9 Tips for Staying Sane during these Crazy Days

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m living in a movie. An end-of-times one where zombies pop up from behind the bushes and the only way to protect yourself is to wave toilet paper in front of their faces because they hate the idea of clean bottoms. (And that, my friends, is why all the TP in American is sold out.)

But seriously, we’re living in some crazy, unexpected times with the coronavirus pandemic. While it’s definitely important to take care of our physical health, I hope we’ll all remember to take care of our minds and hearts, too. To help with that, I want to share 9 tips for staying sane during these crazy days.

  1. Laugh. Laughter really is the best medicine. Look for toilet paper memes—there’s no shortage of them online. Watch funny shows. Google “Dad jokes”. Find things that tickle your funny bone.
  2. Recognize. Recognize that this is not a normal time. But the feelings you feel—scared, overwhelmed, unsure—are normal. Give yourself time to process those feelings.
  3. Create. Now’s the time to tap into your creative side. There are so many tutorials online where you can learn now to cook, draw, sing, dance, etc. Did you know there are karaoke apps, too?! Muchkin #2 and I use Karaoke by Yokee.
  4. Move. Take walks. Have a dance party. Use the bathroom that’s the farthest one away from you in the house. Break out the sidewalk chalk with the kiddos and play hopscotch.
  5. Connect. Stay in touch with friends and family. With the beauty of modern tech, we can text, call, or video chat with the touch of a button. Call up (or better yet, text) those extrovert friends of yours—you’ll make their day!
  6. Adjust. Adjust your expectations for what you want to get done vs. what you can get done under the circumstances. Especially if you have “coworkers” (aka. kids) who didn’t get the memo about regular work hours.
  7. Recharge. If you’re an introvert and especially if you’re highly sensitive and you’re dying with your whole family home sheltering-in-place (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience, lol), you must find some time alone. Get up early or stay up late. Take short breaks in the bathroom during the day. Do what you need to do to recharge.
  8. Accept. This is probably the hardest, but best thing you can do. Accept that your life has been put on hold indefinitely. Your routine has changed and your schedules and to-do list have gone out the window. This is our new normal … for now, but not for forever.
  9. Appreciate. I believe every situation, no matter how hard or dire, has its good points. One thing I appreciate about this time is the sense of solidarity people all over the world are experiencing. Regardless of where we live, we’re all going through similar struggles of keeping the kids entertained, finding ways to cook with whatever random foods we have in our freezers, and not going stir crazy at home. We’re learning to be bored again, to enjoy downtime, and to be still. We’re finding out how creative we can be and how resilient we actually are. Most of all, we’re all doing life together—in our own homes and across the internet.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with the perfect song for these interesting times: High School Musical’s “We’re All in This Together”.

What tips do you have for staying sane during these crazy days?

The Secret to Relationships: “Turning Toward”

As a romance author, I write a lot about “turning”. A lot. I just searched my work-in-progress and found 43 instances of the word.

For example:

  • He turned his head slightly to the left, showing off his dimple.
  • Why did I care that she had turned me down?
  • She turned around in her seat.
  • Her expression turned sour.
  • It was my turn to laugh.

Hmm, while this makes me think I need to find a new word to use (lol), I also had a realization about real life: there’s a lot of turning involved.

More specifically, our relationships require us to turn. When we talk to someone, we turn to look at them. Eye contact is even more crucial when it comes to listening. Without this kind of interaction, there really is no connection.

But what is connection exactly?

I think connecting with someone starts even before you can see them. It starts with the heart.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from almost 19 years of marriage and 13+ years of parenting, it’s that I have a choice in how I approach my husband and kids. Do I choose to turn toward them or away from them? How do I respond to them, not only in a physical sense, but in my heart?

As anyone who’s human can attest, people are messy. Having a relationship with someone, any kind of relationship, means going through your fair share of ups and downs. People do things that can frustrate and annoy you and even hurt you. Sometimes it’s on purpose; other times it’s unintentional. All of this is fact and a part of life.

