Our middle daughter and her husband got married in June of 2020, smack dab in the center of the pandemic. Consequently, the wedding at their parish was a small affair for immediate family, 13 of us total in the church. The reception was postponed until two weekends ago, July 10, 2021.
Two days before the 2020 wedding, I had my hair cut to shoulder length. Getting my hair done after months of the stay-at-home mandate was a nice experience, but I didn’t enjoy wearing a mask during the whole process. I made the decision that I wouldn’t get my hair cut again until after the 2021 wedding reception.
Even as a child of the ‘70s, I’d never grown my hair long. Looking back at photos from my middle school and teen years, I wish I had gone with the Jan Brady look instead of taking my mom’s suggestion of going with the Mrs. Brady look — the shag.
What was I thinking? After that it was the infamous Dorothy Hamill bob (circa 1976), the Farrah Fawcett feathered do (late 1970s), the gravity-defying high bangs in the ‘80s and then perms for about a decade after until I finally came to my senses and let my thick hair just do its own thing — parted on the side (as opposed to the ’70s center parts), no layers, just straight-ish (or absolutely straight with a little help from a straightener when I was motivated).
Regardless of the era or style, my hairdos ranged from chin-length to shoulder-length. Since I hadn’t ever let my hair grow, I had no idea of how fast or far it would grow. It didn’t take long to discern that my hair not only grew rapidly but showed no indications of stopping by the time we got back from the wedding weekend.
This past Thursday I went to my hairdresser to have my hair cut to a reasonable length. While I really liked the long look, I realized it’s more work to take care of than shorter styles. Washing it took longer (but thankfully seemed to need washing less, so I dropped from two washes a week to one), it needed to be conditioned, and brushing it and putting into my go-to messy bun style was a good five- or ten-minute process each morning (since it was so warm when I wore it down, especially this time of year). Not only that but I was surprised how much my hair seemed to get in my way (sitting down on a couch, I’d find my hair trapped between me and the couch cushion, it wasn’t constantly falling into our granddaughter’s reach when I was holding her and she has a pretty strong grasp for a three-month old).
I had mixed emotions as I got ready for the hair appointment. Yes, it’s true that long hair is more maintenance and can be a bit bothersome, but people really seemed to like the look on me and were amazed at how long my hair had grown over the past year. I’ve never had so many comments on my hair in my life.
Even though my husband’s in charge of vacuuming our house (not only is my hair thick, but I have an abundance of it and it sheds like crazy — the amount accumulated in the vacuum canister each week was somewhat remarkable), he was a big fan of the look (as seems to be the case for most men I know). He’d have been more than happy for me to keep growing it, even though it was already half way down my back.
The hardest part about going under the knife — make that scissors — is that the 10 inches of hair that was chopped off was my original shade of brunette hair that had such pretty reddish blond highlights when I was in the sun. Now I’m left with the infamous salt and pepper-colored hair, or ash-colored hair as my hairdresser refers to it.
Obviously, I could do the thing that 95 percent of the other woman that I know do, and dye it, at this point in my life, that’s just not my thing. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, and I’m not a fan of soaking my skull in chemicals. Maybe in time I’ll join the crowd and jump on the hair-dying band wagon and start coloring my hair, but for the time being, I’m going the natural route.
One thing that made me feel better about the whole process of going back to having hair in the chin-length to shoulder-length style is that all the work of growing it out last year was worth it. Not only did I get to have an amazing updo for the wedding weekend but I was also able to donate the hair that was cut to an organization (ChildrenWithHairLoss.us) that takes hair donations even if there is a bit of gray in it. Because my hair is so thick, they’re getting three 10-inch ponytails for the price of one!
Remember the adage about women and bangs? “Why do women cut their bangs? So they can grow them out. Why do women grow out their bangs? So they can cut them.” It’s pretty much the same with hair in general. Why did I grow out my hair? So I could cut it (and donate it). Why did I cut it? So I can grow it out again. Who knows how longs I’ll let it grow this time around, only time will tell!
Morgan is looking forward to junior high school and all the adventures it holds in store for her. But after a collision on the volleyball court, she wakes up on the first day of school trapped inside her mom’s teenage body circa 1974. It doesn’t take long for Morgan to discover that living life as a seventh-grader in the ‘70s and dealing with everything going on in her mom’s life back then — from uncool parents, to annoying older brothers, balancing friendships, and to ultimately doing what she can to survive bullying at the hands of the school’s biggest jock — is anything but groovy.
Check out my newest book, Anything But Groovy, available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. I was honored to be interviewed recently by Ellen Gable Hrkach, who’s not only a talented writer, but an outstanding publisher and someone whom I’m honored to call my friend…
Where did you get the idea for Anything But Groovy?
The idea for Anything But Groovy came from experiences I had as a junior high school student growing up in a small Midwest city. Those years were so pivotal in my life that I was able to clearly recall countless events and places that served as the background for this story.
This book is very different from your previous books (Heaven Intended Series: historical romance) because it’s a time travel book set in current times and in the 1970s. Are the characters based on real people and is this story based on actual events that happened? Or are the characters and events mostly fictional?
