If you've ever attended a big conference, this Light Romantic Suspense will bring back fond memories.
This is a busy time of year. Still, set aside time for yourself. I like to go to the train station and people-watch. Stroll the local mall with no particular destination in mind. Read the suspense novel I've been promising I would. Take a long walk at the lake.
Restore your soul.
Life is short and even if you live to be ninety the extra moments you steal for yourself may add another year or two to yours, so relive the happy times. Think back on happier days and hold those carefree moments in our heart.
Worry and stress are time bombs just waiting to explode. Squelch the fire burning inside you by enjoying a short nap on the deck. I planted a fragrant rose at the corner of my deck. Even though it's mid-January my rose bush is still blooming. When things get hectic in my kitchen I only have to step outside and smell that rose to feel my tension fade.
Stess less, eat less, and you won't have a weight problem to stress about.
Chill Out. Staying calm while stuck in traffic saves lives. Residents of New York City and Los Angeles are especially susceptible to stress. Common courtesies get shoved aside in the rush to get where you're going. Do take a step back from all the hustle and bustle and inhale slowly. There are twenty-four hours in a day. Make half of one of those hours yours.
Learn how to relax. I use a favorite scene from a lovely creek bank is the eastern sierras. The creek flows into Mono Lake. I pull the scene in to my mind whenever life becomes too much. I don't even have to close my eyes to picture the family of deer I watched at sunset from a campsite as six of them meandered down the hill to drink from the rapidly flowing creek. Remembering their peaceful journey soothes my mind and allows me to complete necessary tasks with minimal stress.
I recalled this scene in To Feel Again, my romantic suspense novel set in the Eastern Sierra Mountains. The heroine has many reasons to feel stressed and watching the interaction of those deer takes her mind off those worries.
Find something that works for you.
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American Aphorist Mason Cooley wrote: "Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are."
I love that quote. He also wrote: "The time I kill is killing me." I know.
Back to reading. School just started for most children in Southern California, which started me thinking about the day I learned to read, the happiest day of my life. I still remember every halting word I read aloud from Dick and Jane. Several years back my youngest granddaughter came out of her room one day and told her mother, "Sit down. I'm going to read this book to you," and she did. No one realized until then the kindergartner had learned to read. That evening long after bedtime her mother found her completely hidden by her covers, reading by flashlight.
My husband, a retired elementary school principal, told our daughter never to punish her child for reading. He also learned to read at an early age too, and by the time he started to school he was reading Huck Finn. His first grade teacher would ask him to read to the class whenever she had to leave the room.
My avid reader with the flashlight entered fourth grade a few weeks back. Every summer she signs up for summer reading programs and always excels. One summer year she was awarded tickets to Lego Land for reading so many pages during school break. She's one of the lucky children who can read while riding in a car.
Our firstborn daughter was like her. She came five weeks early and was still small for her age when she started to school in the rural Tennessee town where we lived at the time. Her legs were too short to reach the first step of the School Bus and the driver stepped down off the bus every morning and helped her up. That was the year we discovered she was near sighted and had her fitted with the first of many pairs of glasses she required over the years.
She wears contact lenses now, and her legs are still short but she has always been a speed reader. The summer before she entered second grade we moved to a newly built subdivision in Southern California where two afternoons a week the Bookmobile stopped in our neighborhood for a three hour stay. At their scheduled time I'd load our youngest in the stroller and walk the other three around the corner to check out five-books. Once each child could write her name they could apply for their own library card and for the next few years their library card was their proudest possession. Our oldest daughter would hurry home with her five books, promptly read each one of them and ride her bicycle back to the Bookmobile to return those books and check out five more.
Everyone in our family likes to camp and when our girls were growing up we often camped at a desert oasis with dense, spreading limbs. On arrival she'd pile out of our Volkswagen bus with an arm load of books, roll out her sleeping bag in her tent so her bed would be ready at bedtime, then climb up in a tree with a book. She'd pay her sisters to make her lunch and keep her supplied a cold drink. She only came down when she'd finished a book and needed to pick another one from her stash, or when it grew too dark to read in the tree. Then she read at the picnic table by lantern light.
