It’s not Christmas without a Peppermint Mocha!

Back in May, my husband and I went on a low carb diet to lose weight.

I had zero expectations that we were going to be able to stick to it because… bread. And pasta. And potatoes. And even healthier carbs like black beans and oranges. So we committed for three months.

We had good results and – surprise, surprise! – we did stick to it. Both of us lost weight. And it had an unexpected side effect for me in that it has stabilized my blood sugar. I’ve been hypoglycemic since I was a teenager so it’s felt weird to not have my body take a nosedive if I miss a meal. So we decided to stay on the diet.

I have had a few temptations – yes, those sweet potato fries were really calling my name – but I’ve done pretty well staying on the path, just finding substitutes that are legal and focusing on the things I can have, like real butter on my broccoli. Even at Thanksgiving.

But I hit a serious road bump after Thanksgiving when the Christmas season hit full force. I realized – gulp! – I couldn’t have a peppermint mocha. PMs are what makes the snow and the crowds and the stress of the holidays possible for me without throat punching someone.

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I tried to find a way to still have one but even with almond milk from Starbucks, it was still too many carbs because the almond milk is sweetened. I’ve not had great results with trying hacks at the counter (one person used so much heavy cream that I couldn’t even drink it) and our Starbucks doesn’t have sugar-free mocha or peppermint. And most of the homemade recipes I’ve tried have been just meh. I started to think I would literally have to buy an espresso machine and make them at home, which really wasn’t going to happen because my husband already frowns on my coffee addiction.

To make me even more cranky, not one but two people brought into the office chocolate covered pretzels, which are my favorite – sweet and salty. And I never make them because at my house, I’d be the only one eating them. So in the past, I’ve lived for the moments when I get a chance to have them in doses. But this year, I can’t.  I’ve just had to gaze at them longingly and have one of my coworkers point out that one batch also has a toffee coating. Thanks, Mark.

So I was resigned to spending Christmas in purgatory.

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But my rescuer came from an unlikely place.

I am not a big Walmart fan, especially around Christmas. I will pay a few dollars more or drive out of my way to go somewhere else if I can. But last week, I couldn’t. I live in a small town and I needed a few things that I could only find there. So I sucked it up, went in early and decided while I was there to finish my Christmas shopping. Walmart is also the only place in town that carries the coffee my mom likes so I decided to get some for her Christmas stocking – sshh! Don’t tell – and lo and behold, sitting on the shelf were Great Value Peppermint Mocha coffee pods. On sale. I almost didn’t buy them, sure they would disappoint. I checked the box. No sugar so no carbs. Just like regular coffee. So, still skeptical, I bought a box.

The next day, I tried it out. The fact I use real cream in my coffee, combined with the hints of peppermint and chocolate, did the trick. I even topped it with a little whipped cream. Tasted just like Christmas! So I’ve had one every afternoon this week at work and my holiday mood did a complete 180. Sometimes, it really is the little things that make us happy.

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Hope you all have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Here’s a shocker: I’m not a perfect Christian

When I get feedback from readers, one of the things I hear a lot is that they like Emily because she struggles. Because she blows it sometimes and does things she shouldn’t. Because she can’t get where she wants to be with her faith.

I get it. It’s why I love her, too. Because guess what? I’m not a perfect Christian.

It bothers me – more than a little – when I hear people put themselves on a pedestal and look down on someone else. Whether it’s judging the parent struggling with their child in the store. Or the person struggling with their faith. Or anyone who makes a mistake. It doesn’t matter. I know there are horrible people out there. But most people are trying to do the best they can and sometimes they fail. Sometimes their failures are public, and in this cellphone-recording age it can go viral almost instantly. And I feel for these people because I know I’m not perfect either.

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I am fairly laid back and quiet. But I once had an epic meltdown at the doctor’s office over the way they treated my kids. I mean, it was EPIC! And I cringe to this very day when I think about it. I am so, so glad that a nurse didn’t whip out a cellphone and put that on YouTube because I guarantee it would have gone viral. And I would have looked like a crazy person. When I’m not (most of the time). So when I see those viral videos, I try to remind myself that it is a snap shot in time. We don’t see what happened before or after. We see a tiny little slice of reality that may or may not be an accurate depiction of what happened. But the content of that video will be judged as if it is THE reality. THE truth.

It’s not right.

And I say this because I know I’m not perfect. And neither is anyone else.

You can tell yourself that you are better than someone else from the anonymous spot at your computer screen. But in reality, if you’re judging so severely, I’m thinking you’re probably not a better person. In fact, you could be much worse. And the thing that truly sickens me is when I see this inside the church or from people who profess to be Christians. People acting as if they are perfect and judging others’ sins so harshly.

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Some of my feedback has not been kind about my books, particularly because my world building includes some not-so-nice elements. I’m really OK with that. I knew that could be an issue going into it, but I felt like if I was going to be in Emily’s head, her voice had to be authentic. My experience with both reporters and cops is that they swear a lot. That’s a hard habit to break. Had I not chosen a first person point of view, I may have been able to work around it, but I didn’t so here we are. Because of that, I’m actually a little afraid to tell people I know about my books because I don’t want them to judge me. I was actually quite horrified when the sweet older lady who sits in front of me in church each week and is friends with my mother-in-law found out about my books and downloaded them to her Kindle. But being the very kind person she is, she’s only told me that she loves them, though they are a little scary for her. But she has read every one and regularly asks me if I have anything new yet.

That tells me a lot about her. It tells me she can look at me and not judge my decisions to write about murder or use a few swear words. I’m glad she didn’t tell me that I should write Amish romance novels instead. I’m glad she didn’t tell my mother-in-law that I’m an awful person or, even worse, announce it to the church as a whole. It’s an example of how I should treat others. How we all should treat others. Left to her own devices, she wouldn’t have made the choices I did. But she isn’t judging me for my decisions.

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No one is perfect. So who am I to judge? I only know One perfect person. And it’s definitely not me.

Here’s a scary thought

My goal was to upload “Tangled Web” by today. But that’s not going to happen. It’s so, so close but rather than rush through the last round of edits I’m choosing to finish it right because I want the end product to be as good as it can be.

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On October 1, my plan seemed feasible. Then last week, I worked 11-hour days to get ready for a big project at work and I couldn’t even compile a decent grocery list let alone edit a book. So soon, I promise. I’ll post once it goes live on Amazon and Smashwords.

In the meantime, here’s a random thought. I saw a promotion for an event a couple days ago and the big attraction was a chocolate fountain.

Am I the only one completely skeezed out by the thought of a chocolate fountain?

The very thought of them has always made me queasy so I’ve taken a pass when I’ve seen one because the whole concept just seems wrong.

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Now I love chocolate. Like I don’t think I could live without it. But sharing it like this just sounds so gross. You can’t tell me that people (especially little kids) don’t stick their fingers in the chocolate. Or double dip. Or something even worse I haven’t thought of yet. Eww.

Plus, what do they have to do to the chocolate so it is free flowing? Chocolate should not do that unless it’s hot chocolate. That’s it. Even Hershey’s syrup doesn’t flow like that. And how do you properly clean the equipment used for something like that? And do they reuse the chocolate?

No. Just no. Even though I don’t celebrate Halloween, I guess that’s my scary thought for the day. But now, back to work!

Here’s to New Adventures

My first draft of Book 8, tentatively titled “Tangled Web,” is done.

Whew.

This round of writing included a severe bout of writer’s block about two-thirds of the way through, which surprised me because I knew where the story was going. I just couldn’t figure out how to get there. I got stuck for weeks until I finally worked out the kinks and plowed through to the end. Now starts the editing process, and we’ll see where that takes us.

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May is particularly overwhelming this year, mostly with good things. Among those good things is the fact my oldest son is graduating from college on Saturday.

I don’t tend to be an overly sentimental person, but I’ve been thinking about my son and the changes that are soon to come as he finds a job and moves away. Being my firstborn, C was the one who made me a mom, and unfortunately for him, that meant he bore the brunt of my mistakes and insecurities and fears.

C was a happy baby who loved everyone. He’d go with whoever would play with him without a look back at me. He went through a short phase when he didn’t like men with deep voices but overcame that after a few weeks. He did a complete 180 by the time he was a toddler and thought any man who wore a cowboy hat was a great guy. He would have gladly walked off with a stranger at the store as long as the dude had a Stetson. That fact scared me to the point where I started having a recurring dream about him being kidnapped, and I kept having that dream well into his high school years.

But the flip side of his love for everyone else is that he never clung to me or needed me the way some kids do with their moms. He never had separation anxiety or ran to meet me or cried when I left (I did not realize what a gift that was until my younger son, J, was born, and I had a long stretch of time when I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself). As a young, insecure mom, that kind of stung a bit. Maybe I wasn’t a good enough mom if he found everyone else so much more fun to be with.

He’d happily go play at his grandmas’ houses, even overnight, and never decide he wanted to come home. But he did have one peculiar habit. When I dropped him off, he always asked me what I’d be doing while we were apart. Usually it was going to the store since shopping kidless has to be one of life’s great luxuries at that age. Sometimes it was cleaning the house. Or reading a book uninterrupted. Or watching something on TV that wasn’t Veggie Tales. (To this day, I can still recite long passages of Veggie Tales episodes and know all the words to ‘The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.’) He didn’t seem to care what I was doing. He just wanted to know.

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When he was three, my brother got married in Arizona, literally in the middle of nowhere. The plan was for me to go solo since the place we were staying would not accommodate young kids very well. I weaned J in time for my departure. Both he and C would stay with my in-laws on Friday while my husband took me to the airport, then went to work. They’d stay with Dad on Saturday, then pick me up from the airport on Sunday. I was stressed that J would be cranky while I was gone, given his history of mommy attachment and his recent weaning. It never occurred to me to worry about how C would handle my absence.

A few days before I was supposed to leave, C asked me what I’d be doing while I was gone. He couldn’t understand the concept of Arizona so I got out an atlas and showed him where Arizona was compared to Illinois. He seemed interested in the map so I pointed out where some other family members lived, too. All seemed fine. Until Friday when he completely melted down at my in-laws’ house because he wanted his mom. Arizona, I guess, was just too far away. (J, on the other hand, didn’t miss me at all).

I realized, then, that for C I was not the center of his universe, but I was his safety net. I was the person he trusted to be there when he needed me, allowing him the freedom to explore and go off on his own adventures.

As he grew up, that relationship never changed. And I hope he knows that it never will, even if his new adventures take him much farther away than Arizona.

Let’s (not) talk about sex

A friend at work suggested a book to me a few months ago by an author I’d heard of but never read. This person reads a lot of the same mystery authors that I enjoy so when I saw this book on the shelf in the library, I picked it up without reading the jacket. Prologue was good, but when I moved onto Chapter One, I started getting the feeling that there was more to this book than a whodunit. I read the jacket, then flipped through the pages to confirm what I’d feared. Impossibly beautiful heroine, aggressive alpha male love interest/protector, way too much graphic sex in this novel. So back to the library it went.

I’m sure there are lots of people who find these kinds of books entertaining or romantic or whatever. Personally, they just reinforce my frustration with the entertainment industry at the lack of understanding that sex does not equal romance.

I’m not opposed to a dose of romance with my mysteries. Heck, my own heroine has a love life. I just don’t like books where the end game is going to bed together and the male lead treats the heroine in a rapey/stalkerish manner, hitting every mark on the checklist for potential abusers, all in the name of love. It used to be romantic comedies were romantic. Now, it’s pretty darn hard to find anything like that on bookshelves or on the big or small screen. Now romance is 50 Shades and I just don’t get it.

There are exceptions, of course. Luke Danes from TV’s “Gilmore Girls” can make me swoon not because he’s rich or handsome or tough, but because he’s just a regular guy who’s committed to his gal. Committed to the point where he fixes things around Lorelai’s house, rushes her to the hospital when her dad is sick, offers a shoulder to cry on and throws a huge going away party for her daughter, all while they are not even dating. So what if he wears flannel all the time and is perpetually grumpy? He’s a solid, caring guy.

And let’s look at the love triangle in “The Hunger Games.” Not the movies, which kind of messed up the casting of Gale and Peeta. Gale in the books is a hot head who sometimes pressures Katniss about his feelings for her. He’s been her best friend, which is great, but sometimes he’s kind of a jerk. (Liam Hemsworth made him 100 times more likable in the movies, IMO.) Peeta, on the other hand, is always putting Katniss first, even at the cost of his own life. The flashback to him taking a beating as an 11-year-old to give a starving Katniss some bread is hauntingly beautiful in the books. When she is completely cast out and depressed at the end of Book 3, he joins her in District 12 to plant flowers in her sister’s memory. Sorry Josh Hutcherson, you weren’t a great choice in this role, but in the books, Peeta is the guy who’d I’d want to have my back.

Now I know my opinion isn’t universal here, hence the Team Gale versus Team Peeta thing, but I stand by my thoughts that Peeta is the better guy. Are either Luke or Peeta perfect? Of course not. That would be supremely boring if they were perfect love interests, but their commitment and kindness make them good characters for a little romance.

And when I say romance, I mean just that. Romance is not the same as sex. Nothing ruins a romantic movie or book for me more than an over-the-top sex scene. I get that sometimes sex is part of the story. That’s even true in the Bible – hello, David and Bathsheba. But I don’t want to know the blow-by-blow details. Just a fade to black is fine with me. It doesn’t add anything to the story; I feel like a voyeur watching someone through a hole in the wall. Seriously, I don’t get it.

Can any discussion of romance be complete without a “Pride and Prejudice” reference?

Works like “Pride and Prejudice” have stood the test of time because the romantic writing is just that good. But putting Jane Austen aside, one of the best love scenes I’ve ever seen came in a movie where I wouldn’t have expected it, “The Last Samurai.” I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan and the move is kind of clichéd, but the scene were Taka dresses Nathan Algren before battle is just amazingly intimate without anything really happening. I was so stunned by the level of feeling between the two characters. No words are spoken. They share nothing more than just a light kiss. It definitely helped that the score during this scene was so beautiful, but really the eyes tell the whole story. It was so powerful that after the guys in my house went to bed, I re-watched the scene just to be sure I hadn’t imagined it.

So there’s my rant for the day. Am I crazy to think this? I must be based on the romance novels I see on the shelves, and the movies that continue to get made. But I’d just rather see something that makes me swoon instead of feeling like I need a shower.

 

Sticks and stones…yeah, that’s a lie. Name calling hurts

Last week, I was on a popular news site and noticed an article about a woman being shamed online for being too thin. Right next to an article about a woman being shamed online for being too fat.

Really?  I’m not sure why people think it’s OK to pass judgment on another person’s body. Most people know what they look like and have features they like and dislike about themselves. No one is saying “I had no idea that I had a muffin top! Thanks so much for telling me!” It’s not the same thing as nicely pointing out someone has spinach between their teeth.

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Those that are very thin may want that hourglass figure. Or maybe that person has an eating disorder or is sick and would love to gain some of that weight back. Having someone tell them real women have curves is insulting. What are they? Fake women?

For those of us with excess weight, we know we need to lose it and most of us want to drop a few pounds. Someone telling us we’re lazy and worthless because we don’t wear a size 2 isn’t going to suddenly inspire us to do better.

And just maybe the woman being shamed is happy just the way she is. Maybe she is at what she considers her ideal weight, and she felt great when she posted that picture with her kids at the beach. That snide remark probably ruined her day.

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No matter what our weight issues are, it’s no one’s business. It’s not right for me to comment on a person’s body any more than it is right to tell someone they are a loser if they smoke. Or stereotype someone because of the way they dress. Or make a judgment about them because they have crooked teeth. We all have our issues, some more visible than others. Those issues shouldn’t prevent us from posting our vacation pictures online out of fear that someone will make a derogatory remark.

I’m not sure if it’s the fact that every online retailer courts reviews or if it’s the anonymity of the internet, but more and more, people feel like expressing their every thought and opinion publicly is their right. Even if those words are hurtful. We’re all human and have not-so-nice thoughts. Maybe I see a coworker’s Facebook post and think that the dress she chose for a party isn’t doing her any favors. But there is a huge difference between thinking it and publicly saying that online. All of us with manners know that would hurt her feelings and embarrass her so we’d keep our thoughts to ourselves. But too often, thinking about other people’s feelings goes out the window when commenting online, particularly when the comment is directed at a stranger and there really is no fallout for behaving like an ass.

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I’m often appalled by the viciousness I’ve seen online when it comes to people’s – especially women’s – weight. It’s like carrying extra weight is a deep character flaw on par with kicking puppies and selling drugs to little kids. Or being skinny means you’re a witch. But I wonder, is every woman in the commenter’s life in tip-top physical condition? If the commenter’s mother or daughter was overweight or underweight would he/she want her subjected to that kind of abuse? I’m thinking no.

Can we please start looking at others as human beings and treat them accordingly? Can we agree that a person’s appearance is not the measure of that person’s worth? I’ve met people in all shapes and sizes that are kind and loving. I’ve been treated poorly by people who are drop dead gorgeous as well as by those who aren’t. We all have to learn to live with our exterior flaws or work hard to change what we can; but thankfully, that doesn’t determine how we look on the inside. In that area, we have total control. That’s a choice that we make every day when we decide how to treat one another.

Don’t judge a book … or the person reading the book

The thread started innocently enough.

I was on a popular book site, in a Christian group, following a thread about reading secular authors. The original poster was looking for ideas for secular authors that were readable without being offensive. I bit because while I have a few Christian authors I love, I read a lot of secular fiction, too. And it’s tough finding authors that don’t use the f-word every other sentence or throw in graphic sex scenes. But, it can also be hard to find Christian authors that I can relate to. Some are so saccharine that I can’t handle it. I know that’s not nice, probably a character flaw. But that’s me.

It wasn’t long, however, before the thread degenerated into judging, snarking about what people were reading that wasn’t “Christian” enough. I had initially thrown out my two recommendations – Harlan Coben and John Grisham – but by the time I returned to the thread to look for suggested authors, no one was suggesting. A hostile few had taken over and were judging. One woman proudly detailed that she had flamed a fellow churchgoer on the churchgoer’s personal Facebook page for reading the “50 Shades” series, questioning her salvation. I was appalled — not by the “50 Shades” reader but by the poster.

Sorry…couldn’t resist a little jab.

I personally would never read that series – first, because it’s not my thing but second, because I don’t think God would want me to. But I don’t think it’s up to me to question a person’s faith by what they choose to read, especially not publicly. I can’t imagine how the churchgoer felt being attacked online, in front of her other friends and acquaintances. I doubt she felt convicted. Probably embarrassed. I’m sure she was mostly offended.

One of my favorite Bible passages is in Romans 14 when Paul pretty much tells us to mind our own business when it comes to other Christians and their walks. It was liberating to know that I didn’t have to worry about what others were doing; I just had to focus on what God was teaching me. I’ve started books and been convicted. I’ve shut off TV programs or movies that are disturbing. I know when God is telling me to stay away from a bad situation. Sometimes I don’t listen – behaving like I did when I was 11 and watched “Poltergeist” at my friend’s house when my mom said I couldn’t – but I usually end up with consequences later. Yes, nightmares. Or setting a bad example for my kids. Or just that feeling of disconnect that comes with not obeying God.

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As a church, we need to get out of God’s way and quit judging so much. It’s not helping. Unless you know that you know that you know that God gave you a word to share with someone, keep your mouth shut. And if you do have a word, share it privately. Public flaming does way more harm than good.

The older I’ve become, the more I realize I don’t know all that much, certainly not enough to judge someone else without walking in their shoes. And normally when I falter and fall back to my judgmental nature, I’m usually eating crow not long after. It doesn’t taste good.