And So It Barks…

If you’ve been reading along for any length of time – say, 20 minutes or so – you probably know I’ve always felt that the world should be divided into two main camps: Dog Lovers and Other. (If you’re a feline fan, sorry. Naw. Not really.) You may also know that I wrote a book about our good dog, Eve, who passed away around Christmas 2013. And that our house has been dog-less ever since.

In the finale of my recent blog post Christmas, Eve, I told you I’d have an update for you on the dog front. Well. Here she is:

Her name is Kimber.  About six months old. Isn’t she a beauty?

Kimber was quite the li’l nipper when she joined us in late August. She’s calmed down quite a bit since then. But she’s a puppy and excitable. If you come visit, I can pretty much guarantee she’ll think the sun rises and sets on you. And greet you accordingly. (I’d bring treats ‘fize you.)

Part Golden Retriever. Part Lab. Part Border Collie. All heart. Way smarter than me. I’m thinking of re-naming her. How does “Einstein” sound? Also in the running: “Cicero.” Or “Typhoon.”

wp-image-2116531908jpg.jpegIn the past few months since Kimber came to us via the local dog rescue outfit, she’s learned “Sit,” “Stay,” “Come,” and “Down.” How to navigate 13 steps by herself. Let herself out. Open doors. Walk on a leash. NOT to eat Dad’s slippers. How to play football (sort of). Lie down while I write (most of the time. Nobody’s perfect.) And jitterbug.

Told you she’s way smarter than me.

I’ve called her “Eve” more than once. Call it a “Freudian slip.” They don’t even look alike. I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to have a dog in the house.  After getting Kimber, however, I can’t imagine having a dog-less house again.

I may even have to write about it. Again. 🙂

Best wishes for a happy, healthy 2017 to your and yours, dear readers!

What are your writing goals for the new year?

Forever, Eve

Forever, Eve

A Dog’s Story

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Stille Nacht – Just in Time for Christmas

Solitude can be hard to find in our rush-rush, hurry up, instant everything society. Grabbing a few quiet moments to refresh and recharge can be a challenge any time, but it’s particularly tough  during the holidays, huh?

If holiday merry-making has you ready to tear your hair out or your festive feathers are a bit ruffled, this is for you.

Slow down. Sit down with this old favorite for about five minutes. Give Manheim Steamroller’s Stille Nacht (Silent Night) a listen. You’ll be glad you did.

Know anyone else who could use a yuletide boost? Don’t forget to share!

Christmas ‘In the Corner’

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Candles in the window. Lights up on the tree. Sleigh bells. Mistletoe. Apple-cheeked kids rushing in from a snowy sled run. Hot chocolate and marshmallows. Carols and cantatas. Family. Friends. And…  loneliness so thick and heavy, it could crush a camel.

Yes, friends. The holidays aren’t full of fa-la-la-la-la-ing for everyone. In fact, this can be an especially tough time of year for some. Those facing a job loss or a cut in income. A divorce. An involuntary move. The frostiness of an unresolved conflict. Bad news from the doctor. Betrayal. Feeling utterly alone in the middle of a crowd. Too much money at the end of the month. Distance. One less place set at the table. One less gift under the tree.

If you’ve been there or are there, you know what I mean. And how difficult the holidays can be. Especially if you’re Alone. Or feel that way.

I hear you. It’s one reason I wrote Man in the Corner: A Holiday Story. About newly divorced Mae Taylor and her son Josiah. Their plans to start over solo are jostled when they move next door to Mr. Tom, a lonely widower and retired school teacher. Together, the unlikely trio finds a second chance at faith, hope and love with help from Gettysburg, cookbooks, an attic secret and two ‘Christmas ghosts.’

But I’m also doing something I rarely do here: recommending another author’s novel. With three thumbs up.

It’s called The Mistletoe Secret. By Richard Paul Evans, a perennial favorite. Without giving too much away, it’s a touching, moving story about two lonely people, Alex and Aria, who brave rejection and loss to find love. Exquisitely written as only Evans can, The Mistletoe Secret is vintage Richard Paul: Honest without being preachy. Hopeful without being sappy. Uplifting and fine. About 306 pages. I read it cover-to-cover in about five hours.

