Wednesday, February 17, 2016

My Drugstore Faves Shopping List

I am not a fan of spending money just to be spending it. I like to get value for what I spend, and if I can find something that works just as good as or better than the expensive stuff, I'm a happy camper.

Now, sometimes there is no cheaper substitute. My friends know I'm a huge fan of Esteé Lauder skincare, and I buy it because I have never found anything that works as well for my skin. But to support my EL habit, I need to save money elsewhere. So here are the items I always buy at the drugstore, things that for me are an excellent value and get the job done just fine:

1. L'Oreal Total Repair Extreme Reconstructing Shampoo and Conditioner. People often ask me how I get shiny, healthy-looking hair. It's because I always buy repair shampoos and conditioners, even though my hair isn't really "damaged." As I've aged my hair has gotten drier, and highlighting intensifies that effect. I've spent a lot of money at times trying salon shampoos like Kenra, Redken, Matrix Biolage, etc. and I find that the good old $5- or $6-a-bottle Loreal Repair line works just as well if not better for keeping my hair moisturized and healthy-looking.

2. Caress Body Wash. Now, I love Bath and Body Works and I love seeing it in a gift bag coming my way. But paying $10 - $12 for an 8-oz bottle of shower gel just doesn't make sense when Caress makes some intensely-fragranced, great-smelling body washes for more like $4 for a 12oz bottle. Right now I'm really into their "Passionate Spell" Passion Fruit & Fiery Orange Rose scent. And when I can find it, I adore their "Sheer Twilight" Black Orchid & Juniper Oil scent.

3. St. Ives Naturally Soothing Oatmeal & Shea Butter Body Lotion. Here in the high-altitude dessert-climate of Colorado, I have to lotion up every day to stave off itchy, dry skin. When I first moved here 13 years ago, I struggled with a severe case of eczema on my legs, back, and stomach. A dermatologist told me to use Eucerin Intensive Repair lotion "head to toe, every day." He was right; Eucerin did the trick, and I continued to use it for years. BUT, Eucerin Intensive Repair is sticky, like spreading on glue or honey. It takes a long time to absorb and is just simply a lot of work to put on. So after my eczema was fully under control, I went on a search for a suitable lotion replacement that would keep the eczema away but be a little creamier and more absorb-able, and St. Ives was the winner. Best of all, it's cheap, somewhere around $3 - $4 a 21-oz bottle with pump. (I also like their "Naturally Indulgent Coconut Milk & Orchid Extract" lotion, but right now the Oatmeal one is my favorite.)

4. Olay Regenerist Advanced Anti-Aging Detoxifying Pore Scrub Cleanser. This is my morning scrub cleanser. Not expensive (I think around $7 a bottle?) and not too abrasive. Nice clean scent. Gets the job done and lasts forever because you only need a dime-sized drop or less.

5. Revlon Brow Fantasy eyebrow pencil-and-gel-in-one. Ooh-la-la, I LOVE this stuff. I may not be a brow professional, but I find this pencil to be fast and easy to use, and it wipes off easily with a wet Q-tip if you mess up. It's a tad pricey at around $8 I think, but a pencil lasts me 3 months or so, and it's just easy and pretty on. I use the Dark Brown, but they also have a "Brunette" that's a little lighter if you're brunette.

6. L'Oreal Excellence Triple-Protection Creme haircolor. I stopped getting my color done at the salon about 3 years ago because a) it was really, really expensive, and b) the color simply did not last beyond two weeks or so. (I guess I have "resistant" grey.) For $7 - $8 a box on sale, I can color my own roots every 5 weeks, and yes, it's a lot of work, but L'Oreal's Excellence Creme line really covers grey, lasts, and is super silky, moisturizing, and wonderful. (Well, the browns are moisturizing anyway; can't speak for the blondes or reds.) People compliment my haircolor all the time, even my stylist. I mostly use the #5 Medium Brown, but last summer I mixed it with #6A Light Ash Brown to lighten it up just a tad, and everyone said I had a rich, beautiful brown. (Probably will do that again this summer before getting my highlights redone.)

So that's my drugstore shopping list. If you've tried any of these products or have other ones to recommend, I'd love to hear your opinions!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Caribbean Jewel, My Lost Book

What happens when you write a novel and then lose it for almost 20 years? One thing is gaining the perspective of a reader, rather than the author, because after so much time, the only concrete details I could remember about Caribbean Jewel were the two main characters' names and the villain's. I couldn't even remember the title. In fact, I thought I had never titled it because I had a hard time thinking of a good one. So I had been calling this book "my pirate novel" all these years. 

I wrote Caribbean Jewel fresh out of college, in my 20's. I wanted to be a novelist; at the time that was my only real career goal. I'd been known for my writing skill in high school because I used to compete in writing competitions around the state with my freshman English teacher as my "coach," and everyone who knew me was just sure I was headed for stardom as a bestselling author. So, when I finished college, I bought a $300 computer on a credit card and started writing a pirate romance novel. My friends and coworkers were all reading it as I wrote, telling me how good it was and asking for the next section, and the next. I sent the first three chapters to one publisher. Only one, and when they didn't show an interest, I decided I'd better get a real job so I could support myself, and put my pirate novel aside.

In a few years, my $300 computer was hopelessly outdated (that computer's operating system was MS-DOS, pre-Windows, pre-mouse!) I thought I would never see my pirate novel again because my one or two hard copies had been loaned out to friends who were reading it and the electronic manuscript was written in an MS-DOS program called "Spinnaker," stored on 5 1/4 inch floppies. Those floppy disks moved with me from town to town over the years, and it scares me to admit they came close to getting tossed a couple of times because I thought the files were irretrievable.

But then, it happened. A tekkie friend of mine figured out a way to retrieve my pirate novel files a couple of years ago, and I remember holding my breath, watching as Word actually opened the file. Across the top and down the sides were a lot of random characters from formatting confusion. He scrolled down to see if the text were readable, and a title appeared before my eyes:


"That's what I titled it?" I stared at it in amazement.  "Hmm, it kind of works."

I settled in that night to look at the file more closely. I couldn't remember for sure if I had finished the novel or not or if it was even close to being long enough for a standard historical romance novel (between 90,000 and 100K words.) The manuscript came off those floppies with 115,000 words, complete with 25 chapters and an epilogue. Good news to me - it was definitely long enough to be a mainstream historical romance novel, and had plenty of room for trimming and shaping up.  (It now weighs in at 94,408 words by the way.)

Then I started reading it. I couldn't remember much of the plot, so it was truly like reading someone else's book. I felt more like a reader rather than the author of it. I had to laugh at myself because time and again Marcano and Jolie would get into some sort of tough situation, and I'd get that "oh no" feeling because I had no idea how they were going to get out of it! You're not supposed to brag on your own book, but I'll just tell you honestly, by the time I got to the first pirate attack in chapter 8, I was hanging on every word; by chapter 22 I was sobbing my head off, crushed by the black moment; and by the end I knew I was going to publish this novel. And that if no one ever reads it, or if they read it and hate it, it doesn't matter--I love my once-lost pirate novel with all my heart.

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