Last Chance update

I'm an idiot, or at least a very bad typist. The correct address for those contest entries to win a copy of Last Chance Christmas and an angel ornament is:
XmasContest@HopeRamsay.com
If you tried to enter before and it bounced back, please try again with the correct spelling of Ramsay!

A great chance to visit Last Chance!

Some time ago I first visited the fictional town of Last Chance, the community featured in Hope Ramsey's wonderful series of books. Not long after my first visit, Hope's publisher gave me the opportunity to take an early look at Last Chance Christmas, which hit stores this week. Now they're allowing me to give my readers a chance to win one of 60 free copies of this wonderful Christmas story along with a golden angel holiday ornament!

Between Monday, October 1 and Sunday, October 7, all you need to do is send your name and snail mail address -- be sure it's complete with zip code -- to: XmasContest@hoperamsey.com
Winners will be randomly chosen. It's a great opportunity for those of you who haven't tried this quirky, charming series or for those of you who haven't already added the newest entry to your collection.


Last Chance Christmas is one of those stories that will fill you with holiday spirit. And if you've ever doubted there are angels, this will make a believer of you. I asked Hope recently if she believed in angels.


"I do believe in angels," she told me. "I also believe that angels are pretty easy to find if you go looking for them. You'll find them taking care of people, fighting fires, protecting our neighborhoods and homeland, and even knitting prayer shawls and chemo caps. I believe we
all have inner angels. Think how wonderful the world could be if we would just let them out
more often."


Last Chance Christmas may have an angel on the scene, but the series has had its share of bad boy heroes. Stone Rhodes, the hero of this one, breaks that tradition. He's truly one of the good guys, a widower who loved deeply. Hope says that finding the perfect heroine for him was no easy task.


"She would have to give him some strong reasons to let go of his grief," Hope explains. "Just sending him someone cute and bubbly wouldn't do the job, because that kind of woman would never understand Stone's inner demons."


Instead, Hope chose a strong woman "who arrives in Last Chance alone, frightened and deeply in need of a friend. When Stone let's her lean on him, the biggest change is wrought in him, not her. It truly is amazing what helping someone else can accomplish."


In this series, as in most, the community plays an important role. I asked if there was a real town that inspired Last Chance.


"Yes, ma'am, there is," Hope says readily. "It's a place with the improbable name of Denmark, South Carolina...It's just in the middle of nowhere. Last Chance is like Denmark on steroids, though. While many street names are the same, the Last Chance business district is my own invention. However, the description of the Edisto River 'country club' outside of town is completely accurate. There is a swimming hole there, overhung with Spanish moss, where I learned to swim as a child, and where I spent many hours fishing from the pier."


One of my favorite parts of the Last Chance world is a Biblical miniature golf course, Golfing for God. Hope says the idea for that stemmed from her research into "embarrassing Southern roadside attractions." Her definitive source for these quirky spots that exist in the South was www.roadsideAmerica.com.


"What a gold mine!" Hope says. "I turned up a lot of interesting Putt-Putt places, including a Halloween-themed course in the basement of a funeral home. But the New Testament golf course in Tennessee tickled my fancy and inspired my imagination. I had no idea when I first typed the words Golfing for God that the miniature golf course would become one of the major settings in a series of books."


As you can tell, Last Chance is a community unlike any other. It's been populated with wonderful characters you'll definitely enjoy meeting. If you haven't visited yet, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to get acquainted. Remember, contest entries must be emailed to XmasContest@hoperamsey.com between Monday, October 1 and Sunday,
October 7.

Celebrating our freedoms...and then some

On the Fourth of July, in addition to parades, backyard barbecues and fireworks, we celebrate the many freedoms we have in this country. Much as it pains me, I have to wonder if that includes the right to behave completely irresponsibly.

Why this question on this day? Last night I saw the news report about the parents who took their young daughter -- she's five, I believe -- swimming with sharks! Their defense for this idiocy is that life is short and should be adventure-filled and free of fear. Hmm.

