New Projects: How to Write Killer Essays

It has been a long time since I posted, but I have been busy writing. In January, I started a new series of study aids called How to Write a Killer Essay. My first was Macbeth, then I wrote the following: Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew and Othello by Shakespeare and A Street Car Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. They are now available on Amazon in ebook or print format. I am currently working on Sonnets and The Great Gatsby with plans for The Handmaid’s Tale and Oedipus Rex and Antigone.

I was able to draw on my teaching experience as I worked on the literature; however, getting the formatting internalized was a challenge. I used Kindle Create to make ebooks. While the program is pretty easy to use, I ran into glitches in formatting that forced me to revise and republish. I learned a great deal about technical writing and formatting. With my early books, I had to format my document separately for the print version using MS Word. A two fingered typist at the best with limited experience in all of the technical aspects of formatting, I had a steep learning curve. Now Kindle Create will format an ebook and print version at the same time! Yeah! More time for writing.

Beyond the Plan: Using Trains in Italy



Or perhaps I should say buongiorno! I had a great trip last month to Italy and really enjoyed day trips using the trains. I spent the first few days in Assisi, the home of St. Francis. I took a train from Fuimicino airport into Tiburtina station where I connected to local trains bound for Assisi and beyond. I purchased my tickets online at Trenitalia and printed out my boarding passes. There was no specific time on the boarding pass, so I used the Trenit app on my iPhone to determine which train to get on.

Most American, like me, rarely if ever use trains, so I did some research. I knew that I had to know the final destination of the train in order to find the correct platform. That’s where the Trenit app came in really handy. I could get to Assisi by trains going through Orte or Fuligno where I had to switch to trains mostly heading to Perugia. Each train has a permanent route number, so that made things easier. The big stations have an electronic board to look up platforms, with listing providing point of origin, final destination, route number, time of departure and platform. Very easy. Smaller stations all have a poster size chart showing train routes with all stops; these two are organized by origin point and destination. The app often had timely and accurate platform information.

While in Assisi, I took two train trips: Spello and Perugia. I spent the next week in Rome and took several day trips. One day I went to Ostia Antica taking the Lido, or Beach, Line from Ostiense. I went to Tivoli to see Villa D’Este leaving from Termini with a change at Tiburtina. One day, I took the train from Termini to Orvieto. I bought tickets using vending machines at Termini station, while I used the station shop in Assisi. Both options are quite easy and allow you to get a return ticket as well. While I could not validate the ticket I printed at home, it is expected that all other tickets be validated in the small green machine found near all platforms or stations. These are very easy to use. You can face a fine if your ticket is not validated with a time and date stamp in the machines. There was a conductor checking tickets on every train I rode, so validate your ticket!

train platform

Give trains a try next time you are in Italy. The ease of train travel makes it possible to travel independently and save tons of money on tours!

Planning My Italian Adventure: Train travel

Traveling to Italy is always a joy! My previous trips have included a week each in Florence, Naples and Rome. I have used trains to get around and find train travel and public transit easy to use –so far. I love planning my travel as much as traveling, so I spend a great deal of time and energy during over Google Maps to organize my days to mix up hectic days with calm garden filled days. I had to struggle with my destination while planning this trip. Torn between northern Italy — Turin, Milan, Verona, Padua and Venice — and the pull to return to Rome. Rome won. I am smitten with Rome: walkability, surprises around every corner, and gritty sophistication.

I am traveling to Assisi for three nights before heading to Rome for five nights.  I have planned some side trips from both bases.  Some apps that make planning simple are Rome2Rio which offers many travel solutions for any country and the Trenitalia. Many regions have their own train and bus systems, so it would be worthwhile checking into those as you plan your own trip to Italy.  

I have the UBER app and use it extensively in Mexico; however, I have read that UBER is spotty in Italy.  I have downloaded two possible solutions for quick trips when I don’t want to wait for a bus:  Freenow and Scooterino.  FreeNow is the replacement for MyTaxi and helps locate and call a taxi in your area.  Scooterino is a ridesharing app allowing you to hitch a ride on one of the ubiquitous vespas in Rome. You can even book a tour on a Vespa or in a Fiat.  I will post an update on this service after my trip!  I look forward to a ride on a Vespa!

How Not To Travel – Advice for the Clueless

I have done a bit of traveling lately and am planning a trip to Rome in a moth or two.  While skimming travel article online I have run into some very alarming advice from travel bloggers.  The sarcastic list of advice that I am offering below is intended as a response to articles with titles such as “How to Make Traveling in Coach feel like a Spa” or “How to Survive a Long Haul Flight in Comfort.”  

They make suggestions that impinge on the space and comfort of other people. 

