Fact or Fiction: 10 Diet Myths Debunked

Sorting fact from fiction in the nutrition world isn’t often easy. On the same store shelf, we’re likely to see books and magazines touting the latest “lifestyle plans,” diet tricks, super foods and diet “dos and don’ts”—all with contradicting messages. And while some of these publications are well-intended and contain some valuable information, many present mostly fiction, disguised as fact. Fortunately, many qualified health professionals—me included—care more about public wellness than financial gain or fame.

The following myths are extremely common and worth debunking:

Myth #1: Carbs are criminal—captivating, but cruel.

Fact: Carbohydrates are the body’s and brain’s main nutrient source—the protagonist’s BFF. Severely restricting carbohydrates poses a slew of health risks, including constipation, depressive moods, nutrient deficiencies, fatigue and more.

Tip: Rather than avoid carbs, choose mostly healthy sources, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. (Moderate amounts of sweets or other treats is fine, and often beneficial.)

Myth #2: High-protein diets are weight-control magic wands.

Fact: High-protein diets are far from magical. They’ve been shown to increase the risk for kidney stones, gout, metabolic problems, long-term weight gain and cardiovascular disease. And while increasing your protein intake to 15 to 20 percent of your overall diet is important for building muscle, more than that hasn’t shown any benefits, according to the American Dietetic Association. There is one exception. A low-carb, high-protein diet (also called a ketogenic diet) has been shown to reduce seizures in some epileptic children.

Tip: Aim for meals containing a reasonable balance of complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fat. Particularly nutritious protein sources include fish, beans, lentils, yogurt and quinoa.

Myth #3: Gluten is a sadistic psychopath, harmful to everyone.

Fact: Gluten-free diets are essential for people with wheat allergies or celiac disease, which account for about 1 percent of the population. Avoiding gluten needlessly, on the other hand, which an estimated 23 percent of Americans are currently doing, can make way for nutrient deficiencies and weight gain.

Tip: Unless you have celiac disease, Tricia Thompson, registered dietitian and author of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide, recommends emphasizing whole grains and fortified cereals. If you have do have celiac disease, she suggests a gluten-free diet rich in folate sources, like leafy greens and fortified foods, replacing grain products with quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth and taking a daily multivitamin.

Myth # 4: Unless you’re a vampire, night-time noshing triggers fat gain.

Fact: Eating more calories than you burn routinely causes weight gain, regardless of when you eat them. Eating near bedtime, particularly large amounts, can disrupt restful sleep, however. This can indirectly lead to weight gain, because sleep deficits can slow our metabolism and increase our appetites. Eating spicy and fatty foods at night can cause heartburn, if you’re susceptible.

Tip: For restful sleep, leave at least 2 to 3 hours between your last meal and bedtime. For many people, a balanced snack, containing carbs and protein, enhance sleep. Useful examples include oatmeal made with low-fat milk, yogurt and fruit, a whole grain turkey sandwich, mixed nuts and a soymilk/fruit smoothie.

Myth #5: Certain foods have mystical fat-burning powers.

Fact: No foods burn fat. Activity does.

Tip: For improved weight control, amp up your fruit and vegetable intake and emphasize fiber-rich foods, such as beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, raspberries and whole grains. When you eat fatty or sugary foods, keep your portions modest. To burn more, move more.

Myth #6: Not skimping on calories works like kryptonite to Superman; less is best.

Fact: Our lives shouldn’t feel like The Hunger Games. We couldn’t eat, sleep, think, breath or move without calories. Overeating and under-eating can be equally damaging, contributing to a reduced metabolism, brittle bones, excessive body fat and cardiovascular problems over time. What matters is what we gain from our calories (energy and nutrients) and that we consume appropriate amounts.

Tip: Treat yourself like Superman/woman. In order to “fly,” we need enough quality fuel (in the form of calories) to feel energized and function well. If we overdo it excessively or often, we’ll get weighed down. With too little fuel, we’re paralyzed. (That is kryptonite-like.) Instead of loathing, fearing or avoiding calories, emphasize whole foods and aim for variety. Eating balanced meals and snacks and listening to our bodies’ “I’m hungry” and “I’m full”-cues promotes portion control and wellness.

Myth #7: Potatoes are practically poison.

Fact: Potatoes are nutritious. (And French fries aren’t potatoes.) They provide valuable amounts of B-vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and fiber. They also provide tryptophan and complex carbs—promoters of feel-good brain chemicals and calmness. Skinless white potatoes have a high glycemic index, meaning they can cause blood sugar spikes. But even sugar-sensitive people, like people with diabetes, can enjoy spuds with ease by pairing them with other foods.

Tip: If you’re concerned about glycemic impact, eat potatoes—skin-on—as parts of balanced meals. Choose nutritious toppings and cooking methods most often and view fries as occasional treats (if you like ‘em). Baked and sweet potatoes, seasoned with olive oil and herbs, are loads healthier than french fries or bacon, cheese and sour cream stuffed taters.

Myth #8: Fruits are so sugary, they belong in the Gingerbread House—not our stomaches.

Fact: The natural sugars in fruits vary big time from table sugar and other added sweeteners. Whole fruits promote blood sugar control—not the opposite. Fruit also provides valuable sources of water, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. (Sheesh!)

