MMA Eye Candy
With summer break officially in full swing, my writing time has been limited. But thanks to some awesome parents, I got a day and half to write this past weekend. I spent a portion of that researching for my current WIP. I love researching MMA, not only because I find the sport fascinating and have an overwhelming respect for it, but I love the eye candy I get while doing research. Talk about motivation. So I think we can always use some motivation, so today I'm sharing some pics :)






That's all for now:) Hope you enjoyed. I know I sure did:)
Esme

Blade of the Wolf up for two awards!

I'm thrilled to say Blade of the Wolf is a Passionate Plume finalist and a finalist in the FF&P Prism! Winners of both will be announced at RWA national conference. Blade of the Wolf is a paranormal erotic romance.

Here is an excerpt (PG rated):




Syrena’s mouth turned parchment-dry when she noticed Ronan Graeme on the street, sliding out of a silver luxury car. Black clothing, including a black leather trench coat, lent him a dangerous, compelling air.
Heat rushing over her despite the chilly wind, Syrena halted, mid-stride, unsure whether to make her presence known or let him go about his business. After all, he was far more man than she could handle. But something in her yearned to handle him…every inch of him.
He headed in the opposite direction, then glanced back, his gaze fastening on her. A slight smile on his sexy lips, he strode toward her. Was he limping?
“Syrena. I’m glad I ran into you again,” he said in that tongue-rolling accent.
Wind stirred his sun-streaked hair, enticing her to comb her fingers through it.
“Hi, Mr. Graeme.” Syrena swallowed convulsively. The wicked dream from two nights ago flashed through her consciousness for a heart-jerking second. She wanted to rake her teeth over his square, stubbled chin and feel the short whiskers above his upper lip rasping her skin.
Ronan removed his black leather driving gloves. “Please, just Graeme. How have you been?”
“Good,” she said, trying to leash the erotic imagery taking over her mind. “I didn’t expect you to still be in town.” But she was glad he was. Inhaling the cold air, she studied him. The powerful force of his presence struck her again. He was so tall and enigmatic. Hot and disturbing. Exactly what she craved at the moment.
“I haven’t been able to conclude my business as of yet,” he said.
“Were you injured the other night in that fight? I thought I noticed a limp.”
His amber gaze sharpened on her, the penetrating intensity causing her heart to skip a beat.
“Nay. Old football injury. Or as you Americans say, soccer.” He quickly scanned the buildings around them, displaying his square jaw to perfection, then motioned to the left. “Ah, a coffeehouse. Allow me to buy you a coffee.”
“Why? I mean…” She clamped her mouth shut. What was his deal? First a drink and now coffee? Again, the sensation that he wasn’t telling her everything passed over her. She couldn’t allow her attraction to him to cloud her common sense. But she didn’t detect any malevolent intentions. In fact, her intuition told her that he had a protective nature.
His expression turned serious. “After what happened two nights ago, I’m concerned. I think you have a stalker.”
“A stalker?” She held back an impulsive laugh. “Me? Please,” she said doubtfully.
“Indeed, lass. This is most serious.”
His yummy accent and the endearing way he called her lass almost distracted her from the grave issue at hand. “What should I do? Call the police?”
“Why don’t we go inside, out of this wind?” He gestured again toward the coffee shop entry.
Okay, maybe she would get lucky and he’d seduce her in the restroom. Dream on, Syrena. She proceeded into the almost deserted establishment where she bought coffee every morning. The appetizing mixed aromas of flavored coffees swirled through her senses. They placed their orders and took seats at a back corner table.
“I’m buying,” she said. “After all, I owe you one for the other night when you fought that man following me.”
“Nay. I insist.”
Nay. How charmingly Old World he was.
He fixed his molten gold gaze on her and consuming heat rushed over her skin. Breathe, Syrena, breathe. His appeal was complete. He was both edgy and elegant. Rough and cultured. Far out of her league. How would his deep voice sound whispering wicked, sexy words in her ear late at night? Intoxicating. A frisson of delight skittered through her.
But she couldn’t jump his bones right now. She needed to get to know him better first.
“What kind of work do you do?” she asked, wondering what would require him to be so deliciously athletic.
“Security, which is why the man following you concerned me a great deal.”
“Security? Like a bodyguard?”
“More or less. I work with a large firm and I’m scouting out the area to see if we might expand here.”
