Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tuesday Talk: How Many Awards Does It Take ...

... to get to the center of the blogosphere?

Anyway. A couple of weeks ago, I woke up to a tweet from one of my favorite bloggers that basically just said, "Check this out." There was, of course, a link - and I did, of course, click on it. It led me to this, which is why today we're talking about these:

The Liebster-Sunshine Blogger Awards!

I'm still thrilled with this, honestly. There are a lot of bloggers out there who will turn down awards or even outright ignore them because there isn't an actual trophy. There's no red carpet, no monetary sum, and no spectacular prestige to go along with them.

But there is recognition, and honor, and gratitude. Over the years, I've gotten a Summer Sun Award, a Liebster Award, and a Blogger Recognition Award - and now I've gotten the Liebster-Sunshine Award, affectionately dubbed the "LiebShine Blaargh" award by David Elliott (and the amazing blogger who nominated him), the mind behind the Single Dad's Guide To Life and the man behind this most recent nomination for me. David is the divorced single father to an adorable little daughter, living life in the perpetual sun of southern California, and his blog features a range of topics - from movie reviews to kid-friendly recipes, to fitness goals and parenting tips. He posts a lot of fictional "food holiday" histories too, which are always entertaining - but my favorite thing about his site is that every one of his posts is infused with his own unique sense of humor. Now and then he even lets a little vulnerability shine through, giving his readers a glimpse into what makes him the man he is.

True to form, his post about the history of the "LiebShine Blaargh" award had me laughing out loud - but as with most award nominations, there are rules to be followed, so in the interest of keeping this blog post from being novel-length, let's jump right in, shall we?


RULE #1:
Accept the nomination.
Of course I'm going to do this, because there's nothing quite like being recognized for a job well done by the people who most truly understand how hard that job really is. Being nominated for any sort of recognition on the merit of my writing and the things that I choose to share here is ... well, it's flattering of course, but also totally humbling. Who am I, to be nominated for that sort of thing once - let alone multiple times? I'm just a woman, just a mom, just a writer trying to get by on a dream. To have even the slightest possibility of seeing that dream come to life means everything to me, and to be pointed out publicly by my peers in the writing world makes that dream feel just a little closer. There's not a cell in my body that could turn that down.


RULE #2:
Nominate someone with less than 300 followers to receive the award next.
Rude as this may be, I'm actually going to choose to ignore this particular rule - not because I don't want to help small bloggers grow, but because many of the bloggers I read don't actually post their numbers publicly. Some have smaller followings, but many of the bloggers I follow have larger platforms than I do; many of them are bloggers that I personally admire and am hoping to learn from. That being said, many faithful blog readers (several of mine included) don't actually subscribe to blogs they read in a way that's countable. Instead of subscribing, a number of my followers just choose to connect with me on social media or other outlets so that they know when I post new content. One has actually told me that she has reminders set on her phone to make sure she comes back on the days she knows I'm posting. Either way, my page views strongly disagree with the meager 49 clearly stated when I go into my blog stats and count up my "followers," thus I'm leaving this rule unfollowed. Instead, I'm choosing to post this with the intent to nominate anyone reading who wants to participate. (Now, how's that for sharing the love, huh?)


RULE #3:
Thank the blogger who nominated you.
No problem, especially since the nomination came with pretty words and some link love, which is something every blogger adores! Thank you, David - I'm truly thrilled to have been counted among the bloggers you found worthy of the mention.


