Catherine McGrew Jaime

Author, Historian, Lifelong Learner, Teacher, World Traveler

Back to My Writing

In mid-August I wrote two blog posts on my ongoing work on the next da Vinci novel – Working on my Da Vinci Series and The Joys of Researching. At that point I was about 20,000 words into my current novel (or almost half way through the rough draft, since my novels are more “novella” length – in the 40,000 word range).

My Progress Since August

Since I can generally write 1,000 words/day or more, at that time I fully expected to have the rough draft done by sometime in September – maybe the beginning of October if I really got bogged down. Alas, plans are great, but as is so often the case – life intervenes. So here I am in mid-October, a full 60 days since I wrote those posts. Any guesses as to how far along I am on Leonardo da Vinci book #6? If you guessed still at 20,000 words you would be correct.

What Excuses Do I Have?

Sadly, until a few days ago I hadn’t touched my novel since mid-August. There are all kinds of reasons/explanations/excuses I could give for the lack of progress. But ultimately, it doesn’t much matter. Here I am in mid-October with half a book left to write.

I could get mad at myself, tell myself it will never get finished, and I should just give up. Or I could dust off my computer and my notes and just get back to work. Which, of course, is what I’m doing (otherwise, I wouldn’t bother to tell you!).

Time For a New Deadline

Since I missed my original deadline, I need to set another one. I would love to say I’m going to knock out the second half in the next three weeks, but at this point, I doubt that’s a reasonable goal. I’ll give myself some extra time for research (part of what had stopped by my forward progress this summer) as well as the other responsibilities I have right now (primarily coaching Mock Trial and helping my students prepare for the Mock Trial competition in early November).

So now, let’s make the new goal the end of November, more like six weeks away. If all goes well, I’ll have a rough draft by then. (Of course, that will still leave the editing stage, so the book still won’t be done – but again, if all goes well, it will finally be well on its way.)

Progress Reports to Come

I’ll keep you posted on whether I succeed with this deadline. In the meantime, it’s back to trying to continue figuring out how many trips Leonardo actually made between Florence and Milan during this time frame. How much interaction did he have with Raphael and/or Machiavelli when he was back in Florence? How much detail do I want to include about the autopsy he did on the 100-year-old man, on the gala he organized in Milan, or on his newest painting commissions? And of course, the list goes on.

So, to myself, and other writers reading this, I say:

Happy writing! And keep going, you can do this!

Cathy

The First Few Paragraphs

In case you’re interested, here’s a small taste of what the first few paragraphs of the story currently look like.  I hope you enjoy them. (Always subject to change, of course!):

Florence, Italy, May 1506

Leonardo walked into the spacious room without seeming to notice Salai and Tommaso huddled in the far corner. Absentmindedly he picked up a small notebook, flipping quickly through the pages. Without a word, he threw the notebook on a nearby table and stormed out of the room.

Salai and Tommaso heard the outside door slam, but for a long moment they both remained in their places, speechless. In the years they had worked for Master Leonardo they had both seen him angry on a few occasions. But never like this. And certainly never for this long. It had already been more than a week since he had walked away from his battle painting in the City Hall. Machiavelli had stopped by almost every day in an attempt to converse with the Master, but as of yet Leonardo had been unwilling to see or talk to anyone. Maybe Machiavelli’s last visit had pushed Leonardo too far.

Finally breaking the silence, Salai asked quietly, “Do you think one of us should try to talk to him when he returns?”

“Not me. No way.” Tommaso replied, with fear practically dripping from his voice. “You are certainly welcome to try. But I am not going near the Master until he calls for us. There is no telling what he might do.”

Salai pondered their options before speaking again. “We can’t continue trying to avoid him for much longer. There is only so much we can do without instructions.”

Book Review: Isaac’s Storm

Reminder – Schedule Change

A friendly reminder (that I think I failed to add to the last post here!) that I’ve recently changed to one blog post a week instead of two – so a new post should appear on this blog every other Monday, and a new one should appear on my other website, www.CreativeLearningConnection, on the alternate Mondays.

Last Post – Audibles and History

Two weeks ago I did a post on Audibles and history (a topic that combines two of my favorite interests!). And I really thought I would be going a totally different direction with today’s post. But as so often happens, my plans got modified along the way. (One of the many reasons I very seldom taught from any sort of pre-done syllabus, and even when I did, it always got changed before the semester was out.)

Hurricanes – Recent and Past

This week’s change is for a variety of reasons. First the quick background. I just returned from my latest cruise (this was my 10th, maybe I’ll do an entire post on why I love cruising so much, but, clearly, no promises on when!). We sailed out of Galveston, Texas, just a couple of weeks after Hurricane Harvey came through that general area and did some significant damage (more in the area of Rockport and Houston than Galveston itself).

Isaac’s Storm


I mentioned my then upcoming trip to a woman at the pool just before we left.  She asked if I had ever read the book, Isaac’s Storm. I had not and she strongly encouraged me to do so. As I so often do when people recommend books to me, I went looking for it on Audible. It was there, I immediately purchased it, and downloaded it to my phone just before the trip. I thought maybe I could convince my daughters to listen to it as we traveled to or from Texas. Sadly, they weren’t as interested in it as I was and I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until we returned home last week.

But, since I managed to come home fighting a losing battle against a cold, I actually had plenty of time to listen to the book while I was spending lots of time in my room (trying not to share my germs) and without much energy to do much else.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria

Hurricane Irma

In the midst of all the recent damage done by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, it was fascinating to listen to the story of the 1900 hurricane that almost destroyed Galveston, Texas. The story gave me much more insight into to what those in the path of the recent storms would have suffered though during the hurricane itself and what many of them are continuing to suffer through in its aftermath.

