Category Archives: serious stuff

The Black Widow – When is fiction is too real to be entertainment?

At 12:56 a.m. a massive boom rocked my house, setting off every dog and car alarm in the neighborhood. After a few eternal moments, I remembered that a Space X rocket landing had been scheduled for the wee hours. Eventually, my pulse slowed.

It’s no wonder that window-shaking booms stop my heart. Eighty-five dead in Nice. Five officers gunned down in Dallas, another three in Baton Rouge. At least five injured in a knife and ax attack in Germany. In Turkey, 294 killed in a failed coup. A terrorist attack in Orlando: 49 killed, 53 injured, the horror that blooding the streets just a few miles away from my home. We’re talking just the last few weeks. Brussels. Paris. Who knows how many lives lost in the Middle East.

Every bang, pop, and crack make me jump. My nerves need a break. I hide from reality in books.

Maybe not this time…

Two minutes before the sonic boom, I’d ripped through the ending of THE BLACK WIDOW, the latest installment of Daniel Silva’s international thriller series featuring Israeli Master Spy Gabriel Allon. It’s a novel that pulls no punches regarding the brutality and ruthlessness of Islamic terrorists. It’s book about death and those who want to cause as much of it as possible. And in light of the world today, it didn’t read like fiction. It it felt all too real.

Now, THE BLACK WIDOW is an excellent novel. I’d give it a solid 4.5 stars, and only that low because it wasn’t my absolute favorite installment in the consistently strong Gabriel Allon series.

But honestly, this book kind of rocked me to the core.

I should have expected what was to come when I read the trigger warning. I raced to finish The Black Widow long past my bedtime, needing something more than the answers to who would live and who would die. (Answer: far too many people would die, far too close to home.) I needed to  escape from my escapism. I wasn’t reading for pure enjoyment. The story and descriptions zoomed over the line between fictional constructs of an author’s imagination and the evil and ugliness that is exploding across the globe now. I needed closure.

Heads strewn on balconies. Crucifixions. Beheadings. Limbs tangled in tree branches raining blood. Viscera on walls. Calculating scrounges of humanity systematically shooting the wounded and dying.

We desperately block these images from our imaginations. But many once ordinary people in places as civilized as Paris – as Orlando – will forever be haunted by such gruesome memories seared upon their souls.

Is art reflecting reality, or is reality reflecting art?

I need a break. Next up: a romance novel that guarantees a few hours of blissful escapism and a happy ending. I don’t think we’re going to find one in reality any time soon.

florida poisonous spiders, brown widow, brown widow florida, brown widow eggs

Did I mention I found  this BROWN WIDOW and her seven egg sacs on my porch Friday night?

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 #1 New York Times bestselling author Daniel Silva delivers another spellbinding international thriller—one that finds the legendary Gabriel Allon grappling with an ISIS mastermind.

Gabriel Allon, the art restorer, spy, and assassin described as the most compelling fictional creation “since Ian Fleming put down his martini and invented James Bond” (Rocky Mountain News), is poised to become the chief of Israel’s secret intelligence service. But on the eve of his promotion, events conspire to lure him into the field for one final operation. ISIS has detonated a massive bomb in the Marais district of Paris, and a desperate French government wants Gabriel to eliminate the man responsible before he can strike again.

Acclaimed novelist Daniel Silva has thrilled, entertained and educated readers with eighteen thoughtful and gripping spy novels featuring a diverse cast of compelling characters and ingenious plots that have taken them around the globe and back—from the United States to Europe, Russia to the Middle East. From its shocking opening to its explosive denouement in Washington, D.C., The Black Widow reveals itself as Silva’s most timely and powerful novel yet. Following the success of his smash hit The English Spy, this electrifying thriller showcases Silva’s consummate skill and brilliant imagination, and is sure to be a must read for his multitude of current and future fans.

 

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Chuck Wendig in the flesh

Yeah, I’ve have been slacking with the blog lately. Too much going on with life, the family, the day job… Then there’s the recent horrible events here in Orlando which I still don’t have the strength to write about. In fact, I haven’t written much at all over the last month. Mea culpa.

I DID have a chance to meet sci-fi and urban fantasy author extraordinaire Chuck Wendig at the Orlando Book Festival at the Orlando Public Library. Chuck is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath, as well as the Miriam Black thrillers, the Atlanta Burns books, and the Heartland YA series, alongside other works across comics, games, film, and more.

But, many of us in the writing community know him best as our beloved foul-mouthed writing guru and author of the blog Terrible Minds. Seriously, he’s like our Yoda. Only taller. And I’m guessing minus the secret bad ass lightsaber skills. (Although he does write Star Wars books, so he may whip out some sabers as he plots in his writing shed.) His no-nonsense posts inspire legions of Penmonkies, driving us to sit our butts in the chair, keep on writing, and not stab our eyeballs out. And laugh. The man is funny.

