Easy DIY MINECRAFT Creeper bag — perfect for Birthday parties or Halloween

DIY Minecraft Creeper Bag - perfect for Birthday parties or Trick-or-treat! Super easy and cheap. #MINECRAFTbag #creepertrick-or-treat

Kids love MINECRAFT. Be it for Halloween or birthday parties, MINECRAFT is the hottest thing going now.

My son wanted a MINECRAFT themed slumber party to celebrate his 11th birthday this year. Since I refuse to do the traditional goodie bags full of junk, I had to come up with something fun, something useful, and something cheap.

Since the party was in October, how about a Creeper Bag? It could be used for everyday activities and as a Halloween trick-or-treat bag. And the kids would think it was pretty cool.

Using a Creeper face template and supplies from my local craft store, I had the materials to make FIVE of these Creeper backpacks for less than $7.50—that’s about $1.50 each! Whoo-hoo!

The kids LOVED them.

Price breakdown: 

Bags: I found “Non-woven Sports Bags” a.k.a. drawstring backpacks at Michael’s for $2 each. After a 40% off coupon, they were only $1.20 each.

—Paint: $1 at Michael’s, on sale for $0.50

—Brushes: multi-pack at the Dollar Tree for $1

—Cardboard: free from my recycling bin


DIY Minecraft Creeper Bag - perfect for Birthday parties or Trick-or-treat! Now it just so happened that my son received a Minecraft Creeper Box Head as a birthday gift. All I had to do was find a green shirt. (The one in the photos was only temporary. I don’t think Creepers wear Dave Matthews Band concert T’s.) Add in the Creeper bag, and his costume is DONE!

I like using a backpack as a trick-or-treat bag because kids can sling it over their shoulder or wear on their backs. All that candy can weight them down by the end of the night!

He’d gone as MINECRAFT Steve years before with a totally homemade costume (See How-to posts for Steve Head here and MINECRAFT diamond sword and pickax here.)  I have to admit —this year’s Creeper costume was so much easier.

Easy and inexpensive Minecraft Creeper DIY Bag / backpack

MINECRAFT CREEPER Party or Trick-or-Treat Bags/Backpacks

Materials needed:Minecraft Creeper Template

green drawstring backpacks(s)
creeper face template (see below)
black craft paint
cardboard (2 12 x 14-ish pieces per bag)
ruler (optional)
foam brushes

For the adults:

Right click on the template photo on the right and save. Print out as an 8 x 10 (don’t worry, it doesn’t need to be high resolution). Using the template and a pencil, trace the creeper face on one piece of cardboard per bag. With ruler or straight edge, go over the trace marks with a marker or pencil.

Now it’s time to cut. Once again, use the ruler or straight edge as a guide to cut the face out of the cardboard. A razor works best—that way you get clean edges.

Make one cardboard template for each bag. (If you reuse them, paint can smear.)

For the kids:

Okay, the hard part is done. Slide one blank sheet of cardboard inside each backpack to prevent the paint from bleeding through. Lay each bag on a flat surface. Place the cardboard template on each bag (you can tape the cardboard to the bag with masking tape if you wish).

Squeeze some black craft paint onto paper plates or disposable bowls. Have the kids dab paint on their foam brushes and paint inside the creeper faces.

When faces are all filled in, remove template cardboard. Let the bags dry completely before moving or removing inside cardboard. (Our paint dried in about a half hour.)

That’s it!

Happy Birthday, Happy Halloween, enjoy your special day!


homemade minecraft costume, make a steve headminecraft, how to make minecraft sword, minecraft costume


Sucking Wind: The Real-Life Diary of a Couch to 5k (part 3—Demons and Angels)

Need to catch up on my Couch to 5k journey?
Check out PART 1: Easy Street and PART 2: Bumps in the Road.


W?D?   Maybe W5 D-infinity? I DON’T KNOW  F 9/12/14

What. The. Heck.

I’m restraining my language because I’m actually writing this two days later so I’ve had time to temper my utter pissed-offedness. (Yes, I’m making that a word.)

I’ve been hunting for new shoes, since my old ones look like this.

old sneakers

Yes, those are massive holes in the mesh toes. Tread is pretty much non-existent as well.

Since I am poor and doubt my ability to follow through, I’m not allowing myself to head off to Track Shack for a $100+ pair of running shoes. But lucky me, I found these neat-o trainers at Ross for $30. A steal for  Brooks minimalist trainers with glowing reviews on Amazon, right?

brooks running shoes, minimalist, couch to 5k

But while reading the reviews, I realized I AM RUNNING ALL WRONG. Totally wrong. I suck.

I run like I walk, landing on my heel. I didn’t realize I was supposed to land mid-foot. WTF.

I’ve always thought my hubby runs funny. When he races around the soccer pitch every week, he looks like he’s running on his balls the balls of his feet and his heels nearly kick his butt. It looks…weird. BUT HE IS TOTALLY RIGHT. Crapola.

So, after watching a ton of youtube instructional videos, I headed off to the gym with my new shoes. I figured I’d just go easy, running/walking at my own pace as I tried to run correctly.

