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It’s the First Day of Fall and I’m Feeling Lucky (and Thankful)

Today we cross the border from summer to fall; a season so short and so sweet, but so wonderful. Sunny windy days that make me feel like anything is possible. The unique-to-autumn earthy smell of leaves that makes me happy deep down inside. On this, the first day of my favorite time of the year, I am moved to count my blessings and recognize the fact that while September has rushed by in a blur of to-do lists, I need to slow down and savor my favorite season before it’s gone. And while I’m at it, September has brought me some luck I need to take note of and be thankful for, because lord knows I’ve needed a bit of luck in what has easily been the most horrible year of my life. So, here are a few bits of recent luck I’m thankful for:

  1. Not too long ago I stumbled across a shared FB post about an article on Mamalode that led me to the blog of Alison Li. When I read something on-line that really strikes me, I track down the writer’s website to see what else they might have written that speaks to me, and Alison’s honest yet beautiful blog posts about being a writer, a mother, a woman… Well, it was a home run.  So in August when she posted about her upcoming 37th b-day, I totally could relate, as I will be saying hello to that same number in a few months. She was running a giveaway, and of course I entered, and was delighted and excited to learn I had won one of the prizes – a handmade knit purse in gorgeous fall shades crafted by Alma Boheme. Alma is also a blogger, and I soon discovered, another kindred spirit. Just from following that one shared blog post, I discovered two incredible women I can relate to, and won a lovely gift too. Now that’s lucky.

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My prize from Alma and Alison, all wrapped up in a pretty package!

Alma has graciously allowed me to extend a special offer to readers if they’d like a purse like mine or another handmade treasure available on her Etsy shop (she has some gorgeous knit pieces up right now, perfect for fall walks) – you can use this code at checkout to save 10% on your order: THANKS10

  1. I was so excited for the start of this school year, because with both girls in school (Lil’ G started Kindergarten), I was finally going to have time to write! So far, that time has been spent mostly on other responsibilities, and it’s so easy for the writing to get lost in the shuffle. Add to that the paralysis at the keyboard that seems to set in some times. It’s hard to describe, I suppose I could call it the fear to move forward, because to do so would mean risking rejection. But sometimes a little boost comes along to help urge me back on the path, and such a boost came when I was recently notified that I was a finalist in the Indiana Golden Opportunity writing contest. Earlier this year I had decided to stay away from entering writing contests, but the fact that the IGO is set up much like the RWA Golden Heart (which is pretty much the biggest writing contest for unpublished romance writers, for those of you not in the know) – well,  I couldn’t resist entering;  if nothing else, to indulge my sense of  “what if…” And I’m well aware luck as well as talent plays in to these contests. I know so many factors outside of my control can influence the outcome. I’m just glad luck was on my side this time around, and I’ll get back to work using my talent to do what I can about the rest. **ETA:  My entry took first place in the paranormal category!
  2. I’m not just a writer, but a reader – an avid one at that. But like my writing, there never seems to be enough time in the day to fit much reading in. One way I’ve managed to indulge my reading habit while keeping up with the to-do list  is through audiobooks. An audiobook review site I like, AudioGals, asked followers of their website to share their reasons for why they love listening to audiobooks. A few weeks ago my list of reasons was featured, and as a reward for contributing, the lovely ladies at AudioGals treated me to a Tantor Romance Novel audiobook of my choice. I felt lucky to share my love of audiobooks, and extra lucky to pick out a new one! For my prize, I chose the second book in the MacGregor trilogy by Grace Burrowes. And if listening to a romance narrated by a man with a Scots brogue sounds appealing, well, check out the first book in this trilogy: The Bridegroom Wore Plaid.

So yes, I’ve had some recent luck, and I’m thankful for it. There have been many dark, horrible days this year but life goes on, and I have to move past the darkness and embrace my life as I have it. Because I am lucky to be alive, now, in this moment as the seasons change.

I wish you an autumn full of sunny, windy, leaf-strewn days…the kind of days that make you feel thankful to be alive.

Why I Love Eleanor & Park

The time I get to spend reading for pleasure is rare and precious—as a mom and a writer I always feel I should be busy doing *something else* but  sometimes, a book comes along so good it cannot be denied, and everything gets ignored: laundry, word counts, dishes, edits. Such was the case with the book, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. In fact, here’s my tweet about the first page:

E&P lived up to page one’s promise. I truly enjoyed this book in a way my writer’s mind rarely allows me to these days: I became invested in the characters and the story and didn’t stop to ponder how strong the plot was, or if there were flaws with character development…my editor’s brain was turned off and my reader’s mind was turned on. That is the best thing I can say about any book, and I can’t say it often. This book gave me the gift of many “happy reader sighs”—you know, those little coos of pleasure when you come across a particularly delicious passage or a an achingly perfect moment. E&P was full of these, and rather than break the whole book down, I’ll simply share some of my favorites:

My favorite Eleanor moments:

Oh, fine, Eleanor thought. The children of hell shan’t go hungry on my watch.

Oh, Eleanor, how I understand this sentiment. The fact that there are cruel people who feed off the misery they cause others, and knowing you are fresh meat—I get it. From the moment Eleanor expresses this self-aware and droll observation, she had me hooked.

I don’t like you Park…I think I live for you.

This girl, who is so afraid of the truth…so afraid to allow herself to feel…she pulls the rug right out from under you with her brutal honesty.

Beautiful. Breathtaking. Like the person in a Greek myth who makes one of the gods stop caring about being a God.

Her description of Park in this moment…wow. Forget the details of eyes and hair and mouth, let me turn on my internal editor for a moment to say that this is deep POV at its best.

Don’t bite his face, Eleanor told herself. It’s disturbing and needy and never happens in situation comedies or movies that end with the big kisses.

And then, moments later when Park says something perfect and sweet and understanding and RIGHT, she says, “God, it was like he wanted her to eat his face clean off.”  And I smiled, despite the bizarre imagery, and nodded my head in understanding.

Thinking about going out with Park, in public, was kind of like taking your helmet off in space.

See what I mean? It’s lines like that which give me the happy book sigh.

The world rebuilt itself into a better place around him.

This one too. Sigh.

My favorite Park moments:

…because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? and in love?

This was Park’s answer to why Romeo & Juliet has survived over four hundred years…and my former high school English teacher’s soul ate this right up. Yes. And precisely one of the reasons E&P is so amazing as well.

Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly, or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive. … When he touched Eleanor’s hand, he recognized her. He knew.

I spent a decade as a high school speech coach—directing kids in such events as Prose and Verse. If I were coaching now, I’d be all over E&P. This amazing piece of poetry as prose alone could earn a performer the state title, I think.

She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.

***Happy Book Sigh Alert***

Eleanor’s face crumpled, and it made him come unhinged. You can be Han Solo, he said, kissing her throat, and I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.

That’s it. I’m done. Book clasped to my chest, tears wiggling their way free. Damn, I love this book.

Do yourself a favor and read Eleanor and Park...though if you need to get any writing or cleaning done—well, you’ve been warned in advance

Why Fridays Are Hard

Once upon a time, I loved Fridays. I loved how Friday perched on the edge of the weekend: a bundle of anticipation, of fun not yet had,and of free time not yet spent. I looked forward to the Friday buzz, felt it deep down in my bones—the tickle of all the good things yet to come.

That all changed three months ago today. April 26th, 2013 was a perfect Friday. A beautiful, sunny day. The first truly nice day to come along on what had been a  very gray, rainy spring. One of the wettest on record, in fact. My father, an avid cyclist, had been chomping at the bit to get out and enjoy a long ride. That Friday morning he packed up his gear and hit the road, looking forward to his first ride to work of the season. (Despite many protests from myself and other family members, my dad would ride his bike to work when the weather allowed, which was a 30 mile trip ONE way).  I can only imagine what he was feeling that gorgeous Friday morning, the sun warming his back, the wind in his face, as he headed out on his ride. I can only pray his heart was full of all the happy possibilities the best kind of Friday can bring. I hope so with every particle of my being because in a flash, my father was gone. Some compassionate passers-by found him on the side of the road, fingers still gripping the handlebars.

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I was at a Friday writing session with some writer buddies when I got the jumbled phone call from my sister…time slowed down and I could hear the blood rush in my ears as I numbly packed my stuff and headed for the hospital, not knowing exactly what had happened, not knowing if my father was alive.

He wasn’t.

When I arrived at the hospital I was led to a room in the ER, and when they pulled back the curtain I stepped in to the oddly dark and quiet space on wobbly feet. And gazed down at my dad, who looked asleep. Surely, he was sleeping.

He wasn’t.

There are no words for what happens in those first few moments you are in the presence of the empty shell of someone you loved deeply for the whole of your existence. If you have been through it, you know.

Since that Friday, my life was measured in painful seconds, minutes, hours days…and finally weeks as I counted and collected each Friday as it passed, waking up to wonder…what if this Friday had been different…what if this Friday he was still here.

