Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Positive Changes for a Healthier Life


I thought it was a good time to post some updates about my health.

Last summer I mentioned that my blood sugar was too high, and I was dieting to lose weight and bring down my A1C.

What happened?

BEFORE: CHUNKY CHEEKS




AFTER: 30+ POUND WEIGHT LOSS



Well, here's what happened. The doctor put the fear of God in me, and I went gangbusters with a low-carb diet.

It's eight months later, and I'm still losing weight (albeit at a slower pace). I also brought down my A1C. Yipppeeeeee!

How'd I do it?

First of all, here is my truth: exercise has NOTHING to do with my weight loss.

I walked when I was chunky. I walk now. I walk every day for about an hour. It's good for my heart. It's good for my mental health. 

However, it doesn't have anything to do with my weight loss. That's the truth.

My weight loss is all about THE FOOD.

Here are my TOP FIVE TIPS FOR LOSING WEIGHT:

1. The Snack Shelf

It's really important to have low-calorie, healthy snacks ready to go. When you get home from work and you're starved and there are cookies on the counter (kids gotta eat, too!), it's way too easy to grab that cookie.

You gotta make it easy to grab a mini carrot!

Every Sunday is "prep day" for me. I hard boil about 6-8 eggs and put them in a bowl in the fridge. I chop up carrots, celery, cucumbers, red/yellow/orange pepper, radishes, and add cherry tomatoes to a bin in the fridge for quick snacks. I have cheese sticks and low-carb yogurts on the shelf, too. I also prep fruit and have a "fruit bowl" in the fridge. On the counter, I have a variety of nuts, like walnuts, almonds, pistachios, etc.

I have a favorite blue cheese dressing I use as a dip. I also recommend hummus, ricotta cheese, and baba ganoush.

Set yourself up for success! When you have low-calorie snacks ready to go, it's a life-saver. You can also use these pre-cut veggies on a salad anytime. Make your life easier with a little weekend prep work.

Homemade hummus and dippers

2. Put Food Away: Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

I realized I was doing a lot of "mindless" eating. If there was a bag of open chips on the counter, I would grab a handful when I walked by. Same with plates of cookies, snack foods, anything there for the taking.

My kids still need to eat, and they love chips, cookies, and other snacks.

I move ALL THE FOODS into the pantry, which is in another room off the kitchen. Everything is wrapped up and put away to prevent mindless noshing.

If you don't have a separate room, use a drawer. Or even wrap things up in tin foil to make it harder to access. 

The only thing I have in the kitchen for constant access is my water cup. I fill it up all day long. That's a good habit!

Add citrus slices to iced water for a bit of flavor.

3. Eat Early and Light.

Are you hungry at 5 pm? Eat dinner. Don't wait. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to overeat.

I realized I was eating TWO dinners each night. The first one was mindless snacking which added up to a lot of extra calories. And then I would eat with my family. TWO DINNERS! 

Now, I eat when I'm hungry, which is around 5 pm. I make a big salad of greens, toss on some protein and cheese and nuts and homemade salad dressing.

I'll still join my husband for dinner later, but I don't eat a second meal. Maybe an orange and some water. Or just tea.

Sometimes you need to make the right choice for yourself, and that might mean eating alone at 5 pm. It's okay!

Homemade Caesar salad. Don't forget the anchovies!

4. Cut Your Food in Half, Cut the Recipe in Half.

When I realized I needed to watch my carb intake every day, I made a point to read the labels on all my food.

That was shocking!

I was probably eating 3 times the recommended serving size, which adds up to way too many calories and carbs.

Instead of eating a whole sandwich (bread = 40 carbs), how about half a sandwich? 20 carbs. That works.

Stuff the 1/2 sandwich with tons of veggies, and add a small fruit salad for dessert.

Cut your serving in half, cut your calories in half. Lose weight. Fill up on salad, veggies, super low-calorie, high-fiber food. YOU CAN DO IT!

I also stopped making full recipes. Full recipes mean you have way too much food--too much for individual servings, and too many leftovers which can lead to overeating.

Make a single serving. Make 1/2 or 1/3 or 1/4 of the recipe.

Do whatever you need to in order to control portion size. That's key for weight loss.

Home-grown cuke, tomato, and edible flower salad.

