Tell Me Your Love Story: My Love Story

I’ve been waiting for a special day to share this one, and today is that day. This is my very own story of true love and happily-ever-after.

In 1984, I found myself at one of those cross-roads in life. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, which may seem as though it should have been a carefree time of fun, but I was always old for my age, and at that point, I was tired of high school. Tired of the needless drama, tired of the games and ready for my life to really begin. After years of straight living and toeing the line of good-girldom, in my junior year I’d gone a little wild. Now, trust me, ‘a little wild’ in my vernacular and in the mid-80’s was not today’s wild. It involved a little bit of alcohol, a little bit of dating–but ONLY dating–a series of boys, but I never did anything that would negatively impact the rest of my life.

Still, in early August before senior year, I was restless. I was done with high school guys, I knew that. I didn’t want to party away my senior year. Craving something more solid and real, I returned two stalwarts that had never failed me: books and my relationship with God.

Yes, I still have it!
Yes, I still have it!

I remember very clearly standing in the local Christian bookstore, looking for something to read, when a small wooden plaque caught my eye. It was Psalm 37:5: “Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you.” That verse resonated with me that day, and I bought the little wall hanging. I remember clearly the odd sense of rightness I felt. As I drove home, I also realized I needed a hook for the plaque, so I stopped at a store I’d never visited before, even though it had been around forever in our town. Kandle Lumber and Hardware just had never been on my radar, but it was on the way to my house, so I ran inside to find what I needed.

The man who helped me was the owner of the store, and I’d met him before. Actually, I knew the whole family vaguely: their son had begun West Point the year before, and he’d come to our house a number of times to chat with my dad, both before he’d started at USMA and then after, to share experiences. But up until then, Clint had been just one of many cadets coming in and out of my house. My father mentored quite a few.

I don’t remember exactly what Pete Kandle said to me that day, but it was something about his son, hinting that I should consider seeing him the next time he was home for a visit. Did I say I would? I don’t know, but that day stuck in my memory as a turning point in my life. I thought about it over the next few months.

13254764_10153871194049145_796881383525537360_o

The Army-Navy game had long been a huge deal in my family, and we were pumped in early December of my senior year. For the first time in a long time, Army had a real shot at winning. My family had been invited to a post-game party at the Kandles’ home, and I brought along some of my friends, at Mrs. Kandle’s request. But what I remember most clearly was the hour I spent talking to Clint, leaning up against his dad’s desk in their den. The house was filled with people, and there was no place else to sit. Clint saw me on the floor and ran to grab a down-filled blanket to make me more comfortable. I didn’t know it then, but that was totally who Clint is: serving others, reaching out and giving of himself is at the core of his character.

I didn’t hear from Clint after that celebration, at least not immediately. But about a week before Christmas, he called and asked if I wanted to go Christmas shopping with him. He’d just gotten home on leave, and he needed to buy his mother a gift. What I remember about that day is that I’d never laughed more or felt immediately comfortable with any boy ever.

We went out a few more times over his Christmas break, but I wasn’t sure if we were just friends or . . . more. That is, until New Years Eve, when we went to a party at his friends house. As the clock struck midnight, ending 1984 and ushering in 1985, he kissed me for the first time.

Over the next months, we exchanged hundreds of letters, shared long phone calls (to the chagrin of Clint’s parents, who were footing his phone bill!) and I visited West Point as often as I could. He gave me an A-pin on March 1st that year. I was thrilled, and we were both deep in the throes of young love.

I started college that fall at the University of Richmond, but my heart was up in the mountains along the Hudson. Every Friday, I’d get on a train north, get off in Philadelphia, spend the night at my parents’ house, set my hair . . . and the next day, I’d drive three hours up to West Point, going to football games, dances or other social events, or just sitting with him in the lobby at the Hotel Thayer, doing homework and talking. The rules at West Point were very strict: no PDA, and no cadets were allowed above the mezzanine level at the hotel. Most weekends, Clint couldn’t leave post. But we always enjoyed just being together.

On Sundays, after chapel, I’d drive back home to New Jersey, repack and get on the train south, usually back in my dorm about midnight. It’s no wonder I failed calculus that semester, is it? I was miserable at college most of the time I was there. We knew once Clint finished at West Point, he’d be stationed somewhere in the world, and I’d still have two years of college left. At that time, this future seemed impossible.