Ha. I looked like a drunk toddler on skates. Even holding on to the sides or front handles of the treadmill I was all spaghetti legs. It hurt. It felt wrong. I couldn’t breathe after 30 seconds. Did I mention it hurt?  (My lower shins are still KILLING me two days later.) I barely made it 2 miles with a few 90-sec runs in there.

And now I don’t know what to do. Trying to run in “proper form” (mid-foot strike, heel-to-butt gait) feels utterly wrong.

Should I start over on Day 1 with the ‘correct’ form, even though I feel like I’m on artificial legs? (Bad old-timey wooden fake legs, not those cool new blade runner versions.) Or should I keep running like I have been these last few weeks and continue to work on my cardio and stamina?



 Monday 9/15/14

It’s currently 80 degrees with 90% humidity out and I just attempted a run/walk. Outside.

sept 15 temp

Did I travel to the backwaters of Indonesia or the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil? No, I’m just another idiot savoring fall in Florida. For those of you up north, you may wonder what 90% humidity feels like. A blanket of water. Being locked in a bathroom with a bag of freshly mown grass and the shower cranked to near boiling for a half hour. I was sweating worse than a 300-pound man in a sauna. And that was just after WALKING to the end of the block.

After the last debacle at the gym (which I am still smarting from) I decided to try running on pavement instead of a hamster wheel. I could control my pace and my form more. And I did. I also dropped back to the 90-sec runs. My shins still hurt from Friday and my right arch is complaining like a bitch, but I pushed through—moderately. You see, I think lungs don’t quite know how to process this much humidity. Many people only feel it when they are (a) sitting still  in a steam room, or (b) laying in bed, miserably congested, with their room-sized humidifier spewing an eau de Vicks Vapor Rub into the air.

Who suffers this way for fun?

Just call me the Anastasia Steele of Couch to 5k. However, my unbelievable naivete revolves around running, and there were no sexy young billionaires luring me along. Too bad.

Ran/walked/gasped for about 40 minutes. Per Map My Run  – 2.81 miles.


Wednesday 9/18/14


{cue dawn breaking or something}

After my last few attempts, I was not looking forward to today’s run. I felt crummy and only pried myself out of bed because my cats were playing tag on top of me. With claws. Anywho, I ate breakfast late, so I couldn’t run/walk outside before it became too beastly. Almost didn’t go at all.

Then I remembered my gym has an “easy” yoga class at noon, and my muscles were pretty desperate for some stretching. By the time I dragged myself to the gym, I had about 20 minutes to spend with my dear nemesis, the treadmill.

What would happen if I just ran slower?

tina fey high fiving a million angels



I warmed up for a couple of minutes. (Really I was just getting my Kindle turned on—finally reading OUTLANDER. OMG. What the hell took me so long?) Then I set the speed—not at a “run” 6 mph or at a “jog” of 4 measly mph—but right in-between.

And I ran/jogged/whatevered for A MILE. Without stopping. Or dying. Holy Schlitz.

It was a 12-minute mile, but who cares? I could have kept going longer, but I really wanted to get in some yoga, and you can’t sneak into class late. I wasn’t striking totally on my heels, but somewhere a little farther forward.  I’m not sure it was precisely midstep, but who cares.

It felt brilliant.

I can do this.


Any of you runners have any advice for me? Is it better to run slowly to build endurance then worry about speeding up later?

Sucking Wind: The Real-Life Diary of a Couch to 5k (part 2—Bumps in the Road)


Sucking Wind: The Real-Life Diary of  a Couch to 5k (part 2: Speed Bumps)

photo credit: Stéfan via photopin cc

{Catch up on my journey with Part 1: Easy Street here.}

W4 D1: Friday 8/22

This training session about killed me. This one was NOT fun. Those little three minute runs had me feeling like this whole couch-to-5k thing would be a piece of cake. Then the damn app demanded that I jump from 3 minute runs to 5 minute runs. Be still my beating heart. My face feels like it’s a tomato about to burst and my heart is going to explode. I tried not to envision what would happen when I passed out on the treadmill—how I’d likely nail my head on the side rail, hit the belt, and be flung to the floor like roadkill. To keep from hyperventilating, I took my dad’s advice: sing. So I looked like a tomato-faced idiot, singing and trying not to swear as I ran.

5 min warmup | run 3 min | walk 1.5 min | run 5 minutes | walk 2.5  min | run 3 min | walk 1.5 min | run 5 min | 5 min cool down


W4 D2 8/25

Damn five minute sprints. The app calls them “jogs” but I’m not sure what the difference is between a jog, a run, and that heaving “I’m going to die feeling.” Need to find some more music, something I can sing along with. Yes, I know I’ll look like a fool, but it will be far less embarrassing than than scoring a concussion after passing out on the rotating belt of evil. But I did it…and since I was at about 2.5 miles once the app finished, I did two more “jogs” to push me over my 5k. Take that.

