Faith, Food, and Fiction! The Romano Family Collection

Loveys, it's here! The Romano Family Collection is finally live on I'm so excited. Special thanks to my sweet friend Meghan Gorecki for her work creating this yummy cover! The truth is that when you pour yourself into your writing, you grow really attached to your characters and their stories. That's why I'm so thrilled for these three novels to get new life with new packaging. I just love the Romano family, and I hope readers get to know them all over again (or for the first time!).

So this collection is made up of my three novels (previously published by Heartsong Presents) Table for Two, Second Chance Café, and Recipe for Love. It includes a bonus short story titled A Southern Belle Road Trip, and a recipe. I hope you'll hop over to Amazon and check it out. And it would mean so much to me if you'd consider leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads, anywhere and everywhere! The collection is available on Kindle as well.

Thinking of food and fiction--Ashtyn and I had tea at my friend June's house the day before Easter. It was a perfect tea party--beautiful table, delicious food, wonderful friends. And as we sat there at the table together, I mentioned to June that her ham salad makes an appearance in my next book, The Last Summer. When you're a writer who loves food, these things happen. And for me, they make the story extra special. Because when I think about the tortillas with butter Mandy orders in Table for Two, I go back to that restaurant in Longview, Texas, the only Mexican restaurant I've been to where they serve tortillas with melted butter, like chips and salsa. And how those tortillas were so delicious, I've never forgotten them. And when I read Second Chance Café, I think about June's white bean chicken chili, and Tara's spicy chili and the bruschetta at Siena at the Courtyard that I cannot get enough of.

Recipe for Love has my wonderful friend Nancy's delicious breakfast casserole. And Alison's sugar cookies, that she learned to make from her mother-in-law--were inspired by my Aunt Stacey's mother-in-law, Diana, and the Christmas cookie party she throws every year when she makes the BEST sugar cookies I've ever tasted.

In Looks Like Love, Kasey's love for European white chocolate mirrors my own. When my dad used to come back from being overseas, he'd bring white chocolate for me. In The Last Summer (releasing in June), we've got June's ham salad, and other things close to my heart--like Whataburger down in Texas. And Shipley's Donuts. And my current work-in-progress has Daneal's chicken divan. (Jeff loves it, Daneal, I'll forever be thankful you shared that recipe with me!)

I can't seem to help myself, food finds its way to the pages in my stories. For me, they add that extra flavor that makes me want to sink into a story and get lost there. Some of life's best moments happen around the table, or when being captivated by a good book.

Lovey, I hope you'll get to know the Romano Family . . . and maybe share a recipe or two with me. I'll be doing a giveaway soon for a copy of the book, so stay tuned for that.

One of the things I love about this new cover, is that it reminds me of a cookbook. In Table for Two, Leo Romano talks about his family's cookbook, where all their special recipes are kept. Now you know, lovey, that the recipes and meals you read about in these stories, truly are special recipes to me.


Emotional Spills and One Hundred Hangers

Loveys, I got crazy this weekend and wanted to do some spring cleaning. This was brought on, in part, by the Jeffster making not-positive comments about our closet. But regardless, I've known for a while that our closet really needs attention. But spring cleaning is tricky. Things get so much worse before they get better. And you find all kinds of treasures (along with junk), and then your husband finds you on the floor by a pile of shoes, along with a HUGE pile of maybe one hundred hangers, holding a box of stuff, and sniffling because tears are threatening to spill out of your eyes.

I had an emotional moment there in the closet. I found these boxes that were half-good stuff, half-throw-away stuff. The "keep" things were making me cry. A letter from Ashtyn's kindergarten teacher at the end of that school year (oh Lord, I'm welling up again). A journal I'd written three pages in (I'm not much of a journaler) the year Ash was born. A card I'd written to Jeff when our marriage was in a particularly fragile place. Cards I'd written to my Mimi (that she'd saved and have made their way back to me) when I was a child. By the time I'd gone through all those things, and narrowed three boxes into one "keep" box, I was an emotional wreck. For real, spring cleaning is not for the faint of heart. The closet now looks great, the bedroom now looks like a tornado has come through. And all those hangers are about to be thrown away. (Even though the closet looks good, I still feel like there are approximately three shirts hanging up that I actually wear.)

Emotionally and physically, I've been feeling a bit spent lately. It seems like for weeks my family has battled illness. The flu and strep and constant runny noses and coughs and moms and dads who never get enough sleep. It wears you down. I went to celebrate my friend Evan's birthday last night, and was chatting with my sweet friend Krista about how sometimes you feel like you've been cooped up and home so long that applying makeup and going out feels foreign! (And then you're like, This makeup is from 1999 and why don't I have better makeup, and how come with the pile of clothes that I just put on my bed, I still have nothing to wear?)

More emotional spills from a mama who feels like every time she takes her kids to the grocery store, they all come home with the plague.

Really, when we're tired, I think we're more prone to emotional spills. But tired or not, reading letters from Mrs. Raj (Ash's kindergarten teacher) will probably always make me cry. I love how she loved every kid in her class. And glimpses of things like journals and cards take us back to wonderful, difficult, and even bittersweet moments. And we remember that life is a series of all of these things. Sick days and healthy days. Good days and bad days. Busy days and homebound days (which can be busy too, but in my case, mean lots of the Disney Channel and doling out yogurt sticks). It's all of it. Blissful marriage moments and not-so-blissful (or worse) moments. The bittersweetness of Ashtyn graduating kindergarten. Moving on and growing--beautiful and bittersweet. The more I think of it, the more that "bittersweet" seems like a good way to describe so much of life. For my dad, my wedding and Sara's and Laura's came with plenty of emotion. (Have you ever watched Father of the Bride, lovey? I. Can't. Even. describe how emotional I get. Weddings are hard.) I asked my mom once why all the weddings weren't as emotional for her and she said to me, I can't even think of it that way. It's too hard. I have to concentrate on how good it is. I'm gaining a son-in-law. My girls are always my girls. That never changes. My mother is always my mama. It never changes.

I understand, lovey. It's bittersweet times one hundred.

When Lily is sick (as she has been lately) and I hate seeing her miserable, she won't sleep in her room. I'm exhausted and spent, so I just bring her in bed with me. And when she wouldn't sleep in her room, in mine, she curls up next to me and is asleep almost instantly.

Bittersweet. I'll take it. And those cards and letters and keepsakes that are up in my closet, well, I'll keep them forever. (Along with my clothes, it seems like. I'm thinking I need to branch out and go shopping, lovey.)

I'm ready for summer. It seems like a lot of families we know have battled sickness this spring as well, so maybe summer will be better for all of us. I hope.

And hopefully my room will be clean by then. But all I want to do is read and drink coffee and keep my kids away from grocery stores and doctor offices. Jeff snapped this picture above of me this weekend. (I was on a small break from the mountain of hangers in the closet.) It's basically the story of my life. Reading at the table. For as long as I can remember, I've been the kind of person who brought whatever book she was reading to the table. One of my happy places. Especially when there are runny noses and sore throats and messy rooms. Spring has been rough over here. It sometimes is.

But summer will be here before we know it. Trips to the mountains, camping (maybe), fishing, sprinklers, watermelon, lazy days--all good things. I'm ready. The beautiful and hard moments of life together. I'll take them all.  

And if anyone needs hangers, I've got lots.

It Takes Time

Loveys, how are you? So the blog has a fresh new look and I hope you like it! Springtime makes me feel like changing things up a bit! This has been a fun week for all things Chosen. That's the book my sister and I worked on together for years, and has finally released! It made the rounds on Instagram yesterday, which was just awesome! I'm posting just one peek of a bunch of fun posts. It's thrilling to see the book in final form, out there in the world, meeting new people. :) Hop over to Amazon, read the preview, and see what you think!

There's something about finishing something that feels really good, don't you think? Crossing a goal off your bucket list. Doing a good job on a project at work. Turning something in and feeling the stress lighten.

Chosen was a long time in the making. Writing and rewriting and editing and brainstorming and talking together for hours over plot and characters and such. And so, to hold the finished work--well, it's a good feeling. I'm so proud of Sara. We both worked hard, and this is a stellar moment for my sister. I'm thankful to have been brought alongside this fun project. I really love seeing our names together on that beautiful cover! I think there were times when we both wondered if we'd ever finish! Now it's real and here and complete. Effort and time and a dream comes true. That's how it works sometimes.

At one of the first writer's conferences I ever attended, a well-known author spoke. I soaked up her every word like a sponge, eager and ready to learn. But the truth is, I've now forgotten nearly every thing she said. Except one thing that stood out to me. She said that she basically was published on her very first try, and God made this happen because he knew she wouldn't have kept trying if she'd been turned down. (I'll be honest that for a long time, her words came back to me, and I would start to feel discouraged. Why doesn't God help me get published right away? Maybe I'm a terrible writer. Maybe it's not worth it to keep trying.) In all truthfulness, I can still get very discouraged.

Loveys, I don't know why things work out for some people and not others. But I kind of doubt it's because God thinks that some people wouldn't try anymore, so they better receive success right away. That's just my feeling about it.

Sometimes you work hard for a long time and you still feel stuck in the same place. And you know what? I think God is right there with you in the disappointment. Some people catch a huge break and God is there, in the success. (This is on my mind because I just finished reading The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines!) Every journey is different and comes with twists and turns and surprises. And success looks different for every one.

My family went out to dinner last weekend. And in the restaurant, I had Lily next to me (throwing rice on the floor), Jeff was on the other side of her, laughing at Lincoln as he gobbled up ice cream for dessert, and Ashtyn was on the other side of me, reading a new American Girl book I'd just bought her. And gosh (besides the fact that going out to eat with kids is crazy and not recommended), I just had this moment where I loved my family SO much. I had won dinner for two through a contest, but I called the restaurant and said that we're a tribe of five. :)

Success sometimes looks like that. Just love.

Does God grant success because of a way that a person believes, or what they believe in? Does God give success to only people who deserve it? I don't think so at all. Loveys, I've found that it doesn't work that way. Have you ever known someone who seems to get lucky with everything they try? (Yes, it can be hard to be friends with those kinds of people!) The more people you know, the more you realize that for some people, just safety--or escape--would be a dream come true. Financial security--forget fancy vacations--would be enough. A family to love. A baby. A good job.

We have to keep our definitions of "success" in perspective. Love our people. Do the task at hand. Chase dreams but have a heart that can be content. I think there are people who chase dreams (I can be one, when I find the energy!), and people who chase happiness. Sometimes those go hand-in-hand. Sometimes they don't, and you have to be able to separate them. Can you be happy if certain dreams don't come true? Is there a way to make those dreams--in some form--come true on your own? (Indie publishing definitely helps with that when it comes to writers.) Does happiness depend on what we have or accomplish, or is it something that can be deeper--going down to who we are inside?

This book, Chosen, was about nine years in the making. Some things take time. Here it is finally, and Sara and I both have a sense of gratitude and accomplishment. Over the next couple of months, I'll be sharing more about my novel The Last Summer, that releases in June. That book has been twenty years in the making. So be prepared for cover reveals and excitement. Do I wish it had been published way back when I first graduated college? That would have been amazing. But I feel no less happy and thrilled that after so much work, it will be published this summer. The story is different now, it's grown and changed as I have over the years.

And it's stayed with me all this while. In June, I'll let it go and see what happens. I hope you'll stay with me on the journey, lovey. You can sign up for my newsletter (see sidebar) if you want, to stay up to date with book releases and such.

To me, success looks like doing the best we can and loving our people well. And it's working hard (or taking a break and breathing deep!) and pouring ourselves into what we love and believe in. It's just becoming who we're meant to be, lovey.