In the News · Life · Politics

Opting Out of the Dark Winter

I try not to get too political these days. There’s too much hate, too much strife–on both sides of the aisle, and I’d just as soon none of it be directed at me. As I write this, we’re 10 days from a contentious Presidential election that I fear will leave our country even more divided than it is now.

But something was said in the debate this week that I feel led to talk about. In speaking about COVID-19, former Vice President Biden claimed more than once that the US is “about to go into a dark winter.”

The former VP is inferring that the upcoming months will be bleak, filled with sickness, death, and mourning. (although it’s important to realize that although many, many are likely to be infected with COVID in the coming days, weeks, and months, as it is a highly contagious illness, 99.75% of those infected will survive).

I don’t like fear mongering and I think we’ve seen a lot of it over the last nine months. So when I heard the phrase “dark winter” and the message that was clearly meant to play on our fears, I was immediately unhappy. For so many reasons.

Life on earth could basically be one long dark winter if we allowed it to be. Satan would love that. He’d love for us to just sit with our darkness and refuse the light and turn away from the hope.

But I firmly believe we have to CHOOSE to live in the light EVEN THROUGH THE DARK WINTERS. Choose to see the bright side. Choose to realize that GOD is the bright side.

I suspect that regardless of which candidate wins the upcoming election, there is the potential for a “dark winter” that’s likely to be filled with sickness, death, riots, and unrest. And it all feels so heavy. It would be so easy to slip into that dark winter and let it just consume us all.

But friends, there is still light in the future! It’s there. He’s there. God turns the darkness into light. Always.

And I know…you’re thinking, “but 2020 is a crazy year–nothing like this has ever happened in the whole history of the whole world.”

But that’s not really true. And remember that not one single thing that’s happened in 2020 has been a surprise to God. Covid, riots, lockdowns, even murder hornets–no surprise to Him. Remember that there’s nothing new under the sun. Our ancestors went through some pretty tough times. Wars and famines and illnesses and droughts. Resilience is in our DNA! Don’t give in to the fear. Choosing faith over fear isn’t always easy, but I think as Christians it is vital.

And now, we have a choice. We can spiral into the long dark winter and focus only on the bad—because let’s face it, the world has a LOT of bad. Or we can choose the light even through the dark times.

So while there may indeed be a “dark winter” approaching, I think I’ll opt out. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there is always light to be found if you seek it out.

“You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.” 2 Samuel 22:29.


On Board for Romance Sneak Peek


On Board for Romance released in July, and I’m so excited for it to be making it’s way into the hands of readers! As an author, there’s nothing better than hearing from a reader who has read (and enjoyed) your work!

If you haven’t had the chance to read On Board for Romance yet, it’s available now on Kindle, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo. Paperback coming soon!!

Here’s the first chapter of On Board for Romance… I hope you love Riley and Blake as much as I do!

Riley Jennings shifted the large Tabby cat in her arms and tried to stay calm. “Dottie is wearing her rabies tag. The phone number to the vet’s office is on there.”

The receptionist at Retro Village raised an eyebrow. “I’ve already explained to you. We need the visiting animal’s shot records on file.”

“But I don’t have the records. She’s Mr. Farley’s cat and he can’t remember what he did with them. I’ll go to the vet’s office tomorrow and get them, but they’re closed today.” Mr. Farley had left her a voice mail this morning while she was at church. He’d been so forlorn and was missing his cat so much, she’d rushed home to pick up Dottie and take her to the senior living facility. “Please.”

The woman shook her head. “I didn’t make the rule, but I also won’t bend it.”

Dottie meowed loudly as if in protest and Riley scratched behind her left ear. “It’s okay, girl,” she murmured. “I know you’re not happy.” Dottie had been Mr. Farley’s most loyal companion since she was just a kitten. She was nearly sixteen now.

“So there’s nothing that you can do?” Riley asked. “Can you at least call Mr. Farley and let him know we’re here? He can come outside.”

The receptionist frowned. “Hold on.” She picked up the phone and punched a number.

Riley glanced around. Did the fact that she was contemplating putting Dottie in her oversize bag and sneaking her past the front desk make her a terrible person? Before she could decide, the receptionist cleared her throat.

