Daddy's Christmas Angel

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Three Best Hotels of 2011

It's that time of year when people start reflecting on the past 12 months--what was good and what was not. I like to remember our travels for the year--especially visits to hotels. This year I have selected three unique and wonderful hotels. Each is special for a reason beyond the facilities they provide.

3. Hyatt Regency Incline Village Lake Tahoe
1. Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort -
Lake Tahoe, a destination I've always wanted to visit, did not disappoint me. The scenery was amazing and spectacular. Even in June, at 7,000 feet, snow covered the mountains. The Hyatt Resort is lovely and even has a nice sized sports bar where we watched baseball and enjoyed good dinners at the same time. Many cozy little restaurants adorn the quaint streets of Incline Village. Scenic parks are only a short drive away and are a must for visitors. Eight inches of snow fell on the village the week before we arrived, and we were unable to take a planned side trip to Yosemite because the main road through the park was still closed due to snow. Even so, June is a good time to go to Lake Tahoe because it's an in-between tourist season, too late for skiers and too early for a barrage of summer visitors.

The Pfister Hotel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

2. The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
We had been to the Pfister before and I wanted to return. In fact, I included this historic old hotel in my book, Hotels to Remember, because it is an unforgettable edifice located within easy walking distance of the newly-expanded Milwaukee Art Museum. The hotel is a museum on its own, featuring original paintings and sculpture throughout the facility. Getting to see the ceiling of the lobby is worth a visit to the Pfister. A major disappointment for me was the discovery that the awnings are now red instead of green as I painted them in the hotel portrait for use in my book. It was exciting to meet the artist in residence who has a studio/gallery in the hotel and also the resident blogger who changes every six months. (The artist stays for one year.) I was delighted to see Peter Mortensen, the chef concierge, again. Peter was most helpful when I worked on the Pfister entry in my book.

Roses for a wedding, Embassy Suites lobby.
3. Embassy Suites, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

Because our transportation plans got diverted to a different airport, we arrived at our hotel after the restaurant stopped serving food. Exhausted from the long day of travel which included a side trip to Boston en route to Florida from Virginia, we were thrilled when room service offered to serve the meal we ordered at a table in the restaurant. Everyone was courteous and helpful. Not only did we enjoy meeting other St. Louis Cardinals fans staying at this Embassy Suites, we also got to see Alan Craig, a star of the 2011 World Series, who was also staying there. The prepared-to-order breakfasts (included) were awesome. We enjoyed watching a wedding that took place in the lobby near the scenic bridge that crosses a little pond which is home to a pair of beautiful swan. The Palm Beach Gardens Embassy Suites is a special destination in late February and March each year because of its proximity to Roger Dean Stadium, home of the Cardinals in Jupiter.

Swan at Embassy Suites Palm Beach Gardens
It's time to turn the page on the 2011 calendar. I look forward to hotel visits in 2012 and hope to find more properties that are a joy to visit.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Spirited Gift - Getting Caught Up in a Setting

Settings intrigue me. Because we live in an area of Virginia where people flock to vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I was especially interested in the setting of A Spirited Gift by Joyce and Jim Lavene. The book begins when hurricane winds damage the hotel where a group of area governing officials are meeting. The descriptions of the low-lying terrain so easily devastated by storms captivate me. I've often wondered why people build homes in these locations, then refuse to leave when warned to do so. As in this story, the area's bridges are often closed during and following storms, and tourists as well as residents are cut off from the mainland.

A Spirited Gift features a heroine who has the gift of psychometry that helps her solve a murder, the ghost of a pirate, and much more. It is part of the Missing Pieces Mystery series. 

Still, it is the setting and how the elements of nature affect this story that attract me. I tend to get caught up in a setting!

Coming Next Week

Next week on January 6, Diana Cosby, Amazon Bestselling Author, will be a guest on Notes Along the Way. Diana who is author of the MacGruder historicals set in Scotland will be my first guest blogger.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mystery and Mystique - Who Are the Maya?

"Early Evening Sky" - MM Sikes
Since I first visited the dramatic, expansive ruins of the Maya that lie buried deep beneath the thick, green jungles of Mexico and Central America, I've been hooked. Then, when I started reading about the end of the Maya Calendar in 2012, I was spellbound. It's like gazing at the sky in wonderment as early evening settles in.

Did the Maya know things we do not? Is the end of their calendar on December 21, 2012 the sign of a doomsday event?

Because of their advanced abilities in mathematics and their primitive knowledge of astronomy, the Maya were able to develop a calendar that was considered by some to be the most accurate in the world. Their Long Count calendar begins in 3114 BC and ends December 21, 2012. The calendar has time divisions of 144,000 days (a little more than 394 years) called Baktuns. The 13th Baktun ends December 21, 2012. Long ago, the Maya predicted a solar shift at that time. A stone tablet found in the 1960s at the Tortuguero archaeological site in the Gulf of Mexico tells of the return of a Mayan god at the end of the 13th Baktun.

So much of the Maya history was destroyed during the European conquest that sometimes myths have grown to take the place of knowledge. I love the adventure of uncovering the ruins of the lost buildings of the Maya. I even fantasized about it in my latest Passenger to Paradise book, Jungle Jeopardy.

Who knows what still may lie hidden beneath the lush, tropical jungles?