And so we did what any two kids in love might: on Christmas Eve of my freshman year, after we’d been dating just about a year, Clint proposed and I said yes.

13391372_10153898748049145_8377456114474310888_oWe were married in June of 1987, ten days after his graduation. We spent our first six months together in Richmond as he attended Officer Basic and I got in another semester at Richmond, and then we moved to Hawaii for his first duty assignment.

That was four children, one son-in-law, many cats, dogs, homes and almost 30 years ago. We’ve lived in Virginia, Hawaii, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Florida. We’ve lost all of our grandparents and all but one parent between the two of us. We’ve weathered parenting, illness, homeschooling, many different churches, changes in career, moves and so many challenges . . . but 1610095_10152032355924145_1033576462_nthere is no one in the world I can imagine sharing my life. Clint has always been the first one to support me, the first one to tell me I can do anything I want. I know without a doubt that he would–and does–move mountains to make me happy. He’s still the same boy who will do anything to make me a little more comfortable.

312560_10150295218589145_1551940_nAnd almost 32 years after that very first date, he still makes me laugh more than anyone in the world.

I’m more in love with my husband today than I was when we got married. Then, I had no idea what love really was. Now, I think I’m beginning to catch glimpses of it. I think we need at least another thirty years to really get it down. I pray that we have those years together. When you’ve lost parents relatively young, you realize that nothing is guaranteed, and so I am grateful for every day we have together, and I am also greedy for even more.

This is a real happily-ever-after. It’s not all sunshine and cloudless skies; as my grandmother told me 12920242_10153768715739145_5181692080328787979_nonce upon a time, you must have just enough clouds to make a beautiful sunset. There must be rain to enjoy a rainbow.  But we’re living out our happy ending, day by day. That’s the very best kind of story in my book.

12705566_1521477374815687_9080693972454827695_n

True love is contagious . . .

This is a bonus love story, in honor of their 41st anniversary. 
 
14212121_1422372777795170_2938044446641630502_nI don’t know all the details of how Aunt Terry and Uncle John met, except that it was in high school, and probably, if I know them, through friends. They’ve been together ever since.
 
I met them in 1985, when I began dating their nephew. He was at West Point, and I was still in high school. When he was home for a weekend, he invited me to a family dinner, which was completely overwhelming. I came from a large extended family, but they were not like this: there is nothing like an Italian family gathering to completely overwhelm a girl! I was sure I’d never remember the names. My only safe spot was with a sweet four-year-old little boy, who invited me to sit on the floor and play cards with him.
That was little Johnny, and before too long, I got to know his parents, Terry and John. Although all of Clint’s family was kind to me, there was just something extra about these two. They were open, welcoming and charming. Pretty soon, their house was my favorite place to visit with my boyfriend!
Over the thirty-one plus years that have passed since our first meeting, I’ve been blessed by this couple in ways too numerous to list. But all the details boil down to this: in their world, there are no ‘in-laws’ or degrees of relation. You are family. Pure and simple. I never call them my aunt and uncle-in-law; long ago, I decided that they are my family, and sometimes I think I forget that we’re not technically related by blood.
Their house is my home in New Jersey. It’s where I feel welcomed and loved and accepted, no matter 13173351_10153842439344145_2850996556114927587_owhat. Their love created this home. They are my children’s safe place, the surrogates for the grandparents my kids lost too early. All of my kids feel this way; I think it was Cate who said recently, “Aunt Terry just wraps me up in love.”
I’ve written them into books. Uncle John is in The Posse as the supplier of the infamous limoncello (he really does make it, and it really IS delicious!). They were the basis for a couple in The King Quartet. From day one, they have both been supportive and encouraging of my writing–they even hosted a signing for me at their dance supply store in New Jersey.
But the point is this: forty-one years ago, these two people committed to love only each other. But in doing so, they started a ripple effect that has changed countless lives, including their family, oodles of friends and their community. The love they share–which is beautiful and still romantic and an example 309843_10150295466734145_6500775_nfor all of us–has reached out to encompass others. They gather in, rather than closing off; they embrace rather than divide. They choose to love, even when that choice is difficult.
And they love in truth. Uncle John will tell you, to your face, when he thinks you’ve done something stupid. But then he’ll pull you in for a hug and do whatever he can to help you fix it. Aunt Terry will defend you to the death, no matter what, even when she’s helping you to solve your problems.
Romance is wonderful. You know that I’m a big advocate! But it’s even more wonderful when it spreads over the world in the form of a love that never ends.
Happy anniversary, Aunt Terry and Uncle John.

