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Love Notes, Fried in Butter

Last night, after all the kids had gone to bed, my husband made me the most exquisite fried egg.

He made one for me and one for him, and each was fried in butter in its own little single-egg pan. We sat down together to eat them, and when I put it in my mouth it melted on my tongue . . .so salty and velvety and warm … It was like eating a bit of a sunbeam, and it tasted so luxuriously superior to the fried eggs I make for myself (which require a lot more chewing).

When Scott makes an egg like this I know that he loves me.

Next story.

Scott and I go out every week. Every. Week.  Why? Because dating is cheaper than therapy. And a few weeks ago we invited my friend and her husband to come with us.  We all sat in a booth, and my friend’s husband sat on the inside of the booth, while my friend sat at the edge. Halfway through dinner my friend stopped the waitress and asked, “Excuse me, can you fill up my husband’s Coke? It is over there in the corner of the table, and I don’t think you saw it last time you came around.”

Wow, I thought. If my husband’s Coke went dry I wouldn’t have even noticed (or cared), but this observant wife was making sure her husband was getting his refills.

I bet he adores her.

One more story . . .

Another friend of mine was cutting her husband’s hair. He was preparing for a series of important interviews that will change the course of their lives, and they both wanted him to look his best. As she was snipping away she was telling him about a book that she was reading for book club (The Night Circus, if you must know). She became so engrossed in telling him that suddenly she sheared off a section of hair that was meant to be preserved. I can imagine that the expression on her husband’s face, when he saw himself in the mirror, was that of a volcano on the verge of an eruption (well, a partially deforested volcano). She braced herself for his censure . . . but it never came. Later she told him that she will always remember his restraint in not saying a sharp word, for the words he might have said would have lasted much longer than his unfortunate hair cut.

Is there a greater love than this? Well, yes.

And no.

I have found, in close to twenty years of marriage, that “I love you” doesn’t always come in three words. “I love you” can be manifested through every action of our mundane lives. By caring for the ones we love with generous attention and loving awareness, we are dropping “love notes” all the time. It doesn’t have to be big or showy or expensive. It is as simple as an exquisitely cooked egg, a Coke refill, or a word of deserved criticism that is never uttered. And when love is spoken in this context it becomes living poetry that marks the difference between roommates and soulmates.

What’s the earth

With all its art, verse, music, worth –

Compared with love, found, gained, and kept?

–Robert Browning

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Teaching Kids about Trump, Canada, and the End of the World

So we just finished with an election which proved to be very historic but not for the reason everyone had originally supposed. You know the details.

My husband and I (dyed-in-the-wool Republicans but not Trump fans) were stunned when we started to see what was happening on the screen as Donald Trump’s numbers went up. As our reactions became more and more flabbergasted, so did the panic level in my kids. And why were they panicking? Because we had been telling them all along that if Donald Trump won it would basically mean the End of the World. But that had been just a joke, because someone as brash as Donald Trump would never win!

But now he was winning, and each time a new red state popped up on the screen my son went to his knees saying, “Hurry, Jesus!”

When we discovered in the morning that it was really, truly so–that Trump really was going to be the new president–we had to regroup. Instead of making jokes about bunkers and moving to Canada we told our kids what we should have been teaching them all along. Specifically, that

  1. There are three branches of the government. The president is only one branch.
  2. There are checks and balances.
  3. A president can’t even be the president for more than 8 years…and if he does a really lousy job he’ll only be president for half of that time, and if he breaks the law than he will be president for even less time than that. It is called impeachment.
  4. America has survived many presidents. Some of them were not so great. Some of them turned out better than expected.
  5. The president should be treated with respect, no matter who he or she is.
  6. The president does not have as much power to make a difference in your world as you do.

When a very young child falls and scrapes their knee they will first look for the reaction in their parent’s face. What they want to know is “Should I cry?” If the parent is fearful the child will react with tears. If the parent is encouraging, the child will stand up, give a shaky laugh, and move on.

After school my kids came home and one of my daughters said, “I’m glad Hillary Clinton didn’t win. Because now I can become the first female president!”

