Staying in Love Long-term

I have been married for thirteen and a half years.  That may not seem like long to someone who’s been married many more years, but it’s not uncommon for someone to tell me that I’ve already stayed married longer than a lot of couples.  Reaching the ten year mark is quite the accomplishment, I guess!

Believe it or not, 2016 marked a low in divorce rates since the early 1980s, when it peaked.  While some 40-50% of marriages still result in divorce, there are still plenty of couples who have stayed together long term.  My own parents will be married 47 years in May.

Back to my own marriage for a minute… On my wedding day, I was only 23.  Part of the reception involved the wedding dance where couples who have been married the longest stay on the dance floor the longest.  My husband, Erik’s, great uncle and aunt had just celebrated 50 years in 2003.  I remember watching them as they held each other on that dance floor, the way they looked into each other’s eyes after so many years and were still as much in love as they were when they first met.  After the dance ended, we hugged them, and I told them that I hoped my marriage would be as blessed as theirs and would last as long as theirs.  They smiled and thanked us, saying that it wasn’t too roses and butterflies in those 50 years, but that yes, they were still in love.  Since that time, they have celebrated their 60th anniversary and are still alive at 63 years of marriage.

Wow.

Can you imagine?

So, how do couples like my husband’s great aunt and uncle do it?

It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

We just celebrated Valentine’s Day this month.  It’s sort of funny that we have to have a holiday to celebrate love or being in love, as if this weren’t something we should be celebrating every day.  I realize that Valentine’s Day isn’t just about romantic love, but this blog’s focus will be on that sort of love.

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When I asked others how they stayed in love long-term, I received many answers.  There is not magical, one-size-fits-all solution.  Different strategies work for different couples.

Also, let me be clear that I am not limiting staying together as a couple to just marriages.  Whatever your opinion on marriage, on cohabitation, or on gay or straight couples, the purpose of this blog is to cover all couples and how they remain in love for the long haul.  At the end of the day, it is commitment that matters.  Plenty of people are married and unfaithful.  Commitment, I believe, is the cornerstone upon which you build your love and marriage.  Without a full “yes, I do” to the other person, how can anything else grow upon what would be an unstable foundation?

Falling in love is easy.  Staying in love is hard.  That requires a choice to be made on a daily, almost moment-by-moment, basis.  Sometimes words of affirmation can help remind us of our commitment.  By saying “I love you” often and meaning it, we are reminded of our love.  Saying what you love about the other person and being grateful for all that they do and who they are also goes a long way.  But words only go so far.

Physical touch is also important.  For all you might hear that physical intimacy isn’t as important as the emotional piece, this just isn’t true.  Holding hands, hugging, and kissing are great ways to express your love, but having sex regularly is vital to any committed relationship.  It shouldn’t be a chore.  It is one of the ways people experience love, so sex is crucial to staying in love.  A relationship that’s run dry will likely not have much sex in it.  Of course, I am not saying that sex alone is enough!  Sex between two people who love each other is love, not lust.

Also go on regular dates, at least once a season, but try for once a month!  It doesn’t have to cost a lot.  An hour away from the kids (if you have them) to walk on the beach is free.  Paying a sitter for a few hours is worth keeping your marriage or relationship healthy.  Dating isn’t just for people when they first meet.

Staying in love requires perseverance.  Life is full of ups and downs.  You’ve probably heard something akin to a marriage or a long-term relationship being like a marathon and not a sprint.  You are in this for the long haul, so there are going to be times when you will have to buckle in and hunker down, knowing that through good times and bad, your relationship is worth keeping alive.  This may mean giving space when it’s needed.  This could be appreciating the little things and remembering to express gratitude for them.  Most of all, being a constant support, your spouse’s or significant other’s best friend, is going to be an essential building block for your foundation as a couple.

Seeing things through together, no matter what the crisis, can make a marriage or relationship stronger.  Bad things are bound to happen.  How do we deal with them?  Alone and cowering in a corner?  Blaming the other person, holding a grudge, being angry and bitter?  Or standing as a united front?  The marriage or relationship as a whole is bigger than the parts.  Stronger together than apart.  You know the old saying: United we stand, divided we fall.

Communication, communication, communication.  Talk about it.  Don’t keep things to yourself or expect your mate to read your mind and/or know what you’re thinking.  Be honest but fair.  Know when to compromise, but don’t compromise your love.  Ask yourself if what’s bothering you is really worth potentially ending a marriage or long-term relationship.  If it’s because your man or woman doesn’t put their socks in the laundry and it annoys you, it’s not worth blowing up about.  While true that little things can add up to big things, be mindful for what the big things really are.  Abuse of any sort, infidelity, or addiction are not okay.  These are the big roadblocks to any marriage.

Nothing should ultimately come between two people who are in love.  There will always be new challenges just around the bend in the road of life, but together, you drive the bumps and turns.

I am sure most of the things I’ve said are common sense or things you have heard before.  There is nothing new about this list, but it’s good to be reminded sometimes.  The stress of life can lead a person to feeling alone, like no one understands what they’re going through, and they may start to pull away from their partner.  To the partner who needs to be the strong one during times like this, push through it.

It will hurt.  It won’t be easy.  But I guarantee you, it will be worth it.  Stay in love.

Like what you’ve read?  Want to read more?  Consider downloading the e-book or ordering a paper copy of my original book, Hannah’s Rainbow, available on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

This blog will be updated at the end of every month.  Stay tuned for March’s blog: having an attitude of gratitude!

