Happy Retirement, Dad!

One day during kindergarden I stood before my classmates and shared my favorite “show and tell” to date: “My dad is a Minnesota Viking.” No, not the Scandinavian seafaring warrior type-viking, but a player on the pro-football team. This expose instigated one of many “May I speak with you?” conversations between Mrs. Webster and I. But you see, I wasn’t lying—not on purpose, anyway. At the time my dad worked nights at UPS. When he came to tuck me in, all suited up in his uniform, I thought he looked precisely like the valiant athletes on TV.

If you caught my earlier post today, you know that in the years since, my dad built a successful career with UPS, contributing to work I find far more admirable than football or fame. In honor of his retirement I decided to share one of the many gifts he’s given me: a love of music. The day he introduced me to John, Paul, George and Ringo, I had four fab friends for life—five, if you count my guitar. ;)

When I hear “Norwegian Wood” I don’t think of its literal meaning but what it means to me and my family…much thanks to Dad. Hope you enjoy this recording—me on vocals, my friend Tom Bishel on guitar—and some assorted family photos.


To learn more about Tom and his music, check out his Facebook page.

HAPPY RETIREMENT, DAD! Lots of love… August

If you’d like to add your retirement wishes, I’m sure my dad would love to hear them!

Leaping Smart: Useful Steps for Authors

“Leap, and the net will appear.”
—John Burroughs

I’m a big fan of leaping toward our dreams, fueled up on faith and determination. If we hold off, waiting for that “net”—i.e., the perfect job offer, mate or opportunity, it may never appear. That said, effective leaping takes a lot more than gusto and springy legs.

Today marks the end of a near 40-year career for someone I admire and respect more than most anyone—my dad. His dedication and commitment to UPS, the company he’s worked for, is something we can all learn from. He worked his way up from loading packages to landing and managing top, international accounts. He created and nurtured friendships with coworkers, treated (and still treats) everyone he encountered with equal respect and never let his work come before his family.

Far more than an end, Dad’s retirement is a beginning—one he’s anticipated and planned for with thoughtfulness, organization and, I sense, glee. He didn’t leap too soon, after frustrating days or times, or too late, out of fear of what lay ahead. In other words, he’s a smart and savvy leaper.

In honor of this landmark day, here are six ways we authors can learn to leap smart, increasing our odds of living happily and creatively ever after.

Leap Smart Steps for Authors

1. Listen to your instincts. Research shows that our instincts frequently strike us first on a visceral level, relaying important information before our consciousness catches up. In other words, there are valid reasons your gut tells you to focus more on craft, quit your day job or start that new creative work. If we rationalize ourselves out of listening, we may never discover what we’re capable of. To hone in on our instincts, buddhist physician Dr. Alex Lickerman recommends we take pause and listen for that inner-voice; awareness can go a long way. I’ve also found journaling, therapy, quiet hikes and talking to loved ones helpful.

2. Don’t self-publish out of desperation. You’ve slaved over that novel, read, revised it and shared it with trusted, well-read friends who gave it a unanimous thumbs-up! And dang-nabbit, you want it published. So you send out twenty e-queries and a week later, you’ve received ten replies, all rejections. A smart leaper views this as a natural part of the process, ten ‘noes’ toward a ‘yes.’ The not-so-swift leaper heads straight to PublishItNow.com and sends an email blast announcement to friends: “I’m published!” There are loads of terrific reasons to self-publish. Desperation is not one of them.

3. Practice patience. Whenever I reach the end of a draft, my inclination is to send it, print it, share it! When I’ve done so, I’ve found loads of errors and other reasons I should have waited. When we rush, we run the risk of bypassing our instincts, acting on desperation and producing low-quality work. When a flurry of “Must do it now!” strikes, take a breath. Passion and eagerness are great attributes. Add patience to the mix and you’re gold. For a dose of inspiration, check out Marc Schuster’s post, A Setback Circa 2004—a great example of perseverance paying off.

4. Trust the process. Many “overnight success” stories derive from years of hard work. Envying others’ success or wallowing in frustration (“It’s not FAIR! I’ve been working so hard and so long!”) are counterproductive. Invest time and energy into steady progress instead. Write routinely. Take craft and career pointers from qualified professionals. Then write and write some more. Slow and steady also wins the race when it comes to building social media platforms. In 10 Ways to Improve Your “Likability” Quotient, Kristen Lamb shows us why the quality of our readers and connections trumps quantity big time.

5. Savor the leap! Once you decide to leap, whether toward more daily writing, a new creative venture or less hours at your day job, do it with gusto! Share the accomplishment with friends. (Yes, leaping is an accomplishment in itself.) It’s natural to experience some level of nervousness post-leap. (“Agh!!! What did I just do?!?”) Taking time to reflect on how far you’ve come, what you foresee in the future and celebrating it all can work like chamomile tea for anxiety. For insight on keeping our fears of failure and success at bay, read Marcy Kennedy’s post, Icarus and My Fear of the Sun.

6. Get to work. Even smart leaps will land us on the pavement if we fail to follow them up with necessary work. Sitting around wondering if you’ll finish that book, surfing the internet or partying too long in post-leap glory won’t put words on the page. Leaping takes time, but reaching our full potential as authors takes a heck of a lot more.

What about you? Have you taken a big leap? Are you considering one? Any suggestions to add? I always love hearing your thoughts!

Happy Leap Year! I hope you do something to make yours special.