I’m Reading The All-Girl Filling Station Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

When I first began writing (seriously), I had a tradition of rewarding myself after each book I finished. The dangling carrot could be anything from a diamond ring (my very first book!) to a new handbag or a pair of shoes.

It’s telling that nowadays, my reward is permission to read a book I’ve been saving just for this occasion. Time for reading is much more precious than anything material, and reconnecting with my favorite authors is a special treat.

For this last book (I just finished writing ALWAYS MY OWN, coming January 26th–and yes, it was down to the wire. Long story, but it’s done), I sort of cheated. Christmas fell smack in the middle of writing this book, and under the tree I had a gift I don’t often see anymore: a real book. As in, a physical, hardback book with pages that really turn. My oldest daughter and I have a love affair with Fannie Flagg’s books, and she’d discovered one we hadn’t read.

So with this beautiful book tempting me, I just might have sneaked some reading time when I was in situations that precluded having my computer open to write. And as always, I fell in love with Fannie’s characters, her world and her unique and heart-rending view of family and history.

One of Fannie’s specialities is taking a family situation, tossing a quirky character into the midst of it and then giving the reader insight that goes beyond the knowledge of the main characters. We saw it in Fried Green Tomatoes, during one of my favorite parts of that book, when Evelyn, in the middle of her search for self-knowledge and direction, goes to an African-American church and ends up talking to a friendly church member. Evelyn doesn’t know it–but we the readers find out that the woman to whom she speaks is the daughter of one of the characters in the long and colorful story Evelyn’s new friend Cleo has been sharing.

In All Girl Filling Station, the main character is Sookie, a wife and mother of four in her late fifties. Sookie has just finished marrying off her three daughters (one of them twice to the same man). She’s exhausted and ready to dive into the next phase of her life. Complicating this transition is her mother, Lenore, who lives next door. Lenore is the kind of woman my grandmothers would have labeled a Handful. She’s demanding, attention-seeking and controlling, but she’s also the sort of woman outsiders find quirky and amusing, even when her own family doesn’t necessarily see the appeal.

Sookie is a wonderful daughter, much more patient that I would be. But everything in her life is turned upside down when she receives a letter from Texas that throws into question her past, her history and her understand of self.

Sookie’s long and complicated adjustment to this new information is juxtaposed with flashes from the past, giving us more insight and detail into what led up to the situation affecting Sookie.

All Girl Filling Station tackles a number of complicated themes: the fathomless and multi-layered relationship between mothers and daughters, the dichotomy of self knowledge vs. the world’s perception, family, the evolving role and understand of women in the twentieth century and the love between sisters. I was especially fascinated by the detailed history of the WASPs, an often-forgotten chapter in our nation’s history during World War II.

And as always, Fannie’s fabulous writing had me laughing aloud–and crying. Full-disclosure: I cried hard and ugly tears for about the last 30 pages of the book.

The story also made me think about my own relationship with my late mother. Like Lenore and Sookie, we had both our charming similarities and our extreme differences. I struggled for many years with the idea that because I was not like my mother in some ways, I was a disappointment to her. I made choices in my life specifically to win her approval, at times, and I dealt with the repercussions of the decisions of which she is disapproved. In the end, though, like Sookie and Lenore, I know that my mother loved me to the best of her ability, given her own history and struggles.

Laughter, tears and deep personal insight: what more could I ask from a book?

Five From Olivia Hardin

Welcome to Five From Friends Friday!

Each week, I’ll share with you five quick and quirky questions and answers

from some of my favorite author friends.

I think you’ll see some familiar faces in here, too.

Quickies from Olivia Hardin

I met my dear friend Olivia through a writer support group on Facebook, which eventually pared down to eight of us who formed Romantic Edge Books. We discovered we had a great deal in common, including a love of history, a inquisitive spirituality and a wickedly irreverent sense of humor. Because we also realized that both of us had somehow missed on certain cultural phenomenon others in group had experienced, we like to joke that we lived under the same rock. It’s a very funny, safe and educational rock, let me tell you. I’m blessed to have Olivia in my life, both as a friend and as a fellow author. Here are her five quickies. . .

