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Hemingway's Trunk


One of my all-time favorite nonfiction books is Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.  (More on why this book makes my all-time top ten list in an upcoming post)

 If you haven't read A Moveable Feast, I highly recommend you indulge.  The audio book version is a delicious treat for your ears.

 Speaking of Hemingway, I thought this was a great little story about him. (Question for YOU after the story)

"In 1956, Ernest and I were having lunch at the Ritz in Paris with Charles Ritz, the hotel’s chairman, when Charley asked if Ernest was aware that a trunk of his was in the basement storage room, left there in 1930. 

Ernest did not remember storing the trunk but he did recall that in the 1920s Louis Vuitton had made a special trunk for him. Ernest had wondered what had become of it. Charley had the trunk brought up to his office, and after lunch Ernest opened it. It was filled with a ragtag collection of clothes, menus, receipts, memos, hunting and fishing paraphernalia, skiing equipment, racing forms, correspondence and, on the bottom, something that elicited a joyful reaction from Ernest: 'The notebooks! So that’s where they were! Enfin!' There were two stacks of lined notebooks like the ones used by schoolchildren in Paris when he lived there in the ’20s. Ernest had filled them with his careful handwriting while sitting in his favorite café, nursing a café crème. The notebooks described the places, the people, the events of his penurious life."   -- Hotchner, A. E. (2009-07-19). "Don't Touch 'A Moveable Feast'". The New York Times.


Wouldn't it be something to find an old suitcase filled with things you haven't seen in 30 years? What would YOU want to find in your suitcase?



Backpack Full of Goodies: Helping the Homeless

When I lived in Anchorage, I frequently made donations to a homeless shelter, Beans Cafe, and a youth shelter, Covenant House. It was difficult to forget about the homeless in that city because Beans Cafe was located close to where I lived.  I passed the homeless lined up outside the charity every time I ran errands.  This year, they asked some of the city’s homeless to write their holiday wishes on a piece of paper.  Then, they photographed them holding their wishes and posted those photos of social media.

Steven's request for a "backpack full of goodies" really touches my heart.

We don't have a lot of visible homeless people where I now live, but just before Thanksgiving I saw a clean, well-groomed homeless man riding a bike with a little hitch on the back.  He had posted signs all over the hitch saying he was homeless and hungry but capable of doing odd jobs for food.  I don't have a place for him to do odd jobs, so I grabbed two warm drinks and I went and sat with him for about 20 minutes.  I was wearing a Spock tee shirt and he told me what a fan he was of Star Trek.  He also told me about his dog - Maggie - a former bait dog he rescued.  I told him I was sorry I didn't have any odd jobs for him and I gave him enough cash for a hot meal or two...

I tell you that story not to toot my own horn - but to say that so many homeless people are so beaten down by their circumstances they lose their spark.  They have to focus on finding necessities like food, not the things that feed the soul.  This man, holding a sign asking for a backpack full of goodies, still has his spark. 


I am so blessed.  Truly.  And I am full of spark.   My Christmas hope this year is that we all do something to help preserve the spark in a homeless person.  It takes just a few minutes - a warm drink - a few extra bucks - a thoughtful conversation - to help preserve someone's faith in humanity.

Attitude of Gratitude


Since I was twelve, I have had a difficult relationship with my mother. Several years ago, I was preparing to embark on a trip to France with my friend, Cindy. I asked my mother what I could get for her in France -- chocolates, perfume -- she gave me a short list and then added, "And a heart shaped stone."

"What?"

"When you're at Mont St. Michel, see if you can't find me a heart shaped stone."

And I did. We were walking along the causeway, just before the tide came in (this is before they added the slick, raised, paved causeway). I looked down and saw a heart-shaped stone.

I have made it one of my travel traditions to look for a heart-shaped stone for my Momma...even if we aren't speaking.

I have a nice little collection now.  

A dark greenish heart stone I found near castle ruins in Scotland.  

A heart shaped stone that appears to be a piece of masonry I found near a chateau in France.  

A smooth light gray heart stone plucked from the shores of my beloved Ireland...