Before I became a wife and mom, I was oblivious to how hard relationships can be. I thought I was a loving, kind and patient person—humble, too, of course! 😉 Why wouldn’t I be? I’d rarely had my buttons pushed or been misunderstood or felt unappreciated.

Only after I was blessed with these amazing people whom I get to call my own, did I learn who the real me was. The real me is not a happy person when woken up in the middle of the night. The real me was a pro at the silent treatment in the early years of our marriage. The real me loses her patience when the kids don’t cooperate. The real me would rather turn away from the people I love instead of turn toward them.

Ouch.

It took me many, many years to realize how harmful “turning away” was. Turning away meant that I was essentially hardening my heart and closing myself off from my husband and kids. That heart change seeped into my attitude and behavior and cut off any desire I had for connection. I was like a kid sitting in the corner and holding onto my grudge until the other person behaved the way I wanted them to.

Eeks.

There’s a verse in Romans 2 that speaks of the kindness of God, and how it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. That verse has always stayed with me somewhere in the back of my mind, probably because it’s so far from my own M.O. The way I learned to operate was to show judgment and condemnation first, then acceptance and reprieve later, but only when the other person had “earned” it. But how amazing is it to show kindness, patience, and mercy first?! To turn toward the other person and to extend your arms to them … because you would want that same kind of mind-blowing grace extended to you?

Turning toward my husband and kids (especially my kids) is the only choice I (aim to) make now. I don’t always get it right, but I do find myself pausing more to check my heart. Is it soft or hard? Am I turning toward or away? It’s a simple question, but it can make a great difference. Our actions and words already have the power to make a lasting impact. Why not make the impact a loving, gracious one?

I grew up singing Leslie Phillips’ song, “Your Kindness”, in our youth group. The words and melody are so beautiful and still touch me to this day.

How often do you find yourself turning toward versus turning away?

A New Year… A New Series! (+ Five Cover Reveals!)

If there’s anything I learned last year, it’s that hard work pays off. And patience is a virtue. These aren’t new lessons for me, but it feels like I’m finally living them out in my daily life.

It’s like I’ve been training for a marathon and having to practice running every day, whether I feel like it or not. (This is totally a metaphor because I haven’t run in years, cough cough, lol.) But I definitely need to have the mindset of an athlete in order to get up, show up, and do the work, day in and day out.

Writing has become like exercise to me. Over the past year, I’ve trained myself to write even when I don’t feel like it. I’ve learned to write in long spurts when everyone’s out and the house is quiet and also in short spurts when I’m waiting for pasta to cook. I push myself mentally to dump words (both pretty and not-so pretty ones) out on the page and not worry about them until it comes time to edit. I push through the hard times in the middle of a book when the story starts unraveling and I wonder if it’s any good at all. But then I get to celebrate when I make it through the “saggy middle” and come out with even better storyline ideas on the other side.

It’s all about moving forward. Challenging yourself to do new things, to do more than you thought you could do. To believe you can make it through the not-so fun times. To sweat, whine, and sometimes cry. It’s about learning what works and what doesn’t work for you. To fail, but to get up again.

It’s about stretching your faith, your imagination, and your creativity. Using what God’s given you to make something meaningful and cool. And being able to touch others in the process.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty worthwhile.

This is exactly what I’ve been doing for the past couple of months as I gear up to publish a brand new series. I’m taking a chance on writing in a new genre (Young Adult, one of my favorites!) and working hard to get all FIVE(!) books ready to be released in the first half of 2020.

I’m super excited to introduce you to the Edenvale Arts High School series! Here’s a sneak peek at the amazing covers my critique partner, Kristen, put together!

The first two books are up for pre-order now!

Book One: How to Kiss a Guy in Ten Days

Book Two: To the Only Boy I’ve Loved Before

What do you think of these covers? Any guesses as to what my inspiration was for the titles?

