Thursday, December 31, 2015

Embracing Change and Gaining Courage: What We Can All Learn from a Hobbit

As I read my post from last New Year's Eve, Time:Glancing Back and Looking Ahead, I couldn't help but force myself to look back at 2015 - a year that I will not miss. To say it has been one of the most tumultuous years of my life is an understatement. It has been stricken with loses and personal battles.  And, while I am aware that 2016 will continue to test me and allow me to subsequently grow, I am also looking forward to all the changes that the new year will bring. I have no other choice really. I either try to embrace the changes that my life is taking or I slink back into a cave and wait for life to find me. 

In all my life, for as far back as my teen years at least, New Year's Eve has been without a doubt the worst day of the year for me. To say I am not good with goodbyes would be an understatement. As if I needed yet another reminder of how quickly time goes, or of all the things I haven't accomplished in my life yet, today is the day, and it is thrown in my face like lemon juice poured over a paper cut, only it's not one cut, it's thousands of them. 

But I am going to make a change right here and now (or, at the very least try to.)  For the first time in my life, I am going to attempt (see how cautious I am being) to enjoy New Year's Eve. I am going to look this night in the face and say, "F*CK YOU, 2015. You will not define the rest of my life." 

Phew, okay, I feel better now that I got that off my chest. 

Yesterday, my son and I started our marathon of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings - an event that is spilling into today because, my God, there are only so many hours in one day and we needed to sleep sometime! I can't think of a more suitable story for me to gain strength from, more suitable characters than hobbits whose courage never "ceases to amaze me." 

So, I could stay in my hobbit hole in 2016 and wallow in all that I do not have or have lost. OR, I can take a lesson from Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and I can embrace the adventure that 2016 has in store for me.  And maybe, just maybe, I will find my courage, too. 

May you all have a happy and healthy New Year filled with love and peace. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Home Alone (Family Movie Review)

You know a movie is a holiday classic when your 13-year old son says it doesn't feel like Christmas time because you haven't had the annual viewing yet.  Watching the 1990 hit film, Home Alone, has been a family tradition with my children for years. I remember introducing it to them several years back and they STILL love watching it.

"You'd feel pretty sad if you woke up tomorrow morning and you didn't have a family." ~ Kate McCallister, Home Alone 

We all (by now) know the premise of the story. The McCallisters, a family of seven, are headed to Paris for Christmas along with an aunt and uncle and several cousins. Eight year old Kevin is sent to sleep on the third floor after acting up.  When the power goes out, the alarm clock fails to wake the family and when they are finally woken up they need to scramble out the door and rush to catch their flight. Among all the confusion, the headcount is messed up and Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is left asleep on the third floor. Not until the plane is en route to Paris does the mother, Kate, played by the very funny Catherine O'Hara, realize Kevin was left home alone. 

What ensues is one mother's comical, yet sentimental, mission to get back to her son before Christmas. This brings me to one of the most heartwarming quotes of the film.

"I have been awake for almost 60 hours. I'm tired and I'm dirty. I have been from Chicago to Paris to Dallas to......where the hell am I? I am trying to get home to my eight-year-old son. And now that I'm this close, you're telling me it's hopeless?  This is Christmas. The Season of perpetual hope. And I don't care if I have to get on your runway and hitchhike. If it costs me everything I own, if I have to sell my soul to the devil himself, I am going to get home to my son." ~ Kate McCallister, Home Alone 

Home Alone is a great family film (BUT see rating explanation below) that touches on the valuable lesson of learning to face your fears. I also really like this film because it shows how tight family bonds are despite all the crazy dynamics and sibling bickering that occur in every family. Probably the most memorable character is the old neighbor played by the late Roberts Blossom.  But the highlight of the film is the epic "battle" at the end of the film between Kevin and the hilarious would-be burglars played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. 

The film is rated PG for comic action and mild language. However, while it is categorized as having mild language, there is a lot of it, mainly name-calling. Also, the "comic action" is quite brutal and dangerous. At one point Kevin rides his sled down a flight of stairs out the front door, so you may need to remind children "not to try this at home!" In addition, there are references to female nudity (no actual nudity) and, at one point, Kevin finds and looks through his older brother's Playboy magazine. The biggest shocker to young children may be the local Santa smoking a cigarette.  

