April 28, 2016

snapshots of france

As you may recall, I didn't go into my French adventure with the best attitude. (You can refresh your memory here.) Still, because I wanted to change my perspective, and because I've always regretted not taking notes on the other trips I've been on in my life, I resolved to keep a travel journal. Every day, I jotted down a few thoughts—sometimes just bullet points—to help me remember what stood out during the day. But, so as not to bore myself—or you, gentle readers—I had a self-imposed word count limit. Here you have it.

The beautiful photo my buzzed self wanted
to share with the world mid-flight.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Two hours into the flight and I'm pretty toasted (free wine!!!!). I'm at the point in my boozing journey in which I like to sing. Stupid no karaoke on planes. Instead of singing, I watched Joy and teared up at the end. (Could be the wine.) My in-flight WiFi isn't working, which is sad. How else am I supposed to share the magical photo I took of Canada??? I want to read my book but people are turning the lights off. Quitters. I need to pee but didn't want to use the plane's bathroom if possible. But three glasses of wine in, the idea doesn't seem so bad after all.

Update: It was terrible. Plane toilets are the worst.

Now to read then watch Mockingjay Part 2 till I sleep. Oh, JLaw. I know everyone says this, but I truly think we could be best friends. Call me?

Btdubs three glasses of wine seems to be my threshold. (Though I should probably stick to two in the future.) Thank goodness they just came around with water bottles. I need to hydrate.

On a more serious note... The women in front of me are well into retirement and headed to Paris on a girls' trip. They're so excited and sweet and germaphobic. (They scrubbed down their seats and seatbelts with sanitary wipes before they settled in for the flight.) It gives me hope for future French adventures, preferably in Paris. Maybe it won't be young, dashing Pierre showing me crepes, but older, wiser Henri giving me croissants.

International flights are better than domestic. Think about it.


Worth the flight across the Atlantic.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016
  • No sleep on plane
  • I sobered up and rehydrated well before landing, score
  • Long line at customs
  • Airplane broke our checked baggage
  • I don't think we lost anything
  • No, didn't lose anything, nothing broken
  • We missed the train to Nantes
  • We're going to repair the bag and grab a snack while we wait
  • Ate my first croissant and pain au choclat; divine
  • My co-worker fixed the bag; she says it looks like Frankenstein, I think it's beautiful (and it works)
  • Nearly passed out at airport during the four-hour wait for the next train
  • Angrily read November 7 on the train (my second book of this trip so far); angry not because of the train (which was fine, given my exhaustion), but because one of the characters did something I'm not sure I can forgive (reader problems)
  • I forgave him
  • Arrived in Nantes after six, checked into airport, took a walk around the neighboring chatteau, delicious dinner before passing out in the sofa bed that came with the room


The chatteau next door.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Today, I learned the difference between went to say "bonjour" and "bonsoir." (The switch happens right at five, apparently.) Someone corrected me. After she left the booth, I turned to my partner in crime and said, "I feel like a big asshole right now. Foot," I pointed to my lips, "mouth." We had a good laugh. I'm maybe still a little delirious from lack of sleep.

It was a good first day at our booth. We handed out all of our 500 buttons within the first two hours. I also developed a deep and passionate crush on one of the security guards who walked past our booth every half hour or so. Each time we'd share a nod and a "bonjour." Then I'd look away before my eyes could betray the extent of my feelings. Be still my heart.

At the end of the day, anxious to take the tram back to our hotel, we were delayed. A large protest in the city center had shut down transportation. Everyone assured us it was normal, and we ultimately found our way back. Later we learned it was actually kind of a serious ordeal involving teargas. Note to self: play this down to parents until I'm back home.

I continue to find myself distracted by "shiny objects." And by shiny objects, I of course mean handsome French men, who seem so fit yet stylish.

"Before today," I said to my friend over dinner, "I never thought of Frenchmen, aside from how they might fit into my search for baked goods. But now..." Then I trailed off and became distracted by another handsome man walking by the restaurant, wearing a scarf. "I suppose it would be ill-fated like Romeo and Juliet. We don't speak the same language, we're from two different worlds. We're forced to admire one another in silence... Wait." My eyes grew wide. "That's Love Actually. Oh my God. He's Jamie. And I'm Aurelia. I've always loved that name."

I really need to get some sleep. I have no filter.

By the time I reached the hotel for the night, I knew I had a bit of a problem. I keep falling in love with half of the men I see. I never knew I had a thing for Frenchmen. Maybe it's a result of years of working in a primarily female environment? This day alone, I fell for a businessman in a smart suit on the hotel elevator on our way down to breakfast, another on his way to work on the tram, a security guard at the expo, two men dining across the room at the restaurant, a man in a scarf walking by the restaurant, and—just a few minutes ago—a man drilling a hole into the middle of the street (he was on a construction crew, so it was his job).

It's like I'm back in high school.


Another day, another castle selfie.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

I couldn't sleep last night.

I fell asleep shortly after we returned to the hotel after dinner, which was actually pretty late; dinners here take at least two hours. But then I woke up at one and didn't fall back into a decent sleep until after four.

To make up for how bad I feel, I wore my favorite outfit that I'd packed. It's a new ruffled black shirt and a polka-dot blazer (another new purchase). I did my hair up nicely, plastered on some red lipstick, and tried not to fixate on the ever-growing bags under my eyes.

A man in a fabulously embroidered shirt came over to our booth. As I said hello, in English, he told me he and his partner were checking me out on the tram. They mused, "That is a beautiful French woman." I assured him I have never felt more complimented. "I'm not hitting on you, but I'm gay so you can trust me." Believe me, I do. And I'm thrilled.

My look paid off, and I'll float on this compliment the rest of the trip.

This evening, I developed a new story idea. I already had it in my head before I left for France, but it came together during dinner with my co-worker's help. Traveling does wonders for the imagination.

Also did a lot of men watching during dinner. Ooh la la! I'm so gross with my boy craziness right now. And so immature. I'm about to be thirty for crying out loud. So much for being a strong, sensible, independent woman.


Friday night was date night in France. Even for these
ducks, who found their way to the castle.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Today I learned the only phrase I'll ever need to know: "Je suis trop belle por ca." That's French for "I'm too pretty for that," which is my favorite thing to say when I don't want to do something. (But then I usually do it, because it has to be done, and that's what I do. I get things done.)

I'm going to get that tattooed across my middle finger.

I grow more and more tired every day, yet I'm somehow managing to stay perky. Almost everyone who passes our booth gets a friendly, "bonjour" before I refer them to some phrases penned in French, because the only thing I know how to say in French is that I'm too pretty for that, which doesn't seem to apply in this situation.

It was a great day making a couple of new friends capped off by a three-course dinner of crepes. I highly recommend a three-course crepe meal to everyone.

I'm feeling confident and badass navigating my way around the city and running this booth. I can't even say how good it is to feel so in control and on point.


Taking a walk through Jardin des Plantes.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

My admirer from the tram and his lovely partner had coffee with us and we rode the tram in together. At the end of the ride, he suggested we collaborate on a book. I was a little "well..." But not even fifteen minutes later, I was already imagining a story. It's also based on one I've been toying with, but now it's better. Perhaps this could be a real thing.

Have I mentioned how good travel is for my imagination?

A little tot stopped by the booth near the end of our stint. He stomped in with his little red boots, big blue eyes, and mischievous little boy smile. He stayed there waving and smiling at me for a couple of minutes. His mother darted me apologetic looks, but it was one of the sweetest little moments of this trip. Me saying "bonjour, comment allez-vous?" and him breaking smile after smile with a wave. Language isn't always a barrier. Not when a smile will do.

I spent 42 Euros on a scarf. I'm normally so cheap that it kind of gave me heart palpitations. But it's a unique handmaid silk scarf that is tres belle. And it's my gift to myself to forever commemorate my trip to France. I hope to return someday with more time for fun, but who knows if I will? Either way, sometimes you have to treat yourself.

On our way out of town, we visited Jardin des Plantes, which was closer than we realized (across the street from the train station). What a nice finale. It was a good trip.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

I still can't sleep. I'm lying awake in bed at the airport hotel. It's well after two, and I know I need to be up and ready to go first thing so we can make our flight back home.

I'll be headed back to reality soon. It's a mixed bag. I'm still running on a bit of an OMG-we-did-a-great-job-this-week high, but I can't wait to snuggle with my kittens and get a full night of sleep. I also realize this week—as crazy and busy as it was—was better than I imagined. I'm not talking about the delicious crepes, croissants, and other delicacies I ate—though they were amazing. It was mostly wonderful because I felt so competent, so in control. I troubleshooted, I made contacts, I encouraged others, I dreamed for myself. I'm happy. Tired, but happy.

What happens when I get home? How long does the afterglow last? Can I keep my little fear demons at bay? Can I take control of situations and make them work? I suppose I proved to myself that yes, I can. I just have to figure out how, and it won't be easy. But I need to stop worrying about that now. Right now, I want to bask in the belief that I am wonderful and anything and everything is possible. That I am tres magnifique.


I'm back in Lincoln, and it's strange that it's late afternoon on the same day I left France, rather than early the next morning. Flying internationally is the closest I'll ever come to time travel. Yet another perk of going out to see the world.

The kittens are happy I'm back. I'm happy I'm back. I want to sleep for forever, but I also want to tell everyone everything while it's all fresh in my mind. But I'll have to go to bed eventually. Probably sooner than I think. My freshly laundered sheets are calling to me, like a siren.

While I wait for dinner to be delivered—I need to buy groceries in the morning—I unpack my suitcase and sort my laundry. After removing my new scarf, and being reminded of just how beautiful it is, I've decided the price was worth it. All of this was worth it.

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April 25, 2016

things that bum me out

  • The price of real estate in Vancouver and Seattle (as seen on HGTV).
  • The price of plane tickets to London.
  • How much money I waste on stupid practical things like rent, gas, electric and water, when I could be buying plane tickets to London.
  • The number of calories in pizza, candy, ice cream, cake, cookies, Mexican food and pretty much everything I love.
  • Calories in general.
  • Thinking about how much food I waste when there are people starving.
  • Finding gray hairs.
  • Commercials for ASPCA.
  • The ending of just about every movie about a dog.
  • Rejection emails.
  • Reading the community comments on newspaper articles.
  • Having so many ideas, but a lack of energy (or maybe it's follow-through) to write them all down the way I see them in my head.
  • Knowing that Steve Perry and Journey will probably never go on a reunion tour.
  • Jane Austen, who is considered the mother of romance novels/women's fiction, died without the adoration and fortune she deserved.
  • Writers like Charlotte Bronte and Mark Twain famously threw shade at Jane Austen, which means I'll never really be able to like them with my whole heart.
  • Knowing I'll never read another new novel by authors I adore who are no longer living.
  • Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (book and film) did not end, "And Mark and I lived happily ever after, and nothing else of interest happened."
  • In fact, any sequel that involves a well-liked character from the previous story being killed off/divorced/otherwise eliminated to carry on the franchise.
  • Books/movies like Room are inspired by actual events.
  • Downton Abbey Season 3. (I've never recovered. I tried to rally, truly I did, but I never could.)
  • How much time Ross and Rachel spent breaking up and getting back together before they kind of figured things out.
  • The Blue Castle by Lucy Maude Montgomery isn't available at my local library and is barely available for purchase. How are people going to discover how amazing it is if they don't have convenient access to it?
  • Having to pick one or the other when people ask "cats or dogs?"

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April 21, 2016

princess reality check

Every so often, while I'm doing some menial task like cooking, cleaning, or filing my taxes, my mind wanders into deep, prophetic issues. They usually involve me taking stock of my life and assessing who I am and what my values encompass.

Here are a couple of lists I made recently while making avocado macaroni and cheese. (It was delicious and you should definitely try it. Here's the recipe.)

Ways I Am Like a Disney Princess
  1. I tend to sing while I cook and clean.
  2. I have also been known to break out into spontaneous dance.
  3. I am always up for running through a meadow with my arms open wide. (But not too fast. More of a nice, elegant prance than a straight-out run.)
  4. I frequently wish upon stars. (Okay, not princess-related, strictly speaking, but it's within the family of thought.)
  5. I am a sucker for a guy with a great smile, who also loves dogs.
  6. I listen with my heart. (But I also overthink everything to death.)
  7. I believe a dream is a wish your heart makes, when you're fast asleep. (Except for the ones where I'm falling or I'm losing my teeth. Those don't count.)
  8. I want to be a cat. (Everybody does.)
  9. I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.
  10. I want more.

Ways I Am NOT Like a Disney Princess
  1. I can't bring myself to befriend vermin, nor am I comfortable with said vermin being in my house.
  2. I also don't make a regular practice of baring my soul to any of the following: mice, birds, crickets, fish, crabs, raccoons or dragons.
  3. I'm not a renowned beauty.
  4. My hair doesn't look fabulous when I get out of bed. (But it does have volume.)
  5. I would never share my plate of spaghetti with a date.
  6. I have never been known to turn down a meal, even if I'm not particularly fond of the company.
  7. I don't have a waist a man could span with both of his hands. (You read the last two points, right?)
  8. I have two living parents; neither are wicked.
  9. I don't think it's cute to be woken up with a kiss. (Just ask my cat.)
  10. I'm not waiting for a prince to rescue me. (But I will gladly makeout with one.)

And for good measure, here's a photo of that avocado macaroni and cheese. It was just green enough to be fun, but not so green I felt like I was being healthy.

Note: I subbed Greek yogurt and mozzarella for the milk and cheese. Plus I skipped the lime juice and cilantro. I was working within my fridge and pantry.

(Another quick note, this post was written and scheduled before I fled for a week in France. In all likelihood, I do not have an Internet connection, so I may not be able to see any comments you leave. And now I've revealed another flaw of mine: I'm incredibly vain as evidenced by my assuming anyone is going to read this post let alone leave a comment. Excusez-moi, si voix plait!)

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April 19, 2016

happy release day to caroline fardig's 'mug shot"

Now available... Mug Shot, the second book in the Java Jive Mysteries series. 

Full of humor and suspense, the bestselling Java Jive series heats up as the irrepressible heroine of Death Before Decaf faces off against Nashville’s upper crust to solve a shocking murder.

About the Book
Former musician Juliet Langley has barely had a day off since taking over management of the coffeehouse owned by her best friend, Pete Bennett. But there’s always more to be done—such as prepping for the annual Holiday 5K Race organized by Pete’s snobby socialite girlfriend, Cecilia Hollingsworth. This year, Java Jive has a booth right at the finish line, and since Juliet and Cecilia don’t always see eye to eye, everything has to be perfect. Nothing can go wrong. Nothing . . . like Juliet stumbling over Cecilia’s dead body on the morning of the race.

When Pete is arrested for Cecilia’s murder, Juliet sets out to clear his name. She’ll do whatever it takes—even if it means standing up to the police, her ex-boyfriend, and the grande dames of Nashville. But there isn’t enough espresso in the world for the greatest challenge in her path: infiltrating Nashville’s high society to uncover the hidden hotbed of scandal without running afoul of the law herself. With her last dime staked on Pete’s bail bond and her staff growing jittery, the last thing Juliet needs is for her trademark temper to land her behind bars. As time drips away, Juliet needs to crack this case before the killer comes back for another shot.

Buy the Book Here

About the Author
Caroline Fardig is the USA Today Bestselling Author of the Java Jive Mysteries series and the Lizzie Hart Mysteries series. Fardig's Bad Medicine was named one of the "Best Books of 2015" by Suspense Magazine. She worked as a schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.

Connect with Caroline

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April 18, 2016

we'll always have macarons

I'm leaving for France today. This is the part in the story where you gasp and say, "Lucky" or "I'm so jealous" or "Are you excited?" And now comes the part where I pull a face and sound like an ungrateful a-hole by saying, "Well..."

Much as I want to love adventures, I haven't exactly been jump-up-and-down excited about this trip. I'm nervous. I'm going for work. I'll get some eye-rolls for that statement, and I feel you. People who complain about business trips are tres annoying, right? Still, I'm going to France to run a tradeshow-style booth. I'm an introvert who works really hard at appearing extroverted. The idea of long days being "on" for hours and hours is a little daunting. Plus there are a lot of working parts that go into having a good booth, which means planning, preparing and praying that everything works out.

This comes on the heels of months of stress-induced panic attacks and sleepless nights, capped off by a whirlwind business trip last week (which ended up being great, making this wave of worry a little silly). That was all draining. I'm not exactly in top shape mentally, physically, or emotionally, which makes me all the more nervous. (What if I get sick?)

While I'm in full-out fear mode, here's another concern. I don't speak the language. (Though I'm assured most of the attendees at the show speak English well.) I'm sure it'll be fine, still, that has added to my pre-trip nerves. I've taught myself the most important phrases I'll need to know.
Cafe, si voix plat. 
C'est combien? 
Ou sont les toilettes? 
Je ne sais pas. 
Aideuz moi!
But it hardly seems like enough. And, dudes, here's hoping I really don't have to cry "Aidez moi! Adiez moi!" at any point of this trip. Merde.

Then there was taking care of my affairs on the homefront.

It's been years since I spent more than four days away from my cats, and I'm not going to lie, I'm experiencing separation anxiety already. Laugh all you want, but those cats are my constants! If anything should happen to them or my house while I'm gone... I can't even fathom how awful it would be. Also, as part of being a responsible adult, I spent a couple of hours compiling a list of all of my finances, accounts, affairs, and other instructions just in case. Yeah. Just in case. It's something I should have done years ago, and it's the smart thing to do. All the same, it was kind of sad thinking about potential scenarios that require my parents to cancel my Spotify account or settle my student loan on my behalf.

Morbid thoughts, grown-up affairs, language barriers, work, and cats aside, another factor in my seeming ennui is super lame: this isn't how I imagined my first trip to France.

Based on years of TV and movies, I always envisioned myself wearing some sort of swishy skirt and jaunty beret while I strolled the streets of Paris in a never-ending search for crepes and croissants. Like Carrie Bradshaw in the Sex and the City TV series finale, only without biffing it in the middle of a store. Plus more carbs. I'd see the Mona Lisa. I'd pose for quirky tourists photos at the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower. I'd go see that bridge with all the locks on it (though I hear that isn't a thing anymore, which is sad).

I'd also probably meet some handsome man named Pierre or Jean-Paul. He'd show me around the city while we spoke the universal language understood by all: chocolate. And after we shared some laughs, and more than a few treats, we'd amicably part ways with our memories of baked goods.

"We'll always have, macarons."

"Here's looking at you, mon chaton."

I'm not even going to Paris. I don't think I've seen any movies or TV shows where the characters go somewhere else in France. (Except for Beauty and the Beast and that's in a whole different part of the country. And I guess Saving Private Ryan, but...) I'm ill-equipped for what to expect from this voyage! Can it possibly be a bon voyage?

This is a terrible attitude to have going into a new experience. I know that. Believe me, I do. But I couldn't seem to help myself from going into panic mode.

But after months of angst and getting a twitchy eye whenever people brought up this trip, this weekend I realized I needed to change. That's easier said than done for someone like me. (I'm metaphorically breathing into a brown paper bag at the prospect of spending 10 hours in an airplane and worrying that one of the cats might get sick.) I needed to stop freaking out and be more positive.

I started by making a wish list of foods to try. I wrote down the French spelling and the English translation. (I also stored photos of the foods on my phone for easy reference.) There are way more than I'm able to try, but at least I'll have a jumping off point when we eat.

Then just last night, I looked up the top attractions to see listed on TripAdvisor. I wrote down my top five and looked them up on the map. Guess what? All five of them are within a fifteen-minute walking distance from our hotel. (That includes a castle that is basically next door.) That's definitely something to be thrilled about. For the first time, last night, I started to feel something other than anxiety.

Now... even with that brewing excitement, I'm still really worried. I'm going over and over the logistics in my head and hoping I don't forget anything and praying that all of my affairs are squared away at home.

That's how I roll, though.

Whether it's the days leading up to a book launch or my sixteen-year-old self getting ready for her first prom. I worry and stress and think about everything that can go wrong until the last moment. Then I let myself get a little excited, even while keeping my expectations in check. But then when the time comes to live, I live. It's not the most pleasant way to go about things (who likes panic attacks?), but it's what I do. And because I know this is what I do, and because I've lived to tell about it, I know that this trip will be good. It may not be that dream trip to Paris, but it will still be a wonderful experience if I can stay in the moment.

(And who knows if my dream trip to Paris would have worked out the way I planned? What if there was a sugar shortage, and I never fulfilled my dreams of finding a nice pastry to build a life with?)

Now that I've gotten all of my angst out there, I promise I'll do my best to make this a positive experience. (And I'm kind of sorry for being so moody the past couple of months worrying about everything. Only kind of, because by my front-loading anxiety, I'm pretty sure I've thought about most of the issues I might face and how to fix them. Tres bien!)

To end things on a high note, let's laugh at some of the assumptions I've made about France based entirely on entertainment. I am almost assuredly going to experience a rude awakening once I arrive and realize Hollywood lied to me.

1. There will be random dancing and singing in the streets with dashing men wearing tight shirts.

2. This is how you speak French:

3. Or, if I at least use the right inflection, people will understand everything I'm saying.

(I couldn't get the video to embed, but you can watch it here.)

4. As I've had my appendix removed, I can earn admiration and respect from my peers by lifting up my shirt while singing "Ouila, my scar!" (Bonus, because I had mine removed via laparoscopic surgery, which means I actually have THREE scars. I'm going to be so popular, I can't even stand it.)

5. The chefs will have fantastic mustaches and sing while they cook.

And if nothing else...

6. The dishes can sing, they can dance. (After all, I'll be in France.)

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April 14, 2016

finding my center out west

Alliance, Nebraska, home of Carhenge.

I went on a little adventure this week.

When I'm not working on a novel, binge-watching Netflix, reading a new book, or re-reading a favorite, I am a communications coordinator at a museum. For the past few years, I have managed the museum's social and website presence, along with press releases, advertising, promotional materials, and so on. For that reason (at least I'm assuming), I was asked to present on best practices for social media and websites at a statewide museum conference earlier this week. Not only was I honored to be asked, I was excited about the journey I'd make to and from.

They held the conference in Alliance, which is located in the Nebraska panhandle. I'm a pretty terrible Nebraskan in that I've spent most of my life living in the southeast corner of the state, never venturing far from I-80. This would be my first chance to explore a whole other part of the state, traveling through the legendary Sandhills along the way. Once I gained permission from my boss, I happily agreed to attend.

That was a few months ago.

I'll admit, by the time the trip rolled around on Monday, I wasn't particularly excited anymore. I've been in an off mood the past couple of months. A lot of the anxiety issues—and the reactionary lows—I've dealt with in the past have resurfaced lately. More often than not, I feel like there's a pile of bricks on my chest and a haze of fog around my brain. Like I can't draw a proper breath or a thought. It's a claustrophobia of sorts. Add in the troubles I've had sleeping, exacerbated by seasonal allergies, and I'm always tired and drained.

The once exciting prospect of driving back and forth across the wide openness of my state in a compact car by myself had lost some of its appeal.

I'd worked myself up into a pretty good state over the weekend worrying about it. I tossed and turned Sunday night. What if I had car troubles? What if my motel was a huge dive with bed bugs? What if I forgot something? What if I bombed my presentation? What if something happened to the cats while I was away? What if? What if? What if?

The once virtually fearless traveler inside of me was gone. In her place I found a pessimistic worrier, who I don't particularly like, but can't seem to shake.

With a night of those worries turning over and over in my mind, I didn't exactly bounce out of bed ready to go. In fact I dragged my heels as I checked my overnight bag, washed my hair, and picked up the vehicle I was taking for the drive. I hugged the kittens good-bye, plugged my iPhone into the charger and speakers, and eventually pulled out of the driveway.

I hadn't been on the interstate more than fifteen minutes when my mood shifted. With every mile that passed by, the worries slipped away. It was like brick after brick of pressure crumbled from my chest. The beauty of the farmland turning green after winter rejuvenated me. My inner adventurer woke up. Maybe it was the purple wildflowers coming into bloom. Maybe it was the empty openness of my surroundings. Maybe it was the freedom of the road. Whatever it was, after shifting between high-strung and depletion, I found some balance.

We live in a beautiful, interesting world. It can also be ugly, scary, unkind, and a lot of other bad things. Unfortunately, all too often, I get hung up on those elements. But while I drove across Nebraska, I was able to ignore those parts. I could focus on the good, the simple. The scenery that could have been brushstrokes on a canvas if I wasn't living in it.

During my drive, I saw landmarks, like part of the Nebraska National Forest. (Yeah, we have one. In two districts, actually. This one is the Bessey Ranger District. Don't let the fact that it was created in the middle of the Great Plains make you think any less of it.)

And as the Smokey Bear sign nearby reminded us,
only we can prevent forest fires.

I was able to make observations about my surroundings, which resulted in witty, charming, and on-the-nose responses from my little sister.

We are always up for a Dumb & Dumber reference.

And I even made it to Carhenge, a true Nebraska treasure.

Though I'd planned to listen to an audiobook during my 12-plus hours on the road, I ended up rocking out to my playlists for Hard Hats and Doormats and Queen of the League Book Three (which will be published this upcoming football season, I hope). Back in my true road warrior days, I made a regular practice of playing American Idol and singing along to whatever I had playing on the radio. I gave my vocal chords a workoutand likely would have scared anyone who witnessed my in-car karaoke spectacle had there been anyone around.

As a nod to my railroad background, I paid attention to the trains I saw on the mainline track that follows Highway 2. Of the six I saw while I was heading west, five were full east-bound coal cars (which wasn't unexpected, given that coal from Wyoming heads east along that route) and one was an manifest train with several international cars on it. I saw even more trains on the way back. All but two were westbound empty coal trains. (Again, no surprise.) The two heading east were full coal trains. This maybe doesn't make sense to you—I've maybe even lost a few who didn't sign up for this post to learn about trains. But there was something kind of comforting about looking at those trains rolling past—or alongside—me, and understanding them. It was like catching up with an old acquaintance. Though times have changed, we are still a lot the same.

I also played a rousing session of windmill. If you aren't familiar, it's pretty easy. Whenever you spot a windmill, you stop whatever you're doing and shout "windmill." It's best when played in pairs or groupsbecause you always want to be the first one to say it. Even though I was on my own, I still cracked up whenever I interrupted my concert to shout and point "windmill!"

On the drive home, I conducted a bit of a social experiment, or rather an observation. It started when, a few miles out of Alliance, I passed an oncoming truck. The driver, a gentleman in a cowboy hat, gave me the rancher hello. Again, if you aren't familiar, it's where you lift one or two fingers on the steering wheel in greeting to the vehicles you cross. Living in a city like Lincoln—and being years removed from these regular sightings when I drove all over Texas—I found myself charmed by the gesture. When the next vehicle I crossed—an SUV with a young man in a ball cap—gave me the rancher wave too, I was intrigued. So I kept a running tally of who I passed between Alliance and Mullen, located about 90 minutes away. During that time, I met about 20 vehicles. None of the sedans, and none of the women waved. Of the remaining—which accounted for the majority—all but two men driving trucks or SUVs gave the wave. And all of them were wearing cowboy hats and ball caps. (The two no waves were bare-headed, and one was bald.)

The waving stopped around Mullen, and that was okay. I was too distracted by the rolling hills and the beautiful male pheasant that chose to step in front of my car at last-minute, which left me a little devastated.

While playing my games and workshopping future karaoke numbers, I had a lot of time to think. Rather than focus on the issues that have been plaguing my mind the past couple of months, I thought about future stories I'd like to tell. I thought about scenes I could write into Queen of the League Book Three. I thought about other adventures I'd like to take, places I'd like to see, life I'd like to experience. I dreamed and I schemed, and I took a lot of deep breaths. While thinking about what I might do in the future, I somehow managed to stay fully engaged in my present.

By the time I pulled back into Lincoln late Tuesday night, I was even more tired than when I left. I also felt more like myself than I have in a long time. I didn't come out of the experience with any answers or solutions. My fears and pressures were waiting for me. At least I had that brief reprieve. I could remember that those often scary waves of anxiety and depression don't last forever. That has to count for something.

But I made a few memories. They might not be particularly newsworthy or notable to anyone else. Still, they belong to me. They're part of me. That counts for everything.

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April 13, 2016

interview with 'love, alabama' author susan sands

Blogger's Note: Today Susan Sands, author of Love, Alabama, is stopping for an interview as part of her Chick Lit Plus blog tour. Be sure to check out the other stops and enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter below.

Change the Word: Please give us the elevator pitch on your book:
Susan Sands: Emma Laroux’s a fallen Southern beauty queen whose past is barely whispered about in her small town.  But the secrets and lies surrounding her scandal still haunt her, and something about Matthew Pope may hold the answers...if only she could put her finger on it.

Matthew Pope wonders what awful karmic thing he’s done to land him in Podunk, Alabama. But when he sees Emma Laroux again after all this time, he knows he’s still the only one who holds the key to unlocking the truth of her past…

Will a shared moment in time ten years ago threaten the best thing that’s every happened to them – each other?

CTW: What inspired you to tell this story?
SS: I told Emma’s younger sister, Cammie’s story in my first book, Again, Alabama. I received lots of reader interest in Emma. They wanted to know what awful thing had happened to her that was so bad no one dared whisper about it in a small town. When I began the first book and wrote that statement, I’d had no idea what it could have been, I just knew it would have to be something really bad.

CTW: What is your favorite part about this book?
SS: I appreciate Emma’s desire to protect everyone around her. She runs a successful business, jumps in when anyone in the family needs a hand, and doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for herself. I love it when her family decides it’s time they do what’s necessary to help her find true happiness.

CTW: If you could swap places with one of your characters for one day, who would it be, and what would be the first thing you do?
SS: I think it would be Cammie Laroux because she is a television chef. I would have her mad cooking skills and be on television for a day. I would also be married to her hot husband, Grey Harrison. The first thing I would do is whip up her prize-winning pecan pie—because I could.

CTW: Where would you most like to go for a week-long writing retreat?
SS: I often head up to Lake Burton in the North Georgia mountains. It’s only about an hour and a half away but so beautiful and peaceful. I get so much accomplished and it renews my motivation and gives my creativity a much-needed boost.

CTW: What is the best piece of writing advice you've ever received?
SS: It’s the same advice that I pass on to all struggling writers who feel like it’s never going to happen. I know it sounds cliché, but don’t give up. Keep learning, keep writing, keep networking and meeting other writers. The balance of timing, talent and luck will fall your way eventually. Don’t take rejection personally because it isn’t meant to hurt you, it’s meant to better your work.

CTW: What are your top three all-time favorite books that you've read?
SS: That’s the toughest question so far. Hmm…I remember reading Great Expectations in high school and it really stuck with me. So tragic. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time faves. I’ve read so many over the years. My latest favorite story is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, mainly because I was so cold and hungry, and my feet were killing me by the end. She really took me on her journey. It was powerful and I felt the pain of the characters. But if I have to be honest, I adore women’s fiction and romance of all sub-genres. Eloisa James, Kristan Higgins, Karen White, Luanne Rice. That’s where it’s at for me.

CTW: What's up next for you and your writing career?
SS: Well, I’m working on the third Alabama book, of course. It will be Ben and Sabine’s story. And I’m writing the first in a new series set in Louisiana, which is actually a complete scratch re-write of my very fist novel that was never published. I loved the setting and characters in that story so much, I had to dig them and give them their shot.

Thanks so much for hosting me today! I’m so thrilled to be here!I love to connect with readers on social media!

About the Book
Emma Laroux’s a fallen Southern beauty queen whose past is barely whispered about in her small town. But the secrets and lies surrounding her scandal still haunt her, and something about Matthew Pope may hold the answers...if only she could put her finger on it.

Matthew Pope wonders what awful karmic thing he’s done to land him in Podunk, Alabama. But when he sees Emma Laroux again after all this time, he knows he’s still the only one who holds the key to unlocking the truth of her past…

Will a shared moment in time ten years ago threaten the best thing that’s ever happened to them – each other?

Buy Love, Alabama

About the Author
Susan Sands grew up in a tiny Southern town in Northwest Louisiana near the Texas border. She graduated from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, during the filming of Steel Magnolias on her campus. There’s no more Southern, small town claim to fame than that.

Her characters and setting are pulled from those very Southern, small towns and open spaces, where the air is clean and the words are often spoken with more syllables than necessary, y’all.

Her lifelong love of reading and the realization that her children were growing up and would eventually move on spurred her to try her hand at writing. Susan’s two novels, Again, Alabama, and Love, Alabama, are currently available both in digital format and in print from all online retailers.

Susan lives with her dentist husband and three nearly grown children in Johns Creek, GA. She is a member of the Georgia Romance Writers and the Romance Writers of America.

She loves connecting with readers and can be found at all the fun places:

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April 12, 2016

interview with 'stilettos & scoundrels' author laina turner

Blogger's Note: Today Laina Turner stops by for an interview as part of her Chick Lit Plus blog tour for Stilettos & Scoundrels. Be sure to check out the other posts on the tour for more on this read.

Change the Word: What inspired you to write this story?
Laina Turner: I’ve wanted to be a writer since the 2nd grade and wrote stories but never seriously. While I had big dreams and aspirations, I never felt I could be a “real” writer. When I reached my mid 30’s, I realized there was nothing keeping me from being a “real” writer but myself and I took the plunge. It took two years of effort before I got to the end.

CTW: What was the biggest challenge you faced working on this book at how did you overcome it?
LT: Spending too much time thinking and not enough time writing. I would sit and try to think about how exactly I wanted the chapter or plot as a whole to progress, and I spent a lot of time doing nothing. I’ve learned just to write. Even if it doesn’t make sense. More often than not the ideas flow as I put words on the page.

CTW: What character was your favorite to write?
Because Stilettos & Scoundrels was my first book and Presley Thurman is the main character of this successful series I would have to say it’s her. I’ve tried to evolve her over the years as a person women can identify with enough to enjoy experiencing her journeys through her eyes.

I want readers to enjoy reading about her as much as I enjoy writing about her.

CTW: How did you go about developing the setting?
I live in Indiana, so I wanted to the setting to be in the Midwest because it’s what I know. Chicago is such an exciting city, and I thought it would be a good contrast for her to leave this place she now called home to go back to a smaller, more rural setting. I knew I wanted it to be a place where people knew each other, and there was history.

CTW: What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
I recently was on a flight and downloaded Love Handles by Gretchen Galway and loved it. I read Life Rewritten by Andrea Johnston on the flight back and enjoyed it just as much. They were both fun and entertaining and gave me the escape I needed.

CTW: If you could spend the day hanging out with any fictional character, who would you chose and what would you do?
My father read Tom Clancy when I was growing up, and I picked up a book of his one time when I had nothing else to read. Clancy’s books are action packed and have plot twists that are amazing and the main character Dirk Pitt is a man’s man and a man women, love. I think it's awesome to go on an adventure with him.

It didn’t hurt my fantasy that Matthew McConaughey played Dirk Pitt in a movie.

CTW: What is one piece of advice you would go back and give your 15-year-old self?
To be confident and realize you can do anything you want to. I waited to start my writing career for years because I lacked confidence. It’s brought me, and readers, such joy, and happiness that I wish I would’ve started sooner.

CTW: What’s up next for you and your writing career?
I spent most of 2015 updating and re-edited my early works to get them as perfect as possible. I am working on the last 2 and also a new Presley Thurman mystery coming out this summer. I have an outline for a straight chick lit book I am hoping to have out late fall.

Want to stay up to date on upcoming books, author news, and opportunities for contests and swag? Sign up for my mailing list here. https://app.convertkit.com/landing_pages/29327

About the Book
Presley tells her boss what he can do with her job in HR and embarks on a new career as a freelance journalist. What seems like a simple interview with a Senator turns to murder when the day after her interview the Senator turns up dead. Does the fact that Presley was one of the last people to see him alive make her a suspect? Her ex-boyfriend Cooper, who was in charge of the Senators security, might think so. Presley is determined to clear her name but can she do it and resist Cooper’s charms?

Find the Book on Amazon | Goodreads

About the Author
As a child Laina thought she would either be a truck driver (thanks to Jerry Reed in Smokey and the Bandit) or work at Taco Bell (her favorite restaurant as a child).
As she grew older she realized her talents lay in academics and business and for the last several years has been a business consultant and college professor where she uses the analytical side of her brain and not the side that makes up stories.

Through all her career choices she has continued to have a passion for writing. This stemmed from childhood whereas an only child she developed a vivid imagination spending most of her time making things up and thinking the Incredible Hulk lived in her closet.
Proud of her vast experiences in life from barrel racing to being on the dance team for a semi pro basketball team to being a mom of 2 amazing kids, she tells her family and friends that no one is safe from their escapades slipping in to her books.

Taking the plunge to write books (cozy mysteries and chick lit) that she actually let people read in 2010, she has worked her way up to being a real author, having 5 fans (maybe 6 now). Her blog, Writing is a Lifestyle, was launched to share the daily fun in the life of a Real Housewife of the Midwest along with the musing of other fabulous ladies.

Connect with Laina

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April 7, 2016

critter concerns

I’m a little obsessed when it comes to the notion of rodents in my house. I spend minutes—hours even—analyzing noises, trying to decipher whether it’s the wind, the house settling, or some unwanted critter moving in without asking. How presumptuous! How rude!

The trouble doesn’t stop once I’ve figured out the noise, usually while I’m flat on my back staring at the ceiling, long after I should have gone to sleep. Once you figure out there’s something living in your attic, you can give up any hope of getting a good night’s rest. You’re resigned to doubling up your coffee dosage in the morning an layering on concealer to mask the dark circles that make people think you were out late drinking rather than contemplating the noises in your house.

At least I’m rational enough to know it isn’t a ghost. Our attic has entirely too low of a ceiling for a ghost to live there comfortably. Besides, everyone knows ghosts prefer to be close to the action—the energy sources. They’re far more likely to be lurking in your bedroom watching you sleep once you’ve finally gotten over your sound analysis. Fact: I’ve often woken with a scream in my throat, because I knew someone was watching. It always turns out to be my cat. He gives me a pitiful, wide-eyed stare, because he can’t figure out why I’m reacting so strangely to his obvious sign of affection. It’s flattering, I’m sure, but it’s yet another reason I always keep a full supply of concealer.

But back to the animals in my attic. Realistically, I know it’s probably a mouse. Someone told me the tiny, scurrying flutter could also be bats mating. That doesn’t help. Bats are basically mice with wings. And rabies. I’ve never seen a bat in the house, though, and I pray I never do. Based on how I handle mouse sightings, I can only imagine what kind of wreck I’d be after a run-in with one of their winged associates.

Let me be perfectly clear: I hate mice. I have a long and storied history of my dealings with mice. It’s a little too dramatic to get into the specifics, so you’ll just have to take my word. While I’ve always come out the victor—so far—the journey is never pretty nor particularly flattering.

I actually wrote one of my real-life encounters with a mouse into First & Goal. People tend to assume authors use their real lives as inspiration for their novels. I’m guilty as charged, but it’s not usually in the way they’d think. For one, I pirated that mouse scene. I also once told an interview subject I’d love to catch crabs when I should have said I wanted to go crabbing. I blame that on living my life in the Midwest and never being the outdoorsy type. Regardless, I harvested that story, too, and it founds its way into Hard Hats and Doormats.

I wonder if people on the coasts ever have to worry about crabs sneaking into their houses. If you know the answer, please let me know so we can compare notes on how they stack up to mice.

I don’t really know what to do about mice in my attic, if that is what lives there. I’ve filled the entry points into the house with steel wool and caulking, which is probably enough. Out of sight, out of mind. Except when they’re running midnight relays. Then, I’m too busy imagining the whole scene to remember I’m probably safe from having them move their operations down to the main level. Even if that happens—and I’m always waiting for it to happen—I can usually rationalize that my cats will serve as a secondary defense if the steel wool and caulking fail.

The other night, I was up late reading a book. It’s one published before I was born, so I obviously needed to read it right away before I ran the risk of having it spoiled for me. I was making excellent progress when I heard the noise. This wasn’t the wind or settling. It wasn’t even the flutter of mice or maybe bats. This was heavy footsteps. I froze, and for a whole five seconds, I wondered if I had a human squatting in my attic. I waited for what might happen next, but the steps stopped in fairly short order.

This is 2016, though, so I didn’t have to leave it to my imagination for long. I Googled “animals in the attic” and a whole list of possibilities opened up to me. It’s early spring, so the Internet tells me I quite possibly have a female raccoon or possum up there giving birth. Great.

If that’s the case, one source says it’s no big deal. I should leave them in peace, and they’ll vacate on their own in a few weeks. I’ll be able to sleep well knowing I sheltered one of nature’s enduring miracles and the circle of life. Hakunah matata indeed.

Another source isn’t quite so cheerful. This nest of raccoons or possums, I’m told, is probably leaving piles of feces and puddles of urine as we speak. They’re also probably chewing on electrical wires, which will soon cause a fire. They advise me to capture the babies and use them as bait to lure the mother out of the attic.

I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds awful. Call me crazy and reckless, but I’d rather take my chances with the feces and fire than actually try to confront these wild animals, let alone catch them.

Though every source assures me they’re more afraid of me than I am of them, I call bullshit. I am virtually paralyzed with the idea of coming face to face with one of these critters. A possum once crossed my path when I was little and I screamed at it, it screamed at me, and I screamed back. I still wake up in a fright remembering it. (Which again, earns me one of those confused stares from the cat.) I’m too chicken to set traps for mice let alone rig cages intended to abduct babies. And I can’t see that scenario playing out in a way that doesn’t include a raccoon or army of mice jumping out and attacking my face the second I poke my head into the attic. If the scarring and series of shots awaiting me aren’t enough, I’ll also probably lose my balance on the ladder in the fray and end up breaking my neck.

The only good news from this internet search is that if I hear those flurry of light steps during the day, it’s probably squirrels. Somehow, squirrels seem less scary to me than mice and bats and raccoons and possums, but what do I know? I’d really rather not have anything but old Christmas decorations living in the attic. That doesn’t seem to be an option at this point. Unless the old battery-operated rolling Santa is coming to life every night, I have animals. And, okay, that’s maybe actually even creepier to think about than the animals.

I wonder if it might be time to call in professionals. Or maybe I should take that first source’s advice and ride it out. See what happens. Does that make me lazy, cheap, or a wuss?

I should probably check my concealer inventory just in case. I predict a few uneasy nights in my future.

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April 5, 2016

interview with 'crushed' author layne gray

Blogger's Notes: Today Layne Gray is stopping by to talk about her book Crushed, which is now on tour with Chick Lit Plus. I hope you'll enjoy getting to know more about her and her story. Don't forget to enter to win a fabulous prize with the Rafflecopter below. Happy reading!

Change the Word: How did you get the idea for this story?
Layne Gray: I got the idea for the story because so many friends sent their friends going through divorce to me since I had been through it and came out on the other side in a good place and looking forward to new adventures. It made me realize that not everyone is quite as happy about having to open up a new chapter especially if it was not their choosing.

Secondarily I wanted to write a book for women over forty that was empowering.

CTW: What was your greatest challenge during the writing process and how did you overcome it?
LG: Crushed was my first novel so I guess the biggest challenge was to create a fun, compelling story that still addressed some pretty big morals.

CTW: Which character would you want to meet for drinks? What would you talk about?
LG: I would love to have drinks with Gigi. Besides Grace, the main character, Gigi is so much fun. We’d talk about dogs, fashion and our favorite places to eat in New York and Paris.

CTW: Where do you find inspiration as a writer?
LG: For me inspiration comes from life, in general. Although the novel is not auto-biographical there are some snippets that found their way into the story that have some level of truth. It was funny, I had a reader say that a couple passages seemed unrealistic; ironically those happened in real life.

CTW: What is your favorite recent read?
LG: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

CTW: Which authors do you most admire?
LG: So many. Kristin Hannah, Jojo Moyes, Liane Moriarty, to name just a few.

CTW: What is one piece of advice you'd offer aspiring authors?
LG: Find people who are willing to read for you and provide objective feedback. I asked my readers to fill out surveys at the end of each of the three parts and then an overall survey.

CTW: What's up next for you and your writing career?
LG: I’m working on the sequel to Crushed right now! Although I would like to believe the ending is satisfying it does lend itself to a follow-on book.  Lots of readers have asked for it so that’s exciting!

About the Book
After a decade of dialing it in on her marriage – subsisting mostly on school fundraisers and designer trunk shows – Grace, on a whim, surprises her husband at the airport, picking him up in nothing more than scant lingerie and a fur coat. But that backfires spectacularly. Hoping to help, Grace’s best friend tells her of a secret retreat for discarded wives—Finedale, where Grace just may be able to get back her confidence, build her self-esteem, learn a rewarding career, or even rediscover that hot sex needn't be a thing of the past.

Before long, Grace is orchestrating a new, fabulous life. Everything seems to be going brilliantly. But as cracks begin to appear the possibility of another, darker, truth behind Finedale catapults Grace into a role she never anticipated.

Buy the Book

About the Author
Layne Gray is an author, entrepreneur and experienced marketing strategist. Layne’s background is in technology marketing and she has worked for large companies, including as Director of UNIX Product Line Marketing at Oracle Corporation and Director of UNIX Application Marketing at Altos Computer Systems. She was the founder of LKE Productions, a global technology conference production company that ramped to over $20M in annual revenues.

Layne is a seasoned charitable fundraiser who has helped raise millions of dollars for local and national charities through events she has chaired and campaigns she has spearheaded. Bay Area beneficiaries have included the San Francisco Ballet, Junior League of San Francisco, San Francisco Zoological Society. National organizations include buildOn, UN Foundation Girl Up and Mocha Moms.

Born and raised in Oregon, Layne received a B.A. in Marketing and Statistics from the University of Oregon. She has taken the WSET Level 3 Certification and teaches wine classes around the country. Layne is an Emeritus Board member of the San Francisco Zoological Society and a sustaining member of the Junior League of San Francisco and the San Ballet Auxiliary. She lives in San Francisco and enjoys cycling, snow skiing and walking her dogs at Crissy Field.

Connect with Layne on Facebook

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