Laurie Calkhoven’s G.I. DOGS: JUDY, PRISONER OF WAR

I didn’t expect my next World War 2 read to come from the book orders my child brought home from school.

However, my husband spotted Laurie Calkhoven’s middle grade book G.I. Dogs: Judy, Prisoner of War in the form, and it found its way into my Christmas stocking!

While the intended audience for this book is a few years younger than I, it was an engaging tale, full of fascinating information.

Judy, an English pointer, was born in the British-run Shanghai Dog Kennels in 1936.  Adopted by Lt. Cmnd J.M.G. Waldegrave and Chief Petty Officer Charles Jeffrey, she became the mascot of British gunboat HMS Gnat, one of the many international gunboats that patrolled the Yangtze river.
Judy hu 42990.jpg

Though bred to be a hunting dog, Judy didn’t have the knack. However, she had an almost uncanny ability to sense danger, alerting her crew to imminent threats from pirates, wild animals, and Japanese planes.

Tensions mounted as the Japanese began bombing Chinese cities in 1937, and rose further when they bombed the USS Panay and the HMS Ladybird. (The Japanese government claimed that the two incidents were an accident.)

Eventually, Judy left the Gnat for a new, more powerful gunboat, HMS Grasshopper. With Hitler’s invasion of Poland, the Grasshopper was given orders to sail to the British stronghold of Singapore, and Judy went along.

 Singapore didn’t fare well once the Japanese invasion began. The Grasshopper went into service evacuating retreating troops, and, after Singapore’s fall, evacuating civilians. The crew hoped to escape to Java, then to the relative safety of Australia or India.

Suffice it to say, things did not go as they hoped.

Through the sinking of the Grasshopper, surviving on a desert island, and a perilous trek across the wilds of Sumatra, Judy guided and protected her humans.

However, she couldn’t protect them from all threats. On March 17, 1942, Judy’s group were taken as Japanese prisoners of war.

Judy continued to help them survive, hunting for vermin to supplement their near-starvation rations, protecting them from guards when she could, and lifting their spirits.

Her intelligence continued to shine, as she learned early on to “disappear” on command when hostile guards approached, and to remain still and silent enough to be smuggled onboard a ship (when her men were transferred to another camp) in a duffel bag.

As clever as she was, Judy was at risk. The guards didn’t care for dogs as pets, though with food so scarce some showed unwelcome interest in her. One of her campmates, Frank Williams, came up with a bold solution.

Judy had given birth to a little of puppies. Frank gifted the cutest of the pups to the camp’s colonel for his lady friend, who was fond of dogs. The colonel was so pleased that he granted Frank’s request that came along with the pup: he made Judy an official POW.

Without giving away Judy’s entire story, she and Frank did survive their ordeal, and she was awarded the Dickin Medal- the special award for British service animals.

Laurie Culkhoven’s book shares much more of the story of Judy and the humans she befriended as they struggled to survive their imprisonment, though the writing style is restrained enough for the intended audience.

She chose to tell the story in first person perspective, from Judy’s point of view. It’s been a while since I read a book that had a dog “talk,” but it worked for the story and would likely be less of a surprise for a younger reader.

At some point, I’d love to check out the nonfiction account of Judy’s life, pictured below.

However, if you are looking for a resource to share this story of courage and survival with middle grade readers, or would just like a quick read for yourself, Laurie Calkhoven’s GI Dogs: Judy, Prisoner of War is a great choice!

What about you- have you any stories to share or recommend?

As always, thanks for visiting!


Venturing Into Self-Publishing


It was one thing to consider different publishing options and decide that self-publishing seemed like the best fit for my writing life.

It’s another to move past considering into doing.

The first stages of prepping my novel for its debut haven’t been too bad, largely because I’m fortunate enough to have some excellent people helping me.

But those final stages- especially that moment when the story moves from an obsessively edited Word document to a real paper and print book- loom at the end of the road, unknown and intimidating.

Last month, my students gave me an excuse (ahem, I mean reason) to venture into self-publishing in a somewhat less frightening way.

My 7th and 8th grade Creative Writing class authored short stories under the theme “Fantasy, Myths and Fairytales” which we planned to compile into an anthology. (Thanks to author Dan Alatorre who shared guest posts on anthologies (here and here) and encouraged me to give it a try!)