04/07/17 update: My apologies for no blog in the month of March.  Life happens, but in the month of April, I will be reblogging two previous autism-related posts due to April being Autism Awareness Month, and I will also be writing a new blog post by the end of April related to autism.  Stay tuned for a future blog post on the topic of having an attitude of gratitude!

 

A Review of This Dread Road, by Olivia Folmar Ard

A Review of This Dread Road, by Olivia Folmar Ard

This Dread Road is the third and final installment in Olivia Folmar Ard’s Bennett Series.  Each book takes place on the fictional campus of Howard Knox College and University in Bennett, South Carolina.  The books are related in that there are characters overlapping between each one, but each book can be read independently and still enjoyed.  However, I recommend reading all three to get the full-effect of that enjoyment.  I do not think you will come away disappointed!

I have read books one and two, A Partition of Africa and The Marshall Plan (in addition to Olivia Folmar Ard’s other two books, ‘Tis the Season and Pretty Lies & Other Stories).  That being said, I believe I am qualified to give an honest review of the author’s work.  I am very familiar with Ms. Ard’s writing, having personally been given advance copies of her works for reading and reviewing.  It has been my pleasure because I believe that Ms. Ard has talent in buckets.

Her writing draws the reader in from the first page.  Her dialogue brings her characters to life.  Do you ever pick up a book and start reading it, only to wonder, “Why am I bothering with this?  I don’t care about the characters!”  To me, if I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about the book!

In This Dread Road, the reader meets Claire James again, who was the roommate of main character Hattie in book one.  At first glance, Claire strikes us as an entitled, spoiled young lady who is just throwing her life away.  Her parents are rich beyond measure and can buy her anything she wants…except true happiness.  We already know from book one of the series that there’s more to Claire than meets the eye, as both Hattie and the reader find out.  Claire is deeply unhappy, unfulfilled, and downright depressed.  In book three, she is found working at a hotel (owned by her father) because she wants experience and to prove to both herself and others that she can be responsible.  She has just graduated from Howard Knox and is trying to figure out her future.  While working in the hotel, she strikes up a conversation with the manager, Hank.  Hank is an older fellow who is strict but fair, and while talking with Claire, he reminisces about a lost love in his life.

We turn the page and are taken back to 1968 and into the life of Annemarie Vanderhorst.  Annemarie has just arrived at Howard Knox and is eager to begin her own life, make her own choices without her parents’ interference, and experience college life.  She meets a slightly older, handsome man in her philosophy class and finds out he works as the janitor at the school.  His name is Henry Eden, and he comes from a very different background than Annemarie.  Henry lives on a farm with his brothers and their families, but he’s going to college to get a degree in business.  As the weeks progress, Annemarie and Henry grow closer and fall in love.  They are falling fast, though.  Annemarie brings Henry home to meet her family at Thanksgiving, and disaster ensues.  Her parents don’t approve of her boyfriend.  Her mother has other ideas for the type of man Annemarie ought to marry, and she is really only entertaining Annemarie’s desire to go to college.  When things don’t go well, Henry decides that Annemarie’s parents can’t tell them they can’t be together if they’re married.  They go to the courthouse right before Christmas and marry.  This only fuels Annemarie’s family’s dislike of Henry, and the consequences are harsher than poor Annemarie ever imagined when she’s cut off from the family and their money.

In the months that follow, Henry and Annemarie’s relationship suffers.  I felt for both Annemarie and Henry during this time and kept hoping they would figure out a way to make things work.  Because love is supposed to conquer all, right?  We see a darker side of Henry: his drinking, his anger, his violent streaks.  We feel heartbreak for him as well.  We see Annemarie breaking and confinding elsewhere when her husband is changing, trying to understand what happened to the man she loves.  Love is supposed to win, right?  Right?

Fast forward to 2017, and we find Claire James and her fiance breaking it off over…crabcakes?  It’s obvious this is just the proverbial last straw, the final thing in a long line of mistakes, bad judgment, and brokenness over many years.  Claire is heartbroken that things just aren’t going to work out with her fiance.  Maybe sometimes love isn’t enough.  Poor Claire has turned to all the wrong places over the years to try to find happiness — drugs, sex, drinking.  She’s suffered in even worse ways than we can imagine, mirroring Annemarie’s suffering almost fifty years prior.  It’s like Claire doesn’t believe she’s meant for happiness.  She doesn’t want her dad’s help or money.  She doesn’t want her mom to buy her any more stuff or take her on any more fancy vacations.  She wants to stand on her own two feet, so she takes the hotel job.

By the end of the story, I was wondering where this was all going, how the lives of these two ladies were connected, and hoping for a happy ending.  This is a romance, after all, and Ms. Ard has never failed before in regards to delivering a happy ending.  I will say that my heart melted, that tears of joy prickled in my eyes, and the warmth of a smile cascaded over my lips.  I am also a writer and an author, so I understand what it means to create believable characters that your readers will fall in love with, as much as some characters fall in love with others within the context of the story.  Henry, especially, reminds me of one of my own characters, so he was dear to heart.  For all his flaws and faults, he was and is beautiful.  The same goes for Annemarie and Claire.  After all, we are all flawed people.  As I put it in my most recent story about two imperfect people finding love:

“We were, neither one of us, one persona or the other, but rather some beautiful, messy, complicated version splattered on a canvas, but a masterpiece painting nonetheless.”

Thank you, Olivia Folmar Ard, for another masterpiece to add to my gallery of books.

