Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Book Spotlight: Love Only Better

Full disclosure: I haven’t finished this book because I’m in a reading slump, but what I’ve read so far I’ve liked a lot!


For Rebecca, sex is a joke missing a punchline. No crashing waves. Only pangs of inadequacy. At twenty-eight, shouldn’t she have had one by now? Her snickering ex thought so. His taunts echo in her ears as he rolls out of her bed. Then out of her life.

Lost, Rebecca seeks expert help, joining a study for women who can’t “finish” in the bedroom. There is such a thing? It’s unconventional, for sure, but she’s desperate for answers. The no-sex mandate is a no brainer. Who’d want to be with her anyway?

Then Kyle moves in. Her blue-eyed, black motorcycle-riding dream of a neighbor lives a heartbeat away. Sparks flew immediately. But could the timing be any worse?

If he learns her secret, she’ll lose her best chance at love. But if her lessons fail, she’ll be left eternally broken. Unlovable.

What started as a search for fulfillment, has suddenly become a quest for something far greater.

Book Spotlight: Here We Go Loop De Loop

A cowboy, an heiress, her brother’s husband…and a badass ‘72 Mercury Montego.

This is the story of a her loving a him – who’s in love with another him – and that other him enduring an unrequited love for the original her. With a small-town Texas appreciation, this book is replete with humor, adversity, and the tenacity of survivors unwilling and unable to acknowledge defeat.

Here We Go Loop De Loop has greed, lust, sexuality, spiritual enlightenment, more lust, xenophobia, and the meaning of a life worth living, all woven into a single, outrageous knot in the insulated town of Rita Blanca, Texas. The author, an unlikely Texas rancher, and a resolute seeker of wisdom, truth, and the occasional virtuosic lie, with humor and reflection, has wrought a story of humanity through characters doing the best they can – just not terribly well.


“The first sentence” – by William Jack Sibley

“The drunk she nearly ran over, now lying in the middle of the road at one-thirty in the morning, was none other than her father, Pete Pennebaker. – HERE WE GO LOOP DE LOOP.”

          Contrary to seemingly most writers’ proclivities – I have a hard time starting a book without knowing the title.  For some reason if I can keep remembering what the title means (to me anyway) then I somehow manage, mostly, to keep the narrative on track.

And then there’s the first sentence.  I am a firm believer in grabbing your audience by the eyelids and daring them to not keep reading. Easier said than done, naturally. The highest compliments I’ve ever received as a writer are something along the lines of, “Damn you, I started your book when I got into bed last night and didn’t put it down til 4 am!” Bliss.

I had a vision with “HERE WE GO …” of a lonely Texas country road on a moonlit night and a woman motoring peacefully along in an old gunboat of a car listening to vintage country and western.  Suddenly, rounding a corner she sees a man sprawled in the middle of the road – her father! Now the story could go in a million directions, but the last sentence of the first paragraph, Marty Pennebaker had thought of killing her father many, many times in her forty-two years, but never quite so spontaneously,” tells us two things – the author has a sense of humor and why exactly did she want to kill him all those years? Is this a murder-mystery, a comedy, a regional leg-pull, a revenge novel?  What, what? Hopefully, the reader isn’t anywhere close to bedtime yet. 

Do I think in cinematic terms? Absolutely.  Do I imagine specific actors playing my characters?  Yes and no. Mostly it’s a vague composite that helps one “see” the words while typing. The woman driving the car on the first page of my novel is a cross between a 40ish Susan Sarandon and a 40ish Frances McDormand.  I aim high. The old man lying in the road is of course Tommy Lee Jones.

Sometimes the first sentence can be the easiest or the most sweaty, stomach-knot challenge of your week (month?) Best not to overthink. Write every tired, banal, cliché you can think of. You’ll find it. It’s there, hiding in the mind muddle.

And why humor?  Simple, write what you know!

Book Spotlight: No Spring Chicken

Author Q&A – Francine Falk-Allen 

  1. Tell us about your new book. 

No Spring Chicken addresses what we all face eventually: aging and the physical difficulties that can ensue.

