Tea on the High Seas

It was celebration time last week! If you want to do a party right, you serve tea. This is the kind of party animal I am.

A dormouse.

I met a girlfriend at the local tea room and took a table on the patio. It was a beautiful spring day. The sky was blue, the birds nesting, and the china sparkling. Treats were incoming.

I was a very happy camper.

What happened next was not okay.

Sweaty, burly men screaming directions at each other, tar and asphalt fumes steaming in the midday heat, machinery rumbling, grinding, and reverberating through our alcove.

They ripped out the road. Then they put in a new one and beat it into submission. I don’t know what the road did to incur their wrath, but they had their sweet, sweet revenge.

Not for one second did any of them turn around to see whether our pinkies were up. Or possibly any other finger.

The road construction was right in our face. The tea room served our tea, anyway.

The waitress showed no fear. She’d obviously walked the plank before and had no qualms about fingers.

She had her priorities straight.

Decisions were made.

I figured, if Captain Norrington could have a proper tea on a ship pitching over the high seas while chasing pirates…I could do my drinking with the hard-boiled work crew on the poopdeck.

Just one sip was all it took.

Suddenly, it was just another day in paradise.

And this how a road was paved in my honor. Ain’t that Grand?

I’ll take it.

The 2021 Christmas Newsletter

Salutations, mon ami.

Lest you think this is one of those sweet family newsletters full of accomplishments, exotic travels, and perfectly manicured photographs, I shall remind you that I have a full sized bathtub sitting on my bed right now. I just made a drug run to Target for a sister who tested positive for the ‘Rona. And my nails are chewed down to the nubbins because, life.

Compared to the 2020 Newsletter, this one feels hazy, but slightly more constructive.

I think the photo above captures the general #mood. If there’s one thing the Covid kitten taught me, it’s that naps are good, kibble is better, and for a truly uplifting experience, nothing beats shredding an entire roll of toilet paper. Indy is over sixteen pounds and spoiled rotten. It obviously works for him.

The beloved Hubbs hired a contractor to build us a bathroom. The one I gutted almost two years ago. The contractor showed up every day with a smile, worked hard, and only swore in Finnish. He is my new favorite person. We have had bathroom parts and boxes strewn across the whole house for weeks. I cannot overemphasize the level of chaos here, but if the bathroom gets DONE, I will put up with almost any amount of it.

I don’t want you to think the bathroom is the final destination, though. No. We’ve been using the guest bathroom and apparently it was designed just for looks, not actual bathing, because now it not only needs to be gutted but ALSO the entire property because Kid #4 went and got engaged and the happy couple decided the perfect venue was, um, here.

Let’s take a deep, cleansing breath. Good.

They are mostly after the giant oaks in the backyard, but I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. A wedding means winery-quality ambiance. Mood lighting. Archways. A balcony for the mariachi band harpist. Bribing the neighbors with cake. Underground parking. They set the date for next November, so we have plenty of time to run around the place shrieking in panic. The boys took out a massive hornet nest the other day, so we are on our way!

Other than that, Kid #4 is doing fine.

Hubby, too.

Did I mention Kid #4 moved across town? No? And Kid #1 moved down from LA and took his room? Okay. Back up. They did.

Kid #5 and Kid #1 are living downstairs and it’s fun to watch a 20-year-old and a 30-year-old together. They are both passionate about art and craft magic in the basement. The elder makes a living with it, though, so it’s only a matter of time before he’s out again. I miss him already. Thankfully, the younger still has to graduate college as a mechanical engineer. It’ll be awhile, but I love that they inspire and encourage each other.

Kid #3 lives in Los Angeles and manages a Kahoots Pet Store and took her dog to the snow the other day. Communication is not her forte, but this vid clip pretty much sums up her year:

Kid #2 graduated this weekend with her “Master of Arts in Education: Learning and Technology” and has the pointy cape hooden thingy to prove it. Afterward, she and the fiancés went to see Hamilton. I’m still jealous. She’s already got teaching jobs lined up and I’m happy to say she’s staying local for the time being.

That’s all I can remember from this second year of pandemic. I kept my head down and got some books written and frankly, it’s time for a nap. We wish you peace and joy in the coming year.

