Saturday, January 30, 2016

How I Went Sugar-Free Without Losing My Mind

This not on my radar anymore.
I stopped eating sugar and sugar-containing foods in April 2015 to address some health issues that had been plaguing me for years. I didn't feel I was the worst sugar addict in the world at the time--my main "sugar" was agave nectar. I bought it in huge two-packs at Costco and baked with it, put it in sauces and stir-fries, in tea, in smoothies, etc. I was also a huge fan of maple syrup and honey (I have since gone completely vegan so honey isn't kosher on that account as well.) I used natural, organic cane sugar in recipes calling for granulated sugar. I very rarely ate store-bought sweets and desserts and didn't order them at restaurants.

Still, stopping sugar affected more areas of my life than I imagined. It was hard to figure out how to make oatmeal taste good in the morning. Most mixed drinks and cocktails involve syrups and sugars. Almost all Asian food has it in one form or another. Ketchup, cereals, bars, breads (even gluten-free breads,) non-dairy milks, Sriracha sauce, a lot of tomato products, some salsas...all contain sugar. When you start reading labels, it's staggering how many things contain sugar of some sort, and a lot of times more than one kind of sugar. I could have said, "Oh, the sugar in Sriracha is minimal...a few drops of that probably won't hurt." But what about the other umpteen-jillion processed food products I eat that contain minimal amounts of sugar? It all adds up. And when I quit sugar, I wanted it to be all or nothing, because I was desperately looking for results in my health.

So I bought a lot of cookbooks and searched a lot of recipe blogs for non-sugar-containing "sweets." The best one in my opinion? Ricki Heller's Living Candida Free. Hands down. (Here's her blog.) Ricki's a genius when it comes to vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free cooking and baking. I had to stock up on a bunch of pantry items I normally wouldn't have on hand to make her recipes (like stevia, hemp seeds, chia seeds, alternative flours, nuts, seeds, etc.) but once I had acquired 10 or so recurring ingredients, I could make a lot of her dishes.

I stopped ordering mixed drinks or cocktails (I had already cut way back on alcohol anyway in July 2014.) Now, on the rare occasions I drink (maybe once a month,) I order wine. It's not "good" for a sugar-free diet, but at least there's no sugar added.

I went on a huge search for the best organic, natural, plant-based alternative sweetener I could find. The winner? Lakanto monk fruit sweetener. It's granulated like sugar, is a 1:1 substitute in most recipes, comes in white and golden, and has no aftertaste unless your recipe calls for enormous amounts (and then the only thing I notice is a slightly "cool" flavor, almost minty, not entirely unpleasant. If you bake with it and use more than say 1/2 cup in a recipe, you'll see what I mean.) I make this zucchini cake, this banana bread, and this pumpkin bread with it, and to my non-sugar-eating taste buds all three are delicious. I use the golden Lakanto on my morning oatmeal and the white in my afternoon green smoothie. A 1/2 teaspoon of the white is yummy in a hot cup of maté or green tea.

I relentlessly went through all the food in the house, reading labels to see what I could still eat. I had to replace a lot of my tomato products and condiments (like mustard) with health-food-store versions. I also had to find a different gluten-free bread to keep on hand. (I'm not 100% gluten-free, and I don't have celiac or anything, but I find I do feel better avoiding gluten at least somewhat, in the areas where it's easy to do. The best ready-made gluten free and sugar free bread I've found in my area (Colorado) is Kim and Jake's Buns out of Boulder. Health Food stores here in the Springs stock their buns, but if you're not in Colorado it looks like you can order online. They freeze awesomely, and I can heat up a frozen bun in tinfoil (I like the crust a little moist) in my toaster oven in 18-20 minutes. It's kind of like a crusty French bread-feel, goes great with pasta dishes and soups. I'll have to do a separate post about going mostly gluten-free...)

The health benefits of quitting sugar have been amazing. The first thing I noticed was total remission of Interstitial Cystitis-related bladder pain. (Hal-le-lu-jah, because that's a wretched, wretched disease. I had already been trying a ton of other remedies for that, for months and months with very little improvement.) I haven't had an IC "flare" since the end of April 2015 (about two weeks after quitting sugar,) and prior to that I'd had bladder issues for over 20 years. I've also had about a 95% recovery from IBS. (That took about 6 months off sugar to really start becoming apparent, and it continues to improve. I've had IBS since I was a teenager.) Mood swings, energy level, and brain fog have all improved as well. Now, I do want to say that I attribute part of these health improvements to some other things I do as well - I eat vegan; I take a regular list of supplements and vitamins; I juice veggies; I try to eat low-salt and low-fat as much as possible; and I exercise. In fact, I was the healthiest person with health problems I knew, up until I quit sugar.

