Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday Movies: My All-American

Click Image to Watch on Amazon!

Aaron Eckhart, Finn Wittrock, Sarah Bolger

Directed by: Angelo Pizzo
Released: 2015
Length: 1h 58m

This weekend I watched a movie that was equal parts inspiration, motivation, and heartbreak. The casting was spot-on; the script was strong and well-planned. The film itself was well-executed.

But what made this movie a particular delight for me was how personal it was. I had meant to watch Just Like Heaven (which was recommended to me by David Elliot of the Single Dad's Guide To Life; he left it as a recommendation in the comments of my last Monday Movie), but it wasn't available on Netflix when I sat down to watch it, and so I went browsing for something else, planning to bump Just Like Heaven to a later post when I could be better prepared.

I happened at the moment to be texting with a close friend of mine, and mentioned that I was looking for something to watch, which led to a short discussion on movie genre preferences and a long discussion on what Netflix does and does not have available to stream currently. Eventually, this movie came up, the evening was passing me by, and after a quick glance at the plot summary (sprinkled liberally with trust in my friend's judgment), I was ready to give it a shot.

My All-American is a story of courage and determination; it's about a boy who wants nothing more than to play good football. He works hard, studies hard, prays hard, and is of course (because in movie land, it can simply not be any other way) totally cute. But high school is over, standards in college are higher, and his dreams are going up in smoke as one college after another turns him down because he's "too small." Until Texas.

By this time, I'm totally invested in the movie because I love this character (Freddie, I mean) - he's easy to love with his openness and his go-hard attitude, his willingness to give everything he has, and his inherent respect for everyone around him. So it's no surprise that he works his way quickly into the good graces of the coaching team, as well as that of his new teammates, and it's also no surprise that the team rises to the very top of college football.

But it wouldn't be nearly as strong a movie if everything had continued to flow so easily, would it? And so there was a moment of foreshadowing - where as I watched, I found myself shaking my head, whispering, "Oh, no," into the quiet dark of my bedroom. At that point the whole movie changed for me, and I caught myself running through the possibilities - of which, ironically, the one thing I should have thought of instantly didn't come to mind.

What followed was a remarkable story of determination and inner strength - the story of a man settling in to accept change that could not be fought off, the story of a woman standing by her man, the story of a dedicated coach who took the time to care about so much more than winning.

Hidden Delights From This Movie:
1. That first moment when Freddie and Linda lock eyes in the hallway at school, and you just know something big is going to happen.
2. The sense of glee that hit me when Freddie caught Linda and her friend spying on him, and the conversation that followed.
3. The way Freddie shared his dreams with Linda, pointing toward the places most relevant in his life, sharing his future with her as if he already knew she would be part of it.
4. Every scene showcasing Freddie's faith and how he leaned on his trust in God to carry him through the various challenges he encountered.
5. The stellar acting of Finn Wittrock. Throughout this movie, the emotional depth he leads to the character of Freddie Steinmark is unbeatable.
6. The thorough wrap-up at the end, right on down to the symbolism of relative immortality.

Yes, I loved it. And yes, I cried. It was a beautiful movie, and the fact that it's based so closely on the true story of real-life Freddie Steinmark, in conjunction to certain parallels between this movie and the friend who suggested it ... well, let's just say this one will stick with me for quite some time.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday FAQ: "How Do You DO It All?" Managing My Busy Life with PTSD

It's always fun answering questions from people I meet and interact with as a blogger. I like that this platform (and the questions people ask me because of it) gives me so many great opportunities to explore who I am as a person, how I became the woman I am today, and how I feel on a general basis about the woman I am.

It's interesting, taking such an inward look at myself as a mother, as a woman, as a writer, and sometimes it's the questions I get asked that make me realize things about myself in a whole new way. 

For years now, it has been a running joke in my family that if you ask me at lunchtime what I had for breakfast, I probably won't be able to tell you. I very likely won't show up to appointments, even if I've confirmed them. I won't remember to take medications, and I'll forget where I put things - sometimes even if they're important.

I run through lists constantly in my mind: things that need to be done, things I wanted to say the next time I see someone, groceries I needed to pick up, what time one of my daughters has their next appointment. Forgetting things triggers my anxiety, as does forgetting appointments, losing certain items, misplacing things.

My biggest fear in death is Alzheimer's. My grandmother has it, and I know that it can run in families. My mother is becoming symptomatic.

So every time I put my keys down and one of the kids moves them ... every time my back pain makes me realize I've been forgetting my reflux medication ... every time I write a wrong date down ...

I'm sure it's coming. And it freaks me out.

But keeping myself together and on a schedule makes a huge difference for me, and my need to do it is the very reason I often have people look into my life and shake their heads, asking, "How do you DO it all?"

So here's how I do it. Mostly.

PTSD creates a strange mix of symptoms, symptoms which sometimes interact with each other in the most disturbing ways. I could go on and on about all of them and how they interact, but this is actually meant to be a positive post about dealing with anxiety, so I'll skip depression, lack of focus, exhaustion, nightmares, and even olfactory hallucinations, and I'll focus on the point.

Because of PTSD, I am an anxious woman. Because of this anxiety, combined with my own childhood memories, I am a strict and overprotective mother. And I know that a "normal" woman - even a "normal" one with PTSD - would probably have gone running to a doctor by now, begging for medication she could take that might help her get her life back.

But I'm a mother, and my mother has been either addicted or on the verge of addicted to one medication or another since I was in fifth grade. She's been homeless because of it, she's been poor because of it. She's been mean and combative and outright crazy because of it. She's almost died because of it, many times.

If I didn't have children, I might ask for medication for myself. I might take my life back - or at least, I might try to. But I can't become my mother. I'd rather drop dead right this second than risk doing that to my kids.

So I am left with the anxiety and the strange mix of other symptoms that control my life. I am left searching for, and implementing, the coping mechanisms I've found in the best way that I know - and in the meantime, I'm still working actively at being a good mom, being a good person, being a good friend. I have goals, and when I can, I work toward them. Some days it feels like I've got it covered, like I'm doing just as well as I had hoped to.

Other days, I'm lost in what's known among the PTSD community as "episodes of decompensation," and those days are why I strive to maintain all the little things that keep my daily life running as smoothly as possible.

