Saturday, July 23, 2016

The 120% Rule

I’ve been working with my sister to plan my parents 50th wedding anniversary vow renewal ceremony. It’s been fun to pick out the venue and the flowers and cake and the dress. Yep, it’s been just like planning a wedding. You see, my parents planned a wedding in three days before he was shipped out to Vietnam, so this is a first for them. No one is going to throw a borrowed dress on my mom, the photographer will show up (I hope), and they were able to choose their cake.

Fast forward fifty years and my parents are happily married and enjoying retirement. They travel all over the world, play golf, have date night every Friday night. It’s inspiring to see a couple still spending quality time together after all these years. Their big day is scheduled for August 6th, so I’ll definitely share some pictures of their original wedding and the vow renewal during my next scheduled post on August 23rd.

During this planning process, everyone asks my parents how they’ve made it work all these years. My mother and father always respond with the same advice, it’s the 120% rule. You love and give to your partner more than you give to yourself, that’s how a marriage survives.

For some reason, the last time I heard this I was inspired to do something extra special for my husband. The other night he mentioned to a guest about his mother’s orange pound cake. She passed away two years ago and I know how much he misses her, so I decided I’d attempt to make an orange pound cake from scratch. I knew it wouldn’t be his mother’s recipe, but I did my best. I’m happy to report that I didn’t burn the house down, and I was rewarded with a bright smile and request for a second piece. I think seeing him happy I ended up with the gift more than he did.

I guess my parents are on to something, you really do have to care more about your partner in life more than you care about yourself.

In case you’d like to know what recipe I used, please click here

I did make one substitution. I did orange glaze instead of syrup by combining two tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice with one cup confectioner sugar.


Ciara Knight is a USA Today and Amazon Bestselling author who writes 'A Little Edge and A Lot of Heart' that spans the heat scales. Her popular sweet romance series, Sweetwater County (rated PG), takes readers into small town romance full of family trials, friendly competition, and community love. 

Through this weekend only, you can download In All My Wishes for FREE!! Also, you can receive the prequel novella, Riverbend, for free by subscribing to my newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

 At the age of fifteen, Anna Baker was ripped from her childhood home, and her one true love, vowing to return the minute she graduated high school. 

Professor Liam Harrow once believed his childhood sweetheart would return home to him, but during college he faced reality and hardened his heart to love. 

When Historic Hall faces demolition, both Anna and Liam search for options to save their childhood memories, but when secrets unravel and the truth of Anna’s childhood departure is revealed, it could corrupt their memories, risk their present, and destroy their future. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Birthday Shoes by Julie Jarnagin

"Give me some ideas for your birthday," my husband said.  
Of course, I gave the standard, "I don't need anything." I really don't need anything, but my husband is a smart man. He knows better than to be empty handed on my birthday.  
Through the course of the day, I named off a few things I might like. Some of those candles we use. Perfume. We'd recently talked about him ordering new running shoes. My own workout shoes were getting worn, so I mentioned that new shoes might be a good idea for me too. 
A few days later, we met for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, a Vietnamese restaurant close to campus. As we were paying for our meal, he looked at me and asked, "What kind of shoes did you want for your birthday?" 
I'd assumed that I'd either mentioned running shoes or that he knew I was referring to our earlier conversation. "Running shoes for working out," I told him.  
He gave me a look that, as his wife of fifteen years, I instantly recognized. "Why? What kind of shoes did you buy me?" 
He tried to play it cool, but I could see right through him. Some advice for the ladies, when you're searching for a husband, terrible liar is a great trait to look for in a man. 
I let him off the hook and didn't ask more questions, assuming he bought me sandals because mine looked pretty terrible from all the walks to the playground with our boys. The next day my husband sent me a text that read: You have a choice. Early present or wait until your actual birthday.
My husband is notorious for not being able to wait to give gifts. The day he bought my engagement ring, he told my mom he was going to wait a while to actually propose. So what did he do? He proposed that evening. 
I, of course, opted to open the present early--because I'm way too much of a control freak to enjoy the build-up of a surprise. 
When our seven-year-old and two-year-old sons helped me unwrap and open the box, I instantly saw a red felt bag with Christian Louboutin in fancy letters across it. 
I'm somewhat of a cheapskate, so my heart stopped. I didn't know exactly how much a pair of those shoes cost, but I knew it was a number that would make me too afraid to actually wear them outside. 
From the bag, I pulled out an adorable pair of black wedge heels that I instantly adored.  
Turns out, that my husband had done a little research on what kind of shoes a woman would love. Christian Louboutin (with the signature red sole) was at the top of the list, and he started searching for a pair. When he discovered that the retail price might give his frugal wife a heart attack, he found a slightly used pair for a more reasonable price (but still more expensive than any other shoe I've ever owned).  
So I asked for a boring old pair of running shoes, but my husband got me a pair of Christian Louboutins. That sums up why being married to Kevin all these years is so great. While I keep my life small, predictable, and familiar, he does things big and throws his whole self into them.  
Kevin, I absolutely love my shoes, and I'll cherish them always. I love you. Julie
New Release! 
Cowgirl in the Kitchen

Just as she's about to make her dream come true, disaster strikes. The only way she can get back in the saddle is to strike a bargain—with a man her family despises. 

Jentry Lawson's dream of becoming a world-class barrel racer is about to happen—until she and her horse are injured in a terrible accident. Forced to move back home to Texas to recuperate, her Dallas-based brother makes her an offer she can't refuse. He needs someone he can trust to oversee the renovation and grand opening of his new restaurant. If she'll take that on, he'll finance her return to the arena. It doesn't take Jentry long to discover she bit off more than she can chew. Swallowing her pride, she asks for help from Gavin Easton—a man her brother despises. But he's the one person who can make the restaurant succeed. 

People in Glover never thought Gavin Easton would amount to anything. Ever since his own restaurant in town burned down, he's taken odd jobs to provide for his niece, whom he is raising alone. When beautiful and stubborn Jentry offers him the perfect job, his first reaction is to turn her down flat. No way he's going to do anything to help her brother! But there's more at stake than his pride. Can he trust his future to the woman whose brother tried to ruin his reputation—and his life? 

Besides, how can he manage a restaurant, when he can't manage his heart?

USA Today Best Selling author Julie Jarnagin writes sweet and inspirational romance. She grew up in a small Oklahoma town where her family farmed and ranched. These days she lives in a not-so-big city with her amazing husband and two young sons who tolerate all her nerdy quirks. Julie earned a B.A. in Journalism / Professional Writing from the University of Oklahoma and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. www.JulieJarnagin.comSign up for her newsletter to be the first to learn about new releases and free books:

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Beach Angels by Milou Koenings

Every once in a while, you meet someone who restores your faith in humanity.  This week, for us, it was at the beach.

chairs on beach
Beach party, anyone?
I took some of my kids to the beach with a friend and her little boy. My friend's little boy, Eli, has Downs syndrome. He's thirteen but looks like he's six.

At the beach we go to, there are various areas where businesses have concessions to rent out chairs and parasols. Some have wooden gazebos set up, too.  The friendly owner of the particular concession we'd been to last time had given me his phone number. I texted him that we were coming with special-needs children—would he please reserve a gazebo for us?

When we arrived, we discovered Roy had saved us the one closest to the water that connected to the boardwalk. Wow, I'd forgotten to mention it in my text, but he'd remembered we had a kid in a wheelchair.  

We were intending to spread out sheets and just picnic on the wooden floor, but within minutes, he had brought us chairs and tables. When he noticed my friend had trouble easing into the low beach chair, he brought three more to stack them, so she'd have a higher chair. He did the same for some of the kids. With boundless enthusiasm, he lined the sunny side of the gazebo with parasols. And as the sun moved across the sky throughout the day, he kept moving those parasols for us, too.

But I eyed the array of extra chairs and more tables than we really needed, plus the parasols and added them all up in my head. This was going to be expensive. Whatever—might as well make it nice for the kids, I figured.

We thanked Roy and Eli went up to shake his hand. Roy was so taken by him and the other kids that he couldn't do enough for us. The whole day, either he or his father, who works with him, kept stopping by to make sure we didn’t need anything. Sometimes people aren't so welcoming of families with special kids, so we were very grateful.

Roy offered to take the kids up to the lifeguard tower to meet the off-duty guards. Next thing we knew, Eli was waving at us from the window way up high. The kids got a tour of the all the emergency equipment. They stood on a surfboard and sat in a canoe.  They were in seventh Heaven.

Spot the surfer?
After I retrieved the kids from their impromptu field trip, Roi started asking me about Eli and his mom, who is also disabled. I told him how Eli's father had left them when Eli was two, unable to handle having a son with Downs. No one's heard of him since. Usually, people hear this story and make sympathetic faces. But Roy was so shocked that he froze.

"How can a father do that? How can any man do that?" he asked, incredulously. I shrugged—unfortunately, I know too many of these stories to be shocked by such behavior.

"No, really," Roy insisted. "My sister adopted two foster kids and she's also alone. I'm over there every day. I go over all the time, so those kids know they might not have a father, but they've got an uncle. Kids need a man in their life!"

I couldn't have agreed more, but I was touched by this guy's passion about it. We talked some more and it turned out he volunteers regularly with special-needs kids. Well, that explained why he was so good to us, I thought.

But we weren't the only ones he was being good to. Roy sent his father to us with an enormous platter of watermelon.  The kids were too excited about it for me to turn it down and say we'd brought our own food. Add another expense to the bill, I thought. 

