Hopes for 2019

On January 1 the calendar’s a blank slate. Another chance to get things right. I always feel excited in a new year, ready to dig in to healthier eating and other habits, but I wouldn’t call these things resolutions as much as common sense. I’d just spent December in an orgy of sugar. It seems an obvious time to clean up my act. I made a great pot of vegetable soup yesterday. Also cookies for my husband as he likes them with his coffee in the morning.

Since I’m on the borderline of diabetes, I won’t be eating any of the cookies, although I sampled a few broken ones yesterday. I also won’t be having coffee, because that among other things had to go in 2018 when I did a deep dive into just what was wrong with my digestion. I changed a lot of things about what I eat, but I’m not crying. There’s an abundance of foods still available to me, and I intend to bring my blood sugar levels back to normal in 2019.

For the first time in many years, Al had the holidays off. Tomorrow he’ll be back on the job, but at least we got in a good binge of “Jack Ryan.” Eight episodes all gobbled up like another holiday treat. I’d recommend that series (it’s on Amazon Prime). It was entertaining but also made me think. Mostly about the plight of refugees. The show involved Middle Eastern refugees, but the news here IRL is all about those from Central America seeking asylum in the USA. Two young children died in December on the border while in US custody. We need to fix this broken system, and I hope it happens in 2019.

I read some great books in 2018; my favorite rock memoir was “Thank you Mr. Kibblewhite” by Roger Daltrey. He lets the reader in, almost like a friend. He’s frank and honest. He admits it hurt his feelings when Pete Townsend made disdainful remarks about his singing. Roger, Pete’s just jealous, because you and your voice both were gorgeous and onstage got all the adulation from the beautiful girls while he had to be satisfied with guitar obsessed men. He was so mad he frequently bashed his guitar to pieces.

I also loved “The Recovering” by Leslie Jamison. I’ve long had a fascination with drinking memoirs. I like to read about young rockers before they hit the big time and also about young drinkers and how they cope once they realize their drinking has surpassed all reason. I’m always rooting for the young rocker to make it big and for the old drinker to get sober. In fiction, I really loved Michael Connelly’s “Dark Sacred Night” the first of his Bosch series to feature Renee Ballard. Nancy Thayer’s “An Island Christmas” was a frothy delight. Kate Atkinson can do no wrong in my mind, and her 2018 novel “Transcription” came through as always. I loved Tana French’s “The Witch Elm” very much, too. Right now I’m in the middle of “Brief Answers to the Big Questions” by Stephen Hawking. I quite enjoy theoretical physics and Hawking writes in a clear style anyone can comprehend. Well, most of the time. I also am a regular reader of Buddhist thought and Mark Epstein’s “Advice Not Given” is a superb 2018 example of its kind.

Goodreads says I’ve read well over 900 books on my Kindle since they started tracking such things, and a very satisfactory moment in 2019 will be when I hit the 1,000 book mark, even though it’s a number without much meaning as I read books outside Kindle, of course. I buy them at book fairs and conventions and conferences. I buy them at real brick and mortar bookstores! Also I order a fair share on Amazon. I read more than literary mysteries, Buddhists texts, and memoir. Those are just the ones who stand out as being great in 2018. I’m sure 2019 will bring many new books, gee maybe I’ll even finish one of my own by the end of this year. I expect I will, since I have a first draft done.

I expect 2019 to be an excellent year for so many reasons and I hope your blank slate fills up with lots of joy, too. Happy New Year!

Eat, Drink & Be Merry

I just can’t do it.

Read this book yesterday. Started out very hopeful that this could be the guide that would finally, finally give me a stable weight and better health. There’s a list in front of the all the health problems doing this 30 day diet will possibly cure. By the time I read everything involved with this plan, it seemed impossible, even if it could cure all that ails me.

A page from the book.

