jogproof, and I am not a jogger. So, ya.

The other is the CD player I quickly recognized from my old job. For the 12 years I worked for Borders, I used this CD player nearly every day. You can see that I doodled on it, and marked it with stickers so that if someone stole it, I would know that it was mine.

I cannot believe that it still works! I do believe that it used to have an AC adapter, but I can’t presently find it. I used to put a CD on pause, then head off to a 3 hour meeting, leaving it spinning on my desk the whole time. Last night I popped in batteries of questionable age, and it still worked like a dream.

And so many functions! I can program what order I want to play the tracks from on a CD, which comes in handy for albums such as Pieces of You by Jewel, that contain some very good, and some not very good songs. It has repeat one or all. It has bass boost. It shows track number and time at the same time!

For being around 15 years old, it has held up remarkably well. The volume dial causes some interference in the headphones when adjusted. But I used to have headphones with a volume control in the cord, so that was never a problem.

I love that it is a little no-name brand. I love that at that time, they thought they still needed to spell out that it was “DIGITAL” technology.

Now, everything is.

Don’t get me started on my love of analog/cassette tapes.

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
The Wind Could Blow a Bug ON SALE for only $.99 for a limited time & GIVEAWAY going on over at Goodreads (ends August 15, 2015)
When You Least Expect It AVAILABLE NOW!

PURCHASE as a Paperback or eBook on TODAY.

Excerpt: Chapter 1 of When You Least Expect It + Goodreads Giveaway

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When You Least Expect It
The Riley Sisters
Book 2
By Jennifer Friess
ISBN: 978-0692452165

To celebrate the release of When You Least Expect It, Book 2 in The Riley Sisters series, I am holding a giveaway over at popular reader social media site Goodreads. You can enter here to win a copy of The Wind Could Blow a Bug, Book 1:

And for you today, dear dedicated blog readers, I have Chapter 1 of When You Least Expect It



Kiley gazed out the windows into the darkness as she autographed her novel for the last customer in the bookstore. She signed it, then smiled at the customer as she was hurriedly ushered out the door by the owner, Mrs. Bethany.

“Five minutes till close,” she barked.

Kiley got the feeling that Mrs. Bethany didn’t hold a lot of book signings in her store. But Kiley’s agent seemed to be able to get her into almost anywhere: expos, libraries, bookstores—chains and independents. This didn’t always make for a warm welcome, but Kiley was always grateful for anywhere she could get more sales and talk to readers, having one-on-one interaction. Her agent was happy that Kiley was so game to be on the road for long periods of time, traveling around the country. Most authors had 9 to 5 jobs and kids and obligations they were reluctant to leave behind. Knowing that tomorrow would be the end of seven months on the road, Kiley now realized maybe she should have been skeptical about why she was the only one willing to do this rigorous touring. Maybe there was a good reason why sane authors didn’t want to.

Kiley got up and began loading the leftover books onto the metal cart the owner had pulled up next to the table where she had been signing. Mrs. Bethany would place one or two copies back on the shelf, no doubt returning the rest of the stock back to the publisher. Kiley gazed at the cover of her book. The picture featured a good looking man and woman in an embrace. But what always jumped out at her was her name. Even though it had now been a year since the book had first been published, she still felt like she was dreaming when she saw her name in print on the cover of an actual honest-to-goodness book.

Well, it wasn’t exactly her name. It was her pen name, K. Riley, because her given name, Kiley Riley, sounded like a Dr. Seuss character. She couldn’t use her middle name of Renee. Ick. Every Renee she had ever known was a bitch. It was kind of cool being known as an initial. It also doubled as an actual name, “Kay.”

She flipped the book over in her hands and looked at the picture of herself on the back cover. The team at the publishing house had wanted her to change her hair, have it look more natural for the picture, but she had resisted and finally won out. No one seemed to be a big fan of the sleek black bob with bangs she had sported since high school, but she loved it. And it was HER hair. No one else should get a vote.

