Rushing the season

The push to introduce the Christmas buying season starts earlier and earlier. I swear I spotted Halloween candy with red and green bows on it. ;-)

And poor Thanksgiving. Before long it will be known as the Day Before Black Friday.

My late father-in-law and my sister, Jan, enjoying the start of one Thanksgiving with killer Bloody Marys.

My late father-in-law and my sister, Jan, enjoying the start of one Thanksgiving with killer Bloody Marys.

Me? I braved the madness of a big box store the morning after Thanksgiving ONCE. I promised my hubby breakfast out if he’d go with me to buy our daughter something she absolutely had to have and couldn’t live without because everyone else had one. Who remembers what it was? Not me.

Whatever that must-have gift was, it probably wasn't a book, which is something her daughter treasures.

Whatever that must-have gift was, it probably wasn’t a book, which is something her daughter treasures.

Anyway, by the time we pulled into the two-square block parking lot, there was one parking spot left, in the last lane. The lines at the checkout counters were twenty deep. My hubby’s a strong, brave man but I swear I saw his knees buckle in fear. It took us forever to find the cleverly hidden loss leader. And…you guessed it, they were all sold out.

A small sign said “No rainchecks.”

My husband, who obviously dodged a bullet and potential cardia arrest, gave a cry of salvation, “Hallelujah!” and pulled me out of the store as fast as he could. We never went back. Somehow, my daughter managed to grow up to be a productive, well-adjusted adult without that one must-have gift. But the experience taught me a lesson: time is the most precious gift of all. If you enjoy the frenzy of Black Friday shopping, then I say go for it. That’s time well spent–and bragging rights.

For me, the peace of not being in the madness is worth a million great deals. Give me a book and a cup of tea, and I’m good. Recently, I’ve been asking readers: what is the best “forever” gift you’ve ever gotten? The answers are interesting and insightful: my grandma’s wedding ring, my children, a trip to China with my sister…and so on.

Hint: it's something you already have.

Hint: it’s something you already have.

The conversation stems from my new release, HER FOREVER GIFT. I don’t want to spoil the surprise but love is not the gift in the title. The most obvious tie-in to the title brought me to tears when I was writing this short novelette (longer than a short story but shorter than a novella). But as the story progresses, other gifts appear. Heartfelt. Handmade. Representative of the giver’s love and respect for the recipient. Wouldn’t it be great if you could find that in a big box store? ;-)

Next week, on Black Friday, I’m going to try to put together a list of Book Bargains, including a couple of mine, as an alternative to getting up at zero-dark-thirty to stand in line. Just snuggle under the covers and read–that’s what I’ll be doing.

And this coming Tuesday: Please check out my EAT=LOVE=TUESDAY blog for some great Thanksgiving recipes from my fellow authors, Barbara McMahon, Linda Barrett, Karen Sandler and Rogenna Brewer, in the 5-author anthology: CELEBRATE ROMANCE–a real bargain at just $.99.

Love With All The Trimmings by Barbara McMahon is the Thanksgiving story.

Love With All The Trimmings by Barbara McMahon is the Thanksgiving story.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

Deb

Trees, Trees, Beautiful Trees

A few days ago I snapped these photos of trees in my neighborhood. And just in time. Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, all the leaves fell off!

Lacy Leaf Maple

Lacy Leaf Maple

trees1

I don’t know what this one is, and I apologize for the slightly hazy shot, but the vivid red color is spectacular.

Ginkgo

Ginkgo

I hold a special place in my heart for ginkgo trees. Not only are they lovely, but when I was about 12, and my mom was schlepping my sister to ballet class a couple times a week and made me come along, I climbed up the giant ginkgo with a stash of Archie comics, or just my imagination. I spent lovely afternoons up there, hidden in the leaves, reading and people watching from above.

You didn’t ask, but I have to share that when I was 7, I was really clumsy.  Mom worried about that, even though my dad, a pediatrician, assured her that I was fine. She thought ballet would help, and signed me up for the beginner’s class. She also enrolled my sister, who was 6 and not clumsy. Mom didn’t want her to feel left out.

After 3 classes, each of which I detested, I quit. Not my sister. She loved ballet, and took classes for decades. She ended up dancing with a small company for several years. And me… you know that I have many klutzy moments. :-)

Back to trees. I’ve always loved them. For their leafy shelter on a hot, sunny day. For the fruit, chestnuts, helicopter, pine cones and whatnot they share. For their stark, yet perfect artistic lines against a cold, winter sky. Their leaves, rustling in the wind, whispering secrets. Confession: I have even hugged a tree or ten…

Remember that Joyce Kilmer poem, Trees, that we had to read in school? (At least I did.) It feels right to share those words now.

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”

Love this!

Do you have a favorite tree? If so, please share.

Until next time, and wishing you beauty in every tree you notice,

Ann

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The Many Faces of Pain (Tara Taylor Quinn)

Pain is a part of life.  Without it, we wouldn’t be able to experience the counterpart – full joy.  Without something to measure by, we wouldn’t know the complete fullness joy of we were living in it.  The shadow makes us yearn for the sun.  Part of our journey as humans is to take for granted the good that we have, and to yearn for what we perceive to be on the ‘other’ side.  Pain shows us the good that we have.  The good that we know right now, in the midst of pain.  It brings forth the memory of painlessness.  And it tempers the yearning for the unknown with a good dose of reality.

I’ve been watching my mother in the various stages of pain this past week as she goes through a total knee replacement and as is my way, I find myself in deep thought about the lessons life has to teach us.

I see masses of pain, on my mother’s face, and on the faces of those who share the therapy gym with her.  I see people whose job it is to inflict pain – for a greater good.  And I start to see that pain is good.  It is a communicator.  It is a means to an end.  It is a measure.  And it’s loss is a fast lane to instant joy.

And I’ve seen something that, as a writer, I know I was meant to see.  Pain is not a simple thing.  Nor does it come in only one form.  Physical pain, while excruciating, doesn’t make you cry.  It makes you sick to your stomach.  It can put you in shock or cause you to pass out.  But it doesn’t make you cry.

Emotional pain brings the tears.  Some people cry when they’re physically hurting, but they aren’t crying from the physical pain.  The tears are due to an emotional response to the physical pain.  A feeling of helplessness, abandonment, betrayal.  Sometimes, when we are physically hurting, the sensation brings up a subconscious feeling of betrayal.  Maybe we had a caregiver in our youth, whom we trusted to always keep us warm and safe and happy, who hurt us.  Or allowed us to be hurt.  We might not remember the incident, but we somehow associate physical pain with the remembered sensation.  We subconsciously associate pain with that memory.  Or maybe, for some, it’s simpler than that.  Maybe it’s just that the body that you trusted to see you through life well, is failing, letting you down, leaving you with a sense of abandonment or helplessness.  It’s the sense of abandonment that brings the emotional pain.  The tears.  Maybe pain brings fear and the fear incites tears.

So…my take is this:

1.  Physical pain is much much easier to bear if you can disassociate emotion from it.  If you can figure out the emotional trigger associated with it, or even just put your mind in a place that occupies your emotions, the physical pain is eased.  It’s distraction therapy, but on a much deeper level.

2.  The hard things in life are easier to endure and are accomplished more quickly if they lead to desired benefit.  And if you keep that end in mind.

3.  Fighting pain is like shooting yourself in the foot.

4.  Emotional pain is not always based in reality and, if you’re willing to look it in the eye and take it on, can dissipate immensely.

5.  Pain is inevitable.  And necessary.  Pain is good.  And it doesn’t hurt nearly as bad if you can climb out of the negative emotions associated with it and focus on the benefit it brings – whatever that might be, keeping in mind that the benefit might sometimes just be pain’s absence.  Or the strength that your spirit gains when you endure.

6.  In all things, look for the gift the universe is bringing you.

7.  And contrary to advertisement based cliché, your gain is not always measured by the pain, or requisite of it, either.

I know people who live in chronic physical pain.  They are some of the strongest individuals I have ever known.  And some of them are the happiest people I know, too.  The pain has led them away from the things in life that we allow to upset us, and taken them straight to what matters most.  The little things don’t bother them.  They don’t sweat the small stuff.  They are hugely grateful for any kindnesses they are given.  And look forward to the smallest pleasures as even a moment away from the awareness of pain is a good thing.

Some of you are aware that I live with a chronic emotional pain.  Sometimes it gets the better of me.  Sometimes those I love pay the price.  This pain of this week has been a gift to me.  I still feel the emotional ache with as much acuteness, but I feel stronger, too.  Happier.  Because I know that there is a purpose.  That good is coming from it.  I need only to stay focused on that end.

Something else I’ve learned this week, another good that came out of the pain…necessity is the mother of invention and when we’re suffering, hearing how others cope helps.  Ideas spring forth (like powder on legs to help pull up anti-embolism socks) that offer relief to many when they need it most.  So how do you deal with the painful times in your life?

 

The mule and the branch – Carolyn

At our Malice retreat two weeks ago, we did the Jungian archetypes test on ourselves. I always do it on my lead characters because it’s a great way to first, learn about them, and second, if they are too alike or too like me (much more likely), I only have to change some of their answers to mix things up.

I discovered first that I have mellowed, at least a little. I am no longer the Field Marshal archetype. I have become the trustee archetype. Not the leader so much as the conservator.

Drat!

I’ve always been a good second in command. I’d rather be Machiavelli than his prince. I’d rather be the stage manager than the actress on stage. But it would be nice if I still felt capable of discovering new ideas and bringing them to fruition. Sometimes I feel as though my creativity has done got up and went. And I have become more comfortable before actual commitment than afterwards. This is a bad thing. I hesitate to send in manuscripts until I can tweak them one final time, although I still never miss deadlines. I put off doing paperwork that should have been done before now. I’ve always worked best when driven by deadlines. I once finished a long and complicated seminar paper on William Blake’s views of marriage at 2 in the afternoon and read it in the seminar at 2:30. That, my friends, is cutting it close.

The difficulty lies in scheduling for panic. If I am certain I can finish something in two hours which ends up taking two days instead, I am royally screwed.

There is a very old story about a man whose mule refused to move the plow. His neighbor came by, watched the man strain and pull and cajole to no avail. Finally, the neighbor picked up a branch and whacked the mule right between the eyes as hard as he could. At which point the mule stood up (he had been sitting on his rump all this time) and walked off down the furrow pulling the plow.

The farmer turned to his neighbor and said, “What’d you do that for?”

“Worked, didn’t it?” The neighbor said. “Sometimes, you just got to get his attention.”

Maybe I should hire a neighbor with a hefty branch to smack me over the head from time to time to get my attention. Then I might get back to pulling my plow.

At this point I am in the final throes of getting ready to leave on my trip with Pat Potter. I ain’t ready! Any branch offers? Anyone?

 

Packing . . . An Endless Job (Pat)

Okay, you all have probably read enough about Carolyn’s and my trip to Austria and Germany next Thursday but this isn’t about the trip.  It’s about my packing.

I started packing three months ago.   I always do that when goiing on an overseas trip.  It’s part of the fun.   And yes, I am anal.   I want to make sure every single thing I might want or need is included.   Well in advance, I took my turtle neck sweaters to the cleaners and packed them –, well protected in their little plastic bags — in my main  suitcase.   I did the same with three sets off velour jacket and pants.   Comfortable if not dressy.   I went ahead and packed them so they wouldn’t get lost sometime during the months before the trip.     And two pairs of slacks/pants.    Black, of course.   But which ones?   The comfortable ones or the better looking ones?   Decisions.   Decisions.    I compromised.   One nice pair and one comfortable pair.   I added my travel kit, an converter and connector for my I-Pad and I-Pod and socks.   I was ready to go.

Fast forward two months and three weeks.   Maybe I should take a third pair of slacks, along with another sweater.   I keep changing my mind as to which I like better.  And  we are going to the opera.   Maybe something a little dressier.  And will the outside winter jacket I planned to take shout unsophisticated American?   Maybe I should take two coats?

Or maybe a  larger suitcase is needed.   Off to the store to find a larger and lighter suitcase.   I hate to tell you how many suitcases I have gone through..  Every time a lighter one pops up, I’m off to buy it.    Good Will loves me.

So everything comes out of the old suitcase., and I start all over again.   We are going to some Christmas markets, and I buy all my Christmas presents there, so I need to leave some room.   Where?    Two years ago, I brought back sixteen different presents, including a large carousel..  Somehow I managed to fit them in a already full medium size suitcase and a carry on.   But for the life of me I can’t figure out how I did that.   Neither could my big family.    It was sorta like twenty clowns leaving a tiny car.

With gifts iin mind,  I revised my plans again.   Maybe I can cut down a little..    I have the guide from the travel company.  It tells me to pack wisely and happily suggests a day pack as an alternative to an actual carry-on suitcase.  It also has a list two pages long of what to bring in said day-pack, including every-over-the counter medicine known to man, a full change of (winter) clothes, extra pair of shoes in the event yours get wet, camera gear, umbrella, changes of socks and underwear, important travel ducuments and other “irreplaceable items.”  Anyone have a faintest idea of how to stuff all that in a daypack?

Out comes my largest carry-on.

I still have a pile of clothes on the bed as I weigh what to take.    Three months ago I was ready.   Today, not so much.   Indecision reigns.

I know the packing wisdom.   Take one half of what you plan to take.   I just can’t make myself do it.   I’m a packiing junky.   Nothing weems to help.   The pattern repeats..   Pack in advance, then two days before a trip completely undo it all and start over, then the night before lleaving I panic.   .

I swear every time I won’t repeat this rediculous pattern.   Alas, I have’t succeeded yet.

Hints, anyone?

 

pat.

 

.

 

I’m leaving in five days ouocsets ;acke.     xttllk adIOff to everythi

Party with the fishes

My birthday was Tuesday and to celebrate my hubby and I ditched work, grabbed the grandkids and went to one of the coolest places around–the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Monterey Bay Aquarium logo

Do you have an aquarium near you? We are a 3-hr drive from Monterey, but it was definitely worth the effort it took to get there. Since Tuesday was Veteran’s Day and the kids didn’t have school, we figured it was a great chance to party with the fishes. Plus, a writer friend of mine is a docent at MBA and she had passes for all of us. What a fabulous birthday gift, right?! Thank you, Di Ann Tarhalla.

Thanks for the memories, Di Ann.

Thanks for the memories, Di Ann.

So…what can I say? A picture’s worth a thousand words, perhaps? Well, here you go.

We are here! So much to see!

We are here! So much to see!

Penguins! You can't go wrong with penguins.

Penguins! You can’t go wrong with penguins.

"Now, he's just showing off," Rya says.

“Now, he’s just showing off,” Rya says.

The jellies were awesome!

The jellies were awesome!

Cousins captivated by the fishes of the open sea display.

Cousins captivated by the fishes of the open sea display.

My sweetest pearl.

My sweetest pearl.

After running out little feet off — the elevator was a big hit (country kids)–we went to lunch at a gorgeous place, shopped along Cannery Row, chased waves and got wet and sandy (inevitable, but did I bring towels? No. Bad grandma.) Then, it was time to head home.

Memories! The best birthday gift of all.

Memories! The birthday gift of all.

The only problem? What will I do next year? This one is going to be hard to top. ;-)

Have a great, memory-making weekend, everyone.

Deb

 

Busy and busier and brain blip, oh my!

i-forgot

I love my husband, Brian, dearly. We have a lot of fun together, but we also tend to be fairly independent. I believe that this is one of the reasons we’ve been together for so many years.

Sometimes we hang out with our own friends instead of each other.  In fact, last Friday night, while he did his thing at home,  I met a longtime friend for dinner. She and I had a terrific time, catching up, groaning with pleasure over the delicious food, laughing, and all-around enjoying ourselves. We parted ways promising to get together again soon.

I came home relaxed and happy, and eagerly shared the highlights of the evening with Brian.

Fast forward to the next morning. Brian was at the gym, working out. I decided to balance the checkbook, which I keep in my rather large purse.  At first and second glance, I didn’t see it in there.  So I dumped the contents onto the floor. Not a pretty sight, but a guaranteed way to find that checkbook.

To my dismay, it wasn’t there. Next, I headed into the garage to check the car. I searched the mats and between the seats, and when I didn’t find it, I grabbed a flashlight and looked under the seats. There I found a few months old, still-fluffy kernels of popcorn (don’t ask), two napkins, a notebook I’ve been missing, old receipts, remnants of fall leaves, and so on… but no checkbook.

There was only one place where it could be–the restaurant where my friend and I had eaten the night before. The place was closed until mid-afternoon, but I called anyway. A recorded message asked me to leave information about the reservation I wanted to make. That wasn’t going to work, so I called back several hours later. To my relief, someone had turned in my checkbook, which was now securely stored in the restaurant’s safe.

Phew. Relieved, I drove over and picked it up.

That’s one brain blip I hope never to repeat.

Have you had any lapses lately? If so, please put me out of my “I’m the only one” misery and share.

Until next time and wishing you a brain blip-free day,

Ann

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Playtime, continued! The answer revealed (Suzanne Forster)

Or how I learned the value of playing by tuning into how I felt rather than my accomplishments.  Paying attention.  That was my epiphany.  I just paid attention to the exact opposite of what I’d been doing virtually my whole life.

Not easy.  Not easy at all.  And yet, effortless, as I mentioned at the end of last week’s post.  It was about listening, not to my head, but to that place where pure joy and effervescence exist.  It’s not just the heart, it’s more, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll call it that.  After all, isn’t it the heart that swells when you’re happy and beats harder when you’re excited?

Music was my first portal to that feeling.  And I realized it always had been.  Music was a natural high for me—and it may have been the only one.  Dancing was probably as close as I’ve ever come to spontaneous fun.  I don’t remember dancing as a kid, but as an adult, dancing is one of the few things that has made me feel as if I were a kid.

Another realization was that I haven’t exposed myself to music nearly enough, probably for the simple reason that it took time from work and other business.  But I’m about to fix that.  I’m getting some kind of a sound system for the house.  They have wireless stuff now and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  And I’m going to go dancing again, even if it’s an exercise class.  Can you imagine the high of exercising and dancing at the same time, the ultimate combination of purpose and fun?

I blogged about our trip to Las Vegas a couple weeks ago.  At some point during that trip, I realized I was having fun.  I’d inadvertently left my cell phone charger at home (or was it inadvertent?) and my laptop was on the fritz (I can’t take subconscious credit for this, it’s been on the fritz since the day I bought it).  At any rate, I couldn’t get lost online, checking mail, Facebook, etc., and of course, working, always working.  Allan and I filled our days and nights checking out the wonderful restaurants, taking walks, visiting the big “theme-park” casinos and doing a bit of gambling.  I wrote about the small crowd we attracted when I was playing the slots.  That was fun.

We didn’t dance.  But we will.

All work and no fun is not just a truism.  It’s actually true.  That was another realization.  My exclusive focus on work had turned my efforts into a grind and had left me feeling empty, just as I’m sure someone who enjoys no sense of purpose or accomplishment feels empty.  When you’re working all the time, you need some fun to fill the void.  You feel empty because work was never intended to fill up all the spaces in your life.

So, I’m not cured, but I’m better.  And geez, it’s about time.  I’ve got a few decades on me.  Actually, I’ve lived more decades than I have left.  If I don’t learn some of these essential lessons now, I never will.  I’ll be too old, too ill, and sadly, probably filled with regrets.

A parting thought:  For any of you out there who feel as if you’re sliding into the all-work, no-play rut, my advice would be to get out there and dance a little, free your soul.  I’m beginning to think that learning how to play could be the adventure of a lifetime.

Suzanne

 

The joy of horses – Carolyn

My friend Amanda and her eight year old daughter Kelsey came through from St. Louis on their way to Houston and back last week. Amanda’s husband plays polo, which means he’s constantly on the road, and he needs at least eight and preferably ten horses with him. Getting a big ten horse trailer attached to a heavy duty diesel into and out of my paddock is not easy. The best way to handle it is to drive out into the pasture, get turned around out there, then come back into the paddock facing the direction of the road.

That’s easy peasy when it’s dry. On Wednesday when they were loading up to head out, it was raining mastiffs and tigers, not just dogs and cats. Fortunately, we had already turned the truck around, so that we didn’t get stuck. We did, however, get very, very wet.

Polo horses (they aren’t really ponies, but thoroughbreds) are used to getting on and off trailers. They don’t fuss, they simply get on with the job. This time, Amanda was bringing a mare who had been crashed into in Houston. The mare got an injured shoulder and Amanda’s husband ended up with a concussion.

Polo horses are special. They like what they do. Like cutting or reining horses, they get very grumpy if kept away from the action, particularly if they can see their buddies playing. That desire is something that can’t be taught. They can be trained to do their jobs better, but just like a racehorse who wants to run when the gate flies open, they can’t be trained to care.

We once had a wonderful hunter jumper out of our stallion, Stone Cool Fox, a graded stakes winner. Foxy was beautiful, scopy, could jump the moon, and ought to have been a good race horse. Except that the few times he was started at the track, he came out of the starting gate, saw the people in the stands, stopped dead and became fascinated by the crowd noises. He liked to watch butterflies as well. I once saw him crash a fence because he didn’t see it coming up. He saw the Monarch butterfly sitting on the rail.

Horses are as individual as people. My big old gelding, Sailor, has the heart of a CPA. He learned that after I untack him, he gets two (not three) carrots in the barn, and an apple. Then when he’s put out to the pasture, he waits at the gate for his three (again, not two), mint treats. He resents being short changed, but he also won’t wait around to see if I’m feeling extra generous.

When I get off him in the arena, he stands flat-footed and stares at me until I give him one (not two) mint treats. They he’ll follow me to the barn. Obviously, he can count to three.

I hope that somehow I can stay around horses, even if I’m too old and arthritic to ride them.

Good News Everywhere (Pat)

This is my happy — and busy –week.

I just accepted an offer from Harlequin for two more books in the Covenant Falls series.  (The second is finished and scheduled for release February lst.).   In the new contract, two more vets will be coming to Covenant Falls to heal.   The first of the two is particularly exciting for me because it will be part historical and part contemporary.   I’m incorporating sections of the founding father’s Journals, and his 1850′s love story is as fascinating as the contemporary story of an Army surgical nurse who finds her future in Covenant Falls with the help of that story.

And then I was notified by Open Road that they are publishing my Scottish books in e-book format in March, including the Star series (Starcatcher, Star Finder and Star Keeper); the Card Series (The Black Knave, the Diamond King and the Heart Queen) and the Highland Series (Beloved Imposter, Beloved Warrior and Beloved Strange).

My westerns will be E-pubbed in a group several months later and the suspense novels several months after that.

I am so happy to have them easily available again.

But I was particularly delighted that the Scottish novels will be published just about the time the “The Outlander” series returns to Starz Network.

Add to that good news, my mystery writers group (Malice in Memphis) is readying for publication an anthology of murder mysteries that take place in some of Memphis’s most famous landmarks.   I quite happily killed a literary agent in the world famous Peabody Hotel.

And now I feel free to take off to Austria in just fifteen days.

All is well.