24 October 2016

Around The World In 80 Books | Update #11

I've just finished up another month of the Around the World in 80 Books challenge. The idea of the challenge is to read books set in 80 different countries, effectively exploring the world from the comfort of your armchair. Since my last update, I've read books set in five more countries – Botswana, Ethiopia, Egypt, Liberia and Romania.

That makes a total of 55 books since I started the challenge - only 25 more to go!

You can read more about the challenge here, as well as check out Update #1, Update #2, Update #3, Update #4, Update #5, Update #6, Update #7, Update #8, Update #9 and Update #10.


THE WOMAN WHO WALKED IN SUNSHINE by Alexander McCall Smith | Botswana

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine is the 16th in the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency mystery series set in Botswana. I've read a few of the books in the series before and always found them charming and cheerful. This one was no exception. The main character, Mma Precious Ramotswe, is a "traditionally built" lady who opened up the first female owned detective agency in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. In The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, Mma Ramotswe takes her first holiday ever, but instead of relaxing, ends up rescuing a troubled boy and getting drawn into a complicated case regarding a potential scandal involving a politician.

The books are fun and easy reads which provide insights into Botswanan culture and observations on everyday life, such as the time Mma Ramotswe decides to sort through her husband's clothes. I could definitely relate to what she experienced.

"There were several shirts that had lost buttons, and she suspected that lurking in his sock drawer were socks that had long since lost their partners and could be thrown away. Men, she thought, were odd about their clothes: they liked to wear the same things until they became defeated and threadbare. For this reason, it was up to wives and girlfriends to weed out the old and outdated. The men would complain, of course, but they did not care enough about clothes to make too much of a fuss, and if you replaced a favorite item with something new, they would very quickly forget about the whole matter."
You can find out more about The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine on Goodreads and pick up a copy on Amazon.

BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN by Elizabeth Wein | Ethiopia

Black Dove, White Raven is a young adult novel about two children, Emily and Teo, whose mothers flew a stunt plane together n the 1930s. A bird strike cause the plane to crash, killing Teo's mother, but sparing Emily's mother, Rhoda. Rhoda decides to take the children to Ethiopia where her now-adopted son, Teo, can be raised alongside her white daughter in a land where they won't face discrimination. At first things go well in their new land, but when war with Italy looms, both Emily and Teo get drawn into the conflict.

The book is fascinating not only for its exploration of themes involving aviation and friendship, but also for the depiction of Ethiopian culture including the Ethiopian Church which dates back to the first century.

"People get more dressed up for Timkat than for anything else in the whole year. The priests are in velvet and silk robes embroidered with gold, and tiered silver crowns that look like wedding cakes, and everybody yodels and shakes bells and beats drums, and there are musicians in white shammas with big red stripes around the hem. The priests from the village church, Beta Markos, carry their copies of the sacred tabot around town for everyone to admire (even though you can’t actually see it, because it’s all wrapped up in silk), and then they take it up to the St. Kristos Samra hermitage on Beehive Hill, because there is an extremely weedy pool cut in the rock there, which they use to re-enact Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River."

You can find out more about Black Dove, White Raven on Goodreads and pick up a copy on Amazon.

THE CURSE OF THE PHARAOHS by Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Mertz) | Egypt

The Curse of the Pharaohs is the second in the Amelia Peabody historical mystery series. It takes place during an archaeological excavation in the late 1800s at a tomb in the Valley of the Kings that Amelia Peabody's husband, Emerson, had been hired to lead. I was interested in reading The Curse of the Pharaohs for two reasons: (1) I've been to the Valley of the Kings and (2) Scott's an archaeologist and I thought it would be fun to read about early Egyptian excavations. Amelia Peabody is the kind of amateur detective I like - independent, feisty, intelligent and fearless. The book is written in the first person which I think works well as you really get to see things through her eyes as a woman in the Victorian era, as well as her sometimes sarcastic take on people and events.