And he is just as affable in person. Seriously.

The Kick Ass Writer

Writer that I am (ahem), I had him sign The Kick Ass Writer. My hubby had him sign a couple of his favorite novels, then bought a stack more for Chuck to inscribe.

Chuck began his keynote speech by saying he’d considered starting with a moment of silence, but then he realized that writers and artists are not at their best when silent. Six days before, 49 people had been killed and 53 injured at the Pulse Nightclub, a few blocks away.  (If you haven’t read his Recipe for a Shooting. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

Some of the nuggets of wisdom he doled out to the audience of eager Padawans writers and readers:

  • Telling your parents you want to be a writer is like telling them you want to be a unicorn farmer.
  • In the game of writing, no one knows what their doing. (You’re not alone!)
  • Writing is a game of perseverance. It can be like putting a bucket on your head and head-butting a wall. Either you or the wall will fall down eventually.
  • Care less. Your writing and your life will improve. (And you’ll be less likely to start head-butting walls like a drunken billy goat.)
  • The man can write 30k words in a weekend. That is NOT a typo. THIRTY THOUSAND WORDS IN A WEEKEND. Forget man–he’s a myth. No, a legend.
  • And while we’re on the subject of writing faster than the speed of light, he wrote his first Star Wars book, Aftermath, in ONE MONTH. This was not planned. The publisher kept moving the release day up. The book hit the shelves exactly one year to the day after he tweeted about how he’d like to work on a Star Wars book. Note: this in NOT how anyone else will every procure a publishing deal. Like ever.
  • His measly little blog Terrible Minds get about 10k hits per day. Guess a few folks want to read his rants about writing. And food. And his kid. And don’t mind his creative use of naughty language.

 Chuck 2

Don’t bash the hair. The humidity hovered around 300% in downtown O-town that day. Between sessions, I’d made the pilgrimage to the makeshift memorial filling the grassy lawn of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts just blocks away.

I had to see it with my own eyes. I had to honor those we’d lost. I had to let my heart bleed.

You see, even as I watched the coverage on TV, it didn’t feel real. The 24-hour news feed running “Orlando Massacre” and “America’s Deadliest Mass Shooting” played like a reality show. How could this happen here? We’re the land of fucking Mickey Mouse, fairy dust, and overpriced Harry Potter wands. Not mass shootings. Until now.

I’m going to get off this tangent. I don’t want to write about it. The wounds are too fresh.Pulse shooting, Orlando Massacre, Pulse Memorial, Dr Phillip's Center

Now back to good stuff.

My husband joined me for the Chuck meet & greet keynote speech. He has a thing for signed books (and comics, and photos…you get the drift). He brought along a handful of books, then had to buy a few more because the temptation was just. too. great.

Back at home, our 12-year-old eyeballed the hubby’s loot, and thought Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy Book 1) looked like a good read. Kiddo is pretty bright and an avid reader. But ready for his first “adult” book? And that book be one of Chuck’s? (As I mentioned, the man is infamous for his potty mouth.)

Then I realized that age 12 I was about to start on my Stephen King kick. That shut me up.

Kiddo ended up reading Chuck’s Star Wars: Aftermath first.

Read whatever you want, my child. If books are the most corrupting element in your tween life, we’re doing okay.

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All I want for Christmas…

merry everything card

I’ve been told I can be *challenging* to buy for. Ahem. Friends, family, and Secret Santa coworkers  keep asking me what tangible, miscellaneous stuff I want for Christmas, but honestly, I have everything I need. I’m saving for a new camera and a vacation or two, and I have more than enough stuff. And my pat reply of “world peace and a winning lottery ticket” seems to drift further from the realm of possibility each passing day.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few real Christmas wishes…

Wish #1:  I want my son to get into the Engineering/Tech Magnet School of his dreams. The school is beyond amazing, and my bright yet easily bored son could take classes that make him salivate—coding, web & game design, Lego robotics, and so many more. The kid was so awe-struck when we toured the school I thought he’d blow like one of those baking soda and vinegar volcanoes. (They don’t do cheesy science projects like that at this school. Think rockets, forensics, and green architecture.) The place even has an official Minecraft club. Middle school is hard enough, and this school could give him what he needs to survive thrive.

He has the grades, test scores, aptitude, and desire to excel there—but none of that matters. It’s a lottery to get in. Pure. Damned. Luck. Letters will be mailed January 6th—please, oh please Santa, let us receive a “congratulations!” note.

Wish #2:  An agent would be lovely, Santa dear. I’ve been a very good girl this year. But, see, I don’t want just an agent, I want the right agent. When I first began this quest, I assumed I’d be thrilled with any NY agent who showed an interest. But now I’ve come to realize the agent hunt is a lot like online dating. I need to examine out each perspective agent’s profile, and dig deep into what she loves/loathes/makes her tick. We’re talking long-term relationship, here. We need to mesh in just the right way, to appreciate the other’s sense of humor, work ethic, and values. We need to feel comfortable communicating the good and the bad, to not be quick to judge, and to listen with an open mind. Oh yeah, and she has to get my stuff.

