Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Fairy Tale Sex & New Adult Romance

Everything old is new again. You’ve often heard this well-worn cliché, but nothing brings it home better than the skyrocketing rise in popularity for a new literary genre that publishers are calling “new adult romance”. What, exactly, is new adult romance? Quite frankly, literature that focuses on young people from about the ages of 18-24 who are encountering their first sexual relationships (with the accent being on relationships—not necessarily their first one-night stand or bump and grind in the back of a car). Why all the shout? Because though you may not realize it, the reading ages of 18-24 used to be death in the publishing industry. Publishers and marketers have known for decades that their bread and butter came from readers who are ages 25-55—the largest demographic of book buyers around the world. But then something happened—welcome to the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. All of a sudden, younger people were reading in droves. And as if on cue, the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer appeared, single-handedly hooking teenagers on a book and film franchise that addressed all of their angst and need for a book boyfriend or girlfriend. Young adult fiction became a huge force in the publishing industry, but there was only one problem: these readers grew up. And they wanted to keep on reading . . .

Enter new adult romance!

Now, you can’t swing a dead cat in a bookstore without seeing new adult romances plastered all over the shelves. Titles like Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire, Lick by Kylie Scott, and My Favorite Mistake by Chelsea M. Cameron address this unique age bracket that is testing out adulthood and what it means to have a possibly fulfilling relationship that includes sex. But let’s face it—our first sexual relationships often crash and burn because we’re just beginning to figure out who we are and what we want, and new adult romances address the relationship minefields that often plague us in our twenties. It’s as though, in high school, we are given a script for how to lead our lives (stay in school, study hard, don’t do drugs or get pregnant), but in our late teens and early twenties, the script gets a lot hazier. Okay, maybe you want to graduate from college or try to get a good job, but what about relationships? You’re old enough to vote now, you probably don’t live with mommy and daddy anymore, and no one’s around to tell you “no” about much of anything. So you experiment with sex, boyfriends or girlfriends, and try to figure out what feels right to you in ways that no previous set of “rules” can quite apply. All by yourself, you figure out relationships are messy and hard to define. And at this point, you’d really like books that reflect this sea of possibilities as well as their pitfalls. As Margo Lipshultz, senior editor at Harlequin, says of new adult books, “These characters do have more freedom [and] less parental supervision. They’re in charge of their own lives, but they’re figuring out how to navigate those lives for the first time, and they're making mistakes along the way: trusting the wrong person, or falling for the guy that they know is bad for them” (Bookish.com, July 1, 2013). So along with this new-found maturity in our twenties come very high emotional stakes. You don’t necessarily have mommy and daddy’s shoulders to cry on about your choices anymore, and you probably want to test out relationships that your relatives might not approve of. And thank god! Because if you don’t get out there and make a few mistakes, you might become one of those pitiful people who marries far too young before they really know who they are, becoming that all-too familiar shell of a human being by their forties. We’ve all met people who didn’t do enough experimentation in their early years, only to do so much later in life when it becomes awkward or downright embarrassing. (Seriously? You want to die your hair purple, get tattoos and piercings, and date people way too young for you at age 45? Icky!). The twenties are that golden time when, if you have any sense, you’ll hopefully venture forth into that dark wilderness to figure out who you really are, and let yourself do all those crazy things in the name of finding love. As Sylvia Day, a well-known romance author, says of new adult readers, “These people are so young and they’re setting out on their own for the first time and feeling that first blush of love and that huge hormonal reaction. Your love was insane—you can’t stop thinking about them, you’re calling each other all the time. All of that—that whole overblown sense of drama—is what’s in New Adult” (Bookish.com, July 1, 2013).

But wait a second—

I can think of a centuries-old literary genre that has been addressing this age bracket, and all the crazy, love-lorn machinations that accompany new adulthood, for about as long as mankind has been walking this earth. And it’s called fairy tales.
Yes, fairy tales! Think about it—how old do you think Snow White was when she was lying in that glass casket, about to be “awakened” by a dashing young man? Or Rapunzel when she was letting down her golden hair for that handsome prince? Hello—though fairy tales rarely are specific about the age of their characters who’re about to blossom into sexuality, they’re generally taken to be of “marriageable age.” In times of old, that particularly angsty age bracket can range anywhere from 16-22 (depending on which scholar or version you listen to). This is a very similar demographic that the more recent new adult romances address. What’s more, there are several fascinating features that many popular fairy tales often have in common with new adult romances, and they are the following:

1.      The main characters are considered of “marriageable” age for their culture, anywhere from 16-24.

2.      The main characters set upon a journey away from home where they are no longer supervised by their parents or caregivers.

3.      The main characters encounter obstacles that there are no ready answers for—they must figure out the path forward for themselves.

4.      The main characters encounter male or female partners who often provide their first serious encounter with the opposite sex that might lead to a long-term relationship.

5.      The main characters (whether overtly or metaphorically) have an intimate encounter with the male or female that they fancy.

So let’s take a look at two of the most popular fairy tales of all time: Rapunzel and Snow White, to see how they are indicative of the same classic scenarios in the more recent new adult romance genre.

