A Quest for the Perfect Present

big box.jpgHave you ever been really excited about giving a gift? You’ve bought something that’s the perfect gift, and you know the recipient is going to love it? You anticipate the smile and joy the gift will bring? You can’t wait to watch the person open it?

I have a gift that arrived via UPS yesterday (several days earlier than I was expecting it). It’s a great present. I know my dad is going to love it. And now it’s sitting here in this big, cool box, and I have to wait a week and a half to give it to him!

I enjoy giving gifts. I enjoy coming up with a special item that perfectly fits the recipient and the occasion. I’ve been told that gift-giving is my “language of love.” I suppose that’s true.

My dad turns eighty in a couple of weeks, and we’re having a celebration. It’s kind of a big deal, so I’ve spent a considerable amount of mental energy on this – the quest for the perfect present. A phone call to him resulted in no good ideas. A couple of conversations with my mother also yielded zip. So I was beginning to feel anxious. I’ve bought the man more puzzles, billfolds and shirts than I can even remember. Each year it gets harder. I wanted this one to be more special, something a little out of the ordinary. And I have a reputation to maintain!

Trying not to hurt myself with the back-patting, but I’m so happy that I finally had an epiphany while on vacation last week. Whew! Don’t you love it when that happens? I ended up ordering it online because retail store options were limited. So I didn’t get to touch and feel it. Didn’t get to see the actual color and material, so when I hit the “purchase” button, I was a little nervous. Opening the package yesterday was a relief. It’s great! Did I mention perfect?

I won’t give it away in case there are family members reading this. But, trust me, it’s a good one. Can’t wait to watch him tear into this package, and snap a couple of photos. The anticipation of his smile makes me smile!

What’s the best gift you’ve ever given?

 

Mothers of Character

blog orchidIt’s Mother’s Day! The day to honor all of the loving, hard-working moms in our lives. As a daughter, of course, I reflect on the relationship with my mom, so fortunate that she’s still with me and in good health. As a mom, I’m grateful for the joy that my two awesome kids bring to my life. And as a writer, I can’t help thinking about all the mothers in my novels.

Here’s just a quick introduction to a few of them:

There’s Dana, the single mother in Second Wind, who works diligently to provide for her kids, give them a stable home environment, and send them to college. She’s a steadfast encourager who does all she can to give support and direction to her children.

“Chase, like I’ve said a million times, you have so much potential. You can do whatever you want. You need to believe in yourself.”

“Yeah? What good does that do if no one else will?”

“Chase.” She waited until his eyes met hers. “I believe in you.”

 

In Unexpected Legacy, Grace, the hero’s mother, unconditionally accepts the 16-year-old grandson she didn’t know she had.

She got up from her chair and in three quick steps threw her arms around Matt. “Of course we’ll help,” she said as she hugged him tightly. “I want to meet this boy.”

His mother was a slight woman, a good foot shorter than him, but those were the most comforting arms he’d ever been wrapped in.

 

In Something Good, Mandi’s mother plays a supporting role – a steady presence primarily in the background. While Mandi’s relationship with her father is a little rocky, her mother is rock-solid.

Mandi punched in her mother’s number.

“Mom?”

“Mandi? Is something wrong?”

The worry in her mother’s voice tugged at Mandi. She didn’t always see eye-to-eye with her parents, but she could always count on them. They were her safety net, and tonight she wanted to feel safe.

“Yeah, there is. I don’t want to go home tonight. Can I come there?”

“Of course. Are you all right? Where are you? Do you need us to come get you?”

“No. I’ve got my car. I’m leaving the diner now. I’ll tell you about it when I get there.”

“I’ll wait up.”

Light spilled onto the porch, and the front door opened before Mandi stepped out of her car. She hurried up the stairs to the welcoming entryway of her parents’ house, and stumbled into her mother’s arms.

 

The mother/daughter relationship in The Storm Within is complicated. Claire struggles to accept the death of her son and forge a closer relationship with her daughter who’s always played second fiddle. While they haven’t been close, Elise refuses to give up on her mother.

Claire’s fingers grazed the small trinkets.

“You’re not upset that I took Ben’s things and put them in here, are you?”

“Of course not. I love it. And I love that I can still take them out and touch them. It’s very thoughtful, Elise.”

She swallowed hard, and took Elise’s hand. “This has been a tough year for both of us. I know I put you through some bad times. I’m sorry for that.”

When tears spilled down Elise’s cheeks, Claire wiped them away, Ben’s words echoing in her ears again. It’s gonna be okay. “No more tears,” she whispered. She gathered her daughter into her arms. “I love you, honey.”

“Love you, too, Mom.”

Though Elise’s words were muffled, Claire understood each one.

 

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms who love and support unconditionally!

 

 

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Bag

bagIn honor of spring’s arrival, I have changed from my black winter goes-with-everything purse to a bright, fun bag. I love the bag – it’s a great color, and it has perfect pockets for keys, phone and little stuff. It’s a little bigger than what I normally carry, but going into spring and summer, that’s OK, because I tend to add things like a trial-size tube of sunscreen or DEET wipes. I like to be prepared. Anyone remember the game show Let’s Make a Deal? I could have been a serious contender. 🙂

And then I see women out and about with these cute little designer bags. Darling wristlets that hold no more than a credit card and driver’s license, and I can’t help but think where is all your stuff?! Where do these women keep their sunglasses, reading glasses, checkbook, lipstick, tissues, coupons and member cards, pens, mints, nail file, keys, Advil, phone, etc., etc.? It’s not a rhetorical question. Where?!

In my purse, I carry necessities such as hand wipes, safety pins, a mirror, a tape measure. No, really. Aren’t these necessary in your day-to-day life? And now I have reading glasses. And swag. Yes, I carry bookmarks and Darlene Deluca pens and lip balm where ever I go. You never know when I’ll have the opportunity to strike up a conversation with a reader!

I do own a few small bags that I use for special occasions or when I know that a large bag will simply be in the way – or I’ll have other things to carry. But if I routinely carried only a tiny tote, who would be the keeper of the stuff? My husband doesn’t like big purses, but I can’t tell you how many times he’s asked me to keep his wallet, or a brochure in my purse. Or the number of times he’s asked me for a pen or a wipe or sunscreen or some other item, fully expecting that I have said item in my purse! When a kid needs a Band-aid, or a tissue, or a cough drop . . . guess who they come to? Pretty darned handy, huh?

Over the weekend I happened across a conversation on one of my Facebook groups about this very topic. And guess what? The general consensus was that every woman needs to carry a bag at least large enough to carry their Kindle or a book! Yes! I found my group. I love these people! They get it. Some things are necessary, and they are bigger than a credit card! And I heartily agree – carry a book with you at all times. I can’t think of a better reason for a big bag!

What’s the largest item in your purse?

 

Fun-for-all instead of Free-for-all

egghuntBy now you’ve probably heard of the Easter egg hunt gone bad in Orange, Conn. that was sponsored by the Pez Candy Co. Can you relate? Have you ever attempted a public Easter egg hunt? I have. And they generally aren’t much fun. Too many kids, too few prizes, too much frustration.

In my limited experience with such events, some kids always got loads of eggs while others got none. They were mostly a frenzy of confusion for the younger kids – parents screaming or dragging them along. Or no parental supervision of bully-types with no self restraint. There were always kids at different ages, some bigger, some faster, some pushing other kids out of their way. Sadly, such hunts expose an ugly side of humanity in what is supposed to be a fun event in celebration of a Christian holiday.

After attending a few of these events when my daughter was young, I swore off of them. And started my own. My goal was to create a nicer, gentler, more civilized affair. I did it by taking out the competitive component, and eliminating the free-for-all battleground, which, in turn, added the fun!

For about ten years, I hosted an Easter Egg hunt/party for friends and neighborhood kids. I had rules – rules designed to make the event FUN and FAIR for the KIDS! Simple: Younger kids got a head start, and every kid got the same number of eggs.

Of course, on a much smaller scale, it was much easier to orchestrate. And with friends. By invitation only. (I believe there was only one kid who got booted off the invitation list for obnoxious behavior such as greedily grabbing too many eggs or opening an egg then tossing it back if he didn’t like what was inside. Seriously.)