"As our patient beasts plodded across the sand, I allowed Emerson to remain a few feet ahead, a position he much enjoys and seldom obtains. I could see by the arrogant set of his shoulders that he fancied himself in the role of gallant commander, leading his troops; and I saw no reason to point out that no man can possibly look impressive on donkey-back, particularly when his legs are so long he must hold them out at a forty-five-degree angle to keep his feet from dragging on the ground."

You can find out more about The Curse of the Pharaohs on Goodreads and pick up a copy on Amazon.

ECLIPSED by Danai Gurira | Liberia

One of the things I wanted to do as part of this challenge was to read things I wouldn't normally read. When I saw that Eclipsed was available at my library, I knew it would be perfect for this  challenge - not only did it tick Liberia off of the list, it was also a script for a play. I think the last time I read a play was in high school. Reading a play is so different than reading a novel. I found that I needed to read slowly and almost say the lines out loud to really get the full impact.

Eclipsed is a play set in 2003 during the Second Liberian Civil War. It focuses on five women - two who were kidnapped and forced to be the “wives” (aka sex slaves) of the Commanding Officer, a 15 year old girl who they try to protect from the Commanding Officer, a female soldier who tries to persuade the girl to join the army and an upper-class, well-educated member of the Liberian Women’s Initiative. Eclipsed was the first play with an all black and an all female creative cast and team to premiere on Broadway . The play highlights the atrocities that occurred during the civil war and the horrendous toll it took on women. In this passage, Helena describes how the Commanding Officer has cursed himself by killing mothers and children.

"HELENA: He saying de food it taste funny and he tink someone or some spirit trying to kill him. He put a curse on hisself. How God gonna bless a man when he killin moda an chile and stealin and chopping. Den he wonda why he scared of spirits. He want me to make more food and to put dis in it (She holds up a small pouch.) He really scare coz o de people comin."

You can find out more about Eclipsed in this New York Times article.

I AM FORBIDDEN by Anouk Markovits | Transylvania (Romania)

I am Forbidden opens in Transylvania (present-day Romania) in the late 1930s where a young Jewish boy, Josef, sees his family killed by the Romanian Iron Guard. His family's maid, a Christian, raises Josef as her own, hiding his Jewish faith so that he isn't a target of the Iron Guard. A few years later, Josef rescues Mila, a young Jewish girl whose parents were killed when they tried to escape Romania. Josef helps Mila find refuge with another Jewish family, where she is raised alongside their daughter, Atara, as Hasidic Jews in Paris. As they grow up, one of the girls chooses to marry within her faith, while the other one questions the restrictions placed on her and eventually leaves the Hasidic community.  

I am Forbidden was an interesting way to learn more about the persecution Jews faced in Romania, the traditions and beliefs of Hasidism and the consequences that can arise from the difficult choices people make when it comes to their religious beliefs. 

"Summer, a fence was erected behind the shrine, along the tracks skirting the horse meadow. On this side of the fence was Romania; on the other side was Hungary. One this side of the fence, men started to wear the armband of the Legion of the Archangel Michael, the Iron Guard."

You can find out more about I am Forbidden on Goodreads and pick up a copy on Amazon.


If you're participating in the challenge too, I'd love to hear what you've been reading. Even if you're not doing the challenge, let us know what books you've been enjoying lately.

COUNTRIES READ TO DATE: Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Djibouti, England, Estonia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Paraguay, Republic of Kiribati, Romania, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia,  Scotland, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United States, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

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21 October 2016

Things That Go Bump In The Night

After two sleepless nights, I was looking forward to a quiet, restful sleep. The first night I had been woken up at midnight due to a boat coming into the slip next to me, followed by a tree frog running loose inside my boat. The following night was when Hurricane Matthew was threatening to make landfall nearby. Sleep is pretty much impossible when you're waiting for massive destruction to take place.