“Mr. Farley is ill. He has a slight fever and the head nurse doesn’t want him to go outside.”

That made it even worse. That sweet elderly man was sick and without the comfort of his cat. Riley was normally slow to anger, but the situation got the better of her. “Fine. But you haven’t heard the last of me today.” Before the woman could respond, Riley cuddled Dottie to her chest and stormed to her truck.

The blue sky and cotton ball clouds did little to brighten her mood. Late June in Arcadia Valley was lovely, and Riley was normally one to stop and take note, but today she only felt sad for Mr. Farley. He deserved better, and since he didn’t have any family around, it looked like it was up to her to make sure he was taken care of.

Thanks to all her work with the animal shelter, not to mention her own pet boarding business, she had the local veterinarian’s number in her phone. His home number. “Dr. Wilson?” she asked when he picked up. “You don’t happen to have anyone working up at the clinic right now do you? It’s Riley Jennings.”

Dr. Wilson chuckled on the other end. “Riley, of course I recognize you. Did someone drop a pregnant stray on your doorstep again?” Pregnant strays tied to the porch were a common occurrence at Riley’s house. She had lost count of how many she’d taken in. Her track record for successfully finding foster or permanent homes for the abandoned animals of Arcadia Valley was pretty good, too.

She smiled in spite of herself. “Not this time, Doc. Actually, I just need the shot records for Mr. Wilbur Farley’s cat, Dottie. She can’t visit him without them.”

“Ah, yes. Mr. Farley and Dottie have been inseparable for years. I’m sure this transition is hard for both of them. Donna is at the clinic now checking on some of our weekend boarders. If you’ll go to the back door, it should be unlocked and she can get you a copy of Dottie’s records. I’ll call her and let her know you are on the way.”

“You have no idea how much this means to me. I’ll drop a big bag of treats off for your customers to enjoy soon.” In addition to dog and cat boarding, Riley also sold homemade treats at the local farmers market.

“You know you don’t have to do that, but I also won’t turn you down. Everyone loves those treats.”

Riley hung up, grinning. Take that, Miss Follow the Rules Receptionist.

Twenty minutes later, she and Dottie were back at the desk, papers in hand. “Here you go. Everything should be in order.” Riley smiled and placed the shot record on the counter. “Now can we please go see Mr. Farley?” She couldn’t wait to reunite the old man with his beloved cat.

The receptionist typed something into her computer. “Oops.” She grimaced.

What now? “What’s wrong?”

The woman sighed. “I didn’t see this earlier, but unfortunately I’m not going to be able to let you go back to Mr. Farley’s room, even with the paperwork in order.”

Riley frowned. “I don’t get it. I just jumped through a pretty major hoop to get shot records for Dottie so you would have them on file. I had to call in a favor at the vet’s office to get that taken care of on a Sunday afternoon. What exactly is the problem now?” Her voice was sharper than normal, but she didn’t care.

“It seems that Mr. Farley has a new roommate. And he’s allergic to cats.”

“Why in the world would you have put someone with a cat allergy in Mr. Farley’s room?” Riley asked. “I know good and well that he indicated on his paperwork that he’d have Dottie visiting.” Mr. Farley was frail, but his mind was sharp. He’d brought Dottie to her several weeks ago and opened up about his worries. His main concern was that Dottie wouldn’t be treated well. Riley had assured him that if she couldn’t find the perfect home for the cat, she would keep her as her own. Either way, she’d promised Mr. Farley that Dottie would visit as much as possible.

The receptionist shrugged. “Sometimes we don’t have a choice when it comes to bed availability.”

Riley bit her lip and contemplated her options. “Look, ma’am. I understand that there are rules and that you are only doing your job, but I had multiple messages from Mr. Farley today specifically requesting that I bring Dottie to see him. I would be glad to go put Dottie in the car and go get Mr. Farley myself.”

The woman looked at her with disdain. “I’ve already told you. The head nurse—”

Riley cut her off by holding up a hand. “I know. But don’t you think that sometimes the love and companionship of a pet can be good medicine for someone not feeling well?”