My husband and I would fill and hide 700 to 1,000 plastic eggs. We have a large yard, and a vacant lot behind our property, which is owned by a neighbor gracious enough to allow us to use it.

When everyone gathered, I counted the number of children and divided the number of eggs by that number (maybe minus one or two just in case someone showed up late or all the eggs couldn’t be found). Most years this gave each child 20-25 eggs. The kids were told that once they got to that number of eggs they were done. They could have a cookie and something to drink, then pick a spot and sit down and open their eggs.

The eggs were filled with candy and small prizes such as bouncy balls, coins, nail polish, etc. I went to great lengths to find fun, age-appropriate prizes. And gender-specific ones, too. Blue eggs had boy prizes, and pink eggs had girl prizes. All the others were gender neutral.

It was great fun. For kids and parents. It became a tradition that friends looked forward to. And I’m pretty sure everyone went home happy.  🙂

What holiday traditions have you started? Or ended?!

It’s really not the U.S. of A.

waterfallSo, Puerto Rico.

It’s a United States Territory. You don’t have to have a passport to go there. And they’ll take your American dollars just fine. But don’t let anyone tell you it’s the same as being in the U.S. It’s not.

I was there with the fam for spring break last week. Overall, I’d say we had a good time . . . but not everything went as expected. Just in case you ever decide to visit this tropical island, here are a couple of key things you might want to know: 1. Not everyone speaks English. Or, not well. 2. Yes, they drive on the right side of the streets there, but the highway signs are in SPANISH. There’s no selecting “1” to get the information in English. So if you plan to rent a car to do some sightseeing, you might want to brush up on your Espanol. It’s particularly helpful to know that East is Este, West is Oeste, etc. Fortunately, on the day we drove to the El Yunque rain forest, we had our son, who has just finished his second college-level Spanish class, with us. But then for a few days . . . we didn’t.

Oh, one other thing – Puerto Rico has crazy, bumper to bumper traffic! No one I talked to, no websites I perused or travel brochures I looked at ever mentioned the bad traffic. Getting from San Juan to Palmas Del Mar at 4 p.m. was truly as bad as driving in L.A., which is where we usually find ourselves on spring break. The taxi driver at the San Juan airport was not pleased about drawing our number that afternoon! Didn’t need fluency in Spanish to read his body language and figure that out.

Also, unless you have AT&T cell service, you’re going to rack up some significant charges if you want to use your phone’s GPS to help you get around. And don’t expect things to run on time. Well, according to a schedule, that is. Everything there is on “island time.” So when the hotel staff says the concierge will be there at 9 a.m., he might show up within the hour. Just because the guy at the golf cart/car rental place answers the phone and says you can pick up said vehicle, it does NOT mean he’s actually at the rental office. But don’t worry, he’ll get there eventually! An 8:30 snorkeling expedition? You could leave the marina around 9:30-ish. Maybe. If you’re a go-with-the-flow, “whatever” kind of person, this will be no problem for you. But if you’re used to running on time and scheduling activities, you might find the hurry-up-and-wait routine a little frustrating. I suggest you take a deep breath – and avoid wearing a watch.

In the first couple of days we were there, I found myself thinking I’d never go back, but as the week progressed, things improved. Once we got to the resort area and figured out the lay of the land (I mean found the pool and beach), we did OK. We had good food, found places to watch the NCAA basketball games, and enjoyed the sunshine and warm temperatures. Most people were friendly and helpful, and it was great to see both of my kids!

I’d go back – I’d just have different expectations! 🙂

So many sights to see!

Fallslibertyorca

With Spring Break upon us, and the promise of summer in the not-too-distant future (yay!) I’m thinking vacation!

I enjoy road trips and sightseeing. I think my favorite vacations combine a little nature and relaxation with exploring famous places. Most, well, all of my travel (except that brief cross into Canada to see Niagara Falls) has been in the United States. Though I’d love to cross the pond one of these days, there’s a lot to see in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Here are the Top 10 American landmarks or national parks I’ve been to so far:

  1. Mt. Rushmore
  2. Grand Canyon
  3. Badlands
  4. Yellowstone Park/Old Faithful
  5. Top of Pike’s Peak
  6. Olympic National Park
  7. Niagara Falls
  8. The Statue of Liberty
  9. The National Mall (monuments) including Capitol, White House, Library of Congress and several Smithsonian museums.
  10. Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Some other cool places or sights I’ve seen include Joshua Tree National Park, the Golden Gate Bridge and Sonoma/Napa wine areas, orcas in the San Juan Islands, Chincoteague/Assateague islands and the outerbanks of North Carolina, Sunrise at Haleakala National Park (volcano) in Maui, the bluebonnets blooming in Texas, Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Forest, and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Of course all of these places represent an adventure with stories all their own — I’ll get to those some other time. 🙂

Places I’d still like to explore some day: the Everglades, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite National Park, and Alaska/glaciers/Denali.

Which American landmark is your favorite, and what’s still on your list?

Color me Happy

1013304_968049943248254_1796943573890512076_nI’m so excited to see the early spring flowers blooming!! If you’ve followed me for long, you know I am no friend of Old Man Winter. Ice, sleet, snow, cold . . . not a fan. So when the crocus and daffodils start poking up through the ground, I start a happy dance. I have to say, it honestly does affect my mood. What could be cheerier than bright yellow daffodils smiling at you?

Today is gray and dreary, and the entire week promises to be cloudy and rainy. But the patches of yellow dotting my yard and the neighborhood remind me that it’s spring, and soon, there will be no need for jackets and socks. I can trade my boots for flip-flops and my jeans for capris. I say, Bring. It. On!!!

As I’m typing, I can see the magnolia buds swaying in the breeze, perhaps only a few days from bursting with color. Now that is an amazing sight. They are the first to explode around here – which also means they often get nipped. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen, that this early spring is the real thing. Color the landscape, and color me happy!

What is the first sign of spring in your area? Are you seeing it already?

Giddy Gratitude for my Garage

snow saabToday, both of my kids are likely to experience snow and/or freezing rain. Both have cars. Neither one has a garage. So I’m appreciating the little luxuries . . . like a garage.

When my husband and I first got married, we lived in an apartment complex. No garage or carport. When we moved to our first house, the one-car garage came with a heavy wooden door that I couldn’t lift — and no remote. My husband’s car was only a year old. Mine was probably 10. Guess who got the garage?

Living in the Midwest, that means I have had many years of experience in the miserable task of de-icing, scraping and clearing snow from one’s vehicle. I, unfortunately, am experienced in the qualities and pros and cons of a variety of scraping techniques and tools. For example, a long-handled scraper with brush on one side is, of course, essential for a small person who cannot reach the middle of the windshield without leaning into the snow and ice covering the hood of the car. For solid ice, I’ve found that a metal scraper is more effective than a hard plastic scraper. I know that the trash bag or cardboard windshield covering will only work if there is no wind. There were those years when I must’ve had four or five different scraping tools of various materials and quality rattling around in my car during the winter months. At the time there was no such thing as a heated scraper. The most newfangled, techie tool I ever had was a scraper sewn into a glove-like bag that was designed to help keep the working hand a little warmer.

I know the frustration of leaving work to find my car covered in ice or snow, adding many minutes to an already tedious commute. I know the agony of standing in the bitter cold attempting to open a car door so that I could start the car, hoping to pump a little warm air onto the windshield, only to find said door frozen shut. Oh, the misery that winter can bring!

So today while I’m feeling sorry for my kids, I’m feeling a giddy kind of gratitude for my garage. (A little adversity builds, character, right?!) It’s now been almost 25 years since I’ve had to park my car outside on a regular basis! Ah, the glee of waking on a snowy morning and not being faced with task of digging out. The blessing of driving down the street with a perfectly clear windshield and brake lights that can be seen, in a car that’s not spewing snow at others drivers!

