Autumn Cleaning: Re-evaluating Things #writerslife

by Ronel Janse van Vuuren

I wasn’t sure what to write for this month’s post: I have so many ideas! But with the feeling of Spring/Autumn in the air I went with that.

In my part of the world it is Autumn. It’s a beautiful time of year when the leaves turn into shades of orange, red and brown before creating a carpet of leaves on the brown grass. The days become cool and the nights become freezing.

For me, it is a time to do some cleaning. Yes, like Spring cleaning, but in the Autumn.

Autumn cleaning isn’t about getting rid of the cobwebs of Winter. No, it’s about re-evaluating things. Like scanning in the articles I like from magazines I own before taking the magazines to the library for others to share and delight in; sorting through my closet and donating the clothes I no longer wear or want to those who need it; re-evaluating my writing priorities for the year ahead.

And this year: re-evaluating friendships.

I’ve been part of a large women’s organisation since 2010. I’ve attended all the functions, made sure I wore the right colours and had outfits for every occasion. I organised my fair share of events and dealt with the accompanying headaches. I’ve given and given and given. I thought it would pay off.

But at our yearly big get-together I asked for something for the first time. And… I have to admit that I find myself disappointed. We had agreed at our last meeting that I would do a short reading from my book, talk a bit about it, put my business card at each setting and sell a couple of books to those interested.

When I arrived they wanted to cut me out of everything entirely… I had to stand up for my rights (without getting too much into it: we all had to contribute financially to this venture and we didn’t have entertainment for the day – which is why I volunteered to read and do a signing for free). The rest of the group – the ones I only see once a year – listened to me, some bought a copy of my book, we took photos, chatted, and had fun.

Only four from my group were interested in supporting me (one being my BFF since forever). One from my group outright told me that my business cards didn’t fit with her tables (despite it matching the colour scheme and it being something we’ve decided on at our meeting). Let’s not get into the rest. Like saying you haven’t got money, yet you spent more than twice the amount for a book on playing the horses five minutes earlier…

I know fantasy – especially dark fantasy – isn’t for everyone.

Some of my sales will come from ebooks and audiobooks (I have met a lot of women who either cannot read anymore because of failing eyesight or don’t have the space for physical books anymore). But they have my business card. It was good. Some will buy the English version when it comes out in July. That’s excellent. I made another impression on people. (Which is why live events are great.)

Yet… The effort I had to go through, the planning, the hope of support from my friends – I’m not sure it paid off. If I look at what I’ve done over years and what I got in return…

I think it might be time to only focus on things that really help my career, be with people who actually support my writing (like a few of my friends from this group do) and stop adding extra stress to my life. Some people just have the way to rub you the wrong way and add unnecessary stress to events.

If I can stop writing flash fiction and be a flash fiction judge, then I can stop being part of a group that doesn’t work for me anymore and stop being friends with people I’ve outgrown.

Easier said than done, though.

Re-evaluating things are always difficult. But once the decision is made, deadlines set and commitments made, things usually go okay enough.

If you want to see photos and hear news about my first signing, stop by my blog on the 25th of April. Can’t wait to have you over 🙂

Do you have a yearly ritual of re-evaluating your life? Have you ever had to cut ties with people for whatever reason? Have you ever attended a book signing?


Ronel Janse van Vuuren is the author of New Adult, Young Adult and children’s fiction filled with mythology and folklore. Her dark fantasy stories can be read for free on Wattpad and on her blog Ronel the Mythmaker. She won Fiction Writer of the Year 2016 for her Afrikaans stories on INK: Skryf in Afrikaans. Her published works can be viewed on Goodreads.

Ronel can be found tweeting about writing and other things that interest her, arguing with her characters, researching folklore for her newest story or playing with her Rottweilers when she’s not actually writing

Miles of Memories – Part 2: Two-Footed Friends & Family

Gayle_BozemanFamilyChristian_smallThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

Earlier this month my husband and I traveled through and to several states to visit friends and family, covering several thousand miles. Last week I wrote my thoughts on four-footed friends that have impacted my life. This week I’m remembering the two-footed friends and family that those 4,000-miles brought to heart and mind, some of whom we visited.

Greg and I spent time with his family in North and South Carolina and with some of my relatives in Mississippi. We also shared great times with a few of his friends, including one whom Greg hadn’t seen in more than 40 years – they had been good friends in high school but had lost touch over the years. That happens to many of us and made me think about the advantages of Facebook, email, and texting. Reconnecting with people who played a major role in one’s life is important, and the older I get, the more I recognize that fact.

Friends_IowaI grew up in Iowa but haven’t lived there since I was 17 years old. I’ve been back for visits periodically over the years, however, since my maternal grandmother died in 1990, those visits have been very few. My mother was an only child and so was I, therefore, direct family no longer lives in Iowa. I do have several childhood friends, however, that I enjoy sharing time with, and I hope to do that again in the near future. My last visit was nearly four years ago – I do hope to return, perhaps for a booksigning with the latest muse as well as visits with my friends. Burlington has a wonderful bookstore downtown, called Burlington by the Book, and in 2012 I had a signing there and several of my childhood friends came by. I believe it’s time for another one day soon!

Greg and Patrick_Cardinals_July 2016Greg’s friend in St. Louis, whom he hadn’t seen in nearly 40 years, met us at Busch Stadium where the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Milwaukee Brewers. The game was GREAT! With the Cards winning 7 to 1. And my husband, who loves his St. Louis Cardinals (Greg graduated from a high school in St. Louis in 1973) spent most of the game catching up with his friend, who is a chiropractor in the city. They reminisced and shared about their lives today. After the game, a fireworks display reminded us of the upcoming 4th of July, and thereafter, Greg and I and Patrick and his girlfriend met shared a few hours at a neighborhood bar, sitting outside in the warm night air, sharing, laughing, and learning. It was a fun night!

cookseys mansfields irwinsA week later we were in Mississippi staying at my cousin’s house. I hadn’t seen her since I was 17 years old; she was about 10 then. As adults, we connected via Facebook and have been following each other and with me learning more about her family, including the fact her youngest son is in the movies – he’s one of the young boys in Free State of Jones. Greg and I saw the movie before our trip, and we both agree Cade Mansfield Cooksey did an excellent job! While we visited at their home, we met the family dogs (my cousin Lynette is also a big pet fan, especially regarding dog rescue) and also reconnected with my uncle and aunt, Lynette’s parents; Greg and I had seen them in St. Louis of all places about six years ago when we went to a ballgame and they were in town for a convention. It was fun to reconnect with the family!

gayle_carolina beachVisiting Greg’s family in North and South Carolina was also very enjoyable. I had not been out there in more than eight years. Our sister-in-law took a day off work and drove me to Carolina Beach along the Atlantic Ocean. I rarely have opportunity to see the ocean so it was a very special day for me. Greg spent each of the four days we were there with his brother and his mother and had a wonderful time. I, too, enjoyed sharing time with them, and as a family, we all gathered for a grill-out on July 4 and then a picnic at a park near my mother-in-law’s senior apartment complex the next day.

IMG_1194My parents will be visiting later this week. My dad turns 80 on July 28, and we are planning a small gathering of friends at our cabin on Saturday to celebrate. I was blessed to help celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary last month with a trip to Yellowstone and Teton national parks, where we shared day trips in and around the park. My parents have had a major influence on me through the years, especially regarding appreciation for nature and animals. We spent many times during my childhood camping and traveling, being outdoors and raising animals. I look forward to hosting my parents and to celebrating dad’s special day; having the cabin is an added benefit and my parents enjoy being there — the outdoor force is certainly strong in my family!

Greg Gayle Mom Dad_cabin

Even though Greg and I didn’t get to spend time in Iowa, I certainly thought a lot about my childhood residences (we first lived in Burlington then moved to a small acreage about 15 miles north) as we drove through Nebraska and Missouri in particular. I, too, was (and am) a Cardinals fan (made a great fun rivalry with my mother and grandmother who were Cubs fans) and one time Dad took me to visit Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home outside Mansfield (how appropriate – that’s my maiden name!), Missouri; Greg and I also visited the Wilders’ Rocky Ridge Farm in 2007. A stop in Nebraska during this July trip took us to HyVee Grocery Store, which I remember well from my childhood as Burlington also had/has HyVee – I got to see Santa and his reindeer there when I was eight – and Sterzings Potato Chips, which are made in Burlington and are a major LIKE for me and my parents, were on the shelf.I bought two bags: one package now awaits my parents’ arrival this week; Greg and I ate the other as we completed the trip and finished it after we returned (it’s been difficult to NOT eat that second bag!).

potato chips_sters

That 4,000-mile drive earlier this month helped remind me of the importance of family and friends. Memories of yesteryear still impact me today, and I’m grateful to the people in my life who have helped shape it. I hope you, too, have wonderful childhood memories and that you are able to stay connected with the people who have positively impacted your life.


Gayle_signing photoGayle M. Irwin writes inspirational pet stories for children and adults. She is the author of six books, some for children and some for adults and families, and is a contributing writer to six editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. She is also one of the writers featured in Memories from Maple Street USA: Pawprints on My Heart, released in July from Sundown Press, with a story about the positive life lessons dogs can epitomize. The book is available in both e-format and print format. Learn more about this new publication at Learn more about Gayle and her writing and speaking endeavors at

SageBigAdventureFront-small   Sage Finds Friends_front cover   Walking_FrontCover_small   Cody Cabin_New Book CoverImage   Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014   Chicken Soup_DogDidWhat_Cover   Spirit of America book   Pawprints Book



Friendship in the Garden by ErinFarwell

IMG_3046Recently I enjoyed the best evening I’ve had in a long time. While I love my husband and daughter dearly, this time was spent with my dear friend Stephanie Stamm. We first met in Chicago many years ago and later we became roommates, sharing my condo located near Foster and Sheridan roads just off of Lake Shore Drive. Work had me moving to the Atlanta area and shortly thereafter Stephanie moved to Michigan. She was one of my bridesmaids and a dear friend.

Life and distance separated us and communication dwindled to the occasional Christmas card. In 2012, we both published our first books and visited together briefly in Michigan. This was enough to renew our friendship and we kept in touch via emails, Facebook, and the occasional telephone call. She later joined Writing Wranglers and Warriors and our ties deepened.ABG

Earlier this year an amazing thing happened: Stephanie moved to Atlanta! I was so excited. Just having her back in my life helped me recapture some parts of me that were shuffled to the side in the face of marriage and motherhood. I wouldn’t change my life, but it has been nice to reconnect with someone who knew me before I became a wife and mother.

Despite our new proximity, my life and responsibilities has kept me from seeing Stephanie as much as I’d like. We rectified this issue with a recent visit to the Atlanta Botanical Garden to see the “Bruce Munro Light in the Garden” exhibition.

ABG8I drove to her condo to pick her up and had a lovely tour of her new home. One of her cats came out to say hi, but kept her distance. The other cat was shy and only evidenced by the cat litter boxes in the bathroom. We chatted a bit, mostly me actually, and then we headed to the gardens. The exhibit is from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm and we had the perfect evening for it.

We started with the Canopy Walk and stood on the walkway high above the Forest of Light installation while Stephanie shared stories of her life over the past 10 years or so. As we watched the 30,000 lights below brighten in the gathering dusk, fireflies began to flit between the bulbs. We continued down the walkway and into the lights, following paths until we found ourselves at one of the many water features of the garden. This ABG7one is particularly lovely, a series of ponds with waterfalls connecting them and a large plant sculpture of a woman with water pouring from her hands.