In Rapunzel, we all know that this poor young woman was sequestered in a tower around the age of 12 (depending on the version) as she was just about to approach puberty, locked away by a nasty fairy, sorceress, or godmother (again, depending on the version). But as Rapunzel blossoms into marriageable age some years later, along comes a dashing prince who ventures through the forest and finds her through the echoes of her beautiful song. It’s important to note that the prince has left the comfort of the castle and his parents’ supervision and taken the classic new adult journey (often through the wild woods, an interesting metaphor for the unknown) to find his possible mate. Thereafter, we hear the prince state his famous words, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” Obviously, most psychoanalytical literary critics view his call as metaphorical for his desire for sexual intimacy. Interestingly, however, it is now Rapunzel’s choice whether to invite this young man into her private chamber. At first we are told she is “frightened”—yet she decides to do so anyway. New adult romances are all about such angst-filled choices, particularly ones that are made without “permission” from other adults, and could have long-term consequences. Luckily, Rapunzel and the prince are said to have “lived in joy and pleasure for a long time” which results in her pregnancy with twins. How fascinating that there is no wedding involved in this story, and Rapunzel at one point says to the evil fairy/sorceress/godmother “Why is it that my clothes are all too tight?” Though Rapunzel may seem naïve, she’s encountered one of the real-world consequences of new adult sex: parenthood. Another consequence is the disapproval of elders, and the fairy/sorceress/godmother becomes so irate that she cuts off Rapunzel’s hair, banishes her to the wilderness, and informs the prince that he’ll never find her again. But true love—often the biggest goal in new adult romances—wins out! Though the prince loses his sight and wanders in the forest for a dark period, Rapunzel eventually finds him in the wilderness and her tears of joy restore his sight as the lovers are reunited.

I absolutely adore this particular fairy tale because it clearly shows that both female and male characters have a long and arduous journey through the “wilderness” to ultimately find their most suitable long-term relationships. Just having sex with each other isn’t enough to secure happily-ever-after—there is a difficult path ahead towards adulthood that they must tread before they are settled with one another, a path that sometimes means bucking against the approval of their elders. Yet how wise fairy tales are for not offering a simple formula for happiness! Anyone who truly reads fairy tales knows how complex and full of puzzling twists they can be, but for new adults in particular, they offer something of a road map to the arduous minefield we all must navigate towards maturity.

Characters in fairy tales often go through a period of wandering
 in the wilderness before reaching maturity & finding true love

Similarly, Snow White contributes another glimpse into the complexities and angst-filled stakes that are often involved in truly becoming a “grown up” who makes his or her own relationship choices. As we know, Snow White has the stepmother from hell who envies her like crazy—and true to most new adult romances, there aren’t adults around who’ll be of much help on one’s journey and may even be a thwarting influence. At a tender age (some versions say 7, but archaic versions hint that Snow White had reached puberty), the evil stepmother hires a huntsman to take Snow White out to the woods to kill her. Here we are at the woods again! That classic metaphor for no rules and no society—a place where you must figure out your way forward by yourself. Yet precisely at this wild place, Snow White inspires the pity (and some say sexual attraction) of this huntsman, who feels sorry for her and lies about her death to the evil stepmother. What happens next is very intriguing—Snow White hides out and sets up “house” with a bunch of men, the iconic dwarves. More archaic versions say they were miners, later called “dwarves” to lessen the sexual tension, because such a job favors people of shorter stature. And many psychoanalytical critics see her living situation as a metaphor for Snow White “shacking up” with various boyfriends on her road to new adulthood in order to try on various female roles—for we know in the fairy tale that she “tested all the beds”. In return for her cooking, cleaning, and washing, the dwarves promise Snow White that “you can stay with us, and you shall have everything you want.” Sounds like a classic live-in relationship to me, but I have to wonder if perhaps these men are assigned “dwarf” status in the fairy tale because they don’t quite measure up to the ultimate long-term partner Snow White is seeking.

Yet in due time, Snow White’s experimental lifestyle infuriates the evil stepmother once she finds out that the young woman is still alive. In famous fashion, the stepmother disguises herself as the old farmer’s wife and offers her a “poisoned apple” that kills her. It doesn’t take a psychological genius to see the parallels to the “fruit of knowledge” that Adam and Eve ate of, or that this apple is perhaps a metaphor for sexual activity that “kills” Snow White’s younger self. Could it be that during her time in the woods with the dwarves, Snow White experimented with sexual relationships that changed her from a child to a woman forever, yet left her wanting? And the stepmother merely reminded her of this with the apple—that she is no longer a young girl? This is a huge theme in current new adult romances—that after experimenting and pursuing the “one,” many young women feel adrift and emotionally “comatose” due to the crash and burn nature of early sexual relationships. After all, Snow White is later placed in a “glass coffin,” not a heavy box made of wood with metal hinges—one that she could easily break out of if she has a single breath of life left in her. And even more peculiarly, her coffin is set on display in the forest for all to see. Metaphorically, it makes one wonder if Snow White is very much alive, but too emotionally drained by her previous relationships or experiences to allow herself to be a bold adult woman just yet. She’s in a holding pattern, emotionally and sexually, wearied by her former experiences and perhaps merely waiting for “the one” (that new adult romance characters so often long for) to awaken her into a happier adult relationship. However, as if by magic (or perhaps Snow White’s intuitive wisdom to lay low and wait for what she truly wants), her Prince Charming does appear, and with a brave kiss “awakens” her to her happily ever after with him. Well, duh—“awakening” moments in fairy tales are often a more palatable way of describing intimate contact, particularly after ancient fairy tales were scrubbed of sexual details and innuendos by the Grimm Brothers in order to sell to broader audiences as nursery tales in 1857. (Their 1812 edition of fairy tales often left in the sexual connotations). After such an “awakening,” this young woman, who’s already been through her wilderness experience and associated with several men, is said to have finally found her true love.
The Prince discovers Snow White in the glass coffin