14 Facts of Life from My 40’s

As I approach my birthday next week and my mid-forties, I finally feel like I have a little bit of wisdom to share. So, here are 14 facts of life that I’ve learned in my 40’s.

  1. Having a loving, happy marriage is hard. Not having a loving, happy marriage is harder.
  2. Getting a good night’s sleep can make all the difference.
  3. An eyebrow tweezer doubles as the perfect tool for plucking out short, gray hair, especially the ones that stick out on the top of your head.
  4. You’ll never be as young as you are today, so don’t feel old.
  5. Your emotional health is as important as your physical health, so pay attention to what your emotions are telling you.
  6. It’s perfectly okay to take a mental health day once in a while.
  7. Show grace to people, especially those who aren’t gracious. They need it the most.
  8. It’s better to not buy 5 things on sale that you don’t really want and use that money to buy 1 thing at full price that you do want.
  9. Make an effort to get together with your friends regularly (even if you only have energy to put on sweatpants). You’ll be glad you did.
  10. The best gift you can offer someone is a listening ear.
  11. Treat your kids the way you wish your parents had treated you.
  12. Foster creativity in your life. Paint, draw, write, cook, dance, sing, knit … etc.! Your heart will thank you for it.
  13. Sometimes it’s hard to have faith. But not having faith is even harder.
  14. There has never been, nor will there ever be, anyone just like you. You are important to someone and you are needed in this world.

What insights have you learned about life? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

When There are No Shortcuts to Success

Here’s my confession for the month … I’m a competitive person. But while I love to win, I’m not your typical die-hard, competitive person. I’m a lazy, competitive person. Yup, you read that right. 😜 How do I know this to be true? Because I love shortcuts.

In fact, I love shortcuts so much, I’m our family’s resident eyeballer. Why measure things when you can estimate them? It saves so much time and effort, don’t you agree?

The thing with eyeballing though—and taking shortcuts in general—is that you end up missing the mark some a lot of the time. The pair of pants you hemmed for your munchkin might not look so great when one leg is longer than the other. The science project you helped make might not produce the most accurate results. And the book series you thought would take off ended up not doing so great because you chose to write 10k-word stories instead of 40k-word ones. (I’ll leave you to decide which one(s) of these examples may or may not be true. 😝)

An important lesson I’ve learned recently is that there are no shortcuts to success. Cutting corners does nothing except make you think you’ll come out on top. What does count though is hard work. Hard work = long hours + effort. Just as you can’t expect to grow a garden without making the effort every day to water and weed it, you can’t expect to achieve something without putting in the time and work.

This is the reason why I am so stinkin’ proud 💪of myself for finishing a five-book series of novel-length stories. What does this mean exactly? Well, I started out last year with two items on my author checklist. One, write longer books, and two, write a longer series. I challenged myself to go beyond what I was comfortable with and what I thought I was capable of.

It wasn’t easy, believe me! I seriously have more white hair now than a year ago. But when I finished the first Spark Brothers book, I realized I could do it again. And again. And did it, I did! (Try saying that five times fast!) I wrote and released three more books and will be releasing the fifth one in two weeks. All without any shortcuts! (I’ll admit I did think about writing off one of the brothers at one point, so I’d have one less book to write, but I’m thankful I write romance, not horror. 😂)

Regardless of how this series does, I feel very accomplished and happy with my efforts. I’ve developed a little more perseverance and gained a lot more experience. And guess what—writing longer is easier for me now. Which means I’ll likely be making all of my future series five books long! I’m already planning the next one now.

In the meantime, please check out my newest book, An Extra Spark, and order your copy for only 99¢ for a limited time!

Do you take shortcuts? If so, when and why?

