How about an adventure to set your young reader's heart dancing in a positive way? I am excited to tell you about a new middle-grade page-turning fantasy. Music Boxes, by Tonja Drecker.
Read on to preview Drecker's book, catch a brilliant video trailer, meet the author, and read my review. Plus, you can enter for your chance to win books, swag, and a $10US Amazon gift card in a Rafflecopter giveaway that runs from midnight (EST), 21 February 2019 until midnight (EST) 15 March 2019 (open in US only). Good luck and happy tales!
ABOUT THE BOOK
I only desire your talent...
Twelve-year-old Lindsey McKay's biggest dream is to be a famous ballerina. But after moving to New York, she ends up at the Community Center with a teacher who is a burly bear in tights.
When she meets Madame Destinee, the teacher of a top dance school who offers her classes for free, Lindsey can't believe her luck. In exchange, she must perform in exclusive midnight shows, ones sure to make her a star. But something is not right
One by one, the other dancers disappear. Each time they do, a music box with a figurine just like the missing ballerina joins Madame's growing collection. If Lindsey does not discover the truth about the dance school, she might end up a tiny figurine herself.
Title: Music Boxes | Author: Tonja Drecker | Publication Date: March 2019 | Publisher: Dancing Lemur Press, LLC | Pages: 155 | Recommended Ages: 9-12
Amazon US * Barnes & Noble * Kobo
Suspense kicks in from the start with the cast of characters as Lyndsey bumps into Madame Destinee. You know something's up right away as the teacher promises a successful dance career, BUT only if Lyndsey attends midnight lessons at Madameâs ballet school. The school is populated with other tween dancers to serve up juicy rounds of adolescent insecurities and friendships.
The author sprinkles humor and perfect tween-sized romantic tension between Lindsey and her attractive dance partner, Robert. I chuckled over one cute scene as Robert recalls his flubbed pas de deux with Lindsey:
Pas de huh!
Madame's dog, Broussard, adds his doggy humor and canine wisdom by providing clues to the mystery behind Destinee's music box collection.
âRemember fights you had growing up with your siblings? (Come on ... you know you had a few!)
Alternating dynamics of love and jealousy between sisters Lindsey and Bridget give an authentic, age-appropriate feel to sibling conflicts while also portraying positivity.
No spoilers here about the clever connections between young dancers, Madame Destinee, and the music boxes. To be honest, I re-read the fanciful resolution a few times because I didn't catch on to its creative details right away.
However, the author reveals all in the end and delivers a satisfying conclusion
This imaginative tale for upper-elementary graders delivers fantasy and mystery while underscoring the importance of career dreams, friendship and kindness. I highly recommend Music Boxes for children in grades 3-6. A must-read for kids who love ballet!
MEET THE AUTHOR
Tonja Drecker is a writer, blogger, childrenâs book reviewer and freelance translator.
After spending years in Germany exploring forgotten castles, she current resides in the Ozarks (the US Midwest) with her family of six.
When not tending her chickens and cows, sheâs discovering new adventures, nibbling chocolate and sipping a cup of tea.
Disclosure: I was given an advance review copy of this book and wish to share an honest, unbiased opinion of my reading experience.
The giveaway will run from midnight (EST) on the night of February 21st, 2019 until midnight (EST) on the night of March 15th, 2019. Entries will be made through the Rafflecopter. One winner will receive a music box (the one found in the book video: https://youtu.be/ww_RY4IVg3w) with the authorâs golden signature on the bottom as well as swag (US addresses only). The second winner will receive an Amazon GC of $10 (US). The second winner must be in possession of a qualifying US Amazon account.
The contest is open to U.S. residents only, ages eighteen and over. No purchase is required for entry. All winners must claim their prize 48 hours after notification. Winners will be announced on on Saturday, March 16th 2019 by 10:00am (EST). All addresses and personal information will be used only for prize allocation. Sponsor, Tonja Drecker, assumes no responsibility or liability of any kind. Please email all questions to .
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Have a hankering for adventure, history, and a touch of romance in Renaissance Italy? You're in luck! I'm pleased to partner with Italy Book Tours in spotlighting a new fiction novel for adults by Crystal King, The Chef's Secret.
Read on to meet Crystal, read an excerpt from her book, and enter a giveaway for a chance to win one grand prize package of a $25US gift card and two books by the author. Five additional readers will score one copy each of the Chef's Secret. (Giveaway ends 7 March 2019. Open to US and Canada only.)
Good luck and happy tales!
Book Title: The Chef's Secret by Crystal King
Category: Adult fiction, 352 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria/Simon & Schuster
Release date: Feb 12, 2019
Tour dates: Feb 11 to 28, 2019
Content Rating: R (for a couple of explicit, but loving, sex scenes (no abuse or rape) and minor curse words)
A captivating novel of Renaissance Italy detailing the mysterious life of Bartolomeo Scappi, the legendary chef to several popes and author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, and the nephew who sets out to discover his late uncle’s secrets—including the identity of the noblewoman Bartolomeo loved until he died.
