Monday, February 21, 2011

The Ending of an Era

Eighteen years ago, I was a young, fresh-faced freshman in high school, worried about boys, cars, boys, and what I would do that Saturday night. And boys :) I worked at Little Caesars Pizza (constantly getting in trouble for making pizzas the way I wanted them, not with the militantly rationed toppings they wanted us to use), I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life (I knew it would involve water one way or another), and I couldn’t believe my parents had the audacity to tell me what to do.

I was a fashion disaster, no one had ever told me what hair product was (hence my brother’s nickname for me: Bushy Haired Cave Woman), and I hadn’t a clue who I really was as a person

Back then, the internet was a new-fangled mystery to me, cell phones were few and far between, and I had never even heard of a Starbucks. Grunge was in, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford were voted the sexiest couple alive, and Justin Bieber hadn’t even been born yet.

It was the spring of 1993, and I’ll never forget when my sister brought home her two new little kittens, Rush and Indy. Rescued from inside the wall of a barn, they were tiny and inquisitive, their little heads swiveling to take in their new surroundings. They were so stinking adorable, we could hardly keep our hands off of them. They were nearly identical in color, both silky black with white chests and paws, and both had large, luminous yellow eyes. The biggest difference was that Rush was a big, fluffy furball, while Indy was sleek and streamlined.

Rush and Indy age 3. I'm seventeen here :)

Over the next few years, I got my driver’s license, met my future husband, and graduated high school. The summer before I left for college, my sister moved to California, and the cats moved in with my parents. Whenever I returned from school over the next four years, they would always be under foot—Indy inquisitive and adventuresome, and Rush just wanting to be pet.

In 2001, I graduated college and Kirk and I were married two weeks later. Wanting to fill our new (exceedingly tiny) home with love and warmth, we agreed to take the cats from my parents. When we returned to KY after our honeymoon, we packed up the car, put the cats in the carrier, and listened to them yowl the whole 500 mile journey to South Carolina.

The cat carrier in in the back window. (Yes, that's my brother and Kirk pushing our dead car in the Arby's parking lot, lol!)

Those first few months are some of the happiest in my entire life. Each morning I would wake up to my husband—and two randomly situated cats on the bed with us. With our meager, fresh out of college and just married funds, we bought them a little cat perch, and they spent hours on end staring at the front yard and all the birds and squirrels therein. During that time, we learned the reality of dealing with litter boxes, vet bills, and buckets and buckets of cat hair. We weren’t cat lovers in general, but we certainly liked these two. They were low maintenance and had spent much of their time grooming or cuddling with each other.

Kirk looks like such a baby, and we were married at this point!

By the end of the year, we were able to get our first dog, and they learned to deal with little Sadie in the tiny space. After months of close quarters—during which time Sadie grew to twice her size—we finally moved to a townhome that offered twice the space, and everyone was happy. With the tiny fenced in patio, we were even able to keep the door open, allowing the animals to sun on the patio.

When Kirk got his first job offer, we packed up and headed to our new life in North Carolina. I have such wonderful memories of buying our first home, wandering from room to room in wonder of the fact it was ours. The cats loved this house because of the proliferation of long, full length windows letting the light to pour in, allowing a view of anywhere in the yard they cared to watch.

Soon, our black lab Maggie joined the bunch, and the cats took more to themselves. We coexisted for years in that house, while I changed careers, we got our first boat, and actually started earning enough money to decorate the house. We were growing up, with a mortgage, car payments, and the occasional date night.

Before too long, we decided to move out to the boonies, where it was 15 minutes to the nearest store, but the lake was in our backyard. After the move, the cats spent much of the time holed away, none too happy about losing their floor-length windows and busy street to watch. It would be a year before I screened in the back porch, and they forgave us as they soaked up the sunshine and watched the world go by. The call of the wild was too much for them, and many times they’d run for freedom when we opened the door, and we’d have to call the familiar, melodic refrain, “Here Rush, here Indy, here Rush!”

When they returned, they would be dusty, with fur smelling of leaves and that unmistakable air of lionlike pride glinting in their amber eyes. We’d chastise them and tuck them back inside, but it wouldn’t be long before once more we’d have to call to them.

My animal kingdom :)

Two years ago, we decided that we would make them indoor, outdoor cats if they wanted to be outside so badly. A month later, Rush was attacked by some unknown animal, and after a two week fight for his life, we had to say goodbye to our sweet, cuddly fluffball.

Sweet Rush

For the first time in his 16 years, Indy was without his brother, friend, and playmate. We tried to fill the void, but he’d never been a people cat, and he stayed mostly to himself. Finally, after a month of loneliness, he joined us one day in the living room, and curled up beside Maggie. Maggie gave a warning growl, the low rumble menacing and fierce, but Indy simply ignored it, and Maggie eventually gave up and went back to sleep with a sigh.

