Category Archives: 2021

Desert Divide

I’ve recently finished writing and editing my fourth novel, DESERT DIVIDE. It will be published in early 2022.

Fourth novel. I remember when I was standing at the bottom of the publishing mountain lugging along my first novel 11 years ago, not sure how to take the first step. And here we are, 500,000 published words later. It feels surreal, exciting, and terrifying.

The synopsis:

From the author of the acclaimed novel COUNTING COUP comes DESERT DIVIDE, a gripping, ripped-from-the-headlines story of family, revenge, and justice spanning the ranches of southern Arizona to the dinner tables of Mexico City’s elite.

It’s 2016. Sarah McDaniels receives a call in the night that her mother has died unexpectedly. Returning to the family’s ranch in the high desert of southeastern Arizona, Sarah finds her childhood home and her father’s health in tatters.

More than a decade ago, Sarah left to chase a dream in New York City. Now, faced with burying her mother and trying to arrange care for her father, Sarah takes a walk across the family’s land to clear her head. When she stumbles over something on the desert floor, the last thing she expects to find is the body of a young woman her own age.

Who was this woman? Why was she on their family’s ranch? Who killed her?

DESERT DIVIDE is a a true-to-life story of secrets, sacrifice, and redemption as one woman tries to face down her demons while saving what’s left of her family.

More information to come. Thank you for your continued support!


Gold Medal Idiot

I have tennis elbow. For the first time in my adult life, I’m dealing with chronic pain in my elbow, wrist, and hand. Does anyone know of a professional who can help with hand and wrist pain??? It has been bothering me for about two months. It started as a sore arm. I thought I’d overdone it at the gym. And then it moved up and down my arm. There would be mornings I couldn’t move my wrist and others when I thought my elbow was on fire.

I watched YouTube tutorials. I bought a brace (or three) on Amazon. I did the stretches as suggested. Jason started massaging Aspercreme on my arm before bed. (Have you ever read a sexier sentence? Woof.) And then finally, I did what I should have done at the first ache, and I made the physical therapy appointment.

This week I started a “dry needling” program. The inflamed area is identified and then a series of small needles are placed into the angry muscle and tendon. The needles are then hooked to an electrical system and small amount of electricity is run through them, which makes your hand clamp and your arm jump like a fish out of water.

For the most part, this was painless. Until it wasn’t. I was supposed to have three more needles inserted than I could muster on the first visit. I had about 10 in my arm when I was in so much pain, I was in tears. But the good news? Yesterday was my first pain free day in months. Today, the aching is back, but not as severe. Tomorrow I go back for more needles and lasers and whatever other magic this PT wants to throw at me. Fingers crossed, it appears to be working.

How does someone who doesn’t play tennis get such an elbow? Are you sitting down? I’m pretty sure this repetitive use injury is from two of my loves: writing and knitting. Holding a pen and writing uses that exact series of muscles and tendons, as does knitting.

I’ve been working on Christmas cards, which have always been important to me, for over a month. And I’ve been able to write out about 10 envelopes and cards a day before my hand refused to hold a pen any longer. I’ve been taking notes at work with my right hand, which only I will later be able to decipher. It isn’t pretty, but it is better than nothing.

As for knitting, a few rows here and there. The timing of this injury couldn’t be worse. Christmas is around the corner. I’ve got projects stacked up and an arm that is either throbbing or screaming in pain.

The silver lining:

  1. We have excellent healthcare that I can easily access.
  2. The card project is finally done.
  3. Aleve comes in giant arthritis bottles that are so easy to open.
  4. I can still run. I am finding so much joy in running again. I put the brace on my arm so it doesn’t throb, get on the treadmill, and run until I’m ready to collapse.

The moral to my story is don’t be like me. If you have pain, stop. “No Pain, No Gain” is a slogan for Olympians, not knitters.


No One Asked Me…

I was fortunate to receive my COVID-19 booster shot today. I got on a pharmacy website this morning and by late afternoon had the vaccine in my arm. There was no expense to me, and the entire process took longer to drive to the pharmacy (1 mile away) than to schedule or receive.

It was very simple.

Here is where it get’s less simple. This weekend, my husband and I spent a few days in rural southeastern Arizona. We love this area of the state namely because it is so quiet. The sky is as dark as you’ll find in the United States, with the Milky Way visible to the naked eye. It is a 180 degree change from our go-go-go lives in the Phoenix area. The internet and TV are unreliable. The patio, stars, animals, local wine, and quiet fill our time.

