Sunday, August 30, 2015

End of Summer Romance Romp Quiz

So this week we're doing something a little different. We're hosting an End of Summer Romance Romp Quiz for all our readers. It's a little silly. It's fun, and it's easy. Take a few minutes to read the questions, enter your answers into the comments section and win a chance at a $5 Amazon gift card. We'll give away five prizes--one each day, Monday through Friday for new comments posted that day. So here are your 8 questions (yes, the R8 tie-in):

1. What do you prefer your heroes (book boyfriends and real life) to wear?

A. Boxers
B. Briefs (tighty-whities)
C. Commando

2. Who is your favorite mature man?

A. Mark Harmon
B. Sean Connery
C. Tom Selleck
D. Sam Elliott

3. Who is your favorite superhero?

A. Thor
B. Batman
C. Ironman
D. Spiderman

4. Who is your favorite bad guy/villain?

A. The Joker (Heath Ledger)
B. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes)
C. Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
D. The Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman)/Snape (Alan Rickman)

5. How do you prefer your romance novels?

A. Sweet: No sex at all.
B. Mild: Some rockin' sexual tension, but close the door on the bedroom scenes.
C. Spicy: Several satisfying, graphic sex scenes per book.
D. Hot: The more graphic, hot sex the better.

6. What kind of romance books do you currently read?

A. Romantic Suspense
B. Contemporary Romance
C. Paranormal Romance
D. Historical Romance
E. Erotic Romance
F. Inspirational Romance
G. YA Romance

7. Favorite male body part to see described in a romance novel?

A. Abs
B. Happy trail and lower
C. Mouth
D. Chest
E. Buns

8. How do you want your romance heroines?

A. Smart
B. Sassy
C. Sexy
D. Ingenue
E. Kick-Ass
F. Sweet

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Me Strong: Fueling the Engine

Women are the glue that holds families together. If you’re anything like me, you’re the one who makes it happen. You get the kids off to school, you shop for groceries, you cook, you do the banking, arrange the doctor appointments, get kids to practice, schedule the service visits. You coordinate child care and date nights. You supervise chores--laundry, dishes, cleaning schedules. You volunteer and give back to your community. You’ve got your fingers in a million and one pies to keep the family going as it should. 

You are Wonder Woman, because you have to be. You can have it all, or so they tell us. The kids/family, the career, the happy home life, the vital relationships. And you can. Women absolutely can have it all. But there’s a price. And that price is usually YOU and your strength, vitality, and who you really are as an individual. We often let who we are slip away when we become part of the family unit, because we’re trying to please so many people, take care of multiple challenges, get it all done. 

We’re pulled in so many directions that we sometimes forget who we really are underneath all those roles we play--who we’ve been, who we want to be, and, therefore, who we are today. As my nest begins to empty, I’m searching for me under all that family clutter--often good clutter, even some of it great clutter, but still clutter. I’m trying to unearth who I am at my core, so that as my kids move out of the house, I won’t be totally lost. My identity, that has revolved around three boys for eighteen years is shifting, and it’s time to reassess, make sure I’m strong--physically, mentally, and spiritually--in order to handle whatever life throws at me in the next half of my life.

Here are three things I’ve recently found are essential to my assessment and continued development:

Time Alone - To find yourself, to get in touch with who you really are and what you want from life, you need time alone. Take some time away--whatever that means for you. Sequester yourself in your home office, spend an afternoon at the park, get away for the weekend in order to take inventory of where you are emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Time away from the noise helps you hear your inner voice. It gives you a reality check and develops the habit of introspection so that you can challenge yourself to grow and improve your situation in life. Then, when you figure out where you are and where you want to be, you can come up with a plan to help move in that direction. But if you’re not in touch with yourself, you’ll never figure it out.

Practice Me Strong - You need to develop a habit of physical fitness, whatever that means for you. No matter where you are in your life or what stage, if you don’t have a strong body and relatively good health, you won’t be able to accomplish the things you want in life. Period. Our bodies are one of the number one gifts we’ve been given. So take care of you. Be me strong. Whatever that means for you. Find the things you love to do and be active. Move. Push yourself. And when you start working on you … something crazy happens … your sense of inner strength and peace grows exponentially. You begin to feel more powerful. And then you are more powerful.

Remember Who You Were - Take a trip down memory lane. Remember the things you used to love to do during your halcyon days--whatever those were … high school … college … your twenties, when you had very little responsibility and lots of time on your hands to pursue what interested you most. Take time to explore those areas. They are hard-wired into you. In some senses, you were made to do those things. They are part of who you were, and may be part of who you still are. Exploit your past to find your future. Those activities brought you joy once--whether it was a sport, horse back riding, gardening, golf, sewing, being out in nature--whatever it was. You spent time training and pursuing those interests. You probably have some aptitude for them. So see if you still like to do them. If they still bring you joy. These experiences are part of the fabric of who you are. And, no, maybe the activity won’t look exactly like it did when you were eighteen; however, pursuing it does something to your spirit. It fills you. Makes you happy. Reminds you that you are wholly unique--the only one of your kind in the Universe. You are an individual with worth and value and you have something to give back.

If you practice these three things, no matter what life throws at you, you will know you’re strong enough to handle it, because you possess everything inside you for success. You’ve done it before, you can do it again. You’ll fall in love with your life once more, because you realize you are an individual, not just part of a unit. You have hopes, fears, passions, and pursuits that are unique to you alone. You are awesome. You are special.

Own your life. Fall in love with it again. Be happy. And if you do that, you’ll be strong and your engine will be fueled so that you can continue to push that little train up the mountain, wherever it’s going and whoever is on board. Because you can do it. You are glorious. You are strong. You are the powerhouse that keeps it all moving. So take care of you. Fuel your engine. You’ll be happier, more vital, stronger. Your family will be happier because you are happy. And, no matter what happens, you’ll know you’ll be okay.

So talk to me. Tell me how you're doing. Are you feeling strong? Overwhelmed? Powerful? What ways have you found to refuel your engine? I'd love to hear from you, and I'm always eager to add tools to my life toolbox. Let's chat.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

At Grandmother's House

My grandmother's kitchen had an enormous pantry. A walk-in closet for your canned goods and spare cooking pots. It had it's own door. My house did not have a pantry. We had cabinets. And stainless appliances. Grandmother had an avocado green oven. When it was cold, I'd walk into the kitchen and the oven would be wide open, heat pouring from it to warm up the room.  Her table was small and square. It was a work table in a kitchen with very little counter space.  

Summertime, I learned to shell peas, snap beans and make deviled eggs at that table. Grandmother would sit in one of her dark dresses, with the smock-type apron on, working on a bowl full of something green. Meals did not make themselves at Grandmother's house. Vegetables, at least in the summer, did not come from the can, jar or freezer.

I can't recall if there was anything pretty hanging on the walls. Grandmother hung a large mirror over her sink. Mom said to check her hair, I say to spy my brother coming up behind me to snap me with a towel. Next to that was a National Geographic map of the solar system. On a shelf to the right of the sink I'd find the jar of Tang - the orange juice of the astronauts. And because she was a grandmother, she also had strawberry Quik. We only ever had the chocolate kind at home.

Inside of Grandmother's kitchen, I was taught to help prepare food. I learned the rhythms of cooking and life. Vegetables had to be washed, trimmed, snapped, shelled, shucked, peeled, chopped.  Dealing with vegetables was all about action verbs and in the moment. Inside of Grandmother's kitchen, I worked. There was no dishwasher, save the grandchildren. We'd stand at that enormous white enameled sink and wash every glass and every plate and every spoon. By hand. With a sponge and hot water and set them, one by one, on the slanted, rippled drain. Water would sluice back down into the sink. Even to today, captured somewhere in my nostrils, is the pungent sharp smell of hot dish-soap and plastic cups.

Summertime at Grandmother's meant an enormous family reunion at the Leonard house. Complete with Aunt Didi's ham biscuits, Grandmother's corn pudding, and juicy sliced tomatoes. There were deviled eggs with a sprinkle of colorful paprika. Potato salad. Macaroni salad. Old ladies in dark dresses with blue or apricot tinted hair set in curls. Some women still wore their hair in old-fashioned buns, like my great Aunt Grace from down Mecklenburg County.

I was the youngest child - apart from little Stevie - and he didn't count because he was little and a boy. I either had to keep up with my older siblings and cousins or go sit with mom. Or I'd simply head to The Magnolia Tree. A tree so big at the front of Grandmother's house that six cousins could be up it at once and there was still room for more. It was shady and cool beneath that tree, shelters by the large tough dark green leaves that were brown underneath. We'd hear "Don't climb that Magnolia" behind us as we headed straight up her branches. I rode my first horse on the limbs of that tree. Possibly my first dragon. I certainly fought my first Civil War battle there, and ruled my first tree kingdom.

