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Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz Day Trip. Saying Good-Bye

Yesterday we took a road trip from Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz. The excuse was to attend a farewell family gathering there organized by my husband's sister's family. But we took the whole day to enjoy the scenery along the way and to just mark this page in our lives. My daughter is due in early October, and it had been years since just the three of us spent a day together.

Mac's Deli, in Santa Rosa was our starting place. Omelettes (I admit it: ortega chilis, sour cream, cheddar and black olives is my personal favorite) with Santa Rosa Chili Gods sauce, and pancakes (shared amongst the 3 of us, of course), a choice of light or dark coffee, and greeting locals and friends, great conversation, and our day was primed. I felt like I wouldn't need to eat until supper.

I was wrong.

At San Francisco, we took Hwy 1 to Pacifica and followed the coastline all the way to Santa Cruz. It has been over 20 years since I've taken that two-lane highway – a testament to my rushing around trying to get from point A to B fast, and missing things along the way. A nice reminder for me to slow down a bit. I don't have to do it all…

We passed through little towns of Davenport, Pescadero, larger ones like Half Moon Bay. We were tempted by berry stands and local truck farms, as well as places where you could pick your own veggies and fruit. One of our highlights was the trip to the Pie Ranch. Now, what a great  store name!

Gardening for me is near to religion, but I don't go to the extreme some do. Still, I like the fact that people take sustainable and organic gardening seriously. It's more than not using sprays and chemicals, it's about feeling the pulse of the warm soil, and nurturing growing things. My garden shows me when I neglect it. It actually hurts me to see it untended, or to see weeds I can't get to. Almost like ignoring to feed our dogs, which I would never do! So, when I walk into a barn that nearly worships the work in the garden, I'm in church. I find church at Farmer's Markets and nurseries, greenhouses, or demonstration gardens. Yes, I sometimes am moved to tears when I smell the damp earth and musty tones in a greenhouse, or the way the moisture bathes my face as I wander through. It holds a perfume that uplifts my soul on dozens of levels. Nearly orgasmic!

I had to buy a onesie for my new granddaughter coming this fall. Eat Pie. That sums it up rather poetically, don't you think? I love the Just Laid duck tee. But the strawberry rhubarb pie and lemon buttermilk pie were showstoppers.

Another unexpected find was the Abalone Farm at Pescadero. Off the highway, and with little fanfare, only open Saturdays from 10-2, we lucked out and watched abalone being grown in large saltwater bubbling vats. There's a little back room where all the magic happens, we were told. The water ph and extra nutrients created microscopic baby abalone that get moved to the nursery when they are old enough to actually be seen with the naked eye. We learned what they ate, and that they are voracious eaters of kelp and kale. We came home with 10 steaks we will partially devour tonight like candy.

At Santa Cruz we parked after driving past the old Boardwalk and arcade, passing by the lovely homes overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the beaches with volleyball nets and the surfers dotting the waves everywhere. We strolled down the pier in search of a perfect bowl of clam chowder and a view, and found it. Best
chowder I've ever had. I limited myself to one bun of sourdough French bread. We examined the tourist shops, bought a lovely sweatshirt that summed up my sentiments exactly, and some socks for the baby to come.

We met up with the rest of the family at our relative's home, bracing ourselves for that final good-bye. My husband's sister will be leaving us shortly, and this was on her bucket list: to get the family together one more time, to whisper things to her little brother and walk the beach one more time. All the treatments are done, and now it was time to prepare for her final journey. I heard music she'd made, her clear, beautiful voice. She instilled in all her children the love of music, and singing in particular. There was always music at every wedding, funeral or family event, sung by family groups or solos throughout the years. Lovely memories we reflected on. Life moves on. New babies are born as we all age and take our place as we enter and leave this wonderful family of ours.

We were home safely before midnight, and yes, we took the fast way back. Each of us quiet, thinking about the day and what was shared. Like most things in life, it was perfect in its complexity, like multicolored beads strung together to make a beautiful necklace. A necklace of found and discovered things.

I like days like yesterday, which are measured both by what we gave, as well as what we took home to ponder secretly. Footsteps taken, and little ones yet to come.



First roses from my garden collage

Is there anything more precious than new words? We love new roses from our gardens, new little starts that stick up from the warm brown soil in the Spring. We love new love, and what it feels like. We love meeting a new friend, or rekindling with an exciting old friend. Other new things I love: a new quilt pattern, new dress, colorful scarf, new haircut. I love new fabric or a great colorful fabric discounted! New bright red in my hair. New car! New jewelry, or a new candle scent or perfume. New shower gel! I love meeting a new reader who loves my books, or getting a great new review!

All these lush things are wonderful, and the most exciting of them all for me are New Words.

With new words, a new character develops. Like a chess game, the hunter and hunted meet, the warriors clash over a battle of wills. The Beast becomes the gentleman, and the Beauty becomes strong and supportive on her own. It's a classic tale of falling and having love burn so brightly in your chest that you just have to tell every stranger.

It's what makes a book something nice into something I gotta have!

It happens when I become the pro writer and not the amateur writer. It bashes through all obstacles and walls, limitations of funds, time, age, distance. I turned from being a reader who loved to read compelling books to wanting to create them. That creative process stimulates and excites everything in my world. It no longer is work. I ask my brain to be patient with the thoughts so I have the time to get everything down on paper. When I feel this way, I have to stop whatever else I'm doing and submit to that great spirit.

My beautiful music is even more beautiful. The colors are brighter. Scenes are more stunning. I wear loneliness like a badge and let the emotional energy spur me on to bring about a closure and connection that wasn't there before. My perceived lacks of the physical world I live in disappear in the fantasy life I create. My characters are my best friends and lovers. They don't leave. They love as fiercely as they play, with as much passion as I can imagine. I know there's even more off the screen of what I can hold at one time.

Bought this in Sao Paolo, Brazil

Today I give myself to new words. After all, it is World Book Day.  #LovetoRead

Of course, you could always watch Cinderella with someone you love, too.

So, here are some FIRST WORDS for you of a book called Paradise – The Search For Love (unedited):

I remember well the day John Gage
stepped into my office. He had a whale of a tale about an island no one knew
about, a white sandy beach with no telephones or internet, and a little
thatched-roof bar tended by the most beautiful girl in the world.
called it Paradise.
hadn’t even looked at his paperwork, or how much money he had to invest. I
didn’t look at what he did for a living. I just listened to him talk. His blue
eyes and tanned skin, relaxed mode of operation, with his kaki pants and canvas
slip-on shoes, two or three day’s stubble all painted a picture of a guy who
was enjoying life. Way more than I was.
remnant of his former life was the fact that he wore button down shirts,
expensive ones too, with his initials on the sleeve, if you were ever to see
them. He wore them wrinkled, right out of the dryer, or maybe off a clothesline
somewhere, and rolled up to his elbows. He buttoned them one button too low,
revealing a tanned and muscled torso. The guy was ten years older than I, but
he looked ten years younger.

was helplessly hooked.



Nesting and Making Space for the Miraculous: Sundays With Sharon

I've been perusing a couple of little books lately. An old standby for me is Sarah Ban Breathnach's Moving On, which is no longer in print, but you can buy here for .01 in hard bound. I literally highlighted every other page in this book after the devastating fire that took our house and many of our valuables in 2008. Miraculously, because I had hired someone (Connie) to help me sort and archive things, all my family photographs were spared. Several boxes I'd recently inherited from my mother weren't yet unpacked and were also spared. But all my old family jewelry, the doll my great great grandmother came over with from Scotland and her box, and a braid of my other great grandmother's hair perished.

The house we had lived in before the fire was one of those I “settled” for and never should have. It was all we could afford, since we were raising 4 kids. The unfinished projects and the Mystery House effect didn't bother me because we were warm and safe. And we were saving for college educations.

Luckily, my kids either got partial scholarships, or went into the military. After they were all gone, my husband and I were left with literally this empty shell of a monstrosity. And then the fire took it all away.

I was grateful in a way. I got to spend time designing a house I would be happy living in. So Moving On was a great book for me. After a messy divorce, she was literally starting her writing career and her life all over again. I did something similar. Gave up my once successful life as a Realtor, for the life of a romance writer. We weathered a couple of very rough years financially and emotionally as well. We were attempting to heal.

Until I started planning my new house, I didn't realize what a toll those 23 years of living in that unfinished and quirky house had taken on me. I began to read about making spaces I would love, things that inspired me, like when SBB found “Newton's Cottage”.

When I read this comment, I was stopped in my tracks. It changed the direction of my life forever, as I pondered writing romance in a new house:

“Rosemary Sullivan (SBB had written about her treatise on falling obsessively in love) is meditating on the emotion women feel when they fall in love at first sight with men; I'm the one making the leap to house fever because I've succumbed to both. Suddenly, without warning (or so it seems) the trajectory of a woman's life changes, becoming “a vicarious route to some essential part of herself that she does not yet fully recognize or understand.” The Beloved becomes “the heroic territory she longs to occupy.”

She thinks she's found him–or home. (We say we feel “at home” with our true love). Interestingly, the name of the greatest lover of all time, Casanova, means ‘new house.'”

My professional organizer, Connie, came back to my house this week, and she mapped out some ideas for me to ponder and work on until she comes back on Tuesday and we spend a couple of hours getting my writing area, which includes the writing computer and the packaging and blogging area, organized. “You're going to have to decide what Sharon lives here,” she said as she walked around my space. Oddly enough, the office I once had, was given to my husband, who wanted to spend more time working from home. So, I was given the “bridge” – the walkway outside our bedrooms, but overlooking the gardens below and the living and dining areas below. And a “bridge” is what it's been. A place between two parts of me not yet put together properly. I have my gardens, and I have my bedroom. Between those two, is my writing. It's been growing faster than the garden and is less calm than the bedroom. The pad is unfinished to accept my Glider, so this bridge I'm finally making peace with. Instead of being temporary, I'm making it permanent. For now.

So, I'm throwing out things, moving things, clearing a space, a landing space so I can work on my projects. And as I'm doing so, I'm thinking about all those Sharons I am. Wife, mother, grandmother, writer, inspired and magical being.

I don't yet have a space of my own belonging, as Sara BanBreathnach writes about. But I have a place I can create from. It isn't an end game, I realize as I clean out, purge and choose. It's just the beginning of the Sharon I am becoming.

And that excites me totally!


Strawberry candles, fresh corn from the garden and seeking choices, not harmony

I've been reading those little books again. None of my favorite shows are on TV these days and I've watched everything I want to that's streaming. I'm having a productive summer writing. My garden is doing well. This morning I harvested the first of my corn.

My mother used to talk about how in the midwest they'd say “knee high by the 4th of July” and I always think of that when I look at my corn. I just planted some new starts this weekend, so in California, it's a bit different. But the promise of “knee high” gives me hope that even though my garden isn't perfectly manicured, I'll have corn. And I do!

I bought a big strawberry candle at Mollie Stone's market in Palo Alto when I was there for the reunion party, then found it online and cheaper, of course. I enjoy that fleeting strawberry scent which is perfect for summertime daydreaming, or writing, or whatever. Candles and music are big for me, as is the ambience of place, so I can get into the rhythm of the story. I'm listening to Jim Wilson and Ludovico Einaudi almost non-stop.

I've said before that a story is like a patchwork quilt, made up of different colors and patterns, like the characters in the book and the past and emotions they bring to the story. If everything was “perfect” from the beginning, we'd soon lose interest. I do like to show some perfect things all throughout my books, but I want to show how close to a precipice the perfect, or order of my character's lives is. How easily it can fall away, be neglected, or ignored intentionally for other pressures.

So is it harmony we seek? I know my readers love the Happily Ever After, and I will deliver that every time without fail, or I can't call myself a romance writer. But worshiping the hero or heroine is worshiping the choices they ultimately make. This holds true whether we are talking about a good crime fiction, romantic suspense or inspirational romance. We celebrate the choices that are made, showing the change in the character from the beginning of the book. We show how he or she has learned something new.

I learn something new as an author with each book. I have my doubts sometimes at the beginning or in the middle (they call it the soggy middle for good reason), like I think everyone does. Of course, I keep those to myself, until the story “gels” for me, and that's when I feel the movement of my soul, pouring it out there for all to see, and hopefully enjoy. As a writer, I go through that change just like my characters do.

So creating art is a process, but it's also a practice. Loving is a practice. Marriage is a practice. Being a good friend is a practice. And writing a bestseller is definitely a practice we get better and better with each book we write. We turn our doubts, our chaos, our many parts of the story into a beautiful quilt of emotion and theme, just as we practice patience and allow all those chaotic parts to come inside us.



I can't tell where the idea came from to dress up as a pregnant bride, but before I knew it, I was in a bridal store, buying a beautiful gown on sale, with my husband of 44 years. It was so funny how the owner of the store, a man, came up to us, smiling.
“When's the big day?”
“Oh, we've had it,” Don said.
The owner didn't quite know what to say.
“It's a costume. We've been married 44 years,” I said. I was thinking to myself, as I stood in this beautiful white satin dress with beaded bodice, I'd never owned something so nice. I didn't really have a wedding dress, although the one I wore those 44 years ago I made myself. I also made Don's shirt. I was stitching the buttons on it as he was racing to the wedding site. But now, after 4 children and 44 successful years of marriage, I was finally buying a wedding dress.
My husband was beaming and gave me a big kiss. “You look prettier today than you did back then,” which was something this lady can never hear enough.
“You okay with this?” I asked him.
He shook his head, and with that twinkle in his eye, said, “Am I going to be able to stop you?”

Of course, the answer was no. “Well, I'm using my money from my book sales.”
“I know that. It's yours to spend however you want.”

The Russian lady who did my fitting asked me, “So when are you getting married?”
“I'm already married.”
“I'm buying the dress for a costume.”
“Oh,” she said as she cinched up my bodice. It kind of hurt.
“I'm doing a book signing, and sponsoring a bachelorette party. We're doing fun games. It's a chance to have fun with readers, my fans, and other authors.”
“You do this book signing in a book store in a wedding dress?” she said in her thick Russian accent.
I knew I'd lost her.

Whether or not it was wise, I'm sure the moment was memorable. I'm sure people remembered me, and they certainly did have a good time. I missed the raunchy music, low lighting and some candlelight, but it was okay. There were no male strippers even though there had been rumors of such. But it was a photo op time. A chance to get WAAAAAY out of my comfort zone.

Like the time I drove to SFO in an MG with the top down (my roommate's boyfriend drove me), dressed as a nun. I was going up to Portland to see a boyfriend who swore if I transferred to Santa Clara I'd become catholic. My friends in the dorm helped me “act nun” like walk leaning into the walls and to keep my eyes downturned. No one sat by me in the waiting area, or on the plane. When I walked past, people stopped talking. One woman came up to me and said, “Oh honey. You're so beautiful,” like I should be making babies instead of helping the poor.

When TJ took pulled up to the SFO terminal, we happened to park behind a taxi full of real nuns. And because his door was broken, I had to climb out by standing on the seat and climbing over the side of the car. The nuns stopped and looked at me, and then went on.

Well, it would have been nice to have my cinderella dress and dance the night away to a full orchestra, doing big turns and waltzing until I dropped. I was looking forward to one nice dance, but that was not to be. Perhaps that will be another story. Now I just look forward to coming home to my prince charming, who has watered my roses, fed the dogs and been more than patient in my folly of the past few days. The wonderful thing about him is that he has learned to take me with a grain of salt, and to patiently wait until my feet hit the ground again.


SUNDAYS WITH SHARON: Living in Cinderella

Harry Chapin once said that every song he wrote had some little part of his life, some emotion he was feeling, or experience he remembered, and that it was impossible to be a songwriter without this “gift” as he called it.

I feel the same way as a writer. My early days as a child molded me in a very big way. We lived in Oakland when I was little, until my family moved to Palo Alto, where I lived until college. My parents bought the house from our pastor. It was way bigger than we needed, so my parents had two “grandmothers” who boarded two of the upstairs three bedrooms. The third bedroom was mine. My windows faced my mother's flower garden, some half acre going up a hillside. I used to spend hours and hours looking out that window at the garden and imagining all sorts of things in my future. Adventures and stories, and most of them love stories.

My best friend sent me this, the exact player I used to listen to!

I think I was about three when I moved in there. At first, I was scared, being all alone. We didn't get
the boarders for the first year. So I had the creaking upstairs all to myself–the locked attic doors at the side of the large staircase, and the empty rooms waiting for someone to come stay with us. My parents bought me a little record player, and I used to sit there all alone and listen to my stories on that single switch player, playing Walt Disney '45's, of Snow White, Cinderella, Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales sung by Danny Kaye.

These tales, especially Cinderella, resonated with me. It didn't take much imagination for me to put myself in Cinderella's shoes, waiting for my handsome Prince Charming to come take me away. I loved the beautiful blue gown with the lace trim made by her bird friends, as she danced the whole night in the arms of that dark-haired prince. I matched the tilt of her head, imagined what the feel of his hand would be on her tiny waist, imagined what the stars would be like as we'd twirl, and the ballroom would be transformed into some magical place where all things are possible and the future is brighter than the present.

I think I never stopped living there, really. I played those records so often, it's a wonder they didn't

wear out. I'd cry at the sad parts, and cry really hard at the Happily Ever After. I think those days were the happiest for me as a child. Being left alone, listening to songs and music and the spoken word of a love story.

And now it resonates with me. Life has come full circle. I've completed perhaps my “job” of being a mother, a dutiful wife, a career and income generator. I've done all those things for others, as well as myself. Now these days are for me, my gift to myself for a life worked hard for. I get to experience the fantasy of a life in the Happily Ever After, even if reality isn't there yet. I get to live in the fantasy of what could be. I no longer wish for the same things I did as a younger woman. I want to wrap myself in love stories and I don't care about reality.

I'm lucky enough to be living in Cinderella. It's as if I will manifest this fairy tale the more I write about it, the more I feel it. I gladly give up this world for that one.

I hear music. I feel like dancing. Won't you come along?


I is for I Smell Sheep


Welcome back to the A-Z Blog Challenge, those of you who are playing along this game. I've met some wonderful people so far and followed some awesome blogs.

I did an interview with a pair of bloggers, who just tickled my funny bone. Their blog is called I Smell Sheep, and ewe are in for a treat! Because they did such a great job with the Q&A I sent them, I'm going to just repost that interview, along with the quirky pictures they provided. Enjoy! And all of you who blog or like to follow fun things, (I mean why do the other stuff anyway?) here they are (used with permission):  Sharon and Katie.

  1. What kinds of books do you review and why?

Katie: First, thanks so much for having us over! We review paranormal romance and urban fantasy the most, but anything in the speculative fiction arena we will take a look at! Plus we review comic books and interview both authors and actors!

We're at comic book conventions and readers gatherings. The Sheep are taking over the world!

Sharon: I personally prefer dark urban fantasy, but I dip my toes into the paranormal romance pool occasionally…as long as there are monsters involved. I adore horror comics that have a dash of campy humor too.

  1. Do you review audio books and why?

Katie: We don't review audio books right now, but maybe in the future!

Sharon: I haven’t reviewed any because I don’t have slots of time conducive to listening. I can read faster than I could listen.

  1. Give us a little rundown on the blog's history: when formed, how it grew, how you helped make it grow and where you are headed in the future?

Katie: I started the website 5 years ago, after my Mom pretty much forced me to finally start writing down all my random and at times off-beat opinions. I'm not a strong writer by any means and totally admit that! I try and write from the heart and make, not only my writing tone colorful but add some facts along the way.

Not long after the site started, I reached out to some folks who were leaving comments and the first guest reviewers came on board. About a year into the site Sharon Stogner burst into the scene. She's now a huge part of what we do, while it's a collective, Sharon keeps us all in line and on track to meet deadlines. We wouldn't be where we are as a site today without her.

I don't know what the future holds for the Sheep, but I'm excited to find out!

Sharon: Don’t let her fool you…her writing style is truly unique and her enthusiasm, when she writes about a book she loves, is infectious! We also have some devoted followers who spread their love of all things sheep. The I Smell Sheep Facebook group is where the crazy happens. Everything from the reviews to the interviews to the guest post topics is quirky and fun. You never know what you will find each day when you visit us. But behind the scenes, we are serious about what we do and our professionalism when dealing with authors, publishers and readers has helped us become what we are today.

  1. How many followers on each post do you get per daily average?

Katie: It depends on the post and honestly we try not to focus on the day to day numbers of visits. For those out there needing a number, we have an average of 50,000 page views per month.

  1. In your opinion, why is your blog so successful? Why did it win the awards it has? 

Katie: I think the website has been successful from all our hard work. Through marketing on other online sources, creating a Facebook and Twitter page. Social media has really helped us spread the word about I Smell Sheep. Though it could also just be that we are something a little different. Strange even. Offbeat and proud of it. We are weird and we are proud to be this way. Normal is scary to us.

We recently won the Preditors & Editors Readers Poll for Best Review site 2014. That's still shocking to say, we never in a million years thought an award this big would come our way!

Sharon: Katie developed, before I came onboard, a quirky style for interviews. Authors/actors often thanks us for the atypical questions. We also have unusual guest post topics and features. We also try to be flexible when working with others. And under all the fun and quirkiness we have built a foundation of trust and integrity.

Shout out to our followers who voted for us! Big sheep kisses to everyone. It is quite humbling.

  1. If you could give advice to a struggling blog, or someone wanting to start blogging, what would you advise, based on your experiences.

Katie: I would say, do whatever you love. No matter what it is. Don't hold yourself back or shut any doors with inner thoughts of doubt. Be realistic though, there's a very slim chance you'll make enough money to blog for a living. But if you want to find another way to be creative, then go for it and don't look back!

Sharon: There are a lot of bloggers out there willing to help and give advice. Visit blogs you admire. Talk with the people behind the scenes and ask questions. We have an amazing network of blogging friends. We help each other out. Integrity and trust is crucial to success in blogging. You can’t build trust overnight, you have to earn it from readers, other bloggers, publishers and authors. Break that trust and you are done.

Thank you so much. Here's how you can stay in contact with Sharon and Katie. Ewe won't regret it! 

I Smell Sheep emails:

If you would like to follow the A-Z Challenge, click the button at the side/bottom of this blog page and you'll be directed at random (how fun!) to another A-Z Blog Challenge poster. Enjoy your ride. And may the sheep take over the world!


Just Another Wednesday Night in Paradise

Welcome to Sonoma County, California, land of old hippies, some of whom became successful in other fields other than Dead-Heading. Some stayed the same and never waste an excuse to dance freely anywhere there is a band with a great beat. Some quietly tap to tunes and pretend they still have their long hair, which died of natural causes.

We had a great time last night at the Wednesday Night Market, which goes from 6 to fish every Wednesday in the downtown Santa Rosa area all summer long. I bought my favorite yellow and white peaches that come from Fresno (the season is about a month ahead of ours). I love the flirtatious Mushroom Guy who took some of my chickens and the Hummus Guy who always seems to have something new.

My grandson is learning about pointing and getting his way. My granddaughter just learns more about the exuberance of being alive, being patient waiting in line for the Jump-Up and portable slides.

Back to the band, Gator Beat. When I get rich enough to have a decent party, they are going to be my

entertainment. I've loved Zydeco music ever since I first heard it in the '70's. We saw Sir Clifton in Cotati when a washboard was something you played music on, rather than something a woman would lace her red fingernails down. Ahem.

Okay, so you know you're a little bit off the beaten path when the most popular booth is the reptile exhibit, “get to know your snakes,” sort of thing, like the one my mom registered me for at the Palo Alto Children's Museum called “Snakes Alive.” It didn't work then, and it didn't work for me last night, either.

There was a row of chess players nearly a block long. We had the Redwood Cloggers, the ballet schools represented, a Barbershop camp, and even a few Hells Angels. Gosh I wish they hadn't trademarked that name. Catchy title, don't you think?

The photo booth was a hit. Confirms my age and the fact that gravity is still alive and well. I came home to a nice bed and soft lighting, covered in pillows my mother made.

This morning, was up early to check on the trees we'd been removing all week to make way for our new backyard landscaping.

I was inspired by the sun, the colors, the quiet beautiful weather, the birds, and my two Dobermans who jump and chase everything from airplanes to butterflies. They greet the morning with all the enthusiasm of a small child and are a constant reminder that life is good.

All is fundamentally well, as my friend, Jacquie would say.