Bellingwood Vignette, Book 18, #4

Rare is the time one of the cats isn’t sleeping in my arms while I work. Earl is the most patient. I move around and snuggle on him and he just goes with the flow.

It always seems as if the moment I have a million things to accomplish, my brain insists that I write one more new story. Crazy brain. Sometimes it’s easier to just acquiesce.

My mind is consumed with Bellingwood characters. Right now, while I’m editing and formatting Book 18 – Just Around the Bend, I have more short stories in process and evidently, multiple vignettes chasing me. As much as I love Polly, the other characters in town sometimes want to be sure you know them just as well.

Just a couple of bits of information you need to know:

Book 18, Just Around the Bend will be published on Sunday, June 25th. My publication dates are always the 25th of March, June, September, and December. Anything that is published in between those dates is just icing on the cake.

If you want to ensure you never miss out on any exciting news from Bellingwood, be sure you sign up for the monthly newsletter. It also comes out on the 25th – but every month. There is always a vignette and you never know what else I’m going to come up with for you. Sign up here.

Pre-publication Trivia Party – Friday, June 16 from 6-11 pm (CDT). Facebook Bellingwood page. There are prizes and fun conversations happening throughout the evening. I do these to have fun chatting with you, but the questions will help trigger memories about characters and events you might have forgotten.

Okay – this vignette is a sweet moment with Dr. Mark Ogden, Bellingwood’s gorgeous veterinarian. There was a post on the Facebook Bellingwood page about possible vignette ideas. I’ll dig back through and contact you if Mark was your suggestion. If you did and I miss that – let me know.

While You Sleep

Mark kissed Alexander’s cheek before putting him in the playpen, then bent over to kiss his wife.

Sal was not a morning person and it looked like Alexander was going to be more like his father – up at the crack of dawn, ready to greet the day.

Now that the boy was older, Mark enjoyed spending these early morning hours with him. Sal was thrilled when Mark started taking this shift. He made sure Alexander was fed and clean, played with him in the living room and now that the weather was warmer, took him outside while the dogs played and ran in the back yard.

The two dachshunds had already climbed back up on the bed with Sal and were doing their best impressions of slugs, burrowing into the blanket beside their mother.

He knew Sal was mostly awake, though she’d pulled the blanket up to her shoulders and buried her face in the pillow. Alexander would give her another twenty minutes or so before his playing became too noisy even for her.

Mark stood in the doorway of their bedroom, something he did nearly every morning. His wife was even more beautiful when she slept and their son was pure perfection. He was such a lucky man.

The first time he met Sal, he knew that he wanted to know her better – whatever it took. She’d been such a surprise. From Polly’s description, he expected to meet a wealthy, spoiled princess who had little time for the slow, laid-back lifestyle he loved here in Iowa. That had been far from her reality.

Now, Sal knew what she liked and was intent on getting it. She was focused and driven, but she was also generous and kind. The woman was an absolute live-wire. He assumed that at least forty percent of her blood consisted of one hundred percent caffeine. When she was awake, she moved ninety miles an hour in every direction, but once she wound down, she became easygoing and snuggly, even. She also deliberately slowed her actions whenever Alexander was in her arms and sometimes Mark caught her gazing at her son with a face that radiated love and adoration.

It was all of these moments that still surprised him. These were some of the many reasons he loved this woman. Sometimes he couldn’t believe she had chosen to give up her cosmopolitan life in Boston for him. They’d gone back and forth about how to make a relationship work across country. She hadn’t been prepared to leave her job and he couldn’t imagine giving up his practice. Mark didn’t want to ask her to give up the life she loved and had begun researching veterinary positions in Massachusetts, but he could barely stomach the thought of living in a big city again.

Then out of the blue, Sal told him she was done fighting it – she wanted to come to Bellingwood. He chuckled to himself. If Polly hadn’t been living here, he wasn’t sure Sal would have been so ready for the move. But then, if Polly wasn’t here, he’d never have met this amazing woman. His deepest darkest fear was that she would wake up someday and realize that her life with him wasn’t enough.

When she invested in the coffee shop downtown, his heart settled some. That seemed to be the thing she missed the most. He knew the hustle and bustle of activity stirred her to life, even if Sal insisted that she was becoming accustomed to the slower pace of Bellingwood.

Mark’s family had been hesitant about him marrying Sal. He gave his head a quick shake. That wasn’t it. They were worried that she wouldn’t make the transition to rural Iowa life well. A smile crossed his face. Bellingwood really wasn’t all that rural. It could be if that’s what you wanted, but there wasn’t a single community in this state that didn’t have access to theaters, museums and excellent restaurants and shopping. It might require a short drive, but even when he’d lived in the Twin Cities, things that were important required you to leave your neighborhood and drive. You just traveled on city streets rather than peaceful country roads for forty-five minutes.

