Friday, October 31, 2008

A Bit of News

Tomorrow is moving day. I've kept the details of this move under wraps mostly because the reasons behind it are quite personal. Now I'm usually very open and honest about my life on this blog, but on this particular issue...well, I'm not going to be. :-) It's too personal. Too private. Too painful. When something you've worked at long and hard for so long, have cried over, have tried and tried over and over again to make it work, and then you realize that it's just not going to work...well, it's time to make some very tough choices.

I had to make that choice about a month ago. I'm not happy about it. I've prayed a lot. Cried some more. Had the whole situation running around in my head so much that I thought it would pop from the pressure. And in the end...well, let's just say that it's time to go. It's time to take care of my health, mentally and physically, and that hasn't been possible with everything going on.

I know I'm intentionally being a bit secretive about things, and I do apologize for that, but it's one of those situations that I really don't want to just throw out there in the open. I'm incredibly sad over it, and I have kept a lot of those feelings locked inside my heart. That's how it has to be.

A new chapter is beginning in my life starting tomorrow. Good thoughts and prayers are appreciated. :-)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On the Hunt

When moving, it is sometimes necessary to find new furniture. As I cannot afford to go to the furniture store and pick up anything I want at any price, that means I have to bargain shop. This includes going on CraigsList, hitting estate sales, rummaging through thrift stores (and some are much nicer than others!) and looking through want ads.

My daughter wanted a drawing table for her new room. Since she is quite the artist, I was more than happy to comply with her request. I've been looking ever since, and today I think I found the perfect little table. It's an antique, it's round, just her size, and more importantly, it was cheap. I found it at a cool little place here in town that buys used furniture, fixes it up, and sells it.

Since I'm also planning to decorate my new place in an English cottage style (gee, wonder where I got that idea?) I've been trying to look for suitable items. I wanted a Queen Ann style coffee table and have been scouring all my resources to try and find one. Lo and behold, I picked up the perfect match today at the same place I found my daughter's table.

Last week, I hit an estate sale and found a wing back chair in near perfect condition for $15. Yes, $15. But even better? The lady was getting ready to close shop and said, "Make me a deal! I want to get rid of it." So I offered her $10. She accepted. Woo hoo!

There's a few things I've learned on my hunt for a good deal. 1) People are usually willing to bargain with you if they really want to get rid of the item. 2) Don't buy the first thing you see if you don't absolutely love it - there's always something better that will come along. 3) Shop around!

Do you love to haunt thrift stores and antique shops? Are you a bargain hunter or would you just rather go into a store, grab the first thing you like, and high-tail it out of there?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Heart James Bond

When I was in London, I had planned to go to the Imperial War Museum's Ian Fleming Exhibition. As we all know, the food poisoning took care of that little plan, and I never made it.


Since the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, is due out next month, I'll just have to console myself with being first in line at the box office the night it opens on November 14.

I'm a big Daniel Craig fan. I didn't really know who the guy was until I watched Casino Royale, but now I'm most definitely hooked. I believe his interpretation of Bond is exactly what Ian Fleming would want. He's edgy, hard, and tough. Yet he bleeds. He hurts. He feels. Craig has breathed new life into this franchise, and I can't wait to see how he does in Quantum of Solace. This movie picks up a few minutes after Casino Royale ends, and ties up the loose ends from that movie.

Craig does a lot of his own stunts and has suffered a few injuries.
He talks about it here on the BBC, plus delves into Bond's character. Some consider Bond to be a cad, a woman-hater, and just plain mean. The BBC even has an article entitled, Is James Bond Loathsome?

As a writer, I find it fascinating that a character made up from a writer's imagination has spawned so much talk. Bond is one of those characters that has been around for 50 years and is still going strong, still evolving, and still generating controversy. Fleming would be proud.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Odds and Ends

The weather is crisp and cool here - I just love fall! Unfortunately, the heaters are on full blast at the office so I'm roasting a bit. Ugh.

I finally feel like I'm back. Jet lag has disappeared, tummy has healed, and my mind is now focused. I haven't got back to writing yet because I've got a big move coming up, so I've been busy packing (more on that later). But I have been reading!

I just finished The Book Thief. Rarely have I read a more emotionally-powerful book and a more well-written book. Wow. I was continually blown away by Markus Zusak's writing. To see my review of this brilliant work, you can check out my World War II blog.

Now that I've finished a book, I'm looking for another, so if you have any recommendations, let me know!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tea with Mr. Darcy

I must say, one of the highlights of my vacation was the chance to indulge myself, whether it be sleeping in, lounging around, or eating usually off-limits food. And I was able to enjoy a wonderful meal at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath.