In our current home, we have a two-car garage. And two cars. We also have a bunch of other junk in the garage – garden clippers, gas cans, rakes, shovels, bicycles, etc. It’s a tight squeeze. I have to warn guests getting into my car on the passenger side to be careful that they don’t end up with a hatchet in their head. But until I move to Palm Springs, any or all of these implements will be kicked to the curb before I give up my space in the garage. There’s no going back!!

Sending good wishes to everyone dealing with snow and ice this week. Stay safe!

Is your car sheltered? Any tips or tricks for clearing snow and ice?

Give me sun, not snow!

snowmanWell, it’s January, it’s freezing cold, there’s snow covering the yard, and I haven’t written about winter yet. I guess it’s time.

I hate winter. I seriously despise snow. I don’t like to be cold. The cold immobilizes me. All I want to do is curl up inside a blanket and stay warm. That’s not conducive to writing, to getting the housework or laundry done, or anything, except maybe reading. I like to read. But, somehow, it doesn’t work out for me to curl up and read all day on every cold day of the winter!

Sure, the snow can be pretty. I have indeed taken pictures of snow and ice glistening from trees, a bright red cardinal against the white wonderland, the buried patio furniture, etc. I know it’s great for sledding and skiing, fun activities for kids and adults. Yes, I have pictures to prove that I was a good mom – we built snowmen in the yard, and I took my kids to a local slope for this wintry exhilaration when they were young.

But I’ve also seen injuries occur from people shoveling snow and falling on slippery sidewalks. Last year two young adults died at two different universities (that I know of) from exposure on frigid winter nights. People die in car accidents on slick roads. Property ruined and lives ravaged. Because of snow and cold. That makes me sad. Of course there are dangers lurking everywhere, but winter adds another element of worry. Yesterday one of my kids flew through a snow storm in New York. Two days ago I drove to Ohio with the other one so that he could have his car at college — his first winter there with his car. Why did both of them end up in cold, snowy climates?! Those brochures from Florida schools and the University of Hawaii are looking awfully sweet right about now.

These days I find myself dreaming of a winter home in Palm Springs. I’m pinning and posting photos of summer on social media. Counting the weeks until spring break. Looking forward to warm temps and sunny days!

On a positive note, I had stocked the freezer/fridge this week in preparation for “Restaurant” week around here. We eat out a lot, and this week is actually a huge inconvenience. Too many people, long waits, “special” menus, etc. So, we’d planned to eat at home as much as possible. The timing is good. It’s bitterly cold, and I don’t want to leave the house! Hopefully, by the time Restaurant week is over, it will be warmer, and we can venture out again.

I’ve been typing for a while now. So my exposed fingers are chilled, and my cup of tea has turned tepid. Time for a warm-up. For the next couple of minutes my hands are going under the keyboard — thawing in the warmth of the computer!

Hope you all are staying warm and cozy. But if snow is your thing – enjoy! And stay safe!

So . . . snow. Love it or hate it?

 

 

 

 

Give them books

P1050936One of my all-time favorite Christmas gifts growing up was a complete boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I still have them today, and they are a treasured possession. But over the years, I haven’t received many books as gifts. I suppose it’s hard for people to know exactly what I like or what I’ve read, but books are awesome gifts (hint, hint for friends and family who may be stopping by).

What could be easier to wrap than a book? And they stack nicely. Ooooh, a tower of books would look lovely under the tree! This year, I’ve discovered another fun way to give books. Fun, easy and inexpensive! By purchasing an ebook as a gift and printing out the coupon myself, I can easily tuck it into a stocking or add to a larger gift item. Know someone who enjoys curling up with a beverage and a good book? Tuck a tasty assortment of teas or coffee into a mug or cozy throw blanket along with a coupon for a digital book. Simple!

The other great thing, of course, is shopping from your computer. Especially if the weather happens to frightful where you are. And no shipping fees. This is a biggie for me. I hate to spend money on shipping!

So, while I’m writing, my gift book certificates are printing on my home printer. Easy, schmeasy.  Happy shopping and gifting . . . and reading! 🙂

 

p.s. A digital copy of my newest contemporary romance, Her Greatest Risk, is on sale Dec. 10, 11 and 12! That’s a great price for a delightful stocking stuffer!

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