April Showers

On the beach, gray day, puggle dog close up, people crouched at water's edge in the distance.

I have said my farewells to my eldest daughter and her lovely husband, as well as our German exchange student daughter (from 2011) and their friend from New York, all gone from here yesterday and flying out of SFO today and tomorrow. The house is quiet and empty. It is good to feel I can get to work again, and start to plant my tomatoes and lavender, and hear my own thoughts. I did a yoga routine this morning, first time since my surgery in January. I’m throwing sheets into the wash, filling the dishwasher full with the last of our last supper dishes, making a shopping list, thinking about what to do next. My mind has been so full of the immediate, the moments we were in, and I haven’t looked forward a bit. Time to restretch that muscle and see what I have on my new to-do list.

We took the month of April to brave the rain and the miles of travel and gathered to say farewell, at last, to our late son Austin. M & L came from Australia, F came from Germany, J came from Maryland, C came from New York, E&E came by train from Shasta. We met at the seaside–or rather, bayside, in Alameda, to sprinkle ashes and write Austin’s name in the sand, before the waves washed him away. The following photos are some of how we said farewell.

On the shore of San Francisco Bay
Two people in jackets and jeans, seen from behind, crouch at the edge of the bay.
Scattering ashes in San Francisco Bay
Orange fingers from eating Flamin' Hot Cheetos
Eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in Austin’s memory
Two white-skinned arms displaying new tattoos, one of a heart and one of an ampersand.
Memorial tattoos: Forever Five and Ampersand/Heart.
WHite-skinned baby sits on grass amid red tulips.
A visit with Austin’s namesake.
Blurred view down a long, full table in a restaurant.
Drinks and dinners with family and friends.
Running shoes, scattered petals on the sidewalk.
Many long walks.
Blurry photo of people waving lit sparklers at night.
A final farewell with lit sparklers.

And that says it all.

Work-in-Progress blog hop!

I know I wrote onIMG_5066 this topic about six months ago, but I’m working on new things, so I said yes to the invitation to share my WIP. I was invited by Laurie Baxter (click here to visit her blog post). Thanks, Laurie!

What is your working title of your book (or story)?
Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News: #2 in the Hot Off the Press Series

Where did the idea come from for these books?
I wanted Veronika to have some more adventures, of course, but my friend Woody Minor told me a true story about a local Victorian house that possibly had Gold Rush coins hidden in the walls. I took that idea and ran with it.

What genre do your books fall under?
Veronika is a mystery. My Hot Off the Press series is suspenseful and romantic, but closer to NA mystery than anything else. You could also call them chick-lit but NA (New Adult) is the preferred term these days.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Veronika Layne chases a story about a Hollywood real estate house flipper, mysterious gold coins, and why someone is buying up old houses on San Pedro Island.

Will your book(s) be self-published or represented by an agency?
Booktrope, a hybrid publisher, is representing my Veronika Layne series, as well as Tongues of Angels.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote this quickly, as a NaNoWriMo project — thirty days! But revisions took quite a bit longer. I revised for several months after that. it’s a short book, just 50,000 words, so it goes fast, both reading and writing.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I think you can compare Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News with anything that Dick Francis wrote — it has the same steeped-in-her-occupation as Francis’s jockeys or other MCs. You could also compare Veronika with Bridget Jones, for getting into sticky situations and feeling like a flop.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My friend Woody gave me the idea, but I have been nurturing Veronika Layne inside of me for some time. She has the characteristics of my daughters — smart, feminist, fun — with the shrewd journalist I longed to be. She has some of my insecurities but she hasn’t yet attained wisdom. I’m enjoying watching her grow as a woman and as a reporter.

I also included a character named Flo who was a real-life sweet friend and neighbor of ours who painted beautiful florals and still lifes. I have several of her paintings. The story about Flo is mostly true. Here’s some of the real Flo’s work:

IMG_5064 IMG_5065

I still miss Flo today, and was happy I could include her in this sub-plot about a talented artist who acts as Veronika’s surrogate grandmother. These paintings are in my office and I see and love them every day.


579300_10152390569614698_1755223128_n(This column first ran in July 2007, right before I became a Mrs. again.)

I drove up to the home county of Sonoma a few weeks ago to pick up one of our girls from a visit to her grandparents. I had some time to spare (shocking but true) and wanted some quality time with my parents, so I hung around for a while.

I picked some plums with my mom and she gave me some geranium and penstemon cuttings for the garden. I gave my parents their wedding invitation and I got to see the latest quilts that she was planning to show at the county fair. We talked and looked at pictures and made plans for later in the summer. After a while, and a glass of iced tea, it was time to go.

As we stood outside near the car, my mom looked at me and laughed a little laugh. “You’re me, you know,” she said.

Now I know plenty of other people who would bristle at such a statement if it were made to them, and plenty of times that I myself would have driven screaming away and never returned, but this time, finally, it is true. My mom raised five kids, and here I am, embarking on the next phase of my life, taking in two more to bring my total of children to five as well.