A Mid-Year Update (+ A Cover Reveal)

It’s June already! Crazy, isn’t it? What’s crazier is that the munchkins are done with the school year and are officially in vacation mode. Which means I am in full-time Mommy-mode during the day and Author-mode at night. Thankfully, I am a really dedicated night owl. 😉 And it also happens that I just finished the book I’d been working on, so I at least have that off my plate. So, what’s next? Here’s my tentative plan for the rest of the year …

June: Edit and publish the fourth book in my Spark Brothers series. Speaking of which, here’s the cover reveal for At First Spark.

July: Start writing the fifth book in this series, An Extra Spark. I gotta admit, there have been many times when I wish I had made this a family of three or four brothers. It feels like this series will never end! Lol. But I already have a good idea of where to take this final story, so I’m looking forward to writing it.

August: Get the munchkins back to school!

September: Release An Extra Spark. Start writing another book for the Sage Valley Ranch series (this one will be Christmas-themed) to be released in either October or November.

October: Start writing a new series! I’m really looking forward to this. As of now, based on some feedback I got from my newsletter subscribers, it could either be a YA series or a romantic suspense one.

November: Keep writing this new series.

December: Finish writing this series. I’d like to have 3 books ready by the start of the new year so I can rapid release them one month apart in 2020. And maybe take a break somewhere in all of this. 😉

Whew! I’m both excited and exhausted thinking about this to-do list. Lol. But above all, I’m super thankful I get to do a job I absolutely LOVE. And I’m so grateful for the support of readers like you who make this journey so worthwhile. 🙂

Tell me, would you prefer reading a clean/sweet YA series or a romantic suspense one?

I’ll leave you with a super angsty Chinese love song that I’ve been listening to on repeat. It really sets the mood for writing romance and is a lot easier to “drown out” for some reason, probably because I’m using different brain cells to write in English. Lol.

My Hubby, a Champion for Undercats

I like to refer to our neighborhood as a cat sanctuary because on any given day and at any given time, you’ll find two to three cats roaming around. There’s usually one sleeping on a fence and another lying on the grassy area in front of a row of houses. In total, there are about a dozen cats of various shades of gray or orange who live here. Amazingly, the munchkins have named each and every one of them and can tell them apart.

One particular cat has become “our” cat. Munchkin #2 started out by calling her Tin Can for her gray coat. The name eventually morphed to Tinny, then Dinny (don’t ask me why! lol), and now we call her Din for short. 🙂

Din is a sweet, timid cat who loves to go on walks with our family. It’s not unusual to see her running toward us from across the court as soon as we step out of our house. She’ll come up and walk in between our legs, all the while giving us gentle nudges with her head. Then she’ll follow behind us as we stroll around the neighborhood. (Funny story: One time a police car stopped hubby while he and Din were walking, and the cop asked if he had a leash for his dog. It took the cop a second before he realized Din was a cat!)

Here’s Din following hubby and the munchkins around the neighborhood!

One particular day, we decided to venture beyond our neighborhood and out onto the main road. To our surprise, Din followed us! She’d never gone so far from home before, but there she was, dodging in and out of the bushes and doing her best to move her furry little paws to keep up. She made it all the way to the end of the street, about half a mile from home, before the wall of an apartment complex stopped her. Hubby tried to help Din find a way around so she could continue following us, but she chose to stay put. At that point we assumed she’d head back home, so we called out our goodbyes and told her we’d see her later.

We eventually made our way back home and had dinner. After we finished eating, hubby announced he was going to go on another walk and asked if anyone wanted to join him. Both munchkins firmly replied, “No!” because they’d had enough exercise for the day (and maybe the week, haha), so hubby went on his own. About ten minutes later he returned with some surprising news. It turned out Din had been sitting in the same place we’d left her! She hadn’t known how to return home and had been waiting for us for hours. Hours! 🙁

Hubby felt bad, I felt bad, and both munchkins felt so bad that we’d pretty much abandoned poor Dinny. But as bad as I felt, I was also so, so thankful that hubby had gone out to look for her. It shouldn’t have surprised me that he did because that’s just the kind of guy he is. Protective, caring, and a champion for underdogs, or in this case, undercats. 😉

He was once the spirited kid who stood up for other kids who couldn’t stand up for themselves. He was the charming twenty-five year old guy who took his time getting to know a shy young woman who fell head-over-heels for him. He is the devoted father who never fails to tell his kids “I love you” every day and shows his love through the sacrifices he makes for his family. And he will be my husband of 18 years(!) this Sunday, the man who has taught me how to live, love, and laugh more fully and joyfully than I ever thought possible.

