Sunday, June 26, 2016

FALL IN LOVE WITH AS MANY THINGS AS POSSIBLE

I admit to being somewhat of a tee shirt junkie. But it's also my uniform. I should hang them in my closet on hangers, instead of folding them, and get rid of some of the St. John suits and jackets I'll probably never wear again. Letting go is hard for me. St. John has been replaced with tee shirts.

This one spoke to me, and if I'm not careful, I'll be buying everything in their online catalog. You know me already: 100 Koi, 60 Chickens. I'm a collector of things, not only stories.

So last night was so wonderful, attending my 50th high school reunion. Palo Alto was not the town it is today. It has grown, and in the maturing process, I'm glad to see some are still holding warmly like an old teddy, the roots that made it so magical. We were a collection of kids from differing backgrounds, able to come together and share our commonness, politely and with respect. Can you believe I never heard a word of politics? And we had a Congresswoman there! How refreshing!

They even warmly welcomed this smut author! What a treat for me. I actually had been a little apprehensive of it. Now I wonder why.

Funny how life's importance changes through the years. Not about what we do, but what we've experienced. What we've loved. We loved living here. We love being from here. I could live here again, but then, I say that every place I visit, don't I?

Do I regret there is no longer a way to have a little bungalow somewhere near downtown Palo Alto so I could dip into that familiar pool, have stimulating conversations and perhaps re-experience what a magical place it was growing up?

I regret my children didn't have this experience like I did. Maybe it was the year, the times, and a whole host of magical things converging to make it so. Maybe it was us. Maybe it was fate that so many leaders and great people came from this group. So many of us have changed people's lives, and still live to tell stories about the process and enjoy the prospects for a bright future.

I go home filled up. My tank being nourished from the completion of my last audio book, Band of Bachelors: Alex, and spending time with my best friend, J.D. Hart. Maybe it's from spending time with people who understand who I was then, and who I am now. (Not everything, but enough so that I feel appreciated). How special to reminisce about wearing 3 pairs of stockings we got for .33 each in those little blue boxes, so many that our garter belts sometimes flipped open when we walked down the hallways.

And like a true romance novelist, I want to know who they loved, what moved them, and what they are looking forward to. Not what is gone.

Life happens when we are making other plans. John Lennon is credited with this quote, and I think it's the wisest thing he's said.

If I could, would I move back? Or, would I take up another adventure, perhaps living on a beach in English Bay on Antigua where I'd have to take a motor ferry to get to my cottage? I think I'd choose the latter.


There is still so much for me to explore, but at the same time, it's so nice to feel like I've come home.

Yesterday was like that for me. What about you?






Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Art of Being a Father



Being a father isn't automatic. I think the biggest test of fatherhood is being one when times are stressed, tough, when your kids are perhaps not as grateful as they should be, when you've made mistakes you are ashamed of, when life seems to post more challenges than the day is long.

Often we overlook the difficult times when we talk about fatherhood. Taking resonsibility for a child created out of wedlock (a favorite of mine in romance tropes), being there to love a child who someone else brought into the world are two of my biggies.

Because a true test of a man isn't what's in his pants, but what's in his heart. The gentle part of a man is what we herald today. Yes, we need and love the protection his loving arms brings, so that we feel safe, so that we find the courage to go on when times are tough. And I feel sorry for those men who cannot find it in themselves to really love and cherish a woman, or a child.

One of my favorite stories of fatherhood was when I was about 3. My father told it to me when I was an adult, and I didn't know this story until he told me, with love. We were standing in my grandmother's big kitchen, at the parsonage in Napa. She had a large gas stove that had grease drawers, about 1/2" deep, one on the right and one on the left.

I came up to dad. "Daddy, do you want a cracker?"
He answered, "Well, sure."
I went to the grease drawer and pulled out one for him and one for me and handed it to him.

I had found this place, my secret hiding space where none of the adults would look to find the crackers I'd been given as a reward, and saved for a rainy day, or a day when I could give something back to my dad.

I love that image. I loved loving my dad, who, sadly, is now gone. But his heart and the love he gave me lives on forever. Thank you, Dad. I am richer and blessed because of you.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Intensity, Borderline Personality Disorders and Character Creation

The writer in me experiences many, many personality disorders in designing and growing characters I use in my books. I don't always have more than a kernel of that disorder, but sometimes, these can hit me square in the middle of my chest and I feel like a bug stuck on a pin in a collection, retired in a drawer at a museum. I can't escape the pain of knowing there's a big part of me in that character's flawed side, not their good side.