Mexican tourism will take advantage of the 2012 phenomena. A year-long celebration is planned for the heart of the Maya ruins that lie buried in southern Mexico. Palenque in Chiapas is one of those sites. As many as 52 million tourists are expected to flood the area. That compares with about 22 million during an average year.

Who knows what we may learn? Perhaps we will know more about who the Maya were in those long ago lost times.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!

Over the years, our own Christmas traditions have changed. Because one of our daughters is an airline pilot, we vary our celebration depending on her schedule. Sometimes we have Christmas on December 26 or 27. This year, the turkey goes into the oven mid-afternoon, and we will open our gifts later tonight.

We have learned flexibility. Christmas is not a specific date. It is a time for celebration together, whenever and wherever that time may be.

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Joining a Festive Tradition

Jefferson Tree viewed from the stairs MMSikes
For well over 100 years, people have celebrated Christmas in style at the Jefferson Hotel. I joined the Richmond Branch National League of American Pen Women at the historic hotel for lunch and enjoyed seeing the women I've known for many years. We used to have a much larger group and we met every month except in the summer. Now the group has grown older in age, and we only meet four times a year. In recent years, we have gathered during the Christmas season to celebrate together.

The Jefferson was beautiful and very, very crowded.  On one side of the tall, lavishly decorated tree sat three temporary tables filled with young children. As I watched, three of the little girls, each wearing a red and green velvet holiday dress, escaped from their seats and danced about near the giant sparkling tree. The quaint scene made me wonder how many other little children have danced and played in the Jefferson lobby over the years.

I noticed that the elegant Lemaire Dining room was closed for a private party. The largest gingerbread house I've ever seen sat by the restaurant entrance, cordoned off for protection from the crowds by thick velvet cords.

While I waited to go into TJs, I watched a large group of ladies dressed in their finest line up. For many of them, this must be a yearly tradition that has gone on for decades.

Alligators Remembered MMSikes
As I observed everything happening all around, I was glad that our group has become part of the Jefferson tradition. We enjoyed our little piece of Christmas history. Even as we departed, we found decorations everywhere, including in the mouth of one of the alligator bronze statues that greets visitors at the valet parking entrance.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Who Are Our Heroes? The View of a Romance Writer

Who are our heroes? As a romance writer, I want happy endings. As I work, I strive to create characters who are heroic and provide happy endings for my readers. Although most characters start out a little flawed, they grow and become better heroes as the story develops.

When I first started writing romance, one of the rules for category was no sports heroes.  I wondered why. I also wondered why the big New York houses frowned upon heroes and heroines from the art world which was where I often wanted to go with some of my characters.

Of course, with the coming of age of e-books, everything has changed. There are fewer rules; the lines are grayer for what a writer can and cannot do. Perhaps there are no lines at all.

As I ponder about my experiences as a writer and as an observer of people, I believe the heroes in our world today are the teachers. They are the ones guiding and instructing for the future. The profession is not filled with the glamour and glitz some other jobs might hold. Teachers are not paid $48 a minutes even when they are sleeping. Yet, they are the unsung heroes.

One of my next books will feature a teacher as the heroine.

Who do you consider the heroes in today's world? I would like to know.

Heroes can be musicians who share their gifts with us. Petersburg Regional Art Center Open House 12/9/11

Friday, December 9, 2011

Greed and Gluttony - What Will the Children Think?

It was will great disappointment and anger that I observed the Albert Pujols fiasco unfold. Greed and gluttony, what will the children think? That was my amazed and traumatic reaction. After all, I have watched Albert Pujols during at least five spring trainings in Jupiter, Florida and have thought he cared a lot about the children who followed him as great and growing fans.

He did not.

In the end, nothing mattered as far as loyalty was concerned. He did not care about the children. He was not a role model. He was not a hero. He cared about money. How much money does one man need?

As someone who has worked with children for many years, I know they need role models to follow. They need heroes.

Albert Pujols is neither of these. He is a fallen hero.

It is sad because he could have followed in the footsteps of Stan Musial.

He did not.

So sad to see a lost opportunity.

Greed and gluttony...what will the children think?

I hope the St. Louis Cardinals soon will give out number 5 to another player. We do not want to keep bad memories of the player who has dishonored that number this week. Perhaps a new number 5 will grant us good memories as St. Louis Cardinals fans!

Fallen heroes do not.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Busy, Crazy, Insane Weekend and a New Book

Holiday Marketplace at Tides Inn
Combining a book signing with an art event is trying, cumbersome, and exhilarating. For as long as I can remember my first love has been both, and try as I might I can't seem to change that. The love of color and form is far too strong to separate myself from art, and my love of words is equally compelling. It has reached the point that when I didn't still have the painting that became the cover art for Jungle Jeopardy, I had to create a new painting to show with my book. There it is, far left, in the photograph.

Earlier this week, I received the first copies of my latest book, A Rainbow for Christmas. This is my first western. It's a sweet romance set in 1869 on a wagon train traveling from Missouri to Denver, Colorado. During my research I read the dairies of many women who experienced the hardships of crossing the prairie amidst all types of challenges. I was intrigued and lost in the journey of my heroine as she careened along a rough wagon train trail learning to drive a team of oxen along the way. It was thrilling to sign the first copies of my book in the middle of a festive room at Tides Inn filled with artisans of all kinds, including jewelry-makers, painters, potters, and two writers.

Crazy, busy! I love the excitement. Art and writing. I live for the confusing mixture of the two!