After hubby rescued Din, I turned to Munchkin #2 and gave her my best dating advice. I told her, “Make sure you marry someone like Dad. Someone who will go look for a lost cat and lead her home.”

I’m so glad I did. 🙂

Happy 18 years to us! Here are some pictures from our engagement photo shoot from 19 years ago. I’m so glad we took them because we haven’t looked like this in a long, long time! 😉

Why You Gotta Be So Mean?

I’ve met a few mean people in my lifetime … my grandmother who raised me … the girls in junior high who laughed behind my back … and the execs of a company I worked at who liked to have scream fests in front of everyone.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been mean myself. Since having kids, I’ve lost my cool over the smallest things and have yelled more times than I care to remember. I know what it’s like to be mean. Do you know the one thing I’ve discovered to be true about people who say and do mean things?

They’re not happy people.

How do I know? Because as in the words of Elle Woods of Legally Blonde, one of my favorite movies: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”

On the other hand, people who aren’t happy are the ones who lack endorphins. They’re more likely to hurt the people around them. Unhappy people are mean people who make other people unhappy.

Yup.

Sometimes it’s a conscious decision to do so, sometimes it’s not. Regardless, there comes a time when all the yucky stuff in an unhappy person’s heart grows and multiplies. It simmers and sloshes around like poisonous green goo in a bubbling cauldron. And one day it boils over and splashes onto those close by, scalding them with its wrath.

Image courtesy of pixabay

Eeks.

It’s not fun being around a mean person, don’t you agree? Stress-inducing, intimidating, and demeaning though? Those are the words that immediately come to mind when I think about mean and unhappy people.

Lately, it’s not me who has to deal with mean people; it’s hubby. But because he’s my better half and I love him so much, all the poison that’s been burning him has been burning me, too. The protective mama bear in me gets so angry when I hear about everything he’s going through. Even writing these words and thinking about the situation makes me mad to the point of tears.

*Deep breath*

Suffice it to say, we’ve both been struggling. Struggling to push through the challenges of the day to day. Struggling to find a way out of this mess. And struggling to know God’s will through all of this.

So far not much about the situation has changed. It’s still as stressful and hopeless as it has been for the past few months. But the funny this is that God is changing us. Both hubby and I came to the same conclusion on our own this past week.

We both asked God to bless this person who’s being mean.

WHAT?! I know, I don’t get it either. Believe me when I say I did not want to be nice. I’d much rather shoot darts at this person than wish good on them. But doing so would mean I’d be just like them, letting the poison in my heart grow and multiply until it boils over and hurts someone else.

What really helped me change my heart and mind was realizing that this person likely doesn’t want to be mean. There’s stuff under the surface that we don’t fully understand that’s making them unhappy. Maybe they’ve never experienced grace. Maybe no one has ever shown them compassion. And maybe they don’t have anyone who cares enough to pray for them.

So, guess who’s praying for them now? *Raises hand sheepishly* Yep. I can’t believe it myself. But just the fact that God can change my heart gives me hope that He can change their heart, too. And maybe changing their heart will change the situation. But if it doesn’t, it’s okay.

I know God is the ultimate Judge. He sees all and knows all. And as gracious as He’s been to me, even with all the meanness in my heart, I know He is taking care of everything—us, them, the whole situation. There’s probably a dozen things we can’t see, happening right now behind the scenes. Some, okay, most of it doesn’t seem fair or good at the moment. But I’m choosing to put my trust in what I do know. That there’s a good, loving, and all-knowing God who’s in charge of it all.

