Good Old Staunch Publications One Can Mostly Trust

My first step in my Personal News Literacy Project is to compose a list of established newspapers that have been around for over 20 years and have won some awards (i.e. a Pulitzer or two). I think the age criteria is important because it shows that the publication has established a reputation – maybe good maybe bad – but a reputation. By 20 years readers will know what kind of newspaper it is. And, if the newspaper has gotten a significant award or two, it shows that professional peers have pointed out some excellent journalism with much consideration.

I’ll be adding to the list ad hoc from now on. Please feel free to let me know who I’ve missed at any time. Here we go!

Here are the newspapers that I see posted often on Facebook who meet the criteria above:

New York Times

Washington Post

The Wall Street Journal

The Guardian

Los Angeles Times

Here are newspapers in Wikipedia’s List of Newspapers in the US, Top 25 Newspapers in the US (listed by average circulation) that fit the criteria above:

San Jose Mercury News

New York Daily News

The Chicago-Sun Times

The Denver Post

Chicago Tribune

The Dallas Morning News

Newsday

Orange County Register

The Star-Ledger

Tampa Bay Times

The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Star Tribune

The Boston Globe

 

 

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My Personal News Literacy Project, Part 1

I’ve come to the realization that if I want to speak intelligently about the hot button topics that I feel strongly about, I need to step it up.

Coming from a highly politically opinionated family, I set high standards for myself when considering speaking up in any such discussion. Because of the many family political discussions I witnessed, I felt that every point I made must be able to be backed up to a niggling degree of accuracy. I often felt my opinion was not heard or was not taken seriously when I did try to participate, so more often than not I threw in the towel and did not weigh in at all.

But…

Of course, no surprise, lately it seems very important to meet friends and family halfway.

They are my friends and family after all. Even when their opinions seem totally Martian to me, they are still people I love and I will not go down the road of disliking them personally for opinions.

But they don’t really understand what I think about many critical events and decisions being made today. And I wouldn’t feel so disheartened now if I had spoken up more often in the past. It is my responsibility as an adult to meet people halfway. I do have good things to add to the discussion.

There isn’t such a big barrier to speaking up. I don’t have to “win” a politically sensitive discussion. I am not on the debate team in high school. There are no points, no judge.

A discussion among friends and family is just a sharing of information.

“So step it up lady!” I tell myself. “Share already! It cannot be your job to change minds. The minds do what they will.”

But the minds might be different if I share something I think is important they have not before considered.

Share something of substance, to the point and brief. And then just let it be.

Leave the discussion when one has nothing to add and the discussion is no longer constructive. Be prepared to say, “Well, we will just have to agree to disagree.” Change the subject. That is grace.

 

So, how to get to that point? It will take work!

I have some ideas.

I would also love your input because I would like to stay as informed as I can with the time I have available.

Here they are so far:

  • Make a list of news outlets that have (1) been around for a long time (20+ years) and (2) gotten some awards, such as Pulitzer Prizes. Make sure this list includes as many biases as possible: liberal, conservative, financial, and technology.
  • Make a list of primary sources of reputable data, such as government sites and professional data collection sites.
  • Make a running list of active reporters. Note how much detail they include and the type of information they include – interviews? citations and reports? Eventually suss out the better reporters from this.
  • Make a list of fake news outlets (willful harmful spreading of untrue news) and tabloid outlets (mostly untrue with a little bit of true)
  • Make a list of amateur news sites – blogs by non-journalists, or news sites that ask questions from the regular public for answers.
  • Read the Constitution every few months. Eat your spinach, kids.

Once I know the most reputable sources, I will pay the most attention to them and know how much weight to give the rest. Should save time, clutter, confusion.

I will share my lists and update them through the blog.

 

Posted in Coyote Bliss, News | 2 Comments

Smashing Guitar Block

Since my college days I’ve wanted to add electric guitar to my music projects. I feel I would be able to express what I want to share with the world best with the colors offered by both instruments: harp and guitar.

For years I’ve had a block about picking it up though. Until recently my excuse was time. In school, I had my engineering studies with my harp on the side. After school I had a career to think about, a new marriage, and harp on the side. When I started a family, I had child rearing, a harp studio, a project or two and a little performance work. A full plate, no time.

When my daughter started preschool I thought, Hey! I have time. Let’s do this, guitar.

My son’s piano teacher lived very close to the preschool and he also taught rock guitar. How convenient. Everything was falling into place. I bought a good instrument and was ready to learn.

Given my history of jumping into music and love of practice, I thought it would be pretty smooth sailing.

Except that it wasn’t.

The good stuff

There are many good things that came out of these lessons. I enjoyed playing guitar. I felt empowered playing as the guitar is so darn useful and convenient. I can take it so many more places than I can with my harp and not worry so much about damage.

