"" Writer's Wanderings: July 2012

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Rose Window By Any Other Name. . .

Pantheon, Rome
In our travels, we have seen more churches than I can count. Churches are a great way to learn more about a country, city, region, etc., as they often contain in their windows, statuary, and carvings, a lot of history and folk tales. Think about it. Back before the printing press and even for some time after the printed word, there were not a lot of readers. This was a way for people to learn Bible stories and their own history and folklore by seeing them illustrated on the walls and in the windows of their church.
Rock of Cashel, Ireland

Once I learned that, I began to look at the old churches differently. I noticed a common element of many churches was one or more round windows. As our tour guides pointed out, they were called rose windows. Figuring I probably slept through that part of my eight o'clock Art History class in my college days, I went on a search to see if I could find anything more significant in the rose windows.

Notre Dame, Paris
The first thing I learned was that they became popular in the Gothic era of architecture. One source even traced the idea back to the Roman oculus, a round hole in the ceiling of a structure that let light in. The Pantheon in Rome would be a good example.

During the Romanesque period, the oculus became a window and grew larger as architecture moved into the Gothic period. One of the most beautiful rose windows and one of the largest we've seen is at the Gothic cathedral of  Notre Dame in Paris.

Another source said that the window gets the "rose" name from its resemblance to the petals of a rose that radiate from the center. And if you should hear the terms mullions and tracery, you'll know that your guide is describing the bars that radiate from the center (mullions) and the decorative bars that hold the pieces of colored glass (tracery).

As for a deeper meaning to the window, I found only a slight hint at one website that suggested there might be some occult meaning associated with the circle and possibly the number of divisions of any particular rose window that then leads to interpreting the design for its numerical meaning. Makes you want to look around to see if Dan Brown is lurking under the window plotting his next book.

Monday, July 30, 2012

What Is An Influencer?

A while ago there was a hair product commercial that aired showing the picture of a woman with beautiful hair (obviously from using the product) and then the TV screen split and showed two other women and said, ". . .and she told two friends. . ." Then it continued splitting and saying, ". . .and they told two friends. . ."
It was a classic example of what happens with word of mouth advertising.

The publishing world thrives on word of mouth advertising and book reviews. Because of that we look to people who might be helpful in spreading the word about a new book release. Those people are called influencers.

In September, my newest novel, In A Pickle, will be available at major points of sale--especially those online bookstores that so many find convenient. When a reader shops for a book online, there are helpful reviews from those who have already read the book that influence a reader's choice. I am looking for some readers who would be willing to write a review and post it on those online sites. If the reader should also happen to have a blog, I would love to visit as a guest blogger or would appreciate a mention there as well.

I have a limited number of free books I can send out so should you be interested, please contact me (karen robbins 47 at yahoo dot com) as quickly as possible. I will send you a book and ask only that you post a review at two or three (or all if you like) of the following places: Amazon.com (paperback/kindle), Barnes & Noble.com, the Sony Reader Store, the Apple Reader store, Books A Million.com, Powells.com, or KOBO. Any other word you can spread on FB, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. would be greatly appreciated as well.

Here's the teaser for the book:

Annie Pickels, a 65 year old widowed pickle entrepreneur is in real trouble. One of her city farmers is growing marijuana on his rented plot of land. Annie, thinking it is marjoram, uses it as a secret ingredient in her pickles.

Insisting Tommy is a nice young man, Annie discovers his beloved Mary Jane is not the name of his girlfriend after Annie is arrested for cultivation and sale of marijuana. But Annie knows God always takes care of her. On a cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2, Annie meets the man who might solve her impending legal dilemma, Arnie.

Elma, Annie’s best friend, knows that Arnie is just what Annie needs in her life. But is he?

Annie’s niece thinks Arnie is out to fleece her aunt. Is she right? Or is Arnie the one who can get Annie out of the pickle she’s in?

And here's what two have already said about In A Pickle:
"Tasty, tantalizing, a real treat!" In a Pickle satisfies on every level! I loved every character, every plot twist, every zany moment and every tender one, too. For those who enjoy a light-hearted tale with a great feel-good message, look no further than this brilliant story from author Karen Robbins. Highly recommended! - Janice Hanna Thompson, author of Fools Rush In

Karen Robbins has penned an enjoyable tale told from the point of view of a senior citizen with quirky characters that readers will love. Cindy Thomson, author of Brigid of Ireland

Could you be an influencer?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Books For The Road - Soul Surfer

The youth of our church asked to have their own book discussion this summer so I suggested we all read Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton (with Rick Bundshuh and Sheryl Berk). I did put off reading my copy until after we were done with our dive trip to Cayman. I figured the only thing worse than reading about a shark attack before diving would be to watch Jaws, the movie. Knowing this was written specifically as a piece of Christian non-fiction, I was a little skeptical about whether I would enjoy it. Sometimes that type of book is a little too ordered, a little too perfect. What I discovered was a nice piece of writing done obviously from a young teenager who truly wants to give God the glory.

