Nature’s stress relief

Ah, the soothing sound of a babbling brook! I recently returned from a vacation trip to Colorado. It wasn’t a whirlwind, action-packed, sightseeing, tourist kind of trip. It was more of a let-it-go, kick-back, unwind and relax trip. And at the center of that kind of trip is nature — lakes and streams, shimmering aspen trees, secluded trails, a little wildlife, wildflowers and scenic vistas.

I love the sound of a rushing Colorado stream. While we were there, we dined creekside, walked along a trail that followed a gentle stream, and hung out, just listening to the sound of the water cascading over the rocks. I could sit and read or write with that sound as a backdrop for hours!

For me, the water is mesmerizing to watch, and soothing to listen to, especially if the creek is moving fast enough to drown out traffic and other noise. It’s as if nature is saying, “Ahhhh, take a break.”

Enjoy this little snippet!

 

Are there other sights and sounds of nature that give you pause and refreshment?

Darlene

It’s book-for-a-buck month!

That’s right. During the month of July, Smashwords digital book seller is having a huge sale — and lots of books are only $1. That’s a great deal! And that means you can get my contemporary romance Something Good for only a buck!

Something Good was a Rone Award second-place winner in 2015, and also won Still Moments Magazine’s award for Best Ending. It has a 4.7 average review rating on Amazon, and some great reviews!

“… an absorbing story of redemption that’s hard to put down.” – Kirkus Reviews

“With surprising plot twists and unique character conflict, Something Good more than lives up to its name!” – InD’Tale Magazine

Get Something Good for $1

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Grab your copy, and enjoy!

Darlene

Ready, set, launch! Graduation hails accomplishment and transition

Well, we hit another milestone. Last weekend, we finished up the last of the college graduation festivities. For the first time in a couple of decades, we have no kids in school. We have no college tuition payments to make.

As many of you probably already know, this is big. Huge. In many ways.

As I reflect on what this means, sure, I see home projects and travel we can now do because we might have a little extra cash. It’s also been a fun trip down memory lane. But mostly, I see a transition to a new stage of life. We will never be as involved in our kids’ lives. They’ll have so many new experiences that won’t involve us. Meet so many new people that we may never know. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but right now that feels a little strange.

mortarboards

There’s also a sense of accomplishment. Yay! We managed to keep them alive to “adulthood.” The oldest, who just graduated with her master’s degree, is already pretty self-sufficient. The youngest is now a young man also on his way to being self-sufficient. We’re so proud of both of them. Proud to be launching decent, functional, intelligent contributing people into the world.

I suppose the other emotion is relief. As the mom, of course I’ll still worry about them, but it feels different now. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a full-time job. Maybe I can relax a tiny bit and enjoy watching their progress from a little more distance. I can’t wait to see how the next couple of years unfold – where life takes them. And me.

So far, I have no big plans other than to buckle down and get some writing done, launch a few more books into the world. Maybe a trip or two. I think we’ll take some time to ease into this transition, and let things settle. And then . . .

Well, who knows? We’ll toss our mortarboard in the air and see where it lands. 🙂

As always, time marches on. Enjoy the ride!

Darlene

You go, girls! Happy travels!

It’s almost summer, and that means travel, vacation, relaxing with friends, right? Hopefully there’s a little of that in your summer plans! I’ve heard of so many great girl trips lately, that I asked my favorite travel agent some questions about planning the best trip with friends.
Enjoy, and happy travels!
Chatting with Janet McLaren, Cruise Planners, personal travel advocate:
Thanks for inviting me to your blog! It’s always fun to talk about travel, and travel with friends is always the best!

 

IMG_3852– What are some of the most interesting or unusual girls’ trips you’ve arranged?
It seems like women either want to get away for relaxation at a resort with a good beach and spa, or they want a cultural adventure with a combination of organized events and independent exploring. I’d say for most interesting: a group of ladies who are going to Italian wine country this summer. They are sharing a villa near Florence for a week and taking day trips into the city and into surrounding towns, then spending two days in Rome.
Getaway cruises are always popular, too, because they are usually economical for everyone and don’t require as big a commitment of time. One group of ladies takes a short cruise to Mexico every January when the fares are low.