When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.
As Giovanni pieces together the details of Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.
With luscious prose that captures the full scale of the sumptuous feasts for which Scappi was known, The Chef’s Secret serves up power, intrigue, and passion, bringing Renaissance Italy to life in a delectable fashion.
Excerpt from THE CHEF’S SECRET (Atria/Simon & Schuster)
By Crystal King
Forty-three days after he first laid eyes upon the most beautiful girl in the world, Bartolomeo had the good fortune to overhear the maids talking about a girl at the palazzo. Two of the serving maids huddled in the pantry near his post where he was prepping nightingales for the cena. When they mentioned the dress she had worn the night before, Bartolomeo realized the principessa was the object of their admiration.
One of the maids was a thin slip of a girl who served the cardinale’s sister. The other was a young woman who had caught his fancy for a time the summer before, but soon bored Bartolomeo with her empty gossip.
“She’s here from Roma,” the first said, awe in her voice. They talked of the girl’s extraordinarily wealthy family, of her famed dressmaker, and of how long it took to wrangle her curls each morning.
When they said her name, Bartolomeo had to put his knife down for fear of cutting himself. Oh, to know her true name! Happiness filled him like a carafe of fine wine. Her name, he thought, was like the taste of strawberries sprinkled with sugar. It was like the summer sun touching the petal of a freshly bloomed flower. That evening, when he gazed out his little garret window, he wished he could shout her name across the rooftops, but he could never say it aloud. To do so was too dangerous, for her and for him. He would take a thousand lashings for his Stella [Author’s note, this is a pet name that Bartolomeo has for her], but he could not bear to have her come to harm.
The next morning, Stella stopped Bartolomeo in the loggia. The sky was bright and the October air was still gentle and warm. He was readying to leave the palazzo to go to market when she approached. He was so startled to see her there he stopped in his tracks, mouth agape.
The princess was radiant in a red velvet gown, her hair piled high upon her head. Her beauty was staggering, her skin so clear, her cheeks ruddy and fresh. What a sight he must seem in comparison, with his own hair a tussle of wild waves, a grease stain adorning one sleeve. He hadn’t bathed, and he was certain he smelled too much like onions and ham.
She recognized his discomfort and giggled, in a way that immediately eased his fear. She gently touched his arm with one hand, and with the other she pressed a piece of paper into his palm. “What is your name?”
He looked around to see who might be witnessing the exchange, but there were only a couple of gardeners in the vicinity, none of whom paid them any mind. “Bartolomeo,” he said, gathering courage.
She released his hand and shared her own name. Bartolomeo’s heart sang as she repeated the word he had been turning over and over in his mind since the day before.
To follow the tour, please visit Crystal King's page on Italy Book Tours.
Buy the Book:
Meet the Author:
A Pushcart Prize–nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in critical and creative thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She resides in Boston but considers Italy her next great love after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. She is the author of Feast of Sorrow.
Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram
Enter the Giveaway!
Ends March 7, 2019
According to the American Heart Association and goredforwomen.org, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in America, striking more women than all forms of cancer combined. You can do three things NOW to fight this disease:
--> Move more
--> Eat Smart
--> Manage Blood Pressure
Plus on 1 February, go through your closet and find something red to wear to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease and save lives. Then take good care of your heart and YOU every day!
You can also check out my list of 10 books below. They have the heart to keep you in good literary shape.
Books With Heart for Kids
In My Heart: a Book of Feelings
by Jo Witik
illustrated by Christine Roussey (2014)
A picture book for toddlers, In My Heart introduces emotional aspects of heart. Through rich language and rhymes, the book helps kids identify, accept, and express a range of feelings.
Books With Heart for Grown Ups
What books about heart have you read? Which hearty tales are on your to-read list? We're always looking for our next great read, so please share in the comment section below.
Join Cat’s Tribe of Readers
Not a foodie here, but I admire those who create glorious cuisine and dining experiences in their kitchens. Naom Kostucki, with Chef Quentin Villers, do just that by sharing how to craft exciting culinary encounters in their new book, Accessible Fine Dining - The Art of Creating Exciting Food in Your Everyday Kitchen.
Get ready for your taste buds to do the happy dance as you preview their book and feast your eyes on gorgeous dishes. Then meet the authors and read an interview with Noam, owner of Michelin-starred HiR Fine Dining, a one-of-a-kind culinary experience set in the intimacy of his kitchen in the Costa Rican jungle. Within 6 months of opening, one of Noam's plates was selected out of 40,000 restaurants by OpenTable as one of their recommended "25 dishes to travel around the world for."
You can also enter a giveaway for a chance to win a grand prize - four seats at Noam’s HiR Fine Dining (a $580 value) - or one of 20 paperback or ebook copies of Accessible Fine Dining. Giveaway ends 7 February. Scroll to the end of this post for details and entry. Good luck and happy tales!
