Goodbye, Stitch…

Our neighbor’s cat, Stitch, was a fixture on our street for a dozen years. He’s been in everyone’s home from time to time–sometimes invited, other times not. As he aged, he became rather bold, lying in the middle of the road or driveway and refusing to budge for cars. Love him or not, no one would deny that he was a bit of an old soul and a vagabond (often being spotted a mile or farther away from our street).

My husband adored this cat. Several times per week he’d sit on the front or back porch with Stitch, feeding him milk and tuna. He’d purr at that furry friend while petting him. In truth, he and my kids considered Stitch “our” cat, and based on the number of hours he spent with us, maybe they weren’t wrong.

On the other hand, I’m allergic to cats. I could also get easily annoyed by Stitch barging into my house or racing to the grill and standing at my feet whenever I cooked. I’d have to watch for him in the driveway and physically move him so I could come or go. He’d chase me into the garage, too, which would make me grumble when trying to carry the groceries inside the house without letting him slip past me.

Although he could be a nuisance, when I noticed how slow he’d been growing–how hard of a time he had getting up and down–I worried about how my family would deal with his inevitable death. In order to preserve his memory, I wrote him into my upcoming release, BEFORE I KNEW. When I made that choice, I didn’t know how or when the end would come, just that it would come.

Well, it came today. I wish I could say it was peaceful and that his owners informed the  neighborhood. Sadly, I discovered him in our yard this morning, clearly the victim of a coyote attack. It was heartbreaking, to say the least, which surprised me because I had not loved him like my family had.

But tonight when I go to the grill, I know I’ll feel his absence. Even now, writing this simple post, my eyes are a little dewy. My husband was right all along: Stitch was a cool cat. I now wish I’d appreciated that more before it was too late. This isn’t the first time I’ve been slow to realize something like that, but I hope it’s the last.

It’s a good reminder for me to be more present and to appreciate all the little things that are part of my journey. And when we all face the sad reality that nothing lasts forever, perhaps we should emulate Winnie the Pooh’s attitude and think to ourselves: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

xo-Jamie

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5 Things To Do With Your Friends

Being a woman can be hard. A lot is expected of us. Not only do we hold jobs, raise kids, and keep a household running, but we’re expected to do it all with a smile (and to look fit and pretty, too!). It can be daunting at times, which is why it’s so important to keep connected to our friends.

Sure, your mom and sisters can be a source of support, as can your partner. But there’s something special about friends–the people who choose you to be a part of their life journey–that nourishes the soul and rejuvenates the spirit. Here are a few of mine on a recent girls’ trip we took to Arizona, where I laughed more in five days than I have in the past month. I can’t tell you how much that hit the reset button on my stress level.

But you don’t need to spend a ton of money to enjoy the benefits of friendship. Here are five inexpensive things you can do to keep connected with your friends:

  1. Start a book club (or another club involving a mutual hobby or interest, like knitting, hiking, or music). Naturally, talking about books is a favorite pastime of mine, but book club evenings eventually evolve into sharing stories and laughs over wine. What’s nicer than that?
  2. Host a potluck. This sounds old-school, but it’s a nice way to host a party without doing all the work and spending all the money. The host can prepare the main dish, but assign others the salad, sides, and dessert (dessert to be given to your most-trusted friend, as it is the most important part of the meal!).
  3. Take an exercise class (or meet for a long walk). The long walk allows for lots of catching up, but then again, going to Pilates with a friend makes that endeavor less painful.
  4. Watch a series togetherliterally. When I was young and single, I did this with a friend (Melrose Place, anyone?). More recently, a friend and I did this for LOST and American Horror Story. We’d take turns going to the other’s home to watch, leaving the hubby and kids to fend for themselves for an evening each week. It turned TV watching into a social endeavor, and it was fun to snack away while discussing the episode (my husband hates when I ask questions during a show–and during LOST I had a lot of questions).
  5. Plan an “at home” spa day. Drug stores sell a ton of inexpensive face masks and nail products. Pick up some collagen masks, Emory boards, and brightly colored polish and call your friends. You might want to send your partner and kids out to the movies so you have the place to yourself, but it can be fun to engage in these girly activities no matter your age, and you end up feeling fresh and pretty when it’s over.

Those are a few of my ideas, but I’m sure there are plenty more. If you have a good idea, please share!

xo,

Jamie

 

 

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A Change of Venue

Who else goes on vacation and wonders why they shouldn’t just up and move to an exotic location? I doubt I’m alone and, if you’d been with my family and me in Turks and Caicos, you might’ve decided to stay there.

Vacations are a wonderful way to rejuvenate the spirit, reconnect with your family and friends, and explore a different part of the world. I love taking my kids to new places so they can learn about and experience different cultures, foods, and ways of life.

The family

Of course, this was just a four-day trip, so we didn’t do much exploration of the island–just a lot of relaxation, and perhaps a little internal exploration.

This is what I learned:

View from plane

  1. The colors of the sea there are the most striking variation of turquoise that I’ve ever seen. Whether seeing it from the plane or the shore, the ocean is simply breathtaking. Better yet, it is crystal clear when you swim.

The beach

2. It’s windy there. Really windy. I’ve never been so cold while basking in the sun. On the upside, it made for excellent sailing and parasailing!

3. Jerk chicken rocks. My son, in particular, ate more than his fill of this Caribbean favorite.

Ford sailing

4. It was a treat to put aside work. During the past two years, I haven’t gone more than 24-hours without writing. That’s right, even when on vacation, and every weekend, I usually do a little work. This trip, I promised my family I wouldn’t pull out the laptop. Instead, I lounged around the beach reading books (if you haven’t read JoJo Moyes’s One by One, do so!), drinking smoothies, and sunbathing. I NEVER do that. By the fourth day, I had really unwound. Now I know I need to do this a little more often.

Parasailing

5. My list of “top places to retire” keeps expanding. I’d always wanted to go west, to a mountainous area like Colorado or the Sierra Nevada range. Now I’m thinking island living might not be too bad. And I’m pretty sure my kids would like to come visit often if we chose someplace like this to live, right?

So how about you? Where have you been lately, and what did you learn while you were there?

xo-Jamie

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April Fool’s Pranks

Happy April Fool’s Day! I’m not much of a prankster these days, but when I was younger, my stepfather and I used to try to sneak up and surprise the other. I’ll admit, he won the best “scare” attack of our ongoing battle.

One school night in the early-mid 80s, my mom and he went to bed about thirty minutes before I did. When I finally got sleepy, I climbed the stairs–arms loaded with school books–without turning on the lights, as was my custom. On the left side of the top of the stairs was a set of double doors that opened to a hallway that led to two bedrooms (including mine, which sat at the far end of that hall). The right wall of that hall had a built-in set of drawers with a marble top for folding things, which unit was flanked by two sizable closets. That particular night, unbeknownst to me, my rather large and clumsy stepfather had crawled up onto that slab and huddled in a ball–hidden by the closet walls–and was quietly waiting for me to appear. If you could see that space and know his size, that feat alone is remarkable. When he heard me come through the double doors and start down the hall, he screamed and flailed his arms about, nearly toppling off his perch. My books flew into the air and I fell to the floor, heart pounding, flopping like a fish on dry land, spitting out the words, “That. Was. The. Best. Scare. Ever!” My mother came rushing through the house, yelling at him for giving me a heart attack. He was laughing so hard, he was bent over, unable to breath. Good times, I tell ‘ya.

Yes, we were a bit twisted, and I probably wouldn’t enjoy that kind of scare today nearly as much as I did back then. But I still smile when I remember that prank.

He died almost fourteen years ago, and I haven’t engaged in any kind of real prank in at least a decade. My kids are teens now, so maybe it’s time I did. It’s not child abuse to torment your kids a little, is it?

To prepare, I did a little web browsing, hoping to poach a clever idea from people with more practice. Some good pranks I discovered include: putting tape over the sensor at the bottom of a mouse or the TV remote, making caramel covered onions and watching that first bite, turning someone’s clock ahead by an hour while they are asleep, putting a donut box with veggie snacks on the table, and texting someone “What’s your ETA?” when you have no plans.

While cute and not too time consuming, none of those ideas strikes the right chord for me and my family. I’m hoping you might have a suggestion. Make it quick, ’cause I’m running out of time!

xo-Jamie

 

When the Dream Doesn’t Come True

If you’re an avid romance reader, you’ve probably heard about the Romance Writers of America’s annual RITA® awards competition. Essentially, thousands of romance novels are submitted and judged by multiple, random members (typically 5-7 judges per book, I believe). If you enter, you must also volunteer to judge, and each book is graded on a 10-point scale.

Needless to say, it’s a massive undertaking. I entered my 2016 releases, Worth the Trouble, Worth the Risk, and Secretly Hers, in the relevant categories for each of those books. I’m proud of all three stories and each has also enjoyed mostly positive feedback. While I didn’t have an expectation of making the finals, I did have hopes.

Today, RWA announced the 2017 finalists. For hours, thousands of romance writers were sitting by their phones, hoping for that call. More than a few were probably frustrated by the stray telemarketer call, too. I tried to put it out of my mind and focus on work, but that wasn’t easy. I kept refreshing the RWA page to see how the categories were shaping up, but as each hour passed, the fact that my dreams for a nod would not come true this year sank in.

It’s never easy to face defeat, especially such a public one. But then I think of all of the wonderful books that were released last year, many of which also did not make the cut, and I realize that I am not alone. I know the loss of that recognition isn’t a wholesale rejection of my work. I think of all the lovely fan mail I received this past year, and how much I adored writing those books. And I remember that I typed “THE END” on yet another manuscript today.

So, I’ll be cheering for my friends who got good news (Michelle Major for Christmas on Crimson Mountain, and Virginia Kantra for her excellent book, Carolina Dreaming), and for one of my favorite books of last year, Duke of Sin, by Elizabeth Hoyt, which also made the list.

I will rally tomorrow (after I finish my little pity-party) and look forward to celebrating the winners in July, when we all gather for the annual conference, where we learn from each other how to write, how to navigate this competitive profession, and how to pick ourselves up and get back in the ring. There’s always next year, after all!

But for right now, I wonder if you’d make some authors happy by sharing one or two or your favorite romance novels from 2016?!

xo-Jamie