LiebsterThanks to Jadi Campbell for nominating me for The Liebster Award that’s intended to recognize up-and-coming blogs! I so appreciate how bloggers support one another and graciously offer introductions to new people. Personally, I’d be lost…slogging in the blogosphere without the help of friends’ recommendations.

Okay, I’m doing an abbreviated version of the rules. The official rules are:

  • Post 11 facts about yourself (I’m going for 3)
  • Answer the questions of your nominator. (Okay, yes…I’ll answer all 11 since she went to the trouble to ask them)
  • Pose 11 new questions. (I’m posing 3)
  • Post a copy of the badge on your blog
  • Nominate 11 other blogs. (I’m nominating 3)
  • Notify your selected nominees, and include links to the originating blog, as well as to new recipients.

ViandenThree Facts About Me

  • I’ve been lucky enough to travel to 33 countries
  • I just got back from 3 months in Germany. Brrr. It was cold! (I live in Charleston, SC, don’t forget)
  • One of the top countries still on my Wish-To-Visit list: Ireland

My Answers to the Questions Jadi asked:

1. Do you want to live to be 100?


2. If you dream that you can fly, where are you flying to?

Well, if I can fly, I’d go to all kinds of places.

3. What is ‘your’ song? Bittersweet Symphony

4. If you could climb in a time machine, where would you go?

2005. (I have my reasons)

5. Do you need a private space to write, or can you write anywhere? I can write most anywhere. When I have a mind to, I can block out serious levels of hubbub.

6. Are there foods you absolutely refuse to eat? Not that I’ve come across so far. But… the combination of herring, onions, mayo and pickles, common in the Netherlands…that might qualify.

7. Do you have a book you reread over and over? I tend to reread sections rather than reread entire books. But one that I did read more than once? Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett

8. What person or past experience makes you sentimental? My father learning all the words to “Con Te Partiro” in Italian and singing them to me for the father-daughter dance at my wedding.

9. What is the best vacation you’ve ever had? Ooh, that’s rough. I’ve been blessed with a lot of them. A few of the top? Italy; Brugge, Belgium; Normandy, France; Scotland; Kenya

10. Do you believe in reincarnation? Nope. God’s too merciful to do that to us.

11. If yes, what do you hope (or worry) you’ll come back as? If no, what do you think comes next? Heaven…across a sea of silver glass…into a far green country. (Anyone get the reference?)

My Blogging Nominees: 


A Dangerous Question

Cornwall Photographic

Question markQuestions For My Nominees: (I’m sticking with my blog theme here)

  1. What cause are you most passionate about?
  2. Why does that cause matter to you?
  3. How do you plan to volunteer for that cause this year?

Actually, I ask these questions of everyone reading this. Let’s hear it!

The Frasier Contest: A Cut Above

MBT frasier logoAs a writer who lacks stashes of cash, I obsessively research which writing contests to enter. And I mean obsessively. One of the suggested ways to lift yourself out of literary obscurity is to enter contests…along with attending conferences, purchasing memberships to writing organizations and subscribing to services like Publishers Marketplace. The choices can be overwhelming and pretty pricey, so I pro and con my way to my best value options.

A contest that stands out? I’d have to say the Frasier—an annual contest for unpublished authors conducted by My Book Therapy (MBT), a writing craft and coaching community for novelists. It’s open to any fiction genre (and even non-fiction, if that’s your specialty). What matters most is how well you can tell a story.

Last year, I entered the Frasier and I rate it with 3 out of 3 stars. Why? Because it excels in the following value-added categories:

1.  Feedback: A contest that provides feedback is worth its weight in gold, silver or any precious stone of your choice—especially thoughtful feedback.

Nothing is worse than sending out your work and hearing…NOTHING. Unfortunately, that’s how it is with most contests. You enter—and if you don’t win…ah, well, better luck next time. That’s it. You’re left with all the same questions. …Did they not like my story? Do they not find the lives of intrepid humanitarian aid workers interesting? …People who risk so much to try and make the world a better place? Did they not like the writing? Do I use too much dialogue? Do they not like smarty-pants heroines? It can’t be true they’re only attracted to books set in NYC. What’s wrong with Guatemala? It’s exotic. Do the romantic elements come out soon enough? Did it hurt my chances that I don’t have a cat in my story? Or that I include military characters and some cool airplanes? 

You see? I could go on and on. I’m a writer; I can have entire conversations in my head. Lucky for us, the Frasier lets you know what the judges think of your work—and not just with a numerical figure. They actually comment!!