We spoke with a few folks who live in the area, including the man who owned the guest house where we stayed. Without telling us their politics, every person we spoke to mentioned having to make significant changes to their lives due to vaccine requirements. One was a border patrol agent who would be required to get the shots in December. He’s putting his house on the market and quitting his job. Another mentioned also quitting his job and finding a new profession to work around mandates.

I’m guessing my more liberal public health (and other) friends won’t agree with me on this take, but this all has me thinking about how strange vaccine mandates are. Let me be clear: I believe in vaccines as one of the most effective public health tools available, behind clean drinking water and seat belts. I want people to be vaccinated because I don’t want them to get sick, and I don’t want our ailing healthcare and education systems to crumble.

And yet, it seems antithetical to American values to require an employee (government or otherwise) to have a vaccine. Yes, I fundamentally understand why it would improve our COVID rates if all Americans were required, but at what expense to our liberties?

I am not convinced that requiring people to be vaccinated will do anything more than increase the divide in our nation of us versus them. The vaccinated versus the unvaccinated. The right versus the left. And increasingly, the wealthy versus the poor, educated versus the knuckle draggers. This sort of thinking is bleeding into other areas of my professional life where I see people who previously would have been interested in constructive conversations to resolve disagreements rather than throw their hands in the air and huff, “Uggg! You’re one of them.

Them? Aren’t we all in some form or fashion one of them?

I know the idea of a seasoned border patrol agent (teacher, solider, nurse) walking away from his job and selling his home does not in any way make my life safer or healthier. And aren’t we all essentially still children? When told you have to do something or else, what is your first reaction? Mine is to come up with an immediate list of all my other options.

The biggest failure by the American public health system (all the way up to the White House) is the lack of clear communication about the pandemic and the vaccine. Tell people why it is in the best interest of their American spirit to be mindful not to get sick, to wear masks, to be vaccinated. Share details of the investigation of where the disease started, and how the government is protecting us from this happening again. What policy have they changed and why? Let’s also talk about the real side effects of these vaccines. To just blindly say they are safe and don’t make you feel rotten is false. Yes, they are safe for the vast, vast majority. And yes, they may make you feel like you’ve got the flu for a few days post-vaccine. And yes, they are the most effective tool we have to beat this thing as a specie. And yes, the right to say no is as American as apple pie.

To convince those in the no category to join us in the yes, we need better tools than tweets and mandates.


Friendships that Endure

I flew to the Bay area this weekend for a quick visit with the Brennan sisters. Meg was in town, visiting from her new life in Denmark, and Katie just bought a new home. It was a wonderful, quick time together. I spent much of it just holding on to Meghann before she got back on a plane across the Atlantic.

Three cheers to holding friendships close. I’m lucky to have a strong tribe of female friends scattered across the globe who I love dearly. I hope to get to do more of these quick trips to check in and see them in 2022. If this pandemic has taught me anything it’s that I do not want more stuff. I want time with my family and friends, even if it is arguing over board games or burnt dinner.

Time and health: the two things we cannot buy.


A Nod to Happiness

Take a swing, read a book, listen to the wind blow through the trees.

Happiness is relative, and fake positivity is harmful. Let’s start there. This is not a guide to how to achieve happiness, but instead a few steps I’ve taken in the last few years to keep my mental health in good shape. If these help do the same for you: wonderful!

Spend time outside. When I’m feeling off, it is often because I’ve been trapped inside for too long. Whether it is due to the heat, or other commitments, spending too much time indoors is bad for my wellbeing. With the weather cooling, we are taking longer dog walks, eating dinner on the patio, and this past weekend we had the chance to get away to Flagstaff. Sitting outside just to sit outside is such a pleasure. Listening to the birds and the wind, smelling bacon cooking first thing in the morning from other campsites, and seeing the array of stars come out in the dark night sky — all a true delight. Our lives are frantic with work and commitments; spending this bit of downtime enjoying nature is a great reset.

Read real books. I’ve never gotten on board with e-books. As an avid reader, I’m always lugging some book around and having someone say to me, “Haven’t you heard of the Kindle?” Of course e-books are more convenient, but like exercise: I’m all about finding the form that works for you. I love good old hard copy books, and even more so if they have that baked-in musty library smell. I also love audio books and am thankful to the Libby app. Time to sit and read (hey, even outside!) feels like a treat.

Side note: I need to sort through our books and do a little library/thrift dump. Even though we are both in the habit of passing off books once we’ve read them, they seem to show up faster than we can read and move along. My cookbooks, I swear, have been mating.