Like any book I write, characters are based loosely on people that I’ve known throughout my lifetime. The events are based in part on things that I experienced in my growing up years. That being said, I’ll stick with the disclaimer from the front of the book: This book is a work of fiction. Although the setting for this novel takes place in the 1970s, some of the names, characters and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Real events and characters are used fictitiously.
I really enjoyed the TV, music, toy and food references that really transport the reader back to those days. Do you have a great memory or did you use a diary/journal to write about all those 70s references?
Thank you, I enjoyed reliving the pop-culture references myself! (Man, we watched a lot of TV, considering we only had three channels to choose from!) I do have my diaries from my growing up years, but, to be honest, I did not reference even one of them when writing the book. For some reason, my experiences from my junior high years are seared into my brain. Maybe I tucked them away because I knew in my heart that some day I’d write a book about that critical time in my life.
What do you hope the reader will take away from reading Anything But Groovy?
I hope this book will be an enjoyable blast-from-the-past for people who lived through those years, an eye-opening read for teens in this day and age to see what life was like for their parents and grandparents growing up in the “Wonder Years,” and that this will be a book that different generations will read together to create some conversations about the joys and challenges of growing up, no matter in which era.
You are a contributor to another book just released titled Treasures: Visible and Invisible. What is the name of your story and can you give us a brief synopsis?
My story is Lucky and Blessed which tells the tale of two teens, Ambrose and Honora, living in 1540 during the Reformation, and how they help each other make it through a difficult time. There’s a good chance that this will be a full-length novel somewhere down the road.
Who are some of your favorite authors and what do you like about their books?
As a huge fan of history, historic fiction is my preferred genre, and I was first introduced to it by some very talented authors who specialized in “bodice-rippers.” I’ve always preferred clean romance, so I was so happy to be introduced to the Catholic Writers Guild. There are some outstanding authors in that group. It would be hard to name every author that I admire from that group, but here’s a shout out to one of my favorites, Ellen Gable, who writes the style of books that I truly enjoy reading.
Are you working on any other writing projects? If so, what are they?
There’s always something on the drawing board! I just finished writing the fourth book in my Heaven Intended series called A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended. A Faith Such as Heaven Intended will be next up. Right now I’m in the beginning stages of a time travel book where a teenage girl working at a golf course is hit by lightning and travels back in time to the oldest golf course in the world, St. Andrews, and has to learn to navigate life and love during the late 1600s. Lucky and Blessed will be expanded when time permits. In addition, I’m working on a screenplay for a movie and pursuing turning the Heaven Intended series into a set of movies or a limited-run television show on a streaming service.
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, on March 1, 2021, the book Treasures: Visible & Invisible was released. I’m one of eight Catholic Teen Fiction authors who collaborated to create this story that starts with St. Patrick and a shamrock-shaped stone that he found. This stone travels through the centuries, and my story, Lucky and Blessed, picks up in the year 1540. “A friendship formed over a hidden relic helps Ambrose and Honora survive persecution during the Reformation.”
This was my first attempt at writing a short story and it was truly enjoyable. A bit of a challenge as well, trying to convey a compelling story in the span of just 30 pages or so. I was very pleased with how the story turned out. Apparently, the reviewers were as well. Check out the reviews below. At the moment, I’m giving serious consideration to turning this into a full-length novel. Feel free to give me your opinion in the comments below.
Order your copy now! Teens through adults will love these stories! We’re giving a copy away free too, see the link to enter your name into the drawing!
by Theresa Linden, Susan Peek, Antony B. Kolenc, Amanda Lauer, Carolyn Astfalk, Leslea Wahl, T.M. Gaouette, and Corinna Turner.
About the Book:
A teen boy sets out to save a friend from pagan druids, but maybe he’s the one who needs saving.
Between a baffling scripture verse and a visit from Heaven, a young monk is in for the surprise of his life.
A young girl seeks a mysterious treasure that holds the key to granting a nun’s dying wish.
Honora is desperate—then a peculiar clover and a mysterious young man change everything.
William’s weekend job is a little gift from heaven, but now his family needs a real miracle.
When threatened by mobsters, Grace receives help from a surprising source.
Alone and afraid, a young girl finds friendship in a stranger. But could this boy be trouble?
Kyle was determined to save the precious relic – but now his whole family is in danger.
From the early days of the Church, objects touched to holy men and women have been linked to the miraculous, such as described in Acts: “when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.”
Here’s my review on GoodReads: Feb 22, 2021 Amanda Lauer rated it, it was amazing · I really enjoyed the theme of this book, with a relic from St. Patrick being passed down through the generations. Eight authors teamed up to create this anthology and each story is so unique and intriguing. If you want to try reading stories in genres different from what you normally read, this book is for you, there’s everything from historical fiction to science fiction. Treasures: Visible & Invisible is a great read for teens through adults!
“In a world where today’s young adults are constantly surrounded by media that is trying desperately to tear them down, it is a blessing to have books like this that reaffirms our Catholic faith. Not only does each author give us a great story to read, they also challenge us to think about things like: the hardships of people in our ancient church, putting Grandma first on our social calendars, praying to God when in the midst of fear and suffering, staying strong in our faith while looking death in the face, listening to unlikely friends who lead us on the path to Christ, and ultimately realizing there is sacredness in the relics of our church. You only find stories that build our faith like this in very special books. The “building-up”of today’s youth is at the very heart and soul of what the authors are trying to do here, and they have done an amazing job.”