Again, what I love about Snow White, similar to Rapunzel, is how frequently these fairy tale characters at the brink of adulthood must wander through the wilderness to find their way to maturity. Even Prince Charming in Snow White has to venture into the forest and take chances with some serious risks involved. After all, why, oh why, does he approach a creepy glass coffin and open it in order to kiss a supposedly dead total stranger? That’s crazy! But you often have to go through a lot of crazy as a new adult to find a rewarding relationship. Blind dates, online dating websites, trusting potential mates who turn out to have baggage, or are emotionally scary, or are downright stalkers—this phase of young adulthood is filled with emotional minefields and genuine risk. But as the classic saying goes, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince—or princess. No guts, no glory! And in fairy tales as well as modern new adult romances, the stakes are always high. That’s because heartbreak, let alone pregnancy or the possible transmission of sexual diseases, has real-world consequences.

But if you never muster the courage to continue on your journey towards adulthood, you’ll forever remain emotionally locked in Rapunzel’s tall tower or Snow White’s glass coffin. The one thing that fairy tales and new adult romances have most in common is that true love requires bravery. And perhaps this is why we love these characters so much. They could take the easy way out and follow the rules or do what’s expected of them to lead a psychologically stale life. But instead they keep going through dark times to grab that chance at true love and genuine happiness. It doesn’t mean that their paths are always easy. But if they can survive their journeys through the wilderness (both sexually and by bucking society’s rules) their reward is a meaningful and fulfilling adult relationship. And isn’t that what most of us really want? Though new adult romances shed a fresh light on the precarious nature of this necessary growth phase of entering adulthood, the desires and dreams of all of us to find true love and fulfillment in our adult lives is as old and as beautiful as fairy tales themselves.
If you love new adult romance with a touch of fairy tale magic, check out my new adult novel STONE OF THIEVES, now available on Kindle & in paperback at Amazon.

Sources for Article:
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. The Annotated Brothers Grimm. Edited with a Preface and Notes by Maria Tatar. W. W. Norton & Company; The Bicentennial Edition, October 15, 2012.

Zutter, Natalie. What Is ‘New Adult’? Romance Editors and Authors Tell All. Bookish.com, July 1, 2013. http://www.bookish.com/articles/what-is-new-adult-romance-editors-and-authors-tell-all.

(This article was originally written by Diane J. Reed for www.onceuponafans.com and is used with their permission.)

(Photo credit note: All images on my website are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of facebook, pinterest, or other popular social networks. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Stone of Thieves: A Sexy Romance To Steal Your Heart!

Stone of Thieves is here! A sexy, new adult romance & the HOT stand-alone sequel to Robin in the Hood that will make you believe once again in true love. You don't need to read Robin in the Hood to enjoy this magical & sensuous adventure as Robin & her boyfriend Creek journey to Italy to find her long-lost mother. There, Robin discovers the dark secrets behind her true gypsy heritage through the powerful Stone of Thieves. Check out the book description:

The Stone of Thieves . . . for centuries its magnetic draw has twisted the hearts of ambitious men and women with the promise of power, passion, and intrigue until it fell into the hands of unlikely thieves Robin and her boyfriend Creek. But can they steal their destiny away from the curse that pursues this magnificent ruby heart? As the stone begins to spread its sorcery, Robin races to find her long-lost mother in Italy in the hopes of discovering the truth about her unique gypsy heritage and the ruby heart that is rumored to steal souls. Yet when the desire for this stone by powerful members of her family threatens their very lives, Creek decides to take matters into his own hands to protect Robin, his greatest treasure of all . . .

I had so much fun writing this novel & exploring various aspects of gypsy traditions that I could share with readers. One thing that appealed to me is the lure of freedom in gypsy culture to explore your identity, which is particularly important for my main character Robin as she transitions to young womanhood & has to sort through the lies about her past & how she wants to redefine her future.

After all, Robin McArthur used to attend an uptight boarding school, but as she roams the Italian countryside in search for her mother, she gets swept away by the beauty and grandeur of Italy & the nudgings of they gypsy woman Zuhna, who urges her to follow her heart. And where does her heart lead—to a more profound love with Creek, of course!

Creek...the very same man who'd kill to protect Robin & who encourages her to find her real mother & unravel the mysteries of her identity so she'll be whole in body, mind, and spirit. It is Creek in Stone of Thieves who also teaches Robin how to be a woman as they encounter their first intimate moment inside an enchanting gypsy wagon.
 Yet becoming a "woman" in every sense of the word means that Robin poses a new threat to her Italian relatives as she mystically becomes the next Gypsy Queen—and this means they'll stop at nothing to take her life. While the clock is ticking, Robin races to find her mother, using the power of the gypsies' Ruby Heart (the Stone of Thieves) to outwit those who have persecuted her kind for centuries.

Can true love conquer all? Hell yeah...

Is Creek's love enough to protect Robin through their ordeal? I'll let you find out—and I truly hope you enjoy this sexy & magical thrill ride that brings Robin & Creek deeper together than ever before. If you do get the chance to read Stone of Thieves, I'd love to hear what you think! Until then, as they gypsies say, Baxti hai sastimos tiri patragi! (Wishes to you for luck & good health!)