5 min warmup | run 3 min | walk 1.5 min | run 5 minutes | walk 2.5  min | run 3 min | walk 1.5 min | run 5 min | 5 min cool down (+2 more song-length sprints)


W5 D1  Monday, 9/8

You might have noticed I’ve had a bit of a time lapse…yeah, that’s what I’ll call it. The five minute sprints are killing me, so last week I did my own thing and worked on them some more. Uhm—extra-credit time instead of remedial class, right?  I’d peeked at Week 5′s expectations of three 5-minuts sprints and got scared. But I did it today. I did it wearing my Hot Pants, even, so I’m extra gross and sweaty. (Hot Pants are these neoprene biker shorts I was once sent as a product for review. See enlightening post here.) Don’t know if they’ll help sweat away the annoying ripples around my waistline, but worth a try.

The music selection on my phone needs updating and the app I’m using for training is a royal PITA, so I listened to Pandora on my Kindle while I read JoJo Moyes’s ONE PLUS ONE (recommended++). First station up: Alternative Endurance Training. Worked for a while, then I got over Muse and switched to 80s Cardio. Pour Some Sugar on Me had me giggling and flashing back to doing the Barefoot Mailman Scout Hike when I was about 13. Don’t laugh. That was brutal  35-mile 2-day hike along the beaches of South Florida. We carried everything we needed—tents, clothes, food, ect. It was hot. It was long. I had blisters and chafe marks for days. But I did it—I kicked butt in an event dominated 95% by boys. And one of the songs that I blasted through my Walkman (**oooh, flashback***) was that Def Leopard glam rock classic. Granted, at 13, I had no idea what it really meant.

If I could do it then, dammit, I can do it now.

5 min warmup | 5 min run + 3 min fast walk X 3 | added another 2 3-min runs to make 5k




10 Books that have stuck with me


young girl reading

Like every other book lover out there, I was tagged in the 10 books that have stuck with me meme. Instead of giving just a quick list, I thought I’d provide a snippet of explanation for each selection. Plus I wanted to figure out why these particular books have kept their prime shelf space in the endless library in my heart.

Yes, I realize that this meme was just a way to gather information about the most popular books. (You can find the results here.)  It’s still fun, and it still gets people talking about literature. In my book, that’s a win.

When creating my list, I realized how many of these novels had been made into movies. Of course I read ALL the books before watching the movie version. And strangely, many of the movie adaptations are on my favorite movie list, though the books were so much better (as always).

Also odd: none of the books are in the genre I write and read most often now, though I do still read varied genres. Figure that one out.

Most of these books stole my heart and captured my imagination while in I was in high school. Perhaps they are ingrained on my psyche because that was a time when I was so open to new experiences, when books blew my mind with radical new ideas and influenced my tastes even today.

So here’s my list, in no particular order:


Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

It happened. They dropped the bomb. But for the residents of a small Florida town, their fight to survive has just begun…  I read this one in high school English class just before the Berlin Wall crashed down. It seemed too real, too close to home, and my mind swirled with what if’s. It has haunted me forever.



Gone With the Wind by Margret Mitchell

I’ve been enamored with this 1032-page Civil War epic since the first time  I opened my (now extremely worn) paperback cover when I was a mere twelve years old. History and romance walk hand-in-hand through the graceful plantations of the old South and the trials of war and Reconstruction. Scarlett is the original spunky heroine, and Rhett…I’ll love that sexy scoundrel forever.


It by Steven King

This book SCARED THE CRAP OUT OF ME.  IT preyed upon children (and I was still a “child” when I read it). It got to them through their ordinary fears, which truly messed with my head. Yes, about 200 pages could have been trimmed from this tale, but I don’t think I’ll ever go to Maine—or go near a clown again. And then there’s the time my own father played the most brilliant evil IT-related prank in the world on me (read about that one here.)


Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Another one that scared me, and I loved every second of it. I can still picture myself reading this, curled up on the stinky couch in an apartment I shared with five international roommates  the summer I interned at Disney. Fireworks exploded nearby, and the booms will forever sound like impact tremors. The blockbuster movie came out weeks later. Did I mention that I worked in The Pirates of the Caribbean ride? Figure out that connection.


Interview with the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles Book 1) by Anne Rice

Forget those silly sparkly, angst-filled creatures—this was my teen vampire read. I worshiped this series, fell in love with the brooding Louis and anti-hero Lestat, and dreamed of being changed over. Part historical novel, part horror, and fully entertaining, Rice’s vampire series will always be close to my beating heart. And then there’s the fact that I met my husband because of these books…


The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

I was an odd teenage girl. Thanks to Clancy, I came to adore military thrillers and their mix of action, adventure, intelligence, and suspense. After reading this one, I caught up with all of the Jack Ryan series, and I’ve devoured each new release in since. But this is the one that started it all for me. Dasvidaniya.


Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

I think this was the first of Willie’s works I had to read in 9th grade English. It’s not necessarily my favorite (that would be Hamlet) but it was my first exposure to the beauty of his world and words. Then I had to memorize two of Juliet’s monologues for drama class, and they were such a challenge that I can still recite them today. I’d say that means the book stuck with me.


Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

I’m not even sure this is my favorite book by the amazing Isabel Allende, but this epic tale of a young woman’s perilous journey as she followed her love from Chile to Gold Rush San Francisco has stuck with me over the years. Once again, it tics off the key elements I’m now noticing draw me in: history, adventure, romance—and solid writing.


Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen

Few No other books make me roar with laughter like Hiaasen’s.  Though he’d been a savvy Miami Herald columnist for years, this was the novel that started it all. Laced with biting humor (literally—there’s a pissed off crocodile involved) it’s more a  social and environmental commentary than an ordinary story. Carl had the balls to write about broke so many native Floridian’s hearts—our hatred for the obnoxious tourists and snowbirds, the crooked politicians who rule with dirty palms, and the rape and pillage of our natural world. And did I mention it’s funny?


Beach Music by Pat Conroy

Don’t let this cover fool you. This is not a “beach read.” Not even close. This epic drama flashes from a piazza in Rome to a stormy beach house to the horrific memories of the Holocaust. Conroy’s settings are immersive, his prose drips with that lush Southern style, and his characters (both male and female) snare you in their complex web.


Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

I must have been about ten or so when I read this tale of about a young girl left behind on a lonely Pacific island and her fight for survival. I found the way she learned how to find food, shelter, and company fascinating. I wanted to be strong like her—while still enjoying the comforts of modern living, of course. I just passed along my copy to my 10-year-old son. He freaking loved it.


Ack! I just realized I’ve listed ELEVEN books. I’ve done the work, so I’m leaving them. (*Note: I was not a math major.) Just forget whichever one interested you the least.

Other runners up:
Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War
George Orwell’s 1984

and the list could go on and on…

How about you? What books have stuck with you over the years?


Sucking Wind: The Real-Life Diary of a Couch to 5k (part 1—Easy Street)

WILL RUN FOR WINE | Sucking Wind: The Real-Life Diary of  a Couch to 5k

Week 1, Day 1: 7/28/14

Two days before my 40th Birthday. When did I get so damn old?

I’ve never liked running. My knees hurt and I suck wind within seconds of my feet hitting the pavement at any speed over a power walk. I was the last kid to finish the dreaded mile run around the field in grade school. I was always active, but an athlete—ha—I was the last kid picked for every sport with the exceptions of competitive canoe racing or hiking. Running seems to be the “thing”now, and everyone else is showing off their fitness by not just running, but doing it while sloshing through mud puddles, darting through Disney, or fleeing from zombies. 5ks aren’t enough—no, now they run half marathons (and have the bumper sticker to prove it!). They bring their kids and wear a smile and a tutu. I’m fit—I do yoga, Pilates, and kick butt in toning class—I can improve my cardio and learn to run a measly 3.1 miles. {deep breath}  Okay, so I’ve tried this before over the years and failed miserably. But I will not go gently into “middle age.” I can do this dammit.

I hit the treadmill at the gym after downloading a Couch to 5k app on my phone. Book geek note: Kindles fit nicely on the treadmill’s lip below the TV screen. I started reading Laura Drake’s HER ROAD HOME, which happens to be the first Harlequin Superromance I’ve ever read. Okay, possibly the first Harlequin romance I’ve ever read—I’m branching out—and the damn battery died after 7 minutes. The remaining 23 minutes suck.

5 min warmup | walk 3.7 mph for 90 sec/ run 6 mph for 60 sec x 8 | 5 min cool down

W1 D2: 7/29/14

I actually went back to the gym, sore shins and all. And after a work shift— I’ve never ventured to the gym in the afternoon. Maybe it’s because I just had a mini-meltdown in the orthodontist’s office when they told me kiddo’s replacement retainer would cost me $300. I needed to blow off steam. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would (the run, not the potential wallet hit) and my right side didn’t flare up in a gut-busting cramp. Some credit must go to distractingly good reading material—I was glued to HER ROAD HOME the entire time. (I made damn sure that my Kindle was charged!) Reading while running is…challenging…but necessary for the sanity. Note: must grab one of the sweaty fitness or glam magazines stacked by the cardio equipment if I ever suffer a Kindle outage again. Even Maxim articles should be more exciting than daytime TV.

5 min warmup | walk 3.7 mph for 90 sec/ run 6 mph for 60 sec x 8 | 5 min cool down

W1 D3: 8/1/14

So, I’ve been 40 for two days. Can’t say I like it. Feel a midlife crisis approaching. So much I haven’t accomplished, so many dreams I haven’t had the guts to chase down. Maybe that’s why I’m trying to run. Well, that and the muffin-top creeping over my waistband. Felt good at the gym today. Legs didn’t hurt, and my breathing was far more paced. Tiny side stitch. Since I intended to prep my finished manuscript for a contest entry, I listened to Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto, the official album of the story. Great for running (dancing, too!). Between the tunes and the cowboy romance read, I wanted to keep going AFTER I’D FINISHED the official C2 5K program. So I did. Instead of going 2 miles, I finished a 5k. I amped the last 3 run phases to 2.5 minute sprints.
Came home completely flushed, but I kicked butt today, dammit.

5 min warmup | walk 3.7 mph for 90 sec/ run 6 mph for 60 sec x 8 | plus several 2.5 minute runs++ | completed 5k in 41 minutes (including warmup) | 5 min cool down

W2 D1: 8/2/14

Whoo-hoo! Technically, I’m two days ahead. I’m going on vacation next week, so I feel like I need to cram in running time. Plus I figure I should actually GO to the gym when I’m motivated. Started reading GO DANCING as part of my Contemporary Romance training. Must remember to keep books on my kindle. Not like I don’t have at least 20 or so waiting… Run went well. Did the 1.5 minute runs no problem. Ran the last one for 2.5 minutes, and that was all I had in me. Watched World War Z last night and commented again on why I need to learn to run: so I can survive a zombie attack. (Rule #1 of Zombieland: CARDIO)

5 min warmup | walk 3.7 mph 2 min | run 6 mph 1.5 min | x 6 | 5 min cool down

W2 D2: 8/4/14

Okay, I just realized I stared this a week ago and I’m a bit ahead. Forty-year-olds can still kick butt (while hopefully perking up their aged derriere). I had an infuriating morning dealing with the incompetent staff at Walmart (I’ll spare you the rant) so I was still feeling murderous when I sped to the gym. Put on some Foo Fighters Greatest Hits and jumped on the treadmill. Damn. Running flushes that anger right from your system, almost as if it it’s dripping from your sweat glands. Loud men yelling song lyrics over raging guitars helps too. With the music cranked I ran 2.5 minute sprints instead of 1.5. And I stuck around to complete my 3.1 miles instead of the 2-ish on the program. Take that you Walmart fuckers.

5 min warmup | walk 3.7 mph 2 min | run 6 mph 1.5 min | x 6 | 5 min cool down

W2 D3: M 8/11/14

I just returned from a relaxing yet far too short beach vacation, blissing out with good friends, unhealthy food, and plenty of wine. Something about the ocean always lulls me into a state of tranquility. While staying at the beach house, my only real exercise was a couple of exhilarating kayak runs around the island. Though the gorgeous turquoise waters appeared calm, the currents ran fast, so my upper body got quite a workout. But the lower half—not so much. Anyway, today is back to reality. Kiddo went back to school this morning, I’m starting a new schedule of writing (thanks to Claire Cook’s NEVER TOO LATE: YOUR ROAD TO REINVENTION), and heading back to the gym. Despite my six day break, my run went just peachy. Ran the extra to make my 5k no problemo. The arch of my right foot hurts a little though…

This is going to be easy.

::cue dramatic music::

Famous. Last. Words.

5 min warmup | walk 3.7 mph 2 min | run 6 mph 1.5 min | x 6 | 5 min cool down  (extended to run 5k)


Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way) by Claire Cook

“I think we all have that sweet spot—the place where the life we want to live and our ability intersect. For some, the trick is finding it.

For others, like me, deep down inside you already know what you want, so it’s about finding the courage to dig up that dream and dust it off. It’s not too late. Dreams don’t have an expiration date. Not even a best by date. If it’s still your dream, it’s still your dream.”                                                        ~Claire Cook

The Book

So many of us are there—hanging in limbo somewhere between the life we fell into and those dreams we’ve clung to or rediscovered. Maybe you’ve just figured out what you really want to be when you grow up, even though you’re very grown up—30s, 40s, 50s, or more. Perhaps your aspirations were derailed by real life: marriage led to a big mortgage, kids led to spending your time taxiing from school to soccer meets. Your career went on hold, or in a direction that was convenient and manageable.

But it’s not what you’d dreamed of once upon a time.

You have an itch—that niggling feeling of what you really want to be doing with your life. You want to write a book, make jewelry, open your own business—some creative outlet that might not work financially (yet) but would fulfill that need within. Your dream. Your passion.

But how do you turn yourself around and chase after that dream? How do your reinvent your life?

You open Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way) and let USA Today bestselling author Claire Cook share her experiences and inspiration.

The Author:

Claire Cook has been called the “Queen of Reinvention.” She wrote her first novel in a minivan at age 45 while her kids were at swim practice. Five years later, she strolled down the red carpet at the premier of the movie adaptation of the second novel MUST LOVE DOGS. (Yes, the cute romcom starring John Cusak and Diane Lane.) Now she’s the beloved author of eleven charming contemporary women’s fiction books—and one inspiring non-fiction debut you’ll adore.

Find Claire at: Her Website * Twitter * Facebook * Pinterest


Never too late, george elliot quote

I’ve posted this quote before on the blog. Funny how it opens this book…

The Good Stuff:

This book is entertaining, enlightening, and downright helpful if you need to jump-start your motivation. Told with honesty and Claire’s trademark easygoing wit, NEVER TOO LATE is part memoir, part self-help guide, and a whole lot of fun.

Much of the book bounces around her experiences as a speaker at We Move Forward, a women’s conference set on the gorgeous Isla Mujeres, Mexico. The three-day retreat seems to be a deluxe combination of inspirational talks, spiritual soothing, and flat out fun for women from across the globe. Claire shares what she learned from these diverse women, each who found happiness and empowerment in her own unique way.

But before you think this is just another  “You Can Do It Sam”  book or hippy-dippy spiritual guide, let me set you straight. It’s not. It’s spunky and optimistic, but Claire transparently shares the ways she messed up on her journey and the many challenges she still faces. Her section detailing the disintegration of the good ole publishing machine was an eye-opener, and she candidly writes about why she left her big New York agent and publishers after over a decade of being “the hardest working author in the universe.” (You can read an excerpt here on Jane Friedman’s blog.)

