Winter wonderland

snow covered road

The view on our walk this morning.

 

Thanks to one of those peculiar weather systems that’s spinning the wrong direction and moving east to west, it’s been snowing all day where I live. In New England, this precipitation was freezing rain and rain but when it moved west to where I live, it transitioned to snow and cold. It isn’t a blizzard or anything near the amount of snow dumped on Buffalo recently, but it’s the most snow we’ve had yet. As it’s still the holiday season, I don’t mind the snow and I’m enjoying the sight of it gently falling as it creates a winter wonderland.

kitten snowball

Daisy playing with the little snowball I brought inside. Jazz ate is shortly after this.

birdwatching kittens

The kittens were exhausted from birdwatching.

A little snow and cold wasn’t going to keep me from my vow to walk Jazzmin every day so we headed out this morning when there were only a few inches on the ground. Jazzmin is always happy to walk but she’d be happier if it wouldn’t snow on her head. Even with the cold and the snow pelting my face as we walked, I was happy because I know how lucky I am. I have a strong dislike for driving in snow and thanks to working at home, I don’t have to worry about driving into an office every day, no matter the weather. I’d much rather be out walking Jazzmin as I’m bundled up to my eyeballs than working for someone else helping them achieve their dreams. Nowadays, I get to chase and achieve my own dreams.

dog pawprints

Our footprints in the snow.

Despite a few unexpected interruptions, I was able to finish my work for the day before dinnertime. One of those unexpected interruptions was actually a welcome one as they cancelled afterschool activities and I had to pick Jordan up from school. She usually rides the late bus with her sister to their father’s house on Wednesday afternoon, but the canceled activities meant she needed somewhere to go. That’s yet another reason I feel blessed to be able to work from home, I’m there for my girls when they need me. Living only three minutes from the school comes in handy on days like today and thankfully, the roads weren’t too bad. Jordan and I enjoyed a quiet afternoon together before her father picked her up and I resumed my tasks for the day.

lights on the walkway

Glow of my walkway lights in the snow.

I’ve already had to shovel five inches of snow off my deck and I’m sure I’ll have to do tomorrow since it’s still coming down, but I’ll manage like I always do. I know that the cold is only temporary and that even when I don’t have my girls, I have my felines and my pup to keep me warm and remind me that I’m loved.

kittens and dog

Snuggling on the couch tonight.

A day of new beginnings

Sunrise on Plum Island, MA

Sunrise on Plum Island, MA

I closed on my house three years ago today. It was a day of new beginnings. This is the first house I’ve owned all on my own and in my own name. I know what a huge accomplishment that is and I love my little house. The next house I own will be in New England and I’m sure I can’ achieve that goal someday.

Today is a day of another new beginning. It’s the first official day of online classes for me as I pursue a degree from SNHU. The curriculum for the classes I’m taking has been open for a few days and I’ve already been looking it over and reading my class books but today it’s finally real. I’m certain it’s the kind of mental stimulation I need at this point and I know it will lead to great things!

My daughters start school next Wednesday and while my oldest is getting all her school supplies in order my youngest keeps saying that she never wants to go to school again. I don’t now that Jordan is exactly thrilled about returning to school but she doesn’t dislike it to the degree Jaycie does. Even so, I know my girls will both excel in their own unique ways and I’m so proud of them for always trying their best!

In truth, every day is a day of new beginnings. Every day we have is a gift and a chance to start anew with fresh thoughts and perspective. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the troubles from yesterday but it doesn’t hurt to try. If the problems still remain, each dawn gives us a chance to approach them differently and see them as an opportunity for growth. There is good in every day, you just have to know how to look for it. Not all of my yesterday’s were great but today I woke up to sunshine, blue skies and dozens of little butterflies flittering around my yard and for that I am truly grateful!

Remembering in Happiness

Four years ago today, my father passed away. He and I were very close. Father and daughter and great friends. The day he died was the worst day of my life and I experienced a level of pain and sorrow I hadn’t known existed. I don’t wish that kind of hurt upon anyone I care about.

