Sunday, September 27, 2015

Art Before Breakfast - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 39

For the 39th week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory.

I was intrigued by the title because the time before breakfast - for me - is the best time to get anything done. It's quiet with everyone still sleeping and there are no interruptions.

The author said, "creativity isn't a luxury. It's the essence of life. It's what distinguishes us from the mush. And it's why our ancestors survived while other less adaptive critters perished. They responded to change by being creative in some way, by inventing a new a new answer to the chaos.

"To make the most of our inventive, open, flexible, in touch. To have perspective on what matters to you. To deal with change without being overwhelmed. And that's what creativity offers you."

He offered some tips on how to develop a creative habit:

- Do something creative every day.
- Commit to doing this for, let's say, 30 days.
- Don't go crazy with art supplies at first.
- Be consistent.
- Skip perfection.

After those initial few pages, the book offered lots of tips for doing quick drawings each day. Since drawing isn't "my thing" I flipped through the remainder of the book.

I was hoping that the word "art" in the title encompassed more than just one form of art. For those who love drawing, this would be a great book. For those of us who have other visual arts interests and skills, there was little in the book that was useful.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 38 - Reflection

Today we went on a hike at William O'Brien State Park. It is one of four hikes that we did over the past two days during a camping trip at the park with our 4-H club.

The photo I chose is of two rocks in the St. Croix River. The clouds are reflected in the water (though not clearly) which makes it seem almost like an abstract painting to me in some ways.

We had a small group of people that we camped with - only one other family spent the day on Thursday during the day; and another family spent the afternoon on Thursday and stayed overnight.

However, in retrospect, having only one other family to spend time with and get to know better was an ideal way to spend this field trip. What made it even better was that for both families, there were new experiences that each had while at William O'Brien. 

What was fun for us was being able to introduce a family to overnight camping. The children had never been camping before or stayed in a camper the experience was new for them. 

Being able to go on the same hike with two different families who have two vastly different age ranges of children also gave me an opportunity to see nature and the same area from two distinctly diverse ways. 

I also enjoyed showing the youngest children the "gnome house" that Sophia and Olivia used to be thrilled to find and sit in when they were little. Passing along those memories and that tradition was fun for me to do. And, like the theme of this week, gave me an opportunity to reflect on all the wonderful memories I have of exploring William O'Brien State Park with Sophia and Olivia throughout the years.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pay It Down - Read 52 Books in 52 Week - Week 38

This week I read Pay It Down - From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day by Jean Chatzky for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. I found many suggestions in the book worthwhile; and wished that I had learned this as a teenager and young adult.

Below is information that I found particularly useful and plan to share it with my daughters so they can lead a life free from debt and build their wealth early in life.