The process of turning our class project into a book allowed me to check out two major self-publishing venues: Kindle Direct Publishing and Barnes and Noble Press.

Kindle Direct Publishing

Kindle Direct Publishing (or KDP) is Amazon’s self-publishing platform.* KDP allows writers to publish Kindle-friendly e-books and/or print-on-demand paperback copies. There are also options for audio books etc.


It took me a little while to find out just where on the KDP site I wanted to be, but their self-publishing instructions were worth the search.

KDP provided step by step directions, in the form of 1-2 minute videos, for setting up book formatting essentials like page sizes, fonts and margins. They also included tutorials on as a few things I’d never heard of like “bleed.”

Coupled with my basic working knowledge of Microsoft Word, I was able to set up the anthology with little or no trouble in about an hour.


While KDP, with Amazon’s wide distribution, is a strong contender for publishing my own book, it wasn’t a great fit for my student anthology.

First of all, the site is geared towards sales- no shock there- meaning that there was no option for buying copies of the book without it also being posted on the main Amazon website. Since I was working with students’ names and information, I didn’t care for that lack of privacy.

Secondly,  setting up an account means providing bank information, tax information, and all sorts of things that I didn’t wish to provide for our little anthology. (Though, once again, this likely isn’t a drawback if you’re using KDP to sell your books!)

Finally (and at least one published author I know doesn’t care for this feature either) once you upload a draft of your book to KDP, you cannot remove it, even if you don’t end up publishing it. While it’s not available for public viewing, if you don’t care to have your draft out there on the internet, plan ahead before you click!

Barnes and Noble Press

Once it became clear that KDP wasn’t the best fit for this project, I started looking for options. The ladies of a writer’s group that I am part of were kind enough to point me to Banes and Noble Press.


Barnes and Noble (or B&N) has a clear, easy to navigate website. Before you begin your self-publishing process, they will calculate the estimated cost AND allow you to choose if the book will be for general sale or just for personal use.

If you choose their “personal” option, you are not required to provide any banking or tax information. The site has a great array of options for book sizes and styles.

Before the book is available for order, it goes through a review process. I’m not certain what this entails, but I was glad to know that my first attempts at formatting had gone through at least a bit of review.


B&N has formatting information available on their website, but I did not find it nearly as easy to follow as KDP’s. I was thankful that I was able to use the file I created using KDP’s directions with only a few minor adjustments.

I was also less-than thrilled with their cover options. My students had come up with their own cover picture, and it didn’t fit well into any of the templates. However, I was able to work up a very basic cover using their design on Microsoft Publisher, and, saved as a pdf, it uploaded on to the B&N website and worked perfectly.

colors of imagination
The final background color was a little deeper and less jarring- my computer is being ornery 🙂

As I said, B&N allows you to estimate your project’s cost in advance. However, that cost does not include shipping, taxes or fees. These raised the cost of one anthology (a 42 page book) from $1.50 USD to $8.00. **

I had assumed (never a good idea) that ordering in bulk would offset this a bit, however, when I’ve entered various numbers of books into their “shopping cart” the shipping increases the same amount each time, so that every book is between $7 and $8. If this changes when I actually place our student order, I’ll let you know!


In the end, I did publish and order one copy of our anthology through B&N. The final product is beautiful- sturdy and professional looking. I’m collecting order forms from my students and preparing to place a larger order!

My students are excited to be published authors, and I’m relieved to be able to say that I think I CAN manage self-publishing. I hope my experiences are helpful to you, too!

Writers- do any of you have experience with these or other self-publishing companies? Do you have impressions or stories to share?

As always, many thanks to all of my visitors for stopping by!


*Amazon also ran the self-publishing site “Create Space” for some time. However, from what I can find, KDP has completely absorbed them.

** UPDATE: I just ordered 8 books, per student requests. With shipping it only came to $3.00 apiece. I guess it varies, and I still have some things to figure out! 🙂


Eight Terms New Writers May Not Know But Probably Should

view of a row
Photo by Pixabay on

As a child, I resisted asking for help.  After all, if I had to ask, someone might suspect that I didn’t know everything. (Gasp!)

I’d like to say that I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older, but I’ve never been a good liar.

