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I Hope You Know

Five years ago today, my dad died suddenly, and we never got to say goodbye. That isn’t fair, but in typical father-fashion my dad was fond of reminding me life isn’t fair, and well, he was right.

And while I will never get to say that good-bye, there are things I hope he carried with him to whatever the next place is. I don’t know how that all works, and I don’t care what anyone says on the subject (my dad included), no one really knows. Among all the wishes and wants and regrets of a grief-stricken heart, I hope he knew how much I loved him. How proud I was that he was my dad. How safe and cherished he made me feel as his daughter.

Now, five years later, again, with no clear sense of how any of this works – if I could make a wish to the universe – there are some things I hope he knows:

Hey Dad,

I hope you know that mom is doing okay.

I hope you know that my oldest, at fifteen and walking the angst-ridden tightrope between childhood and becoming an adult, is growing into a beautiful young woman whose heart is as giving and empathetic as always. I hope you know how much I wish you could give her one of your big, tender Papa Bear hugs.

I hope you know that my youngest, soon to be a decade old, is as ready to take on the world as ever. I hope you know how often I’ve thought of the ways you knocked me down a peg or two when my sass got out of hand, and how fun it would be to see you give it a go with her.

I hope you know that the dream we talked about on those early morning rides, the sun rising over our conversations (by the way, why did all the “dad” stuff you liked to do mean getting up before the crack of dawn?), is coming true.

And most of all, I hope that in whatever way it is possible, you already know all of this…because in whatever cosmic sense I can’t fathom, you have been with us all this time.

For Dad_0002
This picture was on my dad’s phone, taken on one of his rides not long before he died. In a way, I think of this photo as the good-bye I didn’t get.

 

#WordsFirst

Write more

Recently, I have realized something about my writing process. In order for it to happen, it needs to happen first.

Seems simple enough, right?

Why then, do I keep trying to convince myself otherwise? I will settle in for a writing session and think, “let me answer a few emails first,” or “I need to look up the name of that street I mention in chapter 5,” or “a quick scroll through instagram/facebook/twitter before I start” – well, 9 times out of 10, those few emails snowball into more emails, looking up the street name leads down a research rabbit hole, and we all know there is no such thing as a “quick” scroll on social media. So what happens? My writing time gets derailed, my word count goes nowhere, and my frustration with myself soars.

Yet, despite all this, the next time I sit down to write – guess what happens again?

Yep.

This has to stop – and the only way I can make it stop is by following one simple (I won’t say easy, because it’s not) rule: WORDS FIRST.

When it’s time to write, then that’s what I should be doing, period. Anything else has to come later, whether it be necessary (replying to important emails), or not (surfing pinterest for pics of my latest hero inspiration when I’ve already pinned two dozen).

I have to make it a mantra I repeat – words first.

I need to make it a mission I remind myself of each day – words first.

Once I hit my daily word count goal, I can choose to keep going, or take a moment to do those  “other things.” Those other things can wait, my word count can’t.

So today, March 1st, I am launching a personal kick-in-the-pants to keep me on task: #WordsFirst

If you struggle to make time for your story, if you find yourself getting trapped in the same internet webs or falling down rabbit holes, you are welcome to join me. We can kick each other in the pants.

How about you? Do you have any tricks for staying motivated and reaching your writing goals? I’d love to hear about them! Share them with me HERE.

Why I’d Get a Tattoo of a Magical Unicorn

In early January of this year, as winter break was coming to a close, I met up with a friend to take our daughters to see the Disney film MOANA. I absolutely adored Moana’s grandmother, who affectionately referred to herself as “the village crazy lady” and had a beautiful tattoo of a giant sting ray spread across and down her back. Talk about goals! When I grow up, I hope I’m half as cool and comfortable in my own skin.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s been a long time since the movie was released, but to be fair, if you haven’t seen Moana yet, you may not want to keep reading.

OK, you’ve been warned.

When Moana’s grandmother dies it’s sad – of course it is – and of course I shed a few tears. But objectively, from a plot perspective, I understand. This is a necessary part of the hero’s journey. The passing of her grandmother forces Moana into action, spurs her forward. It is later in the film, when Moana is in her dark moment and has lost all hope – alone on the vast empty sea in the dead of night, unsure of how to go on – and the spirit of her grandmother visits her, first appearing as a majestic, dazzling sting ray, sweeping through the water, guiding the way…that’s when I really lose my emotional sh*t. The refrain Moana sings in this scene makes my heart do the squishy joy-sorrow thing and I turn into a sobbing mess.

I saw Moana on a Tuesday morning, and all through the movie I kept thinking of a friend who’d been struggling in a long battle with breast cancer that had recently taken a turn for the worse. She was an amazing person who I’d gotten to know better over the last few years, growing closer as our daughters became friends. She was a wife, a mother of two, a teacher, a phenomenal singer, a woman of incredible strength and unwavering faith. Her life and her journey affected many, many people and against all logic and reason, I continued to believe a miracle could come – would come – at any moment. But it was not to be. The very next day, on Wednesday morning, I received the news she’d passed away during the night. I imagined her, with her brilliant spirit and beautiful voice, becoming a bird – soft yet strong, singing a song that filled people with happiness, her melodies bringing all who listened a sense of peace.

When you’ve lost someone close, there are moments when you know – just know deep inside – they are there with you still. For me, after my dad passed away, whenever I saw a cardinal, I thought of him. He used to love to make cardinal bird call sounds and would “talk” to them, waiting patiently for me to locate the flash of red in the treetops he’d spotted long before they returned his calls with brilliant trills. Recently, I learned that for many people, cardinals are a sign of a loved one saying hello. I had no idea this little red bird held such significance for others besides myself. I do wonder what kind of tattoo my dad would have had were he to choose one – what he would have come back as – and I think a cardinal fits perfectly. He did love to fly, achieving his dream when he earned his pilot’s license.

If I had to choose a tattoo that represented what I would come back as, I think it would be a unicorn. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved unicorns, a favorite childhood book was Morgan Mine and I adored the movie The Last Unicorn (still do). On a regular basis, my children refer to me as a “magical unicorn” and I like what the image of a unicorn represents: a free and independent creature that lives with no regrets, who seeks adventure and only shows her true self to those with loyal hearts – those who have faith. So yes, if I could choose what form my spirit takes after I go – what I’d come back as – it would be a unicorn.

Which is why that’s the kind of tattoo I’d get.

How about you? I’d love to know what you’d pick, let me know HERE.

 

NOTE: When someone you know dies, being there for the loved ones left behind is important, but sometimes it can be hard to know what to do – here are ways to really help.

 

The Crazy Time Traveling Magic of Music

We’ve all been there. You’re driving down the road, or eating at a restaurant, or shopping in a store, and a song comes on, a song that is irrevocably tied to some event in your past and bam! the world fades away and you’re back in that moment…

Maybe you’re 9, and it’s the song they always played at the roller rink. Maybe you’re 13, lying on your bed and staring at the posters on your wall as you listen to the first album you ever bought with your own money. Maybe you’re 16, and it’s the song you always cranked in your car that first summer you could drive.

It could be a big moment like the first dance at your wedding, or a small, seemingly insignificant one, like the song that was always on rotation during your shift at the mall – but whatever it is, you hear that song and you are transported back through time and space, suspended for a few beats in the version of the you that once was.

A song that’s like that for me is CRAZY by Patsy Cline. It was the summer of 1996 (I think, maybe it was ’95) and I was in a college production of Jame’s McLure’s Laundry & Bourbon, playing the role of Elizabeth Caulder. Every night before the show began I would wait alone backstage –  in costume but not yet in character. Then the lights would dim, the audience would quiet, and the first notes of twinkling piano and twanging guitar filled the auditorium. When Patsy began to sing I would walk onstage. As I moved to my place in the hushed dark I transitioned from me to her, from Melonie to Elizabeth, from college girl to lonely housewife. By the time the lights came up and the music faded away, the transition was complete. I was Elizabeth Caulder taking laundry off the line in her yard on a hot Texas afternoon.

Elizabeth and Hattie, gossiping on the front porch. Look up and you'll see the laundry line!
Elizabeth and Hattie, gossiping on the front porch. Look up and you’ll see the laundry line!

 

Elizabeth enduring a visit from the sanctimonious Amy Lee. (played by my future IRL roommate).

 

Drinking iced tea and bourbon (Hattie may have spiked Amy Lee's)
Drinking iced tea and bourbon (Hattie may have spiked Amy Lee’s glass)

 

20 or so years later (God, did I really just type that) I still can’t hear this song without thinking of that summer, of that show. It doesn’t mater if I’m in the car or a grocery store line,  I hear those tinkling piano notes and Patsy’s voice and I’m backstage, waiting in the dark for my cue. Ready to take my place on stage, the sensation so strong I can almost feel the bright, hot lights on my face.

They say smell is the strongest trigger for memories, and maybe that’s true, but nothing transports me back as completely to a specific place, to a singular moment, like a song.

Have a song with the same time traveling magic for you? Hop on over to my FB Page and let me know!

Reach for the Moon: A Father’s Day Tribute

Stars quote 24 Sundays.

4 Father’s Day holidays without my Dad.

I understand why holidays can be a difficult time, more difficult than most other days.  Celebrations marked by time spent with loved ones become a painful reminder that the loved one is no longer there. Shopping for cards, one must do their best to avoid certain sections or else risk falling apart in the aisle. Looking at social media feeds, one must ignore the unavoidable pangs of  grief, and yes sometimes jealousy, from the posts of others who have not experienced the same loss.

This Father’s Day I will celebrate my husband, a wonderful father to our girls. But I will also miss my dad, and the loss that has numbed over time will feel fresh; a re-opened wound, the pain sharp again. Over the last few years as holidays, birthdays, and special moments come and go without my dad, I’ve learned that there  is a salve to ease the wound when it becomes too painful.

Memories.

At my dad’s  funeral, one of the best gifts I ever could have been given were the stories people shared about him. From the touching to the hilarious, the memories people shared  about my dad were like sandbags of grace, shoring up the flood of grief threatening to spill over and wash me away.

So to honor my dad, and to ease the ache I’m feeling right now, on the eve of another Father’s Day without him, I’m going to share a story.

My dad was the kind of guy who never did anything half-way. If he developed an interest in something, he was invested 110%. One of his lifelong passions was astronomy. He was fascinated by the moon and planets and the endless possibilities of space. When I was very little, my dad decided he wanted a telescope. So does the man flip through a Sears catalog and order himself one? No. He decides he’ll build his own. A Journeyman Tool&Die maker, my dad was good with his hands, and quite good at designing stuff. So over time, piece by piece, his created and built his own telescope.

Later, when I was a teenager, my dad revived his hobby. This time, just building a telescope wasn’t enough. This time he decided to build an entire freaking planetarium in our back yard.

I miss my dad. At his funeral, I too shared some stories. Among them was how my dad taught me how to find constellations in the night sky. It’s been years and years since he first showed me how to spot the line of Orion’s belt, or the zig-zag shape of Cassiopeia, but when I look up at the night sky and study the vast expanse above me, I am that little girl again, laying on the picnic bench (that my dad built) and studying the stars… listening to his voice… hearing his stories.

Lighting Up Those Summer Nights

It has been a chilly spring around here… some days it feels like we skipped right past summer and looped around to fall again! But as June approaches, anticipation builds and I dream of warm nights, of sipping wine on the patio, and listening to the sounds of summer. After another cold spring day (it’s May, Mother Nature, MAY!) I decided to get my craft on and make a little something summer-y, a little something to light up those warm summer nights… if they ever get here.

The project was easy-peasy: less than $10 for supplies and definitely less than 10 minutes to assemble.

What you need (makes 2 lights):

Battery powered copper string lights – the copper makes the light cord flexible, so you can shape the light inside the glass, creating the “floaty” effect). I purchased a set of 2 for $8 on Amazon.

Mason Jars w/lid – you need the lid to secure the battery-case of the light string, and it will keep the inside of the jar and lights from getting grungy. You can pretty much pick these up anywhere, from the grocery store, to Wal-Mart, to Michael’s (that’s where I bought mine, half off plus another 20% off, plus I liked the vintage-feel to the lid).

Tape – plain old Scotch tape will do, or you can get fancy with some washi tape. I had some pretty patterned masking tape on hand, so that’s what I used.

So now comes the really hard part – you ready?

1 – Coil the copper string so it is a series of loose loops

2 – Cram the lights into the mason jar

Mason Jar lights off (362x640)

3 – attach the battery case to the underside of the lid (secure with tape)

Mason Jar light switch

4 – turn on the lights

5 – screw on the lid

Mason Jar light night (658x1024)

 

Ta-daa! Now let’s have a cocktail. (If you know me, you know where I stole that from).

 

 

 

Friday Fast 5: Epistolary Fan Fiction, Lists, Book Nooks, Hogwarts Houses, and Big News

It’s been some time since my last #FridayFast5, but it’s a fresh month, so let’s dive right in!

1. With Love, Jordan

Recently in a conversation with other authors about how we first got into writing Romance the discussion turned to Fan Fiction, and how so many got their start there. I never thought of myself as a writer of Fan Fiction but as some of the others talked about the kind of FF they wrote I realized there was a period in my life when I had, indeed, wrote Fan Fiction…of a sort. In the sixth grade, a few of my best friends and I were obsessed with New Kids on the Block. I don’t know if we planned it or did it on purpose to avoid epic battles, but each of us had our favorite.

Mine was Jordan, J1 was Joey, and J2 was Donnie (I am calling them J1 and J2 – partly to protect their identity and partly because they both had the same first name – if you were a child of the 80’s I bet you can guess the name). One of the ways we got our Fan Girl on (aside from spending all our money on any and every teen magazine that featured NKOTB on the cover) was to pretend that we were married to our fav New Kid. We’d write letters to each other from our respective husbands, who were off on tour, of course. So, for example, I would pretend to be Donnie, and write a letter to my wife J2, describing the various adventures I’d had that week while touring such and such city. The letters usually included stories of tour bus antics between the boys, and if I am remembering this correctly, there always seemed to be some disaster involving Danny. (oh, poor Danny)

When I was trying to explain this tween pastime to the group the phrase,  “Epistolary Fan Fiction” popped in my head. And really, that’s exactly what it was. I *think* I may have some of those letters stashed away somewhere (unless I burned them in a bout of embarrassed disgust when I was a few years older). If I manage to dig them up one day, I will be sure to share.

2. Listify Life

It’s no secret I adore lists. So I was excited (ok, maybe a little too excited) when author Roni Loren announced a fun new social media project called #ListifyLife. Basically, she posted a series of topics/questions that participants will answer in list form, with a new topic each week. Pretty stationary and/or fun writing utensils is highly encouraged. This week’s topic was “Books I’d Want to Live in for a While” – and while my answers could probably easily reach double digits- I limited myself to six (that’s all the room I had on the paper).

Listify week 2

Want to jump in on the fun? Follow the #ListifyLife hashtag on Instagram and join us next week for “Little Things that Make Me Happy”

3. From Cluttered Closet to Book Nook

Our house has always been rather anti-closet door. So when my oldest, Miss A, asked if we could convert her closet into a reading nook, I was all over it. Having already spent plenty of time ogling closets cum book nooks on Pinterest, I had some ideas of what I thought we could do. Over Spring Break, we got started. First of course, Miss A had to clean out her closet, no small feat in and of itself.

empty closet (434x800)
Canine photobomb courtesy of Franny.

Next came ripping out the wire shelving. Many of the screws on the drywall stud anchors had been stripped, so this was LOTS of fun…not.

Naked closet (418x800)
Yanking out the anchors led to some giant holes…time to break out the spackle.

 

Painting closet (800x436)

This dark purple was sitting in my basement, a can of “Oops” paint you can buy at Home Depot for $5 (I’ve had this paint for quite some time, so I don’t know if HD sells Oops paint anymore…I hope so, I loved using it for projects!) Next up is shelving and seating – look for a Book Nook Update in a few weeks!

4. A House Divided

While not keen on closet doors, our entire household LOVES Harry Potter. The husband and I spent many pleasant hours together listening to the series on audiobook, Miss A, a bookworm after my own heart, has long adored the series and is a champ at Harry Potter Trivia. As the youngest, Lil’ G was the last to jump on the Hogwarts Express, but in the past few months she has immersed herself big time. She started reading the series on her own and watching the films,  and loves playing Lego Harry Potter on the Wii. I also made the mistake of introducing her to the Harry Potter Puppet Pals series on YouTube.

The other night at dinner, Lil’ G decided she would play Sorting Hat and determine which house each of us belonged in, here are her results:

Dad: Ravenclaw, Mom: Gryffindor, Sister: Hufflepuff, Herself: Slytherin

She actually did a darn good job and we all agreed she had chosen the house that best represented our strongest traits. (Dad is intelligent and logical, Mom is brave and gutsy, Sister is loyal and empathetic. As for Lil’ G, she has always been one for the villains. She enjoys a good bad guy…and frankly, certain aspects of Slytherin House (ambition, wants to always call the shots) are certainly trademark G. So, I guess if we actually were a magical family, we’d have a horse in each race. 🙂

And speaking of Fan Fiction, Lil’ G has informed me she is writing a Harry Potter story, where she is Harry (Harriet?) Potter. Considering her House preference, this makes for an interesting twist indeed. When the Sorting Hat is debating between putting Harry in Gryffindor or Slytherin, he may go the other way this time!

5. SUPER EXCITING NEWS!

A week ago, on Friday morning,  I received a phone call. I don’t think it would be hyperbole to say this call may change my life. I am a 2016 GOLDEN HEART® Finalist! My manuscript, Sometimes You Need A Sexy Scot was nominated for the contemporary category. The Golden Heart is sort of like the Academy Awards of Romance writing for unpublished authors (and the RITAs are the equivalent for published books). This is a thrilling opportunity, as many Golden Heart finalists go on to sign with an agent and/or sell their manuscript. I am over the moon about the honor, and thank my lucky stars to have this chance.  Early in 2016 I decided this was going to be MY year, and I plan to make good on that statement.

So that’s this Friday’s Fast 5! Happy April Fools to all you jerks who like to celebrate this holiday. Kidding…well, except to my carpool buddy who texted me this morning wondering why I hadn’t picked up her kids yet (when it was actually her turn). All jokes aside, I’m hoping to ramp up the consistency…see you next Friday.