Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stop And Smell The Roses

Seems like an odd topic when you’re buried in snow, but of course I’m not talking about flowers. I’m talking about friends.

I have a friend at the Y, Don, who walks in circles around the track with me. Don is 82, a widower who lives with one of his three daughters, and a bright spot in my trips to the Y. He comes to the Y almost daily, and knows just about everybody’s name who goes there regularly. He smiles and tells jokes and visits, and can make the sound of a train whistle, which he does frequently. That, in fact, was how I first noticed him.

I go to the Y to exercise. Now and then I’ll stop to chat with someone I haven’t seen for a while, but most times it’s just a smile and a wave, and I keep moving. I barely notice new people—until I’ve seen them around a few times. But I only talk to people I already know, mostly from church. My plan is to walk in the door, put in my already-decided-upon time period of exercise for that day, and leave again so I can get on with my life—usually so I can go home and get something to eat. Going to the Y almost always makes me hungry.

It was during my 100 miles in 100 days challenge last year that I first encountered Don. I was on a mission to get my three miles a day in—since I didn’t go every day—and I was walking around the track like a fiend, one lap per minute, feeling the wind on my face and lifting my hair like I was rollerskating.

Don would say, “Look at her go!” as I passed by, and pull the handle on his imaginary train whistle. I’d smile and wave and just keep going.

Then one day I thought, who am I, to be too busy to talk to this open and friendly man, and decided to stop and say hello. Don fell right into step, although not as quickly, and we started talking. He tells jokes, and flirts with the ladies, and always has a positive attitude. He’ll ask, “How are you today?” and I’ll smile and say, "I’m here,” and he’ll laugh and say, “You got that right. Better to be seen than viewed.”

I’ll ask if he has any big plans for that night, the weekend, or the upcoming holiday, and he won’t miss a beat—“No, you want to go somewhere?” Always trying to make a date.

Friday I asked if he had any plans for the weekend and he said, “At my age, I don’t like to plan too far in advance.”

He was on his way to visit a friend that afternoon, in the hospital after having a stroke. “The guy was young,” Don said. “Only 67.” Then he looks at me. “Like you, right? That’s about your age.”

And we laughed again. At least I did :). Maybe he was serious this time :).

One day, I think it was after a big holiday weekend, I saw Don off in the alcove weighing himself on the old-fashioned scale that you have to slide the metal weights across to find out what you weigh. I snuck up behind him and put my sneaker toe on the back of the scale. He moved the weights, and then paused, and I couldn’t see his face, but I saw his head tilt to the side and imagined he was frowning before he moved the weights a little more. And then a little more.

Before he turned around and caught me, I stepped back, and resumed my walk around the track.

Before too long he comes into the main room, catches me as I come around, and we start walking. I mention I saw him weighing himself. “How’s it going?” I ask casually. “Weight holding steady?” “Nah, I’m up a few pounds,” he says,” sounding a little bewildered. “That’s because I had my toe on the scale,” I told him. And then I told him what I’d done.

We’ve been friends ever since.

Now he looks for me, keeps track of when he last saw me, and is always glad to see me when I come in for my walk. And I enjoy getting to know about Don. For many years, he drove a truck, delivering snack foods to stores in the area. The stories he has to tell…

He’s always saying how he can’t keep up with me, and tells me he’s a hindrance to me. Don can only walk around the track three to five times before he needs a rest. But when he’s resting somebody usually comes by and says hello, so he essentially takes a visit break between laps. Me, I pick up speed and keep zooming around the track until Don is ready to walk a few laps again.

I don’t find Don a hindrance. I find him fun and interesting to talk to. He’s lived a long and fruitful life, and I would miss him if he wasn’t there. I notice when our paths don’t cross, as I often go in at different times of the day, whenever it’s convenient for me to take a break from the computer.

He’ll ask what time I have to leave today, and I’ll tell him, because I always know. I’m a little compulsive that way, chopping my day into distinct time frames. And always, as I’m leaving, Don says, “Thanks for walking with me. It’s more fun when you’re walking with someone.”

