A New and Overdue Adventure!

View of boats in the Merrimack River from the Newburyport boardwalk

View of boats on the Merrimack River from the Newburyport boardwalk

I shared my bed with someone last night. There’s nothing scandalous about that because the someone was my 6-year-old daughter, Jaycie. She tried sleeping in my bed Sunday night but wouldn’t settle and eventually returned to her own bed. Last night though, she was all about being with her mommy. My daughters are going back with their father this afternoon and I won’t see them again for several days so I would have been more than happy to have both of them in my bed. My 10-year-old daughter, Jordan is too old for such things though. So I was content with Jaycie snoring beside me and only occasionally kicking or kneeing me in her sleep.

Tomorrow morning I’m setting out on yet another road trip to Massachusetts. This one marks my return to the North Shore area and will include visits to Amesbury and Newburyport. This is the trip that fell through for Memorial Day. No falling through this time. Reservations have been made, my suitcase is partially packed and boarding for Jazzmin is all set. Jazz of course knows something is up and has been stuck to me like a shadow that I keep tripping over. I will miss her immensely but last time I took her to North Shore, things didn’t go so well. Not her fault really. I’ll take her again when we function better as a pack.

I am extremely excited about my upcoming trip! I plan on taking tons of pictures and jotting down as many details as I can in notebooks and in my laptop. I know it will be a new and unforgettable story! I don’t know how much time I’ll have for blogging or keeping up with social media because I’ll be busy living in the moment, but I’ll update when I can as I take in all the sights.

There’s a chance of thunderstorms pretty much every day for the rest of eternity but I’m not going to let a little rain dampen my spirits. I’ll just have to cram more spare clothing into my suitcase should I get wet. I’m awful at packing light but I have learned that packing the kitchen sink is unnecessary when there’s a sink in the hotel.

Living in the Moment

My daughters enjoying reading

My daughters enjoying reading

Quite often I’m too busy living life to find the time to write about what’s happening in my life. I’m enjoying living in the moment and taking it all in. It isn’t that I don’t want to share by writing about it, it’s that my written voice falters sometimes. If I could write my thoughts as they happen, I’d have countless epic novels written about motherhood, divorce, dog walking, writing, reading, painting, birds, relationships and so on. But that sort of technology doesn’t exist yet, which is probably just as well.

Last Wednesday was my daughters’ last day of school for the summer. They were excited of course and I was happy to see them happy. It was bittersweet though because the end of school means the end of them needing to ride the bus from my house Thursday and Friday morning. Custody with my ex is exactly 50/50 and he has them the last half of the week. For convenience’s sake, he drops them off at my house for the bus on two of his days. That works wonderfully for me because that means I get to see them every weekday morning. That ends in the summer and going more days without seeing them than I’m used to, is an adjustment for me.

Thursday and Friday went by far too slowly and I wasn’t as productive as I should have been…on anything. Saturday morning when I picked them up from my ex’s, it was as though the sun finally came back out! Life felt whole and right again and I spent the entire weekend playing with them, doing crafts with them and just being with them in any way I could.

Jordan has recently started making keychains with plastic craft lace so I bought her an entire package of it for summer crafts. I asked her to make me a keychain out of my favorite color of blue and she had it done in no time at all!  I know how to knit, crochet and cross stitch but I had no experience with this new type of craft. I decided I was up for a challenge this weekend and pulled out the instructions that came with the lace. It took me a few tries, but I eventually learned how to do what’s called the “cobra stitch” and I created something that could be a really small bracelet or a key chain. Jordan knows a different type of braid with the lace and it’s one I can’t wrap my head around. She quickly picked up the braid I learned and I’m sure she and I will soon have it mastered together.

The bracelet/keychain I made

The bracelet/keychain I made

While I didn’t write about my weekend adventures as they happened, I loved living them. Time with my girls is not something I will cut back on for the sake of writing. Eating, sleeping, mowing…yes, I’ll cut back on doing those but my girls have always and will always come first!

Truth in Advertising

In the back seat of my Matrix on the way to Boston in November, 2012

In the back seat of my Matrix on the way to Boston in November, 2012

I am not a natural redhead. This is made evident by my dark brown eyebrows and dark roots that grow in every 2-3 weeks. Most of the time I’m more like a calico cat, with my hair a mixture of the last several colors I’ve dyed it. Some colors grab better than others and some fade so there’s always a unique mixture of red, brown and currently, burgundy dancing through my tresses. I color my hair myself because my indecisiveness would be a rather expensive salon habit.

I don’t like to go along with the crowd, never have. My family moved from the country into a rather large suburban school district when I was 13. It was a huge adjustment for a shy, semi-reclusive girl like myself. One of my first days in school a gaggle of popular girls bounced over to where I was sitting in the cafeteria and asked me if I liked New Kids on the Block. I said no and their perfect little noses wrinkled in disdain while their doe-eyes widened in surprise. From that day on I was an outsider.

In high school I was called a witch because I liked reading fantasy novels and wearing dragon-themed jewelry now and then. I was never impressed by boys teasing me or rough housing near me in an attempt to flirt with and impress me. That’s how I earned the “rhymes with witch” moniker. I was happy when high school ended and I saw almost none of those people ever again.