When I took my first tentative steps towards seeking publication a couple of years ago,  I kept stumbling across terms and acronyms that I didn’t recognize. I muddled through, using context and frequent internet searches so that I could sound like I knew what I was talking about. I think I succeeded fairly well – if I didn’t, people were kind enough to overlook my ignorance, for which I’m thankful.

Even now, I can’t honestly claim that I have all of the answers. However, for those of you who’ve found yourself muddling through the writing world’s terminology and might not care to ask for clarification, here’s a little cheat sheet with a few common terms that I have learned!


This acronym stands for Manuscript. It’s a handy abbreviation, and flows off the keyboard much more smoothly than “that one story that I wrote.”


Rather than telling people that you’re writing a story/novel/flash fiction/ screenplay, just plug in this abbreviation, and people will know that you’ve got a current Work in Progress.

Just how much progress you’re actually making stays between you and your keyboard.


In order to keep libraries and bookstores tidy, books are categorized into different genres, or types of stories. For instance “Romance” is shelved in a different spot from “Fantasy,” or “Suspense,” which isn’t to be confused with “Thriller.”

It isn’t a bad idea to go into writing with a clear idea of your genre, or so I’ve been told. There are many sites that define the different genres. Here and Here are a couple of them 🙂


While other genres are more forgiving, if you’re writing a Romance you’ll want to keep this acronym in mind. Apparently, in the current market, if your story doesn’t have a Happily Ever After (or at least a Happily For Now) you’ll incur the wrath of all of your readership and their near relations. Be warned.

Word Count

Your word count is the length of your MS. (See how we’re practicing? You’re welcome!) Most word processors will track your word count for you. An average novel’s word count is around 50,000 to 100,000 words, however certain genres tend to have specific ranges.

While I’ve run into different length recommendations, this site might be helpful.

Alpha and Beta Readers

Contrary to what you might hope, this has nothing to do with wolf pack hierarchy- sorry fans of Jack London. Alpha readers just get that name, because they’re first. They read your work before it’s done to give feedback and direction.

Beta readers read your work once you’ve done what you can with it, and catch the things you’ve missed, like if one of your characters has had a leg amputated and then is walking around a couple of scenes later (But who’d make a mistake like that, right? Cough cough…)

ARC Reader

This one is for when you’re ready to publish. Your “ARC” is your advanced reader copy of your book. You get arc readers, not for writing advice, but to read your book in advance of publication and then post a review shortly after its release.


Of course, this little list only scratches the surface- have any of you  learned any new terminology lately, or run into any terms that you haven’t yet figured out?

Happy writing, and many thanks for visiting!






The Big Parade: A Silent Story

Staying up later than I should have watching a movie last night, waiting to find out which members of the uninspiring love triangle would survive the War, I began thinking about films that would have been more worth  my time. Here, in one of last year’s posts, is one of the many options! 

Big parade posterI’ll admit, I was skeptical of my husband’s interest in silent films.

I had never seen one, but I thought I knew what to expect. Silent films equaled the jangle of organ-grinder style music, makeup resembling cake icing, and overacting reminiscent of the comedic scenes with Lena Lamont in Singing in the Rain.

With such low expectations, the Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd films he played for our family were a pleasant surprise. The comedy bits were engaging and creative, and the music was well-orchestrated. Best of all, the kids found the movies fascinating- this was something we could ALL enjoy!

By the time I unwrapped The Big Parade, I was prepared to give silent films the benefit of the doubt. Still, King Vidor’s serious film was a departure from Keaton’s comedic Steam Boat Bill Jr. How would a film about an American soldier’s experiences in France during World War 1 play out as a silent film?

I didn’t expect to find a new favorite movie.

The leading man, John Gilbert, plays a wealthy American with no real idea of war, who grows into a protagonist we can root for and weep for. Renee Adoree plays his love interest in France. The two of them pull the viewer inexorably into the story until one can almost forget that in the entire film they haven’t spoken a word.
the big parade 2

While a silent film must lean heavily on the skills of its actors, creating one must have also posed interesting challenges for the writers.

I wonder how much time it took to distill the text that occasionally appears on the screen to its barest elements, highlighting the key points of the story without bogging down the pacing.

In addition to brevity, the writers must have had to choose the words with care, to tell the story, but also to avoid a fuss from the censors. (For instance, I suspect that the words to the song “In the Army Now” may have been edited for the film. “Rich” and “Son-of-a-gun” don’t quite rhyme…)

However long it took, it was time well spent.

