Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Choc Box Spring Blog Hop guest - Donna Alward 'Spring Memories'

Spring Memories: Down on the Farm…

Confession: Spring is not my favourite season.

Late spring? Sure. In the late spring green things are sprouting, flowers are starting to bloom, days are longer, and there’s this feeling that summer is right around the corner.

But that happens closer to the May side of things, and spring “officially” starts on March 20th or 21st. Why don’t I like it so much? Well, it’s a bit dirty, to be honest. The snow melts, but then the ground is muddy and it smells…not so nice. Dirt tracks into the house. Even the road, when it’s dry, is a pain because it’s covered with gravel from the sand trucks going all winter. The dog tracks in with muddy feet. The trees are still gnarled and bare and the grass is brown. Sigh.

Still, I have some good memories of early spring from when I was a kid. For instance, as soon as the driveway and parking lot were clear at school, it marked the beginning of skipping season. Either singles ropes or doubles, and things really got fun when we had ropes of the same length and could get Double Dutch going. I spent a lot of noon hours skipping during elementary school.

It was also a time of year where I could earn some money. I grew up on an apple farm, and during March my dad did all the winter pruning. In the mature orchards, that meant a lot of branches on the ground, branches that had to be picked up. I spent spring Saturdays picking brush – piling it precisely in the middle of the rows between the trees, so my dad could come along after with the bush hog and grind it up. It was back breaking work, and sometimes there was still snow on the ground so feet and hands got cold and wet. But the money was worth it!

Once pruning was over, it was time to look at fertilizing. By the time I was eight, I was driving the smaller tractor we owned. My dad and our hired hand would fill buckets with fertilizer and spread it around the trees by hand while I drove the tractor with the wagon behind it. If there was a really soft spot, my dad would hop on the tractor and get me around the corner to the next row. I was so short that to push in the brake and clutch, I had to stand up off the seat. But driving the tractor was really cool and I earned some money doing that, too.

By the time the fertilizer was spread, it got more fun. My dad was the local “dealer” for fruit trees in our area, and he took orders over the winter and got the trees in May. The trees needed to be kept somewhere moist, so we also got a few loads of sawdust to keep them in. My job was to go out and water them with the garden hose until “Pick Up Day”. I knew where different varieties were, so when Pick Up Day arrived, I was out in the big metal building that was our barn, helping bundle trees together, putting a little sawdust in the empty fertilizer bags to keep the roots wet for when people took them home. I loved Pick Up Day!

It always seemed like once the trees were gone, spring was over and the real summer work began.

Donna’s latest book is THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL, out on April 29th from St. Martin’s Press. [Note from Kate: it's a fabulous read and has the most brilliant ghost story in the middle of it - I read it at the weekend and I'm not just saying it because she's my friend. It's a great book.]  You can find her at her site at Meanwhile she’s probably writing her next book or outside pruning and fertilizing her own apple trees. Don’t forget to enter the Chocolate Box Blog Hop contest for a great prize, including one of Donna’s latest books.

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Choc box blog hop guest - Barbara Wallace 'Top Five Hero Inspirations'

Well, it wouldn't be spring (or a Chocolate Box hop) without gorgeous men, right? So Barbara Wallace has some fabulous inspiration for us...

I’m starting a new project this week, which means casting a new hero. “Casting” is perhaps my favorite part of the job (besides indulging in post-manuscript rice pudding) because it lets me spend hours upon end playing on the Internet in search of the perfect sexy actor or model to use for inspiration. Like many of my colleagues, I need to have a mental picture of my characters before I can write.
Lately, despite my web surfing, I find myself turning to the same five inspirational men over and over. They are, in no particular order:

alex, alex, alexJake Silbermann. Yeah, I know, you’ve never heard of him. He played one half of a gay love story on As the World Turns. He also has the most amazing blue eyes and swimmer’s body. For some reason, when I want a handsome, but not quite perfect looking hero, he’s who comes to mind. Jake was the prototype for Alex Markoff in BEAUTY AND THE BROODING BOSS. His body also inspired Simon Cartwright in MAN BEHIND THE MASK.

imagesCAH8MCJ2Matt Bomer. Now, he’s the man I go to when I want perfection. Seriously, look at that face? Does the man have any physical flaws? Matt was the inspiration for Charles Bishop in DARING TO DATE THE BOSS and Simon Cartwright in MAN BEHIND THE MASK.

Cast member Max Martini arrives for theMax Martini. Rough and sexy, with a voice that sounds like whiskey. He’s a man’s man. The perfect person for a hero with edge. I used him for Ian Black in SWEPT AWAY BY THE TYCOON. I can hear his growl in my head.

jensenacklesJensen Ackles. Okay, we’re back to physically perfect. Plus, he do has that rough bedroom voice that can make your knees weak. Doesn’t hurt that his character, Dean Winchester, is one of television’s most wounded heroes ever. He inspired both Oliver Harrington in FAIRYTALE CHRISTMAS and Grant Templeton in Mr. RIGHT, NEXT DOOR.

EliottChris Meloni. Stereotypically handsome? No. But the man has so much testosterone, it practically leaps off the page. I haven’t used him yet, but he’s on the waiting list. Possibly for a project I'm starting this month.

There are others too. Scott Foley, Michael Weatherly, Clive Owens. But these five are the guys I come back to again and again.

So what actors inspire the stories in your head? Do these men fit the novel characters they were cast to play, or did you have someone else in mind. Come on, let’s have some fun and share the pretty.

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Chocolate Box Blog Hop Guest - Shirley Jump '10 top tips for runners'

I did say there was a theme - and Shirley's running REALLY inspires me (especially at the moment as I have tennis elbow and can't do my normal weights - cardio it is!) I would double-emphasise number 2 in her tips - very, very wise advice.

Ten Tips for New Runners
By Shirley Jump

It’s spring, which means lots of people are going to be thinking about exercising more (yeah, I know, we all made that resolution in January and lasted to, oh, January 10th before it was broken) and getting that beach body, or at least a body that has enough stamina to hike down the sand to the water with a cooler, beach chairs, sandals, and enough sunscreen to blot out the entire solar system.

To get that beach body, you need to exercise. For me, my favorite exercise, and the only one I can do because I have zero coordination, is running. I took up the sport a little over two years ago and have run numerous 5ks, 10ks and three half marathons since then. I’m kinda addicted, and when the weather is nice, I’m like a puppy at the window, dying to get out and run around the park. If you’re thinking about taking up running, here are my top ten tips for new runners:

1. Start slow. I started by walking, then adding running from light pole to light pole. I’d gradually increase that distance, until I could get to a mile without stopping. When I could run that far, I knew it was time to get serious, which meant:

2. Get good running shoes. From an actual running store. DO NOT go to a chain or a store in the mall for running shoes. You need to be fitted by a professional, especially one who does gait analysis. Your feet are your most important tool in running and you don’t want to skimp here. Have someone who knows what they are doing analyze and fit you, and don’t be talked into bells and whistles that don’t feel comfortable. Your running shoes will likely be at least one full size larger than you normally wear, to give your feet room to expand when you run, and should have the proper support for your form. Don’t buy Newtons because your friend loves them or Nikes because you saw them on some Olympic athlete’s feet. Buy what works for your gait and stride.

3. Stretching is important. Before you run, you should do a warmup, with dynamic stretches. There’s all kinds of science behind why you do dynamic stretches before and static stretches afterwards. Google it. Be knowledgeable. After you run, ALWAYS do static stretches. It really helps your body recover.

4. Keep track. Get an app for your phone or even a simple stopwatch and keep track of how far/fast you are going. It really helps me to know, because then I want to do better next time. And when you think you aren’t making any progress, add up all the miles you have run and you’ll be amazed at how far you have come.

