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Liz Kitchens
Coloring Books for Grown Ups
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As I mentioned in a previous blog post (see Doodle for Your Noodle below) Be Brave. Lose the Beige is obsessed with creativity. I consider myself to be a creativity evangelist I’m so persuaded of its impact on brain health. Studies have demonstrated participation in the arts promotes physical and mental health, particularly among aging adults. Besides, it’s fun and, as per an earlier blog post, creativity can relieve boredom (I find boredom to be a cardinal sin).

Since even the word “creativity” can elicit tension and intimidation, Be Brave. Lose the Beige is on a mission to make creativity more accessible. That’s why I’m delighted to have discovered two non-threatening creative endeavors guaranteed to be stress relieving and fun.

I wrote about doodling in my previous post. Visit Pinterest or Amazon and you will be introduced to a whole world of doodling, an artistic expression that can be a soothing take on relaxation.   doodle

In this post, I want to introduce you to Coloring Books for Grownups. Yes, I really mean it adult coloring books are all the rage right now, largely due to the work of Johanna Basford. The Today Show on NBC did an entire segment on the concept of adult coloring books, which, until Johanna Basford, were virtually unheard of. (Except for those of us who secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, pilfered pages from our kids’ coloring books for our own creative coloring) Basford, who describes herself as an illustrator and ink evangelist, took nine months creating her first book, Secret Garden. This book has sold over a million copies and is selling out all over the world, having been translated in 22 languages. She followed up with Enchanted Forest. The #1 and #2 books on Amazon are not mystery novels or courtroom thrillers, but Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest. (Kids, you better hide your coloring books, grown ups are headed your way.)coloring book pages

Google, Pinterest, and even Johanna Basford’s website, have lots of single coloring pages available for downloading. Markers, crayons, and colored pencils serve to transform these black and white illustrations into colorful masterpieces. Basford has turned her facebook page into a gallery of art work uploaded by fans on her website. Thus, coloring has the triple benefit of being…

  • an engaging creative endeavor (the benefits of which I’ve enumerated above)
  • fun and relaxing
  • possibly featured in an online gallery.

Send your doodles or coloring pages to me at and I will feature them on my gallery page.


Lisa Ricard Claro
The Illustrated Woman: Promises in Ink
Family & Relationships, Work & Money
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Image courtesy of Dannelle Meyers via

Don’t make promises you can’t or won’t keep.

In spite of everything, I still believe in the sanctity of that statement.

When my kids were but wee kidlets, they learned that saying “I promise” is equivalent in the Claro home to engaging in a legal contract. “I promise” is better than “yes,” superior to “okay,” and infinitely preferable to the dubious and despised, “we’ll see.” When “I promise” leaves the lips of a Claro, the deed, whatever it may be, is as good as done.

Over the years other parents have called me crazy for abiding by that rule. “Sometimes,” I was told, “Things just happen and kids need to get over it.” I disagree. If there’s the slightest chance something I’m promising will not come to pass, then I do not promise. My children learned that their word should never be given or taken lightly, and that upholding a promise—or not—is a true sign of one’s character. Unless death or unforeseeable circumstances prevent making good on it, when “I promise” comes out of a Claro’s mouth, there’s no turning back.

Something my kids heard from me often was, “I can’t promise that will happen, but I can promise to give it our best effort.” In the event of a firm, “I promise,” there were broad smiles because they knew whatever they asked for was a given. Point of fact: When Mama says, “I promise,” you can take it to the bank. I thought it important for my children to know they could trust what came out of my mouth. With a son in his 30s and two daughters in their 20s, they still know they can trust what I tell them. And if I promise something, it’s golden.

I believe this is one of the biggest and best gifts I’ve ever given, and continue, to give them.

A few years ago I went through a doubtful period with my writing. I’ll call it a period of “my writing sucks,” a phrase most creatives will understand, whether you are a writer or not. Change it to “my songwriting sucks,” or “my drawing sucks,” or “my photography sucks,” or whatever. You get the idea—and you’ve maybe painted yourself with those negative colors a time or two no matter your vocation. I was in that place, mucking about in the pessimistic slime.

In the midst of this dark and icky ooey-gooiness, my daughters cornered me about the possibility of the three of us getting tattoos together, a mother-daughter bonding, as it were. Yeah, that was a big, fat “NO!” My response required no consideration at all. Well, the two of them badgered me, played me like a pair of violin masters. I should have known better, should have minded my tongue, when one of them said, “Well under what conditions would you consider getting a tattoo with us?” Fed up, I replied, “You know what? If I ever sign a publishing contract for one of my novels, we’ll go get a tattoo.” And then it came. The words I should have run away from. “Do you promise?” And being deep in the “my writing sucks” swampy goo, covered head to toe in the tarry mess of self-doubt, I said, “What the hell. Sure, I promise. Because it’s never going to happen.”

So . . . it happened. Last June I signed a three book contract with Black Opal Books. My youngest daughter overheard me discussing it with my husband. She ran into his office and said, “You signed a book contract? OMG! Do you know what this means?” “That I’ll be really busy?” I said. “No! It means you have to get a tattoo!”

Well, damn it to hell, Buttercup. That’s exactly what it meant.

By agreement, we waited until Christina stepped over the line from underaged-ness and into the world of “I can order a drink at any bar in the country.” Yes, my baby turned 21 last week, and I—well. I got a tattoo.

My daughters and I each chose a snowflake, and we each had all three snowflakes tattooed on a body part. So I have my snowflake, and also my Stephanie snowflake, and my Christina snowflake. They each have the same. Mom-daughters, mom-sisters. Symbolic of we three, the Claro women, like our stars (Orion’s Belt—a story for another post). We chose snowflakes because that was my childhood nickname, the one only my parents called me. It was a term of endearment that embodied love and acceptance, pride and individuality. The symbolism was perfect.

The tattoo is bigger than I wanted. I went in hoping for something the size of my pinkie fingernail and ended up with something much bigger, in order to accommodate all three snowflakes. I’m returning to the tattoo artist for more detail work on the whooshie stuff, as well as a small detail he missed, as did I and my daughters until just this second. How could all of us miss it? Do you see it? In any event, this is the first round result—and I have to say, it looks a lot cooler in person than in the pic:


The hubster is claiming that he’s now married to a wild woman, which is ridiculous, of course, because he’s always been married to a wild woman. But now he’s married to a wild woman with a tattoo. He’s not a big fan of tattoos, but I haven’t noticed that my having one has slowed him down any. Ha.

So I’ve come round again to the point: Don’t make promises you can’t or won’t keep. If the words come out of your mouth, make them happen. And sometimes you find, as I did with that trip to the tattoo parlor, that doing something you never thought you’d do isn’t such a bad thing. Stepping outside one’s personal expectation zone for the purpose of keeping a promise is rewarding to the spirit and the heart, and I’ve proven once again to my children that promises are to be kept. We’ll forever wear a symbol of the strength of a Promise, and our bond. Watch out world, because the Claro women are an indivisible unit. I promise.


Have you ever promised something you wish you hadn’t, and then had to make good on your word? Do you agree with me that promises should never be broken, or are you of the mind that they are made to be broken? In my situation, what would you have done?



Lisa Ricard Claro
ABC’s Castle: Romance & Shenanigans!
Books & Entertainment
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Warning: Look out below! Fan girl spasm of love for all things Castle is commencing!

The Castle season seven premier is Monday, September 29th, and I’m beyond excited. There are so many things to love about this show! If you’re a fan of this delightful series please join me in my blubbering happiness and anticipation for the new season. If you’re not a fan, would you like to be? Read on, Buttercup! Let’s see if I can convince you.

First off, the hubby and I were latecomers to Castle. We ignored it until it went into syndication and began showing up in the early evening in back-to-back episodes. We watched it the first time out of desperation for new viewing because our favorite shows were in between seasons and we had Law & Order SVU-edourselves out. One episode into Castle, we were hooked. We hunted it down on the internet and began our own Castle marathon from season one, episode one, until we were current. That was about two years ago, and I never tire of watching this show.

Here’s the gist: Mystery writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) traipses around behind New York City detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) ostensibly doing research for his novels. Naturally, they solve crimes together and romance and shenanigans ensue. And in a humorous play on the mushing together of names (i.e. Brangelina) they call themselves Caskett, a moniker fans embrace with giddy delight.

That, of course, is the stripped down blurb. The show has more to offer than that little paragraph implies. The writing is great, the secondary characters engaging, and the two leads have tons of onscreen chemistry that is so awesome it allows for the suspension of disbelief surrounding the absurdity of the premise. At its core it’s a romantic dramedy, comic but earnest, with enough realism thrown in that relating to the characters is fun and easy.

As a romance writer, I’m an obvious target for a show like this. But even my husband, who would rather sit through two hours of the International Paint Drying Competition than suffer thirty minutes of a rom-com, enjoys the crime-solving escapades of Caskett and company as they exchange witticisms and arrest murderers. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Stana Katic, who plays Detective Kate Beckett, is drop-dead gorgeous and looks hot stalking after the bad guys. If everything else fell apart, my hubby would watch the show for that reason alone. And Nathan Fillion, who plays mystery novelist Rick Castle, is adorable. Some of his expressions are priceless. The man doesn’t even have to talk, although I’m glad he does because he’s talented enough to slip from funny to serious and back to funny again without missing a beat.

One of the great things about the show is that they didn’t consummate the romance until several seasons in which allowed for a lot of sexual tension—a staple for romance—and then after they did the deed and declared their undying love, the writing and chemistry between the lead characters remained strong enough not to screw things up, sort of like a marriage between Gorilla Glue and duct tape. How many other TV shows can say that? (Remember Moonlighting in the ‘80s after Maddie (Cybill Shepherd) and David (Bruce Willis) got together? Gak! No Gorilla Glue or duct tape . . . more like crepe paper in the rain—in a word, ruined).

Castle just keeps getting better and better.  The only thing that worries me going into season seven is that the actors might be getting itchy to move on to other projects. This rumor hasn’t reared its head and I hope it doesn’t, because I’d love to see this series run long enough to get the characters through a couple years of marriage and at least one adorable-but-precocious offspring before it disappears into the sunset. Then maybe they can bring it back a few years after that using the same lead characters. The premise could be a married couple, passionately in love, who drive expensive cars and solve crimes.

Oh, wait. That’s already been done. It was called Hart to Hart and it starred Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers, waaaay back from 1979-1984. Well, if they ever want to reprise that show and update it for this century, I know just the two actors with the chops and onscreen chemistry to pull it off.  In the meantime, we’ve still got Castle and I can’t wait for Monday to get here. You don’t have to ask what I’ll be doing on the 29th at 10 p.m. EST: My hubby, a glass of wine, and Caskett.