Like ours, the walls of our oldest daughter's home are lined with books, romance novels to begin with, but now she reads mysteries, having cut her teeth on Nancy Drew books. When the hardback bestsellers became too pricey she joined her County library and began downloading books to her e-Reader. She has at least four.
Another daughter earned her doctorate in education two years ago and is the Assistant Superintendent in charge of Technology and Curriculum for a consolidated school district in Northern California. She reading preferences lean toward biographies, science books and travel guides instead of romance.
Our third daughter devours Nicholas Sparks novels and any book with a horse in it, while the youngest, an elementary school teacher and the mother of the flashlight reader, women's fiction and Oprah's books.
I have a friend who reads romance while riding on the back of her husband's motorcycle or while standing in line while waiting to pay for a purchase.
What this all boils down to this: it doesn't matter what you read or where, but it's important to frequently expand your horizons with a good book.
My novels are print-on-demand, or are available for download everywhere.
It happened at a church swimming in July of 1947 and is retold in the words of the adventurous teen I once was because June is National Learn To Swim Month:
On Sunday nights at Training Union, Mrs. Austin taught my class of twelve-year-olds, Mr. Austin those already thirteen. After numerous failed attempts, the girls finally convinced the leaders to chaperone a joint swimming party at Robinwood Plunge for us on a hot Saturday afternoon in July. While Baptist boys and girls didn't usually swim together, this would be the girls' big chance to show off in a bathing suit.
When we arrived at the pool Mr. Austin called us to gather around and asked, "Can all of you swim?"
Once or twice each summer I'd meet my friends at the Country Club and spend the day in the Club's public pool, for me a five mile bike ride each way along a busy highway, but I hadn't been to the pool often enough to risk taking a breath with my strokes.
To make matters worse, my underweight body had no natural buoyancy. I couldn't float. My friend Janet had tried to teach me. She'd instructed me to just lie back in the water and relax and promised to catch me if I started to sink.
I always sank. I had small bones and no fat, nothing to keep me afloat, and always sank. I'd learned to hold my breath forever and do the breast stroke across the deep end of the pool before coming up for air. I felt comfortable at the bottom of the pool, where I liked to hold my breath for a long, long time and listen to the sound of bubbles escaping from my bathing cap. Sometimes I'd pretend I was a deep sea diver searching the bottom for pearls.
It required all my will to keep from telling Mr. Austin I couldn't swim. If I did, I'd be relegated to the little kids' end of the pool, not the best place for me to attract Harold's attention or one of the other boy's so I kept quiet.
When no hands went up, Mr. Austin said, "Good," and rattled off a list of rules, then sent us to dress in our bathing suits. The strong smell of bleach in the girl's dressing room burned our noses so we hurriedly stepped into our bathing suits. With our suits in place and our hair either braided or fluffed around our shoulders we strolled out of the dressing room feeling exposed and shy.
For a while the girls just sat on the edge of the pool watching the boys do cannonballs all around us and splash water in our eyes. Then Janet slid into the water and ducked her head to wet her long hair. It floated out behind her. "Come on in. The water feels good," she assured me.
Harriet and Loretta held hands as they stepped off the last step and water crept up to their waists. I couldn't stand to get wet gradually so I asked Janet to stand under the end of the diving board and show me how deep the pool was there. If I jumped in with enough force to kick off the bottom I would pop right back up to the surface like a cork.
Where Janet stood, the water only came up to her chest. I usually walked out to the end of the diving board and jumped in feet first, Instead, I lingered on the side dangling my feet, hesitant to get wet.
Somebody called me chicken and that's all it took. I marched right out to the end of the board, too self-conscious to take a good bounce and simply stepped off, my arms straight at my sides. I sank like a stone.
Why hadn't I jumped? I was taking far too long to reach the bottom and when I did, the bottom felt uneven, the water much deeper than I'd expected.