Watch Official Trailer

Like I said, Home Alone continues to be a holiday favorite among my sons. O'Hara, to me, was born to play the role of Kate McCallister and makes me laugh out loud every time. I am sure she is one character all stressed out, but loving mothers, can relate to. The film's music is also wonderful. Overall, if you haven't already added this film to your yearly Christmas tradition, I recommend you do so. 

Read more Family Movie Reviews on Lavender Inspiration

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Family Movie Review - GUEST BLOGGER)

It's been 38 years since the original Star Wars film hit theaters. This past Friday, Disney released the much anticipated latest installment in the franchise, Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  I am thrilled and honored (and, honestly, relieved that I get to go see this film without the pressure of writing a review) to have a knowledgeable fan, +Nicholas Neagle, guest post on my blog today with his review of the film that is taking the world by storm. Whether you're a parent looking to see if the film is right for your kids or just a Star Wars fan looking for a NO-SPOILERS review, you're in the right place.  


Star Wars The Force Awakens

In all fairness, I am a huge fan of all things Star Wars. I have enjoyed each and every movie, TV show, book, etc. that I was lucky enough to experience. This year’s release of The Force Awakens was no different. I was not sure what to expect, not only as a lifelong fan, but a dad taking my 10 and 14-year old to see their first new Star Wars movie in the theater.

To be honest, I don’t think anyone who wants to see this movie has to have seen any of the other previous films, but it sure helps to understand a lot of the backstory and, especially, the inside jokes. This story does fit well into the Star Wars universe even though there is a 30-year gap between this film and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

The movie begins where it should, with a backdrop of space and the ships that are the co-stars of the entire series. We meet several new characters at the beginning of the film. There is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), someone whose skill rivals very few in the Star Wars universe. Then we meet both Finn, played by John Boyega, and Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, two characters that will obviously become a very important part of the awakening. The action gets off to a great start with our new baddies, The First Order. They prove immediately they are not messing around trying to reclaim the Empire’s stronghold. Their current henchman, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), also quickly proves he is not to be reckoned with, and he forces the story to take a strong jolt into the fight between the Resistance and the First Order.

From here, we begin to meet some old friends again such as Chewie and the much anticipated return of Harrison Ford as Han Solo. This has to be one of the most rewarding parts of the movie, besides a part at the end, which I won’t spoil. Han and Chewie help our new friends with their discovered mission surrounding, you guessed it, a droid everyone is looking for. The older characters have such presence that they are given a warm welcome each time someone appeared. In addition, everyone in the theater cheered for minutes each time. Rey and Finn must begin to learn about themselves as much as their mission. Rey begins to look inward to her new found knowledge, and Finn begins to see what type of strength he has inside of him to help the Resistance. They do get lots of help from our friends from the old stories, but in the end, the story is about the awakening, the new forces of light and dark.

Watch Official Trailer

There are many great chases, battle scenes, emotional scenes, and a great deal of humor tossed in as well. One thing for long time fans, there are many, and I mean many, references to the original trilogy. It will be fun to look for even more on addition viewings. Overall, the movie really hit a good spot for me and I think it is an instant winner, and I think most will see it more than once as well. I will warn parents that there are a few scary moments for smaller kids, and certainly some emotional ones for everyone. Director J.J. Abrams has helped Disney bring back Star Wars to the big screen and opened up a new story that we all will enjoy.  Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. 

**This review was written by guest blogger +Nicholas Neagle **

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What Sex is That Gift - Huh?

I have to admit.  I am a little disappointed in myself.  No, a LOT disappointed in myself. Yesterday my son and I went to the store to purchase a toy for a "white elephant" gift exchange in his class.  Apparently, the teacher couldn't call it a "secret Santa" exchange because one girl was against Santa.  No, this wasn't a religious matter; she is just anti-Santa.  Well, I am completely offended by the term "white elephant" which refers to "a possession that is useless or troublesome."  Excuse me, but elephants, regardless of color, are anything BUT useless or troublesome.  I considered writing a letter to the teacher but decided to let let it slide - this time only!