I’m a polio survivor who knows a thing or two about living with a disability, and offer my take on how to navigate the complications aging brings with equanimity (and a sense of humor). Part I is a jaunt through accessible travel pleasures and pitfalls; Part II addresses the adaptations caregivers can make for a mutually rewarding relationship with their loved ones, plus advice for physically challenged and aging persons themselves regarding exercise, diet, pain management, mobility, care tips and more; and Part III discusses the rewards of engaging with support groups sharing similar issues, with a little activism and advocacy for good measure.

I’m told it’s accessible and wryly funny, and is a fun and informative guide to living your best and longest life―whatever your physical challenges, and whatever your age.

  1. What inspired you to write it? 

Well, again, I have a lifetime of experience to share about how to take care of oneself with a physical challenge, handicap or disability, and enjoy life as much as possible at the same time. I thought it would be useful to those facing the later years of life, or even younger people with a disability, or family and friends who are perhaps stumped about how to face their loved one’s challenges.

  1. What is the one aspect that you hope readers learn from it? 

I hope they take away that there is almost always something we can do to improve at least one aspect of our condition, if not many, and to keep functioning as best we can in order to enjoy whatever opportunities present themselves to us.

  1. As family members age, what should we keep in mind? 

That they are the same people they have always been with the same needs and desires, and they want to keep participating in life to the extent possible. Also, generally, aging people could use a little or even a lot of assistance, but most of us hate to ask, and only ask when it’s a dire necessity. There are exceptions of course, but most people I know prefer to be as independent as possible. So chipping in more than you used to without an air of “You should have asked me for help” or “Mom, you aren’t keeping your house clean enough anymore” is likely to be appreciated.

  1. What adaptations should we make for our loved ones? 

Ask what is most needed rather than assuming we know. Remember that walking can become more difficult and think about what you can do to make this accommodation. For instance, renting a mobility scooter for family outings or vacations can allow Grandma or Mom to participate fully. A friend surprised me with this on a vacation in Hawaii and it made all the difference; I had a much better time since I could not walk the long distance to the beach or even to the pool in the complex, and it was helpful when we went shopping as well.

  1. You have traveled many places as someone living with a disability. What are your favorite places to travel? 

Ooh, there are so many great places. I love Maui, Hawaii; Edinburgh, Scotland; New Orleans, LA; Butchart Gardens on Victoria Island, BC, Canada; Kilkenny, Ireland; New York City, NY; and of course, Paris, France.

  1. What do you look for when deciding on a vacation spot? 

My husband and I both like places with beautiful scenery, and/or perhaps some culture such as concerts, or music clubs. We sometimes go to museums as well, but find that we can only do a couple of hours of a museum before we start to feel overwhelmed. We also are very interested in history and the culture of the people in the area we visit, and we like places with very good restaurants. (I start to feel ill if we eat too much fast food or simple carbs.) We sometimes plan a trip in order to see friends or family, also. For getting around, there have to be paved walkways for my scooter, or we take a lot of cabs or rent a car. I cannot go for long walks, but like to go places where I can scoot around, and then get off the scooter and walk a bit and see things up close, or sit in a park or on a beach and read. Sometimes I paint a watercolor, so I appreciate a really nice view.

With regard to lodging, my first priority is that the hotel is easy and either has an elevator or is one-story, since stairs are very difficult for me, and also has food service in case I’m too tired to go out. Next would be that if there is not a restaurant in the hotel, there is one next door! And I always try for a place with a warm accessible pool if possible. I always call ahead to make sure the staff does not put us down a long hallway, because then sometimes I may be able to go to the lobby or restaurant without needing to use my mobility scooter.