While we’re on the subject, I also want to offer a video to those who may be struggling this time of year. You’re not alone. Give this Mark Schultz piece a listen:

Grace. And Merry Christmas!

 

REAL DADS: Not Just One Sunday in June

Dad Naas Scan 2

It’s Father’s Day. Time for a card or two, a new tie, maybe breakfast in bed or a nice dinner out.  But have you noticed? There’s something off-kilter about a culture that spends 364 days a year  belittling dear old dad, then turns around to “honor” him on one Sunday in June.

Sadly, we live in a time and place where dads are often viewed or portrayed as: 1) Bumbling oafs who can’t tie their shoes without written instructions; 2) Insensitive clods and boorish louts or; 3) Invisible and irrelevant. Like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without peanut butter. Or jelly. Or bread.

What Does It Mean?

There’s a fair amount of confusion about what constitutes a “real dad.”  Some equate dadness with volume, brute force, or beer bellies. They think the dude who sires a string of children and then disappears without a trace makes the yahoo a “father.” Or “dad” is the lunkhead who throws his weight around because there’s plenty of it. There’s a word for these kinds of guys. And it’s not “dad.” (Since this is a G-rated blog, you’ll have to fill in the blanks yourself.)

Real Dads

Real Dads can be hard to find these days. There are plenty of fakes. Just turn on the TV. But the Real Deal is still  around.  And often unsung.

A Real Dad is decent, hard-working, and upstanding. A Real Dad takes his family, job, and responsibilities seriously.  He gets outside himself to benefit others.   A Real Dad puts his family first.  Even when it’s “inconvenient.” Sometimes especially when it’s inconvenient.

Faucets, Flicks and Foregoing

Real Dads fix leaky faucets. Hang pictures or wall paper (without killing anyone). Walk on the outside of the sidewalk, nearest the street. Endure chick flicks without complaint.  A Real Dad may toil long hours in a thankless job to keep a roof over his family’s heads and put food on the table. Forego Monday Night Football to cheer a child’s Little League game. Put up a tent in the rain. Do dishes. Clean up dog barf. Teach junior how to slide into second without breaking anything, or stay home with the kids so Mom can have lunch out with the ladies.

Go Get Them

Real Dads take 1:00 a.m. phone calls in the middle of a sleep-over – come get me Daddy, I’m scared – and break every land-speed record on the books in the process.  They attend daughter’s tea parties, scrunch their knees into their chins in those made-for-kindergartener chairs. Down gallons of pretend tea and wear those funny little party hats like they’re dining with royalty. Because they know they are.

Real Dads may not always know how to express themselves. They may have a hard time finding the words to tell the wife and kids how much they mean to him.  So they do instead of say, speaking the language of self-sacrifice, service and grace.

Real Dads:

  • Stand for the National Anthem. They remove their hats, hold ’em over their heart and sing about rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air as their eyes mist.
  • Don coat and tie and conduct somber graveside services for dead gold fish and neon tetras.
  • Burn Christmas Eve and the wee hours of December 25 assembling brand new purple Schwinns.
  • Open those stupid pickle jar lids.
  • Spend an entire afternoon traipsing from store to store in the mall with the wife or kids, pretending they’re having a great time.
  • Say Yes when they can and No when they should.
  • Have arms that embrace, shield and protect. Their shoulders are big enough to ride, cry on, and hide behind.
  • Pray. And teach their kids to pray.
  • Are never quite thanked enough.

Real Dads cement a protective wall around the fam as no one else can. Real Dads stand on that wall, often alone, and patrol. Real Dads put any lurking menace or stalking evil on notice with, “Not on my watch. You’ll have to come through me first, and I’m here for keeps.”

With Dad at Neff How do I know? Because my dad was a Real Dad.  And not just on one Sunday in June.

***

This post was previously published on June 16, 2013.

GUEST AUTHOR: 9 Ways to Jumpstart Your Writing During the Holidays

By Terry Whalin

Used by permission

***

You can almost feel the shift in the publishing world when the calendar gets close to the holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.  I’m receiving fewer emails. My phone calls and emails are not as quickly returned.  The culture is shifting into holiday mode where activities outside of publishing fill our schedule and less is happening.

While the schedule for others fills with holiday activities, your writing does not have to go on hold. In fact, from my experience, the holidays are a perfect time to jumpstart your writing life.  Here’s nine action steps you can take during the holidays:

1. Increase Your Writing. Now is the time to lean into your novel or your nonfiction book and complete it.  No book manuscript is created overnight. It takes day after day effort to write your story and finish the manuscript. Make a plan for your writing then stick with it.

2. Create A New Product or Book. Do you have a new product or book idea? Take this time to lean into it and create. I encourage you to download The 24–Hour Product Creation Cheat Sheet from Jimmy D. Brown. I have several of these types of projects which have been on hold because of other work. I’ve started scheduling regular time into my work day to begin to move these projects forward and get them into the marketplace.

3. Write A Book Proposal. Maybe you have several book ideas and the place for you to dig in during the holidays is creating a new book proposal. If you don’t know how to create a proposal, take my Write A Book Proposal membership course or use my free Book Proposal Checklist or take my free proposal teleseminar. Then take action and create your proposal.

4. Reach out to Editors and Agents. The holidays are often a great time to touch base with these publishing professionals. Send them a card or email and reconnect with them. Tell them some detail you appreciated about them and see how you can help them. Those simple statements may go a long way with that person.

5. Read and Review books of others. I’ve written about this important habit but if you’ve never started it or forgotten about it. Now is a good time to read these books and review them. You will be practicing your craft of writing but also building good will among other writers as you read these books and write book reviews.

6. Begin a new program or tool. Do you want to learn how to make money with your blog or increase your social media presence? The key is to develope an easy system for you or to learn from someone else. I have a risk-free, detailed 31–Day Guide to Blogging for Bucks. Or listen to my free teleseminar on blogging or follow my detailed information on social media. Take committed time to work on developing a new skill or tool.

7. Get Organized. As a writer, I have piles of paper that isn’t in a file folder (where I’m much more organized). I took some time this weekend to sort through the papers, put them into folders and get more organized. If I haven’t used or read something,  I threw it away rather than lurking in a pile. As you get organized, you can be much more effective as a writer.

8. Pitch and Write Magazine Articles. Think about the publications you read and send ideas to the editor. If you have written for a magazine in the past, what can you write that they need? Approach the editor and see if they have a theme list online or one you can get from the editor. Then pitch appropriate ideas.

9. Write to Look for New Opportunities.  Maybe you want to do more speaking in the new year or have a greater visibility at a particular conference. Work on expanding those possibilities during this season.

I include more than a dozen ways to jumpstart your publishing life in my book, Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. The key is to take action during the holidays and move forward with your writing.

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About The Author:

Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books plus been published in
more than 50 magazines. For five years, he was an acquisitions editor at two book publishers and he’s a former literary agent. Now Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing, a NY based traditional publisher. Terry encourages writers of any level (from beginners to professionals) at Right-Writing.com.

To help people pursue their own dreams of a published book, Terry has written Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams, Insider Secrets to Skyrocket Your Success.

 

Find out more about Terry Whalin here.

A Kitchen, a Corner and Christmas!

Fabulous chocolate fudge.  Spicy cocoa mocha mix.  Savory roast beef with red wine. Wassail with clove-studded oranges.  Fruitcake.

Well, okay.  Maybe not fruitcake.  But what are the holidays without festive food?

The Kitchen

Grandma Peggy's Kitchen Cover.1Is your mouth watering yet?  Good.  Because I’m opening a door to Grandma Peggy’s Kitchen (aka: my mom), an  ebook collection of holiday recipes, reminiscences and easy, inexpensive craft ideas to spruce up your home for the season!   Grab your copy here.

Man in the Corner

Speaking of which, Man In the Corner is another holiday-themed story based on real people. “Mr. Tom” is loosely based on my dad:

Man in the Corner Cover

Mae Taylor and her son Josiah just want to be left alone after the divorce. Their plans to start over solo are jostled when they move next door to Mr. Tom, a lonely widower and retired school teacher. Together, this unlikely trio finds a second chance at faith, hope and love with help from holiday traditions, cookbooks, an attic secret and two ‘Christmas ghosts.’

Find it here.

If you enjoyed either one, a kind review would be appreciated. Thanks!

‘Fat Free’ Seasonal Treat? Have I Got a Deal For You!

So, how was your Thanksgiving?  A little too much mashed potatoes and gravy?  Are you wearing that third piece of pumpkin pie?  Not to fret.  Here’s a seasonal treat that’s not only “fat free,” it’s $-free, too!

Download your FREE copy of my micro-memoir, Isabella’s Torch: A Thanksgiving Memoir.

Isabella's Torch Cover Photo.3

Grab your FREE copy of Isabella’s Torch today!  Consider it my thanks to you for reading!  Why not make it a two-for? Sign up for my FREE newsletter at the same time.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

“Thanks-Giving” & The First 5 Minutes

Coming up with a clever, catchy “Thanksgiving” post can be a little like trying to re-write Gone With The Wind.  Ya just can’t improve on a classic.  I wasn’t even going to try this year.  Frankly, I was kinda “Thanksgiving-ed” out by yesterday.

Although Thanksgiving is traditionally family-oriented and a time to reunite with loved ones and gather around a roast turkey the size of Rhode Island, that’s not how our Thanksgivings typically run.

Parents on both sides have gone on to glory.  We live more than 1,000 miles from our nearest family members.  The rest are flung to the four winds, spread out across the country.  So weren’t not able to get together as often as we’d like, and almost never on Thanksgiving.

My husband is in retail, so Thanksgiving weekend is just another work weekend as the store struggles to stay in the black and hopes for a bang-up Christmas season. So our Thanksgivings are a little… shall we say, “non-Norman Rockwellish”?

A quick look around “Thanksgiving” in the blogosphere usually brings up something like: “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” Or “How many people are you having over?”  “Are you traveling this Thanksgiving?”  “Who’s going to win the football game?” Or the well-worn classic, “What are you thankful for?”

Not to reiterate the obvious, but Thanksgiving is a holiday set aside to, uh… “give thanks.”  Count our blessings.  Lift our eyes off our self-soaked lives and look up to the Father of every good gift.

All well and good.

So why did I resist taking that route this year?  Well, basically because that route is easy.  Comfortable.  Expected.  It’s also a little … canned.  Predictable.  Rote?  Is that what Thanksgiving has turned into – “giving thanks” by rote – because we’re supposed to?

Lord, have mercy.

So this Thanksgiving, when some of us are still working off that third slice of pumpkin pie or that extra serving of gravy and mashed potatoes that we needed like a hole in the head, how ’bout determining to launch into “thanksgiving mode” year-round instead of just the last part of November?

Rather than relegating thanks-giving to one season or weekend a year, what if we took the first five minutes of each day to lift our hearts to God in honest thanks?  What if we went through each twenty-four hour stretch looking for at least one thing, person, context or event for which we can be grateful? I don’t mean Pollyanna or pie-in-the-sky bye-and-bye syrupy stuff.  I mean something that requires alertness, deliberation, and exercising our “thankfulness muscles.”  Examples:

  • “Lord, thank you for the 39th straight day of rain, a roof that doesn’t leak and the promise of an extra-green spring.”
  • “Thank you for my boon canine companion (or feline),” as the case may be.
  • “I’m grateful for hot showers and soap after an afternoon on the trail or in the garden!”
  • “Thank you for this morning’s sunrise.”
  • “Thank you for Corn Flakes and a bowl to eat them out of.”

Thanks also for:

Puccini arias. Truth. Faithfulness.Libraries. Friends and family. Mercy. Raspberry white chocolate cheesecake. Poetry. Lilacs. A good night’s sleep. Fresh snow. Divine guidance and providence. Ice cream and…  what else?

If we develop the daily discipline of deliberate thankfulness, I’m willing to bet we’ll discover whole new horizons of  wonder and beauty that were there all along.  We didn’t see them because we weren’t looking for them. We’ll probably find answers to prayers that we may have forgotten about, splashes of grace and  delight that we somehow overlook in our every day busyness.

Norman Rockwell or not, does that sound like an “exercise program” you can sign on to?  Who’s with me?

‘You Have to Love a Nation That…’

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You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism. ~Erma Bombeck

Happy birthday, America!

 

 

‘The Race’: A Mother’s Day Story

Mother’s Day. Flowers. Breakfast in bed. Lunch out. Hallmark. Thanks. Honor. Appreciation. Warm memories and lots of love. And it should be. But “Mother’s Day” isn’t  a happy occasion for everyone. For some, “Mother’s Day” is bittersweet. An emotional mine field.  The Race is part of my Mother’s Day story.

***

“You don’t have to get up this early” she smiled as I stumbled out of my bedroom. “I can drive myself. You go back to sleep.”

It was four o’clock in the morning. Saturday morning. The night before Mom casually asked if anyone wanted to join her at her marathon run on San Diego’s Coronado Island. Her 6:00 a.m. run. No takers. Until I decided to surprise her with my groggy appearance and volunteer my chauffeur services. “Mom’ll get a kick out of that” I said to myself. She did.

It was still dark as we backed out of the driveway and nosed the car onto the west bound lanes of Interstate 8. Our Dodge Aspen quickly devoured the miles between our El Cajon home in East San Diego and the coastal community of Coronado.

Mom and I chatted as the sun crept over the horizon, sharing a comfortable conversation that glided easily from one topic to the next. We talked about my plans to transfer to Biola University the next fall, her work as a secondary education supervisor at San Diego State University. My younger brother’s trumpet lessons. My older brother’s track meets. My kid sister’s gymnastics.  Dad’s golf game. It all seemed so natural. So permanent.

 Traffic was light and we made good time, crossing the cobalt blue girders of an all-but-deserted Coronado Bay Bridge shortly after five in the morning. We had plenty of time to find a parking spot and get Mom warmed up for the competition. Mom pre-registered for the marathon weeks ahead of time to avoid the long lines at the Walk On registration table. She was like that. Organized, thorough, efficient. Able to plan far ahead.

Mom finished her final stretches and headed to the starting line, chipper and cheerful. Yawning, I gave her a hug. “Good luck, Mom. See ya at the Finish Line.”

Mom flashed one of her effervescent smiles and waved. “Here we go, honey,” she beamed, “see ya later!”

The starter’s gun barked and Peggy Naas was off, her red hair blowing in the crisp morning breeze. I ambled back to the car to snooze while she churned out 26.3 miles on foot.

 I don’t know why I decided to drag myself out of bed and join Mom that day. Maybe I wanted to repay a small fraction of the unconditional support she had always given me. Maybe I wanted to be there for her, like she was for me. In my corner, cheering me on. Maybe I just wanted some time alone with Mom. If I had known how short our remaining time together would be, I would’ve wanted more.

Lowders & Naases

It was Easter, a few years later. I graduated from college, married, and settled in the Los Angeles suburbs. My younger brother was in college in Florida. My older brother was working for a local aerospace firm. My kid sister was completing her senior year of high school. That April weekend was the first time my family had been together in almost a year.

Mom met us at the door when my husband and I arrived, glowing with the effervescent smile that was her trademark. Chris and I were surprised to find her leaning on a walker. “From my surgery,” she explained, “the doctor suggested I use it until I get my strength back.”

 We had no idea. She wasn’t ill or ailing. The doc pronounced her “healthy as a horse, with the heart and lungs of a 30 year-old” at her last annual check-up. “All that running,” he winked, “exercise keeps you young!”

Not wanting to worry us, Mom and Dad decided not to tell us about her surgery a few weeks previously—or its cause—until it was finished and she came home from the hospital. I was startled, a little annoyed.

“We didn’t tell Kurt either” Mom said, referring to my younger brother. “He had final exams and didn’t need anything else on his mind while trying to cram.” Typically Mom, she reasoned that there was “no sense” worrying her kids with some “minor surgery” when “you couldn’t do anything about it” anyway. “Besides,” she beamed, “I feel great!”

Well. She may have felt—and looked—like a million bucks, but I had some questions. “Uh, Mom, you wanna run that part about the `minor surgery’ by me again?”

Mom patiently explained that she had awakened one morning without any feeling in her legs. Minutes later, she was paralyzed from the waist down, unable to move. Neurological and other tests revealed a tumor on or in her spinal column. A 90% blockage, the tumor obstructed the free flow of spinal fluid, hence the sudden paralysis.

“We caught it just in time” the specialist said. “A 100% blockage would’ve meant total—and irreversible—paralysis.” Scalpels removed the bulk of the tumor, but since spinal surgery is considered extremely delicate and dangerous, the surgeon wasn’t chancing total removal. Radiation treatments were ordered to eliminate what the knife had missed.

 Hearing “tumor” and “radiation,” my jaw hit the floor. Still smiling pleasantly, Mom quickly assured me that the biopsied tumor was pronounced “benign.” Doctors issued a 90% chance of complete recovery, with no serious side effects. We believed them. We believed her. So we shoved the precarious past aside and enjoyed our Easter weekend as if it was our last. It was April 1984.

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When the phone call came from Dad in early June, I knew I was in for a shock. He choked out the news in between sobs.

A neighbor arrived that morning to stay with Mom after everyone else left and Dad departed for work. Noticing Mom’s labored breathing, Miriam phoned Dad at work and then called the paramedics. They arrived within minutes and had Mom prepped for transport to the hospital when Dad arrived, tearing home with the speed of panic. Mom was gone before the ambulance left the driveway.

She was 54.

Oddly enough, her death wasn’t related to the tumor. It was caused by a pulmonary embolism resulting in cardiac arrest.

Her sudden, unexpected death threw our lives into emotional chaos, plunging us into the rabid smelting fires of bereavement. It was a grinding, wrenching process. A season of winter. Strained smiles, sleepless nights. Groping for answers that didn’t come.

One of my most vivid recollections during this time was how loss can be helped or hindered by the Pavlovian responses I rendered as did some family and friends. While my husband and I spent that first Mom-less week in El Cajon, I had the oddest sensation of deja vu. Buried in the newspaper or pouring myself some milk, I would look at the clock and think, “Where’s Mom? Haven’t seen her all morning.” I’d scan kitchen and living room aimlessly, mind refusing to accept the obvious.

 “Oh yeah,” I rationalized, “Mom’s out for a run. She’ll be back by lunch.” I slumped into our brown leather recliner and awaited her return. My mind would sometimes take 15 or 20 minutes to catch up with reality. Sleep and song offered sole relief to the omnipresent ache of my waking hours.

After the June memorial service, my husband and I returned to Los Angeles and attempted to resume “ordinary” life. But what did “ordinary” mean, minus Mom?

More than a year later, I half-heartedly opened my Bible to the Book of Job. “I have taken away,” He whispered from Job 1:21, “now see what I will give.”

I’d almost forgotten. “One moment, please” the lab technician said while she tracked down the results from my pregnancy test. We put off starting our family until my husband finished law school, a five-year endeavor. I nervously awaited the test results.

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“Congratulations,” the tech said, “you’re pregnant!” I thanked her for the news and hung up the receiver. I glanced at my wall calendar, seeing it for the first time: June 7, 1990. It all came flooding back. The positive test results arrived six years after Mom left us, to the day.

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away,” Job echoed, “blessed be the name of the Lord.” Seven months later the obstetrician’s first words were, “It’s a boy!” followed by, “He has red hair!” Just like Mom.

We were expecting our second child a year later. My pregnancy was confirmed and we were given an October 1 due date. Then I approached the Throne of Grace with a special request. “Lord,” I began, “our times are in Your hands. It would mean so much to me if You would see to it that this baby is born on Mom’s birthday.”

I went into labor on October 11. Our second son was born the evening of October 12, which would’ve been Grandma Naas’s 62nd birthday.

I still miss Mom, especially when my boys see her photo and ask, “Who dat?” My eyes sometimes mist and my voice may catch as I explain that the slender, red-haired lady in the picture is “Mommy’s Mommy, your Grandma Peggy.”

Frozen in time, she smiles that effervescent smile from behind a photo frame. My boys would’ve loved her. And she them. But she finished her course before they were born; introductions must wait.

Hoq River Sunset 2I sometimes see her in my mind’s eye, red hair drifting in the breeze, waiting for me on the other side. Smiling, cheering me on. Rooting for me as I run my race. “See ya later!” Mom used to say, and from our separate sides of the tape we both look toward the Finish Line.