“A Scottish security firm?”
“International. We protect people all over the world.”
Should she believe him, or trust him? “What did the guy following me that night look like?” she asked.
“Short, beastly looking bloke with black hair and a beard.”
“Beastly?”
Ronan scowled. “Aye. Ugly.”
She snickered. The whole situation sounded too ridiculous. “Damn, why can’t I be stalked by a hunk?” Like him.
The corners of his mouth crooked up. His smile gentled his face, but at the same time she noticed his eyeteeth were a little longer than the others and slightly pointed. Not like the exaggerated fangs of vampires in movies. Much shorter. In fact, they were barely noticeable, but she found them unusual and a bit dangerous. Exciting. How would those teeth feel if he nibbled on her neck?
“Sorry. It isn’t funny, I know,” she said, trying to focus on the gravity of the situation. “I just don’t understand. I mean, I don’t usually capture men’s attention.”
Growing serious again, Ronan gazed deeply into her eyes, delving, disorienting her. “Why not?”
Her face heated. “I don’t know. I’m not exactly a vamp.”
“Nay, you are no vampire, thank the saints.”
Oh god, he was priceless. She held back a grin. “I meant I’m not, you know…sexy.”
He frowned. “Says who?”
“No one has to say. It’s simply a fact.”
“It is not a fact. You’re a great beauty, Syrena, incredibly sexy, and don’t let anyone be telling you any different.”
Giddiness tapped on her chest and she could hardly draw breath. Her whole body tingled with the need for him to touch her. Who was this man? And where had he come from? Scotland, sure, but what had caused their paths to cross?
“Thank you,” she mumbled, almost speechless at such a compliment from him. Their coffees were served, but she was too dazed to appreciate the fragrance of her mocha cappuccino.
Ronan—she liked thinking of him as Ronan. The name was more personal and intimate than Graeme. Ronan sipped his black Arabica.
She tried not to stare at his mouth, but couldn’t help herself. His lips were neither thin nor full, a man’s mouth, nothing feminine about it. The trace of dark beard stubble only enhanced his masculinity. How would his lips feel against hers? Smooth, hot, firm? He was probably a masterful kisser, seducing a woman in five seconds flat.
“Have you sensed someone following you?” he asked.
She forced herself to focus on his words, not the way his lips moved. “Sometimes.” Because I’m psychic. No, she couldn’t reveal that. Her weirdness was one reason guys steered clear of her. She didn’t want Ronan to think she was weird.
“Have you seen anyone?”
“No, I just have a vague feeling of being watched.” And not only by the earthbound spirits of Asheville’s former residents.
“I have an eighth-degree black belt in aikido. Perhaps I could teach you some self-defense moves.”
“Eighth degree? My lord, I didn’t know there were eight degrees. I’m sure I can’t afford your fees. You probably guard movie stars and Fortune 500 CEOs.”
He shook his head. “I’m thinking you can afford free. And I have never guarded a movie star.”
“But you seem so capable. Surely you could make a lot of money guarding rich and famous people.”
“The money’s not important. When would you like to practice self-defense?”
“You’re serious about that?”
“Aye.”
Why was he so insistent? Though his emotions were a blank wall to her, for the most part, and she was still unsure whether to fully trust him, she again sensed a protective quality deep within him, as if it were the most basic and innate component of his personality.
“If someone attacks you, you need to protect yourself.” He studied her, his gaze probing and prying into the core of her psyche. “You’re afraid, Syrena. Why do you fear me?”
“I don’t know you. I can’t…”
A new sensation poured through her—comfort, trust, friendship.
What’s going on? Her insights never came to her with this clarity and sudden rush of emotion. Her pulse roared in her ears. “Are you psychic?”
“Nay, why?”
She shook her head, unable to explain. “It isn’t important.” Her psychic abilities were wonky around him, as if she didn’t have complete control of her own thoughts. Maybe her reawakened libido was wreaking havoc on the rest of her mind.
“Please believe me when I say I only want to help you.”
His expression was so sincere, how could she not trust him? But the friendship angle of the sensation that flowed through her was wrong. The lucid dream she’d had would never allow him to be only a friend. Nope, she had a crush on him, dammit.
Nicole North - Blade of the Wolf


RomFest Recap
I just got back from RomFest 2012, a conference for romance writers and readers in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I had a great time, meeting many readers for the first time, as well as meeting up with authors I knew and getting to know many more I'd never met before.

