Saturday, April 28, 2012

My Dream Hut

I came across this hut while Kieth and I were walking through the dunes of Cape Cod:

For some reason it had such curbside appeal to me. It seemed to say: Step inside. Take a rest because there's really nothing to do here. Toss your Kindle Fire and LED TV aside and discover the wonder of calm and solitude. It told me, to be creative, to write as long as I wanted without interruptions and why not take a long walk on the beach. No reason to rush back. It told me that, this is a place where a simple life could happen.

A simple life--it sounded so appealing and that's what this shack represented.

What is simplicity?

According to the blog, My Super-Charged Life ( "Simplicity is choosing to live without excess. It is about eliminating the noise to find the essence of the good life." And oh how much excess we tend to carry in the contemporary world. For example, I currently own a laptop and a desktop computer. Lately, I've been learning more about iPads and have come to believe that I need one. I mean, I don't even own a smartphone, so don't I deserve an iPad. Then, of course, I'll need a case to store it, and the apps available are amazing. iPads are relatively expensive, but I won't have to buy another one anytime soon. They're already on the third version, so it must be perfected by now. But wait, Apple is on the verge of introducing a lighter computer, smaller than the iPad, but not as small as an iPhone.

What should I do?

That hut told me to let it all go--that I had plenty. That true happiness can't be found at the Apple Store. It comes from the beauty of the world, our relationships and working toward our dreams.

Marketers depend on us to be insatiable, always needing more, impossible to satisfy. It's the opposite of simplicity. According to Jeff Nickles, author of A Super Charged Life, simplicity allows us to:
  • Unclutter our lives
  • Have more time to relax
  • Spend less money
  • Achieve better life balance
  • Lighten our footprint on the environment
  • Eliminate the time and expense required by things
  • Focus on what is really important to us
  • Reduce busyness
  • Be more more creative
  • Appreciate the beauty of our surroundings
Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? No wonder that shack in the dunes drew me in. It held a treasure of a message that we often forget in the confusion of our materialistic modern society. Please share a simple thing that brings you joy, but can't be bought in a store.

A Simple Love by one of my all time favorite singers, Alision Krause. It represents what so many of us truly want as we hustle through the busyness of our days. I absolutely fell in love with this video:

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware. Bronnie, a nurse, spent several years working in palliative care. As she tended to the needs of the dying, her life was transformed by what her patients revealed to be their life regrets. She blogged about this and the post was read by more than three million people around the world. Bronnie's personal story is now available in book form.

The five regrets people have before dying according to Bronnie Ware (Clues: It wasn't that they didn't have a greener lawn or more jewelry):
  1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
  3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Whale of a Trip

Being on an ocean beach has to be one of the best sensory experiences available on earth. The briney smell, the sticky feel of salt on skin, the sound of crashing waves and cawing sea gulls, the taste of clams and seaweed, the sight of the teal sea, camel colored sand, and the sky's hue, which varies from charcoal gray to electric blue. Then there's that mystifying sixth sense--so many secrets hidden in the vast body of water. No wonder I feel such an incredible sense of wonder when I stand in the midst of this natural retreat.

That is exactly why Keith and I decided to take a 5-hour drive to Cape Cod, Massachusetts during my spring break to spend a few days. April is one of my favorite times to visit because the tourists haven’t arrived yet and the chances of having a solitary connection with the sea are strong. The beaches on the lower cape are designated as National Seashore so you can walk for miles without running into high rise hotels and swanky restaurants. When you look one way you see the ocean, another sand dunes, another a distant lighthouse.        

And then, there are the whales. In the spring, if you take a two mile walk out to Race Point, at the tip of  Cape Cod's arm, you just might spot whales migrating north after their breeding season in the south. Cape Cod Bay is one of the first major feeding areas they stop at for a bite to eat. We decided to try our luck, and just look at the beautiful day we had for whale stalking:

I couldn’t take my eyes off the water as we strolled. I’ve been on official vessel driven whale watches before, but it was different trying to spot one of these creatures without a guide, without a guarantee--a wild adventure. Okay, maybe not wild, like kayaking down a crocodile infested river in the Congo, but it's as close to an environmental risk as I choose to go.