They’d talked about finding an acreage in the country so he could have horses and maybe even a few goats. Looking at Sal sleeping so peacefully he thought she’d make a great country mother. No, he couldn’t even think that with a straight face. When he first brought it up, the look of terror and shock on her face was priceless. He’d backed far away from that conversation as soon as he understood what she would lose. No one else knew, though, that she had returned to the conversation the next night, apologizing for letting her fears stop her from trying something new. If he really wanted to move out of town, she’d support him. He loved her too much to ask that of her again. Maybe someday she would seriously consider a move to the country, but that would surprise him.

The first time Sal’s mother came to Bellingwood, she was aghast at how simply they lived. Where was the nanny to take care of Alexander or the housekeeper to help Sal around the house? Mark joked about hiring a cook because of Sal’s less-than-stellar kitchen skills and received a swift kick under the table. If Mark hadn’t met Sal’s father, he would have had to assume she was adopted. That old biddy was a shrew. She’d criticized everything about their life, couching her nastiness in polite conversation, as if the entire world didn’t understand exactly what she was saying. The only person she was kidding was herself.

Now that he thought about it, Iowa was probably an escape for Sal from an interminable lifetime of torture with that woman in charge of the rack. Sal didn’t say much about her life in Boston any longer. When they’d first gotten to know each other, she told him more than he cared to know about the woman who raised his wife. How she’d grown into such a self-confident young woman, he didn’t know.

Sal had told him that a lot changed the day she met Polly. After years of living to please her mother, she discovered that she could be her own best self without any regrets. He wondered if she’d ever told Polly how much her life changed because they lived together throughout college and continued their friendship through the years. It had nearly killed Sal when Polly moved back to Iowa. The one person she trusted to show her what normal looked like was gone and Sal had done her best to stay out of her mother’s clutches, but it hadn’t been easy.

He smiled again, wanting to lie back down beside her and gather that strong confident woman into his arms. She had so many broken bits and pieces within her, but Sal was determined to find her way. She wanted to love freely and exuberantly, without fear of rejection. Polly showed her every day what that looked like and sometimes Sal would talk about her friend for hours in the evenings. The funny thing was, Mark watched the two of those girls when they were together and saw how envious Polly was of her tall, brilliant, gorgeous friend. If only Polly knew. Both girls would be surprised at how they perceived each other.

“What are you doing over there?” Sal mumbled, lifting herself up on the bed. She turned over and dropped her hand into the playpen beside her to stroke Alexander’s hair.

“Just watching you sleep.”

“That’s creepy. Aren’t you going to be late to remove an abscess or castrate some poor pig?” She blinked her eyes, trying to come awake. “My friends at home think you play with cute puppies and kitties all day long. I hate to tell them what you actually do.”

“I run into cute puppies and kitties out on the farms,” he said.

She worked to untangle herself from the sheets and the two dachshunds, who refused to move away from her. “I keep telling these dogs they’re going to be the death of me. So really, why are you still here?”

“I wasn’t joking. Just watching you sleep. Do you know how much I love you?”

Sal peered at him and pushed her long black hair back, tucking it behind her ears. “It’s a good thing. Otherwise what we’ve been doing around here would be quite scandalous.” She sat up on the edge of the bed and stretched her arms, yawning. “I’m feeling awfully sexy right now. Wanna get you some of this?”

Mark walked over, slid between the bed and playpen and sat beside her. He pulled her into his arms, crushing her against him. “I’d take you any time. You are every dream of mine come true. I love you, Sal.”

“I love you, too.” Sal pushed back from him and blinked again, then rubbed her eyes. “What brought all of this on?”

“Just watching you sleep. You make me happy.”

Reaching down to pick Alexander up, Sal leaned toward him. “I’m not a normal wife.”

“I wouldn’t want anything different. You’re perfect for me.”

“I think we’re pretty perfect together.” She bounced Alexander in her arms. “We make pretty babies, that’s for sure.”

“Didn’t mean to wake you up,” Mark said. “I’ll go to work.”

Sal lifted her face so he could kiss her. He held her for just a few more momeents and then got up and headed back for the door.

“How often do you do that?” Sal asked.

“What?”

“Watch me sleep?”

“Every once in a while.”

She shook her head. “You go to work and be good today. We’ll talk about this later.”

“I can’t wait.”

Bellingwood Vignette, Book 18, #3

I’m going through a terrific course on self-publishing and they asked for a picture of my work space. Of course, what’s a work space without a cat in it? This is Grey, who is a little offended that I backed away to take the photo. Poor spoiled kitty.

I love writing these short vignettes. Even though they aren’t long drawn-out stories about the characters that surround Polly and her family, they are wonderful glimpses into the moments of people who are just living their lives in Bellingwood.

