Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Book Conventions I'd Love To Attend

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Juliana at Vegas.com, and we had an interesting chat about book conventions and what sorts of items top the list for a writer heading out to such a huge event. In years past, I've attended several amazing and well-organized writing events, both on my own as part of a small local organization of writers, so I can definitely give some feedback into what to bring to an author convention ... except ... well, I've never actually been to an author convention, specifically. Signing events are a bit different - they lack the same level of learning experience offered by the chance to attend (or participate in) speaking panels, as well as the pomp and circumstance of awards ceremonies and things like that.

But a girl can dream, right? So without further ado (and in no particular order):



 01. Penned Con
This convention is hosted annually in St. Louis, MS, and from what I hear, it's utterly amazing. The convention offers a variety of learning experiences, tons of chances to get up close and personal with the authors you love, an awards show, a two day book signing event, panels, workshops, and even a huge party! And to top it all off, the convention is deeply focused on giving back to the community and helping those in need with their connection to Action for Autism. 2017's event just passed, but 2018 is underway for the minds behind Penned Con, and tickets to the 2018 event are already being advertised here!

When I first heard about this signing, I literally squealed with glee. There was a masquerade ball. I believe there was some mention of horse-drawn carriages. It was to be held at an unspeakably lovely Inn in Frankenmuth, MI. There would be books and authors and workshops and awards and ... sigh. Just the place for me - I could lose myself among the most bookish of people, spending time learning and having fun with those most like me! Due to certain circumstances, I didn't get to go that year, and I haven't had the chance to go since then, either. But I want to. I want to with all my little heart! Tickets for the 2018 event are already available for this one here, and there will be a Toga Party! What?!

Started as a conference for writers and lovers of Young Adult fiction, this conference has grown over the years and exploded in popularity - at least in my circles. I've got several author pals who have gone multiple times, and I always have to unfollow them a little bit during UtopiaCon season, otherwise it breaks my heart a little every time I'm reminded that there's a major writing conference only a few hours away from where I live every year and I can't go to it. I'm okay with the fact that travel and conferences just aren't part of this chapter of my life right now, and I'm thrilled for my friends who are there experiencing and learning with the pioneers of independent publishing ... but it still stings a little, if I'm honest - especially because it's in Nashville, which is literally just a few hours drive away.

I don't think a romance novelist can make a list of dream conventions without including something from RWA. Despite recent whisperings in the publishing industry about problems within the RWA, their convention is generally agreed to be well-planned, well-executed, and full of incredibly valuable information. I also love that so many of my personal favorite authors are members of RWA, and thus, I could hope that some of them might be in attendance. Another amazing thing is that if you click the link above this paragraph, you can find information about RWA conferences all the way out 'til 2021. How's that for planning ahead? The only thing is, the 2017 event has already passed - but that just means you've got time to plan ahead for a ton of learning in 2018!

This is another one that came onto my radar because I'm connected to people who have gone to it or are involved with throwing it (similar to Penned Con and Once Upon A Book), and have heard about a million firsthand stories that illustrated the awesomeness of the event while shattering my left-out little heart into jagged little pieces of sadness. This year's InD'Scribe event literally just passed (only a few days ago), with the talented Marie Force teamed up with Brenda Novak to act as keynote speakers at the event. Unfortunately, as the event literally passed, I couldn't find information about the 2018 conference, but the link above would take you to more direct information.

The fun thing about this convention, other than the party and signing event and VIP extras, is that as this event moves around the country, its name changes each time. Aptly named LoveNVegas, the 2017 event will be held in Las Vegas, NV, and hosted at the beautiful Planet Hollywood Hotel. They've even created a beautiful itinerary for this year's Love N. Vegas event, to be held October 27th/28th; tickets are still available for this event, and they'll have volunteers at the event who will act as "bookmarks" to hold your place in the longer lines, so that you have time to meet and greet as many authors as possible! Future events from Love N. Books are just as cutely named, with LoveNSalem being held in June 2018, and then LoveNColorado to come in April 2019.

This is another huge event, with the 2018 version spanning three days at the end of May 2018 and including celebrities of all sorts, including Ginger Zee (who I loved on Dancing With the Stars), Gabrielle Union (can't wait to read her memoir), and the beautiful Colleen Hoover (OMG I can't even!). Then you tack on the likes of Stephen King and ... well, politics aside, you can see why I'd want to attend. And even if these particular names weren't enough to get you moving, there are dozens and dozens and dozens of learning sessions to attend. Oh, and it's in New York City - as if it needed that. But you guys, NYC?? Imagine!

This particular event combines all the best things about conferences for me - it's a book signing with group workshops and activities ... on a cruise ship ... out at sea. And as if that wasn't enough, it's usually right around my birthday. For instance, the 2018 Book Splash is coming back into port on February 16 in Port Canaveral and will be debark on the 17th. My birthday. This event is a literal dream vacation for me, and is one of those events for which my heart actually aches. It's one of those things where longing sets in and determination locks up your jaw so hard it hurts. And you whisper to yourself ferociously, "ONE. DAY. I. WILL. GO."

09. BlogHer
I've wanted to go to BlogHer ever since I first learned of it many, many years ago. I've been blogging off and on for a little over ten years now, and when BlogHer became a thing back in 2011, I was chomping at the bit over the idea of being able to hang out with people like me - creative people who loved the written word and had a passion for storytelling, whatever form it takes. And while this isn't a novel-writer's conference, blogging is quite similar (to me) in that it still requires dedication and a strong desire to spend time writing, combined with a need to be heard and a willingness to speak - so I think a blogging conference still qualifies for sure. I also love that this conference has such a focus on empowering women to be themselves and tell their stories in whatever form works best for them - y'all know how much that whole idea means to me especially. Still, I haven't yet been, so here it is, on my wish list to the universe.