Isn’t that the truth of it? Life is much more fun when we walk with friends.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guest Author, Jana Richards

Today we welcome Jana Richards, fellow Wild Rose Press author, 2008 Eppie Award finalist, and author of one of the Crimson Rose line's popular Jewel of the Night series stories, involving the mystery surrounding an infamous Blue Diamond. Jana also has several Free Reads available on her website, including one about her pug/terrier mix Lou, that pet lovers won't want to miss. Jana and I share an interest in women's health issues, and Jana has graciously agreed to return on February 2 to guest blog about back pain, something most, if not all, busy writers experience from time to time. But today we'd like to help Jana celebrate the release of her latest novella, Flawless.
First, a little bit about Jana: She's tried her hand at many writing projects over the years, from magazine articles and short stories to paranormal suspense and romantic comedy. She loves to create characters with a sense of humor, but also a serious side. She believes there’s nothing more interesting then peeling back the layers of a character to see what makes them tick.
When not writing up a storm, working at her day job as an Office Administrator, or dealing with ever present mountains of laundry, Jana can be found on the local golf course pursuing her newest hobby.
Jana lives in Western Canada with her husband Warren, along with two university aged daughters and a highly spoiled Pug/Terrier cross named Lou.
France, 1942. The world is at war. The Nazis have stolen the infamous blue diamond, Le Coeur Bleu, intending to barter it for weapons that will destroy the Allies. Jewel thief Hunter Smith is given a choice; help the French Resistance steal back the diamond and avenge the death of his best friend, or stay locked up in an English prison. He chooses revenge.
Resistance fighter Madeleine Bertrand’s husband died when he was betrayed by Hunter Smith. How can she now pretend to be married to the arrogant American? How can she betray Jean Philippe’s memory by her passionate response to Hunter’s kisses? Neither is prepared for the maelstrom of attraction that erupts between them. To survive they must uncover the mysteries of the past and conquer the dangers of the present. But first Madeleine must decide if her loyalties lie with her dead husband and the Resistance or with the greatest love of her life.
“From now on you will be known as Jacques Lemay, Monsieur Smith.”
Monsieur Gagnon filled his pipe, dropping bits of tobacco onto his wife’s immaculate floor. Madeleine sat off to one side of Monsieur Gagnon’s kitchen, watching as Madame Gagnon prepared breakfast for her husband and their “guest.” Madeleine silently seethed as Smith—non, Lemay—helped himself to another piece of bread. Did he have to eat so much? Didn’t he know that food was scarce here in Lille, just as it was all over France?
She listened as Smith handed over the new two-way radio to Monsieur Gagnon and explained its use.
“It’s supposed to have a clearer and stronger signal than the radio you’re using now,” Smith said. He flipped a few dials to illustrate. “They also told me it is easier to scramble the signal to avoid detection.”
“Bon.” Monsieur Gagnon beamed in pleasure. “Good communications are essential to our work. Thank you for bringing it.”
“No problem. What else can you tell me about my cover here?”
“You are to work as a junior gardener at the chateau. I wrote to the head gardener, as if I was you, inquiring about work. He’s desperate for help. The Germans have rounded up many young Frenchmen and shipped them east to work in factories in Germany, so there are few able-bodied men available. You start tomorrow.”
He paused as his wife set a bowl of porridge in front of him. Monsieur Gagnon could not be connected with Jacques Lemay in any way; their comings and goings to this house had to be done with the utmost discretion. Madeleine knew the importance of keeping Monsieur Gagnon and his wife safe. He was the heart of their operation, their connection to the outside world through the radio he operated. If something went wrong and Hunter Smith was captured, it was crucial that no trails led back to Monsieur Gagnon. The safety of their réseaux, their Resistance network, depended on it. She hoped Smith understood the danger.
“I said in the letter that you had not worked as a gardener before, so he is not expecting you to know the difference between a delphinium and a dianthus.” Monsieur Gagnon poured milk onto his porridge. “But he is expecting you to work hard. If you don’t, you could be fired, or your cover could be blown.”
“I can manage.”
“The job might require a little more than sticking a shovel in the ground occasionally and spreading a bit of manure,” Madeleine said. The others turned to stare at her.
She immediately regretted her sarcastic remark, regretted throwing his words in his face. She shouldn’t let this man get to her, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself. They needed to work together for the sake of the mission. But she hated him. After what he’d done to Jean Philippe…
Hunter’s gaze locked with hers, and the heat of his anger scorched her clear across the room. She refused to back down from the challenge in his stare. She’d be damned if she’d let him intimidate her.
“Madeleine, enough.” Monsieur Gagnon spoke sharply. “Regardless of your feelings, we need him. He is our only hope for getting the diamond out of the hands of the Nazis.”
He was right. If they couldn’t steal Le Coeur Bleu, Jean Philippe would have died for nothing. She couldn’t let that happen.
She inhaled deeply and looked away. “All right. We’ll work together.”
For more information, please visit Jana at her website.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

And The Winner is...

Too much going on here today to even get into it. But I did want to announce the winner of January's random drawing for a copy of one of my books. The winner is....Mona Risk!

Congratulations, Mona!

Mona chose a copy of Ashton's Secret, which she said she'll be taking with her on a Fun in the Sun cruise later this month. This is the writers conference cruise I took--wow, was it two years ago already?--with several fellow writers, and it was wonderful. So wonderful I'm looking into details for my next cruise, sometime in 2012. For now, though, I'll stay on land, and keep working hard on the half a dozen projects I've got going at the moment, projects that are taking up my writing time, and leaving me with little to say here at the moment.

Soon as I have something to say, though, I'll be back! Until then, stay safe and warm, and I hope you find the time to enjoy the snow if you can, and a good book when you come back inside to get warm. Or you can skip right ahead to the good book :)

And now, I shall get back to working on my own good book...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tips for Successful Family Gatherings

Now that the holidays are over, how did your family gathering fare? Was it fun and full of happy memories, or are you just glad it’s over? Are you considering never attending another family event? Would you like to forget you even have a family? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

The easiest piece of advice if your family is toxic to you would be to Just Say No, and tell you never to go back, for your own sake and self-preservation. But life isn’t that cut and dried. There are a lot of us who genuinely would like to get along with our families and have our family gatherings filled with happy memories of good times shared. There are also a lot of us, who, for one reason or another, simply aren’t willing or ready to make that kind of a break with our fundamental family ties…because without family, even a dysfunctional family, what are we, but alone?

Nobody likes to be alone. Especially on the holidays, when, according to what see on television, everyone else is out having the time of their lives.

So today I want to offer some positive thoughts and information on things you can do to make your future family gatherings, be they over the holidays or for any family occasion, a little more pleasant.

1. Lower your expectations: Most people go into the holidays with Norman Rockwell expectations and end up deeply disappointed, even depressed and suicidal. Where do most of these expectations come from? Your television. Starting in October, advertisements abound showing happy families gathering and sharing their holiday joy. Keep in mind that these advertisements are designed to sell you products, and are not a realistic representation of what goes on in most families.
Just like skinny runway models are not true representations of the average woman, warm and fuzzy advertisements with everyone laughing and smiling around a holiday table as they pass the food and drink are not true representations of a holiday family gathering. They are somebody’s image of an ideal—and ideals are extremely hard to reproduce in everyday real life.

And don’t blame yourself if your holiday event falls short of the idealized version you see on TV. This is tantamount to blaming yourself for not having a body as hot as your favorite movie star’s. Looking good is what they get paid to do. If you got paid to look that good, you would, too. Any woman can look sexy with the right hair, clothes, and make up. If you don’t have access to the same spas, trainers, dieticians, life-coaches, cooks, housekeepers, nannies, drivers, and secretaries or assistants they do, then how can you expect yourself to look as good as they do?

