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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review of Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson

I absolutely loved reading Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson! It has so much depth and passion and romance and suspense and mystery all rolled up into one! There is a perfect balance of tragedy intermingled with the sweet love that is thinly veiled within the stubborn heart of a young woman trying to find her place in the world. What Kate’s heart longs for is always obscured beneath what she thinks she wants and what she knows is expected of her. Set in northern England in the 1820’s, Blackmoore is a house, more of a castle, perched precariously between the moors and the ocean. The cold, foreboding nature to the structure is suppressed by Kate’s love for the home she sees in her dreams. But Blackmoore is not all she expected. Having longed to go there all her life, she keeps a romantic notion in her heart of what it will be like. The unenthusiastic welcome she experiences at Blackmoore barely overshadows her excitement. Even as she is mistreated by the haughty guests, she finds solace and excitement by exploring the many rooms and secret passageways just as she had always imagined. What I hadn’t expected about the story was how many layers there were to the characters. Expertly taking the reader deep into the characters’ pasts, Julianne Donaldson gradually shows the reader why Kate behaves the way she does. The reader watches as Kate plunges through experiences she doesn’t want to relive and wishes she could forget. I cried several times while feeling Kate’s pain and struggles. I cringed as she was hurting and felt the passion she slowly allowed to flow between herself and her childhood friend, Henry. The tension is palpable throughout the book as the reader experiences Henry’s unrequited love for Kate. But the story itself is nearly lost in Julianne’s writing. The images she creates with her words are exquisite. I was swept away into Kate’s world for just a few short days since I couldn’t put the book down! I can’t wait to read it again! Have you read Blackmoore? What’s your opinion? -Julie L. Spencer

Read Julianne Donaldson's other novel Edenbrooke.

Read my book review of Edenbrooke here: Book Review of Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson.

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Book Review of Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

In no uncertain terms, I absolutely loved Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson! I read it twice back-to-back! That doesn’t happen to me very often because I almost always have a stack of books waiting for me. I loved the relationship between Marianne and Philip from the first time they met to the final pages. He is the type of guy that every girl dreams to someday meet, and she is vulnerable and stubborn and clumsy and normal. She thinks that she is everything he would never want in a future wife and yet those qualities are what draws him to her. Although the book in and of itself was a little predictable, there were twists in turns in the plot which kept the story interesting. There was also a healthy use of foreshadowing to help the reader piece together what led up to the final harrowing climax. But it didn’t end there as it very well could have. Julianne did a great job of wrapping the ending up with a neat little bow and making the reader feel comforted. It promoted a feeling that love does exist in the world, that chivalry is not far away, and that the good guy can win in the end. There were parts where I was moved nearly to tears, parts where I was afraid for the safety of my favorite characters, and parts where I was drawn in to the romance and was able to lose myself in Marianne’s world. I loved the complexity of Marianne’s relationship with her maid Betsy. It was like Marianne didn’t come to realize how closely she needed Betsy’s friendship until she was rejected by those who she thought she could count on. Even though Betsy annoyed her in the beginning of the story, she came to love her more as a sister and realized that Betsy was one of the only girls who stood by her through all the ups and downs. I loved the way Marianne realized in the end that she was brave and beautiful and confident even though it took breaking through her own insecurities and feelings of inadequacies in order for her to get to that point. I loved the way she concluded that she didn’t have to change who she was in order to find real happiness, and that being a refined young lady wasn’t all that it was seemed on the surface. This is only the second book I’ve read by Julianne Donaldson and I look forward to many years of her future writings. Have you read Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson? What’s your opinion? -Julie L. Spencer

Read Julianne Donaldson's other novel, Blackmoore:

Read my book review of Blackmoore here: Book Review of Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson.

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Friday, December 13, 2013

Secrets to My Success with Take Shape for Life

Here are some of the things that have helped me along my journey using Medifast meals and the Take Shape for Life plan:

• I have a big green lunch bag that I take to work with me everyday and I bring my Medifast meals along wherever I go. Last week I did something a little extra. I wrote down every meal that I’m planning to eat for the next several weeks. I was trying to plan my next shipment of food and wanted to make sure I had enough of the right kinds of foods. Then I put exactly my planned meals in my green bag and now I don’t have to think about “What am I hungry for?” I just look at my little sticky note that says “Breakfast = Blueberry Oatmeal, Snack = Chili Nacho Cheese Puffs, Lunch = Chicken with Wild Rice Soup, Snack = Lemon Meringue Crunch Bar, and Evening Snack = Brownie Soft Bake.” Then I pull out the right meal and eat it! Voila!

• I don’t try to make any of the fancy recipes! I eat my five Medifast meals a day just as they are. They are made to taste great, to fill us up, and to be easy. Every time I’ve tried one of the weird and exciting-sounding recipes, they have just frustrated me and never turn out right. And I consider myself a pretty good cook!

• I don’t make a bunch of fancy Lean & Green meals! I pile a bunch of salad on a plate (mix of Field Greens & Spinach – it comes in a handy recyclable box as a 50/50 mix), pour on a little Light dressing, slice some radishes, mushrooms and green onions, and put a hunk of meat next to it (not an easy feat for me considering I normally live pretty close to vegetarian). Then I eat it with enthusiasm. I’ve grown to really love these meals, although I look forward to having some form of pinto or other dry beans rather than meat (in the future) (and no, I don’t like tofu so don’t go there).

• I make myself a nice, steaming cup of hot cocoa using two packets of stevia and ½ tablespoon of Hersey’s Unsweetened Cocoa. I put the water in the microwave for a minute & a half, add the ingredients, then microwave it for another 30 seconds (it sort of ‘melts’ the cocoa). This calms my craving for chocolate and provides me with a calorie-free treat first thing in the morning and after lunch.

• I carry bars with me in my purse all the time for those unexpected occasions throughout the day when I am out & about and don’t have time to cook something or prepare a shake.

• I make sure I have at least one lunch-type meal (at lunch time), like one of the soups, stews or chili, have at least one salty snack like the puffs or pretzels, have at least one chocolate meal, and (I’ve learned that it helps to have) a hearty breakfast-type food at breakfast such as the oatmeal or pancakes.

• I’m conscious of what my family is eating for snacks and try to match my snacks with similar items. If they’re having popcorn, I have some puffs or pretzels. If they’re having pie I have either the cinnamon pretzels or the lemon meringue bar. If they’re having cookies, I have a Softbake. If they’re having brownies – duh, the brownie Softbake is divine! If they want smoothies, I can make myself a Medifast smoothie or shake. It makes me feel part of the normal enjoyment of treats.

• I’m conscious of my medical needs. I am on thyroid medicine; therefore I can’t have anything with soy in it for at least 1-2 hours after taking my meds. So, I keep track of that in the morning and wait to eat my first meal until after that time. I have to take the medicine on an empty stomach so I take it immediately when I first wake up. If I must eat very soon after awakening because of the time at which I have to leave the house, I save the Medifast hot cocoa (which doesn’t contain soy) and have it soon after taking my meds. I also have to take blood pressure medicine and an anti-seizure medicine (for my bi-polar disorder) and I wait to take those until I’m having my first ‘meal’ of the day.

• I keep a giant water jug that I bought from the gas station (to get cheap refills on Diet Coke) and fill it with water & ice and it has a long straw sticking out of it. I sip on it all day long and refill it about three times a day. Then when I get home I have a smaller (but still large) green cup with a handle & I always have a straw in it, and I keep it filled with water all the time too. I carry them with me wherever I go, even if it’s upstairs to grab a pair of socks from my drawer or drive down to the bank. I sip on them all day long. I never have a hard time getting enough water into my diet!

The other thing I just thought of is: avoid taking even ONE bite of anything! I was totally fine all day on Thanksgiving until the next day when we had more company over and I made a beautiful apple pie. I tried just one bite to make sure it tasted okay and it almost made my eyes roll back into my head it tasted so good. I had to lay my head down on the table and I almost felt like crying. I wanted that pie so bad. Yesterday my husband wanted me to try one bite of the amazing jar of peaches he had opened (that I had canned in the summer). I told him no! Just one bite? They're so sweet & yummy! and I said NO! Not even one bite. Just hold on to that thought the whole time you're on Phase One: Not even one bite! You can do this! WE can all do this! Let's share our success after as we go, shall we. Good luck!!

Do you have any secrets for your success? What’s your opinion? –Julie

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