– A friend of mine recently visited Barcelona on a tour with her wine club. I’ve heard of book clubs attending author-sponsored cruises. Are these kinds of themed-trips gaining in popularity?
They are, but they are mostly arranged by private groups, not the cruise line. An exception is river cruising — several of the top lines “theme” a number of cruises each year. I’m looking at one for a group right now that is focused on beer (haha, right?), but there are wine themes, music, and Christmastime, too. Also, there are land tours that are geared for special interests. I know of literary-themed tours in England that focus on historical sites related to authors such as Jane Austin, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Charles Dickens, for a few examples. Garden tours abound, as well as castle tours (think Downton Abbey, for instance), and “quaint towns.”

            Best shopping?   Mexico — the short cruises that go there, and the resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen are excellent for picking up handicrafts, jewelry, and clothes. New York and London shopping trips are still popular, although you have to watch the conversion rate of the British Pound to be sure popping off to London is a value or not.

            Best for beach/relaxing?  Interestingly, I get a fair number of inquiries about Miami Beach. The old-style glam resort hotels and the nightlife are very appealing. You get a nice combination of beach time, relaxation, and some fun. Restaurants are a big thing there, too. Of course many all-inclusive Caribbean and Mexican resorts have it all in one place! That’s probably the easiest getaway of all — just go, get transported to your resort, then don’t worry about very much at all. 

            Best sightseeing/culture?  Europe is still number one — history, churches, museums, wine, music, art, ancient architecture — it’s easy to come up with a common interest that binds a group together for a shared experience.

– Any tips or special advice for women traveling together?

Yes, I find that I am often reminding people that they cannot possibly do everything in one trip! Select a theme then let me help plan a reasonable, “do-able” outline that won’t exhaust you — decide on a few important highlights. Save some down time; not every minute has to be planned out and everyone could use a little “me time” mixed in, too.

– Any places you’d advise small groups of women to avoid?

Yes, sadly not all places in the world are travel-friendly to women and male-centric societies make for too much stress and worry. For some reason Dubai holds a fascination (I suppose for the shopping), but I wouldn’t choose it for a girlfriend getaway. India, China, some places in the Mideast and Africa — not worth it. Exceptions: I think a well-coordinated safari in certain locations would make a terrific all-woman adventure, and a historical or spiritual journey in Israel and Jordon would be safe and rewarding.

 

Thanks for sharing your time and expertise, Janet! I want to do it all! Dear readers, do you have a favorite spot for trips with friends? Tips or experiences to share? We’d love to hear them!

Contact Janet for additional info and ideas. 866-592-7351 | 972-231-0066 | jmclaren@cruiseplanners.com | www.cruiseplanforyou.com

A little peace and quiet, please!

Sometimes you just gotta get away.

We were in Orlando a few days ago for spring break, the destination determined by our son’s tennis team. We deliberately elected not to visit the crowd-magnet attractions such as Disney World, Sea World or Universal Studios. And yet, we could not escape the crowds. Of course I didn’t expect to have the place to myself, but there were times I found myself about ready to run screaming to try and get away from all the people. They were everywhere. The beach was crazy. The parking was challenging. And. The. Traffic. The nearly stand-still lanes of cars creeping along the highways between Clearwater and Orlando made for a stressful and tedious drive.

But finally, on the next-to-last day of our trip, it happened. We got away. We found ourselves on roads with few other cars in sight. Call me crotchety, but I just don’t enjoy listening to screaming children, being run into, being coughed on or having my freshly-pedicured toes stepped on. Crazy, right?

P1080353The answer? Nature. I said before we left that I’d like to see some alligators from a safe distance, and preferably from our car. And we did!

We discovered that outside of Orlando, near the Kennedy Space Center area, are some awesome nature sanctuaries. We spent several hours meandering by car along gravel roads through scenic marshy areas that were full of wildlife – gators, turtles, hundreds of birds, butterflies, and the occasional wild pig.

Several times, we stopped along the road and simply took in the scenery around us. We gaped at the alligators and watched flocks of birds skim across the waters and lift into the sky. We saw interesting foliage and grasses. We took our time – and lots of pictures. It was quiet. Peaceful. Refreshing.

And for this introvert, much fun. 🙂

Do you have a favorite get-away?

Another anniversary. Another gift-giving dilemma!

IMG_3248Thirty five years is a long time. At least it’s a long time to buy someone gifts. My husband and I are celebrating our 35th anniversary today, and I’ve been running around trying to find something meaningful, functional, interesting, desirable (I’d settle for one of those qualities!) as a gift suitable for the occasion.

The fact is, I’m gifted-out. The creative juices in that department have dried up. And he’s pretty short on offering up ideas. He doesn’t need anything. Doesn’t want anything. In fact, he’s all for clearing out cupboards and closets and throwing things away! All of my cool ideas seem to relate to his business, so nix those. They’re business expenses. Tax write-offs. But . . . but . . . it’s our anniversary. Shouldn’t I do something to mark the occasion? I mean, I get flowers, probably a nice piece of jewelry and maybe a little chocolate, too! I’m easy!!! Those things work. Every. Time.

I remember when we used to celebrate, or at least remember, the anniversary of our first date. Of our engagement. Hahaha! Really? These days I’m more than happy to let those things petrify in the past.

Sure, anniversaries are special. And they only come once a year. But, hey, so do birthdays and Christmas and other holidays. Valentine’s Day!?! Are you kidding me? I just bought you a Christmas gift! And once we had kids? Oh, great, throw Father’s Day in there, too. Every year.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually like giving gifts. I usually enjoy the process of finding the perfect present. I like the creative task of wrapping the packages. But the rapid succession of birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and anniversary has really taken its toll this year. Today is also our daughter’s birthday, so there’s that. Spring break is next week, so there’s that. Not to mention a few books to write!

People say give experiences instead of gifts. Sure, we’re going out for a nice dinner. We’ll have wine and dessert. On our 25th, we took a trip to Hawaii. But those dream vacations are expensive. They require time off from work, a ton of coordination, details, decisions, etc. Maybe next year.

For now, I’ll just have to hope that the “it’s the thought that counts” sentiment still holds true! I tried! 🙂

Do you have any go-to gifts that always hit the mark?

International Women’s Day: Strong Women in Fiction

urlIt’s International Women’s Day!

I was with a group of women fiction writers last week, and someone mentioned the occasion. The authors at this meeting realized we all write about strong women. To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, each of us agreed to post an excerpt from our writing featuring one of our strong female characters. And we want to share them with you.

Unexpected_Legacy_CoverI present Kate Austen, interim principal of a suburban high school, who faces hostility from male peers in Unexpected Legacy, fiction with romantic elements.

Bruce accompanied Kate to the office where they signed the log for opening the school safe, deposited the money, and locked up again. Bruce had already turned, heading for the door, when Kate glanced at the log. Her head snapped up.

“Bruce?”

He stopped and gave her a nod. “See you Monday.”

“Bruce, wait a minute. I don’t see your signature on here for any other day this week. You said you’d put the money in the safe.”

“Yeah. I did.”

She clenched the clipboard in her hand, but resolved to keep her voice calm. Don’t overreact, Kate. “Without signing and without a second staff member verifying what you put in?”

He shoved a hand inside a pocket and scowled at her. “It’s nothing that needs to be verified, Kate. There’s no accounting on this. It’s completely outside of school business.”

She bristled at his tone. “I disagree. Any time we’re collecting money, whatever the reason, there needs to be careful record of it and personal accountability. We’re talking about several thousand dollars here, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that every dime collected is accounted for and used for the purpose it was intended.”

Bruce’s eyes shifted from her to somewhere beyond her, as if he were bored by the conversation. When he looked back at Kate, his eyes challenged her. “Are you suggesting I would mishandle funds?”

“Not at all, but if there were ever a question of propriety, we’d need to be able to show clear and accurate records.”

Bruce continued to stare at her a moment, then glanced at his watch. “Are we done?”

Kate let go of the log. “We can discuss this further on Monday,” she told him, her voice clipped. “From now on, please refrain from putting anything in or taking anything out of the safe without my authorization.”

Your authorization?” he repeated.

“Right.”

Both hands went to his hips as he stared hard at her. “District policy says another staff member.”

“I’m aware of that, but you didn’t follow district policy, so I’m adding a stipulation. For the time being, I’d like you to see me if you need access to the safe.” She gave him the sweetest smile she could muster. “Just to be sure we’re on the same page.”

To read posts from other women authors about their strong women characters, please follow the links below. Happy International Women’s Day! Enjoy!

Darlene

Joyce Brown, author of cozy mysteries

Pamela B. Eglinski, author of suspense and historical fiction

Theresa Hupp, author of historical fiction

Juliet Kincaid, author of historical fiction