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Fun Times Traveling Europe with My Family

Cinque Terre, Italy

“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell a story. Make some light.” – Kate DiCamillo

I am a firm believer in writing our own stories. Life is story and story is life, and life is easy in our comfort zones. Stepping out of our normal routines sometimes means tapping into a long-held dream, saving dollars and coins in a jar, and taking action by making the plans. In this case, stepping out meant the pursuit of fun times and family travel. Destination: Europe, with my three almost-grown teenage sons.

Every once in a while, I note that my sons are far taller than I am, and are growing into themselves, which I love. This has always been the goal. But I also note that times with the four of us won’t always last forever. I love it when we are together. And so, taking action on the “I wish we could go back to Prague” wistful dinner conversations, I booked tickets last fall for us to travel to Europe together. It is a dream trip, and it came true. I am so grateful.

For some reason, tickets across the pond landing in Belgium were astoundingly reasonable, so that is where we began: in Bruxelles.

We had a few hours to spare before our next train, so we took the chance to have a local breakfast of waffles and walked around the Grand Place. With a clear blue sky, the buildings shone. It was beautiful – a place filled with sunshine, the sounds of footsteps across cobblestones and spoken French and Flemish, with the fragrance of chocolate accompanied by pristine architecture.

The hours to our next stop didn’t quite go as planned – our trains got mixed up with a cancellation, which was lost in translations. And so we boarded the wrong train, but luckily still made it to our Amsterdam destination to see best friends, arriving only an hour later than planned. We spent days with them in their native Haarlem and enjoyed days on bikes, at the beach, and at the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh museums in the city. It was wonderful.

We flew out to Prague and landed amidst the celery green fields waving with wheat in the morning. Most things have not changed at all in the five years since we’ve repatriated to our native US after living in Prague from 2009 – 2013. Our favorite nearby restaurant on a pond still serves the same pizzas and goulash. The same heavy trucks still consume the narrow roads. The village potraviny still operates exactly the same way. Daily life has continued without us, which was good to see. Our apartment rented through TripAdvisor impressed us immensely with its views over the Vltava River, National Theater, and Charles Bridge. We soaked up every minute in our former home. (More to come in future posts…)

Our final stop was a bit of a reach, but it, too, wowed us. We flew to Milan and took trains south to the coast and stayed in obscure Cinque Terre. It surpassed our hopes with its fun, natural surroundings, and beauty.

Finally, we boarded trains through Nice, France, and returned for a night in Bruxelles before returning to the US.

More photographs on our adventures to come…

Hope you all are having a great start to summer!

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Focusing on the Positive

June Gardens

Don’t bring negative to my door. – Maya Angelou

 

I love fresh starts, and like yesterday, June 1, the new calendar page brings with it a clean path forward and the opportunity to find our way forward, anew.

Sometimes the fresh start is overwhelming — where do we begin? But this month, this week, this day, I know I’m focusing on being positive, hopeful. In looking for the best, we are freed up and encouraged.

Dr. Maya Angelou has long been one of my favorite role models. I loved getting to see her speak / sing with the Cincinnati Symphony in the fall of 2013, when she narrated Aaron Copland’s Lincoln’s Portrait. Despite her age, she was strong and alive. When she passed away last spring, the world lost a luminous voice. I will never forget her.

Since that time, I’ve read several of her books and poems. One poem, I keep beside my writing chair. From all I’ve read, Maya Angelou had a difficult life, but her positive spirit defines her, still.

A bright outlook

I love so many of her quotes, and have written many here. But one which strikes me most is this: “Don’t bring negative to my door.”

There are many ways to live. As Americans, we know the glass half full / half empty image well. We know that we can choose which way we want to see things, with hope and believing the best, or without hope and expecting the worst.

Maya Angelou’s phrase reminds me of the way we can (and probably need to) filter what we allow into our lives. Those people and activities which build us up, make us feel stronger and lighter, and help us to become a better version of ourselves are ones we want to welcome. On the other hand, the ones which cost much energy, drain us of our creativity and essence, and weigh us down so we can hardly move forward are people and activities we need to stop at the front door.

Don’t bring negative to my door. I love that.

Maya Angelou wrote “Still I Rise” in 1928, and it is powerful. It’s a response to the negative, to the drain in her life, and it leaves no doubt as to how she will do even after what she has faced. Still she will rise.

The first lines of the poem (for more, click here):

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Because of Dr. Maya Angelou and many others with that strong, positive spirit, no matter what we face, we can choose to turn negativity away at the door, and to focus on the opportunities to rise despite our hardships.

Have a great week, and make it a great new month!

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Gaudi and Barcelona: Photos of His Art and Architecture

There are no straight lines or corners in nature. Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners. -Antoni Gaudí

This month, I’m continuing a series on art I saw while I lived in Europe. Art and its rich legacy in architecture are present everywhere in Europe. And while there may be a difference between the two, in some ways, architecture is art. Especially when the architect is Antoni Gaudí.

Sailboat off Barcelona in the Mediterranean Sea
Sailboat off Barcelona in the Mediterranean Sea

My family and I visited Barcelona, Spain, and I blogged about it here. It was a beautiful city, more connected to the beach and the Mediterranean Sea than many other cities on the water. I loved the sailboats and the azure colors of the sea and sky. And the people were entertaining with their different behaviors on the beach and around town.

As we toured Barcelona, I began to associate the work of architect Antoni Gaudí as an emblem of the city.

Gaudí and Barcelona

 “The creation continues incessantly through the media of man.” -Gaudí

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain, by Gaudi
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain, by Gaudi

Gaudí was born in 1852 in Catalonia, the region of Spain which Barcelona is in. The majority of his work was influenced by his faith and nature.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

 “The creation continues incessantly through the media of man.” – Gaudí

Gaudí is best known for his Sagrada Familia, which incorporates neo-Gothic and Modernisme styles. His architecture is so different, it is unforgettable.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

 “Tomorrow we will do beautiful things.” Gaudí

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

“Color in certain places has the great value of making the outlines and structural planes seem more energetic.” – Gaudí

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

“Because of this, originality consists in returning to the origin.” – Gaudí

His masterpiece, the still-uncompleted Sagrada Família, is one of the most visited monuments in Catalonia. Between 1984 and 2005, UNESCO declared seven of Gaudí’s works to be World Heritage Sites.

“Don´t worry, my client isn´t in a hurry” – Gaudí

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

“Nothing is art if it does not come from nature.” – Gaudí

One of Gaudi's other Barcelona w
One of Gaudi’s other Barcelona works, an apartment building, La Perdrera

“Those who look for the laws of nature to support their new works collaborate with the creator.” – Gaudí

Gaudi's architecture, La Perdrera
Gaudi’s architecture, La Perdrera

Have you seen Gaudí’s work in Barcelona? What did you think?

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Create a Stunning Garden: 20 Favorite Flowers to Plant

June Gardens, seats for two

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece” – Claude Monet

June gardens at the peak of bloom
June gardens at the peak of bloom

Gardens, flowers, and nature have long been inspiration for poets, writers, and painters. None is more famous than Monet’s Water Lilies or Van Gogh’s Irises, great paintings of flowers and gardens as Muse.

June Gardens, seats for two
June Gardens, seats for two

For me, at this time of year, as the gardens spring into bloom, I once again remember how very much I love flowers. The color, the fragrance, the day-after-day beauty. I love it all. If only the world were covered in flowers …

Crimson Tulip
Crimson Tulip

But it is possible to have a garden filled in colorful flowers for many months of the year, even if your garden is the size of a football field or the size of an apron pocket. You just need to know what to plant. Here, I’m posting 20 of my favorite flowers, most photographs taken from my former backyard gardens. For me, it’s a colorful feast! Enjoy! Continue reading Create a Stunning Garden: 20 Favorite Flowers to Plant

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The Magic of Low Light: Photography

Sunrise at Monterosso al Mare, the Cinque Terre, Italy

Photography is the art of writing with light. -Gerardo Suter

I love visiting the ocean, and having time on the beach. To me, there is something about the rhythmic crashing of waves, the wide feeling of timelessness, and the gentle scrubbing of the saltwater and sugary sand to wipe away all of the world’s cares. I love being at the beach.

Gulf of Mexico Sunset
Gulf of Mexico Sunset

When I brought my first camera to the beach, I made the classic mistake time and time again. And I was always disappointed with my photographs. The colors always appeared washed out, my subjects were always squinting, and the objects I was trying to capture for remembrance always turned out pale. One morning, when I was up with the sun, I watched the woman staying next door to us, out with her impressive camera. After she was done taking photographs, she chatted with me for a moment, and made a comment I’ll never forget. “At the beach, don’t even bother to take photos when the sun is high. Only shoot at sunrise or sunset.”

Sunrise at Monterosso al Mare, the Cinque Terre, Italy
Sunrise at Monterosso al Mare, the Cinque Terre, Italy

Since then, I have found her words to be true, for more than just taking photos at the beach. Because when the lighting is low, the colors are rich, and the photographs become magical.

First Light, the Mediterranean Sea, Italy
First Light, the Mediterranean Sea, Italy

When I had a backyard garden in the United States with many roses, my favorite time to be in the garden was at dawn, with my camera in hand, as the light turned the dew into diamonds, and the roses and other flowers sparkled like gemstones in the low sunlight.

Kennedy Rose at sunrise
Kennedy Rose at sunrise

Continue reading The Magic of Low Light: Photography

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5 Quick Steps to Managing Your Digital Photos

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” – Aaron Siskind

 

A Great Tit bird in winter, Prague
A Great Tit bird in winter, Prague

Today, I had the immense privilege of venturing into Prague with a dear photo-loving friend, despite the bitter cold temps, to take photographs of gorgeous Prague under a dusting of snow. In the matter of a few hours, I took a couple hundred photographs. :o)

One of the hardest things about digital photography is the ability to take thousands of photographs.

Yes, the ability to take thousands of photographs is a wonderful thing, especially considering the time and effort and money involved in the old-style method of developing film. But there is one drawback to digital and the thousands of photographs: how do you organize and find the photographs once you’ve taken them? Continue reading 5 Quick Steps to Managing Your Digital Photos

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A Writer’s Inspiration: Where Does It Come From?

Where the Muse lives

“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald

Have you ever read a book or see a painting which speaks to you so deeply you wonder where in the world the author or artist found their inspiration for that piece?

Where the Muse lives

For the past week, I have been reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and I ask that very question every time I open the book. Her world inside a black-and-white circus is so intricate and magical and real that I have to wonder how and where and why did her inspiration come from. It’s amazing.

When friends and acquaintances find out I’m working on a novel, they always ask in the next breath, where does my inspiration come from? How do I get story ideas? Why do I know how to write a novel, or want to write a novel for that matter?

To answer, I’ve put together a 2 minute video, and wanted to share it first here. I hope for it to be a good link and welcome to new friends and potential publishing pros to get to know me a little better in video form. I hope you like it!

On Writing Inspiration, Jennifer Lyn King

 

In other news around my writing chair (there’s been a lot lately, so I thought I’d share here …)

The Latest News: Continue reading A Writer’s Inspiration: Where Does It Come From?

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7 Days in Tuscany: A Photojournal

Autumn Colors of Tuscany, Olive Groves and Vineyards

A tavola non si invecchia. – Italian proverb.
Translation: At the table with good friends and family you do not become old.

 

I love Italy. There is so much to love, especially for enjoying the values of good food and wine, and the wealth of family.

Last week, my husband and I and our three sons spent ten days in Italy. Since we live in Prague as expats, we could drive in and through Italy’s beautiful regions, from the Alpine Dolomites to the colorful wine regions. For me, a week retreat along Italy’s coast with my family is pretty much paradise … We spent much time on the beach and around a weathered kitchen table, enjoying the best Tuscany has to offer. It was divine!

Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre, Italy
Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre, Italy

We ventured for the first time into the UNESCO World Heritage area called the Cinque Terre, and stayed in a village called Monterosso al Mare. The Cinque Terre, along Italy’s Northwestern coast, is known for its centuries-old villages nestled high among the rocks of the Ligurian Sea, along the Mediterranean. The Italian seafood dishes, the house wines, the clanging of the town bells, and the stunning sunrise linger in my memory.

Sunrise in the Cinque Terre, Italy
Sunrise in the Cinque Terre, Italy

As we left Cinque Terre on teetering roads over a thousand meters above the sea, we passed into Tuscany by Pisa and settled into our favorite spot along the Mare in Tuscany’s southwestern seaside region called the Maremma. I have written about the region before (click here), as this was our third year to spend time there in October. And, wow, there are not many words to describe the beautiful weather and countryside … so, some photos to share:

Sunrise in Maremma, Tuscany, Italy
Sunrise in Maremma, Tuscany, Italy
The view from one side of my Italian kitchen: Capalbio, Tuscany, Italy
The view from one side of my favorite Italian kitchen: Capalbio, Tuscany, Italy
The view from the other side of my favorite Italian kitchen: the Mediterranean, Tuscany, Italy
The view from the other side of my favorite Italian kitchen: the Mediterranean, Tuscany, Italy
the Cinque Terre
the Cinque Terre
Maremma landscape
Maremma landscape

 

Autumn Colors of Tuscany, Olive Groves and Vineyards
Autumn Colors of Tuscany, Olive Groves and Vineyards
Twilight in Tuscany
Twilight in Tuscany
Sunset over the Mediterranean
Sunset over the Mediterranean

Next week, I’ll share more photos, including Siena and Rome.

Question for you: Where is your favorite family retreat?

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Living Colorfully

a tiger swallowtail butterfly on echinacea

“Color is such a marvelous way of expressing emotion. We have so many problems in this world, color brings just a little bit of joy into our lives.”  -Vera Neumann, American artist and designer

For about the past month, I have been shuffling around a little scrap of paper, torn from a magazine an American friend lent to me. The clipping has sat everywhere in my kitchen, on top of the piano, and even next to the sink. Because, while I was reading the magazine, I didn’t know exactly what I would do with the clipping, but I knew I had to keep it. I loved the quote, above. Continue reading Living Colorfully

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Authors: 5 Steps to Building Your Own (Professional-Grade) Website

jenniferlynking.com new site homepage

Some may say simple writers may not be able to build their own website, and have it look professional-grade. But I disagree. I think if you can structure a 80 – 100,000 word novel to lure a reader through a story to page 380, and you can bake a cake from a box, then you can build your own beautiful author website. It’s all about making informed choices, asking questions, watching tutorials, and knowing what sort of look you want to have to the Web World.

jenniferlynking.com new site homepage
jenniferlynking.com new site homepage

 

It’s 2011, e-book sales are climbing steadily, and the world increasingly looks to the Web for information, links, and ways to form virtual relationships. If you’re an author, you know you need a website, an inviting home on the web. It’s imperitive. But where do you start (that doesn’t involve selling your car, your dog, your yacht, and your kitchen sink to cover the initial website fees)? That’s where, since I’ve just gone through this process, I’d like to help.

Many web sites are free, like Blogger.com, Typepad, and WordPress.com, Facebook, Tumblr and more. But the drawback is that they also look and act free, and their sites have your content. On the other side of the spectrum, professionally-done websites can cost upwards of $10000 dollars per year to create, run, and maintain (see this testament by publishing house Chairman and author, Michael Hyatt). And while there are more options than ever, I do believe there is a middle ground — an option that doesn’t involve investing huge chunks of money into the process.

Continue reading Authors: 5 Steps to Building Your Own (Professional-Grade) Website