Friday, January 29, 2010

"Stressed" Spelled Backwards is "Desserts"

Stress. Everyone's got it. Some more than others. I've always tried to be fairly laid back, anticipating problems and trying to focus more on the potential solutions than flailing my arms about and whining. That doesn't mean I'm not stressed. I internalize it. Got the ulcers to prove it.

When I get completely frazzled, I like to take a break. Just a quick trip somewhere where I can kick back, sink into some form of water - be it the ocean, a pool, spa or sunken bathtub, have a glass of wine and let it go. Of course, in the real world that isn't always possible. For those occasions, I've tried yoga, meditation, and more commonly, massive doses of chocolate.

I saw a recent article on Yahoo that listed twenty easy tips for lowering your stress. Its mostly based on the theory that planning and dealing with stuff will keep the little things from piling up and pushing you over that edge. Here's their list:

Go to bed thirty minutes earlier than usual.

Get up twenty minutes earlier than usual.

Before you go to sleep, prepare for the morning.

Bring a hat and an umbrella.

Don’t wear tight clothes or uncomfortable shoes.

Make a list.

Listen to a favorite song.

Keep extra cash and stamps in the house.

Be polite and be fair.

Laugh out loud.

Have a good book to read.

Keep an extra set of keys.

Exercise.

Always keep your passport in the same place.

Throw something away.

Don’t say mean things about other people.

Put a Bandaid in your wallet.

Keep gas in the car.

Pay attention to someone else.

Make your bed.


I'm not doing so good on this list. I rush around in the morning to get that extra ten or fifteen minutes of sleep I probably don't need. I never take an umbrella. I never get gas or cash or stamps until I absolutely have to. Its terrible, really. I'm always up for laughing, singing or reading though. What about you? What are your favorite ways to de-stress? Think any of these might help you out?

SP

Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Toys

I've been playing with my new toy this week...Barnes and Noble's Nook. It's their answer to Amazon's Kindle. So far, I LOVE it.

I will admit that I haven't actually read an entire book on it yet. Or, I haven't at the time I wrote this blog. I have every hope that by the time this posts I will have. But I have been buying and downloading books. I'm sure B&N is very happy with the heat being generated on my credit card. I've uploaded my own pictures to use for backgrounds and screen savers. I've read a few pages of every book that I've purchased and a few they gave me for free.

So far, I love the feel of it in my hand. This is honestly the thing I was worried about most. I enjoy holding a book. Flipping the pages. The crinkle of the paper. Obviously, you don't get that on an ebook reader. However, the flip side is that it's so light and definitely easier to hold up than a hardback book. I don't know about y'all, but after a couple hours those hardbacks can get pretty heavy and hard on the arms.

The screen is very easy on the eyes. And while it isn't back lit - which can be a problem - I bought an attachable reading light which should allow me the chance for some late night indulgence. The bottom screen is a touch screen which I like. I have the ability to view my library by cover and even shop by cover. The downside is that I keep forgetting that the top screen isn't touch and I try to scroll through lists that way before I realize I can't. I'm sure I'll get the hang of it soon though.

There have only been a few books that I was interested in that weren't available in eformat. However, the bright side is that most of the books are less expensive in digital format. (which is good since this thing wasn't exactly cheap...)

About the only problem I've discovered is that I can't take it into the bathtub. I do like to relax with a drink, a book and lots of hot water. Unfortunately, I'm not willing to risk dropping my expensive new toy into that water. I realize in theory this makes no sense since I have no problems taking my alphie in there to write...but I'm not holding alphie over the water and the Nook is too small to read from the side of the tub.

All in all, I'm very pleased. Ask me again in a few weeks and lets see if I'm still using it or if I've reverted to the stone age and good old fashioned paperbacks. I have a feeling that I might end up with a combination of the two.

Instigator

P.S. Problem Child is blogging today at the Pink Heart Society. Stop by and say hi! www.pinkheartsociety.blogspot.com

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Slow Dancing, Feng Shui-ing to the Music


From wordnetweb.princeton.edu: feng shui (pronounced fung shway) - rules in Chinese philosophy that govern spatial arrangement and orientation in relation to patterns of yin and yang and the flow of energy or qi.

Almost four years ago, I posted about an online Feng Shui class I took and how I was trying to apply the principles to my office. Not long after that I sold my first short story and I became a true believer.

Here's the Bagua Map, or the guide to applying Feng Shui principles. In this version of Feng Shui, the map is oriented toward the entrance to a room. The entrance will always be along the bottom of the map.



Now I have a new office (with a reorganized Keeper Shelf and washed curtains I might add) and the RWA PRO group had Feng Shui as part of their January bootcamp (see what you're missing by not being a PRO???), so I began the Feng Shui process again.



  • Red valances over the window -- check


  • Framed magazine covers over the desk -- check


  • A meaningful plaque in my Zen area -- check


  • Two wooden angels hung over the door in the Helpful People area -- check

The rest of the room would have to wait until I can buy a sofa and move the futon from my living room to my office. But still, something didn't seem quite right.

Then whammo! I realized the furniture in this office is reversed from my old one. The desk is in the Creativity area and the futon will go in the Health/Family area. I had the wrong artwork hung in the wrong place. Oh noes!

So... the framed magazine covers came down to wait in the closet until they can be hung over the futon. But what could I do for the wall over the desk? It has a hutch top so there's a limited amount of wall space above it.

I perused the art I'd moved with me and took one of the metal pieces from the old office, found two round wooden pieces at my fave decorating place, Hobby Lobby, and the Feng Shui for that area feels as right as rain now.



My desk and the revised art over it. I'll tackle the cluttered shelves next because clutter is a negative force anywhere.


The red valances.


The Keeper Shelf and the angels over the door


Truer words have never been spoken


My Zen area plaque because a gal's gotta keep a positive attitude.



Next I need to work on the clutter because clutter just saps the energy right out of a room.


I've had fun playing with the feng shui and while I've been decorating my office and bedroom, I've carried the bagua map in my purse so I'll know if that green wood wall hanging will work in the Health/Family area (it will) or if I should pass on the single red vase because things in the Relationship area should be in pairs.


Whether it really works or I just had some good timing is up in the air. But it sure doesn't hurt to try.


Have you ever done any Feng Shui with your dwelling?


P.S. Our very own Problem Child will be blogging tomorrow at The Pink Heart Society blog. Please pop over and say hi to her.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

GERBILS!!!

What’s the difference between a mouse and a gerbil?

I can’t poison the effing gerbils.

Why does my child love rodents so much? Honestly? We went through the whole weasel thing a couple of years ago, but it was stuffed and I really thought we were over that. But no, I have to share my home with gerbils.

Rodents with names. Rodents that I spend good money to keep alive, fed, and housed. Rodents that look exactly like the ones I exterminated when they invaded my kitchen.

~shudder~

AC likes to torture me. I *know* the child has to understand that, 1) I hate the gerbils, and 2) I know she loves the gerbils. Therefore, she’ll bring a gerbil into my office with “Aww, isn’t he cute, Mom. Don’t you think he’s cute? Don’t you want to hold him? Do you love the gerbils, too?”

At this point I’m faced with a dilemma. And, yes, I know my kid is playing me these days. Do I tell the truth (“No, I hate those damn things and one day they will “escape” and tragically disappear.”)? Do I lie to my child –therefore being a bad parent and, even worse, possibly setting myself up to be expected to hold the squirming things? (Not to mention the fact the things poop all the time – and they seem to relish doing it in the hand of the person holding them. It’s disgusting.)

One high note to selling this house and moving to another? My office will be much further away from AC’s room, so I won’t have to listen to the damn things try to gnaw their way out of their cage while I’m trying to work. Do you know how hard it is to try to think sexy thoughts while you’re worried that at any moment a gerbil might run across your toes?

~shudder again~

The things we do for the ones we love. Sigh.

What have you had to put up with for the sake of your husband or child(ren)?

PC

Monday, January 25, 2010

Progress Report



I’m completely stressed out tonight, because I’ve been rushing around for 2 days trying to get ready for an upcoming trip and finish up the large amount of work I have on my plate. Why does everything get so hectic all of a sudden? (And right when you want it to slow down?) And what’s with the laundry? I want to leave everyone with clean clothes, but they seem to multiply every time I throw a load in the wash. Heaven help me!

So I’m going to keep it simple today. Progress report: Very slow this week. I didn’t hit my 2 hour/day goal, but I did at least look at my book every day. With work slowing down, that amount should increase this week. The ladies who have joined me on this journey are knocking it out of the park!!! I’ve been so impressed and inspired. Y’all keep up the good work!

And since I’m low on things to say this week, I’ll leave y’all with a little eye candy to ogle. I'm sure you'd prefer that to me rambling on... and on... and on...

Aiden Turner

Enjoy! Tell me about your progress on any projects you have in the works. Happy Monday!

Angel

PS. Instigator’s winner from last Thursday is Caroline Storer! Email Instigator with your snail mail address at instigator@writingplayground.com .

PPS. Our own Problem Child is blogging today over at I Heart Presents! (and I assure you she was much more eloquent than I) :)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Defying Gravity

I posted on my Facebook profile not too long ago that I was going to try defying gravity. Based on the responses I got, none of my friends are Broadway fans. Or Glee fans, for that matter. I think they had images of me trying to jump off my roof and fly or something.

Its actually a reference to a song from the musical Wicked. Elphaba, later known to be the Wicked Witch of the West, has turned against the corrupt Wizard and her friend Glinda is trying to talk her into apologizing and getting back in his good graces, but she refuses. She asks Glinda to come with her, but Glinda thinks Elphaba is delusional to go against the Wizard and can't support her decision.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with anything? Uh... well... the song Elphaba sings - Defying Gravity - was used in a recent episode of Glee. I found the song to be particularly poignant at this point in my career. Like Angel, the last two years have had the highest highs and the lowest lows. Frustrations. Dead ends. Opportunities have slipped through my fingers so many times that I've gotten down about the idea it will ever happen. For a while, I stopped writing. It's been about two months since I put a significant amount of words to the page. I was clipping along in NaNo quite well, then found out my proposal had been passed along to someone else. I hit a point where I realized I didn't know what kind of book I was writing anymore. Should I up the suspense? Darken the paranormal atmosphere? Add some sultry love scenes? It all depends on where I land, if I land at all. I got confused, discouraged, then decided to just set it aside.

I should be happy that I haven't been outright rejected, but at the same time I feel like a literary hot potato. I can't write without direction and at this point, I don't know where I'm going. And before the well-meaning encourage me to write what I want to write and not worry about where it will end up, I want to mention I've got a hard drive full of wonderful books I wanted to write that are miserably homeless. That advice is great, I think, for new authors who are trying to forge their voice and get tripped up in the mysterious writing rules. I'm past that. I can write a book. A decent one, too, but I'm at a point where the business side is what I'm struggling with. They're great stories, but completely unmarketable. I don't fit in the tidy little box. Neither do all these great popular authors, you say. That's good for them. But I'm willing to bet that ten years ago when they crossed the chasm to being published authors, they played the game. They wrote something safe and built up to writing their current style. Neither editors or agents are willing to take on a risk like me in this crappy market.

So I kept trying to think of a story that fits in this neat area that editors are looking for with their untried authors. I help the others plot 'normal' books without a problem, but when I tried to come up with my own... nothing. I mean, seriously nothing. I have an invite to submit to a line that is actively acquiring and selling well and I couldn't come up with an elevator pitch, much less fifty thousand words. My brain is worn down. The most inspired idea I've had in the last six months has involved a heroine afraid of condiments and a hero detective posing as a hot dog vendor. Oh, or the ventriloquist with the kidnapped dummy. Like I said, outside the box. Hell, I can't even see the box from here. Unmarketable. Unpublishable. Almost eight years of trying and nine books later, I'd ridden on the edge so long I've got a bitch of a papercut.

Might be the wrong choice not to write, but that's where my head has been. I chose not to get kicked in the head by my dreams on a daily basis. At least until I get kicked hard enough that I forget about the aggravation and try again.

So, then I heard this song be performed on Glee. It's a beautiful song. It's inspiring. Making your own rules, living without limits, aiming for the impossible. It struck a chord with me and I ran out and bought the Glee soundtrack. I'm afraid the singer of this song is braver than I am, but hoped if I sang it enough, it might boost me up to head back into battle. Its been about two weeks so far, and although not a full recovery, I have to say I'm feeling better. I have two plots in my head that are close enough to normal for an editor's taste. I think I might be ready to try defying gravity once again.

DEFYING GRAVITY by Stephen Schwartz
Something has changed within me, something is not the same
I'm through with playing by the rules of someone else's game
Too late for second-guessing, too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap

It's time to try defying gravity
I think I'll try defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye, I'm defying gravity
And you can't bring me down!


I'm through accepting limits cause someone says they're so
Some things I cannot change but till I try, I'll never know
Too long I've been afraid of losing love I guess I've lost
Well, if that's love it comes at much too high a cost

I'd sooner buy defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye, I'm defying gravity
I think I'll try defying gravity
And you won't bring me down.

Any Glee or Wicked fans out there? Got any uplifting songs to perk you up when you're feeling down?
SP

P.S. In more uplifting news, Angel is hosting a Q&A session over on the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood today. If you are a writer, stop by and talk about the writing and publishing world with her and her fellow Golden Heart finalists!

PPS: PC here with a winner to announce. JANE! You stumped me with your characters. Send me your snail mail addy (Problemchild@writingplayground.com)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

One of Those Weeks

This week has been absolutely crazy. It was already shortened by the holiday and as much as I loved having a day off to spend with the girls...sometimes you regret those vacation days. At least I do.

I won't go into details because frankly I don't want to scare anyone. Suffice it to say that the Playfriends have talked me down off several ledges this week. Nothing life threatening or earth shattering just more than I thought I could handle at one time.

However, on the bright side of things, I'm an aunt again. My newest niece was born on Tuesday at 12:55 PM. She's adorable and I can't wait to watch her grow up. Seeing her big sister holding baby for the first time reminded me so much of my own girls. Which reminds me how quickly Sweet Pea and Baby Girl are growing up.

I have not held the baby yet - my children are both sick and I didn't want to risk it - but I have a feeling those nostalgic moments will only get stronger when I do. If I start looking moonily at her will someone remind me that phase in my life is over? I really don't have time for another infant... Nevermind. I just thought of changing diapers and the moment passed.

