Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Comments on The Cocoa Conspiracy by Andrea Penrose

The Cocoa Conspiracy is the second installment in the Regency historical series featuring Lady Arianna and Saybrook. It's author Andrea Penrose writes these mysteries in the grand old tradition of cozy mysteries, but set in Regency England.

The central interest binding the two protagonists, Lady Arianna, Countess of Saybrook and the Earl of Saybrook is a deep-abiding interest in chocolate, in its medicinal and culinary properties, its biology, and its various edible forms. The stories include many recipes of baked goodness. Andrea has a brief history of chocolate on her website. For a more in-depth look at the history of chocolate, visit Chicago's Field Museum site.

I enjoyed reading Andrea's debut book Sweet Revenge, so I've looked forward to the release of The Cocoa Conspiracy. And it did not disappoint. The book launches right away into the storylines that have far-reaching effect into the Congress of Vienna in 1814 organized to parcel out Europe in the wake of Napoleon's exile to Elba. Leading from British diplomatic circles, the conspiracy whirls around French, Russian, German, and Austrian diplomats in layers of intrigue. Andrea has the writing chops to put the reader right in that maelstorm of emotions and skullduggery. Swashbuckling action and the changing relationship of the protagonists adds a fun dimension to an otherwise serious story.

Click HERE is read an excerpt of The Cocoa Conspiracy.

[Disclosure: I was sent a print copy of the book by a senior editor at New American Library, Penguin.]

Monday, February 27, 2012

Jokes the Romans Found Funny

Instinctively, we know that humor is nothing new, but finding evidence of graffiti and written jokes in stone thousands of years old provides solid confirmation of that.

Some of the earliest evidence of funny graffiti is found in Pompeii (an ancient Roman city that was covered with ash and pumice from the volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD). Apparently, the Pompeian propensity for scribbling various funny stuff on walls was so common that an enteprising Pompeian commented wryly: "I am amazed, O Wall, that you have not collapsed and fallen, since you must bear the tedious stupidities of so many scrawlers."

The oldest surviving joke book of Western Europe is said to be the Philolegos, or The Laughter Lover in English. This book written in Greek is from 400–500 AD and contains 265 jokes that cover various stereotypes of the times: the "egghead" (intellectual) or absent-minded professor, the eunuch, toilet humor, people with hernias or bad breath, or certain types of foreigners like people from Abdera, a city in Thrace.

"An intellectual was on a sea voyage when a big storm blew up, causing his slaves to weep in terror. 'Don’t cry,' he consoled them, 'I have freed you all in my will.'"

"A man complains that the slave he has recently purchased has died. 'By the gods,' says the slave's former owner, 'when he was with me, he never did any such thing.'" (Note, the resemblance with the dead parrot sketch in Monty Python's Flying Circus.)

"A barber, a bald man, and an absent-minded professor take a journey together. They have to camp overnight, so they decide to take turns watching the luggage. When it's the barber's turn, he gets bored, and so he amuses himself by shaving the head of the professor. When the professor is woken up for his shift, he feels his head, and says, "How stupid is that barber? He's woken up the bald man instead of me."

"Wishing to teach his donkey not to eat, a pedant did not offer him any food. When the donkey died of hunger, he said, "I've had a great loss. Just when he had learned not to eat, he died."

"An egghead was writing a letter from Athens to his father. Wanting to show off over how well his studies were going, he added this postscript: 'I pray that when I come home I shall find you on trial for your life, so that I can show you how great an advocate I am'."

At a lecture in Newcastle University in March 2009, Mary Beard showed that The Laughter Lover "contains a number of recognizable one-liners, not a form of humor typically associated with the sober-sided Romans." Mary Beard is a professor in classics at Cambridge and classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

One key question Beard asked is: "When we laugh at Roman jokes—if we do—are we are laughing at the same things they did?" What people find funny depends on social mores, ethical mores, culture, race, gender, external events, education, and many more factors. Also what a person finds funny one day, he may not find funny after a few years. So it's quite likely that our interpretation of a joke's funny elements might not be the same reason the Romans found that joke funny.

[An aside: The oldest British joke dates back to the tenth century and reveals the bawdy face of the Anglo-Saxons: "What hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole that it's often poked before? Answer: A key."]

Friday, February 24, 2012

Picture Day Friday

A traditional look...

And a more modern look...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Picture Day Friday

Monday, February 13, 2012

Regency House for Sale in Norwich

Holiday House is an early 19th century Regency house located on Church Street adjoining Catton Park, Norwich that's up for sale.

Go here to drool over photographs, descriptions, and floor plans of this beautiful house. Doesn't it make you want to just dream over it?

Built circa 1820, the house is said to have a Gothic influence (see the windows) and is situated in approximately half an acre of private gardens that are a riot of color and include a lily pond. Yew, holly, and evergreen hedges border the garden to keep the beauty private.