We walked and walked. We saw flocks of seagulls, jumping dolphins, boats. All wonderful, but not whales. I stopped, put one hand on my forehead as if I were saluting, squinted and scanned the sea. Nothing. I sauntered forward.

“Look!” Keith suddenly shouted.

I turned and saw a spray of water shoot straight into the air--a whale breathing through its blowhole. To my surprise, the activity was only about 20 yards away. Then, it emerged, a mound of gray that could have passed as a battleship rising above the water’s crest. I screamed in excitement. It was absolutely amazing to be that close to the largest mammal on earth. Its tail surfaced then slapped the ocean causing a tremendous splash and circling gulls to scatter. A minute passed. Another whale arrived, then more. Awe consumed me. Talk about a kick back moment. Keith tried to take a picture, but whales aren’t very good at posing and the glare of the sun made viewing through a camera lens difficult. One of those events that has to be stitched into the mind photo album.

I don’t know what it is about discovering a rare natural phenomena that leaves you feeling invigorated, excited and completely alive. A glimpse of a rainbow after a summer shower, standing on a mountain top and seeing an eagle soar, gazing at a shooting star on crystal clear night are all like being immersed with fulfillment, magic.

It reminds us, as we hustle through the routine of our days, that something astonishing and extraordinary can pop up at any moment. It reminds us that there really is joy and beauty in what can sometimes be a laborious journey on this planet we call earth. It reminds us to be patient, trusting and hopeful.

Please share a surprise, either from nature, a person, a pet, a place that left you feeling warm and fascinated.

In honor of the ocean and one of it's greatest explorers, Jacques Cousteau, High Calypso by John Denver. The longer we search and the deeper we dive, the more extraordinary the treasures.

The Night Swimmer by Matt Bondurant--If you like stories with an ocean setting, this one is for you. I'm almost finished listening to it on CD and the language alone is enough to keep me mesmerized. It takes place in a small town on the southern coast of Ireland and has mystic energy weaved into each word. A powerful read.

Hereis the beginning of the description from Amazon:
"The Night Swimmer," Matt Bondurant's utterly riveting modern gothic novel of marriage and belonging, confirms his gift for storytelling that transports and enthralls."

A Cape Cod Sunset:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Strawberries to the Rescue

"You need to gain at least five pounds," my doctor said.

I nodded once and replied, "It shouldn't be a problem. I'll just eat hot, crispy French fries and drink frothy chocolate shakes instead of munching on celery sticks and sipping skim milk."

"Good idea. And plop some whipped cream onto your shake. The extra fat and sugar are good for you."

As I gazed at the this cupcake display in the restaurant where I ate Easter dinner, I wondered if that conversation really happened or was it a really good dream. Unfortunately, neither. I was wishful thinking as I confronted temptation. You see, I've made a promise to myself to significantly decrease sugar from my diet.

I have a very active sweet tooth and and like a spoiled child, I indulge it way too often. As I took a step back from this decadent offering, my nagging molar begged me, "Just one cupcake, please."

Really? I thought. I couldn't be fooled. One would turn into two, then my sugar craving tooth would notice this sitting so luscious on the dessert table:

You're probably thinking, Go for it. It's Easter. Believe me, I don't need too much prodding. Did I mention however, that I had jelly beans and chocolate peanut butter eggs for lunch. It wasn't intentional. They were hanging around my house and eventually found their way into my mouth. That sweet tooth sure is sneaky. And on Thursday, I accepted a piece of a colleague's birthday cake just to be polite and on Friday I said, "Yes," to a slice of mixed berry pie at a friend's house just because everyone else did.

Think about it. How often are we tempted by sugar? The grocery store, the mall, bakeries all over the place, the office, home, friend's house, restaurants, etc. It's everywhere. Why? Because Americans (not sure about other countries) eat an average of 160 pounds of sugar per person each year.