Tip: Incorporating fruits and/or vegetables into most of your meals is one of the healthiest moves most people can make. To meet your basic antioxidant needs, aim for at least 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day. But, the more the better. Research shows that eating 7-plus collective daily servings guards against heart disease, cancer and early death. So yes. Eat more produce. Please.

Myth #9: Swanky devils wear prada—and follow low-fat diets.

Fact: Our diets should contain moderate amounts of fat, or about 30 percent of our total calories. Our bodies rely on fat for tissue repair, energy and absorption of fat-soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D, E and K). Eating too little fat can cause brittle nails and hair, skin problems, mood swings, fatigue and nutrient deficiencies.

Tip: Incorporate moderate amounts of fat—mainly from healthy sources—into your meals and snacks. Since fat grams are denser than carbs and protein, small-ish portions suffice. Drizzle your veggies with olive oil, for example, or snack on 1/3 cup of mixed nuts or seeds. Other healthy sources include nut butters, fatty fish, canola oil and avocados.

Myth #10: Dietary supplements are so The Jetsons-esque.

Fact: As much fun as the futuristic cartoon made it look, no pill can fulfill a food, meal or day’s worth of nourishment in one fell swoop. Supplements are meant to supplement, not replace food. And taken improperly, they can cause a broad range of side effects and health risks. When we get our vitamins and minerals from foods, we get the whole healthy package, minus the risks associated with supplements.

Tip: Look to food first and supplement—with caution—when necessary.

So what do you think? Were any of your beliefs debunked? Any burning questions?

Saying ‘No’ — A Successful Writer’s Must

There’s no one way to build a successful writing career, but there are essential ingredients. One of the most important, I believe, boils down to two little words: saying no. Think about it. How can we produce our best quality work and continue growing, day after day, year after year, if we’re bogged down by needless obligations?

If I sound harsh, don’t worry; becoming selfish writing-only ghouls isn’t the goal. And supporting others and taking time away from writing are invaluable. But there’s a big difference between saying ‘yes’ to every request for a favor, lunch date and job offer, tending to others instead of our craft and careers, and obliging when it matters most. Each time we say ‘no’ to obligations that detract from our success, we strengthen our commitment to our work and step further into our dreams. While it’s not always easy, it’s worth it. And it does get easier along the way.

Seven Ways to Say ‘No’ With Greater Ease

1. Swap guilt for gusto. It’s not easy to tell your pal you can’t meet for lunch or walk her ferret. But if doing so takes away from your writing, is it worth it—even to your friend? If she asked you if you could “please walk Snoopy instead of progress as an author,” declining would be easier. So view it that way. Once you’ve made your decision, make the most of that preserved time. Productivity breeds gusto and kicks guilt in the keister.

2. Feel the twinge. When someone asks you to take time away from writing, listen to your gut. As some of you may recall, ‘saying no’ played a big role in divorcing my acting career. The more auditions and offers I turned down, the more apparent the right decisions became. Now every time a question sounds, I feel the twinge—a no-longer-subtle stir inside that tells me exactly how I feel. Awareness and practice strengthen our ‘saying no’ muscle. So even if you can’t yet abide by it yet, start honing in on the twinge.

3. When in doubt, take time out. When we’re put on the spot, we are much more likely to yelp, “Sure! Anything!”… on the outside. When your palms sweat in the face of a time-sucking request, tell the person you need to think about it. Or call them later. Or say “hang on!” and rush away to your private cave. Whatever it takes to give yourself that privacy, which often brings clarity, do it.

4. Weigh your options. How much time and energy would fulfilling the request take? What are the consequences of committing versus declining? Is there a way to fulfill the request and still get your work done? How much of your desire to commit stems from guilt or perceived obligation, and how much from genuine desire? How important is the task to the asker? Looking at a situation from all angles can help clarify our decisions.

5. Speak your passions. Talking about our creative goals, progress and priorities gives them breath and deeper meaning. When we say “I’m now prioritizing my writing,” “I am a writer,” or “I’m stoked about my loaded work day” (referring to writing), we’re more likely to believe ourselves and take our work seriously. Sharing our priorities with others also helps keep us accountable.

6. Sleep on it. Ever wake up with an epiphany about your WIP? I know I have. Our brains work through questions and conflicts during sleep. Sometimes the best way to recognize the best decision involves catching those zzzs. Try not to stress too much just before bed, however. Not sleeping enough or well can have the opposite effect. For useful information on sleeping better, check out MayoClinic.com’s Sleep Tips.

7. Hold yourself responsible. No one can make us take on endless favors, tasks and responsibilities. Blaming the friend who calls or the ferret who needed sunshine won’t do anything but increase our grumpiness. And probably other people’s. And maybe the ferret’s. We make our own choices, so choose your goals and dreams. Go after them like the protagonist in your novel, and never, ever back down. You don’t need anyone’s permission but your own.