My longtime friend, Trixie Stilletto, and I roomed together, staying up late a couple times brainstorming new ideas for our writing and chatting about our love of Gibbs and all things NCIS.

I thought I'd share some of the pictures I took over the last 4 days. I hope I'll be able to go again next year!

Some of the attendees at the pajama party Thursday night.



Old and new friends - Shannon K Butcher, Trixie Stilletto, and Jennifer Estep.



New reader friends at the costume party.



Me and Trixie at the booksigning at the Books A Million. A line was already forming through the book store long before the booksigning started. There were close to 30 authors signing there and the staff was awesome - so pleasant and helpful. There were even a couple handsome local law enforcement officers to make sure no one got out of line. There were a lot of enthusiastic readers there and it made for a fun day!





Many authors donated baskets which were auctioned off for charity. There were three tables like this covered with wonderful baskets full of books and chocolate and many other goodies.



We raised over $1100 for the Bays Mountain Park Association. The happy winner of my basket.



It was a busy few days and the conference flew by. There were tons of great workshops - Trixie and I even gave our first workshop - as well as games like Naughty Bingo and the booksiging. I've been to enough conferences now to know to take some time in my room to rest from time to time. I even got a couple thousand words written on my current project in between workshops.

I'm hoping that I'll be able to attend RomFest 2013, and if anyone is looking for a great conference where authors and readers can connect through their love of romance, I'd highly recommend RomFest!

Natasha
Plaything - available now
Silken Canvas - coming Dec 25th
www.natashamoore.com















Getting Along Swimmingly
It’s summer and where I’m at, it’s HOT. That doesn’t keep me inside, though, not when there’s a pool nearby. I throw on my swimsuit and go. Well, it's actually not a swimsuit, but more like swim attire, which is what I'm posting about today.

I won't give advice of my own on this piece of fashion because I shouldn't. I'm cheap when it comes to swimwear and I tend to mix and match. I hate spending tons of money on a bathing suit, because for a girl my size--and I think for any girl any size depending on the trend--swimsuits can be very, very pricey. So, I might wear a bikini top from one suit that doesn't fit anymore with the bottoms from another suit that does. That means if you see me in water splashing around, I might be wearing a red print top with a yellow floral bottom. It will look like perhaps I got dressed in the dark. Perhaps I did that day. It does happen.

Usually, though, what happens most often is that important parts of the bikini wear out or end up not fitting anymore. And, yes, I do wear bikinis even though I look like one of those pictures of women on the beach with cellulite just dripping from them--even their fingertips--that go viral and get comments as far away as Denmark about how awful they look. Over the course of many years, I have learned what I am comfortable in and what makes me happy, and a one-piece bathing suit makes me feel like I've got a boa constrictor wrapped around my torso. What's worse is that the boa constrictor doesn't really like it when I have to peel him off to go to the restroom. Yes, there are two-piece suits with more coverage, like swim dresses. However, the extra floaty material weighs me down and seems to get caught on whatever drifts nearby, like seaweed, or small children.

I did come across an article about what men like to see on the beach, and the top suit was a nicely cut bikini--not a skimpy one, but one that showed some skin and left a little modesty intact. Men apparently don't care for trendy suits--they don't get them--or seeing something that leaves nothing to the imagination. It was a nice article, but notably I didn't see an article on what kinds of swimsuits women like to see on men. Why? I'm guessing that it's because there's only about two types--swim trunks or the brief type--and most men opt for the trunks.

Darn it.

There's nothing wrong with those long trunks, but they certainly do seem to cover a lot and they look like they weigh about 40 lbs. They also make most men look, no matter what age, look like little boys in short pants. Maybe that's why many guys like them--the appearance of youth. I guess I'm just jealous because swim trunks have pockets and most women's options don't, even the swim shorts. Consequently, we have to carry our ID's in some kind of bag that can be stolen right off the beach instead of on our personal selves. Or maybe I just like to see the male anatomy, which is beautiful. What do you think? lol

What do you like to see a guy wearing around the water or what type of swimsuit do you prefer to wear yourself? I think people's selection of swimwear is interesting and tells much about them, so please do share.

Magic Mike
Now that I have your attention. LOL. We’ve all seen that Magic Mike photo floating around Facebook. If you haven’t, you’ve been missing out and I’ll kindly share it with you now:


There are many, many girl’s nights being planned around this movie. I have one planned. And I really could care less what the actual movie is about, I'm going to see this because Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum spend a majority of the movie shirtless. Just being honest :)

So why am I talking about Magic Mike today? I do have a reason, and its not the hotness up above. 

