Monday, July 31, 2017

Motivation Monday: My Summer Morning Routine

A few months ago, I posted a "day in my life" blog that followed me through an average school morning with the girls. I wrote about the challenges of me not being a morning person while raising two morning people, the extra challenge of those little people waking up every day not conveniently already boosted by their ADHD meds (and don't tell me it's not real either - I used to think that too until God started laughing and gave me these kids), and the way those things work against the rough edges of how PTSD impacts me personally on a daily basis. I wrote about what a relief it is to finally find my few minutes alone after dropping the kids off at school, especially as the transition to life as a single mom largely with an absentee co-parent became ... well. Exhausting.

So how do I change it up with summer upon us?
There's no dropping the kids off at school, and due to me not thinking ahead, there was no summer camp either. I'm a broke single mom struggling to make ends meet without much outside help, I'm building a brand largely by myself (or I was until just recently), and I'm still struggling to take care of my own mental health and wellbeing. To top it off, I don't have an awful lot of local sources of support in the way of friendships and family - my mom is too sick and lives almost an hour away, so does my cousin, and all my best friends are childhood friends that I'm still close to despite the fact that we now live all over the country.

Time to innovate.
Or more like, time to look at every moment of my day, assess them, and choose some that can belong only to me. Because otherwise, I'll go stark-raving mad and turn into a very bad sort of mommy. Overworked and underpaid, indeed.

During the school year, I'm considerably more strict about things like bedtime and wake-up time - because I must be. My kids are in bed most nights at seven, because they need some downtime or they can't fall asleep. They read and sometimes talk quietly until about eight, and that's "lights out" time for them - it gives them time to themselves to pray or think as they wind down for bed. In the end, the way it tends to work out is that Eden is asleep by around 8:15-8:30, and Joey is out by around 8:45-9:00. Another benefit of keeping them both on the same time is that no one is keeping anyone else awake by being loud elsewhere. This sets them up for a good night's sleep - and an early wake-up. During the school year, they're up at six and expected to be ready for school by 7:15, or 7:30 at the latest.

But in the summer, that sort of goes out the window. They wake up when they wake up, and we go to bed whenever the evening wraps up - or whenever I "can't take any more of this DAY!" Generally, this is anywhere between 7:30 and midnight. In general though, I try to get them to bed by around 9 or 10, because that leaves me an hour or two to myself. I spend this time listening to podcasts, watching youtube, reading - or writing, if there's a deadline I'm in danger of not meeting. Usually, this is when I'm able to give some focus to adult conversation too, so it's when I'm actively messaging friends and family, catching up with what we're up to.

And in the daytime? Well, in the daytime, I'm just making my way from one minute to the next - with varying degrees of coping skills and productivity. On the good days, when the kids behave and play well together, when I can focus and concentrate, when the words come to me almost as if by magic, then I spend my non-momming moments scheduling social media posts and writing blogs or Patreon writings, meeting one deadline at a time, aided by a calendar I would be helpless without. It sounds busy and maybe even tedious when put that way - but it is the one thing in my life that's truly fulfilling aside from my work as a mother. But even the good days are tinged with the screen of PTSD - I'm careful to avoid triggers, I'm watchful and exhausted, hypervigilant and overly cautious. I live by lists and schedules, and single motherhood only makes it all more overwhelming, even on the good days.

On the bad days, I'm thankful if on the good days I was able to get myself a little ahead of deadlines. It's an ebb and flow, with a guarantee of both good days and bad ones - and a certain pressure to make the good days count because they're outnumbered by the bad. On the bad days, when my kids are extra hyper and extra combative with each other, when Joey's full of teen sass and Eden's anxieties are on high alert, when they're suffering because their dad has come and gone from their lives again, picking them up and then discarding them at will, when motherhood stands in the way of writing because I love my children and they must come first ... when I can't focus and words won't come, when financial stress and loneliness hit me, when I'm so depressed I'm too bored to even eat ... then I wait when I can, and I force one shaking foot in front of the other when waiting isn't an option. If there's a deadline standing in the way of a mental health break, I force myself through, figure out how to plan better for next time, and schedule myself some downtime - even if the only way to get that downtime is to get up early.

Mornings, Ugh!
I am not a morning person. I'm just not. Or perhaps more accurately, I am not a morning people person. I don't want to be spoken to, touched, or expected from, and the only person I tolerate well on a face-to-face basis in the morning is my dog. I can do messaging, and I usually have my phone in my hand first thing in the morning, answering things that came to me while I slept (or attempted to sleep) the night before. This works because I can do it on my time, in accordance with my tolerance level. In general though, I need time to wake myself up mentally every day, to acclimate to the world I live in.

You can see where this might be a problem for a mother of two ADHD morning people people. So in the summertime, I get up early anyway, even as my children celebrate their break from getting up early. And aside from my usual wake-up time, it looks like this:

7:00 AM: The alarm goes off, vibrating softly against the table next to my head. If this doesn't work, it gets more persistent, ringing slowly louder and louder until I wake up panicked at the sound and slap it into silence.

7:05 AM: I'm out of bed, bleary-eyed and praying that Chance won't start doing his very vocal yawning thing that tells me he's ready to get up and go outside for a pee. I'm ready for one too, but I don't tell him that because I'm trying to be quiet and not set off the mom-dar that tells the girls I'm awake so they must get up and get hyper. I love them, but at 7:05 I'm praying they won't do either of those things. I put my pants on in silence, one eye on what I'm doing and one eye on the dog, eyebrow lifted in silent pleading instruction to keep quiet.

7:10 AM: By this time I'm on the back porch, greeting the birds and the sun and God himself while Chance greets the morning grass with an enthusiastic washing away of the morning dew. We're still in silence for the most part, and this is the only part of my day where I feel alone and actually enjoy it. On the porch, I activate my phone's screen to start answering messages and checking notifications while I wait for Chance. If I leave him out there alone too long, he barks.

7:30 AM: I'm back in the house. Chance has done his business and is on the couch, quietly waiting for the girls to wake up. I'm at the dining room table with my laptop, tablet, and phone, as well as my Jesus Calling (Morning and Evening) Devotional, my water, and my (recently added) bottles of LoveBug Probiotics. I start every morning with LoveBug now, and then get going on trying to reach my 100-ounce water goal.

7:35 AM: Time to check my deadline schedule. On a good day, I check in with confidence and then get going on whatever is due next, whether that's a refill of my social media, a new blog post for you guys, or a new Patreon something for the Undaunted community who steps up every month to help support my writing. This is done with a sense of gratitude and pride - in general, I was a child who felt unheard, and I have been a woman who felt unwanted and discarded. Writing is such a beautiful way for me to express myself in a way that allows people who care to appreciate what I'm saying, while allowing people who don't to move on - I'm so grateful every day for this gift. But on the bad days, I look at that schedule with helpless confusion and hopeless defeat, uncertain of the future and haunted by the past. Either way, I have to try - so whatever's next, I come at it as best I can.

Sometime between 7:40 and 10:30 in the morning, one or the other (or both) of the girls will wake up and come downstairs, wanting drinks and hugs and breakfast and attention - and to be counted as first. When I'm ahead of deadlines, I give them that right that minute. I take my fingers from the keyboard and I turn to them. I greet them lovingly if not always with 100% welcome, and I smile to myself because now I understand why my Grandmother used to always sigh with frustration when I woke up early. If I can get back to writing after that and finish what I needed to write for the day, then I do. If not, then I come back throughout the day when I can.

The routine itself varies, with some things fitting perfectly one day and not so perfectly the next, with things rearranged and ordered in the way that best fits that individual day and how that day is influenced by the individuals that are part of it. Either way, the morning routine will almost always, almost without fail, be 97% guaranteed to include the following:

  • Coffee. I drink one cup every morning, strong. It used to always be Folgers Gourmet Selections in the Mocha Swirl, but since Folgers lied to me and I can't ever seem to find it anymore, I'm currently drinking Wal*Mart's Great Value brand in Mocha. It's not quite as good, but it isn't hiding from me, either - still, if Folgers wanted to remedy this situation by sending me the lifeblood which we commonly refer to as coffee ... well. I wouldn't send it back, now would I? (Please address coffee packages in care of the Smartass at PO Box 12035, Knoxville, TN 37912.) 
  • Water. Because if I'm gonna reach that 100-ounce goal on anything even resembling a regular basis, I have to start early.
  • Jesus Calling. I don't read this every day unfailingly, but I'm trying to build the habit. I like the way God uses it to poke fun at me now and then, or to tell me something I've been asking about. Which brings me to ...
  • My Rosary practice. I'm not always great at doing this daily yet either, but I'm getting better and better about it, slowly and surely. I'm not Catholic, so I don't necessarily use the specific prayers of the Catholic rosary - but I DO use a Catholic rosary necklace that I beaded myself. One day I'm going to buy myself this beautiful one that's made of sterling silver and amethyst beads (my birthstone) - but today is not that day, and that's why it's just waiting on my wishlist right now. Anyway, I have a set of prayers that I chose for myself, and in my practice, I'm working to memorize those - they're very helpful in a meditative sort of way, and they help to keep me focused so that I don't start out praying and end up at Wal*Mart buying hot dogs for dinner.
  • Yoga. I've been wanting to get back into a regular yoga practice for a while now, and I recently found just the thing to get me (and Eden) up and moving. When the routine we're currently loving gets old, I'll find us another and then we'll alternate those until we're ready to add a third. Eventually when I know and am comfortable with enough poses to feel like I can create my own routine, I will.
  • Protein. At least once a day, I'll open and enjoy a Core Power protein shake. If I'm having liquid breakfast with my water and coffee (because apparently I secretly actually WANT to drown myself?), then I drink either an 8-ounce chocolate (that's 18 grams of protein!) or strawberry-banana one. If I'm indulging in a sweet breakfast but want to at least pretend I'm being healthy, then I'll use a vanilla one as milk and pour it over cereal - which works well because they're actually made of milk anyway.
Sounds so organized, doesn't it? Like a great morning routine where everything's all put together and just right? All set for a productive day, right? 

Yeah. But then there's ...

The Part You Don't See From The Outside
As organized as I like my routines to be, and as hard as I try to keep them steady and dependable and trigger-free, the truth is, I don't live alone in a cave in the woods in the middle of nowhere. Other people are part of my day, and even though they're family-type people that I'm mostly used to and generally prepared to be around, they're still people with their own rough edges and their own triggers and their own quirks. Sometimes there's drama. Sometimes there's tension. Sometimes words are said or things are done, and sometimes feelings are hurt which must be soothed. Sometimes the "morning" routine must be worked around constant interruption and then it takes all day long. Sometimes I wake up in a PTSD fog, and it takes me an hour of that "morning" routine just to convince myself to make my first cup of coffee.

But whether the morning routine takes three hours or nine, you can bet I'm working on it. It's the beginning of a little productivity trick I like to use called "habit stacking" - partly because it gives me a solid routine to build each day on, and partly because doing things in that way helps me combat my tendency to forget just about everything all the time.

Wow, this is a LONG post! If you've read far enough to be reading this, thanks for sticking around!

Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is Skechers Shoes. I'm usually a barefoot kind of girl, and when I can find a reason to not wear shoes, you can bet I won't be wearing them. It means working extra hard to take care of my feet, but I'll take that trade in the value of comfort and freedom. Maybe it's the central Florida redneck I was raised as, or maybe it's the east Tennessee hillbilly I've embraced becoming. It's definitely not anything to do with being a hilljack of any kind - those hilljacks are a bunch of pretentious bastards.

Anyway, school's starting and winter's coming, which means my family has been in the market for shoes. And when I'm wearing shoes, I'm wearing Skechers. Currently, my Skechers are from the Flex Appeal line, and I love how lightweight they are while still being supportive enough for the foot I broke back in the spring of (I think) 2012. I love them for the girls, too!

Skechers: Get the perfect pair of shoes at SKECHERS! Shop the latest casual & performance styles for men, women, and kids now!

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
Since this post was such a long one, I'm going to attempt to keep this outro short and sweet - wish me luck with that!

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In the meantime, my brand is built on the concept of what I write and who I'm writing it for. "Love Stories and Lifestyle for the Undaunted Woman." But what's an undaunted woman? Click here to find out more about what it means to be undaunted and how you can nominate your favorite undaunted woman to be interviewed - right here on the blog!

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday Feels: July

Last month I started a new monthly segment here on the blog: Friday Feels. It came from an idea to merge two other bloggers' great ideas - but of course, with my own self-love and mental health twist added in. (Real the full intro to the series and the very first Friday Feels here.) The general idea of what I came up with was to take the feelings I'd been living with a lot at that time, list them out, and then share about what things in my life were sending those feelings my way.

This time I thought it would be more fun (and lend a deeper sense of exploration to my time writing the post) if I used totally random feelings, and talked about what's going on in my life in that way. But I like to think I know me pretty well, and I knew that if I just picked ten "random" feelings off the top of my head, they would be exactly what they were last month - my most-felt and not necessarily randomly chosen feelings. Better to go another way if I wanted to be truly random in my choice.

Next I debated coming to you guys and posting something on social media, asking y'all to suggest feelings I could delve into with this post - but judging by the number of page views as compared reader comments both here and on social media ... well ... the thing is? Y'all be lurkin'. So I kinda had the feeling that if I did that, no one would answer (except for that one company that follows me on Instagram and leaves one of about four possible comment variations on about every 3rd-5th post I put up, #SpammersAintSoCleverAfterAll) and I'd be right back to where I started.

So I googled a random feeling generator, clicked on this page, refreshed it ten times, and came up with the following:

1. Accepting:
It's kind of perfect that this particular emotion came up, as I've been working so much lately on simply being more accepting of whatever I happen to be feeling. I tend to kick myself when I have negative emotions, and years of being told how "negative" I am has really given me a certain weirdness over my emotions in general. Exposure to toxic narcissism over the years left me feeling afraid and ashamed of my emotions for a long time, particularly any negative emotion. If I was sad I was "being negative," if I was outwardly angry I was "acting crazy," if I was hurt or afraid of getting hurt again I was "not letting things go." It's taking me some work now to remember that emotion is a healthy thing - all of it.

2. Alarmed:
One of the people who triggers my PTSD in a huge way (partly because he is one of the people who took part in my developing it) is my kids's dad - I am an abandoned daughter in a lot of ways, and now that I'm raising two mostly-abandoned daughters, their dad is a major sore spot for me. I would have liked for us to be able to co-parent in a civil way, remembering to respect each other as people even if we aren't compatible as a couple. I would have settled for us being able to co-parent at all because we're both still parents of these two kids. But it just hasn't worked out that way, and as he walks in and out of our daughter's lives without a care for how it impacts them as young women, I'm alarmed as I think of the days to come - when they will seek out their own romantic partners, influenced by the examples they have seen.

3. Cautious:
Caution is a part of PTSD. Caution is that thing that kicks in when the fight-or-flight response is triggered; it's what makes us so able to think through things quickly, discovering and discarding possible scenarios dependent upon our actions and reaction. These days, I'm cautious about everything, from my interaction with friends and romantic interests to my parenting techniques and who I choose to work with, both publicly and behind the scenes. I'm cautious about what I eat, how much I drink, where and when and how I spend money. I'm cautious as I walk through a parking lot no matter what time of day it is, when I walk up and down the stairs of the house we live in, when I pull into an intersection. Part of this is PTSD - the hypervigilance and hyperawareness that are constant parts of my everyday existence. But another part of this is simply knowing that I'm all my children have - that they need and deserve a cautious mother who works to protect them, serve them, guide them, and always be there for them.

4. Disappointed:
What disappoints me most these days? Honestly, that would be past-life me - the me of years past, the me that got me where I am in life. The me who trusted the wrong people, who loved too easily, who gave too much, too many times. The me who didn't learn fast enough, who adapted to what was there instead of standing up for what would have been right. I tell this to my therapist and she shakes her head, reminding me to give myself grace and patience, reminding me to be understanding of the me that was before, the girl who didn't yet know any better, even if present me thinks past me should have been smarter.

5. Festive:
I don't share everything here, but because my focus is on mental health and building a healthy lifestyle - especially in the wake of my developing full-blown PTSD in the first place - I often share stories of the more subdued and "negative" side of my life. People are often surprised to find out what lies behind the blog though - the deeper things that are so personal I don't share them, despite all the very personal things that I do share. But this too shall pass, whatever "this" happens to be in any given moment - and the hope fostered by that knowledge is the bubbling fount of any festivity I might be feeling at any given time. The knowledge that I'm giving my all to coaching my kids and improving our life despite our challenges gives me hope, and the slow realization that they (at least, Joey so far) can see the strength of that effort gives me the courage needed to keep making it. Slowly, our life will change and grow into what I've always wanted it to be - because now, after so long waiting, it finally can.

6. Glad:
One of the things I'm most glad about these days is that I have this platform of support to stand on. I love knowing that I can come here and talk about my stories and my life, sharing with all of you and receiving the support that comes my way. Now and then I get a comment or email that reminds me of exactly why I feel like I was meant to do this, and it warms my heart so much to know that putting my life and my self out there in this way is paying off for others. I'm also glad to know that I can use this platform to encourage others to explore their own feelings and experiences - and with that being said, if you have a blog or public page where you'd like to share your own Friday Feels, feel free to link them up in the link list below!

7. Helpless:
Life is hard - you guys already know that. We're all facing our own challenges, and as much as I hate my own sometimes, I know that you guys have them too. You're facing death and divorce, parenting challenges and financial problems. I know your lives aren't all that different from mine in many ways, and that's one of the things I love best about coming here to share with you. I love that you get it. But I also have really big dreams for what I want my writing to accomplish - big dreams that aren't just for my benefit. Bit dreams that I'm helpless to act on right this minute. I'm still building, and I'm still manifesting, and I'm still praying all the time, claiming what I already know God has in store for me. But in the meantime ... in the time of waiting that I seem to be locked in right now ... I truly do sometimes feel totally helpless.

8. Peaceful:
The thing about helplessness, especially if you know that you can't just get up right now and change it, and especially if you also know that it is, little by little, already changing, is that you can find peace in the waiting. It's true that sometimes I feel utterly helpless to change the situation I'm in or to make things things look different right now for my daughters - but it's also true that I'm praying constantly and writing whenever I can, trying to build something that will become a new way of life for my family. I believe with all my heart that when God gives someone a dream, He does it because that's what they're meant to do in some capacity. And I don't think He'd have made me a writer if I wasn't meant to do something with it. So while I'm waiting, I continue everyday to strive for peace.

9. Torn:
Lately, what I've been most torn about is the fact that my girls are going back to school! I love that they're going back to class and they're both looking forward to getting back into the school routine. They're looking forward to getting back to their friends too, and after a summer of 24/7 parenting all on my own with no partnership from their dad, I'm really looking forward to being able to carve out a little alone time to spoil myself in the quiet - or get some writing done without constant interruptions for a change. But the other side of that is that I'm back to long days without my babes, huge piles of paperwork and things to sign, and the stress of the upcoming holiday season. Back to school is a good thing for an overwhelmed single mom ... but it's not necessarily such a great thing for a mommy who's gonna be missing her babies.

10. Upset:
Hmm. What's upsetting me lately, other than the usual things and the constant cloud of my van's transmission hanging over my head? I think honestly, what upsets me most lately has been the idea that I've been cheating myself in a huge way all this time by not taking daily probiotics. Some of you will remember reading this post from when LoveBug Probiotics reached out to me about trying and reviewing three of their adult Probiotic lines.

Well, I started taking them the day that first post went live - I started with the Colds Suck and took only those for seven days. This line is intended to help boost immune system health by repopulating the microbiome in the gut with more effective and beneficial bacteria essential to the health of your body, and by then end of that first week, I had been able to increase my energy in a major way without actually changing anything else. It started getting easier and easier to get up a little early every morning, which changed the course of the whole day because I was able to carve out a few minutes of my own before the girls woke up. This was something I had been struggling with and knew I needed to get under control before the girls go back to school - I didn't want to shock my system with a sudden change from sleeping til 10 to sleeping til 5! I also managed to increase my water intake in that first week, which was great, too. This past Sunday, in addition to the Colds Suck supplement from LoveBug Probiotics, I also started taking Here's the Skinny, and while I can't say whether or not I've dropped any pound-weight (because I don't weigh myself - it's just not good for my mental health), I can say definitively that I see a small change in the shape of my body and the fit of my clothing in general. I'm definitely happy to be able to report that I'm feeling less ... puffy.

And while all of this is great news, what upsets me about it is that I feel like I've lost valuable time! I'm just about halfway through my challenge to use the full month's supply of the three product lines LoveBug sent to me, and I can say that I'm thrilled to have had the chance to partner with them to review their products. I'm looking forward to seeing how things develop in the coming weeks as I finish up the products included in my LoveBug influencer box.

Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is again (of course), LoveBug Probiotics - so seriously guys, take some time to check them out on Amazon - they even have prenatal supplements and supplements for kids, and I really love the way LoveBug has the whole family in mind. I'm truly excited to see how things work out for me in the next few weeks!

Quick Disclaimer: Since the above link is an affiliate link, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. Also, this is not a sponsored post - I was not compensated for this post or for my eventual review. I did, however, receive a complimentary influencer box of products to test. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
Even though this post is not officially a part of my partnership with LoveBug Probiotics, I really am still so thrilled to have had the chance to work with this company. (and psst! If you're still reading this but still not sure you're ready to invest, here's how you can try LoveBug for one month, FREE!)

But first, feel free to hang around for a while and explore this site, too! If you enjoy my content and love the idea of hearing more from me (or if you're just awesome and want to help me reach some goals), come over and check me out on Patreon! My subscribers are the most awesome people, and I love how literally they stand beside me to support my writing (both fiction and non)! To thank them, I like to post all sorts of extra stuff there - from short stories to mini-blogs to podcasts, sneak peeks, and lots of other content. You can even vote on stuff now and then, so come on over and sign up!

But whether you come to Patreon or not, take the time to make sure you never miss a post here. Patreon may be subscription-based, but the content on this blog is ALWAYS free, so subscribe (the subscription form is in the right sidebar) and make sure you don't miss out! And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you again for reading.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tuesday Talk: How Many Awards Does It Take ...

... to get to the center of the blogosphere?

Anyway. A couple of weeks ago, I woke up to a tweet from one of my favorite bloggers that basically just said, "Check this out." There was, of course, a link - and I did, of course, click on it. It led me to this, which is why today we're talking about these:

The Liebster-Sunshine Blogger Awards!

I'm still thrilled with this, honestly. There are a lot of bloggers out there who will turn down awards or even outright ignore them because there isn't an actual trophy. There's no red carpet, no monetary sum, and no spectacular prestige to go along with them.

But there is recognition, and honor, and gratitude. Over the years, I've gotten a Summer Sun Award, a Liebster Award, and a Blogger Recognition Award - and now I've gotten the Liebster-Sunshine Award, affectionately dubbed the "LiebShine Blaargh" award by David Elliott (and the amazing blogger who nominated him), the mind behind the Single Dad's Guide To Life and the man behind this most recent nomination for me. David is the divorced single father to an adorable little daughter, living life in the perpetual sun of southern California, and his blog features a range of topics - from movie reviews to kid-friendly recipes, to fitness goals and parenting tips. He posts a lot of fictional "food holiday" histories too, which are always entertaining - but my favorite thing about his site is that every one of his posts is infused with his own unique sense of humor. Now and then he even lets a little vulnerability shine through, giving his readers a glimpse into what makes him the man he is.

True to form, his post about the history of the "LiebShine Blaargh" award had me laughing out loud - but as with most award nominations, there are rules to be followed, so in the interest of keeping this blog post from being novel-length, let's jump right in, shall we?

RULE #1:
Accept the nomination.
Of course I'm going to do this, because there's nothing quite like being recognized for a job well done by the people who most truly understand how hard that job really is. Being nominated for any sort of recognition on the merit of my writing and the things that I choose to share here is ... well, it's flattering of course, but also totally humbling. Who am I, to be nominated for that sort of thing once - let alone multiple times? I'm just a woman, just a mom, just a writer trying to get by on a dream. To have even the slightest possibility of seeing that dream come to life means everything to me, and to be pointed out publicly by my peers in the writing world makes that dream feel just a little closer. There's not a cell in my body that could turn that down.

RULE #2:
Nominate someone with less than 300 followers to receive the award next.
Rude as this may be, I'm actually going to choose to ignore this particular rule - not because I don't want to help small bloggers grow, but because many of the bloggers I read don't actually post their numbers publicly. Some have smaller followings, but many of the bloggers I follow have larger platforms than I do; many of them are bloggers that I personally admire and am hoping to learn from. That being said, many faithful blog readers (several of mine included) don't actually subscribe to blogs they read in a way that's countable. Instead of subscribing, a number of my followers just choose to connect with me on social media or other outlets so that they know when I post new content. One has actually told me that she has reminders set on her phone to make sure she comes back on the days she knows I'm posting. Either way, my page views strongly disagree with the meager 49 clearly stated when I go into my blog stats and count up my "followers," thus I'm leaving this rule unfollowed. Instead, I'm choosing to post this with the intent to nominate anyone reading who wants to participate. (Now, how's that for sharing the love, huh?)

RULE #3:
Thank the blogger who nominated you.
No problem, especially since the nomination came with pretty words and some link love, which is something every blogger adores! Thank you, David - I'm truly thrilled to have been counted among the bloggers you found worthy of the mention.

RULE #4:
Answer the eleven questions given to you by the person who nominated you. (These will be in the blog post you were nominated in - David's post nominating me and several others is here.)
Simple enough, right? So you'll find David's very creative eleven questions - along with my answers - listed below!
  1. What was your first idea when you started your blog? - This blog started with a list of "have-to" tasks. As a new author, I was given lots of "have-to" tasks by well-meaning authors and book bloggers aiming to coach me to success. Among the "have-tos" were: setting up an author page on Facebook, joining and getting active on Twitter, begging shamelessly for book reviews, and ... you guessed it - starting an author blog. But before this, I actually had several "mommy" blogs over the years, which I loved. Unfortunately I sucked at keeping a blogging schedule, and I've continued to pretty much suck at it until just recently. 
  2. How soon did you feel like you had found your blogging voice? - I don't know that this is something you find, really. I think it's something that's always changing and growing in response to who you are and what's going on in your life. I've spoken with several different "voices" over the years, but for this blog specifically ... I started my author journey as a stay-home mother of two with a faltering but still relatively functional long-term relationship. My life then looked a lot different, and I'd be willing to bet my voice back then was considerably different, too. I imagine in the years to come, that voice will continue to grow and change - I certainly hope it'll continue to be for the better.
  3. What is your blogging why? Why do you blog? - This one's actually relatively easy to answer - I do it because I love writing in pretty much any format. But blogging is special to me in that it allows me to explore myself and how I feel about life and the world I live in. I love that it allows me to interact with people who like what I'm saying, or people who have been through similar experiences. But I do it, too, under the weight of a hope - a hope that one day I'll have built the kind of full-time blogging income that I so admire in the bloggers I look up to. And meeting great people along the journey doesn't hurt, either.
  4. What blogger inspired you the most since you started blogging? - Another easy one - Sarah Vargas. I don't always agree with her politics, her methods, or her thought processes - but I always admire what she's managed to do in her career as a blogger/vlogger, and how she's managed to buck up and make things happen to take care of her children. I admire her so greatly as a business role model, a self-confidence role model, and so much more.
  5. Of all your blogging experiences, what has made you laugh out loud the most? - Other bloggers, for sure. I've encountered such amazing people along this journey - many of whom have become close friends who are incredibly meaningful to me. From Australia, from the UK, from Canada, from various places here in the States, I've met people online who know my heart and all the secrets of my soul. And despite not yet having the opportunity to meet in person, many of those people have trusted me enough to share their hearts and secrets as well. That sort of connection is incredibly joyful to me despite the distance, and those are the people I laugh most with.
  6. What is the one place you are still looking forward to visiting and why? - There isn't just one - I'd count myself lucky if I could see all the places I so want to see, and have my list brought down to one last place. But right now, in this particular chapter of my life ... I have seen so few places and I still want to see it all! I want to see so much, I can't even complete my bucket list.
  7. If you had the chance to work with one company on your blog, what would it be and why? - One company. Hmm. Maybe if I was being practical, I'd say I want to work with a car company on an ongoing basis, driving and reviewing cars. It's practical because it would provide my family with a dependable vehicle (which ends the cloud of my van's failing transmission hanging over my head), and I like that since I'd be reviewing, maybe I'd have a different car every week or month or so, which would keep it fun and also encourage me to keep "my" car VERY clean. I'd love to work with Kia, because I'm obsessed with the Kia Soul, or Mitsubishi because I'm obsessed with Outlander and they have a compact SUV called an Outlander. Or maybe if I was reaching for the stars but still being practical, then I'd go for Cadillac so I could drive an Escalade EXT for a while. But just for fun on an everyday basis because I love them? I'd like to work with Gwynnie Bee because it would be so cool to get to try all kinds of clothes and looks without having to shop for a lot of stuff or buy loads of clothes. I could bring more fashion stuff to my blog that way too, reviewing clothing brands and items as I try them. Gwynnie Bee has a monthly subscription service (the Netflix of plus-size women's fashion), and they even take care of the laundry! What's not to love about that?
  8. If you had one thing you wanted to communicate to your audience, what would it be? - Don't be afraid to let your life be a lesson to you. Take the experiences you've had, and instead of letting those experiences fill you up with fear and regret, use them to learn how to do better, choose better, and act better. As a person with PTSD that's often crippling for me, I know this advice is easier said than done ... but it's also better tried than not tried, if you get my drift. Slow progress and a little effort is still better than none.
  9. What did you want to be when you grew up? - I've wanted to be a lot of things over the years, depending on my age and my whims. But in my heart, the thing I always wanted ... the thing I was too afraid to reach for and too afraid at times to even admit that I wanted, was to write for a living. To use words to create an income that would provide a home for my family.
  10. What was your best vacation? - I don't know. I'll have to come back to this once I've been on one.
  11. Who has been your biggest hero? - This changes depending on what I need. In writing, I most admire Diana Gabaldon (author of the Outlander series), and in philanthropy I look up to J.K. Rowling (who famously lost her billionaire status in 2012 because she gives away so much money). In business, maybe Oprah - she's built such a strong empire, and she's come such a long way from where she started.
And with those questions answered, let's move on to ...

RULE #5:
Nominate eleven other people to receive this award.
Please see rule #2 for my response to this rule as well. If the eleven must be under-300-followers bloggers, then I truly don't know which (if any) of my favorite bloggers would qualify. As mentioned before, there are several blogs I love reading on a regular basis, but I don't count their followers, I just love their content. If you choose to read this post and nominate yourself to participate, just make sure you come back to leave a link to your own post in the comments below - I'd love to see them!

RULE #6:
Think of eleven questions of your own for the bloggers you've chosen to nominate.
Since I'm choosing not to nominate specific bloggers for this award this time and am instead inviting small bloggers who see this post to nominate themselves, I'm also leaving my questions here with a challenge for EVERYONE who reads them. If you're a blogger choosing to nominate themselves to participate, please remember to leave a link to your post in the comments below - and if you don't have a blog of your own, feel free to answer these eleven questions in the comments anyway!
  1. What made you decide to put your writings out into the world in such a public format?
  2. Who do you most look up to or appreciate in your daily life - what person is most close to you, and why?
  3. What would you say has been one of your biggest challenges thus far? 
  4. What's your number one favorite thing about blogs in general?
  5. If you were to achieve your most ultimate dreams, what would a day in your life look like?
  6. How much does feedback on your blog actually impact what you choose to include in your content?
  7. Do you prefer coffee or tea, and how do you prepare your drink of choice? (Hot or cold, with or without cream/sugar/honey/etc.?)
  8. What book has had the largest impact on you as a person, and why?
  9. If you were given an all-expenses-paid trip to anywhere in the world but you had to leave right now, what would the trip look like?
  10. As a blogger, what do you find most fulfilling? 
  11. What's your favorite board game to play, and what do you love best about it?
Again, if you're a blogger choosing to nominate themselves, please remember to leave a link to your post in the comments below - and if you don't have a blog of your own, feel free to answer these eleven questions in the comments anyway! Just answer the blogging-related questions as best you can in relation to your own life.

RULE #7:
Post a photo of the award on your blog.
No problem! I'm not sure if these are the original images to go with these awards, but I'm choosing to trust David on this one and use the images he chose for his own post. So:

RULE #8:
Pertaining to the Sunshine Award specifically, nominees must bring some light into the life of the person who nominated them.
Crap. Up until now, I've been able to say, "I'm not following this rule because blogger numbers aren't always posted and I don't want to limit bloggers from participating on that basis anyway." But this one ... well, if I ask people to nominate themselves to participate in this, then how will we be following this rule?

Alright, I got it. If you choose to nominate yourself for this one, then here's how you can bring some light into my life, thereby earning your nominated status. Choose one of the following light-bringing strategies:
  • come connect to me on any of my social media platforms. I love making new friends, especially when they're the kind that bring light into my life. You can find links to all of my social platforms here.
  • download a free copy of Fat Chance, the first book in my romance series, the Kingsley Series. Links to download this book on all major platforms, along with information about the series and all of its current titles, can be found here. This costs you nothing, but could benefit me by bumping my rankings - and you might love the book anyway, since it's an awesome story of self-discovery and healing. You don't know if you don't read it, right?
  • nominate your favorite undaunted woman to be interviewed here on the blog. The rules for this are here. This is a new series I'm planning to kick off in August, and while I already have my August nominee, I'm already looking to set up with Miss Undaunted September.
  • support me on Patreon and join the community of readers who make it possible for me to keep doing this so often. These are the people who allow me to make a difference in their lives, who step up to make a difference in mine - and while they may start out as readers, they always end up counted as friends.
And that's it. Thanks again for nominating me, David - not only did you totally deserve the nomination in your own right, that was totally sweet of you to share the award with the likes of me.

Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is actually one of the companies I'd like to work with at some point - one of the companies I mentioned in my answers to David's questions above. This company has an amazing concept that works so well for a mom like me, giving flexibility and fun to fashion-oriented women regardless of their size and shape.

Gwynnie Bee allows plus-sized women to feel great in their clothing, and try new styles without the crazy expense of shopping or the instinctive fear of commitment that stops so many of us from trying new things. As I mentioned before, I also love that they take care of laundering clothing items too, because it means I don't have to do laundry - and I know that the clothes I receive are clean and in great shape when they come to me. Multiple subscription options are a great thing too - you choose what you're in for as far as time and financial investment. And for the extreme commitment-phobes out there? Rest assured, cancellation is an easy process, too.

Gwynnie Bee: Receive unlimited exchanges & free shipping for a flat monthly fee!

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
Blog awards are fun, aren't they? Blogging can be an isolating job if you don't actually make an active effort to engage and get to know people - that's why my favorite thing about blog awards is that they actually encourage us to interact a little and get to know each other better. But I know a lot of the people who come here to read aren't actually bloggers, so here's another question for the comments - if you read blogs other than this one, which one is your favorite and why?

Just on the off chance that I'm your favorite blogger, you can (as always) feel free to stick around and explore the content here - maybe you'll find something you hadn't seen before, or something that's just right to pin or share with a friend on your social media. If you enjoy this little corner of the web (or if you just want to help me reach some goals), make sure you come over and check me out on Patreon - my subscribers are my biggest and most favorite supporters of my writing, and I'd love to see you join us there!

Either way though, whether you come over to join my community on Patreon or not, please take a second to make sure you never miss a post here. Patreon may be subscription-based, but the content on this blog is ALWAYS free, so be sure to subscribe (the subscription form is in the right sidebar)! And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower of this site ... from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for being here.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saturday Swag: New Merch Designs!

I've been a Zazzle customer for ages now, and I've ordered products from them several times - always with satisfaction. I love both the quality of the products and the ability to customize just about whatever I could want for my life, home, or business, and I always love browsing around on there to see what sorts of designs other people have come up with.

But there actually aren't a lot of people who know that I have my own store, where I have designs that go along with the brand I'm building here on the blog. Right now there are t-shirts and tote bags, bumper stickers and keychains, all featuring the logo you first see when you come to this site. There are even a few showing off my end-of-post signature, with the pink heart and the call to "stay undaunted." Eventually, I'd like to add merchandise with quotes and cover images from my books and Patreon stories, and I'll likely add other Undaunted items as time goes on.

In the meantime though, I've been making a point to revisit my goals for this quarter, and as this challenge to keep and maintain both my lists of quarterly goals and my accountability in sharing them here, I've really been noticing something disturbing.

I don't know how to let myself have fun anymore. Fun, for me, is some morphed and hybrid combination of work and ... well, work. When I take a break from writing, I don't do it just to lay on the couch and listen to music or watch a movie. I don't take breaks from building my business just to soak in the tub or play a mindless game on my phone. I do it like this:

  • primp and paint my toenails, not only because it's fun but because my daughters and I are having our first family photo shoot in 8 years and we're going barefoot.
  • watch a movie - but use the time wisely and review the movie for the blog.
  • listen to podcasts - the self-improvement and business-coaching kind, so that I'm learning while I listen.
Even my morning coffee is enjoyed in this way - not only because I enjoy it and I love having the opportunity to drink it, but because it has a purpose. It eases the caffeine headache I get when I don't drink coffee, it wakes my mind and begins my morning. I enjoy it, yes - but the fact is, I would drink it even if I didn't love it, because there's a reason for it other than pure enjoyment.

I can't decide if this makes me more sad, or more proud.
  • sad because even my fun must have a purpose, otherwise I won't be able to enjoy it without drowning in waves of guilt over the chores and other tasks I'm not doing.
  • proud because I try so hard to live my life on purpose. I'm not a drifter - I don't just go through life doing what feels good in the moment.
Still, while it does make me a little sad to realize how happy I am to know that this most recent "fun" thing I've been doing also has a purpose, I'm also pretty thrilled and happy to know that while I'm having fun designing things for my second Zazzle store, I'm also increasing my income potential, because sales from either of my two stores will send a royalty directly into my bank account.

So with that being said, here are some of the things I've been working on lately.

But that's just for the brand store, the one more focused on my writing and my brand. That's the "work" one. But the "fun" one, the one I created just to play with and goof off in? For that store, I've designed things just a bit more ... Me. See?

I'm thinking I'm going to love making fun designs for this store! And speaking of fun ... I'm all caught up on my writing deadlines for the moment, so I'm going to work on some therapy homework, and then listen to some podcasts while I create some more designs ... Just 4 Fun.

Instead of my usual "Featured Favorite Product," today I'm just going to leave you with the links to my Zazzle stores - Come check them out!

Brandi Kennedy Merchandise
Just 4 Fun Designs

Quick Disclaimer: I'm not using my usual affiliate links here, but I did want to be very clear about sales of items from either of my Zazzle stores - I do receive a small sales royalty on sales of my designs. Rest assured that while this is at no extra cost to you, my family and I still greatly appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of the affiliate companies I am currently working with, click here.)
What other things do you guys think I should design for my Zazzle stores? I'd love to see your suggestions in the comments, as well as what sorts of things you think would be great additions to my stores.

You're always welcome to stick around here on the blog too, to explore the rest of my content - and if you enjoy my little corner of the web (or if you're just awesome and want to help me reach some life-changing goals), come on over and check me out on Patreon, too! My subscribers there are my biggest and most favorite supporters of my writing, so to thank them in the best way I know how, I like to post all sorts of stuff there - including short stories, mini-blogs, podcasts, and lots of other content. You can even vote on some of the things I post, and the lowest membership is just $1 a month, so sign up and make sure you don't miss out!

Either way, whether you come over to join my community on Patreon or not, I'd still love for you to take a second and make sure you never miss a post here, either. Patreon may be subscription-based, but the content on this blog is ALWAYS free, so go ahead and subscribe (the subscription form is in the right sidebar)! As always, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday Would You Rather: Sight VS Hearing?

My first Would You Rather went up in April, and in it, I took on a somewhat heavy subject. The prompt was "Would you rather live a lifetime of ONLY flatline (boring, ordinary) days, or would you rather live a lifetime of ONLY rollercoaster (always ups and downs) days?" Honestly though, I feel like that was a great prompt to start this series with - it encouraged me to explore what my life has been, and to really look at what I would choose were I given the conscious choice. Would I want the simple life, the ordinary? The ease of knowing what to expect, of knowing what's coming, being able to settle into a routine with only the little things in life? Or would I keep on the path that I've been walking for thirty three years? Would I keep the ups and downs that have brought me such grief and left me with the PTSD I'm still learning to live with? (If you missed that post, click here to read it.) See? Not an easy subject at all - and yet when I really got to thinking through it, the choice wasn't that hard to make.

In the end, I asked my readers to leave other Would You Rather prompts in the comments of that post, and Karen Henderson asked me which I would rather give up - my hearing or my sight? So today I'm exploring life without my sight, and what I'd be missing if I gave it up. And I'll explore life without my hearing, thinking of all the things I'm grateful to have in my life because I can hear. At the end of the post, I'll hypothetically "give up" one of my precious senses - with gratitude that at least for now, it's only pretend.

If I were sitting in a dark room right now, alone and afraid and bearing the weight of the knowledge that the only way I can get out is to choose one of my senses to leave behind, what would I do?

I only have five conventional senses, and my 6th sense/intuition doesn't even count anymore, since certain things in my past have led me to believe it can't be trusted. So with just five left - how could I give up any of them? The human senses are our most precious gifts, and while we breeze through life unappreciative of how possessing these senses so deeply enrich our lives ... how could anyone sift through them and choose one to give away?

If I could give any one, my first instinctive answer would be "touch." I could still type - more clumsily perhaps, but it could be done. I could still dress myself, could still walk, could still function. But then again, without touch ... what would a hug feel like? A kiss? Joey's luxurious curls, Eden's curtain of pin-straight silk? Chance's horsey whiskers?

Maybe taste could work though. I mean, sure, I'd be giving up the pleasure of lasagna and pizza and grilled cheese and fresh salad and still-half-frozen Edward's Pie and ... where was I?

Thankfully, neither taste nor touch were among my options, lest I would give up something that means so much to me by accident.

But there were specific choices - hearing or sight?
Sometimes when I give my kids a choice of something, they can't decide. So they waffle back and forth for a while until I choose for them, and then they instantly know what they truly wanted - which is always whatever I didn't choose. It happens with adults too, because it's human nature to want what we can't have. I've heard it said that the best way to make any choice is to flip a coin - not because the coin will choose for you, but because while that coin is flipping through the air, end over end, sparking light off its metal as it falls, you will know exactly what you most want. That coin coming down brings you face to face with the idea of not being able to choose anymore, and of losing something you love because of that lack of choice. Suddenly, you know.

I flipped a coin, and I was just as confused when the coin landed - there just wasn't enough time to think it through. So what if I stick with my dark room, and pretend the people holding me there have given me until noon? And to top it off (so that I don't let myself get lazy and say something like, "I can't choose, and thank goodness I don't have to"), they've also told me that if I don't choose one of my senses by noon ... then I forfeit them all.

So it's 8 in the morning right now as I write this - that would give me four hours to deliberate, during which time I could write several thousand words in tribute to my senses and how precious each and every one is to me.

But if I don't write this post right now, the girls will be up soon and it may take three weeks to come back and get it done.

So how do I choose?
The thing is, it's easy enough to think about the glories of never again hearing a smoke detector going off because the potatoes roasting in the oven (or the garlic bread) filled the oven with steam, which billowed out and burned my face when I opened the oven door less than 8 feet away from said smoke detector. (Ahem ... no, that hasn't happened to me ...) And it's easy to think of never again having to watch people pick their butts or their noses or their crotches - or for heaven's sake, all three in rotation - while they wander mindlessly through Walmart, clad in cheap knockoffs of the obnoxiously fluorescent but incredibly innovative Chacos and ill-fitting, ill-chosen clothing. (What? Personal experience, you say? Nah ... I'm just guessing.)

But in choosing, I also choose whether to never again experience my children's laughter - or never again look into their eyes.

How about sight?
How do I give up the ability to watch my daughters sleep, with their eyelashes neatly arched along their cheeks, with my bold eyebrows slashed beneath their foreheads. How do I give up the beauty of noticing the things about them that aren't mine (Joey's hands, Eden's mouth, and so many other things), mixed so seamlessly in with the things that are? How do I give up watching them grow, choosing their clothes by looking because I know what sizes will fit? How do I lose the ability to look at them when they get in the car and know whether or not they had a good day at school? How do I never look at Chance's adorable sleepy face in the morning, with those brown eyes only three quarters of the way open and his hound jowls all rumpled with sleep? I can't.

How could I never again watch a flower bloom over the course of a few days' time? How could I never again look upon a rainbow or watch the flash of a storm outside? How could I miss the gentility of butterflies and the fascination of a bunny hopping around in the backyard?

So ... hearing, then?
No! How could I do it? Right this second I'm listening to birdsong from the tree in the yard, just on the other side of the back door to the house I live in. I'm listening to the way the floorboards creak upstairs - a telltale sign that Eden is awake and anxious to come find me, For now, she'll read a little in her bed - giving me five or ten minutes worth of her desperate effort to respect my writing time, until the urge to come hug me and ask how I slept becomes so unbearable she can no longer resist it. Hearing those creaking boards is a warning - Mommy time starts soon, and then it'll be too loud to hear the birdsong anymore, because I'll be listening to the unique mix of giggles and bickering that only my two children can produce.

How could I imagine life without hearing Eden ask me how I slept? Without the way she says good morning, with her high-pitched little-girl voice? How could I give up the rare gift of an "I love you" from my grumpy teen who is already learning to protect her heart at all costs - sometimes even from me?

How could I never listen to music again, never feel the power of words spun into lyrics that wrap around the soul like liquid magic? How could I never again listen to Edelweiss, never again be brought to tears by the beauty of Andre Rieu's violin?

Yeah, you know what?
My first instinct was right (how about that? maybe my intuition can be trusted a little after all?) in urging me to cop out and take the easy road here. I can't choose - I can't sit in that dark room and mull it over, eventually choosing to brokenly abdicate one sense or the other in fear of losing them all. I can't mull over the pros and cons, sifting through the things I love (or don't love) about these precious gifts that give my humanity so much meaning. I can't choose a sense.

I can't choose - and I'm so thankful that I don't have to.

Thanks for the prompt, Karen! For those who don't know, Karen's one of my favorite readers - and she's one of my biggest supporters! And to top that, she's one of my Patreon buddies - she has a Patreon account too, where she shares her love of photography as well as occasional snippets of her daily life. I know this prompt was given all in fun, but I'm grateful it turned out to be such an exercise in remembering to see the blessings in the little things that make each and every day such an experience!
Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is something I love picking up for myself now again - and coincidentally, also a great way to engage all five of your precious human senses. Pair your favorite wine or chocolates (or both?) with this 5-Piece Coconut Essential Bath & Body Collection from The Body Shop and you're in for a luxurious evening (or morning, if you're a single mom and the only time you really have to yourself if when your kids are at school ... is it August yet?) of pampering and sense-engaging relaxation.

$39.00 USD at the time of this post, click photo to purchase from Amazon.

My girls go back to school in the beginning of August, and while I love having them around, I'm so ready for the downtime - this single mom stuff is hard enough, but doing the single mom thing with no co-parent to co-parent with makes it pretty overwhelming at times. I've got this kit high on my wishlist for August!

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
So tell me - if you had to give up either your sight or your hearing, which would you rather give up? Take a second to let me know - or even leave suggestions for future Would You Rather posts! I always love the chance to interact with my readers, and I love the way these posts have given me a chance to find and unlock the undaunted woman within myself.

You're always welcome to stick around too, to explore the content here - and if you enjoy my little corner of the web (or if you're just awesome and want to help me reach some life-changing goals), make sure you come over and check me out on Patreon! My subscribers are my biggest and most favorite supporters of my writing, so to thank them in the best way I know how, I like to post all sorts of stuff there - from short stories to mini-blogs to podcasts, sneak peeks, and lots of other content. You can even vote on some of the things I post, so make sure you sign up!

But whether you come over to join my community on Patreon or not, take a second to make sure you never miss a post here. Patreon may be subscription-based, but the content on this blog is ALWAYS free, so take a second to subscribe (the subscription form is in the right sidebar)! And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you again for being here.