So, I’ve got (or am close to getting) ten things on this list. Just saw doctor, and the news was not the worst, but it wasn’t good. I need to clean up my act. I usually do eat pretty well. I don’t drink much alcohol anymore as it keeps me up at night. And I like sleep. But about three weeks ago I went on an inexplicable chocolate binge. I ate more chocolate in three weeks than I’d had all year. Once I did that, I started allowing sugar back in to my life in a big way. And some wine.

I realized only an idiot would make a doctor appointment complete with blood work on December 20. And then top that off with weeks of eating in restaurants, chowing down on whatever I wanted but usually denied myself, including desserts and drinks. I just lived it up like it was 1999, so that could be part of why my pre-diabetes and very close cholesterols are too close for comfort. Also I felt like hell. Clearly, I needed to clean up my act. It’s not about weight, although I’m at a very high weight indeed. It’s about health and feeling good. Exact wrong time of year to realize this, but that’s me.

I’m a typical overweight American. The kind of obvious person who starts a new diet every January. I still want to eat for health. I just can’t go as far as the extreme and time-consuming Whole Thirty. 

For a long time, I had success with Plant-Based Whole Foods. That, too, is difficult, but I managed it. Then I had bad reactions to beans and legumes, even lentils. I couldn’t eat cauliflower or broccoli! Those basics of a PBWF diet started wrecking hell on my digestion (to put it delicately). I had no choice but to eat a little bit of meat again for protein. My main goal is to get my cholesterols and blood sugar lowered. Weight is a consideration but for once it’s not the number one reason. I just want to feel healthy and have energy again.

It’s Christmas Day, so for those of you who celebrate, have a happy one. I’m still going to make a nice dinner for my husband, and I’ll eat some of it…but there won’t be Christmas cocktails by the fire.

Getting Over Myself

My reading habit has long been to read two books at a time. One book is always fiction and the other is always non-fiction, sometimes self-help like Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life, but most often books on Buddhism. I started meditating thirty years ago as a way to de-stress from a difficult job. I dreaded each day, and each day I knew I had to face those out of control teenagers who had been kicked out of school and were in the alternative program where I’d been hired to teach English.

Meditation slowly led me into Buddhism and its many fine Western teachers like Mark Epstein. Yesterday the mail brought my copy of his new release Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself. It’s Epstein’s seventh book that combines psychotherapy (he is a practicing psychiatrist) and Buddhist teachings. I’ve been reading Epstein since his first book Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart. 

Epstein’s titles are as intriguing as the ancient practices of Buddhism. The Buddha lived 2,600 years ago, but his teachings have remained relevant because they are so simple. But students of Buddhism soon find this simplicity contains multitudes. Dharma means living life fully, not simply sitting on a cushion in meditation, but joyfully bringing your messy life into the harsh world. The Buddha’s Eightfold Path, (similar to Christianity’s Ten Commandments) are the subject of Epstein’s seventh book.

Though I’ve been reading and practicing Buddhism and meditation for close to thirty years, I am still a beginner. I’ve read plenty on the Eightfold Path before, but I’m learning new things with this book. And that’s how life is meant to be: a school that teaches us how to be fully, joyfully and compassionately alive. Below are the steps in the Eightfold Path:

  • Right View
  • Right Motivation
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

I am getting better at some of these that others. Right speech is refraining from gossip, lies or hurtful words. This has helped my marriage! Even yesterday, feeling overwhelmed by all the holiday hoopla, I asked my husband for help. He had plans to go to the gym for a workout, but instead he helped me. I said “thank you” and almost added “for helping me after I begged you!” But I didn’t say that second half of the sentence because I’ve learned through the years to think before I speak. I’m getting better at that and it’s made my marriage stronger.

The new thing I discovered in Epstein’s book about right speech is something I really need to work on now. I’ve been having troubling thoughts about my past. This is nothing new, but lately it has become more frequent. I do that rumination thing in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, wishing I could go back and do things differently. I was a “good enough” mom. “Good enough” is another Buddhist concept with a different meaning than our Western minds would bring to it–it means I loved my children without smothering them with too much affection. Not too little, not too much, just “good enough.” Even though I know I was a good enough mom, I remember instances where I could have done better. I feel such shame, still, about all the ways I could have been better without being too much. I relive with shame and horror and despair a few specific times when I fell woefully short with one boy or the other or with both of them at the same time. These instances haunt me more lately since my kids now have kids of their own. This is where “right speech” goes deeper to address the way we speak to ourselves. I need to work on that. A lot. This book will help.

That’s the thing about Buddhism teachings. The right one always seems to come along when I need it. Meditation can be a great way to de-stress. I take twenty minutes a day to sit comfortably (I actually lounge on my sofa with soft cushions to support my upper torso and head) and empty my mind. Some meditators call this the “empty rice bowl” ~ imagine your mind as an empty bowl. In about three seconds (or sooner) you will begin to think. Most thoughts are not new, but part of the same repetitive mix tape we each have developed over time. So you notice, oh there’s that again and you gently let it go. Until the next thought comes. If I’m feeling too unsettled to sit for twenty minutes, I try for five. It’s all good. What regular meditation does is help us carry the calm into strife. It helps me think before I speak. And BTW, there’s no wrong way to meditate.

I’d recommend all of Mark Epstein’s books, but right now, part of the subtitle of Advice Not Given, the “Getting over Yourself” speaks the world to me.

Twitter Book Marketing

This past week a friend pointed out to me that since it’s December, I should be marketing my Blue Lake Christmas Mystery on Twitter.I’m of two minds about book marketing on Twitter. Mostly, I don’t do it. I depend on blog posts to indirectly indicate that hey guess what I write books too! So she said “pin a new post every day with a fresh picture, hash tags, and a buy link.” I accepted the challenge and posted a new pinned tweet every day last week. I’m not sure I sold any books. I am hoping none of the people who follow me got annoyed.

I find people who post a ton about their products annoying. If that is the only thing they post.

(Just as an aside I am trying to use the new “better” Word Press format. I started this post yesterday and couldn’t finish it because I got so confused. New tech is daunting for me. But I am determined to publish this post today. I see in previews that I do not like the box format at all!! Don’t know how to fix it. Hope it goes away when I hit publish! Sorry for all the !!!! but I am frustrated.)

So back to posting about your book (or your service, or your product that is not a book) on Twitter. It really doesn’t work as a sales tool for me. It does work for some people. I figured out why it doesn’t work for me this week. I usually post to Twitter once a week with a blog link. That’s it. I do look at other posts on the day I tweet. I have my favorites, but I also randomly read those I follow, too. If something someone says interests me, I will retweet it or make a comment or like it or all three.

Lately I’ve noticed people are not retweeting as much. I get many more “likes” than retweets. I thought it was just a new trend or perhaps a new rule. Really, are people sick of retweets? I thought RT was queen of Twitter, but at least for me, not so much anymore. Still, I persist in RTing. It’s what I do most on Twitter.

From what I’ve read, the rule for tweeting your book on Twitter is make it ten percent of your tweets. So that’s one post in ten. I like to mix up comments and RTs. I don’t do a lot of original tweeting because there are so many other people who speak tweet better. But I tweet a bit when I have a flash of brilliance…you see I set a high bar.

For blogging, I like posting on Monday to catch the #MondayBlogs hashtag. But those posts are not supposed to be about your book. They’re not for promotion or sharing buy links. So I kind of got out of the habit of talking about my books at all on Twitter or in my blog posts. I’m less shy about it on my Facebook author page. Not sure why.

So what this week has shown me is that if I pin a new post every day, I will look at my Twitter feed and spend some time on there commenting and RTing and even tweeting an original though every so often. I liked doing the new pinned book tweet every day, too. It was fun, even if it didn’t sell books. I think I will keep up this practice. And there’s always #TuesdayBookBlogs.

Happy holidays everyone and thanks for reading.

