I am an aunt!
It's a strange feeling to discover, at age 65, that you have a niece you've never known about.
It happened yesterday – Sunday – when I did an online search for my brother, James Aubrey Hulsey, who died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in April 1970.
His photo and basic information are posted on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site, and you can leave comments in remembrance.
Among the comments was one headed “He was my father” – left by someone named Kay Howard.
I'm starting a search for her.
James Aubrey and I had a strange childhood. When I was two weeks old, our parents gave me over to our maternal grandparents to raise. Maybe it was because I was what they called (back then) a “sickly” baby. My birth parents moved around a lot, so maybe they figured I wouldn't handle it well.
James Aubrey stayed with our birth parents. I had a feeling his life was pretty unstable. By the time he was in third grade, he'd already attended three or four different schools in that many different towns. He had to have been a pretty smart kid. Despite all that moving around, he managed to keep up with other kids at his grade level.
For a while – I think I was maybe 3 or 4, James Aubrey 15 months younger – our two sets of parents lived together in a little house on Nettles Drive in Tyler. Then our birth parents went on the road again, and he and I saw each other around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and occasionally (not always) on my birthday.
When I was 12, our birth mother disappeared. Our father's story was that he came home from work (James Aubrey from school), and she was gone. None of her clothes (except what she presumably wore) were missing, nor were her purse, the little jewelry she had, nor any other of her personal belongings. After a time, our birth father moved to another town, and James Aubrey went with him. I lost contact with them both.
The last time I saw my brother was when I was home from college, and he came to visit us. I was 20 then, he was 18 … a good-looking young man already inches taller than me. We enjoyed a too-brief visit, then he went home. I returned to college.
Mother (our grandmother) called me a while after that to tell me that James Aubrey had contacted her – he'd voluntarily joined the Army and was heading to 'Nam. I prayed for his safety, but it wasn't to be. One April evening, Mother called my dorm, and when I got on the phone …
“Don't get upset,” she said – which was always the flag that meant she had bad news. Then, “But James Aubrey is dead.”
We stayed on the phone quite a while. I know she gave me the details of how he died – but they didn't stay with me. All I really heard – besides “dead” – was “helicopter” and “crash.” It was years later before I learned more about the crash, and when and where it happened.
It also took me a few years to stop being angry with him for voluntarily going to Vietnam, for putting himself in harm's way … to realize he probably would have been drafted sooner or later … that he was, at 21, just one among too many young men whose lives ended much too soon, who never had a chance to start families, or left families that never had a chance to know them …
I hope to find Kay Howard, this niece I never knew about. But even if I don't, I'm comforted by knowing that she's out there, my brother's legacy to a world he left much, much too soon.
Since Sunday is St. Patrick's Day, and since I can claim at least a bit of “Irish blood” through a couple of ancestors, I thought I'd share some of the history and lore in my blog this week. So …
It's the religious feast day of the one-time Bishop of Ireland, the anniversary of his death believed to be March 17, 461 (493, according to some sources) – and it's been celebrated for more than 1,000 years in Ireland. Patrick was indeed a real person, and the following are facts according to various legends and annals of the Roman Catholic Church:
Born in 387 in what is now Scotland (or in England or Wales, according to some sources), Patrick first saw Ireland at the age of 16 – when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery there. He escaped six years later – a feat aided, according to legend, by a series of miracles.
Originally not a Christian, although his parents were, the youth found his own faith during his time as a slave, and after his escape, he became a student of St. Germanus of Auxerre (Gaul).
Patrick reportedly told Germanus that he often heard the voices of the Irish children calling to him, “Come, St. Patrick, and make us saved,” and Germanus replied that Patrick must first be educated himself. He became a priest and had risen to the post of bishop when, around 432 or 433, he was sent by the Church to Ireland.
At that time, Tara in northern Ireland was the seat of power of the Irish kings. It had been so for centuries. The history of the Hill of Tara dates back to around 2,000 BC, and it was considered the sacred place, an entrance to the “otherworld” where the gods of Ireland dwelled.
Patrick set Tara as the place he would go to introduce Ireland to his God – thus choosing to confront the ancient pagan religion on its very doorsteps.
