Barbara K. McNally’s “Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife”

My thanks to fellow author Dean Robertson for this guest contribution that first appeared in its entirety on her site in December, 2016. This was a book I loved as well… Dean’s thoughtful review speaks volumes!

unspecified-1A more unlikely group of healers you couldn’t ask for. There they are, laughing and lounging at a luxury hotel in Southern California, where they have come from all over the country for a few days of rest and rejuvenation that they badly need and have certainly earned… Continue reading

Gardenias and My Dad

12814310_10153259647097000_7132381373956898829_nI’m on the cusp of finally wrapping up a story of four little women and their life with the U.S. Navy…. through the eyes of their step-dad. Ironically, I used the gardenia bush that was not fictional, one I grew up with in my childhood and eventually into adulthood.

Even writing the scene of the totem gardenia bush in our backyard, I teared up and tried to suppress the lump in my throat. My writing coach, Shari Stauch, encouraged me to use it to layer each character’s life lesson. So, I did.

Being the fan of symbolism, serendipity or totems… pick your verbage… I decided to Google the gardenia. My step-father purchased a home in my senior year of high school. His green thumb was a gift to our back yard. He turned it into a Utopia for not only Mother Nature but the neighbors. We reaped from his vegetable garden to his infamous banana plants. Many birds bathed in the mists of his irrigation systems. But, among these endeavors— his wisdom to bring a scraggly gardenia bush to a thriving fragrant Spring gift paralleled with his presence in our lives.

He married my mom with four daughters in tow. He saw promise in each of us. He cultivated and groomed the soil of our souls. Looking back, I see the pruning and fertilization of a parent who led all of us into our futures. Resolve, resilience, and resourcefulness were active words. We always celebrated the fragrance of Daddy’s gardenia bush for decades. Now, I look back this New Year’s Day and realize that it was serendipitous… God’s nudge…. that we were blessed to have the wisdom of our step-father’s ability to cultivate the gardens in his life.

I pray we can all find the small messages in our life lessons that say…. stop and smell the gardenias.

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Runnymede – … a night of Funny-mede

fireflies-and-rubies The Middleton High School Class of 1976 cried for a ’40th reunion…’ in January, 2016. Not much time due to Charleston, SC becoming the hot event destination with brides flocking in their bridal gowns like our local egrets. But, as the heirs of the Reunion Committees resigned, we went into War Room mode, rolled up our sleeves, pulled out my weary duct taped folder of years of searching for classmates and met to discuss logistics at Bobby Bernstein’s office.

Strategically, Bobby strolled to the kitchen fridge and brought a cold bottle of Chardonnay and one glass. He sat it in front of me at the head of the table and gave me a healthy pour. What came next befuddled me as we had to choose the date to back into for location, catering, rentals and of course, hunting classmates. We knew it would be sometime near hurricane season. A non-negotiable for a Charleston Fall event.  Continue reading

Facing Stage Fright: This Time with a Book Signing!

Authors Millie West and Kat VarnMy friend and author Millie West and I recently shared a table at the lovely McIntosh Book Shoppe for a two-day book signing in downtown Beaufort, SC — two days of talking up our books and meeting new readers during the Beaufort Water Festival.

The annual festival attracts hundreds of people including vendors and entertainers. When Millie invited me to join her July 20-21 for a book signing, I confess I felt the same pressure as my protagonist in Ameera Unveiled. Spotlight and stage fright. Despite being eager to attend, I couldn’t help those old feelings of nervousness and anxiety.

But obviously it was an opportunity not to be missed. I choked down my trepidation and headed 60 miles south from Charleston to Beaufort.

When I arrived, the staff at McIntosh were friendly and encouraging. Millie and I sat in typical southern summer heat with relief from a box fan. I was impressed with the ease Millie had in drawing pedestrians to the table. She promoted her two novels, The Cast Net and Catherine’s Cross, and I shared Ameera Unveiled.

At the end of the day, we had laughed, signed books, and found new connections with dozens of passersby. The stagefright was gone as I remembered that this is one of the wonderful things I love about being an author.

Kat Varn and Lara Forte

With my favorite character, Lara Forte!

As I rolled my suitcase back to the car after the long, but enjoyable event, I reflected on our two days. Just as Ameera emerged from her journey by being pushed into a spotlight, I left Beaufort with the same message as my book: Face those forbidden zones. Enjoy the power of female bonds. And never lose your sense of humor.

My sincere thanks to Millie and the McIntosh Book Shop for two special days of book signing in Beaufort!

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Freedom to Dance!

Kat-Varn-Gypsy-DanceDuring the afterglow of my belly dance troupe’s performance during the North Charleston Performing Arts Festival on April 29, 2016, my husband flashed a mobile picture of me. Normally, photos of me dancing make me a little nervous, but this time, the internal reaction for me? It was a money shot.

For those that know me or have read Ameera Unveiled, the journey to free myself to embrace the spotlight has come with many battles: The Battle of the muffin tops. The Battle of It’s-All-About-Me. The Battle of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood gap. Sound a little like a Civil War? It was and is! In any uprising to find freedom from oppression, sexism, racism or any other ism…. did freedom ever manifest without a rebellion? There is no such thing as free.

Not to digress, as I stared at my money shot on hubby’s phone, I couldn’t help but revisit my dance journey. The journey to find the Freedom to Dance. Part of my seasoning was mastering choreography, accepting my rank within Palmetto Oasis and stepping onto the battle field (the dreaded dance stage). In 2008, Private Ameera was drafted and participated in Operation Jamaica. She was assigned to gypsy duty under the leadership of Lt. Nasreen and Lt. Parvaneh. Eventually, the Jamaican performance looked tightly put together and sassy. But, I knew my part was rote and my joy was still stifled under the pressure to get it right.

Freedom-to-DanceHere I was, eight years later performing the same dance as a duo. Nasreen and Ameera were good friends and had served in the trenches. On April 29 as we dueled as sassy gypsy girls, I finally was able to surrender and abandon perfect choreography for the joy of dancing with my friend. After two and half minutes, we did our final pose and pranced off stage. To my surprise, my dance partner hugged me and planted a big kiss on my cheek in front of the audience.

Still staring at the shot, I realized that standing up to a life’s footprint that denied the Freedom to Dance, I’d finally won a battle. My performance was not relative to the term perfection. I surrendered perfection and embraced being an achiever of excellence—baby step by baby step. I could look at my hubby’s photo and realize that for the moment, I’d won the freedom to dance. His picture painted a thousand words to support my 400 word blog…

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Looking For Lydia? Where Did I Come From?

lydiaI took Dean Robertson’s book on my recent dive vacation. I’ll admit it cut into my focus to add to my own writing project, but the questions she posed haunted me for several days…

The women in her book had several common bonds: aging, a Bible study and shared residence at the Lydia Roper Home. As Dean led them through a study of women in the Bible, the complexity of how “life showed up” shone through the pages of the Bible and Ms. Robertson’s book, Looking for Lydia, Looking for God. Continue reading

Lights, Cameras, Corset

Only a few more days before Palmetto Oasis Middle Eastern Dance Troupe performs in the North Charleston Performing Arts Festival. Some of the women have marinated and subsequently created dances beginning after the 2015 show. We spend hours on the internet Hoop, Kelly and Suhaila 012researching costumes and YouTubes. After my son moved out, I converted his bedroom into a small dance room. My husband thinks nothing of several parked cars and entering the house hearing jingling and exotic music. My dog, Chaz, was eager to greet dancers and hang out until he got underfoot. My cat, Hollywood, loves to get under skirts or plop into the center of the room expecting everyone to dance around him. Continue reading

Palmetto Oasis Middle Eastern Dance Troupe Celebrates Powerful Women of Dance

12523986_1299736173386454_26217038734450390_nThe Palmetto Oasis Middle Eastern Dance Troupe will be performing at the North Charleston Performing Arts Festival on April 30th. Each year, we brainstorm the name of the next show’s theme should North Charleston invite us to perform again.

The 2016 show is dedicated to powerful women, in dance and beyond. Throughout our performance, Palmetto Oasis will share stories of powerful women in dance. I’d nominate our troupe founder and my mentor/teacher, from whom I learned to dance –Sybil Yocum– who I wrote about in Ameera Unveiled. Based on actual events and the tribe I became part of, Sybil challenged each of us to allow dance to “…encourage women’s self-esteem and wellness, inspiring them to bring forth their creativity and passion for life.” ages women’s self-esteem and wellness, inspiring them to bring forth their creativity and passion for life

Never Accommodating LifeTo help in that celebration, Ameera Unveiled is on sale at BQB Publishing – CLICK HERE to order your print copy. And I’ll be available to sign your copies following our performance.

If you’d prefer to read Ameera on Kindle, please CLICK HERE!

Hope to see you at the festival to join us in celebrating powerful women in history…

Wind of Change – Staying True to You

I’ve started my parenting tale with two US Navy fathers raising four girls… just like a modern tale of Little Women. Although, Louisa May Alcott’s father was kept away because of Civil war injury, my tale is more complex.

Products of the mixed signals between Russia and America who economically survived the Great Wars, Korean and Cold Wars…. we dependents were at the mercy of little disclosure or access to our fathers’ duty stations. They defended treaties with allies and defended the right to use international waters without acts of violence. They were crowded on ships that shared and operated as one under pressure. Obedience to an oath to serve country… or among those who wanted to get out of subscription.

Little did I know how intricate this simple fact was for not only my parents… but those who blazed the trail behind them. Life’s one constant was change, some closer to global evidence of genocides, religious division and political agendas than we’d know as small children.

I was never raised to think color, race, or creed. I lived through and embraced the desegregation during my childhood in the South. I didn’t know how to make sense of assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther or Robert Kennedy. I lived between the fantasy of Disney and ignorance of political corruption. I was not aware of the egotistical agenda of the Berlin Wall. Vietnam was just a place my fathers went to work.

My innocence was cocooned by parents who were far from perfect. They just kept the lines of the messiness of adult life issues from us. Playing Cowboys and Indians in the woods was not offensive. As I used a stethoscope or pretended to give prescriptions to my siblings, no one worried I was headed to substance abuse. Being on the losing team at recess did not crush my self esteem. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. Pen pals used stationery and postal stamps. I waited and learned patience because there was no instant gratification.

I don’t think there is anything surrounding my five decades of life that is new to mankind. But, I still want to follow in my fathers’ footsteps. Never think the smallest kindness is futile. I don’t want to be discouraged by the magnitude of the descent of a country’s moral compass. I will not be afraid to face mindful weigh ins or challenging offensive lines. I aspire to respect someone’s opinion, hopefully being reciprocated the right to mine.

Change was more subtle during my lifetime. I guess I heard my dad’s Wind of Change subliminally and dreamed away. Looking back, I realize the enormous gift of these great adults. Do we leave that ability to dare to dream?

I can’t. I want to look behind and see my footprint carrying on the torch of hope given to me by a great legacy of ancestors.

Peace Out, Chaz

Chaz sleeping-editI owned the most gentle and eager to please mutt, Chaz. Back story: I am not a dog person—I’m a cat girl! Chaz migrated from my ex-husband’s home to my home sometime early 2000s. Eventually, my son graduated high school and Chaz remained in our home. My husband did the walking, feeding, playing and even showers with him once a week. I did potty duty during the day but it was on a leash and only as long as it took to get the deed done. Continue reading