Most people are pretty impressed when they find out that her first book was published while she was still attending Alva University for her bachelor’s degree. Well, her only published book, so far. If she was honest with herself, she was impressed by this too.

Kiley had done writings that were so much more serious. Started stories that she spent years working on, only to abandon them. She never thought the little free-write she started at 1:00AM about her jacked up life at the beginning of her sophomore year of college would turn into a novel. It only took her three weeks to flesh out the first draft. By the end of sophomore year, Kiley’s favorite English teacher had read it and was helping her to find agents to shop the novel to. It took months before a publisher bought it. It made her a bit disillusioned by the whole process. It wasn’t the romantic experience she had always dreamed that it would be. Writing was the fun part. And she tried hard to remember that through everything that came after. There was another year of going through the editing process. Ugh! She could barely recognize the finished product as her story. The publisher paid her, and slapped her name on the center of the cover, so they must have thought it was still Kiley’s work.

Kiley received her box of advance reader copies on Christmas Eve, her senior year. There was no doubt that everyone received a copy as their Christmas gift. Although, in retrospect, she probably shouldn’t have given copies to her parents. But Kiley didn’t want to think about all that family drama right now. That January, it was available for purchase. While the publisher let Kiley postpone a real publicity tour until after her final classes ended in May, she still did occasional newspaper and radio interviews to support the book. She multitasked and did these while completing her classwork. It was a good thing she had planned ahead and completed her senior research project the first semester, rather than waiting till the second. Actually, Kiley had to give credit to her big sister Jane for that advice. Jane was always the planner in the family.

She didn’t get to go on any big, national TV shows. But she did get to do local morning shows and talk shows. The first time she was super-nervous. But once she learned the TV lingo and what camera to look at, she was as good as gold. There was one appearance she had to fly to, but most she would just drive herself to. If they were on a weekend, sometimes her boyfriend Ted would come along.

He would say, “Let’s pretend this is a little mini vacation.”

She would say, “It IS a little mini vacation.”

But he never liked this clarification, for some reason.

Ted wasn’t scheduled to graduate until December. He said that was why he didn’t mind traveling with her sometimes. All his toughest classes he would be taking in the fall. Ted was a biology major. His plan was to go on and get his master’s degree. He made fun of Kiley when she had first tried to secure an agent for her story. He had thought she was crazy and had delusions of fame. He fed her statistics of how many writers actually supported themselves solely from their craft. Ted was a glass half empty kind of guy.

Of course, they weren’t yet dating at that time. Ted just lived in the same dorm as Kiley. They often saw each other coming and going. They passed each other at the mailboxes and ran into each other in the laundry room. They started dating, well, sometime around when the publisher gave her a deal.

Wait, was that right?

He had asked her out. She had been so flattered, that of course she said yes. They had been a couple ever since.

Ted was the same height as Kiley when he had shoes on, which made him shorter than a lot of other guys. He was skinny. If he forgot to eat lunch, he could be classified as scrawny. He had beady eyes that saw the world through metal-rimmed glasses, which sat atop his nose that didn’t quite fit into his face. He wasn’t classically handsome, but he had a kind of dork-sheik about him.

Once she had finished her classes, she took off for her official book signing tour across the country. Kiley’s agent helped her to set up appearances. She even skipped graduation to go. She had the registrar ship her degree to her mother. Why bother with a ceremony symbolizing the start of her life, when she could already be living it?

It was discouraging, at first, when so few people would show up for her book signings. It wasn’t at all like she had pictured when she daydreamed about becoming a writer. She had imagined being in a big, national chain bookstore with the smell of coffee in the air, and a line of people curving all the way out the door and around the building. But with only two large national bookstore chains remaining, most of her stops were in small, independent bookstores that became cramped when you added an extra table and chairs.