More kibble.

Less panic.

All the bubble baths.

Best Gifts for Book Lovers #2

Is it time to go shopping? Need the perfect gift for someone who loves to read but already has all the books? I’ve gone shopping for you!

Honor their need for words with this baker’s dozen list of best gifts for book lovers and get them some literary loot. They’re all from Amazon because that’s where I’ve been hanging out for the last year. If you make a purchase from one of the links below, I’ll get an affiliate commission. It doesn’t change the price for you. But it lets the Zon show me a little love. Smiles guaranteed.

    1. Very punny mixology books, Tequila Mockingbird or Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita
    2. The ultimate Literary Insult Chart
    3. Message-flipping pillow cover when you are so close to “The End”
    4. Comfy T “Bookmarks are for Quitters
    5. Noise cancelling bluetooth earbuds so you can READ already
    6. Adjustable reading support pillow wedge
    7. LED clip reading light
    8. A bamboo bookstand for your lap with page holders
    9. Or this nifty little walnut thumb-brace book page holder
    10. A cozy quilted blanket of books
    11. A custom library stamp and your lending kit
    12. Calendar with quotes or beautiful books
    13. The bucketlist Top 100 scratch-off Book Chart

Best Gifts for Book Lovers #1

 

Every year, my family wants to know what I want for Christmas and every year I react like a deer in the headlights. Gifts are tricky little things and I am notoriously hard to shop for because, frankly, I don’t need much. I like the simple things. Think hygge, peppermint mocha, and twinkle lights.

I like wide, open space. Secretly empty closets. Peace on earth.

And reading. In that empty closet, if peace on earth is scarce.

If you love books, then you’ll love this themed gift list. They’re all from Amazon because that’s where I’ve been hanging out for the last year. If you make a purchase from one of the links below, I’ll get an affiliate commission. It doesn’t change the price for you. But it lets the Zon show me a little love. Everybody wins.

Throw on your jammies and get ready for a shopping spree!

  1. Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
    1. A Literary Tea Party Cookbook gives a nod to several books, but I’ve always wanted to throw a Mystery Tea Party. Maybe I will some day!
    2. A party-worthy murdery game
    3. Brain teasers for you sleuths out there
    4. The key to 221B Baker St.
    5. Socks, Italian wool deerstalker hat, pipe, and some ‘staches
  2. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
    1. The puzzle, “Run Away to Pemberley” the coloring book, and the book bag (other books to choose from!)
    2. Novel Tea. Get it?
    3. “Obstinate, Headstrong Girl” bracelet
    4. “Marrying Mr. Darcy” board game
    5. The scarf, the magnetic poetry, and the lip balm.
  3. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
    1. Gold Sorting Hat jewelry tray
    2. Socks because Dobby is Free
    3. “I Solemnly Swear I am Up to No Good” magical coffee mug
    4. The cozy Hogwarts scarf & beanie set, choose your house
    5. Or maybe knit or crochet your own!
  4. The Hobbit by J. R. Tolkien
    1. Candles from Middle Earth or the Shire
    2. Doormats: “Speak Friend and Enter” or “You Shall Not Pass
    3. “Not All Who Wander are Lost” moon pendant necklace
    4. Charcuterie board (never miss a Hobbit meal)
    5. One ring to rule them all, my Precious
  5. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
    1. The paperback Box Set and
    2. A spot of raspberry cordial
    3. “Tomorrow is a New Day, with No Mistakes in It” Charm Necklace
    4. “Kindred Spirit” V-neck women’s T (I love it in green!)
    5. The tea, the mug, the tea towel, and the cookbook!
  6. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    1. Typewriter pencil cup, engraved pen, and finger puppet
    2. Flavor adventures with BBQ spice, marinade, and rub
    3. Scroll bookmark “We Are All Broken, That’s How the Light Gets In”
    4. His books on Hunting or Fishing

Author Giveaway, The Gold in These Hills

 

If you climb a mountain to talk to God, you’d best be prepared for Him to talk back.

“Sit and stay a while,” He’ll say. “Get comfortable.”

With a backward glance over my shoulder, I can see that my writing career has been anything but a straight line. One year in, it most resembles mountain climbing. Lots of crashing through the underbrush and scaling boulders. The occasional rattlesnake scare.