Magic Mike' marketing used sizzling hot men to sale a movie, and they've done a fantastic job at it. I'm sold. 

We all know what attracts us physically. But what quality takes an average looking man to sizzling hot in your eyes?

An example: last night I was watching a TV show. There was this guy on it. Good-looking, but definitely not Magic Mike hotness. Then this other guy insults another woman on the show and bam, good-looking guy steps in, gets up in his face and he immediatly skyrocketed to Magic Mike hotness for me. I love it when a guy defends a girl. Yes, I seriously have a knight in shining armor complex. 

Another quality that really gets me is scheming (for the good, not the bad). I'm in love with Tyrion Lannister on A Game of Thrones. Being completely honest here, I wouldn't have given this guy a second glance. But as the series went on, and Tyrion's character developed and we got deeper into his mind, and how freaking intelligent he is, how he can puppet those around him, he became more and more attractive.

On the other side of the coin, you have total hotness that turn ogre the minute he opens his mouth. My immediate turn offs? Cockiness. A little is okay, but when you believe you're God's gift to women, it's like a perfect gift has been ruined and I'd rather return it for another than keep it.   

Looks gives us that immediate attraction. But it's the stuff underneath those looks that really cement an attraction. What qualities get you going and what immediately turns you off?

Esme
 

The Beauty of Water
Today I'm sharing some photos of our pond along with some inspiring quotations about water. Having a pond is a wonderful and rewarding experience. Sure, it's a lot of work at times, but the payoff is worth it. It's so peaceful and relaxing listening to the splashing water. Every day is different and the pond is a whole world in itself. We enjoy watching life unfold there and all the creatures that call it home. In the spring, the toads sing and sometimes leopard frogs visit to leave their next generation. Pink, white and yellow water lilies bloom daily. And discovering a new baby fish is fun.


"To understand water is to understand the cosmos, the marvels of nature, and life itself." Masaru Emoto



"Water is the driver of Nature." Leonardo da Vinci



“When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing - just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?”  Ralph Marston



"All the water that will ever be is, right now." National Geographic




"And all the air is filled with pleasant noise of waters." Henry Wordsworth




"I have left almost to the last the magic of water, an element which owing to its changefulness of form and mood and colour and to the vast range of its effects is ever the principal source of landscape beauty, and has like music a mysterious influence over the mind." Sir George Sitwell




"If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water." Loran Eisely



"And gentle winds and waters near, make music to the lonely ear." Byron



"Water is the best of all things." Pindar


I hope you enjoyed this little visit to my pond!
Thanks!
Vonda

Cover for Silken Canvas
I can share!

My next release from Samhain will be an erotic romance novel, Silken Canvas. December seems far away right now, but since I just got the final version of the cover, I can start getting excited now! The hero in Silken Canvas is an erotic artist, the heroine will be his model for the weekend. I asked for a cover with an artistic feel, and I think the talented Samhain art department really delivered.



Isn't it gorgeous??

Here is the very UNofficial blurb:

Erotic artist Brendan Cole achieved fame creating works of art from beautiful women. He burst onto the scene in a blaze, but current reviews question if his brilliance is burning out. He needs inspiration now. He seeks out his former lover, Ashley Mancuso, to be his model and muse. Together, he knows they can create incredible erotic images that will silence the critics.

Ashley left Brendan when she got tired of taking second place to his art, but when they meet again at the opening of an erotic art gallery, their attraction is as hot as ever. He entices her to agree to an impromptu photo shoot, binding her wrists with ribbons and blindfolding her with his black silk tie. The kinky side she’s tried to ignore bursts free. She agrees to pose for him just for the weekend, keeping things strictly business.

One erotic session after another lead to talks of fantasies and long buried desires that are impossible to resist. But even reconnecting through the adventurous sex that drew them together may not be enough to keep their fears and insecurities from tearing them apart.


The release date is December 25th. NO there is nothing Christmas-like about the book, but I will be sure to let everyone know when it goes on pre-order. Wouldn't your Christmas be even better with a sexy new book automatically delivered to your e-reader on Christmas morning?

Off to RomFest 2012 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Will share pics and stories from that conference next week.

Natasha
Plaything - available now
Silken Canvas - coming Dec 25th
www.natashamoore.com
Summer Booklover's Buffet


Today is the end of the first week of the Booklover's Buffet summer sale located here:
http://bookloversbuffet.com/

We're excited to offer you more than 150 books by more than 120 authors. And the best part? Each book is only 99 cents! We have romance, YA, paranormal, erotica, mystery, and many other genres. Take a look here:



And if all that yummy summer reading is not enough, we have a page full of contests. Autographed print books, gift cards, jewelry and more.

The sale only lasts from June 8 through June 22, so come join in the fun!
Eight Things I've Learned from Guys
Father's Day is coming up, and I love it! Besides giving us a chance to acknowledge the important roles men play in our children's lives, it's a great day to celebrate the spirit of masculinity in general. I've learned so much from living with a man, especially about that wonderful world where grunting is a preferred communication tool and duct tape fixes everything. My man has enlightened me and opened my mind to the fact that not everything requires a woman's touch to be beautiful.

This is especially important in writing. The male protagonist has got to be believable and attractive to readers, or the book (at least for me as a reader) is a no go. I've used my darling husband more than once as a resource, both on the physical and emotional aspects of my characters, as well as other males in my life. Sometimes my characters or their behaviors are based on random conversations with or observations of other men, and I have to admit, my favorite type of research is of the "guy" variety. It is amazing to get a man's perspective on an issue and see some of the differences--even if there's an agreement on the outcome, somethings the reasoning behind it will be completely different.

For today's post, I'm listing some of the things I've learned from men over the years. I may be off on some of them, but remember, I did learn them from men who didn't realize they were teaching me anything and these have been filtered through my own experiences. :)

1. Duct tape and WD-40 really do fix many of the household problems that occur, at least temporarily.
2. Women's fashion is very simple. Instead of squeezing yourself into that ghastly trendy outfit, try wearing a nice pair of fitted jeans, a white T-shirt with a feminine neckline, pumps or boots with a comfortable heel, and a beautiful smile. As for dresses, wear something that shows your best assets, along with a beautiful smile.
3. Men like a beautiful smile.
4. Life is very simple for the most part. Even the complicated parts.
5. Houses can be cozy AND functional.
6. Waistlines are important (I think this is some kind of biological thing). The first thing a man worries about as he ages is his waistline. In terms of female attractiveness, if you carry a little extra weight, like I always have, you might get into the habit of wearing blouse-y type outfits. However, and my husband made me see the light on this one, most men prefer something fitted, even if just a little. Even if you're at a weight where you feel your waistline no longer exists, wearing something with a waistline that gives you one, no matter how small that waistline is, apparently gives an impression that is far more attractive than what happens when we try to hide what we consider a flaw. *Note: Fashion experts back me up on this, too.
7. Old pick-up trucks are a thing of beauty.
8. Never believe anything you hear about men as a species in general. Yes, that book about men and women and Mars and Venus was right in many respects. Men do tend to fix. Women tend to vent. However, men need to vent, too, and sometimes women try to fix. Men fall along a huge spectrum of manliness, and that makes them wonderful. Hard to understand sometimes, but wonderful.

I think the roles men play in our development as women--either positive or negative--are important and should be celebrated. Do you remember the blogger who got blasted by readers because she wrote about the downside of being beautiful? Of having men hit on her, of having complete strangers pay for her meals, of having women colleagues be jealous of her for her looks? Readers took her confidence as arrogance, but she reminded them in the next post that she grew up with a father who made sure she knew she was valued and loved for who she was, and that gave her the confidence she needed to state things as they were--people of both genders treated her a certain way because of her looks. She could acknowledge this because she had a man in her life who treated her with respect and love in her formative years, and it allowed her to grow up with a positive self-image. Sounds like she had a pretty good dad to me. :)

On that note, Happy Father's Day!
Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle on beautiful Loch Ness is one of the most popular and most visited ruined castles in Scotland. The times I’ve visited it, it has usually been more crowded than some other castles. This is not surprising given its convenient location beside Loch Ness. Anyone going from Inverness to Isle of Skye or almost anywhere in the west will likely have to pass the castle, or like we were, going from Argyll in the west to Dunrobin on the east coast.


Urquhart Castle is maintained by Historic Scotland. Though I don’t have a photo of it, the castle grounds has a great visitor centre with an exhibition and audio-visual display as well as many medieval artifacts which were found on the grounds of the castle, plus a café, and excellent shop.