Sadie chose the cat bed over sleeping with Indy

Maggie gives up and lets Indy join her

That incident set the tone for Indy in the house – ignoring us most of the time, slipping in beside us some of the time, and running through the house with random bursts of energy when we least expected it. Despite his age, he was always jumping and running around, looking and acting exactly like he did when he was three. Every now and then I’d pick him up, hold him to my chest, and stand at the window, cuddling him until he pushed away. Sometimes he would let me hold him for up to a minute, which was progress.

And then, this week, things suddenly changed. He no longer was waiting for the bedroom door to open, only to be chased by Darcy as was inevitably the case since our newest addition joined us in August. He no longer meowed indignantly for food at the end of the night, or tripped me in the bathroom on his way to jump in the tub after my shower. I plied him with all sorts of different foods, none of which enticed him, and he would only drink if the water was dripping from the faucet. For the most part, he curled up on the dining room chair in the sunshine, and simply slept.

Knowing what may be next, we made a vet appointment for Saturday. Friday I held him, and though I was happy he let me, it worried me all the more—he was not a cat who liked to be coddled. Friday night I laid him gently on the bed, something we haven’t allowed of any of our animals for years, and let him sleep between us. He was quiet, but then again, so were we. He curled in a small, black ball and stayed there until I woke him the following morning.

When we prepared to leave, we took him outside and let him soak up the gorgeous sunshine, his amber eyes blinking and taking in the trees and the clouds and the rustling wind. At the vet, the doctor shook his head, and we said our goodbyes.

Later that day, we buried him beside his brother, in a sunny patch of land overlooking the woods and the water. I laid on the grass and watched my husband dig, thinking of how much of my life Indy had simply been there. Not lovey, not overly fussy with us, just around, watching our lives as he lived his. From teenager and kitten to a woman and her cat, he was my companion for nearly two decades, and I was his person.

I’ll miss him.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Romancing the Writers

This Saturday, as I sat surrounded by great friends, good food, and enough fruity pink drinks to make the girls from Sex and the City jealous, I couldn’t help but be grateful for having found the organization that introduced me to these women and their monthly meetings: Heart of Carolina Romance Authors (HCRW).

Last year, when I finally typed THE END in my first novel, I pulled my head from the sand and wondered, what next? I hadn’t the first clue. Not only had I never met a fiction writer—of romance or any other genre—I only knew of one other person who even read romance. For the previous six months, I had been almost completely alone—emotionally as well as physically—on my journey toward finishing my book and working toward publication.

And then, last February I began Googling, and stumbled across HCRW. By sheer providence, their monthly meeting was scheduled for the next morning, and through a rapid-fire email exchange, I planned to meet the president at a nearby café before the meeting. Little did I know how much my life would change :)

During that very first meeting, I met and chatted with Karen Hawkins (eek!), Sabrina Jeffries (holy cow!!), Claudia Dain (yikes!), and many other published and unpublished authors. These woman welcomed me with open arms, and despite my awe at being in the presence of such accomplished writers, I was actually able to hold intelligent conversations with them.

In those short few hours, I learned more about the publishing world than I had learned in the whole of the previous year. The sense of community, of genuine camaraderie and eagerness to support each other was completely wonderful – and I suddenly knew what I had been missing.

That first meeting led to one-on-one lunches. Those lunches led to friendships, one of which led me to my current crit group, and my crit group helped me hone my craft tremendously. Through my new friends, I learned of contests—several of which I finaled in—and conferences, where more wonderful friendships would be made and valuable networking connections established. Along the way, I’ve even been able to help other writers, and have had the great joy of watching them succeed.

I’m in awe of the amazing writers I am so blessed to call my friends. They have commiserated with me when I had disappointments, celebrated with me when I had joyful news, and helped me when I wasn’t even sure what I needed.

On my one year anniversary with the group, I just wanted to say thanks for everything, guys! You’ve enriched not only my writing, but my life as well. Not to mention my vocabulary, but that’s a whole ‘nuther blog, lol!

Do you have a special group of friends who have made a difference in your life? And be honest – have you ever wonder what the conversation would be like at a group dinner with a bunch of romance writers? ;) And just for fun, write a response that fills in the following blanks:

He picked up his _________ and turned to her, _______ lighting his eyes. “Just call me ____________, sweetheart.”

The recipe for this week? Pomegranate Martinis! Quick, easy, and delicious—an especially appropriate when one’s soon-to-be renovated kitchen is in shambles:

2 ounces citron vodka (ginger ale for non-alcoholic)

1 ounce orange liquer (orange juice of non-alcoholic)

2 ounces pomegranate juice

1/2 ounce lemon juice

Shake in a cocktail shaker with ice, and strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with a lime. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Going Old School

So this week, we bought a new fancy LED, internet-ready, 3D capable TV. (I know, we’re idiots, but it was on sale). We spent the next few days fiddling with the display, trying to figure out the settings, and downloading apps. Last night, as I was choosing which Van Gogh masterpiece I wanted to be my screensaver, I started to wonder if perhaps things had gone a bit too far.

Four short years ago, I had the distinction of never having had cable/satellite in my home. In my childhood home, we had a huge, wood-encased monstrosity of a television, tucked against the wood paneling in the living room. We had all of four choices of channels until I was in my teens, when the WB came on the network scene. Ungainly antennae rose from the back, mocking us as we twisted them this way and that, trying to get a relatively snow-free picture—relative being the key word.

During those years, my parents generally limited our TV watching to 1 hour a day. Though we’d try to get around the edict, peaking around the hallway corner or passing through to get yet another glass of water from the kitchen, for the most part, we had to find other ways to occupy our time. For me, that meant hitting the great outdoors on the nice days, and reading, drawing, and pestering my siblings on the bad weather days.

Back then, playtime never included the family computer, which was tucked amongst the cluttered disarray of my father’s study. Its black and white DOS prompted screen was a mystery to me, used only for typing school reports when my father pulled up the word processing screen. When my homework was done, the rhythmic screech of the dot matrix printer filled the house, assaulting our ears for minutes on end as it labored to produce its uninterrupted line of pages.

Of course, in those days, no one had ever heard of the internet (at least not in my world), and cell phones were as heavy as bricks and about as unwieldy, an expensive luxury that allowed the user to communicate fuzzy and broken sentences to the baffled person on the other end of the line. For the most part, landlines were the only reliable form of instant communication, and long distance rates made phone calls to my grandparents very special events, indeed. On those rare occasions, we three kids would be charged with sitting in a row near the phone, so no time was wasted in the handoff as we each had our minute on the phone.

Back then, my parents had no trouble monitoring our phone use. I distinctly remember being grounded when I was in middle school after my father picked up the phone close to 10pm, and instead of a dial tone he heard his little girl on the phone with a boy. Of course, the one thing that we kids could get away with was prank calls, since there was no such thing as caller ID until I was at least in my teens. Does anyone else remember the hilarious prank calls Bart used to make to Moe’s Tavern on the Simpsons? Such a thing would be impossible now. I guess that’s a good thing, lol!

Sigh :) Back in those days, technology was a sidebar to my otherwise hands-on life. I read paperback books, I doodled on notebooks, I used the home phone to let my friends know I was on my way over, and played games using a dice or a little silver thimble or shoe. Research involved a trip to the cool and quiet library near town, where we spoke in hushed tones and spent hours searching through microphiche and pouring over the tiny cards of the library catalog, looking for just the right book or article about the subject we were researching. With success came the digging in pockets for dimes for the copier, the handing over of library cards, and the toting home of an armful of books.

And now? Well, in the hour it has taken me to write this blog, I have exchanged four emails, checked my chirping Tweetdeck, and Googled the following things: how to spell ‘mirophiche,’ Monopoly pieces (and yes, I am ashamed), and Raleigh weather. Thanks to the Google logo shout-out today, I also got sidetracked trying to remember who the heck Jules Vern is (today’s his 183rd birthday, and he wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 days, and other brilliant works of fiction). Though I used my laptop for these searches, I also could have opted to use my iPhone or my shiny new TV. If I had decided to go old school and head to the library after all, I probably would have googled their hours, then used my GPS (either in my car or on my iPhone) to get there.

In a way, our lives are infinitely more enriched for all of the connectivity and information at our fingertips. But for all of the technology out there, I think we have to make a real effort not to live in 2D – or even 3D (as touted by the movie industry, anyway). Instead, we need to remember to live with all our senses, in person whenever possible. Texting, and Wikipedia, and Twitter are all great tools, but let’s not forget to set aside technology now and again, and live the life directly at hand. This week, I want to make an effort to return technology to the background of my life, instead of living my days saturated by it.

So my challenge to myself this week?

-No more than 1 hour of TV.

-Dinner at the kitchen table with my hubby

-Have lunch with a friend this week

-Write and mail at least one letter

-Browse through my mother’s old recipe cards for dinner ideas this week.

-Instead of turning on an exercise DVD, take the dogs for a walk

I want to hear about how different your life is now compared to the technology of your childhood. Are you willing to join me in my challenge? What will you do differently this week?

Today’s recipe? Back to basics! No microwaves, no refrigerators, no mixers or ovens. Just you, a spoon, and a stovetop are all that’s needed for these yummy no bake cookies!