I wonder what my siblings and cousins would remember about going to Grandmother's? Probably something completely different than me. What are your strong memories of summer and shelling peas? Of white rail fences to be climbed on and pecan trees to run under? Were you chased out of the house by parents who wanted to actually speak with another adult and wasn't there to entertain the children? Was the TV either off limits or simply not considered an option when there might be horses to be seen? Tell me!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Moving When it Hurts

This summer at the Romance Writers of America's annual conference, I missed a session that in retrospect, I wish I'd made a priority.

It was the one on depression.

Specifically, on writers battling depression.

Like me.

I am a writer and I am depressed.

There. I said it.

I've been dancing around the truth for a lot of months now, but this weekend, when I broke plans, twice, just so I could stay home hibernating, when I didn't do laundry, or put dishes away, or call my parents, when I had to coax myself into the shower, when I ordered Chinese food over the internet rather than chance interacting with someone, when I stepped on the scale and weighed in 10 pounds heavier than the start of the year...I knew.

Deep in my bones, I knew.

It's time for honesty.

And for help.

For anyone following my posts this year, you'll know that my Word of the Year, is MMM and stands for move, make, meditate.

It is blasted difficult (understatement) to do any of that with a two-ton rock squatting uninvited on one's back.

I've cycled through periods of depression for much of my life. It bugs the crap out of me that it's circled back for another visit. But it IS here and the longer I go with my head in the sand trying to ignore it, the larger it will grow, taking over more real estate in my life.

As painful as moving is right now, it's time to address the rock.

A dear friend introduced me to the phrase, the universe rewards action. Okay. I'm acting, Universe. And I'm reaching out for help. And, eventually, I'll shift that dang rock.

If past history is anything to go by, it will take a while. The good news is I'm starting. I'm starting.

And just so this post isn't a complete downer, here's a Rock who could take up residence next door tomorrow and go a long way to alleviating what ails me.

Monday, August 3, 2015

112 Pounds and Counting: My Hair is Falling Out, But My Mustache is as Thick and Full As Ever!

I'm a little conflicted about writing this post. And since it's not specifically about weight loss, I don't know if you'll call foul on this being the second post in my Weight Loss Journey series.

Let's Back Up…

Earlier this year, the glorious ladies of the Rockville 8 decided that we wanted to focus on life journeys. Since we're all headed somewhere, we might as well write about it, am I write right? I decided to blog about my weight loss, because it's very much what I'm personally focused on these days.

In short, my journey began on January 1, 2010, when I hit rock-bottom by hitting an unwanted highest-ever: 365 pounds. As of August 1, 2015 (two thousand thirty-eight days later, but who's counting?) I weigh 253 pounds.

(Hold for applause.) (Hold for ticker-tape parade.) (Hold for somebody to tell me to get over myself and get on with the blog.)

So that's 112 pounds, with a lot of ups and downs in between. It's been a long journey, and it ain't over yet! I have eighty pounds to go before I hit my goal of 173 (which is just within the "normal" BMI parameters for me). I posted my first blog about this, I've Lost 100 Pounds and I'm Still Fat, on June 15.

Okay, So What's With This Hair Loss Business?

That's what I'd like to know! Back in November I noticed that I was losing a lot of hair. It had happened a few years earlier, too, after I'd lost a lot of weight, and eventually the "hair fall" stopped and life went on as usual. Even the November hair loss also slowed after I stopped using shampoo (switched to baking soda and vinegar, which I loved). But about two months ago, my hair started falling out again. So now, yeah, I'm a little worried.

Worried enough, and embarrassed enough, in fact, that I wasn't going to write about it. But it's been very much on my mind, and since it's a health-related issue (and possibly a weight-related issue, still not sure), it seemed dishonest to keep it to myself.

I've done a fair amount of internet-related research on the subject. What I haven't done yet is talk to my doctor. But I finally made an appointment, so hopefully I'll soon be on the receiving end of some helpful medical advice. It could be something as simple as an iron deficiency. It could be stress-related. Could be hormonal. Could be a million, bazillion things. One of the most frustrating aspects of this situation is all the things it "could be."

That being said, here are a few things I've done that seem to have made a slight difference:
  • Stopped washing my hair every day. Although there was a time when I washed my hair every day, back in November I switched from shampoo to baking soda and vinegar. Recently I've tried going totally no-wash (except with water). Four days seems to be the absolute limit of how long I can go without cleaning my hair, although if I'm ever brave enough, I may push it a little longer. I can't say for sure that no-wash is making a big improvement, but I can say that my scalp feels healthier, less dry, and so I'm going to keep it up. (That is, I'm going to keep up the thing I'm not doing, which is daily cleaning.)
  • Taking a supplement called Phytoworx. I'm not going to include a link here, because I don't want it to seem like I'm not trying to sell the stuff. I will say that it's a combination of just about every natural remedy for hair loss that I've heard of, and after a couple weeks of taking it, my hair loss has slowed. Not stopped, but slowed, and that ain't bad!
  • Eating more protein, more often. Over the past year, as I've been eating lighter, meat has started to disappear from my diet. I've always felt philosophically drawn toward vegetarianism, and I even tried to go vegan a couple years ago (more on that in another post, if you're interested). But hair health and protein intake do seem to be related, so I've been making sure to include a couple small servings of meat a day, as well as eggs in the morning. I also eat nuts with my morning snack.

Anyhow, we'll see how this goes. If you see me walking around with a dramatic comb-over or a funny hat, you'll know why! I'm really hoping to get some helpful answers from my doctor. But either way, I'll keep you posted!

And if you've had this trouble yourself and don't mind talking about it, I hope you'll share your experiences in the comments.

Um, And What About The Mustache?

Huh. *blushes* Yeah, the facial hair is a whole other issue. Actually, I could have said "beard" in the post title instead of "mustache" but I just think "mustache" is a funnier word, so I used it instead.

Okay, this is an incredibly uncomfortable thing to discuss. But you know what, who cares? Honestly, more and more women are having facial hair issues, so let's get our fuzzy faces out of the closet and talk about it.

I started growing hair on my chin and neck when I was fourteen (not too devastating for a girl who already had major self-image issues!), and it's been a persistent problem. Over the past thirty years, I've tried:

  • Electrolysis – was too painful and expensive for me to finalize my course of treatment, so unfortunately this had no long-term results.
  • Laser hair removal – which didn't eliminate the problem, but did reduce it by about thirty percent.
  • Waxing – I recently tried to let my chin hair get long enough for it to be waxed, but unfortunately that was a no-go. The very sweet lady at the salon suggested I let it grow for two weeks. After I stopped laughing at that idea, I thanked her for her time and left.
  • Medical advice – I've consulted two doctors. One said that I exhibited symptoms of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). She prescribed birth control pills, but they made me crazy so I stopped taking them. The other prescribed progesterone, but I stopped taking it due to insurance issues (they're expensive, and I went through a period where I didn't have insurance, so there ya go). I'm thinking about asking my new doctor if she would suggest a similar course of treatment. But to be frank, I don't like taking a lot of prescriptions (already take two for my blood pressure), and since this a cosmetic issue, I chafe at the idea of swallowing any more. (I'm not saying this is a good attitude to have, I'm just saying that this has been my thought process thus far.)
  • Natural solutions – For example, at one point, I tried taking large doses of inositol after reading that inositol has a positive effect on symptoms of PCOS. Awesomely enough, the inositol definitely slowed the growth of hair on my face. But unfortunately it also seemed to accelerate the loss of hair on my head, so I stopped taking it.
All of the above remedies have their workability and validity. You'll notice that one thing that most of them have in common is that I didn't follow through long enough to see permanent results. (The one exception being laser hair removal). My best hope is for…

  • Weight loss – As I've lost the last fifty pounds or so, the hair on my face has stopped growing so quickly. I'm hopeful that as I continue to lose, the hair on my chinny-chin-chin will stop growing altogether. If it doesn't (which it very well may not), then I will probably go with a combination platter: medical, natural, and another round of laser removal.

Sometimes, you just gotta keep swinging until you hit something.

And Now What?

Well first, I'm going to end this post. It's already way too long! (Thanks for sticking with me this whole time, by the way. It's been incredibly cathartic.) After that, I'm going to keep doing the things that have been working, and weed out the things that haven't.

My next post will be on September 21. What would you like me to write about? Some ideas I've had are:

  • I hate going to the doctor, but I do it anyway (medical manifesto from a semi-hippie-chick).
  • Three silly things I've done to try to lose weight.
  • Five years of weight loss: what's worked, and what hasn't.

Those are my thoughts, but I am wide open to other ideas! Please leave suggestions in the comments. Also, if you have questions about anything that I've written, please don't hesitate to ask. At this point, I don't have a lot of secrets left, so don't be shy.

You can also contact me any time through the About and Contact page on my website:

Have a great week, friends!