Claire also spells out practical how-to steps. She details how keeping a notebook handy for all of your reinvention ideas can be just the thing when you hit a speed bump. (I have about 10 spirals scattered around the house and car. Too many?) And she also explains how slow and steady goals can make the journey to success much more achievable. (Read an excerpt here on WriterUnboxed.com.) After finishing the book, I set my goal and took on her two-pages a day come hell-or-high water challenge. Okay, my version is slightly modified to include work schedules and a ten-year-old, but it’s working. That blinking cursor doesn’t seem so terrifying. It’s only two pages. Even if each word is like tweezing errant eyebrow hairs, I can do that, right? Right.

If it sounds like this book would be most helpful for aspiring authors—you’re correct—partially. Honestly, Claire’s wit and wisdom can be a spark for anyone who needs a charge, whether you dream of opening a dog walking business or climbing K2.

My copy accompanied me on vacation. I kind of felt as if Claire was lounging on a beach chair beside me, sipping on a frozen umbrella drink, and chatting about her experiences. I came back home inspired and ready to get shit done.

claire cook's Road to Reinvention

The Recommendation:

If you’ve conquered your dreams, made billions of bucks, or have shelves full of Oscars/RITAS/Nobel Prizes collecting dust—maybe you don’t need this book.  It’s for the rest of us.

Read it, recommend it to friends, and discuss it with your coffee klatch or book club.

But if you’re one of my friends, you’re going to have to buy your own copy. My personalized paperback isn’t going anywhere.  I’d like to think that the “Congrats on your win” handwritten inside refers to celebrating getting my ass back in that writer’s chair, even if it only is two pages a day. Thanks, Claire.

*Oh, and readers can download a free workbook to help get them on track. Fun. Practical. Fabulous.

The Details:
Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way)
by Claire Cook
291 pages
Marshbury Beach Books (July 15, 2014)

40 Things I’ve Figured Out at 40 (that I wish I’d known at 20)

It’s official. I’m old. At least, I always imagined 40 was old—middle-aged.  My mom was 40 when I went to college. AARP somehow has my address already and they’re not afraid to use it. Strange silver corkscrews occasionally spring from my scalp.

But I don’t feel old.

I do feel wiser. Slightly. I still have so much growing to do, so much to learn and accomplish, but as I unwillingly cross into this new decade, I can appreciate the insight I’ve discovered the hard way. Some of these little croutons of knowledge I still force myself to digest each day. Others I chant like mantras. All of these tidbits I wish I had understood twenty years ago.

#185077520 / gettyimages.com  Catherine Lane

#185077520 / gettyimages.com Catherine Lane

  1.  It’s okay to admit that you don’t know something and/or ask for help.
  2. You judge yourself much harsher than anyone else ever will. No one else will ever notice 99% of the things you criticize yourself for.
  3. Realize that people aren’t mind-readers. They usually don’t comprehend how their words/phone calls/tardiness/silence affects you so much.
  4. Learn to let go. That friend who burned you, the guy who dumped you, the loved one who passed away. Whether it’s forgiving, forgetting, or just moving a loss to a less focal spot in your mind—let it go.
  5. Yoga can be as amazing for you outside as inside. Namaste, my friends.
  6. There is no reason to be out at 2 a.m. unless someone is in the hospital.
  7. There is no reason to be awake at 3 a.m. unless someone is puking or crying. (Okay, so people might have been doing this at 20.)
  8. Wear that bikini like crazy when you’re 20. Just because you can wear a bikini at any age, doesn’t mean all of us should.
  9. Your mom is right most of the time.
  10. Cleavage does not equal sexy. You can turn heads in a turtleneck if you radiate confidence.
  11. Don’t let anyone tell you how to parent. Or when to become a parent.
  12. Wearing all the “hottest” trends doesn’t impress. Find your happy niche between. And stop reading Vogue. Now.
  13. Negativity is like a riptide—it will suck all the joy from your life. Avoid negative people, even if they’re family.
  14. What you believe in will change. Maybe not cataclysmically (like going from a faithful Catholic to a devout Hindu) but your beliefs will evolve as you cope with devastating blows and your view of the world broadens.
  15. Jump out of that perfectly good airplane and bungee jump off that bridge while you’re ten-foot-tall and bulletproof…and before just imagining it makes you nauseous.
  16. Credit cards are evil.
  17. Those statistics classes you thought it would be no big deal to skip in college—they will haunt you in your nightmares forever.
  18. Wear sunscreen. ALL THE TIME. Skin cancer sucks.
  19. Blow drying your hair straight every day will fry it by the time you’re 30.
  20. Freckles are beautiful. So is pale skin.
  21. Take more computer classes. You can never learn enough.
  22. Always pay attention to what’s going on in the world. Listen to NPR. Yes, that butterfly blown from the sky in the Middle East will impact your life.
  23. Don’t be so afraid to flirt. Harmlessly, of course. Just because you smile at someone doesn’t mean they think you want to marry them.
  24. Stop being so afraid to fail. So being so afraid, period.
  25. Try running. Or some sport. You won’t always be able to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for dinner and fit into your jeans the next day.
  26. Write more.
  27. Learn how to cook, clean, and do laundry properly. You may never like doing any of those things, but you will have to do them (even if you share responsibility). You won’t have a maid.
  28. You’re life will never unfold as you imagined it. There is no straight line to follow; instead life’s path is more like a twisty skein of yarn. There is no “should have been.” Don’t beat yourself up for what you have not accomplished. Celebrate what you have done. You still have time to find your dreams, even though those dreams have changed.
  29. Not much in life is easy. Learn to fight.
  30. It doesn’t always pay to be the good girl. They get steamrolled, taken advantage of, and are accused of having no guts. Some rules can be need to be broken.
  31. But breaking some rules may break you. Other people will get away with murder. Literally. You’re not that slick. Think before you do something stupid.
  32. Pets are good for the soul, even when they break your heart.
  33. Appreciate the ordinary.
  34. Spend less. Save more.
  35. Stop judging other people’s relationships/bank accounts/tastes/lives. You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. And you’re not responsible for their decisions.
  36. People can and will change—but not in the ways you may want.
  37. Stop craving things you can’t have. It will only make you miserable. Cherish what you DO have.
  38. Time does go faster as you get older.
  39. Never stop learning. You don’t know it all and you never will.
  40. You’ll never know if the best is yet to come, so enjoy each glorious/horrible/ordinary day.


