Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books of 2013

In 2013 I set a goal via Goodreads to read 25 books during the year. I had never really set a goal like this before and wasn't sure how high to set my goal. As a kid, I read a ton, but it has scaled back a bit as an adult. So I figured an average of two books a month sounded doable. I am proud to say that I blew my goal out of the water. I read 39 books (and reread about five books that don't count in that total).

I thought it would be fun to review the books I read in 2013.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Simply magical. If you liked the movie, if you like fairy tales, if you like The Princess Bride, you'll love it.

Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard. It took me quite awhile to read this behemoth but I really enjoyed it. A classic sci-fi novel for fans of the genre.

The Selkie Spell by Sophie Moss. It was a fun an easy read and not what I expected. There are two more books in the trilogy and I need to read them. I am a sucker for legends and for all things Irish and this book combined both. It was great fun to discover a mystical creature/legend I was unfamiliar with. Yet this book doesn't really feel like a paranormal/fantasy story to me, just a new angle on a romance.

Bossypants by Tina Fey. Anyone who appreciates Tina's humor should read this. Every woman should read this. Every man who loves a woman should read this. Pretty much everyone.

Lust, Money, & Murder #1 by Mike Wells. I'm an indie author and feel like it's my duty to read other indie books. This one didn't pan out so well. Very short and incomplete. But, hey, it was free.

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch. This was an impulse buy on the Kindle Daily Deal and I struck gold. Fascinating historical fiction. Anyone who loves Europe in the middle ages or has a curiosity for the macabre, this story of a town executioner is simply a gem.  There are more books in this series that I need to explore.

The Infernal Devices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare. LOVED this series. My new favorite books. As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I loved the demon-hunting half-angels and as a historical fiction buff, I loved the Victorian setting. And as a romantic, the love triangle in this series is the epitome of all love triangles EVER. Good stuff.

The Mortal Instruments #1-5 by Cassandra Clare. These were a frustrating and inferior companion series to The Infernal Devices, but I read them all anyway, mostly because I was killing time waiting for the third book of The Infernal Devices to come out. They hardly seem written by the same author.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I'm a fan of her humor blog. The book was a lot more serious than I expected, but more life-affirming and insightful than I expected. Still funny.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver. I listened to this audio book and only sort of liked it. I am kind of burned out by dystopian fiction. This premise wasn't enough to keep my attention. Even though it ended on a cliff-hanger, I wasn't interested enough to seek out the next book. To be fair, I always struggle with audio books.

Motherhood - the Second Oldest Profession by Erma Bombeck. I love me some Ms. Bombeck. I didn't think this was her strongest collection of essays but they were all new to me and I giggled through it all.

Charly by Jack Weyland. I'd read this as a teen and found it again. Even cheesier but still has a place in my heart.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. An interesting story. The narrator's voice and the writing style of the book will stay with me. The climax of the book wasn't life-changing for me. I haven't seen the movie, but was somehow disappointed a bit by the book. I thought it would be more powerful. Still worthwhile.

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer. I read this as a form of research as I was writing my seafaring novel. There isn't really any comparison between this book and mine except they both happen at sea. This book is so fun and colorful. There are more in this series that I need to read.

Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth. I started Divergent with a bad attitude - I was sick of dystopian fiction. It started out so similar to The Giver by Lois Lowry which is dystopian at its finest, but after a few chapters, I was sucked in and could not longer compare it to The Giver. I loved the first two books and the love story was fresh and engaging. I feel the third book jumped the shark.

Looking for Alaska by John Green. Loved this book. I haven't recommended it to too many people because of the language and the frustrating ending. Some people I know can't stand endings like that. I sort of relish them. This book made a great impression as a reader and as a writer and I won't ever forget it.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. While I don't feel that it is as powerful as Looking for Alaska, it is more accessible and sweeter. I think it sits better with the audience. I've recommended this one more. I also really love the title.

A Song of Ice and Fire #1-5 by George R. R. Martin. These books are powerful and fantastic and I loved every single word of them. I haven't been so engrossed in a series since maybe Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. They are meaty and visceral and real and so multi-faceted. True brilliance. I am careful about my praise and recommendations though as they are full of bad language and bad deeds. I am infinitely frustrated that there is no real timeline for the rest of the series. Write swiftly, Mr. Martin!

The Selection and The Elite by Kiera Cass. While I thought these books were sorta cheesy, I also devoured them and couldn't put them down. The Hunger Games meets trashy Bachelor reality TV. A perfect indulgence. A great series for traveling or a beach read.

Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly. A nonfiction book about pirates in the Caribbean. Very interesting subject matter. Very engrossing for nonfiction. I'll read it again.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I needed to read this classic. I think it will stay with me a for a long, long time. I am glad I read it before watching the movie. I very much liked it (though not loved) and will recommend it to others.

Dead Sea Games: Adrift by J. Whitworth Hazzard. I read this as part of an indie reading challenge. The zombie genre doesn't appeal to me and I doubt I would've picked up this book without be "assigned" to read it, but it was really great and I am so glad I read it. Very fun.

Minstrel by Marissa Ames. Another indie book. Meatier than I expected. And for "fantasy" it didn't really feel fantastical. Very accessible and real. Looking forward to the next in the series.

Drawing Breath by Laurie Boris. I read this indie gem yesterday in about two sittings. Surprisingly poignant and gripping. If you're bothered by shady morality, you might not get past some of the motivations of the characters to see the great storytelling.


And in case you are curious, my 2014 goal will be 45 books. Read on!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Picture Catch Up

It's been a few months since I've downloaded pictures from my cameras. Here are some pictures from the last few months.



Cousin sleepover

Cute Noelle rocking the shades

Zoo with cousins

Yellowstone




Elk rut at Yellowstone

Yellowstone

32! 

Joci was in charge of decorating my cake

Halloween - 20's flapper

Joci did a cheer camp earlier this December. She loved it and had a lot of fun learning the cheers and performing at a local high school basketball game half-time. 


One of my SD cards had this old picture of my parents and nephew from 2011 at Nielson's Frozen Custard.

Another older photo of cowgirl Joci playing with Lincoln Logs

Look how tiny Noelle was. And how bald!

Christmas 2013

Noelle enjoying her loot

Joci admiring her favorite gift



Monday, December 2, 2013

Will It Always Be Like This?

I am still very sad about losing my mother last December. I am in denial about it many days. I think back to that day in the hospital, holding her hand as her fingernails turned blue and the beep-beep-beep of her machines sped up rapidly then stopped and it doesn't seem real.

I am dreading December 7, 8, and 9th. How can I relive those days? The day I heard she had gone into the hospital...I was sick with worry...texting furiously with my siblings and the news kept getting worse. I couldn't sleep and decorated my Christmas tree in the middle of the night to keep my mind busy. It worked in the moment but at what cost? Will I ever be able to decorate a tree again? December 8...flying to see her and learning, realizing that I would never speak to her again. I would never know her last words. I would be motherless. And December 9, the date on her stone. The date she died. That day was actually easier than the previous two, strangely.

And I get to go through it. And the holidays. People say the first year with all holidays and milestones are the hardest. That's probably true. But that implies that it gets easier, that it gets less. I am also dreading the year mark because it somehow puts an expiration date on my grief. Even now...if it somehow comes up in conversation and I say, "My mother recently died" and a person asks when and I say, "Last December," the sympathy I get is so much less than when when the answer was, "Last month." But the truth is that the pain an emptiness isn't easier now than it was a year ago. Not at all. Not at all. And I am not supposed to suffer from it any more. People don't want to hear about it anymore. I shouldn't be crying like this anymore.

It's why I haven't blogged much in the past year. I used to blog several times a week. I just don't anymore because anytime I scratch away the superficialness of my life, all there is is this gaping grief over my dead mother. People don't always get that either. They ask about details, how old she was. They are sympathetic when they hear her death was unexpected, but that sympathy wanes when I say she was 70. Like, that's sort of expected, it's not all that tragic.  I get it. Logically, I get it. But I can't move on from it. I still feel like her death was this giant injustice. I feel like my father remarrying was a shattering betrayal. And why do all these thoughts come at 1:33 in the morning so I'll have a crippling "cry hangover" in the morning?

My sweet Jocelyn, my sweet baby who carries my mother's name, speaks of Grandma Normandie daily. She says and asks the most beloved things. After praying about Grandma to God one night, she turned to me and said, "When will Grandma be done being dead and come back?" Those moments just turn to me mush and make the tears flow because I feel the same way. Today I mentioned that I was worried about the weather because it looked like it might storm. She told me she was worried, too, it might rain, and Grandma Normandie would get rained on because Joci was pretty sure there weren't houses in heaven.

This tidal wave of emotion just slammed into me today when I switched the calendar to December. Is it always going to be like this? I hope not because wow this hurts...and I hope so because if it ever stops hurting, does it mean I've started forgetting?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Past

As I was making pies Wednesday night and cooking up a storm Thursday, I couldn't help but remember the first Thanksgiving Justin and I spent alone together.

It was the second of our marriage. We were living in Moscow, Idaho, attending the University of Idaho. We didn't have enough money or vacation time to go to either of our faraway homes (both were a 9+ hour drive away) and I was working in retail with Black Friday the next day. And since I was adventurous in the kitchen, I decided to cook Thanksgiving dinner for only the two of us.

I don't remember everything about that day. I do remember that a grocery store sold the back end of turkeys--the thighs and legs--which was great because we both love dark meat and we cooked those small little half turkeys all the time, so that wasn't a big deal.

I remember the pumpkin pie being a big deal. It's Justin's favorite. And when I went to make it, I only had sweetened condensed milk, not evaporated milk. I went out shopping and every store was closed. I even tried every open gas station in Moscow. Big surprise, no gas station carried evaporated milk.

We called Justin's grandmother who told us how to modify our recipe so we could use our sweetened condensed milk (too bad Pinterest didn't exist then or I could've probably figured it out). And I also remember nothing being done at the same time. The potatoes were cold by the time the turkey was ready. And when we cut into the turkey, it was still pink and bloody inside. It went back in the oven. We microwaved the potatoes and yams and tried again. The turkey was still undercooked. We finally had to just microwave the turkey.

It was just the two of us, figuring it out together. A perfect memory of our early marriage. But now I can make the whole feast for fifteen timed perfectly!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Write a Book



Take 26 letters.

This concept amazes me. Oh, how I love language.


Spend 2-3 hours a night arranging those 26 letters in a hundred million different ways. Add sleepless nights. Listless days. Countless hours of staring into space. Add genuine tears—sometimes tears of frustration, tears of self-doubt, tears of happiness, love, and sadness. Then delete a great deal of those 26 letters you’ve arranged so painstakingly and begin arranging again. Add a sliver of your soul, a pinch of your passion, a good deal of your own dreams and desires. Do this, every day, for hours. Repeat for months and even years.


And then you’ll have written a book. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Guest Post by Author Marissa Ames

Since becoming an independently published author last year, I have crossed paths with some pretty great people. I think indie authors are pretty awesome people - they march to the beat of their own drum, play by their own rules, and truly support and promote the art of writing and the world of literature. Marissa is one of those people. She reached out to me and made me see that being "independent" did not mean being "alone."

Marissa Ames
   
Her first novel Minstrel debuted the beginning of this month (my copy just arrived today!) and I was lucky enough to interview her. She has also put out a companion short story called "Darrion."

Tell me about Minstrel. Minstrel is the first of about 6 or 7 planned books that tell the story of Tir Athair and its conflict with Tir Saoirse, from the viewpoints of different characters. Minstrel tells the story of the start of the civil war, from the viewpoint of a court minstrel who gets way too involved in royal politics. 

Arriving in the royal city of Cynegil just after the good king’s death, Liam and his traveling troupe face arrest for entertaining during a time of mourning. The new king, Riordan, offers them a choice: play for the court as he demands or be punished for the crime. With little recourse, they acquiesce. While the troupe entertains within the hall, Liam witnesses the dissension between the king and his twin brother, Shamus. When Shamus enlists Liam to record the kingdom’s history from his own viewpoint, the king becomes suspicious. And when Liam becomes involved with Molly, the mysterious redheaded washerwoman, and Tristan, the royal soldier with a deadly secret and a skill for causing unfortunate accidents, his life becomes even more complicated. As the kingdom staggers beneath drought, famine, and conflict, Liam and Shamus must flee Cynegil with prices on their heads. Will they survive their journey or will they become just another ballad to be sung? 

Tell me about yourself. I grew up in Salmon, Idaho, where the movie theater played the same movie for two weeks. We could either get in trouble or build our talents. So I wrote my first novel when I was 12 years old. I'm not saying that novel is good! Everyone has to practice. Now I live in Reno, Nevada, with a husband, two children, and an entire urban farm. When I'm not working my day job or taking care of the family, I spend way too much time on Facebook or in my imaginary worlds. Why did you choose this genre? I've been a fantasy geek for my entire life, and I've been fascinated with medieval times since I was a child. When I was a teenager, it was a geeky obsession that drove my mother crazy. I actually listened to cassettes of Irish drinking songs while other teens listened to Metallica. I even gathered rocks in my dad's 2-acre horse field to build a castle, but got distracted after earning the money to buy the cement. (I wonder what dad ever did with that cement.) As I matured, my obsession waned but the interest and knowledge I collected is still there. 

What inspired this story? About ten years ago, I wrote a story that took place in Tir Athair. The conflict between the two kingdoms was such an integral part in the story that I felt I needed to tell the story of how it all got started. Since I like to tell stories of greatness from the viewpoint of someone who isn't stereotypically great, I needed a main character who could give me that insight. While listening to a song by the band Blackmore's Night, I had the idea to make my main character a minstrel. 

What would you say to someone who generally isn’t drawn to fantasy to give Minstrel a try?
It's a very character-driven story, with a lot of moral themes. Also, I like to refer to it as "low fantasy." There aren't dragons, magical orbs, or cataclysmic events. It's about normal people trying to survive.

At what moment did you like your main character least? In the first third of the book, before Liam starts getting in trouble with the crown, he and the other members of his troupe have a "falling-out". I've heard it said that everyone who is offended, and reacts in anger, feels he's justified in his actions. Liam has some of those moments. As we all learn, we're not always right when we react this way. 

At what moment did you hurt for your main character the most? At the risk of giving away the plot... Halfway through the book, when Liam leaves the city with the prince, he leaves behind something that's very important to him. When he returns for it, he learns that it's no longer his. 

What are some of your favorite books, authors, TV shows, movies and/or influences? 
Tamora Pierce was my favorite author growing up, and her books helped instill a sense of self-worth with her girl-empowering fantasy stories. I loved how Dragonlance focused on individual characters while telling an epic story, and I admire how Jim Butcher instills so much humor and character into The Dresden Files. As far as TV and movies, I'm a sucker for the fantasy series that throw in a huge amount of character development instead of relying on swordfights and pretty dresses. The Walking Dead is great for that. It's not about the zombies; it's about the characters. 

Fill in the blank—if you like _____________ you will probably like Minstrel. 
If you like Tamora Pierce, but don't want to stick to teenage characters. 
If you like your George R.R. Martin to be toned down just a little... 
If you like historical fiction and medieval times, but aren't fussy about the details or the artistic license.




I got my copy of Minstrel today. I have a lot on my to-do list, so I told myself I would only read the first chapter. Well, three chapters later, I finally had to pry myself away and get back to reality. So now the really important stuff, where can you get your copy? Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It's available in print and in e-book format. Remember on Amazon, you can see the first few chapters for free, but I think you'll end up buying it.

Follow and support Marissa here:
blog: www.marissaames.com
Twitter: @MarissaAmes
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MarissaAmesAuthorAndArtist

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Super Prestigious Interview About My New Novel

As I was sitting down to blog about my book, I was thinking what I wanted my few and precious readers to know and I thought it wasn't too bad that there wasn't some insightful interviewer to just ask me all the right questions. But then I decided that *I* could be that interviewer. (I swear, I do not have multiple personality disorder. I've been tested.) So here you go...an exclusive interview by yours truly!




Give us a brief synopsis of the book. It picks up not too long after Oceanswept ends, with Tessa and Nicholas heading to St. Kitts so Tessa can be reunited with her father. We know this is risky because Nicholas is/was a pirate and Tessa's father basically hunts pirates. As expected, when they get to St. Kitts, things don't go as planned. Tessa meets a man named Emilio De Luca who is romantically interested in her. We meet a young woman named Meg who has ties to piracy as well. And Skidmore makes a return. There is sailing and daring adventures. All you loved about Oceanswept and more.

The synopsis talks about a handsome baron. Tell me about him. Emilio De Luca is kind of a fun character. He's actually an Italian, so his title is irrelevant in the English colonies. He's a hard worker and kind of a visionary and has made a fortune in sugar cane. He has a lot of tenacity and a really, really good heart. Very thoughtful kind of guy. He falls for Tessa and befriends Nicholas. He shares a lot of qualities with both Tessa and Nicholas. Like Tessa, he's sick of societal expectations. Yet like Nicholas, he is very used to getting his way and in a way lacks empathy because of that.

So are we going to pulled into a love triangle? You could say that. Or maybe a love rectangle. :) We have Tessa and Nicholas who are in love with each other. Then we have Lord De Luca who falls for Tessa. And then we have Meg who is a former flame of Nicholas who wants him back.

There are a lot of romantic entanglements. I was furious at both Nicholas and Tessa several times. I wanted to portray their romance realistically. He's not had a lot of emotional development, considering his childhood. And Tessa's never truly been in a real relationship before. There's a breakdown of communication and a lot of issues with pride. These are two of the biggest plagues in any relationship in the history of the earth. They are these fun, adventurous fictional characters, but they make very real mistakes and react in very real ways. I remember writing some of their scenes and just being depressed. A friend even asked me why I seemed so down and I said, "My characters are fighting." So it gets to me too - I got furious at them as well. :)

You killed off a character! Yes. I am curious to hear reactions from my readers. My beta readers were all pretty shocked. I think the how of the death is just as shocking as the death itself.

I thought Captain Black would play a bigger role in Undertow. His time "onscreen" is small, but his influence is pretty big. I just had to remind readers that he was there because he is going to make a big splash in book 3.

All the characters are showing more depth. What did you learn about them when writing their story? Nicholas seems so sure of himself, so self-possessed. But we some some fissures in his swashbuckling character. He wasn't loved or nurtured as a child. They are emotions he doesn't really trust nor find himself worthy of. And his past acts of piracy haunt him. He recognizes some of his flaws. He can be self-aware. He knows he's rash and selfish. He tries to work on that.

Tessa. Well, Tessa is an interesting study. I believe in promoting strong female characters - but I also want to be realistic, considering the time period. We see a lot of weakness in Tessa. She is more wishy-washy than you'd think. She developed this devil may care attitude in Oceanswept but we get her to St. Kitts in a posh mansion with a handsome man courting her and her father expecting her to behave certain ways, and she just slips back into the mold she had broken out of. It's frustrating. But external events in Oceanswept kind of forced her to find her strength. In Undertow, she has to find it again, but it's her own decision and on her own terms.

Any teasers from book 3 that you can share? I am 90% sure I have a name, but I won't release that yet. We will really see Tessa step up and being a formidable force, totally taking charge of her future, and learning from past mistakes. At one point she even teams up with Captain Black to accomplish what she wants. There's a surprising dynamic with Captain Black and Tessa that develops. And we still have our romantic messes with Nicholas and Emilio. That's what makes a romance fun!

Thanks for your time. It's been great interviewing you. Oh, no problem. Anytime. Seriously. I am always here.



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Undertow - Book 2 in the Oceanswept Trilogy



My second book will come out Amazon.com on Wednesday, November 6. I chose this date to honor my mom because it is her birthday. I would never have had the courage to write books - and publish them independently - without her faith in me.

I don't have a solidified synopsis of the book yet, but here's something I've been playing around with (hey, I still have 24 hours to work it out, and that is how I roll).

The life she always thought she would have…or a new life she is just starting to imagine? Two paths lay before Tessa Monroe as she finally arrives in colonial St. Kitts with her dashing rescuer, the former pirate Nicholas Holladay. Everything should be perfect, but her worlds are colliding.

In the spellbinding sequel to Oceanswept, Tessa finds a tempting new future with a handsome baron unfolding before her on sunny St. Kitts and Nicholas finds that the path he was so eager to leave behind isn't quite through with him yet. 


Let me tell you, I am very excited for this installment. Tessa and Nicholas both go through a lot and grow a lot. 

This book will be available November 6 on Amazon.com with other platforms and a printed copy to follow within the next 60 days. 

And if you didn't know, I also have a new Oceanswept Chronicle out (these are short stories that supplement the novels - just a bit of an "editor's cut," if you will) called "Stowaway." It is actually a sneak peak at Undertow, so if you just can't wait until Wednesday, be sure to read it. :)


And as always, your honest reviews on Amazon.com, Goodreads, and other platforms are greatly appreciated. 




Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Birthday Stream of Consciousness

So I had a birthday. I knew it was going to be a good one because in the first few minutes of my day, I won a level of Candy Crush. And there were really good songs on the radio. And the baby didn't take her shoes off in the car. That was a birthday miracle in itself. My friends decorated my cubicle and it made me so happy. I had to snip through streamers to see my computer monitor and I felt evil doing that. I got a munny vote in the Monday morning meeting and that was enough for me because even one vote is a rarity. And suddenly I had three votes. Then four. Then it was a tie with Chris and we had to go heads down and I won the tie. Probably because it was my birthday, but I won the little Munny for the week. Actually, this makes two weeks in a row.

