The music that inspired Step 2, 3, 4

*Contains spoilers*

Why I wrote the dances and symbolism in music:

I have a youtube playlist for every book I write. I am describing some background as to why I included some songs in the book, and how some songs inspired my writing.

Do You Love Me – Between 2006 and 2011, I had a swing routine to ‘Do You Love Me’ by the Contours choreographed in my head. I still remember parts of it, but I’d thought about the swing dance routine/contest so much I had it figured out without having to write it down. I could have probably performed it just by memory. Now I don’t remember a lot of it.

I got the original idea for Step 2, 3, 4 the same week I started taking free ballroom dance lessons at my school gym in January 2006. That spring in Erie my parents started taking ballroom dance lessons and performed in a showcase; a swing number to ‘Do You Love Me’. I didn’t see the routine until I was in a reprise 3 years later (ironically I was asked to perform in the group routine two weeks before showtime, and prior to 2009, I wrote my characters making it up in two weeks… weird). I wanted to write that song and dance in honor of their first dance showcase but made up my own choreography in my head. It’s such a great song for swing and the irony of the title ‘Do You Love Me’ seemed to fit perfectly.

Whatever Lola Wants – My parents had an album with a mix of ballroom music on it and when I heard ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ for the first time, I knew I had to include that song in the tango lessons. I later discovered, like Lorraine, the irony that a woman named Sarah Vaughn sang it. That’s how real life becomes part of a fiction book. I picked the names Sara and Vaughn in 2006 because it seemed to represent what my characters looked like and fit their personalities.

Buena Sera – I LOVE Louis Prima. In 2008 I went to New Orleans on a mission trip and we had meetings to get ready for it and you bet I brought my Louis Prima cd with me… that voice! One of my friends claims she nearly drives off the road when she hears one of his songs, particularly ‘Angelina/Zooma Zooma’. I even wrote in a reference to Keely Smith, his backup singer and his wife at one point.


Beethoven’s Pathetique – I first heard this when I was little on my neighbor’s keyboard, it was one of those songs that would automatically play and I was attached to it ever since… I wish someone would walk down the aisle to it, so Sara did. It was also the song of the first performance she ever did – ballet when she was a child. I always hope the reader catches these things.


The Dance – I have weird instincts sometimes but they always pan out for good. One day on the way home from dance, probably in 2010, I had a feeling I had to turn on the radio because there’d be a song on that would be symbolic to Step 2, 3, 4. So I turned on the radio and hear this:

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared ‘neath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye

And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

Holding you I held everything
For a moment wasn’t I a king
But if I’d only known how the king would fall
Hey who’s to say you know I might have changed it all

And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

Yes my life is better left to chance
I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance


I looked it up later and found out it was ‘The Dance’ by Garth Brooks. It was so crazy because that song probably symbolizes the book more than any other song I’ve ever heard. The lyrics speak for themselves, but to me, represent so much more. It’s perfectly symbolic of the storyline, regarding living your life and it being best not to know the future, but just live today.


Ave Maria – I could go on and on about this. There’s a specific reason why I stuck Maggie singing ‘Ave Maria’ before and after the Pieta scene but I could write a whole other book just on that backstory alone. Let’s just say I wanted to portray suffering as making sense and as part of God’s will. In the modern day, this is the point in the book where Vaughn doesn’t suffer because of Sara, but Maggie does suffer because of Sara. Vaughn is finally becoming content, while Maggie is getting more aggravated. In the flashback scene, this is the point in the book where Vaughn accepts he can’t handle his suffering on his own, without help from God. Maggie also starts to realize, in the flashback scene, that she can’t help her father to the extent she wants to.

Julian of Norwich’s ‘All shall be well’ quote exemplifies the Pieta. My friend in college wrote a paper on the Pieta, then her computer crashed. So she had to write a whole new paper on the Pieta from scratch and it was completely brilliant, on different portrayals and interpretations of it. Because that happened, I wrote the Pieta in Step 2, 3, 4 and it became the backbone of the story. Had that not happened, I would have never been able to complete this story; because that’s what it needed.


Please Mr. Postman – I loved this song since forever… someone sang it at middle school Oldies concert and my sister and I used to sing it all the time after that. Years ago I bought her a musical birthday card that played ‘Please Mr. Postman’ like Sara did for Maggie in the book. I actually still have it in my Step 2, 3, 4 pile, but it doesn’t play anymore.


Put Your Head on My Shoulder – by Michael Buble. I always envisioned this being the song playing in the background for the first kiss scene. Ooh lala!


Fever – by Michael Buble. I always envisioned this being the song that Vaughn and Sheila are dancing to in the very beginning, in his dream. I even had it choreographed in my head.



The Love of Ballroom, and so much more: Guest Post!

Hello! It has been a very long time. I am surprised to say it has been about 2 years since I last posted on this website. Three dance shows, two weddings, and one niece and one nephew later, I am back!

I have been meaning to share this guest post for a while. My friend Kathy Findlay, a fellow ballroom dancer, wrote it and I am sharing it with her permission. More on Step 2, 3, 4’s backstory will be coming in the future!

The Love of Ballroom, and so much more…

words by Kathy Findlay

D-A-N-C-E intertwined with…song…music…rhythm.  I had my first taste of this type of art in motion, since—well…I’m certain it was from my days nesting in the womb, and finally emerging with a spotlight on my happy feet.  My full-blooded Hungarian parents can be credited for introducing me to their passions for dance, song, and music, as proficient dancers, and as musicians (pianist and violinist).  Unknowingly to them, dance and song permeated my veins through osmosis.  As a part of this writing exercise, I took a short walk down Memory Lane.  It was easy to do just by paging through my childhood photo album.  The years of sepia tone snapshots showcased the Harvest Festival dance performances donning the traditional red, white, and green Hungarian costume.  Proudly, I wore an embellished crown on my head.  It was affixed with two long streamers on either side, which would gracefully flow in the air with each twirl. Around my waist was a starched, white, apron that had a design using thin red and green ribbons to represent the Hungarian flag.  As one could only imagine, I was standing in the traditional dance stance with one hand on my hip, and the other arm pointed with a bent elbow upward towards the heavens. If I close my eyes, and truly listen, I can imagine the sounds of the cymbalom in the dance music while visualizing the steps performed.  

The pre-teen and mid-teen years still included Sunday afternoon dances at a variety of Hungarian venues.  My dance partners, not by choice, included either one or the other of my parents, and on several occasions, my uncle.  In the Csárdás—a folk dance—it is quite common to dance with another woman, although, my ideal partner would have been a young and dashing boy nearer to my age!   An older sister brought the Mashed Potatoes…the Twist…the Monkey…and the Swim into the living room with Dick Clark and the American Band Stand.  I wasn’t nearly as proficient at these dances as she, only because it really wasn’t dances of my age group.  I did, however, obtain enough basic knowledge of the dance steps to hang on to them for my later years, when I needed to bring them out of my dance arsenal at just the appropriate times.  And then, my true passion evolved in the late 60s.  On Saturday nights, you’d find me slipping on another style of dance shoes—figuratively speaking—in order to strut along with the beat of the Temptations, Four Tops, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye at regular teen dances in my small town.  We group of girls R-O-C-K-E-D, primarily because we were some of the rare few that were savvy with all the hand and foot movements.  Motown music was in Vogue, and I was loving it!   

… come the late 1990s.  Enter ballroom dancing.  My world of dance shifted from unstructured dances with no form to structured dances with a frame.  Initially, regular dance lessons were primarily just a place to socialize, be silly, and have FUN, while walking away with a few new dance steps in place, and several old ones engrained!  Ah, but then, it happened.  The dance bug bit, leaving me with a slow after effect of its venom.  The lessons became more intense.  More complicated.  More challenging.  I developed a thirst for more.  Partaking in group exhibitions, were followed by numerous solo exhibitions for not just the local dance chapter, but for out-of-the-dance circle groups and large events.  Dance had consumed the catacombs of my psyche, heart, and soul.  It became not only the exercise for my skeletal muscles, but for my mind, as well.  I came to realize that dance became the song of my body.  I could use the steps as an instrument, as I do with my voice in singing.  In singing, pitch and hitting the right notes are of the utmost importance.  The same hold true for song through dance.  I won’t always be perfect or even good.  A wrong note might be sung or an incorrect dance step may be executed.  No one will laugh or make fun in either case.  Dancers share an unspoken understanding, bond, and commonality in knowing that we share the same apprehensions, thirst, drive, and triumphs.   A reality check, whether or not I want to go there, is focusing on the approach of the golden years.  I’m cognizant of the health benefits that dance will provide in aiding me to age gracefully, control my weight, and remain flexible.  I once read that dancing can even make the immune system stronger.  I love reminiscing of years—even centuries gone by—and all of the generations who fell in love (with dance) without even knowing it…right on the dance floor.

Themes and symbols in Step 2, 3, 4


Water – Vaughn has epiphanies twice when he is staring at himself in the mirror and the water is running. In the flashback sequences, it’s near the end of the book. He is looking at himself, the water is running, and he realizes how selfish he was being in not acknowledging his daughter’s pain. In the modern part of the story, he’s brushing his teeth, staring at himself in the mirror, the water is running and he realizes he’s in love with Sara.

Other parts when water is symbolic include the fountain scene. Him and Sara confess that they are in love while near the fountain at Norman Park.

The fountain is also turned on for the first time since the previous fall, when Vaughn sits down on the side of it and feels like an idiot for arguing with Sara. He comes to terms with himself then.

The family throws Sheila’s ashes into the water at their lake house. He also stares at the water and just feels complete with his family for the first time after he is helped with overcoming his loss through grief counseling.

Water is used as a symbol for epiphany, and newness – Vaughn is able to see things differently now.

Weather –

When Hector is driving home after Sheila’s death, the snow comes at him like a vortex. An example of a vortex is a whirlpool. The whole family is upset and their lives are thrown into a vortex emotionally.

When Vaughn is driving away from the funeral luncheon because he needs a break, he can’t see in front of him because of a whiteout. This symbolizes that he can’t see ahead of him in his own life as well; he can’t see past his trauma.

It’s freezing cold and raining, and the wind whips at them when Vaughn and Maggie go to the mall to return Christmas gifts; it’s reflective of their traumatic loss and inner turmoil.

Its dark outside after the funeral – they can’t see, and both don’t know what to do.

Vaughn sits outside on the front porch when he talks to Sheila and asks her to help him forgive the drunk driver. It is cold and snowing both times, but it gives him clarity, helps him see reality.

Sara can’t see in front of her when driving due to the sun gleaming so much. This symbolizes not having to know the future, in a positive fashion, as opposed to not being able to see due to a whiteout.

Lead/Follow –

Sara has to learn not to lead and to let Vaughn lead – like a dance partner and in life, too.

Make-up/Dress-up –

In the first flashback scene, Maggie is putting on her mother’s makeup. Who HASN’T done this, first of all? I still do it LOL. She’s just being a kid playing dress-up and is forced to grow up too fast.

When she is getting a makeover by her cousins, Vaughn uses his upset over his loss to make Maggie feel bad – he doesn’t let her be a kid.

Her desire to wear it makeup /shop at the mall lessens as she goes from focusing on her outer self to her inner self. This is evidenced by her fluctuating role between daughter and mother.

Flowers –

Lilies are an Easter flower which is symbolic of resurrection.

Names –

The name of the drunk driver is John Elizabeth. The name of the funeral directors’ son is Gabriel. The archangel Gabriel was the one who announced to Mary that she would bear Jesus, the Son of God. John was a forerunner of the faith who announced Jesus’ coming and Elizabeth is John’s mother and Mary’s cousin, who is also a forerunner of the faith. Gabriel was the one who said “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee” and Elizabeth said “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” These three names are used in the first days after Vaughn’s wife dies to symbolize his own faith being challenged with suffering and having to overcome it through faith.

Vaughn’s healing process –

Vaughn is treated harshly by everyone he expected NOT to treat him harshly, everyone he wanted answers from: Sheila’s best friend, the hospital staff, the police officer on the scene, the coroner, his relatives, her relatives, the funeral director, even the staff member at the mall. The focus isn’t on him, he’s not in charge, and he certainly doesn’t feel better after he gets answers he doesn’t want to hear. He feels he should have been there when his wife died, but couldn’t, and he wishes someone would make his grief less. Many of these characters symbolize all of us: the police officer, when caught in a bad day at work, is harsh with the last person who deserves it, the best friend who doesn’t know what to say.

When they are making burial arrangements, the funeral director comes into the scene at the end. It goes without saying that Vaughn’s scene is stolen by the young woman whose husband died in the war. The reader is made to feel bad for her; she’s younger, widowed, and she has a child too. Vaughn’s ‘thunder’ is stolen, his loss seems less in light of this young woman’s loss.

The few who are able to comfort him slightly are the priest and his parents, who point him to God to find purpose behind his suffering.

At a point of loss and grief that is severe, I believe sometimes no one can truly understand or know everything about another person. Vaughn was not comforted by these people, even though he greatly expected to be when he just wanted to find answers. No one can overcome a loss that severe in such a short amount of time. His parents point him to God, especially in their giving of their Pieta picture to him, and he breaks down. He realizes he can’t be comforted to the extent he needs to be by people and lets all of his emotions out. Vaughn only grieved by himself until the Pieta scene. He starts entrusting more of his painful situation to God at this point, but not entirely. Things like coping with loss through eyes of faith happen gradually. Vaughn eventually learns to have child-like faith and be dependent on God.

Clare is based on a real person I know, because doing something like helping someone out of their own sorrow, getting them to stop analyzing everything and just live their life, is something she would do. She is one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life, she will probably never see this blog ‘cause she’s a nun now, but it was an honor to put her character in my book.

Role confusion/switching – parent/child roles switching –

In many scenes, Maggie acts like the parent and Vaughn acts like the child. In the flashback scenes, Maggie is 12 and being unsure of her role, she takes on the role of mother; the strong one now. After Sheila dies, Maggie offers to skip school to stay with her dad. In the same 24 hours after Sheila dies, she gives him back the blanket Sheila made, and she makes him toast. She tries to go with him to the coroner and hospital but can’t make herself. A few days later, she goes with him to the funeral home and to the mall. She takes on the role of cleaning the house because Vaughn is so numb he lets the house go. She is upset when Vaughn tells her not to because she feels she has to be responsible.

Vaughn, in his crisis, doesn’t know how to help his daughter in hers. It’s hard for him to see past the end of his suffering, and he figures her suffering will all just play out normally. I do think a child Maggie’s age would need counseling if they lost their mom. Vaughn’s personality type is one where he will internalize things and not open up about it. He asks everyone who was involves in the scene of the crime to tell him his wife’s last moments, expecting to be comforted by them, but instead, without even meaning to, they all make it brutally worse.

Vaughn takes some ownership of his feelings, but not enough. He can’t deal with it and when he sees his daughter not listening to him when he sees her clean the house, he blows up at her.

Alanna is the voice of reason. She is the only one who is effectively beating into Vaughn’s head that he can’t handle his grief by the way he is trying to cope with it now. People who don’t like to open up to others have a difficult time and fear getting help and counseling. Alanna who knows him better than anyone tells him he has to go for his own good. Vaughn finally listens. Things with Maggie change for the better after Vaughn re-establishes boundaries after he started attending a grief counseling group. This is especially evident in the flashback scene when he and Maggie are sitting on the front porch in the winter in the middle of the night. He asks her to help him with laundry, etc. He explains to her what he went through the day she died, how horrible it was to talk to the police officer, the coroner, and her best friend. He wasn’t ready to tell his daughter before, but now he is no longer burying his pain.

In the modern scenes, it reveals Maggie was forced to grow up fast after she lost her mom. She is the mature one. Vaughn goes to teen Mass, Maggie goes to early Mass. He’s always coming home from somewhere fun to see Maggie cleaning or doing homework. She is very studious and barely strays from her morals one bit, like when she confesses to her dad she had a party when he wouldn’t have known otherwise.

From the funeral to the wedding with the Christmas concert in the middle, Maggie goes from not understanding her role to living it out in completion – getting it for the first time while she sings Ave Maria at the Christmas concert. She is picked to sing the song which is a different version to suit her voice better. This symbolizes her role; she is called to be the higher person here, as eventually she is the one to confirm her dad and Sara’s being together at a time when they doubt. She also learns to overcome something she didn’t want to happen… she learns to like Sara.