It’s been an adventure and so much fun that I forget to stop every little while and check my compass.

Today, I want you to meet a new author friend, Joanne Bischof. I discovered her in the usual way: crashing through the internet looking for authors who write historical fiction. Her name flew by, and after a couple of curious clicks, I became a fan. One of her books was in my hands, muy pronto.

We had some things in common.

She writes female protagonist, historical fiction, pioneer American, turn of the century, tiny mountaintop…inspirational romance.

Well, now.

And then I discovered she lives…in actual Idyllwild. Hm. I was going to live in Idyllwild for an entire week at the end of July for our yearly family Bible camp. Coincidence? I think not.

I did something I never do. I emailed a complete stranger and asked if she wanted to meet for coffee and talk writing.

And she said yes.

It percolated in the back of my mind all week during camp, this Friday afternoon coffee meet up. How should I present myself? Could I ask all my questions without taking notes? What if I was too intimidated to ask anything at all? What if she asked me something I didn’t know? Like my name?

Joanne met me at the coffee shop, and we introduced ourselves while we waited for our order. Outside, the sky grew dark and began to spit. Rejoicing in the possibility of rain, we took seats on the veranda at the rail and started talking.

You, gentle reader, already understand the lovely idea of a summer storm in Idyllwild. And its implications.

The wind gusted a bit as we discovered almost immediately that she worked at the very camp I’d been staying at all week. That we’d been together all along, incognito.

The rain began as Joanne told me about a new book she was releasing in August.

Lightning streaked overhead and thunder boomed as I admitted to a new book I had released in July.

“Mine is set in Idyllwild,” she said as the hail began. We dragged our chairs away from the rail.

“Mine, too,” I said. “It has, um, it’s called Summer Storm.” The heavens opened. The streets began to flood.

“I had to do a lot of research for it during Covid,” Joanne said. “On this area, on 1902, on the Cahuilla, on the first settlers. Hard to do when you’re trapped at your desk.”

“Oh, boy.” I took a long sip of latte. Gutters overflowed.

“Did you know there are a couple of abandoned gold mines up here?” she asked.

This is when we moved our chairs up against the building and the wind blew so hard we were getting wet, anyway. Our coffee date had passed its polite expiration, but we were trapped at the coffee shop by a storm that raged for two hours solid before easing up. Plenty of time to ask all the questions, exchange all the stories, and for the shocking amount of coincidences to soak in.

Because, of course, I’d just had a week of classes to remind me that there are no coincidences. I took the opportunity to reset my writing compass to true North. Reminded myself to see the forest instead of constantly running into trees in my haste. She showed me a gentler way to author.

When it was finally safe to swim to our cars, Joanne promised me an advance copy of her new release, The Gold in These Hills. It arrived today and I’m passing the excitement forward and giving it away to a lucky blog subscriber!

Visit Joanne on her website anytime, enjoy one of her videos here, and follow her on all the things.

To enter a drawing for this copy of her new book, drop a random fun fact from one of my books in the comment box below. You know, like the name of the mine where Red lives. Or something. Ahem.

Entries accepted through September 9th at midnight and I will announce the winner in the newsletter on September 23rd. (You do get my newsletter, do you not?) Winners must provide a continental USA mailing address to claim the prize.

 

Love on Your Library (A Giveaway!)

It’s National Library Week, and this picture makes me happy.

What? It appears utterly common, downright drab, and blends in with the native wildlife? Every mystic portal does, my deary. Only those with the gift of imagination know better and enter on tiptoe. There are aisles full of magic spells, swirling colors, acrobats. Dragons and race cars and music. Open a cover, turn a page, and you will disappear.

Turn right, and a keeper of words will tell you exactly where the unicorns are hidden. Turn left, and you will find a room where words can be taken home forever. Move forward fifty paces and unearth that one 80’s movie you can never find on Hulu.

But. If you take forty paces north by northwest and turn left at the yellow arrow, you’ll discover a treasure trove full of books marked with a purple “E”. Brace yourself.

Meet the lovely Azar Katouzian, the Principal Librarian at the Escondido Public Library who graciously hosted me as the guest author for this month’s writer’s group. It was a pleasure speaking with them about the creation of my Loveda Brown series and encouraging everyone to write on. In conjunction with the event, I donated copies of my books to their collection. I’ve always believed that books are meant to circulate, and when you’ve finished mine, I hope you pass the books on to more friends who love to read or donate them to your local library.

In addition, I now have a page of Resources for Writers on this website that brings all the articles, videos, podcasts, and groups together in one place. These are hubs of information that all authors can utilize. If you’re trying to get your writing projects to the next level, explore this tool box.

Meanwhile, as I was feeling some library nostalgia after my presentation, I ordered some swag for my office wall: a fun poster from the ALA Store. You’ll never guess which one I chose.

It’s been a while since our last giveaway! To get your name in a drawing for a free signed copy of Loveda Brown Comes Home, drop the name of the book you’re reading right now into the comment box below!

Winner pulled on May 3rd at midnight PST.

My Goodreads Reading Challenge

I love me a good reading challenge. I raised my fabulous five surrounded by books and, so far as I can tell, I think it’s done them well. The youngest is a tender twenty years old and can figure out the letters they put into math and occasionally spouts the Greek at me across the kitchen, just to make me shiver.

The alphabet. Don’t underestimate it.

We’ve graduated from the good old days when kids had nothing better to do during the long lazy months of summer but chase chickens around the backyard, annoy ant hills with a magnifying glass, or walk with the fam two blocks south for a visit to the public library. The attraction had as much to do with the free air conditioning as it did with seeing how many borrowed books we could squeeze into our little red wagon.

Every summer, the library held a Reading Challenge for kids. And we knocked it out of the ballpark. The kids still have medals to prove it. Perhaps the idea of a reading competition feels as exciting as watching grass grow or—follow me here—a golf tournament. But as my third child would say, you are a bucket of wrong.

And there comes a time when a mom can no longer live vicariously through her children.

Have you seen my Goodreads Challenge page? It’s Fitbit for readers.

The idea is to set yourself the goal of reading “X” amount of books during the calendar year and then, as you finish each one, you post it to your list along with a review if you so choose. Not just for a summer…for an entire year!

Come here, Goodreads.

First, I had to throw a huge backlist together of my favorite books that I’d already read (possibly multiple times) and it keeps me up at night, knowing I’ve missed actual thousands of titles because I was too chicken to post the kid books. I’d love for you to think my reading list is classy and intellectual, but I love “Where the Wild Things Are” and Ezra Jack Keats and every single Nancy Drew ever written, even though Caroline Keene is a lie and our relationship has been strained at best, ever since she came clean.

After posting the backlist, I had to remember what I read last year and hurt myself trying. It’s mostly accurate. But a goal for this year? I took a step back and made the rational decision that a book a month felt healthy. I do have a full-time job writing, but after all, I’m also in a real live Book Club. If I read nothing else, I can post the dozen current books that these hip and happenin’ ladies put in my path. Right?

Sigh.

I’m supposed to be halfway through “A Million Steps” by Kurt Koontz. Instead, I’ve hidden under the covers at night and binge-read Sue Grafton. My secret goal for the Reading Challenge is to get all the way through her alphabet before the Book Club catches on to me and I get the boot.

This is how my kids got into trouble at school, reading fiction under their desk instead of their math book sitting on top. I suppose that explains my twenty-year-old, though.

I read “Migrations” by Charlotte McConaghy like a good girl, and it gutted me entirely. I don’t know if I can handle that level of emotional shipwreck every month. I mean, I’m already doing that with menopause.

Last week, I posted “F is for Fugitive” on Goodreads. I’m claiming every page. Kinsey Millhone is steady, predictable, and teaching me about my own craft. It annoyed me that she didn’t describe herself until page fourteen and then said her hair was “dark”. Dark? Like brunette? Black? Mahogany? Glints of red or blue in the direct sun? Sure, it’s good enough to use those details on the suspects, but we readers need foundational reference. If you don’t tell me, I will make it up, Kinsey!

But that’s not the kind of stuff you post on Goodreads. You have to say things like, “Delicate and fresh, very soft tannins with fruity aromas. A little vivid for my taste, but overall well balanced and smooth on the palate.”