5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Especially as the weather gets warmer! It’s important to drink lots and lots of water. I drink water all day and usually run in the morning. I don’t drink much before I run (because then I’d end up in the restroom a lot) but I do make sure to drink a lot the day before and after a run. On hot/humid days, I carry water with me—one bottle of water and one with electrolytes in it, usually on what’s called a fuel belt (a handy thing on your waist that holds a couple water bottles).

6. Eat right. The food you put in your body is the fuel that powers your runs. If you eat donuts all day, it’s like putting watered-down gas into your car’s tank. Eat right to run/exercise right.

7. Crosstrain. I admit, I am not so good about this one. Running works one group of muscles, while cross-training, like bike riding, swimming, aerobics classes, weight lifting, will work the others, which in turn makes you a stronger runner.

8. Don’t worry about times, paces, splits, etc. You’re not Shalane Flanagan or Ryan Hall. You’re running for fun and health, so don’t worry about all the rest. Have fun.

9. Run in the rain (but not if it’s lightning out). There’s something awesome about running in the rain. A light rain is fun and refreshing, a no-holds barred storm with wind makes you feel seriously hardcore and teaches you that you can conquer almost anything.

10. Find running friends. You can find other runners online, at groups like Running for Brews, or at local running stores. I remember being totally intimidated the first time I went. I’m not a fast runner, and I’m a little whiny, and I thought I’d be running all by myself. I have never ended up running by myself—runners are the warmest, most inclusive, friendliest and most helpful group of people out there. And you will have seriously epic fun times. I remember one holiday season run when we all sang Christmas carols on the run. It was literally the most fun run I have EVER had. I can’t wait to do it again!

Running is amazing and awesome and fun. Yes, it has its moments of extreme suckage. The first mile, someone once told me, ALWAYS sucks, and she was right. It doesn’t matter how many times I run or how far I run, I always, always, always hate that first mile. Then I find my groove and settle into my pace, and find a good song on the radio or an interesting podcast to listen to, and the miles click by. Every run, I try to push myself a teeny tiny bit farther or harder, and when I’m done, I am ALWAYS glad I ran. Every single solitary time. And the best part of all? I can eat cookies and not gain weight ;-).

Follow me on my Blog (more tips there), Facebook or Twitter and talk to me about your running!

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Chocolate Box Blog Hop guest - Samantha Hunter 'Put a Spring in your Step'

Sam's another writer who inspires me - and you might just notice there's a strong link between her post and Susan's :o)

We walk pretty much every day, and have since we got our first dog 12 years ago. Actually we walked before that, usually about three miles a day, and having a dog to walk with us just made sense. We have winter gear, rain gear, mud gear, and whatever it takes to get out for our two-plus miles a day, but it’s so much nicer to have the walking path dry and clear and not to have to worry about being run over by snowmobiles. I love walking on new Spring days when we’re likely to see more wildlife – definitely birds, but also turtles, frogs and rabbits, all emerging from the cold months to find food.

So the nicer weather in and of itself is good for making me want to walk more and longer –especially after some winter walks felt like… well, you can imagine. Our trail is not always groomed, so we slug through as much as a foot of snow, as long as it’s manageable for the dog, or we put on trackers to walk over ice and through ruts carved into slush and then frozen – that’s probably my least favorite walk.

But Spring is the season that begs for walking after being closed up all winter. If you don’t walk regularly, this is the time to think about getting out and doing it, before the summer heat, when it’s harder (but still a lovely time to walk). If you’re like us, and you have a dog, you know dogs love their exercise, so taking your dog out is the best possible way to make sure you walk every day. (I advise, if you don’t have one, get one – the best and most affectionate exercise machine you will ever have). ☺
You can check out sites like this one, The Walker’s Site (, that will give you good advice and programs for starting to walk regularly. You could also read up, and a book I’ve always liked is Chi Walking (, though I have to admit, I don’t “Fitness Walk.” We walk, in the dry weather, at a pace of about 3 mph, maybe faster on some days. Now and then we mix that with a little jogging. But you have to do what’s good for you. If you try to work too hard too fast, you are likely to give up. If you want to run eventually, start by walking – and work your way up to it.