The author, Erik Larson, does a good job bringing to life the days leading up to the hurricane, as well as making a reader feel the pain of those who were in Galveston on that fateful day. The subtitle of the book, A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, gives a good idea of what the book is about.  As Mr. Larson explains so well in the book, in the year 1900 Americans thought they were on the top of the world in almost every imaginable category – including weather predictions (even though the Weather Bureau was a brand new entity at the time, with very little practice at accurately predicting storms such as this one).

A Historic Narrative of Galveston’s Big Storm

After the 1900 Hurricane in Galveston

If you read or listen to the book, give it a little bit of time to get going. Mr. Larson describes his book as “a historic narrative” (and I honestly never determined whether it was classified as historic fiction or non-fiction), and he does spend some serious time in the beginning setting the stage for what occurred. My biggest complaint was not actually that, but the going back and forth between the time period just before the storm and much further back, when he gives us some of Isaac’s background including his time in the Signal Corps (the original weather folks). As an author, I can understand Mr. Larson’s desire to get readers hooked right away with the storm itself, but as a reader I prefer things laid out in a more straightforward manner. (But, really a small complaint about a very informative and interesting book.)

Isaac Cline was a late 19th/ early 20th century scientist and meteorologist who thought he had a true grasp of the limitations of nature. Living and working in Galveston before the hurricane struck, Isaac was one of many who that it impossible that a hurricane could do any significant damage to his city. His attitude before and even as the storm began reminded me a lot of the attitudes about the Titanic that would contribute to that disaster a mere twelve years later. But to put those two disasters into perspective, less than 2,000 people died when the Titanic hit the iceberg and more than 10,000 people died when the hurricane hit Galveston. (And it can be argued in both cases, the foolishness of men to take the true dangers into account made those numbers much worse than they should have been.)

Recommendation for Isaac’s Storm

If you like history, have an interest in storms, and/or want to better understand the physical and economic effects of the hurricanes that just roared across the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, I can strongly recommend Isaac’s Storm.

Happy learning, reading, and listening!

Cathy

Audibles and History

I’ve written many times about my love of history and also about how much I enjoy Audible books. Recently a friend with a new Audible account asked me for recommendations. After confirming that she liked history-related books, it was fun to go through my massive Audible library (400 books and counting) to find recommendations that met three conditions:

  1. They were history-related.
  2. I had finished them.
  3. I enjoyed them. (Generally if I finish a book, it’s because I enjoyed it, but there have been a few exceptions!)

Some of my Favorites

Several of these books, like the first two, are ones that I went looking for intentionally, either for research or because I had recently heard about them somewhere. Many others were ones I discovered through one of Audible’s many sales. As you can see, while there are several topics I come back to again and again, I read and listen to a wide variety of history-related books.

These are the titles that rose to the top of my history list, in the order that I listened to them:

This book on the history of the Biltmore was actually the first Audible book I ever bought! I’ve listened to it at least twice.

I listened to this book after reading the original book on The Monuments Men; both are great looks at what happened to many pieces of important art work during WWII.

The subtitle says it all: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps. 

Again, the subtitle explains it well: New York’s Most Notorious Rare Book Ring and the Man Who Stopped It 

A different type of WWII story – The Incredible True Story of a WWII Airman and the Four-Legged Hero Who Flew at His Side”

An excellent Civil Rights book – How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed”

Another good Civil Rights book – this one primarily about a black doctor who “dared” to buy a house in a “white section” of Detroit – and the events that surrounded that basic decision.

I had mixed feelings about this book. It’s a story of the Titanic – told from LOTS of different perspectives. Overall it was good; I liked seeing what was happening from the viewpoint of such a variety of people. But there were two “characters” we could have done without – the rat and the iceberg. Listening to both of those “speak” throughout the story took away from the overall book for both my daughter and I when we listened to it. (I think if I had been reading it instead of listening, I would have started skipping those parts – but that doesn’t work so well with an audio book!)

This Civil Rights book covers The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation” – and includes a side of the Civil Rights (the press) that I had never thought about.

A great story of a special dog serving alongside the Marines – a great story for those who enjoy stories about the military or about dogs!

I vaguely remember reading this biographical story when I was in high school, but I know I got much more of it listening to it as an adult. Mr. Griffin recounts the months he spent in the segregated South of the 1960’s as “a black man.” It is really powerful (and sad) to see, feel, and hear his experiences throughout his work and travels across the South.  I noticed that a recent reviewer had said of the book that “it didn’t age well” – and was no longer relevant. I have to humbly disagree!

A fascinating story of George Washington’s spy ring during the American Revolution

Another wonderful Civil Rights book that I only discovered because it was a daily deal – “The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration”

From what I could tell this book is not technically historical fiction – but it’s a very good story that’s been placed in a historical setting – late 17th century New England. For a feel of the time and the location, while enjoying a compelling story, I can strongly recommend this book.

This nonfiction book has another great subtitle to give you an idea what it’s about:  A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley.”

Okay, so this one is probably pushing it to be on a list of recommended history books. Like Crow Hollow it is really just historically set – only this one is set in 1950’s England. But I did enjoy the story and it still felt historical, so I’ve included it anyway.

  • Basilica by R.A. Scotti – Subtitle: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter’s”

Maybe just a tad too much emphasis on Michelangelo (what can I say, I’m not a Michelangelo fan!). But, I’ve listened to it all the way through twice so I obviously didn’t hate it. If you are interested in the history of St. Peter’s in Rome, this is a great place to start!

A powerful biographical story of a professor that brings Shakespeare to a maximum security prison. As someone who loves Shakespeare as much as history, it is encouraging to see prisoners relating to Shakespeare.

Again, the subtitle pretty much tells it all – “The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo.” Another great book for anyone who likes stories of animals AND military.

