Wednesday, April 24, 2019

My First Paint Night

Panther and Meeko painting by Kara Hartz
As usual, I'm behind on the latest fads. Those, drink wine and paint nights have been big around her for quite awhile now. I've bee interested, at least in the painting part, but never had the time or money to attend one. That is, until recently. My day job put together a paint night as an employee appreciation event. Since we are a veterinary hospital, we got a pet themed painting. The sample, and the instructions were for a cat rubbing up to a dog, but as you can see, I changed mine to 2 cats, since I have 2 cats.

I don't paint as a hobby, so considering I didn't really know what I was doing, I really like how it turned out. I think my only regret is that weird thing I did trying to make Panther look furry and fluffy there in the section on her chest. I think the fluffy looks fine, at least in person, not so much in the photo, but I didn't try it anywhere else, so it just seems out of place. Should have been consistent. Oh well. It's ART!

Have you ever done a paint night? How'd you like it (and do you have a photo of your painting to share?)

Friday, April 12, 2019

When Am I Not a Beginner Anymore?

There are no answers in this post, just questions and thoughts that have been circling around in my head.

I've been writing for many many years. I've even sold some stories for real money and done paid blogging, and yet I usually think of myself as a beginning writer. I guess this attitude stems from not yet having finished a fully revised and polished novel (I have written several first-draft only novels). Also, while I've been writing for a long time, I don't write all that much, or all that often. Nowhere near as often as I'd like anyway. For awhile I was trying to keep track of my word count so I knew when I hit my million words, but I didn't keep up with that, so I don't know if that landmark has been hit or not. Probably not quite yet, but maybe?

I've been noticing lately, when something pops up in my news feed with a title like, "Advice for beginning writers", I find that I already know most of what's there. I've heard it before anyway. Occasionally, I'll even disagree with some piece of advice given, and I'll have reasons for my dissent. So I imagine that I could maybe be moving past the beginner phase. Yet, that's still how I think of myself and it's a hard mental image to change. How many phases are there? Am I intermediate? Certainly not advanced. Does it even matter?

I think where it does matter is in finding lessons to continue my growth as a writer. Like I said, articles for beginners are feeling less relevant to me all the time, but I believe all writers can grow and improve, and the greats never stop learning. Finding craft books or advice from authors I admire is how I find myself moving forward more lately.

I've also been jogging now for about 8 months. I did the Couch to 5K week 1 day 1 jog the same day as my recheck exam with my surgeon and he gave me the green light to start exercising again. After I finished that training program I have been looking for advice on how to proceed, and I'm finding all kinds of often contradictory advice. I'm realizing that much of my confusion is from not always understanding who an article is aimed at. So many jogging articles seem to assume everyone is running races and trying to finish faster. I started to get a little better, more helpful results when I added 'for women over 40' to my jogging related searches. Yet, I got a lot of the same advice over and over again.

Does the repetition mean I'm not a beginner jogger anymore? I don't think so. I didn't jog this morning for example because I'm fairly sure I've developed mild shin splints and all advice says the solution is rest (or biking - yea for the Peloton.) I also bet most running coaches would classify someone with less than a year of running under them, especially someone like me that was extremely limited physically before that, a beginning runner. That's fine. I don't care what I'm called, but I do want to know where to turn for good advice on how to continue without hurting myself (re:this shin splint issue) but also without not pushing myself enough. I don't know where that line is. Most of the advice I'm finding is aimed at someone just starting a C25K or similar program, or someone who has run a bunch or races and knows their 'race pace'. I'm feeling a bit lost in between.

I suppose the solution in both cases, is to not care. To just keep going. Doing my best. Reading and learning, and making progress wherever I can, and not caring about labels. The value of the labels should be that it helps with the tracking down of useful resources, but I'm not sure that's always the case. I guess, reading an article or listening to a podcast that just tells me stuff I already knew isn't the end of the world. Sometimes we need to hear things more than once for it to stick after all.

Monday, March 25, 2019

In Defense of 'Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald'

I loved the first Fantastic Beast movie. A lot. Newt's devotion to helping magical animals, his attachment to the individual beasts in his care, and his awkwardness with people are all things I strongly identify with. So naturally, I was very excited about the second movie coming out, and we went to see it opening weekend despite lots of articles tearing it apart.

Now with the DVD release, and I think J K Rowling must have done some sort of interview that upset folks, there seems to be a new round of 'the problems with Fantastic Beasts' articles showing up in my various online feeds. While some of the problems are probably valid, and I even agree with some of the criticism, I still really enjoyed it a lot, and wanted to throw out some positives from a big fan (me).

The second Fantastic Beasts movie is darker than the first. It might be darker than any previous Harry Potter movie at all. I've rewatched it a couple of times since my DVD arrived, and I think I can say with some confidence that there are nearly zero light moments in the whole thing. I wonder if this is the real problem a lot of the critics had with it. It is so different in mood from the first, and definitely from the Harry Potter movies.

In the first there were quite a few funny moments, mostly with Jacob. In the second, his and Queenie's story line is not funny at all, it is intensely tragic. In fact, I don't think we see Queenie at any point in the second film where she is not in severe emotional pain. That's a pretty harsh contrast to the way we see her in the first film. Jacob is doing a better job of coping with the obstacles that are in the way of his and Queenie's relationship, but his pain and helplessness are there too. There are a few attempts at jokes or levity, but since everything is so heavy, they aren't very funny, and just don't work well. I actually believe that Grindelwald is not just taking advantage of Queenie's emotional distress but actively mind controlling her in some way as well, as it is implied he can do. Her and Jacob's storyline is heartbreaking to me. I mean, it's great drama, but heartbreaking.

Also in the first there were a lot of moments of just pure wonder. The second tries to do that some too, but they are also generally heavier and darker - like watching Nagini transform. Newt is still Newt, and I love his character enough to go along with whatever he is doing. I do wish there had been more actual beasts featured again. I assume ones like the Kelpie, who get's a big scene near the beginning and then is never mentioned again will perhaps show up in future movies. It was cool to see the Niffler's additional skills put to use, and the scenes with the new Zouwu cat/dragon thing were some of the most fun in the film.

So, generally, I think this movie was so different from the first that it could be jarring, but that doesn't make it a bad movie. I know I am looking forward to the next and finding out what happens next (to Jacob, Newt, Queenie and Tina anyway, honestly I'm less interested in what happens to Grindelwald and Credence and the rest of those.)

Monday, March 18, 2019

Hey there, watcha doin?

Curious Meeko and Panther. Photo by Robin Hartz

Friday, March 15, 2019

Forgot to Show Off My New Books

I forgot to show what I bought at FogCon last weekend. I knew I wouldn't be buying as much as I wanted since the budget is what it is right now, but here's what I went home with:

I'd already read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and enjoyed it a lot, so I knew going that picking up the next book was part of my plan.
I've wanted to read In Calabria for awhile now, so when I saw a signed copy available I snapped that up (Peter S Beagle was not at FogCon as far as I know, but there was a bookseller there with lots of signed books from lots of authors).
Then there were a ton of things I saw that were already on my TBR (To Be Read for anyone who doesn't do book lingo) list, plus I started a whole new TBR list as I listened to panels and got interested both in books the presenters had written, and ones they recommended or quoted or talked about. Picking was tough. Then I also sort of had in my head ahead of time that I'd like to get something I didn't know anything about before attending. Something new to me. That's where Defrag came in. I piked it up in the dealer room because of the cover art and the thin size I thought it might be a graphic novel, and my daughter might like it. No, it's just a short-ish book, but I still love the cover art, and the blurb sounded interesting, so it's my 'new thing to try out'.
Then I made the good financial decision to not go back to the dealer room again. I still have my list though, so I am all set on reading material for a nice while.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

FogCon 2019

I've wanted to attend FogCon since I first learned about it, maybe 4 or 5 years ago. I have trouble spending money on myself, and on the years I wasn't in the hospital, it always fell on a weekend I had to work. If I was uncomfortable spending the relatively small membership fee for something just for me, I was doubly so about taking time off work to do it. Maybe I was just afraid to go alone to a place where I would know no one. That was probably a bigger part than I'd like to admit to myself.

Lucky for me, I have the most supportive husband in the planet. When I sighed, alas, FogCon was again on a weekend I worked, he just looked at me, and said, "Then take time off." He encouraged me to buy my membership early and ask for the time off. So I did.

I only took Saturday off though, because I didn't realize how much happened on Fridays. Still I attended the panel on "Life in a Closed System" on Friday night. It was great. Saturday there were some tough choices, but I ended up going to "Decolonizing Space" about colonialism in our world and in fiction, "Science to the Rescue!" about how science and scientists are portrayed in fiction, "Sense of Place" about worldbuilding, "Creating with a Day Job" about what it says - this was super encouraging and so what I needed to hear at times even if I didn't get anything specific to use that I'm not already doing.

By that time I was pretty exhausted and there was a dinner break for 2 hours, and I decided I wouldn't come back since I had a big day of family events on Sunday. I did sneak in one last panel Sunday morning, and I was proudly on time for it even with the time change. It was "It's Never too Late to be a Writer" and again, nothing really actionable to take away, but lots of encouragement and inspiration, and I always need that.

I regret not making it to any readings, but there was just so many panels I wanted to attend.

The idea of going to a multi-day event like this alone was daunting, but since I was primarily sitting in an audience, listening and taking notes it was manageable for me. Everyone I spoke to - usually to ask a question since I was new and didn't know how things worked or where things were - was very friendly. If I can schedule things to go again next year, maybe I'll work my way up to being more social - attending the lunch banquet or visiting the Con Suite or something like that. Maybe not though. Not if I would miss an interesting talk.

I'm so happy I got to go.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Decision Fatigue

I'm trying to remember where I heard the term 'decision fatigue'. I believe it was in the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It's a great book that I highly recommend. The point though is that I realy love that phrase, decision fatigue. It resonated with me so much the first time I came across it. If I remember correctly, the point the bookmakes with this term is that habits allow us to prevent decision fatigue. By having things we do routinely, without thinking, it lets us save all that decision making energy for other problmems.
I frequently find myself exausted from making decisions. When I work weekends, my husband handles dinner. He will sometimes ask if there is anything special I want. I usually answer something along the lines of, "I want to not have to think about it." Then he gets takeout and we are all happy.
When I was recovering from my many surgeries, I had a lot of anxiety about a lot of things. I didn't feel I was coping all that well, and I was supposed to be carefully watching my weight and following so many other instrutions I wa getting overwhelmed. I took advantage of a program my insurance provided to do phone coaching for things like weight, stress management, etc. Some of the problems I discussed with my councler/coach person were very small everyday things, like the stress of figuring out what to do for dinner all the time. She helped me come up with a system to plan ahead weekly so I knew what I needed to do each day. It seems so simple, but at the time I just couldn't make any more decisions. I was seriously fatigued. Even better, small things like this really helped. Way more than I expected them to. To have a plan for everyday things leaves what little decision making energy I have availble for decisions that come up that can't be planned for.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Peloton Classes

As a sort of Christmas bonus, my husband's boss gave him a Peloton bike and class membership. I'll admit, I wasn't enthusiastic about this, and thought that if the man had ever seen our tiny home he might have realized what an impractical gift this was. At the same time, it was also wildly generous, as anyone who has priced those bikes might attest. My husband accepted in this spirit, and found a place for it in the family room (where I had hoped to put a small sofa, but alas, it was not to be).

Since it was in such a prominent position in our home, and since it was all paid for, of course I gave it a try. The first few rides were hard on rear, but my Google research assured me that this would go away after a few more rides, so I keep on, and Google was right. I thought - hoped? - it might be a good cross-training exercise for me to do on the days I wasn't jogging as I worked through the Couch to 5K program, and I think it has been very good for that.

The classes are all challenging for me, even the beginner ones, but I'm seeing progress as I keep on going. The instructors are fun, and I'm finding a few favorites. I also recently discovered their online classes for things other than using the bike. I guess they also make a treadmill, that we don't have, but I can do the classes on the treadmills at the gym using my phone. They also have outdoor running and walking classes I can listen to on my phone, and well as yoga, meditation, and some strength classes.

Since I've finished the Couch to 5K program, I've liked having the treadmill and outdoor running classes to guide me along sine I'm not really sure what to do for my jogging now. I can't usually keep up with the paces they are using, but since they aren't live classes, and no one can see me or know how slow I'm going, I just do what I can, the best I can manage, and it's been fun. They throw in general running/jogging tips that are great for me since I'm such a noob to the jogging thing and don't really know much.

They also have 'achievements' the program keeps track of like, how many classes you've taken, how many days in a row you've exercised, how many miles you've ridden the bike, and that sort of thing. I've maybe gotten a bit obsessed with my daily streak. It goes up to 60 days, and I've been determined to make it there. I actually don't have that far to go. Thank goodness, it will count any class you do. When I was sick last week, I just took a meditation class (and fell asleep - oops, maybe I need more work there too). Tonight, I was so sore from my jog this morning, and trip to the gym for weights, that I didn't think I could handle riding the bike tonight, so I did a 10 min yoga class, and my streak is safe.

We never would have had the money to consider buying something like this for ourselves. Is it worth the cost though? Since we didn't pay the cost, it's hard for me to say. It's pretty darn nice to have though. I'm very attached to the thing for someone who was resistant to letting in the house in the first place.