Cocoa No Bake Cookies

1 and 3/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup butter

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth, your choice)

3 cups quick-cook oats

1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa. Slowly bring to a full boil, then cook for two minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter, oats, and vanilla. Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper and let cool until hardened.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Celebration Continues :)

In all the excitement of the last week (I still can’t believe I actually have an agent - woohoo!), my thoughts wandered inevitably to the very beginning of my writing career, and how much things have changed since then. I originally sat down and began writing my first novel in June of 2008 during the 7th anniversary trip Kirk and I took to Gulf Shores. With my shiny new MacBook Pro in hand and an uninterrupted week away from work ahead of me, I eagerly wrote my very fist sentences:

Lady Evelyn Moore, oldest daughter of the fifth Marquis of Granville, doting sibling to three beautiful sisters and one dashing older brother, loyal friend and confidant, and proud granddaughter of the Duchess of Kensington, was about to take a stand.


By the end of the week, I had my first chapter (not to mention a very nice tan, lol) and could scarcely believe I was actually doing it: actually sitting down to write a novel as I had been wishing to do for the past four or five years. The giddy, heady sense of accomplishment lured me back to the computer again and again, writing more and more chapters —despite the fact I hadn’t a clue what I was doing.

In the weekends following our return, I would hole up on the back porch with my laptop, and click away at the keyboard with slow, measured strokes. Sometimes, when I wasn’t too exhausted after a day in the field, I would work late into the night in random hotel rooms all across Alabama, squinting in the dim florescent light on the single bedside light. It was a slow process, but infinitely fun, and I am glad each and every day that I decided to undertake the challenge.

Over time, my fingers became more nimble and my writing more polished, and by July of 2009 I decided to take the crazy leap of faith and quit my job to write. In January of 2010, I completed that first novel, celebrating with a joyous 2 AM iChat with my sister on the west coast. I remember screams, cowbells, and the groggy emergence of my husband from the bedroom to kiss my cheek and offer a sleepy congratulations.

I had my novel, and it was a thing of beauty: brilliant, perfect, and positively swoon-worthy.

It was only later, when I had the benefit of my fabulous crit group, that I realized that most of what I had written was rubbish :) ‘Was’s’, and ‘that’s,’ and ‘out of’s’ abounded, bogging down the action and showing my newbieness. I learned that I was heavy on the well-worded but pointless scenes, and light on conflict, goals, and motivation. That very first sentence was eventually cut, as was much of the first 4 chapters. As a matter of fact, in the year since that triumphant typing of ‘The End,” I have revised, edited, and in some places completely rewritten much of the manuscript. I received good and bad contest scores, good and bad advice, and good and bad feedback from agents.

I’ve learned so much about the art of telling a story, of holding readers’ interest, and navigating the waters of the publishing world. The first manuscript took years and many rewrites – and in fact I am about to embark on yet another revision—but the second ms I wrote in under 6 months. And, if you ask me, even as a first draft it is much better than my first book.

But I never gave up on that first novel, and after all those rewrites and revisions, this was the one that caught my agent’s attention. With invaluable advice from my her, I truly think I finally have the tools to make that first novel as good as I always wanted it to be. Even with the crazy amount of work looming in the month ahead, and the daunting task of actually becoming published, I’m still sitting here grinning, thinking, Wow, I can’t believe I finished a novel :) I can hardly wait until the day I can say, Wow, I can’t believe I wrote a published novel!

Have you ever set an impossible goal, and just went for it? Are you working towards one now? Whether it is writing a book, learning another language, completing a marathon, or even raising a relatively well-adjusted child ;) Tell me about it!

The recipe this week is born of decadent celebration :) I hope you enjoy this light yet rich, crunchy and smooth treat:

Sarah Bernhardt Cookies

(Slightly modified from recipe found here)

1 package macaroon cookies


3 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

2 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


6 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate

1 tablespoon shortening

For filling: In double broiler over simmering water, melt chocolate, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool. In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water, heat to medium high, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.

Place yolks in metal stand mixer bowl. Set over a pan of simmering water (I used same pan still simmering from double broiler). Whisk yolks constantly until warm to the touch (about 2 or so minutes). Transfer bowl with yolks back to mixer stand and with the whisk attachment beat at medium speed. Slowly add hot sugar water. Turn speed to high and allow mixture to beat until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Turn speed down to medium and drizzle melted chocolate in slowly until well combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Place mixture in fridge to cool for about an hour.

Once cooled, place filling in piping bag with large tip. Pipe in swirls onto the bottom (flat side) of the macaroon cookies. Transfer to freezer until very firm (about an hour)

To Top: Melt chocolate in double broiler. Once smooth, stir in shortening and remove from heat. Allow to cool til just warm.

Remove cookies from freezer. Working quickly so filling doesn’t melt, place cookie on a wide fork over chocolate and spoon chocolate over the whole cookie. Place filling side up on a cooking rack over a cookie sheet and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Enjoy and share!