- If you have too much debt - particularly credit card debt - I can guarantee that you don't have much of a financial future. Why? Think about what happens when you have credit card bills looming large. You feel like you have  to pay those bills first - and so you do. If you don't, the creditors start to call.
- Because those bills are so large (even the minimums look maximum), there's nothing left over to save or invest. So when an emergency hits - whether it's an unreimbursed medical bill or a new transmission - you pay for it with plastic. Then the minimums go even higher, and the cycle continues.
- There's a goo reason for tackling those credit card bills first: at 14, 15, or 16 percent and higher, they're costing you more than you can earn by socking the money away. At 24, 25, or 29 percent, they're costing you double to triple what you can earn. Not only that: they're doing damage to your confidence. They're sabotaging your ability to be content, not only with your money, but with your life. They have to go.
- The rising cost of health care can easily throw you into debt.
- Then there are people who just spend more than they make. Unfortunately, if you're spending more than you make, you're digging deeper and deeper into debt.
- Problems often hit you simultaneously - or one right after the other.
- Score up past the 700 - or even 720 - mark [and] you be able to borrow that money at the very best prices.
- How to increase your credit score:
  - 35% of your score is based upon how well you pay your bills. Start paying on time.
  - 30% of your score is what Fair Isaac calls "balance and burden," a measure of how much credit you have available to you and how much of that credit you're using. You're in the best shape if you're using 20-30 percent of the credit available to you.
  - 10% is based on your search for new credit - how recently have you opened or inquired about opening new accounts.
  - 10% is the financial composition of your file: what percentage is bank-card debt and what percentage is installment debt? It's better to have a ratio of 60 to 70 percent bank-card debt to 30-40 percent installment debt.
-  Write checks and pay cash. Why? Because once the money's gone. It's really gone.
- Create small stashes for big goals. Save another $10 a day (or another amount consistent with what you want to purchase or invest in) in addition to maintaining your other financial goals.
- We spend because we want things. We want to go out to dinner because we've just had a long day or week. We want a cell phone in addition to our landline because we want to be reachable anytime. We want to look better and feel better than we feel right now - and we think that spending money on new shoes, a new car, or new makeup or a bag will help us do just that. When you stop and think about it, you have to admit that's where a great deal of your money goes.
- When we shop for anything other than the true basics, it's because we're missing something else in our lives.
-  Seven reasons why we engage in retail therapy:
.....We're bored.
.....We're depressed.
.....We want to "get a life."
.....We want to improve our moods.
.....We are trying to assert our independence over our parents, then our partners.
.....We want to feel more attractive.
.....We're on autopilot. We are purchasing items out of habit.
- Who gets paid first? Pay the highest interest rates first.
- Two golden rules for credit card customers: (1) Always pay more than the minimum; and (2) Always pay on time. Remember: One late payment can send your interest rate soaring.
- Rules to guide your spending
.....Use debit not credit.
.....Use a credit card for emergencies only. Take a piece of paper and write - in big letters- FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY on that piece of paper. Wrap the paper around the card and secure it with a rubber band.
.....No online shopping.
.....Shop with a list.
.....Shop for groceries once a week.
.....Return with abandon. Save all receipts for this purpose.
.....Pay your  bills as they come in rather than all at once. People who pay their bills as they come in have more in savings, less in debt, and they're happier. It's a powerful habit to adopt.
.....Pay more than the minimum.
.....Pay off the most expensive debts first.
.....Bank online.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 37 - Clouds

One of the new activities that we're doing this year is having a 4-H Photography Club thanks to one of the parents in the club.

Our first outing was to St. Croix State Park in Hinckley, Minnesota. It's about an hour and a half from our home, but well worth the drive. It's a huge state park and it feels like you're in another world when you are here.

The day was beautiful - warm, but not hot; and a gorgeous blue sky dotted with snow-white clouds.

I had the dogs with me while Sophia and Olivia took photos and participated in the Photography Club. We enjoyed going on a hike and exploring an area that we had not been before. The dogs were picking up a lot of different scents which kept them interested and their tails wagging the entire time.

Afterwards, we stopped at Dairy Queen for a treat. In addition to treats for us, we got the dogs their own little vanilla ice cream cups. Needless to say, they were thrilled at their surprise treat. They slept well on the way back home which was nice.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Grief Club - Read 52 Books in 52 Week - Week 37

This week I read The Grief Club - The Secret to Getting through All Kinds of Change by Melody Beattie for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

This book covers a wide range of losses - not just the "typical" loss of parents, siblings, children, or friends that other books cover. This one dives deeper and wider into many types of loss.

In some ways, it's good to explore this concept because truly - until I did the Master List of Losses inventory which is included in the book - I had no idea how many losses I had experienced in my life and the impact they have had on it. There were 176 that I checked off on the list (this is a life-long list...not just in my current life). The list has even more types of losses that weren't applicable to my life.

Some examples of loss that I could identify with included: death of a close family member, seeing a loved one in the process of dying, death of other loved one, death of someone (loss somewhat affects us), murder (of someone we loved), death of a pet, loss of a pet, inability to obtain and sustain adequate insurance, chronic illness, intractable pain, surgery, accident, illness that carries perceived stigma, as a child - had adult household/family duties and responsibilities, robbery (we're the victim), crime committed against us (by a stranger), divorce of a friend or relative, end of friendship, major disappointment, move to another city or state, loss of retirement funds or savings, credit card theft or loss, being lied to, loss of energy and vitality, significant change in religion, stress, loss of job, working more hours than usual, business failed, creative work failed, uninsured loss, learning disability (our child), unwanted changes in appearance due to aging, deprived of contact with nature, deprived of sunshine, move into nursing home (someone we love)....the list goes on.

So, there is a wide range of loss that I didn't even consider "loss" in the sense of something to be grieved. This was certainly an eye-opening activity to me.

Some of the suggestions that the author wrote about that I thought may be helpful are below:

- Keep a diary of any dreams or contacts with a deceased loved one. Jot a few notes about the content of the dream or describe the contact.
- Engage in rituals that honor your loss (e.g., do something on the deceased's birthday).
- Remember the best. Create a book of memories of the good times you had. Include things you learned, things you or the person said or did, placed you visited, trips and activities you both enjoyed.
- Write your memoirs. You don't have to wait until you're old. Make this an ongoing project. Start when you are young. Write about events in your life that are funny or sad - the events that have meaning for you. Write it for your family and yourself. Include pictures too - anything you want.
- Review your Master List of Losses. Which losses have made you who you are, shaped who you are (or who you're becoming)? What did you learn from each one? What did each mean to you? Do you believe there's purpose and value in what you're going through right now?
- Practice gratitude daily. Make a list of five things you're grateful for each day.
- Be a helper (when giving feels right to you).
- Write about your thoughts and feelings on the subject of getting older. Buy a journal and devote it to that subject. Write about how you feel about being your current age. What do you dislike the most about aging? Then make another list. What are your favorite things about being your current age?
- Write your money goals. Do a new goal sheet once a year or as needed. Put life in your goals by writing what you want to do and create, not just what you want to have.
- Celebrate your rites of passage. Throw a party for yourself. Your normal is changing. It's common to feel lost for a while. Give yourself some slack, some room to wander about in the mystery and let your new life take shape and form. Buy new clothes. Rearrange your home. Make a photograph album of pictures and remembrances from the time in your life that's passing. Or do some writing about that part of of your life. Write a story. We need to find a way to to say goodbye to what we're leaving and hello to what's ahead.
- Choose how you want to handle aging. We can fix or replace many body parts that wear out. There are forms of physical exercise - even walking - that we can do our entire lives. Yoga...and tai chi are great ways to keep our energy vital. Make a commitment to take great care of yourself.
- Get your affairs in order. Have a will and a living will.
- Watch for warning signs being fired in your life. It's easy to get lax...and not stay present in [your] body. The author said, "I'm up in my head. That's when I'm prone to falling down the steps, falling down flat on the sidewalk, giving myself a concussion. I need to be reminded to slow down, stay centered. Stay present and aware. Listen."
- Take care of your health. It's common when we're grieving to have compounded losses. We get loss piled upon loss, then another one layered on those. Our immune system may be shot. Chronic or acute illnesses frequently begin during grief. Get the medical care you need.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 36 - Stranger

This is a slight departure from the "normal" Nature Photo of the Week. For the 36th week, I chose the theme "Stranger."

Out of the photos I took this past week, this one from our first 4-H meeting of the year, shows how children - some strangers to one another and some friends who knew one another from last year - came together and had fun playing with a parachute.

Getting youth outside - whether they are 2 years old or 15 years old (the age ranges of the youth in our 4-H club and their younger siblings) - is so important to their health and well-being. The smiles, laughter, and fun they had together was worth the investment of the parachute.

Children who were once strangers easily became friends this week when they were having fun together playing outdoors in nature.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Brave Girls - Read 52 Books in 52 Week - Week 36

For the 36th week in the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read Brave Girls - Raising Young Women with Passion and Purpose to Become Powerful Leaders by Stacey Radin.

