Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Books and more books

So, I read a lot of books. I created a list in my sidebar here so I can keep track of them all, and so you lot can poke fun at me for being a dork. I have this awful habit of reading so many books at one time that I become overwhelmed. I joined a book club with some ladies from my church and we always pick the most amazing books to read - introspective, insightful, thought-provoking, upsetting books that sometimes turn me inside out.

In addition to book-club books, I'm also plowing my way through books written by members of the LDS church. This is a category of books that was never on my radar, on account of how I wasn't always a member of this church. Now that I am, I have discovered a wealth of spiritual knowledge and insight offered by the leaders of the church and other members.

One such book is The Continuous Conversion by Brad Wilcox. In this book, Wilcox explores the conversion process and how it's not just for people who have recently joined the church (literal converts), but that all members are being constantly converted to the Gospel - each finding his or her own ways of connecting with the Gospel, with Christ's atonement, and with our own power to become better, smarter people. It's right up my alley, of course, because I love all those things.

I just finished Inferno by Dan Brown. I really love his books - the art history, the symbolism, and the plot always really thrill me. This latest book also raised moral questions that I used to have very strong opinions about. My opinions are still strong, but many of them have changed since I joined the church. Some of my beliefs about how the world is supposed to work were challenged when I was figuring out if I could become a Mormon, and I am still figuring some things out. More on that later, because I have deep thoughts about it.

I have several more books in my proverbial queue, and I'm not entirely sure when I'll find the time for all of them. For now, I'm off to read and clear some of these books off my list!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Random food pictures

Lately, it seems as though posting pictures of one's food has become passe. This saddens me because I love to photograph my food. I'm always ready with my phone and I am often quite proud... either because I made the darn meal myself and that's quite an accomplishment for me, or because it looks delicious and I want you all to be jealous. So, here are some of my favourite food pictures, because I can.

Goodies from my garden


This is store-bought parsley that I dried and crumbled into a tomato sauce


And, tomatoes that became homemade paste

Breakfast makes me nearly giddy

Experimenting with soup



Random dinner



I made homemade doggy biscuits; it was made of people-food ingredients, which was... not delicious.


Random desserts, including berries I picked off wild bushes!

Expect more food to show up here, because I stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that someone might not care. It's okay if you don't, but I won't let that stop me. And if you're hungry, pop in! I might feed you. Unless you're scary, then I will maim you and feed you to my dog.

Being Mormon is weird

I have mentioned here that I recently joined the LDS church. My conversion was such a strange and confusing process for me. I have known people who meet with missionaries, have a few discussions, give up their vices and join three weeks after learning about the Plan of Salvation.

It didn't happen that way for me. I met with the missionaries and ran them all out of discussions long before I believed what they were teaching me. I was so stubborn and so disbelieving, so skeptical of their testimonies and their scriptures.

To be fair, I was skeptical about all organised religion, not just the Mormons. Rules bother me and I don't like being told that I can't do stuff (especially when the stuff is so fun). I studied with them, and I prayed and I did all the things that help a person gain a testimony. And I gained - a testimony, an understanding of my challenges and how to overcome them, a new way of thinking about the world.

And, oddly, I don't struggle with the rules like I thought I would. Most of the things I needed to give up weren't really all that fun anymore; drinking caused more physical discomfort than anything else, and smoking... well, smoking was always fun but I certainly don't miss the smell or the amount of money I was spending on it, or the way it made exercise painfully impossible.

The rules we have come from revelation to our prophets, and I don't understand them all. Some of them I downright hate, to be perfectly blunt. Coffee is delightful to me, and tattoos please me endlessly. But I believe in all the rest, so I accept those things as well.

The part that is so foreign to me is my ability to accept things like this - things I don't understand, things I don't even like in some cases. It doesn't really make sense...I kind of think of it the way some people might think of their parents. When you're a kid, you learn to obey your parents. Well - I didn't, but maybe you did. The good kids grew up knowing that their parents made rules for their safety and that they know better, so eventually they found themselves being obedient to their parents on points they didn't agree with or like.

I knew kids like this; I wasn't one of them. They didn't cut class or smoke or have sex because they were taught not to. They might have considered rebelling on small points, but mostly they did as they were supposed to because they believed in the rules and they trusted their parents knew what they were doing.

I was far too rebellious for that sort of obedience for most of my life; until I gained a testimony of the gospel, and then I wasn't. Maybe it's age, or maturity, or wisdom; maybe it's the dreaded selling out I was always so afraid of. I know that I had been seeking a big spiritual something-or-other for most of my life; a way of life that made sense in my head, and helped me understand my purpose and my reason for being alive. Life makes more sense now and I find it easier to see the value in the way of life taught by the gospel.

So, I'm a Mormon. I don't do it perfectly, but I save a lot of money on coffee and cigarettes now.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Not-Commuting

I don't have a commute anymore. I'd like to repeat that, just because it feels incredible... I don't have a commute anymore.

I didn't have a commute once before; several years ago I moved close to my office so my commute went from 30 miles each way to 1 mile each way, and boy was that nice! Something unexpected happened though: I missed the downtime my commute provided. I missed listening to the radio and getting saturated in news. I missed reflecting and having the time to wind down from the day.

A divorce, two more moves, and a re-marriage later had me back to that 60-mile-a-day commute. By then, I was excessively unhappy with my job and really ready to move on. I was able to do that when my office closed down last month, and now I work from home.

I was sort of expecting to miss it again... not the stress of dealing with the worst of humanity, certainly not the stress of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the I-5 parking lot. But I expected to miss the downtime, the opportunity for reflection, the chance to meditate myself back into my own skin.

I don't miss it though. Several things are different this time: my job is different, for one. I'm still doing something approximately similar for the same organisation; my stress levels are dramatically decreased with my new role. And, well... I'm different now too. I started going through something a few years ago; it lasted for quite a long time, during which time I felt like I didn't belong in my own skin, like I was an imposter in my own mind. At the time I attributed it to many things: dealing with Colin's death and coming to terms with the fact that I was okay with it; turning 30; the stress of my career.

It is hard to pin-point it precisely but I think I've come to the conclusion that it was all of that, and maybe more. I am not as confused as I was back then, and certainly not in as much emotional turmoil.

I've also done some serious spiritual exploration which led me to join the LDS church. I can't really describe how different it feels, being Mormon. I'll have to dig up some really good words on that for a later post.

For now, I'll end on this: I don't miss my commute because I'm getting all the things I need in my normal comings-and-goings of the day. I don't have to work so hard to re-charge, and I don't feel pulled in so many different directions. I don't feel like I'm wasting several hours out of each day not doing the things I need... yoga, running, reading, crafting, writing. You've seen that list, it's huge.

Also, don't ask me if I've starting actually doing any of that stuff yet with all my not-commuting time. I'm still settling into a routine, but I'll get there. It's what I do.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Winter's crush

I really hate this time of day, especially in the winter: Late afternoon. 4:22PM, to be precise... it is dark-ish and because it's also January there is a very light misty drizzle happening. Now that I think about it, this should be the best time of day: curled up on my comfortable sofa, covered in a hand-made blanket crocheted by a dear friend, Bengal spice herbal tea in hand, tabby cat in lap, amazing new book open in front of me. Perhaps even a little fire going.

Instead, I'm sitting at my desk in the near-dark trying to get some last-minute work done. I work from home these days, which is good and bad. It's good because I can set my own schedule; I can do laundry in the middle of the day if I wish (I never wish, but sometimes I do it anyway); I can take time out of the day to run errands; I can even get a head-start on dinner preparations (someday I'll actually do that, I swear).

And it's bad because I don't always have the brains to stop working. So instead I sit and work and eventually realise that I haven't made a dinner plan, my kitchen is likely in some state of mess, and the clothes I washed this morning might not have made it to the dryer. I don't want to go out because it's raining, but I don't want to eat frozen pizza again because I'm also sick of bursting my clothing at the seams.

Also, I have this problem with transitions. I used to think it was just a problem stopping whatever activity I was doing, or not wanting to go to bed, or something. I've been thinking about it though, and it's transitions. That doesn't make sense.

I like change and I like growth... I mean, I think I like those things. My life is better because of those things. But I often find myself floundering and confused when I have to transition from one activity to the next, in a day-to-day way.

What is wrong with me, and why am I not in front of that fire with the cat and the tea and the book?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bit by bit

I shared my theme for this year with my husband, and a funny thing happened: he adopted it conceptually and now when we talk and make plans, that word -development- crops up constantly. I know I shouldn't be surprised - my husband is amazing, after all. But what strikes me is how easily and organically it happened.

Most things are not easy for me anymore. A friend recently said to me that since she quit blogging, she can't force words out of herself any longer. That's how I feel - with blogging and writing, with exercise, cooking, housework... everything that I need to do on a routine basis feels so incredibly forced. Those of you who know me probably remember that housework and cooking were never a strength of mine so maybe that's not too surprising.

What is surprising is how lethargic I have come to feel. Don't misunderstand me, I am incredibly happy with my life and with my personal growth; I just have a few areas that need some, well, development.

In sharing this idea with my husband and then making unrelated plans with our lives, my theme has now become completely enmeshed in everything we talk about. We are planning home improvements in the hopes of a refinance soon - developing our home. We are also planning our finances, making small adjustments regularly and deciding where and how to spend our money - developing good spending habits.

I won't bore us all with more examples, and they're not really the point; the exciting thing is that I mentioned offhand that I had a personal theme for this year, something I would be focusing on and working toward, and just like that magic happened in my home. Suddenly we're more focused on our goals - personal and collective; things make a little more sense, and become a little easier than they were before.

I like that my other half is so ready to embrace what I embrace, to decide that my ideas make sense and then run with it. I also like that something so small has such a profound impact on me and my home.

I haven't cooked in weeks and the only thing that gets cleaned regularly is the bathroom (I do this nearly daily because bathrooms... gross), but I'm feeling ready to tackle life and overcome lethargy. Having a personal theme might sound cheesy but there is none of the guilt and shame-caused-by-failure that I used to feel when I would make resolutions (and eventually fail miserably without even making any progress whatsoever).

So, development. I have it.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Developing writing

I was talking to my husband today about my writing and he mentioned something that struck me as funny: the thing that is wrong with my fiction writing is that it doesn't have enough "me" in it. He has been a long-time confidante and reviewer of my writing, so he has read my fiction, my non-fiction, and whatever lies in between. He often claims that he's "not a writer" and therefore his opinion isn't too valuable, but I disagree. My audience, whenever I get one, won't be made up of professional writers; it will be made up of readers, and they'll have all manner of experiences and opinions that will help them decide if they want to read my novels and it won't be based on anything more than their own (probably untrained) opinion of my writing.

I think the truth is that fiction writing isn't my strong suit. My best writing seems to be my blogging or journal writing. I'm pretty sure there's a very small market for such, and surely that market won't be lucrative in the financial way. Unless my friends and family are willing to pay for my blog-posts, I will need to learn to develop my writing in such a way that it has more of whatever it is that makes my non-fiction good.

Which hits this year's theme of development. I have so many books on developing writing style, learning dialogue, ideas for plots, character development... but the one thing I lack is a real understanding about how to actually improve those skills.

Writers often give the advice to other writers to "write what you know". Well, I know me so for now that's what I'm good at. I am wondering if this is why every single attempt at novel or short story writing goes absolutely no where - is it that I don't know enough stuff? I get all passionate to write a story around some snippet of conversation I overheard or from an idea or scene that has popped into my head, but that often fades after my first marathon writing session. I always, always thought this was writer's block. Now I am considering that maybe those stories don't include the right elements - the ones I know about.

So, I'm practicing that too. Ugh.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2014, themed

2013 was a funny year for me. I didn't blog much, I didn't write much, I did very little photography or yoga or exercise. It wasn't what I would call a bad year, but it wasn't exactly what I might have wanted if I had been documenting it and paying attention in a daily way.

You might recognise this thing I do... where I make big plans and go on and on about them, but don't follow through with them and then spend some time lamenting (but not regretting... don't even say that word to me) my lack-of-awesomeness in the area of doing life right.

Here is what I did accomplish in 2013:

1. I did lots of spiritual growth - I think I attended church every Sunday save one. That feels kinda big for me. Playing hookey from any responsibility is especially fun for me. I have also read a lot of non-fiction by church leaders, and that has really helped me figure stuff out about life.

2. I studied scripture - not every day, and not always with a purpose, but I studied. This also feels big because I find scripture boring. Yes, I said that. I love learning and I love the gospel, but reading scripture feels like torture. I figured out why it's awesome lately though, and now it's, well... awesome.

3. I was happily married the whole year. For those of you who have been doing marriage happily for a long time, this may not feel like an accomplishment; I've got two marriages behind me, one that ended in divorce, and I've had a bit of fear that I am not really capable of being completely satisfied in a marriage, in a long-term way. So, one year down and I didn't regret any part of it. Happy.

I have a lot more I want out of life, and a lot to do in 2014. My theme for this coming year is development. I have this image in my head of a picture in the process of being developed... actual pictures that required chemicals and patience. The paper starts out blank and through the development process we see images, colours, and details appear. That's how I want 2014 to be for me: I want more of the details of life to be evident. I want to be able to develop myself - spiritually, physically, and intellectually.

So, I love lists. They help me plan out the details; they help me feel accomplished when I can cross items off them. Side note: anyone else out there guilty of adding something to a list just to cross it off? Sexy, isn't it?

I am not going to give you a list this year. Partly to save myself the embarrassment of seeing my inevitable potential failure; partly because I'm saving my list-making for my new fancy pen that records everything I write (also sexy).

I'm never very good at following through with stuff. Several years back my theme was, in fact, follow through. I made a list that year, and every single thing on it is on my not-list this year too. See? Embarrassing.

Whatever. Expect great things from me this year.

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