I am grateful for this tradition because it helps me to stay connected to my mom in a simple, painless way. It also reminds me that no matter how far I travel, no matter how much I see and experience, I should remember to look for and value the "small" treasures life offers.

Looscaunagh Lough


Looscaunagh Lough is a little lake on the edge of Killarney National Park in Ireland.  I drove by it at least a dozen times during my stay in County Kerry.  For me, it was heaven on earth.  There were several abandoned cottages and I thought how simple and grand life would be if I could love in a little cottage besides Looscaunagh.  I imagine it's just a boring plot of land beside a wee lake to most Irishmen, but I thought it was as close to perfect as one could hope to find. It was just one of two places that I have been in this world where I felt I belonged.






How To Be A Badass

"If you don't distance yourself from the wrong people, you will never meet the right people." 

~ Joel Osteen





What a beautifully simple concept.  For years I clung to the wrong people - people so toxic that I felt I needed a decontamination shower after spending time with them.  Then there were the people who weren't loyal to me but to their need of me.  Once their needs changed, so did their loyalty. 

I held onto those people out of fear.  "What if I end the friendship and spend the next fifteen years looking for a new friend?  What if I die alone?  Since God delivered me to this family, He might think I am unforgiving and ungrateful if I stop talking to them."

Fear kept me in painful and toxic relationships.  Fear motivated me to forgive people when they were cruel, disloyal, abusive, or negligent.  Fear is a powerful motivator.  Healthy fear protects you from making dangerous or unwise decisions.  Unhealthy fear paralyzes you and makes it difficult to move away from the familiar, even if that familiar is painful.

The same principle could be applied to the pursuit of one's dreams.

"If you don't distance yourself from the wrong dreams, you will never achieve the right dreams."

Having ADD means I spend a lot of time distracted, engaged in pointless pursuits or in chasing shiny things that suddenly attract my attention.  A few years ago, I started making Christmas ornaments as a way to distract myself from family problems.  I spent months making decoupage ornaments. When boxes of ornaments covered my kitchen island, family room bar, and dining room table, I did what anyone would do: I sold them on eBay and Etsy.  A sane person would have pocketed her profit and moved on.  I made more ornaments.  What had started as a relaxing pastime quickly turned into an all-consuming distraction. It was also a major diversion that kept me from continuing to pursue my real dream:  to be a multi-published author.  

For years, I doggedly wrote historical fiction.  Even though I received enough rejection letters to wallpaper the Taj Mahal, I kept writing historical romances.  I had dream myopia.  I put on my blinders and trotted the track - around and around and around.  A few close friends said, "Why don't you try a new path?  You're funny.  You should try writing chick lit."


Unhealthy fear fell upon me like one of Wile E. Coyote's anvils and made it nearly impossible for me to move.  The thing about anvils?  They freaking hurt.  After a while, you are so exhausted from the pain you are willing to gnaw off your own leg just to get away from it.  

We hear stories about courageous people.  Often they are described as Herculean men and Amazonian women - soldiers who evade capture, firemen who run into burning buildings, mothers who lift vehicles to free their trapped off-spring, a teenager who survives a plane crash and then fights her way through miles of jungle just to reach help.  No offense to them, but they kinda give courage a bad rap.

Their admirable acts are so freaking awesome they make our challenges seem trivial.  "I mean, seriously, if a blind elderly woman with one leg and one kidney can climb Mount Everest, you should be able to end a friendship/write a book/join a new church/apply for that job."

No challenge is trivial.  They might not all be Mount Everest - maybe they're merely foothills.  It's all about perspective though.

Sometimes, courage doesn't come with a bolt of lightning, but with a bone-weariness need to change, to move away from the pain.


It takes courage to say, "I am going to stop chasing the wrong dreams/friend/man/career and remain faithful that God will show me the path toward the right dream/friend/man/career."

Be quietly, wearily courageous.  You might not be able to lift your shirt and impress your friends with your wicked battle scar, but you will have one badass story to tell.



Badass By The Numbers:







What Should You Stick In Your Beach Bag?