Anyway, my son picked out a Star Wars action figure.  This is where everything I stand for and try to instill in my sons went down the drain.  I said, "We'll need to mark this as a boy gift, I suppose."  My son immediately agreed with me while I was slamming my head against the wall. Did I seriously just assign a gender to a freaking Star Wars toy??  PLEASE tell me I didn't do that. I hate the whole notion of the toy industry marketing items specifically for girls or boys.  Hell, I even ranted about it in my post, Enough Foofooness.  For heaven's sake, I am a female and I love all this space crap. Granted I am not an eleven year old girl, but I was only eight when the original film came out and I loved it even then! 

So what was I thinking saying such a thing. Obviously, I wasn't! 

I quickly tried to rectify the damage by pointing out to my son that this is actually a great toy for a boy OR a girl.  But he would have no part of it - damn it! Two steps forward, one step back in the toy equality department. Home we went where I wrapped it in gender neutral paper (seriously, stop this!) and on the front wrote "TO BOY" - I swear, my son made me do it!

I am trying to justify my horrid behavior by pointing out that even the teacher requested that gifts have a blue bow or a red bow on them to indicate if it was a boy or girl gift respectively. I thought back to my years teaching elementary school where every Christmas we'd have a book exchange. Without fail, there would always be one boy crying because he ended up with a princess book or a girl in tears over the monster truck book she received.

I know most of this is just ingrained in all of us and old habits are hard to break. Part of me wonders, if there is a girl who wants the Star Wars toy, if she'll even admit to it.  I'd like nothing better than for my son to come home and tell me all the girls were fighting over the Star Wars toy he gave.  Wouldn't that be a huge step for all of us? 

Read more of my blog here

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Career of Evil: Cormoran Strike Series (Book Review)

"He was not a man who told himself comfortable lies." ~ Career of Evil

Readers are reunited once again with private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin, in the third crime novel in the Cormoran Strike series.  In Career of Evil, the duo must track down a murderer who seems to have a personal vendetta against Strike.  This novel starts with the intensity immediately as we get inside the mind of a serial killer.  The reader is grabbed quickly, however, be warned, similar to the others in this series, particularly The Silkworm, there is a high concentration of brutality in this story.

Robin takes on a much bigger role in this novel, both professionally and personally. And I LOVED that.  While she is dealing with past demons, the relationship between Cormoran and her blossoms. Once again, and what makes this series so attractive to me, the dynamics between the two is both endearing and sexy.  

"You could find beauty nearly anywhere if you stopped to look for it, but the battle to get through the days made it easy to forget that this totally cost-free luxury existed." ~ Career of Evil

This is a dark crime story that will engage the reader with it's many twists and highly interwoven string of characters. Although, some may find it difficult to keep all the backstories of the numerous characters straight in their heads.  The Coromoran Strike series remains my favorite detective / crime series and Career of Evil is without a doubt my favorite in the series thus far. 

Read more of my Book Reviews

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The OCD Traveler

I consider myself a world traveler. I have traveled extensively in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.  I spent two semesters studying / living overseas.  I have traveled with friends and family as well as individually. I have some amazing tales of places and people and some horror stories of travel gone wrong. But, despite all my experience, one thing remains the same - I am a complete basket case the day before I travel. 

I am not afraid of flying - once I am in my seat and on my way - but I am terribly anxious of the process.  Yes, the entire process - from packing and getting the house and pets ready, to driving to the airport and getting through security.  Did I unplug the flat iron? Was the garage door down? What day do the garbage pails have to go out? 

Then there is the connection at some godforsaken airport like Atlanta or LaGuardia.  It once took me 45 minutes to get from my arrival gate to my connecting gate in Frankfurt! Then there are some other airports that we aren't allowed to speak of in my home because the mere mention of them send me into hysterics.  I'd tell you which airports they are, but I can't break my own rule, can I? There are entire cities I won't visit just because their airports were cruel to me during layovers.  