Q: Your sweet dog Bonnie Sue is given the gift of speech for five minutes. What is she most likely to say to you?1268627_404978766268920_880872598_o

A: That little dog is probably the “loving-est” animal I’ve ever seen.  In the mornings when we wake up she cuddles up and nuzzles our necks and whines and moans to us.  I always imagine she’s saying something like: “Good morning, mom.  Good morning, dad.  I love you. I love you.  Promise we’ll always be together.  Promise I’ll always be your baby.   Now can we get up and go outside?   I love you mom and dad.  Can we go outside now?  Do you love me too, mom?  Let’s go, let’s go!  Yes, scratch my ears just like that, daddy.  Its time to get up!  Come on!  Let’s go!”

Q: You win the HGTV Dream Home, which is in Martha’s Vineyard this year. Will you move there or sell it?

A: Uhm… I’m thinking I’d sell it.  I’m a Texas-gal.  I don’t see myself moving anywhere else.  Although, maybe I need a second home… 

Q:The zombie apocalypse is here, and you can only fit 3 books in your backpack (no Kindles). What books will make the cut?

A: Aztec by Gary Jennings, Glory Road by Robert Heinlein, and The Life and Times of the Thundergbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

Q: You’re granted the ability to live in the world of a television show for one day. Which one will you choose?

A: Hmmm… Probably Downton Abbey… that’s my absolute favorite show.  The real question, is would I want to live upstairs or downstairs… decisions, decisions…

Q: Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) appears at your door and offers to cook you any meal. What’ll be on the menu?

A: Well… I like to try new things, so I probably would let her choose a meal for me… Probably something with chicken or beef (no fish), some kind of a exciting potato or vegetable side and then a dessert that hopefully includes chocolate… oooh… and some sort of exotic beverage too!

***

When Olivia Hardin started having movie-like dreams in her teens, she had no choice but to begin putting them to paper. olivia hardin pic b&w.jpgBefore long, the writing bug had bitten her, and she knew she wanted to be a published author. Several rejections plus a little bit of life later, she was temporarily “cured” of the urge to write. That is, until she met a group of talented and fabulous writers who gave her the direction and encouragement she needed to get lost in the words again.

A native Texas girl, Olivia lives in the beautiful Lone Star state with her husband, Danny and their puppy, Bonnie.

Follow Olivia here: Website/Newsletter/Twitter/Facebook/Youtube

 

JUSTICE FOR ALL

Coming March 31st

Kay Rawley has plans. She might be the second child of an earl, but she wants a life away from her father’s estate in New Durma. She wants a life apart from her family’s name. Becoming a lawyer was a bright, shiny object she just couldn’t resist grabbing. Her classes are complete, and all she has to do is pass the bar to get permanent employment at the Dallas law firmPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00016] where she’s been interning for the past year. 

Kay’s been on Audrick Van Buren’s radar since the day she walked into his classroom two years ago. That admiration only grew when she came to work for his firm. But if there’s anything he recognizes, it’s a woman who’s driven–and Kay is definitely one. It’s all he can do to keep his distance and allow her the chance to come into her own. What Van doesn’t know is that someone else is watching Kay, too, and if he doesn’t step between them, that person might not only derail her career but threaten her very life. 

Things aren’t always what they seem, and Kay’s about to learn that the best laid plans are so much better when they go astray. 

Amazon | iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Googleplay | Paperback

 

A Christmas Wedding. . .A Sweet Happily Ever After!

I Choose You

ICYTsrInvite

 

I CHOOSE YOU 

is live now on all venues.

I Choose YouThe path of true love was a bumpy one for Ava and Liam. He was her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, son of a local politician and the campus playboy. She was a hard-working, single-minded scholarship student with no time for romance. They were the couple least likely to succeed. 

But almost two years later, love is better than ever. Liam’s pursuing his dream of being a college professor, and Ava’s the rising star at a local ad agency. But Liam still has one more goal: marrying the girl who changed his life.

Neither of them realizes that making it to the big day might be their greatest challenge yet. Between his parents’ acrimonious divorce and her family’s ideas of how to plan the perfect wedding, it’ll take the strength of their love—and a little help from their friends–to see them through to happily-ever-after.

Amazon/iBooks/BN

Don’t forget. . .

the first book in the Perfect Dish Novels

Best Served Cold

is FREE right now.

And the second book

Just Desserts

is available at all retailers.

PerfectDishCollage