Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Facebook Games: My Obsession My Guilty Pleasure

This morning I sprung from bed with a quickness. Rushing through my morning routine one thought in mind, 'did anyone attack my backyard monsters?' My latest most favorite obsession on Facebook is a cartoon world of tiny monsters that are made for the purpose of attacking my neighbors.  It is intense.  Yesterday my entire town was wiped out.  All my hard work to save up twigs and pebbles for my new town hall were gone.  Some guy named Jeff took them all..urgghh Jeff! Incensed I was on a mission yesterday to reorganize and so far it is holding the possible attackers off and the new town hall plans are back on track.

As I write this I toggle back and forth checking my updates so I can move my little workers around and get the most from my time before I have to go off to work.  I know it is obsessive.  Wondering if I was alone in my obsession I went to facebook- where else would go for questions about the world.  I am not alone.  Friends tell me that they set their alarms to harvest crops in similar games on the same social network.  Still not satisfied I pulled out the big guns and googled it.  

CNN ran an article February 23, at that time Farmville had more active users then the entire population of France.  It is nice not to be alone.

The article then goes on to explain that the huge popularity is attributed to the type of games that Zynga (the genius company that came up with Farmtown and Monster Backyard) has created. Comes with their structure.  There aren't any prolonged stories or intricate computer skills needed.  These are the games that you can play while you are on the phone, they are the play and walk away games that we love.  Well some may play and walk away...I'm too busy plotting my revenge on this Jeff guy. 


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Web writing VS. Novel writing

This summer I challenged myself to post daily and write in my novel daily.  They are more different than I ever believed. 

Novel writing
Writing in my novel is done is dark solitude. Typing for hours with no outside conversations.  Perfect sentences and amazing metaphors sit for only me to see.  I battle with characters, plot construction and the art of dropping clues that don't look like nuclear bombs but are instead slight and elusive like a wispy fog. Each chapter is determined by me.  I am the rule maker.  God of the pages before me. Omnipotence is lonely. 

Blog writing
This blog is a breathing beast.  I write and it talks back in a range of voices.  I post and link and before I know it the post has run off.  Gaining in speed and wreaking havoc all along the way. Like a good nursemaid I watch its stats and monitor its health in amazement.  Some days I think, 'ech...not bad' it thinks otherwise.  I sit and bleed out my soul and the post melts away into nothingness. There are no restrictions.  I post poems, research pieces, personal narratives whatever I am interested in for that day.  It is very seductive. alluring me with a daily freedom of choice. 

The summer goal fell apart briefly but the seductive call of free choice of subject and form have been pulling back at me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Death: A party we are all garunteed

Ever feel that some times death is too close?  It is around every corner and haunting you when you at every turn.  It was one of those weeks for me. 

Two funerals in a single week and I was spent.  Too tear streaked to write.

In these times of loss and sadness I want to be ready for my own passing.  I want to know that my family will not have to scramble with the business of going on after I'm gone.  My Grandmother was a planner.  She had everything ready at her death.  Will written, letters to loved ones expressing her last feelings and good byes, service planned and plot purchased she had us taken care of even at her death and we could focus on the process of healing and missing her. She taught me how important it is to be there for your family even when you are gone.

God love the Internet, it has made this process so easy.

I have become a bit of a freak about being prepared.  I have a binder that I keep a copy of my life insurance policy, my health insurance, my identification, information about my death plan.  Did you stutter over that?  Death plan is what I want done with my body, and what kind of celebration I want at my death.  Even more importantly I have an updated will.  Probate court is not how you want to have your loved ones remember you. 
There are websites (http://www.deadmansswitch.net/ or http://www.ifidie.com/ )  that you can join and get a log in and it will allow you to type up emails that you want sent following your death.  The site will check in with you every month by sending an email that you respond to testing if you are still...well alive.  If there is no response then it will fire off a total of three tries before it sends the emails to your loved ones that you want them to receive at your death.  You can include passwords that your loved ones may need to access your accounts. http://www.thedigitalbeyond.com/online-services-list/ Has a giant list of additional sites that have similar accounts that you can set up.

It is better to live a life that is prepared for the end.  Your survivors will thank you for it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Too early to go

Death is a suit that does not fit the young.

It is to big, the seams are all wrong.

The shade is too dark for lives that are so bright.

The suit would be more fitted on some one of my stature.

Not you.

You were mine for a year in my heart of a lifetime. 

Childlessness vanished for a moment with your smile.

Teacher's nightmare- energetic with always something to say. 

I wouldn't, couldn't imagine you any other way. 

I will miss you dear friend. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Does your neighborhood make you fat?

Does where you live impact your physical health? Researchers are looking for a link to just that. Physical health, measured through body mass index (BMI) is a combination of several complex relationships in a person’s life. Researchers have linked it to living environment and neighborhood driving conditions are just a handful of influencing factors for BMI.

What is BMI?

The body mass index is a number that is a ratio of weight to height. Calculators can be found anywhere online. A BMI of less than 18 is seen as being underweight. Normal range is anywhere from 18.5 to 24.9. The overweight range is 25-29.9. The extremely dangerous range is the obese with a BMI of 30 or more. Recent reports from the CDC states that Americans have grown from the average BMI of 25 to 28. As a nation we went from the edge of normal to the edge of overweight bordering on obese. This increase has scientist in a scramble to discover what is driving the dramatic gain.

What relationship to your neighborhood and your health?

Scientists are looking for connections to out BMI and our environment. The most recent was conducted in a neighborhood study by a team of researchers in various fields of at the University of Buffalo. They had three significant findings. First, the larger the number of restaurants within a five minute walk of the person’s house results has a higher BMI. Second, women who reside closer to supermarkets and grocery stores tend to have lower BMIs. Third, they found that the interaction of food environment and the structural environment has a huge impact on obesity. If the land is used diversely meaning there are parks and trails near home it is beneficial for promoting physical activity but when there are more restaurants then the BMI increases.

Another study, related to a person’s physical environment was published earlier in the year by the University of Alberta. They focused on the perceived traffic in a neighborhood and its relation to BMI. The biggest surprise for researchers was when people believed that traffic was bad in their neighborhoods they had a higher BMI. Researchers failed to connect the participant’s level of physical activity to the study. They did find that the neighborhoods social economic status and the age of did have a connection. The oldest and poorest neighborhoods had the highest BMI.

Tanya Berry, leader of the UA study suggest that there are three D’s of a neighborhoods walkability: diversity, density and design. Berry explained that lower income neighborhoods many times would rank high in all of the three D’s but it is their perception of their environment that keeps them from going out into it. They fear for their safety and stay inside. Combining the studies, it is not only your environment but how you see your environment.  See the benefits and use them and your body will reap the benefits. 
In conclusion

Environment and the how we see our environment impacts our health. Instead of walking to that nearby restaurant go to the grocery store next door. The key is to walk. Walking in your neighborhood and other regular physical activity is what can keep us all healthy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Stumbleuponed...Live what you love

"...as an exercise for myself and you, I’ve created a list of questions to ask ourselves to help define that passion."
Have you ever played on with www.stumbleupon.com?  It is the most genius!   You click a button and then random (registered) sites pop up in no particular order.  I shockingly picked history, art, writing and a random selection of things.  This has become a secret passion of mine.  (There is a link to it on the bottom of this site.)

You see the most random bizarre and most amazing things that I would have never searched for, and most likely don't have the google rating to even show if I did search for them.  In my reckless random wandering last night I found 'Living Legacy' by Tia.  She was featuring the top 50 questions to ask yourself to define your passion.  50 questions are a lot!  I got overwhelmed just looking at it.  I have chopped the list.  Enjoy!   

Life Questions:
How do you really feel about what you are doing right now at this exact moment?

What is your fondest childhood memory? Who was there? What was going on?

How comfortable are you in your home?

What is one quality about your parent(s) that you really loved?

What is one quality about your parent(s) that you really do not like?

Do you like what you are doing for money?

What do you feel is your greatest skill?

What do you feel is your greatest personality trait?

Do you feel like anything in your life is holding you back from ultimate joy? List everything.

Write a paragraph or two about your ideal weekend/time away from work. Include location, sights, smells, food, activities, and people.

How close are you in proximity to the people you absolutely adore the most?

What do you want out of life?

How do you think people will remember you, when you die?

Write your epitaph - the sentence you would want to appear on your grave.

Do you have a hobby that you like to do but you don’t get paid for? What is it?

Does money hold you back from anything? What does it hold you back from? Be very specific.

Do you know anyone who you feel is living their dream? Who? What do they do all day and night? Be very specific.

Do you think you can be completely satisfied living where you do right now?

What do you want to accomplish?

What are three things that you do everyday that make you totally happy?

What do you want to pass on to your children?

What is something you have never tried but would like to?

Are there things in life you wish you could reverse or make right?

Do you feel like you have enough money to live the way you want to?

Are you happy when you think about the upcoming day and all that it comes with?

What do you find challenging?

What do you find thrilling?

What are three memories you haven’t yet created but you would like to?

Do you feel energized when you work?

Do you feel creative when you work?

Describe what you consider work, and what you consider play. What are the differences?

Do you feel blessed or lucky to wake up each day? How can you get to that point?

If all of your debt was forgiven tomorrow, and you had a completely clean slate, what is the very FIRST thing you would change about your life?

Where are three places you have always thought about living but never did?

When do you want to retire?

Is there an award or accolade you have always dreamed of winning or being recognized for?

If you could learn how and money was not an issue, is there anything else you would do for work besides what you are doing now? Be specific.

List three things you would immediately change about your work day if you were the boss (assumes you are not the boss).

List three things you would immediately start doing on the weekends if you had the money.

Imagine it is a big holiday and you are with your loved ones and you are living what you truly love. When they ask what you have been doing, what do you say in reply?

Hope you take a little time and think about what your legacy will be. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Creativity Part II: How do you get it jump started?

Writing daily is draining.  I am starting to think that the screen's fluid light is sucking my powers to create.  Working in creative mode all day means that you have to give yourself a chance to refuel. 

When I was working on my MBA, in marketing I would hear of these marketing agencies with bicycles, air soft guns, meditation rooms, walls made completely of sticky notes where the atmosphere was constant party and adults were expected to play.  My work environment is a little different.  The television is on with some day time rubbish about some desperate female trying to find the baby daddy. The dogs battle with the laptop for lap space.  Instead of a sticky notes I have a pretty scary stack of old mail that beckons me to go through and file or toss. If I need a moment of meditation I do dishes...not quiet the same.

I decided I would not go into marketing I chose this.  I keep telling myself that in hopes that it makes it easier.  With this as my chosen life path I have to find ways to motivate and ignite creativity for myself.  In this constant search I have turned up a few jewels. 

Enjoy your meditative creative break.  Now grab a cup of coffee and get back to work.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Benefit of Failure

“My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.” ~Mahatma Gandhi quotes

Yesterday I had the good fortune of finding the JK Rowling's speech to Harvard graduates.  (JK Rowling: The fringe benefits of failure Video on TED.com)  In her warm, funny speech she looked back at the time in her life where she was having her biggest failures.  The times when she learned, was humbled and kept writing kept going for her goals. 

I have always loved her story.  I connected to it because it reminds in a way the same as what I have lived.  As a college graduate I taught for three years in a school in a tough neighborhood. I wanted to help everyone.  I volunteered for every position there was. I was at the school for meetings or events for hours each week on top of my regular schedule.  It was the perfect storm for burn out. 

Convinced that the college diploma was a magic piece of paper to get me any job I desired I quit, left teaching.  In six months I struggled daily to find a job.  It seems even with a degree people still wanted experience.  August came, as the families buzzed around the school supply aisle I wept.  Yearning for the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, and the sight of sparkly group of new students.  Knowing I had let that all go broke my heart. 

After some failed attempts to work in the mortgage industry I knew I had to scramble to get back into education.  It pulled at me everyday.  In September it is difficult to find any teaching job much less one as a history teacher- those are typically saved for the coaches.  I lucked out and got a long term substitute teaching job.  Meanwhile, I was homeless living on a sofa.  The mortgage company job had fallen through and  the finance company was trying to repossess my car.  I was just trying to find something to bring in money.  Minimum wage jobs said I was over qualified others said I didn't have enough skills.

Through luck I found a long term substituting job in the district I had just left.  The meager salary did not cover everything.  By night I would do inventories for ten dollars an hour then sleep a few hours and teach.  On weekends I was a house/pet/kid sitter when I was not working as a cleaning lady.  I continued this for several months.  It looked like it was going to work.  I got a little apartment, the scary neighbors were just a side benefit. (They provided fodder for stories that I had yet to write.)  Opened a checking account and could afford food every now and then.  It looked like I was clawing my way out of the bad times.

Working late one night at the school I came out of the school and could not find my car.  I knew immediately, repossession.  They had found me.  Tough to work several jobs in Texas with no car.  I was crushed.  I called the company, they told me I had 30 days before my car would be put up for auction or I could pay them $1,500.  Felt like they were asking for a million.  I was going to have to do something I had been able to avoid till then, begging.  Contacting all my family my stomach was turning with defeat I asked for money.  I got it after letting go of my pride and admitting I needed help they were there.  The Queen of Independence learned a tough lesson. There are people all around you that want to be there for you you just have to reach out.  

This Cinderella story didn't end with a White Knight and a big castle at least not yet.  Instead I learned.  I can live off very little.  Rice isn't that bad, even if you have to eat it everyday for months.  There are some jobs where you become invisible in our society.  Stripped of all the stuff, I write.  I write for escape.  In my writing I am free,  I do not suffer, fear, or regret.  My successes as a person is not measured by what I have it is by measured by what I have overcome. 

I hope you never have to overcome the levels of poverty I have.  I do hope that you fail.  It is how you find out who you are and what you have when everything else it gone.  It is not something to fear.  It is something to learn from to become better inspite of.  Is this the last of my failures?  Most likely, this is just the beginning.  I know there are many lessons for me still to learn and I embrace them.       


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Freedom's ROI

"The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”- Thucydides (Ancient Greek historian)
What is freedom? Sounds like a question that one of my college professors could talk about for months. Freedom is one of those elusive modern terms that we hang the hat of our nation on yet don't really understand.  The dictionary defines freedom as the absences of necessity, coercion or constraint in action.  In short, freedom is choice. The choice of how to live, vote, pray, eat, talk it is all parts of who we are.

"ROI = Return On Investment. Although this term originated in financial circles I recently figured out it also applies to life in general." ~ Melowout's Missteps

On this fourth of July I wonder, how would a nation determine the Return on Investment for Freedom?  Like the earlier quote suggest this is something that we associate with the financial realms but what if we applied it to our fourth of July.  First we have to look at what was invested which can be immeasurable.  How do you calculate lives lost, fortunes gambled, the precious value of choice? 

If we can't calculate a set number than lets focus on the cost versus profit or this case national benefits. 

1) When the signers of the Declaration of Independence took those bold steps against a government they made the hard choice to jump from being rowdy to rebellious. For a country that largely considered themselves British this was a deadly switch. The cost were reputations, fortunes and lives.    

Those signers determined the fate of a nation.  When they singed that paper there were only 2.5 million people in the United States.  Little did they know that 309.6 million people would be celebrating that choice over two hundred years later.

2) The forefathers were stepping up against the tyranny they felt from taxation, economic repression.  The "heavy taxing" was still less than the continental British citizens had to pay but it was the lack of vote that upset the colonist the most.  The benefit of their wanting an economically free nation has been a tradition that has stuck.  If you look at current economic indexes of freedom the United States is still one of the most free nations economically ranking as the 8th most free. Interestingly the United States is ranked two above her colonial mother which is ranked ten. 

3)  Every fourth of July an email starts to float about that tells the wretched outcomes of the men that signed that fateful paper. History, particularly historians are prone to embellish for the making of a good tale.  These men did pay a price however it may not have been one that is much different than the other United States citizens. Our soldiers and their families today still pay the price of freedom of stepping up to tyranny.

What is the ROI of freedom? The cost of human life, of courage it took to fight against the familiar for some unknown was a pretty high price.  Everyone in those early years was touched by it and paid some how.  The benefits have been overwhelming. Even in an economy sitting in recession we are still one of the most blessed nations having the highest GDPs.  The United States is by far the largest donor to International Aid for foreign development encouraging nations world wide to follow our lead economically.  A nation that was butt of many a joke starting out has become a global powerhouse because we chose  freedom. 

Celebrate this day- celebrate your freedom.   


Friday, July 2, 2010

One way

"There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still."  -Franklin D Roosevelt

Inspired by a slew of books I have read lately I decided to give this meditation stuff a try.  The books made it sound like this metaphysical experience.  That would bring you internal peace something that I would love more of in my life.  I thought it would be easy at first.  You close your eyes and the brain falls into this trance and boom you are there.  Apparently that is not how it works...at least for me.  

The first attempt I fell asleep.  To my defence, it was an especially long day and I was comfortable. 

The second attempt I got wiser.  I decided to do it in the morning when the sleep has been all wrung out of me.  Laying with slow deep breaths, hands resting on my on my stomach I concentrated on breathing. Well, I did at first.  Then I thought about what I had do with the day, how hot my room was, how I needed to lose that chubby roll under my hand suddenly I remembered I was suppose to be quiet.  With great work I went back to that state of mental silence.  It lasted a minute...almost.  Then it was back to the absent wondering from one topic to another.   Dragged myself back to the mental quiet three times after.  After the third time, I was in a full sweat and fed up with my lack of metaphysical ability. 

The third attempt came after several months.  I had to really talk myself into it.  After researching I found that I could concentrate on one thing in my life that I was struggling with rather than the mental silence that eluded me.  That was a great relief to me.  With my new technique in hand I decided I would try it again in the morning.  My eyes popped open and I was ready, I assumed the position.  Hands resting on my stomach, laying flat breath deep mind focused.  Well, it started that way.  Focusing on the problem...breathing deep I was better at this.  No telling how long I was in that state, felt like a million years.  Then it was like word association.  I thought about one problem, I was having with a friend.  Next I was thinking about that delish dessert she made last time I was over at her house, about a book I read about a chef who solved murders  then wondered how she would be at solving murder. Suddenly catching myself I went back to the problem with the friend.  Felt like eternity of weighing both sides.  She has a beautiful house. If I had that house how would I have decorated it?  There I went back down the wrong road.  Deciding that keeping my mind still was like telling a hamster to sit.  It might sit for a bit, but it is by accident and won't last long.  A hamster has got to get on that wheel and spin in circles for a bit or burrow and dig.  Sitting is not its style. 

I have not made a fourth attempt. Maybe I will give it a go...the 4th of July is around the corner.  Inner peace is still elusive...I will keep trying.     

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Some dreams die early

Writers witness and write.  After seeing the sadest little student council race I came home and had to write this.  The child in the story was a stranger to me, but watching him innocent and brave gave me hope for any dream I have hopes of accomplishing.  It showed me that you have to try and do your best and that when that isn't good enough that God will send people to your life to help you.

“Josh, you’re up!” Thundered throughout the cafetorium, or maybe the thundering was only in his head. His ten year old body was concrete as he tried to make his way to the microphone. All the eyes were on him. He could feel each one steeling his strength.

Last night in front of his mirror he was the greatest politician that ever lived. The people he spoke to laughed, cried, they were moved by him. He was empowered by them. He was strong. He knew what to say. Last night he knew this moment would change his life forever. He was right.

Today, the walk with all eyes on him took every bit of strength he could muster. In his mind he told himself, “Okay Josh, this is show time,” and he slowly turned around to face his audience.

Facing the audience was much worse then before. Earlier he could only imagine the eyes, now here they were, all on him. He swallowed hard.

That giggly girl from his history class was sitting in the front row swinging her feet back and forth without a care in the world. He had a deep and sudden urge to punch her as hard as he could in the face. He didn’t. Mr. Frank, his math teacher, was smiling strangely at a visiting mom. His other teachers were shifting from side to side like their feet hurt. Josh wanted to go back to his seat, but there he stood frozen. Absentmindedly his hand clutched at the microphone gripping and releasing causing a loud static to ring out on every contraction. Josh never noticed the static noise nor could he stop clutching.

Knees weak and feeling a sudden need for oxygen he squeezed his eyes close and inhaled with all his might. Unfortunately with eyes closed he did not see that when he blew his air filled cheeks out that the stream of oxygen was aimed at the microphone amplifying his panic for all watching. When his eyes opened for a quick second all that he could see before him were tiny dots. Josh clutched at his speech. His hands were moist and the paper wilted under his touch.

“Hmm, hmm I am Josh. I am running for …” his panic had stolen the last of his air. Time to breathe, Josh get a grip on yourself. What is wrong with you? His mind shouted. Block out the eyes. Pretend it is the mirror you are looking at.

“Hmm, hmm,” he just couldn’t seem to clear his throat enough. Nothing would help. “Just do it, so you can sit back down,” he screamed at himself.

“I am running for Student Council Vice President.” Where was his place? Between the breathing and the eye clinching he had no idea where he was on his paper. Oh, God! Why? Why did everything always go wrong for him? No good, the paper is of no use. In a disparate display he crunched the paper loudly at his side with his free hand. Finally the uncomfortable display was too much for Mrs. Jones and she snuck up behind him embracing his shoulder while she uncrunched his paper and whispered in his ear.

“Come on, we can do this together. She found his lost words and slowly one by one fed them to him like a baby bird. Josh, followed her lead repeating everything she said with his eyes safely shut, squeezed tight and hard while he continued to grasp and release the microphone. If she paused he breathed, shooting every heavy stream of air at the awaiting microphone. When she was done, she patted him on the shoulder and he opened his eyes. His chest ached. His fingers were numb. His nose felt like it was running down his face. His ten year old body felt as though he had been in a car wreck. Not caring who watched he returned to the security of his seat. Cheeks hot from the burn of embarrassment he looked down at his knees, it was all over. Some dreams die early.