Your Favorite Drink

For years, I would restrict myself to a light whiskey, a girlie drink as they call it, that has the right proportions of lemon juice; warming, floral bourbon; and sweet syrup to deliver a refreshing cocktail that’s neither too cloying nor too biting. Just what I needed to mingle around with a drink in hand.

American vodka

I learned to drink stronger stuff during my business trips to Belarus. Vodka, the typical Russian drink is not for the faint of heart. In the States, I’ve tried vodka diluted with orange juice and ice cubes, and found it too strong for my taste.

In Minsk, I experienced the burning effect of straight, unadulterated Belarusian vodka. When I landed in Minsk, Belarus, to work as the Program Manager of an American-Belarusian project of demilitarization that included refurbishing an analytical laboratory, I discovered that Belarusians can’t function without a bottle of vodka handy.

Belarusian vodka

During our delegation’s first meeting in the historical Hall of Officers, I presented a ten-minute summary of the project. Later an officer brought a bottle of vodka and small glasses, filled the shot glasses and distributed them. The Belarusian general raised his glass in a toast. “Welcome to Belarus. Moy drouk, my friends, I wish you a happy stay in my beautiful country. Na zdorovie. To your health.” Na zdorovie was the second Russian word I learned after Dobroye outroh, good morning.

The men emptied their glasses in one shot. I swallowed a first sip. A colonel laughed. “Let me show you how to drink vodka. One of us makes a toast. You raise your glass and you swallow it all at once. Bottoms up, as you Americans say.”

French vodka and Swedish vodka

The officer filled a second round and the general stood for another toast. “I propose a toast to the success of our joint project in Minsk.”

The men chorused, “Bottoms up.”

I raised my glass, then emptied half of my drink and brought my hand to my throat. I could swear it was on fire.

Waggling his finger, the officer chuckled. “You cheated. You left half the vodka in your glass. With each toast, you’ll get better.” Toasting with vodka became part of my job description.

Vodka, a liquor usually made from fermented grains and potatoes, has a standard alcohol concentration of 40% ABV in the United States, and 45% in Belarus (or up to 76%). Belarusians drink vodka to celebrate, to keep warm, to treat cough and sore throat. They use it in cooking and pastry. When I got sick during a trip to Minsk, they treated me with six shots of vodka. I fell asleep right away and awakened cured.

In remarks to U.K newspaper The Times, President Lukashenko encouraged citizens to drink vodka (unless working) and visit the sauna at least twice a week to stay healthy. Thanks to their heavy drinking of vodka, only 152 people have contracted COVID-19 infections, with no deaths.

I wrote two books set in Belarus:

Allow me to present my new series, LOVE PLANS with three romance novels released in September and October.

Journey In The Pandemic by Angela Stevens

The Hype

Taking a journey is always an exciting backdrop for a novel. Even in fiction, we look forward to exploring the exotic location and immersing ourselves in the food, culture, and the unfamiliar. We like to see what unique elements a foreign climate will throw at the poor unsuspecting characters, and how they will survive the mayhem. However, when planning my current travel to the UK, I was skeptical about whether I really wanted the twisty-turny plot that the cover and book description (A.K.A The News and Covid) were promising me. Actually, I hoped it would be boring and uneventful. I hoped that, for once, the star characters would reach their HEA (happily-ever-after) in a predictable and timely manner.

Journey

The Book Description

The Hero and Heroine have been watching the news for months, waiting for travel to the UK to open up and stay that way. It has been 3 years since they have seen their family, and there are pressing things for the couple to sort out over there. As soon as things stabilized with travel H and h couldn’t deny their destiny any longer. With flights booked, and fingers crossed, they set off on an adventure with high hopes that their travel would be drama free.

This is the second book in the series, and although nervous about traveling in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world–or at least a popular dystopian plot–the plucky pair are optimistic. Even though in book 1 they had encountered many plot twists–a hunt for fuel, missing planes, a vanished crew, a pilot inexplicably in Wyoming when they were in Denver airport, a case of the wrong paper work, and a weird side story about the perils of the metric v’s imperial math systems and weight calculation, the main characters believed that this time they were prepared for whatever the author through at them.

The Prologue

After booking flights to England, a whole lot of fun and games ensue. Almost from page one, the reader could pretty much guess how this story was going to turn out. When the threat of quarantining for 10 days had been lifted by a surprising early plot twist– those vaccinated now didn’t have to!–our trusty hero and heroine were lulled into a false sense of security. But of course, by the next page, a whole new set of hurdles to jump over were introduced.

Act 1

Our characters now faced three trials to see if they were worthy of the quest. (Have you noticed, all the best stories have things happen in threes?)
Trial 1: 3 days before flying, a Covid test must be taken. The results received before flying (despite tests results taking 3 days or more to be completed!).
Trial 2: a repeat Covid test to be booked and taken within 2 days of arrival. (Not to mention locating the bizarre, mysterious building that the GPS had never heard of).
Trial 3: the hero and heroine must repeat trial 1 before flying home. And they must do so while taking a side trip to an undisclosed destination across the other side of the country.