They regarded each other for a long moment and Riley was sure she’d won the battle.

“No.” The woman shook her head. “Come back tomorrow.”

“I want to speak to your supervisor.” If her sisters could see her now, they’d freak out. Assertiveness wasn’t exactly one of Riley’s primary traits. But her passion for animals took over sometimes.

The receptionist glared. “It won’t do you any good.”

“I’d like to try anyway.”

The woman dramatically pushed away from her desk and stomped toward a closed door behind the reception area.

Riley glanced down the hallway and then back to the empty reception desk, considering her options.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” an amused male voice said from behind her. “I’m pretty sure she’ll put the whole place on lockdown if she comes back and you aren’t still standing here.”

Riley turned slowly toward the voice, her cheeks flaming, and found herself staring into the most gorgeous amber eyes she’d ever seen.


Blake Taylor hadn’t come back to Arcadia Valley after all these years to get distracted by a beautiful woman. But after observing the exchange between the tall, cat-wielding brunette and the scowling receptionist, he couldn’t help himself. “I’m just saying. . .I don’t think she’d take too kindly to you breaking all the rules and taking that cat down the hallway.” He grinned. “Not that I’m all that fond of rules, but in this case, it might be in your best interest. I’d hate to see you be the headline on tonight’s local news.”

The girl gave him a small grin. “I’m a by the book kind of person, but not when it means keeping a sick elderly man and his sixteen-year-old cat from seeing each other.”

“That does sound like a worthy cause.” He furrowed his brow. “I’ve gotten the feeling this place is pet friendly though, so what’s the problem?”

She filled him in on things. “I hate to be pushy, but he’s called me more than once today, so I know it would mean so much to him.”

“Maybe he just forgot he already called,” Blake said helpfully. “I mean, he could be a forgetful old man. In fact, maybe he won’t even remember he called and asked about the cat in the first place.”

The look on her face told him she hadn’t considered his words helpful in the least. “I think he will keep calling until he gets to see Dottie.” She frowned at him.

“Fair enough.” He was eager to change the subject. “I’m Blake, by the way. Blake Taylor.”

“Riley Jennings.” She eyed him suspiciously. “Do you work here?”

He shook his head. “No. I just rolled into town actually. Visiting a relative.” He didn’t offer more information than necessary because honestly, he was having a hard time wrapping his head around being back in Arcadia Valley. He was sure he couldn’t explain his return to a pretty stranger without coming across sounding like a total idiot.

Riley didn’t press him. “I see.” She stroked the cat.

“So are you, like, this guy’s granddaughter or niece or something? It’s pretty nice of you to fight so hard to reunite him with his cat.”

That garnered a smile, albeit a small one. “No relation. I have a business boarding animals and I also volunteer for the local animal shelter. Mr. Farley has asked me to re-home Dottie, but he wants to see her as much as possible.”

“Can’t blame him for that. Pets are family as far as I’m concerned.”

Riley’s blue eyes twinkled. “Me, too.”

Finally. He was getting somewhere. “Where is Mr. Farley’s room located?”

“Just down this hall here.” She pointed toward the hallway that ran past the receptionist desk. “He’s temporarily sharing a room with another patient who is here for rehab. That’s part of why I’m so unhappy. He’s supposed to have a private room and his cat should be able to visit without a problem.”

Blake scratched his three-day old stubble. As soon as he found a place to stay tonight, a shower was in order. And a shave. “Well I’m pretty sure we’re going to run into trouble when the receptionist gets back. How about I help you?” What was he doing? He’d only meant to stop by Retro Village to get the lay of the land. Not to stick around doing good deeds.

“Help me? Are you going to stand guard while I’m in the room?” she asked.

He chuckled. “Nothing like that. In fact, we won’t even have to break the rules. Bend them maybe, but not break.” He held out his hands. “Give Dottie to me.”

She took a step back and put a protective arm over the cat. “Why?”

Blake raised his eyebrows. “Do I really look like someone who is going to steal a very overweight elderly cat?”

Riley grinned. “Guess not.” She handed the cat over.

