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Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie


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ROCK Goes the 4th With These 25 U.S. Historical Fiction Books

Kimber here. Mom is busy rustling up some Independence Day eats. I’m not too sure about the potato salad and corn on the cob thing. But I’m all over the grilled burgers! Yeah, Lassie!

Well. The subject of “best U.S. historical fiction” came up the other night. We were watching videos of last year’s fireworks or somethin’. You know. The stupid Big Boom things. (Why do humans do this every Independence Day? I don’t get it.)

I was all ears. (For the book list. Not the Big Boom things. Mom got me a Thunder Shirt for that.)

Anyway, just in time for Independence day, Mom and I put together a list of the best historical fiction reads set in the U.S. Mom says we aren’t even going to try to cover books by decade, social movement, issue, or what not. That’d take us like, till the cat comes home. Gag me with Meow Mix!

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5 Sumptuous Books Celebrating FOOD (and lots more)

Good food and books go together like peanut butter and jelly. Summer and surfing. Braying politicians and migraines. Belay that last. Cuz today we’re going a step further.

For today’s Fine Wine Fridays we’re sharing some favorites that combine the best in creative, delicious recipes and creative, delicious writing.

Insalata di Polpo – ‘Savoring Tuscany’

In order to make our menu, selected books must be more than just collections of recipes. They focus on food but must also include:

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5 Worthy Reads ‘For Us, The Living’ On Memorial Day

Memorial Day typically marks the unofficial start of the summer season. But let’s also take time out to remember those who gave their “last full measure of devotion” for their country. To honor those brave men and women in uniform who gave their lives so we can enjoy the blessings and responsibilities of liberty today.

 

Abraham Lincoln’s poignant two minute speech dedicated the Gettysburg National Cemetery just four months after that bloody battle took place. The Gettysburg Address memorializes the enormous debt of thanks and gratitude that we, the living, owe to those who gave “the last full measure of devotion” that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth.”

We cannot dedicate, consecrate, or hallow the sacrifice of those who gave their “last full measure of devotion” to their country beyond what they have already done. But we can remember. We can reflect. We can humbly honor their sacrifice.  It is up to us, the living, to never forget.

One way to “never forget” is to read.

Worthy Reads for this Memorial Day weekend:

 

Image result for The Killer Angels Book Cover
  • The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. The historical novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975. In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for two conflicting dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Bright futures, untested innocence, and pristine beauty were also the casualties of war. Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece is unique, sweeping, unforgettable—the dramatic story of the battleground for America’s destiny.
The Bridges at Toko-Ri

The Bridges at Toko-Ri, by James Michener. A tale of the American men who fought the Korean War, detailing their exploits in the air as well as their lives on the ground. Young and innocent, they arrive in a place they have barely ever heard of, on a ship massive enough to carry planes and helicopters. Trained as professionals, they prepare for the rituals of war that countless men before them have endured, and face the same fears. They are American fighter pilots. Together they face an enemy they do not understand, knowing their only hope for survival is to win.

 

The Red Badge of Courage

The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane. Don’t make me explain this.

 

 

 

 

A Medal for Leroy

A Medal for Leroy, by Michael Morpurgo

 

When Michael’s aunt passes away, she leaves a letter that changes everything. It starts with Michael’s grandfather Leroy, a black officer in World War I who charged into a battle zone not once but three times to save wounded men. His fellow soldiers insisted he deserved special commendations for his bravery. But because of the racial barriers, he would go unacknowledged. Now it’s up to Michael to change that.

A moving, memorable story of family, identity, and history. Inspired by the true story of Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British army.

 

My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier.

This Newbery Honor book brings the Revolutionary War to life. Young Tim Meeker’s 16 year-old brother goes off to fight with the Patriots while his father remains a reluctant British Loyalist in the Tory town of Redding, CT. Young Tim knows he’ll have to make a choice – the Patriots or the Redcoats – and between his father and his brother. A stirring tale full of action and suspense.