My new release involves the relationship between two high-intensity individuals. What might be a turnoff for one person in a relationship, becomes something totally attractive to another. In the beginning, neither one knows if they can trust their own judgment. They both have histories of making bad choices. In the end, they actually do know each other better than they thought, they rely on instincts that serve them well. There is always the Happily Ever After, of course, or it wouldn't be a romance.

"Here, rising from the stupor of a love-lust indulgence, his heart still racing with the intensity of their lovemaking, becoming as close as he possibly could be to her, this magical angel who had stumbled into his life, he had no defense. Nor did he seek cover. He was as engaged as he could be without wearing her skin. But even that he would do if it would bring him more of the pleasure of her being."

I try not to show it, but I have a high intensity life and lifestyle. There are times when this serves me, and others when it can be destructive. I show up for both. I pay attention to both.

I can remember sitting at dinner during my college years, and someone was asking me why I analyzed people so much. "Why not just accept them for who they are?" I looked in horror at that person. It was like I was being asked why I breathed.

I suspect everyone does their own private analytical version, but perhaps some on a more subconscious level than others. I use them to create the thread of the personalities in the stories I write, so it is front and center for me. And yes, I make up stories all the time about people, which doesn't cause me a problem, unless it is someone I'm very close to and I'm wrong.

So, walking that tightrope of personality disorder, addiction to adrenaline and intensity, bleeds over into my personal life as well. I think writers, actors and other artists tend to have this happen to them frequently. I don't call it an occupational hazard. It's that we live in several different worlds, not just one. One world would not work for me. It would be boring. And none of them are less "real," whatever that means.

Do I have to become like the character inside to write him or her? Does an actor need to become that person when they act? Or, is it possible to know the difference between where I stop and the character begins? And does it matter?


I guess that's what keeps me writing. I get to live in this character, in their world for a bit. I dress it up, dash it, reorganize it and then present it with a neat little bow, all put together the way the pieces should in a 1000 piece puzzle. I get to answer the question, "What if..." like I did the first time I wrote a story.

And I learn to have patience with myself and the process. I take off my robes of many colors and decompress, until the next fantasy. Now, isn't that all real, after all?

https://youtu.be/HjCSGhcywRc



Sunday, May 29, 2016

CAN I HAVE SOME ASPARAGUS WITH THOSE SWEET PEAS?

I've been enjoying all the wonderful blooms from the garden lately, and the beginning vegetables. Picked these lovely sweet peas (love them because they only last a day or two, and they only bloom for a short while but are so lovely!). This year, I'm trying to find my asparagus.

We'd let the garden from years past get overrun. (Truth? I planted 5 horseradish plants and it took over). Successive helpers continued rototilling it until I had bits of horseradish, probably 200 plants coming up all over.

It took a man 2 days to dig them all up last year. I have still a few that pop up, but they are manageable.


So now I'm discovering my asparagus! I had some beautiful purple giant ones coming up before, and I've seen 2-3 so far this year. My famous saying is: My Garden Isn't Dead. It's Sleeping.

So, when I was picking sweet peas this morning, I got the little asparagus tip too. It will make it to my dinner plate tonight...

Hope you are enjoying your Memorial Day. Remembering all the things we get to have and experience because others stepped up and made the sacrifice. Can't say thank you enough. Our

flag is sometimes tattered, like our gardens that are barren and overrun with weeds, but if we continue to remember those sacrifices and never lose the passion in our lives, the bloom of new life will always return.

Always.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

REUNION - Stepping Back To The Future

Sitting with Mr. Turner and Bonnie McClung Chappa, 2006
I am coming up on a big reunion this summer. We were the first graduating class of Gunn High School in Palo Alto. I was one of the twelve students selected to be on a committee to set up our school. We chose our mascot, set up the Student Government, made all sorts of decisions and selected some we wanted the student body to vote on when we started in the fall.

Prior to attending Gunn, our class was split in two. Some went to Palo Alto High, and some went to Cubberly. We started our new adventure as Juniors, with a Sophomore class beneath us. By the time we graduated, Gunn had all three years in place.

