Thursday, September 18, 2014

Farewell

When my husband and I bought our house eleven years ago, it was surrounded by trees. Many of the houses on our street had trees or shrubs blocking the front view of the house, since we live on a very busy main road. Our first summer, we took down those trees, giving us view to the street and neighbors. And it is because of this view that I am so sad.

We have a neighbor across the street who has been an inspiration to us. When we first used to see him out (which was all the time), we referred to him as "Old Dude." Because he was. He was in his mid-eighties when we moved in. This guy was a dynamo--outside, working on his yard all the time. He has every gadget known to man, including an ATV and little lawnmower tractor that he would use to tool around his yard in. Over the years, we watched him take down trees, smoke out moths, trim shrubs, all from his ATV. Seeing him get out of the car to get his mail, we understood why. The years had not been kind to his back and standing up straight was a thing of the past.

Still, he kept at it and kept active. That was his motto, "Keep on movin'."We watched him plow his driveway in the winter with the plow attached to the front of his SUV. His yard is meticulously manicured. Every so often, when we were outside, he would drive his ATV over to our house to visit. He and my husband hit it off. Both engineers, they had a lot in common. He grew up in a house around the corner from the house I grew up in and his nephew lives just down the street from my parents. We learned his name and were on more than one occasion, were the recipients of spoils from his garden.

He would come and go several times a day. If he saw us out, he would wave. His wife passed away a few years ago, but still he kept trucking on. Soon, a lawn service came to mow the lawn on a regular basis (and then, after they left, he would be out "fixing" things). A plow came in the winter.

Then, last fall, I noticed that the cars were not coming and going. There never seemed to be lights on in the house. A snow fell and it was not immediately plowed. I said to my husband, "I think something has happened to him." I watched the house for a few days, and was delighted when I saw a vehicle pull up. I went over and rang the bell. It was our neighbor's niece. When I introduced myself, she asked if I wanted to come in to visit with him. Relief flooded through me and I spent at least an hour visiting with him. He had indeed been ill and in and out of the hospital.

Winter turned into Spring, which turned into Summer. And he was still at it, driving to and from his house several times a day (I always wondered where he went). That day in July, when my husband and I were in the car accident right in front of our house, he was outside and saw the whole thing. We talked to him, assuring him we were all right. After the police left, my husband stayed outside with him for close to an hour chatting about work.

Yesterday was the perfect early Fall day. A great day to be outside. I saw him outside tooling around on his ATV, which always made me smile. More than once, my husband and I have said that we wish we can be like him when we get old. In his nineties, still sharp as a tack, living at home, very active.

This morning, the lawn people came and treated his lawn for weeds. Then I saw his niece pull in. Shortly thereafter, two police cars showed up. Followed by the paramedics and then an ambulance. I knew as soon as the police cars showed up what it meant. The ambulance came and left, no sirens blaring. The family has arrived, and now the hearse is there.

I'm terribly sad at the moment. I know I shouldn't be. I barely knew him afterall. He was in his mid-nineties and most likely passed away in his sleep. Who can ask for a better way to go? In my head I keep saying, "But I saw him outside yesterday!"

Farewell Mr. Marchand. You were a good man, a good neighbor and kept a beautiful lawn. We will miss you.

Finding the Balance

Like pretty much every other mother right now, I'm digging my way out of the trenches. School has started. Yipee! Crap!

I love this time of year. I dread this time of year.

Three weeks into school, we're now in full swing. Dance lessons. Cub scouts. Girl scouts. Music lessons. Soccer. Religion. Not to mention school. And homework. Always the homework. I feel like every moment of my kids' day is scheduled. And while it keeps us running, I hate it. I hate when my ten year-old literally begs me for ten more minutes at night so he can play. I know he needs his sleep but he needs his play as well.

Fifth grade is serious business. They're changing classes and are responsible for managing all their materials, moving from class to class. It's a hard adjustment for most of the kids, and then add on ADD on top of it. Throw into the mix consequences for missed homework (read: detention) and stress is at an all time high.

Here's the breakdown of our afternoons: The kids get off the bus around 4 p.m. My son cannot work all day at school and then come in and do homework. We figured that out years ago. The kids get a snack and can relax, watch TV or play for a little while. Homework gets started at 5 p.m. We used to do dinner around 5:30-5:45, but I'm finally realizing that the kids aren't hungry quite yet (due to the snack, which they need). It takes my son about an hour to an hour and a half every night to do his homework. He plays an instrument, so he has to practice 30 minutes. He has to read for 20 minutes. When you add up the time, including dinner it is three hours. Bedtime for him is 8:30. That gives him 90 minutes (on a non-shower, no activity night) to play, relax, talk. To be a kid. On shower nights, it is about 60 minutes (he takes looooong showers).

Last week, we had a cub scout hike that was smack dab in the middle of homework time. He had to finish homework after, during his TV/relaxing time and then shower in the morning. This change to the routine stressed him out and he kept saying that we should not have done the hike (even though it is the type of thing he totally loves).

My second grader is the social butterfly who does dance and scouts and soccer and is still begging for playdates. She has boundless energy and a willfulness that may just break me (don't tell her I said that). Last year, we battled over homework and reading. This year, so far (fingers crossed), she's motivated and committed and she finds herself wanting to be loud and boisterous because her homework is done while her brother is still trying to focus.

We're all tired. For me, it's going to get worse as I go back to work next week. The papers have already started to pour in and clutter the kitchen. We're doing our best to keep on top of that so that it is not another thing to throw us out of balance.

We run a pretty structured ship around here. It is what my kids need (and myself as well) to be successful. With the hubs and I passing like ships in the night as we shuttle the kids from one thing to another, we have to have good communication and set expectations. Sometimes things fall through the cracks and it throws our balance out of whack. But we just hop back on the ball and keep going.


(Note: this is not me. Sometimes, I can carry plates without dropping them. That is all.)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Play List for I'm Still Here

I listened to a LOT of music when I was writing I'm Still Here. Sometimes, I can't listen to music when I'm writing, but this story required me to. I can't explain why, just something about the feeling of it. As I was writing, songs would catch my ear and I would include them on my playlist for the book. Every so often, I would hear a song while in my car and have to say the name over and over until I could stop and write it down in my notebook so that I could remember to include it on the playlist.

Here are the songs that made the playlist. A lot of them set the tone for Esther's past relationship with her twin sister Aster. Some of the songs go directly with a scene in the book--try and see if you can figure out which!

·   
Carry On by Fun.

When this song came out, it made me think of an acquaintance who had gone missing and was later found to have committed suicide. I could not fathom why she would make the choices she made and this song always made me think of her and that she could have found the strength to carry on. Her story was the inspiration for Aster.


Paradise by the Dashboard Lights by Meatloaf


Don't Mess Around with Jim by Jim Croce


Mad World by Alex Parks


Gravity by Sara Bareilles


Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles


Roar by Katy Perry


Hands by Jewel


Otherside by Red Hot Chili Peppers


Be Ok by Ingrid Michaelson


Say Something by A Great Big World ft. Christina Aguilera


Crazy by Gnarls Barkley


Breathe (2 am) by Anna Nalick


I Won't Give Up by Jason Mraz


Heart of Glass by Blondie


Broken by Jack Johnson


Tomorrow (Annie Soundtrack)


Break Stuff by Limp Bizkit
(Warning, this is the uncensored version with lots of bad language)


Won't Stop by One Republic


It's Alright by Big Head Todd and the Monsters



I hope you all enjoy this musical journey that accompanies Esther during her time in I'm Still Here. Guess what? This is only list one of two. Stay tuned for another play list coming soon!



I'm Still Here is available on Amazon, Barnes& Noble, Kobo, iTunes and Smashwords!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Acknowledgments

As my third book, I'm Still Here, is about to go live on all markets in about 7 hours, I wanted to publicize my thanks to those who have made the book happen. I'm not sure it is the vogue thing to do, but I put my acknowledgments in the beginning of my books, rather than the end. I know that people tend to skip over this part, but to me it is important to include all the people who make my writing career a possibility.