When I stood there with my bowlful of sweet Santa Rosa plums and my geranium cuttings and my packet of scraps for the next quilt I’m going to work on soon — har de har freaking har — there was a moment, I’m not going to lie, when I did want to scream. Just a little bit.

Because, you know, everyone wants to be themselves, not their mom, or dad, or elder siblings. No one wants to be the apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree, and no one wants to be “junior” anything. We all want to be special and a bit more advanced or evolved — to do better in our generation than our parents did, if that’s even possible anymore.

But how does one do it better? I simply can’t beat the 53-plus years of marriage that my parents have shared, with five healthy kids who all graduated college and made something of themselves. I may never get the 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren (including all the step-grandkids). Maybe our kids won’t even have babies.

My parents worked hard, played by the rules, did the right thing even when it wasn’t their personal choice or even what they could bear. They just did it anyway, for the sake of the kids or the family or the whole shebang, and here we are today: an agricultural water plant manager, an attorney and CEO, a financial analyst, a commercial construction manager and a writer, and our kids are coming up behind us, traveling the world and taking it by storm.

I learned a lot from my mother about how to feed a large family, and it wasn’t just “add more water to the soup.” She was a champion at filling our bellies in even the hardest of times. There were always bread and butter and vegetables and a main course on the table, and we learned our manners and how to say grace before meals, and took turns setting and clearing. We did our homework and got ourselves to school by foot or by bike or by bus, and none of us coasted; we all got jobs and did farm chores and learned to do the right thing, too, mostly.

Alack and alas, though, a daydreamer like me comes along and lives an uncharted life: Unexpected pregnancy in college! Scrimping along as a single mom! Married to a Catholic priest! Divorced! Writing a book about it! Single parenting again! Eek! May I just offer kudos to my parents for keeping the faith? I’m a peach now, but I was a prickly pear for a very long time.

Ah, well. What can I say? My mom says, “You’re me now.” Am I?

We spent the last weekend painting the kitchen what I call “olive,” but let’s be real here – it’s that classic ’70s paint color, avocado. Then I finished up the valance I was sewing, made from a novelty print featuring a cheerful vegetable motif, hung it up and we made ourselves some vodka tonics. The kids were scattered around the countryside but they’d all be back at the dinner table in a few days. We toasted our weekend’s work and got ready for the next week.

Dinner for seven? I am indeed my mother.

Guest Post: Kay Ellington, Author of Paragraph Ranch

Happy Groundhog’s Day!

Groundhog’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. I know, it’s not really what you consider a holiday. You don’t even get the day off from work or school. As a gardener, I find winters to be challenging, living on the plains of West Texas. The short days. The lack of warmth and sunshine. The demise of the perennials. Perusing seed catalogs only goes But Groundhog’s Day—whether the little furry fellow (are they always male?) sees his shadow or not– kicks off the beginning of the end of the dormant season for people and plants. After November and December rife with holidays and festivities, in January, we sit and wait—inside.

With Groundhog’s Day comes Valentine’s Day, the Day the Time Changes (my personal favorite), St. Patrick’s Day, and then we’re off and running again in the spring and the sunshine. As an author, Groundhog’s Day provides the perfect metaphor for assessing the work. In January I sit and wait and plan and write. By February 2, I are able to assess what I have done. When I come out of hibernation and observe the work I have written, sometimes I am comfortable with the craftsmanship and sometimes I see the glare of a lack of clarity and run inside the warren to revise.

I hope this Groundhog’s Day –and all of the ones going forward—provide you with a day to assess the new year, and to see if you’re happy with the direction you’ve taken, or if you decide to change course, it’s still so early in the year that your changes have plenty of time to take effect and be meaningful.

Cotton fields, pumpjacks, and Friday Night Lights defined the world KAY ELLINGTON grew up in West Texas. A gypsy of newspapering for three decades, her career took her from New York to California to the Carolinas–and finally, back home again to Texas to stay–and write. 

Hope and A Full-length Mirror | Guest Post by Tess Thompson

I have a guest blogger today, the lovely and talented author Tess Thompson, whose voice is remarkably like mine — honest, quirky, funny, and smart. I like her a lot. I hope you will, too. — jpt


“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all -“  — Emily Dickinson

Tuesday afternoon I dress for a coffee date with a man. It’s a first date, if you can call it that, as I’ve never met him in person, only exchanged emails. His email was sweet and well-written – I won’t go into the details but he went to a lot of trouble to get my attention. We appear to have a lot in common. His pictures show a handsome, age-appropriate man. Also, it was obvious he actually read my profile as opposed to just looking at my photographs and sending a note like, “hey baby, your sexy” (yes, your, not you’re) like the 77 others I’d received since putting my profile up the week before.

Because of all this, I sacrifice writing time and agree to meet him for coffee. All I can think is, please don’t be a liar.

I do not have a full-length mirror so I stand on a footstool in my bathroom, perched precariously on the top step, surveying my outfit. On the bed behind me are the discards: a dress that gapped at the chest, jeans I decided made my butt look big, a blouse that felt scratchy. I’ve ended up with a short black skirt with tights and boots, and a soft sweater I found on the clearance rack last winter. A $14 sweater no one else wanted and boots from three seasons ago. Kind of like me, I think.

As I turn on the footstool, I almost fall. God, I hate this, I think. It’s a perpetual audition or job interview, this dating experience in my forties. I never thought I’d be here again, having paid my dues all through my twenties with liars and cheats and Peter Pans who refused to grow up. Then, at thirty-one, came my happy ending. Or, so I thought. But my dreams were false. The marriage didn’t work and our subsequent divorce robbed me of several layers of skin, leaving me with flesh and bone exposed to the elements. I’m vulnerable and frightened and tender-hearted.

And I’m forty-five, going on another first date.

I started dating about eight months after the split from my ex-husband. Encouraged by family and friends, I try online dating. This is how it’s done now, they all assured me. Since then, in my ever-hopeful and trusting way I’ve dated liars and cheats and players and crazies. I’ve genuinely cared for several men that I actually thought genuinely cared for me. Unfortunately, they were damaged in ways not at first evident. But, as the truth always does, their dysfunction and lies surfaced eventually. As my friend Jesse said each time. “You dodged a bullet with that one.”

Despite the dodged bullets, each experience changed me. I hate that this is true, but the trusting and warm woman I once was is now chipped and cracked like the china I inherited from my grandmother. It’s the lies, mostly, that did it. This high tech world we live in makes it easy to lie, easy to charm, easy to run double lives, or triple lives. So now I’m left skittish and untrusting, looking for untruths and dysfunction – trying to discern the cruelty that will come if I let my guard down before I let my guard down. Nice girls like me? Not made for this world filled with players and cheaters. It turns us into bitter, suspicious cat ladies. I hate it. I really do.

I’ve given up many, many times. No more dating, I tell my friends. I’m happy with my work and my kids and my family and friends. Life is good.

I’ve been on hiatus, concentrating on my work, friends, and my beautiful children. These last months I’ve reflected upon my choices and examined how my own behavior played a part. I see clearly when and how I overlooked red flags, made excuses for behavior and believed their stories when I shouldn’t have. But there’s also this – the men I’ve dated behaved badly. That’s just the truth.

I’ve vowed to myself and friends and my mother that I will never again compromise or lower my standards. In these past months, I’ve become really comfortable with the idea of being alone for the rest of my life. I know you all know this, but it’s better to be alone than with a man with so much baggage he can’t possibly lift a hammer to hang a full-length mirror in your bedroom.

But then, I look around me. I see happy marriages. I see true partnerships of couples who are both lovers and best friends. I see marriage proposals and anniversaries. I attend weddings of soul mates. And I think, why can’t I have that, too? I’m an interesting, successful and loving woman. I have so much to give to the right person. Why not me?

So hope begins again. I muster the courage to admit to myself the truth. I want love in my life. I want a man to grow old with. I want a sweetheart who will hang a full-length mirror in my bedroom so I don’t have to stand on a footstool. So I try. I go back online. I put myself out there for possible judgement, rejection, hurt. Ultimately, my desire for love outweighs my fear.

So now on a rainy day in late October, I stand on a footstool in my bathroom looking at my reflection and cringe. I’ve had two children, my face is thin and etched with fine lines. I don’t have long, flowing hair or long legs. My breasts are real. And yeah, I’ve nursed two babies. I’m flawed inside and out. This is as good as I can look, as good as I can be. Probably it will not be good enough. But I have to try.

I get in my car to drive to Starbucks and think, maybe, just perhaps, this man will be kind, generous, sensitive and honest. Maybe something about me will move him, shift his heart a little to make room for love, despite what has come before. Perhaps something about him will move me, will shift my heart to forget the pain of the last five years and fill in those cracks made from mendacity. Maybe our collective baggage will fit together. Maybe he’ll be able to love and accept an absentminded, overly sensitive writer who loves movies that make her cry, soft jeans, red wine, and spooning on the couch while binge-watching BBC shows on Netflix. Maybe he’ll see that my vulnerability, my soft heart, my bravery are a gift, not a fault. Maybe…just maybe.

I open the door to Starbucks one more time. The smell of coffee and hope greet me.

Hope, perched in my soul.

Tess Thompson is a mother and writer. She’s also a Zumba dancing queen, though the wearing of the crown is reserved for invitation-only appearances. Her creative life began as an actress, director and playwright but she found her true calling in narrative fiction, specifically women’s fiction. See more at www.tesswrites.com. She’s also on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon.