Tag Archives: reading

Colette, Somewhat Improved

At the start of the year I set a few concrete, albeit simple goals for 2018, nothing too whacky, involving essentially: cooking, reading, and being in nature. I visited my progress already in March.

I’m back again to talk about it some more. I have read 15 books. Because I am horribly prone to being exacting and forthcoming, I have to say three of them were short. Two were what you’d call novellas and the other was Roz Chast’s “graphic novel” tribute to New York city, easily read in a sitting. Still…. am I proud of this accomplishment? Oh hell yes I am proud!

As I wrote back in January my ability to read had pretty much gone to shit. It was worse than I realized. I still thought of myself as a “reader” as I’d been throughout my life.  But how much was I really reading, that is, books? Not as many as I thought. I couldn’t tell you how many books I read in 2017 or 2016 or 2015 for that matter, but it damn sure was not 15 in a year, let alone four months

I’ve been thinking about how this happened. When I was preschool age I could not WAIT to get to start first grade because I knew it meant I’d learn to read (these were days long ago when, for me at least, kindergarten was mainly for playing and having stories read to you not learning to read). In gradeschool my class once had a contest for who could write the most book reports. Not only did I win, I blew the rest of the kids away. (Sadly the prize was some  kind of religious  trinket, a holy medal or such, I’ve forgotten what exactly but as you see, several decades later, I haven’t forgot I won.) Reading always excited me. In the years I went to college, it bothered me that my personal reading, as in nontext books, had to be cut back. When I did office work and spent long days staring at computer screens, my eyes were too red and tired after to read much at  home. This too disturbed me.

Once upon a time, books were the main thing and movies, another big love, were the occasional treat. This was when it wasn’t so easy to watch movies, when they weren’t so available. I read more books than watched movies. But in recent years that flip-flopped. I love movies but realizing I was doing more passive watching than engaging (more) of my mind by reading didn’t sit right. I also couldn’t tell you how many movies I typically view in a year, no idea. (I also don’t know how I’d quantify whole series like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones; every two hours equals one movie??)

More than movies, the internet screwed up my ability to read. I am certain internet use has changed my wiring and not for the best. Your brain gets some sort of endorphin payoff every so often while being on online. The payoff is inconsistent and unpredictable so gaining it necessitates perpetual activity and vigilance. You go online and basically wait for something good to happen. Trouble is there is a whole lot of crap and wasted time inbetween those “payoff” moments, at least for me and I  imagine for many people. There are times when I’m bored or tired and just fool around online hoping magic strikes, or at least something interesting catches my attention.  It was easier to get online & read various (quick) stuff than to read a book.

I wanted to change, I wanted to recapture something I’d lost. And I have. It feels REALLY GOOD to have found my way back to books. My rule is I don’t have to read anything I don’t want to, even if it means quitting a book halfway through. This isn’t supposed to be punishment. I didn’t plan it this way but of the 15 books, only four have been fiction. The funniest was You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein, a woman I’d never heard of. The page-turner was Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, which I knocked out in two days. I was back!

 

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I’m also doing crossword puzzles; I got a little book of them from Dollar Tree and a second volume for when the first is done. Doing the puzzles has made me sharper (I now can say with conviction there were nine Muses and “Clio” was one. This has come up a few times, despite t the puzzles being written by various makers.) I find myself saying  repeatedly, “I know this” or “I should know this” when trying to figure out clues. I know things I don’t realize I know; it’s often an issue of retrieval. I find real satisfaction in realizing what an answer is, particularly when it doesn’t come to me immediately. However, I  doubt myself because a voice inside me often says at the start of a puzzle when there are too many open spaces, “I’ll never finish this.”  I’ve done 40 (of 88) puzzles so you’d think I’d be a little more trusting by now.

The puzzles show me where my knowledge is decent and where there’s weakness; I don’t know sports or the Bible, and world geography isn’t too promising either. Greek mythology is iffy but improving!  The puzzles force me to consider things from different angles (like when an answer I filled in confidently subsequently messes up other answers and I’m compelled to rethink it). I’ve noticed that this skill is carrying over into other areas of my life; it’s as if my brain is deviating from overworn paths and checking out new trails.  It’s subtle but I can tell.

One of my goals was to make 10 new recipes. I’ve made 14. Also, my diet, already good, is a bit better. I’m eating less cheese and more vegetables for one. And I’m enjoying it. Food is pleasure to me. Tweaking my diet and nutrition makes me pay more attention,  be more conscious, which is a good thing. I really think my little goals this year are doing exactly that:  making me more conscious of how I spend my time, how I relax, how I eat, how I live. Solidly in middle age, I find it is entirely up to me not to become mired in ruts, or lazy and if not full-on lazy, maybe just complacent. I must challenge myself. I don’t want to be coasting along, I want to be alert.

 

 

 

 

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So here’s how my “Kinda, Sorta New Year’s Resolutions” are going

I didn’t expect to weigh in on my “Kinda, Sorta New Year’s Resolutions” this soon but I’ve made progress and I feel like writing about it. These ” resolutions ” tie in with a renewed effort on focusing where I put my attention. I became more conscious about how much of my attention and mental energy I was permitting to go to less-than-worthy sources. I said it felt like my life was this huge ship whose direction needed slight correcting. I felt the creaking and heaving of the effort. Here’s what I’m thinking. The older you are and/or the longer you’ve been doing things certain ways, the more it takes to change course. So even if the changes you might wish to undertake aren’t HUGE or even a PARTICULARLY BIG DEAL – as is the case with me – it still takes more effort to get things going (as with even a slight turn on a big, ole ship).

Let me jump in on my specific goals. In 2018 I want to read 20 books, make 10 visits to our local lake, and make 10 new recipes. None of these are monumental but they were all things I considered worthwhile that I was not doing or not doing much. (Yet I seemed to have time for less worthy endeavors or things that just weren’t terribly satisfying.) There is something motivating about getting to make a new entry of my goals list.

I’ve made 13 new recipes! Standouts include Jessica Seinfeld’s Potato, Cauliflower, and Carrot cream soup and Easy, healthy Walnut, Date, Coconut Treats. Not-so-successful recipes were an oatmeal whole wheat bread and gumbo (I never realized gumbo was okra and tomatoes – I love both okra and tomatoes, how could it miss? It missed.) I feel more excited about cooking again, putting in the time and effort to make new things, not just “sure things.”

This year I’ve cut back on cheese – there are actual days when I eat no cheese – and kicked up my vegetable eating. I had to rethink vegetables, to prioritize them, because although I eat HUGE salads and like certain vegetables A LOT, normally they aren’t the first thing I think of and they definitely haven’t been my emphasis.

I’ve visited the local lake six times already. To be honest, my community has added a clothing dropoff box adjacent to the lake area so I’ve used the opportunity to drop off clothes I no longer want as an incentive to head to the lake. Once there, I walk around and such. Accomplishing a small task in the deal makes it easier for me to plan to go there.

Books. I have read six books. My pace here isn’t stellar though because two of the books were short. Also, I have started but not finished three books – I made myself a deal that I wouldn’t force myself to read anything. I got halfway through both Chris Kyle’s American Sniper and Stephen King’s The Dead Zone before quitting. I just didn’t want to devote more time to either. I also started Alice Sebold’s Almost Moon (having really liked The Lovely Bones and Lucky) but realized I’d either started it or read it before and wasn’t so wild about it.

I feel almost ashamed by how far “behind” I let myself get reading-wise. I have much catching up to do but the real point is I am making reading more of a priority again, recouping my ability to sit down and stay put with a book. They aren’t all going to be great but I know by keeping at it, I’ll find ones that are.

So not only have I made a point to do these good things, I’ve cut back on things I felt wasted my time or made me feel not right. There are a couple TV shows I have not watched at all this year, shows that weren’t really adding much to my life. I also stopped reading a community Facebook page, one that often aggravated me with the content and regular vitriol by some of its partipants. I checked back in this week and among the more normal posts – lost cats, community events, etc – was a lengthy “conversation” on hot-button topics that got ugly. I felt myself getting upset. I guess maybe I needed confirmation that staying away is best for me. See, my fear is I’ll miss out (FOMO) on something important. What that “something” is I don’t really know. The reality is my life has gone on, been better even, since staying away. I remind myself I had a life before social media.

I started doing crossword puzzles again this winter, another thing I used to do. As my attention became scattery from time spent online, I found I lacked the stick-to-it-ness required to do a puzzle. It would get hard and I’d quit. I began making myself stick with it and get more done. The more I did the sharper I felt. I found this little book of 88 puzzles at Dollar Tree. I love it! They are all written by different puzzle makers. They challenge me but don’t make me feel like I’m way out of my depth.
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When I get a clue answer I feel a little endorphin surge, especially those I struggled with or took awhile to guess. I find that I have a broader body of knowledge than I (consciously) realize and at the same time the puzzles force me to accesss different ways of thinking. My initial thoughts aren’t always right and I need to approach the clue from a different angle. For examples: the answer to the clue House calls? was “votes”, Back biter? was ” molar”, Singer who’s an actress was “Lori”, my mind went a number of places before it went the right way. I need this kind of intellectual challenge; my life doesn’t automatically provide it.

I have not yet checked out The New York Times puzzles which I understand are considered the best. I watched a DVD of Wordplay, the 2006 documentary on the Times puzzle and its followers, who have an annual competition, and it did make me curious. I always figured I’d find their puzzles kind of dry and boring but maybe I’m wrong.

From 2015-2017 I lost a lot of my energy to an ongoing problem in my life. I spent a lot of energy fighting it and, for a time, trying to get the people who SHOULD help, to actually help. I had a sea change in attitude starting last summer. In a way, I gave up, which doesn’t necessarily seem like the ideal or right course, but it has helped me. Instead I am focusing on those actions and responses within my control. I stopped focusing so much on the problem and as I’ve been saying, started putting my energy back into me. It is too easy for me at to get overly caught up in problems, be they mine or someone else’s. I totally get that there is a choice in this and I can choose otherwise. The ship is turning.

NOTE: Please forgive a delay in responding to comments; I do want to hear them!

Little Free Library

Have you heard of Little Free Libraries? Individuals volunteer to build and maintain them where they live. Anyone can take or deposit books. They can be found all over the world. The website has all the details as well as a map of locations. Locally, within a mile of where I live, there are three. I see that two of them are not listed on the official map. (If you know me in “real life” and want the addresses of our little free libraries, feel free to contact me.) I thought it would be fun to show you “mine.”

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Taken two days ago (we had a little snow, since melted)

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Love the red

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Looks like repurposed cupboards

I haven’t visited these too frequently (I also have a public library just about a mile from home and I’m there often). Now that I am committed to reading more, like I used to, maybe I’ll increase my visits. Mostly, I’ve returned books I’ve taken to where I found them but here are two I kept (I just found the vegan book and already made the creamy lentil soup).

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When I stopped to take photos today I found the current issue of Martha Stewart Living so I snapped it up.

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125 ways to energize your life, hot-diggity!

It has never occurred to me to start my OWN Little Free Library but this section on doing one inexpensively has got me thinking…

Kinda Sorta New Year’s Resolutions?

I almost never share my goals before they’ve begun. I wait till things are well underway to tell anyone (and then share sparingly). I have little patience for people who talk big and go on & on about the Personal Improvement Projects or New Goals they are starting, which often subsequently fall by the wayside quickly.  I don’t want to be like that. Sure, telling others about your plan or goal helps with accountability. However that probably works best if you only tell ONE person and that person has a very specific role to play. I’ve decided to do something different (for me) and share at the outset.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, never have, probably not since I was a teenager. I do set goals, not at any particular time, almost all modest, to improve my life. I continue to reap the benefits of ones I’ve made in the past and woven into my habits, like exercise and healthy eating. That said I have particular areas of my life that I’d like to improve. These aren’t big things but little ones that nag at me. In recent years too much of my energy was getting sucked up by problems (mostly visited upon me not of my own making or not within my influence). I lacked motivation to do anything extra. I’ve been determined to pull my energy back and re-focus on those things I can control. Seeing that a new year is upon us I figure why not use it as a platform for specific goals. I don’t want to go crazy or set unrealistic plans so these will be simple.

In 2018 I want:

-To read 20 books.
-To visit the local lake 10 times.
-To make 10 new recipes.

My attention span for reading books has gone to sh*t in no small part because of the internet. This past year I read Unfriending My Ex and Other Things I’ll Never Do by Kim Stoltz. Stolz was addicted to her online life and her comments about what it had done to her ability to read books resonated with me. In fact there is evidence that being online and interacting online rewires our brains in a way that’s not conducive to merely reading a book.

I also always feel I should be “doing” something physically active. When I start a book my mind begins to go off on tangents from what I’m reading. I need books that will hold me as much as the internet and DVDs do so I may have to start a lot of books before I want to finish 20. That will be key; this isn’t about work – forcing myself to read all the classics or something – but enjoyment or learning something I WANT to learn. I DO read; I’m currently reading 4 books begun before the New Year, but I don’t know how many books I read in a given year.

There is a small, non-swimming lake a mile from my home. It has a slightly over one mile trail around it. It is home to lots of bird and other mostly small wildlife. It gets crowded – walkers, runners, bikers, picnickers, out-of-control dogs – especially when the weather is nice and that deters me. Still, I am rarely sorry when I visit there, but some time can pass between those visits. Maybe this is because it’s in my own “back yard” and I know it’s always there. I guess I do take it for granted sometimes. I really don’t know, as with the case of how many books I read, how often I go there. A 10-time commitment is minimal. I don’t have to do anything special, I just need to go there.

I cook almost all my meals but tend to rely on the tried-and-true, especially when I’m tired or otherwise not feeling jolly. I hate food disappointment – my meals are so important to me! – and have settled into routines, albeit healthy ones. I need to shake things up a bit even if it means I don’t like some of the new things I cook or worse, they are inedible.

If I do MORE than the specific numbers I set that will be great. I think the point is to get these tasks/goals/plans in mind. Setting numbers and keeping track accomplishes that. Because right now I don’t know how many books I read or how many times I visit the lake or how often I try a new recipe. I just know these things are good for me and I should do them more.

Spending less time online won’t kill me either and if that’s a consequence of reading more books or cooking more new recipes, say, that would be fine. I like simple ways of keeping track of my life. A page of loose-leaf notebook paper works.

 

Sharp-eyed readers might note that I already have one entry. Last night I made soft breadsticks from a Betty Crocker cookbook. Oh My Lord. So Good. You must see them! I wish I could give you one to try. (I rolled by hand – which was actually fun – hence their shapes.)

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I figure maybe 6 months into the year I’ll revisit my goals on the blog to update how the plan is going. You folks will be my accountability!

 

NOTE: Please forgive any delay in responding to comments. I AM curious to hear what you’ll say.

Oil can for the my rusty brain

A short while ago, I wrote a post about feeling my life was lacking in intellectual stimulation.

My formal education ended long ago with a Bachelor’s degree, and while I remain a reader as well as intellectually curious, I could see that in recent times, I was looking more for entertainment than education. I don’t think that was entirely wrong – there are times in my life that I just don’t have it in me for whatever reason, to keep challenging myself. Times when just basically taking care of myself – and dealing with problems du jour or problems l’année – is enough.

I had slowly moved away from self-education. I no longer knew what I knew and what I didn’t. I was aware that math and science were pretty much gone, but overall I had no measuring stick. Was I losing my edge?

I started with taking two online IQ tests. The results of each were very similar – and let’s say I was happy with the number. My wits were still about me. I was going to take a third test to seal the deal, but never quite got to it. Perhaps my gray matter was taxed from all the exertion.

As a book and movie buff, I’m a regular at the library, but I now had a specific mission, and that was to ramp up the difficulty/challenge level of the material.

One of the places I began was a huge SAT book, complete with practice tests. I focused on the tests only – no ” brushing up” or “studying” for me – beginning with the language related tests, which are divided into two areas: Critical Reading and Writing. My scores were fine; Writing was good and Critical Reading was very good. Here’s my “cold test” answer sheet.
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I wasn’t going to even bother with the math, but ultimately tried the math test too, and it was laughable. It’s not that I never did well in math – I did B-student okay – it’s that I quickly saw that the math SAT test was almost entirely based on knowing formulas, and those, save one, are now lost to me. Whereas the math on IQ tests, I realized, is more about reasoning and recognizing patterns – that I can do.

Despite being a lifelong reader, I can’t read as I once did. I’m restless, physically active, and often in motion. When I sit down to read, I’m often distracted; something on the page will start me to thinking, and soon I’m either lost in thought (no longer reading) or hopping up to to go do something. Because of this, I opted to focus more heavily on educational DVDs, choosing topics I knew something about or was genuinely intrigued by. There weren’t going to be no forcing myself into watching The Complete History of Calculus or Nuclear Fission and You (No, these titles don’t exist, at least I don’t think so).

Here’s where I began:P_20150215_151900

I got lucky; there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. I didn’t get around to the LSAT review before it had to be returned (and it’s not like I’m headed to law school; I was just curious what’s on the test), but otherwise I watched them. Some were better than others and I count titles I’d watch again.

I can only gush about the multi-part nine-hour America the Story of Us. The series, had it been on TV when I was a kid, struck me as the sort we’d gather around the TV set to watch. It’s beautiful-looking to start with – what they can do now with film and animation just blows me away. If history had been taught more like this in my time, I might have actually cared. The film relies heavily on riveting reenactments, and highlights historical tidbits I never knew. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the film since my credentials are slim but since it was produced by the History Channel, I generally trusted that they knew their stuff.

Throughout the film, there’s an emphasis on what WE did and how clever and forward-thinking WE were, but I knew they weren’t talking about me. I felt a little guilty sitting in my comfortable chair watching those people take on the British, or lay those ridiculous miles of train tracks linking East to West, or producing goods out the wazoo during WWII, or bringing water to CA through building the seemingly impossible California aqueduct. And all the people who died doing these things, not to mention so much loss of life in so many other ways – loss which would make things better not for those people, but for others to follow. Watching the film, I was struck by how much was accomplished in growing this country in such a short time. It’s boggling.

By the time the film moved to the waves of immigration, it was well along, and it was then, when they specifically mentioned and showed Northern Italians as among those arriving at Ellis Island, that I got emotional. My people had arrived; only now, in however tiny a way, could I feel part of the story.

The film packs a lot in, and can’t cover it all, but my criticism is that it’s too self-praising at the cost of passing over serious problems. The current state of crime, drugs, and race are left out. The issues immigrants and nonwhites face in this supposedly equal and class-less society are short-shrifted. Nonetheless, this is a film I’d watch again.

Memory of the Camps, a PBS film, initially begun but never finished by, surprisingly, Alfred Hitchcock, showed what are likely the most hideous, heinous footage I’ve ever see of the concentration camps. The footage was taken immediately after liberation. It’s shocking, even if you think you’ve seen all this before. I watched because I think it’s important and the discomfort – although that seems too weak a word – it causes me seems small a price. The thing is, this just wasn’t all that long ago, historically speaking. We can’t call it “ancient history” or say “that will never happen again.” Especially when we’ve already got a movement saying it never happened.

I could go on about the various DVDs, but I should probably curb myself for purposes of this post. Let me leave you with the next round I checked out, and the current one:
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I have to say, lastly, two things. One is that I’m feeling a lot sharper, I’m thinking about things. And the second is I’ve noticed WWII comes up frequently, or at least regularly, in my selections; it’s like I keep coming at it from different directions. I think I’ve underestimated its role or place in modern culture/history. I really didn’t know a whole lot about it but I’m paying more attention now that it’s been turning up on the radar. I’m not about to become ANY kind of war buff, but it’s good to fill in blanks in my knowledge.

You know what? This has been kind of exciting for me. It’s good to be back in learning gear.

Dream 7 (Jane Austen)

A good friend had been talking for some time about this man she knew who she claimed was wise and knowledgeable. I understood that he had physical limitations, but wasn’t too clear on what they were. I finally had the chance to meet the man. There was something physically wrong with him, like he didn’t have use of his arms and legs. He may have been only a head, but I didn’t want to stare or look too closely and be rude.

He started talking and sagely reciting quotes. I could tell this was what had impressed my friend. See, he read and quoted from Jane Austen novels exclusively. Not only that, but he read only one of her books – I didn’t catch which one – exclusively. Every week of the year he read the same book cover to cover. Almost all his utterances were quotes from this one novel. I wasn’t very impressed.

Hey Writer, I think you SKIPPED a part

It’s disconcerting when I’ve been reading a book, sometimes fiction, but more often autobiographical, where the author has been going along recounting everything in extreme detail, from meals eaten to exact conversations had, and reaches a point where the story abruptly stops, and the writer then says something like, “…Twenty years passed and I now was married, with 3 glorious children, living in the beach house, and had published 13 books.” Whaaaaa?? Wait a minute! Just a darn minute.

For 280 pages you’ve been telling me things like how you ate your 2 eggs over easy on the daisy-patterned plate that had a chip on the edge with a slice of Rye bread topped by a teaspoon of Huckleberry jam on a particular Sunday in a particular week in a particular year, and how the sun streamed in the window and created an image of Lake Chickamauga on the surface of your swirled coffee, and how Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl was playing on the radio, and Jim looked up from watching George Stephanopoulos on TV and said, “Next week I’m going to paint the shutters Cerulean blue” and now, NOW, all you can say is TWENTY YEARS PASSED??!!? and everything was swell??!?