Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: My Top Ten Favorite Blog Posts (January 2017)

Since it's the end of the month AND it's a Tuesday, I thought this would be a perfect day to list my Top Ten Favorite blog posts of this month - from other blogs!

I talk all the time about how much I love YouTube, but part of my effort to grow my own blog means reviving my love for reading other blogs. So this month, I downloaded the Bloglovin' app, signed up, claimed my blog on there, and started following other blogs that fit my niche and my lifestyle. I've spent time each day (most days) commenting and interacting with other bloggers - when I wasn't busy with therapy, single motherhood, and writing - in an effort to find my place in the blogging world. I've also opened my blog up to sponsorships and increased my affiliate marketing partnerships, which has actually been really fun!

But one of the most important things about blogging successfully is views. A blog doesn't matter if no one sees it, and the best way to help a blogger you love is to share their content. So I'm doing that here, with:

(in no particular order)

This post on CarolCassara.com made me laugh until I cried. It's a list of misheard song lyrics, and seriously - "touched for the 31st time?" Come on - who wouldn't laugh at that? And "two chickens to paralyze" was pretty funny too. Head on over to see if you know many of the other misheard lyrics you know.

This post on EatTeachBlog.com gave me a really fun new hot chocolate idea, which my kids LOVED! In her post, Divya mentioned that she'd been enjoying hot chocolate to combat the winter cold, and mentioned specifically that she was drinking the old-fashioned Swiss Miss - "the kind that comes with those fake marshmallows that taste like the marshmallows in Lucky Charms."

This sent my mind on a short little tailspin, in which I remembered briefly that Lucky Charms had come out with a marshmallow-only variety for a short time.

See where I'm going with this?

Long story short, the non-marshmallow variety of our Swiss Miss hot chocolate (which we had because the store happened to be out of the Marshmallow Lover's that I usually buy) taste great and had an extra layer of fun on it when topped with these:

3.) "Epic ~ 2017 Word of the Year"
CourtneyLynne from TheTrophyWifestyle.com wrote an amazingly upbeat post about her word for 2017 - EPIC. She talked about how FABULOUS has been her life word for many years - and how not that her life is as fabulous as she always wanted it to be, it's time for her to manifest in a new way. My favorite quite from that post? "You can't do epic shit with basic people." It's perfect for me, as I've been clearing toxic people from my life over the last year or so - and I do see a change in my perspective, my motivation, and my general happiness.

4.) "My Surprising Day as a Hometown Tourist - DeLand, Florida"
Becki from ABookloversAdventures.com wrote this great post about looking at her hometown from a tourist's viewpoint, which was SUPER exciting to me because DeLand is my hometown too! I stumbled across this post by accident, and I'm so glad I did - I hadn't realized how much I missed my town until I found myself leaning closer to my laptop, delighted. I was especially thrilled to see Hontoon Island mentioned too, as that particular place is quite special to me. I even commented about what a special post that was to me, and Becki ended up writing this post, which I also LOVE.

5.) "How to Go Natural, Truly."
Imani O'Blige from InternalLifestyle.com got on it for real when she wrote about accepting herself. She used her hair as the tool and talked about how she grew up having the kinky texture of her hair chemically relaxed on the regular - and how it led to a deeper feeling of unease that plagued her, a sense of wrongness and ugliness attached to the "need" to constantly adjust and change the natural look of her appearance. She talked about how learning to accept her hair and her self go hand in hand, her journey to self-acceptance, and some of the lessons she's taken note of along the way. It's so perfectly in line with who I am and what I'm about (not only on this blog but in my books and also in my real life) that I was momentarily speechless, and I knew I had to share it here.

6.) "6 Tips for Pushing Past Fear to Accomplish Your Goals"
If you've wondered what it's really like to live with crippling anxiety, go read this post and pay special attention to the paragraph about when Samahria from SheTriedThat.com (which is brand-new, by the way, so go show her some comment love and tell her I sent you!) quit her job to become an entrepreneur. In her post, she mentioned having an influx of disastrous thoughts, worries about what might happen to herself and her family if her business effort failed - and I sat back and cried. It was an outline of the thoughts that plague me daily in regard to my career as a writer, my ability to be a good mother ... much of my life in general. I go on and I keep moving because my desires are bigger than my fears - but my fears are there, and it felt so freeing to have them acknowledged in such a powerful way by a perfect stranger.

7.) "What To Do When You've Finished Your First Draft"
So, I didn't relate to this post from Nellwyn over at TheCardinalPress.com at all. Not even a little. Not even a smidgeon. Not even a wee speck. Because I don't do any of the things mentioned here - ever. And especially not after having wrenched an entire book out of the depths of my heart and soul. Nope. Not me.

8.) "Do You Struggle With Making Your Resolutions Stick?"
I don't struggle with this because I don't set specific resolutions - but I do struggle with goal setting because I have a hard time defining my goals in a quantifiable and measurable way. The push toward creating "SMART goals" infuriates me and makes me feel like an utter failure at goal-setting because that just isn't how I work. So I was thrilled to see this post from Elayna from ThePositiveMom.com, because she talks about goals in a whole other way, reminding me that setting habits one at a time is really the way to accomplish things - for me. I'm pretty sure there's no way I'm going to become the morning person I've long wished I could be, but I'm thinking I'll try this strategy and see how the effort to adjust my mornings bleeds into the rest of my days.

9.) "When Life Hands You Lemons ... Tuck 'Em Inside Your Bra! Couldn't Hurt, Might Help!"
This was such an inspiring post by Stephenie over at BlendedLifeHappyWife.com. She spoke about some of the "lemons" in her life, and how she found perspective and blessings in even the greatest hardships. I loved reading this post and soaking in the reminder that even the bad things happening in our lives can be used to bring about moments of gratitude and happiness.

10.) "Self Care Plan"
I love this great post by Alma over at BlessMama.com! It's a great reminder of the importance of self-care and self-compassion, and there's even a list of suggested ways to amp up (or renew) your own self-care routines! Several of the items listed are ones that I personally love to use when I need a bit of extra pampering - I know you'll find something you love there, too.

I hope you'll check out some of these posts, and that you'll get as much out of reading them as I did. If you click over to any of these posts or blogs, please take the time to leave a comment there - bloggers love comments!