On another bright note, I got a new release date. My next book - the sequel to Whispers in the Dark - will be coming out January 2011. I'm very excited to see Anne and Blake's story hit the shelves!

To celebrate the happiness this week (and to make me forget the bad stuff) I'm going to give a copy of Afterburn to one commenter today. Tell me if there's anything new and exciting going on in your life. Anything you're anticipating? Was your week a wreck? Heck, even tell me about your vacation plans...and whether or not you'll regret them when you get back to the real world.

Instigator

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another little engine that could



Last April I blogged about not judging a book by its cover and the Susan Boyle phenomenon. Susan didn't win Britain's Got Talent, much to my surprise, and then she had a bit of bad publicity from run-ins with the media. I'm sorry, but you can't take a shy woman from a small village, splash her across television in front of millions of people and not have her experience a bit of panic and pique with the paparazzi.

American Idol started last week and on Tuesday night, at the Atlanta, Georgia auditions, audiences were given a treat during the very last try-out. AI has an age limit of 28, so I was surprised when a gentleman who was quite obviously much older than that came in to audition. He introduced himself as General Larry Platt and after a little fumbling he began to sing his original composition, Pants on the Ground.

Simon and Randy displayed their usual sarcasm. Kara smiled politely at first, then clapped and giggled. Guest judge Mary J. Blige dissolved in laughter. The General kept his cool. Then Simon uttered the famous words, "I have a horrible feeling that song could be a hit."

In case you didn't catch it on television, here it is.




In true AI fashion, there's a story behind the story, and it appeared the next day in USA Today.

General Larry Platt: A closer look


We all got a good chuckle Wednesday out of General Larry Platt and his Pants on the Ground song. Entertaining as he was, I couldn't help but wonder why the American Idol producers saved the last spot of the show for a 62-year-old guy with a funny song.

Now I think I know.

Take a look at the photograph on the home page of the Civil Rights Veterans Movement website. See the young man on the left, looking directly into the camera? That's Larry Platt, age 16.

"We had come by bus in 1963 to a church in Savannah, Georgia to plan a march to desegregate the city," Platt writes. "Reverend Hosea Williams and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were our leaders. That particular planned march was canceled and we were singing to raise our spirits before returning home."

Platt worked with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Georgia, organizing sit-ins in the South.

He was beaten during the Bloody Sunday march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery.

He got his nickname, "General," from the Rev. Hosea Williams because of his heroic efforts on behalf of the civil-rights movement.

The Georgia General Assembly proclaimed Sept. 4, 2001, Larry Platt Day in Atlanta, because of "his great energy and commitment to equality and the protection of the innocent and for his outstanding service to the Atlanta community and the citizens of Georgia."

He remains a community activist in the Atlanta area and recently has become known for publicly protesting foreclosures.

If anybody in that Atlanta crowd deserved his 15 minutes of fame on national television, it was Larry Platt.

When he tells you to get your pants off the ground, you'd best listen.


True to Simon's word, Pants on the Ground has become an internet sensation, and last Saturday night I saw a young man who deserved a good dose of the General's advice. I didn't dare tell him, but on my way to the car I was hummin' the song.

It's still too early in the season to have much of an idea about who'll make it and who won't, but so far we've seen a few really good singers. And I'm looking forward to seeing new judge Ellen Degeneres once we get to Hollywood week.

Are you an American Idol fan? Whose your favorite winner to date? Or non-winner for that matter since quite a few of those have gone on to land recording contracts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Keeper Shelf (and copious amounts of dust)

If you are my friend on Facebook, you may have seen some status updates regarding the Paint-a-palooza going on at my house. After 9 years in this tiny house, we’re finally going to move. And let me tell you, you’ve never heard such b*tching and moaning in all your born days (and that’s just from me). I want to move. I just don’t want to do the other stuff I have to do in order to move.

Getting the house ready to put on the market sucks. Big time. If for no other reason than it has proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt (not that I had one) that I am a lousy housekeeper. Dear dog, the dust! Did you know that dust can get behind your furniture? Or that occasionally you should probably take down your curtains and run them through the washer?

Seems I learn something new all the time...

But enough about that. Getting the house ready to sell also involves boxing up 80 percent of what we own and putting it into storage so that the house will look bigger and less cluttered. So anything I don’t use on a regular basis was fair game for boxing up. This included my Keeper Shelf.

Of course, going anywhere near the Keeper Shelf is dangerous. Passion and drama and excitement awaits! Heroes I love, villains I love to hate, and heroines I want to be are lined up, ready to be read again. These are the books that touched my heart, so getting anywhere near them is dangerous. I might not be useful to you for the rest of the day. Possibly longer.

My Keeper Shelf is actually a bookcase in and of itself, and the books there are well-loved. Splintered bindings, torn covers, water-damaged pages, Books that, when laid flat, fall open to *that* scene. These characters are like my friends – we’re on a first name basis, after all. I miss them and like to catch up occasionally. These are the books that I can open up in the middle and start reading since I know the beginning by heart. These are the books that I turn to when I know exactly what I need, and they deliver it every time. When I need a good cry, I know which book to grab (and oh, to be that talented -- I *know* what’s coming; how can the author make me cry AGAIN over it?). I know who to turn to when I need a laugh.

Don’t ask me titles, because I’m not the best at remembering those. Jamie and Alec. Elizabeth and Ian. Blair and Wyatt. Min and Cal. Simon and Kimberly (Okay, so her name’s really Tawny, but I *know* Simon’s really saying “Kimberly”…)

Ah, the Keeper Shelf. It’s a dangerous, wonderful place to be.

Let’s play a game, ‘kay? Do you recognize any of the couples above? Name the books. Or list your favorite romance couples, and we’ll take a stab at naming the books. Or just tell us some of your Keeper books. I’ll even choose a winner to get one of my books – maybe it will end up on your Keeper Shelf…

(Bonus points to those who haven’t washed their curtains in years either…)

PC

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Road I Travel




This past weekend I met with my writing accountability partners. We all know we want 2010 to be an awesome year for writing and I, for one, need all the help I could get.

2009 was a tough writing year for me, despite my Golden Heart final. I had periods where I wrote a lot and submitted, but I also had long times of drought where no words would come. My characters were utterly silent. There was no joy in what had once been one of the biggest sources of happiness in my life.

Why? Coming out of this "dark night of the soul” required me to ask myself this very question. I’ll be honest, I seriously considered giving up writing twice last year. I say this not to garner sympathy, but so you can understand that the writing journey isn’t all hilltops of flowing words and finished manuscripts. It can be a tough road to travel, as well.

But in asking myself “Why?”, I had to face the depths of fear and confusion hidden behind those silent periods. The fear that I’ll never publish a book. The fear that I’m not talented enough to be more than mediocre. The confusion over high contest placements and low editor interest. But in the end, all that matters is the story and my love for it. I decided that I was ready and eager to recommit to my writing. My accountability partners are ready to help me see that commitment through, for which I cannot thank them enough.

I knew that one of my Big Goals this year would be to establish a daily writing habit and to raise my writing time to a higher daily priority. So I decided to initiate a 30 Days of Writing Challenge. I’m committing myself to writing something, anything, every day in an attempt to form a daily writing habit. Whether it is one paragraph or ten pages, I must write or revise each day. This goes hand-in-hand with making my writing a priority in my daily life. I want it to be the first thing I do, not the last. I don’t want to get to the end of the day and realize that the one thing I wanted so very much to do – Write – I didn’t even touch. This isn’t going to be easy, but in recommitting myself to my characters, books, and talent, I’m willing to face this tough assignment.