Urquhart is situated on a rocky promontory beside Loch Ness in Glen Mor, or the Great Glen. This glen, created by glaciers during the last ice age, is sixty miles long.


Loch Ness is 700 feet deep. The water flows out the north end through the River Ness at Inverness into the North Sea.



Evidence of human habitation on the site where Urquhart sits goes back to at least 2000 BC, based on a nearby burial cairn. Remains also show that the Picts had a fortification here. It is a good spot for keeping an eye on the loch and who might be traveling along it. Hundreds of years ago, before roads existed in the Highlands, most travel was done by boats, galleys or birlinns along Scotland’s many lochs and along the coast.


History and legend says that St. Columba traveled from the Dál Riata Kingdom in Argyll to the Great Glen before 597 (perhaps around 580) in order to convert the Picts, including one of their leaders, an elderly noble named Emchath, to Christianity. St. Columba is said to have had a confrontation with the Loch Ness Monster or “Nessie”.


Urquhart has a long, complex, and turbulent history. Alan Durward, the son-in-law of King Alexander II of Scotland started building Urquhart around 1230, after a rebellion in the area was thwarted. The king decided a fortification was needed to keep the locals under control and gave Dunward the lordship.


During its heyday, this castle saw major amounts of conflict and often switched hands depending on who was king, and who wanted to defeat the king.



After King Alexander III died, his apparent successor was his six-year-old granddaughter, Margaret, The Maid of Norway, who had been raised in Norway. The little girl was sent for, but died before she arrived in Scotland. Edward I of England had planned on marrying her to his young son. When that fell through, Edward served as what was supposed to be a neutral party in choosing the next king. He chose John Balliol as vassal king because he knew he could control him easily. Edward gave Urquhart to the Red Comyn (John) in 1275. After several defeats, John Balliol was forced to abdicate to Edward. At this time, many of Scotland’s castles were under English control.



In 1297, Andrew Moray, with the support of Robert the Bruce and Sir Alexander Forbes, took Urquhart Castle from English control. This was during the time William Wallace began his campaign against English rule. However, in 1303, Edward I’s army captured and overtook Urquhart again and gave it back to the Red Comyns, who craved having local power.


After many years of war, in 1306, Robert the Bruce was crowned king of Scotland. He defeated the Comyns and gave Urquhart to the Earls of Moray. They kept it until 1346 when it was returned to the Scottish Crown. The castle was then renovated and repaired.

The side of the tower that faces the loch.


Clan MacDonald, the Lords of the Isles, had major conflicts with the Scottish Crown during the 1300s and 1400s and Urquhart Castle was right in the middle. The MacDonalds supported Robert the Bruce, but not the Balliols when they were returned to power. The MacDonalds used the Bruce and Balliol conflict to further their own agenda, which practically destroyed the local area and people around Urquhart because of all the fighting. The castle fell several times to the MacDonalds, only to be retaken by the crown each time.



The MacDonalds lost their power for several years, when there was a brief peace and the Grants of Frenchie ran the castle for the Gordons of Huntly. In the early 1500s, however, the MacDonalds came back and attacked the castle twice, killing a large portion of the population of the Great Glen each time. Urquhart Castle was abandoned in the 1600s. The people of the Glen carried the castle’s stones away to add to their own homes and buildings.


In 1689, Captain Grant held a garrison here for King James VII of Scotland and II of England, the last Stewart king, while he was in exile.  In 1692, the English blew up the castle to keep it from being used by the Jacobites. The castle was left in ruin and in the early 1700s a wind storm blew down the south west wall of the tower house.


Bluebells and ferns



Urquhart was once one of the largest castles in Scotland and is still one of the most impressive, partly because of its beautiful, mysterious and romantic setting on the shore of Loch Ness and the lone tower that remains.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Urquhart Castle and its history.

Thanks!!
Vonda


Favorite Summertime Treat
Having just walked back from The Ice Cream Shack, I have to admit that my favorite summertime treat is ice cream. Yeah, I know you can get it year round, but it never tastes the same sitting by the fire with the snow falling down as it does when walking home from the Shack, licking like crazy because it's melting so fast it threatens to run down your arm.

I'm fortunate to live within walking distance of three ice cream stands. Two are soft serve, one serves hard ice cream. I'd never turn any of them down, but my favorite is Peanut Butter Fudge. I just finished a "small" cone which is actually two huge scoops atop a cone. I never mix flavors on one cone, though. A lot of people do, but it just seems wrong to me!

I only indulge my ice cream craving in the summer - when I can walk to the stand. If I have a carton of ice cream in my freezer at home, I will eat it every day until it's gone. If I have to walk to get it, I don't have it every night - and I burn off a few calories to help make up the difference.

So, yes, I play mind games with myself. Don't you? If I write 1000 words, I can play Words with Friends. If I finished my word count for the day, I can curl up with the book I've been dying to read. If I walk four blocks, I can have an ice cream cone.

So what's your favorite summertime treat? And do you play mind games with yourself? I can't be the only one!

Natasha
Plaything - available now
Silken Canvas - coming Dec 25th
www.natashamoore.com
Summer Reading
Monday I had a very exciting email when I woke up: Julie Moffett had just released a prequel novella to her Lexi Carmichael series. I literally squealed, clapped happily and then hurried off to buy it. I've been waiting for an Elvis fix for months! I'm a HUGE fan of the Zimmerman Twins. I've already read it, loved it, and now impatiently waiting for the next installment.

I love series book, any kind of series books. Huge Harry Potter fan, FaeFever fan, (Heck, anything from Karen Marie Moning, lol) etc. I love staying with the same characters throughout a series of books. 

So with summer coming, I'm going to have more time to read and less time to write. (Screaming kiddos kills the creative juices. lol) And I'd like to get into a new series.

Game of Thrones is on my list to start. I've been watching the HBO series and I love it, especially Tyrion Lannister (I'm a Peter Dinklage fan for life now.) His character is the biggest reason I want to read the books.

What are some of your favorite series? I'm also looking for a new one to dig into :)

Esme
Kilmartin Church & Medieval Grave Slabs
I'm finishing up the tour of Kilmartin Glen, Argyll, Scotland with a visit to Kilmartin Church which sits in Kilmartin Village beside the museum.

Kilmartin (Cille Mhrtainn) is Gaelic for ‘the church of (St.) Martin.’ The area was an important center for early Christianity. Most travel in the early days in this area was by sea and lochs. Kilmartin was on the route between the Irish coast and the important religious island of Iona. Iona was the focus of St. Columba’s mission in the 6th century.


Kilmartin Parish Church was built in 1835 and is the latest of a series of churches built on this site. The graveyard outside is interesting because some of the graves and gravestones are from medieval times. This churchyard contains some of the oldest carved grave slabs in Scotland. It is also one of the largest collections, containing around 79 stones.


Some are outside and some are on display inside a stone mausoleum building beside the church. The earliest has been dated to about 1300. Grave slabs such as these are found throughout the Western Highlands, some carved by sculptors from Ireland and others from the Loch Awe school of sculpture.

Some of the oldest medieval grave slabs.



Some of these medieval grave slabs were moved from St. Columba’s Chapel in Poltalloch. These were carved in the late 14th century in the Loch Awe area for the Malcoms of Poltalloch. A plaque inside the mausoleum reads: “The grave slabs would have been laid flat on the ground over the grave. After the Reformation, however, many of the stones were moved, and it is unlikely that any of these were in their original positions when they were moved into this shelter in 1956. As well as the figures, many of them armoured, the motifs include swords, grotesque animals and shears. Much of the decoration represents foliage.” And it includes a map of Argyll and the islands close by showing where each of the grave slabs was taken from.




The carved slabs were laid on the ground to mark the burial site of several generations of the same family. Names are not recorded on most of the stones so it’s unknown who they were carved for. But experts believe they were for local ruling families.


One of the later slabs


 The stones were decorated with beautiful patterns. Some contain proud warrior figures and weapons such as spears and large swords. Some show mythological animals or hunting scenes, while others show interlaced Celtic knot patterns and symbols. Although we don’t know what these symbols mean, they no doubt had significant meaning to those who had them carved.

This is a lovely view out over Kilmartin Glen from the church. Although they are somewhat difficult to see, there are two cairns in these cattle pastures surrounded by protective fencing.

Thanks for taking this virtual tour with me through Kilmartin Glen. If you missed my earlier posts, you can find them at: Temple Wood & Kilmartin VillageCarnasserie Castle, Nether Largie South Cairn and Nether Largie Standing Stones.

Thanks!!
Vonda
www.vondasinclair.com



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