  1. Share some of your favorite self-care tips. 

I do a little yoga and core strengthening every single morning, and I do pool therapy a few days a week. Stretching and keeping up what strength you have is important in order to stay mobile. I also avoid eating large amounts of simple carbohydrates (basically, white foods!) but I do try to eat a large amount of vegetables! It’s important to keep weight down, or to at least not become obese, to avoid or keep in check joint pain, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. And of course all that helps just to assist yourself in feeling great so that you have a positive attitude. Also, I rest regularly, and sometimes take a little nap, and get at least six or seven hours sleep every night. I think meals or tea dates with friends, reading good books, watching inspiring movies and spending time outdoors are also great ways to reduce stress and increase a feeling of peace and well being.

  1. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be an activist? 

Look for others who are already activists in the issues you care about. Someone has probably already got a group going and would love your participation and assistance and perhaps your knowledge and experience. If you can’t find that, you can start a group; I describe how to do that in my book. If you are housebound, you can research on a computer and stay informed with news on PBS and other reliable channels, and there are websites you can access which recommend what actions you can take, such as signing petitions or donating money, or making phone calls. Some groups will continue meeting on Zoom now that that is established. I am on an Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility committee in my town, which has met via Zoom during the pandemic, and I started a polio support group some years ago.

  1. Anything else you would like to add? 

I truly hope people will buy and enjoy No Spring Chicken, or ask for it at their local library, and suggest it to their friends and family. If they do, it’s helpful to the success of any book, especially for someone who is not a celebrity author, to leave a very good rating or review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble or Walmart’s book review pages. Do remember that anything less than four or five stars is considered poor, though, by the algorithms that run those sites.

Even if people don’t read either of my books (my first book was Not a Poster Child: Living Well with a Disability—A Memoir, about growing up with a disability and navigating the world as a women with a disability), I hope that everyone who has physical difficulty is finding ways to keep on enjoying life! That’s what I’m intending to do. Later this year, we’re hoping to visit someplace like Hawaii or New Mexico, where there is a high number of vaccinated people and a low incidence of the Covid-19 virus. Happy trails to all!

Book Review: The Grumpy Frumpy Croissant

I love finding new books to explore with Gray- reading is something that has brought great joy and fun to my life, and I’m so happy that he enjoys books too! While the concepts of this book may be a bit advanced for him at 2, he loved seeing the funny and animated illustrations. Glad to have this book on our shelf to enjoy again and again in the years to come!

Here’s the author’s own words about her writing of the book:

A behind-the-scenes look on how my book came about

By Mona K, author of The Grumpy Frumpy Croissant

It was a Sunday afternoon in December 2019. My son and I had a ritual to stop by our favorite coffee shop before his tennis class to grab drinks and our most beloved croissant. My son got chocolate milk and I made my regular order. We both devour our croissants. I love to bake them from time to time, however the recipe does call for a lot of love and patience. As we were getting ready to sit down, I accidently spilled some coffee over my son’s croissant. A big volcano of anger erupted, and he squeezed the croissant really hard. Poor croissant lost a few pounds instantly. I enjoy meditating and try to share some techniques here and there with my son. I realized he was extremely upset, so I suggested that he leave the croissant alone and take some long deep breaths. He did that a few times and then took a big sip of the milk. He suddenly felt calm. In the meantime, Mr. Croissant seemed to have gained some of his plumpness back. That spur of the moment was Grumpy Frumpy Croissants’ birthday. My son also loves toast and scones with a lot of red jelly. I thought Croissant needed friends and so Toast and Scone were invited to the party along with Milk. I wrote the story that same day and narrated it to my son the next morning. He absolutely fell in love with the characters. In February 2020, I started looking for illustrators for the book. I interviewed and did test runs with at least eight illustrators before selecting Korey Scott. He was able to bring my story to life just as I would if I were an artist. In March, covid-19 knocked us all on our heels. The illustrations took four long months and finally I published the book in November.  I presented the book to my son on his seventh birthday in December 2020. His reaction was priceless, and he was an instant celebrity in school  the next day.  

