Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How I Spent My September Vacation

I promised more pics of my recent trip to the English countryside, but got sidetracked with personal matters, including the passing of my elderly Siamese cat.  Maddie almost made it to the ripe old age of 20, but decided to take a well-earned rest instead.  RIP, Maddie girl.

Our first day in England was spent with friends, Anna and Keith Sugden, who were kind enough to pick us up at Gatwick airport, and whisked us off to their home in the village of Great Shelford, on the outskirts of Cambridge.  Here we were introduced to the slower, calmer pace of life in an English town. Tidy little homes and colorful, overflowing gardens; a semi-communal vegetable garden where the locals zealously tend their assigned plots, lots of walkers, runners, bikers, and its own charming pub. 

The next morning we drove from Cambridge to the tiny seaside town of Aldeburgh, overlooking the North Sea.  It was cold and brisk, covered with smooth stones that would one day be but tiny grains of sand. When we got too cold we wandered up to the very quaint and charmingly tiny High Street, where I had my first taste of fish and chips, made with fish caught fresh that morning.  Then it was back to Great Shelford, with a stop for tea and a visit to an absolutely beautiful church in the village of Whittlesford. Some of my favorite pictures of the trip were of the graveyard, but the memory chip containing those pictures seems to have been lost. (Waaah!)

The following day was all about Cambridge, which we explored both in our rental car and on foot.  A busy, bustling college town filled with incredibly impressive buildings dating to the fifth century, narrow cobblestone lanes, and lush, carefully tended grounds and gardens. (Those pictures were lost, too.  (Double waah!!)

Then we got in our rental car and went gallivanting off to the rural region of England known as the Cotswalds.  We spent the next three days relaxing at The Swan (shown on right), a gorgeous old inn that was once a 17th century coaching inn, on the banks of the River Coln.  And yes, there were swans at the Swan.  :-)

We hiked, visited a trout farm, stuffed ourselves with scones, tea and sandwiches, explored the countryside, and wound up in the absolutely charming little village of Cirencester, where we visited the beautiful St. John the Baptist Church, the Corinium Museum (Cirencester was the "Roman capital" of England during the 1st through 3rd centuries, complete with a working amphitheatre).  Parts of the ancient Roman wall surrounding the town still stand.

After a few days of this, it was back to our friend's home in Great Shelford, where we undertook the grand adventure of a train ride from Cambridge to London.

On a typically rainy English day, we arrived at St. Pancras station and walked across London, past red double decker buses and black cabs and perfectly groomed green squares and gardens, to the amazingly awesome British Library. 

There we saw original works by Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Lewis Carroll, viewed incredibly detailed and colorful illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages, and even saw the original Magna Carta.  Being a big fan of HBO's series, The Tudors, I think my favorite thing was seeing the well-worn prayer roll of King Henry the VIII, which he handled every single morning while doing his devotionals.  After chopping off a couple of his wive's heads, he obviously felt the need for a lot of prayer.  :-)

From there it was on to the much celebrated (and rightly so!) British Museum, where we saw mummies, artifacts and historical treasures spanning well over two thousand years worth of history. 

Here I am examining the remains of a man buried in a peat bog during the Iron Age. (Fascinating! That man had a story to tell, and the author in me would love to write it!) The mummies were pretty amazing as well, and so were the bits of gold, silver, pottery and sculpture left behind by Greeks, the Romans, the Vikings, the Celts, the Mesopotamians and the Etruscans, and various other ancient civilizations (too many to see in one day!)

The best part of the trip, though, was the company.  I got to spend time with my dear friend Anna (here we are soaking up some literary vibes in London):

And these two handsome blokes, who for some reason, followed us everywhere :-):

All in all, a truly wonderful time, some great memories, and worth those incredibly long 9 hour flights both ways.  Still recovering from the jet lag, though!  It was a long-awaited and much enjoyed vacation, but now it's time to get back to the real world... Book #2 in the Devil's Bargain series isn't finished yet, and Halloween is coming up!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

God Save The Queen, and Pass Me A Biscuit

I just flew in from London, and boy, are my arms tired.

