Tag Archives: Travel

Atlanta, RT and Booker T.

Jillian here.  I just got back from Atlanta, Ga where I attended the Romantic Times Convention. The convention itself was fun and it was good to see other writer friends as well as chat and interact with readers. I had two pretty awesome things happen in the reader arena – with the same book. I wrote a story called Rex, the Ex and the Hex– first draft was done in 12 days – it was such a fun story to write as the hero believes himself to be hexed and visits a number of hoo-doo folks to try to get rid of the hex (like a witch doctor, a haruspex, a tarot reader, etc).

One reader mentioned she read it and thought it was really good and she could tell I was having a blast as I wrote it. That made me happy as I was glad that shone through.

Another reader saw the cover on a magnet on my table at the signing. She grabbed it and said, “You wrote that?” When I said yes, she said, “I loved it so much, I read it twice and I never do that.” – Her words were worth the trip to Atlanta for me.

The other best thing about the conference wasn’t really related to the conference. My friend Sandra and I went to a concert at a local winery/cafe where they serve tapas and their own wines. I love 1960s music and when she said she wanted to go see a man named Booker T. Jones, a Grammy winner, I was all on board for that. I said, “Booker T. and the M.G.s?”

Well, these days, he travels with his son and two other guys. The music is still wonderful. He and his son played a ballad version of Purple Rain by Prince and it was so moving it brought me to tears.

We got a chance to chat with him in the lobby afterward. What a nice, humble, kind man he was. I could’ve stayed there all night. It was that amazing.  If you get a chance to go, do!

here’s one famous song  and another with his son on guitar.  I tried to upload one of the videos I made but for some reason, the computer said no.  We were seated right by the piano. It was awesome.

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Happy December!

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Jillian here- nope. I haven’t fallen off the edge of the world. It just seems that way. Laurie is always telling me she doesn’t see how I can do all I do and alas, she is right. I can’t. Things … Continue reading

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Reading holiday

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Happy Thanksgiving to my friends in America (and UK). October and November have been busy months for me and although we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving I have fond memories of other years when we have.  Those spent in New York with … Continue reading

I’m Late! I’m Late for a Very Important Date! by Valerie J. Patterson

Good Saturday morning to you!  As you can tell by the title, I’m late…with this blog article!  Thursday evening as I began to head here to type in my article, the Internet went out and stayed out until sometime Friday afternoon.  Friday evening–after a stressful week–I couldn’t muster the energy to type in my article.  Very sorry if you came and saw NOTHING from me!

The article I was going to post will wait for another day.  Instead, I’ve been inspired by my laziness to offer up something thought-provoking and perhaps memory-recalling!

Last month, Steve and I took our annual wedding anniversary trip, which was quite lovely, very relaxing, and extremely revitalizing!  As is our normal habit, we take one route to our destination and another route back home.  It was on the route back home that brought the only sad note to the entire trip.

While I was growing up, my family practically spent the entire summer camping/living in a very rustic, deep in the heart of nature resort in Deep Creek, Maryland.  Those summers were some of the best times of my youth.  Every trip, we stopped at a restaurant called the Lone Star.   We were such regulars, the waitresses would recite our beverages as we were seated at a table!  This place had the best fried chicken!

There was nothing special about the place.  It was a large diner along the highway, but the food was good, affordable, and the place was clean, the waitresses friendly, and it was a staple in our summer lives.

It’s been years since I last ate there.  In fact, I don’t think I could tell you when it was that I was last a patron there, but in my mind, it remained the same: same waitresses, same food, same decor.  That is until Steve and I happened to pass it on our way home from vacation.  We passed it and my eyes flew to the giant FOR SALE sign in the parking lot.

I made Steve turn around and go back.  I snapped a few pictures, sighed some heavy sighs, and shed a tear or two.  It sounds silly, I know, but my life has changed so much since the death of my dad that I simply wasn’t prepared to see one more casualty of my childhood.

Life is meant to be ever changing as opposed to stagnant.  It’s meant to be a journey of new places, people, and memories created.  You’re intended to go through it as an ever changing being as well.  However, as we age and lose people in our lives it sometimes becomes difficult to let go of “things” that remind us of simpler times or loved ones.

As I said, it’s not like I frequented the Lone Star, but the loss of it means I can never go back!  Perhaps this is also a good thing.  Everything changes with time.  Perhaps being able to go back…and actually going back…would have been harder.  New waitresses.  New menu items.  New cook.  New tastes.

There’s a saying that you can’t go back home again.  I think this is true.  I think it’s a bittersweet “good” thing that you can’t go back.  Not being able to go back keeps our memories pristine and unchanged by time.  While it is hard to let go of the past–be it people, places, or objects–let go we must.

Until next time, as the weather turns cooler, may you have many memories to wrap around you and leave you with a warmth that touches your heart!

Landscapes, Legends and Literature

Earlier this month, we took a trip down to Cornwall in south west England. This was partly because we made a decision to start exploring parts of the UK we have never visited before, but mostly because I’m writing a new paranormal series based in the area and wanted to get a real feel for the place.

SAM_0736We’d visited Cornwall once before when we were much younger, but I’d never really appreciated it then and this time I was stunned by the beauty of the area. We based ourselves in Bodmin, a town on the edge of the hauntingly beautiful Bodmin Moor. Having expected a largely barren vista, I was surprised that the moor’s landscape is so diverse. At eighty square miles, we only scraped the surface. For starters, we decided to follow The Copper Trail, a sixty mile circular walk along footpaths and tracks which take you through the remains of the hard rock mining industry and 5000 year old prehistoric monuments.

SAM_0728We began by driving to Golitha Falls, a nature reserve on the southern edge of the moor which is home to otters, great spotted woodpeckers and grey wagtails. So lush, and incredibly peaceful. Just the sound of birds, water and our gasps of awe at the beauty to be found there. Moving onward, we visited the Minions, an area dotted with old copper mine engine houses and tors, which are weathered granite rock towers. Then onto the Bronze Age monument, The Hurlers, a group of three great stone circles. The name derives from a legend in which men were playing a Cornish game called ‘hurling’ on a Sunday. As punishment they were magically transformed into stones. SAM_0747

On our way home, which took us straight through the middle of the moor, we made a stop off for morning coffee at Jamaica Inn, the place where Daphne du Maurier set her famous novel. She is said to have been riding on the moor and sought refuge at the inn when a thick fog set in. While she was there, she was entertained with smuggling tales and ghost stories, which obviously provided much inspiration for her novel. Built in 1750, Jamaica Inn was originally a coaching inn and a staging post for changing horses. It is said to be one of the UKs most haunted places, and during the year several ghost hunting weekends take place there.SAM_0757

SAM_0759We had a really great time during our first trip to Bodmin, and are already planning a return trip this summer. There is so much to explore. Oh, and Daphne du Maurier wasn’t the only one inspired to write while on Bodmin Moor. I came back with ideas buzzing, not only for the current series I’m writing but a future one too. I can’t imagine anyone visiting this beautifully eerie, rugged and intriguing place without having their imagination fired.

Andre’s Army’s Newest Recruits

I’ve long been a fan of violinist Andre Rieu, also known as the King of the Waltz. Andre travels all over the world conducting the Johann Strauss orchestra and regularly visits the UK, but for one reason or another I always seem to miss his concerts.

On my wish list for 2014 was a trip to see Andre, but I couldn’t find that he was due to visit the UK this year. AJ, who enjoys his music but wasn’t especially driven to see him in person, asked where the nearest concert would be and I discovered it was in Maastrict, Holland. ‘Book it’ my lovely hubby said. Just over an hour later I was the proud owner of two Andre Rieu tickets, Eurostar tickets and several intercontinental rail connection tickets, not to mention a cute little apartment rental in the centre of Maastrict. AJ, slightly dazed by the speed at which his normally procrastinator wife could move, smiled resignedly and poured himself a large glass of wine.

photo0609So it came to pass that the Joneses found themselves in the beautiful Vrijthof Square in Maastrict during July, taking part in what was in effect the largest (and noisiest) party we’d ever been to. The whole evening was magical. AJ, who is very British and normally quite reserved, was on his feet most of the time and singing and dancing along to waltzes, songs from the musicals, anthems and popular ditties. We both loved every minute, so much so that the moment we got home, and at AJ’s suggestion, we booked again to see Andre in December here in Birmingham, UK. Which means we are now officially members of Andre’s Army 🙂

Fabulous concert aside, there was much to do in Maastrict which boasts having the oldest bridge in the Netherlands (Sint Servaasbrug) and the oldest city gate (Hell’s Gate), both built in the thirteen century. SAM_0638My favourite trip was to St. Pieter’s Caves, an underground network of man-made tunnels. The caves were formed through the mining of marl, and it is thought the process goes back to Roman times. Today it is a labyrinth of over 20,000 tunnels. The close proximity of Maastrict to Germany meant that during the second World War the caves were used as a refuge for the people of Maastrict. The caves were prepared to shelter 50,000 people, with chapels, a hospital and schooling for the children. Evidence of this remains in the form of altars, paintings and poems written on the walls.SAM_0636

While I’m not a huge fan of enclosed spaces, it was hard to miss the opportunity to visit these amazing caves. The tour took about an hour and the low temperatures provided a welcome respite from the thirty degree heat outside. Our party was about fifteen strong and our way was lit by three lanterns carried by the group. It was easy to believe the tales of how people used to mark the walls in order to find their way back out of this labyrinth, as every couple of feet the caves seemed to branch out into scores of other minor tunnels. Apologies for the poor quality of the photos, I don’t think my little camera could cope with the atmospherics, and it’s slightly damp-palmed operator, although I did get through the tour without disgracing myself by going into full-blown panic mode. It really was a fascinating experience.

Deck the Halls…Gilded Age-style by Valerie J. Patterson

We have never traveled during the holiday season.  It’s usually just so full of family, activities, shopping, and, well, work.  However, this year Steve surprised me with a holiday trip to Aquidneck Island in Narraganset Bay.  We’ve been there during the summer months and are really very fond of the area for multiple reasons–it’s on the east coast, the weather is exceptional, and Newport is loaded with history, which we both enjoy.

Newport is known for its Gilded Age Mansions, and it took Steve and I over a week to tour them all a couple summers ago.  Each year from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, the Preservation Society of Newport opens three of the mansions all decked out in holiday attire.  There are special evening festivities at the mansions like Christmas concerts, caroling, and even a grand holiday ball.  Steve and I have talked about wanting to travel to Newport during the holiday season to tour the mansions and participate in the Christmas festivities, and this year, Steve surprised me with a trip.

Photography is strictly prohibited inside the mansions with the exception of Marble House.

The Breakers (seen below) was the first mansion we toured.  It was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, II. It was built between 1893 and 1895 for $12 million ($335 million today).  This house is massive and awesome to see up close.  Mr. Vanderbilt’s billiard room alone was incredible.  He purchased immense blocks of marble, had them sliced in half, and spread open like a book so that the walls all matched in pattern!

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The second mansion we toured was The Elms–built from 1899-1901 for Edward Berwind, a Pennsylvania Coal Baron, for $1.5 million. It was among the first homes in America to be wired with electricity.  While this was the “cheapest” of the homes we toured, it was extremely ornate both inside and out!  (see below)

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At the rear of The Elms, Mr. Berwind–when he and his wife entertained–covered all the stone paths with fitted red carpet so the ladies in attendance did not ruin their dancing slippers or the hems of their gowns.   As well, the steps of the stairs interiorly and exteriorly were not as high as normal steps and were constructed so that it gave the appearance that women floated down the stairs as opposed to walking down them in their ballgowns.  I think I would have loved to have been a guest of the Berwinds when they entertained!

Elegant carved marble statues and huge marble settees graced the massive, manicured lawns at The Elms, and I wish I could share my entire photo album with you!

Next, was Marble House, constructed between 1888 and 1892 and built under a shroud of secrecy for William and Alva Vanderbilt, brother of Cornelius Vanderbilt, II.  Marble house is just that…a home made of vast quantities of gorgeous marble.  Floors, walls, staircases, and fireplaces were all constructed of marble.

Marble House (shown below) was a birthday present to Alva Vanderbilt and reportedly cost $11 million ($260 million today) to construct. Alva would later divorce William in 1895 and basically use Marble House as a giant closet to store her clothes and ballgowns once she remarried.

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If you look at the very top portion of Marble House, it appears to be simply a very ornate way to conceal the roof of this magnificent home.  However, what it actually conceals is a third floor, which was where the servants resided.  During the Gilded Age, the owners of these fabulous mansions wanted it to appear that the house ran by itself, so they never gave the appearance that they housed servants.  Thus, the servants’ quarters were concealed from the outside as well as the inside.

Marble House was the only mansion where photography was permitted in a limited number of specific rooms.  It was difficult to choose which photos to share (see below).  Enjoy!

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This was a most enjoyable holiday trip.  I thoroughly enjoyed stepping back into history and imagining myself as a guest in these glorious mansions.