Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cat Wrangling, or Adventures in Taking Two Cats to the Vet

Last week, I took my cats to the vet for their annual vaccines and check ups. It was quite the experience, let me tell you. Most non-cat owners might think to themselves, What's the big deal? It's just like going to the doctor, only involving cats.

But those of you out there who have ever owned a cat know that taking any cat to the vet is at best an exercise in frustration, and potentially an exercise in futility.

It's bad enough if I have to take one of the two, but can leave the other at home. But those days when I have to deal with both of them? Oh my. Let me just share the ordeal with you so you can get a better sense of my stress level.

My adventure starts about three hours before the visit to the veterinarian's office. That's when I get the cat carriers down from where I store them. (Yes, I've heard all the conventional wisdom about leaving the carriers out all the time, so they aren't scary for the kitties, and so they can explore and curl up and sleep in the torture devices. I don't have room for that.) Why three hours in advance? It takes about that long for the initial fear that comes from the carriers being down before my cats have calmed down enough they'll come out from wherever they are hiding.

As soon as they see the horrid things (and really, how scary are they?), both cats dart for the closest, deepest, darkest hiding spot they can find, and they stay there for as long as they believe it is necessary to avoid confinement.

While they're getting that out of their system, I move on to Phase Two.

What is Phase Two, you ask? That's where I organize all of the other required items and put them in a single, easy to get to location.

Included in Phase Two: Dakota's anti-anxiety medication, pill pockets to put the pill in, more treats, a laser light, pheromone spray for inside the carriers, and sometimes other toys (depending on just how freaked out the two cats are).

This time? They were Very Freaked Out.

An hour before the vet appointment, I have to give Dakota her anxiety medication. It's also a mild sedative, which we give her in the hopes that she won't bite another vet tech and in turn send the poor vet tech to the hospital. (Yes, this has happened. Dakota Does Not Like The Vet. For good reason, mind you. She's had more painful experiences at the vet in her two years than most cats have in a lifetime.)

With about 30 minutes to spare before the visit, I dose both carriers with some of the pheromone spray, to help keep the cats calm. It's not a miracle worker, but I can promise it helps some.

About 40 minutes after Dakota has been dosed up with anti-anxiety meds, I know I have to wrangle the cats. Kiki must be caught first, because if I start with Dakota, Kiki will have found a place to hide which I will NEVER get her out of. So, I lure Kiki out of hiding by shaking the treat bag, give her a couple of treats, and scoop her up before she wises up and darts away. Into the carrier she goes, and then it's off to snag Dakota.

As she gets older, Dakota is getting a little smarter about these things. Here's where I found her that day--under the bed, right next to the wall, pretty much directly in the center. The bed is a queen. There was NO WAY I could reach her in that position.

Hence the need for the laser light.

I broke that puppy out and got her to chase it. Sadly, even though her desire to play was strong she knew something was up, and so she didn't make catching her very easy. Lucky for me, she is still a little dumb about the places she chooses to hide from me most of the time.

Why do I say that? One of her favorite places to escape is into the bathroom. All I have to do is follow her in, close the door, and she's cornered.

Granted, I still have to carry her out of the bathroom and get her into the carrier, which more often than not means I end up with a few new scratches. (I later discovered that not only did I have a bunch of new scratches on my hands and arms, but my shirt had about a dozen cat claw sized holes. Note to self: Trim her claws about two days before the next vet visit, please. Kthxbai.)

But finally, I managed to catch both cats, get them in carriers, and take them to the vet.

See? Here they are.

We will not mention the horrified cat cries I am forced to listen to in the car the entire way to and from each vet appointment. It would hurt Kiki and Dakota's dignity to reveal such a thing.

Once we arrive at the vet, it's always up for debate as to which one we should start with: the scared but sweet cat (Kiki) or the scared but potentially mean cat (Dakota). Usually, Dakota is up first, so we can get her ordeal over with and put her back into the carrier. It's always amazing to me how easily they go in once we're at the vet, when it is a three-hour endeavor at home.

Here's Kiki in her carrier, trying to search out an escape route for once she's freed from her cage. She spends most of her time at the vet trying to make herself as small as possible, so hopefully no one will see her. It hasn't worked out for her yet, but she keeps trying.

 Maybe someday, Kiki. Don't give up.

Dakota, on the other hand, spends most of her time hissing and growling at vet techs, and then trying to escape.

This time, she seemed to think that no one would find her, despite her growling, as long as she hid under the bench.

Lucky me, I got to crawl down on the floor to pull her back out time and again, because she'd dart down there every time they finished with something.

At least she didn't bite anyone on this trip. Yay, Dakota! Progress.

We can only hope to have a similar result on each subsequent visit. Cross your fingers for us.

During Kiki's exam, they found a mass that was a little bit worrisome. Because of that, we had to do another test, and she wasn't allowed to get back into her carrier right away. That didn't stop her from trying to do precisely that, though.

When she couldn't figure out how to get into the first carrier, she tried the other one. Frankly, any carrier would do if it meant not getting poked and prodded any more.
Sadly for Kiki, she didn't find a way in before they came back to do her other test. We're still waiting on the results, but at least she got to come home afterwards. And, as long as the results are good and neither cat gets sick in the meanwhile, we don't have to go back for another vet visit for six months. Whew!

I think it's safe to say that all three of us will be glad of that.

Do any of you have any great ideas for how to make vet visits easier on my cats and me? Do dogs dread going to the vet as much as cats do? Anyone want to volunteer to come do it for me in six months?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

What is Your Time Worth?

I'm a people-pleaser and a peacemaker. I've always been that way--I think I learned it from my mother. Actually, I know I learned it from my mother. It's a really annoying habit to have, and one that has always caused me to take on more than I can handle (often more than my fair share), and then grumble and complain about it in the end.