Check in with your senses. We went for a hike this weekend in the aspen groves on the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona. Walking below the towering trees, with their white bark and yellow leaves, felt magical because the air was sweet. It made me happy to see so many families out enjoying the trail, including two young Amish couples with their children.

Savor what you eat. This comes from a place of great privilege. Food isn’t so abundant for many that there is an option to “savor.” That said, getting in the habit of eating and drinking less, but making it the best quality can change the day. This doesn’t have to be an exercise in expense; we have a favorite local fast food bean burrito. The line is a bit longer at SeƱor Taco, but the food is worth it. I read once about how French women only eat three bites of dessert because by the fourth bite, you aren’t really taking in all the flavors anymore. You’re satiated, if you’ll listen to your hunger rather than your eyes. I think this is likely a bunch of nonsense, but I do appreciate really taking your time with food. Also, I’m terrible at this. Slowing down to enjoy each bite is a spiritual practice.

Write a note of thanks. I write a lot of thank you cards professionally and personally. It feels good to get mail. It’s nice to know you are appreciated. And it today’s digital world, I think most people are pleasantly surprised someone took the time to find paper, stamp, and time to send a note. I’ll also die on the hill that the happiest people are those who are the most grateful. They can always find something to be thankful for.

Prioritize sleep. If you know me, you know I live by this rule. I have always prioritized sleep because it makes me feel good. I think clearer. I can get more done during the day, and I do tasks with more precision and care. I’m nicer and more patient. I sleep 8-10 hours a night, 12 on vacation. I have zero shame in my sleep game.

Be vulnerable. This one is tough, but I do think my personal happiness is boosted when I can have frank conversations with others about vulnerable topics. Showing someone else what you are ashamed of, what you’re scared of, what you hold dear can be crippling. The same can be said for being able to say you’re sorry. Checking in with your emotions and being able to share these in a healthy way can only promote a happier life.

Celebrate your tribe. Check in with your close friends. Be there to celebrate their joys, even when they aren’t your joys. Tell people you love them when you have the chance.

That’s it. That’s my happiness list. What’s on yours?


How We Roll

A few years ago, my friend Kara began posting about how she was shifting how she shopped. She was going to stop buying new and focus on vintage and thrift shops. Kara is a dish and has great fashion sense. She can pull off stuff that would look laughable on my near six foot frame. So, I was curious about her experiment and invited myself along on one of her Goodwill adventures.

It was shocking. There were so many nice, gently worn, and sometimes new-with-the-tag items on the racks for a tiny fraction of what I was used to paying. The experience opened my eyes. Of course, I wasn’t new to thrifting, but for whatever reason, I’d never spent time looking through clothing.

Fast forward two years, and now the shock comes when I walk into Talbots. Or Banana Republic. It is bananas (said in my best minion voice) what I’d been used to paying for a blouse, for example. Between Goodwill and ThredUp, I’ve completely changed my shopping habits to second-hand. I feel good about the environmental impact of this and certainly the change on my pocketbook.

That said, just like walking into a department store and walking out with a new outfit used to give me a rush, I’ve found myself making time for thrifting when I need a pick-me-up. This behavior has become a problem. Our closet was so full and Jason made a gentle comment about the number of shoes.

Coincidentally, my dear friend Meg is newly living in Denmark and just got her first European job. She did not bring a professional wardrobe with her and she reached out. Could I go to thrifting with her in mind?


I spent about $100 at Goodwill and a couple hours sorting through things in my closet that are not well used, but in good shape. Meg and I are the same size, which works out well. I’m excited to be taking this giant suitcase to her in a couple weeks. Needless to say, Denmark and Arizona couldn’t have more different weather. Denmark is cold and rainy and they live on the coast. We are dry, hot, and sweaty for 8 months of the year. But, with tights, gloves, and a good jacket, I think you can make just about anything work.

I won’t go into all the details, but if you need a nudge to change your shopping habits, consider this: for that $100, I was able to find three dresses, two skirts, two blazers, and a handful of other items. All are name brand and in great shape. No one item cost more than $14. Also, these items didn’t go into a landfill. No child labor, or giant ship to cross an ocean, was required for the Goodwill run. Plus, they have coupons! Spend $20, save 20%.

I’m on a shopping hiatus for the time being. I need to address and change the behavior to shop when I want to feel a rush of endorphins. It is a yucky habit and it does not align with who I want to be, the values I want to demonstrate. It also is grossly capitalist. Consume more! Feel better!

