February 27, 2010

INSPIRATION - Books - Exciting Times for Readers

Jason Pinter over at the Huffington Post writes about this being the most exciting time ever for booklovers:

"Amidst all the doom and gloom (Books are dying! Print is dead! The Kindle will destroy us all! Big Publishers want to kill your pets! ARMAGEDDON IS NIGH!!!), I just want to take a moment to proclaim that this is quite possibly the most exciting period to be a reader in my lifetime. Think about it: when was the last time books and publishing were as much a part of the daily conversation as they are now? So enough with the catastrophic headlines. They might draw traffic and get people riled up, but they're empty bloviations. The bottom line is that, in my opinion, the written word is healthier than ever. The health of the book industry is never about the success of one book--it's a rising tide that lifts all ships. And the tide of buzz about books and publishing is perhaps higher than ever."

He makes a good case. Interesting description of the current reading world including stats on e-readers and the increase in successful books-into-movies.
Read the whole POST

February 26, 2010

Inspiration - Books & Literary Affairs

If I lived on the west coast I know one activity I'd love to partake in...Julie Robinson's Affairs. Actually, her Literary Affairs. Let me explain.

While on my traveling sabbatical (for more info,see The Dream Year blog) I met Julie at Book Group Expo in San Jose, a wonderful reader's conference. Author-moderators led themed panels of other contemporary writers. As an energetic and knowledgeable moderator Julie contributed wit and insight and posed thought-provoking questions to both the authors and to the audience, us readers.

Julie's company emails information about upcoming literary events and the resource lists on her website introduce me to new books and authors too.

Based on Julie's recent announcement of a discussion with author Dara Horn about her book All Other Nights I've put it on my to-read list. But I wish I could be there for the conversation.

The Literary Affairs tagline is: Live a Life of Passion Inspired by Literature. And I am inspired by literature and...by Julie.

February 22, 2010

Intentions for this Year

It's a bit late in the year to talk about resolutions, and I'm not really one for resolutions anyway. But I do have some intentions for this year and the future.

For 2008 I wrote out a list of goals and aspirations for the year (click on Read More below). Reading them over, many of them still apply - I have made progress on a lot of them, but they are all journeys as opposed to final destinations. When my boyfriend Dan read them over, he pointed out that a lot of them are about stuff. He's right. Plus they're long.  They're all things that are still on my mind, but I think my focus is shifting (mostly to numbers 5 and 8). So here are my (simplified) intentions for 2010 -  live with as much joy and love as possible, spend lots of time with people I care about and am excited to be around, and just generally treat this year as if it could be my last year in this body. Because it could be.

To read my goals and plans from 2008 click below...


Where do I find out about new books?
I read a lot of contemporary literature -- well, a smattering of so-called literary books as well as fluff (especially mystery series) and many self-help books.

And sometimes I think that I spend too much of my reading time -- reading about reading. But I so enjoy perusing many e-newsletters, websites, and blogs about books, authors, publishers, and bookstores.

I am also the lucky recipient of a number of review copies and ARCs -- Advanced Reader's Copies. These are pre-publication paperbacks of books that will be released in hardcover during the next couple of months. I am on a Reader's Advisory for Simon and Schuster and I write reviews for Story Circle Reviews .

Look on the right side of this blog and you will see Rebecca's and my current reading list as well as a list of some other books that we recommend.

(Yes, I am an amazon affiliate -- so if you are planning to make any amazon order, why not click one of those links and I'll get credits towards my book purchases!)

I INTEND to write about my reading and book-related INSPIRATION once a week.

What are you reading? And where do you get your book suggestions?

February 21, 2010

Dumpster Diving and Dining

Many people see dumpster diving as gross, degrading, dangerous, or something only for the really desperate and destitute.

I see it as a choice, a statement about who I am, an adventure, a way to save my limited financial resources for other priorities, a way of reducing the tremendous amount of food waste produced in this country, a way of reducing my own personal impact on the planet, and a chance to be an example to others.

Apple/pear sauce with yogurt and shredded coconut on top, cinnamon bun (everything but the coconut from the dumpster).

I semi-regularly visit a local grocery store dumpster. It's nice to go when I'm on my way somewhere to buy food. That way, I see what I can get for free, then I can purchase anything I was not able to find or something to go with my finds to make a well-rounded meal. On my most recent dumpster visit I acquired some strawberries, apples, oranges, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, salt pellets (for salting the sidewalk), and some plastic pails (originally used for holding cut flowers but will be reused as planting containers, or small garbage pails, or tubs for hand-washing clothes).

Baked fish, cauliflower corn stir fry, and salad with onion dressing 
From the dumpster: cauliflower, peppers, lettuce, cabbage. Freezer/pantry stuff that needed to be used up: frozen corn, frozen tilapia fillets, hemp seeds, onion dip mix, sour cream.

There is almost always too much edible food to take it all. We often take a lot and process it and try to give it away. Some of the things we've made in the past from dumpster finds include freezer pickles, apple/pear sauce, dried bananas, roasted peppers, dried peppers, dried zucchini, dried cauliflower, fruit leather, tomato sauce, zucchini muffins, banana bread, and zucchini soup.  

The leftover cauliflower corn stir-fry became a stew with the addition of some pasta, seaweed, and dumpstered canned black beans. Rolls are from the dumpster, cheese is the last of a tasty holiday gift from some thoughtful Wisconsin-ites.

Food isn't the only thing I'll pull out of a dumpster... and it generally isn't what people start with when it comes to reclaiming trash. Many people have seen something nice sitting on the curb on trash day, or perhaps peeking out of a trash can. I've furnished apartments this way. Some cities have specific days set aside for pick-up of large items but many great finds can be gotten by just keeping your eyes open whenever you're driving, walking, or biking around town. The biggest dumpster occasion of the year is the end of college. Dubbed "Hippie Christmas" by some, this is the favorite holiday of the year for many dumpster divers, cheapskates, and just folks who like a good find. I've found clothes, lighting, furniture, office supplies, sealed food, bottled water, and more. I've heard of people finding electronics - laptops, mp3 players, etc. I have not, but I'm still looking!
 Dumpstered cut flowers - my favorite romantic gesture

One of my favorite things about pulling stuff out of the trash is those magical moments when you find exactly what you were looking for - you needed a laptop case and voila, there's a brand new one; or you've been doing a lot of canning but are running low on lids, and there are a couple boxes of unused ones on the curb; or you were just talking to a friend about wanting a Boggle set, not the regular 4x4 board but the larger 5x5, and there's a Big Boogle set in excellent condition on the sidewalk you're walking down. It doesn't always happen, but if you keep your eyes open, it'll happen more than you  might expect.

If you're interested in dumpster diving, the best way to start is just to go for it in the way you feel most comfortable. Start off slow, bring a buddy, use caution and common sense, and get excited about your finds! I know I do.

Dumpster Diving FAQs

Fresh out of the dumpster!

Often people ask, "Do you really dive or climb into the dumpster?" The answer is: dive - never, climb - it depends. If I can get what I want out of the dumpster without getting into it, I will. Some people even use those metal reacher/grabber claw things to pull stuff out. On the other hand, if you're willing to climb in and move stuff around, you may find treasures inaccessible to those more timid or squeamish.

Washed peppers waiting to be processed

Some people wonder "Is it safe to eat food from a dumpster?" Again, the answer is - it depends. It depends what the food is, how it is packaged, how long it has been in the dumpster, what the temperatures outside have been, etc. I think generally if you are using common sense and washing and/or peeling and/or cooking what you find, you'll usually be alright. I'd also encourage anyone interested in this to do some research of your own on food safety. Most of the produce I pull out of the dumpster is wrapped in plastic, and often most of it is still perfectly good, but one of the items has a bad spot. I remove them from plastic, discard any bad ones, wash them, and process them.

The peppers being dehydrated, after being roasted and peeled

"Isn't dumpster diving illegal?" I am not a lawyer, so I cannot give legal advice. But again I would say the answer is - it depends. There is a lot of info on this on the internet, and again, I would encourage you to do your own research if you're interested. The most likely legal issue to come up with dumpster diving is probably trespassing. In general, if you're fairly discreet and make sure not to leave a mess, the worst that would probably happen is you'd be asked to leave and not come back. Increasingly, many dumpsters are locked and/or fenced, so if you choose to access the dumpster anyway, there may be other legal penalties or issues, I'm not sure.

 A tasty tomato sauce in progress

"Why do you do it?" For me, one of the biggest reasons to dumpster dive is the huge amount of food that is wasted in this country every day. However, I don't encourage dumpster diving just for the heck of it - to be radical or cool or whatever. Before you go around the back to the dumpster, I think a better idea is to go in the front door and work with the business and a local organization (such as Food Not Bombs or a local soup kitchen or pantry) which recovers food and distributes it to hungry people. However, despite a law protecting businesses that donate food, many businesses are unwilling to do so. That's when I'd say it's time to put on your favorite grungy clothes, go around back, and climb on in!

February 19, 2010

February 17, 2010

Meditation Inspiration: Stephen Levine

One book I am currently inspired by is A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last by Stephen Levine. In it, he discusses our anxiety, fear, and resistance to death and dying. He encourages us to come to terms with our own death in order to truly live life in the time we have left. The book includes a series of meditations, contemplations, and exercises on fear, gratitude, forgiveness, and the process of dying.

The first exercise in the book, one that I have been working with in my own meditation, has to do with the physical effects of anxiety and fear on our body.

It is called Soft-Belly Meditation. Here is an excerpt:

Soften the belly to receive the breath,

       to receive sensation, to experience life in the body.
Soften the muscles that have held the fear for so long.
Soften the tissue, the blood vessels, the flesh.
Letting go of the holding of a lifetime.
Letting go into soft-belly, merciful belly.
Soften the grief, the distrust, the anger
         held so hard in the belly.
Levels and levels of softening, levels and levels of letting go.

Soft-belly is the practice that accompanies us throughout the day
      and finds us at day's end still alive and well.

I have found this meditation (and others in the book) very helpful. My experience is that once I bring my conscious attention to the tightness in my body, much of it will melt away on its own. However if I don't consciously focus on it, I can go a long time with the tension building up before I notice it. When it builds to a certain point it actually makes me anxious. I feel anxious and I'm not sure why. This meditation reminds me to step back and pay more attention to what is going on in my body, to acknowledge it, and to let it move through me rather than holding on to it.

Musing about Meditation

I started thinking about this entry while I was meditating,
the observer part of me chronicling and ready to report like a media announcer:

“Now I am observing my breath,
feeling the in and out at my nostrils and the rising and falling of my chest.”

I think this is funny. I am struggling with myself not to multi-task, to just sit quietly and try not to describe sitting quietly.

“How many times have I meditated over the last few weeks?”
I resist opening my eyes to look at the chart that I have checked off.
"17 out of 28 days? Something like that? What is that as a fraction? More than half...
Oh... I am... thinking, thinking. Get back to my breath.”

What is it Sharon Salzberg says in her basic meditation instructions?
“It's OK,
the mind has been trained to be distracted,
If you have to begin again a million times in the course of one sitting,
That is the practice.”

And so I keep labeling my thoughts "planning" or “thinking” and then refocusing on my breath, on one breath at a time, the simple movement of in and out.

My intention is to sit quietly on most days for about twenty minutes.
Isn’t it funny that it is so difficult to make time daily to just sit quietly?

Then why do I do it? I’ve read so much about the benefits but try not to have great expectations.
Partly to see if I can, and maybe to understand why I can't. To track my resistance to slowing down. And to sometimes experience that sweet momentary serenity and satisfaction with myself.
That's my Intention.

February 12, 2010

Inspired By: Industrial Spaces and Places

Photography is a hobby that has periodically waxed and waned in my life since I was given my first real camera at age 12 - a used Pentax 35mm SLR. I still have (and occasionally use) that camera, but most of my photos are taken with my small, easy, point-and-shoot digital camera. I try to make a habit of carrying it in my bag with me so whenever I see anything interesting or inspiring, I can snap it right then and there.

These photos were all taken in my neighborhood, in a spot I often walk through with my head swiveling left and right, up and down, checking everything out. On this particular day, everything collided - the same sights I am regularly intrigued by, a light snow, the sun just starting to set among the clouds, and my camera in my bag.

It reminds me that while inspiration is often circumstantial, being able to utilize inspiration in the creative process takes a mix of luck, preparation/forethought, and being awake and aware to what's going on around me at any given moment.

February 11, 2010

Book Review: Made from Scratch

Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade LifeMade from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade LifeI recently read the book Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich. This book is the personal story of a young woman interested in and exploring a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Some of the topics she explores include keeping chickens and bees, sewing, making music, and home cooking. I started this book expecting to really like it, but in the end was disappointed by it. I kept thinking as I read it that I should find the story interesting, but while most of the topics were of interest to me, the writing just did not hold my interest and the jokey, hokey humor fell flat about 90% of the time.

If you are interested in some of the topics covered in this book, I think it's still worth checking out of the library. Skim or skip the personal story section of each chapter and go straight to the research and concrete info at the end. I also thought the the Resource section (Research, Son) at the end of the book was quite useful.

I get the feeling that if the author lived in my community we would run in similar circles and we might even be friends (if she could overlook this negative review of her book!) but I just did not enjoy the book. I guess this just reinforces that you can be an interesting person doing interesting things and still not be able to tell your story in an interesting way.

Another Winter Weekend - Part 2

Last weekend Alan and I had company...a lovely couple we met on our Dream Year trip (our one-year sabbatical from June 2008 - May 2009).
Charlene and I met outside a marina laundry room in Vero Beach, FL. She and her husband Steve had just returned from spending 9 months on their boat in the Bahamas. Alan and I were into the second half of our travels -- and were on our boat, much smaller than theirs. Hit it off immediately and via email and cell phone made arrangements to meet up a few more times along our paths boating up the ICW from FL to South Carolina.

We have so much in common... from our ages and the age difference between wife and husband (~ 5-6 years), our interests (for the men, sailing and woodworking; for us women, writing and the topic of sleep -- Char works in a sleep clinic; and for all four of us -- travel, adventure, good food, great conversations), as well as our -- re-immersions into our home lives.

Really appreciated talking to others both about the challenges (definition: to arouse or stimulate especially by presenting with difficulties)
we faced taking a year off -- that time of choice and preparation -- to the ones we faced coming home and reconnecting.
Easy to agree and shake our heads when talking to each other but still difficult to describe. Both Char and I HAVE THE INTENTION TO write more about our journeys and need INSPIRATION and STRUCTURE to do so before the memories slip further and further away.

February 9, 2010

New York City

Mother-Daughter Trip to NYC was great...filled with activities that we both enjoy. Broadway, small museums, seeing old friends, and eating well. Saw the incredible show Fela -- click on this link to check out the show's website and the wonderful visual and audio samples -- about a Nigerian musician-political activist.

Went to the Museum of Arts and Design -- their website has examples of the two shows we enjoyed: Slash, a varied display of the work of contemporary paper arts and Brooched -- the symbolic costume jewelry worn by Madeline Albright as she wended her way through the political quagmire of her ambassadorial and state duties!

We perused stores unlike ones we find in upstate New York -- the top photos were taken in a very large store of embellishments, M&J Trimming -- floor-to-ceiling shelves of buttons and bows, ribbons and tassels, sequins and beads. I loved eavesdropping -- listening to the two female entrepreneurs whose business involved decorating and updating older embroidered purses that they found on ebay, to a male-female couple who were designing some far-out costumes!

Of course, the difference in energy levels between Rebecca and I became evident when we taxied back from a lovely dinner in Grand Central Terminal (photos with our friends above) at Charlie Palmer's Metrazur at 10 pm -- I went up to our hotel room to sleep and she got driven further downtown to visit with some of her college friends -- arriving back at 2:45 am!!

Posted by Barbara

February 8, 2010

Another Winter Weekend




Posted by Picasa

February 4, 2010

One Small Change - Month 2

My One Small Change for January was to get rid of things in creative ways and use things up. (See my first post on this topic here.) How did I do? I still own too much, but I am making good progress and will continue to work on this. One category that I focused on was craft supplies. I have pulled most of my supplies out of storage, organized them, made them as accessible as possible, and picked out my next few projects for both knitting (earflap hat for dad, wristwarmers to sell, rip out and re-knit a sweater for me) and sewing (finish reusable menstrual pads, bloomers, hem pants, pajama bottoms). I also have a sewing date scheduled for tomorrow and have been working on expanding the weekly knitting group I am a part of because I think adding a social component to crafting is both enjoyable and a good motivator.

In honor of last month's Small Change, I have a giveaway to offer to one lucky reader who likes sending mail: an assorted pack of cards, stationery, envelopes, and stickers. I will mail anywhere in the US. Please post a comment by Feb 11th the end of February (I am extending the contest) if you are interested in being eligible for the prize. Be sure to post your email address in the comment, so I can contact you. Or you can email it to me at beccamonstr [at] hotmail [dot] com.

I went back and forth on which small change to implement for February. After some deliberation, I  decided that this month I will only purchase meat, eggs and dairy that are locally produced. I have already been trying to make a larger portion of my diet come from local sources, but I have not done very well with these food categories. Specifically, this month I plan to buy local meat from at least one source, and find a reasonably priced place to purchase local yogurt and eggs. I also plan to attend the monthly winter farmers' market this weekend and check out the natural food store in town that I have not been to so I can compare prices and selection to the other stores.

February 3, 2010

Meditation Inspiration - Rumi, Part 2

Mom's take on Rumi is different than daughter's....

Rumi, Part 1
That first Rumi piece speaks to hard lessons and the need to relearn them for spiritual clarity.
But I can't get past the imagery...I am very literal.
The father's stern slaps...too patriarchal and violent for me.

But I too am inspired by Rumi and below is the piece that greets me in my morning writing space. It also speaks in male terms and of violence yet i respond to it more positively. And relate to the rush of daily stimuli it speaks of...and my own need to gently be with whatever is presented.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.