It's not really a very healthy habit to have, so I can't say I recommend it.

Any time someone needed help with something, if they asked me to help, I would agree, whether it was something I wanted to do or not. Did it matter if I was already overwhelmed with my own life and responsibilities? Nope. So-and-so needed help, and they came to me, and so I helped.

It might have been borne of a need to be liked. Maybe it was because I didn't value myself enough to say no when I needed to say no. There are all sorts of psychological reasons behind my people-pleasing ways.

But there came a point where I'd just had enough. I realized that I couldn't be everything to everyone, and so it wasn't helping anyone if I tried to be (least of all myself).

I had to set some boundaries.

I won't lie. It hasn't been an easy adjustment to make. There have been ample times, still, where I've been asked to do something that I really didn't want to do, and I gave in. Every time I've done that, I've regretted it, and then I've increased my efforts to resist that urge the next time.

But now, I think I've come to a point where I can sit back and evaluate better. When I'm asked to do something, I ask myself a number of questions. Do I want to do this? What will it cost me in time and money? What will it cost in emotional drain and stress? What will I gain from doing it? Is the potential payoff greater than the potential cost?

Recently, I've taken my evaluation a step further. Now that I've been earning my living from writing for the last couple of years, I sat down with a calculator and figured out what an hour of my time is worth in terms of my writing. It has been really eye-opening, to say the least, and I'm sure it will affect the way I make decisions about my time in the future.

Are you a people-pleaser like me? Do you find yourself agreeing to do things you'd rather not do? How do you make decisions on things that will steal time from your work, family, or self?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

What's Your Core Story?

Over the years, as I've talked about writing and the writing process with both readers and writers, one thing that keeps coming up is the idea of a "core story." This core story is an idea or a theme that recurs in an author's books, or for a reader it's that theme you look for when you pick up a book.

Sometimes in romance, these can play out in the form of common tropes. There's the older brother's best friend sort of story, the reunited lovers story, the reformed bad boy story, the marriage of convenience story...the list can go on and on. These tropes call to us, speaking on a different level.

Whether we understand the reasons why a core story is the one we're drawn to, the fact of the matter is that most of us are far more likely to pick up a book that we know will follow the pattern we seek than one which plays on an entirely different trope. As writers, we might find ourselves stuck if the story we're trying to write doesn't conform to the core theme that is calling to us.

That said, sometimes it's difficult to put your finger on just what, precisely, your core story is. I know I've found that to be the case as an author. I've written six novels, four novellas, a number of short stories...and until a random moment a few days ago, I couldn't have told you what primary theme I am drawn to.

I could tell you that I'm drawn to unlikable characters, those who lash out at the world because they don't know how to deal with what's happened to them in life.

I could tell you that I like humor and sarcasm, and that I love seeing good things happen to people who've been through the wringer.

I could tell you that I like to explore the darker aspects of life and how people react to them.

And I could tell you why I'm drawn to those things, but these blogs aren't supposed to be too long, and ain't nobody got time for all that.

It never came together for me until I was sitting on a panel at Barnes and Noble last weekend, talking about my books and my characters, that the core story which draws all of those things together is one of redemption.

But the longer I thought about it, the more I realized it goes deeper than that for me. You see, there's a part of me that is hoping--really, truly wanting to believe--that someone can live through awful things, come out on the other side, and still find a happily ever after. I write those stories in order to prove to myself it's possible.

Do you know what the core story you're most drawn to is, whether as a reader or as a writer? And if you know what it is, do you know why that's the story for you?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

This Writer's Life

As a writer, I tend to spend a large amount of my time firmly seated in a chair. After all, it's kind of difficult to get Words On the Page (WOP) if I don't have my Butt In the Chair (BIC) (thank you, Nora Roberts).

Yeah, there are such things as treadmill desks, crazy contraptions designed to allow the average person stuck behind a computer all day to move as they work. But I am not that coordinated, and things like that seem certain to cause me to break a limb or two, along with the treadmill desk and my computer.

For me, it's much safer to try to get my work in while I'm seated and strapped in. (Actually, I've never tried strapping in. Maybe I'd get more work done that way? Not sure.) (Do they even make straps to keep you tied to your desk? Someone get me one.)

That isn't very conducive to staying fit and healthy, though. (Or, in my case, getting fit and healthy...) You might recall this post from over a year ago, where I admitted how unhealthy I am and vowed to change it. Well, here it is more than a year later, and not a lot has changed...only everything has changed.

I'm still pretty much as fat now as I was then. I tried losing weight, making smarter choices, etc. It would work for a bit, and then more stress would hit, and I'd fall back into my old habits. It seemed as long as I stayed where I was, I couldn't get out of that stress cycle.

Then it only compounded again, and instead of getting healthier, I got worse. I gained weight. I ballooned up to a bigger size than I'd ever been in my life.

So then I decided I needed to move--as in physically move to somewhere other than where I was. As much as I love my family, they are a huge cause of stress in my life...and with them all surrounding me, I couldn't escape the madness. So I moved. To another state. I put half the country between me and them.

In the short term, that move caused more stress. (See this post for proof.)

But after I got settled in and situated, slowly, the stress started to melt away.

Sure enough, after I eliminated the major sources of stress from my life, it got easier to make changes. Over the last few months, without really trying, I dropped about ten pounds. Then I decided it was really time to make a decided effort toward my health. I've changed the way I'm eating, and from that, I found I have a lot more energy. So I'm using that energy to exercise. No, I'm still not using a treadmill desk (Ack!), but I'm getting myself moving in the mornings, since I don't really write in the mornings anyway, and then settling in to work in the afternoons.

