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Holy Homecomings! We Made It Back! (8 Weeks and 12,592 Miles Later…)

Yowza! I can’t believe we did it! I’m amazed that 1) our car actually made it, and that 2) I’m sitting at home writing up the last blog entry.  It’s hard to find myself at the end of LEMONADE MOUTH ACROSS AMERICA!, my family’s audacious, summer-long road-trip adventure across America and back in our little minivan. But here’s proof that we really made it all the way back:

And here’s the final tally:

Miles traveled: 12,592
Days on the road: 57
States visited: 38
Bookstores visited: Somewhere between 50 and 60*
Trips to the Honda Dealer: 3 (two oil changes, one $600 exhaust job)

*It’s hard to be sure of the exact bookstore count since, in addition to scheduled events, we also did a bunch of unscheduled drive-bys.

We’ve been home for a couple days now, and to be honest I’m feeling a little sad to be writing this last dispatch. But we all know what they say about all good things… Below are the following:

· “Oh my God! Did We Really Just Drive 13,000 Miles in a Bright Yellow Lemonade Mouth Minivan?”

· “Holy Crap, Was It All Worth It?”

· Closing comments from each of us

· What’s next?

· Stuff people have told me I ought to have done a while ago

But first: Let’s catch up:


So, on Monday we drove south from Manchester, VT and after 56 glorious days away we finally found ourselves crossing the line into our very own home state (it’s a commonwealth, actually), Massachusetts! It was a strange feeling. We’d been gone so long and had visited so many beautiful places, and yet I think it made us appreciate our own corner of the country all the more. Before going to our own house, though, we thought we’d stretch out the fun one extra unplanned night to visit my family in Otis, MA in the Berkshires. Here we are with my parents, my sister Jennifer, and my niece and nephews – Sophie, Myles (our godson!), and Leo. 🙂

On Tuesday, the kids and I hung out while Karen took a side-trip to visit her mother and to pick up our much-missed doggie, Wendel.

Here’s Karen:

Karen: While the others stayed in Otis I took at 7-hour side-trip (3.5 hour each way) to New Jersey to visit pickup my Mom, and to pick up Wendel, our dog (MARK: For those wondering, he’s a wild mountain cockapoo) and to celebrate my mother’s birthday before coming home to Massachusetts. Wendel spent the summer with my mother. Here are my mother and Wendel. Happy Birthday Mom!


And then, late Tuesday night after eight weeks, a zillion miles and a crazy number of states, we finally pulled up at our very own little white cape house! To our amazement, our friends had decorated it with a huge “Welcome Home” banner for the occasion…and even had a cake for us! Thanks Sylvia, Jay, Megan, Tia, and Grace! 🙂 What a wonderful surprise!

(By the way, all summer long while we were away Sylvia took care of things for us, checking in on the house, collecting our mail, sending us care packages, and doing countless nice things—including surprising me by cleaning out my little green Toyota. She’s a wonderful friend. A very special THANK YOU to Sylvia!)

Okay, so that was our trip. After such a long and amazing adventure, I now feel the need to add a few end-of-trip comments, musings, and other stuff; and of course—“what’s next?” So here they are:


QUESTION: “Oh my God! Did We Really Just Drive 13,000 Miles in a Bright Yellow Lemonade Mouth Minivan?”
Answer: Yep. (Well, 12,592 miles, actually.)

QUESTION: “Holy Crap, Was It All Worth It?”
Two Answers:

Was it all worth it financially?:
Well, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever really know. But to be honest, we didn’t really spend that much on this trip, considering. After all, we mostly stayed with friends, plus we did some camping. In fact, out of 57 nights we stayed at hotels only 10 times (11 if you count the youth hostel in Taos, NM). That’s not so much, really. And we kept the eating-out to a minimum by going to grocery stores, which we would have had to do at home anyway. And as far as visiting bookstores as a promotion for Lemonade Mouth, well, it can’t have hurt, right? And meeting book people sure is a lot of fun!

But, was it all worth it in general?:
Oh god, YES! We truly just had the family adventure of a lifetime. The kids will remember this for their entire lives—and so will Karen and I. The five of us saw the country, visited friends and family, met lots of new people, and had a country full of new experiences. It sounds shmulzy, but we really did have a great time every day. So, no question about it, it was so, so worth it! 🙂


EVAN: My favorite parts of the trip were the roller coasters in Disneyland, especially the California Screaming, which is a super-fast, super fun roller coaster. I liked riding in the car because I got to read, I got to watch TV, and listen to music. I liked Texas a lot. There was a fun swimming pool in Fort Worth and it was a lot of fun walking around the cowboy stores and stuff too. I liked the twin cities. I liked the aquarium in Atlanta. I liked seeing the buffalos in Yellowstone Park. It was just a scary fun experience. I liked the rodeo in Wyoming, too. The trip was a lot of fun. I would probably do it again.

LUCY: I remember the Grand Canyon, Count Mushroom (that’s how Zoe says Mount Rushmore), Lake Huron. I’m sad it’s over but I’m happy to be back home.

ZOE: I liked swimming where Gigi took me
(MARK: a lake in Ft. Worth, TX), I also saw Buffalos. We were going to see wolves but we couldn’t because they were hidden (MARK: She’s talking about Yellowstone Park). Also the beach Dylan took us, too (MARK: She’s talking about Lake Huron). That water was so, so cold. We have a dog, he is crazy and hairy.

KAREN: First thought, I had no idea the US was so big, so vast and so different. Corny yes, but it made me proud to be an American. New Mexico and Wyoming were my favorite places. Second, I had a chance to spend time with wonderful people (long time friends, family, new friends, and people we met on the way)….that was the best part of the trip. Third, I have never been to a rodeo, ridden in a Sturgis bike rally (driving “Penelope” – our car- does count!), worn a cheese hat, ate southern food, and slept with bears and rattlesnakes! It doesn’t get better than that. I wish I could keep traveling!!!!

MARK: I don’t want to sound too gushy, but I loved everywhere we went for different reasons. Here are a few random highlights off the top of my head: the sunset in Cedar City, UT; the rodeo in Cody, WY; the longhorn parade in Ft. Worth, TX; reading on the porch next to Lake Huron in Ontario; screaming like a little girl on a scary high-speed roller coaster loop-de-loop with Evan and Lucy in Disney’s California Adventure (years ago I swore I’d never go on a ride like that, but the kids convinced me), Zoe grinning on a mechanical pony in Taos, smooching with Karen at the Grand Canyon…I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there.

Thanks to all the family and friends, old and new, who we saw along the way. Thanks to the many wonderful bookstores that hosted us. A thousand thanks to Susan Green and Sylvia Rodgers for all your help. Special thanks to Karen, Evan, Lucy, and Zoe for being such terrific adventure partners. I’m so glad we had a chance to do this together. Big love to you all. And finally, thanks to you for coming along with us on this journey—I’m thrilled by the great response and the many, many kind emails I’ve received. What a great feeling to know that so many were interested in my crazy family’s audacious trip! And the response to this blog truly added to our adventure. Thank you!


It’s Saturday morning as I type this, so we’ve been home for three full days now. For years, Karen and I have been planning to switch roles eventually, where I’d quit my full-time day-job working for other people and instead stay at home with the kids while she goes back to work. And so that’s what we’re doing. As you know, I quit my job this past March. Two days ago Karen started working full-time again after more than ten years at home with the kids—she’s a Spanish teacher at Shrewsbury High School. (Yes, I’m a lucky man. Big love to you, Karen!)

Here’s Karen home from her first day of work.

The students aren’t back at school yet until next Tuesday, and so it’s been teacher-prep stuff so far. Yesterday (Friday), the kids and I went in to help her decorate her newly-assigned classroom.

And here I am two days ago (Thursday), my first-ever stay-at-home-dad day, walking back from Starbucks with the kids and Wendel. (The kids got hot chocolates, I got a tall Verona, and the dog got a nice walk).


A few people have emailed saying that I haven’t talked specifically about Lemonade Mouth, the novel, much in this blog, and that unless I do, I’m wasting a good opportunity. So, if you’re interested, below is a link where you can read the first few pages. The book is about five high-school outsiders who get in trouble, meet each other, and form a very strange rock band that changes the world.

Lemonade Mouth
Click on the image to read the first few pages

Another thing people have often asked me is “How can I help you? Is there anything I can do?” Well, it’s a generous thought, and yeah, since I’m not J.K. Rowling or Philip Pullman I sure could use a little help getting the word out about my books. So, if you’re willing,
click here for some ideas of how to help


But hang on…we’re nowhere near the end of our adventures!

Next up: Being a stay-at-home dad, taking care of three kids and the house, and trying to write my next novel whenever I can find a moment. So…fasten your seatbelts! Off we go!


LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007)
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)

A State Shaped Like a Hand, Spanish Speaking Canadians, and a Whole Lotta Pigs: MI, ONT, NY, and VT

Sunday, Aug 19 4:20pm:
As I type, we’re roaring down the New York Throughway past Exit 31 to Utica, NY.Karen is blasting the Lemonheads album It’s a Shame About Ray, the album that gave us our son’s name (after Evan Dando, the singer/songwriter).Outside the window, it looks and feels like we’re almost home.So far our minivan has traveled almost 12,000 miles in 54 days, with only 2 sunsets left until we’re back at our little cape house in Wayland, MA. 🙂

Let’s catch up:


On Tuesday we arrived in Michigan, where we stayed with our friend and Karen’s college housemate Kelly McDonnell (no nickname—go figure).It was a quick visit of only one night, and Kelly made us a delish BBQ and we pretty much just hung out—just what we needed.Thanks, Kelly!

The next day we were off to meet the pastor who married us eleven years ago.We hadn’t seen Father Lew Towler since September of 1996, but we called and asked if he wanted to meet us for coffee—and he said yes!So…we were psyched to drop by and say hello. :-)First, some quick background on our wedding:

We were married in Wickford, RI in the Old Narragansett Church, a tiny, 200-year-old colonial church built in 1707.The wedding took place in a hurricane (Hurricane Fran) so it poured with rain and roared with thunder and lightning and was very dramatic.For our reception afterwards, guests dressed up as either something Latin (Karen’s family is from Argentina) or something English (my family is from England).So people came as burritos, teabags, mad cows, banditos—you get the idea.Anyway, here are a couple of pictures, including one of Father Lew dressed in some kind of British military outfit (he’s on the left, next to my father).Father Lew is a fun and funny guy:

So…here we are with Father Lew eleven years later—with his dog, Bella. Lew moved from RI to Ann Arbor, MI in 2000-ish.It was so cool to meet him again.Still a warm, sweet guy.Terrific to see you again, Father Lew! 🙂

By the way, Ann Arbor was great—a busy college town with a lot of coffee shops.We wished we could have stayed there longer.


That night we stayed with our friends Greg and Tomie, their kids Alex, Amelia, and Skyler.Here’s Evan:

EVAN:This was a very enjoyable part of the trip because we got to try Japanese snacks like chocolate covered macadamia nuts and crispy noodle snacks, and we played Japanese video games and it was very relaxing.Alex was very nice.He taught us how to make origami boxes and he played a lot of games with us.Greg and Tomie made us a very good dinner of roasted chicken and a great breakfast too.

Thanks, Greg and Tomie, Alex, Amelia and Skyler!


We had a quick and easy ride passage through customs and then, on Friday, we arrived in Ontario, Canada.


We were lucky enough to spend a couple days visiting our friends Philippa and Steve and their son Dylan (Look, Daddy!Actual Canadians!) on their lake house near Bayfield, Ontario on beautiful, amazing, magical Lake Huron.It perfect and relaxing:

Here’s something weird about me:I keep a list of the very best years, months, weeks, days and hours of my life.Apart from the obvious births, weddings, etc., my list includes things like the day I spent writing in the shade overlooking a coffee farm in Costa Rica, and the three hours I spent in Tijuana in April of 1996 – these are some of the best, best times of my life.This trip will definitely go on the list, of course.But in particular I’ll also have a separate entry for the two hours I spent on Saturday morning reading on Phil and Steve’s porch.It was fantastic. I took a picture – here I am, enjoying Harry Potter 7 and just listening to the waves:

Thanks, Phil and Steve!


The village of Bayfield, Ontario is home to a friendly independent bookstore with a devoted following of local readers.Right on the main thoroughfare of town, the store gets its share of tourist traffic, and it also hosts many author visits including big-name Canadian authors like Margaret Atwood and Jane Urquhart.Here I am with bookseller Mary Wolfe. Thanks for your support, Mary!It was great to meet you!


In the park in Bayfield, Lucy was stung on the shoulder by a Canadian bee. Lucy was very brave, and screamed only briefly.  A pastry from the local bakery worked miracles.  Bzzzz, eh?  (Something to ponder:  Due to the exchange rate, are Canadian bees only 90% as painful as U.S. bees?)


As it turns out, everyone in Toronto speaks Spanish.At least everyone I met there did.We stayed with Karen’s cousins Victor and Betty, and their lovely family—they’re all from Argentina, Venezuela, and parts thereabouts.Here’s Karen.

KAREN:Wow!I never expected to do a US road trip and to find myself in Toronto at a “Parrillada” with my extended family from Argentina!It was awesome!For those of you who don’t know, a Parrillada is a giant barbecue with beef, sausages etc (many types of meat are cooked in a special Argentine way and are very, very tasty!)I officially vote my cousin Victor as the Supreme Parrillada Chef!! I met my cousin Andrea who lives in Montreal (Victor and Betty’s Daughter…Ana, Andrea’s sister is in Belgium..hi Ana!).I also met Andres, a cousin that I haven’t seen since I was a wee little child!There were lots of other cousins there too.We all ate, drank lots of wine, and spoke in Spanish.Mark held his own really well, did you know that he speaks Spanish too?I can’t wait to go back!Besos a todos!!

Another trip through customs–including a looooong, sloooow traffic jam to get across the border–and we’re back in the U.S.A!



We stopped in Niagara Falls this morning.It was rainy and crowded, and the surrounding streets looked disturbingly like Las Vegas.But you can’t see that in the photo:

This part was written the following day…Monday, Aug 20 6:30pm:

We arrived last night in Shushan, NY on the far eastern border of the state. It’s a green, hilly area that looks like something out of the old sitcom where Bob Newhart used to run a hotel.(I know, I know…that was Vermont not New York–but Vermont is almost literally a stone’s throw away!).It’s also the home of Flying Pigs Farm, which is owned and run by my friends Jennifer Small and Mike Yezzi—I grew up with Jennifer in Barrington, RI and have known her since kindergarten.We were lucky enough to spend a day there.It truly felt like something out of Dick and Jane Go to the Farm.There were pigs and cows and roosters and all the other usual suspects.Evan even got to do some chores, and we all stepped in plenty of animal poop.It was so much fun!Here’s Evan:

EVAN:There were lots of pigs and chickens and three cows.I got to collect the eggs from the chicken roosts.Some of the chickens were vicious, but I wore a glove to protect my hand.One of the chickens pecked at an egg in the egg basket and ate the inside.That chicken was a cannibal!Or was it a chicken-ibal?!

It was great to see you, Jen and Mike!Thanks for a memorable day on the farm!



We’ve just finished our final official book stop—Northshire Bookstore is a fantastic, big independent in Manchester Center, Vermont.They obviously had one heck of a Harry Potter event because in addition to having an entire “stone” entrance to Hogwarts, they also had a giant Sorting Hat and an absolutely humungous spider.Here I am with event coordinator Linda Ellingsworth and general manager Chris Morrow.Thanks, guys, for making my last official bookstore stop so much fun!

