We didn't solve all the problems of our worlds. We didn't even solve all the problems in our book. But we took a break from everything that drains our creativity energy and took a chance to refuel.Read More
Open Letter to the Woman I offended at the Grocery Store:
It was early October of 2015 in aisle 6 of the grocery store down the street from my house. You were with your sister or maybe your clone. You had the same color hair and same shape to your face. She was pushing a cart with two small children. One of those behemoth carts that have a car on the end of them.Read More
One of the hardest part of losing my mom has been going through her books. "Avid" or "voracious" don't even begin to describe my mom as a reader. There were boxes and boxes and boxes of books. Literally, hundreds.
Books are precious to me. I'm a writer. I'm a reader. Books have been my safe place my entire life. The idea of getting rid of Mom's book is difficult just from that standpoint. Add to that the fact I know they were a comfort for her, and it becomes almost unbearable.
Several well-meaning friends suggested that I take them Half-Price Books, but that just wasn't feasible. I came to terms with the fact I couldn't (and shouldn't) keep all of them, but it was important to me they go to a good home.
Some were non-negotiable. Mom and I shared a love for Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series and J.D. Robb's In Death series. Before she got sick, Mom had started replacing her worn paperbacks with hardcovers of both those collections. I am keeping those...forever.
Some were easy. Mom's best friend is a fan of Dean Koontz. He scares the fire out of me. So, those got boxed up and sent away with a quickness. Dawn=Big Fat Chicken.
The rest took a lot of contemplation. My first step was to sort out what I knew I'd never read. Books need to be read. If I hold on to them just because I can't let go, then someone else is missing out on the chance to read them. Most of those have been rehomed to people who will appreciate them.
That left what's on these shelves...and tucked behind the chair. That's where I came up with my reading challenge for this year.
I will read at least one book by each of the authors Mom adored.
I've never read James Patterson. Mom loved ALL of his books. I think there are three different series back there. I plan to read the first in each one to see what I like.
There is also a whole shelf of Catherine Coulter. Another is full of Patricia Cornwell. One shelf is split between Jayne Ann Krentz and Linda Howard. Another one holds Robert B. Parker, Harlan Coben, and Sara Paretsky.
So many authors that I need to explore for myself. The ones I love as much as Mom did, I'll keep. The others will be given to a good home.
There is no way I can read all of them. I have to, you know, sleep. I'm open to suggestions. If you are familiar with any of these authors, I'd love to know where to start (and what to avoid!)
I'll keep you updated. Happy reading!
December 1st was my mother's birthday. I spent most of the day successfully ignoring that fact—except for the few moments when well-meaning friends checked on me. I appreciated them. I know they miss her as much as I do. Facebook had to remind me through a phone notification, an email, and an alert when I logged on. Yeah, thanks for that.
I can't remember what I did on my mom's birthday last year. You know, the one that was supposed to be the hardest because it was the first one after her death? I have no idea. I know the year before we had lunch with her best friend. The year before that, she was in the hospital recovering from the disaster of her first dialysis treatment. But I don't remember what I did last year.
That's the myth of the first year being the hardest. In my experience, the first year is a blur where denial is a nice comfy blanket that keeps you safe from all those cold, hurt-filled days. My mom was sick to various degrees for over a decade. She missed lots of things—birthdays, holidays, kids' performances—and that makes it easy to pretend.
Easy to pretend that she is just somewhere else, traveling for business, or with my dad (who died in 2004) at their land in Oklahoma (which we don't own anymore), or sadly, in the hospital again.
Not gone forever, just not here.
Sometimes that's how you make it through the dreaded first year.
But I've already done that.
Now we're on year two.
Mom's birthday was on Friday. Saturday, I decorated my house for the holidays with her ornaments, her favorite Santa Claus, her clock that plays a carol every hour...and she isn't here to see it. I can't ask her which of the boxes and boxes of decorations are important to her and which are just from the half-price sales the week after Christmas.
I can't show her some of the hideousness I've collected. Such as this bird I got at my writer's group ornament exchange.
So the pretending is getting harder. Her absence is gradually becoming permanent. She really won't be here for Christmas with her little dog (who died a few months before she did) and a box of chocolate-covered cherries for me.
She won't see her oldest granddaughter on the theatre stage or her youngest passionately discussing how much she loves debate class. She won't get to hear about the nightmare of teaching a teenager to drive (which she didn't do, by the way) or the excitement of them seriously considering college choices.
So many she won'ts.
Unfortunately, I've lost more than just my mom in my life. I know how this game is played (though that doesn't make it any easier.) And that made me debate my purpose for writing this post. I don't want it to sound as if I'm wallowing in self-pity or fishing for sympathy.