Dottie was even heavier than she looked. “You go to the room and get the old man to the window. I’ll do the rest.”


Riley cast a backward glance at Blake as he carried Dottie out the front door. What an unusual day this was turning out to be.

“Miss!” The receptionist yelled down the hall.

Riley whipped around and held her hands up. “I don’t have the cat. It’s just me and I’m only going to check on Mr. Farley.” Mostly.

The woman regarded her suspiciously for a moment. “Well, okay.” With one last wary glance in Riley’s direction, she sat back down at the desk.

Riley hurried down the hallway toward Mr. Farley’s room. She knocked softly on the door.

“Come in,” Mr. Farley called.

She pushed the door open and stepped inside.

Mr. Farley sat up in his bed. “I’m so glad to see you, Riley.” He looked eager. “Is Dottie here? Is she okay?”

Riley nodded. “She’s doing great.”

“Have you found her a home yet?” he asked. He furrowed his brow. “She’s really a great cat. Make sure the new owner knows how much she enjoys just a little bit of whipped cream.” He grinned. “I like a little whipped cream in my coffee, always have. Dottie swiped some once and was hooked ever since.”

Riley smiled. “I’ll keep that in mind. For now, she is settling in at my place just fine”

He reached out and took her hand as she reached his bedside. “I can’t tell you how much that eases my mind. Everyone in town knows how much you love animals. I know you will see to it that my Dottie is cared for properly. She’s the only family I have left,” he said sadly

Riley patted his arm. “I will take good care of her.”

“Where is she?”

“We have a little problem here, Mr. Farley. It seems that your new roommate is allergic to cats,” she said as she gestured toward the man sitting in a recliner in the corner.

“Where are my manners?” Mr. Farley asked. “I should have introduced you to my roommate. This is Charles Thompson.”

Riley smiled at the gray-haired man. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Thompson. I hope I’m not bothering you by stopping in.”

Mr. Thompson nodded. “We don’t get to see girls as pretty as you too often.” He gave her a wink. “It’s nice to have a visitor. And you can call me Charles.”

“He just moved in last week, so I guess you can say he’s the new kid on the block.” Mr. Farley gestured toward his roommate. “We’ve known one another for several years though, so at least they didn’t put me with a stranger.”

“That’s nice that the two of you know one another.”

“But I’m not staying too long,” Charles said. “I’m only here to recover from a fall.” He frowned. “Not that I don’t enjoy Wilbur’s company, but I’d just as soon be at home.”

Mr. Farley let out a harrumph. “Wouldn’t we all?” He picked up the framed photo of Dottie sitting on his nightstand. “I miss my Dottie and my favorite coffee mug. And my old easy chair.”

“Getting old is for the birds,” Charles agreed. “But I’ve convinced my son to let me try to make it at home for a while longer once my hip is fully healed and I’ve completed the torture—I mean rehab—they make me do.” His eyes twinkled. “I still have a few things I want to take care of before I spend the rest of my days beating Wilbur at checkers.”

Mr. Farley rolled his eyes. “You wish. And torture my foot. They only make him walk a few steps at a time. Why, when I was in the Army–“

Charles snorted. “Army? How about me and my years as a marine? I know a thing or two about physical fitness, too.”

Before the discussion went any farther, Riley stepped to the window. She raised the shade and waved to Blake. “There’s someone here to see you, Mr. Farley.”

“Out the window?” he asked.

“Can you see out there okay?”

Blake pressed his face to the window and his eyes grew wide as he looked around the room.

“What’s wrong?” she mouthed.

He shook his head and just as quickly as he’d been there, he was gone.

“Um, hang on.” Riley peered outside and watched as Blake waved a kid over from the parking lot. He handed Dottie to the boy and pointed to the window where Riley stood. What was going on?

The boy brought Dottie to the window and held her up to the window sill.

“My Dottie!” Mr. Farley exclaimed. “Help me get up, please.”

Riley opened the window. “Thanks,” she said to the puzzled pre-teen. “Just hang on a few minutes, please.”

“Sure.” The kid didn’t look put out by Blake’s cat handoff.

She helped Mr. Farley to his feet and put his walker within his reach. “Be careful.”

