First Big Freelance Win: A Freshly Published Book!

Some of y’all know this, but for those of you who don’t, since I left my 9-to-5, my biggest client has been my Uncle Mike. He approached me early this year with a wildly wonderful idea: He wanted to know if I would help him self-publish his books.

He’s a Naval doctor and commander who’s been in the military over thirty years and has also spent the last decade writing fiction military/medical/political thrillers, along with a handful of manuscripts he describes as being in the “touchy-feely” vein, AKA love stories :). When he came to me, he had over ten manuscripts waiting for publication, but was having trouble getting traditional book publishing houses to bite.

I have experience working for book publishers—one a large traditional house and one an indie house—and his difficulties didn’t surprise me a bit. Publishing is a bit of a gambling industry, when you think about it. Publishers pay advances to authors which they hope to earn back with book sales, then they invest a ton of money in the production, marketing, printing, distributing, and warehousing of the book. If the book doesn’t sell, they’re in the red, and more and more publishing houses are looking for a safe bet.

This unfortunately means that without a huge social media presence (if you aren’t, say, Kim Kardashian) many first-time authors are passed over. Publishing houses run the cost-benefit analysis and decide, “too risky.”

Fortunately, in the age of the internet, there’s an alternative: self-publishing. I encouraged my uncle to go for that, and when he hired me to help him out, I was thrilled to be a part of the venture. Both because I was excited to see him accomplish his dreams, and, more selfishly, I was eager to figure out how this self-publishing business works with his books so that I’ll have the process down pat when I self-publish my own manuscript, hopefully sometime next year.

He and I have been hard at work since May on his first title: Vector | Tradecraft: Phase Zero.

We’ve had the manuscript copyedited, then typeset, then proofread. We hired a cover designer who did a fabulous job. And we hired a marvelous marketing consultant who is in the throws of campaigning to get the word out. I’ve been acting as the project manager for the book, reviewing all edits prior to approval, coordinating between vendors, facilitating payment of invoices, setting up distribution accounts, and managing all other manner of housekeeping items so that Uncle Mike can focus on what he does best: writing great manuscripts.

And I’m so very thrilled to announce that this first great manuscript is so no longer a manuscript but an actual published book! Vector is available for sale on Amazon. Order your print copy today, or preorder the ebook, scheduled to release Nov. 9.

Vector Book Cover with Spine

Vector is a millitary/medical/politcal thriller that follows DHS Agent Lee Jansen and Dr. Emma Hess as they try to solve the mystery of exactly what kind of weapon researcher Jawad Khattib was working on before he died from its effects in the Massachusetts General Hospital ER. When they discover the truth, it’s worse than they ever could have imagined. The weapon isn’t just capable of killing hundreds—it’s capable of killing hundreds of thousands. Can they stop what’s been set in motion by a madman with a dangerous secret before it’s too late? Read the book to find out! :D

This title is the first in a six-book series my Uncle Mike and I are working to release. Read more about the book on his website, and sign up for the email list to be kept in the loop on when the next book in the series is scheduled to come out.

Again, I’m so very thrilled that this book is out. It feels like a huge personal win. I get to see a product of me going freelance in tangible form. The book is beautiful, and it’s a really great read. It feels amazing to have been a part of making it available to readers worldwide.

I hope you’ll order the book and enjoy reading it as much as I did. In any case, thank you all for following my blog and supporting me in my crazy passions and letting me word-vomit my excitement over Vector’s release!

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A Visit to Washington—Land of the Barrel of Cheer

The second trip I’ve taken as a full-time freelancer was on the heels of the Nola trip and with the same cast and crew—my dad and my brother. We flew up to Washington to visit Mark and Linda.

Mark and Linda live on a few acres of land in the small town of Sequim about a three-hour drive from Seattle. Mark’s a college buddy of my dad’s (and is also the author of a fantastic book called The Face of His Brother, if you’re looking for a good read). Linda is his lovely wife. Both are from my home state of Louisiana and both have the most wonderful accents as proof of the pudding.

I don’t have that accent. I have an accent, but it’s slight. The thick drawl that is my birthright somehow passed me by. Sometimes I’m thankful for that. It makes it easier to blend. Other times I think it’s a shame. It removes me from my roots a bit, and roots are important to have in this world.

Mark and Linda were the most incredible hosts. I mean, seriously. Remember when I said earlier their place was a three-hour-drive from Seattle? Well, Mark made that drive both to pick us up from the airport at the start of the trip and to take us back at the end.

Our incoming flight arrived after 11 p.m. and our departure left around 6 a.m. That’s right. He stayed up until the wee hours of the morning driving us to his place from the airport and then awoke in similar wee hours to take our asses back. And did not breath a word of complaint. That is some gold-medal level hosting.

I’d never met Linda before and was excited to finally have the chance. I’d heard so much about her.

Since we got in so late, we didn’t see her until the morning, but when we woke she had steaming coffee ready for us. We chit chatted over our mugs at a table on their recessed, grotto-encased patio surrounded by beautiful old pine trees that made me realized the pines we have in Texas have nothing on the ones they have in Washington. At least size-wise.

I thought I’d seen tall pines before. I hadn’t. These were the stuff of children’s books. Larger than what seemed possible, and so, so very green. They were breathtaking.

Washington Pines

After coffee, Linda went inside to get breakfast ready while Mark showed dad, Haydon, and me the property.

They’re selling it soon, which was a big driver for the trip. Dad had heard about the place for years and wanted to see it before it was too late. They have a handful of wooded acres that back up to more land they sold to the local Indian tribe.

We could still walk on the Indian-owned land, though, and a beautiful river runs through that part of the land.

Dad and I couldn’t resist a river selfie.

Sequim, WA, river

The whole area was just beautiful. And when we got back Linda had prepared a quiche along with delicious fresh fruit. It was fabulous.

After breakfast, Mark drove us to see some of the sights. We stopped off at the John Wayne Marina which had a little restaurant. We’d been exploring for a couple of hours at that point and had worked up an appetite and were also thirsty.

Dad told the hostess his last name was Zezlette. He said it was Moravian, then he spelled the name for her, unasked. Mark and I struggled to keep our faces straight.

Over a delicious creamy Dungeness crab dish and Prosecco, we all chatted, and whenever the waitress came by dad tried to drop in little relevant details about how things were doing back in Moravia. From the waitress’s face, I wasn’t sure whether the oddness off it even registered. I could tell my dad was dying for her to ask him more about his home country, but she didn’t bite.

Then we went to the Walgreens where we could buy not only beer and wine but liquor as well. We picked up some Jameson and a few bottles of Pinot Noir.

Back at the house, Mark pulled out what he likes to call his barrel of cheer. It’s full of beer and you need only add ice to make it a party. He added ice.

We sat around the fire pit telling more tales with everyone, Dad, Haydon, Linda, me. Mark had mentioned we’d all have a cookout that night. But then, something inconceivable happened. Someone else showed up at the house.

It was Sue.

“Hi Sue,” Mark greeted her. “How’s it going? What brings you by?”

“Well, it’s Wednesday, right?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Aren’t we having game night?”

I saw a look pass between Mark and Linda. Game night. They’d completely forgotten about game night.

“Of course! Come sit down,” Linda said without missing a beat. “These are some friends from out of town.”

Mark introduced everyone and Linda slipped inside.

Five more people showed up making our little party nine people total. And I began to worry.

What was Linda going to do? We were running out of cheese and crackers and it was clear these people were used to coming here to eat food with their games and now it appeared there would be no games and also no food. Not only that, but Sequim isn’t the kind of place where you just pick up the phone and order something in. No pizza delivery to save the day.

This was a hostess’s nightmare.

Or I thought it was. But it wasn’t this hostess’s nightmare, because Linda comes from the old school of southern belles, where you’re ready to prepare a banquet feast for nine at a moment’s notice. And that’s just what she did.

I walked into the kitchen to see if I could be of any help, and she was cooking up a storm. Multiple pots were on the stovetop simmering with delicious smelling things. The stove was on. Bread was out. I asked, “Can I help you with anything?”

“Oh, dear, I’d like to say ‘no,’ but it’d be great if you could set the table.”

I could certainly do that.

“Grab Mark and your brother and get them to put a few chairs outside. Mark will know which ones. We’ll eat al fresco!” Linda was smiling, wasn’t even breaking a sweat, and I was in awe of her calm under pressure.

Mark, Haydon, and I set everything up while dad entertained the folks gathered around the fire. My father’s a wonderful storyteller and was the perfect distraction while the food was being prepared.

Linda came out of the house under an hour later, and dinner was served. But not just any old dinner, no. And certainly not one that looked like it had been thrown together last-minute and consisted of whatever she had laying around the kitchen.

Y’all, it was three courses. And each and everything she prepared was absolutely delicious.

We had French onion soup with toasted cheese baguette on top; perfectly baked bone-in chicken breast—juicy on the inside, crispy skin on the outside—served with a tasty vegetable medley, a side salad, and fresh French bread; and for dessert, cobbler topped with ice cream.

As each dish came out, I became more and more impressed. Linda did what I could never do. I am not from that school of southern belle. My generation would starve to death if presented with the challenge that Linda so effortlessly embraced.

Like many of my peers, I am not a cook. There are so many basic, basic things people from her generation whip up in the kitchen—making it look as natural as breathing—that would be the most impossible of feats for me. Homemade pie crusts. Spaghetti sauce from scratch. Chicken salad.

I can’t make anything at all without a recipe, and sometimes even those give me trouble.

As with my lack of an accent, I feel like I’ve missed out on a little of my birthright by being a Southern lady who wouldn’t know how to make dumplings if her life depended on it. I can make Ramen noodles in a coffee pot—and have. But, while perhaps a teensy bit impressive as a sort of parlor kitchen trick, that’s not quite the same thing. :)

Everyone at the table that night talked, laughed, drank, ate, and enjoyed—none the wiser that their visit was something of a surprise to their hosts.

The next day, Mark drove us up to Olympic park and the view was breathtaking. Have a look:

Olympic Park mountains

There’s something about mountains. Pictures never quite capture the majesty of actually being on one. Of ascending rung by rung up the road and having the slight sense of becoming elevated and then having your eyes affirm you’ve gone up much higher than you felt you had and then seeing for miles and miles and miles. We don’t have mountains in Austin. We have hills. And while they’re quite lovely, they’re no comparison.

When I got back to Austin, I knew I’d experienced two things on my travels I wouldn’t soon forget. The celestial beauty of the mountains, and the awe of a truly great hosting from a couple who can make any number of people feel welcome in their home at moment’s notice— who are always ready to entertain with a barrel of cheer, a home cooked meal, and a warm, inviting fire.

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Getting More Than You Bargained for on Bourbon Street

I’ve started to write this next blog post at least twelve times, and that’s being conservative.

I think my problem was there was just so damn much I wanted to say…and I couldn’t decide what stories to tell or where to start—what was only interesting in my head or actually internet-worthy. (Though the bar is pretty low on that score considering the deluge of stuff available to peruse with one’s free or not-so-free time.)

I finally decided, eff it, I’m just going with a stream of consciousness-style post about a funny thing that happened on the first trip I took as a full-time freelancer. And even though it was to New Orleans, and I’ve been to New Orleans easily over a dozen times, this time counts as something new because it was the first time in my life I had ever taken a weekend trip when I didn’t have to be back in the office on Monday—or ever again.

Let’s get to it, shall we.

I took the trip with my dad and younger brother. We stayed where we always stay when we’re in Nola—at a B&B that stands for bed & booze, because the host doesn’t serve breakfast but he’ll fix you a martini come happy hour.

The very first night, my dad and I were on the patio around 1 a.m. solving the world’s problems over a couple of bottles of wine when my brother Haydon stumbled in and announced, “I got a dog and I broke my guitar.”

Upon further inspection, the guitar was gonna make it. It was in two pieces, sure, but its neck hadn’t snapped apart, only popped off. (Louisiana humidity is hell on instruments.) It could be easily fixed with a little glue.

The 6-month-old Catahoula hound, however, was a definite complication with no immediate remedy.

The situation was made more complicated when, shortly thereafter, my brother passed out inside on the couch, and my dad slipped off to bed with stealth that would astound. And suddenly it was just me and the pup with a whole lot more night in front of us.

I knew I was in trouble when I got up to use the restroom and the dog immediately tried to follow me inside.

“No,” I whispered in what I hoped was a firm, commanding tone. I shut the door behind me. I could hear him scratching and whining the whole time I took care of business. Not good.

When I got back outside, I was glad to see no damage had been done the door. At least not yet. But I was fairly certain that the antique wood wouldn’t be able to withstand what would surely be a five-hour-long vigil if this puppy were left alone out here all night.

I hatched a plan. If I stayed out here long enough, surely the pup would fall asleep, and I could slip inside with it unawares. Its eyes were already drooping and it was having a visibly difficult time keeping its little head up. This would take half a glass of wine’s time at most, I decided.

Sure enough, by the time I’d drained the glass, the dog was in dreamland. I stood up, careful not to move the iron chair I was sitting on, lest it scrape against the concrete and give me away. The dog didn’t stir. I crept to the doorway. Still, it slept. I put my hand on the knob…

I swear I hadn’t made a sound. But dammit if that thing didn’t open its eyes and hop up. His tail wagged. He smiled at me in the way that only dogs can, tongue out, eyes sleepy but happy and full of love. Oh, hell. I was going to have to let him in or sleep on the patio. And I wasn’t doing the latter.

I opened the door, defeated. “Come on in.”

We walked past my brother sleeping blissfully on the living room couch on the way to the bedroom I was staying in, and I’m sure my eyes shot daggers at him and also equally sure that the soundness of his sleep successfully deflected them. I shut the bedroom door behind me and vaguely wondered what I would do if I were caught.

Because, you see, on this particular trip the usual man who hosts us in his B&B didn’t have any room available, so he’d asked his Greek neighbor to let my brother and I stay with him as a favor. And we were literally staying in this stranger’s house, who we’d only met a few hours before, and who gave us the tour in a tone that told me he didn’t usually do this, and was also maybe a bit OCD and maybe shouldn’t have agreed to allow two 20-somethings reign of the back of his house.

I told myself our Greek host had said he wouldn’t come back here during our stay. That we’d all share the kitchen, but the living room and back bedroom belonged to Haydon and me. But the only thing separating our section of the house from the kitchen and his living quarters was a thin wooden sliding door. I looked at the pup. One howl and I was done for.

It was approaching 3 a.m., and I was too tired to care. Hell, I was even too tired to care when the dog jumped into bed with me, which I was sure was probably the cardinal sin of sneaking a dog into a place where you should not have a dog. It’s one thing to have one chilling on the floor. Or even on the furniture. But to have a contraband dog in someone else’s bed. It was unconscionable.

Good thing that, very shortly, I was unconscious and didn’t give a shit.

At least, until I awoke. And I smelled that smell that is distinctively the smell of shit. And I though, oh, shit.

 My first fear was that it had its “accident” in the bed with me. To my slight relief, it hadn’t. The dog had migrated to the nice, plush, cream-colored carpeted floor at some point and decided that was the perfect place to get a little relief.

I looked at him. He wagged his tail. I sighed. I couldn’t even be mad. The little guy hadn’t wanted to shit on the carpeted floor. It was just the most convenient place. And it would have been way worse if he’d decided to bark to wake me up, alerting our Greek host.

“Stay!” I whispered fiercely to the dog and stumbled into the bathroom to get some toilet paper. I had to be quick about this. The puppy poop was pretty well formed—good consistency, though I would have preferred a bit drier. Still it’d be relatively easy to clean up as it was. But if that dog stepped in it and smeared it everywhere, it would be game over.

I passed the living room on the way to the bathroom. Haydon was still on the couch, undisturbed. Goddammit.

While I grabbed the TP, I could hear my phone going off like crazy. Someone was sure texting me a lot for seven thirty in the morning.

When I got back into the room and the dog hadn’t touched the poop, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I checked my phone. The messages were from my dad.

Good morning. How are you?

Do not let the dog into the house.

Host is worried about fleas.

Where is the dog? We can keep it on this patio.

Hello?

And even though these were all fairly reasonable things to say, something in me snapped. I think it was the combination of the lack of sleep and the stress of doing something so uncharacteristic of me—taking part of something that could definitely be seen as highly disrespectful of another person’s home, even though I’d only done it out of pure desperation.

I thought, hyperbolically, You don’t know what I’ve been through! And then, I’m doing this my way.

My way was to take care of the poop first, because the Greek host catching me in his home with a dog would be pretty shitty. But if he caught me in his home with a dog who’d just shit all over his cream-colored carpet, it would be a legit shit storm.

The poop came up in perfect pieces, just as I predicted. It was really easy to get them all into the toilet. And then all I had to do throw down a bunch of hand soap and warm water and rub it with a quickly ruined white wash cloth and presto! Carpet was good as new. Or at least appeared to be.

Then I successfully snuck the dog back outside whilst Haydon snoozed on, oblivious.

I walked the pup over to where my dad was staying with the regular B&B host, who is a lovely, lovely man that we’ll call Mark. Mark came outside and immediately recognized my nerves were shot. “Honey, get inside and get you a cup of coffee. I’ll take care of this sweet thing,” he said, taking its leash from my weary hands.

I could have hugged him. Actually, I think I did. And then I went inside and to for that much-needed cup of coffee.

My father and I have what we like to call martyr syndrome, or, more irreverently, the stigmata. It’s describes how we sometimes do seemingly selfless things for the sick enjoyment of feeling sorry for ourselves. Put upon yet again. The sole one there to bear the burden of whatever bullshit we’re taking care of that someone else should rightfully be taking care of.

My martyr syndrome was what prevented me from waking my brother up and telling him to deal with his damn dog. Or from responding affirmatively to the text my dad had sent me after slinking off to bed in which he’d halfheartedly offered to help with the dog. (Or from telling you readers about that text earlier in this blog post, because to do so would have made it seem like I had other resources available to me and maybe wasn’t entitled to so much bitching.)

If I’d woken my brother, or accepted my dad’s offer of help, it would have robbed me of my ability to think, Woe is me, here I go again, taking responsibility when no one else would. Aren’t I saintly? Somebody should alert the Pope.

But, that morning, I blew it. To be a true martyr, to effectively suffer from stigmata, one must never, never complain of one’s trials. To do that is sacrilege to the martyr way.

The reality was, I’d exhausted all of my energy, so when I went to reach for my standard “Oh, it was nothing, really. We all do things for family,” instead I got a handful of white hot annoyance.

I entered Mark’s kitchen, and I saw my dad enjoying coffee with a woman I didn’t know from Eve. Normally, a sense of decorum would have made me hold my tongue in front of this stranger. But I had something to say, and at that point I didn’t care who heard it.

“That damn dog kept me up all night, and then it shat everywhere and I had to clean it, and I’m sorry I put it inside but if I hadn’t it, it would have clawed up the door, and you know, another thing, I’m feeling a bit like Atlas and I think I’m gonna shrug and maybe I’ll just rent a car and drive up to Mississippi and rent a cabin in the swamps and you’ll all never see my sorry ass again!”

And my dad, being who he is and knowing his daughter as well as he does, responded with a loud guffaw. It was a laugh full of love and understanding, one that said he’d felt all of those things before, and enjoyed hearing them said aloud.

Or maybe he was laughing because it was a good way to break the tension and help the other woman in the room feel less uncomfortable. Probably a bit of both. In any case, things were better after that. He poured me a cup of coffee, and we agreed we’d wait until after I’d had that before we decided what to do with the dog.

Mark came in and let us know Haydon was awake.

“What’s he doing?” I asked. “Sitting outside with his new puppy enjoying a cigarette and loving life? Must be nice.”

The coffee was still kicking in.

By the time Haydon stepped inside to get his cup, I’d calmed a bit. And also, I love my brother to the ends of the earth. It’s impossible to be mad at him for long. His only real crime was going to sleep, after all. Oh, and buying a dog off some kids on Bourbon Street and bringing it back to another man’s house, I suppose. But what’s that, really? A crime of passion! He was in love with that dog! And falling in love with a dog is something I can well understand.

Haydon let us know he’d decided to stay the next few nights at a friend’s place who had a backyard. Some brainstorming with my dad led to the conclusion that Haydon would forego the flight back and instead rent a car to take the pup home to Austin. Haydon also told us he’d named the pup Tchoupitoulas (pronounced Chop-a-too-less), or Tchoup for short.

While the Greek neighbor hadn’t known the dog was in his house, he’d definitely realized one was on the premises. He’d discovered the water bowl and had texted about it with Mark.

He confronted us about it later.

I was sitting on the patio with Tchoup. Haydon was using the restroom inside. He and I had been enjoying a couple beers waiting for his friend to show up and take him to Tchoup’s new sanctuary.

The Greek neighbor came around the back. He was shirtless, probably because it was a hot day and not to show off his physique, which wasn’t the stuff of bodybuilders, to say the least.

I could tell he was surprised to see me. When he did, I spoke first.

“I’m so sorry about the dog,” I told him, hoping to smooth things over from the start. He, apparently, did not have the same wish.

“Is that what kind of person he is?” He replied.

I thought fast about how to respond to that one. It was offensive, sure, but Haydon was the one with another place to stay tonight. I had to be in this guy’s home for the next few days. The most important thing in the world, regardless of what his comment implied, was that by the end of this conversation we were all friends again. Or at least he and I were.

“You know, I don’t know, but he just really loved that dog. He had to have him.”

“I told Mark, if he’s gonna be like that, pick up every stray he find in the Quarter, well, he’s never gonna have any fun here.”

Something told me that despite his words, he wasn’t truly concerned about my brother’s ability to find fun in New Orleans. It was one of those backhanded observations that serve as a sort of Trojan horse for saying “your brother is an irresponsible, heinous human being.”

I laughed, using my dad’s trick to ease the tension. “That might be true. But I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about that when he bought him.”

“He bought the dog?”

“Yes. He paid $50 bucks for it to some kids on the street.”

“Gutterpunks,” he practically spat, a term used by locals for panhandlers on Bourbon. Then he looked at Tchoup and his face softened. “I did not realize he pay.”

People are funny. What difference did it make if the dog was paid for or the dog was picked up? Maybe he thought it meant Haydon was more invested in this than he’d originally realized. Whatever the rationale, I grabbed onto this shifting emotion like a lifeline thrown out to me in the bayou as the gators circled.

“Yes, he did. And the dog will be gone tonight. He’s staying with friends. They have a yard.”

Haydon walked out at this moment, quickly took stock of the situation, and came to the same conclusion that I had: we have to fix this.

“Hey, I’m so sorry about the dog. I can be a bit impulsive. I’m sorry that it was here last night, but it’ll be gone tonight.”

“You do not have to go,” the Greek man said in a way that I thought meant he half meant it, wanted to mean it, but the dog was a dog and he was afraid of fleas and was pretty particular about his things besides and it would be a pretty big burden to bear. Maybe he was familiar with martyr syndrome, as well.

“You only have to clean up after him. He make a mess over there,” he said.

And immediately I panicked, because I knew from the way he was gesturing that he meant Tchoup had pooped on the corner of the patio, but Haydon didn’t seem to know that, and started to apologize for him shitting on the carpet the night before.

“I know, I’m sorry about that, too—“

“Yeah, Haydon, it’s over there in the corner if you want to clean it before you go,” I said pointedly, interrupting him before he could reveal what would have been an unforgivable sin and completely squashed our chances of getting out of this with a place for me to sleep the rest of the trip.

Haydon’s always been quick on the uptake. We’d made a good team, growing up.  He knew what I was saying right away. “I’ll do that, thanks, Leigh.”

“Yes, well, good,” our Greek host said. “And you can stay.”

“Oh, thank you,” Haydon told him, “but my friend’s place will be better for the dog. He’s got a yard. You know, no more messes.”

And then the Greek man proceeded to tell us about how his neighbor the doctor had a dog once and it cried all the time and pooped on that patio and the doctor never cleaned it up—can you believe? A doctor? And the smell!

“And then my neighbor want to share patios. He start to take down the wall one day and then I have to call the cops!”

“How horrible!” Haydon and I agreed. “Unbelievable!”

By the end of all of it, we were all friends of a sort, validating his negative opinion of that awful neighbor, our common enemy.

And I got to stay in the guest bedroom and everyone was happy.

The rest of the trip went about how most trips to New Orleans go. Strolls down Bourbon with drinks in hand. Delicious food. Wonderful music. Some street musicians were even playing one of my favorite songs in the world as we passed by, “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music. My dad and I stopped to hear them play it through, then tipped and strolled on to the next watering hole.

I do love that city. Highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t been before. Though, our Greek host was really right. You should probably not pick up a dog off the street there, if you want to have fun.

Unless it’s as adorable as sweet Tchoup. And then, the choice really isn’t up to you, is it?

catahoula-pup

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