There were lots of firsts that occurred, and now looking back some 50 years, I can hardly believe the time has gone so fast. It's been fun chatting online with friends I knew way back then, reconnected with at various reunions over the years as our careers took off and our families grew. Some of us went on to do great things in politics and business and other fields.


Sadly, there are nearly twenty of us who have moved on to their next life, or so I believe. I've written about two of my classmates before. Naomi Solomon, who was our Valedictorian and who was giving a speech to a group of women during a breakfast fundraiser to help women re-enter the work force the day of 9-11. I watch her name come up on my TV screen nearly every year. In 2015, there was a rainbow shown over the city as her name was broadcasted and read.

Another one of our students worked for the U.N. in Algeria, "I take a little piece of California with me back to Algeria - this was one of the greatest years of my life," he told me at our reunion ten years ago. Brought his whole family over so we could meet them. Chad was killed in the terrorist bombing in Algiers in 2007, a year later.



I had a favorite teacher, John Turner, who inspired in me my love of writing. At the time of the last reunion in 2006, I was selling real estate full time. It wouldn't be for another two years before I'd catch that bug.

Imagine the day I saw Mr. Turner walk down Sonoma Avenue on his way to shop in Montgomery Village. Of all places for him to land, Santa Rosa was not a place I would expect him. We'd talk occasionally and when our reunion was being planned in 2006 I asked him if I could drive him down to Palo Alto for the party so he could meet some of his students again. He was delighted. I picked him up as promised, in front of his apartment.

"You're five minutes late," was what he greeted me with.

We attended the mixer that night and the picnic and luncheon the next day. He'd brought a list of the students and wrote notes while he talked to us all. It was a pure joy to spend that time with him. Sadly, this year, he just missed this year's events.

Part of my life's story is the people I've gotten to know. We are the sum total of the parts of everyone's story. For those of us who remain behind, our job is to remember and honor those who came before, until our book of life is finished. And then to pass the torch on to the next generation. We all do it in our own way and in our own time. But we all are blessed by the experience.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

GARDENING THE HEART: Sundays With Sharon

Growing a novel is like working the garden. Fertile soil yields all the nutrients needed to feed a good story, with room for twists and subplots. No matter how fast I wish it to go, each story takes as long as it takes to develop, for the roots to grow and take hold. Very much like putting young plants out when they are leggy from their careful start, into the unforgiving real world of the garden. There is a pause, a few days or perhaps a week or two, and then the new shoots come, as the plant matures and begins to thrive. It grows organically, out of the ICU and into the regular population.

Gardening teaches me patience. Sometimes working on stories is like trying on clothes in a cramped dressing room, other times it's like a time travel to a different time and space. My characters are somewhat a mystery to me as they reveal themselves, even though I've thought out in advance what I want them to be. They stray....or as was said so well, life finds a way.

I used to love watching my baby chicks hatch. The eggs were blue and green, pink and violet. I usually chose the colored ones to let the hens hatch, but the outside of the shell didn't always determine what color or breed of chick would be contained inside. It was always a surprise to see what nature decided should be born into that egg, and then to watch it grow. I had usually three or four roosters so the cross-breeding was fun with some spectacular results.

This year I did the no-no of planting all my corn, all three varieties (two yellow sweet and one ruby red sweet) together. I've been told this isn't wise, but I decided to test those rules. Will I have half red and half yellow corn? Yellow corn with red sprinkles? Or red corn with yellow dots? I'll let you know.

My potatoes are up. My peas are beginning to vine and climb up the fence, as are my early beans. I've clipped off the first fruits of my squashes, and the heads of snapdragons so the plant will be bushier and yield more fruit, more flowers later on. Sacrifice some for later bounty. Work to weed for the blessings that come from the garden health. Add the ladybugs and praying mantis and let them multiply. My eggplant hasn't grown a bit, telling me I was too early with it. A couple of my tomatoes are like that too. The lettuce loves this early summer, as does the dinosaur kale, cabbage and onions. My dogs have caught several moles but we have a huge gopher in the rear yard they cannot get to. I keep forcing onion bulbs down his hole and he keeps shoving them out. I'm hoping he'll tire of the game and move on somewhere else before he discovers my corn, and especially my potatoes.

My collage True Love Heals in the Gardens of the Heart
Like a quilt, or tapestry, the different varieties of the garden grow at different speeds, just like my characters and my stories. When it takes shape and gets polished, which is where I'm at today, it starts to get very exciting. But there's always the element of wonder, even to myself as the writer, what will happen.