Why do we eat so much sugar? It's not because it's good for us. I did a Google search and, unlike coffee and red wine, sugar doesn't have a single redeeming quality. It's high in empty calories and makes us fat; it's addictive; it suppresses our immune system; it promotes inflammation; it raises insulin levels; it suppresses the release of human growth hormones, and as a result, accelerates the aging process (read more at:
No question about it. Sugar is body pollution. Then why do we eat so much? My best guess is, it tastes  good and gives us momentary pleasure in a not so easy world. Plus, as already stated, it's addictive. Check out this report from ABC News if you have questions about that:

So, did I think about all of this at the moment I came face to face with a tray full of cupcakes. A little, but not enough. Who cares? What's one day? I stepped closer to the cupcakes.

Then out of the corner of my eye I saw this:

Red, ripe strawberries full of sweet juice and loaded with nutrients. By the way, the sugar in fruit is called fructose, which is all natural, very different from refined sugar. There can't be too much fructose either because one cup of these beauties contains a mere 49 calories. As I thought about my choices, cupcakes or strawberries, I imagined tasting both. Strawberries won.

I plucked five from the bowl and drizzled a bit of dark chocolate, from a nearby fountain, on top. Was that cheating? Maybe a little, but it was Easter and dark chocolate does have health benefits when eaten in moderation. I took my dessert back to the table, enjoyed every bite of the fresh fruit and didn't have a craving for more. In fact, my sweet tooth even seemed happy.

What's your food weakness? Please share any tricks you use to deal with it.


Strawberry Swing sung by Frank Ocean in this video, (original song by Coldplay). Lots of kick back moments in this video from another era--really worth viewing:


If you sometimes feel that sugar is controlling you and don't understand why, try reading Overcoming Sugar Addiction by Karly Randolph Pitman. This book is full of helpful advice on how to beat sugar before it beats you.


Good News: A Dove Dark Chocolate bar, like other dark chocolate bars with high-cocoa content, is loaded with something called epicatechin. Epicatechin is a particularly active member of a group of compounds called plant flavoniods. Flavoniods keep cholesterol from gathering in blood vessels, reduce the risk of blood clots, and slow down the immune responses that lead to clogged arteries.

A dove dark chocolate bar contains 220 calories and has 16 sugar grams (nutritional guidelines recommend no more than 40 grams per day for non-diabetic adults). Here's a great, easy recipe that is sure to satisfy even the most demanding sweet tooth. Take 1/2 the dark chocolate bar and melt it in the microwave (or in a pot on the stove). Dip strawberries, or other fruit, into it and eat--so good!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Getting to Know You

Kick Back Moments has been picked up by my hometown newspaper, The Saratogian, so for anyone dropping by through that feed, welcome! Saratoga Springs is a small city in upstate New York that is charming and fun. I love living here.

Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY

My kick back challenge of the week came from a fellow blogger, Raani. She tagged me on her blog to answer some questions that involved about five directions. My first response was, "Oh no!" I hate chain letters because they take time, and I don't have time. Or do I? As I read over the questions, I thought they were sort of fun and they got me thinking, so I figured, what the heck. I mean, it wasn't like one of those fear based e-mails that pop up on the computer screen and orders you to forward it to ten friends within one hour or the angel of doom will sit on your shoulder for seven years. Yikes! This was different.

As I started answering the questions, I decided it was definitely fun. And what a good way for new people stopping by to get to know me a bit. Now, there's never homework here at Kick Back Moments, but try answering these questions along with me. You may learn something about yourself.   

1. What is your favorite color?
Love them all and don't most of us. Isn't that why rainbows, sunrises and a freshly opened box of Crayola crayons are so popular? My favorite colors, however, are brilliant sky blue and evergreen, especially when combined.

Taken by Keith on the Prospect Mountain trail in Lake George, NY

2. If you got a plane ticket - for free - to go anywhere you'd like - where would you go? 
I would travel to Greece. My grandparents were born there and owned an olive farm in a small village. I would love to go and meet some of my relatives, not to mention tour the Acropolis and swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

3. Is there anything in your life you always wanted to do and never had a chance to?
I've always wanted to go on a mission, maybe to Costa Rica and work in an orphanage for the summer. I think the experience would be life changing.

4. Which is your favorite old movie (let's say older than 20 years)?
Easy - The Sound of Music! Second favorite? Not so easy. Hmmm. Maybe, When Harry Met Sally.