When I'm unmotivated to write and too anxious or too depressed to even care that I'm unmotivated, I force myself to at least check my calendars every day. Yes, calendars, plural. I keep two of them because when I keep everything on just one, the sheer enormity of what's on it is often so overwhelming that I'll stop checking it. So I keep two:
  • one with Google Calendars, for maintaining the steady stream of doctor and therapy appointments for myself and my daughters, birthdays I might need to remember, and events I need or want to attend. This calendar syncs to all my devices, which means I don't spend time trying not to lose those little appointment cards everyone's always giving me, and I can color code things so it's easy to see at a glance what's coming up for who.
  • the other one is for Patreon, other writing commitments, and this blog - which I use to keep and fill in a schedule of blog post ideas and deadlines. For this, I use the Jorte Calendar app because it's pretty and I don't care that it doesn't sync from device to device. (Actually, I think it can, if you pay for it - but I don't need that feature.)
I am a creature of habit - I live by the solidity of routine and the comfort of knowing that I've got things in line, and keeping those routines fairly well-implemented helps tremendously with the memory issues. I don't forget my girls's medications because we ALWAYS do them after breakfast and after dinner. I don't forget to feed Chance because he knows what time he eats (after meds) and he NEVER lets me forget. But it's the things that aren't routine that trip me up, so ...

If I can make myself check my calendars, that's a start; so from there, I use Google Keep to create and maintain a running to-do list of things I need to accomplish in order to be prepared for appointments or to meet deadlines. This list is ALWAYS sorted in order of deadline, for two reasons:
  1. Common sense. If you sort things to be done in deadline order, it's easier to make sure nothing that was due last week is still sitting untouched at the bottom of your to-do list.
  2. Mental health. Keeping things sorted by deadline gives me the knowledge that I'm always at least a little bit ahead of what's due. When I'm doing well and have my issues under some control, then I work myself ahead, writing extra content, prepping extra graphics, participating in networking groups. When I'm not doing so well - when I'm "decompensating" - then knowing I don't have to do that top thing (such as writing this blog post) until Thursday night at the latest means that if I'm a wreck on Wednesday and I can't do anything more than stare at the computer screen like a useless lump, it's okay to let myself give up. It's okay to take a day and knit, or watch vlogs, or play with my kids.
Without those calendars, without that list ... I wouldn't maintain nearly as well.

For those of you who are not as digitally inclined as I tend to be, I recommend bullet journaling. This is the least rigid, most unlimited, most open method of planning that's out there, and there are countless ways of making it work for you personally, starting with these few basic concepts:
  • Pick up a cheap composition notebook, and set up the first page to look like a table of contents. Don't worry about filling it in just yet, just set it up and have it there. On the next two-page spread, set up a basic calendar for the month you're in - this can be a drawn-out block calendar, or just a basic list. Write that month and the page number on your table of contents, then turn to the next blank page - which you'll use for planning the week you're in. Write down appointments and deadlines, meal planning info, things you'd like to track (medications, workouts, etc.), and use that page as your starting point. From there, date the next page and just write in a quick bullet list of things you want to accomplish today. Accomplish those things, and do it again tomorrow. It could be three things, five things, ten things. You can also take notes as you go too, writing notable quotes, conversations, accomplishments. From here, adjust your layouts and methods until you find what works for you - there are TONS of options and ideas on Pinterest.
  • If the inability to rearrange pages bothers you, you can still make this work simply by using a binder or ring-bound planner system to house a calendar for planning and some blank sheets of paper for daily notes and to-dos. This allows more freedom in organization by adding the ability to sort and organize project plans, shopping lists, etc. (Alexis Giostra has made a HUGE difference in my life in terms of organizing and maintaining my ability to attempt productivity.), and can really make a difference in your life if you tend to be scatterbrained and need to feel more organized.

In addition to these things, I am not shy about using reminders and alarms to keep myself in line and on time. 

Even if they don't ALWAYS work.

So tell me, how do you stay organized in facing the challenges in your life?

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: How To Make Me HATE (and LOVE) Your Blog

If you're here, you know I'm a long-time blogger, and if you've been coming here for any length of time, then you know I'm also a romance author. Writing is my number one favorite thing to do - you know those old bumper stickers you could get that said, "I'd rather be fishing?" Well, me? Almost anytime, almost any day, I'd almost always rather be writing.

Except for when I'm reading, which for me, is a major part of writing. I tend to pull a lot of my writing inspiration from things I've read, whether it's a quote from a story that turns into a whole new book, or a blog post that touched me so deeply I had to write my own.

So as you can imagine, I read a lot of books - and I read A LOT of blogs. Usually, I love them. But sometimes ... well, sometimes, I don't.

Just in case you were wondering, here are the top ten ways to make me HATE (and LOVE) your blog.

First, let's go ahead and get the bad news out of the way, shall we? Let me tell you the top ways to make me absolutely, irrevocably, 100% HATE your blog.

1. Ignore the rules of grammar and punctuation, thereby making your blog annoying (if not outright impossible) to read. This is one of the worst things you can do - but don't get me wrong, okay? There's definitely room for stylistic choice in your writing. I mean, it's not like you're writing a textbook, right? And I don't mean typos, either; I'm sure if you look back through my archives, you'll find a great number of typos and missed errors. But you can generally tell the difference between an error and willful ignorance.

Remember that if you're writing for the world to see, you're speaking to a world full of people. It's worth the effort to make sure you're doing it well.

2. Speaking of archives - don't bother with having one. After all, one of your biggest goals is to get people reading your content and then KEEP them reading your content. You can do this in a lot of ways, like labeling your blog posts so that people can find similar content on your site. You can do it by adding "related articles" things at the bottoms of your posts. You can do it simply by adding links to old posts as you write your new posts, pointing readers of your new content toward other, relevant content. The bonus with this last method is that nothing is random - you're hand-picking your own recommendations. But there is one other way, and I will HATE your blog if you're not using it.

Listen to me, you need an archive, okay? A visible, easily-accessed archive.

