Reflections from a Lifetime Friendship

Friendship comes easily for some people. Other people need to tangle with a metal hurdle and eat cinder from the track to find a true friend.
You guessed it. I’m the second kind.
In fact, ramming my right knee into a hurdle in eighth grade is exactly how I met my long-time friend. Believe it or not, our junior high (now a middle school) still has that red cinder track.
And my right knee really bugged me recently, after a five-hour stint in the car and our five-mile hike up Icicle Ridge.
It’s safe to say I don’t take friendship lightly, and I try to value each person who calls me a friend.
And I think the list is pretty short.
And not just because writer’s don’t get out much. Besides being an introvert (which doesn’t mean I’m shy or don’t talk much), I don’t share my heart with many people.
Well, except portions of my heart are available to anyone who reads my stories and books.
It’s funny how I try to be transparent in my writing, but I don’t bare my heart and soul to many people in face-to-face relationships.
Some people call everyone a friend, and while I try to be friendly to everyone, I have only a handful of close friends.


In my mind, these are rare people who can accept my flawed, opinionated self at face-value and aren’t trying to change me into something more acceptable. Not that all of them think I couldn’t change for the better, but their affection isn’t tied to those invisible standards to which I don’t measure up.
Here are some things I’ve learned about friendship from the tall girl who had to walk me in to the locker room on that long ago day at track practice:

  1. No one’s perfect, but anyone can pretend to be. When people only like you or want to spend time with you because you act a certain way (dress a certain way, work in a certain profession, earn a certain amount of money…and the list goes to infinity and beyond), they probably aren’t showing you their true heart and they don’t want to share yours.
  2. Time and distance never diminish authentic feelings. Some people can go years without seeing each other, and when they’re together they pick up as if no time passed. And they experience the same joy and connection as if they’d been together the entire time.
  3. Laughter only has value where tears do. Laughter’s the best medicine. A laugh a day keeps you healthy and young. As far as the benefits of laughter, they can’t be underestimated, but what makes a true friend unique is that they value tearful moments as highly as mirthful ones.
  4. Advice is given freely without any strings. Some people want you to tell them what to do, and when they give advice they expect you to follow it or “they’re done.” That’s not friendship. Friendship is 50 percent ears to hear, 40 percent heart to love and 9 percent eyes to see with only one measly percent mouth to spout advice.
  5. Listening goes both ways. Everyone knows people who talk and talk and talk. And when you talk, they aren’t listening but planning what they’re going to say next. A friend isn’t all about talking out their issues. They’re eager to hear what’s on their friend’s mind almost more than they’re waiting to finally share their burden with someone.
  6. Communication happens silently. “We looked at each other and burst out laughing.” Have you ever experienced it? Yes, if you knew the other person well enough to understand you were thinking the same thing at that moment.
  7. Time spent with them is a great investment. We’ve all spent a day with someone and felt emotionally and physically exhausted afterward. Time with a true friend energizes our soul and strengthens our emotions, even if we do things (like stay up all night talking) that sap our bodies of energy.
  8. Acceptance is the currency of friendship. Even when you disagree with beliefs or choices, it doesn’t lessen the emotional bond. Two can walk together even if they disagree when they accept that being right isn’t as important and being loved.

What are the characteristics of your longest, most meaningful friendship? What did I leave off my list?
If this post appealed to you, you might like Hero Delivery. It’s a bulletin with deals and specials from Sharon Hughson. It can be on the way to your inbox in a few clicks.
Check out Reality Meets its Match and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.

Already read one or more? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. Those reviews are the same as the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.

A Weekend with the Girls

Life speeds ahead and important elements like friendship might become little more than casualties along this racetrack. This is one of the reasons I have made a weekend with my best friend from high school a priority in my schedule.
If you’re a man, you might be able to relate if you go hunting with your friends. Or maybe you have tickets to a sporting event and share dinner before (or after) with a testosterone-heavy group. Good for you. Friendships enrich our lives.
And no, a girls-only getaway doesn’t me pillow fights in pajamas (regardless of what my husband likes to think). But it does involve the heart-to-heart talks that may have been left behind with those teenage slumber parties.