I want it to remind you to be kind to those who have lost someone, even if that means being kind to yourself. It doesn't matter if it is the first year or the thirteenth. You are allowed to be okay (because sometimes you do really feel okay and that shouldn't be clouded by guilt), and you're allowed to not be okay because grief is a fickle witch with no concept of time.
Give yourself space.
Take time to breathe.
Nineteen years ago today, I put on a pretty white dress, tried my best to ignore all the stupid family drama, and walked down an aisle where this guy was waiting for me. Sometime, if you have a few hours and buy the margaritas, I can tell you all the reasons that day absolutely was NOT the best day of my life. I can tell you all about how, if we had had any sense, the day he said, "What do you think about us getting married?" we should have just gone and done it and told everyone later.
But while the wedding was less than fabulous, the marriage has been the best thing I've ever done (except having my two daughters, which was a direct result of the marriage so I think of it as a 1a-1b type thing.)
And it all started at Sunnyvale Baptist Church. (Doesn't that just sound like the made-up name of a church in a small-town romance novel?)
In 1997, I moved to Texas to start a teaching job. Sometime in September of that year, one of my co-workers (a sweet, mom-type teacher) invited me to visit her church. Due to limited space and the size of the congregation, this church had what I'd grown up calling "Big church" (the sermon in the sanctuary) first, then Sunday school.
Even as big church wrapped up, I was still debating going to Sunday School, but my friend pretty much insisted. The church had a great singles program. I'd love it. She even walked me to the door then went off for her own class.
I noticed the cute guy sitting by himself, but facial hair wasn't my thing. He had a mustache and a beard! But he kept catching my attention. Everyone was settling in, saying hello to each other, that kind of thing. There was a bible in the seat next to him. I didn't know if it belonged to his girlfriend or a buddy or if he'd brought two for some reason, but I decided that if someone moved that bible I would go up an introduce myself. Because, well, why not?
Right as I made that decision another guy picked up the bible and walked away. I don't remember crossing the room. I just remember standing in front of him and saying, "Hi, I'm Dawn. This is my first time here. Do you mind if I sit with you?"
He didn't mind. Not at all.
We didn't get much chance to talk. You know, listening about the word of God and stuff, but the best part was during the closing prayer. Instead of focusing on what the leader was saying, all I could focus on was how loud this guy next to me's stomach was growling. I mean, think of a cross between a lion and grizzly that hasn't been feed in months!
As soon as the leader said, "Amen." Scott turned to me and start apologizing for his hunger (he told me later he wanted to be sure I understood he was starving, not suffering from some kind of gastrointestinal issue.) "That's okay," I told him. "Your stomach gave my stomach ideas."
That's when he broke out his super smooth line. "Then why don't you let me buy you lunch?"
I let him buy me lunch then ice cream after the evening service then dinner the next weekend then...We were married just over a year later in that same church.
Thanks for the invitation, Anita.
Happy Anniversary, honey. Love you bunches.
It's the time of year when I go on a hunt for the perfect dress to wear to the Romance Writers of America RITA awards ceremony (kind of like the Oscars for romance writers).
So far, I've stuck to solid colors, kind of a plain-but-dressed-up-with-jewelry style.
*You see that thing in Roni's hand? That's a RITA! Because she's awesome.
**We all have weird smiles in this one because the hotel dude didn't seem to be able to work a phone camera.
This year I wanted something a little flashier. Maybe a little more daring (at least for me.) So, I ordered this dress.
It came in yesterday. It has more gold on the roses than I’d like and I was worried it might be a size too small. But, it fit well, hid my tummy, showed off my legs. Everything I was looking for in a dress except when I pulled it down over my chest, I noticed that it “accentuated my assets" a little better than I'm normally comfortable with. It accomplished this with a thin band that should have been at my waist but was across my rib cage, making each breath an adventure.
I modeled it for my older teen first (who is the resident fashion guru). She gushed about how cute it was and how flattering. She liked it so much, I was debating how much I enjoy breathing and if I could make it through a few hours without doing that. I mean, when a fifteen year-old compliments your style, you got to consider your options.
I had her unzip the back (ahhh, oxygen!) and made my way back to my room.
At this point, I discovered a universal truth about tight dresses and large chests. Pulling something down is much easier than pulling it back up.
I couldn't push the whole dress down because it's fitted and wouldn't stretch over my hips. I couldn't pull it over my head because, well, there were obstacles.
Basically I ended up with the dress half over my head, trying to squish and pull at the same time. All while having panicked thoughts of being trapped in the dress forever or, at least until I lost consciousness from lack of oxygen to my brain, which might have been slightly irrational.
I was already picturing being cut out of my fashion choice by paramedics when I heard my youngest daughter's voice.
"Mom, are you okay? Do you need some help?"
Bless you, child. Bless you.