 

What would you add?


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10 Terrific Books for Mom on Her Special Day (or anytime)

Does your mom love to read? Is her (or your) idea of paradise a quiet reading nook, a pina colada, and hours of uninterrupted page-turning?

Great! Then mom will appreciate our Best Books for Mom list.

Kindly note that books don’t necessarily have to focus on a mom to make the cut. Bonus points if they do. But our list is about compelling, captivating reads that mom can enjoy in that quiet nook with her chilled drink and some alone time. So our list is based on – but not strictly limited to – the following criteria:

  • Must be an enjoyable, uplifting read (who wants a downer on Mother’s Day? Ack!)
  • Superlative writing
  • Credible dialogue and a solid, poignant story
  • Strong, three-dimensional female characters who learn, develop and grow
  • Bonus points if all of the above include a dose of spunk and sass

That being said, Kimber and I are rushing in where angels fear to tread with our purely subjective, 100% unscientific list of Best Books for Mom on her special day:

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10 Blogging Ideas for a Lockdown

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Tired of “what I’m doing while stuck at home waiting out the coronavirus” posts?

 

Me too.  I’m lookin’ for posts with a little more meat on their bones, if ya know what I mean. But what to write about?

 

If you’re staring at the screen and wondering what to blog about while the clock ticks, here are 10 blogging topics you might consider tackling:

 

1. Creative Ways to Stay Connected

 

“Stay at Home” orders are the order of the day. How do you stay connected with friends, family and colleagues while practicing social distancing at the same time?

 

Do your readers know about video communications like Zoom and Skype? Videoconferencing with GoTo Meeting? Give them the skinny on Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

 

Videoconferencing is part and parcel of today’s workplace as many companies are seeking to accommodate work-from-home options. Here’s a list of 10 meeting tools and products for your organization.

 

2. Grocery Delivery Services

 

Research and polish a post comparing pros and cons for Shipt, AmazonFresh, Peapod, or Instacart. How ‘bout Gourmet Meals to Go? Which service provides the best quality, most selection and quickest delivery options at the best price? Also check out: 9 Best Site for Online Grocery Shopping in 2020.

 

3. Classic Books to Battle Boredom

 

Doctor Zhivago? Gone With the Wind? Jane Eyre?

 

A lot of classic literature has a lot of pages. What interesting, engaging classics can you recommend to help occupy the heart and mind while you’re stuck in doors?

 

Compile a list of long books that are worth the time. (Anything but Proust, or Bleak House, okay? On the latter, you’re better off watching the TV mini-series.)

4. Homeschool Helps and Hints

 

Homeschool blogger? If so, you may be experiencing a huge boost in traffic right now. So carpe diem! Seize the day and crank out some practical dos and don’ts. Where to find good curricula. How to keep kids on task. Setting realistic goals and expectations. (We homeschooled for years. I might jump in.)

 

5. Most Effective Relief Organizations

 

Many people are struggling and turning to relief organizations for help. Do you know a relief organization with a track record of efficacy and ability? Blog about it! Include a donation link and contact info.

 

6. A Little Levity, Please?

 

How ‘bout a roundup of some of the best coronavirus memes that’ll tickle your funny bone? Dispel some of the gloom with a little cheer.

 

7. DIY

 

With some store shelves bare and panic buying spread like wildlife, now might be a good time for a DIY post. Ideas:

 

8. To Soothe the Savage Beast

 

Put together a list of downloadable or other sources for soothing sounds: breakers on a beach, rain on the roof. Bird calls. AC/DC. (Well, okay. Maybe not AC/DC. But you know what I mean.) And how ’bout some golden oldies?

 

9. Cooking and Recipes

 

If this is your jam, your readers are probably looking for easy, comforting meals they can put together from what they have on hand. Whip up some recipes using pantry staples. Include substitute suggestions. Don’t forget kitchen projects to keep the kiddos busy!

