What’s In a Name? Ask King Tut.

Once upon a time there lived a young girl who was obsessed with Ancient Egypt. She read any book about it she could get her hands on. She dressed as an Egyptian Queen for Halloween. Hieroglyphics mesmerized her, and she even learned how to write her name in them. The lives of pharaohs, and especially their mummy tombs filled with treasures, captured her imagination. She especially marveled at pictures of King Tut and his many treasures. While flipping through these photos, she dreamed of seeing them with her own eyes someday. 

Twenty years later (or so…), this young girl had developed a deep passion for history. Egypt didn’t hold center stage anymore, but the enchantment of this ancient culture never left her. And, she has now seen with her own eyes some of the magnificent treasures from those books. She didn’t have to go far either, thanks to the King Tut exhibit at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. 

Curators displayed the exhibit there for a few months in 2018, and it didn’t disappoint. Three or four rooms were packed with treasures found in the boy-king’s tomb. Items that looked brand new, despite being thousands of years old. The gold still sparkled on the many statues and figurines. Clay scarabs had red and blue colors that looked like they were just applied yesterday. We saw golden chests, hand-carved chairs, and stunning pieces of jewelry. 

Beholding all that in person was a dream come true. And as it turns out, I played a part in something way bigger than that. In reading those books as a little girl, and seeing that exhibit as an adult, I helped saved an almost-forgotten pharaoh’s life. Because in Ancient Egyptian culture, something as simple as saying a name holds a lot of power.

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Hello everyone!  As promised, here is the final segment of Part I of my Poem epic – the conclusion to the WWII part of the series (which is brought to you with some mild confusion on the new block editor … so apologies if it doesn’t look the same!) I hope you have enjoyed this first part!  Next year, the epic will return with Part II which covers the First World War.  I will look forward to seeing you then.    

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I won’t lie to you guys. I’m one of those people who goes a little crazy on Christmas. The pumpkins from Halloween are barely soft before Christmas decorations go up. We wrap the stair banister in holly and garland, lights adorn our kitchen window, and unwitting cats find themselves in various Christmas outfits. I enjoy all of the decorating, but the Christmas Tree holds an extra-special place in my heart.

I just love sitting in the glow of a Christmas Tree, and one of my favorite holiday ventures is picking out new ornaments. I feel giddy when stores cram their shelves with colorful balls, fun shapes, and sparkling tree trim. We already have plenty in our own ornament stash (because I have little control at Christmas), but we add to it every year in one of our own traditions. Each Christmas, my husband and I get each other an ornament that marks something special about that year. In addition to that, I splurge on at least one new box of regular ornaments. Last year, I found myself some Shiny Brites (click here to read all about it). This year took me in a slightly different direction.

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The first thing we saw at Talbot House was the garden. It was spacious and green, with beautiful flowering shrubs all over the grassy lawn. Butterflies flitted everywhere. It felt like a haven, and I let out a nice exhale.  In my first five minutes there, I saw why so many soldiers from the Great War and the nearby Ypres Salient found peace at Talbot House. As Sgt. Jacob Bennett of the Scots Guards wrote of his own visit – “In April 1916 I spent two happy days at Talbot House, and in that Garden, where all was Peace in the midst of war.”

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When I first began research for my historical fiction novel about World War II, I wanted to include a scene that dealt with the bombs.  I collected many materials – first-hand accounts, histories, etc. and got to work.  It would be a very emotional experience for me, much more so than I expected.  Stories from survivors about these two attacks left me devastated and disturbed.  I could barely handle the accounts of it, I truly cannot even imagine having gone through it in person.  My heart cracked so deeply that I had to stop the research, and my plans to include the bomb in my narrative were scrapped.  Because even as a writer, I could not find the right words for this event.  All I managed to eek out was this poem.  I think it’s important that we always remember these events – for they should never… EVER… be repeated.

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A Delicious History of Candy Corn

20181009_154406Well, it’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing, the nights are cooler, Halloween beckons, and every store is stocked with candy corn. It’s my favorite time of the year, and all that candy corn is a big reason why. Candy corn has been one of my favorites since childhood. Perhaps because I grew up in Iowa, and we love corn in all its many varieties there. Or maybe it’s because those colors are so pretty to look at. Or maybe it’s just that good (but I know a lot of people would disagree with me there – it seems to be a love it or hate it kind of candy).

I love candy corn so much that one year I contemplated trying to make my own, but after seeing the complexities involved, I decided I shouldn’t attempt something like that in the kitchen. Besides, I don’t know exactly what accidents our renter’s insurance covers. So, I won’t be sharing a personal candy corn recipe anytime soon. But I am good at sharing the history – so I dug into the roots of this iconic candy to find out how it came to rule the drug stores every autumn.

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Boy we’re moving fast through the first part of three for my poem epic.  Part I is split into seven segments and covers various angles of WWII.  Here for you is Segment 5 about the Battle of Iwo Jima and the flag raising atop Mt. Suribachi, a moment that I always find moving when I read about it.  Just think, two whole other parts (also each containing seven poems) to go!  Thanks so much to all of you for sticking with it thus far and I hope it continues to move you!

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If you ask me, the whole thing started off on the wrong foot. We had intended to beat the heat with an early start, but typical travel snares in a foreign country got in the way. By the time we arrived in the small town of Vossenack just inside the German border, it already pushed the lunch hour. The sun walloped on us without mercy. We walked through the quiet streets in search of the trail head. And we noticed not a single building older than 1950.  An ominous sign…

We had come to this tiny town for the Kall Trail – a winding foot path leading us through the formidable Hurtgen Forest. The map described the trail as “strenuous,” but we didn’t bat an eye. My husband and I are both very avid, experienced hikers. So, even though the heat pressed in, and we only had one small bottle of water, we threw the dice. We started down the Kall Trail and entered “the Green Hell.”

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We weren’t the first Americans to give that trail a whirl. In September of 1944, multiple divisions of the United States Army moved into the woods to secure the nearby town of Schmidt and capture the Roer River Dams. They also wanted to keep the Germans busy while other American troops attacked at Aachen near the Siegfried Line. Command predicted it would be a quick mission that would last a few weeks. Instead, it became the longest battle fought on German soil during World War II.

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It was a hot afternoon in the small town of Ypres, Belgium. My husband and I had spent the whole day running around the surrounding countryside and visiting World War I battle sites.  The First World War devastated Ypres and nearby Flanders Fields. It smashed the town itself to pieces, ripped the ground up for miles, and packed the soil with hundreds of thousands of dead. One hundred years later, the scars still remain.

We walked through a good many graveyards filled with seas of white stones. About one in five actually had names on them. The rest carried the tragic words, “known unto God.”  We stood inside the Menin Gate, a huge memorial covered with over 60,000 names of missing soldiers from Flanders Fields. We hiked through fields and woods that still bore remnants of the trenches and shell craters. Some bunkers were still there, including the bunkers where a broken-hearted Canadian doctor penned one of the most famous poems in military history, “In Flanders Fields.”  His words captured the horrors of war so well that a century later, the poppy is still associated with this terrible conflict and all the lives it stole from us. Indeed, it had been a heart-wrenching, albeit powerful, day.

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Well, we’re home. The adventure is over. It was so amazing that I’m still processing a lot of it. I saw places with my own eyes that I’ve read about and written about for over a decade. I ran my fingers through the sand at Omaha Beach and Sword Beach. I wove through a real trench from the WWI Ypres Salient that was once surrounded by shell craters and mud, but is now surrounded by a bustling, modern-day city. I stood on 100-year-old battlefields that still bore scars I could both see with my eyes and feel with my heart. I navigated the chilled caves of Fort Douaumont where French soldiers withstood unimaginable bombardments and lost thousands of soldiers in the First World War. I stood at the mole on Dunkirk Beach, once mobbed by 330,000 desperate soldiers trying to cross the English channel. I walked through beautiful cities across Europe and heard their bell towers chime. I stood atop the highest peak in Germany, and I also beheld the gorgeous summit of Switzerland’s Titlis Mountain. I took a picture on the same stairs where the Von Trapp children learned Do-Re-Mi. I walked down the vast aisles of churches that were hundreds of years old and heard their massive pipe organs echo. I met and spoke with people from all over the world, some of them I even stumbled my way through in French or German. I walked across Pegasus Bridge both the original and the new. I stood in graveyards that had seas of stones and wept for people I never knew but somehow feel so connected with despite the years of time between us. I saw way too many graves marked with the words “Known Unto God.” I hiked through the heat but also froze in the snow. I ate so much Belgian chocolate I got sick to my stomach, and I also had no regrets. I paid homage to a dearly departed friend by finding the tiny town in Belgium where he fought in WWII. I stepped up in ways I didn’t know I could at times, and crumbled with exhaustion at other times. Then, I sat bedraggled and frustrated for two days at an airport terminal in London and could only think of one thing. Home. I learned so much about the world and myself, and I cannot wait for the next big adventure.    Read More