On top of all these usual concerns, I have been dealing with an ear condition for several months now - a condition the doctors can't quite figure out the cause of. I have been reassured by my doctor, however, that, and I quote, "Although you have an increased chance of your ear drum rupturing, you should be okay during the flights."  He's lucky he's cute or that would have warranted a slap. 

Yet, despite all the aggravation, the act of traveling remains one of my favorite ways to recharge my battery.  

So here I go again.  Tomorrow I am traveling domestically just for a long weekend to visit a dear friend for a little bit of R&R.  There is sure to be great conversation, some great food (she has already scoped out all the vegan friendly places) and some great wine tasting - vineyard country here we come!  

However, I spent the day fretting over the preparations and whether or not I have enough time to make my connection in Atlanta. Will the cats be okay? Who will remember to feed my tortoise? Is the damn roof still leaking??  And, I still haven't figured out where the hell I am going to fit my camera.  I'd hate to not bring it. But even prior to airlines charging for checked baggage, I've insisted only on bringing carry-on! Sacrifices always have to be made!!

Anyway, the point of this blog post, which seems to have gotten lost in the travel frenzy, was to tell you I will be back next week with a new book review (which, now that I've mentioned it, I am bound to produce).  Until then, be well and, as always, thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

COMING SOON: Even More Movie Reviews

I have recently received complaints from various readers that they are disappointed that my reviews on "date-night" films (a/k/a reviews for mature audiences) aren't posted on my own blog.  Instead I have been publishing those over on The Entertainment Whacko.

I love the feedback and want to make you all happy (because only good things come to those who try to make EVERYONE happy, right?)  Therefore, I am thinking of adding a NEW page to my blog for such reviews.  I will most likely still only publish them on The Entertainment Whacko, but I will add the link on this new page (once it's up) as well. Hope that is a nice compromise for everyone.

In the meantime, while I am working on this additional page, here are the links (click on the DVD jacket) to the other films I have reviewed that fall outside my Family Movie Reviews section.  Enjoy!

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (Family Movie Review)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

In a special weekend movie review, I give my thoughts on the final film in The Hunger Games series - Mockingjay, Part 2.  And what a finale it was.  

Before I go any further, let me mention that this review is strictly for those who have seen the first three films. If you haven't, you will be lost reading this review AND, most definitely, seeing this film. 

"It's war, Katniss. Sometimes killing isn't personal." ~ Mockingjay Part 2

In my review of Mockingjay Part 1, I admit I actually preferred the films over the novels by Suzanne Collins. And this last film was no exception.  The film picks up right where Part 1 left us. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering from injuries sustained in an attack on her by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who has become brainwashed by Panem's President Snow played by Donald Sutherland. Still the voice and face of the rebellion, Katniss is out for revenge and Snow's blood.  

District 13's President Coin (Julianne Moore) leads the rebels in an all-out war against the loyalists supporting the Capitol and Snow.  With the two presidents pitted against each other for power, many moral dilemmas are faced - showing war is a terrible business. Manipulation and propaganda are key elements to succeeding, but at what cost? 

"The thirst for blood is a difficult urge to satisfy." ~ Mockingjay Part 2

Katniss fights to bring Peeta back from the mental hold of Snow while dealing with the harsh reality that the one she loves is now her enemy. Peeta, on the other hand, must try to make sense of what is real and what isn't.  

My son and I liked the film very much.  My only real disappointment came from the fact that the role of Prim Everdeen (Willow Shields) was downplayed in the film. Mockingjay Part 2 is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and for some thematic material. I strongly caution parents not to bring those younger than middle school to this film.  Not only is there graphic war violence, there is one scene that is quite terrifying. 

Overall, the film was a great ending to what has been an amazing series. 

Watch Official Trailer

On a final note, this was the final performance for actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch) who died of a drug overdose prior to the movie wrapping up. However, his character's words - words Hoffman never got to film - still provided one of the more emotional scenes of the film as Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) reads the words to Katniss instead. While the words themselves were beautiful, I was more touched by the fact that I knew they should have been spoken by Hoffman.  