Questions for the Comments Section:

  • What are your favorite blogs, and why do you love them so much?
  • What's your favorite content style to see on a blog?
  • Which kinds of posts never get old for you?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Man Crush Monday: Jamie Fraser

Ahh, Jamie Fraser. The man of legend, the kilted lord of fantasy for millions of women all over the world.

The man who always figures things out just in time, who thinks in flashes of brilliance and wavers beautifully from driven fighter to tender lover in mere moments.

Jamie Fraser, he of the red hair, of the piercing blue eyes, of the scarred and battle-worn body given so willingly to any cause deemed worthy of his blood. Jamie Fraser, the wounded man first met in the pages of a book called Outlander.

 If you know the show, you'll know him in your heart to have the same likeness as the roguishly handsome Sam Heughan - they'll have blended together seamlessly for you, as Sam is such a perfect portrayal of Jamie. From the Scottish accent and heritage to the fierce-tender combo, to the striking good looks, he shows off everything that Jamie is written to be.

Jamie Fraser. He's protector to his loved ones, his people. His friends, his family.

And his wife, the woman he loves with an unshakable loyalty today's woman only dream of. He suffers to protect her name, to protect her honor, to ensure her safety, to see her provided for, her needs met, and her heart nurtured.

The Outlander series follows him into middle age, where he's done things he's ashamed of, had to adjust and change with the times, had to pick up and start over again more times than any man would care to - and has loved so beautifully through it all. Not only his wife - which is enough to make any woman swoon - but also his children, both natural and adopted. He loves the tenants of his land, the friends he's made over the years, the sister he holds so dear to his own heart. The brother-in-law who is his best friend and one of his most trusted confidantes.

By the end of the series (not counting the book which is currently being written), he is a savvy businessman, an educated politician, a decorated war hero, a proud father and grandfather. But aside from all of those things, he's loyal, he's trustworthy, he's gentle and kind, he's merciful. He's strong, and willing to sacrifice, he's steady and dependable. He's a man unafraid of knowledge and entirely comfortable with books. He learns readily, soaking up information, storing it effortlessly, using it to benefit those in his charge. He sees that his people never go without, sees that all is well for them, and believes in those he trusts to return the favor.

He's strong enough for anyone to lean on, willing to help carry any burden, and never backs down from someone who needs him - but he's not afraid to be vulnerable in his own right either, which is both admirable and adorable. He's beautiful, he's smart.

He's poetic.

But beyond all that, the thing that makes him so utterly perfect is that he stays always exactly the man you expected him to be. And I think we can all use a little of that from time to time. For me, that time is today - so I'm going to take a break from working so hard. While my kids are in school, I'm going to shut down and diconnect, unplug from the world and spend some time curled up in bed, just me and my fuzzy dog, a good warm blanket, a hot cup of coffee, and an even hotter Kindle, filled with Outlander books. I'm calling it a mental health day, and I intend to enjoy every second of it.

I hope you have a spectacular Monday! I know I will.

Questions for the Comments Section:
  • Have you read Outlander? Why or why not?
  • If you have read it, are you as utterly obsessed as I am? Or are you crazy do you dislike the books?
  • If you dislike them, why?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saturday Style: My Favorite Universal Clothing Item

I'm gonna start this off by sharing a little secret with you. What I'm about to show you is quite literally my favorite clothing item ever - both for its Bohemian-beautiful style and for its easy affordability. I also love that as a plus sized woman, this one article of clothing ALWAYS fits perfectly because its completely ADJUSTABLE, and I am not kidding. I have two of the plus sized version and I've worn mine myself (of course) and had them fit perfectly, but I've also put them on my oldest daughter, with limited but decent results. I will say though, that although I am a plus sized woman, the plus sized version of this is actually a little too big for me to wear in some of the suggested styles.

I'm a little afraid to share this piece with you, though - it's like my secret stash of Girl Scout cookies, hidden in a frozen Brussels sprouts box in the back of the freezer. I have this irrational fear that if I share this, this beautiful, versatile, magical piece of clothing ... then you'll see it for the wonder it is, and you'll want one.

And you'll buy one.

And then they won't be as wonderfully affordable anymore.

And then I'll be sad.

Seriously though, no I won't. I really think every woman should own at least one of these, and as I have said, I actually have several. So okay, I'm going to risk it. I'm going to share this with you because I've been wanting to tell you guys about these since the very first time I found them, since the very first one I ordered, since the very first time I wore one.

Disclaimer: I Googled this image.

It's called a Magic Skirt, and the ones I have are from an Amazon seller called Wevez; not only do they ship pretty quickly, but they ship a truly beautiful piece. Mine are in various shades, which I didn't choose but I still love. They take me just enough out of my comfort zone with colors and patterns to be fun, and I love that they're perfect in any season, in any weather, styled pretty much any way. Imagine this with different sweaters, scarves. A blazer maybe, with some of the styles. Different types of tops, add or remove leggings. Flats, boots, sandals. And these skirts are reversible so you can wear them in even more ways?! Yes, please!

Disclaimer: Googled this one too.

On top of all the other cool things about this skirt (choice of length, adjustable size, reversible clothing, versatility, quality for cost, etc.), Wevez also has a really fun way of letting you choose between keeping control and taking a chance. For example, If you choose this product, you'll get a full-length wrap skirt (30 inches from waist to hem) that's completely open and wrappable for almost any size - in a surprise pattern and color scheme. However, if you check the description, you'll get a link to where you can get the very same item with all the same specs and quality - except that you choose which pattern/colors you want to wear. Personally, I've done both, because I love the surprise aspect of waiting anxiously for something to come in the mail, and not knowing what it is. It's like a gift to myself! But I also love knowing that if I want a skirt in shades of red, or blue, or whatever, then I can go choose one with faith that I'll get exactly what I was hoping for.

Now, for the sake of disclosure, I've only chosen the super-long ones (36 inches from waist to hem) before because that's the length the plus size version comes in, and I'll admit that I am somewhat limited in my wearing options because I'm so short. I'm around 5 feet three inches, so my skirts both fall a bit below my ankles - they'd likely be fine if I wore them with heels, and they're only slightly too long when worn with my boots (which have about 1 inch heel, 1.5 at the most), even if I tie the skirt below my bust and wear it high-waisted. I like that the silhouette is more flattering that way, but I don't like not being able to choose where to tie the waist - so the next time I purchase one of these, it'll likely be the surprise version of the one that comes in a 30 inch length (but doesn't come in plus size). I think that'll be a much better maxi-length for me, and will allow me to tie at my natural waist when I want to, as opposed to a high waist. My concern then is that it will likely be too small for me to wear in certain styles - but I can wear those styles with the plus sized versions I already own and will continue to buy. The best of both worlds, right? I should also note that although the plus sized version only comes in the 36 inch length, it does also come in the same choice of "surprise me" or "I'll choose my own, thanks," that all the longer skirts seem to have - just click over and check the description for the item number with pattern choices. Personally, I prefer the random assortment, because it's fun.

For those who actually need a longer skirt in order to achieve maxi-length but do not need a plus size, Wevez does offer a straight-sized version of the 36 inch length, also with both the "surprise" and the "choose-your-pattern" options.

** A NOTE TO MY PLUS SIZED READERS: Unless you are larger than maybe a US 26 or so, this skirt will likely still fit you - it really does have a VERY wide option of size-fitting. But if you're short like me, be prepared to accommodate for the length by tying high and wearing heels.

However, if you're looking to wear something a bit shorter, or if you're a more adventurous skirt-wrapper who isn't afraid to tie it on as a top with jeans or leggings (which is totally doable, by the way), this skirt also comes in a 20-24 inch length - although it does not have the usual choose-your-own option. The short length is surprise only. Another thing to note here is that with most lengths, the surprise version is obviously cheaper than the personally chosen version, because ... well, supply and demand, right?

One last point before I wrap this up (Ha! "Wrap this up." I'm so punny.) ... although this post does contain affiliate links (which mean I'll make a small commission on any sales generated here at no extra cost to you), this is not a sponsored post. I have not been paid to promote this product or brand, nor was I paid to have such a positive opinion. I genuinely do love these skirts, 100%. But shoutout to Wevez, from whom I would accept a sponsorship in about two seconds without even thinking about it.

Questions for the Comments Section:

  • What's your favorite article of clothing, and why?
  • I usually style these skirts simply - as a skirt with a basic tee and boots, or maybe as a halter dress with a shrug or cardigan and some cute flats. How would you wear this if you had one?

*Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click the links and choose to purchase the products promoted here, I will earn a small commission at no cost to you. However, all opinions expressed herein are 100% honest and 100% my own. Thanks for your support!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Friday Fantasy: My Happy Place

"The soul needs a happy place; let me introduce you to mine." (Click to Tweet!)

Edited to clarify: There seems to be some confusion in the comments - people are reading this and thinking that this post is what my life looks like. It's not. It's a fantasy - it's a wish, a mental place of happiness, a visualization. Someday, I hope to see it all in real life, but until then, it remains only a fantasy.

It's morning - everything is draped in filtered sunlight as I make my way through the house. I've been awake now for an hour, maybe 90 minutes, and the house is quiet. Peaceful.

I'm not sure where my girls are, but they must be grown up and gone; I feel nothing but peace despite their absence. The smell of fresh coffee reaches me, wafting toward me from the kitchen, and I run my fingers through hair still wet from the shower. The movement releases fragrance from my skin, and I smile to myself, remembering the long-gone years of my life as a ''low-maintenance" woman. There is a sense of satisfaction, a sense of completeness, which confirms to me that my children have grown. I walk past an empty bedroom, shaking my head ruefully, remembering ... something.

In the kitchen, the coffee is steaming prettily beneath the brewer; I add cream and sugar, listening to the sounds of my own movements as the world outside awakens. Birds begin to chirp in the backyard outside the kitchen window, and I watch them flitting back and forth - seeking their breakfast as I seek mine.

Within another half hour, my coffee, my breakfast, my laptop, and I are safely and peacefully settled on the back patio. I spear a strawberry, enjoying the sight of my dog frolicking in the yard. He's old now, and he doesn't frolic quite as enthusiastically as he once did ... but the smidgen of puppyhood that remains in his spirit sends him sniffing through the yard, following nose on trails neither of us can see.

He makes his way through the yard as I finish my breakfast - by the time my fruit is gone and my toast is only remembered by the crumbs on my plate and the lingering hint of cinnamon on my tongue, I've opened the laptop and started to work. By the time I break to head inside, retreating from the rising sun, the dog has found his place at my feet.

But before I close the door on this, before I make my way to a cozy couch in a clean, comfortably welcoming living room, I turn back to survey what I've worked so hard for:
  • A yard of my own, which will need endless mowing soon, but that's alright.
  • A garden, shriveled and sad from the ravages of winter, but already showing signs of hope for the summer to come.
  • A deck that I build with my own hands, fit to my own design and created to my specifications (With a contractor's supervision, of course. I didn't work this hard to get here and die on a faulty deck.), made ever more beautiful by the potted plants and the outdoor furniture.
This is the place I retreat to when I need peace, when I need solitude. Always, this place, this wooden deck on the back of a cozy little house, this sun-filled expanse of contentment. It feels happy, confident, satisfied. It feels ... mine.

Questions for the Comments Section:
  • Do you have a happy place in your mind, a place you retreat to when you need a place to escape, or simply a place that's all your own?
  • If you do, show me around. Tell me about your place in the comments.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thursday Thoughts: Life After Bloguary

This has been a super busy month for me so far, but I have to admit, I've loved it. I've made some new blog friends, found some other great new blogs to follow (which I'll be telling you about next week), had fun with exploring sponsorships and affiliate marketing, and created a TON of new content for this blog. And with all that going on, my oldest daughter turned thirteen, and my youngest had a minor but worrisome surgical procedure - the results of which we won't know until late next month.

I've still been attending therapy every week (except one), and adjusting to life as a single mom keeps getting better - but the truth is, life gets hard sometimes and in the midst of everything changing the way it has, something had to take a back burner.

My fiction writing stalled. I'm about 20-25% into a novel called Still Fighting For Freedom, and I haven't opened the file to work on it at all this month. It wasn't that I didn't want to, but with managing daily blogging, promoting each days posts, keeping up with my Patreon writing, and keeping my personal life in order, there simply wasn't time or energy to focus on a story that takes so much from me emotionally.

For those of you who might be new to this blog and don't yet know me as an author, Still Fighting For Freedom will be the second book in the Freedom Series, a series about a woman escaping a violent marriage. In the first book, you see the end of Christine Matthews's marriage to her husband Malachi, a man she fell for and married in a time of emotional weakness. The opening scenes are brutal - but they're an honest portrait of what domestic violence looks like, right on down to the "ridiculousness" of what led to those opening scenes.

I've had people tell me that they couldn't read Fighting For Freedom at all, or that they had to put it down for a while to take breaks because the content was so deep - or so personal. And that means everything to me as an author, because I so desperately want this story to be deep and to have a strong, irreversible impact on the people who read it. I want it to be hard to read, hard to take, hard to process ... hard to imagine.

Because it is hard to live in. Because it is hard to escape from. Because no one believes you. Because "someone else has it worse." Because "it's not really that bad." Because no one understands until they've been there. Because sometimes, even people who have been there no longer "get it" or can no longer understand what's it like.

Because in researching that book to be sure all the police work and terms were correct, I could only get two Knox County officers to talk to me - and even those only spoke with me under a promise of anonymity.


Because they don't want the world at large to know how helpless they feel in the face of this epidemic. Because they don't want the world at large talking about how hard it is to stop this. Because they don't want abusers taking advantage of how easy it is to get away with, because they don't want victims to stay too afraid to come forward.

Because no one understands until they've been there. 

I thought I understood - because I have been there. While I have kept many very personal stories to myself over the years, a great deal of the abuse I suffered as a child is no longer secret. The abuse I watched my mother suffer ... is no longer secret. And although to the best of my knowledge, the man who destroyed my mother's mind and body is now walking free in the streets again, WE ARE NO LONGER AFRAID. Fighting For Freedom was my way of speaking out, for the scared little girl I once was, for the wife I watched my mother struggle to be, for the graphic scenes of abuse that I learned at an early age - not from books or movies, but from the corner I would hide in as a child, watching my mother succumb to violent hands and uncontrollable outbursts.

And because of its personal nature, that book was hard to write. I drew from, and even directly used, memories from my own childhood - using things I saw to create the images portrayed, placing myself in my mother's shoes, imagining her fear, her terror ... and the spark of ferocity that made her choose life.

There are children in Fighting For Freedom, though they are not Christine's. In the Safe House she's taken to after those brutal opening scenes, Christine meets a woman named Naomi, a young single mother. Naomi has two children, a son and a daughter, both as damaged by their exposure to an abusive home as my older brother and I were. And while Christine's early experience is an echo of my mother's past weaknesses, Naomi is ... something of a tribute to her strength.

Still Fighting For Freedom continues Christine's story, but it's different - different because now I'm drawing from my own experiences, and while in many ways that makes the writing easier, in other ways it has become harder than anything I've ever done. I'm only a quarter of the way in, and I've written myself into a panic attack twice, cried more than I care to admit, and spent days in anguish, writing passages over and over to get them just right.

I want so desperately for this book to succeed, for this story to be told, for women all over the world who are just like Christine to be inspired and empowered. I want it so bad I can taste it.

Truthfully, the fear of this book not being everything I want it to be is probably one of the most terrifying things in my life right now - I feel like I've always been a writer, and I'll never do anything half as well as I do this. In general, I am a confident writer, and I believe with all of my heart that it's what I was born to do. But this story is just ... so personal. My stepfather wasn't the only violent, unpredictable person in my life. There were many more, and as I draw Christine's story out of the very depths of my own heart, I find sometimes that there's entirely too much raw material to choose from.

I think Bloguary was really just as much about challenging myself and growing this blog as I said it was. I think it was just as much about creating content and exercising my short-form non-fiction writing ability as I said it was.

But I think, too, that I was hiding from Christine. I think I wasn't ready to dig that deep, to pull that much from my soul, to splatter so many pages with the blood of my own experience.

Where I am in the story, Christine is struggling to rebuild after having to start over with virtually nothing. I have done that before - and I am in the sad process of doing it now. And because it is a novel meant to empower and inspire, she will succeed. But every word of her story, every step in her journey ... is coated with my own self-doubt. Will I succeed? Will I find my own way? Will I find my own kind of freedom again, after spending so many years without it?

I don't know.

And that's why it's been so hard to write this part of her story, the part where she's strong enough to win, the part where everything that's been so broken for her finally falls into place, the part where she becomes less of what I've been or what I am, and more of who I want someday for all women to believe they can be.

Bloguary let me run from her, let me hide from her story, let me pretend for a while that it wasn't still lurking inside me, writing itself in the dark places of my mind while I ignored it. But Bloguary is almost over, and I will have met the challenge. I will have accomplished the goal.

So what's next?

In February, I will turn 33 years old. In February, I will pull back only slightly from this blog, writing every other day instead of every day - while still maintaining the weekly themes and the same general lifestyle concept that I've become so comfortable with. I will continue to work with affiliates and I will continue to court sponsorships. I will unbox and review my very first Influenster VoxBox, which I'm excited enough about to be watching the mail every day like a child.

And I will make a serious, concerted effort to finish Still Fighting For Freedom. I promise - myself.

* If you enjoyed this post, please remember to share it so that others can enjoy it too - it means more to me than you could ever know, and it's super easy.

Questions For The Comments Section:

  • Have you read Fighting For Freedom? (If you haven't but you'd like to, the book is available in e-book and paperback - and the e-book is only $2.99! Click here for purchase links, and get yourself a copy of this great book!)
  • What did you think of Bloguary? I know it isn't over yet, but have you been following along? And if so, what posts did you like best?
  • Bloguary isn't over yet - have a great post idea you'd like me to write? Leave it in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

(Little) Woman Crush Wednesday: Thirteen.

Today, my oldest daughter turned thirteen. Thirteen. She's a teenager.

It's hard to imagine that the 20-inch, 8-lb infant daughter I once held so lovingly is now a 5-foot, three-inch, 120-pound young woman. She's tough and guarded, but she's got a soft side, too. She likes music and dance and art, and she even writes her own songs as a way to express her feelings. Funny how her middle name means "poet," and she grew up to be one. She loves her dog, and her baby sister. She loves to watch TV, she loves to play board games. But once upon a time, she was my baby,  unspeakably tiny little bundle with big blue eyes and a rosebud mouth.

From my journal, Tuesday May 30, 2006:
I used to write letters to my daughter. I would tell her how precious she is to me, how pretty she's getting. I'd tell her what her newest word was, what she'd been doing.

Now, my daughter is two and a half years old. She is three feet tall, and very petite. She's thin except for round cheeks that lift and perk with her smiles. She has a beautiful face with a pouting cupid's bow mouth and enormous blue eyes that are slightly slanted and thickly lashed.

She takes her panties all the way off when she goes to the potty, and because she is the one who puts them back on, they are often backwards and inside out. As a result, she wanders the apartment with the panties' tag hanging out beneath her navel, which is both innie and outie because they cut her umbilical too short. She always has at least one butt cheek hanging out, and an offer to help her fix it will offend her without fail.

She wears her favorite shoes all day, whether we leave the house that day or not, and her purple sunglasses are forever perched on the top of her blonde head. Her hair has never been cut or trimmed and it is thick but still baby fine and soft. It now reached almost to the middle of her back and she is super-proud of it. She turns willingly to have it brushed and then turns her back to everyone in the room saying, "See? Pretty!"

Her voice is high-pitched and sing-son like a sweet childhood melody and her giggles erupt from deep in her belly. They also are high-pitched and they frequently remind me of bird-song in the early mornings of spring.

Her back is smooth and straight; her stomach is already flat and somewhat chiseled. Her smile is quick, and open, and easy. Her moods are open, unhidden, and widely varied. Her favorite mood is unbridled joy, and her motto is, "Ah one dut," which means, "I want to do it!"

She is playful and my favorite thing to do is sit quietly in a corner and proudly observe what I have taught her. She can count to three but her phone number has been "six-six-five" for months now. She gently cradles her baby while she holds the phone so that "Baby" can talk, too. She loves to color and play dress-up; she's already learning to ride a real bike.

She is chatty and her vocabulary is large and varied, including words like "probably," "medicine," "poison," and "careful." She has learned her manners and she uses them; "please," "thanks," and "'cuse me." She is already using three to four word sentences on a regular basis, and her speech is getting clear enough that I rarely have to translate for her anymore.

My daughter loves pretending to read already and had a full shelf of books that she pages through on a daily basis. She caries a purse and tucks her baby in for the night. She cleans up after herself and loves to build her mommy a "big house" with her blocks. When we sit together to pray, the mention of the sacred name of Jesus is all it takes to have her bowing her head with eyes closed and hands folded.

From her pull-ups (for sleeping) to her bedroom theme, everything is all princess in our house ... just like my daughter.

Also from my journal, Saturday April 14, 2007:
Now my little one is a lot less little. She has figured out (mostly) how to get her panties on right, and if they aren't, she can now fix them herself. We have seen the end of the bellybutton/panties-tag era.

She is now something I never thought she could be ... even more opinionated! And even more beautiful. I love the way she stands up for herself now, no longer afraid to say things like, "Well, that ain't FAIR!" I can't help but be proud of her new ability to stand up for herself, to let people know when she thinks they are wrong, and that she won't stand quietly by when she or someone she loves is being mistreated.

She still cleans up after herself, and has had the potty thing down for a while now. She's probably still the same size she was a year ago, maybe slightly bigger, but she seems so much bigger now ... maybe it's just her presence that's bigger - it certainly isn't her body. My precious daughter is still about three feet tall, at just over three years old, and is still hovering around 30 pounds. She still has the same big blue eyes.

The face that was once hers had changed now; it has grown up with her and now shows a bit of her maturity. The chubby cheeks have almost given way, leaving behind a tiny little button nose and the same little mouth, sporting its little cupid's bow. The eyes are more expressive now, more mature. There is intelligence shining out of them always, and curiosity, and understanding. She still has the long hair, though she has now had her first trim. She's still so proud of her hair, and the best way to get her still to have it washed or brushed is for me to throw my hands up and say, "Well, then, let's just cut it off."

Next week, she'll almost officially be a "preschooler."

She's learned to bathe herself, almost learned to brush her own teeth, and can just about dress herself. She still has that sing-song voice, always so cheerful and perky, and her chirpy little-girl giggle are pure magic. She loves to play Mommy to anyone who will allow it; she loves dress-up and make-up.

She is a little artist in the making, and loves to color all day long! She is a story-teller, a song-writer, a care-taker, fiercely loyal to those she loves.

She's more chatty now than before, and her vocabulary has grown exponentially. Sometimes this is good, as she has learned new words to be proud of, such as "asinine" and "example" - sometimes it's something to be ashamed of, since her vocabulary also includes words like "shithead" ... but whose doesn't?

It's funny how so many things about her have changed now. She's no longer blonde, and her blue eyes have gone green (just like one of mine). She doesn't read as much, and she doesn't play with baby dolls much anymore. She doesn't say "shithead" - at least, not when I'm listening. But so many things have not changed, too - from her inner sense of independence to her eternal curiosity, to her spitfire temper and the way she always has something to say. She's still a fashionista, and sometimes she's still wildly proud of her gorgeous mane of thick curls.

This girl is growing up, finding her own way, becoming her own person - and she's doing it in a world so much different than the one I grew up in. She's navigating different waters, and she's doing it (mostly) with grace. She's a magnet for troubled kids, because beneath her crunchy-candy protective shell, she's got a soft heart that still bleeds for the sick, the sad, and the lost - and my heart? Well, it bleeds too - with pride.

She's a teenager now, just a hair taller than me, with strong legs and and an even stronger spirit. But she's still my firstborn - still the same unimaginably and indescribably incredible person she always had the potential to become. Still very much her mommy's little princess.

Just ... don't tell her that - because as she enters her teen years with lightning quickness and sizable enthusiasm, she already fancies herself a queen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Truthful Tuesday: Four Truths & A Lie, Part II

Last week, I invited you to play a game with me, a game in which I told you five statements about myself. One of those statements, I said, would be a lie - and your guess about which statement was the untruth would be your ticket to a chance to win a $10 Amazon giftcard. But first, I gave you a warning, a warning that turned out to be very necessary.

What was the warning? Well, it was:

And just to recap, the five statements given in this game were:
  1. I've written eight books.
  2. I can't get drunk even if I try.
  3. I have Heterochromia Iridum.
  4. I won a hula hooping contest when I was in high school.
  5. I got out of a ticket once by using someone else's name.

There were some funny guesses for this game, both in the rafflecopter entries and in the actual post comments. It was funny to look not only at the answers given as guesses in this game, but at the reasons people gave for their answers. There were a good number of correct guesses - and just as many incorrect ones, because I tried to think of statements that all sounded like they'd be perfect lies. It was really fun to think of the statements for this game, and it was equally fun asking my kids for their input on what sorts of statements I should use.

But really, what we're all here for today is the breakdown of which were true and which one was the lie - right? So here we go:
  1. I've written eight books. TRUE. You can find out more about my books and my writing here.
  2. I can't get drunk even if I try. TRUE. I did try a few years ago, just to see if I could. I had noticed in the months and years leading up to that, that when I drink wine, beer, shots, mixed drinks, etc., that I rarely even get a good buzz. So I set out to get full-on, completely drunk, which is undoubtedly a stupid experiment, but I did it nonetheless. And while I did FINALLY get a buzz after the third strong Long Island Iced Tea, the next three STILL didn't have me anything more than buzzed. And I wasn't exactly sipping slowly, either. I can also drink wine by the liter when I want to, with no other effect than a sense of sleepy relaxation that sets in after the second glass but doesn't get any worse with additional glasses. Ironically, this has actually led to me drinking less. I drink wine maybe twice a week at the most often, and once glass before bed is enough to help me get to sleep. I rarely drink more than that these days, because what's the point?
  3. I have Heterochromia Iridum. TRUE. This is really just a fancy way of saying that my eyes aren't both the same color. The effect is somewhat less pronounced these days than it used to be, but I have one eye that's pretty clear blue, and one that's a little more greenish-blue, with a bit of hazely greenish-brown surrounding the pupil. Some people have this to a much greater extent, such as Kate Bosworth - mine is more along the subtle lines of the way it effects Mila Kunis's eye colors.
  4. I won a hula hooping contest when I was in high school. FALSE. Even when I was a skinny little girl with tons of energy and exactly the "right" shape, for some reason, I could never keep a hula hoop from falling. I could do it on my wrists, or on my neck, or even on my ankle ... but I could never ever do it at the waist. I still can't.
  5. I got out of a ticket once by using someone else's name. TRUE. I'll keep this story to myself though - at least for now. But if you really want a story about me in my troublemaker days, feel free to check this one out.

And now, with the question of the day answered and behind us, who won the contest? Who gets the giftcard? The answer to that question, my friends, is in the Rafflecopter below.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to enter this contest, and who made the extra effort to help me share it around!

Questions for the Comments Section:
  • Were you surprised about which statement was a lie?
  • Were any of my statements true for you?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Motivation Monday: Believe In Yourself

Bob Ross was an icon whose paintings were breathtaking, whose style was always positive, whose afro knew no bounds. This amazing talent hosted The Joy of Painting for 31 seasons, during which he painted hundreds of masterpieces and inspired millions of people to explore and embrace the magic of creating art. When he died from lymphoma in 1995, he left behind a family and a life well-lived - but he also left behind a legacy of positive energy and determined happiness for those who loved his work.

"The secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it. Anything that you believe you can do strong enough, you can do. Anything. As long as you believe." - Bob Ross  (Tweet This!)

As a writer, I relate so strongly to his wish for a better, happier world. He was once asked why he painted such "happy worlds," why he so loved "big fluffy clouds" and "happy little trees," and his answer was an unabashed and completely unashamed explanation. He said simply, "That's why I paint. It's because I can create the world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it."

"Anything we don't like, we'll turn it into a happy little tree or something, because as you know, we don't make mistakes, we just have happy little accidents." - Bob Ross  (Tweet This!)

He believed in himself, and he believed in his art - so much so that he chose to share it with others for 31 seasons of teaching his favorite strategies. But Boss Ross's great strategy of confidence and belief in oneself harkens back to an older generation, back to a man of power and influence even greater than that of the lowly American painter - Theodore Roosevelt.

"Believe you can, and you're halfway there." - Theodore Roosevelt  (Tweet This!)

Theodore Roosevelt was an author, a soldier, an explorer. He became President largely by accident, searching for reform in New York until the surrounding politicians, distrusting and frustrated with his determination, pushed him into place as the Vice President under President William McKinley - solely to get him out of the way. But it was McKinley's assassination in 1901 that gave Teddy Roosevelt his first real taste of Presidential power.

He was the 26th President of the United States of America, and it was during his tenure as President that acts were first passed to regulate the production and quality of American meat and medicinal drug labeling. Teddy Roosevelt was a conservationist as well, and is credited with the establishment of protection for over 200 million acres of land designated for use as national parks, monuments, forests, and wildlife reservations - but perhaps his greatest accomplishment was the treaty that ultimately ended the Russo-Japanese war, a feat that made him the first American to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

But it wasn't superhuman power that made him the success that he was - it was his simple belief that if he stayed the course and kept pushing toward his goals with tenacity and confidence, then he could change the world. And he did.

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." - Theodore Roosevelt  (Tweet This!)

Theodore Roosevelt was a man many people didn't trust, a man many people didn't truly believe in until there was no other choice than to stand behind him. But he was also a powerful man with a vision, a man with a fire in his spirit, a man with a sense of strong patriotism that led him to serve our country in various ways for the majority of his life.

More importantly, and in a way that applies much more strongly to today's average everyday human, one thing that both Bob Ross and Teddy Roosevelt had in common was this philosophy:

And in the end, what it boils down to is the everyday, real-life application of this simple tenet: "Magic is believing in yourself. If you can do that, you can make anything happen." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

So go out there and tackle this week with strength and confidence, believing that what you have to offer the world is something great, something productive, something powerful, something of value. Believe it - because only in the power of your own belief, does your potential come to life.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Storytime Saturday: I Almost Got Arrested.

This blog has been a huge part of my career - and my life - for the last four years. It has become a record of my publishing journey, and as it moves more toward lifestyle topics, it's becoming something so much more than the part of my life that revolves around my love of books.

I've talked about my kids here, talked a little about my relationship with their dad, talked about some of my closest and deepest friendships. I've talked about my mother and her health, talked about my Grandmother and how hard it is on our family to watch her decline. I've talked about abuse, and some of the more grisly things that I've lived through. I've even talked about my depression, my anxiety, my struggles with realizing I had PTSD, and my decision to go into therapy.

I've gotten to know so many amazing people through the avenue of my writing here, and I've been so grateful to see some of my readers genuinely become friends.

But I haven't gotten really super personal.

Today, I am. Today ... I'm gonna tell you how I almost got arrested.

BACKSTORY: I wasn't really allowed to start driving until I was about seventeen because ... I don't know, I guess my mom thought if she let me behind the wheel of a car, the world would end. I had driven a few times before, most of which went well (Jessica Schmidt, I stand by my story, so don't you be commenting here and puttin' me on blast, mmkay? Love you girl.), including the time I had to drive my mom home from the hospital once. So I got my license at seventeen, took forever to stop being scared of driving. Got married, had a baby, you know the drill.

Okay, so.

By the time I was nineteen, I was a newlywed with a baby and a handful of marital problems. I won't go into all of that here, but on this particular day, I happened to be driving home from an appointment. I had the baby in the backseat, we were on the way to pick up my husband from work (we shared one car - an ancient Buick that was 50 shades of grey way before that was cool and had such a badly bent frame that if we went through a car wash, we got rained on through opening above the driver's side door). All was well.


You know that sense of terror that fills you when you're driving along and all is well, and then there are flashing blue lights behind you? For me, it doesn't even matter if all my papers are in order, my seat belt is safely fastened, my phone is safely tucked into my purse, which is safely tucked on the floor between the front seats. It doesn't matter if I actually have shoes on that day so I know they can't even "get me" for that. It doesn't matter - I see those lights behind me, hear that piercing "WOOP-WOOP!" and suddenly have my heart lodged so firmly in my throat that I'm afraid I'll choke to death on it.

And y'all know I have panic disorder, right? So part of having panic disorder is living with constant anxiety - it's like you're stuck in fight-or-flight mode and for me, sometimes even sleep doesn't turn it off. Like literally, I have midnight panic episodes that literally wake me from a dead sleep, totally unprovoked. So anyway, another part of this is the tendency toward catastrophic thinking. I'm better about it these days, or at least, better at not reacting to it as strongly - but that day, I was a nineteen year old new mom with a troubled marriage and a lot of problems.

Oh, and I had already been pulled over for various offenses so many times it's entirely possible that my fear in that moment was legitimate.

So I pull over, deep breathing, looking at my baby in the rearview mirror. And I know it's gonna be the last time I see her because when this cop comes to the window, he's gonna have a really good reason to "get me" - even though I haven't done anything wrong this time. It doesn't even matter. I'm going to jail. My junker will be impounded. My baby will end up in the foster system or something - and of course that means something horrible will happen, or maybe she'll even die because she has a heart defect and Lord knows I am the only person ON THIS PLANET qualified to deal with that. And my husband is a drug addict - he is so not equipped to handle this. Plus our marriage is rocky anyway - he might just leave me in there. In a cell, where I'll have to find some idiot and make her my bitch so that I don't end up having to be someone else's bitch.

So the officer comes up to my car, does the lean-down thing, and peers at me, eyebrows raised. I still vividly remember those dark eyebrows. I tried to swallow my heart, but couldn't because my stomach had come right up behind it. He asked for my license, etc; I handed it over.

He asked me to get out of the car.

At this point, it's a miracle I haven't shit myself in fear, you guys. There's not a lot of reasons that a cop asks you to get out of your car. So I'm shaking like a leaf on the inside, but outwardly, I'm still keeping it together. I'm cool. I got this. I haven't done anything wrong. It's gonna be okay.


He crosses his arms, informs me that I was going 8 miles over the speed limit, looks pointedly into my car at the baby sleeping in the backseat, and asks me where I was headed. I told him the truth - I hadn't realized I was going that fast and I was sorry (boy, was I sorry), and I was just trying to get back from my appointment in time to pick my husband up from work.

And he said, "You know I could take you to jail right now right?"

I said, "What? What for?"

And he looked at me as if I had literally just popped out of space without a brain in my head, and he said, "You're driving on a suspended license. You can't drive on a suspended license. It's suspended."

I'm not even kidding, my mouth fell open just like they do in the cartoons. And I panicked a little. Lost control of my filter and my ability to stop words from falling off my tongue without permission. Naturally, I responded with a smirking, "What? No it's not."

After which, it was his turn to look surprised. Here I am, probably obviously terrified, shaking like a leaf, and he likely expected me to start crying or something like girls do on Cops if they think it'll help. And my boneheaded ass comes back with an argument. "No it's not." Not once, not twice, but three times, because he said, "Yes, it is," and I said, "No, I'm sure it's not."

It took him so much by surprise that I think it made him doubt himself. He said, "Hang on, don't move," and stalked back to his car, talking into the radio on his shoulder. I waited, trying to think of what could have happened.

When I first got my license, I wasn't the very best driver. I was an anxious and watchful driver, probably too much so. So when I'd be driving down the road in the right lane and I'd see a car coming towards me in the left lane, it took me a good six months or so to train myself not to come to a DEAD STOP until that car had passed. Intersections were a riot. But by the time I had the baby, I had calmed down a lot; still, I was a new mom and very aware of the fragility of my offspring, thus I was generally very careful.

Except for this one little stretch of road that went right past St. Mary's Church in Oak Ridge, TN. The church also runs a school, which meant that during the 8 o'clock hour - the hour during which I often drove my husband to work, quickly because we were often running late - that particular stretch was a school zone. Down from 25 mph to 15, right? Must drive slowly and watch for munchkins?

So if you go through there at 8:35 knowing that school has already started and you get clocked going 30+ mph a few too many times, especially if you do it without a seat belt on now and then, and then in the process of paying off all the tickets one gets lost and therefore left unpaid ... well, you get your license suspended.

You may or may not be made aware of this in a timely fashion.

So you may or may not end up standing on the side of road on a dead stretch between Clinton and Oak Ridge, too surprised to stop yourself from arguing with an officer about the validity of your driver's license, thinking of how utterly disappointed your parents are going to be when they find out that now you've got a record. And got your only car impounded. And you daughter picked up by social services. And who knows what else.

The officer found it a lot more amusing than I did. He let me go with a warning to go get my husband and have him do the driving until everything got straightened out. Then he patted my shoulder awkwardly when I burst into relieved tears, sent me on my way, and probably spent the rest of the day in hysterics, thinking of the idiot kid he'd pulled over that afternoon.

So there you have it - the story of the time I almost got arrested. And, very possibly, the reason I STILL get my heart totally lodged in my throat EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I see flashing blue lights.

You're welcome. And now I'm off to make myself a drink, because I need one after sitting down to remember that. Or possibly, I just really enjoy a nice glass of wine. Either way.

Questions for the Comments Section:

  • Have you ever been arrested? Or just almost arrested? What happened? Is that too personal?
  • What other #StorytimeSaturday topics would you like to see?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday Funnies: Phteven

Advance warning: All photos in this post (aside from my signature graphic) are pulled from Google. If you can't stand people using photos from Google, feel free to not look at Phteven. If you know the original source of any photo shown here, leave it in the comments and I'll add a link/credit in that photo's caption.

So let me ask you: do you know this dog?

His name is Tuna, and he's a Chihuahua-Dachsund ("chiweenie," apparently - but I can't say that without laughing because I'm twelve) mix that first came into my life and stole my heart several years ago. See, he's got a bit of an overbite, and it's ... well, it's funny. There's just no getting around it - and even if I feel bad for laughing (which I do because the compromised structure of his mouth probably limits him in several ways), I still laugh Every. Single. Time. I set eyes on anything to do with this dog.

Tuna has an Instagram account, an international following, a wall calendar - he even got a book deal with Blink Publishing! His zest for life (along with his comedic overbite and adorable wrinkly neck/chin) has stolen the hearts of people all over the world - but the truth is, it isn't just the way his life's adventure is portrayed by his owner that keeps people coming back for more. And that isn't what made him famous either. At least, not only.

People in general tend to humanize everything, from lions to tigers to horses. We did it with Black Beauty, a story that gives human thought, emotion, and feeling to a horse, telling his life story in much the way we would tell the story of a man of his era. We did it with Winnie-The-Pooh and the Very Hungry Caterpillar. We did it with the Lion King, the Jungle Book, the Aristocats. We did it with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We do it with our pets, too, imagining the things they would say if they had human voices, giving feeling to their actions, trying to make them relatable to what we are as humans. And we've done it with Tuna the dog.

You almost can't help it - look at this face and you can just hear the lisp. You can't not hear it - and you have no choice but to love it. And ohmygosh, the memes ... you can't even look at them without hearing what they say, with that lisp, playing in your mind. Or at least, I can't. In fact, I've got a folder full of my favorite Phteven memes in my phone, and they never fail to get me laughing again when I'm having a rough day.

I looked through them several times on Wednesday when I was struggling to keep my composure. I kept Jo out of school while Eden had the second in a series of surgical eardrum repair surgeries, because I wasn't sure I'd be done at the hospital in time to pick her up from school; this was good because it meant I was free to (mostly) focus on Eden while she was nervous and needed my attention, and I didn't feel the need to rush out of the hospital before Eden was quite ready to go. But it was hard too, because I couldn't be anything less than cool about everything, knowing that my children were both watching me for cues on how to react to what was going on.

In the past, I've gone alone to things like this, resting in the certainty that the girls's dad was available to pick up or attend to whichever child was not the current focus. It gave me pause, gave me clarity, and gave me security. I could keep my focus where it belonged without feeling guilty for "neglecting" the other child. Most importantly, I could always tell myself that all I had to do was "make it til they take her" and then if I needed to break down for a minute, I could.

It worked when Joey had heart surgery when she was four. It worked when Eden had her tonsils and adenoids removed when she was six. It worked when Eden had the first ear surgery. It even worked when my mother was panicking before her partial hip replacement last year. It has always worked.

But this time was different because I was alone - but I wasn't alone. I was on my own, in charge of all the details and all the paperwork, in charge of all the timing and the planning and preparation. I had no one to hold my hand or spell me if I needed to slip away to gather my thoughts. But I was also in charge of both children, in charge of keeping it together and maintaining an unafraid pretense so that my children wouldn't worry. I was on my own, and it was my job to keep things calm.

So I stuck it out. I laughed at the appropriate times, signed all the necessary papers, and turned my face away from my children to blink away the tears that bloomed when I signed the anesthesia consent acknowledging the risk of accidental death. I held Eden's hand when she was scared, and returned Joey's hugs when she was scared. And I pretended that I wasn't.

Of course, it all turned out fine, otherwise Tuna's Phteven memes would be the very last thing on my mind. But since everything did go so well, I thought it necessary to acknowledge the way Phteven helped me keep my spirits up on Wednesday afternoon when all the drugs got the best of Eden and she spent the evening trapped in a string of panic attacks that just kept coming. So, without further ado:

 But if Phteven isn't cute or hilarious enough, or if you're heartless and you can't love Phteven, he always has his friends to keep him company.

Phtewart is a real delight, can you tell? But Phteven and Phtewart have another friend, too - he doesn't have a real name though. He's just one of those cool guys that goes by what he is, like Tiny or Butch or Prince. Or:

Snort. That last one literally makes me laugh every single time I see it. It never gets old. That, and the phnophlakes - pretty sure I spit out coffee the first time I ever saw that one. But that's enough of Phteven and his phriends. I've gotta go - nursing/mom duty calls.

Questions for the Comments Section:

  • What do you think of Tuna and the Phteven meme phenomenon?
  • What other funnies would you love to see featured here?
  • What one thing never fails to make you laugh?

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