Archive for January, 2011


To Be Honest—Today Had its Ups and Downs

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

Literally.  I visited two cities on the tops of hills and was climbing up or down the entire day.  After the weekend with Morgan, it was a little much, and I’m afraid I od’ed on ibuprofen, but it’s the only thing that saved my life and prevented homicide against my peppy  tour guide.

The first place we visited was just plain amazing, and even with the pain I was in, I was totally entranced.  It is called San Gomignano and has extremely steep streets leading up to medieval skyscrapers!  I am not joking.  From a distance, you see all these towers on top of a hill!  The buses and cars aren’t allowed, so it was very quiet with us early tourists.  The thing I hope I remember forever is the incredible view.  Tuscany is gorgeous at any time, but seen from a lofty hill with fog still wafting through the valleys, orchards and vineyards while presided over by periwinkle sky and lovely warm sun (remember it’s January) it’s absolute heaven.  I discovered a very humble watercolorist with a huge talent.  His prices were so modest, and his paintings so minimalist and capturing Tuscany so perfectly, I wanted to buy his biggest one and have it sent home.  But better instincts prevailed.  With all of David’s photos we have no room to properly display it.  I did buy three tiny little reproductions (you couldn’t tell them from the originals, I swear), and boy Sandra and Alana are you ever in for a treat.  I could see both of you sitting against that fortress wall, painting and painting and painting.  The landscape changes continually with the weather, the light, and the season.  I think you’d both better book some rooms and stay for a year, build up a portfolio and have a show!

After we left this little place (which seems to have no source of income), we went to Siena, best known for its twice a year Palio, where all the houses of Siena buy horses and hire jockeys, rig them out in their “house” colors and stand in the middle of the town square and in all the windows looking out on it, as the horses race three times around the huge courtyard.  Dirty play is encouraged.  It is all very dangerous and the Sienese seem to adore it.  I purchased a flag and patch with a dragon on it for grandson Jack, thinking he could ride his rocking horse.  I also got a book for him with pictures and the whole history.  But then I went and lost the flag somewhere.  Dag nab it!

I passed my “free time” by eating buschetta, soup, and my first gelato of this trip.  I then visited souvenir shops and bought postcards (I have no faith in myself with the camera) and the things for Jack, and some Tuscan cookery books.  Then, to my immense relief I spotted a Pharmacia across the square.  I hobbled over there and bought ibuprofen and sat down to take it with a cup of hot chocolate.  By the time the tour was set to begin I was in better shape.  I truly enjoyed the beautiful Siena cathedral.  It’s gorgeous gothic exterior is good enough to eat, but the inside blows your mind.  It looks like it was imported from the middle east.  It is black and white striped marble!  One row of white, one row of black on the walls and columns.  It is also the only catherdral I have ever seen without a crucifix at the altar.  There was an amazing library with illuminated manuscripts and lovely Rubenesque frescoes.  The gift shop was in a church, heavily decorated with gold, which was a surprise.

I thought once I made the tortuous trip down the hill to the bus that my troubles were over.  I felt significantly improved after the 1 1/2 hr. drive back to Florence.  However, once aboard my trusty city bus, there was a orange sign that said something about Lorenz il Magnifico—my stop.  Troubled, I asked the bus driver, who apparently knows no history, for he dumped me off at via Leanardo da Vinci.  There it was,  night in Florence, and me completely lost in a quiet neighborhood.  I met one of those charming young Italian men, who tried his best to help me with his computer, but acknowledged that getting from there to Via Poliziano was a virtual impossibility, even if I could walk.  I did what any woman would have done in such a crisis.  I bought a chocolate bar.  Exhibiting the tenderness I have come to expect these young men to show to aged women, he gave me a gift, a beautifully packaged little bunch of dark chocolate candies.  No Sir Lancelot this time, but I felt more confident, heading for an obviously busy square in search of a taxi.  I was finally reduced to entering a restaurant and asking for them to call one for me.  My hero in the white cab arrived, and after money changed hands, I was duly delivered to 9 via Poliano,where he even got out of the cab and opened the door for me!  As soon as I was upstairs, I began to boil water for a huge cup of cammomile tea and simultaneously called my husband.  Pledging not to fuss over me when this trip began, he congratulated me for my presence of mind.

Tomorrow I am planning a day working on my novel while lying on my heating pad.  At some point I will have to venture out to the market for sustenance, but that can be delayed as long as possible.  Elisabetta very kindly bought me cornflakes (which I secretly loathe) but which she mistook for muesli (which she had never laid eyes on before).  If I eat a lot of yogurt and a bowl of cornflakes I will make it til one o’clock, and hopefully my body parts will be restored.

