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Stay Sexy: Emma Lai shares her story

If you follow author/publisher Emma Lai at all – and I do – you know she’s come through some tough times that have helped shape the power and depth of her stories. What I did not know, until I ran across it on Facebook a few weeks ago, was this:

“Want to know my life goal? Help 10 people become better, healthier people. Will I ever succeed? I don’t know, but I keep trying.”

I just knew there was a story there, and I’m pleased she’s willing to share it as part of our occasional Stay Sexy column, where my husband and I focus helping others stay vibrant, healthy, excited and sexy across the life cycle.

Adriana: For starters, could you tell us how long this has been your goal?

Emma: The day I wrote that was a couple of days after I had the thought, but if you ask my dad, it’s been my lifelong goal to make everyone around me happy. He was always telling me while I was growing up that I couldn’t please everyone. On its face, that statement could be read to mean that I wanted people to like me so I’d bend over backwards; but for as long as I can remember, I just wanted everyone around me to be as happy as I am (for the most part. I have my bad days, too.).

Adriana: And of course the next question is how it got started – what happened that made you take up this cause?

Emma: I’m a very empathic person, as opposed to just sympathetic. Sympathetic means you feel bad for other’s misfortunes. Empathic means you feel as if those misfortunes are your own as much as the other person’s. So being prone to mild depression, it behooves me to keep those I care about as healthy as possible because I can’t help but adopt their woes, which could send me deeper into depression—a place I prefer not to be.

Adriana: I’m assuming since you want to help others be “better, healthier people” that you have the same goal in your own life. What’s the story there – when, why?

Emma: I’m just now coming to terms with this, but I suffered from PTSD from traumatic delivery and postpartum depression for years. My son, who is four now, didn’t sleep much as an infant and toddler and then around 18 months went through a development reversal. (And yeah, people obviously thought autism, but it’s way more complicated a story than slapping so simple a label on it.) Anyway, my depression didn’t cause me to not want to take care of him, but rather I was hyper-aware of him and only him and doing whatever was necessary to help him overcome his obstacles. Needless to say, I had no thought for myself. I hardly slept; I ate junk; I didn’t exercise; and I ended up weighing as much as I did right before I gave birth to him—that’s an extra fifteen pounds of weight I didn’t need.

By the time he turned three, I was thirty-eight and got winded walking up one flight of stairs. My arrhythmia was making itself known. Anxiety and panic attacks were becoming my constant companions. I realized if I didn’t start taking care of myself I might not be around to fight for my son anymore. (Think I’m overreacting? Look up heart attacks for women.) Not to mention I didn’t relish the thought of leaving my wonderful, kind, caring husband to be a single parent.

So I decided to start taking care of myself. No one could do that for me. I had to realize that. I had to love myself as much as I loved everyone else.

Adriana: Wow. That’s a profound awareness – and no, not overreacting one iota.

Could you share the components of your own health regimen – exercise? Diet? Meditation? What’s key for you?

Emma: All of it is key. It’s not just enough to eat right or exercise or be self-aware. We are complex creatures and for balance, we need both physical and mental exercise, and it needs to be fueled with good food.

I started by cutting out any foods with high fructose corn syrup and sodas—that stuff is super-addictive and changes the entire way my taste buds functioned—and got out and walked (which is also when I would think about myself and how I was feeling and what I wanted out of life, etc) and started doing 10 minutes of Pilates every other day—two things I enjoy. That’s key—finding things to do you enjoy because it’s hard enough to stay motivated.

Nowadays, I try to eat fresh as often as possible, but I do allow myself indulgences. Perfection isn’t the goal, but rather feeling better. I can run a 5K. I still do Pilates, though it’s up to a 30- or 40-minute routine, and I lift weights.

Adriana: You started exactly where I did – cutting out the sugar, walking, and identifying which higher-energy aerobic activities you would enjoy. I agree. All of it is key.

I’m always looking for the bottom line – what keeps you motivated? What’s the one thing that keeps you going when you don’t feel like staying on top of your regimen?

Emma: This is a real tough one. (I just had a conversation with my sister’s boyfriend about this a couple of days ago. He’s in his mid-twenties and works out every day.) Even knowing my health is on the line and that my family needs me healthy sometimes aren’t enough.

Nike’s slogan fits well here: Just Do It. Even when I don’t feel like it, just starting the process kicks in the body’s muscle memory and once I get started I can’t stop until I reach the end. Though I’ll freely admit to reducing sets or time if my body’s not feeling it. (I listen to my body. It reduces the risk of injury. If something doesn’t feel right, I stop.)

Adriana: I’m with you, though my slogan is slightly different: Just start. Just begin. I have a warm-up and stretch routine that begins with simply standing in place and swinging my arms. Once you’ve started moving, it’s so much easier to keep going.

If you had one single piece of advice for others who struggle with this, what would it be?

Emma: Stop thinking of all the reasons you can’t do something and find the reasons that you can. Loving yourself enough to realize you can and should come first isn’t being selfish, it’s being smart–only you can do what needs to be done to get yourself healthy.

Adriana: Have you written a character who faces any of these same issues? Tell us about him or her.

Emma: I haven’t written any characters as complex as what I feel like I’ve been through because like I said, I’m just now coming to grips with all my issues. Maybe as time goes on and there’s a little more distance between me and the rawness of those emotions, I’ll be able to capture it in a story and do the character justice.

For now, most of my heroines are sexually self-aware and self-confident to a degree (much how I recall myself pre-pregnancy), but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their insecurities. People often don’t act the way they feel. We live in our heads a lot. I love writing because it gives me a chance to show others that people shouldn’t always be judged on the face of their actions; if you really want to know someone, you have to delve deeper than the surface.

