Category Archives: Chocolate

Vacation Inspiration

A common question asked of writers is where we get our ideas for our stories. Some will say it’s the ‘Muse”. Others might say ideas are born from snapshots of characters who speak to us or a seed of inspiration that drops in from the aethers. Both are probably true, but as for me, I believe ideas are born from life experiences.

PJ Sharon here, coming to you fresh (or a little less than fresh) off a twelve day road trip up the West Coast. Call it a much needed and long overdue vacation, a visit to celebrate with my eldest son who just turned 33 (Holy cow! How did that happen? I turned 33 only yesterday!), or call it what it was…research. Since my last big vacation–a Mediterranean cruise with my mother-in-law back in 2011 that led me to write PIECES of LOVE, hubby and I were happy to splurge on some time away from our daily rat race.

Despite suffering the usual vacation mishaps, such as a missed flight, the dreaded airplane flu three days in with a side trip to the ER in San Rafael, and a questionable hotel stay or two, we had loads of fun and saw some amazing sights! And yes, I took copious notes and tons of pictures. I’d like to share some of my experiences and how they might serve to inspire me and my books.

The trip started in San Francisco with a lovely four day visit with my son who lives in wine country out there–the perfect backdrop for a romance novel. We did the usual touristy things like wine tasting in Napa Valley and a ride out to Bodega Bay to cruise the coast. In the city, we took a  trolley up to the cable car museum, then ate at Neptune’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, and watched street performers on the Embarcadero. GhirardelliAnd I couldn’t visit San Francisco without stopping by Ghirardelli’s.doing time in alcatraz

When a tour of Alcatraz landed me behind bars, I imagined the desperate souls who were once imprisoned behind those walls, looking out at the world beyond, the distant voices from the city by the bay a  constant reminder of an untouchable freedom.

After a sad farewell to my boy, we headed up the coast, through the rolling green and gold hills of wine country, and beyond to the Redwood Forests. I hugged some magnificent trees, connecting to their ancient life energy. Trees that have stood since the time of Christ and seen generations pass their way. I imagined a native hugging this same tree some five hundred years ago and felt the spirits deep in my soul. Massive creatures 300 feet tall and 30 feet around, whose roots interconnect with one another in a web of underground life. It sounds crazy to people who aren’t sensitive to such things (or creative enough to imagine), but in my minds eye, I see limbs that come alive and faces in every knot and outgrowth. Elementals perhaps? I can totally see this being the setting for a paranormal series, fey romance or historical Native American romance…oooh…maybe a time travel story.Hugging the grandfather treecrater lake oregon

We said goodbye to the giant Redwoods and continued our journey. Next came a detour inland to Crater Lake, Oregon–a sight not to be missed! Formed from a volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, the collapse created a crater almost 2,000 feet deep. Over time, the bed filled with crystal clear rain water and centuries of ice cold snow melt. Through checks and balances of seepage and evaporation, the lake has found its way. The story possibilities boggle the mind!

Winding our way back to the coast led us to the quaint town of Florence, up through the seal caves, and along the twists and turns of route 101 until we reached Cannon Beach in norther Oregon. This was on my darling husband’s bucket list, so we splurged on a beautiful hotel room right on the Pacific coastline with Haystack Rock outside our door. Every romance includes long walks on a beach and golden sunsets, a glass of good wine, and two people who would lay down their lives for one another. I’m not sure if I could write romance if i didn’t have that in my life.

Not to be underestimated, the power of alone time is also necessary. haystack rock cannon beach. oregonWaking to the mammoth rock, a cool, dry breeze, and the sound of the Puffins nesting high up on the “haystack” shaped stone, I enjoyed my morning meditation and a much needed yoga practice before we walked around the touristy little town, admiring the glass blown art and lovely beachfront properties.

Then it was up through the small fishing village of Astoria, site of fun and famous movies such as Kindergarten Cop and The Goonies. We ate yummy seafood and visited the Maritime Museum–another of hubby’s “must do’s”.

