Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Hurricane Harvey — How to Help

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Folks, I, like many of you, am very worried about the people displaced by Hurricane Harvey. Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States, and it’s safe to say that Houston will never be the same again after the devastation Harvey left in its wake.

While most of us are not doing that well financially — at least, from what I know of the people who regularly read this blog — somehow, we have to be willing to help our fellow man in this time of need.

And the need is overwhelming. Over thirty thousand people have been displaced by Harvey, and more certainly are on the way. Some houses will be flooded for weeks, if not months, and thus will be uninhabitable for a long time, perhaps needing to be bulldozed down the line…the need for food, medicine, diapers (both for babies and adults), clothes, and rebuilding the infrastructure of Houston and its environs is going to take a massive effort.

But you can help. And I sincerely hope you will.

First, don’t forget the blood bank. If you are healthy enough to donate blood, go do it. There’s a crying need for that, most especially because of the fact that many blood banks in the Gulf Coast can’t open because of the severity of the flooding.

Second, there’s the American Red Cross. They are the first line of defense for those displaced, and will be in need of many, many donations.

Third, don’t forget food banks. If you live in the Gulf Coast, there are relief efforts being organized all over the place, but even the rest of us can do something. Give food now, wherever you are, and help those in need in your local areas. If we help our local areas now, they may be able to send some of the excess — providing we can flood them with donations — to the blighted areas.

Fourth, the Houston Chronicle has set up a list of places that are accepting donations. Please check this list out, and help if you are able.

This is the time where we all must step up and decide what kind of people we wish to be. Do we wish to be helpful? Or do we wish to be ignorant, callous fools who think these storms have nothing to do with us at all, so we should do absolutely nothing?

I’m here to tell you that as someone who’s lived through a minor flood, they are nothing to mess around with. And this is a major, five-hundred-year flood, much worse than what I dealt with; I only had to deal with property damage and some inconvenience, rather than the horrors that those in the Gulf are dealing with right now.

So the time is now.

Help in every way you can, locally and otherwise. Step up now, and show what kind of person you are. Be of use. Refuse to turn your back.

That’s the best way to support the people hurt by Harvey. And it’s the best way to live overall.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

August 30, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Why Must We Be So Negative?

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Folks, the other day I read an interesting post by my friend Tajwar Fatma, she of the blog Life As We Have Never Known it. She’d just passed ten thousand hits on her blog — a truly impressive feat, if you think about it — and she decided to talk about how much negativity she’s had to overcome during her newfound blogging career. (It’s called “Overcoming Negativity,” and can be found here.)

This got me thinking.

Why must we all be so negative all the time?

Granted, there are plenty of negative things in this world. Politics often makes no sense. The weather is too hot, too cold, or maybe just too boring. Prices are rising. Everything we seem to like gives us cancer; everything we don’t like is touted as curing everything down to the common cold, but is ultimately just good, solid food that we continue to dislike.

So, we can eat healthy and hate it. Or we can eat what we like and clog our arteries (at best).

It seems like no matter what we do, we can’t win.

I have no answer for why others are negative. But I do have an answer for how to overcome your own negativity, at least in part.

First, as Tajwar put it in her blog, “Don’t let negativity get to your mind and heart. You have to lose in order to win. And if you can’t handle criticism and negativity, you sure can’t handle praise and victory!”

Second, you need to realize that some of this negativity, regardless of how personal it feels at the time, is not being directed at you in specific. It’s because people are frustrated, upset, angry, or sometimes even jealous of the fact that you’re still trying, but they’ve given up.

Third, it’s important to keep going because you know in your heart that what you’re doing matters to you. (For example, I continue to write, despite the struggles and life-worries and frustrations, because writing matters very much to me. And my stories matter, too.)

Don’t let anyone tell you that what you’re doing doesn’t matter. Or that no one will ever care, either.

As a barely-succeeding author (someone most people don’t even know about), I’m here to tell you that so long as you care, that’s all that matters.

So keep doing what you are. Work hard on yourself, and spread joy and light and life wherever you can. Try to overcome the negativity in this world as best you can (mind, constructive criticism is not negativity, but that’s a separate issue and I’m not going to get into it now).

And most importantly of all: Whenever you get a negative thought about what you’re doing right now, do your best to throw it out. (Or better yet, laugh at it, as Tajwar suggested in her blog.) Don’t let that negative thought stop you from doing whatever it is that you need or want to do…because that’s the only way that you truly lose.

And I see no purpose in that. (I hope you don’t, either.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 25, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Work/Life Balance: Is it Achievable?

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Folks, lately I’ve been wondering about the above title — is work/life balance achievable? And if so, how do you go about it?

See, over the past week or so, I’ve been dealing with family health issues. I’ve also been working on my writing, editing, and staying in contact with a few friends here and there in order to remind myself there are good things in the world.

In short, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed.

There are so many things in this world I can’t do much about. And when I’m confronted with those things, I sometimes forget about the things I can do something about — that is, take care of myself; get adequate rest; remember to eat properly; get a little exercise here and there; enjoy the scenery; work for positive changes wherever possible, but try not to completely exhaust myself in the process.

And I can’t believe I’m the only one to ever feel this way.

It’s sometimes easier to focus on what we can’t do, because we’re often taught that it’s wrong to focus on ourselves. Even in a good, positive, healthy sense, where we’re trying to create something or help others or do the best work we can, it’s hard to stay focused on that when everything else seems to be falling apart.

So, is work/life balance achievable?

I think it is, but it’s a tough go sometimes. It’s like running into a headwind; you have to remind yourself that you’re doing your level best, and it has to be good enough. Just keep trying, refuse to let the despair win, refuse to let the exhaustion win, and keep going long enough so it becomes an ingrained habit…then, maybe, it will give you peace of mind to know that you’ve done everything you can on your own behalf.

It’s important to do what you can for yourself.

But how do I put that into practice, under the circumstances? Mostly, I try to remind myself often that it’s perfectly OK for me to put myself first and get the rest, food, and time I need to do what I have to do in order to feel like a fulfilled person even as these other things aren’t working out no matter how hard I try and no matter how much effort I put into it.

Just remember that while you do need to work on controlling what you can control, it’s really hard to do. We’re taught to be rugged individualists, mostly, and having to leave so much up to the Higher Power is difficult. (It really is.)

But don’t stop trying. Definitely don’t stop believing that better things are possible.

Because they are. Even when you can’t see them.

So yes, I do think work/life balance is achievable. And I’ll keep working on it. (How about you? Tell me in the comments!)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 16, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Sunday Introspection: When Friendships End

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Folks, if you’ve read my blog regularly for any length of time, you know that I am a firm believer in the value of persistence.

But there’s one thing and one thing only where I’ve found that persistence doesn’t seem to help. And it has to do with friendship.

Yeah, you do want to persist through good times and bad, and most of us do. But what are you supposed to do when a friendship ends?

There are good reasons for friendships ending, mind. Your lives go in different directions. Or maybe you have found your values aren’t as similar as you thought. Or perhaps there’s just no meeting of the minds any longer…

Whatever it is, all you can do is accept it. You can’t make that person be your friend any more. And even if you could, it wouldn’t be worth anything anyway…so why even waste your time thinking about it?

This is not a mindset that’s easy for me to embrace. At all. I’m the type of person who keeps running at the walls in her path until the walls fall down.

But yes, there are some battles even I can’t fight. And one of ’em is when someone I have cared about for years decides, “Nope, I’m tired of talking, and this is the end.” (Sometimes they don’t even say anything, either. And that’s even worse.)

I had this happen several years ago. Someone I trusted and was incredibly close to me got angry because I defended another friend — someone she did not like — in her presence. This was enough for her to cut me loose.

At the time, I felt horrible, but I knew I’d done the right thing. I could not allow my fears of losing a friend to stop me from standing up for what I believe in. And I truly believed that my first friend was being unkind and unfair to my second friend…I had to say something, or I wouldn’t be myself.

Now, looking back, I realize I’d do the same thing again. Because as Lillian Hellman once said, I refuse to fit my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.

Sometimes it is very hard to stick up for yourself. It makes you feel like you’re the only person in the universe, shouting into the void, and hoping the void will eventually shout back.

But it’s all you can do. Or you’ll lose your self-respect.

I still miss this friend who cut me loose, and wish her nothing but the best. I don’t know why things got to this particular crisis point, and I wish that somehow, I could’ve cut it off at the pass.

Maybe, though, the reason the friendship ended had more to do with something I saw, oddly enough, in a women’s magazine. An actress said that she believed people are in our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. And if that’s the case, if my friend was in my life for less than a lifetime, the friendship ended naturally. As it should, no matter how awful I found it then — and now.

I’ve lost other friends since, mind. And I’ve hated to lose every single one.

But one thing I do know: While I believe firmly in the value of friendship, it has to be a two-way street. If you have a disagreement with a good friend, you have to be willing to talk it out rather than shut the person out, or worse, decide you’re right and that you’re not going to change and that’s that.

I’ve made these mistakes before, and they never are good.

Now, I believe that if I’ve invested time and energy and care into a person and they’ve become a friend, they deserve that same time and energy and care for me to figure out what’s gone wrong and attempt to fix it. Maybe I can’t. Maybe the other person can’t. Maybe he or she is just there for a reason or a season, not a lifetime, and that reason or season is over.

Still.

I never forget my friends. I’ll never stop caring about them.

But yeah. Communication is a must, in friendship and in life. And if you don’t have it, your friendship will wither on the vine no matter what you do.

So do remember to talk with your friends, and listen, and engage, and do what you can to help them as you help yourself. Because I think that’s one of the reasons we’re here — to learn from others.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 6, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Collaboration with a Purpose: Graduate School and One Step Toward the Impossible…

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Today’s theme for the group of bloggers I’m a part of known as Collaboration with a Purpose is “One Step Toward the Impossible.” And as such, I wracked my brains trying to find a topic.

collaboration-one-step-impossible-533x300

Why?

Well, I actually had so many different ideas, I didn’t know which one to pick. (And yes, sometimes too many ideas is as much of a problem as too few.)

The three ideas were:

  1. My lengthy journey to get into graduate school
  2. The journey I’ve been forced to endure as a widow toward building a better and more fulfilling life
  3. The overall journey every person has in attempting to find himself/herself in a culture where many superficial things are celebrated to the detriment of what is true and real

So, what did I finally decide?

I thought discussing my journey to get into graduate school might be interesting. So, without further ado…

Graduate school was definitely a journey that started with a hesitant, single step. I remember going back to finish my Bachelor’s as a slightly older than average student, and telling my advisors that I wanted to go to grad school. That I’d always wanted to go. And what did I need to do so I could?

It turned out that first, I needed to clear up some old debts, so I could get my transcripts released from my undergrad work at another college. I needed to do this first, because until I did, I could not graduate with my Bachelor’s, much less aspire to anything else.

This seemed utterly impossible. First, I was flat broke. Second, I was getting a divorce. Third, I had so many bills that I didn’t have any idea how I was even going to live from day to day, much less anything else.

But I persevered. I took a single step of going back to school, first, even though I couldn’t officially become a degree-seeking student until I had fixed a certain amount of debt. Then, I took another step, and took lessons from probably my favorite overall clarinet and sax teacher, Tim Bell, one of the most encouraging and helpful people I’ve ever run across. Third, I took another single step by working on my music composition with Mark Eichner (who’s now my conductor in the Racine Concert Band)…I didn’t know how anything was going to shake out, but I was at least willing to try to put myself in a position to make it happen.

Then, one night, my mother and I were out at the old Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We liked to go watch the dogs run, and yes, we bet small amounts of money on them, too.

That night, I bet $2 on a superfecta — meaning I had to get four dogs in some sort of order — and my superfecta was what they call a “partial wheel,” meaning I had picked two of the dogs to finish in a particular order, but the other two could come in elsewise. (I know this is not an accurate description, but bogging down this blog with how to work a partial wheel on a superfecta is not my idea of a good time. All apologies if this disappoints you.) And at first, I thought I’d lost.

My Mom checked my ticket, and said, “But Barb, you’ve got the winning combo. At least go up and check the ticket.”

I did, hoping like fire that I did have it. Because the winning ticket paid enough for me to fix the transcript issue, and become a degree-seeking student…

Yes, I had the winner.

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to find out I did have it, mind, ’cause I had been working hard toward this particular end for nearly a year by this time. I was upset  earlier that day, I remember, because of the divorce proceedings, and I’d needed distraction — thus the dog track.

Mom and I had other bills to pay, mind, but I knew that if I didn’t pay this particular bill now, I was likely to not ever get another chance. So, I paid the bill, got my transcripts released, became an official, degree-seeking student, and then asked what else I could do to make things easier on me to getting my degree. (I had to do my last thirty credits in residence at Parkside, mind, and the twelve credits I could take as a non-degree seeking student were already in the can. That means I had eighteen credits yet to go.)

My advisors, Tim Bell and Mark Eichner, told me to try out for a music scholarship.

I did, and I won the best one they had, which knocked half off my tuition. The rest, I’d have to pay in installments, as I was out of financial aid…but I was working full-time as a cashier and stocker, so I vowed to do just that.