Sigh.

I will keep my opinions to the blog and keep my enormous pile of TBR books in the little red wagon next to the bed.

It’s full of the alphabet, G through Y, with a couple of Kiplings, a secret Madeleine L’Engle, a Shel Silverstein side wall, a bottom layer of JK Rowling, a mix of CS Lewis and EB White, random Janet Evanovich numbers, and a flashlight.

What’s in your little red wagon?

The Top Five Blogs of 2020

As if you couldn’t evacuate 2020 fast enough, here are some parting stories to keep you company till midnight.

The five most popular posts of the year according to my website stats are:

Five: The Maelstrom. Appropriate word for 2020, little did we know in February.

Four: Seattle Shenanigans. This was our first and only trip for 2020 (sob), but we all made the most of it.

Three: Murder Mystery Mayhem. We all began the Loveda Brown series together, and it’s been quite a ride.

Two: Mother’s Day Hotline 2020. In appreciation of moms in the weeds. Ain’t no hood like motherhood.

One: The Bottomless Bookshelf. I love that readers keep coming back for recommendations! What was your fave read this year? Add it to the comments.

And now, because I just can’t help myself:

The 2020 Christmas Newsletter

When Covid broadsided us in March, my family members reacted each in his own way, but that didn’t stop us from doing things. Special things. Things we just didn’t see coming…like this watercolor by Kid 5.

Hubby bought groceries. He bought them until our cupboards exploded and I took his Costco card away. Then he bought blocks. Eighty-pound keystone wall-building blocks. He hid his credit card from me and he won’t stop bringing more home. Hubby is building the Great Pyramids on our hillside property with his bare hands. Obviously, he has a better chance at stopping gravity than stopping any of 2020s dumpster fires.

I picked up a sledgehammer and demolished the master bathroom. All of it. I ripped the flooring out and you can stare into the basement if you don’t mind the funny smell. I left nothing standing but the toilet, only you can’t get to it because the floor is gone. This is fine because, conveniently, there’s a toilet paper shortage. I ripped out the dry-rot—the nasty slime that no one could see, but I knew it was there—because there was a lot of it swirling in the global atmosphere that I couldn’t reach.

Some day, Hubby will stop building walls and build us a bathroom.

But this is not that day.

Kid Numero Uno, about to turn a whopping thirty years old, created a plethora of art for people. Art makes people happy. That’s a big deal in 2020. He lives in L.A. and has gone all adulty on me. He calls on the regular to make sure we’re all healthy, wears his mask, visits people outdoors six feet apart, and to really understand the level of his shocking behavior: he exchanged Christmas presents with us. This is unheard of and I’ve asked him repeatedly to take his temperature and read me the little numbers on the thermometer.

Senorita Dos Equis, on her way to becoming The Most Interesting Teacher in the World, went back to school for her master’s degree in Education: Learning & Technology. She also works in the local school district: “I don’t always zoom with kindergartners, but when I do, they take naps on camera and there’s not a thing I can do about it.” I can’t help feeling like this is some new level of Jumanji where juggling swords on a unicycle will be required. I hope she wins.

Tres Leches Mija ghosted on us. She lives less than a mile away, but the only proof she’s alive is when she sends me hilarious memes at two in the morning. Although her plans with her sidekick, Alastor the Wonder Dog, were curtailed (haha), the two managed to win ribbons (Best in Class for “Who’s a Good Boy?”) and are in training to join CARDA as a search and rescue team. He’s already snoofed up plenty of hotdogs and rescued cats from boredom, so glory is in their future.

Quatro Corazones split the year four ways: college, work, girlfriend, and a brand new car. He passed his classes. He was promoted into a full-time position at work. I’m not sure his girlfriend knows that the Toyota 4Runner is for camping and boys’ trips, but we’ll do coffee soon and talk. He had his blood drawn last week and texted me: “I blacked out. But got a cookie.” Me: “Never watch!” Him: “I didn’t, I just tilted my head for a second and I couldn’t see anything. Good news tho, I don’t do drugs.”

Me: “Whatever. Just try not to slurp up any Covid while you’re in there.”