Same with the happy families on TV. If you don’t have access to the same funds and production crews that they do, how can your family gathering, be it for a holiday or wedding, be as picture perfect as they portray theirs to be? They probably don’t even know each other! They’re just a bunch of strangers acting like a happy family.

So don’t fall for the emotional hype. Work with what you have, and stop trying to imitate some marketing specialist’s unrealistic image of what your family gatherings should be like.

2. Arrive with a smile and determination to look for nuggets of good humor throughout the day. If someone brings up a topic you’d rather not discuss, just smile and say, “Gee, I really haven’t thought much about that lately.” Then excuse yourself to head off for the food and or drink, maybe even asking if there is anything you can bring back for them. (If you're already at the table, pick up the nearest serving dish and offer some food. "Would you like some more mashed potatoes?") Switch the focus to them, in a non-confrontational way. Don’t let them get your goat. Once you’ve returned with whatever they might have asked for, or passed the green beans, just smile and say, “Here you go,” and then move on. Either way, the uncomfortable topic has been diverted.

3. Use the event as an opportunity for growth as a person. Practice the skills of patience, kindness, tolerance, acceptance, and/or self-control. Congratulate yourself every time you manage to take the high road and not snap out at the person who is trying to get you to lose your cool, either deliberately or inadvertently. Use it as an opportunity to learn about how you “don’t” want to be.
4. Set your intention to have a good time, no matter what. Get a good night’s sleep beforehand. Arrive rested and relaxed. Read up and prepare yourself to view the gathering as a spiritual event. One in which you know your spirit will be challenged, and you refuse to let anyone shake your good mood. One of the best books I’ve ever read that has to do with dealing with difficult people is Thank You For Being Such a Pain, by Mark Rosen.
5. Eliminate three words from your vocabulary for the day -- Always, Never, and Ever. The reasons why are explained in this article.

6. Stay sober. I know this is a hard one, because a lot of people use alcohol to get through the day, thinking it’s the only way they will be able to deal with it, but in truth alcohol only contributes to the problem, because it magnifies whatever issues are already on the table, or lurking just beneath the surface.

7. Don’t choose sides in any conflict that develops. Period.
8. Stay away from discussions involving sex, politics, and religion. Arrive prepared with alternate topics to bring up…bring photos of the kids or your last vacation. Anything important to you or your family that you’d like to share. Try not to get your feelings hurt if your efforts to share are ignored or dismissed. Congratulate yourself for at least having the willingness to try.
9. Invite a friend or two who might have nowhere else to go for the holiday dinner. Sometimes bringing new people into the situation will help to keep unruly relatives on their best behavior. Or will at least make them consider restraining themselves in the presence of guests.
10. Drive separately, so that you can escape if need be. If you can’t leave the house, then leave the room. Go into the kitchen and see if you can help there. Busy yourself with clearing plates and empty drink glasses/cans. Or just go and refill your own drink. Maybe spend some time in the bathroom, practicing deep breathing exercises. Go for a walk if you can. While you’re in the bathroom or on that walk, call a friend you’ve arranged to call beforehand if things get dicey. Enlist some moral support, and do it guilt-free.

11. And it may well go against the grain, but if you feel you absolutely must go to the family gathering, then go and aim for one positive encounter during the event, and build from there. Next time aim for two, and privately celebrate your successes. It might take a few years to get where you want to be, but if this is your family, or your mate’s family, you’ll have as many years as you need to, to work on it.
12. Another sanity-saving option is to arrive late and leave early. Simply limit your time with your closest relatives, so that whatever of the above you might be willing to try has a bigger chance of success.

This article from Spiritual Zen has some really good ideas, such as be prepared and have a plan, seek to understand rather than be understood, and know when enough is enough.
And for the less spiritual and more practical among us: Practical Tips for Dealing With Difficult Relatives Over the Holidays
When all else fails, disengage.
Because sometimes nothing less than Just Say No will do. Plan an alternate holiday gathering/event and proceed with it guilt-free, telling your family you’re simply taking a break and will see them next time.