I found my true love years ago. I believe my agent match is out there somewhere.
::waving hand:: Here I am!

Wish #3:  Time. (Cue Culture Club or Bangles ear worm…now.) This is a gift I can partially grant myself. Wake an hour earlier each morning. Step away from the internet. I’m lucky enough to have an office with a door. I need to go in there and shut that door more often and not let myself feel guilty about the laundry or the cat puke or what’s for dinner hours from now. I must stop worrying and planning so much about WHAT IF’S and just DO IT. I can’t make time, but if I search hard enough, I can find that elusive little bugger.

Best writer's gift ever--the Gift of TIme. Thanks to the always clever Debbie Ridpath OhiThanks to the always clever Debbie Ridpath Ohi for this *perfect* gift idea. If you visit her inkygirl.com site you can download a high-resolution version to print out and give to the writer in your life. Or just forward this idea to a loved one for a subtle hint at what you really want for Christmas and beyond.

 

How about you? Have any holiday wishes grand or small?

40 Things I’ve Figured Out at 40 (that I wish I’d known at 20)

It’s official. I’m old. At least, I always imagined 40 was old—middle-aged.  My mom was 40 when I went to college. AARP somehow has my address already and they’re not afraid to use it. Strange silver corkscrews occasionally spring from my scalp.

But I don’t feel old.

I do feel wiser. Slightly. I still have so much growing to do, so much to learn and accomplish, but as I unwillingly cross into this new decade, I can appreciate the insight I’ve discovered the hard way. Some of these little croutons of knowledge I still force myself to digest each day. Others I chant like mantras. All of these tidbits I wish I had understood twenty years ago.

#185077520 / gettyimages.com  Catherine Lane

#185077520 / gettyimages.com Catherine Lane

  1.  It’s okay to admit that you don’t know something and/or ask for help.
  2. You judge yourself much harsher than anyone else ever will. No one else will ever notice 99% of the things you criticize yourself for.
  3. Realize that people aren’t mind-readers. They usually don’t comprehend how their words/phone calls/tardiness/silence affects you so much.
  4. Learn to let go. That friend who burned you, the guy who dumped you, the loved one who passed away. Whether it’s forgiving, forgetting, or just moving a loss to a less focal spot in your mind—let it go.
  5. Yoga can be as amazing for you outside as inside. Namaste, my friends.
  6. There is no reason to be out at 2 a.m. unless someone is in the hospital.
  7. There is no reason to be awake at 3 a.m. unless someone is puking or crying. (Okay, so people might have been doing this at 20.)
  8. Wear that bikini like crazy when you’re 20. Just because you can wear a bikini at any age, doesn’t mean all of us should.
  9. Your mom is right most of the time.
  10. Cleavage does not equal sexy. You can turn heads in a turtleneck if you radiate confidence.
  11. Don’t let anyone tell you how to parent. Or when to become a parent.
  12. Wearing all the “hottest” trends doesn’t impress. Find your happy niche between. And stop reading Vogue. Now.
  13. Negativity is like a riptide—it will suck all the joy from your life. Avoid negative people, even if they’re family.
  14. What you believe in will change. Maybe not cataclysmically (like going from a faithful Catholic to a devout Hindu) but your beliefs will evolve as you cope with devastating blows and your view of the world broadens.
  15. Jump out of that perfectly good airplane and bungee jump off that bridge while you’re ten-foot-tall and bulletproof…and before just imagining it makes you nauseous.
  16. Credit cards are evil.
  17. Those statistics classes you thought it would be no big deal to skip in college—they will haunt you in your nightmares forever.
  18. Wear sunscreen. ALL THE TIME. Skin cancer sucks.
  19. Blow drying your hair straight every day will fry it by the time you’re 30.
  20. Freckles are beautiful. So is pale skin.
  21. Take more computer classes. You can never learn enough.
  22. Always pay attention to what’s going on in the world. Listen to NPR. Yes, that butterfly blown from the sky in the Middle East will impact your life.
  23. Don’t be so afraid to flirt. Harmlessly, of course. Just because you smile at someone doesn’t mean they think you want to marry them.
  24. Stop being so afraid to fail. So being so afraid, period.
  25. Try running. Or some sport. You won’t always be able to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for dinner and fit into your jeans the next day.
  26. Write more.
  27. Learn how to cook, clean, and do laundry properly. You may never like doing any of those things, but you will have to do them (even if you share responsibility). You won’t have a maid.
  28. You’re life will never unfold as you imagined it. There is no straight line to follow; instead life’s path is more like a twisty skein of yarn. There is no “should have been.” Don’t beat yourself up for what you have not accomplished. Celebrate what you have done. You still have time to find your dreams, even though those dreams have changed.
  29. Not much in life is easy. Learn to fight.
  30. It doesn’t always pay to be the good girl. They get steamrolled, taken advantage of, and are accused of having no guts. Some rules can be need to be broken.
  31. But breaking some rules may break you. Other people will get away with murder. Literally. You’re not that slick. Think before you do something stupid.
  32. Pets are good for the soul, even when they break your heart.
  33. Appreciate the ordinary.
  34. Spend less. Save more.
  35. Stop judging other people’s relationships/bank accounts/tastes/lives. You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. And you’re not responsible for their decisions.
  36. People can and will change—but not in the ways you may want.
  37. Stop craving things you can’t have. It will only make you miserable. Cherish what you DO have.
  38. Time does go faster as you get older.
  39. Never stop learning. You don’t know it all and you never will.
  40. You’ll never know if the best is yet to come, so enjoy each glorious/horrible/ordinary day.