We went to my birthday lunch at a place called Happy's and how can you not be happy at a place called Happy's? If Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, it should be called Happy's. Or Happyland. Like, who names the happiest place on earth after themself? Zierkeland? Yeah, that sounds harsh and cold and trippy. Probably because German last names all sound so aggressive and whimsical at the same time. I forgot to bring my leftovers home. They are still in the work fridge. At least I think they are. They could've been cleaned out. I'll still eat them. I'm totally okay with 4-day-old leftovers but I know some people aren't. I'll probably be judged. My dad texted and called and it was short and superficial, but at least it happened, right? And I knew it was my first birthday without my mom, and I thought I was ready for it, but the emptiness kept creeping up on me. My half-brother texted me. We texted back and forth a bit. We've never done that before. It wasn't superficial. I need to do better with my half-brothers.

I left work early to go read in the park with the fall leaves. 4:30 sunshine on October 21st is absolutely the best. There was a park bench that was a memorial for some awesome dead guy. It was marble and super cold and I loved it and I wish that my mom's headstone were awesome. I try to tell myself that things like a lame headstone don't matter, but it makes me feel angry and sick inside the way nothing else ever has before so how can that not matter? It matters. It matters a lot. I had a good conversation with my mother-in-law. And my sister-in-law. I didn't get a single birthday card and I am totally okay with that. They are a waste of money, I think. I remember telling my mom that. Don't spend $4 on a card. Just keep it or put an extra $4 into the gift. Write your message on a PostIt note. That's when she started doing her homemade Mandi Creations cards. I miss those a lot. I cry when I think I will never receive another - or my kids. Noelle never got a single one. Should I start doing those for my nieces and nephews? Or just let that be a Grandma thing that died with her? I picked up leaves and sniffed them. I kept holding them to my nose and smelling. And it's nice to know that death and decay can be so damn beautiful.

I decided to drive by my childhood home. The house that my parents brought me home to when I was born. And they kept the rock and now there's a giant flagpole and that's okay because I think it fits. But the bushes and landscaping suck. My mom would be disappointed. I saw a lot of houses of my childhood friends. We've moved on and have our own lives and I miss them and still love them. Like, a lot. And I am Facebook friends with them and we text and whatnot but why do people we love have to go out of our lives? I know it makes room for new people to love. But I just want to be able to pick my friends like I am casting a movie and put all the best people in my life all the time and never say goodbye. I saw my elementary school and the alcove where a boy and I kissed. The alcove can been seen from a very busy street and I wonder how many people saw us and got a laugh out of that.

My sister bought my dinner and that was seriously such a great gift. Justin picked up the pre-ordered, paid for food and it was fantastic. And the night was different and I spent a lot of time alone. There was cat puke in the bathroom, which sucked, but really, it was the best place for a cat to get sick. The new carpet is still spill- and stain-free. And I missed my mom and every time I tried to fall asleep I would miss her and cry. So I did when I've been doing a lot of lately and that's just doing something to keep my mind busy so I don't think, so I got out my book and read and read and read until I was so tired that I fell asleep mid-sentence because it's during those quiet times between heartbeats at night that I miss her so much and I cry and my life shatters again.

And I turned 32.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

And the Id Strikes Again

Scene: Alarm clock goes off at 6:44 a.m.
What I Should Do: Snooze once, maybe twice, and get up so I can get myself 100% ready and get my kids to breakfast on time before they stop serving it at 8:30.
The Id Strikes Again: I hit snooze FIVE times, throw my hair into a messy ponytail or braid, rush the kids, arrive at daycare at 8:32 and beg the teachers to give them breakfast, then go do my makeup in my car before going into the office.

Scene: Lunchtime at the company cafeteria with a full menu full of all kinds of choices.
What I Should Do: Order a grilled chicken breast or a buffalo chicken salad and a fruit parfait.
The Id Strikes Again: Order onion rings, chicken strips, a double cheeseburger or something else rather unforgiving. Oh, and a root beer float. And refill the root beer. Twice.

Scene: While cleaning the kitchen, I notice the birthday cake pan I borrowed from a neighbor for Noelle's birthday FOUR MONTHS ago.
What I Should Do: Write a quick thank you note and immediately return the cake pan.
The Id Strikes Again: Tell myself I need to return it with a big batch of cookies or something then bury the guilt with a round of Candy Crush.

Scene: I get a new assignment at work. I don't have much on my plate.
What I Should Do: Start on the assignment. Maybe even finish it way ahead of deadline.
The Id Strikes Again: Do not begin the job until the day of the deadline.

Scene: Afternoon at work
What I Should Do: Go to the gym.
The Id Strikes Again: Hey! Donut run!

Scene: 11:00 at night. Not doing anything important. Watching reruns of 30 Rock for the umpteenth time and browsing Pinterest.
What I Should Do: Get jammies on, wash face, go to bed before midnight.
The Id Strikes Again: Pick up my book and say I'll go to bed after reading one chapter. Repeat seven times.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Be Brave and Roar

It's probably a combination of my personality and my upbringing, but speaking up for myself has always been beyond difficult for me. I was shaped to believe that the appearance of perfection is more important than anything less than perfect but genuine. I learned that it's easier to ignore problems until they go away. I learned that being quiet and giving up ground was the best way to keep the peace.

I've had to learn to unlearn.

It's been hard and I don't know if I will ever have an easy time speaking my mind or sticking up for myself. I catch myself trying to figure out what others want me to say, who they want me to be,
rather than just being, saying, or doing what feels best for me.

I've had some amazingly great bosses in my history who have put up with my unprofessional crying and sobbing over the lousiest things because any kind of confrontation (even if what is going isn't even bad or I'm not even in trouble) just overwhelms my coping mechanisms completely.

I think this happened in part because I am a girl. There is this whole other feminism tangent I started writing first, but it really is a tangent, but yeah...there's something about being female that makes it hard to speak up.

As a 31-year-old woman, I am barely finding my voice. I don't want my two daughters to feel silenced or shushed their entire lives (if I had sons,  I would include them too). My husband is such a good partner with me in this, and many praises go to his parents who raised him to be the man he is. It doesn't hurt that he is a counselor.

As I am finding my voice, I am always looking for nuggets of inspiration to help me and to bolster my girls as they grow. Lately, I am very grateful for two awesome anthems in popular radio that support finding your voice, being yourself, and never holding back.

"Roar" by Katy Perry (I'm linking to her VMA performance because I prefer it to her video)
Favorite lyric: I went from zero to my own hero and I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar!
I blast this song whenever I hear it. It's universally empowering. It's not one of those songs dissing on a bad boyfriend. It makes me stand taller, hold my head high, and take on the day with the eye of the tiger.

"Brave" by Sara Bereilles
Favorite lyrics: Show me how big your brave is and Since your history of silence won't do you any good, Did you think it would? Let your words be anything but empty

I cannot sing this chorus without choking up because I think of my girls. I think of them feeling shushed and shamed and silenced and it the thought of that hurts me more than it hurt for me to feel it for myself. I know it takes guts to find your voice and speak up. It's nothing short of courageous. And yes...I want to see my girls be brave.


It's okay not to smile all the time.


These two songs are now on the playlist I make especially for my kids. Hopefully the messages will sink in. I am constantly encouraging them to tell me how they feel, even when their emotions are unpleasant or ugly. I encourage them to verbalize their feelings (negative or otherwise) to me and their dad. It's always been a mission for me to give my children a better environment for speaking up and being real than I had. I really hope that, for them, being true to themselves is not an act of bravery. It's just as natural as laughing.

Are there any other awesomely empowering songs you love for the same reason?





Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Taco Salad Book

So I wrote a book. You all probably know that because I've tried to get everyone to buy it. It's my first book. It won't be my last. I had fun writing it and just wanted to share my passion and joy. Is it the book I hope to be remembered for as a writer? No, probably not. It's a fun book. It's a book I would enjoy reading. I would recommend it to a girlfriend who was looking for a fun beach read.

It's not the type of book that will likely change anyone's life. It won't likely stir new ideas or capture your heart and never let go. It's not an Academy Award winning movie. It's that rom-com you got from Redbox with that semi-predictable plot that you've already mostly forgotten.

I've called it a Popcorn Book for awhile. I equate a lot of things to food because, well, I love food. And A Popcorn Book is like the food popcorn. Fun, tasty, self-indulgent, but not filling, not served anywhere fancy. You've forgotten it an hour after you ate it.

But then one of my readers told me that it was a little more substantial that Popcorn Book in her opinion. So I had a discussion with her about what my book is, if it isn't Popcorn.

Nachos.

My book is nachos. The chips covered in "meat" and "cheese" sauce with some olives and tomatoes and sour cream heaped on. A good snack that can even masquerade as a meal.

I wrote a Nacho Book.



P.S. If you really haven't heard, click here to see more about my historical romance Oceanswept. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Coolest I Have Ever Been and Will Ever Be

A memory came back to me today of a time when I was HAWT. I knew it in the moment. I know it now. You can't tell me I wasn't.

I was maybe 15. I was standing in line for a ride at Lagoon (a nearby amusement park). I was wearing a white ribbed tank top and cut-off jean shorts. Sunglasses. Keds. All-American cutie pie. That Divinyls song, "I Touch Myself" was blasting out over the amusement park stereo system. I was mouthing the words and casually swaying to the beat. "I don't want anybody else. When I think about you..."

I didn't know what it meant. But it was edgy. And sexy. And so I was I.

In line. At Lagoon. Singing a very inappropriate song. That was was the peak of my coolness. What was yours?


Monday, July 22, 2013

The King Baby

I had something very important to tell Joci today. I thought long and hard how to tell her this news so she would understand the weight of the situation yet also be age-appropriate.

I sat her down and looked at her solemnly. I said: Joci, something very important happened today.

Joci: What?

Me: A prince was born today.

Joci: A baby prince! I want to see him!

Me: Well, we can't go see him.

Joci: Why not?

Me: He doesn't live here.

Joci: Where does he live?

Me: He lives in a place called England. It's a different country.

Joci: What's a country?

Me: Uh...just someplace far away.

Joci: What's the baby's name?

Finally starting to feel a bit silly.

Me: We don't know yet.

Joci: Can I see a picture.

Me: No.


This conversation actually happened.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Secret to a Leaner, Slimmer, Stronger, Better-Looking Body

Don't you hate posts that promise you info but it's buried at the end of the post? I'll tell you my "secret" right now.

PERSISTENCE.

I'm not sure if it's really a secret or not. But it's true.

I'm learning persistence. I am convinced that persistence is a skill that needs to be developed just like every other skill. It's a skill I didn't have and I am currently developing it.

I've been blessed with a quick mind, good health, and comfortable circumstances. As such...I easily accomplished most of what I decided to do. I could get really good grades without much effort. That led to a full-ride academic scholarship without putting a lot of sweat into it. I have been able to pick up on hobbies quite easily. I didn't have a need to learn persistence. So I never was persistent.

This hurt me occasionally. When I didn't like an activity I had committed to, quitting was my first inclination. I quit a lot.

One thing I have never had a natural talent for or desire for is anything relating to physical exertion. I don't care for sports. I hated P.E. I had my doctor sign a note so I didn't have to go to P.E. for all of high school. Spurred by vanity, I wanted a better body and I would start running in the morning or doing yoga poses at night in my room. These things lasted for a week tops.

Even last summer I challenged myself to do a five minute daily physical challenge for a month. If I completed this tiny challenge, I would reward myself with a new set of pots and pans, which I desperately wanted. I did not complete my challenge.

What really taught me persistence was my desire to write a novel. I have started so many novels - I can't even count them all. But I had never finished. I had never even gotten to the middle. Then one day, I started writing and I didn't stop. I became obsessed. I wrote my first complete novel in exactly three weeks. I was scared to lose momentum and I don't think I even skipped a day until I typed out "The End."

I'm not sure if you can consider that persistence because I feel persistence takes place over a long period of time...but it gave me a taste of success. It gave me a sense of accomplishing something I thought was too big for me.

And then I wrote another novel. It took me about two and a half years. It was a struggle. I wanted to walk away from it. At times I did, thinking that my previously completed novel was just a fluke. I didn't have it in me to repeat that feat. But I forced myself to go back to the keyboard time and again. I finished it. It took persistence.

And then there was a third novel. I completed that one too. It has took me a more realistic time period of six months. My persistence was, well, more persistent. Instead of intermittent bursts of dedication, it was constant. I worked on it whether I felt like it or not. And the funniest thing happened - I suddenly felt like working on my book all the time. Something switched in my brain that said, I want this and I am willing to do the work.

It goes back to a quote by my friend Keith once told me: There are only two questions in life. What do you want? And how bad do you want it?

I found out that I wanted to write a book badly enough to sit down at the keyboard and plunk out the words.

I had a passion for writing. And learning persistence for something I was passionate about took me effort and years.

Now it was time to hone my new skill by using it to accomplish something I wasn't passionate about - exercise.

I was okay with my weight. I managed it pretty well through dieting. And I would much prefer to go on a strict diet than burn calories. But I knew the benefits of exercise on the body's aesthetics as well as overall health. I signed up for gym memberships on about four separate occasions but was really inconsistent about going and wasted a lot of money. I knew I needed more motivation than I gave myself. I signed up for a 5k. I trained for it and ran it. My goal was to run it in under 45 minutes and did. Barely. Mostly I was glad I finished it.

Last fall, a coworker somehow talked me into joining a boot camp class. I was so unfit. Boot camp was a crazy idea. Shouldn't I start out with Jogging Slow 101? But I went. I was extremely sore. The obligation to be there, the friend to go with, and the guys in the class who assumed I was a weakling all worked as heavy motivators. I signed up for two months of boot camp. I initially wanted to sign up for one, just to give it a try. But I knew I would quit. And I knew I needed 6-8 weeks to see any changes, right? My two months was interrupted by my mom's death and Christmas, so it wasn't a solid 8 weeks. While I could do deeper push ups and run faster, I was highly disappointed that I hadn't lost weight (I had gained, in fact) and I couldn't see any changes in my body.

I took a few months off exercising to have heart surgery but I returned, ready to practice my persistence. After really studying things, I knew 8 weeks wasn't long enough to see changes. In truth, I needed double that at least. I needed to focus on other types of progress - like the increased strength and stamina.

I started in the beginning of April and told myself to not even bother looking for results until the end of July. I go to the gym three days a week. Two days of boot camp and one day of spinning. After eight weeks, guess what I noticed? I had a bit of definition on my bicep. About ten weeks I noticed that my calf muscles were starting to show. My legs are really starting to look hot in heels!

I have been going to the gym about 14 weeks now. My weight went up eight pounds from when I wasn't exercising. But I have lost three inches from my waist, an inch on my hips, an inch on my thighs, and a half inch on my arms. And an inch on my chest - can't have it all, can you?

Today I fit quite comfortably in a tight shirt that I generally have to suck in all day to wear. I weigh 8 more pounds than when I bought it. (I am super short waisted so even a couple pounds can change my clothing size). I was so happy. I have been trying to make smarter eating choices but I haven't been very strict or faithful about what I eat. I am building muscle, burning calories, and accelerating my metabolism. I am finally seeing it. It took persistence. No miracle diet. No quick 30-day crazy exercise course. And the thing is, I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life, which is exactly what I need to do.

By no accounts am I done. Health is a lifelong thing, so there's that. But I still have many inches to lose and many muscles to develop. But I am seeing progress.

If you've read this entire post, thank you. It got a lot more long-winded than expected. I am beyond proud of myself. I still don't like exercise. My instructor will tell you about all the mean things I say to him and all the crusty looks I give him. But I feel so proud when I am done. I feel proud that I have kept with it. I feel proud that I am doing it for real reasons, not just to drop a quick pound. I am proud to be a gym rat! So to thank you for reading this long post, enjoy this sweet picture of Noelle's cake smash taken by Mystic Memories Photography. Food is no laughing matter for Noelle. She takes it seriously!



The moral of the story is be persistent! 


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Her Teeth



Whenever I think of my mom dying, I think of her teeth. I think of that brown black gunk in-between her two front teeth that I saw the day she died. I wondered then and I wonder now and I have wondered every day in between – did the mortician floss her teeth? They are supposed to take care of things. Make her “presentable” and “clean” and “acceptable” by society’s standards. Make her “comfortable.” Which really, truly means making the survivors as comfortable as possible when they look at their dead mom. That stuff matters. Because I can’t get away from the idea that my mom’s body is forever going to be preserved with brown-black gunk between her two front teeth. She was in the hospital three days and I didn’t notice it until day 3. Someone said it was blood. That means she bled. In her mouth. How did blood get there? Did she bite herself? Hard enough to bleed enough to stain the plaque in between her two front teeth? Did the mortician brush her teeth? Did he floss there? Did he just wire the jaw shut and glue the lips?

This matters to me more than it probably should. She wasn’t buried in a bra because we forgot to take one to funeral home when they prepared her. This doesn’t bother me. Even though I saw her breasts sunk back into her armpits. A bra would have made her shape more normal. I don’t care about that though. I care about the blood in her teeth.

I think I have been numb for a long time with her death. I had sad moments. And I coped. I didn’t cry every day. When my sisters both told me how much they cried, I felt like I was heartless because I cried far less than either of them.

I cried when she died. I cried so hard in the hospital that I was shushed. I was numb though. I wasn’t crying from pain. Or from loss. I was crying from dread. I didn’t feel those things yet. But I knew—I KNEW—they were coming. The way the cold comes with the dark. Like when you hurt yourself and for a split second it doesn’t hurt. Like slicing your finger deeply when you’re cutting a carrot. You hear the knife slice through your flesh with a whisper. You see the layers of skin, all but white, splitting apart and a dark red line forming layers below the surface. You know it is going to hurt very bad for a very long time. You know the damage could even be severe. But it doesn’t hurt. And yet you still gasp and swear and cry. Because that anticipation, that knowledge, that dread is enough to make tears flow.

That is what it was like in the hospital.

And for many months, I kept reassessing the wound thinking, it’s not so bad after all. I’m stronger than I thought. I heal faster than most. I have a secret salve in my blood that helped this not hurt like it should. I was going to be okay.

Still, I knew it couldn’t be all okay. I couldn’t have gotten away so easily. And I didn’t. It took time to catch up with me. Like on a cold night. And you wear lots of sweaters and mittens and coats and you might make it longer than the person without a coat. But that cold will eventually get it. And maybe it will be worse because the sweaters and coats will trap the ice right next to your skin where it will burn you and freeze you at the same time.

“That is the fear: I have lost something important, and I cannot find it, and I need it. It is fear like if someone lost his glasses and went to the glasses store and they told him that the world had run out of glasses and he would just have to do without.” – John Green, Looking for Alaska

I had gone weeks without talking to my mom before. Months without seeing her. I guess it took awhile to sink in. I guess it took some personal crises. Me needing her to really feel the absence of her. To really let the truth sink in – I am momless.

I am feeling it now. And I just want to know if they flossed her teeth! Why didn’t I do it? Why didn’t ask the nurse for some floss? Or use my fingernail. Dammit. What if she is forever preserved with the blood of her death stuck in between her teeth?

I cannot remember the last thing she said to me. We spoke on the phone. I know what we spoke about. I can easily assume we said “I love you” and “I love you, too” at the end of the conversation. But I do not know who said what to whom. I do not remember the last words we spoke to each other. I do not know the last words she said ever. I do not know if they were important. Or if they were meaningless gibberish rattled off by someone’s whose brain had suffocated from lack of oxygen from the stroke. Did she try to say something more and it didn’t come out?

“There were so many of us who would have to live with things done and things left undone that day. Things that did not go right, things that seemed okay at the time because we could not see the future. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can't know better until knowing better is useless.” John Green, Looking for Alaska

After the burial, the funerals, I went online and I researched how people are embalmed. I researched how they decay. Each week I would look up what was happening to her body. The way you go online during a pregnancy and look up what is going on with that baby. The eyes are blinking. Eyelashes grow. The kidneys work. I learned about how different caskets and vaults affect the process. I tracked it all. Because it was the only way I could connect with the muscles and bones and hair and skin and miles of blood vessels that had given me life, given me meaning, and been my mom. I do not know what her soul is experiencing. I cannot look that up on Wikipedia. But I could track the decay of her body. And I did.

I know about bloat and rigamortis and the bacteria that fester in the stomach. Yet I still have nightmares about the dried blood between her teeth.

She’s dead and I am just beginning to grasp the finality of it.

It’s been a domino effect. It’s not enough that my mom is dead. It also means my dad’s wife is dead. And he is single. And he is different. And my kids’ grandmother is dead. And my siblings’ mother is dead. And they are different. Things ripple and spiral and snowball. It’s not just thing one thing. This one really big, enormous thing. It’s like a tornado and it pulls out pieces of my life that were in place. It creates more and more holes. The destruction isn’t over. It might just be beginning.

I look back now at pictures and at events. I think of Noelle being born. That was six months before she died. Or camping. Four months before. I think of our last phone call. Five days before. I keep time like that now. I stare at pictures and I tell her smiling face, “You will die in six months.” Because I want her to know. I want her, in some alternate universe, to be as prepared as possible. To not leave with things unsaid and things undone. She did a lot before her death. She had Christmas all ready. Presents all wrapped. Visiting teaching done. All within five days of December. We sort of kidded if she knew on some level. I like to think that in some alternate universe, me telling her that her life would soon be ending had somehow made its way to her, subconsciously, and she was closing as many doors as she could. Still, I warn her pictures. Because maybe in some other alternate universe the message will be stronger and she’ll avoid her fate altogether.

And somehow, in that alternate universe is an alternate Lara and she won’t have to feel this feeling. This feeling I only have the edge of right now and it’s already too much to stand. Something that’s crushing me and hollowing me out and stretching me beyond capacity at the same time. 


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