Monday, December 31, 2012

The Penning Board 2012-10

The Penning Board Items of the Week

Vlog: Happy Travels! Thanks for watching! Happy New Year's Eve! :)


Movie: "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (2001) with Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight and Daniel Craig

Ever since I saw this movie in theaters over a decade ago I've loved it. It feeds my thirst for adventure and globetrotting. England, Iceland, Cambodia...the locales are superb. I've always been a fan of action adventure movies like Indiana Jones and the James Bond films and this similar yet with a strong female lead.

This movie was recently on my mind because of something I've finally done that was an inspiration from it.

To find out what it was, tune in for my post on Wednesday as I talk about overcoming fears in 2013 that keep your from your goals and dreams! P.S. There will be a video too.

Interesting News: "Sandy Hook shooting: First lawsuit filed"

A New Haven attorney is asking permission to sue the state for $100 million on behalf of a student who survived the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. This lawsuit is for the girl who survived when all her classmates were killed and a man thinks she needs a lawsuit, essentially money, to help her cope. Should her parents join in on this lawsuit or leave well enough alone and rejoice that their child's life was spared when so many others were lost? What do you think?

Book: "Illusion" by Frank Peretti

I just completed this book--Peretti's newest release--and it was incredible! I hadn't read one of his books before this one. The storyline was captivating, his pacing superb and the writing impeccable. I would definitely recommend it to anyone. It has something for all with its dash of romance, science fiction and suspense surrounding the core of this thrilling read. This book should be at the top of your reading list for 2013.

Bible Verse: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." - 1 John 4:18

Quote: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain

Song: “Auld Lang Syne” rendition by Susan Boyle

I thought it was only appropriate to have this week's song be for the new year. In this new year remember to follow your heart and your dreams just like singing phenomenon Susan Boyle did.

Listen to the song here.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Penner's Spotlight - Pam Hillman - US - Mississippi

Pens on a World Map
Penner's Spotlight

PennerPam Hillman of Mississippi
Location: Natchez, Mississippi
United States

I called my mother and said, “I’m going on a research trip. Wanna come along?”

She jumped at the chance, and the two of us spent a couple of days in Natchez, Mississippi, established in 1716 and one of the oldest European settlements in the lower Mississippi River Valley. We traveled down the Natchez Trace, stopping along the way.
This is part of the old Sunken Trace, also known as the Natchez Trace and The Devil’s Backbone. This spot is about 40 miles North of Natchez. In one area, the trace forked, then came back together. I can only assume that at some point the road had become so bad that travelers carved out another route, then merged back into the original road.

The trace began as a series of paths for hunters hundreds of years ago. By 1733 the French had mapped the land showing an Indian trail linking Natchez to the northeast. Ohio River Valley farmers floated their crops and products down the Mississippi river to Natchez and New Orleans, sold the flatboats for lumber, then returned via the trace.

To give you a better idea of how worn this trail had become before falling into disuse in the early 1900’s, here is a picture of my mother (below) standing at a distance on the trail itself. You can see where the road merges back together on the left of this picture.
We were there about nine in the morning on July 9. It was very still, and the temperature was still fairly comfortable, but starting to get a little warm. There were no birds, no squirrels, or other animals out and about at that time of day. Mama informed me that if we had gotten there earlier, we would have heard the birds chirping, possibly seen squirrels running around, or even a deer or two, so I bow to her wisdom. But deep in those canyon walls of the trace, the crickets and grasshoppers created a constant chirping like the muted roar of a distant stream.

Our next stop was Mount Locust. It is one of a handful of inns left standing that dotted the old trace along the 500 mile route between 1785-1830. It has been restored to its 1810 appearance when travel on the trace was at its peak. Mount Locust is about 15 miles north of Natchez and was the first stand on the road toward Nashville. We arrived at Mount Locust about 10 in morning and the temperature had climbed faster than the sun. It was hot and muggy, and you could cut the humidity with a knife. 

Mount Locust was considered lavish for a frontier home of the time period since most homes were crude one room log cabins.

Mount Locust
 Natchez is a wonderful city to visit. We enjoyed the rest of the trip, touring King’s Tavern, Ellicott Hill (1797), Natchez Under-the-Hill, and a host of other places.

Have you traveled along the Natchez Trace? Do you have story about rambling down a historic roadway in the world? We'd love to hear about it. Please join the travel discussion below in the comment section.
Special Note: Pens on a World Map founder Morgan Tarpley was actually born in Natchez.

Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that’s the kind of life every girl should dream of! Claiming Mariah is her second novel.