The publisher kept stressing to her how important it was for an unknown author to get out and meet people, to get her name (and book) in front them. They said it was the same as with a new band needing to tour. While it was great having strangers tell her how much they enjoyed reading her book, it seemed everyone always asked the same question:

How did you come up with the idea for your story?

The answer Kiley always gave was that it was based on her own life, which truthfully, large parts of it were. But the truth, which she never told them, was that it had come to her in a dream. But she couldn’t tell people that. It sounded so—Stephenie Meyer. She desperately wanted people to believe she was a good writer, not just a transcriber of dreams. She wanted to have wonderful ideas of her own freewill, not from her subconscious. It seemed like the lazy man’s way to create a story.

She felt more comfortable the more signings she did. Ted came with her for a month in the summer, to keep her company. But a little part of her was happy when he went back to school for the fall semester. She was lonelier now, with no one else in her hotel at night to talk to. But when Ted was with her, she always seemed like she had to put on an act to keep him happy. Like if he saw her pick coleslaw out of her teeth with her black, plastic spork, he might be repulsed and run screaming the other way. She felt like Ted held her to a higher standard than she held herself. And that was kind of annoying.

She snuck in visits to her mom and dad when she could. She talked to her identical twin sister Miley several nights a week on the phone. Miley always said she couldn’t be on a six month trip like that. She just wasn’t programmed for it. Kiley liked traveling and seeing different cities and towns. But she was still lonely. She was becoming too used to this transient life. She needed to get back to reality. And start a second book already! Her future standard of living depended on it.

After the books were all on the cart, Kiley grabbed the other assorted odds and ends from the table. She dropped her empty cup of fountain coke and the crumpled napkin containing the crumbs from her orange cranberry muffin into the garbage can. She picked up her selection of Sharpie markers she had brought, black and silver, fine and ultra-fine point, and put them back into her messenger bag. Just then her cell began to ring. A quick glance at the picture on the screen told her it was her older sister Jane.

“Hi. I’m not interrupting, am I?” Jane asked worriedly.

“No. Perfect timing. I am just about to walk out the door,” Kiley replied.

She covered the mouthpiece of the phone and thanked Mrs. Bethany for having her. She only grunted in reply, although by most book signing standards, Kiley’s little book had done very well for her business tonight. Kiley waved at the two employees in the back of the store who had helped with set up, then pushed her way out the glass door with the metal frame. The little bell chimed in farewell.

“I just wanted to make sure you are still planning on arriving tomorrow,” Jane inquired.

“Yes. I would love to just come straight down now, but I’m in Arkansas,” Kiley said, approaching her white SUV that glowed under the parking lot lights. Climbing behind the steering wheel of her Toyota RAV4, she watched as the owner locked the door and flipped the sign to “Closed.” “I am pretty sure I would fall asleep on the way to Alabama.”

“Oh, that is fine. I would rather not have to worry about you falling asleep and ending up dead in a ditch tonight.”

“Ah, I miss you, optimistic sister,” she replied, sarcasm dripping from every word.

“Very funny. Do you think you will make it here by dinnertime tomorrow?”

“That is my plan.”

“I can’t wait to see you.”

“I can’t wait to see you, too. I bet you have changed a lot in the three months since I saw you last. Time to head to the motel.”



Kiley drove toward the nearest interstate, where she had seen a bunch of chain motels, and a few mom and pop joints that looked like they could be a set for a new horror movie. Coming into town, she especially remembered seeing one that looked like it had recently had a fire, in the last five years or so, with boards covering the windows. But there was a giant brand new shiny banner hanging across that building which read “Now Open for Business.” Kiley couldn’t imagine anyone dense enough to actually stop there to get a room for the night. She was terrified to even drive past the place, afraid that a ghost would come up her tailpipe, or in through her ventilation system, and possess her.