Legend holds that the king of Ireland sent soldiers to intercept Patrick and his traveling companions – eight young clerics and St. Benen – but Patrick prayed, and darkness cloaked him and his companions, concealing them from views. The soldiers sent to ambush them saw eight deer and a fawn with a bundle on its back – the fawn being St. Benen with the tablets he carried.
Among the miracles attributed to Patrick is that he drove all the snakes from Ireland, chasing them into the sea to be drowned. That became the explanation for the lack of those reptiles in the country.
He also was said to have explained the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – using Ireland's native clover, the tri-leaved shamrock. That's how the shamrock became associated with the saint's feast day.
Patrick is reported to have died of natural causes, the complications of old age.
In honor of his Day, the Church waived the Lenten prohibition against consumption of meat, allowing those observing the day to have its traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.
Interestingly (to me, anyway), the St. Patrick's Day parade was held not in Ireland but in New York City – on March 17, 1762, when Irish soldiers serving with the English army (the United States were still only a British colony back then) staged a march in honor of the saint.
What's your take on St. Patrick's Day? Do you celebrate it? Leave a comment, and you'll be entered in a drawing at the end of the month for one of the ebooks in my Portals fantasy/suspense series. Your choice of Shadow Path, Stormcaller or Deathtalker.
I have no idea, actually, what a “fairy garden” is – but it sounds fun, and I do write fantasy after all, so it sounds like something I ought to learn about.
Just the thought of being involved with green, growing things has me excited. I've grown weary of winter, and I'm ready to see flowers and grass adorning ours and our neighbors yards, not ice-bound streets and piles of snow.
The first snowfall of the season is nearly always a wonder, white flakes drifting down to cover the detritus of autumn, transforming the world into scenes from Currier & Ives. And there's always something special about a White Christmas. It just puts me into the proper seasonal mood.
But by February, my enthusiasm for snow has dropped lower than the mercury in the thermometer. It's just more stuff to shovel off the walk and out of the driveway … turning to ice at night, and making travel hazardous, no matter if you're just heading a few blocks to the store …
It's small consolation that Punxsatawny Phil didn't see his shadow, so spring will not be delayed this year. That still isn't fast enough. We still have to get through March and April, and – here in Sheridan – some of our worst winter weather is still ahead.
I'm even eying the artificial flowers at Wal-Mart. Bright colors – and they won't freeze to death when the inevitable early spring, the false spring, changes overnight to freezing temperatures and sleet.
So Saturday's workshop at the nursery will be a special treat for my sister and me, a chance to look at the nursery's trees and shrubs and flowers. At least we can start thinking about what we'll plant this year.
How do you cope with the winter blahs? Or do you get them? Leave a comment, and you'll be entered for an end-of-the-month giveaway of one of my ebooks: your choice of Shadow Path, Stormcaller or Deathtalker.
That's just one of the questions Richard Rhodes answers in The Making of the Atomic Bomb – and that in itself makes this book a must-read.
This is one of the books I promised myself I would re-read this year. What makes it important, in my opinion, is the depth of Rhodes' research – not just “this is how we made the bomb and dropped it on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” but … Why this happened.
Rhodes tells the backstory of how scientists – including scientists who were utterly opposed to war and the creation of weapons – could become involved in making one of the deadliest weapons of the twentieth century.
Along the way, Rhodes devotes a good portion of his book to the makeup of the atom – and why and how it can be split – and the history of physics. He possesses a talent for making all of this comprehensible to the average person. I mean, if I can understand it, anyone can!
The more years that pass between us and World War II, the harder it can be to comprehend why we created a weapon as devastating as the atomic bomb and – even more – why we chose to use it.
In The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Rhodes re-creates the climate of those years from World War 1, when the seeds were sown for Adolph Hitler's seizure of power in Germany, through the early years of Hitler and the Nazi party – including the anti-Jewish movement that drove Jewish scientists in great numbers to England and the United States – and the events that precipitated World War II and the spread of both Hitler's Nazi regime in Europe and the Japanese empire across Asia.