" If you want to create fine dining dishes,
start to focus your attention on the different stories a dish can tell.
Some stories can be told through your cooking ...."
~ Noam Kostucki
Book Title: Accessible Fine Dining - The Art of Creating Exciting Food in Your Everyday Kitchen by Noam Kostucki, with Chef Quentin Villers
Category: Adult Non-fiction , 128 pages
Genre: Creative Cookbook / Fine Dining
Release date: Dec 10, 2018
Tour dates: Jan 7 to 31, 2019
Content Rating: G
Six months after opening my first restaurant, one of my dishes was selected as "25 dishes to travel around the world", featuring me next to culinary legend Heston Blumenthal.
Exciting and healthy food doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Over the years, I have seen some of the most exciting dishes come from the simplest kitchens and the most modest ingredients. The purpose of this book is to focus our attention away from the distractions of fancy kitchen equipment and luxury produce and instead focus our attention towards ingenuity in the kitchen and culinary innovation.
For some strange reason, cooking is taught in books as a series of mechanical steps to follow and repeat with precision. I see cooking as a creative art like painting or playing music: it is the freedom of expression that is most interesting to me. When we create from an artistic perspective, we give birth to something new and potentially magical.
The purpose of this book is not to teach you specific recipes, because the ingredients you will find in your local organic food market will likely not be the same as the ones we see here. Nor is the purpose to show you how to imitate us. The purpose of this book is to guide you into thinking about your dishes in a way that elevates them to a fine dining level, from ingredients which are easily accessible to you. Naturally, you will find a few recipes, but most importantly you will find a new way to look at food.
We will share how we think about food shopping, searching for unusual ingredients, the combinations of flavors, techniques, textures, nutritional value, and of course, plating. The purpose of this book is to guide you to become a more exciting, creative and adventurous version of yourself in the kitchen. What separates a craft from an art form is the story behind it; cooking is a craft, while fine dining is an art form.
If you want to create fine dining dishes, start to focus your attention on the different stories a dish can tell. Some stories can be told through your cooking, and others are told through words. Taking the time to present your dishes before people eat is crucial to creating anticipation for the food they will eat.
Buy the Book:
Watch the book trailer:
Meet the Authors:
MY NAME IS NOAM KOSTUCKI AND I CREATE SPACES FOR MAGIC TO HAPPEN.
I was an awkward child, so I changed school 5 times. I spent most of my life trying to please others, and be the kind of person I believed everyone else wanted me to be. I wasn't happy and I struggled to get what I want. Everything changed when I started changing.
I spent the last 12 years creating the life I dream of. I've had the privilege to be homeless twice, and to speak at Harvard about entrepreneurship. I have grown to be myself more fearlessly than ever before. I am now surrounded by people I love, and who love me.
I traveled over 40 countries, and I've helped over 25,000 people create magic. For example Patryk Wezowski who raised $500,000 in 8 weeks and Esther Perel who gave the 30th most viewed TED talk. Some less public successes include a blind eyed student who experienced his blind eye for the first time and a journalist who left an abusive relationship.
As a university drop out, I was surprised when my first book (personal branding) became required reading at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC, as well as receiving the UK Business Speaker of the Year runner up award, and a honorary degree in Business from Hofstra University. As an artist, I was honored to exhibit my photography at the European Union's Innovation Conference.
My most recent venture is HiR Fine Dining, a jungle culinary adventure. I create a discovery menu of 7 plates per person for groups of up to 12 people. HiR Fine Dining became #1 fine dining on TripAdvisor in Tamarindo within the first month. Within 6 months one of my plates was selected out of 40,000 restaurants by OpenTable as one of "25 dishes to travel around the world for". I was invited to speak at Chateau 1525, Costa Rica's most reputable cooking school and our guest chefs include a blind chef who traveled all the way the United Kingdom.
Quentin has been cooking in restaurant since the age of 18. He helped his brother build a restaurant for which they received a Michelin Star. Quentin moved to Costa Rica to consult for hotels and restaurants. He managed 3 of the 4 restaurants at Hotel Nayara in La Fortuna, for which he lead a team of over 20 people to be selected to enter Relais & Chateaux, a prestigious network of unique luxury hotels with exquisite cuisine. Quentin is a regular guest chef at HiR Fine Dining and consults for a number of fine dining restaurants in Costa Rica.
Interview with Noam Kostucki
How do you come up with new dishes?
To be honest, I don’t have a specific method. Something I notice from other chefs is that most chefs I’ve met seem to love cooking for others. They often don’t actually eat in their own restaurants. But for me it’s the opposite. I love eating great food, so I cook for myself combinations I’ve never had before because I love eating food that surprise me. Then when I discover something cool, I share it with guests… and I look forward to eating the leftovers. The day I get bored of the leftovers, I change the dish because it means my heart and guts are not into it anymore. I can only cook food that gets me excited and wanting to eat the dish I’m plating.
