Friday, June 28, 2013

Winning the War

Your home should be the antidote to stress, not the cause.
~ Peter Walsh
A mess like this has no business in a woman's bedroom.
The war against clutter rages on; I still have the laundry room, two large closets and the garage to confront. But after two weeks of doing little besides sort through piles of stuff I am about ready to call a cease fire and enjoy the fruits of my labors for a while.

I have been a madwoman, bulldozing my way through cabinets and drawers, closets and walkways, ruthlessly donating or tossing everything that I didn't deem useful or beautiful. There has been no balance; it seemed imperative to keep moving while the urge to let go was stronger than the impulse to hang on. My outdoor trash bins have been bulging to overflowing the past two Fridays, and I have donated two full carloads of items to charity. Exhaustion and exhilaration have been my constant companions.

But what a difference this has made! I can honestly say I love my house now. Oh, there is still much to be done by way of update and repair. But it turns out I don't really need more space; I just need fewer possessions. Just as I managed to clear a spot for a grand piano in what was before a crowded piano studio, I have made the rest of my home seem more spacious.

The biggest challenge was my bedroom. Between the sewing machine, the beading table and supplies, and all my writing paraphernalia that lined the entire perimeter and covered much of the floor as well, my bedroom was hardly conducive to its intended use: sleeping. All that is left now is a small writing table, the bed, a dresser and the television. All it took was a little creative thinking to turn my private space into a serene haven.

Just as I am basking in contentment as I sit on my bed and type this blog post, I want to get back into my daily routines and begin to enjoy the rest of my home. I have writing projects to complete, jewelry making ideas to try, and music to practice on the piano. Not only that, I want to make strawberry jam in my newly organized kitchen, take a bubble bath in my sparkling clean garden tub, sit on the deck with a glass of hibiscus iced tea and a juicy novel.

I have worked hard. It's time to play a little.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


I thoroughly enjoyed this unique, laugh-out-loud funny and insightful novel by Australian author Paddy O'Reilly.

From the back cover:

Set in the Australian bush, a wryly funny, beautifully observed novel about friendship, motherhood, love, and the importance of fighting for things that matter.

Loretta Boskovic never dreamed she would end up a single mother with two kids in a dusty Australian country town. She never imagined she’d have to campaign to save the local primary school. She certainly had no idea her best friend would turn out to be the crusty old junk man. All in all, she’s starting to wonder if she took a wrong turn somewhere. If only she could drop the kids at the orphanage and start over . . . But now, thanks to her protest letters, the education minister is coming to Gunapan, and she has to convince him to change his mind about the school closure. And as if facing down the government isn’t enough, it soon becomes clear that the school isn’t the only local spot in trouble. In the drought-stricken bushland on the outskirts of town, a luxury resort development is about to siphon off a newly discovered springwater supply. No one seems to know anything, no one seems to care.

With a dream lover on a Harley unlikely to appear to save the day, Loretta needs to stir the citizens of Gunapan to action. She may be short of money, influence, and a fully functioning car, but she has good friends. Together they can organize chocolate drives, supermarket sausage sizzles, a tour of the local slaughterhouse—whatever it takes to hold on to the scrap of world that is home. 

A single mom myself, I could well relate to this Loretta's struggles and conflicts. She loves her children unconditionally, yet occasionally indulges in hilarious fantasies about making them disappear and running away with the man of her dreams. Take this, for example, this thought which runs through her head when her sister offers to take the children off her hands during Easter holiday.

This will be my first holiday from the children in eleven years. I can see myself transformed. The pudge has magically fallen from my hips and I'm wearing a long, slinky silk dress. I'm in the function room of the golf course, tossing my newly blond-streaked hair and full of ennui or some other French feeling at these boring rich men crowding around me. I'm certain something like this will happen when I'm child-free. All I need to do is stop eating immediately. 

At the same time, despite her situation and its limited opportunities, we can see that Loretta wouldn't really trade her life with anyone's and is deeply committed to her friends, family and community and will stop at nothing to protect the home she loves and the people who live there. For an escape to the Australian outback with a woman who is definitely BFF material, I highly recommend this book! Five shining stars!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bah, Humbug!

The only kind of clothes you should have in your closet are clothes that fit you, clothes you look great in, and clothes that garner you tons of compliments when you wear them. Don’t have 'wish' clothes in your closet. Those clothes exist for only one reason: to mock you.
— Peter Walsh

Almost two years ago, I purged my closet of many items that no longer fit or flattered, giving myself six months to lose the "ten or fifteen pounds that stood between me and perfection" before donating the clothes to charity. Well, those discards are long gone and now it's more like fifteen or twenty pounds between me and perfection. And still I have a closetful of clothes that don't work.

Because the fact is I lied to myself the last time I cleaned out my closet. I left plenty of size zeros, petite extra smalls, and junior size clothing still hanging around. It seems that I mostly got rid of things that I never really loved in the first place. I clung onto all my favorite pieces, hoping against hope to be able to squeeze into them again one day.

I can make a list of excuses why the weight is still there; menopause and hypothyroidism are at the top. But the excuses are totally beside the point. What really matters is that every one of those teeny tiny, skirts and tops and pants- and in some cases, shoes - made me feel guilty and ashamed, even those that are no longer age or lifestyle appropriate.

Or are just plain old out of style.

Like many women, I have ridden the roller coaster of weight gain and weight loss. I have been obese and I have been clinically underweight. Freeze frame: at this moment in time, even though my doctor says my weight is acceptable, I have embarked on a sensible diet and exercise regimen that is yielding slow but steady results. I have lost 4.2 pounds since the beginning of the month, an average of a safe and healthy pound a week. At this rate, it will be Thanksgiving before I reach my weight loss goal. I have no choice to but be okay with that.

Today, I made a decision. Again, I shed many tears as I emptied my closet, my dresser drawers, even an under-bed storage bin of every single top and bottom that doesn't work on the body I have at this moment in time. Underwear, outerwear, shoes, belts and accessories also went under scrutiny. I asked myself whether or not Stacy or Clinton would let it stay. If the answer was no, I let it go.

There isn't much left.

The rejects. Eight 13-gallon trash bags.
I have already delivered these bags to Goodwill so there is no turning back. Now that everything is gone, I no longer feel like a failure. Instead, I feel a great sense of accomplishment. And the truth is I have as much to wear as I did before. Except now when I walk into my closet, I know that everything in there is an option.

There was even one lighthearted moment when, stuffed behind a black suit that I haven't been able to wear since 2008, I found the black top I bought on sale after Christmas in 2011. I looked forward to wearing it this past holiday season, especially when my mom showed up at my house on Christmas Eve wearing one exactly like it. I searched high and low but couldn't locate mine. Now, by golly, I know exactly where it is. Six months to the day from now, I look forward to posing with Mom in our matching tops.

THIS is the summer I stop lying to myself, stop trying to be someone I am not, stop feeling bad for not living up to some idea. I may not be Hollywood-perfect, but I am the very best Pam Asberry I can be at any given moment.

And that, by golly, is good enough.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What would Claire Cook do?

Pam Asberry and Claire Cook
Claire Cook was 45 when she wrote her first novel - in her minivan! But she has more than made up for lost time. Since her first book was published in 2000, this award-winning, bestselling author has seen ten more novels published; one of them,  Must Love Dogs, was even made into a movie starring John Cusack and Diane Lane. That's more success than I have ever dared even dream of. But Claire was our guest speaker at Georgia Romance Writers June meeting, sharing her journey and a few tricks of the trade. And she made it clear that, for most writers, their biggest obstacle is themselves.

Her process is simple. She writes two pages a day, seven days a week. Period. And she writes first thing in the morning, before checking email and Facebook and Twitter and all those other notorious time and creativity suckers. She asks herself, "What is going to move me forward today?" and makes the answer to that question her priority.

Two pages a day, seven days a week.

So that's my new mantra. I wish I could say I bounced out of bed this morning, poured a cup of coffee and dashed off two pages. I didn't. But the day isn't over. So as soon as I hit Publish on this blog post, I'm going to write two pages before I go to bed. And then I'm going to tape an index card with the words What would Claire Cook do? on the coffee maker.

Because it's so easy to forget.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Eat, Breathe, Love

Affirmation #4: I breathe deeply, exercise regularly, and feed only good, nutritious food to my body.

I don't have a fitness club membership or worry about the latest diet craze. I want to be fit and healthy but I don't believe that it has to be expensive or complicated. So at the beginning of the 99 days of summer, I started walking again; now that I am on summer break, I have added five minutes of deep breathing to my morning schedule and am able to spend more time in the kitchen, cooking and baking with an emphasis on lean meats, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. As a result, my weight is down 4.2 pounds for the month and feeling better than I have felt in a long time.

One of the newest additions to my culinary repertoire is quinoa. Yesterday morning I made Banana Quinoa Muffins for breakfast.
Yes, I added the white chocolate chips. 
And today for lunch I had a big bowl of Greek Chickpea and Quinoa Salad.
Perfect with extra lemon and pepperoncini on the side.
I am also a big fan of Thai Coconut Soup but my favorite Asian restaurant is closed for remodeling. So Wednesday I decided to make it at home. Rock Star said he liked it as well as, if not better than, the restaurant version.
Next time I will even remember to add the fresh grated ginger.
Inspired to try more Thai recipes, I stuck the leftover lemongrass stalks in a jar of water with the intention of growing my own.
I sure hope this works.
Next week I will get back to work in the kitchen, de-cluttering, reorganizing and deep cleaning the cabinets, pantry and refrigerator. But today I stayed in my pajamas and read an entire novel from beginning to end. I cannot remember the last time I did this. But it was a delightful way to welcome to the summer solstice, sitting on my comfortable deck chair with a book in my lap and glass of hibiscus tea at my side.

Slowly, slowly, my emotional tank is beginning to refill...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Affirmation #6: I am now creating my dream home.

My dream home has all stainless steel appliances.
So last week I replaced my ancient countertop microwave with a stainless steel over-the-range microwave.
It's a start.
The brass cabinet door knobs are next on my hit list.
I'm back. My self-imposed moratorium on the internet is over.

I would be lying if I said I made a clean break. After all, keeping the piano studio, the Etsy shop, and the writing going requires that I at least check email once a day. Initially, I vowed to do that and no more. But one of my duties as a Petit Fours and Hot Tamales blogger is to read my blog sisters' posts and comment. And I really missed the connections with family and friends on Facebook, so I found myself sneaking over there and checking status updates from time to time. But instead of spending two to four hours a day online as was my habit, I limited myself to fifteen to thirty minutes a day. I deleted all the games from my iPhone. And during the evening hours, instead of surfing the web, catching up on news and generally keeping myself awake, I played the piano or read until I became drowsy then allowed myself to drift off to sleep.

This was very, very good.

And now that the cycle of addiction is broken, I intend to keep it that way. Because the truth is I was doing a lot of procrastinating under a veil of false productivity. Yes, I am back on Facebook and Twitter and delighted to be blogging again. But I'm not lying to myself any more. If I spend more than an hour a day online, it's too much. And the computer is staying off at night. It's amazing what a difference getting adequate rest makes.

My second and final student piano recital took place last Saturday, bringing my 2012-2013 academic year to its official close. I have a sprinkling of students throughout the summer but a much lighter teaching load starting this week and going through the end of July. I am back to writing affirmations every morning and I have a long list of things I would like to accomplish during this time. But over the next couple of weeks I am putting most of my focus on Affirmation #6, I am now creating my dream home, by sorting through every cabinet, drawer and closet in my house. If it isn't useful or it doesn't make me over-the-moon happy I am getting rid of it; I have already donated a bulging carload of rejected items to charity. Then, as I finish each room, I will deep clean it and make a list of what needs to be done by way of repairs and updates.

Tomorrow: Affirmation #4.

Ah, summertime!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

LAVENDER GARDEN by Lucinda Riley

I can't say enough good things about this book! I have been a fan of Lucinda Riley's ever since I read The Girl on the Cliff so I couldn't finish The Lavender Garden fast enough!

Le Cote d’Azur, 1998: In the sun-dappled south of France, Emilie de la MartiniĆ©res, the last of her gilded line, finds herself sole inheritor of her childhood home, a magnificent chateau and vineyard.  With the house comes a mountain of debt – and almost as many questions.

Paris, 1944: A bright, young British office clerk, Constance Carruthers, is sent to Paris to be part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during the climax of the Nazi occupation. Separated from her contacts in the Resistance she stumbles into the heart of a prominent family who regularly entertain members of the German elite even as they plot to liberate France.  In a city rife with collaborators and brave members of the Resistance, Constance’s most difficult decision may be determining whom to trust with her heart.

As Emilie discovers what really happened to her family during the war and finds a connection to Constance much closer than she suspects, the chateau itself will provide clues that can unlock the mysteries of her past, present, and future.

Combining a dual story line between WWII and modern day Paris, this book will keep you turning the pages from its intriguing beginning to its satisfying ending. Five enthusiastic stars! Highly recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Going on hiatus

It's happened again. My life has turned cacophonous. I miss the sweet melodies and gentle rhythms of daily routine and self-care.

I have had several custom jewelry orders and looking forward to selling my wares at a local craft show on Saturday. I am trying to polish three manuscripts for a contest deadline Monday. I am preparing my second round of piano students for their recital on the 15th. It's all good stuff but it's all too much.

I will give myself credit where credit is due; I am getting a lot of things right. I am doing good work. I am walking every day. I am enjoying my new piano. But too busy to spend time with friends, too preoccupied to eat well, and too wired to sleep at the end of the day, I feel myself beginning to unravel.

I will see all my commitments through but I need to eliminate what noise I can. So as much as I love social media, it's time to unplug: from Facebook and Twitter, from blogging and texting, from Words with Friends and Ruzzle. I will check email once a day then disconnect my laptop from the internet. Terrified at the prospect, I believe this is absolutely essential to my health and well-being at this time.

I'll be back on Monday, June 17th. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

THE GIRL ON THE CLIFF by Lucinda Riley

A lover of all things Irish, I was delighted to receive a review copy of The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley. From the back cover:

To escape a recent heartbreak in New York, Grania Ryan returns to her family home on the rugged, wind-swept coast of Ireland. Here, on the cliff edge in the middle of a storm, she meets a young girl, Aurora Lisle, who will profoundly change her life.

Despite the warnings Grania receives from her mother to be wary of the Lisle family, Aurora and Grania forge a close friendship. Through a trove of old family letters dating from 1914, Grania begins to learn just how deeply their families' histories are entwined. The horrors of World War I, the fate of a beautiful foundling child, and the irresistible lure of the ballet give rise to a legacy of heartache that leaves its imprint on each new generation. Ultimately, it will be Aurora whose intuition and spirit may be able to unlock the chains of the past.

Sweeping from Edwardian England to present-day New York, from the majestic Irish cost to the crumpling splendor of a legendary London town house, The Girl on the Cliff introduces two remarkable women whose quest to understand their past sends them toward a future where love can triumph over loss.

What a page-turner! I was hooked from page one. Grania, a gifted sculptor, has fled from New York City to Ireland to find solace with her family in her childhood home. A chance encounter with the strange and mysterious Aurora Lisle eventually provides her with a reason to stay, despite her Grania's mother's misgivings about the situation. As the story unfolds, we meet Aurora's father and gradually learn about the relationships - and tragedies - that have divided the two families for decades. Meanwhile, Grania's ex-boyfriend remains in New York, waiting to find out why she has left him hanging on the verge of their being married.

Five enthusiastic stars! Highly recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Online Dating 101

I'm blogging over at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales today with some of the worst pick-up lines I've heard online recently. Click HERE. Guys, this is what NOT to say to the ladies!