I can remember leaving the hospital and feeling a bizarre sense of disorientation as I drove down sunny streets full of people rushing here and there, getting ready to enjoy their Friday evening. The axis of my world had stopped spinning, and I could not absorb the reality that life was still moving around me, pushing forward as normal. At first I  was afraid to share my grief in public, but in this age of tech-connectivity, getting the word out to friends and family via social media was an unexpected blessing, the warmth and comfort from the thoughtful comments a surprise. I don’t know if I would say misery loves company, but somehow, the pain is dulled when you realize how many other people you know have suffered through similar heartbreaking loss, and have come through it on the other side.

If I’ve learned one thing in the last 3 months, it’s that time DOES NOT heal all wounds. And no, it doesn’t get easier— but you do get stronger.

Last Friday afternoon I sat with more than a thousand other writers at the RWA National conference and listened to a luncheon speech presented by author Kristan Higgins. At one point Kristan described some of the darker moments in her life, including the sudden tragic loss of her own father who was hit by a drunk driver.  Yes, I was a slobbery mess by the end of her speech…but listening to her helped. She’d suffered horrendous loss and yet had found the strength and courage to chase her dreams and create stories with heart and a happy ending.

Yes, Fridays are hard. Some more than others. But the only way past is through, and as I make it through another Friday, I find myself cherishing the wonderful things in my life: my husband and my daughters, my dear friends, my health…and I know that every day is a Friday…perched on the moment of possibility: with memories yet to make, dreams yet to achieve, and love still to share.

***Blogging about grief isn’t easy…after all this a very personal subject, and everyone deals with loss differently. But in those first harsh weeks after losing my dad, I found myself strangely fortified by reading blog posts from others who had lost their fathers suddenly and unexpectedly. I don’t know why, but somehow it helped to know I wasn’t alone. So while I mainly wrote this to post help myself purge a bit of what is heavy on my heart, should anyone out there who finds themselves unable to sleep or think past the immediacy of loss stumble across this post, you’re not alone. You may walk this path at your own pace, and shoulder the burden in your own way, but on this road, you are not alone***

SnippetSunday (11): Soul Searching

Good Morning fellow Weekend Writing Warriors,

I apologize for the added step this morning, but due to a long list of issues: personal, virtual, physical, and digital, I have not been able to participate in 8Sunday for a month…I am happy to be back on board the WeWriWa train, but for now I have ask you to take one extra step –  to view and comment on this week’s snippet, please visit me at the To Catch A Fetch blogspot page.

Thank you!

8Sunday (10): Hello Again

I decided to change my selection for today’s snippet at the last minute. It has been a devastating week across America, from terror in Boston to explosions in Texas. Here in Chicagoland we’ve had major flooding, some roads are still closed near me…that is nothing, of course, when compared to the rest—and I send up a word of thanks for my family and my home…I hope all my fellow Weekend Writing Warriors are safe, warm, dry, and with the people they love.  That said, my original snippet just didn’t seem right for today, so I’ll save it for next week. For today, here’s a moment from the epilogue of To Catch A Fetch, part of a letter Devyn writes after receiving a ghostly visit.

The part of me that remains a skeptic is not sure she actually did visit, Ronan thinks it may have been a dream—I’m okay with it either way.

Speaking of dreams, I’ve been having a slew of them; wild, crazy bizarre dreams full of people I used to know, people I’ve never met, and faces that seem vaguely familiar. Pregnancy dreams, I suppose. A lot of pregnant women say they get them.

I’ve also heard lots of women describe the moment they see their baby for the first time. Many of them say it’s like seeing an old friend. They look into their newborn’s eyes and think, “Hello again, I remember you.”

I understand that feeling now.

 

Perhaps there is no time a good book is needed more than in moments of tragedy and despair…not just to escape reality, but to find hope, and the small sweet pleasure of a happy ending. Take a break from the world and read some more snippets by visiting the WeWriWa homepage.

Weekend Writing Warriors
Weekend Writing Warriors

 And new this week, I am joining in the FaceBook Page: Snippet Sunday.  After all, I do call myself a multitasking maven. Be sure to swing by and check out even more snippets!

 

A Slumber Party in Kirby’s Dreamland

I can’t believe I am typing this, but very soon…I shall be the mother of a 10 year-old.

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Double digits.

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A decade.

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Whoa.

The realization my baby was no longer a baby was recently driven home when it came time to plan the party. My Miss A wanted the hallmark “I’m growing up, MOM” birthday bash: aka the sleepover.

Which I was totally cool with…after all, I had my first b-day slumber party when I turned 8 (I can clearly remember the three friends who were at my house that night, their faces lit by the glow of the kitchen light off the living room where we lay giggling in our sleeping bags (mine was purple with a Lisa Frank bubblegum machine on it).

