New Author Website

And they say it can never be done. Way to go Ritu! Follow this author!

But I Smile Anyway...

So… It’s getting a bit closer to being real now this whole author malarkey.

The book is in editing mode, I have even been in touch with cover designers…

And I thought, why not go the whole hog…

I’ve set up a FaceBook page, (You can follow if you want) here!

Then I changed my Instagram handle to @ritubhathalwrites and my Twitter now reads @RituBhathal.

And I’ve even set up a fresh author blog!

I would be honoured if you could follow the new blog where I intend to post all the details of my writing journey from now on, and I shall leave my writing challenges and the Chai updates etc… on my faithful But I Smile Anyway site.

So here it is…

Ritu Bhathal

And I even have a logo!

Thank you all in advance. You don’t know the invaluable support you have provided me with…

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Happy Birthday, Mom

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It’s that crazy time of year again. The time of year where I wrap up another school year-number seven to be exact. The time of year for Mother’s Day. The time of year where I remember my mom’s diagnosis of lung cancer. The time of year for her birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

You would be 57 today. Hard to believe I celebrated your last birthday eight years ago. Eight years? Really? That’s a whole life time. I don’t even remember that Jessie from eight years ago. Okay, well, maybe I do, a little.

I celebrated your birthday today by eating your favorite pizza, chips, and dip. I even washed it all down with some Pepsi. Well that was the plan anyway. I actually cooked the pizza but after stuffing my face with half of a bag of nacho cheese Doritos dipped in Deans french onion dip, I was a little full. But my family, who most of them have never met you, enjoyed your favorites tonight too.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

I know there are other favorites of yours, but “pizza party party” as you used to say, is my fave memory. Every Friday when you picked me up for our visits, that’s what we ate. We settled in to watch a movie, your favorite thing to do, and ate our pizza. We would lick all the nacho cheese powder off of our fingers with annoying sounds when we were finished. Usually, breakfast the next day was more Doritos. It’s a wonder I didn’t have health issues. But who cares, right? It’s a great memory.

So, Happy Birthday, Mom.

Though I sometimes wish you would visit me, I know that would probably give me nightmares, so it’s okay that you haven’t. But I’m hoping for a really cool dream tonight. Just maybe I’ll meet you there.

To all the momma’s mommying with your momma. Hang in there. You got this.

A Writer’s Journey Starts Now

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I tell my students that I want to be a writer when I grow up. I’ve honestly thought that I had NO chance at all–that this was just some fantasy. However, my sweet little family has been supporting me along the way and that has given me the courage to get out there and at least…try.

Yesterday, I experienced something I never even knew existed. I attended a writer’s conference on the Plaza here in Kansas City with around 100 other writers. My sweet friend told me about this conference over a month ago and I have been eagerly waiting for this adventure. I even set up a countdown on my phone. Upon payment for this conference, I selected a “10-minute moment with Literary Agent.”

Now, I have to say that I just leap most times without really thinking or worrying. Since I don’t have any background knowledge on the writing world, I just paid the fees and prepped my first 10 pages to be sent to the literary agent of my choice. I chose Heather Cashman as the literary agent I would submit my pages to. Upon reading her bio, I saw that she was interested in every inch of my book without even reading it: “Romance, women’s fiction, and small-town romances.” Ummmm… that pretty much sums it up!

When my time finally arrived at 11:30 am, I walked up to Cashman sitting at a blank black table. Sitting in front of her was a small box of business cards. I shook her hand, made eye-contact, and grinned with all the excitement I was feeling. I had no idea what to expect and was waiting for, “Here are the things you need to work on and I’m not interested in your book at the moment, it’s just not what I’m looking for.” Instead, we just stared at each other for a short few seconds until I broke the silence.

“I sent you my pages.” Smile.

“I didn’t get your pages.”

“Really? Jessie Lewis? For the Love of Rage? I sent them and even got a confirmation email that they were received.”

Instead of panicking, I just went with it. Cashman was apologetic and hated that she didn’t have them. She told me to send them to her and that she would call me.

Got it, I could do that. So… now what?

“What’s your book about?”

A pitch? A real life pitch? Was this happening? I had never even heard of “pitching” until Friday night when my sister sent me articles on how to have a great pitch. I ignored them because I signed up for my feedback on my first 10 pages; not a pitch. And then there I was, pitching.

I talked to her about my main character, the struggles she goes through in the book, her love interests, the mystery, and of course the romance. When I was all done she said, “I actually really like it.”

I’m sorry what? You what? You like it? Are you sure? You mean my book idea sounds interesting? My face was in flames and my hands were shaking. I didn’t know what to do or say. We talked some more and even made a connection between one of my characters and her husband. I couldn’t believe it!

During lunch I decided to take a look at my PayPal receipt to see if I actually did pay for the 10-minute feedback critique or if I made a mistake and paid for the pitch instead. It read, “10-minute session with literary agent.” Well if that wasn’t clear as mud. Overwhelmed with confusion, I headed towards the registration desk. And low and behold, Cashman was sitting there visiting with a friend. I debated with myself, do I approach? How much of an idiot would I sound like if I confessed that I may not have paid for a 10-minute feedback critique?

She spotted me and asked if I had any questions. I spilled the beans.

“I just pulled up my PayPal receipt and it says that I paid for a 10-minute session with a literary agent. Is that a pitch or a critique?”

“It’s a pitch,” Cashman said smiling, “Which you did that and I liked it.”

Again, she said she liked it! What?

“Well, I already sent you my first 10 pages. you don’t have to read them. I’m sorry I’m such a dork.”

“You’re not a dork! It’s totally fine. We will work it out.”

I felt ridiculous. Just like classic Jessie to jump in feet first. So I basically accidentally pitched to Heather Cashman which turned out not to be an accident after all. Imagine that!

Now, I wait. I eagerly wait for the next step. What will become of my book?

Being present

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift; that’s why it’s called the present.”

Funny how almost two decades ago that quote was my mantra. Probably because it was so philosophical. Ha! Yeah right! It was actually because I loved the play on words. (Insert geek face here.) My cousin and I became “quote addicts” and even started a quote book. We would write down all kinds of random quotes: movie quotes, song quotes, random weird things we said.

This quote has re-entered my life in one of the most unlikely places: school. My fearless leader, Mrs. Stout, found a book yesterday and thought of me. It’s called “What it Means to be Present” by Rana DiOrio and Eliza Wheeler. This picture book uses kid-friendly language to teach students how to think of others and live life in the here and now.

At first, I wasn’t sure how this book connected to me. But as I kept reading I found connection after connection. Being thankful for what you have, savoring all the little moments in life, noticing when someone needs help, etc. I was dumbfounded that this was in a book that I could teach from.

I have always wanted students to notice life happening right in front of them; to notice that there are others around them that need help or are feeling something and could use a break. That’s what I do all day long. I am constantly reading students, adults, my own kids, my husband to do an emotional check. Are they okay? What could be bothering them? Is this a tough time for them right now? Is there anything I can do to help them?

I’m sort of a people pleaser at times, but it honestly comes from a good place. I just want people to be happy, to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to know that they aren’t alone. Do I feel that way all the time? Uh, no. But do I try to convey that to others? Absolutely.

If it’s a rough day, you will see it all over my face. If I can’t process one more thing whether it be what’s for dinner, or how a student behaved that day, you will see it on my face. Sometimes I come off snippy because I honestly don’t know what to say anymore. But isn’t that life? Isn’t that how we all function? Don’t we all hit a brick wall at some point and say, “I can’t anymore?”

That’s when other people in our life can read our faces and notice that we need help. That we need someone to throw us a rope and drag us to shore. That we need someone to say, don’t worry about dinner, I got it tonight. While this is true for some, it isn’t the case for everyone.

My oldest sister (she loves to be called that by the way) is really great at noticing when someone just needs a quick card sent in the mail. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but the little gesture of love always goes a long way. Or my friend who drops a text message when she thinks of me. It always comes at the best time. I’m always thinking to myself, how did she know? It’s a God thing.

But even if you don’t believe in God, can’t you be present and mindful of other’s situations? Some may say we are “making excuses” or “we’re all soft.” I whole heartily disagree. While there will always be someone who ruins it for everyone else, why act skeptical of someone’s emotions? Would you want someone to be skeptical of your emotions? If I’m having a bad day, I don’t want someone to say, “she’s just trying to get attention,” or “she always does this when…”

I am a victim of depression, anxiety, stress, mood swings, anger, life. Please don’t judge what I’m going through and try to equate it to what you’re going through. In fact, as humans, let’s make a vow not to do that anymore to anyone: students, family, friends etc. Let’s make a vow to be present and help our fellow human beings through this crazy roller coaster of life. Shall we?

(Stepping off soapbox now)

At peace…

I have spent 10 years obsessing over having a baby. I went to endocrinologists and completed test after test all to show that everything seemed pretty normal. Well, except for that little thing called endometriosis. However, for a lot of women that doesn’t mean infertility.

Except, it does for me.

Joe and I felt called to foster and adopt four years ago and grew our family by three–best decision we ever made. I am now a full time mom to my beautiful girl, whom I’ve only thought of as my own since day one. I have a son who is more like a best friend–maybe it’s because we’re six years apart? Who knows. It just goes to show how beautiful blended families are.

Seven years ago I had laser surgery to remove some of the endometriosis and cysts. It was a lengthy three hour surgery that left me with four new scars on my stomach–a tiny little road map. Once I was fully healed and given the “all clear,” I was handed a prescription for fertility hormones. I left that appointment elated! This was it, this was going to be our chance. Afterwards, I went to visit my mom in Harrisonville. She was battling lung cancer and wasn’t doing so well. We had the best visit we’d had in a long time. We looked at old photographs and laughed and laughed. She showed me a cradle that she had tucked away upstairs for my future baby.

Three days later my mom started her decline and passed away the next day. I never filled the prescription–in fact, I’m pretty sure I forgot all about it.

Two days after her funeral, I started student teaching. It was just too much all at once and I put family planning on the back burner.

Recently, Joe’s sweet niece had a baby boy. She trusted me to keep him over night when he was just two weeks old. I’ve never experienced such joy from such a small bundle in my life. The little sounds, the jerks, the smell–I was in love. I looked at my husband and knew it was time to try again.

Six months ago, I spoke with my doctor about my options. He just so happened to be a fertility care doctor who assists female patients in achieving pregnancy with the NaProTechnology and the Creighton Model. I was assigned a Fertility Care Specialist who pretty much volunteered her time to help myself and 18 other families either achieve pregnancy or not achieve pregnancy using a completely natural method of family planning. I had never heard of it and was instantly hooked. I learned so much about myself as a woman that no one had ever taught me. It’s truly a beautiful process and if you’re interested you should check it out.

After a few months of charting, my doctor checked my hormone levels and discovered that I don’t make near enough progesterone. I had to go in every other day for several weeks for blood draws. It was excruciating. But I went with the flow, like I always do and kept praying. This was something we hadn’t tried before and IVF has never been in our cards so it seemed doable.

Month one of progesterone was interesting. I learned after a couple doses that I should probably be taking it at night. It made me super drowsy. Basically my body thought I was pregnant due to the surge in hormones so I felt a lot of odd things. I just kept my chin up and carried on with the plan.

Month two of progesterone was a little harder. I had some tummy troubles and was pretty emotional about everything. But something changed during month two. Once I realized I wasn’t pregnant, I started to second guess my choice to try again for a baby. I mean honestly, what was I thinking? We have five beautiful children that are all unique in their own way and bring such joy to our lives. (Despite their ages and hormones at the moment.) 🙂 I prayed for kids. I prayed that the Lord would bless me with children.

He did.

So here we are month three and this will be our last time using progesterone. Tonight also happened to be my last visit with my new friend–my Fertility Care specialist. I looked forward to the 45 minute drive to see her every few weeks because I knew she understood every step of my journey. She worked with me and taught me more about human life than I ever thought I needed to know. The beauty. The wonder. She did all of this while having her own toddler and a baby on the way.

I hadn’t told her that this was going to be our last visit. I didn’t really know how. I felt like it was a bad breakup and I was scared to say goodbye. Tucked in her arms, was a tiny bundle, nursing. Her grunts and noises warmed my heart immediately. I let her start the follow-up as usual, asking me all the questions to make sure I was following the process with fidelity. Of course I was, I wanted it to work so badly. Then she said, “Let’s take a look at your chart.” I took a deep breath and spilled my heart out.

Now, let me just tell you, this woman was not only my fertility care specialist, she became my friend. We swapped good books, relationship advice, mom advice, and laughed about the dumb stuff we did in between visits. Sometimes we ran over the time allotted because we just couldn’t stop talking. She shared many times how she continued to pray for God’s will in my situation. All the while sharing intimate information–being so vulnerable. So I knew that after I spilled my heart out and saw the tears in her eyes, that she felt the same way too–peace. Peace in knowing that we gave it our all, but God has different plans for me.