RULE #4:
Answer the eleven questions given to you by the person who nominated you. (These will be in the blog post you were nominated in - David's post nominating me and several others is here.)
Simple enough, right? So you'll find David's very creative eleven questions - along with my answers - listed below!
  1. What was your first idea when you started your blog? - This blog started with a list of "have-to" tasks. As a new author, I was given lots of "have-to" tasks by well-meaning authors and book bloggers aiming to coach me to success. Among the "have-tos" were: setting up an author page on Facebook, joining and getting active on Twitter, begging shamelessly for book reviews, and ... you guessed it - starting an author blog. But before this, I actually had several "mommy" blogs over the years, which I loved. Unfortunately I sucked at keeping a blogging schedule, and I've continued to pretty much suck at it until just recently. 
  2. How soon did you feel like you had found your blogging voice? - I don't know that this is something you find, really. I think it's something that's always changing and growing in response to who you are and what's going on in your life. I've spoken with several different "voices" over the years, but for this blog specifically ... I started my author journey as a stay-home mother of two with a faltering but still relatively functional long-term relationship. My life then looked a lot different, and I'd be willing to bet my voice back then was considerably different, too. I imagine in the years to come, that voice will continue to grow and change - I certainly hope it'll continue to be for the better.
  3. What is your blogging why? Why do you blog? - This one's actually relatively easy to answer - I do it because I love writing in pretty much any format. But blogging is special to me in that it allows me to explore myself and how I feel about life and the world I live in. I love that it allows me to interact with people who like what I'm saying, or people who have been through similar experiences. But I do it, too, under the weight of a hope - a hope that one day I'll have built the kind of full-time blogging income that I so admire in the bloggers I look up to. And meeting great people along the journey doesn't hurt, either.
  4. What blogger inspired you the most since you started blogging? - Another easy one - Sarah Vargas. I don't always agree with her politics, her methods, or her thought processes - but I always admire what she's managed to do in her career as a blogger/vlogger, and how she's managed to buck up and make things happen to take care of her children. I admire her so greatly as a business role model, a self-confidence role model, and so much more.
  5. Of all your blogging experiences, what has made you laugh out loud the most? - Other bloggers, for sure. I've encountered such amazing people along this journey - many of whom have become close friends who are incredibly meaningful to me. From Australia, from the UK, from Canada, from various places here in the States, I've met people online who know my heart and all the secrets of my soul. And despite not yet having the opportunity to meet in person, many of those people have trusted me enough to share their hearts and secrets as well. That sort of connection is incredibly joyful to me despite the distance, and those are the people I laugh most with.
  6. What is the one place you are still looking forward to visiting and why? - There isn't just one - I'd count myself lucky if I could see all the places I so want to see, and have my list brought down to one last place. But right now, in this particular chapter of my life ... I have seen so few places and I still want to see it all! I want to see so much, I can't even complete my bucket list.
  7. If you had the chance to work with one company on your blog, what would it be and why? - One company. Hmm. Maybe if I was being practical, I'd say I want to work with a car company on an ongoing basis, driving and reviewing cars. It's practical because it would provide my family with a dependable vehicle (which ends the cloud of my van's failing transmission hanging over my head), and I like that since I'd be reviewing, maybe I'd have a different car every week or month or so, which would keep it fun and also encourage me to keep "my" car VERY clean. I'd love to work with Kia, because I'm obsessed with the Kia Soul, or Mitsubishi because I'm obsessed with Outlander and they have a compact SUV called an Outlander. Or maybe if I was reaching for the stars but still being practical, then I'd go for Cadillac so I could drive an Escalade EXT for a while. But just for fun on an everyday basis because I love them? I'd like to work with Gwynnie Bee because it would be so cool to get to try all kinds of clothes and looks without having to shop for a lot of stuff or buy loads of clothes. I could bring more fashion stuff to my blog that way too, reviewing clothing brands and items as I try them. Gwynnie Bee has a monthly subscription service (the Netflix of plus-size women's fashion), and they even take care of the laundry! What's not to love about that?
  8. If you had one thing you wanted to communicate to your audience, what would it be? - Don't be afraid to let your life be a lesson to you. Take the experiences you've had, and instead of letting those experiences fill you up with fear and regret, use them to learn how to do better, choose better, and act better. As a person with PTSD that's often crippling for me, I know this advice is easier said than done ... but it's also better tried than not tried, if you get my drift. Slow progress and a little effort is still better than none.
  9. What did you want to be when you grew up? - I've wanted to be a lot of things over the years, depending on my age and my whims. But in my heart, the thing I always wanted ... the thing I was too afraid to reach for and too afraid at times to even admit that I wanted, was to write for a living. To use words to create an income that would provide a home for my family.
  10. What was your best vacation? - I don't know. I'll have to come back to this once I've been on one.
  11. Who has been your biggest hero? - This changes depending on what I need. In writing, I most admire Diana Gabaldon (author of the Outlander series), and in philanthropy I look up to J.K. Rowling (who famously lost her billionaire status in 2012 because she gives away so much money). In business, maybe Oprah - she's built such a strong empire, and she's come such a long way from where she started.
And with those questions answered, let's move on to ...


RULE #5:
Nominate eleven other people to receive this award.
Please see rule #2 for my response to this rule as well. If the eleven must be under-300-followers bloggers, then I truly don't know which (if any) of my favorite bloggers would qualify. As mentioned before, there are several blogs I love reading on a regular basis, but I don't count their followers, I just love their content. If you choose to read this post and nominate yourself to participate, just make sure you come back to leave a link to your own post in the comments below - I'd love to see them!


RULE #6:
Think of eleven questions of your own for the bloggers you've chosen to nominate.
Since I'm choosing not to nominate specific bloggers for this award this time and am instead inviting small bloggers who see this post to nominate themselves, I'm also leaving my questions here with a challenge for EVERYONE who reads them. If you're a blogger choosing to nominate themselves to participate, please remember to leave a link to your post in the comments below - and if you don't have a blog of your own, feel free to answer these eleven questions in the comments anyway!
  1. What made you decide to put your writings out into the world in such a public format?
  2. Who do you most look up to or appreciate in your daily life - what person is most close to you, and why?
  3. What would you say has been one of your biggest challenges thus far? 
  4. What's your number one favorite thing about blogs in general?
  5. If you were to achieve your most ultimate dreams, what would a day in your life look like?
  6. How much does feedback on your blog actually impact what you choose to include in your content?
  7. Do you prefer coffee or tea, and how do you prepare your drink of choice? (Hot or cold, with or without cream/sugar/honey/etc.?)
  8. What book has had the largest impact on you as a person, and why?
  9. If you were given an all-expenses-paid trip to anywhere in the world but you had to leave right now, what would the trip look like?
  10. As a blogger, what do you find most fulfilling? 
  11. What's your favorite board game to play, and what do you love best about it?
Again, if you're a blogger choosing to nominate themselves, please remember to leave a link to your post in the comments below - and if you don't have a blog of your own, feel free to answer these eleven questions in the comments anyway! Just answer the blogging-related questions as best you can in relation to your own life.


RULE #7:
Post a photo of the award on your blog.
No problem! I'm not sure if these are the original images to go with these awards, but I'm choosing to trust David on this one and use the images he chose for his own post. So:


RULE #8:
Pertaining to the Sunshine Award specifically, nominees must bring some light into the life of the person who nominated them.
Crap. Up until now, I've been able to say, "I'm not following this rule because blogger numbers aren't always posted and I don't want to limit bloggers from participating on that basis anyway." But this one ... well, if I ask people to nominate themselves to participate in this, then how will we be following this rule?

Alright, I got it. If you choose to nominate yourself for this one, then here's how you can bring some light into my life, thereby earning your nominated status. Choose one of the following light-bringing strategies:
  • come connect to me on any of my social media platforms. I love making new friends, especially when they're the kind that bring light into my life. You can find links to all of my social platforms here.
  • download a free copy of Fat Chance, the first book in my romance series, the Kingsley Series. Links to download this book on all major platforms, along with information about the series and all of its current titles, can be found here. This costs you nothing, but could benefit me by bumping my rankings - and you might love the book anyway, since it's an awesome story of self-discovery and healing. You don't know if you don't read it, right?
  • nominate your favorite undaunted woman to be interviewed here on the blog. The rules for this are here. This is a new series I'm planning to kick off in August, and while I already have my August nominee, I'm already looking to set up with Miss Undaunted September.
  • support me on Patreon and join the community of readers who make it possible for me to keep doing this so often. These are the people who allow me to make a difference in their lives, who step up to make a difference in mine - and while they may start out as readers, they always end up counted as friends.
And that's it. Thanks again for nominating me, David - not only did you totally deserve the nomination in your own right, that was totally sweet of you to share the award with the likes of me.

Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is actually one of the companies I'd like to work with at some point - one of the companies I mentioned in my answers to David's questions above. This company has an amazing concept that works so well for a mom like me, giving flexibility and fun to fashion-oriented women regardless of their size and shape.


Gwynnie Bee allows plus-sized women to feel great in their clothing, and try new styles without the crazy expense of shopping or the instinctive fear of commitment that stops so many of us from trying new things. As I mentioned before, I also love that they take care of laundering clothing items too, because it means I don't have to do laundry - and I know that the clothes I receive are clean and in great shape when they come to me. Multiple subscription options are a great thing too - you choose what you're in for as far as time and financial investment. And for the extreme commitment-phobes out there? Rest assured, cancellation is an easy process, too.

Gwynnie Bee: Receive unlimited exchanges & free shipping for a flat monthly fee!

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
Blog awards are fun, aren't they? Blogging can be an isolating job if you don't actually make an active effort to engage and get to know people - that's why my favorite thing about blog awards is that they actually encourage us to interact a little and get to know each other better. But I know a lot of the people who come here to read aren't actually bloggers, so here's another question for the comments - if you read blogs other than this one, which one is your favorite and why?

Just on the off chance that I'm your favorite blogger, you can (as always) feel free to stick around and explore the content here - maybe you'll find something you hadn't seen before, or something that's just right to pin or share with a friend on your social media. If you enjoy this little corner of the web (or if you just want to help me reach some goals), make sure you come over and check me out on Patreon - my subscribers are my biggest and most favorite supporters of my writing, and I'd love to see you join us there!

Either way though, whether you come over to join my community on Patreon or not, please take a second to make sure you never miss a post here. Patreon may be subscription-based, but the content on this blog is ALWAYS free, so be sure to subscribe (the subscription form is in the right sidebar)! And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower of this site ... from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for being here.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saturday Swag: New Merch Designs!

I've been a Zazzle customer for ages now, and I've ordered products from them several times - always with satisfaction. I love both the quality of the products and the ability to customize just about whatever I could want for my life, home, or business, and I always love browsing around on there to see what sorts of designs other people have come up with.

But there actually aren't a lot of people who know that I have my own store, where I have designs that go along with the brand I'm building here on the blog. Right now there are t-shirts and tote bags, bumper stickers and keychains, all featuring the logo you first see when you come to this site. There are even a few showing off my end-of-post signature, with the pink heart and the call to "stay undaunted." Eventually, I'd like to add merchandise with quotes and cover images from my books and Patreon stories, and I'll likely add other Undaunted items as time goes on.

In the meantime though, I've been making a point to revisit my goals for this quarter, and as this challenge to keep and maintain both my lists of quarterly goals and my accountability in sharing them here, I've really been noticing something disturbing.

I don't know how to let myself have fun anymore. Fun, for me, is some morphed and hybrid combination of work and ... well, work. When I take a break from writing, I don't do it just to lay on the couch and listen to music or watch a movie. I don't take breaks from building my business just to soak in the tub or play a mindless game on my phone. I do it like this:

  • primp and paint my toenails, not only because it's fun but because my daughters and I are having our first family photo shoot in 8 years and we're going barefoot.
  • watch a movie - but use the time wisely and review the movie for the blog.
  • listen to podcasts - the self-improvement and business-coaching kind, so that I'm learning while I listen.
Even my morning coffee is enjoyed in this way - not only because I enjoy it and I love having the opportunity to drink it, but because it has a purpose. It eases the caffeine headache I get when I don't drink coffee, it wakes my mind and begins my morning. I enjoy it, yes - but the fact is, I would drink it even if I didn't love it, because there's a reason for it other than pure enjoyment.

I can't decide if this makes me more sad, or more proud.
  • sad because even my fun must have a purpose, otherwise I won't be able to enjoy it without drowning in waves of guilt over the chores and other tasks I'm not doing.
  • proud because I try so hard to live my life on purpose. I'm not a drifter - I don't just go through life doing what feels good in the moment.
Still, while it does make me a little sad to realize how happy I am to know that this most recent "fun" thing I've been doing also has a purpose, I'm also pretty thrilled and happy to know that while I'm having fun designing things for my second Zazzle store, I'm also increasing my income potential, because sales from either of my two stores will send a royalty directly into my bank account.

So with that being said, here are some of the things I've been working on lately.




But that's just for the brand store, the one more focused on my writing and my brand. That's the "work" one. But the "fun" one, the one I created just to play with and goof off in? For that store, I've designed things just a bit more ... Me. See?





I'm thinking I'm going to love making fun designs for this store! And speaking of fun ... I'm all caught up on my writing deadlines for the moment, so I'm going to work on some therapy homework, and then listen to some podcasts while I create some more designs ... Just 4 Fun.

Instead of my usual "Featured Favorite Product," today I'm just going to leave you with the links to my Zazzle stores - Come check them out!

Brandi Kennedy Merchandise
Just 4 Fun Designs

Quick Disclaimer: I'm not using my usual affiliate links here, but I did want to be very clear about sales of items from either of my Zazzle stores - I do receive a small sales royalty on sales of my designs. Rest assured that while this is at no extra cost to you, my family and I still greatly appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of the affiliate companies I am currently working with, click here.)
What other things do you guys think I should design for my Zazzle stores? I'd love to see your suggestions in the comments, as well as what sorts of things you think would be great additions to my stores.

You're always welcome to stick around here on the blog too, to explore the rest of my content - and if you enjoy my little corner of the web (or if you're just awesome and want to help me reach some life-changing goals), come on over and check me out on Patreon, too! My subscribers there are my biggest and most favorite supporters of my writing, so to thank them in the best way I know how, I like to post all sorts of stuff there - including short stories, mini-blogs, podcasts, and lots of other content. You can even vote on some of the things I post, and the lowest membership is just $1 a month, so sign up and make sure you don't miss out!

Either way, whether you come over to join my community on Patreon or not, I'd still love for you to take a second and make sure you never miss a post here, either. Patreon may be subscription-based, but the content on this blog is ALWAYS free, so go ahead and subscribe (the subscription form is in the right sidebar)! As always, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday Would You Rather: Sight VS Hearing?

My first Would You Rather went up in April, and in it, I took on a somewhat heavy subject. The prompt was "Would you rather live a lifetime of ONLY flatline (boring, ordinary) days, or would you rather live a lifetime of ONLY rollercoaster (always ups and downs) days?" Honestly though, I feel like that was a great prompt to start this series with - it encouraged me to explore what my life has been, and to really look at what I would choose were I given the conscious choice. Would I want the simple life, the ordinary? The ease of knowing what to expect, of knowing what's coming, being able to settle into a routine with only the little things in life? Or would I keep on the path that I've been walking for thirty three years? Would I keep the ups and downs that have brought me such grief and left me with the PTSD I'm still learning to live with? (If you missed that post, click here to read it.) See? Not an easy subject at all - and yet when I really got to thinking through it, the choice wasn't that hard to make.

In the end, I asked my readers to leave other Would You Rather prompts in the comments of that post, and Karen Henderson asked me which I would rather give up - my hearing or my sight? So today I'm exploring life without my sight, and what I'd be missing if I gave it up. And I'll explore life without my hearing, thinking of all the things I'm grateful to have in my life because I can hear. At the end of the post, I'll hypothetically "give up" one of my precious senses - with gratitude that at least for now, it's only pretend.


If I were sitting in a dark room right now, alone and afraid and bearing the weight of the knowledge that the only way I can get out is to choose one of my senses to leave behind, what would I do?

I only have five conventional senses, and my 6th sense/intuition doesn't even count anymore, since certain things in my past have led me to believe it can't be trusted. So with just five left - how could I give up any of them? The human senses are our most precious gifts, and while we breeze through life unappreciative of how possessing these senses so deeply enrich our lives ... how could anyone sift through them and choose one to give away?

If I could give any one, my first instinctive answer would be "touch." I could still type - more clumsily perhaps, but it could be done. I could still dress myself, could still walk, could still function. But then again, without touch ... what would a hug feel like? A kiss? Joey's luxurious curls, Eden's curtain of pin-straight silk? Chance's horsey whiskers?

Maybe taste could work though. I mean, sure, I'd be giving up the pleasure of lasagna and pizza and grilled cheese and fresh salad and still-half-frozen Edward's Pie and ... where was I?

Thankfully, neither taste nor touch were among my options, lest I would give up something that means so much to me by accident.

But there were specific choices - hearing or sight?
Sometimes when I give my kids a choice of something, they can't decide. So they waffle back and forth for a while until I choose for them, and then they instantly know what they truly wanted - which is always whatever I didn't choose. It happens with adults too, because it's human nature to want what we can't have. I've heard it said that the best way to make any choice is to flip a coin - not because the coin will choose for you, but because while that coin is flipping through the air, end over end, sparking light off its metal as it falls, you will know exactly what you most want. That coin coming down brings you face to face with the idea of not being able to choose anymore, and of losing something you love because of that lack of choice. Suddenly, you know.

I flipped a coin, and I was just as confused when the coin landed - there just wasn't enough time to think it through. So what if I stick with my dark room, and pretend the people holding me there have given me until noon? And to top it off (so that I don't let myself get lazy and say something like, "I can't choose, and thank goodness I don't have to"), they've also told me that if I don't choose one of my senses by noon ... then I forfeit them all.

So it's 8 in the morning right now as I write this - that would give me four hours to deliberate, during which time I could write several thousand words in tribute to my senses and how precious each and every one is to me.

But if I don't write this post right now, the girls will be up soon and it may take three weeks to come back and get it done.

So how do I choose?
The thing is, it's easy enough to think about the glories of never again hearing a smoke detector going off because the potatoes roasting in the oven (or the garlic bread) filled the oven with steam, which billowed out and burned my face when I opened the oven door less than 8 feet away from said smoke detector. (Ahem ... no, that hasn't happened to me ...) And it's easy to think of never again having to watch people pick their butts or their noses or their crotches - or for heaven's sake, all three in rotation - while they wander mindlessly through Walmart, clad in cheap knockoffs of the obnoxiously fluorescent but incredibly innovative Chacos and ill-fitting, ill-chosen clothing. (What? Personal experience, you say? Nah ... I'm just guessing.)

But in choosing, I also choose whether to never again experience my children's laughter - or never again look into their eyes.

How about sight?
How do I give up the ability to watch my daughters sleep, with their eyelashes neatly arched along their cheeks, with my bold eyebrows slashed beneath their foreheads. How do I give up the beauty of noticing the things about them that aren't mine (Joey's hands, Eden's mouth, and so many other things), mixed so seamlessly in with the things that are? How do I give up watching them grow, choosing their clothes by looking because I know what sizes will fit? How do I lose the ability to look at them when they get in the car and know whether or not they had a good day at school? How do I never look at Chance's adorable sleepy face in the morning, with those brown eyes only three quarters of the way open and his hound jowls all rumpled with sleep? I can't.

How could I never again watch a flower bloom over the course of a few days' time? How could I never again look upon a rainbow or watch the flash of a storm outside? How could I miss the gentility of butterflies and the fascination of a bunny hopping around in the backyard?

So ... hearing, then?
No! How could I do it? Right this second I'm listening to birdsong from the tree in the yard, just on the other side of the back door to the house I live in. I'm listening to the way the floorboards creak upstairs - a telltale sign that Eden is awake and anxious to come find me, For now, she'll read a little in her bed - giving me five or ten minutes worth of her desperate effort to respect my writing time, until the urge to come hug me and ask how I slept becomes so unbearable she can no longer resist it. Hearing those creaking boards is a warning - Mommy time starts soon, and then it'll be too loud to hear the birdsong anymore, because I'll be listening to the unique mix of giggles and bickering that only my two children can produce.

How could I imagine life without hearing Eden ask me how I slept? Without the way she says good morning, with her high-pitched little-girl voice? How could I give up the rare gift of an "I love you" from my grumpy teen who is already learning to protect her heart at all costs - sometimes even from me?

How could I never listen to music again, never feel the power of words spun into lyrics that wrap around the soul like liquid magic? How could I never again listen to Edelweiss, never again be brought to tears by the beauty of Andre Rieu's violin?

Yeah, you know what?
My first instinct was right (how about that? maybe my intuition can be trusted a little after all?) in urging me to cop out and take the easy road here. I can't choose - I can't sit in that dark room and mull it over, eventually choosing to brokenly abdicate one sense or the other in fear of losing them all. I can't mull over the pros and cons, sifting through the things I love (or don't love) about these precious gifts that give my humanity so much meaning. I can't choose a sense.

I can't choose - and I'm so thankful that I don't have to.

Thanks for the prompt, Karen! For those who don't know, Karen's one of my favorite readers - and she's one of my biggest supporters! And to top that, she's one of my Patreon buddies - she has a Patreon account too, where she shares her love of photography as well as occasional snippets of her daily life. I know this prompt was given all in fun, but I'm grateful it turned out to be such an exercise in remembering to see the blessings in the little things that make each and every day such an experience!
Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is something I love picking up for myself now again - and coincidentally, also a great way to engage all five of your precious human senses. Pair your favorite wine or chocolates (or both?) with this 5-Piece Coconut Essential Bath & Body Collection from The Body Shop and you're in for a luxurious evening (or morning, if you're a single mom and the only time you really have to yourself if when your kids are at school ... is it August yet?) of pampering and sense-engaging relaxation.

$39.00 USD at the time of this post, click photo to purchase from Amazon.

My girls go back to school in the beginning of August, and while I love having them around, I'm so ready for the downtime - this single mom stuff is hard enough, but doing the single mom thing with no co-parent to co-parent with makes it pretty overwhelming at times. I've got this kit high on my wishlist for August!

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
So tell me - if you had to give up either your sight or your hearing, which would you rather give up? Take a second to let me know - or even leave suggestions for future Would You Rather posts! I always love the chance to interact with my readers, and I love the way these posts have given me a chance to find and unlock the undaunted woman within myself.

You're always welcome to stick around too, to explore the content here - and if you enjoy my little corner of the web (or if you're just awesome and want to help me reach some life-changing goals), make sure you come over and check me out on Patreon! My subscribers are my biggest and most favorite supporters of my writing, so to thank them in the best way I know how, I like to post all sorts of stuff there - from short stories to mini-blogs to podcasts, sneak peeks, and lots of other content. You can even vote on some of the things I post, so make sure you sign up!

But whether you come over to join my community on Patreon or not, take a second to make sure you never miss a post here. Patreon may be subscription-based, but the content on this blog is ALWAYS free, so take a second to subscribe (the subscription form is in the right sidebar)! And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you again for being here.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Self-Care Sunday: Holistic Health With LoveBug Probiotics

So I've made no secret of the idea that this year I've been working to help my blog create an income that will pay for itself. It's been mentioned in all three of this year's Quarterly Goals posts (See #1 here, #2 here, and #3 here.), all of my Patreon-themed posts, and even the posts about the Influenster box I received to review earlier this year.

The little bit of income I've been able to pull in due to those efforts has been pretty cool, but here's another thing I've been loving: opening up the opportunity to work with other bloggers on post collaborations and with specific companies as an affiliate rep or brand ambassador. It has been really great watching my numbers grow (even if it's slow) and seeing this little website evolve into something more than just a place to store my thoughts and my journey - even the rebrand was fun for me, because now I feel like the look of my brand fits my writing, my themes, and my personality much better than it did before. Aside from that, the support of my readers has been incredibly encouraging, whether it's through a comment, a share, or a shout out on social media.

There are new things on the horizon though, which I've hinted about before and am now ready to get a little more in-depth on. Recently, I received an email that had me totally squealing in my chair at the dinner table with my family, mostly because I didn't seek it out - it came as a total surprise. And even better, it came on a day when I was feeling pretty discouraged, so it was the perfect pick-me-up. The email was an invitation to partner with LoveBug Probiotics as they launch their new lines; this would mean testing out and reviewing some complimentary products for you guys to read about, which I always love doing!

But as much as I love getting packages in the mail and having the chance to tell you guys about cool companies you might not have heard about yet, I don't want to just go promoting any old thing ... so here's what's going to happen:


This past week, I received my complimentary influencer box from LoveBug Probiotics - and how cute is that name, by the way? Bugs? Because probiotics are good bugs?

The thing is, LoveBug takes way more than their name seriously. They take their packaging seriously too - these bottles came securely packaged in a sleek and beautiful box - which is handy, since the bottles are actually glass! These bottles feel solid in your hands, just weighty enough to let you know you've found quality, and with beautiful bright colors that bring cheer to a subject not usually cheerful. Not only that - they're so tightly packed with cotton that you can't even shake the pills around inside - I'm 100% positive that when I open these bottles, I will find ZERO broken or damaged tablets.


My influencer box was stuffed with products from three of LoveBug's four adult product lines: Here's the Skinny, Colds Suck, and Yeast is a Beast. Each bottle holds a full 30 days supply too, which is handy because it means I can really give these products a full and fair try before deciding whether or not they work for me.


Each of these lines offer a different set of healthful benefits that end up working together in favor of whole-body vitality - LoveBug Probiotics promises superior probiotic strains with 15x more effectiveness, delivered via LoveBug's patented BIO-tract technology. This technology is meant to help keep the beneficial probiotic strains contained in LoveBug's supplements from being killed off in the stomach - before they can reach the places they're most needed and most effective. And as if that wasn't enough, the supplements are also formulated without so many of our typical dietary allergens: LoveBug's products are gluten free, yeast free, lactose free, sugar free, preservative free, and free of artificial colors and flavors.

And just to be sure you stay as impressed with their efforts to help you protect and improve the health of your gut as you are with their stellar presentation, LoveBug Probiotics are also non-GMO, packaged with organic cotton and made in the USA.

Oh, and they contain multiple probiotic strains - to make sure the ecosystem in your body stays diverse and healthy. You know. In case you were wondering.

But the thing I'm loving most about this company (so far - since I haven't actually tried them yet and these are just my first impressions) is that it's a woman-owned company, which strikes a chord deep in my injured little soul. I too, am a woman-owned company, and building the little platform that I'm standing on right now hasn't been easy. Declaring my independence from things that have happened to me and choices that I've made in the past hasn't been easy either, and the truth is, that process is actually a long way from finished,

But it's been worth it every step of the way, and so it's only right that the next step in my journey to mental health and life with PTSD is to begin paying more attention to my whole-body health. With that in mind, one of the reasons I was actually so excited to work with LoveBug Priobiotics was this: I actually have several health issues that I deal with on a regular basis, some of which could be boiled down to this one simple thing.

Now, I'm not saying probiotics are a miracle health cure (and neither is LoveBug, by the way), but I do agree with studies over the years which have labeled the gut as "the body's second brain." So much happens in our bodies in response to what we eat and how we process what we put into our bodies, from our foods and drinks to our vices and medications. The adult human body houses an average of 25 feet of intestinal tract (including both the large and small intestine), and this is major real estate in the body. Many of our hormonal reactions are dictated by gut health too - and these hormonal reactions help to control our mental health and other body functions. So it only stands to reason that if adding a probiotic supplement to my daily routine can help me with issues I deal with all the time ... then I should go for it.

That being said, once this post goes live, I'll be starting my regimen of supplements from LoveBug (I'm told it's fine to take all three product lines together, but I'm going to start with one for the first week, add the second for the second week, add the third for the third week, and then go on until the bottles are empty), and then once my products run out, I'll come back with a full review of how I felt and what changed for me while using the supplements. Here are the things I'll be watching out for:

Immune Health:
I suffer from a several silent health issues, many of which could be directly related to gut health. The most bothersome is silent reflux, for which I take Prilosec on a daily basis. This reflux also often leads (particularly when I forget the Prilosec) to several allergy-type symptoms in the sinuses and throat, so I'll be curious to see what can happen with my body under the influence of Colds Suck. Also, as the timeline here means that I'll still be taking these when my kids go back to school in August, maybe this extra immunity boost will help me get through that first influx of kid-germs without too many problems.

Urinary Tract Health:
I've had issues with this since I was a child, and I get kidney infections about once or twice a year, with enough regularity of symptoms and side effects that I can usually detect an infection early enough to flush it out myself - without needing to go to the hassle of seeing a doctor. Lately I've had more than just the usual pop-up trouble, so I'm hoping the Yeast Is A Beast line from LoveBug will really help straighten that out. I actually happen to have several other symptoms (such as itchy skin, joint pain, and headaches) that I hope will improve with better holistic bacterial balance.

Low Metabolism:
Just like any other woman, I'd love to drop some weight. Mostly, I've learned to tolerate, if not love, the skin I'm in - but if my body was healthier and therefore more able to process fuel into energy, I wouldn't exactly complain. And if a more efficient body means a slimmer or more toned silhouette ... well then, count me in! I make a point of not weighing myself because I usually find that it depresses and totally ruins my motivation to stay healthy, but after a month of Here's The Skinny, I will report on how I feel in regards to my metabolism, appetite, and general body feel, as well as any impact on the fit of my clothing. I'm also really looking forward to seeing whether this has any impact on my energy and focus levels, which are generally pretty abysmal.

I can't wait to see how these products work for me, and I'll be looking forward to coming back to let you know. Keep reading to check out how you can try this great product line, too.
Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is, of course, LoveBug Probiotics - so make sure you check out their entire line of products on Amazon - they even have prenatal supplements and supplements for kids. I love that LoveBug has the whole family in mind, and can't wait to see how things work out for me in the next few weeks.

Quick Disclaimer: Since the above link is an affiliate link, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. Also, this is not a sponsored post - I was not compensated for this post or for my eventual review. I did, however, receive a complimentary influencer box of products to test. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
Even though this is a partnered post between LoveBug Probiotics and I, I really am thrilled to be working with this company. Probiotics are well-known by now to be a healthful and beneficial addition to your daily routine, but I'm a single mom trying to get a business off the ground, so adding little things like probiotic supplements to my routine has always been something that had to wait for another time, and LoveBug's invitation to partner up for this review couldn't have been more timely! If you've tried LoveBug's products before, make sure you leave a comment below to tell me what you thought - and if you swear by probiotics, I'd love if you'd leave a comment telling me why. (and psst! If you're still reading this but not sure you're ready to invest, here's how you can try LoveBug for one month, FREE!)

Feel free to stick around - and click around - this site, too! If you enjoy my content and just can't stand the idea of not having more (or if you're just awesome and want to help me reach some life-changing goals), come over and check me out on Patreon! My subscribers are the people who most literally support my writing (both fiction and non), so to thank them in the best way I know how, I post all sorts of stuff there - from short stories to mini-blogs to podcasts, sneak peeks, and lots of other content. You can even vote on some of the things I post, so make sure you sign up!

And as always, whether you come to Patreon or not, take a second to make sure you never miss a post here. Patreon may be subscription-based, but the content on this blog is ALWAYS free, so take a second to subscribe (the subscription form is in the right sidebar)! And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you again for reading.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thirsty Thursday: Summer Mocktail Roundup

Recently, Josephine overheard me talking to a friend about our favorite cocktails and how sad I am that I still haven't found the perfect replacement for my personal favorite, which I can't drink anymore due to the strange and sudden pineapple allergy I developed early last year.

I still miss that pineapple upside down cake drink - best drink ever.

Anyway, the conversation got Joey curious, and she asked me if there are drinks like that for kids, "You know, like without all the liquor in 'em?"

She was delighted when I said that there were, and even more delighted when I promised I'd look up some recipes and see if we can find a party/special occasion drink that she can love - without her mommy contributing to delinquency and ensuring that she ends up with a lousy future.

We've tried all of these already (all with great success), and we're totally looking forward to building up a repertoire of quick and easy drinks we can have fun with at anytime!

Here are the mocktails we have in our recipe book so far:

click here to see the original recipe post
I love how easy this one is, and how deliciously the sparkling apple cider mixes with the orange juice. It's made the same way as regular mimosas too - quick and simple. And I also love that you can mix up just a glass or make a bigger batch if you've got the family together for brunch. Just pour one part sparkling apple cider to one part orange juice, and you've got yourself a great brunch beverage.

click here to see the original recipe post
This Dirty Dr. Pepper is a new favorite for Joey, not only because it's a mocktail with a cool name but also because asking for it in a cute-but-desperate voice means that she might get lucky and get to have soda that day (I don't usually let the kids have soda). This one's pretty simple to throw together, too - you just add some ice to your glass, toss in a lime slice and a teaspoon of coconut syrup, and then top with a cup of Dr. Pepper!

click here to see the original recipe post
This is pretty similar to the apple cider mimosa I shared above, but different enough to provide some variety in flavor and effort. For this one, Fill your glass with ice (we like pellet ice - then the drink is slushie without us having to break out the blender) and then fill it about 3/4 full with orange juice. For this one, especially when we're using pellet ice, we like to use orange juice with extra pulp to up to the slush factor. From here, top off your glass with lemon iced tea, and mix in a teaspoon of sugar before serving. And if you're making this mocktail for a teen anxious to feel more grown than she is, garnish it with an orange slice - or even a fancy drink umbrella!

click here to see the original post
If you're looking for the right mocktail, you can't go wrong with a Shirley Temple. And just in case you weren't sure how to make one, here's how: Add a couple ice cubes to your drink glass, and then make sure to add your ingredients in the right order. Be careful though, because dumping things in too quickly (like Joey did when I let her make her own drink and she had super shaky hands) will mess up the great look of your drink. For a nice layered drink, gently pour ingredients as follows: 1/3 cup of orange juice, 1 cup of sprite, 2 tablespoons of grenadine syrup. Top this drink with a pretty marachino cherry (or four if your kid gives you blinky eyes because they love marachino cherries) and enjoy!

click here to see the original post
If you're willing to put in a little more effort (or you want something you can make in a batch), add two cups of water to a saucepan with three sprigs of rosemary, cover, and bring it to a boil. When you're boiling, bring the heat down and simmer your rosemary water for five minutes - then remove the pan from the heat and leave your water to steep for an hour, still covered. Note: This step is best done the night before if you want this refreshing cranberry drink for a brunch gathering. When you're ready to set your mocktail up, pour your rosemary water into a pitcher and (if you, like me, don't have a juicer) add 2 cups of unsweetened 100% cranberry juice along with two cups of 100% apple juice. Garnish your pitcher (or even your glasses) with sprigs of rosemary to make things pretty, and enjoy. (For those who have juicers and want to improve the recipe, be sure to click the photo above!)

Don't these drinks look fun? We love them - they're a great way to fancy up brunch or dinner drinks and/or give the kids a summer treat. And to top that off, some of them even work as popsicles! I'm also thinking of trying this coconut lavender lemonade, this Asian pear sparkler, and even this Millionaire Sour, which can be made with and without alcohol.

What are your favorite mocktails?
Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is a perfect fit for today's drink-themed post! I haven't read this book yet, but I can't wait to order my own copy and check through it with the kids. Mocktails: The Complete Bartender's Guide looks like it'll be full of great ideas we could use to mix up some really fun drinks to try!

$11.99 on Amazon at the time of this posting, click photo to purchase.

But, for those of you more interested in the original style of a great mixed drink, check out The Little Black Book of Cocktails instead - it's got over 150 recipes in it, all for less then ten bucks!

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
This was so much fun to put together, so if you're still here to read this part of the post, thanks for sticking around! Be sure to leave a comment below and tell me all about your favorite mocktails, too - I have a feeling the girls and I will be building a collection of recipes for a while since this seems to be our new obsession these days.

Be sure to click around and explore this site, too; if you enjoy my content and think you'd like a closer look at what my life looks like (or if you're awesome and want to help me reach some goals), come on over and check me out on Patreon! My subscribers are the people who most literally support my writing (both fiction and non), so to thank them in the best way I know how, I post all sorts of stuff there - from short stories to mini-blogs to podcasts, sneak peeks, and lots of other content. You can even vote on some of the things I post, so make sure you sign up!

And as always, whether you come to Patreon or not, take a second to make sure you never miss a post here. Patreon may be subscription-based, but the content on this blog is ALWAYS free, so don't forget to subscribe (the subscription form is in the right sidebar)! And whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you again for reading.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Monday Movies: Beauty & The Beast

Click to Purchase on Amazon!

Starring:
Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans

Directed by: Bill Condon
Released: 2017
Length: 2h 9m

Beauty & The Beast has been probably my #1 most favorite Disney story of all time ever since I was a child. As a girl, I loved simple things about the story - the part where the Beast gave Belle access to his library, the parts where he began to change in his love for her, the parts where she accepted him regardless of his size and form. And of course, I found cartoon Gaston to be wildly handsome despite the horror of his personality. In fact, the character of Gaston is where I first began to realize that outer beauty and inner beauty are largely disconnected - and that one is vastly more valuable than the other.

In my appreciation for inner beauty - particularly as I got older - I began to recognize my own disconnect from those around me, in a society which so disproportionately values the sort of outer beauty that is such a temporary and fleeting thing.

But as a woman I see so much more in this story - the sacrificial love of a familial bond, the transformative power of one person's love for another, the romantic nature of one's willingness to grow and change for the sake of our loved ones - and yes, the ability to truly see and appreciate another person for what they are, entirely separate from what they look like.

The casting in this film is spectacular as well, with Emma Watson so perfectly slipping into the role of Belle that it's as if the character was somehow created just for her. Everything worked for me exactly - from Lumiere and Cogsworth to Chip and the Beast and yes, even Gaston. And being able to see and experience the story in the live-action style was ... wow. Just wow. I was mesmerized the entire time - and in fact, I was so entirely enthralled that I forgot to write my Hidden Delights as the movie went along! So, having finished it, here are a few of the parts that stuck with me:

Hidden Delights From This Movie:
1. As mentioned before - the casting is STUNNING. Belle was spot on. And Gaston, while still a totally unbearable and idiotic shit of a person, was still completely and utterly dreamy to look at.
2. The freeze scene in the village at the end of the Provincial Life song ... wow.
3."She hasn't made a fool of herself just to gain my favor. What would you call that?"  "Dignity." This exchange between Gaston and Le Fou had me giggling to myself.
4. The entire Be Our Guest sequence was amazing. Synchronized swimming? Come on!
5. The rescue from the wolves, and Belle's momentary struggle with whether or not to leave. The ensuing conversation with the Beast about books, and the gifting of his library had me in full swoon. I was all dreamy-eyed and ... *sigh* ... It was perfect.
6.  The sequence with the dancing and the Tale As Old As Time song and the yellow dress and the ... everything. Ah, be still my heart!
7. The gunshots. Both the first and last ones actually made me sit back and gasp a little. The drama was high at that point and I was so engaged I didn't even hear Eden speaking to me at one point.
8. That last dance in the ballroom, with everything all beautiful again and everyone reunited. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.

I wish I could rate this movie with ten stars. Or sixty. Or a hundred. From the casting to the scenery to the script, right down to the few variations from the original story as I remembered it, this movie was impeccably and undeniably spectacular. In case I haven't been clear enough - it doesn't matter if you're man, woman, or child. If you're a fan of Disney at all, a fan of beautiful stories, great music, and movies that pull off every minuscule detail with utter perfection ... then do yourself a favor. Don't miss this. You simply can't.
Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is in tribute to how very much I adore this movie - and simultaneously, a flash back to my favorite childhood toy. When I was little, my most favorite toy was almost always my Barbie collection - in fact, I loved them so much that I've kept them all for my own daughters to play with! And I'm thinking the next Barbie in our collection will have to be the stunning Belle in her village dress, from Amazon:

$10.75 at the time of this post: click photo to purchase!

Then again, as much as I love Belle, her story just isn't as complete without the Beast and what he meant to her. Truthfully, he has his own arc in the story too - and to be totally honest, his arc is the one most important here - the theme of being beautiful on the inside and putting less focus on outward appearance is one more people should take to heart. So maybe I'll spring for this set instead, and have the Beauty AND her Beast in the family collection, also from Amazon:

$46.63 at the time of this post: click photo to purchase!

Well, but then only having the Beast in his beastly form forgets to acknowledge the power of his love for Belle, and how that love changed his heart and allowed him to return to his true form. Besides, what princess doesn't want her prince? And this set has Beauty AND the Beast, with a human prince and Belle in her beautiful wedding gown - there's no topping that!

$49.95 at the time of this post: click photo to purchase!

Aren't they beautiful? Makes me almost wish I was a little girl again - or that if I were to buy these, I could actually transform myself into the kind of mom who wouldn't cringe watching them get played with. But then ... I could just leave them in the box to look at, right? Secretly?

Hey, a girl can dream.

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
Thanks for stopping by and sticking around to see how much I loved the new Beauty and the Beast movie! If you could relate to my excitement, or if you're just as much of a B&B freak as I am, make sure you let me know in the comments! I always love the chance to connect with my readers, especially if, like me, the library was also one of their favorite parts of the movie!

Feel free to click around and explore; if you enjoy my content and you'd like a closer look at what my life looks like (or if you're just awesome and you'd just like to help me reach some goals), come over and check me out on Patreon! My Patreon subscribers are the people who most literally support my writing (both fiction and non), and to thank them in the best way I know how, I post all sorts of stuff there - from short stories to mini-blogs to podcasts, sneak peeks, and lots of other content. You can even vote on some of the things I post, so if you want in on the action, now's the time to sign up.

But whether you come to Patreon or not, take just a second to make sure you never miss a post here. Patreon may be subscription-based, but the content on this blog is ALWAYS free, so don't forget to subscribe (the subscription form is in the right sidebar)! And whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you again for reading.