It seems to me that it's all well and good for adults to put their lives at risk living on the edge. Though for both parents to take such a chance at the same time seems borderline nuts to me, too.

It may even make sense for parents to strive to encourage a certain amount of bravery in their children. But swimming with sharks? Come on. In what universe does that sound like the ideal experience for a young girl who's not even in first grade yet? Surely there's some intermediate activity that will instill an adventurous spirit and, at the same time, make sure a child has a better than even chance of living till she's six. What's next? Bungee-jumping at seven?

Is there any reason to jump in and restrain parents from making unwise decisions that affect their children? We insist on carseats, for instance. We charge parents with negligence or more when they leave their kids in an unattended vehicle. Surely these extreme adventures rise to the level of child endangerment.

So where's the line between the freedom to raise a child as you see fit -- shark-swimming included -- and society's responsibility to protect kids from outrageous parental decisions?What do you think? Would you take your child swimming with sharks? Would you go yourself, for that matter? Is that a protected freedom? Chime in here or on my Facebook page and let me know what you think?

Meantime, hope your Fourth of July celebration is filled with family, friends and perfectly-cooked hamburgers!

The news of the day . . .

I grew up in a household of newspaper readers. As far back as I can remember, two papers came to our home each and every day, one in the morning, another in the afternoon. In my dad's job, he read many more from around the country in addition to those local editions. In retirement, he took three daily papers. These days, at least when I'm in Virginia, I subscribe to two.

Add in my background as a newspaper journalist and the news out of New Orleans recently that the Times-Picayune would be cutting back to three print editions per week was like a blow to my heart. I know times change. I know people get more of their news online, but for me there is nothing like grabbing that daily paper -- ink-stained fingers notwithstanding -- and reading in-depth about what's happening in the world.

I like checking the sports scores, the movie listings, the comics and doing my soduko and crossword puzzles. I have never, not once, willingly done any of this online. I say willingly because movie listings seem to appear erratically in print these days so I have been forced to look online for those. Hate it.

Maybe my aversion has to do with a combination of being old-fashioned and stubborn. Or maybe it's because I'm on a computer for hours at a time writing and have no desire to be on it for anything more. Whatever the reason, the thought of relying on the Internet for the news of the day horrifies me. TV news, which I also watch off and on throughout the day, doesn't come close to fulfilling my desire to know what's going on in my neighborhood and around the world. I need more than headlines. I prefer in-depth reporting.

I gather from the news reports that the New Orleans paper will continue to print on Wednesday (food sections and grocery store ads being the stated reason), Fridays (weekend happenings, movie and entertainment ads) and Sundays (all those special advertising sections). Are you seeing the pattern? It's not even remotely about keeping a community informed. It's about making money. Obviously newspapers are a business, but few that I'm aware of have found a way to make digital editions profitable. That implies a smaller, less experienced staff providing whatever slim coverage there is. In today's complicated world, we need to be better informed than I fear we will be.

The New Orleans paper is not the first that has gone to this schedule. Sadly, it probably won't be the last. I'm bracing for the day when either of my cities -- Washington and Miami -- jump on this trend. If your paper has done this, I'd love to hear how you think it's working out. Do you read the online editions? Rely on TV? Or just do without any sort of timely news reports? How do you keep up with what's going on in the world?

Comment here or jump on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts.

Drink up . . . Or Don't

There are many things in life that are worthy of regulation, I suppose, but the size of "legal" soft drinks doesn't strike me as one of them. Just this week New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that super-size servings of sugary soft drinks, sweet tea and so on would no longer be legal in the city's restaurants, movie theaters and other publicly-regulated spots.

It seems to me that while the mayor's stated intentions are noble enough -- taking aim at one of the worst offenders in the obesity epidemic -- he's way over the line between personal accountability and choice and the government's right to legislate for the public good.

