The Writing Life

Finding Happiness in New (or Revisited) Projects

This year has been hard in so many ways. But several months ago I decided I needed to draw my happiness from what I have rather than dwell on things I’m missing out on. So, I took on more writing projects than I normally would have (I’m actually working on revisions that are due on Monday morning). I’m also adding a twist to hobbies I already have.

  1. I’m still gardening, but I tried growing something different this year. Brussels Sprouts. Yes…really. Because, well, I love them. And they’re super cool to watch grow. I wasn’t sure how well they would do, but they’ve actually surprised me. I grew six plants and despite the recent freezes, they haven’t died off, and there are more sprouts still to harvest. Yum!
  2. I’m also a quilter and have always done my quilting by hand. But several months ago, I blogged about my foray into the world of machine quilting (free motion quilting). I’ve loved it. So much so that I bought a new sewing machine to use just for this purpose. I also bought a quilting frame to put it on. So now, rather than pushing my fabric around under my machine, I pull my machine over my fabric. It is a wonderful improvement, and I’m having fun just playing.
  3. I’m also trying to be a better chicken mom. Well, my chickens already have a pretty nice life, but I felt like they needed a new coop in which to shelter over the winter. It’s not quite done, but it’s shaping up, and I think my little egg-layers are going to love it!

What about you? Any new or revisited hobbies or projects you’ve been working on this year? I would love to hear about them!

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, The Writing Life

All in the threads by Kate Hardy

I’ve just rediscovered an old hobby – cross stitch. I used to do tapestry when I was a student (great for train journeys!), and embroidering with my mum. And then career, work, professional exams and children got in the way…

Now, I’ve also found that counting things is a good way to keep worries out of my head and let my thoughts percolate in the background. Sometimes that’s been at the gym, sometimes it’s been ballet class (thankfully on zoom, though it isn’t quite the same), and it occurred to me that a good way to help me think (and stop me spending too much time playing Boggle online) would be to go back to cross stitch.

And the bug’s caught me! These are some of my recent makes.

It was super-helpful during revisions – gave me something to do while I was sulking (!) and also gave me that thinking space I needed. It’s a lot like what I do with a book. Unpick things where it’s gone wrong, add more detail and some highlights. It’s amazing the difference a strand of floss can make! So on the left you have the ‘wee Hieland coos’ before the outline was added, and on the right the finished version with a fringe/shaggy hair, eyes, nose and the thistles. Same with writing: a little tweak here can make all the difference…

I can’t knit or crochet, mind. Just sew 😉 Do you do cross-stitch or embroidery? Are you a knitter or hooked on crochet? What’s your favourite thing you’ve made?

Kate’s latest book – starring a male midwife – is out in October.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Reading, The Writing Life

Filling The Well

These are difficult times. Stuck in this pandemic, trying to get through this second wave and here in the UK, puzzling over the different rules for different tiers and for me in particular, trying to make my mother adhere to the rules especially as she is in Nottingham (an area of the country with some of the highest Covid infection rates) and who is starting down the terribly rocky road of Dementia.

Put simply, she lives alone, now that Dad has died and she forgets that there is a pandemic. We do what we can from 200 miles away. She has signs on the doors reminding her to put on her mask before she goes out (even though we tell her she shouldn’t be going out) and other reminders throughout her flat to wash her hands and to sanitise and to try not to touch her face.

It’s difficult. Especially when I receive calls from one of my brothers to say that he went to take her some groceries, found her flat empty and tracked her down in someone else’s flat, without a mask, laughing and joking!

Grr!

So, despite all of this, despite the fact that I am still trying to get over the death of my father, I have been trying to find things that make me happy. Trying to find things to occupy my mind, that fill the well, that gives me ideas, that allows me to learn new things, to always try and make my writing as good as it can be. So I thought I’d share a few things I’m doing, a few things I’m reading, to maybe give you all some ideas, or even to just spark a light in these weary times.

Books I’ve Read

What if you had a second chance with the one who got away?