It’s time to love Mondays again!

Are you a Castle fan? If so, what do you love the most about it? If not, what’s your never-miss-it TV show and why do you think it rocks?



Vonnie Kennedy
Do Boomer Women Want to Read About Other Boomer Women Having Sex?
Love & Sex
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I have to admit that with my recent move, I haven’t been thinking about sex lately. Not because I’m over it, it’s just been on the back burner. So when I found this post on HuffPost 50 – Where Are the 50-Year-Old Heroines In Erotic Fiction? by Erica Jagger and got me thinking about sex again, not just as a woman, but also as a reader and writer.

Jagger writes, “I love erotic fiction, but I’m fed up reading about 22-year-old virgins who start f**king like porn stars immediately upon deflowerment. I’d really love to read a sizzling slice of smut featuring a protagonist I can actually relate to.”

I agree whole-heartedly, Erica, but where do we find it? Or the real question may be – is do we really want erotic sexually explicit stories about women are age or are would be as grossed out as the younger versions of ourselves?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about the same subject on Vibrant Nation. I received some positive feedback from other women who longed for erotic fiction about women over 50, but didn’t get any suggestions as to where to find these stories.

I also posted a video on my own blog back in 2012 featuring Joan Price who seems to be the lead spokesman for Ageless Erotica and wrote a book with the same name…and seems to be only promoting her book, which is fine but are there any other authors out there writing erotic stories featuring a boomer aged woman?

I have to confess that I haven’t read Joan’s book, yet but it’s on my Kindle list along with lots of other books I want to read.

Before writing this post, I googled ‘mature women erotica’ for research purposes. Warning: DO NOT Google ‘MATURE WOMEN EROTICA’ unless you’re into slimy porn sites involving older women. Nuff said.

So, I regoogled (is that a word?) the phase ‘erotic stories for boomer women’ and came up with another article by Joan PriceSexy Books: Erotica for Boomers at Price listed a few authors that I briefly scanned through, but I didn’t find any boomer age women (or men) as the lead characters. Hmmm.

Next on the Google list:  Why Boomer Women Are Hot for Erotica E-books at Next Avenue. Again, I found no recommended stories or novels about hot and sexy boomer women, so I have to wonder – do boomer women want to read about other boomer women having sex? It certainly isn’t a phenomenon that’s taken off since I wrote about it two years ago.

So what do mature women want to read?

  • Steamy romances about older women?
  • Explicit erotic sex stories involved older women?
  • Stories with no sex about baby boomer women?
  • Erotic stories about 22-year-old virginal women?
  • None of the above

Give me a hint, I’m interested.

In the meantime, my all time favorite steamy/erotic memoir is Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair by Rae Padilla Francoeur.

So, Rae, if you’re still out there – write another book, will ya?

Bodacious Baby Boomer
It Took Me a While to Find Out I’m a Cozy Mystery Author
Books & Entertainment
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You see it all the time when you shop for ebooks. Erotica. Fantasy. Paranomal urban dystopia (I confess I have no idea what that is). Thrillers with sci-fi elements. Everywhere you look, self-published authors are going off the planet with their storytelling.

As an indie author, I struggle to find the right niche for my work. I do, after all, write thrilling mysteries. And mysterious thrillers. But my books are about real life situations. No one has magical powers. No one is ever perfect. And from the moment my story starts right up to that last page, my characters evolve as human beings. That’s because their fictional lives are changed by the fictional events they go through.

It took me a while to find out I’m a cozy mystery writer. Just about all of my books would be considered to be PG-13 if they were movies. Some adult situations, some violence, the occasional strong word here or there.

But what is a cozy mystery to one person might be too scary to another. Some cozy mystery readers expect no blood, no violence, no sexual content whatsoever. Others just don’t want to read long descriptions of horizontal mambo sessions between the sheets. It’s not that they begrudge characters a little romance and some physical exercise with a partner — they just don’t want to hang around like voyeurs.

Maybe the reason things are so confusing in the ebook stores is because we can’t really be sure what we’re getting when we’re getting it. I belong to an international authors group that has a wide range of participants. Some of the things my fellow authors write make me cringe when I see those words in print. And yet, they are a wonderfully supportive bunch of people. I’ve had to explain that I really just don’t like to share “off-color” material with my followers. It’s not my thing.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what’s in some of these independently published works? Is it time to post our own ratings? I assume, given the popularity of “Fifty Shades”, there are plenty of readers who would dive into the X- and R-rated stories. But by the same token, I’d like folks to know that, while my books are adult-oriented, they’re fairly tame. Your granny could read them. Your daughter or your husband could read them. There are sometimes sexual situations, but rather like old Hollywood flicks, the action takes place “over there”, out of sight.

Recently, I got some reviews from a mixed audience. One teenager declared my book “boring”. Apparently she downloaded it in study hall. I could have told her not to bother. It’s not a YA tale. Another reader recently criticized the book as having animal cruelty in it. Not only were no real animals harmed in the writing of the book, I’ve actually rescued my fair share of animals over a lifetime, and it never occurs to me to deliberately maim an animal. The scene was more involved than the reader suggested and the story actually had a happy ending, but obviously this reader was seeking a G-rated experience. That same book managed to get a “Boring! Too sappy!” label from another reader. Apparently, I was expected to rip characters to shreds and cause mayhem and vile, unspeakable acts to occur in the tale.

Would a label rating on the stories help? I’m beginning to think so, and not just for my own books, but for others as well. We authors sometimes expect readers to know our genre, and even to read our minds. Explicit sex? Implied sex? No sex? I found out this week that I’m not really a completely “clean read”, because I actually imply that adults engage in sex. By the same token, I’m not sure I’ve ever really gone into great detail about any sexual act. I still like to leave that up to the reader’s imagination. But then, my books aren’t strictly romance novels. While characters get together here and there, and some have romantic relationships, it’s really about the action that takes place. Mysteries are all about the puzzle-solving, after all.

Need a little ho-ho-ho for the holidays? Download your free copy of “Miz Scarlet and the Holiday Houseguests” in all digital formats.

Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy. How is an overworked homicide investigator supposed to find a killer when she’s so distracted by her own family problems? As things heat up at work, little things start to suggest that Larry’s got something bigger than bickering parents to worry about. Secrets from her past begin to creep in, putting everyone in danger. Who can she trust when the chips are down? It’s time to turn to Miz Scarlet and the gang at the Four Acorns Inn!

Barbara Younger
I feel bad about my neck: A brief tribute to nora Ephron
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Nora Ephron

I’ve been a Nora Ephron fan ever since I read Heartburn twenty plus years ago.

Imagine a novelist  pausing her storytelling to plop down a recipe!

That never happened in the novels I read for English class. Sure would have livened up  pasty old Billy Budd.

I love Nora’s films too. My daughter Kath of, was one of the first food diary bloggers. The family watched Nora’s last film, Julie and Julia, with enthusiasm.

Lately, I’ve been studying Nora’s writing, especially her use of detail, recall, wit, and what reviewer Lisel Schillinger describes as “hard and funny truths.”  Plenty of lessons for this blogger.

Nora warns us, “Anything you think is wrong with your body at age thirty-five you will be nostalgic for at the age of forty-five.”

Sigh.  She’s right.

As I rode in the back seat the other day, the rear view mirror called out to me:  OLD NECK. I SEE LINES AND FOLDS. HA! GOTCHA.

But Nora spotted her old neck first and was clever enough to slap it on a book cover:


Great book!

The book won’t fix our necks though.

But misery loves Nora Ephron company.

Thanks, Nora. You showed us how to age with spunk. We miss you!

And here’s the scene from Heartburn. Watch Meryl cram that delicious key lime pie into Jack’s  face. Take that, you cheater!

Nora’s obituary in the Washington Post is here.

Find some of Nora’s recipes, including the notorious key lime pie, here.

The top photo is from the Washington Post obit.


George, don’t let me slip away!
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Well, ok I told myself if I did this, I would be totally honest.  I would explain my past, my strict Catholic upbringings, etc….just so boring..why I do the things I do….I had a torrid one night with George!  It had been building up for so many years…I was married to 2, 10 second men—my first marriage of 5 years–I only had sex 3 times….  can’t explain now. My second marriage, we had so many sexual problems, we decided to go to a marriage counselor.  The first thing the counselor asked of me was how many times I masturbated!  I said probably about 10 times a day, and my husband’s mouth dropped open and said no wonder she never gets any work done!   So I came on to George really strong.  I think he was even shocked.  But it was great….68 years I’ve waited for this!  It was everything the romance novels could have gone for.  I had candles–Alan Jackson on the CD…white satin sheets….If I had to work the next day, I would have never made it!  It was worth the whole hour and a half and more!  I don’t regret it, and I can’t stop thinking about it.  So glad I had my toe nails painted white!


It’s different with a man who has never been married.  I know a little bit about it, because I was and still am part-time, an esl teacher OF ADULTS.  I understand the Mexican background.  I grew up working with migrant workers in a cherry orchard.  George is all about work and proving that he has a good work ethic.  Family, Work, and women in that order.  I won’t talk to him for 4 or 5 days and then he’s back emailing me late at night with hilarious but erotic messages.  Hilarious because even though he’s lived here a long time, he still doesn’t understand idioms.  The other day I told him my friend saw his pictures, and insists he looks like Penelope Cruz’s husband, Javier Bardem.  He does! And she wanted him!  George, I mean…He said innocently..what does she want me for?


Now, he’s asking for the next time…of course.  And honestly, I’m not a serial dater…but I told him today….George, don’t let me slip away.


Sherri Snelling
Rizzoli & Isles Creator Campaigns to Solve the Mystery of Alzheimer’s
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You may not immediately recognize her name, unless you are one of the millions of readers worldwide who have made Tess Gerritsen’s novels about female buddy crime solvers, detective Jane Rizzoli and chief medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles of the Boston police department, international best sellers and a top-rated TV drama.

When I spoke to Tess, it is not the fourth season premiere of Rizzoli & Isles on TNT or her latest novel, Last to Die, which is on her mind. It is the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and her new philanthropic campaign, which kicks off this month and ends on July 23rd offering donors an entertaining plot twist, that is top-of-mind for this former physician turned award-winning author who also happened to be a Sandwich Generation caregiver.

Appropriately named, Tess Gerritsen’s War on Alzheimer’s, the campaign asks for $5 donations in exchange for a chance to win prizes including naming one of the characters in the new Rizzoli and Isles medical and crime thriller novel she is currently writing to be published next year.  Gerritsen has pledged to match all donations up to $25,000 of which 100 percent of the funds raised will benefit the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California – one of the largest independent nonprofit organizations for biomedical research with a leading four-star rating from Charity Navigator.

It was in the early ‘90s that Gerritsen felt the full-blown drama of Alzheimer’s in her family.  Her father was working for a large defense contractor in San Diego, California but was experiencing trouble with math and numbers that had been his forte throughout his career. Simultaneously, he spent nights as a popular chef in a family-run restaurant which Gerritsen explains as the “typical Chinese immigrant mentality of working two jobs to care for your family.” When his performance in his daytime defense job became unmanageable, he was let go and focused on his passion for cooking.

“My dad’s cooking was magic in the kitchen,” remembers Gerritsen.  “But eventually over the years his personality changed and his ability to remember recipes failed.  He became paranoid and thought people were stealing from him when often he was just misplacing things.”

He was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in his mid 60s which Gerritsen says, “is so young” given the statistics for AD.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, early on-set or younger on-set Alzheimer’s accounts for approximately 5 percent of all Alzheimer’s patients – about 200,000 Americans who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s – whereas one in every two Americans will develop dementia after age 85.

Gerritsen, who resides with her husband and children in Maine, became one of the eight million long-distance caregivers for her divorced dad yet she credits her aunt, her father’s sister with managing his daily care. Both women consoled each other as the father and brother they loved eventually became unable to speak and lost many of the joys in life, such as cooking and even eating.

“It really hit me when I lost my dad in 2003 how impactful this disease can be,” states Gerritsen.  As I learned more, including one in every three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s disease, I decided we need to solve the mystery of treating this disease before it overtakes us.”

Gerritsen is particularly troubled by the lack of funding through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where annual budgets authorized by Congress for Alzheimer’s are less than 1/10th the spending on other health issues such as heart disease, cancer and AIDS. Alzheimer’s disease now ranks #6 among diseases on the top 10 list of causes of death in the U.S.  and is the only disease on the list which cannot be prevented, slowed or cured.

“Alzheimer’s is literally killing us and the only way to fight this ‘crime’ is through a groundswell of people who continue to raise their voices and funds to ensure it gets the attention it deserves,” says Gerritsen with the passion evident in her voice.

Gerritsen created her famous characters, Rizzoli and Isles, as two women with very different backgrounds and lifestyles who work together toward a common goal – solving crime.  She believes pop culture has a place in capturing attention for social causes and her Alzheimer’s campaign is her contribution to have different people work together to help eradicate a known killer.

Join Tess Gerritsen’s campaign before the July 23rd deadline.

Sherri Snelling’s book, A Cast of Caregivers, blends pop culture with caregiving resources, information and tips on self-care.





Kate Considers
Why I Believe
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I believe in God for two reasons. The first reason is simple–the world fairly bursts with the joy of creation. Everywhere I look in nature, I see evolution, yes, but I also see an effervescent delight and wonder at play. It feels to me as if someone or something had fun making the world, and I want to say “thank you.” I’ve felt this way as a child, and I still do.

The other reason I believe in God keeps me believing when people confound me and the world no longer makes sense because I have no other explanation for what happened. It was a moment of clarity that still shines brightly in my mind.

In the summer of 1986, with one year left to complete my MA in English, Gordon came home one day, and he told me that I had to take the literature exam in November instead of waiting for April, as we had planned. He said he “knew” something was going to happen that would keep me from taking it in April. Whoa! How was I to cram all that studying into half the time originally planned while caring for two toddlers? Ah, inspiration struck. We wrote Uncle Bob, Gordon’s brother, and asked him to come out for ten weeks. We told him we would pay him to play with and care for Amy and Gavin for eight hours a day so that I could study. He agreed. The only break I took during the day before Gordon got home from work was to read to Amy and Gavin before their naps. Reading to my children always took precedence. The rest of the time, I read, read, read for my exam.

Before the summer, I had spoken to my graduate advisor (now my friend), Elsie Leach, about what to study and how to study for the exam. She helped me write out a plan, emphasizing my strengths in dramatic literature. I felt confident until one night I woke up in a panic.

That night, I began to pray for guidance regarding what to study for my exams. I just knew something had changed from when Elsie and I had made my plan. She had retired, so I could not ask her. I just prayed.

One night, about two in the morning, I woke abruptly, as if someone had shaken me awake. I suddenly knew that I needed to read and study Chaucer, I needed to read other medieval texts, an area I had skipped entirely, except for “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” because I love all things about King Arthur. I also knew that I needed to read the Critical Edition of several Norton novels. I wrote it all down, lest I forget upon waking in the morning.

In the morning, I told Gordon that my prayer had been answered, and I now knew what I NEEDED to read, and it differed from what Elsie and I had planned, except for Shakespeare and Elizabethan drama; I somehow knew there was going to be a question on that too. Gordon not only scoffed at the notion, he got angry and said he did not want me wasting my time reading anything other than what was on Elsie’s and my list. He was not an atheist; he was an agnostic, and like most people, myself included, wondered why, if there was a God, he would answer my particular prayer while there was so much suffering in the world. I had no answer.

Then began the first and only time I ever hid something from Gordon. I secretly began studying Chaucer, Medieval texts, and novels in the middle of the night with a flashlight so as not to awaken Amy, Gavin, or Gordon.

One night, Gordon woke up to pee and caught me. Instead of getting angry, though, Gordon was somewhat in awe of my conviction that I HAD to study these topics, and he became supportive.

