The Art of Asking and Other Inspiring Recent Reads

art of asking The Art of Asking and Other Inspiring Recent Reads

I read a lot. And I like most of the books that I read. But rarely am I so moved and touched by a book that I have to tell everyone about it over and over. I recently read The Art of Asking The Art of Asking and Other Inspiring Recent Reads by Amanda Palmer and I find that I keep mentioning it to people.

Dresden Dolls

I didn’t realize when I picked up the book that the author was one half of The Dresden Dolls, a cult band I loved fifteenish years ago although I was never the devoted fan that Palmer describes in her book. I discovered their music through file-sharing back in the early days of high speed Internet, before I fully understood the legal dos and donts of music downloads. I wanted to see them perform live once, at Bimbo’s when I first moved to San Francisco, but it didn’t happen. Then they split up and I started listening more to folk and pop ballads and things shifted. But it’s interesting to read Palmer’s descriptions of her devoted fans, to realize that I was one step away from a life that included participation in that world, that a breath taken differently here or there could have meant I was being described in her writing.

Crowdsourced Funding

Palmer’s book is about the mutual relationship between an artist and her fans, whether she’s an established musician and best-selling author or just a statue performing on the street (which Palmer did in New York for five years and describes in such loving detail that I am forever changed in the way I watch our San Francisco statues now). Her book is the outgrowth of a TED talk of the same name and it drew attention in large part because it illuminates crowdsourced funding, such a hot topic today.

It captured my interest because of my own recent ups and downs with the choice to fund a project that wasn’t yet finished. I discovered that the pressure of having people already backing the project immobilized me, making it difficult to keep on working through the writing, creating a writer’s block that feels permanent although I know it’s not. I finally chose to offer refunds to my backers to relieve some of the self-imposed pressure of the project. Palmer’s success with crowd funding is lovely to read about, in part because as a reader I get to witness her own ongoing insecurities with the constantly-evolving relationship she has with her fans. She also shares several stories of projects that did and didn’t get funded and did and didn’t get completed and I resonated a lot with the truth in all of these stories.

Help in Abundance

Palmer talks really about how we can identify what we need, ask for help from the “crowd” and get those needs met but only if we are participating in a sort of community where we also give back when others need it as well. She talks about how, working as a statue, she would exchange a flower for a donation and how the donations came from people rich and poor, other street performers and homeless people, children and the elderly and whoever and how the exchange is equally valuable regardless of the monetary value or the participants. And how this is all relevant to other exchanges … how sharing and hearing stories, for example, is part of the community need.

I have noticed since reading the book how often people do actually ask for and receive help within the community around me. Someone gets on the bus and doesn’t have change and people everywhere look up from the immersion in their phones and offer their coins. Friends express that they are going through a tough time and the community comes together to create a safety net to buoy that person up until they can stand on their own again. We spend a lot of time in this life expressing our lack (lack of sleep, lack of time, lack of whatever) but in opening my eyes to what’s around me I’ve noticed there’s really abundance all around me.

Social Media

I’m an active user of social media but I’m not sure I ever fully understood the human connection value of it until I read Palmer’s book. She writes about “the fundamental things that create emotional connections: the making of art, the feeling-with-other-people at a human level”:

“That’s what I do all day on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and my blog. The platform is irrelevant. I’ll go wherever the people are. What’s important is that I absorb, listen, talk, connect, help, and share. Constantly.”

“The net tightens every time I pick up my phone and check in on Twitter, every tie I share my own story, every time I ask a fan how their project is coming or promote somebody’s book or tour.”

I’ve always had an appreciation for the way that people reach out to me via social media and email but reading Palmer’s book made me really stop and want to acknowledge each of those interactions. It made me want to share more, more genuinely, more authentically, in a new way, in a richer way. I thank her for that.

Partnerships and Love

Throughout this book, Palmer shares her struggles with learning to let her husband (author Neil Gaiman) support her financially in her work. She finds that she can easily let strangers help her but it feels different taking money from her love partner. It’s a struggle I think many female artists (and those who don’t call themselves artists, I suppose, and maybe not just females for that matter) deal with in their relationships. Money and love and art … this is life and yet we try to hard to keep them un-entangled to keep them clearer in our heads, which is all just an illusion but one that makes us feel more in control.

Blending Lessons

I can’t seem to put together cohesive thoughts about how much this book impacted me as I read it and as it keeps rippling through my mind. It’s all still forming I think. Palmer writes about how we all take things in, sift through them, put them out in a different way and this is our art. I want to quote her on this but can’t find the part in the book where she wrote it and maybe that’s okay. The idea is that we accumulate all kinds of different material and then we shuffle it and re-form it and give it back to the world in a new way. With some art, the inspirations are clear. I tend to write like this – to draw a lot of clear connections and then share my own insights from them. For others, its changed and distorted a lot from the original input. I remember now that Palmer writes about blender settings. Some people really turn the blender up to level 10 and mash their inspirations into something so new that you could never tell that the smoothie they offer you was once a strawberry and a banana and some ice and some milk. I remember my parents’ old blender and how my favorite button was always “pulse”, hitting it again and again to slowly stir up a little bit of something different while watching the outcome as it shifted.

And Other Recent Reads

I’m returning The Art of Asking to the library today. It’s still settling into my head although the poignancy of it will probably get buried beneath the stacks of other writings I consume so regularly. Already there are other inspiring reads that are recent but fading. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness The Art of Asking and Other Inspiring Recent Reads had me momentarily terrified of epilepsy and intrigued by all we do and don’t know about the workings of our neurons. Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty The Art of Asking and Other Inspiring Recent Reads fascinated me as it taught me to understand the language and history of computer programming and how it relates to Indian fiction writing. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way The Art of Asking and Other Inspiring Recent Reads has me thinking about my own elite high school education and what we do right and wrong here in American learning. And I wonder how these things will and won’t stick with me, work their way into my own philosophy of the world, emerge in my own writing.

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5 Awesome Reasons You Might Want to Read Wind Catcher

wind catcher novel 5 Awesome Reasons You Might Want to Read Wind Catcher

This fantasy adventure series is steeped in American Indian culture and so much more.

Winner: Mom’s Choice Award — Silver Metal
Winner: Awesome Indies — Seal of Approval
Recipient: Readers’ Favorite — 5 Star Review

Today is the release date for a new YA novel called Wind Catcher that I had the chance to read in advance and want to recommend. Here are the five key reasons you might want to read this book:

1. Father / Daughter Author Team

The book is co-authored by Jeff and Erynn Altabef, a father/ daughter writing team. That’s just cool. It’s rare, it’s unique, it’s special and it leads an original perspective to the novel. Both authors’ voices are incorporated into the story without weakening the plot line in any way.

2. Native American Fantasy

This book is considered a Native American YA Fantasy. It incorporates history and culture from Native American belief systems with fantasy writing and contemporary young adult issues. I’ve never read anything quite like it before, although in a tangential way it reminds me of one of my favorite books, Woman on the Edge of Time 5 Awesome Reasons You Might Want to Read Wind Catcher by Marge Piercy. I think it’s because of the way that spiritual/ psychological issues are tackled through a lens of mystery and fantasy. What’s spirit? What’s fantasy? What’s “crazy”?

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3. It’s About Choosing

The main character faces a series of choices about where to go with her life, choices that reflect the decisions that teens face when teetering between childhood and adulthood. That’s something that I find super relatable. After all, we all made choices as teens and young adults that shaped a lot of what followed.

WC Release 5 Awesome Reasons You Might Want to Read Wind Catcher

4. It’s a Good, Fast Read

True to YA format, it’s a book that you can read quickly. I love to immerse myself in a story for a few hours and read it from beginning to end (although admittedly I read quickly). I love to finish a book while traveling on a plane or when I can’t sleep one night. But I don’t want to compromise quality for quickness.

5. It’s a Series

This is the first book in a series called Chosen. That means that if you like this book, you can look forward to the ones that follow. The second book is due out in November 2015.

And Now for the Prizes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Soul Sessions: A Book About Soulmates, Serendipity and Life After Death

 Soul Sessions: A Book About Soulmates, Serendipity and Life After Death

Soul Sessions image Soul Sessions: A Book About Soulmates, Serendipity and Life After Death

As soon as I saw the campaign for this book, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. Soul Sessions just looked like something that was unique from the other books that are out there and it piqued my interest. I quickly ordered it on Amazon and I began to read it as soon as it was delivered to my doorstep. It’s a quick and compelling read that I sat down and devoured in one sitting, pausing to make more tea and eventually to pour a glass of wine but otherwise staying glued to my couch, beneath my favorite crochet blanket, turning page after page.

About Soul Sessions

Soul Sessions is the story of a man who goes through a tragedy and struggles with suicidal depression. However, he meets a psychologist who uses past-life regression to help him understand what is happening with him. Through this, he discovers that there’s a woman he has been partnered with in many other lifetimes and he becomes compelled to find her again in the current life. It’s a love story and it’s a story about the bigger question of what happens to our souls when our bodies die.

What I Loved

  • I really appreciate stories that look at depression in an honest way.
  • I also appreciate that there are many different ways to get out of depression and I think this one – the potential to find a lost love in this life time – is an intriguing one.
  • It’s a love story. How can I not love a good love story? But it’s not a traditional love story in any sense of the word.
  • It’s thought-provoking. It’s really more than  love story. It’s a story about spiritual growth.

cefd Soul Sessions: A Book About Soulmates, Serendipity and Life After Death

Food For Thought

Although the book is a simple read, Soul Sessions is filled with complex ideas and offers a lot of food for thought. Mulling over some of the questions that the book poses challenge me to think about my own belief system. I’ve always had this push-pull feeling about past lives. Sometimes I believe that we’ve been here before and will be here again. Sometimes I believe this is true only in the sense that the star stuff in our bodies will come and go in different incarnations. And sometimes a series of past lives that we can understand in this lifetime is just beyond my grasp and I doubt it. But what do I really believe, when all of the doubts and questions fade away? I still don’t know but the book has my mind wrapping itself around and around these questions. It’s inspiring in that way.

You Might Like Soul Sessions If:

  • You like quick-read stories.
  • You’re looking for something different to read.
  • You believe in soul mates.
  • You are curious about life after death.
  • You love a good love story but want to experience one that’s different.
  • You are inspired by spiritual growth stories. One reviewer said that reading this book was like getting a spiritual hug!

Learn More

Learn more about Soul Sessions and author Carson Gage here.

sponsored blog post Soul Sessions: A Book About Soulmates, Serendipity and Life After Death

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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Lucy, Pet Therapy Perfection

lucy muni Lucy, Pet Therapy Perfection

Golden Retriever Lucy and I have recently received our certification to work together as an animal assisted therapy team through the SPCA. We did three weeks of classes/ evaluation. I did 3 shadow visits of other teams. We did two visits with a mentor shadowing us. And now we are on our own. It’s so inspiring for me to see and Lucy loves the work.

pet therapy dog Lucy, Pet Therapy Perfection

I got the idea to do this because every time I walk Lucy there are people on the street who just light up when they see her. So many people have randomly told me that seeing her made their day. She loves people so I figured it would be a win-win situation and it is. She is certified to visit schools, hospitals, transitional living centers, psychiatric units, etc. Sometimes they take her to the park to play, sometimes she’s in a community room and sometimes she goes room to room. She snuggles up with people and they make each other feel loved. It’s so warm and wonderful. I feel lucky to get to witness these exchanges.

Screen Shot 2015 03 04 at 3.37.08 PM Lucy, Pet Therapy Perfection

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The Balcony at the Old Mint

the balcony The Balcony at the Old Mint

I worried that I’d be too tired to go see the play I’d committed to seeing last weekend. It was a school weekend for me, which meant that I’d be in classes for almost eleven hours, classes that are intense and emotional and engaging. And yet, I felt so drawn to the play that I decided to push past the wall of tiredness and see it anyway. I walked the short distance to see The Balcony at The Old Mint in a windstorm, which seemed to appropriately set the stage for the ominous, slightly surreal play.