With the 12 chords I now know I can accompany any of kids’ songs around the campfire. People love it when you get out your guitar and sing! It’s great!

I got comfortable with those barred chords. I found the joy of playing pop songs from chord charts on the internet and singing them with my kids.

I learned a bit about the history of rock, as well as the blues and learned some of my teacher’s selection of rock standard songs. I memorized a lot of frets.

I gained a better understanding of music as the notes on the guitar are not as easy to see like they are with harp. My ear improved.

But…

Something was really bugging me the whole time. It was getting under my skin and really, really pissing me off. It was also causing me anxiety, bringing out my insecure side. And I was not practicing enough, which is off for me.

I’ve had a really hard time pinning down what was bothering me. What was this thing? I knew it had something to do with the fact I was traveling from super diva feminine harp land and visiting hyper macho guitar land. But, as I was only visiting, (I have no intention of becoming a virtuosic guitarist and dropping harp), what was the big deal?

One day I realized that the lessons were not good for me and I needed to try someone different. This is hard to admit because first of all, learning a musical instrument requires a lot of hard work and it is poor form to leap to the conclusion that your problem is with your lessons. Second of all, I personally liked my teacher. I know my first teacher worked very hard to do a good job teaching me, which I appreciated. But at one point I realized our lessons were unbalanced and something was off.

Throughout the lessons I learned that my teacher did not like harp, and did not like celtic music or folk music. Fine. People come from different perspectives. Sometimes it is extra fun for disparate points of view to come together because we learn new stuff from each other. So I thought that this might not matter. But then I had an assignment in which I was to research my favorite guitarists and their influences. I brought them to him and that is when I realized that he didn’t even like the guitarists I liked. The lesson left me feeling like I picked the wrong guitarists to admire. This was super weird and confusing.

It was this point where I realized that every lesson I would ask him this and that about his projects, work and musical ideas (because that is how I talk to other musicians and I really did want to know), while he had no curiosity at all about how music was going for me. I didn’t realize this trend before that day. I was paying attention to too many other things to notice that things were off. It is a flaw of mine not to notice this kind of stuff for a long time. I just pick a direction and keep going, sometimes for far too long.

So, I switched teachers.

I am sorry that I did not have a discussion about this with my first teacher face to face but it has taken me writing and re-writing this article and talking to some music community savvy girlfriends to sort out my thoughts in the first place. I would be fine having the discussion now.

Anyway, I took lessons from a wonderful woman who teaches classical guitar. I was back in classical land, which was comfy. I learned a lot from her too.

Between the two teachers, I feel I got to know guitar quite well.

What I’m doing now

My daughter started Kindergarten this week – no longer in a far away preschool which was near my guitar teachers – and so my guitar lesson days are over.

Right now, I have some quiet time at home. I feel a call to play music again and I am ready to go back.

First though, I feel it is important to really process these experiences. They were confusing and I don’t want to drag bad feelings around if I can help it.

The best way I’ve found to get through a quagmire of confusing feelings is to woodshed out what I can learn from the experience. This has made me feel better.

Here it is, the rest of the article, what I came up with as having learned:

Make smarter connections in a creative community

Human beings as we are, we all need our tribe, that little group of misfits who accept one another for who they are.

When I meet another musician, I am really excited. It is an opportunity to meet someone who might be dealing with the same issues I am; to make a connection with someone I can learn from and to further cultivate a community of growing ideas in the discipline of art. It is an opportunity to meet a member of my tribe.

These guitar experiences reminded me that not all musicians are members of my tribe. As all healthy friendships go, we must be able to have a curiosity about one another. If one musical party does not find the other’s musical ideas at all interesting, it does not work for me for them to be close tribe-fellows. It is OK; a person not being part of my tribe just means they are professional colleagues, which is still a kind and cordial relationship.

Navigate professional mixed gender friendships in a creative field with more finesse

Coming from many years of a heavy female creative scene (95% ladies), I must make some changes to get along if I am going to share my music outside of the harp community.

I thought I’d learned this lesson already when I was working outside the creative field. I was in engineering for 7 years. I had to learn how to do this appropriately as there are so many more men in engineering than women. However, there are more points to good etiquette when it comes to making healthy friendships in a creative field.

In non-creative work, I found that healthy cross gender friendships were forged if men and women were first professionally polite to one another, concentrated on the job at hand, and did their best work around one another. Then, these friendships grew from common experiences from work itself, usually in humor, (i.e., remember when Bob forgot to turn off the Instron that day and the sample shattered into a zillion pieces and made us all jump out of our skin in the cafeteria?). From there, friendships grew from every day living (i.e., let’s all get lunch at the mall and talk about Bob’s upcoming bike race).

I believe that it is harder to form those bonding moments in a creative field. Many creators find it frightening to come together to interact personally in the first place. In the non-creative space, the work you do has been done for years before by other people. There is no question that your work is needed by your company. They wouldn’t have hired you in the first place if it was not so. However, in the creative space, you are creating something that no one knows humanity wants until all of the blood, sweat and tears have gone into making it and it is presented to the world. And then it is either accepted and celebrated or ignored (at least for the time being). Creators take a lot of risks when it comes to their ego. Because of this, there is a lot of emotion and vulnerability carried by creators.

For creators, the stakes of embarrassment and shame often seem really high as the tie with work and one’s emotions are particularly strong. If someone screws up performing, it isn’t as funny, it can be humiliating. If someone really succeeds, others might experience jealousy because they are having a rough time with their work. The emotion and vulnerability always present in creative work can cause a fearful environment of out of control insecurity. This does not have to be, but it is certainly around in the creative world.

Added to that, men and women are well known for having differences when they process emotion. When you are dealing with strong emotions such as insecurity, vulnerability and shame, you have to be sensitive with one another. When you put men and women into the mix, things get extra sensitive because miscommunication is easier.

In the harp world, I like to be sensitive to my peers’ creative endeavors in a very feminine way. I like to be supportive of my colleagues and really open about that. I love to compliment and discover the creations my friends are creating. I love to encourage friends to just do it! when they ponder aloud if they should take on this or that project. I love to be moved at my friends recitals. I love to celebrate when they finish a recording. I love being a cheerleader. I find it energizing, positive and inspiring to make my own art.

But I don’t think this gushing way of being always works in mixed company. I wonder if in the guitar world, because it is so vast and dominated by men, that the tradition of competition between men makes it difficult for many men musicians to bond with one another. Having a woman try to bond by being super supportive might be an uncomfortable experience for them. The man might be thinking, why is this lady being so nice anyway?

So I am thinking that perhaps the best way to navigate this landscape is to just ask work questions once. Ask once about new projects, ask once about how gigs are going, ask once about release dates. After that, leave lots of space. Just work on my own stuff. If curiosity is meets me halfway, then go from there.

Accepting the guitar history of manliness 

When I was working with my first guitar teacher, we had a short discussion about how few women out there of note who play guitar. The more I learned about the great guitarists, the more I noticed that women just weren’t represented playing solo electric guitar. At all!! I felt my heart sink as I realized that if I pursued playing electric guitar, I would be an outsider in this culture. Ugh! I also felt quite silly at not consciously noticing this before.

Going through engineering school in a class of 30 with only 5 women, and my first job of being 1 woman on a floor of 100 men, I’ve been in the outsider environment before. Fine. But, the thing is, it is exhausting to be an outsider. When one doesn’t see others like them represented in a group, they feel they don’t fit in. This usually leads to feeling self conscious and to experiencing stereotype threat, which burns up precious brain time as one fights with one’s self explaining that they are fine, they deserve to be where they are, etc.

By the way, if you don’t have a good understanding of what it means to be an outsider, here is a good article on stereotype threat:

http://www.npr.org/2012/07/12/156664337/stereotype-threat-why-women-quit-science-jobs

While I have dealt with this before and know I will deal with it again, I just have to say:

I don’t want to. I’m tired of it. 

There.

A big part of my creative block comes from realizing that I must deal with stereotype threat when it comes to joining a larger community of music. It isn’t that I am afraid of the threat itself, it is just that I’m afraid that I will run out of energy and burn out before I create some good stuff. I see that I’m only going to get busier as time moves ahead.

But, yes, I will have to put up with the extra crap of being an outsider when meeting other guitarists. Since I still want to play and there is no way around this issue, I’ll just have to deal with it.

Forging ahead

Finally, whatever ails me when it comes to making music right now, I know it is important to forge ahead with the art. Why else would I have written four drafts of this post and talked to two girlfriends at nauseam about all this stuff that was bothering me? Thank you to my friends for listening. And thank you to my teachers for teaching, even if we didn’t get along.

When it comes to creating, I am not a fan of a lot of talk, but it has been no fun not playing much over the last few months. So, here’s to hoping this work has smashed up the block and you will be hearing wheedly-wheedly-whee along with some lush harp arrangements from a You Tube near you in the future.

Posted in Coyote Bliss, Feminism, Music, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Sleeping Beauty

 

 

The busy-ness of getting through a day can cause all of us forget about the brave and difficult work that so many women have made in the past to make it possible for us all to achieve more out of life.

It is easy for us now to enjoy the privileges that we have, like the right for women to vote, the freedom for women to work in almost any career they choose, and the opportunity for women to earn a decent living for themselves or for their family.

We often forget that there is still work to do in this regard. If we are slacking and lazy, we might lose the freedoms that we have won.

When my preschool aged daughter described to me her friendships at school this way, “Today, I belonged to Serena, yesterday I belonged to Seth, before that I belonged to Mathew,” I knew I had to wake up and make a good game plan and think about how I want to convey to her what it means to be a healthy woman in today’s world.

Of course I told my daughter she belonged to herself, she didn’t belong to anyone else.

But, overall, I started to think hard – how can I raise my daughter to be a strong, independent, kind and powerful woman in these modern times that are so confusing for us all when it comes to the relationships between power, beauty, age, compassion and finance?

And so I ponder, define and write so that I have something clear to tell her.

In this post I will tackle my feelings of the relationship between beauty and power, love and nature as these things can greatly shape character. I hope in future posts to explore other subjects such as leadership, success, nurturing and compassion.

Beauty and Power

 

Anyone put on “beauty armor” before they go out into the world?

I had a friend who swore by her lip gloss before going onto the sales floor.

I always wear Valentino perfume and mascara before a big performance. Nowhere else.

I think that this sort of behavior has some to do with looking good in general. But mainly, this has to do with a ritual that makes us feel a little powerful.  It is a lucky charm. We know that the way we look has an affect on those around us and we are trying to get the world on our side. This ritual reminds us that we have some power in this effect.

The scary thing is though, we don’t, and won’t ever know exactly what effect our beauty has on others. It is impossible. No one can know exactly what anyone else is thinking.

I think one thing to watch out for is thinking that you, using your appearance, ever have complete control over how the people around you feel. I think that while wearing something that gives us a secret little boost is a good thing, because it helps us relax and focus on the world around us, there is always a danger in believing that full manipulation is possible. The very idea of manipulating any person is wrong. But sometimes seeing the possibility that power may have can lead you to a slippery slope.

And of course, the impossibility of the belief that you can manipulate someone through your beauty will only lead to pain when your plan fails. The pain might be devastating if you’ve put your self esteem on the line. You might even forget the things you like and value because you are focusing so narrowly on who you are manipulating. You can lose your way in the world completely; you can either become completely enmeshed in the vanity of your grooviness and miss out the details going on around you due to sleepwalking through life, or you can become overly self conscious and worry so much about what everyone thinks of you that you end up deafening yourself with your insecure mental chatter.

I will tell my daughter that her beauty is innate and that it is powerful but never to dwell too much in it. It will detract from the world she loves.

 

Beauty and Love

 

Why do we chose to dress and adorn ourselves the way we do?

How much of it is about what we love? About who we love? About loving ourselves?

  • On that first warm day of spring, do you wear something that reminds you of the life teeming around you? A pale green, a flower print, a bright lil’ silk scarf?
  • When you are out for a special night with your love, do you dress just to impress this one person? The sweater that is cut just right, or the shoes that kill your feet but you know make him smile?
  • When you are feeling sad on a rainy Sunday afternoon, do you wear fuzzy slippers and a warm sweater? Or maybe you wear your PJs all day.

I don’t think any of these things are wrong. They are all vital to our happiness. But, out of balance, you get this:

  • Wearing those cute strappy sandals that remind you of the beach even though it is October and you almost get frostbite.
  • Having a closet full of beautiful clothes that have become a uniform to you and bring you absolutely no joy whatsoever.
  • Going grocery shopping in PJs and house slippers.

I think your beauty and your love must include all three of these things in balance. Balanced, these things will all work for you. Expressing what you love in the world will bring energy and inspiration to those around you. Showing who you love that you are paying attention to them will deepen your relationship. Taking care of yourself will help you heal and rejuvenate. Out of balance you have foolishness, identity problems, and a diminishing of your self respect.

I will tell my daughter that it is wise to dress herself for a day in the world thinking about what she loves, to dress herself for an occasion thinking about who she loves and to dress herself when she is alone thinking about how she wants to feel.

 

Beauty and Nature

I believe our current cultural definitions of beauty are all about the babies and about our reproductive health. We find different aspects to focus on from time to time and from culture to culture; some beauty memes prefer curves that make us think of fertility and new mothers. Other memes prefer toned athletes that remind us that it takes health and strength to birth a baby.  All of the definitions of beauty celebrate some aspect of a healthy lady who can have children.

Even if we don’t want to have babies, we still tend to celebrate the physical beauty of motherhood because it so deeply a part of our culture. I think that it was just for so long, human survival meant having a large and healthy family. It meant more human connections and a safer, more prosperous life.

But really, is that all there is to it?

I say of course not!

By the grace of technology and progress, we live a lot of our lifetime outside of this time frame of motherhood (16-45). What do we do when we aren’t there yet? How do we feel when we aren’t there anymore?

Well, I can tell you how I feel, and I think a lot of people feel the same way, even when our media saturated reproduction obsessed culture seems to say otherwise.

Reproduction is wonderful, but it isn’t everything. I just know this. I see the beauty beyond it and if you cannot, then I don’t know how you can live on this earth with such narrow sight.

I see an eleven year old girl and see the convictions she has in her life right before she starts worrying about boys. She has just gotten her head around who she is. She loves animals and loves to volunteer at the animal shelter. She has a strong sense of right and wrong. She is not naive. She is herself, fully, at this rare time of life. This stage is precious. This young lady is so very beautiful.

I have an eighty five year old friend who looks at herself in the mirror and is angry. Aging is difficult, period. But my friend is fighting, fighting, fighting. She is fighting to be on this earth for as long as possible. She loves it so much. She loves all of the work she did and the cultures she explored and the discoveries she made. She wants to learn more. She wants to publish more. She wants more time. She fought through two years of debilitating pain, an infection that almost killed her, a stay in managed care and three years later is back in her own house. On her terms, near her books. She is fierce and she has a powerful grasp on this life of hers. This lady is so very beautiful.

I will tell my daughter there is beauty in every aspect of life and to courageously find it, even if it means looking in the wings, beyond the center stage of fertility.

So, will my daughter listen to me when I share these words of wisdom? I know she must make her own way though this world, so it is hard to say. But I know it will be helpful to have this in writing to refer back, when I am at my wits’ end and it seems that the world is stacked against her being a strong and healthy individual. I will remember that I thought this through because I want her to have some good ground to stand on when she is facing the challenges of growing up.

Posted in Feminism, Parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Freak Out Pixel Fun

My son, who is 8, has been overwhelmingly smitten with Mine Craft for the last school year.

I, on the other hand, have been annoyed by the entire kid and game playing phenomenon since its beginning. So when he started playing Mine Craft, I did not know much about it other than that I needed to be cautious of how much he played it. My kid disappears into a virtual world. He gets super cranky when he reaches his screen time limit. That is all I really understood.

It is a mom thing, I know. I want him to be a kid and play and learn. I don’t want him to miss important life lessons because he is glued to a screen. Also, I don’t want to rely on games and television as a crutch for a quiet kid so I can get more work done in peace. But I also know from my own experiences that technology is a part of life and you have to learn to live with it in a healthy way. Better learn to use it responsibly when you are a kid than over binge when you are a young adult, away from your parents.

Initially, I thought my kid’s Mine Craft love was just like his character love of other games he loves on the tablet such as Angry Birds and Plants Vs. Zombies. I thought he liked the graphics and moving around and flying. But, unlike those tablet games, the rules to Mine Craft are much more complex. It is a survival game in which you manage resources and survive by mining, fighting off monsters, building and farming. I learned there was a lot to the rules. Knowing about the rules made my mom-attitude-o-meter change a little towards curiosity rather than disdain regarding Mine Craft. Still though, it was not quite in my friendly zone.

Last week, after several requests, I “came along” with my son while he played Mine Craft. I finally got to learn how he feels when he plays this computer game. It is indeed a wide and multi-faceted array of emotions.

First of all, I must explain that there are several modes you can play in Mine Craft. There is a Survival Mode, which I believe is the original intent of the game, and there is a Creative Mode, where you can build and play, not worrying so much about your character’s survival.

My son learned to play through Creative Mode but was afraid to play Survival Mode.

Afraid. I was surprised by this.

He wanted me to play with him in Survival Mode for company.

At first I did not understand that he was really afraid.  My son does have a hard time with grit – working through a problem which is difficult. He often says he does not like hard work, and I thought this is what was going on. I thought he wanted me along to solve the problems for him, which I wasn’t going to do, but I thought I would be a good companion instead. So, as we were going through Survival Mode together for the first time, I encouraged him to think ahead about what he might need (build a shelter before night comes and the monsters come out, don’t get distracted), to push to explore, (you want to build a workbench? Where can you find the materials?), and to fight the monsters so that he could also get materials he needed.

And here’s where I figured it out. He was, indeed afraid of the monstersReally afraid!

This is what was holding him back from doing a lot of stuff in the game, fear of the monsters! At first I was in disbelief and then I remembered feeling exactly the same terror from the pixels.

It made me remember sitting in the basement in the WI summertime when I was 8, (because we did not yet have air conditioning), on our Commodore 64 playing Gateway to Apshai. For those of you who have never played this game, we had the cartridge version of this dungeon delve game. Your little character looked like a white stick figure made of ascii characters. It would march through a dungeon maze on the screen. The areas you hadn’t explored are a yellow pixelated checkerboard that vanish as you walk through a door into a room with…monsters!!

The Gateway to Apshai monsters should not have been scary. I’m sure to most people they were not. They usually looked just like your character, just a different color. But to me, they were scary. Particularly the giants!  They were red and just a little bigger than your character. But they moved fast like a spider! I remember my adrenaline rising and my heart racing as I pushed the little red joystick button for my sword to kill the giant. When you got hit by a monster the whole screen would flicker white and there would be a loud noise in contrast to the low humming soundtrack in the background.

Here’s a link to the game for fun 🙂

https://archive.org/details/c64gamevideoarchive058-gatewaytoapshai

When I first started playing the game, I would actually turn the game off when I’d encounter a giant. I’d get up and leave and do something else. It bothered me that much. The game still called to me though and I did play again eventually until I could withstand that jolt of adrenaline I’d feel when I saw a monster. The jolt got to be really fun!

I don’t think I ever beat the game and even now I am considering figuring out getting an emulator downloaded and to find the game again. What happens when you win? Is it as thrilling as fighting the monster? In the back of my mind, I doubt it. I think I liked the game so much because of the jolt and thrill. I never really cared about the winning then I don’t really care now.

When I told my son about this game, he begged me to figure out how to get it on my computer. He was really excited and curious to see how the simple figures could be scary to me. Maybe he also wanted to see if it would be thrilling for him.

So I share this pixel fun freakout as something unexpected but good; I completely forgot that “fun fear” could be a part of the game playing experience. It was neat to find that this is something my son experiences in a visceral way.

And, putting on my mom+nerd hat, I wonder if the “fun fear” part of playing a game can be translated into real life learning. My son is not big on stepping out of his comfort zone. Will playing Mine Craft, pushing through his fear of the witch outside his door, help him to practice pushing through real world fears? I am curious to know.

Yesterday, we played Mine Craft together again. My kid fought a spider with his bare pixel hands and then a werewolf, (it was caught behind a block of dirt). I also noticed that the screen flickers red when he got hit by a monster and that there was also a loud sound contrasting to the calming and meditative soundtrack. Hmmmm….

He got a golden apple for killing the werewolf. He was so happy! Then he got more courage to kill a scorpion with a stone sword. He was still scared, but he didn’t just run away.

It was great to see him push through the fear.

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Electric Wire Voice

Casual conversation and my voice…what a PITA these days!

I remember a time my parents could not get my off the phone and I wrote letters to out of state friends constantly. Now I am making an effort to get at least some of that back. It is hilariously painful!

My life is good. I am able to live it in a way I choose right now, and for this I am very grateful. I am able to stay at home with my children while they are little, volunteer in their schools, drive them to extra curricular activities and build and make things with them. The only downside to all of this business is that it leaves me very short on time for adult conversation.

My children are learning how to have conversations. There isn’t much give and take in these situations. Either it is about taking turns while they tell me things and I listen, or it is about me modeling good listening and asking lots of questions to which I rarely get many answers. I know it is important to keep asking and listening. But it is tiring.

On top of not having the opportunity for much adult conversation, I am entering into my 40s, which is a time of serious evaluation for a lot of us. It is a time many of us decide we really have to be who we are and stop being so very afraid to show that we have thoughts and opinions that are not always of our audience.

So, when faced with an adult conversation these days, I am challenged. On the one hand, I am out of practice with someone actually LISTENING to me. And, on the other, I am often fighting with many years of unsaid opinions and thoughts, of which just dealing with which ones I should share and which ones I really should just still keep to myself makes me CRANKY in general.

I find that looking right into someone’s eyes with my full attention makes my mind wander. For those of my friends who have wondered why I look like I am in a spacey trance looking at you, or why I have to pull my eyes away a few seconds before I speak, it is just this: human beings are lovely to look at! We all look so interesting! I am looking at the way you speak and your shiny teeth. I am noting that your eyes sparkle. I am noting how your forehead crinkles when you are excited by what you are saying. I am also losing my train of thought. Dang! What was I going to say? Oh, hey, here is the wall. Now I can think.

This is why, in the middle of many a conversation with my husband, I actually do blurt out, “Aw, you are sooo pretty!” and I forget my point entirely. I know it is fine to do that with him, but of course it is not a good idea to do that with someone I’ve just met.

Expressing what I really want to say to people I am not close friends with is also terrifying. Stay at home mom culture is tricky. When my son was a year old, I joined a moms group with kids born in the same year. I learned a lot. But I also saw some moms really be hard on each other. It made me want to be super extra nice and make sure I hosted playdates regularly with the kids with which my son got along. I was very careful to be kind and not cause waves.

As my son has gotten older, I continued in this vein with most of my casual acquaintances, but this tack ended up really biting me in the butt. I didn’t want to say things to these friends for fear of being unkind. The word “no” became increasingly difficult. My own fault! Boundaries are important. But it is a big leap for me to exercise those boundaries and admit that not everyone I like is my closest friend.

So now, when I do express my thoughts and I know they are not going to be popular, I get all pumped up. My voice gets louder and wavers a little in that bendy electric wire way. Dang! It’s embarrassing. I figure it will get better with practice.

Right now it is pretty funny for me, and I can laugh about it later, but I had an experience recently where I think I made the group of people I was with concerned I was going to break down in tears. Awkward! Frickin’ wavery and high pitched voice while I was trying to make my point. In that circumstance, it was hard to get all of the words out for all I wanted to say, the stupid fight or flight jumpy chemicals were getting in the way. But I did finally make my point. It got out there. So I’m happy, but concerned about how to pick up the aftermath. I can tell people are a little mad.  I know they weren’t so happy with me because the point I was making, but the raised voice made it an unlikeable AND ugly point. Blah!

But, I’m not giving up, no way.

Yesterday I had the best conversation with a friend over the phone. It was during one of those days I was stuck driving and driving all day as our car needed repairs and I had my 3 year old with me all day to make comfortable. My friend told me about the perils of her eye injury and her weird experience of getting something taken out of her eye that day by the doctor. I was so proud of her! She was badass! Her eye is doing well now.

Talking to my friend reminded me of the rush it is to have a great adult conversation with a friend and how much I need it for my mental health. So, I am grateful for my adult friends who like me despite of my faults. It is sure nice to know that I have someone to talk to when I’ve had one of those days where I’ve had to show people who I am and they don’t like me so much. It happens, and it isn’t the end of the world, though it is still terrifying for me. I know that the better I am at conversation, the more I can give back to the lovely person I am looking at as a way of saying thank you.

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My 8 Favorite Books of 2014

January is almost over and I meant this to be a New Year’s post. However, it is still January so, Happy New Year!

Here are my favorite books from last year. I’m going to keep it simple so that you can peruse my little reviews easily. I’m including a “just the facts” style overview and then one favorite thing I learned or thought was really neat about the book.

Before I jump in I also want to give a shout out to how amazing and helpful audio books have been for me in 2014. There is a lot out there that I want to read but unfortunately right now just sitting quietly during the day for an hour or so on a daily basis is unpredictable at best.  So that time in the car I spend shuttling kids from here to there is perfect for keeping up with non-fiction books. To boot, non-fiction books I read this year were kid appropriate 99% of the time. So thank you Audible for feeding my head in 2014!

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

An expert in the fascinating and rather taboo field of shame research, Dr. Brown detailed many findings from her research and her personal life regarding living life in a healthy way in our fast paced modern world. She directly challenged issues of perfectionism and meritocracy abundant in our culture in a disarmingly honest and engaging way. The book is very conversational in tone yet balanced by great research and citation. Both the nerd-tastic and compassionate parts of my personality were well fed.

To give you a taste of the book’s tone, here is a link to her TED talk about the Power or Vulnerability:

In particular I loved a story she shared in her book about gourd painting. As a young child, Dr. Brown’s family lived in New Orleans while her father finished his education. Her early childhood was filled with creative projects and experimental delicious cooking, though her family’s means were modest. Then the family moved to Texas where her parents embarked on well paying careers and a comfortable life. Dr. Brown explains that the creative side of family life was replaced with competitive accomplishments as she and her sister grew up and went to school. At that time, Dr. Brown felt that creativity was a frivolous dalliance and that she was not one of those “artsy types”. However, years later she describes taking a gourd painting class with her mother and how wonderful it was just to make something beautiful. I loved reading about this as it gave me hope; Personally, I cannot live without making stuff, I get very unhappy if I ignore this part of me. To this day I am constantly floored by people who strongly eschew anything creative in nature in their lives. To make something with their hands is somehow contemptible and a waste of time. It is a telltale sign to me they crave to make the world a more beautiful place. To hear Dr. Brown discover that she indeed does make the world more beautiful was quite a beautiful story in itself.

A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink

This book is about the changing landscape of the Western working world from an analytical economy to an idea based economy. Like Brown, Pink is also a researcher who makes his observations and conclusions from a careful examination of data from reliable sources. Pink postulates that in the future, the developed world’s workers will be competing against computers. If a job can be written by code to do a function well (such as simple accounting), then a fair amount of accountants will be out of a job. Creativity will become the key skill with which to compete as, like the industrial revolution, a whole new landscape of work comes into view.

I enjoyed reading Mr. Pink’s thoughts about meditation and labyrinth walking. It made me want to go out and find more labyrinths.

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

How Children Succeed was a great read. Yup, it is the third research-y book in my Favorite Books list. After much research and interview, Tough reports that it is character that is most predictive of success in life. Character traits such as resilience, curiosity, self control, social intelligence, zest, optimism, gratitude, and my favorite, conscientiousness. He talks about how important failure is for children and the learning process. He talks about the pleasure of figuring things out. He talks about the marshmallow test. The conclusions Mr. Tough describes are not easily applied to our educational system. Building character is not something you can easily evaluate or test in a short amount of time. It requires a different way of seeing things. But I feel he is on the right track. I think this book brings out that a good education is a complex thing that is difficult to reproduce. If it were simple, we wouldn’t need a book like this.

I loved reading about the findings Mr. Tough shared about conscientiousness (paying attention to details). There is indeed a field of study in psychology about conscientiousness but it had not received much attention because the general feeling of psychological researchers was that it would not be a field in which anything interesting would be gleaned. However, there were indeed fascinating discoveries about conscientiousness and success. Though I’ve intuitively felt that conscientiousness is a key to success in a creative field, it was great to read the well researched findings. I was also surprised to learn that there was an attitude against conscientiousness in the field and this detail helped me to see that it really does take out of the box thinking in any field to find something new – even if that means researching something that everyone else in your field has deemed the opposite of out of the box thinking.

10 Conversations You Need To Have With Your Children by Shmuley Boteach

This book was completely based on experience and opinion regarding parenting. Mr. Boteach writes about 10 good subjects to speak about with your children such as “On becoming a person – who, not what, do you want to be?” and “Bestowing dignity – every human being has value and every human encounter is a fresh chance to let him know it.” On an intuitive level, I found it to be a helpful, thoughtful book. It has a lot of examples of his own family experiences as well, so I felt like it was a conversation between parents as well as a book on parenting.

Mr. Boteach is a rabbi and has a great love of classic literature and it shows throughout the book. I truly enjoyed his discussion on thymotic urge and his thoughts on why humans feel they must accomplish much and thirst for recognition and celebrity. He shared this theme as something he grapples with on a daily basis and I appreciated that he felt comfortable sharing his challenges with his children. It showed me that his conversations with his children really were conversations and not lectures.

The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist

Ms. Twist really made a book of how to make healthy connections to money with your values. It helped me put into perspective how money can be a very powerful for good change in the world. Ms. Twist’s perspective comes from the many experiences she had as a fund raiser for the World Hunger Project. I found that her many stories of her international work were interesting, honest and inspirational.

In addition to aligning your spending with your values, I enjoyed Ms. Twist’s message about sufficiency. How much do you really need to be happy? She is honest that poverty is an unhappy place for any human. But past a certain point, how much is too much? She does link this into environmental issues a bit, which I think is great. It got me thinking, are we really entitled to all of the resources that our planet possesses?

The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

This is a thinking outside of the box yet comfy for speculative fiction fans book. The first book explores a culture that is set upon by a ruthless world dictator/self proclaimed demigod who is pitted against an unlikely female street urchin. Of course she has the superpowers specific to this very unusual world! It is in the superpowers where Sanderson gets very creative. The genetically inherited super powers come from a body’s ability to metabolize metals in certain ways; some people have super sight, some people have super kinetics where they can bounce off of metal and shoot it into the air, some people can see a moment into the future. There are other powers as well. The dying world is covered with ash, plants are no longer green, flowers are but a dream. The reader is led to assume that the dictator is responsible for all that is going wrong. But is this really true? You have to read the second and third novels to find out. The author takes the rules of the super powers down to the level of physics to make the world seem real and touchable. I liked that Sanderson put so much effort into his world building.

In particular, the ending chapter of the third book gets a standing-O from me. Masterfully done in the third book, Sanderson brings up questions about good and evil, balance, power, godhood and the purpose of religion overall. I loved his philosophical questioning, which was quite unexpected. He brought good meaning to his storytelling.

Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass

Pi in the Sky is a metaphysical story about the creators of the universe and their children. In particular, it is about a son of the creators of the universe. Written for young adults, I love Ms. Mass from her Birthday Book series. Her stories always paint interesting characters in adolescence as they go through typical adolescent trials and tribulations. This one is no different and explains how the main character, who carries pies from his aunt from one place to another, really has one of the most important jobs in the universe. That and he falls in love. Of course!

The book is full of character humor. I liked the main character’s brother, who is a muse for artists. The brother’s face is always found in his subject’s works in some way. The brother is lovely, caring and helpful but little insufferable and a little bit vain without being aware. Ms. Mass just has a lot of fun with her characters I believe.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Ms. Kaling’s very early bio is just as hilarious as you would expect from The Mindy Project. Just like the main character’s brother in Pie in the Sky, she is brilliant, loving, caring and just a little insufferable and vain, but in the tongue and cheek way in which she is famous.

I truly enjoyed reading about how Ms. Kaling was “discovered” after performing her hit play Matt & Ben, where Ms. Kaling and Brenda Withers played Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. No, I haven’t seen it (yet). But I think it shows Ms. Kaling is a truly fearless lady as well as talented and that something that wacky got her a foot in the door. Yay!

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