For those of you who are writers, I’d love for you to join me in this experiment. I’ll be posting my progress on FaceBook (you can friend me under Danniele Worsham) and weekly checking in here on Mondays. Hearing about your progress would help inspire mine! For you readers out there, I know you can understand the emotions behind this struggle, even if writing isn’t your thing. We all have that one dream in life that both challenges and rewards us. Writing just happens to be mine.

What are your dreams and goals for 2010? What are you recommitting to this year – your writing, healthy living, relationships? What is the one thing that would really benefit from your focus for 30 full days?

Angel

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Website Revamp Contest Winner!!!!

Without further ado, our contest winner of a $50 gift card from Amazon.com is:

Sue Ahn!

Please send your email address to Smarty Pants at webmaster@writingplayground.com . Prizes not claimed within 7 days will be reawarded to another participant.

Many thanks to everyone who participated! We received some awesome feedback about our new website design and found a bunch of those pesky broken links. We encourage everyone to enter our Beach contest for the months of January and February (see sidebar link) for another chance to win some really awesome prizes. Also, signing up for the monthly Playground Newsletter will keep you informed about upcoming contests and prizes.

Thanks!
The Writing Playground

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Happier 2010

I saw an article recently on Intent.com about ways to make yourself happier. I thought they were important tips to share because I don't know about you, but I could use a happier year. Really, a lot of times you can't change your situation but you can change how you think about and manage the situation. The article even kicks off with this quote from Marcus Aurelius Antoninus ~ "Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking."


That makes all the difference, really, although altering your brain can be hard work (especially if you're a cynical, sarcastic, old cooter like I am). On our road to happiness, here's their 15 tips for being a happier person.

1. Be your own BFF (best friend forever). Enjoy your own company. Embrace everything about you! Without a doubt, it's the most important step towards being a happy person.

2. Smile, giggle, snicker, or chuckle! Smiling releases serotonin in the brain, which instantaneously gives your mood a lift.

3. Dream big in every area of life. Set your life in motion and manifest your heart's desire.

4. Shut the doors and the windows tight! And then put on your favorite song and sing out loud. Let it rip!

5. Cook a healthy, delicious meal. Serve it up pretty and savor the flavor, one bite at a time.

6. Expect a miracle. Believe that something wonderful will happen for you today. The universe is waiting to shower happy blessings on you.

7. Meditate, pray and chant. Research shows that people who are spiritual tend to be happier and healthier than those who are not.

8. Pull up your best pair of warm socks. Wiggle your toes and enjoy a cozy kind of bliss.

9. Sleep baby sleep. Seven or eight hours each night should increase your energy and decrease your moodiness.

10. Count your blessings daily. Gratitude, the emotion of thankfulness, is one of the key ingredients for living a happy life. Make gratitude a habit and happiness will be yours.

11. Wake up early! Start the day off on a happy foot, with a happy thought. The morning hours are full of spiritual energy and prana (life force).

12. Let the sun shine in. 20 minutes of sunlight per day improves mood and wards of Seasonal Affection Disorder (SAD).

13. Take a hot bath. Feel the tension melt away as you sink into a pool of happiness.

14. Say "Good Job!" Give yourself permission to pat yourself on the back. Recognize your accomplishments and positive qualities.

15. Happiness is contagious! Surround yourself with happy, positive people who share your values, your goals and dreams.


I think it's a pretty good list. What about you? Do you agree? Think some of the things are bunk? Anything you'd add that Intent.com left off?

SP


Contest : Okay - this is the last day of the website launch contest. Be sure to email the answers each day for an entry to win a $50 Amazon.com giftcard! Today's question will force you to crack open the Playground Yearbook to answer it.

The Playground Hall of Feet is a long standing tradition that goes back to the very retreat where the Playground was formed. Since that time, only two "guest feet" have ever appeared in the gallery. Whose feet made an appearance along with a lovely golden lady?

Email the answer to webmaster@writingplayground.com to enter and don't forget we're also offering additional entries for broken link reports. The Playground has a ton of new links, especially in the article and interview archives. Help us catch any glitches for more chances to win.

Be sure to check back tomorrow to see who the lucky reader is!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Joys of Jury Duty

Many of you might remember my own foray into jury duty awhile back. It was boring but I managed to fill the endless hours with books, conversation and a stint on one civil case. A week of my life gone.

Now it's Zilla's turn. And I have to admit that I've been laughing behind my hand the whole time. Zilla is not the type of man who sits still. He is in constant motion and if he isn't in motion he's not happy. Idle hours irritate the hell out of him. Therefore, he has not been a happy camper. The first day he sat in the jury lounge until 4PM...doing nothing. The second day he sat there until 1:45...doing nothing. The fact that they've kept him hanging around twiddling his thumbs while he could have been doing something is driving him INSANE. Soooo funny.

I warned him. I told him to bring copious amounts of things to occupy himself with. I suggested snacks and juice boxes. He countered with a six pack and a pillow. I promised him the security guards would at least confiscate the beer on his way in. I think he settled for his phone and a book. Yeah, that's gonna hold him for an entire week.
As I'm writing this, he has several days to go. I'm taking bets on when he blows his top...and whether it results in a trip to criminal court of his own. I'm honestly not sure who I'm rooting for. Zilla all spun up is kinda fun to watch. It doesn't happen often and as long as you're not the object of his derision...

Zilla has promised me that if he ever receives another summons to appear for jury duty he will do whatever it takes to get out of it, including breaking bones. The thing is, I know he means it.

Have you ever had jury duty? Did their inefficiency drive you insane? Did you enjoy the process?
Instigator

Win A $50 Amazon Gift Card!!!

The Playfriends are celebrating the new look of our website for 2010 by giving out a big prize this week – a $50 gift card to Amazon.com . The catch? You must answer a question from each day about the website to be entered to win – that’s 5 answers. Check out the blog each day of this week and answer the question found at the bottom of the blog post by sending the answer to webmaster@writingplayground.com. Additional entries may be earned by reporting any broken links you find on the website to the same email address. The winner will be announced on Saturday, so be sure to check in then too. If the prize is not claimed within 7 days, we’ll be awarding it to someone else who answered the questions. Okay?

Thursday's question: From The School page, what was the article in August 09?

We'd also love to hear any feedback you have from your cruising on our new site. Thanks and Good Luck!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

That's What Friends Are For

The title of today's blog is also the title of a mid-80's song by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight. It's always been a favorite and seemed quite appropriate for today.

Last week when it was below freezing around here and too cold to do much besides curl up on the sofa with a heating pad and a thick blanket, I turned on the TV during the morning, something I rarely do. The editor of Prevention magazine was on the Today show and did a feature on "The 6 Friends a Woman Should Have." My interest was piqued and I kept listening. Thank goodness for the DVR, because it let me record and take notes so I could share with you.

Friendships in general have been shown to be beneficial. They lead to better health and a longer life. An Australian study revealed that those with the strongest social ties had the lowest risk of obesity, depression and heart disease. Friends are more important than family, though family isn't unimportant. Contact with family, especially for senior citizens, helps them avoid disabilities and improves longevity.

It's not about having a thousand friends on Facebook though or having a packed social calendar. It's all about the type of relationships you have, and here's a rundown of that Today show feature:



1. A childhood friend -- A friend from your childhood knows the real you -- the essential you. This kind of friend is very centering. As the Today show host said, "No one knows you like those who knew you then." Today's mobile society has left many women living far away from their childhood home, but social networking sites like Facebook can help you reconnect with your neighborhood pals. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way and write or telephone.






2. A new friend -- A new friend opens you to new experiences. They have no pre-conceived notions about you and will often challenge you and give you new perspectives on life. The thing about a new friend is that he or she doesn't stay new for long, so you need to be constantly making new friends to keep yourself out of a rut.








3. A work-out friend -- We all know that regular exercise is good for us, and doing it with a friend makes you accountable.








4. A spiritual friend -- A six-year study at Duke University showed that people who pray or meditate in some way were 50% less likely to die over the course of the study. They expanded that conclusion to say that prayer or meditation can improve your lifespan period. The emotional life you get most likely manifests itself physically as well. Being involved with others in a spiritual way, either through a church, a yoga group, a meditation class, et cetera, offers you resiliency and a connection unlike any other.





5. A younger friend -- Feeling needed is essential to happiness, and many women get that feeling through nurturing or mothering. But when your children are grown and you're no longer needed as a mom, having younger friends can fulfill that need to nurture and keep you current.






6. A partner's friend -- Family and social life intertwine to make a happier marriage.


So I took the list and tallied up the kinds of friends I have and I was able to check off 4 of the 6.

I've recently touched base again with a woman who lived down the street from me when I was growing up. Like me, her children are grown and she's a grandmother. We've just begun reconnecting, but it's been fun to see where the years have led us.

Back in the fall, I attended a divorce/grief recovery group and aside from the great help I received with regard to my emotional well-being, I came out of the experience with five new friends. We get together fairly regularly and try not to talk divorce all the time. We've been out to eat, watched the Christmas tree lighting at the mall, attended a Christmas service at the University of the South and had a slumber party afterward and helped each other move and set up new abodes. I've only known these women since September, but I now count them as dear friends.

Work-out friends. Uhm... let's skip that one. My list of goals for 2010 contained a resolve to get more exercise so let's hope a new friend comes along with it.

I joined a new church a few weeks before Christmas. I'd wandered away from church over the past years and decided to reconnect with the denomination I was raised in. It's a small congregation but a friendly and welcoming one. There isn't any one individual I've connected with (yet) but I've felt a definite connection with the congregation as a whole. I enjoy the minister's sermons and frequently find myself taking notes so I'll remember something he said. The choir is small but talented and the organist is just fabulous. She plays lots of complicated Bach fugues and I'm in awe of her skill.

I think the photo illustrating #5 pretty well explains about my younger friends. I could have given birth to all of them. While I try very, very hard not to play the "Mama card," occasionally I find myself offering advice based on years of experience. And they do their best to keep me in touch with all things current. I mean, a woman closing in on sixty can only dress so young before she crosses the line from fashionable to ridiculous. The Playfriends help me stay on the right side of that line.

And as for the last one, it's a slippery slope and one I'll have to negotiate carefully.

Friends are essential. They have a positive effect on mood and self-esteem, and they offer support in tough times and suggest ways to cope. They like you because they want to, not because they have to. And a REALLY good friend will be right there in the jail cell beside you saying, "Oh my gosh, wasn't that fun!?!?!"


Do you have all 6 kinds of friends?


Win A $50 Amazon Gift Card!!!

The Playfriends are celebrating the new look of our website for 2010 by giving out a big prize this week – a $50 gift card to Amazon.com . The catch? You must answer a question from each day about the website to be entered to win – that’s 5 answers. Check out the blog each day of this week and answer the question found at the bottom of the blog post by sending the answer to webmaster@writingplayground.com. Additional entries may be earned by reporting any broken links you find on the website to the same email address. The winner will be announced on Saturday, so be sure to check in then too. If the prize is not claimed within 7 days, we’ll be awarding it to someone else who answered the questions.


Today's question addresses the Playfriends' appreciation of handsome men. Name one of the men residing in the Locker Room at the Writing Playground site.

Have fun!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Tuesday Ramble... bear with me,and I will come to my point. Eventually. :-)

It’s been so freakin’ cold in Alabama recently, I think it froze my brain as well as my toes. I don’t like it. Not at all. Cold weather makes me grumpy and makes me want to hibernate. AC’s school reopened on Tuesday, only to shut down again on Thursday at noon because white stuff was falling from the sky and the world was ending…

Needless to say, this hasn’t been good for my creative process. (It has, however, been good for the “Get the House Ready To Sell” project list, and my bathroom has been repainted and my office cleaned out.)

It’s also given me some time to ponder my navel, the Universe, and Life. After all, there’s not much else to do when you’re snuggled under the duvet watching Disney movies… You know what? I’m tired of contemplating my navel and the universe.

If you thought this was going to be some kind of profound NEW YEAR –NEW OUTLOOK post, you were wrong. I have no deep thoughts any more. They’re frozen to the sides of my head because I don’t own earmuffs.

So I’ll tell you an amusing story instead. :-) One that made my day… And the day of Laura, the lady who creates my Mood Hair.

I made an appointment months in advance because genius hairdressers book up and I knew I’d want fresh, lovely color for an event taking place on a certain weekend. I had my appointment set for Friday morning. Thursday afternoon, Laura gets suddenly, violently ill. My appointment is canceled.

I’m concerned for Laura’s health, of course, but then I selfishly begin to panic about the three inches of roots and the event that is forty-eight hours away. Now, I can’t just grab a bottle of Miss Clairol and do it myself: my hair is so processed from years of coloring that a home kit (or less-than-genius hands) could cause it to fall out or turn green or something. I call the salon and beg. Can someone fit me in? Someone who can at least get my roots the same color as the rest of my hair?

Brittney, the stylist who works next to the wonderful Laura and is *almost* as talented agrees to work me in. Bless her.

As you do when you’re in the chair, Brittney and I chatted about numerous things, and at some point, it came up that I was a romance writer. We didn’t discuss it much – just that I did and that I loved it.

Laura, for those of you worried for her health, was resting comfortably at home at this point, on her way to a full recovery.

With the horrid roots covered, I go about my business. The rest of this story is reported to me later.

So Laura comes back to work, and Brittney says to Laura, “I didn’t know you had a famous client.” (They obviously have a broad interpretation of the word “famous” around there.) Laura brags on me and my books. The client in Brittney’s chair smiles and nods politely. They chat about books for a minute or two more, and then it’s on to the next topic.

Two days later, the mother of Brittney’s client comes to get her hair done. That client comes in, looks at Laura, and, in an impressed voice, says, “You do Kimberly Lang’s hair? Really? I love her books.” (Unfortunately, there was no mention of her loving my *hair* though…)

*That’s* very cool. It made my day. It tickled Laura too. That got me bumped up another notch on AC’s Famous-o-Meter (yes, AC has created a Famous-O-Meter. She’s ranked all the romance authors she knows on it, and, trust me, being her mom doesn’t get me any special treatment on the Famous-O-Meter’s ranking system.).