Many years ago, my best friend from high school and I began this tradition. Although we haven’t maintained an annual reunion since the inception, we’ve been faithful to it for the past three years.
City Escape
Two times we’ve traded our small-town existence for the big city. After all, spending time with friends isn’t about secluding ourselves from the world.
Our wide world begs us to experience its many faces. How better to see the bright lights and high rise shadows than with a friend?
We’ve visited San Francisco and Seattle. A trip to Sin City is brewing.
These destinations offer unique opportunities. Walking along Fisherman’s Wharf to the sound of barking sea lions? Sure and don’t forget the wax museum and Ghiradelli factory. If you’ve never been offered drugs at the entrance to Golden Gate Park, have you really lived?
Fish tossing at Pikes Place Market? We saw it. And sampled fresh-roasted coffee and nuts while perusing wares from dozens of artisans. When we wanted to be grossed out, we toured down Post Alley to the gum wall.


These are shared memories that fuel the midnight conversations in years to come.
Mountain Escape
One of our earliest weekends was at a condo near Mount Hood. It rained to greet our arrival, so we watched movies and snacked on popcorn.
While the clouds camped on the highest peak in Oregon, the sun shone on one trail that wove through evergreens to a small lake. There the mountain was reflected in all its glory.
This year, we took a longer drive to Leavenworth, Washington. We hiked two-and-a-half miles up the side of Icicle Ridge to enjoy amazing views of the river rushing through a rocky gorge on one side and calming to lap gently at several parks on the other.

Yes, that’s the river gorge nearly 2,000 feet below us

This little town offered plenty of other sights, too, with much more panache than the sleepy mountain towns of Rhododendron and Zig Zag (look them up if you don’t believe me).
Worth the Drive
While we flew to California, most years we hop in our respective vehicles and drive to the rendezvous point. The older I get, the more my body groans at being trapped behind the wheel for hours on end.
                                                            Yes, I’m not much for road trips.
But to spend a weekend laughing, sharing, crying and living with my girlfriends, I’ll suffer the butt-ache and stiff knees (all of which faded after the long hike anyway because my feet screamed much louder).
Even if we lived much closer, I think my friends and I would still like to “get away from it all” together. It’s therapeutic to bare our souls and drain our stress.
Sunday comes before we’re ready. There are hugs and goodbyes and then the promise of the future.
“See you same time next year.”
And it’s a date.
If this post appealed to you, you might like Hero Delivery. It’s a bulletin with deals and specials from Sharon Hughson. It can be on the way to your inbox in a few clicks.
Check out Reality Meets its Match and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.

Already read one or more? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. Those reviews are the same as the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.

Captain America: Vigilante or Hero?

On May 6, 2016, the newest Captain America film hit local theaters. People were challenged to choose a side in this Superhero Civil War. Would you be #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan?

If you read my post after I watched the second Captain America movie, you recall that I dubbed Captain America the perfect superhero. I will be quoting that post here.

After Marvel’s movie makers changed the terms of being a hero, do I still believe Cap is a model superhero? Did the signing of some UN treaty suddenly make following his own moral compass illegal?

Being a Hero

Image from Marvel-movies
Image from Marvel-movies

In my earlier post, I claimed Captain America was a hero because of these three things:

  1. He fights for justice for everyone
  2. He doesn’t use his power for selfish reasons
  3. He won’t compromise his personal integrity for anyone

However, if the governments of 117 countries decide that he doesn’t have the right to do these things, is he bound to follow them because they are suddenly the majority?

That’s what this movie is all about. Once again, it challenges the idea that a person can be loyal to two people who are at odds with each other. What if they are both right? Whose side do you stand on?

At one point, Iron Man asked Black Widow if she could bring the Hulk in on their team. Her reply, “How do you know he’d choose your side?”

Cap didn’t want his friends to be divided, but they chose to stand with him because they’re friends. This meant friends faced off with friends. Isn’t this something that happens in real life? You side with one friend for whatever reason – and it isn’t just because they’re your friend.

What reason would a hero have for standing against his friends? See number one and three above. He believed it was the just thing and his integrity is not for sale to the highest bidder.

Being a Vigilante

Hero or Vigilante?
Hero or Vigilante?

I’m in the middle of watching the third season of The Arrow on Netflix. The police call him the vigilante. Except for one man – a (police)man who has been rescued by him.

So what does it mean to be a vigilante?

Dictionary.com says a vigilante is “any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.” So a person who seeks their own brand of justice. They take an eye for an eye.

Because sometimes the legal system fails. There is no such thing as a perfect government with only fair laws that are always enforced.

Does that give a person the “right” to take things into their own hands?

Instead of giving you my answer, let me offer up examples. Comic book examples: Batman, Spiderman, Superman and many others. More movies have been made on this topic than almost any other.

In a fallen world, I don’t think fallen people should seek their own brand of justice. I ascribe to this principle “avenge not yourselves, but give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

However, notice that this says to avenge not yourselves.

Captain America did not decide to selfishly help one friend while annoying all of his other friends. Cap saw injustice. He had the power to stop it. So he did.

He minimizes the collateral damage of death to innocents in every way he can. Isn’t that what policemen, and military, and others whose “job” it is to protect the rights of all citizens do?

This is the reason he wouldn’t sign the accord. If he did, suddenly he became subject to a governing authority. Because, let’s face it, those with superpowers are above the average law. We can only hope they’re going to fight on the side of right, because who can stop them?

(More on this issue in my next post.)

No longer without Personal Entanglements

One of my author friends told me that Cap would always put friendship first and that wasn’t always in the best interest of the wider scope of world problems.

And yet…I believe Cap chose only to endanger himself when he went after Bucky. He gave Sam the chance to opt out. When they headed to the final battle, it was only Cap and Bucky facing their foe.

I don’t want to give away anything for those who haven’t seen the movie, so you should stop reading now if that is you. SPOILER AHEAD!

Cap_IronMan_CivilWar
Image credit: technobuffalo

Cap admitted to Wanda that his concern for Bucky compromised the team. He took full responsibility for the collateral damage on the mission where this happened.

Further, he stepped beyond his “no romantic attachments” barrier by kissing Sharon Carter. Whether or not that makes her his Lois Lane, I don’t know. She certainly isn’t a helpless wallflower. After all, she’s a CIA agent with obvious skills. With an aunt like the amazing Agent Peggy Carter, she can probably hold her own against the bad guys who might abduct her to get to Cap.

Still, Cap no longer meets my third qualification. I said heroes with love interests were “forced to choose between their love and the wider world.” When Cap was forced into that situation in Civil War, I don’t think it had to do with his personal feelings. As I said in my earlier post: “he will never compromise his principles and favors no individual as more redeemable than another.”

I don’t believe he favored Bucky above Iron Man in the newest film. They were equally his friend.

However, Bucky needed help because he was being used as a pawn by someone with vile intentions. In this case, what looked like favoritism toward a friend was actually Captain Rogers protecting the underdog.

Because that’s what true heroes do.

**Original image for header on this post can be found here. All credit goes to those artists.

What do you think? Is Cap a vigilante now? Or is he still a hero? Can he be both?

Realizing You’re Already Amazing

A few months before I graduated from college, I met Holley Gerth. Not in person. Through her book, You’re Already Amazing, but it was like we sat down day after day and talked about my dilemma.

You know, what’s going to happen when I finish college. Will I continue working as an educational assistant and pursue my writing dream on the side? Will I jump into a master’s program to become a teacher? Can this fledgling idea for a novel fly into something larger than life?

I had a dream. Since I was old enough to read, I dreamed I would write stories. My words would send people into magical realms like C. S. Lewis did for me. Or these books would comfort others in confusion, as Judy Blume had done for me.

I wrote stories, poems and filled notebooks with my personal struggles. Then I grew up. I really despise those four words. Truly.

Because adult hood is filled with advantages, but often it includes abandoning dreams that fostered a soul through childhood and motivated her during the ugly insecurity of teenager-hood.

I wish I had known Holley Gerth back then.

Let me introduce you to her now, so you don’t have to wonder about finding a purpose or abandoning a dream.

You’re Already Amazing

AlreadyAmazingBookBetween the covers of this book, I met the sweet-spirited counselor, Holley Gerth. She poured a cup of coffee. We sat on her sofa. She talked, and I listened.

Reading this book felt like a conversation. After she shared wisdom and insight, she asked me to delve into my own heart. I spilled ink on the pages.

Her next words responded to that transparency – as if we were sitting across from each other.

This is the best thing about every book from Holley. It feels like a two-way conversation. The probing questions and activities at the end of one chapter open up questions that are answered in the next chapter.

In order to use the new LifeGrowth Guide she’s releasing this month, you should read this book. Each chapter of the new guide tells which chapters from the book correspond to it.

Sure, she has excerpts from the original book in this guide (and plenty of new coaching and counseling), but experiencing the original book helps this guide make more of an impact.

By the time you finish, you’ll have a “mission” statement for your life and an idea how you can start fulfilling it.

It was this statement that assured me of my own path. I worked through her You’re Made for a God-Sized Dream book before I settled on a course of action, but the seed was planted with this book.

Do you feel like you’re standing still in your walk with God? Does each day seem like a duplicate of the one before?

You’re Already Amazing will help you understand why you’re feeling these things. Then it will show you how to move beyond those debilitating emotions.

LifeGrowth Guide

YAA_LifeGrowth_Guide_Cover_1024x1024I jumped at the chance to preview this new guide when Holley offered the opportunity to her blog followers.

I loved the original book, and since I plan Bible studies and retreats for the ladies in my church, I saw this guide as a possibility for either activity.

After reading through this new book, and watching a few of the videos, I’m certain it will uplift women at any stage in their life.

Divided into six sessions, the book works as leader and groupie guide. In fact, it could be used solo, as a woman read through You’re Already Amazing and used the questions and activities in this guide to supplement her journey.

It’s intended to be used with a small group. In fact, it has powerful potential to bind women closer together and encourage them to lift each other up. What better way to carry out Paul’s admonition for the older women to teach the younger (Titus 2:3-5)?

The reading and activities in this guide are meant to be completed before the group session. Each session begins with a short video chat from Holley, which sets the stage and opens the conversation for that chapter. After discussing the questions and helping each other digest the truths, there’s another short clip to end each session.

In the back, there are helpful outlines to be used by group leaders or facilitators.

Perhaps you’d like a more informal group, the guide helps with that aspect. Each chapter includes a hands-on crafty project. A group could gather to watch the short video and then work on that project. Conversations could flow while hands were busy creating.

Amazing Applications

When I finished You’re Already Amazing, three years ago now, I told everyone about how helpful it was.

I’m super excited about the LifeGrowth Guide because it packages my excitement in a format that can help other women.

Let’s face it, some people don’t want to read. They might scan the guide and complete the activities, but they aren’t going to wade through an entire book.

The LifeGrowth Guide could be used by this type of person. It wouldn’t take long before they wanted more of Holley’s wisdom.

My plan for this guide is to use it at the annual ladies’ retreat. I’m going to have to reorganize and condense the lessons, because the sessions really need several days (minimum) between them to complete all the reading and activities.

To get the most from the book, a woman needs to invest time and thought into her answers. Season each page with prayer. Meditate on the deeper queries and return to them the next day.

A two-day retreat doesn’t provide time for all that. But I still think this curriculum will work.

It would certainly work as a weekly or bi-monthly Bible study.

If you had people who really wanted to write a life purpose statement, you could tailor this guide to be used for a one-day seminar. As long as there is ample time for independent thought, three of the sessions could be juxtaposed together and rock a woman’s Saturday.

If your life feels stale or you’re at a cross-roads, you need this book. If you yearn for women to come alongside you, this guide could open the way for that to happen.

Once again, Holley Gerth delivers a piece of her heart to her readers. And she’ll make you realize You’re Already Amazing, too.\

When having dinner with strangers isn’t strange

Don’t talk to strangers. We’ve heard it all our lives. So having dinner with strangers would be even an even bigger faux pas.

Wouldn’t it?

Not if you’re on a cruise ship. In fact, the fancy dining room setup using cozy tables for six or eight added the perfect touch to our cruising experience.

By the end of the trip, these dinners marked in the top three of things I enjoyed most about the cruise overall.

Top three? She must be crazy!

The Company

I talked about the dining room seatings in an earlier post. For a refresher, click here.

Sunday night (the first night of the cruise), my husband and I were both feeling a little nauseous, and I had a headache. I didn’t feel up to making polite conversation. In fact, I only went to dinner because I hoped putting some food into my stomach might convince it to behave.

(Side note: we both took Dramamine after setting sail. After taking it, I felt WORSE than I did before. We didn’t take it the rest of the trip and felt no ill effects from the motion of the sea.)

But I had built the dining experience up to incredible levels in my mind and since I wasn’t feeling especially pleased with everything else (it’s hard to be happy when you feel sick), I wanted to experience the high class dining environment.

Before dessert on the last night, all of our servers serenaded us
Before dessert on the last night, all of our servers serenaded us

I wasn’t disappointed.

Your table number is on your sea pass (the card that works as room key, passport aboard ship and credit card). We had scoped out the location earlier when we’d been exploring the ship.

sea pass

It was a round table set for six people. We arrived first (every night except for one).

A pair of ladies, petite and older than we are, joined us. We introduced ourselves with handshakes.

Catherine had a lovely British accent. So I was quick to point that out and ask where she was from.

“Houston.”

My eyes widened. For a second I thought maybe she was mispronouncing our last name (had we mentioned it?), but then she laughed and waved her hand.

“I live there now. I’m originally from England.”

Obviously.

She was a dear woman who wasn’t shy about expressing her opinions about everything from the indecorous comments of people at a nearby table to inappropriate sanitation. (It’s dinnertime, so I won’t elaborate on how THAT subject came up.)

She was a seasoned cruiser, but her companion was a newbie (like us). Apparently, Catherine and her mother were scheduled to take the cruise but since her mam’s health wasn’t cooperating, she invited her sister-in-law.

Margaret reminded me of a silver-speckled sparrow. She was tiny and thin with doe eyes. Her home was in Ohio, but she’d been spending the winter with her brother (Catherine’s husband) and sister-in-law to escape the cold.

I could go on and on with tales about these two lovelies. But that’s not the point. The point is at that moment at 8:05 pm on the first night of a week-long cruise, they were strangers.

And we were being forced to have dinner with them.

The Service

I mentioned the amazing service we received in Isaac’s Dining Room in an earlier post. I’m sure I gushed about our servers, Shirlynn and Tyronne.

Our amazing servers: Shirlynn and Tyronne
Our amazing servers: Shirlynn and Tyronne

As soon as they handed us the menu that first night, Catherine began to expound on her earlier cruises. We discussed each of the starter items and entrees listed on the lovely, custom list of offerings.

I chose the chicken, a standard dish that was on the menu every night. I didn’t want to tempt my uneasy stomach to rebel in a violent manner.

Conversation ranged abroad. What were our the plans for the cruise? How we had settled on this ship with these destinations. It was all very surface, stranger-friendly conversation.

By the time dessert and coffee (decaf for me, I wanted to sleep) came, we were laughing, everyone much more relaxed and open.

I’d like to say it was my bubbly persona that won them over, but I think Catherine is the type of person who’s never met a stranger.

In retrospect, I think the fine service -and how we all noticed and complimented it-played the largest part. Our servers treated us like family and friends, so it was easy to step into those roles.

From Stranger to Friend

Margaret, Catherine and us at our table aboard Freedom of the Seas
Margaret, Catherine and us at our table aboard Freedom of the Seas

No, we didn’t exchange personal information. These two lovely ladies who enjoy reading as much as I do took my business card. They claimed a desire to read my books.

We’ll see.

Whether or not they become a fan of my writing, they will be considered friends.

Why not? There are a multitude of people I’ve never even met face-to-face on my Facebook “friends” list. Shouldn’t someone I spent quality time with during a week-long vacation earn the same status?

The word friend is loosely defined these days. I would say a friend is someone you know and enjoy talking with about some subjects. In this case, whether social media or socializing on a cruise, my list of friends has grown longer.

The fact: Catherine and Margaret are no longer strangers. If they aren’t strangers, they must be acquaintances. Having shared a unique experience with them, I promote them to the level above acquaintance-ship.

Having dinner with strangers is only strange if you don’t convert them into friends by the time dessert is served.

Thanks for making me your friend, Catherine and Margaret.

Have you ever shared a unique experience with a person you only met that one time and yet you consider them a friend?

When girlfriends get together

3 girlfriendsOnce upon a time there were three teenage girls. Two of them lived in the same apartment complex. Yes, neighbors can be friends.

The third girl needed real friends. She had been dumped by her church friends when she became a cheerleader. And dumped by her cheerleading friends when she quit the team.

And so, girl three tumbled over a hurdle and one of the neighbors had to carry her into the locker room. It was the start of a wonderful friendship – one that has been real and true, surviving relocation, divorce, deaths and long silences.

The other Neighbor girl arrived late to the party. Her family moved into the apartment complex a year later. Before long, she was invited into the tight friendship circle. After all, a circle contains numberless points.

Fast Forward Thirty Years

After many years of separation, the last girl added to the circle reconnected with the other girls. Yes, thank you, Facebook. It started with a lunch. Who knew they had lived so close to each other all this time?

The other lady (yes, none of them are girls any longer) lives in a different state. In this era, that means nothing. But the Internet can only take you so far.

Thus, a girlfriend weekend was planned.

Who

Obviously, this author is one of the three women in this friendship.

The woman from the other state, L1, is a computer geek. Okay, an IT specialist for the county where she lives. Do any of the rest of us really understand what that means? (Do we want to?)

These two women had spent several weekends together, but it had been many years. At the mention of it, the third friend wanted to experience this great method for catching up and relaxing (as well as escape from familial stress for two days).

The third woman, L2, has been struggling to raise her orphaned nephew. She works in transportation. She’s the only one who still has both of her parents (and they are the reason she lives so close to this author).

What

This was a Friday-Saturday getaway. A central location was agreed upon (more on that later) and a hotel room secured.

“What are we going to do?”

The location was a high desert, so the mid-spring weather promised to be dry. The hotel was located along a river walk.

“We’ll play it by ear.”

That’s part of the adventure anyway, isn’t it?

Besides, this weekend was mainly about reconnecting with old friends. That meant talking. Who needs to be entertained when you have two friends to chat with?

Where

Richland, Washington was chosen for this first get-together. (Yes, first, meaning there will be a second). L1 reserved a room at a Shilo Inn along the river.

Ms. Writer picked up L2 at a shopping mall near her home. They carpooled down the interstate, chattering like squirrels on speed. What better way to make the miles fly?

A nearby baseball tournament filled the motel with teenage boys on Friday night. Which turned out to be an interesting twist since someone brought a shoe box full of old notes (more on that later).

To say the motel was dated is being kind. At least it was clean. The pool was out of service and the weather promised to hit the high 70s. But the river trail was wide and paved and headed past two marinas and some interesting condos and restaurants.

Friday was a late night. No one could believe the collection of notes from 1981-1983. Not even L1, who called herself the keeper of historical documents. Sounds better than pack rat, I suppose.

Girlfriend Historical Records

What to Do

Talk. Walk. Try to shop. Talk. Walk. Eat out. Talk. Walk. Talk.

3 girlfriends

And before we blinked three times, it was Sunday morning and we were checking out.

Parting felt painful. The goodbyes were stretched through a milkshake at Applebee’s.

3 girls goodbyeSomeone got to take a nap on the drive home. But only a short one, and more conversation followed the sleep.

“We have to do this again.”

And so, same time next year, the trio will travel to Seattle. Reservations in a nice condo are already made.

The historical records? We hope the maids at the Shilo got as much laughter from reading them as we did.

Louder than Words

I am a fan of young adult stories – but not straight romances.  Especially not YA romance which is generally too much angst and drama and not enough story. Iris St. Clair makes me a liar with her phenomenal book Louder than Words.

I’ll admit I picked up the book because it was at a special release day price, and the author is in a writing critique group I recently joined. The blurb piqued my interest because it sounded like some non-romance young adult novels I’ve read and enjoyed.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

“Disappointment has been on speed dial in Ellen Grayson’s life lately. Her dad died, her mom numbs the grief with drugs and alcohol, and her so-called friends have slowly abandoned her.

Trusting a popular teacher with her troubles should have been safe and should NOT have led to an unwelcome seduction attempt that made her desperate to escape the final moments of Junior year. Lesson learned. Best to keep all the sordid details to herself and trust no one.

Enter Rex Jacobi, a cocky boy, recently transplanted from New York City and fellow summer camp employee. Though his quick wit and confidence draws her in, she can’t let him get too close. And summer is just long enough and hot enough to keep a boy like that at arm’s length.

But by the time Rex’s charm wears down her resistance, it’s too late. He’s put Ellen on the “just friends” shelf and has shifted his romantic attentions to the impossibly annoying and perky anti-Ellen. Even worse, the teacher who tried to get her to sleep with him is still at it, preying on other girls while Ellen struggles to come to terms with what happened.

With her ability to trust as shaky as a chastity vow on prom night, Ellen must decide if she has enough remaining courage to speak up about the well-liked teacher and risk retribution, tell Rex how she really feels about him and risk heartbreak, or hold all her secrets inside. After all, it’s the only safe place she knows when the only thing louder than words is the fear of being rejected.”

So, I open the book expecting this to be in the vein of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. And the opening scene keeps that illusion alive (see paragraph one, two and five from the blurb). But after chapter three there’s nothing more about the groping teacher.

Sure a small scene where he practically threatens her at a restaurant, but the story is obviously “just” a romance. It’s about her pushing away Rex and then regretting it. Attempting to settle for friendship with him when her heart and mind are calling her all sorts of hypocrite. Ho-hum.

About halfway through, things change when the teacher re-enters the picture. And, yes, it does broach the same subject as Speak and does it in a way that is so non-confrontational that any teenage girl who read it would think, “I could do that.” Whereas, the trauma value to Speak’s heroine holds some kids who consider themselves “normal” at arm’s length.

I tip my hat to St. Clair for dealing with sensitive subject matter with finesse. It’s not just the definition of “what is a consensual relationship” that she addresses. Nope, there’s a list of volatile topics:

  • How do we approach a child we suspect is being abused?
  • How can we be a friend to someone who’s lost a parent? Or whose parent is a drug addict?
  • When is withholding the truth a sign of friendship? And, conversely, when should the truth push us from our comfort zone?
  • Why do teenagers consider bullying the norm? Why are so many willing to be bystanders rather than take a stand?

Each of these questions finds an answer in the midst of this not-just-a-romance story. St. Clair handles them with tact and without ever hinting at being preachy or judgmental.

Upon finishing the last page, I had to sit down and review this book because the magnitude of the accomplishment astounded me. From something marketed as a “young adult romance,” a spotlight falls on important subjects many teenagers face (or wonder about).

I laughed. I teared up. Most of all, I believed Ellen could truly exist in this world. And I wanted to meet her because I felt like she is someone I’d want to befriend. Just a regular girl with standard problems who faced them with the bravery of an Amazon warrior.

Yes, this “romance” gets five stars from me because it is so much more than “just” a love story.

My favorite romantic line from the book: “The tingles have formed throbbing gangs who have sprayed suggestive graffiti all over my private property.” Now, that sounds exactly like something a teenager would think – and is totally sexy while being amazingly appropriate in the same instant.

If you have a daughter who likes romance, get her this book. Read it so you can have some important discussions with her about some of the subject matter subtly confronted in between teenage angst and drama. It is worth every penny and every minute. I promise.

How I was forced into doing NaNoWriMo

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The ink on my blog post detailing why I wouldn’t be participating in National Novel Writing Month hadn’t dried. My writing friend and I met at the library, and she insisted I participate in the insanity. I said no. She cajoled.

I signed up the next day. *sighs*

I thought I was stronger than this. My calendar for November is flooded with rewrite obligations. There are beta readers expecting that novel in December. Wouldn’t want to disappoint them.

“But you’re writing short stories anyway,” my friend argues.

True. I have scheduled seven days in the first three weeks of the month to work on some new stories. I’m trying to improve my market reach. A few publishing credits can only make my queries stronger.

I figured the creation process would be a nice way to give my brain a break during the grueling work of rewriting (which is minor compared to the brain strain of editing). I’m wondering if I can work on two or more different projects at a time – and do them both justice.

“I don’t have time. I’m doing a rewrite.”

“You should still sign up.” (Is someone paying her for all the people she convinces to participate? Is that what being a Municipal Liaison means?)

I have no one to blame but myself. Who clicked on the NaNo website? *raises hand* Who typed in a description of a short story collection for their 2014 project? *looks away*

The voice of reason (my husband), “I thought you weren’t doing that this year.”

Yeah, I thought so too. Why did I want to be friends with writers again? Why did I go with this woman to a writer’s conference? Why do we have regular lunch meetings?

We’re “helping” each other. I’m not feeling especially encouraged at the moment. The stress of writing 50,000 words in 30 days is making my head pound.

What are writing friends for? Apparently, to push me out of my comfort zone. And in front of a speeding NaNoWriMo truck.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What crazy things have your friends convinced you to do? Were you later appreciative of their interference? (Please say yes. I really like this person.)

Inspiration Abounds all Around

Image courtesy of Running Rachel

Today’s assignment is to write about who inspires me. What? I’m supposed to choose only one person? If not, this post will be longer than anyone cares to read.

In life, inspiration lives all around us. We just have to open our eyes and see. After seeing, we must ponder the message and take it to heart.

Only then will we be inspired. Like everything else in life, it’s our choice.

What’s Inspired Me Recently?

Olympic Athletes: Hours, months and years of hard work and determination is clearly marked for these heroes. Are they disappointed if they don’t win a medal? Is getting there enough of a payoff? I don’t know, but their dedication to a course of action inspires me to stay the course toward my own dreams.

My Sister: We may have come from the same background, but life has dealt her a brutal hand when compared with mine. Yet she continues on. And not begrudgingly. She maintains a positive spirit. When she got another degree on her black belt, I wasn’t surprised. Solid stuff – that’s what she’s made of and it compels me to “suck it up, Buttercup!”

My Husband: If you know me, the man is already a saint for enduring me for 25 years. More than that though, he is the model of love. He has the heart of a servant. When my mom died, he stepped up to hold me up, but then he stepped in and helped my step-dad deal with all the financial red-tape. If you need a helping hand – you can count on my husband.

Friends: When you’re down, the people who reach out to you are the ones you can truly call friend. In the midst of all the loss and craziness, I had friends who gave me permission to skip a day of writing and just relax. I was ready to return to creativity after that, but I didn’t want to cut myself any slack. These people inspire me to reach out to others and be a better friend.

Coffee-for-Your-Heart-150Could my list go on and on? Certainly. I think I’ll cut my readers a mid-week break.

Who inspires you? What do they inspire you to do?
Linking to the HOST

Twenty-five Years of Wedded Bliss

Aren't we a happy couple?
Aren’t we a happy couple?

On May 27, 1988, this poor guy committed his life to me. He vowed to stay beside me in sickness and health. At the same time, I promised to honor, love and obey him.

Twenty-five years later (and it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long), we’re holding onto each other and standing by our covenant.

Sometimes people act like it’s so incredible that we’ve been married for so long. I like to think it’s because I look so young. It’s more likely that they don’t know how Mr. Wonderful has survived without killing me.

I know people who have been married for 60 years. This is why our Silver Anniversary, while certainly a landmark, doesn’t seem like “hard work” to me.

Check back in another twenty-five years. We’ll see if I think the Golden Anniversary is worth raving about.

I don’t mean to demean my marriage. I have the best husband in the world. In fact, he’s so awesome that he presented me with an itinerary for Germany on my anniversary. I had already squabbled with him that $2000 was too much money and I would accompany him on some later trip when it wasn’t so expensive.

Apparently, no. I will leave on June 22 and return on July 3, 2013. This is my official college graduation gift.

See what I mean about Mr. Wonderful? There’s no other woman on earth who has a better husband.

I hope and pray my sons will choose to marry their best friend. I believe founding a marriage on friendship rather than romantic love is essential for longevity.

We all know that the “spark” might not be there every minute of every day. However, when you like someone because you chose them as a friend, all those “mushy feelings” are irrelevant. After all, when a friend needs you, you show up. Why would you offer your life mate anything less?

I hope you take a minute to respond to my poll. I’m interested on gauging the pulse of Americans regarding the idea of “what makes marriage last?”