The Nebraska Sandhills: Tanking

As a travel writer (I contribute to the Travel Channel), I get to take some pretty cool trips now and then. Recently I visited the Sandhills of central Nebraska, where we did something you can’t do in most places: we went “tankin’ “.  That’s Nebraska-speak for floating down the river in a tank once used to feed and water cattle.  (Yes, it floats just fine!)

This photo is pre-launch. Once we climbed into the tank, we sat on benches inside, and had room for a cooler packed with sandwiches, fruit and cookies. A picnic on the Middle Loup River = unbeatable summer fun.

The water’s not very deep here; maybe 4 feet in spots. It was shallow enough that one of us to get out and give us a shove when we got stuck on a sandbar. The tanks drift with the current, so paddling is optional.

The sun coming through the cottonwood trees on the bank was glorious. If we had had more time, we could’ve pulled our tanks onto the shore and picnicked there. Floating was so peaceful and calming. Nothing but the sounds of songbirds and the gurgle and bubble of the water.

See the sand on the bank? That’s why this region is known as the Sandhills. There’s very little topsoil to support trees, but the sandy hills, which cover about 1/3 of the entire state, are home to mixed prairie grasses.

More to come in part 2!

Australia, Mate – Snapshots from Taronga Zoo

Hubs recently returned from Australia, bringing home some snapshots of the Land Down Under. Here are a few scenes from Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. They’ll have to hold me until I can visit in person.


© William Coulter 2016

Kangaroos are the largest marsupials living on earth, and because they can only move forward, not backward, they’re Australia’s national emblem. Isn’t this one beautiful? They roam freely in the countryside.

William Coulter 2016

© William Coulter 2016

The entrance to the zoo whets your appetite for the creatures and native plants you’re going to see.


© William Coulter 2016

It makes sense that the feeding station for the giraffes is high in the air, like the leaves they pluck from trees in the wild.


© William Coulter 2016

You’ll have hard to look hard to spot this koala; he was hiding in the foliage on the left. Probably tired of having tourists make his picture. Not much to see here, so let’s move along…


© William Coulter 2016

The Taronga Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals from 350 species; many are endangered.

© William Coulter 2016

© William Coulter 2016

Australia is known for his deadly animals, and it has more poisonous snakes than any other country. Spiny leaf insects like this one don’t look cuddly, but they’re harmless and are kept pets in many Australian classrooms and homes.

© William Coulter 2016

© William Coulter 2016

This is just an ordinary pup, waiting for his owner. Apparently Aussies love their dogs and take them everywhere. He’s not part of the zoo, but I’m a dog lover, so I had to include him.

Tips for Writers: What to do When Your Camel Does THIS

Let’s set the scene. I’m on a press trip in Israel, at a Bedouin camp, waiting my turn to ride a camel, when the so-called “ship of the desert” in front of me does THIS.

He kneels unexpectedly, and my friends start to slide off his back. For a second everybody panics (except the Bedouin camel owner, who already got paid for this).

Contrary to what many aspiring writers think, this is typical of the freelance writing life. Yes, sometimes we get to go on fantastic press trips. We get paid–can you believe it?– for seeing another part of the world, meeting new people, and experiencing new things. Hey, we know how lucky we are.

But what others don’t know is how often a camel takes a knee.

One of my big camels–that is, one of my best clients–is about to go down, and that means my income is slipping, just like my buddies on the press trip. I’m going to have to do what I’ve done many times before: I’ve gotta round up some new camels.

New writers don’t always realize that freelancing is as much about marketing as about writing. You constantly have to look for new outlets for your work. Putting all your eggs in one basket, no matter how big, is dangerous if things change. And believe me, they will. Editors leave. Publications fold. Budgets get cut and so do contractors and freelancers.

Right now, I’m searching the horizon for new opportunities. But it’s okay. I’ve had to do this before and I’m sure I’ll have to do it again. I’m not panicking. (Much.)

Whatever you’re doing–writing, parenting, selling shoes or painting houses–don’t despair when your camel goes down. Just look for the next oasis. They’re always out there, and that’s where you’ll find the camels.



Cruising with the Carnival Horizon

Queen Latifah

Well…okay. I didn’t really sail on the new Carnival Cruise ship, Horizon, so the title of this post isn’t quite right.

But I was invited to its official naming ceremony in New York, which was a blast. At a press conference prior to boarding, we journalists and photographers got to meet the Queen herself, Queen Latifah, who is partnering with Carnival Cruise Lines to support St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

What a worthy cause! The families of children fighting cancer and other childhood diseases never receive a bill from St. Jude’s–not for treatments, housing or food. It’s all provided free to them.

(If you’re moved to donate, click here. St. Jude’s has increased the survival rate among kids with cancer from 20%, when the research hospital was founded, to 80%. Our donations can push that number even higher.)