Guess what? It's working. I've dropped another thirteen pounds, lots of inches, and I'm discovering that I actually enjoy exercise for the first time in my life. Sure, I'm not ready for some of it. But I'm getting there. I've got more energy, my clothes are fitting better, and my blood pressure is down. I feel better every day.

Just don't ask me to walk and write at the same time.

Have you made any changes to better yourself lately? What sort of things are standing in the way of achieving your dreams? Any suggestions for how to exercise and write that don't involve potential loss of limb?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

When Reality TV Gets Too Real

I do not attempt to hide the fact that I'm a reality TV junkie. It's just part of who I am. I watch the competition shows like Project Runway and Top Chef (and please, can someone bring back Rock Star???), the adventure shows like The Amazing Race, and even the back-stabbing, conniving shows like Big Brother and Survivor.

In fact, it's that last grouping of shows that I am really drawn to. Why? They take real people (though there could be an argument made that many of them are real characters portraying real people) and place them into unreal circumstances, and then just sit and wait for the drama to take place. These kinds of shows give me great inspiration for characters to write, because they're over the top and they spark a reaction in the audience. It isn't always a good reaction...but they always get a reaction. For me, it's a great escape because it is all so very unreal that I can't help but forget about the troubles of my own life, at least for a bit.

One summer on Big Brother, a man came on named Dick Donato, aka Evel Dick. He looks like a tattooed biker, but underneath it all, he was trying to repair his relationship with his daughter. He had a soft side, and if you were watching the show at home you could see it, and feel for him...but if you were in the Big Brother house with him? All you knew was he was the crazy guy who was waking the whole house up by banging on pots and pans as loud as he could, trying to get all the attention on him so his daughter could slip under the radar. It worked. He and his daughter somehow got all the way to the final two, and he won the half million dollars at the end because his strategy of making everyone hate him was brilliant. I don't know that he made much headway with his daughter through it all though...

A few years ago, Survivor brought on one of the greatest characters ever to grace the island. Not great in a heroic sense. Great in an OMG-he-really-didn't-just-do-that-but-wait-no-he-really-did sense. Russell Hantz didn't care who he lied to, who he stabbed in the back, whose socks he burned, whose water he dumped out--despite the fact that he was just-this-side of certifiable, none of that mattered. All that mattered was getting to the end of the game, because he was sure that if he managed to get to the end after doing all those things, no one would be able to deny him the million dollar prize.

He was wrong.

Twice, in fact. He was so much fun to watch, waiting to see what devious trick would come to his mind next, that the show's producers brought him back for the very next season, where he did the same exact thing. His third time back, the other contestants had seen his antics, and they decided not to be fooled. They got rid of him early.

Those two guys make these shows fun to watch. No, they wouldn't be much fun to live with. But that's what is brilliant about reality TV. You live with them for an hour on your TV screen each week, and then they go away.

But sometimes, those people go a little too far.

The aforementioned sock-burning, water-dumping Russell Hantz had a brother named Willie who was cast on Big Brother. The producers, no doubt, were hoping to capitalize on the Hantz name. They surely hoped that Willie would also reside just-this-side of certifiably crazy, so he could wreak havoc in the Big Brother house like Evel Dick had done. Well, it turned out that Willie was on the other side of that line, and he assaulted another house guest, and he was forced to leave the show.

The reality TV folks didn't stop there, though. Russell and Willie have a nephew named Brandon Hantz. Brandon went on Survivor, and was determined to change the image of the Hantz family. He didn't. He only proved that most of the Hantzes belong on the other side of that line with his Uncle Willie. One minute, he was on top of the world. The next he was crying. Then he was fighting down his lust/anger/whatever strong emotion he was experiencing, barely holding on to reality. He had no business being put in that situation.

Brandon was so emotionally unstable while he was out on the island, I was shocked when I heard he was coming back for another season. How could the producers allow him to return? Was he psychologically capable of handling the pressure of the game? I didn't believe it.

But he supposedly passed their tests, and he was brought back to the show for the current season, and he seemed as emotionally imbalanced as he had been before. Maybe even more so.

Then on the episode that aired two weeks ago, I knew that he should never have been allowed back. He got upset, which wasn't unexpected. Because he was upset, he dumped out all the rice and beans that his entire tribe had to eat, throwing the containers viciously away from him. It was like he was trying to channel his uncle Russell, but when Russell dumped the water or burned the socks, it wasn't in anger or frustration--it was a planned, strategic move.

It didn't end there, though. When they went to their next challenge, there was a huge confrontation between him and his tribe. Thank goodness the show's host separated Brandon from the others, because the look in Brandon's eyes, the rapid breathing, the inability to hold still...I've seen all of things before. The host kept Brandon away and calmed him down before he became physically violent. But he was right on the edge. I know. I've been on the receiving end of that sort of anger--not from Brandon Hantz, but from people I care deeply about.

That moment on a silly little reality TV show left me shaking, my pulse sky high, for hours after watching it. It got too real, delving away from the delightful unreality that they normally provide and taking me (and I'm sure others) back to unpleasant moments from my past. It's made me think hard about whether I want to continue watching, because the show that was supposed to provide me with my escape did anything but. Not only that, but it felt exploitative of Brandon Hantz. If he was so unstable the first time, why would they ever ask him to return?

Just writing about it makes me feel like I need to go watch a happy Disney movie again.

Are there certain TV shows or types of shows you avoid because of how close they come to the real world? Do you avoid certain movies/books/etc. for the same reason? Any suggestions on a new reality TV show I can watch that won't send my heart into palpitations?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

The Monster Boy's Visit, or an Ode to Mothers

I wasn't really around these parts much last week. I'd like to say it was because I was so wrapped up in my WIP that I couldn't remember to come out and play (boy, do I need a week like that!), but it wasn't that.