AT Least Once MoreAnnabelle from At Least Once More was one of my favorite heroines to write. She’s coming into her own and brave enough to admit her attraction to an ineligible man, inexperienced enough to not know how to fight it, and smart enough to realize when the right man comes along. Some readers have hated her, calling her a slut, but to me, she’s so very real.

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Adriana: And of course our readers would love a brief bio and your web links.

Emma: I like nothing more than a challenge. I’ve been an engineer in the oil services industry, worked in education at a military boarding school for high school and junior college students, owned an engineering consulting company, and now run a small digital press.

I write because it keeps me sane. I hear voices and if I don’t purge them, they nag me. The characters are very insistent about me remaining faithful to their individual adventures, and as a result, I write a range of genres and levels of heat.

send email to EmmaLai@emmalaiwrites.com
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And here’s my question to readers: how do you know when whatever you’re doing is enough? I never think I’m doing enough, but that’s a lot of pressure to be under all the time. That’s my latest project brought about by my endeavor to be self-aware, realizing when I’ve done enough.

 

Stay sexy ~ Stay Curious!

We all know the brain is the most important sex organ – so today’s Stay Sexy column is about keeping your brain supple, happy, engaged and excited. In short, exercising your brain!

It’s one of those basic use-it-or-lose-it phenomena – the more we stay interested, curious, open to new situations and eager to learn, the healthier our brains will be. “Anything that closely engages your focus and is strongly rewarding… will kick your brain into learning mode and necessarily notch it up,” according to a recent article.

So today I’m going to share our newest curiosity – the Saguaro Cactus, Arizona’s famous trademark cactus with its arms pointing to the sky. It’s new to me. I’ve never (before) lived where they grow and hardly ever traveled where they were common. But for the month of March, we’ve parked our motorhome at an RV park in the Sonoran desert west of Tucson, Arizona. The edge of our park opens onto desert trails that lead to Tucson Mountain Park and beyond it, Saguaro National Park.

We’ve started hiking those trails – a mile and a half yesterday, two miles today. We can observe the entire life cycle of the Saguaro on our wanderings. Yesterday, under the protection of a Palo Verde tree (which is a story for another day), we found a virtual Saguaro nursery. The baby cactus plants need just enough protection from the occasional freezing temperatures in this region that they thrive best with a little shelter. There must have been over a dozen “babies” under this tree, ranging from less than an inch to over a foot.

These two babies in the middle of the photo are two or three inches tall – a year or two old.

You can see the green “bark” of the Palo Verde tree in the upper left. It’s hard to find, but in the lower left corner are the spines of a very tiny baby, only half an inch tall. A one-foot Saguaro is on the right side of the photo.

Saguaros typically don’t grow their arms until they’re several decades old. The arms are needed for the blossoms – night-opening blooms pollinated by bats. The cactus can grow as tall as 70 feet and live as long as 150 years.

 

Hubs is just under six feet tall, and the Saguaro on the left is rooted in a gully behind him, so it’s close to thirty feet tall. We don’t know what anomoly caused the arms in the lefthand cactus in the next photo to grow straight out instead of up – winds? Drought? Genetic variation?

At the other end of the life cycle, we saw the carcasses of several of these fallen giants, their outer shells long gone and their long white inner spines exposed and lying in a log-like pile. Those spines are what holds the water – up to several tons, in a large cactus, able to sustain life through the long desert droughts.

When our Tucson friends first told us about hiking in the desert, I’ll confess it didn’t sound very inviting to me – I’m used to hiking in forests, surrounded by trees. But both of us are falling in love with this desert and its impressive diversity. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about it in future posts.

Have fun, and Stay Sexy!

 

Stay Sexy ~ What do you Reach For?

Not what you’re thinking, probably – today I’m talking about the healthy eating part of staying sexy, with some tips on satisfying substitutes you can reach for when you bump up against a craving for something you know isn’t good for you.

Caveat: I am not a dietician. I’m sharing what works for hubs and myself, things we’ve learned by trial and error and a little advice from our friends.

We all know one of the biggest threats to healthy eating is the list of favorite foods we should hardly ever eat – the things we need to cut way back on if we want to keep our bodies fit and energized and – of course – sexy. Do you struggle with cravings for some of those things? We do – so here are some alternatives we’ve come up with:

I love chips and dips – especially taco chips. But I want to avoid the empty calories of simple carbs whenever possible. I’ve just discovered Trader Joe’s Quinoa and Black Bean infused Tortilla Chips. Compared to most ordinary corn taco chips, there’s less fat, double the fiber, and fabulous southwest flavor. Very hearty and satisfying, goes with my favorite hummus perfectly.

Speaking of hummus: Did you know it makes a tasty sandwich spread? Use it in place of mayonnaise, to add even more healthy legumes to your diet. Far less fat, more fiber and protein, too.

Another great chips substitution – popcorn! Nutritionally, it’s lower fat, higher fiber (twice as much per serving), and fewer calories than potato chips. At our house we air-pop it, then add a tiny taste of butter: 1 teaspoon for the entire batch, or 1.8 grams of fat per serving, and just a touch of salt. Hot out of the microwave, it’s very satisfying.

Ice cream? Not even on my radar, since I can’t eat dairy products – but my husband, as a cardiac patient, has become very fond of Greek yogurt, from the dairy case or frozen. Higher in protein, lower in fat, and (if you pay attention to the nutrition label and select carefully) lower in overall sugar. His favorite? Chobani Dark Cherry Greek Yogurt: Half the sugar of the equivalent amount of ice cream, zero fat, and three times as much protein.

Here’s a LINK to more “reach for this” tips I shared last March. What is your worst unhealthy food craving, and what healthy substitutions have you come up with? We’d love to hear from you!

Have fun, and Stay Sexy!

 
© 2014 Adriana Kraft. All Rights Reserved.