Monday, September 1, 2014

Two Awards and Apologies for the Long Silence

Inspiring Blogger Award from
Julia Hones

Liebster Award from Sandra Cox
See below the info that comes with
the Inspiring Blogger Award

First the apologies for not blogging. 
1.) I've been busy working on my mystery. My goal is to finish this draft by mid-September. There's 24-25 chapters in mind, and I'm on chapter 17 so far. 
2.) We've had company and made a couple of out-of-town trips to visit folks we hadn't seen for a long time, due to travels. 
And 3.) We are getting ready for another long trip to Spain and Portugal. (I haven't even finished blogging about the last trip, but that's how it goes sometimes. Oh, the stories I'd like to tell!)

Meanwhile, two very nice blog friends gave me awards that you can see at the top of this page and read about below. Thank you so much, ladies!

Julia Hones gave me the Inspiring Blogger Award, which I find quite an honor. Julia has a marvelous blog called My Writing Life that I love to read and find inspiring in its own right, and you will too, so do check it out. She's also had many short stories and poems published and is the poetry editor of Southern Pacific Review

As a recipient of the award, I'm supposed to reveal 7 things about myself and then pass the award on to others whose blogs I find inspiring. Hmm. 7 reveals . . . Okay, here we go.

1. In my junior year in college, after finals, I let a girlfriend talk me into bleaching my hair blonde. (She was bleaching her hair, and we were hyper from finals, so I thought, "Why not?") Because I have a lot of red in my hair, it went red instead of blonde. Because I have a few freckles, everyone who met me as a redhead thought I really was a redhead -- to the point that when I got tired of it and decided to dye it back to dark brown, I was told, "No, don't do that, it won't look natural."

2. My favorite dessert is a cookie. Forget pies, cakes, and rich creamy custards. Give me a cookie. Any cookie, although I like sugar, shortbread, oatmeal, or peanutbutter the best.

3. I am a crossword puzzle nut. I love the New York Times crossword puzzle. I can't always finish it (Fridays and Saturdays), but I usually start the day with it. For one thing, it wakes me up and gets the wheels turning for writing later in the day.

4. My husband and I met through a cat named Meathead. That is a ve-r-r-r-y long story, that only some of our friends know and would take up too much space here. But we have very fond feelings for our feline cat-alyst from long ago.

5. I used to write everything in longhand first, but the computer has spoiled me. Cut and paste is so convenient. Even so, I miss that feeling of connection between pen or pencil and heart, and I still write my poetry first in longhand.

6. This is probably a horrible confession for an author to make, particularly one who writes children's books, but . . . I never liked The Wind in the Willows. I know, I know, one of the world's great classics. What's wrong with me! But I never could get into it, no matter how many times I tried. 

7. I loved Edith Nesbit and Edgar Eavers, though. And they stand the test of time. I re-read a couple of their books recently and still found them so funny.

And now the nominees:
1. Keith Wynne has a truly inspiring blog called Musings of an Unapologetic Dreamer . He'll also send a little blurb via email called Thought of the Day, if you sign up for it at his site. I bookmark nearly everyone of these blurbs, as they are quite pithy and inspiring.

2. Catherine Ensley is an author of inspirational romance novels and is writing a four-part series. On her blog she "shares her thoughts on country life, simple living, adventure, reading, writing and faith that transforms." I think you will find it very enjoyable. 

3. Victoria Lindstrom's Writ of Whimsy blog is rich with Middle Grade book reviews, poetry tidbits, thoughts on writing, and a section I love, "Whimsical Word of the Week." Check out her site; it's great fun.

4. Lynda Young has a wonderful blog called W.I.P. It: an Author's Journey in which she addresses many issues for writers with insights and reminders that are so helpful to all of us on this common journey. 

5. Check out Carol Riggs, a published YA author with a personable writing style. Her blog, Artzicarol Ramblings, is full of writing tips, YA book reviews, and shares of her own personal journey with agents and publishers. 

6. Renee Hand's The Crypto-Capers Review is a children's book review blog as well as a platform for her radio show, Stories from Unknown Authors. Renee also writes winning interactive mysteries. How cool is that? Check out her site, and you may find yourself being interviewed if you've written a children's book.

7. Mark Noce has a rather eclectic blog, sharing news about his flash fiction publications, gardening, music he likes, and news about other writers. It's always a feel-good experience to read one of his posts. 

On to the Liebster Award, which Sandra Cox kindly gave to me. Sandra's blog is called, not surprisingly, Sandra's Blog  . Sandra is a prolific blogger as well as a prolific author. Spend a little time at her site. Her pictures will make you smile. Meanwhile, the Liebster Award is given to bloggers with less than 200 followers, ferreting out blogs you think are worthy of more followers. (Thank you, Sandra!) The rules for accepting the award are to share 11 random facts about myself, answer 11 questions posed by the blogger who nominated me, nominate 11 bloggers who qualify, and pose 11 questions to them. Happily, Sandra modified the rules, asking 6 questions, and nominating 5 newbies. So I am following her lead:

The questions she asked:
1. If you were an animal, what would you be? Probably a dog. I love animals, but dogs have a special place in my heart. They are so loving and loyal.
2. What is your favorite genre? That's a hard one. Mysteries and historical novels are about equal.
3. When reading, do you prefer paper or a hand held device? Paper, for sure!
4. What's your favorite vacation spot? Galicia, Spain. 
5. What's your favorite charity? Another hard one. We contribute to a number. I suppose Southern Poverty Law Center, a remarkable organization that goes after hate groups in this country and prosecutes hate crimes.
6. If given the choice, where would you live? Right where we live now. As a runner up, Galicia would be next, but we are quite happy where we are.

Okay, my nominees are:
Richard Hughes at Writing and Living by Richard P. Hughes , is an eclectic blogger, sharing thoughts about writing, art, life in general, publishing issues. Right now he's running an interesting series of interviews with other bloggers, called, "Where I Live and Why I Like It.

Rosi Hollinbeck at The Write Stuff reviews children's books, interviews authors, and does a wonderful job of culling and sharing links to help writers in every sphere of writing. I always look forward to her posts, and you will too.

Kenda Turner at Words and Such posts book reviews, interviews, and shares rich thoughts about the writer's journey. Always a good read.

Loretta Proctor at Books and Other Things blogs about books, art, and music, "and all things creative and beautiful." Her current post is about Seamus Heaney, one of my favorite poets.

Jeanmarie Anaya's delightful blog, Jeanmarie Anaya is definitely worth your while. Humorous, pithy, eloquent. She writes about a number of writing issues, and wrote a lovely tribute to Robin Williams. 

And here are my six questions for these worthy recipients:
1. Where is your favorite place to read a book?
2. When beginning a new W.I.P., do you write by hand or wordprocess?
3. What are three of your favorite books? 
4. If you could be a character in a novel you've read, who would you be?
5. Which author, living or dead, do you wish you had the opportunity to meet?
6. When did you begin to write for yourself (as opposed to doing early homework assignments)?

And that's it, folks. I look forward to your comments, (feel free to answer any of the questions I posed for the nominees), and I do hope you check out the blogs in both sections of this post.

Ciao for now . . .

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Dolmen of Abuime, in Galicia, Spain

Five big rocks that may surprise you.
Here it stands, a collection of four immense standing stones (the fifth one fallen to the side), tucked back in the far end of a field nearly hidden by trees, easily missed, if you didn't know about it. We knew about it because good friends in Galicia, Craig and Melanie, told us about it.

Craig, Melanie, and their
loveable dog, Slawit
A brief introduction here: Craig and Melanie are our friends in Galicia who sold us our house in Trasulfe.

They are from England, but they have lived in Galicia for about ten years, and Craig has written a book about their adventures. He also has a blog, and he wrote nice a post about the dolmen HERE  . Enjoyment of wine in Spain is contagious, and he has started growing his own vines and making his own wine (which is pretty good; we get to sample it whenever we go to Galicia. ) In addition, they have restored another home, and this one they rent out. (You can learn more about it at his blog site.)

So, back to the dolmen. And what is a dolmen? you might ask. Wikipedia gives a pretty good explanation of dolmens and where they can be found, HERE .  Basically a dolmen is considered a megalithic tomb. Usually it has a flat capstone on top of the standing stones. Rajan and I wonder if the stone in the picture above that is off to the right is the original capstone for this dolmen. Originally dolmens were covered up with earth mounds, and 5,000 to 6,000 years of erosion have uncovered them.
Even with enlarged photo, it's hard to tell. After all, the
trees are pretty tall, and it's hard to tell here just how tall.

Even with Craig and Melanie's good directions and the picture on Craig's blog post, we had to look for it. Despite signs, from a distance, it's hard to appreciate the size.

This should give you a better idea:
How on earth did they prop these stones up?

Anyone who know me knows I have a thing about old buildings. I love to touch old man-made structures, whether 12th century walls or Roman era bridges, whether in England or Spain. But our British friends all find this somewhat amusing. After all, they remind me, they grew up surrounded by historic buildings and Roman bridges. It's no big deal to them. But I always have to touch these old edifices that, I feel, still bear the mystical aura of humans touching them long ago.

So, you can imagine how enthralled I was to touch something that humans touched maybe 5,000 or 6,000 years ago!
Yup! Pretttty impressed. And pretty happy, too.
On another note, this week I had two pieces of pleasant news:
 1. A blog friend, Julian Hones, gave me the "Inspiring Blog" award on her great site, My Writing Life . Julia is an editor of a magazine and writes poetry and short fiction. The award carries some "pass it on and give information" duties that will have to wait for another post, but I was certainly pleased to get it. Thank you, Julia.

2. I made this announcement on Facebook, but for those of my blog friends who are not on FB, my Flash Fiction, "Persephone," is in the current issue of Fiction Attic Press and will also be in the Flash in the Attic anthology. You can read it HERE:  If you have time to read it, I'd love your feedback.

Meanwhile, how do you feel about old buildings? Do have that irresistible urge to touch them and imagine who touched them so many years ago?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Back to Galicia

We have been traveling, and I started this post when we were still in England, visiting family. (Post about that to follow when I finish the posts about Spain.) We got back late last night (actually early this morning), but I had promised to get back to two events in the earlier part of our Galicia visit, and here they are:
David and Pepe

David and Terri
                                                    FIRST: The Friday after our arrival -- April 11th -- We went with friends Terri and David to what is known as a "casa rural," but also includes a restaurant/bar and week-end entertainment. The name is Torre Vilariño, and it is co-owned by a cool hombre named Pepe. Alas, I don't know his full name, but here he is with David. And here is the website, which has lovely pictures of the rooms where one can stay, as well as the restaurant and patio.

On this particular Friday, two main musicians were playing. We had dinner first (around 9:30), and the music started around 11:00 p.m. One of the musicians sang, both of them played, and they went through a whole gamut of popular songs from the 80s -- in English. They were really good. Here are a few pictures:

The main duo.

The singer.

Hearfelt guitar work.

Occasionally a third musician joined them and sang along. They had a good sound! (I wish I had gotten the name of the group.)

The servers thought they were
pretty good, too. Singing along
with great gusto!

Susana, server extraordinaire!
The SECOND event was the Fiesta Medieval that takes place each year at the end of Semana Santa (Holy week). It used to only take place on Saturday, but now it has grown to include the entire week-end. We went both days. We love this fiesta, many locals dress up in costume, and small skits and re-enactments are put on in main streets and plazas. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:
Processions . . . this is a special
Galician bagpipe called a gaeto.

A medieval damsel . . .

A  verrry young knight Templar!

From one of the plazas.
And the little ones on burros!
Entertainers on stilts.

I don't know how
they do it!
This woman was really into
her role. 

The ever-present
I suppose this is where the knights
collected their helmets. 
To defend their king and queen.
(Isabel and Ferdinand).

King of Castile y Leon.
Another feature of this festival each year that we particularly enjoy is the showing of the raptors -- hawks, falcons, owls, ravens . . . Two trainers have taught them to do tricks, and they are always fascinating to watch, not to mention what beautiful birds they are: 

Such beautiful birds! I think they said
this unusual raven (with the white stripe) is distinctive to Galicia.

The horned owl is so commanding!

But this hawk is pretty
impressive, too. 

One of the trainers and a snowy owl. 

The other trainer watching
a falcon he released.
They finished off the show
with an interval when people
could pet one of the birds.

And who would you guess is petting that snowy owl?
Yup. Yours truly. It was really an awesome experience.
So there you are: Two "local" events we thoroughly enjoyed. I hope you enjoyed them too.

How about you? Do you enjoy historical fairs and festivals? Have you ever petted a wild bird?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Town of Toro - Part Two

Originally we had planned to spend all three days, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday in Salamanca and return Monday afternoon. But the desk clerk advised us that on Monday everything would be closed. So we decided to go to Toro that day instead.

Toro is an unbelievably beautiful municipality in the province of Zamora, part of the autonomous community of Castille-Leon. It's high above a fertile plain known for its wines (from the Tempranillo grape), and recently Rajan has gotten interested in Toro wines, so that was also part of the inspiration for the trip. You can see how the buildings beckon one from afar.

This is the kind of country we traveled through to get there. Beautiful, and lush and green. Appartently a lot of farming goes on in this region. But the Toro region is becoming more and more known for its wines. When we arrived and parked, we started walking around and one of the first areas of interest we came to was an overlook point with a plaza around an old, intact wall enclosing a rectangular area with round towers at various points. A gardener told me was from Roman times. (My Spanish is still limited, so I couldn't really learn much more from him than that.) Here it is:

One view of the structure at one corner.
There were towers at each corner and
also in the middle of each side of the
 From the enclosure's condition, it may actually be from a later date. I looked Toro up in Wikipedia, and Toro was once a Roman town. The article mentions remains of a wall going back to 910, but, as you can see here, this is far more than "remains."
Another view. Each corner
had a round tower.

Heavy doors were in walls on each
side of the structure.
 Since battles took place in Toro between heirs vying for the Spanish throne, this might actually have been a fortress. Plaques mentioned the crowning of King Ferdinand III in 1230, and that Isabella I of Castille defeated Juana La Beltraneja there, and that her father, Juan II of Castille, was born in Toro in 1404. But if anyone else can find out more for me about the structure itself, I'd appreciate the information. (Isabella I, by the way, was the Isabella who married Ferdinand II of Aragon, and they are the famous couple behind the Inquisition in Spain and the financing of Columbus's voyage to what became known in Europe as "the New World.")

The Rio Duero

Red tile roofs that seem so typical.

Since it really is a grand look-out point, Rajan and I took tons of pictures of the vast plains and the Rio Duero below. (The Rio Duero cuts through northern and Central Spain and flows on south to become the Rio Douro in Portugal, which ends at Porto.) Here are a couple.

Here is a video he took that I think you will enjoy:


Then we all wandered around the beautiful city, admiring the architecture and the color of the buildings. Here are some pictures of a church that is considered a "must see" in Toro, Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor.

The buildings have such a
golden tone. 

I felt like I was in Oz, at the
end of the yellow brick road.

Here is the building in all its
One of the wine shops was open and the man inside was very knowledgeable about wines and wineries from the region. He spoke in Spanish, and we could understand most of what he said, but luckily our friends David and Terri are quite fluent, and so they were able to tell us whatever we missed. There are a number of wineries all around, but, again, most of them were closed. Still, it's good information for the future, and we bought some wine from the shop.

Meanwhile, the town was bustling with people out and about. I saw a beautiful arch at one end of a street, and a woman told me that it had been made with wine. Seriously. I think what she meant was that wine was mixed with the clay instead of water. But what a unique feature! She also tole me there was another arch at the other end of town, so of course I had to go there.

People out and about.

The arch made with wine,
which may account for
its color.

The other arch. Presumbably
not made with wine. 
After that, it seemed time to go, as there was a long drive home to Galicia and our part of Galicia. But it was a day well spent, and we were so glad that we had decided to take this little side trip on such a beautiful day. 

I  hope you enjoyed this little peek into this area of Spain. The next posts will still be about the earlier weeks in Galicia, before our trip to Braga, Portugal; and then I will follow up with pictures and posts about Braga, a most remarkable and wonderful city.

Till then, please leave a comment, and if you have any questions, I'll try to answer them. Also, if you have any additional information for us about Toro, please leave it. The turism office was closed that day, and there isn't an awful lot on line about this beautiful town.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Week-end in Salamanca, and a Town Named Toro - Part One

Already it has been two weeks since our return from Salamanca, and even then, we returned via a different town in the Toro wine region, called, aptly, Toro. But first, the beautiful city of Salamanca in the province of Salamanca, which is in Castilla y León, one of the seventeen autonomous coummunities in Spain.

Here you see the old part of town, across the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge), the buildings eternally glowing a soft apricot/rose/peach from the soil and clay from the area.

The old part of Salamanca, across the bridge, late afternoon.
The trip was to celebrate with our friends, Terri and David, our mutual 40th anniversary. Ours was on December 22nd, and theirs was on February 15th. We had agreed a few years ago that when the 40th came, we'd go to some special place during the spring trip to Galicia. Salamanca was a good choice.

We left on Saturday and spent two days in this beautiful city. What you see in the foreground, across the Puente Romana,  are the domes of the New Cathedral (new meaning it was built between the 16th and 18th centuries—in two different styles, Gothic and Baroque.) In the background are the La Clerecía Towers, domes of a church and ecclesiastic college begun in the 17th century. (More about the latter later, including a neat video of storks that make their home atop the Cathedral.)

A closer view of the Cathedral

But first, of course, we had to get there. It's about a four and a half drive to Salamanca from our area, and you go through some gorgeous scenery, leaving the stone walls and red tile roofs and the terraced vineyards of this area and encountering rose and ochre brick and stone walls of the villages nearer Salamanca and vineyards in rocky flat soil—soil that the vines seem to like: We've been told the harsher the soil, the better the wine.

Unlike neighbors and vintners in our
area, the growers here seem to cut
fhe vines very close to the ground.

We passed hills striped with purple heather and golden gorse and some bright yellow fields of rape blossoms grown for rape seed oil. At times it was like a painting by Cezanne. Red tile roofs changed to black slate in one area, and we saw milky white cows that, at first, we thought were sheep (we are so used to the golden brown cows herded by our Galician neighbors.)

The first day in Salamanca we wandered around, enjoying shops, the cathedral and university and seminary buildings. And walking along the beautiful Puente Romano.

Our hotel, also named Puente Romano,
was on the side of the bridge facing this
picture. Everything was at a walkable

We spent a lot of time at a wonderful museum called, Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum, housed in the Casa Lis. Originally a small "palace" (from the brochure), built in the early 20th century for Don Miguel de Lis, an aficionado of Art Nouveau, it later became the current museum that now houses statues, statuettes, furniture, stained glass artwork, dolls, paintings, all by leading artists and artisans of the genre. It's a remarkable building with one whole wall of stained glass windows on two floors, a hallway with a stained glass ceiling, and beautiful architecture and gardens and gatework outside.

Add caption
Another view of the
ceiling, as well as one
of the windows from the

A beautiful painting gallery below and
interesting rooms of statues, dolls,
etcetera, in other rooms. 

If you go to this site it will show you some of the remarkable features of the building outside that I mentioned.  And this site will show you more of the interior.

There were weddings going on in the city, so one of the restaurants Terri and David wanted to take us to was all booked up. We did have a wonderful lunch of raciónes at a convivial cafe called Erasmus , enjoying bacaloa (cod) croquettes,  gambas gabardines (deep-fried battered shrimp), and pimientos de padrón, small green pimientos sautéed in olive oil and sea salt, and one of my favorite ever dishes when we come to Galicia.

We went past the cathedral several times trying to get good photos of it. (There was a lot of shade.) The doors and sculptures on all sides are spectacular, though. Here are a few examples.

It's hard to convey how
magnificent it felt to
stand under these arches.

You can see the size of
the doors by the size of
the passerby.

These people give you
even a better idea.

After all the walking around in the fresh air, we were tired and hungry. We went back to the hotel to rest for awhile, and then we went out for a late dinner. (Dinner is always late in Spain.)

The place that we discovered was a charming bistro named Zazu that specialized in a Mediterranean menu. We don't have a picture of the restaurant per se, but this site will give you an idea of their atmosphere and menu.  Our server found us a table in a small upstairs room that was softly lit and full of artwork on the walls. He was from Germany, but he spoke excellent English and was so attentive you could tell he really liked his job. If you go to Salamanca, we all recommend this place. For starters, I had grilled vegetables and Rajan had crabcakes, and then for the entrée we split an order of squash-stuffed raviolis. The wine was Gewurtztraminer for Terri and myself, and the gents had a red from the Toro region, followed by excellent café. Then our friendly waiter kindly took a picture of us before we left.

Here we are, enjoying coffee, trying to look natural for a picture at about 1:00
a.m. I have never figured out why, but coffee in Spain doesn't interfere with
 our sleep. By the time we were back at the hotel and retired it was 2:15. And
we slept quite soundly.

Day Two was another day of sightseeing and some surprises. We wandered around the old streets, taking pictures of the buildings and shopping. Street musicians were situated in main walk areas, and the one below was especially interesting, tuning, and later playing what I think was a zither.

The instrument made a delicate sounding music.  Here he's
just tuning it and getting ready to play. 

It was a sunny day, and especially good for taking pictures of the Cathedral.
Looking up, up, up.

Stone carving like lace.

Statues everywhere.

This is just one example of the kinds of carvings over doorways.

Then a real suprise lay ahead when we went up one of the towers of La Clerecía, the church and ecclesiastic college shown at the beginning of this post in the background. The stairs were old-fashioned, wooden, and narrow, about twelve or fifteen to a landing, and they went up, up, up. I don't know how many we climbed, but it was well worth the view of the city once we got to the floor where most of these pictures are taken. There are little balconies at all the windows of the tower we were in, as well as a balcony that took us to the opposite tower, so we could see th city below from many angles.
A view from one part of the tower.

More of this beautiful city.

From another side of the tower. 

This looks down on a small courtyard
enclosed by the walls of La Clerecía.  

This is one of the domes of the Cathedral,
and at least three storks had nests around
the domes.

But the biggest surprise was yet to come when Rajan went up to the top level. He was able to take a video of one of the storks with its young. Enjoy this short movie of a stork family:


The other enjoyable event of the day was lunch at the Plaza Mayor, a huge square enclosed by restaurants mostly on the ground floor, apartments on the other floors of three of the walls, and a concello with administrative offices forming the fourth wall (the wall with all the flags.) We sat at one of the outdoor tables and split raciones again, this time pimientos, potatas bravas (cubed and fried potatoes) and battered shrimp, with our wine. And then we just people watched for the longest time. The Plaza Mayor is a main socializing place for the city for people of all ages.

You would be surprised how long one can "people watch" in a place like that. And so many people were so stylish!

But then it was time to go back to the hotel, rest up, and get ready for going out for the "big dinner." In addition to being the anniversary celebration over the week-end, Sunday was David's birthday. We all dressed up, and, wouldn't you know it, didn't take a single picture. But we did eat at a remarkable restaurant called El Alquamista. Lot's of atmosphere, wonderful service, delicious food. 

This ends Part One of the trip, but come back for Part Two, because the trip to Toro the following day was quite an interesting day.

Thanks for stopping by. I can't think of a question to leave with you, but please feel free to leave a question of your own, and I'll try to answer it or find the answer.