Monday, February 1, 2016

Zen Moments from Austin

Okay, so . . . my life is a little crazy these days. I apologize for the tardy post. I won't go into all the reasons at the moment for the craziness. I'll touch on that in a later post one day when I'm brave enough to write about it all. However, for today's post ... We all know that my nest is emptying, and that I'm trying to find myself. Figure out who I am beyond mom and wife. One of the things I love to do is travel. I adore traveling. Therefore, in the pursuit of exploration, I took a trip to Austin, Texas, to do research.
I loved Austin. It's not called "The Live Music Capital of the World" for nothing. Every bar, restaurant, pub, you name it, has live music. If you're a musician, it's Heaven with a capital H. If you're a lover of music, it's the perfect place for you. Austin has a wonderful, funky hipster vibe. The city parties until two a.m. and doesn't wake until almost ten a.m. So be aware, early birds. You'll have to find something to do for a few hours.

What follows are a few of my favorite memories from Austin (aka photos).

My first night in town, I visited Stubb's for two young artists. Zach Kellogg and Emily Wolfe.

I visited Zilker Park which has some amazing views of the city skyline.

One night I listened to Next 2 The Tracks at the historic Driskill Hotel.

I stayed several nights in downtown, then I traveled about half an hour north to a spa on Travis Lake in the Hill Country. The scene there was quieter, but just as wonderful. The view from my balcony was breathtaking.

And I hiked Hamilton Pool Preserve, which again was gorgeous and awe-inspiring. The trail is about a quarter of a mile down to the pool. An easy hike with a great pay-off.

So, while this is just the briefest thumbnail sketches of my trip, suffice it to say that Austin, Texas, is a wonderful place to visit and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in music, people, good food, fun eccentric venues, or just a plain old good time. For a more in-depth overview of my trip, visit me on Instagram at mackenzielucas.writer.

Monday, January 25, 2016

#Blizzard2016 #Adultsnowday #NextwinteraSnowBird

How was your #Blizzard2016?
Technically, I was to write a blog for today. Yesterday. Notice the snow. I was removing it. And yes, finally, paying someone else to remove it. Cos seriously and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and my dog is not happy and where is the ibuprofen?

How was your day? Dig much? Drink much? Yes, it's a surprise for many, but, no, I don't think I've cracked a single bottle since Sunday. Just lotsa tea and hot chocolate. Somehow, getting to leave work early on Friday and having a snow day from work today equals joy and peace. Or something. Might need the whiskey today cos I may have to work tomorrow.

Stay safe. Stay sane. And thank the gods of TV that Mulder and Sculley have returned to usher us through this storm. Or perhaps Lady Mary and Carson. Ring him for tea. Or maybe you've been reading (for me, Loretta Chase's latest).

Tell me, how have you kept sane over this weekend.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

With Love to Alan

 All of us were shocked this week at the loss of Alan Rickman. To honor his memory, here are some of our favorite moments from his films. We love you, Alan: truly, madly, deeply, in-sensibly... and, of course: actually.

Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Love Actually (2003)

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

After some debate, we decided we couldn't leave out this brilliant compilation of funny and sinister scenes. One of the most wonderful things about this talented man was his ability to play the hero or the villain with equal grace and dexterity. We hope this final video leaves you with a smile.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Word of the Year - 2016 Edition!

Each year, the ladies of the Rockville 8 dig deep to find a guiding word to shepherd us through the coming months. It's one of my favorite posts we do and this year I'm blown away once again by the results. Read on, then let us know what word calls to you for 2016! ~ Keely 

J. Keely Thrall
WORD: Release

WHY THIS ONE: I actually had a different word in mind - phoenix - for several weeks, as the need for rebirth and renewal in the wake of a difficult year called to me. But on Sunday I was pacing in my condo to get my step count up and I passed my deck of Angel cards. Each card has a different word printed on it that can be used for reflection and meditation. I guess I hadn't really noticed it when I picked it out before leaving for Christmas, beyond thinking the word fit in with the phoenix concept, but that moment, Release jumped into my bones and settled into place.

WHY THIS YEAR: Why Release? Because this year I'll be published - and have a real, true, "release" to share. Because this year, I'm releasing my stranglehold on some habits that no longer work for me. Because to make room for the new, I need to let go of the old. 

Because the Kraken of my creativity deserves to be unleashed upon the world. 

Evie Owens
WORD: Fling

WHY THIS ONE: Because it strikes me as off the cuff. The work of a moment. Not something that takes great thought. I live in my head and overthink the way I overthink. Take a shot. Give it a whirl. Just fling it out there and see what happens.  


Mackenzie Lucas
WORD: Core

WHY THIS ONE: Core Values. Remember what's important and build into it. Core Identity. Figure out who I am today, going into a new season of life, and embrace it. Core Strength. Build the strongest me possible to withstand the storms and celebrations life sends my way this year. 

WHY THIS YEAR: It's been a challenging year, with more challenges ahead. It's important that I focus on what's important to me, who I am in the midst of it all, and how to remain strong in order to be more than just a survivor, but a conqueror. 

Misha Crews
WORD: Wow.

WHY THIS ONE: I looked back over my words for the past few years: Forward (2012), Persist (2013), Do (2014), and Create (2015). And in each of those years, the word really did summarize my thoughts and actions for those 12 months: in 2012, I was moving forward after losing my dad so suddenly. In 2013, I was persisting with the good changes that I had started making the previous year: health-wise, family-wise and creatively. In 2014, my family and I shifted gears in a major way when we moved out of the house we'd lived in for over a decade; that was, indeed, my year of DO. And in 2015, my life has been freshly created: new town, new horizons, new healthy habits, an entirely new outlook. 

Now I want to make everything come together: gather up my loose ends and fragmented pieces, and just blow the socks off this coming year. When I look back at the end of 2016, I want to say, "Wow!"

WHY THIS YEAR: Because it's time. 

Lisa McQuay
WORD: Willow

WHY THIS ONE: “The willow which bends to the tempest, often escapes better than the oak which resists it; and so in great calamities, it sometimes happens that light and frivolous spirits recover their elasticity and presence of mind sooner than those of a loftier character.”

~Albert Schweitzer

I thought long and hard about my word for this year. Then I remembered the quote about the willow and the oak. In the past, there were times in my life where I locked my knees and resisted changes that I didn’t want. I am learning to bend with them and adapt so I can align my attitude and my actions to the situation. I don’t think that you need a “light and frivolous spirit” to do this. It can also be a conscious decision to let go of control in some situations.

I even love the way it sounds—soft, soothing and beautiful.

WHY THIS YEAR: I’ve realized that when times are hard, sometimes you have to sway with a situation, not against it. It’s exhausting to fight everything that happens to you or to rail against the circumstance. Better to move with the issue until you get through it. It’s much easier to bend with the storm than to let yourself be uprooted and toppled over.  

Nichole Christoff

WHY THIS WORD: I love this word! It's a cool word (Can you dig it?) and a working word (I'm gonna dig in!) and a word that encourages getting real (I'm gonna dig deep!) no matter what a new year might send my way.

WHY THIS YEAR: After plenty of changes over the past two years, such as a new home, a new day job, and three new novels published, I'm ready to dig what I've done (I'm enjoying all that redecorating!), dig into more projects (There are more novels to write!), and dig deeply into  the opportunities this new year will offer. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

100 Pounds and Counting: Maintaining and Feeling Good

So, the first thing that I should tell you is that I have no idea how much I weigh right now. *blushes* I've been out of town for about a week, and I couldn't find a scale in the hotel where I'm staying. Granted, I didn't look very hard, but one thing I can say for sure: it's not in the dining room. Or in the cafĂ©. Or under the pastry cart.
I do know that before I left home, I was maintaining a weight of 262. For anyone who's number obsessed (as I am) that means I've maintained a weight loss of 103 pounds, although I did gain back thirteen pounds from my lowest weight. So that's where I was a week ago. When I get home day after tomorrow, I'll know where I am at that point.


Feeling Good

There is an evil little part of me that wants to brood over the weight I've gained back; wants to pick it apart and spend hours telling myself how inadequate I am. But you know what? That part of me is a jerk, and it can take a hike. To be honest, I feel pretty fantastic about myself, and here's why:

I move more easily.

Compared to this time last year, I feel like a bunny rabbit instead of a giant tortoise. I can trot up the stairs (if there aren't too many of them), and gallop down (thanks to my old frienemy, gravity). It is a pleasure to be able to double-time it across an intersection, or race down a hallway to catch an elevator. Increased motion means increased freedom, and I'll take every little bit that I can get.

I look good, because I look like Me.

Surely it goes without saying that I am not beautiful in the conventional sense of the word. But when I see myself in the mirror, I look like Me. And while that Me may never grace the cover of a fashion magazine (unless someone starts a fashion magazine called Dowdy Dames, which would be all kinds of awesome), here is what that Me can do:
  • Make a stranger smile, just by smiling at them first. (Never underestimate the power of a smile! It can change someone's whole day.)
  • Make a friend laugh, with my proclivity for puns. (Although of course those elicit an equal amounts of groans.)
  • Make someone feel good, by telling them that they're fabulous, and meaning it. (While I'm on the subject: YOU, who are reading this, are fabulous. I may not know who you are, or where you come from, or what you've done in your life, but I am 100-percent, right-hand-to-God certain that you are fabulous. And if you don't believe me, then send me an email through my website, and I will convince you. Because your own fabulousness is something that you need to recognize, and I'm serious about that.)

There is more good stuff to come.

There are plenty of times that I feel dispirited about getting older, about not being able to fit into a size six (I'm barely out of a size twenty-six, for crying out loud), about all sorts of things too numerous to name. But the beautiful thing about life is that it ain't over until it's over (and after it's over, who knows if it's really over?).

For me, there are adventures to be had (horseback riding lessons is on my list of things to tackle next year, as are travel and writing, writing, writing!), there are new friends to make, and there are old friends to play with. There's work to be done, yes, but it's the right kind of work, and that's always a good thing.

And What About You?

So, I've spent the past few blogs talking about myself, my journey, and all things Me. Now, what about you? How are you doing? What kind of adventures are you looking forward to?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Truly Home for the Holidays

Gingerbread cookies, country plaid, and pine cones decorate Nic's kitchen.
The phrase "home for the holidays" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? I've always thought so. But I have a confession to make. During twenty-some years on the move with the military, "home" always meant packing up and heading back to the state where it all started for Mr. Christoff and me. If at all possible, we'd travel across the continent each holiday season to crash at his parents' place, and then mine. We'd swing by my grandma's for plenty of home cooking. As if we were kids, we'd stay up late with siblings and cousins, and we'd always meet up with childhood friends. As a result, the house where we lived the rest of the year often got neglected at the holidays. Oh, I might manage to hang some kind of wreath on the door, but that would be about it--until this year!

All year long, you awesome reader, have followed each of the Rockville 8 on our personal journeys of growth and discovery. My own path has brought me to that stage of life called "nesting," and now that I'm in a house for the long haul, I can't think of a better time of year than the long, dark nights of winter to do just that. As a result, I've got homey gingerbread hearts decorating my kitchen this season. My living room is dressed in gold-tipped, glistening evergreens. And in the bedroom, flannel snowmen sheets chase away the chill when it's time to cuddle up at the end of the day.

There have been days this December, however, when it's still hard to think of our house as "home." However, maybe that has less to do with the habits developed over my husband's military career. Maybe, instead, it has to do with accepting that some of our loved ones are aging. Some have even passed away. "Home" has changed, and maybe, deep down, I suspect it's slipping away.

Of course, the true meaning of home doesn't have to disappear. Home, quite simply, is where the heart is. So, this year, I'm opening my heart and decorating my house. We'll crash at our place where we've followed grandma's recipes and we've got cousins are on the way. I'll be truly home for the holidays, and I hope you will be, too.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Our Fantasy Holidays

The holiday season is a magical time: twinkling lights, flickering candles, our hearts full of joy. But it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year: cash runs short, shopping lines run long, patience runs thin. So this year, we at the Rockville 8 decided to give ourselves a mini-holiday from The Holidays.

Letting our imaginations run wild, we asked ourselves, if money were no object, if distance were not a factor and if family obligations were magically suspended, how would we spend the holiday? Where would we go, what would we do, and who would we do it with?  We hope our fantasies give you a break from the holiday stress. Feel free to share your own holiday fantasies with us in the comments!

Nichole Christoff

Where: A deluxe cabin in the Adirondacks

What: Is there anything more dreamy than an old-fashioned Christmas like the kind Mel Torme or Bing Crosby sang about? I'd love my own personal blanket of white, Jack Frost, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Snowshoeing in an evergreen forest by day, hot toddies at night, and heaps of handmade quilts on an antique bedstead in a luxury log cabin? Ahhh! That's the holiday for me!

Who: Book boyfriends are a-okay, but when it comes to my dream holiday, I'd want Mr. Christoff snuggled up in front of that fireplace with me.

Misha Crews

Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the past few years I've developed a fascination with the American Southwest, even going so far as to set one of my novels there. Something about the confluence of cultures, combined with the vast landscape, which in pictures manages to be both austere and lush, captures the heart and inflames the imagination.

Photo credit: Christmas Pics for All
What: I would take Barbara Harrelson's Literary Walking Tour of Santa Fe, and spend hours wandering, listening to stories, and reveling in the spectacular greatness of storytellers, authors and literature. Then I'd spend Christmas Eve Santa Fe Plaza, admiring the hundreds of farolitas (votive candles in paper bags full of sand), drinking cider and singing carols.

Who: This took some thinking over! And with all due respect to my real-life husband, I think I would most like to take Mike Hanlon, the fictional character from Stephen King's It. This may seem like an unusual choice (not to mention that the fellow doesn't actually exist, except in imagination), but as a librarian, Mike would appreciate the finer points of the tour. He also has a sense of humor and an appreciation for history. Plus, if we were confronted by ancient evil, he would know how to defeat it. And after everything he went through in Derry, Maine, the guy could really use some time away!

Mackenzie Lucas

Where: El Camino de Santiago in Spain.

What: I've always wanted to do a pilgrimage. This is the Way of St. James, one of the apostles, and a favorite pilgrimage of Christians since the Middle Ages. After watching Martin Sheehan in The Way and Reese Witherspoon in Wild, I've desparately wanted to experience this kind of pilgrimage walk to see who I meet along the way and who I find deep down inside myself when challeneged mentally, physically, and spiritually to this degree.

Who: I don't think I'd take anyone in particular, but I'd be interested to meet other seekers along the way and learn their stories. It would be a fascinating journey.

Lisa McQuay

Where: Perhaps it’s the influence of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” but nothing says Christmas to me like England. Specifically, I’d love to be whisked away to Bath, England. I remember being fascinated the first time I read about Bath in a novel where the Regency heroine spoke of “taking the waters” there.

Picture from
What: I’d love to visit the Christmas Market in Bath. Tiny chalets are interspersed between the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey. Shoppers wander through the chalets, purchasing gifts, drinking mulled wine and eating mince pies. I’d also love to see the Christmas Carol service at the Bath Abbey. Of course, then I’d tour the city itself. After a full schedule of shopping, eating, touring, and caroling, I’d make a trip to the thermal spa to relax and wash off the dust of the day.

Who: My husband. I know that may sound boring but I’d only want him there with me. If he’s there through the tough times then, of course, he’s there for the fantasy trip.

Keely Thrall

Where: A Dude Ranch in The West

What: Riding dudes. No, wait! Riding horses. Yeah, riding horses. It’s not so much that I’m a fan of cowboys (although, come on, it’s not hard to see why a lady might linger over a pair of well-worn Levi’s). I’m not horse mad either. But ever since I first read the words “Big Sky Country,” I’ve felt a deep tug of longing to spend some time in Wyoming or Montana. The scale of the world is different there, in my imagination, the pace more relaxed, perhaps, and a little friendlier. What a perfect place to gather with family and friends for a little unplugged down time (as long as there’s hot water and indoor plumbing. Big sky, yes. Cold showers, heck no.).

Who: Lately, I’ve been falling in love with the Winchester brothers. I’m up to season 7 of Supernatural and I just can’t get enough of their emo vibe, even when I want to slap them upside the head when they act like doofuses (or possibly the writers’ heads when the plot goes awry). In Frontierland (Season 6, episode 18), Sam and Dean travel back in time to the Old West. Sam looks pretty hot. Dean wears a blanket. Snort. Regardless of Dean’s wardrobe fail, I think I’d take the brothers with me. Because if my holiday is ever invaded by monsters, these boys know a thing or two about saving the day.