My Biggest Dream in Life – Being a UNWOMEN Goodwill Ambassador

The blog challenge topic few weeks ago was “your biggest dream in life.” I know you know I want to be a New York Times Bestseller and a full-time author, so I’m going to talk about something closer to my heart that I haven’t been very public about. It is my dream to be a goodwill ambassador for UNWOMEN, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

As many of you know – and I doubt no one is surprised about, given the nature of my books – I’m a feminist, which I trace back to my parents for always assuring me I can do anything, and to attending a Catholic all-girls high school. I’ve been supporting women-based charities since I was in college, including Women for Women International (where I’ve sponsored more than a dozen women survivors of war), UNIFEM (which is what UNWOMEN used to be called) and local all-girls schools for women of various ages.

I’ve wanted to work at the UN for years, ever since I heard about Angelina Jolie becoming a goodwill ambassador (I hadn’t heard of them before that, but they date to the 1950s). The UN was the first place I visited on my first trip to NYC.  What has kept me from applying for a job there is 1) I can’t afford to live in Manhattan, and 2) I don’t speak any other languages (sadly my high school French is all but gone). But I figure when my books take off, they might be interested in having me as a spokesperson. When I look at the women who are ambassadors now, Emma Watson, Nicole Kidman and Anne Hathaway, I think, “yeah, that’s company I want to join.”

My ultimate dream is to create a book that captures women’s stories and struggles around the world. I’d love to base it on people I meet on those goodwill trips, and partner with a photographer to bring their faces and voices to greater light in nations like the US and in the UK/mainland Europe, where we don’t pay nearly as much attention to women in Syria, Sudan, Congo, Afghanistan and other war-torn countries as we should.

That, I feel, is an expansion of the mission I have started by telling the stories of women in danger of being lost to history. I may only be able to do little things toward my dream right now, but each one gets me a step closer.

What is your biggest dream in life?

Top 5 Places I’d Like to Visit

I’ve been really behind on blogging lately, especially the 52-week blog challenge. So you’ll be getting two a week from me until I can catch up. Then the challenge blog will resume its usual Friday posting date. I skipped two weeks because the questions (greatest strength and greatest weakness) sounded like a job interview and ain’t no one got time for that! Plus, a few of the weeks are things I’ve already talked about here ad nauseam (my story inspirations, where you can find me on social media, etc.).

I’ve been very fortunate to be an international traveler since I was 11. I’ve been to six countries besides my own: England (3 times), Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. I’ve also been in a fair number of places in my own country – from the Pacific Northwest to LA to Sendona and Phoenix to Florida and New York – and of course, all over the Midwest because I live here!

But there are still MANY places I want to visit. Here are my top 5:

The Mediterranean – The French Riviera, Greece, the Amalfi Coast. Yes, yes and yes! If you want a series of books to really make you want to visit the area, read Nora Roberts’ Stars of Fortune trilogy. Ugh, I’m drooling over the landscape!

The Amalfi Coast

Tuscany – Ever since I read Juliet by Anne Fortier, I have been obsessed with getting to Tuscany, specifically Sienna, which is also the birthplace of one of my favorite saints. But my desire to go there was really initiated by the movie Stealing Beauty when I was a teenager.

Tuscany, Italy

The Languedoc region of France – MJ Rose’s latest book, The Library of Light and Shadow, which I reviewed for the Historical Novel Society, really sealed the deal on this one. But I’ve read a few others set there and it’s a wine producing region. I’m also fascinated by the Cathars, who called that region home.

Colliour on the Côte Vermeille

The Hudson River Valley – This is all Carol Goodman’s fault. She sets all of her books here and I want to see if it really has the haunted, gothic atmosphere she evokes. And if so, I’m not coming back!

The Hudson River Valley

Nassau, Bahamas – I’m not exactly sure where I first was exposed to this place – probably a movie, part of me wants to say one with Pierce Brosnan – but by God does it look like heaven!

Atlantis in Nassau

What places top your travel list? I could probably name 50 more!

W is for What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

“Daydreaming” by Eugene de Blass. Image is public domain ({{PD-1923}}). Source: Wikimedia commons

A woman I used to work with told me a story in which her then four-year-old son asked her, “Mommy, what you do you want to be when you grow up?” The woman, nearing forty, burst into tears and sobbed, “I don’t know!”

Sound familiar? Chances are good you’ve had a similar conversation with yourself at some point in your adult life. I know I have, and recently. It’s astounding to me that our society expects us to make decisions that will affect the rest of our lives when we’re only 18 years old. I  don’t know about you, but at that age, the fog of teenage uncertainty was just beginning to clear and I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I went into business because it was safe – I knew I’d always have a job. Somewhere along the way, one of my English professors recognized I had a talent for writing and encouraged me to pick up a second major (thank you, Ben Moore!). Even then I didn’t know what I was going do. I didn’t want to teach or be a journalist, and I knew that living off of creative writing (which was nothing more than an occasional hobby at that point) was going to be too risky for my scaredy-cat nature.

I ended up in public relations as a result of the last class I took in college. Since I began my career, I’ve gotten my master’s degree, won awards and gotten my professional accreditation. I love what I do, partly because it involves writing, and it’s a creative way to support myself while I pursue my dreams. (To any of my co-workers who are reading this, yes, I am happy in my job; please don’t take this post the wrong way.) While being your own publicist is about as smart as representing yourself in court, I know having a PR background will certainly come in handy once my writing career takes off. (If nothing else, maybe it will keep me from putting my foot in my mouth publicly!)

But a few years ago I came to the realization that while I love what I do, my true passion – the thing that dominates my thoughts and brings me the most joy – is fiction writing. That’s when I really got serious about my first book. In doing that, I’ve read a ton of books on Celtic history and culture and rediscovered a love for history that, for some unknown reason, I had left behind after high school. Recently, serving as our corporate historian at my day job reminded me how much I love to research.

“A Pensive Moment” by Eugene de Blass. Image is public domain {{PD=Art}}{{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the US. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

If someone asked me today what I want to be when I grow up, my answer would be vastly different from what I ultimately answered in college, thanks to my life experience. Sometimes I wish there was a “do-over” option once you hit your early to mid-thirties and have had a chance to experience a little bit of life. But that’s where dreaming comes in. We’re never to old for that. I used to think that once you became an adult and got out into the real world, the need to dream would end because you’d have everything you’d ever want. But if anything, the importance of dreaming increases, because as you get more successful, your ability to change your circumstances increases as well.

I’m no longer afraid to chase my dreams. Of course I want to be a best-selling historical fiction/historical fantasy novelist. And while I work toward that at night and on the weekends, I’m doing everything I can to learn from my day job how to be versatile, hone my writing skills and handle stressful situations with grace and poise. Meanwhile, I’m planning for a dream trip to England next summer and beginning to seriously consider someday getting my Ph.D. in history from Oxford (I’m not worried about money or practicalities yet – those weigh dreams down in the early stages). Meanwhile, I’m trying to change my mindset to view every part of my life as a learning experience that I will take with me no matter where my career takes me.

For anyone struggling with balancing a dream and a day job (I bet that’s most of us!), I highly recommend the book Quitter by Jon Acuff. Contrary to what the title may imply, it’s not about up and quitting your day job. It’s about what I’ve just described, finding happiness in what you do while using it to help make your dreams a reality. And that’s not only good for us, it’s good for those who employ us as well. Talk about winning!

What about you? What do you want to be when you grow up? Have you ever found yourself with changing interests and dreams? How have you handled it? How do you balance the demands of a day job and a dream job? What are your dreams for your future?

I is for Insight: Celtic Divination

I thought this was hilarious! Image linked to original source.

They didn’t have tarot cards (which came along in the 1400s), runes (those came later from the Anglo Saxons) or crystal balls (although those may have been in use as early as the year 500), but the Celts, and specifically the Druids, were big into divination – the art of seeing the future. Here are a few of the most common methods they used:

The Sight
Also called Second Sight, this is basic psychic ability. It was usually a trait of women and was thought to be passed in the female bloodline from mother to daughter. It was also developed among the prophetic class  (Ovates) of Druids. The visions seen and prophecy uttered by those with the sight, though often cryptic and filled with symbolism, were taken very seriously.

Forms of premonition, some of which we still joke about today, were also thought to tell the future in the body. Hence, if you mouth was itching, you’d soon be kissed, or if your ears were hot, someone was talking about your character.

Dreams
Sometimes a dream is just a dream, but sometimes it is much more. As a means of divination, they could come unsolicited, be expected, or even induced. Occasionally, their meaning was interpreted by Druid, but not as often as you’d think. If the dream was intentionally sought, the dreamer prepared by meditation, some kind of ritual purification (fasting was common) and animal sacrifice. In the case of the famous Bull Dream, the dreamer also slept in the hide of a sacred animal – a practice common to many shamanistic religions, including the Native Americans. (The Bull Dream was how the ancient kings of Tara in Ireland were selected.) In addition, some locations were thought to induce prophecy due to the presence of the supernatural, especially areas near water or sacred groves, so the location in which the dreamer slept could play an important role. Lastly, induced dreams were usually precipitated by the use of mind-altering herbs (something I don’t recommend to anyone, just for the record), many of which are now considered poisonous.

Shoulder Blade Reading
We’ve all heard the tales of Druids reading entrails, but one distinctly Celtic form of divination is the reading of the marks in the shoulder blade of an animal, usually an ox, bear, fox or sheep. It was especially common in the Highlands of Scotland. This was an actual profession that consisted of boiling the bone, preparing it and reading the marks, which could indicate those people to be met in the future, while holes and indentations could mean death or prosperity depending on their size and location.

Omens
Omens were sought for nearly every activity, but were especially important when setting out on a journey. The first animal you saw, its posture and actions, as well as the gender, clothing and actions of the first person you meet on your way all foretold the success or failure of your quest. Birds were a special subset of animals known to foretell the future. Certain birds were sacred to the Celts and their flight patterns, calls and other behavior were used to divine the future. For the Irish, the raven and the wren were especially strong portents of the future. Depending on the type of cry the bird gave and where it was positioned when it called, it could mean anything from the imminent arrival of visitors to death and doom for the household. (If you want details, read pages 144-146 of John Matthews’s Secrets of the Druids. He gives an astonishing number of meanings.)

Casting Lots
Similar to the modern casting of ruins, the Celts would toss a group of sticks (some say made from the nine sacred woods), bones or stones and read the resulting pattern to see if a sick person would get well, to identify a future mate, or tell the positive or negative fortune of a person.

Water gazing

Water scrying

Everyday Divination
As mentioned in previous posts, there were also various other forms of common divination, usually to help find love, employed by the everyday Celts. These include the dancing of hazelnuts held over the fire at Samhain, the pattern in the ashes of the fire on Imbolc or dreaming of one’s soul mate on Beltane. Scrying, or gazing into pools of water, flames of fire, or finding patterns in the clouds was also common among both Druids and everyday people.

What methods of Celtic divination have you heard of? Which most interest you? Would you want to know the future if you could?

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The main source for this post is John Matthews’s Secrets of the Druids, but I’ve also used a few books discovered in Google Books, including Survivals in Belief Among the Celts by George Henderson.

B is for Bucket List

What’s on your bucket list?

What do you want to do before you “kick the bucket?” What accomplishments/events would make your life complete? Like many of you, I saw the movie The Bucket List a few years ago and cried, but I wasn’t moved to create one.

I’m not sure why, but I actually didn’t make one until very recently. As of today, it has 56 items. I’m not the skydiving, bungee jumping, shark swimming, do-anything-that-involves-risk-of-bodily-harm kinda girl, so mine may seem pretty lame. Lots of them involve travel or meeting celebrities or authors. I’ll spare you the obvious ones like “Write novels full-time” and “See my name in the NY Times #1 bestseller spot.” (If those weren’t on there, I’d seriously need to reconsider my line of work.)  Without further ado, here are a few of my items:

  1. Work with UN Women.
  2. Be in a music video.
  3. Fly first class to Europe.
  4. Go ice skating.
  5. Dance around a may pole.

I’m proud to say I’ve already crossed a few things off:

  1. See Grease on Broadway starring Max Crumm. (He won the part on the TV show Grease: You’re the One That I Want. Yeah, I voted for him, over 70 times.)
  2. Live in a castle. (I got to stay in the castle in England where they filmed The Haunting about a month after shooting wrapped.)
  3. Change clothes in a car on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway. (It’s really not as risqué as it sounds. The car had tinted windows and we were going to the beach.)
  4. Get a tatoo. (Actually, I have two and am planning a third.)
  5. Experience life as a nun for a week. (I used to want to be one, so what can I say?)

So, what’s on your “bucket list?” What have you been able to cross off?

I’m probably going to do the A to Z Blogging Challenge again in the future, so please let me know if you have any suggestions for “B”topics.