The day before the exam, Gordon told me to read something fun and relaxing in order to calm myself. After he left for work and Uncle Bob took Amy and Gavin for a walk, I went to the novels section of my bookshelves and asked quite simply, “God, what should I read? I feel I’m missing something.” In a moment, my hand reached out for James Dickey’s Deliverance. Without hesitating, I sat down and read the book and the critical commentary about the book. When I finished reading, I knew I was ready for the exam the next morning, but I was a nervous wreck. What if I’d paid attention to a phantom, and I was going to fail?

The next morning, bright and early, and all of you who know me, know I do not do bright and early well, I entered the room, and there were maybe eight of us taking the exam. The professor proctoring the exam handed out the questions. My heart seized as I gasped. The format for the test was ALL WRONG. In previous semesters, each student was allowed to pick three essay questions out of nine to answer, but this test had three sections, and you HAD to answer one question from EACH section. I was sure I was sunk.

The first section was three questions regarding Medieval Literature. Two questions I had no clue about, having never read the works that I was asked to discuss. The third question was about Chaucer’s works, and I knew it cold.

The second section was Elizabethan drama with a question about Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well along with a third play of your choice. I had written “A” papers on both plays, plus Measure for Measure is my favorite Shakespeare play, so I thought my friend Nils had written that question as a gift for me. Nope! I learned a few days later that a new professor, whom I did not know, had written that question.

Deep breath time–the third section was about novels. Two questions were on specific novels that I had never read. The third question asked me to write about three novels that used the the same form of a narrator in three different ways. I quickly wrote down the novels I had studied during the ten weeks, looking for three with the same form of narration. Only three novels fit, and Deliverance was the third one.

Tears rolled down my cheeks. A woman I did not know, who was sitting next to me, patted my shoulder and told me that I had next semester to take the exam. She, too, was shocked by the change in the exam format. I shook my head and said that wasn’t why I was crying. I said that, for whatever reason, God had answered my prayer by letting me know what to study. I said I would never doubt his existence again. Understandably, the woman scooted her chair away from me and shot me fearful glances, no doubt believing I was a madwoman.

So, I wrote my three essays to the ONLY three questions I could answer. When the exam was over, I called Gordon and told him. He was stunned and speechless. About a week later, a professor called to congratulate me. I had passed my literature exam for my masters with an “A”.

So, that is why I believe. After such an experience, wouldn’t you? How else to explain it? Oh, and that premonition Gordon had that something was going to happen? George, Gordon’s 95 year old dad, who lived with us, fell and broke his hip in January, and from then until his death six months later in July, we had no time for anything but caring for George. Something to ponder, isn’t it?

Take care,


P.S. I want to address two points that some people raise when you say you believe in God.

People often wonder why God allows human suffering in all its myriad forms, but I don’t believe suffering is God’s will. He gives us humans free will, and we use our free will to cause harm and suffering by thinking of and putting ourselves first and foremost. But if everyone–believers, atheists, agnostics–all of us lived by the words “love your neighbor as yourself,” we would have nothing to blame God for because we would be fulfilling our basic, most important purpose for living, which is to take care of one another.

As for evolution, I think God and evolution go hand in hand. What’s to quibble about?

VN Editors
Friendship in midlife: How to identify a “toxic” friend
Love & Sex
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Is a toxic friendship dragging you down? Among female relationships, toxic friends are so common you might not even realize you’ve got one. Learn how to identify a toxic friend, and clear the poison out of your life so you can have a much happier one.

Is This Friendship?

We aren’t issued a rule book when we’re born. There’s no standard of “how things are supposed to be,” especially when it comes to relationships. A friendship can be every bit as complicated and confusing as a romantic relationship…but the sad truth is, friendships often last much longer and they can cause you a lot more emotional pain. If you have issues with a close friend, you’re not alone. In fact, most women have suffered this fate.

“She always had nasty comments to make about my husband, my home, my finances…all in the name of ‘love.’ She always said she had my best interests at heart. When I finally tired of her meddling in my life, I ended the friendship. But for years I still missed her.” Sound familiar? VN member katwilly’s story is a common one.

“I began to feel she only spent time with me to feel better about herself; putting me down seemed to make her happier. I finally got the courage to end the friendship again, but it is still haunting me… If she really valued my friendship, wouldn’t she have tried to work things out?”

The situation katwilly describes is a painful one. She said that her friend was a very good friend – when, of course, she wasn’t being critical and generally horrible to be around. Any friend that makes you feel bad about yourself, repeatedly, is a toxic friend. Friends are here to support us and guide us and listen to us, not to judge us. You should not take constant criticism or judgment from anyone, and certainly not from a close friend.


WebMD describes as toxic friendship as “unsupportive, draining, unrewarding, stifling, unsatisfying, and often unequal.” If you get nervous when you’re going to see your friend, or feel stressed out when their name appears on the caller ID, you do not have a healthy friendship.

A friend who is constantly hurtful, or unreliable, isn’t a friend at all. Do they ignore you until they need something? Break dates with you when something “better” comes along? Forget special days in your life, or fail to be there for you when you need a friend most? How could this be anything but toxic?

“When we separated from husbands who have treated us poorly, we miss the good times but is it worth being treated that way again, only you can answer that,” points of VN member SIZZELN. Her way of viewing things actually makes sense. If you wouldn’t take constant pain and criticism from a lover, why raise your tolerance bar for a friend?

“You value yourself enough not to submit to what is actually abusive behavior.  This person is not a good friend; she is not a friend at all if she spends so much time criticizing you.  Yes, you will miss the good times with her for a while.  But resist the temptation to continue hurting yourself by subjecting to her withering criticism,” advises VN member Rebecca B. There’s only one way out of a toxic friendship: end it.

“True friendship lasts because of mutual respect, communication, caring, love and also integrity… I realized that sometimes friendships aren’t meant to be long lasting,” says VN member dynamomma.
Second Chances

According to a study conducted of Today readers, around 84 percent of women have had a toxic friendship. Almost 1 in 3 who took the survey said they had a best friend who is toxic.

“The common acronym BFF is a romanticized myth—reinforced by novels, movies, and our mothers—that friendships are supposed to last forever. But what do you do when a friendship is toxic? Or when you are unceremoniously dumped by your once-best friend? Unfortunately, one of the ways our culture judges women is based on their ability to make and keep friends,” says VN member Irene Levine.

But it’s hard to walk away, even from a toxic relationship. You may find yourself feeling regret or looking back. One VN member described it as being “haunted” by a former friendship. It may be possible to repair a toxic friendship. Your friend might not know they are hurting you, and unless you tell them you won’t know if they’re doing it on purpose. Try to mend your broken friendship before you simply walk away, to avoid feeling like you’ve missed out.

As VN member Irene Levine explains, “Even though the relationship feels tattered, you realize it’s far too precious to lose because of all the memories you share of good times together.”

She says the first step is opening up a dialogue. Try making a phone call, writing a letter, jotting down an email. Accept responsibility for any hurt feelings you may have caused your friend or problems you’ve created in the friendship. If you apologize and offer that olive branch, your friend may follow suit by attempting to make amends with you.

And be honest. Explain to your friend how they’ve hurt you, and tell them what you’d like to see from them instead. For example, if you have a friend who is constantly critical of your appearance tell them that their comments are very hurtful. Tell them you’d be much happier if they only comment on your appearance when they have something positive to say about it. If they continue to ignore this request, this is clearly a toxic friendship that you don’t want in your life.

Give your friend a second chance to mend their ways, but not a third. Don’t allow hurt and ugliness to come into your life. No friend is better than a friend like that…and once you get rid of the poison in your life, it won’t be so hard to make new, genuine friendships.

Finding your life’s passion after fifty.
Spirituality, Work & Money
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I lived a lot of years searching for the one thing I would do that would be ‘the right thing’, my passion. I discovered it six years ago–writing. And I’ve been blessed to have five novels published since that time. I’m wondering if there are others here who took hold of their life’s passion later in life?

Lesa Holstine
A Breathtaking Novel – Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman
Books & Entertainment
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Darn that Beth Hoffman. I laughed and cried over her debut novel Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. Her second book, Looking for Me, strikes out in a different direction. But, I challenge you to read it all the way through, and not be moved by it. I cried a number of times as I read this deep, thoughtful story of family and loss and trying to find your place in the world. I want to warn readers who loved CeeCee that Looking for Me is totally different. But, Hoffman creates characters who step from the page. I wanted to wrap my arms around them, hug them, and get to know them better. She breathes life into every person and animal in the book.

My review comes with a reminder that Beth Hoffman is a friend, although I’ve only met her once. And, I didn’t know her when I reviewed CeeCee. However, I’ve reviewed books before by authors who I know, like, and respect, and I’ve still said a book had weaknesses or didn’t hit home for me. Saying that, Looking for Me is a book that I’m eager to share with readers who will appreciate the characters and the beauty of this story.

Teddi Overman is the narrator, a woman of thirty-six as she tells of her family. She’s an antiques dealer and faux-finishing specialist in Charleston, South Carolina. But, she’s a woman who has lost so much in her life. And, that compelling story of loss and hope runs throughout the story.

Teddi grew up on a large farm in Kentucky where she and her younger brother, Josh, had the run of the farm and the wilderness beyond it. From the moment she saw Josh, she felt he was special, and she taught him what she knew about nature and the wild. He had a special connection to animals and always hoped to be a ranger. Teddi said, “My brother belonged to the forest, its creatures, and all its mysteries. And they belonged to him.” And, she reveals his connection in a mystical way, from his passion for raptors, his rescue of an albino red-tailed hawk, to his feeding of a deer. And, it’s that connection that leads to his disappearance at eighteen. Years later, Teddi still looks for messages that Josh is alive in the Kentucky wilderness. And, one clue sends her reeling. As she searches for answers, she uncovers truths she never knew about her own family, a family that broke when Josh walked away.

Teddi tells the story as an adult, but she goes back to earlier times throughout the book to tell what led up to the disappearance that haunts her to this day. And, in that telling, she reveals how she became the person she is. She tells about her passion for furniture, beginning with the day she found an old chair in a ditch, and dragged it home. She tells about sharing animals and nature with her brother. At some level, she understands that she and Josh were both “fixers and healers”. She fixed and healed furniture. He turned to animals. Their passions were something their scarred mother never understood. She was a woman who was never happy. Teddi once told her, “The world’s beautiful, but you’re so busy being disappointed in everything that you don’t see it.” And, it would take years for Teddi to learn how both of her parents were haunted by the past.

Hoffman intricately weaves a love of nature, animals and plants and flowers, into a complex story of family, disappointment and tragedy. Every character, every animal is carefully brought to life with an essential role. There are no unimportant people or animals in this carefully crafted, compelling story. And, the injured animals in the book are treated with as much love as the injured people. Teddi, her brother, Josh, her parents, her Grammy Belle, her friends Olivia and Albert and Inez, and others, all come alive on the page. However, the hawks Ghost and Noah, the raccoon, Ella, and the dogs, Eddie and Buddy are just as essential to this story. Hoffman embodies every person and animal with their own characteristics, their own soul. They are living, breathing characters who could step off the page.

Hoffman brings her own background in interior design into Teddi’s life. However, it’s the author’s deep compassion for animals, and her love of people that make this story so real. There’s a depth and emotion to this book that’s lacking in many novels. Through Teddi’s eyes, we see how people can go through life, missing connections to the people we love, and often not knowing the stories in our own families.And, despite the losses, there are always mentors, people who went out of their way to help Teddie, as she did as well. Beth Hoffman’s latest novel is moving, sometimes tragic, sometimes sad, but, there’s always a glimpse of hope. It’s a beautiful story of people finding connections, their place in life, whether it’s with other people, furniture, or animals. Looking for Me sometimes just took my breath away with the compassion and kindness in the book.

Lesa Holstine
Road Trip Novel – Elizabeth Berg’s Tapestry of Fortunes
Books & Entertainment
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I’m a big fan of road trip novels, particularly road trips involving a group of women. I thought that would be a major focus of Elizabeth Berg’s latest book, Tapestry of Fortunes. There is a road trip, but the story is actually about connecting with the past, and discovering what’s important for the future.

Cecelia Ross is a motivational speaker who can tell others how to move on with their lives, but she’s lost her own focus. Before her best friend died four months earlier, Penny had pointed out that Cecelia never took time to enjoy life or relax. Cecelia felt as if she couldn’t quit. She lacked the courage to change her life, and she had even as a young woman when Dennis Halsinger asked her to move to Tahiti with him. He was the man she loved best, and felt loved by, but she didn’t have the courage to change her life. Now, years later, she’s sort of lost, and wants to move on. Penny’s death, a postcard from Dennis, and a push from her mother help to motivate her. Cecelia sells her house, and moves in with three other women.

Cecelia’s roommates couldn’t be more different. Joni, at fifty-two, is a chef, who loves preparing food for people, but deals with turmoil at work. Renie is a thirty-nine-year-old gay woman who works for an alternative newspaper and has a chip on her shoulder. Lise is a forty-two-year-old physician who owns the house, and has problems communicating with her daughter. And, when Cecelia announces she’s making a road trip to visit Dennis, who is temporarily in Cleveland, all three women have stops to make along the way. Cecelia’s small fortune telling box invites each of them to reach for answers, searching for their past, and ways to change the future.

Tapestry of Fortunes is a satisfying book, with a road trip, the “Vacation that galvanizes you and makes you feel like you’re going to change your life.” This time, it’s more than just the road trip that brings change. It’s a story of friendship, and finding the truth in our own lives. Berg beautifully captures uncertainty, the need for answers, and the need for love.

Elizabeth Berg’s website is

Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg. Random House. 2013. ISBN 9780812993141 (hardcover), 219p.

Kate Considers
A Summer of Sifting Through Memories
Home & Garden
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Unicorns and books, books and unicorns, everywhere in my home, everywhere in my heart, which will stay with me, which will go to a new home? And what about all the photographs?
I fell in love with unicorns after reading Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn more than forty years ago. Immediately, I began to collect them, and friends and family members have added to my collection over the years, so now I have many more than a hundred. Some look regal, some look playful, some sparkle, all enchant. My unicorns represent a lifetime of memories. I love them all, but I must choose which to keep and which to give away.

I love books even more than unicorns. Reading is as necessary to me as breathing. Books are my friends; books are my strength; books are my joy; books are my solace; books never fail me; books never betray me; books never change unexpectedly; books offer hope; books offer truth; books offer possibilities. Books keep me upright when my world collapses around me. I live surrounded by books; every room in my home is full of books–twenty-eight bookshelves of poetry, drama, novels, biographies, myths, legends, writing guides, history, reference books, mysteries, theology, philosophy, political science, and whimsy, all ready to gladden my heart and challenge my mind as soon as they are plucked from their homes in my bookshelves. My books represent a lifetime of learning, a lifetime of joy, a lifetime of memories. I love them all, but I must choose which to keep and which to give away.

I love my children more than unicorns or books. And I have thousands of photos that testify to that love and represent thousands of memories. They are in boxes and Rubbermaid containers, in no order whatsoever. I was always so busy seizing the moments with my children, playing with them, delighting in them, just being with them, that I never took the time to organize the photos. Now the photos wait, ready to be rediscovered, ready to be organized, ready to pounce on my heart and sweep me into the realm of memory, where I shall laugh and cry, and where my heart will rejoice in what was, and, in many ways, still is, and will weep for what is no more. I love all my children, and, fortunately, I do not have to choose which to keep and which to give away; I just have the daunting task of organizing all the photos of them!

So, this will be my happy-sad summer of sifting through my unicorns, through my books, through my photos, and through my memories–all in preparation for the next stage in my life that begins one year from now. I have no idea what my future holds, but I know that when my youngest child, Grant, graduates with his MUP (Masters of Urban Planning) next year in May, life as I’ve known it for more than thirty years will change, and it will definitely include downsizing.

I am exceedingly grateful to have this summer, to have this year, to adjust to the idea of a change before I must adjust to the reality of a change. For me, gradual is good.

Take care,