Ben’s always loved December, but this year, with his relationship with Daphne on the rocks, it’s missing its usual magic. And then his old flame Alice gets back in touch. Ben’s always thought of Alice as the one that got away, and he can’t help but wonder: what if he’d done things differently all those years ago?

He never imagines he might get to find out… but when a stranger sells Ben a mysterious watch one freezing winter’s night, he’s astonished to wake up the next morning on 5th December 2005: the day he first kissed Daphne, leaving Alice behind.

Now Ben must make the biggest decision of his life, all over again. But this time around, will he finally find the courage to follow his heart?

I adored this book. A cross between One Fine Day and A Christmas Carol. Definitely high on my list of recommended reads and it’s perfect with Christmas coming up!

She must marry the knight .

By order of the king!

Widow Eleanor of Tallany Castle knows her people are broken by the taxes demanded by King John. So when she’s ordered to marry Hugh de Villiers, a knight loyal to the king, she’s furious—even if he is handsome! As gallant Hugh begins to heal the scars of Eleanor’s abusive first marriage, she’s even more determined to keep her secret: she is the outlaw the king wants to send to the gallows!

This book won the Joan Hessayon Award and rightly so! It’s a wonderful delve into the past with the Lady Eleanor who is passionate about protecting the people of Tallany from the severe taxes placed upon them by King John, being forced to marry Sir Hugh de Villiers who is the king’s man, determined to find the outlaw who is stealing all the taxes back! Very Robin Hood, I must say!

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

This was perfect! Wonderfully eccentric in that British way, with dabs of humour sprinkled throughout as Joyce and her friends try to solve a murder from their retirement home! I zoomed through this one and enjoyed every single page and shall definitely read more from this author.

Classes

Taking Risks As A Writer (with Julie Cohen, Novel nights)

Julie Cohen chats to Novel Nights about taking risks in a writing career, overcoming writer’s block and challenging the status quo. Her award-winning novels have sold over a million copies worldwide and she’s twice been selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club. Julie runs an oversubscribed literary consultancy which has helped many writers get published. She is a Vice President of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, founder of the RNA Rainbow Chapter, and a Patron of literacy charity ABC To Read. Her latest novel, Spirited was published in July 2020.  This author talk and Q&A is hosted by David Lloyd.

By the time you read this blog, I will have taken this class. I love listening to other authors and hearing about what they’ve done, how they work and seeing if I can apply anything to my own writing.

I think it’s always worth continuing to learn, always striving to do better.

Building A Successful Partnership With Your Editor (Harlequin)

This will be a chat for Harlequin authors with Stephanie Doig (editor, Carina Press), Flo Nicoll (senior editor Harlequin presents), Johanna Raisanen (editor Harlequin Heartwarming) Ruby Barrett (author), Sasha Summers (author) and Maisey yates (author). The panel will discuss the ins and outs of editorial partnerships and share tips on building a successful author-editor relationship.

Now, I have a lovely relationship with my editor, don’t get me wrong! But, like I said, it’s always worth finding out more.

Sometimes when I take classes, I find that I know a lot of the information that is presented, but there are always one or two nuggets that I can add or incorporate to my own experience. It’s about being willing to be open to new ideas.

Hobbies

I’m currently into blackwork embroidery and I’m LOVING it! There’s something very peaceful and calming to the mind about it and it’s also an opportunity (when the pattern isn’t too complicated) to think about my story and characters and plot out scenes!

I’m currently working on a pattern called – Save The Stitches.

You can find this FREE PATTERN at Blackwork Journey if you want to take a look at it.

But I have plans to do so many more! The problem is seeing all the wonderful patterns I want to get started on, but know that if I do too many at once, some may get neglected, or they all will, if I get too overwhelmed with projects, so I’m trying to stick to this one, right now.

But, oh dearie me, it’s difficult!

So, what about you, dear reader? What have you been up to? What have you been reading? Doing? Learning? Have you taken up a new hobby? Have you tackled all those DIY projects that have been waiting in the wings? I’d love to hear from you!

Louisa xxx

Their passionate fling…
Has given them a gift to last a lifetime!

When pediatrician Merry Bell turns up at his hospital in Iceland, Dr. Kristjan Gunnarrson’s quiet Christmas is shaken up. After a hot fling together in Hawaii, they both agreed to walk away. But now Merry has brought him life-changing news – she’s pregnant! Commitment phobic Kristjan will not waver from his responsibility, but is his bruised heart ready for a family?

The Writing Life

Back into the swing…sort of? Burnout

So, September. It’s usually the time to get back on track, back on schedule and kids back to school.

This year…meh.

They’re back at school, but two are on hybrid with cohorts and the youngest goes every day, but wears a mask.

However, they seem to be adjusting well. *fingers crossed*

It’s been quiet since September 14th. It’s been nice. I took a virtual conference this summer called Strengths for Writers Strengths Fest. It was supposed to be in Bozeman, Montana, but because of COVID-19, it moved to virtual. I’ve taken the Write Better Faster classes before and I was totally stoked to attend the inaugural conference.

I’ve been struggling since 2018 with burnout. I’d get my feet back under me and something else would happen. More deaths, more sicknesses, issues.

It was a lot.

And then COVID hit…I hit burnout HARD. During the conference I was on a deadline, I was stressed and at my wits end. I was crying.

The conference was intense. My #1 strength and my #2 strength are in constant opposition, but the main thing is since 2018 I’ve lost my places to think and definitely with COVID and everyone at home…I had no quiet.

Like Winnie the Pooh, I need a thoughtful spot.

After I finished my deadline, revisions came, but in between deadline and revision due date I went to Neys. I went north and I could think again.

This is the stars we saw when we were up there. Ontario Parks has a better camera than me!

Of course, my thoughtful spot can’t be 17 hours from home.

I was feeling stressed, I went through 2 rounds of revisions on Twin Surprise for the Baby Doc (28th Book coming out sometime in 2021) and I was feeling just…done. Again.

Then I pulled open my notes and everything clicked into place. The kids went back to school. My husband went back to job sites, my Dad was settled and it was quiet. It’s been nice and I feel like I’m bouncing back as I head into writing Book #29

I feels good to be back on schedule.

And, as surreal as this whole year was, tomorrow night is the Harlequin Virtual Dance/Milestone Celebration. Today I was surprised that Harlequin sent me an arrangement of flowers. Celebrating my milestone, even though we’re apart. It was lovely.

And it’s a bit crazy to think my 25th released this year and I’m hurtling towards 30.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, The Writing Life

The highs and lows of lockdown by Kate Hardy

Lockdown has been a strange, strange thing.

For me, it started when I had a ‘funny feeling’ the day before the UK went into lockdown, and insisted on the 5-hour drive (each way) to grab my daughter from uni and bring all her stuff home on the Monday. We managed to stop at McDonald’s for coffee and something to eat halfway home, literally half an hour before they closed for months – and a few minutes after we got home we had the notification that we were all on lockdown.

A week or so later: daughter and I both had a high temperature and no sense of smell… (No tests available, but we’re pretty sure we had a mild dose of Covid.)

The following six weeks, I struggled to write a single word, because writing a medical romance about a male midwife felt so insignificant and pointless when I looked at what was happening in the world. The only thing that got me through was early morning dog-walks to find the sunrise. (Spectacular, in my part of the world! No filters.)

Our pup Dexter (booked in February when it was confirmed that the pup’s mum was expecting) was born in lockdown, but thankfully restrictions eased so we actually got to meet him the week before he came home with us, and he’s been a total joy (see my personal blog for the Pipsqueak Posts – videos, pictures, and some things that might make you laugh). He’s become best friends with his older half-brother and he’s 18 weeks old now (seen here from his first day here through to last week).

My husband was working throughout (his job can’t be done at home and he’s classed as an essential worker). I managed to finish my medical romance. We also found a bluebell wood just up the road (ha, only took us 26 years of living here) and a field of poppies, and made a container vegetable garden (with varying success – it had to go behind chicken wire as our garden ‘helper’ kept harvesting things well before they were ready!).

I’ve had the joy of doing zoom calls with family and friends, and I’ve been grateful for facebook reading groups and meeting people who love books and dogs as much as I do. My weekly ballet class has moved online (with a ‘zoom coffee’ after) – which is as good as it gets in the ‘new normal’. But I’ve really missed theatre and live music seeing friends for coffee, and having a ‘plotwalk’ in the gorgeous medieval city where I live. So many wonderful things have been cancelled; I just have to believe that we *will* find a way to get it back. (The same as my son *will* get to take his driving test, which has been cancelled twice, and my daughter *will* get back to university. I think lockdown really has been hardest on the 16-24 age group.)

I also managed to write a True Love/HQ Romance, which was accepted last week. And I did my first ever Facebook Live, which was fun – though what I didn’t say was that I was suffering from a weird itchy rash and trying very hard not to scratch my shins throughout. Raised, bumpy, non-blanching and coalescing… Getting an appointment to see someone has been challenging. Phone triage (even with photographs) has been hopeless. The words ‘non blanching rash’ seemed to be met with ‘la la la, I can’t hear you’. Thankfully I got the good practice nurse, last time round, and he listened to what I was saying. It’s not contact dermatitis – I always wear long trousers for dog walks so I haven’t brushed against anything; no changes in toiletries/detergent/food. Not shingles, as it’s one-sided. Antihistamines, corticosteroids, antibiotics and anti fungals hadn’t touched it. It’s nothing to do with my underactive thyroid; and I’m not developing diabetes (recent annual blood tests are all in normal ranges). We’re going for a diagnosis of ‘idiopathic pruritic purpurae’ (cough – and you can bet this is going in my next booK!). Thankfully, now I’m heading towards the end of week 3, strong antihistamines and very strong corticosteroid cream seems to be helping – and cold compresses are my best friend. Could it be a Covid rash? Because I’m using the Zoe app, I was invited to have a test at our local drive-in centre. (Mask + closed window = very tricky for a deaf person… We improvised a lot with sign language!) The test was negative. So who knows?

775240B1-8F84-4F52-AB59-1DB056CA5D3E I’m just about to start my next medical romance, a duo about twin doctors which involves a kidney transplant. But this month my 90th M&B hits the shelves – and I had a lot of fun researching butterflies for it. So if you like the countryside, architecture, butterflies and a bit of a weepie with a happy ending, then hopefully you’ll enjoy this.

How has lockdown been for you?

Stay safe and keep washing your hands!

 

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, The Writing Life

Deadlines

We all have them, right…these things called deadlines? Whether it’s for work, or school, or even turning in an application for a conference, there’s a date by which something has to be completed.

Well I have a deadline right now. My newest manuscript is due in my editor’s inbox first thing Monday morning, and I’ve got that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach (that I always get) that I’m never going to finish it on time. Most of the time I somehow manage to. A few times, I’ve had to ask for an extension–like the time I fractured a vertebra in my back. Well, there are no broken bones this time, so I’m doing my best to write my way to completion. As I type this blog post, I am sitting on my sofa, with the very tempting view of a sunny day just beyond my windows. deadlinesBut I’m resisting the urge to give in and go dig in my garden, even though there are so many things out there that need weeded or watered or enjoyed.

But once I send my characters out into the world, I’m going to rejoin it myself! At least until my next deadline starts creeping up on me.

What about you? Any interesting deadlines headed your way? I’m hoping I’m not the only one in panic mode!

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Quirky Stories, The Writing Life

After the Happily Ever-After

Romance is the only genre that guarantees a happily-ever-after. That warm fuzzy feeling that everything will be alright is baked in. If that premise isn’t met, then the book is not a romance, despite the multitude of lists that routinely tout non-happily ever afters as the “Greatest Romance.” Looking at you, Wuthering Heights and Great Gatsby!

What we never really get to see is the “after” story. Sure, we may get a brief epilogue a few months or a few years later. Usually, it’s a snapshot showing that the couple is still happy and often starting or growing their family. But then what?

The truth is that what happens next looks a lot less exciting to the outside world. It doesn’t have the tension of will they or won’t they to keep the story going. If I included it in my novels, I know my lovely editor would tell me that it might be better on the cutting room floor.

But it’s the simple bits after the grand declarations that make a great love story. On Tuesday, my husband and I will celebrate thirteen years of marriage. Our day to day life is routine now. We’re raising two girls, going to the office, making dinner, and binge-watching Netflix. He’s on his tablet as I type these words. It is not the stuff that lands between the covers of my books.

But it is what my books are based on. That feeling that love can last forever. That years into the future, two people can look past the gray hairs and smile lines and wonder how did I get so lucky?

My husband still gets up and shovels the snow off my car, even when he doesn’t have to be at work until much later than me. He always starts the electric kettle so I can pour hot water over my coffee grounds as soon as I come downstairs. Though that may be self-preservation – I am a nightmare before caffeine! And he’s shouldered more than his fair share of housework, homework, and carpooling when I am on a tight deadline.

These are the moments that make a real happily ever after. And I want my readers to believe my characters are still doing these things for their partner long after the epilogue has ended. Because no matter who you are or who you love, we are all worthy of someone who treasures us – years after the vows have been said.

Happy early anniversary to my hero. Thanks for the inspiration.

Juliette Hyland_Wedding

Reading, The Writing Life

Art inspring Art by Fiona Lowe

51r2tbr1TjL._SL500_When I was writing Just An Ordinary Family, I decided that Alice was going to be an artist. I can’t even tell you why I thought that as I can’t even draw stick figures, but perhaps I thought  by writing Alice I’d be able to pretend I had those skills. Anway, early in the book I wrote a line about a sculpture of a pelican. Why? Well I need a piece of artwork and a friend of mine has a glorious bronze pelican that I confess to covetting just a little bit.  As  so often happens in writing, an off-the-cuff comment went on to become significant. The pelican became a motif in the novel.  Here she is.

 

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To write about the sculpture, I had to learn about bronze casting  and I was fortunate to meet the artist of this wonderful sculpture. It turns out that Lucy McEachern doesn’t just limit herself to pelicans! A country woman, she grew up on a farm and her father was a keen bird watcher and Lucy has an amazing eye not just for the bird but for the personality. So here are some of her amazing pieces of work.

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Wedgetail Eagle

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Palm Cockatoo

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owl

 

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Lucy and me at her gallery

Isn’t she brilliantly talented?

The exciting news is that Just An Ordinary Family is now availabe as an audio book for people in the UK, USA and all around the world. So you can listen to the novel and spot the references to the pelican. You can buy Just An Ordinary Family, Birthright and Home Fires through Audible    Thanks for reading!

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, The Writing Life

Sharing the joy by Kate Hardy

Kate HardyFirstly – thank you from the bottom of my heart to our key workers, the ones who look after the sick and make sure we’re fed and keep us safe. We appreciate you.

Lockdown is a strange world. I’m super-lucky because (a) both kids are home with me (eldest finished uni, youngest just started so we had a 400-mile round trip to Manchester to get her because I had one of my ‘funny feelings’ – and then lockdown was announced that night). I live literally five minutes’ walk from open fields and woodlands, so I get to take my dog out at the crack of dawn and watch the sky become beautiful. I’ve been taking bits of birdsong on my phone and posting them on Facebook so people who can’t get out can hear/see it (sadly, I can’t post them here because WordPress seems to think that 6 seconds of birdsong means ‘file too big’!); and I’ve taken my proper camera out as well as my phone and caught some beautiful sunrises.

I’d like to share a couple of the pics here from three different mornings (the sun on the lefthand pic was actually a deep crimson, but the camera only picked that up behind the trees). I live on the outskirts of Norwich (roughly in the middle of the big bump above London if you look at a map of the UK), and it’s my favourite place in the world.

 

 

And then, of course, there is my BIG NEWS – those of you who follow me on Facebook know all about my beautiful Archie, and I’m thrilled to say that last weekend Archie’s half-brother was born (this was his dad’s last litter before retiring, so I went into nag mode the second our breeder told us, and Gerry finally agreed on the day after my birthday that we could have a pup – I’ve been excited about this ever since!). So meet Dexter – he’ll join our family at the beginning of June (or as soon as lockdown allows after then). Pre-lockdown, the plan was to go over and meet the pups and the pup would choose us, but in these strange days we had to do it by photographs. What settled me was seeing all the pups together – one all squished up in the middle just caught my eye and I thought, ‘he’s ours’. We know the mum’s dad as well, and our breeder tells us that the mum is an absolute sweetheart, so we know we’ll have a pup with a gorgeous temper like Archie. We can’t wait to meet him!

 

Stay safe, everyone, and keep looking for the joy – it’s still out there. And I hope that when this is all over the good bits will stay: keeping in closer touch with our family and friends, and being kinder and more considerate. Love to you all, Kate xxx

 

The Writing Life

Gratitude

The world is kind of a flaming, hot mess right now. And trust me, I’ve been strung out and anxious.

I’m a Mom to a kid who is one of the vulnerable ones. Not only does he have heart issues, but he has asthma.

And I’m caretaker for my Dad who has diabetes, is over 70 and is fighting cancer.

My nerves have been SHOT, but…if these last 2 years since my Mom passed have taught me anything, it’s to always look for that bright side (Yes. I’m singing the annoying Monty Python song right now). The glimmer of light might be hard to see in all this. People are dying, people are fight for their lives, people are working the front lines to make sure sick people have a fighting chance, that our supply chains don’t shut down and our essential services keep running.

THOSE people are also the reason why I’m staying at home, self isolating and it’s those people that make me want to find that bright spot in the darkness.

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Is there anything more Canadian than a beaver?

So I thought I would do this post on things I’m grateful for. On Facebook there was this post going around about the 10 things you love more than anything else (besides family & friends).

My top ten are:

1. Crocheting Amigurumi

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Macron the Macaron

2. Yarn (I swear I hoard it)

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My surprise yarn grab bag!!! I’m a yarn dragon.

3. Green Tea scent from The Body Shop
4. STRONG by Zumba (obsessive love/hate)
5. Egg Noodles
6. Oversized sweaters
7. The sound of the wind in the trees
8. The north
9. Car rides. The longer the better
10. A good pen

I’m also really thankful for my gym FitClub Bootcamps. For the first two weeks Coach Cory wanted to keep his tight knit community together and he started doing workouts, virtually through Zoom and connecting online. Now it’s expanding as the province continues to shut down, so I’m thankful for my FitClub community.

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Amy after an insane 1000 reps workout.

I’m grateful for my gym buddies who, on days we can’t attend a virtual class, we workout together and take turns being coach.

The workouts and connection is what’s keeping me from emotional eating and losing my mind. I swear.

I’m thankful for virtual Paint Nite’s with my daughter. That’s been fun and relaxing.

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I’m thankful for online video chatting with my friends. Actually, this self isolation has given me time to connect more with friends and my kids. It’s been nice.

I’m glad spring is here. I hear the birds every day and less traffic on the roads means I hear them more often.

I was thankful that after 30+ years I heard the voice of Casey and Finnegan again. They were puppets during my formative years on Mr. Dressup and the puppeteer came out of retirement to tell people in Canada and the world to stay home.

When I heard that voice, I cried. It made me so happy! xo

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These are just a few of the positives I’m finding during this time.

One thing not so positive, I wish my hairdresser was open because my hair is SO long. It hasn’t been this long in FOREVER, but I can live with that. No, don’t worry I won’t give myself bangs.

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What are some of the things you’re grateful for?

Also I just want to send another huge shout of for all the essential workers. All those in health care, emergency and first responders, cleaners at the hospital, orderlies, RTs, food service, supply chain, grocery store workers, truck drivers, infrastructure workers. You all are doing a damn fine job and I’m staying home to #flattenthecurve