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Release Date: February 14, 2017
Published by: Three Amigas Press
Genre: Historical Romance, Women’s Fiction

Available from: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Createspace

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– Summary –

It’s September 1968, and Howard Knox freshman Annemarie Vanderhorst is happy to be free of her controlling mother’s societal expectations. She vows to spend her time at college wisely in pursuit of her own dreams. But before she can figure out what she wants from life, Henry Eden, the dark and handsome stranger in her philosophy class, takes over every waking thought.

Nearly half a century later, Claire James returns to Bennett after leaving her fiancé, determined to be independent for once in her life. After convincing her father to let her work for the family business, she soon realizes being a responsible adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Loathed by her coworkers, neglected by her best friend, and held captive by a terrifying secret, she doesn’t know how much more she can take.

The lives of these two women, decades apart but uncannily similar, finally intersect one fateful night. With broken hearts and hope for the future, will they find the answers they’re looking for?

This Dread Road (The Bennett Series #3)

– About the Author –

Olivia started writing creatively at eight years old. During middle and high school, she attended several writing conferences. Her short story “By Its Cover” placed first in its divisi15800522_10209756472760857_6955444529121609696_oon in the 2008 District III Alabama Penman Creative Writing Contest. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Montevallo in 2012, married in 2013, and published her first novel in 2014. She received a Readers Favorite five-star review for her holiday novella, ‘Tis the Season, in 2016.

Olivia lives in central Alabama with her husband JD and their cats, Buddy and Lafayette. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching quality television, teaching herself how to cook, and playing Pokémon GO.

– Connect with the Author –

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Pinterest

– Praise for ‘Tis the Season

“Although it is a quick read, ‘Tis the Season is not light in subject . . . it goes deeper than you ever thought it would. Olivia Folmar Ard manages to create such a beautiful story that is cheery and heartbreaking all at the same time. The way she captures the characters’ raw, genuine emotions is stunning. Instead of ‘Tis The Season turning out to be another simple novel, it manages to make you feel like you are involved in a real-life situation. The overall pacing of the novella is just right, and the writing is top notch. If you are looking for a way to really get into the holiday season, this is the book for you. It will make you feel so many things, but above all, it will remind you to be thankful for all that you have. Be warned – you’ll need lots of tissues!” -Katherine Williams, ReadersFavorite.com

“A sweet novella for any time of the year, but especially in light of the Christmas season. If you love stories with heart, have ever struggled with dissatisfaction, or love the holidays, then you’ll love ‘Tis the Season.” -Angel Leya, Author of Skye’s Lure

“Just the right size for a holiday break. Do yourself a favor and settle in with ‘Tis the Season and a warm mug of your favorite drink . . . preferably in front of a roaring fire.” -Traci, Goodreads

“Olivia Folmar Ard is building a reputation for relevant, contemporary women’s fiction with a soul.” -Carolyn Astfalk, Author of Ornamental Graces and Stay With Me

– Advance Praise for This Dread Road

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Excerpt:

Claire’s bedroom looked so strange emptied of all her possessions, like a body whose soul had already departed, leaving it one last paltry breath. The closet, once overflowing with haute couture, now held only a few ragged Oxford shirts, two pairs of acid wash jeans, a Howard Knox hoodie, and an ill—fitting secondhand blazer with a hole in the right armpit. Her side table was empty, everything swept hastily into a plastic bag and then shoved into one of the suitcases now piled high in the living room. Every piece that had given the room the right dash of sophistication—the artwork, the Oriental rug, the chenille damask bedspread, the Egyptian cotton sateen sheets, the wingtip chair in the corner—had all been packed into a moving truck and were on their way to a self—storage unit.

A flimsy floor lamp in the corner illuminated everything left behind. The bed. A few trash bags lined up like prisoners against the walls, stuffed with the cast—offs of two lives breaking apart. The alarm clock on the other side table ticked out a steady rhythm.

Claire forced herself to sit on the bed with her feet tucked beneath her. Keeping them near the floor was too much of a temptation. As much as she wanted to bolt now, while she still felt brave enough, she felt obligated to wait until Trevor arrived home from work. After all the times before this, the times she’d only pretended to leave so she could get what she wanted, she needed him to understand that this time, there was no need for him to chase her.

A shiver ran through her, probably the ghost she was convinced lived in the corner of their—no, his—bedroom, the place where light never seemed to reach the wall. Sliding her arms out of her sleeves, Claire hugged herself and grimaced when her hands brushed against her prominent ribs. They didn’t show through her clothing, thanks to her careful layers, but her bones could not lie to each other. She felt herself buckle and recede like a washboard and swallowed back her rising disgust.

This was why she needed to get away. If she stayed here, in this sad, drafty apartment, this disintegration would continue until she completely vanished. Trevor could blame it on the antidepressants she popped like chewing gum these days, or the fact that she’d been subsisting on espresso and tequila in the four months they’d lived in Baltimore, but she knew the real culprit was her fiancé himself. It wasn’t his fault, but it kind of was.

If Hattie could see her now, she would be appalled by how much Claire had let herself go. Claire could imagine her best friend now, delivering a stern lecture while forcing her to eat various tasty manifestations of carbohydrates and fat. She smiled. As much as she’d always resisted Hattie’s attempts to fatten her up, she had to admit she would welcome a change in diet. Her mouth watered at the thought of Hattie’s divine eight hundred calorie mac and cheese.

Her stomach rumbled, the muscles contorting in an odd dance beneath her arms. Claire glanced at the clock again. Trevor wouldn’t leave the school for at least two hours more, and the walk home took fifteen minutes in the best of circumstances. She might as well get something to eat while she waited.

She didn’t bother checking the pantry. All that was there was an expired jar of peanut butter and a mostly empty box of breakfast cereal. She’d been putting off grocery shopping for the last two weeks, preferring to order in on the days Trevor was working. She picked up the phone and dialed the Chinese place around the block. The person who answered recognized her number and asked if she wanted her regular—General Tso’s chicken, brown rice, and egg drop soup, just the broth. She said yes, hung up, and sank onto the couch.

Assuming lotus pose¾the only thing she remembered from the yoga class the Howard Knox registrar’s office had forced her to take ¾Claire tried to clear her mind of everything and simply exist for a minute, even a few seconds. Instead, her thoughts raced even faster, flitting from one happy memory of Trevor to the next. It didn’t seem to matter that they were all out of context, that in reality each moment of bliss she had experienced with him was framed with weeks, if not months, of sadness. Her mind only wanted to focus on their shared joy.

But maybe this was a good thing, speeding through all the false contentment like this. Perhaps it would work all the sympathy out of her system. Perhaps if she played along, she would actually leave this time; she would find the strength to tell him she didn’t love him anymore, and mean it.


Excerpt:

“Everyone, please take your seats.” The professor glanced at his watch and frowned before letting his arm fall back down to his side. “Class should have begun three and half minutes ago. Apparently, punctuality is no longer a priority at this school.”

As he spoke, Annemarie darted through the door, red—faced and panting. “So sorry,” she mumbled to the professor, who either didn’t hear her apology or refused to accept it.

The weight of fifty—six pairs of eyes bore down on her shoulders as she stared up the stacked rows, hoping to find an unclaimed desk. In her desperation, she started up the nearest set of stairs. There had to be an empty seat near the back, right? Stomach clenched, she grasped the handrail and continued her ascent. What would she do if she couldn’t find one?

Susan. None of this would have happened if it weren’t for Susan.

Annemarie had been happy to grab lunch at the cafeteria after she and Susan left their biology class, but she’d let her roommate talk her into making a quick trip into town instead. She’d sworn up and down they would make it back in time for their one o’clock classes.

“My dad and I ate at this great little deli downtown last summer when he brought me for a visit. It’s just a few streets over.”

But the deli was busier on the first day of class than it had been over the summer. They stood in line for almost half an hour and didn’t receive their food for another fifteen minutes after that. Annemarie didn’t even know what her sandwich had tasted like, she’d had to eat it so quickly. She’d spent the next ten minutes running full tilt back to campus, hoping their professors would be forgiving.

So much for that.

Down below, the professor cleared his throat. Annemarie’s face turned an even brighter shade of red. Maybe her mother was right. Did she really need to take this class? Hurtling down the stairs and running out of the lecture hall seemed more appealing by the second.

But just as she decided to succumb to the temptation, she found what she was searching for: an empty seat. It was farther up than she would have liked, the very last desk in the very top row, but it was available.

With a sigh of relief Annemarie hopped up the last few steps and scooted behind those already seated, ignoring their grumbling about inconsiderate people. When she reached the end of the row, she tapped the shoulder of the boy—no, man—sitting next to the empty desk.

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”

He looked from her to the seat and back. “Don’t think so.”

She slid behind the desk and tucked herself against the wall, willing herself to be invisible.

The professor heaved an exaggerated sigh and said, “Now that everyone is finally ready, let’s begin. I’m Dr. Liam Craig. Welcome to Introduction to Philosophy. In this course, you will learn to …”

Annemarie leaned over and whispered, “Sorry about that. I’m usually on time, or even early.”

Keeping his eyes on Dr. Craig, the man beside her nodded but said nothing.

“My name’s Annemarie,” she said. “What’s yours?”

He met her eyes with a heavy—lidded stare before returning his attention to the front of the classroom, again saying nothing. His jaw stiffened, and was it her imagination, or was his hand twitching?

When it became obvious this was the only answer she could expect from him, Annemarie leaned back in her chair and tried not to let it bother her. Class had already started, after all—she was the one being rude. Besides, what did it matter? She was there to learn about philosophy, not moon over some guy.

But as Dr. Craig droned on about fallacious reasoning, the nature of reality, and the existence of God, Annemarie couldn’t keep her mind from wandering back to her handsome seatmate.

With ten minutes left, Dr. Craig said, “I think I’ve covered everything necessary for our first full class meeting, so I’ll give you an early dismissal today. Don’t get used to it, though. Take a copy of the syllabus on your way out, and please prepare to discuss chapters one and two of your textbook for Wednesday. And be on time,” he added, glaring up at Annemarie.

Without a word, the man next to her stood, stepped behind her, and slowly made his way down the steps. He took intermittent pauses to allow others to pass him, but he spoke to no one. People parted around him and rejoined on the other side. The guys seemed to size themselves up against him, while the girls ducked their heads and gave him a shy smile, but he didn’t seem to notice any of them. When he reached the bottom of the stairs and released his grip on the railing, he limped across the narrow stretch of floor between the lectern and the first row of seats. She couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to his leg.

Before she knew it had happened, she was the last person in the classroom other than Dr. Craig. She blushed and gathered her books, chiding herself for her distraction. Why should she care about this person she’d only just met? He didn’t care about her—he’d made that abundantly clear. She should just put him out of her mind and focus on school.

