Recyclable Shopping Bags to Help You Go Green – its-laS-tik by what’Surbag (Great for Mardi Gras!)

Whether you need a stylish bag to tote around groceries or a cute bag for all those last-minute dashing-out-the-door things Consider the its-laS-tic bag by what'Surbag as an alternative to paper and plastic shopping need to bring, its-laS-tik pouches and shopping bags by what’Surbag offer the most eye-catching patterns, colors, and designs around. What’s better yet – these bags totally stretch and conform to hold just about anything you’d want to bring with you to work, the gym, the store, the mall, on an airplane, or just about anywhere.

Make a point to go green this year and you won’t be disappointed. Reusable grocery bags have come a very long way from solid colors, straw-like textures, and awkward handles. They are designed to take the stress of heavy items you carry off your shoulders and arms by bearing the brunt of the weight in a very elastic, flexible, and durable bag. In fact, the bags bounce with each step you take.

Consider the its-laS-tic bag by what'Surbag as an alternative to paper and plastic shopping bags.Made of stretchy, flexible nylon and lycra blend, its-laS-tik pouches and shopping bags by what’Surbag are washable and they compress into very small sizes so you can take them along with you in your purse or other bag when not in use. They spring right back into shape and size when you need to use them again.

No matter what your sense of style and personality, you will be hard pressed not to find one if not several its-laS-tik shopping bags and totes to love. These reusable shopping bags come in countless colors and styles, from camouflage to shiny metallic and everything in between. These also strike me as a great alternative to the bridesmaid tote bag.

I received a beautiful tie dye its-laS-tik bag from the folks at what’Surbag, and it couldn’t be more fitting to my personality and sense of style. The vibrant colors of hot pink and yellow with a touch of orange are just the most fun hues for me to enjoy sporting anywhere I go. I find no matter how much of my stuff I pack into my cute pink bag, I still have room for whatever else, from a full sports bottle to gloves, tissues, 10 ounce bottles of body lotion, lip balm, my lunch, and so much more.

I honestly wish I had known about its-laS-tik by what’Surbag last year when my husband and friends and I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. If you’ve never been to Mardi Gras, you must first understand the importance of catching as many beads as you can from the floats passing by the parade route. We had bags to fill up with beads, but once the bags were full, that was it – you either had to stop catching them, wear them, or try to get a hold of another bag. Had we had a few of these its-laS-tik bags, I am sure our take-home amounts would have far exceeded the beads we got – although we did end up with hundreds of strands of beads by the time Mardi Gras concluded. Honestly – if you are going to Mardi Gras and want the best bag you can get to carry all your beads and throws, order yourself a couple of its-laS-tik pouches and shopping bags.

A really neat tie-in…. its-laS-tik and what’Surbag actually hail from New Orleans! Perhaps they used their knowledge of the Mardi Gras culture and customs to help come up with the design for their kickass bags. Who knows? What I can tell you is that they manufacture these stylish and reusable bags in a factory that was rebuilt after being destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Not only that, but what’Surbag donates a percentage of sales to Hope House in New Orleans. So, you can own a stylish bag (or several!), go green for the planet, and contribute to a second great cause – alleviating suffering in the community via faith-based Hope House.

You can order its-laS-tik pouches and shopping bags at Product provided free to writer for reviewYou can choose from countless colors and patterns and a variety of sizes. Pouches are 5″x 9″ with a zipper and a wristlet ($11.99), medium bags are 12″ x 13″ ($14.99), and large bags are 15” x 16” ($24.99). You can also check out backpacks and other products by what’Surbag.

What to Wear for Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, or a Mardi Gras Party

Visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras can be an unforgettable experience. Just decide what to wear on Fat Tuesday!Visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras is an amazing, unforgettable experience, and the outfits you decide to wear to the festivities should reflect that. From the colors of the New Orleans Saints to the traditional gold, green, and purple of Mardi Gras, you can coordinate your outfits with the colors of Carnival or you can choose outfits that you love. If you are wondering what to wear to Mardi Gras, or if you could use a few packing tips and fashion suggestions for Carnival, try these fashion suggestions from Louisiana natives.

What Colors to Wear for Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is perhaps best known for its gold, green, and purple hues, but black and gold combinations also tend to be popular due to the New Orleans Saints NFL team. LSU (Louisiana State University) is another popular local team whose gear Carnival-goers tend to sport. You can choose to wear any of these color combinations or simply wear your favorite colors and favorite clothing. Honestly, jeans and t-shirts or hoodies make excellent choices for most days you’ll spend there. You can also wear shorts or skirts weather permitting.

Wearing lots of green, gold, and purple is a Mardi Gras must!“Anything purple, green and gold is always a must have!” shares Mary Beth Romig of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau. “A very popular shirt during Mardi Gras is a polo shirt from the New Orleans store Perlis. You can actually order them online.”

“With all the excitement with the Saints, and with Drew Brees as Bacchus the Sunday before Fat Tuesday, I think black and gold / Saints gear will be a must-have this Mardi Gras season too,” Romig adds. “For all things Black and Gold, the Black and Gold Sports Shop on Veterans Blvd is great. Also, the Drew Brees Finish Strong shirts are a popular choice right now.”

What to Wear for Comfort, Climate, and Weather at Mardi Gras
If you are from up north or anywhere that your winters are bitter cold, you’ll most likely enjoy the warmer climate when spending part of February in the South. The temperatures at Mardi Gras tend to be fairly mild, allowing you to get away with jeans and short or long-sleeve tops and sometimes even shorts or skirts, tank tops, and other warmer weather gear.

Be prepared for the elements. “Just in case it rains, cute rain boots are popular, along with Patagonia or North Face rain jackets,” Romig recommends. “Wear layers, because parades are an all day/evening event!”

Wear comfortable shoes. “From a native who has enjoyed scores of Mardi Gras celebrations, wear comfortable shoes,” says Tom Long of Thomas Long Corporate Communications. “You are on your feet for hours at a time.”

Wear layers. “New Orleans can be both warm and cool in late February,” Long says.

What to Wear on Fat Tuesday or at a Mardi Gras Party…

Valentine Gift Ideas for Girls (Daughters, Nieces, etc.)

Little girls, much like their mommies, can be very easy to shop for… Sometimes all we need, as parents, is a little nudge in the right direction.

Vermont Nut Free Chocolates are a safe and delicious Valentine gift option.If your girls are anything like mine, they love frilly bows and hair ties; they love dolls and pets and tea parties, clothes and perfumes and nail polish. Girls love just about anything, as long as it’s pink and pretty. If that’s the case for the beautiful girls in your life, we’ve got you covered.

Life Love Beauty has teamed up with some wonderfully willing companies, to provide a gift guide, with suggestions, that can help make shopping for your little Valentine a synch – HAVE a WONDERFUL VALENTINES DAY!

Gifts under $30.00

Try a Hello Kitty yoga mat and Wii Fit carrying case as an exciting Valentine's gift for your daughter.Hello Kitty Yoga Mat and Carry Case for Wii Fit is an awesome find. It’s perfect for any girl who is fascinated with Hello Kitty and has a Wii fit. It’s really cute and the mat has a huge picture of Hello Kitty on it. It’s all pink and totally worthy of gifting it as an add-on to their Wii collection.

Though we don’t own a Wii right now, I do work out daily and my kids enjoy working out with me. I recently purchased a yoga mat for my daily exercising regimen, but it isn’t half as pretty and cutesy as this Hello Kitty one. I’m kinda jealous. Over all, it’s a really cute gift that would delight any girl.

ARP: $24.96
Available at: and

Gifts under $20.00

Vermont Nut Free Chocolates are a safe and delicious Valentine gift option.Vermont Nut Free Chocolates – now what child wouldn’t want chocolates – especially if its luscious milk & dark chocolate shaped like little bite sized hearts (wrapped in beautifully decorated foil)? It makes for a great gift for any man, woman, or child. You’ll find more than your heart can handle at Vermont Chocolates. There’s butter crunch, cookies, truffles, and more.

I received an assortment of chocolates (and a bag of Jelly beans) to try. The girls were more than thrilled to sink their teeth into the heart shaped chocolate-pops. After those were demolished, it was onto the bite sized heart candies. The jelly beans (in our home, we call them jelly bellies) were a huge hit for the whole family. We sat together at the table and munched away, chatting about all the flavors and trading for favorites.

ARP: Prices vary depending on the quantity
Available at:

Demeter Fragrances are a unique Valentine gift option for kids.Demeter Fragrances will change the way you think about perfumes, body sprays, and home sprays. From ice cream cones to chocolate covered cherries and Sweethearts to Hershey’s, kids (and grown-ups alike) will have a hard time deciding just what fragrance they’d like to call their very own.

Getting hooked on fragrances from Demeter is not hard to do. The prices are very affordable and the products make for a very unique and desired gift to those mad about sweets. Even if candy’s not your thing, they offer such a broad variety of smells that it’s virtually impossible to resist the temptations of purchasing a collection, or two. If a unique gift is what you’re looking for, Demeter has just what you need.

ARP: prices vary according to single and/or collection sets
Available at: and

Gifts under $10.00

Consider the Core Headphones Organizer as a great gift option for music lovers.Cable Organizer is the place to go online for ear phones, cables, connectors and other such accessories. Cable Organizer specializes in helping make those unsightly cords, cables, and connectors not so unsightly. Organization, after all, is the key to a happy place.

Pink cable earphones are also a lovely Valentine gift.I received a beautiful pink set of ear phones by iLuv along with The CORE headphone cord manager by Handstands. I would have never thought that a cord manager could make such a difference in someone’s mobility (on the move). After seeing the two gifts together, combining the cord manager with this cute pink pair of ear phones could get you a few unexpected kisses from your little music lover. My cheeks are still being rewarded.

Each is priced at: ARP $4.99
Available at: or by visiting the brand’s official Web site

Popular Hello Kitty is a great theme for your Valentine's gifts, especially with this cute Hello Kitty heart speaker.Hello Kitty Mini Heart Speakers are an amazingly cute Valentine gift idea for girls. This mini speaker fits into anything that plays sound or has an earphone connection. The sound that comes from this single speaker is amazing. It’s not muffled nor is the sound distorted in any way. It’s a gift that can be not only useful for them, but cute too.

My girls loved it, but, they couldn’t help it. They love, love, love Hello Kitty and boy, how they love their music. It has definitely been used more times than I can count. What’s funny is, I’ve even bought single speakers similar to this in the past, but they never got the same use or reaction that the Hello Kitty Mini Heart speaker got. In saying this, I can pretty much bet that it’ll be a big hit in your home, too.