That said, a friend suggested I start thrifting for others as a side gig. I love to shop for others! I also would love to start a closet organizing business because my goodness, my nerdy hobbies run deep.

So, if you care to play along:

  1. What’s your best thrift find?
  2. Do you have a habit you need to change? How are you working to do so?
  3. Where is your favorite place to find a good deal? (If you are in the east valley, check out the Sunshine Acres boutique!)


Spinning on the Dance Floor

I started a new job mid-August. I’m still working in both government and in public health, but for a new agency and in a new area. I’d worked in suicide prevention across the state for nearly a decade, and it was a great time to be involved in this field. There were a handful of new laws passed that brought much needed attention to helping individuals access behavioral health services, safely store firearms, methods to remove unnecessary medications, etc.

In a nutshell: we actually saw progress. In public health school, professors said time and time again, “You can spend your career on an issue and maybe, maybe you’ll see some improvement before you retire.” Public health is often a game of patience. You have to tell yourself every day that the work you’re doing does matter, as incremental as it often seems.

But with suicide prevention, we saw a school staff training mandate go into place, new collaborations with other state agencies, and Veteran groups having meaningful (and much needed) conversations about how to help their community get into substance abuse treatment and get guns out of homes when there is a crisis.

I felt proud to leave when I did. The team is doing great work. We saw substantial decreases in youth suicide (41% one year!) and the partnership were in place for success. Plus, there were days when I would come home utterly spent. I wasn’t a clinician, but there were more than a handful of times when I came home from work having counseled someone who’d just lost a loved one to suicide. Those phone calls were the absolute worst. (Second worst was trying to help families connect their suicidal children to almost non-existent child psychiatry resources. Want job security? Study child psychiatry.)

It was hard, hard work. But it was also very rewarding. I was sad to leave my state agency, where I’d worked long enough that the systems and people felt second hand. The leadership was great and I didn’t have any reason to go other than I was ready for a new challenge.

And while being somewhat intentionally vague because it isn’t good form to go into work details on a public blog: I am loving my new challenge. It’s a much bigger job in a smaller region. Our team focuses on homelessness, domestic violence, and other social service outreach. It is the first regional policy focused position I’ve held, and the idea we could make regional changes to help the most vulnerable makes me want to do cart wheels down the street.

The business books and mentors would say, “never show your vulnerabilities in a new position.” To some extent, I agree. I’m not interested in complaining or looking foolish to the team I manage. However, showing vulnerabilities makes us human. There is only so much faking it till you make it. And getting into this new job groove, including a commuting routine, has felt like someone asked me to dance to a slow song and now I’m stuck at a rave and can’t find my way out. It is a go! go! go! pace, which is quite the change from working from my couch for 18 months. We are all feeling it. The dogs aren’t getting the same amount of attention. The meal planning isn’t as consistent. The garden is not being planted for Fall.

But, nearly two months into this new dance, I’m starting to anticipate the steps. This hasn’t come without some frustrating falls and missteps, to continue the metaphor. Today, I feel less dizzy. I’m paying more attention to exercise and what I’m eating to keep my brain sharp and ready to go. And of course, I’m loving having the opportunity to wear dresses again. I had been living in work blouses and shorts to meet the Zoom criteria. But the new gig is more dressed up and there is something about the clothing making the man. I never thought I’d enjoy wearing a suit, but I so do. Most days I’m in my fancy office by myself on the floor. (Most folks are still virtual.) But it still feels good.

While the Peace Corps didn’t go as planned, it did introduce me to the needs of the poor in a new way. And from that, I knew I wanted to study public health. How fortunate I am to have found a field where the work remains fun and a challenge.

Yachting in Croatia

The night before we left Hvar, we were having dinner at a local pizzeria and in comes a table of loud Americans. They were from South Carolina and you could hear them across the room. Their tans were golden and one woman wore a glitter bra top. There was nothing subtle about their presence.

Soon enough, our tables began chatting. They were in Hvar only for the evening and for this dinner. They were participating in “Yacht Week” and staying on a boat.

We were polite and said hello and immediately got outside and held our sides at the idea of “yacht week.” I mean, really? The bigger reality was that we were all intrigued but no one wanted to be the first one to admit it.

Flying across the world to celebrate friendship, staying in former palaces, eating and drinking like royalty and yet we were shy about admitting that being on a fancy boat sounded like fun. Until John, our host, said he was interested. We already had tickets for the high-speed ferry the next morning, heading south to Dubrovnik. (For you Games of Thrones fans, you’ll know this town as Kings Crossing.)

John said he wanted to see if he could rent a yacht for a day. We’d meet for breakfast with our bags packed read to take the ferry in case his plans didn’t work out. Dear Reader, the plans worked and we spent the day on a yacht, which came with a captain and a skipper for the day. It was ridiculous, luxurious and fun. Here are a few of the photos from the day, including coming into Dubrovnik. (More on our time in the city later.)

There wasn’t a slip big enough in Hvar, so they parked at the end of the public pier. It was immediately so funny to us that this is how we’d be traveling. You’d expect us to be cool. Chill. You’d be wrong. We were giggling idiots, so excited to be ON A BOAT!
Told you. Full on idiot mode!
The captain took us into coves you can’t otherwise reach and we were all googly-eyed. The colors of these rocks reminded me a lot of Sedona.
These babes were meant for yachting, am I right?
We are drinking this delightful Croatian version of a summer shandy, but with more lemon. Emily is one of my forever friends and this trip was honestly the most fun because we had a week to chat and chat and chat. I would have walked across the country for this time together.
But if we had walked… I wouldn’t have had the chance to dive off of the back of a yacht into the Adriatic. The water was so cold, I felt like I’d been punched in the chest. But man, was it worth it. I loved being able to swim there! (The other women thought I was nuts.)
Yacht life isn’t so bad, friends. If you get the chance, take it!

For lunch, the captain took us to a small coastal village where the restaurant owner helped guide the boat into a slip. We were ushered upstairs on a patio, shaded by their olive trees. We had several courses of seafood and pasta with wine and gin and tonics. It was my favorite meal of the trip, namely because we had all day to be there and yet we knew we’d likely never have this chance again. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

This Week

Sewing: Made by Rae emerald top, cut on the bias

Knitting: the Weekender, in a cotton blend

Reading: Purity by Jonathan Franzen — so far so good

Watching: Start Up on Netflix. It is way too violent for my liking, but I’m sucked in.

Cooking: Feta pasta bake, salmon and vegetables, and BLTs with tomatoes from the garden

Gardening: the last of the tomatoes and basil. It is nearly time for the garden to go dormant until fall.

Loving: writing letters to friends and family. I’ve sent a dozen this week as a check in to just say hello. I love good mail! If I won the lottery, I’d buy a letterpress.

Wishing you a lovely week!


When Being Stubborn Kills

I’ve found a lot of joy during the pandemic in “perfecting” my crafting. Since joining the Phoenix Modern Quilt Guild, among the many things I’ve finally learned is how to sew a consistent 1/4 inch seam. Come to find out, there is no artistic give in a seam allowance for quilting if you want points to line up.

I’d gotten lazy, thinking that the rules of this craft didn’t apply to me. I was going to do it my way. I didn’t need to wash my fabrics, use a seam allowance, or starch. I didn’t need to use iron to press seams after sewn. I wanted to do it my way.

I was WRONG.

Reading the books, listening to the teachers, and following the rules produces a much prettier and sturdier quilt (leaving improv and art quilts out of this.) If you are making a quilt for someone, especially a baby quilt that will be washed often, sturdy seams are critical.

See those seams? Consistently 1/4 inch and pressed open. Pressed, not ironed. (A whole other lesson I needed to learn.)

I don’t know why our natural tendency is to think the rules don’t apply to us, but watching how cultures have responded to the pandemic, it’s hard to see this as anything other than stubborn Americanism. Why do what others are telling me when I know. I can figure it out. I am smarter.

Am I? Are we?

Most other countries immediately put community before self. They closed borders, limited infections and deaths, and recovered much faster. Not in the great US of A where we made sure to prioritize our freedoms. Our freedom to get sick. Our freedom to die. And now, our freedom not to be vaccinated.

We lost more than 18,000 people to COVID just in my state. That’s a small city in one of our rural counties, completely gone. 18,000 families now eating dinner with a seat empty at the table because we couldn’t get out of our own way and follow basic, well established public health instructions.

Working in public health, the tool of motivational interviewing has never been more useful. We can’t just create the tool and have enough of the tool on hand to save the nation, but we also have to be salespeople and get you to want it, too. We have to get you to believe in science, in truth, when falsity has never been more popular.

God bless America.

God, please bless everyone. If you’re giving out favors to our country, give us intelligence. Give us critical thinking. Give us the ability to better see when we are being hustled.

Teach us to follow the rules when it is in our best interest.