Ever since I first heard this news, I've gone back and forth on whether the goal trumps individual rights. While it's true that this is not a ban on soft drinks -- anyone can order two or more if a smaller drink doesn't satisfy their thirst -- it is about halfway down that slippery slope of the government trying to dictate personal behavior. Here's how my mental pro - con list has gone.

On the pro side -- this could wake up consumers and make them think about the amount of wasted sugar calories they're drinking in a given day, it could make a dent in obesity statistics, it could even help with such related health issues as diabetes and even affect medical costs.

However, on the con side -- it tramples all over the freedom that we cherish in this country, the freedom to make our own choices, our own sometimes silly mistakes. Sure lots of laws infringe on personal liberties, but I'd like to think we restrict those to matters that keep our
society civilized. To me this doesn't come close to rising to that bar.

This isn't the first time someone has tried to limit access to foods considered to be bad for us. The cupcake wars that wanted to ban moms from bringing treats to school for children's birthday parties comes to mind. And again, while I admire the goal, I deplore anyone's attempt to make choices -- even sensible ones -- for me or my friends or their kids.

What do you think? Comment here or jump over to my Facebook fan page and join the conversation there. Share this with your friends, so they can chime in, too. Meantime, drink up...but maybe you should stick to water.

A Mother's Day Hope

All around us today people are celebrating moms, and deservedly so. Whether mothers are fortunate enough to choose to stay at home with their children or work outside the home as mine did, they command our respect and our thanks. These are the people, along with dads, who shape our values, our work ethic and our beliefs.

With that in mind, I want to take a moment to plead with moms to add one more thing to that endless -- and often thankless -- list of tasks they perform. Please, please pay attention to the way your children are treated at school and elsewhere and to the way they treat others.

I ask this in light of this week's revelation that presidential hopeful Mitt Romney may have been involved in a bullying incident way back in high school. I have no way of knowing whether he was or he wasn't, what his intentions or thoughts may have been about the other boy, or whether any of it matters in his bid to become president. What I do know and what I was appalled by were the comments of a few of his classmates easily dismissing the incident as nothing more than foolish hijinks.

That, in a nutshell, is how bullying becomes permissible. It is too readily overlooked as hijinks, dismissed as kids being kids, a rite of passage. Meanwhile some child begins to dread school, doubt his or her self-worth and pays with a lifetime of pain. That is not okay. It's not acceptable. It's not just hijinks! And the adults who think it is need to take another look at the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Tormenting another human being isn't cute. It isn't laughable as one of the Romney defenders seemed to find it when shown on a national newscast. And it needs to stop.

I'm especially sensitive to this issue because it's the focus of my August Sweet Magnolias release, Catching Fireflies. I've read too many news accounts of young people whose lives have been destroyed by bullying, heard of too many suicides committed by those who couldn't take it any longer. It breaks my heart each and every time.

So moms, as you bask in today's praise from your kids, do them one more favor. Teach them that bullying is wrong...and keep a close eye out to assure that they're not victims, either. Until every adult can look back on a childhood free of bullying, all moms still have work to do.

You asked, begged, pleaded...and I've listened

Okay, loyal readers, this is for you! When I planned the end of the Chesapeake Shores series and wrote what I considered to be the final book -- The Summer Garden -- I had misgivings. I always do when leaving behind a set of "friends" who've been so much a part of my life.

Yet, despite those misgivings, I felt as if there was no reasonable way to continue with so many very young grandchildren and Nell growing older. One rule of thumb I've adhered to rigidly in my career is never allowing a beloved character to die on my watch! There's enough sadness all around us without me causing more of it.

Then came your emails and Facebook posts, suggesting ways to keep the series alive, telling me how much you've enjoyed the O'Briens and would miss them. As anyone who knows me well could tell you, I am easily guilt-ridden. I may be stubborn as a mule about many things, but not this.