 

How about you? Do you have any nuggets of wisdom you’d wish you’d known when you were younger?

 

Presenting Three Minus One: Parents’ Stories of Love and Loss

I’m published. No, it’s not my women’s fiction novel…yet... I’m honored to have When Grace is Gone included in the anthology Three Minus One: Stories of Parents’ Love and Loss.

The loss of a child is unlike any other—a devastating blow that sends out a shockwave of pain and guilt that begins with the parents and reverberates through their entire community. Yet the majority of those who suffer such a loss, especially mothers, often do so in silence, convinced that their grief is theirs to bear alone. Three Minus One: Stories of Parents’ Love and Loss , edited by Sean Hanish and Brooke Warner, changes all that by allowing parents who have lost their children to stillbirth, miscarriage, and neonatal death speak out through raw essays, exquisite poems, beautiful paintings, and stunning photography—and break this poisonous silence one and for all.

Inspired by the film RETURN TO ZERO—the first Hollywood film to tackle the taboo subject of stillbirth—Three Minus One is a poignant, inspiring anthology that offers much-needed insight into the unique, shattering, and life-changing experience of losing a child.

In her poem “Executioner,” Heather Bell relates the difficulty of performing even the most mundane of tasks—a trip to the grocery store—after losing her baby: “And the baby is dead but / we need lettuce in the house, maybe some bread / for morning toast so I am at the store touching the potatoes at the spine, / the slim wrist of carrot,” the poem begins. In her essay “The Almost-Fives,” Abbie L. Smith tells of the nauseating envy she feels at seeing an acquaintance’s daughter—a child who was born just weeks before Smith’s son was stillborn. “They don’t know what that child does to me . . . and let’s not forget the effect of her mother, who has, for nearly five years, gone on to enjoy what I have lost,” she writes.

In his own story, meanwhile, co-editor Hanish describes how he’s tried to recall what he did in the moments after his wife called to tell him that his unborn son was gone—has tried to piece it into a coherent narrative—but hasn’t been able to. “You can’t glue the broken glass back together as it’s breaking,” he explains.

Groundbreaking and revelatory, Three Minus One is a soul-baring journey through love and loss—and a ray of hope for the many parents out there in search of answers, understanding, and healing.

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While most of you may be more familiar with my wittier attempts at fiction, this is my heart laid bare…and barren.

My book arrived Thursday afternoon, minutes before I had to leave for work. I had just enough time to rip open the manilla envelope, trace my fingers across the cover, and flip to find my pages inside. I hadn’t let myself believe story had actually been selected, that I was to be included in such a powerful collection, until I actually saw my words in print.

They were there—just below my name.  Each and every raw word.

grace is gone snap

Years after my last miscarriage, the things I’d never been able to say to others, to communicate properly—the devastation, the anger, and the guilt—had poured out of me in a torrent for no particular reason that I could discern except that it was a beautiful Sunday morning and I was finally okay with my life and it was time to let it all go.

Once the words had been freed, my soul felt pounds lighter, as if the story formed a paper lantern encouraging the spirits to drift towards the heavens—gone but never forgotten.

I posted the first version of When Grace is Gone on my blog back in 2011, and later on Blog Her.  I was overwhelmed—no stunned—by the touching comments left and connection so many readers felt. I wasn’t alone. Others had been through this. Some were still mired in heartbreak. Some, like me,  had waded through the devastation and made it to shore.

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I can’t “review” this book.  Ithree minus one quotet’s haunting and heartbreakingly beautiful. The amazing pieces I’ve read so far made me set down the book and dig out the tissues. But if you’ve been through loss or miscarriage, this book may be for you. If someone you know is piecing themselves back together after shattering, this book may be for them. If you want to know what your friends or loved ones endured but just couldn’t express, this may be for you.

I know how much this mean to the writers. These aren’t just stories, they are slivers of broken hearts, and the struggles to mend them.

I’d like to thank each and every contributor for allowing us a window into their soul.

May peace be with you all.

Now, buy the book, y’all.

 

Three Minus One: Stories of Parents’ Love and Loss

About the movie RETURN TO ZERO:

Based on the true story from writer, director and producer Sean Hanish’s own personal experiences, Return to Zero follows the story of Maggie (Minne Driver) and Aaron (Paul Adelstein) who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first child. Just a few weeks before their son’s due date, Maggie and Aaron receive devastating news a heartbeat is no longer detectable in the womb.
As the couple attempt to go on with their lives, they quickly discover they cannot escape their grief and their relationship is forever changed by their loss. With infidelity and separation at their heels, Maggie discovers she is pregnant again, and the two must reunite to face another turbulent and terrifying pregnancy that tests their strength and love. The film, starring Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy nominee Minnie Driver, Paul Adelstein, Alfred Molina,  and Connie Nielsen, debuts on Lifetime Saturday, May 17, at 8pm ET/PT.

 

 

Three Minus One

10 Principles to Build a Foundation for Your Dreams

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Saturday I attended my second FLBlogCon here in Orlando, an eye-opening day full of inspiration, education, food, and fun. While I could write an entire post about surviving a conference for shy introverts (yup, that’s me), instead I’ll share one the biggest take-aways of the day. And it’s not just about blogging, it’s about life.

Pat Williams—Orlando Magic Senior VP, blogger, best-selling author, motivational speaker, basketball Hall-of-Famer, and father of 19 kids (no, that’s not a typo)—delivered the amazing opening key note speech. It all started with discovering our passion, our sweet spot.

{Sweet Spot} : an optimum point or combination of factors or qualities

For some of us that may be blogging, writing, our careers, or our family. For most, it’s that balance between. It’s our passion. We all dream of finding that sweet spot, of spending each day finding fulfillment in what we do, earning the financial rewards to make it possible, and feeling the peace in wanting to wake up tomorrow and do it all again. It’s finding passion in our work and having the strength to keep moving towards our dreams even in the face of defeat. We dream. Some of us dream BIG.

According to Pat Williams, we must first build a foundation for those dreams.

As I listened to his talk, I nodded my head and furiously typed notes. Below is what I took away from his words. It’s completely paraphrased, any mistakes are mine. What you take away is up to you.

10 Foundation Blocks for Building Your Dream

 

  1. Think the right kind of thoughts. What you think all day long will become your real life. And READ. One hour day. Real books.

  2. Say the right kind of words. The words we speak have a way of becoming our reality.

  3. Be specific in goal setting. A clear-cut, definite goal is a powerful motivator. Make three lists of your goals: short term daily, mid-range of a few years, and long range. Write them down, review them constantly, and  revise them when necessary. Goals without deadlines just kind of hang out there. Practice self-discipline. To quote Bobby Knight: Discipline is doing what you have to do, and doing it as well as you possibly can, and doing it that way all the time.

  4. Be responsible for your attitude. You yourself are not responsible for Syria, global warming, or tsunamis. Release it. You ARE responsible for your attitude. At the end of the day, that’s all you can control.

  5. Seek out the right kinds of friends. Get around a bunch of upbeat positive people, you will be like them soon. Negativity and resentment will pull you down. Also, when picking a spouse, ask yourself, “Does he/she make me a better person?”

  6. Don’t waist your disappointments. Take your hurts, pain, setbacks, and disappointments and turn them into strengths. We shine in good times and curl up in bad. But tough times are teachable moments — our spirits are open when we’re deep in that well. Be open to learning. Get something out of it.

  7. Go the second mile. Do twice what ‘s expected of you. Outwork people. It’s the old-fashioned way—it never will change. The current entitlement mindset (it’s owed to me) doesn’t work. We need to cut it off. Two of the most important words in English Language are What Else. As in what else can I do/contribute/etc. The people who grasp those words and follow through will dominate.

  8. Never give up. Winners in life plow through the tough times. Practice “Stick-to-it-ivity”—a phrase coined by Walt Disney.

  9. Character still counts. Honesty. Integrity. Responsibly. Humility. Courage.

  10. Live your life by the faith phenomena.

Honestly, I need to work on every one of these principles. Every day. I stink at most of them (see, there’s that negativity I need to kick-in-the-butt).

live your dreamPin It

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write myself into my sweet spot. Because I can. Because I must. I have some work to do.

Thanks Pat.
Click here to read more about Pat

 Do you practice any of these principles? Which points do you take to heart?

 photo credit: SweetOnVeg via photopin cc

Beauty of a Woman | Beyond Skin Deep

My skin is a diary, stained with ink splotches, often fragile and wrinkled as tissue paper.

From my first breath, a hand-sized port wine stain discolored my torso, as if seared by God at birth.

I hid it for years. People gasped whenever they spied just a sliver of the magenta stigma below a stretched shirt bottom. “Oh my God, what happened? Were you burned? What IS that?” Their comments, their distaste—I was not okay. I dreamed of transforming my sprawling brand into a dragon tattoo. Let it breathe fire onto others as their words had scorched me.

I didn’t appreciate how easily I’d gotten off. Most of these stains appear on the face and neck.

In my youth, we worshiped the sun. We lived outside in a land of eternal sunshine, basking on beach towels and pool floats, slathering ourselves with Bain de Soliel and baby oil. My friends glowed bronze, many blessed by their Mediterranean or Hispanic lineage.

I faded into white walls. Translucent.

My mother always praised my fair complexion. I loathed it. I was a vampire in the land of sun goddesses.

I plastered my face with foundation as soon as my parents permitted, masking my smattering of freckles.

Upon my pale limbs, I traced patterns between my birthmarks and moles. My own constellations. Somehow they looked wrong when I stared at them in a mirror. Though always relatively thin, I allowed my flaws to weigh me down.

On my twenty-first birthday, I believed I’d matured into a woman. In honor of the milestone, I skipped the booze and bought my first bikini instead. Far more gutsy. Go ahead. Stare. This is me.

I’ve worn many since.

The first time my future husband saw my stain, he said not a word. When he finally spoke up, it was only to say I was beautiful no matter what. I washed off much of my warpaint and let my freckles shine.

When my stomach swelled with life, my dragon grew, protecting the child inside. A slight brown mark appeared above my hip where he often kicked.  He was born with a brown stork bite on his ankle. We matched. Traces of silver webs hung like a fringe over my womb, forever proving I had grown a child. I hope they never fade away.

Just as I learned to accept my different beauty, my skin betrayed me. Skin cancer. Basal cell, thank God. My constellations began disappear, the motley stars hacked out before they turned into dark matter. A little spot burned off here, another bump punched out there. Pink scars became my new stars. The first time they carved a gash in my shoulder I wore a sling for two weeks, taking extreme care so the scalpel would not permanently disfigure me. The fates laughed, and infection caused a welt seemingly stolen from Frankenstein’s bride.

I hid it, for a while.

Another two-inch gash marred my back. The sun became my enemy. As I hid in the shade to protect my papery shell, I healed within. My freckles faded. My confidence grew even as other blemishes spotted my skin. Be it age, hormones, genetics, or the damage I’d caused in my youth, this is me.

See that silver lightening flash on my hip—baby. That stitch lined gash—skin cancer. Those splotches and lines and big-ass freckles—my signature.

But I am more than my skin. In yoga class, I pose in black tights, my glowing white skin reflected in each mirrored wall. I’m different. I shine. I’m different, yet I’m beautiful. We all are.

Each constellations in the heavens tells a story. Each each dot, gash, and wrinkle upon my skin forms words, a veritable story of my life written upon my vellum. Ask me about one, I’ll tell you my tale.

My story is far from over.

This post is a part of author August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman Blogfest. Be sure to visit the other funny, tear-jerking, inspiring, and always beautiful posts.

photo credit: Gabriela Camerotti via photopin cc


Rezoning: An Ode to my Neighborhood & School

My newspaper, local television stations, and Facebook feeds are flaming with irate parents throwing temper tantrums over our local elementary school rezoning proposals. It happens every few years, it’s just another round of shouting, fist pounding, and chest beating; in the past I’ve calmly turned my back on it just as I ignored my 2-year-old’s fits. Of course no one wants to shift their kids from the schools they love or move them to a bad school, but one of the schools they are outraged their kids may attend is…OUR school.

Why is my son’s elementary school worthy of such contempt and outrage? We’re not talking about a destitute inner-city facility. It’s just another highly-rated suburban neighborhood school. Most of us who send our kids there are not dirt poor, nor are we wealthy. We have a slightly higher percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunch. Some believe that means the education their precious babes might receive at our school would be inferior, and they fear their property values will nosedive if their children are forced to attend a slightly less affluent school.

I disagree.

And frankly, I’m insulted.

A large chunk of the kids come from my neighborhood. And I love my neighborhood. We painstakingly chose this place to be our forever home, the place where we’d settle and raise our family long before we began buying pregnancy tests and pacifiers.

The average home here has 3.5 bedrooms, a two-car garage, a Honda in the driveway, and a swing-set nestled beside an in-ground pool in the backyard. We have basketball hoops instead of tennis courts. Our homes are around my age—and like women my age, some have undergone extensive remodeling and look peppier than when they were twenty; some have let themselves go a bit.

It’s a neighborhood where I feel safe with my windows open and my glass door spread wide to let in the babble of the pool and the aroma of orange blossoms.

At the heart of this neighborhood sits a park, where I’m spread out on a blanked with a book in my lap on a gorgeous January afternoon. Sunlight filters through a canopy of oak leaves and shines a puzzle of shapes over the kids tearing up the slide during a fierce game of tag. Over on the baseball diamond, a father plays Frisbee with his kids; he calls out each toss and catch like a Mexican soccer announcer. Another father/son pair passes by wearing matching crisp golf tournament visors.

A toddler’s birthday party spills from the new pavilion. Festive balloons and streamers billow in the breeze, and the aroma of something slightly more exotic than hot dog carries on a drift of balmy air. Bratwurst? Chorizo? It smells like heaven.

The kids are as colorful as the party decor; smiles radiate from faces of every shade between marshmallow pale to an ebony rich as dark chocolate. You’re more likely to hear the kids calling out names like Aiden or Jack, but chances are you’ll  hear a Lashawn and a Jose, too. The kids don’t care. You are welcome as long as you know how to play freeze tag.

A girl striking enough to be on the cover of Teen Vogue (should she trade Nike trainers for heels) bickers with her mom in a sing-song Portuguese. Later, when she chats on her iPhone, every cadence of accent evaporates.

Yes, the teens and moms carry  far more Coach bags than Louis Vuittons. I myself am sporting a metal bike basket passed down from my Grandfather, now loaded down with picnic gear. No one has given it a second glance.

Families arrive pushing strollers and pulling wagons, by foot, by mini van, or on bicycles, like us. This park backs up to a 14-mile paved trail, and we’re still recovering from our 7-mile bike ride under its cathedral of trees. There’s nowhere I’d rather be on a Sunday afternoon than soaking in this tranquility.

During the sweltering summer months, day campers descend upon our park; my son and a few hundred other kids run wild over the four-square court and the kickball fields. It’s not a formally structured educational camp; the kid wranglers counselors are local teens. There are no equestrian lessons or overnight escapes to the mountains, but there are plenty of trips to the theme parks and Chuck E. Cheese. He loves it.

This park, this neighborhood, this school brims with good kids and hard-working families. More of us may be social workers than CEO’s, but we are good enough for you.

We  love our school, our teachers, our staff. They graciously receive more homemade cookie baskets than day spa certificates come Christmas, but they not only teach our kids, but love our kids just the same. Our PTA does not run the school with a bejeweled fist. I rather like it better that way.

I pity those parents who chose to hold themselves above us, who waste so much precious time fretting over how our school may be detrimental to their kids lives. It’s their loss.

If their PTA is better than ours—fine—please come share your success stories and help build our group up. We’ll listen. Volunteer here, share your time and knowledge; you’ll see you are no better or worse than us. You’ll be welcome—if you are kind, and if you care about your kids as much as we care about ours.

We all want our kids to succeed. But the people of this county voted for the elected officials who have gutted the education budget. The school system must adjust to the cuts whether we like it or not. Why cause our school board to spend any of its insufficient funds fighting these battles? Let’s take that time, that energy, and use it to help our kids instead of dividing them. Let’s keep that money in the classroom instead of the courthouse.

And if my kid somehow ends up shifting schools… Will I be “happy?” No. I’m sure many tears will fall. No one likes change. But we’ll accept our fate. We will support our child and his school no matter what.

Blogging For Good: American Heart Association Heart Walk


Today I’m writing about a subject close to my heart (hopefully not literally): cardiovascular disease. Chances are it’s touched someone in you life—it’s the #1 killer of all Americans and takes a life every 38 seconds. Boom—three or four people will be gone by the time you finish reading this post.

It’s a killer that has devastated my family too many times. The Father-In-Law I never knew died after his fifth heart attack—my husband was just fifteen. Weeks after I met my husband, it struck down his step-father while he sailed upon the open seas. And recently, the disease stole my son’s beloved “Beach Papa” far, far too early. Strokes have dealt a crippling  blow to family members, as well.

Several friends have children struggling with genetic heat diseases. Every part of their family’s lives are impacted by their conditions, and their bravery, compassion, and resilience never ceases to amaze me. They handle each new crisis with inspiring dignity and strength. They deserve a healthier future.

Such close tragedies have opened our eyes to the risks of not only an unhealthy lifestyle but genetics. Though we eat healthy, exercise, and don’t smoke, my thin, athletic husband must carefully monitor his blood pressure and cholesterol. When we married, he vowed to live a year past 48, the age of his father when he died. I vehemently informed him that was not a part of our deal; I expected at least another 48 years together. 


This family will not become another statistic. 

That’s why we support the American Heart Association.



HeartHub for Patients


American Heart Association Missions: By 2020, to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent.

 

How you can help:


  • The 2012 Greater Orlando Heart Walk is THIS Saturday, September 15th, 2012. 
  • You can still register for the 3.1 mile route or the 1 mile “Survivor” walk around beautiful Loch Haven Park. 
  • Festivities begin at 7 a.m.  — Walk at 8 a.m.
  • Can’t make it? Please consider making a donation in a participant’s name.