As I have been acknowledged in a few books, I have to say, it is so cool to see your own name in print at the beginning of someone's book. So, here are the people that made I'm Still Here happen.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

To my bestie, Michele Vagianelis. Yet another story that would not have been written without you. Oh, and make sure to thank JV for the spam email I supposedly sent to him that got this all started.

I had an incredible team of beta readers on this project. Without their collective insight, suggestions and encouragement, this book would be nowhere near what it is today. I'm so lucky to have this group of lovely, smart and talented writers and editors: Jayne Denker, Tracy Krimmer, Heather McCoubrey, Jana Misho, Becky Monson, Susan Rys and Chrissy Wolfe.

And speaking of editors, this would be a hot mess without the critical eyes of Cahren Morris and Karen Pirozzi. I promise, someday, I will learn how to use a comma properly, as well as the difference between abject and object poverty.

I would still be floundering, trying to decide on a cover and a blurb if not for the great group over at ChickLitChatHQ. Thank you all for your wisdom and opinions!

My first friend in life, Julie Stewart (you will always be Julie Cheney to me!), thank you for giving me some insight about what it is like to be in a band. I wish you'd move back up here so I can go see you play again.

Meghan Francis, who is not only a talented soccer coach, but a gifted speech-language pathologist as well, thank you for answering my questions about aphasia. If there are any technical errors, I assure you that they were all mine in the making.

Becky Monson, cover designer extraordinaire—I'm totally crushing on this cover too.

Cheryl and Dean Schoeder, thank you for the use of your names. I'm sorry for what I did to them.

Without the support of my parents and husband, none of this would be possible. And now to that team, I've added my brother, Dan, who comes to my book events and asks insightful questions and my niece Lexi who helps me with my social media marketing. I'm so lucky to have all of you, as well as my biggest (smallest) supporters, Jake and Sophia.


I never knew it was possible to miss someone you never met. Mike, the void you’ve left is immeasurable and I wish you were still here.

If you're interested in reading I'm Still Here, you can find it here:


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Helping Out

I've often been asked what is one surprising thing I've found since publishing. My answer on my latest interview was to say the people who I don't know who have come out of the woodwork to support me. Now it is my turn to pay back some of that support.

I'm about to publish my third novel, I'm Still Here. The main theme of the book is finding family. The main character, Esther, has to learn what it means to be family. As the back cover blurb says, "... blood does not always mean family." While I do happen to have a wonderful biologically-related family, I also have a family of friends and a family of other writers.

As I'm on the cusp of publishing my latest work, one of my fellow writers is going through a very difficult time. Although we live in the same community and know some of the same people, we've never met. We've liked each other's posts and shared each other's links, but we've never met. But I know that I need to do something to help her at this time. Her husband is the former fire chief in the fire department in which my grandfather was a charter member. And now her family is going through a terrible time due to an accident at the fire house.

So, here's what I'm proposing. No, not proposing. Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to donate a portion of my royalties during the month of September to the Wheatley family. So that means, anyone who pre-orders I'm Still Here will be donating to this family. Any pre-orders or purchases of any of my books through September 30 will count. The more people who buy books, the more we will be able to help this family out.

I thank you all in advance for helping me to show a small amount of support to the Wheatley family during this difficult, uncertain time. If you would prefer to donate directly to the family, you can send a donation to this address:

The Chief Jason Wheatley Fund
C/O The Verdoy Fire Department
988 Troy Schenectady Road
Latham, NY, 12110
I'm Still Here is available for pre-order on Kindle, Kobo, iBooks and Smashwords.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Piece of Cake

My mom always made our birthday cakes. And, of course, as a child, I wanted nothing more than the bakery concoctions with mountains of frosting and brightly colored roses that could induce a diabetic coma. However, as I grew up, I realized I don't like most bakery cakes (unless they're chocolate with chocolate ganache). I was attracted to the intricate designs. I wanted my cake to look pretty (not that my mom didn't do a great job. She did. There were no fancy roses or intricate piping though).

Then, when I was in college, Martha Stewart came into the picture, establishing an impossible xenith of decorating and home keeping. I have no where near the talent and skill it takes to be Martha, but dammit I'm gonna try. For years, I spent Christmas Eve frosting sugar cookies in six different colors of royal icing, just so they looked smooth and professional. They looked nice, but my mom's round ones with cream cheese frosting taste a whole lot better.

For my wedding cake, I chose a cake with fondant, just because it looked so smooth and nice. Just like Martha Stewart would make. I didn't actually eat any of my wedding cake that night. People kept coming up to me and asking what type of frosting it was. I smugly replied, "It is a buttercream frosting with fondant over it." Most people had never heard of fondant. I thought I was impressing them. Until the day after, when I tasted it, and realized it was horrible (fondant has come a long way in 13 years).
This was the only taste of the cake I got that day. You can see it in the bottom left corner.
And then I became a mom myself. I had three co-workers at the time who had taken the Wilson cake decorating classes and they made cakes. One of them even made the cake for my baby shower.

And as  mom, I wanted to make my own cakes. Of course, I wanted them to be fancy and professional looking. My first attempt for Jake's first birthday was not that successful.

What you can't see in this picture is the horrible time I had with the chocolate cake crumbing up. It kills me every year, trying to frost a chocolate cake (because that is what the kids ALWAYS want) with white frosting and not to get crumbs. Since 2005, I have tried several methods to reduce crumbing. My current one is to bake the cake, and then freeze it. Frosting it while frozen seems to help a little.

By Jake's second birthday, I was branching out into better designs. I'm pretty proud of the free-hand design on this one. I was still using canned frosting and the tube gel for decoration.

His third birthday had me thinking a bit outside the box, as I couldn't find how to make a Thomas cake without buying the pan and doing star tips, which scared the bejeezus out of me at the time. I was, however, stuck in the rut of using a 9 x 12 pan.

For Jake's fourth birthday, I finally changed it up. For the first time, I made my own frosting and started using gel coloring, rather than the liquid stuff. So many more color options and it doesn't thin the frosting out either. I also branched out into cupcakes this year. Go figure ... finally getting complicated when I have a baby in the mix.

With said baby, that meant I got to make two cakes a year. I finally tackled the star tip frosting for Sophia's first birthday. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. Of course, I went off the deep end and made candy to go with her cake as well.

Jake wanted an ice cream cake for his fifth birthday. Not much to look at, but it tasted pretty good. He had a friend birthday party that year, for which we used a store-bought cake. His party and actual birthday were about a week apart, so we definitely needed two cakes.

For Sophia's second birthday, I traced this picture on waxed paper and then frosted that, putting it right on top of the cake. Back to the 9 x 12, but I always liked how it came out. The purple looks blue in this picture, but it was definitely purple and red. Or rojo, as Dora would say.

I went back to cupcakes for Jake's sixth birthday. I started to get more creative and confident in my skills.


But for Sophia, I don't know what got into me. I was like a person possessed. This is where my rush-through-it and OCD battle, which is really tough. Two of my dad's favorite sayings are, "I cut it three times and it's still too short" and "Ready, fire, aim!" Both of those apply to me. However, when you have crazy high expectations of perfection, it leads to a lot of hard work, over ambitious projects and ultimately disappointment. It wasn't terrible, but certainly wasn't what I wanted it to look like. The project engineer needs to be fired. Still, Sophia remembers getting the princesses to play with, so that's what's important.


I borrowed a friend's sphere pan to do a Mets themed baseball cake. This really wasn't that hard and I think it turned out pretty good (especially considering his party was about an hour away, and I had to carry this all the way up there). I need to remember that sometimes, the simpler cakes come out better.

But I forgot that lesson by the time Sophia's birthday rolled around. Pinterest had hit the scene, which can be a cake-maker's best friend and worst enemy. Still, not terrible, and I ventured into fondant again, used glitter and candy flowers. I don't want to think about how much this cake actually cost me to make.



About one month after Jake turned seven, he was looking at a catalog that has birthday party supplies and said, "For my next birthday, I want Tom and Jerry. I am going to be eight, you know." Eleven months later, I found a company that does edible images and ordered it so Jake could have his Tom and Jerry party. He had a homemade ice cream cake again for his family party.

Sophia wanted a horse birthday for her fifth birthday. This was her first time having a friend party. One of her friends had a peanut allergy, so I was limited in the ingredients I could use. I also need to come to terms with the fact that I cannot make a straight line. 

Jake wanted a Star Wars birthday for his ninth. For some reason, I am not very creative in February when his birthday rolls around. However, I think my frosting ability has improved slightly. It could be because I've invested in better tools over the years (a lazy susan has made all the difference!).


I hit Pinterest again for Sophia's birthday, and was pleased with this one. Still didn't love the way my frosting tasted but I loved the way this one came out.

Ok, mom-fail moment here. I have no cake for Jake's tenth birthday. But before you pass judgement, we were in Disney for his birthday and he got a cake there. He didn't have a friend party (his choice), so there was no second cake. I did send cupcakes into school (of which I have no picture). Sophia's birthday is in August, so she never gets cupcakes for school.

Which leads us to Sophia's birthday again. The party is tomorrow. She is having a spa birthday party. The spa's theme is zebra print and pink, so that's what she wanted for her cake. She also wanted a tiered cake (despite the fact that there will only be seven girls there). So, I combed Pinterest, and this is what I came up with. I think it is my best cake ever. Don't look too closely. It is a bit crooked and my fondant could be trimmed a bit cleaner. But I totally love it. Totally.


And now, I finally have a decent frosting recipe. As it happens, I have a friend who writes stories about a fictional baker. This fictional baker has a real buttercream frosting recipe that is AMAZEBALLS. Completely and totally. Best part, you can have that recipe too. It's right here. Follow the directions. Use room temperature salted butter.

As much as I love these cakes (even the messy, ugly, crooked ones), what I love is that my kids love them. Sophia came in the kitchen today and looked at the half-done cake and said, "That is the most beautiful cake ever." She helped me make it and decorate it as well, dictating where dots should go and what size they should be. She also approves of the frosting.

I love looking back on the themes and remembering where the kids were at that time in their lives. What their interests were.

My cakes don't belong on Pinterest. They are more in the Pinterest fails category, but I don't care. My kids have loved them and that's what makes this all a piece of cake.

Friday, July 25, 2014

No Way That Just Happened (Oh, and a Preview from My New Book)

A while back, I wrote this blog post about how things I've written about in my books have a strange way of coming to fruition. 

So, today, I was returning home from a family outing. The hubs had met us out and was in the car behind us. Much of the time, when we have two cars, at least one of the kids decides to ride with Dad. Today, it wasn't discussed and they were both with me.

We live on a main street and about 5 p.m. on a Friday, it's a pretty busy thoroughfare. I had stopped while waiting to make a left turn into my driveway. Next thing I know, I hear a loud crash, then feel an impact as we're hit from behind. Turns out, a Ford F150 had rear ended my husband, who then rear ended me.

We pulled right over and assessed the damage. Now, keep in mind, we paid off my van two weeks ago. My husband's car is totalled. His passenger side airbag deployed, but the driver's side didn't. His rear bumper is barely on. His seat broke as his weight went backwards. His front end crumpled into my rear lift gate and the whole rear quarter of my car.

We're okay. We're all okay, and that is the important thing.

I'm thankful for three things: that my husband is okay; that my children are okay; that I wasn't eating a Ho Ho.

If you want to know what that third thing is all about, read on:

CHAPTER ONE I stepped on the sidewalk and walked with confidence. My hair was red and curly. My skin was flawless. My dress was tight, little and black. My car was, well shit, it was still a beat up, tired looking non-descript sedan (a 1992 Mercury Topaz, to be exact) with more rust than paint. I looked back over my shoulder. Yep, it was still there. It had not been magically replaced by a Porsche. I lost some (okay, all) of my bravado and my shoulders hunched for a minute. The confidence, fleeting as it was, was gone. I stopped and took a deep breath. I could do this. Aww, who the hell was I kidding? There was no way in hell I could do this. I turned around and walked as fast as my stilettos and tight LBD would let me, back to my P.O.S. mode of transportation. I jangled the key in the lock and jostled the door open. Bending and dipping so as not to flash my wares, I finally was inside my safe haven. With only three attempts at turning the engine over, I was off and sped away. I wanted to go home and hide in my bed for about six years. I decided that I needed some fortification if I was going to stay holed up for that long. I took the much familiar detour to the market to pick up some emergency supplies—a bag of Fritos and a box of Ho Ho’s.
What had I been thinking signing up for speed dating? It wasn't me. I wasn't that type of girl. I didn't do frivolous and flighty things like speed dating. I couldn't believe I let myself get talked into it. I didn't want to disappoint Jillian by saying no to her zany idea. I let her bully me into it. On the other hand, I was tired of being alone. I had been on my own for so long that the prospect of even possibly meeting someone held appeal. Well, it wasn't going to be through speed dating, that was for sure.
          As I was powering down the aisle towards the express check out, the heel snapped on my shoe. I stopped and stared, shoe in my hand like an alien life form. Really? Just my luck. I would say the universe was against me, if I believed in that sort of thing. 2013 was not turning out to be my year. Nope, not at all. I limped the rest of the way (why did the Ho Ho’s have to be in the back of the market?) to the check out, praying that no one noticed me. Of course, I was waaay overdressed for grocery shopping and had comfort food, as well as the heel from my shoe in my hand. Now I was lumbering through the store like Quasimoto, and I had the sneaking suspicion that my hair was growing larger by the minute. I’m fairly certain that I stuck out in the grocery store like a sore thumb, like the date-less loser on a Saturday night that I was. I made it to my car and kicked off my shoes as soon as I got inside. Good thing that I didn’t need a pair of black heels any time soon. I was on a restricted budget, and shoe shopping was not high on the list of essentials. Sure, it would now be on the list, but Ho Ho’s and Fritos always took precedence.
          Never one to waste time, I had the box of Ho Ho's opened by the time my car had reversed out of the parking spot. I navigated out to the main road and proceeded to begin drowning my sorrows in the delicious goodness of chocolate cake and cream. Yeah, this was the life. It was so much better than going to the speed-dating event. I was waiting at the four-way stop, chowing down with reckless abandon, savoring the creamy deliciousness, when suddenly my car was rammed from behind. This initial impact pushed my car far enough into the intersection to run into the car to my left who was making a left. I felt the two collisions, followed by a loud popping noise right next to my head. For a minute, I thought someone had fired a gun. But no, I could not be that lucky. It was only my airbag deploying. It wailed my chest and face and the air was filled with smoke and dust. The Ho Ho that I had been bringing to my mouth became one with my face as my hand propelled upwards. I tried to breathe, and inhaled dust and a bit of chocolate cake, which immediately sent me choking and coughing. I reached down, impatiently to unhook my seat belt, which had locked up. As I finally got it off, my door opened up from the outside. I jumped out, happy to be free of my death trap, without looking, and promptly fell into the guy who opened my door.
          Yup, there I was, covered in dust and Ho Ho debris, coughing and choking, spitting out powder and cake. My red curls now resembled a rat's nest and my dress was riding dangerously high on my thighs. I was standing barefoot in the street with no way to get home. I was so ready to meet the man of my dreams.


Yes, this is a sneak preview of my new novel, out September 2, 2104. Please note, this is not the final, edited version, so don't judge the typos. You can add I'm Still Here to your to-be-read list on Goodreads, where you can also enter the giveaway for an advanced review copy!