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Archive for August, 2011

My efforts at becoming more readerly have been paying off. When I get home from work after a long day, I’m most interested in settling down with a snack and my latest read. When I get up to go to work in the morning, for a single moment I contemplate whether I should bring my book along, just in case I get there a few minutes early. I’ve even found myself setting my book on the sink while I take a shower, wanting to have it close by even when I should be concentrating on bathing.

Yep, it’s fair to say that I am getting my old habit back. It feels good, though it’s not helping me get anything else done around the house.

Sometime last week I finished Tad Williams’ book Tailchaser’s Song. I had initially picked up the book mainly because of the intriguing cover. I read it because I was curious to know what a book featuring cats could possibly be all about. I finished it because it ended up being a pretty good story.

In the end, there’s not a lot to say about Tailchaser’s Song. The writing style is very mediocre, even though the plot gets to be quite entertaining. Even though the novel features cats as characters, it’s not a book for cat lovers. Williams could have inserted any other animal into the story line, and it would have come out looking pretty much the same. This book is not infused with charming cat personality, as one might have hoped.

When judging a book’s worthiness, I often think back to a passage from Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

“The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.”

I like to think that what Bradbury is describing here is the literary quality of the work. Is it literature, or just a story?

These ideas can all be pretty vague and arbitrary at times, but luckily for me I have a more concrete way of judging how a book fares on my lit-scale: the pen factor. How many times, during the course of my reading experience, was I compelled to get up from my chair in search of a pen, in order to underline some idea or wonderfully worded passage?

In Tailchaser’s instance, only twice.

Throughout the entire story, there is no real underlying theme or idea about life, or anything more profound than seeking adventure and doing something vaguely noble. Toward the very end, however, Tailchaser comes across an ancient bullfrog who tells him that none of his adventures and achievements really matter in the big scheme of things. She says,

“Remember this one thing, Tailchaser: all your troubles, all your searching, and wandering, and struggling—they are as one small bubble in the world-pool.”

Given my recent revelations concerning the Meaning of Life, this struck a chord with me, and I promptly underlined the sentence and ear-tagged the page. I like that idea. For all our struggling and self-important feelings, we’re just another drop in the puddle.

This is as deep as Tailchaser’s Song gets, however. The only other time I whipped out the pen was when Tailchaser, traipsing through the countryside, encounters sheep for the first time:

“Their fleecy bodies dotted the downs like fat, dirty clouds that had settled to the ground, too heavy to stay aloft.”

The discovery of that uncharacteristically humorous and poetic description is, I think, worth reading the entire book to find.

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I’ve come up with a new and improved Plan for life. It works for many situations in which you want to better yourself. Through my Plan, you can learn to break your dependence on toxic habits. You can also motivate yourself to fulfill your goals and dreams with ease.

What’s the big idea? Well, Plan Bee is based on Oscar Wilde’s famous adage: everything in moderation, including moderation. And what can be more moderate than splitting something 50/50? You’ve got indulgence on the one hand, and moderation on the other. Ideally, you would start smack in the middle, and adjust from there as you see fit.

Okay, so here’s the practical application: take something that you want to decrease in your life, e.g., a dependence on drinking soda every day. Don’t quit cold turkey, because you know that doesn’t work. Don’t even try to cut back at first, because that doesn’t often work very well either. What you can and should do: make a commitment to swear off soda every other day. Try it for one day. If you make it through, go ahead and indulge those caffeine headaches the next morning. Drink your regular amount of soda for the day, if you feel so inclined. Then, brace yourself; swear off the soda for one more day. One day is not impossible. You may feel awful; you will probably crave it, but just get through the day knowing that the dawn will bring sweet relief. And that will give you the strength to keep going. Repeat the process and modify as you see fit. If in the end all you get is a habit of not drinking soda every other day, then you are already doing twice as well as you have been doing otherwise.

Plan Bee can also be a powerful motivation tool. Do you want to become less of a couch potato, and cultivate a more active lifestyle? Take the pledge to go out tomorrow and take a walk. Then take a day to rest. The next day, get up off your ass again. By the time another day has passed, you may feel motivated enough to go for a jog, or spend a few minutes on the elliptical.

The key is to start slow, make small commitments, and reward yourself with your “norm” on the days in between. Eventually you may find yourself able to push yourself further, and go for longer stretches without having to take a break.