How about you? Do you have any nuggets of wisdom you’d wish you’d known when you were younger?


10 Surprising Things I’ve Learned While Working at the Library

10 Surprising Things I’ve Learned While Working at the Library

#80283498 / gettyimages.com
Andersen Ross Blend Images

Some of you may know that I work in a library. Books are my life, and if I had to be employed outside the home again, I wanted to be around things I adore. And I do love my job: I enjoy helping people, having adult conversations, and just wandering the stacks (okay, I’m usually never just wandering, but even shelving my dear books fills me with joy sometimes). But working at the library has come with more than a few surprises and given me some valuable (and slightly frightening) insight into how people are actually using these venerable institutions.

1. It’s not about the books.

I know. If you’re anything like me, libraries are ALL about the books. We love them, savor them, breathe them. But books are losing popularity, markets are changing, and other services are in high demand. Our library is about DVDs. Then free computer usage. Many cardholders have never checked out a book. I know.

2. Libraries are not quiet anymore.

Cell phones are allowed. And we can’t do the infamous librarian “shhhh” unless we can hear your entire conversation more than three aisles away. Groups gather at our tables for projects, homeowners association meetings, and tutoring sessions. (Including a tutor who uses a ticking metronome!) I once had to politely banish a group of gabbing Girl Scout troop leaders to a far corner because they were yapping like a group of sugared-up Brownies. The building is filled with a constant hum.

3. Very few “real” librarians actually work at the library.

Patrons call a librarian every day. I rather like the title, but alas, I am only a lowly library clerk. Chances are, most staff members at your library are as well. We do most of the same things as a librarian: answer questions, plan and carry out programming, help with research, handle library accounts, and SO MUCH more, but we don’t have that MLS degree. Or maybe we do, but the official position (one per branch, often only a few per county!) is not open. And we work for half the pay. Which is a key factor because…

4. Libraries are as underfunded as schools.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Library funds come from county taxation. Property taxes took a nose dive, which means funds evaporated. Plus fewer residents think they “need” libraries, so the percentage of taxes libraries receive keeps dropping.

5. Some people who work at libraries have no passion for books. None.

I’ll admit—this one knocked my socks off. I’ve had to rationalize it like this: when I worked retail management, I sold and managed many commodities I had absolutely no interest in (like men’s suits, shoes, and underwear). Libraries work the same way. I’d say half of the staff at my branch hasn’t read a book in years. A few listen to audiobooks when they drive. It’s all about customer service and moving a commodity. Meanwhile, I want to cry with joy whenever a patron asks my opinion on books, and I’ve volunteered to “show off” many of my favorite books and create displays to get these books discovered. And don’t even get me started on weeding…

6. Fiction make up a disturbingly small percentage of check-outs…and the numbers are dropping.

Entertainment DVDs make up most of our circulation: around 40%. Next comes Children’s Easy (picture) Books and CDs. Only then comes Adult Fiction and Lease books (new & best sellers) together making less than 15% of total check-outs—and those numbers are about evenly split. Think about it: ALL of the fiction books which aren’t top new releases (i.e. James Patterson, Nora Roberts and the like) make up only 7ish percent of our circulation. People don’t come to the library to check out novels. Well, some do, but not nearly enough.

7. A huge chunk of the population still has no (or very rudimentary) computer skills. And forget about having any concept of the Dewy Decimal system.

