The Great Fish and Hamster Caper

Photo by Juris Freidenfelds from Pexels

I have to preface this post by saying in the last three years, the mosquito problem at my house has become vicious. It was always a bit annoying in the summer. The owners of the lot next to our property dug the foundation for a house, only to be told by the county they couldn’t build on the narrow strip of land they owned, and they walked away, leaving a huge open pit in the middle of the lot. Over the years, the thicket has taken over again, but every March the hole fills with water and the sound of spring peepers is almost deafening.

Then developers put in a subdivision behind us, with two retaining ponds for run-off and a large ditch that runs alongside the far end of the property. This ditch regularly floods during heavy rains–so much so our trees along that side of the field are showing signs of root rot.

Our mosquitoes have gone from being annoying to swarming as soon as you leave the building. I can’t even take the dogs out for a quick walk to eliminate in the mornings without putting on bug spray. Even with bug repellent, the “deep woods” kind, the mosquitoes still bite. Heck, they bite through clothing, too.This year I had to buy a mosquito tent so my husband and I could sit outside when the weather was nice.

Let me pause here to remind you how many diseases mosquitoes carry: ones we now have to worry about here in the US. Dengue fever, West Nile, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Zika are just a few of concern in our area, and that doesn’t count things like heartworm disease, which affects primarily our pets but in rare cases can affect humans as well.

I looked into spraying the property for mosquitoes, but wasn’t happy with the potential environmental and safety issues. (Look, they told us RoundUp was safe too, and it’s NOT.) And really, the problem isn’t on our property itself: it’s all the surrounding ponds and sources of standing water.

I bought some “dunks” which claim to be environmentally friendly and safe for wildlife and the environment, until you read the fine print. Then it’s a little worrisome. I decided I’d reserve the dunks for a last resort.

Enter the fish.

See, fish eat mosquito larvae. I had this brilliant plan. I’d purchase some “feeder” fish and release them in the various areas of standing water. I did some calculations and decided that 25 little goldfish would suit my needs perfectly. Feeder fish means these little fishes were doomed to be fed to something else, and so I shouldn’t feel bad about giving them a few months of freedom before the ponds either dried up or froze over. The fish would have a nice autumn and I would have fewer mosquitoes. Right?

Enter the hamster.

A friend of mine serves as her elderly father’s caretaker. As such, she’s been particularly careful about where she goes and how she shops because of the pandemic. She orders everything online. She only goes out when she has to. She wears a mask and gloves everywhere she goes. When I brought up the subject of the fish, she asked me for an unusual favor. She’d recently lost her hamster (they don’t live very long) and was interested in a replacement, primarily because her father enjoyed watching it and his world had become very, very narrow since Covid-19 kept him largely housebound. But the pet store wouldn’t let her purchase one online, nor would they bring one out to the car for her. Since I was going to buy some fish, would I pick out a nice, young (see note above how they don’t live very long), friendly hamster for her? A Syrian. Preferably male, but she’d take whatever she could get.

Sure. Why not. I’m no expert on hamsters (I prefer rats or gerbils) but I was willing to give it a shot. Pre-pandemic, I’d been hamster shopping with my friend before so I sort  of had an idea what she was looking for. I should point out she’s some kind of Hamster Whisperer and seems to have an odd power over these wee (sometimes vicious) beasties. In the past, I’d seen her temperament-test and turn down dozens of hammies before selecting the one she wanted, but she assured me NO PRESSURE. She’d take the best I could get.

Only then I discovered that releasing goldfish into the wild is a Very Bad Idea. It turns out those tiny little fish–no bigger than my pinkie finger–can grow to be the size of a football and weigh up to four pounds in the right environment–and apparently they are an incredibly invasive species, eating up all the local resources and out-competing the native fish. So while I couldn’t find any regulations forbidding the release of goldfish into the wild, there were lots of articles saying PLEASE DON’T.

I thought long and hard about it. The ponds are designed to catch run-off. They overflow into another collecting basin and then into a large drainage ditch. The ditch funnels the water into the woods at the far end of our property–not into a creek or river where the fish could continue their journey. It would be a dead-end trip if they managed to leave the pond, as the standing water in the ditch would eventually dry up. But now that I knew better, releasing goldfish was off the table.

But I’d promised to go hamster shopping.

No problem. I found out that Rosy-Red minnows–a native North American species–were also sold as feeder fish. I’d just buy some of them instead. Only the pet store didn’t have any Rosy-Reds–they had another variant from China. And let me tell you, releasing a non-native competitive minnow into the wild seemed like an even worse idea than goldfish. So I left the fish department empty-handed and went to look at hamsters.

It’s a good thing my friend was so specific about her needs. There were so many different species of hamsters it wasn’t funny. Winter dwarves, Chinese dwarves, species I’d never heard of. They were all cute as could be, but I was on a mission for a Syrian, so there you are.

There were only two to choose from. Both female. That should have made it easier, right? I had a 50-50 chance of picking the right hamster. But not really. See, that assumes that either one of these hamsters could have met her mysterious qualifications… what if neither one did? What if they were both old? Hamsters live 2-3 years at best–I could easily pick one already halfway through its lifespan. Or what if it was mean? One of the reasons I’m not fond of hamsters is they seem more bitey to me than other pocket pets.

I asked the staff member to open the first cage and let me see the hamster. He lifted the lid and removed the little house where the hamster was sleeping. She popped up out of her bedding and ran beneath the water bottle–someone had disturbed her nest! What was happening? Despite being the middle of the night for her, she hid beneath the water bottle a bit and then began exploring the cage.

“Let me see the other one.”

The employee shrugged and repeated the process with the second hamster. When she lifted the tiny house off this hamster, it rolled onto its back with one foot raised and you could just hear the curse words coming out of its little hamster mouth. The staffer attempted to stroke it, and the hammie was having none of it.

“I’ll take the first one.”

Which is how I came to leave the pet store with a hamster and no fish. My friend was delighted with my choice, by the way, declaring her to be perfect. As is her habit, she names her hamsters after the characters in whatever book she happens to be reading at the time, so I hope Elizabeth Bennet the Hamster leads a long and interesting life. The second hamster was definitely a Catherine de Bourgh.

But I still needed fish.

Hang on. People use minnows for bait, right? I began calling all the outdoor places that sold live bait. Just like my consternation when I recently discovered there is no longer a single office supply store anywhere in my area, I went through the entire Google listings before I found a outdoor supply store still in business that also sold live fish as bait. I finally found a place over 40 minutes away–a tiny back-of-the-beyond outfitter that had a few minnows. On back roads it turned out to be an hour and a half round trip, but it was a success!

And so I got my fish.

Near dusk, I cut through the woods into the development with my container of fish, hoping I wouldn’t run into any of the residents in the process. What would I say if asked what I was doing with a gallon of minnows? That I was taking my fish for a walk?

Fortunately no one was around to question my clandestine activities. Several large frogs plopped into the first pond as I approached it, and I wondered just how many minnows would survive. Reminding myself these little fishes were intended to be BAIT, I set the container in the pond and waited 15 minutes for the water to acclimate to the pond temperature, and then I released them. They swam out in a big knot, hung around for a moment in some confusion, and then darted away into the rushes.

Will I see any of them again? Probably not, though I suspect I will sneak back to the ponds from time to time to check. But hopefully, I won’t see any mosquitoes, either.

But if I do, I’ll try the dunks next time.

At least I did a good job picking out the hamster.

 

Appalling 1950s Desserts and Why I Make Them

It’s Labor Day here in the US and for most of us, that means kicking back with the family outside around the grill: hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans, potato salad, ice cream and apple pie or some variant of the above.

That’s what we’re doing later this afternoon.

Recently while researching appetizers and desserts of the 1950s for a book I’m writing, I fell into a strange rabbit hole, however. The bizarre and inexplicably terrible desserts of the 1950s.

I have theories as to why and how these monstrous creations came into being. After WW2, many young wives moved out of the cities with their families into the new suburbs. Gone was the ready access to older generations of women who could explain why your cookies didn’t turn out the way Grandma used to make them. Betty Crocker came into her own during this time period. Previously created as a means of answering customer support questions for what was to become General Mills, Betty Crocker as a cultural icon rose to prominence in the 40s and 50s, first with a series of cookbooks and then radio and television shows. I myself grew up with the “church ladies” cookbooks created by the women of my grandmother’s church and sold as fundraisers. Make sausage balls with Bisquik and cheddar cheese? Sour cream cake? Green bean casserole? Pecan pie? The recipes were in that cookbook. I was devastated when my mother loaned our only copy to someone and couldn’t remember who had it.

Deprived of my granny’s best old-time recipes, I turned to era-authentic cookbooks to see what I might find.

I am no cook. Not by a long shot. But these cookbooks consisted of recipes that even the most hopeless chef could follow, relying largely on staples such as Campbell’s Soup and other pre-packaged goodies. I think therein lay their appeal to the young housewives of the fifties, looking to serve decent yet elegant meals on a shoestring that reflected well on their household management.

That’s the other factor I believe is behind some of the strange dessert combinations I found: thrift.

Coming off a World War where economy and rationing was paramount, and supplies for many things in short demand, cooks got creative in making recipes that relied on whatever they had on hand. Flourless and eggless cakes being prime examples. So when I started my search for the typical desserts and appetizers that might be served at a 1955 cocktail party, I ran across some old favorites such as 7 Up Pound Cake and  Flourless Chocolate Cake.

But then I ran into the outright bizarre…

The Fifties were frequently about comfort foods, such as meatloaf and ways to extend leftovers. Casseroles were extremely popular. But leftovers as dessert? To me, desserts are delectable sweets to finish off a fine meal. The best part of the meal. Sometimes, the only part of the meal. 🙂 But these desserts I found posted on Pinterest and vintage cooking sites just boggled the mind. Meats and fruit in strange combinations. Everything you could think of in gelatin molds. I mean, seriously, tuna fish and jello? What were they thinking?

One recipe I ran across (but failed to save the link) was for making beanie weenie Popsicles to serve as a frozen treat at those hot summer gatherings! Delight your friends! Show off your inventiveness to your neighbors! Open a can of Beanie Weenies and pour them into a Popsicle mold–or take it another level by slicing your own Vienna Sausages and add them to pork and beans! When I went searching for the link, all I could find was a site recommending this as a “gross” Halloween party appetizer.

But I found myself compelled to make it. It couldn’t be that bad, right?

Um. Yeah. It is. I don’t recommend offering this to your friends. Not only did it taste nasty, but I couldn’t get it to come out of the Popsicle molds in one piece, so they are messy, too.

One of the recipes that didn’t make the cut because the cookbook came out in 1967 was a recipe for beef fudge. Yes, you read that correctly. Beef. Fudge. Two words that should never go together. But somehow they did. You MUST read this post about one woman’s attempt at making it. Utterly delightful. The best part is she says the beef fudge turned out better than her regular fudge!

One thing the author said that stuck with me was how the cookbook was filled with little details from the creators along the lines of “I came up with this recipe when the power went out and we had a freezer full of beef…”

In RetroRuth’s own words: After reading through the book twice, I can kind of see where this recipe came from. I mean, I would have never, ever, ever thought of this on my own, but maybe if you are the wife of a rancher and you have beef coming out of your ears, you think up ways to use it. Any way to use it. The book is crammed with recipes like this, with beef in everything from bread, to fudge, to cake and brownies.

Who knew?

And in an era where we used to think nothing of tossing out leftovers and dashing off to the store to buy whatever we want or need, perhaps in this time of the pandemic, we need to be a little more creative with our food. Waste not, want not, and all that.

Beef Fudge, anyone?

 

Some Birthday Gifts are Worth Sharing…

Last month, my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday.

I hardly knew what to tell him. The pandemic meant a weekend getaway was out. Stress-eating over the pandemic has kind of taken the shine off food as a special treat. While I normally have a long list of books on my wish list at Amazon, the pandemic has had me buying books for myself at a greater rate than usual. I jokingly told him he could get me a personalized birthday greeting from Chris Evans, but somehow, I wasn’t holding my breath for that one. Finally I asked for something I’d been longing for: a book trailer for my upcoming release, Bishop’s Gambit.

See, he’d been playing around with movie-making since the pandemic left him with too much time on his hands after work in the evenings, and he is the consummate geek–always teaching himself how to do techy things that would have me pulling my hair out in frustration.

I adore book trailers, but recognize the limitations of working with free images and music. I couldn’t justify spending top dollar on the trailer of my dreams, and had pretty much resigned myself to doing without. But he asked what I wanted, so I thought, “Why not?” Whatever he made would be better than no trailer at all, right?

Only his first-ever book trailer is simply SMASHING. OMG, it’s so fantastic, I just have to share it with EVERYONE.

Okay, this trailer is for Bishop Takes Knight because I don’t yet have a cover for Bishop’s Gambit, and I think he wanted a dry run first. But if this is what his first effort looks like, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. I think he could make a sideline out of making these, don’t you? 

 

Wow. Just wow. Happy Birthday to me!

Bishop Takes Knight is a PRISM Award winner! #MFRWHooks #MFRWAuthor #Giveaway

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about struggling with impostor syndrome, despite the fact Bishop Takes Knight was a finalist for a PRISM award.

I am pleased (and somewhat dumbfounded) to say that Bishop Takes Knight won the PRISM award from the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal Chapter of the Romance Writers of America for Best Light Paranormal Romance! I have to tell you, I really didn’t see that coming!

At the very least, I think this calls for a giveaway–so drop a comment below telling me what you’re looking for in a heroine and I’ll select someone at random to receive an e-copy of Bishop Takes Knight. Giveaway open until 9 pm EST 8/18/20.

 

In the meantime, I’m cracking on with final edits on Bishop’s Gambit, the next installment of the Redclaw Origins series. I’m looking at a September release date, fingers crossed. I can’t wait to share it with you!

I’m participating in the Book Hooks blog hop, so be sure to check out the other posts at this link below!

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Be safe. Be well. Until next time!

We Need to Respect the Power of Words More Than Ever

Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

(trigger warning for self-harm)

 

Back in 2004, I went to see a movie called What the Bleep Do We Know!? with a friend of mine. It was a weird combination of quantum mysticism (along the lines of The Secret and other ‘law of attraction” books that claim to grant you all your dreams if you put them into words with intent) and pseudoscience that sounded good. I remember leaving the theater thinking, “It’s all my fault.”

That every bad thing that had ever happened to me was because I brought it into being with my thoughts. Every goal I failed to achieve, every dream I shelved, was all my fault because I didn’t believe in it hard enough. 

Holy Tinkerbell, Batman.

The notion didn’t stick with me for long. I had some real issues with the movie–not the least of which was the fact the main character was depicted popping anti-depressants like candy and then chucking the whole bottle in the trash in the end. No, no, and no. That’s not the way anti-depressants work and you should NEVER stop such medication cold-turkey unless directed to do so by your doctor.

Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pexels

But in 2006, The Secret came out, sold millions, and generated a brief revival in the law of attraction theory. If you’re not familiar with it, the law of attraction is the theory that positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative experiences into your life. There’s nothing new about this concept. Normal Vincent Peale popularized it in 1952 with bestseller The Power of Positive Thinking. Like The Secret, this book was received poorly by the scientific community, and touted changing your life through positive affirmations, but with a Biblical twist.

I wrote about this same subject last year (ironically, about this time), and many of my thoughts on the subject are the same–though I am laughing like a hyena right now at the memory of my sister’s astrologist’s predictions for the coming year… Suffice to say, I think her astrologist might not want to give up her day job.

But back to this philosophy: these books have a powerful attraction for us as consumers (see what I did there?) because they promise something that is within our control: we can achieve our wildest dreams if we only believe in them hard enough.

Failure only means you didn’t believe hard enough. It’s not the fault of the philosophy itself. It’s yours.

I have a real love-hate relationship with this kind of thinking. On one level, I think it’s all bunkum. It doesn’t matter how much I want to be an opera singer–if I can’t carry a note in a bucket, I’m never going to perform at The Met. I might dream of being an astronaut, but be incapable of performing the upper level mathematics. And so on.

On the other level, I do believe in “putting it out there in the universe.” Of stating a desired goal, be it ever so seemingly out of reach, in the hopes of putting wind beneath the wings of that desire. I believe in making affirmations. Each December I enjoy picking a word to be my intention for the coming year. I believe in making talismans for myself.

Where I differ from the quantum mystics is that when I put my desire out there in the universe, I do so because articulating it makes it clearer in my own mind. Stating a specific goal makes it easier for me to take the steps necessary to achieve it. Many times, left unspoken, the desire remains unformed as well. It’s difficult to race toward a finish line you cannot see.

When I create talismans for myself, they serve as reminders to focus on the word I want to be my motto for the year, be it fearless, or audacious, or persistent. The power isn’t in the bracelet or charm itself. It’s in the reminder its presence serves. Sometimes glancing at the particular talisman offers a kind of mental grounding. It’s not magic. It’s a means of creating focus.

But there are times when I can point to something I did with the law of attraction in mind and my results exceeded expectations. Was it because I clearly imagined the outcome I wanted over and over again until it came true? Possibly. Who knows. I certainly don’t discount the law of attraction entirely as a result. But I am so skilled in self-sabotage there are many times when I don’t want the law of attraction to hold any validity. Otherwise we’re back to how I felt leaving the movie theater in 2004. All my failures are as a result of my negative thinking.

One thing I can say is that I firmly believe we assimilate what we tell ourselves over and over again. Even more so if this internal statement has received outside validity. It’s one of the reasons we get trapped in the stories we believe about ourselves: if someone important to us told us we weren’t smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, good enough, chances are we’re continuing to tell ourselves these things, whether or not they’re true.

I struggle with this because if you ask me to write down positive affirmations about myself, I can’t do it if the affirmation seems too out there. I have to change the wording to accommodate my beliefs, which kind of defeats the purpose, I think. It’s hard for me to “dream big” (which is one of the reasons I include these words when signing a book). I’m far too good at coming up with negative things to say to myself–that ugly soundtrack plays 365 days a year and I have a lifetime of ‘unlearning’ the lies I’ve told myself.

I know this to be true: you are what you tell yourself.

So a cold shock ran through me when I recently caught myself with a new “negative-speak” I must erase. Just this past week, I realized there were two things I needed to stop saying, both to myself and aloud.

The first is started out as a self-defense mechanism when I got challenged by anyone for taking the pandemic seriously. I’d explain that I had high-risk family members, but too often people in my area challenge our decision to remain curbside service only and to wear masks. So I began saying I was high risk as well, and that if I got Covid, I would die. As an argument, it tended to shut people up. But what a terrible thing to be telling myself!

I’m moderately high-risk, I’m definitely high-stress. I’m not in the best of health. But a 113-year-old pensioner has survived while people in their thirties have died. There are so many factors that determine mortality–including virus load at the time of exposure–that my contacting Covid isn’t an automatic death sentence. Not unless I go around thinking it is.

My response these days to people who scoff at my mask-wearing? “I’m a scientist. I know how viruses work. I want the people in my community to live.”

The second thing I have to stop saying is, “This job is killing me.” While it’s true that most days I feel like I’m at the breaking point, that I’m on the flash-point of burnout, I need to STOP SAYING THIS. Because I don’t want to bring that repetitive thought into reality.

And the funny thing is, if I can point to these extremes and recognize the harm I’m doing when I tell myself these things, it becomes easier to recognize the much smaller nicks and lacerations I’ve been inflicting on myself for as long as I can remember. Some people cut themselves with actual blades. Others do it with thoughts and words.

I’ve always been one for words.

I need to wield them with more care. We all do.

Be safe. Be well. And most of all, be kind to yourself right now.

 

 

 

Bishop Takes Knight and Impostor Syndrome #MFRWHooks

I struggle with impostor syndrome big time. To the point that members of my crit group roll their eyes when I express my doubts about my work. Recently, one of them challenged me to put together a graphic showing some of the accolades Bishop Takes Knight has received, and I confess, this result took me back a bit. Hey, maybe I’m not such a bad writer after all!

I still have a hard time tooting my own horn. I do like Bishop Takes Knight, however, and I like the upcoming Bishop’s Gambit even better. Kirkus Reviews says “Rhett and Peter are both well drawn and likable characters, and the blend of alien technology, shadowy organizations, hard-boiled sleuthing, and budding romance makes for a surprisingly compelling read.”

Hey, so don’t just take my word for it! 

Bishop Takes Knight is available now. Bishop’s Gambit should be out sometime in August/September 2020.

Excerpt:

“That’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, isn’t it?” His raised eyebrow implied both curiosity and concern. The combination was frankly compelling. “Where do they come from? Who or what is behind the technology? It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve worked on some top-secret projects. My guess? It’s not from this planet.”

My mouth dropped open. “You mean… alien?” I sputtered.

He nodded in all seriousness.

“You seriously believe Martians or Moon Men or something like that is seeding our plant with their gizmos?” The shock of his statement having worn off, scorn now laced my voice.

His shrug was eloquent. “Maybe. I think it more likely an advanced race implanted these devices millennia ago, knowing at some point we’d develop nuclear technology, hence the activation of said devices now.”

“But why?”

He shook his head. “A test? A trap? Who knows? Maybe the awakening tech triggered some kind of signal to the developers and even now, they’re on their way to greet us.”

I wondered if we would disappoint them. It was a distinctly disturbing thought. “Is this a working theory or are you just blowing smoke?”

His devilish smile made an appearance. The way it peeped out of hiding, combined with the fall of that rebellious lock of hair over his intense eyes when he leaned forward, would have charmed the pants off most women I know.

I don’t charm that easily.

“My dear, I just tinker with the gizmos.” He leaned back in his seat once more, his clever fingers toying with his spoon as he spoke. “I’ll leave winkling out the motives of the artifact-builders to the scary people, like you and Ryker.”

I straightened. “Me? Scary? What on earth have I done to give you that impression?” Ryker, I could understand. We knew so little about the shifters, how they lived, and what they could do. The way Ryker had tossed Billy around that day in the office was a fair indication he was stronger than most men, and of course, there was the rapid healing thing as well. More than that, I didn’t know.

“Scarily competent.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Am I supposed to thank you? That makes me sound like every other woman in the workplace. Standing behind the boss and making him look good.”

His laugh caught me off guard. “No, you have it all wrong. The smart man stands behind the girl with the ray gun.”

Okay. Perhaps I could be charmed a little.

This is post is part of a blog hop, so be sure to check out the other delicious participants in the Book Hooks Hop today! 

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Re-Inventing Yourself at Any Age

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare.

Photo by Anthony from Pexels

I have a unique opportunity at the moment. I get to decide who I want to be.

You might say we get to decide that many times at different stages of our lives, and it’s true. But I’m talking about something a little different here today. See, I get to decide what my legal name will be.

When I got married, I didn’t take my husband’s last name for various reasons. We were both older, and had no intention of having children together. We were both established professionals as well, and changing my name would have meant jumping through a LOT of legal hoops with a number of professional organizations. It was simpler to keep my own name, and though I considered making the switch, in the end, I decided not to.

But a little wrinkle came up recently, and now the name situation is front and center again. See, I went to the DMV to register for that Real ID thing that’s required now and I brought all my documentation with me. And that’s when I hit a snag. I don’t spell my name the way it’s written on my birth certificate. I guess when I went to school, my teachers assumed my name was spelled in the more traditional fashion. Like Allison instead of Allyson, or Katherine instead of Katharine (leave it to Katharine Hepburn to have a non-traditional spelling of her name!). Anyway, my teachers assumed it was spelled a certain way and they taught me to write it the same. My parents never noticed–or if they did, never bothered to correct it.

I was 12 years old before I learned of the difference. At the time, I was entranced with the idea of a different spelling and I decided I would spell my name that way from then on. A different spelling felt as though I could become a different person, and the child I was at the time would have loved to be anyone else. In fact, I often fantasized about having a different name altogether, which is probably why I took to the pen name thing for authors so readily. But after six months of trying to change my signature to the “correct” spelling, I gave up and went back to the old, incorrect signature. And from then on, I never gave it another thought. Work forms, graduate degrees, tax documents, bank accounts, credit cards, passports, and yes, my marriage certificate… I signed for all of them with the spelling I’d used for most of my life.

Only when I went to get the Real ID, they refused to issue it to me. The name on my birth certificate and the name on all my other legal documents must match. And now I have to go to the courthouse at some point and rectify this if I want to fly on an airplane ever again. Now mind you, I have no intention of flying any time soon–not until we have a reliable, safe vaccine for the coronavirus. My driver’s license was up for renewal and I thought I might as well get the Real ID while I was there. (Don’t get me started on the stupidity and unnecessary regulation of the whole Real ID nonsense. That’s a rant for another day…) I’m not going to start that legal name change process until after the November elections, either. I don’t want to do ANYTHING to jeopardize my ability to vote in the next election.

But it opens up the possibility of changing my name altogether. I have to file for a legal name change. I could take my husband’s name now. I could change my given name altogether. I could leave behind the tired, dated name I was born with and chose something edgier that I liked. I could take on my pen name if I wanted. I could be like the bored, repressed housewife Cathy Palmer in American Dreamer, who gets hit on the head while vacationing in France and suddenly believes she is the brilliant, sexy, and extremely fictional international spy Rebecca Ryan. Because Cathy believes she is her favorite fictional character, she becomes Rebecca Ryan–so much so that the people that meet her are completely taken in.

I think most of us have wanted, like Cathy, to let our inner Rebecca Ryan loose. Or maybe it was just me. I adore this movie.

And I see the possibilities here now.

I know a simple name change won’t wipe away the past or make me thinner, younger, wittier, and give me back my strength of purpose. Change takes hard work and comes in small increments over time, neither of which feels very plentiful in my life right now.

But it’s tempting. Very tempting. The thought of changing my name is a siren call promising me a better, happier, more fulfilling life. Even though I know that despite becoming an Allyson or a Katharine or a Rebecca, I’d still be the same old me underneath. 

Who would you be if you could wave a wand and become someone else? Would you do it? Inquiring minds want to know.

 

Nail Envy: From Brittle to WOW!

I am not, nor ever have been, an attractive woman.

I’ve had a few things on my side, such as an active lifestyle and a decent metabolism, which meant I could eat pretty much anything I wanted until I hit my mid-forties. Don’t envy me, however. That just set me up to be the kid who made straight-As without trying in high school, who never learns how to study and therefore struggles when the course work in college gets much harder.

But I’ve always been a bit vain about my hair and nails.

You see, if I were a superhero, I’d be Keratin Woman. Hairdressers would comment on the sheer weight and volume of my hair every time I went to the salon (and invariably tried to thin or tame it in some way). My mother was told to stop putting “Miracle-Gro” on my hair when I was a child. Strangers commented on my nails in line at the grocery store. People would ask me if they were real (they were). I could open pull-top cans with my nails. I could crack the tartar off a cat’s teeth with my nails. If I did break a nail, the fragment shot across the room like a ricocheting bullet. It was gratifying, especially since I wasn’t a girly-girl. Instead, I was a tomboy who rode horses and worked cattle. And I had the nails everyone envied.

Like most things one takes for granted, there came a day when this ceased to be true. Be it stress, a poor diet, or changing hormones–or all three–my hair started to thin and my nails became brittle. The slightest activity caused them to split and peel. Don’t get me started on my hair–that’s a post for another day–but I found myself incredibly angry about losing the only things I was even remotely vain about.

In retrospect, the anger was symptomatic of much bigger problems–such as the stress and grab-food-on-the-go lifestyle that probably corrupted my nails’ integrity. I was angry at my body’s failure to keep up with the demands my work and mindset demanded of it. How dare my body begin to show wear and tear? How dare it demand I take better care of myself on almost every level?

Oh, the privilege of health. It’s not until it is compromised that you realize just how much you take for granted.

And so I began having my nails professionally done. First with artificial tips until my own poor nails could grow out some, and then short, neat, and professional for work, but with nearly indestructible SNS powder, which lasted for weeks and protected my nails.

Or at least, that’s what I told myself.

I became addicted to having manicures done. Such high-powered nail polish required soaking in professional-strength acetone to remove it, and scheduling salon sessions had to be done every 3-4 weeks to keep it up. I told myself it was a little luxury I did just for me, and turned a blind eye to the expenditure. The day job was hard on my hands. With a professional manicure, I got my “old” nails back and could feel good about my little vanity again.

Then Covid-19 hit.

I saw the writing on the wall in late January, and cancelled all of my usual “upkeep” procedures: haircuts, manicures, chiropractic care, massage therapy. By Valentine’s Day, we made the decision to divide our household into high-risk and essential worker. I began buying extra items of the things we used most with every shopping trip and when the Great Toilet Paper Crisis hit, we were in good shape.

See how simple that is, Mr. President? But I digress…

When I managed to strip off the SNS powder at home, I got a good look at how damaged they were without another masking coat of polish to replace it. I began looking at products that promised to restore the health of your nails As Seen On Instagram. There were a lot of products out there. Each time I ran across an ad, I’d check out the reviews online, which were usually disappointing. Many also required continuous auto-shipping of products that were difficult to cancel. In the end, I went with none of them.

I’d been taking hair and nail supplements sporadically for several years, and consistently for at least a year by this point. I decided to step up my game. I will state for the record, I’m not a dermatologist or cosmetologist or any kind of beauty expert, and you have to remember I started out as Keratin Woman, so your results may vary.

This picture was taken in February of this year.

If you look closely at the middle and ring fingernails, you can see the splitting at the tips. The weird shape of the pinky nail is as a result of the pressure of the SNS powder as the nails grew out–I had a tendency to push my manicure appointments to the 4 week mark. Also, you can see the line of demarcation at the midway point of each nail that indicates the how much has grown out since I stopped having manicures professionally done. I’m wearing clear nail polish here in a desperate attempt to keep the nails from splitting.

I wish I could say I cleaned up my diet and reduced my stress, but given the world events, let me just laugh hysterically here for a moment. If anything, my stress levels shot through the roof and I began eating like a six-year-old left to her own devices. I put away a box of sugary cereal every 48 hours and turned into a baking fiend.

But I began taking vitamins and supplements on a regular basis:

The vitamins were mostly about strengthening my immune system: if you don’t know it, they’ve shown that people with Vitamin D deficiencies get sicker with Covid-19. I had a Vitamin D deficiency a few years back and have taken a supplement since. Did you also know the widespread use of sunscreen (which is necessary) increases your risk of Vitamin D deficiency? Talk to your doctor.

The supplements were for my hair as well as nails. I’d been disappointed in the efficacy of previous supplements touted as improving hair and nail integrity, and after some research, settled on these:

After the first few months, my panic levels stabilized, and while I still struggle with the need to carb-load to get me through the workday, I’m no longer running on pure sugar.

As for the nails themselves, once a week, I removed the clear polish (sadly with an acetone-based remover, I still need to get one that’s milder) and then put on a base coat of either Orly’s Nail Defense or OPI’s Nail Envy, followed by a coat of Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails Extreme Wear Clear and a quick-drying top coat of clear by Live Love Polish, which is a fabulous site if you’re addicted to polish. My only rule was that I had to keep them all of similar length, so that meant if I had to cut one nail back for breakage, they all got cut back.

And after five months of this combined treatment, I realized today my nails aren’t in such bad shape anymore. Okay, they’re still brittle compared to what they were in their heyday, and I wouldn’t attempt to dig off a label with them or open pull-top rings without taking some care, but they’ve grown out semi-normal looking again. Better than when I first began going for manicures, that’s for sure.

Why does this matter? I don’t suppose it really does in the grand scheme of things. Things are bad the world over, but especially here in my country, and it looks as though we can only expect it to get worse. That’s why it’s okay to celebrate the little wins.

Sometimes we need proof that we can make things better, with time and perseverance. Maybe small steps are better than big ones we never take. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll get that diet and exercise thing right, along with the whole life balance thing too.

In the meantime, be safe. Be well.

Dare to Hope: New Release and Giveaway by Madison Michaels!

Check out this new release from Madison Michaels! I love the premise of a group of woman with a powerful, lifelong connection, don’t you? If you love steamy contemporary romance, Dare to Hope is right up your alley!

 

 

Dare to Hope
Double Dare Romance Series (Book 1)
By Madison Michael
 
♥♥GiveAway♥♥
Maddy is offering a few great prizes. Please use the Rafflecopter below to enter! You may enter each day for a chance to win so be sure to follow along with us on the New Release Tour.
 
 

About Dare to Hope: 

She’s Betting on Love and the Stakes are High

The “Crazy Eights,” eight women who have been friends for 30 years, have a powerful connection yet rarely see each other. At a pivotal time in their lives, they create a way to remedy this predicament, an audacious dare contrived to bring them together for weddings – each participant must get married within twelve months. The stakes are high. Win the bet and lose your heart; or lose the bet and perform a personally mortifying task.

In the first of their stories, we meet Eliana, beautiful and brilliant, but starting over, focused on her career, not on some foolhardy dare. Longing for a family but recently divorced and on her own, Eliana sets her sights on a new job, a new home and accepting her single, childless status. Independent and determined, she has no idea that in less than six months she will both win and lose her heart’s desire.

Jeremy Klein, genius engineer and inventor, is also making life changes. He’s sold his startup to a major medical device company, becoming President and CEO, and a billionaire before he is forty. Although he’s gun-shy about the dating game, Jeremy knows it’s time to apply his smarts, sex appeal and new-found success to finding true love.

When Eliana meets Jeremy, they bond quickly. The couple has so much in common and a chemistry that sizzles. Winning Eliana feels like a fantasy come true to Jeremy. Their attraction is immediate and electrifying, and a one-night stand morphs into planning a future. But plans change. On track to wedded bliss, baby and all, Jeremy and Eliana are derailed by accusations that threaten their relationship, Eliana’s career and Jeremy’s future as CEO.

Spies, lies, allegations and misunderstandings abound, threatening to destroy their happiness. That is, until those “Crazy Eights” get involved, scheming and manipulating to win Eliana her happily ever after. Can a group of determined friends help Eliana and Jeremy hold onto love?

In the tradition of The Beguiling Bachelor Series, Madison Michael creates a romance series about independent and sassy women, sexy and successful men, true love, and lasting friendships.

Genre: Steamy Contemporary Romance

Buy Links:

 

An Excerpt from Dare to Hope:

His grin was devastating up close – wide and welcoming, with a hint of naughtiness and the promise of shared pleasures. But it was his eyes, deep coffee brown and fringed with long dark lashes that were his best feature; piercing, intelligent and inquisitive eyes, trained on her.
Please, God, Eliana prayed quickly, do not let this man be the new sales manager. It would be lamentable if she had to keep him at arm’s length. He was the first man Eliana had felt drawn to since Nico. If she was honest with herself, he was the first man she had ever felt this attracted to so immediately. It was enough to make her believe in love at first sight or fate.
“Hi,” he stepped closer, ignoring the empty stool beside her to halt just inside her personal space. Usually, Eliana would have reflexively backed up, but she savored his closeness, the power emanating from his presence. Even in this stuffy bar, he smelled good – fresh, like soap and good whiskey. And up close, his eyes were more magical – a hint of gold dancing in their depths.
“Hi,” she responded on a breath, letting the single word hang there for a moment before adding “You aren’t in sales, are you?”
“Nope.” If he thought it was a strange conversation starter, he kept it to himself. “Engineering and design, although I have dabbled in sales. I could be in sales for you,” he offered in a voice smooth as brandy, redolent with sexual promise and a hint of curiosity. She laughed at his offer. “Are you in sales?”
“Yes, I am. I was thinking of what a crime it would be if you turned out to be my new boss. I’m meeting him tomorrow.”
“Jeremy,” he responded, extending his hand to shake hers. “Not in sales. Is your boss named Jeremy?”
“Thankfully, not.” Eliana extended her hand, savoring the moment as Jeremy wrapped his long fingers around hers. She noticed there was no wedding band as she admired the strength and length of his fingers, the fine hairs on the back of his hand, and his grip – warm and dry. His skin was soft over fine bone and healthy muscle. Everything about him captivated her. “Eliana.”
Jeremy seemed in no hurry to release her hand, but after several beats too long for politeness, Eliana pulled hers from his. “Is this seat taken?” he asked, already sitting down, not thinking twice about it. “Or perhaps that table against the wall? I am anxious to learn why you don’t know who you work with, Eliana.”
Eliana laughed and watched as Jeremy’s breath stopped. His every emotion was transparent, especially the desire flaming in his eyes right now. A passion she reciprocated. Wholeheartedly. She couldn’t remember such an instantaneous attraction. But with Jeremy, she felt electricity and lust move through her entire body, just from the touch of his hand and the sound of her name spoken in his rich baritone.
“Eliana,” he rolled the word around his mouth as if tasting a fine wine. “What a lovely name.” Eliana panties dampened. He was just saying words, but their underlying promise was undeniable. She wanted to be alone with him. She wanted to be naked with him. And all she knew was his first name.
Eliana nodded toward the table, questioning her sanity. She was sure about what this man wanted, but after only minutes, her body governed her head. Jeremy spoke briefly with the bartender, passed him a fifty like it was a single, and motioned for her to lead the way to the empty table. Before they had settled in their chairs, both had fresh drinks. Earlier, the bartender had responded to her beauty with decent service and half-hearted flirting, but he reacted with alacrity to the big tip.
“So, spill,” Jeremy directed, leaning forward on his elbows and putting his mouth dangerously close to hers. Just a few inches, Eliana imagined, and they could be kissing. “I am dying to hear your story. I want to know absolutely everything about you.” The way he lingered on the word ‘everything’ made Eliana wetter still. Oh man, she was in way over her head.

 

 ~♥~♥~♥~♥~
 

Meet Madison Michael:

Madison Michael loves to binge news, movies, books, Oreos and romance – reading romance novels, writing romantic stories, watching Rom-Coms over and over. Maddy has spent her self-isolation fretting about the health of her friends and neighbors and catching up on TV programs from ten years ago. Hunkered down with her cat, Gracie, and a Zoom life-line to the world, she is wondering how people date and social distance, how much junk food she can consume in a day and why Gracie only wants to play when Maddy needs to work.

Oh, and Madison is also hard at work on the rest of the Double Dare Romance series. Watch for more of the series in Autumn and Winter, 2020.

Madison’s Social Links:

All Caught up on Madison’s Books?
The Beguiling Bachelor Series – 
Four Successful, Sexy Men meet their matches – and how!
The B&B Billionaire Books – Second Chance at Love stories set in small town America
Standalone Stories – from Sweet Time Travel to Sexy May-September Romance
(available only when you sign up to be an Insider)

Bringing Back Vintage Board Games in Pandemic Times

During one of our many moves, I boxed up all the old kids’ board games and donated them to Goodwill. It seemed ridiculous to keep toting them around when no one played them anymore. The kids themselves were off to college or in their own places, and I couldn’t remember the last time we had a gathering of people over to play board games. With tablets to hand, there was so much more to do: you could watch a movie, read a book, or play games online. I kept a deck of cards, but everything else went the way of Marie Kondo.

Then the pandemic hit.

For various reasons, my husband and I have chosen to maintain separate households. He can work from home. I cannot. Someone needs to be at the farm to take care of the livestock, and since I’m an essential worker, it made sense for him to move in with high-risk family members and be the person who ran errands for them when needed. We’re lucky that we can do this, I know.

Most days, by the time I get home from work and take care of the animals, I’m so exhausted that I scarcely notice how lonely my existence is right now. From dawn until dusk I’m run off my feet, only to sit down for an hour or two before it’s time for bed and start the cycle all over the next day. When I get a day off, I’m frequently playing catch up: grocery, laundry, cleaning the house. It’s a wonder I get any writing done!

In the past, Saturday evenings had been our Date Night. We’d go out to dinner, and either watch a movie at home or go to the theater. We also have several TV series that we watch together. I enjoy hanging out with my husband. He’s my best friend.

So I was determined to bring back Date Night in some form. The first challenge was what to do about meeting safely when we were apart all week–and I was being exposed to clients daily. Lack of a screened-in porch and a ferocious mosquito issue (one that defied all bug spray and gnat zappers) limited our time together until I purchased a mosquito tent. It only takes a few minutes to set up and we have hours of insect-free time in it. Instead of dinner out, we grill something and pair it with salad or greens. I make bread or dessert. We sit outside in the tent with a cold beer or glass of wine and relax. To be honest, I don’t miss eating out at all.

But what I do miss is some way of occupying myself while we talk.

I’m not a knitter, and both of us are a little too quick to pick up the smartphone and start scrolling if there’s a lull in the conversation, so I thought it would be fun to resurrect some of the old board games. Only I’d gotten rid of them all.

I started to simply replace them, but it didn’t take long to realize many of the games in question, like Uno, were best played with a group of people. I wanted to have that option for the future, but I also wanted games that worked well for just two players. I did a couple of online searches for the best two player games, and came up with a few I’d never heard of before. Most of the ones I ran across I remembered from my youth–games played at my grandmother’s house, or during summer camp. There were the classics, of course. Chess, checkers, and backgammon. But many were games I hadn’t thought about in years.

My husband is wicked-good at anything that requires some sort of strategy, to the point that it’s nearly impossible to win against him. I’m no slouch myself, but as soon as I change gears, he’ll effortlessly switch to a new tactic, and leave me in the dust. One of the two-person games I ordered is called Imhotep: The Duel. I believe it’s a modified version of a game for more players. We’ve only played it a couple of times, but each time, my husband cleaned my clock. That’s why I had to find something that had SOME element of chance in it as well, or else I’d never win a single game and the experience would be endlessly frustrating. 

Having been on a research kick for a series of books set in the 1950s, it was easy enough to turn to vintage board games. Bonus points if I could find a version featuring the original artwork. Though it’s unlikely my characters will ever sit down to play one of these games in my stories, it’s fun to know they could do so if I wrote it in. And so I bought Sorry! and Yahtzee. I replaced my backgammon board–and while backgammon is definitely another strategy game I’m probably doomed to lose, there’s a variant called American Acey-Deucy that would even the odds in my favor.

It’s hard to describe just how nice it was to sit outside last night in our little mosquito tent, laughing, talking, jeering at, and encouraging each other as we played. We spoke of our week, and of things that we needed to share, but the world and all its horrors seemed very far away. As dusk fell, the light from our bug zapper cast a friendly glow over the table on an evening pleasantly cool for mid-July while we studied rule books and started another game. It was such a nice night it was hard to say goodbye at the end of it. I could picture ourselves at some future date, when it is safe to gather in company again, pulling out these games for an evening of fun in the same vein.

So if you’re looking for an alternative way of spending the evening with your family, I suggest taking a step back in time. Turn off the news. Put down the smartphone. Pick up those dice and shake them in that can. It’s time to play Yahtzee, my friends.