The whole first year was rough, the second year only slightly easier, the third had its ups and downs but this fourth year has been decidedly different in a very positive way. His spirit is always close to me but this year it’s even closer as he supports and encourages me in the pursuit of my dreams. I grabbed onto my dreams with both hands this year and held tight to them as I work to achieve them.

I published my first e-book Massachusetts Adventures: Boston on Father’s Day in honor of my dad and while very few have read it, I’m still proud of myself and I know he’s proud too. I worked my adorable butt off freelance writing so I could quit my office job this past July and I’m making a successful go of it. I finally took my daughters and my mother on a vacation to New England this past August and showed my girls Boston as I promised. Since June, I’ve managed to head up to New England every other month, which has been my goal since my first visit there two years ago. Those are several very big dreams accomplished! They’re just small steps on the bigger journey though.

It’s been a long healing process after losing my father and I’ll never quite be whole without him, but I’m in a much better place now than ever before. I’m able to look back on my many years with him in happiness and the scars of his untimely passing are less painful and slowly disappearing in the light of positive experiences in my life.

To continue to honor his spirit this month and always, I’m going to be writing up my more recent adventures in New England and finally adding more books to my e-book series. I’m going to rename my e-book series from “Massachusetts Adventures” to “New England Adventures” as I continue to explore that amazingly beautiful area of the country. That’s going to require me redoing the cover of my first book but I’m sure I’m up to the task!

I have great expectations for the upcoming year and all the years beyond it. I know I will achieve my dreams and keep dreaming up even bigger ones to chase. I believe in myself and I know my own strength and I’m certain I can accomplish whatever I put my determined mind to! Thanks, Dad, you taught your girl well!

I’m pasting in the post I wrote up last year in honor of his memory. I was given an unexpected and wonderful gift last October. It was a huge step toward healing my heart and finally remembering in happiness all the greatness of my father.

***

my fathers grave

Casting Shadows – 10/22/2012

My father was a great man. He wasn’t perfect by any means but as I say, perfect is boring and quite honestly, unattainable.  What made my father great was his kind heart, caring nature, quirky sense of humor, passion for and knowledge of history, and most importantly, the love he had for his family. That love lives on even though he has departed this world and every day his spirit touches me in some way. I am a mere shadow of the person he was but I strive every day to attain such greatness.

I expected last week to be tough and it certainly had its low moments but they were countered by some amazingly unexpected high moments.  Life has tested me over the past couple months and given me challenges I managed to overcome even though I stumbled a bit. My faith in certain things left me but my hope for those same things remained. 

This past week I was shown that even though I lose faith and succumb to the darker side of shadows, faith never completely gives up on me. Hope is a very powerful force and it is intertwined with faith whether we realize it or not. There was one thing I could not give up on, despite saying I had and trying to convince myself I had. I can’t explain why I didn’t give up, why I couldn’t let go, aside from the fact that I just didn’t want to. There was perhaps a different reason, a deeper meaning behind my inability to release that last little bit of hope. Whatever the reason, a great gift was bestowed upon me last week and it proved to me that I have the most amazing best friend in the world! It also showed me that shadows are not something to be feared because they can not exist without light.

So while I expected my path last week to go one way, it went a completely new way and in a lovely upward direction. I still had sad moments where the tears from missing my father flowed freely, but amid those moments the love of my friends and family shined through, lifted me up and kept me strong.  I learned to smile again and I laughed without restraint and I sang loudly and off key in my car to songs that I hadn’t wanted to hear anymore until that moment.  

My oldest daughter noted that I was going around the house singing my snippets of show tunes again and when I asked if it bothered her she said “No!” For her to say that tells me that I was lower than I realized. The 10 year old girl who had always rolled her eyes and grumbled when her mother sang “I feel pretty” was now smiling at the sound of my voice and that was yet another blessed gift. I am one person but I am made better and held together by the spirits of my family and friends. I shall never take that for granted again and I will pay heed to my father’s voice in my head when he tells me “Be patient.” Slow down, breathe, relax, have faith, hold hope and continue on the path and the rewards will always be surprising.