Roy's father stayed to chat a few minutes and told me later that Roi had hired him when he realized how depressed his father had become once he'd retired. "I was a little lost, and driving my wife crazy," he admitted. "So now I work for my son," he chuckled. "I get to be a beach bum all day—what could be better?"

"He's getting married in two weeks, you know," he added. "They're moving so they can be in walking distance of us and of her family, too."

Wow. Families that stick together. I wanted to cry to know that still exists.

Later in the afternoon, Roy showed up with ice creams for everyone. Eight of them —that's got to be at least another $20, I added mentally.  Whatever, for one day in the summer, let's live it up.  Besides, by then the kids had ripped them open and had chocolate melting all over their chins.

We stayed longer than we'd expected. The sun was low in the horizon when we decide we had to go home. We packed everyone up. Then I went looking for Roi to settle up the bill. The guy really had treated us extra special. No matter how much it is, I told myself, I'm going to give this guy a really good tip.

He saw us, all packed up, and came over to say goodbye. He shook all the kids' hands.  Then Eli gave him a hug and just had to give him a blessing. That's what Eli does—when he meets someone he really likes, he insists on putting his hands on their heads and giving them a blessing. The boy can't talk, but his meaning comes through loud and clear anyway.

And then, Roy refused to take any money. At all. I tried to insist. 

"No way," he said. "I let you think you'd pay so you would feel okay about accepting things, but this is my treat."  He grinned. "It's for me, it makes me feel good!" he said, in the nicest way, as if we were the ones doing him a favor by not making him take money. "And next time, you better tell me when you're coming too," he said to the kids.

Next to us, an older man on a lounge chair was watching. I saw him wipe a tear from his eye.

I couldn't cry till I got home and got everyone to bed. But in a world that lately seems so full of creeping darkness, it was so good to know there are still a few angels out there.

Oh and, yes, I do think I feel a surfer/beach hunk romance novel percolating in the back of my mind!

Milou Koenings is a USA Today best-selling author. She writes romance because, like chocolate, stories with a happy ending bring more joy into the world and so make it a better place.  

Her Green Pines sweet romances, Reclaiming Home and Sweet Blizzard are available on Amazon and

You can find her on her website,, on TwitterFacebookPinterest, or Instagram.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Goals and Motivation

I’m working under a deadline right now. Edits are due back to my publisher very soon. Do deadlines motivate you? Are you goal-oriented?
I’ve never been motivated by them, but due dates, deadlines, goals and metrics are a fact of life in both the work place and at home. But a due date for the electric bill or a charge card is a little different (still not fun) from work or personal deadlines, and from a writing deadline.
Goals, personal and business, tend to shut me down. I find myself staring at the clock or calendar and thinking about making the goal instead of actually working toward it. When I do have a writing deadline, I usually work well ahead of it and try to be done early. Maybe my brain thinks it can then pretend the deadline didn’t exist?
Another type of goal could be being on time for appointments or meetings. I do the same for those. I’m usually early because I’m afraid of being late.
What motivates you? Is it the journey or the destination? The work itself or the satisfaction of hitting the goal? Do rewards motivate you? Or just the relief of being done?
Do you set goals? If so, do you balance them with rewards? For instance, if I finish this task, then I can read my book (or take a cruise or go shopping). Or do you withhold rewards? As in, I can’t read this book until I finish my work? The difference is subtle, I think, but the first tends to position the reward as the goal. The second requires the completion of the goal before the reward can be enjoyed.
Are there goals or deadlines in your work life? Do you set goals or deadlines in your personal life?

     Grace Greene writes women's fiction and contemporary romance with suspense. A Virginia native, Grace has family ties to North Carolina. She writes books set in both locations.
     The Emerald Isle books, BEACH RENTAL and BEACH WINDS, are set in North Carolina where "It's always a good time for a love story and a trip to the beach."

     Or travel down Virginia Country Roads in KINCAID'S HOPE, A STRANGER IN WYNNEDOWER, and CUB CREEK and "Take a trip to love, mystery and suspense." BEACH RENTAL, her debut novel, won the Booksellers Best contest in both the Traditional and Best First Book categories. BEACH RENTAL and BEACH WINDS were each awarded 4.5 stars, Top Pick by RT Book Reviews magazine.
Grace lives in central Virginia. You’ll find her at

Monday, July 18, 2016

Avocados—A Quick and Easy Lunch! By Raine English

When I’m working on a book, I hate to take time off for lunch, so I usually go for something quick and easy—an avocado. They’re protein rich and carb free. However, I like a little variety with my food, so I’m always looking for new ways to eat them. One of my favorites is to mix a chopped avocado with a can of tuna, add some fresh basil, a little salt and pepper, then serve on a bed of lettuce or in a tomato wrap. It’s quick, easy, and delicious, and best of all, I’m back to work in a flash.

What are some of your favorite ways to use avocados?


USA Today bestselling author Raine English writes sweet small-town contemporary romance, along with steamier paranormal and Gothic romantic suspense. She’s a Daphne du Maurier Award winner and a Golden Heart finalist. This month if you sign up for her newsletter, you’ll receive a FREE ebook of Chasing Happiness, book one of the Love Always Series. It revolves around three childhood friends who encounter a lot more than anticipated while searching for love. You can also visit her website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

And don’t forget to sign up for the Sweet Romance Reads newsletter. Scroll down the right side of our blog and enter your email address under Newsletter Signup. Remember to join the Sweet Romance Reads Cafe too.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Is Our Writing Environment Important to Us? By Margaret Daley

I remember when I first stated writing back in the Dark Ages when I used a typewriter. I had my typewriter set up on the kitchen table. I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve advanced to a computer (and so glad I don’t have to revise a manuscript on a typewriter—a lot of work) and I have my own office with a door I can close when I want to keep the world out.

Have you ever tried to write and family members keep interrupting you and you lose your thought in mid-sentence? Or, you don’t have anywhere to spread your stuff out? There are times when I’m on a deadline that my office gets messy, but I don’t have to straighten up until I’ve sent my book off. I just shut the door so no one has to see the mess but me.

When I set up my office years ago, I put a lot of thought into its layout and furniture. I wanted something that inspired me and was comfortable. After all, I was going to spend hours and hours in that room. I spend more time in my office than any room in my house—even my bedroom. Okay, that may read that I’m a workaholic and I probably am but I have everything I need at my fingertips. 
My office walls are painted hot pink with white trim. I didn’t know how I was going to like hot pink and thought if it didn’t work out I could paint over it. But I love the walls. I find the color is invigorating, and I haven’t grown tired of the hot pink yet. In fact, the color has grown on me.

Over the years I began collecting flamingoes. I love animals and flamingoes are hot pink. What better accent than that in my office! Now I have so many—from a giant six-foot stuffed flamingo to a Christmas tree with mostly flamingo ornaments on it. The tree is up year round. And if my cats leave the tree alone, the ornaments stay on it.

When I published my first book in 1981, my husband starting framing my books to hang on the wall. Now I have over sixty on the walls in my office. When I get discouraged, I can look at what I’ve accomplished in almost thirty years in the business. 

How important is your workspace to you? For me it is my getaway where I can go to dream up stories to entertain readers. I usually read books for pleasure even in my office. I have a couch that is quite comfortable. I have been known to fall asleep on it. What do you think is important in an office or a workspace?

Margaret Daley has a new release this month—Deadly Legacy. Blurb: Legacy of Secrets. Threats and Danger. Second Chances. From USA Today Bestselling author, Margaret Daley, is another romantic suspense from her series Strong Women, Extraordinary Situations.
Down on her luck, single mom, Lacey St. John, believes her life has finally changed for the better when she receives an inheritance from a wealthy stranger. Her ancestral home she'd thought forever lost has been transformed into a lucrative bed and breakfast guaranteed to bring much-needed financial security. Her happiness is complete until strange happenings erode her sense of well being. When her life is threatened, she turns to neighbor, Sheriff Ryan McNeil, for help. He promises to solve the mystery of who's ruining her newfound peace of mind, but when her troubles escalate to the point that her every move leads to danger, she's unsure who to trust. Is the strong, capable neighbor she's falling for as amazing as he seems? Or could he be the man who wants her dead?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Summer Foods by Alicia Street

Aside from having more daylight hours to sneak off and get in some reading, summer is a wonderful time to enjoy eating outdoors while taking in the warm sun and fresh air. 

My husband calls these watermelon days. That’s because we both love watermelon and while it is in season we go through melons with ravenous delight. Aside from their sweet, wonderful flavor, they are loaded with great things like, lycopene, Vitamin C, potassium and other fantastic nutrients.

Some of my other summer favorites are potato salad, juicy tomatoes, avocados, corn on the cob, blueberries and cherries.

Here is a recipe for my go-to summer sandwich! 

Avocado, Tomato and Turkey Sandwich

1 large salad tomato, sliced
1 medium avocado, peeled, halved
4 ounces roasted turkey slices
Handful of arugula leaves
1 tspn mayonnaise (optional)
2 pieces rye bread

Toast the bread and spread on mayonnaise. Slightly mash the avocado and spread it thickly on one piece of the bread. Lay turkey slices on top, followed by the sliced tomatoes and arugula. Add second piece of bread to form sandwich.

What are your favorite summer foods?

Alicia Street is a USA Today bestselling author and a Daphne du Maurier award-winner.
A compulsive reader of every genre, she writes both sweet and steamy romance. She spent many
years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. You can connect with Alicia at her website or visit her on Facebook or Twitter.


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