He shuffled over to the window. “I’m so happy to see you.” He reached through the open window and stroked Dottie’s fur.

Riley beamed. These reunions always made her so happy. She left him with Dottie and mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ to the boy.

“That’s a nice thing you did,” Charles said. “He’s been missing that cat a whole lot.” He sighed. “I hate that I’m the reason she can’t come in to visit. I’m fine with dogs. Even horses and farm animals don’t bother me. But cats have always made me sneeze.”

She smiled. “It’s not your fault.” She stepped over to his side of the room where a handful of family photos sat on his nightstand. “Is this your family?”

He nodded. “Sure is. My wife framed those years ago, and they always sat on our nightstand, even after she passed away. When I left the hospital to come here and stay for rehab, my daughter-in-law brought them and put them up. She said I needed a little touch of home.”

“I’m sure she’s right.” One of the photos caught her eye and she picked it up.

A handsome guy in a tux filled the frame, clearly a senior photo from several years back.

“That’s my grandson.”

Riley stared at the face. The familiar face. The face of the cute guy who’d just ditched Mr. Farley’s cat in the parking lot.

Charles Thompson’s grandson was none other than Blake Taylor.

Books · My Books · Writing

Read an Excerpt from A Romance Rekindled

romance-grows-in-arcadia-valley-coverHere’s an excerpt from A Romance Rekindled, my novella in Romance Grows in Arcadia Valley. It releases January 10, 2017!

Kate Groves kept a tight grip on her dad’s hand and tried to keep her emotions in check. No easy task. She’d been an emotional basket case ever since she’d entered the Arcadia Valley city limits two weeks ago.

And who could blame her? Her track record in this town wasn’t exactly stellar.

Now, surrounded by the beeping and blinking machines that served as her dad’s lifelines, she willed herself to stay calm. Although if she were being honest with herself, she hadn’t been calm since she’d received the phone call telling her that her dad had been admitted to the Arcadia Valley Community Hospital.

“It’s okay, Katie Scarlett,” Dad murmured. “You don’t have to be tough on my account. I know what’s happening.”

Katie Scarlett. There was a blast from the past. Scarlett wasn’t even her middle name. He’d taken to calling her that one summer when she was in elementary school. They’d gone to visit her mother’s relatives in Atlanta and had toured a Gone with the Wind exhibit. She’d been ‘Katie Scarlett’ ever since, most of the time in his fake southern accent. She used to tease him that it was the worst fake accent she’d ever heard. “It’s going to be fine, Dad. They just gave you some more pain meds. You should be feeling better soon. We’ll have you home in no time,” she said in a voice that was far too chipper for the sterile hospital room, even to her own ears.

He shook his head. “I appreciate your attempt, but you never did have much of a poker face.” He took a ragged breath. “Times like this I wish your mother and I had decided to go ahead and have a second child. You’ve certainly dealt with your fair share of hard things alone.”

She managed a small smile. “And miss out on being the spoiled only child of the bunch? Never.” Her mom’s brother had three girls all near Kate’s age and through the years they’d often tried to label her as spoiled due to her status as an only, but it had mostly been in jest.

Dad patted her hand. “I need you to do some things.” He pulled her closer. “Important things.” His voice was weaker than it had been yesterday. After a lifetime of being larger than life, he suddenly seemed so very human and much smaller than she remembered.


“Look in the bottom drawer of my desk when you go home. There’s a lock box there. Eugene Boyd will come for it. He has the key.” Mr. Boyd had been his lawyer for as long as Kate could remember. “There are some things in there you’re going to need.”

She frowned. “I really think this is unnecessary—”

Dad shook his head. “Stop.” He took another breath and the machine he was hooked to let out a stream of beeps. “The house.” He struggled to sit up. “The office at the farmers market.”

She cast a worried gaze at the blinking machine. “I think you should stop talking. Why don’t I call the nurse?”

He gripped her hand. “I’ve made arrangements for the house to be renovated. My office at the farmers market, too.”

She opened her mouth to speak, but he raised a hand to stop her. Even on his deathbed, Henry Groves was clearly still in charge. “You will be overseeing those renovations.”