After all of that drama, I tucked myself in bed early, read for a while and drifted off to sleep. I was having a really pleasant dream about kittens and unicorns frolicking in a meadow dotted with colorful wildflowers. It was a great dream. Then the kittens started hissing and scurrying for cover. The unicorns started panicking and making a screeching sort of neighing sound.

I looked around and saw the cause of their distress - a giant spacecraft with bright shining lights had just landed in the meadow and was about to abduct the kittens and unicorns and conduct all sorts of horrifying experiments. Did you ever wonder why you hardly see any unicorns around these days? Yes, that's right, the aliens rounded them up and took them back to perform in what passes for rodeo shows in their galaxy.

Suddenly, I realized I wasn't dreaming. I woke up to see bright lights shining through the windows in my aft cabin. Now I was starting to panic. The aliens weren't coming for the kittens and unicorns. They were coming for me!

I quickly opened the companionway and looked out just in time to see a car crash into the power pedestal right next to my boat.

And by right next to my boat, I mean right <<insert naughty word of your choice here>> next to my boat.

Here, let me show you what I mean.

I screamed some very naughty words at this point.

A man got out of the car and seemed totally unfazed by what had happened. I asked him if he was all right. He said he was fine, but the way he was moving and talking made me think that perhaps he wasn't fine and shouldn't be driving. I couldn't be sure if he was drunk or on drugs and I got a really bad feeling about things.

He moved very slowly to inspect his car and asked me if I wanted to come check things out. I declined. The last thing I wanted to do was get close to this nutter-butter, so I stayed on my boat.

I asked him what he was doing down by my boat and he told me he was lost and trying to find his way out. This was weird on so many levels.

There's a grassy area near my boat that has a little workshop area. Cars sometimes park there when they're unloading stuff. It's also a good place to lay out your sails. There's a track which goes up to the point overlooking the canal. Normally, it would be pretty straightforward to drive your car there.

But these weren't normal times. There were boats stored on the hard in the parking lot in preparation for Hurricane Matthew which made it difficult to see that you could drive into there. There was also a lot of equipment and wood blocks near the grassy area which created a bit of an obstacle course to drive through. Somehow, this guy managed it.

I suggested that he contact the marina in the morning in case there was any damage. He told me that he wasn't worried as his fender was indestructible. Not exactly what I meant. Then he drove off.

Somehow, I had the presence of mind to memorize his license plate number. Which is truly astonishing as I can barely remember my cell phone number. I went back down below, noted the time (2:45 AM), wrote down the license plate number, tried to calm down and was trying to decide what to do when I saw more lights.

Great. The lunatic was back. I grabbed my phone so I could call 911 when I noticed that it was one of the sheriff's deputies on routine patrol. Phew! I waved him over, told him what happened and gave him the license plate number.

The next day, I told the marina staff what happened and they came down to check out the damage. I later heard through the grapevine that there had been some guy who got really drunk at the bar that night and was picked up by the sheriff's deputy after his escapade at the marina.

I used to complain about the turtles who always bang against the hull of my boat during the night, but I'll take their little bumps in the night anytime over someone almost crashing into my boat.

Have you ever had someone nearly crash into you or your home? What would you have done in this situation?

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19 October 2016

Wordless Wednesday | Paul Bunyan


Wordless Wednesday is supposed to be about posting a photo(s) without any words. But, I'm a rule breaker, so here are a few words:

1 - I used to love reading about Paul Bunyan when I was a child. I especially loved the descriptions of the gigantic flapjacks he ate for breakfast.

2 - In the States, flapjacks are pancakes. In Scotland, they're these delicious bar cookies made with oats and golden syrup. 

3 - When I lived in Scotland I used to buy tubs of flapjack mini-bites at Marks & Spencer. It was hard not to eat them all in one sitting.  

4 - I wonder what happened to Paul's feet in the second photo?

What words does this picture bring to your mind when you look at it?