The roof still continues to be a thatched roof. The windows are deeply set with window seats and in-wall cupboards on either side. The house has been renovated on the inside and has a sitting room, dinning room, kitchen, and utility rooms on the first floor and four bedrooms on the second floor. Modern touches such as granite and electric ovens in the kitchen, underfloor heating, plumbing for washing machines, and a Jacuzzi make Holiday House eminently livable. Don't you just want to run over there and make it your own?

A little tidbit, the village of Old Catton was the home of Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Picture Day Friday

Stairway to bookish heaven (or to my dream home office)...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Scheduling Your Life

Reposting blog from January 24, 2011.

Image copyrighted by JustJudyJudyJudy.comI like my life scheduled. There, I admitted that up front, so that when we get into the nitty-gritty of this post, you're not blindsided by this epiphany: Gosh, she's so Type-A.

Planner Image Copyrighted by FotoSearch.comI use this weekly paper scheduler and a print-out of my Excel file schedule to keep me on track with my goals and where I need to be. The book schedule has the outdoor commitments and the paper schedule is the day-to-day stuff that I must do in order to fulfill my career, family, health, volunteer, etc. goals. I use this planning journal to record what I've planned on a day-to-day basis and what I've accomplished. Also noted are exceptions to the schedule and why.

Mother Daughter Studying a Calendar Image Copyrighted by FotoSearch.comMap a typical day in an Excel spreadsheet or on tabulated paper from the time you wake up to the time you fall asleep. See how current actions naturally work on some of the goals you've set up for the year. Then plan the remaining goals in the time left to ensure that your goals are being met on a regular basis.

 Image Copyrighted by FotoSearch.comIf you don't label your time to dedicated actions, then that piece of time is either attached to another task or frittered away. "It'll take you longer to use your time" (i.e., less efficient use of time) "if you have to decide what to do with it first," says aspiring writer Lacey Kaye.

Save-the-Date Image Copyrighted by Once you've done the thinking and the planning, then at the appointment time all you have to do is "just do it," as Nike would say. However, when doing the assigned task, focus only on that task; don't even think about anything else. "If you've come up with an efficient best process, then anything you do that's not that process is a waste of time," advises Lacey.

To-Do List Image Copyrighted by FotoSearch.comShe further says, "Working to a schedule helps so much with identifying the opportunity cost of missing a meeting." What that means is that if you miss a scheduled appointment, move on. In other words, don't rob Peter to pay Paul. Move the assigned task in the missed slot to next day's slot for the same task.

Author Erica Ridley says, "The most basic rule of thumb when keeping to a schedule is: There is no making up lost time."

My daily mantra is: Respect my schedule. Follow the plan.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Goal Making and Keeping

Reposting blog from January 19, 2011.

alt=The month of January is when people make decisions about their new year's resolutions. As the Dalai Lama says, "The purpose of our life is positive; we weren't born to failure and disappointments." So despite non-compliance of previous year's resolutions, every year, people make new ones for the shiny, bright, new year. We have hope that this will be the year we will....

These days, resolutions has become a word oft shunned in public forums (fora?) and the word goals is much touted. However, a resolution is merely a committment to a goal. Whereas, a goal is something you aspire to, when you resolve to take steps to accomplish a goal, you're in the docket for it; you're committed to doing it. So, this year, my resolutions document is called Keira's Commitments.

Image copyrighted by Muscle-Build.comHowever, for the sake of this post and the common knowledge associated with the word, I'll use goals in place of commitments.

Goals give you something concrete to work towards and to measure progress against. Goals also give you a sense of accomplisment once you've reached them, because if someone doesn't really know what he wants, he does nothing and remains unsatisfied and unhappy with his life.

Author Erica Ridley says, "If a goal isn't realistically possible, then you set yourself up for disappointment." Even if it is possible, the question to ask is: Is it plausible for you? Is it advisable for you? Erica also notes that "If a goal is not attainable based wholly on your skills, talent, ability, and willpower," then it must not be a goal. Do not give yourself impossible tasks.

Image copyrighted by So, what is the basic format of a goal? There's a title or logline; an execution plan that's realistic, specific, and measurable; and there are accountabilities each of which are timed, specific, and action-oriented.

Part of being accountable, goals must be achieved within a reasonable set time period. The deadline must include a reasonable buffer to accomodate delays out of your control. Note that having set up goals gives a sense of accomplishment. However, this does not mean you're partway towards accomplishing them. In order to achieve a goal, you must work towards it. "Goals do not achieve themselves." Also as editor and publisher Moira Allen puts it, "Goals are not your destiny. They are simply highly effective tools that you can use to reach that destiny."