The three different books in this trilogy are amazing. They follow three slaves (related by blood or circumstances) during the American Revolution – and give us a completely different perspective on the war than what we normally see. (I got Chains as a special deal at some point, and couldn’t wait to buy the second and third books as soon as I had finished each of the previous ones!)

Okay, so maybe this is another one on my list that isn’t strictly history. But it has history in it, as Olsen does an amazing job unpacking Tolkien’s work, how he came up with his characters, and much of what he was doing in his well loved story.  If you like The Hobbit at all, you should really consider listening to this book!

This book gives an international perspective of history and economics. I enjoyed listening to it very much!

Such a good book! Describing the work done by the speech therapist that helped King George VI overcome the speech defect that had threatened to ruin his ability to lead his country before and during WWII.

  • Anything by Jeff Shaara if you like war related books

I have read at least a dozen of Shaara’s book, on everything from the Mexican War to the American Revolution, World War I and World War II. All were exceptional! The first one I listened to was A Blaze of Glory . It was at least as good as all of the ones I had read.

This series takes place throughout Europe, but it is mainly set in England, in the years between WWI and WWII. (Again, I don’t think it  is technically historical fiction, though it has quite a bit of history throughout.) The series starts with Her Royal Spyness (I have listened to them all, usually as soon as they are released!)

My Recommendations are for Other Adults

Because I only write family-friendly books, and am always on the lookout for other family-friendly books, I do feel the need to include the following caveat – I am NOT recommending these books for students. I haven’t listened to most of them in quite a while, so I just can’t say one way or another about that category of listeners or readers. I don’t have much of a tolerance for violence, bad language, or “bedroom scenes,” so I can guarantee that all of these titles are either lacking completely in those, or they are pretty close to it.  But I generally listen to these on my own or with adult children – so I am not prepared to recommend them for younger folks!

The Great Courses and History

I listen to a fairly eclectic selection of books – a variety of fiction and non-fiction, and have a special place in the reading portion of my heart for the various lecture series that Great Courses produces. So I’ve include a variety of those below that meet the above guidelines:

Helpful Suggestions?

My hope is that one or more of these titles will interest you. (Most of them are available as Kindle and paperback versions, too, in case you don’t consume your books in audio form as much as I tend to do.)

Happy reading and listening!

Cathy

Remembering 9/11

I had started another blog post for this week. But when I thought about what date it would be published, I changed my mind. The other topic can  wait.

The Assassinations of the 60s

It’s always interesting to recall where we were and what we were doing when certain key events happened.  I’ve talked to people from my generation that remember some of the assassinations from the 60’s that way – JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr, or Robert Kennedy to name a few. I was in the Canal Zone (Panama) when John F. Kennedy was killed and have no recollection of that.  Based on when we moved, I must have been in Massachusetts when King and the younger Kennedy were shot, but I don’t recall either of those.

The Challenger Explosion

But I do remember where I was and what I was doing when the Challenger Shuttle exploded and when 9/11 happened. In fact, both of those times I was home with my children, and my husband called me from work to tell me the news. Before the Challenger explosion my family had actually watched the live broadcasting of several shuttle liftoffs, but “happened” not to be watching that one. I was thankful that I was able to give the kids some information about what had happened before we turned the news on to see what they were discussing. I’m sure we spent most of that day watching the news as they tried to analyze the tragedy that had just occurred.

The 9/11 Attacks

The television was also off when the first airplane struck the tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. After my husband called, we prayed for the people in the tower, and then like so many other people across the country, turned the TV on and tuned into the news. And like so many others, we were watching when the second tower was struck, and we were watching when the towers started to collapse. We spent much of that morning praying for those who had been injured, those who were trying to get out of the towers (as well as those who were rushing in to help), and the families of the increasing number of people who were dying that day.  I think it would be safe to say that 9/11 brought our country to its knees – to the knees of those in prayer.

People Who Were Directly Affected

It would be several years before I would actually speak with people who had been in D.C. and New York City when the attacks happened.  A good friend in D.C. was in the Navy at the time, and working at the Pentagon. She was actually away from her office, and returned right after the plane had struck.  But when I visited her in D.C. a few years later we dined with another Navy friend who was at the Pentagon that morning. In fact her office was very close to where the plane struck. I listened intently as she described their hasty departure from the building, and the massive amounts of damage that had been caused. And, of course, she knew many of those who died in the Pentagon that morning.

Many years later I attended a dinner in New York City connected to my son’s graduation from law school. There were several people at our table that evening that had been in New York City on 9/11. They described the chaos in the streets and the debris in the air as they ran with countless others away from the disaster.  Many lives were lost that day, and many others were forever changed.

The Smoke Could Even Be Seen From Space

When I was looking for some pictures I could use for today’s blog post, I ran across many that I was familiar with, photographs of the towers on fire and of the aftermath. But I also discovered a photo I had never seen before – the one taken from the International Space Station (ISS) showing the smoke from the towers that the astronauts could even see from space. The ISS Commander, Frank L. Culbertson, wrote that day: “The world changed today. What I say or do is very minor compared to the significance of what happened to our country today when it was attacked.”

Sixteen Years Later

Sixteen years have passed since that tragic day, and it is very easy for those of us who were not directly effected by that day to forget. (My oldest son was unable to fly back overseas that day after flights were cancelled and I had to pick up my niece at school that day when the schools choose to release students early). Other than that we were only impacted as Americans.

And today, sixteen years later, I have students who only know of 9/11 as part of our country’s collective history – but they have no personal memories of that day.  I hope that as a nation we can keep alive the memories of those who perished in those attacks – particularly the first responders who willingly ran towards the disaster rather than away from it.

