Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blue's Christmas Miracle

How many of us try to complete all of our Christmas shopping well before the holidays? For the most part, probably the majority. Unfortunately, I am not that majority.

Having no choice, I had to venture out to the mall yesterday. I tried everything in my power to avoid it, but it was just inevitable. It had to be done.

I knew the dh and I were in trouble when we weren't even out of the car yet and everyone was fighting. There were no parking spots to be found. After driving around for several minutes, we finally found one. As we sat patiently waiting for a man to back out, some young blonde in her compact car flew into the spot, cutting us off. I can usually rein my temper, but I had to admit, my hand was on the latch to the door. It was crazy out there! Tempers were flying, people were pushing, men and women alike were rude... Gheez!

Barely escaping the mall with our sanity, I realize I forgot to buy wrapping paper. Mentally kicking myself and refusing to go back to the chaos of the mall, the dh drives me to our local K-Mart. My poor dh was through with the masses and decided to stay in the car. I grab my son and we go to buy the wrapping paper.

As we're standing in the check-out line, I notice a man standing behind us carrying a blue, fleece blanket. As he turns, a cute little puppy with big, floppy ears pokes his head out. 

"Aww... look how cute," I say, nudging my son.

The man steps closer with his precious little cargo and the dog has the most beautiful, crystal-blue eyes I have ever seen on an animal. Breathtakingly beautiful

"Your son can pet him if he wants to," he says, bending down within reach of my son. "His name is Blue."

As my son pets the dog, I shake my head. "His eyes are amazing. Truly beautiful and an appropriate name for such pretty eyes."

"Thank you. Blue was a rescued animal."

I smile in return. "That was so nice of you. Our dog, Zoe, was rescued as well. Someone dumped her on the doorstep of the shelter the night before we picked her up."

The man harrumphs. "Blue was dumped in a garbage can and we found him a couple of months ago. How can someone do that to an animal?" he asks with disgust.

"I have no idea."

I turn around and was silent the entire time through the check-out. Frankly, I was irritated and my thoughts raced. How terrible are people? Truly. That was horrific. Throwing a puppy in a garbage can... I was dumbfounded at the cruelty. 

Leaving the store, I am holding my son's hand and his voice breaks through my reveries. "Mommy, did that man say that someone threw the puppy in the garbage can?"

As a parent, you try to protect the innocence of your children for as long as you can, but there are some things that you just can't shield them from forever. Some people are just mean and vicious.

"Yes," I reply, shaking my head in disgust.

My son has this amazing ability at his young age to tell when Mommy is upset. He pulls on my hand so I glance down at him and he smiles at me with his blue, innocent eyes. "Don't worry, Mommy. Blue is home... and so is Zoe."

Giving him a warm smile, I sigh. "You're right... Blue is home."

May all of you find your way home safely this holiday season and be surrounded by the ones you love.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Best Holiday Memories

Over 35 years ago...

Christmas Eve, a special time of year and one of the most cherished memories that will always hold a sentimental place in my heart.

Springing out of bed and giddy with excitement, we were going to Baba's (my grandmother's) for Christmas Eve. It could not be here soon enough. "What time are we leaving?" I would ask for the millionth time. It seemed like an eternity, but it was finally time to go.

Proudly displaying our Christmas dresses with our Mary Janes and white tights, we get all bundled up in our winter coats. Donning our hat and mittens, exhilaration filled the frosty air. My sister and I jump in the car, restless in the back seat. First, because we were going to Baba's. Second, because the car took forever to heat up. Singing every Christmas carol under the sun, we would surely make the Griswald's proud! We were on our way.

Glancing out the foggy windows, winter-white snow drifts graze the landscape making the picturesque Norman Rockwell scene come to life. The houses appeared as though they were merely a little village that belonged under a Christmas tree. You could actually feel the holiday spirit come alive. 

At last, we pull into Baba's driveway, her brick Cape Cod covered in snow. It always reminded me of a storybook gingerbread house and it was the perfect holiday backdrop. Sprinting out of the car, but careful on the driveway (Mary Janes were quite slippery with snow), we follow the stone path between the house and row of emerald green arborvitae trees. Reaching the back porch, we stomp our feet, shaking off the snow. We finally made it.

Opening the wooden door, the warmth brushes against our cold skin. Baba is standing at the kitchen sink with her green apron as we have seen her so many times before. Raising her head, she casts a warm smile and opens her arms to embrace us--her hug so comforting. *sigh* Immediately engulfed with the smell of Christmas Eve dinner, we search the counter for something we can sample. Yelling at everyone else for picking, she turns away from them, sneaking us a taste of anything we want.