The Desire to Share

As I’ve said many times, I love to cook and bake. I used to be a great hostess when I was married and my then husband’s friends and coworkers would come over. I put together food for our annual Halloween party that included delectable treats for kids and adults. I love cooking a lot of food for a house full of people and enjoying it with them. That element of my life evaporated when I got divorced and all of those “friends” chose my ex over me. I haven’t hosted a party in four years, I don’t have enough friends to fill a house anymore.

I still love making lots of food and trying new recipes though. I have great hope that eventually I’ll have a social circle again. I’m pretty sure it will happen when I live in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. I get glimpses of what can be when I visit North Shore Massachusetts. Complete strangers are kind to me, people I’ve never met before treat me like a friend and want to see me again. For a semi-introvert, still inwardly shy girl like me, that means a lot. Someday I won’t be a tourist anymore, someday I’ll be a resident.

cider bread ingredients

The hard cider bread ready to come out of the oven.

The hard cider bread ready to come out of the oven.

I’m looking forward to being that house on the street that emits such amazing sweet and savory smells everyone wonders “What’s Julie mixing up now?” and then comes over to find out. The way I bake and cook, there will be plenty to go around! I’ll enjoy soaking up the feedback on new recipes and revel in any compliments I receive. I’ll have infamous cookouts where people come watch me battle grill flames and come out victorious. I’ll deliver trays of cookies, muffins and breads to nearby businesses just to make them smile. Yes, it will be lovely!

My girls favorite little crescent dogs

My girls favorite little crescent dogs

I miss sharing that part of myself, the part of me that I express by making irresistible food. I put a lot of thought and care into what I bake. I’m always tweaking recipes to make it just a smidge better and trying new flavor combinations. I spend my days of solitude now preparing for that life when I have a social circle again. Four years is a long time for a hostess not to have the opportunity to do what she does best.

Envisioning a Dream Kitchen

 

wayside kitchens littleton ma

Kitchen Design by Wayside Kitchens in Littleton, MA

I think I managed to perfect my pancake recipe the other night. I often make pancakes for dinner. It’s a tradition my father started and one I enjoy carrying on. The pancakes came out fluffy, moist and melt in our mouths! The girls had four each that night and they were gone after two morning breakfasts. I was so proud of myself I finally took out a new 3×5 card and rewrote the recipe so I’d know exactly what to do next time. I’m looking forward to next time!

The following night I made my best homemade macaroni and cheese ever! It wasn’t technically macaroni and cheese because I didn’t use elbow macaroni, I used mini shells but it was still good! I don’t think every woman’s place is in the kitchen but I love being in the kitchen cooking and baking and I happen to be a woman. My kitchen sink is right in front of a window and I love being able to watch and listen to the birds on my back feeder. I also just started a small herb garden and every day I set it on the windowsill to soak up the sunshine.

The view out my kitchen window.

The view out my kitchen window.

It should come as no surprise that when I’m looking at pictures of homes and interior design online my favorite room to investigate is the kitchen. I dream of having one of those big kitchens with an eat-in island or peninsula, double ovens, several professional-grade gas burners, a huge fridge/freezer combo, two sinks (one of them apron front), a stand mixer with tons of attachments and beautiful layers of light from windows, pendant lamps, under-cabinet lighting and recessed fixtures. That might sound excessive but this is a dream and I don’t put limits on my dreams.

In between articles today I’d pause to look at gallery photos from kitchen remodeling businesses in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. I decided it would be good to know what my options are when I need my dream kitchen built in my dream New England home. Just because it’s a dream doesn’t mean I can’t be practical about it. I’ve embedded links to the businesses in the photos I used. I will now shamelessly plug that I’m available to write blog postings for them if they’re ever interested.

The picture below is my winner for ultimate dream kitchen layout. I love the colors, the unique backsplash behind the cooktop and all the windows but there are some things I’d want to change. Pros: The overall layout, tons of natural light, combination of darker wood cabinets and lighter wood island (complete with beadboard wainscoting), glass front cabinets with interior lighting, the tile wall, has all the features I like including double ovens, dishwasher, two sinks (one by the window and one in the island), gas cooktop and large island with seating. Cons: stainless steel appliances (I prefer black), no cabinet facade on the refrigerator, knobs as cabinet hardware (I have them now and they come unscrewed all the time) the color and style of the stools doesn’t seem to fit the room and the pendant lights are pretty but a bit too small. Perhaps I’m a bit picky but hey, this is my dream and I’m allowed.

Design by Dream Kitchens of Nashua, NH

Design by Dream Kitchens of Nashua, NH

To see all the pins I added today check out my Favorite Kitchen Designs on Pinterest!

Endless Dreams

This morning I was browsing houses for sale in North Shore Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Jordan had just finished her breakfast so she came over and looked at some of the photos. She expressed great interest in the pictures I had up on my screen.

There was a lot to like in the houses I was looking at. They all had lovely floor plans and nice lots and were far newer than my current house. I told Jordan that I look at houses for sale to inspire me to keep working hard at my writing. I told her the only way I could afford to own a house out there is by selling a book (or six) for substantial money.

Jordan’s response was that several people seemed to like my “Unbroken Flames” book and I said that yes, they did. Alas, I’m still so busy writing freelance for income that I can’t write for pleasure. It’s a frustrating conundrum. I’m sure I’ll figure out a win/win solution eventually.

Jordan asked what was involved with my job as a freelance writer and I told her it’s like writing several short research papers every day. My mind is so stimulated by the time I go to bed that I have endless and detailed dreams every night. I can doze off for 20 minutes and have five different dreams. So while I do sleep through the night, it’s not the kind of sleep that leaves me feeling rested.

At the end of the day I lose my ability to spell easy words correctly or even talk in forward sentences. I was reading football stats yesterday afternoon and I read “tackled” as “tickled.” Now wouldn’t that be a totally different game! Amusing yes, but a bit exasperating. Mental exhaustion with a purpose I suppose.

While I sleep I have endless dreams. While I’m awake they transform into endless daydreams that motivate me to keep plugging away with my writing work. If achieving dreams was easy then everyone would have done it by now. I have faith that someday after a full day of rewarding writing I’ll have the pleasure of taking a stroll on a Massachusetts beach to watch the sunset and be soothed by the sounds of the crashing waves.

Sometimes What You Want Most…

jaycie gift2

Jaycie opening one of her birthday gifts

Sometimes what you want most turns out to be something you didn’t even know existed. This was the case for my daughter Jaycie yesterday during her birthday party at my house. She’d been saying for over a month that what she really wanted for her birthday was the Twilight Sparkle pony from the latest My Little Pony incarnation. She has that particular pony at my mother’s house but not mine. I went on my favorite shopping site of Amazon and ordered a little two-pony set with Twilight Sparkle and Princess Cadence.

While shopping on Amazon I found some MLP items I’d never heard of before. They’re called Equestria Girls and they’re apparently the next installment of the My Little Pony story. They looked adorable and like something Jaycie would love so I grabbed a couple. I figured if she didn’t like them, her sister Jordan would.

I picked Jaycie and Jordan up from their father’s house yesterday afternoon and Jaycie showed me her birthday loot. She wasn’t overly thrilled about any of it though because she hadn’t received Twilight Sparkle. It was hard for me to contain my excitement because I knew that the exact thing she wanted was waiting for her at my house! She said “I hope I get my favorite gifts at Mommy’s house.” She was so sure she just wouldn’t be happy unless she got that pony.

Jaycie with the pony-filled castle in the background

Jaycie with the pony-filled castle in the background

I took the girls to my house and made them a snack while we waited for my mother and older brother to arrive. Once they did, I asked Jaycie when she wanted to open her presents and she of course said “Right now!” My mom brought over the gifts from her and my brother and Jaycie ripped through those pretty quick. She seemed to like them all but alas, no pony. I then brought out my gifts. The first was a MLP lunch box and the next was an Equestria Girl version of Apple Jack. Jaycie opened it, seemed puzzled by it and wasn’t overly excited about it. The third gift was Twilight Sparkle and Cadence but there wasn’t the enthusiasm I was expecting. The last gift was Rainbow Dash as an Equestria Girl and I could see that Jaycie was trying to take it all in.