Next we went to a geodesic dome installation called Beacon and then into the Fuqua Conservatory to see the “Eden Blooms” installation and enjoyed the sounds of the frogs as well as the lights. In the next room were three sculptures called “Three Degrees.” There was some great oldies music playing in the room with them so we danced a bit before moving on to the ABG3orchid room. Throughout this all, Stephanie and I talked, reinforcing bonds that had stretched too thin.

Feeling peckish, we stopped at the Garden House Café for drinks and a snack. We shared an amazing repast of fresh bread, heirloom tomato salad with sherry vinaigrette dressing, and a board of locally made cheeses.

The hour grew late and we realized we’d missed an installation near the Conservatory so weABG4 went back to see the Water Towers. The final installation, Swing Low, we had seen on our way in and again on our way out.

At some point in our wanderings I realized that my cheeks hurt from smiling. I missed my friend more than I had realized and was rejuvenated by our adventure together. I dropped Stephanie back at her condo and drove home, still smiling and happy, already planning our next outing.

Learn more about me at:

ShadowlandsAHE New Cover8149g0+Rz-L._SL1500_

Music to My Ears

Gayle_BozemanFamilyChristian_smallThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

Last weekend my husband and I spent time at the Beartrap Summer Festival, an annual music event at Beartrap Meadow on Casper Mountain. This year marked the 21st installment of what started as a small music festival that has, over the decades, grown to one of the biggest events in our area. Some of the greatest in blues, jazz, bluegrass, and other music genres are featured, including Ricky Skaggs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and this year Charlie Daniels. But, it’s not just “major stars” who appear: many local and regional performers step onto the stage. This year that lineup included the barbershop chorus in which my husband has been involved for nearly 20 years, and a group known as Ana, Rachel & Friends, consisting of two young women I’ve known since they were small children who are growing up to be fiddle champions, amazing singers, and experts with many musical instruments. My husband’s group sang gospel music on Sunday and the young women, accompanied by their father who plays guitar and banjo, another guitarist, and a bass player (who was my landlord when I moved to Casper in the late 1990s), sang spirituals and played bluegrass-style instrumentals – music to my ears, making my heart sing.

Group singingNext week I’ll be traveling to Red Rocks Amphitheater outside of Denver for a mega-worship concert featuring Christian recording artists Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Matt Mahr. Each man is gifted in his own right and I’ve longed to see a performance from each one, and to think I’ll be able to experience their amazing talents and gifts TOGETHER IN ONE LOCATION! Music to my ears! My heart is singing in anticipation – I am sure my soul will soar at the actual event (if I can survive mega-city traffic at a sold-out concert!!)!

This week I’m attending the annual Global Leadership Summit. For the past five years, I’ve been blessed by the organization for which I work three days a week to have the expense paid to attend the simulcast of this event, which is broadcast live for two days in August from Chicago. Each year speakers enlighten, encourage, and challenge us to become better leaders in our organizations, businesses, and relationships. I come away inspired and ready to take the next steps in my growth as a leader of volunteers as well as an entrepreneur, a writer, a life partner, business partner, friend, and human being. The words from these speakers are music to my ears.

Greg Gayle Mom Dad_cabinMy parents spent a week with Greg and me. We laughed, we reminisced, we planned ahead (dad’s potential back surgery this fall, a family vacation scheduled for next summer, and another in the year thereafter – my dad and I LOVE to plan trips!) Greg and I took my parents to our cabin for a few days where songbirds trill, foxes yip, and pine squirrels chatter. All these people, all these things, make my heart sing.

I’ve enjoyed lunches and evening drinks recently with various friends, people who also make my heart sing. I’ll welcome my writers group to the cabin later this month, people who I enjoy and who are encouraging. Friends, too, are music to my ears.

One of my works in progress (WIP) is a devotional called “Seasons of Life, Seasons of Nature.” The manuscript ties the seasons of our lives with the seasons of nature, such as blizzards in winter, renewal in spring, refreshment as well as drought in summer, and changes during autumn. The work will include words to favorite (public domain) hymns which reflect the topic of the week, such as lambs and shepherds associated with Easter and spring, the manger child of Christmas, rolling clouds and thunderstorms of summer, and harvest time of fall. I enjoy both contemporary Christian music, as I’ll witness at the upcoming concert, and the old-time hymns which are reflected in my manuscript and were sung at the Beartrap Festival. Music that stirs my soul, makes my heart sing, and that is literally and figuratively music to my ears.

Seasons of Life Partial Book CoverOur words, whether written in story or song, whether on printed page or spoken to family, friends, and colleagues, even to ourselves, can be stirring, encouraging, and helpful. Words, spoken or written, can be filled with viciousness and vile – we witness that constantly, from politicians, extremist groups, even co-workers, family members, and supposed “friends.” As writers, we are the developers of words, the creators of stories (and songs). I yearn to be a writer that encourages, who educates and uplifts, one that stirs souls and makes hearts sing. May the words we write (and speak), the stories we share, be music to our ears – and to the ears (and eyes) of our readers.

What makes your heart sing? What/who is music to your ears?

Gayle & Mary outsideGayle M. Irwin is a writer, author and speaker. She’s authored several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and two dog devotion books: Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including The Dog Did What?, released August 2014. She’s also created a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at

SageBigAdventureFront-small Walking_FrontCover_small  Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover  Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014

Basking in Beauty: Past, Present and Future

Gayle_CactusForest_nearLakePleasantThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

The past several days I’ve spent in the sunny southwest. The desert is alive with color and since spring was just last week, I found the timing of my visit very appropriate. While in Phoenix, I saw roses and multiple other types of flowers. Traveling to Tucson, cactus flowers, primrose and other colorful vegetation greeted my friend and I as we walked the trails of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. I took endless photos and basked in the beauty that welcomed us.

Cacti Garden_AZ Desert MuseumBeauty was not just in the plant life, but in the animals we saw: captive ones to educate the public about the fauna of the region, and wild ones, like lizards and songbirds, that make the desert their home. I was excited to see otters, herons, and desert bighorn that could not be released in the wild due to injuries but that could still educate people living in and not living in Arizona about their habits and habitats, and I was even more excited to see the wild ones that just “appeared” to reflect their adaptations to the environment. I love seeing and learning about the flora and fauna of a region I visit – there is beauty in nature and in learning about it.

Dougs MustangThere is also beauty in the relationships we share with others. My friends Doug and his family gave me their time, gas, and food as we shared about three days together. We reflected upon the past – the years we’ve known one another, their years of marriage, their kids’ education; upon the present – what we’re all doing now, our concerns and our joys, and the connection we maintain; and about the future – what their kids want to become as adults, my friends’ future vacation and retirement plans, our aging parents and our aging selves. Nature and friendship – two of the most beautiful things we experience in life!

As writers we can create beauty as well. Our characters have relationships with other characters (past, present, future) and sometimes writers weave nature into stories, showcasing the beauty (and sometimes danger) our characters experience. In Sage’s Big Adventure, blind dog Sage becomes lost in the woods (something that actually happened to my real blind dog Sage). The dog’s strong relationship with her people help her return home to them. I’ve seen that and read about that – some pets return home months, even years later, their connection to their humans such a beautiful and strong component to get them home (think of the movie ‘Homeward Bound’ – I cry at the end EVERY time!).

How do you create your characters’ relationships? Do you think about past, present, and future of your characters? Do you bring nature into your stories, and if so, do you showcase beauty or danger, or both?

Gayle_Old Tucson Creek BackdropAs this post goes live, I’ll be returning to Wyoming after four days in Arizona and three days in Las Vegas. In Vegas, I’ll have met up with another long-time friend, a woman who lives in California but who has ties (including the start of our friendship 20 years ago) in Montana; I also planned to have lunch with fellow Writing Wrangler Mike Staton. I’m very excited to see Kari and share my birthday with her with dinner and a show, and to meet and visit with Mike. There’s past, present, and future in these friendships, too – what a beautiful thing!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Blue Heron

Gayle & Mary outsideGayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and two dog devotion books: Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including The Dog Did What?, released August 2014. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at


SageBigAdventureFront-small   SageLearnsShareFront-small   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014   Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover

Celebrating Friends

Gayle_ChrisjpgThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

In a few days, I’ll take that big ol’ jet airliner (see Steve Miller Band’s song on YouTube) west and southwest. I’m traveling to Phoenix for about five days then spending two-and-a-half in Las Vegas (and looking forward to meeting Mike Staton and having lunch with him while I’m in the area!)

Two friends from college and their families live in the Phoenix area. One of my friends has lived there for nearly 25 years and the other became a snowbird about three years ago (he and his wife winter in AZ and summer in WY … I try to not let the green-eyed monster of jealousy rise too high when I think of this couple!) A woman I’ve known for nearly 20 years lives in the Los Angeles area; she’s an elementary teacher and spring break for her occurs during the time I’m traveling – so we’re meeting in Vegas for a few days. During that time I will have my 54th birthday, and my girlfriend and I are going to hit the town for dinner and a show! While in Arizona, my friends and I are going to enjoy several adventures, including visiting Old Tucson Studios and possibly a spring training baseball game. I had hoped my husband would join me on this part of the trip, but work and church obligations keep him in Casper. Although I’d love hubby to join me, I have my friends to spend time and share adventures with, and I’m grateful for that.

AZ 2013_Sarg Cactus and Sky

I have another friend that I’ve known for more than 30 years who, last year, was diagnosed with a very rare form of stomach cancer. He’s my age. He’s gone through multiple surgeries for the cancer and for infections thereafter. Needless to say, the world of he and his family has been rocked … so has mine. This person and his wife mean a great deal to me – they are the brother and sister I’ve never had. Last week I gathered with them for a dinner. Despite the uncertainty they face and the major setbacks they’ve had, they still maintain a great attitude. We had a wonderful time, sharing laughter and memories … and a few tears.

I’ve also shed a few tears over my elderly dog Cody during the past several days. He is nearly 17 and has had some great struggles. One evening I returned home from work to find him nearly comatose. We suspect he had a stroke. He rebounded the next day and has had several up days lately; we even took him to our cabin on the mountain last weekend. We treasure each day we have with him despite the getting up several times in the night due to his health conditions and being very tired. Cody’s old soul is tired, too, and one day he won’t be with us any longer. Although to be expected with his advancing age, the idea of losing him breaks my heart – he’s been, and remains, a cherished friend.



I have a bracelet that I wear nearly every day. It has colorful beads, and the word “HOPE” secures the ends. I look at that and try to remember hope is alive and well when a person digs down deep and perseveres. Each of those colored beads represents someone special in my life, friend or family member I care about. I look at the word “HOPE” and whisper a prayer over each of those individuals I think of when I view the bracelet on my wrist. I will be wearing it on my trip.

bracelet_HOPENo one knows the future. We live in the present and we create good (or bad) with what we have. I am thankful for friends, those I’ve known since elementary and high school with whom I still maintain a relationship; my colleagues at work; my writers’ group; my fellow Writing Wranglers; and my neighbor and surrogate mother Marian, who helps with the dogs SO OFTEN. I celebrate each one who has often shared hope with me in times of loss. And, I choose to remember the good times, such as my dog Cody barking loudly at a dog or person he thought was out to harm me (small dog, big heart, that boy!), or the many years of friendship I’ve shared with my friends in Arizona, California, and Wyoming… or wherever they may live.  Gayle with Stacy and Cindy


I know you, too, cherish your friendships for I’ve seen postings on this blog about people you care about. And, I cherish you, my Writing Wrangler friends, because we share a love of writing, we’ve come to know each other more personally, and you have been an encouragement to me through the years I’ve “known” you.

So, as I prepare to wing my way to a sunny southwest and bask in the beauty and joy of friendship with some special people, I toast you all! I celebrate you, my many other friends, and my family, those near and far!


Gayle and Greg with friends in Mesa, AZ
Gayle and Greg with friends in Mesa, AZ


Gayle & Mary outside is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and two dog devotion books: Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including The Dog Did What?, released August 2014. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at


SageBigAdventureFront-small   SageLearnsShareFront-small   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014  Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final  Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice CoverWalking_FrontCover_small

A Gift of Time by Erin Farwell

IMG_3021_1Lately it seems as though I am simply surviving. I move from one task to the next with little ability or energy to plan beyond the next deadline or responsibility. I have been sick the last week or so, a cold that just won’t go away, but it’s more than that. I’m the one who plans for holidays and birthdays weeks or more in advance yet this Valentine’s Day I shopped for a little something for my daughter the night before. I don’t like living from one chore to the next but I can’t seem to get caught up enough to shift into a more thoughtful, intentional mode.

This issue has nagged at me for a few days because one of my closest friends, Jodi, had a birthday yesterday. We are celebrating together today and I want to do something to let her know how important she is to me. We met at the public pool when both of our daughters were around four or so. We clicked immediately and moved beyond the pool to having play-dates. It quickly became clear that while we were becoming friends, our daughters were not as compatible, so we ditched the kids play date but have made it a mission to have breakfast or lunch together one day a month during the school year. We’ve been doing this consistently since the girls started friendshipkindergarten, so it’s been about eight years.

Jodi is awesome because she supports me in everything I’m up to, gives great advice, and knows we can disagree on certain issues (mostly politics) without having it be personal. We both have busy lives and just knowing she’s there for me, as I am for her, is all we need. We don’t chat on the phone or spend lots of time together, but we know if we need anything, help, support, understanding, or just someone to say it’s okay, the other will be there – no questions asked.

For my birthday in September, Jodi made me a bag of gifts based on a blog I wrote. She filled it with several different things that she really enjoys and wanted to share with me. I was touched that she had read the blog but also that she put so much thought and effort into my gift.

And this leads me back to my issue of moving from one task to another. I want to do something as thoughtful for her as she did for me. CIMG1630This isn’t about a competition; I just want her to feel as special on her birthday as she made me feel on mine.

We are meeting at a French restaurant we like for her birthday lunch and I have purchased a few things that are “her” but they don’t feel special enough. I wanted something that was thoughtful and was a gift of effort as well as a “thing.” Then I knew what to do.

Yesterday I spent a good part of my time making home-made yeast bread. I used the recipe my paternal Erin_18AUG1977_Youth_Fairgrandmother baked almost every weekend and which she passed on to my mother. I earned “Best in Show” with a loaf I made from this recipe at the county fair when I was in High School. One of my best childhood memories is the smell of this bread baking in the oven. My own daughter loves this bread as much as I do, and can’t wait for it to cool before cutting a thick slice and slathering it with butter.

So, I am giving Jodi the time and effort that I used to make her something that’s both tasty and a piece of my history. I know she’ll appreciate the gift for all that it is and hope that it conveys what a gift she is in my life.

Some friends are just worth the extra effort.

Learn more about me at:

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Fear of Falling, Part 2

propic11_1_1This post written by L.Leander, Writer of Fearless Fiction

You may wish to read Fear of Falling Part 1 before you read this because it is a continuation of that post.

We had planned a trip with friends to a town south of Guadalajara, MX and had already paid for bus tickets, etc. There was no way I wasn’t going, even after the concussion and my Doctor’s orders to take it easy. This was three weeks later. The bruising was faded and I’d have Ralph to help so I wasn’t too worried. Everything went well until the first night and I had some sort of seizure. My whole body stiffened and I shook uncontrollably. This happened a couple of times during the night but with God’s help and Ralph holding me close, I got through it. We had a nurse in our party and I checked

spasguywith her the next morning. She told me to take it easy that day, do a little shopping and come back to the hotel to rest. That’s what I did. The rest of the trip was fine and we had a great time seeing the sights of Guadalajara and did lots of shopping.

When we got back to Mazatlan I was alternately depressed and very anxious. Again, I went to my doctor and he prescribed a short dose of Xanax to sleep and a blood pressure medication because mine was very high and I’m prone to low. We were getting ready to go home to the US and moved to an apartment our friends owned right on the beach. The anxiousness and depression was getting worse and I finally went to the ER. I had wonderful doctors who spoke English and they admitted me overnight for tests. After a Cat Scan and an exam by Mazatlan’s top neurologist, I was found to be fine and went home. A couple of days later we left for the US, going through Mexico City, which wasn’t our normal route.

National Institute of Mental Health:

The airport in Mexico City is one I’ll never forget. I cried for six hours straight while we waited for our next flight. I’d lost my Mexican Citizenship card and even though we looked through everything we couldn’t find it. Ralph had to watch my guitar and fiddle and the other carry-ons, while an attendant put me in a wheelchair and took me to the Office of Residency. I was told I couldn’t leave the country without the card cryingbeing stamped, so I cried some more. Finally, a kind gentleman behind the desk came over to tell me there was only one way I could leave. I’d have to give up my residency. He called for another wheelchair and I believe I was escorted through most of the airport until we came to the Aduana’s office. I explained my problem, they gave me a paper to sign, and then I had to go next door to get another signature. I brought it back, and then was told to go to the bank and pay $3000 pesos (about $30 US). Finally, I was reunited with Ralph just as our flight was ready to leave. I was exhausted and no longer a resident of Mexico, but on a tourist visa.

We got home safely, had some car issues but AAA took care of us. A couple of days later the shaking started again and I was angry and sad all at the same time. I began yelling at Ralph (who is so calm and collected he never said one mean word while I railed and ranted) and we headed to the hospital again, just in case there was something the hospital in Mexico hadn’t caught. The ER doc told me I was tired  from the trip and worried about the concussion when I shouldn’t be. He sent me home. I made an appointment madwith my doctor but she wasn’t available, so I saw a Nurse Practitioner. He was very thorough and said I had high blood pressure, which could be controlled. He gave me a very low dose of meds and a low dose of Xanax to help me seep. At this point I wasn’t getting any sleep at night.

Bipolar Symptoms and Treatment:  

I finally saw my regular doc and she prescribed Zoloft to help with the depression. I continued to live in misery. One day after I had been particularly angry, something inside me knew there was a problem that the docs couldn’t find. Maybe I’d benefit from talking about it. I called and set up an appointment with a therapist as a last resort. With trepidation I walked into that first meeting not knowing if I’d done the pillsright thing. It turned out I had. I saw the person I credit for saving me from more of the terror I had been living through. The first time I went I couldn’t stop talking and crying. I told her how angry I was and all of the other symptoms. The next week when I came for my second appointment she put on some soft music, held my hands and looked into my eyes. “I’m quite sure you have Bipolar Disorder,” she said. I need to have you meet with a Psychiatrist to be sure. Then we’ll develop a plan that’s right for you.

All these thoughts ran through my mind. “I’m not crazy, what is she talking about? I’m 64 years old. You don’t just develop Bipolar Disease this late in life, do you?” The therapist told me I wasn’t crazy but had a treatable disease and once she had the information from the Psychiatrist we would continue our treatment. I made the appointment that day.

The day of the psychiatrist appointment came and I was nervous, but it turned out I didn’t need to be. I saw a woman psychiatrist in my health network and she is just as calm and kind as my therapist. She listened to me and read the therapist’s notes, agreeing with her that I had Bipolar Disorder. I felt like I’d been hit by a ton of bricks. I begged not to be put on Lithium because I’d heard horror stories about it (a lot I knew!). She started me on an anti-seizure medication that works for Bipolar as well, and a low dose of Xanax to sleep. I was already taking the Zoloft my primary doctor had prescribed.

I was so sad. I didn’t want anyone to know I had a Mental Disorder because I thought they’d think I was crazy, less of a person. I felt worthless,like I was barely hanging on.  I couldn’t write, play my music or sew, activities that I’d always hangingonenjoyed. Instead I read a book a day and worked on 1,000-Piece Jigsaw Puzzles, things that gave me peace. I did reach out to two people I knew wouldn’t judge me and would pray that I could accept my diagnosis and follow the regimen I was prescribed. One is a close friend from Mexico and the other was Cherley. Both have held my hand when I thought I couldn’t make it, prayed for me, and assured me that everything would settle down and I’d be all right. I clung to their words and I know how the power of prayer works, so I relaxed a little. Cherley kept in close touch with me, making sure everything was ok and offering her help in any way she could. (I offered to leave WW&W but she told me I had things to write about that people wanted to hear). I cut down to one post a month, temporarily, until I feel less pressure. My other friend, Shilo, and her husband came out of their way for a visit on their way home from Mexico to Canada. It was so special to know I had friends I could count on. Of course, I told my family first. Their reaction? “So what? It’s a treatable disease and you’re our sister, you know how much we love you.” My daughter already knew and was also a source of support but she was going through medical issues of her own at the time.

happy-sun_1After I got over the shock I realized I was happy. There was a name for what was wrong with me. But I wouldn’t tell anyone. I’d just keep quiet about it for now. I began taking the drugs my Psychiatrist prescribed and slowly the panic attacks and depression began to level out. I continued weekly therapy with  my therapist and a visit every six weeks to the psychiatrist for med checks and to see how I was doing. Through my therapy I realized I had been Bipolar since around the age of 17. I could pinpoint exactly when the panic attacks started, as well as the depression. How I ever got through it all until I was 64 shows my strength, or so my therapist told me. I suffered a lot of abuse and through it all I remained strong, being the main breadwinner for my family and a good mother to my children. Through it all I suffered extreme panic attacks and debilitating depressions and I had a deep feeling of unworthiness. I accepted it as part of my life, so never sought help.

Patients like Me:

So what do I do now? I have been seeing the same therapist and psychiatrist since this whole fiasco started, in April of 2013. The meds prescribed have had to be adjusted a bit but they have settled both the highs and lows and I sleep well. Most of my life I was a 4-hour a night sleeper. It feels good to get 6 or 7.sleepingpig My therapist and I developed a plan for me that includes meditation morning and night, and walking every day. She stressed upon me that people with this disorder need to feel safe and that a repeating certain things every day helped with that. I had never meditated before but love it now.  I go to bed at the same time every night and have the same sequence of events to get ready for sleep.  I meditate, take my meds, do a crossword puzzle and read.  All have helped.

The anger rarely shows its evil head any more, I’ve calmed down a lot, and even though depression tries to find a way in I have a plan to head it off before it gets too much to handle. I have a contract with my therapist regarding suicide (which I have never contemplated) and a list of what to do if I’m feeling out of control. She even gave me her personal phone number in case I had to call.  My therapy sessions are down to every two weeks now and my psychiatrist sessions down to every two months.

I took a pro-active stance when I found out my diagnosis. I read just about all I could find on Bipolar Disorder, its symptoms, what sends it out of control and the many great achievers who have had or do have the disease. I’m in good company, I think.

I have a great network of people who care for me. My husband deserves the most credit. He went with me to a few therapy sessions, where he learned to recognize signs of a breakdown in my routine. When I get loud or hyperactive he just puts his hand out and lowers it (meaning, you’re getting out of control). When I’m depressed he lets me cry on his shoulder and tells me everything will be fine and that he loves me very much.ralph

In the last year and a half I’ve learned a lot about myself. I am so much calmer than I have ever been. I can leave the bed unmade or the dishes undone and sit on the deck bird-watching with Ralph. I don’t make spur of the moment, rash decisions. I think about the pros and cons before I decide what the answer is. I’m not angry any more, instead, I’ve embraced the fact that I have Bipolar Disease. It doesn’t define me; it’s a disease I have that is treatable, as long as I follow doctor’s orders. I will never quit taking my meds because I never want to go through another episode like the one I had in Mexico. I am thankful for the concussion, because without it I would never have sought help. I was sure there was something wrong because of the concussion and that’s why I was so agitated and depressed.

loveisThroughout my entire life God has had to knock me on the head to get my attention. This time He did that literally and I couldn’t be happier. Life is sweet because I am learning to accept that people love me. I have learned that the abuse I suffered was wrong and that I am a good and talented person, not a nobody who can barely cook a meal or keep a man happy. That’s all a part of my past, not my future. With my therapist’s help we have addressed the issues that have haunted me for years and I feel a great weight lifted off my shoulders. I feel good!

My Psychiatrist has gone to great lengths to balance my medications so they work for me. She took me up slowly and the meds I’m on now seem to be working. They include an anti-seizure medication, an anti-depressant, and something for sleep. That, along with my therapy sessions has helped me stabilize. My hope is that others will read this and go for help earlier than I did. I have known something was wrong for a long time but I hid it and tried to ignore it. It never went away but I knew it was there, bipwaiting to pounce. What a relief to know that if that happens now I know what to do to get control before either the mania or the depression takes over. I no longer have the Fear of Falling into a deep void from which I’ll never return. I’ve quit worrying about what might happen and instead enjoy every day. When I start to become tense and loud my fabulous husband catches it right away and with the secret signal I realize I’m getting out of hand. When I’m sad I take a day off and do something I like to cheer me up. And, I’m learning not to be ashamed of the disease, but to embrace it. It doesn’t define me, but it’s part of who I am, part of my creativity and personality.

It’s been about a year and a half since I began my medication and therapy for Bipolar Disease. I’ve written nothing, not promoted or marketed my books, and rarely kept in touch with other authors. I just didn’t have the energy. It’s something I’ll have to work on soon. Up until now I’ve only wanted to stay in my own home, go out little, and try to sort through my life and what I do next.

If you’d like to learn more about Bipolar Disease here are some links. I guarantee that you’ll be surprised. I was. My husband has Diabetes. I have Bipolar Disease. Both are treatable, but with you for life. It doesn’t matter to me now. But it’s taken this year and a half to admit to the world that I have Bipolar Disorder. Guess I’m joining the ranks of the artistic and talented. I just read that Demi LaVato is speaking out about Bipolar Disease, with which she was diagnosed recently. Beethoven was thought to be Bipolar. Katherine-Zeta-Jones has Bipolar II. Patty Duke, Mel Gibson, Marilyn Monroe,Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Dreyfuss, and Patricia Cornwall are just a few of people I share my disorder with. Here’s a link to a list of other very creative who are Bipolar. If they can admit it, so can I!

Online Help:

Have you ever had something nagging at you that you ignored?  Was it ever resolved?  If so, you can identify with this post, I think.  There.  I’m officially out.  Now everyone knows.

Books by L.Leander:

Inzared Queen of the Elephant Riders Video Trailer

INZARED bookcoverkindle







Inzared, Queen of the Elephant Riders



Inzared, The Fortune Teller Video Trailer








Inzared, The Fortune Teller (Book Two)









13 Extreme Tips to Self Publishing









13 Extreme Tips to Marketing an ebook


You can also find L.Leander here:

L.Leander Website

Amazon Author Page

Facebook Author Page

L.Leander Books Blog

L.Leander’s Book Reviews and Interviews





Reflections: Looking Back and Moving Ahead

Gayle_BozemanFamilyChristian_smallThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

Last week another year passed, and I turned 53. I recall being told antiques are things that are 50+ years old, so I guess I’m now an official antique!

I took a few moments on my birthday to reflect upon my life. Some memories weren’t the best: hurt from past relationships, including work-related associations, death of beloved friends and family … but other memories were wonderful: camping and fishing trips with my parents, walking the stage to receive my bachelor’s degree, visiting the ocean for the first time, listening to elk bugle on a September night in Yellowstone Park with geysers flaring toward a starry sky, sharing food and fodder with girlfriends, my wedding day with Greg… Then of course, there are the publications: articles in newspapers and magazines, stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and the books and booksignings as well as the school visits with Sage. Memories, good and not-so-good, can roll in like a tidal wave.

School Kids_Mary
Gayle and Mary at school.

My “special day” can be a bummer because Sage died the day before my birthday, two years ago. In fact, I remember feeling overwhelmingly sad last year, but this year, though I could have traveled down that same sad trail, I found myself in a classroom of kindergarteners with Mary, the springer spaniel Greg and I adopted last year. I talked with the kids about taking care of pets, about Mary and her story of losing her special person, and of Sage’s passing – then I read my book Sage Learns to Share. We talked about how special our pets are and how they help us. Even with Sage’s passing, she still impacts kids with lessons of friendship, courage, perseverance, and acceptance of differences … and I smile despite the fact I still miss her greatly. Having Mary helps, and I’m thankful she’s as good with kids as Sage was – the kids can learn from both dogs simultaneously, and I get to be part of that – what an amazing journey!

Friendship was evident in my human relationships as well last week, as many friends sent me wonderful greetings, and my colleagues at the office gave me roses and wrote encouraging words on a lovely card. True friendship is an amazing gift!

BDayRoses 2014My husband, too, gave me a beautiful card and made me a special dinner, and we watched my favorite TV show together with the dogs between us. My cup-of-life truly overflowed!

I called my parents and did something I’ve been thinking about for a long time: I thanked them for being such supportive, loving parents, for setting my feet on a good path, and for always being there to cheer me on and to catch me when I fall. The three of us were choked up as I hung up the phone. I give my husband credit for this part – he wrote his parents a wonderful, loving letter last fall to thank them for raising him (and his siblings) as they did. His words touched their hearts … and mine, and prompted me to do something similar. I thought a phone call on my birthday was appropriate – and I guess it was.

As we get older, we have more things to look back on – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. Hopefully, we won’t dwell so much on the bad and the ugly, but instead will cherish the good and the beautiful. We can’t change the past, and we don’t always have control of the future, but we do have the present – opportunity to relish the blessings we experience, and when we do reflect, we can focus on those beautiful, good things in our lives.

Grandma Mardy2
Grandma Mardy at 91 years old.

My maternal grandmother’s birthday was exactly a week after mine; April 1 will mark 115 years since her birth. Grandma Mardy, a stout German woman, died at age 91. Like Sage, she lived a persevering life, surviving the Depression, running a store and then a farm, and living nearly 24 years longer than her husband. She took her first plane ride when she was 80 and her third, and final one, at age 85. She possessed a strong faith and a fierce love for her only child (my mother) and her only grandchild (me). We shared many dinners at home and in our Iowa town, and when she came west to visit, I was able to share Yellowstone with her. Wonderful memories of a great lady … and great times together! She didn’t get to see me walk across that stage to receive my bachelor’s degree in communication, she never saw one of my newspaper articles or books, nor did she ever meet Sage or Mary, but she helped me with school expenses and encouraged my passion for pets – and because of my Grandma Mardy I finished my degree and eventually became an author of dog books and stories.

My latest birthday is now in my rear view mirror, but my freelance career is just beyond the windshield … and I have many people, and circumstances, to thank – the good and beautiful as well as the bad and the ugly … I wouldn’t be where I am today without them all.

Gayle and Mary at KnowledgeNook

Gayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Sage Learns to Share, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God. She is also a contributing writer to editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, to articles in Creation Illustrated and Our Town Casper magazines as well as the Casper Journal and River Press newspapers. Her future plans include creating newsletter and brochure content for businesses, writing more magazine articles, and authoring additional books. Learn more at

SageBigAdventureFront-small   SageLearnsShareFront-small  Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Walking_FrontCover_small

In Cold Blood-Innocence Betrayed by Sherry Hartzler

Copy of Promo PhotoThis post by Sherry

Whenever someone asks how I come up with story ideas, I smile, because I know an explanation would take more than a thirty-second answer. You see, writing is all about counting out a journey of thoughts and memories lived, and then brutally pulling them apart in an effort to define the “who” of “you.” Several books I read as a teenager made me question everything I believed to be  real and truthful.

ImageI was only seventeen when I first read Truman Capote’s bestseller, In Cold Blood. My curiosity: How did the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s possibly write such a bone-chilling book about the 1959 murder of an ordinary farm family in the state of Kansas?  Did you know that Truman wanted Marilyn Monroe to play role of Holly Golightly? Hard to imagine.

In Cold Blood terrified me, but I could not put the book down. I read it from front cover to back cover with all the skin-crawling, edge-of-the-seat intensity of a horror film on the big screen. It seemed by the late sixties, we had become a lost generation of false securities, lost hope.

ImageIn 1963, an entire nation agonized over Zapruder’s 8 mm color Kodachrome film footage of the assassination of President Kennedy. Then, two days later, before a grieving television audience, an obscure Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, leaving behind a trail of unanswered questions and conspiracy theories that, fifty years later, still capture our imaginations around November 22nd.  The atrocities during the civil rights movement and murder of Martin Luther King shattered a dream. In 1969 the murder of Robert F. Kennedy seemed to be that one final kick in the gut that left us stunned and morally spent. We were a generation raised on Sunday nights of Walt Disney, mixed in with the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the draft, peace marches, and that social and political upheaval played out on our television screens.  We were the first media generation.

ImageTeenagers in the sixties tuned into shows like Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason and Saturday morning cartoons, while commercials sold us on the idea that smoking was cool and General Electric appliances would change our lives. On a darker plane, we lived through Civil rights, political scandals, and equal rights for women, bringing us to the sad truth that men in power are adept at ignoring the truth when truth becomes an issue so inconveniently muddled.

At the age of seventeen, In Cold Blood rocked my secure world because I identified with the Clutter family in that I’d grown up on a farm where we seldom locked our doors at night. I could not grasp the possibility that strangers might invade our house and snuff out the lives of my family. After all, something as horrible as this only happened on television or in the movies, and television violence was censored and movie stars had moral clauses in studio contracts. Nightly news programs on television brought into our homes the chaos and hatred going on in the world. But even then, Walter Cronkite calmed our fears with his fatherly demeanor in a world that seemed to be rocking off its axis. The younger generation in the sixties began to see American history as a series of scabs to be picked at and pulled off one by one to expose the true ugliness of our past and uncertain future.

As for Truman Capote, I remember him as being that arrogant little guy with the funny voice who appeared on seventies talk shows like Merv Griffin. I was not impressed with him. He seemed full of himself, a narcissist, attention-starved, and gossip monger who used his sharp tongue and quick wit to insult even his own friends. Somehow, he got away with it. Perhaps behind that well-guarded façade, Truman was nothing more than a scared boy, who, as a man, abused drugs and drank like a fish. Truman was, like the turbulent sixties, an American tragedy.

So, going back to the original question: How do I come up with ideas for stories? The short answer is I love writing about love, hope, friendship and forgiveness. Sentimental? Definitely YES.  I yearn to go back and retrieve that slim thread of innocence I felt as a child. Most of all, I want to believe that people are basically good in their hearts and want to do the right thing when the chips are down.

Note: If interested, see the movie, Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP). Capote [Blu-ray]

Sherry Hartzler is the author of Three Moons Over Sedona, Island Passage and Chasing Joe, all available on

Chasing Joe 



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