It was something equally fun, though. :)

You see, my nephew (AKA the Monster Boy or the Nephew Monster) came to visit me in North Carolina.

For almost the first five years of his life, I lived all of 2 blocks away from him in Texas. But then six months ago, I moved 6 states away. It's been a big adjustment for both of us, so I was determined to make sure he had a good time while he was with me.

Our adventure began in the DFW airport, where of course, he found a McDonald' that had video games.

He's got a knack for finding the important things, this boy does.
 Our flight was only delayed a little bit, but he didn't care. This boy was going to go on an airplane, where he could look down and see "everything as itty as ants."

All strapped in and ready to go!

When we landed in North Carolina, Ava Stone was a good friend and picked us up at the airport, where she proceeded to lock her keys in her running car. But that is another story for another day.

Eventually, I took the Monster Boy to my apartment, where he proceeded to terrorize my cats as he is so very fond of doing.

Dakota tried to hide from him in the bag from his Lightning McQueen sleeping bag. Not sure it worked. That didn't stop her from trying.

Kiki wanted to avoid him...but she REALLY wanted his cupcake. Tough choices for this kitty.

It wasn't all bad for the cats, though. He gladly ran the laser light for them to chase until his thumb couldn't hold down the button anymore, and he helped to pick out a new toy for them at the pet store: a remote control mouse! can I play with this, WITHOUT the boy being involved?

When he wasn't driving my cats crazy, we were on the go non-stop. We went to see movies, went grocery shopping, found the Lego store and bought his first ever Lego set, played to his heart's content at the mall play area, went to the cupcakery where he could pick out his very own cupcake (nicely destroyed above), and so much more.

But that, dear friends, was far from the "bestest" thing we did all week. You see, Olivia Kelly invited us to go with her and Little Dude to the kids museum one day. The Monster Boy wasn't sure of this until I told him there would be lots of things to play with while we were there. He was still slightly uncertain...but then I got him a Batman lunch bag so we could pack his lunch, and he was sold. (Ah, the simple things.)

Here we are arriving on the bus he drove. Wait a minute...we didn't come on the bus. And he doesn't have  driver's license. Hmmm...
"Who needs those silly little Legos? I've got these giant ones!"

"Put me in, Coach. I've got a mean backhand shot."

Monster: "You're supposed to stand on it like this."
Little Dude: "Not until you paddle out to the waves."

"Just call me Captain Jack Sparrow. And feel free to fawn over me, ladies. I can take it."

We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine...
"Walking in flippers is hard work. How do those fish do it?"
On a different day, we met up with Tammy Falkner and her son, and joined them for gymnastics class. Somehow, the Monster Boy ended up even more exhausted after two hours of gymnastics than he did after five hours at the kids museum. (Lucky me! Haha!)

He's trying to sort out why they're stretching when the could be bouncing off the walls and jumping off the trampoline and climbing up to do a cannonball down the slide.
Every now and then, though, he needed a little time for a breather. That was when we would pop a movie into the DVD player or find a hockey game to watch, so he could have a little "chillin' and 'laxin' time," as he likes to call it.
Don't interrupt the Nephew Monster. He's watching Mater's Tall Tales.

After spending five days with his sole purpose being to exhaust me in every way conceivable, it was finally time for him to go home. I took him to the airport, put him on a plane, and waved goodbye though I'm sure he couldn't see me.

I managed to avoid crying until I got home. And saw THIS left behind.

Good grief, how does one little boy make this much mess???
Seriously, though, I only cried somewhat because of the mess. Okay, it was a lot because of the mess. But also because my Monster is growing up and can go on an airplane all by himself...without a hint of a tear.

I understand that he entertained the entire plane while they were in the air, too. And it seems he borrowed someone's iPad to play games? (Dude, your Nintendo was in your backpack!)

He went home home on Friday, and I still feel like I could sleep for a solid week without a problem. So my question is this: How do mothers do it? How on earth is it possible to keep up with one of these tiny humans without going insane, let alone more than one of them?

To all of you who have children, and you also have a job, and a husband, and maybe you somehow also find time to write...I salute you.

And I ask you this: Do you have any tips for me on how to survive the next time the Monster comes to town?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

Come Sail Away

Last week, I went on my very first cruise with fellow Lady Scribes Jerrica Knight-Catania and Ava Stone, along with Jerrica's husband and lovely daughter. We joined the FRW Fun in the Sun Conference on the Liberty of the Seas and headed for Cozumel. Ava and I left behind 18 degree temperatures in North Carolina to head to Cozumel, Mexico. (We won't talk about the 81 degree weather in Palm Beach that the Catanias have been experiencing.)

But I'm not going to talk about the conference in this blog. I want to talk about the cruise. You know, the important stuff.

Milkshakes, right?
I am certain these were kid friendly.

How did this get in here?

We might have had a few drinks while we were on board the ship. Not too many. We aren't lushes or anything...well, some of us. The thing about being on a cruise ship is that there are people carrying around delightful concoctions on trays all day long, and it is really easy to just say, "Sure, I'll have a dozen!"

But there was more than just alcohol to be found! Like the cupcakery.
We were all proud of the little princess's frog and lion cupcakes.
Ben and Jerry's made sure we never lost a pound.
But we did a lot of shopping, I mean walking, around the Royal Promenade to help with all the desserts.
We even found a little time for some swimming.
On our day off in Cozumel, Ava taught all the men how to drive a dune buggy before we went snorkeling.

Don't ask me why she took us to see the cocodrillos.

