Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Plight of the Monarch Butterfly

Have you noticed how few Monarch butterflies there are this summer? It’s because the population is dwindling. According to the Xerces Society, the Monarch population has dropped by ninety percent. You read that right—ninety percent!

That makes me sad. How about you? In years past, I used to see dozens of Monarchs flitting about my flower gardens and across my back yard. This summer, I’ve seen less than a handful, even though I have planted many flowers that attract them.

The main reason for the Monarch’s decline is loss of habitat. Drought throughout the Monarch’s central pathway to their seasonal destinations and the wide-spread use of the herbicide Roundup has decreased the Monarch’s principal source of sustainment—the milkweed—the main plant that caterpillars need for food.

Standing in one of my flower gardens
Even though the Monarch’s future looks bleak, there are some simple, positive steps you and I can take to help this fragile creature survive. First of all, plant flowers that attract butterflies (such as butterfly weed and zinnias). You can purchase them at your local nursery, but make sure pesticides have not been sprayed on the plants. Second, plant a stand-alone milkweed garden (just a small plot) with at least six plants so the caterpillars have enough food to survive. We can't restore their old habitat, but we can replace it, one yard at a time.
*     *     * has had a passion for books since the second grade when she discovered Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She wrote her first book, a mystery, at age thirteen and has been writing ever since. She lives on six wooded acres in East Bethel, Minnesota with her husband, Steve and her three problem (feline) children, Mocha, Lambchop and Tigger. You can visit her at her website, blog or Facebook.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Put Your Clown Nose On And Inspire

I don't know about you, but I really like the idea of being an inspiration. Okay, so maybe I don't go so far as to don a red rubber nose or big, blue shoes that flop with each step, but inducing grins, lifting spirits, stirring confidence, boosting courage, all of these things energize me and make me feel alive. Bringing people up is so much more fun and rewarding than knocking them down. I often encounter grumps and wonder how they make it through the day. You know the type, people whose brows are pinched, who constantly frown, and who can't find a positive thing to say to anyone about anything—but enough about the "Negative Nelsons and Nellys" of the world. This post is about making a positive impact, which is something that some people just don't understand and never will.  

Inspiring others isn't all that difficult. It doesn't cost a lot of money. It doesn't take a great deal of effort. Here are a few simple suggestions on how you can become an inspiration:


Max Eastman said, "A smile is the universal welcome." He was right. I have found that a smile is a lot like the common cold—infectious (thankfully, a smile doesn't make your nose run). When I offer a smile of greeting, nine people out of ten will smile back. I've heard it said that the eyes are the window to the soul. I'd take that a step further and claim that a smile is the light that tells people you're home…you're engaged…you're interested…and, most importantly, they matter. I've also learned that a smile will often confuse an approaching frown. I know I shouldn't take such delight in confounding the grumps out there, but nothing fills me with more joy than forcing a pair of pursed lips to curl up at the corners.

Show a little concern

I can't tell you how many cashiers I have stunned with a sincere, "How are you doing today?" Of course, the question is so overused that it often goes unheard. But it's the delivery that matters. Asked in a heartfelt manner, cashiers (or bank tellers, or department store clerks, or…you get the idea) will stop what they're doing, they'll look me in the eye, they'll smile and answer, and most often they'll ask me how I'm doing in return. For that one moment, we truly connect. Letting people know you genuinely care has an extremely positive effect.

Look for the good

We seem to have no problem telling the server that our chicken is tough, or our potatoes are cold. We're often too quick to complain to the theater attendant that the air temperature isn't just right. Have you ever stopped to think how rarely people hear praise? When someone offers you a compliment, how does it make you feel? Well, think how great it would be to go around sprinkling that good feeling on everyone like it was fairy dust. It isn't difficult to say something nice, and that one compliment you give could be the only one that person hears all day long. Just think! One small show of appreciation could make someone's spirit soar.

There you have it…three easy tips that will set you on your way to being an inspiration in the lives of family, friends, and strangers alike. And once you start putting these suggestions into practice, I'm sure you'll find that YOU are the one who is most changed for the good. Now please don't get me wrong. Even though I've talked of rubber noses, smiles, and compliments, I do know that life isn't always a fun-filled circus. However, developing a habit of thinking of others, being connected and centered, making a conscious effort to notice those around you rather than moving through life on auto-pilot, showing honest caring and kindness toward those you meet, will give you an attitude of gratitude, and scientists are learning that a healthy mental outlook is a powerful contributor toward living a happy life.

