Hello, 2017

via Unsplash

If you’ve been around for any period of time, you know I’m all about goals rather than resolutions. Setting actionable, achievable, and accountable goals is far more productive than making promises.

Usually, I keep my goals for the year down to a short list. Recently I heard about Level 10 Life, which is basically just your life, broken down into 10 areas. You’re supposed to set 10 goals for each area—100 in total—with the objective of eventually fulfilling all areas of your life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s possible to ever reach 100% fulfillment; there’s no such thing as perfection. Plus, I think 100 goals is a bit overwhelming.

Goals are supposed to be challenging yet within reach. If you set the bar too high, you’ll set yourself up for failure.

A few weeks ago, I found a wheel of life pin that I loved. It focused on eight areas of life rather than 10, with one goal in each area. The objective is to achieve more balance in your life; once you reach a certain goal, you set a new one in that area.

I tried making the wheel of life and failed epically. After several attempts, I realized I didn’t need a Pinterest-worthy craft to help me set goals for 2017. I sat down with my white board and several dry erase markers, and got busy. This list is the result.

My Goals for 2017

Home

Get curtains for all windows. Though it has its quirks, I love our little country apartment, and hope to stay here until we’re ready to start a family. (That’s a whole other blog post, so stay tuned.) To make our place look even more home-y, I’d like to get curtains for each window. Fortunately—in this case, anyway—there aren’t many windows; our apartment was an attic in a former life. I’m starting with the kitchen, with the front door (which naturally has the oddest measurements ever, and I can’t seem to find anything). Challenge accepted!

Me

Get arrow, hummingbird, and spade tattoos. 2013 was the year I got married, and probably one of the best years of my life. But 2014 and 2015 were easily two of the worst years of my life. I lost one of my best friends in 2014 and in 2015, I lost myself. PTSD finally caught up with me and I completely bottomed out. But in 2016, I got better.

There’s a quote that really spoke to me in 2015-2016:

An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great.

I don’t know where it originated, but it really resonated with me—especially regarding my PTSD. I truly cannot explain how strong I feel. I’ve got my voice and my magic back, and I feel more me than I’ve ever felt. This is why I want to get an arrow on my ribs, on my right side—to remind me of how I shot forward in 2016. Something simple and delicate (my ribs do swell, after all, so tattooing that area might be a bit… challenging). Something like this, in this same spot:

I think this design is the one I’ll go with.

I’ve long wanted to get twin hummingbirds on my collarbones, for my Popi. He loved watching the birds at the lake, and the “hummers” were his favorites—especially the ruby throated hummingbird. Growing up, I always felt enveloped by magic whenever I could look fast enough to see them. Popi had hawk eyes and saw everything; he was the magic.

I like the general placement of the hummingbirds in the above pin, but I don’t love the design. My plan is to have Jay—the artist who did my hydrangeas and tiger lilies—design and tattoo my hummingbirds. I love his style and I know he’ll help me come up with something I love.

Finally, I want to get a spade in memory of one of my best friends, Sean. He loved spades—I’m pretty sure it was an old nickname, though I have to check with his girlfriend to make 100% sure—and had one tattooed on his forearm. I’ve been racking my brain, trying to figure out the perfect tattoo to remember him by. It suddenly dawned on me the other day that I should get a spade. I’ll probably add it to the sleeve I’m working on, on my left arm.

I’d like to get something for my Biz Noni, too, but for one, I’ll be lucky if I can afford three tattoos in one year. Plus, I kind of already got something for her: my hydrangeas around my Fievel. She was still alive back then, but my dad was talking about transplanting her hydrangeas in the yard. I thought about how amazing it was, that those hydrangeas stubbornly continued to bloom year after year after year—even though she couldn’t physically get outside to nurture them anymore. It reminded me of her; she was “up there” in age, but remembered everything and had survived much. I got the hydrangeas tattooed as a reminder that I can survive, too, even in the toughest of circumstances.

Money

Pay off all debt and past due bills. I won’t bore you with the details, but between my student loan, some credit cards that I opened to help us out, our bills, and my creative team from Booktrope, I’ve racked up a teensy bit of debt. I say “teensy” because I was panicking but when I added it all up, I realized it’s really not that bad. Some people are thousands of dollars in debt; I’m only about $5K in. Still, I’d really like to make it go away—especially the damned student loan that’s been hanging over my head for years.

Long story short, that student loan is from a half semester that I had to withdraw from due to health issues. It was too late to withdraw without penalty, so I got stuck with the bill. I’ve been trying to pay that thing off for almost 10 years now.

My accumulated debt grew to a ginormous monster in my head. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, terrified I’d go to jail for delinquency. That’s totally not the case, but anxiety lies. When I actually broke it down on paper, though, it suddenly became a teeny baby monster. Now that I’m writing for Textbroker and regaining momentum in my career, it doesn’t seem completely impossible to overcome, either.

They say the best way to pay off debt is to make regular payments on everything while going really hard at one particular bill. I haven’t quite decided which one to tackle first, though.

Career

Finish all currently open series. 2016 was all about regaining some lost momentum; 2017 is going to be all about closing boxes.

Right now, I have three unfinished series: the Comes in Threes, Not Just Any Love, and South of Forever series. While the Not Just Any Love series is actually just two companion standalones (Just One More Minute and the forthcoming Char/Amarie novel), the Comes in Threes series has been in limbo for almost four years.

I’ll be releasing the final South of Forever book soon, and then my plan is to get back to Quinn, Tara, and everyone else from Crazy Comes in Threes. I’ll be rewriting CCIT; I won’t be changing anything about the story, but I’ll be making some structural changes—that way I can pull off my master scheme. I’m super excited about what I have in store. More news on that soon!

Marriage

Go on one date every month. Thanks to the holidays, health issues, and financial stress, Mike and I haven’t been able to spend much time together lately. Our hot dates have recently consisted of doctors’ appointments and him helping me put pants on. So romantic. 🙄 Not!

Money is beyond tight, but I’d really like to do something every month—even if it’s just a movie night in. We’re both always busy, but I make sure we eat dinner together (unless he’s working), with no tech at the table so we’re really focusing on each other. Still, I’d like to do actual dates.

Last month, my Noni got us a gift certificate to our favorite sushi place, so we went to lunch after my rheumatology appointment. (Note to self: blog about that ASAP.) It was nice to get out and spend time together, and we have enough left on the gift certificate to do it again. Little things like that keep our relationship strong.

Family

Host at least one family dinner. Due to my arthritis, it’s really hard for me to pull off gatherings at our place. Not only is it physically difficult, but it also takes a major toll on my energy. The last time we hosted anything was Mike’s birthday party—in October. It was so nice to have both sides of our family all together, but I paid for it dearly in the days after. I always do.

Originally, we really wanted to host weekly Sunday dinners, but that’s just not possible. I’m slowly adjusting to my limitations, which means not pushing myself and accepting things for what they are. Still, I’d like to have at least one Sunday dinner this year; they were a huge part of Mike’s family when he was growing up, and it’s really important to him that the tradition continues.

My plan is to give Plaquenil and Prednisone some more time and, when the weather gets warmer, set a date.

Health

Find a treatment that brings pain down to a 4/10. I’m hoping Plaquenil is The One. I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never have a zero pain level again, but if my new normal could be a 4/10, that would be great. At that level, the pain is tolerable; once it gets to five or even six, it’s debilitating. Honestly, I’ll even take a five at this point; last Sunday, it got all the way down to a five, and I felt amazing. It’s been an eight lately, which is still better than a nine or 10.

But four is about my normal level when I’m not in a flareup. If Plaquenil can decrease the flareups and their severity, I’ll be happy.

I’d also really like a diagnosis more definitive than “it might be Lupus” or “it’s definitely enthesitis-related arthritis.” Right now, my chart has Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD) as my diagnosis, which translates to “undiagnosed autoimmune disease.” It means there’s definitely something inflammatory and autoimmune going on, but my labs are inconclusive. There are two camps in rheumatology: one that relies more on symptoms to diagnose, and the other that relies more on labs. My rheumatologist falls into the latter, and so did my former rheumatologist. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for my own closure, I’d really like to know the name of the disease that has completely and irrevocably changed my life.

I may never get that. I may have to practice accepting that. Time will tell.

Passion

Write “writing through trauma” book as a blog series. I’d like to tell my story—and help others write through theirs. Writing has long been a huge part of my life. I’ve written my way through every major event, be it in a journal or weaving my pain into a novel. The most important writing I’ve ever done, though, were my trauma stories.

I’d like to teach others how to write through their pain. Eventually, I’d even like to lead workshops for local organizations who help sexual assault survivors, but I’ve got to start small. That, for me, means writing a how to book.

I’ve started several times. I keep getting stuck because I’m not sure how much of my personal story I should share; I don’t want to take away from the advice I’m giving, but I’d also like to show how writing through my own trauma helped me. I’ve decided to take my outline and the roughly 10K words I’ve written, and turn it into a blog series that can be later converted into a book. This way, I can get some reader feedback on it while I’m putting it together.

Stay tuned, because that will be starting very soon.


What are your goals for 2017? Let me know in the comments!

A Year in the Life with Barone’s Belles

I made this for the reader group I co-run, Romance Readers Anonymous. Jess or bust!
I made this for the reader group I co-run, Romance Readers Anonymous. Jess or bust!

Technically I’m supposed to be unplugged for the weekend, but I couldn’t resist sneaking on and sharing some of my thoughts on the Gilmore Girls reunion on Netflix: A Year in the Lifespoiler-free, of course!

I grew up on Gilmore Girls with my mom and sister. Those nights are some of my best memories. No matter what was happening in my life, I always had my girls and the Gilmores. We also got my Noni hooked on it, and even my dad watched with us sometimes. (He was convinced from the very beginning that Luke and Lorelai were meant to be.) So when I heard about the reunion, I knew I’d have to binge it with at least two of the women who have always been my rock. We’d originally planned on trying to do it on launch day, making it an all-day fest—complete with coffee and Chinese! But I screwed up the date and my mom ended up having to work.

Then I found out Noni and Aunt Wendy wanted in, making it a three-generation celebration! We did some planning and decided to watch the first half tonight and the rest tomorrow (and maybe Sunday, if we need to). And of course, we had Chinese (though not coffee because it was already late in the day and I am one of those people who believe you can’t sleep after drinking it, haha.) I have a lot of thoughts and feels, but I’ll keep it spoiler-free, because I don’t want the wrath of Taylor sicced on me. 😜

Side note: I call my reader group Barone’s Belles*, because I’m Barone and my kick-ass main characters are my belles—plus my strong and beautiful readers are my belles (and beaus sometimes), too. After I told my family about the group, Noni started calling us her Barone’s Belles. So it’s an extra special name now. I was super excited to get to spend time with these ladies, because life is life-y and we don’t often all get to gather.

We watched “Winter” and “Spring” back to back.

First of all, this reunion is funny. Like, Gilmore Girls was always funny. Rewatching it again recently, I thought it was even funnier than I’d remembered. But Amy Sherman- and Daniel Palladino really brought it for this—as well as the entire cast.

And it’s so pretty! The set is gorgeous and even though some things are different, it’s definitely my Stars Hollow. Even the way it was shot and everything… Just beautiful!

I teared up when “Winter” kicked off, because hearing the rewind of the original series and  knowing we were about to see the reunion just made my heart squeeze. As each cast member made their appearance, I got so excited. It was like seeing old friends.

Now, this isn’t a spoiler if you’ve watched the trailers, so I think it’s okay to mention. All three Gilmore women are going through a rough time. It’s so painful to see Emily grieving Richard, and it’s hard watching Lorelai struggle with her worries, but I think it’s hardest for me to watch Rory feeling so lost. Rory has always been something of a role model for me. She’s always been so confident, and to see her struggling with her confidence is both heartbreaking and relatable. I’ve been feeling a bit lost myself, lately.

But I know Rory will find her place and come back swinging, because that’s my girl. (And so will I, because if Rory can overcome Wookies and bitchy CEOs, I can handle my stuff, too.)

I really want to gush and squee over the details, but I don’t want to give anything away. So if you want to leave a comment, keep it spoiler-free for those of us who haven’t watched yet. (I can tell you right now, I won’t be checking anything internet-y until I’ve seen all four episodes because I will cut a bitch**.)

Oh, and speaking of episodes… Netflix is calling this “Season 1.” While I kinda think that’s just because it’s how they do things, part of me is hoping it’s because there’ll be more. But even if there isn’t, I’m so, so, so happy that we got this reunion—and we finally get to hear those four words.

Which of Rory’s exes are you rooting for? All five of us are Team Jess, and so is my dear CP Molli Moran, but I know my dear work wife J.C. Hannigan is staunchly Team Logan. 🙃  Tell me who you’re hoping Rory ends up with in the comments!


*If you’d like to join my reader group, click here and request to join. I or someone else will approve you ASAP! I post behind-the-scenes tidbits while I’m writing, Belles-only excerpts, early cover reveals, and more! I also co-run Romance Readers Anonymous with Molli, J.C., and the lovely Rebecca Paula.

**I don’t actually think spoilers are a big deal. I mean, am I going to avoid going out into public for fear of spoilers? No! I think people who get angry about them are overreacting a bit. But something like this, something we’ve waited ten years for… I think it’s decent to maintain the surprises for everyone else. Thankfully I have Netflix so I don’t have to wait—THANK YOU SANDY!—but I’d be a little miffed if I went on Twitter and all the details were immediately in my face. Not everyone has the luxury of extras right now, and I understand that all too well. As far as everything else… Well, I’m married to the king of blabbing TV and movie spoilers, so I’ve learned to deal. I actually call him Spoiler Alert sometimes. 😂 He knows better than to spoil certain things for me, though. 🔪😈😉

It Starts with a Funeral

Several years ago, I had a falling out with a family member. It devastated me. We’d been really close so I’d never imagined that our relationship could ever change. It was an incredibly painful experience—especially since, at the time, I’d just lost my Popi to cancer and was struggling with a flareup. Any time there’s disagreement between two family members, it puts pressure on the rest of the family. I found myself on the outside of a rift. I was young and had never been through anything like that before, so I did the only thing I knew how.

I threw myself into my work.

Up until that moment, I’d been on what I’d thought was a one-way path. I pivoted and diverged slightly from my original career plan, and found a full-time job working in the web, graphics, and marketing department of a local small business. But no matter how hard I tried to move on, that feeling of hurt and betrayal remained heavy in my heart.

I distanced myself from family for quite a long time, mostly because I didn’t want to make any waves. The worst part was, the person who hurt me would’ve been the one I went to for advice. It was an extremely hard time in my life.

Over the years, the rift began to heal. There was never really closure—in the sense that I was never able to sit down with this person and air out our past grievances—but with time I was able to make peace with everything. Now, even though we aren’t as close as we once were, the currents in the air between us are warm.

But not everyone is that lucky.

That sense of how cruel time can be was what fueled Just One More Minute. The novel opens with Rowan coping with two rifts at a funeral: her recently passed Aunt Katherine and the boy who stole her heart in middle school.

Just One More Minute teaser

It was stupid. She’d been twelve years old. It was time to move on. But the pounding in her chest and the tears burning her eyes said differently. The heart was an entirely different organ than the brain.

Time has run out for Rowan to make amends with Katherine, but when she runs into Matt, she slowly starts to realize that perhaps there’s still a chance for her to forgive him. Maybe they won’t ever be friends, but at least they’ll be civil enough to run Katherine’s bakery together.

Unless her heart gets its way. 🙃

Over the years I’ve come to realize that sometimes the most painful experiences lead us to the sweetest. That’s why I wrote Just One More Minute.

On the 31st, I’m sending the first five chapters to my email list. Make sure you’re signed up! *shamelessly points to form below*

* indicates required


Email Format

All of a Sudden

My sister, Biz Noni, and me
My sister, Biz Noni, and me

Yesterday morning, I finally fell asleep somewhere around 6am after being up all night in pain. I woke up around 11:30am to a text from my mom, asking me to call as soon as I could. It was from around eight in the morning. Dread filled me; I knew something was wrong. Since I’d taken Tramadol so late, I was still feeling the side effects. Which is why, when I called my mom and she told me my sweet Biz Noni had passed away, all I could say was “Oh.”

Then it slammed into me.

I hadn’t seen her in a few months. She transitioned into a nursing home last year when her dementia started getting really bad. I visited her from time to time but wasn’t able to as often as I would’ve liked. I was planning on going to see her this week, since Mike is on vacation from work and I could take the car.

But it was too late.

I’ve been kind of numb today. I’m really sorry that I didn’t go see her sooner. I feel horrible about that. She deserved better. And even though I know that she knew she was loved, I still feel bad. Lots of family visited her on a regular basis, and she’d made friends in the home, so she wasn’t alone. I guess I just wish I could’ve told her one more time how much I love her.

Though I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore, it hurts so much to say goodbye. She was one of the sweetest, most stubborn people I knew. Some of the things she’d come out with had me in stitches. You’d think a white-haired ninety-five-year-old would be demure, but not my Biz Noni. She loved to bust balls and always played “The Matriarch” card whenever anyone tried to give her shit. “I’m The Matriarch,” she’d say, and that was that.

Biz Noni had a sweet tooth, too. The older she got, the more she looked forward to her desserts. We’d barely be done with Christmas dinner, for example, and she was already asking about dessert. I’ve decided I’m going to dedicate my bakery romance Just One More Minute to her. It’s only fitting.

I have so many good memories of my Biz Noni: her babushka on a cool night around the campfire; playing “office” and “doctor” in her living room with my sister and cousins; making cookies, cappelletti, and gnocchi in the kitchen with her and the rest of my family; watching black and white movies with her on TV…

I don’t really know what else to say right now. Like one of my cousins said last night, I thought she’d be around forever. She always had. She remembered everything up into her nineties, and then all of a sudden it didn’t. The dementia was so fast. I guess my mom is right, that it’s kind of good that the last time I saw her was when she was still doing relatively well.

I just wish I could’ve given her one last kiss on her sweet, soft cheek and told her I love her one last time.

Six Years Passed

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

It seems absolutely crazy to me that six years ago, cancer took my grandfather. Popi was a huge part of my life, and even now, the hole in our family is gaping. I think I was in denial throughout the entire time he was sick, up until the moment I woke up and he was gone. Even then, it took my brain and heart quite some time to catch up.

Grief is weird like that.

Six years later, I’m okay. We’re all okay. But sometimes that ache sneaks right up on me—especially during this time of year. Late at night, tucked in bed, I’m not an almost 28-year-old woman; I’m a little girl who misses her Popi.

I wonder what he’d think about everything going on in the world right now. I’m especially curious if he’d like Machete or how he would’ve looked in a suit at my wedding. My Popi loved those crazy explosive action movies. They’re the ones I usually roll my eyes at but every now and then, our interests would intersect. We could watch Mortal Kombat and The Crow together. Popi was a huge martial arts movies fan, too. Unfortunately, there haven’t really been any lately.

Popi also had a great sense of humor—and an even better laugh. It was a contagious kind of laugh; if he laughed, you couldn’t help but burst out laughing too. I can actually still hear his laugh without trying too hard.

Popi was also a musician. He could play anything on his guitar by ear. Way back in the day, he was actually in a band. I didn’t inherit that gene, but it’s totally his fault that I love music so much and write rockstar romance.

There are a million things I could say about my Popi and it still wouldn’t be enough to really give you an idea of who he was. He passed on his stubbornness, fiery passion, and goofiness to me. He also had a soft, tender side. The older I get, the more I see myself in him—which is kind of funny, considering when I was younger, I never quite understood him. He seemed so complicated to me, yet I still loved him to pieces.

He was one of my favorite people in the whole world.

I miss him so much. Eventually, when I can afford it, I really want to get hummingbird tattoos just under my collarbone. Popi loved to sit up at the lake and watch all the birds, but the “hummers” were his favorite. They move fast, and half the time I was never quick enough. But my Popi saw everything—even hawks and eagles soaring far above the car as he drove us to the lake.

I’m not religious, I don’t believe in any kind of god, and I have no idea whether there’s any such thing as heaven, but I really hope someday, somehow I see him again.

Cotton candy sky. Every time I see a sunset, I think of my Popi. #nofilter

A post shared by Elizabeth Barone (@elizabethbarone) on

Happy Birthday, Popi

Popi, me, and Noni on the day I graduated college.
Popi, me, and Noni on the day I graduated college.

My family is scattered. At one point we all practically lived in the same house. Now we’re separated across Connecticut and Virginia. Normally, I miss them but I’m able to go about my day. We’re all living our own lives, occasionally reuniting to celebrate the milestones. Times like today, though, I feel the pang of that split.

It’s my grandfather’s birthday, and all I want is to be around my family.

I can’t.

I’m too sick.

Plus, later, I have to go to the DMV. Today is not my favorite.

But thanks to Facebook, we can trade photos and stories. My sister dug up this photo of my grandparents with me on my college graduation. My aunt and I were discussing the various traits we all inherited from Popi. Across the gap, we’re still closer than ever.