5. Grow Your Own Food.

There is nothing better than getting up in the morning, heading out to your garden, and picking fresh basil, cherry tomatoes, cukes, and arugula greens for breakfast. Drizzle on some olive oil, and you're ready for the day.

I highly encourage folks to start their own kitchen garden. If you don't have space, use pots. Growing fresh herbs, veggies, and fruits is a fabulous way to invest in good health.

Grow your own raspberries!

These are my top tips for losing weight. This is not an easy process. December was tough...so many cookies and sweets. I weigh myself daily and check my blood sugar daily. These things hold me accountable and keep me on track.

How are all of you doing with health goals? Any good suggestions? Let's chat!

Wishing all of you good vibes with your health in 2020,

Nina/Penny

Monday, February 17, 2020

Hard to Kill: NO, not James Bond, Tough Indoor Plants!


You'd think since I have degrees in plant taxonomy, horticultural science, biology, and floral design, that I would have an extremely green thumb with my indoor plant collection.

You'd be wrong.

I'm embarrassed to admit that my indoor plants have a greater than 50% chance of death. 

I like to call my plant collection "Darwinian" in nature. No prissy, high maintenance plants survive here. They need to be tough and able to thrive in less than perfect conditions (erratic watering schedule, iffy light situation, fertilizer--what's that?, temperature extremes, dachshund interference, etc).

This also applies to my outdoor garden, where plants must deal with enormous weeds, hungry bunnies, and at times, overly zealous lawn guys with weed wackers.

I thought it would be nice to give a shout-out to the big winners at my house: the plants with a truly Darwinian nature. 


The survivors!

Survivors! Yee haw!
Before we get to the survivors, let's talk about the failures.

Ferns.

I love ferns.

Ferns, however, do NOT love my house. I've tried Boston fern, button fern, maidenhair fern, bird's-nest fern, Blue Star fern, Rabbit's Foot fern, and more.

They always croak.

Their need for high humidity and fairly constant moisture makes them vulnerable at my house. I have a tendency to bring my plants to the brink of death, and then revive them in an exciting manner! (My husband has another way to describe this process).

After another sad end to my latest fern attempt, I made the decision to ONLY BUY SUPER TOUGH PLANTS.

These are the ones that are crushing it at my house...

1. PHILODENDRON SELLOUM


I adore this plant. It has a great color, hardy foliage, a cool leaf shape, and you can basically ignore the crap out of it and it doesn't mind at all.

Every once in a while, I plop it into the sink, water it until it drains, give it a nice misting, and then ignore it again.

Grade: A+

2. HAWORTHIA FASCIATA "CONCOLOR" or Zebra Cactus


My daughter started a succulent collection in our office, and this is one of the best. It has a rich dark green color with a funky white dotted surface, nice spiky foliage, and I swear, it would survive the zombie apocalypse and look fabulous. As with most succulents, if you forget to water it for a few days, weeks, months...don't worry about it. IT WON'T DIE!

Grade: A


3. ALWORTHIA "Black Gem"


Another wonderful succulent that is actually a cross between an Aloe and Haworthia. It creates lots of offsets ("baby Alworthia plants") which can be repotted if you are so inclined to create an Alworthia dynasty. This does well with bright light, and again, will survive dry conditions. I have a "mini" version of this in a tiny pot--and thus it dries out very quickly after watering. God bless this sweet little plant...she doesn't care. Will go for months without water and still looks fantastic!

Grade: A

4. PACHIRA AQUATICA, Guiana Chestnut, or Money Tree


This plant is incredible. No matter what kind of light, how infrequent you water it, how much you ignore it...it grows like a weed and looks amazing!

Right now I have it squeezed on top of a kitchen counter where it gets low light and it seems happy as a clam. I water and mist it maybe once a week? It's also in a teeny tiny pot, and I do think I will repot it soon although if it grows anymore, I will probably have to move it to the floor. Love this one!

