My husband and I finally put up some decorations for Halloween today. We didn’t do much in our rental house last year, so this year we decided to put in a little more effort.
But first, we had to get some decorations. We didn’t have much to begin with, and left most of it in Wisconsin when we moved last year. So the other day, I was in a hobby store looking at their choices and trying to decide what to get. It was harder than you might think. My granddaughters are only 1 and 3 years old, so while I wanted something fun, I didn’t want anything too scary. I don’t want to be responsible for traumatizing my own granddaughters!
We settled on a few friendly-looking ghosts and a scarecrow. My husband also got a string of pumpkin lights, but we are hoping the store might have another string to purchase. One just doesn’t look like enough. However, as I write this, I am realizing one thing we are still missing. Real pumpkins! Is it even officially Halloween if we don’t have a jack-o-lantern? We better get a few, just to be on the safe side.
Though after reading an online article this morning, I am glad we didn’t purchase any fake spider webs. I learned that each October, there is an increase in birds with damaged wings or claws after getting tangled in the fake webs people use to decorate their front lawns. Small animals such as chipmunks can also get caught in them if the webs are low to the ground. Even deer can get their antlers tangles in webs, light strings, etc., so given the number of deer in our neighborhood, I am glad our one string of pumpkin lights is up high near the edge of the porch roof.
I guess we have a couple weeks to complete our decorating. Our granddaughters are coming over this weekend, so they may have some input for us. Though, if the 3-year-old tells us we should have some skunks (she recently decided they are her favorite animals, after petting some baby skunks at a wildlife exhibit) I will definitely have to draw the line. No skunks -- that would traumatize me!
Have fun with your own Halloween decorating. And don’t forget to buy candy for the little trick-or-treaters. Our neighbor warned us he usually gets two big bags of candy (though he did admit some of it is for him.) Happy Halloween, and if you have any ideas for appropriate decorations for small children, I’d like to hear them.
In the course of writing my current novel, which takes place shortly after the start of Prohibition, I came across some fun and surprising facts about that time period. (The 18th Amendment took effect on January 1, 1920 and was repealed in 1933.)
Below are ten pieces of Prohibition trivia you can use to astound and amaze your friends:
I am taking a departure from talking about writing romances or my personal life this week. The last few days haven’t been a lot of fun (dealing with insurance, and I think my computer is about to die) so I decided this week’s blog should make up for that.
Have you ever heard of Fat Bear Week? I hadn’t either. But as I just learned, Katmai National Park in Alaska runs an annual online contest every October for people to vote on their favorite fat brown bear. This time of year, the brown bears in Alaska are shoveling in food and bulking up to prepare for up to six months of hibernation. They eat up to 90 pounds of food a day, and end up with huge bellies full of fat which they’ll live while in their dens over the long winter. (This is one instance when being the fattest is a good thing, because it indicates good health – for a bear – and a better chance of survival.)
The contest started yesterday, and the first round of eliminations is nearly complete, so get your votes in now!
Here is a link to a press release from the National Park Service with more information:
And here is a link to the voting on Facebook:
If you want to choose based on more than just a name, you can even watch the parks bear cams to help you decide. The winner of “Fattest Bear 2019” will be announced on Tuesday, October 8th.
I freely admit this is a bit of a departure from my more typical blog topics, but I will also freely admit that for those of us who have had a long week, this might be just the sort of fun diversion we need, at least for a few minutes. So get your vote in. Somewhere in Alaska, a brown bear is waiting to be crowned.
I have been reminded lately of the fleeting nature of time. The seasons march on, we see a stranger when we look in the mirror, and those children we remember from years ago are now sending their own babies off to school.
I experienced all of this in one way or another recently. The weather has been an obvious sign. In what seems like an overnight switch, we have gone from 90s and sweltering to 70s and fall-like weather. I usually enjoy this type of weather (September might be my favorite month of the year) but I don’t think I’m ready for summer to be over. I’m certainly not ready to see Halloween candy and decorations in the stores. And speaking of Halloween candy – how much will we need this year? This will be our first October in our new house, so we have no idea how much to buy. I guess we better not let too much more time pass before we ask a neighbor for an estimate.