Our final stay was in my new favorite city, Seattle! An entertaining duck boat tour gave us great views of the sky line and a city tour that helped orient us for the short stay so we could decide what we wanted to see most.seattle skyline Pike Street Market Place and the famous Space Needle were highlights as was the people watching in Westlake Center.Pike street market

space needle 2

Mount St. Helens made for a fabulous day trip despite the deep bowl being shrouded in clouds the day we visited. We didn’t have to imagine what the 1981 eruption might have looked like since there were dozens of pictures taken that fateful day in May over thirty years ago. The twenty minute movie that takes you up close and personal with the destructive force of the event was surreal. Nearly every sign of life in over 200 square miles was destroyed that day, leaving a path of destruction and magma that turned the surface of the Earth to a moonlike desolation.mt. St. helens lava flow Acres of trees were flattened or swept away, the nearby Spirit Lake filling with lumber and wiping out much of the water life below. But as with all stories, there came a happy ending when life began to emerge from beneath the ground and under the snow covered mountainside. The current state of new life, growth, and natural beauty give hope for a bright future, made possible by the conservationists committed to preserving the land–a labor of true love if I’ve ever seen it.

Our final adventure occurred on our return trip home. It seemed silly to spend a three hour lay-over in the Las Vegas airport when we could take a shuttle over to the Vegas strip and have breakfast while checking out the scene.mgm 2 I’ve never been to Vegas before but did a ton of research for WESTERN DESERT, book two  in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I wished I’d been able to take this trip BEFORE I wrote the second book. It was fun to see the MGM Grand,  but somehow, I imagined the whole strip to be bigger. All the same, Google didn’t do it justice.

Sometimes, the best way to get inspired is to take a road trip.

Have you ever written about a place you’ve traveled to? Where do you find your inspiration?

Green Monster Mash

Hello my lovelies, Suze here. Today’s post is a Monster Mash(up) of fun stuff. I’ve got a squillion things to do, but I’ve got a few thoughts for you.

game[1]First, I’m off to Punkin’ Chunkin’ in Delaware. Click here for more information–and seriously, if you can get yourself to Delaware and you love pumpkins and machines that can make them fly, do it. What’s not to love about a festival whose mission is to support various charities, and whose motto is “We’re Gonna Hurl” ? If you go, let me know and maybe we can meet up over a cup of pumpkin chili.

th[1]Second, How ’bout them Sox? I didn’t get to see the final game of the World Series last night since Sister Scribe Katy Lee and I were at the Citizen’s Police Academy last night. I grew up in Yankees country but now live in the Red Sox Nation so I, ahem, swing both ways when it comes to my baseball loyalty. But seriously, folks. After the horrible tragedies in and near Boston over the past few months, no city deserves a World Series win more. Let’s all put on a beard and sing Sweet Caroline!

Reese's-PB-Cups-Wrapper-Small[1]And third, of course today’s Halloween. How will you be celebrating this most funnest of holidays? At our house we rarely get trick-or-treaters, but I buy candy just in case. The teenaged Crown Prince of Hardydom is officially too old for the mobile costume candy extortion plot, so we will have significantly less goodies in the house this year. I guess that’s okay–I only bought candy we like. My candy of choice is anything with peanut butter and chocolate–Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Payday, Nutrageous–or dark chocolate like Dove or Lindt.

What’s going on in your world? What’s your favorite crazy festival? Who’s your favorite baseball team? Would you wear the beard? And what’s your favorite candy? So many questions…

Here’s my favorite Halloween song for your listening pleasure (click here). Have a great day, friends!

Billionaire Brides–An Interview With Ana E Ross

Hello, loves! Suze here. I’ve got an extra yummy treat for you–no, no more cookies like last week!  But something just as good, and not at all fattening. The fabulous Ana E Ross is with us today, and I can’t wait to introduce you if you’re not familiar with her work. The second book in her Billionaire Brides of Granite Falls series, THE MOGUL’S RELUCTANT BRIDE, just released and it is selling like crazy. I’ve read book 1 (THE DOCTOR’S SECRET BRIDE), and I’ve got THE MOGUL queued up on my Nook to read over the upcoming long weekend. 

Final_1_small_ringsI hear there might be a giveaway, so be sure to leave a comment! Here’s what Ana has to say:

Tell us a little about yourself.

Well, I was born and raised on the Caribbean island of Nevis—which also happens to be the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton.  I come from a large family of ten boys and two girls, so you can just imagine how crowded and loud it was on a daily basis.  Anyway, an aunt—with whom I lived for some time started me reading at a very early age—3 years to be exact—and I used reading as a way of escape from my rowdy brothers.  I grew up on Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, Hans Christian Andersen, and many of the other children’s story authors. When I was a teenager, I fell in love with romances.

