A Boy with a Hammer Does His Part

By  Lawrence Landwehr 

Ever since my mother and I had come to live with her parents on their farm and ranch, I had access to small hand tools such as hand saws, pliers, wrenches, etc. As a boy, the tool I liked most was a hammer. Once taken in hand, the hammer multiplied my arm’s force tenfold and bestowed in me a palatable feeling of power.  And here’s the best part: Everything—Everything needed pounding.

Landwher boy with hammer

One summer day my empowered right arm and I were patrolling for objects needing our attention.   I settled on a bullet from the family’s small arsenal, placed it on a concrete step and pounded on it—BAM, BAM, BAM. The bullet fired, and I heard it strike the concrete and zinggggg into the distance as its tone dropped. At age five I knew that Death had just granted me a second chance.

One might wonder why a small boy would be unsupervised and free to be so creative. My mother was no longer around; she had taken a job out of state. My grandparents were very much present, but were working long and hard raising wheat crops and beef cattle to build their small enterprise into a much larger one.   My contribution to the effort was to entertain myself and not interrupt the adults when they were working. That left me to find ways to pass the day, especially during harvest or roundup times.

What was I to do? No Cat in the Hat would be stopping by. Television could not come to the rescue. If radio had children’s programs, no one told me (but I did hear FDR giving a “Fireside Chat”). Climbing trees was out because our only tree was not shaped for climbing. Going out to play in the neighborhood was not an option because, well, because there was no neighborhood. The nearest neighbor, the Simon family, was five miles away.

One of the Simon children, Jerry, was my age, and on rare occasion, an adult would drive one of us to the other’s home so that he and I could have playtime together.

My most reliable time filler was being outdoors watching the hired hands working and observing my grandfather as he organized the work and solved problems throughout the day. I watched the crop planting and harvesting, care and use of horses, branding and care of livestock, milking a few cows, butchering, sheering of sheep, repairs to equipment, erection of new buildings, etc.

Other ways in which I at age five through eight did my part included

  • churning butter
  • building things from scraps of lumber,
  • dousing hills of large red ants with gasoline and then igniting them
  • helping my grandmother with her small brewery in the basement
  • being alert for rattle snakes
  • reading comic books
  • and, of course, watching paint dry.

At any rate, by adapting well to being alone and finding ways to entertain myself, I did my part building the family financially. The enterprise grew—ultimately into a farming and ranching operation of 10,000 acres. I was so proud of my grandparents! Incidentally, I got my work ethic from seeing their work rewarded. But I have yet to hammer on another bullet, although I’m sure plenty of them need it.


  1. The notion that a small boy with a hammer will think that everything needs pounding has been previously noted by others. Psychologist Abraham Maslow saw applicability of this behavioral pattern beyond childhood and wrote that if you only own a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
  2.  In 2013 I was in contact with my old friend, Jerry.
  3.  On the decline in the amount of children’s unsupervised time outdoors , see Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, The Nature of Childhood: Growing up in America Since 1865.

Lawrence J. Landwehr resides in Middleton, Wisconsin and is retired.

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My Lost Cursive (and so much more)

Recalling last spring’s “from cursive to computer” writing prompt caused me to recall my own rocky history with cursive writing–and so much more. -Sarah White

I was born in October of 1956. For first grade, my parents chose for me St. Richard’s Academy on Indianapolis’ near north side, even though we lived 15 miles north in Carmel. I think this was because at about that time my mother began working for a publishing company near that school—and because they would take me while I was still 5, which Carmel’s public school would not.

I loved St. Richards from the moment I entered its gothic pointy-roofed garden gate at age 5 and 11/12ths, wearing my little plaid kilt and a green wool blazer with a heraldic crest embroidered on its chest pocket.

St. Richards gate 2007_07_09

St. Richard’s Acadamy, photographed in July 2007.

The thing about St. Richard’s is that it was Episcopalian and Anglophile in every conceivable way. We had teachers imported from England who taught from textbooks imported from England. From these I learned that “We live on a small island next to a large continent.”

Our teachers had high expectations of 1st graders and we rose to meet them. Our math lessons involved working on times tables and long division as well as addition and subtraction, aided by graph paper to keep our columns neat. We learned French with readings and exercises about “deux soldats du bois.” We learned to write longhand using fountain pens we filled ourselves from small glass bottles. We colored maps of Europe in careful horizontal strokes, long wooden colored pencils gripped in our tiny fists.

1961_St. Richards Totor et Tristan

And then the year was over, and the next year my parents transferred me to the public school in Carmel for second grade. Here the students only printed their alphabets, using stubby pencils. The teacher took away my fountain pen and forbade me to write longhand. No elegant colored pencils here, only crayons. No long division, no times tables, no French.

And so I went into my vivid imagination, and I didn’t come out until sometime in the fourth grade, when I realized with terror that I had forgotten everything I’d learned in the first grade, and failed to take in any new information since.

A mental habit of absent-mindedness and a fear of math are the permanent scars of my early education. (And a love of calligraphy and fine fountain pens.)

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From Cursive to Computer

There has been a lot of handwringing  about the demise of cursive writing this year. An NPR piece about it aired as I drove to teach the first session of a memoir writing workshop back in March. It inspired me with a topic for our first in-class exercise. I gave my students the prompt, “from cursive to computer” and then challenged them to write facts (1 minute), memories (3 minutes), and meaning (1 minute). – Sarah White

From Cursive to Computer

By Bonnie Berens

I am around six or seven years old. I am crouching in my wooden, two-piece desk afraid to raise my hand for help from “the penguin.”

My transfer from Lincoln Avenue School to St. Cyril & Methodius Catholic School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was highly traumatic for me. I could not remember how to spell my last, long—14 letter—Polish name. Niedzialkowski. I did raise my hand, and Sister Mary Eulogia came to my side and kindly printed my name, then wrote it in cursive for me.

I felt proud that I was so brave to have raised my hand in fear, and have such a positive response. I face my adversaries straight on now—a little scary still, to “youngsters” who are my bosses.

Bonnie Ann (Niedzialkowski) Berens

Berense From Curvsive to Computer-cr

“Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.” –New York Times, June 2, 2014.


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In Madison? Accelerate your memoir writing in August

71559675-croppedI am offering a “lite” version of my “Start Writing Your Memoir” workshop later this summer. We will meet for 5 nights July 31 through August 28, 6:45pm-8:45pm at Pinney Branch Library, 204 Cottage Grove Rd. For a description of the workshop, visit my website’s Upcoming Events page.

Registration opens July 17th. To register, call the library at 224-7100 or visit the library’s events page. 


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Luigi and the Signora

The season of vicarious wanderlust concludes with this tale from one afternoon in Venice,  early March 2001.

By Sarah White

Moving through the tiny alleys, bursting into squares that are not square but multi-sided, we walked the labyrinth, all six sestiere, the dense wrinkles of Rialto and the avenues of Dorso Duro, the public park at the tip of the Castello and the stark Fondamento Novo in Cannareggio to the north, where the hospital sits conveniently across from the cemetery island.

If we were in a labyrinth, then at its heart lay the Piazza Santa Maria di Nuova, with Luigi’s bookstore and Signora Von Block’s apartment around the corner.


We had walked and walked for days and days, and once or twice we’d gone into a bookstore because I was on a mission. I wanted to see if there were do-it-yourself business books here, like the ones I write. (I authored Do It Yourself Advertising in 1993, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Marketing in 1997.) So far I’d found nothing of the kind; the closest thing was computer books. So I vowed that if we found one more bookstore, I’d burst through the language barrier and ask about “fai-da-te” (do it yourself).

I had armed myself with a photo of myself with my books, and I pulled it from my purse as I approached the store. It did not look promising at the start; a shop so crowded, with so many of the books stacked, not shelved. Half the store consisted of milk crates set outside, a crazy mix of new and used books in many languages.

2001_Sarah with CIG-Marketing

Coming from the light of the square into the dim interior, it took me a few moments to realize there was no proprietor around. But then a man came in the door—returning from wherever he shares espressos with his fellow retailers between customers, a charming and practical custom.

I began my spiel, “sono una scrittriche, ho scritto quelli,” offering my photo. “Fai-da-te, advertising, marketing,” stringing together phrases, and hoping for sense. “Is there such a thing in Italy?” He shakes his head, no, well maybe how-to for computers, or study guides to prepare for state tests. He knows a woman, with connections in publishing, perhaps she would know more… But really no, nothing “how-to” for business here. (We are using perhaps 2/3 Italian and 1/3 English to accomplish this communication.)

“Maybe I have your book,” he says, and takes me back outside, burrows through a crate, and produces (in English) an outdated copy of The Photoshop Bible. “No, sorry, not mine. Thank you very much.”

Then he points me to a lovely little children’s book, watercolors telling a tale about a nymph and a catfish, with text in both English and Italian. “Sit over there if you like,” he points to a bench, “read it, if you like, you buy it, if not, enjoy with my compliments.” Jim has found a Dylan Dog comic he wants to buy. I look at the fairy tale book for a few moments and say “yes, I want it, please.” As he gives us our change, he says, “I am good at this, see? I don’t need ‘do-it-yourself’ marketing.” A good chuckle shared; he has surprisingly light twinkly eyes set deep in his olive face. I ask his name; Luigi.


Then as we are leaving, he says, “wait, let me try the signora, she lives right around the corner. Maybe she can help you.” He starts to leave. When I don’t follow, he grabs the shoulder of my coat and makes to drag me along. “Venga, venga.” So Jim and I follow him around the corner, where he rings a doorbell, exchanges a few words with an intercom. “Ultimo piano? Si?” The door buzzes, and Luigi says encouragingly “Ultimo piano, top floor,” then takes off back toward his shop. There stand Jim and I, exchanging a look like a couple of deer caught in headlights, before we push through the door.

We wind around two flights of steps in the shadowy dark, up past landings crowded with dark furniture and plants, coming into light as we approach the “ultimo piano.” I see an oldish woman in a wrapper leaning over the balustrade.

“Se parla inglese?” I ask.

“I should, I’m an American,” she laughs. What relief!

She shows us in to her small living room, sits down, and without pause begins to talk. Her husband was a writer, wrote books, magazine articles—whatever work he found, especially if there was an advance, but that was long ago… “We had wanderlust. We made Venice our base, but we went all over the world.”

“Sarah’s parents did that too,” said Jim, “They were writers, travelled and wrote, around the south.”

“For Ford Magazine,” I volunteered.

She looked impressed. “We never wrote for Ford. The magazine we worked for most was called ‘Mailman Stag,’ but it wasn’t what you think. We wrote adventure, true crime stories. We’d hear about a murder and we’d hop in the car and go off to interview the eye-witnesses.”

She told more tales, about more travel with a companion after her husband died, and a more settled life in Venice, now that the companion has died. I stole glimpses around the room—filled with books, plants, objet d’art, and a stereo that must have been very expensive when it was new, perhaps 1960. “And Luigi is always bringing me people like you, people with manuscripts and ideas… he thinks I have more connections than I have. I still know a few people in publishing in New York, they take my calls—Venice has a certain cachet.”

I took this opportunity to pose my question, bringing out my photo of me with my books. “Oh, nothing like this here, never,” she said. “The Italian people are very clever. They figure things out for themselves. They produced Leonardo DaVinci, didn’t they? They will never go to a book for advice.”

“Thank you, that answers my question,” and I accept the verdict. There will be no lucrative consulting ventures based on promoting my books here.

I offered her a business card, and the photo. “Add these to your collection of strange people Luigi has brought you,” I said.

“Ah, Luigi… he likes to seem like he has connections, and he likes to bring me people—sort of as presents.” She paused, then “He could If I would, if you know what I mean.” She smiled slyly. I was suddenly reminded of the way some people’s cats bring them dead mice.

We thanked her again, backed out of the apartment and down the dark stairs and back out into the light of the piazza and the dark of the alleys…. to walk and think about these two lives going on, in Venice 2001. Luigi who could if Signora Von Block would. What a comfort that understanding must be to them both.

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Underwater Surprises

The season of vicarious wanderlust on True Stories Well Told rolls on through end of June.

By Rita Nygren

Not far from Cake, Alaska, we woke up at 4am to the sound of a dozen eagles yelling at each other as they scrambled for long unseen delicacies.

Eagles don’t tend to be social birds, and it is a rare joy to find more than a mated pair together, but that morning, as far as possible from the community of Cake and still being on the same island, they were flocking.  And rather than it being a joy, I just wished they would shut up and let me sleep – which hard enough with the bright light of day shining through the tent walls.  At this hour.

However, it was a spring tide, when the moon and sun are exerting maximum pulls on the oceans and the waterline, therefore, was super low.  Rocks that aren’t normally exposed, are, and the eagles were happy to have a chance at the muscles and tidbits in the puddles and tide pools.

Normally, Scott and I would have been out there with his long-lensed cameras, peering at the scavenging birds through a hasty blind of convenient ferns, but today, we could barely roll over and complain.  Summer nights in Alaska are, above all, short, and the previous day included lots of sea kayaking in the strange to us currents and winds of Frederick Sound.  My arms ached, and I was definitely not ready to roll out of the sleeping bag yet.

But there was sunlight diffusing through the tent walls.  That too was a rare thing.

A local lady at a national park headquarters had told us “You know what we do in Alaska when it rains?  The same thing we’d do if it wasn’t raining. Cause otherwise, we would never do anything.”  She was on the way to watch her son’s little league game, while we’d been wimpy drowned rats.

So it’s early, it’s bright, we can’t sleep through the breakfast of our nearest neighbors, and it’s going to be a gorgeous morning.

“We  could lounge around in the tent all day.” I said.

“No you couldn’t.  You’ll get antsy and decide to start cleaning gear or something.” Scott replied.

“It’s not like we’re going to have that many days this nice while we’re here.”

“Right, and like you’re going to spend it on the beach?”

“How about a nice gentle paddle, just up to the cove to the north?  We could see if we can find that waterfall, and have a picnic.”

“I suppose that a short trip will work out some kinks.”

Cursing the Midwestern work ethic, we made breakfast and did camp chores while the eagles finished their dessert and flew off.  The tandem kayak on the beach needed a little outfitting, and the camera gear tucked safely in its clever transparent dry bag case – you can work most of the controls and the huge lensed SLR stays safe from the corrosive salt water.  A few trawlers passed a couple miles out in the sound but clearly visible from our shoreline camp.

As were a handful of tall black fins to the south.

We looked at each other, and, practically in unison, said “I could sprint a mile out into the sound.”

After a flurry of paddles and neoprene, we were afloat and heading straight towards the trawlers who were beginning to play out their salmon nets.  If the salmon schools were out here, that explained the orcas.  A naturalist once told me that to an orca, salmon was the equivalent of chocolate, a treat for the blackfish.

There’s a couple other things I’d learned about orcas from her: first, that it is illegal for any boat to approach the whales, but not illegal for a whale to approach a boat.  And second, that the whales have a tendency to surface to breathe three times before diving deep.

So there we are, bobbing in the waves in a thin fiberglass hull, paddles resting on our laps watching killer whales approaching from the south.  One spouts and slides under the water, then shortly reappears & blows about a quarter mile off or port, and descends, and then does a final appearance and breath and disappears into the deeps.  You can line up the three points and have a good guess as to where the whale is heading, so we turn the kayak to paddle that direction, really hard.

When she comes up to breath with a soft boom, we drop our paddles and drift.  It’s up to her how close she wants to get to us, and it appears that several hundred yards work fine for her.  Three blows, and down.  The rest of her pod is scattered east of us in the sound, more or less on the same rhythm.

We sprint while the sea is clear of fins, and rest and enjoy spotting them as they surface.  And then Scott makes a sound of dread.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“The camera is fogged up.”

We have a rule around salt water:  the big, expensive camera does not for any reason come out of the dry bag.  “I have a clean lens cloth sealed in this bag,” he says.

“I’ll steady the boat,” I offer, and he sets his paddle down, takes off his neoprene gloves and starts carefully opening watertight seals and cleaning lenses.  Being in the bow of the tandem, I couldn’t turn to watch him, so I counterweighted when he shifted and watched a young male surface and blow a football field away.

“Are you ready yet?”

“Not quite.”

A little bit later, the tall black fin slice through the water only 50 yards away.  He’s heading in our general direction.  Orcas, from nose to tail, tend to be about 20 feet long, which is about the size of our craft.

“Almost there,” Scott says behind me.

A splash mere feet off the bow makes me freeze.  Thoughts rapidly crossed my brain:

First: The orca is breaching right in front of me and is going to smash this tiny boat.

Second: Whew, that is not a whale, it’s a salmon.


At this point, Scott says “Alright I’m set,” and looks up.  I can barely breath.  There was no third blow; the whale kept right on swimming.

© 2005 D. Scott Frey • visit http://photo.fx4.net

© 2005 D. Scott Frey • visit http://photo.fx4.net

We continued to parallel the pod, but at the tip of the next island to the north, we noticed a whale watching cruise was anchored.  We had the orcas with us, though they were edging ahead and aiming for the east channel.  Everyone on the cruise ship was looking west.

There were humpbacks here, and they were bubble netting.

Since orcas have been known to make a meal out of their humpy cousins, we were at this point happy to watch them swim off to the east.  And we were happy to sidle up next to a private fishing boat, since the humpies are about 45 feet long, and we were feeling particularly small and fragile.

As we watched, a large crescent of bubbles, then a circle of them, appeared in the smooth waters.  Shortly after, a humongous head boiled up through the middle, straining out the water and swallowing all the krill, be fore flopping back down into the sea to digest and then take a turn at blowing the net for its kin.

We realized how lucky we were to have caught this act.  And then we realized that we were miles from camp and extremely tired.  And sore, don’t forget sore!  We soon limped with the tide back to our beach.

But the day had held a rare treat of underwater surprises.


© 2014. Rita Nygren is a database miner and risk-averse adrenaline junkie living in Oregon when not traveling to interesting wilderness locations. 



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Journal of a Camp Host: Excerpts

The season of vicarious wanderlust on True Stories Well Told rolls on through end of June.

by MC Hansen

Excerpts from the book Journal of a Camp Host

Dec. 21-First Day of Winter

Who would have thought a year ago (when we were snowmobiling on the endless trails of northern Wisconsin) we would today be down here, out on these sandy trails in a new Polaris mini-Jeep. The yellow coded “Long Leaf” trail is a challenge, as it’s barely wide enough to accommodate the Jeep, meaning the branches are in our faces a lot. Also some curvy turns are so sharp we have to watch that the top bars of the Jeep don’t catch the tree branches as we tilt-a-whirl on through. Then we hit a series of mounding bumps, sometimes dozens in a row, left behind from the 4-wheelers. What a RUSH, haven’t been on a ride like that since my last visit to Great America Amusement Park.

Dec. 23

More care packages arrive, from my Mom and Mark’s daughter. Now I know how important it is to send these type of gifts to the troops abroad—you really look forward to them. It doesn’t replace being with family, but it sure helps fill the gap. We go into town to stock up on groceries and have our water camel refilled, gearing up for the upcoming two weeks of Holiday campers.

Dec. 24-Christmas Eve

The weather is cooperating and as planned we are having guests tonight for a BBQ. Mark helps me prepare the shish-ka-bobs and sets up the mini-bar. I clean the shrimp, placing them in a serving tray with spinach dip and crackers on the card table outside on our patio. People stop in for a drink and snacks. Iris is on her cable watching everything going on. Next thing I know she’s up on the table and has the biggest shrimp from the bowl in her mouth. Luckily the guests thought it was hilarious and demanded I let her have the treat. This is not like her to help herself to the food, but I guess it was simply too temping. Back in ’07 my sister and her husband had invited us to Christmas Eve dinner and she was treated to a taste of caviar. Could be she was reminiscing of a Christmas past.

Dec. 25-Christmas Day

Volunteers gather at the Lake George Center for a potluck Christmas Lunch. What a feast! I don’t remember eating like that even at a commercial brunch, also great conversation and company. After lunch we team up for Trivia, and Mark shows off his gathered Jeopardy expertise.

Stopping for groceries on the way home, we see what we think to be the start of the Rainbow people coming into town, outside of the Winn Dixie supermarket looking for handouts. Another beautiful day outside so we enjoy the evening sitting on the patio again. The campground is only about one third full, not as busy as expected. Hopefully the New Years brings more campers.

Letty and Eastwood

Living in these close quarters, especially when the weather is cold, is a challenge in itself for any couple. Now Delancy East Camp Host’s car is dead and Eastwood is not feeling well enough to tackle the problem. He did not walk over for Christmas Eve and Letty says he’s always a big scrooge when the holidays roll around. She walks over one evening in tears and needs a ride for a cig run, closest point of purchase Club 88. So I leave Mark behind and we go for a few drinks and warm up by the fireplace. Being together 24/7 makes one much more sensitive to your partner’s shortcomings on a daily basis, we both agree, after some discussion on the topic.

She decides to go over to her sister’s for a few days until Eastwood moves out of his slump. But only a day or so later Eastwood speeds by in the car. I guess the warmer temperature helped it to start right up, no new parts needed.

Dec. 30

Mark’s sister and her husband come up from Southern Florida for a visit and bring along their huge black Great Dane, Stella. This dog is larger than some small horses I’ve seen. Iris is not impressed by the dog’s size however, and almost busts through the trailer screen door to attack. She hasn’t been this upset since her last visit to the vet.

We have a nice visit once the animals calm down and are kept separated. Later we decided to go see the “picking group” play their instruments at Club 88. Weather has been warmer again and we sit on the front porch to listen and sip the 75-cent cold Bud Selects they serve in chilled mugs. Campgrounds is about 75 percent full and lots of day riders also deciding to pay the $6/vehicle to park here for the day.

Dec. 31-New Year’s Eve

We celebrate with a special bottle of Barefoot Champagne, a gift, and rib eye steaks on the grill. As usual, I never make it to midnight, but sit out by the fire with the Christmas lights on longer than on other nights of the year. Finally Iris and I retire and Mark says he wants to sit outside for a bit yet.

Crash—“HELP!” I open the trailer door to find Mark on the ground unable to walk. He had decided to polish off the rest of the whiskey and then walk over to East Delancy to visit. Unfortunately he didn’t make it back without stumbling and falling a few times, and was in quite a state by the time I helped him up through the trailer door. His disability really kicks him in the butt when he over-partakes of the happy juice. Of course I give him the “buddy system” talk again and help him to bed. The middle of the Ocala Forest is nowhere to be rolling around after midnight. You may become bear bait or worse!

Jan. 3, 2011

Two fellows show up on foot at our site looking for the Florida Hiking Trail. They were turned around and trying to find their way back to their camp up near Rodman Dam. The trailhead is right across the road from us and I gave them a map of the entire Florida Trail system, as they explained they were trying to walk the whole thing. They had spoken with another fellow who said he did it and only had $84 to his name to spend. I thought to myself, the next thing they spend money on should be a compass. They decided to go on this “walkabout” (as they called it, like the Australian Bushmen) since they both recently ended up jobless and had nothing else to lose. I pointed them in the right direction back towards their camp and said a few Hail Mary’s for them both that night




A good-looking fellow, “JR” is a bit younger than us I would guess, with crew cut and always dressed in a neat clean Forestry uniform. He, along with his superior Ocala Ranger, originally interviewed us for the volunteer position. He is great to work with and has a real love for the outdoors.

JR hit the trails today, as part of his duties, out patrolling the Delancy Loops.

A few hours later he pulls up alongside our site looking pale as a ghost. He had a close call with a 4-wheeler going too fast for conditions. The guy ran right up the front of JR’s OHV and flipped. Luckily no one was injured. But that guy picked the wrong person to hit—he was issued a ticket of course. I can only imagine what went through JR’s mind in those few minutes; his wife and child surely. He sat for a bit to compose himself, then headed back to the Ranger Station. All the trails are two-way traffic and even being on guard, you are always at risk of other bad drivers. Riding safe is somewhat of a gamble, especially on busy weekends and holidays.

Amazingly we have managed to “keep the peace” amongst a variety of visitors . . .riders, hunters, hikers and rangers. Like the delicate eco-system of this area, too much sway one way or the other would be cause for major concern.

- – -

After a 30 year career spent in the corporate world, while earning an Applied Science Degree in Marketing and Graphic Communications, author MC Hansen set out on a free-lance venture Camp Hosting with her cat and newly found handsome partner/photographer. JOURNAL OF A CAMP HOST is a comedic and romantic non-fiction journal of actual events that took place during their time in the Nicolet and Ocala National Forests. Also recorded, cross-country travel routes with some heart-felt lessons learned along the way.

© 2013  MC Hansen, Photos by Mark T. Napholz



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