Okay, now it's your turn. Leave a comment. It's your chance to say something nice. *smile*
~ ~ ~

Donna Fasano is a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, and an all-round happy individual. Oh, and she just happens to be a USA TODAY Bestselling Author. You can learn more about her at her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. She loves to hear from her readers.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Girlfriend Weekend ~ by Magdalena Scott

I was fortunate to spend a long weekend with my high school girlfriends recently. What a treat to reconnect in person with these women, some of whom have known me since I was a skinny blonde--in other words, kindergarten and first grade.

It was a relaxing time in a lovely little town. One of the girls lives there and had rented a house and suggested activities we might enjoy. We arrived at our home away from home, and the conversation began. Being together is the important thing, so our plans for the weekend remained flexible, always subject to being tossed aside if we felt the least bit stressed to be here or do that. Everybody has plenty of expectations or stress in day to day life without including it in vacation.

We met in Wisconsin, in the town where one of the girls lives now. The rest of us made the trek by car or plane from Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Pennsylvania. One of the girls had been in South Africa the week before, and most of us had trips planned soon after returning home. We said repeatedly how amazing and wonderful it was that everyone had been able to set the time aside to be together. This is only the second time that's happened since high school. We hope to have another gathering in 2016.

We took the photo above just before going our separate ways on Monday. It became a bit of a joke that several times over the weekend we were asked if we were sisters. We kept saying no, and explaining that instead we're longtime friends. 

But on reflection now, I realize the people asking that question were right after all. We are sisters--sisters who chose each other. I'm so thankful to have these girls in my family! They certainly helped make me the person I am today.

~ ~ ~

Magdalena Scott is a bestselling author of the Ladies of Legend series. You can find her at her website, blog, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Happy Lights by Ginny Baird

I have a sister who’s dear to me. We’ve been through a lot together. In an ironic and poignant way, ten years ago this summer we both found ourselves single again after two relatively long marriages. While romance novels are about promise and “happily ever after,” we learned firsthand that sometimes anticipated happy endings can have unexpected outcomes. And yet, we each went on to build stronger futures with wonderful new partners we cherish. It’s been like a dream come true. Hope and faith renewed. Hooray – for finding love the second time around!

As my sister and I struggled along, managing careers and families, we couldn’t help but wonder if we’d ever spot a rainbow beyond that stormy horizon. To maintain positive outlooks, we each did two things. One, we wore pedometers to chart our progress in moving forward. Because, when you’re counting steps, you know you’re forging ahead. And two, we both burned happy lights. Those glorious, some might say frivolous, things people string outside their homes during the holidays.

My sister had them everywhere… in her house and adorning her lawn, while I contented myself with a vivid display, draped from my deck. They reminded me that life draws us outside of ourselves, and we gain energy by celebrating light: all that’s good in the world, things that bring us happiness and peace. The cool part is I discovered happy lights are contagious. Soon, they began appearing on other decks nearby, until much of the neighborhood bloomed with light.

I still love my happy lights, and enjoy their bright twinkles to this day. Though I moved, I carried the concept of happy lights with me, and hubby is fully on board. He even put up the set in the picture. They lend a festive air to our dining room, and complement the candlelight. Each time we plug them in, they make us smile.
How about you? Do you hang happy lights indoors, or outside your home? Are there other decorative items you use that brighten your spirits? Comment here and/or share a picture on our Facebook page. J

Ginny Baird loves her happy lights and uses them year-round, making every day feel like a holiday in her home. Help her celebrate Christmas in July by checking out her discounted boxed set: The Holiday Brides Collection (Books 1 – 4), now on sale at Amazon for $0.99.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Avoiding Writers' Butt!