I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY JUST AS MY MIND GETS FIXED, MY BODY HAS TO GO!!!!! Kindly register my complaint with the universe.

Two items of interest:

Tomorrow on, the first of the Alex and Briggie trivia questions will appear, as I begin the “magical mystery tour.”  The winner will enter a drawing and after two weeks, I will choose a winner to receive a souvenir from Florence — a scarf, a bit of jewelry, etc.

Also, tomorrow on Whitneyawards. com, we will see if Pieces of Paris is chosen as a Whitney Finalist. (I have no fingernails left)

I Know I’m Late, But I Have a Good Excuse!

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

Morgan, #1 son has been here!  I saved all the best tourist sites for our visit, so I am absolutely worn out with sight-seeing, and very sad to see him go.  He is such a great son and so much fun to do things with.

I worked until he arrived Friday afternoon and then we met at the train station (which is a feat—the Florence Santa Maria Novella train station is an absolute nightmare).  We negotiated all the fun little backstreets on the way to the Ponte Vecchio (the bridge with all the gold shops) and then dined at my favorite restaurant The Golden View.  Morgan was smitten right away with Florence which surprised me, because he is a very 21st century kind of guy. The next morning we saw the Academie where Michelangelo’s David is displayed and he loved it almost as much as I do.  We had lunch, and then for some reason, I was out for the count.  We were supposed to meet for dinner after he went to the Ufizzi (the greatest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings anywhere) and I had a nap.  But I couldn’t wake up!  So he went back to his hotel (he insisted on staying at the Hilton by the airport!!!!) and ate in the executive lounge.  This morning we met for church then had a 2 hour Sunday lunch that was lovely.  Afterwards my favorite site—the Pitti Palace—where the Medici dramas took place.  It figures greatly in a future time-travel book, so I was investigating very carefully.

Falling in with Italian habits, we then went to a cafe for hot chocolate and talk until they closed.  Then we came back to Betta’s and talked until time for the last shuttle to his hotel.  He leaves in the morning.

I am supposed to go to Siena for the day, but that depends greatly on whether I can connect up with my tour which leaves from a corner of the train station (which is like a manic trapazoid and as far as I can tell has nothing one could call a corner.)

It was good for me to have Morgan here, because I walked a lot more and strengthened and stretched my muscles which have been giving out on me.  Hopefully I will spend lots less money on the taxis!



Special Events In Store for My Fans

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

February Blahs are the Worst!  Especially if you don’t have anything to read!  Following is a giveaway AND a contest that will net you fun prizes you can’t get anywhere else!

1.  Book Club Prize: For any book club that decides to read Piece of Paris for their monthly book, I will do, not only a telephone interview (or if you live in Provo/Orem a personal visit), but I will provide the refreshments: The best chocolate in America, Kara’s chocolates.

If you go to my website ( you will see the book club discussion questions.  Anyone who can give a detailed answer to their book club of Question #9 will receive an added givft from the Central Market In Florence!

This is a great book for bookclub discussion and promises to give you much to think about.  Jeffrey Needle of AML wrote a stellar blog calling it my best book ever!  And for the real inside scoop, my editor at Deseret Book claims this book is also my best, even better than The Last Waltz.

So get your friends together and enjoy discussing all the complications in Annalisse and Dennis’s life and how they can help you to have a better marriage.

2. Alex and Briggie Magical Mystery Tour:

In preparation for the new Alex and Briggie coming out, plus my new mystery, Foggy, With a Chance of Murder (release date April 25) I am going to offer some special incentives to help you get through the remainder of the winter.  They are all part of what I’m calling “The Magical Mystery Tour.”  (Do any of you remember that song by the Beatles?)  Well, The Magical Mystery Tour is coming to take you away!

Posted on my website ( under contests, there will be five questions for you to answer about each of my books, according to the following schedule.  If you have not read them yet, this is your opportunity to climb on the Alex and Briggie mystery train! The questions will be difficult.  Whoever answers the questions and posts them to me at my e-mail, will be eligible to win a special prize from Florence’s Central Market.  Anything from jewelry to pashima scarves.