I mostly come up with dishes by cooking for myself. I use what I have and mix things in ways that I don’t know how it will taste. I’m very content with the idea of not knowing how my food will turn out. At first, it often tasted terrible, but after a few years of practice, I became fairly good and it’s generally at least OK. Now that Nadia lives with me (my life and business partner), we have fun cooking for ourselves and when we’re both impressed by our creation, we find ways to elevate it for guests. We test it with clients and ask them for direct feedback. We explain to them that cooking is a dialogue between us and them. They help us make dishes better by telling us what they really think. They are excited to be part of the creation process. So I’ve learned to ask at the end of every dinner for feedback and thoughts on dishes. That’s how we decide what needs to be changed and what stays.
What is your jungle culinary adventure?
The jungle culinary adventure is a 3-hour, seven-course menu at my home in Costa Rica. These dinners are very private and intimate as we serve a maximum of twelve guests per night, and the kitchen neighbors the table so that we can interact with guests as they eat. During dinners, we’ve been visited by monkeys, cows, dogs, cats, frogs, scorpions and many others. It’s quite amazing to be sitting in the middle of the jungle by a wooden table and eat food that feels like it comes out of a Michelin star restaurant. I like the idea of integrating luxury fine dining with a rustic familiar environment.
Fine dining is normally associated with luxury, how do your guests react to the “rustic” and “natural” environment?
At first, people are often a bit tensed. You can read the concern on their faces: especially because they’ve had to pay in advance, at first, they wonder if it’s a scam. They can’t believe that the photos of exquisite dishes they’ve seen online come from this rustic natural environment. Seeing me barefoot with my beard and long hair doesn’t help their worries: you can see guest wonder where is the fine dining chef. When they receive their first dish, then you see people relax and their shoulders come down. They take their phones out and grab photos while listening to the description of the dish. Once they’ve finished their first dish, they’re completely at ease and start to fully enjoy the atmosphere. They then make the most of the fact that it’s such a casual atmosphere and we have lovely conversations while they’re eating dinner. At the end of dinners, people often comment on their initial fears and how their expectations when highly exceeded.
What was the toughest moment of your fine dining experience?
The most stressful was the first few months because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. Every cooking day felt like a war with time. I would start cooking at 6am and work non-stop until after guests left around 8.30pm. It was insane. I was doing everything alone so I had nobody to bounce ideas with or to taste the food. I had to assume what I was doing was going to be good enough. I would buy way too much food because I was scared of not having enough. Service was also crazy at the beginning because I didn’t realize how much I could prepare in advance. My first few dinners used to last up to 5h. From working with Quentin Villers, the Michelin star chef who mentored me, I learned how to prepare more things in advance and have better methods for cooking while serving guests. Serving new dishes was so mortifying that at the beginning I would only serve new dishes as extras and warn people they may not be good because they’re still in “Research & Development.”
Crissy Sharp's new Tale, glamorous life of a mediocre housewife, delivers mystery, clean romance And a Giveaway
Crissy Sharp's new tale, The Glamorous Life of a Mediocre Housewife, caught my eye as I searched for wholesome adult fiction to share with you beyond my usual children's book posts. Sharp pens a delightful read!
Meet Crissy, treat yourself to an excerpt of her book, and download your e-copy on sale for $.99 until 22 January.
PLUS..... you can enter to win a $25 PayPal cash or Amazon gift card by scrolling down to the bottom of this post. Giveaway ends 6 February.
Good luck and happy tales!