Vignettes are published in the newsletters which arrive in your email inbox on the 25th of every month, but I spend way too much time in Bellingwood to not write a few more while we wait for the next book to be published.

Speaking of the next book – Book 18, Just Around the Bend – will be published on June 25th. 

Our pre-publication Trivia party will be on Friday, June 16th from 6-11 pm (CDT) on the Facebook Bellingwood page. There are always great prizes and you’ll have fun while remembering silly bits and pieces about the early books. Don’t miss it.

This vignette is just a quick look at Eliseo’s sister, Elva, and her four children as the kids get ready for school. I had fun reading your ideas on the FB page about who should get a vignette. Some ideas, though awesome, will have to wait for a book. Just because you haven’t learned all about the characters that you want to know doesn’t mean that it won’t show up. Hah. And even though I’m publishing the 18th book in this series, it feels like we’ve only just begun getting to know these people. There is so much more to come, so be patient. It will all come out, I promise.

However, if you expressed an interest in Elva and her little family as a comment to the FB post, I’ll be in contact with you. And there is more to come! Thank you all for participating!

Back to Normal

“Polly’s going to take you up to the ball fields after school today,” Elva said. She put a bowl of cereal in front of her oldest son, Sammy. “Show me your numbers.”

He held the meter out so she could read it.

“Good job,” Elva said. She bent over and kissed his forehead. “I’m proud of you.”

Sammy worked hard to stay ahead of his diabetes. It wasn’t easy – he wanted to do what every other boy in his class did, but of all her children, he was the one who took responsibility for himself. On the other hand, Ana hated managing her asthma. It infuriated her when she had to slow down because she had trouble breathing. But they managed.

Her three oldest played soccer after school. She and Polly traded moving them around. Noah played soccer with Sammy, and Elijah played baseball. Luckily the practices and games were all held in the same location.

Little Matty wasn’t interested in either soccer or baseball. He couldn’t get enough of the horses at his Uncle Eliseo’s barn. When the kids discovered that there were going to be horse barns going up out here, Matty was the most excited. Gabby and Ana thought it would be fun – especially if they could bring their friends out. Sammy thought it was cool, but Matty wanted a horse all his own. He was a boy after Elva’s passion.

She did her best not to spend much time with the big Percherons at Sycamore House. She didn’t want to fall in love with them. They weren’t hers. Besides, Eliseo had them so well trained, they didn’t need anything she had to offer.

At this point, Elva wasn’t even sure that she remembered what it took to spend time with problem horses. Those days on her father’s farm were in the past. Far in the past. So much had happened in her life between the day she left home and today.

“Can I have some more cereal for my milk?” Gabby asked, interrupting Elva’s train of thought.

“We aren’t starting that this morning.”

“Then I’ll have to do this.” Gabby brought the bowl up to her lips, daring her mother to scold her.

“Do it,” Ana whispered. She patted the table. “Do it. Do it.”

The boys picked up the chant. “Do it. Do it.”

Elva crossed her arms and looked down at Gabby. Her daughter lifted her eyebrows to look up, lowered them and put the bowl back down on the table.

“Chicken,” Ana said.

Elva put a firm hand on Ana’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t encourage bad behavior in anyone, especially when I’m standing right here. You know what that means, don’t you?”

Ana slumped in her seat. “Fine.” She picked up the dirty dishes from the table and scuffed her feet across the floor as she carried them to the dishwasher. “Hey. You didn’t put these away. There are still clean dishes in here.”

“Hmm,” Elva said. “Guess that’s what happens when you are in trouble.”

Sammy giggled until Elva put her hand on his shoulder. “Since you and your brother were part of the problem, you can help your sister clean out the dishwasher. Now go.”

“Aw. Come on. We didn’t start it,” Sammy whined.

Elva just stood there, saying nothing. The kids were pretty good most of the time. She didn’t have any complaints. She’d raised them by herself – their father had rarely been at home, much less taken time to interact with them. At least now, with Eliseo in the house, there was another adult around who bothered to pay attention to them. They loved their uncle. She couldn’t believe how easily they’d accepted him, scars and all. None of them were afraid to touch him or give him a quick kiss on his cheek.

The boys picked up their bowls and walked across the room to help their sister. Then, Gabby giggled. She opened her mouth to say something, took one look at her mother and closed her mouth just as quickly.

“Good girl,” Elva said. “But since you tried to get away with something you know I don’t like right in front of me, I think you should help, too. Go on.”

The kids all had plenty of chores to do around the house, both inside and out. Elva was glad to take on responsibility for the kitchen. She was teaching all four how to cook. None of her kids would go out into the world without knowing their way around spices and flavors. With Sammy’s diabetes, they’d all learned more about healthy eating. The younger three paid more attention to what was safe for him than he did some days.