Granted, the greater Huntsville Area is not as heavily populated as say, New York, so the Six Degrees of Separation game from reader to author is probably a bit easier to play around here, but still…. It was really, really cool.

So that’s the story you get when it’s cold outside and I’ve been inhaling paint fumes for two days: My brush with being Somebody. :-)

Okay, enough small talk, onto the contest question for today! To refresh your memory, here’s what’s happening:

Win A $50 Amazon Gift Card!!!

The Playfriends are celebrating the new look of our website for 2010 by giving out a big prize this week – a $50 gift card to Amazon.com . The catch? You must answer a question from each day about the website to be entered to win – that’s 5 answers. Check out the blog each day of this week and answer the question found at the bottom of the blog post by sending the answer to webmaster@writingplayground.com. Additional entries may be earned by reporting any broken links you find on the website to the same email address. The winner will be announced on Saturday, so be sure to check in then too. If the prize is not claimed within 7 days, we’ll be awarding it to someone else who answered the questions. Okay?

Tuesday’s question: From The Playdates page, what event are the Playfriends looking forward to this May?

We'd also love to hear any feedback you have from your cruising on our new site. Thanks and Good Luck!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Guest Blogger Donna Alward (Returns!)

The Playfriends are tickled to welcome Donna Alward back to the blog today. (Note to self: ask Donna what she's blogging about before posting to be sure you won't be starving afterward...)

But back to the fabulous Donna... this award-winning author for Harlequin Romance is also a hoot to hang out with, and I'm so glad she's back today, because her topic is one that's a fave around here...

Cooking it up between the pages

If any of you have read any of my books, you’ll find that no matter what, there’s food in there. Even when the heroine can’t cook (Hired By The Cowboy, Montana, Mistletoe, Marriage) there’s food. Even when they eat in fancy restaurants (Hired: The Italian’s Bride) or leave it up to someone else (The Rancher’s Runaway Princess) you’ll find scrummy food. And sometimes it IS the heroine whipping up a gastronomical delight.

Cuz I love food. I love to eat it, I love to cook it. I hate to do dishes. That’s why you’ll hardly ever (don’t want to say never) see one of my heroines toiling away lamenting her dishpan hands. She probably won’t be seen cleaning toilets either. Not just because it’s not romantic. But because I hate cleaning the bathroom and I hate doing dishes.

Anyway *ahem* back to the food.

I’ve got another book out this month and the heroine is a secondary character from The Rancher’s Runaway Princess. Jen O’Keefe runs the local bakery. I know. Not just food but CHOCOLATE. Her signature item is chocolate brownies. Brownies based on my favourite brownie recipe ever. Brownies that have caused some people to raise their eyebrows at me and say “No, you can’t possibly mean that much butter, sugar and eggs!”. Not only that, but Jen is making a change. No more Snickerdoodles Bakery – she’s upgrading to a catering business too! And she’s catering Andrew Laramie’s party at the Lazy L Ranch.

That meant I could think of all kinds of things for her to make. For her business – things like Italian sausage penne. Spinach and pecan salad with poppyseed dressing. For Andrew’s party, the Alberta rodeo staple – Beef on a Bun. I get hungry just thinking about the shredded beef in a rich sauce on a chewy Kaiser roll…

You won’t find a lot of fancy foods in my book, because while I love to eat’ em, I usually keep to good ol’ comfort food. Then again, you never know when I’m going to throw in homemade Veal Parmigiana or a stir fry pan of spicy hot Kung Pao…

So…what’s for dinner at your house?


You can check out the recipes for foods found in my books on my Recipe Corner page of my site.

In the meantime, you can read about Jen and Snickerdoodles Bakery in One Dance With The Cowboy, out this month from Harlequin Romance and book 1 in my Cowboys and Confetti duet.


Visit Donna's page at www.donnaalward.com







* * * *

Win An Amazon Gift Card!!!

The Playfriends are celebrating the new look of our website for 2010 by giving out a big prize this week – a $50 gift card to Amazon.com . The catch? You must answer a question about the website from the blog to be entered to win. www.writingplayground.com

Check in each day of this week and answer the question found at the bottom of the blog post by sending the answer to webmaster@writingplayground.com . Each question you answer gives you 1 chance to win, up to 5 entries for the week. Additional entries may be earned by reporting any broken links you find on the website to the same email address. The more you play, the bigger your chance to win!

The winner will be announced on Saturday, so be sure to check in then too. If the prize is not claimed within 7 days, we’ll be awarding it to someone else. Okay? Let’s play!

Monday’s question: From “Roll Call”, who dubbed us “The Children”?

Email your answer to webmaster@writingplayground.com to enter!


* * * *

P.S. Winners from Free Book Friday’s very challenging post. :)

Becky J. Heath wins the 3 Presents book pack for her creative post.
Mariska wins last month's Holiday FBF prize featuring Linda Winstead Jones and Rhonda Nelson's Christmas Novellas.
Virginia wins the copy of An Affair Before Christmas by Eloisa James.
Please send your snail mail address to smartypants@writingplayground.com

Martha M is the winner of the Revenge contest against SP. Kimberly chose her because "she is sick and twisted and I love her." Martha, send your snail mail address to problemchild@writingplayground.com

Friday, January 08, 2010

Free Book Friday - Presents Edition (Updated!)

It's that day again. Free Books are going out to one lucky reader who comments today. Each month I'm going to try to come up with a different theme. Why? Because I'm neurotic and I need some kind of order to my life. So, I learned recently that Honorary Playfriend Lynn Raye Harris just had a huge debut of her sophomore book - placing 112 on the USA Today List. This is great news for her and to celebrate, I thought what better than a Presents Themed FBF?!


Cavelli's Lost Heir

by Lynn Raye Harris

Normally Prince Nico Cavelli would never waste his time visiting the prison cell of a tourist. Except this particular alleged criminal has stolen something very personal to him— his son, heir to the Montebianco throne!

Lily Morgan always knew it was a mistake coming to the Mediterranean kingdom, but she'd had no choice. First she was thrown into jail for a crime she didn't commit…now she's been bailed out by the prince—though in return she must become his royal wife!



Billionaire Prince, Pregnant Mistress
by Sandra Marton

Aspiring jewelry designer Maria Santos, proud but poor, has come to Aristo to win a royal commission. Cold, calculating Prince Alexandros Karedes masterfully beds Maria, thinking she's only sleeping with him to save her business.


So when Alexandros discovers Maria is pregnant, he assumes it's on purpose. She'll never be a suitable wife--but she's perfect mistress material. What will it take for this billionaire prince to realize he's falling for his pregnant mistress?



Expecting His Royal Baby
by Susan Stephens

Prince boss, virgin secretary...unexpected heir!

The prince with a provocative past has returned to claim Niroli's crown...

Nico Fierezza has never relied on his royal name. But now the king has summoned him. Niroli is ready to welcome its new ruler! Carrie Evans has been in love with Nico, her boss, for years. But he ruthlessly discarded her after one night of loving and now she's pregnant! Carrie will do anything to protect her baby's future.

Does anything include marrying Nico?

Lots of sexy alpha heros named Nico are up for the taking. To win, tell us a little about what you enjoy in an alpha hero and include the phrase - "I want to be swept away!" Check back Monday to find out if you're the lucky winner (and btw - last month's winner didn't claim their prize, so if I don't hear from Sarah Tormey by Monday, I'll award last month's books to one of today's commenters.

