Can I Use My Bathroom? Not Yet.

As I write this, it’s more than a week into the remodel of my master bathroom, and I’m happy to say there have been no ugly surprises. Well, when my contractor, Vince, took the mirror down he uncovered some of the horrible pink and green wallpaper that used to be in the master bedroom. 2015-10 PicI shivered at the sight as I remembered the days spent with my dad trying to get that stuff off the walls. However, I’ll take the memory of monstrous wallpaper over the experiences I’ve heard from other people. For example, my hair stylist found black mold permeated her drywall and had to have men in hazmat suits remove it before she and her husband could continue with their remodeling.

Each day after work, I’ve gone into my bathroom to see the progress. Vince completed almost all the demo work on the first day. Only a small patch of yellow and white tiles in one section of the floor remained. The next day he roughed in the electrical. After that, it took him a couple of days to put up drywall, mud the seams and rough in the shower drain. On day five he cut the niche in the shower. As goofy as it sounds, that has made me the happiest so far. My old shower had no place to put anything except a bar of soap. Now, I will have a niche to put all my stuff and no longer have to risk kicking things around the shower. Yes! Already that makes all my current inconveniences worth it.

To make things as easy as possible, I moved into the guest bedroom. As much as I planned ahead, I’m finding it takes longer to do many things due to the disruption of my routine. I’m also slightly more sleep-deprived because I’m in a different bed.

My cat, Calder, has had to adjust as well. When I leave in the morning, I put him in my home office to keep him safe and out of everyone’s way. He has all the essentials – food, water, and a temporary litter box. I think he likes having an upstairs restroom, but the novelty appears to be wearing thin since he’s begun trying to escape when I take him into the office. So far, I’m winning the fight to keep him in there.

Though the remodeling is going well, there’s still much to be done, and I remain somewhat braced against the unknown. So, please keep sending your positive thoughts my way. It certainly helps! Ohmmmmmm.


So, I Asked Alice…

Here comes fall. What an appropriate name for a season in which the leaves drop as fast as the temperature.

AliceUnderground1My blog last month talked about possibly using crowdsourcing to publish Broken String, my new novel that is now in final edit. I received several comments at Deadwood Writers Voices and thanks to all of you for that.

To better understand, I decided to “back” one of their book projects. To get a feel for how this might work, I backed the 150th Anniversary Edition of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. It is being produced in Australia under License from the British Library.

This is Charles Dodgson’s original version of Alice and it includes the 37 illustration Dodgson did himself, with the story in his own hand writing. Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. His penname was derived from the Latin spelling of his first and middle names, and then reversed and translated back to English.

This 150th Anniversary Edition is leather bound with gold embossed titles with black and white and two-color illustrations. I’m looking forward to seeing it on my classics shelf, after I’ve read it.

AliceUnderground3If you are not familiar with the backstory of Alice, Dodgson originally wrote it as a short story for his College Dean’s daughter. After hearing him tell the tale, twice, during two rowboat trips, Alice Liddell, asked him to write it down for her. He wrote it out in long hand and did his own illustrations, then he had it bound together and gave it to Alice as a Christmas present in 1864. He was encouraged to have it printed for sale and so expanded the story from 15,000 words to 27,500, and brought in renowned illustrator John Tenniel to do better illustrations. He self-published the story, retitled, one year later. That 1865 typeset version is now known as the first edition of Alice in Wonderland. One hundred fifty years later, we have a finely crafted tome of the author’s original words and illustrations, as he presented it to twelve-year-old Alice.

AliceUnderground2Participating with this project has given me insight in how a successful program works. Their costs were projected at AU$20,000 and they raised over AU$109,000 from 1,081 backers worldwide. During the six weeks, I received several emails with updates on the project, complete with pictures of set pages and workers busy on the production. It was a very easy process and it gives me some hope.

Now, I’m not the British Library and my story hasn’t been loved by children of all ages for 150 years, but seeing how they organized the campaign and how they grew interest from under 100 the first week to over 1,000 backers by the end is encouraging.

For my project, I’ll first need to gather a core group of readers, friends and fellow writers to back the project once the campaign does start. Kind of give it a push out the door. Getting that core group to reach out to the friends they know who might enjoy a suspense novel like Broken String is critical to the overall success. Backers of my project would receive deep discounts on signed, first editions of the printed book and first day delivery of the e-book, much like the Alice project offers. I would like to offer versions in limited edition, hard cover, trade paperback and e-book to have the widest price range for backers.

It’s still just an idea germinating in my head. I’ll keep you updated, but I would love to hear from more of you as far as what you think of this idea. What kind of a discount would entice you? Or, what else would be enticing enough for you to back a project like this?

Wanted: Graphic designer for the cover art. Can you recommend anyone?

Tales From the Garden’ Part 3

I drove out to the Chicago Botanic Garden early one sunny morning in June for my third summer. Where would they ask me to volunteer this time?

Mary, who ran the Volunteer Office at that time, thought I might enjoy being a docent in the English Walled Garden. It was a good choice. I always enjoyed that garden when I went there on my own. The English Walled Garden is a very calm, peaceful and beautiful place. I would go there frequently, sit on one of the benches, and soak in the atmosphere.

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Entering the English Walled Garden, from the Chicago Botanic Garden

Going to the English Walled Garden is like stepping back into the past when life was slower and people had more time for things like gardening. It’s like walking through a small rural village in England and peeking into everyone’s front yard to see what colorful plants they have growing. It could be 2004 or 1904.

John Brookes, an English landscape architect, designed the English Walled Garden in 1971 and he comes back periodically to consult with the staff and update it. It’s composed of six garden “rooms” open to the sky: The Checkerboard Garden, Cottage Garden, Daisy Garden, Formal Garden, Pergola Garden and the Vista Garden. Each room is different but all make you feel like you’re in England.

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The Checkerboard Garden, from the Chicago Botanic Garden

That summer, lots of visitors came to the English Walled Garden. I enjoyed meeting them and showing them around. We had some interesting conversations. Frequently they would tell me that they were growing, or had tried to grow, this or that plant and how much nicer it looked here. They wanted to know what we did so they could try our techniques when they returned home.

Many visitors said the English Walled Garden gave them new ideas for what plants to plant in their own gardens when they got home. A number came from other countries. They had heard about the English Walled Garden from friends of theirs who had traveled to Chicago. Some were repeat visitors. They said that they came to the Chicago Botanical Garden, and the English Walled Garden in particular, whenever they came to Chicago.

Talking with all the visitors and hearing these comments made this one of my happiest summers volunteering.



Superfan Powers Activate!

I've found the new workbook as useful for blogging as the original book (another reason to share).

I’ve found the new workbook as useful for blogging as the original book (another reason to share).

What is a Superfan, you ask? Good question.

A Superfan is someone who adores, loves, admires and worships your artistic work. It’s not a phrase I coined, but a word someone wrote on a blog sometime mid-2015. If anyone out here has also read that intriguing post, please let me know so I can correctly credit the author. The word stuck with me, and it’s a way I now frame my thoughts and perceptions and just about anything when it comes to supporting fellow writers.

I am a Superfan of some writers, meaning I devour anything they write. I promote them by screaming from the rooftops and through my typing fingertips on social media. They owe me nothing, but I owe them my inspiration. Something about their writing, artwork, photography or personal interests resonates with me and I can’t not support them.

I stumbled on Marcie Hill’s book, “62 Blog Posts to Overcome Bloggers Block,” at a time when I was struggling with my blogging topics. The tip that resonated with me most was: It’s not cheating to publish a pictures-only blog post. I never thought about that, even though I have seen such posts elsewhere. I devoured her book, used some of her tips, and then I left an adoring review on Amazon. She wrote me back, “Thank you for that review.” I followed her blog and her Twitter account. Without asking, she did the same, and that’s how our relationship started.

Part of Superfandom is how writers treat me. It’s that personal touch, that sharing with others. I prefer to show my appreciation of Instagram photos with words rather than just Liking them. After commenting on @josameys.words poem about villains and heroes, we had an intense, and rather hilarious, discussion about the pros of being a villain and which Disney villains have the best wardrobe.

Remember the key word in social media: Social.

These authors, artists and other people talk with me. I couldn’t attend a weekly Twitter Chat with Nori (@ReadWriteLove28), so I Tweeted her.

“Wish I could’ve made it, but was still getting over bronchitis.”

She Tweeted back, “@dianahirsch Oh no 🙁 I hope you’re feeling better now!”