While it took me a bit of extra time to make those three payments, I managed it. But then, I had some health issues, and had to take an incomplete in my favorite class of my final semester: United States History, senior-level. (Did I mention yet that I have the equivalents of minors in history and English? No? Oops…) I had to write a couple of papers to finish that up, and I had until the following May to get that in, or my grade — which had been an A before the incomplete had to be taken — would turn into an F.

I wasn’t about to let this stop me, either. So I wrote the papers. Did all the research. Turned them in, and got complimented by my history professor for doing so much work as he’d expected four or five-page papers, not twenty-five to thirty page papers.

(Am I an overachiever? Well, yeah…)

So, my degree requirements had been completed. I had my BA in Music. And I started looking around for grad schools.

I did a couple of auditions in the next few months, helped along by my family — without them, I’d not have been able to get there, as the money was definitely not there for me to travel. (And really, you have to do auditions in person if you want to be a music performance major. A tape only gets you in the door. I am reasonably sure it’s still the same way, because a tape can be altered; performance, in person, can’t be faked.) And I settled on a school, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, because I liked the saxophone teacher, Robert Fought, and believed he’d be able to teach me a great deal. (He did, too, down the line. Good teacher, Dr. Fought.)

At this point, I was offered a full-tuition scholarship and a job as a graduate teaching assistant, meaning I’d be paid a small stipend. The two were a package deal, and I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of it.

But then, life threw me another curveball. As I was readying myself to go to graduate school, I injured my back at work. And this was no minor injury, either; somehow, I pulled nearly every single muscle in my back, and was off work for nearly three months.

By the time I was able to get around again, the first semester (fall) had started at Nebraska. I didn’t know if they’d hold my TAship until the spring or not, but I told Dr. Fought I really did want to go to Nebraska and learn from him.

A number of other difficult things happened, but finally, I managed to get to Nebraska and start my graduate school education.

Note that this journey, which had once seemed impossible, started with a single step. It took nearly four years of hard work, a couple of good breaks I immediately took advantage of, and overcoming at least five bad breaks in the process. But I got it done.

This, to my mind, is what this theme is all about. So I hope my journey will help you all realize that if you set your mind to it, and you do not waver, and you give it your best effort, you, too, can do whatever you put your mind to.

I firmly believe that.

Now, go check out my fellow bloggers and their takes on the subject (the quotes are from some of their best lines, as summarized by the inestimable Nicolle of Stories of a Highly Sensitive Introvert):

 

  • Addison D’Marko (“If you want to achieve complete happiness one of the things you are going to have to do is care less. By this I mean stop putting so much thought into the things that do not matter.”)
  • Ajibola Sunday @ Inspirational Motivation (“The true definition of success is being happy and living up to your potentials.”)
  • Camilla Motte @ Moms on the Go (“We want to be help to the helpless. We all need love and support and I pray this community will be that for you.”)
  • Divyang Shah @ i think my way (“If someone don’t speak much, don’t interpret as a dumb, their mind must be working on something very big or may be he is a writer and observing surrounding on which he would come with some deep write-ups.”)
  • Jothish Joseph @ TheJothishJosephBlog (“Anybody can write “Extra” before “ordinary” but only people of courage dare to earn it…”)
  • Ipuna Black (“None of us are perfect or come from perfect backgrounds, but this doesn’t mean we can’t aim for a positive and fulfilling life. The life we all deserve.”)
  • Jane Love @ Harmonious Joy (“People who have a genuine say and a true voice of their own… not just an echo of some celebrity they think they love.”)
  • Manal Ahmad a.k.a. iamthatgirl @ Sensible Nonsense (“Who says oblivion happens to all of us? A single act of kindness makes sure you live on in somebody’s heart.”)
  • Mylene C. Orillo (“Where I’m at right now is a testament that ‘Dreams really do come true.’”)
  • Sadaf Siddiqi (“The best thing about memories, is one doesn’t realise they are making memories but once recorded, it just rewinds and takes one back to the beautiful series of life.”)
  • Sonyo Estavillo @ ‘Lil Pick Me Up (“I am here to champion anyone from the successful and confident folks, to those that are clinically depressed.”)
  • Tajwar Fatma @ LifeAsWeHaveNeverKnownIt (“When life hits you hard, hit back harder!”)
  • And of course Nicolle K @ Stories of a Highly Sensitive Introvert! (“Success, for me, is when I spend my days feeling happy, peaceful, fulfilled and without fear of lack. 😊”)

Any questions? Tell me about ’em in the comments!