ARP: $9.99
Available at:

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day and, from all of us here at Life Love Beauty, thanks for stopping by! I’m sure you’ll find the perfect gift, so don’t stress too much.

Products provided free to writer for review

Disclosure: Each company listed above provided product(s) as a sample of what they have to offer. With these products; I was able to form an opinion based on my use. I claim no liability for anyone who feels differently. Results may vary. Please go to sponsors’ official website for more information on the products of interest. Thank you.

Pearls of Wisdom from a Frequent Business Traveler

Research shows that 40-50% of business travelers are women. Many times each year, women dash out their front doors, luggage wheels spinning behind them, waving goodbye to their loved ones as they head out on another business trip.

Consider these pearls of wisdom on how to stay close with your family from a frequent traveler.I am part of this statistic. Last year I traveled 48 weeks of the year. During these 48 weeks, my husband managed the home front. My kids are grown now, but for the majority of their lives I have been a traveling businesswoman. I’ve learned a lot over the years on what works well and what doesn’t when it comes to keeping the connection strong while I’m away. For my fellow travelers, moms and wives, friends and daughters, I share my pearls of wisdom:


•    Communicate daily and dependably. Let your family know when you expect to call and do so. Get comfortable in your hotel room so you have private and quiet time to talk with your family. A hurried call from a loud restaurant ends up frustrating everyone.

•    Talk with each of your children when you call. This helps keep their stress level down when they know that you’ll be talking with them. When your kids know that you will be calling at a specific time, the number of frantic phone calls during the business day subsides. Kids rely on your word, so call when promised. This also reduces the panic attacks experienced when you see your home phone number on the caller-id of your cell phone while you are in a meeting and unable to answer.

•    Use to make a daily video call back home. Skype is a free Internet service for calling friends and family.

•    Create a family Web site or online community where you, your family, and friends can post updates, photos, and videos. This is a fun way to stay connected and especially fun for your kids.

•    Allow dad to be the CEO of the family while you are away. He may not manage the family the same way you do when you’re home, but he is now in charge. It only confuses your kids when they hear one thing from dad and another from you.

•    Talk with your spouse and take time to go over the events of the day at home. Listen to what he’s saying. For me, it’s too easy to be typing away on the Internet and listening with half an ear. Your spouse deserves both ears!

•    Keep in touch with friends and other family with a quick email when you have a few minutes, or a handwritten note you scribed while in flight. A few words of Hello help you stay connected, and help them not feel that you are too busy for them.

Home Life

•    Be realistic about what will happen at home while you’re gone. The house may not be cleaned the same, the chores not all done. Everyone’s routines get a bit out of whack when a parent is away. Treat yourself and hire a maid to come in on the day you are returning home. You’ll be ecstatic to come home to a squeaky-clean home, and your family will be happy that you can start focusing on them immediately.

•    When you get home from your trip, be appreciative. The two most important gifts you can bring home from a business trip are your gratitude and your willingness to jump right back into the fray. Put your work aside and focus on your family.

•    Resist the guilt gifts that so often end up in your suitcase. When Beanie Babies were the rage, I would scour every airport gift store to find the critters that my kids didn’t already have. It helped relieve my guilt of being away, but their thrill of a new stuffed animal lasted them only a moment before these got tossed in the pile with a hundred others. Not only did the cost add up with each week’s purchases, but I sent them a message that my travel was ‘special’ when I really wanted them to feel like all was just part of my normal job.

‘You’ Time

•    Enjoy part of your time away to have special time with yourself. Go out for a nice meal and a glass of wine, reflect and write in your journal, take a long peaceful bath. It’s easy to feel guilty at taking time for a bit of pleasure when you feel so sad about leaving your family at home, but it’s your time to recharge. And remember to give your partner the same opportunity to recharge once you return home.

•    Spend some time in gratitude and meditation. It is so easy to stress about delayed flights, awful shampoos, and all the other challenges that travel can bring. Instead be very grateful for the opportunity to travel to a new city, dine in new restaurants, and meet interesting people… it’s an opportunity that most people in this world do not have.

About the Expert:
Carol Margolis is a well-traveled businesswoman and speaker who has collected countless pearls of travel wisdom over many years. She shares these pearls of wisdom by offering free tools, resources and strategies to women who travel at Learn to ease the challenges of frequent travel and discover the joy that travel can bring!

Food Ideas for a Super Football Bash or Super Bowl® Party

Gathering a few friends together for an afternoon or evening of watching football can be a lot of fun, especially if you prepare a few delectable treats ahead of time. From dips and chips to quesadillas and flavorful chicken nuggets, Consider these great tips for a football party, Super Bowl party, or sports get-together.your fans will have plenty to satisfy their appetites while filling their eyes with football maneuvers on the field. Make sure that you take a look at the dessert ideas that will allow your guys to make a few football maneuvers of their own.

Start by setting up a clever football theme for your tasty treats with easy decorating ideas, a few football-themed tablecloths or paper products, and some yummy appetizers, desserts, and entrees. Not only can you use these suggestions for a Superbowl or football party on game day, but these ideas are terrific if you are planning a birthday party for any of the special guys in your life. For a flavorful alternative to getting takeout, try the following products for any of your football parties or tailgates. In fact, try them for your next Super Bowl® party and create a smash hit with your guests for using your pigskin theme.

Football Finger-food Appetizers
Score your own touchdown with Tyson’s appetizers. One good reason to try Tyson products besides the fact that they taste good is that you can use just a portion of the bag and save the rest for later. Plus, if you have kids, you do not need to use all of the sauce packet if you have finicky eaters.

For a tangy bit of zip, Tyson’s Sweet and Sour Chicken Nuggets give you just what you are looking for in a snack or meal. If you like spiciness, you should prepare Tyson’s General Tso’s chicken nuggets; not only are they easy-to-make, but they are easy-to-eat offering a strong full flavor.

Try Tyson Anytizers chicken bites for a football party or appetizer snack anytime.

If wings are your thing instead of nuggets, why not try Tyson’s General Tso’s chicken Wings or Tyson’s Crispy Breaded Wings with Citrus Fire Sauce. Both of these are flavorful and easy to prepare. Just be sure to put out plenty of napkins even though these are finger-licking good. For a traditional serving method set out forks or football toothpicks to keep up with your pigskin theme.

Try quesadillas made with Swanson chicken as a delicious football party snack or entree.For delicious quesadillas, use Swanson’s canned chicken, your favorite shredded cheese, sliced mushrooms, onions, sweet peppers, and whatever else your heart desires, or should I say stomach desires. Quesadillas are one of the popular dishes you can serve because they are easy to prepare and can be cut into small pieces and eaten easily as finger foods. For a bit of added zest, you can add in a tablespoon of salsa or a few pieces of Hormel pepperoni. This is a great way to use canned meat!

Hormel offers great snack foods like pepperoni and other treats.Hormel’s pre-sliced pepperoni is so easy to serve that it is a definite must have for any culinary quest or football party. Whether you want to serve a meat/cheese/cracker tray or toss a bit of flavor into a salad, quesadilla, dip, or Stromboli, Hormel’s pepperoni brings full flavor to the table just as the football players bring full force to the football field. Serve it at your Super Bowl or football party and please all of the fans at your home as well.

Veggie Patch products are perfect for those vegetarian sports fans in your life. This company offers a lot of tasty temptations so you have your pick of yummy spinach bites, broccoli bites, corn bites, portabella bites, broccoli and real cheddar cheese bites, spinach and three cheese bites, spinach and artichoke bites, and sweet corn and real mozzarella cheese bites.

Products provided free to writer for reviewFinger-food Snacks…

How to Plan an Annual Wine Tour

Plan an annual wine tour for lots of fun and great memories with your friends.Annual wine tours can be a truly memorable and exciting tradition for you and your friends to enjoy. Wine tours can bring together diverse groups of friends who may not otherwise have met. Even if you are a novice wine drinker, annual wine tours offer a great way to learn about what kinds of wine you like and what kinds of wine you don’t really enjoy.

If you would like to plan your own annual wine tour, you can easily do so as long as you are willing to put in the time and effort. Planning an annual wine tour surprisingly can be a lot like a project in and of itself. If you have any project management skills at all, you may find an easier time planning a wine tour than those who don’t have those skill sets. If you treat your wine tour as a multi-part project, you should be able to successfully plan an unforgettable wine excursion for your closest friends.

Consider these tips to help you plan your own annual wine tour.

Research All the Options for Planning your Wine Tour
If you’ve never planned a wine tour before now, take it easy and slow to avoid getting overwhelmed. There are a lot of steps to go into the planning of your wine tour. Research is the most time-consuming and most tiresome of the steps. Once you have completed all the research needed in planning your wine tour excursion, you will find the remaining pieces of the planning to be much easier.

First you need to research wine tour transportation companies, such as those offering a limo bus or a special wine tour bus, trolley, or other luxury vehicle. The tricky part of planning your wine tour transportation is knowing how large or small of a vehicle you need. Depending on your group size, you can consider chauffeured vehicles from a standard limo (or even a town car) to a huge, luxurious wine tour bus. Some wine tour limo buses even have a bathroom on the vehicle!

Sometimes you may find yourself waiting on your friends, delayed at making your transportation reservations. If this is the case, you can still call the different transportation companies to find out which one will give you the best deal. Sometimes you might be able to get a better deal than advertised, especially if you are willing to make a deposit right away. Be prepared to plunk down about $300 or so for a deposit to reserve your ride. You should probably wait to reserve your wine tour transportation until you hear back from enough friends to make a judgment call on the vehicle size, but do not wait so long that you lose out on reserving something altogether.

As far as researching the wineries in your desired wine tour itinerary, there are a few key questions to ask. Find out if the winery can accommodate a group of your size first and foremost. If you don’t know how many people are going on your wine tour, estimate for now. Next you should ask about any tasting fees or costs to your group if you should visit. You can always ask for more details, but these are the two main questions you should ask every winery that you call.

Determine the Budget, Guest Count, and Wine Tour Bus Size for your Event
To help you plan your guest list, guest count, and wine tour bus size, not to mention your budget, you can send out an evite or any method of invitation that you prefer. The evite method is nice because it offers you a chance to poll your guests, for example about food choices and whether people would like to continue the party when your wine tour concludes.

Ask your guests what their budget would be for the cost of the bus and any other relevant fees such as driver tip and winery tasting fees. If your guests are on a tight budget, and many may be due to the economy, you may have to scour the area for wineries with free tastings. If your guests have more of a budget, you may be able to look at the wineries more objectively and choose those that best suit your group.

A note on guests’ RSVPs – whenever possible, do whatever you can to collect your guests’ money for the wine tour in advance. This way if anyone should back out at the last minute, it will be on their own dime and not yours.

Require your guests to RSVP to your event by a certain day and time. This way, you can book your wine tour transportation sooner rather than later, ensuring that you have a limo bus or other vehicle to take you around to your chosen wineries. The earlier you plan in advance, the better chance you have to learn about all the deals and possibly save money, although there is something to be said for the luck of finding a company with an open date with available transportation at the last minute. You can usually get a decent discount in these cases.

Make Reservations for your Wine Tour Transportation and Preferred Wineries to Visit
While many of your pals may be procrastinators and may not want to get back to you very early on, you do need to make the reservations for your wine tour transportation as early as possible. Ask the wine tour vehicle’s company if you are able to change the size of your reserved vehicle if you end up with too many or not enough guests. Some companies may let you do so as long as a bigger or smaller vehicle is available.

Once you have the wine tour bus booked, take the time to call back any of the wineries that interested you. You need to make sure they can accommodate your group size and you should also let them know roughly what time to expect your group to arrive.

Plan out the Finishing Touches and Other Details
Once you have the wine tour bus booked, your winery itinerary settled, and your guest list finalized, congratulations – you are almost there. Here are a few tips to help you plan out the finishing touches and other details for your wine tour.

•    Plan at least one full meal and possible snacks for your day. Food placed in coolers tends to work well.

•    Ask guests to bring snacks, bottled water, and/or a bottle of wine on the bus. Drinking a little wine on the bus can be lots of fun between stops.

•    Consider ice breakers and other silly games to get your mixed group of friends interacting with each other.

•    Be careful and keep the safety of your friends and guests in the forefront. Do not let anyone drink and drive.

•    When you do visit a winery with free tastings, try to be as courteous as possible by buying a bottle or two of any types of wine that you liked.

Because your wine tour is a once-a-year event, you can probably justify paying a little more than you normally would for average weekend plans, but make sure you check on this with your guests. After you get one or two wine tours under your belt, you will be in great shape to continue planning the annual event indefinitely. Enjoy!

Moving on After Battling Cancer

Ovarian cancer is a deadly enemy. They call it a “silent killer” because the symptoms are so subtle and random that it’s not detected in many women until it’s far too late.

Author Sandra D. Bricker shares her experiences in moving on after battling cancer.I went through a very long period of time without connecting the dots between irregular (and sometimes non-existent) periods, bloating, abdominal pain, changes in frequency and urgency of urination, and unexplained pelvic discomfort. I treated these symptoms autonomously, never even thinking about them being related to a larger problem. When one of the doctors finally went looking, she quickly told me that I had stage 1 uterine cancer. “Not a problem, very treatable, no worries.”

My spirit just felt … unsettled. There was something more. When I voiced my concern, it was met with ambivalence. The CA-125 blood test, the one and only detection tool for ovarian cancer, had been negative … so why was I so worried?

After my first surgery, however, the revelation came that there was indeed something more. I had ovarian cancer, and it had already advanced to stage 3. This report was followed by more surgeries, five weeks of daily radiation treatments, and several days in the hospital for radiation implants. It was grueling, it was frightening, and it felt like forever.

I’ll never forget the day when my oncologist stood across from me, grinning. “You did it, kiddo. You’re cancer free.”

Of course, my initial reaction was elation. I’d been waiting for more than a year of my life for someone to say those words to me. I muttered them repeatedly on the drive home that day until they seemed to take the form of a prayer of thanksgiving. “Cancer free. I’m cancer free. I am cancer free!”

But here’s what they never tell you: You’ve just spent months of your life in a routine of treatment, in a battle stance, fighting this silent warrior that came at you out of nowhere. You’ve surrounded yourself with a certain circle of professionals and support. You’ve spent most of your days and weeks thinking about the battle, planning it, waging it. And now someone you’ve come to depend upon is looking at you, telling you to fly from the nest. Go ahead. You’re on your own now!

After the elation wears away, the next phase is a sort of numbness. And a big neon question blinking over your life: What now?

Kim Snyder is a member of Ovacome, the Tampa support group for those afflicted, and she works as a systems engineer for a computer distributor. At the age of 41, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “I had the textbook symptoms,” she says, “and I was misdiagnosed by three different doctors.”

After her last CAT scan, Linda Kraft, also a member of Ovacome, was told that she was N.E.D. (No Evidence of Disease). “I remember struggling with the feelings of total ecstasy and quite a bit of nervousness,” she says. “During the past five months, I had done everything I could do to be cancer free. I had a great surgeon, followed my chemo regimen, ate right, made myself exercise … and now that it was done and I had a clear scan, I kept thinking, ‘Now what?’”

The thing about ovarian cancer is that, even after you’re considered cured, there are these frightening statistics hanging over your head about a high percentage of recurrence within the first five years. You can’t help yourself. The thought is almost always there.

“With every pain, fatigue, or weird feeling,” says Kraft, IS IT BACK? pops up.” But as she returned to her normal routine over the next months, the thoughts came less often.

Another member of the Ovacome group, Carole Martinez, put it to me this way: “I was totally unprepared for the angst that occurred after the treatments had been completed. I no longer felt that I or my doctors was being proactive, and I felt like my lifeline had been removed.”

I identified with that reaction so much!

When I was asked to write a comedy about the process of turning fifty, all of those same feelings came rushing back to me. 50 was already barreling toward me when I was finally declared cancer free, and I was almost paralyzed with questions about how to move on. So I did what every writer does best: I wrote about it. And then I turned it on its ear the way I like to do with most everything, and I made it funny. It was a little like therapy as I wrote Olivia’s story, and walked in the sands of Sanibel Island, Florida, right next to her as she considered how on earth she was going to move on after ovarian cancer. But as Olivia found her way in her new world, I am happy to report: So did I.

January 8th, 2010, marked six years cancer free for me! There are no guarantees about my future. It turns out that ovarian cancer can still recur after your ovaries are long gone. This seems wrong to me, but it’s a fact. There is still no reliable diagnostic tool; there is no cure. But I don’t think every day about it coming back any more. And I don’t ignore even the most subtle sets of symptoms. I’m vigilant about my check-ups, and I raise money to fund the research against this disease at every opportunity.

Like Olivia Wallace in The Big 5-OH!, I am thankful for balmy breezes, white-capped ocean waves, and the promise of everything ahead of me. I can only hope that there’s a happy ending written for me, too.

*  *  *  *  *

The Big 5-OH! © 2010 Abingdon Press
The Big 5-OH! © 2010 Abingdon Press by Sandra D. BrickerOlivia Wallace can’t remember a birthday that wasn’t marked by illness, tragedy or both. And now, as she emerges victorious over cancer and approaches The Big Five-Oh, she is determined to change her course. Better late than never, right? That’s what Liv believes when she leaves a snowy Ohio winter behind and runs away to Florida to regroup. Amidst a crazy cast of characters that include a dog with a lampshade collar, a rogue alligator and a flirtatious octogenarian, Liv finds the biggest birthday surprise of all … A second chance at love.

Sandra D. Bricker has been publishing in both the Christian and general market for years with novels for women and teens, magazine articles and short stories. With 11 novels in print and 4 more slated for publication through 2011, Sandie has carved out a niche for herself as an author of laugh-out-loud comedy for the inspirational market. Last year’s Love Finds You in Snowball, Arkansas garnered three readers’ choice award nods. Sandie was an entertainment publicist in Hollywood for 15+ years and now lives in Tampa, Florida. To keep up with her blog, readers can visit

Read the first three chapters of The Big 5-OH!

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The Big 5-OH! hits bookstore shelves in February 2010, and a portion of the author’s proceeds will be donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.

How To Snag Quality Time With Your Doctor

Try these tips to gain more quality time with your doctor.We’ve all had the frustration of walking out of our doctor’s office and realizing that we haven’t addressed all the problems that led to the doctor visit or haven’t had all our questions answered – sometimes because we weren’t organized enough, sometimes because we simply didn’t have enough time with the doctor.

Financially, we’d like to get all our healthcare ‘in-network’ – with doctors who participate with our health plan, so that we need part with only a relatively small co-pay for the visit.  It’s important to realize, however,  that  the participating doctor has discounted his fees in order to participate and has had to add staff and equipment in order to handle the paperwork and phone calls generated by the insurance companies.  When you consider the increasing cycle of skyrocketing costs and decreasing reimbursements,  you can see that participating doctors must see more and more patients daily – spending less and less time with each.

If you’re lucky enough to have a policy which covers out of network healthcare, and you want more time with the doctor, then choose a physician who does not accept insurance.  Do check to see how long the doctor spends for a complete exam and for a short office visit, to see if that scheduling better suits your needs than an in-network doctor.  You’ll probably have to pay up-front, submitting the claims to your insurance company and waiting to be reimbursed.

Whichever system you choose, make sure to maximize your time with your doctor:

Try these tips to gain more quality time with your doctor.•    On your first visit, give the doctor a detailed medical history – preferably typed, and including your allergies, past surgeries and serious illnesses, family medical history and a list of all your medications, including dietary supplements and other over-the-counter products – even if you don’t use them regularly (in fact, you should always carry that list of medications in your wallet, along with your doctor’s business card, in case of emergency); on subsequent visits, always give the doctor an updated list of those medications.

•    Take with you a careful list of all your issues, placing first the most important ones – try not to get distracted from that list.  It can be helpful if you give the doctor a copy of that list at the beginning of the visit.  If you need prescription refills, be sure to give the doctor a list of those needs at the beginning of the visit.

•    Make sure prevention is on your list.

•    Whatever the assistant says when putting you in the exam room, be sure to undress sufficiently to make it easy for the doctor to examine the area(s)of concern

•    When the doctor explains the diagnosis and recommendations, make sure you understand by repeating back in your own words

•    When given prescriptions, check that the new medications don’t interact unfavorably with your usual regimen, ask for expected side effects and what to do should they occur

Before leaving the office, check with the staff to find out to handle problems that come up between visits:

•    What to do in an emergency, including finding out which hospital emergency department to go to if necessary

•    Is the doctor available for emergencies outside of regular office hours – and if not, what arrangements have been set up?

•    What to do with easier but important problems:

o    Is there a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant to call?
o    Does the doctor have regular times set aside for telephone calls?
o    Can you email in your questions  – and if so, what’s the expected turn-around time?
o    What’s the procedure for getting prescription refills?

Being super-organized will help you get the most out of your doctor visits.  If, however, you find that even this doesn’t give you the time you need to fulfill your medical needs, it’s time to consider changing doctors!

About the Expert:
Dr. Margaret Lewin is Medical Director of Cinergy Health. For more information about Cinergy Health, please see

Top 10 Home Improvements to Make When You Don’t Plan to Move for a While

Remodel your bathroom for better quality of life in your home and a better resale value.If you are planning to live in your home for quite a while, the home improvements you choose to make can embrace your own sense of style. If you don’t plan to move anytime soon, you can make various home improvements to enhance your quality of life in your home while also increasing the future resale value of your house and property.

When you want to make improvements to your home, think about the most important elements to you and your family. Decide if you would like to make improvements to the inside or the outside of your home. Consider these top 10 home improvements to make when you don’t plan to move for a while.

1.    Introduce new landscaping – New plants, shrubs, flowers, and trees are great for curb appeal. If you work on your landscaping over a couple years living in your house, you will be able to create a beautiful backdrop for your home.

Consider installing hardwood floors in your home while you still plan to live there and enjoy them.2.    Redo your front walkway – A new front walkway, especially one with pavers, can instantly change the look of a home while adding curb appeal.

3.    Install hardwood floors – Hardwood floors are a bonus for many people, whether in older homes or new construction. They’re also nice to enjoy while you live there.

4.    Upgrade your kitchen – An upgraded kitchen can seriously increase the resale value of your home while also improving your cooking and eating experiences.

5.    Enhance your bathroom with luxury
– A luxurious bathroom remodeling can also greatly enhance your home’s resale price while making your daily life more enjoyable. Consider a soaking tub, ceramic tile or real stone, or even heated floors.

6.    Put in a patio – A patio can be a great addition for entertaining and enjoying a meal outside, but it also enhances the atmosphere of your home and property.

7.    Add an addition – If you need extra space or if you’ve always dreamed of expanding or enhancing your home, go for it while you still have a chance to enjoy the fruits of your efforts.

Add landscaping to your home for instant curb appeal and a great feeling about living there.8.    Finish the basement – Whether a family recreation room, a man cave, or a wine cellar, a finished basement adds a lot of value to your home in the future and the present. Enjoy special time in your finished basement with your family, spouse, or friends.

9.    Install new siding
– New siding installation can be quite the big expense. Making this kind of investment may be more manageable when you plan to live in your current home for a while.

10.     Install new windows – High quality and new windows can help keep your heating bill from going through the roof by improving efficiency. Consider installing new windows while you still live there so you can enjoy them.

Some other home improvements you might make when the time comes include replacing your roof and repaving your driveway. Depending on the number of years you live in your house, you may be able to get away with not replacing these elements of your home and leaving them for the next family to handle.

Best Places to Travel or Have Your Honeymoon in February

Escape the cold in February and travel to these tropical destinations instead.February is a romantic month for honeymoons and vacation getaways. This month is the shortest of the year, but also one of the coldest and most volatile when it comes to winter storms in the northern hemisphere. Taking a holiday in February and spending some time on vacation, whether for an anniversary, babymoon, honeymoon, or just a regular old vacation can be a thrilling change from a typical February at home.

Despite being such a short month, February offers a variety of special dates to consider for your vacation. You can plan a romantic getaway over Valentine’s weekend or an entire week encompassing the feted love day. You might also consider President’s weekend, which often gives you a free paid day off from work, but counters with busy airports and slow transportation services.

Try these exotic locations for your February vacation.February also shines bright with leap year once every four years – making it a great reason to travel by tradition. Plan a special February vacation over every leap year so you can really look forward to a bigger, better getaway every four years.

Consider the following top February honeymoon hotspots and travel getaway destinations to help you plan your winter vacation.

Top February Travel Destinations and Honeymoon Getaways

Consider these top places to visit for your honeymoon or vacation in February.1.    Aruba
2.    Australia
3.    Bahamas
4.    Belize
5.    Caribbean Islands
6.    Costa Rica
7.    Curacao
8.    Jamaica
9.    Kenya
10.    Maldives
11.    Mexico
12.    New Zealand
13.    Thailand

* Destinations suggested by Joyce Scardina Becker, CMP, wedding designer and president of Events of Distinction

If traveling during Valentine’s Day or if you’re hoping to have a romantic trip, especially for your honeymoon, don’t forget to inquire with your hotel about any romance packages they may have available. You can also pack your own bubble bath and candles, buy some champagne when you get there, and relax while watching the sunset on the beach.

Once you’ve selected your special February vacation destination, be sure to plan your trip with enough advanced notice that you can work out the details for meals, activities, and more. Pack according to the weather for February at your honeymoon or vacation destination, but don’t forget to pack or wear something warm if you live in a colder climate this time of year.

Top 10 Exciting Weekend Getaways for Families

Sneaking away for a full week with your family can be a challenge when school’s in session, so planning a few weekend getaways for families may be just the ticket. Weekend getaways for families allow you to take a trip with your spouse and kids for a relaxing or exciting change from the daily grind. You can enjoy family oriented weekend getaways any time of year, whether in the hot sun or the snowy winter. Consider your family’s favorite things to plan the perfect kind of weekend getaways for families.

Planning a series of smaller weekend getaways for families or even extended weekend trips can help tide you over and get you through the year until summer vacation and Christmas vacation when you can plan a much longer family vacation. Depending on the ages of your kids, different activities and different themed family weekend getaways may be better suited for your own family. Consider the following top 10 exciting weekend getaways for families to give you a few ideas for your own weekend family vacations.

Top 10 Weekend Getaways for Families

1.    Amusement Park – A trip to a nearby amusement park makes one of the most perfect weekend getaways for families. No matter where your family lives, you are sure to have a great amusement park within driving distance. Some popular amusement parks for families include Sesame Place, Knoebels, Six Flags Great Adventure, Hershey Park, Cedar Point Amusement Park, Legoland, Busch Gardens, and of course, Disneyland and Walt Disney World, among countless others.

2.    Historical Site – A historical site like Gettysburg, PA, or Williamsburg, VA, can be educational yet still one of the more exciting weekend getaways for families and couples alike. Historical sites often provide countless opportunities for exploring, which is a great activity for families with kids of all ages. You can also expand your short family vacation to include camping, relaxing by the pool, or any number of non-historical activities.

3.    Lake or Mountain Retreat – A lakeside or mountain retreat can give your family some relaxing time together or an adventure all in one. Lakeside and mountain vacation getaways often offer opportunities for fishing, hiking, camping, waterskiing, boating, and so much more. Plan activities on this fun family weekend getaway that best suit your family’s interests and you’ll be sure to have an amazing time.

4.    Beach / Seashore Getaways for Families – Every child should experience the seashore weekend getaway with the family. Collecting seashells, playing in the sand, jumping in the waves, playing miniature golf, and eating ice cream – the memories truly are worth whatever distance it takes you to get to this great weekend getaway for families.

5.    National Park / Landmark – Weekend getaways for families to visit a cool destination like a national park or national landmark can be an unforgettable vacation, especially for your kids. A long weekend to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, or any of the national sites might be the perfect weekend getaway for your family this year.

Five more weekend getaways for families…

Cervical Cancer: Overview, Cause, Prevention, and Screening

Check out these tips on cervical cancer screening, prevention, and cause.Last year, 11,270 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed and another 1.2 million women will develop dysplasia, a condition which left untreated will turn into cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a malignancy that develops in tissues of the cervix: the organ which connects the uterus to the vagina. It is preventable, slow-growing (so that it can be detected and cured early in its course), and is nearly always caused by infection from the human papilloma virus (HPV).

Cause: Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV – a highly contagious virus which can be transmitted easily by skin to skin and sexual contact.

• At least half of all sexually active Americans contract HPV during their lifetimes
• About 20 million Americans between the ages of 15 and 50 carry the virus.
• There are more than 100 types of HPV – of which more than a dozen (termed “high risk types”) can cause cervical cancer.
• Most often, a person’s immune system kills off the virus without intervention
• Exposure to high risk types of HPV is more likely to lead to cancerous changes of the cervix in women who smoke or whose immune system is impaired.

Prevention: Cervical cancer can be prevented by:
• Having no intimate contact with either men or other women
• Obtaining the HPV vaccine – which can immunize against two high risk types of HPV (types 16 and 18), which cause about 70% of cervical cancers. It is given as a series of three injections over a period of six months. The vaccine is now FDA-approved for females and males between the ages of 9 and 26, although many physicians recommend the vaccine up to age 50 for sexually active women and men who have sex with men.
• Screening and treatment for early evidence of pre-malignant changes to the cervix

Screening: The “pap smear” (Papanicolaou test) is used to screen for cervical cancer as part of the gynecological examination. It can reveal early, pre-malignant changes to the cervix. It is done by gently scraping the cervix with a wooden or plastic spatula and then by inserting a very small brush into the opening of the cervix. The cells thus obtained are then evaluated by a commercial laboratory. For maximum accuracy, your provider should be submitting a liquid-based preparation (not the old-fashioned smear submitted on glass slides). The same cells can be evaluated for the presence of HPV.

Lately, when and how often to screen has become controversial. Consensus among the various guideline commissions is still pending, but it is likely that recommendations will be as follows:
• The first Pap test should be done at Age 21, then repeated every two years.
• At age 30, the Pap test and HPV screen (done using the same cells collected for the Pap) should be done; if both are negative and you’ve had at least three consecutive normal Pap smears, screening can be reduced to every three years.

If the Pap is normal but high risk HPV is present, Paps should be repeated at least yearly.

If the Pap is abnormal, further testing is necessary – starting with ‘colposcopy’. This procedure starts like a regular gynecologic examination, with the speculum inserted into the vagina. The doctor then brushes a material on the cervix to highlight any abnormal areas. The ‘colposcope’ – a large microscope positioned about a foot away – shines light into the vagina so the abnormal areas can be seen through the microscope. These areas are then biopsied and evaluated by a special laboratory.

Note: You should continue to see your doctor at least yearly for general gynecologic check-ups, even though the Pap test might be done less frequently.

Of all cancers, cervical cancer is almost unique in that it is preventable. Ask your healthcare provider whether you should consider the HPV vaccine.  Cervical cancer can be detected early, treated, and cured. Ask your provider how frequently you should be screened.

About the Expert:
Dr. Margaret Lewin is Medical Director of Cinergy Health. For more information about Cinergy Health, please see