Positive Thinking

The internet is a wonderful thing most of the time.  Thanks to the internet, both detailed knowledge and general information are more readily available to the masses than at any other time in history.  With countless news sources available the average person can keep on top of world events with ease.  With a simple search using a few keywords you can learn how to knit or how to rebuild a car engine.  You can find a new recipe for tonight’s dinner, or you can learn about astrophysics.  Philosophy, mathematics, foreign languages, history, and instructions on any style of art are all available for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge base.  We have even begun to enter the age of free access to college courses (with the understanding that you are learning for the sake of learning and not in pursuit of a degree).  Looking for entertainment?  The internet has that too.  Games, movies, television, music; anything you are interested in can be found.  You can reconnect with old friends, or you can make new friends.  The possibilities are endless; all thanks to the internet.

With so many positive things available to the masses, it saddens me to realize just how much negativity there is out there right beside all of the good things.  Every one of the major news outlets only reports on stories designed to be sensational and draw in more page visits.  As such, we are bombarded with stories of murder, abduction, child abuse, racism, animal abuse, terrorist occupations, terrorist attacks, and political stories that are deliberately presented in a way to incite the masses to argue and fight with each other.  And it is working.  A few days ago, a woman I know asked a question on social media.  It was an innocent enough question, and Person A commented with an answer for her.  At this point, Person B jumped into the comments and started calling Person A names and slinging insults.  The situation devolved from there, and reading through those comments made me feel as though my head was going to explode.

The internet gives us a sense of anonymity.  When we sit down at our computer keyboard (or with our smartphone or tablet) to write out an email, social media update, or blog post, there is a separation between us and the people we are interacting with.  This can be a good thing in certain situations, but more often than not it leads to people thinking it is okay to say awful, mean, and hurtful things to other people.  These people are willing to write things they would never dare say to someone’s face because there is no fear of reprisal since they feel safe in the knowledge that they are anonymous.  In the case of my friend’s question, Person B accused Person A of being a bigot because they have differing views on a certain subject.  Now, I do not know either of these people, but I would be willing to bet that if this conversation had happened in person, Person B would not have been willing to say any of the horrible things that she wrote online for the world to see.

Anyone who spends any amount of time on the internet knows that you “do not feed the trolls” because it is an exercise in futility.  Even with the knowledge that there are people out there who thrive on stirring up trouble, I just do not understand it.  How have we allowed our society to fall so far that the rules of common decency and courtesy no longer even enter into these people’s minds?

The situation described above led me to write my own general post where I stepped up on my virtual soapbox and ranted about this problem and the meaning of freedom of speech.  Here is a copy of that post:

I am so tired of people attacking each other on social media. Each and every person alive has their opinion on the “hot topics” and just because somebody disagrees with your opinion does not give you the right to attack them and call them names. Freedom of speech does not mean that people can say what they want as long as it is in sync with your views. It does mean that we can each speak our belief on a topic and if you disagree you can:
1. Ignore the person
2. Stop being friends with the person
3. Listen to the person, and form reasoned arguments to use in a discussion based on what they have to say.

Freedom of speech is just as much about allowing people to shout views diametrically opposed to your own as it is about allowing you to state your views. And without both factors in play there can never be an open and honest dialogue on these topics, which is the only way to create a better society for all of us to live in. If you attack a person and start name calling there is no chance of changing that person’s mind because they will dig in and return attack rather than listen to you.

And before anyone tries to turn this post around on me…
1. I do not care, even a little, what color a person’s skin is.
2. I do not care, even a little, what a person’ sexual orientation is
3. I do not care, even a little, what religion a person believes in.
4. I DO believe that every person deserves respect as a human, regardless of if you agree with them or not.

Okay, this post is a bit longer than I intended…

Stepping off the soap box now.

After I posted the above rant, another friend of mine, romance author Mistral Dawn, invited me to check out the Positivity Blog Tour that she and several other authors are participating in for the month of June.  Each of these fine ladies have their own reasons for taking part in the Positivity Blog Tour, but it comes down to the fact that they saw the need for more positivity in the world and decided to do something about it by devoting the month of June to discussing and promoting positivity.  This could not have come at a better time for me personally, and I would like to thank them for their efforts!  Here is a list of links to each author’s blog, and I would like to encourage all of you to check them out!

In addition to the ladies on the Positivity Blog Tour, I follow another author who does his part to spread positive vibes by promoting  his favorite charity.  Patrick Rothfuss heads up a couple of fundraisers each year in support of Worldbuilders, his nonprofit group that raises money to support Heifer International.  His latest fundraiser, Geeks Doing Good 2015 was, as always, a resounding success!  The goal was to raise $25,000 in 8 days, and as of this writing there is 3 hours left and a total of $245,821 has been raised!  That is a whole lot of positivity, both from Mr. Rothfuss and every one of his fans who contributed to this worthy cause!

On another positive note; tomorrow marks 6 months since my daughter underwent her second open heart surgery and she is doing amazing!  In the last 6 months, she has grown like the proverbial weed!  For those of you new to my blog, she was born with a group of heart defects called Tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia.  It has been a stressful two years with a total of five trips to Gainesville for surgeries or other procedures.  I have learned so much over these past two years, not the least of which is perspective. We learned early on that as bad as we thought our situation was, there were so many families going through something worse.  That realization gave my husband and me the ability to be positive while facing the worst time of our lives, and that positivity paid off.  We have a happy beautiful little girl who has taught us what it means to be strong.

My point is, without making a deliberate effort to seek out positive people and events in our lives and the world at large, it is easy to get bogged down in the overwhelming negativity found all around us.  So it is up to each of us to chose the positive over the negative. We must choose to seek out the silver lining in whatever this life puts in front of us.  What do you do to stay positive in dark times?  I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Crochet and Knitting

I crochet; have crocheted off and on since I was a child when my great-aunt first taught me how.  I started out making chain necklaces, bracelets, IMG_20150526_231702504and rings in different colors to go with my different dress up outfits, and eventually graduated to making full sized afghans. IMG_20150526_231717739 For years it was a running joke that Aunt Nan taught me how to crochet and my mother how to sew, but would never teach me to sew or my mother to crochet.

Anyway, I’ve made several afghans over the past few years.  Most I have given away as gifts, a couple I have kept, and a few have been lost or left behind in moves.  The great thing about this hobby is that there is always another project to start.  Anyway, over the past few months I have been working on an afghan, a few hours here and there as time and energy have permitted, and I am proud to say that last night I finally finished it!  I love the Christmas colors and the details of the pattern turned out wonderfully I think.

In addition to finally finishing up this afghan, I have been making my annual attempt to learn how to knit.  I don’t know anyone who knits, so I have been trying to teach myself how for years now.  I give it a try once or twice every year, and in the past I have simply given up after a couple of horrible misshapen practice swatches and gone back to my crochet projects.  All the while wishing I could in fact make any of the beautiful knit patterns that I come across.

Well this year I think may actually be the year when I finally manage to wrap my crochet brain around the concepts of knitting.  Below is a picture of my first three practice pieces, and I think I’m making great progress.  The pieces are placed in the order I made them from left to right, with the starting points at the bottom.  IMG_20150526_130722The first piece was all knit stiches, which leaves you with a piece that is bumpy and looks the same on both sides.  The second piece mixed in a different stitch called the purl, which when rows are alternated with the knit stich leave you with a piece that is bumpy on one side and smooth on the reverse.  I did a few bumpy rows just to break up the piece for a pattern type look.  The third piece was increase/decrease practice.  I started at the bottom point and increased each row until I reached the mid point and then decreased each row until I was back to a point.

I am rather pleased with the progress, and feel pretty confident that with a little more practice I will be knitting like a pro soon!

How about you? Are there any knitters out there that have any tips for a beginner?   Thanks for stopping by!

Beautiful

What is beauty?  The definition of beauty has changed through the ages and continues to do so even in the present day.  In our society women have become fixated on trying to achieve the image of beauty that has been pushed upon us by fashion models, movie stars, and magazine covers.  We must be lean and thin with only a slight hourglass shape to our silhouette.  We must have flawless skin with no blemishes or stretch marks from head to toe.  Our hair must be glorious shining waves that float around our head in a perfect halo.    We spend hours at the gym each week and then countless more hours plucking, scrubbing, waxing, moisturizing, curling, and who knows what else, in our attempts to be beautiful.  Well at least some of us do.  Those of us (myself included) who do not spend our valuable time obsessively trying to achieve the impossible are looked down upon, and even ridiculed for the misconception that we just don’t care how we look.