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 4, 2017 at 6:37 pm

Alert: One Step at a Time Towards the Impossible Collaboration!

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We have a new collaboration in mind, we in the Collaboration with a Purpose group…let Nicolle tell you all about it!

Stories of a Highly Sensitive Introvert

collaboration-one-step-impossible-533x300 A wonderful cover picture, this time by Jane Love @ Harmonious Joy!

Yay, it’s time for yet another collaboration! 🎊🎉🎈🎊🎉🎈

Now you might be thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of collaboration!” Actually I neglected to mention last month that actually I’m on a 5-month collaboration “contract” with these bloggers; we’ll be posting one topic a month and this is our 2nd month! Oops. 😛

To keep track of our collaboration topics and posts, I made this little page for reference, which is accessible via my menu at the top of the page. If you haven’t read our previous collaboration posts, please do! 😀

The theme for this month is “one step at a time towards the impossible!” Or I should say seemingly impossible, because nothing is supposed to be impossible, right? 😆

The idea of this theme is that there are a lot of things that seem impossible…

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Written by Barb Caffrey

August 3, 2017 at 2:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Book Hooks: Time for “Changing Faces”

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Folks, I haven’t done Marketing for Romance Writers’ BookHooks Blog Hop in a while, and I’m not sure why that is. I know that my life has been busy and stress-filled lately, but I am proud of my latest novel, CHANGING FACES, and it’s perfect for my friends in Marketing for Romance Writers. (Or, really, anyone at all who likes good romances with an unusual premise…but I’ll get to that.)

First, a quick blurb about my LGBT-friendly fantasy/romance, CHANGING FACES:

Allen and Elaine are graduate students in Nebraska, and love each other very much. Their life should be idyllic, but Elaine’s past includes rape, neglect, and abuse from those who should’ve loved her—but didn’t, because from childhood, Elaine identified as transgender.

When Elaine tells Allen right before Christmas, he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Elaine, loves her soul, has heard about transgender people before, but didn’t think Elaine was one of them—she looks and acts like anyone else. Now, she wants to become a man and is going to leave.

He prays for divine intervention, and says he’ll do anything, just please don’t separate him from Elaine…and gets it.

Now, he’s in Elaine’s body. And she’s in his. They’ll get a second chance at love.

Why? Because once you find your soulmate, the universe will do almost anything to keep you together—even change your faces.

And now, a few lines:

CHANGING FACES cover“Dammit, Elaine! I love you. Can’t you see that? Why else would I be out on a night like this, if I didn’t?”

“I love you, too, but this isn’t going to work.” The set of her jaw bothered me; she’d obviously made up her mind.

“It won’t work only if you decide it won’t,” I told her, trying to keep the edge out of my voice. “Why won’t you listen to me?” I snuck a peek at Elaine. The beauty of her oval face, her liquid brown eyes, her pointed, determined chin…how anyone that beautiful could want to become a man, I didn’t know.

“Let’s not argue, Allen,” she said wearily. “I can’t bear it.”

“Okay, then.” But while I’d stopped talking, I hadn’t stopped thinking. Why does Elaine want to become a man? Why? What have I done wrong, that she should want this? I must have done something wrong, something terrible, for her to want this…

Inwardly, I prayed, hoping that God existed and would hear me despite my usual disbelief. Oh God, if you’re listening . . .please don’t take my beautiful Elaine away from me. I’ll do anything, absolutely anything…

My reverie was broken when the car went into a skid. “Hang on!” I yelled, while I turned into the skid. That should’ve gotten us safely off the road, albeit into a ditch…but it didn’t work.

Instead, something big, something solid, was in the way.

Something that shouldn’t have been there.

“Oh my God!” Elaine screamed.

I tried to reach out to her, to reassure her, but I couldn’t. My body just wouldn’t respond.

Before I could worry about that, the world went black.

(end excerpt)

Now, if that intrigued you — and I sincerely hope it did, or I’d not have decided to do this — please hop on over to Amazon, and pick yourself up a copy today. (It’s only ninety-nine cents, too…how can you go wrong?) Here’s the link:

 

And do check out my fellow Marketing for Romance Writers blog hoppers (those doing the BookHooks hop today) at http://mfrwbookhooks.blogspot.com/ — tell ’em Barb sent you.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 2, 2017 at 2:58 am