5. If you were a blonde - would blonde jokes bother you (and, of course, if you are a blonde, do you mind them? )

I am a blonde, and although I can't speak for all blondes, jokes about fair hair don't bother me. If, however, the jokes are a little too much and go on a little too long, I just spout out names like Diane Sawyer, Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep, Kristen Gillibrand. Like 'em or not, these women sure aren't dumb.

6.  What is it that always and with 100% certainty makes you laugh?
Other people laughing and my father's jokes, always, my father's jokes!

7. Where do you usually put your clothes?
My drawer or my closet unless I'm lazy or coming in late, then, the floor.

8.  Does wind bother you or do you like it?
I love it!!! Unless I'm riding up hill on a bike or counting dollar bills. Grrrrr.

9. What is it that you hate most about high school reunions?
The diet that precedes them. The South Beach Diet and I don't get along.

10. Are you a cat or a dog person?
Dog, although I've never owned one--Awwww.

11. Can movies/TV make you cry easily? When was the last time?
Are you kidding? I cry at Hallmark commercials and American Idol. The question for me is, when was last time I didn't cry during a sentimental entertainment scene?

Finished and  it only took me a few minutes.I hope you played along. Please share an answer or two in the comment section, just because it's fun! Thanks Raani for the idea. By the way, Raani has a great post on her blog this week. Check it out:

Question 11 made me think of movies that made me cry and question 6 made me think of laughing and question 4 got me thinking about favorite old movies. So here's the question, What movie made you laugh and cry at the same time? For me, the final scene from When Harry Met Sally. WARNING: If you haven't seen this movie, don't watch this video. Leave this site immediately and order it from someplace--one of the best romantic comedies ever. It Had To Be You, from this great scene, is the song of the week:


Question two reminded me that I want to go Greece, which reminded  of a great book that I read awhile back that is set in Greece, Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
Here's what Amazon says, "A New York Times Notable Book of the Year Winner of the Lannan Literary Fiction Award Winner of the Guardian Fiction Award in 1940 a boy bursts from the mud of a war-torn Polish city, where he has buried himself to hide from the soldiers who murdered his family. His name is Jakob Beer. He is only seven years old. And although by all rights he should have shared the fate of the other Jews in his village, he has not only survived but been rescued by a Greek geologist, who does not recognize the boy as human until he begins to cry. With this electrifying image, Anne Michaels ushers us into her rapturously acclaimed novel of loss, memory, history, and redemption.As Michaels follows Jakob across two continents, she lets us witness his transformation from a half-wild casualty of the Holocaust to an artist who extracts meaning from its abyss. Filled with mysterious symmetries and rendered in heart-stopping prose, Fugitive Pieces is a triumphant work, a book that should not so much be read as it should be surrendered to."


Question 8 got me thinking about wind which reminded me of riding on a roller coaster, pinwheels spinning and leaves rustling down the street . So here's to the wind:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Conversation with My First Novel

I was sitting at my desk typing out a scene in my new novel about an encounter between the main character and a wicked heiress. Suddenly, I heard a whisper coming from the closet in my office. I stopped typing and looked at the closed door. The voice spoke again. It said, "What about us?"

I chuckled. It was the characters from my first novel calling me from a high shelf. You guys are history. It didn't work out, I thought, not wanting to actually talk out loud to those fictional people. I returned to my typing.

They wouldn't leave me alone--kept begging me to give them one last chance.

"Oh, okay," I said softly. My husband, Keith, knows I'm passionate about fiction writing, but I didn't want him to hear me talking to a book. He might think I'm starting to live in fantasy land. Which...?

I stood up, opened the closet door, seized my manuscript and gazed at it. I really did love it--a story from my heart about a married couple who are trapped in the modern American dream and can't figure out how to escape. I plopped onto the couch and started reading it. After chapter four, I stopped. At the risk of sounding boastful, it wasn't half bad. Of course, I wrote it, so my review may be a bit subjective. You may be wondering, Did you try to get it published?

Yes, I did. I must have queried over 100 literary agents. And for anyone who doesn't know, it's almost essential to have an agent in order to get a publisher. I received replies like: "No thank you." "Not for me." "Keep trying." I actually did get several requests from agents to read my full manuscript, but in the end no takers. The basic reason--they didn't feel they could find a home for it in today's struggling industry. I took that to mean it wasn't good enough, which is fine. Many first novels aren't good enough.

With fresh eyes perusing this novel, I re-assessed that conclusion. It's rumored that publishing houses are extremely reluctant to take risks on new authors today, especially in my genre (upmarket commercial), but is it true? I did a little research. First, I went to, a site many writers use, as the title indicates, to track the query letters they send out. Here's a stat for you:

Out of the 51,199 members who are trying to find agents, there are currently 744 success stories. For those of you who don't feel like pulling out your calculator, that's less than one per cent. The top three accepting genres are : 1) Young Adult, 2) Fantasy, 3) Literary Fiction. My novel genre came in at number 9.  

This wasn't enough to convince me that my first novel was worth bringing back to life. Wanting to be objective, I did some more research. Here's an example of what I found:

Statistics from Kristen Nelson Literary Agency: 36,000 queries received in 2010; 839 requests for partials, 98 requests for full manuscripts. That means that if you queried this agency, you had a 2.3%  chance of having them ask for a partial, but only a 0.27% of them wanting to see the rest of your manuscript. This agency made 28 deals, which means, you had a .09%  chance of being offered representation.

Conclusion:  Chances of breaking into the traditional publishing world are slim. The other side of the argument: if you decide to become an independent author, you're not viewed by those in the "club" as being good enough. I've read that if you self-publish, you're killing your chances of ever finding an agent or publisher. I didn't like that idea, so looked up self-published authors who ended up being incredibly successful. A few include: James Joyce, Mark Twain, Louise Hay, Amanda Hocking and James Redfield. Do you think an agent or publishing house would slam the door in these peoples' faces or roll out the red carpet?

And then, there's the story of 50 Shades of Grey, the bestseller that's been hovering around number one on most bestseller lists over the past couple of weeks. Here's an excerpt from an article written on Book Busters:  "Every so often a manuscript, like an impudent toddler, rises on unsteady feet and toddles onto the bestseller list without so much as a by-your-leave to that ignorant publishing foursome. Such a work is E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey, which, out of a teeny e-publishing community in Australia, managed the neat trick of vaulting to the top of The New York Times e-book and print bestseller lists, garnering a seven-figure deal from Vintage, and leaving readers clamoring for the as-yet-unpublished rest of the trilogy, all without ever being in print in the United States at all." 

Enough! The bottom line is there are successes in both traditional publishing and independent publishing. I'm not going to begin to speculate what the key to that success is (at least not here).

What I did do was smile down at the 95,000 words I wrote in my first novel, A Stop in the Park. I needed to see it in a book, not collecting dust at the top of my closet. Like a chef who wants eaters for his culinary creations, I want readers for my story. In that instant, I made a decision to self-publish. It didn't matter if I sold a million copies or ten. After all my favorite quote is:

"Don't die with your music still inside you. Listen to your intuitive inner voice and find what passion stirs your soul. Listen to that inner voice, and don't get to the end of your life and say, "What if my whole life has been wrong?"
Dr. Wayne Dyer

I had written my music and it was time to share it. With that, I dropped the new novel I was writing safely into a Word file then also saved it onto my flash drive. It was time to go through my first novel one more time to find any pesky mistakes. After that, I'd call CreateSpace, Amazon's self-publishing division, and put my novel in the hands of one of their professional editors. My story has been written and soon it will be told.


This scene from Funny Girl where Barbara Streisand tells the naysayers not to rain on her parade, is how I feel about becoming an independent author. I love to write and and don't want to play the waiting game any longer, hoping to become part of the approximately 0.05% who get a contract with a traditional publisher (And my sincere "Congratulations!" for those of you who do).


The Frog Prince by Elle Lothlorien. Of course, this is a current successful self-published romantic comedy about a sex researcher, Leigh Fromme, who falls in love with Prince Roman Habsburg Von Lorraine of Austria. Most reviews on Goodreads report that it's, "Laugh out loud funny." Here's the opening:

"Everyone agrees that my Great Aunt Tina looks fabulous dead. Great Uncle Morris has picked her favorite violet pantsuit for her, the one with gold buttons."