(Aw, c'mon... so I felt the need for some corny American humor! The British version is very dry and often hard to understand!)

The reality is that I just got back from 10 beautiful, wonderful days on a pleasure trip to England. I was soothed by the beauty of the countryside, and amazed by the industrial bustle of cities like London and Cambridge.  I was awed by the history of it's cathedrals, cemeteries and museums, impressed by the order and the architecture, and happy to be coddled by afternoon tea.  I enjoyed the company of old friends, and was very pleased to make the acquaintance of new ones.  I ate far too much and slept far too little, and read a total of five different novels while traveling or just lazing about.

It was glorious, and as soon as I've got myself all sorted out, I'll post pictures.  :-)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Zombies: They're Not Just For Halloween Anymore

Zombies. They're everywhere these days, aren't they? From PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES to this annual "Thrill the World" event, where people all over the globe dress in zombie costumes and dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller", in an annual attempt to break the Guinness World Record for "largest simultaneous Thriller dance":

23,000 people danced last year, all while dressed as rotting, slavering, spastic dead people. (Looks like fun, but I don't really get the rotting, slavering part, because I am a big scaredy-cat weenie, and people who look like they want to eat my brains freak me out.) :-)

The modern day conception of zombies usually involves either some kind of deadly virus, or a post-apocalyptic disaster involving radiation (who hasn't seen 28 Days Later--great zombie movie!) but did you know that the true origin of the zombie mythos lies not with science, but with voodoo?

While I was writing my first novel, DEAD GIRLS ARE EASY, I did a lot of research into the exact nature of the whole 'Night of the Living Dead' thing. Voodoo priests and priestesses (called houngans, or mambos) could supposedly re-animate the dead by forcing a a living person's spirit to enter a dead body. The reanimated body was called the cheval, or the "horse", as it was merely a vessel for the soul to "ride" as long as it remained in the physical world. The person whose soul had been stolen would then become a zombie of a sort as well, a mere shell of who they'd been before, susceptible to the will of the priest or priestess. Two zombies for the price of one: a dead, rotting re-animated corpse, and a healthy, soul-less slave to evil. Scary, huh? :-)

For the record, I don’t believe that corpses can be re-animated. But I do believe the spirit is eternal, and I do believe evil exists, so the concept of creating zombies through some kind of soul transfer makes a weird kind of sense, doesn't it?

Aw, c'mon... it's just as valid a concept as viruses or radiation!

Zombies. They're the new black, and they're not just for Halloween anymore.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Freedom Playground - Where Kids Are Free to Be

I am so proud of my friend Stefani Busansky that I just had to share this video clip with you (at right are Stefani's two children, Claire and Sarah).  Sarah (11), who is bright and sweet and very funny, was born with cerebral palsy. Stefani, like most moms, wanted nothing more than to see her laugh and play and be a kid, despite her mobility limitations.

So Stefani, instead of complaining about it, DID something about it, and founded the non-profit Freedom Playground Foundation, single-handedly raising $500,000 toward a brand-new "barrier-free" children's playground. That money was then matched by the city, and Freedom Playground was officially opened to the public two years ago. Stefani's fund-raising efforts didn't stop there, though, as she now works full time spawning an entire series of all-access playgrounds throughout the city.

This month, on behalf of LaVoy Exceptional Center, a public school that provides educational and life skills programs for students with disabilities, Stefani and Sarah will travel 1900 miles from Tampa to Minnesota in a fundraising "Wheel-A-Thon" to raise funds for a sensory garden and natural play area at LaVoy.

Since the trip will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities act, Stefani and Sarah will be visiting hotels, restaurants, attractions and recreational areas and reporting on accessibility—the good and the bad—on Facebook and Twitter.

They had a big kick-off party this morning at the playground, complete with pancakes, comedians and lots of laughing, smiling kids.  I'd never ask anyone to donate for anything I don't believe in with my whole heart, but if you'd like to help a few more kids laugh, consider making a donation yourself, by clicking on THIS LINK, or go visit the Freedom Playground Foundation for more info.

Thanks, and have a great Labor Day weekend!!