TSA screening: While waiting in line, or hey, even before getting in line, how about taking off your watch, emptying your pockets, untying your shoes, removing your jacket and taking out your laptop?  The line would probably go much faster if people paid attention to details like this either while standing in line and doing nothing instead of at the moment they are faced with the bins and next to go through the scanner. 

Bring headphones:  No one, really – no one, wants to hear the incessant pinging of your video game or the other annoying sounds emitting from your phone.  I think there should be a special circle of hell for those narcissists who pollute the air with unnecessary and rude sound from their devices.  This rule does not apply if you are traveling with children – you must be able to hear and monitor your children’s behavior and that cannot be done with headphones or earbuds in.

Keep your stink shoes on your feet:  In several blog posts, I have read advice for people to take off their shoes during a flight – yeah – and not to worry about the smell because it does not last long. How gross is that?  If you want to travel with no shoes, take them off in the terminal and put on clean socks with slippers and put those shoes in your carry on bag.  

Not a spa:  An airplane is the equivalent of a bus in the sky. It is not a spa.  Spa activities are inappropriate on a crowded plane. Keep your essential oils, masks, and fruity lotions to yourself. 

Keep your pants on:  I was astounded to see that a person, a male, took off his trousers and expected to be able to fly on a red-eye in his boxer shorts.  A plane is a public place and all passengers expect public behavior from fellow fliers. Geez!

Thanks for reading my rant!

New Books

I have been busy writing some study guides for high school students, A few months ago, I published an essay writing guide from brainstorming to final draft called A Guide to Awesome Academic Writing. I am working on a series of academic guides called How to write a Killer Essay.  A guide for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Hamlet and The Taming of a Shrew are available on Amazon in Kindle format and paperback. The guides include help finding motifs, themes, essay ideas, close reading tips, plot overview and nuts and bolts of essay writing.

2018 Nanowrimo

It was a heck of a Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) this year.  I started with hopes to complete the sequel to Becoming Bea and 50,000 words.  I made it.  Whew!

Now I have the daunting task of revision, and, believe me, there is plenty of it. First I went through Becoming Bea and made some edits and revision so that I could unite the trilogy I envision under a title.  Since the books are soft Steampunk, I decided on Silk and Steel as a name for the series. The sequel’s title is Chasing Bees and takes place two years after Becoming Bea as my protagonist becomes a young woman and grows into her developing powers while on a summer course.  She has to further reconcile her heritage and reconcile with events of her past as she gets to know Branwyn, the black sheep of the family.

As I learned with Becoming Bea, I need to do some tightening up of the work, then step away for several months before taking another look and further revise.

Becoming Bea is available on Amazon as a Kindle book or paperback.


A Teacher and School Violence

My voice will not be the only voice speaking this morning in anger, sadness and disgust.  My head will not be the only head filled with media images and sounds of violence, sadness and fear. Many voices stronger and louder than mine have spoken powerful words of sadness and condemnation for the state of our country and its love affair with guns.  I will speak none-the-less.

As many of you know, I am a retired teacher.  I have helped children deal with school violence since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. Seeing children flinch in their seats at the sound of a banging door, watching children respond with disdain at the feeble attempts at safety protocols and rehearsals for potential threats ins school, and imagining our response to a live shooter in the building or visualizing ourselves trying to staunch the flow of blood from a mortally wounded child in my classroom is the silent burden every teacher carries every waking minute of every day. Sometimes our dreams are haunted by fears and worries, too.

You see, adult teachers know that they face death at any moment every morning when they walk in the school door. We know how many hurting and damaged children are in the seats every day. We know that despite the hard work of counselors and administration, hurting and angry children face us with thoughts of violence — every day.

Perhaps, if, like teachers, Senators and Congressmen had to carry the daily burden of a real and imminent threat of facing death, we would have some movement in the regulation of deadly weapons. Perhaps, if Senators and Congressmen, had the physical responsibility of keeping twenty-five young lives safe at any given moment of their day, they would be able to see beyond their wallets stuffed with IRA dollars.  Perhaps, if, the children, grand-children and wives of Senators and Congressmen, were facing the daily terrorism of imminent school violence, we would have some authentic conversation about guns in America.

But, in this country, we are in love with the idea that our politicians are public servants; when, in reality, many of our politicians are self-serving: favoring cronyism, self aggrandisement and the accrual of wealth.

When will it stop? How can we reconcile the right to bear arms with the proliferation of high powered guns designed to inflict death on a massive scale? As I sit here and write this, I question my activism, my willingness to get my butt off the couch and become involved in the social and political issues that concern me.  Today is a new day.  Get up with me and make your voice heard.