What mean people have you come across in your life? How did you choose to respond?

The title of this post comes from Taylor Swift’s song, “Mean”. It has a strangely chipper melody with some heartfelt lyrics about facing your bullies. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYa1eI1hpDE

A Sneak Peek at Falling for the Younger Cowboy

I just realized it’s been 2 months since I last blogged, but I have a good reason for my absence! 😉 I’ve been hard at work writing a new book, my first cowboy romance. Here my cover reveal for Falling for the Younger Cowboy!

Here’s a sneak peek at chapter one:

Lexi Turner had never seen a more delicious pot of chili … or maybe it was the gorgeous cowboy stirring the pot who had her mouth watering.

“Can I move now, Lex?”

She blinked quickly behind the lens of her camera and lowered the Nikon DSLR from her eye. The camera strap tugged on the back of her neck as she let the equipment fall from her hands. Clearing her throat, she squeaked out, “Yeah, totally. I got the shots I needed. Thanks, James.”

The tall man wearing dark jeans and a fitted gray T-shirt under a large white apron straightened from the pose he’d been in for the past few minutes. His expression relaxed, adding a sparkle to his blue eyes. He immediately pulled the apron over his head of auburn waves and tossed it onto the metal counter behind him. “Finally. I don’t know how much longer I could’ve held that smile. And I’m pretty sure the chili would’ve turned to mush if I stirred it any more. You know I can’t be caught serving baby food to our ranchers.”

Lexi chuckled to see the right corner of James’s lips curve up in his trademark grin. Her friend always seemed to smile with just one side of his mouth, never fully revealing his straight, white teeth. He was the strong, silent type, like a stereotypical cowboy from the Clint Eastwood movies her dad liked to watch. “You know those guys will eat anything you put on their plates. You’re the best cook in Texas.”

A slight blush crept up James’s neck, adding color to his defined jawline. “You’re much too kind, Lexi. And a sweet talker if I’ve ever met one. I doubt if a year on the ranch has made you an expert on southern cooking, but I’ll take the compliment.” He nodded toward the stainless steel pot sitting on the stove. “Do you want a bowl before you get back to work?”

“Sure. But only if you sit with me and have one, too.”

James checked the clock hanging on the wall. “I can manage that. I’ve got an hour before I need to start on the rest of dinner.” He scooped out two bowls of steaming hot chili, grabbed two metal spoons, and led the way out of the kitchen.

Lexi followed him into the mess hall reserved for the employees. An earthy aroma of dirt mixed with the freshness of spring rain coming in through an open window filled her senses. Half a dozen picnic tables topped with metal napkin dispensers took up the majority of the large room. Several tracks of muddy footprints revealed a path where the ranchers’ boots had walked hours earlier during lunch.

Lexi’s own pair of boots clicked along the concrete floor, feeling foreign and comfortable on her feet at the same time. Sometimes she still couldn’t believe she’d traded in her flip-flops and a life by the beach for country living. But that’s what a semi midlife crisis had prompted her to do when Thomas left her for another woman. Taking a seat on one of the wooden benches, she set her camera on the table. She also cleared her head free from any more thoughts of her ex-husband. She inhaled the savory scent of spices rising from the bowl James set before her and sighed. “This is just what I need. Spice therapy.”

From across the table, James held out his spoon to her and waited for her to clink it with her own before digging into his bowl. In between bites, he met her gaze curiously. “Something tells me you’re not just talking about the Monday blues. Did your mom call again?”

Lexi blinked in surprise. “How’d you know?”

He shrugged. “You’ve been distracted ever since you walked into my kitchen.”

Distracted was right. Lexi didn’t know what had gotten into her today. Seeing her good friend through a camera lens had somehow magnified her view of him. She’d thought he was handsome when they first met, but she had never studied the planes and angles of his face so closely before. Or it could be that she’d been too heartbroken to notice.