I replied, “Yep. Finally better. Took 2+ lingering weeks, but I’ll be ready next #RQWN.”

She replied, “@dianahirsch Oh good, I’m glad!”

Someone who takes that much time and attention is my idol. To show my appreciation for anyone who does that, I retweet their Tweets, I {heart} their videos on Vine and Like their Facebook page, when I’m on Facebook. Beyond such standard protocol, I ask questions and send encouragement through Direct Messages (DM). I show my hero worship by engaging with them on a personal level.

You can make people like you and have your own Superfans by doing those same things. Make sure there’s personal interaction not just some stock “Thank You for Following Me” auto reply. Be polite. Be sincere; don’t say something if you don’t mean it. Make followers feel important; they are your best advertisement and supporters. Answer questions. Send loads of virtual warm fuzzies across the Internet. Emulate the people you want to be.

Make people smile. They will adore you for that. It’ll make you feel good, too.

Grin and Bare It

I’m never more aware that I’m a day closer to death than when I’m melting like a freakish human dummy in House of Wax. Burning on the inside and drenched by sweat on the outside, I have zero tolerance for the slightest touch. Hands off! Don’t come near me. I’m about to self-combust. After all, what other purpose do damnable hot flashes serve than to dry up my internal organs until I disappear into a puff of smoke? One day, I may very well be reduced to a pile of dust. In an instant.

You men and younger ladies already have some idea of what we middle-aged women deal with. You’ve seen us trying to minimize contact with anything that restrains heat in our bodies. Off go our sweaters as we scoot to the edge of our seats and make more room for air flow. We could stand, but physical activity takes too much effort and makes us feel hotter.


A Smilebox photo by Kelly Bixby

Some of us are convinced that even the slightest amount of energy we expend in fanning ourselves may work against our attempts to snuff out the raging infernos. Desperate, we become as still as possible and resort to heavy panting—a technique perfected by dogs to cool down. We endure and survive, but in the heat of the moment, we are not glamorous at all.

We mature women have to figure out what we’re willing to do to minimize our discomfort. Exposing one of my solutions may be TMI. Let me just say that I’m often tempted to create a new Twitter hashtag: #HalfNakedAndWriting. Don’t worry, though, moms and dads (particularly mine). I won’t go public with that, because I don’t want to grab the attention of seedy characters hoping to find a provocative picture attached to the description. Instant popularity isn’t worth dealing with a bunch of stalkers. It would be nice, however, to commiserate with other women writers who have reached this milestone in the aging process.

Having lived with this curse for several years, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned. Men, I promise not to leave you out. Bear with me while I first explain why commonly recommended treatments are associated with long-term health risks. Then, I’ll reveal how you can safely help the woman you love to alleviate her symptoms.

Popular methods to reduce hot flashes can be detrimental to our health. For instance, a product called Estroven touts that it is “drug-free and estrogen-free***.” Truth in advertising perhaps, but connect those three asterisks to the information hidden in the fine print:

“***Estroven does not contain synthetic, animal or human-derived hormones.”

It sounds great, as if you’re completely avoiding the hormone estrogen. Except, if you keep researching, you’ll find that soy, a plant-based product, is listed as Estroven’s first and, therefore, most abundant ingredient, under none other than the title of “Warnings.”

What could be so bad about soy that it falls under a warning? Ingesting soy affects the levels of estrogen in our bodies and may play a role in a woman’s increased chance of developing breast cancer. In the article “Soy and Breast Cancer, What’s the Link?,” WebMD journalist Salynn Boyles reported:

“The concern about soy stems from the fact that most breast cancers are fueled by the female sex hormone estrogen. Just as the body produces estrogen, so do plants, and soy contains high amounts of estrogen-like chemicals called isoflavones. The research is unclear about how these plant-based estrogens impact the body’s own estrogen levels and breast cancer growth.” (1)

My own gynecologist recommends black cohosh as an acceptable option to reduce hot flashes. It’s known by many other names,  most notably phytoestrogen. Surely any and all of those must be safe or my doctor wouldn’t suggest the herbal supplement in the first place?

Not necessarily. Scientists are still battling to determine if herbal supplements increase or decrease a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer. Boyles interviewed Dana Farber Cancer Center oncologist, Wendy Chen, MD, for an expert explanation. Chen indicated:

“A link between breast cancer and hormones is clear. Researchers think that the greater a woman’s exposure to the hormone estrogen, the more susceptible she is to develop breast cancer. Estrogen tells cells to divide; the more the cells divide, the more likely they are to be abnormal in some way, possibly becoming cancerous. We tell women with breast cancer to definitely avoid the [soy] supplements….Our message to the general public is that we really don’t know if supplements are safe because they haven’t been tested.”

Additionally, the American Heart Association concluded:

“The efficacy and safety of soy isoflavones for preventing or treating cancer of the breast…are not established; evidence from clinical trials is meager and cautionary with regard to a possible adverse effect. For this reason, use of isoflavone supplements in food or pills is not recommended.” (2)

We can opt not to take it in pill form, but have you noticed how prevalent soy is in our food products? Soy may be inherently natural, but it is unnaturally processed and added to many popular snack foods. It’s in M & Ms, granola bars, Oreos, chocolate covered raisins and pretzels, graham crackers, and gourmet popcorn. Sadly, all of which I have in my cupboard. Take a look in your own pantry and read a label or two. If soy is in your packaged food, you may see it noted as a type of warning in big bold print: “Contains: Soy.”

Men, there is no denying that your bodies have a little estrogen in addition to your much more abundant testosterone levels. Unknowingly, you may be taking in more estrogens through the foods you eat and even in the water you drink. I don’t want to cause anyone undue worry, but there is evidence that you also are at risk from environmentally introduced estrogens. (Take a look at

One in eight women, and one in one thousand men, will be diagnosed with breast cancer. After being hit with that devastation—and too late in my opinion—many will be advised to avoid eating soy altogether.

The convenience of processed food is proving not to be worth the consequences on our health. Fitness guru Jillian Michaels offered practical advice when she was interviewed by CNN. She said, “If it doesn’t come out of the ground and it didn’t have a mother, don’t put it in your mouth.” (3)


Image created by Kelly Bixby, using Rhonna Designs

How bad must a woman’s symptoms be for her to adopt the use of steroidal estrogens? They are Known To Be Human Carcinogens!  The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) reports that its “National Toxicology Program has listed six substances in its Report on Carcinogens (RoC)  that cause or may cause breast cancer in humans. These include: diethylstilbestrol, a synthetic form of estrogen that was used to prevent miscarriages; steroidal estrogens used for menopausal therapy; X-ray and gamma radiation; alcoholic beverages; tobacco smoking; and the sterilizing agent, ethylene oxide.” (4)

Do you read that above list and find it easy to accept that tobacco smoking may cause breast cancer? We’ve been bombarded with that knowledge for decades. Now the evidence is showing that using estrogens is risky and that we should think twice before indulging in a glass of wine. Ugh!

What can women do to get through an uncomfortable hot flash? Here are my top three recommendations:

• Embrace the fan. Based on my own experience, the instantly gratifying relief is worth the extra kilojoules, and there are many free or inexpensive options to choose from. When at home, junk mail serves as a great go-to device. Out grocery shopping? Pick up a weekly advertisement on your way into the store. Attending service? The church bulletin is handed right to you. Everywhere you go, proactively scan your immediate surroundings for emergency use of any decent cardstock. Or, channel Scarlett O’Hara and invest in something fancy and foldable. Still worried about expending too much energy? Pack a small, battery-operated fan in your purse.

• Dress in layers. Be prepared to strip down as far as public decency allows. Store your big, bulky sweaters at the bottom of the closet, and donate anything that has to be pulled over your head. Camis are the only exception, especially if you have teenagers at home. They don’t want to see you running around in anything less. Invest in clothing that has buttons or zippers all the way up and down. You’re worth an updated wardrobe.

• Rely on the man in your life. He can help with a short-term fix. Tilt your head to one side, lean in close to him, and enjoy a soothing moment as your significant other gently blows on your neck. It won’t take long for you to cool down, smile, and feel more connected to the one you love. Once you’ve relaxed—and if you and your spouse are lucky enough to be home alone when a hot flash strikes—consider the advantages to shedding all restrictive clothing.***

I think you may find that there’s nothing more natural, worry-free, and satisfying.
***Proceed with caution; squelching one fire may ignite an entirely different one.


Additional Resource:
Breast cancer in men