Finding Balance

Find BalanceAs anticipated last week… it’s been a crazy week. The vague tickle in the back of my throat became a full-bore sore throat this week, and culminated in a few days first of a patchy voice, then being reduced to being the whisperer. Given that I had to lead a multi-hour Scrum-planning meeting Friday… I didn’t have time to stay home and rest, nor the ability to avoid talking. It’s made for an exhausting set of days. It even made the predictability of crying at the end of La Boheme last night slightly more painful, as the emotional lump in my throat competed for space with the illness-generated soreness that already existed.

For those of you who know me at all… you won’t be surprised that I retreated to book-world to give myself some mental space and quiet time. I read Curtsies & Conspiracies Friday, and Be My Love this morning.

Of course, I’m thrilled I’m finding time to read again, but it also meant I was rushing to complete the 5-page paper due at midnight.

.<

Ohwell. At least it means I’m down to four more weeks of assignments. I’m not sure I’ll make the time to post any more reviews before the end of my MBA program, but I’m building up a nice back-log of books that deserve them for December, when I will… at least, according to the goals I set at the beginning of this round. We’ll see whether I manage three in the week between the end of class and the end of this round.

:D

Mostly, at this point, I’m giddy that in six days we get our newest furbabies. Natasha has started responding to questions about her brother and sister by going to find toys or going outside to look for them, so she’s about as impatient for their arrival as I am. She was also happy we did our 2.7-mile circuit three days in a row early in the week; not so happy that was it for the week, though, since weather, exhaustion, and schedule conflicts made more walks too difficult.

The most interesting and challenging thing about being voiceless this week has been the realization of how much my relationship with hubs relies on regular and consistent conversation. It was frustrating to both of us to want to say things, but to be constrained by the hoarse squeaks and noises I could manage. In the light of that realization, the link to an article a friend posted about the elements required for a lasting relationship were particularly illuminating. We’re more dependent on words of support for each other than we had realized, so while it’s been nice to have hubs delivering tea, not being able to properly appreciate the things he’s done has felt like a gap.

I need my words.

So I’m very glad my voice seems to be coming back, and I won’t be taking its strength for granted again any time soon. Until next week, then, use your words to appreciate your loved ones, and go visit the other ROW80ers to cheer them on, too.

Living

"To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all." -Oscar WildeIt’s felt like an impossibly long week–mainly because Wednesday I had to be in Bethesda for work and got an unanticipated date night with hubs (along with a 2-hour commute home!), Friday was family dinner night again after a 2-week hiatus, and yesterday we took my brother and his wife to a long-promised treat to thank them for the invaluable help they rendered in our insane move. It occurred to me today, as we trekked 45 minutes south to take advantage of a great deal on more bookshelves, that this whole month is likely to turn out this way… Next weekend we have planned a family outing to introduce the nieces and nephew to opera, via La Boheme. The weekend after that is the long-anticipated crazy of driving to Tennessee (and back) to bring the two new furbabies home. Then it’s Thanksgiving–which we’re now hosting at our place because of the new furbabies. Then November has completed its crazy march of time, and two weeks later… we’re back in Wisconsin for another niece’s wedding.

I’m not sure when I turned into this kind of social butterfly, but I suspect I’m going to need a break from the whirl come January.

:D

Luckily for me, I’ve been getting more reading time, too. One result of which was Monday’s review of Just Girls. In case you missed it… well worth reading. I’ve also gotten a few other ARCs from NetGalley, so I may even make the book review goal I set myself at the beginning of this round.

For the rest… With as much as we were out and about, I only got two walks in this week. But despite a family emergency that took up my whole evening tonight, I managed to turn in this week’s paper on time–even if it means I’m blogging way past my bedtime.

The nice thing about all this: It means we’re finding our footing in our new home, and moving beyond the mere existence from Wilde’s quote above. Those bookshelves mean a good portion of our remaining boxes will be properly emptied and stored this week. I’m finding time to remember 25 years ago, when the Berlin Wall came down–during my freshman year of college, when my mom called to tell me the news because I had no TV or Internet connection in my dorm room. Given that I had lived on the Eastern side of that edifice from 80-84, and its figurative presence felt so permanent as to weave its way into my dreams to create the basis for my Red Slaves series, it’s been an emotional remembrance.