The Greater Orlando Heart Walk is a major fundraising event for the American Heart Association. At the time of posting, the generous people of Central Florida have raised just over 1 million dollars towards the event goal of 1.4 million. Funds raised help to:







  • Raise awareness. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women over age 25, but many women don’t make their own health a priority.
  • Groundbreaking pediatric heart and stroke research. About 36,000 babies are born with heart defects each year —research is the key to saving babies’ lives.
  • Get life-saving information to those who need it most – information that can save a life, like how to eat better, how to recognize the warning signs of heart attack, and how to talk to a doctor about critical health choices. 
  • Put up-to-the-minute research into doctors’ hands so they can better prevent and treat heart disease among patients.
  • Advocate for better health. AHA’s nationwide volunteer network, You’re The Cure, advocates for key issues at the national, state and local levels such as requiring physical education in schools, clean air legislation and making AEDs mandatory in public buildings.
  • Reach out to populations at risk. Blacks have higher risk and higher death rates from stroke than whites. Our Power To End Stroke education/awareness initiative helps African Americans share information to reduce their risk of stroke. More than 23,000 key opinion leaders, including mayors, professors, ministers and celebrities, have been recruited to be ambassadors working within their own community.
  • Protect the future. Nearly one in three children and teens in the U.S. is overweight or obese. As a result, more kids than ever before are developing high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. AHA is helping kids develop lifelong healthy habits and working to make sure that today’s children can grow up to be tomorrow’s healthy adults.

  • Don’t live in Central Florida?  
    Click here to find the American Heart Association Heart Walk near you. 
    Join with over a million people in 300+ cities taking a stand against heart disease
     and helping to save lives.

    Support this amazing organization. Walk the walk. Support other walkers. 
    Donate to AHA. 

     Or
     Buy a raffle ticket as a part of the Blogging for Good campaign.
    For just $10 you have a chance to win this wonderful basket worth over $150.
    • $50 gift certificate to Shula’s in Lake Mary
    • Bottle of Red Wine
    • American Heart Association Cookbook
    • $50 gift certificate to the Spa at Thorton Park


     100% of proceeds go to AHA.


    Your heart will thank you.



    **Please help spread the word about this important cause. Tweet, Facebook, Pin, and share this post. You can make a difference.

    I am writing this as part of a contest for the CFL Blog Conference and the Rollins Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership Center.  I stand 100% behind the Greater Orlando Heart Walk and the American Heart Association.


    Those Days Go By

    My high school reunion is Friday night.

    I’m not going.

    And that’s okay.

    I have plenty of excuses as to why I’m skipping school (though I never did back in the day), but the biggest hangup is that I simply cannot believe twenty years have slipped by.  It’s as if Father Time stuck a Dyson vacuum to the bottom of his hour glass and he just sucked those days away.

    Granted, I just “celebrated” a birthday days ago. In certain lights the lines on my face freak me out and I start to understand why women shove needles and knives into their aging skin.

    But even when I’m fighting the monotony of suburban family life and the emergenices only a mature, responsible adult must face (i.e. plumbing leaks, insurance companies, orthodontics) I don’t feel like I’m a REAL grown-up.

    I remember going to my mom’s 20th high school reunion. I was sixteen. It was a weekend-long event at a fancy hotel by the beach. My parents would not leave me home alone, so I watched TV in the hotel room while they dressed up and mingled with old school chums. They were all so OLD. So settled. Successful. They’d been plugging away at their careers for two decades, married for nearly as long, and discussed their teenagers and plans for becoming empty-nesters in the near future.

    I can’t be that old.

    Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, we don’t even really need a real life reunion. From what I’ve seen, most of my class is nowhere near the same level of adulthood as my parent’s generation. Many of us are still single or newlyweds. My classmates have newborns, not teens. We’ve gone back to school, changed careers, and most of us still feel as if we are on the bottom rungs of the corporate ladder. We’re not settled.

    No banquets and formals for my peers. They are going to partake in an all-night bar hop. Perfect for a generation of Peter Pans who refuse to grow up.

    Our class song was Boyz II Men’s “It’s so Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday” — which I remember as a funeral dirge played during Lethal Weapon 3. Gag me with a shovel. (I voted for Alphaville’s “Forever Young” —  check out The Killers cover of it below.)

    For me, it wasn’t hard to say goodbye to high school. I counted down the months, days, and hours until I escaped to college. It was not the best time of my life.

    I’m not sure I’ve lived the best time of my life.  I’d like to think the best is yet to come.

    And I’d like to believe I’m not all that different than the dreamy-eyed girl of twenty years ago.

    I was struck once again by our supposed maturity when the Offspring released “Days Go By.”  When the band hit, they were so wild and slightly outrageous. And now they are old enough reminisce. Perhaps this should be our reunion song . . . If I was going . . .