But hang on…we’re still not quite done with the trip yet! There’s one more day to go!

Next blog entry:The Berkshires, home, and deep questions like, “Oh my God! Did We Really Just Drive 13,000 miles?” and “Holy Crap, Was It All Worth It?”


LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007)
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)

Misunderstood Lands, Prairie Lands, and Dairy Lands: South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin

So far we’ve gone 10,956 miles in 49 days, with only 6 days to go. As I type we’re whooshing down Route I-94 heading toward Michigan. Not too long ago we went into Indiana, a state we’re passing through for only a few minutes—but it still counts! 🙂 The grass and shrubs have definitely looked more shaggy since Illinois, but that’s new. For the past few days we’ve been in clean, manicured farm country.

Let’s catch up:

Wall Drug, SD and the Badlands

Wednesday, the day after we saw Mount Rushmore, was a long driving day (about 700 miles!), but Karen is never one to let a cool-sounding place pass by without calling out “Stop!” So that’s what we did in Wall Drug, South Dakota, where the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was in full swing. The entire town, which was originally built around a drug store, was filled with bikers, bikers, and more bikers. How could we pass up a chance to buy a Harley Davidson t-shirt in the biker heartland of America?


The badlands: Truly bad, or just misunderstood? Here’s Evan:

EVAN: The Badlands were covered with white rock and it seemed sort of like the moon. It was very hot and I liked it because in some places the rock was burned so badly that it made colors
(Mark’s note: actually, this was different levels of sediment—and way cool) and suddenly when you leave the Badlands it looks like you’re in the regular world again. There were a lot of motorcycle guys everywhere too.


So then we reached Minnesota. The photo above was the most difficult “entering a new state” photo we’ve taken. The sign was on the highway, and we had to climb up a hill, through some brambles, and then squeeze into a tiny area of dirt in the middle of some bushes. Note that Evan is parting a shrub with his arm so the state name can be seen.

In Minnesota we stayed Chaska, just outside of Minneapolis, with our friends Patricia Danielson, Vicki Boeddeker, and Mike Weinkauf. Patricia took a couple of days off work to show us around the Twin Cities. We saw first-hand the damaged remains of the collapsed bridge on I-35W—just awful. Five weeks and two days after crossing the Mississippi in the south (into Louisiana), we crossed it in the north. It’s a lot calmer in the north! We also saw the beautiful state capital building. Thanks Patricia, Vicki, and Mike!

A note from KAREN: Mark asked why I’ve only been writing about bad experiences. I don’t see it that way, I see them as different experiences than life in Wayland, MA. For example, my 2nd night in Vicki’s house. Here we are, comfy cozy, away from bears and rattlesnakes, what else could happen at night? My first big lightening storm on the prairies of Minnesota, that’s what!! Holy cow ! I got out of bed and was blinded by the flashing lightning, and then jumped out of my PJ’s when I heard the loud crack and kaboom of the lightning right outside the window! Did a tree fall down? Did we get hit by lightning? Another night of no sleeping because of fear!! The next morning, as usual, everyone including Mark said it was a normal storm, no big deal . WELL, we got an email from a friend in the area who said the storm blew out windows like a tornado and power was out for a few days. She asked if we were in the eye of the storm! See, I’m not crazy!!


Wild Rupus was wild indeed. An amazing independent bookstore in Minneapolis, the whole store was designed to look like it was transforming from an inside space to the outdoors. Helping to create the effect were a whole menagerie of animals, including chickens, ferrets, Australian flying squirrels, fish, tarantulas, rats and many more. The kids were in heaven. Here we are with Manager Kristin Bergsagel bookseller Josh Harrod, Poopsie the ferret, and a Japanese chicken named Elvis. Thanks, Wild Rumpus—you are terrific!


Like a matching bookend to Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, St. Paul is home to another amazing bookstore called The Red Balloon. Susan Hepburn
was a terrific host, serving up lemon drops and lemonade. The Red Balloon is another must-visit bookstore for anyone the St. Paul area!

As a nice surprise, we were lucky enough to meet Shelley Swanson Sateren, fellow SCBWI member and author of the middle-grade novel Cat on a Hottie’s Tin Roof. Here’s Evan’s review:

EVAN’S REVIEW: Cat on a Hottie’s Tin Roof is a fun book about a girl who is geeky who when her friend moves away from Paris she finds a new friend who is stylish and cool. It was an interesting story because it’s interesting to see how a girl with so much smarts can try and be cool and fit in with everyone else. You should read it.

It was great to meet you, Shelley!


Penelope’s rattling got kind of dubious so we stopped at the Honda dealer in Hopkins, MN. $560 later, (replaced ‘severely cracked’ exhaust manifold and gaskets, oil change, new battery) the minivan sounded a bit better—at least for the first twenty miles or so. After that, we’re pretty much back to the rattling we started out with. Oh well, it’s only money. 🙂

Here’s Shane Beals, the Honda guy who washed Penelope—she badly needed it. Thanks, Shane!


Next we drove through Wisconsin, a land of beautiful manicured farms and more red barns than you can shake a cheddar wheel at. So lovely!