I’ll post more about the amazing Carnival Horizon naming ceremony soon, and while we stayed in port this time, I’m ready to set sail the next time I board a Carnival cruise ship.


The Rush of the Mush

I’m a bit late posting pix from my trip to The Resort at Paws Up, in Greenough, Montana. But since it’s May, and it’s supposed to hit 87 degrees today, this is a good time to look at some ice and snow, right?

I was in Montana to write about dog sledding for Roam, the Travel Channel blog. This was my first ride–and I hope it won’t be my last.

Resort at Paws Up

Morning at the Resort at Paws Up. Just another day in a wintery paradise.



I drove up to find see the dogs had arrived in their own “car.” Yes, those cut-outs are customized for their ears.



Hannah, my guide, let me peer into her truck to see the dogs’ harnesses and other gear. Dogs peered back at me.


Hannah could barely restrain the dogs, once they were hitched to the sled. It’s true–they’re born to run.


The dogs stopped to scoop up snow when they were thirsty. In case you’re wondering, bathroom breaks  are taken on the go.


At the end of the trail, Hannah and a few pups were happy to pose for pictures. This was a fantastic experience–thank you, Paws Up!



South Dakota’s Buffalo Roundup

baby bison and mother

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

You’d think you’re in a Western movie. Cowboys and cowgirls crack whips in the air, dust swirls, horses whinny–and then you hear it: the thunder of hooves coming out of the Black Hills.

Custer State Park bison roundup

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Put the annual Bison Roundup, held in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, on your bucket list. I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see it while on a press tour. I rode, standing up, with other writers and photographers, in the back of a pick-up truck as we bounced across the grasslands, following the wranglers. (We held onto to safety rails as we hit stumps and prairie dog holes, or there might have been some headlines about trampled journalists.)

South Dakota Bison roundup

Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Riding alongside the bison–and these are American bison, although most of us call them buffalo –is a don’t-miss experience. Cowboys and cowgirls have to prove their skills to ride in this yearly event, when 1,300 of these massive animals are pushed into corrals to be counted and vaccinated. First year babies, or calves, are branded.


Courtesy South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Custer is a 71,000-acre park, but the land can only support a set number of bison, so some are auctioned off. The rest are set free to roam the park again.

Cowboy at bison roundup

The 2017 roundup is scheduled for Sept. 29, and it typically draws a crowd of 20,000 or more. If you go, take a chair or blanket to spread on the ground, so you can watch from the hillside. It’s free and open to the public, but you can buy a pancake breakfast while you wait for the action to start, or hang around afterwards for a bison BBQ lunch, if you’re hungry. Bring your binoculars, video recorder, and camera, because these are memories worth keeping.



“Getaway” to the Booth Western Art Museum


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made plenty of getaways with stolen goods.

Why not plan your own getaway? There’s a hidden treasure waiting to be found in the little town of Cartersville, Georgia: the Booth Western Art Museum. This pueblo-styled museum, featuring Western artists from the 20th and 21st centuries, is the only one of its kind in the Southeast, and home to the largest permanent Western art exhibit in the U.S.

You don’t have to be a cowboy fan to enjoy a visit. The Booth’s galleries include “Faces of the West,” where you’ll find works portraying legends like Geronimo and Doc Holiday, as well as other Native Americans, African Americans, and Western women. Another exhibit, “Heading West,” is dedicated to the earliest settlers of the region, including fur trappers, stagecoach passengers, and mountain men.

Movie buffs can explore “The Mythic West,” with its collection of pulp magazine covers and vintage movie posters. Look for John Wayne (as if you could miss this larger-than-life star!), rodeo champion-turned-actor Hoot Gibson, and others.

An exhibit called “Ansel Adams: Before and After,” has proved so popular, it’s been extended through April 3, 2016. It’s a fascinating look at some of the photographers who influenced Adams, as well as some of the artists who learned from him.

One of my favorites is the Presidential Gallery, with its collection of signed letters from each president of the United States. Art in the Civil War Gallery traces our nation’s worst conflict; its paintings are hung in chronological order to help visitors understand the timeline of battles.

Keep your eye on the museum’s calendar, so you don’t miss any special events. There’s an annual Summer Entertainment Series, as well as a yearly Cowboy Festival and Symposium scheduled for October. Bring the kids for a reenactment of the shoot-out at the O.K. corral and demonstrations of fancy roping and Native American dance.

A Trip to Alabama’s Bellingrath Gardens


It’s gray and overcast here today, although the recent warm temperatures are giving me spring fever. In the Atlanta area, we could hit 75 degrees in February, plunge back to freezing a week later, and have daffodils in bloom a few days after that. Since I’m getting tired of the bare landscape, I dug out some pictures from last April, when I visited Alabama’s Bellingrath Gardens and Home. It was cloudy then, too, but azaleas and lots of other plants were starting to blossom.


Some azaleas had already hit their peak. Their fallen petals look like confetti on the path.


Bellingrath is a 65-acre Southern estate that opened to the public in 1932. It’s been drawing visitors ever since, and this Gulf Coast icon is a popular place for weddings and other events.


The water looks so cold, doesn’t it?

SDC10173Purple, yellow, and lavender pansies and violas perked up this woodland scene.


Love this froggy fountain.


Stunning orchids were blooming inside a Bellingrath greenhouse.


Angel’s trumpets perfumed the air that day.


I was on a group tour, but I wish I’d had time to just sit and enjoy this beautiful, peaceful scene.


Sigh….pictures like these will have to do for a little while longer, but spring isn’t far away.


Snow Cats and Other Thoughts

snow cats

No, these cats don’t have dandruff. They’re covered – make that, sprinkled – with snow, and I’m posting their picture to show how much of the white stuff fell here a couple of weeks ago. While the rest of the country hunkered down against blizzards, ice storms and every other kind of weather hazard, here in the metro Atlanta area, I took a deep breath, blew the snowflakes off the porch railing, and went about my day.

I’d love to see some snow. I’d like to see fluffy little snow-caps on the rose hips, icicles decorating the bird bath, and a soft blanket of sparkling crystals on the lawn. But the last time I admitted to this romantic-minded foolishness on social media, I got blasted by people who hoped I’d get stuck in my car for a day and a night, with nothing but a half-can of flat Coca Cola and a package of spearmint gum to live on until I was rescued, or the sun came out. They wished me the joy of shoveling to get to the mailbox, only to find that the mail never came, and tunneling through streets piled high with mounds of dirty, freezing slush.

Not what I meant, but never mind. I get it.

Since it’s February, and once again, a few flakes are falling to the north, but not here, I’m turning my thoughts to other things. I’m excited about writing for the Travel Channel blog, which re-launches in March. I’ve covered gardening for years, and I’ll always have dirt under my nails (so to speak), but I’m looking forward to blogging about new topics, like where to find the best oysters or schools that teach you to hang glide. I’ll give tips about where to go on spring break and how travelers can learn to sculpt or play the banjo while on vacation.

This variety reminds me of an aptitude test I took in college. My results said I’d make a great nurse, missionary or librarian (clearly, I had a strong do-gooder streak, as well as an instinct to keep books neatly shelved). But I didn’t skew strongly in any one area. My test also said I’d do well as a scientist (apparently it didn’t measure math skills), teacher, farmer, dancer (seriously? the desire to do a thing does not equal the ability to do it), vet, decorator, designer and artist (if only I could paint).

At first, this Jill-of-all-trades assessment worried me, until I realized that it simply meant that I was curious about a lot of things. That turned out to be a useful quality for a writer.

When you get to explore many different subjects, your work is never boring. I’ve partnered with the captain of a nuclear sub while canning spiced peaches at a cooking school; snorkeled with manatees; and gotten caught in a volcanic eruption (Alaska’s Mount Spurr, years ago, and it was cold ash, not lava, or I wouldn’t be here now). I learned to fly-fish in Montana, on the same river as the one in Robert Redford’s film, A River Runs Through It (sadly, he was long gone).

I’ve backpacked with llamas in Taos, traded heirloom seeds with gardeners from around the South, and climbed into the wheelhouse of a riverboat to watch the dark waters of the Mississippi roll by as the moon rose. Of course, not all assignments are  exciting or fun. I’ve also written about the differences between fluorescent and metal halide lights, the advantages of fertilizing with pellets packed with micronutrients, and more.

I’m grateful, though, for these experiences, because I’ve learned from them. Well, except a few, like the one for a medical client who hired me to write about DRGs (diagnosis related groups, a statistical classification system that–but you don’t care, and I don’t blame you.)

Now I plan to blog more regularly. I want to share info from the travel blog, once the posts go live, and since I’m learning to quilt and sew, I’ll also write about some of my projects. I’ll probably ask for help from folks who know what they’re doing, because I’m teaching myself, and I need it.

And there are books, of course….books I’ll read and review, and a book for middle grade kids that I’m writing. I’ll share my progress–or lack thereof–as time goes on.

Kind of a mixed bag, isn’t it? Travel, quilts, books, and my rescue pups, who wind up in my posts and stories from time to time. That’s okay. Sometimes you start with snow cats, and go on to other thoughts.







Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival

Forget El Nino. Epcot’s 2016 International Flower and Garden Festival starts March 2! The topiary characters are my favorites, but this year, I’m also going to check out what’s cooking from the Outdoor Kitchens at the World Showcase. Here’s a snapshot of Minnie from the 2015 fest.

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