It's a history of fear, the argument that the United States had to develop “the bomb” before Hitler and/or Hirohito did. The fear wasn't altogether unfounded. Both Germany and Japan eventually had their own bomb programs. Why those programs failed is another part of the story Rhodes tells.
He also tells how World War II led to the Cold War – another chapter in the history of fear and mistrust.
The Making of the Atomic Bomb is, in my opinion, one of the most important books of our times, one that should be required reading not only for the history it provides but for the lessons it still can teach.
You can win a free ebook! Just leave a comment on my blog, and you'll be entered in a end-of-the-month drawing for a free copy – your choice – of an ebook in my Portals series. Three to choose from: Shadow Path, Stormcaller and Deathtalker.
I used to be. In years past, I would make long lists of “This Year I Resolve to ...”
By the end of January – if not long before – the air around me would be filled with the sound of resolutions shattering like glass.
These days, what I have are more like New Year's Hopes – the things I'd like to get accomplished during the 12 months ahead. Such as …
In the spirit of eternal optimism, I will be changing my eating habits starting on Jan. 2. Not some big formal “diet,” but more care into the planning of what I eat, an intention to eat “healthier” in the year ahead.
I hope to read all the books – old and new – that I've discovered during the past year. Not only the traditionally published books but a number of works by a lot of talented independent authors. I promise future blogs on those at a later date …
Also more book reviews ...
I have ambitions that, with aid from my publisher, I will release at least two new (and maybe three) ebooks in my Portals series in the coming year. Sister Hoods, fourth book in the series, is currently in rewrite stage, with a plan to release it this spring …
Books 5 and 6 are also in the works.
I've already pledged to my publisher that I will set up a virtual book tour by around mid-February. So I'll be putting feelers out (probably by the end of this week) in search of bloggers who will accept me as a guest on their sites …
In a related vein, I hope to get enough of a handle on my own two blog sites so I can host guest authors myself.
On a more personal level, my goal – my hopes – for the coming year is to grow as a person … To look outside myself more often – to reach beyond myself and, hopefully, be of more help and comfort to those around me. To laugh more … love more … share more.
I wish everyone a Wonderful, Prosperous, Bright New Year ahead.
And … borrowing from a friend of mine – and I hope she doesn't mind … Blessed Be.
These five books have become particularly good friends, and I reach for them when I want something to read but I'm not in the mood for new acquaintances. So … Here they are – in no particular order – and I invite you to comment on my choices and/or name your own “re-reading” list for the coming year.
Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien originally wrote the three parts of LOTR as a single book. It was his publisher that split them into a trilogy. I love these books because of the sheer grandeur of Tolkien's vision … his ability to create a world – and a tale – stunning in their beauty, their complexity, and their poignancy.
The Hobbit – Tolkien's “prequel,” if you will, to Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit was originally a tale that Tolkien wove for his son – and the book retains the flavor of its source. But it's a fun read that manages to impart some life-lessons without being preachy or boring. And while you can read LOTR without first reading The Hobbit, Tolkien's tale of how Bilbo Baggins comes into possession of the One Ring greatly enriches his later epic.
Caliban's Shore – This nonfiction work is Stephen Taylor's recounting of the wreck of the “Grosvenor,” one of the British East India Company's finest ships, on the unexplored coast of southeast Africa in summer 1783. Most of those on board – 91 members of the crew and 34 high-born passengers, including women and children – made it safely to shore, but their situation rapidly declined. Taylor's exploration of why the wreck happened, and the fate of the survivors is a fascinating and compelling saga.
The Making of the Atomic Bomb – Richard Rhodes explores the entire history of physics in this non-fiction work that leads not only to Los Alamos in 1945, and why a group of scientists including Albert Einstein believed it imperative that the United States develop “the bomb” – but beyond, to the aftermath of Hiroshima and the birth of the Cold War.
Syeribus Creatures of the Night – Indie author L.M. Boelz weaves a tale from childhood's darkest nightmare – the fear that “something” lurks under our beds or in our closets, “something” capable of snatching us away and … And we don't want to know what happens after that. The book is written from a child's point of view, but it isn't a book for children. Nor is it one to be read after dark.
Not if you want a good night's sleep.