How to Find Holiday Happiness

IMG_4951When I was growing up, Christmas was a mixed blessing. Christmas Eve, all four of my grandparents visited. My teenage aunt and uncle came over as well. Everyone had gifts, and it would have been very fun except Grandpa was often roaring drunk, dressed as Santa and bearing gifts. He was jolly, though, and I wasn’t sure why my mother was so upset. Which made my father a bit upset. One year, Grandpa went to the wrong house and distributed our gifts to the neighbor’s children. That night began with hope and ended in tears.

By Christmas morning all that drama was forgotten. My memories of Christmas Day are of waking up to a Shirley Temple dream. Beautiful dolls and wonderful toys spread around the tree and all about the living room. There was no space where a toy was not. Nothing was gift-wrapped and my presents were in the middle of the room, with my brothers’ to each side. As the only girl, I knew what was mine. The little kitchen table and chairs, the sweet easy bake oven, with real cake mixes. The dolls, the velvet dresses, the necklaces and bracelets and the satin-lined box that opened to a twirling ballerina.

Christmas morning was always the best morning of the year. It’s why, despite knowing it’s not true, I still sometimes equate gifts with love, money with love, abundance with love. As a young single mom, I tried very hard to duplicate those Christmases for my own children. With very little money for gifts, I tried my best. I went into debt, even. I’m not poor anymore, but when I was, I could not afford to pay off my debt, so I stayed under its steady thumb, struggling just to pay the outrageous interest so my boys could have a semblance of what I thought of as a magical Christmas.

Christmas is why I became a romance writer. When life is too stressful, too harsh, too much to take, I make another world. One that can be difficult but always ends with the feeling of Christmas morning and its beautiful treasures. I remember that feeling and it’s what I went for in my HEAs, every month of the year. Now that I write crime fiction, there’s still that satisfying ending when the criminal is captured and the world is set right again.

When I’m not writing, I have other December ways to deal with unromantic reality. I watch Christmas movies, read Christmas novels, listen to Christmas music and deck the halls. I keep the tree lit and a fire burns all day long. There is absolutely nothing in my contract with life that says I have to remember the bad Christmases, like when my sweet granny died early one Christmas morning. I only found out when I got to her hospital room for a visit and found her bed stripped, the room devoid of flowers.

That year, and the next, my husband left me home alone so he could visit his family. And I was really alone because my boys were with their father almost every Christmas. He and I wanted to give the boys as much security and continuity as possible, so, most years I had Christmas Eve and he had Christmas Day. Sometimes, when I was home alone on Christmas, I went to visit Granny at the cemetery. I realize life is full of suffering much deeper than my own personal sorrows. Somehow, despite my own sadnesses, I mostly manage to find the holiday sweet spot, which is a feeling and not a place.

Psychology and science now know why bad memories are easier to remember than good ones. The bad times, the sad times, cut a painful impression with which sweeter moments cannot compete. Painful memories remain vivid because they are an evolutionary tool; they keep an awareness of possible danger, learned from experience, front and center to ensure survival. Just knowing this cheers me up and makes me more determined to celebrate life while I’m here.

We don’t have to fall in with those deeper impressions of pain. We don’t have to drown in them. I know several ways to beat the rough hand with which life often slaps us. I write down the good memories, I create new ones, or discover those written by others and read them over and over. Eventually, they replace the painful stuff, which these days I am adept at kicking away before it stomps me down.

People make fun of romance, or the sentimentality of Christmas. Many bemoan the commercial aspects of the holiday season, but that’s okay. I know many suffering Scrooges. I don’t wish to join their chorus. I would rather be happy baking cookies. Music, movies, reading and writing also help make the season bright. During the holidays, I like to sip hot chocolate by the fire and think about all the blessings in my life. Now that I’m older, I don’t need lots of gifts under the tree to feel good. My thoughts dwell on happy times, like Christmas visits with my own grandchildren.

My wish for readers of this blog is that you, too, can be filled with the magic of this season. xo