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[12 Dec 2016 | 2 Comments | ] Uncategorized

What is it about men in kilts or tuxedos that women find so sexy? After all, one is dressed in a skirt while the other is neck-to-ankle in a suit that is rather rigid in its style.

The kilt (the word means to tuck up the clothes around the body) dates back to at least the 16th century, and is not unlike those worn by Celtic warriors during Roman times. Also known as a “plaid”, it was originally a long, full-length swath of material that could be used as a hooded cloak when needed. It didn’t reach its modern stage as a “walking kilt” or “short kilt” until the late 17th or early 18th century.

Outlawed for thirty-five years after the Scots rebellion against the English in 1745, once the law was repealed, the kilt was mainly worn by the military. However, a passion of sorts began to build around the garment. Men went out of their way to proudly wear the plaid of their clan in public as a show of protest against not only the former ban, but also against English rule.

The tuxedo, on the other hand, originated in the U.S. in the late 1800’s. This sleek garment was named after Tuxedo Park, a socially elite enclave in the Upstate New York countryside populated by the wealthiest of Manhattan’s citizens. Fashioned after the British dinner jacket or smoking jacket with a shawl collar, and at the time, always in black, young dandies began showing up at formal events in their new “uniform of the elite.” Soon, it became de rigueur as a means of showing class and money.

While the kilt represented a show of strength, and the power to rebel if need be, the tuxedo represented power in the form of wealth and élan. James Bond often wears a tuxedo, and some of the most popular romance books feature men in kilts, both branding the men as bold and brave, each in its own way. These two uniforms represent a dichotomy of style, but at the same time, appear to be equally sensual and masculine.

Sexy is the man who shows up at an event meticulously dressed in a tuxedo and bow tie, only to become much sexier as the evening wears on when the tie is undone, or the shirt is unbuttoned in increments—a suggestive promise of good things to come.

How sexy is the man who shows up in a full-dress kilt only to toss off the top half of his clothing in a moment of wild abandon? He stands before us wearing nothing but his kilt—and aren’t we viscerally aware that he wears nothing beneath that kilt!

In my third book in the series Those Magnificent Malverns, His Lordship’s Wild Highland Bride, the heroine is a sassy Scottish lass forced to marry an Englishman. While she does wear a gown fashioned from the MacGregor plaid, it is her handsome, rogue of a brother who shows up in a kilt, causing the inquisitive Malvern females to wonder what might lie beneath all that plaid.

He marries for her dowry. She marries to escape a hanging. HIS LORDSHIP’S WILD HIGHLAND BRIDE. http://entangledpublishing.com/his-lordships-wild-highland-bride/

[18 Jun 2015 | No Comment | ] Uncategorized

lola-montez.3While writing Celine, book one in my When Hearts Dare series, I had a scene where the hero and heroine clashed over another woman. The woman couldn’t be anyone they knew. I wanted someone who stood out above all others and thought nothing of brazenly making a play for the hero. The name Lola Montez popped into my mind. I vaguely recalled the name and thought she was some kind of famous Spanish dancer (I was right). I had no idea if she’d ever been to America, let alone New Orleans, or if she’d even lived during the time period of my story (1853). Since I was writing a first draft, I figured I would do the research later and find the right woman to fit my story. To my utter surprise, not only had Lola Montez toured America, she’d passed through New Orleans one time only—the very month and year I had written her into my story!

Lola Montez.1So who was this mysterious lady that caused so much trouble between my hero, heroine, and the hero’s cousin? It didn’t take long into research to learn that this Spanish dancer was no more Spanish than was the Queen of England.

Lola Montez was a stage name for Maria Eliza Gilbert, the Countess of Landsfeld!

How did this woman, born in Ireland in 1821, become an exotic dancer and courtesan? And titled?

Lola, or Eliza, as they called her in her youth, was barely two-years-old when her father, an army ensign, was dispatched to India and took his family along. He died of cholera shortly thereafter. Lola’s mother quickly remarried. Lola’s stepfather adored her, spoiled her, and let her run wild in the streets of India. She became such a handful, she was sent to her stepfather’s family in Scotland, but they couldn’t control the wild little girl from India, so they sent her to an Aunt in England. Hot tempered, uninhibited Lola was soon sent to a private boarding school.