While they ran around the kitchen putting things away, Elva rinsed out a dishrag and cleaned the counter and then the kitchen table. She couldn’t wait to get them off to school today. As nervous as she was about training horses again, she couldn’t wait. Every day she didn’t have to wait tables at the Alehouse downtown, she cleared more brush off the land where they were planning to build the barns.

Eliseo and his friend, Ralph Bedford, had brought two of the Percherons out to pull trees down. Then she and Eliseo had spent several days with chainsaws cutting them into pieces. He’d brought the bobcat out from Sycamore House and taught her how to use it. The logs that could be cut into firewood went in one section of the property and the rest she dumped out back. Things had been so wet lately they hadn’t burned the pile, but Eliseo promised the kids it would happen soon.

Every day that Elva traversed the land with that bobcat or walked through it picking up stray branches and sticks, she felt herself relax. Sometimes it felt like a calm before the storm because of the excitement building inside her. At night she slept better than she had in years. Her kids were happy and she was preparing to do something that she never dreamed she’d be able to do.

“Get your backpacks,” she said. “Gabby, put your shoes on, please. I’ll meet you at the back door in …” Elva pointed at the clock above the kitchen cabinets. “…eight minutes. The last one there sits on the hump in the back seat.”

They had worked out a plan for who got to ride shotgun to school. Each kid had their own day of the week and on Fridays, the one with the most checkmarks beside their chores list got the honor. There was a lot of catch-up cleaning and work on Thursday nights before bedtime which was just fine with Elva. She worked the evening shift on Fridays and Saturdays and appreciated having all of the work done so Eliseo didn’t have to manage the kids.

“Can I go see the horses after school?” Matty was at the kitchen door, backpack hanging down beside him. It was his standard question every morning.

“That’s up to Polly,” Elva said. If his sisters and brother didn’t have ball practice, they all walked down to the barn. Those were his favorite afternoons. “You really are my boy, aren’t you.”

Matty gave her a confused look. “Of course I am. Who else would be my mommy?”

“No one. No one at all. It’s just that you love those horses so much, just like your mother.”

“I like Tom and Huck, too. They’re short like me.”

She chuckled. “We might have to get a donkey or two out here when the barns are built.”

“But I want a horse.”

“Oh you’ll have a horse, sweet boy. I promise. You might have to share it with your sisters until we can afford more than one, but you will have your own.”

“Will you have one, too?”

She nodded as she thought back to the horses she’d loved. She never fell in love with the easily tamed, passive horses. Her favorites were always the ones who fought and fought for control. It was almost as if they wanted to make sure that she earned their trust – they weren’t giving it up easily. But once they’d broken through together, those horses were hers.

A tear fell from one eye as she wondered what had happened to those animals after her parents died. Elva had taken off as soon as she could, tired of being under her parents control. She wanted to make her own life, to live the way she wanted to live.

She was as bad as some of those rebellious horses, but no one had ever spent time trying to gain her trust. She married her husband, Larry, because she’d gotten pregnant. He was a nice enough man, but he was too much like those easily tamed horses that she never respected. When he had an affair and let her and the kids go, it hurt, but not as much as some might think. The only thing she had to come to grips with was that she’d given up her whole self to that fake life she’d lived with him.

It was Eliseo … her brother … who had finally given her the time she needed to trust again. They fought a lot in those first few weeks she’d been in Bellingwood, but he never pushed her harder than she could handle. People in town thought he was a quiet, nice person. They didn’t know the steel that was inside that man. She was so proud of him and now she wanted to make him proud of her. She’d work hard for that.

Today was Matty’s day to be in the front seat, so she sent him on out to the car. Elva put her hand on the back door handle when she heard the other three come running through the house. First Ana, then Sammy and then Gabriela.

“Matty’s already in the car,” Elva said, pushing the door open. “Go on.”

“Do I have to?” Gabby asked, whining.

“You had eight minutes to get here. After an entire year of this, I don’t know why you’re whining now.”

“Because I hate that bump.”

“You’ll live.” Elva pulled the main door shut behind her and let the screen door close on its own. “You all have everything you need?”

Day Off!

Book 18 – Just Around the Bend flittered across the digital universe to editors / proofreaders last night.

Ahhhhh …

For the first time in two weeks, I slept more than a few short hours last night – like nine and a half hours. I felt like a normal human being today. It didn’t help that a headline I whipped past in the last few days informed me that sleep deprivation causes the brain to eat itself. Great. People, we need to get more sleep on a regular basis.

I know that I’m about half as creative when I don’t get enough sleep, so I cheat and take a nap before I start writing at night, but that doesn’t give me enough energy to do other things during the day.

