My Review – From A Distance

My Review: From A Distance by Tamera Alexander at KathleenDenly.com

Having recently joined the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads, I was excited to discover that one of their choices for the Book of the Month Read Along was a Tamera Alexander novel. I’d had her on my list of new-to-me authors I want to try for a while, so I Googled the book title and discovered this book trailer:

After a trailer like that, how could I NOT read the book? So of course, I added it to my “Currently Reading” shelf, picked up a (FREE!) copy through Kindle Unlimited and started reading.

Opening Line:

“Elizabeth Garrett Westbrook stepped closer to the cliff’s edge, not the least intimidated by the chasm’s vast plunge.”

First Impressions:

The very first paragraph tells us so much about the main character:  her name, age, dreams, determination, courage… and that her time is limited.  In the first chapter, we learn that Elizabeth is a strong woman facing a life-threatening illness, yet she doesn’t let that stop her or even slow her down.  She dreams of becoming the first female staff photographer and journalist at the Washington Daily Chronicle, and she won’t let illness, the treacherous Rocky Mountains, or her father’s disapproval get in her way. However, we also see that her determination is balanced with heart in the way she treats the “Negro” man she has hired to assist her and in how she views the wildlife around her.

When we first meet Daniel Ranslett in Chapter Three, we learn that he is a patient tracker, a skilled hunter with a conscience, and a man of his word. We also learn that he is haunted by his past and still wrestles with the guilt of old choices. He prefers to keep to himself, but his reluctance is no match for Elizabeth’s determination once she learns he has the experience she needs to accomplish part of her goals.

Characters:

In addition to Elizabeth and Daniel, Tamera introduces us to a variety of well-developed characters including:

  • Josiah – a former slave, kind & competent employee, and loyal friend;
  • Sheriff James McPherson – whose current friendship with Daniel has been complicated and strained by past events;
  • Rachel Boyd – sister to the sheriff, mother, and recent widow;
  • The Tucker family – struggling to provide for their large brood, including  a young son with a severe illness;
  • Drayton Turner the local newspaper man;
  • Carnes the coroner;
  • Mr. Zachary manager of the local land and title office;
  • and too many more to list.

Despite the size of the cast in this story, Tamera has managed to give each character such a unique depth, and introduced them so skillfully, that there was never a moment where I lost track of who was who. Each character is as real and rich as the next.

Emotional Engagement & Pacing of the Story:

This is not an edge of your seat, flip the pages as fast as you can, style of story. However, Tamera has created just enough tension that you are always reluctant to set this book down. As I’ve already said, the characters are so real and their emotions so deeply felt by the reader that you cannot help but be pulled into their world and their struggles. You want to know what will happen next and whether or not each character will achieve their goals.

Elements I especially liked/disliked:

Something that sets this novel apart is its handling of the racial issues present in 1875 Colorado Territory. I appreciated how Tamera managed to portray this in a way that felt real, yet not garish. It was neither overdone for the sake of drama nor underplayed for the sake of current (2016) political views. I think it’s important to remember the shameful parts of our history as well as the moments of which we are proud. It’s how we learn and a reminder never to go back.

Themes:

The primary themes are accepting forgiveness and learning to adjust when your dreams don’t turn out to be what you imagined they were.

Ending:

I found the ending of this book mostly satisfying. I felt the romance was resolved a bit too subtly for my taste, but this is a nitpicky personal opinion. In regard to length, I would, perhaps, have liked just another page or two more to enjoy the afterglow of resolution, but this is more a sign of having enjoyed the book than a complaint against it. There is no hint of a cliffhanger. The romance plot and all the side plots are nicely concluded.

Overall Rating:

4.5 out of 5 stars

5 Tips for Writing the Perfect Book Synopsis

 

5 Tips for Writing the Perfect Book Synopsis by Kathleen Denly
(How it can feel trying to cram your masterpiece into 2 pages or less.)

In preparation for my attendance of the Asheville Christian Writers Conference 2017, I have been polishing my book synopsis for my Waltz With Me manuscript. In order to create the best possible synopsis I have read many, many articles and it occurred to me this information might be helpful to others as well. So this week I am sharing with you 5 of the most helpful articles I found on writing the perfect book synopsis along with some of my favorites bits of advice from each:

Back to Basics: Writing a Novel Synopsis by Jane Friedman

“A good rule of thumb for determining what stays and what goes: If the ending wouldn’t make sense without the character or plot point being mentioned, then it belongs in the synopsis. If the character or plot point comes up repeatedly throughout the story, and increases the tension or complication each time, then it definitely belongs.”