    • Feb 1-Feb 14 Revisit Cankered Roots. This is the book that started it all, when Alex decides to do her own family history, which is shrouded in mystery and caused her to be sent away from home at age 18.  Now in her early thirties she is the widow of a ten year marriage, and living with Briggie, and intrepid widow in her sixties who drives a Bronco with a custom-made rack for her deer rifle.  As soon as Alex begins to pry into family secrets, her father is murdered, and she is the chief suspect!
    • Feb 15-Mar 1 Revisit Of Deadly Descent. Many of my fans say this is their favorite book because of its setting in Oxford, England, and also because it introduces Charles, the uber-charming blond gentleman who is a murder suspect and who also becomes a tenacious suitor.  Virtually the moment A & B enter Oxford, they witness a bus running down one of Alex’s unmet cousins (one of several in line to inherit part of Alex’s fortune).  From start to finish, Alex is in hair-raising danger, and Briggie worries that the scholarly life of Oxford will appeal a little too much to her friend.
    • Mar 2-Mar 15 Revisit Tangled Roots. In this book, we are back in Chicago, where Alex is trying to mend fences with her mother, a recovering alcoholic.  As Alex and Briggie try to build a genogram (psychological family tree) of a North Shore teenager, murder and mayhem intercede, and Alex becomes the focal point of a romantic triangle. It also includes a talking macaw, a frisky dachshund, and a neurotic feline who take temporary residence in Alex’s family home, along with just about everyone in the book!
    • Mar 16-Mar 31 Revisit Poisoned Pedigree. Vist my old stomping grounds in Southwest Missouri Ozarks, where Alex, Briggie, Charles, Daniel, and Richard all seem to enter a time warp, going back a hundred years into a community still run by vigilante justice and secret family ties.  As they try to find out the truth about a famous singer’s “bad blood,” they encounter numerous suspects, not to mention the death of their only lead.  Piecing together a family tree from graveyards and scrapbooks, they finally uncover the secret that has lain hidden for a century and a half in the little town of Trotter’s Bridge.
    • Apr 1-Apr 15 Revisit Hidden Branch. Take a trip to Huntington Beach, California and meet the clan of Armenians called the Mardians, who have a great talent for amassing fortunes.  When they inherit another one from a murdered cousin they claim they didn’t know existed, Alex, Briggie, Charles, Daniel, and Richard have a rip-roaring adventure trying to unmask the villain.  For the first time, Briggie actually ends up in jail and Alex is closer to death than ever before.  All romantic questions are laid to rest.
      Have a great time with your old friends, and win a prize from the site of their next adventure!  That’s right! Alex and Briggie are going to Florence!

    Florence-Days 6 & 7 [or “God Had Other Plans”]

       Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

    Some of you worried because you didn’t receive any colorful tales from Florence yesterday.  The truth is, I didn’t leave the B & B.  I hardly left my bed.  I slept in until 3 pm, and spent the rest of the day working on my book from bed trying to make up for the wasted day.  I didn’t even get a meal or a shower until 9:00.

    I was exhausted, there is no other way to say it.  But, having to take a day off is something I never plan on.  The fact is, I needed some perspective.  I came to Florence to “do a job” and I wasn’t doing it.  I had this “scared little girl” feeling that I had come over here with the specific intention of doing away with.  (There’s something wrong with that sentence, but you get the idea.)  I knew that my mantra “Have Confidence in Your Competence,” was not leading my actions.  Nothing was.  I was just reacting—mostly to pain.  After a day in bed, the pain was finally gone, so I regrouped, wrote down my research goals, and then consulted my handy-dandy Rick Steve’s guidebook and a map.  This morning I consulted with Elisabetta on some vital questions, and I had my day planned down to the minute in a way that would not tax my strength and result in renewed pain.  I felt competent once again.  In control.

    Don’t ever say that.  Despite what you may think, you are NOT in control.

    Scarcely was I out the door this morning than I saw my bus pulling away.  In an attempt to catch it while it stopped for traffic, I tripped and fell FLAT on my face.  My glasses miraculously survived (they are only held together by superglue at this point and I am blind without them), but I sustained a real whack to my right hand, shoulder and knee.  The wind was knocked out of me, and despite the wonderful Florentines that instantly surrounded me with solicitude, I couldn’t get up right away, though I kept reassuring them that I was fine.

    That is when God opened the windows of Heaven and endowed me with the sweetest experience I have had since I last held a grandchild.  A young man, not more than thirty, stayed by me, gathered my scattered belongings, and coaxed me off the sidewalk a little at a time, finally hoisting me all the way.  Then he put my hand through his arm and insisted on getting me to the corner where there was a cafe where I could sit down.  Overcome by his kindness, I was bowled over when he asked me what I would like to drink. I asked for a coke and went for my purse to get the money (they are expensive over here).  He waved me off and went for my coke and coffee for himself.  Then he sat with me, calming me. We were soon talking about the genius of Brunelleschi (who invented the first dome since classical times, seemingly brick by brick) and how it gives him such joy every time he passes the Duomo.  He went on to say how much he loves seeing views of it from high places.  I have not yet been to Fiesole (the town perched in the Tuscan hills over Florence), but he drew me a map with roads, showing me the best place to walk for a good view.  We talked for approximately 45 minutes.  He got my website address because he was curious about my books.  Then he went to pay the bill.  To my surprise, he returned to the table with a ticket for four bus rides!  I thanked him over and over in English and Italian.  He was the Good Samaritan to the nth degree.  And the thing that is beautiful about it, is that he is not alone. The Italians are just like that. (Elisabetta was not at all impressed by this story, only by the fact that I denied her a chance to mother me and went with a stranger instead.)  I have been reminded that that kind of selfless love is what my characters are moving towards in the book I came here to write.  This young man was a reminder of why I had to come to Italy to write it.

    The rest of the day was made difficult by my injuries, but not unendurable.  And I was treated to another unexpected “tender mercy” when the President of the Leather School agreed to see me, and treated me like an old friend.  She listened to my Alex and Briggie plot, thrilled and excited that I was going to feature her company in it.  She gave me some wonderful ideas, as well as a printed history of her “school.”  It still trains artisans the old way, and of course Briggie will want to be in on that.

    I paid my homage to Michelangelo, my favorite artist of all time, by visiting his early works in the Bargello, then visiting his home, and finally his crypt in Santa Croce.  I will wait to visit the David again when Morgan comes this weekend.

    So, as Magnum, P.I. would say, “It was just another day in Paradise.”  I’ve realized that in Paradise in order to let it be Paradise, you have to make room for God’s plans.


    Florence—Day Five

       Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

    Why didn’t someone brave my wrath and tell me I was too old to take this trip?  Today, I wrote happily til one o’clock and then set out, happy that the Siberian Wind was blowing elsewhere and that the sun was out.  What a lovely day I was going to have!  I would walk all the way to the Ponte Vecchio and across it for my lunch/dinner at my favorite restaurant along the Arno.  But first I must make my way to the Basilica of San Lorenzo (church built by Michelangelo and Donatello for the patron saint of Lorenzo the Magnificent—therefore the Medici family church).

    Well, let’s just say that church lies in dangerous territory.  Right in the middle of the Mercado San Lorenzo—the street market!  Before I knew what was happening a handsome Italian with just a little bit of fashionable facial stubble had lured me into his shop.  I won’t say what kind of shop, because that might get me in trouble.  But it was a very respectable shop.  He sat me on a nice leather couch (my back was killing me) and proceeded to bring out items for each member of my family which I cheerfully told him about.  I kept saying, “No, absolutely not!  I have spent all my money!”  Finally, I got to thinking that one of the items might make a great birthday present for my son, Greg, and after all David was never going to let me come to Florence again after this (I know circular reasoning)so why not?  So I weakened just a little, and he saw it.  He began lowering the price to absurd levels.  Then he threw in another item, and proceeded to try it on and model it.  Then he brought out many items, this time for me.  I said absolutely not, no, non, niente, nix, etc.  He began telling me that I was skinny and beautiful (now I knew he was desperate for a sale).  We went back to the original two items, thankfully.  He finally lowered the price on the second item so that I would get the two items together for 50% of the original item!  When I at last agreed (will you all come to my funeral?), he still wasn’t done.  He said he felt very bad for me that I was missing the chance to have such a fashionable item that made me look so beautiful.  He said that if I would have dinner with him, he would give it to me for free!  That’s when I started to get scared.  I had even told him where I was staying!  I kept saying no, and he finally said, “Why you not go to dinner with me?”  I made up a lie about taking Cosimo and Adriana out to dinner, and he said, “I thought you were alone!” Very affronted.  I said that they were the family of my friend that I was staying with.

    Then he tried to keep the items hostage for me to pick up after my lunch and visit to the church.  He explained how reasonable this would be, and it would have been if I had dared to enter that shop again!

    But his recommendation for a restaurant was right on!  As I limped home, I wondered how he could possibly have wanted anyone of my great age to go to dinner with him.  I was hobbling by that time.  Once up the stairs to my B & B, I had my purchase approved and congratulated by Elisabetta, went into my room, lay on my bed, tried to get David for the umpteenth time on my cell phone (which has apparently succumbed to Italian ways and gone on strike), and finally went to sleep.  I just woke up and it is 7:30.  I am going to go back to sleep.


    Florence:Days 3 & 4

       Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

    Yesterday, as luck would have it, began the first Siberian Wind that Florence has ever experienced. (I made that up, but I’m sure it’s true)  After excavating myself from my bed and into the new Bridal Suite which is (I hope) my permanent quarters (you can see the Residenza Betta on line) and a gift from Elisabetta to the woman she treats as a daughter (me) who is the same age as her mother, I had breakfast.  Determined to be the best hostess ever known, my darling E finally (having exhausted all efforts to serve me a hot drink) offered me hot milk which was a wild success!  My breakfast currently consists of a weight watcher’s nightmare: sweet croissants, nutellla, Italian toast, nutella, and very sour yogurt.  I eat the yogurt out of duty, because it is the only thing good for me.

    I then retired to my room to begin my great writing adventure.  I wrote steadily until I judged it time to shower and wash my hair (about 1 pm).  After accomplishing this, I heard Elisabetta at the door and she said she had made me lunch—definitely an extra!  Two courses of course.  Pasta with tomato sauce and what must have been an expensive steak, cut up with vegetables and drowned in tomato sauce.  I felt somewhat like a stuffed turkey, but still craved something sweet.  Soooooo… was off to the market in the Siberian Wind.  I wore: long underwear, a turtleneck and jeans, a sweater, a wool scarf and my new leather jacket (thank Heavens—I know now I was inspired to buy that jacket to save my life!)  I purchased: look-alike Dove ice cream bars, an ice cream pie, cookies, a chocolate bar, muesli and yogurt.  Oh and pear juice.

    Feeling just the tiniest bit guilty, I ate only the chocolate bar when I finally reached my room.  There, I discovered that my Chapter GOD AND MICHELANGELO just wasn’t going to do. (My editor, dear Lisa Hawkins had already informed of this).  I proceeded to go into a Zen mode where I was totally unaware of myself and took on the identity of the scorned wife, MacKenzie.  I had decided the scorned wife was a cliche, especially a pitiful one, so I was working on making her interesting.  I don’t know if it was the Bridal Suite, Elisabetta’s cooking, the Siberian Wind, or an excess of chocolate, but I worked steadily until 8:30 and surprised myself completely at the journey I took.  I was supposed to go to dinner with Cosimo and the lovely Adriana, however they were late and I was exhausted from my creative ramblings, so I declined and went to bed at 9:00.

    The Great Adventure

    I woke at 8, determined to go to church which is way the heck on the other side of Florence in what looks like a poor district (judging from the grafitti).  Of course, my Italian mama has never heard of this church and looks slightly worried as she pours my hot milkI assure her I have been there many times, and will have no trouble negotiating public transit.  She tells me the (Siberian) wind is still blowing.  I show her all my layers of clothing and tell her I will be okay.  I leave her with a cheery ciao! for what I think is the bus stop.  After half an hour waiting in Siberia, I realize I must be misataken.  According to my watch, the meeting will begin in 5 minutes.  I acknowledge defeat, walking back to E’s and begging her (over the intercom outside the door) to call m a taxi.  Taxi arrives.  Somehow we make it to church on time, though it costs me about $15. We sing all my favorite hymns, and oh how that pitifully small congregation can sing!.  The thing I came for, of course, was the sacrament, and that was lovely.  Then I sat through three talks I couldn’t understand, worrying a bit about how to get home.  I set out, determined to find the right bus stop, but after canvassing two blocks went back into the church.  Luckily an American girl from CA was there to show me the way to the stop for Bus 20.  So. I wait in the Siberian Wind for at least 30 minutes until it shows up.  I get on the bus, punch my ticket properly, and sit down in what I found out later (by deciphering the Italian) was the handicapped seat.

    Our journey began.  At first, I recognized the landmarks I had seen through the taxi windows. I was looking for something that would show me where to get off.  I stood as I recognized the Via Nazionale—the street that goes from my B & B to the center of Old Florence.  The bus wheeled around a corner without stopping and I was thrown back into my seat.  He didn’t stop again until we were in a completely foreign neighborhood.  I was just resigning myself that I would have to go completely around the bus route again and somehow manage to make him stop for me before we got to the Via Nazionale when he stopped the bus in the middle of the road, opened the doors and climbed out, walking away from a bus full of irate Italians.  All day people had been mistaking me for an Italian (owing of course to my classy jacket) and they still did so, expressing their indignation  freely to me in what I am sure was immoderate language.  Someone eventually came and started up the bus (I hadn’t seen the driver’s face so I don’t know if it was him or another driver).  We drove on and the bus stopped and everyone got off but me.  I cowered in a seat out of view, hoping he wouldn’t toss me out into the Siberian Wind.  However, soon we were off.  It began to look as though we were entering the Old City again, so I kept my eyes peeled.  We came to Via Lorenzo il Magnifico.  Fortunately, I knew Lorenzo was the Medici Patron of the Renaissance and no paltry, unimportant street would have been named after him.  This must be near the city center!  So I got off the bus with only my faith in history to assure me I was where I wanted to be.  As I drew my scarf over my ears I realized that about half a mile down the boulevard was my familiar intersection.  By this time it was 2:00 and I was starved and not at all sure what I could find to eat on Sunday.  Upon reaching the Via Nazionale (which is the only street in Florence I know) I resolutely turned away from my B & B and went in search of an open restaurant.  To my relief, David’s and my favorite trattoria was open.  I ate a very hearty lunch, walked home through the Siberian Wind and fell asleep at 4:00, not waking until 7:00.

    Not my typical Sabbath, but at least I got to church!  And, as my husband will tell you, this adventure was completely in keeping with my identity as a Gibson girl.  All that was missing was my sister to laugh with me.


    Days 1 & 2 in Florence

       Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

    Yesterday was mostly taken up with travel.  My seatmate was also from Provo and is a champion speed skater who moved there for the rink.  His world was so fascinating and different from mine (even though he has an MFA in Creative Writing!) that the flight went fast as I viewed videos of past races and heard commentary from Andrew about what each skater did right and wrong.  I must have been inspired, because I rewrote chap one of Crazy Ladies yet again, after the revelation that my main character was boring and wimpy.  I really felt the zen working (i.e. when you’re in the groove, the arrow not aimed hits the target smack in the middle because somehow you are spiritually guiding it by abandoning your normal need to control).

    I arrived at Residenza Betta at four and we enjoyed much hugging and kissing and talking and talking and talking.  I know it doesn’t make a bit of sense, but I felt like I was home.  And again, as I took to the streets and began bartering in the Central Market, I enjoyed  the banter as never before.  One stall owner (call him Mario) was my favorite—such a typical Italian male.  “Oh, Madame, when you were eighteen I am sure you were the most beautiful girl in the world,and because of that, I will give this 20 Euro necklace to you for 15 Euro!  You had all the boys around you all the time, so I will make you a special price.  I will give you these two bracelets for the price of one—eleven euro.  My favorite was, “You are like family to me, so I want you to have this turquoise ring for free!”  I promised I would return with Morgan next week.  He says, “How old is Morgan?”  I say 33.  He says, “You can’t be older than that yourself!  No way!”

    I succumbed to a more serious whim when visiting the Leather School to do research for my upcoming Alex and Briggie book (when I finally finish Crazy Ladies on this trip!).  The leather school is in a beautiful setting—an old Franciscan priory complete with Renaissance frescoes. I watched the painstaking hand work that goes into gilding leather as an apprentice applied gold leaf with little “brands” making a perfect design, and then wiping the unused (but eventually recycled) gold leaf off the coaster with olive oil.  I was a goner when the very classy guide took me into the room with the jackets.  My current favorite color is taupe.  My fingernails are even painted taupe and I had bought a taupe scarf in the Central Market.  There it was!  The most perfect jacket in the world—casual or dressy, one side buttery calf leather, the other side suede  (it was reversible).  And of course it was taupe!  But the real reason I bought it was because I am my mother’s daughter and can’t resist a deal.  It was 50% off because they were discontinuing the line!  She tried it on me, and there in my brown cords and funky orthopedic tennis shoes (silver, pink, and blue) I looked classy as could be.  It was meant to be!  There go my royalties!

    Came back to Residenza Betta to see Cosimo (age24) for the first time this trip.  He has just become engaged to the lovely Adriana.  We talked and talked and kissed and hugged and he has promised to “make me a barbecue” and show me “his” hotel while I am here.  Hopefully we will also make another foray into the country.  It would be great if I could entice him and his fiance to drive to Cinqueterre, my second favorite place in Italy.

    Tomorrow, I make penance by writing all day! (I have spent all my money!)  But I still have enough left to buy the prize for my contest (see last blog).



    My Creativity Touchstone

       Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

    I am off a week from tomorrow for another trip to Florence!  This city which produced the Renaissance seems to have all the elements necessary for my (single) writer’s retreat.  I will be there three weeks and will hopefully finish Crazy Ladies of Oakwood, which takes place there.

    I am also going to be researching a new Alex and Briggie mystery about Richard’s dangerous Florentine genealogy on his mother’s side (Briggie knows his father’s side goes back to the Mayflower but doesn’t want Richard to know, because she doesn’t want to go to a lot of stuffy events if he joins the Mayflower Society.  She still only has her blue polyester suit  and doesn’t want to even THINK of herself in cocktail garb).  For this book, I will somehow have to contrive a visit to the leather-designing district—the most exclusive in the world.  Am also making a side trip to Siena, and perhaps going back to Cinqueterre, my favorite place on our cruise last spring.

    But the main reason I am going is to do a little cognitive rut erasing. (For more detail see blog from two weeks ago on I am no longer a depressed person, but my automatic cognitive responses are set in grooves of an abused person.  I want to reset those grooves (21 days is essential here) to those of a creative, productive person.  Hope to come home teeming with ideas for the future.

    Will be blogging daily and, if I can manage it sending pictures as well.