And then there are the signs of time each of us sees in the mirror, or in our doctor’s office. (Or in my case, every time I step on a scale.) A very good friend had a health scare recently, and while it thankfully turned out to be a false alarm, it did serve another purpose. It reminded me that we all only have so much time on this earth, and we need to make the most of it. We all casually say “life is short,” but do we really understand it, deep in our bones? I am now reminded to take advantage of any opportunities to spend time with my friends or to soak up the changes in my sprouting granddaughters.
Speaking of granddaughters, our older one started pre-school a couple weeks ago. Unbelievable! She is the youngest child in her class at not quite three, but she is smart as a whip, with a great vocabulary and a huge imagination. (I know I’m a proud grandma, but that doesn’t make it any less true!) Then, just when I was reconciling myself to the fact that she is not a baby anymore, I learned our niece’s daughter started college this week. Wow. Since I remember when her parents got married, that definitely means some serious time has gone by.
The act of writing this blog has reinforced a lesson I often forget. Time is not just fleeting, it is precious. It is a gift from our creator we dare not squander. I don’t want to waste time thoughtlessly, lest I wake up one morning and realize the seasons of my own life are creeping toward winter, with too few happy memories stored up to sustain me.
Do you know what movie holds the record for most tickets sold? A lot of you might have guessed the most recent Avengers movie, because of the publicity around its huge revenues.
However, I read an interesting online article recently which disputed this. The article included a list of the top selling movies based on the estimated number of tickets sold for each movie.
Their list of the top ten movies was a surprise, though a pleasant one. The list is below:
10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Estimated ticket sales: 109 million tickets
9. The Exorcist (1973)
Estimated ticket sales: 116.5 million tickets
8. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Estimated ticket sales: 124.6 million tickets
7. Jaws (1975)
Estimated ticket sales: 128 million tickets
6. The Ten Commandments (1956)
Estimated ticket sales: 131 million tickets
5. Titanic (1997)
Estimated ticket sales: 143.5 million tickets
4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Estimated ticket sales: 147.9 million tickets
3. The Sound of Music (1965)
Estimated ticket sales: 157.2 million tickets
2. Star Wars (1977)
Estimated ticket sales: 178.1 million tickets
1. Gone with the Wind (1939)
Estimated ticket sales: 201 million tickets
A few things struck me about this list. First of all, Titanic (released in 1997) is the most recent movie on this list. The top ten movies based on ticket sales are all over 20 years old.
Secondly, unlike the blockbusters of today, these movies were made at a time when there was very little movie revenue from other countries. These movies made the list based almost entirely on ticket sales in the US. Today, US ticket sales are only about half of the total revenues.
Two of the movies, including the number one movie, Gone With the Wind, came out during the Great Depression, which makes this feat even more astounding. Even though the average price of a movie in the 1930s was only about 25 cents, that was still a significant amount of money – more than one hour’s pay for the average worker.
But I think what really caught my eye was that, most of these are family movies. With one or two exceptions, I think older children could watch nearly all of these movies. Some of them are also appropriate for younger children. Snow White is one of my granddaughters’ favorite movies.
That was what made this list such a pleasant surprise. It is somehow reassuring to know that, in spite of the hype and hoopla around some movies put out today, the classics still reign supreme.
Which raises the question. Which movies are you surprised are not on this list? If you made a list of your top ten favorite movies, which ones would make the list?
Sometimes, we need to hear something said again in a different way before it really sinks in. This happened to me recently. A conversation with a writing friend reminded me that I had both of Lisa Cron’s writing craft books, Wired for Story and Story Genius on my bookshelf. I had started reading the first book before we moved last year, then never finished it.
That conversation prompted me to read both books. I am so glad I did! First, because I was fascinated by her explanation of how humans are still biologically wired not just to learn through stories, but to actually crave them. I always like to learn the “how” and “why” of things, so I found this to be a captivating read.
More importantly, the associated tips for writing stronger stories truly resonated for me. The sad thing is that, if you get right down to it, she did not say anything I haven’t heard before. But something about the way she said it – the way she told her story – forced me to really listen this time.
I guess we have all had something similar happen at some point. How often have we heard something (maybe from a coworker instead of a parent or spouse) and instead of rolling our eyes because we’ve heard it before, we stop and pay attention this time?
Maybe we give more weight to words spoken by people we don’t know as well or need to hear the words phrased in a different way. Or perhaps this person is simply a better storyteller. Whatever the reason, the result is the same. Suddenly, light bulbs are going off, brightening our world in literal and figurative ways.
In my case, I am glad I listened to my friend and read Lisa Cron’s books. I am in the process of applying her techniques to my current manuscript, and am excited to see if they improve my writing as I think they will. I’ll keep you posted on my results. If you are a writer who would like to learn more about Lisa’s techniques, you can find her at http://wiredforstory.com/ .
In the meantime, if crazy old Uncle Henry starts telling you something, don’t just use the time to check messages on your phone – pay attention. He just might have something worthwhile to tell you!
Ahhh, summer. Remember those long, lazy days when we were out of school and the days stretched before us, full of promise? Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time know that every now and then, I like to include a fun trivia quiz. Here is one to celebrate the last bit of summer. All of the questions are about songs with the word "summer" in the title. Enjoy!
#1 – What word completes the title of 1985's "Summer of _____" by Bryan Adams?
I hope you enjoyed this musical summer quiz. The answers are below. I also included a link ( https://www.braingle.com/trivia/27741/summer-songs.html ) to the website where I found it, in case you want to click the buttons online.
Mata Hari, arguably the most well-known femme fatale in history, was born 143 years ago this week.
Her life started quite conventionally. She was born August 7, 1876 as Margaretha (“Gretha”) Zelle to solidly Dutch parents in the Netherlands. Her father owned a hat shop, invested in oil, and provided a very affluent lifestyle until he went bankrupt in 1889.
Her life was a series of tumultuous events after that, which may explain how she ended up as a reputed spy. Her mother died when she was 15 and her father remarried two years later. Gretha did not get along with her new stepmother, so went to live with her godfather. She attended a teacher’s school until the school’s headmaster began to pursue her and she left the school. A few months later, she moved to her uncle’s home, for reasons unknown.
Gretha was only 18 when she answered a newspaper ad for a bride. She married a Dutch army officer in 1895 and went with him to Java. However, her husband, who was 21 years older than her, was a violently abusive alcoholic and openly kept a mistress. Gretha found escape from her unhappy marriage by studying Indonesian culture, especially the dances. This is when she chose the name “Mata Hari” which was the word for “sun” in a local language. Gretha and her husband divorced after their return to the Netherlands.
She moved to Paris in 1903, and by 1905 she had established herself as an exotic dancer. She claimed to be a Javanese princess and performed what was essentially a strip tease. Mata Hari was instantly and wildly successful. She was blatantly flirtatious and provocative, and seemed to enjoy flaunting her body. She was in high demand as a courtesan, known to have relationships with millionaires, politicians, and high-ranking military officers. These liaisons caused her to travel frequently across Europe.
After WWI started, Mata Hari fell deeply in love with a Russian officer. After he was severely injured, she begged a French officer for permission to visit him near the front lines. This seems to be when her career as a spy began. There is some speculation that the French officer only allowed the visit after she agreed to spy for France. French intelligence then offered her one million francs if she would seduce the German crown prince to gain military information.
During a meeting with a German officer, she offered to sell them French secrets. It is unclear if she genuinely wanted the money, or if it was part of a larger ploy. The Germans hired her, but soon realized Mata Hari had no information other than social gossip to provide them. Wanting to get rid of her, they sent a message, using a code they knew the Allies had already broken, naming her as a German spy. The French, as expected, intercepted the message and arrested Mata Hari in February 1917.
Her arrest seems to have been a useful tool for the French government, and her trial was not a fair one. The French military had had some severe failures, the country was on the verge of collapse, and the new government desperately needed a scapegoat. Her reputation as a well-traveled courtesan made it easy to paint her as a foreign spy. Through it all, Mata Hari steadfastly denied spying for Germany against her adopted country. She is reputed to have said, “A courtesan, I admit it. A spy, never!”
As expected, she was found guilty and was executed by a firing squad on October 15, 1917. Accounts from the day say she refused the blindfold and stood calmly until the shots rang out. Then she slowly sank to her knees, still silent, and eventually fell backward.
History has treated Mata Hari a little more kindly than she was during her life. Did she spy for Germany during WWI? No one really knows. But whether spy or patriot, her life was not an easy one. Looking back, one can see a pattern of adverse events which led her down a sad and unhappy path.
Though it is difficult to know who Mata Hari really was, I wonder what she would say if she learned that 100 years later her name still lives on as a byword for a seductive female spy.
We made the trip back to Wisconsin to visit family and friends last weekend, just returning this week. It was a great visit, but too short.
Along the way, I made a few observations. To wit:
Traveling with two small children for ten hours doesn’t have to be painful. Since my husband was already in Wisconsin, I made the drive with my son and his family. I’ll be honest, I have never made a long road trip like that with small children before, and I wondered how it would go. But it was pleasant, and did not feel long at all. I sat in the third row, behind the two girls, and spent a large portion of my time helping to keep them entertained. Their parents had brought along a stash of toys for them for the trip, so it wasn’t too hard to do. The biggest issue was the one-year-old’s tendency to drop whatever she was holding down in the gap between her car seat and the car door – on the far side where none of us could reach it, of course!
Sometimes, it pays to reserve hotel rooms way in advance. When we arrived at our hotel, we learned that it (and the others in town) was fully booked for the weekend. And no wonder, given all of the events occurring in the area. There was an air & water show in Milwaukee, the always-popular Germanfest was happening down at the lakefront, the Brewers were hosting the Cubs (always a big rivalry,) there was a bike festival nearby, and probably other things which I’ve since forgotten. While our rooms were not ideally located, I was glad we had reserved the rooms we wanted. The gentleman behind us who tried to get a room was out of luck.
The best family members are always willing to help. Because we were holding a family birthday party for the one-year-old while in Wisconsin, we had to work out the logistics of holding a party in a location where we no longer lived. Thankfully, my husband’s sisters stepped in to help when we had a couple of last-minute issues. When we learned the park where we were holding the party was not providing as many tables as we expected, one sister offered to bring a bunch from her employer. And when we learned the weather would be hotter than we expected, another sister offered to bring a couple fans to help move the air. Both also stayed afterward to help with cleanup. It is amazing how much people will help, if you ask.
It is always good to return home. As much as I loved being back in Wisconsin, it was nice to return to our current house. After sleeping in a somewhat noisy hotel for a bunch of nights, I was really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again. And to just having the stress of the trip logistics behind us. Life can return to normal now.
All-in-all, I really enjoyed our trip back to Wisconsin. While I am glad we could move closer to our son and his family, I also very much appreciate return visits to our home state. And with each trip, I learn something which makes the next trip a little easier. What are your favorite travel tips?
A few weeks ago, I re-watched one of my favorite movie series. I knew the DVD for the last Signed, Sealed, Delivered movie would be arriving soon, so I decided to go back to the beginning and watch the entire set of DVDs again. (For me, owning DVDs of select movies is like owning paper copies of my favorite books. I have a Kindle for reading, but I still prefer to own a hard copy.)
Romance writers often use movies as examples when discussing core writing concepts. A well-written movie script can be immensely educational for a writer of books. While it usually is not my original intent when watching a movie, I sometimes find myself assessing the pacing or the character arcs.
The same held true as I watched this series. The Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies were created by Martha Williamson (from Touched by an Angel fame) and were released by Hallmark. I am thankful for that, because they are well-done without an excess of violence or other stuff which might prevent a viewer from enjoying the stories. Or in my case, from also analyzing the stories.
In particular, I was struck by how well the script writers allowed the story arcs to develop over time. There are twelve movies, plus one season’s worth of hour-long TV episodes from early in the timeline. Each of the four main characters has their own growth arc, and there are also romance arcs. As a writer myself, I enjoy watching how these arcs unfold. I especially appreciate that the arcs are allowed to develop slowly, organically. The writers don’t rush the characters toward a dramatic or emotional milestone just to generate some contrived “feel goods” with the audience. The arcs develop naturally, but they are there.
Another takeaway for me is that all writers share some commonalities. Whether creating movies or books, we use similar techniques to produce very different outputs. As a novel writer, it is instructive to watch movie examples, especially a series, to hopefully strengthen my own writing. Particularly since my historical romances also tend to become a series. One which started as a stand-alone story about a widow in Colorado in the late 1890s has turned into a series of six books based on various characters.
So I guess spending time on the couch watching a movie is actually time well spent. In fact, writing this has inspired me to go find another favorite movie to watch. Who knows what I might learn from the next one? Do you have a favorite movie to recommend?
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.