The attention to the story shines through the filming of each scene. One of the most powerful sequences is Gilbert’s introduction to battle. The following quote from describes it very well.

“King Vidor recalled, “I timed the march of the US youth into battle and possible death as a slow, measured cadence with the muffled beat of brass drums heralding doom–a metronome to simulate exactly the gait of the soldiers”.

The sequence is eerie and tense and tragic, without the need for flashy special effects or gore. The story carries the emotional impact, even through a black and white movie made 92 years ago.

I could go on, but as The Big Parade demonstrates, sometimes fewer words make more impact!


Writers, Readers, and Movie Viewers: Have you found other areas in writing and filming where ‘less is more’?

Many thanks for visiting!


Musical Interlude: “Auld Lang Syne”

Can it really be New Year’s Eve?

alcohol alcoholic beverage celebrate
Photo by Pixabay on

My 2018 has moved past so quickly that I can hardly believe it’s in its final hours, but my calendar tells me it’s so.

Ah well, we’re prepared, with a stock of board games, junk food, and good intentions to make it till twelve o’clock. (And, if midnight needs to come a little early, it’s handy that two out of three of my children can’t tell time yet…)

Whether you like to bring in the New Year with fireworks and friends or let it creep in quietly as you get some sleep, odds are you’ve encountered the song Auld Lang Syne.”

While I’ve hummed the song and could probably muddle through the words of the first verse in a pinch, I found myself wondering just where the song originated.

“Auld Lang Syne” did not begin its life as a New Year’s Eve song.

Scottish poet Robert Burns penned the verses in 1788, though he said he got the words from an old man singing. The song was published with a different melody in Scots Musical Museum in 1796. Three years later, the song and the melody we now know appeared together in a different Scottish song compilation.

Guy Lombardo (originally of London, Ontario) and his band, the Royal Canadians, adopted “Auld Lang Syne” for their New Year’s Eve radio broadcast in 1929. The song, as a nostalgic piece singing of times long past, fit the celebration so well that it stuck.

Lombardo’s broadcasts, first on radio, then on television, became an annual tradition with a nearly fifty-year run, ending in 1976. Through all the years, “Auld Lang Syne” remained.

Below is the 1947 recording of “Auld Lang Syne” by Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians.

I hope you enjoy it, and wish you all the best as you ring in 2019.

Many thanks for visiting, and Happy New Year!


For more information on Guy Lombardo, was helpful, as was this site.

For more information on the poem/song “Auld Lang Syne,” numerous sources have similar stories, but this article in Encyclopedia Britannica was very detailed.

BONUS! For the original words of “Auld Lang Syne,” stop by here !

Merry Chri…Wait, It’s Over Already?!

man in santa claus costume
Photo by bruce mars on

Well, this week didn’t work out quite like I’d planned.

I had a fabulous Christmas-Eve blog post all planned out in my head and itching at the tips of my fingers, ready to type up and share with all of you wonderful people.

As you may have noticed if you popped by, it didn’t happen.

A rip-roaring Christmas Eve morning migraine took over, and the rest of the day was consumed with pushing through the residual pounding to get ready for the evening, which involved playing organ and piano, singing and directing choir, and of course making that Christmas dessert that had to sit in the fridge for 24 hours…

It was a day of strained smiles and “Oh, I’m allright!” said in unconvincing tones (except to a few friends, who got an earful of my panic.) My hands shook as I triple checked that all of the music was transposed properly to play with the trumpet, and that my scribbled notes for when I needed to un-transpose were legible.

Then, the lights were lit. The congregation assembled. The old hymns and ancient words filled our little sanctuary, and for that quiet time, all was right in the world.

SO. Now that we’ve passed through the Day itself, all of the gatherings, and the full day of playing yesterday that I promised my children, I’m back to say:

While it’s a bit belated, I want to pass along my sincere wish that you and yours have been blessed with peace and joy this Christmas season!

Many thanks for visiting


P.S. While I shared this song and video last year, it’s still one of my favorites- a beautiful telling of the Christmas story in song and sand-art. If you’re like me and you haven’t put away the Christmas music quite yet, here’s one more song. 🙂



Capturing St. Mihiel Salient- 3 soldiers operating a cannon- pile of empty cannon shell casings in foreground. Sept 1918, Courtesy U.S. Library of Congress

I was fascinated by the concept of Peter Jackson’s newest film, but disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see it- unless, of course, I could manage a flight to the U.K. (Not likely. “Hey kids, you like the taste of Ramen noodles, right? Well, guess what we’re eating this month!)