    New contest:

    Whoever can come up with a great title for my genealogical mystery set in Florence, can win a special prize from Florence’s central market!  Am accepting entries starting now and throughout my trip.  If a suitable title is found (check titles of my old mysteries on my website before I leave Florence you can even choose your own prize!  My new title coming out in April was given to me by a reader on facebook, where I will also post this contest.  It was: Foggy, With a Chance of Murder.



    Here’s My Heart, O Take and Seal It For Thy Courts Above

       Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

    Has you heart ever thrilled at this plea uttered in the hymn “Come Thou Font Of Every Blessing?  Have you ever been saddened by the line preceding that plea?  “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it!  Prone to leave the God I love.”?

    A study of Korihor in the book of Alma can help us detect the modern-day Korihor attacks upon us.  The have a familiar ring.  “And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever man did was no crime.” (Alma 30:17)

    It is very telling to me that Korihor first seeks to attack the atonement of Jesus Christ, the very root of a Christian life. It shows a cunning that reveals to us that Korihor knew right where to place his darts. He attacks both aspects of the atonement in that paragraph.

    The Enabling Power of the Atonement

    According to Korihor, whatever talents or attributes we have are not from any divine source, but are merely a fact of who we are. We see this lie all around us in the form of pride. How many truly great people give the credit for their greatness to the Lord?

    Nothing gives the lie to Korihor’s notion better than the example of the unlearned young Joseph Smith, Jr., raised to do menial work, with only a brief and incomplete education. This very young man was able to translate, through the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ, the most important witness we have of the true nature of Jesus Christ. He could never have written it, much less translated it, on his own. As the years have gone by, the discoveries of modern scholars have proved again and again that there was absolutely no way Joseph could have known even a miniscule amount of the knowledge required to manufacture such a document. Then there is the time element. Sixty days of translating? It truly boggles the mind. Whenever anyone seeks to question the truthfulness of the Gospel, he need only be reminded of the fact that there were gold plates and they could only have become what we know as the Book of Mormon through divine means.

    I have my own personal testimony of the enabling power of the atonement. Before I became dreadfully ill with depression, I was writing columns for Meridian and had published three books, which required a great deal of complicated plotting. They were not great books, but they represented a lot of planning and crafting. When my depression worsened, it was a though a black dutch oven was placed over my head. Everything inside me was black. There was no glimmer of creativity there. And what thoughts I had, simply could not get out of my head onto paper. I tried. I wrote two novels. They were abysmal. I was certain that my depression had taken from me my ability to write. However, when the Lord miraculously cured me four and a half years ago, the very first thing that happened was that I found old manuscripts in various degrees of completion on my computer. One I had started 33 years ago. I prayed hard that the Lord would restore my talent and I went to work. It was hard at first. I had forgotten all the principles I had so painfully learned about creative writing. Through four years, I have struggled with my writing. I know that I am nowhere near the writer the Lord wants me to be, but I know he is teaching me, and that through the enabling power of the atonement, he is making up the difference between the writer I am and the writer I could be. Slowly, the distance between the two is narrowing. He is teaching me line upon line, literally. That 33-year-old novel: The Last Waltz won the 2009 Whitney Award for Best Historical Fiction. During my years of suffering, I had learned the truths about character and morality than enabled me to finish it.

    To deny the enabling power of the atonement in our lives, is to actually be a form of anti-Christ– to believe Korihor’s words that who we are and who we become is solely a product of our own genius. Many great men and women could be even greater if they supplicated the Lord for his wisdom and direction in how to apply their God-given talents. This is what Tolstoy believed. He thought that it was the mission of the writer to ascertain what the Lord would have him write, and then to submit utterly to that direction. As a result, he became an epic novelist for all time.

    Korihor has to believe that there is no sin.

    If he doesn’t believe “that whatever man did was no crime,” things would not work out in his hypothetical reality, because he had stated that there was no atonement. This again shows his basic knowledge of the atonement.

    To fail to acknowledge our sins and to repent of them, to refuse to plead with the Lord to allow the atonement to wash us clean, is anti-Christ-like behavior. We may not believe we have done wrong, in which case, we agree with Korihor. Or we may not believe that there is a power in the eternities tBhat could ever wash us clean. This is also a kind of anti-Christlike belief.

    If we believe in the fact that Christ knows each one of us and loves us so much that he was willing to suffer for each and every wrongdoing on our part, big or small, then we are willing to set our pride aside and plead for forgiveness. We are willing to change our lives, to attempt to, with God’s help, set aside the natural man and pursue the spiritual in ourselves. (Mosiah 3:19) This is what it means to take upon us Christ’s name. This is what it means to be His.Korihor denies the very existence of Christ

    Binding the Modern-Day Korihors

    As our world becomes increasingly secular, it is of supreme importance that we constantly remember our Savior. Each Sunday when we commemorate his sacrifice for us, we must stand clean before Him and once again take upon us His name. When bad things happen in our lives or in the world, we must turn to the Lord, not away. We must seek his direction and guidance and succor. We must use our faith, even if it is as small as a mustard seed, to desire to believe. As we detect the presence of Christ and Heavenly Father in our lives when our prayers are answered or our burdens lifted, we become men and women of Christ. Our faith becomes increasingly stronger, and instead of being secular, contented to live in a world without Christ, He becomes our anchor.