Filmmaker Diane Israel on Beauty, Healing & Feeling to Be Free

If I had one Oscar to award this year or anytime, I’d give it to Diane Israel. I first met Diane at the National Eating Disorders Association conference in 2008. Of the countless seminars, films, speakers and wonderful people I encountered, none have stuck with or touched me as much as Diane or her award-winning film, Beauty Mark.

During her career as a world-class triathlete, Diane fought a far tougher competition with her body and self. Her decade-plus battle with anorexia caused physical and emotional trauma and could have taken her life; instead, she’s healed and turned it into a perceivable universe of good will, hope and inspiration.

As a filmmaker, psychotherapist, speaker and activist, Diane uses her skills and experience to brighten and enhance others’ lives. Beauty Mark is a courageous, personal film that brings context to her healing and features stories and insight from athletes, fashion models, inner-city teens and renowned authors, including Naomi Wolf and Eve Ensler. (For a sneak peak, check out the trailer below.)

With both the Oscars and National Eating Disorders Awareness Week upon us, I can’t think of a better time to celebrate Diane and her wisdom.

AM: What inspires you to share your story…reach out to others in such a personal way?

DI: My early years were filled with pain and confusion. I lived with daily fear and anxiety and it got projected on everything—the weather, school, my dog, my family… I felt like I lived on a playing field with no directions or rules. What I have discovered in going through so much pain and difficulty is it all counts. Nothing is for nothing. Now, at 52, I wouldn’t not return any of it. (We can’t anyway. Have you tried???)

So after working my butt off in so many directions—therapy, reading, support from friends and family, life experience and growing into myself, I want to share and give back. This is why I am alive and I feel we all are service. Joseph Campbell called it “the return” when we go through our “dark night of the soul” and want to share what we learned.

I love to share the lessons I’ve learned and what really works because there is a formula that I believe works: Feel and you will be free. Sounds simple but it’s not. It takes lifetime practice because we have preferences. We like to hang on to what feels good and move away from what feels bad, yet the freedom is in riding the waves of this incredible varied life.

AM: Beauty Mark is unlike any film I’ve ever seen. How did it come into fruition?

DI: Beauty Mark came out of my mission, energy and incredible passion to understand why we as a culture are so obsessed with beauty and, on a deeper level, how much energy and time we invest in it when there are so many incredible, precious things to focus on, like love, helping others, supporting our earth and creating new models to support the planet’s healing. 

When I heard that these incredibly powerful women at Women’s Quest camp wanted to fit into a smaller pair of jeans and did not want their kids to have eating disorders even though they all hated their bodies, I became livid and said I have to make a film. I had to understand what to me felt insane. I have to help. And if Michael Moore can do it why can’t I? And so, having never made a film and knowing nothing about it, I set out on a five-plus year journey to make Beauty Mark. And wow, did I wake to myself up and gain a deeper understanding of the role of the media, culture, our biology and so many aspects of being human. What an exploration.

AM: Why is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 26th – March 3rd) important, whether we have experience with an eating disorder or not?

NEDAW is important for the support in what I call the shared club of life. We all need community. For those of us with eating disorders, it is a time to get education, find comrades, to feel not alone and to heal. NEDAW is also a week to talk about these issues and, this is key, to break the shame, break the silence and know you are not alone, that we have access to help and resources we did not have 40 years ago.

When we realize that we are not alone and have so many folks around the world that understand and live with what we know and think is unique, it  helps to bring us home to ourselves.

AM: You and I chatted recently about orthorexia—an obsession with healthy eating. It’s estimated that millions of Americans struggle with disordered eating, without developing a full-fledged ED. 

DI: Correct. When we are not at home with ourselves we turn to things in our environment in attempt to make us feel okay, feel whole. Our culture is designed, it seems to me, to focus on the doing and not the being human. We need both to thrive. In the doing we find orthorexia—if I don’t eat “abc” then I will be okay. Deprivation often seems like a virtue in our culture. I have found that we all are okay. We just don’t think we are, and then we are not. The culture makes its living off of those of us who believe we are broken and need to be fixed.

AM: What can we do to help make the world we live in a more accepting place—where we accept not only others, but our selves? 

DI: Start with yourself end with yourself. Then get out of yourself and serve. Remember how awesome you are, that you were born awesome and you will die awesome. This acceptance of everything that you are, the entire package, will serve you well. What are you becoming? What are you living with this one wild and precious life?

AM: What would you say to someone in the depths of an eating disorder now?

DI: I would say you are where you are and it will change because life changes. Looking back, my eating disorder was one of my biggest teachers. Ask yourself how you can heal and get the support and help you need. I think a really big view here is to not see our ED as a monster or terrible thing. It is an expression of ourselves crying out to transform and to recreate ourselves. Most of us live with some addiction in this society. But we are not problems! We are not just sick. We are on a mission to wake up and be who we are. And most of us need support and help in knowing how to do this. I wasn’t given a map—were you?

I am honored to share my heartfelt expression with you all. This is just my own experience and ideas if it speaks to you awesome if not throw it out. I am grateful to have this opportunity to open my heart and soul with you. We are all in this incredible human family together. Welcome to the up and down and all around ride.

To learn more about Diane Israel and her ventures, visit BeautyMarkMovie.com and follow her on Twitter: @DianeIsrael.

*****

Isn’t she phenomenal?!? I hope you’ll all take time this week to consider not only people struggling with eating disorders, but what you can do to make like Diane—live more fully, learn from your struggles and recognize your awesomeness. What struck you about her insight? Were you intrigued by the trailer? How do you use your own challenges to help others?

Deadlines: Lifelines for Writers

If you sit around waiting for inspiration, it may never come.

I met an author—let’s call him “Larry”—at a conference last year whose first novel, part one of a trilogy, was soon to come out. When I asked how the second was coming along, he said he didn’t feel much urgency since his deadline lay a year out. Once his publisher set that deadline, his work slowed down—in fact, it stopped.

Perhaps Larry, like many of us, works well under pressure. He may complete the manuscript in two or three months and do a fine job. I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so, however, for several reasons. First, taking too much time off from writing can lead to creative atrophy. Once we restart, it may take a while to warm back up to our usual groove. Second, all of those months off are months that could contribute to sharpened writing skills. And third, if Larry only takes a few months to complete one novel, why not finish the next two in the series sooner? The more quality work we complete, the better.

I’m not sure which contributes more to my adoration of deadlines—my work as a journalist or the on-time-is-late gene I inherited from my dad. In either case, I believe deadlines can serve as a lifeline for most writers. Here’s why:

1) Sitting around waiting for our muse to appear is impractical. Sure, being struck with wicked inspiration is awesome. But complacency can block inspiration, in my opinion. When I worked as an actress, I used slow months to create film projects of my own. When times were slow at a magazine I worked for, I wrote additional articles and submitted my work to other publications. And you know what? The work inspired me. It still does. The more routinely we sit down and write, the more inspiring we’ll find the act of doing so. Deadlines, whether set by us or others, helps keep us focused. We have little choice but to work.

2) The Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, the more time we have to complete a project, the longer it will take us to complete it. If Larry set his own deadline of six months rather than twelve and took it seriously, he’d probably meet it. The same goes for all of us.

3) Honing the practice of deadline-keeping promotes professionalism. I wouldn’t be surprised if the interest some agents expressed in representing me stemmed from the skill set journalism requires. One even said, “Ah, so you’re good with deadlines.” (Are you kidding? We’re like BFFS. ;)) Fortunately, you don’t need to work with editors, agents or publishers to get your deadline skills in order.

Tips for Setting Your Own Deadlines and Making them Work

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.” — Les Brown

Choose realistic dates. If our deadlines are too far off, we may make like Larry and feel no sense of urgency. They can then sneak up us, causing crazy stress, weakened self confidence or total surrender. (“I give up!”) If our deadlines are too short, we run the risk of little things getting in the way or overwhelming ourselves, which again may inspire us to give up. Deadlines should trigger anticipation and enthusiasm, not panic.

Allow for some wiggle room. I generally have about a week to finish feature articles. I give myself a deadline of two to three days. This way, I have plenty of time for unexpected delays and to review my work with fresh eyes before submitting it. And my editors know that I work fast, so if a short turn around piece arises, I’m a realistic candidate. If you feel confident that you can complete a project in six weeks, take seven or eight. Or set a rough draft deadline of six weeks and a final deadlines of seven.

Set incremental deadlines. If your goal is finishing a novel in one year, setting weekly or monthly goals of a certain amount of work time, pages, words or “chunk” can be helpful. I personally don’t dig goals of specific words or pages because quality matters more to me than quantity. But you should do what works best for you.

Create accountability. The more often you set and meet deadlines, the more likely you’ll be to take them seriously, simply by thinking or stating them. If you need more accountability, try joining or starting a critique or writers group. (FYI, choose critique groups with caution. Taking feedback from a bunch of writers can help or hinder our work. What you want is accountability, not a bunch of contradicting opinions.) Or use the buddy system with a fellow reader or writer. Each week or month, share or exchange x-number of pages, chapters or whatever quality work you’ve churned out.

Reward yourself, but don’t punish. Once you meet a deadline, reward yourself with a day off, new book or whatever else strikes your fancy. If your deadline draws near and you’re way behind, set a new one—preferably not too far off. The beauty of setting our own deadlines is that we can remain flexible. In many cases, editors, agents and publishers will allow extra time if you explain in advance that a few more days or weeks would allow greater work quality. Quality often trumps meeting specific dates.

So, I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts. What do you like or dislike about deadlines? Any points to add? Experiences to share? Challenges we can help you manage? Share, share away…

Foods for a Beautiful Brain

beau·ti·ful/ˈbyo͞otəfəl/

  1. Pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically.
  2. Of a very high standard; excellent.                                        —Dictionary.com

Based on our recent discussion, many of us value our inner-beauty over external, but agree that both are important. Well guess what. Eating well promotes both in our brains. Consider this example:

A growing body of research shows that a healthy dietary lifestyle guards against Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia and cognitive decline, while boosting overall mental sharpness—in some cases, immediately. (Woo hoo, right???)

To increase your odds of sharp, long-lasting brain function, eat a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. When you indulge in sweets, fried foods or other low-nutrient fare, enjoy it and practice moderation. As I suggested in my Dodge Dieting post, the 80/20 rule works well—aiming for about 80 percent nutritious foods and 20 percent “play” foods.

Ten Brain-Boosting Super Stars:
Fortunately, there are loads of brain-beautifying foods. Here are some of my favorites. ;)

1. Berries Numerous studies have linked berry consumption with brain health. Berries provide valuable amounts of water and fiber, both of which promote positive energy levels between meals, and potent antioxidants, which support strong immune and brain function. Tip: Stock up on whatever berries are in season and keep unsweetened frozen berries on hand year round. They make awesome additions to oatmeal, baked goods and smoothies.

2. Broccoli Broccoli appears on countless superfoods lists, and for good reason. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, rich in antioxidants and a chemical that may enhance brain healing, according to a Journal of Neuroscience report. Tip: Steam, rather than microwave or boil, broccoli to retain nutrients.

3. Leafy Greens Diets high in folate are linked with a lowered risk for cognitive decline. Leafy greens, like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, mustard greens, are high in folate. They also provide ample fiber. Tip: Buy dark, leafy greens with every shopping trip. If you fear you won’t finish them before they spoil, chop remaining leaves up and freeze them in air-tight containers for use in soups, stews, pasta dishes and more.

4. Potatoes Yes, that’s right. I said potatoes. Our beloved spuds have gained a bad reputation, both due to the way many people prepare them and the risky low-carb diet craze. But potatoes, whether russet or sweet, provide complex carbohydrates—your brain’s and body’s main fuel source. Potatoes are also rich in potassium—an electrolyte important for brain function, fiber and tryptophan—an amino acid that helps your brain create the feel-good brain chemical, serotonin. (Nope, turkey isn’t the only source.) Tip: For healthy “fries,” coat sliced potato into rounds with canola or olive oil cooking spray then bake them at 350 deg. until they appear golden.

5. Popcorn As one of the most nutritious whole grains, popcorn provides valuable amounts of fiber, which helps keep our blood sugar and energy level, B-vitamins, which promote positive energy levels, and antioxidants that help stave off infections and disease. Tip: Season air-popped popcorn with natural herbs or try it dessert-style, sprinkled lightly with cinnamon and stevia or cane sugar.

6. Salmon The healthy omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, and other fatty fish, don’t simply promote more positive heart-health. They play a key role in brain function. And because our bodies can’t produce them, they way they produce other fats, we must get them through food. Consuming too few omega-3s can cause lethargy, fatigue, memory problems and depressive moods. (Blech.) Tip: The American Heart Association recommends eating 3.5 oz of fatty fish (about the size of a deck of cards) at least twice per week.

7. Flaxseeds Flaxseeds are top plant sources of omega-3s. They also contain ample fiber, protein and antioxidants. If you don’t eat fatty fish routinely, incorporate flaxseeds into your diet. Even if you do eat fish, flaxseeds can enhance your diet. Tip: Add ground flaxseeds to other healthy foods, like smoothies, whole grain cereal, bran muffins and yogurt. For freshness, keep ground seed in your refrigerator.

8. Green Tea Some researchers believe that moderate amounts of caffeine can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and boost mental sharpness. Green tea provides caffeine and lots of other perks, such as plentiful antioxidants. An animal study published in Biogerontology in 2006 linked daily green tea consumption with better sustained memory capabilities. Tip: Brew a pot of green tea to enjoy hot or chilled. For added flavor and nutrients, add lemon or apple slices. (YUM!) If you’re sensitive to caffeine or drink tea late in the day, opt for caffeine-free.

9. Peanut Butter While all nuts are nutritious, peanuts provide more healthy fats than most. Peanut butter is also filling, convenient and rich in satiating fiber. Researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered that eating peanut butter five days per week does a lot to prevent heart attacks. Snacking on peanut butter, instead of other snack foods, has also been linked with better weight and appetite control. Tip: If you don’t like or tolerate peanuts, substitute almond butter, which is particularly rich in calcium.

10. Dark Chocolate (I repeat, YUM!!!) In addition to deliciousness, dark chocolate provides protective plant chemicals called flavanols. Research headed up by Ian MacDonald, a professor at the University of Nottingham, found that consuming cocoa rich in flavanols boosts blood flow to important brain areas for up to three hours. Tip: Feeling low, yet work calls? Eat several squares of dark chocolate. If you have difficulty sticking to modest portions, keep chocolate in your freezer or buy single portions.

Fabulous Foodie Fun:
Violets and Cardamom’s recipe for Oatmeal Breakfast Bars and Muffins provides a fun, tasty way to get brain-boosting nutrients from whole grains, flaxseeds and almond butter at breakfast.
Write On, Jana! brings us nutritious, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Cinnamon Rolls. I’m salivating over these babies!
For more chocolate-loving fun, check out Tameri Etherton‘s Chocolate, the Language of LOVE.

Do you consider brain-health when approaching your diet? Are you a fan of these foods? Feel free to share your nutrition questions or challenges. I LOVE hearing from you and am eager to offer support.

Make Like Dorothy: BOAW BlogFest Wrap Up

Dorothy: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?
Glinda: You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.
Dorothy: I have?
Scarecrow: Then why didn’t you tell her before?
Glinda: Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.

This scene from Wizard of Oz that seems dandy to many of us as kids, grows profound with maturity. In fact, the entire story has been picked apart, analyzed and celebrated by philosophers, psychologists, grad students and celebrities alike due to its powerful themes and messages. And does it ever suit the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest.

While the BOAW stories are as unique and varied as their authors, every participant shares an attribute with Dorothy: You’re all beautiful.

Why Dorothy is Beautiful (And You Are, Too)

1. Even in the face of horrendous storms, she dreams BIG and lets her dreams carry into a magical world.

2. She chooses to embark upon a journey through the unknown.

3. In times of duress, fearing “lions and tigers and bears—oh my!,” she sings, dances and moves on. Even her sassy red heels can’t keep her stoic. ;)

4. She sees past the differences in others, befriending everyone from a man made of tin to multi-colored munchkins.

5. She’s kind to animals. (Some philosophers have theorized that Toto represents her intuition.)

6. As that “little voice” within grows louder, she listens to it, investigates and responds.

7. She brave enough to confront witches and an overbearing man hidden behind loudspeakers.

8. As she moves closer to her destination, she and little Toto are captured. But she never stops hoping or searching. No matter what.

9. Against many odds, she’s the heroine of her own life. (When Frank Baum’s novel first came out in 1900, female heroines were unheard of.)

10. Dorothy discovers that her power lies within; it has been all along. As she learns this, her world fills with color. She awakens, having bid farewell to the “old her,” and shares her newfound brightness with others. (Sound familiar??? It should… ;))

When my instincts suggested I share my personal story then invite others to celebrate real beauty, my internal naysayer-voice whispered, “Are you sure you want to? Do you even know what you’re doing?” There were reasons behind my inclinations, I figured; whether I knew the specifics or not didn’t matter. So with perspiring palms, I typed forward. And lordy, have y’all ever made it worthwhile. More than that, you created something incredible.

While I’m still learning to listen to and trust my inner voice, your responses and support are affirmations that I’m on the right path. THANK YOU for sharing of yourself and inspiring so many—me included.

The more we hone in on our instincts, the stronger they become, turning coarse, dusty bricks into gold. The naysayers become the creepy dude/dudette behind the curtain. And the proper path becomes a no-brainer.

May we all ‘make like Dorothy’ and know that all the beauty, growth and confidence we seek lies within. Once we access it, even our wildest dreams become practical.

Now…on with the prizes!
Based on this morning’s name drawing, I’m thrilled to announce the following recipients!

Signed copy of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone from Coleen Patrick
Winner: Audrey Kalman

Enrollments to Simply Creating Fictional Characters, a 2-month creative writing class instructed by Sharon K. Owen
Winners: BoJo Photo, Kristine Parker, David (FiveReflections), Jessica O’Neal & Nadja

Amazon.com gift card ($15) & 1 – Starbucks gift card ($10) from Kara Flathouse
Winners: Amazon.com—Sulthana; Starbucks—Diane Capri

Week of Animal Training via Email from Serena Dracis
Winner: Karen McFarland

Hard or E-Copy of The Golden Sky from EC Stilson
Winner: Katie (Oracular Spectacular)

Enlightening Stories Tele-class/E-course: Discover the Power of Writing from Julie Jordan Scott
Winner: Sheila Seabrook

10-Page Critique from best-selling author/social media guru, Kristen Lamb.
Winner: Debra Eve

E-book copies of The Bridge Club, from author, Patricia Sands
Winner: Julie Jordan Scott

BOAW mugs filled with whole grain blueberry brownies
Winners: Marcy Kennedy & Susie Lindau

Body image coaching session via Skype or phone with Karen R. Koenig
Winner: Sharon Howard

Kindle Touch (or $99 Amazon.com gift card)
Winner: Lynn Kelley

What Dorothy-like quality do you possess? Which do you admire? What aspect of the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest surprised, touched or thrilled you most? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts. :)

Beauty of a Woman BlogFest

I first read Sam Levinson’s “The Beauty of a Woman” during a dark time in my life and repeatedly as I journeyed out. In honor of the poem and its message, I’m thrilled to welcome you to the first ever Beauty of A Woman BlogFest!

Since the posts began rolling in yesterday, it’s felt like Christmas and Valentine’s Day combined; each love-filled post is a gift as unique and insightful as its author—to all of whom I’m in awe. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself lost in the words and stories, shed a few tears and laugh until your belly aches. I hope you find them as inspiring, hilarious and thought-provoking as I did.

To participate, simply click on the following links—all of them or whichever strike your fancy. Then pop back here, post a comment and share this page via Twitter, Facebook and/or your own blog. I’ll put your name in a drawing for each shout out (maximum of 4) and for commenting and announce the winners on Monday. Prizes include a Kindle Touch, gift cards, books, body image coaching by Karen R. Koenig, dog training, a 10-page writing critique by Kristen Lamb, healthy sweets, e-classes and BOAW mugs. For more details on the prizes, click here.

Without further ado, let the fun begin!

Emma Burcart: What Is Beauty?
Serena Dracis: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Cynthia Cheng Mintz: Beauty of a Woman or How I Came to Accept My Petiteness
Cynthia Cheng Mintz: Beauty of a Woman: Trying to Embrace My Cinderella Feet
Louise Behiel: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest 2012
Kara Flathouse: Dear Daughters, A Beautiful Heart is Yours
Shannon Esposito: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest! 

Ginger Calem: Dear Thighs…We need to talk.
Julie Hedlund: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Sharon Howard: What is Beauty?
Amber West: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Kristine Parker: The Beauty of My Mother
Susie Lindau: Reflected Addiction
Karen Koenig: Why Can’t Our Bodies Be Okay?
Tamara (FitNitChick): The Last Time I Felt Beautiful 


Nisha (NM): Discovering the Joy of Mascara and Other Fun Stuff
Write On, Jana!: What Makes a Woman Beautiful?
Kecia Adams: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: The Beauty of Aggression
Coleen Patrick: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Marcy Kennedy: The Lie of Helen of Troy
Debra Kristi: Defining Beauty of a Woman
Lena Corazon: Discovering My Beauty Through Writing

Prudence MacLeod: Beauty of a Woman
Myndi Shafer: I Am Beautiful…Just The Way I Am
Liz: the beauty of a woman.
E.C. Stilson: What is True Beauty?
Alicia Street: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Sheila Seabrook: The Beauty Within
Ingrid Shaffenburg: Love Thy Temple 

Julie Jordan Scott: You Are Beautiful—From the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Debra Eve: Unearthing the Beauty of a Woman
Sharon K. Owen: The Beauty of a Woman
Shanjeniah: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest 2012
Patricia Sands: You’re Beautiful, Just the Way You Are
C. Nicole White: Secret Envy
Mollie Player: I Can’t Admit I Like Chubby Girls

Proud2BMe: Everyone is Beautiful!
Katie (Oracular Spectacular): Beauty of Being a Woman: BlogFest 2012
Kristen Lamb: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest—Making Peace with My Thunder Thighs
Stephanie D: New Dimensions – Beauty of a Woman BlogFest
Samantha Warren: Just As You Are
Audrey Kalman: Tribute to a Different Kind of Beauty
Julia B. Whitmore: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: Dye Baby, Dye

What did you think of the fest? How do you define beauty? Have a quip or tale to add? Share your thoughts as a comment below for a chance at the fab prizes!

Thanks for making the BOAW BlogFest an uplifting success!
You are all beautiful butterflies.

Special Announcement: Celebrate Beauty & Win Fab Prizes

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is beauty? What does it mean to you? When do you feel beautiful?

Though I’m a big fan of getting gussied up on occasion, even my most “glam” days in the fashion industry can’t compare to the beauty I feel now. (No makeup required for this kind of beauty. See??? ;))

The Em-meister, as I like to call him, was right. Beauty isn’t something we can buy, apply, chase after, whittle ourselves down for or attract. It’s within each of us and grows when we seek, accept and embrace it.

If you’re so inclined, visit my blog this Friday, February 10th to participate in the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest. Tour the links to over thirty fantastic blog pieces, composed by some of the most talented writers in the blogosphere. Then post a comment on my page for a chance to win a Kindle Touch, gift cards, books and more.

For additional chances at prizes, promote the fest via Twitter, Facebook and/or your blog. For each promotional shout out (between now and Friday) and comment (on Friday), your name will be entered into the prize drawing, for a maximum of 4 chances. For 2 more chances, enter the fest as a blogger. (Today is the last day for signups.)

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”  —Maya Angelou

Hope you’ll spread your wings and party with us! Any questions, drop me a note. :)

LSR #7: Pursuing Passion

pas·sion/ˈpaSHən/ Strong and barely controllable emotion. N.

—Dictionary.com

Before I transitioned from acting/modeling/writing to writing full-time, I felt like I was in a polygamist marriage of four in a house made for two. Once I filed for “divorce” (ex-nayed the first two), I hit what some might call…popularity. I called it turbulence.

The acting career I’d been neglecting, after months of angst over lost passion, ignited. I was in higher demand than I’d been in ages. What, were the thousands of other actress on strike??? I tried to ignore agents’ calls, but they kept coming. And the more I ignored, the more prevalent they became.

One day my theatrical rep called with a “huge” opportunity. “I know you’re thinking of ending your contract,” he said, “but you’re a shoe-in for this. They asked for you specifically. Please, tell me you can make it… For me?”

Ugh! Wah! I don’t wanna!  “Sure, if it’s that important to you,” I said, shunning myself for caving in. I felt like a hypocritical brat.

Shortly thereafter, my commercial agent called:  “Hey, remember that yoga casting last month?” (Uh, the one I hoped I wouldn’t get?) “The client wants to check your availability for tomorrow.”

And so I surrendered to one more day of pounding the Hollywood pavement—a fit model job followed by a director’s meeting for a primetime show. I could put the modeling cash toward writing expenses, I rationalized. They said it shouldn’t take more than an hour. Maybe I’d write about an actress one day. Chalk the audition up to research. I even went so far as to meet with my acting coach to prepare.

The “short” modeling job went loong, landing me with a hefty parking ticket and audition tardiness. The time and money I’d spent preparing the three-page monologue in part-woman/part-alient dialect went down the tubes when a “star name” arrived at the studio. The casting director shrieked, hugged her and brought her in ahead of me. When I had my chance an hour later, I was ready to put all of my frustration into that monologue. (Take that!)

“Just give me the last two lines, Amber,” the CD instructed, barely looking up.

“It’s August,” I said.

“Huh?” she replied. “Oh, right. Go ahead, Autumn.”

Grrr…I considered improvising—something like: $%*($#(%*&*&(#*$&%($#*%&!!!! Instead, I recited the lines like a learning-to-read robot in need of a battery recharge and walked out, more certain than ever that my heart belonged with the page.

The whole ordeal felt a test from the universe, God, Buddha and Mother Earth combined, assessing whether I was really up for the career change.

So when my agent phoned with a call-back request—the CD must’ve been smoking crack—I declined. I felt terrible saying “no.” I respect and like the guy and he’d put energy and work into my career and this audition. But if I didn’t learn from my earlier choices, I’d learn soon. And my gut told me that the repercussions of repeat choices would be harsher.

The next day, when I could have been alien-ing it out at the call-back, I finished the first draft of my first novel. Tears filled my eyes as I typed the last word, confidant I’d made the right decision.

All goals and dreams require some amount of sacrifice. Prioritizing our passion can feel selfish, but it’s the farthest thing from it.

How would you feel if your favorite author never scripted her series because she chose to pursue a job she hated and spent all of her free time cleaning, partying or running errands for friends? What if Mozart, the Beatles or Elvis chose accounting careers because the arts seemed foolish?

We have a responsibility to nurture and prioritize our passions, particularly if we desire successful careers. 

Like the other Lifesaving Resolutions, pursuing our passions can help save or elongate our lives. Numerous studies have linked happiness and job satisfaction with boosted physical and emotional health. Researchers at the University College London found that happy people are 35 percent less likely to die within the next five years compared to their less giddy counterparts. Happy people are also more likely to eat well, keep up with physical and dental exams, practice gratitude and exercise.

“Generally, people flourish when they’re doing something they like and what they’re good at,” said Daniel H. Pink, author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” in an interview with the New York Times. Put another way, following our hearts and working our butts off lends itself to financial and overall success.

I’ve found this to be true time and time again. Within weeks of cutting ties with the acting and fashion worlds I had new writing clients. Six months later, I met my soon-to-be literary agent—during a time I would have been in Sweden, had I accepted a TV gig. And I’m far from a solitary case.

A few famous examples: Susie Orman started her career as a broke waitress. Walt Disney was an ambulance driver. Brad Pitt handed out flyers in a chicken suit. Robin Williams began as a street mime. And before her mystery writing success, Mary Higgins Clark was a single, full-time working mother of five. A common thread among these successful celebs is the desire, willingness and commitment to pursuing their passion.

Whether you’re passionate about writing, painting, dancing, singing, ping pong or marketing, I believe the following steps can help fuel your passion, increasing your odds of health, happiness and success.

Eight Ways to Pursue Your Passion with Gusto

1. Talk about it. Having a passion means we’re crazy-hyped up about something. Sharing it with others amplifies our excitement, motivating us to forge on. We gain and give ideas and plant our enthusiasm and commitment more firmly in our minds. And you never know where the conversation may lead. (Charlize Theron met her agent at a bank.)

2. Learn to say no. Before our passions become full-time careers, others may not take them seriously. But we should. When I write, I’m working. This means that, barring emergencies, I’m not available to tend to the neighbors’ cat (cute as she is), pick up the dry-cleaning (bare as the closet may be) or meet a friend on the opposite side of town for lunch (fun as it sounds).

3. Limit distraction. Phone calls, Facebook, Twitter and web surfing all have places in our lives and, in many ways, help our careers. But spending more time social networking and promoting and less time creating work we can promote is counterproductive. Commit to working in a work-friendly, distraction-free environment whenever possible.

4. Congregate with passionate people. Passion is contagious! Spending time with other passionate folks boosts our morale, inspires passion-geared conversations and makes for an overall better existence. Conferences, aerobics classes, upbeat church services, Twitter #MyWANA conversations (for writers) and motivational speaker events are great places to start.

5. Don’t let others—or you—get you down. Negativity is also contagious. Passion and success can stir up envy, harsh criticism and greed in others. These aren’t the people we best hang out with or listen to. Our own fears and insecurities can function similarly. Keep a distance from negative influences. If it’s you, consider an attitude makeover or “check up from the neck up.” ;) Talk to supportive friends and keep moving forward. Eventually, your emotions will catch up with your proactivity.

6. Study others’ success. As soon as I started writing my first novel, I purchased and read How I Got Published: Famous Authors Tell You in Their Own Words. While I wasn’t sure how my own path would pan out, reading others’ tales inspired me on multiple levels. We can learn oodles from our successful forefathers/mothers.

7. Give back. Having passion generally means we have something to give—our energy, knowledge, talents… Volunteer to share your talents with others. Support the work of others with similar passions. When it comes to social media, sharing of ourselves and supporting others are the BEST ways to go. To learn more, visit best-selling author/social media guru Kristen Lamb’s fantastic post: Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books.

8. Just do it. Suddenly quitting one job to pursue a passionate alternative isn’t always realistic, easy or wise. But whether your passions fall into the brand-spanking-new or hobby categories or you’ve been plugging away at or resisting them for years, action is necessary and doable, as in right now, today.

More rockin’ resources:
The Year to Slay Your Dragon: Ingrid Shaffenburg inspires us to get rid of heavy breathing “dragons” and dream big.
2012 and Planning for Success in the New YearKristen Lamb provides practical tips and inspiration for goal setting and seeking.
Gene Lempp’s Goals and Gremlins, posted on Lyn Midnight’s blog, reminds us to share our goals and allow some wiggle room.
Entrepreneur magazine: Steve Jobs and the Seven Rules of Success, by Carmine Gallo
Oprah.com: What to do if You Can’t Find Your Passion, by Elizabeth Gilbert

What do you do to empower to your passion? What additional steps are you willing to commit to? Any areas you struggle with? I’d love to cheer you on.

Speaking of PASSION, this Friday, I’ll be cheering talented bloggers on as part of the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest. If you’d like to participate by sharing a story or donating a prize, click here. To participate as a cheerleader and have a blast, visit my blog Friday. You just might win a Kindle/$99 Amazon.com gift card or other fab prizes! :)

LSR #5: Groovy Moving

Of the countless available writing guidelines, I believe that one applies to all of us. We hafta write. Sure, we might daydream up some doozies of stories, but without sitting our butts down to the page consistently, the world’s greatest tales might never take flight. A sedentary writing lifestyle leads to one thing: creative atrophy. (Ah… You see where I’m going with this. ;)) Welcome to Lifesaving Resolution #5.

As writers, failure to care for our bodies is like a big time business exec building his or her office out of rotted wood. (What good are our minds if the casing wears out?)

Inactivity runs so rampant in the U.S., researchers have coined the term sedentary death syndrome (SDS): an expanding list of medical conditions exacerbated by a lack of physical activity that causes premature disability and death in millions of Americans each year. The less we move, the greater our chances become for developing arthritis, obesity, breathing problems, depression, gallstones, hypertension, osteoporosis, heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, colon cancer, memory loss and sudden death.

WOW. That was happy! Why don’t we all pause to do a few jumping jacks?

Yes, the stats are depressing. But I’m guessing they’re not exactly news to most of you. You probably also know the common reasons exercise gets missed—too little time, exhaustion, lack of motivation, strong-hold habits, pain or difficulty, allergic reactions to sweat… (That last one might be emotional. ;)) Here’s the irony: regular physical activity can improve or rectify these hurdles and guard against SDS—once we’re on track.

Groovy Moving Guidelines

Getting and staying fit isn’t as hard, boring or horrible as it seems. (I’m not speaking of the Svens in the room!) With experience at all parts of the exercise spectrum personally and professionally, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. If a girl who wrote papers to get out gym class can do it, so can you. ;)

1. Set realistic, positive goals. Signing up for a marathon when you haven’t run since high school is like aiming to churn out a novel per month. It may seem like a fantastic goal, but for most of us, it’s a setup for failure. And fixating on weight or calories is a bit like striving toward a specific word count, rather than your best quality work. Realistic goals promote steady, gradual change. They also support your wellness and happiness.

2. Consider your motivation. You know how important it is for our main characters to have intense motivation? The same applies to physical fitness. How boring would “Silence of the Lambs” be if Jodi Foster’s character met Hannibal Lector and said, “I’d stay and chat but I could really use a pedicure. Think I’ll hit up Google from the salon.” No. She has to WANT the information in his head as desperately as he wants to withhold it, taunt her and manipulate. We must feel moved, in order to more. Why do you want to exercise?

3. Apply your work style. Personality, worth ethic and overall style play an important role in fitness success. Are you a super independent writer? You may not need much handholding regarding fitness either. If you work best with an agent or mentor, seek the support of a personal trainer or fitness-savvy friend. Do you rely upon schedules and meticulous outlines? Apply similar techniques to your exercise routine. Bore easily and use your calendar for scratch paper? Try something new each week or month. Dig critique groups? Join an aerobics class or boot camp.

4. Savor the path. While there’s nothing wrong with envisioning your book at the airport shop or rolling in so much dough you use twenties as wallpaper, the real prize is the process. Losing ourselves in our stories. Experiencing them as they grow and change. Writing most every day because, even if we hit a rough patch, we’d feel sad if we didn’t. Fitness is similar—or, at least, it should be.

By choosing activities we enjoy, seeking ways to add pleasure and focusing on the positives, fitness success isn’t about a finish line or simple calories in/calories out. It’s about cherishing our bodies, recognizing the miraculous work they do for us and dancing around in our boosted creativity, better sex lives, sounder sleep and kick-butt yippee-hoo moods. (Got your attention there, didn’t I? ;))

5. Rest. As with most things, too much exercise causes damage. Breaks and days off enhance our creative work, emotional well-being and physical fitness. Out tissues repair themselves and strengthen and we’re less likely to get bored. Unless you’re a professional athlete, exercising 60 minutes or longer seven days a week is generally considered excessive. (Getting enough good-quality sleep, water and nutritious food is also important.)

Groovy Moves for the Un-Athletically-Enthused

Walk your story. Ever have an epiphany smack in the middle of a workout? There’s a reason. Movement naturally boosts brain function. (More on this below.) The moment you feel stuck or your eyes feel computer-buggied-out, slip on your sneakers and go.

Walk your dog. One of my favorites! And according to a study featured in TIME magazine, dog walkers are more likely to reach their fitness goals versus their non-pooch-walker counterparts.

Sweatin’ to the Moldies: Okay, kind of gross. But the idea rocks IMHO. ;) Actively cleaning your house is exercise! In other words, you need not make like a hamster at the gym. Pump tunes if you like, preferably with a peppy beat. Wear workout attire. (This is also an awesome time to contemplate your WIP.)

TV Triathalon: Pick a show, any show. Choose three activities you can do on the spot, such as crunches, lunges and jumping jacks. Each time the program moves to a commercial, switch to another activity.

Play! I still love swinging on the big metal and rubber swings at parks. Play with your kids, your nieces and nephews, your best friend, your spouse. Throw a football or frisbee. Remember, the key is finding something you enjoy and doing it.

For more information, check out these fabulous links:

Research Journal: Effects of Exercise on Cognitive Potential: Immediate and Residual Results (2005) That’s right, folks! Exercise immediately increases brain sharpness and creativity. Nothing kicks “writer’s block” like a little tae bo…

MayoClinic.com: Seven Benefits of Regular Physical Activity

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Key Fitness Guidelines for Active Adults

Dr. Weil: Making Aerobic Exercise Simple and Fun

Dr. Oz Show: 10-Minute Exercise Ideas

Gary W. Small, MD: Keep Walking to Stay Mentally Sharp (via JaneFonda.com)

Jenny Hansen: Fear of the Week: Hot Yoga Might Kill Me. While not a fan of sweaty yoga myself, I highly condone the kind of laughter Jenny inspires. ;)

What groovy moving tip resonates with you? Any you’d like to add? Challenges or goals we can support you toward? If leading a healthy lifestyle helps you feel beautiful, visit The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest—just 9 days away! Spread the word or enter as a blogger for a chance at a Kindle and more…

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