Because if you don't have one, and I find and love your blog, but I can't find your archive so that I can go back and read it all from the beginning ... well then, I probably won't come back. And it's even worse when I like your blog enough to go all the way back to the first post (often with much digging and annoyance) only to find out that there's nothing even closely resembling a "next post" button.

3. And while you're busily making your blog both annoying AND impossible to read, here's another tip - don't answer your comments either.

One of the best things about building a website is that you're building your very own small community, where loyal readers come back over and over again, looking to learn from you, to experience something alongside you, or simply because they like you. If your readers take the time to respond to you in the comments, you need to be taking the time to answer those comments (even if it takes you a while and you're always behind, like me), because if your readers see that you consistently don't respond to THEM, it won't be long before they figure out there's no point responding to YOU.

4. Another way to make me HATE your blog instantly is to divide your posts into multiple pages. I like countdowns and slideshows now and then myself, but if I came to your site looking for 35 ways to feel better using old coffee grounds (which is ridiculous, but you get the point), the last thing I want to do is click through 35 "next page" links, plus the ones I have to click to skip the intrusive ads. I have a life too, and every one of those pages takes time to load. Ain't nobody got time for that. And really - long articles don't bother me, I promise. I'm a big girl with a big-girl attention span. Just put it all on one page. Maybe two, if you're really wordy like me and you don't want your readers to get bored.

5. Click. Bait. Don't do this, seriously. Don't write a blog or send a newsletter with a headline or subject that says, "I almost DIED!!!" or something like that, unless you really did almost die - and even then, don't just tell me so that I'll feel sorry for you. Tell me what you learned from it, how your life is enriched by your experience, and how you sharing that experience with me will alter something about my world. Or at the very least, be funny about it - because otherwise, it makes you look like you're so desperate for views that you're willing to swindle people in order to trick them into your site. This is both rude and disrespectful. So seriously. If you really want a community of loyal readers ... don't do this.

But, for real though - with all that being said ... I truly love reading blogs. There's so much variety to be found there, and the blogging world is spilling over with talented writers who have something valuable to contribute. So, now that I've given the five best ways to make me HATE your blog, let me give you the five best ways to make me LOVE your blog.

1. Make it easy for me to interact with you, because if I'm spending my time reading your content, you can bet I care at least a little. Schedule time to answer your comments, even if you're always behind like me and you're just going through them for an hour a week. Because if I truly care about your blog, you can bet that when I spend my time reading and then spend more of my time commenting, I'm probably going to check that little box that lets me know if you respond. And I'll eventually notice if you don't respond.

2. Have a readable, clickable archive. Allow me to go all the way back to the beginning of your story, because you can bet that if I truly like your blog, I'm going to want to read it all and watch you grow as a person. Which brings me to ...

3. Be a likable person. Don't dumb things down for me when you're writing, because I'm not dumb. Give me quality content that's interesting and funny, or deep and inspiring, or at the very least, genuine and helpful. Be a friend, someone I can look forward to interacting with. Write posts that make me laugh, cry ... feel. Teach me something, because I'm hungry for knowledge. Give me something to relate to - as a mom, as a woman. As a parent, a human. Post rants that make me laugh because I feel the same way. Post reviews that help me decide whether I'll like XX-Product or YY-Movie - because if I like and trust you as a person, then I'm likely to value your opinion. Which will, of course, keep me coming back for more.

4. Write on purpose. Have something to say. Don't just blog because you think it's a good way to make some money or because you want to feel popular - do it because you want to, because you have something to share, because you're passionate not only about your writing but about your message. This is guaranteed to keep me coming back, even if you're someone I mostly can't relate to personally.

5. Share with me. I know I kind of said this with point #3, but it truly bears repeating. If you want me to come back to your blog consistently, you MUST be a person I can care about - and while I really want to think I'm super special and unique, I'm really not all that different from other people in this. So open up to your readers and share bits of yourself with them. Let them know you so that they can care about you - and let them know that you care about them, too. This one thing, even if you haven't yet mastered the others, will ALWAYS keep people coming back for more.

Or at least, that's what works for me.

Now it's your turn: What do you love (and hate) about blogs?

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday Sentiment: A Letter To 48 Year Old Me

A few months ago, I wrote a letter to 16 year old me, telling myself to stay strong and to keep my chin up, to be ready for the challenges ahead. I told myself that life was gonna keep being hard, and that in some ways, it was going to be getting harder. I told myself the truth - with no spoilers.

Then, one of my readers suggested in the comments that I take that letter, turn it around, and try writing one to future me - and so, in keeping with the sort-of timeline I've been using (32 year old me wrote to the me of 16 years ago, and is now writing to the me of 16 years in the future, except that I'm 33 now so the math is jacked, but shhh - we'll keep that a secret.) ... I give you ... my letter to 48 year old me.

Dear Me,

First of all, stop worrying about your face. It looks fine, and you should know by now that aging doesn't decide your worth any more than your weight ever did. 

In the meantime - if you're reading this, it's because you made it. You survived childhood, heartbreak, rejection, and misery. You survived threats against your life, narcissistic abuse, financial ruin, and the loss of a future you had counted on. You stood up and walked through the painful death of a dear friend. You stood tall through the loss of your matriarch, possibly the loss of your mother, and probably a few other losses as well.

I imagine you've made it through other things too, but I hope with all of my heart that what I'm doing right now - what I'm putting myself through in preparation for being you - will have set you up to finally achieve the success everyone I know told me you would never have. I hope you've been careful with the investments I've set up for you - if you're anything like me, I'm sure you've grown them a bit by now.

Now that Joey and Eden are both grown up and on their own, you're likely in the process of embarking on a whole new phase of life, and while I'm sure the changes in your purpose and identity are both scary and thrilling, I hope you're taking them in stride - with as much courage and steadiness of spirit as you always had back when you were me. If things have gone according to my plan, you're just wrapping up a worldwide cruise, and it's finally time to buy that RV you've been waiting for. If there's still enough of my wanderlust left in you, you'll be just about to head out on the road trip of a lifetime, and so I thought this would be a good time to offer you just a few of my very best wishes and deepest hopes for your life.

I hope that the dreams I've held for you have come to pass, that you've built support around this writing thing, and that it has grown in ways that are able to support you. I hope you loved cruising as much as I always thought you would, that you're enjoying the journey, and that you're still sharing it here with your readers. I hope you have a TON of readers, and that they support each other as well as they support you - this this blog will have grown into so much more. I hope it has become a community.

I hope you're still writing fiction - even if none of it has landed on a best-seller's list yet. I hope you haven't lost your passion, that you haven't lost the love of love stories.

And speaking of that ...

I hope you're living a love story, too. I hope you've stumbled upon someone, whether it be through your writing, your travels, or your trips to the grocery store ... and I hope he's beautiful. Not only in the physical sense, because looks fade - you can see that just by looking in the mirror, I imagine - but also in the sense of being caring and generous, kind and thoughtful, smart, funny, and strong. I hope he talks to you all the time, sharing his hopes and his dreams, and I hope he listens as well as he talks.

I hope he holds your hand, and that he's a spectacular kisser. I hope he loves your body - and I hope that you've finally learned to love it, too.

More than anything, I hope you're stronger and wiser, smarter and gentler ... and still just as much of a dreamer as you always were ... back when you were me.

With best wishes and eternal hope,

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Works For Me Wednesday: Taking It Personal - On Purpose

I'm a people pleaser - I always have been. I grew up feeling rejected or discarded often, and as a result, I suppose I internalized the idea that if you're always working, always striving, always willing to go the extra mile ... then someone will keep you.

This has backfired in the worst ways over the years, adding further damage to the broken little girl still hiding in the back corner of my mind.
  • I kept a frenemy for too long, despite the constant evidence that this person did not and does not want the best for me.
  • I kept in contact with people from the past who are toxic to my mental health, because I felt like I "should."
  • I tolerated too many years of the ups and downs of marriage to an addict, even though I wasn't all that attracted to him even in the beginning of our relationship.
  • I allowed myself to become prey to a narcissist, and I wasted several years of my life struggling to please him, struggling to reach requirements of acceptance that moved more often than the tides.
Strangely, this has buried me in a cycle of relentless feeling - sometimes too much, other times too little, and all too often about the wrong people.

I'm "too sensitive." I "take things too seriously." And I always, always "take it personal." It's my fatal flaw; it always has been.

But I like it. And I fully, 100% completely, intend to Keep. Doing. It.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to truly fall in love with someone who was my best friend. He never left me feeling anything less than heard, and validated, and valuable. We would exchange literally hundreds of texts every day, and we talked about everything from dietary habits to working out to movies, music, sex, and even prayer. That relationship was the most intimate relationship of my entire life, and it taught me the difference between the sort of treatment I had thought was normal ... and the kind I wanted. It ended, as so many do, but it ended on good terms, and he and I still check in on each other now and then; he will always hold a significant place in my heart, because after I had learned so much of what I didn't want, he taught me so much of what I did want.

Still, it took time to adjust, time I spent settling for treatment I knew I didn't want, knew wasn't what I needed, and knew wasn't going to ever change or improve. Not only in a romantic sense, but in my friendships, in my familial relationships. With my colleagues in the writing world.

So when did it all start turning around? Well, that was the moment when I had someone tell me a year or two ago to "Q-TIP." Quit Taking It Personal.

This was said to me when I leaned on someone I expected to understand. I talked about my mother, about some of the issues she and I have in our relationship. I talked about being hurt, feeling used ... other things. And I was told to "Q-TIP." Quit Taking It Personal.

I know it was said with the best of intentions, because the person who said it has never been anything other than perfectly sweet to me, willing to nurture and coach and guide, openly offering friendship. But ... Q-TIP? Quit Taking It Personal?


I guess you could say I took that advice personal too, just like I also take it personal when my children are disrespectful, when I'm hit with passive aggressive behaviors from others, when I'm feeling rejected or mistreated in relationships.

Even with that said, it's still more complicated than that though - isn't it always? The truth is, taking it personal is kind of a strange mix of happenings for me - because as "sensitive" as I am, I tend to be pretty understanding too, and even I can admit that other people's behavior isn't always "personal."

  • The behaviors of others are more a reflection on them than on me.
  • Sometimes people are rude because they're having a bad day.
  • Sometimes they're under stress you just don't know about.
  • Sometimes they simply aren't feeling well, and it unfortunately impacts the way they behave and interact with others.

But sometimes it's none of those now-and-then excusable things, and when bad behavior from other people becomes a regular occurrence despite efforts to communicate the issue, it's not just because they're having a bad day. It's because ... well. It's because it's personal.

Bad behavior toward other people reflects a lack of respect for them, It reflects a lack of compassion, a lack of consideration. A lack of perceived worth. Even in it's most basic form, mistreatment of others indicates a lack of manners and consideration for the needs and boundaries of those around us.

And I might be wrong here but ... well, when behavior like that is consistently aimed in my direction ... to me, that's very, very personal.

And realizing that? Accepting it?
It's changing my life.

When I began to truly accept myself as an emotionally varied and open woman, I also began to accept that I tend to "take things personal." I began to accept my own boundaries as valid and legitimate. I began to accept my own right to set and enforce those boundaries.

I began to learn the difference, truly,
between the nice person I want to be,
and the weak woman I am
sometimes mistaken for.

Where it gets really life-changing though, is that instead of quitting taking it personal, I quit trying not to. I started to look, in the long term, at how I was treated by the people around me, what it said about how they saw me - and what it says about my own ability to set and defend boundaries even in the face of opposition.

I started to look at why I allowed myself to be treated in ways that made me feel horrible, why I had opened the door of my life to people who would choose to attack my character as a person simply because I dare to crave appreciation and positive feedback from those around me.

In making a point to "take it personal," I started learning to stand up for myself more strongly. I started telling off people who mistreated me, and cutting off people who were chronically toxic. I stopped opening doors to people who didn't want the very best for me, and one by one, I opened windows in the bottom of my life, allowing poisonous people to simply fall away - which began in turn to open doors that allowed new people to come in. People who do want the best for me.

I stopped just letting people in. I stopped trusting as easily. I started believing what I saw rather than what I heard.

This, in its most basic and simple form, is how I stepped out of being a victim of circumstance,and started becoming a survivor with a war strategy.

And now? Well, there's no stopping it now. The boundaries are set, the borders are drawn. I am a warrior, and I am moving up. Because it's personal.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day: What It Means To Be A Mom

In my last post, I briefly hinted to the idea that I believe there's a difference between a mother and a mom. So I thought Mother's Day would be the perfect day to explain that difference, and what it really means to me to be a Mom.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for any length of time at all will already know that I have two live children, two daughters who send me to my knees in desperately frustrated prayer, who drive me to my pillows to cry out my fears and the small injuries that are inevitable when exposed to children for long periods of time, who make my heart swell up with pride and burst nearly open with the force of my love for them.

These children have bound me in ways my heart won't allow me to speak of - they've caused me to face rejection and pain I otherwise might not have experienced. And the truth is ... sometimes I really truly think, "Maybe I'm just not cut out for this job." Because the truth is ... sometimes I suck at it. And I know myself well enough to be able to admit that.

But these children have given me strength and purpose, drive and passion that I might not have had if not for the perfectly beautiful burden of responsibility they represent in my life. They've given me a reason to stay alive, to keep choosing to wake up every day and show up for them despite the many times I have wanted to lay down and stop waking up.

Last year when I was in the midst of the deepest depression I've ever seen, and I finally stumbled upon the perfect way to kill myself without them knowing it was purposeful ... the imagining of their faces and the fear that they would someday know I left them willfully kept me driving straight - home to them.

Less than three months later, I started attending therapy. Six months later, I'm still showing up.

I'm a mother because I have children - because these little people who call me Mom are a part of my life and my heart in ways that can never be changed or revoked. I'm a mother because I keep them fed, because I sign the permission slips and cook the meals and wash the clothes. I'm a mother because I know the names of my children's doctors and teachers. I'm a mother because it's my legal responsibility to keep them alive and reasonably well-taken-care-of.

But I'm a mom because I show up. Because I ask how their day was at school, because I listen to the answers, because I know the names of their friends. Because I notice when they're sad, and I take the time to ask them why. Because I listen to those answers, too.

I'm a mom because I know Josephine doesn't like lasagna - but does like spaghetti. Because I know that Eden doesn't like Chinese food - but desperately wants to use chopsticks. I'm a mom because I know not only what size clothes to buy them, but what style they prefer.

I'm a mom because I know the names of their friends, and who has what issues. I'm a mom because I know not only the names of their doctors, but what the doctors are for and how best to reach them at almost any time. I know their histories and how to assuage their worries. I'm a mom because I know them well enough to love them in their own language, and to parent them differently with respect to who they are as people.

I'm a mom, not because I have children, or because I'm obligated, or because there's anyone in this world who could make me be a mom if I didn't want to be.

I'm a mom because I choose - every single day - to show up, and to love these kids no matter how hard it is or how much it hurts.

Because NOTHING negative about motherhood can ever negate the blessing of what it means to be a mom.

If you're a Mother, then I wish you a Happy Mother's Day. But if you're a Mom .. I wish you children who can see your sacrifice, who can appreciate your efforts, and who recognize exactly what you're giving when you keep on choosing to show up.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thursday Theatrics: A Day In The Life (School-Day Mornings)

Life for me is pretty hectic sometimes - between Patreon writing, blogging, sporadic work on my next book, parenting and coaching my kids, and taking care of my own needs ... well, some days even I'm not sure how I manage to do it all. Nonetheless, I'm just a mom doing her best to be everything she needs to be for everyone who needs her, without dropping anything - just like every other mom who's just trying to get through every day, raising her kids and living her life in the best way she knows how.

Welcome to a day in my life - but just the school-day morning routine. Because after that, you're probably gonna need a drink and a nap. (Note: I actually noted this particular morning last week, in preparation for the downtime I would need to spend with Eden post-surgery. It went well, BTW, and she's home - we're working on getting her into healing mode.)

Ready? Here goes.

5:45 AM: The first thought that really hits me is straight from the inner crybaby, who whines, "Uuughh, WHY does 5:45 have to be so EARLY? Why can't it be later?!?"

5:46 AM: This whiney thought is immediately followed by a mental response from my inner smartass, who grins sassily and says, "It is. There's PM."

5:50 AM: Stumble to the bathroom, on legs that are still too stiff yet for anything other than clumsy shuffling.

5:52 AM: Pee. Not because I have to yet, but because once the kids are up the opportunity will be lost. Then I'll have to pee, and I'll have to hold it for an hour or more before I get the chance to go again, and this will make me grouchy. Which makes me a much lower quality mom.

5:54 AM: Wash my hands, face, and teeth. Make faces at myself in the mirror - daily work at the self-confidence people seem to think is easy for me, but isn't. Raise and lower my eyebrows, inspect my face for lines. Despise my hooded eyelids; love my eyes. Smile. Smile bigger. Change my mind - don't smile. My smile looks like I stole it from a shy, coffee-addicted three year old, and loving it is still a work in progress. I'm alright though - my hair looks good today. Good enough to make the rest tolerable.

5:59 AM: Put pants on, grudgingly. Culture and single motherhood dictate that human interaction must be imminent - though I'm not quite ready, I'm willing.

6:00 AM: Wake the kids. Joey wakes up with the teen 'tude which is intermittently typical of her these days, already running through her clothing options for the day and annoyed not to have the infinite possibilities that would surely set her world to rights. Eden wakes up sassy and chatty as always - this child is ALIVE every single day, right from the get-go. Chatter is immediate and unstoppable (thanks ADHD) - and overwhelming for this mom who has only been awake a few minutes and hasn't had coffee yet, but can't manage to wake up earlier.

This is the moment that triggers the day's cycle of mental self-flagellation. I wouldn't be as grouchy if I could get up earlier. I could get up earlier if I didn't stay up so late. I wouldn't have to stay up so late if I didn't always have work to do. I wouldn't always have work to do if I ...

6:18 AM: Eden's still too busy talking to herself to have gotten dressed yet. We try to leave the house for school at 7:15 every morning, and every morning we fail. There's a running list in my head: medicine, folders, breakfast, hair. We still have lots to do. Irritation appears at the edge of my consciousness, and I stamp it down, grit my teeth, and say with false patience, "Eden, come on hon, we have to be focused on getting ready."