For more information about Pam and her writing, check out her website, Connect with her on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest or her blogs, ( and ( She will return to Pens on a World Map on January 29 to talk more about her new book and writing!

January 1st marks the official beginning of Pam’s Blog Tour Blowout to celebrate the release of her latest book from Tyndale House, Claiming Mariah. She's blowing the doors off the Prize Vault on January 1st so mark your calendar! To find out more about her awesome Prize Vault and giveaways, click here.

In light of her father’s death, Mariah Malone sends a letter that will forever alter the lives of her family. When Slade Donovan, strong willed and eager for vengeance, shows up on her front porch, Mariah is not ready to hear his truths: her father’s farm, the only home she’s ever known, was bought with stolen gold. With Slade ready to collect his father’s rightful claim and force Mariah and her family out on the streets, Mariah must turn to God for guidance. Though Mr. Fredrick Cooper, a local landowner, promises to answer her financial woes if she agrees to be his bride, Mariah finds herself drawn instead to the angry young man demanding her home.

With the ranch now under Slade’s careful eye, he will unearth more than he ever imagined as a devious plot of thievery, betrayal and murder threatens more than the well-being of the ranch, endangering the lives of those who hold it dear. With days dwindling until the rest of the Donovan clan arrive to the Lazy M ranch, Mariah and Slade must rise above the resentment of their fathers and see their true feelings before greed alters their futures forever.

Would you like to be featured on "Penner's Spotlight"? Here's how.

I'd love to see a glimpse of your travels. It doesn't matter if you write a few sentences or the full 300 words. It's about sharing part of our journey with each other. For more on what to do for a "Penner's Spotlight," visit the link below:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

German bells resonate hope, peace, and goodwill

It’s that wonderful time of the year to dust off the ole Christmas music and that’s what filled my car and office this entire month. I had forgotten a certain song that I fell in love with two years ago, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
Theatine Church in Munich
The modern version recorded by the Christian group, Casting Crowns, is now one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs. When I started up last year’s Christmas playlist on my computer this song was one of the first I heard. As I listened to the words, I was really taken by surprise at the whole new meaning they had for me.

Last November, I was sitting by a café in a lovely plaza near the beautiful Theatine Church (Theatinerkirche) in Munich, Germany and the bells were ringing out loud, clear, and pure. I had heard bells on and off throughout my time in Europe: unexpected bells resounding at a monastery in a friend’s hometown and then a long gorgeous performance from the bells of Salzburger Dom (Cathedral) in Salzburg, Austria while I was perched high on the Salzburg Castle walls overlooking the city dotted with sparkling lights at twilight.
Listening to the bells
This time in Munich though I sat listening, really listening to the bells…as carefully now as I listen to the words of this song. “I heard the bells on Christmas day/Their old familiar carols play/And mild and sweet their songs repeat/Of peace on earth, good will to men...And in despair I bowed my head/There is no peace on earth I said/For hate is strong and mocks the song/Of peace on earth, good will to men/But the bells are ringing/Like a choir singing/Does anybody hear them?/Peace on earth, good will to men.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep/God is not dead, nor doth He sleep/The wrong shall fail, the right prevail/With peace on earth, good will to men/Then ringing singing on its way/The world revolved from night to day/A voice, a chime, a chant sublime/Of peace on earth, good will to men…Do you hear the bells they're ringing?/The life the angels singing/Open up your heart and hear them/Peace on earth, good will to men…”

The famous American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, penned the words nearly 150 years ago…and they resonate with me as they must have through him then. It was December 25, 1864 and the American Civil War was still raging on and would continue for over three months more. Our country was torn apart with little hope of repair and Longfellow’s grief over the war extended to the loss of his beloved wife, Fanny, in 1861 at the war’s start.
Fanny had been melting wax with a candle and a few drops fell unnoticed on her dress. A sudden breeze swept in through the window and set her lightweight dress into immediate flames. To protect her daughters, she fled to her husband’s study next door and he frantically tried to extinguish the flames with a rug. The attempt failed, so he threw his arms around her to stop them, which only caused him severe injuries as well. Fanny died the next morning and Longfellow was unable to attend her funeral due to the burns and his deep sorrow at her loss.

The first Christmas after her death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after the accident, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” He then received news that his oldest son, Charles, had been severely wounded as a lieutenant in the Union army, therefore he wrote nothing for Christmas 1863.
Another View of the Theatine Church in Munich
But in 1864, he wrote these famous words…words of deep sorrow, but also of hope. Hope that there would be better days in the future and that “wrong shall fail, the right prevail” and of God being in his midst even through tragedy and unrest in a war-torn world. “God is not dead; nor doth He sleep” and that there truly is hope for “peace on earth, good will to men.”

As I remembered the bells I heard and I thought about the words of this poem, the bells to me became symbolic of God’s presence with us on Earth. In Europe, the bells resound all the time and only few people stop to listen…yet they still ring often. It’s like with God—we take His presence in our lives for granted, but He’s there trying to get our attention, to reverberate through our hearts and minds like the pure and clear sound of the bells.

As with Longfellow’s great tragedy and uncertain chaos that surrounded him, the bells were symbols of peace and hope that God will prevail and we shall find peace even if our world is falling apart. That’s what the Christmas season is all about: peace, hope and remembrance of God’s love. Love for us that was great enough that He sent Jesus Christ to offer salvation to a world in chaos. He’s the bell resounding through the night that beckons, calling us to peace…and to me that is worth celebrating every day.

Has there been a song that's spoken to your heart this holiday season? Was it a reminder of something important?

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given and the government shall be upon His shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end. He will reign upon the throne of David and over His Kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from henceforth and forever…” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

“Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Penning Board 2012-9

The Penning Board Items of the Week

Vlog: Happy Travels! Thanks for watching! Merry Christmas Eve!!! :)


Movie: "White Christmas" (1954) with Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye
This Christmas movie classic is one of my all-time favorites. I can watch it all year long. Of course, I must sing along! 

Interesting News: "New-found tale could be Hans Christian Anderson's"

A discovery has been made in Denmark's National Archives, which is believed to be one of Anderson's early fairy tales. The work is about a candle and is thought to be written when Anderson was 18. What a discovery!

What piece of literature would you love to find? I'd choose another Jane Austen novel. :)

Book: "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss

This book is a perennial favorite and though comical has such a message. Christmas is not about things--it's about people, hope, perserverance in the face of adversity. It's about love.

Bible Verse: "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." - Luke 2: 6-11

Quote: "To the American People: Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born to us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world.” - U.S. President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) from his Presidential message on December 25, 1927

Song: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Casting Crowns

Me in Germany listening to the bells
Last year, this song spoke volumes to my heart and soul...and it still does. It's a version of this song--based on Longfellow's poem--like you've never heard it. God revealed a message to me of hope through the various church bells I heard while in Germany. This is the message we need more today than ever with all the violence and pain in our world. We need love, hope, and faith. To hear my story, tune in on Wednesday!

Listen to the song here.

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" - Casting Crowns Lyrics
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells are ringing (Peace on earth)
Like a choir they're singing (Peace on earth)
In my heart I hear them ( Peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (Peace on earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on earth)
Does anybody hear them? (Peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does He sleep (He is The Lord)
(He is The Lord)
The dark shall fail, the light prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Then ringing singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells they're ringing (Peace on earth)
Like a choir they're singing (Peace on earth)
And with our hearts we'll hear them (Peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells they're ringing?
They're like the angels singing
Open up your heart and hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men
Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Peace on earth, Good will to men

Friday, December 21, 2012

Penner's Spotlight - Terri Wangard - Finland

Pens on a World Map
Penner's Spotlight

Penner: Terri Wangard of Wisconsin

Location: Rovaniemi, Finland
Arctic Circle
During my globe-trotting days, I enjoyed participating in activities I don’t do at home: parasailing in Hawaii, helicoptering onto glaciers in Alaska, bridge climbing in Australia, swimming with dolphins in Tahiti. When Helsinki, Finland, appeared on my itinerary, one option jumped out in front of all others. Visit Santa.
Meeting Santa Claus at his office
A flight to Rovaniemi brought us to the heart of Lapland and the Arctic Circle, as far north as I’ve ever been. The sun illuminates summertime days and nights with continual light. As we passed villages in the far north, I wondered how the inhabitants coped with the continuous darkness and cold of winter.

Terri standing on the Arctic Circle line
We journeyed in long, narrow boats from Rovaniemi to a reindeer farm. The gentle creatures ate from our hands. After experiencing a Lapland sauna, we sat down to lunch. Reindeer stew over mashed potatoes. First you pet them, and then you eat them.

One of Santa's Reindeer
Santa’s village features a year-round Christmas shop filled with all manner of ornaments and knickknacks. Most anticipated, though, was the appearance of the jolly old man himself. He wore the longest curly white beard I’ve seen on a Santa Claus. Our group gathered around for a photo with Santa before he disappeared back into his office. No, we didn’t get to sit on his knee.

Before we boarded our Finnair flight back to Helsinki, we each received a certificate documenting our visit to the Arctic Circle, 66° 33’ 07”/25° 50’ 51.”
Do you have an interesting Christmas travel story? Have you perhaps traveled to Finland as well? We'd love to hear about it. Please join the travel discussion below in the comment section.
Terri Wangard

My first Girl Scout badge was for writing. I guess that says something. I wrote my first novel in the early 2000s. A publisher had the manuscript for a year before saying, "No thanks." Not until I read Debbie Macomber's Twenty Wishes in 2008 did I decide to write again. My full-time job is with my family business, publishing Classic Boating magazine since 1984. For twenty years, from 1989 to 2009, I traveled all over the world. My photo book A World to See can be viewed here with more about my travels.
For more information about Santa Claus Village in Finland, visit their website here.

Would you like to be featured on "Penner's Spotlight"? Here's how.

I'd love to see a glimpse of your travels. It doesn't matter if you write a few sentences or the full 300 words. It's about sharing part of our journey with each other. For more on what to do for a "Penner's Spotlight," visit the link below:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Remembering the Fallen of Newtown

I wasn’t going to write about it—the Sandy Hook tragedy. It’s too tough to address and everyone’s writing about it…but I feel I must. Over the past few days, I’ve purposely kept from watching footage and viewing photos. I didn’t want to see it.

On Monday, I scanned news headlines and naturally the majority of them were filled with news of the shooting, the President’s Newtown visit and the first of twenty funerals to be held. I couldn’t look away when I saw a collage of the victim’s tiny faces. I began viewing each photo, bio and comment from the families.
Some faces of the Newtown victims (Photo from Yahoo News)
As I read and looked into each victim’s eyes, tears brimmed in my own. Then, I froze as the strands of a familiar song reached my ears. It wasn’t a song I’d expect to hear over a Christmas radio station – even though the intro now holds a soft orchestra opening, but the words were more than fitting for the slideshow I was viewing.
“If I could tell the world just one thing it would be, we’re all okay…And not to worry cause worry is wasteful and useless in times like these…I won’t be made useless…I won’t be idle in despair…I’ll gather myself around my faith…For light does the darkness most fear…”
Wow…the song is actually a Christmas version of “Hands” by singer/songwriter Jewel. [To hear Jewel's song, click here.] I hung on every word and continued the slideshow.
“Poverty stole your golden shoes / It didn't steal your laughter / And heartache came to visit me / But I knew it wasn’t ever after / We will fight not out of spite / For someone must stand up for what’s right / Cause where there's a man who has no voice / There ours shall go singing… / Cause in the end only kindness matters / In the end only kindness matters / I will get down on my knees, and I will pray / I will get down on my knees, and I will pray / I will get down on my knees and I will pray…

“My hands are small, I know / But they're not yours, they are my own / But they're not yours, they are my own / And I am never broken / We are never broken / We are God's eyes…God's hands / We are reflections of God…God's hands / We are…God's eyes / We are…reflections of God.”
Hands…the song’s not only fitting for needing hope in horrible situations and light in darkness but it reminded me that we must be responsible for what we do. We will be accountable for it…if not here on the Earth then before God’s judgment. Twenty children killed and six teachers and staff – all women.

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment including every hidden thing whether it is good or evil.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Noah Pozner had just celebrated his sixth birthday in November – a birthday he shared with his twin sister, who he called his “best friend.” Emilie Parker was a little blonde, blue-eyed girl, whose father said would have been one of the first to comfort her classmates had the gunman’s bullets not claimed her life. Jesse Lewis was excited for the holiday season and couldn’t wait to go to school on Friday to make gingerbread houses.
Redhead six-year-old Catherine Hubbard’s parents noted the overwhelming support of the community, police and emergency responders and stated: “We ask that you continue to pray for us and the other families who have experienced loss in this tragedy.”
Three of the adults were around my age—one in her first teaching year, another about to become engaged on Christmas and all dedicated to children. Twenty-seven-year-old Victoria Soto even hid her students and confronted the gunman to save their lives – sacrificing her own. The principal was the first to face him and the whole exchange was heard over the school intercom. The police don’t know why it was on, but it gave teachers and others life-saving moments to lock their doors and hid their children.
Another victim was School Psychologist Mary Sherlach, who’d been at the school over a decade. She was devoted to problem solving, intervention and prevention and her son-in-law said she felt helping children was doing God’s work.

Many churches across the country have set prayer vigils for the families and dedicated their services to them. One of these churches was North Point Church in Missouri and Pastor Jeremy Johnson made a valid point

“During this season of Christmas to see something so dark and evil happen a lot of people wonder where is the hope of Christmas,” said Johnson. “In the middle of chaos, in the middle of evil there is hope and that really is what Christmas is all about.”

In our lives, we are never promised bad things won’t happen. We are human and many of us are filled with anger and bitterness and want to bring others down with us. The issue is beyond taking away everyone’s guns because if someone means evil they will find a way to commit it.

It’s about the condition of our hearts and souls and the need for hope, the spark within that ignites as I’m reminded that God sent His Son into this world to save it. That’s the hope and assurance I cling to daily – that though we face atrocities on Earth, if we follow Christ, one day we shall spend eternity without suffering.

What are your thoughts on this tragedy? In your own life, how have you dealt with personal tragedy?

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Penning Board 2012-8

The Penning Board Items of the Week

Vlog: Happy Travels! Thanks for watching! :)


Movie: "A Princess for Christmas" (2011) with Katie McGrath, Sam Heughan and Sir Roger Moore

I saw this movie for the first time last year when it released on the Hallmark Channel. I love to watch made-for-TV Christmas movies with my family. Some of them may be extra cheesy, but they're uplifting and clean family fun. You can't get too much of that these days. This movie was extra cute and it's become a new holiday favorite of mine.

Interesting News: "Dutchman launches life-sized replica of Noah's Ark"

As fulfillment of a twenty-year dream, a Dutchman launches a scale replica of Noah's Ark in the Netherlands. Is this a strong symbol of God 's Word to the world or just a new tourist attraction? I think the former. What do you think?

Book: "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry
This classic Christmas story is so touching and such a reminder that this season is not about gift giving. It's about love and sacrifice and to me, as a Christian, it's about the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, my Savior. He was born to die for me and you to show love through His great sacrifice to pay for debts He did not owe. For me, the season is for the matters of the heart and soul and remembrance of His birth.

Bible Verse: "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned." - Isaiah 9:2 (Scripture about the prophecy of Jesus Christ's birth)

Quote: "Christmas is a time when you get homesick...even when you're home." - Carol Nelson

Song: “Sending You a Little Christmas” by Jim Brickman and Kristy Starling

I discovered this song recently through an iTunes radio station of Christmas music. It's a lovely, lovely song dedicated to soldiers (and all) who are away from home for Christmas. Though you may be far from home, you can send a little Christmas love back there. Merry Christmas!

Listen to the song here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Penner's Spotlight - Sarah Smith - England

Pens on a World Map
Penner's Spotlight
Penner: Sarah Smith of Louisiana

Location: Bath, England

The lovely Bath Abbey
What a beautiful place to visit! When my best friend, Morgan Tarpley, was telling me about what cities we were going to visit during our three-week adventure through the British Isles and Ireland, Bath was one of the places I was excited to see. Jane Austen lived in Bath during a period of time in her life. We arrived in Bath on a Friday. The first stop was the hostel to drop our bags off and explore the city.
The Bath Backpacker’s Hostel is a colorful one with writing all over the wall from the different people who have visited. Our arrival in Bath could not have been more perfect. There was a music festival going on in the middle of town. Music is one of my passions.

The colorful Bath hostel
That evening, Morgan and I attended a wonderful performance by young up-and-coming singer/songwriter Ruth Royall from Bristol. The free concert was extra special because it was held in the pump room at the site of the famous Royal Baths next to the beautiful Bath Abbey. We sat on the floor and enjoyed listening to her musical talent. Hear her music here.
Tea at the Jane Austen Museum's Mr. Darcy Tearoom in Bath
The next day, Morgan and I ventured into the city to visit the Jane Austen Museum, which is just down the street from the townhouse where Jane Austen lived while in Bath. The museum was really neat with costumes and items from different film versions of Jane Austen’s books.
After the tour of the museum, we went upstairs to the Regency Tea Room (they called it Mr. Darcy’s tearoom) where we enjoyed cups of raspberry tea and a piece of chocolate cake. Our next trip around Bath was to the Royal Crescent were Jane Austen walked and probably thought about writing. Bath is a wonderful and quiet place to visit. I know I would love to go there again.

Have you taken a fun trip with your best friend? Have you visited England? We'd love to hear about it. Please join the discussion in the comments.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith has always loved numbers more than words...that's why she's an accountant. She does, however, love to travel, which she has done all her life with her family and friends. She currently works in accounting at a major Louisiana university and spends her time with family, friends and her little dog, Audrey (named after the great Audrey Hepburn of course!).

She also happens to be the childhood best friend of "Pens on a World Map" founder Morgan Tarpley. She and Morgan were blessed to spend three weeks backpacking through the U.K. and Ireland together as well as taking numerous family vacations and road trips over the years. Sarah can be found on Facebook here. For more information about the tea room in Bath, click here.

Would you like to be featured on "Penner's Spotlight"? Here's how.

I'd love to see a glimpse of your travels. It doesn't matter if you write a few sentences or the full 300 words. It's about sharing part of our journey with each other. For more on what to do for a "Penner's Spotlight," visit the link below:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Experience Travel with Your Favorite Authors

How many times have you read a good book that transported you to a place or time about which you’ve only dared to dream? Perhaps you wished, after reading Frances Maye’s Under the Tuscan Sun, that you could travel to Tuscany yourself, meet the people who inspired the author, interact with the locals with whom she connected, and visit the places she wrote about. 

Want to be a traveling reader? And visit book locations?
Perhaps you’ve read an intriguing biography, like Kathi Diamant’s Kafka’s Last Love, that inspired you to travel to the old worlds of Prague, Krakow and Berlin to retrace the footsteps of the great writer, Franz Kafka. 

Or perhaps you’ve read a spellbinding memoir, Blue Bear, by Lynn Schooler, an award-winning author, photographer, and world-renowned Alaskan wilderness tour guide, only to wish you could travel to this majestic and awe-inspiring US state.

Well, what if I told you that those dreams could become reality, and you could in fact experience one of these Adventures, literally, by the Book? After living vicariously thru hundreds of authors over the years, I had the good fortune to meet Frances Mayes at a book signing years back and told her that I had never traveled to Tuscany, but someday dreamed I could experience firsthand what her world of Tuscany was really like. 

Yes, her lyrical prose makes you feel like you are already there, but I believed her books would become even more multi-dimensional if I could in fact travel there and see for myself what inspired her to write her many bestselling books.

Some of the travelers and author Frances Mayes in her hometown of Cortona, Italy

Somewhat in jest, I told her that I would love to come visit her one day and she, being the gracious and classy woman that she is, certainly encouraged me to do just that. I told her that someday I would come knocking on her door, and that perhaps I might even bring other fans with me. 

And while things did not transpire exactly in that manner, I did soon thereafter quit my job working in a bookstore to create Adventures by the Book, an organization that offers worldwide opportunities for readers to connect with authors on an intimate basis through unique, interesting, and adventurous travels and events. Because what I learned through Frances and the countless other authors, who have inspired me, is that I don’t have to just dream.
The first Adventure by the Book travel experience was, of course, an Adventure Under the Tuscan Sun in the summer of 2011, which I organized after corresponding with Frances Mayes and telling her that I was finally going to travel to Tuscany and bringing other readers along on the journey. We spent ten days not only having lunch with Frances but visiting her hometown of Cortona, and attending the Festival of the Sun that she co-founded about a decade ago. 

We also sipped wine at internationally-renowned author Ferenc Mate’s winery, which he made famous in his book, A Vineyard in Tuscany, shared an authentic Italian feast with Tuscan author and radio personality Annalisa Coppolaro-Nowell, and traveled about Siena with bestselling author Dario Castagno, who led us firsthand through the intriguing world of the Palio horse races.

Group at the historic Borgo Scopeto outside of Siena, Italy with internationally renown author Dario Castagno

In the past 18 months, not only have Adventurers been able to have lunch, happy hour, high tea, cooking classes, and dinners with authors in and around San Diego, but we have also traveled to Eastern Europe with author Kathi Diamant on a Magical Mystery Literary Adventure, and to the wilderness outside of Juneau, Alaska, where author Lynn Schooler, one of the world’s leading Alaskan wilderness tour guides, invited us to stay at his home for six days to experience Alaska like you will never see on a cruise ship tour.

A group with author Kathi Diamant in Berlin

Now that your appetite has been whetted by the possibilities, why don’t you consider joining us on our next travel opportunity, a Springtime in Paris Adventure by the Book with author, Paris-trained chef, and Food Network Star winner Amy Finley. Amy will lead us on a ten-day tour of Paris and Burgundy to meet other authors, chefs and restauranteurs who are not accessible to the general public. 

After a unique welcome reception at the renowned Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris, where we will meet up with a host of American authors living in Paris, you will indulge in the food, the wine, the culture, the people, and the history and get to know Paris like you never dreamed possible.

After all, life really is an Adventure by the Book, and it’s time you turned your dream book into reality!
Alaskan Adventure by the Book with award-winning author and photographer Lynn Schooler
More information about Adventures by the Book events and travels can be found on my website at

Susan McBeth of Adventures By the Book 
Adventures By the Book was created from the notion that many readers and authors are looking for experiences that allow them to connect on a more intimate basis than through a traditional speaking or lecture format.  Because owner and founder Susan McBeth has extensive experience working with publishers, publicists, agents, and authors, she is able to organize these unique events many times in conjunction with an author’s book tour so that the travel and honorarium expenses typically charged by authors can either be avoided altogether or kept to a minimum.
Susan has worked as an events coordinator for over twenty years, four and a half of which were spent specializing in author events as Director and Marketing of Events at Warwick’s Bookstore in La Jolla, California. Those events have ranged from small, in-store speaking and signing events for debut authors to large-scale signings with high-profile and bestselling authors, to special engagements of a more intimate nature, including dining with an author or happy hour events, to organizing offsite events in partnership with local businesses.
To learn more about Adventures by the Book, check out their website -, “Like” their Facebook page here and find them on Twitter at “adventurebybook.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Penning Board 2012-7

The Penning Board Items of the Week

Vlog: Fun times on the job! :) Happy Travels! Thanks for watching!


Movie: "My Last Holiday" (2006) with Queen Latifah and LL Cool J

This movie, not only features Louisiana and traveling in Europe, but it makes me laugh out loud. Queen Latifah is at the top of her game in this film with a message about enjoying life to the fullest. Check it out this holiday season. You will not be disappointed.

Interesting News: Classic literature to be dropped from high schools in favor of ‘informational texts’

In high school, I remember the student groans over the dreaded reading of classic literature...but ultimately there were many books that have stuck with me all these years and helped my writing now. I wouldn't have wanted to miss out, but now many high school students will--due to new educational standards to push for 70% of student reading material be non-fiction. No more "The Catcher in the Rye" or "To Kill a Mockingbird" they say... What do you think? A good move or a crippling one?;_ylt=Ak7_7Tp28ryiOhhiZTB1H7Ws0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTUzN2lwcm5iBGNjb2RlA2dtcHRvcDEwMDBwb29sd2lraXVwcmVzdARtaXQDTmV3cyBGb3IgWW91IDUgU3RvcmllcwRwa2cDZWYyYTljMWYtMTBkNi0zN2Q3LThlZDgtMjJkNGQwYTZmNDdiBHBvcwMxMQRzZWMDbmV3c19mb3JfeW91BHZlcgM4NTk2NWU5MC00MTExLTExZTItYmNmZS0xOTQyNWRiMjVjYzc-;_ylv=3

Book: "Winter Passing" by Cindy Martinusen (now Cindy Coloma)

Since I've written a novel about World War II, this contemporary work intrigued me. It's about a young woman, who journeys to Austria and addresses her family's past during the Holocaust. I quite enjoyed it. There are two more books in the series and I can't wait to read them. In fact, they're already on my shelf. To learn more about Cindy's books, visit her website at

Bible Verse: "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ." - Galatians 1:10

Quote: "Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful."  - Norman Vincent Peale

Song: “Christmas Time in London Town” by Nina and Frederik

When I thought about Christmas songs about travel, I was at a loss. After hitting a search engine, I found this 1961 tune and enjoyed it. It's all about traveling around London at Christmastime. I pictured all the places in the song as I listened.

Check out the song here.

I also found a different song with the same name by British folk singer Steve Thompson. I like the softness of the song and the video is one of the oddest I've seen, but I enjoyed it and seeing some familiar sites around London.

See the video here.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Penner's Spotlight - Carole Towriss - Russia

Pens on a World Map
Penner's Spotlight

PennerCarole Towriss of Washington D.C.
Location: Moscow, Russia

Moscow is an ancient and fascinating city. I’ve been there three times, all very short visits. The first two were in 1998 on the way to Kazakhstan and back for my daughter’s adoption. The third, in 2001, was on the way to the adoption of my third and fourth children. 

My husband visited many times during his twenty years with CNN, and he pointed out all the many incredible sights as we strolled around Red Square. It seems almost a mishmash of buildings – ancient and new, commercial and religious, sprawling and compact. 
Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square near the Kremlin
On the south side is my favorite building, the elaborate, brightly domed Saint Basil's Cathedral. Actually a grouping of ten chapels, it sits at the geometric center of Moscow and is over 450 years old. You can tour the inside, but compared to the outside, I thought the interior somewhat disappointing—cramped, dimly lit, and full of tiny stairwells and blocked-off areas.
The western side of the square is bordered by the famous—or infamous—Kremlin. Formerly the residence of the tsars, Lenin, Stalin and now the President of the Russian Federation, the compound is massive. 

State Historical Museum and rebuilt Iberian Gate
 Several buildings have been rebuilt since Soviet days. The Resurrection Gate and the Kazan Cathedral were both demolished to make room for Soviet parades, or official caravans that often came screaming through the square without notice.
On the Eastern side of the square is the GUM department store, a huge indoor mall. We spent a good amount of time here! Not only is it full of unique finds, it was cold outside and I was quite unprepared for the weather.
Moscow remains one of my favorite cities, perhaps because it is so full of history…or perhaps just because I consider it the gateway city to my children.

Do you have a travel story from Russia? Do you have a certain favorite memory traveling as a child or with your own children? We'd love to hear about it. Please join the discussion in the comments.
Carole Towriss grew up in beautiful San Diego, California. Now she and her husband live just north of Washington, DC. In between making tacos and telling her four children to pick up their shoes for the third time, she reads, writes, watches chick flicks and waits for summertime to return to the beach. Her first novel, In the Shadow of Sinai, released November 1. You can find her at or on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

In the Shadow of Sinai

An artisan’s world has been destroyed one too many times. Can he get past his anger to see his ability for what is—a gift from El Shaddai? Or will he let his resentment rob him of his chance to build a masterpiece?

Bezalel is a Hebrew slave to Ramses II. An artisan of the highest order, Ramses has kept him in the palace even when all other Israelites have been banned. Bezalel blames El Shaddai for isolating him from his people.

When Moses and Aaron appear one summer, and El Shaddai shakes Egypt to its core, Bezalel must reexamine his anger. Over the course of the next year, Bezalel’s life becomes intertwined with those of an Egyptian child-slave, the captain of the guard, and especially a beautiful, young concubine.

When spring arrives, all of them escape with the young nation of Israel. But that’s only the beginning…

To read the first two chapters, find the link here. To view the book trailer, click here.

Would you like to be featured on "Penner's Spotlight"? Here's how.

I'd love to see a glimpse of your travels. It doesn't matter if you write a few sentences or the full 300 words. It's about sharing part of our journey with each other. For more on what to do for a "Penner's Spotlight," visit the link below:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Enhance Your Writing Through Acting

I don’t sit still much. I never have. My “antsy-ness” resembles that of my late grandmother. She was the ultimate multi-tasker and always had her hand in something whether gardening, sewing, reading, cooking or traveling and taking photographs. She had many hobbies and so do I.

I crave new experiences. My adventurous spirit must be fed…and I believe it helps my writing.

Our cast
 I mean it’s one thing writing about something you’ve never experienced--and it can be done well--but when writing from experience I find the vividness of detail just falls onto the page. I don’t make up that floating in the Dead Sea makes you feel gritty and slimy or jungle termites taste like carrots. I’ve been there, done that.

The hobby that I feel has had a profound effect on my writing is acting.

As I mentioned in Monday’s vlog, I was in a play over the weekend. I’ve been in many over the years, but this production was my first role in a drama. I’ve always done comedy, so it was quite a stretch to be serious and show a range of emotion. It was a nice challenge and I enjoyed the experience, especially since I had the lead role. 

A drama performance
While editing my current manuscript, I realized how this hobby came into play. Each section of dialogue and line of detail were put under a microscope to see if the text was realistic. I read it aloud and imagined my book as a play being performed. I thought about the sequence of hand gestures, gasps, and movement. I asked myself: Would someone really react in this way? Would they say this? Or think that?
A comedy performance
I also thought about body language and how as an actress, I must figure out how my character would react to certain situations. Most scripts do offer some guidance as to how a character would act, but overall it’s up to the actor to figure out how they will portray the character.


So I ask: Would my character do this after this line? What can I do to convey this emotion? These types of questions are perfect examples of strengthening my writing through using a hobby.

Try it.

A mystery comedy performance
Borrow my hobby. Think for the stage--like an actor--when you write and edit...and you may come away with a whole new take on your characters.

What are your hobbies? How do you think they may enhance your writing? Are they part of your book's plot or a character's background, etc.?

Here's a glimpse of our set for the murder mystery thriller I performed in over the weekend.