Thursday, July 31, 2014

Happy Birthday Harry

Today is Harry Potter’s very famous birthday – July 31st so I just wanted to take a minute to say thank you to Harry, Ron, Hermione and all of their wonderful magical and muggle friends for the amazing memories. 

Reading the Harry Potter books with my daughters, and later fighting over who would be first to read each new addition to the incredible series, these books were a big part of our lives.  Harry and his friends may have had the power to cast spells, but for us the real magic was the special memories and the love of reading that these books inspired. 
I also want to extend a special thanks to JK Rowling for all of the many lessons she gave us, not just through her novels, but through her life.  Lessons like determination – when she was a single mom, out of work, being rejected by numerous publishers, yet she persevered.    
I look forward to the day when I will be able to share these books with grandchildren, watching them fall  in love with Harry and his friends just like my girls did (NO PRESSURE girls, I’m not in a bug hurry for grandkids). 

Today might just be July 31st to some, but for me it will always be a very magical day – Happy Birthday Harry

“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.”
― J.K Rowling







Tuesday, July 29, 2014

“What would a good, but not ridiculously good tipper do here?”

My husband and I had an amazing summer, we travelled to Antigua for a dream wedding on the beach and then after returning home, we threw a big party to celebrate with all of our friends.  The trip was so incredible and the party was fantastic, but there was one challenge – we both had absolutely no idea if/when/how much to tip.  We were completely confused.  We even spoke to some fellow resort guests in Antigua to get their advice & they were equally as confused. 

No wonder tipping is so confusing, doing a google search I quickly found several articles with conflicting advice.  Not even Emily Post has concrete advice on what to do in all occasions. 

We had such excellent service on our trip and we wanted to show our appreciation, but let’s face it, we spent a great deal on this trip and we wanted to be smart with our money.  Even the party when we got home was confusing, we knew we should tip the catering staff, but how much?  Does the standard 15% rule apply?  If so, that is a lot of money – we had a catered dinner for 75 guests.  It can get out of hand really quickly.  Is it different if its table service versus a buffet? We did our best to muddle through, but I am not sure if we gave the correct amount. 
My husband and I try to be very sensitive to the staff who serve us in restaurants.  Waiting on tables is hard, and most of these folks rely on tips, as their base salary is miniscule.  At our favorite restaurants, we often give more than 20% - we feel like these servers have become friends and we value and appreciate what they do.  I simply love the fact that when I go to one of my favorite little sports bars, not only do they know my name, but often my favorite beer is waiting on the table for me, and the server will say “I saw you coming”.  It’s like my own real-life version of going to the Cheers bar. 
I want to show value for good service, I want to make sure people know I appreciate what they do, but I also don’t really have tons of extra cash around.  I find myself always guessing and wondering if I have done the right thing. 

And if tipping is confusing for us, just think about folks who are visiting here from other countries. My husband and I are hoping to do more travelling, now that my kids are grown, but I am not looking forward to this tipping confusion on every trip we take.  I have collected a few tipping resource links – I hope these are helpful if you are like me, and you are confused about how much to tip. 



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Having a hot flash during a Phoenix summer - isn't that redundant?


I got out of my car today in the parking lot of the YMCA, and instantly my shoes began to melt into the pavement.  It felt like I was stepping on to the surface of the sun.  I live in Phoenix and in July it is brutal.  The one positive thing about temperatures over 100 degrees is that I don’t have to ask “Is it hot in here, or is it just me?”
If you are peri-menopausal or in menopause, you have probably asked that question.  Living with hot flashes can be annoying to say the least.  For me, there are many things that will trigger a hot flash. 
·        Spicy food – yup, that will bring on a hot flash

·        A glass of wine – yup, that will bring on a hot flash

·        Exercise of any kind – yup, that will bring on a hot flash

·        Chocolate or sweets – that will probably bring on a hot flash
For those of you who have never experienced one, having a hot flash feels like your skin has been set on fire, not the burning pain of a fire, but the intense heat of standing right next to the flame.  The heat consumes your whole body and instantly you become a sweat producing factory.  They can happen at almost any time – and they usually happen at the most inconvenient times. 
Many of us also have frequent hot flashes during the night while we sleep, otherwise known as ‘night sweats’.  I have literally woken up to find that my sheets are wet and now that the hot flash is gone, I have to find the covers that I just threw violently off the bed, because I am now freezing. 
So, getting back to the parking lot at the YMCA.  I know that working out will bring on a hot flash – and hopefully my fellow fitness participants will think its normal that sweat is pouring off of me.  I might be the only person who feels grateful for the extreme heat warnings, because between the heat and my jogging on the treadmill, even if I do have a hot flash – I won’t have to ask “Is it hot in here, or is it just me?”

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention by Claire Cook

Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way)Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention by Claire Cook
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been a big fan of Claire Cook and her fun books for awhile now, so I was excited to grab my copy of her first non-fiction book. Claire has such a friendly and easy manner, after reading this book I feel like I have been sitting in the kitchen chatting with a good friend and learning from her. I love the idea of reinvention and Claire does it better than anyone. If you need a personal cheerleader to help you along your road to reinvention, then I highly recommend this book.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: Celia Morgana and the Pirates of the Dragon Clan by Suzanne Freyjadis

Celia Morgana and the Pirates of the Dragon Clan (Dragon Clan, #1)Celia Morgana and the Pirates of the Dragon Clan by Suzanne Freyjadis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was given a copy of this book by the author for a fair review, I enjoyed this entertaining story. I have to admit, the pirates are much 'nicer' than any pirates I have ever heard of and Celia is sometimes too perfect, but this is a cute adventure story of a young girl named Celia who winds up choosing to join a pirate ship. Battles and adventures are all included, as well as some magic, a few dragons and of course a love interest. This book should be fun for younger readers, and it is obvious that Celia Morgana will be back in future books for even more adventures.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal

A Lucky Child: A Memoir Of Surviving Auschwitz As A Young BoyA Lucky Child: A Memoir Of Surviving Auschwitz As A Young Boy by Thomas Buergenthal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because I have always been interested in first person accounts of the Holocaust. Written as a personal memoire, this book tells the story of Tommie - a young Jewish boy who survives several Nazi concentration camps included the infamous Auschwitz. It is a compelling story, but Mr. Buergenthal did not write this book until much later in life, so there are some gaps in the story and some of the recollections are limited, but overall I was not only amazed at Tommy's almost miraculous survival, but I especially enjoyed the end of the book where Mr. Buergenthal shares his outlook on the experience and his ability to move beyond hatred toward those responsible.
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Monday, July 14, 2014

Vive la France

Today is Bastille Day, an incredibly important day in French history.  Much like the 4th of July in America – July 14th is celebrated and honored in France, yet many Americans know little about it. 

Back in 1789, the people of France were tired of an unequal system so they revolted in a bloody clash.  The now iconic line from Marie Antoinette “Let them eat cake” was not only considered a rallying cry for the revolution, it is often used as a reflection of the disparity between the rich and the poor.  Whether she said the famed line or not, it was actually only part of a comment, which began with “Well if they don’t have bread, then let them eat cake”. 

Taken out of context, the comment may not seem that incendiary, but peasants were literally starving in the streets while the wealthy threw lavish parties, not unlike some of the conversations of the past few years in this country.  Conversations about the 1%, disparaging comments about individuals who are poor, on food stamps or welfare, and implying somehow that those people are not as worthy.  This type of thinking is very dangerous – divisions in society, unequal social classes without hope of escape, these were all significant ingredients in one of the bloodiest revolutions in history. 
Understanding the implications of history can help us to prevent similar struggles – but only if we listen...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The magic of writing

I turned on the television this morning and one of the stations was having a special Harry Potter weekend.  Watching for just a few minutes I was immediately transformed back to when my girls were young and we would sit in my bed and read from the Harry Potter books together.  Cries of “one more chapter mommy, please” would echo through my evenings.  As they got older, and were able to reads the books themselves, my youngest still wanted to sit with me reading them aloud to her – it was such a special time for us.  The world of Harry Potter was absolutely magical for muggles like us. 

I am still in complete awe of JK Rowling and her ability to weave a dynamic story.  In the first book, she was able to capture the essence of the entire relationship between Harry and Draco Malfoy in just a few lines of dialogue, and this set the immediate tone for the rest of the book series.  Her true genius became even more apparent in the later books, when we realized she had hidden clues inside the earlier books, clues we had read but never realized were significant.

As an aspiring writer, and one who is interested in writing for young adults, I am inspired and yes – somewhat overwhelmed when I encounter such fantastic writing.  I hope to be as moving and entertaining and impactful as a writer like JK Rowling.  I hope that I can make my historical novels dynamic enough to transport readers back in time, to give my readers the love that I have for history. 

And on that note…..I better get busy writing J

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review; Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks

The Harlem HellfightersThe Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not really a big fan of graphic novels, but I bought this for my husband - who loves comic books & history, seemed like a perfect fit. I love history so I read it too. The topic is really interesting - the Harlem Hellfighters, a little known group of black soldiers from World War I (I specifically did not use African American - because some of the men were from Caribbean islands). The story is very gritty and it focuses mostly on the racial issues of the time period and the race issues faced by the soldiers - which left a lot of the war story untold. I learned a great deal, but at times I felt like the story was demonizing all white people and in some ways diminishing the heroic actions of the black soldiers by implying their only motivation was to kill white people. The book does do a tremendous job of showing the ugly side of war, the horrible conditions and the brutality of combat. I really like the concept of using graphic novels to teach about history, but I wish this book was a bit more balanced in its approach.
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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Book review: Goodnight June by Sarah Joi

Goodnight JuneGoodnight June by Sarah Jio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

LOVED this book. I don't know anyone who hasn't read 'Goodnight Moon' and this charming novel gives us one possible explanation for how that iconic children's book came about. June, the main character, struggles to overcome fear and learn how to trust again, she has to face past hurts and really decide what is important in her life, and her great Aunt Ruby helps her accomplish this through a scavenger hunt of sorts in the bookstore she leaves for June in her will. Sentimental at times, this story is sweet and charming and a wonderful read for anyone who grew up loving children's books.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

10 Incredibly important rules for writing

10 Incredibly important rules for writing

1.     Stop reading lists of rules & find what works for you; Just start Writing

2.     See rule number 1

3.     If you're still unsure, refer back to rule number 1

4.     Stop looking at other lists on Pinterest and refer to rule number 1

5.     Stop comparing yourself to other writers and see rule number 1

6.     When someone verbally gives you advice, smile politely and refer to rule number 1

7.     When you check and your book sales are lagging, refer to rule number 1

8.     If you are frustrated that you haven’t even published a book yet, refer to rule number 1

9.     No really, I’m not kidding, refer to rule number 1

10.                         Just write, you will figure it out.

Okay – I know that was a bit sarcastic, but I have been feeling pretty overwhelmed with advice lately.  This morning I got online and found literally dozens of articles full of advice, including many with specific lists of what to do or what not to do to be successful as a writer – but here’s the problem, I am pretty sure that Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Bronte or yes even JK Rowling did not follow some ridiculous 10 point list to learn how to write.  I appreciate other writers trying to offer helpful suggestions to support fellow writers, but it can be overwhelming as a new writer.  Let’s face it, many of these lists are written simply to get your attention, or to increase their blog reader base.  Some of the advice is excellent and may help you a great deal.  Some of the advice is completely wrong for you.  The challenge is that new writers get so much advice, often conflicting advice, so much so that they become overwhelmed and simply don’t know what to do. Now they are second guessing themselves and really struggling to find their own unique voice.
 It reminds me of a new mom.  The first few months everyone she meets will offer ‘critical advice’ on how to raise the baby.  They will very assuredly demand that “you have to do this” or “you must not do that”, but after a few months, this new mom begins to understand that she doesn’t need to listen to every piece of advice equally & that she is the expert on her own child.  She knows her child better than anyone else. 

As writers we need to be like that new mom – after all writing is really our baby, and while many people are well intentioned, and they want to help us avoid the struggles they went through, we have to find our own way as new writers. 

The next time you see a list that all writers absolutely must read – do yourself a favor and don’t click on it. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Oh Look Shiny

Do you start something and get easily side-tracked?  It is a big problem for me.  In truth I probably have ADD, but as the youngest of six children, born more than a few decades ago, it was not something my parents worried about, so I was never officially given that label.  Whether I have the label or not, I do admit - I get easily distracted.

I have been trying to clean out my upstairs office – actually I have been trying to put my office back together after my amazing husband surprised me with beautiful new hardwood floors and a new paint job in the office.  It was hastily cleared out to do the work and now I am trying to go through years and years of crap to re-organize and put my office back together. 

There are boxes and boxes of old photographs, financial records and almost 30 years’ worth of sentimental items.  Each time I go through a box I find myself getting distracted, “Oh right I need to call the retirement system to change my name” or “I should collect all these photos and put them in a book” or "Wow I remember when the girls did this" or I simply get lost in thought, wondering how this person is doing and what that person is up to these days. 

I worked for hours today and I feel badly that I am not further along on my project.  My daughter teases me about being a pack rat – so I am trying to ‘get rid’ of some things, but how do you choose what special childhood memories to keep and which ones to throw in the trash. I really am trying, but for me it is hard work.  It can be tedious, I do not like to let things go easily.  I have a lot more boxes to get through. 

I am happy to report that today I managed to clear out 4 boxes.  It isn’t much – but it is a start and tomorrow I will sit down and try to stay focused and get even more boxes organized, emptied and put away…..but I am fairly certain I will also get distracted along the way.