She checked in to a low-budget but reasonably clean-looking motel. She handed over her debit card at the front counter, praying that there was enough money remaining in her checking account for both a room tonight and gas tomorrow. She pulled her little carry-on case to her room, swiped the key card, turned on the light, then fell face first onto the bed. Kiley was so tired. She wished she was still a little kid and could just sleep like this. Her appearance clothes would get wrinkled, but she wouldn’t be having any engagements in Oakley and could have them dry-cleaned before any future ones. But sleeping in her dress clothes wouldn’t be very comfortable.

Kiley pushed herself up off the bed. She pulled an old, stretched gray T-shirt out of her suitcase. She didn’t bother to look for her own toothbrush. She opened the one sealed in plastic wrap provided by the motel instead. Then she laid down on the lumpy mattress. She tried to fluff the flat pillow, but it was no use. The low thread count sheets scratched her as she tossed and turned. She hadn’t paid a high enough price for this motel for them to have a budget big enough to use fabric softener. She turned on the television to her favorite late-night talk show, hosted by Timmy Killon. The radiating glow of the screen and incessant drone of the men talking soon lulled her into sleep.

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
The Wind Could Blow a Bug ON SALE for only $.99 for a limited time & GIVEAWAY going on over at Goodreads (ends August 15, 2015)
When You Least Expect It AVAILABLE NOW!

PURCHASE as a Paperback or eBook on TODAY.

“We are not going to Mackinaw City.”

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My mom and I took a vacation “Up North” in Michigan in June of 1990. I had completed 8th grade, and was due to change buildings to start scary high school in the fall. My 80’s perm that I had finally gotten caused my hair to become dry and frizzy, and I didn’t have the good sense yet to cut it of. My hair would never be as long again until my future wedding. I still toted my New Kids on The Block book with me, and of course my stuffed animal Barfeys.

Turning in for the night with the essentials

Turning in for the night with the essentials

We were only going for three days. My mom decided we would travel up the west side of the state. This was a change from trips we had taken Up North in the past. Usually we were gone for four days, to allow for more sight-seeing, and we usually traveled up the east side or the middle of the state.

“We are not going to Mackinaw City.”

This was my mom’s statement, over and over again, as we planned out the trip. Mackinaw City, and with it the Mackinaw Bridge, are two of my mom’s favorite things in the world. We had been there before. But I think she made the statement for two reasons.

  • I think she wanted to see something new we had not seen before, which is why we went up the west side of the state.
  • How she travels, then this took longer, and I don’t think she had enough money for us to have another night’s motel stay.
  • And she did not want to drive all the way home from Mackinaw City in one day.

Wait. That is three reasons. But they are all related to each other.

We headed off at the end of June. My mom must have thought I was old enough to pack for myself, because I went without a jacket. It is summer! It is June! Who needs a jacket!

That was the gloomiest, rainiest, coldest end of June, until 2015. Since then, I have learned that it is always colder the further north you go, and near the water. Either way, it was still colder than it should have been. My mom told me to layer my T-shirts, so I did. It did not really help to keep me any warmer.

Our first major stop was Holland, Michigan. It was really awesome to see an actual Dutch windmill. There were dancers who wore wooden shoes. They were impressive. Even with wearing layers and layers of socks, I still figured that must be the worst summer job in town.

We traveled through Muskegon that day, and spent the night in Manistee. I kept thinking how much it sounded like “manatee.” We went to sleep and dreamed of warm days and sunny skies. But the dawn brought only more clouds and rain.

In the morning, my mother reminded me, “We are not going to Mackinaw City. We need to start heading back down for home tonight, so we will not have a long drive tomorrow.”

We traveled through Frankfort and spotted a lighthouse across the water. Lighthouses are my favorite. If I recall correctly, my mom found a condo parking lot she drove through to get a better look at it. The Frankfort light may have been the first one I ever saw with a breakwater attached to it. The way the rough waters splashed up against it was impressive. I could have captured it better with a digital camera, but they did not exist yet.