This didn’t faze the plucky adventurers. They were more than happy to conform. The last thing they wanted was to endanger any fellow passengers or family they might encounter on their quest in England. They took a trip through the CVS drive through, and by some miracle, procured their results in 24 hours. A little too easy, I thought, the author could have created more drama here. After gathering together important secret documents to prove their victory and filling out an extensive passenger locator form, they headed to the airport. (At this point, I suspected that locator form would become a key plot point later, so I squirreled that away, on the look out for when the characters might whip it out and use it to defy the villain, or perhaps the villain would use it against them.)

The characters journey took them to Charlotte airport where they expected to confront chaos and very slow queues. They had been forewarned of such obstructions by an earlier visit to this location. With test one secured in their baggage, they anticipated the next plot twist, so arrived at the airport three hours early.

Balancing expectations

I expected the worst for the characters. The author had already set up a plethora of dangers for them to face. News story full of travel horrors. People being detained in Customs at Heathrow Airport for more than five hours, fainting from lack of air and access to food and water. Two days before flying, another bad seed was sown, severe fuel shortages due to a lack of lorry drivers, should be expected.

Our heroes made peace with their rocky road. After a little wobble, where they doubted their sanity at taking on this quest, they decided there was no choice, they needed to get to the UK and they were prepared to use a whole year of patience to do it.

Plot twists are over-rated

You know when you pick up a book and expect one type of story but get a whole different one instead, and you read that story thinking any minute now, there is going to be one big plot twist and the story will give you what you expected? Well, this tale is not like that.

Arriving three hours early, the characters were through all the new screening processes at the airport, they had navigated the unprecedented short lines through TSA, and they had arrived at the departure gate in less than twenty minutes. After more than two hours wait, they boarded the plane, which took off on time!

Airplane Angela Stevens

I was still waiting for a twist, but none came. It transpired that the plane was quite empty. Passengers were able to socially distance, and used the extra space to stretch out and have a restful trip. On board food was not only provided, but it was delicious, and they enjoyed a couple of glasses of red wine to celebrate.

They arrived in England an hour early.

Aha! Now there would be trouble. The airport won’t be open and they will encounter zombies in the horrendous queues the news anchor man had forewarned us about. Perhaps that passenger locator form was going to rear its ugly head, too.

But no.

There were no queues and no zombies, just helpful staff, and a straight line through border control, where they received a casual ‘welcome back’ from the guard. They then collected their luggage and were at the car rental before the plane’s scheduled arrival time.

I presumed there would be trouble ahead because the heroes had booked a car for 10 am, but now they were two hours early. Except still their luck didn’t falter. Five minutes later, they were on the motorway, heading north on a four hour car drive to their destination.

Act 2

The characters were on the home straight. But avid readers know this is the part in a novel where things go south. Our hero is lulled into a false high. And then things are turned upside down. So, with rain pouring, they set their jaws and kept a look out for the next plot twist. I was sure it was going to involve running out of gas, but as they crept closer to their destination, the ‘fuel not available’ signs vanished, and beautiful rainbows welcomed them.

Act 3

Never happened.

Instead, the heroes headed unscathed towards a HEA. They found the mysterious building for their covid tests and then performed the second trial. And the results came through in less than twenty-four hours. They saw their family and took care of business. The only challenge they faced was rain and they had no umbrellas.

Summary of the Book

Journey In The Pandemic by Angela Stevens is a very boring novel. The heroes arrived all in one piece, with no hiccups, no delays. And they passed the three trials with flying colors. I have my fingers crossed that the sequel, Return Journey In The Pandemic will go as smoothly. Surprisingly, I have found this author’s lack of imagination quite refreshing. Perhaps there should be more stories where everything has gone to plan. And the stars of the novel do not have to go through hell to get their HEA.

Afterword

Joking aside, I want to thank all the people who made our journey boringly quick and tediously uneventful. Especially in these unprecedented times. Every single person we came into contact with greeted us with a smile. And they helped get us where we needed to be. They did a fantastic job against the backdrop of sensationalized news articles, all while wearing masks for our safety. I for one, would like to knight every bloody one of them. Seriously, they all need a pay raise and, if it wasn’t for covid, a great big hug. It has given me a glimmer of hope. The dystopian-esque novel we’ve been stuck in feels like it is almost over. And I am finally beginning to believe we will reach the end with no more plot twists.

For much more interesting and exciting story lines you can check out Angela Stevens books on Amazon, or sample one of her rom-com stories in the Author’s billboard boxed set Cute but Crazy.

A Visit to Vietnam

For most Americans the word Vietnam evokes painful memories, a cherished person gone too soon, and a hateful war we’d rather forget.

Our welcome committee in Nha Trang, Vietnam

I probably would have never visited Vietnam if our cruise ship hadn’t put it on its Far-East itinerary that included five days in China, Beijing and Shanghai, a stop in Okinawa (Japan), a visit to Taiwan, two days in Hong Kong, and two days in Vietnam, before we reached Singapore to fly home.