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Truth About Santa for Parents and Children

Last November I wrote about the sadness I felt that the tradition of Santa Claus would be coming to an end soon in my home.  We managed to make it through Christmas of 2014 with my youngest, then 10 years old, still believing. He was already older than most children who had stopped believing in the magic and if you knew this little boy, you would understand why.  His entire existence is built on imagination and fantasy.  A talent he hopes to use as a screenwriter and director when he grows up. 

Throughout it all though, my older son kept pulling me aside and insisting that I tell his brother the truth!  

The Truth?  Well, what the hell is the truth?  Isn't the truth anything we care to believe?

OK, ok - I'll get my own head out of the clouds.

So as we grew closer and closer to the official holiday season of 2015, with my younger son still believing, and my older son still giving me "the look" I started researching the situation online. Normally children start questioning things on their own, piecing things together and then realizing "the truth" (again with the stupid word).  But I admit I was beginning to panic that the longer this facade continued, the worse the impact of "the truth" would have on my son. I knew I would have to tread lightly. 

I found some useful information, validations that the entire Santa Claus tradition, in fact, has it's benefits to children.  According to experts, the belief in Santa teaches our children to have faith in things they cannot see or touch - a skill that is "important throughout life as they learn to believe in themselves, their friends, their talents, and their family." One article, or maybe it was a Pinterest post, said it helps them "believe in something [they] can't measure or even hold in [their] hand - love, that great power that will light [their] life from the inside out, even during the darkest,coldest moments."  

WOW - pretty deep, huh?  

As we approached Thanksgiving, my young son, now 11 years old, expressed to me his excitement that his Elf on the Shelf would be arriving this week. And, the chore I was putting off all these months, of telling him "the truth," hit me like a ton of bricks. I decided to pull up the sample letter I had pulled off the Internet a few years ago (and quoted above) and had saved as "THE Letter." I tweaked it a bit because I wanted to add the history of Saint Nicholas - which to me is extremely important - and even included a copy of an old newspaper clipping I found online.  I took Noel the Elf out of his box where I carefully stored him for eleven months, folded the letter and clipping into an envelop and tucked it under his arm. On the envelop I wrote, "Do not open. Bring this to mommy."  

I know this is going to sound weird, but I did that for two reasons. One) because I wanted him to be with me when his spirits were broken by what I was now referring to as "the damn truth" and Two) because it gave me one final chance to change my mind and not show him the letter - after all, it WAS addressed to me. 

At 6:00am, he stumbled into my room, saw his Elf on my nightstand with the aforementioned envelop in his arms and right there - in that split second - my heart broke.  He "woke" me up (little did he know that I had been awake starring at that envelop most of the night, even getting up and removing it at one point.)  I sat up, acted surprised, and then - as he handed me the envelop - I took a deep breath.  

I tore it open and read the letter - yes, I f*cking read the letter to myself in its entirety, the letter I WROTE - and then, looked up into his innocent eyes for one last time and said, "Baby, come sit next to mommy." I handed him the letter and watched his face as he read it, watched as the innocence left his soul for the last time. He finished the letter, looked at me with his now ghost-white face, and said, "Oh, so you lied?" Do you want to talk about a knife going into a mother's heart? 

Now, with him cuddling next to me, I said, "No, baby, this doesn't change who Santa is and what he stands for. Santa is alive in our hearts and our souls.  The belief in Santa and ALL the magic he represents is the essence of humanity."  I then read him the newspaper clipping, which I thought would be difficult for him to understand, yet, once again, I underestimated his old soul.  He loved it and it gave him comfort, which is why I am sharing it with you.   

Throughout the day, he asked me some questions about the tradition as he tried to make sense of it all - the realization that mommy and daddy bought the presents (the funny thing was he apologized for always choosing the most expensive LEGO set for Santa to bring), that daddy and, in more recent years, his older brother ate the cookies that he left out for Santa, and the hardest one, that his Elf, Noel, was nothing more than a toy doll.  "So, mom, who replied to all the letters I wrote to Noel?" he asked. "Oh," he replied looking into my eyes. 