Book Spotlight: Joyful Delicious Vegan

We’re slowly making the transistion to eating less red meat and more vegetarian, even vegan! As Q and I get older, we’re trying harder to be more heart healthy, especially given the medical history with heart disease in both of our families.

Here’s the author’s inspiration behind the book, in her own words:

We can all learn how to enjoy good health naturally at any age, and it starts in our kitchens by changing what and how we eat. With a delicious plant-based diet we feed our health and not disease. This is the most effective way to prevent or reverse heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US.  Heart disease especially impacts African American women, who are on the front line of the fight against this killer and other chronic diet related illnesses.

In Joyful, Delicious Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease I share my own story of reversing hypertension, based on current nutritional knowledge, and despite my family history. I was guided by the recommendations of two world-renowned cardiologists, who have demonstrated results with patients for many years. I show readers how to build a simple food plan around their particular needs with delicious anti-inflammatory foods, and how to develop the habit of mindful eating. There are powerful tips for success, encouragement, and staying power.

Despite the growing body of nutritional research, the mainstream medical community has been slow to integrate this knowledge in patient treatment and education. Only recently has it been introduced into modern medical training, leaving many doctors and health care providers in the dark about its effectiveness – while only offering patients costly maintenance drugs and surgical procedures, none of which offer a cure.

I want to get this message in the hands of as many people who can benefit from it as possible. I particularly want to empower those underserved by our healthcare system with the knowledge along with simple, affordable ways to prevent it, reverse it, and practice good self-care for themselves and their families. I also want to share the sheer joy of eating great healthy food, simple to make at home, that you love, and that loves you back! Whole plant-based eating is an adventure with endless possibilities to enjoy your favorite tastes and textures in healthier versions, and easily adapts to so many cultural food traditions.

This change in diet is the most powerful thing we can do as individuals to save our environment by reducing methane pollution from factory animal farming, while promoting compassion for animals. I can’t imagine a more powerful opportunity to make one change that contributes to our own health, the health of animals and of Earth itself.

Book Spotlight: Committed


Introducing: Committed: A Memoir of Madness in The Family

by Paolina Milana

Los Angeles – May 2021 – Imagine keeping a family secret about your mother’s mental illness and growing up as one of the offspring charged with “caring for crazy.” Then, to compound the horror, witnessing another version of schizophrenia as it consumes your younger sister – who you practically raised yourself, thanks to your mother’s frailty. To see Paolina Milana as an example of resilience might be the understatement of all time. 

As a 20-year-old, Paolina gets a chance to escape her circumstances by attending an out-of-state school, but the madness she tries to leave behind will not let her be as letter after letter arrives, constantly reminding her of the insanity from which she longs to break free. Making matters worse, the voices in her own head whispering words she’s not sure are normal, further her fears. “Please don’t make me be like Mamma,” she prays to a God she’s not sure is listening.

The unexpected death of her father soon after she returns home leaves Paolina in shock—becoming fully in charge of her paranoid schizophrenic mother. But it isn’t until at age 27, when her younger sister explodes in a psychotic episode, is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and must be committed, that Paolina descends into her own despair, nearly losing herself to the darkness.

Beautifully written with flourishes of handwritten letters (in Italian) from her parents, recordings of her own inner voices challenging her every move, and a heartbreaking slew of sticky notes revealing the harrowing thoughts of her sister’s delusional mind, Paolina’s epistolary memoir invites readers into her inner circle of intimate encounters with mental illness. Poignant and impactful, Committed is a story of resilience that teaches and inspires, not as a tidy narrative, but as an authentic and rare share that speaks to the struggle of staying sane despite being surrounded by madness.


Paolina Milana’s mission is to share stories that celebrate the triumph of the human spirit: To unleash the power that lies within each of us to bring about change for the better. 

Milana’s professional background is rooted in journalism where as a features writer for a major daily newspaper in the Midwest, she told the stories of other people. Then she moved to the field of PR/media and digital marketing as an executive in both corporate and non-profit environments. Given her experience in an emotionally tumultuous household where she was put in the position of caregiver to unstable family members, she is uniquely qualified to serve as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in foster care and as an empowerment and resiliency coach, using storytelling to help people reimagine their lives, write their next chapters, and become the heroes of their own journeys. 

Paolina has won awards for her writing, including her first book, The S Word, which received the National Indie Excellence Award. Her self-help picture book for adults, Seriously! Are We There Yet?!, and her holiday fiction novel, Miracle on Mall Drive both published in late 2020. Paolina is first-generation Sicilian, married, and lives on the edge of the Angeles National Forest in Southern California.

Find it here!


That’s the word for what I’m feeling — and have been feeling- for much of the last six months or so. Part of the reason this space has been so quiet– is I honestly haven’t had much to say about anything.

Apparently, I’m not the only one– here’s a whole NY Times article about it!.

My family is well– all vaccinated! Well minus the toddler, who, somehow, is going to be 2 in May. How time flies and goes so slowly all at the same time.

We’re getting out of the house and the state soon to FINALLY introduce our son to some of the most important people in our lives who the pandemic has kept us from.

Nothing else to report, just to check in, months later, languishing still.

Book Review: Float Plan

Heartbroken by the loss of her fiancé, adventurous Anna finds a second chance at love with an Irish sailor in this riveting, emotional romance.

After a reminder goes off for the Caribbean sailing trip Anna was supposed to take with her fiancé, she impulsively goes to sea in the sailboat he left her, intending to complete the voyage alone.

But after a treacherous night’s sail, she realizes she can’t do it by herself and hires Keane, a professional sailor, to help. Much like Anna, Keane is struggling with a very different future than the one he had planned. As romance rises with the tide, they discover that it’s never too late to chart a new course.

In Trish Doller’s unforgettable Float Plan, starting over doesn’t mean letting go of your past, it means making room for your future.

My review: 4 stars.

Trigger warning: suicide.

This was just delightful and exactly the type of book I needed to kick me out of my book and winter doldrums. Though fair warning, it’ll make you want to leave right away for the Bahamas and Caribbean, but it was just enough  tropical fun and description to make me forget the frigid temps and roaring wind of New England winters. It was the right book for the moment- reminded me of travel, gave me inspiration of places to visit, and brought actual warmth when I was literally cold. It did not make me want to sail on my own sailboat though because my type of getaway involves doing very little hard work, and sailing on your own seems like a more arduous and dangerous version of camping.

Overall, the book was predictable in terms of plot and an obvious falling in love story, but it was more about the process of self-discovery and understanding her grief for Anna that progresses as the sailing journey moves ahead. There’s a bit of self-awareness and learning about Keane, but the book is written solely from Anna’s perspective. While I enjoyed this book, I would have loved more from Keane’s perspective and understanding him a bit more and that likely would have knocked this into the 5 star category.

Highly recommend for a lovely, quick read that’ll make you want to plan your first post-pandemic Caribbean adventure!


A Year At Home

Last night, Q and I sort of took stock of the last year at home– most of it was spent minding our little guy and watching him grow into the amazing little person he is becoming. The schedule of a baby was much needed during the early days of the pandemic, when we (laughably now) thought this would only be for a few weeks. Now, a year later, it feels like we’re slogging through a lot of our days, but we’ve also gotten into a rhythm that has been comforting too.

I know so many other folks, parents or not, feel like they are coming up against the ‘pandemic wall.’ It’s weird because the light at the end of the tunnel is there with vaccinations happening, but also it still feels like it’s SO LONG to go because there is so much uncertainty around when we’ll be able to get one. I’ve stopped even trying to guesstimate at this point.

They say routines are soothing and helpful to babies and toddlers, but it turns out they are for adults in unknown, stressful circumstances too. As I’ve said before, our circumstances are far better than a lot of people and we have a lot to be thankful for, but knowing that doesn’t lessen the stress and burdens either.