In Green Bay we stopped to see a surprisingly large athletic facility where a local team plays a sport that apparently involves feet and leather hats. I hear that the locals are rather enthusiastic about it.


Just south of Green Bay, in DePere, is Butterfly Books, a roomy and cheerful independent bookstore run by Barbara Wilson. Barbara and her friendly team of booksellers were very kind, staying open later than usual on a Saturday afternoon just so that we could visit. Here I am with Barbara and Samantha Parker, bookseller and saxophone player. Great to meet you!


In Milwaukee we stayed with our friends Posh (really Josh, but he’s yet another friend with a mysterious nickname given by Karen) and Boris. They showed us around Milwaukee, and took us for custard at Kopps, a Milwaukee thing-to-do. The custard was a lot like ice cream except a lot denser—it’s made with eggs and who-knows-what-else and it sneaks up on you. Thank god I only had a small cone—by bedtime I felt so full that I rolled around in pain clutching at my stomach. But honestly, it was so tasty it was worth it! 🙂


As any fan of Laverne and Shirley can tell you, Milwaukee is home to many breweries, so how could we pass up the opportunity to tour the Miller factory?


In beautiful Cedarburg, WI, about twenty minutes north of Milwaukee, is the terrific Creekside Books. Owner Glen Switalski is a man with an amazing story: After his doctor told him he needed to lose weight, he lost well over 100 lbs by exercise, diet and sheer force of will. Today he can be seen riding his exercise bike in and around his store every day. The guy is an aerobic, bookselling powerhouse! Creekside Books is a great independent bookstore, and Gary is a truly an inspirational guy.

Here I am with Lindsay McLaughlin, a reader and artist who came to see me. She was fun to talk with, and very helpful in suggesting places we could go in the area. Great to meet you, Lindsay! 🙂

Illinois: An All-Too-Short Trip Through the Land of Lincoln

Southward from Milwaukee…! Unfortunately, we had only a few hours in Illinois. Still, it counts as state number 31 on our trip! 🙂


In Grayslake, Illinois, about forty minutes north of Chicago, is a magical bookstore called Under the Sycamore Tree. A new independent store, owner Jackie Harris opened up shop this past November. It’s a roomy, bright place with a big “sycamore tree” inside. The store has taken inspiration from Wild Rumpus (see Minnesota) and filled its space with wild animals. My kids were in their element. Zoe ran at me with a giant grin and a very big python named ‘Snakey’. Under the Sycamore Tree is yet another example of how independent bookstores tend to be run by smart, thoughtful, nice people. Jackie, it was a pleasure to meet you!

Here I am with Jackie and her daughter, Haley:

Because we’re meeting a friend in Michigan later today, we had only about an hour or so to see Chicago. I know, I know—not even close to scratching the surface. So on top of just driving around a little, we decided that with our limited time we’d stop by Lake Michigan. As far as my eyes could tell, the lake might as well have been an ocean. Way cool. Next time, we’ll plan to spend more time here!

Our Trip Through Indiana: Don’t Blink Or You’ll Miss It

If you thought our stop in Chicago was too short, Indiana is only about a half hour of highway to us. Still, it counts as state #32. 🙂

Next stop, Michigan!

LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007)
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)

Large Hairy Animals, Rodeos, 4 Big Heads, and A Whole Lotta Nothin’: Lake Tahoe to Mt. Rushmore

10:23 AM Tuesday, Aug 7

For those keeping track, our van has so far driven 9,024 miles since we left home. We passed the 9,000 mark yesterday, 13 miles west of Cody, WY. This is the 42nd day of our trip. We have 13 days left to go.

I can’t believe I’m in a hotel in Wyoming. Wyoming! To me it seems so far away and unlikely, it’s almost like being on Mars, except with cowboys. We went to an old-fashioned photo place in Jackson Hole, WY a couple days ago and had this photo taken:

Look at Lucy and Zoe’s faces in particular. Don’t they look like they’d shoot you as soon as look at you?

Not a lot of bookstores since my last update—not only because there aren’t a lot of antelope, rattle snakes, or bears who care for YA literature, but also (okay, mostly) because I didn’t schedule much for this leg of the trip—I wanted to make sure we enjoyed the national parks and cool cowboy stuff while putting some miles behind us.

Let’s catch up.


When we got to Lake Tahoe, Evan still wasn’t feeling very well. Thankfully a very generous friend, Michael Zifcak, had let us use his condo in Tahoe for a couple of nights so we had a little time to rest and let Evan get back on his feet. (Thanks, Michael!) But the first night, he had a fever of 103.5 F so we ended up taking him to the local urgent care clinic. The doctor said he just had a virus and that the only thing to do was to let him ride it out. Almost immediately, Evan had a miraculous recovery. I’m not sure why, but there you are. He’s been fine, fine, fine ever since (and that was almost a week ago), and we were able to enjoy beautiful Lake Tahoe. We only wished we had more time there.

Here I am at Neighbors Bookstore, a local independent, with bookseller Sue Ottman. Support your local independents! 🙂


…Then back eastward through Nevada, heading toward Idaho.
One thing that has impressed me as we’ve driven through the western half of this country is how much nothing there is. You can drive for hours and hours and only come across maybe one little town made up of a gas station and a couple of trailers. Really.