Praying for those Affected by the Hurricanes and 9/11

Today with much of our country’s focus on the current path and recent damage of Hurricane Irma (and Harvey), may we also remember those who’s lives were forever changed by 9/11.

Prayerfully,

Cathy

Relaxing with Family

Fun at Family Reunions

I spent this past weekend attending a family reunion. The reunion itself, with our extended family members, was only about two hours long. But, for the second year in a row, attending the reunion gave my sisters and I an excuse to spend extended time together with each other and with our mom. In theory, we shouldn’t need such excuses, and we have worked hard at getting the four of us together at least once a year for a few days for quite some time now. But with the four of us now living in four different parts of the country, we will take all the excuses we can find.

In addition to spending more time with each other we spent additional time with my mom’s only surviving sister and the cousin that we’re all closest to (who both live in a fifth state).  All of that extended the “reunion time” by several days in each direction – giving us the “excuse” to spend a week away from our respective jobs and just enjoying each other’s company.

A Great Way to Spend a Weekend

It was a great weekend – fairly low key, with little planned outside the reunion time itself. But around that we ate together and played together (we’re all big board game and card game players!). And we swam together and walked together.

No History Lessons This Time

And while I am a historian by nature, and love learning the history of the areas I visit, I don’t have to turn every trip into a history lesson. (My children may have doubted that fact when they were growing up, but that was a different time with different priorities!) I certainly want to become immersed in the history related to many of my trips, but this wasn’t one of those times.  This was just a trip to relax and to enjoy each other’s company.

Family Games

I was struck by one comment that was made at the reunion. With twelve children, I’m accustomed to being the outlier when it comes to family size. But I do have a cousin who also has a large family. When the topic of a conversation turned to games my cousin mentioned that because of the younger children they didn’t play many games with the older children. Since the youngest ones would either want to play with the games that were above their heads and would likely get ahold of the pieces and ruin the games.

Legos v. Duplos

The comment reminded me of a friend in Germany many years ago that didn’t plan to buy actual Legos (instead of Duplos) until her youngest child was old enough to safely play with Legos. Since there is a twenty-one year gap between my oldest and youngest, my oldest children would never have played with Legos.  And they would never have played some really great games had I waited on those. (You can see some of our favorites on my other blog,  at www.CreativeLearningConnection.com) For us, dealing with the ramifications of Legos and games aimed at older kids and adults was worth it.

The Value of Games

Throughout my life, games have been a big part of how our family relaxed and related. And that’s something I have happily passed on to my children, and as they get older, hope to help pass on to the grandchildren. This week’s reunion time has been another wonderful reminder of how much joy families can get from engaging in games together.

Happy playing!

Cathy

Atlanta or Bust!

Warning, this is an unusually long post for this blog – but I couldn’t figure out how to share this story with less words:

Choosing the “Best” Airport

We live in an area of the country where flight prices can literally be all over the map. At times, it makes the most sense to fly from the airport that’s practically around the corner from us; at other times, we willingly drive 100 miles north or south to use Nashville or Birmingham’s airports. (And on even rarer occasions we go 100 miles northeast to the Chattanooga airport.)

But every once in a while, we actually fly people in or out of Atlanta instead. Needless to say, at 250 miles each direction, that has to result in BIG savings to be worth the time and gas. But especially with international flights, that can sometimes be the case. And when we’re talking multiple people flying from there, the savings can add up quickly.

Choosing to Fly From Atlanta

Last week was just such a time. My son’s family of five was heading overseas. Flying out of Atlanta was going to save them time and money – at least that was the idea when they made their reservations.  The original plan was simple: the rest of us said our goodbyes early Tuesday afternoon, and my oldest took off for Atlanta with the five travelers in the family minivan. They left the house at 1:30 p.m., in plenty of time to make the four-hour drive, add in a couple of stops, and still arrive early for the flight that was due to depart eight hours later.

The Unexpected Flat Tire

Imagine my surprise when my daughter called 45 minutes after they had departed to say that they were sitting by the side of the interstate with a blown tire. Our insurance company had been called, since we have free towing through them. They had promised help within three hours. Oh yes, meanwhile three adults and three small children are camped out on the grass by the side of the interstate – in temperatures that were topping 90 degrees again. Never mind that at that point there would be no way to make their flight.

Fortunately, we also have free towing through AAA, so that was their next phone call. AAA promised a tow truck could be there in more like 30 minutes. Sold, to the lowest bidder.

Trying to Come Up with another Van

Meanwhile I had been called too. Immediately, the idea of renting a van from our (then) favorite rental company came to mind. Fortunately, Enterprise has three locations that were convenient to their location and mine. In hopes of tracking down the closest minivan in the shortest amount of time, my son called the one closest to our home, while I called the 1-800 number.  No minivans were available in Madison or Huntsville, but she could put one on hold at the Decatur location for us. Fortunately, another daughter was home (having not yet left to take care of her plans for the day). The two of us were soon on our way to Decatur.

Thirty minutes later my son called back. They weren’t going to make it to the airport, so we should not spend the money on a rental car, just return home to pick up a second vehicle, so that we could get them picked up and back home sooner rather than later.

We considered his new request, but quickly decided against it. We were much closer to the Decatur Enterprise than to home and getting a rental vehicle would at least get them off the road quicker. My daughter dropped me off and headed to their location, figuring she could either transport some of the group, or at least increase the adult to child ratio.

Enterprise and the Elusive MiniVan

Meanwhile I rushed into the Enterprise building to pick up the minivan that was being held for me. We had already decided that, worst case, if this van wasn’t as big as our Toyota Sienna, we could put some of the luggage and people in the rental and some in the Toyota Echo my daughter was driving, and get everyone to the airport that way.

But, there was a new problem. The Decatur Enterprise had no minivan for me – they had no idea what I was talking about, or why the lady at the 1-800 number would have thought they did.

Enterprise and NO Rental Vehicles

Me: Okay, I’ll take a smaller vehicle, maybe we can squeeze everyone and everything into two regular cars. Enterprise: No, sorry, we have nothing on the lot right now, of any size. All I could think of at that point was getting my family safely picked up. Enterprise: We could call someone else for you. Me: I have no way to get anywhere else; I was dropped off and my ride has long gone. By the way, what time do you guys close? Because at this rate, I may be here until then.

What Else Could We Do?

At that point I sat down across from their counter, trying to maintain my composure, while prayerfully considering our other options. But I was coming up with nothing. I passed on the bad news to the family members along the highway and then contacted my youngest daughter, the only other family member that was in town and not tied up with school and/or work. Me to her: Please go home and trade vehicles, it looks like we may need you to help get folks picked up. I don’t know what else we can do. And after you get them, please stop by the Decatur Enterprise and pick me up.

The Costs of Not Getting There in Time

Meanwhile my son had discovered that they would be delayed two weeks before they could get another flight overseas, and they would be charged hundreds of dollars for changing their tickets because of this. Needless to say, if they didn’t make their flight, the stakes were high and tempers were in danger of moving that direction, too.

Oh, and the tow truck folks were having trouble even accessing the small, donut-sized spare tire we had hiding in the van.  So, towing the van was going to be their only option. My oldest agreed to go with the tow truck when the time came and see what could be done about replacing the tire.

So, there I sat, unable to do anything – stranded at a car rental place without a vehicle of my own and apparently no way to rent one of any size – large or small. An hour had already passed since the tire had blown, and I knew that every minute that passed increase their risk and decreased any chance they had of making it to Atlanta on time.

The Mysterious 15-Passenger Van

I continued to pray, and tried not to fret. (Enough people were currently engaged in that activity.) Suddenly the young man behind the counter looked at me, “Can you drive a 15 passenger van?” Me: Yes, I’ve owned one and driven several others. Why? Enterprise: “Okay, we’ll have one of those available for you in a few minutes.”

I still don’t know if one had mysteriously appeared while I sat there, or if he suddenly remembered one hiding in the back of their lot, but at that point I didn’t really care. I let the family members know I was working on getting a 15-passenger van as quickly as possible. Doing the math, I knew it might not matter in the quest to get them to Atlanta; we were about out of time.

I let my youngest know we wouldn’t be needing her services and I waited, watching another ten minutes pass by before I held the keys to the 15 passenger van. Right at 4:00 p.m. I joined the caravan along the side of the road. My oldest was about to depart with the tow truck and the minivan. Thinking that we were all heading home, she didn’t say much in the way of goodbyes – better to just get everyone on their way as quickly as possible. My son locked and loaded three car seats and then started throwing the luggage in anywhere and everywhere. Did I mention that in addition to the 5 of them they had 10 suitcases and a large stroller? Having a large van meant things would actually fit easily, without the careful packing plan that had been used at home that morning.

Giving It Our Best Shot

Rather than send a couple of people in the Echo with my other daughter we made the quick decision to head south with the travelers and prayerfully make a final attempt to make it to Atlanta. As soon as we were on our way, my son and I were both doing the calculations. It was clear that he didn’t want to give up too quickly, but he was also reluctant to have us drive all the way to Atlanta if they weren’t going to be able to get on their flight anyway.

I insisted that we had to try and I kept moving south as quickly as I could safely and legally go. Because it was a rental van, I had suddenly become the only driver. I knew we were going to hit Birmingham right at rush hour and if we had any type of delays at all, that would be the end of any chance of making the flight. Even without delays or unnecessary stops it was unclear whether we were doing this all for nothing – in spite of several phone calls, my son couldn’t get a straight answer as to what the absolute latest they would be allowed to check in. All we knew was that since it was an international flight, the expectation was that they be there two to three hours before the flight. We knew there was no possibility of that, even with only two quick stops – one at the first rest area we encountered and one on the other side of Birmingham when we had to admit that the 3/8 of a tank we had started with was not going to get us all the way to the airport.

What Type of Delays Lay Ahead of Us?

But ultimately, this would all come down to whether we hit any delays at all along our route, and whether the folks at the check in counter would allow them to check in a mere one and a half hours (or less) before the flight. We pulled up to the curb at almost exactly 8:00 p.m. our time, so 9:00 p.m. Atlanta time. I helped them unload as best I could and then left them with their mound of stuff, three tired children, and two wiped out adults.

Checking In?

I pulled around to the parking garage and then came inside to find them. They were still in line at the counter. They weren’t quite the last people in line, but they were close – and the two gentlemen behind them didn’t even look like they had bags to check.

We all held our collective breaths as they waited to see what the counter person would say when their turn came. Now they were barely an hour before flight time. But as he started checking their bags we could all breathe normally again. Once those bags had gone on the conveyer belt there wasn’t much chance they were going to be turned around.

Through Security

I walked with them to security at 9:30, where the young lady rushed them through the crew’s path –  a much more direct one than what they “should” have taken, and they were on their way to the gate, undoubtedly the last ones there.

Heading Home?

Now it was my turn to depart. My son thought I was planning to drop them off and check into a hotel. We had talked about that option days before when we thought it might take two vehicles to get them and all their stuff to Atlanta.

But all this had happened so quickly that I had left home without anything I would have wanted for an overnight stay somewhere, including my CPAP machine. I contacted my oldest daughter and told her I was going to attempt to make it home that night. I would keep her posted. If I got tired, I would stop. I wasn’t planning to do anything foolish. And we both knew I usually turn into a pumpkin by midnight.

I made my first stop an hour from the airport. I needed more gas and I needed food. It was now 9:30 p.m. at home and I had yet to eat dinner. (When my son’s family was dining on granola bars in the van I hadn’t wanted to deprive them of snacks they could very well need later on their trip.)

On the Road Again

After the van was full, and I had purchased food and another Mountain Dew, I was back on the road. Only 200 miles or so still to go. But now I had at least figured out how to work the cruise control and I had turned on an Audible book that still had many hours of listening on it. I had also turned on and then turned back off my map program, since I had no intention of going any way except the one I knew the best – I20 to I65 and then home.

But the map program came in handy a little while later when I came upon traffic that was standing still. I thanked the Lord again that we had encountered nothing like this on the way to Atlanta. I followed the map program’s suggestion and got off at the next exit, following several big trucks and just a few smaller cars who clearly had the same information and the same alternative directions.

Thirty minutes later we were back on the interstate, getting closer to Birmingham. I had decided I would need to stop at least two more times on my way home, but was trying to get through Birmingham before I stopped again. Soon after I sailed back through the city and got on 65 my daughter called to see how I was doing. It was midnight and I was heading north on 65. So far so good on not feeling tired. (I attributed that to the caffeine and the prayers of those who knew I was still on the road.) By the time we got off the phone I realized I was almost to the rest area. I stopped there, making it my second stop of the return trip, rather than the third I had expected it to be. By 1:15 I was back on the road with two snacks, a Gatorade, and my book.

Ten Hours From Decatur to Atlanta and Home

I pulled into my driveway and parked in front of our house at 2:00 a.m. Only at that moment did I realize how exhausted I was. I had not yawned once since getting behind the wheel of the van 10 hours before. After making sure my alarm for swimming the next morning was truly turned off, I said goodnight to my daughter, stumbled up the stairs and crawled into my bed – thankful to be home, and thankful that my family was on their way across the Atlantic.

Almost a week later my knee has almost fully recovered from the drive and I think I’ve about caught up on my sleep again. We could never have pulled it off without the prayers, the answers to prayers, and the help and cooperation of several family members. As one of my other sons said, “Go team Jaime!”

Here’s hoping our next trip (later this week) will not be so exciting!

Happy traveling, and may your adventures be equally blessed (but maybe not so stressed!)

Cathy

The Joys of Researching

Enjoying Research

As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, Writing Historical Fiction, it’s a good thing I like to write historical fiction as much as I do. Otherwise, I’m fairly sure I could spend all my “writing” time doing research. I get the impression that researching comes more out of a need than a sense of joy for some authors. Maybe it’s the historian in me, but I get very excited being able to dig up the facts I need in order to fill in the holes of my novel. In fact, I have to make sure that the time I spend researching doesn’t get away from me, so I generally only allow myself to do research after I’ve done my writing for the day. That way, if (or better said, when) I get carried away with the research, it hasn’t interfered with the day’s word count goal.

Simple Searches

Oftentimes a simple search will uncover the facts I’m needing. How old was Salai when he became Leonardo’s apprentice? And how old was Francesco Melzi when he joined Leonardo’s entourage? Facts like those were fairly simple to track down.

Complicated Digging

But at other times it seems to get a little more complicated. How would Leonardo have traveled from Florence to Milan and back? (And what routes would he have taken and where would he have stayed along the way?) Where was he staying each time he was in Milan or to Florence? (And were those the same places each time he was in those cities, or different places at different times?) Needless to say, the questions like that can go on for quite a while.

Historical Facts

As a historian, I want to get my facts straight. And while I realize it’s a balancing act, I’m very troubled by historical fiction that puts so much more emphasis on the fiction than the historical. I work hard to keep the balance in my writing, and my love of research certainly makes that easier to accomplish.

Machiavelli and the Militia

For my current da Vinci novel I needed to fill in some blanks about Machiavelli and his role with the Florentine militia. Going into this novel Machiavelli and Leonardo had interacted numerous times – though never at Leonardo’s initiation from what I’ve been able to tell.  They worked together for months for the ruthless Cesare Borgia (in my novels that happens in Leonardo: A Return to Florence); Machiavelli talked Leonardo into accepting the assignment for an extremely large battle mural and together they attempted to divert the Arno River. (I include those latter two in my most recent novel, Leonardo: A Return to Painting.)

Current Work in Progress

This novel that I’m currently working on, number six in the Life and Travel of Da Vinci series, starts with Leonardo having to figure out how to go forward from his failed battle painting. Where does he go from here and what will he be doing? Those decisions will be complicated by the lawsuits that he is suddenly dealing with: First the city of Florence threatens to sue him, then there’s a monastery in Milan that apparently wasn’t happy with an altarpiece he had painted almost two decades earlier, and then, not much further down the road, he finds himself in court with family members (half siblings) who are angry that he is named as the sole heir to their uncle’s estate.  A complicated legal time in Leonardo’s life, to be sure.

Leonardo and Lawsuits

But, what does any of this have to do with Machiavelli and a militia, you might be asking. Well, at this time in Leonardo’s story, Machiavelli is secretary to the Florentine city council. As such, he will likely interact often with Leonardo yet again. And while I don’t really want to make Machiavelli my antagonist, because I do think he and Leonardo at least had mutual respect for each other, I think it will work well in this story to have him working for the main antagonist. The head city councilman at this time is Pier Soderini and he is likely the one who either threatens or initiates the lawsuit against Leonardo for the uncompleted battle painting. But I don’t think Soderini would have had many direct dealings with Leonardo; I think he would have left the dirty work to his secretary, Machiavelli.

More Machiavelli and the Militia

Ah, so now we can at least see the importance of Machiavelli in this next story. But maybe not the connection to the militia. This story starts in May 1506. I had read somewhere that Machiavelli was busy trying to set up a militia for Florence until sometime that year and I wanted to have an idea when in 1506 that was. If Leonardo and Machiavelli are interacting several times while Machiavelli is focused on setting up the militia, surely the topic would come up between them, especially after they worked together for so long with Borgia.  But if the militia was already a thing of the past for Machiavelli, any conversations about it would certainly have a different feel to them.

But, it turns out, when I finally found what I was looking for, that Machiavelli was just getting the militia going in 1506, and actually continued to work with it for some time after this. So how to use the militia in defending the city, and the advantages of militia over mercenaries will definitely be an important part of conversations Machiavelli and Leonardo have during the early chapters of the story. (And, likely, any future conversations, as well.)

Digging for Details

I spent several hours tracking down the information about Machiavelli and his role with the Florentine militia. And in this case, I can see it coming up numerous times in this upcoming book. But I have to admit that I’ve also spent hours trying to track down details of much less consequence, including where the gates in the city walls around Florence were located and which one he would likely have returned through, or where in Rome his good friend Donato Bramante would have been living when Leonardo first visited the city. Those are often hours of research that turn into a few paragraphs (or less) of actual writing.

How it Might Have Been

Leonardo’s Original Madonna of the Rocks

When I can find the information, I’m willing to invest those hours in order to do a better job with the historical part of my historical fiction. When I can’t find the information, that becomes much more frustrating. I’m still trying to track down more details on the Milanese monastery that hired Leonardo to paint the first Madonna and the Rocks altarpiece. These are the folks I mentioned above that threaten to sue Leonardo twenty years after the fact. But I’m currently having a great deal of difficulty tracking down even basic information on where the church was located, where the altarpiece hung within the church, etc. I will likely spend some more time this week trying to nail down some of those facts, but it may turn into another one of those times that I have to write a fictional version of that part of the story. (And then explain that clearly in the Author’s Note at the end of the book!)

Random Tidbits

Needless to say, I can’t really relate to authors who write historical fiction but who don’t enjoy doing historical research as much as I do. (I think the ones who can afford it, hire research assistants to help with that.) But for me, learning these random tidbits as I work on my writing is part of the fun! I consider myself both an author and a historian and the ongoing research for my historical novels is such a great way to combine those two interests.

Happy reading!

Cathy

Working on My Da Vinci Series

I’ve been hard at work this summer on the next novel in my “Life and Travels of da Vinci” series. With the 500-year anniversary of Leonardo’s death looming in the relatively near future (May 2019), I’m doubling up my efforts to complete my da Vinci series by then.

My First da Vinci Novels


In my earliest years of novel writing I was able to complete an average of one novel per year. (These are relatively short novels, technically more “novella” size, so one per year with everything else I was doing was generally attainable.) I kept that pace fairly consistently for the first four novels: Leonardo the Florentine, Leonardo: Masterpieces in Milan, Leonardo: To Mantua and Beyond, and Leonardo: A Return to Florence. But I slipped a little between the fourth and the fifth, not completing Leonardo: A Return to Painting until this past spring, more than two years after the previous one had been finished.

At Least Nine Books

By my current calculations, there should end up being at least nine books in the series by the time I’ve completed it. Which means starting this year I will need to write more like two books per year to finish in time. Again, considering the lengths of these books, and the fact that as of January 2017 I am now semi-retired, this should be completely doable.

Setting Goals

One of the things I love about self-publishing my books is that I get to set my own goals. (Of course, as the two-year gap shows, sometimes goals where you only answer to yourself can get away from you!) But typically, I’m better at setting goals that I can attain, and actually meeting them.

Daily Writing

I can easily write 1,000 words or more each writing day. (On good, productive days I often hit more than 2,000 words, and when the story is clicking I’ve done as many as 3,000 – 4,000 words.) Considering my last da Vinci novel was the longest, and it came in at only 42,000 words, you can see how writing the first draft isn’t a long process when I’m working on it daily. (Six days a week is my goal during the peak of a “writing season” for me.)

The Rough Draft

I’m almost half way through the rough draft of this next story, hitting 21,000 words in just over three weeks. I’m allowing myself the next two weeks as a break from writing for two reasons – to do some more research for a few parts of the story and to spend more time with the children and grandchildren who are visiting.

Where to Begin

One of many sketches Leonardo made for the battle mural.

It’s exciting to see the story develop before my eyes. I knew where the story would begin – basically where the last one ended: Leonardo had just walked away from a large mural he had been painting for the Florentine city fathers. There was a large disaster involving the paint he had used, and the painting was effectively destroyed. What Leonardo (and the city fathers) would do next was a huge concern. (And became a bigger concern when they threatened to sue him for breach of contract.)

Other Interesting Events

All of that was a known part of this next story that I’m writing. Along the way to researching and writing those portions I have found several other interesting events during that time period in Leonardo’s life: He built a model for a flying machine that he tested with one of his apprentices; he was threatened with a lawsuit for an altarpiece he had painted in Milan twenty years earlier; and he was asked to assist a good friend in Florence with a set of life-size sculptures for the Florence Baptistery.

Learning enough about each of those events to weave them into this story is my current project. As with all my historical fiction, I want to have as many of the facts as possible, while still trying to make an interesting story.

Until next time,

Cathy

Remembering Travels Through Journals

Photo Pages and Photo Books

There are several ways to remember a trip. In these days of smart phones with great digital cameras, photos are certainly one great way. As I mentioned in last week’s post on Creative Learning Connection’s website, it’s easy (and inexpensive) to make photo books and photo pages from some of those wonderful digital pictures that tend to accumulate on our phones and computers. (The Croatia page was made using PowerPoint, but Canva.com has become my new favorite way to may photo pages.)