After relocating from the Big Island of Hawaii to Sage Valley, she’d spent months grieving the end of her decade-long marriage. It wasn’t until recently that her heart had started to ache less. When the dude ranch owners, the Buchanans, tasked her with the job of taking pictures for their website, she’d rediscovered the joy of photography. And now apparently, she’d also discovered the opposite sex. Lexi winced. She really ought to be acting her age instead of feeling like a hormonal teenager. She was a week from turning forty, for goodness sakes! Midlife crisis or not, she couldn’t be crushing on her much younger friend.

Feeling James’s eyes on her, she swallowed her mouthful of chili and answered quickly. “You guessed right. My mom did call this morning, bright and early at seven—two in the morning her time—just before she turned into bed. She had some big news that couldn’t wait.”

James quirked a brow, his telltale sign urging her to continue speaking.

“Apparently, Thomas got engaged over the weekend.”

“Ouch.”

Lexi ducked her head. The hem of her red flannel shirt skimming the top of her jeans blurred for a second before she blinked away her tears. She sniffled as she looked up. “I couldn’t care less what he does. It’s more the fact that my own flesh and blood still keeps in touch with the guy who broke my heart that gets to me. My mom really loves poking her nose in other people’s business.”

A pained look crossed James’s face as he rubbed his chin. “I’m sorry, Lex. That’s gotta sting. I thought my great-aunt won the award for meddling, but your mom takes the cake.”

She smirked. Sharon Buchanan, or Nanna as everyone called her, had a reputation for playing matchmaker, but at least she had good intentions. Lexi’s typical Asian tiger mom—bless her heart—didn’t have a sensitive bone in her body. Lexi still didn’t know how her fun-loving, Irish father had won her over. “It’s all right. I just keep reminding her that I’ve moved on. I’m happy with my life now. I’ve rediscovered my love of photography, I’ve got the ranch’s store to manage, and”—she gave him a pointed look—“I have amazing friends.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Are you talking about Charlie?” he asked, referring to Lexi’s cousin who had gotten her the job at the ranch.

She licked her spoon before setting it down. “Not just Charlie. I’m talking about you, too, Mr. James Scott. Like I said, your chili is life. Just one bite of it, and the world seems right again.” She glanced down at her empty bowl then pointed a finger at her mouth as she smiled. “See how happy you’ve made me? I hardly remember my conversation with my mom now.”

James chuckled, the throaty sound causing his Adam’s apple to bob. “I’m happy to oblige. I’ve got a whole pot left of this spicy therapy if you want some more.”

Lexi shook her head. “Thanks, but I should get back to the store to relieve Henry.” She had one employee, a part-timer who was in line to get a permanent job as a ranch hand. “I’ll upload these photos and ask Nanna which one she wants to use. If my guess is right, she’ll say all of them. I’m pretty sure you’re her favorite grandnephew,” she added with a wink.

“Naw, I’m just the one she managed to rope into working here.”

“Well, I’m awfully glad she did. If you hadn’t come back to the ranch, we’d never have met. You’ve made this past year so much brighter.”

James gave her a half smile. “You mean tastier?”

“Definitely both.” Feeling grateful, Lexi reached across the table and placed her hand on top of his. A light spark of electricity shot through her fingers the moment they touched. She immediately pulled back and rubbed her palm along her jeans. Had James felt it, too?

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, totally fine,” Lexi replied, lying through her teeth. Her body had never reacted to James this way before. She eyed the camera on the table, wondering if it had cast some sort of spell on her. Before she could dwell any more on the matter, her cell phone vibrated. She pulled it out of her back pocket and swiped it open to reveal a new message.

Lex, are you sitting down?

“It’s Charlie,” she murmured to James as she watched three dots flash across her screen. “She’s probably texting to vent about some crazy request she got from a guest.”

Charlie’s next message popped up. I don’t know how to tell you this, but Thomas is here! With a young blonde thing wearing a huge rock!

The blood drained from Lexi’s face. Her mouth fell open as she stared at the blue text bubble. What were her ex and his new fiancée doing in Sage Valley?

“Lexi? What’s wrong?”

She bit her bottom lip as she met James’s gaze. “I think I’m going to need another bowl of chili.”

Poor Lexi! Don’t worry though, James (and his chili) are gonna make things all better! 

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6 Life Lessons from 2018

Life is funny, isn’t it? For much of my life, I was eager for time to move faster (especially during the hour before the munchkins’ bedtime), but now I’m finding it slipping through my fingers like grains of sand. This year seemed to have flown by in a few blinks of an eye—one minute I was enjoying the warm days of summer; the next thing I knew, it was time to turn on the heater. Even though we’ve had our tree up for a few weeks already, I’m amazed that it’s Christmas again. I wonder if each and every year from now on will pass by just as quickly? And what will be the results of those 365 days, year after year? 

Yup, I’m feeling a bit sentimental and nostalgic and whatever other emotions one feels during mid-life. Maybe even a bit philosophical. But the one thing I wish I felt less of was anxious. Frazzled. Rushed. I long to feel the freedom and spontaneity of my youth. To feel invincible and hopeful. To believe I had all the time in the world to do all the things I wanted to do. To joyfully experience that funny and beautiful thing called life.

After 43 years on this earth, I think it’s safe to say I’ve learned at least 43 lessons about life. Some of them—okay, who am I kidding!—most of them (especially the ones about parenting) have been hard to swallow. Still many are being ingrained into that thick skull of mine. I wish I were less stubborn and more flexible to learning, but the upside is that life likes to present the same lessons to me, over and over again, so I get plenty of practice changing my perspective and attitude. What joy, right? Ha! 😉

Fortunately, writing really helps me process these life lessons, which is the reason why I started this blog in the first place—to rethink everything I thought I knew about being a perfect person, wife, mom, etc. Unfortunately, I’ve been so busy making up stories this past year that I’ve put blogging and processing on the back burner. Which is why I thought it’d be good to write down the life lessons I learned in 2018. Here they are in no particular order, except that one that my tired brain is cranking out. 🙂

  1. Everything takes work. Marriage takes work; parenting takes work; my relationship with God takes work; writing and selling books takes work; friendships take work; housework and chores take A LOT of work. I’ve come to see that work mean putting in the effort and time, but most of all, the intention. When you have the desire and motivation to push you, what seems like work becomes less laborious and more a way of being, of living.  
  2. Balance is key. You have to take care of yourself, so you can take care of those around you and do everything that life requires of you. Downtime is essential (here’s a great podcast about why) and a non-negotiable.
  3. Run your own race. The only person you need to compete with is yourself. Get wrapped up in your own progress and growth. 
  4. Give yourself credit. Don’t shortchange yourself. Celebrate your accomplishments, including the everyday ones (especially cooking and laundry!). Doing the same thing day in and day out is a lot harder than people think.
  5. The little things add up. Doing the same things on a daily basis, as mundane as they may be, builds character in the long run. I love how Romans 5:3-4 puts it: “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” I know suffering seems like a big word, but I like to think that living in this imperfect, fallen world is an experience in suffering. It’s not always easy to love people, to stay positive, to find joy in work, or to have faith in God. But when we put one foot in front of the other, open our eyes and engage our hearts, we start to have more purpose in doing, being, and believing. Life becomes sweeter and more fulfilling as we persevere and learn and grow.
  6. Soak in all. the. moments. Take time to appreciate the ordinary because these moments will one day be the fodder of nostalgic conversations. Make memories, and make them well.

What life lessons did you learn in 2018? I’d love to hear them and learn from you. Thank you for following me on my recovering perfectionist journey this past year. I so appreciate your support. 🙂 Till next time, I hope you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!