Why is Plan Bee such a great idea? Because it works with your natural tendencies and strengths as a human being. There’s nothing horrifying about promising yourself that you will improve yourself in one way for just a single day. Anybody can do that. And knowing that you can drift back into your habit the next day will help you to power through your weak moments. You don’t have to worry about going without anything for any lengthy period of time. And you can’t keep putting it off, saying that you will start at the beginning of the month, or the beginning of next week, or on New Year’s Day, because this is one diet that doesn’t need a clean slate, doesn’t need a clear cut starting point. One night you just decide to do it, and the next day you start. Then you quit, then you start, and so on…how many times do we practice this quitting and starting pattern anyway? Why not put it to good use?

I’ve found myself using Plan Bee in my own life, almost without realizing it. Most recently, I decided to dramatically decrease my internet usage because I felt like it was interfering with the enjoyment of other parts of my life. I had been unsuccessful with simply promising myself that I would spend less time on the computer each day. I needed much more clearly cut goals and boundaries. I knew I wouldn’t last a whole week without the internet, and even going for three days would be a stretch. So I decided to go every other day without getting online. It’s been over a week now, and I’m consistently amazed with how well it has been working. For an entire day, every other day, I’m free to do read and write and garden and watch movies and just enjoy the world around me. Sometimes I write down things that I need to get done online the next day, or things that I have been meaning to look up or read about. Sometimes I just enjoy my freedom from the news, from work drama, and from the overwhelming abundance of other peoples’ lives and opinions. And, of course, every other day I indulge. But even on those days I find myself less and less interested in staring at the computer screen for long. Often the projects I have started on my “off” days seem more interesting to me on my “on” days, so that I end up not spending even half as much time on the computer.

One of my favorite things about Plan Bee is its applicability to such a wide variety of situations. I can think of a hundred different ways to use it. Want to become a vegetarian, but can’t handle the thought of going without meat? Need to study for a big test, but just can’t find the motivation to sit down and do it every day? Looking for the time to practice that long-neglected musical instrument? Trying to find a way to lower your coffee intake?

Try Plan Bee: It’s twice as good as doing nothing!

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Home Fantasies

I met my dream home last Saturday. I had spied the listing on realtor.com just a few days before, in one of those masochistic internet “window-shopping” binges that always end up causing nothing but a load of discontent. I knew very well that the home-buying stars are far from being aligned for us right now, but I wanted to see it anyway. Just for fun.

I documented the directions to 4850 Evans Way in my favorite method: an imaginary topographical map based on surrounding landmarks that I have never seen, committed tentatively to memory. (To hell with GPS!) It works almost every time, and gives every venture a certain nervous ambience that heightens the adventurous feelings.

Headed down I-37 somewhere south of Bloomington, we careened off the highway onto one of those little side roads that doesn’t even get its own stoplight, much less an exit sign. This led us to a relatively busy country road, where we annoyed the local motorists by gawking at the scenery and slowing down to 20mph at all those 15mph hairpin turns. We wound down and around, back up and over, past fields, forests, mobile homes, limestone quarries, and even a couple out of place housing complexes. I kept a keen eye out for a road sign for Evans Street—even so, we ended up blowing right by it. Turning around, we went back to investigate the one side street that we had passed, thinking it was a driveway. Sure enough, at some point past the turn there was an ancient metal sign tacked to a tree that looked like an oversized, old license plate. It read: West Evans Street, and listed the numbers of the houses that could be found down this narrow way.

The narrow way became even narrower, and we followed it at a slow pace, down and up like a roller coaster, the woods squeezing in on us from both sides. We passed driveway after driveway, admiring the homesteads that were visible from the road. After passing one nondescript gate, I piped up, “That was it!” We came to a halt in front of a large, rather newish looking house with a collection of loiterers out front, staring at us with suspicion. We slowly backed from their view, back to the two posts and the sign that said “4850.”

As we turned into the drive, the first thing we noticed was the deep chasm splitting the dirt driveway straight down the middle. After a moment’s hesitation, Jeff continued to ease the truck up a hill that looked like it was splitting at the seam. And the seam happened to be right where we needed to drive. One miscalculation and we would be dreadfully stuck.

Concentrating on the water damaged road, I didn’t take the time to look around me as we ascended. Sunny, overgrown meadows opened up to the left and right, rife with Queen Anne’s lace, and other vulgaris reaching five feet tall or more. Halfway up the hill the road mended somewhat, and we noticed a small, three-stalled horse shelter to the right, tucked away behind some small ornamental trees. On the left were the remnants of an old fenced in area, only slightly less overgrown with weeds.

Climbing to the peak of the hill, we came to a rest in front of the house and clambered out. A simple white gothic farmhouse rose in front of us, in a tantalizing state of dilapidation. It looked much like the quintessential homestead from American Gothic, and had I had some forethought I would have brought some garden tools so that we could pose in front for a photo.

Jeff and I stood before the porch and stared up at the dark second story windows. “It looks haunted,” we both said, and then looked at each other. A weather vane graced the peak of the rusted tin roof, and an old plaque hung just below, stating, “1870.” The house was built in 1870. And from the looks of it, had been unceremoniously abandoned 140 years later.

We made our way around the house, peering into windows and grimacing over the areas that begged for repair. I didn’t go so far as to imagine how I would arrange my furniture in the vast front parlor which overlooked about three or four acres of wildly overgrown fertile land. I did, however, imagine what kind of animals would greet me every morning when I made my daily trek to the horse stable. “Hello Donkey, hello my lovely chickens. Oh, and hello ducks, ready for your walk down to the pond?”

It could be so perfect.

We wandered around for a bit longer, marveling over the tree house built out beyond the mowed area surrounding the house, the woods that cushioned the land on either side, and the sounds of the neighbors, closer than you would suspect, children playing at a short distance, and a buzz saw running from somewhere across the street. Mostly I stood at the front porch and gazed at the view of the fields of wildflowers, gently sloping away and down to where the road could be seen only as a small spot beyond the greenery.

Imagine seeing that first thing every morning. I could.

Eventually we turned back to the truck, ready to head back to the land of the living. Back to our adorable red abode in the city, where the streets are impeccably straight, the neighbors are close enough to ward off intruders at any given moment, and the only land I have to worry about tending to is that small narrow strip that soaks up 8 full hours of sun a day.

I don’t regret not being able to move to my dream home. I go there, in my thoughts, and imagine a time when we are ready to take on such an amazing privilege. Meanwhile, I have everything I could ever need, and can handle.

Some day…

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One

One big THANK YOU

to all my readers. I have completed my 100 Day Challenge by posting 100 blogs in 100 days! Thank you to everyone who has been reading along. Thank you to those who have commented, whether it be in person, on my blog, or through Facebook. Thank you to everyone who has liked, and “liked” my posts. Thanks for encouraging me, and giving suggestions, and correcting my typo. It all really means a lot to me and has kept me going even when the last thing I wanted to do at the end of a long day was sit down and think of something half witty to write.

I’ve learned a lot in the past 100 days. I’ve discovered that I really love writing (especially when I do have something half witty to say). I’ve learned that, in order to write that one blog that is insightful and well-written, you have to write at least 10 or 12 very mediocre blogs. Through my challenge I’ve rediscovered my love of photography, and I’ve really enjoyed being motivated to drag out the camera once again. Even though I felt shackled at times by my obligation to post each and every day, I’m pleased that my commitment has given me a reason to get out and document my entire summer. It will be nice to get a break. 🙂

But don’t worry. Now that I have developed this new habit of mine, I don’t intend to give it up so easily. I plan to continue posting at least a couple of times a week. My idea is to start posting in series, meaning that I do one book review each month, one self-portrait, one movie review, one creative pursuit, etc. This will hopefully help to keep me on a good schedule and thinking regularly about blogging possibilities. Any suggestions on future blog ideas?

Once again, thank you all for the support, even for those of you who have never commented or mentioned anything about my blog to me (I know you’re out there). It has been a pleasure and a pain, and one I hope to continue plaguing you with for a long, long time.

 

 

 

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“It’s so much friendlier with two. ”

~Winnie the Pooh

It’s been 572 days since Jeff and I first met. I think I can speak for the both of us when I say that we haven’t regretted a single day since!

 

Love you Mr. Bee. ♥

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Three

Three kids in the yard.

Having fun.

(Especially Patrick.)

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Four

Four things that made me smile today.

My silly niece and nephew. They are at that great age where all you have to do is say “Rawr!” and reach for them, and they run around squealing and giggling for about ten minutes. It’s so easy to be a fun auntie when I don’t even have to leave my chair.

Kitties who pass out on the sunporch.

Getting my cold frame partially put together, with the help of the lovely Mr. Bee. (more on this when it’s finished)

Movie snacks. (the movie wasn’t so great)

It’s been a rough day, but at the end I’m just glad to be alive and well. My heart goes out to anyone who is affected by tonight’s tragedy at the State Fairgrounds. It’s so much scarier when something like that happens within a mile of your home and the homes of nearly half the people you love.

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