 

10. Remember Rover

 

Pets can get stressed out, too. Research and write a post about how to identify and counter stress in your dog. Include creative ways to keep Rover occupied and exercised if you’re stuck in doors.

 

Of course, whatever category you choose depends on your niche and your interests. But writing is therapeutic. It may be “just what the doctor ordered” – not just for you, but for your readers, too!

 

Forget that ticking clock. Get busy blogging instead!

 

Have a blogging idea to add? Holler!


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7 Flicks to Battle Stuck-at-Home Boredom

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Are you practicing social distancing? Is your county or state under a shelter in place/stay at home order?

 

Battling Boredom?

Social distancing and such are “the new normal” as we battle the coronavirus. But what’s a body to do with all this stay-at-home-ing? Besides counting tiles in the ceiling or cracks in the linoleum, how do you pass the time while waiting for public health and government officials to lift or revise the order?

 

Literature and the arts are a coupla the best ways to get through this.

 

Top Seven

Here are seven movie picks to help you battle stuck-at-home boredom. We popped some popcorn and watched (or re-watched) all of these within the last coupla weeks or so. Some are recent releases. Others are Golden Oldies.

 

If you’re stuck at home looking for something interesting to do that doesn’t involve counting, consider:

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9 “Green” Reads to Spruce Up Your St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Why Saint Patrick’s Day and why green? Well, many believe that Saint Patrick, foremost patron saint of Ireland, died on March 17. According to legend, Saint Patrick used the green shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. Others say wearing green makes you invisible to impish leprechauns so you don’t get pinched!

Well, again. Dyed-in-the-shamrock bibliophiles can join the holiday fun with a good book! Especially if it has green in the title.

Here are 9 “green” titled books to spruce up your Saint Patrick’s Day! And that’s no blarney! How many of these have you read?

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5 Ways to Leap Into an Un-Holiday (and Give ‘Feb’ The Heave-Ho)

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So, February’s finally winding down. Nothing personal, Feb. But What took ya so long?

Of course, this year we have one more day of February, the 29th.

Oh, joy.

Well. Let’s see the glass half-full instead of half-empty, shall we? Like. How can we celebrate Leap Day?

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Diary of a Writing Storm 

 

 

Ever notice how blogging can be like whistling in the wind? Swirling around in a raging storm? Just about the time you think you have a handle on your topic or audience, a huge cloudburst of doubt or writer’s block rolls in. Soaks you to the skin. And you’re not sure which end is up.

 

LOTS of It

That’s kind of what rural life on the Olympic Peninsula is like. Yep, it’s green. Outdoor opportunities abound. But the lush landscape, soaring evergreens, and feral beauty of western Washington come with a price: Rain.  Lots of it.

 

In fact,  in the largest temperate rain forest in the world, we measure rain in feet, not inches. Locals joke that the four seasons are:

 

  •  Raining
  •  Almost Raining
  •  Just Finished Raining
  •  Construction

 

Only tourists argue with that. Because by this time of year we’re starting to feel like Noah. Sunshine seems like a distant memory.

 

What’s a blogger and writer to do besides sprout gills and webbed feet, especially when hitting a writer’s block wall? Well, I dive in to an old favorite: Under the Tuscan Sun.

 

Incongruous?

Under the Tuscan Sun seems incongruous. But a favorite is a favorite, regardless of weather:

 

  • Two hundred and eighty pages redolent with France Mayes’ delicious descriptions of her restoration of an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside.
  • Incandescent, the text drips with the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy.

 

Because Under the Tuscan Sun is the kind of tome you tuck into a summer picnic basket. Or wrap yourself around during one of the wettest PNW winters on record.

 

 

Meanwhile, Back on the Peninsula

Diving into Tuscan Sun, I’m soon adrift in a sea of Italian terra cotta, palazzi, gelato, and padrones. Sun-soaked vineyards and Chianti.