I still feel like I have no free brain space for so much- writing (obviously), looking for a new job and contemplating our move all are just things in the corners of our brain that we talk about fairly frequently, but are too afraid/unsure/worried to pull the trigger on. At the moment, I feel like my brain is focused on making sure we efficiently and effectively grocery shop when we go out and making sure we have supplies we need, as opposed to the life changes we daydream and talk about together.

We’re treading water and have been for awhile even before the pandemic. We banked on me getting a new job in a new place and came so close so many times, and it never panned out for us. That’s not lamenting on what might have been because we cannot change the outcome, and also had we moved, we may never have decided to try to have a baby and I cannot imagine our world without our little monkey.

At the moment, I think we’re very gun shy to do anything different from the routine we’ve established this past year that has kept us (knock on wood) healthy and safe. And yet…we are aching for that change. Such a weird paradox. Neither Q nor I are spontaneous or carefree enough to just DO IT. I wish we were, but we’re not those people- we’re both too pragmatic for our own good. I don’t know what it’s going to take for us to push a domino to make the other things fall into place….maybe a vaccine will help us both feel better, but I don’t know. I do know our house is slowly closing in on us and our toddler is literally staring out the window at the world wanting to explore it and see it all, as well as is doing actual laps around the house to get energy out. Thankfully the spring weather is upon us and more outside time will help the latter.

People talk about what the pandemic has taught them, about what really matters, and it’s very true. For us, it’s about our family and our friends who are family– staying away from them longer than we wanted because we want to keep them safe and be able to hug them again, and keeping our tiny family safe too. It’s brought a lot of things into focus in other ways, now we just have to find a way to capitalize on it.

Is This Thing On?

This space has been quiet because honestly, I haven’t had anything to say that isn’t being said by more prolific folks, and because I’m in such a routine of life to SURVIVE, that I couldn’t quite seem to find the mental space and energy to write.

My word for 2020 was THRIVE. Which rhymes with what everyone’s word for 2020 ended up being- SURVIVE.

2020 will be a year that will take a bit more time away from to process what actually happened. It’s hard for me to say how it effected me– I was able to stay home, safe and healthy with my little family, and am grateful that all of my people can do the same. We never had to wonder where our next meal was coming from, we had toilet paper, and each other– and isn’t that enough? The unrest of politics and our cultural upheaval in the wake of the George Floyd murder and various protests left me feeling anxious and unsure of life- even with November’s victory for Biden, I’m still waiting for the sigh of relief that I hope January 20th brings.

So did I THRIVE in 2020? I guess in the definition of the word, no, but we did THRIVE as a family, growing and prospering over the hardships of the year.

Did I accomplish any of my goals? Sort of– I achieved 3 out of 7: I read 50 books (53 exactly). We did some stuff around the house to ready it for sale, though not as much as we hoped since we didn’t exactly want various contractors coming into our space.

Q and I had exactly 2 dates in 2020: one was dinner out for my birthday, a week or two before the world shut down, and a random Saturday in November where we did some basement cleaning, took a trip to the town dump, and took a daytime nap while my mother watched the little guy. We didn’t pay off the car loan, but will be doing that next month. I didn’t donate blood, we obviously didn’t travel anywhere, and my lack of writing here is about the same amount of writing I was doing in other places.

Yet despite the bummer of the year that 2020 was, it also was sort of a bit of a gift at the same time. For 3 months I spent every day with my family and I know that’s something we’ll never replicate again ( not sure we’d want to anyway haha). It made us realize what really matters in life and got us focused on our little family. I miss friends and family like crazy and want to go back to normal badly, but I know we are incredibly grateful for the life we have and the few disruptions we experienced over the last 10 months or so.

Going into 2021 I’m cautiously optimistic about what we might be able to do– hugging our friends and family and getting our son to meet his great aunt and great grandma is pretty high on the to-do list ( as is eating in a restaurant again). We’re mostly going to take things as they come with whatever circumstances come our way. I’m not going to set a word this year, but have in mind the changes and hopes we have for our family, rooted in the love and appreciation we learned in 2020.

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