The event in Bethany's life that brought her to the world's notice was a shark attack while she was surfing. She was only thirteen. The shark took her arm almost to the shoulder and a chunk of her board as well. She managed to make it to shore with the help of friends and survived an ordeal that would have destroyed many an adult. Not only did Bethany survive but she went on to surf and continue to successfully compete in surfing contests around the world.

While much of the book is about Bethany's determination to use what has happened to her as a way to tell others about God and his saving grace, it does give a fun glimpse into life on the small island of Kauai and surfing. Bethany and her writers do not concentrate on the details of her attack and recovery which is okay but I would have liked to have heard a little more about the difficulty of rehabilitation. How did you learn to do things with one arm? How did you work through the dark times (don't tell me there were none) to be able to give God the glory in the end? But then I have to tell myself that this was written by a young teen and perhaps at the time, there were issues that didn't need to be explored.

Hopefully my young book readers will read the book and not just rent the movie. As I understand, the movie is just slightly different to make it a little more interesting. Guess I will give it a look as well.

If you are looking for a book for a tween or teen to read this summer on the beach, this wouldn't be a bad choice but it might keep them out of the water.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What I Did on My Summer Vacation - Mary Ellis

Just for fun I asked some of my writer friends to do an old fashioned grade school essay about their summer vacation. Remember those assignments when school started? I thought it would be a great way to learn about some places they had been. Mary's is more of a working vacation but it looks like she had a great time.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation by Mary Ellis

I just returned from researching the Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities of Kentucky to prepare me to write book three of the series, A Little Bit of Charm. I traipsed all over Barren and Casey Counties in search of horses and buggies and those who prefer a slower pace of life. I stayed at the home of my best friend in Somerset and took along her three grand-daughters to keep me company. They received a priceless education that surpassed anything found in textbooks. And having them with me opened more doors and lowered many people’s defenses. Who could resist three charming little girls?

Although I live within an hour of the largest population of Amish in the country, a writer truly needs to visit the area, since there are so many regional differences. For instance, in Waldo County, Maine, the setting of book one, Living in Harmony, the Old Order Amish allow no rumschpringe, no courting buggies, no youth socials (everyone is present for all get-togethers) and no working in the English world. However, their church services are in English, not Deutsch, to encourage “drop-ins” from the local community. These Old Order Amish have an ecumenical outlook on Christianity, similar to New Order Amish (which makes up only ten percent of the population. And they built a meetinghouse to use for church, Sunday School (yes, they have it on “off” Sundays) weddings and fund-raising events, instead of meeting in each other’s homes.
I find interesting stories in every community I visit. Last fall I researched the Amish of Audrain, Randolph and Boone County, Missouri, in preparation to write book two of the series, Love Comes to Paradise. I found the Missouri Plain believers to be the most private and reserved of all I’ve met thus far. But one lovely wife and mother who ran an in-home bakery provided me with plenty of information and a few amusing tales. Just when you thought you had these fascinating people figured out…

I hope you will look for book one of the New Beginnings series, called Living in Harmony, just released. These photos were taken in Unity, Maine.

Mary Ellis grew up near the Amish and fell in love with them. She has now written nine bestselling novels set in their communities. When not writing, she enjoys gardening, bicycling, and swimming. Before "retiring" to write full-time, Mary taught school and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate. Her debut Christian book, A Widow's Hope, was a finalist for the 2010 ACFW Carols. She has since written eight best-selling novelsLearn more about Mary Ellis at her website and/or connect with her on Facebook.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Helpful 411 For Your 311 Bags

It's not going away. TSA and other airport security around the world is sticking to the 3-1-1 rule. For that rare person who has never heard of the rule, when you carry liquids on a plane they can be no more that 3 ounces in each container and all must fit into a 1 quart see-through plastic sealed (Ziploc) bag and no more than 1 bag per person. Here are some tips that might help you out with that.