Is Janet that much taller than me?
I kicked off the bottom, but not as hard as I needed to. Only one of my hands broke the surface of the water, not my face as I'd hoped. I didn't get the chance to fill my lungs, and I promptly sank again.
I'm in real trouble. What a silly fool I'd been, all because I hadn't wanted the boys watching me jump in. Now I prayed that someone had watched my jump. If my feet couldn't touch the bottom, I wouldn't be able to push off. I had no way to rocket back to the surface the way I usually did and suck needed air into my lungs.
Desperate, I pushed off the bottom, hard, yet failed to break the surface. I began to sink again. Bubbles rose all around me.
This time I kicked really hard, raised one hand out of the water, made what seemed to me like a big splash, but slowly lost what ground I'd gained and began once more to sink.
The harder I tried to reach the surface, the deeper I sank. The next time around I finally broke out of the water and opened my mouth to yell. Too late. I swallowed a mouth full of water and went under again. Tiny bubbles escaped from my bathing cap in a diminishing stream.
The weight of the water pressed me down, down, down and I settled on the bottom. Above me, dozens of legs -- some thin and some long and hairy -- performed a graceful water ballet. The bright light at the surface hurt my eyes.
All the fight went out of me.
Bits of conversation reached me, and laughter. Would I ever have a reason to laugh again?
Hey, can't you see I'm dying down here? I wanted to yell, longing to safely be back up there with my friends. I silently promised God if He let me, I'd never again be ashamed to cling to the side of the pool.
What if no one misses me until the party is over? For me the party was nearly over.
What would Daddy think when nobody brought me home? Would he be mad at me, or would he blame my friends for my demise?
This isn't their fault. I should never have stepped off that diving board.
A single bubble escaped my bathing cap and I squeezed my eyes shut to hold back my tears as the chlorine-laced water cradled me at the bottom of the pool, gently rocking me in the ghostly quiet.
Then I heard Mr. Austin tell Harold he'd seen my hand come out of the water and thought I might be in trouble.
"I am, I am," I wanted to yell, but words wouldn't form.
I heard a splash, was cradled by the slap of disturbed water and waited for strong hands to take hold of me. Another splash, another jolt, and long arms yanked me off the bottom. A hairy elbow forced its way beneath my chin. I sliced through the water as my rescuer easily dragged me back up to the surface I had tried so hard to reach by myself.
Rough hands pulled me out of Harold's arms and shoved me face-down on the hard concrete. Someone hit me on the back. Hard.
Ouch! Take it easy.
"Nothing," a distraught male voice said.
"I'll try artificial respiration," said whoever was kneeling over me.
Harold? How could I ever face him after this?
He forced my shoulders down against the concrete, made my ribs hurt as he pressed hard on my back. I heard every word spoken over me, everything said about me, and felt the same frog in my throat Janet had in hers when she whispered, "Did she drown?
"I doubt she has been under long enough for that," Mrs. Austin assured her, then asked "Has she?" in a shaky voice.
"Only a minute. Maybe a little more," Mr. Austin replied gruffly.
A minute? It seemed like hours to me.
Harold pressed on my back, counting, "One, two, three, four. Rest, two, three, four." And again.
Though I heard every word spoken, much as I wanted to, I was unable to answer their questions or open my eyes.
Suddenly I was floating above them, looking down on my friends beside the pool, interestedly watching their desperate attempt to save me. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't shout "Don't give up on me. Not yet. I hear you. I'm not ready to die."
I prayed long and hard Harold would keep trying to save me. The rest of my life still lay ahead. I'd just discovered boys and still had a lot to learn.
Please don't stop, I kept thinking. I want to go to college and become a teacher. Be a writer. There was so much I still wanted to do. My life couldn't end now. Daddy would miss me too much.
Why me, God? Have my youthful sins finally caught up with me and You are calling me home?