You've packed your swimsuit, sandals, suntan lotion, and slinky sundress, but did you remember to pack the one thing that will make you laugh, feel sexy, and give you some serious girl power?  

This summer's new Chick Lit releases are super fab, laugh out loud fun. So, don't forget to stick one or two (or more) of these novels in your beach bag or carry-on.  (I suggest starting with Working It - but that's merely a suggestion).

You know how you have that favorite summer dress - the one you bought a few years ago, but still makes you feel fantastic?  

You probably think you'll never find a better summer dress, right?  But one day soon, you will be walking through the mall and...WAAHHHH (that's the heavenly chorus sound effect that plays whenever a woman finds the perfect garment)...

...There it will be!  A new summer dress that looks as fab on your body as it did on the mannequin.  A dress that is slinkier, sexier, and more sensational than your old one.  You will still love your old dress, of course, but you will joyfully slip into the new one.

That's what it is like with this summer's chick lit novels.  Previous summer's offered great reads, but these novels are slinkier, sexier, and will make you feel marvelous.  

There's a lot to choose from:  a fashionista seeking a destiny beyond Dior, three romantic rivals vying for the same man, a would-be actress in search of her first husband, sisters with secrets in a Cornish cottage...

Take your pick (but I recommend buying  the whole lot - after all, one can never have too many slinky, make you feel super-sexy dresses, can one?)























Piece by Piece


I write a lot of blog pieces and Facebook posts about my crazy life and unbelievable, but true, adventures.  I post silly questions, risqué jokes, and way too many pop culture references (sorry/not sorry for the jabs Gwynnie). 
Today, with this post, I am scratching much deeper than the surface.  If you don't like to go deep, click here for a fun, but more shallow, read.

Thursday night, Kelly Clarkson, American Idol's poster girl turned anti-establishment chanteuse, paid a visit to her alma mater. An older, heavily pregnant Kelly sang her new song, "Piece by Piece".  If you haven't heard it yet, you might want to take a listen or you won't really get what I am about to prattle on about.



I have never been a Kelly Clarkson fan, but this song hit me straight in the heart.  My biological father abandoned me when I was a baby.  He abused my mother and neglected me.  I am truly a better person because my  young mother had the courage to tell him to go. 

He went. 

And he never came back. 

"I traveled 1500 miles to see you..."
When I was twenty-three, I tracked him down.  He was living in a sad, tiny apartment in Tampa, Florida (which, incidentally, is the stripper capital of the United States).  He was married to his fourth or fifth wife and raising two of his children (each had a different Baby Mama).  At first, he was warm and welcoming.  He planned outings to beaches and water parks.  He invited his relatives - my relatives - over for barbecues.  He kept my mind whirling with his non-stop prattle (so that's where I got my gift for gab), catching me up on his lost twenty-three years.  I felt as if I were in an alter-world wherein he was the snake and I was the charmer, but he was charming me and all I could do was sit and stare, eyes wide and catatonic.

"And all of your words fall flat..."
The thing about snakes is: no matter how much they entrance you with their markings, their graceful movements, their unflinching, hypnotic gaze, if you get too close, challenge them too much, they will strike.  Snakes can be slippery, venomous little bastards.

Some people are just like snakes.  They charm you, entrance you, lure you closer, and then strike.  Snakes are not what they first seem.
I am not at liberty to discuss the finer points of my visit with biological father, but I can tell you it ended with disastrous, disappointing results.

"Begged you to want me..."
Time, therapy, love - they can be remarkably powerful anti-venom. I am okay with my father's abandonment now, but for a long time his neglect left gaping wounds on my heart.  I tried to soothe those wounds with the love of others - friends, family, lovers.  I tried to be the most pleasing, most loving, most entertaining person to whomever I was with so they would love me and never abandon me. 

When my father packed his bags and slid away, never looking back, he left a legacy of self-doubt and longing.  I grew up wondering if my father left because I wasn't good enough.  Sometimes, the pain of abandonment was so great I would invent stories, casting him as a Vietnam War hero or an undercover CIA agent. 

Growing up without a strong, dependable, loving father influenced my behavior, particularly when it came to relationships with men. 

