2018 End of Year Wrap Up

Another year down the drain. Where did the time go?? I must be getting old or something because it seems like 2018 was just beginning. I had a busy year but managed not to do a ton of things. I do have a few highlights, though. I am going to be better about doing a year in review post from now on, mostly to keep myself on track and see what I actually did and what I need to do better in the future. Might as well share it with the interwebs. 🙂

Things that I didn’t actually do:

My sweet girl started 3rd grade. She goes to a school that teaches a grade level ahead and she’s killing it. Math isn’t her favorite subject, but she does a good job with it. Better than I EVER did. And she loves reading, which delights me to no end. She reads wayyy above her grade level. Her favorite books are the Wings of Fire series. We also just read the first Harry Potter book and now she’s obsessed. She loves Star Trek, Dr Who, and Star Wars, so I feel like maybe I’m doing something right. She’s so smart, funny, pretty, and kind. She is also stubborn and defiant and challenging and headstrong and brave. She’s my little Viking and as frustrating as she can be at times, I wouldn’t change one single thing. She is stronger than I am in a lot of ways and I try hard to foster her individuality and teach her that it’s ok to speak up and use her voice in ways I was never allowed to do when I was little. I am so proud of her and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. Right now, though, she has a super gross cold, so I imagine what she comes up with with be some form of snot…

My mom started going to an all-women’s boxing gym in early spring and loves it, which makes me super proud of her. With the exception of probably Amy, my mom could most likely kick every one of my friends’ asses without too much trouble. That’s handy, since most of my friends could use a good ass kicking. 🙂 She got me started in on it as well, and so I’ve been going since May. I can throw some hard punches now for a little girl and am getting in pretty good shape. Thanks for talking me into trying it out, Mom!

My favorite books of 2018:

Favorite podcasts I discovered:

Movies I saw in the theatre:

  • Christopher Robin. I took my daughter to see it. We both fucking loved Eeyore. But I think this is the only movie I actually went to all year. I just don’t enjoy them like I used to. I want time to stop while I’m in the theatre so it’s the same time when I get out as it was when I went in. Since it’s not, I tend to feel like I’m wasting my time. If I went to another movie this year, damned if I can remember it.

Favorite new shows I discovered:

  • Star Trek: Discovery. I just got the DVDs of this for Xmas, so this is a BRAND new discovery (heh, see what I did there?) of 2018 for me. I absolutely refuse to pay for a subscription to CBS All-Access when most of the shows on CBS are, IMO, utter shit, and even the paid subscription has ads. Fuck off, CBS. I’ll wait for the DVDs. That said, this is a fantastic new addition to the Trekverse and I have a feeling I’ll be writing posts about this.
  • Shetland, by Netflix. It’s based on a series of novels by Ann Cleeves, which I’ve never read. I’ve found the plot itself to be fairly typical, just another police procedural. But I watch it for the cinematography. Ye GODS, it’s so fucking beautiful in the Shetland Islands! There’s no sun, no shadows, it looks cold and miserable and I have to go there immediately. It looks like a place where I would never get migraines unless it was hormonal.

Wherein I use my thinking part:

  • I made a concerted effort to write a review for every book I read this past year. For the most part, I managed it, but I think there were a couple I might have missed. In 2019, I’m going to work on writing better reviews than I did in 2018. I’m also going to write fewer reviews FOR other people except Discovering Diamonds, because I want to read more for my own pleasure.
  • I started a post-graduate certification program in Tolkien Studies through Signum University. It’s been excellent for me, getting to think again. Mostly, I feel like I’m losing my mind and my brain will start leaking out my ears any minute. Starting grad classes again has been a great kick for me, helping me to see that I do still have some brain cells, and I can still write good papers. Out of my first class (I’ve done 2 so far, and need a total of 5 to complete the program), I submitted a paper to the major Tolkien conference in England for August 2019. I don’t know yet if it’s been accepted. The CFP isn’t closed until February, so I won’t know until after that. It would be shiny if I get to present my paper, but if I don’t, that’s ok. If I don’t, it will save me a shit ton of money since I’m planning to go to Scotland in October 2019, but if I do get to present my paper, that will be cool, too. It’s about how liminal space in literature helps define character identity, using The Hobbit and Coraline as my example texts.
  • One of my coworkers and I started a book club at work for all the staff and faculty in our college. Really, it’s all about being able to read at work… Our first book was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. The next is going to be Circe by Madeline Miller.

Speaking of reading, I did pretty well with my reading goals this year. I topped out at 97 books, not counting ones I DNF’d. In total, I read 21,131 pages and listened to 246:45 hours of audiobooks. I averaged 8 books a month. I read 59 books by women (60%) and 38 by men (39%). I read 24 books by authors of color (not quite 25%). In 2019, I’d like to bump that up to at least 30%. I read mostly SFF (33), historical fiction (25), and literary fiction (16), with other genres falling in here and there. I didn’t finish the Read Harder 2018 challenge, but I got 19 out of 24 tasks:

  1. A book published posthumously: NA
  2. A book of true crime: NA
  3. A classic of genre fiction: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (fantasy)
  4. A comic written and illustrated by the same person: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  6. A book about nature: NA
  7. A western: Doc: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell
  8. A comic written or illustrated by a person of color: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  9. A book of colonial or post-colonial literature: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  10. A romance by or about a person of color: A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
  11. A children’s classic written before 1980: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
  12. A celebrity memoir: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  13. An Oprah Book Club selection: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  14. A book of social science: Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
  15. A one-sitting book: Sea Witch by Helen Hollick
  16. The first in a new-to-you YA or MG series: Grimmtastic Girls#1: Cinderella Stays Late by Joan Holub
  17. A sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Solomon Rivers
  18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, GC, or Image: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  19. A book of genre fiction in translation: NA, unless you count A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  20. A book with a cover you hate: The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
  21. A mystery by a POC or LGBTQ+ author: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
  22. An essay anthology: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum
  23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60: Misfortune of Vision (Druids Brooch #4) by Christy Nicholas
  24. An assigned book you hated or never finished: NA

And, really, the biggest thing of 2018 is that I was approached by an editor at Pen and Sword Books to see if I wanted to write a book about a couple medieval queens for them. Umm, YES? I’m waiting for the contract, which has been approved but not sent to me yet, so I’ll wait to share more deets, but that honestly about blew me away. I’m so excited and I am looking forward to the process.

In 2019, some goals I have, other than writing the book and doing what I can to help the Resistance put 45 and his tribe in prison, are:

  1. Read 150 books
  2. Start running again and do a 5k
  3. Start journaling again
  4. Embrace minimalism
  5. Eat cleaner

We’ll see how things pan out. 2019, let’s do this.

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Guest Post by Leslie Key: Looking and Seeing: Nalanda Miksang Contemplative Photography

51eje8r2i8l-_sx398_bo1204203200_Title: Looking and Seeing: Nalanda Miksang Contemplative Photography by John McQuade and Miriam Hall

I read it as an: eBook

Source:  Leslie Key’s own collection

Length: 6 hours/more if using as reference

Publisher: Drala Publishing

Year: 2015

 

A Poem

Staying in One Place

Could it be that we like to stay

where it’s comfortable even to our dismay?

What turns the tide to rescue us?

How many turns must we pass,

before we choose the Way?

Sea Sand Stone and Shell 1 CR LR .jpg (1 of 1)
Sea, Sand, Stone and Shell 1

This poem and image were created during the moments of reflection on an experience I had with contemplative photography.

The book Looking and Seeing was my first formal introduction to the idea of contemplative photography, which is a focused and mindful visual experience with intention. Looking is the moment of perception that takes you into seeing, creating the personal connection. With my camera as my tool, it is a Way of Seeing the world around me, a perceptual wonder. McQade and Hall describe a Way as a path or practice to perception (seeing) (2015). In the second section of Looking and Seeing the authors explain what it means to have “view, motivation and intention” as it relates to capturing images through experiencing them with mind, body and spirit. I have used and am using this concept for several photographic projects now.

For example, over the 4th of July this year I visited friends in San Diego, CA. Every year they head down to Ocean Beach and typically arrive around sunrise to ensure they land a good spot near the pier. This year I decided to commit to Ocean Beach on the 4th of July and join my dear friends Benny and Shari each year to follow. I’ve also committed to visually capturing Ocean Beach in each visit during the wee hours of the mornings of each 4th of July. The images I captured in July of 2017 proved to be different than what I saw during my July 2018 visit.

This year during these wee hours the sea shore showed me places that were soon hidden by the high tide. I had several hours to capture the shore at low tide. I titled this photographic project “Staying in One Place.” The first image below captures the crevasses and streams of sea, sand, stone and shell. In contemplative photography I take the time to experience the environment that I plan to capture with my camera. This year I spent about two hours walking, listening and standing still with my eyes closed to listen carefully to what this place could show me. This is when I can hear what I see. McQuade and Hall call this a mind-set of practice using “view, motivation and intent” to be “fully human and awake” (2015, p. 19).

My view or orientation of the scene is when I can understand the journey in capturing the image. This is how I captured the image below and my perception when I clicked the camera shutter. As I angled my camera and tripod securely on a mossy and somewhat slippery stone, I began to compare the elements of sea, sand, stone and shell to people; people (including myself at times) who have decided to stay in their crevasses and still water, passing every opportunity to move on.

How many times in life are we forced to move and change? How many times is our positive, yet painful change forced by circumstances we are in through choices we have made? This can sound dreadful yet is a natural path to discovery.

The following three photographs are from my photo project “Stay in One Place.”

Sea Sand Stone and Shell 2
Sea, Sand, Stone and Shell 2
2 Sea Sand Stone and Shell CR LR .jpg (1 of 1).jpg
Sea, Sand, Stone and Shell 3

 

Tidal Force CR LR .jpg (1 of 1)
Tidal Force

Another recent photographic project I titled “From My Car Window” gave me a new Way of Seeing.  I focused on using contemplative photography on a recent road trip to Ottawa, Kansas. Because of a short time-frame and urgent need to get to my destination, I realized my car window was my only chance to capture some incredible scenes with full intention of using the “discipline of relaxation,” which McQuade and Hall describe as a moment of contemplative practice or intent. Here are a few images that I captured from my car window. The experience offered me a “Way of Seeing” while moving fast enough that if my camera settings were not perfect, the image would not display what I saw. In other words, I synchronized.

The following four photographs are from my photo project “From My Car Window.”

Cumulus LR .jpg (1 of 1)
Cumulus

Traces CR LR .jpg (1 of 1)
Traces

Two Horses CR LR .jpg (1 of 1)
Two Horses

High Desert CR LR .jpg (1 of 1)
High Desert

McQuade and Hall frequently refer to a “flash of perception” through synchronization or creating a state where eye, mind and world all come together at the same time (p. 21). To prepare for this experience, I ensure that my camera and equipment are ready to be put to use, a time when my logical, organizational mind begins to prepare for the contemplative photographic event.

In the final chapters of Looking and Seeing the authors give me a chance to put the concept of contemplative photography into practice. McQuade and Hall bring me into a world of new perception and thinking about what a miracle vision really is. The authors call it an unconditional miracle of “sheer manifestation” (p. 32). For example, we see color every day, right? Using the concept of contemplative photography, I first contemplate the color by first looking, then seeing (perceiving) the color, to making an image of the color. This same exercise is applied to light and shadows, texture and patterns. This is a process, an exercise in contemplative photography.

In closing I would like to say that I love capturing what I see and feel. I love the idea that sharing images for the sheer pleasure of sharing, is my goal. This book is for all types of photographers, from film and digital, to iphone, to the snapshot wonder. Looking and Seeing is a form of mindful meditation through a Way of Seeing and capturing the world we live in.

***

Leslie Key is, by profession, a full-time faculty of higher education. By hobby, she is a photographic hobbyist who loves to capture what she sees and feels, with intentions of becoming a professional nature photographer.

As a full-time faculty with the University of Phoenix, Leslie teaches courses in critical thinking, and general life and study skills to first year college students. She finds that she connects well with these students who are either returning or new to college. She identifies well the struggles to balance family, career, and college because this is what she did.

Returning to college at 45 years was interesting and scary, but Leslie achieved her goals and earned a master in adult education and learning theories. She then began her second career in higher education and has worked in student services, academic affairs, administration and now as full-time faculty.

Her background in photography started at age 5 when her father introduced her to a point and shoot camera, so she could take photos alongside him. Her interest continued through the years photographing people, places and things. Today, her intentions continue, and her focus deepens.

Leslie hopes you enjoy her guest blog post and photographs. She is in the process of creating her professional website, which is now under construction. In the meantime, please check out her Photography Profile

French Women Don’t Get Fat

1320781French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 304 pp

Publisher: Vintage

Year: 2007

This book is about the French culture and how they manage to eat the foods they eat – lots of rich sauces and breads and wine and chocolate – without becoming obese the way so many Americans are. It’s the French Paradox, although I think that specific term was only used once in the whole book. I think that some people – a lot of people, actually, based on some of the criticism this book has received – might get defensive about what they view as an attack on American culture, or see it as fat shaming. But let’s face it: she’s right about a lot of things, like it or not. The main premise is simply to eat fresh, seasonal foods in moderation, get up off your lazy ass, eat with purpose and at an actual table off of actual plates with actual silverware, and drink a shitload of water. This isn’t a difficult concept to grasp, but I think American ideas of what is a portion are so overinflated that a correct portion seems like starvation rations. The entire framework requires a shift in mindset. It really struck me when Mireille wrote that French women are always thinking about good things to eat and American women are worrying about bad things to eat. I think that is true for many people, even those who are thin.

Throughout the book, Mireille tried to highlight the idea that food and eating should bring pleasure, not stress, anxiety, or shame. At the same time, she also stressed that there is no reason that pleasure from food implies it shouldn’t also be healthy. The concepts she claims are cultural to the French are very much common sense things that my own mother taught me. If you overindulge one day or one week, cut back a little until you feel back in balance. Don’t starve yourself. Have a good variety of foods that are in season. Eat lots of fruits and veggies. Walk or ride your bike to as many places as you can. I have a hard time with this one simply because it’s too hot to do that all the time where I live, and I also live in the suburbs. But when it isn’t over 90 (more often over 100), I do walk several times a week to the grocery store to buy what I need for a couple days. I make up for the lack of walking, which I love doing when it isn’t so hot it triggers a migraine, by going to my all-women’s studio gym, which I also love. I know Mireille hates the gym but I love beating the shit out of the mannequin Bob. I’m nicer after boxing. I take the stairs when I can, and I don’t park as close as I possibly can. I park where there is shade, no matter how far it is from where I need to go. When it gets cooler, I plan to get a bike and start riding it to the weekly farmer’s market. It should be fun, and buying fresh, local food items is a thing I support anyway. I’m rather looking forward to it!

There is also a huge component to eating at home and preparing your own meals. I think people now view cooking and food preparation as a tedious chore that has to be done, or else they don’t bother at all and just go out all the time or buy garbage you can throw in a microwave. And then kids have behavior problems because diet is absolutely linked to behavior. When my own kid eats healthy, she minds a lot better. She also has a healthier appetite when I don’t let her snack. She gets breakfast, lunch, a small afternoon snack, and dinner. She whines about it sometimes, especially if she’s been at my mom’s a lot because my stepdad eats constantly and she sees that bad example. When she gets back on a proper eating schedule, she eats well, and she is a lot more willing to try new foods. She also likes to  help me fix the meals on occasion, though I’m still trying to get her to understand that she has to follow a recipe until she learns what actually goes well together. But I try to make it fun and when she is able to make something well, she feels proud of herself. Cooking with my daughter is a lot of fun and is something I look forward to. It is my job to teach her how to be well and I see no reason why it should be a chore to do. There are a lot of recipes that were included in this book that we can try together that she would like. I also have a large collection of cookbooks that I use all the time, and I like to teach her how I plan a menu. She likes to pick out recipes so when I let her do that, it adds to her enjoyment of food and learning that it is a pleasurable thing to cook.

I liked that Mireille was careful to note that of course not every single French woman is thin. Being overweight or obese is a universal issue and not confined to American culture. It is, however, a lot more rare in France, where it is culturally ingrained to eat smaller portions, eat fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables, walk everywhere as much as possible, linger over meals rather than cramming them down like you’re starving, drink tons of water, and any number of other things that Americans in general simply don’t do. Like it or not, the observations made in the book about American culture are pretty accurate. Some things may be a little out of touch, but overall, I thought this was a great intro to changing one’s mindset and relationship to food. Regardless of one’s social class or income, I think these basic rules are things most people can follow in their everyday life. It is just a matter of whether you want to or not.