Cinco de Mayo Mijo is currently the favorite kid because he stays home and feeds me. He rode the restaurant industry rollercoaster all year, and it taught him that food could be used to steal car keys from parents. “Mother dear, I see that you are typing sideways and about to fall onto the floor on your face. Could it be that you haven’t eaten in three days in your effort to MAKE MORE WORDS?” Then, he slips a grilled cheese sandwich with a tiny dill pickle nose and a ketchup smiley face on it in front of me and runs away with my car key. I don’t even care where he’s going. I lick ketchup from my fingers and keep typing.

These are great life skills. Why he insists on staying with college, I don’t know.

Covid-Kitty Furrybutt Smoochin’ Sugarloaf Whiskerboy is doing fine, thanks. He misses his life on the street and plays Ninja-paws in the back alley once in a while, to hone his tough guy persona. I carry my scars with pride. I want to go on record as saying, “When the animals in this family get more stocking stuffers than the actual kids, it must be 2020.”

We’re all leaning a little sideways, and that’s okay. I celebrate your own flavor of crazy this holiday season and lift a virtual cuppa with you as we farewell 2020.

It’s been one heck of a ride.

 

The Boxes

God is in it all. The mundane, the crazy, the life-altering zesty life things that come at us every day. But how often do we see it? This blog was about sorting boxes but the God Echoes would not stop coming. They are in italics. You can read this piece with them, or without them, either way.

Boxes. Boxes and boxes. In these boxes are memories. Baby shower cards and diplomas and finger paintings. Coins and yearbooks and a newspaper from the day each child was born.

I am not a saver by any stretch and my beloved children will tell you that I am practical to a fault. So why are there so many boxes on my dining room table?

In all fairness, I blame my mother.

Back in ye olde days of April, when the world was ending, my mother’s somewhat panicky voice – the one that lives in the back of my head – spoke up:

What if?

What if I lose the last fifty years of memories to fire or earthquake or some other chapter of Revelation? To locusts or rats, or *gasp* outdated tech?

What if the world ends and I haven’t organized it yet?

We can’t let that happen.

And so, in April, I gathered every box from the basement, attic, and closets. Cleared out under the bed and emptied my cedar chest with one goal in mind: turn all of this overwhelming why-did-I-save-that pile of flotsam into a future-proof time capsule.

A little Noah’s Ark.

When the world as we knew it was going to end, God thought it was important to bring the past forward into the new future, too. My fifty years counted. Noah’s 600 years counted. For better or worse, we can’t act like they didn’t happen. God does not erase our past, He offers a better future. The mosquitos and the ants were on the ark.

I opened the first box and lifted out an infant onesie, covered in tiny yellow bumblebees, stained on the front, snaps in place, and I was undone.

And now I know how Noah must have felt on the other side. And why he needed a drink. We don’t get to go backwards. Be still, my heart.

The child that wore this tiny scrap of fabric is no longer interested in it, but I was transported instantly to a place where he was. I was holding the memory for him. Literally.

If there are parts of our past that are too heavy to carry, poop that happened in the infancy of our relationship with Him, entire boxes of memories we would rather forget, know that He holds those closest to His heart because it represents how much you’ve grown. He wouldn’t trade that journey for anything.

My memories will never mean as much to anyone else as they do to me. And that’s okay. I would like to keep them, please, just not in so many boxes.

It’s nice to know God has an attic that stretches to infinity. I’ll let Him keep the boxes.

The next generation has no concept of my anxious task. Their memories go directly to the cloud.

You see? Safe. Likely decorated that attic door with a rainbow or two. Typical proud parent.

Mine are in a cloud, too. A dust cloud. I march my memories, two by two, across the scanner, and this, too, results in another memory.

The Year Mom Sorted the Boxes.

It took Noah over a hundred years to pull the ark together. He probably paced himself. I guess I shouldn’t whine about six months.

The little time capsule, filling and thrilling, reminds me that life is full of good memories when you stop and pay attention to them.

And now I can carry them on a lanyard around my neck, close to my heart.

Mom always said, “Look where you’re going.” Since the past is not where I’m going, I will only spend a little more time looking down instead of up. Whatever happens next, my past and my future sit safely in the cloud. And we will not be forgotten.

He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart. Isa 40:11