"That a man can be kind..."
I grew up dreaming about, and searching for, a man who would be kind, supportive, dependable, gentle, and true. 

But an abandoned and neglected daughter searching for a good man is a lot like being blindfolded, dropped in the middle of a vast forest, and told that you have to find your way out.  Good men are unfamiliar terrain.  Chances are, you will make several wrong turns before you find your way.  If you're lucky, you might stumble out of the forest, but not without a lot of luck or a lot of therapy.

"And a father should be great..."
Twelve paragraphs in, I don't even know why I am writing this blog post.  Maybe I am hoping a father on the brink of leaving will read this and consider the damage his abandonment will cause to his trusting daughter. 
Though, my cynical, jaded side - the side that is rarely allowed out of its dark, dank, deep cave - says, "Seriously?  You think your little blog post and a weepy Kelly Clarkson song is going to positively influence a positively flawed human being?  Ego much?"

Abandonment - in all of its forms: psychological, emotional, physical, financial - stems from a profoundly flawed morality.  Men and women who abandon their offspring, particularly when they are the most vulnerable and needy, are lacking the thick-as-cement moral fiber found in good, reliable, loving parents.  The very foundation of their character has a big-ass crack in it.  A crack created by a pathetically perverted inner-dialogue that says, "You are the most important person in this mismatched little group.  Your happiness is more important than theirs.  You deserve to be happy and free.  Walk away." 

"I made something of myself..."
Those wounds - the ones my biological father created when he listened to his inner-dialogue, the one that told him his happiness mattered more than mine - weren't healed by collecting fawning friends or finding a generous lover.  Those wounds were healed when I silenced the perverted inner-dialogue in my head, the one that said, "Your father left because you weren't pretty/smart/funny/kind/fill-in-the-blank enough."  Those wounds were healed not through the love of surrogate fathers, but through self-understanding, acceptance, and love.

A miraculous amount of healing can occur when you learn to truly accept yourself - freckles, fat fingers, frizzy hair and all!  The scars might still be there - you see them - but they don't cause you pain or limit your mobility.

A few months ago, my half-sister wrote to tell me our biological father was dying.  Keeping it real?  My first thought was, "So?  Why are you telling me?"

When I told my husband, he said, "What are you going to do?"

I shrugged.  "I dunno."

But then I sat with it.  Turned it over in mind and heart.  Prayed about it.

Eventually, I asked myself, "What would your biological father do?"

And I did the opposite.

I called his hospice, briefly explained my unusual family dynamics to the nurse, and asked her if she would convey a message to my dying biological father.

"Of course," she said.  "What would you like me to tell him?"

"Please tell him that I forgive him and I pray that he will find the peace and goodness in the Afterlife that eluded him in this life."


It suddenly just occurred to me - the reason for this post.  I am hoping some little girl, sitting in her pink painted bedroom in Topeka, Tacoma, or Toledo, will read this and stop her perverted inner-dialogue from ever forming.  Instead, I hope she tells herself, "It was his deficits that made him pack his bag and leave, not yours.  You are pretty, smart, funny, kind, fill-in-the-blank enough just as you are."


What's So Great About Scotland?






When I woke this morning, I detected a nip in the air, an unmistakable drop in temperature heralding the approach of autumn.  Here in Colorado, that means getting the snow blower serviced, pulling out your down filled parka, and stocking the pantry with survival food (caramel chocolate bars, tortilla chips, and wine).  Unlike other places in the world, Colorado does not slip gently into that good season.    When the first cool breeze blows, snow is soon to follow.

Rather than mourn the demise of bathing suit season, I made myself a pot of tea and toast with strawberry jam.  For me, tea and toast slathered with strawberry jam are inextricably linked with autumn.

I blame it on Scotland. 

Several years ago, my best friend nagged/bargained/convinced me to go on a three week tour of the United Kingdom with her.  I was the reluctant tourist.  Not because I loathe travel.  On the contrary.  J’adore travel!  But at that time, France and I were still in our honeymoon stage.  Frankly, I was eyelids deep in love with Paris and couldn’t imagine being unfaithful. 