I’d been to The Old Mint once before, to see a lecture with my sister on sustainable gardening when the building had first reopened to the public. I was mesmerized then by the unique architecture of this historic space, with its cavernous rooms and dungeon-like vaults and labyrinth of doors opening one space onto another onto another into a courtyard. There couldn’t have been a better space picked for this play that is immersive without being interactive (a key point, because I love to be right-up-in-the-thick-of-it but definitely wasn’t in the mood to interact as a part of the theater).

balcony The Balcony at the Old Mint

The play begins in the rooms in the basement where gold used to be stored in the days when this was a money vault. Four different scenes happen simultaneously and the viewers get to wander from room to room at their own whim. I was a little worried about this part because I had mixed reactions to a similar set-up at a Speakeasy-themed play last year. I loved that one in the end but it took awhile to adjust to moving about without direction. In this case, the vignettes stood on their own and I didn’t feel pressure to catch every scene of The Balcony’s four starting scenes. Additionally, the cast of characters that weren’t in the scenes were available in the hallway to quickly direct viewers to the spots they might want to check out next. The thirty minutes went quickly and I enjoyed stepping in and out of various scenes.

Truth be told, I might not have known exactly what those scenes were about if it weren’t for the handy program that provided me with that information. The combination of walking in and out of scenes with the old-fashioned language made catching the nuances of the plot difficult. But I think that would have been the case had the play taken place in a more linear fashion on a traditional stage as well and this setting worked better because it offered a close-up, intriguing look at the set and costumes and characters. It was a good experience.

the balcony 2 The Balcony at the Old Mint

The group was then ushered upstairs and the following five longer scenes took place one after the other, allowing the story to unfold and become clearer as the time went on. Mind you, it’s a French play written more than 100 years ago, so it’s not clear in the way that a contemporary play is clear, but the story of a revolution, the play-within-a-play, the specific characters’ stories all do become clear. Each scene takes place in a different room so the whole group of viewers comes into the room, led by costumed ushers who generally fit well into the scene.

balcony4 The Balcony at the Old Mint

I have to say that I loved the costumes of this play. Some of them (the dress of the Queen, for example) reminded me of couture wearable art that you might see at a DeYoung fabric / fashion exhibit. Others were more handcrafted and cheesy but in a way that worked. Streetwear was combined with unique artistic elements that were eye-catching and interesting.

The caliber of the actors is also notable. Not that I’ve ever questioned that here in San Francisco where we have amazing small theatre groups. Still, there were several characters in this play that really stood out as amazing actors. Irma, the Queen, was seductive and powerful. Carmen was glorious in tall heels and extravagant facial expressions. Sometimes the actors cast into specific roles were unpredictable, seeming to reflect the make-up of San Francisco’s diversity in a way that worked for this play. See the full cast here.

balcony 3 The Balcony at the Old Mint

The final scene plays out in a large room that looks out onto a courtyard and a portion of the scene is actually watched through the windows. It’s a unique experience. If you want to see a unique historic play in a unique historic building (a building that you really should visit even if for some reason you don’t make it to the play), The Balcony runs Th-Sat this weekend and next weekend. Tickets here.

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Movies About Mid-Century Men and Musings about Mental Health

Louie Zamperini, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking … Somehow I find that I’ve been recently watched several films (in the theaters no less) that are biopics of amazing, interesting, unique men.

Unbroken poster Movies About Mid Century Men and Musings about Mental Health

Unbroken, Imitation Game and Theory of Everything have a lot in common. They’re all primarily set in the mid-20th Century; the first two are about WWII. They are all about men who are unique from others in some big way. Zamperini was an Olympic athlete and the other two are cutting-edge mathematicians/ scientists. Each of the men is challenged in life in some huge way (as a prisoner of war, persecution for homosexuality and with a degenerative disease). In each case, the film is based on a book about the life of the person as told by someone other than the man himself. And they were all nominated for Academy Awards.

The Imitation Game poster Movies About Mid Century Men and Musings about Mental Health

I don’t usually watch movies or read books where men are the main characters. It’s not intentional. I suppose as a woman I tend to be drawn towards women’s stories. I usually read women’s memoirs. And most Hollywood films have women as main characters. In fact, the main women in the lives of both Turing and Hawking do play a big role in the film and I was endlessly interested in them. I wanted to know a lot more about Joan Clarke, the only woman working with Turing, and about Jane Wilde Hawking who choose to love (and eventually leave) her brilliant husband. But ultimately, the films are about the men, and the lives that they led in part by choice and in part out of happenstance.

Theory of Everything Movies About Mid Century Men and Musings about Mental Health

Each of these films brought tears to my eyes, always right at the end of the movie. With Unbroken, my eyes welled with tears at the end when I learned that Zamperini eventually did go to the Olympics to run the torch in Japan, the place where he had been tortured so many years before. There was something so amazing about the resilience in that and so beautiful about the global recognition of that important thing. The film says that he married and had two kids and I couldn’t help but wonder what his life was really like, what kind of PTSD he might have lived with, how his family relationship really worked out. But the teariness was because of the way the film suggests that there was some kind of personal resolution at the end.

zamperini Movies About Mid Century Men and Musings about Mental Health

With Imitation Game, the tears were from anger at the injustice of it all. Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality and put on chemical castration hormones. The film doesn’t go into detail about how those chemicals affected him, but I can imagine that they were awful in terms of wreaking havoc on the body and emotions. A year after starting them, Turing committed suicide. And reading that line at the end of the movie just made me cry.

alan turing Movies About Mid Century Men and Musings about Mental Health

 

I can’t even wrap my head around the war as told from the lenses of these two different men – a prisoner of war held in Japan after 40 some days at sea and all the death witnessed and pain experienced there followed by a life that presents on the surface at least as relatively normal and a man who created the cutting-edge computer system that broke the German code and helped to bring that war to an end but who died shortly after in a tragic way by his own hand.

stephen hawking Movies About Mid Century Men and Musings about Mental Health

I’m not sure what in Theory of Everything made me teary. It was a different kind of teary. Maybe it was the dissolution of the couple’s marriage. Maybe it was the scene at the end when Hawking imagines being able to just get up and pick up a pencil that has dropped, something so simple for most of us. Is it a blessing or a curse that he was trapped in that non-working body but that his brilliant mind was unhindered?

Perhaps because what’s always interested me is human psychology or perhaps because I’m immersed in counseling studies for my program but I can’t help looking at the stories of each of these men and wondering about their mental health. I wonder about Zamperini and PTSD. I wonder about Turing and depression. I wonder about Hawking and grief. I wonder what makes them able to persevere (or perhaps not, in Turing’s case) and what the quality of life is in terms of mental health rather than what output they offered to the world.

I don’t have answers. Just musings.

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Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness

img 4310 Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness

I just finished watching a couple episodes of Preposterous Pets, an Animal Planet show about people who have exotic animals as pets. It reminds me of another show I used to watch, Fatal Attractions, which had the same premise but was specifically about people who had been killed by those pets. No matter how amazingly cute the elephant or polar bear or tiger is, it is still a wild animal at heart and one that is large and can harm the human that feels compelled to care for it. Right?

img 4491 Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness

I’m trying to gather thoughts around a bigger topic in my head, here, and the thoughts are still kind of murky and incohesive. When I was in Belize, I kept trying to wrap my mind around the idea that what we were seeing there were animals in the wild. On one of our boat rides, the guides fed a ham and cheese sandwich to a spider monkey sitting in a tree on the bank. When we went snorkeling, we were told not to reach out and touch the animals we were swimming next to but with hundreds of people in the water it was inevitable that someone either wouldn’t listen or would inevitably brush against one of the creatures, potentially harming them with sunscreen and bug spray and human oils. I would say that the animals were in their natural habitat but I’m not sure I could really say that they were “in the wild”.

img 4444 Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness

I’ve just started reading a book called Zooburbia Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness that touches on this topic. It looks at the intersection between wild animals and those that have been domesticated, the animals that live somewhat on their own terms but in a world that’s increasingly overtaken by humans. It’s written by someone who lives here in Oakland, California but the descriptions of what she sees remind me more of what it was like growing up in Tucson, Arizona where coyotes and roadrunners and quail regularly crossed the street in front of us, javalina pigs foraged in our trash cans for food and scorpions and tarantula occasionally crawled down the walls inside our home. They’re all wild and certainly weren’t animals we took in as pets but they were living in our space, making do with the world that we had created that overtook their own.

img 4465 Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness

This all makes me think about the book I mentioned previously, Animal Madness, and the idea that animals of all kinds can suffer from mental illness. And it makes me think about zoos and how I’ve never really been able to figure out how I feel about them. I know that as a human visitor I really enjoy zoos and like the magic of seeing the animals. I’ve never really determined what I think about the morality of having zoos. I guess I think that in an ideal world there would be enough space for the animals to live on their natural land and not be in zoos but I also accept that this isn’t the case in our world and think that perhaps the best we can aim for is to have zoos and sanctuaries and homes for these animals that are kind and compassionate and intellectually stimulating and consider the mental health of the creatures.

img 4437 Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness

In those episodes of Preposterous Pets there was a man who swims with his buffalo, a woman who bathes and diapers her five macaque monkeys, a polar bear living in a backyard … and none of this seems right somehow. The bear that gets taken to a bar where it drinks beer and the monkeys that get sugary candies at the supermarket certainly don’t seem right. And yet, the animals are loved and cared for … so is this better or worse than a zoo? Better or worse than leaving the animals in their natural habitat but then slowly encroaching on that habitat with our own homes. I don’t have an answer. I don’t even have a clear decision about what I think about this. I just know that it’s been on my mind a lot lately, in this sort of vague at-the-edges kind of way, and I intend to keep immersing myself in more related reading and show-watching in order to see where this train of thought might take me.

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The Year Begins in Belize

belize zoo The Year Begins in Belize

Although I’ve traveled extensively around the United States and vicariously through library books, I haven’t traveled internationally much at all. I’ve been to Rocky Point in Mexico, Niagara Falls in Canada and had a wonderful 2010 trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. So it was really special to me to get to spend my New Year’s week in Belize with my beaux. He’s traveled widely around the world but hadn’t ever been to Belize so it was a new experience that we got to share together.

Getting There

img 4140 The Year Begins in Belize

It was a long trek to get to our Ambergis Caye resort. We flew from San Francisco overnight to Miami. Then we flew from there to Belize City where we had to go through customs then catch a small 12-person plane to San Pedro Island. From there, we were picked up in a van and taken to a dock for a half hour boat ride to our hotel. I was a little grumpy, a little achy, but when I looked down out of that tiny plane and saw that stunningly clear green-blue water beneath me I felt refreshed.

Snorkeling

img 4156 The Year Begins in Belize

The first big activity that we did was snorkeling, which I’d never done before. Belize is apparently one of the best places in the world to snorkel and scuba because it has a coral barrier reef comparable to Australia’s and clear warm waters that are comfy to swim in. I’m not a strong swimmer and I’ll admit that I found snorkeling tough and a bit uncomfortable. I couldn’t quite figure out how to keep me flittered feet from popping to the surface behind me and I kept forgetting that I could actually breathe under the water. My neck hurt from trying to stay afloat and still se my guide and not bump into anybody. I confess that there were frustrated moments when I thought, “I’d rather be at an aquarium”. But looking back I can see that it was an amazing experience, that it was already getting easier for me by the end of the first snorkel stop, and that there’s a possibility I’d do it again someday somewhere although if I never do I think I was lucky to have such a beautiful place to enjoy that experience.

img 4148 The Year Begins in Belize

We swam with green turtles, huge eels, nurse sharks, transparent fish, rainbow fish and more. Our first stop was probably about an hour long. It’s a little weird to be a few feet away from wild animals and surrounded by a hundred other people in flippers exploring the same area. Throughout much of our Belize trip I kept wondering how “wild” these animals really are when they aren’t domesticated but are so accustomed to us people. I was reading a great book, Animal Madness The Year Begins in Belize, about mental health issues in animals including animals in captivity and it just gave me pause for thought about all of the experiences we were lucky to be having.

There were three other stops on our all day snorkel trip – two to swim in Shark Ray Alley and one that was more of a coral-focused stop. I didn’t snorkel for any of those because I was tired but I enjoyed just being on the boat and watching the animals in the water and relaxing in the sunshine. I forgot how much I really enjoy being on the water in that way. The nurse sharks come right up to the boat to eat the chum that the guides are tossing out while the snorkelers swim around. The birds swoop down to try to get their share. Rays and skates slide by.

Mayan Ruins

IMG 4261 The Year Begins in Belize

Another major thing we did during our trip was to visit the Mayan ruins of Lamanai and Altun Ha. They were very different experiences even though the ruins aren’t particularly different from each other or even very far apart location-wise. We went to Lamanai first on a guided tour with dozens of other people during a time of day when there were many, many other similar guided tours. The ruins were flooded with people traipsing up and down them. We got a lot of information about the history of the ruins and the Mayan people and I felt glad that I was learning that and seeing the site but I didn’t feel anything particularly magical or awe-ful.

img 4211 The Year Begins in Belize

That was in deep contrast to the day we visited Altun Ha on a private tour. We woke up incredibly early to get there and were there before anyone else. It was raining quite hard (the only day that we were really rained on a lot, actually), which contributed to no one else being there. It also apparently was one of the few days of this high season that there wasn’t a cruise ship coming in to port. All of those things combined for an experience of being the only people – me, my beaux and our guide – in the entire area. We climbed the ancient tombs and temples, looked down below on where the people would have looked up at the high priests, listened to the howler monkeys calling out in the trees around us … I don’t have words to describe the magic of being the only people in that place, in that weather, in that space and time. I doubt I’ll ever have a replica of that experience again in my life and while the ruins were originally not at the top of my list of exciting Belize things to do it turned out that it was the most memorable experience carried with me back from that trip.

Howler Monkeys and Tapirs

IMG 4282 The Year Begins in Belize

The howler monkeys could be heard around the ruins but we specifically went to a sanctuary to see them. It’s a pretty amazing place where the local people have signed a pledge to protect the monkeys in their yards and not cause construction or destruction that might harm them. They are supported by tourist visitors and donations.

IMG 4310 The Year Begins in Belize

We toured the muddy jungle in the rain with a guide who told us a lot about the local plant life. She showed us the “hot lips” plant that the midwives use as part of the healing process during birth and the pregnancy test plant that you pee on and if the leaf turns yellow then you’re pregnant and the bark that you eat if you’ve gotten a snake bite because it will slow your heart rate down and buy you time to get to safety.

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She found a group of four monkeys for us hanging out in the back yard of one of the homes so we entered their gate, said hello to the family sitting on the porch and then went in the backyard and right up to the trees where the monkeys were sitting. We pulled native plants out and extended them to the monkeys as an offering to eat and they came down and grasped them. There was a six week old baby monkey clinging right on to his mama as she scampered down to take the plant and another one year old baby that was curious and approached on his own. They were absolutely adorable and it was precious to be able to have that face-to-face experience with them without the bars of a zoo cage all around.

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We did, however, go to the Belize Zoo. It’s such a curious place. It was started as basically a rescue sanctuary by an American woman who had rescued a bunch of exotic animals from the entertainment industry and realized that Belize could use a zoo. Each animal there has a story of being rescued, which is written in rhyme form outside of its exhibit. They’ve been rescued from fires, from lives as inappropriate pets, from hunting and deforesting situations.

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The exhibits are filled with native plant life, much more so than most of the zoos I’ve been to in the past, and apparently the woman who started the zoo comes around at night and plays her guitar for the animals. That’s not to say that they are happy or enjoy being in a zoo because I obviously don’t know that but there were qualities of this zoo that felt to me more like a rescue than a zoo even though it’s a caged place. And I will say that the guides do guide out of their way to try to convince the animals to perform for the tourists, which felt a little disturbing.

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The zoo has a large section for tapirs, the national animal of the country. It’s a cross between a horse and a rhino but looks more like a pig. They are friendly and come right up to the edge of the exhibit to nuzzle human hands. I reached out and this snout just moved back and forth as a warm tongue checked out my hand, much like a big puppy.

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The other popular zoo animals are the monkeys (spider monkeys and howler monkeys), big cats (ocelots, jaguars, pumas) and colorful tropical birds. My favorite, however, was the kinkajou – a raccoon-like animal that has teddy bear ears and big eyes and is nocturnal so we were lucky to be there first thing in the morning when he was still out and awake.

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Cave Tubing

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We also managed to fit in some cave tubing while we were there, which was super cool. We didn’t explore the ATM cave, which is the famous attraction where you can go into caves and see Mayan sacrifice offerings, but we did go into an amazing cave where we saw some stunning geo formations. We plopped into inner tubes on one end of the cave and floated through the darkness with head lamps and watched the limestone quartz glittering all around us, thinking about the Mayan belief that this was the underworld or hell on earth. Cave tubing was so relaxing and lovely and I can’t really believe that I’ve never done it before.

Fireworks, Coladas, Hammocks and More

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We were in Belize for New Year’s Eve so we took the boat from our part of the island to San Pedro and watched the fireworks show. It lasted about forty minutes and was really fun to see. All of the fireworks shows I’ve seen recently were on cold nights in San Francisco when I wavered between wanting to see them and wanting to be inside and warm! It was nice to be out at night on New Year’s Eve in short sleeves with a tropical breeze. I was a little overwhelmed by the crowd; it wasn’t really that crowded, not like in San Francisco, but I admit that the long days of travel were hard on me. Still, it was worth it to see the show.

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And we did have some days of downtime. I fell in love with pina coladas, and the occasional mango colada, and drank a lot of them throughout the days on beaches up and down the island coast. I enjoyed watching the calm waters change colors in the dawning of sunlight, the brightness of a full moon, the mixture of clouds and sunshine. There was one day that we saw a rainbow that lasted almost all day long, a double rainbow for part of that, and it was magical and special to see that. We laid in hammocks looking out at the water. We sat on sand looking out at the water. We walked along the edge of the water and watched the play of light. We kept our phones off and didn’t bring laptops with us and although it took a few days to settle in to a different pace of life the settling did finally happen and it was a nice way to ring in the year.

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Reading: How to Cook a Tapir: A Memoir of Belize The Year Begins in Belize

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Moving into a New Year with Changes Here

Ah, this blog has gone through so many changes over the years. In the last few months, it’s drifted into something else yet again. Prior to that I was doing a lot of photo-rich posts for most of the year. However, I joined Instagram in 2014 and that seems to be a more appropriate place for massive photo-sharing. At the same time, I’ve been regretting that I’d gotten away from the lengthier, more conversational and chatty posts that were at times a part of this blog. So in 2015 you can expect fewer photos (although the posts will still have some, just the best of the best and most appropriate ones for that post!) and more thoughtful words.

My intention (although it may shift, of course, as long-term blogging goals often do) is to write about once a week and that post will be a long post, something more like a true journal entry about the things that I’m doing and thinking about, things I’m reading and watching and the things I’m musing on. I’ll still share the various things from around the web that catch my eye and so on and so forth but the main bulk of the posts will be all about getting to know more about me and what is going on in this head of mine. It’s become important to me to give more attention to higher-quality writing and do less posting just for the sake of posting.

I hope that you like these changes as you see them develop in the new year! A happy, creative, fulfilling, wondrous 2015 to you all!!

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Postcron for Scheduling Social Media Posts

Screen Shot 2014 12 23 at 4.53.07 PM Postcron for Scheduling Social Media Posts

I write for a lot of blogs. I write a lot of different blog posts, including at least one post per day on my own craft blog – Crochet Concupiscence. I keep active on a lot of social media accounts. Plus I follow the feeds of several hundred other blogs and try to share my favorites through link love and social media posts. I do most of this by hand and I do all of it myself but the only way that I can do that is to have the right tools at my disposal to keep it organized and efficient. Postcron is one of the tools that I use.

What is Postcron?

Postcron is a social media app that allows you to easily post various things from around the web to several of the major social media sites. You can add your Twitter, G+ and Facebook (profile, pages and groups). I’ve got 8 accounts set up:

Screen Shot 2014 12 23 at 4.52.59 PM Postcron for Scheduling Social Media PostsI can easily pick a post and decide which accounts I want to share it to. (What you see there are my personal and professional Facebook pages and profile, one of my Facebook groups, my two Twitter accounts and one G+ account).

Advance Scheduling

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