Friday, December 30, 2016

Book: Pathological by Wang Jinkang

Every now and then a book comes along that truly knocks my socks off and I want to tell the whole world about it. Tonight I finished Pathological by Wang Jinkang (and wonderfully translated by Jeremy Tiang) and it's definitely one of those books. For the last three evenings I've sequestered myself in the reading room with this amazing thriller. I was hooked from the first few sentences, and wow, what a ride.

The plot centers around a highly-driven Chinese-American scientist (virologist, actually) who seems to have it all, including her own research lab in China. Yet she lives simply and gives her money and her free time to a nearby orphanage. This gains respect from the local community and leaders, who turn a blind eye to whatever might be happening in the lab.

Meanwhile, there's a smallpox outbreak at an elementary school in Idaho, which turns out to be germ warfare planned by a scientist who fled the USA and hasn't been seen or heard from since. It turns out that these two scientists have a connection that goes back decades. But are they in this together? Sometimes things aren't what they seem. Or are they?

If you like thrillers or medical sci-fi, check this out. The Kindle version is only $3.99 as I write this. I gave it 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, and I don't give out 5 stars that often. So there.

mm
:)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

2016 Favorites

Here it is, my annual 'Favorites' entry...

Reads

Favorite book of the year . . . Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Mystery/Thriller . . . The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison

Historical fiction . . . Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Classic . . . Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Unexpected pleasure . . . The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

Author . . . (tie) Robert Bryndza and Angela Marsons

Magazine . . . (tie) New Mexico and Garden & Gun


Listens

Band . . . Kaleo

Artist . . .  Ruby Amanfu

Album . . . Lemonade by Beyonce

Song (tie) . . . "Daddy Lessons" by Beyonce; "Way Down We Go" by Kaleo; and "Stuck in the South" by Adia Victoria

Song rediscovery (tie) . . ."The Story" by Brandi Carlile and "Hot in Herre" by Jenny Owen Youngs

Artist rediscovery . . . R.E.M.

Concert . . . (tie) Mary Fahl (Evening Muse, Charlotte) and Jason Isbell with Amanda Shires and Shovels & Rope (Ovens Auditorium, Charlotte)

North Carolina artist . . . Rhiannon Giddens

Podcast . . . Us & Them


Watches

TV show . . . Queen Sugar

Binge-watch . . . The Man in the High Castle, Season 2


Miscellaneous

Social Network . . . Pinterest

Hobby . . . Postcrossing.com

Vacation spot . . . Santa Fe, New Mexico

Weekend getaway . . . Blowing Rock

Food . . . Korean fried chicken

Restaurant . . . Seoul Food Meat Co (Charlotte, NC)

Beverage . . . Canada Dry Ginger Ale


mm
:)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

25,401 words


This month I wrote 25,401 words of a novel. That's 90 pages, in case you're wondering, so it's not finished. Not even halfway.

I know there are still 3 days left in November, but there's no way I'm going to make it to the 50,000 words I need to "win" this year's National Novel Writing Month, so I'm going to have to call it.

I'm tired.

I'm disappointed that I didn't meet my goal.

Writing a novel is (insert whiny voice here) hard.  Even when you have people taking care of you so you can focus. (I did. Special people made sure I was fed, had clean clothes to wear and a clean house to live in. They didn't make me feel guilty about hiding away evenings and weekends or not being available for certain events. For that, I'm enormously grateful.)

So why is it so hard to write a novel? Well, I'm sure that having ADHD doesn't help. (I really was diagnosed with ADHD back in graduate school, so there.) Actually, the first thirty or forty pages was easy, but then I started wavering about what to write next: should I put this scene here, or there? And I started forgetting details. For example, one of the minor characters lives in Tega Cay, South Carolina in a fancy house on Lake Wylie. I kept wanting to put her at Lake Lanier in Georgia AND I DO NOT KNOW WHY because Lake Wylie is practically in my backyard and I know absolutely nothing about Lake Lanier. Or Georgia, for that matter.

I have this tendency to want to edit as I go along. I know this is wrong! But I just can't help myself.

And then there are things I don't know, so I have to stop and look them up on the internet. One of the main characters has an acoustic guitar. But what guitar exactly? A Gibson? Martin? Larrivee? OK, so pick one. But then what model? And what does it look like? Is it made from Indian rosewood? Mahogany? Hawaiian koa? And is that the wood on the body or the sides or the neck? Jeez, Louise, there are too many details and too many choices.

In an effort to focus, I shut myself off from social media. No Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter (OK, there were one or two tweets), and no blogging for 27 days. Until today. Right? But you see, there was that one big thing that happened on November 8 . . . yeah, that election thing . . . somehow I managed to keep away from social media despite the temptation to get online and voice my very strong opinions about the election results and read what others were writing. But I managed to restrain myself, because I knew that would kill way too many writing hours.

So here I am with these 25,401 words. It's not a lot, really. I have so much further to go. I'll "lose" another NaNoWriMo (I've done this for five years and only "won" once, in 2014 -- but I didn't actually finish that story.) Yet in doing this, it reinforces the reality that I'M A WRITER.

But will I be a Novelist? That remains to be seen. If I can muster up the discipline I've had this month into the next eleven months, then maybe. I already have a book cover concept, a publisher, and an ISBN number. I've just got to come up with more pages. More WORDS.

Maybe someday...

mm
:)



Sunday, November 6, 2016

Rocky Mountain HIGH


The view from Pike's Peak
So I bought a t-shirt in the gift shop at the top of Pike's Peak. It says:

Pike's Peak - 14,115 feet - Being this high is illegal in most states, but not this one!

I didn't expect to come to Colorado on this trip. After a few days in Northern New Mexico, we were supposed to go South, to Las Cruces, Ruidoso, and Roswell. But our plans changed and we thought HEY! Let's go north and see if we can find some aspen trees!

I also wanted to check out another possible retirement spot: Manitou Springs. Just next to Colorado Springs and at the foot of Pike's Peak, it's a cute town that in some ways reminds me of (a way smaller) Asheville. It just has a funky vibe to it, and lots of interesting people.

Manitou Springs
There were a lot of things I liked about Manitou Springs, but I'm still too enamored with Los Alamos to think about living anywhere else right now.

Manitou Springs is close to Garden of the Gods, and we spent several hours there walking through the park and watching some rock climbers.

Garden of the Gods: Walking in the Shadows
 
Garden of the Gods: The Descent
I still hadn't seen many of those awesome aspen trees, so we drove around the mountains via Woodland Park, Divide, and Midland out to Victor and Cripple Creek. And there they were! Words like AWESOME!!! and STUNNING!!! don't do them justice. Just look at these photos, which by the way, only capture a tiny fraction of what the eyes see.
 
Aspens along the road to Cripple Creek.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

My eyes are so much richer now as a result of seeing the aspen trees in their glory. I will never be the same again.

Looking forward to a return visit to Colorado. And by the way, the only Rocky Mountain High I got was breathing the air up at Pike's Peak. Oh, and listening to the John Denver song a time or two.

mm
:)

P.S. Colorado is nice, but I left my heart in New Mexico.

The solitude that is Northern NM



Eagle Nest Lake

Continuing the vacation saga . . . we took the scenic route from Santa Fe up to Taos, Angelfire, Eagle Nest, and down to Cimarron en route to I-25. The drive was amazing. Not too crowded (except for Taos which was a traffic nightmare -- sorry, not impressed). Long stretches of beautiful secondary highway.

The Rio Grande just outside of Taos -- yeah, THAT Rio Grande!

Descending from Eagle Nest, we saw lots of ranches and pick-up trucks and people wearing cowboy hats. Stopped in the plains town of Cimarron for a snack. Had the coldest Mountain Dew ever (the only one of the trip -- I've cut back significantly in the last five years!) Gotta say it really hit the spot.

I love New Mexico. Did I say I love New Mexico?

Next-->Colorado.

mm
:)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Ghost Ranch . . . and my future town?


A few hours outside of Santa Fe is a small town called Abiquiu. People I respect told me I needed to go there to visit Ghost Ranch while I was in the area. Artist Georgia O'Keeffe lived on the ranch for three years and in the area for many more. Ghost Ranch is now an education and retreat center owned by the Presbyterian Church and you should check out their website because they've got a lot of cool stuff going on there.

A cottage at the Ghost Ranch looking all New Mexico.
Dirt Road looking from Ghost Ranch to Pedernal, Georgia O'Keeffe's mountain.
Now, one of the reasons I came out to these parts is because I'm in the (very) early stages of looking for a place to retire. New Mexico -- specifically the Santa Fe area -- has made my short list. I fell in love with Santa Fe on Day 1, but then the unexpected happened . . .

I fell in love with a small town that wasn't on my radar. At all.

Awesome view along the Santa Fe - Los Alamos route.
I am now officially in love with Los Alamos, New Mexico, population approximately 15,000, home of the Los Alamos Research Laboratories and my friend T, who recently moved back there with her family after living East for several years.

Los Alamos has trees. And extremely clean air. And a high percentage of PhDs. And beautiful homes, such as these:



I want so badly to live there. In an adobe home. Like one of these.

And Los Alamos (which means "the Cottonwoods" - as in trees) was recently named one of the best small towns in America with its smart citizens and high quality of life. There are way more than 8 Reasons to Move to Los Alamos if you ask me.

What's not to love? I'm ready to move there RIGHT NOW.

In my next entry, I'll share some of the highlights of taking "the long way" from Santa Fe through Taos, Angel Fire, and Eagle Nest over to I-25. Until then...

mm
:)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Santa Fe


I recently returned from this year's highly anticipated vacation to New Mexico. This destination was selected in early summer, and I seriously couldn't wait to go. It was my third time in the Land of Enchantment, and my second time in Santa Fe, and it was AWESOME! Seriously, if you haven't been, put it on your list. Especially if you like 1) good food; and 2) art. Here are some of my favorite photos from The City Different . . .

I love the adobe buildings!
My first meal in Santa Fe was at Pantry Restaurant. This is "Christmas" chili (both red and green). De-LISH!

Tacos breakfast at Palacio. Green chilies, which turned out to be my favorite.

One of the many art galleries in Santa Fe.

Ristras - dried chilies! I wanted to buy a wreath, but didn't have room in my luggage to bring it back.

Next blog post . . . Outside Santa Fe, the Ghost Ranch, and I find what might be my perfect retirement city! Come back again soon.

mm
:)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Greensboro

International Civil Rights Center & Museum and the F.W. Woolworth store
We went to Greensboro last weekend for the National Folk Festival and while we were there, we decided to tour the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, which includes the Woolworth's store where the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins took place. The museum has several wonderful exhibits, including the actual diner where the "Greensboro Four" along with local college and high school students and other supporters changed history.

We met up with my Greensboro cousins and set out in search of music. And we found plenty of it! I wasn't familiar with most of the artists at the Festival, but that just made it more fun to check them out. Some of the ones I enjoyed most were:
Yeah, I like all kinds of music, for sure.

The Festival will be in Greensboro for one more year, so y'all need to get to it in 2017!

mm
:)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Summertime

Ocean Isle Beach from the Pier, 20AUG16

That song that says "the living's easy" in summer certainly hasn't applied to me this year! This has been the busiest, most intense summer I've had in a very long time. I haven't taken any time off work (because in my new company, you have to earn it before you can take it). I'm loving the new job, but I've never in my life worked so hard for so many hours. This has been a summer of work, eat, and sleep and not much else, but I'm not complaining.

The biggest 'distraction' of my summer has been Postcrossing. It's a web site where you can register to send postcards around the world, and in return you get postcards from other users. So far I've sent 38 cards and received 26. The top three countries I've received from are Russia, Japan, and Germany and the top ones I've sent to are Germany, Netherlands, and Russia. It's a pretty cool hobby and it only takes a few minutes to write a postcard.

I have two pen pals. You know, as in old-fashioned letter writing. I got one of my pen pals through the Letter Writers Alliance and the other one I "met" on Twitter. One lives in a small town in Oklahoma, the other in a city in Wisconsin. We write each other about once a week. So another hobby of late has been to find pretty stationery, which isn't nearly as easy as it used to be.

These are hobbies I can pursue at home in the evenings that don't take too long and yet the reward is thrilling. I love getting snail mail! It makes my day to get a letter or postcard. 

In other news, my parents recently celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary. (Hard to imagine that two people could stand each other for that long, LOL!) On my visit to The Farm last weekend, I told them I wanted to take them out to dinner to celebrate and asked where they wanted to go. I was thinking they'd probably want to go to the local steak house or Italian place, but they said they wanted go to Calabash. (Calabash is a small town on the southern North Carolina coast that's known for seafood restaurants and "Calabash-style" -- um, deep fried -- seafood.)

I hadn't taken them on a road trip in a while, so wasn't expecting this request, but I'm always ready to go somewhere. So we piled into the car and made the 90-minute drive. After our meal, we decided to go to one of the beaches. We ended up at Ocean Isle Beach and took a walk on the pier. I could have sat on the pier for hours -- it was so relaxing.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, Northern Hemisphere peeps. For those of you South of the Equator, summer's on it's way! Cheers!

mm
:)


Monday, May 30, 2016

Blowing Rock

Raven Rocks Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway
Just got back from a nice weekend in Blowing Rock, a town in northwestern North Carolina that's famous for a nearby rock formation called The Blowing Rock. A tourist attraction since way back in the day, the Blowing Rock overlooks a scenic gorge on the Eastern Continental Divide, and it's totally worth the $7 adult admission fee (it's on private property) to see.

The Blowing Rock on the left, and the lovely view
Old school sign
We stayed at the Green Park Inn, an historic in built in the 1880s. The Green Park's walls are covered with photos of famous people who stayed there back in the day (Eleanor Roosevelt and Annie Oakley, to name a few), antiques, creaky floors, and the requisite old hotel ghost. I loved it. By the way, the bartender in the Divide knows how to make an awesome Bay Breeze, and perfect after-dinner coffee cordials. And I'd go back again just to have another slice of the most delicious apple pie ever and vanilla ice cream that's made right there in the kitchen.

Green Park Inn and rhododendrons in bloom
On Sunday, we wandered the Town of Blowing Rock's cute Main Street, found an awesome coffee shop and hung out there for a while, then headed over to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a short drive to Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. Moses H. Cone was a wealthy textile businessman and philanthropist of the Gilded Age, and the park was once his beloved summer home. In addition to the 13K square-foot house, called Flat Top Manor, the grounds include some twenty-five miles of hiking and biking trails. We took advantage of those, even in the misty rain and cool temps that rolled in on Sunday.

Flat Top Manor on a rainy day
We topped off the trip with a visit to Tweetsie Railroad, the "Wild West theme park" between Blowing Rock and college-town Boone, home of Appalachian State University. Tweetsie, named for the sound made by the steam locomotives (there are two of them) that wind around the park's perimeter, has been open since 1957. Both S and I went there when we were kids. (Somewhere out there are photos of my three-year-old self riding the helicopter ride and posing with the Can-Can girls.)

One of the steam trains at Tweetsie Railroad
Just like when we were kids, we rode the Ferris wheel, the Tilt-a-Whirl (twice!), and the Tweetsie Twister (known as Merry Mixer back in the day). We rode the odd-looking little gas-engine cars, too . . . the exact same cars, I'm sure, that were used in the park in 1970.

It was a fun weekend, and I really needed a getaway!

mm
:)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Tiny houses


I've never been a big "stuff" person, but the older I get, the less "stuff" I want. When we moved to Charlotte almost six (yes, six!) years ago, we downsized significantly from a 4500 square foot home to a two-bedroom urban apartment before finally settling into a small suburban bungalow of about 1500 square feet. Most people thought we were crazy, but I felt nothing but relief. Especially when it came time to clean!

I remember the first time I heard about the so-called tiny house movement. At first I was like: Why would anyone want to live in a dollhouse? [Back in the 70s, my little sister had a "playhouse" bigger than most of today's tiny houses.] But the more I thought about tiny house living, the more it began to make sense.

I know from experience (from living in a tiny studio apartment in Europe several years ago) that I don't need much space. I'm a minimalist at heart. Give me a comfortable bed, a basic kitchen and bathroom, and a place to sit to eat and work on my laptop and I'm just fine. I don't feel the need to entertain at home. I'd rather meet my friends out somewhere!



I could absolutely live in a tiny house like the ones in these photos from a tiny house community near Asheville. The thing is, not everyone in my family is on board with the tiny house idea. Some people like their stuff. They like having space, like being able to spread out. They're not keen on getting rid of items they've taken a lifetime to collect, or inherited from parents and grandparents.

I respect that, I guess. Everyone is different.

But imagine being able to live more fully. Imagine having more free time. Imagine being able to clean your house in an hour, rather than the three-quarters of a day it takes me now or the entire weekend it used to take me when I had a much larger home.

It just seems so freeing to me.

And the older I get, the more I want to feel free.

mm
:)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Wichita


The Keeper of the Plains

We traveled to Wichita, Kansas last weekend to witness the wedding of S's nephew and his lovely bride. The wedding was perfect (of course!) and after the festivities concluded, we took some time to walk around the downtown area, including Old Town Wichita. After having dinner at Bite Me BBQ, we headed over to the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers to see the sunset and the lighting of the Keeper of the Plains. 

A glorious sunset over the Little Arkansas
Unfortunately, it was too windy for all of the flames to be lit. Regardless of the partial lighting, it was cool to see, and after the 15 minute "show" we walked back to the hotel on Wichita's very nice River Walk. As we approached the hotel, we realized a concert was taking place at a stadium on the other side of the river. Although the wind made the music sound slightly distorted, we recognized the song and artist -- The Band Perry was singing "If I Die Young." We hung out by the river for a while so we could listen to the (slightly distorted but free to us) concert. Pretty cool!

mm
:)












Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Allergies

The Angel Oak, Johns Island, South Carolina
We've had an early Spring here, with several days of 70/80F (21/26C) temps in early March. Oh, it was so exciting to be able to sleep with windows open! To go for walks! To work in the garden or yard! To be in the great outdoors!

Well, you know what happens with warmer temps. Flowers and trees start waking up. It happens so slowly, you don't even realize it, until the one day you wake up and see a familiar yellow haze in the air. Then you notice the yellow dust on your car, driveway, on your pet, everywhere. (At least that's how it is in North Carolina -- we're especially well-known for our pine pollen.)

By the time you see it everywhere, it's too late. You've already got ten tons of it in your nostrils, your eyes, your mouth and ears. You know it's not a random upper respiratory infection because you've had this before and so you know. Yes, I'm talking about my personal experience here.

This is my sixth Spring back in North Carolina, and I haven't had it this bad since I was six years old. I actually thought I had "outgrown" my allergies. Specifically my oak pollen allergy (yep, it's the oak pollen that gets me, even though I AM CRAZY ABOUT OAK TREES). But no. My allergies are back. Full force.

My allergies have been the worst ever this year. Seriously. I'm going to have to find an allergist and will probably need to get shots again. Either that, or move to Albuquerque.

In the meantime, the air conditioner is on. All walks and outdoor activities, suspended. It sucks, but hey, it's what works for me.

Excuse me, but I need to . . . Ah-CHOO!!!

mm
:)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Recurring dreams

I was recently challenged to write about recurring dreams by a mentor who happens to be reading Carl Jung's The Undiscovered Self (which I'm also trying to read, although slogging through is a more accurate description of my experience thus far.) While I don't typically remember my dreams past breakfast time anymore, there are a couple of recurring ones I've had for more than 30 years. So, challenge accepted, Mentor. Here you go.

1. The Searching for Someone dream

This dream involves one of the following three people from my past: 1) a childhood friend; 2) my first crush; and 3) another friend from more recent years.

The setting is always a place where I had memorable interactions with that person: my old elementary school, Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, the campground at Lake Junaluska, a church in Durham, the wine bar at Whole Foods in SouthPark, a certain Charlotte restaurant, an office building by a fountain, a stone house in the mountains.

ME: (Arriving, feeling hopeful) Has anyone seen ________?

RANDOM PERSON: Why, yes! He/She was here, but just left. You literally just missed him/her.

ME: (Feeling slightly disappointed) Oh! Any idea where he/she was going?

RANDOM PERSON: Yeah, he/she was headed to ________.

At which point I go to that place and the scenario repeats itself. Sometimes I get a glimpse of the person I'm looking for through a window or in the distance, but we never make eye contact. By the time I reach the next destination, they're gone. It's like pursuing a ghost. With each failure to connect, I feel more deflated. I wake up feeling extremely disappointed and that feeling stays with me for several hours. I just can't seem to shake it off. 

2. The Control Freak + Disaster dream

This dream involves my immediate family plus an aunt and uncle circa 1980. Everyone's the age they were then except for me; I'm whatever age I am at the time I'm dreaming. (So when I have the dream now, I'm actually older than my parents, which is totally weird.) The setting is always the same: we're hanging out at Aunt ML's house, in her yard or on her back porch.

There are two scenarios: 1) The tornado and 2) the airplane.

Tornado scenario

In the distance, I see something that looks like a funnel cloud. Slowly but surely, it forms into a tornado.

ME: (Shouting) EVERYBODY TAKE COVER! GET INSIDE! AWAY FROM WINDOWS! STAT!

MOM/DAD/SISTER/AUNT/UNCLE: (Looking at me like deer in headlights.)

ME: (Still shouting) SERIOUSLY! MOVE IT! NOW!!!

THEM: (Looking at each other, shaking their heads, then looking at me like I have three heads.)

MY DAD (Acting amused): She sure loves telling people what to do, doesn't she?

ME: (Completely put out that no one is heeding my warning.)

The sky's getting darker and the tornado is heading for us, but they're oblivious. I wake up just before the tornado touches down.

Note: This dream started long before I moved to Indiana, where I lived for 14 years and experienced life in Tornado Alley for real. I really don't know what to make of it.

Airplane scenario

I hear an airplane in the distance, but it doesn't sound normal. The engine makes sputtering sounds. I look up, and see the plane falling from the sky, with a trail of smoke behind it.

ME: (Shouting) THAT PLANE'S GOING DOWN! SOMEBODY CALL 911!

MOM/DAD/SISTER/AUNT/UNCLE: (Deer in headlights.)

ME: (Still shouting) SERIOUSLY! PEOPLE ARE GOING TO DIE! MOVE IT!!!

THEM: (Unable to move or speak or respond in any way. Completely frozen as if paralyzed.)

The plane continues to fall. Sometimes I see the panicked faces of the passengers in the windows. In the meantime, my family carries on without a care in the world, as if we're at a picnic. It's super-creepy. Luckily, I always wake up before the crash.

Both versions of this dream make me feel angry with my family for their inaction and complacence. It's true that I've always had a reputation for being "bossy" in my immediate family and that will probably never change. I've always had a directive leadership style. It's just how I roll.

I'd be really good in crisis situations. If people would just do what I tell them to do.

An analysis, sort of

WWJS? What would Jung say? That is the question.

Unlike Dream #1, which leaves me feeling fragile and frustrated, I really just have to roll my eyes at Dream #2. It doesn't bother me at all -- I just think it's weird that I've had it several times a year since I was in my early 20s.

Is it a birth order thing? I'm the oldest child in a family of youngest children. Dad? Youngest. Mom? Youngest. Sister? Youngest. Let me tell you, it hasn't been easy, because I'm as much the stereotypical oldest child as they are the youngest. CAN YOU IMAGINE THE PRESSURE?!! Even now, when we plan a family meal, something like this happens:

DAD: Where do you want to eat dinner?

MOM: I don't care. Where do you want to go?

DAD: I don't care, either.

MOM: It really doesn't matter to me.

ME: (Interrupting/blurting out) WE'RE GOING TO [NAME OF RESTAURANT.]

DAD and MOM: OK. Let's go.

But I digress, because now I'm beginning to head in the direction of Freud rather than Jung.

The point is, I've been making decisions since I could talk, because no one else in my family will. So yeah, I'm bossy, because somebody's got to lead. Too bad they won't follow my instructions!

As to Dream #1, I have no idea what that's all about. Guess I'll have to keep slogging through reading Jung for answers. Or maybe my mentor will do that for me?

mm
:)


Monday, February 29, 2016

A giant Leap

Today has been cathartic on so many levels. First of all, it's Leap Day, the so-called extra day that comes around every four years. I've never really grasped the concept of Leap Day, and never really considered it "extra" and apparently I'm not the only one -- check out this blog entry by Tamára Lunardo, who happens to be one of my favorite Internet philosophers. :)

I gave notice at my job today. For the past 18 months or so, I've been in a situation where I felt like a square peg in a round hole. Sure, I've met some great people that I want to keep in contact with, worked on some interesting projects, and learned some new skills. I've grown. I've stretched. But I've also bent over backwards. Pulled some muscles. Torn some fibers.

Sometimes you have to go. Life is too short to get stuck in what Tamára calls the damned blocks. I took a Giant Leap today. And soon I'll take another, when I begin a new role with a new company.

Are you taking leaps? Is there something in your life that you need to change? Change is scary sometimes. But sometimes, change is exactly what you need.

mm
:)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

What's your word?

Late last year as I was considering whether or not to make a New Year's resolution, I decided to focus on a word for the year instead of something I'd probably forget about after a few weeks. My chosen word -- Gemütlichkeit -- is a German word that's meaningful to me. (You can read all about it here if you're curious.)

In order to keep myself focused on my word, I ordered a What's Your Word? necklace from MyIntent.org. It came recently and I've started to wear it a few days a week. I think it's pretty cool! Check out the web site for the story behind the goods & the organization, and some of the press it's been receiving.

mm
:)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Podcast: Us & Them

Us & Them logo from usandthempodcast.com
Do you listen to podcasts? They've been around a while, but I've only been a regular listener for about a year. I have a long commute (60-75 minutes each way) and a good podcast or two can make it seem like no time at all. One of my favorites is Us & Them, a collaboration with West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Us & Them focuses on "telling stories from all sides of the Culture Wars" (their description). The host, Trey Kay (known for lots of other stuff including contributions to This American Life and a 2009 radio documentary series called The Great Textbook Wars), does an outstanding job of presenting the issues and is thoughtful and fair with his interviewees. (Side note: He's become a sort of mentor to me. Thanks to his influence, I've stopped calling people who think differently from me "idiots.")

A typical episode of Us & Them examines a hot-button issue and talks to people on different sides. Examples include: the Confederate flag, the "war" on Christmas, evolution and climate change, and panhandling. Some of my favorite episodes are the ones featuring Trey and his friend Alice. Trey, a native of West Virginia, is Gen X and progressive. Alice is a Baby Boomer who lives in the South, and she's very conservative. Despite their differences, they respect each other and make an excellent team. I could listen to the two of them talk about anything.

Occasionally, other folks contribute to Us & Them, which is how I found out about another favorite podcast that I'll write about in a future entry.

Check out Us & Them. And next time you have the urge to yell at someone for their stupid point of view, take a deep breath and remember: there's a story behind every opinion.

mm
:)

Monday, February 15, 2016

The winter storm that wasn't

So today we were supposed to have some sort of winter storm. The predictions started about a week ago, and not without drama. A local newspaper included the phrase "up to five inches" in an article, which started a conversation or two about whether or not the newspaper should have written that when it's impossible to know for sure what was going to happen so far ahead of time.

My iPhone weather app began showing the snow and freezing rain symbols late last week. Yesterday, it indicated snow starting around 11AM today and freezing rain from 2-5PM. I checked again first thing this morning, and things had been pushed back a bit: snow at 2PM, freezing rain after that.

Local schools closed today in anticipation of "wintry mix." (It was supposed to be a make-up day from a snow day earlier this year. Ironic.)

Well, guess what? Nothing happened. Not a bloody thing. Except for rain, which came down hard starting around 3PM but didn't last long.

Talk about disappointing.

I know this is North Carolina, and we don't typically get much snow. I usually rejoice in that fact because I hate driving in it. But I was kind of psyched up for an event today and it didn't happen, and I feel really let down.

Just saying!

mm
:)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

January recap

The first month of 2016 is history. Who can believe that? Because I'm finding it really difficult to believe.

January didn't go like I planned. I'll remember it as the month I had pneumonia. I'm still not 100% healthy. The cough persists. Most days I feel like I smoked a pack of cigarettes the night before. While I'm glad to be "better" I'm kind of wondering if I'll ever fully recover.

Probably because I was so sick and had more time on hand this month, I read nine books! That's an ideal state, but highly unusual for me.

The thing I was into this month: France. I read a couple of books set in France and saw several French movies. And I spent a lot of time fantasizing about retiring in the south of France. I don't know if that will ever happen, but it was fun to dream about.

Bye, January.

Let's hope February will be a month of good health and happiness. I need to work on my stress level this month, and get back into a regular walking program (because I don't think running is working for me anymore).

Time to make plans for National Wear Red Day (February 5), Lunar New Year (February 8), Valentine's Day (February 14) and Leap Year (29 days in February this year). February may be short, but it'll definitely be busy!

mm
:)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Movie: Love at First Fight (Les Combattants)


I love France . . . and French movies. This afternoon I came across a movie on Netflix called Love at First Fight (original title: Les Combattants) from 2014. It's about a young woman, Madeleine (Adele Haenel), who dreams of joining the Army and learning survivalist techniques. She's really hardcore, as demonstrated in a memorable scene involving a raw fish and a blender.

Madeleine meets Arnaud (Kevin Azais) at an Army recruiting site, where she quickly whips his butt in a self-defense demonstration. Arnaud isn't sure what he wants to do with his life. His father recently passed away; his mother and brother are struggling to keep the family construction business afloat. He wants to do his part to help the family business, and takes on a construction job at Madeleine's family home. He tries hard, but construction just isn't his thing. He's a bit smitten by Madeleine, though, and decides to follow her to summer military camp.

Camp life is much easier than Madeleine expected, which disappoints her and plays with her emotions. She believes herself to be prepared, and feels a little superior to the others, including Arnaud. But she doesn't meet her own expectations. When Arnaud is selected to be the leader of an orienteering expedition, Madeleine's disappointment turns ugly. They get separated from the rest of the group. And there just happens to be a raging forest fire nearby. Madeleine and Arnaud must survive this experience and also deal with their feelings towards themselves and each other.

Love at First Fight / Les Combattants is a sweet "coming of age" type of story, with realistic modern characters and situations, and several laugh-out-loud scenes. I liked it -- a lot. Of course, like mostly every other French movie I've seen, it ends way too abruptly. Situation resolved. Boom. Roll credits.

mm
:)


Friday, January 22, 2016

Pneumonia update . . . and Jonas

It's January 22 and I still have pneunonia. There have been times when I thought I was getting well, such as last Saturday, when I made my every-six-week trek to my Myers Park hair salon and then had a nice lunch at Baoding in SouthPark. But the next day, Sunday, I was pretty much bedridden.

I managed to work this week, but only because I have the kind of job where I can work from home. I cannot image what I'd do if I had to actually be somewhere. I'm tired all the time. I have a constant cough. I'm still not breathing normally.

I'M SICK OF BEING SICK!!!

And now we're having an ice storm - named Jonas. Not that I care because I plan to spend the weekend at home, probably in bed most of the time, because I really want to do whatever I can to get rid of this bug once and for all.

Until then . . .

mm
:)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Pneumonia!

About ten days ago, I got that feeling that I was coming down with something. You know the drill. Sore throat. Fatigue. Not quite feeling like myself. I just figured I had a cold. After all, it's that time of year.

Three days later, I was completely wiped out. It felt like someone was standing on my chest, like someone was squeezing my lungs. Whenever I took a breath, my chest sounded crackly and made little kitten noises. I was so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open. I had zero appetite (when that happens to me, you know something is really wrong). And did I mention the fever? 102.2, and I'm not talking about an FM radio station.

I've had my share of upper respiratory infections, but this was a real doozy. It felt . . . different.  So last Monday, I went to my local urgent care and got checked out. After doing the intake, checking my vitals, and doing a chest x-ray and blood work, I was diagnosed with viral pneumonia. My parting gifts were a tube of albuterol and 10 days' worth of an older antibiotic I'd never heard of. I was told to rest, drink lots of fluids, and take it easy.

Here I am a week later, and I really don't feel that much better. Sure, the fever's long gone, and my appetite is back with a vengeance. But in the words of a memorable meme of a few years ago:

AIN'T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT.

That's how I feel about pneumonia. I just want it to be gone. Forever.

But until it does, I guess I'll keep coughing and hacking and hoping that I don't crack a rib. Or worse.

Wash those hands and use that sanitizer! If you have to cough or sneeze, do so in a tissue or in your elbow! And most importantly, PLEASE, if you're sick, stay home.

Be well, Y'all.

mm
:)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Book: The Girl on the Train

This year, I want to write more about the things I enjoy and love. I've always been a big reader and there are few things I enjoy more than a good thriller. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is an example of a book that pulled me in from the first few sentences, and wouldn't let me go until the last page.

The story takes place in London and if you've ever been there and ridden the train from say, Gatwick, the imagery of looking into people's backyards and windows from the train will come right back to you.

I don't want to tell you anything about the plot, because since this book was one of last year's major bestsellers, there's enough about it out there already.

A few days after I read The Girl on the Train, I learned they're making a movie out of it. It's filming now. In New York.

New York? Not sure why "they" decided to change the location (I'm really disappointed with that). But "they" didn't consult me, dang it.

If you like thrillers, and you haven't read this one yet, do it. Recommended not just by me, but from all of my co-workers at the office.

mm
:)

Friday, January 1, 2016

A great start to the new year


This morning I made the perfect latte. At home. With my new De'Longhi espresso machine (thank you, Jenny!) With coaching from Jenny and Elyse (an actual former barista). I did it. And it was delicious.

After a lazy morning, I went to the gym and did some strength training. Then I came home, made a chocolate raspberry protein smoothie, read part of a book, and took a nap.

Later, I went on a couple of shopping errands, including to Home Depot, where I walked up and down all the aisles and put at least 2,500 steps on my Fitbit.

I attempted to make the traditional southern New Year's Day meal of black-eyed peas and greens. It was a huge fail because the peas were rancid. I ended up making kale chips and Elyse made some yummy cornbread, so we got two out of three.

Tonight I did W2D2 of my Couch to 5K program and afterwards, I walked until my Fitbit registered over 10,000 steps.

I'm not going to be detailing every day of 2016 to this degree. I just wanted to share that I feel like I had a pretty good first day of the year. I think this is going to be a great year. I'm excited to be in it!

mm
:)