Tuesday, December 30 2014
I’m a list maker, which might be surprising to some, especially my writer friends who know how much I hate outlines and synopses. My books are character driven, as opposed to carefully plotted. When I travel, I’m far more likely to book my first and last night accommodations in a city I’m visiting, even for the first time, then let the rest of the trip unfold however it might depending on things that catch my eye, or people I meet and conversations I get into. I revel in that way of travel – it becomes an adventure with surprises around every corner. I see things and go places I’d never have considered had I planned out my itinerary in detail. Likewise, in life, I have, in the words of my favorite poet, Robert Frost, “taken the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” All of life is an adventure.
But back to the list thing. Even though I don’t pre-plan my traveling adventures, I always have a list of things that need to be done before I leave and things that need to get packed. At Christmas there are lists of gifts that need to be ordered or shopped for, gifts to be sewn, cards to be sent, decorations to be put up, and cookies to be baked and delivered. On days that I seem to have a lot to get accomplished, out comes the pad of paper and a list gets drawn up. There is satisfaction and a sense of achievement to be had in checking things off as they get done. And, of course, if I do something that wasn’t on the list, it gets added and promptly checked off. At the end of the day, all those check marks are a reward for hard work and diligence.
Thus, in spite of the fact that I love to live my life by the seat of my pants, January 1st always inspires me to consider the new year, another clean slate, another beginning, and ponder what resolutions might make me a better person, or my life more rewarding. Out comes the pad of paper, or more often in today’s world, the Notes app on my phone, and the list of possible resolutions get jotted down. Eventually, I narrow that list down to just a few. Like the sage advice when applying to college, I try to pick one thing that I know I can achieve, one or two that I can achieve if I stay focused and work at them, and one that is a reach, but if achieved would definitely make my life much better.
I’m no better than anyone else, though, and far too often on January 15th or February 6th or some other day not long into the new year I find myself admitting I’ve already failed to meet even the easiest resolution. I’m a lot more likely to meet my goals if I tell someone else what they are so this year, I’m going to post them here for all the world to know. It’s so much easier to justify not meeting my goals when I’m the one who knows what they are. But my kids know about this blog so the likelihood of not having to answer to anyone is slim to none and my excuses would have to be really inventive. So here goes:
• Write at least one more book in my Tide’s Way Series
• Edit and submit my Time Travel Historical for publication
• Get back in shape and walk the beach EVERY day
• Lose weight
• Take a trip to at least one place I’ve never been before
• Make one new friend
So – what about you? Are you making any resolutions this year? You are invited to comment on mine, make suggestions or even add your own, or explain why you don’t make resolutions. (We’re all different so this isn’t a judgment.) And however you begin your new year, make 2015 a good one, live every day, try not to miss opportunities. And God bless you. Skye-Writer
Saturday, December 20 2014
The little girl climbed up into Santa’s lap and carefully smoothed her skirt over her knees.
“I know you aren’t really Santa Claus,” she whispered conspiratorially.
Lt. James “Mac” MacAlister leaned back and peered down at the girl from under the bushy white eyebrows someone had glued on over his own sandy brows. This was not an accusation he’d been prepared for when he signed on to do this Toys for Tots gig.
Mac gave the thin young shoulders a hug and confided, “I’m one of Santa’s elves. Santa Claus can’t be everywhere at once and right now he’s busy at the North Pole. So he sent me to check his list for him.”
“Is that why you’re not fat enough for your suit?”
“What gave me away?” He chuckled in his best Santa imitation.
“You kinda feel like my daddy used to,” she said parting her knees to poke at Mac’s hard, muscular, very unSanta-like thigh.
Mac wondered if her father was a fellow Marine or just a guy who worked out a lot. But whatever, she made it sound as if the man was no longer with the family.
“What would you like Santa to bring you?” he asked, trying to redirect the conversation.
“I don’t need anything. Not really . . .” she trailed off wistfully. “But my brother wants one of these.” She pulled a tattered page from a toy catalog out of her pocket and spread it for him to see. It featured a Tonka Dessert Fox SUV. “He’s still too little, and he doesn’t understand why Daddy can’t come home. Mommy says Santa Claus isn’t coming to our house this year.”
Tears prickled unexpectedly in Mac’s eyes. He blinked them away and gave the little girl another hug. “Surely there must be something you would like?”
The girl folded the page from the catalog and pressed it into Mac’s hand. “Just the truck for Sammy. Even Santa Claus can’t bring my daddy back in time for my dance recital, and that’s all I wanted. Except maybe—” she paused, then added in a hurried, hushed little voice, “maybe a new pair of ballet shoes.”
Mac produced two Tootsie Pops from his voluminous pocket and pressed them into her hand. “One for you and one for your brother. And I’ll be sure that Santa Claus gets your message, but I need to know your name so he can deliver the truck to the right house.”
“It’s Maggie,” the girl chirped as she slid off Mac’s lap. “Maggie Reynolds.”
The Dessert Fox SUV was easy. Finding out where Maggie Reynolds lived wasn’t hard either. Discovering the whereabouts and status of Maggie’s father was the challenge. But Mac wasn’t in Intelligence for nothing.
It turned out that Sergeant Don Reynolds was stationed in the Middle East, seven months into a year-long tour. His wife was pregnant with their third child who was due in less than two weeks and money was tight.
Mac did some more recon to discover what Maggie’s mother needed most in the way of assistance. He sent his own Marine elf, aka Lance Corporal Trisha Burke, out to find the SUV for Sammy and a new car seat for the coming infant. He got another buddy to promise a total overhaul of the family’s aging vehicle and paid a local nursery to deliver a tree to the Reynolds home. Toys for Tots would put more toys under the tree, but there was one other surprise Mac had in the works. He hoped he could pull it off. Perhaps he could change Maggie’s mind about the scope of Santa’s powers.
Maggie hurried to her spot. She fluffed the spangled tutu and peered over the ruffles to gaze yet again at the brand new ballet shoes that had appeared on her doorstep just that morning. They were exactly the right size, and they had ribbons that matched her tutu perfectly. How had Santa Claus known?
If only Daddy could have seen her dance tonight, then her Christmas would have been the best ever.
As the curtains began to part, the music started. Maggie quickly placed her feet in the correct position and raised her arms into an arch above her head. She lifted her chin, determined to smile and pretend that Daddy was watching. She pointed her toe and began to dance.
Then she hesitated. Her heart thumped and tears slipped down her cheeks. There, right in the front row, holding Mommy’s hand sat a Marine in his best uniform clutching a bouquet of pink roses.
Santa Claus had brought Daddy home in time after all.
Be sure to visit the other Blog Hop sites for more Christmas stories of hope, peace and love. Wishing everyone a blessed holiday:
Ginger Simpson http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rachael Kosnski http://the-doodling-booktease.tumblr.com/
Margaret Fieland http://www.margaretfieland.com/blog1/
Helena Fairfax http://helenafairfax.com/
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.webs.com/
Kay Sisk http://kaysisk.blogspot.com
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/
Lynn Crain http://www.awriterinvienna.blogspot.com
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com
Tuesday, December 16 2014
Bob Hope made his first USO debut in May of 1941 and continued throughout WWII. In the words of John Steinbeck who was a war correspondent in 1943 - “When the time for recognition of service to the nation in wartime comes to be considered, Bob Hope should be high on the list. This man drives himself and is driven. It is impossible to see how he can do so much, can cover so much ground, can work so hard, and can be so effective. He works month after month at a pace that would kill most people.”
It’s hard to argue with Steinbeck’s assessment considering that Hope did over 200 performances for 35 consecutive years, from WWII to Korea, to Vietnam, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq, and the Persian Gulf. This included 8 straight Christmas tours during the Vietnam War and a Christmas show in Lebanon just 2 months after the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut. In all, his USO tours went on for over half a century, bringing a bit of home and laughter to our military men and women wherever our government chose to send them.
While I worked on Christmas projects, I popped in a compilation of Bob Hope's eight years touring Vietnam at Christmas. I felt nostalgic watching those shows from so long ago. Partly, I supposed, because I was young then, too. But more because in spite of the turmoil and protests that the Vietnam War created here in America, it seemed a more innocent time. Mr. Hope brought girls to sing and dance for soldiers who were barely more than boys and had never been so far from home or so close to death on a daily basis. He brought sports stars and astronauts and comedians. He brought letters from home. He carried a golf club and did soft shoe routines. He joked about the perils of flying into those dangerous places, about arrested landings on carriers and about being in a war zone. It occurred to me that half of the punch lines would be considered politically incorrect today. Even the singing of Silent Night at the end of every show would be considered offensive to some today and therefore deemed inappropriate. And I began to wonder where the spirit of America has gone.
In spite of having come of age during the Vietnam years, I still did a considerable amount of research for two books that I wrote featuring heroes who fought in that far away place at a time when we did not thank our men and women who gave so much when called. I learned far more than I wanted to about the bleak and frustrating day to day slog. About men who gave their lives while politicians gave lip service. I learned from the men themselves about the heartbreak of losing friends on the battlefield and the added heartbreak of being spit on and cursed when they finally made it home again themselves. With these revelations not so faded in my mind, I watched the soldiers who came to Bob Hope’s shows. Men who were tanned and thin, some who were wounded, all who were disillusioned and yet, in spite of all that, there were smiles on their faces during those shows. For those brief hours, the war receded and Hope prevailed.
Bob Hope did his last USO Christmas tour in 1991 when he was well into his 80s. Since then others have taken on the crusade to bring a bit of home and holiday cheer to our soldiers at Christmas and all year. People like Gary Sinise, Jay Leno, Stephen Colbert, Randy Travis and Billy Joel, Robin Williams, Robert DeNiro, Willy Nelson, and dozens more. But there will never be another Bob Hope. His was an era like no other. And as his signature song says . . . “Thanks for the Memory.”
Tuesday, December 09 2014
The first book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it several times already and will probably read it several more in my lifetime. And being a lover of books over movies, I wasn’t sure that the series would measure up. How wrong I was!
Sure there were differences, but in the first eight episodes, they were good ones. In the book the reader fell in love with Jamie so easily and quickly that Claire’s memories and worry over Frank made you want to shake her. I mean, with Jamie there, what more could she want out of life? Even after she began to fall in love with Jamie, she often withdrew quite unexpectedly and without explanation from Jamie’s point of view and hurt him in the process. It put one quite out of sympathy with her.
The book (and the TV series) starts off with Claire and Frank headed to Scotland at the close of WWII on a second honeymoon because they’ve been apart so long that they needed to get to know each other again, so how on earth could her feelings for Frank be so strong when the present was Jamie? Very little about Frank was included in the books. But in the Starz series, Frank is portrayed far more caringly. We see him grieving her disappearance, in the police station still demanding action weeks after she’d gone, and even when he finally gave up, he is drawn to visit the stones one last time before leaving Scotland to return to his teaching post. It helped the reader/watcher get into Frank’s point of view and feel sympathy for him and thus for Claire in spite of Jamie. That was a definite plus in the writing for the series.
McTavish as Dougal Menzies as Frank & Black Jack A grieving Frank
One never liked Dougal in the book, but the series made his mixed and less than friendly intentions subtly even clearer in the mannerisms and expressions Graham McTavish brought to the dialog. The casting was well done for all the characters, but especially Sam Heughan. He may not have looked like Jamie when he first got the nod, but his transformation was fantastic. He portrays Jamie perfectly with a sense of humor, the eagerness of a young man, even one with a price on his head and in his often heroic care for Claire. Catriona Balfe makes a wonderful Claire and Tobias Menzies is perfect in his dual role as Frank in the future and Black Jack, the villain in the past. I loved the entire cast – well done.
There was nudity and even sex that would never be allowed on network TV but it was tastefully done. The dialog was fantastic – love the accent and the inclusion of the Gaelic even when I don’t know what’s being said. It added so much to the flavor of the show. Scotland is a beautiful and very different country and having this filmed there is another huge plus. Fog and weather just as one might expect in Scotland draws the watcher into the setting so well you can almost feel the moisture collecting on your clothing. And who doesn’t love horses? Ronald Moore has produced what is sure to become a classic. I can’t wait for the next part of the series and you can bet your boots, I’ll be purchasing the DVDs as soon as they become available so I can savor it all over again. If you love romance, time travel, and Scotland, you will love this series. If you've not read the books, then I won't tell you more of the story - I'll let you enjoy it as it unfolds.
Tuesday, December 02 2014
When Meg Cameron, a Marine MP, returns from a war zone, she and her husband Ben are faced with the toll war, guilt and loss have taken on their marriage. Ben is also fostering a police dog named Kip who lost his handler and his spirit to a perp with a gun. While Ben tries to help his two wounded warriors find healing, Meg struggles to fit back into her civilian life. Meg debates returning to active duty, a move that would surely end in another deployment. Ben's fears climb. What if her pain and confusion take her back into harm's way again, and he lost her forever?
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
Meg shot out of bed. It was the middle of the night. Where was she? The room was cold. Not Baghdad! She shivered. She was home. In her bedroom. Immediately her heart rate eased off its frantic pace. She slid her feet to the floor and stood.
She shivered again and stepped silently away from the bed. The sexy red shirt was probably still on the kitchen counter. She groped blindly in the ink-dark closet she shared with Ben, hunting for her bathrobe. Unable to locate the robe, she settled for a soft chamois shirt of Ben’s that came nearly to her knees. She wrapped it about herself and crossed the room to the window.
Ever since that first night so far from home, she’d had daydreams about her first night back home. Daydreams of sleeping in their luxurious, king-sized bed where she could spread out and get really comfortable. Sleeping the whole night through without the sound of war at her doorstep. And being able to reach out and touch Ben any time she wanted to.
But it hadn’t turned out anything like the daydreams that had gotten her through their year of separation. After a year on an army cot, she wasn’t used to sprawling, or sharing her bed. Ben seemed too close, too possessive, even in his sleep. His arm draped across her middle, his breath in her hair. It felt claustrophobic.
Meg had gotten used to sleeping the way soldiers have always slept, half on alert and ready to respond in an instant. She’d grown accustomed to having people awake and moving about, on guard while she slept. But home was eerily still with just the little creaking sounds of a settling house and no one keeping watch.
She’d been dozing fitfully, and now that she thought about it, she decided it must have been Ben’s dogs barking that woke her. Which was puzzling. There had been a constant cacophony of dogs roaming loose in the streets, day and night, in Baghdad. Stray dogs barked all the time, but she’d gotten used to them. So, why tonight had the barking brought her bolt upright in bed in a cold sweat reaching for a rifle that wasn’t there?
Hugging the chamois shirt closer, she stared out over the yard that was so familiar, and yet in a weird way, so unfamiliar. The dogs had already quieted again. Some stray animal must have gotten them going. Maybe a raccoon moseying about, hunting for something to eat.
Scout hadn’t barked unless he was alerting someone that he’d detected unseen danger. He hadn’t barked when he’d stepped on a hidden detonation plate either. Meg shuddered and hugged herself harder.
That hadn’t been her fault.
“Not my fault,” she whispered the mantra aloud in the hushed dark room.
Everyone in her unit had insisted that Scout’s death was not her fault. Scout’s handler hadn’t blamed her either. But she’d clung to her self-recrimination and had a melt-down over the dog’s death in her commanding officer’s arms. Unexpected and inexcusable desire had flared up between her and John, and she had wanted to lose herself in the passion of it and forget about Scout.
That desire had been her fault.
“You all right?” Ben slipped his arms about her waist and bent his head down next to hers.
Meg’s heart slammed into overdrive at Ben’s sudden closeness. “I’m—I’m fine.” It appalled her that she hadn’t heard him getting out of bed. It appalled her that her mind had been so full of John and the forbidden things she’d felt in Baghdad that she’d become completely unaware of her surroundings. A shocking breach in good soldiering.
“I thought I heard you crying.” Ben pulled her back against his chest and rocked her gently. “What’s wrong?”