At sixteen, Lola eloped and ended up in back in India, where, five years later, the couple separated. That’s when Mrs. Eliza James changed her name to Lola Montez and became a popular Spanish dancer. Unfortunately, she was recognized and a scandal ensued which prevented her from returning to England.Franz Liszt

Scandal wasn’t about to stop this feisty woman now known for her beauty and quick temper. She departed Calcutta for the Continent where she became a courtesan. In Paris, she met and had an affair with the famous Hungarian composer, Franz Liszt, who introduced her to not only a Bohemian life but to other men, one of which was Alexandre Dumas with whom she carried on a torrid affair while still the mistress of a high-profile newspaper man. When he died, Lola left Paris for Munich.Alexandre Dumas

Not long after, Lola became the mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. He was so smitten with her that he gave her the title Countess of Landsfeld, and granted her a large annuity, much to the chagrin of the King’s people. From 1846 to 1848, Lola seemed to be the power behind the throne until the King abdicated and Lola fled Bavaria for England.King Ludwig I

Once again, she married, but the terms of her divorce from her first husband did not allow remarriage so the newlyweds left England for Spain where her husband allegedly drowned. Alone, Lola sailed to the U.S. where she became popular as a dancer and actress from 1851 to 1853, exactly when I needed her for my story! That year, Lola Montez left the U.S. to perform in Australia, where she married yet again, only to be divorced yet again. Finally, she returned to the U.S. where she passed away at age thirty-nine in Brooklyn, New York in 1861.

If you’re a writer of historical romance reading this account of a scandalous Lola Montez, don’t let anyone tell you that ladies of that era would not do or act in certain ways. Throughout history there were always those who defied society’s rules and danced to their own tune. Lola Montez, Countess Landsfeld was one of those women.

 

 

[9 Jun 2015 | 2 Comments | ] Uncategorized

lovers in blue Society rewards us for practiced thinking by handing us diplomas to tack on our walls. But what of our important feeling nature?

Thinking is what brings about clarity and objectivity in our lives, but only feeling can bring a sense of value and worth to a person. Our self-esteem comes not from what we think of ourselves, but how we “feel” about ourselves. Feeling is the sublime aspect of a man or woman that brings warmth, gentleness, relatedness and perception to a relationship. Feeling is the sublime art of having a value structure and a sense of meaning and belonging. It is the magnetic part of us that attracts love.

knightWe’ve paid a high price for the precise, scientific world we live in where romance novels are often scorned as unrealistic fluff (yet murder mysteries where people are hacked to death or buried alive are considered acceptable, thrilling reading). We’ve ended up with nations of wounded beings where men and women suffer their wounds differently. Typically, men drink or overwork. Women eat and overwork. Men war and abuse. Women retreat and isolate. Research indicates that scientifically-oriented countries are more likely to break out in ecstatic disorientation if the people do not balance their lives with ecstasy through their feeling natures via such endeavors as poetry, music, creativity and romance.

Oops, did I just use that nebulous word romance again?

The first romantic notions of love in western society originated in 12th century France when a new religious movement anointed a female as a religious godhead. The religious observance of the goddess was suppressed and forced underground. Eventually, the movement resurfaced in the courts of kings and queens, where evidence of it could be found in the chivalric reverence for women. Those chivalrous knights of old often fell in love with their queen or princesses, but this romantic love was never consummated because it was considered the myth of love.

Romance had its purpose—it became the first step of the evolution of the spirit of man to truly understand the energy of divine love. Romance in relationships allows us to touch the face of God. Romance and ecstasy mixed, allows us to touch the face of God in stereo!

lovers.moon.silhouette

What mentally healthy person isn’t attracted to love? It is the grand intangible. Romance, ecstasy and love, are so powerful a human drive that they have kindled wars, created works of art, consoled the dying, driven kings mad and bankrupted nations. Love is the vital, pulse-beating feeling nature within us that gives us creativity and a sense of joy. Ultimately, love is the most important aspect of our lives.

My late husband held a double PhD in political science and economics. He spoke six languages. He was quite the intellectual, but he was also an artist and thus, more open to his feeling nature than a lot of men. I asked him to read a romance novel (Joanna Bourne’s The Forbidden Rose). He thought it well written. He said that if men would include these kinds of novels in their reading material, they would understand what women want and how to please them. Yes!

One of the greatest joys a man can experience is honoring a woman by escorting her out of her head, her thinking nature, and into her body, her feeling nature, so that he can pleasure her. One of the many differences between men and women is that a woman needs to feel good to do good while a man needs to do good to feel good (think about that for a while).

Years ago, I founded a successful wellbeing center where I created seminars and retreats to help people live more satisfying, self-empowered lives. I thought that when I finally got around to transferring my works onto the written page that they would take the shape of tutorial-style textbooks, hopefully spiced with a bit of humor. What a surprise when I was finally able to focus on writing, only to dream an entire historical novel one night. What an incredible experience! I realized then that what I really wanted to do was write humorous, sad, sensuous, romantic, ecstatic stories (The Seduction of Sarah Marks, the book I dreamed in its entirety, became my first published novel).