So how do you go about achieving your goals. First, come up with concrete goals that follow the basic format mentioned above. "Vague goals are just New Year's resolutions that remain on the list year after year," says Sheri McGregor of

Image copyrighted by FotoSearch.comThen, break down each goal into bite-sized mini goals. Assign a dealine to each bit. "To maintain and intensify your desire," says romance writer Jessica Davidson, "write out a list of all the benefits and advantages to achieving your goals." Now list obstacles to achieving every mini goal and solutions to the problems. I use a planning journal by At-A-Glance. In the planning journal, set out your main goals and mini goals with deadlines for both. Journal progress (or lack thereof) made on each goal.

Finally, visualize periodically to strengthen resolve to do it. Turn the "I can't do this" thought process into a "How can I do this?" thought process. And try, try, try!

Image Copyright What is the difference between short-term (ST) goals and long-term (LT) goals? While long LT goals help you determine where you're going, ST goals help you decide how to get there. For example, ST writing goals can be measuring monthly page output or estimating when the novel will be finished, whereas LT writing measured by big results: getting an agent or selling to a publisher. You control the ST goals; you do not control the LT goals. This is a key point. ST goals under your sphere of influence. LT goals outside your sphere of influence. You can do all the ST goals perfectly but there's an additional outside factor to achieving LT goals that can be best described as happenstance. That is not to say that you shouldn't work hard on your LT goals. There's a saying that goes: "Chance favors the prepared mind." So, too, with achieving LT goals.

Image copyrighted by Short-term goals and long-term goals are not to be confused with main goals and mini goals. Both ST and LT goals are main ones that have baby-step goals. So for example, if your ST is to write a novel is X months, then some of the mini goals would be: research for A days, write B words every weekday, edit every Satuday, Sunday is catch-up day, and so on. Similarly, if your LT goals is to get an agent, your mini goals might be: attend a conference, read the Guide to Literary Agents, read books agented by your top few favorites, etc. etc. Another example of a long term goals might be one from your Life List.

alt=And finally, a reminder from Voltaire: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Don't allow the desire for everything to be done perfectly stump your motivation and lead you into procrastinating the very thing you want to achieve.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Picture Day Friday

Mark Twain's house in Hartford, Connecticut.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Life List

Reposting blog from January 3, 2011.

Copyrighted by NewThoughtGeneration.comHow many times have you said to yourself and to others: When I have X, I'll do Y. When I have money, I'll travel. When I'm published, I'll buy a new car. Sometimes, both the X and the Y are dreams; often times, it's only the latter. Why hinge a dream on a pre-condition? That is the easiest way of ensuring that it will not be achieved. And all the time, you will feel a sense of dissatisfaction with life, because your dreams aren't being met.

A few years ago, I ran across an Amazon Short article by romance author Stephanie Bond titled Get a Life!: 8 Steps to Create Your Own Life List. She made me understand that the first step towards living a life of dreams is to create a Life List. The rest of this post is a précis of her detailed article.***

A Life List is a mondo-beyondo list of your life's dreams. There are no limits as to how many items there can be on this list. It's a personal list, so don't be shy of wishing for the most outrageous, the most selfish, the most greedy, the most anything. Every deeply held desire needs to be on this list. Don't compromise on your dreams. Be brave! And brainstorm away.

Once you've written down all your thoughts, divide the list's activities up into categories, such as: Travel, Health, Volunteer and Charity, Self-Improvement, Meeting Important People, Creative Ventures, Sports and Outdoors, etc. Devise categories so all items are all divided up.

Take another look at the categories and the items listed above. Try to generate more ideas if possible. Next, order the items in each category by importance, attainable in the near future, pre-requisite for another item, etc.

Copyrighted by NewThoughtGeneration.comThe most fun part of this process is concretizing the list. Write every item down and add or draw pictures and sketches and use different inks and fonts. This enhances the visual aspect of the list, thereby taking vague dreams and turning them into achievable goals.

The activities on the list are only attainable if you actually do things to make them happen and persist in doing them in the face of failures along the way. Setbacks are simply part of the process towards achieving the goals. Choose a set day and time in your schedule to look over the list and do something on moving one or more items towards completion. Take notes, and track progress.

And finally, once a year, remember to re-evaluate your list. As we grow and change, so do our dreams.

Hope this preécis of Stephanie Bond's article inspires you to create your own Life List. Do try to read the original article—it lays everything out in much greater detail and simplicity.

The first time I set up my list was in 2009. Now, thanks to Stephanie, I have been lucky to have achieved two of the items on that list. With such success behind me, it was with enthusiasm that I finished reworking my list for 2011 two days ago.

Copyrighted by westcafepdx.comDon't let real life intrude and prevent you from living the life you want to live. Here's hoping you will achieve your dreams, too.

*** Amazon has taken down it's Shorts program, and so Stephanie's article is no longer accessible online. She's making efforts to ensure that her articles are accessible by some other route.