2.  Prizes: All entries reaching the final round will be judged by Susan May Warren, the founder of MBT who is an award-winning, multi-published author; literary agent, Steve Laube; and Shannon Marchese, senior fiction editor for WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. These are high-value eyeballs to have review your work. If they take an interest, you know where this could possibly lead! Additionally, the winner receives a scholarship to an MBT coaching retreat, valued at $500. As writers, I believe we should always strive to learn more about our craft. In my view, if you stop learning in life, you’re dead…literally. Wouldn’t it be nice to be part of a team from which you can learn, bounce ideas off of and pepper with questions…and even better—in person? Which leads to point #3…

3.  Community: Writing can be a lonely profession. Have you ever felt like, as a writer, you were out in the snow, freezing your bohunkus off, peeking in the window at shelves lined with published books, where everything seems warm and cozy? Well, the folks at MBT have a way of pulling you inside, seating you next to the fire, and shoving a mug of hot chocolate in your hands. When everyone takes a seat and the telling of tales begins, you realize you’re no longer alone in the difficult endeavor of writing a book.

As Susan May Warren, the founder of MBT says, “…we’re your friends, cheering you on.”

Entries for the 2013 MBT Frasier Contest will be accepted through Sunday, March 31, at 11:59 p.m. The contest is open to Voices members, which is FREE to join. For more information, FAQs and to enter, visit or click on the Frasier picture above.

For any of you creative types, what do you look for most in a contest or arts community? What have been some of your experiences…good and bad?

Diffusion of Responsibility


Photo Courtesy of Watcharakun on

Photo Courtesy of Watcharakun on

Since writing my Modern-Day Good Samaritan posts, I’ve been thinking a lot about a phenomenon I learned in psych class called “Diffusion of Responsibility”. It’s a phenomenon where a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present.

How do you overcome that?

In an emergency situation—say, when someone passes out in public or a woman screams and no one does anything to help—it’s referred to as the “Bystander effect”. It seems, the larger the crowd, the less sense of personal responsibility people feel and the less likely they are to help. The case most infamous is the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese that was witnessed by thirty-some people.

What causes this lockup? It can’t be that all these people are just cold and callous…or brain dead. What could be going through a person’s mind to rationalize doing nothing?

Shock: First off, witnessing someone drop to the sidewalk or suffer a brutal mugging isn’t an everyday occurrence for most of us. (At least I hope not). So, there’s the shock factor of something way out of the ordinary.

Look for guidance: We look around. What does everyone else think of this? If everyone’s acting normal or standing there, not taking any action, then it must be okay, right? You might not understand what’s going on, but someone does. Someone else must be in-the-know. Right?

Lack of Qualifications: Someone else, more experienced in how to handle emergency situations probably did what needed to be done. Or they will. Surely there’s a doctor, nurse, EMT, policeman or military Special Forces in the crowd somewhere.

Fear: We’ve all heard “no good deed goes unpunished.” We could get embroiled in something and get hurt. We’ve watched plenty of TV drama to prove it. Plus, there are a plethora of lawyers making it their lives’ work to try to punch holes in the shield of Good Samaritan laws and sue us for trying to help anyone.

Stranger: Someone who knows the victim will help.

Anonymity is easier. To watch from the crowd or walk away as if nothing’s amiss.

English: CPR training

English: CPR training (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Possible Ways to Overcome This Bystander Tendency?

Purpose: For me, I would think it would start with your worldview. Do you think we’re on this planet to help each other? Or to live for ourselves and simply make sure we keep on breathing? If we determine we’re the kind of people who want to help…well then, maybe we can decide ahead of time that we’d give it our best shot, should such a situation arise.

Recognition: I can’t guarantee how I would react in such an emergency situation. All I know is how I’d WANT to respond. As my mom always says, identifying the problem is a big step. Recognize the situation. Like, “Hey, could this be that bystander effect happening right now? Why nobody’s doing anything? Including me?” Recognize the hurdle so you can jump over it. Moving forward may not come naturally, but if we can consciously recognize a situation for what is, maybe then it will help push us to act.

And helping may not require a lot. It may simply mean making a phone call or taking a photo or leveraging the crowd.

Pinpoint: In this case, it’s not rude to point at someone. If you want to offer assistance and need help, specifically designate someone. Don’t just say, “Someone help me. Someone call 911.” Make eye contact. Point. “You in the ball cap, call 911.”

My husband said that type of pinpointing was part of his lifeguard training in high school. Sad that it took me so long to learn it, too.

What examples do you have of diffusion of responsibility happening? Or its opposite? Maybe you’ve witnessed someone courageously take charge like the folks I wrote about in Uganda? Ever used the Heimlich? Given CPR?


Modern-Day Good Samaritan: Part II

Uganda clinicI forgot to mention in last week’s Good Samaritan post that members of the Ugandan military—toting Ak-47s—accompanied the team vans as they conducted village clinics. Apparently, the local police lacked the necessary capabilities to ensure team and crowd safety at the clinic locations.