Surrounded by family and sitting around her enormous dining room table, this is what it was all about. All of Baba's prepping and cooking was well worth the effort. It was simply delightful. 

Having finished dinner, the men made their sly escape into the living room (no surprise there) while the women cleared the table and washed the dishes. Had I known then what I know now! LOL. With the last dish washed and put away, we were finally ready for my favorite part. 

Bustling into the living room and everyone finding their spot, the old record player was brought down from the upstairs bedroom. The Mitch Miller Christmas sing-a-long albums were spinning and we all sang our little hearts out. Glancing around the dim-lit room, the fire crackled and popped, the Christmas tree was twinkling with baubles of Christmas past as the outside world was lost to us all. All that mattered was family and that particular moment in time.

With the last song almost sung, there was only one remaining. White Christmas. When my grandfather came home from World War II, he called my grandmother to say he'd be home for the holidays as White Christmas played in the background. Ever since then, my grandmother and grandfather would cry at the drop of a hat every time they heard the song. It has been many years since they left us, but the song still makes me tear up when I hear it.

It is with a gentle sadness that in my own youth I took those times for granted. I would have appreciated those times so much more. You always think the ones you love will be with you forever. Even though my Baba and Pap are no longer with me, those memories will always hold a special place in my heart--as will they. 

The best holiday memories are made with family and friends. Care to share a favorite holiday memory?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Black Friday, Cyber Monday

It is with a gentle sadness that we say goodbye to another Thanksgiving holiday. The turkey, stuffing, cranberries, eating ourselves into oblivion and watching football--well, that is still around. Go Steelers! There were even some of you brave enough to attempt Black Friday and I commend you for your efforts on finding those great deals. 

The dh and I actually did attempt it. Yep. It consisted of walking into Kohl's and bolting straight back out. The line was half-way around the store! *sigh* I truly have no patience for shopping. With the Christmas season right around the corner, I better get myself in gear.   

Cyber Monday is tomorrow. Wouldn't it be nice to stay home in your jammies, curl up in front of the computer and never have to leave your house to shop? My niece believes you just punch in a bunch of numbers and everything on-line is free. Did you know you can even overnight something to your doorstep the next morning? Ah, the blissful unawareness of youth.

So what about you? Do you Black Friday or Cyber Monday or both? I prefer the latter.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Writer's Thanksgiving


T- Thankful for those in your life that support you through thick and thin. Your unwavering support is heartfelt.

H- Happy for other writers that receive 'the call' and paving the way for those of us that have not. You make us realize that dreams do come true. Congratulations! You've earned it!

A- Anticipating great things for all in the upcoming year.

N- Never giving up your goals or your dreams.

K- Knowing when to hold fast to what you believe in. Believe in yourself!

S- Smiling when your family is proud of you even when someone used your m/s for toilet paper.

G- Getting over the latest rejection with a smile upon your face and realizing you can't please everyone. It's inevitable.

I- Insightful friends that lend support with their words of encouragement and answer your panic calls no matter the time. I've been known to do that a time or two ;)

V- Victory to all those who work hard to meet their goals.

I- Idiots who give you your latest material. Your inspiration is appreciated and you are always in abundance.

N- Never admitting defeat.

G- Gin and tonic if none of the above work.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my chapters and writing friends! May you all find happiness and a publishing contract in the upcoming season!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Got the Call... From My Mother

In my local chapter, we had conversed a time or two about letting family members read our own material. Just the thought chilled me to the bone. I had absolutely no intention of letting any blood relative read Highland Savior. My first m/s? My baby? My love scenes? Yikes!

Even though I write historical romance and the scenes are nowhere near as juicy or hot (no pun intended) as erotica, the thought of actually having a close relative read my literary masterpiece... *shiver* was too close to home. Then again, what did I expect would happen when I'm published?

Having one m/s under my belt, I started working on Bewitching a Highland Rogue and tucked away the memory of Highland Savior. So when my mom asked me to send her Highland Savior so she could read the finished product, I did what any daughter would do in the same situation... I dodged. 

She does not read romance novels. She reads everything else. What would she think of her oldest daughter writing romance? She's never read anything I've written. OMG! What would she think of my love scenes? *cringe* As you know, you can only put off your mother for so long. It did not take her long to call my bluff. 

Stammering a bunch of malarkey, I told her my concerns and she waved me off.   

"I will skip over any sex scenes and just read the rest. Besides, they say to write what you know," she chuckles, winking.

Note: Oh, yes. The dh takes pride in admitting he was the test subject for those scenes ;) 


Biting the bullet, I attach the m/s and press 'send.' OMG! What was I thinking? What had I done? She hates romance novels. I guess it's just like any other critique and I would just have to suck it up and pray for the best. I immersed myself in writing and forgot about it--intentionally. Oh, God. I wonder if she's at the part where Ciaran... You get the idea.

My phone rings and imagine my surprise and my speechlessness (which does not occur too often) when intense seriousness greets me on the other end. 

"I just called to tell you that I finished your manuscript and I'm just going to tell you honestly what I thought."

Oh, God. Here it comes. She hated it. Why else would she be so serious? *closing eyes and mentally preparing self*

"Once I got through all of the Scottish crap, it was really good."
Note: Mom hates romance novels and Scottish crap.

Recovering, I wipe my brow. "Really? Did you have any trouble with the dialogue?"
Note: I write with a slight Scottish brogue and throw in the occasional Gaelic.

"No! It was a quick read and I was done in four hours. I didn't have any trouble with it. I am not lying to you when I say that I could not put it down. I just had to finish it and know what happened. You tell a really good story. I enjoyed it and I was really impressed. You didn't preach to me or try to teach me a lesson and just entertained me. I even read the sex scenes and thought they were fine. I didn't even have to skip over them."

I had to admit, that was certainly a welcome shock. I guess when it comes down to it, a story is a story regardless of genre. Does it entertain? Romance or not. There's your proof. 

What about you? Do you let your family read your material and what do they think?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Waiting Game

Waiting sucks. No truly, it does!

When you sit back and think of how many times in your life you have wait for things, it's astronomical. You get to work in the morning and can't wait to go home. You can't wait to have fun with your friends this week. You have something fun planned for the weekend and can't wait to celebrate. The vacation of a lifetime is coming up and you can't wait to experience the adventure. Wait, wait, wait... it seems like that's all we ever do is wait!

As an aspiring author, waiting is torture! You submit to several contests and patiently wait to see if you're one of the finalists. Sorry, the results aren't out until 2011. You'll just have to wait. You finish your next chapter and give it to your CP. God help you if it's given to her on a Friday. You'll just have to wait until Monday to find out if it passed. Sitting on the edge of my seat until Monday, CP!

What I've learned is to forget about it. No matter what, you will not change the outcome. So why sit and drive yourself crazy? Move on. Submit, deliver and forget about it. If it was meant to be, it was meant to be. Did you try your best? Then that's all that counts. Focus on the now and do not think upon the future. *Repeating several times to self.*  

With all of the hustle and bustle in today's society we all have to wait in traffic, wait at the doctor's office, wait in a restaurant, wait in the check-out line, wait for 'the call.'  

What are some things you cannot stand waiting for?

Friday, October 15, 2010

'Tis the Season

No, I'm not speaking of Christmas... yet. I'm speaking of Halloween. Not only is it a time for ghosts, goblins, pumpkins and candy, but it's also my favorite time of year. My birthday. Yep. Who would've thought?

I often wondered why my mother could not have delivered me a day earlier or even a day later, but no, I was persistent even then. I was destined to be born on Halloween. It's such a magical time for children. Who wouldn't want to imagine being someone or something else for one day out of the year... a chance to escape and to dream?  

When I was younger, there were many advantages about being born on this day. For instance, my birthday parties were always in costume. My family never had to worry about having a 'theme' birthday celebration. Bring a costume and come as you are! Of course, there were always school parties and parades which made it such a treat for me since it was also my special day. No pun intended!

Although, I must admit that sometimes having a Halloween birthday was a nightmare. As I grew older and wiser, I realized this may not be the coolest day to have a birthday after all. I had to live with comments such as, "Oh, that explains why you're such a witch." I'm being polite. Use 'witch' interchangeably. I'm sure you can come up with some creative sayings on your own. I've heard it all.

I remember an elderly man calling in one day to the day job. He was 73 years old and I noticed his birthday was October 31st. When I brought to his attention that I also shared the same day of spendid bliss, I said, "Could I ask you a question?" Imagine my surprise when he answered me before I even asked the question. 

"No, it does not. I'm 73 years old and I've been called everything under the sun. Devil, warlock, ghoul... It does not get better."

So 'tis the season of celebration for select individuals that share this day. So to all of you... Happy Birthday, my dear friends. I understand. For those of you that dare call me something other than my given name, I just might have to cast a spell on you ;)

How fitting that my new m/s is titled: Bewitching a Highland Rogue.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle rests atop the high cliffs east of North Berwick. Sir William, first Earl of Douglas, built this castle in 1358.

The Douglas earls had been modest Lanarkshire landowners in the 12th century, but all of that changed with William's uncle, Sir James of Douglas. Nicknamed 'The Good,' he was very close with Robert the Bruce and that friendship gave way to rich rewards being passed to the family after Bruce became king. That included the barony of North Berwick.

Sir William created this castle which was the last great curtain-walled castle built from new in Scotland. Above the front door, Sir William placed a stone plaque. Although it is badly worn, the heart carved on it can still be made out. In its time, the heart would have been painted blood red. Sir William's adoption of the heart as the family's armorial device displays his indebtedness to his Uncle James, who had been entrusted by Bruce to carry his heart to the Holy Land. That heart remains at the heart of the Douglas coat of arms to this day. 

The most conspicuous feature of Tantallon is the red sandstone curtain wall. Although it has been battered not only by cannon but also by the winds and storms, this castle dominates the cliff side. Following Sir William's death in 1384, his widow Margaret, countess of Angus, rose some medieval controversy. Within four years, the mighty house of Douglas had split into two, the 'Black' and the 'Red.'

Tantallon passed to the Red Douglas earls and remained theirs for the rest of its days. It endured three sieges in its 300-year existence. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Living Life in the 80's

"What's Miami Vice?" asked my daughter, making a scrunched up face.

"Are you kidding me?" I asked, rolling my eyes. Then I actually thought about it and realized, she had no idea. Who could forget Don Johnson and his pimped out clothes? I remember all of the guys wishing they were Don Johnson and all of the girls dressing like they were in Miami.

There were some great things that came out of the 80's. Some I'd like to forget like wearing leg warmers over my jeans! Hey, I was quite in style at the time! And who can remember Madonna's jelly bands being all the rage? Between big hair bands, mullets... we thought we had great fashion sense. Ha!

Anyway, I have been on a mission to subject my daughter to all of the 80's movies we can get our hands on. She loves them! Do you remember any of these?

The Breakfast Club
Pretty in Pink
The Goonies
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
St. Elmo's Fire
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Dirty Dancing
War Games
Short Circuit
16 Candles
9 to 5
A Nightmare on Elm Street (We love horror movies and Johnny Depp!)
Back to the Future
Beverly Hills Cop
Fright Night
Risky Business
Teen Wolf

Just to name a few! Care to admit anything that you donned in the 80's? Flashdance shirts maybe? ;)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Writing Romance

5:10a.m.  Alarm goes off. Big sigh. Ugh! It's Groundhog Day again. I am not one to hit the snooze. Once the alarm goes off, I'm up. Springing out of bed, I think of a reason why I should go to the day job today. The bills need paid! Grunting to self, I had to be logical. Dressed, check. Hair, check. Make-up, check. Wake daughter--not an easy task. Do her hair before school. Oh, crap. I forget my dress shoes. Back to the closet, get shoes.

6:00a.m. Downstairs. Throw lunch and shoes in my bag and grab my Alphasmart. Bye! Love you! Out the door by 6:05a.m. and drive to the Park and Ride.

6:25a.m. Cringing, I board public transportation. Editing the pages I wrote for the previous day, I sigh. Not my best work. It could be better. Fix this, fix that. That should work. Pull out the Alphasmart. Needing to get back into the groove, I read the last paragraph I wrote. Oh, that's it. It's flowing now. "This is the last stop." Great, I was really in a groove. Throw Alphasmart back into bag.

7:00a.m. Exit public transportation. Walk briskly to work, bypassing my favorite morning drink. Stick to your diet!

7:05a.m. Arrive at day job. Unpack bag and sigh. This is truly Groundhog Day. Put out fires until lunch.

12:15p.m. Heat up lunch and race back to cubicle. Let food cool and pull out Alphasmart. Read last paragraph and let the creative juices flow. "Can I ask you a question?" Ugh! Answer question, eat lunch, back to writing. Read last paragraph and continue. Crap, time is up! 

1:45p.m. Wow. Day job work is done and I have 15 minutes until a meeting. Read last paragraph and write, write, write. Hurry before the thought is lost! Time is up.

3:05p.m. Outta here.

3:15p.m. Board public transportation and pull out Alphasmart. Read last paragraph and write. Darn it! I need to stop and use the Thesaurus. What is another word for that? Oh, that's it. Continue. "This is the last stop."

4:00p.m. Entering car and driving to daycare to pick up son. Package received.

4:35p.m. Home. Place bags down and immediately help daughter with homework. She's done. OK. What does my son have today? Finish that. Done.

5:15p.m. Unpack bags. Run to computer and download work from Alphasmart. Print out work for editing tomorrow morning. DH starting dinner (again).

6:45p.m. Tonight is basketball. Run daughter to basketball and write during practice. 30 minutes up. Game time. Watch daughter play basketball.

7:15p.m. Home. Kids showered and in PJ's. Mom too!

8:30p.m. Put kids to bed.

9:00p.m. Write for an hour or so until my eyes burn and I can no longer see. Go to bed, check alarm and make sure it's set for 5:10a.m. Done. Head on pillow and sleep like the dead.

And they wonder why I write romance!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Greenan Castle

Greenan Castle sits alone on a cliff top near the Heads of Ayr overlooking the rocks and the beach far below.

This tall and slender tower house is a familiar landmark in the views of Ayr Bay. Standing four stories high at the summit, pretty crow-stepped gables project the corner turrets as was the fashion in the early 17th century. The above-ground entrance has the initials 'J K' embedded in them, confirming that this house belonged to a Kennedy, a powerful Ayrshire clan. Beside the initials, the date 1603 shows it was among the last tower houses built in Scotland.

John Kennedy (not our John F. Kennedy) was the last in a long line to build defensively on the exposed headland. A short distance inland from the tower is the remains of four concentric lines. They are the remains of unfilled ditches and have not been investigated archaeologically. Similar sites identify them as being the defenses of a prior fort--before the Romans invaded. Another example of this is Ayrshire Castle, the hill on which Robert II built his tower house around 1380. It was first defended in the Bronze-age over 2000 years earlier.

About a mile away from Greenan Castle is a large stone said to be a marker of where the Pics and Scots signed a peace treaty.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dunskey Castle

Atop an exposed, rocky point on the west coast of the Rhinns of Galloway stands grim Dunskey Castle. The treacherous waters of the North Channel roar below. Across the North Channel, the low hills of Antrim in Northern Ireland can be faintly seen.

The stronghold has a history as wild as this desolate spot. In 1489, the murderous McCullochs of Cardoness descended upon this place, plundering and burning it as vengeance for the murder of their kinsman by the Laird of Dunskey, William Adair.

As a result of this devastation, the Adairs built a new castle on the site. The oldest part of the present ruin dates to the early 16th century. It was later added to and re planned by Hugh Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery, Laird of Dunsky until his death in 1636. By 1684, the castle was declared 'ruinous.'

I don't know. It looks too cold and desolate for this writer's tastes. Besides, I'm sure there's a wee ghostie or two! Mmm... this could be inspiration for the next manuscript  ;)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Men in Kilts

What could be better than writing about Scottish men in kilts? How about watching Scottish men in kilts?
I had the pleasure of attending the Foxburg Scottish Festival two weeks ago. The weather was steamy, but it could have been the men in kilts ;)

We started the event by sauntering through Clan Row. At the gate, the attendants presented Scotland passports to my kids with all of the clan names that were in attendance. Each clan had a tent set up with historical facts about their individual clan. When you present the passport at each clan tent, they stamp their crest badge into the passport. We had the pleasure of meeting Clan Donald, Clan Montgomery, Clan Campbell, Clan Oliphant, Clan Hay, Clan Stewart, Clan MacKenzie and St. Andrew's Society.

I was extremely pleased they had Clan Campbell and Clan Montgomery in attendance since they both play a part in Highland Savior.

My daughter pokes me and chuckles. "Do you think we should tell the bloody Campbells they are the bad guys in your book?"

For some reason, I did not think they would appreciate the humor. We refrained and kept our Campbell jesting to ourselves. Donna worry. There werenae battles with the verbal sword.  

We proceeded to the Highland games where verra strong men showed off their prowess in the caber toss. Aye, every mon was donned in a kilt! Boy, it was sure H-O-T that day!

 There were several events occurring at one time and we could not get to them all. We had the pleasure of listening to a lone bagpiper. In addition, the festival had a piper band.

Underneath the Scotland flag, a man narrated some of Scotland's history, but the kids got too bored and we walked away as he was speaking about Highland hospitality.

Meandering over to the Scottish tents, my wallet was smoking! Clan jackets, sweaters, tartans, kilts, kilt pins, flashes, scarves, sweatshirts, swords, daggers, sporrans, key chains, stickers... everything simply Scotland. I may have found a few things :)

As I was looking through the tartans, a man approaches his wife and says, "You know? I don't see anything MacGregor."

Needless to say, my daughter and I overhear the conversation and perk up. MacGregor? Wow! We've almost covered everyone in Highland Savior! We exchange a bemused look and smile--well, until the wife replied.  

"Of course there is nothing MacGregor," she spat. "They are nothing but a bunch of murdering thieves." Her nose crinkled up, the words like venom upon her tongue.

My daughter's mouth drops open. "Hey! Did you hear that?"

My eyes shot up. "Yes! Shh... She may stab ye with a dirk! I guess this isnae the place to be a fan of the MacGregor, my wee one."

And that's why the MacGregor's are the heroes in my manuscript. How would you like to be stripped of your name and hunted like dogs just for having the name MacGregor? Off my soap box, but I would have never believed that if I didn't hear it for myself. Geehz! What century was that?

Recovering from the MacGregor hater, I attended a Scottish Gaelic lesson. I am happy to report that my pronunciation was in tact and I was actually able to respond to the instructor with simple greetings and replies. When the kids wanted to go and see the horses, I told them to speak in Gaelic. The guy next to me was quite surprised when my kids replied in unison, "Mar sin leibh an dràsda." Goodbye for now.

On that note, I will leave you with this thought. Beware of spoken words that pass yer lips. Fer ye may ne'er ken who is on the other end to hear them.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Little Red Dress and a Whisper of Encouragement

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would complete a romance manuscript. I have literally placed almost two years of my life devoted to this project. Sitting back, I sigh. I actually did it. Frankly, that was the easy part compared to now. I'm prepping for the Golden Heart and I will be actively pitching and querying soon. This has been quite an adventure.

When I started writing Highland Savior, I just wanted to get my ideas down. I wasn't even sure this was going to go anywhere. I was probably 1/4 of the way through my manuscript when I joined Romance Writers of America.  Through their wealth of information and on-line courses through my Chapters, I realized something very quickly. Boy, have I got a lot to learn!

Between first lines, beginning and ending hooks, goals, motivation, conflict, character development, pacing, synopsis writing, etc. it's enough to make a sane person crazy. After several edits, rewrites and hard work, it's done!

Frankly, I could have never done this without the support of many people. My husband has made endless dinners while I'm writing or editing. The kids know when 'Mommy is editing.' My CP, Mary Grace, for her unwavering faith in me and the strength to tell me when something really sucks or I wrote something really great.  Beth, my third set of eyes and now lover of everything Scotland--well, men in kilts ;) My late-night panic calls to L. Shannon for some last-minute advice, knowing that night-owl is up all hours of the night working on her next series or twisted plot. 

Whether it was Sabrina Jeffries giving me pointers on back story drop or Hannah Howell giving me advice on synopsis hell, I mean writing ;) , I cannot stress enough how important it is to have support. 

Some of my fellow Chapter members were mentioning that I should now be attending writing conferences and I have to admit, I was a little nervous about taking that next step. Now that I have one m/s under my belt, I need to do this. And just so I don't get cold feet and back out, I already booked my flight for Nationals next year in New York City.

I received a card the other day (pic at the top) from one of my friends and I really need to share her words. Whenever I feel the nervousness settle in or wonder for the millionth time why I'm doing this, I will pull out this card to refresh my memory. I am a romance writer!

* * *

Dear Vicki,

Red is the sign of self-confidence and success.

This is your gown for the formal you will have to wear in New York--the big reward for all the hard work and two years of everything in your heart and soul on paper to be read by millions of people. The satisfaction that people like me will be taken back to a different time, a romance we had or wanted.

The struggle, the passion that will take us with the characters to the ending. Where we will feel (with a sigh and a smile) the warmth of brighter futures, our feelings of love and dreams fulfilled.

Good luck. I will be praying for you.



*happy sigh*

Monday, August 9, 2010

Vanity License Plates

RAINSUXS displayed on the license plate of the little red convertible that sped by me. Wow! I thought that was so cute. I never really paid attention to vanity license plates because half of the time I could not figure out what they were trying to say. If it took me more than 5 seconds, forget it!

Recently, I started paying attention to license plates and to my surprise, there are a lot of vanity plates out there. I personally never had one because I have to admit that I'd probably never think of anything that creative.

For the past two weeks, I've been on a mission. Every creative vanity plate that I saw, I wrote down and thought to share. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.

LOOKOUT/Muscle car
NTMYDADS/Muscle car
SS MINT/Muscle car
KOOOL/Muscle car
68SH3LBY/68 Shelby
TRIC 55/55 Chevy
55 CHEVY/55 Chevy

Do you have a vanity license plate or have you seen anything creative? 

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Scottish Loft

The kids were at Grandma's for a week so the DH and I headed back to Niagara Falls, Canada again for a long weekend. As I stated in my prior post, if you haven't been there--go!

We traveled to Niagara-on-the-Lake (short driving distance from Niagara Falls) to the quaint little shops on Queen Street. They never disappoint. I found a Christmas shop with a TON of unique ornaments and my credit card was smokin'! Pulling myself out of that shop--well, the DH was pulling me out, I found a shop that was 100% Ireland. We shopped around and it was very nice. I told the DH, "It's too bad they don't have a shop that's 100% Scotland."

Of course the DH replies, "Thankfully, no. I'd never be able to get you out."

As we meander down the street, I see the Rampart Lion flag blowing in the wind and a sign that reads The Scottish Loft.  Could it be true? Could it be a store devoted to all-things Scotland? The DH moans and rolls his eyes. I run in the front door and turn to the DH. "You can wait here!"

He sighs. "I don't think so! You'll be buying everything in the store."

I turn and smile. "Just hold the basket then."

I was like a giddy school girl. They had kilts, sporrans, flashes, kilt hose, sgian dubh, cuff links, ghillie brogues, ghillie shirts, kilt pins, tartans, tartan caps, ties, clan crest badges, clocks, magnets, coasters, wall plaques, wall shields, mugs, glasses, calendars, books on Scotland and clan heritage, key chains, tableware, herbs, belt buckles, flags, hats, music... I had died and gone to Scotland. *happy sigh*

If you travel to Niagara-on-the-Lake, be sure to stop in at The Scottish Loft or click on the link I provided to check out their website. Mòran taing to The Scottish Loft for a nice visit and rest assured, this lover of Scotland will be back!

As we leave the store, the DH shakes his head and whispers, "You're not even Scottish."

To which I lean in and whisper back, "You don't have to be Scottish to have a love for everything Scotland."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hopetoun House

Hopetoun House is surrounded by a large park on the South bank of the Firth of Forth, just a few miles out of Edinburgh. It was originally built by Sir William Bruce, the architect of Holyrood Palace, for the 1st Earl of Hopetoun, Charles Hope. The estate had been acquired in 1678 by his father, John Hope, even though John was was never able to live on the property. He died in a shipwreck accompanying the Duke of York, the future James VII of Scotland (James II of England).

Work on the house began in 1699 with the construction of the central body that was extended in 1712 by William Adam. Following his death in 1748, his three sons, John, Robert and James, were responsible for the interior decorating between 1752 and 1767. Inside the house, the staircases and the wooden paneling with inlaid flowers and fruits are by Bruce, while the salons with their stuccoed and gilded ceilings display touches of Adam.

On August 29, 1822, Sir John Hope, 4th Earl of Hopetoun, welcomed George IV to his home during his visit to Scotland, the first sovereign to set foot in the country after Charles II.

The Hope family created a charitable trust in 1974 to ensure the preservation of Hopetoun House, opening the main rooms to the public and reserving a wing of the house for themselves.

Hey, there is no harm in dreaming!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Canada eh?

Recently, we took a family trip to Niagara Falls, Canada. I had not been there since I was a little girl. I have to admit, I was not too sure about this family vacation so I only booked it for three nights. When I was there some time ago, there was nothing but the falls. Needless to say, it was a little boring. I was immediately impressed with how much it has grown since then.

The gardens and landscaping were beautiful.

One of the first tourist attractions we did was Maid of the Mist. This was a completely up front and personal view of the falls. We really enjoyed it.

After getting soaked on a bright, sunny day, we scampered off to Clifton Hill. The Sky Wheel offered spectacular views of Niagara Falls. Every night at 10p.m. fireworks dazzled the sky. The place to be was on the Sky Wheel during that time. It was so romantic. In fact, a man proposed to his girlfriend the same night we were there. I think he was a keeper!

Marineland offered the kids an experience similar to Sea World.

If you're not afraid of heights, the Aero Car is for you. Riding several hundred feet about the whirlpool, breathtaking views greeted us. The Car glides over to the New York side where New Yorker's stand on the top of a cliff, looking down the cliff at you. It was quite amusing when a guy on the Car held up his hands and yelled, "Help me! I want to come back to America!"

A short drive away was Niagara on the Lake. The DH took us on a horse-drawn carriage ride through the small town that has plenty of scenic gardens to enjoy. Not to mention, quaint little shops and a ton of wineries. We definitely did not spend enough time here.

At the end of the vacation, both of my kids said in unison, "This was the best vacation ever!"

That could be because we also stayed at an indoor waterpark ;)

Have you done anything fun this summer?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dunrobin Castle

Overlooking the North Sea, a walk from the town of Golspie, stands Dunrobin Castle.

The name Dun Robin means Robin's Hill or Fort in Gaelic. Dunrobin is a stately home located in Sutherland, in the Highlands of Scotland. The lands of Sutherland were acquired around the early 1200s by Hugh, Lord of Duffus, grandson of a Flemish nobleman. The castle was first recorded on this site in 1401.

George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 2nd Marquis of Stafford, 20th Earl and 2nd Duke of Sutherland, inherited Dunrobin in 1841. He financed the vast mansion that is there today. Almost everything there today dates from the 1840s, when the castle and gardens were redesigned by Sir Charles Barry. Barry had been the architect for the Palace of Westminster, home to the House of Commons.

Presently, there are 189 rooms, making it the largest house in the northern Highlands. Who wants to pitch in and buy it with me? If we get enough, maybe we could each have our own wing! Wouldn't that be nice for writing romantic inspiration?

I know my CP is going crazy now with all of those books!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dunstaffnage Castle

Dunstaffnage Castle stands at the point where Loch Etive and the Firth of Lorn meet.

Dunstaffnage, the chief seat of Clan MacDougall, guarded the seaward approach from the firth via Loch Etire and the Pass of Brander into the heart of Scotland. When it was built around 1220, Argyll lay on the frontier between the kingdoms of Scotland and Norway. Neither king directly controlled the region. The sons of Somerled, 'King of the Isles', a man of mixed Gaelic and Norse parentage, took over their father's patrimony upon his death in 1164. The eldest, Dubhgall (Dougall), claimed his father's power base of Lorn, ruling over most of Argyll as well as the islands of Mull, Lismore, Kerrera, Scarba, Jura, Coll and Tiree. His son, Duncan MacDougall, Somerland's grandson, built Dunstaffnage Castle.

Sir Duncan MacDougall was a powerful lord with large forces and fleets at his disposal. He moved easily between the two realms competing for his loyalty.

The curtain wall of Dunstaffnage Castle rises up from an immense rock on which it sits. It is over 11 feet thick and almost entirely featureless. The two projecting round towers and gatehouse entrance were not part of the original.

Duncan's son, Ewan, inherited the lordship of Lorn in the 1240s. He became 'king' over all of the isles from Man to Lewis, then transferred his allegiance to Alexander III of Scotland. Ewen was succeeded by his son Alexander. His allegiance was with the English against Robert Bruce. In 1309, the forces of MacDougall and Bruce met on the battlefield. Bruce won, and the MacDougalls' defeat marked the end of their hold on power. The stronghold of the son of Somerled was now the property of the King of Scots. 

The castle was turned over to the Campbells in 1470. They added a gate entrance along with the gate tower for additional protection.

In 1745, Flora MacDonald was held prisoner in the prison tower after she helped Prince Charlie escape dressed as her maid.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Battle of Flodden

The Battle of Flodden or Flodden Field occurred September 9, 1513 in the county of Northumberland (Northern England).

King James IV was obliged to invade England in order to honor the Auld Alliance with France, because France had been attacked by Henry VIII of England who was in cahoots with the Pope.

King James IV was brought to battle by the Earl of Surrey, Earl Marshal of England, and totally routed. King James IV, nine earls, thirteen barons and thousands of others were killed in Scotland's most disastrous battle. King James IV had never wanted war against Henry VIII and had done everything in his power to prevent it. The Auld Alliance, which was extremely useful to France on occasion, was a disastrous union from the Scots point of view.

The following Clans fought at Flodden for the King: Buchanan, Campbell, Fraser, Gordon, MacFarlane, MacKenzie, MacLaren, MacNaughten, Sinclair, Skene and MacLean.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle stands at the head of Loch Dunvegan, clan seat of the MacLeod chiefs from the early 13th century to present day. Dunvegan is the longest continuously occupied house in Scotland.

The oldest parts of the castle were the reconstructed seaward-facing curtain wall and sea gate. They were built by Leod himself, who lorded it over northern Skye and the Outer Hebrides under his king, Haakon IV of Norway. Through the centuries, other parts were added to the stronghold, such as the great tower to the right of the main entrance, and the 'fairy tower' to the left of the main entrance.

Alasdair Crotach MacLeod was the eighth chief. He also built himself a tomb in St. Clement's Church at Rodel, across the Minch on Harris, mountains of which are visible from Dunvegan.

More parts were added and changed over the centuries. In 1790, Lord and Lady MacLeod hired architect Walter Boak to convert the decrepit medieval castle into a modern mansion. Over the next fifty years, some parts were taken down, heightened, larger windows were put in and mock embattled parapets put on. The most significant change was a new, much grander, main entrance facing the land.

This is what welcomes visitors today. In MacLeod's day, there would have been no front door facing the land and visitors would have arrived at the old sea gate, by boat.

I don't think modern day Dunvegan looks too shabby! Verra nice!