Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.

-Pablo Picasso

battleship cheat

 

 

“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

–Sun Tzu,  The Art of War

 

 

Battleship

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“The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.”

–John Muir

waterfall

butterfly kisses

Magic

Last week I heard myself say possibly the weirdest thing I’ve ever said at work:

“Ooh, that’s right! Today is the day the ponies have to go to outer space.”

But that’s exactly the sort of thing you have to say when zombies, aliens, and monsters invade Pony Land and the battle lasts several days. Fortunately, the ponies are a forward-thinking species that have resources and contingency plans to deal with such problems.  While the Pony Queen fended off the monsters, the little ponies said their magic words to make the door to the rocket ship open and allow them safe passage.

Pony Exodus.jpg

The ponies blasted off and flew through outer space and arrived safely in their haven on the moon.  Meanwhile, Fred the taxi driver loaded up the defeated monsters into the back of his dump truck and hauled them off to their monster hideout.

Taxi Driver Fred

Headed to Zombie Hideout

The ponies are doing well colonizing the moon.  The monsters, aliens, and zombies are on the road to recovery.

———————————————————————————————————

A job title doesn’t even come close to answering the question: “What do you do?”.

Robert Fulghum, It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It   

Two weeks away from home seems like a really long time, especially in August when almost everyday marks a celebration of a loved one’s birthday or anniversary.  Then there’s the garden where the roses and clematis are just starting to re-bloom. The cucumbers are ripening on the vine and becoming ready for pickling. In August there are lush, ripe vegetables calling out everyday to be picked and eaten. It’s so hard to step away from the beautiful sight of what you spend so much time nurturing and from what nourishes you.

On the other hand, two weeks is not nearly enough time away when you look up from the roses and sense the frenzy of fall chaos rapidly spinning towards you. Is there a way to put the brakes on the flow time?

Yes. Yes, there is. I have found the answer to the problem of time and I’m here now to share that wisdom with the world.

Here’s how to make time slow down to a crawl: schedule yourself a 12-hour bus ride.  Make it an overnight ride leaving at 8:30 p.m. and arriving at the destination at 8:30 a.m.

So that’s the answer.  You’re welcome.  I’ll now give the play-by-play of the experience in case you need to live it vicariously.  I can’t imagine why you would, but hey, it’s your life.

I had no idea how lucky I was the first 4 hours off the trip with all my leg room in the spacious aisle seat and with my silent, sleeping neighbors. Time nearly came to a complete standstill when I found myself on the layover at our first bus stop. To my left a small child bawled in his unsympathetic mother’s lap and to my right an adult woman bawled into her cell phone. Sandwiched in between this much human tragedy I began to question my own life decisions, as one does, at 1:08 a.m. in a Nashville bus station. The stereo sounds of misery abruptly ended a few moments later when a grown man wearing a Burger King crown walked by and belched; it was a sight and sound unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. The burp itself had a sustained reverb that went on for way longer than anything like that ever should and the deep bass notes echoed against the station’s cavern-like walls, floor, and ceiling.  It was so startling that everyone put their suffering on hold to take a moment of stunned silence.  To some degree, the King’s burp was a relief felt by all.

The next leg of the trip I had a window seat and my new found friend, Tall Tom the Talker, had the aisle.  When he wasn’t talking or asking questions, he was asleep and taking up all of his seat and 2/3 of mine. At least he smelled nice. Before this bus ride I had actually bragged to someone about my ability to sleep anywhere. Those words alternately haunted and entertained me as I sat squashed up against the bus wall shivering from the cold. I wiled away the hours staring at the candy wrappers and trash that bygone passengers had crammed into the metal grate below the tinted windows.

At 5:40 a.m. I found myself in Knoxville, where there was less crying and more mullets. One man’s mullet defied the “business in the front, party in the back”  rule.  His mullet’s party crashed rebelliously through the front door of his business. It featured two braided pigtails styled to cascade forward over his shoulders and down his chest nearly to his waist.  He completed his ensemble with a red t-shirt, cut-off blue jean shorts, rainbow socks, and red tennis shoes.

The time warp continued as I stood in line waiting to board the third bus past the time we were supposed to be departing.  On the last leg of the magic bus ride I watched the sun rise over the mountains of North Carolina.  Twelve hours is all that elapsed on that bus ride and there was a time change somewhere along the way so the trip was only 11 hours, technically. But I was awake and present in those 12 hours (yes, 12) and I’m here to tell you eternity was in the felt experience.

Skattur’s latest completed project is a fairy garden and it’s so cute that it needed to be shared.

SwanPlanter4

Here are a few of her others…

SwanPlanter3

20170617_153522Concrete and steel could not tame the wild violet.

Standing in line
To see the show tonight
And there’s a light on
Heavy glow

red-hot-chili-peppers-concert

Glorious euphoria

redhotchilipeppersgirl

21. Inferno
Last year I was a bit obsessed Dante’s Inferno. In retrospect, I’m not entirely sure what that was all about.  The obsession carried over a little into 2016, which is why I read Dan Brown’s Inferno. Here’s the plot in a nutshell (and this sums up the plot of all three Dan Brown books I’ve read): a handsome, brilliant professor gets called in by some organization to save the world from utter doom by using his knack for solving puzzles and his esoteric knowledge of symbology. After reading this novel I felt like I had just completed a course on art history. I found myself nerdishly looking up all the images of all the art that was referenced. It also felt like I’d just read a travel guide to Florence, Italy.  Embedded in between the art history course and the travel guide, there is a relatively good story, but the characters lack dimension.

22. The Brain: The Story of You

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist with a fancy academic pedigree – he was mentored by Francis Crick. Does the word “pedigree” make anyone else think about dog shows? Non sequitur. Anyway, I just discovered that The Brain: The Story of You was written as a companion book for his PBS documentary, which I haven’t seen yet. It works fine as a stand-alone book.  It touches on big picture topics like how the brain constructs reality, how it makes decisions, how it constructs a sense of self, how it does empathy, etc.  It is very well written and a good choice for the layperson interested in catching up on the latest trends in brain research.

23. Brain on Fire

This is the memoir of a reporter who was diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis following a psychotic episode that left her strapped to a hospital bed. The condition was treated, she recovered, and wrote the book. I appreciate that it gets the word out about a rare condition.  The expository aspect of the book was fairly well written, but I didn’t particularly enjoy reading the autobiographical bits where the writing had a fledgling, gratuitous quality. I think it would have worked better as a magazine article.
24. The Belly Dance Handbook

I bought the book following a workshop I took from Princess Farhana, who is a knowledgeable, generous, and just plain fun teacher.  The handbook is all about the business of being a professional belly dancer. She covers a wide-range of topics:  classes, contracts, costuming, makeup, music, stage lighting, swords, veils, zaghareets, and zills. It’s loaded with tips, tricks, and pitfalls to avoid.

25. A Dirty Job

Hapless agents of Death abound in San Francisco’s used bookstores and  thrift shops, where objects and the souls they contain are peddled to the soulless in the natural order of things until one mysterious buyer with dubious intentions arrives on the scene. We come to know and understand this strange world through the eyes of Charlie Asher, a beta-male, recent-widower,  new father, and newly-minted death merchant in a tale that is equal parts fabulous and ridiculous.

I almost never re-read books, but this one was my suggestion for the book club.  It’s been almost a decade since I read it for the first time – it was just as good the second time.

26. Second Hand Souls

This is the sequel to Dirty Jobs.  Asher’s little girl is growing up and causing a ruckus.  Goth girls, vampires, the homeless “mayor” of San Francisco, hell hounds, Buddhist monks, the squirrel people, Minty Fresh — you’ll find all the same strange characters from the first book, plus a few ghosts and new weirdos.  It’s as funny as the first one.

27. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High

Just adding more tools to the box with this one. I read it and then re-read it. Again, something I rarely do. It was a book referenced in Thanks for the Feedback (see below).

28. Thanks for the Feedback

I originally read Thanks for the Feedback in an effort to sharpen clinical and communication skills. However, the information seems widely applicable and much needed for everyone given the current political climate. Employing the techniques might help us all  find our way back to civil discourse. Stone and Heen discuss the art and science of giving and receiving feedback. They emphasize the receiving end of the interaction (i.e., listening), particularly when you would rather not listen to what’s being said (e.g., in a tough feedback conversation).  The deep listening techniques the authors describe are intended to enable you to respond productively rather than to simply react in ways that may be counterproductive. Their explanation of why it’s so hard to listen to dissenting opinions is grounded in research on the cognitive neuroscience of empathy. It’s a smart, well-written book.

29. Take the Stairs

Take the Stairs is our book club pick for the new year. It’s packed with motivational ideas like “visioneering,” which is  creating a vivid mental image of your ideal life that will inspire you to take action on a daily basis. Vaden recommends scheduling virtually every moment of day. Beyond the formal work day schedule, he suggests scheduling (in writing) additional time weekly for five basic areas of life: Faith, family, faculty (i.e., work), fitness, and finances.  His suggestion reminded me of a visit to the Clinton Museum and Presidential Library, where they have an exhibit displaying the daily schedules for Bill Clinton while he was in office. His schedules were packed with  back-to-back activities from early morning to late night.  I was exhausted just thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good schedule. Mine is hand-written, color-coded and cross-referenced with a spreadsheet of goals/resolutions and to-do lists. But that’s my work life. I don’t want to schedule my “off” time to this extent.  Back to the book. Much of it I had read elsewhere, but one unique suggestion was to not attempt to achieve balance in the five areas of life.  Instead, Vaden, recommends using “harvest time” to get the most out of the seasonal shifts of life.

30.Top Secret Twenty-One

My sister and I joined a mystery reader’s book club in the 90s and that is where we first read Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money. Maybe that’s why I experience a bit of nostalgia every time I step into a Stephanie Plum mystery. It’s like returning home to catch up with family and old friends (minus the dead bodies and exploding cars, of course).  The series is formulaic, thus predictable, and it still makes me laugh.

11. Bag of Bones

Bag of Bones marks the 24th book I’ve read by Stephen King.  Hey, stop judging me. I went through a dark binge-reading period in my teens when I consumed books by the author en masse.  I eventually grew out of it and moved on to brighter things. A fellow book clubster picked this one, so I felt obliged to read it.

Here’s the gist of the plot in one sentence: Unable to write following his wife’s death, a best-selling author returns to their lake house where he is haunted by ghosts and harassed by an old, evil millionaire.

The book features everything you’d expect from Stephen King: sentimental reflections on marriage, gruesome and gratuitous violence (in the form of a gang rape scene), and pages upon pages of confused and unnecessary sex dreams.  So, yeah, 24 is way more than enough Stephen King to last a lifetime.

12. The Invention of Wings

“I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.”

–Sarah Grimke, The Invention of Wings; Sue Monk Kidd

Monk Kidd’s historical fiction, The Invention of Wings follows the lives of two women in their search for freedom:  abolitionist and feminist Sarah Grimké  and Hetty “Handful” Grimké, her personal slave. Kidd’s portrayal of Sarah is based of newspaper articles, and her letters and diaries, while Handful is largely imagined — she died early in life. It’s beautifully written and richly imagined with vivid characters and pitch-perfect dialogue.

 There are a couple editions out – the original and the Oprah edition. Just letting you know so if you decide to read you can make an informed decision about whether you need the version with Oprah’s commentary or not.

13. Traveling with Pomegranates

This travel log/memoir by Sue Monk Kidd was co-written with her daughter as they traveled through Greece and Turkey.  It explores mother-daughter relationships, different phases of womanhood, and feminine mythology. It sounded like something I would like, and I really wanted to like it, but the switch back and forth between authors was clunky  and as a whole it had a gimmicky vibe.  Not my favorite.

14. The Association of Small Bombs

This is what it felt like to be a bomb.  You were coiled up, majestic with blackness, unaware that the universe outside you existed, and then a wire snapped and ripped open your eyelids all the way around and you had a vision of the world that was 360 degrees, and everything in your purview was doomed by seeing.

–Karan Mahajan

A bomb explodes in a bustling Delhi marketplace. Among the dead are two young brothers on their way to pick up their father’s TV from the repairman.  Karan Mahajan puts the reader in the mind of various people affected by the blast, each trying to piece back together the fragments that remain of their lives in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.  We glimpse into the lives of the father and mother of the dead children, the store owner, the terrorist, his girlfriend, his unsuspecting friend, and the bomb itself personified. What emerges is a horrific kaleidoscope (or perhaps more accurately collide-oscope) of  perspectives.  It is a fascinating read.

15. The Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World’s Favorite Beverage from It’s Violent History

BeauJeau picked this one out for me because he knows how much I love all things tea. He even calls me T (or is it tea? I don’t know.). Anyway, I learned all sorts of interesting things about tea from Episcopal priest, Becca Stevens in this inspirational and meditational book.  It’s packed with all sorts facts, history, and recipes. The Way of Tea and Justice also describes the origins of the Thistle Stop Café in Nashville, and their mission to honor the stories of the women who have “survived lives of trafficking, addiction, prostitution, and life on the streets” in order to “illustrate the simple truth that love heals.”

16. Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living

This is a manly man book. I bought it because I was at the bookstore reading the back cover when a random guy walked by and said he’d read it and that it was hilarious.  Having binge-watched Parks and Recreations and having been thoroughly entertained by Ron Swanson, I figured I’d see what the man behind the character had to say about himself. It seems he’s a big, lovable, hard-working, goofus, with a vocabulary that can switch from crass and vulgar to highbrow and pretentious in an instant. It contains illustrations (literally drawings) of things like breakdancing moves and acceptable vs. nonacceptable facial hair styles. It’s kinda funny, but I wouldn’t say it’s “hilarious.”

17. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

A smart, funny, and heart-touching book for high schoolers, young adults and beyond. The book was awesome and so was the movie.  For  more extensive review,  click here: The Problem with (and Beauty of) Book Clubs

18. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

This is another awesome book for the young adult crowd.  But be forewarned, it was scary enough to give me nightmares!  The movie was less scary, but not nearly as good as the book. For the more detailed post, click here: Peculiar Children.

19. Hollow City

The sequel I literally ran out of the house to buy upon reading the last page of Peculiar Children. With its crazy animals, dizzying time loops, WWII bombing scenes, and eerie vintage photograph, it was a great follow-up to the first book.

20. The Courage of Sarah Noble

Since we’re on a roll with the kidlit, here’s another. A little friend was reading this one at her teacher’s recommendation and wanted us to read it together, so we did.  It’s based on the real-life of 8 year old Sarah Noble, who in 1707, traveled with her father to build their home in Connecticut.  When the project was complete, he left Sarah in the care of a Native American family they had befriended and returned to help the rest of his family make the journey. The sweet story offers a very different perspective from the “savage natives” themes so commonly propagated in past generations.

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