That night when I was tucking him into bed, we spoke one last time about the revelation of the day. I explained how difficult the decision to tell him had been for me.  He asked why.  "Because, my baby is all grown up now." 

As I stood to walk out of his room, he called, "Mom! If I continue to write letters to Noel, um, will you answer them?"  

"Oh, absolutely, my love. Absolutely."  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Release the Restraints and Live

They say the number one rule of successful blogging is consistency. And I couldn't agree more.  That is why over the last year I have worked hard on not only being consistent with the frequency of my posts but also the subject matter.  For instance, Mondays were for my weekly book review. Wednesdays (admittedly, this was the least consistent day) I posted something personal.  Fridays were for my family movie reviews.

However, what I have discovered is that I was feeling so pressured.  Pressure to finish my latest book, pressure to sit down and watch a film, pressure to put my often mundane world into words.  So between now and the end of the year (What is that -like six weeks?), I am going to loosen the reigns a bit.  Not take a break from blogging - oh no, heavens to Betsy I do that - but allow myself (yes, "allow" is the right word because the pressure has been all self-inflicted) to write what I want, when I want. 

Being just a little bit flexible will have a twofold result.  It will allow me to explore other areas - such as being able to occasionally contribute to other blogs, such as +The Whacko Blogs, with topics that are outside my usual realm, and it will enable me the chance to recharge and come back, possibly - hopefully - with new found focus.  I also may relax and enjoy the holiday season more (I know, that's three effects.)

The biggest obstacle with this new freedom I'm giving myself for the next six weeks will be ME.  Even as I write this I am staring at a children's book (actually more of a reference book) that I wanted to have reviewed for today - guess that will have to wait for NEXT Monday.  I am also staring at my latest read and calculating the number of pages I have left in order to finish it.  That isn't the way to read a book (By the way, the answer is 289 pages and my deadline is tomorrow!)  What did I tell you? I am my own worst enemy.

The holidays are busy enough as it is without all this added stress that I put on myself.  I expect my numbers may drop a bit, but to my loyal readers, I do ask for your patience.  ALSO, now would be the perfect time to tell me which subject(s) you prefer - the reviews, the life posts, parenting issues, etc., which will allow me to regroup for the new year.

Will I still write reviews? - Absolutely.  But instead of one a week (Do you realize the amount of reading I've had to do this past year to finish a 400-500 page novel in 5 days so I have time to write the review????), maybe I'll do one a month - or something. I don't know yet. And it's OK that I don't know yet.  At this stage in my life (not just age, but situation) I am tired of restraints. In other words, it is truly "now or never" to decide how I live the rest of my life and how I handle my blog is symbolic of that much bigger picture.

To my readers in the States, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Friday, November 20, 2015

IMPORTANT INFORMATION For Women, Men Who Love a Woman, or Anyone Who Knows a Woman

I can't exactly have a blog about being a midlife woman without discussing the elephant in the room - menopause! So listen up if you are a woman, love a woman, or know a woman - keep reading! 


While waiting in line at the coffee shop in late August, my cell phone rang. Looking down I noticed it was my doctor's office so I stepped outside to take the call anticipating how this conversation was going to go. After initial pleasantries were exchanged between the nurse and me, she proceeded to get down to the point of her call. The doctor received my blood tests results confirming that I am, in fact, menopausal.

Last spring I went to see my doctor for some routine tests.  I mentioned that I hadn't had a period since November and I suggested I might be menopausal.  For the last three years (maybe more) I was complaining of an irregular cycle and had asked if I could be starting menopause.  "Possible," she would always say, "but unlikely." Apparently she felt I was a bit too young. Now, with no period at all for six months, she was still doubting that I was in menopause claiming it could be stress or some other medical reason. 

So when I returned to her in August, now 9 months since my last menstrual cycle, she questioned me further.  "What other symptoms are you experiencing?" she asked. 