Last but certainly not least on this list is the RT Booklovers Convention. This is another one that settles in a different city every year, giving authors (and readers) from around the country a chance to attend without going bankrupt on book shipping. Like most other events on this list, the RT Booklovers Convention 2017 has already passed, but 2018 promises to be an exciting time in Reno, NV, with panels, parties, signings, and more! 


In honor of today's book-con-themed post, today's "Featured Favorite Product" is exactly the kind of lightly lined, beautiful hardback journal you'll want to keep at your side at any convention. It would make a great keepsake, filled with the signatures and information of all your favorite authors and writing industry professionals, and is definitely among my list of must-bring convention items.


Seriously, isn't it gorgeous? That one's called Versailles, but if you click through, this particular seller also has several other cover patterns that are all utterly stunning. Like this celestial one - so pretty! (You can just click either image to purchase - these are both under $15 on Amazon.)


I like that these are great for just regular journaling too, if conventions aren't your thing; and they'd also make a perfect gift for the writer in your life, regardless of your preferred writer's preferred writing style.

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.)
If you could choose one of these conferences to go to, which one do you think sounds like the best fit for you? Are there any others you've been to that you didn't see mentioned here - or that you think should have been mentioned? If you've been to any conferences, what was your favorite thing about them, and what would you say is the number one most important thing to bring (besides books, because duh)?

Take some time to look around while you're here, too; if you find something that really resonates with you, I'd love for you to share a link with your friends! I'd also like to invite you to hang out and follow along with my journey; if you subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar, you can rest assured you'll never miss a post! And while the darker content of this blog may not always be easy to read, I truly hope that through the light days breaking up the darkness, we'll learn from and inspire each other.

And if you're a book lover like me, come on over to Patreon for a whole new way to read my novels - WHILE I WRITE THEM! You can sign up to sponsor my writing journey for as little as $1 a month, and your dollar gets you access to all sorts of content, including photos and mini-blogs from my personal life. And if you want a little more, for just $2 a month you'll also get to vote for upcoming content, read my upcoming poetry release as it's written, and have access to weekly L.A.F.F.S. - and the best part is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons, and when we hit that goal, my PhLogs will start going up daily!! (Click that link. Most are subscriber-only, but one each month is marked public, and the one from October 2017 is REALLY good.)

However we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, my social media profiles, or even Patreon, you can always rest assured that 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." Click here to find out more about what it means to be undaunted - maybe you'll find that you already know the perfect nominee for our next Undaunted Woman Interview!

And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Storytime Saturday: Downtown

I've posted a bunch of Storytime Saturday posts before, and even a really funny Storytime post that wasn't on Saturday. Most of them were written in my usual conversational blog style - just me, talking to just you, sharing my story and my experience with someone who might relate to where I've been or understand where I hope to be going. But I love writing fiction too, and even though one of my novels is actually available for free and I've shared a little bit of my fiction writing here on the blog, I thought it might be fun to write this storytime post in a fictionalized style.


"Urrrgh!" The car jerked a little as it slid forward, inching up through the coils of the parking garage. I pressed a little harder on the gas, careful to let up from the clutch. I was giving up on second gear; there was no way we'd be going that fast anytime soon anyway, not with the slow old man in front of us driving like he'd never been in a garage before.

"What's wrong, mom?" My teen spoke quietly from the passenger seat beside me. She shifted her eyes to my hands, clenched tightly on the wheel, and the corners of her mouth tightened as she pressed her lips together.

"Nothing, I just hate this car." I loosened my grip on the wheel, reminding myself to keep perspective, and smiled over at my daughter. "It's a decent car, I guess, but I'm out of practice. It's okay, Jo."

In the backseat, her sister chattered mindlessly, an endless outpouring of cheerful but totally unfiltered thoughts about the day to come. We had been planning Trolley Day for weeks, and while both girls had been disappointed at the need to rearrange the day, both had recovered well. There was nothing we could do about the trolley system not running - but we still had a whole day ahead of us, and we were determined to make the best of it.

"So first we're going to the library?" The chatter ended on this question, the word library accented with the higher pitch of hope seeping into Eden's voice as she anticipated the pleasure of losing herself in the stacks.

I rolled my eyes and maneuvered into a parking spot, still frustrated with the car and glad to be out of it. "No, not 'til later, babe," I said. I watched the reflection of her lowered face in the rearview mirror, smiling as she pouted a little in disappointment, my pride in her love of books washing away the last of the annoyance over the car. "We'll go there last - just in case."

Her face came up quickly at that, her eyes finding mine in the mirror, lit with excitement. She smiled faintly; I smiled back, ignoring the twinge of sadness that hit me as I looked into her face. Already self-conscious of her crooked teeth and too-small mouth, she rarely smiled completely, but I loved her face. "Just in case what?" she asked. "In case we get books? But I thought we weren't getting any books because it's a hassle to keep track and that's why we always check them on the kindle so we --"

"Just in case," I said again, smiling wider. If I didn't cut in and stop her she'd talk this over for the rest of the day and we'd never get anywhere. But she was right and I knew it - we would get books despite my vehement denial of this possibility. We all knew it - because I was a mom who couldn't resist a book, proud to raise two book-loving kids.

Beside me, Joey sighed, shaking her head. She knew too. "You guys ready to go?"

"Yep," I answered. "Grab your drinks."

Armed with bottles of flavored carbonated water and a small backpack of grocery store snacks, we left the car and headed out, making our way from the garage. Out in the sun, we looked around, trying to decide on the course of action for the day. I pulled up my trusty GPS. Downtown Knoxville can be crowded at times, and if you were unfamiliar with the area, it wouldn't be that hard to get turned around - but with a glance at the map on my cell phone screen, we were off.

I lingered alone as we walked, hanging just a few steps back, watching my daughters interact together. They traded playful elbow jabs and alternated between bickering and joking together, and I marveled at the way the five year age difference between them had begun slowly growing less and less obvious as Josephine's growth slowed down and Eden's began - finally - to catch up. They reached the end of the street and I called out to stop them, holding them back with the sound of my voice, thankful that my voice was enough to command them. They waited the few beats it took for me to catch up, two girls looking up to the sun-filled sky, bottled waters held carefully close, and then, reunited, we stood together on the corner of the intersection, waiting to cross.

It was Eden's first time crossing the Henley Street Pedestrian Bridge, and as we walked, she looked through the protective barriers, exclaiming over the height of the bridge and the relatively small size of the cars passing below us. I smiled knowingly, waiting until the girls were ready to keep moving. They would both be exclaiming soon.

Within the next fifteen minutes I stood grinning widely, one arm around my oldest daughter's waist, the other arm resting lightly on my youngest daughter's shoulders. And they were exclaiming - at the beauty of our city, the sheer height of our view from inside the Sunsphere, the minuteness of the people walking the streets and sidewalks below. We made our way slowly around the observation deck, admiring and comparing the views - did we like the World's Fair Park side, or the downtown view? Both had their perks, but we chose the park side, with it's wide expanses of bright green and the sparkling fall of the water in the park fountain.

"Is that where we're going, Mom?"

I followed the direction of Joey's arm as she pointed toward the spires of a park in the distance. It stood out from the buildings that surrounded it, painted wood tops colorful against the darker wood of the playground structure. "Fort Kid?" I asked, shaking my head. "Not this time." I took her hand, adjusting her arm so that it pointed toward the playground we were aiming for - the World's Fair Park Playground. "It's just there," I told her, aiming her wrist so that her finger pointed toward a stand of flags.

"Not a playground, mom," she answered, lowering her hand.

Beside me, Eden had spotted the largest splash pad in the city and was all but vibrating with excitement. "We're going to the fountain?"

Laughing, I shook my head, plucking at the fabric of her cotton sundress. "No, we're not dressed for that. But look there. Between the flags and the water. Those trees are blocking the playground, but there's one there."

"Does it have a tire swing?"

Josephine had fallen in love with tire swings recently, and this question from her was no surprise. Shaking my head in amusement, I steered my girls toward the elevator that would take us back to the ground below. "We'll see."

There was a tire swing, and two hours later, the girls and I broke away from the heat of the park to rest on a bench in the shade, snacking on the sweet chocolate-dotted granola bars we had carried along for the day, guzzling the rest of our waters.

"Do we have to go now? To the library?" Eden asked, talking as always with her mouth full. There wasn't much that would stop her from talking - not even a mouth full of granola.

"Chew first," I reminded her, pulling my cell phone from my pocket. I tapped the screen to wake the device, checked the clock, and sighed. The heat of the day had been wearing on me already, and while it had been a fun afternoon, I was ready for it to wind down. "Yeah," I said. "The library closes in a couple of hours, so if we want time to really look around while we're there, we need to go."

On the way back, we stopped to run our hands through the waters of the fountain pool, rode the elevator back up to the observation deck of the Sunsphere, and chatted about our day as we crossed the pedestrian bridge. But back in the downtown area, we check the map again.

"Which way is the library?" Eden asked. She had been equally as excited about the prospect of books as she had been about playing at the park, and I smiled down at her, proud to have successfully shared my love of books with her.

"It's close, right?" Joey asked, gesturing further down the street. "Like a block or two?"

"I think it's a few blocks over, actually," I answered, studying the map. "Yeah, but we're close though."

Walking into the children's section at the Lawson MgGhee branch of the Knox County Public Library was like leading a child into wonderland. Eden dropped my hand as soon as she'd entered the doors, anxious to scour the shelves for her next new read. Josephine headed for the computers, her mind already suggesting and discarding possible titles and authors to search for. And I? Well, I was in the world of printed pages, surrounded by the smell of aged paper, comforted by the heavy silence of the books and the quiet whispers of my children.

This photo was originally shared to Patreon here.

Two hours later, we left the library, weighted down with books, our hearts light and our minds already racing in preparation of the adventures we had checked out. Joey and I exchanged amused glances as we juggled books around the still-chattering Eden. It was over, and we were all ready - but it had been a great family day, downtown.


In honor of today's story, today's "Featured Favorite Product" is ... well, me. Some of you know that I recently had the opportunity to update the covers on two of my books, and I'm so excited to share them again here because I'm in love with how gorgeous they are! I mean, not that I didn't like my covers before, but wow. These are gorgeous, aren't they??

 click to purchase      click to purchase

The Selkie Trilogy is a series of sequential romantic fantasy novels. Each book in this series follows the last, with each new book continuing the story. These books are best enjoyed in order of publication, and this series contains mild/moderate sexual content. More information about this series and the books in it can be found here - or if you're one of those people who sees a gorgeous cover and just can't resist the one-click, then you can find Selkie here, and Selkie II here. There's sex, love, adventure, fighting, death, birth ... well, let's just assume you'll love it, shall we? Because you will. Because it's awesome.
What did you think of today's post? Did you like the short story format? Have you ever visited my city before, and if so, what was your favorite part of the visit? And what do you think of my new book covers? Are you as in love as I am? And if you've read the Selkie books, how do you feel about how these covers fit the story?

Make sure you take the time to look around while you're here; if you find something that really resonates with you, I'd love for you to share a link with your friends! While you're here, I'd like to invite you to hang out and follow along with my journey; if you subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar, you can rest assured you'll never miss a post! And while the darker content of this blog may not always be easy to read, I truly hope that through the light days breaking up the darkness, we'll learn from and inspire each other.

If you liked this bit of fiction, come on over to Patreon for more - you can sign up to sponsor my writing journey for as little as $1 a month, and your dollar gets you access to all sorts of content, including photos (like the one I shared in the post) and mini-blogs (that expand on the photos) from my personal life. You'll also get advance peeks at my fiction writing, which is a pretty slick deal for just over $.03 a day. But if you want a little more, for just $2 a month you'll also get to vote for upcoming content, read my upcoming poetry release as it's written, and have access to weekly L.A.F.F.S. - and the best part is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons, and when we hit that goal, my PhLogs will start going up daily!! (Click that link. Most are subscriber-only, but one each month is marked public - there's even a little tribute to my favorite "person!")

However we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, my social media profiles, or even Patreon, you can always rest assured that 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." Click here to find out more about what it means to be undaunted - maybe you'll find that you already know the perfect nominee for our next Undaunted Woman Interview!

And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Works For Me Wednesday: Habit Stacking

Shoutout to Elizabeth A, who suggested this post

This year, I've been working pretty hard at increasing my ability to set goals - and follow through on them. In January, I set myself the goal of blogging daily, but to tell you the long hard truth of it, I wasn't really sure I could do it. I was still adjusting to single mom life, juggling PTSD, dealing with the health issues the girls have, living with various health issues of my own, and struggling through regular life stuff. Blogging daily? That was a hard undertaking!

But I did it.

I set the deadlines, and I started early. I used my good days in December to write myself a little bit ahead, preparing posts that I could keep on standby in case I needed them. And doing that allowed me to take mental health days as often as I needed to - while still staying consistent here. I set up a calendar, and I started coding it so that I could keep track of what needed to be done and when. Starred days are days when a blog post is due, party hat days are days I've committed to events or takeovers. I've got days marked for my Patreon writing days, too - otherwise, there is simply NO WAY I could ever keep track of it all.

I'm still using that same strategy, writing ahead on the good days, marking off deadlines as I hit them so I don't lose my place in the schedule. And I've continued to adjust my strategies so that I can make the best of the good days in order to allow myself the bad days I can't prevent or get rid of. Back in January, I wrote about one of my favorite productivity techniques - the Pomodoro. With blogging so much and writing like crazy for my Patreon followers, I haven't had as much focus on novel-writing in 2017, so my Pomodoro schedule has changed a bit. And as I've adjusted to dealing with my mental health with a little more self-compassion and understanding, the Pomodoro routine isn't something I use every day. But on the good days? It's how I keep everything running in a way that looks smooth for you, without me running myself into the ground. Some days, I use the Pomodoro routine to write several blog posts, or to set up several Patreon posts. Some days I use my Pomodoro schedule to seek out quotes and set up social media posts. Other days? I can't do it. I can't do any of it - and I lay in bed with a book or my journal, or I veg out completely with YouTube, or I allow myself the time to go hide in the shower for a good cry. On days when PMDD is flaring up enough to drown out even the effects of PTSD ... I'm pretty much useless, and what saves me is being able to use the Pomodoro technique to prepare ahead of time for those days.

In May, I wrote out a typical school-morning for the girls and I, inviting my readers into the before-school routine of a family plagued with various mental health issues. I showed only two hours of a typical day for us, but what I didn't show is how much those mornings impact my ability to focus and cope for the rest of the day. I didn't show how hard the rest of the day is, simply because the morning has used up so much of what little energy I had. I wrote about that too, explaining "the spoon theory," which is a common way for people with invisible illness to attempt to explain the cost of illness to people who don't always have the ability to understand. This theory takes the average person's energy allotment of the day and turns it into a currency which must be spent on the tasks of the day - but also acknowledges the way things seem to "cost" more for people living with illness. This is why I write more on my good days, preparing for the bad days to come - otherwise I could never build this blog, could never write a book.

In July, I wrote an optimistic look at the summer version of my family's morning routine, acknowledging the all-day-every-day presence of the girls, and how I adjusted things to accommodate the increased demand on my Momming abilities. Part of this involves my writing schedule, too - while I did manage to blog daily in January, I knew that wasn't something I would be able to keep up with, so I adjusted by switching to (I think) every other day in February, and from there I went to every third day, which seems to be working alright for me. Granted, it was a little hectic to manage over the summer, but with thoughtful and careful planning, I kept up.

What? But how??
Here's where routine comes into play in such a huge way. Just like the Pomodoro Technique helps me focus and make the best of my writing time, Habit Stacking helps me make the best of the rest. One of the most debilitating symptoms of my PTSD is memory loss - I have trouble remembering much of anything, and if it isn't part of my routine, there's a good chance I'm going to forget to do it.

This is why I live my life by lists and calendars - otherwise, I'd be a flighty hot mess of a woman, and probably an abysmal failure as a mother. And the truth is, some days even the calendars and to-do lists aren't enough to stop me from sucking. But we get by, because I'm honest with myself about what I can do and where my limitations are, because I'm honest with my kids about those things too, and because I happen to have sweet kids who love their mom enough to step into the gap. We're a team, my girls and I, and we're always looking for better ways to work together.

So we habit stack. One of my most consistent (and consistently failed) quarterly goals this year has been to drink more water, but I've also been working on remembering to take the Prilosec that gets me through the day without crippling back pain (Because yes, you can have back pain from GERD just like you can have back pain from labor. It doesn't have to be IN your back to HURT your back.). Forgetting my meds is a huge deal to me, as it has a very literal impact on my quality of life and my ability to interact well with the people around me.

Habit-Stack Strategy - Meds #1:
I start drinking water first thing in the morning - once I've gone to pee and made my way downstairs to let the dog out, literally the first thing I do is head for the kitchen to wash and fill my water tumbler. This never changes. Ever. So instead of trying to fit my meds in when I could remember to (or even adding them to a list which required me to check it in order to succeed), I'm just making it a point to take my Prilosec right then. Fill the water up, drink some with my meds. Goal one, drink water ... in progress. Goal two, remember to take meds ... check. Now, on to the rest of the day.

Habit-Stack Strategy - Meds #2:
My girls are wild and demanding, no matter when they go to bed or when they wake up in the morning. They're emotional and energetic, opinionated and confident in who they are. So the morning hours often consist of a lot of irregularity for us. The girls both have health issues, so sometimes I'm working around those. They both have school stuff and life stuff and sometimes we're working around that. What never changes is that they're breakfast people. So it's become our habit that they take their meds immediately after breakfast. This means they don't forget, I don't forget, and we set ourselves up for the rest of the day with time-proven strategies that work for us. Without their meds ... quality of life goes down for all of us, because when you combine a PTSD/PMDD mom with an ADHD hormonal teen girl and an ADHD/OCD pretween girl, and then you stir in an overly generous helping of anxiety disorder (we all have it), abandonment issues, and regular life stress ... well, let's just say remembering necessary meds is important to us.

But That's Just The Morning, Right?
Nope. The rest of our day is a mash-up of habit-stacks, from the way we get to school on time to the way I pick the girls up from school in the afternoon. It has an impact on how we get ready if there's no school and we're going on an outing, it has an impact on how we progress through the day if we're staying home. It gets us to bed at a decent hour every night, and when it all goes smoothly, our individual habit-stacking helps make life smoother and easier for our family as a whole.

Isn't That A Little Rigid?
Not really. The magic of habit stacking means it's the same no matter when you do it. So if I come downstairs at six-thirty on a school day, or if I come downstairs at ten-thirty on a luxurious Saturday morning, it's the same - fill up my water, take my Prilosec. It's the same with our other routines too, for the most part.

So How Do You Do It?
Start with something simple. For me, I couldn't just start up and create a stack to work on. I literally have to work one goal at a time. But once it became a habit for me to start drinking water first thing in the morning (coffee is now a reward for finishing that first 26-ounce tumbler), it got easier to add my medicine to that first sip of water. From there, I've added my goal to listen to a personal development podcast every day, which I usually listen to either while I'm making breakfast for the girls, while I'm driving home from dropping them at school, or while I'm getting ready for my morning shower.

It's easy to just pick one habit to build, because it's not asking you to do too much. One little habit at a time, you build it and solidify it, like the foundation of a home. Then you add the next habit to the stack - the next layer of what makes each day turn into a life you're satisfied with living. Habit by habit, you build so much more than a "stack" of to-dos.


Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is an amazing bundle of books on productivity and time management. This Productive Habits Book Bundle is a great deal, with five books in one for just $5.99 - and what makes me most impressed with this bundle is that the included books focus on a range of issues that are common problems for me: procrastination, low energy levels, productivity, digital clutter, and goal-setting. I know that these are common problems for a lot of people too, which is why I'm so glad to be able to share this book bundle here!


And if you like what you get out of those five S.J. Scott books, then here's another - which I think is even more perfectly geared to our community. Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking looks like a phenomenal resource for helping people find and remove the parts of their lives that stress them out. This is something I've been much more actively working on for myself this year, from cleaning out and narrowing my social circle to cleaning up and lessening the noise of my social media feeds. (These ideas have both been featured here as quarterly goals.) It's good to know that while I'm not alone in struggling with these concepts and the noise of a digital world, there are ways to deal with it and turn down the noise - ways that I don't have to discover, because S.J. Scott already did that part.

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.)
What kind of habit stacking do you practice - and did you build those stacks on purpose, or did they develop more organically? How do they impact your life and the way you do things on a day-to-day basis, and what adjustments would you like to make in order to live a happier, more productive life?

If you enjoyed or felt helped by this post, please take the time to look around; if you find something that really resonates with you, I'd love for you to share a link with your friends! While you're here, I'd like to invite you to hang out and follow along with my journey; if you subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar, you can rest assured you'll never miss a post! And while the darker content of this blog may not always be easy to read, I truly hope that through the light days breaking up the darkness, we'll learn from and inspire each other.

Come on over to Patreon too - you can sign up to sponsor my writing journey for as little as $1 a month, your dollar gets you access to all sorts of content - including photos and mini-blogs from my personal life and advance peeks at my fiction writing, which is a pretty slick deal for just over $.03 a day. Want a little more,? For $2 a month you'll also get to vote for upcoming content, read my upcoming poetry release as it's written, and have access to weekly L.A.F.F.S. - and the best part is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons, and when we hit that goal, my PhLogs will start going up daily!! (Click that link. Most are subscriber-only, but one each month is marked public - there's even a little tribute to my favorite "person!")

However we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, my social media profiles, or even Patreon, you can always rest assured that 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." Click here to find out more about what it means to be undaunted - maybe you'll find that you already know the perfect nominee for our next Undaunted Woman Interview!

And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Self-Care Sunday: Simple Ways to Keep Grief at Bay


My grandmother's recent death is something that's been a little challenging for me to deal with - I had a lot of mixed emotions about her, and over the years there was a lot that went left unsaid between us. It meant a lot to me to be able to see her before she died and spend some time talking to her in the quiet of her hospital room.

For short periods of time during the last four days of her life, I was alone with her, holding her hand in the silence. She couldn't talk, and would only occasionally nod understanding of what was said to her. There was no noisy blood pressure cuff to take vitals every 15-30 minutes, no beeping IV machine - she was beyond those things and everyone knew it, including her.

She looked funny to me, without her glasses on - the cat-eye frames she always wore. And in that bed, as she lay dying without nearly as much pride or dignity as she would have wanted, I saw her bare feet for maybe the first time. My grandmother never walked around barefooted; she always wore slippers, if not full socks and shoes. A sharp contrast to her barefooted hillbilly of a grand-daughter.

I wish we had had time to clear the air, to talk things through. I wish I was the kind of person who could have handled it fresh-faced and calmly - I wish she was the kind of person who would have gone for it.

Death leaves so much regret behind.

But even if you've had the chance to clear the air - even if you were in love, even if you had time to talk things through, to plan out the details, to speak those last words of compassion or understanding ... death leaves a certain fog behind. The mist of grief creep has crept into my life in little ways:
  • the inability to eat a peanut butter cookie without thinking of hers, crisscrossed by the tines of a dinner fork.
  • the sudden longing for a box of Lincoln Logs, like the ones I played with as a kid when she ran a daycare.
  • the echo of her voice in my memories.
  • the return of the re-occurring nightmare I always used to have - but only at her house.
  • sadness over the secrets she never felt safe or secure enough to share.
These were things always there for me, always under the surface but rarely breaking through - and yet now that she's gone, these things are back to remind me of her and what she meant in my life, a strange mix of security and fear and pride and shame and curiosity unmet.

But death can touch anyone. A husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, a brother. A sister, a cousin, a friend. And we? Those left behind? We must face each new day, resilient against the grief, strong against the struggling mix of emotion.


It Isn't Always Death, Though
When I first wrote about my Grandmother's passing, I linked to an article I had found - an article addressing the existence and impact of various kinds of grief. Because grief isn't always caused by death-centered loss. You grieve a failed marriage, a lost pregnancy, the end of a friendship. You grieve when you get laid off unexpectedly. Any great change in life can cause this deep cycle of feelings of loss and sadness ... and sometimes, not enough change can cause it too.

I have grieved failed relationships, broken hearts. I've grieved over the loss of a child, a cousin, a friend. I've experienced the deaths of loved ones.

But my deepest moments of grief have often been from other causes - from ongoing crisis, from my mother's chronically tragic health. Things I can't escape or change, or couldn't for long periods of time. I couldn't heal from something I was stuck in, and I couldn't get unstuck for years. I just had to adapt and keep moving from moment to moment, giving everything I had to coping and surviving. But I grieved. I grieved the loss of the life I was promised, the connection I expected, the truth I eventually had to accept never knowing. I lived in grief, mourning what never was, what wasn't true - shattered belief, smothered faith.


But How Do You Keep It From Taking Over?
Sometimes, particularly when hope is too far away to reach out for and emotional pain is too heavy to carry anymore, it becomes all too easy to cower in the darkness of grief and believe, even if just for a second, that this depth of loss and sadness is the new norm. That we just need to get used to it, because this is what is now, because this is life now.

But it isn't, and even in the darkest moments of grief (like in the darkest moments of depression), there is hope - there is the very faintest sliver of light. And if only we can find it and focus on it ... that focus alone is enough to make it grow.

Here's where I look for light in my darkness:

  • Music: The music industry is full of strength and passion, the ability to keep moving, and the beautiful humanity that powers our spirits. In the lyrics of a song that moves us, we find compassion and understanding, love and friendship, hope and encouragement. In the notes of simple instrumentals, we find intensity and movement, a range of sound and feeling that warms the soul and powers the will to live. Music revives our memories, jolts us back to life again, reminds us that even in pain, there is continuity. In my deepest grief, classical music soothes me best - from the mournful notes of Andre Rieu's violin to the inspiring melody of Jim Brickman's piano. Music gives us time and permission to feel what we're feeling, to experience the depth of our emotion without hiding from it - and it's only in seeing and experiencing our emotions for what they are that we can learn to let them go.

  • Books: Sometimes though, what you really need most is to distract yourself from your grief so you'll have the strength of spirit to get to the next moment, and the next, and the next. When I need distraction and freedom from loss and sadness, I tend to turn to books - I find that books help me feel something other than my own internal pain. Through characters in the novels I read (or even the memoir stories that I connect to personally), I can allow myself to feel and remember love and passion and joy - without the twinge of guilt that often comes with positive emotion in the midst of grief. We often feel that when we're in a place of grief there should be no room for laughter, and it's easy to believe that any sense of happiness in the midst of grief is born of some betrayal. But it's only human nature to feel and experience a range of emotions - just as it's normal to feel a twinge of sadness during a happy time (such as missing a deceased grandparent during a wedding or other similar happy occasion), it's equally normal to laugh at a joke or enjoy the company of a child during the low points in our lives.

  • Self-Care: Taking care of yourself is the best way to battle grief-induced depression, and sometimes that extra gesture of self-care is what you need in order to make it through the day. Take a little longer to enjoy the cascade of water in the shower, breathe in the steam of an extra cup of coffee, revel in the sweet tartness of a piece of apple pie. Take note of the moments and how rich each one is - soak in the warmth of a friend or loved one's hug, close your eyes and appreciate the soft security of curling up under a blanket at the end of the day. Stop to really smell the perfume of a flower. Give yourself permission to need nurturing, and then give yourself permission to meet that need, whether that's through a layer of nail polish, a slick of lipstick, or a good sweaty run.

  • Positive Affirmation & Encouraging Self-Talk: Acknowledging the truth and depth of what you're feeling is important, but giving yourself time, understanding, and compassion is essential. You must allow yourself the freedom to feel whatever you feel (in a constructive way, of course), give yourself the space to truly acknowledge those feelings, and comfort yourself with the time it might take to move on. Grief isn't a race, and it looks different for every person experiencing it, every time. Kicking yourself for feeling it won't make it go away; it's much more effective to take charge and coach yourself instead. Remind yourself that it's normal to feel what you feel, that it's perfectly acceptable - and most importantly, that this is temporary. Grief is an emotion much like all the others, and it will come and go like the others too. Give yourself kindness and patience ... and time.

Because as bittersweet as this concept is, "this too shall pass."



Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is a book I've mentioned before here on the blog - and it's the book currently reading through. This isn't my first experience with Max Lucado's books, but this book is most likely to be the one with the most lasting impact for me. You'll Get Through This walks you through the biblical story of Joseph, taking the worst moments of Joseph's life and bringing them into the present in ways we can relate to now - and then it offers biblical understanding, counsel, and perspective on how you can take encouragement even in the worst moments. I acknowledge that as it's a Christian-themed read, it may not be for everyone ... but I can personally vouch for the impact this book has had on me already, and I think that if you're a Christian (or just a person with an open heart) there's a wealth of perspective to be found in these pages.


It's pretty likely that after I read You'll Get Through This, I'll be looking for God Will Use This for Good next. And there's another one that's caught my eye, too - called He Fights for You. These two books have been added to my personal book wishlist on Amazon, too!

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.)
How do you deal with grief? Have you experienced grief before, and if so, what triggered it? Please know that you are not alone, and that as cold as the world can be, there are people out there willing to lend an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or even a hand to hold. Never be afraid or ashamed to reach out - whether it be to a friend or relative, a support or crisis hotline, or even to me through a comment or private email.

If you enjoyed or felt helped by this post, please take the time to look around; if you find something that really resonates with you, I'd love for you to share a link with your friends! While you're here, I'd like to invite you to hang out and follow along with my journey; if you subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar, you can rest assured you'll never miss a post! And while the darker content of this blog may not always be easy to read, I truly hope that through the light days breaking up the darkness, we'll learn from and inspire each other.

Come on over to Patreon too - you can sign up to sponsor my writing journey for as little as $1 a month, your dollar gets you access to all sorts of content - including photos and mini-blogs from my personal life and advance peeks at my fiction writing, which is a pretty slick deal for just over $.03 a day. Want a little more,? For $2 a month you'll also get to vote for upcoming content, read my upcoming poetry release as it's written, and have access to weekly L.A.F.F.S. - and the best part is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons, and when we hit that goal, my PhLogs will start going up daily!! (Click that link. Most are subscriber-only, but one each month is marked public - there's even a little tribute to my favorite "person!")

However we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, my social media profiles, or even Patreon, you can always rest assured that 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." Click here to find out more about what it means to be undaunted - maybe you'll find that you already know the perfect nominee for our next Undaunted Woman Interview!

And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Thursday Thoughts: Christmas Shopping Already?


Did you know there are only 81 days left until Christmas? Because there are only 81 days left until Christmas. And I know it's frustrating every time we walk through stores that already have Christmas lights and ornaments and decorations out when it's not even Halloween yet (or even Thanksgiving!), but the fact is, there are only 81 days left until Christmas!

And if you have a big family, a lot of kids, a lot of friends, or even just a limited budget ... well, you really need to be getting ready early, otherwise your Christmas spirit is likely to be smothered by the sudden expense of gift-shopping!

I'm looking forward to our second simplified four-gift Christmas - I really loved using that concept last year, and it helped me to make sure that what my girls got for Christmas REALLY fit in with who they were and what sorts of things they were into. I'm already looking into how I'm going to pull off an equally special list of gifts for my daughters to enjoy this year, as well as looking into things that will be on the mom-approved list of gifts Santa might leave under our tree.

I've had a lot of different idea already, and since I'm starting early, I thought I'd share some of those idea with you so that you could start early with me!

Christmas comes in four categories for us, so I'm breaking down my gift suggestions into those same four categories: one thing you want, one thing you need, one thing you wear, and one thing you read. Here are some of the things I'm thinking of for Christmas this year:


ONE THING YOU WANT
It's not uncommon for my kids to want a lot of things! They're still learning to put quality over quantity, and some days the lesson slips. On those days, I pay attention - and sometimes I even take notes, because those are the days when I learn the most about the things my children love best when it comes to toys. My daughters are currently eight and thirteen, so here are some of the things they've been asking for - if your kids (or other kids you plan to be shopping for) are in the same age range, these ideas might also be good ones for you!
  •  I have always thought the best play for any kid is the kind of free play that's mostly unstructured. This allows for maximum creativity - and it also means that you can easily find toys appropriate for boys and girls of almost any age. Which is nice for me because I've got a five-year age gap to make up for! I really think this 130 Piece Set of Magnetic Building Sticks with Storage Bag from Amazon would be a great gift choice because they allow freedom of play for all ages while encouraging kids (and their moms?) to use their imaginations and create their own fun.
  • But if, like me, you have a sweet but dumb dog that'll eat just about anything, maybe you'd be a little nervous about having all those tiny pieces to keep track of. And if, like me, you have kids that frequently need to be reminded to clean up after themselves, you already know there's going to be an issue. So maybe this 40 Piece Set of Magnetic Blocks with Container Bag would be better - they come in at the same price point (both this kit and the one previously mentioned are under $25 on Amazon) and this kit has less pieces, but the pieces are bigger and easier to manage. And hopefully, harder for the dog to eat.
  • Then again, if you're like most families and you already have a collection of regular non-magnetic Lego blocks, then maybe you just want to extend your possibilities by beefing up your collection with these LEGO Classic Bricks - after which, you can work on accomplishing ... well, just about anything - together.


ONE THING YOU NEED
One thing my girls always need is clothes. They really do grow like weeds! So this year will be quite a lot like last year - they'll get boxes filled with underwear, socks, bras - whatever it is that they most need replenished in their wardrobe.


ONE THING YOU WEAR
With clothing covered in the "need" category, I have to get creative with the "wear" category - otherwise, I'll be draining the magic of Christmas pretty fast, and my kids might just go into full mutiny! So with that in mind, here are some of the things I've been thinking my kids (and maybe yours) would like for Christmas this year:
  • For the last year, Josephine has been really into wearing chokers - her favorite one is a black one she made from the Rainbow Loom Crafting Kit she got from a family friend last Christmas. But the problem is, the little rubber bands are made of, well, rubber. They wear out quickly, then they break, and then she has to remake the choker all over again. And I have to keep buying black rubber bands because she won't put any other colors on it. So I've been thinking this year, I could talk into falling in love with something more durable: Macrame. Of course, she doesn't know how to do it though, and I'm not sure she'd make the swap even if she could learn how. So I found this great little shop on Etsy, where I could pick up something cute that I'm sure Joey (or any girl) would love! Prices here range from about $15 to as much as $80 (at the time of this writing), but the pieces offered have a great variety in color and style, and most pieces are mixed materials - there are beads interwoven with the string, and you can even order custom pieces to suit your style or budget. But if you're shopping for more of a DIY fan, there's always this Friendship Bracelet 101 Pattern Book - which would pair nicely with this gorgeous rainbow of embroidery floss to make a perfect DIY jewelry kit for any tween or teen.
  • If your kid is more into hair accessories (like Eden has been recently), or if they're too small to get into something as detailed as jewelry-making, then headbands might be a better bet, and these little Turban-style bands are so cute I think even the moms could love them! They come in solid colors or boho floral patterns, and they're just totally gorgeous!


ONE THING YOU READ
  • One of the things I'm definitely hoping to find for Joey this year is a paperback version of her favorite book, The Killing Woods - she's loved this book since the first time she checked it out from our library's digital collection, and she's checked it out for her Kindle about a thousand times since. But she's a tactile sort of girl, and I know she would love being able to hold this book actually in her hands. I will say it's a little bit old for her though, with some content (some drug and alcohol use, making out, and heavy petting) that might have stopped me from letting her read it if I had known it was in there. Still, she's read it and she loved it, so if you're buying books for an older (or especially mature) teen who likes mystery/thrillers and has a budding interest in romance as a genre, then this would be an amazing choice - maybe not necessarily mom-approved, but definitely teen-recommended.
  • Another great book choice is the Septimus Heap series. These books are great for Harry Potter fans looking for another series to love - and with seven hefty books in the series, your little reader will be occupied for a while, even if they're as voracious as Eden (who devoured all seven books in about six month's time, then moved on to the ToddHunter series, which comes after Septimus Heap #7, and is still in the same world).

There's no "Featured Favorite Product" on this post, since most of the links included are affiliate links, but I hope you'll check out the ones that are listed here, as most of them are actually products that we've either tried/loved or are planning to buy/try. And if you do try any of these (or if you already have), make sure to come back and tell me what you think!

Quick Disclaimer: Even without the featured product, I am using affiliate links in this post - so 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 on a more regular basis, click here.)
What did you think of this little Christmas round-up? Are you an early shopper like me, or are you more of a last-minute gift-hunter? And whichever strategy you prefer for your Christmas gift-shopping, how do you make it work for you? What gift are you most looking forward to giving this year? Leave me your best gift-shopping tips and tricks in the comments!

If you enjoyed this post, please take the time to look around - and if you find that something that really resonates with you, I'd love if you shared it with your friends! And speaking of friends, why don't you click here to find out more about what it means to be undaunted - maybe you'll find that you already know the perfect nominee for October's Undaunted Woman! I've been interviewing Undaunted Women for the last two months, and I've been having an absolute blast getting to know such strong and determined women. I'm really looking forward to seeing the Undaunted Interview series grow into something truly inspiring.

While you're here, I'd love for you to hang out and follow along with my journey; if you subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar, you can rest assured you'll never miss a post! And while the darker content of this blog may not always be easy to read, I truly hope that through the light days breaking up the darkness, we'll learn from and inspire each other.

Come on over to Patreon too - you can sign up to sponsor my writing journey for as little as $1 a month, your dollar gets you access to all sorts of content - including photos and mini-blogs from my personal life and advance peeks at my fiction writing, which is a pretty slick deal for just over $.03 a day. Want a little more,? For $2 a month you'll also get to vote for upcoming content, read my upcoming poetry release as it's written, and have access to weekly L.A.F.F.S. - and the best part is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons, and when we hit that goal, my PhLogs will start going up daily!! (Click that link. Most are subscriber-only, but one each month is marked public - there's even a little tribute to my favorite "person!")

However we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, my social media profiles, or even Patreon, you can always rest assured that 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." So whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.