More recently:  After teaching English Literature and Writing for several years, I quit teaching in January to write full-time. I felt as if it was something I needed to do.  I cashed in my retirement and that’s what I’ve been living off of for the past few months.  I had to take a chance on me.  If it turns out that writing is not as financially rewarding as I hope, I’ll return to the classroom.  Time will tell.  But at least when I lie on my deathbed, I will be able to say that I took a chance on me, followed my dream, and die without regrets.

What was the first romance novel you ever read?

Wow, I wish my memory extended that far back, but unfortunately it doesn’t.  However, the first romances I read were Regencies and Mills & Boons, Harlequins, Silhouettes, and a vast number of historicals.

Did you sneak it out of your mother’s underwear drawer, like I did (SHANNA, by Kathleen Woodiwiss, for me)? 

This question made me chuckle, because I know my mother never read a romance in her entire life.  My parents were very religious and the only material they read were the Holy Bible and Christian related material.  Actually, I had to hide my romances from my mother; my aunt didn’t care though, which was a blessing since I spent a lot of time at her house.

ProfileHow long have you been writing?

I started writing in high school—short stories mostly, and then I transitioned into poems—many of them obviously on the theme of love.  I didn’t start writing romances until about twenty years ago. I’d just finished a romance and didn’t like the ending and thought I could write a story with a much happier ending.  And thus my writing career began with The Doctor’s Secret Bride.  The title has been changed several times over the years, but the premise of the story is the same.

Your newest release, THE MOGUL’S RELUCTANT BRIDE, is selling like hotcakes and has gone as high as number 245 on the Kindle paid list and is holding at number 1 on several sublists. As of today, it’s at number 341, and the first book in the series, THE DOCTOR’S SECRET BRIDE, is at number  924. Other than the fact that these are beautifully written, wonderfully hot reads, why do you think they are so popular?

I would like to think that those two titles are doing well because of the high level of sensuality and hot sex.  Seriously though, probably because of the themes of the stories—forgiveness, redemption, closure, healing, and definitely the strong bond of love and passion between the main characters.  Also, I love to torture my heroes, put them through the ringer—make them earn the heroines’ love.  The fact that they have to fight hard for their HEA make them more appealing it seems.  Readers have commented that they like the roller-coaster rides and that they feel the myriad of emotions the characters go through. They laugh, cry, scream, and cheer along with them.  So strong emotions must play an integral part in the success of the series.

How many books do you have planned for the Billionaire Brides of Granite Falls series?

There are four books in the series.  But since many readers have enquired about a story featuring Robert and Yasmine—Michelle’s brother and her best friend—I’m thinking of writing a spinoff of The Doctor’s Secret Bride where Robert goes off to investigate their father’s story.

Do you keep a series bible to keep the characters and the details straight?

Oh, yes, I definitely have to do that, especially since the characters make appearances in each other’s stories.  Granite Falls is a small town and they are bound to run into each other.  Also because of the bond of brotherhood between the heroes, I have to keep their physical and emotional characteristics straight.

What form is that in? (electronic, 3-ring notebook, index card box?) 

I keep electronic bibles with timelines, first meetings, birthdays, marriages, dates of conception, births, etc.  The four books take place over a four-year period, so I have to pay attention to the details, or my readers will call me out on inconsistencies.  I also created a map—both electronically and poster-size—of the town of Granite Falls with specific landmarks, streets, etc., and since the heroes are billionaires, I make plans of their homes as well.  I keep the poster-size plans and maps on the wall over my desk and I consult them while writing.  They keep me focused and help me to bring my characters to life.  I can really see them interacting with each other.

What type of marketing and publicity have you done/are you doing for your books?

Other than enrolling Book One into Amazon’s Select program, I didn’t do any marketing or publicity when it was first released.  I was just blessed I guess, and I didn’t worry about it so much since I had a full-time job.  However because I had a lot to lose with Book Two, (my retirement was running out), I had to get a marketing plan in place.  I advertised on numerous promotion sites, some free, some paid.  In addition, I re-enrolled Book One into Amazon’s Select program and used my free days before, during, and after the release day of Book Two.  During 3 free days, I had 27k downloads of Book One, and it’s still selling well.  The freebies definitely helped with the blowout sale of Book Two.  I hope that most of the 27K downloads for the first book will generate into sales for the second.  Again, only time will tell.

Why did you decide to indie publish?  

After umpteen years of trying to sell these two titles the traditional way with the big six—well big five now, I finally decided that enough was enough.  I had to make my own dream come true.  I was inspired by Ruthie Cordello’s success as an indie publisher.  Ruth and I met in 2010 at another romance author’s summer garden party and we were in the same boat with trying to sell to Harlequin.  She went indie the next year and made the NY Times Bestseller List in months.  We wrote similar books, so I thought I’d try my own hand at indie publishing, as well.  I’m so happy for all those wonderful rejections from New York.

final-the-doctors-secret-bride-600x800-copy[1]Other than the actual writing, what parts of the process do you do yourself, and what parts do you hire out?

I hire out the cover design, editing, and formatting portions.  But I just enlisted the help of my twenty-three-year-old daughter who just graduated from college and moved back home to help with finding free promotion sites and handling my newsletters.  She did a great newsletter to announce the launch of Book Two, so we entered a kind of quid pro quo—as long as she continues to help, I make her car payments until she finds a job.

How long does it take you to finish a book? 

It depends.  I’ve written a book in three months, but I think if I want a book to be great, I need about five to six months to fully develop the characters and strong emotions that a lot of readers say they love in my stories.

Do you reward yourself when you type “The End” or put a book up for sale?  Yes.  I take myself, and my daughter out to a nice dinner.  I do indulge with a nice bottle of wine and some chocolate, too.

What are you working on now?  When can we expect it?

I’m working on The Playboy’s Fugitive Bride  – Book Three in the series. I hope to have it on the selves in September 2013.

What’s your junk food of choice?

I love strawberry cheesecake and buffalo chicken wings.

Any pets?

No pets at the moment.  I used to have a cat, but she died of old age a few years ago.  I plan to get another in the future.  I love cats and watch “The Big Cat Dairies” over and over again.  Actually, Massimo, the hero in Book Three owns a big cat named Jabari.

You can connect with Ana here:

www.anaeross.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ana-E-Ross/221431434575148?fref=ts

https://twitter.com/anaeross: @anaeross

Here’s Ana’s Amazon page where you can buy her books: http://www.amazon.com/Ana-E-Ross/e/B006UNSSD2/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1369273073&sr=1-2-ent

Who’s got questions for Ana? She’s giving away copies of her book to 3 randomly chosen commenters, so don’t be shy!

WWFD

A few weeks ago, a collective gasp was heard throughout social media when Amazon acquired Goodreads. This strange, yet brilliant acquisition got me thinking.  WWFD. What would Fusco do?  What would I do if I owned Amazon, acquired Goodreads, and planned to take over the book buying universe?  Yeah, my brain can be used for evil. I have a day job. I’m well versed in sinister.

So, I did what I do when the axis of evil takes over my brain: I listed all the ways I’d put the collective fuck to authors, publishers, and the book buying public by ram-rodding them into buying what I, Great Ruler of Amazon, wanted.

Here’s how:

  1. Consume data like it’s covered in chocolate: So far, Goodreads users have treated the site like it was their own personal safe haven. They added, uploaded and reviewed books, and they thought, quite foolishly, no one was watching.  Oh. Hell. No. Not only were the good folks at Goodreads recording everything you clicked, liked, and TBR’d. Now, they’re turning that data over to Amazon, to make the company smarter, faster and more efficient at selling you shit you don’t need.
  2. Biatchslap the Author:  I love authors.  Some of them are my friends, clients and BFF’s. However, nowadays, thanks to Amazon and CreateSpace, everybody’s a fucking author. Whether they should be is another blog for another day. But, if I owned Amazon/Goodreads, anybody who could form a complete sentence would get the screws handed to them if they wanted to advertise on my site. You see, now, I’ve got the data to the readers you want.  Look out bitches, it’s gonna cost ya. Sure, I’d sell it–if it were legal. Thank God it’s not. So, instead, I’ll tell you to bend over and reach for your ankles while I decrease your royalties and up your cost to target your readers.  Just leave your money on the nightstand, dear author. Oh. Wait. You don’t want to pay me to advertise your book? That’s alright.  “NEXT!!!”
  3. Beat the Big 6 into Submission: See that, that’s me, Amazon/Goodreads, the fat kid in the sandbox. It’s time to play by my rules. While over the years I’ve appreciated your love of the written word, chase of trends, and airplane reads, I’d plan to send to you running for cover and only publish shit no one reads, like poetry and recipe books. In fact, I’d beat you back so far that it would force you to become smaller, niche, and more nimble by keeping your overhead low, print runs smaller and expectations realistic.  My plan wouldn’t be to shut you down altogether. While I could easily be the only book selling game in town, I do need a dog to kick once in a while.
  4. Line my pockets with gold: Amazon is in the publishing game for one reason, and one reason only, to grow revenue.  And once my pockets are filled to the brim, I’m going to look to other ways to exploit the arts for my own financial gain.  I’d fool the public into recording their own music, creating their own video games and to share with friends, or starring in their own feature film.  Who needs Hollywood when you’ve got me Amazon/Goodreads/Chocolate Data Covered Fat Kid?

It’s probably a good thing I don’t run Amazon. I’m old school. I like things the way they were. I like to read books and not feel forced to write a review, like the author on Facebook, or download the next series to my Kindle HD, superfast e-reader spy gadget.

So, no more Goodreads for me, if you need me, I’ll be reading a good book, in hard cover, at the library.

How to Choose a Writer’s Conference

PJ here, happy to be on the East coast and back in my own bed…ahhhh. After doing this writing thing for a while, I’ve been to quite a few writer’s conferences, and I wanted to share my experience on how to choose the “right” conference for you. If you belong to RWA or a similar writer’s organization, you probably get inundated with lots of options. Here are a few things to think about.

road tripLocation/Accommodations: Check out the hotel venue and make sure the location is some place you’d like to stay for a few days. A bad night’s sleep, disappointing food, or poor quality hospitality can really put a damper on your stay. It’s worth visiting the hotel’s website and checking out their reviews. Make plans for car rental and recreational activities ahead of time so you don’t get there with hopes of visiting a locale on your “down time” only to find that you can’t get a car rental on short notice or the place you want to visit is closed. Although you are going for business, one of the perks of traveling is enjoying the sights along the way. Also, check to see what is around your hotel. Are there local restaurants and shopping within walking distance? Is there a gym? An indoor pool? Are you next to a train yard, airport, or in a bad section of the city? Some of these things may not be important to you, but if they are, make sure you know what you are paying for ahead of time. Scope out your hotel and surrounding area on Google maps.

Price: Is it affordable and worth the money for what you are getting? Are meals included? Are the speakers well known and knowledgeable? Is it worth your time, money, and effort? Remember to consider your loss of income while you’re away from your day job, and factor in any accrued costs such as wardrobe, entertainment, and additional travel fees (taxis, trains, buses etc.). Remember to save all receipts for tax purposes.

Focus of conference: Does the conference offer workshops that will help you further your career goals? If you are a newer writer, make sure there are craft workshops geared to what you’d like to learn. If you are seeking publication, are there opportunities to meet with agents and editors to pitch your story? Agent and editor panels offer a great opportunity to ask questions, find out what they are looking for, and hear the latest about the industry from publishing professionals. If you are a published author, do they offer promotion, marketing, and business oriented workshops? Interested in self-pubbing? Do they offer the most updated information available in this rapidly growing and changing aspect of the industry? If you are participating in a book signing, how successful have previous years been and how many readers can you expect to see? Shipping books is expensive, so ask for clear answers about realistic expectations. My experience is that print books don’t sell all that well at conferences and I rarely recoup the cost of shipping. I can see e-books being the way to go for future signings.

Networking: Conferences are a wonderful place to meet like-minded individuals and make professional contacts that you might never have the chance to meet otherwise. Don’t stalk the agents and editors but research them and know who you’d like to make a connection with. Make the effort to sit next to them at lunch or dinner (or in the bar). Be ready to talk intelligently about your work. Be prepared with a SHORT pitch of your WIP. Create a one or two sentence summary (log line) of what your story is about. The most common question asked at conferences is “What do you write?” The second most common question is “What is your story about?” Have an answer memorized and ready, and confidently smile as you give them your brief spiel. Don’t monopolize their time, but use the time wisely. If you get tongue tied and start rambling or their eyes begin to glaze over, stop talking and ask them a question about something unrelated. Where are you from? Are you a writer, too? Do you love baseball, zumba, pole dancing? Something that will put you at ease and take the heat off of you until you can collect yourself and get comfortable enough not to sound like an idiot. These are just people, but they are professionals and are there to FIND YOU! Respect their time, but don’t let your fear stop you from putting yourself out there.

Quality Speakers: I cannot stress this enough. Do some research on the speakers. What are their publishing/professional credentials? Just because they are there, doesn’t mean they are interesting, entertaining, or an expert in their field. Have they done this workshop before? How many times? Ask around to other writers and check out the websites of your presenters. If they don’t have a professional website that is engaging and informative, it might be an indicator that they aren’t all that well organized.

Organization: If you’ve ever participated in organizing a conference, you know about the gazillion moving parts and the army of people it takes to put on a seamless production. Of course there are always things that go wrong or details that get missed, but overall, organizers want it to be a good experience for everyone and they want attendees to return year after year to support the effort. If they don’t return e-mails, or answer your questions clearly up front, chances are the conference won’t be much better organized than the individuals running it. Conferences are generally a way for organizations to make money to support writers and their endeavors, so organizers (who are all volunteers, so be patient and kind to these people) are invested in making your conference experience successful. If there are suggestions you have for improvements, be sure to share them with conference organizers.

Image courtesy of Petr Kratochvil http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=3421&picture=apples-and-pears
Image courtesy of Petr Kratochvil http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=3421&picture=apples-and-pears

And last but not least, Food: You might have to contact the conference organizers for this information, but it’s worth asking about the menu ahead of time. If you have dietary restrictions or just want to make sure that some healthy selections are available, it’s worth the added effort to ensure that your needs are known ahead of time. You also have the option of doing a bit of shopping when you get settled in and stocking your hotel room refrigerator (make sure one is available in your room when you book your reservation) with fruit, yogurt, water, etc. so you can avoid the breakfast buffets that offer all those yummy bagels, pastries, muffins, and such. Will there be adequate chocolate selection at breaks? Just sayin’.

Unlocked Secret: Do your research, guys. There are enough choices for quality conferences around the country and your educational dollars are valuable, so make them count and get the most of your experience.

I hope to see you all at the RWA National convention in Atlanta this summer. It’s shaping up to be a fabulous time!

Any other tips for our readers to help them find a quality conference? What has been your favorite conference experience? Any funny experiences you’d like to share from the “trenches”?

All You Need to Know About Valentine’s Day — With a Giveaway!

Happy Valentine’s Day, my lovelies! I hope this day, no matter how you celebrate or who you celebrate with, is wonderful. Read through to the end, because there will be a special gift for one lucky commenter.

TRUE-LOVE-Sweethearts[1]I’m going to let you in on a little secret (we just love those things around here!). Everything you need to know about Valentine’s Day — or love in general — can be learned from a box of Sweethearts (f/k/a Tiny Conversation Hearts). As far as candy goes, these are pretty bland, even a bit chalky. And they have a sad and conspicuous lack of chocolate.

But they come in pretty pastel colors, and each has a pithy little motto: Be Mine. Hot Stuff. True Love. Hug Me. Kiss Me. Even Boogie. Now that you mention it, I do feel like dancing.Thanks! The Necco candy people clearly understand romance and the art of keeping it simple. What more do we really need?

IMG_20130214_060434Leave me a comment about Valentine’s Day, love, conversation hearts, keeping it simple, the new Bridget Jones book coming out in the fall, Joe Manganiello, or anything else that strikes your fancy, and you’ll be entered in a random drawing for a fabulous prize package: a hardcover copy of Pride and Prejudice, a lovely Celtic Heart bookmark, a box of Sweethearts, and a dark chocolate raspberry Godiva chocolate bar. Contest ends at midnight Sunday, February 17th, and I’ll announce the winner next Thursday. Good luck, and Game On!

PJ’s Top 10 Health Tips for 2013

Welcome! Tuesday’s Scribe here. This is an extra long post, but worth the read if you’ll bear with me. Being a Massage Therapist and personal trainer in the “real world” doesn’t exempt me from the laws of nature. That means that I am as susceptible as you are to the effects of gravity. As the image in my mirror reveals (it refuses to lie no matter how many spells I cast upon it), I can’t hide the addition of several pounds of holiday related “rolls”(ew). Yes, I too suffer from the intense attachment to chocolate that plagues even the strictest of gym rats. I’m PJ Sharon, and I, like many of you, am determined to do serious battle with my new found “writer’s bulge,” courtesy of my first year in publishing.

I know, I know…another diet, another fitness plan. Every January  the gyms are flooded with well-meaning but “weak-willed” souls who last about a month and then fall back into their old rut of unhealthy living. The truth is, living healthy is not rocket science. A healthy lifestyle is not a “diet” or an “exercise routine.” It requires a long term commitment to change. I wish I had the secret to turning on the “self-control” and “self-discipline” switches in the brain that some have and others struggle to find. There are many factors that influence us to take care of ourselves, but none is greater than healthy self-esteem. If you’ve tried and failed on your own and repeatedly lost and gained a significant amount of weight, I highly recommend you seek counseling to address the underlying issues that are keeping you stuck.

It may sound mean, but we all know when we put something in our mouth if it’s good for us or not. If you don’t know this, join Weight-Watchers and learn how to make healthier choices. Usually, we know when we are over-eating, and we definitely know when we aren’t getting enough rest (one of the leading contributors to weight gain). The trick is in catching the problems early. It’s infinitely easier to get back on track when we’ve gained only a few pounds instead of waiting until it’s ten or twenty…or fifty. It’s not hard to imagine why our clothes are fitting tighter than we like, or why we feel like crap from the sugar hangover we inflicted the night before by eating pizza, drinking that “extra” glass of wine, and then scarfing down chocolate ice cream for dessert. I’m not saying you can’t eat a piece of pizza or enjoy a glass of wine occasionally, but learn about portion sizes and find alternatives to these “fun” foods, saving the real deal for special occasions. And no…Friday night is not a special occasion. There are tons of creative ways to prepare foods that are healthy and delicious. Explore…get out of your rut!

I don’t know about you, but this being a grown up thing is a mixed blessing. Being an adult means that I can do what I want…eat what I want, right? Sure…if I want to live with the consequences. On the down side, there’s no one else to blame for my declining health or weight gain but me.  The bottom line is that I’m responsible for making good choices…about food, about my activity level, about cultivating healthy relationships, and about my work habits.

The first change I’ve made in the past few months is creating time to take care of myself by designing a work schedule that I can live with. That means regular office hours set aside to run my author business, and regularly scheduled work out sessions. Whatever I don’t get done in my office on any given day/night, I choose to let go and trust that I’ve done enough for that day. I will no longer sacrifice my “Healthy Me” time for social media or other tasks that will still be there the next day calling out to me. I know we’re all struggling to find balance these days, but honestly, none of it is worth dying over.

I’ve often told my clients that a healthy lifestyle is your best tool for success. I still believe that. I’d like to share some tips that I’ll be using to get back on track. I hope you’ll join me.

1)      HYDRATE- I’m not talking about ten cups of coffee or a liter of Diet Coke. I mean good old fashioned water. A good rule is to take your weight, divide by three, and that’s how many ounces per day of water you need to drink to stay properly hydrated. (Ie: A 150 pound person should consume 50 ounces of water per day). ** Fill a large water bottle first thing in the morning and drink it throughout the day, refilling as necessary to meet your daily ounce count. Feel free to add a slice of lemon. You’ll find you have more energy, you’re less hungry, and you’ll suffer fewer headaches, leg cramps, and muscle aches if you are hydrated. Trust me; your body will thank you!

2)      BANISH THE BREAD!-No not that!!!-White breads in particular break down into simple sugars very quickly. If you are sedentary, all that sugar gets stored as fat for later. But in this line of work, later never seems to come. Avoid white, starchy foods altogether. Switch from white potatoes to sweet potatoes, white rice to brown rice, and stock up on quinoa, cous cous, beans/legumes, and taboule, adding these complex whole grains and protein/fiber rich foods to salads or serving them as side dishes. Now most of us have already switched to “whole grain” breads, but if you read the label on your bread, you’ll likely find high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and a host of other additives and preservatives. **Try Ezekiel 4:9 Bread. You can find it in the refrigerator section of your grocer or local health food store. It has no flour! Instead it’s made from sprouted live grains like wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans and spelt. It packs a whopping 4grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and is sugar free and fat free, and only 80 calories per slice. It tastes great, too!

3)      WALKING MEDITATION-Meditating is one of the healthiest and most difficult practices to cultivate. Most of us can’t sit still and empty our minds for ten seconds, let alone twenty minutes. But just twenty minutes a day of meditation can be life changing. It reduces your stress level, improves your immune system, and has so many health benefits I couldn’t possibly list them all here. Ironically, twenty minutes of walking daily does much the same thing. Imagine if you combine them! I’m all for multi-tasking, even when it comes to taking time to BE PRESENT! **Take a twenty minute walk daily. It doesn’t matter what time of day or even if you break it up into two ten minute walks, but do it—every day. While you’re walking think about your breathing. Feel each heel strike. Notice your arms swinging at your sides. Be aware of your posture, tuning in your abdomen and keeping your shoulders back. This conscious awareness of your body is as much a meditation as sitting cross-legged on a mat.

4)      STRETCH-I suggest frequent stretch breaks throughout the day. If you join a yoga class and go 2-3 times a week, maybe this isn’t as important, but if you are sitting at your computer for several hours a day, it’s beneficial and takes no time at all to stop for a few minutes every hour and stretch. If you don’t know what stretches to do or have some physical limitations that prevent you from exercising, seek advice from a physical therapist or qualified trainer.IMAG0098

5)      START WITH PROTEIN and FIBER-Starting your day with carbohydrates sets you up for blood sugar spikes and dips that will have you craving a candy bar before noon. Skip the bagel or the cold cereal and opt instead for an egg white omelet with veggies or a bowl of oatmeal or multigrain hot cereal with nuts, cinnamon, and fruit. (Cinnamon is a natural anti-inflammatory). Loading your breakfast with high protein, high fiber and nutrient packed foods will keep your blood sugar levels balanced and help curb cravings. A handful of nuts or a high protein yogurt (Greek yogurt is yummy and packs about 15 grams of protein) for your mid-morning or late afternoon snack will keep you from binging at meal times.

6)      VITAMINS-Due to soil depletion, over processing of foods, and our generally poor diets, most of us are vitamin deficient and don’t know it. Fatigue, weight gain, inability to concentrate, skin conditions, joint pains, neurological symptoms…you name it, vitamin deficiencies could be the cause. A daily multi-vitamin is a must and some people could benefit from other supplements depending on your individual needs. You may have to see a nutritionist or Naturopath to address this issue. Ask your doctor if he/she can perform a blood panel to screen for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Many women in particular are lacking in Vitamin D, which can lead to a whole host of ailments including porous bones and hair loss…eeek! It’s worth a blood test.

7)      STRENGTHEN YOUR MIND AND BODY-Lifting light weights, swimming, yoga, cycling, or even dancing around your house with the vacuum cleaner are all ways to burn calories and strengthen your core (the muscles of your trunk that offer a stable center for your extremities to work from.) In addition to strengthening muscles and improving your posture and balance, regular exercise strengthens your heart, releases endorphins that ease pain, and improves your mental attitude/mood. When you feel strong, you are more confident. If you need another convincing tid-bit, lean muscle mass burns calories more efficiently and your clothes fit better.IMAG0091

8)      AFFIRMATIONS-I’m a consummate goal setter. Not that I achieve all of my goals, mind you, but I make them, check in on them now and then, and adjust the plan accordingly. What I do know about goal setting is that I have to be able to imagine the desired outcome before I can make it a reality. I have to believe I can achieve it, and then I have to speak it into existence by making choices that lead me in the direction of achieving my goal. Affirmations are those positive messages that I speak to make my goals come to fruition. **Start every writing session with an affirmation. Ie: “I am an excellent writer. I am a bestselling author,” etc. Start every workout with an affirmation. Ie: “I am lean, healthy, and strong. I look awesome in size eight jeans”…you get the picture. See it, believe it is possible, and speak it into existence as if it is already the reality. Over time, your brain has no choice but to comply by making it so, and eventually your body will catch on.

9)      RELATIONSHIPS-“No man (or woman) is an Island.” Or so the saying goes. I don’t know about you, but I would be nowhere without the help and friendship of other writers, friends, family, and especially my dear husband. It’s easy to become isolated when so many of our hours are spent behind a computer screen. Connecting with and showing appreciation for the people in my life is something I don’t ever want to put off until tomorrow. There comes a time in every life when tomorrow won’t come for us or a loved one. **Don’t let a day go by without showing the people in your life how much they mean to you.

10)  GRATITUDE THROUGH KINDNESS-I’m a big believer in random acts of kindness. Nothing gets you out of your own head and gives you a lift as much as showing your gratitude for all that you have in your life by paying it forward. It’s much easier to see the good in your life when you recognize a need and fill it in someone else’s life. Volunteer, reach out to help someone in need, donate your time or money to a worthy cause. Get involved. We are all intricately connected in this world and there is no reason why any of us should feel alone.

Any other tips you want to share?

Blessings in the New Year,

PJ