 

 

What’s The Hurry?

I envy Frances Mayes and her villa’s fireplace, large enough to sit in. “I think most Italians have a longer sense of time than we do,” she writes. “What’s the hurry? Once up, a building will stand a long, long time, perhaps a thousand years. Two weeks, two months, big deal.”

 

A severe storm? Two hours, two days, two weeks, big deal.

 

I can’t quite wrap my head around that.

 

The wind howls like a banshee. Frogg-Toggged, I take Kimber the pup out, snatching a few minutes from the elements.  Frances and Ed Mayes try to decide on what to renovate/upgrade first – the leaky roof or central heating.

 

Stormaggedon?

By nightfall passing cars have switched their windshield wipers off. Somber prognostications of Stormaggedon seem far-fetched. Even if the wind is tossing buckets of rain from gray-cement skies.

 

Kick Writer’s Block to the Curb

Does your keyboard ever look like gray-cement? Is dredging up new blogging inspiration like trying to recover the Titanic?

 

When this happens – and it always does, sooner or later – take a blogging vacation. If you can’t swing a change in scenery physically, take a mental vacation. Stop trying so hard. Take a break from writing and disconnect:

 

  • Go for a walk
  • Play with your kids.
  • Eat a banana split
  • Take up line-dancing, a watercolor class, or wood carving.
  • Find a new author
  • Make a new friend
  • Change the oil in your car. Quit stressing about your next blog post or series. There’s something therapeutic and bracing about shifting gears, trying something novel, exploring new territory
  • Whatever it takes to replenish the well.

Rest to Recharge

A “rested” mind is a more creative mind. Some of my best ideas and creative bursts arrive after I’ve turned off the computer and gone “on vacation.”

 

How long should your writing vacation last? That’s up to you. But running on fumes isn’t doing you or your readers any favors. When you start feeling like writing is fun rather than a chore, or something to check off your To Do List, you’re on the right track.

 

Aftermath

Suddenly it’s Monday.  The storm has passed, subsiding to a soggy threat.

 

 

Kimber chomps her breakfast. The Etruscan wall necklacing Frances’ villa is rebuilt. The weed-choked cistern cleaned. The roof fixed. Aging interior polished to its former patina and newly planted herb gardens blooming, Frances’ restored villa gleams in the Tuscan sun.

 

Blue and gray, overhead skies here clash like troops at Gettysburg. But the worst, it seems, is over. The sun is elbowing flannel-gray clouds out of the way. Wait! Is that a patch of blue?

 

Well. I’ll be ‘et fer a tater if I don’t sense some writing inspiration on this rise…

 

 

How do to kick writer’s block to the curb?


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10+ Most Romantic Movies of all Time

What makes a great romantic story or movie? One that tugs at the heart strings over and over? Makes you laugh and cry, sigh and buy stock in Kleenex?

The Basics

“Most romantic movie” is highly subjective. (IMHO, Hollywood hasn’t cranked out much worth seeing in this category in decades.)

But basic elements include credible dialogue and a solid, poignant script. Three-dimensional characters who learn, grow and develop. Superlative acting. A story that typically goes like:

1) Boy meets girl

2) Boy loses girl

3) Boy finds girl again.

Boils Down To

In between are all sorts of obstacles, angst, turmoil and tumult. Misunderstandings. Heartbreak. Despair. Tragedy and triumph. But the essence of a great romantic movie boils down to:

Love Conquers All

Additionally, an element of selflessness and/or self-sacrifice should be evident in order to make the cut. (That’s why the truculent, self-absorbed characters of Titanic aren’t on this list.) With these basic criteria in mind, here’s my 100% subjective, totally unscientific list of:

The 10 Most Romantic Movies of All Time (in no particular order):

1. Casablanca – Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, 1942

World War II is raging. Rick Blaine, an exiled American and former freedom fighter, runs the most popular nightspot in Casablanca. Rick’s café has become a haven for refugees seeking to obtain illicit letters that will aid their escape to America.