Back on the ship, we had some fun.

Then we worked.

Then we had some fun WHILE we worked.
These kid-friendly drinks (see the maraschino cherries???) were great inspiration.
Don't ask me what these two were up to. I might snort in laughter while trying to tell you.
Serious Writers At Work.
Don't we look all professional and relaxed?

Alas, the good times had to come to an end at some point. After four nights on the ship, we returned home with fresh ideas for our writing, a bunch of words written, and a renewed vigor to get back to it. We'll choose to forget about the cold/flu/sinus infection, Montezuma's revenge, and vertigo, not to mention the fact that we had to live without Twitter for FOUR WHOLE DAYS.
What's the weather been like lately where you live? Do you have any good ideas on how I can get someone to carry those entirely-kid-friendly drinks around on trays at my house? Who wants to come with us on the next cruise?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

Not Another Goal/Resolution Blog!

It seems everyone is talking about goals, as is the habit this time of year. I am a very goal oriented person, but I've never really fallen in with the New Year's Resolution thing. It is just too...I don't know...forced? Yeah, that's probably it.

That said, I am sitting down and making a list of goals for myself, despite the seeming forced nature of it. These are not your average, run-of-the-mill beginning of a new year sorts of goals, though.

Nope. My goals are a bit different.

  1. No matter how strong the urge to adopt a new kitten may become (and it WILL be strong), resist. Two cats are enough, even for a Crazy Cat Lady. And no matter how much Dakota may be trying to trick me into thinking she's finally becoming a normal cat, it is all a lie. She is not normal. She would not adjust. There will be no more kittens in my house. At least not this year.
  2. Read a book in a genre I've never tried or never liked. I read lots of the same sorts of books, and I read certain books over and over again in lieu of trying something new. But you know what? Many times that I've tried reading something outside of my normal realm, I've fallen in love. And I think that those other genres could help me to become a better writer. So I'm going to go there. I'm going to pick up something new and unexpected, and I'm going to give it a go.
  3. See all the new superhero movies of the year...but try something sci-fi, too. I will be the first to admit I'm a huge sucker for Superman, Spiderman, Batman, the Avengers, et al. I will also be the first to admit that anything dealing with alien species and outer space, unless it is a tried and true favorite like Star Wars or Star Trek, makes me want to run screaming in the other direction. But something happened a couple of years ago. One of those superheroes came from another planet (Thor), and I found I didn't absolutely hate it. So I'm going to try some more. I might not love it as much as I'd love them to make yet another version of Spiderman, but I'm going to give it a try.
  4. Let the dishes sit in the sink for a bit. I'm almost freakishly intent upon immediately washing the dishes after a meal or at least loading them into the dishwasher. This comes from living in a house growing up where the dishes would pile up until there wasn't anything clean to eat on, and still people would go find a paper plate or napkin to eat on instead of washing the dishes. I know why I'm like this. But it wouldn't kill me to let the dishes pile up through the day and then deal with them all at night in a single session. I'm going to learn to find a middle ground. Granted, I will probably have to start small. Letting the dishes wait until after I've eaten my meal might be all I can handle at first. LOL.
  5. Buy a cute outfit in a color other than green, blue, purple, or red. Yes, jewel tones are great for me. But that doesn't mean those are the only colors that I should own. Part of the process in completing this one will require me to pass when I discover a cute outfit in one of these particular hues, so it will mean I'll have to have some restraint. But I will do it.
Do you have any oddball sorts of goals for yourself this year? And would it be cheating if I went with a pastel shade of the aforementioned colors?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

The Strangest Gift

I've received a lot of gifts over the years. Since it is that time of year when everyone is caught up in gift giving, I have been thinking about a few of the gifts I've been given.

There've been great gifts, like a trip to Montreal with my sister, aunt, and grandmother. We spent a week taking in the sights, exploring all that the city had to offer and doing it all while trying to remember enough French to get by.

I've received useful gifts, like a new set of tires for my car. The old tires I had on them were nearly worn out, and my annual inspection was due in a month, and I didn't have the money for the tires. But then I didn't have to worry about it.

Sometimes, I've been given sweet, yet inappropriate gifts, like the weed my nephew brought me when he was two. He pulled it out of the ground in my back yard and came running in, giving me a "flower." Despite the fact that I started sneezing and my lungs felt ready to close up on me as soon as he opened the door, I appreciated the thought. And as soon as he left, I disposed of it outside.

I've had gifts that at first I thought were wonderful and only later did I wish I'd never accepted, like the cat my sister found for me. Nikki was a great cat--for me. And only for me. With everyone else, she did her best to arrange their timely deaths.

Along the way, there have been a few horrid gifts, like the decapitated mouse's body my cat (Nikki, mentioned above) so kindly and proudly left for me on my bed. I never did find the mouse's head.

But once, I was given a very...well...a very strange gift. It was a ceramic piece that looked sort of like a Buddha, but it had been painted so that it resembled a cross between a clown and a ballerina. And it was kind of big. Like, too big to put as the centerpiece on your dinner table, if you were to ever want to put some weird Buddha-clown-ballerina on your dinner table. It was a gift from a Secret Santa, someone I worked with, and so I thanked them...and then stuffed it at the back of a closet. I didn't remember I even had it until I was cleaning out my closets in preparation for a move several years later, at which point I threw it in a box of stuff I was sending to a friend's garage sale.

What's the strangest gift you've ever received? Have you kept it, or found some way to get rid of it? Or are you one of those people who gives strange gifts?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

Grumps and Curmudgeons: An Ode to the Brooding and Tortured Hero

I have a thing for a wounded hero--and no, I'm not talking about physical wounds. I'm talking about emotional scars, the sort that make a man want to build a wall of protection around himself and not allow anyone to hurt him in that way ever again.

I like to dig into his psyche, poke and prod around (yes, to the point that he reacts like an angry bear) until I see what caused him to build up the wall...and until I can figure out how to tear that wall down, brick by brick, and find a man beneath who isn't afraid to let someone come behind it with him.

Before you ask, yes, I know why I have this thing for this sort of hero. There are a lot of men in my life who are exactly like that. They lash out with a hurt-them-before-they-hurt-me mentality. They put on a cocky air, trying to convince the world that they don't need anyone or anything. They destroy everything in their lives, if given half the chance.

And I love them.

Some of these men in my life have let me get beneath the surface and discover the leveling blows that left them in such a state. You know what I've found when I do that? I've found good men, with huge hearts, who just want someone to love them. So I do.

Maybe my thing has gotten to be a bit too much. I don't know. But I do know that I have a tendency to gravitate toward this sort of hero when I'm writing.

The hero of my most recent release, SEVEN MINUTES IN DEVON, is precisely that sort of hero. He's a tortured, brooding artist. Aidan Cardiff doesn't know how to face the things that life has thrown into his path, and so he bottles it all up in his head and only lets it out in his artwork.

During a minutes-long span three years ago, their lives were forever changed when Lady Morgan Cardiff nearly drowned.

Returning to the disastrous scene for the first time, Emma Hathaway is older, wiser--and ready to move on. With her parents quickly aging, she needs a husband. Alas, she is an awkward, bookish girl with no dowry to recommend her, and she is far from being an Incomparable, or an heiress who might rouse a gentleman's interest. Her hopes of changing the ton's view of her are dashed upon the arrival of the others involved in that life-altering moment. Aidan Cardiff's perpetual glares prove he blames Emma for Morgan's scarred, blind condition. His unfounded hatred alone leaves Emma shaken, but his unbidden advances threaten to thwart her husband-hunt.

Ever since his sister's failed attempts to take her own life, Aidan Cardiff has been a loathsome, brooding artist. He's spent three years creating artwork to depict the revenge he'd like to exact against anyone, save himself, who can be blamed for Morgan's pervasive melancholy. Yet his art has been far from enough to assuage the rage he's built inside. Morgan is finally ready to live again, but Aidan fears letting her out of his sight--particularly with Emma Hathaway, the chit whose very existence sets his blood to boiling. But is the heat fueling his fire due solely to his anger, or is there something more?

SEVEN MINUTES IN DEVON is available now at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Do you like a brooding hero? Why or why not? What sort do you tend to gravitate to, whether in your reading/writing material or in real life?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

The Things They Carried

In one of my college literature classes, we read a collection of stories by Tim O'Brien called The Things They Carried. The first of those stories, the one by the same name as the collection, talked about the things a group of American soldiers in Vietnam carried with them.

It starts out with what you would expect--all of their clothing and equipment and gear--and then keeps going a little deeper. Eventually, the reader learns a great deal about each of these men, because of the specific items they had with them. A photo of a baby. A cross. A letter. Then we learn more about these specific items and why these men carried them, sometimes for surprising reasons.

If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. But as I've recently gone through and purged a bunch of the things that I carry around with me, both before my move and after it, I've discovered that there are certain Things I Carry that I'm not ready to get rid of.

These are things I brought with me to North Carolina from Texas...and I can't get rid of them.
I mean, seriously. A single, broken drumstick. An ugly, dirty stuffed donkey for goodness sake. A shredded to no end cat collar. And an ugly pair of black, leather shoes that are caked with dried on mud.

Just looking at it, and thinking about it like that, it's hard even for me to remember why they come with me--why I have such a hard time letting go. But then I look at them more closely, individually, and there's no way I can not keep them.

For instance, the cat collar.

This collar belonged to my very first cat, Bailey. Bailey was my sweetheart. He was big and fluffy, and he loved to snuggle. He was scared of almost everything, but he wasn't scared of me. When my younger cat started trying to sneak out the front door, and actually got past me one time (she waited in the bushes by the door, and then hissed and grumbled at me when I finally opened the door and let her back in, like it was my fault she had gone outside), I decided that my cats needed tags with their names and my phone number.

No, Bailey would never dare to step foot outside--he was too scared--but I put him in one anyway. And he hated it. Within a couple of weeks, he had the poor thing shredded so badly that it was getting tangled in his fur. When the stupid thing ripped a chunk of his fur out one day, I gave up and decided he could go without. When I took it off, I put it in a drawer, thinking maybe sometime I would find a different collar that he couldn't shred...and I could use the same tag.

I never found another collar. A few months after that, he got very sick and we had to put him down. But I still have his one and only collar, complete with a phone number I no longer own. I thought about tossing it before the move, but I just couldn't. And I still can't.

Then there's this ugly stuffed donkey.

This is Jingles. Jingles isn't just ugly and dirty, but he's older than me, and he's got bells in his ears. Annoying bells in his ears. Every time you move him, he jingles. Hence his name.

He's so old that I'm afraid to wash him. I don't think he'd survive the wash. So the stains he's got? They're staying. I also don't really have much need for stuffed animals any more. I stopped sleeping with them over two decades ago.

I could keep him around for my nephew to play with, but I don't trust him to take good care of Jingles. He's a rough-and-tumble boy, and he's destroyed more toys than I can count. My cats, also, would LOVE to play with Jingles. But I don't think he'd last a day in their clutches.

So why do I keep him? Jingles was a gift from my last living great-grandmother to me. He belonged to her (her daughters gave him to her), and when she died, I was her youngest great-grandchild (I wasn't yet one). I don't remember her. I never knew her in a meaningful way. But still, I have a part of her...and so I keep it.

Then we have this single, broken drumstick.

I was a percussionist through junior high and high school, so I have broken my fair share of drumsticks over the years. But why keep one?

This one wasn't one of mine. I never had its pair. It came from the drummer of a band whose music helped me through a very difficult time in my life. Years later, I got to see them perform live from the second row. After the show, the drummer handed me his stick just before he walked off the stage.

Despite the potential for splinters, I don't know that I'll ever be able to get rid of it. Maybe I should frame it. That might be safer.

And then, finally, we have the ugly pair of black, leather shoes caked with dried-on mud.

Why on earth do I hold onto these? Or if I'm going to keep them, my haven't I cleaned the mud off?

The mud has been there for about four years now. The last time I wore these shoes, I was at my Grandpa's funeral. It was raining that day in south Texas, even though it hadn't rained in way too long before that. It wasn't just a little rain, either. It was a soaker, where the water really got down into the ground.

I wore these shoes because I didn't want to destroy a good pair. We had to walk through thick, heavy mud to get to the burial site. It was all over everything, but the rain washed some of it away before we got back inside. Some, but not all. Some of it was so thick, so heavy, that the rain couldn't cleanse it away.

When I got home, I put those shoes in the bathroom to dry out, thinking I'd clean them off in a day or two. Four years later, I still haven't been able to bring myself to do so. I know, intellectually, that washing the mud away will not change anything. The mud is not Grandpa. Grandpa is dead and buried, and nothing I do or don't do can change that.

Yet I can't clean those shoes, and I can't get rid of them.

So these are the Things I Carry. I don't know how long I will carry them, or if they will have so much control over me in ten years, twenty, forty.

What are the Things You Carry? Have you ever been able to let one of the Things You Carry go?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

Just Breathe

Y'all remember how I was so crazy stressed not so long ago, because I was getting ready to pack up a U-Haul with everything I owned, haul my car behind me, listen to my two cats cry the whole way, and move from Texas to North Carolina?


Well, it's done. Finished. Put it in the books.

I've been in North Carolina now for almost a month. I'm all settled in (there are only three unpacked boxes left to go!), I have furniture set up and things on the walls, I've passed the test and got my North Carolina drivers license, and I even have a NC plate on my car. Yep, it's official. I live here now.

And suddenly, that stress is all gone. It feels amazing.

What feels even more amazing is that, about a week or so after I got here, I realized my chest wasn't all tight, and I didn't have a constant headache, and air could move through my lungs. Yeah, that was the stress doing all of that...stress from the move, on top of major stress going on within my family in Texas. And now? It's all still in Texas. It isn't sitting on top of me, weighing me down.

Now, I can breathe again.

I guess the only thing left to do is get back into my writing routine. Or set up a writing routine. Something like that. LOL. That, and make sure I'm taking time to relax--whether it is through getting a massage, or going out with some friends, reading a good book, or even having someone do my nails.

Time to move on to the next thing that will add stress to my life. :)

What do you do when a heavy weight has been lifted out of your life? How do you celebrate? Do you have any advice for the next time I'm feeling like the world is going to crush me?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

What is that? What IS that??? OMG...It's YOU!!!

I think I may have mentioned this (she says, and looks around furtively to be certain no one is rolling their eyes) already, but I'm about to move across the country.

In preparation for the big move, I flew out to the Raleigh area last week so I could see the apartment, sign the lease, arrange for utilities...that sort of thing. Ava Stone was kind enough to offer to let me stay with her for a few days while I was in town.

Any time the two of us get together, much gut-busting laughter is sure to ensue. This trip was no different.

You might also recall that Ava recently had a run-in with a couple of dead mice...and that she is not so fond of mice. The mice problem has been eradicated, but her fear/loathing/general disquietude about the possibility of rodents being in her house has not.

We were sitting in her living room one night, watching the Olympics with her son. The two of them were having a discussion full of laughter (shocking, I know!), and I got a notification on my phone that I'd had an email. The response required a bit more typing than I really wanted to do on a phone, so I pulled out my laptop and started to type...and briefly tuned out the rest of the world while I composed my email.

This isn't an uncommon occurrence for me. I have been known to be lost in my head more often than I'm aware of what is going on around me. As a writer, I consider this a skill. (Perhaps an annoying skill for those who are trying to have a conversation with me, but a skill, nonetheless.)

After I was almost finished with typing my email, I became a bit more aware of Ava's conversation with her son. Here's what I heard from her: "What is that? What is that???" *cue dramatic pause* "Oh my god."

At this point, I looked up at her to see what she was freaking out about. Ava had one hand covering her nose and mouth. She pointed the other straight at me and, with sheer and utter horror filling her eyes, said, "It's YOU!"

Now, color me silly, but my first impression was that she was smelling something nasty and trying to place the blame on me and not her fourteen-year-old son.

After a few minutes of utter confusion, followed by long minutes of such sincere, gut-busting hilarity that I had tears in my eyes, my stomach hurt, and I couldn't stop myself from halfway snorting through my laughter, we sorted out that poor Ava was not accusing me of breaking wind or desperately needing a shower to clear the air of B.O.

No, instead she'd apparently heard my fingers tapping away at my laptop keyboard, and as it was an unfamiliar sound (normally, the only fingers tapping away at a keyboard in her home belong to her, and so she knows to expect it) and one which could potentially sound eerily similar to mice feet on hard floors, she thought her itty-bitty rodent problem had returned.

We continued to laugh over this--both her thinking that there were mice in the house, and my impression that she thought I'd stunk up the joint--the rest of the night. At least this miscommunication was harmless, not to mention humorous. I've had plenty over the years which were not so well received.

What's the funniest thing you ever misunderstood? Or have you been on my end of things and interpreted someone's words and visual cues to mean something completely opposite of what they were intended to mean? Would you find a scene like this believable if you read it in a book? (Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction...)

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

Ack! Stress

There are few things in this world that I hate worse than moving. One of those few is probably moving in the summer, when the temperatures are soaring and everything takes more out of me. Another is planning a big move on short notice.

It should be no surprise, then, that I'm now planning a cross-country move to take place within the next month.

Yes, that's right. I'm packing up everything and moving from Texas to North Carolina. In August. With only about a month to plan and execute the whole thing.

I should probably be committed.

So not only am I trying to finish writing a novella that is due at the end of this month, and a novel I should have finished more than a month ago. No, that would be too easy. I'm also packing up my possessions that need to be moved; sorting through what should be tossed, what should be donated, what should be sold; trying to find an apartment or townhouse that meets my needs and has availability; flying to Raleigh to do some of that; arranging for a moving truck and movers; picking out furniture and planning decorating schemes; and trying to remember how to sleep.

Oh, yeah. And I'm also trying to figure out how I'm going to move my cats. One of those cats, you might remember, is a bit of a problem child. Since I blogged about her two months ago, she sent the vet tech to the hospital. Seriously. She is so scared of the vet and what they do to her, that we now have to tranquilize her and hope for the best.

And I'm going to take her on a two-day drive across the country. Please, send your prayers, well-wishes, and good ju-ju my way.

While I sort through all of this mess, have any of you planned major moves like this in the past? How did you survive without committing a crime? Do you have any packing tips for me?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

Summer is OFFICIALLY Here--Sorry, Ava

If you weren't already aware, yesterday was the summer solstice here in the northern hemisphere. (So yes, Ava, that means it is officially summer and no longer spring.) That means that yesterday was the longest day of the year--the day when the sun is out the longest. From today on until the winter solstice, the days will progressively get a little shorter and a little darker...unless, of course, you're in the southern hemisphere like our own Heather, who just experienced the winter solstice.

Just how long yesterday was (and therefore just how much sun you got) depends largely on how far north you live.

In Texas, it has been summer for months. Searing heat. Scorching sun. All that stuff that most people love but I hate with every fiber of my being. Where I live, the sun rose at about 6:20 in the morning and didn't set until somewhere in the range of 8:40 in the evening. That's over fourteen hours of sun...sun that burns and leaves ugly blisters and causes skin cancer.

Augh! Too much.

(Sorry. I digress. Can you tell I'm not a fan of summer in Texas?)

I lived in Juneau, Alaska once, for about a year. In case your geography skills aren't all that great, Alaska is significantly farther north than Texas. That means that on the summer solstice, they get a LOT more sun than we do in Texas.

I don't recall the precise times for sunrise and sunset for the summer solstice during the year that I lived there, but I do recall that the sun was out until somewhere in the range of 11:00 or 11:30 pm, and then it rose again at around 2:00 am. Yep--over twenty-one hours of sunshine. TWENTY-ONE! Heck, even when it was "dark," it wasn't really dark. It was more like twilight, where you could see the brightness of the sun off over the mountains in the distance.

Despite the fact that there was considerably more sunshine in the summer in Alaska than there is in Texas, I didn't mind it in the least. I loved it, actually. It was bright and cheery and energizing. It made me feel like I could keep going for hours on end, and in fact I often lost track of how late it was. The sun was still out. Why were all the stores closing?

The Alaskan sun wasn't accompanied by the oppressive heat and humidity we have in Texas--the sort that saps all of your energy and leaves you feeling like you got run over by a dump truck a few times, and all the while you're covered in an ever-present vat of sweat so disgusting that you feel like your hair will NEVER dry again.

Instead, there was only one day that summer in Alaska that I remember it getting up into the 80s. That was a day that the locals told me it was "balmy." I tried to discreetly hide my laughter at such a statement, because for Alaskans, 80 probably is balmy. If it's only 80 in Texas on a summer day, we designate it a holiday, take the day off of everything but the lake or pool, and rejoice that our air conditioners won't have to keep working at an insane pace until 3 am in order to get it down to a reasonable temperature for sleeping. If we're lucky and it lasts for a few days, our electric bill might not make us want to gouge out our eyes that month. We might just want to cry for a few hours while we sell plasma to pay the bill.

The sun, in Alaska, was not my enemy. Instead, for so many people who live in areas so far north where they get such a delightful amount of sun in the summer, it is the winter solstice that is to be loathed. The opposite takes place in the winter, where the sun doesn't rise until lunchtime and is already setting again a couple of hours later, and it is cold and dark and depressing. Seasonal depression is the expectation. It's the norm. If you don't suffer from it, you should count yourself as one of the lucky ones. (I did have seasonal depression from the darkness, but I loved the cold. Too bad they go hand-in-hand.)

So, begrudgingly, I can understand the feelings of those people who live up in farther northern climes, who delight in the impending return of summer each year. It may take me a few moments to remind myself that I, too, once upon a time took great pleasure in the extended hours of daylight and the energy it provided. Okay, I'll admit it. Sometimes it takes a whack over the head, because I'm so caught up in how gross and tired and miserable the Texas heat makes me to remember that it isn't so horrid in the summer everywhere.

Because of that, if I should rain on your celebration that summer is upon us by grumbling about how long it will be until winter will return, feel free to give me a good, solid whack. (Just not too hard. That'll only make me grumble more.)

Do you live in an area where you can't wait for summer to finally arrive? Do you delight in the sunshine? Or are you more like me, where you curse it with every breath you take?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**