Grade: A++


5. NORFOLK ISLAND PINE TREE (Araucaria heterophylla)


This adorable indoor evergreen is a popular item during the Christmas season, but honestly, it's a great indoor plant all year long. It has the potential to grow quite big, so if you're interested in that, you can repot it. I water/mist weekly. The foliage is a bit prickly, so beware. I recommend adorning it with fairy lights and ornaments in December. *wink*

Grade: A 

TOTALLY UNEXPECTED BONUS PLANT:

Most of the time, poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are "disposable" throw-away plants. After the holidays, they usually end up in the compost pile. They seem pretty wimpy, right?

Well...



Shockingly, my adorable poinsettia planter is still going strong! I'm impressed. Will keep this going as long as possible. I also think the white ones are less "Christmas-y" looking and are perfect for year-round decor. 

My indoor plants are definitely helping me get through the long and painful New England winter. However, I am still dreaming about SPRING and my outdoor garden!

I had a weak moment at the farmer's market recently, and bought all of these seed packets...


Almost time to plant! Not really.

Only a few more months to go, right? Sob.

Do any of you have recommendations for super tough, hard-to-kill indoor plants? Let's chat!

Dreaming of spring,

Penny/Nina

Friday, January 3, 2020

Happy New Year 2020!


HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I have some plans for this blog in 2020. I will be adding more frequent posts about a variety of topics, including wellness/health, simple living, gardening life, book reviews, film reviews, travel photos, etc.

Coming up soon...a review for STAR WARS: The Rise of Skywalker.

Yes, I saw it.

You all know I'm an obsessive sci-fi girl who watched my first Star Wars movie in 1977.

So, the question is...what did I think about the final installment of this series?

Stay tuned to find out...


HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

xoxoxoxo

Love, Nina

Monday, November 18, 2019

Celebrate the Holiday Season with the Penny Watson Collection!



Time to Celebrate!

It's that time again! Holidays, birthdays, adoption days, a fun escape for yourself. If you're looking for a unique gift for friends and family, check out the Penny Watson Collection. 

I have an eclectic mix of books that may fit the bill for your shopping needs. The collection includes women's fiction, romance, kiddy lit, a complete holiday series, romantic comedy, and even a super sweet holiday quickie!

All but one are available in both print and digital formats, at Amazon, B/N, and Kobo.

Take a peek at this list and see if anything is right for you! 



Are you looking for...

A quirky paranormal holiday romance series about the five sons of Santa Claus, a bunch of rambunctious elves, and plenty of magic and charm? This award-winning, bestselling series is complete (5 books). Available in print and digital formats at Amazon, B/N, and Kobo.

A Thanksgiving-themed award-nominated romantic comedy with "mature" characters? This novella is available in print and digital formats at Amazon, B/N, and Kobo.


An award-winning foodie fiction with "seasoned" romance, a cooking competition, and a wee bit of haggis? National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award-winning novel available at Amazon, B/N, and Kobo in both digital and print.


 A children's book with quirky and charming illustrations about a super heroic weenie dog named Lucy? Precious illustrations by talented artist Sara Pulver bring this tale to life. Available in both print and digital formats at Amazon, B/N, and Kobo.


A super short, super sweet holiday quickie set in Vermont? This 99 cent shortie is available in digital formats at Amazon, B/N, Kobo, Apple, and more.

 A contemporary romance with a sexy, bearded lumberjack? This bestselling novella is available in print and digital formats at Amazon, B/N, and Kobo.



***More information about the KLAUS BROTHER SERIES...

Do you like baking? Try SWEET INSPIRATION (#1)

Do you like snowboarding? Try SWEET MAGIK (#2)

Do you like lumberjack/hippie types? Try SWEET ADVENTURE (#3)

Do you like sexy billionaires? Try SWEET CINDERELLA (#4)

Do you like tortured souls searching for love in the Vermont forest? Try SWEET DESTINY (#5)


For more adorable gift ideas, stop by the Penny Watson Zazzle Shop. I have EMBRACE THE QUIRK totes, T-shirts, and more, as well as LUCY THE WONDER WEENIE and APPLES SHOULD BE RED items. Grab a mug, hat, or hoodie!

I hope all of you have a wonderful and enchanted holiday season. Lots of love...