One of these refugees is a Czechoslovak underground leader Victor Laszlo who’s on the run from the Nazis. When Laszlo suddenly shows up with his wife Ilsa, Rick’s former lover from Paris, the cynical café owner must make a heartbreaking decision.

Play it, Sam.

2. An Affair to Remember – Starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, 1957.

Handsome playboy Nickie Ferrante and beautiful night club singer Terry McKay meet aboard ship while sailing from Europe to New York. Despite being engaged to other people, they suddenly find themselves falling in love. They agree to meet on top of the Empire State Building in six months. But fate intervenes…

3. The Bridges of Madison County – Starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, 1995.

A National Geographic photographer on assignment in Iowa meets a lonely housewife.

While her husband and children are away at the State Fair in the summer of 1965, Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) happens to turn into the Johnson farm and asks Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) for directions. The next four days change their lives forever.

4. Out of Africa – Starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, 1985.

Looking for a better life in early 20th century Denmark, Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) enters into a marriage of convenience with a womanizing baron. But when the couple moves to Kenya to start a dairy farm, an unexpected adventure awaits Karen: she falls in love with an English safari hunter who can’t be tied down.

A stirring John Barry score.

5. Somewhere In Time – Starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, 1980.

A haunting love story that transcends time.

When a young playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) struggles with writer’s block, he heads to a hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island to clear his head. While there, he notices a photograph of a beautiful young woman hanging on a wall of the hotel’s Hall of History.

He later discovers that the young woman, Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), performed a play at the hotel some 60 years earlier… and he was there.

6. Sleepless in Seattle – Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, 1993.

A Baltimore reporter, Annie, tunes in to a talk radio show on her way to her engagement party on Christmas Eve. She hears a young boy, Noah, wishing his father, Sam, would find a new wife because his mother recently died.

Unable to forget Sam and Noah, Annie begins to look for something she didn’t know she was missing. Something like… magic.

7. Gone With the Wind – Starring Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard, 1939.

Based on the sweeping epic by Margaret Mitchell in which a manipulative Southern belle and a roguish blockade runner meet their match – in each other.

8. West Side Story – Starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Richard Beymer and George Chakiris, 1961

A modern, musical re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Set in New York City amid warring street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.

Jets member Tony (Richard Beymer) falls for Maria (Natalie Wood). She’s the sister of the Sharks leader, Bernardo (George Chakiris). Tensions simmer and boil over into a battle to the death and a heartbreaking finale.

Winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.

9. The Princess Bride – Starring Cary Elwes & Robin Wright, 1987

The beautiful Princess Buttercup and the dashing Westley must overcome incredible odds to find happiness amid six-fingered swordsmen, murderous princes, Sicilians and rodents of unusual size.

An enchanting love story that not even the Dread Pirate Roberts can sink. (Did you know the 1987 movie was based on a book?)

10. The Bodyguard – Starring Kevin Costner & Whitney Houston, 1992.

Former Secret Service agent Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner) takes a job as a bodyguard to protect a temperamental pop singer (Whitney Houston) who’s been receiving death threats. Lots of ruffled feathers ensue before Cupid’s arrows start hitting their marks.

11. I Can Only Imagine – J. Michael Finley & Dennis Quaid, 2018

Discover the untold story behind the beloved chart-topping song. No list of “love conquers all” movies would be complete without this one. A personal favorite.

Honorable Mention:

  1. Camelot – loosely based on the T.H. White Arthurian classic, The Once and Future King.
  2. Les Miserables – Based on the novel by Victor Hugo. (I am speaking of the 1995 dream cast musical version, not that God-awful 2012 Russell Crowe knock-off.)
  3. Dr. Zhivago – Based on the 1957 novel by Boris Pasternak.

Did your favorite make the cut? What would you add?