  • Check out the samples area of your local pharmacy. Most of the big pharmacies have an aisle that sells samples or travel sized deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, hand/body lotion, etc. 
  • Buy small plastic travel bottles (be sure to label them well) and fill them with your own favorite brand toiletries.
  • Around Christmas time, many perfume/colognes come in small purse sizes. 
  • There are actually some online sites that sell the perfect 3 ounce sizes of toiletries: http://www.3floz.com/; Minimus; Travel Toiletry Kits 
  • Your dentist will be happy to give you and extra tube or two of sample toothpaste if you ask.
If you don't want to bother with the 311 bag, you can always hope the hotel where you are staying has the toiletries you need or is near a pharmacy or convenient store where you can pick them up quickly.

Cruisers! Be very careful when you are disembarking and remember to repack your liquids into your checked luggage before checking in at the airport. I lost a new $20 bottle of cologne that way on one trip. I'm just glad my tastes in fragrance don't run to the extreme end of the price range.

International travelers! Remember when you are re-entering the country you will be required to go through customs and immigration even if you have a connecting flight. You will need to pick up your luggage to go through customs. Your airline will have a re-check spot just beyond customs where you deposit it again for your next flight. Then you will need to go through security again. Be sure you haven't picked up any more liquids along the way like a bottle of soda or water.

If you're traveling with children, you might want to check out some of my suggestion for getting them through security. Just remember not to give them a full sippy cup or any kind of drink in a container before you enter security. I remember a howling child who was devastated when he had to give up his drink before going through security. It didn't make it pleasant for the child, his family, or the TSA agent who was only doing his job.

Traveling is a whole lot more pleasant if you just remember to plan ahead and be a little organized.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Books For The Road - First The Dead

Tim Downs spoke at one of the writers conferences I attended a few years ago and I was intrigued with his series of Bug Man novels. The Bug Man is Nick Polchak and is quite a character as you might imagine. His specialty is the forensic study of bugs, how they can be used as evidence in murder cases. Bob and I both read his first in the series, Shoofly Pie, and enjoyed it. For Christmas he received another in the series, First The Dead. Of course I had to wait for him to finish before I could read it. He didn't tell me not to read it just after eating.

The story takes place just as Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. Polchak is part of DMORT, the disaster mortuary operational response team that will set up to collect, receive, and identify bodies from the storm. With the horrific flooding of the city, DMORT is told to be part of the rescue operation before they begin their work. Nick finds several bodies however that he is sure were dead well before the flood. He goes rogue (so to speak) and begins investigating. Along the way he picks up a rather astute boy who helps him. As Nick's psychologist friend says, there's a whole new side to be seen of him as he relates to the young man.

The story is fascinating but beware that some of the icky stuff may just make your tummy churn a bit especially if you are not into bugs. Between the description of the awful water conditions and the bodies, well, like my husband should have warned me: Don't read it just after eating.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Grand Cayman - Camana Bay

It's always fun to discover a new place to explore. We've been diving at Grand Cayman for over 10 years now and have watched many changes over the year. This year Camana Bay caught our eye and when we drove to Georgetown from the East End to attend the First Baptist Church of Cayman, we decided to visit Camana Bay and check it out.

Visiting on a Sunday was a joy for Bob. The stores were all closed so there were no shopping opportunities.  We managed to find a few restaurants open though and chose the Black Trumpet Delicatessen when we walked past a couple eating and asked if they recommended it. The choices on the menu were all tempting and luckily we only ordered one sandwich and a salad to split. The sandwich was more than enough for us.

After satisfying our hunger pains, we strolled around the area. It was very pleasant on the eye and offered respite from the sun with all the trees and overhead decorative awnings. There were several courts each named for a particular flower. Each court had some type of fountain and any one of the areas would have been a great place to just sit and relax. One of the fountains is interactive--meaning the kids can run through the sprays of water that pop up all over the place.

The shops we passed looked a bit upscale but you would expect that in this kind of area away from the hustle of Seven Mile Beach (although it is near there) and the frantic shopping for souvenirs in downtown Georgetown as the cruise ships come in.

Camana Bay is also developed with a residential area, a hotel, and offices. It is a community in every sense of the word and very well planned. I look forward to returning--maybe when the stores are open?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Books For The Road - How Fast Do You Read?