Just like gardening, it is work, but it also is a calling.

What do you learn from the garden?


Sunday, May 8, 2016

MOTHERHOOD: Should Come With Warning Labels

I think our family had given up hope that Don and I would have children. The pointed questions had stopped. Now we heard, "So, what's new, anything?" I was attending Court Reporting school in San Francisco, and had a part time job typing medical dictation for a doctor's group near U.C. Their ultrasound machine had just been repaired and they needed a guinea pig, so I drank the gallon of water and hopped on the table. My boss walked in and asked me if I had news I wanted to tell him, and I didn't have the faintest idea what he was talking about. He confirmed that the little thing less than the size of an olive was going to be my first born. Our son.


Typical of the San Francisco work force, I had not one but three women come in, sit down next to me and tell me I didn't have to go through with it. "You have a choice, you know." Well, I expressed to them that no, I really didn't have a choice. And besides, didn't they know I was married? But during the hour-long drive home I
began to worry what my husband would think. Birth control, after all, was not anything we ever talked about (believe it or not), and by default, was more or less my responsibility. I'd told Don I had some news for him, and he said the same. We would discuss our news over a nice dinner.

"You go first," I said. 
"Well, I quit my job."
"I see. Can you get it back?"
"No. But I hated that job. I'm free now! I thought you'd be happy for me."
"Like I said, can you get it back?"
"Hell no. It was a big scene and I walked out. I felt great afterwards."
"But you're going to get another job, right?"
"Well I was thinking about going back to school or perhaps taking some time out. Maybe start our own company. We can do that now."
When I didn't answer, he asked me for my news.
"I'm pregnant."

So, after nearly seven years of marriage, we were starting a family. I didn't know how apprehensive my mother was until later on in my pregnancy. She'd lost 3 to miscarriage. I later did the same, but this time, our son missed Valentine's Day by a day, and I got to celebrate Mother's Day in style.

Being a mother has been the toughest job I've loved doing. My dad gave me some great advice. My mother had been very sick after I was born, so he often did the 2 AM feeding, letting her sleep. He decided that those were some of the best times of his life. He vowed that at whatever stage I was at, he'd enjoy that stage for the beautiful gift it was, not wishing I was some other age. I've tried to adopt that with my own four now grown kids.


So, if there was a warning label on motherhood, maybe some of them would look like this:

1. You won't feel like you have the time or energy to get up in the wee hours of the morning for feeding, sometimes a bath and certainly a diaper change. And then perhaps another bath and diaper change. But somehow, you'll just find a way.

2. Motherhood is part nurse, part camp counselor, part disciplinarian, taxi driver and the unlimited source of funds. But all those things are done out of love. You learn to get used to the feel of clotted spitup traveling down your back and into your butt crack occasionally.

3. Being a mother is very simple, but not easy.

4. Your home will be invaded with smelly soccer teams and brownie sleepovers. You'll recover your furniture and replace your carpet about every three years. You have to instruct the little ones not to pick up the dog by its belly, or by its ears, or the cat by its tail.

5. When you give a gift to the relatives and the children are present, they'll always tell the recipient you got it on sale. They're practicing being truthful.

6. You will cherish those little soap dishes and ashtrays made in grammar school, and will never throw out the handprint painted bright blue or green made in preschool. You'll look for evidence of talent in the butcher paper drawings you'll be presented with. 

7. You'll not have the heart to throw out the baby teeth the Tooth Fairy stole, leaving money under the kid's pillows. You will learn it's okay to read the same bedtime story over and over and over again. You won't get medals or pay raises. You won't be given an instruction manual.

8. You'll never forget the fact that you will be the first woman your sons will love, and they'll show it to you even though they try very hard to cover it up. And you try not to laugh.




9. You'll discover enthusiasm for bugs, water fights, large bubbles, pink plastic high heels, fold up field chairs, hard wooden gym benches or the midnight bad dreams that bring the kids back to your bed occasionally. You'll remember and cherish all of these memories. Christmas morning will never ever be the same again.

10. Motherhood means the celebration of unselfish love, belief in all things, even when everyone else has given up hope. Mothers hope a lot. And they pray. They keep and tell the stories of the family. They demonstrate the healing power of love. They remind us all that we are family.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you, and to all of you who are honored to help a mother celebrate her special day by saying thanks.