I’m genuine, the real deal, a no-nonsense chick who says what’s on her mind. Quite often my bluntness and sarcasm catch people off guard. I am also a nice girl who was raised with manners and has never forgotten them. When I say please and thank you, I mean it.

I shall reiterate what I said in Writing Every Word. When I post something, whether it’s a Tweet, Facebook status or DM, I’ve taken the time to write it out. I don’t auto-follow or auto-unfollow, I take the time to click on the appropriate buttons. My standard “Thanks for the follow! I followed back :)” is always typed out in that moment and I try to hashtag something relevant to the new follower.

Now that I have a published e-book on Nook and Kindle, I’ve entered the fun world of marketing my story. I read tweets all day long of other authors advertising their books and my goal is to stand out from the crowd. I’m sure that’s every author’s goal. I will schedule tweets but they won’t be the same thing over and over. I won’t be paying anyone to help me advertise because no matter how much they promise to speak in my personal voice, they can’t. There’s only one me. I’m a paid ghost writer as a side job, I’m not about to pay someone else to ghost write for me.

A book teaser I'm working on

A book teaser I’m working on

One more thing: my tweets and posts will never be only about my book or my blog. Last night’s tweets were mostly about the Boston Bruins playing in The Stanley Cup Finals. I’m a human, not a robot and I don’t exist solely to promote my work. I exist to interact, be social and discuss all sorts of topics, not just writing. Perhaps this goes against tons of marketing “rules” but rules and I don’t get along sometimes. The occasional fiery redness of my hair might come from a bottle, but the fire and feistiness within me is 100% natural!

Fulfilling a Promise for Father’s Day

I realize not everyone has a good relationship with their father. I know how lucky I am that my father and I were so close. My father wasn’t perfect, no one is perfect. We’re all human and we’re flawed but our imperfections are what make us beautiful.

My father almost always greeted me with the words “Hi, beautiful!” and that is something I will forever keenly miss. I never doubted that he meant those words, they were never a ploy to win my affection, they were how he saw me. Me seeing myself as that beautiful is a work in progress.

My father gave me a priceless and timeless gift. He showed me what unconditional love from a man feels like. He accepted me as I was, no changes necessary, and he loved every bit of me, even the parts that get me lost and in trouble. A very wise woman told me that it speaks to my strength that I want to feel that kind of love again. That I’m still open to the possibility of it. It’s a scary concept though.

Being open to that kind of love is terrifying because the last time I had it, it left me. I know my father’s spirit is always with me and he will always love me that much but it’s different not having his physical presence anymore. I have great hope that someday I will be strong enough to take that leap of faith and trust that another man who I love can love me as unconditionally as my father did, but in a romantic sense. I’m standing at the edge now looking into uncertain depths and I imagine I’ll be fidgeting and biting my lip in worry for a while.

As promised, my e-book has launched today. It’s a promise I made to myself in honor and memory of my father. It’s a promise I made to my closest friends and they’ve helped me keep it with encouragement and input. It’s a promise I made to the new friends I’ve found through social media who are themselves talented writers, artists and musicians. Most of all it’s a promise to my father that I never said to him while he lived. I never said to him “I promise I’ll be published someday, Dad.” I wasn’t sure I could keep that promise. He knew I could though.

My e-book is about my self-guided and often lost tour through Boston, Massachusetts during my first visit. It was originally posted as a blog and was well-received. Somehow turning it into an e-book made it more personal for me and that much harder to share. What can a simple girl like myself say about Boston that hasn’t already been said? I am just one small voice among many, why do my words matter? My answer to that is that there is only one me on this whole world. How I feel about Boston is unique to me but will hopefully give even lifelong Boston residents a new perspective of their beautiful city.

I’ve pasted in the synopsis below and the links to my book for sale on Nook and Kindle are at the end. Even if you don’t buy my book, thank you for reading my words!

Massachusetts Adventures: Boston 

What happens when you take a girl from the country, known for getting lost in her own kitchen, and set her free on a first-time tour of Boston? A true Massachusetts adventure!

Intrigued by a new discovery on the internet, JulieAnn takes an inaugural, out-of-state, solo road trip to the breathtaking city of Boston, Massachusetts. The early November drive stirs a sense of freedom within her that she’s never felt and opens her eyes to endless possibilities. JulieAnn’s travels introduce her to new friends, evoke memories of her beloved father and lift and awaken her spirit in unimaginable ways. An afternoon spent in the City of Boston helps her understand true inner strength and feeds her endless curiosity.

Explore the City of Boston with JulieAnn in this autobiographical story of her adventures in Beantown. View photos of numerous historical Boston buildings and landmarks as seen through the eyes of this first-time visitor. Get swept up in the beauty of the city as JulieAnn wanders happily lost among cobblestone streets and skyscrapers on a journey of self-discovery. Massachusetts Adventures: Boston is the first story in an upcoming and ongoing series detailing JulieAnn’s continued visits to Massachusetts.

Sometimes being lost is the only way you can truly find yourself.

Massachusetts Adventures: Boston on Kindle 

Massachusetts Adventures: Boston on Nook

My Boston Story E-book Launches Tomorrow!

View of Boston skyline from Long Wharf. I used this photo as part of my cover.

View of Boston skyline from Long Wharf. I used this photo as part of my cover.

I’ve been working late hours at my computer all week getting my Boston story formatted for Nook and Kindle. It’s been a fun process but more time-consuming than I expected. The only way to learn is by doing though so I’m glad I’m finally doing!

It’s quite lovely that both Nook and Kindle allow fast and easy changes to a story once it’s been uploaded. I’ve re-uploaded and modified my Nook version more times than I can count because every time I preview it I see some little thing that could be improved. I don’t promise that my Boston story e-book will be the greatest work of literary non-fiction ever written or that the visual appeal of it will knock your socks off, but I do promise that it will be 100% me.

This story is the first in an ongoing series detailing my adventures in the beautiful state of Massachusetts. I visit there at least twice a year and will be increasing those visits until I finally at long last live there. Every time I drive into that New England state I feel like I’m coming home again and I can almost hear it saying “Oh boy, here’s that crazy New Yorker again! Wonder where she’ll get lost this time!”

Two of the hardest parts of the whole e-book were writing my author biography and the synopsis of the story. Once they were complete I ran them by my best girlfriends and they said the biography described me perfectly. They should know since they’ve been my friends through thick and thin. I still think the synopsis is a bit wordy so I might be editing that more before I’m completely satisfied.

My e-book officially launches tomorrow on Father’s Day and I know that no matter what happens, my father’s spirit is very proud of me. Sharing this story is both frightening and exciting to me because it is my own personal experience, but it’s definitely at tale that must be told!

Here’s my author biography, enjoy!

Born with a boisterous and adventurous spirit, JulieAnn didn’t fully explore her potential until she set out on her first solo road trip to Boston in November of 2011. Her life was forever changed by that first Massachusetts adventure and her eyes were opened to a fresh future of possibilities.

When she’s not busy being a single mother, homeowner, writer, painter, pack leader-in-training, hopeful gardener and baker extraordinaire, JulieAnn enjoys sleeping–because balancing all that is exhausting! Fantasy manuscripts, scribbled in cursive pencil upon the pages of college-ruled spiral notebooks were JulieAnn’s first venture into the world of writing. In recent years she’s found her own personal voice and shares her daily adventures with others via her blogs, one of which she transformed into her first e-book.

For fun, JulieAnn enjoys playing with her daughters, walking her pup Jazzmin’s paws off, grilling with excessively high flames, singing odd bits of random show tunes and getting lost driving around the Northeast United States. You’ll often find her where you least expect, doing something so uniquely quirky you’ll roll your eyes.

A Shattered Evening

I HAD to mow my lawn yesterday afternoon. The grass was up to Jazzmin’s belly, almost long enough to make tiny, adorable bales and I had several varieties of mushrooms popping up all over the place from the wet weather. Yesterday it finally stopped raining and it was supposed to be sunny for the entire day. The way this spring has been going, that’s not a window of opportunity I could afford to miss. As it turned out, I had some fortunate and unfortunate luck with windows yesterday.

I checked the gas tank in my mower and saw that I had enough to do the back yard. I decided I’d get started and then go into town for more gas when I finished that largest section of the lawn. It was a lovely, sunny afternoon so I sprayed on my sunblock, popped in my ear buds, donned my big, clunky, noise-dampening ear muffs and cranked my mower up to set to work.

My lawn looked less like the field finally!

My lawn looked less like the field finally!

I put Jazz out on her lead by the swing set so she could get fresh air and be in the shade safely away from where I was mowing. She of course chose to lay in the full sun and ignore the shade. I glanced over toward where Jazz was every time I went by that way and she was either laying down in the sun or sniffing around. I was about halfway done with the back yard when I looked over at her and saw her sniffing around in the driveway. That confused me because her lead doesn’t reach that far. Then it clicked. She’d gotten off the lead! I stopped the mower as calmly as possible, turned off the blades and turned it around toward the shed and called Jazzmin cheerfully over. She followed me to the shed and I grabbed her collar before she realized she wasn’t on any sort of leash.

I decided it was the ideal time to drive into town for more gas. With Jazz in one hand and the gas tank in the other, I walked to the car, happy to be off the mower for a while. Jazz hopped into the front seat and I loaded the empty tank in the back and off we went on the five-minute drive into town. It was 75 out so I had the AC cranked and Jazzmin took great pleasure sniffing and snotting up the air vents. She loves riding in the car and looked around at the passing scenery.

Jazzmin ready to go!

Jazzmin ready to go!

I filled up the mower gas can and my own car at the cheapest station in town (which had a line out to the road) and made the quick drive back home. I put Jazzmin in the house so she could stay cool and out of trouble and then resumed mowing. It took me another hour and a half to finish mowing and I was extremely happy and relieved when I was done! No more tall grass, no more mushrooms, no more caring that it was going to rain for the next several days.

The local farmer was baling the large field behind my house and I took a few pictures while mowing and afterward. As I set my lawn furniture back in the grass and out of the driveway, I considered relaxing in a chair for a bit to watch the farming demonstration.

The farmer windrowing the hay

The farmer windrowing the hay

The baling machine at work

The baling machine at work

Gathering up the large bales

Gathering up the large bales

I saw something odd out of the corner of my eye and turned toward my car in confusion. Something wasn’t quite right about the passenger side window. I took a step closer and my mouth dropped open. There was a large hole in the window and the remaining safety glass was shattered in place. I groaned at my own stupidity. I’d mowed with the shoot toward my car and a stone had flown up and hit the window. I know better! I emitted a long slow swear word and sighed heavily. The damage was done and getting angry about it wasn’t going to change anything.

Large hole in my window and remnants of glass

Large hole in my window and remnants of glass

Shaking my head, I grabbed my leather gloves from the shed and started picking the glass out of the window and front passenger seat. There were tiny pieces of broken safety glass everywhere and the remains of the window collapsed the moment I touched it, sending several pieces of glass into my boots. Deciding it was as good as it was going to get for a while, I went inside and showered. Before full dark I ventured out with a clear garbage bag and duct tape and created a makeshift window to keep the bugs and forecasted rain out.

Thankfully I have full glass coverage on my auto insurance so I called in the claim and scheduled the window replacement for the following day. That drama dealt with, I turned on the Stanley Cup Playoffs hockey game to root for the Boston Bruins against the Chicago Blackhawks. With the game on in the background, I set to work redesigning my Boston story ebook cover and tried my best to leave the shattered evening behind me.

Creative Explorations

I’ve dabbled in many things trying to figure out what I want to be “when I grow up.” My father crafted amazing projects out of wood such as rocking animals (lions, giraffes and horses) and puzzles but my attempts to craft from wood in middle school shop class failed miserably. Not to mention that it’s not exactly safe for me to be around sharp, spinning things like saws.

I always loved art class in school but my work was overshadowed by artists far better than myself. Other students could draw realistic people and scenes while I did better with abstract and impressionistic pieces. My teachers seemed to have a higher appreciation for recognizable things than what I’d come up with so my work rarely made it into school art shows and displays.

In high school I took a computer programming class and discovered to my surprise that I was actually quite good at it! While my friends and fellow students kept getting stuck, I’d plow right through the steps and my program would run perfectly after I cleaned out a few bugs. I’d then help my friends with their code and I was impressed that my mind could work like that. I probably should have explored that area more because it had the potential to lead to a productive career but I didn’t.

I took a couple of computer art classes in school too. They didn’t call it graphic design but that’s what it was. Graphics on computers were pretty rudimentary back then but I was able to create things that impressed my teacher so much she wanted to use them on the school website. That never actually happened because I got sidetracked by trying to pass the classes I wasn’t very good at so I could graduate.

My father had a talent with a camera. Just about every photograph he took turned out perfect. People hired him to photograph work and social club events. He used his old Olympus SLR camera to take all the pictures and every shot was interesting. While I love taking photos and often snap several in a day, I don’t consider myself a photographer. I’m just someone who likes to take pictures. Being a photographer takes an eye and a skill I just don’t naturally possess.

When I was a stay-at-home mother I decided to expand my knowledge of graphic design, photography and photo editing by taking some online classes. It was fascinating learning about proper photo composition and where the eye is naturally drawn to. I went out and took several rolls of pictures with my father’s old Olympus camera but very few of them turned out well. I really enjoyed learning how to edit photos with Photoshop and bringing out details that were there in the scene but hadn’t been captured on film. Exploring graphic design with Illustrator was fun for me and while I created projects I liked, they just weren’t up to professional graphic design standards.

Graphic I made in the online Illustrator class

Graphic I made in the online Illustrator class

I’ve had to brush up on those Photoshop and graphic design skills recently as I work on the cover for my Boston story e-book. I dug out those three-ring binders and reread the lessons until it dusted off the correct memory files in my brain. Once I remember what I was doing, I had a lot of fun working on my cover…at first. The longer I work on it though, the less I like it. I imagine that happens to everyone after a while. I don’t know that I’ll ever be satisfied with the cover but I will eventually have to stop reworking it so I can publish my story. I’ll do my best and hope that people don’t glance at it, cringe and then keep browsing titles.

Potential cover in progress

Potential cover in progress

All of my creative explorations have taught me one thing: I am a writer. I can dabble in whatever I want to and I continue to paint, take photos and play with graphic design but my strongest ability is writing. I don’t profess to be a perfect writer and I never took any college courses in it so my grammar isn’t up to snuff but as every writer knows, writers write! I will always write, even if it’s about the most mundane-seeming things in the world. I am a storyteller and if I don’t get the words out of me, my entire creative essence suffers.

Retracing My Steps

As I started putting the final touches on my upcoming autobiographical e-book entitled “Massachusetts Adventures: Boston” I decided I really needed to use Google Maps to plot the route I took during my first visit to Beantown. Drawing from my memories and studying the photos I took during that overwhelming day in the city, I was able to piece together where I went and when.

Wow! What an eye-opener that was! I know I have the tendency to get lost but seeing my route drawn out on a map made that ridiculously clear to me. I went forward, backtracked and followed that up by walking a large loop that encompassed a few blocks in Boston’s Downtown District and extended down to Chinatown before going back up into the Financial District. I didn’t have a map of the city, heck, I’d barely had a plan for what I wanted to do during my visit there.

When I showed the plotted route to my oldest daughter Jordan she laughed and shook her head. She knows me well and has seen me literally spin in the kitchen as I try to remember where items are that I need. I’m not the most organized person in the world, far from it, but thankfully Jordan didn’t inherit that particular quirk from me. I’m quite certain that when I return to Boston for a third visit (the second visit is yet a different story) with my daughters and mother, Jordan will have a map in hand and plan in mind as to where we should go. I’ll show them all where I went but then I’ll happily step back and let my daughters show me the way, as I enjoy seeing the city for the first time all over again through their eyes.

Interview with K.N. Lee, author of The Chronicles of Koa: Netherworld

Kaz Ess

A few weeks ago K.N. Lee released her debut novel The Chronicles Of Koa: Netherworld, which is already gathering great reviews. I first met K.N. Lee on Twitter and thought this book looked like just my sort of thing. I was busy trying to order a copy when lo and behold! Up she popped on Facebook as well looking for people to read and review the book. I jumped at the chance and we’ve been chatting ever since. I was very flattered as a new blogger and writer when she agreed to be interviewed on my blog. Here’s what we talked about:

Where were you born, and brought up? Where do you live now?

I was born in Chicago, Illinois. My mother and I moved to Atlanta when I was four and later to Charlotte, N.C. when I was 13. I really dreaded moving to North Carolina, but it…

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Good Intentions Matter

Walking with Jazzmin and my daughters rather than writing

Walking with Jazzmin and my daughters rather than writing

Good intentions matter. Even if you don’t get done what you intended to do, having the intention of doing it matters. Now if all you do is have good intentions while never following through on any of them, they lose their importance. It’s about finding balance even when you’re walking on a wobbly beam that spans the length of a piranha-filled river. Not easy but definitely possible.

My intention yesterday was to write about how Jazzmin and Owl learned to get along. It would have been the conclusion of my previous two blogs that featured each of their stories. Obviously that blog entry didn’t happen yesterday and it won’t be happening today either. It’s a cute story but it can wait. I decided to work on my upcoming ebook and spend time with my family yesterday instead. I don’t regret that decision and my good intentions just went a different direction.

I’m sure numerous people reading this have already formatted and published an ebook or two so they know everything involved. I didn’t realize all the steps of the process until I seriously committed myself to doing it early last week. My ebook is the story about my first visit to Boston, Massachusetts in November of 2011. I love the story because I lived it and when I posted it as a blog a while back, it was well-received. Turning it into a book was quite another undertaking though.

I’m awful at editing my own writing. I don’t have the perfect grasp of grammar and I get so swept up in the story that I forget I’m supposed to be editing and proofreading. I realized last week that I needed help editing it. I’d just finished reading A Little Slice of Heaven by Gina Ardito and when I went to her website to see what else she’s written, I saw she does editing too. I shot her a quick email, learned she had a short window of availability to edit my story, took a deep breath and jumped. I sent her my 7012 word story and crossed my fingers.

When I received my edited story back from Gina a couple days later, it read even better than before and I was so happy! It was the boost to my self-confidence that I needed and I was even more determined to get my story out there. I highly recommend Gina Ardito as an editor and will definitely be using her again! I’m also reading another one of her books because that first one I read put the wind back in my romantic sails as it were. I even reviewed it on Amazon.

I spent the next few days after that formatting my story for Nook in the free time I had when I wasn’t working my day job, caring for my daughters, keeping up a house and writing freelance articles. I really need more hours in a day! While I know perfection is impossible, I don’t want to do a shoddy job of formatting my book so the details matter to me. I realized I can either rush just to get my book out there or I can slow down a bit and choose a date to publish it.

I decided I’d aim for this Sunday, Father’s Day, in honor and memory of my father. After all, he was with me in spirit as I explored (and became lost in) Boston that fateful November day, it only makes sense that I acknowledge his unending support. These are good intentions I know I will follow through on. It’s a goal I’ve set for myself and a long overdue realization of a dream. I don’t expect my short story to change the world but I do hope my words touch people and inspire them to explore this amazing journey called life.

A Pup Named Jazzmin

One of the things I was most looking forward to when I moved out of my ex’s house was getting a dog. As I was only “allowed” cats, I couldn’t have a dog. For a period of years when the girls were little I actually didn’t want a dog. The girls first introduction to a dog of any kind was my former friend’s large, barking, slobbering, undisciplined Saint Bernard. My daughters were smaller than that dog when they first met her and she was always trying to lick them and be over-anxious with greetings. Because of that my girls were terrified of all dogs. They’d cry at the sight of even small dogs. This was very disheartening for me because I knew there were lots of nice, loving, well-behaved dogs in the world.

The first summer in my new home came and went and I still hadn’t gotten a dog. I thought I wanted to feel more settled in my place. Then winter arrived and the long, cold days inside without my girls became rather oppressive. In December of 2011 I started looking around at dogs in local shelters. I saw several adorable pups that I liked of all mixes and colors. Black, white, tan, brown, spotted, big, little, all needing a good home. If I’d had the means I would have adopted them all and built a huge heated barn for them to live in. They’d be my pack. But I didn’t have the means and I still don’t, so I knew I’d have to settle on one dog.

One day I was searching the pictures of one of the local shelters and I saw a sweet-looking yellow mutt they’d named “Chastity.” She reminded me of my good friend’s dog because she was a similar mix and as his dog sounded so loyal and loving, I knew I just had to meet her!

The very first picture I ever saw of Jazzmin

The very first picture I ever saw of Jazzmin

I decided to go to the shelter that weekend with a friend of mine and meet that adorable pup. It was chilly winter day and snow-covered the ground but inside the humane society it was nice and warm. We went inside and I said I wanted a dog so they took my friend and I back into the dog area. Every single dog started barking the moment we entered and the noise level was deafening! The yellow mutt was in the very first cage to the right and she was barking and jumping just like all the other dogs. I walked down the aisle looking over every dog but I came back to her because I just knew she was the one for me.

Jazzmin barking in her cage at the shelter

Jazzmin barking in her cage at the shelter

My friend and I went back out into the waiting area to sit while they fetched “Chastity” and brought her out on a leash. She was so exuberant and happy to see us! Her tail was wagging non stop and she eagerly sniffed us, the floor, the chairs and whatever else she could get her nose to. They showed me that she knew sit, stay, shake and down and that was good enough for me! I paid the adoption fee and promised I’d be back after I went to the nearby Wal-Mart for food and bowls for her since they gave a free leash and collar with every dog. I couldn’t shop fast enough!

I returned to the shelter, finished up the paperwork and loaded my new pup into the car. There was no way I was going to keep her name “Chastity” so my friend and I started brainstorming a name. My friend said she looked like a princess and she suggested Jasmine like Princess Jasmine in Disney’s Aladdin. I liked the sound of that but wanted something more unique. So she suggested I spell it “Jazzmin” so it could be shortened to Jazz. That was perfect!

Jazzmin in my car on the drive home

Jazzmin in my car on the drive home

I dropped my friend off back at her car and then took Jazzmin home. They didn’t know her history with cats so I made sure both cats were closed off in the basement before I brought Jazz in the house. She fully explored the house, sniffing around as she walked from one end to the other. She seemed quite happy with her new home. I brought up the cage I’d used to house Owl and Pumpkin as kittens (it was actually a dog cage) and set it up in the kitchen. I set a soft, thick old comforter inside it and Jazzmin immediately nestled into her new den.

Jazzmin at home in her crate/den

Jazzmin at home in her crate/den

I let Jazzmin sleep on my bed that first night and for the next several weeks before deciding the bed-hogging moose needed her own bed on the floor. I took her for our first walk that afternoon and she quickly showed me her boundless energy despite the cold and snow. My friend suggested I get her a coat to keep her warm and I also picked up some slip-on booties to protect her pads from the snow.

One of our earliest winter walks

One of our earliest winter walks

The final test of her settling in came the Sunday afternoon after I adopted her. My girls would be meeting her for the first time. She was a very loving and sweet dog and my daughters were mostly over their fear of dogs though they’d still never lived with one. As it turned out, the girls adored Jazzmin and she adored them right back! Jazzmin showed them what a well-behaved dog is like and they showed her what the love of human “puppies” feels like.

Jaycie petting Jazz the first night after they met

Jaycie petting Jazz the first night after they met

Jordan and Jazzmin snuggling the first night they met

Jordan and Jazzmin snuggling the first night they met

Jazzmin fit right into our family and I can’t imagine our lives without her. Giving her a J name can be problematic when I accidentally call my daughters her name and vice versa but I get the right name eventually. We’re all members of the same pack, The J Pack, and we’re leaning something new about working together every single day!

I was asking Jazz to look at the camera but this happened instead...

I was asking Jazz to look at the camera but this happened instead…

A Cat Named Owl

Yes, you read that right; I have a cat named Owl. I receive all sorts of perplexed expressions and responses when I tell people my black cat’s name is Owl. “Owl?” they repeat. “As in O-W-L?” Yes indeed! The story behind her name goes like this…

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted a solid black cat. I’ve had black and white cats but never an all-black cat. I see black cats as a sign of good luck and I believe they possess positive mysticism. One winter morning in January six years ago, I went into the barn of the house I lived in with my then husband. I don’t remember why I went in there but I do remember what I found. There was a small, orange, tiger-striped kitten scampering across the floor of the barn. Two stray kittens had shown up in our barn the previous spring so I wasn’t entirely surprised by this new visitor. Those two kittens had found a lovely home so I’m sure I could find this orange one a home too.

The orange kitten was somewhat friendly but uncertain so I went back inside the house to make him a bowl of warm milk. The two cats I owned at the time, Avi and Zoey, knew the sound of milk being poured and were not impressed when I took it outside the house. Once back in the barn, I put the milk down and the orange kitten began eagerly drinking it. As he lapped up the milk, I noticed movement from the far side of the barn. There wasn’t much light in the barn and it was very dark over there, so all I saw when I looked were two big glowing eyes. That steady gaze reminded me of the intent eyes of an owl. I could then make out the shape of an even smaller, all black kitten huddled among motorcycles and wheelbarrows. When I tried to get close to her, she hissed at me and backed away.

Owl my Howloween cat!

Owl my Howloween cat!

I went back in the house and fetched another bowl of warm milk much to my cats’ annoyance. Back in the barn, I set the second bowl of steaming milk down on the floor between the orange kitten and the hiding black kitten. The black kitten wouldn’t come any closer but I hoped she’d come drink before the rounder, orange kitten drank all the milk.

Zoey and Owl lounging in the sun..with some owls.

Zoey and Owl lounging in the sun..with some owls.

The next day I went out and bought some kitten chow for my new guests and again the orange kitten was friendlier and came to eat. It took a while but eventually the little black kitten would come over to drink the milk and eat the food. She seemed to be warming to me. The funny thing was she didn’t seem to know or remember how to meow. She’d obviously been chased away a lot so when she came over to eat and drink, she’d hiss at me instead of meowing. I could hear her purring loudly so I knew she meant to be friendly but she’d forgotten how to meow.

I named that black kitten Owl because those big, glowing eyes were the very first part of her I saw. The name suited her somehow. I named the round orange kitten Pumpkin, though he’d come to any name if there was food involved. I was so happy that an all-black cat had found its way to me! I bought them a cage so they could live inside the bathroom of the warm house. I would have been happy to let them roam free in the house but my then husband wasn’t a big animal lover. He also told me I wasn’t “allowed” to have more than two cats so I put an ad in the paper offering the kittens for free. I was not happy to have to give the little black kitten away.

Avi and Owl tolerate each other.

Avi and Owl tolerate each other.

When my then husband was at work, I’d let the kittens out of the cage so they could play in the house and they were so much fun to watch! I knew I was going to miss them both immensely but I hoped they’d have a loving home. Eventually a young woman called interested in the kittens and we scheduled a time for her to come over and pick them up. I put both kittens in the bathroom, but not in the cage, and closed the door. The woman arrived and I took her into the bathroom. The moment I opened the door, Owl ran back behind the dryer and hid. Coax and call as I might, Owl wouldn’t come out. The young woman was content with just Pumpkin so I let her take him alone.

Zoey and Owl involved in a lazy cat fight

Zoey and Owl involved in a lazy cat fight

I wasn’t about to give Owl away all by herself because she’d bonded with Pumpkin and was skittish to begin with. Despite much grumbling on my then husband’s part, I got to keep Owl and I finally owned my beloved all black cat! By then she had remembered how to meow and she’s so “talkative” now that my nickname for her is “Owl the Mouth.”

Owl fell asleep on the phone again!

Owl fell asleep on the phone again!

She and my youngest daughter Jaycie practically grew up together and Owl adores Jaycie to this day. These days when Owl starts loving up Jaycie she says “Owl’s bugging me” but every now and then Owl gets a pet or two.

Jaycie and Owl when they were "little"

Jaycie and Owl when they were “little”

Named after a bird or not, Owl is one of the sweetest cats I’ve ever owned and she even taught Jazzmin to like cats! Though that’s a story for another day…

Owl and Jazzmin snuggling on the couch

Owl and Jazzmin snuggling on the couch

The Perils of Country Rush Hour

When I say “country rush hour” I’m not talking about having to wait for chickens and ducks to cross the road. I’m talking about walking the hilly country roads where I live between the hours of 4pm and 6pm. Blind hills, no posted speed limits and sweeping curves all traveled by people in their pickup trucks, SUVs and cars. It isn’t a constant flow of traffic by any means, perhaps a couple cars within a span of 5 minutes. Jazzmin and I walk in the road as much as possible but when a car is coming we move over into the rocky ditch as best we can.

The blind hills are the scariest areas to walk and I’m always listening for cars and walking as far over in the ditch as possible. Drivers don’t expect to see a woman and her dog walking on these roads and as they’re going 55 mph and over, there’s not much time for them to react. So I’m always attentive and prepared for what might be coming speeding over the next hill.

Tonight’s rush hour walk was almost surreal in how unusual it was. The farmers are all cutting their hay in the fields surrounding me so Jazz and I encountered a baler and forklift tooling down the road. Then as we were walking by a field already stacked with bales, a huge flatbed tractor-trailer slowed down to pull over and retrieve the stack we were near. There wasn’t much shoulder between us and the truck but we hustled quickly out of his way.

We continued up the slight hill and just as we neared the crest, a tree in the distance went crashing down and disappeared from the horizon. That’s when the sound of a chainsaw reached my ears and I realized someone was doing a bit of “lawn maintenance.” We reached the yard of trees just as another one was cut down and the rush of noise it created hitting the ground startled Jazz. The trees appeared to be cottonwoods so I understood somewhat why they were removing them.

The tall tress cut down by chainsaws

The tall tress cut down by chainsaws

Descending that small hill we came upon a recently repaired area of the road. They’ve been working on bridge maintenance recently and they’d obviously just repaired the under-road tunnel one of the area streams flows through.

Recently repaired bridge.

Recently repaired bridge.

Beyond the repaired bridge and noise of the chainsaws, I heard the caws of crows in the sky and looked up to find them circling for some reason. Perhaps they were disturbed by the chainsaws or some other predator in the woods but their calls were eerie and sped us faster toward the next hill. The next hill happened to be what I call “The Big Hill” because it’s the steepest one we climb. There’s an old schoolhouse set upon it with a graveyard way back in the trees and walking up it always tires Jazzmin and I out. Once we reach the top the view of the surrounding hills is quite lovely and it’s as if we’ve ascended to another world.

The picture doesn't properly show the steepness of The Big Hill

The picture doesn’t properly show the steepness of The Big Hill

We walked the flat road at the top of the hill for a bit before turning around and heading home. Walking down that hill is much easier than up and I love looking across the hills, trees and farmland surrounding us. There was brief respite from the cars at that point and I was able to enjoy the songs of the blackbirds, sparrows and robins in the trees. On our way back I stopped to peer down over the cliff and into the gully that’s home to another section of the stream. It’s so green and lush now that the water is no longer visible and it looked like a jungle among farmland.

The stream gully.

The stream gully.

There’s really no such thing as “quiet evening walk” where I live, even as remote as it is. There’s always something to see, some peril to avoid and undeniable exercise to be had. Jazzmin was suitably tired when we got home and remained that way for a good half hour before appearing eager to walk again. I don’t share her endless energy so she’ll have to wait until tomorrow when the road is new to us once more.

Blooming Potential

The birthday gift from my  daughters.

The birthday gift from my daughters.

At times I can resemble a little whirlwind of chaos and despite the predictability of my life, I am not predictable. I have been told that my energy and exuberance can power a small town, or something like that. I can’t help it really, it’s who I am.

I imagine that the lives of the people I encounter are never the same after they meet me. I am a multi-dimensional and quirky being. I like to think that friendship with me, no matter how brief, serves a higher purpose than even I realize. I’m not implying I’m a deity of any kind, that would rival my desire to be humble. A queen yes, a goddess no. A girl has to keep things in perspective.

Today is my birthday. I was born into a family with two loving parents and two older brothers. I am the youngest and the only girl and yes, I was a bit spoiled. The only thing I’m spoiled with nowadays though is the love of family and friends. I work hard for everything I have and gain a deeper sense of pride by doing so. I am unique and I am blessed with many intangible gifts. The potential that exists within me is always blooming in new, colorful ways that I can’t always comprehend.

My snapdragons are blooming again!

My snapdragons are blooming again!

There will be no grand party in celebration of the day of my birth, but that’s more than fine with me. I did not sleep in or awaken to the luxury of breakfast in bed. I snarfed a cookie when I got up actually. My girls have school and I have to go into the office. After the routine of the day is done though we’re going to my oldest’s chorus and band concert and listening to her musical talent tonight is a perfect gift. Ice cream cake with my mother will follow and then we’ll all retire to bed…to perhaps fall asleep within an hour despite the night owls that reside in my home.

I know how fortunate I am to be enjoying this amazing journey called life. The adventures are never-ending and the companions I’ve had and continue to have on such adventures are brave, fearless, loyal and loving. I am surprised that some of them have stuck with me so long and I believe that speaks to the quality of my character and theirs. One of my closest friends says there’s a difference between having character and being a character, among his many other words of wisdom. My strength of character impresses even me sometimes and I am definitely a character you will never forget meeting.

So today is the day the powers that be placed me on this world and said “I wonder what will happen if we just wind her up and let her go?” What on earth were they thinking…

Jumping from the Height of Luxury

The palace architecture resembled that of King's Chapel in Boston, only magnified 100x!

The palace architecture resembled that of King’s Chapel in Boston, only magnified 100 times!

I had a dream last night that I was in a grand palace. The palace was far too big for my tastes. Grand hallways of polished marble stretched on forever, fine artwork decorated the walls and the furniture was too luxurious and fancy to sit upon. I don’t remember why I was there but I do know Jazzmin was with me and we were both feeling rather lost.

I encountered some former friends while I explored the palace and after talking with them I just wanted out of the place. The friends had moved on with their lives and left me behind but now that they saw me again, they felt the need to brag about how happy they were. How in love they were, how wonderful their lives were, how they had everything they ever wanted. I was wearing jean shorts and a tank top while they were dressed in expensive designer clothes. My yellow mutt and I felt horribly out of place.

I was upset that my former friends were so obviously fulfilled without me in their lives. All I’d ever done was be kind to them and try to give helpful advice and they’d snubbed me for the “love of their life.” They’d tossed me like a dirty rag because I’m the weird girl who spends most of her time writing, walking her dog, listening to birds and watching butterflies. They were much more “fulfilled” spending every conceivable moment with their beloved. I didn’t care how happy they appeared to be because I was certain their words were lies and their whole demeanor just a well-rehearsed performance.

In my efforts to get away from these former friends, Jazz and I became separated. This was horrible for me because Jazz is always stuck to me like my shadow. Somehow one of my ex friends had lured her away from me and I was desperate to find her. I finally found my way out onto a balcony and gulped in the fresh air like a fish gulps in water after being on dry land too long. The luxury and grandeur of the place was suffocating to me and I wanted out!

While standing on the vine-covered balcony, I heard Jazzmin barking above and to the left of me. I looked to find her on a higher nearby balcony poking her head through the marble railing with her tail wagging happily. She was obviously very eager to get to me despite the offer of treats from the person on the balcony with her. As anxious as I was to be reunited with Jazz, I was afraid she was going to try and jump to get to me. No matter how much she loved me, I didn’t think even Jazz could leap that far.

So I shouted at her to wait, that I’d find her. Too late. Jazzmin leapt through the railing across the open expanse and poof! my dream created a balcony between the two of us for her to safely land upon. I was so relieved! She then made the last jump to me and I hugged her and praised her as her tail happily whipped back and forth and she rubbed her head against mine. We both wanted out of that place but had no desire to go back inside.

Looking below me I realized the balcony was now much lower than before so I swung my legs over and jumped down. Jazz squeezed through the railings and hopped down to me and we took off running through the lush, emerald-colored garden overflowing with fountains, flowers and topiaries. I didn’t need those former friends or that grand palace to make me happy. I knew in my dream, as I do in real life, what real love feels like. Genuine kindness, caring and love are luxuries and treasures far greater than all the money in the world.