For more Wordless Wednesday fun, click here

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17 October 2016

Hurricane Matthew Prep & An Annoying Tree Frog

One of the things you do when you live on a boat in southern Florida is to check out the National Hurricane Center forecast on a regular basis. I'd been keeping my eye on Matthew ever since he was a wee baby in the Atlantic Ocean. At first he seemed like a sweet, little boy. Maybe a little fussy, but nothing too serious Then he grew up, turned into a monster and started making his way up through the Caribbean and Bahamas with his sights set on the east coast of the States.

It became clear as the days went by that we were in the cone. Unfortunately, this isn't the kind of cone that's filled with chocolate ice cream. This is the kind of cone that's chock full of nastiness which can leave devastating destruction and loss of life in its path.

Indiantown Marina, where I live on our Moody 346 sailboat, Tickety Boo, is considered to be a hurricane hole. It lies in a protected area inland about halfway between Stuart and Lake Okeechobee. Because the marina is situated off of the St Lucie Canal behind a lock, it's protected from storm surge. If you've seen the pictures of the flooding that Matthew has caused or pictures of boats washed up on shore, you'll know how devastating storm surge can be.

In the days leading up to Hurricane Matthew's arrival, boats started heading into the marina from the coast to hide out. Many of the boats, especially the super expensive ones, are members of the Hurricane Club. For an annual fee of $250, they get priority when it comes to being hauled out in the event of a hurricane. (They still have to pay the standard haul out and storage fees on top of the Hurricane Club membership fee.) The parking lot basically became a boat storage yard. Even if I had wanted to get hauled out, I wouldn't have been able to as so many Hurricane Club boats made their way to Indiantown.

While the ladies in the office and the Travelift crew were working overtime to get everyone situated, I was busy prepping Tickety Boo for the hurricane. While we would be protected from storm surge here, the winds were forecast to be brutal. This meant I needed to remove as much windage from the boat as possible (i.e., anything the wind could grab a hold of) and making sure she was securely tied up in her slip.

Fortunately, the sails and anchors had already been stored away, so my focus was on doubling up my lines where possible, adding fancy chafe protection in the form of duct-taped towels to the lines, getting everything out of the cockpit, taking down my American flag and removing the sun shade and canvas.
Everything went smoothly until I tried to take down the canvas. The term "canvas" is shorthand for the dodger, bimini and connector piece which provide cover over a boat's cockpit. Here's what ours looks like on Tickety Boo. The previous owners had it made in Grenada and it's in relatively good shape. Or so I thought.

When I went to unzip the dodger from the bimini, I found that the zippers were seized up and I couldn't get then to budge. I was starting to have a minor meltdown when my friends Matt and Jessica popped by to check in. Perfect timing! Matt is a life saver. He dismantled the frame and we managed to fold and tie down the dodger and bimini. Not an ideal solution, but the best that could be done in the time we had to get ready for Matthew.

In the process, I ended up ripping part of the canvas off of a track while we were taking it off and some of the snaps broke. I needed to do some repair to the canvas anyway, so once I can get the zippers off (thanks to everyone for the great tips on how to do this on our Facebook page), I'll start in on this sewing project on my Sailrite.

Once Tickety Boo was all squared away, I made sure that I had enough food to last me for days in case we lost power. I also filled up my tanks and jerry cans so that I would have drinking and  washing-up water.

After I was as set as I could be, I joined Matt and Jessica on the patio to chill out with a beer or two while we waited for our friends, Michele and Bruce, to make their way from Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart to Indiantown. While we were there, Matt and Jessica made a video on their hurricane prep for their new You Tube channel.

After Michele and Bruce got situated, we all went out for a "last supper" at the local Guatemalan/Mexican restaurant. We savored every bite, not knowing if it might be our last hot meal for awhile. I tried to get to sleep early knowing that I would probably be up all of the following night with the hurricane.

At one point, I started dreaming that my boat had been boarded by pirates in search of treasure. After a while, I realized it wasn't a dream. People were actually on my boat. I dashed up top to find a boat trying to get into the slip next to me in the middle of the night.

We had been told that two boats would be coming into the two empty slips next to me, but when they didn't show up that night, all of the nearby boats tied off to the piling between the slips. When a hurricane is coming, the more lines you can have securing your boat, creating a sort of spider web,  the better. You can see the piling in this picture, along with a very expensive fishing boat in the slip across the way.

Because we had lines blocking off the slip the boat was trying to get into, someone had boarded my boat to release it. I joined in the midnight fun and we all pitched in and ended up getting the boat settled into her slip. I'm amazed that this guy was able to maneuver into the slip without hitting me or the fishing boat.

I trundled back to bed, desperate to get some shut-eye. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, I started to hear noises. Not the usual noise of the turtles banging against my hull, but a strange noise inside the main cabin. I searched and searched and searched to try to figure out what it was, but no luck. As I tried to fall back asleep, I heard it again, right next to me. I turned on the light and there was the culprit - a tree frog. I guess he was just trying to find a safe place to hide out from the hurricane too. Eventually, I managed to trap him and escort him outside. By this time the sun was coming up and Matthew was heading our way that evening. Oh well, sleep is overrated.

That morning, I did a few last minute things like remove the portable A/C unit, unplug from shore power, turn off the fridge and wait. Waiting is the worst part. We've been through some serious weather on our boat in New Zealand, like ex-cyclone Lusi and ex-cyclone June, but this had the potential to be much worse.

Thanks goodness for books. I read and snacked all day and waited. Then I read and snacked some more in the evening and waited. I would turn on my cell phone every couple of hours to get the latest track from the National Hurricane Center and the wind forecast and wait some more.

While I was waiting, one of the things I fretted about was that the boats parked directly behind my boat would come tumbling down and smash into Tickety Boo.

Turns out I waited for nothing. We ended up being incredibly fortunate in our neck of the woods. Hurricane Matthew tracked eastwards over the water and didn't make landfall near Stuart/West Palm as we had feared. We had some gusty winds, but nothing too serious. Sadly, that wasn't the case for so many people elsewhere.

Everyone got up the next morning, had a walk about to check things out and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I spent the day chilling out and counting my blessings.

What do you do to distract yourself when you're nervously waiting for something to happen? Have you ever experienced a hurricane or other scary weather event?

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14 October 2016

Asking People To Critique Your Writing | Critique Circle

Do you remember that scary button I pressed a few weeks ago asking complete strangers to critique a short story I wrote?

There are a number of online critique groups such as Critters Workshop and Writing.Com. The one I tried out was Critique Circle. I broke out into a cold sweat when I pressed the submit button, but it turns out the experience wasn't that scary after all.

Critique Circle operates on a credit system. For every critique you do of other people's stories, you earn credits. If you want to submit one of your own stories for critique, you have to pay a certain amount of credits. Your story is live in the critique queue for a week. After that it's archived where people can continue to critique it for a reduced amount of credits.

As a new member, you can jump the waiting line and submit your story directly into the newbie queue. However, you can only get a maximum of five critiques. People that post in other queues get an unlimited number of critiques. To be honest, five critiques sounded like plenty to me. Although, for a while, I wasn't sure if five people were actually going to critique my story. Turns out everyone else is pressure prompted like me and did their critiques at the last minute.

The critiques I received were extremely helpful and supportive with lots of useful feedback from catching typos, pointing out my overuse of adverbs, highlighting areas that were confusing, making suggestions about modifying or removing scenes, bolstering my confidence by telling me the premise of my story was intriguing etc. I suspect folks probably go easier on new members.

The system is really user friendly from posting your story to reviewing your critiques. I was able to print all of my critiques together, inline with the text, so that I could compare what different people picked up on in different parts of my story.

After making a number of changes based upon the feedback of these kind strangers, I then decided to press yet another scary button and send my short story to some wonderful bloggy friends who offered to act as beta readers. (Beta readers are essentially non-professionals who "test drive" your manuscript.)