Considering this was the girl who spent her time in the womb listening to the Ocarina of Time soundtrack (and the first months of her life with Wind Waker) it was no surprise Miss A had decided on a video-game related theme for her party…her beloved pink puffball: Kirby. And thus the concept for the “Kirby’s Dreamland Slumber Party” was born.

Since it was a slumber party, most of the night would be spent eating too many snacks and talking too loud and staying up way too late. But, I admit, my theme-loving heart couldn’t help but put together a couple of Kirby-related things for the party.

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The decorations were simple, pink streamers and pink balloons and a giant pink poster Miss A’s buddies could write birthday greetings on.

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And again, because my crafty soul couldn’t help herself,  the girls started the night with a painting project: Kirby Pop Art. I cut a standard poster board into quarters. The girls drew six panels on their board, painting each panel a different color. Then they used sponges cut in circles to paint Kirby’s body. To finish, some girls made Kirby’s features using black paint, some used markers. The results were pretty cute. and all unique.

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The painting made a fun keepsake to take home, and for the other party favors, I got lucky and found pink “Chinese take-out boxes” on clearance.

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It was a fun, silly, and simple party. And I’m so glad my Miss A can enjoy the things she loves with people she loves.

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8Sunday (9): Chocolate Temptation

Happy Sunday! Welcome to another Weekend Writing Warriors post.

To see the full list of this week’s participant, take a look at the WeWriWa site.

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Before I begin, I need to note that I had intended for this to be last week’s post…when many of us would be waking up to hidden eggs and baskets of goodies (often filled with chocolate). All that chocolate had brought to mind a scene from To Catch A Fetch, involving Rhys and Gabby (the main characters of the second book in the series: To Hide a Haunt. I first did a snippet from that book HERE). Somehow or another, I had thought I was signed up for the 31st, but when I checked the list last Sunday morning, I wasn’t on it…oops. No worries, a missed Sunday here and there will happen, and it’s never a bad time to discuss chocolate, right?

 

Rhys watched as Gabby scooped up some more brownie and held it out to him, “You’re sure you don’t even want to taste this?”

He shook his head and tipped his chair back, balancing on the rear two legs.

“Suit yourself,” she licked her fingers and sighed with pleasure. “Devyn must have really been ticked off about something, she never bakes unless she is pissed—calls it therapy.” Gabby pointed at the pan of brownies sitting on the table,“She saves these for when she’s completely, totally, ultimately, royally peeved…I remember, I had a special name for ’em.”

Gabby leaned forward, palms flat on the scarred wood of the old farm table, her face close enough he could see the haphazard slivers of violet and gold in her green eyes. Her cocoa scented whisper wafted over him as she tilted her head and spoke low in his ear, “Knock You Naked brownies.”

The front legs of Rhys’s chair hit the floor with a bang.

So that’s this week’s 8! I hope you found it tasty. Enjoy your Sunday, and may your spring be filled with blessings. I hope last week your basket was filled with treats…chocolate or otherwise. My Easter Bunny always leaves me bottles of booze, what treats do you most like to find in your basket?

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8Sunday (8): Astley or Ashly?

Good Morning fellow Weekend Warriors! Today’s 8 is from early in To Catch A Fetch, when Pam, Devyn’s boss, announces she is getting married…to a man named Rick Ashly.

Pam glared at her from across the sofa and growled,  “Don’t you ever call me ma’am again.”

Devyn laughed, “I don’t know, it might be better.”

“Better than what?” Pam got to her feet, pillow at the ready.

“Better than being called Mrs. Rick Ashly,” Devyn said, mischief tugging at the corners of her mouth.

Pam narrowed her eyes and took aim.

Devyn dodged the pillow and snickered, “At least you know he’s never gonna give you up…he’s never gonna let you down.”

A muscle twitched in Pam’s cheek, “That’s Astley, not Ashly you know.

Ignoring the correction, Devyn grabbed Pam’s hands and crooned, “Never gonna run around and desert you.”

Hope you enjoyed it! Do you know anyone with a name that sounds like someone famous? (I can’t help but think of the Michael Bolton bit from the movie, Office Space)

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Be sure to visit the WeWriWa page to check out some other snippets!

And on the subject of Rick Astley, from time to time I do game reviews for UbiSoft as a member of the Clever Girls Collective. Over the holidays I reviewed JustDance4…which includes the song referenced in today’s snippet. It’s hard not to laugh while dancing to this song, especially since the JD4 character dances while wearing orange underoos…but we also experienced some screaming, due to a surprise that pops up in the background of the game:

 

8Sunday (7): In Honor of Pi Day

Happy St Patrick’s Day! Yes, it’s 3/17—and as a mom to an Irish Dancer, I’ve been hopping all over the Chicago suburbs, taking her to performances. But I’m taking a moment this morning to slip jig  in here with my eight sentences! (Random fact: did you know the slip jig is called the ballet of Irish dance, and is only supposed to be performed by females?)