6:28 AM: We're finally downstairs, where Eden won't decide what she wants for breakfast, because the options today are not whatever she had hoped they would be.

6:34 AM: Time is ticking by. Joey's already eating breakfast (Cheerios) by the time Eden picks oatmeal. Strawberries and cream. The microwave drones in the kitchen, and Eden drones in the dining room - laying on the floor, whispering to herself about a cat toy.

6:38 AM: Oatmeal's done. I carry it to the table, stepping over Eden, who is literally laying in the doorway. Set the oatmeal down (I'm annoyed now because I'm overwhelmed with the noise, and asking - or demanding - for it to stop only seems to add to it. And I know she isn't doing it on purpose; she hasn't had her meds yet. I'm really wishing for coffee.) and tell Eden, "That's hot - you're gonna hafta blow it." Then I hide a smile when she immediately starts blowing the cat toy she's still jingling. Kids DO hear us. They may not be LISTENING, but they HEAR.

6:52 AM: Joey's finished with breakfast. Her shoes are on, everything she needs is done, and she's on the couch with her phone, already texting her friends to find out who's coming to school and what they're going to wear. She's beautiful - a mass of curls, the curious mix of insecurity and confidence that is the teenaged existence. Blue eyes gone sea-green, bold, slanted brows. She has ADHD too, but copes well enough to function normally most days and recently decided to try quitting one of her medications; she gives me hope for Eden, who isn't there yet and still hasn't started her breakfast.

She did finally make it to her seat though - where she's ignoring her bowl, kicking the leg of the table, and playing with the ice left in her now-empty water cup. Tap, tap, tap. Thump, thump, thump. I wish I could just stop making her breakfast at home (free breakfast is offered universally at her school). I just want to stop the daily battle. But there's no guarantee she'd eat at school either, and since she's got short stature and failure to thrive, the eating battle is more important for us perhaps than for other families. I am resigned, because I love her enough to keep trying, to keep fostering her effort and my patience. To be not just the mother who birthed her, but the mom who keeps showing up no matter how hard it is in the moment.

7:00 AM: I'm finally annoyed enough to make a show of whipping out the wooden spoon known as "Mr. Listen" in our family. The most I'll ever do with it is give them a firm tap on the fat of their bottoms, but the certain knowledge that physical correction is more than just a hollow threat has Eden suddenly more willing to practice the coping mechanisms I've tried so hard to instill in her. She stops kicking, procrastinating and chattering.

"Get to it," she whispers to herself. "We're on a schedule." Part of me smiles silently, hearing my words coming out her mouth. She may not LISTEN always - especially in the early mornings and late afternoons when she's living without the help of her daily medications - but she HEARS. And I know that despite the chaos of our mornings together, this simple hearing means that she hears other things too, like the way I love her and how important she is to me despite the fact that we're always running late. Still, buckles down and eats her breakfast. Finally, we're moving.

7:06 AM: Eden's finally finished with breakfast and has gone to the bathroom. There's a clip of Hillary Clinton on TV, talking about the election results and why she isn't the President. I won't talk about that here. It just isn't wise.

7:21 AM: My jaw hurts from gritting my teeth. But we're ready. We're in the car.

7:42 AM: The kids are delivered to their respective schools. Eden's out of the car. Joey's out of the car. Finally, I can take a minute to breathe before diving into the day's writing work.


In the midst of all this, with PTSD overwhelm and the flurry of my own everyday thoughts, I know where my frustration really comes from. Yes, I'm annoyed with the constant noise and chatter of ADHD. Yes, I'm annoyed by the teen 'tude and the sense of not being heard that is simply part of this job I call "Momming."

But beneath it all, I'm angry at the partner who chose not to be there, the teammate who failed miserably to show up to the game so many times that it simply became easier for me to play alone. I'm resentful of the yin-yang/male-female balance that he left them without - and I hate ADHD for making my kid so helplessly unable to manage getting dressed and eating breakfast without taking FOREVER, every day. I hate the PTSD that leaves me routine-rigid, stressed, and struggling to deal with these relatively small moments.

And still I'm proud of myself. Because I made it through the morning - with my mouth shut and my frustration mostly in check. My children know they are loved, that they are safe, and that they will always have someone steady to count on. I've done my job, and I've done it well.

And even though I'm frazzled and REALLY needing that coffee by now, we only ended up being like 5 minutes late leaving the house - so today I'm going to drink my coffee in peace and count this morning as a win.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Man Crush Monday: Raine Spencer

It's been a while since I posted a man crush, and the last time I posted one, it was for a fictional character - a Scottish whirlwind of a man who can handle anything, who can fix any problem if given the time, who can carry the weight of entire groups of people on his shoulders without collapsing.

He's my more rugged, more old-school, just a little more Viking version of a Disney prince, and he's utterly perfect from the muscles to the kilt, from the Scottish brogue to the endless and unfaltering dedication to those he loves.

He's Jamie Fraser, and in case you missed it in the first paragraph, he is unfortunately not real.


Then I met Raine.

R.C. Spencer is a Canadian blogger I met through one of the networking groups I'm a member of on Facebook, and the first line I ever read from him changed my life. The first post I read from him was his recounting of an appointment that changed his life - the appointment where he was informed that his cancer prognosis was terminal, that there was nothing left to do but buy time.

"Somehow I know that as I walk through the threshold [of the door], I’ll be walking into a different world than the one I’d passed through on my way in. Somehow, I know beyond a doubt, life means something different now than it did before. Somehow, now that I’m dying, or rather, now that I know that I’m dying, I know that I need to make more of the time I have left." -- R.C. Spencer

I sobbed reading his words. The whole post - and indeed, his whole blog - is written in a first-person-fiction style, with each post a sort of story from his life, the retelling of a moment, a snapshot in time transformed into words so heartbreakingly beautiful that I haven't once read his blog without crying. They're regular moments - time with his children, time with his family. Moments of reflection.

Raine is a single dad, a divorced father of six, actively co-parenting with his ex-wife while fighting every day for another tomorrow - and this, in the midst of my own circumstances, is what breaks my heart into the tiniest most immeasurably small little pieces. I have been an abandoned daughter. I am raising abandoned daughters. And this man loves his children, wants to be with them, to guide them, to teach them. He wants to befriend his sons and make crass jokes with them; he wants to teach his daughters how they should be dated and intimidate their boyfriends into good behavior. Six children, four boys, two girls. And this father who loves them and wants them ... he will be taken from them, and it shatters me. Life is so unfair.

But he's beautiful, and so his perspective cannot help but be beautiful as well.

"At that moment, my questions are answered, the who’s, the what’s, the how’s… the answer is each other. My children, without me, will guide each other. They will be alright. Inside each of them exists the best of both their mother and I. We raised them right. And while there is never enough time on this physical earth to be with those you love, your goal and the only thing that will ever truly matter is love. Love will guide them. I will love them from wherever I am. They will love each other on earth. They will be alright." -- R.C. Spencer

His blog is rich with feeling, each post infused with the unique perspective of a man facing the inevitable. And in some respects, he's just the same as anyone else, just a man, just a father. He has work, he has a new wife, he has a car that needs a tuneup now and again. He has passions and hobbies, just like anyone else.

But the perspective - that's unique to him and people like him, those with a countdown attached to their hearts, those who've been forced to sit through that appointment and hear those words.

"In the blink of an eye, time suddenly became finite; a precious resource in perilous danger of running out." -- R. C. Spencer

It's hard won though, perspective. It comes to us only through experience and willingness to accept life's lessons, strength to endure them and grow through them ... and the courage to not only face the challenge head-on, but to share it so openly with others.

We've become friends in recent weeks - months? - and he's a balm to a sore heart. Despite everything, he's open and kind. He's a fabulous listener and a strong conversationalist. We chat daily now, about the minutiae of living, about our histories, about our futures.

I tell him I hate his cancer, that I wish I could cure him, that my heart breaks for the loss of him and for the way it will touch those who love him. He offers to step back - in his way trying to protect me from pain. I tell him, as gently as I can, to stuff it.

"There are no goodbyes. I know this now. I feel it. There is time left. Whether that time is short or long, it doesn’t matter. What matters now is the moments left to fill that time with." -- R.C. Spencer

I don't want his loss. I don't want the text from his wife that I know will come. I don't want to know his journey here is finished - because I don't want it to finish. But loss is part of having been blessed to know him at all, and the text will be a much-appreciated courtesy.

Like him, I am no coward, and like him, I am no stranger to loss. This, I will walk through with his courage, in admiration for the man he chooses to be - and I will do it with his perspective, in appreciation for the gift of his presence in my life, however limited, however brief.

They say people come into our lives for a reason - some as blessings, and some as lessons. But Raine? Raine is both.

Go check him out, read his incredibly poignant and beautiful writing, gain some perspective. And let him make you a better person - like he's making me.

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Friday, May 5, 2017

Wait - What? Awarded Again?

A few months ago, I woke up to a pleasant surprise. I had been nominated for a blogging award - the Liebster Award, 2017, which is a recognition award meant to bring attention to small bloggers. Since that time, I've been able to increase my readership in (small) leaps and bounds, due in part to my efforts at networking within the blogging world. I've joined groups where bloggers get together to engage and share advice, wisdom, and friendship, and I've had a ton of fun interacting in comment exchanges that have taught me SO MUCH about what I want for this space - and what I don't.

I have fallen in love with people and perspectives, with histories and futures, with words and the emotion they can evoke, both in the fiction and the non-fiction format. I've made friendships that will last for life - regardless of the attached time frames and how they vary.

So it means the world to me when I wake up to posts like the one I read today, where for whatever reason, someone thought enough of me and this little corner of the internet to nominate me for an award. Again.

Now, in all honesty, blog awards are really just meme/tags in their most basic form - but what they are in a much less basic way is a pat on the back, a nod of recognition. They're a virtual "well-done" from someone, somewhere, who stumbled onto this site and found something of value.

And I may not understand exactly why Elizabeth Brico thought I was worthy of the nomination - but I totally see why she was nominated. Elizabeth is a mom like me, a mom living with PTSD, who loves words as therapy and uses fiction writing as a way to cope with non-fiction issues. Her short stories are phenomenal, filled with depth and emotion, and she has a real skill for pulling life into her writing.

But I don't need to understand why she chose my name out of the probably billions of great bloggers out there - all I need to do is accept her thoughtfulness as the gift that it is, with the natural gratitude that I try to fill my days with, and the sense of abject humility that forced one of my most favorite people in the world to refuse my nomination before I even had the chance to write it.

"I'm not worthy," he said. "I'm nothing special. I'm just me. And besides, I don't even know fifteen bloggers to nominate." (Of course, I'm paraphrasing.)

Over the last few years, I've slowly been realizing that I've somehow managed to fill my life up with people who actually don't want the best for me. I've met, and accepted the attentions, of people who wanted to use me as a stepping stone, or simply wanted to see me fail so that they could sit smugly satisfied with feeling ... something other than proud of me. I've made more frenemies than friends, and as certain things began to play out in my day-to-day life, I began to question myself and what it is about me that attracts those people. 

I started therapy in November 2016, and in that time, I've seen a slow but steady change - not only in the value of my life, but in the value of the people in it. It's said that every person becomes the average of the five people they spend the most time with - and even though I'm not nominating him here, I'm glad Raine Spencer has become one of my five.

But what's the reward about really? Let's see:

Here are the rules:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
Thanking someone for something like this is just what must be done, regardless of the rules, and my gratitude for Elizabeth having thought highly enough of me to have nominated me is 100% genuine. Blogging is a lot like motherhood in that you often spend long hours working hard to grow and improve something you love - and it's a lot like motherhood in that you often do it without any recognition for your passion, your effort, or your skillset. To have another blogger so similar to myself take the time to recognize me in this way is humbling and very, very much appreciated - and to have the added bonus of her professional respect is incredibly meaningful. Thank you, Liz. (Visit Elizabeth's blog, Betty's Battleground, here.)
  • Write a post to show off the award. Check.
  • Tell a brief story about how your blog got started.
This isn't my first blog, but this one started because I finally published my first novel in December 2012, and I needed a place to connect with my readers, a website to send them to, a place to announce new book covers, teasers, excerpts, releases, etc. Over the years, it's become something of its own - not only a place for books, but for the growth of friendship and the nurturing of myself, not only as a writer but also as a mother and a woman in general. This blog began as a place to grow and promote my writing career - but it has become something so much more than that, and it has quite literally changed my life.
  • Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
One, don't be shy. This is a big world, and if you stand whispering in a dark corner of the internet, no one is ever going to hear you. Take heart, and be bold. Stand up, stand out, and speak loudly. Otherwise, what's the point?