I hope this post will help somebody who might be struggling with problems in their health that don't seem to improve no matter what they do, and/or just people who are looking to quit sugar. Tell me about your health journey in the comments below!

Update: Just found this article about the benefits of quitting sugar on Prevention Magazine Online.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Total Newbie's Opinion on Why Twitter is Struggling

Twitter is struggling, with supposedly over 1 billion inactive accounts, and I think I know why, even though I just joined the platform about a month ago and am definitely not a social media expert. But as a new user, I can tell you why Twitter is a little off-putting to me personally, anyway.

When you log in, it's hard to figure out what to do, and why you're doing it. I should be "interacting and engaging with others" is what I've heard on Youtube advice videos and read in articles and books about Twitter, but I find very few real people to interact with on Twitter. What I find instead are lots and lots of promotions/ads/commercials. I would like it better if it were easier to find real people to talk to, but most people don’t respond, even when you @reply them. It feels like 75% or more of Twitter accounts are automated, and that you get most of your followers because people (actually, automated apps) want to get promos in front of you, even if just for a second. I feel like no one is really reading anyone else's tweets (including myself, because my twitter feed is mostly just this robotic mess that doesn't make any sense. Admittedly, I'm probably doing it wrong.)

I get all excited when I see an actual human head pop up in my notifications (because most profile pics are business logos) only to find it's not a human being who actually reads and responds to anything--they simply tweet their blog or website non-stop hoping others are reading it. And, sometimes I do read their blogs and look at their websites, to see if I can find something to respond to, retweet, and start a conversation about, but I lose steam and don't know what to say other than, "Great article/post." To which they usually don't respond.

(Maybe I'm just not trying hard enough to find people to interact with, but dang, it seems like it shouldn't be that hard on a platform with 316 million or so active users.)

I've read in Twitter advice books and articles that "nobody wants to hear what you had for dinner," but honestly, I'd much rather hear about that than just this constant stream of promos. We might be able to start a conversation about what you had for dinner. I'd feel like I was making actual connections if people told me anything about their real lives. For all of Facebook's problems and criticisms, at least on there I get to interact with human beings. I think that's why FB is still doing well, and it's what Twitter is missing: basic human connection.

That's my very measly 2 cents! I'm not giving up on Twitter yet, because the very few and brief human connections I've made were fun, and because I want to allow room for me just being unskilled at it and maybe that's why I don't love it yet. What about you? If you are on Twitter, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Do you enjoy it? Why or why not?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Book That Changed My Wardrobe Life

Three summers ago I was in a wardrobe funk. I had a lot of clothes in my closet but didn't feel all that great wearing most of the pieces, and found myself wearing the same three pairs of pants and five shirts every week (and not feeling too sexy in any of them.) Then I bought this book:

and I haven't been the same since. I now find it relatively easy to get dressed in the morning; I get compliments on my outfits pretty regularly; I feel good in what I'm wearing; and best of all, I have fewer clothes in my closet to have to deal with and sort through.

So I thought I'd share my good experience and glowing review of this book with you.

The main underlying premise in the book is based on the idea that there are 6 basic styles, and that if you learn what they are and get honest with yourself about which of those styles is really "you" (not just in terms of what clothes you like on other people, but which ones you really feel good in and fit your actual lifestyle,) you'll know what to buy and wear, and you'll be happier wearing it. As I read Jill and Dana's illustrated descriptions of the six styles, I realized that my closet was full of Bohemian tops that I never wore (I'd put them on, and take them right back off) because I don't really like how blousy, flowy tops look on me, no matter how beautiful they look on other people or hanging on the hanger. And the rest of my wardrobe didn't go with those bohemian tops, because I like and buy more tailored pants for my figure. I also had a lot of bohemian jewelry that I tended not to wear, because I feel best in minimal jewelry, small silver earrings, necklaces, and watches. (My primary style by J&D's definition is actually "Classic," and that is the one that best fits my day job situation as well.)

Another style that lurked un-worn in my closet was Preppy with a touch of Soccer Mom (mostly things I'd bought from Land's End. Why???? Those clothes look terrible on me! And I'm not a mom!)