Do you overload your plate with non-writing commitments? Have you mastered your ‘saying no’ capabilities? Any tips to add or challenges to share? I’d love to hear your brilliant thoughts. :)

Healthy Snack Attack

Have you ever been so hungry you morphed into an evil witch? Rather than cautious, the driver ahead of you seems irritating-tortoise-like slow. No—criminal. And if she doesn’t get her act together soon, you might provide a subtle NUDGE. Or worse…

Don’t worry. If you answered ‘yes,’ you’re not alone. More likely, you’re normal. ;) Healthy snack habits can not only prevent mood mayhem, but help keep our brains sharp and energy high between meals. Choosing mostly whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, also boosts our overall nutrient intake and physical health. (Sign me up, right???) Whether you’re a veteran healthy eater or taking initial baby steps, exploring a variety of nutritious snacks can go a long way toward fulfilling your physical and emotional appetites.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Yogurt and berry parfait
  • Fresh fruit and/or veggie smoothies
  • Air-popped popcorn, seasoned with natural herbs
  • Whole grain pita chips with hummus
  • Fresh fruit salad with yogurt or nuts
  • Mixed nuts—roasted or raw
  • Whole grain toast topped with almond butter and banana slices
  • Leftover whole grain/veggie pizza
  • Yogurt, topped with granola, ground flaxseeds or trail mix
  • Mini-portion of veggie chili or lentil soup
  • Snap-peas and carrot sticks with dip
  • Fresh fruit, veggie and cheese (or tofu) plate
  • Whole grain crackers topped with hummus and tomato slices
  • Apple and banana slices topped with almond or peanut butter
  • Natural PBJ on whole grain bread, English muffin or tortilla
  • Kale chips with salsa or hummus
  • Oatmeal raisin cookie served with low-fat milk (any variety)
  • Oatmeal made with un-sweetened cocoa, cinnamon, raisins and a touch of stevia or pure maple syrup

Baked sweet potato “fries”: Slice a sweet potato into rounds or wedges. Place on a pan, coated with olive oil spray. Top with spray and desired seasoning, then bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cucumber boats: Slice a cucumber lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Fill each “boat” with healthy tuna or chicken salad.

Kale smoothie: Combine 8 oz milk of choice, 1 banana, 1 cup chopped kale, 1 tbsp ground flaxseed, 1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries and a tsp of pure maple syrup in a blender. Blend until smooth, then serve over ice.

Love cooking? Try these tasty, nutritious recipes:
MayoClinic.com: Muesli Breakfast Bars
EatBetterAmerica: Whole Grain Snack Mix
Mary Elizabeth Cohen: Tortilla Wrap Chicken Salad
EatingWell magazine: Quick and Healthy Smoothie Recipes and Tips
Sally’s Baking Addiction: Apricot Pecan Granola Bars (Vegan) 

And remember—your snack choices need not always be healthy. To prevent blood sugar imbalances associated with sugary and refined grain products, like candy, pretzels and enriched bagels, pair them with protein or fiber-rich foods. In either case, moderation and pleasure are important ingredients of all diets, IMHO. ;)

Do you consider yourself a healthy snacker? What’s your favorite? Any tips or challenges to share? I love hearing from you.

The Truth About Social Media Time Suck

Are you sitting down? Good. Because guess what. *takes a deep breath* ‘Time suck’ is in the dictionary. This may not stun urban word-anistas, like Natalie Hartford, but it was news to me. Close your eyes and ponder the term. What leaps to mind? Lemme guess—Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? All-things-internet?

The Urban Word Dictionary defines ‘time suck’ as: “Something that’s engrossing and addictive, but that keeps you from doing things that are actually important, like earning a living, or eating meals, or caring for your children.” Example: “Facebook is a time suck! I posted a funny picture after dinner and all of a sudden it’s midnight!”

Hmm… But no one is tying us down before the keyboard, or forcing our eyes on the screen. We may feel compelled to abandon other responsibilities and lose track of time, but if a child cried out from a nearby room, we wouldn’t say, “Quiet, kiddo. I’m on eBay.” We’d rush to his or her rescue. In other words, time sucks are voluntary—more like investments than stealers.

Unless you A) have a compulsive psychological disorder involving social media, or B) are being held at gunpoint by an internet-mongering psychopath (in which case, please visit 911.com) there are many ways to keep TS at bay and still reap the many benefits social media has to offer.

7 Ways to Dodge Social Media Time Suck 

1. Approach it like a pro. Social media is a lot like L.A. nightlife, minus the swanky outfits and over-priced drinks. When I was working as an actress, the scene was part of my job. But my goal was networking, not partying. So I never—okay seldom—partied too late or too much. Doing so would’ve given the wrong impression and sabotaged opportunities. The same applies for authors on social media. Like parties, social media is fun. But if we approach it like a party, our professionalism might tank.

2. Prioritize. Think of your time as an up-side-down Christmas tree. (Use a regular pine tree if you wish. I prefer the sparkles.) The widest part of the tree represents what matters most and what demands the most time. If you’re an author, your craft and career are likely top priority, as far as work goes. Building a social media platform is an important component, but the most important is producing quality work and growing craft-wise. Don’t let social media steal that away.

3. Step away from the net. We all know when we’re helping our platform and when we’re simply procrastinating or surrendering to the TS vacuum. When the latter happens, un-plug. Take a break. Eat a healthy snack. Turn your wireless off. Step…away… If you feel incapable, seek professional help. (I mean that sincerely. Therapy’s a great thing.)

4. Strategize, time-wise. After blogging—arguably the most important web presence for authors—the top three social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. We have limited time to spend on-line; best we use it wisely. Popping over to Google+, Linked In and other sites can help, but spreading ourselves too thin turns even modest efforts into TS. Invest more time into the most popular sites and less into others. Basic, right?

5. Strategize, timing-wise. I’m a morning person, so I prefer to get my writing in early. As much fun as it would be to post creative, witty or otherwise sharp blurbs on Facebook during my peak brain-time, I’d rather invest that sharpness into my craft. If you’re groggy during morning hours, social media can provide a great warm up; save your juice for later. In other words, find and commit to timing that works for you. (If you’re someone who can’t help but be sharp, creative and/or hilarious at all times, timing is less of an issue—lucky duck!)

6. Link it up. Remember those three social media superstars from #4? We can link them all together—a huge time saver, if used appropriately. Since I’ve linked my Pinterest account to Facebook, I’ve had more dialogue and connectivity going on via both. My Facebook fan page is linked to Twitter, so anything I share on the fan page goes out to the Twitter-verse. Don’t overdo link-ups, however, as we don’t want to spam our friends and readers. Spending quality time on each platform is important.

7. Keep your goals in mind. If we lose sight of our goals, little will hold us to them. Distracting-TS-ers will seep in, robbing us of dreams we’re fully capable of reaching. If goal-focus doesn’t come easy for you, keep reminders near your computer—inspiring photos, quotes or affirmations. Connecting with supportive friends can also help. So while over-doing social media can detract from our careers, lean on friends—on the web or in-person—as needed.

Extra Tips & Tricks:

  • If you don’t have time to read blogs throughout a particular week—or even if you do—read Gene Lempp’s Blog Treasures. His Saturday morning mash-ups feature the “best of the blogosphere” from the previous week, and they never disappoint.
  • Pin on Saturdays. Pinterest activity rages on Saturdays, when other social media quiets down. So if adding pinning to your already-full plate seems daunting, save it for Saturdays.
  • If you are prone to social media TS, set a timer. Dan Taylor, a Vienna-based social media consultant, offers this and other great advice in his post, How to Avoid the Social Media Time Suck.
  • Consider joining Triberr. Not sure what it is or how to use it? Check out Jenny Hansen’s great post, My New Time-Saving Social Media BFF—Triberr.
  • Use Twitter lists. Roni Loren sold me on lists in her post, Picky, Picky – The Danger of Authors Being Too Clique-y on Twitter.
  • Take your computer out for coffee. Okay, sounds sort of sick. But seriously, social networking in social settings can help shake things up, put us in a sociable mood, and prevent day-long Facebook/Twitter-thons. (Once you run out of coffee, go home. :))

How do you avoid social media TS? Have you mastered time management? Any tips or challenges to add? 

Cinderella Strong

Taken literally, one could argue—and numerous have—that Disney’s Cinderella is a passive woman who does nothing to improve her dismal situation. Rather than stand up to her evil step-family or step out on her own, she relies on others—singsong mice, her fairy godmother and a handsome prince. She makes wishes, and they do the dirty work. Her prize? A beauty makeover and happily ever after with Bachelor #1.

In the 1980s, psychologist Colette Dowling presented similar views ier best-selling book, Cinderella Complex: Woman’s Hidden Fear of Independence. (It’s a fascinating read, if you’re interested.)

But what if Cinderella is entirely metaphorical? Here’s what I see:

  • Cinderella’s mice represent her spirit, prodding her to believe in “the dreams [her] heart makes?” Our hearts recognize our dreams before we can pursue them.
  • The evil step-family illustrates the naysayers in life—people, including ourselves, who tell us to stop striving, that our goals and pursuits are foolish, that we’re destined to live out our lives doing undesirable work, caring for everyone but ourselves.
  • The fairy godmother is Cinderella’s muse—the inner voice that prompts us to step out of our comfort zones and toward our passion.
  • The glowing gown she wears reflects how she feels once she begins honing in on her dreams. Once we find the “shoe” (life path) that fits, we stands a bit taller, and our inner-beauty shines outward.
  • Reverting to her “raggedy” self at midnight represents the time, rest and self-care personal growth requires. There are no quick fixes. We all face risks and challenges along the way. If we embrace them, they can help make us strong.
  • And speaking of passion, the hunky prince represents the handsome life Cinderella eventually obtains, and the chivalry she finally shows herself. Once that happens, the world is her stage to dance on. Sure, we might get blisters now and then, and every step won’t be graceful, but we’re free to live happy, authentic lives.

Ever seen bits of Cinderella in yourself? I know I have. I wrote this song while enduring a tough time. By the time I made this video, those “dirty floors” were behind me. I’d also started writing my first novel. (Its pages have a special cameo. ;)) I first posted this video last fall. Since only a handful of you saw it, I’ve decided to share it again:

When have you felt Cinderella-like? What did the experience teach you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

#Pinterest & Blogging: 7 Keys to Success

Like many, I was hesitant about joining Pinterest, particularly before the recent copyright changes. Though I dug the concept, it sounded like a time-sucker and more fun than vital. When I learned that it’s the fastest growing social media platform, a top referrer to retailers and appeals particularly to educated women, I figured it was time to research my brains out look into it. I’m so glad I did.

Pinterest is now the third most popular social network, according to a new Experian study, behind Facebook and Twitter. And retailers are not the only beneficiaries. Crystal Underwood’s tips-for-mommas blog leapt from 100 hits per day to up to 7000 after she embraced the virtual pin boards. Design blogger Jessica Colaluca, one of Mashable’s “21 Must-Follow Pinterest Users,” credits Pinterest for 35 percent of her estimated one million-plus monthly hits. And major publications, including Elle magazine, Martha Stewart Living and Cooking Light, are taking Pinterest by storm.

“We are seeing traffic increases and high engagement, and [Pinterest] is great branding for us to get our content out there.” — Keith Pollock, editorial director of Elle.com

Whether you’ve joined Pinterest or not, making your posts more “pinnable” can enhance your blogging experience on multiple levels. There are loads of ways to obtain blogging and Pinterest success. Read on for my favorites…

1. Fill your blog with high-quality content. Joining Pinterest will not automatically stimulate quality blog hits (i.e., readers who linger, comment, subscribe and interact), even if you post visually-stunning images. Why? Because successful blogging takes lots more than pretty pictures. Pinterest can help open the door to our sites. Posting captivating content will keep guests from fleeing to the neighbors.’

2. Be authentic. Many of us recognize that authenticity makes for better posts and more enjoyment for us and our readers. The same applies to Pinterest. If you’re not a foodie, featuring glamorous food photos simply because the images are popular is counter-productive. Withholding your passions and interests can have similar effects. People sense falsity, so steer clear of it. Pinterest’s updated etiquette tips say it best: “Pinterest is an expression of who you are.”

3. Give to give. Giving of ourselves also enhances enjoyment—ours and our readers. If you, and by extension your brand, is entertaining, provide entertainment. If your brand is inspiring, inspire. Have cooking, cleaning or photography skills? Share some pointers. Such giving attracts like-minded readers to our blogs, who will appreciate what you offer. In return, you’re likely to gain subscribers, comments and, when applicable, sales. This practice reminds me of exercise. Many of us start working out because we believe we should. The emotional benefits—better moods, sleep quality, energy…—keep us at it.

4. Get creative with titles, photos and topics. Using your authentic self to conjure up snappy titles, eye-catching graphics and topics you genuinely dig is a great way to lure people from Pinterest to your blog. It also encourages re-pins and comments. Just make sure that your post’s content is at least as entertaining, inspiring, though-provoking or delightful.

5. Use your own photographs or self-concocted graphics. If you feature stock photography in a blog post, the pin should technically link to the stock company—not your site. Creating your own photos and graphics allows you to convey precisely what you wish to, without infringing upon copyright laws. Adding your website address to images can help draw more eyes to your site, particularly if you pin a photograph without any text. (Check out my example above. If I can create graphics, trust me—you can, too. ;))

6. Keep your blog and pin boards in mind in the “real” world. I only recently signed up for Pinterest. Already, it’s opened my mind up to cool new ways to use it. I tote and use my camera more often and have been dabbling in graphic techniques. Just as life inspires blog topics, knowing our posts could appear on Pinterest can inspire us to seek out photographable moments that coincide. Best of all, the process feels more like fun than work—how life should feel, IMHO.

7. Support others. As with other social media platforms, rambling on about ourselves, our products or our work generally evokes one thing: annoyance. We all know how frustrating endless pitches from a particular salesperson can be. If you’d slam the door on your content if it appeared at your door, switch gears. Comment on, follow and share others’ fabulous posts and pins on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and/or your blog.

Extra pointers:

  • Don’t only pin blog posts. Share and celebrate your interests. If your blog is serious, show your goofy side, and vice versa. You can also use Pinterest boards as tools to organize your favorite products, articles, books and so on.
  • Link your Pinterest account to Facebook and/or Twitter. Mine is linked to Facebook, which allows me to interact with people on both networks with one post. I then Tweet pins selectively. Experiment with both, then decide.
  • Invite your friends to Pinterest. Lisa Hall-Wilson and I both have group boards, which are a great way to join forces with like-minded folks. If you’re interested in joining my group, Writers United, drop me a note: august@augustmclaughlin.com.
  • To encourage readers to pin your posts, add a “Pin it” button to your share options, and a “Follow Me on Pinterest” widget to your theme.
  • Focus on quality and connections, not “the numbers.” Gargantuan numbers of hits can be fun to see on your blog dashboard, but it doesn’t mean much if people spend little time reading or enjoying your content. I’d rather have a handful of close-knit, supportive connections than boatloads of rapid clicks. Wouldn’t you?

I’d love to hear from you. Any of these tips strike a chord with you? Any to add? Thoughts on Pinterest in general?

Mountain Man Willy’s Untimely Advice

Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve found little as post-hectic-week-medicinal as hiking in the mountains. The mighty peaks surrounding the 12 million-plus people can make the endless traffic, big-city sounds and life’s stress seem insignificant. While I enjoy gazing at them from afar, there’s nothing like venturing up into them. And that’s exactly what I was hoping for a couple of weeks ago—a hefty dose of respite, peace and escape.

Unlike my husband, I’m no climber. So when he suggested we venture up Mount Baldy, the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains, I made sure to ask the necessary question: “Can I handle it?”

“Sure,” he said. “It’s more like a long walk than a climb. But it’ll probably be cold and snowy.” I could handle cold, I reminded him; I spent the first 18 years of my life in Minne-snow-da. So we loaded two packs up with winter gear and headed out. Cool, I thought. A pack! I’m going to look like a real climber! Little did I know what that “look” entailed.

Within minutes of donning the pack, I questioned the identity of the 12-year-old child clinging to me piggyback-style, resisting my every move. My heart thudded wildly and my upper-body begged to go back in time and master pull-ups. I can do this, I told myself. Focus. Maybe I’d adjust in time. But every step felt more brutal. Rather than escape stressors, I had new ones. I fought the urge to chuck my pack down the mountain as my inner-pep talk grew silent.

“How are you doing?” Hubby asked as we neared a small clearing.

“Okay,” I said, as in still breathing. In gasps.This pack is heavier than I thought it would be. Makes things…” *gasp* “rather…” *gasp* “…difficult.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Mountain Man Willy told me once that he can take professional athletes out here and they’re fine. But put packs on them and they fall over.” (Did he seriously just say… ) “Your pack is only like 10 pounds, though.”

He turned to look at me, camera phone at the ready. Me? Not so camera ready.

Grrr… “One person’s 10 pounds is another’s 10,000,” I said.

“Is it really that bad?”

“Do the words ‘are we there yet’ mean anything to you?” I dropped the pack on ground in weary surrender.

We locked eyes and burst out laughing. Then he did what any chivalrous mountaineer would do:

Free of the zillion ton—okay, ten pound—cling-on, I felt as light as air. I could’ve run the rest of the way, singing! We took turns with the pack from there on out, laughing repeatedly over my debacle. To my husband’s credit, he had no idea the pack would affect me as it did, and I was honored by his faith in my abilities.

It struck me as we hiked on how easily we can feel paralyzed by the emotional loads we carry—toxic relationships, difficult-to-break habits, jobs we loathe, insecurities we’ve yet to overcome. If we never release these burdens, we’ll never learn what we’re truly capable of. How can we thrive if we’re too busy surviving? This has definitely been the case for me. The only time I felt purposeless and creatively-blocked, I was at my lowest point emotionally. Once I made the difficult decision to face and set free the burdens I carried, the whole world seemed to open up. I don’t know about you, but a wide-open world full of possibilities—intimidating risks and all—seems far better than trudging through murky waters when in our hearts, we know there’s more. We may not learn these lessons as soon as we’d like, but what matters is that we learn them.

What burdens have you carried? Are any holding you back now? 

#Pinterest: How to Pin Without Getting Arrested

Okay, so even before the Pinterest copyright changes, it’s highly unlikely any of us would have been locked up for pinning. To my knowledge, no pinner has been jailed, fined, tarred or feathered—at least not for pinning. But there has been tremendous concern over the social media giant’s potential to infringe on copyright holders. Lucky for the millions of “pinners” worldwide, however, much of that has changed.

Effective today, Pinterest no longer asserts the right to “sublicense” or “sell” pinned images. The company has also removed the word ‘irrevocable’ from the copy right license and updated their terms in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

What does this mean to Pinterest users? Here are the main points:

  • We can now safely pin our own images and most images linked to original sources.
  • If someone re-pins ours images without proper citation, we can report it by filing a copyright infringement notification. If the claim is deemed valid, pins in question will be removed.
  • If we pin an image without proper linkage, we might get flagged. Pinterest can remove the image and notify us that we’ve overstepped bounds. We then have the option of contesting the claim.
  • If we collect enough warnings, we can be removed from Pinterest and, potentially, face legal repercussions. (Similar results can stem from posting images we don’t hold rights to on our blogs.)

8 Tips for Safe Pinning:

1. Pin your own images or graphics, linked to your website. This not only helps ensure that your images are credited to you, but can increase traffic to your site. If you’re not handy with a camera, create text graphics like these.

2. If you find a random image you’d like to use on the web, seek permission from the owner. If credited properly, many photographers and artists appreciate the publicity. They may also share your link with their circle of friends.

3. Don’t pin personal images you don’t want re-pinned by others. This may seem obvious, but many of us post personal photos on social media sites without much thought. If a photo contains other people, asking their permission is a good idea.

4. If you notice that someone hasn’t linked a pin properly, tell them. It may take a while for people to get a hang of proper pinning. Most of us want our links shared. So if you notice that someone hasn’t given you credit, thank them then suggest adding a link. You can also direct them to the copyright terms.

5. Use credible websites. Google Images is not a valid source for books, food, fashion or other goods. If you dig a Banana Republic top, link the image to BananaRepublic.com, not Google or your blog. Use Mac.com for Mac products, Amazon.com for books you’ve found there, CookingLight.com for Cooking Light photos and so on.

Clicking the pins on my non-fiction board brings you to each book's purchase screen on Amazon.com.

6. Install and use the “Pin It” button. This allows you to pin images from websites to your boards, and links it appropriately—assuming the site owns the image. To nab the “Pin It” button, click here or visit the Goodies section on your Pinterest homepage.

7. Include the URL in pin descriptions. Though not required, this helps ensure that the original source gains credit. URLs appear as hyperlinks, which tend to invite more ‘clicks.’

8. If you’re unsure of an image source, seek it out. Google can help you determine the original source of a photo. For a step-by-stey tutorial, check out this post by The Graphics Fairy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you on Pinterest? How do you feel about the copyright changes? Any Pinterest topics you’re dying to learn more about? (I’m planning a series of Pinterest-themed posts, so feel free to make requests!)

The Question Game on Steroids

“A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?”
—Albert Einstein

From the moment I spotted The Book of Questions at a bookstore, I knew I’d put it to good use—and I did, at countless slumber parties, road trips and even a few dates. (Hmm, I wonder why those relationships didn’t last long…) Nothing gets the ball rolling, or catapulting off in crazy directions, like a heap of questions.

Well a fun question game, much like the BoQ, is circulating the web lately and the fabulous Fabio Bueno named me a victim participant. (Thanks again, Fabio!) Once selected for “Eleven Questions,” you’re to follow these rules:

  1. Post the rules.
  2. In the same post, answer the questions.
  3. Create eleven new questions to ask eleven new victims participants.
  4. Tag those people and share links to their blogs in your post.
  5. Let them know you’ve tagged them.

Here are Fabio’s questions and my answers:

1. What is your favorite historical period and why? The seventies. I totally would’ve been a change-making, guitar-strumming hippy.

2. List your top five favorite movies. Off the top of my head—Silence of the Lambs, Seven, The Sixth Sense, The Wizard of Oz and Shattered Glass.

3. Your house is on fire. Your loved ones–humans and pets–are already safe outside. They have your driver’s license and a flash drive with all your backups (files and all the media you own). You have time to save one more object. What would you get? My chest of letters wrapped up in a quilt made with material from my husband’s mom and mine, attached to my guitar. ;)

4. Who let the dogs out? You can invite any three people in the world for a dinner–anyone alive. Who are your guests? Oprah and my parents. If Mom and Dad weren’t free, I’d invite the Dalai Lama and Maya Angelou.

5. Congress/the gods/smiling extraterrestrials said you can only have one type of food every meal for the rest of your life (they’ll supplement your diet with vitamin pills). Which food would you choose? Indian.

6. In an episode of “Friends”, they all reveal their freebie list: five celebrities with whom they can hook up without upsetting their partners. Who’s in yours? No one. I’m expensive. (Ha!) Seriously, though, upsetting my partner is only one of numerous reason I’d opt out.

7. (Huge spoiler alert.) Some people think the Hunger Games is bloody. In Harry Potter 6, fifteen characters die. In HP7, the body count is over fifty (see here). JK is rewriting the series, and she let you choose one character from any of the seven books to get a reprieve. Who would it be and why? I haven’t read the books or seen the movies, so…whoever’s meanest.

8. What’s your worst fear? Serious harm—to loved ones or me.

9. You can choose your own nickname, with an assurance that no one would ever mock you. Tell us your choice. BA = Bestselling author. LOL Kidding! Sort of.

10. What’s the best vacation you have ever had? Morrow Bay with my husband. We spent our “honeymoon” time and funds taking care of my post-surgery bull dog. The resort trip felt more like our honeymoon than another couple’s wedding.

11. Congress/the gods/smiling extraterrestrials said you must move to any fantasy or sci-fi setting (books, movies, videogames, rpgs) of your choice—permanently. Where would you go? The happy place in What Dreams May Come.

Now for the BEST part—asking some of my favorite bloggers new questions. Here are the contestants I’ve chosen:

Catherine Johnson
Nisha
Marc Schuster
Marla Martenson
M.G. Edwards
Mike Sirota
Nigel Blackwell
Raaini York
Rich Weatherly
Stacy C. Jensen
Susie Lindau

Your questions:
1. What did you eat for breakfast?
2. If you could re-live any day of your life, as often as you’d like, which would you choose?
3. Of the books you’ve read recently, which is your favorite?
4. You have front row seats and back stage passes for any concert. Who’s on stage?
5. Who’s the last person you hugged?
6. What’s your favorite smell?
7. What’s your best bargain-hunting or money-saving tip?
8. What’s your funniest or strangest high school memory?
9. How do you feel about your birthday?
10. What do you not miss about being younger?
11. What about you tends to surprise others?

I look forward to reading your responses, assuming you’re up for the challenge. ;) Everyone else, I’d love to hear your answer to at least one of these questions. If you’re feeling especially inquisitive, ask us all one, too!

My Mom on 40 Love-Filled Years

My mom is fluent in numerous languages, writes beautiful poetry and can cook or bargain-hunt her way out of any sticky situation. Of her many areas of expertise, however, maintaining a happy marriage may be her strongest. She’s proven it for forty years—officially, as of yesterday.

Rather than share my thoughts on the landmark day, I decided to go straight to the expert herself. My first semiofficial interview with my mom went like this… :)

AM: *dials phone*

Mom: *picks up* I have my happy grin and my happy face on.

AM: *laughs* Excellent. Feel free to answer with as much or as little as you like, or bring up topics I don’t mention.

Mom: *snickers* You know I always do. If I start blurting, say, Mo-ther… and I’ll understand.

AM: So noted. Okay, so how did you meet Dad?

Mom: I was doing a backyard barbecue for my high school German IV class. We were seniors so I was having kind of a goodbye type thing. My brother asked if he could bring a friend and if the friend could bring a date. And so Dad came with Carolyn—with a ‘yn,’ not ‘ine.’ He had these tall Red Wing cowboy boots on, and I thought, Oh, wow!

AM: Was it love at first sight?

Mom: From the reaction of Carolyn? Uh huh. She knew something was going on and she was not happy.

AM: That’s hilarious. Tell me about your first kiss.

Mom: He was helping me do dishes one day in Grandma’s kitchen. Before he left, he stooped down to kiss me and missed. I was too short! I said, “Here, this is better,” and got on my tippiest, tippy toes.

AM: Okay, I don’t need to know the rest. What was your wedding like?

Mom: Simple and sweet, the way we liked it. We told our parents to invite a few close
friends. We invited a few close friends. I made my dress and Dad wore a sports coat. I made the bridesmaid’s and flower girl’s dresses, too.

AM: And why did you choose April Fools Day?

Mom: It just worked with the calendar. That was the main reason. And who can forget April Fools? You can say things like, “Lovesy, guess what! I talked to the doctor, and I’m having twins!”

AM: *laughs* I’m sure that went over well. How does it feel, being married for 40 years?

Mom: It doesn’t seem like forty years… Dad and I kind of grew up together. I was 17 when I met him and he was 20. He gave me my first roses. He’s always done all kinds of little amazing things. When we started dating he had a little English sports car called a Harold, a red convertible. He would pick me up when I got off the bus from high school to drive me two blocks home. I’d look outside of the bus, and there was the little car! I was very excited, but I’m sure I turned lobster red.

AM: What did your brother think of all that?

Mom: Well, others of his friends asked me out, and the dates didn’t go well. One time one of his friends drove me home, put his hands up and said, “Now, for our kiss good night!” And I ran out of the car. Then every time he called, I told him I had to babysit. After that, my brother said, “Never date my boyfriends. Do not date my friends.”

AM: So you married one.

Mom: Yep! With Dad, everything felt natural. I remember telling him that I wasn’t interested in dating a bunch of people. My dream was to meet and marry one person, to have kids with that person and be able to stay home to raise and enjoy them. And that God was the center of my life. I figured he’d either run as fast as he can the other way or think it was okay. But I thought, I’m not going to pussy foot around.

AM: How did he react?

Mom: He loved everything I said and asked me to read Summer Hill. It presented a controversial way to raise your kids. Basically you raise children to be what they want to be. You don’t spank kids, yell at them or put them in a corner. You listen to them, because they are people. I thought, That sounds very nice.

AM: Ah, so we have Dad and you and that book to thank for not putting ceilings above us.

Mom: No ceilings, but roots—so you’d be grounded.

AM: You went on to have five of us. Was that the plan, or how did that happen? I mean, I know how it happened…

Mom: Do you want me to paint you a picture? *snickers*

AM: Um, that’s all right. But thank you. Did you plan to have a big family right away?

Mom: We knew we wanted several, but we didn’t have a number in mind. I wanted each of you kids to have at least two years between, so that they could be babies. I have friends who say they want to get “that little baby part” out of the way. But I love baby parts. They’re my favorite. And we didn’t have to work hard at it, let me tell you!

AM: Okay, awesome! Moving on.

Mom: *laughs* Like my friend’s son says, “Mom, you did it three times and that was it, right? To have three kids?” If she brings up anything about sex he just shuts her up.

AM: Well, I’m glad it came easily for you and hope you did it more than five times. That is all I will say. *clears throat* *sips water* How did you find time for yourself, and manage to stay sane with all these wee ones running around?

Mom: I was privileged to be able to stay home with you guys. I really admire parents who have full-time careers and kids; I think that’s really difficult… We’ve always stressed family time. When Dad was a driver during the busy season, he’d leave early in the morning and not get home until you guys were in bed. So I always made sure that he’d see you at breakfast. He’d come home frozen to the bone and ravenous. That’s when you saw your Viking. Before even changing his clothes, Dad would go up and give each of you a big cuddle and if you wanted, he’d read you a book. I really learned a lot about parenting from Dad. Dad and my aya—my nanny.

When ever I had one of you guys, I’d come home from the hospital and Dad would have the kitchen floor washed, the laundry all caught up, fresh-baked goods ready and flowers on the table. Even now he does it, when I go to see you in California.

Oh, and time-outs in the bathroom always helped.

AM: So that’s what you were doing in there!

Mom: Yep. Time for myself, even in small increments, made all the difference. And Sunday was family day. It didn’t mean you could not go out anywhere, but it was a day that we spent together—to a park, hiking or have a picnic. We always had supper together. If someone was upset or crying, I’d turn the stove off and took whoever it was to go read a book, watch “Mr. Rogers” or rock in the rocking chair. After that, we could have a happy meal.

AM: I’ve always valued that—eating as a family. What did you think when you met me? I don’t recall, for some reason…

Mom: From the day you arrived, you were just a bubble—floating free and full of it. You just had a blast. You found everything very, very enjoyable in life. You had colic, so it was a little testy at first… You found ways to stay busy and keep us entertained. Remember the time you put sock balls in your dress during nap time? We found you tricycling around the neighborhood singing—

AM: Uh, yes, Mom. We don’t need to go there. What are some of your goals or dreams for the next 40 years?

Mom: I think just to encourage each other in our own things and in our things together. I’ve always loved doing things with my hands. When you have kids, you have all these projects you start and never finish. I’ve always liked doing small projects, so that I feel accomplished. That’s kind of how Dad is with gardening. Now that he’s retired, he gets to do more gardening and cooking, spending time with the dogs… Finding joy in the little things is important. That’s one thing I love about babies—the wonder in their eyes as they see things for the first time. As we grow older, we lose that sense of wonder. I think we need to keep it captured. And Dad is a wonder.

AM: Anything else you’d like to add?

Mom: Just that I’m very spoiled.

AM: I think you spoil us. Everyone who knows you’s been spoiled, Mom.

Mom: Well, maybe the definition of spoiled is loved. *laughs*

AM: Sounds like a poem that should happen.

Mom: Maybe it should.

♥ Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! ♥

Any thoughts or questions to share with my mom? What do you do to ensure happy, lasting relationships? What lessons have your parents taught you? We’d both love to hear from you!

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