In recent years there has been a move towards dispelling the myth of the perfectly beautiful fashion model or movie star.  Revelations on just how much the photos used in magazines are airbrushed and the use of different lighting and lenses for filming movies have begun to get women to accept reality.  There is no such thing as perfect beauty, and the relentless pursuit of that ideal is futile.  It is slow going, and most women still do not see themselves as anywhere near beautiful.  We still compare ourselves to other women and most of us fall way short of beautiful in our own eyes.  I don’t personally know anyone who is completely comfortable in their own skin, and I certainly do not think that I am beautiful, even on my best day.  I don’t think that I am a hideous troll that should be living under a bridge somewhere.  But beautiful? Nope, not me.

Why am I writing about this today?  A couple of days ago, a dear friend of mine tagged me in a Facebook post that started me thinking about perceptions of beauty.  The post was a video put out by Dove as a part of their “Campaign for Real Beauty.”  The campaign is 10 years old now and aims to celebrate the physical variations of women and to inspire us to be comfortable with ourselves. This particular video is almost four minutes long and shows women from different parts of the world approaching the front entrance of a building.  There are two doors for these women to choose from; over one door is the word “average” and over the other door the word “beautiful.”  The vast majority of women shown chose to enter through the “average” door. The point of the campaign is to get women to choose to see themselves as beautiful.

As many of you know, my 22-month old daughter has a congenital heart defect.  She has already had two open heart surgeries, and she will need at least two more surgeries in her lifetime.  She has a “zipper” scar along with several scarsIMG_20141219_192237036 from drainage tubes on her chest and tummy area.  As she grows up, she will have to battle all of the normal insecurities that young girls go through regarding her appearance, but she will have the added insecurity over her scars to deal with.  The subject is something that my husband and I have talked about a couple of times already.  How can we help her to be proud of her scars instead of ashamed?  How can we guide her into loving her body, scars and all?  At this point in her young life, she is fearless and confident, and we do not want for her to ever lose those qualities.  While we still have time to figure it out, it is something that is on our minds already.  For us, her scars serve as a reminder of what she has fought against, and proof that she has won those fights.

Earlier this month a Facebook request from country singer Mark Gentle went viral.  His son, Carter, is 7-years old and has already had five open heart surgeries.  Carter expressed a fear that people would think he was ugly because of his scars, and Mark asked fans to comment on a picture to help his son feel better about himself.  The response was amazing, spreading well past Mark’s fan base and out into the larger world of the internet.  That photo received more than 200,000 likes the first day after it was posted, showing that there are so many kind people in this world.  Those people, and the countless others who have commented their support since that first day have done a lot to ease the fears of that frightened and sad little boy, and it warms my heart.

After my friend tagged me in that Facebook post, I began thinking about my own self-image.  More importantly, I began to question what impact my own lack of self-esteem will have on our beautiful girl as she grows up and begins to face her own insecurities regarding her body image.  Children learn everything about how to cope with life and the world at large by watching the people around them.  How my husband and I think and feel about ourselves will have some influence on how she views herself.  This realization is startling because, to me it isn’t a big deal that I don’t see a beautiful woman looking back at me from the mirror.  But to my daughter, it will make a huge difference.  So from this point on, it is my goal to choose beautiful.

I would welcome any thoughts on this subject.  Any suggestions on how to help not only my daughter, but myself as well.

Who is raising our children?

In the past week, I have read numerous news articles regarding the Meitiv family in Maryland.  Almost every article that I have read has focused on one question:  Are the Meitivs right or wrong in their choice to raise their children (ages 10 and 6) in what has been labeled the “free-range” style?  I have read arguments describing the world as a dangerous place, and these arguments make the absolute statement that all children should be under adult supervision every minute of every day.  I have also read the opposing arguments stating that children need to learn self-sufficiency and should be allowed the independence to explore the world on their own.  I have read how statistics show children are more likely to be abducted or abused by family members or family friends than by strangers on the street.  I have read the “what if (insert worst case scenario of choice)” arguments.  In the end, it seems to me that the national debate over the right and wrong of the Meitiv’s parenting choices is entirely the wrong debate.

It does not matter if you agree with the Meitiv’s decision to allow their 10-year old son and 6-year old daughter to walk unsupervised about a mile from their home to the park to play.  What does matter is how the situation in Silver Spring, Maryland was handled by the authorities.  After reading several different news articles describing the situation, the following timeline has emerged:

    • 5 PM – a police officer stopped the children while they were walking home from the park.  By Mrs. Meitiv’s account, the officer coerced the children into the back of his patrol car while promising to take them home.  Rather than keeping his promise, he took them first to the police station and then to a child protective services crisis center.  The children were left in the back of the patrol car for at least two hours before they were  turned over to child protective services.
    • 6 PM – the time the Meitivs expected the children to return home for dinner
    • 8 PM – the Meitivs are contacted by authorities, this is the first notification the parents received of the children’s whereabouts.
    • 10:30 PM – the Meitivs are finally allowed to see their children

I can only imagine the terror these parents felt for the two hours between 6 PM and 8 PM.  As a parent, I know that this is the thing of nightmares.  Can you imagine the fear these children experienced for five and a half hours?  Sitting in the back of a patrol car and then at a crisis center, with no dinner until well past bedtime on a school night had to be terrifying for them.  The Meitiv family went through something that no parent or child should ever have to face, especially at the hands of the local police and child protective services.    Yet the national debate is not focused on how the authorities acted inappropriately and caused tremendous stress and worry to this entire family.  The argument is that by letting the children go to the park unsupervised the Meitivs were placing them in potential danger of a predator kidnapping them and therefore are unfit parents.  By this reasoning, every time a parent straps their child into a car seat and drives down the road, they are potentially endangering that child because they may get into an accident and therefore they should be punished.  Ridiculous I know, but we cannot go down the path of punishing people for crimes that may happen in the future.

To put it in perspective I went searching for statistics and this is what I found:

    • According to the CDC, in 2011 there were 650 children ages 12 and under who died in car accidents, and 33% of those children were not in car seats or wearing seatbelts.
    • According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, each year there are an estimated 115 children abducted by strangers, and only 50 of those children are killed.

It goes against everything that we have been conditioned to believe, but let that sink in for a moment.  A child is thirteen times more likely to die in a car accident than at the hands of a stranger who has kidnapped them.

Another example, this time out of Port St Lucie, FL:  Nicole Gainey gave her 7-year old son a cell phone in a specially made case that hung around his neck so that he could keep in contact with her and then she allowed him to walk the half a mile to the park to play.  The police were called, picked him up from the park and drove him home.  After questioning Ms. Gainey, the officers arrested her for child neglect..  Before this incident, her son was a normal outgoing boy who loved to play outside.  Now he refuses to go outside, even into his own fenced in back yard, unless his mother is watching him because he fears that she will be arrested again if he is out of her sight.

The authorities in both cases were allowed to terrorize these children all in the name of “protecting” them from neglectful parents.  Where is the outcry over the psychological damage the authorities caused these families?  You do not have to agree with these parent’s choices, but you do need to acknowledge that the only harm done to these children came at the hands of the police and child protective services.  These children were playing outside.  They were not bullying other children.  They were not spraying graffiti on the sidewalks or the walls of local businesses.  They were not throwing rocks at passing cars.  They were not breaking any law.  How is it permissible for them to be terrorized by authorities?

When did we as a society allow our government, and by extension the police to start telling us how we can or cannot raise our children? According to the U.S Department of Health & Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway website, in “2008, an estimated 1,740 children died from abuse or neglect…”  My question is, shouldn’t police and child protective services focus on saving those children who are in greater danger?

Return to the keyboard

It’s been a few weeks since I have posted anything here, and for that I would like to apologize.  I won’t go into the details of why I haven’t been writing, but I do want to say that I am working on a couple of new posts for the upcoming week. So please don’t give up on me just yet, and know that I look forward to your comments!  Thank you for stopping by today.

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been a few items in the news that have left me feeling like my head was about to explode.  I will be doing a series of posts on these news stories, so please don’t give up on me just yet, and know that I look forward to your comments!  Thank you for stopping by today.

Some of the Books I’ve Reading

Reading is a large part of my life.  I enjoy everything from a good murder mystery, to a steamy romance novel, and everything in between.  I read the classics (granted not as many as I should) and I read pop culture items.  I read news articles, and I read blogs.  I read about child development (well because it’s been a long time since I’ve dealt with a young child).  I read about writing and writer’s lives and writing habits.  I even occasionally read about celebrities (but not that often).  The point is that I read a lot, and one thing I have found is that you can learn something from everything that you read (even if you can’t believe everything you read).  You can learn how to be a better writer by reading, even if what you’ve read is poorly written.  You can learn how to deal with different stressful situations, how to build the perfect fort for playtime with a toddler, and you can learn how scary the real world is at times.  So for today’s post, I would like to talk a bit more about the things I have read this week.

Last week I wrote about my beta reading experience (if you missed the post you can find it here).  Mistral Dawn is a fantasy romance novelist and you can find her books on Amazon by following these links: Taken By the Huntsman or Bound By the Summer Prince.  Both are great fantasy romance novels filled with wonderful descriptions of the land of Fairie as Mistral envisions it and some pretty hot love scenes.  They both also lay out a world where everyone is accepted for who they are, regardless of what labels may be applied to them.  She does a wonderful job of making the reader think about social issues without coming across as preaching to the masses.  In short, both of her books offer more than sex scenes, and have a way of totally engrossing the reader.  I highly recommend them.

In the last week, I have also met another writer who is preparing to release her second book.  Julie Nicholls also writes fantasy romance and you can get her first book on Amazon at Demon Within.  In this first novel, Julie takes us into the life of Kai, a former slave who has won his freedom.  Within the pages of her book you will find mystery, lies, secrets, romance, and of course some steamy love scenes.  I particularly enjoyed how Julie weaves the different character’s individual stories into one and I am eagerly waiting the arrival of her next book titled Angel Within which is due to be released soon.

In the last week I also finally got around to reading Ready Player One.  This book was released back in 2011, and has been on my to read list for a couple of years now.  I have to say that I really enjoyed this novel.  As a child of the 80’s it was a blast from the past set in the future.  Ernest Cline gives readers a future dystopian world where most of humanity spends the majority of their time inside a virtual reality game world.  One of the creators of the “game” passes away and his will reveals the existence of an “Easter Egg” inside the game, and states that the person who finds the egg first will inherit his massive estate including billions of dollars. What follows is simply nerd heaven.  If you were a part of the 80’s, (and even if you were not) it is well worth the read and highly  entertaining.

Last, but certainly not least, I have been reading Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.  This book is part of a series that Writer’s Digest has published over the years in their Write Great Fiction series.  It is one of the books on my to read list that I hope will help me gain the necessary skills (and confidence) to finally sit down and write a book (or if I’m lucky, several books).  I’m only a couple of chapters into the book, but I have already learned a couple of things, so Yay!

I would love to hear what you’ve been reading!  Please feel free to share in the comments below!

The Consequences of Chronic Pain

As a writer, I have discovered that some subjects are more difficult to write about than others.  There are times when the words flow easily onto the page and only require minor tweaks here and there, and then there are times when it is much more difficult to pull the thoughts out of my head and place them on the page.  This post falls into the later category.  I have been writing and deleting and rewriting and deleting words, sentences, and whole paragraphs for the last three hours, all in the hope of conveying a series of thoughts and feeling I have about living with chronic pain. 

I started out with facts and figures (100 million Americans are living with chronic pain each year, which is more than the number of people living with diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined), but discarded the two paragraphs I had written because they just did not convey the point I was reaching for.  Then I tried a round about route that started by describing a local event that I missed out on this weekend because of my chronic pain.  That was discarded because it too failed to convey the right thoughts and simply came across as whining on my part.  I have started and deleted at least a dozen opening sentences, and I finally realize the main problem I am running into is that I am afraid to put these things into words.  A part of me fears that by putting these things into words, I will give them power over me and my life.  But I think the opposite is true.  I hope that putting these things into words, I will be able to gain some small power over the pain.

So here goes nothing, or everything.

Limitations:  Learning to live with the knowledge that my body’s failure limits my activities is very hard.  Knowing that if I go grocery shopping, I will be on the sofa or in the bed for the rest of the day, if not the next as well, doesn’t always stop me from going.  I am unable to contribute to the household by doing any of the day to day chores without paying the price:  doing laundry unassisted costs 2-3 days of horrible pain that leaves me unable to do anything, running the vacuum costs the rest of the day, as does getting on the floor to play with my young daughter.  I can’t walk more than a few dozen feet without developing a pronounced limp.  I can’t make plans with friends or family because I never know if I’m going to be able to follow through on those plans.  The list is ever growing, and seemingly never ending.

Loss of Friendships: I had a friend that I met way back in middle school.  We had drifted apart at times over the years, but we always reconnected after a time and it was as if no time had passed.  When my pain levels started interfering with my ability to go out, she stopped talking to me.  No texts, no calls, and certainly no visits.  She had it in her head that the whole thing was only in my head because looking at me there was nothing wrong.  After 23 years of friendship, she cut me out of her life.  I couldn’t go on all day shopping trips anymore.  I couldn’t go hang out at the bar while she got drunk and flirted with a different guy each week.  In her words, I simply wasn’t any fun to be around any more. 

People stare:  I have a handicapped parking permit, so on the rare occasions I do go to the store my walk from the car is shortened.  Every single time I park and head into a store, I get the stare from at least one person.  This person who looks at me and thinks that I have no right to that closer parking spot because I look “fine.”  They see me walking, and maybe notice that I am a little slow, but otherwise I show no sign of being “handicapped.”  These people do not know what it costs me to put on that show of normalcy and they are never around when I am limping back to my car afterwards.  Instead, I get the looks of pity as I make my way back to the car.  What a difference a few minutes makes.

Depression:  Not being able to do the things that need to be done, let alone the things you want to do, is a difficult situation to find yourself in.  When you suddenly find yourself unable to keep up with the housework; when you find that you can no longer stand up long enough to cook dinner for your family; when you find yourself unable use the vacuum;  when any of these happen, it leaves you feeling less valuable as a person.  You find yourself dependent on your family and/or friends to take care of all the little things that you normally do to contribute, and it is devastating.  You are exhausted from fighting the pain all day and from not sleeping at night because the pain keeps you up.  You are fighting a losing battle, with limited energy reserves, and it is easy to become overwhelmed and depressed.  It is so easy to give up completely.

It is easy to lose sight of the good things in life when chronic pain seems determined to destroy you from the ground up.  It is so easy to fall into the habits of self pity and hopelessness.  It is so easy to hurt those you love, and who love you, because you lash out unfairly.  Not because they did something wrong, but because you are in such a dark place, angry and disappointed with your lot in life. 

This is not the life I wanted, or planned for, but it is the life I have.  I have chronic pain every day.  Some days are better than others, but I am never able to do the things I need or want to.  I’m a housewife that can’t keep up with the housework.  I am a mom that can’t take my daughter on a walk, much less to the park to play.  I am a wife that has unpredictable mood swings ranging from unstoppable tears one minute to anger and frustration the next (or maybe that is reversed).  I am a writer that can’t sit still for more than 10-15 minutes at a time, so I’m constantly interrupting the flow of my thoughts as I try to write because I have to move.  Most importantly, I am lucky.  I am lucky to have an amazing husband who takes care of me and our family.  We have a son who is in college and helps out around the house as well.  I do what I can, and often more than I should, but they pick up the slack every day.  I am loved, and cherished even when I don’t feel worthy of that love.  I have support, and I am lucky because not everyone who is living with chronic pain does.

I think it is important to write about this, not only for myself, but also for anyone else who is dealing with a similar situation.  I am one person out of 100 million people who are trying to cope with chronic pain on a daily basis.  If my words can help even one person who is dealing with chronic pain, then I have done good, and that is my goal.  If you are living with chronic pain, how do you cope?  What are your biggest struggles?  Do you have a support system in place?  Please share your thoughts.