NHA TRANG is one of Vietnam’s most popular seaside destinations. It offers white-sand beaches, azure and turquoise waters, coconuts palms swaying in the breeze, and gaily painted fishing boats in the harbors of small villages. We took a guided tour to visit the Long Son pagoda, the Reclining Buddha, the Cham Tower complex and a couple of factories.

Long Son pagoda, or White Buddhist Pagoda as called by the locals, is a beautiful Buddhist temple built in the 19th century, on top of Trai Thuy hill. A pair of dragon mosaics stands firmly at the entrance, while lush topiary lines the main grounds.
On the way to the top of Trai Thuy hill, we admired the reclining Buddha statue made of marble. People say that The Reclining Buddha represents the potential that all beings have to release themselves from suffering. The serene and smiling expression of the reclining Buddha statue portrays the compassion and calmness that come with the enlightenment. 
Po Nagar Cham temple complex was built between 8th and 11th centuries by the Cham people who once ruled the central plain of Vietnam. They are renowned for their skills in sculpture and architecture, and left behind a legacy of artifacts and temple settlements not only in Vietnam, but also Cambodia and Thailand.

 

The towers of Po Nagar Cham are square red brick structure with protruding support frames and tapering roofs. Their towers are shrines to different deities. The tallest building, the Po Nagar Kalan, is the most impressive. 
Cri Cambhu, goddess of fertility.
Vietnamese women practicing the art of picture embroidery, at a local workshop for embroidery..

 

A lacquer factory where I bought a gorgeous jewelry box

Our second day in Vietnam was spent in the capital, Ho Chi Minh–or Saigon– a bustling metropolis where bicycles, motorbikes and cars fly down at dizzying speed. We took a walking tour around the downtown.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall
Independence Palace
Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon
Pedicab is a special type of transportation for Vietnam. 

Unfortunately I haven’t cruised for two years. Now I spend my time writing. My latest book is released today. I hope you will celebrate with me and enjoy RESCUE PLANS, book 3 of Love Plans Series.

RESCUE PLANS

To forget the drama that shook his life years ago, Captain Rafael Lopez dedicates himself to his career as a helicopter pilot, transporting patients in need of urgent care. His new flight nurse holds his attention with her gorgeous face, sassy mind, and indomitable spirit.

With determination and a lot of guts, Arianna Garcia survives life in the slums, learns to conquer her fears, and fights for herself. Rafael gives her the courage to break from her past. And Arianna is delighted to be Rafael’s flight nurse by day and passionate companion by night. After meeting a few jerks, she doesn’t believe in crazy promises and sex-driven hypocrisy.

Will Rafael discover the skeletons in her closet, gain her trust, and restore her faith in love?

Rescue Plans is book 3 of the Love Plans Series

The ‘Wake Up in the Morning with a Smile’ Virus

Happiness and goals: these are gifts we give ourselves.


It’s been four years now and I’m still smitten with the happiness virus. Mine is fed by giving in to my love of writing. Such happiness is not to be cured but should be spread. Fortunate is she who has found her love and followed it. My advice to others: if you have something—a talent or maybe just a strong desire—that causes you to awaken with a grin, embrace it, cultivate it, and share it. It might be good for others, too.
Writing is my happiness. Sharing is my privilege. As of December 2012, I have composed four and a half novels (and published two of them), penned numerous novellas, spent a week in and about Greensboro, North Carolina for the sole purpose of research (it’s the home zone of most of my stories), purchased and/or downloaded dozens of research books, and cut and pasted countless rows into my Excel database of storylines for THE FAIRIES SAGA. I compulsively jot random plots, quotes, and themes into notebooks or tap them onto my smartphone, saving them for (possible) inclusion in future works. Writing is still my happiness.

November 12, 2012, after my return from Greensboro, NC

Goals are gifts we give ourselves and my next one is to travel to Australia in January 2014. Part of FAIRIES DOWN UNDER, the fifth in my series, transpires in January 1788 with the arrival of The First Fleet, the ships laden with prisoners transported from England to Australia. I want to endure the climate at the same time of year as did those hardy men and women, touch and smell the exotic flora, tread those historic sites, investigate the museums, and barefoot those seashores. It’s also a great time and place for research since I’ll be leaving Alaska in the icy gloom of winter to spend a couple of weeks in sunny, summertime Sydney.
Give yourself a gift, a small goal, not one of monetary gain, but of seeking happiness. Singing, sewing, serving others: do what truly makes you happy. A song written for the church choir, a cap crocheted for a new baby, a book of poems for your mother, mowing the lawn for the old couple next door. These are simple gifts; gifts to yourself, and also for others.
Happiness is ours to create, culture, and ultimately, to share.

I left room for my mega novel FAIRIES DOWN UNDER, still in process.

NOTE: I originally wrote this blog almost nine years ago. I think it still applies today. Well, except my ‘fifth’ novel is still not written. I skipped past that one for now, but I DID go to Australia for the research! There are thirteen in THE FAIRIES SAGA series now, and I’m at forty novels written and/or published. Do I still love to write? Absolutely!


Doctors in Love 2: Download to your KU Library or buy today for 99cents on a Countdown Deal!