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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