Perhaps I'll do another post at some point on the beta reader process and the guidelines I put together. If that would be of interest to folks, let me know in the comments. In the meantime, let me do a shout-out to those lovely ladies - Liesbet from Roaming About, Melissa from Little Cunning Plan and Lucy from The Larks of Independence. Thank you so much - your feedback was so helpful!

Now the big question is do I push an even scarier button and submit my story to the Insecure Writer's Support Group anthology contest once I've revised it yet again?

Have you ever entered a contest? Did you win anything? If so, what was it?

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12 October 2016

Wordless Wednesday | Boats & Hurricane Matthew

Wordless Wednesday is supposed to be about posting a photo(s) without any words. But, I'm a rule breaker, so here are a few words:

1 - After Hurricane Matthew, a number of people contacted me to check up on their boats that are in storage at Indiantown Marina. It must be so worrying to wonder if your boat is going to survive a hurricane when you're miles away. All the boats here seem to be fine. Unfortunately, that's not the case for people who have boats elsewhere.

2 - I thought I'd share some of the pictures I took because pictures of boats are fun! Boats come in all shapes, sizes and colors, just like people.

3 - I can't figure out why some of the boats in storage hardly seem to have any mold and mildew on the outside while mine seems to be covered in the stuff just a few days after I wash it.

What words do these pictures bring to your mind when you look at it?

For more Wordless Wednesday fun, click here

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10 October 2016

Moms Are Swell & Hurricane Matthew Update

For those of you who don't follow us on Facebook, I thought I would do a quick Hurricane Matthew update here to let you know that all is well at Indiantown Marina. We were lucky that Matthew tracked further east than forecast and didn't make landfall near the West Palm Beach/Stuart area which would have impacted us in Indiantown. We really dodged a bullet. I'll do a full update on Friday about hurricane prep for our boat and how it all went during the storm. Probably the worst thing that happened involved a tree frog. Tune back in on Friday to find out more.


My mom is swell. I bet your mom is (was) too.

That’s a picture of my mom holding me not long after she gave birth to me. I can’t believe she got into that tiny dress so soon after childbirth. She told me that she traded in her two-seater sports car for the VW Bug you see in the picture so that she’d have room to cart me around. I guess VW Bugs were the 60s answer to today’s soccer moms’ minivans.

My mom has a milestone birthday this week and I’m not there to celebrate with her so I thought I would dedicate today’s blog post to sharing just a few of the reasons why she's so swell.

  • She taught me the difference between asking, “Can I have a cookie?” and “May I have a cookie?” The answer to both questions is yes, but only the second one will land you with an actual cookie. It has to do with ability (being able to open the cookie jar and grab a cookie) vs. permission (making sure your mom will let you have another cookie so close to supper time). I think if she were ever to get a tattoo, it would be of the Oxford comma.

  • She instilled a love of reading in me. My sister and I were encouraged to read anything and everything and outings to the library were a regular occurrence growing up.

  • Although she’s allergic to eggs, she would still make scrambled eggs for us despite the fact that her eyes would swell up and get itchy from the egg fumes coming up from the pan. On a related note, she’s never had a chocolate chip cookie in her entire life due to the whole egg allergy thing. Wow. I can’t quite imagine life without cookies. Can you?

  • She ignored the fact that we fed the cat vegetables under the table. That cat would even eat lima beans which was a good thing because lima beans are disgusting. Hmm. Maybe she never knew about the whole lima bean eating cat thing. Oops. I guess she does now.

  • She put up with me during my teenage years. Honestly, how do parents survive teenage girls? 

  • She taught me to be independent and self-confident. She instilled important values in me including valuing diversity, standing up to intolerance and social responsibility for those who are less fortunate.

  • She's got a great sense of humor.  

  •  She supports me in anything I want to do, even crazy things like live on a sailboat.

What's your favorite memory growing up? Did you have swell mom or other swell female figure who was there for you when you were growing up? What made her swell?

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