While I’ve enjoyed some of his work, it wasn’t the director’s name that caught my eye.

November 11, 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. In preparation for the event, associates of the Imperial War Museums approached Peter Jackson in 2014 with one hundred hours of original WWI footage that they hoped he could present in a fresh, new way.

He took on the challenge, and the following preview gives a glimpse of the results.

While the previews looked amazing, getting out to see a movie in the States is tricky enough! I just hoped that it would make it onto DVD.

Then, a friend passed the word along. It was coming.

They Shall Not Grow Old would be in driving distance of us- for one night only

Our brave babysitter, with full knowledge of the fact that one of our offspring had been vomiting the previous night, swept in and took charge. The roads were slippery, the rains were torrential, and we were both tired after a night of clean-up, but my husband and I went anyway.

They Shall Not Grow Old was well worth the effort.

Movie cameras in the early 1900s were cranked by hand, producing a jerky, inconsistent picture. Much of the surviving footage was too light, too dark, or just too time-worn.

The creators of They Shall Not Grow Old cleaned up the film, evening out the timing, improving the lighting, and clarifying the pictures.

They colorized portions of it, painstakingly matching the colors of the scenery to actual locations filmed, and clothing to Jackson’s personal collection of WWI uniforms. (If you’ve got the money and enjoy history, why not collect?)

Jackson used some other parts of his personal collection to create sound for the film. As he had a few WWI artillery pieces sitting around, the crew recorded the sound of their treads.

They also recorded other authentic sound effects to insert over the silent pictures, such as rifles and artillery, boots squelching in mud, and voices with accents matched to the home regions of the men captured on film.

The results are stunning. Faces from a century ago come to life and lock eyes with the audience. Some grin, relaxed while they clown around for the camera. Others freeze, awkward and stiff, likely harkening back to still photos they’d had taken which required a fixed pose.

As far as narration, Jackson’s choice was, in my opinion, perfect. The Imperial War Museum has recordings of interviews with WWI veterans in their archives. Portions of these interviews, compiled into a streamlined narrative, provided the words to go with the images, allowing the men who were there to tell their story in their own words.

The only thing I didn’t like about the film stems from pure greed.

In some sections, Jackson reused pictures and footage. While it was done for dramatic effect (and yes, I think that it was effective) I caught myself wishing for more new footage. As I said: I’m greedy.

The film was rated “R” in the U.S. and I’d agree that it’s best suited for a more mature audience. It includes some partial nudity (ever wonder about WWI latrines? See the film and you won’t anymore…;) .) It also some intense and sad images of wounded and slain troops, and a section on “brothels” (a term I don’t want to explain to the wee ones just yet…or ever, really.)

Also, be warned that you may walk out whistling “Mademoiselle from Armentieres.” (I was going to share a link, but a number of them are blocked because they think I’m too young. 🙂 )

Depending on where you live, chances to view They Shall Not Grow Old may be limited. However, if you have a chance to see this bit of history-made-new, I hope that you are able to take it!

Have any of you seen the film? What did you think of it?

Do you have any other historical film recommendations? (I MAY have some time to watch things with Christmas break upon us, after all…)

Many thanks for visiting!






On Baking, Butter, and a Shameless Deception


My kitchen is starting to smell like Christmas again!

The bananas sat too long, so banana bread is in the oven. The butter is softening for sugar cookie dough, since I have high hopes that we can get it rolled, cut and frosted this weekend, somewhere between church decorating, Christmas caroling and our children’s special singing services.

Of course, this all has me thinking about family baking traditions and recipes, SO I thought I’d repost last year’s tale of my grandma’s great baking DECEPTION! DSCN2537

December is here, it’s officially Advent, and in my house that means baking season.

My cookbooks are filled with favorite cookie recipes from my mom, grandmas, in-laws, and friends. If I only make the essentials, I’ve got a half a dozen types to whip together in the next four weeks.

It gets a little crazy, and more than a little messy as the kids all pitch in to ‘help,’ but I love the memories wrapped up in the process: Grandma’s handwriting on a recipe card, the cookbook Mom assembled, the flavors of my childhood.