Kate widened her eyes. “Me? I don’t know anything about renovations. I live in a tiny studio apartment two thousand miles from here. How am I possibly going to oversee anything?” Since she arrived in Arcadia Valley, she hadn’t even been to her childhood home. She’d come straight to the hospital and had been camped out here ever since. The thought of being in the empty house had been too much to take, and she’d preferred sleeping on the pull-out couch in her dad’s room.

He lifted his chin. Most men couldn’t pull off dignified when facing end stage liver failure and wearing a hospital gown, but her dad somehow managed to do so. “I’ve not asked much of you over the years. I’ve sent money when you required it and excused you from nearly all the family obligations that have come about. I’m asking you to live in the house and oversee the renovations. It may take a year. Your job is the kind that should let you freelance from here, am I right?”

If not for the circumstances, she would’ve been furious. As it was, she was only a bit miffed. It was so like him. “I’m not sure I can do that.” She’d thought about taking her skills as a web designer and trying to make it on her own, but she hadn’t planned on doing it now. It was one of those ‘someday’ plans that she’d never taken the time to think through.

He shut his eyes. “Katie, please. Do this one thing. For me?” He sighed. “I know I haven’t always been the best father. I know that you and I have had some tough years. But I’m hopeful that you’ve moved past all of that stuff and can focus on things here in Arcadia Valley for a little while. Your cousins are here. Your grandmother. Your roots are here.” He reached up and stroked her cheek. “Live in the house. Renovate it to your liking. You can sell it when it’s completed if you wish. That’s fine. But live in it.” His eyes filled with tears. “It will do my heart good to think of you back there again in your childhood home. Your room is as you left it.” His voice broke. “Your mother’s things are still in our closet.”

At this admission, Kate felt the hot tears well up in her own eyes. She’d left town in such a hurry all those years ago, blinded by her own pain and anger, she had never stopped to consider that her dad may have had pain of his own. “I might be able to work out turning my position into a freelance kind of thing for a while, but I don’t know if I’d have enough work, especially until I am established.” She couldn’t believe she was even considering it.

“Run the farmers market.” He nodded. “When you oversee the renovation of my office there, have it redone to your liking. It’s just now March. Our busiest time is around the corner. You know you always loved it when you were younger. Riley and Brooke both have booths there. They can help show you the ropes.”

At the mention of her cousins, she nodded. They’d had some great times together growing up. But run the market herself? “I don’t know. I wouldn’t even know where to start.” The Arcadia Valley Farmers Market had been started by her grandfather, and her dad had continued to manage it even though he had plenty of other business opportunities around town. He’d always believed having a marketplace for small farmers was vital to their community. “Don’t you already have a manager in place?” She’d assumed her dad had all his business ventures covered. He’d always been such a workaholic.

“I worked as much as I could up until last week, but I never could make myself hire anyone for the farmers market. It hit me that you were the obvious choice.”

“But Dad, I haven’t even been to the market since I was in high school. And in case you don’t realize it, more than a decade has passed since then. Besides, I need a job that pays.” There. That was an excuse he could understand, she was sure of it.

 “Over the past weeks, I’ve made certain that Brooke knows where everything is that pertains to the business side of the market. I’ve given her some info to pass on to you. If you could step in and manage it at least for this season, it would be a real load off my mind.” He patted her hand. “Don’t worry about money. You’ll get paid for your time. The market is profitable. And maybe spruce up our webpage if you have the chance.” He gave her a knowing look.

He’d asked her before to help out with the site and she’d always had a million reasons why she didn’t have time. “I may be able to handle the website, but I certainly don’t know anything about managing a farmers market.”

“You’ll do fine.” He gripped her hand again. “And Katie Scarlett?”

She leaned down. “Yes, Daddy?”

“Please try to forgive me.” His voice was barely a whisper.

The machines began to beep again, and this time Katie found herself swept out of the room by a nurse.


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Birthdays · Life

And Then BAM, You’re 40…

40I’ve put off writing this post because I knew it was going to be a challenge. But seeing as today is the last day of 2016, I guess I don’t have a choice.

2016 was the year I turned 40. (Note to self: The Year I Turned 40 would make a great book title.)

40 hasn’t been that easy. And not for the reasons you may think.

Sure, it’s not that fun to find the random gray hairs that have snuck in or to notice that it’s much harder to lose weight now. And don’t even get me started about those little wrinkles that have appeared around my eyes.

But coming to terms with 40 has been hard and it has nothing to do with the physical aspects of being four decades old.

Frankly, I’ve never felt better. In fact, I don’t feel 40. I feel like I should still be 25. Sometimes it shocks me to realize how old I am. I remember my parents at 40 and I thought they were super-old grownups who had it all figured out. Now I know the truth!

40 has been the year when I no longer care what people think. This year while my husband and I were in Mexico, I opted NOT to wear my swim skirt cover up over my bathing suit. That skirt has been a beach staple of mine since I was 25. Yep. You know what? It felt great. I spent years feeling self-conscious because shudder what if someone saw cellulite on my hips? HA.

At 40, I laugh in the face of cellulite.

It’s also been the year that I realized I’m more than my job. I’m a classic workaholic, I’ll admit it. I’ve let my career define me for the past decade or more. No more. This year, I’ve left work behind on multiple occasions without even a smidge of the guilt that would have plagued me before. Friday afternoon? I’m done. Vacation? Two vacations in 2016 and I didn’t log on to work once. That may seem silly to some, but it’s a big accomplishment for me.

At 40, I realize that work is not the most important thing. There can be other jobs, but you can’t get back the moments you’ve lost.

It’s been the year I’ve become comfortable in my own skin. I am who I am. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things I don’t want/need to improve on, but overall, I’m no longer apologetic for my “quirks.” I am introverted in a way many don’t understand. Large groups—even my family whom I love—give me anxiety. I have learned what I can and cannot handle. Sometimes that means I leave a family function early. I used to feel terrible about it. Now I realize that it’s better to just be me, even if it means I retreat to the silence of my own home after a few hours of togetherness.

At 40, I finally understand that sometimes I have to take care of myself and that makes it so that I’m better able to care for others.

Me and my parents in 1976, the year I was born.

It’s been the year that I’ve had to face the idea of life without loved ones. For whatever reason, 40 has been the year when I’ve been gripped with the fear of losing my parents, husband, and family members. There are nights when I wake up and can’t go back to sleep because I’m terrified of what a life without them would be. There are no answers here—I suspect we all go through it. I may appear to be a grownup adult, but there are many moments DAILY when I need my mom or my dad.

At 40, I see that life is so short. When you’re young you think you have all the time in the world. At this point, I realize that time really is the most precious currency, and I have to make the most of it.

Here are a few other gems I’ve learned at 40:

Good and true friends are some of God’s biggest blessings.

So are good dogs.

High heels aren’t always worth it. Sometimes it’s more important to be comfortable.

Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep and a good cup of coffee.

A clean house really does make a difference in your quality of life.

Some days you need to call in sick and stay in bed and binge watch TV all day. It may not be productive but it is such a treat.

Spending time with people who make you laugh will make you feel at least ten years younger.

Prayer changes you. If you have an issue with someone, pray for them. Daily. It will make a difference.

If a movie, TV show, or book has something in it you don’t like or approve of, remove yourself. Walk out of the theater. Change the channel. Put it back on the shelf. Life is too short. I don’t like violence or bad language. I’ve finally, finally realized that It’s MY choice not to see or hear it.

Don’t compare yourself to other people. No good can come of it.

And there you have it. My “turning 40” post. I’ve watched my friends turn 40 this year and it’s been weird because when I see them, I still see cheerleaders and football players and people I laughed with in the dorm. Seeing them at 40, adults, parents, businesspeople…it’s kind of shocking. I spent a lot of time earlier in the year wondering where the time went.

But now that I’ve come to terms with 40, I know where the time went. We were all living life, experiencing moments both good and bad. That’s what brought us to now.

And I’m suddenly looking forward to 50 because I can look back and honestly say that life has gotten better with each passing year.

What a gift that is.

Happy 2017, friends!

Some “turning 40” photos: