Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: "The Darkest Minds"

"The Darkest Minds" by Alexandra Bracken is a wonderfully complex science fiction novel. At some point in the future, the youth of American are struck with a horrible disease. The outcome is either death or the development of an extrasensory power. America takes swift action as this deadly disease sweeps the nation. Unfortunately, it isn't the death toll that is the true tragedy; it is the treatment of those who survive.

The novel explores the futures of a handful of those youth: Ruby who is taken to a "rehabilitation" camp and lives there for six long years, Liam who masterminds a breakout at a less secure facility, Chubs who would have been destined for greatness had the epidemic not occurred and Suzume who at the tender age of 11 tragically became mute as she struggled to face a future as a freak on the run.

The plot is full of twists and turns. The book remains a page turner right to the very last page. I don't know if it is intended to be the first book of a series, but I do know that I'd love to read more and find out what happens next! At the same time, there was enough conclusion to make it a satisfactory standalone story.

Characterization was both a strength and a weakness. Some of the characters, particularly Ruby, Liam and Chubs are very well developed and three dimensional. Others leave me wondering if I really know them at all. Of course, if it is a series there may be more to come to fill me in on the missing pieces. I haven't even begun to think of themes. This is a plot intense story, and I think the themes may bubble up as I ponder plot elements in the next few days.

This dystopian science fiction book does portray some characters as quite evil. Again, I think additional novels in the series might create more realistic characterizations. It is odd to think that some modern articles might paint stories several volume works right from the beginning. I am not opposed to it, but as a writer myself, I have always heard that you should never pitch a first novel as part of a series, and I wonder if the publishing world is moving in a new direction.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Reviews: Maggot Moon & Rootless

Reading Nook
This is my reading nook where I do a lot of my reading. I like to read here in the late afternoons watching the sun play across the yard, and the shadows lengthen. Recently, I picked up four dystopian, young-adult novels that I wasn't familiar with. I have finished first two and am working my way through the third.

"Maggot Moon" by Sally Gardner had an interesting enough plot premise to get me to bring it home in spite of the awful name. Standish Treadwell lives in an America that is quite different than the one we know. Although the author never states the foundation of the society, many clues make it seem that the book takes place in an America that might have existed if the Nazis had won World War II.

The prose of the book has a sing-song quality the mimics the wandering mind of the main character, who can't read or write, but who is really quite bright. Standish lives with his grandfather and deals daily with bullies at school as well as general fears from being somewhat of an oddity in a totalitarian state. The book moves back and forth between incidents in the past and the present which continues to move forward.

I really wanted to like this book. It had a good premise and a great plot and some terrific characters. I was able to move past the prose which isn't really my style but is OK for the tone of the book. My problem was the level of evil in the society. It didn't feel realistic. The book really wasn't desolate, and there was certainly hope, but bad things happened on a level that didn't quite feel right. Of course, you could say the Holocaust was a bad thing that happened on a level that certainly doesn't feel right, but in my head, I still see the villians of the Holocaust as people. The villains in this book were not people to me; they were simply evil monsters. I would think characters like Standish and his grandfather might try to think more outside the box.

The second book was "Rootless" by Chris Howard. This book was a winner. It had unique a plot, three dimensional, well-developed characters, thoughtful themes, and just the right flow to keep me pulled in to the story.

A couple of quotes to share:

"Because even when there is no hope, somehow you can still find a place to pin inside the things that you need."

"It was sort of beautiful. In its own horrible way. And I remembered what I'd said to Crow about heaven and hell and how they're maybe just the same thing anyway. Glory and hunger. Fear and love. All looped together so there's no place where one ends and the next one's beginning."

Now I am reading "The Darkest Minds" by Alexandra Bracken, and I should have a review up for that in a few days. All three of these books were pretty dark, and I have a problem with that. I think when people in books start looking too evil, it is time to step back and make sure we are showing reality instead of painting a portrait of a future no one wants.

View From My Reading Nook

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pesto Pasta Salad

Summer has arrived, and it the time for grilling and slow roasting meats in the crockpot and accompanying both with cold summer salads. Here is a favorite pesto pasta-tossed salad which is great for a bit of a change.

8 ounces rotini
1/3 cup pesto sauce (I buy it cheap at Aldi; homemade would be fine too!)
1/2 cup grated parmesan-romano blend, plus a bit extra for topping
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk (I use 2%.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 head romaine, torn into bite size pieces
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup black olive, halved
4 ounces mozzarella, cubed
4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Cook the pasta. Drain it, and let it sit in the colander to dry for a bit. (I usually let it sit about 30 minutes while I chop and prepare the rest of the ingredients.) Toss the pasta with 4 tablespoons of pesto sauce until pasta is well coated. Toss in the parmesan-romano. Set aside.

Whisk together the rest of the pesto sauce, mayonnaise, sour cream, milk, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Toss together the romaine, tomatoes, olives and mozzarella. Add the pasta and toss lightly. Add the dressing and toss until lettuce glistens. Sprinkle with pine nuts and additional parmesan-romano.

Friday, May 24, 2013

How I Spent My 46th Birthday

Birthday Morning

9:00 a.m. I hopped out of bed fairly well-rested. I slept in! I am pretty excited because I have been having my usual spring insomnia, and the previous three nights I wasn’t able to sleep until after 3, woke frequently and still woke by 8. I recorded my weight in Diet Power. Time to head into the bathroom to brush my teeth and take a shower. The house is quiet. Even JoAnn isn’t up!

10:00 a.m. I have finished my usual morning hygiene routine. Diana woke up after my shower, and then, when I came back into the living room, JoAnn was up with joyful happy birthday wishes. The sun popped out to play with me for a moment. I have some water, but it’s time to make the coffee!


JoAnn with Brithday Greetings


11:00 I spent a few moments finishing my water and reading my facebook happy birthday posts! I tried to get some music queued up through youtube, but it keeps crashing. Coffee is started. Laundry is started. I took down the portion of yesterday’s laundry that is dry (it was hanging in the living room) and folded it and put some away. Josie put hers away, and Ant’s and Lia’s are waiting in neat piles on the table for them to get up! I made Diana some iced coffee, and I have mine here hot. I am getting hungry! It is hard to believe that it is already 11:00. That is what happens when you sleep late!


Diana with Her Coffee

12:00 Breakfast is made, & Lia is up! Josie took a shower. I did some housework. I have some more housework to do, & I want to start some bun dough in the bread machine for dinner. My favorite dinner buns will be my birthday treat!

2:30 OK, I got sidetracked. I opened my email, and there were writing jobs to be done so I started in on those. While I was working, we had a huge thunderstorm! I hope the sun returns soon. Diana took a shower, & Ant got up! Lia and Josie are doing their computer stuff. I checked my email and realized that Ant hasn’t RSVP’d for dinner tonight. I hope he joins us! I have written for 2 ½ hours straight! Time for a break!

3:00 Buns started! A ton of dishes washed! Banana eaten! I am moving right along with the productivity. I have a pot of dark roast coffee on, and I am going to enjoy some iced when it is done. I am not sure what I will do now, but it will probably involve housework and laundry.

3:45 House is all the way clean for my birthday celebration! I was going to take some more photos, but Diana is busy with the camera. I can’t wait to see her photos! Ant & Jo have played some Super Smash Bros Brawl and Lia has been hooping. Rain threatens once more!

4:15 I spent a few minutes with Lia & then a few minutes with Diana. Next, I frolicked outside for a bit and took a short walk. The sun has broken through the clouds, and all of nature is drying from her bath.

4:45 Laundry hung, and buns shaped and rising. Still nursing my iced coffee. Josie is busy writing her annual prom story. Diana is editing photos, and Lia is skyping with her Shine friend, Edan.

5:00 I had a half a chocolate cupcake for a snack. I am not eating with health in mind today, but I am not over eating either. Coffee is now done.

5:10 I got up and did the few dishes that had accumulated. I am feeling restless, wishing the weather was consistent enough to sit outside in a dry chair and read.  I have book reviews I want to write, and it would probably be in our family’s best interest if I worked some more today, but I am lacking motivation. I think I will just take a step in that direction and hope some writing flows.

6:00 I got one more article done then my computer crashed! Buns are in the oven, and the celebration is about to begin!

9:15 My celebration is done. We ate salmon sandwiches, sauteed green beans and fool. We played three rounds of Uno. I won the first won, Diana won the second, and Lia won the third.  I had two cups of lime cola with gin for a treat.

10:45 Day is done. I have read my email & tidied the kitchen. Time to sleep.

Monday, May 20, 2013

And the busy-ness goes on...

Between working, social occasions, church responsibilities and general housework, I have not have much time for blogging or photo taking lately. I have been doing OK, but I keep switching things up to push myself to do more. I feel like the next few weeks are going to be super intense. I have a lot of commitments to meet, and I am going to have to stay on task regularly to keep up.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

More Self Portraits

I am lazy about working on the self-portrait project. I like taking photos, but I think I like taking photos of other people and nature more than I like taking photos of myself. It is awkward. I think I got a few good shots on my last shoot. The sun cooperated, and I was able to play a bit.

Shadows, Sunshine & Smile
Eyes Closed

Captioned

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Music Randomness

Tonight's topic is philosophy via music video analysis. First up, The Killers with Mr. Brightside and When You Were Young. I think these are two of the best music videos I have ever seen. They are multi-layed and complex. I may drive my daughters insane with repeat playings.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Book Review: Clarity

Clarity Fern is a psychic. When she touches things, she can sometimes access the thoughts another person had while handling the same object. Her mother and brother have their own psychic gifts. In "Clarity" by Kim Harrington, Clarity is called upon to aid the police in a murder investigation.

This young adult novel is reminiscent of the Lily Dale series by Wendy Corsi Staub. It is even written in a similar style. There was nothing great here, but the book was a solid three-star, fun read. The story had a little of everything, murder, love triangle, fatherless teen, womanizing brother, politics, business, etc. I recommend this one to teens who love mysteries and are looking for a fun read.

There is a follow-up available, "Perception", and it looks like more may be added in the future.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

If I were to die tomorrow...

My son-in-law posted an internet meme on his Facebook. It was simply a question, something along the lines of, "If I died tomorrow, what would you want me to know."

It is a pretty thought provoking question.  Not in relation to my son-in-law, but in relation to everyone. First of all, if you died tomorrow, I'm not really sure it matters much. Your life is over. I will have to move on (unless I die tomorrow too. In that case, it really doesn't matter.)

Of course, I think the point of the question was more along the lines of, "What don't you tell me, that you probably should?" Or, "What nice things do you want to say to me that you don't say?" The question probably works better phrased, "If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you want to tell me today?" I like that better.

Matter of fact, I'll answer that one. First, I love you. This is a tricky one because I really love everyone. I don't see any reason to love my kids or my parents or even my partner more than you because all of you matter just as much. My friends and relatives are no more important than you. I love you if you are mean. I love you if you murdered someone. I love you regardless of your race or religion, ethnic heritage or sexual preferences. I may not understand you, and you may frustrate me sometimes. I may be sad because of your behaviors, but I still love you. I have this love for humanity, this way of seeing that knocks down separations. It is odd because personal intimacy is so hard for me to achieve, but this grand feeling that we are all in this together, it never fades.

As for family and friends, it might be good for you to know that I love you even knowing you. I may be very familiar with your stuggles and strengths, or maybe you are really good at hiding them, either way, I love you. I love you knowing who you are, and that is something special. I am often at a loss at how to show love. I tend to think most of my interactions with others are a burden on them. I realize on some level that this is not true and is just my personal insecurity and paranoia, but it is pretty intense so it often limits me.

I guess since I'm dying tomorrow (figuratively), it would only be right to also dispense some advice. I would want to say that you are you, that is, you are stuck with you, so you might as well love yourself. You are perfectly you and that person is never going to be perfect, just like everyone else. You're going to struggle, but in general, you will be the best you that you can be, destined by genes and environment. Take what joy you can, let yourself cry at sorrows, wonder. Explore everything with curiosity until you need to rest, then rest. Money matters, a lot. But not as much as you are likely to think it does.

I could be cliche and say be yourself, but I think we are all ourselves. I don't buy into that "she's a fake" mentality. How can you not be yourself?

Don't worry about your weight, but you might want to take care of your health.

If you have kids, be nice to them. Never forget that they are people. Never forget that they are likely to love you, unconditionally, no matter what, and don't betray their trust, ever. If you do, apologize. A quick apology for misplaced anger or frustration really does help. If you forget, a later apology is better than nothing. Talk. Talk, talk, talk. Communication and connection with your kids will make your family life better and will build long-term relationships that matter.

Cultivate a feeling of optimism in your life, and even if you never achieve much, you will still be a positive influence on the world. I was raised in a family filled with undying optimism, and it really was the biggest positive influence on my life.

Enjoy your youth. You have more energy at this time than you are likely to ever have again. You look prettier by society's standards. You have less urgency and fewer responsibilities. Take advantage of this time to have fun and to lay a foundation for things to come. Build relationships. It is probably easier than it will be in the future.

Enjoy your middle-aged years. You are still beautiful. You have more wisdom now. Share it. Don't live like life if over. Laugh at your failing eyesight, pursue old dreams, make better decisions now that you know yourself more. Keep building relationships. It is never too late.

Enjoy old age. Relish in an empty nest. Try new things. Play. Savor every single day, and don't be afraid to rest when you need to. Look in the mirror, and know that you are beautiful. Let yourself reminisce about the good times, and keep building relationships. It is really never too late.

At every age, assert yourself. You are the only one that knows you, and you matter just as much as anyone else.



Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: What's Left of Me

"What's Left of Me" by Kat Zhang is a story set in  an alternate world that is very much like ours except for that each individual is born with two souls in their body. The main character is Eva who shares a body with Addie. They live in their version of the United States where being a hybrid is illegal. Hybrids are people who maintain two souls into adulthood. In much of the world this is normal, but in the United States, the recessive soul is expected to fade away by age 10 at the latest.

I think this is an excellent premise. This was a 3.5 out of 5 star book, and the plot premise was definitely the best thing about it. Beyond that, the book was so-so. The plot in general was good but not completely unique, believable but I wasn't immersed. The characters were interesting but not fully developed; it was hard to feel a strong empathy for any of them. There was a vague theme about the definition of being human, but again, it wasn't well fledged out. The setting was weird and made me want to know more, but I was still dissatisfied at the end of the book.

It seems that this is going to be the first book of a series, The Hybrid Chronicles. I will definitely try the second one. Perhaps that is the point of not fulfilling my curiosity too much. At the same time, I wish I would have been given more.


Book Reviews and a Couple of Self-Portraits

I write book reviews somewhat regularly and post them at Goodreads. I have also, more infrequently, posted reviews on various blogs, especially my old blog, Traipsing About Granby. I write book reviews for several reasons. Foremost, I like to think more about the things that I have read and save a bit of them for my future self to see. Also, I enjoy giving book advice to others and sharing things about the books I have read with friends.

When I write reviews, I focus on the things that moved me and the things that would make me recommend or not recommend the book to another reader. Even with good books, I tend to focus on the negative because that is what I want in a book review. I want to hear what things about the book might make me not want to read it. You can find a plot synopsis and advertisement review anywhere. I realize my reviews may not appeal to a lot of people, but there are some readers out there who are enough like me or at least have reading preferences enough like mine to glean some useful information from what I write.

When I started this blog, I assumed I would publish many of my book reviews here. I still intend to, but I haven't started yet because I wanted some more information. Mostly, I wanted to know if I could cross-post my reviews on Goodreads and include a link to my blog. I have seen other reviewers do that, but I wasn't sure that the Goodreads terms of service allowed it.

Well, I was looking this information up, and I still haven't found an answer, but I did find so much controversy. I am not new to book review controversies. I have friends who are authors, and they tend to take any negative criticism in reviews poorly. I am thin-skinned and understand that criticism is difficult. At the same time, book reviews are not usually a direct criticism of the author, they are simply a discussion about the book.(Sometimes I speak about an author's whole body of work or a significant portion of it, but still, it is how those works pertain to me personally, and how I think they might be seen by others.)

The biggest controversy is people flagging negative reviews, resulting in the reviews being hidden! This is so wrong. If you don't like something, you have a right to state that. It can be as blunt as, "I didn't like this book." That is no different that simply stating, "Wow, this was a great book." Those might be short, non-specific reviews, but if the reviewer's audience is familiar with their preferences, those reviews still carry a lot of meaning. I have written my share of critical reviews. I really didn't like "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman. I  thought the Inheritance Series by Christopher Paolini was full of gratuitous violence. With the exception of a few paragraphs, "Mists of Avalon" so wasn't worth wading through and don't get me started on the Inkworld or Xanth series. Since Goodreads allows comments on reviews, you can even have active discussions about different viewpoints. Flagging should only be done when someone breaks the terms of service. Flagging is about inappropriate sexual content and spam, nude photos, non-book related remarks, things like that!

I just went back and searched Goodreads once more, and this time found their actual review guidelines. They seem rock solid to me. I hope no inappropriate flagging occurs in the future. It also seems that it is completely acceptable for me to post reviews on Goodreads with a link to the crosspost here so I may start doing that. Sorry to those of you who end up getting my stuff twice!

Now, a few more photos from the self-portrait project.


A Joyful Stroll

A Flower-filled Shadow

Visual Reflection

Reflection with Trees

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Reflection

There is a tendency to measure life, to quantify it.

Some measure it in numbers. How much money have I earned? How many friends do I have? How many countries have I visited?

Some quantify it in other ways. How many projects have I completed? How many mountains have I climbed? Even, how many people have I helped?  How many blog entries written? How long lived in one place? How many Christmases?

Quantifying life seems fun when one is young. In our culture, goal setting and completion are like a yardstick for measuring success. Everyone wants to see what he or she can do. Productivity equals value.

There is a part of me that shies away hard from that mindset. Yes, I like reaching goals and accomplishing things as much as anyone. I wonder how natural it really is though. I think of societies where your daily goals are enough food and enough shelter, shared moments with family and friends, a child who is growing strong. I am not idealizing primitive cultures, but I am exploring the worth of our values.

For me, it all comes back to, "What is the purpose of life?"

I certainly don't know. I do know that I don't like relentlessly pursuing things. I also know that I tend to flounder if I am not relentlessly pursuing things.

I think I have some more growth to do.

Recipe: Chicken Stew for the Slow Cooker

Today is a chilly day. We used the rest of our chicken yesterday which is unfortunate because I am really in the mood for chicken stew! I thought I'd share my recipe, for you all, and maybe, I'll make this next week.

Chicken Stew

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cubed
4 white potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes
8 ounces baby-cut carrots
1 cup celery, chopped
1 1/4 cup sweet onion, chopped
2 cans cream of chicken soup (10 1/2 ounces each)
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 1/4 cup frozen cut green beans
1 cup frozen petite peas

Mix everything in your slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Our slow cooker runs hot so if I want to hold this longer than six hours, I take the lid off and stir it thoroughly, making sure to get into the corners. If it is done, I will turn the cooker to warm until we are ready to eat. Frozen corn, fresh or canned mushrooms and frozen chopped spinach are all nice additions to this stew.

Another option is to leave out the potatoes and serve the stew over hot biscuits or noodles.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Capable Fingers

Strong

These are my fingers. Yes, a few seem are stained blue at the moment.

Yesterday's photo prompt was "The Story of You." The task was to take a self-portrait that showed a body part and then to use it to tell a story.

Here is my story. These are my fingers. Sometimes, they do not feel strong. Then, I think of the things that they have done. They have held each of my children and each of my grandchildren when they were not able to hold themselves. They have given pats of comfort. They have joined in silly games, creating laughter. 

They type words enabling me to communicate with people around the world. They point and click enabling me to access a wealth of information, satisfying my curiosity on many topics.

My fingers are an important part of me.

Gratitude Post

Things I have to look forward to in the next couple of months:

Barbecue with Emma! Yay, next Sunday we are going visiting, and the culmination of the day will be a cookout with at Emma's with the family. I am hoping to make macaroni salad and bring marinated chicken breasts for Scott to grill. :D Maybe Josie can bake cookies! I don't have a timetable for the day yet, but it is definitely something to anticipate with joy!

Gevalia House Party! We are hosting a coffee party for a few people one Friday night this month. We are going to have luscious desserts (some diabetes friendly) & just relax. There has been such a good response to this that I think we are going to end up having more people here than we have in a long time!

Day with My Love! The day after our coffee party is the monthly day I take to spend both quality and quantity time with Diana. This month, we are heading into Syracuse. Who knows what the day will hold?

Teenz Service at Church! The very next day is the spring Teenz service at our church. The youth group takes over worship, and I love watching my kids shine on the altar.

My Birthday! May 23rd is my birthday, and this year, I am having a quiet dinner with just my immediate family at home that day. I plan on making it a celebration of rest for me. I look forward to having a minimal evening of quiet pleasures with those who know me best.

Memorial Day Barbecue! Sometime Memorial Day weekend, I am getting together with my extended family for a barbecue and day of fun! This is my favorite type of party, and I look forward to every single one! There is nothing that compares to getting to chat with my parents and siblings, accompanied by tasty food and fun!

Family Vacation!!! Yes, that requires THREE exclamation points! This year it is looking to be quite the adventure! We are starting with a visit to see our good friends, Rachel and Bill, who live in the Saratoga Springs area. We haven't seen them in several years. Then we are spending the night in at the Holiday Inn Express. We love the Holiday Inn express! It is our favorite hotel chain by far, comfortable beds, reasonable prices, great amenities and a delicious hot-breakfast bar! Then, we are heading to the We Shine Unschooling Convention at the wonderful Jellystone at Birchwood Acres Resort Campground. We will have six days with wonderful, unschooling people. Imagine, no one hollering at their kids!!! Everyone looking out for everyone else. People understanding and accepting differences, all at a great, clean campground with a pool, heated splash pool, hot tub, organized activities, social time, best playground in the world, etc. Really though, the best thing about this family vacation is that it recharges our family. It reminds us of those things we value and helps us remember how to live together in joy.

I could go on because I have even more plans to be grateful for in June, but this is far enough in the future to think about at the moment!


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Socialization & Me, Part II

My most successful method of making friends in the past has been simply being present with people until they got use to me. In a group, this usually means I sit with the group and don't say anything. When I do say things, everyone tends to look at me like they didn't even realize I was there. I use to think it was either because I was saying something odd or because they had forgotten I was there.

Diana and others have said that it is really because I tend to burst out with something wise. I don't know if that has always been the case, but I do see that pattern now.

I do not like socializing with new people one on one. It is my least favorite method. I really don't know what to say next, and find myself becoming more and more uncomfortable, feeling put on the spot. Many others I know who are introverts do not feel this way and feel safer during one-on-one interactions. I feel it is something that really sets me apart. I am sure there are others who prefer initial group interactions, but I have not met them.

Right now, I am going through a period of missing intimacy. I am also realizing that some of what feels like intimacy may just be a trick of my mind. True intimacy is difficult. It requires both sharing and accepting. It requires requesting things you need while not controlling or demanding. It requires being open to new ideas while staying true to oneself.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Photos

In a Playful Mood

Yesterday's self-portrait prompt was playfulness. I snapped this shot on our way out for a night in Oswego. We decided rather spontaneously to head into town, for an evening with just the three of us, before Lia and Josie were here tonight. As much as I am looking forward to seeing my girls, it was fun to head out for an evening of mother and son joy!

Cherry Blossoms & Sunshine
Today's prompt was to take a self-nurturing walk and share a discovery. I have been relishing in the cherry blossoms this year, and they look gorgeous in the sunshine!

Project Finish, Goal Setting & Me

This year, I am participating in a project of my own design called Project Finish.

"Finish" is my word of the year. I don't remember who started the "Word of the Year" idea, but it is suppose to be an alternative to new year resolutions. The idea is that you choose a word, and then throughout the year, you think of it and use it to improve your life. I have been using this idea for several years now with words like smile, safety, space and celebration. This year, I chose finish.

For a long time, I have been dissatisfied with myself for having trouble finishing things. Yes, I am smart. Yes, I have a knack for learning, for knowing how to do thing, for sharing and for helping other people see how to do things and finish their own projects! I, on the other hand, usually stop near the end of any mission and never go back.

I sort of feel like I am actually incapable of finishing anything so I decided to prove myself wrong!

I started the year with a few "finish" goals, and I proceeded to learn a lot about what is required to finish. First, you have to be ready to ask for help even when it isn't easy. I hate asking for help. I want to do everything myself, always. I can do everything myself (that is until I can't.) So I have been learning. I also learned that if finishing is the goal, a rigid timetable is only going to be an obstacle.  For example, many people start writing novels during National Novel Writing month. The vast majority of those who do not finish their novels during the month, never finish their novels. They missed the deadline so they figure why keep trying. A third important lesson has been that you can control your actions but you can't control the results of your actions. In other words, you can say that I will finish each day this week having averaged eating only 1500 calories a day. You can't say that I will finish losing 2 pounds this week. The first item you have tight control over; the second is the result of many variables, and may or may not occur in spite of your actions.

So, I have revised my project as I have gone along, I do feel that it has been a positive factor in my life this year. First of all, I have learned how to make money as a writer/editor/research. Not just pocket change, but enough money to make it worth my while even when it isn't easy or fun. And second, I am starting to realize that finishing maybe isn't always that important anyways! (Not that I am giving up!)

This week, I have been taking some time off from being super project oriented, but I find myself itching to return to the project tomorrow. Here is one thing I am changing up at this point. My finishes are going to be simple one week projects. I have discovered that I can do anything for a week. Usually that is enough time to see how it is going and revise if necessary.

Here are my project tasks for this week: wash all dishes at 9:15 p.m. each day (I love waking up to a clean kitchen), wash and hang all laundry everyday, write a blog post everyday, earn $92.40 through my primary freelance site each day Monday - Friday, take a daily walk, follow my Diet Power program each day, "water" my Japanese exercises on Memrise daily, and then on Saturday work on my goals for next week and set about planning the day with my love that I have planned for next Saturday!

Friday, May 3, 2013

What Nourishes You?

Recess
Yesterday's self portrait prompt was "What nourishes you?" I put off taking the photo because I just wasn't feeling in the self-nourishing groove. Then in the evening, after dinner, for a moment I stopped. The sun was shining brightly through my window; I wasn't working; I wasn't playing; I just was. Time to grab the camera and snap this quick pic!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Socialization Habit

I am an introvert. As most people in these enlightened times know, introverts feel refreshed after periods alone and extroverts feel refreshed after times with others. This seems to be the only consistent attribute for either designation. Someone who is shy may be an extrovert. They may just have trouble warming up to others. They may just be limited in social skills. They may have a disorder that makes it difficult to interact, but they still might crave that interaction, even need it.

On the other hand, introverts do like some social interaction. They may even like large, boisterous, noisy groups on occasion. (I fall into that group!) They just need recovery afterwards. True introverts often feel exhausted after any type of social experience.

One of the problems with being an introvert is that it is easy to fall out of the socialization habit. I truly feel complete when I am alone, so it often doesn't seem worth the effort to socialize. The longer I go without socializing, the easier it is to just say no.

This is compounded due to the difficulties that my autistic wall places between me and others. I strive for intimacy in all social interactions. Surface conversations are never worth it. Unfortunately, others often don't want to quickly develop intimacy. We live in a society full of mistrust.

So, I limit social interactions, except with those who I trust at a deep level. Those are few. I have always done this. I use to go out of my way to invent games to limit how often I played with my sister and brother when I was little. It wasn't that I didn't like playing games with them on occasion; it was that I tended to get tired of playing with them before they got tired of playing with me. I would rather read or go for a walk or draw or write or organize thoughts in my head or think about philosophical topics.

It is funny because although I have more social skills than I did when I was younger, even when I was in my 20s, I feel like I am losing a few as I age. It is easy to regress at this stage in my life. It is like my mind doesn't want to bother playing the game at all. Unfortunately, I do enjoy the occasion, large, boisterous group full of deep conversations, laughter and play.

I know I need to avoid falling out of the habit of socialization. I need to say yes when no is the easy answer. I need to keep giving myself the opportunity to build intimacy, breaking down walls between me and others.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Momentary Pause

My Feet
My partner, Diana, is participating in a course this month offered by Vivienne McMaster. It is called Be Your Own Beloved. It is a photography course that focuses on self-portraiture with an emphasis on self-love and play. I thought it would be fun to follow along when I have the time. Here is my first portrait. My feet, in my beloved Christmas socks, ready to frolic this spring. The irony that is me!

Mindfulness Meditation, Autism & More

True mindfulness meditation is the practice of entering a state of awareness without need to hold onto anything, control anything or focus on any particular object or thought. Many people seem to have the idea that meditation is a special mystical state, entered when one clears the mind of conscious thought and communes with the divine. After writing that, I realize that that isn't so far off. I think the place where practitioners often go wrong is with their methods.

True meditation doesn't have a goal. You don't start by thinking, yay, I'm going off to commune with the divine. You don't worry about emptying your mind. You start by simply being. For me, walking meditation is much easier than still meditation. I head off down the road with no goals, and when thoughts drift through my mind, I let them float way. I am fully aware of them, for I am awareness. I do not try to distract myself from them. I acknowledge their presence with no attempt at focus, control or manipulation. I am aware of my body and the things outside of it. I am aware of my five senses gathering information. On the other hand, I am not working at anything. I am not finding pretty things to remember. I am not creating stories in my head. I am not planning a blog post. I just am.

Another time I regularly practice mindfulness meditation is when falling asleep. I use to use the easy technique of counting backwards from 1000 when I found it difficult to fall asleep. Although that method works, again it is a distraction. My desire is not to become lost in distractions. My desire is to be present. As I lie in bed, I let myself become fully aware of my body. I recognize itches and aches. I do not distract myself from my congested breathing. I just am. When I achieve awareness, I fall asleep effortlessly.

It is not always easy for me to reach out for mindfulness. My mind wants to think. It longs to organize and build castles in my head. I let it have its way on a regular basis. Distraction is easy, but mindfulness is worth the effort. During period of mindfulness, my place in the universe is reinforced. As I become awareness, I no longer stress about the past or the future. My body systems get a break from adrenaline, and with regular practice, I am better able to handle stress in general.

Some recently published research on autism and mental health issues including major depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder and post traumatic stress disorder found that traditional cognitive therapies that have been very successful with the general population fall flat in those with mid to high functioning autism. I fall into that category. On the other hand, they found that mindfulness training was an effective treatment method for this segment of the population.

I have fallen out of regular mindfulness meditation practice, but I know it is something I need to add back into my life. Mindfulness reduces my overall stress levels and may help me live a longer, happier life. I hope mental health professionals take notice of the research I mentioned and get some training in mindfulness techniques. Most of the adult autistic population suffers from anxiety disorders. I don't know if this is an inherent part of autism or if it is a result of living in the world so long as an autistic person. I do know that relief would make it easier to integrate into a society that is not often friendly to those who are different.