And two ... be for real. Don't do it to make money (although that's a nice bonus) or to get "famous" (although I imagine that's a nice bonus too, and if I ever get there, I'll let you know), but do it because you have something to say that really, truly, desperately matters to you. I don't care if you want to talk about books or makeup or shoes or parenting or weight loss or traveling. But whatever you talk about, mean it, because people can tell - and it matters. So if you aren't sharing genuinely - if you're just talking into the wind to hear your own voice - then stop right now and redirect.

'Cause here's the thing - if you don't have the courage to implement my #2, then the #1 doesn't matter anyway. If you're fake, after a while people can tell - and they stop listening. And you don't want that, do you?
  • Select 15 other bloggers to nominate, and ...
  • Let them know they've been nominated.
Okay, so here's the part where I practice what I preach. I know I just said how this is a big huge world and all that stuff, and that you have to stand up and speak out loud if you want to be heard. But the truth is, for most of us, our portion of the world is actually quite small. My circle of influence isn't a large one, and I know that ... and here's where it backfires.

I don't really know 15 bloggers all that well. I mean, I like to think I've gotten to know Raine pretty well, but as great as he is, he's only one person. Then there's David from the Single Dad's Guide to Life, and Ana from Faded Spring, but they've both also been nominated.

In addition to that ... you guys, I'm a single mom trying to build a brand that will support my kids and I. I don't have an outside job - I don't have any other incomes besides the small streams I'm working all day every day to turn into a river my family can float on. My books, my blog, my Patreon, and an embarrassingly small dividend stock portfolio. I blog every third day, post Patreon stuff five times a month, and work endlessly to promote all of it mostly on my own - so I don't have nearly as much time for pleasure reading as one might expect.

That being said, I do lurk around on some amazing blogs from time to time, but there is one not previously mentioned that I actually read on purpose all the time because I like it. So I know this isn't the ordered list of fifteen that it really should be, but I'm nominating Amber from I truly love her blog because she's totally cool with being an everyday wife and mom, and she's not out there trying to be fancy or glamorous or anything other than what she is, which is amazing. She's the hero wife of a hero military serviceman, and she's raising two hero kids that meet the challenges of military life with their chins up. They're meeting other challenges too, and I love that Amber has the courage to air her laundry on the web, one post at a time, to inspire other moms like me.

Plus, she probably knows more bloggers than me, so I bet she can come with fifteen easy.

Ha. Good luck, Amber!

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Tuesday Travel: Lighthouse Tour

Omg, this book, y'all.
Click it, buy it, drool with me.
Some of you have likely noticed I've got a page on this site that's sort of an ongoing, ever-growing, totally-out-of-control bucket list. It's nothing fancy at this point, just a list of places I want to go someday, things I want to do or experience - but it's the record of my lust for adventure, my desire to see the world around me, my almost soul-deep need to explore and experience other places. When I begin to experience the things on it, I'll share them here, and that list will slowly fill up with links - posts about the adventures life has taken me on.

There are obvious things on it, things lots of people want to do, like parasailing and walking through the streets of Prague, visiting the Louvre and spending time in one of those over-the-water huts in someplace like Fiji.

There are some more ... frivolous ... items to be found among my travel dreams, as well, like a tour of the world's castles (and Temples/Churches/Cathedrals). Standing, fallen, glorious, ruined by time. Regardless of country, history or origin, I pretty much want to see them all.

But oh, the lighthouses. From country to country and coast to coast, this planet is dotted with beacons of safety - lighthouses that guide our sailors and fishermen safely home from their journeys at sea.

They come in all shapes and sizes, with varieties of style, color, and atmosphere. But each and every one is beautiful and fascinating to me - each one filled with history, purpose, and substance. And because I haven't yet had much chance to travel and explore the world around me, I've fallen in love with lighthouses in the next best way. I love sculptures of them, photos of them. I love even imagining them - to the point where I will almost automatically love any book or movie that features one.

I even featured one myself; in Selkie, my heroine's best friend Brenna lives in one.

But there are so many, right? So where to start?

This is a perfect trip to plan as an extension of my RV dream - so ideally, I'd like to head up to the northernmost corner of the United States and begin my tour right here on my own land, in my own country. I'd head down the coast of Maine, hitting one lighthouse at a time, exploring the area, taking in the history of the buildings, the beauty of the surrounding seas. I'd find a place to finally try lobster. And then I'd move down the coast, soaking up the variances in speech, in scenery, in sand. I'd make my way through the New England states and further, through the mid-Atlantic states until I found myself once again embraced by the South - where I would stop to enjoy the twang of a down-home diner waitress serving sausage biscuits and gravy.

A little further down the coast, I'd revisit St. Augustine, which I haven't seen since I was a child, and then make my way still further south - to beaches and people as familiar to me as my own family. Florida, where the sun still blazes in December and the sea will overpower you in an instant if you dare to underestimate her majesty.

I'd make my way down the Keys, which I've never seen even though I grew up in Florida, and back up the Gulf coast - happy to find myself again in front of the lighthouse in Ponce de Leon.

The trip would go on this way, across the Gulf coast of the South and down the eastern edge of Texas. Then I'd cross over to the California coast, where the journey would continue northward until I found myself at the upper corner of Washington State, mostly sated and probably almost unbearably happy to have had such a beautiful adventure.

And then what?

Well then, opportunities to explore still abound. There are lighthouses around the coasts of Hawaii and Alaska, and even dotted throughout the inland Unites States, up and down our navigable rivers, around the banks of our lakes. I would see them too, along with the people and things surrounding them.

And then ... well, who knows what my wanderlust will be demanding then? I guess if we're still meeting here, we'll figure it out together.

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