    We are all in danger of becoming anti-Christian merely through complacency or neglect or pride. Let us watch ourselves. Let us continually petition to the Lord for directions to live our life His way, to take upon us His name, and to radiate His power in this increasingly Godless society.

    These steps are the most important ones we can make in our lives.

    My husband and I have been studying the topic of “faith” in great detail.  It seems that the circumstances of our lives have never been easy, and that one trial of our faith has instantly followed upon the heels of another.  You might say that we have been blessed with a “steep learning curve.”  This is undoubtedly because we are 63 and there isn’t much time left!  Seriously, I am sure that the real reason has more to do with the Lord’s desire to prepare us for the increasing trials of the last days.

    A scripture during our study entered my heart with full force.

    It occurs when Helaman is advises his sons Nephi and Lehi before they go out on their missions.  He said:  And now, my sons, remember, remember that is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yeah, his shafts in the whirlwind, yeah, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down into the gulf of misery and endless woe, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman5:12)

    Following this advice from their father, the following event occurred during their missionary labors: And after they had been cast into prison many days without food, behold, [their enemies]went forth into the prison to take them that they might slay them. And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch theat they durst not lay their hands upon them for fear, lest they should be burned. Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned. (Helaman 5:23)

    Now, of course, we may not be in danger of this literal burning, but what about the trials that face us in this day?

    Will they cause us to be "dragged down to the gulf of misery and endless wo? Will "hail and a mighty storm beat upon us"? Will we be shafts in the whirlwind"

    I am using this new year to quietly assess all my values and all the activities that I chose to use my precious time on. Are these activities building my foundation? Are they tied to my Redeemer? Or are they frivolous wastes of time, that have no connection to the daughter of God within me?

    If my life, in every respect, is built upon the Savior, then I can expect to prevail, though the winds be strong, and the gulf of misery deep.

    How do we build this kind of foundation?

    As I attempt to do this, I realize that the first, and most vital key, is to listen to my Redeemer’s words and counsel, whether they be by personal revelation, through the scriptures, or (most often) through the words of the living prophets. My husband I have been doing companion study for several weeks now, studying the attributes of the Savior in depth, and evaluating our behavior next to his. We now feel we need to turn our attention to the great atonement sermons of Lehi, Jacob, King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, and Moroni. These will point the way to our achievement of our goal to take upon us the attributes of Christ. Next, as a companion to our New Testament study this year, we plan to read Jesus the Christ this year.

    In doing this in the early morning, we have found that the practice sets our compass in the right direction for the whole day. We do first things first, and down our list of tasks with joy, because our daily goals have been made through consultation with the Savior in our morning prayer and scripture study.

    When, on the few times that we have failed in this, we found we are blown about from task to task, achieving little, and certainly making no progress in building our foundation.

    The second thing is prioritizing, and this is very important, because we both have ADD. We may get blown off track because our minds skip around so much, but we achieve extra help in staying on track through the Enabling Power of the Atonement (see Bible Dictionary under Grace), which helps us make up for our extensive weaknesses.

    When things don’t go well (as often happens), we look back to the promise that the Savior gave through Lehi (and in many other parts of the Book of Mormon) and know that as we are attempting to build on a sure foundation, we will eventually be blessed, even if we have to go through the fire first.

    For all of us, our lists of priorities will be different. But there are certain things that our prophets have told us must be the same:

     Love of the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength (which entails humility, repentance, prayer, meditation, studying about Him, and accounting for our actions, remembering Him each week as we take the sacrament).

    The second great commandment the Lord has given us, requires moving out of ourselves: raising our families in the Light, and doing our visiting teaching, home teaching—bringing the Spirit of Christ into the lives of those for whom we are Christ’s hands. It also involves service, not only in our callings but "in doing many things to bring to pass much righteousness." Some of us may be ill (as I was for many, many years), homebound, or deluged with business, but if we are prayerful, the Lord will show us how this can be done, using His "enabling power" to increase our personal abilities.

     Our talents were given to us to magnify the Lord. As we spend time developing them and using them to build Zion, we are adding to our foundation, and blessing others.

    As I plan my days with my little computer-generated task list next to my calendar, I pray that I will be sensitive in choosing between my comprehension of my priorities and the Lord’s. I pray that each day will meld me with more fastness to the Rock of the Lord.