Beth Ruggiero Lit by the Tree, Literature reviews from the Catholic side. Litbythetree.com
“I invite teens, and readers of all ages, to stand on the craggy wind-swept cliff of your imagination, and experience the collection of stories called, Treasures: Visible and Invisible, created by the talented team of authors from Catholic Teen Books. With a shamrock as our touchstone, this book takes us on a journey through an expanse of time from ancient to modern. Be inspired by the holy greatness of heroism rooted in the spiritual treasures of the Emerald Isle.”
Cathy Gilmore, Creator and advocator of stories that inspire heroic virtue. VirtueHeroes.com
“We thoroughly enjoyed this cleverly written book about the intercession of St. Patrick throughout the ages. The combination of dynamic characters and intriguing stories kept us hooked from start to finish. A valuable addition to your St. Patrick’s Day bookshelf!”
“This is the third collection from the authors of Catholic Teen Books. It was an inspiring read. Some stories are of miracles and others about change. Two contributors from the previous collection did not contribute and two new ones have joined the fray. In this collection are 8 stories from the 14 authors who currently compose the collective. My first thought was wow! What an amazing collection of stories around Saint Patrick! I am aware that not everyone likes short stories, but I love them, and this collection is amazing! Short stories are a different art form than novels, and not all novelists have mastered the craft. For a short story to be good, the writing needs to be tighter, cleaner, and crisper. And each of the 8 in this collection is extremely well written…”
“What a gift to Catholic teens and their families! Each piece in this collection of stories revolving around St Patrick is a beautiful portrayal of the faith. These are wholesome, engaging, and inspiring tales from a variety of genres that will both entertain and spiritually nourish every reader who picks up this book. “
Amanda Lauer is the only contributor whose works I am unfamiliar with. But this story is so well written that even though Lauer writes primarily in a genre I tend not to read I am itching to pick up one of her books. I have read a lot of non-fiction set during the time period of this story over the last few years. Many biographies and histories. This story could easily be from real life. And if a novel with these characters is published, I will be picking it up the day it is available.
THERESA LINDEN is the author of award-winning Catholic fiction, including the West Brothers contemporary series and the Chasing Liberty dystopian trilogy. One of her great joys is to bring elements of faith to life through a story. She has more than a dozen published books, three of which won awards from the Catholic Press Association. Her short stories appear in several anthologies, including Secrets: Visible & Invisible, and Gifts: Visible & Invisible. Her articles and interviews can be found on various radio shows and in magazines, including EWTN’s The Good Fight, The National Catholic Register, Catholic Digest, Today’s Catholic Teacher, and Catholic Mom. Her books are featured online on Catholic Teen Books, Catholic Reads, FORMED, and Virtue Works Media. A wife, homeschooling mom, and Secular Franciscan, she resides in northeast Ohio with her husband and children. You can learn more about her at TheresaLinden.com.
SUSAN PEEK is a wife, mother, grandmother, Third Order Franciscan, and bestselling Catholic novelist. Her passion is writing stories of little-known saints and heroes. All her young adult novels have been awarded the coveted Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval and are implemented into Catholic school curricula not only across the nation, but in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well. Saint Magnus the Last Viking and The King’s Prey: Saint Dymphna of Ireland were both Amazon #1 Sellers among Catholic books. The King’s Prey was also voted one of Catholic Reads TOP 10 BEST CATHOLIC BOOKS OF 2017 and was a Finalist for the 2018 Catholic Arts and Letters Award. Crusader King was featured as one of the 50 Most Popular Catholic Homeschooling Books in 2013. Susan lives in northeastern Kansas, where she can usually be found with her nose in a book, researching obscure saints to write about. Visit her at SusanPeekAuthor.com.
ANTONY BARONE KOLENC is the author of The Harwood Mysteries, an exciting historical-fiction series for youth published by Loyola Press. He is a long-time member of the Catholic Writers Guild, and his novels all have the Catholic Writers Guild’s Seal of Approval. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps after 21 years of military service. A law professor who’s had his works published in numerous journals and magazines, Kolenc now speaks at legal, writing, and home-education events. He and his wife, Alisa, are the parents of five children, and have been blessed with three wonderful grandchildren. To learn more about The Harwood Mysteries and its author, visit AntonyKolenc.com.
AMANDA LAUER loves writing books—particularly Young Adult Historic Fiction—that portray the Church in a positive light and depict God’s children endeavoring to become the best version of themselves every day. A journalist and proofreader by trade, Amanda embarked on her novelist career with the award-winning and best-selling Heaven Intended Civil War series. A World Such as Heaven Intended earned the 2016 YA CALA award. Currently Amanda has several more books in the process of being published.
In addition to writing novels, Amanda works in the film industry writing and copy-editing screenplays. She was awarded Best Writer 2020 (Red Letter Awards) for her work as a co-writer on the movie The Islands. To learn more about Amanda, who’s lucky and blessed to be living in a world such as heaven intended, visit her web site: AmandaLauer.com.
CAROLYN ASTFALK writes from the sweetest place on Earth, Hershey, Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and four children. In addition to her contemporary Catholic romances (sometimes referred to as Theology of the Body fiction), including the young adult coming-of-age story Rightfully Ours, she is a Catholicmom.com contributor. She is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and Pennwriters. When she is not washing dishes, doing laundry, or reading, you can find her blogging about books, faith, and family life at CarolynAstfalk.com.
LESLEA WAHL is the author of the award-winning Catholic teen mysteries The Perfect Blindside, An Unexpected Role, Where You Lead, and eXtreme Blindside. The characters in this short story, Luke, Celia, Austin, and Grandma Grace, appear in her newest adventurous novel, A Summer to Treasure. Leslea’s journey to become an author came through a search for value-based fiction for her own children. She now not only writes for teens but also has become a reviewer of Catholic teen fiction to help other families discover faith-based books. Leslea lives in beautiful Colorado with her husband and children. The furry, four-legged members of her family often make cameo appearances in her novels. Leslea has always loved mysteries and hopes to encourage teens to grow in their faith through these fun adventures. For more information about her faith-filled Young Adult mysteries, please visit LesleaWahl.com.
T. M. GAOUETTE is the author of the Faith & Kung Fu series for young adults, as well as The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch and For Eden’s Sake. She also contributed to the last two Catholic Teen Books anthologies, Secrets: Visible & Invisible with her short story “Sister Francesca” and Gifts: Visible & Invisible with “Just Jesus.” Her novels have received the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval (except new releases for which the seal may be in process). Born in Africa, raised in London, England, Gaouette now lives on a small farm in New England with her husband, where she homeschools their four children, raises goats, and writes fiction for teens and young adults. A former contributor for Project Inspired, Gaouette’s desire is to instill the love of God into the hearts of her readers. You can find out more at TMGaouette.com.
CORINNA TURNER is the author of the I Am Margaret and unSPARKed series for young adults, as well as stand-alone works such as Elfling and Mandy Lamb and the Full Moon (for teens) and Someday (for older teens and adults). She has just released The Boy Who Knew (Carlo Acutis) the first book in her new Friends in High Places series about friendship with the saints. All of her novels have received the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval (except new releases for which the seal may be in process). Liberation (‘I Am Margaret’ Book 3) was nominated for the Carnegie Medal Award 2016 and Elfling won first prize for “Teen and Young Adult Fiction” in the Catholic Press Association 2019 Book Awards. Several of her other books have been placed in the CPA Awards and the Catholic Arts and Letters Award.
Corinna Turner is a Lay Dominican with an MA in English from Oxford University, and lives in the UK. She has been writing since she was fourteen and likes strong protagonists with plenty of integrity. She used to have a Giant African Land Snail called Peter with a 6½” long shell—which is legal in the UK!—but now makes do with a cactus and a campervan. You can find out more at IAmMargaret.com.
The South Dakota state motto, Under God the people rule, seems fitting for such a beautiful and independent state. We had the good fortune to spend five days there on vacation recently and couldn’t get over the amazing scenery and how nice the people of South Dakota are.
Before we left, we asked friends who’d been there before for advice on things to visit. The itinerary we chose turned out to be ideal and the last week of September, first week of October happened to be peak season for the fall leaves on the western side of the state.
Monday: Drove 8 hours from Wisconsin to Mitchell, South Dakota. Toured the Corn Palace, which was worth the stop. It’s free to tour and we were able to watch varsity girls volleyball, which was a treat since sports have been cancelled for the most part this fall in our state. Had a nice meal at Whiskey Creek Woodfire Grill in Mitchell that evening.
Tuesday: Drove to the western part of South Dakota, about 278 miles, but at 80 mph, it goes fast. On the way there we stopped at Wall Drug. Didn’t buy anything but just wanted to check out the city of Wall and walk through some of their shops. On the way to The Badlands we came to a little stop that featured super cute prairie dogs. You could visit and take pictures for no cost.
The Badlands is a definite must-see when you’re in South Dakota. There’s a loop to drive through them where you can see the desert-like terrain and the rock formations. Lots of spots to hike but you’re advised to stay on the path and keep your eyes open for rattlesnakes.
The crème de la crème in South Dakota is Mount Rushmore. It’s only $10 to park your car in the lot and walk up closer to the monument and hike on the Presidential Trail. This is a testament to the adage, “What the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve.” It’s amazing how Gutzon Borglum’s vision was brought to life and since that time, millions of people have viewed his artwork.
Crazy Horse was next. This is something that you can view from the highway for free. We paid the $12 each to go to the visitor’s center and learn more about this unfinished monument to the Oglala Sioux chief Crazy Horse, which, at the rate they’re going (only his head and arm are finished) may take another 50 years to complete. That being said, it is worth seeing.
We stopped at the serene Horse Thief Lake and found a way to hike around it (which meant going through a campground, but it was closed for the year, so we didn’t disturb anyone). If we were into camping, this would definitely be a spot we’d go back to and camp sometime.
Dinner Tuesday night was at the Firehouse Brewing Co. in Rapid City. The building is a vintage firehouse and full of firefighting memorabilia. The Gorgonzola Ale Soup (beer cheese) was excellent, some of the best I’ve ever had.
