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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Where Would You Live? Book Club Discussion

This is the fifth in a series of blogs for book clubs and discussion groups who are reading my book, A Thin Slice of Heaven. Weigh in below, or send me an email through my website letting me know the results of your book club or group discussion.

If you had the opportunity to start over, where would you choose to live? This is a dilemma that Charleigh faces in A Thin Slice of Heaven. Born and raised near Boston, she knows nothing else. But with few family, few friends and a husband who has just informed her - in a text, no less - that he's leaving her for another woman, she finds herself with the opportunity to start over.

How would each of these factor into your decision to move someplace else?

1. Language - The ability to communicate with others should not be overlooked. Yet I am fascinated by HGTV's series, House Hunters International, and how many people move to countries where they do not speak the language. How would this influence your decision?

2. Culture - Every country has it's own unique culture. How would that persuade you for or against a particular locale? For example, I am an animal lover and I would never want to move to a country where bull-fighting or cock-fighting or similar sports are legal. I also could never live in a country that raises dogs and cats for human consumption.

3. Food - This may seem like a given, but religious and cultural influences often dictate what can or cannot be eaten. Consider, for example, that in some cultures eating beef is considered barbaric. Others subsist on meats, seafood and vegetables that cause Americans to recoil. How much emphasis would you place on this?

4. Money - In some areas of the world, it's customary to spend $5,000 US per month for a one-bedroom apartment or studio. In other areas, $5,000 would get you a palace. And in still others, $5,000 would support you for an entire year. How would you consider the monetary factors? There is also the matter of employment, unless you are independently wealthy or can live comfortably on a nest egg. What type of employment would you need to receive to make the move worth your while?

5. Acceptance - Some countries may welcome tourists but inwardly dislike outsiders. Others welcome newcomers with open arms. How important is it for you to make friends and fit in? I had a friend years ago who volunteered her time and money to help build houses in a third-world country. When she arrived there, however, she found the people to be extremely judgmental. They disliked the very people who had come to help them. She never returned - would you?

6. Housing - I have to admit, I have grown quite fond of large rooms. Extra bedrooms have been turned into a study, a guest room and a massive closet. What if the place you wanted to live had one or two bedrooms and 1,000 square feet was spacious? Would that satisfy your needs? What if glass windows and locking doors were unheard of? I've heard of people who moved into homes in the middle of jungles or in remote areas. How would that impact your decision? Would you prefer city living, suburbs or country? Apartment, adjoining home or detached home? Yard or no yard?

There are also areas of the world in which gated, armed communities and barred windows and doors are the norm. Could you adjust to such an environment?

7. Amenities - I lived in the Washington, DC area for most of my life. I was accustomed to museums, festivals, a variety of shopping, restaurants of every cuisine, national parks and monuments, and much more. What do you have where you currently live? Could you live without them?

8. Climate - I would love to think my snow-shoveling days are over. I once lived in central Virginia where ice storms knocked out my electricity for several years in a row, and always at Christmas when I had a houseful of guests. For others, a mountain scenery is valued high enough that snow and ice are the norm and completely acceptable. Others prefer the heat and humidity of the tropics, while still others prefer a climate of moderate temperatures year 'round. How much would climate factor into your plans?

9. Government - Some governments are quite liberal, others conservative and still others can change rapidly with coups. How much emphasis would you place on a stable government or its policies?

10. Crime - I knew a gentleman from Europe who made America his second home, and his European friends could not understand why he wanted to live in a country that was so accepting of crime, particularly murders. Some cultures have grown accustomed to high crime and consider it the norm, while others find any crime to be socially unacceptable and often barbaric. Cultural influences often go hand-in-hand with high or low crime rates. How would this factor into your decision?

What other considerations would you give to moving to a different country or culture? What would cause you to remain where you were, or influence your decision to relocate?

    
 

 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Book Club Discussion: Sexually Appropriate

This is the fourth in a series of blogs for book clubs and discussion groups who are reading my book, A Thin Slice of Heaven. Weigh in below, or send me an email through my website letting me know the results of your book club or group discussion.

A Thin Slice of Heaven was a complex book to write because every scene has more than one meaning and more than one context. This includes the intimate love scenes which take place between Charleigh, who is stranded in a castle in Northern Ireland and Sean, a man who died more than a hundred and fifty years earlier.

In the first intimate scene, Charleigh questions how physical love can even be possible:




When her palm reached his face and her fingers followed the line of his jaw, she asked hesitantly, “How is it that I can—?” She stopped herself. Maybe she didn’t want to know. Maybe if she knew, he would disappear and she would be left alone in this massive castle. Perhaps if he wasn’t here, the moon and the stars would seem to disintegrate as well until she was left with nothing but the inky blackness of a night that would feel too long and too painful to endure.
He placed his hand atop hers. “I am not going anywhere. I swear to you.”
Their faces were inches apart. The heat from his body was immense. She could see the fine pores in his skin, the individual hairs on his brow, the smiling lips that beckoned to her to kiss them.
“Do you know what an aura is?” he asked.
“You mean like colors around a person? A halo?”
He shrugged. “It is—a bit more like an energy field. Close your eyes.”
She didn’t want to close them. She didn’t want to tear her eyes from his face. “Promise you won’t go away?”
He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it. “I promise.”
As she closed her eyes, he continued, “Can you feel your skin?”
“Just where you’re touching me.”
“And if I were not touching you? Say, the skin on your neck. Do you feel it there?”
She giggled. “No.”
“Then you cannot truly feel where your body ends, can you?”
She lay motionless for a moment. “No.”
“The truth is, m’ dear, you do not end at your skin. Your presence reaches beyond it. There is an energy field that encircles you.” A moment later, he said, “Do you feel anything different now?”
“I—oh, it’s my imagination.”
“Tell me.”
“I—”
“Keep your eyes closed now.”
“I feel a warmth.”
“Where?”
“Just above my torso.”
“Be more specific.”
“Between my neck and my breasts.”
“Open your eyes.”
She opened them slowly. He had shifted soundlessly until his torso lay inches from hers and just above her. His shirt gapped open until it stopped just an inch from her.
“My energy field is far greater than yours just now,” he went on. “I can regulate it. When I do not wish to be seen, I can pull back.”
As she watched, he began to fade from view. “No,” she blurted. She thrust her hand out to pull him back but her fingers went straight through him. She felt a burst of energy pulse through her fingertips, unlike anything she’d ever experienced before.
      “When I do want to be seen,” he continued calmly, returning to a state as clear as she saw herself, “I can become like flesh and blood.”


 Charleigh is taken step by step into the act of sex with a ghost. But the scene means far more than that. The intimacy shared between them triggers memories deep inside her. Little things like a lock of hair falling forward, the sound of his breath against her ear, the touch of his hand against hers. As the book progresses and they move from lovemaking in the bedroom to sex in the solarium, the memories rise to a fever pitch: the sight of a butterfly suncatcher, the vision of making love in the grass atop a cliff overlooking the ocean, even the memory of the moon overhead during their most intimate moments... It becomes those memories welling up inside her that will take her the rest of the way along her journey - a journey she doesn't realize she is taking until the very end.


Spoiler Alert: If you have not read the book, stop here.


Toward the end of the book, Charleigh realizes that she was Sean's wife in a previous incarnation. Part of her process of dying and passing through the veil to the other side meant reuniting with her one great love - her soul mate. It is through his undying love for her coupled with the intimate moments that can only be uniquely shared between two people that awaken memories within her.

When they meet on the parapet as two spirits at the end of the book, they discuss this intimacy:



“This was all part of our plan?” she asked.
“Aye. We discussed it in great detail.”
“Then why don’t I remember it?”
“It is amnesia; yes, it can affect you here just as it could on the other side. You have been through quite a shock. When you returned as Charleigh, you could not recall your life as my wife at all. You had to live as Charleigh Dircks. It has been only a few days since you arrived here; only days since you passed over. Everything will come back to you, I promise; every last memory… in time.”
She nodded wordlessly, allowing his words to sink into her consciousness. “You’ll help me remember?” she said at last.
“Of course I will, just as you helped me when I passed well over a hundred years ago.”
“And the sex—” she began tentatively.
Sean laughed out loud, a boisterous laugh that shook them both. “Ah, yes. In the days before you left for your incarnation as Charleigh, it consumed all our time. You made me promise to make love to you as soon as you passed through the veil—a promise,” he hastened to add with a lopsided grin, “—that I was more than happy to oblige.”
“I remembered things when we made love,” she said, a blush creeping into her cheeks.
      “I hope you remembered our love for one another. That is what I wanted you to remember most of all—that our love transcends time and place so that you would want to return to me.” 


A Thin Slice of Heaven is many things to many people. Those who have lost loved ones have contacted me, letting me know how much comfort there has been in reading this book. Each of us has felt a loved one after they have passed over; each of us have heard their voice, if only for a moment and only in a whisper... Each of us has spotted something that had meaning to us both: a particular type of sunrise or sunset, birds or animals we enjoyed - in Charleigh's case, it was the butterfly suncatcher. Each of us has felt that brush past us, that feeling that someone was at our shoulder, watching over us, and that inspiration that led us somewhere we least expected.

That is what this book is about... It is the eternal love; the soul that never dies.

Buy A Thin Slice of Heaven in paperback at any fine book store, or online at amazon. It is also available in Kindle, Nook, in iBooks and all other eBook formats.

 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

In Search of Ireland's Soul

Last week I profiled Dublin, places to go and things to see if you've never visited the city before. Dublin is the best place to start because it explains so much of the nation's history, especially one of it's more recent defining moments: the Easter Rising, which led to Irish independence.

When votes were taken on Irish independence, five counties consistently voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Those counties, known as Ulster, broke away from Ireland when it gained independence. Known as Northern Ireland, it continues to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland share an island that is slightly larger than West Virginia and slightly smaller than Indiana. A few things to note when traveling between the two:

1. There is a tremendous amount of cooperation between the two governments, resulting in (among other things) buses that freely travel from one to the other.

2. There is no "Checkpoint Charlie"; even if you choose to rent a car and drive, there are no passport checks or customs officials between the two countries.

3. They use different currency. The Republic of Ireland uses the Euro, while Northern Ireland uses the British Pound.

That said, I found the soul of Ireland in a picturesque village in Northern Ireland. In earlier blogs, I told of my sister's discovery of Ballygawley in County Tyrone as a village in which our ancestors once lived, which led us both to this idyllic place. It is easy to reach from Dublin or Belfast and if you're interested in the Irish village told in literary works, this is the place to visit.

1. Getting There. Bus Eireann runs daily from Dublin to Ballygawley. The bus station is located at Store Street in Dublin and it's a short taxi ride from most hotels, and it's only 1.33 miles from Dublin's City Centre. Ireland has a fabulous bus system that is comfortable, up-to-date and efficient. You even have Wifi access on the bus. You can see the entire schedule here (http://www.buseireann.ie/pdf/1360752941-032.pdf). I paid 18 Euro for a one-way ticket, which was well worth it.

2. Arriving in Ballygawley. The Ballygawley stop is a Park-and-Ride with a covered stop. When you get off the bus, the driver will direct you toward the village, which is just a short walk away.


Once you cross the traffic circle, you'll wander over a stone bridge with a babbling brook (shown above) before reaching the village proper. You'll instantly feel as though you've been transported into another world. You won't find crowds or a carnival atmosphere here. Instead, you'll find hospitality, a slower pace and easy access to many of the island's best tourist attractions.

3. Where to Stay. The best place to stay is The Tailor's House (www.eatsdrinksfortywinks.com) at 50 Main Street, right in the heart of the village. Formerly Askin's, it was once a tailor's house now owned and managed by Emmett, Mary and Leo Quinn.This is a fabulous Bed & Breakfast; it has only a few rooms, so be sure to book far in advance. Each room has a private, modern bath. The flat screen televisions broadcast stations from throughout the United Kingdom, including London. The beds are extra comfortable. The view from in front of The Tailor's House is shown below.



The Tailor's House Restaurant downstairs has the best food and service that I experienced anywhere in Ireland or Northern Ireland. The meat is delivered daily from the butcher shop across the street (owned by Declin Quinn) and is the freshest meat I ever tasted. (Shown below.)



The vegetables are delectable, and the desserts are to die for. If you travel away from Ballygawley during the day, be sure to eat light so you'll be hungry when you return, because you'll definitely want dinner and dessert here.

Shown below: The chicken dish was a special of the day; the chicken was incredibly tender with an amazing sauce over champ (mashed) potatoes with tender broccoli. In the background is Steak & Guinness, with tender beef that will melt in your mouth and a wonderful sauce made with - you guessed it - Guinness.


The dessert shown below was a flavorful apple dessert that came with whipped creme (obviously homemade, it was that good) and a personal pitcher of an amazing sweet sauce.



Breakfast is included with the room, and you will not want to miss Mary Quinn's scrumptious cooking! Fresh eggs from the farm, incredible sausages and bacon from the butcher shop across the street (owned by Mary's son) and whipped up by a talented chef.

Beside the restaurant is The Tailor's House Bar, which is a wonderful place to relax. The entire facility has free Wifi, and we found the Bar to be a great place to check emails at the end of the day, and just soak up the Irish culture. It is shown in the video below.



By far, the best part of staying at The Tailor's House are the owners and staff. Owned by Emmett Quinn and operated by Emmett and his parents, Mary and Leo Quinn, their hospitality, friendliness and helpfulness are beyond compare. You'll feel like a member of the family.

Ask to see the picture of the Quinn family with one of their more famous guests, Bill Clinton, while you're there.

4. The Ulster American Folk Park and Museum is one place you won't want to miss, and it's close to Ballygawley. It consists of a wonderful museum and research facility where you can look up Irish ancestors, and acres upon acres of beautiful trails leading to authentic and reproductions of a variety of buildings (one is shown below).



The facility focuses on the Irish exodus, particularly during the two potato famines (known as The Hungers in Ireland) and the link between Ireland and the United States. There are, at the time of this writing, approximately 34 million Americans of Irish descent. Learn all about this wonderful place here: http://www.nmni.com/uafp


5. The Mid-Way Point. Ballygawley is midway between Londonderry/Derry to the west (https://www.discovernorthernireland.com/walledcity/), and Belfast to the east. You can reach either place through Northern Ireland's Translink (http://www.translink.co.uk/) This bus service, like Bus Eireann, is modern, efficient and pleasant. Next week I'll profile things to do in Belfast, including visiting the Titanic Museum, touring the Peace Walls from The Troubles, and taking a day-trip that leaves from Belfast to travel over the Causeway Coastal Route (www.causewaycoastalroute.com) and the Giant's Causeway (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway/).

6. The Black Cat Restaurant. One more thing you'll want to do while in Ballygawley is dine at The Black Cat Restaurant at 32 Dungannon Road, just about half a mile from the village of Ballygawley. Overlooking Martray Lake, the picturesque beauty will both soothe and captivate you. The chef is world renowned, and was the victor of the Battle of the TV Chefs. Read all the details about that fun series and Chef James' win here: http://ulsterherald.com/2014/07/09/michael-devlin-visits-the-black-cat-restaurant-for-the-finale-of-battle-of-the-tv-chefs/

Here's the view from the restaurant below:



7. Ready Access. The Tailor's House is directly across the street from the Bank of Ireland, which is a great place to change those Euro's or dollars into pounds. It is also across the street from the Post Office. Within a block or two of The Tailor's House are groceries and a pharmacy. If you'd like to go for a ride around Ballygawley to see additional sites, ask Emmett Quinn at The Tailor's House to contact Seamus for you. Seamus is a reasonably priced and dependable driver whom I highly recommend.

 Coming up next week: what to do in Belfast.

If you have traveled to County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, and you'd like to recommend things to do and places to go, feel free to leave a comment below! 









Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Through the Veil: Book Club Discussion #3

This is the third in a series of blogs for book clubs and discussion groups who are reading my book, A Thin Slice of Heaven. Weigh in below, or send me an email through my website letting me know the results of your book club or group discussion.

In A Thin Slice of Heaven, Charleigh finds herself straddling two worlds. On one side, she experiences the present: her room at the castle, for example, with all the modern conveniences. On the other side, she is pulled through the veil to witness spirits of people who passed away decades - or centuries - earlier. In Chapter 19, she finds herself descending into the dungeons of the castle, where she encounters malevolent spirits. It is only Sean's sudden appearance that rescues her from their confines.

Afterward, they are atop the castle parapet. In this scene, Charleigh asks why the people remain in the dungeon long after they are dead. The text in bold has been bolded for the purpose of this discussion (and does not appear in bold in the book):



“What’s happening, Sean?” she asked, resting one hand against his forearm. Her voice was quiet, subdued by her experience. “I’ve never seen ghosts before—never even come close to seeing one. And then I come here and I—I just don’t understand this warped sense of reality.”
He leaned his head close to her ear. “I will try my best to explain it to you.”
She turned in his embrace and wrapped her arms about his neck. Between Ultana, the bizarre spiritual reenactment of a massacre and counter assault, the men assigned to guard her room, and now the dungeons, she wanted desperately to escape the castle. The only thing that held her there, that made her feel as if all the experiences were somehow, in some inexplicable way, worth it, was looking into Sean’s eyes. “Please do explain, Sean. Make me understand.”
He gazed at her for a long moment, his eyes a beautiful shade of green in the light of the moon. He no longer appeared angry or frustrated but calmness had returned; a serenity she wished she felt as well.
He smoothed her hair, his eyes following the silky, short strands. “In the most ideal of circumstances,” he began, “a soul knows when they are departing this world, even if the human psyche does not. Take old age, for example, or a long, debilitating illness. The soul begins to prepare for the afterlife and as the time draws near, the person begins to slip in and out of the two realms…”
“You mean in and out of consciousness?”
“Not quite. You see, the soul begins to see through to the other side. Perhaps they see people they loved who had passed on before them. They waver back and forth betweenst the living humans here and the spirits there. It is the natural progression of things so when they pass, their soul is not in shock.”
His hands had moved to her upper arms and he stroked them lightly as he spoke. The air should have been cold and her sweater inadequate but she found herself completely warmed by his energy, as she had from the very beginning. Her throat, which had dangerously constricted in the dungeons, was now open and her breathing had returned to normal, unrestricted by any of the mucus that had developed so quickly. Though she hadn’t taken her allergy medicine, it was as if she had and now she breathed in the Irish air as though it was an antidote to her ailments.
“Then there are other times,” he said, his words slowing as he kept his eyes locked on hers, “when mortal death happens quickly—too quickly for the soul to be fully prepared. So what happens is the soul enters three stages before emerging on the other side.”
“I’ve never heard this before.” She cocked her head and though she truly didn’t want to seem doubtful, she knew from the way he tilted his head back to look at her under veiled lashes that he had picked up on her skepticism.
Despite the tense air between them, he continued softly, “In the first stage, the person does not know he or she is no longer here in physical form. They continue to go through the motions of living. Some of the souls in the dungeon remain in that stage, though it has been centuries for some of them.”
“So the men asking for water or food—” She shook her head as if to rid herself of the memory, though she knew it would never go away. Sean was right; she should never have wandered into that dungeon but, regrettably, it was too late now to take back the experience.
“I am sorry, darlin’, but their souls have not yet processed that they are no longer trapped.”
The image of him after the Christmas counter assault loomed in front of her; the soot, the grime, the odor of battle. Then she thought of the man with pustules covering his skin and of the others, emaciated and starving. “Are the conditions of their souls keeping them the way they appeared to me? I mean—”
“Aye,” he said. “When their souls finally shake off their mortal stress, they will become whole once again.”
“The light that I saw—it wasn’t a white light, but was it—could it have been—spirits beckoning—?”
He appeared to be in anguish over her question. “No, m’ Leah. The light was attempting to trap you in the dungeons.”
“What? Why?”
“Because there is evil on all planes and the dungeons are no exception.”
“Then can’t we free the prisoners—the good ones?”
One hand found her cheek and he cupped it against his palm. She leaned into it, closing her eyes. As the silence continued, she opened them to find him watching her. There was sadness in his eyes. “It is not for us to do.” He took a deep breath. “There are others, far stronger than either of us, who will venture into the dungeons and help each soul move on. It will happen one soul at a time, when each of their times has come.”
“Angels?”
“Aye,” he said, a gentle smile creeping across his face. He brushed a lock of hair from her forehead. “Angels.”
“Then that’s the second stage?”

He gazed above her head for a moment as if looking at the landscape and the skies beyond the castle. “The second stage,” he said after a deep, cleansing breath, “is moving back and forth between the realms. A prisoner in the dungeon, for example, will begin to see family members—people they love—in the cell with them. At first, they will not believe their eyes. They will not accept them. But their loved ones will continue to return until they are ready to let go.”
He pulled her slightly away to kiss her on the tip of her nose. “It cannot be you or I trying to convince them to move on,” he said tenderly. “It must be someone they trust, someone they loved in that lifetime—or another.”
“Don’t tell me we’ve lived multiple lifetimes.”
“I daresay that is a conversation for another time.”
She drew a hand to his cheek and softly brushed the skin. Her eyes followed his jaw line, the soft curve of his lips as he smiled, the faint crinkle along the side of his nose, and his eyes. She hoped she would never forget his face.
“And then the third stage,” he added, “is acceptance.”
His words brought her back to the subject. “Realizing they’re dead.”
“There is no death,” he admonished kindly. “Just transitions.”
“But, what you’re saying…” She stopped. She had been about to say that she’d been taught about Heaven and Hell but looking into the eyes of a spirit, she knew that everything she’d believed about the afterlife had been turned on its head.
      “Every soul is different,” Sean continued. “Some may see angels; some may sense God. Some may be greeted by mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers… Others by someone they loved; someone who loved them. No matter what a person’s life was like, there is always someone they loved and someone who loved them.”

More than a decade ago, I was with a dear friend as she suffered the final stages of a fatal illness. She was in a hospice facility and as I sat by her side, I noticed when she awakened, she often looked beyond my shoulder. Many a time I turned around, only to find no one there. Yet she continued to look in that direction as if she was watching someone.

When I asked her about it, she said her sister was right there. She was amazed that I couldn't see her. Her sister, however, had passed away several years earlier.

When I spoke to the hospice staff about it, they said it often happens with people who are nearing death. They begin to see people they knew, loved and trusted from their lifetime - people who were no longer alive. Each of the hospice workers had come to the conclusion that these spirits were there to help the person transition to the other side of the veil. 

It made perfect sense to me. After all, who better to help a person to the other side than someone who had gone on before them - someone they loved, someone they knew, and someone they trusted?

Spoiler Alert: If you have not yet read A Thin Slice of Heaven, stop here.

As Charleigh is speaking with Sean, she does not yet realize that she is already dead. She is, in fact, suffering the same fate as those in the dungeon. Her death happened quickly within hours of arriving at the castle. It is because she died and went through the veil that she is able to see and experience Sean and the other spirits. She is in the first stage - not knowing she is dead.

Sean knows this and he also knows that she must progress through the second and third stages before she fully understands and accepts her own fate.

You can purchase the Kindle version of A Thin Slice of Heaven here from amazon, or the paperback version here. It is also available in all fine book stores and in all eBook formats, in the iBooks store and on Nook.