When I began to write historical romance, I discovered that I had unknowingly laid out all that I had been teaching in my wellbeing center about heightened senses, the purpose of our lives, destiny, self-empowerment, and the act of loving ourselves and others. Writing romance gives me the perfect venue for expressing the full spectrum of the human condition.

richard armitage.kiss

[10 May 2012 | 122 Comments | ] Uncategorized

What a thrilling experience being a 2012 Golden Heart® finalist has been so far! And as I journey toward the Romance Writers of American® National Conference in Anaheim, California this coming July, the excitement builds. I belong to an online group of finalists where we share news, build friendships, and glean information from those who’ve traveled the Golden Heart® road before us. What kind of clothing should we consider was one of the first questions raised, especially with regards to the formal awards ceremony where the Rita® and Golden Heart® finalists will be honored and the winners announced (truly, we’ve all won just by being nominated).

For the most part, the conference calls for business casual, except for a few cocktail parties and the awards ceremony with over two thousand people in attendance. It’s those dressier events that have me thinking about what to pack for the long trip. Particularly since I live and shop in Budapest, where vestiges of the old communist way of life still lingers—in little ways and in some big ways (one of which is how business is structured—very odd for a westerner, like being handed a square wheel).

Even though there are several large and very modern shopping centers in the city, I don’t particularly care for the style of evening wear available. There are basically three ways to go: Expensive, over-the-top designer fashions found in the upscale shops along touristy Vaci Utca, or daring little bits of cloth for the younger woman in trendy shops, or rather matronly-looking clothing.

What to do?

Recently, I was lamenting my dilemma while at my regular Thursday coffee with my international group of women friends. Jane suggested I catch the train to Vienna for some great non-stop shopping. Oh, I’d dread doing that. It’s only a 2 1/2 hour train ride, but ever since my younger days, working as a sales rep for Clairol Corporation and hoofing it in and out of stores all day long, I detest shopping, particularly running around to unfamiliar shops.

Another acquaintance, an Australian married to a Hungarian, suggested I find a photo of something I like and she’d refer me to a Hungarian dressmaker.

I wrinkled my nose. “Have something stitched up?”

“These dressmakers can copy anything,” Marilena said. “Back in communist times they had to make everything. They’re so good at it, you won’t be able to tell from the original.”

“Why did they have to make their own?” I asked.

Another woman, a Canadian, who has lived in pretty much every corner of the world said, “Because, until after the 1956 revolution, there were no dress shops for women.”

What? Now there’s something I never thought about having to do with political regimes. No clothing stores for women?

She went on to explain that retail clothing stores were only for men until the 1956 upsrising against communist control changed a few things.

That was even more puzzling. What did the revolution have to do with women’s clothing?

 My friend said that even though the Russians sent in an army of tanks and beat the dickens out of the city and its people, a strong message was sent to Moscow that Hungarians were willing to fight to their death against oppression. So, while freedom was still not theirs to be had, a slightly different kind of communism arose. It was given the nickname “goulash-communism.” From then on, Hungarians lived under a more liberal political umbrella than did other Russian satellite countries (but don’t be fooled into thinking spying, cruelty and oppression fell by the wayside. It did not).

One eventual change was the opening of women’s clothing stores. A woman no longer had to make her own garments or hire someone to do it for her. The trouble was, there was only one dress pattern! That’s right, in the entire country of Hungary only one ready-made style was available. And according to my Canadian friend Jackie, who lived here at the time, it wasn’t a pretty sight.

But wait…there’s more.

One boring design wasn’t the worst of it. Each size was one color! So, say you wore a size eight and you ventured into a clothing store, you could only get that one dreary style in orange. Size ten? You’d get the same lackluster rag in black. Size twelve? You’d get green. And so on.

Frightfully thoughtful of those bureaucrats in Moscow, wasn’t it?

No wonder women’s fashion magazines were smuggled in from the west. No wonder dressmakers were so good at copying anything from a picture and remain able to do so to this day.

Then the wall came down in 1989 and communism was no more.

Freedom!

And free enterprise.

And the British.

They came in droves. They opened up pubs—English, Irish and Scottish. And used clothing stores. Just as they shipped in Guinness and good Scotch whisky, they shipped in second-hand garments by the ton. To this day, pubs thrive in lively Budapest, and you can still see those same used clothing stores everywhere with a colorful British flag emblazoned on the front window.