In a small way, dusting off the old recipes makes it feel as if the people who passed them on are part of the holidays.

The annual baking spree takes some preparation, of course. We stock up on all of the essentials. Flour, sugar, cocoa, and eggs are non-negotiable.

When we come to the dairy aisle, my internal debate begins.

Do I spring for the ridiculous amounts of butter my recipes require, or substitute a little bit of thrifty margarine? As a child of dairy country (who was also raised to spend as little as possible) it is a challenging decision.

When I visited my parents in November, we started talking about butter vs. margarine and they reminisced about when the decision was even more challenging – during the years when margarine was CONTRABAND.

Naturally, I had to do a little research.

The tale went back to the advent of margarine as a butter substitute in the late 1800s. It was cheap, and oh-so-spreadable. However, the dairy farmers of the U.S. were not pleased with the competition, and fought tooth and claw against it in the political arena.

They succeeded, to a degree.

The dairy proponents passed laws making colored margarine illegal,  hoping that the natural color of the spread would be unappealing.

The margarine companies countered by selling small packets of yellow dye with their product- just mix it in yourself at home!

Margarine was cheaper to purchase than butter, but tax laws against margarine helped to even the playing field.

Of course, you could avoid these if you could make it across the border into a different state- yes, I’ve run in to stories of margarine smuggling.

When butter became scarce during the Great Depression and the World Wars, margarine gained headway, but the butter proponents wouldn’t let little events like these discourage them.

Minnesota didn’t officially legalize colored margarine until 1963. Wisconsin was the longest holdout- they didn’t legalize it until 1967. (According to this article, it may still be illegal to serve margarine in Wisconsin restaurants without also offering butter.)

We have some of those same stubborn farmers in our ancestry, and dad shared the story of their reaction to the debate. Though the participants in our own little skirmish in the ‘margarine wars’ have been in heaven for many years, I’ll simply call them ‘The Farmer’ and ‘The Farmer’s Wife.’

The Farmer had made up his mind, and wasn’t the sort to change it easily.

Margarine- that imitation stuff- would never pass his lips.

The Farmer’s Wife disagreed. She was an excellent baker, but her passion for bread and cookies was matched by her gift for thrift.

How long the war of wills lasted, I don’t know. All that I know is that, on serving supper one night, the Farmer’s Wife made a quiet substitution.

Would he be able to tell the difference?

I wonder if she had any doubts- if she puttered around the kitchen, avoiding his eyes, or if she sat at the table to face him head on, determined to brazen it out.

Either way, The Farmer’s response says it all.

“That’s darn good butter!”

Image courtesy of “Classic Film” on My husband didn’t find it quite as amusing as I did. 😉

My first batch of cookies is finished baking! Today’s feature: Mom’s Baked Chocolate Covered Cherries. (I’ll share the recipe below, in case anyone is interested.)

As to my dairy aisle choice: I know this recipe calls for margarine… but I found a good deal on butter, and I like the real stuff. (You can take a girl out of dairy country… 🙂 )

Many thanks for visiting!


Baked Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

1/2 C margarine         1/2 tsp salt

1 C sugar                1/2 C baking cocoa

1 egg                        1/4 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp vanilla   1/4 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 C flour           1/2 tsp salt

36-48 maraschino cherries, drained, juice reserved

Cream butter, sugar, egg and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, mix thoroughly. Shape into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Push one cherry halfway into each cookie. When all cookies are shaped and cherries added, make the frosting.


1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 C sweetened condensed milk

1-1 1/2 tsp cherry juice

1/4 tsp salt

Cook the chocolate chips and milk in a sauce pan over low heat until melted. Remove from heat and add salt and cherry juice. Immediately frost the cookies, using about 1/2 tsp frosting to spread over each cherry.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 8-10 minutes until puffy and set.

Store tightly covered.








(Who Actually WON?) The Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942

USS Yorktown, 1937

Have you ever stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier?

I have, just once, when I was about eight. My family visited Patriot’s Point in South Carolina where my uncle worked following his retirement from the U.S. Navy. He gave us the grand tour, finishing up (if memory serves true) on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown.

I didn’t like it.

The space was too wide, too open, and the deck was too high. (No, I wasn’t a particularly brave kid.)

I didn’t know at the time that I was standing on a Second World War ship that was named for another World War 2 air craft carrier, or that the first Yorktown was involved in one of the first US naval engagements of that war- The Battle of the Coral Sea.

Yes. It’s time!

Welcome to another installment of my blog’s condensed history of the Second World War! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Time to sift through the notes to see where I left off…

AH! We pick up in early 1942, as  U.S. troops deploy across the Atlantic to support their British allies. Others, the few remnants of uncaptured troops on the Philipines, defend Corregidor Island against relentless Japanese assault.

Since being caught unprepared by the surprise Japanese attacks of December 7, 1941, U.S. Naval Intelligence had been scrambling.

Shock and embarrassment galvanized efforts of people like cryptanalyst Commander Joseph Rochefort and Admiral Nimitz’s chief intelligence officer Captain Edwin Leyton. They struggled to break the Japanese naval code.

In late April, they sent word that they’d discovered something.

Perhaps spurred on by the successful Doolittle Raid, Japan was preparing for a big push to expand their influence in the Pacific. It appeared that they would try to take Port Moresby, New Guinea, which would give them dominance of the Coral Sea.
Papua New Guinea map.png

Victory would give the Japanese a clear shot at Australia, as well as potentially cutting their supply lines with the U.S., crippling Allied efforts in the Pacific.

Admiral Nimitz sent the aircraft carriers USS Yorktown and USS Lexington along with several American and Australian cruisers to meet the threat.

Their intelligence was correct. Admiral Yamamoto had sent his own forces to the Coral Sea, including not two, but three carriers- the light carrier Shoho as well as the Shokaku and Zuikaku and other supporting vessels.

The stage was set for a new kind of naval battle.

With aircraft carriers as the main focus of each force, both U.S. and Japanese could launch attacks on each other while still out of sight. With planes to do the attacking, their ships mightn’t even fire on each other.

Flight deck of the USS Lexington, Oct 1941. Yikes- I don’t even like parallel parking between two other cars on the street….

Of course, the planes  would still need to be able to find opposing vessels.

While this may not sound  hard in theory, poor weather conditions made it difficult, especially for the Japanese, who had no radar.

The opposing sides spent the 5th and 6th of May searching for each other. On the morning of the 6th, U.S. planes spotted the Shoho and sank her.

One down, two to go- but the two remaining were the big carriers.

Due to the weather on May 8th, U.S. planes had difficulty locating the Japanese carriers. When they did, the Zuikaku took refuge under low clouds and escaped. The Shokaku took three bomb hits and was temporarily put out of commission.

Meanwhile, Japanese planes had located the Yorktown and Lexington.

“Damaged port forward gun gallery aboard USS Lexington (CV-2) on 8 May 1942” courtesy of Wikimedia commons

The Yorktown was hit, though not sunk.

The Lexington was not so fortunate. She was hit multiple times. The crew worked furiously to repair the ship and put out the fires. For a while, it appeared that they were succeeding.

Twelve minutes after their ship’s log reported that all of the fires below decks were put out, the following entry was logged*:

1247 [H]eavy explosion felt which vented up forward bomb elevator. Lost communication with central station.

More explosions shook the Lexington, systems failed and new fires blazed. In spite of all of the crew’s efforts, in the end she was abandoned an scuttled.

Rescuing survivors of the Lexington

Thus the battle ended… and both sides claimed the victory.

The Japanese lost both the Shoho and more aircraft than the Americans. However, the loss of the Lexington was a blow to the U.S. forces in the Pacific. The Yorktown survived, but limped back to Pearl Harbor, trailing an oil slick.

Perhaps the best claim for American victory is the fact that the Japanese plans to invade Port Moresby were thwarted- for good, as it turned out.

However, the Japanese navy had other plans in the works. As new intelligence came in, Admiral Nimitz urged the workers repairing the Yorktown to hurry.

If his analysts were correct, she would be needed soon to defend Yamamoto’s next target. The only trouble was, they weren’t certain if it was going to be Midway Island, or Alaska’s Aleutian’s…

USS Yorktown, under repair at Pearl Harbor. Hurry!!!

Many thanks for visiting!



*For another summary of these events AND a fascinating read of a portion of the log of the USS Lexington, HERE is a link to an excellent article from the US National Archives site. Also, HERE is a second article on the same site with pictures of the Lexington‘s sinking.