Travel Journals

As a writer, I also appreciate the value of the written word. Travel journals are a great way to record the portions of a trip that seem so “unforgettable” at the time, but will certainly be forgotten in time. Travel journals can include anything we want to remember from a trip:

  • Where we stayed
  • What we ate
  • Purchases we made
  • Where we visited
  • History we learned
  • Maps
  • Photos
  • And so much more…

My First Travel Journal

I wrote my first travel journal when I was nine-years-old. My family was driving from Panama, through Central America and Mexico, and up the east coast of the United States to Massachusetts. As the oldest in my family, I was tasked with recording a vast array of information from that six week adventure. Amazingly enough, my father found my hand-written journal more than 40 years later, and typed it up for me.  Being able to go back after so many years and seeing what we did on the trip is beyond amazing!
 

Lewis & Clark Trail

 Fast forward many decades and I was the parent taking several of my children on a trip – this time to follow the Lewis and Clark Trail. It was time for another travel journal. That travel journal has come in handy numerous times when others have asked us for specifics from our journey.

Returning to Panama

Soon after that I made my next trip to Panama, returning with my siblings, my father, and several of our spouses. From the beginning of that two week trip, I was writing my standard “here’s what we’ve been doing” travel journey.  It is also a great way to go back and look at the fun we had on that vacation.

Horsey and Friends

But then, a fun and different way to write travel journals came to me. My brother was having a great time taking pictures throughout our trip of a small, stuffed horse. “Horsey” quickly became the star of a fun, light-hearted travel journal that soon became the first book in an entire series of travel books starring “Horsey and Friends.”

These are just a few of the fun journals I’ve written on my various adventures across the country and around the world. And in these days of so many print-on-demand options, it is not only easy, but fairly inexpensive to make and print your own travel journal (whether you want one copy or ten!). So the next time you are off to see exciting parts of the world, may I strongly encourage you to make a more permanent record of your vacation. In the future, when looking back at it, you will be glad you’ve taken the time.

Happy traveling (and journaling).

Cathy

History Along the Road

Even in the early 1500s the Colosseum was in ruins.

The Joys of “Being There”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been a history buff for decades now. And while I love reading (and then writing) about history, particularly historical fiction, nothing beats being where history took place. And for any that know us, it should come as no surprise that my family tends to take that concept to extremes. I’ve crossed the Old North Bridge in Lexington where the British and Colonials fought in the early days of the American Revolution more than 200 years ago; I’ve stood in Jamestown where John Smith and the other settlers had been 400 years before; and I’ve walked the streets of Rome pondering both Leonardo da Vinci and Martin Luther having walked those streets almost 500 years before me. (The title photo is from a visit to the underground cities near Cappadocia, Turkey – cities that date back more than 1,000 years. That visit started me off on my first historical short stories.)

Historical Journeys with the Family

Several years ago, seven members of our family followed the Lewis and Clark trail for almost two weeks. It was amazing to be in various places along the route where those men (and the one woman) had stood almost exactly two hundred years before us.

The castle near where we lived in Wuerzburg, Germany.

When my family was in Germany many years before that, my children were quite confident that they had been to every castle in the country, though of course, they had not. But we had certainly seen lots – and every one of my kids had a pretty good idea of what life was like in the Middle Ages in Europe as a result.

Once we returned to the states, we took a family trip along the east coast that involved stops at numerous civil war and revolutionary war sites. Again, the common thought among the kids was that we had stopped at them all, but sadly it was merely as many as we could work into our several week trip. I could certainly have found more, had time not been an issue.

An Unscheduled Stop at Gettysburg

So it should come as no surprise that when we have time to kill on a road trip we often fill it with historic stops. On a recent trip to the northeast my oldest daughter and I had some extra time as we drove from Virginia to New York City. Plotting our route for the day we discovered that Gettysburg was on our way. What a wonderful way to fill a “few” extra hours!

We decided it would be fun to have an audio tour as we drove around the battlefield this time, so we started at the Gettysburg National Park Visitor Center. There were too many choices! We finally asked a National Park employee for a recommendation. After he narrowed it down to his favorite two, we plopped down $30 for the Gettysburg Field Guide (narrated by Wayne Motts) – 2 CDs and a book.  And off we went.

Enjoying the Audio Tour

One of the countless monuments at the Gettysburg Battlefield

We spent an enjoyable two hours driving through just over half of the battlefield (that got us to Stop 9 of the 15 on that audio tour). Even knowing as much as I already did about the battle of Gettysburg, I learned more as we did the drive. I liked the CD because the narrator had a very conversational tone and shared a lot of stories as he spelled out what had happened there over 150 years before. (A note about this particular CD set – we don’t recommend it for a drive through the battlefield with younger children or others who don’t want to hear graphic details of the battle – this narrator very much “told it like it was.” For the two adults listening to it, it was fine.)

Touring Gettysburg Again

Fortunately for our newly revived interest in Gettysburg, we were crossing back across that section of Pennsylvania a mere five days later. When we got back to the area, we made our way across the park to Stop 9 and spent the next hour or so finishing up the remainder of the CD. And we pondered what life must have been like that July for those in the sleepy town of Gettysburg who suddenly found themselves caught in the crossfire of these two large armies.

A depiction of Pickett’s Charge

As we drove, and listened to the stories, I found myself wanting to re-watch the movie Gettysburg. And I found myself reaching for my phone and Wikipedia on several occasions to fill in even more of the details.

Trying to Imagine Pickett’s Charge

No matter how often I watch the movie, make that drive, or stand on the edge of the field where Pickett’s Charge started (or ended), I never tire of thinking about the countless men who gave so much in that bloody conflict.

There are many things we can learn from a study of history, but remembering the sacrifices of those who fought for our freedom should certainly be high on that list!

Please remember, history must be learned in order not to be forgotten.

Happy learning.

Cathy

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