So, there’s no getting around it being a dangerous environment. No easy solutions here. What do you do for a woman discovered lying half-hidden in the grass on the side of a remote road in Uganda—a woman whom the locals say is crazy and quite possibly has a serious disease? The vans are completely full. Everyone’s packed shoulder-to-shoulder. (Read Part I: Good Samaritan here to catch up on the story)

Now Remember: this is a team of dental and medical personnel, physical and occupational therapists, plus other non-medical volunteers who stepped away from their normal lives (and at significant expense) to come to Uganda to help others. These are the exact opposite of lazy, uncaring people. So far that day, they’ve helped close to 1500 people, and can expect to do the same the next. These people are intrepid doers.

But this one woman on the roadside creates a unique dilemma that slices deep, spotlighting an altogether different level of personal choice…and risk.

It reminds me of the one lost sheep. The shepherd will always search out the missing one.

No one wants to leave her. Yet, allowing any of the volunteers to stay behind would leave them extremely vulnerable. Let’s face it; a group of foreigners completely new to such an area would NOT go unnoticed. I can only speculate that the leaders in the group—those responsible for the visiting team—would not like their team split apart.

Thankfully, a plan both logical and compassionate is put forth. Another local driver is hired to bring the woman back to Masindi where she can be treated. A few of the team members accompany her, and one, a lawyer from Charleston, SC, offers to pay for the transport. Sadly, a few of the locals watching the woman being wrapped in blankets and lifted up, laugh and shake their heads, as if trying to save her is a waste of time. I can only imagine what they have suffered in their lives to numb them so. Most likely, they have witnessed this and worse.

The woman has severe malaria and without the water the team gave her, she probably would have died before she could receive treatment in Masindi. A blessing of timing.

For two days she is on an IV. One of the missionaries involved with the medical initiative lets the woman stay at her house for a couple of weeks. But it soon becomes clear that the woman does have psychological issues. Not hard to fathom. She is from the Sudan where war has torn apart her country. She has no family left.

Eventually, she is moved to the capital city of Kampala and placed in a psych ward to receive help in healing wounds of a different kind.

The team could have rationalized away whatever alternate course they might’ve taken, but they placed value on each individual…and did not look at her as a ‘lost cause’.

Every person matters—whether you are on the receiving end of hope…or the one giving it. Your choices matter.

Masindi clinicA little about this intrepid group: Palmetto Medical Initiative provides sustainable quality healthcare while increasing access to global medical missions. After construction of the medical centers, they are staffed by locals on the ground, creating jobs in the region and giving ownership to those for whom it is intended. PMI utilizes short-term medical trips to support and gain recognition for the medical centers while they undergo construction. PMI piloted the first medical center in Masindi, Uganda and after significant success, is expanding the model of sustainable quality healthcare to Viejo, Nicaragua. Learn more and/or join a team.

Is overseas mission work something you’d ever consider? Short-term? Long-term? Why or why not?

Modern-Day Good Samaritan?

Uganda signsIf this had been you, what would you have done?

You’re in rural Uganda, in a convoy of 4 vans, packed with 15 people each, on a 4-hour drive from a remote town to a more remote, dangerous town to offer humanitarian services for the day. You’re traveling over roads of packed clay, pocked with divots deep enough to jar your teeth. You share this one-and-a-half-lane road with walkers, bikers, dogs, pigs and oncoming traffic. Oh, and there’s actually a steer (with the sharpest, biggest horns you’ve ever seen) right outside your window. You pass flipped cars in ditches strewn with trash and fear you understand exactly how they ended up there.

To get to your destination, the van bumps along, down into the Rift Valley. The mountainsides, green with forest, gradually give way to tall savannah grass. You think you see a woman lying in the grass on the side of road among the trash. But the van is traveling about 40 miles/hour through a series of switchbacks, so you’re not completely sure. No one else seems to have noticed. Plus, people on the road are walking right by. Surely, if someone were there, they’d stop.

The van continues on its way. You arrive in the small town of Buliisa on Lake Albert and are immediately overwhelmed by close to 1,500 people needing medical attention (50% of Ugandans don’t have any access to any medical care). More people are crossing Lake Albert in paddleboats from the Democratic Republic of Congo—the border somewhere in the middle of the lake. They’re coming to see you, too

After a long day, you’re on your way back to your bigger remote town. It’s dusk and it’s raining. The van slows at one point. A group of baboons sits in the middle of the road. They only grudgingly move off. There! It really is a person lying in the grass. A woman. Not just a pile of clothes. Several others see her this time, too.

The baboons are very close to her. Waiting.

Lots of people spill out from the vans to take a closer look, all while keeping an eye on the baboons that aren’t known for their friendliness. One of the bus drivers translates what he has been told about the woman by a local passing by. “She’s crazy.”