Jordan and I started helping Jaycie get the toys out of their boxes and even out of the boxes, she didn’t seem excited about any of them. Jordan however was extremely eager to play with the Equestria Girls. I put Apple Jack’s cowboy hat on her head and showed it to Jaycie and she just sort of looked at it. Then I said that I was going to play with Apple Jack and Jaycie suddenly had a huge interest in her! Within the next half hour, Jaycie was enthusiastically playing with both Equestria Girls and the Twilight Sparkle set. When Jordan asked if she could play with one of the girls Jaycie wasn’t exactly thrilled to share. By the end of the night, Jaycie took the Equestria Girls to bed and left everything else in the living room, including the much desired Twilight Sparkle.

My girls playing with birthday toys

My girls playing with birthday toys

While all of that involves toys and might not seem very deep and meaningful, it showed me something. Jaycie thought she knew exactly what she wanted, what she would love the most, and yet discovered that she loved something else even more, something she hadn’t even known about. That says to me that life is full of pleasant surprises if you’re just open to them. Sometimes you’re so focused on one thing that you can’t see the other amazing possibilities until they bop you on the nose. When you expand your vision and let go of your narrow focus, you’re better able to enjoy everything going on around you so you don’t miss ANY of the good stuff!

A New, Exciting, Scary and Amazing Chapter

No, this isn’t a new chapter excerpt in one of my books. It’s a new chapter in my life. A chapter that took a majority of the guts I have to embark on. Last Monday I gave my two-week notice at the office job so this week will be my last week there. The job I have lined up to replace it is doing something that I love and that fulfills me: being a mother and a writer.

My years as a stay-at-home mother were the happiest of my life and I know how lucky I was to be able to spend so much time with my daughters as they grew. Thing is, they’re still growing and I’ve missed so much of their lives while working outside the home. After my divorce, I had even less time with them and that was heart-wrenching for me.

My oldest is going into middle school next year which doesn’t seem possible to me! I can still remember the doctor placing her on my chest moments after she was born like it was yesterday! I don’t want to blink and have another 10 years pass without me remembering where they went.

When I have my girls, my main focus will be on being a mother. When I don’t have my girls, I’ll be busy writing my fingers off. This is an exciting and scary endeavor I’m setting out on and it breaks rules I thought I had to live by.

This isn’t my first leap into the unknown but it is the first I’ve taken with nothing but my faith in my own strength to back me up. I believe in myself as a mother and a writer, even when my confidence in other aspects of me waver. Hopefully while I’m focusing on the things I’m best at, that energy will bring other positive changes into my life.

I am so optimistic about the future, even with all the new challenges that await me on this unexplored path. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I’d continued to do what people expected me to, if I walked the same trail countless people have walked before me. I forge my own path with a blend of stubborn determination, strength and fiery feistiness!

The Importance of Dreams

Dreams serve a purpose, both the ones we have while sleeping and the ones we pursue while awake. The dreams I have at night have given me great story ideas, signs about my life, messages from my dad and cleared out the chaos within my mind when it starts to overflow. I am always eager to sleep and discover what new adventures await me within the darkness behind my eyelids.

The dreams we pursue while awake can sometimes come from something we experienced in a sleeping dream.  A glimpse of a great future we never imagined before. Or the dreams we pursue can come from a wish we’ve had for our entire life, a goal we want to achieve. A desire to prove ourselves.

Regardless of where they come from, it’s vital that we have dreams and that we continue to chase them even if no one believes in them except us. There’s no expiration date on our dreams. We’re never too old to have dreams. We’ve never reached a point in our lives where we’re “done” and there’s nothing worth striving for anymore. As long as there is breath within us, there are dreams we can realize, if only we keep trying!

I am a big believer in dreams. They’ve taught me a lot about myself and the amazing feats I’m capable of. The possibilities are endless when I let go of the idea that I’m restricted to a certain path in my life. Pursuing my dreams takes me down roads I never knew existed and tests my determination and fortitude.  The easy route might seem like the safest route but is it really safe to merely exist when I could be thriving?

We are all mortal beings with a limited time on this earth and we owe it to ourselves to fill that time as fully as possible. Chase your dreams, own them, be proud of them and know that the harder they are to achieve, the greater the reward when you achieve them. Achieve them, pat yourself on the back and then pursue a new dream.

Berries and Bravery

Black raspberries ready to be picked!

Black raspberries ready to be picked!

The black raspberries are ripe early this year. I imagine it’s from the non-stop rain we’ve been getting around here. I love black raspberries and it’s hard to stop picking them once I start. The thing about black raspberries though is that they grow on pickers and are surrounded by lots of underbrush, tall grass and weeds. It’s always hot when I’m picking them so I’m dressed in shorts and a tank top. This means I inevitably get scratched somewhere or other but that doesn’t deter me. The sweet reward of those berries is worth the sweat, scratches and hard work. The same is true for more than just berries.

I’m not known to take the easy route. I do occasionally get stuck in a rut and trudge along with the status quo but that never gets me where I want and need to be. I have some really big dreams I know I can accomplish but it will take bravery, determination, persistence and a bit of stubbornness.  Giving up on those dreams is like giving up on berry picking the first time a pricker pokes my finger. My tender fingertips can attest to the fact that I keep going for more berries.

Gloves would protect my fingers from the prickers but trying to pick berries with thick leather gloves makes no sense. Berries need a tender touch or they get squished. Dreams can be the opposite though. Sometimes grabbing onto dreams tightly is the only way to achieve them and to protect them so others can’t squish my pursuit of them.

When I first started picking black raspberries this afternoon, I only saw a few clumps here and there. As I continued searching I found more and more until the bowl I chose was overflowing and I had to get a second one. Amazing how pursuing one little thing can grow into something so plentiful and rewarding…

Fruits of my labor.

Fruits of my labor.

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.

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.

Morning Walks

Right before my 5am alarm went off this morning, I was dreaming that I was walking on the beach. The sky was overcast but the water was warm and I was in it up to my knees. The feel of the churning waves rolling over my skin was divine and I could smell the salty air. I love the ocean and walking on the beach is something that brings me peace and contentment. It’s also something I don’t get to do enough but I’m working on fixing that. When I live closer to the ocean I will walk in the shallow waves as often as I can, morning, noon and night if possible. I’ll revel in the feel of the wet sand squishing beneath my toes and underfoot and collect whatever shells wash upon shore. That dream this morning is something I am determined to make a reality.

Sunrise at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, 2009

Sunrise at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, 2009

 

The lovely rolling waves in the morning.

The lovely rolling waves in the morning.

 

A seagull all tucked up on the beach

A seagull all tucked up on the beach.

Right now my reality is living in the country though so I’m making the best of that. Sunday morning Jazzmin and I headed out to the farmer’s access road for our walk. There was a light breeze but it was already becoming humid. As we neared the gate across the road, I heard church bells in the distance which must have been announcing the start of service. It was lovely how that sound carried across the hills and valleys of where I live and I felt at peace.

The morning view out over the fields.

The morning view across the field.

I’d been smart enough to wear my hiking boots this time and I’d placed the Dr. Scholl’s active series insoles inside them. Those insoles really do work by the way and I recommend them to anyone suffering from shin splints, foot pain or back aches during or after their walk. The walk down that road was uneventful with only the red-winged blackbirds and some chickadees serenading us. As we neared the end of the straight part of the road I saw a squirrel perched atop a large boulder. Jazz didn’t see it and it quickly ran away but she smelled it as soon as we reached that boulder and had to investigate.

Large boulder minus squirrel.

Large boulder minus squirrel.

 

Jazz looking across the boulder.

Jazz looking across the boulder.

 

Jazz searching for the squirrel

Jazz searching for the squirrel.

I stood on the part of the road that opens out onto four different fields and took several pictures of the wash out and brush clearing. For some reason that section reminded me of a desolate post-war wasteland despite the un-endings songs of the birds and the butterflies flying by.