We drove through Carson City, the capital of Nevada, and were surprised by how little the state legislature building was. To my eye, it looked only a tad larger than your standard McMansion. It was tiny! We’ve seen a lot of state capital buildings on this trip, but this one warranted a photo. These are not big government fans…


I hadn’t realized we were going to go through Oregon, but there it was. We ended up cutting through the southwest corner—which was another long stretch of nothing. But it counted as a state! I think that brings us up to a total of 37 for the trip??


I didn’t know much of anything about the state except for the B52’s song and the movie Napoleon Dynamite. But the truth is, Idaho sneaks up on you. The drive from the Oregon border to Boise is one of the most stunningly beautiful that we’ve had the whole trip. Farmland, green hills, lovely countryside, lakes, clear blue skies and beautiful, sunny weather, which I’m told they have almost every day. I’m not surprised why so many Californians are moving out there. 

We stayed with our friends Glenda and Bill, who live in Meridian just outside of Boise. We met them in Alaska last year in a hot tub (along with their daughter Melissa and their son-in-law Leighton—who are off somewhere eating Swiss chocolates in the Alps now), and they invited us to visit them sometime. Well, here we were! 🙂 They fed us and gave us comfortable places to sleep. After breakfast in the morning, we met their brother-in-law Tony and the kids got to jump in a trampoline. Thanks so much for your kindness, Glenda and Bill! See you in Boston sometime soon! 


Wyoming made a dramatic entrance. The pictures can’t do it justice, but here they are:


Here’s Karen…

KAREN: Jackson Hole is a cowboy village just south of Grand Teton National Park. I loved it. My favorite part was the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which was packed with cowboys, drinking, and two-stepping. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let us in with three children. (Note to self: Come back another time without children!)


KAREN: We left Jackson Hole and spent the next fifty miles driving slowly in the dark trying not to hit any large animals who might suddenly leap into the road. There were bright blinking signs everywhere warning us about frequent fatal collisions with wandering elk and buffalo! Nice relaxing ride!

EVAN: We ended up getting to Teton National Park at 11PM and we went to a park ranger and asked him where the cabins were. The park ranger said all the cabins were full. We protested because we had a confirmed reservation. (MARK: This is true!). The ranger said sorry but we could still camp. And so at midnight my mom and dad set up the tent by the headlights of the car. The next morning when we were ready to leave we tried to turn on the car but the car battery was dead! And so we had to get the park rangers to get a truck to jump-start our battery.


Zoe will now describe Yellowstone Park. Note: She did this in English, so no words were changed:

ZOE: I saw a lot of buffalos and I couldn’t stop looking at them. I saw a buffalo that was in the water and it swam all across to the other side. I saw tons of buffalos and I saw just right now some cows
(MARK’s comment: She means now, two days after Yellowstone Park, because we’re now driving through central Wyoming now as she’s talking and I’m typing) but not a lot of cows, just a teeny bit. And we were about to see wolves (MARK’s comment: She’s talking about Yellowstone again) but we couldn’t because we needed special binoculars ‘cause they’re far, far away. And we went in a bridge where we could see a bunch of volcanoes (MARK: Not really—they were steaming geysers with very hot springs and bubbling mud) and they were really, really stinky (MARK: from the sulphur) and we couldn’t touch them because they were lava and they were hot and if you touch them that would be weird.

Camping in Yellowstone was quite the experience…

: Karen was very nervous about sleeping in a tent in bear country. Who can blame her, right? There were signs on every corner warning about bear safety. But Karen was way nervous. I mean way. She kept jumping at the slightest sound. And then at 4:30 A.M. she woke me up by pounding hard on my chest several times and then whispering urgently in my ear that she’d heard some kid in a nearby tenting screaming and that there was a bear outside. Now, it’s possible that there was. I don’t know. But in the morning I asked the nearby campers and nobody knew anything about it. But there I was at 4:30 in the morning, wide awake and freezing in my underwear wondering what the heck I was supposed to do about the possible bear outside our tent.

Still, she’s cute so we’ll keep her.

: Ok, I wasn’t too sure that I wanted to sleep with bears (especially after hearing about how some kid in Utah was pulled out of his tent by a bear a few weeks ago!). So, here I find myself putting up a tent at MIDNIGHT in the middle of bear territory…which I was constantly reminded of as I saw warnings (don’t leave food for bears, every year people are attacked by bears etc..) posted at the camp entrance, the women’s bathroom etc! On top of that, I got lost in the pitch darkness trying to find our tent…lovely. Night one without sleep. Then the next night we camped in Yellowstone and I decided not to be a wus and go with the wildlife adventure.Yeah right! Not only were there signs warning about bears everywhere, there were signs warning about getiing gored by buffalo too!! Mark thinks I’m insane, but YES, I did hear a bear growl in the middle of the night which scared the @#$% out of me!! Granted, it might not have been close by, but I heard it loud and clear! I had to pee very badly all night long, but there was no way I was leaving the tent! Later I heard a child screaming insanely (maybe he saw something, maybe the bear I heard? ….he is probably ok, but I know a kids cry and a kids scream of fear!!) Enough said, I woke up Mark and was completely panicked! But really, what can one do at 5 am in a national park, there is no where to go except to meet more bears and buffalo which come out especially at dawn! Night two no sleep. I loved Yellowstone during the day, but I think I’ll take a break from camping for awhile!


So, since we’re driving through sagebrush and tumbleweed land, we decided to assign ourselves native names that we’d use until we left cowboy country. Did you ever see Dances With Wolves? There was much discussion and controversy, but in the end here’s what we came up with:

Karen: Flees From Bears
Me: Brakes for Buffalo
Lucy: Screeches Like Cockatoo
Zoe: Little Deer With Barbie Laptop (Zoe came up with that on her own)

Evan was difficult. We considered Pees In Woods, and Tinkles on Prickers, but we wanted something less bodily. We tried Annoys Like Mosquito but, while it does suit him (sometimes), it still wasn’t quite right. In the end we settled on Acts Like Monkey.


Three hours west of Yellowstone is Cody, Wyoming where, last night, we got to go to a rodeo.

LUCY: We got the best seats in the rodeo. And suddenly lots of cowboys, horses and bulls came on and got knocked over. And then they were chasing baby cows and they tied them up by their feet and their heads and it was unbelievable because all the cowgirls lost and all the cowboys won. I wished at least one of the cowgirls won. Then this clown called out for all the kids to come down to the rodeo stage and me and my brother and sister went down there. There was lots of dirt. The clown said for all the kids to roll around in the dirt. Me and my brother did but Zoe didn’t. It was fun. There were lots of baby cows running around with ribbons around their tales and I was chasing after them but then my new cowgirl hat blew off and kids were about to step on it so I went back to get it. My brother would have caught the cow but he had flip-flops on. And then we went in line to get our hats autographed and the three cowboy clowns signed my hat. It was really good. It made me really happy.

EVAN: What was really interesting was that they put little kids on the bulls and they did bull riding and barrel racing. I think I’m going to do that when I get back to Cody.


I’m going to gripe just for a moment.

So, the rodeo MC made a political joke putting down a major presidential candidate (I don’t want to get political here so I won’t say who the put-down was directed at, but it rhymes with Shmillary and it involved a cow) and then he asked the crowd, “Anybody here from the east coast?” A huge roar followed—I’m guessing more than half of the people in the stands. Then the MC followed up with, “I’d like to welcome you to the United States of America. This is the real America.” Huh? So, the east coast isn’t the real America? What’s up with that? And I might point out that the vast majority of the space in the middle of the country is empty. Empty as in nothing at all. Nada. No people. No towns. No buildings. Nothing. Shall we review?…

So, yes, of course Wyoming is part of the real America—and a lovely part, too—yet I can’t help pointing out that if you look at where the majority of the American people actually live, well that’s nearer to the coasts. And we citizens of the coasts represent the real America as much as that rodeo MC does.

Okay, I’ve said it and now I feel better. Thanks for humoring me. I’m done griping.


4:34 PM: We’re driving again, roaring down I-90 near Gillette, Wyoming heading toward South Dakota. Flees From Bears is at the wheel. Penelope, our minivan, is still doing okay. I think the occasional rattling is coming from her exhaust pipe, which shakes a bit when we’re idling. Its probably missing a screw or something, but every now and then I push the exhaust pipe in with my shoe and the rattling gets better. All good. 🙂


12:09 AM Wednesday, Aug 8:
We made it into South Dakota around 7:30 this evening and then booked it over to Mount Rushmore before the sun set. We made it!

Here we are doing the obligatory impression of Mt. Rushmore:

We didn’t have any hotel reservations (we’re living life on the edge) and it turned out that this week just happens to be the huge annual Sturgis motorcycle rally, attracting about 100,000 Harley Davidsons in around the Mount Rushmore area. I have to admit, we were sweating it out for a little while, but in the end we did manage to get the last room available in the last hotel in Keystone, SD, where I’m posting this blog. It’s biker heaven out there. There’s loud partying, loud engines, and more bikes in the parking lots than I may have ever seen before. Karen, Zoe, and I walked around outside a few minutes ago and talked to a few bikers.


We have a wake up call for tomorrow at 7:30 AM. We have 650 miles to drive through the badlands. I can’t wait!  Next stop…Minneapolis! 

–Brakes For Buffalo

LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)

California Rattling

We’re driving away from Napa Valley on I-50E heading toward Lake Tahoe on yet another tree-lined mountain road snaking back and forth and up and down, making me queasy as I type. This more or less officially marks the end of the halfway point on our trip, where we now begin heading back east toward home. And we still have twenty days and four thousand miles to go. Still, California continues on and on. We’ll be sad to leave it.

Let’s catch up:


So, we made it to the great state of…


…where, in Alta Loma, about an hour outside of Los Angeles, we stayed with our friend Junior (real name=Janine but for some reason that I can’t recall, Karen has called her this nickname forever) and her two kids, Kimberly and Grady. And guess who was there to meet us? Remember our friend Petey from our stop in Bryan, TX? Well, he and Karen and Junior used to be roommates back in the day, and Petey had some extra vacation time coming so he flew out to meet us! Isn’t that cool? 🙂


On Tuesday and Wednesday we took the kids to Disneyland.

The first thing we did in Disney, of course, was look for a cup of good coffee. We went into a place on Main Street and the lady assured us that she had the very best coffee in Disneyland. So expectations were high. Unfortunately, they weren’t met. I’m not going to say that it was the worst coffee ever had. But that’s because I don’t want to say bad stuff about the Magic Kindom. So I won’t. The Disney lady was very nice, though.

They had this Jedi Training Camp thing where little kids get to put on Star Wars hoods and a Jedi instructor teaches them about the force and about how to use a light saber. (I’m not sure what Star Wars has to do with Disney, but there you are.) And then in the middle of the instruction, there was suddenly a disturbance in the force and who swaggers out but Darth Vader. Pretty cool, huh? But it gets better…then Evan got to have a light saber duel with Darth! How cool is that? He tried to persuade my son to turn to evil (he kept saying stuff like, “If only you knew the power of the dark side…”)—and Evan confided to me later in a totally serious voice, “You know dad, I seriously considered it.” But I’m proud to say that not only did Evan remain good, but he totally kicked Lord Vader’s butt. Check out this amazing photo. I’m not sure who’s more psyched about it, Evan or me:


Also in the L.A. area we met up with our friends Kathy Reed and Eric Hughson, and their kids Johnny and Livia. They just moved to the area, but even though they hadn’t completely unpacked they still invited us, Junior, Junior’s friend Lee, and all the kids over for a barbecue. It was great to see them. Thanks, guys!


We stopped in at Vroman’s Bookstore, a big independent in Pasedena. It’s another one of those great stores where you want to grab a book and sit down and read all day. Here I am with Kris Vreeland, Robyn Kamimura, and Katie Fraley. They were terrific—and Vroman’s is awesome!

Now, here’s another one of those weird and lovely things that happen in life. Remember the Battelo family who we met in the hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico? Well, when we got to Vroman’s they surprised us by being there, waiting! Turns out they live in the L.A. area and Heidi, Nick and Sam drove more than an hour to come see us—isn’t that nice? What a great surprise!


We left the L.A. area and headed north. Santa Barbara is beautiful, and gave the kids their first experience with the Pacific Ocean. We walked up and down the beach. There, we met up with Teresa Tucker-Davies, the Producer of the movie HOLES, among other films. We picnicked with her by the beach and found this huge rock that looks like a giant shell.

Here are a few more photos from amazing Santa Barbara:

Then northward. Route 1 is sometimes called the Dramamine Highway because of its constant sharp turns back and forth and back and forth as it winds its way up the dramatic California coastline. I have to admit, I got the queasies. Along the way there’s a little town called Lucia, which is Lucy’s real name so we had to take this picture of Lucy under her sign. 🙂


We mooched off my cousin Phil and his wife Barbara for two nights. Barbara is an amazing and artist and their house is filled with her beautiful paintings. She and Phil were a lot of fun and very kind and showed us around San Francisco. Here we are in Bubba Gump’s on Fisherman’s Warf with my cousin Evan (Phil and Barbara’s son) and his friend Kevin.


Not far from Fisherman’s Warf is Book Passage, a lovely bookstore in the Ferry Building. (They also have a larger location in Corte Madera, CA, in Marin County. Here I am with Ron Jin and Eamon Doyle. This was a particularly nice store—and they were very sweet to my family and me. As I left, Ron presented me with a beautiful box of personalized stationary that said ‘Mark Peter Hughes.’ That’s never happened to me before at a bookstore. Thanks guys! 🙂


In San Francisco our minivan, Penelope, started to make some strange rattling noises. It only happens when were stopped, with the brake on. If I put it in park, it goes away. Still, it’s rather disconcerting. Hmmm…


We spent an afternoon with our friend Marianne Shine and her three boys, Riley, Cooper, and Sawyer—another family of artists—who live in Mill Valley and Bolinas, in Marin County. They took the afternoon to show us around. It was great to see you, Shines!

They took us to see the ancient redwood trees in Muir Woods. This is yet another moment of our trip where I can’t adequately convey how I felt from being in a very special place. It was an incredible feeling to be among such ancient living things.


In beautiful Mill Valley in Marin County just north of San Francisco is a cool little bookstore called The Depot Bookstore and Café. It’s a place where authors often do readings, and mountain bikers meet for refreshments after long rides. Here I am with booksellers Debra Hammond and Kevin Brooks.

There we met with Pam and Larry, their daughter Zoe, and their dog Dipsy—friends of friends, and now our new friends—who are lucky enough to live in this gorgeous part of the world. Great you meet you!


In Richmond Heights, CA (just east of Berkeley), we stayed two nights with our friends Darlene Drapkin, Ken Lindgren and Rosa, Darlene’s mother. Darlene and Ken have a large white cockatoo named Leonard Birdstein, and it loves to swing across the living room hanging from a rope and shrieking “Hola! Hola!” It did it over and over again, and the kids shrieked with laughter every time. 🙂

Unfortunately, the next day Evan wasn’t feeling well and ended up staying at home in bed. 🙁

Ken was very kind to stay with him and take care of him while Darlene took us into Chinatown.

That second night, we put the kids down to sleep and then broke out Ken’s karaoke machine. It was a night of golden tones and golden oldies. It was kind of like American Idol, except without Paula Abdul or talent. 🙂 I’m amazed the neighbors didn’t complain.

Evan was feeling a bit better in the morning as we headed out of the San Francisco area toward Tahoe. Here we are in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, and doing a very brief wine tasting in Napa Valley.

Next stop, Lake Tahoe!

LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007)
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)