I sit in front of a computer for many hours every day, both writing and running my business. When I'm concentrating, I also have a habit of dipping into a bag of pistachio or cashew nuts and nibbling away. It's oh so easy to pile on the pounds if I'm not careful and along with that comes aching hips and knees and a bad back.
I've heard of writers trying all types of things to burn calories and keep active while they work, treadmill desks and little cycles under the table. I'm sure these work for some but neither appeal to me.
For me, the ideal way to counteract the physical inactivity is to take regular breaks and go for a walk. The problem is remembering to do so and motivating myself. A few weeks ago I discovered a pedometer called a Fitbit Flex. It's a wrist band that contains a small device that measures the wearer's steps.
My husband is the fitness fanatic in our house, so I surprised us both when I took the plunge and ordered a Flex. The default setting on the device is a daily target of 10,000 steps—the distance recommended by the American Heart Association to stay healthy. I couldn't imagine taking that many steps in a day, but in fact 10,000 steps is only about five miles. (Actual distance walked depends on the length of your steps.)
The Fitbit talks to an app on your cell phone via bluetooth and free software on your computer through a dongle that's included in the box. It's possible to monitor far more than just steps and distance. If you want to go the whole hog and use it to help lose weight, it has a function for monitoring calorie use and comparing that with your daily calorie intake.
I've been wearing my Fitbit on my wrist for two weeks now, and it has motivated me to take regular breaks to walk around our garden so the step count mounts up during the day. Then I usually finish off with a nice long walk with my dog in the afternoon. I imagine it's a lot easier to hit the target if you own a dog! Sometimes I've resorted to walking around the kitchen umpteen times in the evening to rack up the final few hundred steps to hit my target—this totally confuses my cat and dog who think I've gone crazy.
The Flex also has a sleep mode to monitor quality and length of sleep each night. This has been quite an eye-opener for me. I was kidding myself I had around eight hours sleep a night. I've now discovered I manage between six and seven hours most nights. That might explain why I'm tired a lot of the time!
If you find yourself sitting too long at the computer and need motivation to take more exercise, I can tell you the Flex has worked for me far better than I imagined. After two weeks I already feel fitter.
For those of you who have to sit still for long periods of time, how do you stay fit?

Helen Scott Taylor lives in South West England near Plymouth in Devon between the windswept expanse of Dartmoor and the rocky Atlantic coast. As well as her wonderful, long-suffering husband, she shares her home with a Westie a Shih Tzu and a burmilla cat. Helen's latest venture is a ten book boxed set, Ten Brides for Ten Heroes. Find Helen on FaceBook and Twitter, or visit her website.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The peaceful break by Joanne Hill

I've just come back from staying with my family down country - holidays seem to be a trend at SRR at the moment!
It's the middle of winter here in New Zealand - frosty lawns and clear freezing days. I stay on my parents farm where, although they aren't farming any more, there are still animals to be found. A neighbour leases the land so there are cattle in one paddock and sheep and some newborn lambs in the other.
It always amazes me that even when a lamb is only a day old it is leaping around having a great old time. Then there is the sheep called Lamborghini, once a pet lamb, who thinks he is still a lamb and comes running up to the fence to be patted. That's Lamborghini above, waiting for me to pat his head. Meanwhile the cattle take great interest in you as you walk past, sometimes running along beside as far as the paddock will let them go.

One morning I met a friend for coffee at 8am in town before she went to work. On the way out, there was mist, and even in town, in the central garden area with duckponds and beautifully tended gardens, the mist sat beautifully over the land. It was absolutely romantic and mystical. Below is a  picture of the steeple of All Saint's Anglican church in the mist, taken from the Square.

Now that the children have grown up, breaks away visiting family are restful and peaceful. I don't have to worry about what to pack, and there isn't any of that drama over locking up the house and keeping the pets fed since the grown up kids are still there. And I certainly don't have to spend the holidays trying to keep young people amused. We have some brilliant memories of holidays but boy, being able to take off for a few days on your own is a real treat.
What do you do to unwind or get away from it all when you really feel the need?

Joanne Hill writes sweet romance and is indie-published.
Her book Daniel's Bride will be free on Amazon from August 1-5 so please - download a copy then.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pensacola Beach in the Fall by Angela Benson

My husband and I visited Pensacola Beach last fall.  Yes, we went to the beach in the fall.  Even though I'm an Alabama native, this was my first trip to Pensacola Beach.  It's only about ninety minutes east of Mobile, right in the Gulf of Mexico. You have to cross a short toll bridge to get there from Gulf Breeze, Florida.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn Pensacola Beach, which was a great location right on the beach. Our fourth floor room had a balcony with a beautiful view of the Gulf.  Though it got a bit windy, we sat on the balcony a short time each evening just to soak in the view.

Pensacola Beach is famous for its sugar-white sand.  I tried to keep up my daily walking routine by walking on the beach, but it was too difficult.  I'd start the walk in my sneakers but soon my shoes and socks would be off and I'd be trudging through the sand with them in my hand.  Talk about a workout!  I was so tired one evening after the walk that I couldn't make it back to the room; I just dropped down in one of the beach chairs in back of the hotel.  My husband was on the balcony watching for me to come back so he came and joined me.  While I recovered, we took in the beauty and serenity of the water at night.  It would would have been a romantic moment but the heavy breathing from my exhaustion put on a damper on the evening. :) 

This was a lazy vacation for us so we didn't do much.  One afternoon we drove the length of Pensacola Beach, which is about eight miles, and took a load of pictures.  It was a long stretch of of nothing but beach, restaurants, and timeshares/vacation rentals. I can't report on any of the restaurants because we didn't try any.  I was on a pretty strict food plan at the time so it was best for me to avoid places that celebrated food, if you get my drift.  I tried to get my husband to try out some places like Peg Leg Pete's so I could live (and eat) vicariously, but he didn't take me up on it.

On the day that we were leaving, instead of walking on the beach, we decided to walk on the pier.  The Pensacola Beach Pier is a must-see stop.  It's about 1500 feet long, though I was sure it was closer to a mile!  There is an ice cream shop right at the entrance where we stopped so hubby could get an ice cream cone.  I was proud of myself for sticking to my program and not indulging.  While he ate, we watched the fishermen on the pier.  They seem to be serious fishermen as they had pretty large coolers to store their haul and all of them had multiple fishing poles. The ice cream shop sold bait and tackle for tourists who wanted to join in the fishing but we didn't take them up on it.  Once hubby finished his ice cream, we began our stroll down the pier, stopping frequently to gaze out on the water or observe a fisherman at work.  It doesn't sound exciting but the trek made for a very enjoyable morning.

After our visit to the pier, we walked back to the hotel and prepared to leave for home.  If we were beach people, we'd definitely go back to Pensacola Beach, but we're not, so it's not on our list of places to visit again.  What about you?  Have you been to Pensacola Beach?  Would you like to go there? What are your favorite beach reads?

Angela Benson is the award winning and bestselling author of fourteen novels, two novellas and a non-fiction writing book.  Her most recent book is Delilah’s Daughters (Avon, 2014).  Her next book, The Summer of Me, will be released by Avon in early 2015.  While you’re waiting for Angela’s new title, be sure to check out her backlist recently released in eBook format.  Join Angela on Facebook or her website.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Weekends at the Flea and Farmer's Market by Raine English

When I was a child, I used to love to go to flea markets. They were an adventure, and I never knew what treasures I might find there. Each weekend during the summer, my parents would scour the newspaper looking for a market for us to attend. But that was a long time ago, and I’d forgotten how much fun they were until a flea and farmer’s market opened in May at the local fairgrounds, just two miles from my home.

I’ve gone each Saturday, and I never know from week to week what the vendors will be selling. I haven’t been disappointed, though. One week I picked up a pair of binoculars perfect for watching the hawks that have a nest in the tree at the side of my house. Another time I came home with some gourmet olive oils and vinegars. The market has a wide variety of plants, fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and baked goods too.

However, one of my favorite finds was a vase that looks lovely in my office.

Have you been to a flea and farmer’s market lately? If not, I highly recommend it!

Raine English writes small-town sweet contemporary romances. Forever My Valentine is available now at Amazon. Her next release, Cherished Memories, is due out in August. Visit her website,, for updates on all her books

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I'm Tap Dancing As Fast As I Can and Going Nowhere by Margaret Daley

Have you ever felt overwhelmed to the point you can’t or don’t want to do anything? Instead of getting things done on your to-do list, you play computer games or even clean and organize your house (okay that may be on your to-do list)? But you can’t do what you need to because you are tired and burnt out.

So how can you change your situation—slow down and actually get somewhere? Some things I’ve heard that work for people are:

1. Make a to-do list with everything you need to do and mark it off as you go—the more small tasks on the list the more you get to cross off and feel like you’ve accomplished something.
2. It’s okay to take breaks and you should frequently throughout the day but limit how long you take the one—use a timer if you need to.
3. Do something for fun that isn’t similar to the work you’re avoiding.

4. Exercise—whatever you enjoy doing.
5. Start something you’ve always wanted to do that puts a smile on your face.
6. Don’t lose track of your friends (and family). Touch base with them.

7. Take a vacation even if it is only a day or two. Vacations give you permission to forget work and just enjoy.
8. Eat nutritiously but also allow yourself a treat every once and a while (it’s okay to eat a piece of chocolate pie or in my case have a double dip cookie dough ice cream waffle cone.

9. Smile and laugh.
10. Give your problems to God. He is here to help us.

Okay, it’s your turn. What would you add to this list? Any suggestions are welcome.