Ever.

Our phone conversations turned into word association battles.

“Buckingham Palace,” she would say.
Versailles.” I would counter. “‘Nuff said.”
“Victoria and Albert.”
“The Louvre.”
“Fish and chips,” she would cry.
“Croissants and champagne!”

Boo-yah!  At that point, she would usually fall silent and I would feel victorious.  I mean, who can argue with pain au chocolat and champagne for breakfast?  Um.  Nobody.

In the end, her passion for all things Scots, and my desire to spend QT with my best girlfriend, had me heading to Kayak to purchase round-trip tickets to London.  

Since this isn’t a travel piece, I will just give you a written montage of the first portion of our journey:  Tower of London.  High tea.  Shopping at Harrods.  Getting arrested by Buckingham Palace Guards.  Castle.  Castle.  Brighton (where I stared longingly across the Channel at my beloved France).  Jane Austen’s Bath.  Wales.  Harry Potter’s castle, Alnwich.  And then…
Scotland!

After a whirlwind tour of Edinburgh, we headed to our cottage, perched on a hill overlooking a sheep farm near Strathpeffer.  We spent the next week doing what girlfriends do when they are together: talk, laugh, shop, rescue critically ill sheep.

We hiked to the top of paps and yodeled like the people in the Ricola commercials.  We fell in love with the sturdy, plucky West Highland Terriers we saw in village parks and vowed we would each adopt one someday.  We tried Drambuie at the tavern where it was first made.  We walked between standing stones and hoped to be transported through time into the arms of a brave, brawny Scotsman, like Claire in Outlander.  We tromped through bogs in our brand new shiny Wellies, and returned to the cottage to feast on toast slathered with Mackays Strawberry Conserve. 

Order Finding It
today! 
And just like that, I made room in my heart for a new lovah: Scotland. 
So, when I sat down to plot out Finding It, book two of my It Girls series, I knew I had to set the book in Scotland.  The It Girls books are all about self-exploration and growth, broadening one’s horizons through travel, and building the best, most enriching friendships one can build. 

Sure, they are romance novels – which means there are sexy, charming men and some crazy-hot-monkey sex – but at their core, they are about how true friendships motivate, mold, and sustain us. 


My best friend motivated me to visit Scotland.  The memories we made that autumn have molded me into a different writer and sustained me when the darker side of life has closed in.  So, to answer the question posed to me by the editor of this blog – “Why did you place your novel in Scotland?” – Because I couldn’t think of a better setting for a novel about adventure, love, and friendship.





Castle on the Hill
Corgarff Castle, Highlands

Angus' Stones
Standing Stones on a farm near Dingwall

Follow the Leader
Sheep beside a sign in Gaelic, high in the Highlands

Hairy Coo
Highlands Cows near Culloden Battlefield

Bucolic Beauty
A hay field near Castle Fraser, Highlands

The Real Angus
Angus and his sheep, Shep, his faithful collie is popping his head up to the left of the photo,
Near Dingwall

My Buddy
After a few visits, Shep has become my good buddy.
I am even wearing a beanie with the words, "Get a wee, wee bye, Shep!"
 - the words Angus uses to encourages Shep to round up the herd.

Under a Blue Heaven
Pasture in the Highlands

True Friendship
Cindy is such a great friend, she let me talk her into
wearing ridiculous hats and posing in the pasture with
the sheep.  (To be fair, it didn't take a lot of convincing)

Moody Sky
The northern coast of Scotland

Chilling
Here I am, just chilling in my Beatles tee and beanie,
watching the surf roll in.

It's All Mine
Striking my trademark pose outside Glamis Castle

In the Gloaming
Edinburgh just before nightfall

Old Town Edinburgh

New Town Edinburgh

Sunset on the Stones
One of my favorite things to do in Scotland is take
an evening hike and watch the sun set over the stones

Stones and the Heavens


Darkness Falls

Me and Bridget Jones: Unapologetically Adorkable

"Chick Lit is soooo last century."
"Oh my god!  I know, right?"
"They're all fashion, fun, and female empowerment."
"Eww!  Who wants to read a novel about some sad woman stumbling through life in overpriced designer shoes?"

I was standing in my local bookstore when I overheard the above conversation and I literally had to stop myself from raising my hand, jumping up and down, and crying, "Oo!  Me!  Me!  I want to read about a less-than-perfect woman balancing life, love, and lustful pursuits in a pair of fabulous Louboutins!”

But then, I have always been the hot pink mini in the closet full of little black dresses.  Remember Joan Cusack’s bit part in the movie Sixteen Candles?  The comically, awkward girl in the back brace, trying valiantly to take a sip from the water fountain.  Yeah, that’s me.  When everyone else was reading time travel romance, I was reading (and writing) historical fiction.  When everyone else was reading zombie/vampire/shape shifter romances, I was reading sweet Women’s Fiction.  Now, as readers are clamoring for the next big dystopian society read or 50 Shades knockoff, I am reading (and writing) light, breezy Chick Lit.

Why?

Because Bridget Jones changed my life.  Actually, her Diary changed my life.  It's probably cliché for a Chick Lit author to say Helen Fielding's bestseller inspired her to write a funny, female empowerment story, but it's true. 

I get girls like Bridget because, behind my smiling facade, my expensively maintained mane of blonde hair, my seemingly together act, I am an awkward, inadvertently comical girl.  I am stumbling through life (sadly, sans Louboutins), meeting challenges with a quirky, self-depreciating kind of humor.


If we were invited to the same party, you would find me in the corner laughing with the clique of women who don’t take themselves too seriously, who possess a joie de vivre, and a hunger to connect.  Across the room would be the badass vampire slayers, leather clad dominatrices, and bow-toting tributes.  I would complement the vampire slayer on her fab jewel encrusted crucifix, ask the dominatrix if her bustier was from Prada’s Fall line, and get Katniss talking about her love for Peeta.  The other crowd would tolerate me, but snicker as I walked away.  The hardcore, end-of-the world saviors and other-world slayers would say I am pathetically LB (legally blonde). 

And I would be okay with that.  Bridget and her peeps have taught me it’s okay to move through life with designer rose colored glasses, to apply liberal doses of laughter to all that ails you, to unapologetically strive for empowerment, and to surround yourself with a colorful cast of slightly awkward, totally lovable characters.

Faking It, book one of my
bestselling It Girls series, is
available now.  Click here
to order your copy!

The laughter continues with
Finding It, book two of 
the It Girls series.  Click
here to get your copy!

Will Vivia's BFF find a destiny
more valuable than Dior?  Will
she find a hot romance in 
cold Alaska?  Pre-order

Paris is Always a Good Idea

From a young age, I determined to adhere to the words of the incomparable Audrey Hepburn, who once declared, "Paris is always a good idea."

Paris is always a good idea: as a vacation destination, a place of residence, and as a setting for movies and novels.



In the movie Sabrina, Audrey's character writes a letter home to her father, waxing poetic about her feelings for Paris.  


"I am looking at the world through rose colored glasses and it says everything I feel.  I've learned so many things, Father...I have learned how to live."


Why?  Why is Paris the setting parfait for an exploration of one's character...or for a novel?

Because when you are there, every breath you inhale is tinged with hope, every exhalation with gratitude. Hope for a grand histoire d'amour -  a great love affair.  

Hope for one of those serendipitous moments - when the light filters through the spires of Notre Dame leaving a lacy patterned shadow on the square in which you stand, when the setting sun transforms the Seine into a river of gold, when the scent of fresh bread permeates the air, when a handsome stranger strides across the bistro and says, 
"Je suis ravi par votre beauté."
"I am enraptured by your beauty."
Because, let's face it, those things don't happen in Poughkeepsie, Pomona, or Portland.  They just don't.




Edith Piaf got it.  La Vie en Rose.  Life through rose colored glasses.  Sigh.  (Click here to listen to Edith's version)

So, if life is looking a little bleak through your RayBans, grab one of these fabulous novels and transport yourself to that magical, rose-stained city, Paris.