Yes, I’m busy hunting for evening wear for the RWA® awards ceremony. Or should I say, I’m in the fabric stores hunting down the prettiest fabric I can find, and I’m on the internet looking for a photo of something I favor. My friend has the dressmaker lined up. I can hardly wait.

Or maybe I should have booked my flight into the U.S. a week earlier.

What about you, do you have any fun stories about shopping for something special?

[26 Mar 2012 | 26 Comments | ] Uncategorized

As mentioned in previous blogs, I currently reside in beautiful Budapest. For how long, I don’t know, but while I’m here, I’ve been making the best of it.

Making the best of it?

OMG, what an understatement!

Budapest is such an amazing city that merely stepping out my front door means a remarkable day is in the making. If it weren’t enough that my tree-lined street is an enclave unto its own—venerable buildings adorned with statues and all manner of baroque ornamentation, a post office, hair salons, vegetable stands, restaurants, pubs, super market—a couple hundred feet to my right is a trolley stop. Climbing into one of those finicky communist era transports and I’m minutes from connecting to all the efficient public transportation I need.

Turn left out my front door, walk to the end of the block, and there I am, in City Park.

What a grand place!

There’s the castle I referred to in a previous blog (photos two blogs down), a lake, a Skating Palace (in summer the water is used for boating), Heroes Square, museums, restaurants, a zoo, and those famous thermal baths.

Did I say thermal baths?

Oh, yeah.

Front entrance to Szechenyi Baths

Budapest sits on a huge underground thermal lake so the city is thick with Turkish baths, some of which date back centuries (one has been operating since the 1600’s). Stepping into some of them is like stepping into an Ottoman Palace for bathing.

My favorite is the Szechenyi Baths, one of the largest complexes in Europe. And glory be, if it isn’t located in the park right down the street from me. A leisurely stroll and there I am, inside a grand neo-Baroque building, circa 1881. Exquisite.

There are indoor pools and outdoor pools at Szechenyi—fifteen to be exact, one of them being an Olympic size pool kept at swimming temperature. My favorite is the huge outdoor pool that roils with clouds of steam when the hot thermal air connects with the icy air in winter.

Public baths are cheap in Hungary, even cheaper if you have a doctor’s prescription for things such as an ailing back. For about twelve dollars you can while away an entire day. My favorite time in summer is late afternoon where we laze around until the sun sets and the palace lights up.

A steamy night at the baths

 

Masseuses will crank your muscles every which way for not much money, and there’s a bar there should you thirst for anything from water to mixed drinks.

Listen in on conversation around you and you’ll hear a cacophony of languages. People come to Budapest from all over the world, some just for the baths. I once met two Americans and started up a chat (not very difficult for me to do, hehehe). Turns out the men have been friends since elementary school. One is a pilot, the other an officer in the military stationed in the Middle East. They arrange for their R&R’s in Budapest and take the baths on every trip.

Budapest should be on everyone’s bucket list make that “to see” list (I really don’t care for the other phrasing). What a city!

Where’s your favorite city or what city have you visited that has its special magic?

If you have time, take a look at this website with all the photos of Szechenyi Baths. http://www.budapestgyogyfurdoi.hu/en/szechenyi/virtual_tour#

Szechenyi Baths

 

[3 Oct 2011 | 28 Comments | ] Uncategorized

For however long I am meant to reside here in Budapest, Hungary, a post-Communist city with an incredible history, I feel compelled to explore both its past and present. I’d like to share some of my experiences with you, if you care to follow along. But first, I’ll start with a trip outside the city—my journey to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp near Krakow, Poland:

A few days after my friend Bette arrived from Texas for a three week visit, we boarded a train to Krakow from the Keleti Train Station in Budapest. The station, built in 1881, and considered the most lavish station in Europe at the time, is still beautiful today. How novel, I thought—a slumber party aboard a sleeper train, and we’ll arrive first thing in the morning, fresh and ready to explore the city and its surroundings.

I should have known the train’s compartments would be less than anticipated when I spied small Cyrillic lettering on the corners of the cars indicating they were Russian made—aha, Communist era. I was right. Not those lovely beds across from one another you see in the movies, but narrow bunks stacked in a cramped compartment barely large enough for one.

I got the top bunk.

Near dusk, and about an hour outside of Budapest, a sweet scent of roses enveloped us. Bushes laden with lush, powdery-pink blooms appeared for miles beside the tracks, so thick it seemed as though delicate, tinted clouds had fallen from the sky. I have never seen such a sight. We closed our eyes and breathed in the intoxicating perfume that swept through the train, feeling as though we floated on a fragrance created exclusively for us.

Then a jarring thought gripped me: My God, we’re riding the very rails that carried Jews, Gypsies, and political prisoners to Auschwitz and Birkenau! Hundreds of thousands of innocents on their way to their deaths. Hundreds of people packed in each car—women, men and children cramped so tightly together they were forced to stand the entire trip with no food, water or toilets. Even the dead and dying could not fall in the crush. Suddenly, the small compartment we occupied didn’t seem so cramped.

And what of the roses? Had these fragrant flowers lined the tracks back then? After all, wild roses can regenerate for decades. I choked back tears, and turned to Bette whose countenance told me she held similar thoughts.

“Do we really want to visit Auschwitz?” I asked her.

We grew silent for a long while as we gazed at the blur of pink, and breathed a scent no longer light and sweet, but suddenly heavy and funereal. Then, strange as it may seem, we came to the conclusion that we wanted to honor those who traveled these tracks before us by remaining focused on their plight during our train ride, and commit to visiting the camps upon our arrival. What would our decision produce? Would it heal any lost souls? Would it heal us? We didn’t know, but we felt fractured, scarred by the past, and compelled to see our journey through to the end.

Eventually, we left the roses behind and we traveled for a long while beside a lovely river. We didn’t know which river, but the countryside was beautiful, bucolic. I wondered: The farmers who lived alongside this lazy river back then, the people in these tiny villages, did they know what horrors the trains carried?

Had anyone realized they were death trains?

Had anyone ever wandered close enough to the tracks to hear any wailings?

Had there been any cries to even be heard by that stage of the journey? After all, the trains were nothing more than windowless cattle cars, their doors nailed shut once the people were packed inside, and the only light to be had was what seeped through cracks in the boards.

Dear God, how could this have happened?

While Bette did fairly well with sleeping in her little bunk, I slept fitfully. I awoke once feeling disoriented. For a moment, as the clickety-clack of wheels against rails filled my ears, I didn’t know if I was on a train some sixty six years ago or now. I felt like a dark-haired teenager, confused and wondering where we were going, and what and why everything was happening. It was almost as though I had inculcated a miasmic memory that still hovered above the tracks. I came fully awake feeling desolate. I could barely breathe. I curled up on the other end of the bed, next to the window, and gulped in fresh air until my racing heart found some semblance of normalcy.

But my mind refused to wander elsewhere.

Hundreds of thousands of people rode these very rails to their deaths. What were they thinking? How were they feeling? A great sob welled up in my chest, one that wouldn’t release—at least not yet.

Had the guards and engineers aboard those trains known what was happening? Had they known these people were to be worked until they dropped or gassed within hours of arrival if they were too old, too young or infirm? Did they know that any twins or ‘little people’ aboard would be used for hideous experiments by the death camp’s macabre Dr. Josef Mengele, ironically known as The Angel of Death? Or were these people kept naive, only informed of their job and saw nothing beyond where the train stopped? I would tend to think so, since it would have compromised the Nazi program of creating an Aryan society of healthy blue-eyed blonds had word leaked out of what they were up to (I find it interesting that Hitler intended to create a blue-eyed, blond-haired Aryan society when he himself had brown hair and brown eyes and his mother was part Jewish).

Suddenly, I had a deep sense that for whatever reason, I was meant to ride this train, and I was meant to have these experiences. That I was meant to know and understand what the Hungarians have suffered through (Hungarian Jews comprised the greatest number sent to Auschwitz, but don’t forget the Gypsies and political prisoners—nuns, priests, businessmen, housewives—any Hungarian labeled a spy became a political prisoner to be gotten rid of). Somehow, I knew all of this was tied to my healing process with regard to the loss of my big-hearted German husband.

 

(Tomorrow: My visit to Auschwitz and the Terror Museum in Budapest)

 

What about you? Have you had any similar experiences or awakenings?

 

[13 Sep 2011 | 35 Comments | ] Uncategorized

I’ve been absent from blogging for awhile, so this is going to be a bit lengthy while I explain my whereabouts this past year. Some of you know why I have been missing in action, and some don’t. For those who are aware, please bear with me, and then we’ll get on with life.

Last summer (2010), I had been living along the beautiful Adriatic Sea and enjoying the heck out of my life. In June, I returned to the U.S. to visit friends and relatives, and to conduct seminars. Topping off my trip was attending the RWA National Conference in Orlando, Florida.

I flew back home via Frankfurt, where my German husband was to meet me, driving up from Croatia. A long trip, but we planned to stay overnight in Stuttgart where his family lived.

