Read, White & Blue: Win a Kindle and more!

Read, White, & Blue banner
This month, I’m taking part in a big giveaway run by the lovely Ashley LaMar at Closed the Cover book tours. Several authors and bloggers have pitched in to provide a prize to one winner and to raise money for the Semper Fi Fund, which provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support for injured and critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

The grand prize for the 2014 Read, White & Blue event will be an “All You Need to Read” kit which includes a Kindle and donated eBooks, a set of custom coffee mugs, a comfy cozy blanket, and a $20 Starbucks gift card.

Other prizes will be given away during the month-long Facebook event. Join the Facebook event here.

Here’s the entry form for the grand prize. (Note: It’s only open to residents of the U.S.)

Good luck!

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Giveaway: Rugby player Ben Cohen will hang out at your house all year

I missed a very important date last Thursday. I mentioned it on Twitter, but I’d wanted to mark it on this blog, too. My excuse is that Thursday was my first day home after five days in Ethiopia and two days running workshops for the charity partners funded by the foundation I work for. I spent Thursday getting a week’s worth of baby cuddles and slobber kisses (from Doodle Bug, not my husband. Thankfully, he doesn’t slobber.) and blowing a thousand tummy raspberries (that was for my husband. :))

Last Thursday (November 14) was StandUp Day, a day with a tragic origin but a really important message. It was the anniversary of Ben Cohen’s father’s death. Peter Cohen had courageously tried to protect an employee in his nightclub who was being attacked. He was savagely beaten into a coma and later died.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know that Ben went on to found the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation after he retired from rugby. His foundation funds organizations that are fighting bullying and homophobia, and he marked the anniversary of his father’s death by asking people worldwide to stand up against bullying.

He’s also taking part in Strictly Come Dancing to raise awareness of the issues surrounding bullying. Here’s his latest beautiful dance.

I mentioned in my first post about him that I’m awed by gentle men, but especially by big men for whom gentleness seems to come naturally. That dance – to one of my favorite songs – makes me want to weep.

It occurred to me that those of you who only know about Ben from this blog might never have heard him speak about his foundation. I found this video very moving, especially the part where he talks about what he wants for his daughters since, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the main thing I want for my own daughter is love.

Ben Cohen 2014 calendarI tried to think of what I could do to mark StandUp Day, even if I’m a few days late. Then I realized that this week is Anti-Bullying Week in the UK, so I’m really not that late at all.

Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give away twelve months of Ben Cohen to someone who leaves a comment on this blog.

Sadly, I can’t give you the real Ben Cohen. But I can give you his calendar. Throughout 2014, Ben will hang out – in his skimpies – in your kitchen, living room, office or bedroom.

Don’t let the fully dressed cover fool you. I haven’t seen inside the calendar myself, but I have seen the making-of video. Here’s what the lucky winner is in store for.

My only question after watching that is: How do I change careers from charity work to spraybottle operator?

Here’s how you can win Ben Cohen’s calendar

I’ll choose one person who leaves a comment on this post to win the calendar. The winner will be announced on Thursday, November 28 – American Thanksgiving.

You can leave one comment a day, but please make it a thoughtful comment. Don’t spam me, please.

You can either leave a thoughtful comment of your own or answer these questions:

1. If you were to make a calendar, what would it show you doing? (My ideal calendar would show me in a different country every month. Realistically, though, I fear it would show me eating twelve kinds of cakes.)

2. What’s one thing you can do to make your world a kinder, gentler place? (I’ve noticed my tendency to call politicians bad names when I see them on TV. I’m trying to stop that because I want my daughter to know it’s never okay to call people names. We can disagree with policies and decisions, but I’m editing the personal insults out of my life.)

Good luck, and if Ben reads this, please accept my condolences on the loss of your father. I’m sure he’d be bursting with pride at how you’ve turned your personal tragedy into hope for millions of people.

My guiltiest pleasure

For the last few years, I’ve had a secret obsession that only my husband knows about, but this year it’s become so bad that I can’t keep my mouth shut.

People, I love Strictly Come Dancing.

For those of you who’ve never heard of it, it’s the British TV show that Dancing with the Stars is based on. Sequins, glamo(u)r…and incredibly talented people learning how to do something they’re not incredibly talented at. What’s not to love?

This year, I can’t take my eyes off Ben Cohen. Those of you who know my books will be unsurprised to hear that he’s a rugby player. One of the all-time greatest English rugby players, in fact.

Watch this video of his dance from two weeks ago and I think you’ll understand why I find him riveting.

When he and his dance partner Kristina finished this dance, one of the judges commented on how nice it was to see a big man being gentle. That’s exactly why I want Ben Cohen to make it to the final and use his massive biceps to hoist the trophy above his very cute head.

There’s another reason, though. Aside from his triumphs on the rugby pitch, he’s also known for the foundation he started, the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, which combats bullying and homophobia. He campaigns for equality and respect; he’s a straight man who’s not afraid of his status as a sex symbol for other men. Those acts make him heroic to me.

He’s also learning how to dance – on national TV – when he’s clinically deaf. Talk about freaking brave.

The judge’s comment about big men being gentle has stayed with me. It struck a chord because I realized how much more I want to see that in life and in popular culture. My husband is 6’3 and the most gentle person I know. The men I write about kick ass (or arse) on the rugby pitch but show patience and kindness off it. The world needs more of that.

Rock on, Ben Cohen. I hope you do really well on Strictly, but more than that I hope your foundation helps society become a kinder, gentler place.

Is anyone else watching Strictly? Who are your favorites? I encourage you to check out the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation this week. And if you need a bit more convincing, here’s Ben’s latest dance. Enjoy. 🙂

Later this week I should be able to share the cover for my Christmas novella, Mine Under the Mistletoe. Not a rugby book, but it is set in London at Christmastime. Trust me, there’s no place more romantic at Christmas!

Friday favorites: Buy a T-shirt, help rebuild a home for Sandy survivors

I’ve worked for charities for years, so I love seeing new and interesting ways of raising money for worthy causes.

I recently discovered Sevenly.org, a website that raises money for a different charity every week by selling specially designed T-shirts. For each T-shirt they sell, they donate $7 to that week’s charity.

This week, they’re raising money for Forward Edge International to help survivors of Hurricane Sandy repair or rebuild their homes.

You can see this week’s T-shirt designs in this video.

The T-shirts tend to hover in the $25-30 range which, to my mind, makes them shirts, not T-shirts. They look gorgeous, and I would happily wear one to work. Then again, I work from home, so no one gives a crap what I wear.

Anyway, I recommend checking out their site and signing up to their newsletter or following them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Last week they raised money to fund undercover missions to free girls (yes, underage girls) from brothels in India. Who knows what they’ll fund next week, but if you’d like to do something nice for Sandy survivors and you can afford a new shirt, you have about three days left to get one from Sevenly.

What do you think of Sevenly’s idea? See any shirts you like? Do you know of other interesting fundraising sites?

Help a romance blogger bring clean water to Africa

When I saw that one of my favorite romance bloggers, Limecello, was organizing an online fundraiser for a charity that brings fresh water to people in developing countries, I got excited. Really excited. You know what’s the best thing about it? You don’t even have to donate money if you don’t want to. All you have to do is leave a comment on her blog.

So I contacted her to ask if there was a way I could help.

For the past six years, I’ve worked for international charities as a writer and editor. I’ve been really fortunate to go to East Africa a couple of times, and I’ve seen what a huge difference it makes when people have access to clean water. I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve seen, people I’ve met and stories I’ve heard.

Kat with kids
Me with kids at the only watering hole I saw in northern Kenya

In the interest of transparency, you should know that I’ve never worked for the charity Limecello is fundraising for (charity:water). The projects I’ve visited were funded and implemented by the Red Cross and UNICEF, so what I describe here are not initiatives by charity:water.

But water is water, and water is life. I hope to show you how lack of water changes life for people who don’t have easy access to it. And I really hope that this will inspire you to do something simple and FREE: leave a comment on Limecello’s blog post to help bring clean water to communities that are desperate for it.

No water, no food

If you’ve ever lived in a farming community, you’ll know how true this is. But the people I visited in northern Kenya—the Turkana—are not farmers. They’re nomadic herders.

Turkana woman
A Turkana woman. The necklaces are an indication of wealth.

Their families aren’t the only ones who rely on water. Their livestock do, too, and the animals were perishing for lack of water. I can’t tell you how many animal skeletons I saw scattered along the side of the road. For the Turkana to watch their livestock die is like losing their very own life. In fact, that is a very real risk.

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