Walking is a good option if running is too strenuous or causes injury to you. Running is better for losing weight as a targeted goal, but walking at a brisk pace (this is important – working up to at least a 15 minute mile) will offer similar health benefits without the chance of injury. But the way I see it, walking has a lot more benefits than health: you can think, have a conversation, or simply enjoy and observe your surroundings. You can walk to new areas of your city or try new paths. You can take pictures and visit with other people on the path instead of running by them. I do suggest finding a safe place to walk, somewhere where you don’t have to worry about being hit by a car or that sort of thing, so you can enjoy your walk, and to do some kind of stretching before and after, as walking can leave your muscles tight.

And Spring is the perfect time to start a walking habit that I hope would see you through the rest of the year – I know I hate to miss my daily walk, and I try never to do so. Do you walk daily? Is it something you’d like to start? Now’s the time!

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Chocolate Box Blog Hop guest - Susan Meier 'Spring Slim Down'

Susan inspires me - she's another of my cheerleader squad in the Kate Unlardy Project :o) So her spring post is very appropriate for me! (And don't forget to enter the giveaway...)

Most of my life, I’ve enjoyed the status of being at the same weight/size. Then suddenly I gained 40 pounds. Rather than slim down, I bought a bigger size bathing suit last summer. LOL! Not quite cheating but sort of.

This year, I don’t want to buy a bigger size. In fact, I’d like to fit into a few of my smaller suits. So I’ve joined the ranks of those doing the spring diet. Or maybe better said, spring slim down…because I’m not good with diets but I love exercise.

I have every DVD known to mankind except P90X. One look at that infomercial and I knew I wouldn’t survive it. The Zumba tapes looked like so much fun on TV that I bought them immediately. Never took them out of the box. But my daughter’s friend did use them. I loved Tae Bo in the 90’s so I bought the “classic” edition, thinking I’d get the routines I’d loved. But not quite. Either that or my added years and weight made the workouts beyond my abilities.

Luckily, I hired a personal trainer last year. She also teaches a much simpler form of Zumba. More like dancing. ☺ I also bought the Hip Hop Abs DVDS and love them.

So now I get up in the morning and do a half-hour Hip Hop Abs routine. Then I work/write until noon. Wednesdays and Fridays at noon I workout with my trainer. Tuesday night, Thursday night and Saturday morning I do Zumba with Cindy.

I may not lose a ton of weight but by vacation I hope to at least be tucked in!

How about you? Are you a Spring Slim Down person?

Susan Meier

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Chocolate box blog hop guest - Liz Fielding 'Spring Fling'

I'm horribly, horribly, HORRIBLY late but I have guests for our blog hop! My first is lovely Liz Fielding. Take it away, Liz!

Spring has inspired poets throughout the ages. I came across this poem recently and enjoyed it so much I thought I'd share.

After months of waiting, spring has come at

enjoy it while you can it all goes oh so fast.

Spring is here. Spring has finally come...

It's the time for cheer, blossoming flowers, and happy dance.

The warm weather and sweet romance.

Spring is here. Spring has finally come...

Just a small town waitress who barely made enough to live off of,

She didn't believe in love.

A city bad boy, the new outcast,

running from a real hard past.

Spring is here. Spring has finally come...

Love is in the air, first crushes and harmless flirting,

the beginnings of a spring fling.

Bittersweet kisses and endless bliss.

Enjoy it while you can it'll all go oh so fast.

Spring is here. Spring has finally come...

As time flies by, spring quickly comes to an end.

He says goodbye, leaving her with nothing but a broken heart to mend.

Spring is gone. It all went by oh too fast.

As she cries, she begins to ask god why?

It takes a moment, but she soon realizes...

It was just a spring fling,

it never meant a thing.

Ivory Strife

What is your favourite spring poem?

Liz's latest romance, For His Eyes Only, published by Harlequin KISS is available now. You can find her at her website

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