Today’s snippet (from To Catch A Fetch) is  in honor of another day in March: 3/14, the unofficial holiday math teachers across the nation celebrate the formula for pi (3.14 and a lot of other numbers) by having students bring in lots of pie.  My heroine, Devyn, loves pie. It’s a guilty pleasure for her.  And she indulges in this pleasure at a place called Delilah’s…here are Ronan and Devyn on their way to the house of sin pie:

Devyn hadn’t been to Delilah’s in more than a month, and once the idea popped into her head, she couldn’t get there fast enough. While she waited for Ronan to take a quick shower, she daydreamed about flaky, buttery crusts and forkfuls of sweet succulent fruit. By the time they got on the road, her taste buds were in a frenzy of anticipation.

“If I gain five pounds in the next hour or so, it’s your fault,” she told Ronan as they wound their way through town.

“And I’m guilty how?” he asked.

“All your talk about the number seven,” she reminded him.

“I don’t recall mentioning desserts anywhere in the conversation, although gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins.”

“I don’t care, one bite of Delilah’s pie, and you’ve died and gone to heaven anyway.”

And that’s today’s 8! Hope my fellow  Weekend Writing Warriors are spending a  very happy St. Patrick’s Day morning reading snippets over eggs n’ kegs (or like me, a dram of Baileys in my coffee). Visit the WeWRiWa site to see a list of this week’s participants...and if you can catch some Irish dancers performing somewhere in your corner of the world today, please do!

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All Things Irish: The Kilt Debate

Soooo…in my first year of teaching high school, my classroom was across the hall from another new English teacher, we were friendly to each other as we stood outside our doors during the passing periods, joking with students as they walked in to our rooms, reminding them what homework was due so they could race back to their lockers before the bell rang. Anyways, I kind of always thought of him as a little bit…snooty? I don’t know if that’s the right word…but you get the idea. On St. Patrick’s Day, he came to school dressed in a kilt (alas, not as sexy as it sounds) and I was curious. “A kilt for St. Pat’s?” I asked. “I thought Scots wore the kilts.” He looked across the hall and down his nose at me and said, “Oh no, the Irish wore them first. This pattern has been in my family for ages.” I wasn’t so sure about that…but the bell was about to ring, and as I didn’t care to get into a kilt debate, I shrugged and said, “Cool.”

I had pretty much forgotten that discussion until the subject of kilts came up last night.  A commercial for “Celtic Thunder” flashed across our t.v. screen and the following conversation with my husband occurred:

Husband:  Oh, Celtic Thunder, you saw that group, right?

Me:  (looking up from my Twitter feed)  Huh? What group?

Husband: Celtic Thunder, the strippers.

Me: I don’t think Celtic Thunder is a strip act.

Husband: You saw it with your friends, remember?

Me: You mean Thunder Down Under?

Husband: Right.

Me: (Now thinking about this…) I think I like your idea better. Male strippers wearing kilts sounds good.

Husband: Kilts turn you on?

Me: Um…yeah?!?

I did not realize my husband didn’t know this about me…of course, it’s not like I go around ogling kilted men on a regular basis (though if given the opportunity…)

Which is why it was extra funny a friend on FaceBook posted an ad for THIS COMPANY today. They don’t offer service in my area (yes, I checked) but I still think it’s a hilariously awesome idea. If you are lucky enough to live in area they do have a franchise, I hope you hire them…and send me pictures.

Ok, but back to the kilt debate. So, the whole conversation about kilts reminded me about Mr. McSnooty, the kilted teacher across the hall.  I thought kilts would make a fun All Things Irish post…but my doubt about the veracity of his claim was still there…so I did a bit of Googling – and whaddya know – I WAS RIGHT.  The Irish were not the first to wear the kilt, nor were kilts ever an actual part of historical Irish dress. The patterns of today’s “Irish” kilts were created, for the most part,  by tourist companies looking to sell more crap.  If you want to see more heated Irish/Scottish kilt debate – check out THIS FORUM THREAD on Amazon, of all places.

So take that and smoke it in your peat fire mister.

And stop wearing your kilt on St. Patty’s Day—you look like an eejet.

Sidenote…if you (like me) find kilted men to be attractive (usually), you might want to check out this Tumblr feed, the title says it all: Men In Kilts.