The following are links to buy Stone of Thieves on Kindle:
For U.S. Kindle, click here
For U.K. Kindle, click here
For Canadian Kindle, click here
For Australian Kindle, click here
(Photo credit note: All images on my website are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of facebook, pinterest, or other popular social networks. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Mother's Angel Visit

Can you spot the Angel in this photo? Okay, I'll admit it—I'm an Angel Junkie. I believe there are Angels all around us, nurturing us along & whispering in our ears, not only to provide wisdom & protection but also to lead us toward joy. I've lost track of how many times a song came on at the grocery store that was just what I needed to hear, or a book fell off the shelf that gave my heart solace or opened up a whole new journey for me. I've even seen strangers who seemingly popped out of nowhere to say a few discerning words or dispense almost unearthly advice—and I later wondered if they were Angels. If you've ever read my post "Angels Among Us" (you can click on it here), then you already know I believe I've had some direct contact with otherworldly assistance. Not because I was seeking it out (I don't attend Angel channeling seminars or meditate on archangels), but simply because my mother had always taught me, as Shakespeare once said, that "There are more things in heaven and earth...than are dreamt of in your philosophy." In other words, she encouraged us to be open to ideas that sometimes bypass the limitations of our brains & can only be understood in the heart.

And one thing my mother ardently believed is that joy not only attracts Angels but every good thing in your life. Where she got all this wisdom was a mystery to me as a child, but as I grew older and learned, bit by bit over the years, more about her, I found out exactly why she was so wise. My mother's father abandoned her family in the Midwest when she was a baby, and her own mother died at the age of 42 of alcoholism. My mother's childhood was spent in poverty being tended to by strangers in bars during the Great Depression, and life for her was very tough. Never once did I hear her complain about her childhood, however, because in her eyes, she saw her relatives as broken people who were doing everything they could—and not many people had it much better back then. Yet the one thing my mother learned early on to survive was to tap in to that "still, small voice" that always led her to a more positive journey. This was long before New Age philosophy entered the picture or you could watch Oprah talking to cutting-edge spiritual pundits on TV. As a result, my mother's "spiritual radar" was finely tuned. She was downright spooky in her ability to "read" everyone she met, and if she ever gave you advice you damn well listened because her perceptions were uncanny. The closest thing I've ever seen to someone like my mother was that wonderful woman in the kitchen baking cookies who turned out to be the great Oracle in the film The Matrix. Seemingly a benign housewife, she's the one who knows far more about Neo's (Keanu Reeves) situation & future than he does—and luckily, he's smart enough to recognize a highly-developed soul when he sees one.

So even though my mother's body was later in life racked by a debilitating auto-immune disorder & advanced arthritis, I wish I could impart to you the way her face SHINED. People came from all around just to be near her & to fill up their weary spirits. Our kitchen was always packed with visitors because every one who left my mother's presence felt stronger, brighter, and more able to see their path forward because of her strength & glow. Yet she was no namby pamby woman who spouted limp-wristed cliches like "Have a nice day." She was as strong as a military general with a soaring heart to match—because every day she talked to her Angels. Not in moans & complaints but in celebration. Yes, we were that peculiar family that ran around the house singing heart-bolstering songs and banging pots & pans & thanking God nearly every time we turned around for sunshine! Food! Health! And a fabulous new day! My mother didn't give a rip if anybody thought she was crazy town—she knew that like attracts like, what you say with your mouth will come to pass, and truly smart people invite Angels to their parties. Because above all, Angels love parties. 

As you can imagine, life with my mother was a BALL.

And I have no doubt that after my mother passed away, she became an Angel. In fact, during her life she was always looking forward to it. And yes, I even had a vision of her once in her new role. She appeared to me while I was in the kitchen baking cookies for holiday guests (how appropriate!) & no one else saw her but me. Yet her presence felt so natural that for a moment, like an idiot, I didn't register anything was unusual, though she'd been dead for over a year. That's because she didn't feel like a ghost at all—she radiated light & warmth. And when my brain suddenly kicked in & I recognized that this was a unique & sacred moment, I suddenly gasped, "Mother! The kingdom of God?" Those were the only words my stunned self could spit out—I wanted to know what it was like for her in Heaven or whatever dimension she went to. My mother merely smiled & replied with gusto, "You're going to love it!" before she disappeared. The overwhelming feeling I got from her is that she's very busy. She's an Angel now doing what she loves best—helping other people endure & shine brightly, only without the health restrictions that she had in her earthly life. And it didn't go unnoticed by me that she appeared during a time while I was baking & experiencing joy. That's what my mother imparted to me—that the path of delight is indeed the path of Angels. As she always said, "Never underestimate the power of joy. Every moment of laughter & dancing holds the seed of triumph & victory."

So while I was on a walk on a sunny spring afternoon recently near Mother's Day, feeling particularly happy for the warm weather & the sun on my back, I happened to look up in the sky & see a spontaneous Angel image in the clouds. Of course, I had to smile and say "thank you" for the Angel's gentle visit—because for all I know, it could be my own mother. And one of the things I'm most grateful for as we approach Mother's Day is the way my mother taught us to be open to serendipity—those random moments of sheer delight—for these are the pearls that we string together to make our lives  bright. I hope your Mother's Day will sparkle & be filled with those simple moments of sheer joy that open your heart to eternity.

If you would like to read my post about my mother's health miracle, click here.