Margaret Daley's latest book is Deadly Intent (book 2 in Strong Women, Extraordinary Situations)
The blurb: Texas Ranger Sarah Osborn thought she would never see her high school sweetheart, Ian O'Leary, again. But fifteen years later, Ian, an ex-FBI agent, has someone targeting him, and she's assigned to the case. Can Sarah protect Ian and her heart? Buy links: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple and Kobo.
Margaret Daley's website:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Signings by Merrillee Whren

Politicians, famous authors, celebrities and dignitaries, who have written books often travel around the country doing book signings. As we move into the digital age of books, will there be fewer and fewer book signings? In a couple of days, there will be a massive book signing at the Romance Writers of American Conference in San Antonio. The proceeds from this autographing will go to support literacy. You can read more about it here. If you are in the San Antonio area, you may want to attend. You will find a number of the members of the Sweet Romance Reads signing books there. Melinda Curtis will be signing her book, Season of Change. Karen Rock will be signing her book, Wish Me Tomorrow.

Here is a photo of me at my very first book signing at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver in 2005. What a thrill to see dozens of people lined up to get my book. Of course, they were giving it away, so people wanted a free book. 

The photo below is the first signing I had in my hometown where people actually came and bought the book. Those two signings were a wonderful experience, but I rarely do book signings anymore. 

What do you think about book signings?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

DIY: The Addiction Continues by Aileen Fish

I am beginning to think the endorphins cause by all the manual labor, mixed with the pleasure of seeing the finished result, has me addicted to DIY projects. The truth might be that these projects are the result of an aging mobile home. Either way, in between heat waves I've been making progress.

Our deck is a sad sack made with plywood, rather than nice redwood decking. It was painted white when we moved in four years ago, and had reached the point where hosing it off wasn't getting it clean anymore. The budget is only slightly less sad after the bathroom remodel, so when I saw Valspar Porch Paint in Lowe's a few weeks ago I decided that was the answer, for now.

This is the sorry state of the deck top three years ago before I threw down some rugs and cleared off some junk.

I chose a grayish-taupe, Weathered Oak, I think they called it. It covered in one coat and a gallon did the whole deck surface! You can see toward the front of the photo how I really need to replace the plywood. Overall I love the look, but it made the lattice and railing look very tired.
From the front, the lattice and railing didn't look too bad but the steps were in a sad state, and when you're the deck, you can see how the rails weren't getting clean anymore.
Lowe's had a booklet of paint colors for the porch paint...yeah, they saw me coming, LOL! I chose a slightly darker coordinating color, Covered Bridge or something like that, and went to town. And I very quickly began to wonder where Huck Finn was when I needed him! I think a sprayer is the way to go for lattice, as the paint brush left drips on the back side of where I would be working, and by the time I finished a section and went to the back, the drips were drying. Let's just say this isn't my best finish.

Still, compared to what it was, I am so pleased. I do need to pot some plants if the heat wave doesn't kill them, and get the BBQ back into its spot, but it looks so much better even with things out of place.

The next project is laminated flooring in the hall and kitchen. Since the weather outlook shows no end to 100+ degree weather, I will be working early in the day. And you can bet I will have picture to share!

Aileen Fish used to spend all her time on the computer either writing, formatting, or making book covers, until she got bitten by the DIY bug. Her latest release, Chasing Lord Mystery, has been hovering in the top 50 of Amazon's historical short stories and Regency best seller lists. She hopes to have a new release in August. You can stay on top of her book news at her website,

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stitches in Time by Shanna Hatfield

Grandma's vintage doily 3
On a recent trip to visit my parents, my octogenarian father handed me this doily and said he wanted me to have it. My great-grandmother made it way back  in the day and despite its obvious wear, I loved it immediately.
Grandma's vintage doily2 
To me, it's more than just a doily. It's a way to reach back in time and get a tiny glimpse into my great-grandmother.  The careful, detailed, beautiful stitching really impressed me, especially since I can barely do more than knot the thread into a snarled mess when I attempt to embroidery anything.
Grandma's vintage doily 1
Another reason I loved receiving this is because it makes me think of Ilsa in the Pendleton Petticoats series. Since the design is wheat, it also fits in perfectly with the book's setting among the wheatfields of Pendleton, Oregon.
Grandma's vintage doily back 
Can you believe this is the back of the piece? I was awed by how neat and tidy it looks.  That is most definitely not how the backs of anything I've done appears.
I'm so happy my dad shared this with me. It means a lot that he'd entrust it into my care. As I sit studying the fine stitches, it helps me better imagine the woman who painstakingly created the doily all those many years ago.

A hopeless romantic with a bit of sarcasm thrown in for good measure, Shanna Hatfield is a best-selling author of clean romantic fiction written with a healthy dose of humor. In addition to blogging and eating too much chocolate, she is completely smitten with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.
Shanna creates character-driven romances with realistic heroes and heroines. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.”
She is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, and Romance Writers of America.

Find Shanna’s books at:

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