Until next week, then, remember to support all the other ROW80ers, and remind yourself that even the most seemingly permanent things can crumble in the face of ephemera like candle-lit vigils. And remember to live.

Book Review: Just Girls

Just GirlsI signed up for this review tour through the Novel Publicity group two months ago, when I thought I’d have more time… And I’m still feeling like I wish I had more time to re-read and really digest the meaty topics Rachel Gold tackled in her book, Just Girls. The blurb was intriguing enough I decided I needed to learn a new perspective:

Jess Tucker sticks her neck out for a stranger—the buzz is someone in the dorm is a trans girl. So Tucker says it’s her, even though it’s not, to stop the finger pointing. She was an out lesbian in high school, and she figures she can stare down whatever gets thrown her way in college. It can’t be that bad.

Ella Ramsey is making new friends at Freytag University, playing with on-campus gamers and enjoying her first year, but she’s rocked by the sight of a slur painted on someone else’s door. A slur clearly meant for her, if they’d only known.

New rules, old prejudices, personal courage, private fear. In this stunning follow-up to the groundbreaking Being Emily, Rachel Gold explores the brave, changing landscape where young women try to be Just Girls.

As a cisgendered woman, I’ve long reveled in my femininity, as well as loved confounding expectations about what I, as a woman, might be able to achieve. This book takes all the conversations I’ve had on the topic and turns them inside out by addressing the feminist perspective through the LGBTQIA lens. The things Gold has her characters say about finding strength in femininity through feminism resonated strongly for me–even though I’ve been lucky enough to live a heteronormative life.

Most of the time I know that Emily’s more of whatever a woman is than I am. She actually likes femininity, and isn’t that the basis of feminism anyway? Not just making the world safe for women but for femininity so it’s seen as something powerful and not artificial. I mean, don’t you ever feel like people don’t take you seriously because you look like a girlie girl?

In the shadow of Emma Watson’s speech kicking off her position as UN Goodwill Ambassador, this book crystallized the many different populations who would benefit from the kind of equality she so eloquently argued for.

The book is told from alternating first-person and third-person perspectives, which, while a subtle structural underline to the gender duality that is the central theme of the book, had me flipping back and forth in the early chapters to figure out why I was confused. On the other hand, the writing was elegant and evocative so that when I turned the final page my overwhelmed response was “wow”.

There were a bunch of teaching moments throughout the book–but not in any heavy-handed or preaching way. I finally understood the reason it’s disrespectful to ignore an individual’s self-identification as being transgendered–and it has everything to do with how easily women’s own boundaries are disrespected in our society. I have to own up to my confusion about how to name/refer to an old HS friend, and vow from here on out, he is a he. The introduction of an intersex character was even more philosophically challenging, but all the characters were so intelligent about what drove their motivations I couldn’t help but think any one of them would be a wonderful friend–mostly because of the strength of character it took to live their convictions.

I would unequivocally recommend this to anyone who’s interested in learning more about what it’s like to be at risk of being targeted by hate crimes, anyone who’s interested in watching complex characters evolve through the first phases of their new adult status, and anyone who’s interested in understanding the broader perspective of feminism. As I mentioned, there are many teaching moments in the story, making it wholly appropriate for a well-rounded curriculum in sexual identity.

Tour Prizes

You could win one of two $50 Amazon gift cards or an autographed copy of Just Girls! Here’s what you need to do…

  1. Enter the Rafflecopter contest
  2. Leave a comment on my blog

That’s it! One random commenter during this tour will win the first gift card. Visit more blogs for more chances to win–the full list of participating bloggers can be found HERE. The other two prizes will be given out via Rafflecopter. You can find the contest entry form linked below or on the official Just Girls tour page via Novel Publicity. Good luck!

Rachel001AuthorPhotoAbout the author: An award-winning marketing strategist and author, Rachel Gold also spent a decade as a reporter in the LGBT community where she learned many of her most important lessons about being a woman from the transgender community. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Religious Studies from Macalester College, and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Hamline University. When she’s not “translating English for English-speaking people” or working on her novels, you can find Rachel online checking out the latest games. Connect with Rachel on her website, Facebook, Twitter,or GoodReads.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What I See

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." -Henry David ThoreauClass started again, for the final time this week. What I had thought would be “merely” a matter of writing a complete business plan for the capstone project turns out to include weekly discussion boards and all kinds of other requirements that have blown up any possibility that I might be able to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. Again. And have meant that I’m now under the gun to figure out work-arounds for the weekend we’re going to pick up the new puppies and the weekend of our niece’s wedding–essentially, having to get those assignments done early.

I spent a few days beyond pissed–and even more so with the nodding “oh, she’s just sick of school” looks I was getting from supportive family. Sure, I am sick of this MBA program. On a deeper level, though, I’m sick of having to deprioritize the things that are important to me for the sake of getting this to-do item ticked off some ephemeral recruiter’s must-have prerequisite list. Don’t get me wrong: I value my day job career. I just don’t feel like the MBA gives me anything more than a piece of paper proving what I already knew all along, and that’s frustrating on profound levels that have everything to do with what’s wrong about the superficiality of assessments in our current society.

Which only proves that Thoreau was a double-edged genius with his quote: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” I’ve been forcing myself to see that there remain only six more weeks of bloviation, and that there are only three more weeks before we bring home our new furbabies. I can see our progress in getting healthy, and see a future in which I don’t have to let my life be dictated by asinine school requirements.

:D

I can also see that despite the number of things I’m having to do for class, spread out over many days of the week, I do still have more time in a week than I used to. I got to read last night. And you’ll get to see the first of the book reviews I promised for this round, because of that.

We also managed our walk schedule, and completed 4, for 9.6 miles–and one even at the average pace of 16:35 minutes/mile. We’re not doing too badly for all our congestion and coughing.

As in all things, focus remains important. And I find it truly fascinating that biologists are beginning to prove a truth my hubs suspected from very early in his Oriental Medicine training: That human energy does draw from the quantum level, and that there are far more “spooky actions at a distance” involved in basic biology than had previously been acknowledged. It gives me hope that maybe someday alternative medical practices will drive more healing than current western practices do.

So, I’m back to cheerleading others on their fiction-writing, and hoping some of my ROW80 cohorts are making better progress than I. I’ll be checking in again next week, one week closer to many good things, and hoping that gives me sufficient positive energy to keep up with all the things I have to do.

p.s. – We made the release date goal on Frost & Bothered, so for all you UF fans out there… Go pick it up–it’s a great one. :)

A Girl with a Book

"Extremists have shown what frightens them most: A girl with a book." -Malala YousafzaiI seem to have lost a week… I know I’ve managed to stay on top of an editing freelance job and been productive at the office, but without specific deadlines for school papers hanging over my head, and with hubs fighting a terrible flu… I think every day was a Monday, until it was the weekend, and I woke up in the middle of the night last night thinking today was going to be Monday, too, and I’d forgotten to set my alarm.

This is not boding well for my NaNo dreams. It doesn’t help, either, that NetGalley recently made Gail Carriger’s Etiquette and Espionage Finishing School series books 1 and 2 available for reviewers. Carriger sucks me in every time, but in light of Malala Yousafzai’s historic achievement earlier this month, I’m not sure my kind of being a girl with a book quite measures up–even if the age groups do match up.

;)

I love the sentiment of her quote, regardless. I could certainly match extremists for rage, should anyone try to pry books out of my hands, or words from my grasp.

Tomorrow I find out for sure what the requirements are for my capstone project. I halfway suspect the unknowns of that are part of what stressed me out this week. So last night, rather than do anything productive, I curled up with hubs and watched our first movie selection from the backlog of the past two years: Men In Black 3. We’d started it because we’d figured it would be the same kind of light-hearted sci-fi silliness its predecessors had been, and were surprised by the depth of the ending. If you want to see an example of how a franchise adds emotional weight to the story arc its characters have followed over the course of a series, this is a great example. Naturally, that meant we sat up half the night watching the extra features, too. No wonder I’m leery of movie nights: with those bonus elements… a 2-hour movie can turn into a 5-hour marathon. Still worth it.

Because of weather and illness, we also only managed three walks for 7.4 miles this week. Not bad, but not my goal, either.

So, we kick off a new week, my final week of new coursework requirements, and the final week before NaNoWriMo begins. I’m trying to help Gayla meet her Friday release deadline goal for Frost and Bothered, so I’m not sure there will be any fiction writing again for me this week, which means I’ll be jumping into November’s start cold, if I do. Strangely, I have a good idea about the structure and even how I want to start my NaNo offering… Maybe that’s my excuse for not working on my other WIPs–I seem to do best if I focus on one thing at a time. Either way, I’ll report back next week on my progress, and hope you check out my ROW80 cohorts‘ successes until then.

The End – Part 1

"It's your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you." -RumiIt’s an interesting challenge, coming to the end of an overly long slog: The finish line is so close you can taste it, but the weariness of having crossed all the previous hurdles makes it difficult to actually dot the last I. Over the weekend, I discovered that this semester my “end-of-week” due date has actually been Monday at midnight rather than Sunday at midnight–as it had been for all previous classes. Given that general sense of mental fatigue, and the fact that I have actually completed three of my four assignments, and have mostly completed my final paper… I’m going to count my schoolwork goal as having been met once again this week. For the penultimate time. I’m so grateful that a couple more pages of a strategic plan and a capstone project are all that remain of this 2+-year death-march to an MBA. It’s been my road for long enough, I’m grateful there have been people who’ve tolerated my presenteeism, so Rumi’s quote this week spoke to me.

Apparently I need a few weeks of indulging my fictional escapism, or maybe a few movie nights with hubs to clear my palate of this academic bloviation.

:D

Not that that is going to happen. Marking these milestones off the calendar means we’re that much closer to picking up our puppies. Going from a 2-dog to a 1-dog to a 3-dog family in the space of two months is something we’re all going to have to adjust to. At least Natasha is enjoying the return of the cooler fall weather, and has figured out that the whippet next door will chase her up and down the length of the fence between our two back yards for at least some kind of canine interaction. She’s more than ready for the new furbabies’ arrival.

And November is right around the corner. I’m still not entirely sure I’ll have the mental capacity to turn on a dime from academia to scifi, but I have such a shiny plotbunny, I have high hopes. Plus, even though it’s been one of those mentally exhausted weeks, I did manage 429 words on Jasper’s Tale. I know doing NaNoWriMo the way I’m supposed to (new story, from scratch) means I’m leaving two others half-done, but I figure if I can harness that inner competitor who likes to compare progress against others to re-establish a daily writing habit, I will finally reach the end with those stories sooner than later as well.

On the other hand, we have gotten back into the swing of things with our walks. We took four, for a total of 8.3 miles. I think part of this is because hubs found an article about the important components of self-love. That whole finding a happy place? If I’m not reading, taking a walk and watching Natasha’s antics as she thrills to the sniffs she finds out in the neighborhoods and parks we traverse are an important piece of my peace of mind.

Part of making sure I’m taking care of myself stems from a life-long view of body as temple, but almost 20 years ago I ran across the experiments Dr. Emoto was running on the impact of what I’ll call “intent vibrations” on water. His book and pictorial evidence painted a profound image for me of the power of our words. I was very sad to hear of his passing this week, and hope there will be others who carry on something many may consider a fringe branch of science, but for me, underlined yet another component of my inner call to writing and words.

Until next week, consider the impact your words have on yourself and those around you, and visit some of the other ROW80 participants’ blogs to see how they’re managing. I’ll be back then, to report on my own progress.

Lessons

Sometimes you have to be really honest and ask yourself: How many times do you have to learn that LESSON Missy??Arriving home Tuesday night after last week’s fun with Gayla kinda threw off my rhythm for the week–and the long day of airplanes and airports means I’ve been battling something that’s trying to be a cold ever since. It also means that what could potentially have been a productive weekend has been mostly about sleeping… and being distracted by excited about the shiny reality that we’re going to end up with TWO new Huskies in November, rather than just the young puppy we had been planning for. In an odd and unexpected way, this has stressed us out, as we consider all the escapist tendencies Huskies are known for, and try to mitigate for our current yard’s fencing weaknesses well before they might be tested.

All this means: I was down to the wire on school work, even though I know how much better my school weeks are when I finish those assignments at least a day before they’re due. So this week’s Zen to Zany image struck my funny bone, and was entirely too appropriate. Pushing my bedtime later is no way to get over my incipient cold, either.

:P

Given that I flew through Dallas, where the one Ebola death the U.S. has seen so far occurred, hubs and Gayla’s family inundated me with both jokes and warnings about protecting myself from that infection. Interestingly, I found out about an effort to collect and aggregate Ebola resources into a wiki once I got home. It will be interesting to see whether this effort yields any useful analysis in the long run, but in the meantime, it is feeding me further plotbunnies of the Big Brother kind… Not something I really have time for at the moment, but I can feel those eyes on me…

As for my goals… well… that head cold stuffiness has held me back, though I did manage 386 words on Jasper’s story early this week. I also only tracked two walks, though chasing through airport terminals should count, too. Either way, not enough exercise, really. Mostly I’m grateful the annoyance of the stuffy head and scratchy throat haven’t materialized into anything serious, and I’m down to the final week’s worth of assignments for my final MBA class. I’m also laughing up my sleeve at the possibility of pulling an academic prank like the one I read about today. I’m just… getting anxious about what the requirements might be for my capstone project, now, and wondering whether, between that and the new furbabies, I’ll be able to make any significant headway on NaNoWriMo in November. I’m still crossing my fingers on that one.

I’ll be checking out what my ROW80 counterparts have managed one week into the new round, but have to recognize I’m still in baby-steps mode myself. We’ll see whether next week is any better, given I have both a final paper and a case study paper due.

Friends

A true friend reaches for your hand and touches your heart.I have the honor this week of posting from Gayla’s again. We’ve just spent the evening eating too much and laughing too loud, and tomorrow’s my last day here… so I’m going to keep this short to go to bed… soon.

:D

For once I managed to keep up with my long-aspired-to goal of turning in all my schoolwork on a Saturday, so last night we could write fiction. We only managed 150 or so words before we were dozing in front of our screens, but I have to say, her family’s implementation of a covered porch on a cool, Texas evening… is ideal for long conversations and creative spurs. Even if I do have a permanent lap attachment in her mini-chihuahua, Zeus.

Since we spent today working on food, and are now worn out with over-worked stomachs, I’m down to a last-chance writing effort tomorrow, but I can’t even be upset about it because we’ve had so much fun. I even got to ride Solo this time. My visit has distracted me from grieving–even though when we planned this visit months ago that was not even on the radar as one of the reasons for it. Yesterday, hubs forwarded the link to an article about lifestyle factors that contribute to depression, and this trip affirms the importance of friends in helping counteract that inclination. So while I’m missing hubs and Natasha (who apparently decided yesterday she’d had enough of family leaving, and escaped to look for us, giving us all heart attacks until she was safely recaptured and returned home), changing up my routine once more has served as a welcome reminder about things that don’t change. And brings me to the quote the heartmath.org folks sent around on Facebook this week. I’m grateful for the set of people in my life who offer the hands (or shoulders, when necessary) who affirm the importance I sense of these heartfelt connections.

This week, the next round of ROW80 kicks off with our goal-listing requirement for the round. This one ends December 25th. I’m happy to list mine:

  1. Finish MBA! (final class ends 12/17)
  2. Finish Jasper’s Story
  3. Walk three times/week, at least two miles each
  4. Post four new book reviews on this blog by the end of the year (long overdue!)
  5. Participate in NaNoWriMo…?

That last is very much a stretch goal, since trying it last year was such a massive fail with the school requirements in place at that time. I have no idea what my final class’ requirements entail at this point, other than I’m assuming a capstone project is just a long paper. If that’s the case, and I can finish it early, I think my celebration will be to get drunk on fiction words.

;)

We’ll see how well I do given the anticipated distraction of welcoming a new puppy (or two?!) into the house in November, but I’ll keep you posted weekly here, regardless. In the meantime, take a minute to let your friends know how they’ve touched your hearts.

Surrounding Myself

Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don't see it yourself.I just turned in my midterm. Despite massive change, personal loss, and general upheaval, the conclusion of this round still sees me on top of my school goals. I’m even on top of my work goals (which I don’t include here, but remain important to support my family). Exercise… well… that’s fallen off again. And we’re still adjusting to being a 1-dog family in ways that bring frequent reminders of our loss.

So hubs and I keep revisiting the post with 15 quotes to ease depression. And cuddling. And finding quiet and calm–despite what turned out to be a full social calendar this week.

In fact, that won’t end any time soon: We’re looking forward to the Bryan Ferry concert tomorrow night. And I travel to see Gayla for what seems to be becoming an annual event on Wednesday. She’s shaming me with all the cleaning and home improvement efforts she and her family are investing in preparation for my visit. We finally placed the order for a well-recommended electric broom to deal with the hardwood floors of our new place tonight, so the benign neglect since we moved in almost two months ago may finally resolve into not only neatness but also cleanliness sometime while I’m away.

:D

(Yes, I’m sneaky like that!)

So while I want to kick myself for having had to let go of those goals that are most important to me, I’m very lucky to have family and friends who remind me that I’m doing fine to achieve what I’ve managed with everything on my plate. My purpose in posting today’s image: To pay that support forward to the rest of the ROW80 group. Sometimes it’s hard not to focus on the misses, but having goals, reaching for possibilities, is the only way we make any progress. I’m reminded of the motivational quote: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” I’ll be hoping for a little more fiction productivity next round, as well as a return to more regular walks, though I also recognize that adding a puppy to our plans in November could disrupt my rhythm again. This time, in a happier way. I will keep you posted.

Keeping Faith

Always pray to have eyes that see the best, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad, and a soul that never loses faith.It’s been two weeks without Kyra now. Sometimes it feels like forever, and sometimes it feels like she’s still with us, just waiting to peek around a corner. Today, for some reason, was another day to grieve–even though we got to spend the day enjoying ourselves with friends. Hubs and I had a great day together yesterday too, and, yes, the house almost looks like we are not still in transition. But I keep thinking: Kyra would have loved all these little cuddle spots. And I worry for Natasha, who’s still looking for her friend and second mother, and seems sadder and more serious than her normal, playful self. None of us has really found that emotional balance yet.

All this means that the picture that floated past on Facebook today spoke to me, so I’m sharing it with you, too. It feels remarkably similar to a Buddhist teaching on “no self” hubs forwarded yesterday, and underlines last week’s injunction to be at home within yourself.

I suspect part of my difficulty stems from a week of an intensive exam prep class on top of regular school work and everything else going on. I face months’ more study time if I hope to pass the PMP certification, but I also hadn’t realized how much overlap there would be between what is covered in MBA classes and that certification, so feel at least halfway more prepared than I’d expected. It still left me exhausted.

It also left me feeling rather more decrepit than I would have expected. We only managed two walks this week, and my back has been punishing me for my laxity. Maybe a return to my regular work schedule will help remind us that after dinner is a good time to stretch our legs. Maybe some calendar distance will also help us avoid the inevitable “the last time we walked this way, Kyra was with us.”

We’ll see. I also need to find the time to get back to fiction writing. I’m starting to feel like there could be some catharsis in finishing Jasper’s Story… but I also ran across an old journal with an enticing plot bunny while I was organizing my office this week. So there are writer’s cogs churning again.

The lifehack tips keep coming, too. Hubs found one with a few cleaning tips I really need to implement (squeegie doggie fur?!), as well as some ways to optimize buying organic veggies.

While my life still feels challenging, I also have to remind myself that next Sunday at this time I will have turned in my final mid-term, and our house really will be settled (since it’s likely we’ll be hosting guests once more). I also have some fun just over the horizon with a visit to Gayla coming the first of October. So I’ll keep attempting to reach my non-school/non-work mini-goals, hoping that my forward progress generates some momentum. And I’ll encourage you once more to check out how my ROW80 cohorts are doing with their goals.