Penny/Nina

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Excerpt from LITTLE SHADOW MAN



     Here's an unedited excerpt from the horror novella I am currently writing...HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


UNEDITED EXCERPT
LITTLE SHADOW MAN

     It’s funny.
     You would think after being asleep--or technically, in a medically-induced coma--for three years, eleven months, and seventeen days, that your first waking thought would be something monumental.
     Your child’s face.
     A memory about your wedding or perhaps the moment you fell in love.
     Possibly something devastating. The day your mother died after falling down the stairs to the basement? 
     But for Jenny Kohler, after a four-year slumber of unnatural causes, her first waking thought was about McDonald’s French fries.
     Extra large. With ketchup.
     She’d ripped off the oxygen mask and attempted to speak, but with her atrophied vocal chords the words emerged as “Fra fra.”
     Obviously, it took some time for her to acclimate to her surroundings. Figure out where she was, why she was. What she was. 
     And why the date on the blaring television read 2004.
     Oops. Lost a few years.
     On the bright side, she’d finally lost those pesky fifty pounds. However, no one would mistake her for Sleeping Beauty. Her hair had been chopped into a boyish cut--easier for care at the nursing home. Her body was white and pasty and mushy--with bed sores and scabs and scars from the accident no one wanted to talk about.
     Then she discovered, after a few days of her brain starting to function again, that it wasn’t just fifty pounds of fat that she’d lost.
     Her husband--dear old Jimmy--had divorced her slumbering ass while she laid in a puke-filled hospital bed.
     Dear Old Jimmy.
     And to add the greatest of insults to a near-death injury, he’d married Marlene.
     Marlene.
     The bastard had married Marlene.
     He’d married the bitch from hell and taken Clare with him. They now lived in Marlene’s three thousand-square-foot condominium on the west side of town.
     Jenny realized a few days after waking up that the doctors were not going to be her best source of information.
     Neither were the nurses.
     It was the orderlies--bless their sweet souls--the ones who scooped up poop and vomit and other bodily fluids that no one else wanted to touch, who would answer her questions and be straight with her.
     “Sure did. Brought that bitch with him. She has a big, shiny ring on her finger, that one. They spent a couple of minutes at your bedside, then took off for Barbados.”   
     Jenny blinked a few times. Her tear ducts weren’t working so great, but honestly, Jim didn’t deserve the water works.
     “José, was my daughter here, too? Clare? She’s just a little girl.”
     José sent her a pitying look. “That girl ain’t little. She’s twelve. Middle school is hell, don’t you know. The girl has been here a couple of times. Not too much. Never saw her crack a smile or even talk. Sullen kid.”
     My girl is twelve!
     Jenny cringed. She’d missed four vital years of her daughter’s life. She could only imagine what Marlene was teaching her about growing up.
     “Did...did any of my friends stop by?” Jenny was dreading the answer, but she had to know.
     “Yeah. One. Barb. You know her? She came by every Sunday. Told me she knew you were in there, in that lifeless body, somewhere. And then she’d spout off a bunch of religious gobbledygook. You know, about how God was looking out for you. That God would take care of you. God would bring you back.”
     Jenny stared at José. “I don’t know anyone named Barb.”
     “Really?” José barked out a laugh. “She was here every Sunday. You sure?”
     Jenny wracked her brain, which probably wasn’t such a hot idea. It was full of holes and mismatched connections, warped memories, and a bunch of rage. The rage swam around in the gray matter like an alligator under an alga-topped swamp. Skimming the surface every once in a while, then diving back into the scum.
     “Well, I guess I’ll meet her if she stops by again. That should be interesting.”
     “Yeah. It should.” José snubbed out his cigarette on the linoleum floor. “Gotta get back to work. Let me wheel you home.”
     Jenny’s arms weren’t strong enough to wield the wheelchair yet. Physical therapy was now a daily occurrence, but her recovery would not be quick...or easy.
     And there would be no cheerleaders. Mr. Ex-Hubby hadn’t bothered to stop by. Clare hadn’t stopped by. The mysterious Barb had ceased all visits.
    No one had stopped by.
    Well, that wasn’t exactly true.
    Something had stopped by. 
Some...thing
But the thing, the thing that was stopping by, day and night, was something Jenny was trying to ignore. Thinking it a by-product of a long-term coma. Or maybe the meds.
     Meds could do strange shit to your brain.
     That had to be it.
     Because something was watching Jenny, all day and all night. Hidden in the corners. So small, tucked into the shadows, like a tiny bronze afterthought. Always just out of reach, on the periphery.
     At first she’d thought something was wrong with her vision. Like a spot on her retina? A dark spot. It moved as her eyes moved, always on the edges.
     But then one day, the thing...talked.
     Well, that wasn’t quite right. It didn’t exactly talk. It sort of...whispered. But low, like the grumbling of a furnace in the basement.
     She’d thought it was a furnace in the basement. Until she heard the words. Actual fucking words.
     And then the blood that flowed through her broken body turned so cold she’d thought she’d frozen in place. Like a block of ice.
     “Wel...come.”
     That was it. That one word, over and over. It wasn’t the furnace. And Jenny was certain it wasn’t the meds. Because she heard it when she was completely lucid. The blurry spots in her peripheral vision would grow, almost like an ocular migraine, but full of shadows. 
And full of something else.
Each day and night, the thing returned. Little Shadow. In the corner. 
Welcoming her. To what exactly?
And strangely, the Little Shadow seemed familiar, almost comforting. 
She’d heard once that people in a coma were aware of everything going on around them. Who was visiting, words spoken. They couldn’t respond, but they were aware. 
As days passed, Jenny’s memories of the last four years returned in a jumbled mass of images.
Dark, wavy images. Angry images. She hadn’t been aware of visitors or doctors or nurses or therapy done on her mushy body. But she was sure--as sure as she could be--that Little Shadow had visited her daily. Because it was the thing that seemed recognizable. It was the thing that filled her memories.
And so, in a very odd way, Little Shadow became a comfort. Something she could rely on, unlike her douchebag ex-husband. 
It wasn’t until fifty-four days after she awoke that it occurred to her that the something might be not be a friend or a comfort at all, but something altogether different. And that she, Jenny Kohler, was in way over her head with this thing.
That night a nurse came into the room to check her bedsores. Most of them had disappeared, but a few had become infected. Jenny couldn’t see them. They were on her lower back. But she could smell them. Something putrid and foul. And wet, with pus oozing onto the bed sheets.
Nurse Wilson was curt and pissy and had about as much bedside manner as a troll. Usually, Jenny ignored her, rolled over, and let her apply the topical ointment which was supposed to heal the open sores.
But on this night, the nurse seemed more disagreeable than normal. When Jenny turned over, the nurse gagged.
Actually gagged.
After all the shit this nurse had seen in this god-forsaken nursing home, she’d gagged at the sight of Jenny’s sores.
“Ugh. These are disgusting.”
Jenny got very, very still.
“They smell like crap. Why isn’t the antibiotic cream working?”
Jenny glanced into the corner of the room, where shadows collected and the light got sucked right under the door.
Darker. 
“Good thing your husband already left you, woman. If he got a whiff of these, he’d be repulsed.”
The shadows in the corner seemed a little larger. Climbing up the walls like a colony of mold. Growing.
Darker.
“I’ll bet that busty bimbo he’s married to now smells real good.”
Nurse Wilson was bending over Jenny’s back. Head low, concentration focused on the wounds. Jenny reached out and grasped the bed pan on her table. Her coordination still wasn’t great. Her strength was pathetic. But somehow Jenny got ahold of that bedpan, twisted in the sheets, and smacked the side of Nurse Wilson’s head.
The nurse wasn’t expecting it. It didn’t hit very hard due to Jenny’s less-than-stellar physical condition. But it startled the fuck out of poor Nurse Wilson. So much that the woman gasped, tipped backward, and fell onto the floor. Smashed the back of her head so hard she knocked herself out. And cut open a nice slice of her skull.
Bright red blood pooled under the nurse’s head.
And the shadows in the corner laughed.
The shadows in the corner grew.
The shadows in the corner coalesced into a huddled figure. The outline wasn’t sharp, and the face was hidden by a dark bronze haze. 
When the nurse finally came to, she remembered nothing.
     “I must have fallen. Damn slippery floors. I wish they’d stop polishing them at night.”
     That was the start of a new relationship for Jenny.
     That was the night she realized Little Shadow was actually Little Shadow Man. He was there, hidden in the corners.
     And he was growing.


LITTLE SHADOW MAN, © 2019, Nina Roth Borromeo