I was proud of her. But there are a zillion other ways she can make an impact on the world that are more powerful than being the President of the United States.

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She That Hath Nose To Smell

Authors Note: I wrote this post a year ago but I never posted it.  With all the wonderful smells of autumn coming back to me I remembered the great deficit I had last fall. This is about how, for a few months, I completely lost my sense of smell. Or, if you are familiar with my writing, it could be about something else. cropped-vitamin-c-nicole2.jpg

I didn’t notice anything was amiss until I made the teriyaki chicken.

I got my recipe from a native Hawaiian who introduced me to The World’s Most Wonderful Ingredient: fresh ginger. Fresh ginger is amazing. It is like a lemon dressed in a kimono. Fresh and exotic and mysterious. Whenever I cut up ginger I like to take a chunk and find the nearest child and give them a whiff.  I can tell by the way they close their eyes that for a brief moment they’ve been transported to the East Indies.

But on this particular day, when I held the ginger up to my nose, I smelled nothing. Weird. Must be a bad ginger.

My teriyaki chicken recipe also calls for fresh garlic. I’m pretty sure you all know what that smells like. . . like a lemon wrapped in three or four decaying animal hides. I took several cloves, smashed them under the broad side of my knife and chopped it up. (I don’t take chunks of garlic around to my children and hold it under their noses because I want them to trust me.) But, out of curiosity I smelled my fingers. Nothing.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is garlic.

I smelled it again. Nothing.

Maybe . . . bad garlic?

Mystified, I tossed it into the teriyaki sauce anyway–along with the odorless ginger–and poured the mixture on the chicken, put it in the oven, and set the time. Forty-five minutes later my daughter comes into the house from cross-country practice and exclaims, “What is that wonderful smell?!”

“I don’t know,” I said. “What is it?”

“It smells like . . . teriyaki chicken!”

It was then that I first realized something was wrong with my nose. It is true that for part of September and October I had been sick, but I didn’t think I was that stuffed up.  Now it dawned on me that I couldn’t smell anything, and I hadn’t for a very long time. I couldn’t smell if the rag at the sink is too old or not. I couldn’t smell the pizza my friend brought into the house. I  couldn’t smell the candle at the party I went to. And worst of all, I couldn’t smell any of the fall, Octobery smells I love, including pumpkin bread or apple pie.

As the days went by and my sense of smell did not return I realized I had lost one of my most trusted tools. How would I tell if the meat in the fridge had gone bad? How would I know if my bread was done? Or burning?

When we carved out pumpkins I made special efforts to clean and dry the pumpkins seeds, and then put them in the oven. After a while I checked on them and they were burnt to a crisp. I hadn’t even noticed.

In the past I prided myself in my sense of smell. I could be upstairs and know what kind of cereal my child was pouring down in the kitchen. I could smell honeysuckle from 50 yards away. When I was pregnant I had an even more powerful sniffer. I could walk into the house and tell wether or not my husband was wearing his retainer. I was that good.

And now that tool was gone. I could smell absolutely nothing. You would be surprised how often a mother needs her nose. Ninety percent of the tasks I do during the day involve the eradication of bad smells of one kind or another. Now what was I to do?

After weeks of not being able to smell anything it starts to wear on your mind. You start to think things like, Perhaps all those smells I had once smelled were just figments of my imagination and I’ve never really smelled anything at all? Or perhaps odors don’t exist? Or perhaps everyone else who can smell things is crazy and I am the only one who really understands that there were no smells, there has never been smells and there will never be smells!

Think deeply about that for a moment.

This is definitely a sense which I took for granted. And the biggest loser was my youngest son.

One Sunday I sat with my two-year-old on my lap all during church. Afterwards I dropped him off in nursery and then skipped (inwardly, at least) to class, only to have the door open and long arms hand me my son with the message that he needed a diaper change. Immediately. When I went to change him I discovered that he had LONG been in need of a diaper change.

This happened two more times over the next few days, simply because I could not smell that he needed a change until the damage was done and a rash had appeared.

I realized that, at least for the present time, I would have to rely on the noses of others to help me smell. I had my daughters smell the dish rag to see if it needed to be washed. I had to have my kids and husband let me know when my two-year-old needed to be changed (because he wasn’t going to tell me.) Other things I had to be more vigilant about like making sure my 5-year-old son got a bath every three days. At least.

There might be some of you out there that may have lost a “sense” that you relied on in the past.  If so, don’t fret. Just because you can’t smell it anymore, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Just because you are surrounded by people who can smell and you can’t, doesn’t mean you are crazy . . . or that they are. It is just temporary. No need to do anything drastic. Sooner or later your sense will come back to you and you will smell it all again: the good smells, the iffy smells and the smells who need to be sent to the tub.

Two days ago I smelled pumpkin cookies . . . and the chili at our ward party . . . and my son’s dirty diaper. And it made me grateful that most lapses in judgement, peace of mind, or faith don’t always last for very long if we are willing to hold out. One must recognize when one is in an abnormal state and be patient for things to settle back in place. And when it does you will be wiser, more grateful, and more aware than ever of whatever it was that you lost.

For what it is worth.

 

But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.  Matthew 13:16-17

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The Song of the Accompanist

 

What pleasure it is to not be number 1.

No one is watching me, but everyone would feel the loss if I were absent.

My role is vital yet no one gives me a second thought.

Like air or water.

I have to be watchful and observant. Even though I am following, in my own way I lead.

The confidence in my notes brings confidence in their voices, and when I am unsure, they falter.

It gives me a sense of power.

Humble power, if there is such a thing.

 

 

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Arthur Ashe & Me

When I was a teenager I came across a quote that made a profound impression on me. It came at a moment in my life that, when I read it, it leaped out at me and landed right in my heart.

At the time I was competing in several local and statewide scholarship programs, and this quote got me through many shaky moments. I would think of it before I went out on stage, I would think of it before I had an interview, I would even think of it before I entered a new social situation. I probably repeated it hundreds of times in my head, and it always helped me stay poised and level my nerves. In a way you could say that this short little quote gave me the confidence to successfully earn enough scholarship money to pay for almost all of my college tuition. After 20 years I can still repeat it:

Regardless of how you feel inside, always try and look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of confidence and control can give you the mental edge that results in victory.

This was said by Arthur Ashe. But even inspiring words like these mean little until you know the background of the person who said it.

Arthur Ashe was the first African American man to be ranked the number 1 tennis player in the world, the first (and still only) African American to win the USOpen. He became a devoted civil-rights advocate. Tragically, he became HIV positive after receiving a blood transfusion. He died of AIDS when he was 49. Arthur Ashe was a man who is remembered for his dignity and courage in a time of fear and injustice.

I still use his quote all the time. It is a great mantra for motherhood. For instance when all of your children are crying or yelling at the same time (which my children never do), instead of throwing them out the window or putting them up for adoption, just close your eyes, take a deep breath and repeat, “Regardless of how you feel inside . . . ”

Because if Arthur Ashe can have grace under pressure with big challenges, we can have it with small ones.

Last week my twin daughters auditioned for an orchestra. One daughter was feeling particularly inadequate, so I introduced her to Arthur Ashe. “Regardless of how you feel inside…” As she listened to the words I saw a change in her features. A light, a spark. I don’t know how that quote made her feel on the inside, but it seemed to do the trick. She was successful in her audition and she made the orchestra.

And so Arthur’s words inspire yet another generation.

As it happened I married a tennis player. One of the perks of marrying into a tennis family is that every now and then we get to go to amazing places like this. This week I got another once in a lifetime opportunity to go to Arthur Ashe Stadium, home of the US Open.

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In the center of the complex, right as you walk in there is a statue of a man poised, mid-serve. Around the statue, carved in stone, they have this quote from Arthur Ashe:

From what we get we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.

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You don’t have to play tennis to have your life changed by Arthur Ashe.

You just have to be human.

If you have an Arthur Ashe story or quote I would love to hear about it in the comments.

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True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.   –Arthur Ashe

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The Last Messenger: FAQs

It is one month until my book The Last Messenger of Zitol will be released. I’ve been getting questions from people about the book so I thought it was time to make sure everyone knew what was up. Here is are my best answers to the most frequently asked questions:

I ordered the book a month ago, why hasn’t it come?

Because you are an early bird! The official release date is September 13th. You will probably get the book earlier than that if you pre-ordered it, but probably not until at least Aug 30. (And you can still pre-order! If you order today you will get a 19% discount!)

On Goodreads I see that some people have already read the book and posted reviews. How can that be if the book hasn’t been released yet?

During the editing process I sent out some Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) to a limited number of people to give it an early review. Some of these people I knew, and some were complete strangers. These copies were not proofread yet, and not ready to be seen by a wide audience, but they helped give me an idea of what the response will be to the book. You can check out their reviews on Goodreads here.

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Can I order it now?

Yes! click here. It will be delivered around the release date, Sept 13.

What is your target audience?

Anyone who enjoys reading Young Adult fiction. People who will particularly enjoy it are: teenage girls, teenage boys, anyone who has ever been in love, anyone who has looked up at the stars, anyone who has paddled a canoe in the ocean, and anyone who loves chocolate. I would definitely recommend this book for mother/daughter book clubs.

Is this book a sequel to your first book The Cenote?

Nope. But, like The Cenote, this book was inspired by the Aztec and Maya cultures of ancient Mexico. The setting for The Cenote was a small village, but The Last Messenger takes place in a dazzling ancient American city at the pinnacle of its prosperity.

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Is this book an allegorical novel like The Cenote?

Yes and no. The main message of this book is a little more obvious than the more covert message of The Cenote, but I love books that take some deciphering, so I included plenty of allegories, metaphors and symbolism for you to savor and mull over.

Tell me what the book is about in one sentence.

This book is a young adult romance/adventure/coming-of-age-story about a girl who is kidnapped and taken away to a faraway city to be sacrificed to the gods.

What point of view is the story told in? 

The story is told in 1st person, from the perspective of a selfish prince.

Will there be a party? 

Yes! There will be a party/book-signing in September here in Hillsborough, NC. More info TBA.

That is all I can think of for now. Did you have a question I didn’t answer? Ask it in the comments and I will get back with you asap!

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Rowing Off Into the Sunset

So there once was a mom who was jealous of her kids.

She was jealous because they got to have piano lessons and violin lessons and swimming lessons and soccer and tennis and etcetera.  The mom watched them learning all of these wonderful things and she wanted to learn something, too. So she decided to sign up for lessons of her own.

IMG_9127She had had her eye on rowing for a long time, and finally a friend told her about a nearby masters crew club that had lessons for novices. The only requirements were that you have to be fit, know how to swim (no one wears life jackets), and you have to be able to lift 40 pounds over your head and walk 75 yards. (The team carries the very long and heavy boat from the boathouse to the water.)

She had the first two requirements down, but she was a little nervous about the last one. (Have you seen the size of her arms? They are like broomsticks!) IMG_9105

Fortunately for her, she was not as tall as the other rowers and once they had the boat over their heads she couldn’t even reach it. A lucky break!IMG_9111

The coach was a fountain of rowing knowledge, and most of the other women were experienced rowers so there was nothing to fear. (Except catching a crab, which she did on the third day of practice. Yikes!)

There were lots new things to learn. Anyone even casually familiar with boats knows that when facing the bow the right side is starboard and the left side is port. But in a row boat you are all facing backwards. So your left side is starboard and your right side is port. It took some getting used to.

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The coach was careful to teach by degrees . . . Sometimes only two rowers would row while the other rowers kept the boat set with their oars. Then the coach increased it to four, and the six. When it wasn’t her turn to row the star of our story would close her eyes and pretend like she was Cleopatra going down the Nile.

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I am in seat number 5, right in the middle with the white hat.

It wasn’t until the third practice that the coach allowed all eight rowers to row and she could now understand why her coach had added rowers by degrees. Eight people rowing with no one to set the boat was quite exciting! And a little chaotic, at first. But eventually she got the hang of it.

IMG_9113The whole experience was a little dream come true and definitely one to repeat in the future. But now it is back to taking the kids to lessons, and watching them grow and learn. Which is not so bad, especially when you have a view like this:

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