Wednesday: We took off early to drive Needles Highway. The scenery is gorgeous. There are several stone arches that you drive through that are a tight fit for busses and RVs but everyone made it through in one piece. Sylvan Lake is just off Hwy. 87. It was breath-taking. You can easily hike around the lake and see it from all angles.
Custer State Park is nestled in The Black Hills and is amazing. You drive through the park surrounded by wildlife, including bison, deer, and coyotes. While we saw random bison here and there, the majority of the herd had been rounded up for an annual health check and were contained in one area off the beaten path, but worth the trip down the dirt roads to see all of them.
We stopped in other cities that day including Keystone (Carrie Ingalls info at their museum, but we didn’t stop in), Hill City (home of the Prairie Berry Winery and the tasty Red Ass Rhubarb wine, which can be purchased cheaper there than other outlets), Lead and Deadwood, which is the 1800’s version of Las Vegas, with casinos, bars and shopping areas lining the street. With its close vicinity to Sturgis that holds an annual biker rally, there was no hiding their political allegiance.
Thursday: Drove from Rapid City to De Smet, a town dedicated to the remembrance of Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you’re a Little House on the Prairie fan, this town is worth visiting. There are all sorts of buildings and spots where Laura lived or frequented. We chose to do a self-guided driving tour, using a map provided at the visitor center.
That night we stayed in Sioux Falls. I’ve known about this town for years but never knew it got its name from the falls in the middle of the city. Falls Park was stunning, especially in the glow of the setting sun.
Friday: made the trek back home with a stop at the Queen of the Holy Rosary Mediatrix of Peace Shrine in Necedah. What a surprise South Dakota turned out to be for us. It’s remarkably pretty, especially on the western side of the state, the people were some of the friendliest that we’ve met on our travels, and there is so much to offer for tourists. It was definitely worth the drive. And, since the temps hit the mid-70s with sun while we were there, compared to rainy and 50s back home, it turned out to be the perfect time to see the state. This is a trip we’ll always cherish!
Is it just me, as does anybody else have a strong desire to put the whole Covid-19 situation behind them and get back to our previous lives? Well, if that’s not possible, the next best thing is to make a getaway to somewhere that you’re not reminded of the pandemic 24/7.
That place for my husband and me was the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin. You want social distancing? A 1.5-million-acre forest gives you plenty of that.
We spent a week up there this summer and it was one of our best vacations yet. That might sound like a bit of a stretch, considering that we’ve traveled to Japan, England, France, Hawaii and Ireland over the last decade or so, but this time away from the craziness of 2020 was just what the doctor ordered.
The weather that week was phenomenal. We had one rainy day, but that gave us the perfect excuse to kick back and relax in the cabin and spend a whole day reading. After a relentlessly hot summer, we had seven days of 80-ish degree weather, which felt amazing. The one disadvantage was the break in the heat brought out the mosquitoes, so it was a bit tricky going for early morning walks when they were out full-force.
Evenings up north, watching the sun set over Round Lake, were some of the most peaceful times I can remember. We grilled out either over the campfire or on our gas grill just about every night. I had my fair share of s’mores, probably enough to last me until next summer.
Northern Wisconsin is called God’s country for a reason. The forests, the lakes, the wildlife, including an eagle which resided on the property next to ours, are stunning.
Disconnecting from work and the day-to-day grind refreshed my soul. It usually takes me a couple days to unwind and get comfortable doing nothing, other than lounging in a lawn chair and staring at the lake or the fire, but once I got in that mode, I didn’t want to get out of it.
But, like all good things, our vacation came to an end. What we brought home with us was a new-found love for being outdoors. We’ve officially become “patio people” and are enjoying weekends reading outside or spending cooler evenings sitting around our new fire pit.
We’re refreshed and recharged for the fall and all the challenges and adventures our careers will bring us over the next few months (including the publication of five books that I either wrote or worked on with other authors). When stress creeps back into our lives, we can think back to those peaceful summer days and relive those beautiful memories. What a blessing!
2020 has been an interesting year, I’ll say that. Who knew that when my husband and I set out on a Caribbean cruise on February 26 that a week later when we docked that the whole world would be turned upside down? Two weeks after that our state instituted a safer-at-home mandate that remained in place almost three months.
It’s tragic how many people have lost their lives due to COVID-19. Thankfully, everyone in our immediate family has stayed healthy, including my mom who lives in an assisted living facility.
As an empty-nester and someone who works from home, the safer-at-home order didn’t necessarily alter my daily routine — at least, not in a negative way. What it actually did was free up my schedule from all outside appointments. Traditionally, I reserved Mondays and Thursdays as appointment-free days so I can work without interruption, decked out in yoga pants and sweatshirts. With the mandate, that extended to seven days a week.
Being a goal-setter and a notorious list-maker, once I knew the quarantine was going to happen, I created my 2020 Quarantine To-Do List. There were five categories that I worked on during my time off: To Read, To Finish, To Watch, To Give Away, To Do.
The most ambitious category was To Read. I found out quickly enough that I can either write books or I can read books. Of the 88 books on my list, I only got through eight of them. But, the good news is that I’m on a roll now and have dedicated at least a few minutes every day to reading. I’ve got the next six books on a pile waiting their turn to be read. This is a long-term goal, but I’m confident I’ll get through them in the next year or so and then can work on my Kindle list (which may actually be longer).
To Finish (62 items) consisted mostly of food items that we wanted to use up (the rest being beauty aids like facial masks and the like). John and I made up our minds that we would use up every item in our pantry, refrigerator and freezer during the quarantine (supplementing with fresh items such as lettuce, almond milk, eggs, cheese and bread). Tapping into my inner Betty Crocker, I got back to my cooking roots (which I had abandoned sometime around when our youngest child graduated from high school) and came up with some pretty creative dishes (with help from AllRecipes.com). We did an amazing job of clearing out our food stores so now we can start fresh.
The To Watch (37 productions) category was enjoyable, since it consisted of binge watching several series, including Scorpion, Smash, China Beach, Turn: Washington’s Spies (my current obsession, particularly Ben Tallmadge portrayed by Seth Numrich — I seriously want him to act in a limited-run series based on my Heaven Intended series. If you know him, have his people call my people :o), numerous movies, family videos, and Mentored By a Millionaire — a financial prosperity course. It was like having a mini-date with John (an essential worker) every night after he got home from work. I have to say that the series we watched were outstanding, I hardily recommend catching them if you haven’t yet.
What fun it was working our way through the To Give Away (22 categories) list. Over the last few months, we’ve gone through every nook and cranny in our house and ruthlessly purged, everything from clothing to household goods to a cupboard filled with Tupperware. I posted items on Facebook as they were ready to go and the people with first dibs were picking them up from my front porch almost on a daily basis for several weeks. While we could have sold the majority of the items on Craig’s List or Facebook Marketplace, we wanted to share our blessings with friends and family and give them away. It was a gratifying experience to say the least.
The hardest category to tackle was the To Do (79 items) list, which we’re still working on. Some of the projects were as short as a quick call or an e-mail, but some other projects, such as rewriting my newest book that’s coming out this fall or catching up on my photo scrapbooks, took a good month or so to complete. Having finished so many projects, a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I honestly didn’t know when I would have made the time to do these things if my scheduled hadn’t completely cleared up overnight.
That being said, I’m ready to get back to life again. I’ve got a clear vision of how I want my career to go and how I’ll be spending my days so that I can be as productive as possible. This whole experience has given me an appreciation for everything I have in my life and gives me a different perspective on my various obligations. I’m now doing what I want, when I want and with whom I want. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Several years ago, a red patch of skin appeared on my upper left arm. At the time, I thought it was a scar that I got from scraping my arm somehow or other.
Being of Irish heritage and with the realization that both of my parents have had bouts of skin cancer through the years, the thought that it could be cancer occurred to me. I’d look up pictures of skin cancer on the internet, and they all looked much more ominous than the spot on my arm. Nothing matched what I had.
I monitored it visually and it didn’t seem to be changing. Last year, John and I were on a business trip in San Diego and parked next to the beach was a mobile dermatology bus. They were doing free skin cancer checks.
Since it was convenient, I popped in and had a quick exam by the dermatologist on staff. While he wasn’t going to make a diagnosis on the spot, he did say I should make an appointment to see a doctor when I got back into town.
A couple weeks later I was at the dermatologist’s office, and the doctor felt the spot needed to be looked at closer, so he did a biopsy. A few days later I got the call from their office that indeed it was skin cancer — malignant melanoma. I took the diagnosis in stride. I think the nurse was surprised at how matter-of-fact I was about the whole thing. As a person with fair skin, I’ve never been a sun worshiper. But I’ve had my share of burns in my life, so, between that and the family history, I wasn’t surprised.
Besides that, God was in control. I’ve always believed that He wouldn’t give me any more than I could handle, so I approached the whole ordeal with a positive attitude. What didn’t kill me would make me stronger.
I scheduled the surgery for my birthday, July 23. It was an in-patient procedure, so John got to be at my side. He loves learning, so he was asking more questions than I was. He took plenty of pictures and even a short video of the surgery.
Everything went smoothly. My follow-up visits have all been clear. If I didn’t have the Frankenstein scar, I’d hardly remember the whole event. But, trust me, it won’t be forgotten. Since the procedure, I’ve taken care to avoid getting burned, whether it’s staying out of the sun during the peak burning hours, hiding out in shady spots, or trading in my swim suit top for a long-sleeved swim shirt. It’s not worth taking the chance again.
My public service announcement: When in doubt, check it out! I could have had this spot looked at years earlier before it got to the point it did, but I didn’t want to believe that it was actually as bad as it was. Don’t make the same mistake I did. I want all my friends and acquaintances to stay safe!
As a stay-at-home mom for most of the years our children were growing up, I spent a good deal of time volunteering for their school system. When our last child graduated from high school in 2010, knowing that it was time to step aside, I was a bit out of sorts trying to figure out how I’d fill those volunteer hours.
As I considered my next volunteer gig, I chatted with my husband about various opportunities that I could pursue. While it’s great to help out the community as a whole, he said that I should consider making volunteering more personal and see if there was someone in our lives who could use my help.
My father-in-law, who had been widowed 11 years earlier, immediately came to mind. He lived in the house he had built with my mother-in-law a half century earlier where they raised their 12 children. Being a child of the Depression, Dad had a hard time letting go of things. The house hadn’t really been thoroughly gone through and decluttered in who knew how long. Consequently, there was more stuff packed into that two-story, five-plus bedroom home, than I could have imagined.
So, I made the offer to help Dad clear his house out. Being a bit of a hoarder, I wouldn’t say he jumped at the chance but was open to the concept. Enlisting the help of my mom, I made the commitment to go to Dad’s house every Tuesday morning from 8:00 until noon, for what I thought would be a couple of months, to work on the project.
And work, we did. The more we dug, the more we found. Sometimes it was easy, just going through stacks of paper but other times it was tough, both physically and psychologically. There was plenty of heavy lifting (thank goodness Dad was like the Energizer Bunny) but, from a psychological standpoint, it was difficult for Dad to let go of things. Part of this was the emotional attachment he had to various things but the bigger issue was the fact that every single thing in that house, in Dad’s mind, had value. While that may have been true, the value he placed on items didn’t always match up to what the marketplace would pay for them.
This project ended up taking a year to complete. We got to the point where we had gone through every square inch of the house and had given to the kids and grandkids, sold, recycled or thrown out just about anything that Dad had no use for anymore. The garage, which hadn’t had a car parked in it for 40 years, was another project that my husband, some of his work buddies and his siblings tackled a few years later.
While it was amazing to see the transformation of the house as we waded through piles of paper, clothing, housewares, toys, knickknacks, etc., the biggest transformation was actually in my relationship not only with Dad but with my own mom as well.
Most mornings when Mom and I got to Dad’s house, he’d be cooking up a kettle of his famous chocolate Cream of Wheat, which was a combo of plain Cream of Wheat, Nestle’s Quik, butter and milk. I don’t usually eat in the morning, but this was too yummy to pass up and eating with my mom and father-in-law was a nice way to start the day before the work commenced.
There’s nothing like spending hours next to a person, sorting through things, and conversing. While we had our share of light conversations, the deep ones crept in as well. I found out more about my father-in-law and my mom for that matter, than I ever could have imagined.
Dad shared how his mom had to sew his clothes when he was growing up on a farm in northeastern Wisconsin. She didn’t have a way to sew zippers into his pants and so he had buttoned-up flies. Being on the shorter and stockier side, he saw his share of bullying. One of the favorite misdeeds from the bullies was grabbing onto the fly of his pants and yanking so hard that all the buttons flew off.
He admitted that the bullying got so bad that he begged his mom to send him to another high school, and, surprisingly, since this was in the early ‘40s, his mom and step-dad actually allowed him to transfer schools.
Somehow, in his growing up years, Dad was led to believe that he wasn’t smart. I made it a point to tell him on a regular basis that he was one of the smartest men I’d ever met. He had such an ingenious mind; he could build or rig just about anything to solve any problem around his house or garage. On top of that, he had wonderful musical abilities as well.
According to Dad, someone in his life had, on more than one occasion, told him that he’d never amount to anything. For the rest of his life, Dad did everything in his power to prove that person wrong.
He did just that. On December 29, 2019, 21 years to the day after my mother-in-law died, Dad unexpectedly passed away as he was getting ready for Sunday morning Mass. In his 91 years, my father-in-law proved to be one of the most creative, industrious, energetic, passionate, faith-filled, and loving people I’ve ever met.
Catholic Schools Week was celebrated earlier this year. Thirty-five years ago, my husband and I started our family. From the moment we laid eyes on our little baby girl, we made a decision — we would do whatever it took for me to be a stay-at-home parent. Four years and two babies later (and another baby two years after that), another crucial decision was made — we’d send our children to Catholic schools, regardless of the cost.
From a completely objective view, my husband and I were probably the last people who should have been sending our children to private schools. After a downturn in the machining industry, John had taken a job with a start-up company and was barely making more than minimum wage when we started our family. It was hard enough making ends meet without adding in the cost of schooling for four children.
To be honest, John probably would have been fine sending our kids to a public school. He had attended public schools since he was in second grade and had turned out just fine. I had a few more years under my belt, having attended a Catholic school from first through eighth grade, but that experience was so impactful that I wanted our children to have that same experience as well.
I’m not sure how many couples would live the austere lifestyle that John and I did so I could continue to be a stay at home mom and we could send our kids to Catholic schools. It wasn’t always easy, but those were joyful days. I’d go back and live them all over again in an instant if I could.
My career was put on hold for 15 years until our youngest child started second grade. While John always worked full time days, I did various jobs around his work schedule so we didn’t have to hire babysitters — everything from being a Tupperware sales rep to selling plasma.
As far as money goes, we had a budget and we stuck to it. We were married eight years before we even had our first credit card and once we did get one, we paid it off every month religiously. Working with a Christian financial planner, we felt comfortable splitting our 10 per cent tithe between our church and the tuition bill.
We were thrifty, that’s for sure. We took one vacation each summer, staying with my brother and his family in Minneapolis and spending a day at the Mall of America. I invested in a hair clipper set so I could cut our son’s hair, the girls wore their hair long so very few haircuts for them. We had take-out food once a week, either from J.D.’s Drive-In where you could get six double cheeseburgers and a box of fries for under $10 or from Little Caesar’s where a large one-topping pizza was only $5. Most of the kids’ clothes were hand-me-downs purchased from friends who had older children, from the uniform sale at school, the occasional rummage sale or the neighborhood thrift store.
There were many a day that the featured meal for breakfast was oatmeal cooked on the stove and mac and cheese for lunch. That was back in the day when I was cooking three meals a day, all from scratch and usually with a homemade dessert as well.
It might be hard for couples now to imagine life with no cable TV, using cloth diapers, hanging clothes out on the line to conserve electricity, no date nights for mom and dad, and taking your kids to only one movie a year, usually the newest Christmas movie where we split one large popcorn and one large soda between the six of us. Once every two or three years, John and I got a weekend getaway which I earned by raising money for the Bowl for Life.
We taught our kids to live within their means as well. Each child got a stipend on payday twice a month (started at $15 and eventually went up to $20) and with that money they paid for their school supplies, clothing, entertainment with their friends, and gifts.
Thankfully, we qualified for tuition assistance, even if it meant mounds of paperwork to fill out to get it. One year we were even blessed by an anonymous person or couple in our parish who paid a year of tuition for our oldest daughter who was in middle school at the time.
For us, all the sacrifice has paid off. We have four wonderful young adult children, all in solid relationships and our married children each have three children of their own now. Our children are highly educated (Catholic undergrad and grad school — The Univeristy of Notre Dame, University of St. Thomas, St. Louis University, Marquette University), are working in their chosen fields, and, most importantly to us, they are still members of the Church. Can we say for sure that those decisions we made all those years ago brought about those positive outcomes? It’s hard to say, but I’d certainly like to think so. Our children have told us they appreciate the Catholic education they received. This beautiful cycle continues — all of our school-aged grandchildren are enrolled in Catholic schools now as well. The blessings keep coming and coming!
There seems to be a standard set of questions we get asked at various stages in our lives. When you’re a kid, the question is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In high school, it’s “Where are you going to go to college?” Once your schooling is done, the career questions start to pop up. After you’ve settled into a career the next big question is, “Are you dating anyone?” which in time turns to, “When are you going to get engaged?”
“When’s the big day?” is next on the agenda. Then after the wedding comes, “Are you starting a family soon?” Once the first baby arrives, then people ask if you’re having more or, if you have a couple children, “Are you done yet?”
After those momentous life occasions, you get a break until you turn 55 and then, like clockwork, the inevitable question comes, “When do you think you’ll retire?” Since I’ve already passed that milestone age, that question has been broached to me a number of times.
Some people seem to get offended by the retirement question, either thinking it implies that they’re getting old, or, like numerous people I know, they’ve just started a new career track and retirement is a long way off in their mind.
But, in reality, I don’t think there’s really anything at which to take offense. That question is typical small talk for Baby Boomers and those people in their lives. It’s as innocuous as asking, “What do you think of the weather we’re having lately?”
I personally can’t see myself ever completely retiring, since I have what I consider a dream career that’s a mix of writing books, articles and screenplays, proofreading, copy editing, photography, modeling, acting, and helping people obtain true health. I work from the comfort of my home office and I get to pick and choose which projects I want to work on.
Besides that, I was a late bloomer. I worked in the proofreading field after I got out of school, doing that the first four years of our marriage but, after we started our family, I took a 15-year hiatus to raise our four children. When our youngest child started second grade, I took a part-time job proofreading a series of local newspapers. Our office closed its doors shortly after 9/11 because of the instability of the economy. From there, I set out on my own as a freelance journalist and gradually expanded my business. Technically, I’ve only been at this career for 20 years — I’m relatively fresh.
That being said, I’m starting to notice that people all around me are choosing to retire, including friends, neighbors, and extended family members, so the subject has been on my mind lately. In 2019 my two older brothers (Irish twins) turned 60, and my oldest brother (the amazing comic book artist Gordon Purcell) told me that he’s now basically semi-retired and he’s OK with that.
Perhaps I’d give retirement more thought if my husband was retiring, but he’s enjoying what he’s doing so there are no imminent plans for him to hang it up. Maybe when he hits the 40-year mark in 2023, he’ll consider it, but he’s happy where he’s at for now.
As for me, I’ve got a full plate between promoting my Heaven Intended Civil War trilogy and my next series of books which is scheduled to be published later this year. I keep telling people, “You have to make hay while the sun’s shining — the sun’s shining bright on my career now so I’ll keep plugging away.” There are days when it’s a grind, but I have an overwhelming sense of feeling lucky and blessed that I have these opportunities. Besides, if you really love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work anyhow. It’s just one adventure after another.
Life at this moment is a bit of a juggling act as I’m not only putting in a good deal of hours with my career, but my parents are getting older, we’ve got children and grandchildren we want to spend time with, and we enjoy traveling and staying active.
As busy as the days are, I’m choosing to love every minute of every day, and I plan to make 2020 the best year yet. Hope you can say the same thing too. Here’s to a healthy, prosperous and beautiful new year for all of us!