Then I felt the urge to cough. I did, over and over as water gushed from my lungs and spurted out my mouth, burning my throat and strangling me as I tried to gulp in air. I couldn't stop coughing. Tears filled my eyes. Although my lungs were on fire, being able to breathe again felt so good I didn't have it in me to complain and struggled to sit up.
Mrs. Austin wrapped me in a towel and insisted I sit out the party on the side of the pool with only my feet in the water. I had no one to talk to and nothing to do but relive the terrible moments when I'd felt sure I was going to die.
Mr. Austin reported my near-death experience to Daddy, who then calmly laid down the law to me. No more stepping off the thirty-foot diving tower at the Country Club. No more pretending I could swim when I couldn't. He didn't mention swimming lessons. We couldn't afford them, but he did say, "Next time, think before you leap."
This is from my unpublished memoir "Why Not Me?"
A Reminder: Waterproof your children. It's never too late.
My father was deeply religious and the most industrious man I've ever known. This is him standing in front of the home he made for us by remodeling a barn.
"The depression took its toll on Daddy," Mama told me one day with tears in her eyes. "It crushed his pride, forced him to accept day labor. He's never been afraid of hard work, and would take any job offered him. Money earned from a few hours of digging ditches sometimes fed our family for a week."
The bank foreclosed on the first house he built for his family and after that experience he never again asked a bank for credit. He was an electrician by trade, but for years after the foreclosure there still was little work to be had in the South.
Some mornings Daddy followed the streetcar line over the mountain to town, picking up discarded soft drink bottles along the way. He'd redeem the bottles, spend his windfall on as much day-old bread as he could carry, then hike back home, a tired but grateful man. And for the next few days our family would have toast with our oatmeal.
While work was scarce Daddy raised chickens, goats, hogs and cows in pens on the hill behind our house. He turned the earth in a flat plot of ground above the outhouse with a shovel and carefully pressed corn and bean seeds into the rich soil. When the vegetables matured, all the relatives who lived nearby helped Mama can green beans, tomatoes, and soup mix, which all the families shared.
In Daddy's spare time, he made a rope swing, a see-saw, and a spinning Jennie for us from other people's discards. He took great pride in his work and we admired his ability to make something for us from practically nothing.
He raised pigs, cows chickens and goats. Twice a day Daddy milked the cow. I’d wait for him to finish milking, then follow him into the kitchen with the brimming bucket of rich, warm milk. To this day, I miss drinking warm milk straight from the cow.
By the time school got out for the summer of 1941 our family’s financial situation had greatly improved. Daddy had steady work, with paid overtime, and offered to buy Mamma a new car if she would learn to drive.
The two of them didn’t let us in on the plan. Three times a week Mamma would put on her Sunday best, send me to play with my cousin, and walk out to the streetcar line, refusing to tell us where she was going all dressed up.
Then one day she came back all smiles, a new driver’s license clutched in her hand. The next day she and Daddy drove off in his old Graham Page to buy a new car. She came home driving the shiny, navy blue 1941 Dodge sedan with Fluid Drive she drove until 1949.
Since it looked like Daddy’s job in Childersburg, Alabama would last a while, right before school started we moved to Vincent, Alabama to end his twice-daily thirty mile commute. Vincent was an old cotton-growing settlement across a wide river from Childersburg, where DuPont was putting up a gunpowder plant and Daddy was foreman over all the electrical work.
I would soon be eight, and my memories of Vincent are quite clear. Hitler and his men were shooting at everything in sight in some places my teacher pointed out on a map, increasing the need for gunpowder. That part was good, because it gave Daddy steady work, but a gunpowder plant is a very dangerous place to work and we worried about him.
Once we were settled, Daddy drove us out to the ferry landing to show off the muddy water he was ferried across twice a day to get to and from his work. We stood on the Vincent side while Daddy pointed out the various structures going up on the Childersburg side.
I had never seen such a fast-moving river, had only waded in shallow creeks prone to dry up when the weather grew hot. Nor had I ever watched men wearing hard hats and carrying metal lunch boxes leave their parked cars and stand quietly on a rickety-looking ferry that expelled them, laughing and talking, on the other side. I've never forgotten the sight.
Our new home was fully wired and I marveled at the wonder of light bulbs dangling from the ceiling, the sudden blinding light that bathed each room of the yellow bungalow at the pull of a string I was too short to reach. Yeah! No more smelly kerosene lamps.
Daddy had been promoted to foreman right before we moved, and he took great pride in his work. The men working under him called Daddy "Fireball", because of his reputation for hitting the ceiling if any of his men slipped up. When an electrician did something stupid and his work failed to pass inspection, Daddy would get hopping mad and his coworkers learned to steer clear of him until he cooled down. The worker responsible for his rage would hide for the rest of the day. I inherited Daddy's explosive temper, but it takes a lot to make me mad and I get physically ill when I do.
One day Daddy came home from work with both hands bandaged and had to stay home until his electrical burns in the palms of his hands healed. While working up on a ladder, he'd grabbed a wire that wasn’t supposed to be "hot". Five thousand volts of electricity surged through his body. He'd had to kick the ladder out from under him and the weight of his dangling body jerked his hands free of the hot wire. He fell fourteen feet to the concrete floor and escaping with only third degree burns. The palm of one hand was burned to the bone, and his voice shook when he talked about it. I stayed right by his side for days, offering him water, and lighting his cigarettes. Gallons of coffee a day and hand rolled cigarettes were his only vices.
That winter the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt declared war on them. In those early months of World War II the war caused few changes in our lives until the government pushed up the completion date for the DuPont plant. We'd soon need to move.
Things were looking up for him and Daddy wanted a permanent home for his family. My parents decided to move back to the city so Mamma would be near relatives she could call on for help if needed when Daddy took work out of town. He worked out a deal with a distant cousin of Mamma’s, promising to make monthly payments on the three acres they lived on and that Mamma would provide any needed care while the three elderly relatives lived out their lives in their house on what would become our property. No payments to the bank and no risk of foreclosure by the relatives, a win-win situation for Daddy.
That's how he became the proud owner of three acres with a rickety old house the cousins live in and a no-longer-used but sturdy barn. Before his house plans discovered civilians could no longer buy lumber -- it was needed to build barracks on the military bases springing up all across the country. Where could we move?
One Sunday afternoon he and Mamma took us to "look over Daddy's acres". He kept walking in and out of the barn with a ruler in his hand and taking notes with the pencil he kept stuck behind his ear.
I can still picture him stepping out of the barn door with a pleased grin, his everyday Panama straw hat -- the previous year it had been his best hat -- shoved back on his head. "Sugar," he said to Mamma, "I think it'll do. The tin roof is still in good shape, and with a little hard work we can replace these barn doors with a good solid front door and lots of windows. I'll have to do the remodeling with used lumber, but I think I can turn this barn into a home we'll both be proud to show off." Then he walked down the far side of the barn, pointing out the place he'd cut a hole for a window above the kitchen sink.
Six-by-six inch beams supported the tin roof and Daddy stepped off how many smaller ones he'd need to support the floor and walls and scribbled the number on his notepad. "I'll put a bedroom window for us where the barn door is," he said, drawing plans for our new home in his head. I didn't doubt for a minute that Daddy could convert that old grey barn into a nice place for us to live.
Daddy could do anything.
PS: He raised 4 children in that converted barn, and after 30 years built Mamma a new redbrick house where the cousins' house once stood. One of the cousins managed to live for twenty-eight of those years.
Celebrate this event with your children. Take them to the library today and read aloud to them. Or let them read to you. The National Education Association's website announcement for this special day says, "You're never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child."
My youngest granddaughter learned to read in kindergarten. Her mother discovered she could read when her daughter said, "Sit down, Mom. I want to read this book to you," and she did!
After her bedtime that night my daughter discovered her daughter under the covers, reading with the help of a flashlight. My husband, a teacher and administrator with sixty years experience told her, "Don't punish her, encourage her," and admitted he'd done the same thing when he was young.
Reading opens too many doors to count. We moved to California when my oldest daughter was in second grade. Twice a week the Bookmobile stopped for three hours only two blocks from our house and as soon as everyone came home from school I'd load the youngest ones in a stroller and walk my four girls to the bookmobile. The oldest one had her own library card and was allowed to check out 5 books at a time. She read those books and went back to return them and check out 5 more before the bookmobile left for the day, while I carried 10 home for the rest of us to share.
She'll soon be retiring and still reads a book or two a day. Her husband devours books, too.
She's a speed reader (I wish I was, too.) When we camped in the desert at Tamarisk Grove she'd climb up in a tree to read and pay her sisters to bring her snacks and sodas. Later, she inroduced me to romance novels and I becamed hooked on reading them.
I read everything I can get my hands on. Is it any wonder I also write?
…The Day I Was Almost Arrested for Shoplifting.
After weeks of recuperating from surgery for ingrown toenails I could finally slip my tender feet into normal shoes and decided to go shopping. My sister-in-law had a birthday coming up in a week and I needed to get a gift in the mail for her. I'd also previously purchased some warm pants at my favorite department store, and wanted to buy another pair.
Luckily the store still had my size and color in the pants. I draped the pants over my arm to free my hands for further shopping and glanced around. I found a table of nice ladies' sweaters already wrapped and took my purchases to the checkout counter. Why do they make those counters so tall? I had difficulty hearing the saleslady behind the counter height because of its height, but finally paid and left the store.
By then my feet were hurting and I decided to end my shopping and go straight to my car.
As I crossed the parking lot as heard someone call, "Lady," but didn't look around. The calls continued and I finally did look. At first I couldn't see anyone. Then I saw a young Hispanic man who seemed to be calling me.
"Yes?" I said.
"Would you return to the store with me?" he said, so serious I felt my first concern.
He paused inside and asked, "Did you pay for those pants?"
"Yes." As I glanced down at the sack holding my purchases, I saw the pants still draped over my arm!
"Come with me," he said, his look stern. He led me through the store to a crowded room I'd never noticed before and seated me at a cluttered desk where a man sat studying the computer screen before him.
"I caught her," my nemesis said.
After a moment the other man looked up at me. "Can you tell me what happened?" he said.
"I came here to buy these pants and a gift, but forgot the pants were still on my arm and walked right out of the store without paying for them, but I'll gladly do that now."
"You can't." He tossed them on a pile on the floor. Then he recorded my name and address and took my photograph! "You can go," he said, "but don't shop in this store again for at least a month."
Breathing a sigh of relief, I hurried home to lick my wounds and I didn't return store for over a year. Although the department store has since changed names I still cringe when I walk through those doors and can't help wondering if my face is being run through facial recognition software in a back room.
That's right, the dreaded writer's block.
Last fall, feeling burned out and drained after self-publishing a three-book series in six months, I decided to take a mini-sabbatical from writing to weed and landscape my backyard sanctuary.
Don't ever do this. I'm having a difficult time getting the words to flow from my fingertips again.
I've just finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and like the raft the three plane-crash survivors float across the ocean in, I've hit the doldrums with my writing. Suddenly, I have dozens of ideas vying for attention in my head, but the words simply won't come. Floundering, I've been searching for something different to light my fire.
...Something new. Anything new and different that might reopen the pathway to my clogged brain and let an onshore breeze sweep away my cobwebs.
In the past I've done my best plotting while pulling weeds, but now my desire to keep on gardening now far outweighs the urge to write, and the recent winter rain in Southern California has my weeds knee-high again.
I joined a Book Club at the local library and have read a number of good books I otherwise would not have read, but my words still refuse to flow.
Today I'm going to write a Valentine's Day blog. Wish me luck.
Toni Noel enjoys writing romantic suspense and contemporary romance, reading and camping with her family in southern California, and walking her dog Toto.