Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone! Hope your holiday is filled with family, fun and fabulous food!

With all my love,
smtwngrl

Friday, December 21, 2007

Going Home

It's that time again, for the long drive and the snow and the family and the holiday gorging...OK, hopefully not the gorging but definitely the rest of the stuff. I'm heading home to spend Christmas with my family. I'm happy that I'll have the week off from work (although I've used all of the paid time off I've accrued and then some) and I'm excited to spend some time with my family. At the same time...

I'm very excited to be going home for the holidays, really, I am. No, no, really. It's a tradition I love and I don't know how I'll handle it when I have my own family to spend the holidays with and can't make the trip every year. But honestly, I wish my family could be transplanted to some place closer to me. And/or someplace warm, like the tropics. Or even North Carolina. I mean, people, they get FEET of snow up there. And it's COLD. I'm not talking 40 degrees cold. Or even 30 degrees cold. It gets BELOW ZERO up there. It gets so-cold-my-ears-are-going-to-fall-off-and-my-snot-is-frozen-solid cold.

Anyway, enough complaining. It will be nice to have a white Christmas, because we don't really get those down here. So I'm headed home today to spend time with my family and enjoy the holiday festivities. Then I'll be back for a weekend of gift exchange and football with My Love before heading back to work on New Year's Eve. (Just out of curiosity, whose idea was it to make Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve work days? I mean, I know the Prez declared Christmas Eve a government holiday this year, but normally, I have to work on those days. Just like the day after Thanksgiving...what's up with that??? I'm sure I'm not alone, but I still find it totally irritating. And retail workers, I really feel for you...who wants to work on Christmas Day or New Year's Day?)

If you don't hear from me for a few days, don't worry. I've probably gotten lost in my nephew's pile of toys, or I'm eating sausage bread until I'm so bloated I can't move, or I've cookie-eaten myself into a carb coma. Just know that I'm thinking of you all and sending you wonderful holiday wishes!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

TBR Challenge 2008


I've come up with my official list for the 2008 TBR Challenge. I've scoured my bookshelves (and my library list) for the 12 lucky titles that will make my challenge list, and without further ado, here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Girl Meets God by Laura Winner Finished 1/16/08

  2. Citizen Girl by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus Finished 4/12/08

  3. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose Finished 12/21/08

  4. I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

  5. The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

  6. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult Finished 2/3/08

  7. Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson Finished 8/31/08

  8. A Hand to Guide Me by Denzel Washington

  9. Hotel of Saints by Usula Hegi Finished 8/18/08

  10. Writing Your Life by Lou Willett Stanek

  11. We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg Finished 3/14/08

  12. Hollywood Worldviews by Brian Godawa
You might recognize some of these from last year's group. Since I didn't get to all 22 from last year, I figured I'd list them again. I'm going to have to read them all eventually! And just in case any of the first group turn out to be unbearable, or I'm just not in the mood for them, I've also selected 12 alternates (again, some of them from last year's list).

Alternates:
  1. The Ha-Ha by David King

  2. Writing Articles from the Heart by Marjorie Holmes

  3. Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach

  4. Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer

  5. Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

  6. I'm Not the New Me by Wendy McClure

  7. To Own a Dragon by Donald Miller

  8. Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

  9. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

  10. Nourishing Wisdom by Marc David

  11. God's Politics by Jim Wallis

  12. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Again, if you want to join the challenge, visit the official challenge site and sign up. The more the merrier, and just think of how much room you'll be able to make on your shelves for more wonderful stories!


Monday, December 17, 2007

A New Book Challenge

Over the last few years, I've found myself reading less and less because there were always so many other things on my To Do list. Then, about a year ago, I committed myself to a challenge I never thought I'd finish. I signed up to read twelve books in twelve months! I thought that I just might be crazy, given my busy schedule. But joining the 2007 TBR Challenge gave me just the excuse I needed to spend more time with my nose in books.

My book shelves aren't any barer because I keep buying more books, but I read more this past year than I've read in quite a while, and was able to make 12 checks on my long list of "I really want to read that" books. That's probably double the number of books I read in 2006. I also really enjoyed every single one of my TBR picks, which I didn't expect. Especially since many of the books sitting on my shelf stay unread for so long because once they're purchase I forgot why I picked them up in the first place or can't seem to get myself "in the mood" for them.

Twelve months later, I'm half a book short of completing the 2007 TBR Challenge (I'm sure I'll finish by 12/31), and I couldn't be more excited for 2008! Because the TBR Challenge really motivated me to read more this year, I've decided I'll be joining in on the 2008 challenge, too. If you're interested in being part of the challenge group, check out the official challenge site and sign up. Why not make the TBR Challenge 2008 one of your resolutions (or goals if you're like me and don't make resolutions) for the coming year?

I'll be posting my official TBR 2008 list soon, so stay tuned. If you decide to join, let me know—I'd love to see your lists, too. I'm always looking for new books to add to the ever-growing TBR pile.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Geek in Me

This post was originally published on February 16, 2006 at Weight of My World.

I had a few free hours yesterday, so after eating breakfast, checking my email and my favorite blogs, showering and feeding the cat, I grabbed my purse and headed out the door. Excitement rose in my chest as I started my car and put her into gear and headed out on the path of least resistance toward one of my favorite places--the library.

Yes, I said the library. The rows of shelves filled to the brim with stories. The sound of pages flipping gently. The quiet throat clearing and soft whispers. The silent thoughts of paper-writing students that purr in the air if you listen close enough. The smiles of the librarians, welcoming you to the one place they feel most comfortable. I love it all. And it strikes me that the only difference between myself and the librarian--that creature I once mocked and thought of as socially inadequate--is that she is assigned her time at the library and I get to choose the hours that I spend there.

I can easily spend a entire afternoon scanning the aisles of fiction and non-fiction, browsing the magazines and searching the online catalog for the newest releases. It's a sickness, this need to be around printed material. I desire words as much my body desires food.

It all started when I was a toddler and my mother read to me every time she had a chance. It grew into bedtime stories everynight before the lights went out. When I learned to read on my own, I started reading to my little sister. I read her books and then I'd read mine. I'd read out loud until I couldn't keep her attention any more and she'd move on to other toys and toddler activities. And then I'd curl up, in a chair or a corner or my bed, and I'd read silently to myself. I'd devour the stories of others, submerge myself in far away lands, live adventures through characters braver than I was, and when the story was over and the ending tied up in a perfect bow, I would mourn the loss of a new friend and long for more of his life.

My favorite bike rides ended at the town library that was housed in the Presbyterian church on the corner of Main Street. It was small and the selection was limited but it was enough for me. I read my way through the children's section and straight into the young adults aisles before I was old enough to really understand the subject matter. But my voracity for words had improved my reading skills far beyond the books that targeted my age group.

The book store became my second favorite place to be. I started visiting them with regularity, anticipating new releases, and buying them up with my allowance, developing a library of my own to supplement my limited choices at my local hangout.

This hunger for literature has never waned. In fact, at times it cripples me. I spend my entire day at work waiting for the moment I can get home, brew some tea and curl up with that book I couldn't bring myself to put down late the night before. I read away entire weekends, until it's Monday morning again and I don't know where my Saturday and Sunday have gone. But I love every moment of the escape that reading provides me. I love living vicariously through the characters, touching their lives briefly, and then returning to my own. I love learning from their mistakes and successes. I love talking about them with others and gaining new perspective from an intelligent discussion.

Does all of this make me a geek, a nerd to the nth degree? Probably. But ask me if I care.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Weight Thing

When I moved over to Blogger, I planned to focus more on my writing and less on my weight. I guess I knew that my weight would be a subject I'd eventually broach, but I didn't want it to be a focus for my blog anymore. So I haven't talked about the weight thing much since I moved over here, despite the fact that it's often on my mind. Those of you who read me over at Spaces can attest to this. In fact, my initial goal in blogging was to track and discuss my weight loss journey. Unfortunately, this journey hasn't always been successful as far as the numbers on the scale are concerned. About a year ago (on December 9, 2006 to be exact), I decided to take a new approach to my health and I posted the following over at Weight of My World:

I've started a little experiment, and while it's not going all that great at the moment, I have a feeling it's going to be the most successful weight management and healthy lifestyle tool that I've ever used. The goal is not to diet. I know that may sound like a cop-out, and it's even a bit scary from where I'm standing, but it's beginning to make more and more sense.

I've been counting calories or Weight Watchers Points for so long I can barely eat anything without mentally calculating something in my head. I exercise not for the health benefits, the energy and the mood elevation, but for the calories it burns. I eat foods based on their calorie/points count instead of their nutritional value. And while I know this is all wrong thinking, it seems to be the only way I know how to go about losing weight. Then one day recently, I looked at my calorie calculator and had 300 calories available in my daily calorie range (1300-1600 calories). Instead of considering that I wasn't really hungry and therefore didn't need to use these calories, I immediately started thinking about what I could and couldn't do with them. After munching my way through the 300 and then some, I realized what I was doing. I wasn't eating because I was hungry, but rather because I had calories available to use. It was a wasted purchase, like buying a formal dress, not because I had an event to attend, but because I had the cash in my pocket.

I started wondering why I eat and exercise. I went over certain situations in my mind and it occurred to me (not for the first time) that I often eat when I'm not hungry. In fact, just last night, I continued to eat despite palpable stomach discomfort. So what's the deal? And how can I change this pattern? I also started thinking about what it would be like to have children and what kind of an example I would be. Would I teach them healthy habits naturally, or would I teach them to look at food as the enemy and exercise as a chore? Honestly, I don't know the answer to any of these questions yet. But I do know that even if counting every calorie I put in my mouth and writing down every food that I choose to eat causes me to lose weight in the short term, it's not a weight loss that I'm ever going to be able to maintain over the long term. If I don't first discover what is causing these binges and how I can disrupt them (and maybe even avoid them), then I'll always be bound by them. And I certainly won't be able to teach my children to have a healthy mindset about food and exercise. The last thing I want is to transfer my own obsessions and false ideas to others.

So my plan is simple. No more dieting. Instead, my focus is on getting in touch with myself. I need to understand why I am eating in every situation. I need to develop skills to decrease my tendency to eat everything but the kitchen sink. I need to figure out what it is that allows me to be satisfied with a single bowl of cereal some mornings, and what causes me to crave four or five bowls, and to give in to that craving, on other days. While the plan seems simple, none of this is going to be easy. And it's clear to me from last night's fiasco that I may lose sight of my goals and fall into old habits while I'm learning. But I think that this way may be the best way for me to learn what I need to know in order to accomplish my ultimate goal of living a healthy life, instead of just becoming successful at a lifetime of dieting.

After a year of trying not to diet, and getting out of the habit of exercising, I've put on many of the pounds I had lost. I tend to reevaluate my goals around this time every year, and rereading this post gave me pause. Turns out, I'm still dealing with the same issues. I've learned a lot about my eating habits and have a better understanding of who I am, but change is hard. My behaviors haven't really changed. That is the bottom line. I've decided to keep trying, though. I haven't failed unless I give up, right? And I know that not dieting, that learning to eat based on my body's needs and not on my emotional state or the number of calories I've allowed myself for the day, may be one of the most important things I'll learn in my lifetime.

So I'm tracking what I eat and counting calories again, but I'm trying to do it while focusing on hunger rather than numbers. The goal is not so much the number of calories I consume, as the understanding of how food affects my body and what foods provide me with the nutrition I require. I don't plan to always do this, but I needed a refresher on what and how much I should be eating to fuel my body.

I've also rejoined the gym and am working to regain the muscular and cardiovascular fitness I was so proud of a year ago. I'm not dieting, but I am trying to reprogram my brain and my body to eat and exercise differently. I'm working with a friend who's a dietitian, and when I joined the gym again, I got three free sessions with a trainer. I plan to use these tools to the best of my ability.

Most importantly, I am trying to change how I think about food, exercise and my body. Negative thoughts are not allowed. Bad foods do not exist. Overeating at one meal does not mean all is lost--not for the day, and definitely not for the week or month. Every moment is a moment to make a healthy choice. I can chose to eat well for my body and mind, to love myself no matter what the scale says or what the media tells me I should look like. This time, I'm not rewarding myself for pounds lost or calories eaten. I'm rewarding myself for consistency: regular exercise sessions get me iTunes downloads; each day I track what I eat gets me a dollar toward a manicure and pedicure.

All of this may seem obvious to you. It may seem like a small step or a basic understanding, it may seem like more empty commitments. Believe me, sometimes I see it the same way. This is a struggle I have dealt with since I was very young. But I've come to realize (again?) that moving forward, one day at a time, is all I can do. Today, I choose happiness and health. Tomorrow I hope to do the same.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Review: Eat, Pray, Love

I've been meaning to transfer some of my better posts from my Spaces blog to this one, and since Eat, Pray, Love was recently featured on Oprah and seems to be the talk of the town, I figured I'd start the transfer with this one.




This review was originally posted on August 25, 2006 at Weight of My World.

I know I promised a full review when I finished this book, which I actually did more than a week ago, but I’ve been allowing it to marinate in my mind and heart for a while, and I decided a typical book review won’t do it justice.

Elizabeth Gilbert opened herself up to what the world (and God) had to offer her, and it’s because of that openness that I can honestly say I learned something about myself through her journey. I may not have been able to travel with her physically, but I found myself taking a trip of my own as I flipped the pages and wandered through the chapters of her life. So, instead of doing a typical review, where I tell you how great this book was (and it was great) or talk about its themes and literary value, I want to tell you what I learned:
  1. I want to travel and experience other cultures and places, not as a tourist does, but as a native does. I want to live here and there, for months at a time, and learn the daily routines and rituals of those who have walked the streets long before I arrived and will continue to do so long after I’m gone.
  2. Sometimes we’ll experience pain and loss so great that we’ll believe we can’t go on. But somewhere in the midst of it all, something will push us forward, and when we start to move, amazing, miraculous things will happen for us. It will take time and it will take work, but healing and life will begin to flow in our veins again if we follow that gentle prodding.
  3. It’s ok to experience pleasure. In fact, it’s negligent and abusive not to provide yourself with a little tender-loving-care every now and then. “You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.”
  4. Learning to be free is hard work. It’s tough for some people to discover their own freedom to experience life, to laugh, to dream, to succeed, to discover, to travel, to just be.
  5. Yoga is about union. It’s about connecting—connecting your mind with your body, your spirit with your God, your energy with that of your neighbor’s or your community’s. As a Christian, I used to believe that practicing Yoga would draw me away from God. I now realize that Yoga isn’t a religion meant to replace my current belief system. Instead, I learned that it’s the practice of uniting yourself with the world around you, be that spiritual, physical, emotional or otherwise. I can use Yoga to connect with whomever or whatever I choose—Jesus, Buddha, or the ground under my feet.
  6. I’ve already written too much, so I won’t get into the specifics, but I learned a lot about faith and devotion. I learned about prayer and peace, diligence and restfulness, confidence and humility, love and living. I learned that we each have “the right to not stop seeking until we get as close to the source of wonder as possible.”

I didn’t start reading this book with the expectation of having some sort of religious experience or spiritual awakening. I bought it because the idea of traveling for a year caught my attention, and the quality and style of the writing held it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of the struggles I’m going through, Elizabeth Gilbert has been through, too. Our situations may not have been the same, but as I read, I was reminded that there is a cord of humanity that binds each and every one of us together. Knowing that there are others who question and struggle and dig their way out of the holes they’ve buried themselves in gives me at least a little comfort when I find myself pulling out my own handy-dandy shovel, yet again.

So, if you’ve ever been through a tough divorce, experienced a major loss, or found yourself in the midst of a spiritual crisis, I’d suggest you check out this book. I believe that there's something for everyone in its pages. It’s full of fantastic images (some unique and some clich├ęd) and raw emotion, experiences of the senses and of the heart and soul. I won’t say that everyone will enjoy every part of it, but I think you just might find a nugget of wisdom, a guiding word, or a gently written nudge at the exact moment you need it. I know I did.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Playing the Game

It's been a while since I've used a Sunday Scribblings prompt, but I couldn't pass up this week's word. You'll understand why when you read my scribblings below.



Prompt #88: Competition


Competition. It's a word that inspires me. I get sweaty with excitement when I hear it. My heart pounds at the thought of it and my skin tingles with anticipation. Ask anyone who knows me even a little bit, and you'll learn that I'm a competition whore.

Have you ever seen the episode of Friends where the group is in Barbados (aptly named "The One in Barbados, Part 2") and Monica and Mike play ping pong? If so, you get the idea. If not, let's just say things get a little "hairy" and the competition gets a bit out of control. I'm not nearly as aggressive in competition as Monica is, but I REALLY don't like to lose.

Even in situations where I'm supposed to be playing "just for fun" I'm really competing with you. (Yes, girls, even at game night. I hope it wasn't obvious, because I did try to let it go a bit.) No matter how hard I try to keep my competitive urges under wraps, they usually show through. "Just for fun" is something I can't seem to grasp. I take every opportunity to win very seriously. We must play by the rules, and if we're not officially keeping score--with paper and pen--trust me, I've got the numbers in my head. I may not be writing it down, but I'm tallying in my head.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a name caller or a back biter. I do, however, find competition, in almost every shape and form, exhilarating. Tell me I can't do something, that I won't win or that you're going to do it better, and I bring out the big guns. In most cases, I'd like to believe that my competitive qualities make me more productive and help me to push past my mental limits.

There have been moments, however, that my competitive nature has done me wrong. For instance, My Love and I used to shoot pool on occasion when we first started dating. All would go well for a while. We'd laugh and joke and have fun. But then, as I lost game after game and ran out of excuses as to why I was shooting so poorly, I got grumpy and stopped having fun. He quickly learned that if he wanted to keep me in a good mood, he'd stop playing pool (or any other game) with me. This makes me sad, because I remember those dates as fun, even if we did have to leave and go get pizza before I got too pissy. Now we go to the movies. There's no competition over popcorn or Mike and Ike's.

I wonder sometimes what made me this way. Was it something I learned at home? Or at school? For as long as I can remember I've loved to win. But why? Who told me it was better to win? When did I decide that I was worth something only if I could get the best hand? The A? The Valedictorian Award? The better paying job? Yes, competition has helped me reach my goals. But were my goals mine to begin with, or did they become mine because they once belonged to someone I was competing with?

However I became this way, however I grew into the competitor that I am, know this: I want to have fun. I really, really do. But I want to win, too. So if you find yourself in a situation where I might be competing with you, make me relax. Take away the score board. Make jokes. Refuse to play by the rules. I may not like it at first, but eventually I'll let the competition go. I'll enjoy myself and have some fun. The only thing I ask is please, puh-lease, don't let me win. That's a mortal sin in this competitor's book.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Winter Wonderland

I just got home from a dentist appointment and errands. Simple, everyday experiences. But I had one of those moments on my way home where I was suddenly in complete awe of the beauty around me.

It was dark, and the street lights shone bright against the night. Snow flakes drifted down from heaven, clinging to one another and landing - Splat! - against my windshield. Something about the way they floated on the breeze in tiny clumps like dandelion fluffs made my heart skip a beat. I turned off the book I was listening to and sat up in the driver's seat, more alert.

It was breathtaking: the way the millions of flakes filled the air; the way they formed stripes on bare tree branches; the way they held tight to evergreen bushes lining sidewalks. For a few minutes, I was driving through a winter wonderland. It felt like the world had stopped and this snowfall, a minor storm so many people were probably cussing and fussing about, was sent down just for me. The flakes were falling to the ground so that today I could be driving down a street I don't normally drive and experience this beauty of nature.

A Little Inspiration

Laura, an amazing 10-year-old girl, has started a project to make a difference in her world. This girl is a leader and an inspiration. On the first of December, inspired by the memory of her grandfather, Laura began Twenty Five Days to Make a Difference. I stumbled on Laura's mission through Jen Lemen and thought it was a really sweet idea. I considered committing to joining Laura in her daily pursuit of making a difference, but honestly, I was afraid I'd fail. And publicly no less, because if I did it, I'd of course be forced to blog about it.

You see, it turns out I'm a relatively self-centered person. I didn't actually realize this until I was presented with the possibility of purposefully doing something for others. Every. Day. I couldn't imagine it. It seemed like such an inconvenience.

Then I read about Laura's grandfather, and about why she had chosen to pursue this idea. I read about what she'd done to make a difference in just a few days, and I realized that this 10-year-old was so much more selfless and open and giving than I. It took a child's innocence to open my eyes to my own selfishness. So, with great trepidation, I decided I'd commit. Thankfully, Laura says I don't have to be perfect in my pursuit of making a difference. Instead, I've decided to commit to step up and make a difference when I can.

With Laura's list of suggestions and my own conscious effort to do something good for others and my world this month, I'll be looking for opportunities to make a difference in December. I may or may not blog about it (after my month-long NaNo saga, I'm a little tired of series posts). But seeing Laura's site and reading about all that she's done in just a few days to help others has really inspired me to look outside myself a bit more this month.

Check out what Laura's doing. Her actions might just inspire you to give a little more of yourself during this season of giving, too.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bits and Pieces

Now that the dullness of NaNo updates is over, I thought I'd do something just for fun. I ran into this meme at inchoate.


do you own a gun?
no sirree

what do you think of hot dogs?
In the right mood, a good all-beef hot dog is the best thing ever. Usually, I think what I really like is the bun, relish, mustard and ketchup, though. So generally, I stick to the veggie dogs smothered.

what do you prefer to drink in the morning?
Water on my way into the office; coffee when I get there.

can you do push-ups?
a few, more if I do them on my knees

what’s your favorite piece of jewelery?
the ring My Love gave me for my 30th birthday

what is your secret weapon to lure the opposite sex?
now if I told you it wouldn't be a secret anymore

middle name?
Sue

name 3 thoughts at this exact moment:
1. I should be working.
2. I can't think of anymore thoughts.
3. I have to remember to stop at the post office on the way home.

name 3 drinks you regularly drink:
1. Diet Dr. Pepper
2. Water
3. Coffee

what time did you wake up today?
4:20AM, 4:35AM, and 4:55AM (alarm went off at 5:15)

current hate?
I hate hate (yes, I understand this is a contradiction, but it's how I feel) and all the bad stuff that happens because of it.

favorite place to be?
in the presence of friends and family

least favorite place to be?
a waiting room

where would you like to go?
everywhere, but top on my list are Australia, China and the Grand Canyon

do you own slippers?
no, my last pair fell apart from wear and tear

what shirt are you wearing?
a steel blue sweater from Gap

do you burn or tan?
burn

favorite color(s)?
brown and red

would you be a pirate?
I'd like to think I'd make a good pirate, but if I'm honest, I have too say no--too much raping and pillaging and mopping the deck for me.

what is your favorite holiday?
my birthday (What? That's not a holiday?)

what songs do you sing in the shower?
not a shower singer

what did you fear was going to get you at night as a child?
ghosts and spirits

what’s in your pockets right now?
lint

last thing that made you laugh?
a short story in a Food Stories collection I'm listening to during my commute

best bed sheets as a child?
Rainbow Bright -- I had the curtains, too!

worst injury you’ve ever had?
I don't remember it, but I broke my collar bone when I was a toddler.

are your parents still together?
no

do you wish on shooting stars?
every time

what is your favorite book(s)?
Travelling Mercies by Anne Lamott

what is your favourite candy?
Twizzlers

how is the weather outside right now?
windy and cold

what was your first thought this morning when you woke up?
Already???

How about you?

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