The Glamorous Life of a Mediocre Housewife by Crissy Sharp Lotty Brooks’ days consist of avoiding thoughts of her failing marriage, changing diapers, and trying not to eat chocolate brioche for breakfast and lunch. However, everything changes when her perfect, lakeside Montana neighborhood begins bustling with crime and she seems to be the target. Jason Brooks wants to know what happened to the woman he married. Lotty’s a mere shell of her former self. When she becomes the focal point of neighborhood threats, and the town seems to question her innocence, he must decide how well he knows his wife. As Jason and Lotty try to get to the bottom of the threats and find those responsible, they’ll need to remember what they once loved about each other. Otherwise, they may lose everything and everyone they care about. It was his hideous cheval mirror that provoked Lotty. The pompous owls carved into the edges sneered at the bedroom as if they knew her and Jason’s marriage was falling apart. The crack in the top corner reminded her of everything that had gone wrong between them. She normally steered clear of the monstrosity, but today it caught her eye and she stopped right in front of it. Smack dab in the middle where she could see every stupid owl. Somehow Jason’s mirror highlighted all her imperfections. Maybe it was the way he saw her now. She closed her eyes so she couldn’t see the stranger with slumped shoulders and tired eyes. She tried to think of herself as the confident, young mother she’d been, but the image dissolved before it ever came into view. Gone were the skinny jeans and heels. Now it was yoga pants and a muffin top. The bright-eyed Lotty Brooks was a distant memory. She missed the excited version of herself, the one who loved her husband and felt loved in return. The woman she’d become was a sad shell of her former self. Lotty turned away with a sigh and shoved the last bite of her breakfast pastry into her mouth, letting the gooey deliciousness numb her sadness. Who needed skinny jeans and heels in a world where chocolate brioche masqueraded as breakfast? Maybe she should resign herself to a life in pants with stretchy waistbands. She picked up Jason’s jacket from where he’d left it on the floor. Jason. Maybe what she needed to resign herself to was a life without him, but the thought tore at her heart. "Had me caught up in the story and mystery of it very quickly. It’s been a long time since I found a book that was hard to put down, but this one was that way!"--Laura L. "Fabulous, funny! Emotions and suspense abound!" --Julie C "This book kept me on the edge of my seat! I did not want to put it down and snuck in a few pages while at work (shhh don't tell my boss!). This mystery/suspense novel has everything you could want - intrigue, a mystery to solve, romance, and even a scheming mother." --StoreyBook Reviews Author Crissy Sharp Crissy Sharp has a special knack for avoiding cooking and cleaning so she can focus the hobbies she truly enjoys, like writing and running. Though she'll always be a Montana girl at heart, she also loves Tennessee, where she currently lives with her husband and three children.
The start of a new year is like a blank slate, and we don’t know what will be written upon it. Even if we don’t hold that winning lottery ticket, there are loads of things we can engrave upon it.
My writerly pals and I are sharing our hopes - on the writing road and in our family life - for 2019 in our #Gr8Blog hop about what we hope to accomplish in 2019.
I’ll be over the moon if I can tick off 3 biggies from my bucket list in the next 12 months. Numbers 3 and 2 are simultaneously scary and super-challenging; my top wish is something I’ve been dreaming about for the longest time.
Please check out my 2019 Dream Trio Count-Down. Then be sure to visit the other #Gr8Blogs linked at the end of this post for more smiles and inspirations about 2019 wishes.
3. New Writing Direction
Consumed with rightsizing and building a new home in 2018, most of last year was swallowed with getting life in order. As 2019 settles and my brain declutters, I'm itching to define a new writing direction and pen my next book. But I don't now what that is yet. Sigh.
It’s painful to leave my Sweet T Tales. I love those characters and the books' beachy settings. Plus, Irene A. Jahn’s gorgeous watercolors blow me away! But I want to publish books that don’t have hefty printing costs due to multiple color illustrations associated with chapter books.
I’m leaning to YA or a cozy for grown-ups, but it’s all so fuzzy. How to find a niche I enjoy writing about AND find new readers for it?!?!?
Some days, I feel confident.
Other days, I’m overwhelmed.
But I’m nearly always determined.
Number two on my count-down falls at that fuzzy intersection of personal and authoring life.
Unlike many writing colleagues, I’m an ambivert who generally thrives being around people.
After moving from our long-time home this summer, I’ve been meeting new neighbors and sussing ways to connect in my new community, but it is a process that does not happen overnight.
Some days I feel like the new kid at lunchtime in junior high school ---You know the one? ---eagerly looking for welcoming spots in a sea of unfamiliar faces busy doing their thing.
BEST feeling in the world: seeing first-hand reactions to my tales when I talk with book clubs, libraries, or classrooms about writing. In 2019, I'll seek more such in-person or Skype opportunities to connect with readers, teachers, librarians and booklovers.
I'd be over the moon if you might help me by scheduling an author visit. Learn more and schedule your Catly time with a writer on my website HERE
I also want to notch up the quality and quantity of virtual engagements on social media --- this Cat's Corner blog, Facebook and Instagram --- but still keep writing while maintaining reasonable work hours. Anybody have the secret formula for this balancing act -:D?
1. Dream Trek West with Hub
I’ve traveled across the US for business or family visits to the Pacific Northwest. However, JM has never been west of the Mississippi River. That changes this spring as I tick off the top item on my 2019 bucket list .... Hub is traveling with me to Literary Classic's Great American Book Festival and Writers’ Conference in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Best, he’ll be at my side at the Literary Classics Book Awards, where I’ll accept a gold medal for writing Sweet T and the Turtle Team, the top children’s book in the environment category. So excited!
(Help ... I need a stylist! I must abandon my standard daily uniform of workout clothes for evening wear to walk the red carpet at the awards ceremony. Guessing sequined black yoga pants with matching top and rhinestone trainers would not do <wink>.)
Hub and I are adding to our adventure with a short stay at Rocky Mountain National Park (southwest of Rapid City, near Denver, Colorado). JM wants to see a bear in the wild. City Girl me, not so much, but I’d be okay seeing one and "shooting" it through my camera's telephoto lens from the safety of a car.
This experience feels surreal, and I'm trying to wrap my head around such a wonderful affirmation of five nose-to-the-grindstone years of writing to be bookended by travel adventures Hub and I dream about. Adding to our celebration ... the trip falls on our 25th wedding anniversary ... Yippy!
I’m beyond blessed to have such an opportunity. Can’t wait to trek west and share the adventure with you! (Hey, if you know the Badlands\Rockies area, please e-mail or IM me. I’d love insider travel tips.)
Thanks for stopping by. Most grateful for your company as I jump into mega-unexplored territory in 2019.
What do you want to accomplish on your bucket list this year? Please share in the comment section. And for more inspiration, please visit my #Gr8blog pals below. (Ooooo, and we’ll let you know if you if one of us actually wins the lottery <laughing here!>)
Hey, if you blog and want to join us on this hop, just add the family-friendly link to your post in the comment section. We’ll visit and give you some blog love-:D
Photo Credits: Parts 2 & 3: Unsplash; Part 3: National Park Service
Before you go:
Please find more inspiration and 2019 wishes by visiting my awesome #Gr8Blogs pals:
Jim "Lefty" Milson
Was 2018 a crazy roller coaster ride for you? Smooth sailing? Milestone events?
My writerly pals and I are remembering the happy moments as well as lessons we learned from challenges this past year in our blog hop: My Ups, Downs, and In Betweens on the 2018 Writing Road.
Check out our personal reveals, then visit the other #Gr8Blogs linked at the end of the post for more shared recollections and lessons learned along the way. We hope you'll be inspired to dive into your own special memories of 2018!
Attitude of Gratitude
The instructor closed our killer-pilates/yoga workout with words that wouldn't leave me: "The things you take for granted are the things others are praying for."
Her benediction underscored the attitude of gratitude I want to keep in my heart, especially during this wild year of rightsizing and writer's block.
The things you take for granted are the things others are praying for.
Having struggled and reconciled with my new status as a baby boomer orphan last year, 2018 still loomed large with challenges. Leaving our cherished home and neighbors of 20 years to preemptively transition to first-floor living was one of the toughest things I've done. Right up there after death, divorce and job loss.
Waves of sadness kept me tossing at night as Harsh Critic Me hammered away:
What a first-world problem.
You're lucky to build a beautiful new home.
Some people don’t even have a roof over their heads.
Get over it!
If JM and I had children and our families lived closer, we’d have anchors in a sea of chaos. However, we do not. It's a reality that gets harder as we get older.
BUT we have each other,
AND long-time friends who are like family,
PLUS more friends to discover and new neighbors to meet.
Instead of feeling upside down, I want to reframe our transition as a lucky adventure.
View change as a gain instead of a take away.
I’m getting there. But some days I raise the white flag.
Swinging between sadness and buoyancy, this new order is exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. It still spins me around, though less often as the year winds down.
Father Knows Best
Dad was the happiest person I knew. He saw only life’s goodness. An ah-ha moment came as I remembered finding a list he scribbled on a crinkled sheet of paper, its contents: wife, children, job, church, house, etc. – totally unlike what he scratched out when running to Safeway for mama When I asked him about it, he told me it was his list of blessings. He liked writing them down because they helped him see how lucky he was.
btw....Dad's life was not one of entitlement or luxury. Coming from a blue-collar background, he served in WWII and Korea, held down two jobs while attending night school for his teaching degree, and was first in his family to go to college.
Teenager that I was then, I didn’t understand his wisdom.
Today, I treasure my father’s practice, but I put my own spin on it.
My list has two columns. One side shows fears/baggage/things that hold me back. The second marks my blessings. Almost always, that second column is longer.
BINGO! Life IS good. Thanks, Dad!
Upside on the Writing Road
Spread Your Wings and TRY
Maybe it was my Puritan roots and strong work ethic from a New England childhood, but I've been down on myself as an author in 2018. Mind-maxed from rightsizing, my brain shut down when I thought about writing, let alone publish another book in 2018.
I felt wretched, and Harsh Critic Me took over:
You don't have anything for your readers.
There's nothing to keep your hard-won forward momentum.
No new tales to enter in 2018 writing contests.
Another loss! Can't you do anything?
But Cheerleader Me countered with a proper pep talk:
You're plugging away on your blog and newsletter.
Keeping fresh with your SCBWI critique group.
Hey, some writing contests take year-old content. Can't hurt to try a submission.
So, I sent 2017’s Sweet T and the Turtle Team to two children’s book writing contests.
And I was gobsmacked!
In May, Turtle Team won TWO Purple Dragonfly awards for excellence in children’s literature: first place -chapter book AND honorable mention - environment.
Talk about a needed confidence boost. Over the moon!
More good news arrived in November.
Sweet T and the Turtle Team scored GOLD in the Literary Classics International Book Awards' best in children’s literature - environment. Their book review of Sweet T and the Turtle Team just blew me away.