So there it is – my Top Five re-reads for the coming year. Old friends that I plan to intersperse among the new. Come share your favorites too.
And … if you leave a comment, you're entered in the end-of-the-month drawing for a free copy of one of my ebooks. Three available – Shadow Path, Stormcaller and Deathtalker – and the choice is yours.
Credit the Scandinavians for our image of the Christmas elves who assist Santa at this time of year.
The origin of these diminutive beings can be traced to pre-Christian Scandinavia, where people set out bowls of porridge for the “house gnomes” who – if kept fed and treated with respect and kindness – would guard your home against evil.
You wanted to stay on their good side. Otherwise, their mischief-making could range from tangling your hair while you slept to haunting that sleep with nightmares to causing the household's supply of milk to sour.
With the advent of Christianity, the celebration of Christmas and the picture of “Father Christmas” as a benevolent bringer of gifts, the “house gnome's” image began to change. By the mid-1800s, Scandinavian writers – such as Thile, Toplius and Rydberg – created (and perpetuated) the idea of the “house gnomes” (which the writers renamed “elves”) as the helpers of Father Christmas.
Artists of the time began to portray the elves help Father Christmas design and make toys for good children.
Over time, the elves' roles were expanded to include caring for his reindeer, guarding the secret location of his village – and reporting on which children were nice and which were naughty.
Europeans who came to America brought their Christmas traditions with them, including Father Christmas and – from the Dutch – Sinterklaas – their name for St. Nicholas, the Christian saint from whom Santa is derived. Clement Clarke Moore's poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (more familiar today as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) described Santa himself as “He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf” – and Louisa May Alcott (later author of Little Women) introduced Christmas elves to America in 1850 in a never-published book by that name.
Godey's Lady's Book entrenched the Christmas elf in American folklore in 1873 with a cover illustration for its Christmas issue, showing Santa surrounded by toys and elves. (Godey's had earlier, in 1850, published the first widely circulated picture of a modern Christmas tree.)
You could win an ebook. Just leave a comment, and your name will be entered in an end-of-the-month drawing for a copy (your choice) of one of the ebooks in my Portals supernatural suspense series – Shadow Path, recipient of a Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer's Choice Award (YA category); Stormcaller, PRG nominee for YA Best Read 2012; or Deathtalker, my newest digital release.
Elves, faeries, dragons and all the other creatures of our mythology and folklore actually exist – in a world parallel to our own.
That's the premise behind my Portals books. And if these beings don't actually exist in their own world, they certainly are known throughout ours. Just about every culture has tales of dragon-like creatures … of faerie or elven folk – with or without wings – and other magical wonder-workers that bear intriguing similarities to each other.
In Persian mythology, one group of these fae-like beings are called “Peri” – supernatural winged creatures that rank somewhere between angels and evil spirits … descendants of fallen angels who couldn't enter Paradise until they atoned for their evil deeds.
The Peri (also spelled “Pari”) in fact seem to be a later variant of the “Pairikas” of Zoroastrian mythology – evil supernatural creatures who, in the shape of women, seduced men into committing evil deeds. The Zend-Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrianism, Pairikas "in the shape of worm-stars, fly between the earth and the heavens,” in the waters of space.
By the time they became “Peri,” these beings were considered benevolent rather than evil – though still female and still stunningly beautiful. No greater compliment could be paid to a woman, in fact, than to liken her beauty to that of a Peri.
Traditionally, Peri are considered small beings – like the faeries of France and England – but, like the French faerie at least, they seem capable of assuming human stature. There is a story from Persian myth of a merchant who captured a Peri (by stealing her “Peri” garments) and made her his wife. He buried her “Peri” clothes and the couple were together for many years, the Peri bearing children for her husband …
Until the merchant had to make a trip to another city. During his absence, his wife recovered her Peri clothes and, upon donning them, flew away never to be seen again. When the merchant returned and discovered his wife's departure, he became “Peri-stricken” (driven insane) with grief.
It's interesting – to me, anyway – that similar stories of husbands taking, then losing, “faerie brides” are common across the world.
During my research on the Peri – and I'm considering how to fit a Peri into one of my books – I found at least one source that describes Peri wings as “all the colors of the rainbow.” I like that! Don't know how historically accurate it is, but it sounds right.
Another source described Peris as “creatures born of elemental fire” – I like that idea! – who live on the perfume of flowers or other exquisite odors.
You could win a free ebook. Just visit and comment on my post. At the end of the month, someone's name will be drawn for a free copy of (winner's choice) one of the ebooks in my Portals series. The first three books are currently available: Shadow Path, Stormcaller or Deathtalker.
That's why one of the main characters in my Portals books – Police Detective Tevis mac Leod – is an elf. Elves are wonderful, magical beings with a lot of potential. They fascinate me.
And apparently … I'm not alone. Just type “elves” in your search engine and you find information on everything from the history of elves to “Christmas elves” to how to discover your own elven name. Not to mention information about people who have undergone surgery to achieve their own “elf ears.”
Fear of surgery keeps me from going quite that far …
JRR Tolkien has been cited as one reason for our current fascination with elves, but he didn't invent them. They've been around for millennia – at least as far back as Norse and Germanic myth. Norse mythology identifies at least two types of elves (or “alfar”) in fact: the light elves who were “brighter than the sun” with their fair hair and blue eyes, and the “dark” or “black” elves who were dark-haired, dark-eyed and – at least in some accounts – described as beings whose bodies were “black as pitch.”
The “black elves” – the Svartalfar – appear closer kin to what we think of as dwarves than to elves, and – like dwarves – dwell underground and create wondrous items, including weapons such as Thor's hammer.
In Germanic myth, elves originally seem to have been ambivalent creatures, at least occasionally helping humans. But in time, their motives seem to have taken a darker turn. In the British isles at least as far back as the Middle Ages, people afflicted with unknown diseases were said to have “elf-shot” (struck by tiny arrows or darts fired by elves). And in Old English, where the word for “elf” is spelled “aelf,” a nightmare was called an “aelfadl.”
I kind of lean toward Tolkien as inspiration for the elves in my Portals books. JRR viewed elves as immortal beings with godlike abilities – filled with grace, light and tremendous power. But a bit of the old Norse view has snuck in as well. My elves – whose name for themselves is “Aalfar” – are mostly good. But there are some … to use a well-worn cliché … Bad Apples among 'em.
And when a being with godlike powers turns those powers to evil, the results can be …
At least … for a writer.
Technically, the Armistice wasn't an official surrender by Germany. Largely written by French Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the document called for cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of German troops behind their own borders, exchange of prisoners of war, promise of reparations, disposition of German warships and submarines … and the conditions under which the armistice could be prolonged or terminated.
Armistice Day was to celebrate the end of the Great War, the War to End All Wars, but that never happened. The armistice itself helped germinate the seeds of resentment that would lead to World War II less than three decades later. In 1945, Raymond Weeks, a WWII veteran, proposed that Armistice Day be expanded to become a national Veterans Day to honor all veterans of all the nation's wars.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower – who came into office on his record as one of the commanding generals of WWII – embraced the idea and on May 26, 1954, signed the congressional bill establishing a national “armistice” day. Only weeks later, on June 1, Congress amended the act, replacing “armistice” with “veterans.”
Congress in 1968 passed the Uniform Holiday Bill, a measure that sought to guarantee a three-day weekend for federal employees by declaring that four national holidays would be celebrated on Mondays: Washington's birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and … Veterans Day.
It was a move that, for Veterans Day, resoundingly failed. Too many people attached too much importance to the significance of Nov. 11 to allow that date to be forgotten. On Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed the public law that returned Veterans Day to its original observance, starting in 1978.
No one has seriously challenged the observation since. Nor should they. Public law does allow that when the holiday falls on a weekend - as it did this year – federal (and by extension state and local government employees) may be given a holiday on Friday or Monday.
But Veterans Day remains a day, primarily, when we take time to honor those men and women who, through more than two centuries, have given their time, their dedication and, too often, their lives in our nation's wars.
Win an ebook. Leave a comment, and you'll be entered in the end-of-the-month drawing for a free digital copy of one of my Portals books: Shadow Path, Stormcaller or Deathtalker (your choice).