P.S. Keep on the lookout this month for the debut of my new novel Stone of Thieves, the incendiary sequel to Robin in the Hood! After reading this post, now you know why I so often feature feathers & other reminders of Angels in my fiction <3


(Photo credit note: All images on my website are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of facebook, pinterest, or other popular social networks. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )

Friday, April 4, 2014

Soul Gems

The other day I had a profound dream—the kind that makes you feel as if your soul is trying to talk to you, but can't get your attention any other way. Okay, I'll admit I'm the type of person whose dreams are so vivid, I still remember one I had when I was five years old. And there were several that came to me when I was eleven that I felt were prophetic for the course of my life. Yeah, I'm woo-woo that way. I'm that spooky friend who calls you up & says, "You know, I had a really powerful dream about you last night & I think it's meant to tell you something about your future." Recently, I even dreamed a friend of mine was in a bookstore signing her debut novel with posters hanging everywhere of the beautiful cover. I hadn't chatted with her for about a year, but the dream was so vivid I simply had to email her to tell her success was around the corner. Her response? She had decided to quit writing that day!  The angels must have been tapping me on the shoulder with this message, because after I gave her that boost, she finished her debut novel in only a few weeks & sold it to a major publisher for six figures!
So yeah, I guess you could say I believe in listening to your dreams.

But sometimes my dreams bring messages for me. In my latest one, I had walked into a turquoise shop in the Southwest that sells heirloom pieces of jewelry & Native American artwork. A small group of Navajo artists & silversmiths were there having lunch. They greeted me kindly & offered me a meal, happy to chat about their wares and their day. The problem? I couldn't hear them.  
(Navajo silversmiths circa 1900 & the present)
In my dream, the shop was very humble, yet the walls were surrounded by high tech gadgets—computers, ipads, stereos & plasma TVs—blaring music, news & videos so loudly I couldn't catch a word the Navajo were trying to say, much less enjoy listening to them describe how they create their artistic works. Frustrated, I began running around the shop trying to find the off switches & wires to unplug all these confounded devices.  Finally, one of the men turned to me and said with a gentle voice, "Come back another day when your heart can hear."

I woke up slayed. To me, it was pretty obvious what my dream was trying to say. With all of the high tech devices & social media we have competing for our constant attention, it's so easy to get caught up in the electronic whirl & lose touch with the people we love & the whispers of our souls. And as I got out of bed that morning, I realized I was still wearing one of my very favorite turquoise bracelets.

Yes, I know it looks rather ordinary with its humble design & modest-sized stone, but it's by far one of the most valuable pieces I own. It was the first piece of jewelry given to me by my mother, who bought it directly from the Navajo on a reservation in the 1970s in Arizona. The stone at the center came from the renowned Kingman mine, which produces "Kingman blue"—an intensely blue strain of nuggets with a black matrix that often flashes silver, which comes from a rare vein in Ithaca Peak that has been exhausted since 1972. These stones are so vibrant & distinctive that I've had turquoise collectors stop me on the street & ask to buy it.
But no dice.
Kingman blue turquoise
Why? Because I consider this bracelet a "Soul Gem." A rare article in my possession that connects me not only to my mother but also to the spirits of those who created such artistry in the Navajo tradition. And yeah, call me woo-woo, but I believe these special items carry with them the positive energy from those who came before us, acting as conduits of their love, trust, guidance, and comfort. It doesn't matter if these items are made of stone, metal, paper or wood, or are considered worthless to other people. What makes a Soul Gem special is the place it occupies in our hearts—and its unique ability to quiet our spirits & help us listen to our souls once again. 

I have many other pieces of turquoise jewelry (I'm a bit of a hoarder, as you can see from this small sample above from my collection), but price never dictates value to me. True Soul Gems carry an energy of love & wisdom that far exceed their humble appearances. So for me, an army medal of my father's, an old perfume bottle that reminds me of my mother's scent, a poem written on a napkin by my twin sister when she was 14—these are the Soul Gems that I will treasure forever. One of my favorites is a threadbare copy of The Celtic Twilight by William Butler Yeats that's yellowed & torn, with dozens of underlines & dog-eared pages. It's the small book I've often taken backpacking with me to read at night by flash light. Why is this volume so dear? Because the famous poet took it upon himself to canvas the Irish countryside in the 1920s to record the rural people's stories of their experiences with fairy lore & magic before their stories died out, and then translated them from Gaelic to English to preserve for posterity. The stories are so beautiful & raw that they always touch my heart. And for me, even the act of holding this book in my hands is something sacred that invites centuries of enchantment & wisdom to penetrate my soul. I feel such a book helps me step away from the distractions of daily life & encourages my heart to "hear" better, just like the Navajo man mentioned in my dream.