I am beyond grateful and proud! Cannot wait to attend the Writers' Conference and Great American Book Festival that are part of the Literary Classics Awards Ceremony this spring in the City of Presidents, Rapid City, South Dakota.
Next Chapter, PLEASE!
I struggle still deciding what genre and content to write next since my decision to end Sweet T Tales due to its high cost of printing color illustrations. A teeny space for ideas is slowly clearing in my brain. Maybe a feel-good family story for adults? MG tale with twist of fantasy? YA series that is not about zombies, vampires or dystopia, but what????
I'm on a roller coaster about my next book ...
More confident I’ll find my way but still biting fingernails.
PSSSST!!!!!! Breaking News
A story idea niggling at me for years moved center stage last night during our 105-singer-strong community choir's 48th annual performance of Handel's "Messiah."
Mercy, if I post it here, does it mean I'm committed to writing this tale?!?!?!
Stay tuned -:D!)
Thanks for stopping by and HUGE thanks for keeping me company on this writing road! How was your year? What was your biggest accomplishment, event, or lesson learned? Please share in the comment section.
For more inspirational recollections and lessons learned, visit more #Gr8blogs below.
And if you blog and want to join us on this hop, just add the family-friendly link to your blog post in the comment section. We’ll visit and give you some blog love-:D
btw....I'm taking time away from blogging to finish unpacking and enjoy the holidays with family and friends. Cat's Corner returns in January with a follow up to this post, and -fingers crossed- a solid update on my writing direction. Sending wishes for the peace and joy of this holiday season to you and yours. Catch you in 2019!
#MoreGr8Blogs and Inspiration
Julie Gorge - celebrating family; reconciling a parent's passing
Rosie Russell - overcoming tech pain from crashed website to publishing first hardback for libraries
Rebecca Lindsey - busy teacher finds time to publish; brings illustrating into her classroom
Camela Dutra - don't be afraid of change
Sandra Bennett - a first grand and breaking out of the comfort zone to learn new things
Auden Johnson - no matter how bad things look, Auden finds some good
Corrina Holyoake - brave new world of a full-time artist, Corrina transforms her career direction, inner soul
Marble: by Louis Maniquet on Unsplash
Back Flip: by Persnickety Prints on Unsplash
Notebook: by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash
Join Cat’s Tribe of Readers Here
When you were a kid, didn’t it seem like it took forever for holiday festivities to start?
Now as a grownup, the season comes charging in, don’t you think? I'm getting ready for it! Read on for Thanksgiving traditions new and old, plus a 30-second holiday video from 'Lil Cat and an EZ-PZ pumpkin dessert you and the kids can whip up.
Here in central North Carolina, I'm watching trees flaunt autumn tints and madly searching for turkey day recipes I cannot find since we moved.
(Yes, I still have the old traditional faves on 3x5 cards from those days before internet and online recipe searches. -:D.)
Even though I come from a long line of great cooks, I’m baking challenged. Never contribute homemade desserts to our turkey day feast BUT … this year I discovered a recipe from Publix that even I cannot mess up! It ticked all my boxes....yummy, easy and quick to assemble. To die for, especially with a dollop of ice cream -:D.
I call it a Good and Gooey Pumpkin Dump Cake. All you have to do is throw ingredients into a slow cooker and forget about them until aromas fill the kitchen and beckon every sweet tooth in a 10 mile radius <wink>.
Best, with help chopping nuts (or not if someone is allergic) and measuring, this delicious autumn treat is fun to make with your kids. You can find the recipe HERE. Hey, please let me know how it turns out if you try it?
While I plug in the slow cooker and start a batch of gooey pumpkin cake to share virtually with you, my ‘Lil Cat avatar has a seasonal message for ya that's from the bottom of both our hearts.
Whoa, if you live near Kinston, NC, we can greet each other in person, thanks to the Neuse Library and an Icelandic tradition called Jolabokaflod, or the Christmas Book Flood, when books are given as presents during holidays.
btw....Please be sure to watch for my next blog that's posting after Thanksgiving. I have some golden news I’m beyond excited to tell you!
And as Lil Cat says ...
Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate
a sweet November's end to all!
Thanks for letting us into your home
at this busy time of year -:D.
If you observe Thanksgiving, what's the one thing you gotta have/do to make it the best day ever? What favorite foods do you crave at this time of year? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
“On behalf of myself and my veteran friends…” Dad’s letter to 2nd graders on the meaning of Veterans Day
Sharing a very personal blog today .... Dad's 2002 letter written to his then 7-yo grand daughter about the meaning of Veterans Day (that I cannot today still read without goosebumps and sniff-sniffs). His post script demonstrates why his was called The Greatest Generation.
"After being discharged from the Service in l945, I married a girl (USO Queen), whom I met in the service in Seattle, Washington. I continued my Education, obtaining a B. S. & M.A. in Education, and becoming a science teacher in the Middle Schools in Norwalk, Ct., for 31 years. I am now approaching 78 years of age, and enjoying my family - 4 children, their spouses, and 8 wonderful grandchildren.
Every day is exciting!"
Thanks to all who served.
What special memories do you have of Veterans Day? How do you mark this occasion? Please share in the comment section.
November marks the one-year anniversary of the roller coaster I call rightsizing: spouse JM and I left our beloved home of two decades to build a cozy craftsman cottage. Other than divorce, downsizing and death, rightsizing has been the most chaotic event in my life.
Still, I remind myself daily how blessed we’ve been to undertake this change. With apologies to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, read on to learn how I survived and hope to thrive during this time of upheaval.
Basic Needs, Security
There's nothing like the excitement of having your life turned upside down ... not! Those two weeks of closing on two homes and living in a hotel in the interim were a blur. I’d wake at night, not knowing where I was. I gained new understanding for people who don’t have a permanent roof over their head, and every night for them is another stab of uncertainty.
TBH, I get squirrelly when there's extended periods of chaos like this in my physical space. Once we moved into the cottage, I attacked the unpacking, de-cluttering and recycling of a gazillion moving boxes. (It didn’t help that I was fighting an allergic reaction to a wasp sting. Prednisone dispensed to manage localized swelling had me madly organizing our new kitchen until 3 a.m.)
I looked to little things, like locating our winter clothes and discovering cherished pieces from Mama made the move intact, to lift my spirits and fight that feeling of being overwhelmed.
I’m big on feathering the nest, too. My surroundings are my security blanket and creative outlet, so I beavered away to make our cottage feel like a home. Furniture happily placed. Curtains I sewed for the former homestead draped perfectly on new windows. Pretties from the old garden nestled about, waiting for their new beds and soil amendments in spring.
Best, four months and two evil hurricanes later, the new space was finally where I hoped it would be. Then I kept my promise of christening its first "company" meal with our BFF former next-door neighbors and their daughters. We watched those two sweet girls grow from infants to amazing teens and were over the moon the family wanted to share this milestone with us.
Hey, you’re virtually invited to check the new digs, too, in a 60-second Before and After video from my You-Tube channel below.
Social Needs and Self-Esteem
slowly getting there
In addition to months of hard labor with boxing, unpacking and organizing, I was unprepared for the emotional upheaval and feelings of loss from exiting a dear community where I knew everyone, and everyone knew me. I tossed countless nights in the wee hours, second-guessing our decision to leave.
It helped to replay a lightbulb moment from a change leadership workshop I took back in my days in the private sector. I remember having 5 minutes to find a partner and complete three rounds of guessing something the other changed in each round.
Nearly everyone, including moi, REMOVED items ... eyeglasses, notebooks, pencils, etc. Nobody ADDED anything to demonstrate change.
to staying on top of transition was to
thinking of change
as a subtraction or loss.
get down and
boogie with change
as an addition or enhancement to new situations.
Think of change as gain!
I focus on viewing our transition as a huge, lovely win. Less on feeling sad by the loss of what we had before.
I miss the old ‘hood and cherished friends there, so I seek out new neighbors. And oh, those marvelous miles of wooded walking trails! I find different trails for morning walks that keep me sane and where I burn up audio books as I move along. I ramp up Body Flow workouts at the gym to 6 days a week to exorcise rightsizing demons. Being more active with volunteering and community service helps tons, too.
(be all you can be)
The most precious piece still eludes me:
I haven't gotten back to writing and publishing. I stopped altogether during the move and recently started with blogging and social medial in moderation. But I never want to return to 10-hour days/7-days-a-week craziness of crafting blogs, newsletters, marketing strategies, book reviews, Pinterest/Twitter/Facebook/Instagram posts, plus cranking out my WIP. Yikes! That was the road to burnout!
However, I don’t have a current work in progress. My kid lit writing is majorly stuck.
Zip. Zero. Goose Egg. Sigh.
After ending the Sweet T Series because of the expense to publish its color illustrations, I haven’t figured out which genre or content to tackle in its place. In fact, my brain shuts down whenever it wanders to the topic. I hope as life settles and the holidays pass, my brain will kick in, and I’ll be back at it by the first of the year.
In the meantime, I try not to fret and give myself permission to be on this transition roller coaster a bit longer. Your company on my writing road helps tons, too -:D. Cross your fingers for me?
How do you manage change? What strategies helped you master transitions? Please share in the comment section.
Thanks a ton for stopping by. Like what you see?
Don’t miss a post!
Send this blog to your RSS feed or email.
Writing about family, books, authoring, life, movies, travel and more.
JOIN CAT'S Reader's room team!
New subscribers receive a FREE downloadable
grades 1 -4:
Sweet T and the North Wind
P.S. We hate spam. Your email address is safe and secure. Must be 13 years and older to join Cat's Readers' Room.
Don't miss a post! Deliver Cat's Corner to your mailbox or
RSS Feed by clicking below