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.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Creating a Writing Habit

While I enjoy writing, it had always fallen into the category of 'fun thing to do when I have the time'. Even when I'm trying to be more serious about my writing, and create a daily habit, it seems to be the thing on the schedule most likely to be pushed off until later when things are busy. And let's face it, things are ALWAYS busy.

A month ago or so, I finished the audiobook for The Power of Habit: Why We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. It gave me some insight as to why, when trying to establish several new habits, I had done so well with doing my exercising every day, and so poorly with trying to write every day. I learned that an important step in the habit loop, or in the creation of a habit is the trigger, or cue. The thing that tells us it's time to do the thing.

For exercising, my husband had declared that we would go to the gym together on Tuesdays and Thursdays as soon as he was home from work and Sundays first thing in the morning. Those are weight lifting days, so I decided I would jog first thing in the morning before I could be distracted by other activities on other days, or on work days when I can't get up early enough, I would ride our exercise bike or take a walk after dinner. So even though the cue varied from day to day, I had several cues ready, and even a back up cue - if I had an appointment or something else that kept me from jogging in the morning, I had a plan to bike or walk after dinner. Having a back up plan is also mentioned as a key to success in the book. Without knowing the steps to habit formation, we had set ourselves up for success with exercise, and we have been more regular in our workouts for the past six months than we'd been in years.

For writing, my plan was - do it in the evenings, when there's time. Obviously, that isn't as good a plan. Now that I understand more about how habits work, I am completely unsurprising that this master plan has mostly failed. Also, before reading The Power of Habit, I tried making a more detailed plan for myself. I would blog on this night, I'd work on fiction these other two nights, I'd work on the staff newsletter for work on another night, and the work blog the other night. Not only could I never remember what I was supposed to be doing on what night, this also failed because I still only had a vague - do it sometime in the evening when there is spare time - cue and that just didn't work for me. There is always something I need to do. So the writing got pushed aside. Again.

What I'm trying now: I downloaded a habit tracking app that lets you set a reminder alert. You could just use whatever alarm timer you already have on your phone I suppose. I first tried setting it for 5:30, thinking it would just remind me to write sometime tonight when I found the time. Just keep the idea if writing more forward in my mind. That didn't fly. I'm usually just leaving work, or planning dinner, or in the middle of something at that time. I glance at the reminder, but quickly move on. So I thought about when I'm most likely to be able to stop what I'm doing and actually write. I reset the timer for 8:30. I might be finishing up on the exercise bike, or grading school work, or doing laundry, but I'm just as likely to be playing a game. I decided that the timer would now mean - finish up what your doing in the next few minutes and start writing. I also decided that I would only expect 30 minutes of writing. That way if I really did have important things to get back to, 30 min wouldn't hurt that, and if I didn't know what to write, I could flail for 30 min without too much stress.

Has it worked? Not perfectly, but much, much better. I was writing maybe a night or two a week before, despite feeling like I'd like to do more. Now I'm hitting 4 to 5 nights easily, and usually once I've sat down and started, I go way past 30 minutes. I'm definitely on a better track. It's been about two weeks with this new system, and it seems to be getting easier over time. I'm looking forward to my writing time instead of stressing about it - like how I actually look forward to my jog. Who would have thought that could happen? So we'll check in in another month or so and see how the habit has come along.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Online Classes: Lynda.com

A friend recommended Lynda.com to me for my daughter who was interested in digital art and possibly design classes. It looked interesting, but I didn't want to spend the money at the time. Then I learned that we have access to the Lynda.com classes through our local library. We just use our library card number to log in.

She has taken some Adobe Illustrator classes, and is interested in some about Photoshop. I was looking around and found some about website design. I've been wanting to create an author website for my work, something in addition to just his blog, so I'm taking some classes as well. If I learn enough, look forward to my website hopefully in the not terribly distant future.

I'm also interested in classes there for creating a email list, and other marketing ideas. This is all brand new stuff for me. I've been writing, for myself anyway, for as long as I can remember. But branding, and marketing, and all the other stuff that goes into actually selling what I write - that's all outside the scope of my previous experience. I know some would advise to hire out the stuff you aren't personally experienced at, and there is wisdom in that advice. When you are just beginning though, and have a budget of zero, and are willing to take the time to learn some basics then that's what you do instead. At least, I hope you do, meaning, I hope I can. It's very possible, I'll take these classes, and still not have the skills to create my own website. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. On the silver lining side, I don't think any new knowledge is wasted. Learning new things is always good. If I learn that I need help to make my website, I'll have at least learned enough to better understand what I am looking for in that help.


Monday, February 11, 2019

I Have Finished Couch to 5K

Well, sort of finished it anyway. The app I'm using goes by time, not distance. So what I've actually finished is Couch to 30 Min of Jogging. I'm slow, and can't finish a whole 5K in those 30 min. But- darn it - I'm still super proud of this accomplishment. Since the final session in the program, I've been trying to work my way up to jogging for the full 5K distance. The last jog I did, I went for 34 min. Let me tell you, there were days along the journey that I didn't think I'd ever be able to jog non-stop for 30 min, let alone more.

At 34 minutes I still didn't quite hit 5K (3.1 miles), but I'm getting close. When I use various apps or my fitness watch thing I usually start them going as I begin my warm up 5 min walk, and I don't turn them off until I get home, so that includes 10 or so min of cool down walking as well. Some of the programs are easier to separate the walking from the running than others. My pace varies between 11 and 12 min/mile, usually about 11:30ish (I told you I was slow). So I figure if I can jog for 36 min I should be hitting the 5K by then. I suppose one of these outings I should wait to start tracking as I actually begin jogging, and stop when I start my cool down for a better, or at least more precise measurement.

I've been reading articles on advice for newer runners who have just finished C25K about what to do next to continue their training. Most advise against just running your 30 min every other day and say you should vary your distance, your speed, etc. to continue to improve. I've tried following a couple audio type classes that do a sort of interval speed work to help get faster. It's been a bit of a joke, because I'm really going the fastest I can right now, and any slower is a power walk - not a jog at all. I'm not sure an outside observer would be able to detect any difference in my 'fast' intervals vs. my 'easy' intervals. These classes like to talk about going at you're 'race pace'. I keep thinking, "My what now?"

Oh well. I have to start somewhere, right? I didn't know for sure I could jog for 30 min straight. Maybe someday I will amaze myself again and have more than one pace.

I girl can dream.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Sparking Joy

My newly folded shirt drawer

I read "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" probably over a year ago. I don't remember for sure. Long time ago. I think I got rid of some clothes, maybe, at the time. I liked it, I liked the ideas, but I wasn't energetically up for the sort of major decluttering I needed at the time.

I've started watching the Netflix show and I'm so much healthier now, and more ready to get rid of stuff I keep tripping over looking for the stuff I actually want to use. One of the aspects of Marie Kondo's methods that I had decided I didn't want to use was the upright folding thing. I didn't want to learn a new way to fold clothes, and, really, there was nothing wrong with the way I folded, so I didn't need to change that, I thought.

But it just kept coming up again and again and again as I watched. Well . . . maybe, I thought, maybe I'll just try the shirts and see if I like it. This is my newly folded shirt drawer. So nice, right? I should have done a before picture. Before this, after I had already gotten rid of a fair number of shirts, the drawer was hard to open and close. Shirts would get stuck, and I'd have to shove or poke them back inside. Plus, I didn't really know what was in the back or on the bottom. 

The exact same shirts fit with space to spare now (which is great since there are shirts in the laundry I need to get in there). I can see them all at the same time. The new folding doesn't really even take longer then my old way. Pants next!



Monday, January 21, 2019

Meeko gets the Cone

Awhile back, Meeko developed abscess on his rear. This isn't a crazy unusual thing for a cat; we figured Panther bit him a little too rough during a wrestling match one day, even though they look like they're being really gentle with each other. So we cleaned him up, got him on antibiotics and everything healed up well.

Poor Meeko kitty recovering from abscess surgery
Then about a month later, I noticed Meeko licking his rear again and acting uncomfortable. A wound had opened up in the exact same spot where his previous abscess had been. This time we had to sedate him to get a better look. The doctor probed, looking for any foreign material that could explain why the healed wound had reopened. Nothing interesting in there, but it was a big pocket of space under the small opening.

I thought maybe the infection had been resistant to the first antibiotic, but the doc wasn't so sure. There was no sign of infection this time. No discharge or anything like that. Spider bite? Maybe, but it didn't look like the classic spider bite wound. There was really no way to know what had gone wrong, but it was strange. Doc sewed him up for me, and this time, he had to wear the cone. Even thought I hadn't noticed him bothering the wound as it healed the first time, we were not taking chances since it was now a recurring problem.

I know pets hate the cone, and I thought I was sympathetic to them, but man-o-man, is is rough living with a depressed pet who is stuck in one of those things. He had to wear it for two weeks and a couple days. Two weeks for the sutures to come out and the doc wanted it on a couple extra days for good measure.

You have never seen so happy a cat as Meeko the day he got his cone off. There was frolicking. I think he groomed his face for an hour straight. He played with Panther (who had been afraid of him in the cone and kept her distance for the past two weeks). He rolled over for belly rubs.

Meeko and Panther snuggled again!

And the best - the cone has been off for a week now and his healed wound continues to be healed. I'm watching it closely, but I hope it's done now. None of us want to do that again.

Monday, January 7, 2019

More Handmade Gifts (this time for me!)

My girls made Christmas gifts for me this past year as well. An adorable little wooden TARDIS - the door really open and everything. I'm trying to decide what to keep in there. And the cute black cat keychain. The cat has green eyes just like our Meeko kitty. I'm undecided where to keep that one too. The bag I use the most is also black and I'm afraid it won't show up well. So I suppose it would be best on my small purple purse. The downside is that I don't use it as much, but maybe that would make me worry less, because if I break it I would be super sad.
These kids have leveled up in a major way this year in their crafting skills. I'm just so - Wow! about these.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Christmas AmiguruMe!


I found this adorable book at the library, and decided that THIS is what I was making the girls for their Christmas amigurumi this year. They were more challenging to make than anything I'd tried before, but a challenge is good, and the instructions were great for the most part. I loved the book so much I think I may have to pick myself up a copy to keep. I have 2 more nieces who I'd like to make as gifts. The author/creator also has a book for making pets that looks fun, and one of cute food. If you're on Raverly her page is worth a look. So much cuteness! And I found a free pattern there for Sneeches (with and without belly stars!) I think I'm making that next.

Eldest daughter AmiguruMe by Kara Hartz

Youngest daughter AmiguruMe by Kara Hartz

Niece AmiguruMe by Kara Hartz

While I don't think I've ever posted photos of my kids, or my niece - trust me, this is exactly what they look like. Those little sandals and flip flops were the toughest, but turned out so cute!