Do you have a Soul Gem in your possession? A photograph, a lock of hair, a cherished piece of jewelry or heirloom tool that means the world to you? I'd love to hear your story, if you have the time! And I've also recently started the Soul Gems Book Club on Goodreads (& on my website) so we can share those beautiful & wise books that have shaped our lives or touched our souls. Whether a book club appeals to you, or you're more the type to refresh your spirit by gardening, visiting old friends, or taking a country stroll, I encourage you to spend time with your Soul Gems & engage in activities that help you get in touch with you again. And maybe, you'll hear those quiet whispers of the heart that can lead you to your dreams <3 

If you're interested in the Soul Gems Book Club, please visit
And here's my most recent VIDEO on why Dear Maymie,
our Soul Gems Book Club selection for April, touched my heart:
(Photo credit note: All images on my website are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of facebook, pinterest, or other popular social networks. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sparkling Heart

Spring comes in March, so of course I'm out there jogging my butt off in preparation for the warmer weather! Who doesn't like to wear more body-flattering clothing than a turtleneck sweater & winter parka all the time? Like the maiden in the above picture with the narrow waist, perfect ball gown and bouncy hair, I like to greet the magic of spring with a sense of excitement & adventure without having to worry about my midriff bulge. But with the lighter layers & cute, clingy spring fashions comes the (gulp!) need for a more serious fitness plan. Since I live in Colorado, my favorite butt-busting hill is a nearby ridge at 9,000 feet where I like to run that has a 500-foot elevation gain. Why? Because the road is made of nice, soft dirt and has a gorgeous view of the Rocky Mountains. So while I'm out there huffing & puffing (and ready to blow the nearest house down), if I can just take my eyes off my tired feet for an instant, I can let the scenic view set my thoughts a little higher than the usual "Lord have mercy—am I really going to survive this?"

But today, it all of sudden hit me that my fitness journey isn't about survival at all. Or about beating myself up over whether I did this number of miles in that amount of time. As I stared at my feet trudging across the soft, granite-laden dirt, I suddenly realized how beautiful this moment is. This pudgy, tortoise-jogging-pace moment—regardless of my ultimate goal to finally shed those winter pounds or top my achievement from yesterday. Because it's my heart that gives this moment meaning—my brave, yearning, tenacious, (and dare I say it?) heroic heart. Ultimately, no one really cares how streamlined I look in a slinky dress or pair of skinny jeans with high heels. But what's truly beautiful is that gallant heart who gets out there & tries to ascend that mountain, day after day after day . . .

And for the first time, I just took a deep breath and appreciated my heart and all its beautiful dreams & ambitions, no matter how silly or serious they may seem at times. That wonderful ability of the human heart to lift its sights and TRY . . .


Could it be that the very act of wishing, and then believing in that wish strongly enough to set feet in relentless motion, is more beautiful than any ball gown or castle in the air my mind might conjure? Because when I'm at the bottom, and not the "perfection" that I aspire to, my soul is perhaps the most noble of all. I find out what I'm made of—one foot after the other, focused on vision & hope. And as I looked at the footprints I'd made in in the mountain dirt, I thought to myself that their image is as lovely as any lofty dream. This is the evidence of a spirit who never gives up—on her life or on her goals. And even if I never find the path towards my version of happily ever after, those footprints made in faith are perhaps the most rewarding of all.

Castles crumble, kingdoms fall, dreams can die, and ball gowns can certainly fade or fall out of fashion. But the joy of spring for me is the chance to step outside & enjoy the journey. And perhaps to relish in the crystalline quality of my soul most of all . . .

I hope as the warmer breezes come & flowers begin to spring up, that you will honor the one who does the seeing, the smelling & the feeling & the believing along your way. And that you will treasure each moment you get to spend with the stirrings of your own sparkling heart.

(Photo credit note: All images on my blog are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of facebook, pinterest, or other popular social networks. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )

Friday, February 14, 2014

Angels in Disguise

Nothing prepares you in life for seeing a policeman step out of his cruiser with an assault rifle as big as Texas when you park in front of an elementary school to pick up your child. Believe it or not, you will tell yourself the most absurd things. The first thought that went through my mind was, "Oh, it must be law enforcement Show & Share day, and he's going to let the kids see his unloaded firearm." But when I went up to the school building and peered through the window and saw not a single child in sight, I knew. 

This was a lockdown.

And it troubles me how difficult it was for me to convince other parents of that fact.

An emergency lockdown simply didn't factor into their plans that afternoon. Like most of us, their minds were caught up in what errands they had to run, when to pick up their other children from daycare, and what appointments they didn't want to be late for. A few parents were annoyed by the inconvenient "delay" while others were still trying to tell themselves everything was normal by saying that the kids must be "late coming home from a field trip."

Excuse me—every child from kindergarten to 5th grade, including all of the office staff, just happen to be gone?

"No—they're hiding," I had to inform them. "And this is the time to pray with everything you've got."

And pray we did. I grabbed several parents hands and began to pray right then and there. This is the nightmare situation that every parent dreads, and it was really happening . . .

Of course, when the sirens started to wail & the SWAT teams arrived, it got a little bit easier to convince other parents that this was, in fact, no ordinary day. And it was not going to get better any time soon.

Still, several parents complained that they should have gotten a "text" informing them of the problem. Really—so while the principal is hustling to call police and hide all the children from apparent danger, she ought to take time out to compose a message to you?  Not even the four gunshots I heard outside on the other side of the building seemed to alarm anyone around me that this was for real. But when police announced that everyone had to clear the area & return to their cars & wait until further notice because this was, indeed, an emergency situation with an intruder at the school, most of the parents finally fell into shock and ceased grumbling about the disruption to their day.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited . . . 

And this was by far the most excruciating part. Apparently, a middle-aged man with a suspicious backpack had been spotted lurking on school grounds the week before and had been kicked off the property by school officials. But when he was spotted lurking on the school grounds AGAIN with his same suspicious backpack, our principal took no chances and called police.

What happened next astounded me. It was only ten minutes before school was supposed to let out. The school crossing guards had already stepped out of the building to help guide traffic. Parents were already lined up to pick up their kids. Many school officials might have blown the thing off, thinking it's so late in the day—just let the kids go and have the police deal with this guy later. But not our principal. With extraordinary swiftness, she locked down that building and had her teachers hide the children so fast you would have that the school had been utterly abandoned. Police and SWAT teams arrived within mere minutes. The bushes, trees, and every shadow of the building were crawling with law enforcement personnel—and you could only spot them if you looked close. I don't blame parents for not quite acknowledging the severity of the situation—these guys were GOOD. Unless you were really scanning, you might not have noticed they were there at all.

But they were. In a sleepy mountain town in the Rockies of Colorado, these law enforcement personnel were our Angels in Disguise that day, along with the extraordinarily well-trained and effective teachers who took hundreds of cranky, tired school children late in the afternoon and expertly hid them while making sure that not a single one made a sound. Honest to god, I still don't know how they quite achieved that with so many squirrelly kids, other than they must have had magic wands.

Or perhaps angel wings . . .

Our story had a happy ending. The suspicious guy was apprehended, the grounds were cleared of any potentially hazardous materials, and the children were released, one by one under heavy police protection, two hours later. We were all very rattled—some children vomited or developed stress rashes from the frightening experience—but every child went home safe that day.

And though this might seem like an unusual Valentine's Day post, today my heartfelt Valentine goes out to all of those Angels in Disguise—the principals, teachers, secretaries, school nurses, janitors, and law enforcement personnel who make it their business, day after day, to care about the well being of our children and overall community. My heart was touched beyond belief this week by their professionalism, efficiency, and valor.  You probably won't hear much about this incident in the media because creepy people hanging around schools is hardly anything new, and happy endings don't often make splashy headlines. But in my book, these individuals are the real heroes in our lives.

Even if you can't quite see their wings . . .

May your Valentine's Day be filled with warmth, chocolate, and all good things <3
A week later, a first-grade boy went missing in our town. Over 75 high school students took it upon themselves to canvas a 2-mile radius until they FOUND him! Then they phoned police and stayed with the boy until an officer arrived. Turns out the child got confused & decided to "walk" home (a several mile trip). Forget after-school programs & sports—these teens dropped everything until the little boy was safe in his mother's arms. The recent lockdown had really rattled them, and all they wanted to do was be a force of good in the world. Then they stood in line to give the mother a hug with tears in their eyes—teen boys & girls alike. If you ask me, I'd say today's youth are shaping up to be one terrific generation <3

(Photo credit note: All images on my blog are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of facebook, pinterest, or other popular social networks. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why I Believe in Once Upon a Time

(Note: To read my exclusive interview with Adam Horowitz & Eddy Kitsis, the creators & writers of the hit TV show #OnceUponATime, click here: http://www.onceuponafans.com/hope-is-our-brightest-starThe following is an essay on why I watch the show : )

Occasionally people ask why I enjoy the fairy tale show Once Upon a Time so much, especially as a working mom with 2 kids who barely has enough time to watch TV, let alone keep up with a multi-year series. And that's just the thing—I'm not in it for some adolescent wish fulfillment (I've already found my Prince Charming) or because I need a weekly dose of escapist fantasy (as a writer, I chat way too much with my imaginary friends, so I've pretty much got that covered ; ). Believe it or not, Once Upon a Time provides solace for me because it echoes my reality . . . 

If you've ever had the chance to read my post "Our Season of Miracles" (you can view it here: http://www.banditsranch.com/2012/12/real-magic-our-season-of-miracles.html ), you'll understand a little bit more about my childhood and why the term "magical" was a daily reality in the household where I grew up. But what I've never discussed before is why, in particular, the character of Emma Swan resonates so strongly with me, especially in the Season 3 episode of "Going Home."

We all know Emma Swan is one tough cookie. She grew up in the foster care system, only to discover as an adult that she's supposed to be the fabled "savior" for a bunch of people who come from a fairy tale world that she doesn't even believe in. The Emma we first meet in the show is cynical & hardened by life, and it's no wonder—she's seen her share of abandonment & harsh reality. But slowly, the fairy tale characters get under her skin, and nothing demonstrates this fact more fully than Jefferson's beautiful speech to her in the "Hat Trick" episode from Season 1. Jefferson, who's the Mad Hatter, just wants to find his beloved daughter again, and he needs Emma to help him repair his magical hat to cross worlds. Emma naturally thinks he's insane & remarks that these are just fanciful "stories", to which Jefferson replies:

"You know what the issue is with this world? Everyone wants a magical solution to their problems and everyone refuses to believe in magic...How arrogant are you to think this is the only real world? There are infinite more. You have to open your mind and touch one another, pressing up in a long line of lands, each one just as real as the last. All have their own rules. Some have magic, some don't. And some need magic—like this one. And that's where you come in."

Jefferson is exactly right—that is where YOU come in. Not only Emma in the show, but you in your own life. I firmly believe that unless you open your mind to the possibilities of love & joy & well being & freedom, they can never manifest as your reality. Because this is the weird & creative & serendipitous thing about life that the wisdom of legends, fairy tales & fables have tapped into for centuries: You are actually the author of your own reality. And life has a downright eerie way of matching the story that you internally tell yourself.

I don't say this just because I'm a writer—I say this because I've seen firsthand the miracles that happen when you dare to believe. And don't kid yourself—belief is risky. You can get disappointed. You can feel like an idiot. You can use all kinds of facts & figures to convince yourself that nothing good will ever happen—and you'll be right. Because very few positive events can ever occur unless you first make room for them in your heart. Especially love! If you don't actually believe in the possibility of love (a very imaginal phenomenon, full of fantasy ramifications from the get go), you'll never dare to flirt, exchange in small talk, or encourage that other person with a smile to sit down for a spell and enjoy your heart for a while.
And yet people do it all the time. Even though it's crazy. 
Because they've first imagined themselves as being with that significant other one day—they pictured it in their heads. So they keep acting in the so-called "real" world as if it's possible. And where does that imagination come from? From YOU. The media is full of negative bullshit about finding love. Look around—fat people, short people, disabled people, damaged people, geeky-nerdy-weird & wonderful people fall in love all the time—not just the body types that the media serves up to us for advertising dollars. Why? Because they believed in love's MAGIC that knows no boundaries. Or as Mary Margaret/Snow White said to Henry in the Season 3 episode of "Going Home," "Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing."
But her character also said in that episode, "Your happy ending may not be what you expect—that is what will make it so special."
And this is something I know a little bit about.
Because like Emma, I once had a baby in difficult circumstances—and harsh reality did everything in its power to destroy our bond. But harsh reality was no match for the miracle-making power of the human heart, because I am the daughter of a woman who believed in miracles, just like Emma's is the daughter of her brave & strong mother Snow White.
So when, in the 32nd week of my first pregnancy, my placenta ruptured, nearly killing me and my child, all the doctors & scientists involved in the situation told me that we were doomed. I'll never forget my  husband's eyes, as large as saucers, haunted by the verdict of impending death. I could feel the sick fear all around us, permeating every nook and cranny of our hospital room. And my heart ached for my husband who was facing that dark tunnel of losing the loves of his life in a big city where we had no friends, no family, or any relatives near us. We were completely alone, feeling like orphans in this bleak situation, and we had no one to turn to. In fact, the priest had already come to the hospital room to administer last rites to our child. And I will never forget the moment that tested every ounce of courage I had to the limit. Before the priest spoke a word, I grabbed my husband's hand and said through gritted teeth: "I don't care what anyone says. My mother walked & talked miracles every day of her life, and I saw with my own eyes the power that brought into this world, and it is not my baby's time to go yet. Neither one of us are dying today."
And something happened.
Both my husband & I felt it. It was as though something supernatural had lifted the "curse" of fear that had overtaken the room.
So I asked the priest to simply pray with us for healing over our baby, rather than deliver last rites. To focus on hope instead of death. And he did.
And my little Georgie lived.
She not only lived, she grew strong enough to take breast milk, smile at me, listen to Winnie the Pooh stories, and giggle & play little games with us.
No one could believe it—and I grew healthier by the day, too. But as Mary Margaret/Snow said in Once Upon a Time, "Your happy ending my not be what you expect—that is what will make it so special," in a very surpising twist of fate, just as Georgie was about to be discharged from the hospital and allowed to go home, she left this earth.
The doctors were stunned—how could this child who'd survived all the odds and who appeared so healthy, suddenly slip from our hands? Yet though this may seem hard to believe, it all made sense to me.
I am no stranger to life turning out differently than I expected. Because my own mother lived longer than her prognosis, and filled our lives with abundant laughter & light, I knew that Georgie's  five weeks on this earth had been a pure gift to me, too. Of course I wanted Georgie to live longer, and of course I miss her—but I will never let that stain the sheer beauty of each moment that I got to spend with her that is inscribed on my heart for all time. And it was all a joy! Never for a second was it shrouded in fear—because her recovery had been so miraculous that we all thought she was going home. Our every minute together had been one of happiness.
And that is not the end of the story, either. Two years later, I went on to have 2 more children—bouncy, happy twin boys—who've never had a health problem a day in their lives. And who, when they were only three years old, started telling me about dreams they had of playing with their "other family." "What other family is that?" I'd ask, thinking they meant their stuffed animals or characters they'd heard about in books. But at different times, each of my boys told me about playing with their "Heaven family" and a little girl who was 2 years older than they are named "Gigi."
My husband & I had never spoken a word in our home about Georgie, who we sometimes nicknamed "Gigi" & who would have been 2 years older than the boys. As parents, we thought the idea of a deceased sister might be too hard for our children to grasp until they were older, so we didn't have pictures of her around either, and we lived far away from relatives who might have discussed her.
Could it be that Jefferson's ideas of alternate realities, which he spoke of in the "Hat Trick" episode of Once Upon a Time, are true? And perhaps Georgie does play with the boys at night and makes new & happy memories with them?
I don't know.
All I know is that what should have been a dark & tragic time in my life was filled with joy because I believed. And just like Emma in the "Going Home" episode of Once Upon a Time, I'm choosing to embrace the power of my positive version of the events that've helped to create my happily ever after—because that's what makes it all the more special, even if it's different than what I expected. I find that the more I trust myself to flow with what fate has in store, even when things get rocky, the more receptive I become to ending up exactly where I need to be. And similarly, regardless of the twists & turns of fate, Emma finally has her bond with Henry in episode 11 of Season 3—and she doesn't have to overthink it anymore. All she has to do is let it be—and believe . . .   
Because it's never too late to find your happy ending

(Photo credit note: All images on my blog are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of facebook, pinterest, or other popular social networks. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )