Sunday, July 12, 2015

My blog has moved!

I want to thank every one of you who has visited and read my ramblings. I hope that you'll follow me over to my new and improved website, where you'll find everything there is to know about me and my writing.

Best to all!

BJ Bourg

Friday, July 3, 2015

The All 4 Run by Amanda Bourg

Today I completed the Virtual 4 Miler, the All 4 Run. I love virtual runs for two big reasons: convenience and motivation. I needed both today. I did not have the time to travel to an event and I needed to start running again. I had convinced myself over the last two months that the heat was just too oppressive for running, and it dramatically decreased my training.

I needed motivation and encouragement. Truth be told, I love bling, and I was determined to earn my medal!

I also want to be a marathoner. (Yes, that's on my bucket list.) I don't want to climb Everest or become a published novelist (my husband already beat me to this one, but I'm not a creative writer anyway). I'm a runner, and not a very great runner. I'm slow and not built for the sport at all, except in my aspirations. Marathon completion is not far-fetched, since about half a million people complete one each year. Kids have done it, and even people in their 90's. But this goal has eluded me for far too long.

BJ and I are registered for my first marathon (yes, he got dragged into it), which is 34 weeks from now. I have plenty of time, but I want to keep my soles on the pavement until my glory day arrives.

I finished the All 4 Run 4 Miler at a time of 52:59. When I got started at 7:30 AM, the temperature was 80 degrees with a dew point of 75 degrees. (I know, I should have started earlier, but it was a vacation day.) Oh, and what was BJ doing while I was running? Writing, of course. But he did take time out of his busy schedule to take this picture:

In closing, I want to thank Gone for a Run and my husband for the motivation today.

Amanda Bourg

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

READING: One Fatherless Boy's Key to Success

I was three or four when my mom left my biological father. My memories of those early years were surprisingly vivid. I remember my father arguing with my mom and hitting her on a regular basis. I remember throwing marbles and green army men at his back in a feeble attempt to intervene. I remember when he caught me urinating in the neighbor’s garden and slapped me full-force across the face, nearly knocking me off my little feet and leaving my left ear ringing like a gun had exploded near my head.
Me at about 2
Although we were still very poor, things improved when my mom left him. She got a job as a secretary at the elementary school I attended and we lived in a trailer on my grandparents’ property. Food was scarce, new clothes even scarcer, and luxuries such as toys, treats and sodas nonexistent.

My mom joined this church that attempted to control every aspect of our lives. We could only read Christian books and listen to Christian music, couldn't associate with people of other religions, couldn't watch television, etc. When I was in second grade, the preacher started his own school and we had to enroll. My mom left her job and began working as a monitor for the church’s school, which believed in corporal punishment.
When any of the boys in the school would do something wrong, the principal would make us bend over and grab our ankles while he hit us with a large wooden paddle. I was often forced to let go of my ankles and grab the floor to keep from falling over—that’s how hard he hit us.
Outside of school, my mom had me and my brother stay with the principal several times while she attended religious retreats. On one occasion, he made me wash his van, and then beat me because I left streaks. Well, the first three strikes were for leaving the streaks—the next nine strikes were because I refused to cry. And there was the time he and another member of the church tied me up and dunked my head in his toilet repeatedly, because I didn’t use the “correct” language when asking for rolls at dinner and then I refused to apologize.
Private School Banquet (Literature Award)
The whippings at the hand of this principal lasted about two years. I had just finished the fourth grade when the preacher shut down the school and told the parents they had to teach their children at home. My mom got a job as the church’s secretary—the pay was meager—and this allowed her to work from home while “teaching” us.

When I was about twelve, I convinced my mom to let me go to work on a full-time basis, promising to do schoolwork at night. I worked as a carpenter’s helper for a man from her church, and it allowed me to help her pay bills and put food on the table. I didn’t do much schoolwork after that, but I did start reading…a lot. I eventually discovered an author who would change the course of my life forever.

Thirty-one years later, I found myself happily divorced, the father of two amazing children (Brandon and Grace), and in a new relationship with Amanda, a single mom and a psychologist. As Amanda and I got to know each other, we exchanged stories about our lives. She looked at me one day and said, “I’m surprised you’re not messed up.” I laughed it off, but she went on to explain how lots of children would’ve been scarred from some of my experiences. She said she was surprised I’d been so successful, considering the scant opportunities I’d been afforded and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles I’d faced.

I’d never reflected poorly on my childhood. It hadn’t mattered that the principal beat me, or that we were poor, or that I didn’t have a dad. I’d rolled with those punches and remained a happy kid, growing stronger with each challenge I faced. I never looked back and I never harbored any ill feelings toward my father, the principal, or anyone.
Amanda’s words prompted me to consider my past. Statistically speaking, I’d been destined to fail. My brother, who grew up right beside me, had mentioned several times that he had been scarred by our past. I'd brushed him off and told him to get over it...that adversity only made us stronger. However, he eventually turned to alcohol and drugs to cope, and lost a successful business, a wife, and his children in the process. Essentially, it had ruined his life. 
So, then, how was it that I was able to work my way from police cadet to chief investigator? Develop and command a successful police sniper team? Become a traditionally published novelist? Achieve my dream of being a professional boxer?
Me as Sniper Leader, Pro Boxer, Published Author
As I pondered this, I suddenly realized all of my successes could be directly attributed to one activity: READING. Every time I’d wanted to learn a skill or embark upon a new endeavor, I turned to books to be my guide along the path of knowledge. While I owe a debt of gratitude to the authors of the many instructional books I’ve studied over the years, the one author who has influenced me the most, especially during the most critical years of my boyhood, is Louis L’Amour.
My Current Louis L'Amour Collection
I tell everyone who’ll listen that Louis L’Amour raised me. During those impressionable years of my youth, I learned more about real life from his fiction than from anywhere else. I learned how to treat a woman with respect, to persevere even in the bleakest of circumstances, and to be courageous in the face of grave danger. I learned to be loyal to my family and friends, and to “ride for the brand”. I even learned to stand on my own and achieve my goals through hard work and dedication, and to never give up on my dreams.

Later, as a father, I would always encourage my children to read…a lot. At worst, I knew they might discover an alternative means of entertainment. However, I hoped reading would enrich their lives, and assist them in achieving their goals and realizing their dreams. Thankfully, I’m witnessing the latter. One thing is certain; had I not started reading as a young boy, I would’ve been a statistic—the one that suggests fatherless, uneducated boys who come from poor households almost never succeed in life.

BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), and HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016).
© 2015 BJ Bourg

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Date Nights for a Healthy Marriage by Amanda Bourg

Lets's face it, keeping a house and family running is a job. Fortunately, BJ and I both agree it is the most rewarding and worthwhile "job" of our lifetime. It's not our day jobs that we'll count as the greatest blessing in our lives. Raising a family will be our legacy.

Meanwhile, we have a marriage to nurture, which is quite different from nurturing our family. We have multiple roles in life as person, parent, and spouse. As parents, we relate as partners. We make decisions, compromises, and maintain responsibility for the "whole" family. As a spouse, we relate as a part of a couple.

That's why we made it a goal to give ourselves opportunities to be a couple by taking date nights or even overnight date-aways. Do you remember when you first met your spouse and could dedicate your undivided attention to that person? We have tried to keep that alive. It's like taking a day off from the job as parents. We give ourselves permission to be somewhat less responsible and share more of the private things that will only be shared with that one most intimate person. 

While I'm certain this would help any marriage, it is especially important for us in a second marriage, or what we call a blended family. We married at a time when we each already had children. The instant family situation didn't leave much time for courtship as a couple. We were still learning each other when we introduced our children into the picture and were all learning each other. It's like trying to catch a train that's moving.

We have averaged one date night per month (and sometimes more). That's close to the time off accrued at most jobs, lol. Joking aside, my dates with my husband have been wonderful. He is playful and funny, typical of him really, but even more so when we are alone together. His eyes are on me rather than acting as the shepherd and guardian of the family. My attention is on him and being completely relaxed that I have nothing else to tend to as the gatherer and nurturer of the family.

We support each others' interests, complete bucket list activities, and explore things that we have both said we've always wanted to do.

We've had date-aways as close as 12 miles from home for a writing conference and as far away as Jamaica for our honeymoon. Each getaway is equally important quality time spent together. Of course, we worried about how the children will accept us taking time away, but they have been extremely supportive and encouraging. Overall, the hope is that they reap the benefits of us returning as a stronger couple. (While we miss them tremendously when we're gone and can't wait to see them again, leaving Jamaica was hard!)

We talk about shared interests, and flatter each other with words and attention. This has strengthened our young marriage (we just celebrated our one year wedding anniversary) and pushed us through the hurdle of that first year adjustment. It gives us a chance to balance the adjustment by exercising the role that we have as simply husband and wife. That is why we decided to make it part of our lifestyle.

© 2015 Amanda Bourg

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Crescent Connection Bridge Run 2015

Amanda loves to run and I love Amanda, so it's been easy for her to check running goals off of her bucket list. One of those dreams was to run the Allstate Sugar Bowl Crescent Connection Bridge Run, which was set to begin on the West Bank of New Orleans and cross the Mississippi River via the Crescent City Connection Bridge. I'd already started enjoying our "run-aways" for a night here and there, so I hadn't hesitated many weeks ago when she asked if I wanted to do the Bridge Run, which was set for June 6, 2015 at 7:00 PM.

Fast-forward to yesterday and we're packing to head to New Orleans for the event. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn on South Peters and checked in around three. The first thing we noticed when we explored our room was that our window faced the Port of New Orleans. (We woke up this morning to see The Carnival Dream docked directly across from us. We got married on The Dream last year, so this was a special treat.)

The Carnival Dream
After we unpacked our stuff, we walked to Wolfe's Restaurant at the Marriott (the address is 859 Convention Blvd., but we entered off of Fulton St.) and had an early dinner. Amanda is allergic to black pepper (which means she can't eat anything cooked in Louisiana:-), and she asked the waitress if they could accommodate her condition. The waitress made two or three trips to the kitchen and back, promising to "figure it out". Well, she did, and the chef made Amanda a great fried shrimp salad that was tasty, but didn't hurt her stomach. The chef even came to our table to ask if the meal was acceptable. (I told Amanda he just HAD to see this "creature" who couldn't eat Louisiana seasoning. He'd probably never heard of such blasphemy.)

Wolfe's at the Marriott
After eating, we got dressed for the run, walked to the pick-up point, and took a bus to the West Bank, where we retrieved my bib (Amanda had her bib shipped to the house) and waited for the race to start.

When the race gun fired, Amanda and I ran to the front of the line, passing up thousands of people, and made it across the bridge in record time. We received a hero's welcome on the other side, were interviewed by national news media crews, given the keys to the city...

Wait a minute...none of that happened. Instead, we took our spots somewhere toward the middle of the line and walked/jogged to the other side. Along the way, we stopped a dozen times to take pictures (Amanda shot a nice sunset) and we even changed lanes multiple times. We didn't care what the sign said...we're outlaws.

Sun setting over New Orleans, LA
The run distance was four miles and it rose to more than three hundred feet over the Mississippi River. It was amazing to be up there in the warm evening air as traffic whisked by just several feet to our right. It was especially cool to stand over the grating and look down at the water so far below.

Along the way, we saw some interesting sights and witnessed people of all ages participating in the event. We passed a man and his son who each had a Go Pro attached to their heads. They looked excited to be doing the event. A little later, we stopped to take a few pictures and they passed us...they no longer looked excited to be there. The boy had "Go Pro hair", but his Go Pro was gone. He was dragging his feet and staring at the ground, probably wondering why in the heck he had agreed to do it. His dad was trudging along, probably wondering why he hadn't stayed home and cut grass instead. Another boy told his father, "Daaaaad! My feet are numb! They're asleeeeeeep!" We saw several people stopping to stretch their legs or vomit, and at least two people fell out along the way. (I hope they're okay. It was definitely hot, so anyone not accustomed to exercise and being out in the heat might have struggled somewhat.)

All in all, it was a beautiful day and a nice event. While I still don't like to run, I do very much enjoy our "run-away" stay-cations.

Thanks for reading!

BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), and HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016).
© 2015 BJ Bourg

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Cades Cove Proposal

What do you do when you finally find that one woman who is worthy of you taking a knee? You take her to Cades Cove--of course! When I decided I wanted to marry Amanda, I knew the exact spot I would propose to her. However, I wasn't getting on one knee for free...she would have to earn it. :-)

Good morning, Cades Cove

Amanda loves biking and we both love hiking, so I figured biking the Loop Road at Cades Cove and hiking to Abrams Falls (where I would pop the question) would be romantic and adventurous. (The only drawback to doing it in December was that the bears weren't active.)

I wanted to capture the very moment I proposed, so I lugged a tripod, camcorder, and camera in my backpack. Amanda questioned why I was bringing my large camera and camcorder when her camera did both, and I told her I wanted to mount the camcorder on the tripod to video us standing in front of the falls. To sell it, I used the camcorder a lot along the way and I set up the tripod several times to take selfies. I even joked about getting married when we took a break to thaw off inside the Missionary Baptist Church. (In fiction, that would be called "foreshadowing", but it came back to bite me in the end.)

After a long and hilly bike ride in the freezing mountain air...
...we finally arrived at the trail head to Abrams Falls. It was here that we dismounted and set off on foot...never to be heard from again.

The hike was awesome. While we didn't see any bears, we did see a buck, and the views along the trail were amazing.

Along the way, secrets were revealed and dreams crushed, but it was all for the best. It was bound to happen sooner or later anyway...

Lugging all of the extra camera gear didn't leave much room for food, and we paid for it later. We had to survive on deer scat and melted snow...we barely made it out alive.

I stand corrected...we had trail mix and bottled water. It's funny how an aging, punch-drunk memory can play tricks on you. In any event, we finally made it to Abrams Falls and I found the perfect spot to propose. As Amanda explored the area, I set up the tripod and waited for some sight-seers to step out of the camera's view. I then called her over, positioned her just right, and dropped down to one knee. Remember how I said my joking had come back to bite me? She just stared down at me smiling, thinking it was all a joke. It wasn't until she saw the ring that she took me serious...and then she said, "Hell, no!"

Despite her protests, we were married five months later, and we just recently celebrated our one-year anniversary by cruising to Cozumel. More on that later...

Here's the note Amanda left at the Blue Mist cabin (rented through Mountain Laurel Chalets) as we were packing up to return home:

Thanks for reading!

BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), and HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016).
© 2015 BJ Bourg

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Our First Year of Marriage: It's All About the Kids

This past year has been a great one for Amanda and me as parents. Blending our families has been a fun, exciting, and busy adventure, to say the least, and it all started at the base of Abrams Falls in Cades Cove, where I dropped to one knee for the very first time in my life and proposed to Amanda (that video and story coming soon).

Me and Amanda at the very spot I dropped to one knee and proposed.
I’d like to share a few successes and highlights from each of our children as we close out our first full year as a family.

Brandon returned from studying abroad last summer (I wonder if he learned much about her) and then hit the ground running for his third year of college. In addition to his academic successes, he recently had a short story accepted for publication in his college's literary journal and he’s got a few other stories under consideration in different places. He is a previously published writer, having had a nonfiction piece placed in Writer’s Post Journal at the tender age of 12 and two flash fiction pieces published later in Flashshots.

Brandon in Poland

Brandon at the Peak of Ben Nevis in Scotland

American food again...YES!!! (Brandon home after one month in Europe)

When not in class, Brandon works, and he recently started a new job—after working at a local funeral home since graduating high school—and he’s reigniting his boxing career, which means he stays quite busy. He first started boxing when he was a junior in high school and had two fights before being sidelined by a broken back. Unbeknownst to any of us, he broke his back earlier in his junior year of high school (he recalled the incident, but thought his back had merely cracked) and had been playing football and fighting with the injury. He was forced to take a year off and wear a back brace, but it eventually healed. Here’s a compilation of mitt work from back then when he was secretly training through the pain:

Having fully recovered from his injury, he is bigger, stronger, and hits much harder nowadays. Mothers sacrifice their bodies for their children when they’re born…fathers sacrifice their bodies for them later in life. Here are a series of clips from a present-day workout, where Brandon is using me as a human punching bag:

Grace had a busy summer with band, but she got to go to California with her mom and came with us to Gatlinburg, TN. She loves to surf and climb, so the two vacations offered the best of both worlds for her. Here's a split-screen picture of her surfing in San Diego:

Grace in San Diego, CA, Summer of 2014
It's a band life, but somebody's got to live it, right? Grace first began playing trumpet in the fifth grade and she continued playing into high school. She's wrapping up her sophomore year of high school and it's been an award-winning year for her band. In addition to competing locally, her marching band traveled as far away as Houston, TX to compete, and they made it to finals there, finishing tenth overall. They definitely left their mark on the Lone Star State and it was good practice for Showcase, which was one month later. Click on the following link to view a video of the performance that put them into finals at Showcase (they finished the year as Reserve Grand Champions):

After marching season, Grace signed up for winter band and, in addition to local competitions, got to travel to Dayton, OH with her band to compete in WGI World Championships. They won “Fan Favorite” and came out second place in the competition, with only 1/10th of a point separating them from first place. While in Ohio, Grace met members of the Cavaliers drum line and she got to hold one of their bass drums. Little did she know, this picture was a sign of things to come:

Grace at WGI World Championships, Dayton, OH 2015
Grace at her Awards Banquet for Band
After six years of playing the trumpet and never having played a bass drum in her life, Grace was determined to play the drums for her band. She devoted lots of time and energy into learning to play the bass drum and—much to her delight—she earned a spot on the bass drum line and is extremely excited about the upcoming marching season. While her band keeps her very busy, Grace finds time to do some rock climbing here and there, bake cookies and brownies for the family (our only complaint is about our waistlines), and—inspired by Ronda Rousey—she has taken up fighting as a sport.

Grace at Wolf Rock Cave, near Fort Polk, LA
Kate has had an exciting summer and, during our first summer vacation together, we traveled to the Smoky Mountains, where she got to see her first black bear—it was wild and roaming free in its natural habitat. She also gutted out a three-mile moderate hike to Grotto Falls, and jumped into a wild river for the first time.

Kate under Grotto Falls, 2014
Kate has had a very productive year in elementary school and is looking forward to attending middle school next year. To wrap up the year, she took home an armful of trophies and medals during the end-of-school academic awards ceremony. She earned the Accelerated Math trophy for completing the 4th Grade Math Library, the Honor Roll trophy, the KidBiz Achievement trophy, the Accelerated Reader medal, and the French class award pin. She had so much bling in her arms and around her neck that she looked like a pro boxer who had just unified five championship belts.

It sounded like the "Kate Show"!
Kate has nicknamed herself The Math Magician, and it might have had something to do with her recent performance at the school’s talent show. She practiced her performance nearly every night until she memorized every line and perfected every move. When it was go time, she got the crowd laughing and cheering as she pulled a rabbit out of a hat and made a handkerchief change colors. Here’s a link to the video of that performance:

Kate pulling a rabbit out of a hat...and the crowd erupts!
Kate also learned to sew with her grandmother and enjoys reading, hiding out in her room, and candy. She aspires to follow in the footsteps of her family by going into her first year of band to study percussion.

As Amanda and I leave tomorrow morning to celebrate our first wedding anniversary aboard the Carnival Elation, we couldn't be happier for all the blessings this past year has brought us and we feel so lucky to be able to share our lives with the best children any parents could hope for: Brandon, Grace, and Kate.

Here's to many more happy years...

Thanks for reading!

BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), and HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016).
© 2015 BJ Bourg