I also used the following sources to research this post:

Buell, Hal (editor). World War II Album: The Complete Chronicle. New York. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2002. Print.

Churchill, Winston S. The Hinge of Fate. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1950. Print.

Hyslop, Stephen G. and Neil Kagan. Eyewitness to World War II. Washington, D.C. National Geographic.



Reflections on My First NaNoWriMo: The Good, The Bad, and the (Very) Ugly


art classic contemporary design
Photo by Dom J on

I emerged from November blinking screen-weary eyes and massaging sore wrists, but with the following nifty little notice on my computer screen to tell me that it was all worthwhile:

Won_earned51,703 words- You won!

Yes! I am officially a NaNoWriMo winner!

If you’re not familiar with the acronym, “NaNoWriMo” stands for National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November, participating writers devote themselves to “30 days and nights of literary abandon,” attempting to complete a 50,000 word novel.

“What do you win?” asked one of my students when I told them that I was participating.

“Well, you finish a 50,000 word novel. So you win…bragging rights?”

“Oh…” They looked less than impressed.

I’ll admit, I had moments during the swift November days when I wondered if their skepticism was deserved.

Were the hours I spent hunched over my laptop really worthwhile?

Would the good of the experience outweigh the bad?

The Good

Ready to write!!!     Photo courtesy of Alejandro Escamilla, 

I’ve had the idea for my second World War 2 era historical fiction book rattling around in my head for over a year. I knew the characters, the setting, the main events up to the midpoint, even the resolution.

However, apart from a few scenes I sketched out in an old notebook, the story hadn’t made it into written form.

I wanted to write it, but could barely manage to eke out enough time to keep moving the first book toward release and keep this blog running. At the end of the day, I just didn’t have creative energy left to dive into another story.

NaNoWriMo gave me the proverbial kick in the pants that I needed to let the other projects go, focus on my new story, and get that first draft written!

The Bad

adorable animal animal photography big eyes
“What do you mean you don’t have any clean socks? Um…here. You can wear mine. I still have 1,000 words to write…” Photo by mali maeder on

While NaNoWriMo gave me the push to focus on writing the story, it didn’t magically give me the time to do so.

I’m still playing catch-up on housework, blogging, and all of the other jobs that were pushed back as I wrote.

Even while it’s driving me a little crazy, this “bad” effect has been a good reality check. It reminded me that maybe I can’t manage writing a new novel on top of parenting, teaching, blogging, music directing, editing an old novel for release, beta reading for friends, and keeping our house livable.

When I figure out just to comfortably balance all of this, I’ll let you know!

The Ugly

My first book has been through hours of editing.  By this point, most of the scenes are streamlined, the descriptions crafted to show just what I want, and the dialogue polished.

It’s not perfect, nor do I imagine it ever will be, but it’s getting close to the point where I can release it into the world and honestly say that it’s the very best work I can do.

My NaNoNovel, right now, is best suited for kindling.


There are plot holes you could sail an LST through.

I wish I could apologize to my characters for the awful dialogue.

And the history research? I’m sure that about a third of it is accurate. Maybe. But I’m still going to double-check.

Pushing myself to finish the story in a month meant that I had no time for editing, for research, or for any manner of fine tuning. The result’s no surprise- an ugly, ugly first draft.

This brings us back to the question: Was participating in NaNoWriMo and subjecting myself to the pressure worth it?

Yes…I think it was.

Ugly as it is, I’ll admit that this story has me excited.

The characters still need refining, but now that they’ve had 50,000+ words to interact, I have a better idea of who they are, what they want, and what they’re going to do about it.

I have tons of historical and geographical research to do, (by the way, if anyone has any good book recommendations on the Anzio beach head and 1940’s Italian geography, I’ll take ’em!) but now that I have a draft in hand, I know what I don’t know- I know what questions I need to ask.

Rushing through without editing was painful, but if I waited to find time to craft my words perfectly, odds are I wouldn’t have found it- at least not in this decade.

All in all, when next November rolls around I’ll have to consider whether it’s the right time to dive into the new new idea that I haven’t had time to set to paper- set in the Pacific Theater with a bit of cloak and dagger action…


What have you been up to while I’ve been furiously typing? Writers, what have you found that motivates you to get those words out of your heads and onto paper?

Many thanks for visiting!