Staples has put together this neat little test to see how fast you read. I tested 12% above the national average. The test is not just for speed but comprehension as well. So if you take it, don't skim. Have a go. The results are interesting at the end. You can see how long it will take you to read War and Peace--should you wish to indulge in heavy reading.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Grand Cayman - Scuba Diving

Picture by Elly Wray
Scuba diving is really a lot like going on a scavenger hunt except you strap on a "self contained underwater breathing apparatus" to do so. The equipment has changed quite a bit from the days of Lloyd Bridges and Sea Hunt. There is a vest, called a buoyancy control device or BCD, a regulator and pressure gauge that hooks to your air source, a pressurized tank, mask, fins, and a dive computer. There is also a secondary regulator called an octopus so that in an emergency, your dive buddy could breathe off of your tank if necessary. Bridges in his series rarely dived with a buddy.

Dive skins or wet suits are a necessary evil depending upon the dive conditions. Colder water demands thicker covering to keep the body warm. Divers in the extreme cold areas dive in what are called dry skins. Our policy: if you need more than a 1/2 millimeter dive skin, the water's too cold for us. That's why we love Cayman for diving. The water on our recent dive trip was at a balmy 82-84 degrees Fahrenheit. And very very clear!

The scavenger hunt comes into play as you listen to the dive briefing before each dive. Each site is different and the dive master will give some sort of briefing. With Ocean Frontiers, it is a drawing on a dry erase board that roughly shows what lies below the boat. From there you can choose to make your own dive plan or follow the dive master on his guided tour.

Along with the directional briefing comes a hint of what might be seen at the dive site. Now, knowing that fish and other marine critters are mobile, it doesn't always follow that you will see what is "advertised" and you may also be in for some great surprises. So in a sense it is a scavenger hunt. You jump in with a mental list of things to look for. Some you find and some you don't.

Bob and I have our own scavenger list of sorts. He likes to look for scorpion fish. They have the nickname of rock fish because they look just like the rocks they hide between. I like to look for peacock flounder--again a bit hard to find because they blend into their background like a chameleon. We found 5 scorpion fish and only one peacock flounder this time but the flounder turned on its blue spots for me when I waved my hand over the top of him. So amazing.

Also amazing, a couple of sharks, a huge spotted eagle ray, a couple of large green eels, the tiniest of juvenile drum fish, curious turtles, and miles of sea fans, sponges of all shapes, and soft and hard corals. Did I mention the schools of bright blue fish and of course the happiest, the parrot fish.

Our other quest was to finish the Green Shorts Challenge. Since we have been diving on the East End of Grand Cayman for over ten years now, we have almost dived each of the 55 dive sites on that end of the island. With only four to go, the weather wouldn't permit us to finish the ones we needed. Next year. . .green dive shorts, a trophy, and a plaque on the walkway, weather permitting.

[Our picture is by Elly Wray who is the staff photographer for Ocean Frontiers. She does a great job. It's not easy to steady a camera while the ocean around you is constantly moving.]

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tips For Flying With Kids

We didn't travel with our children a lot when they were young but we did take several outstanding vacations that they remember quite vividly. Of course they remember Disney World but the trips to the Smokey Mountains, the North Carolina coast, and Washington, D.C. are also mentioned when we are together reminiscing. We didn't fly often. There were five kids and even back then it was too expensive for us. Today, I see more and more families traveling with young children and I applaud their sense of adventure in this day and age of airport security lines.

With a little preparation, you can help to ease the anxiety of flying to your destination with your children. One of the best ways to keep track of your kids is to outfit them with bright neon colored tee shirts. They stand out in a crowd of travelers. Make it fun and let them design their own with fabric paint or get them printed with Family Vacation 2012 and the destinations or places you plan to visit as if it were a rock band tour.

Instead of packing several big suitcases, you might consider getting each child a rollered carry-on and/or a backpack. If it doesn’t fit in the bags, it can’t go and if you don’t have to check luggage, there’s no waiting at your destination to get that vacation started.

Be sure to have each family member wear slip on shoes and socks (although young children no longer need to take off shoes) for going through security. Avoid belts that have to come off and be sure that all of their pocket items are in a small Ziploc bag in their backpack. To avoid the issue of carrying liquids, I would just buy them at your destination. The time and aggravation saved will more than make up for the cost. Hotels and B&Bs usually have most of the toiletries you need in the room.

When you arrive at the airport, if you’ve parked your car at a lot that doesn't issue a location card, use your camera or smart phone to take a picture of where you parked. It will save wandering around with tired kids looking for that spot again.

I read one suggestion from a lady who traveled with six kids. She lined them up youngest to oldest as they went through security. One parent led the group and the other was at the end. That way everyone and everything made it through security.

Be sure everyone takes a bathroom trip before boarding the plane. You never know how long you might be on the runway at a busy airport and the restrooms are unavailable until takeoff.

Also, remember that while on the runway you cannot use electronics so be prepared with the old fashioned coloring books, puzzle books, or other gadgets without an on/off switch that can entertain the kids while you wait for takeoff.

Pass out gum or gummy bears as the plane takes off. It will help pop the ears as the kids chew and the airplane cabin pressure changes. For infants, be sure to be prepared with a bottle for them. You can always get juice or milk or water to mix formula in the airport before boarding. If they are sucking on a bottle, they will be less likely to experience discomfort in their ears. Have a little ready for your landing time as well.

Just a couple more suggestions: fly midweek if possible. The flights are less crowded which makes for a more pleasant trip and an easier passage through security. If you are leaving the country be sure to allow plenty of time to get passports and/or visas if needed. For the little ones, you might want to make a little ID card they can carry just like a grown up. Kept inside their backpack, it’s also a way to get a lost bag returned.

Happy traveling! There are many wonderful places in this world to share with your children. Make lots of memories together.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Books For The Road - Harriet Beamer Takes The Bus

When my American Christian Fiction Writer magazine arrived and I saw an ad for the book, Harriet Beamer Takes The Bus, I couldn’t help but take notice. The title sounded like a fun jaunt and that’s music to a travel addict’s ears. Added to that, I could get a copy for my new Nook and I did need to try out the downloading process. Worked like a charm and before long, I was engrossed in the discovery of a new and thoroughly likeable character, Harriet Beamer.

Harriet reminds me a bit of my mother-in-law who extremely independent although she’s quite a bit older than Harriet who is only in her seventies. Harriet’s son and daughter-in-law are convinced that she needs to give up her house and move in with them. When Harriet loses a bet with her daughter-in-law, she sells the house and concedes to moving across the country to California where they live.

But this is where you truly fall in love with Harriet. She’s not going to go easily. Instead of just packing up and flying to California, Harriet decides to take buses all the way so that she can see the countryside. And not just a Greyhound. No sir. She wants to take public transportation buses all the way. The result is a charming story filled with quirky characters along the way and some wonderful truths revealed as well.

Joyce Magnin, author of this delightful read has done a great job in making the whole story plausible and the trip quite enjoyable through Harriet’s eyes. Enjoy the ride. . .er, the read.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Harry Potter - The Movie Workshops

After our lunch and butter beers on the Harry Potter movie set, we entered the workshop area that displayed many of the makeup artists creations for the various types of characters found in the stories---mostly the goblins found in Gringott's Bank. Eerie heads and hands were lined up on shelves and shelves from floor to ceiling and all around a huge room. 

The most surprising of all were two heads fashioned for Hagrid. One was hooked to complicated mechanisms that blinked eyes, moved the mouth, etc. All for the stunt doubles and for wide shots when the actor, Robbie Coltrane, wasn't needed to speak in the shot. The actor is actually 6' 1"--as he puts it, "north, south, east, and west." He's a British comedian. Of course movie magic made him appear even taller and larger.
After passing by the extremely large and hairy spider from one of the movies, we were channeled into Diagon Alley. It was amazing. All of the shop fronts were there. Purchase an owl? Want a wand? How about ingredients for your magic potions? Of course all the stylish wizarding clothes were displayed in the windows and the Weasleys were set up in a shop with their clever off the wall (even for wizards) goodies.

Deciding we didn't really need anything magical at the moment (they were only store fronts anyway), we passed along and glanced back for one last look at the Gringott's Bank entrance before entering the model display area where many of the mock-ups of sets showed the planning stages for what was to come. In the welcome video, actor Daniel Radcliffe had mentioned a surprise at the end and referred to Hogwarts. We thought the large white cardboard mock up of Hogwarts was it. Not so.

The next room was at least as big as a basketball court--maybe two. And in the center was the real Hogwarts, the real model anyway. This was the one used to shoot the pictures of Hogwarts from the outside. Remember the bridge section I told you about? Well, the "real" bridge was part of the model and spanned the whole valley beneath it. The lights in the room cycled from daylight to night time so you could catch a glimpse of Hogwarts during all phases of the day and night. It was, well, magical!

Just like at Disney (everyone has learned this trick) we were funneled out to the gift shop but not until we had passed through a room full of wand boxes. Each box had a name on it that was significant to the writing, producing, and making of the books and movies. A guide in the room could point out all the significant wands if you asked.

We returned our audio guides and wandered through the gift shop wondering who might enjoy some Bertie Botts Jelly Beans.

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