My sewing machine was put back to work today – that felt awesome. I have a few projects that I want to finish this weekend before I go back to work at my computer. So many things. So much excitement to come.

I turned my iron on and Grey jumped up to see what I was working on. As the iron heated up, she started doing her blinky-eyed thing. You know, that blink that tells you how much cats hate what you’ve got going on?

I’ll bet you think this is cute. No. This is Earl baring his throat to TB, who is mad at him and more than ready to sink his teeth into it. Silly boys. At least TB doesn’t attempt to break skin. He just wants Earl to stop pestering him.

Grey doesn’t like the lotion I put on after a shower. She doesn’t like the cleaning wipes I use beside the stove. She doesn’t like onions or garlic. And she doesn’t like the heat from my iron. Oh yeah. She also doesn’t much care for the Godiva Chocolate Liqueur that I’m enjoying on my first night off in months. Blinky-eye, blinky-eye.

It’s pretty cute.

I’m relaxed, no longer sleep-deprived, the weather outside is gorgeous, I have a few minutes to do something other than focus on Bellingwood … this weekend is nearly perfect.

Before I have time to miss my friends there, I’ll be back at it.  Notes for Book 19 are already being gathered.

Boxed Set 2~~~  FREE BOOK

The second boxed set is free until May 31. (Click here) If you’ve been waiting to move forward with the community, now’s the time.

If you have friends you’d like to invite to join you, they can get the first boxed set (Click here) for $6.99 and the next for free. That’s a lot of reading.

~~~  BOOK 18 – JUNE 25

Release day for Book 18 is June 25th. Not too much longer.

~~~  WINE PARTY – JUNE 16

Wine & Trivia night is Friday, June 16th. You don’t want to miss it. So much fun and lots of prizes. Be sure you’re part of the fun on the Bellingwood Facebook page.

I Love Language … and Words

Yeah, yeah, yeah …

I’m supposed to be working, but a new book just showed up on my front door step and I can barely contain myself.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love words? Oh my goodness, but they make me happy. (okay, whoops, I was totally gone there for about thirty seconds while my mind wandered off to chase down some of my favorite words. Anyway …)

David Crystal’s book, “Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar” is sitting in front of me and I’m typing this before I’ve even finished the preface … because, well … words!

I have to share this with you because it made my heart skip a beat.

grammar
from Old French gramaire,
which was an adaptation of Latin grammatica
which in turn came from Greek grammatiki
meaning ‘pertaining to letters or literature’
which later narrowed to mean just the language of texts
which in the Middle Ages meant chiefly Latin
and so took on the meaning of ‘special learning, knowledge’
and then ‘secret knowledge’ as in magic and astrology
which is how it was first used in Scotland in the 18th century
when the word was pronounced with an l instead of an r
and the meaning developed of ‘enchantment, spell’
and later became the word we know today, meaning
‘charm, attractiveness, physical allure’
spelled
glamour (British English)
glamor (American English)

(Crystal, 2017)

Process on that little passage, then re-read the title and subtitle.

Think about how that single word transformed throughout the centuries and what a gift it is. These are the things that thrill my mind and send me wandering off the normal path of life so I can explore deep and creative thoughts.

My goodness, I love words.

Words Matter

After five distinct pieces of information came at me today regarding the importance of words we use, it suddenly occurred to me that the message was bigger than just taking it in and moving on. My mind began spinning through memories, thoughts, impressions … and well … words.

The first was a post about a young woman and her daughter. She realized that the way her little girl responds to the world comes from her reactions. So when she stands in front of a mirror with a swimsuit on, rather than talking about how fat she is or focusing on her flaws, she spoke of how beautiful the color of the suit was.  Because what that child hears is what she will believe is important.

How many times have you talked about how fat you were in front of your children? Oh, for heaven’s sake! When I think about my childhood, my mother was up and down with her weight and it was always part of the conversation. We walked through stores and she’d point at overweight women and ask us whether they were fatter than she was. Good thing Mom raised smart children … we knew the proper response. But that’s how she saw herself … not the beautiful woman that she was. And that’s what she taught us to see in ourselves. What was truly important was shifted away in the wake of manufactured imagery.

Words matter.

Then I watched an adorable video (link here) of a girl who came out into the garage with makeup on. Her father asks “What do you have on your face?” and without hesitation, the little girl said, “Beauty.”

Amen, child.

Words matter.

In Michigan, a Muslim couple invites groups of people they’ve never met before into their home for a meal and open themselves up for questions – nothing is off limits. Before the evening has ended, their hospitality and the ensuing discussions taught a very diverse group of people that they have more in common than anyone realized. The conversation changed them all (link to article here).

Words matter.

One of Max’s favorite actors is Charlie Chaplin. The final speech from The Great Dictator (1940) is powerful, but I don’t know if I ever really paid attention to the words. This video of it being spoken by people around the world … different accents, different races, different genders, different languages … it ripped my heart to pieces. It’s a four-minute video, but I finally heard what he said. If you’d like to read the speech (and you really should), here’s the link.

Words matter.

Finally, one of my contemporary heroes when it comes to words is Seth Godin. He writes daily updates and they are often very powerful. Today’s post from him finally caught me and I realized how many different ways I’d been inundated with the importance of words in just a few minutes. Here’s the link to the post, but I’m going to quote the entire short message here … it’s just that important to me.

“Just words

How about, just bullets, just diseases, just starvation?

The whole “sticks and stones” canard is really dangerous. When a stone gives you a bruise, it’s entirely possible you will completely heal. But when a torrent of words undermine your view of what’s possible, you might never recover.

Words matter. They can open doors, light a way and make a difference.”
– Seth Godin

Do you remember that song you learned in Sunday School – O Be Careful, Little Eyes? (tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands)

One verse came flying into my mind as I typed today:
Oh, be careful little mouth, what you say, 
Oh, be careful little mouth, what you say, 
For the Father up above, Is looking down in love,
So be careful little mouth what you say.

Words Matter.

~~~

TB & Earl … keeping me company in the midst of my writing frenzies.

Book 18 is nearly finished. I wrote nearly seven thousand words last night in order to catch up to my self-imposed deadline – first draft will be finished tonight. This next week will be long hours of ripping it apart to deal with all of the holes and errors I created along the way. But it will be put back together and come out a much better story.

As much as I love the writing part, this is when it starts getting fun for me. Because I love creating order from chaos (my entire life is chaos), there’s nothing more wonderful than seeing all of the broken pieces line up to create the story that I’d intended.

This afternoon I MUST start working on the title and book cover. There’s a newsletter coming out on Thursday and I can’t wait to share what’s been going on. Be sure you’ve signed up so you miss nothing!

Crazy Days

I like to think that Earl loves me best, but the truth is – he’ll do anything for TB’s attention. How cute are they?

I love my life. I love it so much. I’m a lucky girl.

But wow, this crazy schedule that I’ve set for myself wears me completely out a few weeks every quarter. I’m in the middle of a big push to finish Book 18, get the title and cover worked out and the book off to initial proofreaders and editors. All of that, plus a vignette and the newsletter by May 25th. Yep … Hauling some serious tushie around here.

Because there have been several other projects that dropped into the mix since January 1st, the only way for me to achieve all of my goals (and seriously, I keep adding to the list), I’ve really had to step up my word count for each day. Last year, I liked to kick into gear within a week after publishing a book, giving me plenty of leeway for the next book. If I only wrote fifteen hundred to two thousand words in a day, that was still fine, though I usually pushed to about three thousand words at the end of the writing cycle.

Lately I’ve been regularly writing around four thousand words per day to get this book out on time. The Abiding Grace story took time to write and a *secret* project (yeah, I hate that too, but you’ll know within a couple of months, I promise) took up writing time.

Then it hit me. Book 18 needed to move through my fingers right now! This is the best part about Bellingwood. I truly live there in my head. Yeah, yeah, yeah … it’s not that weird.

Okay, maybe it is. All I had to do was tell the characters that we were on location again and they stepped up. Strangers drop in, everyone starts telling me their secrets, their dreams and hopes, children dig out their best behavior. It’s pretty cool.

Tomorrow night (Thursday), I’ll hit the three-quarter mark of my targeted word count goal. The stories are starting to come together and find their end. It’s fun to see things slow down. This is going to be a strange summer in Polly’s life. Lots of changes are ahead for her family. But first we need to get her through some endings. Nothing tragic – it’s all very exciting. But you know how moms can be.

I plan to finish the very rough first draft Sunday night then spend an intense number of hours re-writing, fixing, adjust, destroying, reconstructing and putting the manuscript into good order. When Memorial Day weekend gets here, there might have to be a few glasses of wine that find their way to my lips.

I’m so glad that you are part of this life with me. Thanks for hanging out.

Bellingwood Boxed Set 1 – FREE

April 25 – 29

The Kindle Version of the Boxed set containing the first three books in the Bellingwood series is free right now.

“Delightful … charming … captivating … addictive.”

Meet Polly Giller, a young woman who comes home to Iowa after living in Boston, to renovate and restore an old school building and start a new life.

She meets extraordinary people in Bellingwood. While it seems impossible to many that these wonderful folks actually exist, that’s only because they haven’t spent enough time in small communities found throughout the world, but especially in this author’s favorite state – Iowa.

Iowa-nice is a real thing and it permeates the pages of these stories as Polly discovers mysteries and an exciting life with new friends that soon become family.

“These books are my favorite books this year.”

“Heartwarming and charming.”

“Best series I’ve read in a long time.”

“I feel like I’m one of the family.”

Download the first boxed set today and join thousands of readers who have fallen in love with this small Iowa town and its characters. These heartwarming stories will captivate you, making you wish you could move to Bellingwood and be part of the excitement.

Click on the cover image or HERE to get your Kindle copy today!

Tell Me the Stories

My Kindergarten Sunday School teacher’s name was Eulalie Bryant. After all these years and multiple churches and towns, I still remember this amazing woman. Every Sunday, she gathered her little class around – Mrs. Bryant on a chair and all of us on the floor in front of her while she told stories.

I was enraptured.

After Sunday School, she’d hug us all and send us on our way. It never really sank in at the time what she did for me, though.

Years later in high school, I was reading my Bible and came across the story of Balaam’s donkey in the book of Numbers. I was surprised to find that it was a Bible story. I always just thought it was a story about God. Then it hit me, all of those Bible stories that Mrs. Bryant had told us came from the Bible. But she didn’t just read them to us … she told the stories, bringing them to life with her inflection and expression.

As I look back, I’m sure she had the Bible sitting in her lap, but all I could do was listen and soak in what she told us. For some time after the Balaam’s donkey surprise, I continued to find more stories that I’d made part of my understanding of God, but never realized were found in the Bible. They were just part of the entire picture for me.

Stories from scripture have been the foundation of my life from the very beginning, even when I didn’t realize it. Jesus taught in stories … in parables … so that his listeners could more easily relate to the basic truths he taught.

Mrs. Bryant made the stories of the Bible come alive so that her students could easily understand the truths of the Bible.

In the second story of the Abide With Me Series – Abiding Grace – I plant the story of the Prodigal Son into contemporary society. This young man had to get to the very bottom of his life before he could ever understand the gift that his father offered to him.

I loved writing the story of Ruth in Abiding Love. It was a joy to explore the relationships she had with Naomi and her new husband. Even more so, I am in love with the story of David in Abiding Grace. I wept as I wrote it. The power of grace freely given is a miracle.

The Abide With Me series will end up being a collection of four short stories. When all four are completed, I will assemble it into a paperback as well. For now, they are only available individually on the Kindle.

Welcome, Morning!

Grey on the left and Earl.

We’re all friends here, right?

I had all sorts of good intentions yesterday. There is so much to do before the newsletter comes out on Tuesday morning (have you signed up for it yet?). I wanted to hang out with people on the FB page and talk about their cute fur-beasts. I even had a wonderful supper in the plans.

But instead, I dealt with the worst bout of food poisoning I’ve had in twenty-five years. Oh good heavens! Things were happening here that have no place on the planet we lovingly call home. From Stygian depths came explosions of horrors.

I can laugh about it this morning. Though I’m not quite one hundred percent, I’m so much better.

My poor cats didn’t quite know what to do. TB ended up hiding. He tried to hang with me and be supportive, but terrible noises and foul emanations scared him away. Earl was just plain shocked. Fortunately, Grey stuck close as I moved from the bed to the bathroom.

Let’s not repeat any of that … ever again.

The last time something this awful happened was at least twenty-five years ago. Carol and I both got it and chased each other in and out of our adjoining bathroom.

The time before that had been 1984. The reason I remember the year was because Mom, Carol and I were in Minneapolis to begin training for our brand-new franchise print shop. On the trip up, that fateful Sunday evening, Mom and I ate some bad potato salad at a buffet and the two of us moaned, cried and delivered ugliness all night long. Before training even began, we had to postpone a day because we couldn’t remain upright for longer than it took to get into the bathroom.

About one thirty this morning, the worst of it was finally over, though I ached. Carol had made me promise to call her if I needed her, no matter the hour. I just sent a message that I lived.

Little by little, I returned the house to some sort of normal – putting things back that had been strewn around in my thunky travails. The poor cats needed food and water, so I took care of them. However, though I lamented the fact that I was going to be sorry, I didn’t get my cold-brew coffee made. We’re going to hope that it hurries this morning.

I’m pretty sure I know what caused it, but trust me when I tell you that everything in that refrigerator is suspect. I have an iron stomach and food never takes me out that badly.

We all have stories about these awful moments in our lives. I hope you’re able to laugh about yours. What’s the worst case of food poisoning you’ve ever experienced?

Mom and I were terribly embarrassed to tell the people at our printshop corporate offices that we couldn’t come in that first day of training. Did food poisoning ever embarrass you?

Come on … we’re all friends here, right?

Patience … Learned

There was a day when I was young and naive about what to pray for when it came to asking God how to be a better person.  I was a pretty good kid. I didn’t fight with my parents, I didn’t drink or do drugs, I was a good student … on and on. I was still young enough that my sins were pretty minor. The one thing that I did know was a problem was my lack of patience. So, silly me … I prayed for patience. I was only fifteen. This couldn’t take too long to learn, right? (insert hysterical laughter)

As I lay in bed this morning thinking about getting up, three cats clambered over me, up and around, over and back. I laughed. In the last twenty years, some memorable lessons in patience have come from my cats. Imagine that.

Twenty years ago, Max and I were dealing with a terrible mouse problem. After he trapped fourteen in one week, something had to change. Max mentioned that getting a cat might help. Uh … what? I didn’t like cats. At all. Multiple stories from my past reinforced that dislike. My dog, though, just watched the mice eat from his food dish. Useless thing.

Off we went to PetSmart for supplies. I wanted things in place before heading to the humane society the next day. Lo and behold, a rescue was at the store with a number of cats. I approached with great trepidation.

A ginger tabby sat in his kennel – calm as could be. I put my hand in and he just looked at it. He didn’t bat my hand away, hiss, or meow. Nothing. He was perfectly content for me to pick him up, so I did. We walked out with him that night. As soon as we were in the car, he leapt out of my arms and hid under the car seat. Yikes. But we finally got him into the house, where he promptly escaped and hid.

I didn’t see him again for two weeks. After some initial panic that he’d gotten out and run away, a friend told me to watch the food and litter. Yeah. He was there. I promptly named him Howard – Howard Hughes, the millionaire hermit who hid from the world.

One night I went downstairs and Howard was sitting in the bathroom off the kitchen. He didn’t run away. I sat down and talked to him. He watched me. I ran back to the stairs, told Max to lock the dog in the bedroom and come down. The two of us sat on the kitchen floor and waited for Howard. He walked past us a couple of times, then again. I put my hand out and he walked under it, letting me rub his back. We did this for an hour or two in the middle of the night and then he belonged to us. I’d learned to be patient.

Several months later, a friend needed to re-home her cat, Peekaboo. Uhhh, I don’t own cats named Peekaboo. She brought over this big, fat grey cat who was pissed as hell. I promptly renamed him Ichabod – kept a few of the consonants so he’d know his name. We took him to an upstairs bedroom, put litter and food and a bed in there and I sat with him. He wanted nothing to do with me, Howard, Bert (the dachshund) or Max.

Ichabod, Howard & Bert

Every night after work, I’d go into his room and sit with him for forty-five minutes at a minimum. I’d spend time in the morning and then again before going to bed. It took a couple of weeks, but he finally let me pet his back. At the end of two weeks, though, I was done. He needed to figure it out. I put a baby gate in the door so Howard could get in to see him. Ichabod wasn’t leaving though. A couple of weeks later the baby gate came down and Ichabod integrated into the household. I’d learned a lot of patience with that snarly, mean cat. He never got much nicer, but he learned to love me and we got along just fine.

When TB arrived in my life, I realized how much Howard had spoiled me. He was such a good cat. He never did hiss at anyone and never bared his claws to me. He was docile and loving.

Not TB. TB was independent and curious. A true cat. If he didn’t like what I was doing, rather than tell me, he clawed or bit me. My hands were hamburger. I knew he loved me and I took what he had to dish out because we were going to be a family. He broke through the screens on my front porch, insisting on being in the out of doors. I spent many nights absolutely panic-stricken when he came home late. But he always came home. I learned how to be patient and let my independent boy come to me for love. I couldn’t force it. He taught me a lot, but mostly patience. (He’s completely an indoor cat now – not terribly happy about it, but he’s grown older and more patient too. And the clawing and biting is in the past.)

Grey is so easygoing, I haven’t had much to learn with her, but Earl was a different story. When he came into the house, he was so glad to be with Grey, he couldn’t stand it. But he didn’t really want any human affection. He’d been living on his own for an extra three weeks and wasn’t quite sure what to do with me. Earl was always polite. He has never hissed at me or tried to scratch me, but when I picked him up, he went stiff. He still flinches if I try to pat his head. I have no idea why, but he doesn’t want my hand to come near his head. I waited and waited, continuing to pick him up, even if he was stiff and unyielding. I’d snuggle him and love him, rub down his back and up his tail.

Today, two years later, Earl comes to curl up in my arms while I work. He’s the one who lets me rub his tummy. At night, he flops himself over my feet and purr like crazy, until he needs more affection and climbs up to lie on top of me. The other night he let me rub the back of his neck and up onto his head, purring and happy. My patience with him has paid off. He is the most loving cat I’ve ever known. He craves my affection.

I could tell you stories about people who have taught me even more about patience, but often those aren’t my stories to tell. No, it’s these fun stories that come to mind when I’m trying to wake up. Animals are so much more than just companions, they teach us how to live and remind us how to live well.