Frankfort Breakwater Light, Frankfort, MI 1990

Frankfort Breakwater Light, Frankfort, MI 1990

We stopped at Sleeping Bear Dunes, another of my favorite places. Not so much when it is blowing and cold and rainy though. The first time we had ever been there, I was like eight years old. My mom wasn’t spry enough to climb the dunes with me, and I was too young to climb them by myself. Now, I was old enough to go up myself, but the weather was just too crappy. We bought me a souvenir T-shirt in the gift shop, to add to my layers of warmth. (I was wearing all the shirts I had brought for the entire vacation every day.) It was neon pink and three sizes too big, because I was not done with 80’s fashions yet.

The wind is blowing my shirt, but it looks like something else...

The wind is blowing my shirt, but it looks like something else…

If you think this is just a post about me whining about a gloomy trip, please stick with me. I am almost to the part where the cloud bank lifts and the angels sing. Actually, it was a band playing, but you get the idea…

We went to Traverse City. We drove out on Old Mission Point and found another lighthouse. We couldn’t go inside or climb this one either, but at least we could take pictures out front.

Old Mission Point Lighthouse, near Traverse City, MI 1990

Old Mission Point Lighthouse, near Traverse City, MI 1990

Then a strange thing happened.

My mom got on the road to Mackinaw City (Route 31, most likely). We passed through little towns. We passed by convenience stores selling fudge. We passed through the big cities of Charlevoix and Petoskey.

She kept driving. I kept quiet. Sure, I was the navigator with the map, but she had to know we were headed for Mackinaw City, right? After all, there were road signs that indicated we were nearing it. Billboards advertising the various ferry companies, Arnold, Sheplers, and Star Line, became more and more prominent.

Another funny thing happened. The clouds began to clear.

But she was the mother, the adult, and she had said, “We are not going to Mackinaw City.”

Had she lost her mind? Taken leave of her senses?

Either way, I was keeping my mouth shut, because I really really DID want to go to Mackinaw City. I figured if I didn’t say anything, we would just end up there and it would be too late.

And that is just what happened. We rolled into Mackinaw City. And while I wouldn’t say the sun came out, the rain stopped.

The weather improved enough that the kite store was flying a long string of colorful kites up into the sky, all tied to one another. It was like a fabric rainbow after the rain. The scent of fresh fudge hung heavy in the air. Next to the Straits of Mackinac in the park at the end of the street, a huge band started to set up. When they began to play, the music drifted down the street, where cars were parked along the center boulevard as they probably had since the 1950’s, and souvenir shops lined up next to each other. Since the 4th of July was only a few weeks away, they had many patriotic songs mixed into their selections. I guess it made sense that they were playing in the town square, since it was a Saturday evening. But I was on vacation, and had lost all track of time.

Actual program from that night's performance

Actual program from that night’s performance

I just think back on that night so fondly. It is one of the moments in my life that I will cherish forever. That may be one of the most relaxed and happy times of my life, right then. My mom and I walked the shops until the lights shined brightly inside and the sun fell below the horizon, in the shadow of the giant bridge, connecting the the two peninsulas like a neck connects a head to a body.

In the morning, the sun shone brightly in the sky (of course!). We made one last visit to my mom’s favorite park by the bridge, then started off on our long trip home.

Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw City, MI 1990

Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw City, MI 1990

Years later, I admitted to her that I knew where we were headed but I hadn’t said anything. “Oh, I knew where we were going. But we were that close, and I just couldn’t help but head up there.”

Still, I think she may have been in a vacation daze. If I had said anything, who knows, it may have snapped her out of it. Then we never would have gone to Mackinaw City. I wish I was there right now. With a jacket, just in case…

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books When You Least Expect It & The Wind Could Blow a Bug AVAILABLE NOW! (The Wind Could Blow a Bug is ON SALE for only $.99 for a limited time.)

PURCHASE as a Paperback or eBook on TODAY.


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