Temperaments –

This is why and how I wrote this book, because I studied temperaments so much. If something speaks to me, I will read every single thing on the topic. In this case, I didn’t have to.

In college there was a psychology class on temperaments and I wanted to take it so bad, but didn’t get to. Instead I bought the book ‘The Temperament God Gave You’ and took the test in the back of the book. It was spot-on for me. I really do believe it helped me to understand myself and others better, especially when most of my friends and family have extraverted personalities and mine is introverted. Because of that understanding, and also Myers/Briggs test results (another personality test), it was easier to write my characters.

Vaughn’s personality is my personality and Sara’s personality is my friends’ – I am phlegmatic/melancholic and some of my friends are sanguine/choleric. It made it easier to understand them, really – some people struggle with things that are seem so easy to me, yet then I don’t see things the same way they do. For example I’m not one to start talking to strangers at a party unless I’m literally forced to. I step back and analyze things, I don’t know why, I just do. Others at the party might think I’m shy or antisocial or whatnot but I am really just thinking everything over instead of jumping into the situation. It was extremely eye-opening for me to read this information; sometimes people act certain ways you would never act like, or have struggles with things you would never struggle with. It helps to read about their personalities, to step outside the box and see things their way, even if you don’t agree with it. When you care about a relationship with someone with the same or the opposite personality, you learn to deal with your similarities and differences. Sometimes two people with the same personality don’t get along. This is shown with Vaughn and Maggie – people who have very similar personalities and they crossed many times in the story, because that’s truly what it’s like to have conflict with someone with the same personality. You just find a way to deal with it.

When I read that book, or articles on the 4 temperaments, I thought of my other characters in other stories and made them have a combination of temperaments, then thought up how they react to each other based on their personalities.

I think people who go through counseling for whatever reason should take these tests and learn more about themselves and others. It helped me understand reasoning behind why people act the way they do.

An introduction to story background

This story didn’t just happen. Because I’m a ballroom dancer and have been dancing since I was 22, I have spent probably thousands of hours in dances, lessons, or working on my own choreography. Not every dance class inspired me, of course, to write this book, but there were innumerable amount of times that did inspire me.

I don’t just “write” books. They take years for me to write and because of that, they are so important to me. They’re a huge part of my life and who I am, like a history. I put everything I am into these stories and do extensive background research and backstory before and during writing these characters. There’s much going on behind the story that doesn’t end up in the finished product. That’s what the blog is for… sometimes not everything should be shared, but if it interests even one person and makes even one person want to learn the craft of establishing character development and writing character shifts, then all the work is worth it to me! 🙂

Every novel I’ve worked on so far has a youtube playlist of songs that greatly inspired the work, so much that I am convinced the novel wouldn’t have been written the same way at all, if that song didn’t inspire a scene or an action. This information/background will also be in the blog.

Stay tuned!

The First Chapter

HAPPY NEW YEAR! In memory of my grandma Albion who I dedicated this book to, who passed away on 1/1/2009, I am posting the 1st chapter of Step 2, 3, 4 online. Here it is… 🙂

Chapter 1 

They were both nineteen years old, about one month after their wedding, when they went to competition for the first time. It was mid-November at the Ohio Star Ball, their first time ever performing in public. It was in rumba, their favorite dance; and although they didn’t place, they both had so much fun that they decided to enter competition regularly. And they loved it – the natural high, the blazing lights, the pulse of the music, the incredible camaraderie they shared with other young performers.

Their private lessons at Meijer’s Dance Studio had helped them establish their form, tone and correct execution of the steps they’d worked on together for months before the competition. In those days they only felt comfortable dancing at the beginner level, but they decided that was the best for them. Sheila was dazzled, and the competition wasn’t as intimidating as Vaughn thought it would be. Sheila loved not so much the competitive nature of the sport, but the artistic – the strength and the grace which flowed from ballroom dancing. Their trip went smoothly, and they loved every second of it. They even became friends with their competition at the hotel’s breakfast bar before the afternoon began.

After their round, they were in the audience, and Sheila was infatuated when she watched the twenty-two-year-old veterans of Meijer’s tackle the advanced level. All the way home, she let Vaughn know she wanted to become that good.

The following summer, they saw a professional ballroom tour which stopped in Cleveland, Ohio, an hour and a half away from their small northwestern Pennsylvania hometown. It incited them to want to dance even more, and to become the best they could be.

She was his Sheila, who was so aware of everything and took it all in like a sponge. She loved being criticized during ballroom dancing, as long as it was in a constructive manner and would benefit her. If it wasn’t, she would certainly let them know. She was in love with ballroom, and he was glad he joined the first year they’d met, even though it had taken some prodding.

It was a little after ten o’clock when Vaughn woke up from dreaming about these days. In his dream, he and Sheila were in a competition, somewhere different than any dance floor he recognized. He stood alone on the edge of the darkened dance floor, a single white spotlight shining on him. His left arm was outstretched, and she appeared out of nowhere. She was wearing a nylon and lycra garment, fringed, beaded, sequined, a deep crimson red; a gorgeous Latin dress perfect for their rumba.

Sheila. I haven’t seen you in so long! Vaughn wanted to shout in his excitement as she spun toward him, her fringed skirt in a flurry. But he said nothing as Sheila slipped her hand into his, and they danced, furthering their rumba steps across the floor. Her skirt sparkled and billowed every time she spun in it. He realized that he, too, was dressed to the nines. Their dress imitated their costumes during that first competition to a T. There were no judges on the floor.

He wanted to say a million things to her as they danced. How much he loved her, how much he missed her… but no words would come. They only danced. He dipped her at the end.

Now he was awake.

                  No. I didn’t want to be separated from you again.

He sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep from his hazel eyes. His hand brushed the picture on the nightstand next to him as he reached for his glasses. The picture was of him and Sheila in the dance studio, recently married and very happy together. She wore a huge smile on her face, her sparkling brown eyes looking directly into the camera. Vaughn was smiling down at her.

It was Father’s Day. He didn’t want to analyze why he dreamed of Sheila so vividly, but he thought the date might have had something to do with it. On the years when Father’s Day fell on his birthday, his daughter liked to kill two birds with one stone by just giving him one present. She had lucked out this year.

He showered, dressed, and went downstairs. The sun beamed into the living room through the window’s sheer curtains and shades. He walked into the kitchen – their small, perfectly sized kitchen that hadn’t changed a bit over the years. Their wooden table could fit six people but only needed room for four – him, his daughter, and his parents. An old-fashioned light hung from the ceiling, with a little string they had to pull to turn it on.

The rest of the kitchen provided just enough room for Vaughn to turn from the stovetop to place the food on the table. When his parents owned the house, they had less – no fireplace, no dishwasher. They renovated after many years, but it still remained the house he’d grown up in. From the first year he’d moved into his house, he had become increasingly grateful to his parents for having given their home to him only a few years after he and Sheila were married.

There was a note waiting for him on the counter. Maggie had left it, saying that she had gone to early Mass. He liked the fact that she wasn’t lazy and liked to get up early. She respected that Sunday was his only day off and therefore his only day to sleep in. He usually met his parents at the 6:30 p.m. service. Maggie also left an envelope on the kitchen table for him, with a small red Christmas bow stuck to it. It read ‘Happy Father’s Day and Birthday Dad!’ She was so good to him.

He wanted to open it, but he knew she would be crushed if he didn’t wait for her. He was glad it wasn’t a shirt or a tie, like in previous years. He knew his daughter loved him very much, but their styles were quite opposite.

She was his only child, and he’d been protective of her, yet he gave her the freedom to take care of herself. He would miss her when it was her time to move out.

Indeed, Maggie was his best friend. They had the same olive complexion, the same dark hair and dark eyes. She was like him in many ways, except that she was big-boned. He figured that trait must have come from Sheila’s side of the family, the one-hundred percent Italians who didn’t care about their weight. Maggie had been slightly overweight her whole life, but she didn’t let it bother her. She was his source of joy in life, a few months into twenty years old. It slightly frightened him that Sheila and he had been married and pregnant at her age.

He worked on the garden for a half hour before he went inside to make lunch for himself and Maggie. He had grilled cheese and tomatoes set out on the table when he heard the door to the mudroom swing open.

She smiled at him upon entering the kitchen, her medium-length, wavy brown hair swinging over her blue jacket as she dropped her car keys on the countertop.

“Hey dad,” she said.

“How are you, Maggie?”

“Good. Happy Father’s Day slash birthday.” She hugged him. “You didn’t open your card yet, did you?”

He shook his head no.

“Good. Because your present is in with the card.” She sat down at the table and began to pick at her plate. “Thanks for making lunch,” she said with her mouth full of tomato.

He picked up the envelope and shook it. “Oh, what could it be this year? A gift certificate?” he guessed. “To the mall? To a restaurant?”



“Just open it!” she exclaimed. She got up from her chair and reached into the cupboard. She filled up a glass of water for herself and sat back down. “You always forget to get drinks.”

She looked up at him. He wore somewhat of a sad, perplexed look on his face now.

“What?” she asked. He held the open card in one hand, and an unfolded sheet of paper in the other. “Please tell me you like it. I know you miss it.”

He shook his head and gave her a slight smile. “That’s so nice of you, Maggie. Really. But I’m not going to go.”

She knew he was going to respond this way. “Da-ad! Why not? You loved it for, like, your whole life! You always said you’d do it again if you had the time or opportunity.”

He wasn’t so sure. “I don’t think so, Mags.”

“Please, dad! Come on. Just try it. You can’t go through your whole life always having your mind made up already.”

“When are these for?” he asked.

“Tuesday nights are the only times they have intermediate.”

“Intermediate!” He shook his head and laughed a little. What was she thinking? “Maggie, I haven’t danced for years.”

“Well, we thought you should challenge yourself.”

“We thought… who’s we?” he asked her, his eyes narrowing at his daughter.

She smiled. “Well, since you’d never buy them for yourself, Grandma and I thought we should do it for you.”

He sat down across from her at the table. He paused to take a bite of his sandwich, thinking about it as he chewed. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe his daughter would go to the lessons with him, as she would usually be his date for weddings. He asked her this now.

“I have class then,” she reminded him. “Now and next semester. Plus I can dance at the school gym anytime I want to. For free.”

He looked unsure of himself now.

“You do so much for other people. You need to do this for yourself. I came up with the idea months ago, and was gonna back down until Grandma talked me into it.”

How could he tell her he’d try it without letting her get her hopes up? “Well, maybe it is worth a shot,” he shrugged. “Those classes always have more women than men. They might be fighting over me,” he said with a coy smile. “I’ll go once, probably, Mags,” he said, trying to be real with her. He didn’t want to make her any promises he wouldn’t keep.

“You have to go to all of them. Please, dad?” she asked anxiously.

He stood up, walking over to the fridge. She’d gotten a drink for herself, but not for him. “I’m too old. I might fall and break a hip,” he said, filling a glass with water out of the filtered faucet.

“Oh, shut up,” she said with a smile. If he joked around about it, Maggie knew it was a good sign.

“I’m not going to go dancing with some other woman. Mom was my only partner.”

He sat down again and stretched back in the chair. He’d forgotten to stretch, as he routinely did when he got out of bed in the morning. He rubbed his eyes and he leaned forward again. “I don’t know, Mags. Half of the people who take dance lessons are obese or sixty and above. I don’t want to go there and have to dance with some fat old lady. Mom was my only partner, and she was better than I was. I don’t want to go there and have some old woman fall for me.”

She laughed. “That only happens in the movies. Just because you have to dance with some other woman doesn’t mean you’re gonna fall in love with her. Seriously, dad! You need this. Plus I spent a hundred dollars on this deal for you, and I only got it that cheap because some lady named Gina remembered who you were. Vaguely. So you can’t waste it. Promise me you’ll go.”

“Gina?” he asked. He didn’t know who she was.

“Don’t change the subject. Promise me you’ll go. No refunds,” she said in a sing-song voice.

“I can’t promise you…”

Maggie glared at him. “This is my hard-earned money!” she exclaimed. “I did dishes at the caf!” She made a face. “Disgusting dishes – student’s dishes with their trash all over them so I could have the money to buy you lessons.”

“Oh, I’ll try it,” he said, though quite uneasy about this promise.

She smiled now. “There are twelve free lessons in there. They’re whenever you want to go. Just present it to the instructor lady… Loretta or whatever her name is.” She pumped her shoulders and clapped her hands excitedly. “I’m so glad you’re going. It’s on 17th Street, do you know where that is?”

He smiled at her sincerity. She knew that he wasn’t used to the city like she was, although he grew up there. They left to do what Sheila wanted to – live in the small town thirty miles next door – where she’d grown up.

“I’m sure I can handle it, Mags,” he told her. He got up and hugged her now to show her that he was grateful for the present. At least it wasn’t a shirt or tie.

Later that evening, Maggie studied in her room while Vaughn went to youth Mass with his parents. They met together in the city and had dinner at Vaughn’s afterwards, around 7:30, nearly every Sunday. It was tradition, and he loved his dear parents, Hector and Alanna. They’d been doing this ever since before Maggie could remember; eating dinner together as a family. Tonight pasta, gnocci, asparagus and garlic bread was on the menu; delicious, as always. And they made biscotti for dessert.

It was just another day at the Peters’.

Don’t live a life you regret!

I recently read something that was so good, but so terrible, all at the same time.

In my school’s alumni magazine, this man said he went to school and got a degree in pol/sci and business administration, but he wished he didn’t. He said he felt he was meant to be a musician and try to make it that way.

He said he wished he could have started over, and that while he was an attorney, this was his day job to pay the bills, and it’s not the same. It was never what he wanted; he was just concerned he’d never have a job doing what he loved.

He said he’s a musician, in a band and puts out cds, but it’s his hobby, not his career. He went on to say he is not truly fulfilled, that “music has always been my love, and what I’m good at, my real calling, but I didn’t pursue it.” He said he would advise: follow your heart with the talents and gifts you are given, follow your intuition when it comes to your work, and if you are living something you feel is your calling, then you will be happy and fulfilled.

Not living my dream is my biggest fear, and that’s why, while I’m glad I have a social work degree, so I can actually hold a job, I am going to write my brains out until I have it as a job no matter how hard it will be for me. Because this is my DREAM and it’s up to ME to make it a reality, and thankfully, now it is one, with my first self-published book out. I tell everyone who asks me what’s next “I’m getting started!”

It makes me feel sick and anxious and hyper all at the same time when I read accounts like this from people who regret their major life decisions and wished they could go back and try what they really wanted to do. Sick because they can’t go back, anxious because I never want to let that happen to me, and hyper because it makes me think, how can I avoid doing this to myself?

Sure there are only so many factors you can control, but my advice for everyone is to go against the grain and go for it. I self-published my book on 8/9 (accidently, I didn’t realize what clicking the button meant, oh well! I meant to wait till 8/15!) during my last week of age 29. My goal was to be published by 29 because my favorite writer was, and I made it happen. Also, I know it was fate because I NEVER would have never been ready before this year, it was not the right timing, I would have had anxiety and could have never talked to anybody about it or put it out there, but now I so can and am so excited about it! I looked at it again seriously for the first time in four years in February 2015 and then one day in March in the middle of a random Tuesday at work, I’m just like, ‘Do it. Pick a day and publish it already.’ So I picked 8/15 and the rest is history.

And if you think you can’t, I’m telling you, you can!!!!! If I can do it, believe me, anyone can do it!!!!!

The speech

The speech

I meant to give a speech at the launch party… cheesy right? Yeah… def cheesy. But I wanted to, and had it written out, and honestly forgot about it once I was there. Looking back, I think it would have been weird; most of the people would’ve been gone by the time I wanted to give it, which was at the end of the party, and also the end of the party was the transition into the monthly ballroom dance we have and it would have been chaos.

So here it is:

First of all I wanted to thank everyone for coming and supporting me. Writing is my life and is hugely important to me. In the acknowledgement section in my book I thanked these people and I wanted to thank them now, some of which were there since the beginning of this project. My mom, dad, Julie, Jimmy and Missy and my best friends Kristen, Craig and Vicki who were the first people who read it, my friends Eileen and Clare, Sasha, my mom’s friends Karen who critiqued it, and my mom’s friend Karen who helped me when I was researching what happens at funeral homes.

Most importantly, my dedication for this book is to my late grandma. Her name is Doris Schirmer but we never called her that, we always called her Grandma Albion. She passed away on January 1, 2009, when I was smack in the middle of writing it. After that, the story became more eye-opening and visual for me.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on myself and others and on personalities, and did research on personality types and on the value of suffering, whether people are religious or not. I wanted to portray all I’ve learned and been through in the 5 years I wrote the book, between 2006 and 2011, and use my characters and the storyline as a vehicle not just to entertain people, because ballroom is also my life and just so much fun, but to educate people and make them see things a bit differently – through other’s perspectives. For example my personality is melancholic/phlegmatic (in 1 word, introverted) and a lot of people I’m close to are sanguine/choleric (in 1 word, extroverted). Sometimes people with the same personalities clash, as Vaughn and Maggie do, but also because Vaughn and Sara have opposite personalities, they clash in different ways.

I wanted people to think about what we would do without each other, even with the things that drive you nuts about someone. What if you were without that other person? What if they stopped, upon you telling them to do so, doing the things that drove you nuts? You’d likely regret it and miss that about them.

I wanted to portray the value of relationships, even if there are differences, whether that’s friend, or spouse, or child, or brother or sister. Relationships are all we have. I hope this book makes you think and motivates you to live your life to the fullest.

Step 2, 3, 4… 4, 3, 2, 1 LAUNCH!!!

Before I wow everyone with my deep, philosophically-charged blog posts on my journey of writing Step 2, 3, 4… I wanted to write a fun one about how awesome the launch party was!

So, here goes:

The launch party on 8/15 was awesome and I had so much fun! It was a rush, and went by too fast.

My parents, sister, a fellow dancer, and I made all the food and punch for the party. There were veggies and ranch, apparently there was a lot of fruit dishes, minty Oreo bonbons (my specialty), a tie-dye cake, chocolate fudge, sugared walnuts, cookies, and fruit punch. I didn’t get a plate to my dismay (how did I forget!?) but I sold a lot of books! 🙂

No one came on time, but within 30 minutes most of the people who came were here, and there was a line of people! I had a friend help write out receipts, because I, in my paranoia, wanted to make sure I had 100 receipts if I sold 100 books because I didn’t want to lose track of what’s going on for tax purposes. Pre-filling them out with the dollar amount and signature would have gone faster but I thought of that in the middle of the party, not beforehand… just ended up mostly scribbling anything down on the receipt to make it look legit.

I got fun ‘author pictures’ taken probably six weeks before the launch party for Step 2, 3, 4 and for my next book. In the pictures, I wore my ballroom dress I bought for a waltz performance in 2012, and I showed them off at the launch party. I have the photos posted on my Step 2, 3, 4 facebook page now.

I put out advanced reader copy reviews so people could see what others were saying about the novel. I would have NEVER figured out how to actually have a book launch if I hadn’t read Tim Grahl‘s blog which helped a lot; I follow it now. I wouldn’t have ever thought of having an email list or sending out copies to get Amazon reviews, that’s for sure.

During the party I played my playlist to Step 2, 3, 4 and will post about the individual songs that inspired it the most later on in this blog.

My dance partner taught the group of spectators a ‘tush push’ lesson which may or may not have been to music that was ‘too fast’ but I still think people enjoyed it.

Due to crowd demand, my dance partner and I performed an impromptu cha cha to ‘Stuck in The Middle with You’ by Michael Buble, which was one of the songs on my Step 2, 3, 4 playlist (more about this later). I finally just got to see the video a few days ago and it looked awesome!

A lovely couple I knew from dance since 2013, I think, bought me champagne and a star-shaped balloon with ‘STEP 2, 3, 4’ spelled out on it with stickers. It was such a sweet present.

I was overwhelmed of course and couldn’t focus on anything for the rest of the night. Can’t even believe it happened just two weeks ago, and it was such a great milestone. Now I’m looking up places to sell it next as well.

I bought typewriter thank you cards to send to the reviewers and am still working on sending them. I get to use my Step 2, 3, 4 stamps I bought on too 🙂

It was definitely fun; and you never know who will be willing to help write reviews and WANT to help you because they too love writing/reading fiction. I tell people who say “yeah, I thought about writing” or “I started something but never continued it” to just do it, because everyone has a story to tell!

The book launch party, for me, was a perfect culmination of all the work I put into Step 2, 3, 4.

Strictly God… and Ballroom

I started ballroom dancing lessons during my first semester at Franciscan University. Coincidentally, my parents began taking lessons that same exact time. I told them I would join them when I came home- that is, after graduation.

Taking ballroom lessons back home and meeting and practicing with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met has been such a blessing in my life. When I started in August 2008, I felt called to make going to the Monday night lessons a commitment. I’m glad I had to either do it 100% or quit- because you just can’t do ballroom dancing halfway. Since then, I’ve joined other classes and am being challenged to do more and do the best I can with all of it.

I never expected to start dance lessons and form such camaraderie with all the other members in our classes. Our teacher is wonderful and plans showcases every year in which her students and herself show off their best dances, which she choreographs and works extremely hard on for months in advance. That first day of lessons was the day to sign up to perform the tango thirty days from then, so my dance partner and I decided to just jump in. Hence the camaraderie, because I believe the seven or so couples who learned the tango routine spent more time together outside of dance classes to practice and socialize than at the actual lessons.

That month, the ladies ordered corsets and bought black dresses and we all ordered Mardi Gras-type masks. My parents practiced together while I followed along, practicing in our sneakers in our driveway because we have all carpeting in our house. I don’t know how everyone did during the group tango, but I thought it was amazing. I remember being so dizzy and enthused the whole time. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my whole life.

But for me, ballroom hasn’t just been for fun- it’s been a learning experience and an opportunity to grow. Because of this, I have discovered many reasons why ballroom dancing is like having a relationship with God.

I believe that this call to be committed to this 100% can be compared to how Christians can’t be afraid to go all the way with God. The Bible says that those who begin to follow Jesus and then turn around to deal with things back home are not fit for the kingdom of God. He will lead the relationship; you need only to follow.

Trying to lead yourself is disastrous. I do this sometimes, because if I know the step, I sort of start doing it before my partner leads me into it. My dance teacher spelled it out for me when she told me to be the leader in a series of steps, and she’d follow. When I started to lead the steps, she stepped right into them before I’d even moved to do them. This is what it felt like to be the leader when your partner tries to control everything. My teacher also compared the feeling to driving a car down the interstate and the steering wheel coming off and controlling your hand movements instead of the other way around. It looks bad and feels worse, so now I try very hard not to rush the steps until I’m led to do them. Sometimes what you think is next is different from what your partner is leading you to do!

I think a lot of woman struggle because they know the steps, but they just have to wait to be led to do them. It’s one of those give-and-take situations. If we don’t allow our partner to lead- they never will. Such is true with God- and of course our spiritual lives are on a higher level here. My teacher told us we just have to allow ourselves to be led- and that’s that. My partner often says “How many times am I going to do the basic?” and I have to say “As many times as you want!”

It can be a very damaging thing in our relationships with others- and especially with God- if we get presumptuous and think we know and can control everything. Believe me, this has been a life-long lesson for me, and things like this have only helped me to break out of it!

You also have to give if you want to receive- in dancing this is called connection. Each partner has to put all of themselves into connecting by fingertip or hand contact, because the way you do the moves all balances off the other person. If one person isn’t giving their 50%, the other person instinctively tries to make up for it, and it doesn’t look or feel right.

We are to glorify God in all we do, and that includes with our bodies. Sometimes I ask God that, in my weakness, He’d be my strength and just start where I end. Dance truly is a sport because it takes work, it helps your tone because doing steps repeatedly helps to build muscle memory, and you have to practice if you want to get better. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun. When my dance partner said that the most important thing is having fun, I found this to be so true. I was reminded of this one day when I was frustrated over forgetting so many details, like having the correct frame, connection, tone, hand styling, feet turnout, the actual step, facial expression. Overall, it’s one of the coolest and challenging things I’ve done in my life, and it’s not something I’d ever leave because I get frustrated. But whenever I’d get really frustrated I would just remind myself that God called me to this- and that I only needed to do it for His glory- not my own.

I’ve also learned to never second-guess myself. If I make a mistake, I can’t stop, but I have to just keep going strong, just like the spiritual life. When I asked if I made mistakes during a public group performance, my partner just said I should never second-guess myself. The Lord allows us to make mistakes for our own sakes- for us to humble ourselves and begin again. We cannot go backwards to fix or correct our mistakes- but we can only move forward.

This reminds me of how funny it is how our personalities come out in dancing. I am shy, quiet, introverted, and I won’t open up to people unless I know them. I like to be independent and do everything by myself and sometimes that puts a strain on my relationships with people. It takes me a lot to just stop thinking about everything I need to do and just follow the leader. My dance partner purposefully improvs everything so I can’t think ahead and so I will become better at just following. My biggest challenge yet has been just following and establishing good connection.

Both having a relationship with God and being led in ballroom makes you vulnerable. It is very difficult for me to be vulnerable- to just let go and let God- but it must happen with both God and dancing if I want to improve- which I believe I have been.

Women must connect with their partner and let go of worrying what will come next. This builds trust and allows our partner to just lead us. Men have to obey their instructor as their partners obey them- just trust they’re following the instructor’s directions correctly so they can lead correctly as well.

There is always room for improvement. Sometimes there are frustrations, sometimes you’re afraid your dance partner secretly thinks you suck, sometimes you practiced but still didn’t do everything correctly. But the good outweighs the bad in ballroom dancing. Sometimes it totally makes my day, like the time when my dance partner said “You are escalating into a beautiful ballroom dancer!” in Bruno Tonioli’s voice.

There are times when I just stood back and watched everyone else practicing their steps and I felt so inspired watching them. It was like a scene from a movie. It’s so fun and innocent, beautiful, strong and graceful. I do believe this opportunity in my life came from the Holy Spirit, because it is Him alone who made every good thing.

I will end this with a meditation and a dancer’s prayer.

Dance with God

Author unknown

When I meditated on the word GUIDANCE, I kept seeing ‘dance’ at the end of the word. I remember reading that doing God’s will is a lot like dancing. When two people try to lead, nothing feels right. The movement doesn’t flow with the music, and everything is quite uncomfortable and jerky. When one person realizes that, and lets the other lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music. One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another. It’s as if two become one body, moving beautifully. The dance takes surrender, willingness, and attentiveness from one person and gentle guidance and skill from the other.

My eyes drew back to the word GUIDANCE.

When I saw ‘G’, I thought of God, followed by ‘u’ and ‘I’. ‘God’, ‘u’ and ‘I’ dance. God, you, and I dance. As I lowered my head, I became willing to trust that I would get guidance about my life. Once again, I became willing to let God lead.

My prayer for you today is that God’s blessings and mercies be upon you this day and every day. May you abide in God as God abides in you. Dance together with God, trusting God to lead you and to guide you through each season of your life.

This prayer is powerful and there is nothing attached. If God has done anything for you in your life, please share this message with someone else, for prayer is one of the best gifts we can receive. There is no cost but a lot of rewards; so let’s continue to pray for one another.

And I hope you dance!

I originally wrote this in 2009! 🙂