Monday, December 21, 2015


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … I was a child. It was Christmas, and I thought I’d just received the best gift ever. EVER. I was now the proud owner of my very own big ol’ box of sausages, cheeses, petit fours, crackers, jams, and other treats. And a stack of new books. I grabbed a blanket and some pillows, crawled under the kid's art table in the living room, and disappeared for the better part of the day. Nothing could top this, I thought. EVER.

I was wrong.

I grew up, got married, had kids. Had all the happy I wanted, right inside of me and all around me in the sweet little faces of my children. My husband and I had two healthy kiddos, a girl named Ellie and a boy named Michael. And I’d just given birth to Clinton, our third child. Clinton, with his heart issues. Clinton, with his strength and determination. Clinton, who died ten days before Christmas in a state six-hundred miles away from home.

It was while we were at the hospital that I realized I’d actually, this time, received the greatest gift ever. EVER. 

It stemmed from our infant son, and it changed me. Because of the little dark haired fellow, I began to understand the true value of human contact. Human touch. I’d never been much of a touchy-feely person—apart from babies and kiddos, anyway. My immediate family, sure, I could hug and kiss them just fine. But anyone beyond them … meh. It just wasn’t my thing.

Enter Clinton. He was an open-chest patient. They’d done various surgeries on his heart to fix his Transposition of the Great Vessels diagnosis. After so many times under the knife, and as he got sicker, his skin became too fragile to seal up. Instead, they sewed a little patch onto him, covering the open incision. We could watch the beating of his heart against the surface. Because of Clinton’s open-chest status, we could not hold him (with one exception when a nurse felt it had been too long for mommy and son to have gone without a cuddle). 

Clinton had a feeding tube down his throat, and therefore could not make vocal sounds. Loaded with intense medications to alleviate pain and keep him from moving too much, his motions were drowsy and slow. As a newborn, he didn’t have tears when he cried; it takes many weeks for the tear ducts to produce that moisture. Watching his sweet baby face was the main way for us to tell if he was crying and needed something. He’d pucker up, furrow his brow, and push out that lower lip. My mama heart would lurch, and his daddy and I would comfort him however we could. 

Forehead to forehead, I’d touch him, leaning over the side of his plastic bassinet hospital bed. Rub his arms and legs with my fingers, kiss his cheeks. Breathe him in. Hold his tiny hands. 

This touching was normal, easy—natural for me. But it became extended to others. A nurse. A Child Life Specialist. Visitors in the hallway. Other parents with young ones in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Friends of friends who came to visit. The list grew. I couldn’t tell if I was hugging for my insides to feel better or hugging to help the other people feel stronger. Pretty soon, it didn’t even matter to me what the reason might be. There was something precious and profound in each hug. A recognition of humanity. Of a shared moment in a side-by-side life story. A reminder that none of us was alone. The validation that what we faced in our individual days was tough and scary. Heart wrenching. But that we were stronger than our worst fears. That love was stronger than anything. EVER. That, through touch, we could hold tight and hold up … or simply let go.

When we left that hospital, my husband driving, two of our sweet children in the back seat, one precious baby in our hearts, and a small white box of ashes on my lap, I was a changed person. I craved touch and hugs. From anyone. 

Which brings us to the present-day. There’s this woman at my gym—a local YMCA—and I’ll call her Fran. Because I think that’s her name. Let me just put it out there: I want to be Fran when I grow up. She comes for a senior strengthening class, and she always arrives early. And she passes out hugs. To everyone. Sweaty, smelly, gym-using bodies get folded into her soft, strong arms. Pulled tight against her fresh clothes, surrounded by a welcoming soul-to-soul recognition of “You’re here today, and I’m glad to see you.” She wishes everyone a good day, passes to the next person. I watched the other day as five people waited their turn: men, women, old and young. Nothing fazes her as she walks across the gym floor. She waits until a person recognizes the opportunity, and then she’ll open her arms and smile. 

Without my experience with Clinton, I’d have missed this amazing connection. I’d have shied away from a stranger wanting to get so close to me. I am forever thankful that he put me in a place in my life where I could grow. 

I think all people should receive such a gift, the understanding of the importance of touch. To be seen, to be held. To be given the knowledge that they are not alone, that what they have inside of them holds value. It would help our broken humanity if we had ties to each other like this. Fewer tragedies might take place throughout the world. Hugs are easy to give, nice to receive, and have the potential to save humanity. What a great gift; indeed, they are the best. EVER.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Would the real Andrea please stand up.

Do you ever get the feeling that everyone else in the world is handling life better than you are? I’ve been feeling that way lately, and I don’t like it one little bit. I’m usually the organized one—the person people look to when they need something done. But not right now. I seem to have lost my edge.

It started with a deadline ….

Chaos, the latest in my Omega Group series was way behind schedule. My deadline was looming and I was nowhere near where I needed to be, so I sacrificed sleep and peace of mind to make it happen. It worked, but the moment that ended, Thanksgiving popped up out of nowhere and sucked me right back into the craziness. The following week brought the launch for Chaos and several birthdays in my family. Now, it’s two weeks away from Christmas and I just finished decorating the house.

Image result for stressed out

Oh, and did I mention that I have ten family members coming to spend the holidays with us? Yep, you read that correctly. Ten. So, not only do I need to have my home ready to sleep all of those extra people (which it isn’t), and my kitchen ready to feed all of those extra people (which it isn’t), but I also need to have my brain working at full capacity to handle all of those extra people (which it most definitely isn’t).

Even this blog post is a week late.

But, none of that is what’s bothering me. Life always gets crazy at this time of year, for everyone. What’s driving me crazy this year is that I’m handling it so poorly. Where did that hyper-organized, type A personality, take no prisoners woman that I used to be go? I really miss her, and could use her guidance right about now. At the very least, she would give me a much needed kick in the pants and tell me to stop my whining and get on with what needs to be done.

Hmm. That’s actually pretty good advice, now that I think about it. There are fourteen whole days left before Christmas. That’s three hundred and thirty-six hours I can fill however I choose. There isn’t much I can’t accomplish in that amount of time, so what am I getting so worked up about? It’s Christmas. It’s family. It’s life. Deal with it.

Image result for pep talk

Thanks for the pep talk, guys. I needed that. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Lot To Be Thankful For

Thanksgiving is a tough holiday for me. In fact, they all are. But Thanksgiving is a holiday that centers around the dinner table, and as the years go by, it becomes harder and harder to ignore the empty spaces. Some spaces are empty because the person just isn't there, other spaces are empty because that family member is no longer with us. For me, it’s the empty chair at the head of the table that hurts that most.

Part of being older is handling these moments, moving on and looking forward. But it's difficult. It's too easy for me to focus on what is gone, instead of being thankful for what is still there. I find myself at the end of Thanksgiving, the end of the holidays, a little sadder, a little older. Just thankful that the season's cheer is over.

This year I found myself overly defensive when people asked my Thanksgiving plans. With the changes in family dynamics, it was going to be a smaller celebration of festivities than normal. I found myself justifying my plans to other people. “Oh just a small gathering,” I would say, “But those can be the best. More pie for me!” Plaster on a fake smile, and I would be set.

But why? What was this need that caused me to excuse my holiday plans? As if a gathering of loved ones, because it was small, was no longer enough.

It makes me think of a book I read: Hector and the Search for Happiness. The story centers on a psychiatrist who sets off on a journey to discover how to be happy. Hector comes up with a list of rules, one of my favorites being: Making comparisons can spoil your happiness. I have to admit, I’m all too guilty of this.

It is very hard to not want what other people have. From little things to big things. It is so easy to compare what I have, to what someone else has, and always want more. I can focus entirely too much on the happy Facebook posts, viral videos of wonderful moments, and beautiful Instagram photos. But social media is a filter just like another of those available on Instagram. People share pieces of their lives, as carefully and brightly packaged as any Christmas gift.

My holiday goal this year is to actually be thankful. To look around me and focus on the things that I have been blessed with. Whether it is my personal life, my writing or my job. To take a moment each day to be thankful for what I have, to recognize the gifts that have been given to me. So thank you for reading and thank you for being you. I hope you have an amazing holiday season, as special and perfect as it can be just for you.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why Can't Every Month Be November?

Okay, it’s possible a crazier statement has never been made. But just hear me out. Yes, I know November is miserable. It’s dark before you get home from work, it’s dreary, it’s cold, and if you live on the "wet" coast, you’ve officially turned into a wrinkled prune and commercials for tropical beach resorts actually make you weep just a little bit.

If you’re a writer, it’s also the craziest, most stressful, most rewarding month of the year. It’s the month where writers around the world go a little cray-cray and neglect their families, their exercise routines, and their personal hygiene just to write ONE. MORE. WORD.

It’s NaNoWriMo, ya’ll! (Um, yeah, I’m Canadian—I don’t know where that came from). National Novel Writing Month is that crazy time of year where people far and wide compete to write a novel (or fifty thousand words of one if you’re stupidly verbose, like me) in a single month.

That’s a lot of words. Trust me. It really cuts into the Facebook time.

Last year, I was struggling through the first twenty thousand words of The Faithful's sequel. I’d been researching and hemming and hawing for months and months, really just being completely unproductive. NaNoWriMo saved my lazy ass. There’s nothing like a bit of competition and accountability to get those fingers flying across the keyboard, and I somehow managed to bang out fifty-five thousand words during that month. It got me over the hump, and I completed the first draft in December. NaNoWriMo forced me to get out of my own way. To shut down my prissy little internal editor and just bloody write.

Fast-forward a year. I’ve been hemming and hawing and doing my research for a new detective novel about a family of four who goes missing, and I’ve only managed about fifteen thousand words. But fear not! November was nigh, and I knew I could bang out most of this novel during one crazy month. So I nagged and cajoled my writer friends into joining me on this no-time-to-bathe adventure, because everything is better when you’ve got friends along for the ride, right?

And here we are, twenty-four thousand words written in the first twelve days, and counting …

It leaves me with one question: Why oh why can’t I find this kind of momentum the other eleven months of the year?