Washed out earth.

Washed out earth.

 

Cleared out brush and trees.

Cleared out brush and trees.

I took a panoramic video of the area as Jazz sniffed around and then I decided to head back. Barely five minutes after we started walking back, the church bells sounded again marking the end of service.

Morning view of the hills and valleys.

Morning view of the hills and valleys.

 

Some lovely purple flowers I saw on the way back.

Some lovely purple flowers I saw on the way back.

I felt very calm and at ease as we walked back toward home. Starting my day like that out among nature and the songs of birds brought me serenity. That access road isn’t a true nature trail or even that secluded, but to me it felt like I was in another world. Perhaps it’s just my overactive imagination that causes that or maybe it’s my learned ability to appreciate all the nuances of life. Whatever the reason, I look forward to further morning walks in the country and anticipate deeper contentment when I stroll among the ocean waves.

What Makes a Writer

writing spirals and character sketches

What makes a writer? What makes me a writer? Good question. My answer? There are all these amazing ideas that pop into my head at all hours of the day and night that demand to be written. It’s been happening since I was 12 years old. I’d just finished reading A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony and I felt inspired to create my own fantasy world. So I did just that. I created a magical world called Zindar which I later renamed to Aindar and for the next 15 years I wrote books that took place in that world.

When I say wrote books, I literally mean I hand wrote books. I started out writing cursive pencil in five subject college-ruled spiral notebooks. Eventually I graduated to pen and printing. Then I took a keyboarding class in 9th grade and my parents bought me a Hewlett-Packard word processor and I began typing away at last! The first book I ever typed out was Spark of Beginnings which is now Dawn of Allies. I’ve rewritten that book at least three times since its creation and I’m still not satisfied with it. My first and still my biggest fan is my best friend Crystal and she will get a signed, gold-embossed, personally engraved first editions of every book I ever publish.

As I continued to write in my Aindar books, my Hands of Magic series, my characters aged and had children and I realized I had a lot to keep track of. I needed to remember what they looked like, the magic they possessed, what age they would be in each book, where they came from, who they married, etc. I knew there was no way I could track that all in my head so I started using Excel to create spreadsheets. I would also trace Marvel comic books and transform those heroes into the characters in my book. Those were my favorite visual references to work on. I’ve also traced models in fashion catalogues and from pictures printed off the internet. It’s not exactly fancy or high-tech but it works for me. I can’t freehand draw recognizable things like humans and animals no matter how vivid they are in my mind.

I used to sketch my castle and building layouts on paper but then I discovered a 3D home design program that allowed me to build my locations in a wonderfully interactive way. I built everything from small homes to a sprawling castle to an entire city. I could literally walk through the 3D renderings of my locations and get a feel for my surroundings. I spent countless hours creating visual representations of my world and loved every minute of it!

Layout of one of my buildings

Layout of one of my buildings

3D view inside that building

3D view inside that building

I’m not just writing, I’m creating whole worlds with the words I type out. I’m sure every writer knows what it feels like to breathe life and emotions into their characters. I remember being asked as a teenager what my chosen career was and when I’d say “I’m a writer” I’d usually receive a rather pitying look. What a silly notion to believe that I could make a worthwhile living as a writer. I imagine all artists experience this whether they’re writers, painters, dancers, actors or musicians. Non-creative people looking at us as though we’re insane while they hope that we have some sort of “backup plan” that will actually make us money. It’s understandable I suppose, but not entirely fair. We’re all entitled to our dreams and we all have the right to pursue our bliss.

My oldest daughter Jordan has inherited my talent for writing and she’s far better at it at 10 years old than I was at 12. She’s currently reading A Spell for Chameleon. She’s a very talented artist, flute-player and all around smart, clever little girl. I will never discourage her from writing, drawing, making music, painting and whatever else creative she wants to do. My goal is to show her that yes, it’s possible to make it as an artist. While it takes hard work, it’s the best kind of work because it brings fulfillment to your soul, spirit and heart. Never stop creating!

P.S. – I added more to the Unbroken Flames excerpt on Corbin Creations. The ideas never stop coming…