I held things in place while she pulled it over my head as if I were a two year-old.
So, if you see me at RWA this year, please, please say hi! I love making new friends, will probably talk way longer than I should and will be happy to pose for a picture in my nice, safe, plain dress that won't attack me after the RITA ceremony.
It's the last day of school here. After eighteen years of counting down the seconds until the last dismissal bell of the year (and that was just as a teacher, we won't add up that plus my time as a student), it's weird to not be exhausted beyond all reason today.
The first few days of summer are like a Friday night, full of promise of adventure and excitement (or Netflix marathons and cold pizza. Don't judge.)
I always made lists of what I would accomplish over the six week "break" from work. I say, "break" because if you know anything about teaching, you know that summers really aren't a break. There is curriculum writing to be done, staff development to attend, classroom prep, it really never ends.
But, I'm not a teacher anymore. And, my main goal this summer is to figure out how to work with my kids home and me functioning as their personal Uber.
So, instead of a list of what to accomplish, because let's face it, my grand plans rarely came to fruition but my family has great memories, I came up with five things I'm looking forward to.
1. Being able to let my dogs out any time I want
If you don't happen to live directly across the street from two schools, this might seem like an odd statement. But, I do. If you open my front door, you are staring at the door of an elementary school that shares a parking lot with a middle school. The crossing guard stands in my front yard. Something no one told us about living across the street from a school (other than your yard will constantly be filled with trash and people will come sit on your front porch like they live there while they wait for their kids. #TRUESTORY) is that the twice-a-day parade of humans on the other side of your fence will drive your dogs mad. Between the hours of 7-9am and again from 2:45-4:15pm, they have to stay in the house. Otherwise, they will frantically bark at the same kids, who are now about to be Freshman in High school and have been walking by since Kindergarten. I'm sure if the dogs could speak English, they're really just screaming, "Have a great day! Good luck on that test!" but that's not how it sounds.
The picture above is what will be my office by the end of the summer. In December of 2014 we went through a major foundation repair. We were told to wait at least six weeks before installing new flooring. Then, life jumped up and slapped us around. Since then, we have been walking on cement and carpet that was rolled back out but not truly replaced. By the end of the summer, I WILL HAVE FLOORS! And, some other great renovations that I'll share in my Makeover Monday posts that I plan to revive.
The Romance Writers of America national conference is usually an every-other-year thing for me. I went to San Diego last year and get to go Orlando this year! And, it's at Disney! Really, what else could you ask for?
4. Less laundry
No, we don't randomly start running around in the buff. My oldest will probably still change three times a day and my youngest will probably still keep all of her laundry in a mountain in her room (next to the hamper, of course, because where else would you put it?) but as of today, it's not my problem! My daughters have both been doing their own laundry for several years now but during the school year there was just way too much going on for them to keep up. And, honestly, I'd rather throw in a load for them during the day when I'm home anyway than have an exhausted kid who wants nothing more than to go to bed sitting up listening for the dryer to ding. But, it's SUMMERTIME! Here's the Tide, here's the Bounce and you know where the washer is! Happy Cleansing!
There are so many great books coming out this summer! I've got awesome reviews ready. Next week, I'll be listing Five Books I'll Be Reading This Summer and Five Books You Should Read! Cannot wait to share!
So, that's how summer is going to look around here. I'd love to hear what you are looking forward to or your grand summer plan!
Today is the first Friday of this school year. It's the day teachers release a collective sigh and head home in a near delirium state of exhaustion. We've made it through the first week. The routines will settle in on Monday and we've only got 35 more weeks to go.
For me, the first Friday of last year was my last day of "normal".
I remember the sound of the dismal bell for last period and calling to my students to, "have a great weekend!"
I remember leaving piles of paper on my desk but still shoving some in my bag to take home.
I remember still feeling slightly sticky from the weak AC in my room and the first pep rally of football season as I locked the classroom door behind me and exited the building.
Having no idea I'd never walk back in that room as a teacher again.
I don't remember if I cooked dinner that night or if my husband and I left the kids with my mom and ate out.
I can barely remember driving to Oklahoma the next day for a birthday party and driving home Sunday afternoon.
What I do remember about Sunday is before I sat down to go through those papers or gather my lesson plans for the week, before I cooked dinner for my kids or really even had a conversation with my husband, I went into my mom's room.
I guess not everyone can pinpoint the minute their life changed. For most people, it's probably a gradual shift that sneaks up on you like those extra pounds on your hips or needing reading glasses after 40. I know the exact moment my life changed.
August 30, 2015 4:30pm.
Mom and I were sitting on her bed, talking about the birthday party. That's when her head dropped to her chest as if she'd fallen asleep. That's the moment that triggered 36 hours of her being incoherent, a 13 day hospital stay, a devastating diagnosis delivered by a teary-eyed surgeon, folding his mask over and over in his hand and a decision.
I would leave teaching for 12 weeks.
But 12 weeks wasn't enough. So, I resigned. I packed up the personal things from my classroom, leaving any materials I thought my replacement could use until I could collect them at the end of the year.
I became a full-time caregiver until March 10th when I became Executrix of the estate.
I didn't return to teaching this year. I wasn't ready. I have too much reassembling of my life that needs to happen first.
I thought it would hit me on the first day when my daughters headed out to their new classes and my husband left for work. I thought that's when I'd miss it. I didn't.
Not until today.
I don't miss teaching, yet. I've missed my students and my co-workers but not teaching itself. I'm sure that will come.
What I miss today is the me who walked out of those high school doors on the first Friday last year.
The one who didn't know what was coming. Didn't know to be worried and didn't know everything in her world was about to change.
As most of you have heard, my mom passed away March 10, 2016. She'd been on dialysis for two years. In September, she was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure. She died from a heart attack at the dialysis center. There's no doubt in my mind she closed her eyes here and opened them to see my dad, smiling and welcoming her to heaven.
We had a celebration of her life Saturday, March 19th. It was very "mom". A boy I grew up with who is now a preacher officiated, he had first hand experiences with mom. Her best friend spoke about how she didn't know what to do now since Mom was the person she'd call to figure out what to do and I spoke. Here is what I said:
I want to thank everyone for coming. You are all here because you knew mom and loved her or because you love me and my family. I appreciate it either way. In case you are here to support me and you never really got to know mom.
There are two things I want you to know about her. The first one is: She hated people. She'd freely tell you that. Didn't like people at all. Which is why she did certain things, like make frequent donations to a church she didn't attend so they could pay someone's bills or arrange a hotel room for a fellow dialysis patient when she found out he was sleeping by a pond. It's why she spent hours shopping for the school-age parent program at the career center where I worked, buying baby clothes and other necessities for girls with children who were trying to finish their education.
Once the director of that program approached me and explained that one of their students had a son that was too old for any of the clothes in the donation closet. He needed a winter coat and tennis shoes. Could mom possibly help? Not only did she get the boy a coat and shoes (which she stressed out over because she hated that the boy wasn't getting to pick out his own shoes.) When she found out all the teenage mother had was a light jacket, she bought her two coats because, as mom said, she deserved to be warm and to have a choice in what she wore. That's how much mom didn't like people.
She brought individual bouquets of flowers to the dialysis clinic and gave them to all the patients and the staff because it was a depressing place and people needed a reason to smile. Right after she became a hospice patient, a friend who works in a Pediatric ICU, causally mentioned they were running low on hairbows for the children because the nurses usually purchased them out of their own money. That put mom on a mission. She gathered hairbows, nail polish and other assorted items for weeks to donate to the hospital because, as I said, she hated people.
Mom's one condition for all of this was anonymity. The man who got a hot shower and a warm bed to sleep in had no idea who paid for the hotel room. The friend who worked at the hospital offered to attach little "Donated by" tags to the hairbows. Mom rolled her eyes and said, "Absolutely not."
She didn't do it for recognition. She did it because it was something she could do. If there was a need that she had the ability to fill, that's what she did. As far as she was concerned, it was nobody's business where the help came from.
The other thing I want you to know is she didn't wait to live. From being a bartender to repossessing cars to traveling all over several states as a consultant, she always had great stories of things that could only happen to her. Some of you here are familiar with the "Universe of Connie". After her illness slowed her down, she'd say. "I'm really glad I was wild when I was younger because if I'd waited until my golden years to have some fun, I'd be really mad." Well, mom used a different word than mad…but, you get the idea.
When the doctors told us that there was nothing else to be done, she looked at me and said, "Let's go home and make some memories." Which is what we did. We went shopping, we visited friends, we watched a lot of Judge Judy and QVC. We laughed. We told stories and made the best of the horrible situation we were facing.
As most of you know, mom didn't want a service. She kept saying she didn't think anyone would come. But, she's not here and we are. Sooo, sorry about that, mom. Since mom got sick, and especially in the week now since she's been gone, everyone has been asking me what they can do? How can they help? Here is my answer: Go fill a need. Go make a memory. Go love someone as fiercely as mom loved those close to her. Love them to the moon and back.
Five years ago, I posted
about jumping into the world of querying and pitching.
The daughter I mentioned is now a teenager. The teenager I mention is probably married and raising her own kids. Well, maybe not, but it's possible.
Until a few months ago, I was still standing on the end of that diving board.
I didn't jump.
I was pushed.
Now, all I have to do is make sure I cannon ball and not belly flop!