I’m guessing they don’t teach library skills in schools anymore. Or make students do research projects that require actually going to a library. Most patrons look at me as if I’ve sprouted a book from my head when I mention that books are actually organized by numbers. They don’t know how to find anything alphabetically or numerically. They can’t figure out how to type a title into the catalog and hit “search.” They just can’t grasp the concept. And our free computers (3 hours of use per day) are a huge draw in my branch’s location. So many people don’t know how to use Google. Or find their email, print, or type a message. Some don’t know how to click on a mouse. Blows my mind. And it’s not just older folks. I push our free computer classes, but so many patrons refuse to take them. How can anyone hold a job now with NO computer skills? You can’t even sign up for food stamps without some computer knowledge (which many folks don’t have, so we became part-time social workers as well).

8. So much material is “lost” because patrons never bother to check it back in.

Let’s say we look for a book—a classic like 1984 for example—that’s in high demand now due to high school summer reading lists (which I love). We may have 45 copies in the system. But that’s all the copies the library system has ever owned. Over the years many have been damaged and withdrawn. Dozens (say 75%) of the copies still show up as checked out with due dates as old as a decade. People just never check them back in and abandon the library system. And don’t even get me started on DVDs…if you want a copy of movie released more than five years ago, there might be one or two left…might be… So these thousands of people have been billed for these items, which leads to…

9. Many patrons rack up HUGE fines.

When I was a normal library patron, I’d occasionally have an overdue book. Usually only a day or two because my schedule wouldn’t allow me to drive the six miles to the branch. I’d slink up to the counter and immediately admit my books were late. Hanging my head, I’d take my wallet out and pay, apologizing the whole time. Now—no way. Patrons have $40, $60, $100+ fines on their accounts. I’ve seen a few over $200. Whole families owe hundreds because each member has racked up so much. Collection agencies are involved. People fight us. Others just shrug and walk away, never intending to pay or set foot in a library again.  And FYI: library fines are like student loans—they NEVER disappear.

10. Libraries must evolve to stay open.

Books won’t keep library door open. Door counts matter. And unfortunately, books just aren’t drawing people in. So we drum up adult programming, offer tech classes, and promote children’s crafts, movies, and science programs. We try and teach patrons about ebooks, but most patrons who come in would need hours of one-on-one help. The patrons who are computer/ebook savvy likely download everything from home, never needing to step foot in a branch. We make copies, send faxes, and act as unofficial computer tutors. We occasionally help someone discover a new author, and my heart grows six sizes each time. But we’ll find ways to draw people in, even if it has nothing to do with books because we need to find ways to keep books available to those who love them. Our future depends on it.




Review: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

pub day mary kubica

The Book:

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life.

Colin’s job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia’s mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family’s world to shatter.

An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a compulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems.


Mary Kubica

The Author:

Mary Kubica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children and enjoys photography, gardening and caring for the animals at a local shelter. THE GOOD GIRL is her first novel.

Find Mary at:   Her Website * Twitter * Facebook * Goodreads


The Standout Line:

“I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.”


The Good Stuff:

Hmmm…I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll be brief. THE GOOD GIRL is an excellent debut novel.

This twisty tale revolves around the kidnapping of Mia Dennett, a twenty-something teacher, former rebellious teen, and the younger daughter of an affluent (and a bit of an a-hole) Chicago judge.

The story is told from revolving POVs. It should have been a straight snatch and deliver for Colin Thatcher, but when he decides not to hand Mia over to his underworld boss, things get…complicated. Watching this kidnapping-gone-wrong from his eyes not only humanizes him, but amps up the suspense when we see that even he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. Mia’s mother, Eve, may be married to a class-A jerk, but with every moment she waits for word on her daughter she struggles with her own parenting failures. The case detective, Gabe, feels kind of like the well-meaning cop in the rumpled suit from one of your favorite primetime dramas. He really wants to find Mia—and he want’s to not only prove his superiors wrong, but wipe the condescending look from the Judge’s face while rescuing all the women he’s neglected over the years. *Note: Judge Dennett is pretty much the only unlikable character in the story. While none of the other characters are golden girls or boys, there’s something about them, even when they’re shady, that makes us feel for them.

As the POVs shift, so do the time frames. We flash between the actual kidnapping, the brutally cold cabin where Colin hides Mia, and Mia’s recovery. So yes, we know early on that she makes it home, but we don’t know how. Or why she was grabbed in the first place. And the kicker—neither does she.

The Recommendation:

Pick this one up. THE GOOD GIRL is getting plenty of well deserved buzz and tons of comparisons to GONE GIRL. It’s not GONE GIRL: the suspense level is not quite as high, but the characters are a hell of a lot more likeable. On my thriller/suspense scale, it’s relatively safe (about the same graphic violence/sex as a TV cop show). And although this story has some dark twists to it, I didn’t want to throw the book at the end. That’s a GOOD thing.

If you enjoy suspense, you should find this to be a quick read. Funny aside: I took THE GOOD GIRL to the gym with me the other day as motivation to get on the treadmill. When I hit my goal 5k, I still had just a little bit left in the book—so I made myself stay on the dang treadmill so I could finish. Even though I felt like I was going to die. The end of the story was enough reward.

Sound good? It should. You can read the EXCERPT HERE ► http://bit.ly/1r2VQDx

The Details:
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
No. of Pages: 352
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Release Date:  July 29, 2014

I received this book free from Netgalley/HarlequinMIRA. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Links above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.