A surprising high school reunion

I have a confession to make: I went to an all-girls boarding school. People think that’s weird— that my parents didn’t love me or something—but it was one of the best things my parents did for me. Boarding school was where I began to flourish as a person and a writer. In fact, I didn’t know I could write until my teachers there told me I had some talent and gave me ways to nurture it.

Shipley shield

So I was happy to return to the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, for my mumblety-mumble (not telling how many years have passed since graduation) high school reunion. Sadly, the boarding department is now shuttered; some rooms are used for classrooms or offices, while most are simply falling into disrepair until the wing gets torn down to make way for a new building.

Shipley is now only a day school which makes me a bit sad. I believe the mix of day students who were rooted in the surrounding community and boarders who brought in a whiff of farther-away places was brilliant.

Here’s a photo of one of the corridors of the now empty boarding department:

boarder corridor

When I see those bright orange-and-yellow walls, I remember the intense late-night conversations about the meaning of Life or the existence of God. Yes, we wrestled with those questions. We were flexing our young, inquisitive minds. Of course, we also debated the merits of various young men from various boys’ schools in the vicinity…and that was fun too. We were drunk on learning and thinking and experiencing. It was an explosive period of growth.

I felt great curiosity as I re-encountered my classmates after mumblety-mumble years. Some I have kept in touch with, but many I glimpse only on Facebook or not at all. We’ve lost four class members to death. Other classmates do not wish to be found because their experience at Shipley was not as positive as mine. But nearly half of our small class, both day students and boarders, returned.

We talked to each other for about forty-eight hours, sharing our life histories. Some classmates have suffered terrible tragedies: chronic, debilitating disease, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a child. Yet they’ve soldiered on. In fact, my overwhelming impression was of an extraordinarily rich tapestry of accomplishment, commitment, and passion. We have grown into artists, teachers, financial experts, nurses, consultants, marketers, physical therapists, writers, environmentalists, small business owners, and so much more. Many of us have had more than one career, re-evaluating and reinventing ourselves.

We’ve done all this while marrying, divorcing, remarrying–or not, raising children, caring for elderly parents, battling health issues of our own and our loved ones, and giving back to our communities.

And here we are:

Group at Faffy's

I tried to decide if I could have predicted each woman’s life course from what I remembered of her as a Shipley student. Not a chance. Each story was so much larger and more vibrant than anything I could have conjured up from my imagination.

Shipley’s school motto is “Courage for the deed; grace for the doing.” It seems that those words sank into our young souls. In truth, my classmates have lived up to that mantra in spades. Shipley should be proud of the women it has launched into the world, and I am so honored to be one of them.

Jazzercise: What’s in it for me?

Anne Lamott, a wise woman and amazing writer, recently wrote down “every single thing” she knows “as of today.” (You should read the entire essay; it’s brilliant!) Item #13 on her list is Exercise, about which she says, “If you want to have a good life after you have grown a little less young, you must walk almost every day. There is no way around this.”

I love to walk but I have discovered it’s not enough to keep my middle-aged body revving. I need more. Lucky for me, there’s Jazzercise. I know, I know: You’re tired of me telling you how wonderful it is. However, I got to thinking about WHY I love Jazzercise so much. Here are my reasons:

  1. It’s a community of women. Sure, every now and then on a weekend a man wanders in but during the week, it’s all us girls.jazzercise
  2. I walk in wearing Spandex—which is not my best look—and no makeup and no one judges me. Because everyone else is wearing the same thing.
  3. We support each other. When my fellow Jazzercisers found out I was an author, many of them went out and bought my books. (Thank you, ladies! Your enthusiasm means so much to me!)
  4. The music is fun. It’s pop which is meant to appeal to all of us, after all. You can sing along. It’s often about love which is a topic I spend a lot of time with, being a romance writer and all. The best part: I can freak my children out by knowing the words to the music they listen to.
  5. Dancing has been proven to reduce the risk of dementia. Enough said.
  6. As a writer, I spend a lot of time in my head, so it’s a wonderful contrast to spend an hour really, truly inhabiting my body and enjoying how it moves.
  7. Jazzercise is something I do just for me. I’m not trying to excel at it. I’m not trying to impress anyone (see #2). I’m not doing it to sell books (although it has had that surprise benefit-see #3). It’s all about letting loose and being a different, freer version of moi.jazzercise leap
  8. It’s a break from all my responsibilities. For one hour, I put myself in the hands of the fabulous, energetic, smiling instructors and let them guide me. No thought required on my part.

So that’s my love poem to exercise the Jazzercise way. We are all growing “less young” but we don’t have to let our bodies slide into disuse because of that. Dance as though no one is watching! I do.

D.C. in spring: Flowers everywhere!

Spring came late to the mid-Atlantic this year which means I got lucky: my long-planned trip to Washington, DC, landed me squarely amidst the glorious display of DC’s famous cherry blossoms. But there were other flowers to enjoy as well…

My first stop was at the National Gallery of Art where their entrance hall was awash in spring.

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I had to visit my favorite artist, Van Gogh, and even he had jumped on the floral bandwagon. I love the Girl in White, surrounded by poppies:

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I know that a Persian poet says you should buy hyacinths to feed your soul, but I needed real food, so there was a stop at the new and delicious DBGB Kitchen and Bar (the DB stands for Daniel Boulud; that man can cook!). The mini Madeleines, warm from the oven, were to die for!

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Then it was time for the main event: the cherry blossoms. I will simply post the photos I took using nothing more sophisticated than my cell phone. The beauty speaks for itself.

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Jeff memorial straight

And finally, just to give you an idea of how many other folks were enjoying the cherry blossoms, this image:

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But everyone was in a great mood, smiling even if you walked through the photo they were trying to take (which was unavoidable in the crowd). Beauty has that effect on people.

You win some; you lose some

Last month I participated in two challenges: one for my mind and one for my body. The mental challenge was Jersey Romance Writing Month (JeRoWriMo) where the goal is to write 30,000 words in 28 days. The physical challenge was to attend 30 Jazzercise classes in 35 days.

The winner:

I wrote 31,139 words in February! Woohoo!

Finisher Badge

But there are far more benefits to that accomplishment than just a badge to display (oh, and we get chocolate at the celebration in March).

  1.  I am almost halfway through my current work-in-progress, THE QUARTERBACK ANTES UP, the second book in my new Wager of Hearts series. (The first book, THE CEO BUYS IN releases on July 21.) That’s a nice chunk of a book to be finished with in the second month of the new year since my deadline is September 30th.
  2.  I was reminded of how much easier it is to write when you do it every day so your head is always in the story. Otherwise it takes a lot of extra time and effort to remind yourself of who your characters are and where they’re going. Daily writing means that I am ready to go the minute I sit down at the computer.
  3.  When you’re writing at high speed, you can’t second guess yourself or go back and revise, so you turn off your inner editor. (The last chapter I wrote during JeRoWriMo was 57 pages long. Who needs chapter breaks when you’re having fun?) You just let the words rip! It’s a powerful reminder of why you started writing in the first place: to take pleasure in creating because you love your characters and you want to see what happens to them.
  4.  The participants in the 30K challenge form a wonderfully supportive group with real bonds of comradeship. We cheer each other on, commiserate with each other’s woes, and get to know each other better. What a positive, inspiring experience to be in close touch with a whole group of writers, all working toward the same goal, for a whole month!

The loser:

I was going strong for the Jazzercise challenge and had attended 15 classes in 16 days, when the flu struck me down. That was the end of my chance to win the T-shirt.

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However, I still learned a very valuable lesson from the challenge (and I got the cool bracelet): It is easier to exercise six days a week than to work out four days a week. Why?

Monday through Friday and Sunday mornings, I got up, I put on my workout clothes, I fed the critters and I went to Jazzercise. There was no debate, no negotiation with myself about whether I would go Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday or whatever.

I got up; I went to Jazzercise. I didn’t schedule anything in the mornings; I went to Jazzercise. I didn’t decide I needed to sleep in one day; I went to Jazzercise. Studies show that we have a finite amount of willpower; this challenge removed the need for it because exercise became part of my daily routine, no thought required.

Not to mention the fact that I felt fantastic and energized. I could even see a difference in the way my clothes fit me. Now that I’m almost recovered from the flu, I can’t wait to get back to Jazzercise class.

So, while I didn’t get the T-shirt, I discovered something new about how to make staying healthy easier. You know what? That’s a win!

February: A challenging month

I’m not talking about the bad weather, although that has made life difficult recently. I’m talking about the two month-long challenges that I’ve signed on for, one for my brain and one for my body.

Jersey Romance Writing Month is the mental challenge. The goal is to write 30,000 words in 28 days. This pushes me beyond my usual productivity and forces me to put-butt-in-chair-and-write no matter what’s going on in my life. For four years, I’ve participated (and been Head Cheerleader) for JeRoWriMo and I look forward to it every time. Over 50 fellow NJRW members signed up to work toward the 30k goal which makes the energy on our email loop positively crackle.

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The key element to success in an intense writing challenge like this one is to turn off your inner editor. If you don’t, you’ll never hit the word count goal because you’ll be too busy second-guessing every sentence you write. It’s liberating to write without judging and often leads me in surprising directions. Even better, it reminds me that writing can be just plain fun, something I sometimes forget under the pressure of deadlines, edits, and marketing.

Coincidentally, my Jazzercise studio is running a challenge as well: attend 30 classes in 35 days and you get a tee shirt. They gave us this pretty sky-blue bracelet to remind us to go to class, but I don’t really need it because the only way to get the tee shirt is to tie on my sneakers and dance every day. The truth is: I probably won’t hit the goal. My travel schedule just won’t allow it. However, I’m going to do my darnedest and that will get me to work out more than I would have without the challenge. And that’s the whole point.

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I expect February to be a very constructive month for me. I will write more than usual and I will exercise more than usual. On March 1st, I may collapse into bed for an entire day, but if that happens, I can sleep the sleep of the righteous, knowing that I’ve added words to my manuscript and muscle tone to my body.

Even more important, I will know that I rose to the challenges!

A DOWN-HOME COUNTRY CHRISTMAS: Images and quotes

Whisper donkey

Buy A DOWN-HOME COUNTRY CHRISTMAS here: http://amzn.to/1u6b66g

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Kiss

Old wood texture with snow christmas background

 

Christmas ornaments

 

Donkey strength

Whisper Horse novels on sale!

Great news! My Whisper Horse novels are on sale on Kindle both here and in the U.K.

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Here in the U.S.A., you can get all three Whisper Horse novels for under $6.00 until December 14th. (That works out to $1.99 each, for those who are math-challenged like me.) That would make a great gift and it’s so easy. Just go to Amazon and click on the “Give as a gift” button.

Buy TAKE ME HOME for $1.99 .

Buy COUNTRY ROADS for $1.99.

Buy THE PLACE I BELONG for $1.99.

A DOWN-HOME COUNTRY CHRISTMAS, my Whisper Horse novella, is still at the special holiday price of $1.49. You could use it as your electronic Christmas card AND gift. Same methodology: click on “Give as a gift”. You can add a personalized message.

Buy A DOWN-HOME COUNTRY CHRISTMAS for $1.49.

In the U.K., two of my Whisper Horse novels are on sale for £1 each.

Buy TAKE ME HOME in the U.K for £1.

Buy COUNTRY ROADS in the U.K for£1 .

And my Christmas novella is only £1 .02. (I have no idea where the .o2 came from.)

Buy A DOWN-HOME COUNTRY CHRISTMAS in the U.K for £1.02.

Happy Holidays from my Whisper Horses!