Even so, for the rest of the day, she couldn’t shake the memory of his eyes—shielded, mistrustful, and darker than a thundercloud.


Dreamcast Interview: Who the Author Envisions Playing Various Roles if Her Book Were Made into a Movie

Annemarie Vanderhorst

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Of all the young, blonde actresses Hollywood has to offer—and there are several—Saoirse Ronan is the only one I can picture playing Annemarie. I’ve only seen her act as a child and young teen, but she is incredibly talented and I can only imagine her skills have grown as she’s aged. She’s a little older than Annemarie is in the beginning, but I believe she could still pass for 18.

Henry Eden

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Despite being too short and several years too old, Milo Ventimiglia seems to me the perfect pick for Henry. His acting is amazing, and he has the same rugged good looks I pictured Henry possessed. The fact that he has a baby face would help with the age difference, and movie magic could surely take care of the height issue. I just know he and Saoirse would do a lovely job together.

Susan French

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Evan Rachel Held has a mixture of classic beauty and strength that makes her a perfect pick for Susan, Annemarie’s roommate.

Paula Johnson

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Brittany Snow did a great job pulling off the fifties look in Hairspray! and I enjoy her acting, so in my opinion she’d do a great job as Perky Paula.

Alan Eden

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I loved Sam Jaeger’s performance as Joel Graham in Parenthood, and he has the look and temperament to play the older and gentler of Henry’s brothers.

Russ Eden

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Armie Hammer’s acting is fantastic, and he would definitely be able to pull off Henry’s hot-tempered brother.

Cora Eden

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Ginnifer Goodwin’s compelling portrayal of sweet, sensitive Mary Margaret/Snow White on ABC’s Once Upon a Time makes me think she’s perfect for compassionate, maternal Cora.

Merle Patterson

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Domhnall Gleeson looks very similar to the picture of Merle I’ve been carrying around in my head. As a plus, I loved his portrayal of Levin in Anna Karenina.

Claire James

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Emma Stone’s facial features aren’t exactly how I pictured Claire’s, but her coloring is perfect and her acting style is perfect. She would make my favorite redhead heiress come to life.

Trevor Pennington

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Trevor’s always been a bit elusive to me; I’ve never been able to pin down exactly what he looks like. But When I saw Alden Ehrenreich, I knew he was the right person. He’d do a great job.

Zoe

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Aja Naomi King’s performance in How to Get Away from Murder is gathering lots of attention, and besides that, she looks exactly how I pictured Zoe, Claire’s roommate.


Have you read This Dread Road? Do you agree or disagree with the author’s casting choices? Let us know down below.

Lorna versus Laura

This is my second book, which now has the first draft completed as of Oct. 2016.  It will be several months before the final draft is complete, as it will be read and reviewed by a writers group I&…

Source: Lorna versus Laura

Updated artwork for my page about my second book, Lorna versus Laura (which is going through edits in the first draft, as of January 2017).

Resolutions or Goals? – A Re-evaluation

To some, the start of a new year is the beginning of promises, a fresh start, a time to try again.  Even though it’s just another calendar year, there’s something mentally stimulating for many to take on a new challenge in a new year, to better themselves, to start a new hobby, or whatever.

To others, the start of a new year is just another day.  The Christmas decorations come down.  The festivities are over.  They prepare for the winter doldrums.  They hunker down and try to get through the darkest time of the year, both in the amount of daylight and mentally.

It’s now the end of January, late enough in the new year to evaluate a few things.  Many people who had well-meaning resolutions have probably already stopped trying.  They’ve thrown up their hands in failure for not making it to the gym regularly, for smoking after stopping for five days, for eating too many calories, for not taking enough “me” time, the list goes on.

Stop beating yourself up!

There’s a more positive spin of looking at resolutions, or, as I and many others like to call them, goals.

When I posed a few simple questions about resolutions, most people said they didn’t make them.  Those who did make them said that they like to set ones that are measurable and realistic.  In the short-term, like a month, a person might say they wish to read a certain number of books or try a new recipe.  Or try to not complain as much.  That’s a hard one!  Over the course of the whole year, those months add up, and they found that it’s easier to stick to short-term goals.  By saying how much weight a person wants to lose per week versus a whole year, it’s not so intimidating.

These short-term goals could be classified as resolutions, but they are manageable.  They aren’t the type of vague resolution that’s far-reaching.  Many people admitted to not making resolutions any longer because of past failures, saying they didn’t wish to feel even worse about themselves.  So, in this vein, it really is better to break down large goals into smaller ones, whatever they might be.

Often, just taking it one day at a time, stopping and taking a deep breath, and slowing down can go a long way toward helping a person feel better about themselves and their goals.  Days turn into weeks and into months, and before you know it, a whole year has elapsed.  By keeping a positive attitude, goals and tasks don’t have to be overwhelming.  They become more achievable.

If you want to declutter your house, for example, don’t say you’re going to tackle the entire kitchen in one day.  Start with one drawer or cupboard.  Work on it for fifteen minutes per day.

If you want to lose weight, don’t just suddenly cut out all your favorite foods and say you need to work out at the gym every day for an hour.  Cut out one bad food this week and then another the next.  Try to add on eating more vegetables, even if you still need your chocolate.  Join a class with a friend at the gym.  It makes you more accountable if you have a buddy and a set time each week.

What else can you do to stay on track with your goals, since we’re pretty set on not calling them resolutions?

bullet-journal-38

Journaling is great for some.  Although I don’t regularly journal, some people swear by bullet journals.  If you go on YouTube and do a search, you’ll find plenty of videos explaining what they are and how to set one up.  Many people claim these journals help keep them organized and on task, achieving their goals and moving forward.

Or get creative and make a goal board.  Turn on some of your favorite music and cut out pictures from magazines that inspire you or words or phrases that mean something.  Paste them all on a large poster board and keep it somewhere to look at, to remind you of what you’re aiming to get out of this year.

Or, going back to the evil “resolution” word, resolve to do something that you’ve been meaning to do for a long time.  Maybe it’s getting back in touch with an old friend.  Maybe it’s finally getting your finances in shape.  Again, break it down into smaller, manageable goals.  Of course, reconnecting with an old friend is a lot more fun than finances!

Then there are those, like me, who will work on a goal whenever inspiration strikes.  Almost two years ago, I sat down with the intention of finally writing an original story.  That was 2015, which was nine years after I had the idea to write a story based off my late grandma’s life.  I’d written a few paltry chapters and had written down some notes from her primary sources, but the idea intimidated me for years.  I was much more comfortable in the realm of fanfiction.  I spent twenty years writing fanfiction, even before I was online!

It’s funny.  Looking back, I am amazed that I spent so much time writing fanfiction when I could’ve been working on original stuff and doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing — writing stories that are my creations.  Now, here I am, in 2017 with that story written and self-published, a second story completed in the first draft and going through edits with an amazing writers group at my local library, a third story nearing completion in the first draft, a fourth story in the beginning of its creation, and an idea for a fifth!

How did I do it?  Perseverance.  By setting the goal of writing for just fifteen minutes a day, I was able to do all that.  There were days I missed here and there, but I didn’t let more than two days pass without writing.  Then there were days when I wrote for a couple of hours, so it balanced out.

I am living proof that by breaking down a huge goal into manageable, measureable, short-term goals, an amazing amount can be achieved!

Like what you’ve read?  Want to read more?  Consider downloading the e-book or ordering a paper copy of my original book, Hannah’s Rainbow, available on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

This blog will be updated at the end of every month.  Stay tuned for February’s blog: staying in love long-term! ❤

Pay It Forward…A Reminder

‘Tis the season…

To be jolly?

To go into debt?

To give.

Because God first gave to us His son, Jesus.

In the midst of the craziness of shopping, stressing, overspending, and stressing some more, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters.  Whether you’re Christian or not, whatever reason you celebrate Christmas–whether religious, secular, or both–I believe that this season can bring out the very best in people.

Goodwill toward men, indeed.

I went into this holiday season trying to not overspend on gifts.  Having three young kids, it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying them things they just don’t need, especially when they’re inundated with commercials for the latest hot toys.  What five-year-old doesn’t tell their mom at least once an hour, “I want that, Mom?”  

It’s a trap.

 Seriously.

No joke.

I kid you not.

Kid.  Ha, I was talking about kids and wanting stuff.  Anyway, pardon my bad sense of humor.  I digress…

I fell into the same money pit this year by spending too much on my family, and I was torn between wanting to give, give, give and wanting to take some of the things back.  In the end, a mom’s desire to see her kids’ excitement on Christmas morning when it came time to open the gifts won out.

However, I am vowing to go about this insanity differently next year.  I want to donate or give to charity the same amount that I spend in gifts on my family.  That’s not an original idea, but I heard it somewhere, and it stuck with me.  I’m up for the challenge, and I’m not all talk. (Update: This was written in 2016. Now it’s 2017, and I am happy to say I lived up to this challenge of giving equally to charity what I spent on gifts.)

See, when I put my mind and heart to something, I can accomplish it.  Case in point: Almost two years ago, I sat down and said I was serious about writing an original story.  I would write at least fifteen minutes a day.  If I missed a day, okay, but I wouldn’t let more than two days pass without writing.  Ten months later, I had my first draft completed.  That was almost a year ago.  Now, I have the first draft of a second novel completed that’s currently being read and edited by a writers group at the library.  I have self-published my first novel after going through the arduous process of querying a hundred literary agents and getting many rejections, but I kept at it.  I am well into writing my third novel.  I have the first chapter written of my fourth and have an idea for a fifth. (2017 update: I have finished drafts of novels three and four.  I am well into my fifth.  I self-published novel number two.  I have ideas for six and seven.)

pablo (13)So, if I can write and be dedicated to it, I can be more generous next Christmas.  I can give more to those who really are in need and give less to my own family, who already has plenty of things.  We don’t need more stuff.

You might think, “Okay, that’s all well and good to make plans about what you’re going to do next year, but what are you doing about it right now?”  

I do regularly give to charity.  I sponsor two children through Children International, but for me, that wasn’t enough this Christmas.  I became aware of a family in need.  The father had just lost his job, and having a kid to support, you can understand why I wanted to help out.  Also, this family is close to heart, so if there was something I could do to help them, it would be all the more important to me.

I didn’t have the means to personally give them much as far as money goes, so I organized a Go Fund Me campaign and rallied my friends and family for several days to give to this family.  It was a beautiful thing to see the response.  Many gave, and it’s not a matter of how much you give, but giving what you can.  In the end, I was so happy to be able to give them a sizable amount of money to help them pay their bills and put food on the table, and while I was a part of that, I cannot and do not take full credit.  So many people stepped up, and I love that.

Another friend told me about the local Elk’s Club wanting to give a large box of food and gifts to local families in need, and she thought of the family I was supporting.  Needless to say, I got in touch with the Elk’s Club, and they were so generous and kind to deliver such a box to this family. (2017 update: This family is doing well this Christmas, although her sister lost a child and doesn’t have the money to pay for much of a Christmas for her other kids because of funeral costs. Not only did the family I helped last year help this devastated family, but I was also moved to send them some gifts. There is always someone in need who you can bless.)

In the midst of all this, I have my own troubles, but to help others lifts the burden of my problems.  I firmly believe that reaching out and helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself.  Everyone benefits.  There is nothing lost, for, you see, love has no end.  It’s funny how the more love you give, the more love grows.  The more love you receive.

So, I did my little part in paying it forward.  I had no expectation of getting anything in return from those I helped, so you can imagine how moved I was to be on the receiving end of the generosity of others who felt they wished to help my family.  I never asked for it, nor expected it.

A Christmas card arrived from my church a couple of weeks ago with a hundred dollars in gift cards to a grocery store!  The card was simply signed “From your friends at church.”  I have recently expressed my heartache to some friends at church about the struggles my autistic son and my family are going through, so I can only guess that someone did this kind deed because of that.  I cannot be sure.

As if that weren’t enough, on Christmas Eve, my husband and I dressed to play Mary and Joseph and were waiting in a classroom for our entrance into the sanctuary when a friend approached me and handed me an envelope.  “It’s not really a Christmas gift,” she said, “but a couple of us from our ChristCare group (a Bible study group of sorts) wanted to help you out.”  I smiled, thanked her, and tucked the envelope in my purse.  Hours later, after the service was over, the kids were in bed, and the presents were under the tree, I opened the envelope to find three hundred dollars inside and a note that said, “For your son’s therapies.”  Tears streamed down my face for the second time this Christmas season because of the kindness of others.

So, as another year winds down, I am thankful.  It started around Thanksgiving with the extra intention of choosing kindness.  As Christmas came upon us, I made the extra effort to pay it forward in terms of generosity, just one form of kindness.  And it certainly came back around to touch me.  

If you don’t believe that what goes around comes around, maybe you’ll think my story is just that–a nice little story.  To me and many others, it’s more.  Much more.  May we all go into the New Year with a sense of wanting to reach outside ourselves, and you’ll see.  It will come back to you.

Merry Christmas!

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Choose Kindness

For the first hour of any given day, my mind is not awake.  My wish to ease into the day, to be up before my kids and get dressed and have breakfast alone, is ungranted.  It’s almost laughable.  In the midst of hurrying and scurrying to get three kids and myself dressed and fed in a little over an hour before the school bus comes, I usually grumble at the slightest provocation.  As a mother, I feel like I go through my days with a sense of irritation just below the surface.

As the day goes on, I silently lose my patience at the slow driver in front of me or for getting too many red lights.  I’m going to be late again.  Of course, someone needing to use the bathroom right as we’re stepping out of the house or me frantically searching for my keys or phone as, again, we need to leave, doesn’t help.

I look at my shirt that says “Kindness Is Always in Style.”  How easy is it to wear it on clothing, but how do I wear my kindness toward others?  Kindness isn’t something we just put up to look good and then cast off at the end of the day and put in the laundry (or cast off whenever it’s inconvenient for us).  At least it shouldn’t be.  Kindness is more that something we parade around and show off to the world.

It should be easy to be kind, right?  Holding the door, saying hi, please, and thank you, and offering a smile to a stranger might be the only light in someone’s otherwise bleak day.  It’s true that you never know how you might affect someone else.  You could very well be their sunshine, if only for a moment.

If I’m being completely honest, however, I believe that it’s easier to be kind toward a stranger than those closest to me.  Then there are those days when I walk right past people and stare at the floor, wishing I was the only person I could be around.  Heck, I even make myself miserable on those days!

When I was younger, if I felt someone had wronged me, I wanted vindication.  I wanted to be right and to make sure they knew it.  I’ll never forget a big turning point for me in regards to this way of thinking.  When I was 29, I was in attendance at a lecture at the natural history museum in Cleveland, and the presenter was basically trying to prove that there was no God.  I remember thinking, “What does this have to do with science?”  As I listened to him, I silently fumed.  When question time came, no one in the audience seemed to be bothered like I was by the presenter’s topic.  I muttered to my husband and father-in-law, “I’m waiting for someone to knock him down a peg or two.”

Then realization hit me like a ton of bricks upside the head.  I was knocked down a peg or two!  I realized that I was more concerned with being right than being kind or having a concern for this man.  Regardless of his beliefs, they were his.  He wasn’t being disrespectful in how he presented them, so what was my problem?  My problem was that what he was professing didn’t agree with what I believed to be true.

So, I understand now that there’s a thin line between genuine concern for another and wanting to be right.  It’s not a kindness at all if my falsely-laced concern is just me looking for gossip or a reason to feel better about myself.

noactofkindness

Another lesson I’ll never forget is a sermon our previous pastor gave on kindness, probably four or five years ago.  He repeated the phrase “Never underestimate the value of kindness” three times, shortly and deliberately at the end of his talk.  Those words have stuck with me and molded themselves onto my heart like a brand.

There’s a definite shortage of kindness in the world.  Whenever we come into this time of year of holidays, most of us gather with family and friends, over-indulge in food, alcohol, and presents, having spent too much money and exhausted ourselves in every way possible by the New Year.  As a mother, I try to teach my kids the value of kindness by thinking about those who don’t have much and what giving means: that it’s more important to give than to receive, with no expectation of anything in return.  When the TV, radio, and the Internet are abuzz with ads for every type of must-have toy or that year’s latest tech, it’s really hard to drill that lesson into the mind of a young person…or even an older person.

A small group I’m in at church that’s been meeting every Monday afternoon for nearly six years to do various book studies that relate to the Christian faith has been doing a study on Advent.  It’s made me think about what I can do in small way to live out my faith better and in a more like-manner of Jesus.  Kindness is one of the fruits of the spirit.  I can make an effort to be kinder.

But it’s not usually my first inclination to act in kindness when I feel slighted.  This is the true test of a person’s patience.  I was part of a Sunday morning group that met regularly at church for some time.  There was a single guy in his thirties who joined us, but after a few times, he wrote an email to the group, in which he said he was moving away and wanted to find a different group, one with people who had problems.  He was looking to work with people who suffered.  I got the jist of what he meant – people who suffered outwardly, who lacked resources or money.  He didn’t feel right in our vanilla suburban setting.

I was offended by what he said, for I thought, “Just because we aren’t suffering financially doesn’t mean we don’t have problems.”  Many people suffer silently.  While I could have gone off about such a thing, I held back.  I knew better than to come at him with claws out.  Hadn’t he spent several weeks in Sunday school with the same group as me?  So, I held my tongue and wrote an email, explaining that I was sorry to hear he was leaving, but that I understood.  I gently pointed out that I suffer inwardly a lot because my oldest son has autism.  I explained that just because a problem isn’t noticeable, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.  He wrote back, apologizing for the way he’d worded things, saying that it hadn’t been his intent to offend.  He got what I was saying and agreed, even opening up about his background some.  Because he had once been down and out and had been helped by others who had the means, he now felt the desire to pay it forward.  We split ways, mutually in understanding.  That was the result of choosing kindness.

With these examples in mind, I hope I can remember to choose kindness this Advent and beyond.  I hope you’ll join me.


Like what you’ve read?  Want to read more?  Consider downloading the e-book or ordering a paper copy of my original book, Hannah’s Rainbow, available on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

With Cyber Monday tomorrow, I’m putting my book on discount.  You can download the e-book for only $0.99 (original price $2.99) all week!  Looking for a Christmas gift for a lover of books?  Why not consider ordering a paperback copy of my book for them?


Please note: This blog will be updated monthly on the 27th.

Blessings in Disguise – What Raising a Child with Autism Has Taught Me

 

“’Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise”

These words speak to me.  They aren’t mine, but they are powerful.  If you aren’t familiar with Laura Story’s song, “Blessings,” I encourage you to check it out.  It’s a beautiful testimony to how God can bring good out of tragedy in life.

I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago called You Don’t Know What Goes on Behind Closed Doors – Raising a Child with Autism.  If you haven’t yet read that post, I suggest you do so, as this post is a follow up from that one.

By now, you know I’m a mom of a son who has autism.  If you’re also a special needs parent, you know the extra challenges involved.  There are things that parents of typically-developing children don’t have to think about often, like extra therapies, taking longer with homework, struggling to dress your child, dealing with meltdowns, and trying to figure out what they want when their communication is limited.

Having other parents who understand the struggles I face has been vital to my journey as a special needs parent.  I’ve been a part of a support group for the past four years, and about three years ago, at one of our meetings, talk of faith and God came up.  While this is a secular group at meets in a library, faith plays in important part in many of these parents’ journeys.

faith

Questions arise: Did God really think I could handle this?  Why does my child have to suffer from _____?  Will my child ever get better?  Where is God in all this?

It felt like God was prodding me to lead a study on this topic.  I found a great resource called Unlocking the Treasure – A Bible Study for Moms Entrusted with Special-Needs Children, by Bev Roozebloom.  It was almost too easy how everything fell into place.  I talked to the right people at my church and secured a meeting room and time.  I got a group of about ten women to sign up and meet every other week for six sessions.  The resource was easy to find, and everyone agreed that it was perfect for our needs as a group.

That Bible study was very meaningful for those women and for me as the facilitator.  Every so often, I run into one of the moms who participated, and she shares with me that she still remembers it and how much it helped her.

Many of us have heard the phrase “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”   This simply isn’t true.  There are times when we are overwhelmed and cannot possibly handle everything on our plates.  That’s when we need others.  God works through others to carry us through hard times.  So, where is God in the day-to-day challenges of raising a special needs child?  Right here, working through other people who are blessings in our lives.  If we feel alone, that’s simply not true.  There are others out there who understand and who can and want to help.

While there are no easy answers for why some children suffer from certain disabilities, I do believe that God works through them to bring good from the bad.  If my son didn’t have autism, I don’t think I would have the awareness I do about all the people out there who struggle because of developmental delays and such.  I do not think I would be as open-minded, patient, or compassionate of a person toward others, in general, who may have any sort of disability, especially the “invisible” ones.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I love this quote because it speaks to the essence that we’re all different.  We all have different abilities and talents, so let’s remember that just because someone has autism or some other sort of special need, that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as important and worthy of love as anyone.

To learn to be a better person by being more accepting and loving is a blessing, so at the end of the day, I can find some peace.  I can see that elusive silver-lining in the storm clouds that sometimes fly in during the journey of being a special needs parent.

I encourage you to find those blessings, too.  They are there.

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Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful