Category Archives: Hearth & Home

Live Your Life Out Loud

Stormy weather
Stormy weather

This past week my family received a phone call, the kind that causes you to feel as if the rug of your life is being pulled out from under you. My husband’s fifty-year-old cousin had collapsed on the playground while outside with his students at their elementary school. At first the children thought their teacher was being silly, but they soon realized he was in serious trouble. They were right. He had suffered sudden cardiac arrest. Luckily, he was resuscitated by the school nurse and survived the ambulance ride to the local trauma center.

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Photo by Natasha Hanova (WANA Commons)

The time from our family member’s collapse to revival is estimated at three to four minutes. The specialists have lowered his body temperature in an effort to allow the brain cells to recuperate from the lack of oxygen, and over the next twenty-four hours, they will raise his temperature one degree an hour until it reaches 98.6. The outlook is uncertain (but I dare say hopeful!). According to statistics, some people don’t come back from this kind of situation, at least not without neurological impairments. His doctors say they will know more about our loved one’s prognosis by Tuesday. Until then, we wait, we hope, and most of all, we pray.

As you may remember from an earlier post, my honey recently completed an intense six-month treatment for recurrent prostate cancer. He has his first post-treatment blood test in a few weeks. We feel blessed to have reached this point, and we are very optimistic about his potential for a complete cure. But news like our recent phone call reinforces my belief:  Anything can happen to anyone at any time. Good or bad. So what are you waiting for?

Live your life out loud!

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• Dance or laugh or sing–at least once a day. Who cares what others think?
• Define your success by your standards, no one else’s, and lead your life with your heart.
• Get away to somewhere you’ve always dreamed of visiting, or return to a place you love.
• Contact a friend or family member to catch up with their news and share yours.
• Watch the sun rise at least once a season. Hear and feel the nature surround you.
• Overcome a fear. (I recently overcame my fear of small planes.)
• Tackle a project or finish one you’ve begun.
• Be yourself! Remember, “normal” is highly overrated. Own your own opinions and stand by your word.
• Celebrate life, whether it’s with a glass of wine, chocolate, a run, or whatever makes you connect with yourself and your loved ones, allowing you to step back from the daily grind.

Do you live your life out loud? Share some ways you live it to the fullest.

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Beautiful Day

Are you as excited as I am to welcome Summer’s little sister, Spring, to your hometown? The grass is greener, the flowers more colorful, and the days longer and sunnier. Enjoy the Moment, and enjoy the season, with this little gift I created just for you–filled with flowers and feathered friends.

 

What’s a sure sign it’s spring in your part of the world?


Our Experience with Prostate Cancer

Courtesy of ClkerAt forty-eight, my husband appears the picture of health. He jogs an average of ten miles a week, lifts weights, eats healthy, and has an incredible amount of energy.

Things aren’t always what they seem.

Six years ago, my superman spouse was diagnosed with prostate cancer. To say we were shocked would be an understatement. One day we’re planning our next getaway to Key West and the next we’re fighting for his life. We had assumed this was an older man’s disease.

We researched all the treatments, including a wait-and-see approach that made us both leery. He elected to have the cancerous organ removed via nerve-sparing robotic radical prostatectomy. As I’d expected, he tolerated the procedure very well with minimal side effects. His greatest issues physically were regaining urinary control (That concern cleared up within months.) and ED (You’ve seen the commercials. There are pills for that.). The post-surgery test results all pointed to a healthy future. He just needed to follow up with yearly PSA tests in the rare case stray cancer cells returned to cause trouble.

We viewed this experience as a bump in the road.

Yes, it changed us, but mostly for the better. Life is even more precious, our enjoyment of the little things greater. If you’re curious about intimacy after such surgery, from my perspective it’s been better too. Different in some ways, but still incredible.

Life has been good.  

Trouble arrived this past October, with an annual blood test showing my husband’s PSA count had risen. Our belief is that cancer cells must have escaped during the initial biopsy, lying dormant for years in the lower pelvis before growing again. Our earlier experience with this cancer taught us it’s unpredictable, but with many treatment options and many possible quality-of-life side effects. As you may know from your experiences with cancer, the days after diagnosis are the most frightening. We cried, we worried, and we waited for test results, including a full-body bone scan, there being a possibility of the cancer traveling into the bones. Apparently, that’s where bored prostate cancers like to migrate. There’s not yet a cure for that kind of prostate cancer, it’s painful, and the treatments compromise a person’s quality-of-life. The results were negative.

We could breathe again.

After more research, my husband chose an aggressive, two-pronged attack of his disease. He is undergoing six months of hormone therapy, which temporarily halts his testosterone production and in turn starves the cancer cells. Testosterone levels is a factor why a younger man’s battle with prostate cancer can be more challenging than that of an older man. In addition, my honey is being treated with radiation, fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, for thirty-five sessions, with the ultimate goal of eradicating those weakened, stunned cells. There are possible side effects to radiation, of course, including fatigue and interference with urinary and bowel function. These concerns are more likely to occur late in treatment and up to months afterward as the body heals.

What’s the prognosis?

Our goal is a complete cure, a miracle if you will, and the reason we’ve willingly sacrificed six months of physical intimacy and our family’s routine. The prognosis from the doctors is that his cancer is very treatable and manageable–whatever that means.

“Life is all about the experiences.”

Shortly after we learned the cancer had returned, my husband shared the above quote and added that this must his obstacle to live with or overcome. He didn’t exhibit self-pity. When he learned that part of his treatment would chemically castrate him for a half-year, steal his muscle mass and strength for up to eighteen months or more, and add hot and cold flashes and mood swings to his daily reality, he didn’t blink twice. I haven’t once heard him complain about being tired (although I know he must be). To me, this man epitomizes the saying, “No Excuses.”

Lessons I’ve learned from this experience:

  1. We are very blessed. My husband’s disease is treatable, with the potential for success. Many people diagnosed with cancers and other illnesses aren’t as fortunate. I pray for them to receive grace and dignity through their trials.
  2. Intimacy is the love shared between souls. The physical act can be an extension of that emotion, but it doesn’t define it.
  3. Don’t wait! Take a risk! I’ve been writing seriously just shy of three years. I’m as of yet unpublished, part of the reason is I haven’t risked putting my work out there enough. At my husband’s urging (and my writer friends), I’m preparing to submit my romantic suspence short novel to three ebook publishers next month.
  4. Love the people in your life. I always knew this, but this health scare has reinforced my commitment to nurturing relationships despite my shy nature.

Why share this now?

Months ago, my husband asked that I bring awareness to prostate cancer and to encourage men his age and younger to be as proactive about their health as many older men are by getting annual physical exams.

I’m a romance writer. Cancer ain’t sexy. This blog is about forgetting your worries. Life-threatening illnesses are one of the heavier topics a writer can broach. I’ve tiptoed around the subject, but I struggled divulging such private, sad information to the world.  Lately though, I haven’t been able to concentrate when writing my weekly blog post. How can I lose myself for hours a day writing and revising novels, but be stumped by a 500-word article? That’s when I realized I was holding back from you, avoiding my secret pain, because then that would make it real. No going back.

Today I take a risk (Lesson #3) and share with you the silent battle my family has fought for the past six months. It’s part of us now. We’ve adjusted. We are doing well, dealing with what comes and enjoying each day. We look forward to the future. We’ve booked our family vacation with the kids for the summer, I’m attending the RWA convention in Atlanta in July, and my husband and I are headed back to Key West in October. Life goes on, and for that I’m very thankful.

I’m hopeful this story encourages you to make the most of each moment with your loved ones. If you don’t get annual physicals, please start. Maybe this post really does fit this blog’s theme. I look forward to bringing you a Margarita Moment on Monday.

xoxo

Jolyse


Just Keep Swimming

Disney’s cartoon movie, Finding Nemo, came out in 2003 and fans have been happily quoting from it ever since. Some of the flick’s more memorable lines are:

  •  I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy.
  •  He touched the butt.
  • Hey. You guys made me ink.
  • I didn’t come this far to be breakfast.
  • Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.
  • I’m H2O intolerant.
  • Just keep swimming.

When the northeastern United States was hit by Snowstorm Nemo this past Friday, the last quote seemed especially fitting to many. Life often gives us no choice other than to plod forward through the tough times. Builds character, right?

Jolyse Barnett Photography
Two of our vehicles, wipers up.

Jolyse Barnett PhotographyI grew up in the Adirondacks, so I’m not frightened by a little snow, or even a lot, but I have to admit the commute home in white-out conditions ranked as one of my more harrowing experiences as a driver. Once home, howevever, I was able to enjoy nature’s beauty. Old Man Winter and Jack Frost had painted everything white.

My favorite image, though, was the sight of my neighbor’s flags flying proudly.

Jolyse Barnett Photography

After the Storm
After the Storm

Don’t let the storms in life get you down, there are always blessings and signs of hope ahead. Hang in there! Spring is around the corner, and you will enjoy it even more for having weathered the difficult days.

How has your winter been? If you live in the north, what are you looking forward to most when warm weather returns?

What’s your favorite Finding Nemo line, and why?


If These Shoes Could Talk

I click on the closet light and yank a sweater off the shelf to pull it over my head. That makes three layers. I lean down to slide my hand along the chilly wood floor, pushing aside wool skirts and cordoroy slacks as I search for my fuzzy slippers. No luck. I do find a colony of dust bunnies and a pair of sandals, however. The shoes must have accidentally been left behind in the Columbus Day transition.

Our Seaplane Adventure - That cute flip-flop and his twin followed us everywhere
Our Seaplane Adventure – That cute flip-flop and his twin followed us everywhere

I glance down at the girly-girl heels in my hands. I miss summer. I bet they do, too. If my sandals could talk, what would they say about our years together? I sit on my bed, hugging them close as ideas float through my head.

We biked through Old Town, Key West and sunned ourselves at South Beach. The sand was quite hot!

We treated ourselves to pedicures. Our favorite color was Powerful Pink, a stunning combination with my metallic blue leather, if I do say so myself.

We attended a July wedding and my comfy soles allowed you to keep up with your Dad and son on the dance floor.

We explored Jefferson Fort at Dry Tortugas National Park and climbed to the top for a breathtaking view of the Atlantic. You appreciated my sturdy heels.

One of many incredible views at Fort Jefferson
One of many incredible views at Fort Jefferson

We splashed through rain puddles (and we didn’t complain) while you played at Universal Islands of Adventure with the family.

We lounged in the backyard with girl friends and you drank strawberry margaritas and listened to island music. Thank you for being careful and not spilling sticky drinks on me.

The margarita reference reminds me of the task I still have to finish, the one I was in the middle of when I became too cold in my den to concentrate. I shake my head and laugh. Yes, I’m caught, guilty as charged–Number One Procrastinator. I have a post to write, and here I am, reminiscing about summer with inanimate objects. I shiver under my three layers of tops. Darn, it’s cold in here. Maybe I’ll grab a blanket out of the linen closet on my way downstairs, make a cup of hot chocolate, and sit by the fireplace while I brainstorm more ideas.

I set my pretty blue flowered sandals on the tippy-top closet shelf. That way they won’t have to fight off the dust bunnies while they wait for summer to return.

If an item of yours could talk, what would it say?


Forgive the me, me, me format of this final post of 2012 as I reflect on the year. I wish you and yours a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year, and I look forward to entertaining you with this blog of mini-escapes (and occasional venting) and getting to know each of you more through our conversations in 2013. May it be a year of good luck for each of us!

My Top Three Gifts this Christmas:

  1. A heartfelt sentiment from my husband on Christmas morning, a gift of his undying love. I cried.
  2. A wallet from my son, who knows how disorganized I can be with pesky things like cash and credit cards. Even better was learning he “bought” the wallet with points earned at his school for excellent behavior. He could have purchased something for himself, but he didn’t. Yes, I cried.
  3. A red wine glass from my sister-in-law and niece etched with my name. I didn’t cry, but I really appreciated it, and made quick use of it. I needed to test it, right?

My Top Three Quotes for Margarita Moments:

2012-12-30 19.19.421.  The finest amusements are the most pointless ones.

Jacques Chardonne

2.  I would not exchange my leisure hours for all the wealth in the world.

Anonymous

3.  The happiest people are those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development, who love good music, good books, good pictures, good company, and good conversation. They are not only happy themselves, they are the cause of happiness in others.

William Lyon Phelps

Top Three Margarita Moment Posts:

1.  A Love Story

2.  The Roller Coaster or Merry-Go-Round

3.  On A Serious Note

I’m proud of these little pieces of writing, but what made them successful was your participation through your views, likes, and comments. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit Margarita Moments each week.

My Three Life (Writing) Lessons:

1. Follow your passion. If you aren’t passionate about writing the story, your readers won’t be passionate about reading it. The caveat to this lesson–write from your soul, not from a marketing standpoint or what you think others expect you to write.

2. Be consistent. I’m good about this one as a parent and at my day job, but when life became overwhelming in other areas this past fall I didn’t post blogs consistently. I may have lost some readers because of this and that makes me sad, for a writer’s joy is sharing her world with others. For 2013, I promise to post on Mondays without fail, even if only to submit an apology or announce a change of plans.

3.  Don’t give up, unless it’s to do something you feel even more strongly about.  This was a difficult lesson to learn. I’m very loyal. However, I wasted spent almost six months toughing it through a story that wasn’t panning out the way I’d expected. I began to lose interest in writing each night. Thankfully, I let go of that story (for now) and this year is ending on a high note as I complete a romantic suspense.

Please share your “My Top Three _____ for 2012” with us!

Ideas for your Top Threes of 2012:

  • proudest moments
  • books
  • movies
  • songs

Thankful to Be Living in the Moment

Ever have days where you didn’t want to get out of bed, you just wanted to sleep until the bad stuff went away? Ever have days when you thought you couldn’t bear to face the world, put on a brave face, and go through your normal routine? I know you have. Everyone has stuff to deal with that gets them down now and again.

Like you, I don’t sweat the small stuff. Recent personal issues–BIG, BAD stuff–have gotten me down though. Boy, have I sweated it, and I’ve struggled to move forward. Hell, I’ll admit it. I’m still struggling. Thanks to a colleague of mine, though, I have a strategy to navigate the unknowns these coming days and months. (And no, this is one case where a margarita isn’t the answer.)

This friend knew, without me telling her, that I was at my wit’s end. She knew, without me telling her, that I needed someone to talk to, but I didn’t want to share my burden. She insisted we go out to lunch, get away from everything, and talk. Poor thing didn’t know what she was in for, because as soon as we got in her car that afternoon, I spilled. Everything. Then she shared such simple, yet profound advice I knew I’d have to share it with you: Don’t project. These two words gave me hope that I will be the person I need and want to be for my family, and for me.

Now, you may have heard about the importance of not projecting your feelings or problems onto others, but apparently this phrase means something else entirely. It’s more along the lines of Carpe Diem, or Live for Today. If you are a regular reader of Margaria Moments, you know I’m a huge believer in taking time out of your hectic schedule to enjoy a moment for yourself.

Seems so simple, doesn’t it? It is, and it isn’t. When the Big Bad Stuff has you scared out of your mind about your financial security, or a loved one’s health, or your child’s safety, you can easily go down the Path of Negativity. Don’t do it. Don’t go there. Take it one moment, one day at a time. In other words, don’t project. Don’t worry about the what-ifs in your future. I’m famous, or infamous perhaps, for always saying, “Anything can happen to anyone at any time. Enjoy and treasure everyone in your life.” Now, I’m not saying to ignore planning for the future with a sound retirement strategy, or forego researching a medical diagnosis needing treatment, or not ensuring your child has the best caregivers and education available. What I’m saying is plan for the areas of your life you can control, and do your damnedest not to worry about what you can’t.

Live for today. Each day. Be the best person you can be, make the best decisions you can with the knowledge you have, and be present–in your life and that of your loved ones.

Since that lunch conversation, my home life has been more peaceful and joyful than it has in many weeks. I hadn’t realized how much my anxiety was affecting my family, how it took me away from them emotionally. I’m so grateful for the change, and grateful that someone took the time to reach out to me in my time of need. I only hope to be the positive difference for others as this friend was for me.

One of my favorite guilty pleasures is watching romantic comedies. Today I watched, “While You Were Sleeping” for the umpteenth time. I thought you may enjoy this part, where Jack (played by Bill Pullman) demonstrates to Lucy (played by Sandra Bullock) a lesson about body language (It’s the first minute of this ten-minute clip):

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, or it’s been awhile, it’s a great holiday flick to watch with your girlfriends or for an at-home date night. Wishing you a happy holiday season, and hoping you’ll stop by next Monday for a Key West post.

What are you thankful for or how has another person’s kindness changed your outlook on life?


Hurricane Sandy — One Week Later

Are you ready for a Margarita Moment? I am. One hundred percent. Today we’ll browse one of Key West’s beautiful Mallory Square buildings, the Casa Cayo Hueso Bar & Restaurant. But first, I apologize for being offline last week. Hurricane Sandy preparations took precedence, and I’m thankful we heeded the warnings.

As you may remember, my family lost the fight with Tropical Storm Irene last summer, and this time we braced for Sandy’s powerful punch. We were among the fortunate. Despite having no power in our neighborhood for six days, our property sustained very minor damage, we had a neighbor with a generator in the evenings, and we had relatives only ten minutes away with power (including intermittent internet and phone service).

Some neighbors and friends lost vehicles, homes, were flooded out, or had to evacuate. People on the south shore of Long Island, Staten Island, and parts of the Jersey Shore suffered tremendously. Any life lost is great, and there were dozens of fatalities in the region.

We are doing what we can from here to help those without power–donating blankets and clothes. Local schools are housing people left homeless by the storm. Other schools are serving as warming and recharging centers. We are hopeful the situation will improve soon, with most schools reopening this week.

No Big Deal

The morning after the storm, I trekked outside to assess the damage. We had lost a few roof shingles. Then, I walked to the end of my driveway. I looked to the left, and this is what I saw:

One end of my street

Then I looked to the right. I began to get nervous.

The other end of my street

If I had two trees down on my little street, how hard was the rest of my area hit? Without access to media, there was only one way to find out. I packed up my child and our go-bags and set out in the car. For my son’s sake, I made it an adventure. We were trying to find our way through the maze of downed trees and wires. There turned out to be only one way out, unlike the usual ten options.

Today, I sit in my warm, whole house while others continue to endure hardships–without heat, without light, and maybe without a loved one. I’m very blessed, very thankful, and send positive thoughts to everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Do you have any hurricane experiences or messages of hope to share?

As promised, here’s your Moment:

Casa Cayo Hueso Souvenir Shop

Casa Cayo Hueso, Mallory Square Entrance

This souvenir shop is located just south of the Ocean Key Resort on Mallory Square in Key West, Florida. The painted, wooden animals and decorative signs are plentiful and worth a look. If you’re in the mood for an impromptu history lesson, take a stroll through the wide hallway between the shop and Casa Cayo Hueso’s Bar and Restaurant.

You can easily spend a quarter hour gazing at its murals depicting life in early Key West.

One of my favorite murals at Casa Cayo Hueso

We walked through the spacious Casa Cayo Hueso Bar & Restaurant, and the spicy aromas made out mouths water. We had reservations at another place, however, so we couldn’t sample the fare that particular day. But we will return, and when we do, I’ll be sure to share the details.

What restaurant do you enjoy visiting as much for the ambiance and decor as for the great food?


Keep your Valium, doctor, I have my cat!

Natural stress reliever

Cats have been part of my life since I was a little girl. Dogs are great, but due to our love of travel, adding a canine to our family hasn’t seemed the wisest option. In recent years though, my husband has often stated that our current cat is THE LAST ONE.

*gasp*

Don’t get me wrong, he likes our feline companion, but he’s concerned about the toll it takes on us to care for an animal, especially as it ages and we’re forced to make tough decisions with medical options.

I agree on one level. I don’t look forward to emptying and changing the litter box, and my heart broke when I had to say goodbye to another loving pet five years ago. But, there are so many wonderful aspects to pet ownership. Isn’t the sacrifice and commitment worth it?

A feathered friend I met on Duval

You’ve heard of the studies about the positive effects of pets on humans. You know how a cat snuggling on your lap can relieve your stress, or how a dog wagging its tail can melt your worries away. If only for a little while. 

I’d heard about some of these studies, too. What I didn’t know, however, was the extent dogs, cats, and other domesticated creatures can contribute to our quality of life. So, the next time my spouse reminds me of how simple our life would be without a feline or canine underfoot, here’s my response:

Benefits of Pet Ownership:

  • Pets improve your mood. I mean, who can stay sad or angry when greeted by a loving, non-judgmental fur ball? I can’t.
  • Pets lower your blood pressure. Wow. There’s hard science behind this one. (See the study, “Pet Dog or Cat Controls Blood Pressure Better than ACE Inhibitor“)
  • Pets provide social support and relieve stress. This one makes me think of all those romantic comedies where the guy uses the dog to break the ice with the girl he adores from afar. But there’s more to it. Pets can give us the opportunity to get out and socialize.
Best Friends and Co-Workers

On our summer getaway to Key West, my husband and I met the street performer in this photo. If you are a regular reader of Margarita Moments, you know my motto, “You can see it all on Duval.” That’s the norm in Old Town. However, we are much more likely to engage in conversation with those vendors or performers with a pet by their side.

That leads us to the last benefit proven by scientific studies.

Unlike me, one of my dear blogger friends, Catie Rhodes has had the honor of being a dog owner. I urge you to read her touching blog post, “Life Lessons and Little Dogs” . You won’t regret it.

Is the research right? Does your pet provide you with an escape from daily life hassles or worries?

DISCLAIMER: If you dislike animals, are allergic to fur or dander, or otherwise unable to care for a pet properly, I wouldn’t recommend getting one for the benefits listed above. In addition, I’m not a medical professional, and as such, used the title as creative license, not as medical advice. If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, or other emotional or physical ailments, please seek the advice and consultation of a trained medical professional. This blog post is merely the opinion of an animal lover.

Getting Personal & Key West Dreaming

On the Homefront

Hi my friends,

I admit, I’ve been living a bit of a roller coaster these past two weeks. Not that anything is really wrong or desperate, like illness or death, but emotionally I’ve struggled. In times like this, music and writing nourish my soul and make me whole again. I write romance, and to write romance, a person needs to truly believe in a happily-ever-after. My relationship with my husband is a huge inspiration in this way. Lately, I haven’t always appreciated him or the sacrifices he makes on a daily basis for our family. He works long hours far from home, and yet I still expect him to pull his weight (and more) at home. He always has, but that doesn’t mean he always will. I wonder if someday he’ll say, “Enough.”

I thought a lot about that this week. I considered many ways to show him how much I love him. I thought about sending him love texts (no, not sexts, that’s not my style, and with my luck, I’d accidentally sext the sitter or one of my colleagues). I’ve never done that, so I didn’t want him to be suspicious. I considered writing a love note. I also thought about surprising him with his favorite meal–but I’m not such a great cook.

None of those ideas seemed right.

Then I was on my way to work a few days ago, and I accidently hit CD instead of FM radio. I only have one CD in my car, and it’s David Archuleta. (Yes, I adore the beautiful purity of his voice.) His song, “You Can” played, my love anthem. Not because of him (Sorry, David!), but because the lyrics bring me back to 1984 when my husband was my best friend on the verge of becoming my boyfriend, when I first realized he could be the one to “save me from myself.” I wasn’t a lost soul by any means, but I lacked belief in myself, and I didn’t grasp my true potential until he came into my life.

So this is for my husband, the one who always believed in me and helped me believe in myself:

What song reminds you of a special person in your life?

Key West Dreaming…

For my fellow Key West lovers, here are some recent photos I took just for you:

Ocean Key Resort Sunset Pier Restaurant
Mr. Rooster on Duval
Pier at Westin Casa Marina, Key West
Duval Street — After the Storm

Until next time, I hope you spend your days doing what you love best.

xoxo

Jolyse

PS  Any Key West topics you’d like me to blog about? Let me know. I love to chat Conch Republic.