Burgundy sunflower

Burgundy sunflower
Crescent Moon Designs Henna Art

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Moved to Wordpress

Well, I ended up moving platforms after all.  The only advantage that Wordpress has over Blogger is that you can add menu tabs -- so I have one for my homepage, Crescent Moon Designs Henna Art and one for my etsy store, HennaHeart.

The new blog is connected to my business page, and has the name, Musings of a Hennaphile. 

Thanks for everyone who read this blog.  I hope to find you at my new home, http://crescentmoondesignshenna.wordpress.com/

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Down time

It's been a fairly hectic quarter year.  I'm definitely feeling the need to recharge the batteries with a short vacation.  Unfortunately, jetting off to Italy is not an option.  Neither is a quick trip to Turkey or India.

However, there is always the option of culinary travel...and all those countries are on our vacation menu agenda.

A trip to the other side of the world is in the spice cabinet!

Also included in our mini-vacation itinerary: OFF mode.  No phone, no internet, no TV.  No electronic connectivity -- just spending time with the spouse, the puddies, some books, the camera and my drawing book.

The weather is supposed to be fantastic and our yard is green and filled with flowers from the recent rain.  We may be staying at home next week, but it already feels like a "real" vacation -- and I can't wait!

Our meadow of planted wildflowers is in full red right now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cherry blossoms for Japan

Cherry blossoms for Japan

This post on  Positively Beauty made me think about the recent disasters in Japan, other natural disasters, cherry blossoms, and the paradox of life.
Japanese cherry blossoms

The cherry blossom, the very symbol of spring, is also a symbol of the fleeting existance of life. Cherry trees grow best in places with real seasons, but the transition between seasons is usually erratic and sometimes harsh. When I lived in Baltimore, I witnessed more than one cascade of transcendant cherry blooms vanish and die after a sudden April ice storm. And yet, the next spring, there they were: cherry blossoms in all their pink radiance even though another ice storm was on the horizon.

And that seems to be what life is about. Life flourishes despite of impending disaster. Life simply is.

Throughout Earth's history, life has flourished, then been nearly wiped out, then re-emerged to bloom again. The K-T extinction event from around 65.5 million years ago is the most famous example of this seeming paradox. A huge asteroid slammed into the earth, creating massive tidal waves, volcanoes, earthquakes and climate changes. Most life on earth was wiped out. There is very little evidence of life in the fossil records from the late Cretaceous period.
Artist Don Davis' rendition of the K-T impact

 In fact, the earth has experienced at least 5 major extinction events with several minor ones, and yet life has always returned to continue doing what it does: live.

I grew up in tornado country where we were always aware how quickly things could be destroyed by a single, destructive funnel cloud.  My hometown of Nashville, TN has been shaped and reshaped by ruthless tornadoes. The tornadoes of April 1998 obliterated most of the downtown area and uprooted trees near my mother's house. In May of last year, severe thunderstorms brought more than 13 inches of rain to an already saturated Nashville and caused extensive flooding. And the city continues on, despite repeated disasters.
The 2003 Cedar fire threatens a suburban neighborhood in San Diego

I currently live in Southern California which is an area that faces yearly wildfires and is waiting for the "Big One", the 6.7 or greater earthquake that will happen within the next 30 years.  Or, it could happen tomorrow. But after the shock, damage, and destruction, people manage to survive.  The parts of the Cleveland National Forest that were charred by the 2003 Cedar Fire are now starting to recover with new growth.

California poppies are blooming once again in areas devasted by the 2003 Cedar Fire
We are small creatures who live on a planet that is fragile and at the whims of both its own instabilities and to the dangers from beyond our atmospheric borders. We are cherry blossoms, and when disasters strike, we pick up and bloom again because that is just what we do.

The process of picking up and renewing is messy and difficult. But it is inevitable.  It is the cycle of life.  And in time (after a lot of help), Japan will also blossom and thrive again.

In the meantime, give what you can, send prayers and positive thoughts, and reflect on our lives as cherry blossoms. We are lucky. We are so lucky.

The American Red Cross provides direct assistance of food, water, shelter and medical aid

AmeriCares is also giving direct aid to people in need

Have you had experiences with natural disasters?   What are some of your stories?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Energy vs. Time Management

I am reading The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz which argues that time management is not the best way to achieve more but that managing one's energy is the way to peak performance.

So far, what I've read seems like common sense. It's about balance.  Many of us are caught up in a cycle of doing, doing, doing without taking a moment to catch a breath of air, notice our surroundings, or recharge the batteries we are so busily depleting.  This book urges us to stop, take a moment to reflect on how we treat ourselves (whether we are eating healthy fuel and maintaining our physical strength with exercise and rest), whether we are living in tune with our core values (spending enough time on the things that are important and less energy on the things that just have to be done), and where our passions lie.

I had to take a reading break to take photos of the roses in the backyard.
My favorite rose!

This one was hidden underneath the branches.

This book is making me think about values and priorities and where I spend my energy.  And that's definitely worth pondering.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A moment of silence

8.9 quake and tsunami in Japan.  It's horrifying, sad and sobering.

The earthquake caused a road to buckle.

The tsumani pushed water, mud and debris several miles onshore and destroyed just about everything in its path.
The devastation is bad enough, but worries about the nuclear plant's integrity just add to the problem.
The nuclear power plant's cooling  system was wiped out by the tsunami and there are concerns about the plant's safety

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan.  Even though they are the most prepared people on earth for this kind of disaster -- no-one can truly be prepared, and the physical and psychological toll is huge.

For those of us on the West Coast of the US, esp. in Southern California, the big one has yet to happen. The bomb is ticking and we can only look at the devastation in Japan and think "There, but for the grace of God, go I..." 

  The American Red Cross: Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief
Text REDCROSS or 90999 to make $10 donation by text message.

Save the Children: Emergency Relief for Japan Quake
Toll free: 800-728-3843
Text JAPAN or 20222 to donate.

International Medical Corps
Text MED or 80888 to donate $10

Doctors Without Borders
Global Giving
Text JAPAN or 50555 to donate $10

Sunday, March 6, 2011

NASA Kepler Mission Launch

Two years ago I had the supreme honor and pleasure to be part of the launch party at Cape Canaveral, FL for the Kepler Mission.  It was an amazing evening - the week had been plagued with rain and unseasonably cool weather (for Florida), but the skies cleared and the launch was good to go.

It has been an an incredible journey ever since.  As the spouse of a Kepler Participating Scientist, I get to experience second-hand all the crazy-long nights of data-crunching, teleconferencing, gnashing of teeth and esctactic jumping when programs work. And the mission found cool stuff almost immediately, and data continues to stream in. These are exciting times!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The 24-hour, 365-Day Body

@Tracy noticed that I've been reading Timothy Ferriss' 4-Hour Body and it has helped her lose 20 pounds and keep them off.  That's awesome!  I am inspired and applaud this weight victory.

I have now finished the book, and while much of it makes sense, some does not compute, especially the part about eliminating bread and oatmeal and all dairy, except cottage cheese. (What makes cottage cheese superior to fat-free yogurt?)  I tried, but it didn't work for me longer than 2 days.  I love making kefir -- it's fat-free and high in pro-biotics (which keeps the flora happy, and when flora ain't happy...nobody happy). And I become grumpy when I can't make or eat bread. 
A variety of whole grains and pulses
So I compromise and cut out all the white stuff such as white flour, white rice and other highly refined products that mascarade as breads and muffins.  I now use whole wheat flour, steel-cut oats, and whole grains like chia, teff, flaxseeds, amaranth, millet, brown rice, black rice, and quinoa.  The results are delicious.

Dairy: I hate cottage cheese.  However, I do have to admit that large amounts of regular cheese are high in fat and low in fiber and probably not so good for you.  SO I use them sparingly as garnishes.  No more cheesey potatoes or gooey mac and cheese.  Oh well.  I also make my own kefir and drink 1/2 cup of fresh dairy kefir every day; non-fat milk, and lots of local probiotics.  I cannot find a reason to promote cottage cheese over homemade fat-free kefir, so I don't.

From Ferriss' advice, I've added beans to the diet and am mixing them in with the grains.  I've also increased my consumption of spinach, broccoli and kale.  But we do mix up the meals.  The 4-Hour Body recommends eating the same menu every day....but I suspect Ferriss is not married.  A variety of delicious meals eaten together is one of the keys to our domestic bliss, so definitely no same-old, same-old in the name of weight-loss.  I simply concentrate on portion sizes and drink a big glass of water before contemplating seconds.
Even among penguins, domestic bliss is about cooperating and making your partner happy

The Saturday binge.  I'm not a binger, so I don't consciously set out to do this.  But I like the idea of a free day -- so if I end up at a party and eat a piece of lemon meringue pie or some baklava, I can feel like it's all part of the bigger plan and that tomorrow I'll be back on track.  Parties usually happen on Saturdays...so it ends up fitting in with the book's advice.  But not on purpose on my part.

Exercise plays a huge part in this lifestyle change.  Before I read the 4-Hour Body and a lightbulb went off in my head, I was trying to let cardio shoulder the whole fitness burden.  Once I found a kettlebell and dusted off my old free weights, I started a 3 day a week, 20 min routine that has really improved my strength, kicked up the weight loss and helped me lose inches.  Ferriss is not the first person to advise using weights, but when I read his advice, it clicked... and it works.

I have to admit, I don't follow his routine other than using the kettlebell.  I like to use dvds that I can get from Netflix and switch it up.  And I've also started doing a yoga dvd after weight-training so that my muscles don't tighten up too much.  As someone who got two new hips less than 7 months ago, I am really aware of how much strength I need to build, but also how much flexibility I need to regain.  And just 20 min of yoga is helping with that.  I liked the AM/PM yoga dvd with Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden so much I bought my own copy.

 Heart disease happens in every family and is the number 1 silent killer of women in America.  So, when the moment of TRUTH happened in early January and I stood on the scale and realized that I am no longer a spring chicken and my BMI was 31, I knew I had to do something to get that number down and improve my cardiovascular system.  Clogged arteries, strokes, and high cholesterol run in my family... and weight control with cardio exercise is the long-term cure. (My aunt also medititates daily to keep her high blood pressure under control)

So I now start my mornings with 20-30 minutes of indoor walking with Leslie Sansone.  She's upbeat without being too perky.  She's down to earth and she jokes around with her crew, who come in all sizes.  She's obviously having fun, and I enjoy walking with her. I have several dvds and mix them up.  Every other day is a cardio day so I'll add in more "miles" with different videos.  Some use hand weights.  Some have varied speed work-outs.  Some have squats and lunges built in.  I'm a huge fan.

So there you have it: my program for life as inspired by Timothy Ferriss, Dr. Oz, Leslie Sansone, and my mother:

20-30 min walking every morning
3 days of strength-training which includes kettlebell swings -- love how those work the entire spectrum of the core! I usually spend between 20 and 60 min either doing a basic routine or following a dvd.
3 days a week of cardio -- a variety of indoor walking dvds or a long 2-mile walk outdoors on a pre-mapped course.  I like to get in 60 min in 2 30 min sessions during the day.
1 day of just hanging out and not worrying about exercise or diet (not necessarily on the same days)

Portion Control. I use measuring cups to make sure I have "normal" portions of grains and proteins.

Monosaturated fats: I use olive oil for most cooking and grapeseed oil for high-heat cooking; both have long treatises on their health properties, and they're delicious

Garlic, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, pepper, etc. -- these rev up your system and as anti-oxidants, help prevent heart problems -- who knew prevention could be so delicious!

Dairy: Big decrease in consumption.  I still put a garnish of cheese on my bean burritos and I love mozzarella on pizza.  But gone are the days of cheese indulgence. It's a good thing we no longer live in the UK because that place is cheese heaven -- each little grotto has its own wonderful and delcious cheese -- and I would not be able to resist.   I figure if it's fat-free and in moderation, it's OK.  So 1 cup milk with cereal. 1/2 cup kefir.  And 2 tbl fat-free milk in my coffee.

Whole grains.  No more white stuff.  No fluff.  No white flour, rice, bread.  And preferably not things that I haven't made -- which ensures ingredient control and adds fun to my life.

Beans, pulses, lentils.  More of them.  I add them half and half to my grain dishes (pilafs and brown rice, etc.)  I puree white beans and use them to thicken sauces.  I add beans to my eggs in the morning. I eat bean burritos for lunch a couple times per week.  Another source of whole fiber. 

Vegetables and fruit.  Thanks to Tim Ferriss, I have added a lot more leafy green and cruciferous vegetables to the diet.  However, I take issue with his contention that because fruit doesn't grow during the winter in the countries where his ancestors hailed -- and they survived just fine, one should avoid eating fresh fruit. My ancestors were also from Northern Europe and ate mainly dried and fermented fish all winter long; that does not mean I have to follow in their footsteps.  I prefer to emulate the ancestors I wish I had: the Mediterraneans -and they had fresh citrus in the winter and  then a succession of delicious fruit throughout the rest of the year: pomegranates, figs, apples, pears, dates.... so much fresh delicious fruit all year round.  They also belived in bathing, invented chess, and used henna.  Their lives were much more comfortable than the lives of my frozen, fish-preserving forebears.  I currently live in Southern California, and am very grateful for a warm climate and year-round fresh produce.

So that's it.  My plan.  It's working for me.  I've lost 10 lbs since the second week in January and 5 inches around my waist.  I can haul a 40lb bag of topsoil from the trunk of the car through the garage to the garden without complaining.  I have energy all day long without more than 1 cup of coffee (the second cup is because it's delicious).  My BMI is now 29.  I still have 35 pounds and many inches to go.

I didn't get fat and lose all my muscle tone overnight. I used to be fit and slim, but three years of chronic pain from severe osteoarthritis, and lots of self-medication with Ben & Jerry's lead to the first round of weight gain.  Two hip replacements and many lemon meringue pies  later helped me reach my zenith -- AND nadir of 180lbs.

But now, I am working hard and seeing progress, and it feels great!  And I think I can do this for the rest of my life.  That's the idea anyways.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hot bread for a cold night

I love to bake.  I'm very fond of pies, but I truly adore making bread.  This is one of the reasons I can't do low-carb diets -- how can I live without homemade bread?  It's good for the soul to make, it's good exercise to knead, the aroma when baking makes everyone in the house happy, and it's so delicious!

I want to share a recipe I just made.  Pita bread turns out not to be as difficult as previously thought.  It is labor-intensive and the oven gets really hot -- so this is definitely not a summer project.  But the fragrance and flavor of home-made pita fresh from the oven just can't be beat!
Delicious pita bread

This recipe is based on one from 500 Pizzas and Flatbreads by Rebecca Baugniet -- a book that has served me well so far in my quests to make naan and parathas. 

1 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup room temperature water
1/2 tbl extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tbl honey
1 tsp salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cups whole wheat white flour (King Arthur Flour makes an excellent variety)

Combine yeast with water and stir until bubbly (about 30 sec).
Add in olive oil and honey.  I measure the olive oil first so that the honey doesn't stick to the spoon.
Add in the salt and stir.
Add in all of the flour and stir until you have a lump of dough.  Knead 4-5 minutes, flouring hands if necessary, until the dough ball feels smooth and elastic.
Cover and let sit for about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 500F and if you have a pizza stone, put that on the bottom of the oven before preheating. Put a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the stone so the pitas don't burn.
Punch down and knead briefly, then get a knife and cut into small sections about the size of a golf ball.  Roll them into balls and let rest for about 20 min. 
When the oven is really hot, roll out one or two sections with a rolling pin and slide them off the cutting board or pizza peel (on my wishlist) onto the hot aluminum foil-covered pizza stone or bottom of the oven.
Let bake for 5-6 minutes or until completely puffed and lightly browned.
Remove baked pitas from the oven and put in a serving dish.
Keep on rolling and baking until all the balls are pitas.

Eat with lots of hummus, baba ganoush, felafel, tabbouleh.... yum!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Platform, schmatform

Sometimes the easiest things to work with are the best.  And although I keep hearing wonderful things about WordPress, and I'm sure it's a wonderful program, I just don't have the skills to work it.  And since this blog ain't broken, I've decided to keep on posting here.

When I have my new and improved website online (ETA 8 weeks -- have to take a course on how to use Dreamweaver and that starts March 16), I'll just try to integrate this blog into my site via link power -- and we'll see what happens.

In the meantime, my website is up and running through liveSite, which is not as easy to use as I had thought and thus although I like the way it looks, it's not as functional as I'd like.  I hope that Dreamweaver will help me fix these issues.

While I'm wrestling with technical details, my creativity seems to have been pushed aside.  I did have the opportunity to provide henna at a local synagogue's gala fundraiser (along with the lovely Tia Daniels, a very talented artist).  That event saved my creative sanity.  After figuratively banging my head against computers (both with Crescent Moon and with adding up long columns of numbers at the day job), it was such a joy to play dress up and draw on such warm and wonderful people.

That is why I continue to do henna, after all, to connect with people through an ancient and tactile artform -- and sometimes the magic really does happen.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Working on moving to a new platform

It has been a long time since I thought, wrote and made things in html.  A LONG time.  Back in the day when I was an admin support for the astronomy department at the University of Texas, webpages were new and I made one for the department, and then I made on for myself.... it was all straight html, and the language wasn't too different from LaTeX which I had to know in order to format papers for journals and NSF proposals.

But if you don't use it, you lose.  I used to read and write Chinese fluently, too.  Now I can barely figure out which is the appropriate restroom and whether something has chicken in it on a menu...
A classic poem by Li Bai

So, when I made the goal of shaking off the shackles of dependence on a web-building template and making my site from scratch so I can get all the strands of my cyber life under one site.... I underestimated how much I'd forgotten.  And how much things have changed since I last knew them...

I had hoped to launch the NEW! IMPROVED! INTEGRATED! site this week-end, but that hasn't happened.  My old Dreamweaver program was so corrupted, I had to upgrade and now I need a book to understand what's going on.... and the freeware that come with the new hosting package has a very high learning curve for customization... if I'm going to spend hours learning how to do something, I might as well learn Dreamweaver since it's more useful than another template-driven piece of freeware.

Oh, and life kind of got in the way of the blog as well.  I got a superb day job last week doing admin support for a local catering company and have been brain-logged from learning all the details of HALF the job, and then the cats complained that I wasn't spending enough time with them... so blog to the wayside for awhile.

I'll keep posting and when the new site is up and running, I'll create links so you can find your way to the new space.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A fabulous evening

Adelaid, one of the Shimmy Sisters, and myself
Every now and then I get to be a part of fabulous-ness, an event that transcend ordinary life and crosses to the realm of the fantastic.  On Wednesday evening, I joined henna artists, Anita Bhakta, Lernie Beuler, and Paula Broussard, along with the Shimmy Sisters and the band, Danyavaad for a corporate event in Orange County.  Little did I realize that I would be stepping into fabulousness. The event was set in a lush resort and had been meticulously organized and executed.  As soon as you stepped into the courtyard, you were transported into a world of oriental splendor.... tents inspired by the Mughal empire dotted the yard, bellydancers mingled among the crowd while the band played hypnotic grooves.
Anita waits for a guest in our fabulous tent
Music from Danyavaad filled the air with modern Mughal flair
The guests floated from one heated tent to the next, enjoying the food, the henna and the entertainment.  It was one of those magical evenings that makes me remember how blessed I am to be a henna artist and how much fun it can be sometimes.
The Shimmy Sisters, Adelaide and Leilania

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year's!

February 3 is the start of the Chinese Year of the Rabbit.  I love Chinese New Year's -- and as a rabbit, I'm especially happy.
Why does this yangguizi (Mandarin for foreign devil) love a Chinese holiday so much?  
  1. It's a great excuse to make and eat jiaozi --little filled pastries that are either boiled or pan-fried -- they are more commonly called wontons (which is the Cantonese word for them) and my Korean mother-in-law calls them mandoo.  Same concept, same deliciousness.
  2. I can put out all the decorations that I bought 3 years ago when I did henna at a Vietnamese Tet Festival in Balboa Park.  The banners and lanterns are so festive, it's a shame to hide them in the closet for years.
  3. I am not a fan of the timing of the Western New Year.  It arrives in the dead of winter, usually while I'm on a long airplane ride home from a trip back East to visit relatives.  I am feeling residual stress from Christmas, and stress about making a proper New Year's dinner, and then there's jet lag, etc. I just am in no shape to assess my life and make pertinent goals on January 1 (although I continue to try).
But Chinese New Year's follows the lunar calendar and arrives later in the year and on different days which gives it a sort of release from the rigidity of JANUARY 1.  (Also, it's late enough that if my holiday round-up letters haven't yet been mailed, I can mail them within the 15 days of the New Year celebration and feel no guilt. )

I find this is the perfect time for a new start.  I've had some time to mull over last year's successes and target some items for change.  More importantly, I have had a trial run at working on resolutions so I know which ones are going to stick and which ones aren't worth my energy.

I know goal-setting is not a part of the Chinese celebration: their focus is on family, sweeping out the old influences of the previous year, and feasting.  Nobody feasts like the Chinese!!  I am getting hungry now just remembering feasts of my college days in China....I may need to have some leftover jiaozi for lunch... but renewing my goals and refining them is what works for me, and the feasting part is pretty good, too.

Recipe for Jiaozi
1 cup ground pork
1 TB soy sauce
1 TB Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
3 TB sesame oil
1/2 green onion, finely minced
1 1/2 cups finely shredded Nappa cabbage
4 tablespoons shredded bamboo shoots (opt)
1 inch of fresh ginger, grated
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
Round wrappers found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store near the egg roll wrappers.  Or you can use square pieces of dough called wonton wrappers -- that is the essential difference between jiaozi and hundun aka wontons -- the shape of the wrapper and the method of wrapping.
Here is a YouTube video for round wrappers -- notice the party atmosphere -- when I studied in China, I went to many parties where the focal point was making and eating jiaozi. And here is a YouTube video for folding square wontons.

Have a great New Year with much feasting and joy!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Thoughts on Creativity

"Creativity is the quality that you bring to the activity that you are doing. It is an attitude, an inner approach – how you look at things . . . Whatsoever you do, if you do it joyfully, if you do it lovingly, if your act of doing is not purely economical, then it is creative." –  Osho

This is a quote that I found on a page of creativity inspiration on The Abundance Blog at Marelisa.com.  It's quote  46, and I found that it resonated with me.  I have long believed that everything I do springs from a creative center and I am happiest when I work from that center -- whether I am pruning the trees in the yard, mopping the floor, or doing henna.

Lately, I have not felt very connected with my creative center. I find the anxiety over not having an abundance of well-paying work (or any well-paying work) is interfering with my inspiration and my usual joie de vivre.  It did not help matters that I almost got scammed last week by a headhunter who promised me a nice wage for fairly simple work.  I almost fell for the scam because I am feeling so desparate for work. Fortunately, a friend had just seen an interview on TV about the very job I was about to accept -- and I was able to decline the offer before I got into trouble. I am so lucky!

But I feel burned.  I feel dispirited and am not sure where to go next.  Well-meaning friends suggest waitressing and other minimum-wage jobs. But I have tried getting entry-level jobs only to be told that I'm overqualified, and besides, I want to use my skills and talents and gifts rather than just spend time at a job doing busywork.  However, finding that job is easier said than done.

In the meantime, I need to reclaim my creative center and rekindle that spark of joy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Spinning my wheels

It seems as if I am working at breakneck pace and yet not getting much done.  And I am not sure if the perception of not achieving is due to sloppy time management or just having too much on my plate. Since the beginning of 2011 I have been pushing to create an online career of writing, editing, ghostwriting.  This has been to the detriment of my henna business and fabric painting.

And then I read a blog post on Daily Blog Tips that contains an idea that I think will help me solve my problem. It was about laziness and productivity. In it the author, Bamboo Forest, describe his own complacency and lack of motivation to write his blog posts and pointed to a number of excuses that he couldn't really excuse. And then he found his answer.  He used a timer to make sure he stayed on track and didn't wander off into YouTube-land or other distractions.  And it worked!  He finished more projects, and became a happier and more fulfilled person...and probably had some time left over to watch a few videos...

I have recently thought about a using a timer.  I used a timer once, but it was annoying.  My kitchen timer clicks and rattles while it is ticking, and then the buzzer is the kind of noise that would make a deeply sleeping slug jump.  I could not see myself going back to that.  However, Bamboo Forest has solved this little difficulty by creating a site called Online Timer -- Tick Tock Timer.  You open a window in your browser and input the amount of time you want to spend on say, writing a blog article or watching YouTube videos.  The clock silently ticks away (you can open it in a separate window and watch it if you like).  And when your time is up, your computer will gong.  It's a pleasant sound, much nicer than my kitchen timer.

This is going to be one of my new favorite tools to keep me from meandering all over the web when I'm doing research, and to keep me from spending all day reading blogs.  I will check back with the results of my new found time-management system and let you know if it's working for me.

Do you have any favorite tools that help you be productive?

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I found a poem I'd written more than a decade ago, and it still feels relevant today.

Ice shatters.
She blinks in the sunshine.
Warming, blinding,
Feels as if she had been frozen
To be thawed for later use,
like chicken parts,
Feels the cracking ice
in her heart,
to wiggle her fingers,
wriggle her toes.
Feeling floods her senses.
She is weeping.
Feels soft, spongey, wet.
Misses the strength of her frozen state.
There is an unfamiliar sound.
It is her voice,
and she is singing.

For many years I have let my essential creativity lie dormant, hidden under the hustle/bustle of working, moving, fitting in, moving again, working, moving.  I have been frozen and thawed half a dozen times, but this thaw is the one where I will set down root, blossom in the spring, and stay creative during the harder times.

As I grow older, I become less and less willing to compromise for money.  I still need money  -- paying off a debt, need to contribute to the mortgage and bills, would like to buy more art supplies.  But I am no longer willing to commit to the kowtow of minimum wage jobs and the bottom rung of the office ladder.  I am not interested in ladders (unless they are for reaching the top of the tangerine tree).  I may need to temporarily work in less than ideal situations, but I will never strive to make them accept me again...because I just don't fit into the corporate or academic administrative world.  And I am happier for it.

Have you ever felt that your essential self was frozen?  How did you find your thawing point?  And where will you go now?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany Day

It's 2011 now, and if you're Christian, it's the day of Epiphany. Even if you're not religious, this is a good day for thinking about epiphanies. Merriam-Webster describes the secular mean of epiphany as:
    (1) a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
    (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking
     (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
Baby sequoias

I hoped to have an epiphany of my goals for the New Year by now, but I only have a few and they keep dribbling in.  Perhaps that is a better way to start a year than with a list of clearly defined resolutions that mostly don't get done.

While we were flying home from our annual visit to the in-laws, I started reading Chris Guillebeau's "The Art of Non-Conformity" on my new Kindle (thanks, Mom!).  It's a well-written look at how to define your goals, hone in on what you want, and make a plan for achieving it.  Sadly, I didn't finish the book on the airplane and have yet to pick it back up, but I know the second half of the book will be just as inspiring as the first.

Anyway, one of the major ideas I took from "The Art of Non-Conformity" is the idea of actually thinking about what you want your legacy to be.  This isn't about having names on buildings (although it could be), or the amount of money you want to leave to your heirs.  Your legacy is how people remember you.  This is a profound question: how do I want people to remember me?  What can I do of lasting impact? 

The answers come more easily to some than others.  My mother, for example, figured out fairly early in her college education that she wanted to teach mathematics.  That vision became more and more refined so that during her post-doctural post at the University of Montana: she wanted to teach higher math in a University that would reach mostly minority students so she could help them move up into professional careers.  She chose a teaching position at Fisk University in Nashville, TN, a historically black university, and has taught thousands  of students over the past 40 years.  Her legacy lives on in her former students who now are dentists, engineers, computer professionals, and even a few mathematics professors.

I have never had a clear vision.  I have always been a whirlwind, writing, drawing, making music...I could never decide which one was my TRUE path.  Lots of bad advice about "doing something practical" didn't help the situation.  When I started college I thought I wanted to graduate as a journalist who had spent a year abroad in France.  But I ended up majoring in International Studies, being captivated by Asian cultures, and spending 7 months in China. After graduation, I moved to Buffalo, NY and worked as a professional solicitor (fancy name for telemarketer), a file clerk at TriCo windshield wiper, and a caseworker for a day center that specialized in elderly, de-institutionalized psychiatric clients.  I moved to Catonsville, MD for the purpose of going to graduate school in Ethnomusicology, which was way more fun than one is supposed to have in school (and not a bit practical).  Along the way, I worked as a receptionist for a chiropractor, worked as a receptionist for a pediatric practice and then got promoted into the billing department, and taught Chinese cooking.  I met a handsome young astronomer, who swept me off my feet, and when my graduate program was cut by the University, we got married and moved to England.  I spent the next three years doing administrative work for a Chemistry Department, teaching intro classes on world music, playing in a Celtic band, and busking on the streets our of nearest small town.  When we moved to Austin, TX, I did admin work for the Astronomy Department at the University of Texas, played in a Celtic band, sang with an early music ensemble. I discovered henna and started a small business.

That was the beginning of the unravelling of my "practical career" which had started haphazardly and ended up in a cubicle.  Being a freelance henna artist was more fun and fulfilling than anything else I had done.  I still did administrative jobs as they appeared, but my will to file was gone.  I longed for the thrill of being my own boss and having a different schedule each day.

However, my career is not my legacy.  It is only part of my legacy and how I hope to impact the world at small and large.

It did come as an epiphany, but only after much thought: I am an edutainer.  I share information about different cultures through my henna art, henna-inspired art, writing and presentations.  I aim to soften cultural barriers with enthusiasm, stories and designs.  I strongly believe that a big part of being human is to be creative.  Since many people have lost touch with their creative selves, I teach workshops on how to do henna and how simple elements build into a beautiful whole.  I would like to inspire people to look outside their boundaries, connect with others from different cultures, be inspired and creative.

This is not a resolution or a goal. But from this idea of leaving a legacy, I have defined what I find important and how I want to share it.  Once I know that, the goals roll forth.

What legacy to you want to leave?  How will you do that?