SP

PS. Apparently there is also another book being given away today... The Millionaire's Misbehaving Mistress is being offered by PC if you email her with ways to seek revenge against me. Sigh... anyway, see the comment thread for details on how you can win.

PSS. Also, Donna Alward is paying us a visit next week. Pop in Monday to say hi!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Theater Thursday

It's sort of a tradition in our family to go to the movies during Christmas break. I think it began when my mother had 4 kids home from school for 3 weeks and needed a couple of hours to catch up on her sleep...in the dark theater. However, I've carried on the tradition, loosely though it might be.

This year I managed to fit 2 shows into the week I took off of work - one with Zilla and one with the girls, my sister, BIL and their 2 boys. I bet you can't guess which one I preferred. :-)

Zilla and I took a date night and went to see Sherlock Holmes. This is an unusual occurrence. Not the date night, but that we could both agree on which movie we actually wanted to see. Usually one of us just ends up saying, "I'll go see it but only because you want to." This is how he drags me to shoot 'em up films and I finagle my way into chick flicks. However, this one has something for everyone. Action, adventure, gun shots, a mystery, a bad guy, a beautiful woman and a romantic history that threw a monkey wrench into everything. Overall, I'd have to say it was good. Not my absolutely favorite but well worth the money we spent to go see it. And if you can find a movie theater near you that has a 21 and over only section, a bar and allows you to take an appletini in to watch...I say definitely go see it. Besides, Robert Downey Jr. is half naked at one point...need I say more?

The second movie I caught was Alvin and the Chipmunks the Squekuel. It was...cute. The girls certainly liked it, although I wasn't surprised since they've practically worn out the DVD of the first one. The music was current so at least I liked the songs that they were singing. My five year old nephew was spell bound. I'll admit that I didn't go into this movie expecting an advanced script and intellectually stimulating dialogue. For what it is, it was...cute. Would I see it again? Only if the girls guilt tripped me into it. Would I want to scratch my eyeballs out while we were there? No.

I'm not sure I'm going to be making it to any more movies in the next month. As much as I'd love to see the Blindside - and, yes, I still haven't made it to that one - I expect to be snowed under...possibly literally.

Did you see any movies over the holidays? Are there any coming up that you're looking forward to?

Instigator



Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Walkabout Wednesday


The Mayan Riviera – Jewel of the Yucatán

Riviera. This word immediately conjures visions of bikinis, the Cannes Film Festival and the casinos of Monte Carlo. Generically defined as a coastal area with holiday towns and beaches, it’s most often associated with the French or Italian coastline.

However, another Riviera is quickly becoming famous for its white beaches and turquoise waters. An hour by air from Miami, the Mayan Riviera is not as densely populated as Cancun, its neighbor to the north. Fewer people and a slower pace have turned this stretch of coastline into a favorite tourist destination for folks seeking sun and relaxation and for couples looking for a terrific honeymoon spot.

Located on the Yucatán Peninsula, the Mayan Riviera is not as developed as Cancun, yet still has plenty of all-inclusive resorts, which provide every amenity without the “metropolis” atmosphere of Cancun’s mega-resort properties.

Playa del Carmen, forty miles south of Cancun, was a sleepy village until a few years ago. Discovered by Europeans as a cheaper alternative to Cozumel, Playa is pure Mexican-Caribbean relaxation and is frequented by backpackers, archeology buffs and sun-worshippers alike.


Fifth Avenue, Playa’s main shopping area, is a pedestrian-only street with plentiful shops carrying an eclectic mix of colorful pottery, arts and crafts and gift items. Be prepared to haggle. It’s all part of the ambience of Playa’s shopping.

The ferry to Cozumel is at the end of Fifth Avenue along with Señor Frogs, a favorite watering hole for tourists. Twelve miles off the coast, Cozumel has long been considered the gem of the Mexican Caribbean. World-renowned for diving and snorkeling along a stunning coral reef, it offers a laid-back vacation experience. A shortage of potable water has halted rampant development, which delights tourists looking for simple island life.

Should you tire of shopping or lying under a thatched canopy called a palapa, sipping the bartender’s specialty, the area is teeming with exciting and educational side trips.

Xcaret, a one hundred fifty acre ecological park, is six miles south of Playa del Carmen. It features underground rivers and lagoons for snorkeling and scuba diving, botanical gardens, an aquarium and a swim-with-the-dolphins program. Xel-Ha, a state park with similar facilities at half the price, lies a little further south. Both are first-rate for a day of family fun.

Perhaps the most famous attractions in the Yucatán are the Mayan ruins, especially those at Tulum and Chichen Itza. The best known of the Mesoamerican civilizations, the Mayans originated in the Yucatán around 2600 B.C. They developed astronomy, mathematics and their own calendar systems. Their architecture, which consists of elaborate and decorative temples, pyramids and palaces built without metal tools, still puzzles and amazes modern engineers.

Tulum, often considered the most beautiful of the Mayan sites, is located eighty miles south of Cancun. It is the only Mayan city of any significance built directly on the sea. While it lacks the architectural complexity of other sites, it exemplifies the mantra of any real estate agent – location, location, location.

Poised on cliffs forty-five feet above the Caribbean and facing the rising sun, the ruins consist of several structures and a city square used for ceremonies and rituals. The Temple of the Frescoes contains hieroglyphs and restored murals depicting Mayan gods. The House of Columns was one of the largest residential buildings in Tulum and is more complex than most structures on the site. The palace-like edifice contains four rooms and a roofed sanctuary. In keeping with its name, six columns support the roof of the main room.

The most impressive structure at Tulum is the Castillo or castle. It holds court on the bluff overlooking the sea and is the tallest building on site. Used as a temple and quite possibly as a lighthouse, the building is laid out with portals facing in four directions. The alignment of structures is significant in the Mayan culture. This compass-like layout most likely allowed the Mayans to use the Castillo as a sort of solar calendar, with the solstice sunlight shining through the building via the north and south doors.

The most recognizable ruins of the Yucatán are the ones at Chichen Itza. Located one hundred twenty-five miles west of Cancun, the town covers almost three miles in area. Chichen Itza was initially settled as an agricultural development. The large number of cenotés or water-filled sinkholes in the area, made it ideal for settlement and growing crops. As the Mayan culture developed, Chichen Itza became more of a religious center as reflected by the large number of ceremonial buildings on the grounds.

The Temple of Kukulcan, the plumed serpent god, is the highlight of your visit. It is seventy-nine feet high with four steep staircases facing in the four cardinal directions. Each stairway has ninety steps, and the total number of steps, combined with the number of stairways and the single upper platform adds up to three hundred sixty-five. Climbing these steep, narrow steps is quite a challenge and at the top you may find a hysterical tourist who’s climbed up but is afraid to make the return trip.



This temple is the most famous example of architectural alignment in the Mayan civilization. People gather each year during the spring and fall equinox to watch the sun illuminate the steps and create the image of a great snake slithering down to Earth.

Another oddity of the temple is its acoustics. If you stand in front of the stairs of this eleven hundred-year-old structure and clap your hands, the pyramid answers with an echo that resembles the chirp of the sacred quetzal bird. Acoustical engineers compared recordings of the echo to recordings of the quetzal and determined them to be identical. Varying your position along the staircase can vary the tone by as much as half an octave.


Whether you’re a beach bum or an archeology buff, young or old, the Mayan Riviera and surrounding areas offer plenty of possibilities for vacation travel and fun. This land of white beaches and jewel-tone waters will fit every budget and style. Why not check out one of those palapas for yourself?




Do you like the beach? Ever been to the Caribbean? Some other fabu beach resort? Tell us about it!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Tasteful Tuesday -- Cheese

I’m a bit of a cheese freak. Now, as a good Southern girl, I was pretty limited in my cheese tastes growing up: American, Swiss, Cheddar, Mozzarella, pre-grated Parmesan, and Colby. Maybe some brie on occasion, but that big display of cheese at the fancy grocery store never really warranted a second glance.

Then I moved to the UK, and a whole new cheese world opened up for me. At first, I felt like the biggest hick in the universe ("what do you mean “American” isn’t a real kind of cheese?”) But then my cheese education began, and I’ve become one of those people who will spend $10 on a wedge of Parmesan cheese and grate it myself.

I could eat Boursin on bagels for breakfast, a white cheddar paired with apples for lunch, a hot, melty brie and strawberries for dessert, and creamy Camembert with just about anything, any time. A steak with a gorgonzola crust may make your arteries clang closed in protest, but your tongue will be happy! The Playfriends (except for Angel) love my Emmenthaler and Gruyere fondue. (And I’m looking for a fondue recipe that will satisfy all the Playfriends.)

I’ll eat goat cheese on just about anything, and honestly, I’d probably eat dirt if you mixed it with Neufchatel. Marscopone, ricotta, cottage – bring it on.

My appreciation of stinky cheeses is very limited, and I’m still on the fence about many of the “blue”-type cheeses. DG loves smoked cheeses, but, to me, barbeque should be smoked – not cheese. So, my cheese love is not absolute or without bounds. But there are still plenty of cheeses left for me to discover, and trust me, that’s a journey I look forward to!

I’m not ignorant of the downside to cheese; it can be high in fat, cholesterol and sodium, and therefore not the Heart Association’s Most Favorite Food. Soft, unpasteurized cheeses can also carry harmful bacteria. If you’re lactose-intolerant, cheese is probably not your best friend.

But cheese *is* a good-for-you food. It has high levels of calcium, phosphorous, and protein, and contains vitamins A, B-12, and D. Your bones and teeth are the obvious beneficiaries of cheese, but there is also some evidence that makes cheese a player in helping with hypertension, liver function, and even cancer prevention.

My Southern roots need not fear, though, because there is one cheese that many will turn their noses up at (and really isn’t even “cheese” by definition), but that I will never be able to forswear – no matter how refined my cheese palate becomes:
Good old Velveeta. You can’t beat Velveeta when it comes to pure melty-ness, and melty-ness is very important when it comes to making macaroni-and-cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and, of course, that party staple, Ro-Tel Dip.

So, are you a cheese freak? A cheese snob? Anti-cheese for some reason? Do share with the Playground…

PC

**For more information than you could ever want, visit Cheese.com, a website that will educate you on everything from rind type to what cheese goes well with beer. It also links to places that will deliver cheese to your door and has a huge recipe database.

Monday, January 04, 2010

MOANday-Joseph Sayers

With all the holidays and having been out of town, my internal clock was off and I didn’t realize it was Monday. How could I miss MOANday? January’s hunk comes courtesy of my sister, who gave me the heads up about a model named Joseph Sayers. Enjoy!


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Yummy! May he inspire many sexy heroes this year!

Don’t forget to check out the rest of theme week, including Free Book Friday. Next week, we’ll be running a contest on the blog to introduce the new look on our website. That starts Monday!!!

Angel

Saturday, January 02, 2010

January Website Updates

Happy New Year, Honorary Playfriends! We hope you had a fantastic holiday and that you're entering the new year (and new decade!) with a fresh, rested spirit.

The Playfriends are entering the new year with a fresh, new look - on the website at least! Smarty Pants has been very busy, and the Playground boasts a fresh coat of paint and a good reorganizing. It certainly looks spiffy, but it's also a bit more user-friendly these days. All those fab articles and interviews in the Archives have been indexed and it should be easier to find what you're looking for now. You'll find lots of new photos and other surprises.

Along with our spiffy new look, we have lots of great updates, too!

First off, we welcome SB Sarah of the SMART BITCHES, TRASHY BOOKS blog to the Sandbox. You know, she's really nice, not bitchy at all! : http://www.writingplayground.com/sandbox.html

The end of 2009 means it's time to start thinking about taxes. Diane O'Brien Kelly is back this month with an article about what's *not* deductable on your taxes. : http://www.writingplayground.com/school.html#tax3

In School, you'll find that January's Book of the Month selection (MAGNATE'SMISTRESS... ACCIDENTALLY PREGNANT!) is by someone we all know and who is currently blushing at Angel's rave review:
http://www.writingplayground.com/school.html#MMAP

The start of the new year also means that the contests are back! I'm running the Jan-Feb "Beach Break" contest to celebrate the release of my February book. Be sure to enter!http://www.writingplayground.com/contest.html

The blog is active, as usual. We'll kick off the new year next with our Theme Week (any week with a MOANday and a Free Book Friday is an awesome week, right?). The week after that (1/11-1/15), we'll be celebrating our new look with a really great contest. Check the blog for details. Guest blogger Donna Alward returns on 1/11, and more guest bloggers will be added to the sidebar as we confirm the details.

2010 promises to be a great year! Ours is already off to a great start because we get to share all of this fun stuff with our Honorary Playfriends. We resolve to bring you the best interviews and bloggers and contests we can throughout the year because y'all make our Playground a great place to be.

Here's to great friends, great books, good times, and hunky cover models!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Resolutions!

It's that time of year. January 1, 2010 is upon us! A new year with new opportunities. I don't know what it is about this time of year that makes people want to start fresh. We eat the last of the Christmas goodies, toss out the tree, and bust out the exercise gear.

I know everyone is sleeping late after all the champagne, but pop in and share your resolutions or hopes for 2010. Maybe we can check back in the next year and see how we did.

This year, I would like to:

* Take better care of myself. (I use this resolution as a cover-all for exercising, flossing and eating better in addition to a justification for massages and pedicures). I'm not going to tack goal numbers or anything to it. Just want to feel better in general.

* Take better care of my house. I just... yeah. Declutter, simplify, clean, etc. Might use this as a justification for that Dyson I want. Or some new furniture. Say, I'm liking this resolution business already...

* Make more time for the people in my life. Real people, not the ones inside my computer.

* Read at least one book a month for fun. I hardly ever get to read anymore.

I'll leave it at that for now, though I leave myself room to revise as life changes. Never know what might be important a few months down the road.

What about you? Resolutions can be a dirty word, but what are your hopes and goals for 2010?
SP

PS. I am very late in annoucing my winners for my Christmas giving back blog. BUSY BEE is the winner of Eloisa James's "An Affair Before Christmas" for adopting a family this holiday. Please email me at smartypants@writingplayground.com to claim your prize.

PSS. If you don't check into the blog every day, make sure to scroll back and see if you've won a prize and don't know it. Occasionally we have gifties that go unclaimed. Don't let it be yours!