The woman lies there, unmoving in the grass. She’s wearing lots of layers of clothes although it’s muggy and hot. She appears to be between 20-24 years old. She’s twig-thin, her clothes like tent material. The van drivers shake their heads. No room in the vans. Already packed in like playing cards. Also, the woman might have a contagious disease. Who can tell?

Several people run back to the vans for food bars stashed in backpacks in case the need for a quick energy boost arose during the long day. But the food bars can’t be left beside her. The baboons will be drawn to them. Water is given instead. The woman moves slightly—just enough to accept the water.

The van drivers look around, frowning. Darkness is coming. Nighttime is dangerous here. It’s time to go.

This is based on a true story.  I promise to give you the details and what happened, in my next post. But for now, what would you do in this situation? What do you feel right now?


MLKMartin Luther King Day is the only federal holiday designated as a day of national service. I’ve heard it said that it is not meant to be ‘a day off’, but ‘a day on’.

The MLK Day of Service is 21 January 2013—a day when many Americans, from all over the country, focus on serving in their communities, turning their attention to the folks across the street or a few blocks down rather than doing their usual commute to work. Projects run the gamut: from playing bingo with the elderly, writing letters to soldiers overseas to initiatives long-planned and involving large teams and corporations.

Dr. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” We each have to answer that in our own way. But I am happy to say that as I scan the general list of project idea areas provided on the official MLK Day website, I automatically picture people I know who are actively doing just those kinds of things. Keep it up, my friends!

Check out the list for yourself. Find a project or share your idea. You might just get yourself some volunteers. If you do a project on MLK day, the Corporation for National & Community Service would like to know about it. You can send them an e-report during the action or send in a story afterward to describe its impact.

“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Nobel Prize acceptance speech

How to Help Stop Human Trafficking While You Go About Your Day

Pay Attention!

My previous post about the book, Undaunted, garnered questions (and some frustrations) about what a person can do once they are aware of the problem of human trafficking. In addition to signing up for the newsletters of anti-trafficking organizations and liking their Facebook pages, (which can lead you into all kinds of ways to get involved), you can help by simply knowing what to look for. Human trafficking happens right under our noses.

  • Learn to recognize the signs.
  • Pay attention.
    • Notice people.
    • Take a closer look. Human trafficking (sex and labor) can often occur in street prostitution, brothels, strip clubs and massage parlors, but also at truck stops and in domestic service, agriculture, manufacturing, in restaurants and other hospitality and service industries, janitorial services, construction, and health and elder care.
  • Don’t assume they are simply prostitutes of their own free will. Federal law defines the means used, to include not only force, but also fraud and coercion.
    • Many have been beaten and raped until their will to fight is broken. This is still involuntary servitude.
    • Many have received threats that loved ones will be hurt or killed if they don’t comply.
    • Many may display attitudes of disdain if questioned, but this often stems from fear and learned distrust of people’s intentions.
    • Many may not self-identify as victims because they do not know their rights and/or their traffickers have made them think they brought it on themselves, and that nobody cares.
  • Do they possess any identification or travel documentation?
    • Traffickers often take and maintain control of these documents to prevent escape.
  • Do they look underage?
    • Any minor engaged in commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking. Period. Unfortunately, they are often treated as criminals rather than victims.
  • If you work in the travel/tourism/hospitality industry, have you seen him or her more than once?
    • Do you recognize any men or women accompanying them or directing them? Do you recognize their vehicles?
  • Physical signs of trauma or fatigue?
    • Overall health? Bruises? Other injuries?
    • Any tattoos or branding?
      • Some traffickers brand their victims. Note specific markings.
  • Are individuals withdrawn or afraid to speak?
    • Does someone censor or speak for them?
    • Do their answers sound canned and rehearsed?
  • Does their movement seem restricted by another person?
  • Do they know where they are?
    • Victims are often moved so often, they may not know what city or state they are in right now.
  • Do they speak the language?
    • Foreign-born victims may understand only words and phrases associated with sex.

Example Questions For Potential Victims:

  • Is there anything I can do to help you?
  • Do you live here in town? How long?
  • Do you owe your boss money?
  • Does your boss take anything out of your pay?
  • Are you allowed to come and go freely?
  • Are you afraid to stop doing what you’re doing?

**Be extremely cautious if ever approaching a potential victim with these questions…their trafficker may be monitoring them.


  1. DO NOT approach or confront a suspected trafficker (for safety as well as judicial case building reasons)
  2. Call your local police. State you suspect a case of human trafficking. Provide as much detail as possible (ex. location, physical descriptions, scenario that played out to cause suspicion, vehicle make, model, plates)
  3. Call the U.S. National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1-888-3737-888

The above, of course, is not a definitive list. But it should get you thinking. Yes?

To learn more, you may want to read the article I was recently fortunate enough to have published in Relevant Magazine on The State of Modern Slavery.