Once I admitted to myself that I really feel best in the types of clothes J&D were calling "Classic," it was so freeing. I used their guide to go through my closet, brutally clearing out everything that didn't fit, was in bad shape/disrepair, was out of style, things I never wore, and/or just didn't feel attractive in. This left me with the clothes that I really did wear and felt good in, and that by itself made it easier to get dressed in the morning. I also weeded out a lot of jewelry, found I only needed a few pieces, and had a much easier time choosing what accessories to wear with my outfits.

I'm not saying I got rid of every single thing that was bohemian-style (I kept some wooden-beaded bracelets and a breezy top or two) or Surfer Chick (I love athletic-looking clothes for weekends/lounging even though I am not an athlete!) but through the advice in I Have Nothing to Wear I got educated and then realistic about what I really like to wear. Then, it was easy to shop to fill in my wardrobe a bit, and I found needed fewer pieces anyway, so I haven't had to spend tons of money to be happy with my wardrobe. (I also found my go-to stores: White House Black Market for splurges/key pieces, a little outlet-mall Guess accessorizing sometimes (OK, Guess is probably "Fashionista" by J&D's description,) and for basic pieces like skinny jeans and t-shirts--JC Penney, H&M, and the occasional Target. Oh, and Aerosoles for shoes.)

I've tried to explain the advice from this book to a few of my family members and friends, and I could see from their glazed-over look that it just didn't hit home for them, so maybe this book isn't for everyone. But I seriously have no idea why, because it really changed my wardrobe life. And my getting-dressed-in-the-morning life, which is a big part of my Life life.

So I just thought I'd share! Let me know if you've read this book (or if you get it and read it) and how it worked for you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Interview With!

I was so excited this week when I had the opportunity to be interviewed by! (Read the original interview here.)

WLR: What is your book’s genre or category?

CaribbeanJewel is a Historical Romance about pirates.

WLR: Can you describe the story in one or two sentences for our readers?

A young Englishwoman (Jolie) is caught committing a crime, flees for her life from her guardian’s bloodhounds, and manages to escape Crab Island on a brigantine commanded by a tall, handsome Spaniard named Marcano. He’s a former pirate-turned-privateer working for the Spanish crown, in Crab Island to dig up Spain’s national treasure, a huge gold nugget that was stolen from the cathedral at Seville. Saving Jolie’s life messes up his plans a little, not to mention the problems that arise when her guardian doesn’t give up so easily.

WLR: Tell us the story behind story. What influenced you to write it and how long did it take you?

I am a seat-of-the-pants writer, meaning I don’t plot out a story in advance, but just write and see where it goes. So for Caribbean Jewel, it all started with a dream I had that I was in big trouble for doing something wrong, and a huge, furious man was about to punish me in some way, so while he was distracted I jumped out of a second-story window to escape his wrath. In the dream I landed in some bushes, got up, and ran for my life. That’s how Caribbean Jewel starts on page 1—the heroine jumps out of a window and runs through a sugar cane field to escape. It’s set on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico (called “Crab Island” in the 1700’s.) I was very familiar with the island because I had spent time there with a Puerto Rican man I was dating in the 90’s, and the whole area has a long history of plantations, pirates, and plundering. I wrote the book in about six months, but spent a lot longer than that editing and re-editing it.

WLR: Is there a part of you in any of the characters?

Definitely. My heroines are always me. Jolie is me in my 20s. Naïve, soft-hearted for the underdog, a little insecure, huge longing for true love. Back then, Latin men were my Kryptonite.

WLR: Do you have more books planned?

Kiss of the Assassin comes out April 2016. It’s a medieval fantasy-romance, about a farm girl who goes on a mission to find the assassin who attempted to kill her country’s 14-year-old queen. But he finds her first, and she’s a little too distracted by his sexiness to notice he’s been tracking her with dangerous intentions.

WLR: Do you have a favorite book or art that inspires you and your writing?

Everything inspires my writing. It can come from all directions—places I’ve traveled, dreams (as in Caribbean Jewel,) video games I’ve played (Assassin’s Creed, Skyrim, Dragon Age,) my own life experiences. I find stories everywhere I look. I’m a people-observer, and I’m always analyzing conversations, experiences, motivations, and intentions. I can go to the grocery store and come back with a story, and when I tell stories, even about mundane events, for whatever reason people listen to me as if it’s most fascinating thing they’ve ever heard. I think I’ve always been a storyteller, from the time I was little. I was the kid in the group making up our imaginary scenarios for play.

WLR: When did you decide to start writing?

My 9th grade English teacher noticed I was a good writer in class and recruited me to represent my high school in writing competitions state-wide. I took to that like a fish to water, and my sophomore year I started winning those competitions. That year I also started writing a novel, by hand on sheets of notebook paper. That novel started out with one or two friends reading it and eventually got passed around to most of my classmates, who started begging for the next segment. By my senior year, that was my main “claim to fame” at my high school, was writing. (I definitely had no other claims to fame, trust me. I was a big dork, dateless and awkward. I was pimply and every day was a bad hair day.)

WLR: How do you find the time to write?

When I’m writing a new story, I can’t stop writing it. I’ll write in the morning before going to my day job and write some more in the evening before bed, staying up way too late because I’m so engrossed in it and can’t stop.

WLR: How can readers find you online? social accounts, website, etc..

My website is, you can find me on Facebook at, and tweet with me @jaylajasso. I love to connect with readers!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

My Feel-Good Winter List

It's January in Colorado. If you're a skier or snowboarder, you're happy. If you're Jayla Jasso, you're really kind of looking forward to June already. June in Colorado is really nice. July is even better, and so is August. But January? Ugh.

Temperatures have been in the 20s and teens for the past three weeks, and we have snow and ice patches still not melted from two weeks ago. Right now it's sunny and 36 degrees, and it feels like a heat wave, but it's 4:00pm and the sun is already setting.

All that to say that winter here isn't really my fave. I like wearing my Ugg boots with jeans and leggings and my infinity scarves, but cabin fever has set in. Not getting enough sunlight brings on the winter blues. Don't much want to go outside, even though fresh air would do me a world of good. And yes, I am a homebody like a lot of writers, and losing myself in my latest work-in-progress is a good way to while the winter months away, but I need a few other comforts to get me through to June 1. So, inspired by this article at "The Art of Simple," I made my own version of a Winter Feel-Good List:

Ahh. Even reading over that list makes me feel a little better. And now I'm off to do at least one of the things on the list...probably the hot water with ACV and lemon juice one...and then get back to work on my editor's edits for Omaja Stone.

What's the #1 thing on your Winter Feel-Good list? Share in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

And Romance Rule #5 - Adventure, Action, and a Satisfying Ending

Thrills and Chills, and Romance Too.
My final rule for great romance novels has to do with the plot. I love reading (and writing) romance stories with plenty of action and adventure to carry the love story along, giving it excitement and depth. Ideally the plot is active and adventurous enough that it could stand alone (without the romance per se) and still make a great novel.

When I wrote Caribbean Jewel, I wove in escapes, battles, intrigues, and as many dangerous situations and near-misses as I could. It's pirates - there should be swashbuckling [Word Reference definition: "swaggering, dashing, full of adventure."] Swords and pistols and rum and cannon fire. That novel starts with the heroine jumping out of a second-story window, and I did my best to keep the pace relatively breathless after that. (In more ways than one, heh heh.)

Here's a sample from Caribbean Jewel:

Several loud, forceful explosions from the gun deck below fired off in response to the enemy’s blast. The captain scrambled to his feet, dragging her up against the length of his body.
She tried again. “Captain, I have to tell you—”
“I said go!” He pushed her firmly toward the staircase, then shouted more instructions to his men in Spanish.
Jolie screamed at the top of her lungs. “Gabriel Marcano, listen to me!”
That got his attention. He whirled around, his face a mask of fury. The men standing near him backed away, keeping their heads low. Before he could open his mouth, she pointed to portside. “Two men are sneaking up on you from a rowboat over there!”
He took a step toward her, eyes narrowing as he processed this information. He rushed to the port side of the forecastle, followed by a handful of his men. They peered down the length of the brigantine. An empty boat floated along in the choppy black waves, hitched to the balustrade of the Amatista by two grappling hooks.
Captain Marcano turned back to Jolie, his eyes darkening to a glittering royal blue. “Get back to the cabin now!”

In Kiss of the Assassin, there's practically nothing but fleeing, fighting, and kissing:

Around the next corner, they were not so lucky. A guard was seated at a desk in front of the door blocking the way into the prison cell area, slumped forward in his chair, dozing. There was nothing to do but approach him, and just as Yavi raised the hilt of his scimitar to strike, the man awoke.
Yavi dealt him a blow to the head, and he fell to the side of the desk, unconscious. Yavi took the man’s keys, unlocked and carefully swung open the door. The unpleasant aroma of mildew, sweat, and urine wafted over them, and Jiandra cringed at the thought of Yajna being trapped down there. No guards were in sight, so they pulled their hoods low over their faces and hurried along the long row of bars until they came to Yajna’s cell. Yajna swung open his door when he saw them and stepped out, smiling. It pained her to see his handsome face purpled with bruises and streaked with dry, crusted blood, but before she could say or do anything, a guard appeared at the entrance to the long passageway.
“Help, help! We have invaders!”
“Give Yajna his bow,” Yavi ordered Jiandra, then ran to silence the shouting guard.
Jiandra removed the bow and arrows from her back and Yajna slung them over his shoulder with a quick, practiced movement, surveying her leather attire with an appreciative grin. “I didn’t know if I would ever see you again.”
“Hold still.” She reached up and touched his face, focusing Healing.
When she was done, he swept her into his powerful arms, lifting her in his embrace, and she planted three quick, eager kisses on his chiseled jaw. He released her, smiling, then grabbed her hand and pulled her with him toward the reception desk where Yavi was waiting.

Once I've got the action and adventure plot going strong, it has to build and build to a breaking point, an "all is lost" and "how will they ever survive this" moment, and then...ahh, the Satisfying Ending. The Happy Ever After that we romance readers love with every fiber of our beings.

So, that wraps up my Romance Rules. I do my best to obey them when I write, because I'm telling myself the story while I'm writing it for you, and I want it to be great.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Romance Rule #4 - It's All In The Sexual Tension

I don't know...maybe this IS sexy.
Here's what I mean. Great romance novels, in my opinion, build up sexual tension gradually but steadily. You have your delicious hero (Rule #1) and your likable heroine (Rule #2) together in a lot of scenes (Rule #3,) and in every one of them, that tension is getting tighter. They don't jump into bed together right away (although in many romances, they do) because it's hard to build up a second round of anticipation as strong as that first one is. Instead of jumping right into the sack, they notice little things about each other, they share experiences, they grow closer emotionally, they have little flirtations, brief touches, etc. Ideally, I as the reader want to be waiting breathlessly for them to get it on.

In my view, a romance novel can make two mistakes in this arena. Sex Too Soon, as mentioned above, or it happens at the right time, but it's an Unsatisfying Sex Scene. Or worse, a Sex Scene That Makes Me Cringe instead of sigh. In the Unsatisfying category: 1) Sex scene was too short/abrupt. 2) There was no foreplay. 3) Man does not seem to know what turns on a woman (or maybe just this woman?) and only goes for his own pleasure. In the Sex Scene That Makes Me Cringe category: 1) Man is hairy. 2) Man says, "spread your legs." 3) Man shapeshifts into a bird. 4) Biting. (Those are all real examples from romances I've read.) Now, there are of course a whole bunch of categories of both romance and erotica out there with huge followings, where things that make me cringe are exactly the things other readers are looking for. Call me old fashioned I guess.

To me, it's the tiniest things that can build massive sexual tension. Here's an example from The Omaja Stone:

“Keep quiet,” he whispered roughly near her ear. “There’s a soldier nearby.”
Jiandra recognized Yajna’s voice and nodded. With a lithe movement, he reached behind her to grab Otto’s reins, then led him along with Jiandra quickly through the trees, around to the rear of the cottage.
In a few moments they came to a creek, and he led Otto to it for a drink. He patted and stroked the horse’s neck as he dipped his tongue into the water. Otto paused in his drinking to nudge him affectionately with his nose.
“He likes you,” Jiandra whispered softly.
“Yes. I used to train horses back home in Nandala. This one is a good boy, and you handle him well.”
She blushed a little. “Oh, I doubt that.”
“It’s true. I don’t give compliments frivolously.”
She pressed her lips together and studied his profile. “Gods, you gave me a fright back there. I am glad you're all right, though.”
He glanced up at her, his expression unreadable. She stared at his angular jaw and chiseled features. His exotic silver eyes were rather striking, and he was flat-out gorgeous, despite his grim demeanor. She cleared her throat. “And the others? Are they all right?”

Now of course I like these types of subtleties (her noticing how her horse responds to him, which gives you a little foreshadowing of how she might respond to him :-)) since I wrote it. But I wrote it that way because the greatest romance novels I've read do that same.

Let me know your thoughts on this topic, if you dare, in the comments below!

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