I proceeded to tell her I was having the usual hot flashes and night sweats (Which makes living in Florida a living hell. I've secretly considered packing up and moving to Antarctica.) I also have noticed increased acne especially along my jaw line (Did you know breakouts along your jaw line are typically hormone related?). Plus, every 28 days I noticed I was still getting PMS symptoms - bloating, moodiness, irritability, and a RAVENOUS appetite. Ladies, you know what I mean - when you can't stop shoveling the food into your mouth. And, I have to tell you, there isn't enough vegan chocolate in the world to satisfy my sweet tooth during these few days. 

However, I was also experiencing new, scarier symptoms such as major insomnia, forgetfulness, heart palpitations, increased anxiety and dry eyes making wearing contact lenses very uncomfortable.  

She looked at me, "Well, those sure are the symptoms, but you are still so young."  This is when she declared she wanted to have blood work done, to know for sure that it was menopause and not something else. She needed concrete medical results. Well, okay, now we have them.  What now?

I called my mom and gave her the news - I mean, it is "news" right? She laughed and said, "Yes, dear, I could've told you that."  Was that a dig at my unbalanced mood swings? Ah, who cares. I couldn't deny that if I tried.  

I know some women have a difficult time psychologically with the implications of menopause. We are no longer able to bear children, and I understand this can be a painful realization for many. Not to be insensitive, but me, not so much. I am blessed to have two beautiful children but will admit - I was not a happy pregnant woman. I didn't glow in the glory of being pregnant. I was physically uncomfortable, an anxious mess, and had somewhat unpleasant deliveries. So much so, that during the delivery of my second son, I turned to my husband and said, "NEVER again!"  My doctor joked that she wished she had a dime for every time I said, "I can't do this" during my second delivery. 

Other women might say they feel a loss of femininity and sexuality.  Personally, I am not experiencing that either. In fact, I am feeling better about myself in that regard than I have in a very long time. So far, fingers crossed, I haven't experienced the weight gain I hear so much about either, but I am being very proactive in that area.  I am sure it also has something to do with my vegan eating as well. 

It has now officially been a year since my last cycle and I can't say I miss it - not psychologically and certainly not physically. The other symptoms I've mentioned are starting to subside and / or I am learning how to cope with them better (All hail the newly installed ceiling fan above my bed, for example.)  Exercise, eating healthy, and taking time for myself - all have helped. 

I do not need a menstrual cycle to feel like a whole woman. So, will I miss it? Please! That is like asking me if I'll miss a monthly hostile-takeover by an alien of my mind and body. As soon as I am absolutely certain that sucker isn't coming back, I am throwing a party with Champagne. So men, if you have made it this far in the post, kudos to you  - now go hug the women in your life because all I can say is, menopause sucks! 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Top 5 Books to Give in 2015

The 2015 holiday shopping season is well underway.  Today I release my annual list of top books I read this year and recommend to the reader in your life (Although, no one will blame you if you buy them for yourself!) Complete reviews can be found at Book Reviews or by clicking on the link in the description below.  

For more gift ideas, see my list of Top Summer Reads (2015) and Top Five Books to Give as Gifts (2014 edition).  As always, happy reading! 

1. Crime / Historical fiction: A mix of a love story, a crime novel, and a psychological look at human behavior under the most dire of circumstances makes The Paying Guests one of the most fascinating and addicting books I've read in ages.  I quickly became sucked into the plight of the characters. I felt elated, heartbroken, and even frightened along with them. (Read full description and review here.) 

2. Women's Fiction / Drama: Me Before You is not your typical love story. Rather, it is a love story of the mind, friendship, and deep connection.  It is a close look at how one human being can inspire another to be the best he can be. It will leave you on an emotional overload craving for more. I personally didn't want this one to end and had to pace myself so I wouldn't finish it too quickly. The sequel was released in September and the film adaptation is due out in June of 2016!  (Read full description and review here.) 

3. Thriller: People everywhere are talking about The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and with good cause. In Hawkins' first thriller, she takes the reader on an emotional ride as her characters deal with the intense issues of alcoholism, depression, and human relationships. The novel is narrated in the first person by three different characters on two different timelines, which off the bat makes it interesting to read.  The Girl on the Train reminds us that we should never assume we know what is going on behind closed doors. (Read full description and review here.)  

4. Historical FictionBrooklyn is so beautifully written, so authentic, I felt like I melted into the pages. Tóibín captures the innocence of the era wonderfully including the strong family relationships and unspoken social etiquette and pure romance between men and women. Honestly, it is one of those novels that I cannot say enough good things about, but I will admit that it will not be for everyone. Do not expect edge of your seat suspense or in your face action. This book is pure heart and soul and poetic storytelling as it focuses on the inherently assumed sacrifices often made by women. I must have read the last paragraph of the novel five times or more, each time letting it sink further and further into my psyche.  Along with the readings came both tears of pain and smiles of warmth. (Read full description and review here.)

5. Fiction: Zevin gives us the right amount of tender moments and romance, even an unexpected twist or two, and proves people can be brought together because of their love of a book.  In the end, all of us readers leave behind a list of favorites that somehow explains what's in our hearts.  I recommend this novel to all lovers of literature and to anyone who has ever been touched by the written word.  (Read full description and review here.)  

Don't forget to check out my complete list of book reviews to find the perfect gift for the reader on your shopping list.  

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Christmas Wish (Book Review)

It's not too early for a Christmas story, is it?  

The Christmas Wish

"Be Brave.
Be Kind.

From author Lori Evert comes a Christmas storybook sure to become a classic. The Christmas Wish is about a kind, little girl, Anja, who dreams of becoming one of Santa's elves. Strapped in her skies, Anja sets out on her journey to the North Pole. In a race to reach it before Christmas, Anja relies on the help of animal friends to ensure her success. In the end she learns that her joy and kindness make her special and help keep the true spirit of Christmas alive all year for those around her. 

Set in Norway, a winter wonderland in its own right, The Christmas Wish will warm the hearts of all those who read it. With stunning photographs by Per Breiehagen that will captivate your child's attention (and are truly the highlight of this book), it is sure to become a favorite holiday story. Just don't be surprised if your own children decide to set off on their own magical trek to the North Pole.

Read more of my Book Reviews. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I'm Bringing Sexy Back

If you follow my blog you'll understand why I felt the need to respond to +Joanne Smith 's recent blog post: A Woman's Worth. In her post (which I encourage you to check out) Ms. Smith touches on how the Internet has escalated the notion that a woman's worth is based on her outward appearance. Women and, sadly, girls of all ages are obsessed with sharing selfies and are basing their worth on how many likes the photo gets. Let me share something with those women right now:

It is such a shame that women who practice this public display of being attention whores don't comprehend that they are demoralizing all women and making it that much harder for ANY of us to be taken serious by men and society as a whole. So it is easy for me to be angry with them, but I am also embarrassed for them. 

Yet men eat that crap up and then feel like they can treat all women as sex objects. I have an acquaintance on Facebook. She is in her fifties. She is what society would consider a knockout. Tall, slender, large-breasted, and blonde, but I'll remind you - IN. HER. FIFTIES. She actually hires professional photographers to take pictures of her in lingerie, the bath tub, leather get-ups etc. and then posts them on her wall. It is actually quite comical to  then sit back and watch how all the dogs comment on how hot she makes them. Ewwwww!

I mean really?? I expect this vain, superficial behavior from twenty-year-old women, not 50-somethings. I mean there are some attributes of hers I wouldn't mind having, but not at the expense of my intelligence, personality, wit, and humor (and, apparently, modesty - LOL) -not my ass, although it happens to be a fine ass! 

Being sexy is one thing I think all people (especially women) strive for. But sexy is not the same thing - it is NOT what +Joanne Smith and I are talking about. Portraying yourself as a sex object is the exact opposite, in fact. True sexiness is subtle and mysterious. Not "don't you like my boobs?" 

Ok, I have probably ranted long enough. But just one more thing before I go:

To the men whose virtual drool I have to wipe off my computer screen just from their comments on such posts, you realize that these women you're falling over wouldn't give you the time of day. And the smart, amazing and attractive women that would have otherwise taken notice of you, are instead just laughing at your behavior. Just thought you'd want to know the truth. 


This blog post was in response to +Joanne Smith 's post A Woman's Worth - check it out!