Infertility is a lonely game. Your husband never understands the emotional rollercoaster you’re on. Your friends can’t relate because they have kids of their own. Your family wants what’s best for you, and worry it could be too much. So, you fight through the heartache of it all and try to make meaning out of life.

I am a teacher with 27 students. I am a mother with five kids. I am an aunt with 20 nieces and nephews. I am a great aunt with two nephews. I am a daughter with three sisters. I am a pet owner with two cats, two dogs, and a guinea pig. I am a wife with one strong loving husband. I have numerous friends.

Tonight, I let go and let God. I am wiser now than ever before and accept the gifts already given to me.

“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” –John 14:27

Paris with my Mom

Image result for bookstore in paris

I went to Paris with my mom last night. I know what you’re thinking, “Paris? On a school night?” I agree it’s crazy! But it happened.

It is a brisk morning with a warm sun. The waffles in the courtyard steam on the end of my fork. My mom, sips on her black coffee, watching me eat with a childlike fervor. She grins slightly without showing her crooked tooth.

The cobblestoned courtyard grows in popularity as the sun rises.

“Let’s go to the library,” my mom speaks, breaking the stiff air, “My dad took me there when I was young.”

“You and Grandpa were in Paris? When was this?” I ask through a mouthful of waffle. I honestly can’t believe this for a second because I know how poor my mom’s family was.

“Oh yes, when he was in the Army. We were stationed in Germany so my dad brought me here for a little visit,” she says sipping her coffee. Her short hair curls under at her shoulders and tucks neatly behind her ear reflecting the sun’s rays as she speaks.

“How come I never knew that?” Still puzzled, I finish my last bite of waffle and dispose of my trash.

“Oh, I don’t know? I guess it just never came up. Come on. Let’s go. You’re going to love it!” She grabs my hand and off we go. We cross the weathered cobblestone courtyard and under an archway leading to a walkway near a busy street. We pass a few upscale shops showing off dresses worth more than I am in bay windows making even a mannequin look like a million bucks.

As we approach a small staircase winding up to an elevated porch to the right, I see a sign that says 6.50fThat’s weird, I thought to myself, Paris no longer uses francs. We move up the stairs and begin to check our pockets for money–we have nothing. I grab my Mastercard from my wallet and proceed to the counter under the awning of the porch like structure.

“Two, please.” I hand my mom her ticket and we move through the door.

Immediately I am overwhelmed. The deeply curved ceilings glow a soft sage with paper mache trees stretching to meet them. Soft hues of blue and green shine all around slowly changing the color of the room from blue to green. Then green to blue again. Tall grey shelves of books make reading nooks throughout the library. An arched bridge begs me to come over. As I cross, I notice large kites, flying on their own, swoop up and down from the ceiling to the floor. A blue/green elephant swoops down and a leg flows over my face. The soft linen is a surprise. I giggle and look at my mom. She is beaming as she watches me take in the wonder before me. She no longer cares about her crooked tooth showing, she is all gums. Her eyes crinkle in the corners as we stand there in awe. Me looking at the elephant kites and my mom looking at me.

And then my alarm goes off.

I went to Paris with my mom last night and it was by far the best vacation ever.


A letter from your child’s teacher…

close up of apple on top of books
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Dear Parents,

It’s the end of a very long week for me. I not only taught your child, along with 25 other students, but I also stayed after and shared with you all the amazing things your child is doing in my class. I skipped potty breaks, dinner, and even forgot to worry about the time when I was talking to you. Your child’s success is my top priority and I am so anxious to share it with you. Did you know that your child is now reading on grade level? Did you know that your child has grown a whole year in Math already? Did you know that your child wrote a story that actually is interesting and I can’t wait until they revise and add more? Did you know that your child is caring towards others and lets anyone join his group?

Did you know that your kids are my kids too?

Thank you so much for showing up at your child’s parent/teacher conference today. I know you too have had a full week of work and probably want to go home, eat dinner, and relax. But your presence here speaks volumes. You showed up today. Your kids know that you care about their academics–that doing well in school is important. Without your support at home, my job would be impossible.

My favorite part of my job is meeting all of you. I fall in love with your kids, even more, when I see where they come from. Your family is amazing. The giggles and side glances when I tell a funny story about your kid, makes my heart swell. When you cry, I cry, so please don’t cry. (I’m totally kidding, let it out!) I love meeting siblings and hearing funny stories of how they do, or most often, don’t get along.

By the way, your child is a goofball! I truly enjoy every minute spent with them in my class. We have good and bad days, just like any other family. But we take the time to talk about our strengths and our weaknesses and find ways to improve. We share our fears and our secrets because my classroom is a safe place for them. Please know that you are always welcome to join us. In fact, we would LOVE to show you all the awesome things we are doing. You know why? Because you matter to us as well.

I know the hard work you put in to provide for your family, to make sure your kids have clothes that fit, food on the table, and a roof over their head. I know the last thing you want to deal with is a phone call from little ole me, but know that it’s only because I care so much about your child. I value you and respect you as my student’s parent. Thank you for respecting me as your child’s teacher.

With love and respect,

Your Child’s Teacher

Life is weird

One moment you look at your day with satisfaction. The dishes are all clean, the laundry is so caught up there’s no more hangers, the dinner is simmering on the stove making everyone drool; it’s a perfect day. Maybe the windows are even open with the cool breeze and sunshine coming through. Your kids are being adorable and you’re actually getting along enjoying each other’s company. The dog is even behaving!

And then BOOM! The call comes that someone you love is terminally ill with cancer. That yet again a loved one is suffering silently in pain feeling all alone in their journey. That the person you saw at the last family gathering is now a shell of who they once were.

Life is weird.

The conversation turns to chemo and hospital visits instead of the latest football game. When you hug them you hug softly so as not to cause them pain and you feel terrible when they grimace. You try to hide the concerned look of slanted eye brows and wrinkled foreheads but to no avail. They know you’re worried. They know they don’t look good. They know it’s bad. But no one says a word.

Life is weird.

How is it that one family can be hit with cancer so hard but the other never sees a terminally ill disease? It’s like tornados, they miss every house on the block except yours.

And where’s the family? I know everyone has their own lives and can’t always be there, but where’s the family that can? I’m guilty so I can say that.

Life is so weird.


nature red forest leaves
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What makes autumn a seasonal favorite? The bright reds and yellows? The cool breeze? The smell of crisp fresh air? Whatever it is, it’s intoxicating. Even to the animals.

The musty smell of life can finally escape the house as it breathes in the season. Windows wide open, lights dancing around the floor, giving the cats something to play with. The fresh new smells of clean air tickle the dog’s nose as she sniffs. All attention is on the open windows.

Like the waves, the leaves also give off a sound unique to their own. It’s the rustling of the leaves and trees that truly make it feel like fall. I only wish this season lasted longer. For if you blink…it is over.

Oh the joys of parenting…


photo of monkeys
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Do your kids have it all figured out?

Do they know how to live in this crazy world and constantly give YOU advice?

I mean, when did they get so smart anyway?

(Hand to face emoji here). Sometimes my kids make valid points and I am grateful for their advice. I mean, let’s face it, they have less going on clouding their minds. But then there are days where I’m like,

I don’t give a s**t! I’m doing it this way!

–My son just came in here and literally just said, “Rusty’s belly button looks weird. (our dog) Do dogs have to have their belly buttons tied off or just humans?”

Ummmmmmmm… just humans son. Just humans.

“Oh” and he exits.–

Back to what I was saying. Sometimes, I have a pretty good handle on things and I have it all mapped out in my mind. I honestly don’t need anyone to tell me what to do or how to do it from one day to the next. Again, I’m not perfect and often need help, but for the love…

–Enter son again, “Are you going to the store today Jessie? We are out of milk.” He is now laying on the end of my bed and messing with Rusty. No, I’m not trying to write and have some alone time. Nope, not at all. Perhaps I should go to the grocery store so I can get away for a bit????–

I just want ONE relaxing evening at home a week. Just one. I don’t think I’m asking for too much here. Just one lonely day to myself.

I have this dream. When I grow up, I want to be a writer. Like hole up in a She Shed and write until the day is long. I wouldn’t even need to put make-up on or change out of my PJ’s. ~sigh~ Someday. Someday.

Until then, I am stuck trying to cram in time for writing while my kids roll around on my floor with my dog and ask me random questions about belly buttons.

Until next time…