Your Guide To An Effective Novel Synopsis by 

“There are no hard and fast rules about the synopsis. In fact, there’s conflicting advice about the typical length of a synopsis. Most editors and agents agree, though: The shorter, the better.”

6 Steps for Writing a Book Synopsis by Marissa Meyer

“The first paragraph of the synopsis should give the same basic information you convey through the book’s first chapter: where and when does this story take place, who is the protagonist, and what problem are they facing right off the bat?”

How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel by Glen C. Strathy

“The biggest mistake most people make when they try to write a synopsis for the first time is to create a bare bones plot summary … It is the emotional twists and turns that make a novel or a hockey game appealing.”

Novel Synopsis: How to Write a Synopsis for your Novel by Graeme Shimmin

“Another trick is to get a friend and sit down with a voice recorder. Then tell them the plot of your novel. Listen to the questions they ask. Transcribe the conversation and pick out the best bits. You might find that your story flows more naturally in a conversation.”

 

Did You Know? – Lt. George Horatio Derby

Did You Know Chalk Board w Rustic Wood Frame & Daisy

If you visit the McCoy House located in Old Town San Diego and wander through its museum exhibits toward the back, you will discover a hidden gem. This is where I first encountered Lt. George Horatio Derby and his humorous writings. Later, I came across his name again in doing the research for my novel, Waltz With Me, in which my main character spends some time in 1854 San Diego.

It turns out Lt. Derby went by many names including:  John Phoenix, Squibob, & Professor John Phoenixiana.  These were pen names which he used for writing humorous articles enjoyed by readers throughout the country. Why so many? Well in one case a competing writer had assumed Derby’s pen name without permission and as a result, Lt. Derby decided to change his pen name altogether. In true Derby form, he did so by writing an obituary for his previous pen name.

In reading about Lt. Derby I discovered that he had something of a naughty sense of humor and was rather well known for his practical jokes. One of his most famous is the time he wrote and illustrated several tongue-in-cheek suggestions regarding the new design of the army’s uniform.

My favorite of his suggestions was this:

 

derby-pantaloons-hook-sketches

Part of the idea was that if a soldier attempted to desert during battle, the captain could merely use a long rope to lasso the soldier by the hook on his pants and drag him back to the front line! In the meantime, it was suggested, the hook could also be used to hang a pair of boots during a march or hang a pot over a fire at mealtimes. The story goes that the Secretary Jefferson did not appreciate Derby’s sense of humor and were it not for other officials pleading Derby’s case, he might have found himself in a heap of trouble!

The story of Lt. George Horatio Derby connects with the history of San Diego in 1853. Apparently the river which is so nicely contained today, once had the nerve to wander all over the land, sometimes emptying into San Diego Bay and other times ending in False Bay (now known as Mission Bay). Occasionally it even threatened the Old Town settlement. Worst of all, however, was the fear that it would drop so much silt into the San Diego Bay the bay would no longer be usable as a major harbor. So the government decided to do something about it and sent for Lt. Derby, whose day job was a soldier and engineer in the U.S. Army, to come oversee the building of a dike which would permanently divert the river into False Bay.

Lt. Derby employed local Native Americans to do the labor and spent his off time writing and playing jokes – including the time a Miss Whaley was dared into climbing into a cask which, once she was in, somehow managed to find itself rolling downhill with her inside. His humorous stories about San Diego during this time were extremely popular throughout the country. Unfortunately, his dike was not as successful, washing out in a storm just two years later. There would be several more attempts made by the government before the river was truly contained in the 1950’s.

The dike was not Derby’s only job here in San Diego. In fact, there was a time when the editor of the San Diego Herald, Judge J.J. Ames, had to go to San Francisco for a while on business and left Lt. Derby in charge. It will probably come as no surprise that all did not continue as usual in the Judge’s absence. Derby took the opportunity to essentially revamp the conservative paper into one full of wit, satire, and political articles opposed to the paper’s usual stance. Several of the local citizens took issue with Derby’s handling of political topics, though Judge Ames, upon his return, commented only, “Phoenix has played the ‘devil’ during our absence, but he has done it in such a good humored manner, that we have not a word to say.” Derby’s role as interim paper editor was rather short lived, though it did garner him national infamy (including catching the attention of Illinois politician, Abraham Lincoln).

Derby eventually moved away from San Diego in 1855. Fortunately for my story, however, he was still in San Diego at the beginning of 1854 and if you get the chance to read my novel, you’ll see he makes a significant cameo appearance or two.

So now you know a little something about Lt. George Horatio Derby and his connection with San Diego.

What do you think of Lt. Derby’s suggestions for the army’s uniform?

Has anyone ever played a practical joke on you? Or have you played a joke on someone else?

I’d love to read about your stories in the comments below!

The Odd Ducks Go On Vacation

Title Image for The Odd Ducks Go On Vacation on Kathleen Denly.com . Shows various rubber duckies dressed in different outfits and floating in a line down an old drainage channel between cobblestone walkways.

As I have mentioned before, I am a bit of an odd duck. Fortunately, my husband is also an odd duck and we are raising a small group of odd little ducklings. (It’s a secret plan for us odd ducks to take over the world. Shh!)

Being a family of odd ducks makes many aspects of our lives easier. For example, all but one of us completely agrees that mornings are best spent sleeping and the odd duck out is courteous enough to play quietly on those occasions when the rest of us have the opportunity to live out our ideal. This works out rather nicely.

Another way we odd ducks get along well is in our choice of vacations. You would think, being a history buff such as I am, that I would either need to drag my family around to historical sites and museums, or else finagle myself some time to visit them alone. This is not so. You see, my husband is almost as avid an history fan as I and we have happily bestowed this love for all things old and storied upon our children. Thus, when my husband and I excitedly announced that our upcoming vacation would include an extensive visit to Columbia State Historic Park, the 1897 Railtown State Park, and several other museums and historical sites, we were not met with groans and long faces. Nope. My odd little ducklings squealed with joy and bounced up and down in excitement. *contented sigh* Clearly we are doing something right.

Having said that, vacation or no, the historical researcher in me is never turned off, so of course, I have brought back gobs of photos and fun little factoids to share with my fellow history fanatics.

MERCER CAVERNS

Collage of photographs of the inside of Mercer Caverns. The lower right photograph shows a display of the type of torch and red lantern once used to light the caverns. Photos by Kathleen Denly
Mercer Caverns, Murphy, CA

Did you know Mercer Caverns was discovered on September 1, 1885 by a man searching for gold? The first tourists were lowered in by ropes and had only candlelight with which to view these enormous caverns. Worse yet, these candles were carried on boards held in the teeth of the tourists as they lowered themselves into the cave. Hmm. Ropes and flames. What could possibly go wrong there? Later, torches and different types of lanterns (lower right) were used before electricity was finally threaded throughout the cave in 1901.

Another interesting bit of the Mercer Cavern story lies in how they came up with the money to install stairs for tourists. Apparently Mercer Caverns is home to an extremely rare type of aragonite, so they cut off a chunk of this stuff and sent it off to the 1900 Paris World’s Fair where it was a special prize which came with a nice chunk of money. Sadly, Mr. Mercer passed on before the stairs could be installed, but his widow took over in his stead.

My family’s tour of the Mercer Caverns was exceedingly interesting and I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area. Oh, and if you do stop by, be sure to eat at one of the local restaurants in town. We ate at two and both were exceptionally delicious meals served up by friendly staff.

THE MURPHYS POKEY

Photograph of The Murphys Pokey by Kathleen Denly. Show the cement exterior with metal doors, a historical plaque, and a sign bearing its name. Also show interior with homemade mannequin sitting on a bare wire cot.

I came across this old time jail in Murphy, CA just off the main road on the way to the park where we found a large, modern play structure and public restrooms prior to our Tour of Mercer Caverns. I liked the humor of the story and the handmade feel of the display so I wanted to share it here.

The plaque reads:

“The Murphys Pokey was built around 1915 by Tom Burrow, Frank Kaler, Price Williams, Frank Degale and Frank Forrester and is constructed of hand-mixed concrete. The previous jail was made of wood and was located closer to the creek. It is doubted that any really bad man was ever housed in this jail, but it is said that one of the men who built it became drunk and rowdy while celebrating its completion and was the first inmate.”

1860 Schoolhouse – Columbia, California

Photo collage of the historic schoolhouse in Columbia, Ca and its accompanying outhouse. Photos taken by Kathleen Denly
First two-story brick schoolhouse built in California.

Above you see the schoolhouse located in Columbia, Ca along with one of its two oversized outhouses. Originally built in 1860 of locally made sun-dried bricks this building has undergone a number of renovations to reach the appearance it has today.

While visiting Columbia’s main historic area you will notice signs directing you toward the schoolhouse. Do not be fooled. This building is located at the top of a hill about 3 country blocks away from those signs. Though this undertaking by foot may seem easy at the start of your vacation, attempting this walk with three young children after a many days of touring and several nights of interrupted sleep (courtesy of those same 3 darlings) will have you panting for breath long before you reach your destination. On the bright side, a bench has been strategically placed about halfway to your destination beneath some trees in the middle of an empty lot. Nevertheless, might I recommend taking advantage of the parking lot we didn’t know was near the school until we got there?

Despite the unexpectedly challenging walk, the schoolhouse was a fascinating site to explore. Apparently the elementary students used the bottom floor while older students used the upper floor. Being the writer I am, it was fun to stand inside the classrooms and imagine the classes held there in yesteryear. What shenanigans the children might have gotten up to and where the teachers may have come from wandered through my mind. Can you imagine climbing those steep wooden stairs on a snowy winter’s day? Or rushing out to the odoriferous outhouse in the heat of a sweltering summer? Would you have preferred to roast in the seat closest to the wood burning stoves or shiver in the seat farthest from it? The school was in continual use until it closed in 1937 due to not meeting earthquake safety standards.

Columbia State Historic Park – California

Photo collage of Main Street, Columbia, Ca by Kathleen Denly
Main Street, Columbia, CA

Above you see the photographs I took while waiting for the history tour to begin. I’m sitting on the boardwalk outside the visitor’s center, it’s early, and I’ve been up for hours exploring the town on my own while the kids and my husband sleep in, so believe me when I say that’s a smile. I truly am excited, just too tired to show it properly.

Columbia, California is where we spent the bulk of our vacation. This historic state park is packed full of fun things to do and interesting things to see and learn. I could have spent a month digging through all the layers of history the town represents.

Those green metal doors you see? They have nothing to do with thieves as one might think, and everything to do with fire. They were added after two fires devastated this gold rush town. Combined with newly doubled brick walls, it was hoped those doors would keep the fires out.

Speaking of fire, the story goes that one man, despairing of any other solution, took it upon himself to soak the wooden roof of his otherwise brick building with the vast amounts of vinegar he had on hand in order to prevent the building and its contents from being destroyed. It worked. Though his roof suffered some damage, he managed to save the rest. Today you can see the burnt beam left behind by this fire when you enter the visitor’s center, walk to the back room and look up. More interestingly it is said that on a hot summer’s day if you stand next the building’s brick walls and smell it you will get a whiff of vinegar. I admit I was skeptical, but I tried it. I did not smell vinegar. Still, if you ever get a chance to visit and give it a try I’d love to hear about your results.

14469510_10205166519802834_4932880767325965822_n
Photos from Columbia, Ca.  Beginning upper left and moving clockwise:  Representation of a typical miner’s cabin set between boulders revealed by the use of hydraulic mining; Representation of a general store of the time; Representation of the living quarters behind the general store; the interior of one of the jail cells in the small jail building located just off main street; the backside of the Wells Fargo office showing a mystery room with barred windows and reinforced metal door – its use is unknown but is guessed to have perhaps been a storage room.

 

So now I’ve told you all about my family’s vacation. What about you?

What’s your favorite vacation memory?

Let me know in the comments below!

 

My First Long Distance Writers Conference

My First Long Distance Writers Conference by KathleenDenly.com

I am SO excited (and maybe a little terrified) to announce that next month I will be attending my very first long distance writers conference!!!

Thus far I have been restricted to attending those conferences close enough for me to be able to drive to and from the event each morning and night.  This time I’ll be flying!!! Okay, so maybe not every morning and night, but I get to FLY!!! For someone who once dreamed of becoming a flight attendant and now only gets to fly maybe once every 3-5 years, this is a HUGE deal!!!!

This will also be the first time I’ve stayed in a hotel room by myself since… wait a minute. I don’t think I have EVER stayed in a hotel room alone….Ummm. Yeah. Nope. Not ever…

…hmmm, what? Oh sorry. Got lost for a moment there imagining all the uninterrupted time to think and write and think and write and read and …. well you get the idea. Did I mention uninterrupted quiet?  *happy sigh*

Anyway. Aside from all that awesomeness, I also get to hang out with fellow writers for a full two and a half days while learning from those who have gone before. I’ll get a better understanding of what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong in this social media game, how to analyze my antagonist, and what common errors to look for in my manuscript, among other things.

So where and when will I be gaining all this newfound wisdom?

At the 2017 Asheville Christian Writers Conference in Asheville, North Carolina, on February 17, 18 & 19!!! Woohoo!!!

If you happen to be in attendance this year, please take the time to say hello and let me know you visited my blog. You will make. my. day! 

If you are unable to attend, have no fear. I may not be able to share everything I learn while I’m there, but once I’m back I will do my best to share with you several of the best gems I collected. So be sure to sign up to FOLLOW ME so you won’t miss out!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear any tips you have for my upcoming travels. I have only flown once since 9/11/01 and it was just a short little ride upstate. I’ve never even been to North Carolina before.

Do you have any tips for navigating the airport? Any strategies for making the most of my luggage space? Any travel tips at all, throw them at me! I’m all ears eyes !!

 

Top Ten MUST READ Historical Romance Novels for 2017

Top 10 Historical Romance Novels KathleenDenly.com

At the beginning of this month, I shared with you the Top Ten Best Historical Romance Novels I read during the year 2016. Today, I share with you my Top Ten MUST READ Historical Romance Novels for 2017.

1. Currency of the Heart by Loree LoughCurrency of the Heart by Loree Lough

Well, really it’s Healing of the Heart that I feel I MUST READ, but once I realized it was book #3 in the Secrets of Sterling Stree series, I knew I needed to start with book one. I’m kind of persnickety that way. So really, this entry represents three books, but if I listed out each book in the series I’d only have 7 spaces left and, well, how could I possibly fit my list into that?

Also, with Reading Is My SuperPower giving this kind of review for book #2, Guardians of the Heart, how can I resist reading them all?

“A sweet heartfelt romance that reminds us of the importance of forgiveness – of other people and especially of ourselves. With true, likable characters and a plot brimming with all the great elements of a story, Guardians of the Heart will gently refresh your soul.”

2. Stealing Jake by Pam HillmanStealing Jake by Pam Hillman

Speaking of Reading Is My SuperPower:  Carrie listed Stealing Jake by Pam Hillman as one of the Best Historical Books of 2015. I have yet to read anything by Pam Hillman and I am always looking for new authors to add to my shelf. Add to that a setting of late 1800s Illinois and this comment by Carrie:

“If you like books by Melissa Jagears or Mary Connealy, then you need to read Stealing Jake.  Trust me, it will steal your heart.”

I mean, hello. Have you seen my Top Ten Historical Romance Novels of 2016 list? This clearly needed to be on my MUST READ list.

3. The Bride Bargain by Kelly Eileen HakeThe Bride Bargain by Kelly Eileen Hake

This is Kelly Eileen Hake’s debut novel which always intrigues me. Plus I just love the premise of this book and want to see where the author takes it. Not to mention this rave review by Laura Hilton in Christian Bookworm Reviews:

“A huge family feud that includes many of the townspeople, an ornery ox, a sweet young lady, and multiple storylines combine to make this a book that I couldn’t put down. The historical details are accurate, down to names of hoax “medicines” available at the time, harvest activities, and social gatherings. The story was hilariously funny and serious by turns, and is a hit by Kelly Eileen Hake. I’m recommending this book to everyone who loves historical fiction.”

4. Bittersweet by Cathy Marie HakeBittersweet by Cathy Marie Hake

I thoroughly enjoyed Letter Perfect, the first in Cathy Marie Hake’s California Historical Series and am eager to find time to move the second book from my “To Read” shelf to my “Read” shelf.

5. Stuck Together by Mary ConnealyStuck Together by Mary Connealy

Another entry which is really representative of a series I want to read. Having already read and enjoyed the first book in Connealy’s Trouble in Texas series, I happily look forward to reading the last two books in the coming months.

6. The Lassoed by Marriage Romance Collection: 9 Historical Romances Begin After Saying “I Do”The Lassoed by Marriage Romance Collection

I love a well-written collection of historical romance novellas. They fit just perfectly on those days when I *know* better than to start something that’s going to keep me up long enough to see the dawn. You know the books I’m talking about. The wonderful thing about novellas is no matter how compelling the read, their inherent brevity ensures that I get at least a little sleep the night before an important event.

7. The Thorn Healer by Pepper D. BashamThe Thorn Healer by Pepper D Basham

The first two books in this trilogy made my list of Top Ten Historical Romance from 2016. (Just realized I actually read them in the fall of 2015 for the first time, but I loved them so much I read them again in 2016 so they still count!) I have been eagerly awaiting the release of The Thorn Healer from the moment I closed The Thorn Keeper. You can be sure I’ll be posting a review of this one once I’ve read it.

8. The Captive Heart by Michelle GriepThe Captive Heart by Michelle Griep

This is another author new to me, but the premise intrigues me and the reviews I’ve read have convinced me I need to give this book a try. I especially appreciated the review by Leah at GoodBooksForTheJourney.com in which she included this intriguing detail:

” It also included a story line that illustrated how the division between England and the settlers affected the American Indian tribes.”

That’s an angle I haven’t read before.

9. Love’s Story by Dianne Christner and Strong as the Redwood by Kristin BillerbeckLove's Story by Dianne Christner with Bonus Story of Strong as the Redwood by Kristin Billerbeck

This is a two for one deal! Both books come together and both are set in the historical northern California redwoods! Hopefully, you’ve noticed by now that I’m a sucker for California history.

10. At Love’s Bidding by Regina JenningsAt Love's Bidding by Regina Jennings

Okay, you’ve caught me. This is yet another entry representing an entire series. The first book, A Most Inconvenient Marriage, made my list of Top Ten Historical Romance from 2016. So it only makes sense that I plan to read the rest of the series.

A Tale of Two Kitties – Part 2

Ana watches Athena from a distance while Kathleen Denly pets Athena. Photo by Kathleen Denly

If you haven’t read Part 1, you may want to read that first as this will make more sense if you have, but for those in a hurry I’ll put what you need to know into a boring nutshell:  We brought home one cat (Ana), then 2 years later brought home a second cat (Athena). (Trust me, the previous post is much more interesting.)

As I mentioned in my previous post, our boys were over the moon with excitement about the newest addition to our family. Ana… not so much.

Bringing Athena Home

When we first brought Athena home we took her immediately to a bathroom where I had set up a litter box, food bowl, water bowl, and small cat tree just for her. We shut the door and I sat in there with her while the boys took turns coming in to visit her. This would be her sanctuary room for the next 24 hours.

When it was time, I went and found Ana who was sleeping on the other side of the house and hadn’t yet noticed the new arrival. I picked her up and carried her over to the closed bathroom door where she could see Athena peeking through the crack at the bottom.

It took Ana a moment to notice her, but I knew exactly when she did. Her ears perked up and she immediately tensed.

I set her down next to the door and waited to see how she would react. By this time Athena was mewing up a storm at having been left alone in the bathroom and was reaching intermittently under the door with her paw trying to gain attention. When I set Ana down Athena stopped pawing and mewing.

For a tense few seconds, the two cats smelled each other under the door. When Athena mewed again Ana flinched but kept smelling under the door. Then the lonely, playful Athena made a strategic mistake:  She reached a paw toward Ana.  Ana immediately hissed and tried to run away. I scooped Ana up and tried to soothe her but she was having none of it and kept hissing so I let her go.

Athena seemed completely unphased by the event, although she was still unhappy with being alone in the bathroom.

Of course, I went in and pet her for a while, but I couldn’t spend the entire day sitting on a linoleum floor petting the world’s softest fur ball – no matter how cute her purring and nuzzling.

Ana Is Less Than Thrilled

Over the next several hours Ana made it abundantly clear that she was NOT happy about this new addition to our home. In fact, she was quite angry with me in particular and would hiss anytime I went near her.

Clearly she blamed me for Athena’s existence.

Ana kept well away from Athena’s bathroom. She wouldn’t even go into the hallway near it. Most of the time she literally stayed as far away as the limits of the house would allow her.

Eventually, Athena had settled in and it was time to let her explore the house. So we let her out but kept an eye on her to see how she interacted with her new environment and to watch for her first encounter with Ana.

About two hours after we let Athena out, she was playing in the living room when Ana wandered in… and froze. Then hissed and immediately ran away. Athena, again, seemed unphased and simply resumed playing. This was typical of their interactions for several hours. So we decided to help things along a bit and brought out two new cat toys. One I used to play with Athena. The other my husband tried to get Ana to play with after he brought her out from hiding.

Ana did not want to play. She wanted to run away.

This time, however, my husband held her firmly, but gently in his lap and stroked her and spoke to her in soothing tones while I continued playing with Athena about ten feet away. Occasionally, Athena would try to approach Ana to play, but I made sure to keep her from getting too close. Eventually, Ana relaxed a little in his lap and sat watching Athena play, still alert for danger. Thus began a new phase of their interaction.

At night we kept Athena safely tucked away in her sanctuary. During the day, my husband and I would take turns interacting with each cat once Ana decided to forgive me for Athena’s presence.

It was a remarkable success the first time we convinced Ana to play with the other new toy in the same room where Athena was playing with her new toy. Gradually we lured them into playing incrementally closer together until they were playing side by side. Still, Ana was tense and alert for signs that she needed to run away and would often stop playing to watch Athena suspiciously.

Ana watches from a few inches away as Athena plays with a toy. Photo by Kathleen Denly
Ana watches from a few inches away as Athena plays with a toy.

Ana Is Scared

One time, Athena pounced immediately in front of Ana before I could catch her, scaring Ana. Ana hissed, swatted at her, and growled. We noticed, though, that Ana did not use her claws but kept them retracted. Ana was not aggressive. She was defensive. She was making sure Athena knew she did not want her that close.

Eventually, Ana graduated to climbing to the top of her cat tree in the living room and staring down at Athena as she played. Athena wanted to climb up, too, but we kept her down. We brought in a second cat tree and Ana wanted that one to be hers, too, but we made her share that one with Athena by ensuring they took turns using it.

The Pivotal Moment

As time went on, Ana would allow Athena to come closer and closer to her. On the morning of the third day, I caught the two of them nose to nose smelling each other for a few seconds before Ana hissed and ran away again. It was a pivotal moment.

By the next day, you could see that Ana had accepted Athena’s presence and would no longer freak out any time Athena approached her. By day eight they were chasing each other playfully around the house.

On day ten, I walked in to find this:

What I Learned From My Cats

When Athena first came home Ana was completely terrified of her. Now they are best friends. I think this is a beautiful example of the way God sometimes works in our lives. Ana wanted nothing to do with Athena and would have gotten rid of her if she had the means to do so. Yet now they spend much of their days playing, sleeping, and hunting bugs together. I think this shows that although we may be terrified or unhappy about (to say the least) certain events in our lives, we may after time and with a little trust, discover that God has worked it out for our good.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

~Romans 8:28

This message seems especially appropriate at this time of year as we pause to consider the gift of Christ’s birth. One of the most beautiful and touching songs of this season considers His birth, life, eventual death and resurrection from the perspective of Mary, His mother. I encourage you to take a moment and put yourself in her shoes, with all the struggles she faced as the mother of Christ.

Being the mother of three boys myself, it is both awe-inspiring and heartbreaking to consider what she went through from seeing her son perform miracles to watching his death on the cross. Yet, God had a plan more intricate, precious, and full of blessings than any of us could have imagined.

Ana & Athena lie beside each other on the bed, looking up at the camera. Text reads,
Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get two cats to look at the camera at the same time?

 

What do you think?

Have you ever experienced something that at the time seemed truly terrible, but in the end, God used it for your good or the good of others?

Please share your story in the comments below. I’d love to read about it!