On the third floor of this charming townhouse, I was able to have high tea - and the name of it was Tea with Mr. Darcy. Isn't this a beautiful room?
What a delectable feast! Cucumber and cheese sandwiches, a crumpet with butter and jam, and moist chocolate cake, plus a pot of cranberry tea.

Ahhh...I wish I had all of this in front of me right now! It looks soooo good, though I'm sure calorie-wise it wasn't the best. BUT, it is very important not to worry about calories when you're on vacation. Besides, with all the walking I did, I'm pretty sure that I didn't gain any weight. :-)

It was the perfect end to a delightful visit at this museum where I was able to learn more about Jane Austen and see some wonderful costumes of the era. And don't you just love the writing desk in the first picture?

I think it's time I watched Pride and Prejudice again, or perhaps Sense and Sensibility or Emma. Any will do!

I think I will have to go to the store and buy me some cranberry tea. Yum. And I did spot some scones in the bakery the other day...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Beauty of History

One thing I love about England is its history - its very very old history. Here in America, especially in the Midwest, old is maybe a hundred years or so. To give you an example, the state of Nebraska was not officially a state until 1867 - it was a territory for awhile and people didn't start moving west until the mid-1800's.

Not so in England! While I was in Witney, a small town about 7 miles from Oxford, I had ample opportunities to stroll around and soak up the wonderful history of this country. And of course, there's nowhere better than to really go back in time and see history than stepping foot in a local church.

This is St. Mary's Church, a beautiful building that still has an active congregation.

Take a look at the sign. It was rebuilt and dedicated in 1243.
That date still just blows me away. But what is really inspiring is being able to sit inside that building and soak up hundreds of years of history. It's not a grand cathedral, but it's humbleness enfolds you and makes you feel warm and safe and part of something incredibly special and spiritual.
Memorials such as this one on the wall are scattered throughout the church. I took a photo of this one because I loved what it said.

I love the architecture. When I sat in the pews and just looked around me, I just marveled at the beauty.

Well! There's your tour stop for the day. :-) I'm back at work and even though I'm not 100% recovered, it's good to be with my co-workers again and to be out and about amongst the world!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Still Recuperating

As Charlie Brown would say, "Good GRIEF." Can't believe I still feel quite horrible. My stomach has not settled yet and I've spent most of my time back home in bed, sleeping. Still don't feel good today, darn it!

So anyway, I thought I'd post a few pics of my trip before I crawl back into bed.

This is a view of Chatsworth and the absolutely gorgeous landscape surrounding it. Suffice to say, I could live here. *grin* This is Bath's famous row of townhomes, called The Circus. Georgian architecture at its finest!
Here's a glimpse of some more Bath homes.

I couldn't resist taking this photo. While I waited outside my B&B in Derby, I spotted this beautiful rose with its early morning dew drops. Gorgeous!
Chesterfield's famous twisted church spire. This is a teaser photo - I have a much better photo of it, but will wait until I'm more recovered before I share it with you, and the story behind the twisted spire! It's a good one. :-)
A lovely fall leaf on my nature walk - the leaves were so beautiful in England at this time of the year. Ok - must return to bed and hopefully shake off this blasted illness!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Home and Time to Recover (In More Ways Than One)

I'm home.

I can't believe it.

Actually home.

No longer in the land of lush, rolling fields full of lolling cows and sheep, of bustling city centres and sprawling grand estates, of amazing, kind people and...well, I could go on and on.

So, so much to talk about. I met Shirley and Diane in the flesh and found them both to be absolutely lovely. I wish we'd had more time together, but we will definitely plan more next time!

In my travels, I listened to a live rock band, took a beautiful nature walk through a sprawling park, saw ducks chasing one another in a pond, talked to a 72 year old woman who has cycled for 70 years of her life, sat in a church build in the 11th century...and I could go on. And I will. But today, I must tell of The Experience.

I had just arrived in London on Saturday night at the tail end of my trip, found my way to my hotel, and had just had a lovely shower. I decided to grab me a bite to eat, then maybe watch a bit of t.v. before I went to sleep in preparation for my big day in London. And oh, how excited I was! The Imperial War Museum with the special Ian Fleming exhibit was THE place to go that day, along with some much-needed souvenir shopping. I could hardly wait.

But then, twenty minutes after I ate, I got a not-so-good feeling. As the evening progressed, this feeling turned into a very miserable, this-isn't-good-AT-ALL feeling. I won't go into the gory details, but let's just say that I was the victim of probable food poisoning. That's the only thing I can figure out that would land me that quickly in the bathroom with my head stuck in the toilet. All. Night. Long.

Now, let me tell you, there is not much worse than being in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home, alone, and sicker than a dog. And that's exactly what I was. I was so sick that I was in tears, so sick that I nearly passed out and thought that I'd have to go to the hospital in England. And even sick that I was completely and utterly miserable about the thought of not being able to explore London the next day.

But...that's exactly what happened. I could barely move yesterday in my hotel room. I was so dehydrated that I dreamt about drinking water. When the hotel shops and cafes finally opened, I pulled on some clothes, dragged my hair out of my face, and stumbled downstairs and bought me a gigantic huge bottle of water. I stayed in my room the entire day, crying because I just wanted to go home, crying because I didn't get to see what I came to London to see, and crying because the whole situation just called for it.

I prayed a lot. I slept a lot. I watched a lot of t.v. (Strangely enough, the BBC had a feature on James Bond and another on World War II, perhaps their way of making it up to me that I couldn't actually go to the war museum and see things for myself...haha!). And I survived. But it will forever be known as The Experience.

I'm now safely home, my cat wandering across my desk and getting in the way of me seeing the computer screen (and I'm not yelling at him too loudly), and my daughter is quite happy with her Scooby Doo action figures that I found in England and have been carrying around with me practically since the first day I got there.

So! Lots and lots and LOTS to report in the coming days, but that will have to wait until the pics can be downloaded, some sleep and recovery for my poor body can be found, and I can get my head wrapped around my thoughts.

Looking forward to catching up with you all!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thoughts on Traveling in England

Greetings from a beautiful B&B in Derby, England! Have a few thoughts to share today...

The last time I was in England, I was on a group tour with my college. Everything was set out for me. Where I would stay, what time I would get there, how I would get there, what I would see, etc. This time around, it's quite different.

Yes, I planned out my itinerary - but I did not realize just how difficult it is to navigate around using public transportation when I am always driving myself back in the States. And I admit it - I don't like using public transportation. I am on their timetable and not mine, and I've spent a lot of time waiting for buses and trains. On the other hand, I doubt I could drive myself - people go a lot faster than I'm used to and there's that whole driving on the other side of the road thing. ;-)

Then there's the loneliness. When you travel with someone else, you can put your heads together and figure things out - like when the last bus leaves, where the train will stop, etc. But when you're by yourself, you have to do it, and that often means asking strangers for help. Almost everyone has been quite friendly in answering my questions, but there have been those that look at me and must be thinking, "Dumb American!" Hehe.

I'm experiencing some homesickness right now - missing my family a great deal. Those first few days had a heady feeling to them. I wasn't responsible for anyone but myself. No cooking or cleaning or taking kids to school or going to work, etc. It was nice. But I am missing it (well, not the cooking or cleaning part...).

If you've got the wherewithal to do it, I highly suggest traveling on your own. It will make you dig deep inside yourself for strength and courage that you didn't know you had. You'll go through a myriad of emotions: fear that you're doing this by yourself, panic that you might not figure things out, giddiness when you do figure things out, and pride that you did it.

I'm off to Chatsworth House today, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Keira Knightly stars in a movie about the famous Duchess, Georgiana, in The Duchess which opens in England on October 27. Costumes from the movie will be displayed and as I am a huge fan of historic costume, especially 18th century, I can't wait to see it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Greetings from England!

Goodness! It's been awhile since I've been on the 'Net! I had 38 emails in my inbox and they were all junk. But you don't want to hear about that! I'm currently coming to you live via an internet cafe in Bath.

Yes, I am in ENGLAND. I can hardly believe it sometimes! It's just incredible. And I must admit, finding my way around using public transportation is an event in itself. I am so used to driving myself wherever I want to go and not being on anyone else's time table but myself that this is definitely a new experience.

I am staying in a small town outside of Oxford called Whitney in a little bed and breakfast called The Laurels. Let me tell you, it is absolutely wonderful. My hosts, Graham and Anna, have gone out of their way to make my stay comfortable. The English breakfasts are wonderful and the room itself is simply gorgeous. Will show pics when I have a chance.

I went to Blenheim Palace the other day (after getting over my jet lag and very frustrating travel delays at both Omaha and Chicago airports), and today I am in Bath. The Jane Austen Centre is first on my list! Ok, maybe after I have a good lunch somewhere...

Can't wait to tell you all about my adventures...hope you are all doing well!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Diagnosis Is...

I went to my doctor yesterday for a follow-up visit for my heart monitor (which, BTW, cost almost $1400 - but that included the specialist who evaluated the results). My doctor, whom I just love because she is so personable and takes the time to explain everything, told me that I have supraventricular ectopic activity. To put that in layman's terms, it basically means my heart is beating a little too fast when it shouldn't be. For example, if I'm just sitting at my desk, my heartrate can escalate up to 148 bpm, and then will drop back down to a normal level, around 50-60 bpm.

So essentially, I'm running a marathon while I'm sitting still. And as I also experience this when I'm exercising, let's just say my heart is really getting a work out! It's not serious, and that made me quite relieved. She prescribed me a medication to take to help regulate my heart rate so it doesn't spike so high. This won't affect my ability to exercise or do anything.

One thing it will do, however, is make me feel less tired! Since my heart thinks it's ok if it runs a marathon (doesn't it know that I hate to run?), then it also thinks it deserves a lot of rest to make up for it. Hmm...maybe that's why I like to take naps!

At any rate, I'm glad that we figured things out, glad that I have such a wonderful doctor who takes care of me, and glad that I may now have more energy than ever!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

What Kind of Book Do YOU Want to Read?

Big time literary agent Donald Maass runs an interesting feature over at his website. It's called "What We're Looking For This Month." It lists some of the agents' story ideas that they'd like to see cross their desk. I admit, what I write generally isn't what they're looking for, but that could change pretty darn quick. For example, this month's ideas are more on target with what I write since they center on historicals.

But the whole thing got me to thinking about just how vast a pool of ideas there are out there. What we may want to read about is certainly not what someone else wants to read. That's why the library is so full of different kinds of books and well, the world is so full of different kinds of people. It takes all kinds to make the world go 'round! That's what makes things so darn interesting.

Aspiring authors often hear the advice, "Write the book you want to read but can't find." Excellent advice, with one caveat: if you are planning to write a multi-generational saga that rivals War and Peace on page-length for your very first novel, you might want to take another look at that idea. ;-)

So do you follow this advice? Are you writing the book you want to read or can't find? Or have you already written this book and are waiting to find a publisher? Or is your published book the book you wanted to read but couldn't find?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Missing Charlie

It's been a little over two months now since I lost my beloved Charlie. Today, I looked at a picture of him and teared up again.

I haven't bonded much with cute little Jasper - I think he is more my daughter's dog than anything, and I think it has helped her to heal after Charlie's death. But I have subconsciously (or consciously, perhaps) kept my heart locked up when it comes to this puppy.

Charlie was so special. I'm tearing up even while I'm writing this. But y'know, he is beside my bed every night. I know that sounds bizarre and maybe even a little funny, but I sense his presence right beside my bed. That's where he slept all the time, not far from my side. I feel like I can just put my hand out and I'll be able to stroke that soft fur again.

Maybe I shouldn't get so emotional over a dog. But he was more than a dog. He was my best friend. I can't count how many times I'd hold him and sob my heart out over something, or just hug him close to me because of how much he loved me.

I'm still missing him. I think I will always miss him. But he holds a part of my heart that will forever be his.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Writing Vs. Story Part 2

Today, J. Mark Bertrand, an amazing writer who just landed an agent for his first novel, had a post on writing vs. story. It's excellent. Here's an excerpt:

There is in our commercial age an understandable emphasis on ideas -- on "high concept." I accept this. But what does a high concept actually enhance? Not so much the story as the blurb. The movie I was watching got onto my list because the blurb sounded good. It had a clear, compelling concept. But that didn't help the actual story much. Because it isn't what you're writing about, it's how you're writing about it.

You can find the whole post here.

Friday Fun

Nothing too exciting today - the weekend is coming up! So here's a few pics of my furry friends who greet me at the door every day and fill my life with love.
Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Writing Vs. Story

There have been numerous times that I've picked up a book, read the back cover copy, and thought, Hmm, this sounds really good. But then I'd turn to the first few pages, skim through the writing, and cringe. Again and again.

And despite the book having a compelling story, the writing made me put it back on the shelf. This grieves me deeply because I really want to read the story, but I can't make myself push through the bad writing. Cliches, overuse of adverbs, bad character development, and more turn a good story into, well, a bad one.

This only makes me concentrate more on my own writing. I've recently been reading Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan because I feel that I need to work on my descriptive writing. It's one of my weaknesses and I hope to somehow correct that. I believe that the more we focus on craft, the less likely we are to fall into the trap of poor writing.

But here's what I'd like to know from you. Can you overlook bad writing if the storyline is good enough? And what about if the writing is brilliant but the story is weak? And here's another question. Just how does bad writing - i.e. too many adverbs, cliches, etc., get published in the first place?

Looking forward to your thoughts...

New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance!