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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Books For a Cause

This offer closed on September 29th, 2017. If you are still interested in participating, please contact me individually. If the fundraiser is still open, I'm happy to work with you!

I am the third of nine children. When you're part of a big family, when THEY marry, your family gets even bigger and lucky for me they married really cool people. My younger sister, Crystal (Her name is--and I'm not kidding--Crystal Snow White. Is that not awesome? Sadly she stopped at four kids, I was rooting for seven just to make the most of things 😏 ) married Jairus White. They were high-school sweethearts so I have known Jairus for a loooooooong time--I knew him back when he had a full head of hair, I kid you not. I also know his siblings, including his sister Jenny. Jenny is remarkable. She has a master's degree in Social work and is an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker.) For many years she worked for organizations that helped people who were chronically homeless transition from the streets to a place of their own with supports to help them maintain housing. She worked as an outreach therapist to clients in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. She has also been a host home provider for adults with disabilities, both having them live in her home and providing respite care for other care providers for many years.  

In 2012, Jenny met Chris, a Chinese immigrant who came to Utah after converting to the LDS faith. He was already an engineer in China, but had to start over once he got here. They were both in their 30's, and they both wanted a family. They attended months of pre-marital counseling in order to ensure they were compatible and had a shared vision of their future. I was able to follow this circumstance as it happened and it was fascinating to me. Things were different for them than for most, in that shared goals and commitment brought them together before those things developed into love. They married in 2013 and Jenny continued to work while Chris finished his civil engineering degrees. They had their first son, Henry in 2015--chubbiest cheeks I've ever seen--just before Chris graduated with his bachelor's degree. Chris continued to finish his Master's degree the following year.  Chris took a job with an engineering firm in Idaho shortly after graduation, and Jenny was able to be a full time mom, which she had wanted for a long time. 

In 2016 they learned they were expecting again. At four months gestation they learned that their baby--another boy--had a serious heart defect. The defect is called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) and means that the left side of his heart did not develop correctly. They have to essentially remodel his heart so that the right side does everything for his entire body. The repair requires three surgeries, the first 4-6 days after birth ( Dieter had his at 2 days because it was so severe, his aorta and valves were 1/10 the size they needed to be and were restricting worse everyday.) The second surgery will take place when he is about 4-6 months old.  The third surgery will take place when he is about three years old. It's a new type of treatment and has only been in use for about 30 years. Because Chris's job is new, he had limited options for time off and took most of his time when Dieter was born and had his first surgery.  They have health insurance--thank goodness--but need to keep the job secure and can't afford to take any additional leave. There is a $14,000 out of pocket maximum. Depending on the timing of his second surgery, they may need to turn around and pay this again for 2018 as well. They have a two year old. They live about 360 miles from Primary Children's Hospital. They have a lot of hope, but there are also a lot of considerations they have to deal with. 

Dieter Shengxian Chen was born August 14th 2017 at the University of Utah Hospital. He was immediately sent to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Primary Children's hospital and will be there for a long time. Jenny is staying in Provo, at a friends town home, 45 minutes from the hospital. Chris works in Nampa, Idaho Monday through Thursday then comes to Salt Lake on the weekends--good friends are covering the expenses for him to fly back and forth so that he can travel more safely and spend as much time with his family as possible. Henry is being cared for by family most of time.  The family continues to see the amazing blessings they have been given through this ordeal. They continue to exercise faith, patience and hope. Deiter has good days and bad days, he's needed additional surgery to help with his breathing. He is on a feeding tube, but making progress. We hope that soon he will have more good days than bad. Jenny is at the hospital daily.  She uses a breast pump so that he can receive his mother's milk through his feeding tube. Things are going well, but are still very hard. 

My sister Crystal put together a You Caring account in hopes of raising money to be used toward the deductible and portion of expenses that won't be covered in other ways.  The Chen's greatest desire is to one day be able to "pay it forward" as soon as they are able.

There's not much I can do, but in considering the situation I realized there was something I COULD do. I write books. When I publish a new book I get what are called author copies--copies for me to do with as I please. I give them away to my family members, people who helped me with the book, and via contests on social media. But I currently have quite a few books on hand. So, I am making them available to you guys in exchange for you to donate to Jenny, Chris, Henry, and Deiter. 

Here's how it works:

Click on THIS LINK and make a donation. Any amount, whether it's $5 or $50 or $5,000 (insert grin.) Come back here and post that you made a donation--don't tell me how much. Please include in your donation something that can be shared with Jenny and Chris: a scripture, a quote, a personal encouragement. And then email me at with the subject line "Donation for Dieter" and tell me what books you would like. I will send you one copy of how ever many titles you would like THAT I HAVE ON HAND, which are the following:

Anthology Collections in which I participated:
  • Timeless Romance: All Regency (limited copies)
  • Timeless Romance: Spring Vacation (limited copies)
  • Christmas Spirit (limited copies)
  • A Mother's Prayer (limited copies)

LDS novels:
  • Tempest Tossed
  • Unsung Lullaby
  • Sheep's Clothing (limited copies)
  • Her Good Name
Culinary Mysteries:
  • English Trifle
  • Black Berry Crumble (limited copies)
  • Pumpkin Roll
  • Tres Leches Cupcake (limited copies)
  • Rocky Road (limited copies)
  • Fortune Cookie (limited copies)
  • Wedding Cake

Newport Ladies Bookclub:
  • Daisy
  • Shannon's Hope (limited copies)
  • Tying the Knot (limited copies)
Historical Romance:
  • A Heart Revealed (limited copies)
  • Lord Fenton's Folly
  • Forever And Forever (limited copies)
  • Lady of the Lakes (limited copies)
  • The Vicar's Daughter (limited copies)
  • ARC of All That Makes Life Bright (limited copies)
  • Pumpkin Roll
  • Banana Split
  • Baked Alaska
  • Rocky Road
  • Fortune Cookie
  • Wedding Cake
  • A Heart Revealed (limited copies)
  • Lord Fenton's Folly (limited copies)
  • Forever And Forever
  • Lady of the Lakes (limited copies)
  • The Vicar's Daughter (limited copies)

These books are available on a first come, first serve basis, I will try to keep up with this list as titles are gone. I also hope you will share this opportunity with others. 

Thank you so much for your support, whether through a prayer, adding their names to a temple roll or prayer list, or via this option. A lot of people doing a little can become a whole lot. 

By the way, Dieter means Warrior :-) Lets help the fight!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Overdue Update

It's been awhile and I haven't given an update on how goes the writing for a really long time. I've got some exciting things happening, which makes now a good time:

My third Regency Romance--The Vicar's Daughter--has just been released, people who pre-ordered have started receiving their copies. You can read the opening chapter on my website. It's a country regency, meaning it isn't dealing with London and titles and whatnot, and I really enjoyed writing this book. I'm finishing up a sequel to it right now and hope that it will be out this time next year--cross your fingers for me.

My third Historical Romance--All that Makes Life Bright--will be coming out in Fall 2017. This book is about Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband Calvin. There's a women's fiction feel to this story, as they are married throughout, but it's still a romance in that they come together and figure one another out. This book really spoke to me on a personal level and I hope readers find it as powerful for them.

AND FINALLY, my big news that I am so excited to share!! Back in 2015 I signed with my wonderful agent, Land Heymont (Here's how he and I got together.) At that time he was with The Seymour Agency and helped me with my current publishing relationship with Shadow Mountain. He's helped me with several contracts since then while also shopping some work to national publishers, in 2016 he established his own agency, The Tobias Agency. Publishing is competitive, it takes quality work, time, and industry savvy to get a national contract. Lane helps with all those aspects and I have loved working with him. He's tenacious and yet calm. Last Tuesday, while visiting my parents, I got an email from him where he'd forwarded a rejection from an editor we were really hopeful for. She had liked the story but her review team hadn't liked it quite as much. She gave us the reasons why. I asked Lane if I should work on those changes, maybe I'd missed the mark and the unusual format hadn't worked like I wanted it to. He told me not to worry about it, that there were other editors still looking and if they all passed then we would go back to the feedback and see what we thought. I appreciated the calm and pushed it out of my mind. the next day--like, the VERY next day--he called me. Alicia Condon, an editor at Kensington Publishing, had loved the book and wanted to make an offer. Not only did they want to offer on that book, they wanted to make a 2-book deal! Kensington publishes the mass market paperback novels you see in grocery stores; a whole new format and level of distribution for me. I am so excited that they saw good stuff in my story, and so grateful for Lane's calm assurance that kept me from stressing about issues that were not necessary to stress over. The title they've chosen is As Wide as the Sky, which I absolutely love. It will be published under the pen name, Jessica Pack. You can read the basics about the book HERE.

I've heard for years that publishing is scary, that people are intimidating, and that there's a lot of negativity in the industry. There is negativity and low moments and frustrations and events that make you question yourself. Absolutely. But there are good people who work hard and want quality work and are willing to take chances. I've been publishing for 18 years now, but I didn't really have a career until 9 years ago when Shadow Mountain took a chance on my first culinary mystery, and I haven't had this kind of national reach until now, thanks to Lane and Kensington. A career in writing is about building blocks, and sometimes it's slow and sometimes that's because you have stuff you need to learn until you're ready to have both feet in this pool. Keep at it, remain prayerful of the direction that's right for you, look for writing opportunities of every kind, set goals you know you can reach in order to build up your confidence, and never forget that editors and agents are just people, doing their best just like you. The magic happens, and then you find yourself at a new level with another level calling out for you. Keep climbing. Keep learning. Stay humble, and learn from your mistakes rather than marinate in them.

Thanks for sharing this happy news with me! :-) 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Desk Job Health Tips

It's surprising how little you hear from writers about how to keep fit. Maybe that's cause we are busy brainstorming and writing and promoting and all that jazz, but it's something maybe we ought to talk about more. Cause writing requires a lot of sitting and a lot of sitting often ends up in bigger pant sizes and a myriad of potential healthy problems. For me, personally, fitness is a battle. I don't love exercise, I don't look forward to it, and I love food--mostly high calorie bad-for-me food. I don't have a weight problem, but I truly believe that's because I work at it even though I don't want to. And I'm 15 pounds heavier than I want to be--than I think I should be so I'm not someone who can not consider the implications of good choices. Last week, I was challenged by Nuts. com to blog about what I do to keep healthy during the work-week. They would provide a graphic and tweet out my post. After I opened the email I laughed and snapped this picture:

Not only was I at my office that day, but I had thought ahead and brought healthy snacks too. So, basically, her timing was perfect :-)  I offered three of my favorite stay-healthy-during-the-work-week-tips and incorporated it into the following graphic with some of their tips. Here's what they put together for me:

I've printed this out to keep as a reminder, not because I'm going to forget my own suggestions, but because making good choices are easier when it's at the forefront of my mind. I do the same thing with favorite quotes and family pictures to remind myself what fuels me and what matters.

I'd like to expand on a couple of these tips:

Keep healthy snacks on hand, no junk food! ~ If I bring M & M's to my desk, I will eat M & M's. If I bring wheat thins, I'll eat the whole box before the day is out. If I bring almonds, I'll eat those instead--and almonds tend to fill me up. I love the black pepper flavored Harvest Snaps Snappea Crisps. They are a yummy, healthier version of a potato chip. I not a big fresh fruit person, but I like bananas and I like clementines. I also like string cheese and I love nuts--you can find some great work-snack options at as well as some really yummy recipes for things you can make-and-take. It doesn't do a lot of good to bring healthy food you don't like, so find those healthy things you do like, bring them along, and don't keep junk food around. Chances are, you'll eat what you have on hand. Rocket science, I know. :-) Do I always do this? No. But I am always glad when I do.

Eat a protein-packed salad for lunch! ~ You can get a salad anywhere these days. Fast food, sit-down restaurant, bring it from home. I don't like low fat dressings--too much chemical stuff--but I truly believe a full fat dressing on a good veggie and protein loaded salad is going to be better than a cheesburger. Wild Coyote ranch is my favorite dressing, as is Good Seasonings Italian that you mix up yourself. Make sure your salad's got some chicken, shrimp, salmon (my favorite) or hard boiled eggs. I love nuts on my salads. One of my quick-grab salads is the California Protien Cobb from Zupas with their fresh herb vinaigrette. I don't like chicken, so I ask for extra hard boiled eggs instead. My favorite home salad is baby spinach, fresh blueberries, walnuts, feta cheese and Italian dressing. By making a "rule" that I'll always eat a salad for lunch, I guarantee I'll have some veggies that day--veggies are not something I gravitate to naturally. I end up feeling full but not heavy and can pat myself on the back for a making a good choice. Do I always do this? No. but I am always glad when I do.

Stay hydrated! ~I drink water all day long. I have a favorite water bottle--insulated so the ice stays all day--and I drink one in the morning, 2-3 during the day and another in the evening. I get between 80-100 oz of water a day. There is no limit to the good that plain old water can have for you. If you don't like water--consider adding some lemon, cucumbers, strawberries, or raspberries. A few dried craisins can make it yummy without adding a bunch of artificial colors and flavors or calories. If you currently drink soda, start with subbing one soda for water and then in a few weeks sub another one. Try room temperature water, try it with ice. Find a cute water bottle that fits in your car cup holder and is easy to transport. Do I always do this? Yes. I always drink water all day. I bring my water bottle with me everywhere and fill it up anywhere with a soda fountain or drinking fountain. Easiest good choice I make in a day. 

Exercise! ~ I take a hot yoga class about once a week. It has remedied some aches and pains, especially in my hands and wrists, and I truly believe it is a super-packed-vitamin for me. It's good for my body, my brain, my emotional center, my spirituality--all of it. I don't LOVE being in class, but I do it anyway and know it's good for me. Do I go to a class every week? No. But most weeks I do and when I skip a week, I notice a difference in the way I feel when I wake up and the way I manage my thoughts and emotions. 

I also have a home-work-out that includes a 7 minute warm up and a 25 minute interval work out that I do a couple of times a week. I use this 7 minute work out app on my phone for the warm up and then do the Body For Life interval work out which has been my favorite quick work out for almost 15 years. If you do the math, that's 32 minutes start to finish--possible to do before I head to the office. I work up a sweat, I get a good full body work out, and can then go on with life. Do I always do this work out twice a week? No. I've only started this up again in 2016 but so far I'm liking it and most weeks I do this 2-3 times a week. I've been doing it with my kids before school and they are liking it too (when they wake up.)

Take Vitamin D and B Complex! ~ I recently learned that Vitamin D supports good sleep, since I've been taking it every morning I'm sleeping better at night. Vitamin B gives me energy and mental clarity. You might take other things--I do too--but I think these things are "Good for everyone" basics. Find a good brand. Do I always take them? No. I forget sometimes and I get out of habit, but I try to and I notice a difference when I do it. 

In conclusion: I might do all these things, and come home and make brownies--but I believe home made junk food is better than store bought. I might go days between eating veggies. I might go a full week without a work out. But when I make one good choice, it is easier to make another one, and when the good choices build upon each other it gets easier and easier and I FEEL better. That's what healthy choices are really about for me, feeling better. That I feel better in my size 8 jeans counts toward that solution :-) I will make no apology for wanting to look good. I'm turning 42 years old in a few months, if I don't give my looks and my health some attention I won't have either one. 

I encourage you to go to and take a peek at the great products they have. I've already made some upcoming gift decisions based on their fabulous gift packs and I've put in an order of some of my favorite things I know will help me toward my own goals. I appreciate quality and I love convenience--they've got both. And if you feel so included to share your OWN healthy work-place habits, that would be welcome too!

What do you do? I would love to hear what it is you to do keep healthy during the work week! Thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Benefit of a Bad Review

In February of this year, I had my first ever Publisher's Weekly Review. Not only was it a good review of "A Heart Revealed", it was a starred review--a week later I got a starred Kirkus review too! I blogged about these awesome reviews HERE and I was over the moon! I was writing a new genre and I so wanted the reception to be a good one. And it was. 


Life is Good!

I have arrived!

But in the back of my mind was that niggling creature of doubt. Did I just get lucky in the reviewer who happened to get my book on their desk? Was this book the best thing I'll ever write? Will the book I'm working on be equal to it? Will it be a one hit wonder? Will the industry reviews translate the way my publisher hopes it will?

I didn't move these doubts to center stage--advice I would give to anyone--but I never forgot they were there. They gave me both encouragement to do my best work and validation that, in this book, it seems that I had. 

My next regency, "Lord Fenton's Folly" came out in the fall and I eagerly/anxiously waited for the PW and Kirkus reviews. Would they also be starred reviews? 

They were not. 
In fact, Kirkus said this: "Occasionally slow-moving, but an interesting take on respect and respectability and the choices a noble family must make when things go awry."

And then PW said this: "There’s something tawdry about putting “I believe romances are for silly girls or homely ones” in the mouth of a romantic heroine. A book would have to be a comic gem or a profound character exploration to recover from that slap to the reader’s face, and Kilpack’s second Regency (after A Heart Revealed) is merely a solid piece of genre writing, with no particular feel for its period but some nice imaginative touches."

And this: "There’s good stuff here, but it takes 100 pages to find it."

Umm ... well ... ouch.

There were other good reviews--Foreward, for instance, said "This novel will be a joy for any lover of true romance."

But I think most people agree with me in that the negative ones are the reviews that stick in your craw. They sap your creative energy like siphoned gas from your tank. Whatever you're working on is suddenly the enemy--it could bring this same experience again. You're embarrassed, you're discouraged, and it is very, very hard to pull yourself out of the funk that a few words throw you in to. To say nothing about those "few words" being on the internet and therefore eternal. I absolutely felt all of those things. I limped to some friends with my tail between my legs. I wallowed and felt like a loser. 

And then. 

I sat very still and realized that there was a new feeling--something I hadn't noticed amid the shame I felt. 


The fact is, I know I'm not all that. I love to write and I love my stories and I am beyond grateful when professionals validate that, but I'm not The Great American Novelist. I still have learning to do, and a bad review confirms that. It proves to me that I can't rest upon my laurels. It reminds me that I grow personally as I face challenges in my craft, and I need that personal growth. It gives me new goals to set and spurs me to be more objective about my work. I need that objectivity--every writer I know needs it--and a bad review is kind of a scraped knee in the pursuit of balance and skill necessary toward improvement. Sometimes we need people to tell us we can do better.

On the flip side of needed humility, I also need to love my work outside of what other people might say. That doesn't mean I'm not writing to an audience, I am, but I need to have my own separate relationship with my stories. "I" need to be their biggest fan, rather than waiting to see if other people like it before I make my own decision. In regard to the PW review where the reviewer highlighted one sentence that she felt offensive toward readers--we got the review before my publisher had sent the final edit to the printer. They gave me the option of changing that line if I wanted to. I spent hours redrafting that scene, anxious to avoid offending my readers, but some good friends encouraged me to think twice and my publisher was not asking me to change it. I again had to sit very still and look closely at that line. What was its purpose? Why did I have that particular sentence there in the first place? I was able to remember that the reason I wrote that line was to define an aspect of my character--a girl who was not false or cruel, but who makes a false and cruel comment because she wants the boy to like her. Who hasn't done that before? In the course of the story, while Alice never reflects on that line again, she comes to hide herself in similar things as a form of protecting herself. Her protection becomes much more extreme than an off hand remark--but that remark was the first of her falseness. I kept the line in the book. I owned it. And, quite frankly, I love it. I loved what that one sentence did for a story. I feel a kind of healing in the stories I write, a redemption of some small part of my own life or past that, through my characters, I get to relive and conquer. And that story healed something important for me regardless of what that reviewer thought. That doesn't mean that I can be wiley niley about the words I use, and I need to be wise, but I do not need to dispose of my love or healing simply because someone else didn't feel something the way I did.

I did not link my book to the poor reviews the way I linked "A Heart Revealed" to its starred reviews. I did not post the reviews on Facebook and I kind of held my breath when the book came out, wondering if other readers and reviewers would find the line offensive and the story weak. I was glad to have rediscovered my own love of that story, but I also need to sell books and if this book was a commercial flop I could be in trouble. However, the reviews began to come in and although not everyone loved it, most people did. A few people went out of their way to tell me is was their favorite book I had written. What I realized is that everyone, including myself, "gets" to have a different experience. Some people will be put off by something, other people will be drawn in by something else. For some people any book will be a waste of time, for other's it will make for a cozy afternoon, for others it will leave them thinking on something for days afterward. Just last week a reader sent me a link to a blog post she did about part of the book. It was beautiful, and allowed me to look more deeply at something I had written. You would think I would have the greatest insight, but I didn't, she did. You can read her blog HERE

In the bible it says that God can make "Beauty for ashes" and work evil "For our good." A bad review is certainly not evil, nor is it ashes, but it did compute to embarrassment and self doubt that, once I took the time to ponder and think, became something beautiful for me. It's made me think of other negatives in my life and how, between God and I, we might make them be for good. The tragic death of my brother has helped me to value life and try to be more attentive to those who find themselves in dark corners. A toxic friend has helped me mind my own tongue better. A difficult vice has turned me to God for help and grown sympathy towards others I have judged harshly. And, because of poor reviews, I have the motivation to be objective about my work and improve my craft, they have helped me to find my own love for a thing outside of anyone else's, and to cherish and appreciate those who see what I wanted them to see. I can be better for a bad review so long as I don't allow myself to stay in the "Molasses Swamp" of regret and shame for too long. I can also be better at sharing my enjoyment of someone else's work, so that the author gets to feel the validation we all need. There are critics everywhere, and we need them, but we also need cheerleaders and I very much hope to be a cheerleader for others rather than a critical voice (unless they specifically ask me to be critical, which some people do :-) )

There is relief in having someone else say that there is room for improvement--I would be very disappointed to learn I'll never be better than I am right now. 

To read the full PW review, go HERE
To read the full Kirkus review, go HERE
To read the Foreward review, which I appreciated SO much, go HERE

To share snippets of your own poor reviews, or experiences where ashes turned to beauty, please comment!

Monday, November 09, 2015

My Report: 99 Yoga Classes

In August 2014 I decided to act upon the advice I'd received from several practitioners and try yoga, like for real. NOT using DVDs I would do until the phone rang or I got sick of it (i.e. ten minutes.) NOT taking a class every five years  But really giving yoga an effort that would allow me to determine if yoga was something I would want to have a part of my life in the future. I decided 100 yoga classes in a year would be truly immersing myself into the practice.

Since today is November 8, and I'm only at 99 classes so I didn't quite hit that goal. But I am ready to sum up my results.

Most of the yoga classes I did were Bikram, which is a hot yoga. The room is heated to 105 degrees and you go through a series of 26 specific poses two times each, holding them for one minute the first time and then 30 seconds the second time with breaks in between some of them. The Bikram classes work every bone, muscle, ligament, tendon, and system of your body. It lasts 90 minutes and at the end I am drenched with sweat--like dripping-from-my-elbows-drenched-with-sweat:

What was hard:

  • My studio is 20 minutes from my house, add a 90 minute class and minimum 30 minutes to get showered and ready after it's done and you're looking at almost 3 hours. You can't NOT shower after a hot yoga class, and the studio I go to is the closest one to my house and furthest north studio in the state of Utah. Working 3 hour blocks of time into my weekly schedule was so hard. Every week it was hard. Never got easier. I set countless goals to do a class 5 times in a week and it never happened. The most I ever did was 4 classes and it required many other things put on hold.
  • I'm not overweight, and I didn't do this simply to try to get "hot" (no pun intended) but I expected that working this hard would drop 10 pounds in a year (maybe 25 :-)). The classes are hard sweaty work--cardio and strength training--so I expected some weight loss as a bonus. I did notice some changes in my body--which I'll put in the "what was good" portion of this post--but I did not lose even five pounds that stayed off through the year. Yes, I may have added muscle, but remember that my pants are still fitting the way they did when I started. And, no, I didn't make significant changes to my diet so that certainly was a factor, but still.
  • I think I had a semi-unconscious expectation that yoga would mellow out all my anxieties and mood spikes, that the practice in and of itself would "fix" certain feelings and emotional overloads. It did help, but it did not turn out to be a magic pill for me. Perhaps because I didn't take on all these other lifestyle aspects of yoga, but regardless the emotional change wasn't as significant as I hoped it would be. 
  • The classes are stressful for me. Stressful to get to, hard for me to focus in, hard for me to enjoy. I loved the accomplishment, but I never got to the point of feeling excited that I was able to go to class. I'm saddest about this "con", because I wanted to love yoga with my whole soul.
  • I never experienced the emotional release that I hear many, many people have with hot yoga. I don't know if this means I'm too uptight or what, but I really thought by the end of my goal I would have those moments of insight and release I've heard a lot about.
  • I have been doing long distance running for about six years, but struggled off and on with back, knee, and arch issues/injuries. I started training in the summer for a fall season race and since I'd been doing yoga for about 8 months I felt pretty confident that I was in good shape and would avoid injury. But I messed up my knee, and my arch, and ended up with six weeks of weekly chiropractor visits to deal with them enough to run my race. I know that yoga isn't a fix-everything, but I was disappointed to still have the injuries when I had felt as though I was working my body in a way that would avoid exactly that. That said, I am getting older and maybe I'm just not meant to be a runner anymore. 
What was awesome:

  • Yoga was absolutely good for my body. Although I didn't lose weight, I have gained flexibility I did not have before. Little aches and pains I often felt in my hips and back have disappeared. I have had a rounding of my upper spine--early kyphosis--that has been remedied to the point I can see the change in my posture and no longer get upper back pain after writing. The tightness in the left side of my neck that kept me from being able to turn my head all the way to right is gone. I've never been flexible, and to anyone else I probably still don't look flexible, but I am more agile than I have ever been in my life. The "work your whole body" aspect of yoga has been great for me and something I absolutely feel in the days after a class. 
  • On the nights I had yoga, I slept better. On nights I didn't have yoga I would still struggle as I have for the last few years. When I cut out artificial sweeteners in September, sleep got even better. I have slept better the last six weeks than I have for years. A good night's sleep is priceless.
  • Prior to these classes I had some intermittent numbness in my hands, not surprising for a writer, but concerning. I would also have my hands swell up from time to time and get pain in my forearms, especially my left. One of the first improvements I noticed was that the achiness went away after just a few classes, and I honestly have not had numbness or tingling even once since starting my practice. Lotus pose works specifically on your arms, elbows, and wrists and I think it made a significant difference for the health of my hands. I hope it will help me to avoid carpal tunnel that afflicts so many other writers I know.
  • I found quickly that the poses I was best at were those that were strength-based, like chair pose. As I continued with yoga I got even stronger and the shape of my body changed. My shoulders are more defined, I can see the outline of my biceps, my waist is a bit smaller and my legs are more defined. If I had lost ten pounds and fit in my pants better I could better appreciate this :-) But I do feel and look stronger than I did in the beginning. 
  • I am a naturally competitive person but yoga is competitive only with yourself. At first it was really hard not watch everyone else in the class and judge myself accordingly, but I learned that every body is different. The guy who can't get his leg up in tree might have an amazing camel. Someone might have a tight spine, but great flexibility in their joints. It was good for me to forgive myself my limitations, take confidence in my strengths, and not feel competitive with the other people in the room. I eventually didn't even feel competitive with myself; if my head-to-knee was better two weeks ago, I was okay because I knew I was doing my best that day. 
  • I feel more gratitude for my body than I have in a long time, even without the weight loss. You watch yourself in the mirror throughout class, which was hard for me at first because I would be so critical. In time, however, I have gained acceptance and gratitude for this body I have and the things I can do with it. Seeing so many other body types in class was also very validating in the realization that taking care of my body isn't only about how it looks, it's how it moves and works and how it will take care of me thirty years from now. 
  • While yoga didn't fix my mood swings, I am definately more emotionally centered. I feel that I better cope with stress than it did, and I learned breathing exercises which help me to physically calm myself when I need calming outside of class. Even though yoga itself is often stressful, I do feel the mental/emotional benefits stay with me long after the class is done. 
  • Other than a couple of classes where I was not hydrated enough and came home trashed, I didn't have anything more than a minor cold for an entire year. I'm not someone who gets sick a lot, but a few times a year I battle strep or some respiratory thing, but I didn't this year. Yoga is said to boost your immunity and I think in my case it did that. 
  • I would often use my savasana (laying on your back with arms at side, palms up) to pray. It was not so formal as most of my prayers and though I didn't have the emotional breakthroughs I had expected, I had some spiritual meditation that I had not expected and which was very sweet to me. I grew closer to my Savior through this meditation and had moments of great peace and relaxation during which I felt wonderful communion with Him.
My final answer:

This was a good experiment for me. I don't think I'll ever be a true "yogi" whose life centers around the practice, but I do plan to take a class every week for the good of my body, my mind, and my spirit. If anyone is interested in trying hot yoga for themselves, I recommend that you plan to take 5 classes before you decide if you want to continue. No exercise is a quick fix, but it took me about this many classes to recognize the benefits in my day to day life. Know that there are all shapes and sizes--some days I felt like the oldest fattest person there, and other days I was the youngest and trimmest, usually I was one of many middle-aged people like myself that aren't going to be on a magazine cover any time soon but are learning to love what they have more than they have. I also recommend that you read THIS article from O Magazine and check out Luisa Perkins BLOG where she blogged about her 60 classes in 60 days, which is amazing!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Healthy Lung Month--Heather's Story

I was contacted by Heather Von St. James and agreed to post about her story as part of Healthy Lung Month. Heather isn't the person you think of when you hear about Lung Cancer, she was in her thirties, she had a 3 month old baby and the specific cancer she had Mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer specifically caused by asbestos. It didn't take long to realize where her exposure had come from; Heather's father was a miner, exposed to asbestos he inadvertently brought it home on his jacket which Heather would sometimes play dress up in. The diagnosis was devastating, the treatment was debilitating, but it's now been almost ten years and Heather has found in her struggles a voice she is using to inform people about how to keep their lungs healthy. Not just for situations like hers, but in regular day to day life. I encourage you to read her story in her own words HERE. You can also learn the difference between Mesothelioma and typical lung cancer HERE. There is also a great resource for anyone looking for support with patients who have mesothelioma HERE.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writing Spaces Series: Writing Rooms

Thank you for joining me for the third and final post in the Writing Spaces Series. I hope you had a chance to read about "Writing Spots" and "Writing Nooks." Now we get to explore some "Writing Rooms" or home offices, or writing studios--whatever you want to call dedicated rooms set aside for writing. 

The proverbial man cave—a spare bedroom in the basement where I can seclude myself from the rest of the world in self-absorbed isolation—provides an ideal writing environment.  A small white IKEA desk against the west wall with a roll-out tray for my ergonomic Microsoft keyboard caters to my creative comfort.  Along the north wall, five Billy bookcases, also from IKEA, contain the tomes that make a townhouse a townhome.  On one of those bookcases, within arm’s reach, stand the dictionaries, grammar guides, and how-to books that inform the writer’s craft.  Of critical importance is the swiveling Amazon Basics Mid-Back Mesh Chair that allows me to rotate effortlessly from keyboard to reference books and back again.  A couch along the east wall is a great place for quiet, cozy reading, a sine qua non of any writer’s lifestyle.  The only missing luxury is an above-ground window that I could look out of to collect my thoughts or to distract myself now and then.
            The best thing about the writer’s man cave is the feel of the place, the soul-satisfying sensation that you are at home, in your element, doing what you were born to do, with the hope that your words will benefit readers as well.

I write in the car at soccer practice, in the waiting room of the fencing gym, outside on the picnic table, at my kitchen table, propped up by pillows in bed, on a chair in my husband's study, on the couch during a football game, my parents' cabin...pretty much anywhere. But here's where I'm the most productive. This is the writing nook in my office. My research books for the project I'm working on, and outlines--in case I need to look back--are right behind me, as well as character pictures on the bulletin board.
My white board has a list of tasks I need to do, but I mostly keep cute magnets on there. and pictures.
I have a beautiful antique sugar bowl on the desk to sweeten my tea, and if you zoom, you can see a little Wonder Woman, a model cannon, Lego Shakespeare and a Klepht soldier next to it, cheering me on.
I also have stool to rest my feet on, and a space heater beneath the desk because that window gets cold in winter!

I try to get up into the office every morning by 9 and stay in there with no interruptions until 12. But, of course life happens. I like the morning hours. I feel like my brain is more alert.  

So much ridiculousness goes on in this space. I have to purge clean it at least once a week. It's always a mess. Always.

The windows are east facing and in both sunshine and moonlight, the mountain views inspire me.

I teach guitar and paint and plant flower gardens in this space. But above all, it is where my stories come alive. This space has glass doors so I can close off the turpentine smell, play loud music, write in peace, and contain the mess, while still keeping an eye on my crazy kids.

If I am ever stuck on any project, in any art form, I've found that organizing my workspace will almost always rekindle the spark. But to be honest, when this room is so messy that I can't even open the door, you can find me typing on my laptop pretty much anywhere, especially in the mountains.

My husband and I remodeled our house six years ago and now I have a wonderful little office, which was previously our formal dining room. I have a nice L-shaped desk, so everything is nearby. My son talked me into getting two monitors and now, I couldn’t live without them. I’m near a window so I can look outside to my backyard.
I have a second ‘office’ outside. We have a little gazebo, which is my writing oasis in the late spring, summer, and early fall.  We have a large lot, about half an acre, with bushes, trees, a garden, and lawn, so I’m surrounded by greenery.  I love it! My husband put up blinds on two sides and I put up a dark fabric drape to cut down on the glare while I’m working on my laptop. I sit on a cushioned swing, with a table nearby that holds stuff such as pencils, pens, a bottle of water, and a jar of small candy treats, (for me) and doggie treats for my faithful companions, who come out to keep me company. There’s Brandi (pictured) a Welsh Corgi, Snickers, a dachshund (also pictured) and a Westie who stood off to the side when I took the picture. I also have several cats, and they come out too, either to curl up by me on the swing, or sprawl beside the dogs on the large pet bed I keep there.

On days I'm going to draft or revise, I like to be pretty much anywhere but in my office. I find the internet too much of a distraction! So I'm usually in a park if the weather is cooperating, but the couch in this office is pretty comfy too. Still, I love my office (or my half, because I share the room with my husband who works from home a lot of times--talk about a distraction!). This is where I do all the business aspects of my writing. In front of my computer, I have three boards--one for my editing and formatting business; one for anything media related like reviews, my website, and my two blogs; and one for writing, which usually ends up being random things I need to add to my current WIP. On the wall to my right, you will see what my family lovingly refers to as my "stalker wall." These are pictures of the main characters in my WIP. It helps me keep track of their physical characteristics, try out their names (you can see one whose name has changed, if you look closely), and their quirks and characteristics jotted down on sticky notes beside their photo. Around the corner is my "Save the Cat" type outlining system. As I go along, I will move things around, see where I have plot holes (which will then be filled in with a bright sticky note to remind me it needs to be added). I use these sticky notes to start off my outline in Scrivener before I start writing, but then they get shuffled around as I revise. I love being able to see all of these things at once--it helps me remember where I am, where I need to be, and helps keeps things fresh in my mind! Happy writing!

I actually have two offices--one at home (it used to be the nursery, complete with stenciled butterflies, but kids do grow up) and one in an office suite my husband owns. For years I was the accidental bookkeeper for a business we own, and my pay was staying extra hours when the work was done to write without home-distractions. I became quite spoiled by my office away from home and still do the majority of my writing there. I have some writer friends who live nearby and we'll get together in the conference room of the office sometimes for write-days (a Saturday from 8-midnight or weekday while kids are at school) or write-nites (evenings from 5-midnight) but I usually write here in this corner by myself. Obviously it's very organized and conducive for creative tasks. :-) This would have better fit in the "Writing Nooks" post but . . . well, it's my blog so I can do what I want :-)

At home my office has been the catch-all for the house for a long time, making it anxiety inducing to try and produce in the space crammed with too much stuff. However, with my recent redo I am trying to change that. I've put some of the business things like mailing supplies, none-writing books, stock books, archives etc into the closet of the room or into a guest bedroom downstairs. The things on the shelves are things I love, or books I use. The Chaise Lounge ($200 on is new and, I hope, a place I can read/research/long-hand brainstorm. I'm trying very hard to keep this room "inspiring" which mostly means free of junk so that I'm not tempted to spend all my writing time reorganizing crap. You can see the edge of my IKEA desk that has my current reference books handy. As for essentials when I write, I use my laptop, always have my water bottle, and I need relative quiet. I admire people who have learned to write with their family buzzing around them, I get too snappy and irritable to do that--I hate to be interrupted. Sometimes music helps, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes internet helps, some times it doesn't. I have no writing schedule (though I usually write/work about 30 hours a week), writing goals (though I do pretty well with deadlines), special chants or charms or techniques. I mostly take my writing day by day and work through whatever might not be working that day. I love what I do and the flexibility of it that allows me to be available to my family and spend a good deal of time in my favorite place--home. I'm hoping this home office will make writing at home a better option for me. Maybe I should do a report in a year. :-)

Thank you for joining me for this blog series, I hope you gained some ideas or insight on how to make your writing spot or nook or room conducive to your craft. We are all different, we need different things and will use different processes, but there is so much to be gained from peeking in on each other's lives and seeing if there isn't something they do that can help you with what you do.
Other posts in this series:
"Writing Spots"
"Writing Nooks"