When I landed in Frankfurt, there was no sign of Hans. Here was a man who was never late for anything. When his sister and her husband rushed into the airport, I knew something was terribly wrong. They made me sit down before they told me that Hans was in the hospital in Salzburg, Austria following a car accident on the autobahn. I could sense there was more, but at that point, I couldn’t even speak. They went on to tell me that a CT scan had been performed to determine the extent of my husband’s injuries, and the doctors found advanced stage four cancer throughout Hans’s body. What? This strapping 6’4” athletic, tanned and toned Adonis who swam two kilometers a day and walked five was near death? He was too young.

This couldn’t be.

It was.

Two months later, he was gone, and I was left alone in Hungary, an unfamiliar country, while I faced a corrupt Croatian government who promptly declared that we hadn’t filled out three invoices properly so they would seize my property (I kid you not…this for later). That’s how I found myself alone in Budapest where Hans was treated at the famous Semmelweis Hospital and spent his last days in a hospice in the Buda hills. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semmelweis_University

Numb, I went about the incredibly difficult task of preparing a funeral in a country that still operates business using the old and awkward Communist era methods (I now have Hans’ death certificate in five languages). Compounding the problem is the language barrier. The Hungarian language is considered the second most difficult language in the world (next to the many layers of Japanese), and 74.5% of the citizens do not speak English. During this awful time, I remembered others who’d lost loved ones and how they were given professional advice to refrain from making any changes for a year. Odd as it sounds, my instincts told me that I had to commit to spending a year in Budapest.  Wow!

Here I was in a strange country, unable to speak the language, and without direction. But little miracles have occurred in my life, and the year has passed amazingly fast. I don’t know how long I will remain here—at least until the Croatian legalities are cleared up—but if I had to be stuck in any city, lovely Budapest, with its remarkable history, is the one to be caught in.

What beauty.

What history.

What ease of mobility (the best public transportation facilities in the world).

What lovely people who have come forward to help me along my difficult journey. (Thank you Elemer for scrambling to obtain a five year visa for me!)

Budapest is the most romantic city I have ever lived in. Heck, right at the end of my street is the city park, complete with a lake, zoo, a lovely fairy tale castle (pictured), and the famous Szechenyi Baths that I dip into every chance I get: http://www.budapestgyogyfurdoi.hu/hu/szechenyi/virtualis_seta

I’ve made friends here, cried and laughed here. I am not through grieving, and I cannot yet bring myself to change the “About Me” page on this website because it is the last vestige of a lovely life that once was (I have set a goal to change it on October 5th, the one year mark of my husband’s passing).

From the beginning of this unexpected journey, I knew that I would hold onto the idea that happiness and joy are mine to be had, but it is entirely up to me to allow these passions to exist in my life.

And so I keep on.

I journaled my way through Hans’ illness and passing, and in January, I began to write fiction again. It wasn’t easy, but on August third, I completed a Victorian romance. At eleven PM, I wrote, “The End.” I sighed and looked up to the ceiling, as if to the heavens, and with tears running down my cheeks said, “There you go, Hans. I did it. You’d be so proud.”

 Then, I happened to glance at the date. OMG! August 3rd, exactly one year to the day that I stepped off the plane in Frankfurt—the day my life turned upside down. I don’t think it was any accident that I finished writing my story on that particular date. No matter how hard I pushed toward my earlier goal of completion, it wasn’t happening, but that morning, it was like a fire was lit under me and there I was…at the end.

Shortly thereafter, I had to travel back to Croatia on legal business—my fourth harrowing trip. I find it difficult to be there any more, where every step I take is a reminder of Hans and of our fifteen-year ‘honeymoon’ existence. I caught a ride down, but took to the rails on the way back. The trip is lovely by train, the countryside peaceful, with small villages appearing every now and then that seem lost in time. I had a private compartment to myself most of the way—the kind you see in the movies. As I traveled along, I suddenly realized that I was returning exactly one year to the day that I drove Hans to Budapest, never to return. I don’t think that was any accident, either. A lot of tears fell after my realization.

Hans’ sister died eleven days after he passed, both from the same illness. In less than eighteen months from losing them, I lost a total of five family members on both sides. I’ll never be the same again, but I say this with hope and with something burning deep inside of me: I’ll have a good life…a life as I choose to make it.

Thank heavens, I don’t feel sorry for myself. On the contrary. I feel blessed to have had the time I did with Hans, and that our time together was as good as it was. But now, without choosing this path, I find myself in another chapter of my life. I have opened my arms to healing in whatever way I was meant to, and as I walk around this city, I am often amazed that I, a little girl from Staples, Minnesota, grew up to one day be plunked down in Budapest, Hungary, a place filled with so much beauty, but also filled with so much tragic history it is mind boggling that the Hungarians managed to survive.

I used to teach in my seminars that if you wanted to shake up your ego, move some place where you don’t know anyone. But if you really want to give the old ego a complete twist, try moving to where you don’t even speak the language. Ha! How about that? Two post-Communist countries under my belt, and with two entirely different languages. I guess I was talking to myself all those years.

Let’s see, I met Hans, a German, in a riding stable in Texas (riding English saddle, not western), got married in a castle in Scotland, moved to New York where I ran a well-being center; moved on to Croatia where we played in the sea, and ended up in Hungary, alone and with my roots still in Texas. Is there any hint of a memoir in here? She laughs. I have titled it “Living and Dying in Budapest.”

Despite what I have been through, I look for joy in simple, everyday occurrences, including feeding the little ducks that swim about in the water surrounding the castle in the park. I swear they recognize me because they don’t swim to other people crossing the little footbridge behind the castle, but when I walk up, here they come! Makes my heart sing. I have immersed myself in this city, in the people, culture, even the incredible architecture (there is something very healing and soothing about buildings to me).

So, there you have it, a mini tour of my world this past year. I hope you’ll check in with me as I share my Budapest experiences and my writer’s life (I just found out there is an American writer moving into the apartment next door. He’s due to arrive in less than a month, can hardly wait to chat).

I have lots to share with you if you care to revisit.

What about you? Can you name a single defining moment when your life suddenly changed? I would dearly love to hear from you. In the meantime, enjoy my favorite musical tour of Budapest:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqwFvU5vBrA

 

 

[4 Jun 2010 | 23 Comments | ] Uncategorized

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Years ago an Alabama grandmother gave the new bride the following recipe. This is an exact copy as written and found in an old scrapbook, complete with spelling errors (For you non-southerners, wrench means, rinse)

 

RESIPE FOR WARSHING CLOTHES

Build fire in backyard to heat kettle of rain water. Set tubs so smoke wont blow in eyes if wind is pert. Shave one hole cake of lie soap in boilin water.

Sort things, make 3 piles

1 pile white,

1 pile colored,

1 pile work britches and rags.

To make starch, stir flour in cool water to smooth, then thin down with boiling water.

Take white things, rub dirty spots on board, scrub hard, and boil, then rub colored don’t boil just wrench and starch.

Take things out of kettle with broom stick handle, then wrench, and starch. 

Hang old rags on fence.

Spread tea towels on grass.

Pore wrench water in flower bed. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.

Turn tubs upside down.

Go put on clean dress, smooth hair with hair combs. Brew cup of tea, sit and rock a spell and count your blessings.

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I remember my grandmother used a hand wrung wringer washer with a galvanized tub like in the photo above. She was of a different generation, and no matter how many times my father and uncle offered to take on the task, she refused to have indoor plumbing installed (which is why I didn’t like staying overnight in the cold Minnesota winters—that trek to the outhouse before bed was bad enough in the summer). She did have a clothes line out behind the house though, no tea towels drying on the grass!

What about you, do you have any memories of “the old days”, or do you have any old diaries or recipes for cleaning and laundry? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

 

[20 May 2010 | 6 Comments | ] Uncategorized

Some of you may make a habit of dialoguing with your characters before you begin to write a novel. Others may not have heard of the idea. I have done a form of this for years, but never applied it to characters in my novel until I began reading a few blogs where the actual hero or heroine were interviewed. What I great idea, I thought, so I applied it to two characters I thought I knew from the inside out. Turns out I didn’t know the heroine as well as the hero. After I had a chat with her, I went back and fleshed her out with the ease of writing about someone I had known a lifetime (but then, perhaps she has been a seed inside my soul my entire life, waiting to sprout).

Recently, I had to have a particular medical procedure that made me feel threatened. What could I do to get myself through this without having a meltdown in the middle of it? Well, talking to the heroine in my new WIP did the trick.

Here I was, on a table in a medical center in a foreign country, while my heart and soul were elsewhere. In my mind, I was in a lush green meadow carpeted with a thick layer of bluebells and sitting under a blossoming wild cherry tree. When a gust of wind blew, white blossoms rained around me like scented snow. Sarah (my character) and I leaned our backs against the tree and chatted. She told me what it was like—really like—to be caught in the terrible predicament she was in, and how she was changing as a result. Next thing I knew, the practitioner said in her broken English. “All done.”

I opened my eyes, looked into her smiling face and at the clock over her shoulder. I could not believe the time that had passed or that the procedure had entirely escaped my conscious state! Mind you, I am a certified hypnotherapist and have for years taught meditation, but when I tried to do both of these things with fear running through me like water from a faucet with no shut-off valve, I couldn’t remain focused. But under the cherry tree, blossoms in our hair and sheep in the meadow, I was living in nonlinear time in 1850’s England—Kent to be exact, with the farthest thing from my mind being laid out in a large medical center.

Today, I will rest by the therapy pool after physical therapy and dialogue with my hero—Augustus Malvern, Lord Eastleigh. I want to know—from the deepest part of his heart—what things were like for him during the Crimean War. Perhaps it will help him remember the one thing that keeps him from living life to the fullest.

What about you? Do you dialogue with your characters? Have you had any similar, surprising results? Please leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.

Below is an excerpt from my first conversation with a character, Mary Katherine. It is the first night over dinner with Wolf who sits across from her chatting with the ship’s captain and her parents. I did not stop to think or rationalize. I simply wrote as quickly as she spoke and did no editing other than to hit spell check.

“Tell me about yourself, Mary Katherine. Maybe start with some recollection as a child.”

“I suppose I was always aware that there was something different about my parents. I trusted Old Chinese, my mentor, to raise me, but not my parents (and please don’t call me on his name. It is what he chooses to be called and there is a reason). I prefer his logic and his integrity and morals. In fact, I need and desire his integrity and morals. I relate to him more than to my parents. I remember his hands…so strong and powerful, but so safe when I slipped my hand into his when I was a little girl. In some ways that hand still holds mine.

Mother is terribly emotional and undisciplined. She is impatient and impetuous. Unfortunately, I have inherited that tendency and it is what I use my self-discipline against. Father has more discipline since he studied under Old Chinese, but he lacks the character and integrity that are a vital part of the old man’s teachings.

I knew from a very young age, I don’t know how I knew, but I did, that I was not to speak of what my mentor taught me. I also knew from a very young age that I was being groomed to take over his work. I didn’t know fully what his work was until he chose to reveal it. I never questioned why my mother and father trusted a man alone with me until after you wrote the book. Thank you.

For whatever reason, my thoughts never strayed to men and the emotional/physical nature, even though I was secretly surrounded by them. Wouldn’t mother have had a fit, had she known?

My job, my goal is one of securing the future of the farm. I must somehow convince my father…well, my parents, to let me have the farm and live up there.

However, now there is a fly in the ointment. My parents, despite their wealth, have not been accepted into Boston’s upper crust. Jonathan came forward and asked for my hand. It was promptly accepted by my parents and I cannot easily renounce it without throwing some kind of suspicion on me that I am up to something else. He is everything I despise in my parents’ world. I must have a life that will allow me some freedom. This is a terrible problem, because you see, I am their ticket, their only ticket into society…they have tried all else.

And now there is Wolf. Oh, I saw him years ago when he walked into the hotel all scruffy, and something shot right through me. It wasn’t a sexual thing then…it was, I don’t know…a power in him…perhaps a destiny…an inner knowing…I just knew he would be right for the farm. That feeling I got when I saw him, I carried it right through to now. I wanted a man like that.

And now here he is, on the ship, sitting right across from me and I see him as perfect for what I need a man for, but I also see something else. He does something to me. I want to climb right over the table and lick the side of his face—to taste him. I want to crush my mouth to his and draw from him something, I don’t know what… into my soul.

He is the one. He must be.

[28 Apr 2010 | 12 Comments | ] Uncategorized

When we think of the Roman soldiers, unless we are particularly fond of that period of history, most likely our images and impressions come more from Hollywood than from anywhere else. However, what the film industry does not show is the background of the common Roman soldier. Did you know that the soldiers were stationed far from home to dissuade desertion and that they took their living quarters with them when they traveled? The average warrior was trained for war, but rarely fought. Instead, they were expert in multiple trades and used them to build roads, aqueducts, coliseums, forts, etc. Their tools were as important to them as were their weapons and their precious tools of the trade traveled with them. The average soldier was constantly on the move and was trained to march as quickly as four miles an hour for five hours a day – wearing sandals.

It wasn’t until the end of the Roman Empire that the Roman soldier was allowed to marry. Until then, bachelorhood was a strict requirement. Women were not allowed in the army group, but were allowed to set up tents outside the encampments. Most of these women were prostitutes.

If you think a four year requirement in the military is stiff today, how about the duty requirement of the Roman soldier – twenty-five years. They were decently compensated during their conscription and received a regular pension upon retirement.

What about you? Do you know anything about the Roman soldier that I didn’t cover? What about any soldier in any war – Civil War, WW I and II, Viet Nam War (did you know that U.S. soldiers in Viet Nam were trained to use the pendulum, an ancient dowsing tool, to locate mines and hidden caves)? I would love to hear from you.