So, thanks to all of you, plus the enthusiasm of my publisher, I've figured out a way to keep the Chesapeake Shores series alive, at least for a few more books!! Since I started a Christmas book tradition with the O'Briens, plans are to continue with those. The paperback of An O'Brien Family Christmas will be out this fall, but there will be brand new Christmas books in 2013 and 2014.

In order to pull this off, I'll be aging the kids in "soap opera time", while Nell doesn't age a
bit. If anybody questions how this works, I'm referring them to explanations of "a willing suspension of disbelief" or "poetic license." If you want more books, you'll need to lovingly grant me this leeway.

So, cheer up all of you who've been saddened by the thought of not returning to Chesapeake Shores. Apparently the O'Briens aren't going away as quietly as I'd anticipated.

Be sure to share this blog with your friends who follow the series, post your comments here or on Facebook and watch for a poll in the next few days on who should "star" in that first Christmas book.

Not eggs-actly mature!

Just last night I spotted a story on ABC News that struck an all-too-familiar note. In towns across America, local Easter egg hunts are being canceled this weekend because the parents -- yes, the parents, not the kids -- are out of control. Three cheers for the adults for managing to ruin another innocent joy of childhood!

I suppose it shouldn't come as a huge shock that today's parents are highly competitive. It takes only minutes in the bleachers at a Little League ball game to see grown men and women at their worst. Maybe -- if I can come up with a huge burst of compassion and give them the benefit of the doubt -- they're simply trying to be supportive of their kids. Instead, though, I usually have the sense they're battling tooth and nail to be sure that little Tommy or Freddie makes it straight from the Little League ball park to the majors, a route that seems highly unlikely even for the most skilled of these young players.

But back to the Easter egg hunts. Way back when, every Easter I'd join friends -- my so-called Florida "family" -- for the backyard egg hunt for their five kids. Once the eggs were hidden, the game no longer had anything to do with us beyond handing out prizes and shouting the occasional bit of encouragement.

Imagine my shock several years later when my goddaughter, her husband and I took two of her kids to what turned out to be an unruly neighborhood Easter egg hunt here in Key Biscayne. The kids were separated by age groups. Her older son went off to the appropriate spot, where things apparently went smoothly enough. We stayed with the younger son, maybe not quite two at the time.

Rules were announced. Parents were not allowed into the "hunt" area. A zillion colorful plastic eggs with candy and prizes were scattered about, more than enough for these youngsters to grab something. The signal to begin was given and chaos reigned. Parents didn't trust their little ones to get their fair share, so they hopped into the fray, pushing, shoving and grabbing up eggs. After a moment of shocked silence, my goddaughter stepped over the line and helped her son gather a few eggs in his immediate vicinity, more than enough to make him feel like a winner. To this day we talk about the behavior of the adults who rudely ignored the rules and basically ruined the occasion for the children, who at their very young ages might not have been so adept.

Are these the moments when we teach kids it's important to win at all costs? Or perhaps the moment when we teach them they're not quite good enough on their own? It seems to me that a child clutching two eggs he's found for himself is going to be just as thrilled as the one with a whole basket that mom had to elbow competitors out of the way so she could gather them.

In one of the cities that considered canceling this year's egg hunt, a mom injured last year threatened to sue if the event went forward. Her threat failed, but isn't it sad that what should be a fun-filled event on a spring holiday weekend has come to this?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Click on comments here or jump over to my fan page on Facebook where I'll be asking about this, too.

In the meantime, I wish you all the blessings of Easter.

New dimensions to March Madness

In case you've been resting in a cave during this very stranger winter, we're now in the season of March Madness. College basketball brackets are popping up all over with TV stations and others luring fans to pick their teams for the chance to win big prizes or just boasting rights.

Though I attended Ohio State during a basketball heyday in another era, I don't follow this nearly as closely as I once did. Instead, I've been paying attention to other varieties of March madness this month.

For instance, you can discover some great new authors, perhaps win a book or even a contribution to a dog rescue on author Emily March's current March Madness promotion. Though we're past my day of the promotion, there are plenty of other authors on her website, so take a look at www.emilymarch.com. And if you haven't already, give her books a try.

In yet another version of this month's frenzy, here in Miami we're engaged in Manning Mania, otherwise known as the great hunt to capture quarterback Peyton Manning. Even before Manning's long ties to the Indianapolus Colts were cut, the Miami Dolphins and their fans were salivating over the possibility of luring the famed quarterback here. That he already owns a home in Miami Beach seemed to some to be a portent of the edge we'd have.

Then came the Denver Broncos. Then the Arizona Cardinals. Today it's the Tennessee Titans. Manning must feel as if he's in some surreal episode of The Bachelor, being courted by more people than he can possibly satisfy. While I'm sure that's thrilling on some level, it has to be just a little disconcerting, especially since all these teams are counting on him to ride in and save their respective football franchise butts.

I'm watching it all with my heart in my throat. No question that Manning is one of the great quarterbacks of this era, but he has had serious neck surgery. The thought of him back on the field in any team's uniform terrifies me, never mind that his doctors have cleared him.

Obviously football is in his blood. His father was another great in the game. So is his brother, Eli, who took the New York Giants to Super Bowl victory this year. But if I were his dad, his brother, his wife or even a friend, I'd be on my knees begging him to take a job in management, in coaching or in the announcer's booth.

Given the nature and location of his injury, one wrong hit could end not only his career, but his life. I understand the desire to get back in the game. I don't understand the willingness to take that kind of a risk or those who would encourage him to do it.

If he does play this year, I hope he's successful. More importantly, though, I pray he stays safe.

Tipping the scales of generosity

When and how do we teach our children to be generous?

This is a question that's been bugging me for a couple of weeks now. Remember in the olden days when we were kids, the lessons most likely started on the playground or maybe in the backyard. We were taught to share our toys. Some of us probably did that with more enthusiasm than others, but the lesson eventually took hold.

We were also taught to put a little of our allowance into the collection plate on Sundays or to save our pennies for a contribution to a mission at church or maybe to bring canned goods for a food drive at school.

There were lots of ways we were taught to share what we had, no matter how little we could spare, with others who needed it more.

Fast forward to adulthood when tipping became part of that same spirit of generosity. We learned that waiters and waitresses who provided us with good service should be tipped accordingly. In general these workers earn less than minimum wage because employers envision tips supplementing their low salaries. That's an issue for another time, but the reality is that for now they can get away with it.

Often -- though far from always -- these low-wage earners are young, just starting out, maybe in a first job. How distressing and disillusioning it must be, then, to discover that their peers completely ignore the most basic courtesy of tipping!

This hit home for me in the past couple of weeks as I was stopping by my favorite Starbucks for my morning fix of caffeine and found myself in the middle of a teen frenzy of caramel lattes and mochas. Not a one of these young people spending $4, $5 or even more on a pre-school coffee drink or a pastry left so much as a handful of loose change for the employees waiting on them. I'm not even sure I've heard a thank you thrown in.

I asked one of the workers if they ever tipped. She merely shrugged and said, "The ones who like me do."

A day or so later I ran into a few more of their peers at a local pizza place. Same thing. The kids spent a fortune on pizza and sodas, but didn't leave even a dollar in the tip jar.

Now, I will grant that these are not full-service restaurants, but the employees not only take orders, they often prepare the drinks and food! Frankly, I want them to love me, not wonder what they can do to get even next time they see me!

Of course, the concept of possible retaliation isn't even the point. It's that someone has neglected to teach some of these entitled teens basic generosity. If they can afford a $5 cup of coffee, surely they can spare some change for the person who makes it and serves it to them. One of these days they need to be in line behind the homeless man who cleans up at the pizza place in exchange for a meal. He always tips! Shame on them for not following his example!

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