I was curious about this book both as a parent of two daughters (ages 12 and 14) as well as 4-H club leader.  Some of the passages that stood out for me included:
- Adolescence is the stage of life most marked by identity development. The overriding quest is to answer the daunting question "Who am I?" 
- Most after-school programs focus on elementary-school children or high school and college women, rendering middle school a developmental purgatory.

Never be afraid to innovate.
Embrace your power; 
you were meant to do great things in the world.
Lead by example.

Invest in building a strong sense of community.
Follow your moral compass, 
never veering from your values.
You have the capacity to be a hero.
Respect and promote diversity.

Encourage others to leverage their passion 
so they, too, can create impact.

- Middle school girls are greatly in need of intimacy with and connection to others. Girls thrive in supportive social settings...they are able to better assert their independence when they eel connected; and attachment to others is a vital component of their identity.
- Give girls a sheet of paper that lists fifty values (family, beauty, education, honesty, self-confidence) and ask the girls to circle those that appeal to them, gradually narrowing it down to their top five. What values resonate most with them and how do they manifest those in various aspects of their lives? Powerful and ethical leaders know their values, align their behavior to correspond to those values, and recognize when they are straying.
- It can be confusing to adults: one minute, these preteens want to be perceived as older and capable of more responsibility; the very next, they are clamoring to climb into bed with their mom.
- Ask girls "If you were 65 years old an sitting on a park bench and a stranger sat down next to you and asked you about your life, what would you tell them?" Aspirations and dreams are significant aspects of developing a sense of self.
- Girls need and deserve female-centric safe spaces to develop, mature, and cultivate intimate relationships with other girls an women. Are there opportunities for girls to develop a sense of sisterhood? Is she spending time in any all-female environments where she can interact with different types of female and tap into her passions?
- Strengths serve many purpose: they motivate her to broaden her repertoire of skills; they equip her to manage adversity; they create a foundation for the development of additional strengths. The ability to articulate one's strengths is highly correlated with self-confidence, mastery, and self-worth.

Educating the mind without educating the heart 
is not education at all.
- Aristotle

- Resilient girls are optimistic. They refuse to define themselves by failure, nor do they give up in less than ideal circumstances. These girls are more apt to be energetic and passionate, determined and persistent.
- When a middle school girl is challenged by a difficult moment or task, give them permission to struggle. Coach them to continue independently, encouraging them to take a risk. Life is full of challenges; these early experiences will prepare them for the future.
- Emotionally intelligent girls and women are more assertive, confident enough to directly express their feelings, positive about themselves, searching for a deeper purpose in their lives.
- Regularly encourage girls to speak their minds and advocate for themselves.
- Coach girls to articulate their messages in powerful, concise ways. Often girls circumvent the main point, adding extraneous details or providing a rationale for every piece of their story, diluting the meaning of their words. If the girls are doing this, say, "Tell me the same story in three sentences." most people have a short attention span. This technique helps the girls to be more direct in their communication.
- Why do girls bully? When a girl (or grown woman) feels powerless, regardless of underlying reasons, she will seek opportunities to regain it, no matter what the circumstances. most think bullies suffer from low self-esteem, but what is more often the case is that the tormentor feels powerless in some way, whether it is due to family conflicts, a changing body, unhappiness in her peer relationships, academic troubles, or feeling less than when it comes to her looks, weight, or material possessions.
- Girls need more real-life role models so they don't look to fictitious characters for inspiration. These positive role models should be unique, powerful, confident, and authentic.
- Girls crave opportunities that foster a sense of responsibility and initiative. They overwhelmingly report wanting to effect change and be considered role models.
- Investing in girls produces the greatest return in economic development, social progress, and public health.
- Ask girls: "What do you feel passionate about? What issues would you change if you could? What organizations and/or causes resonate most with you and why? What would you need to begin creating change in your own community?
- Whether it's on a large or small scale, impact cannot occur without engaging a community of invested individuals. There is undeniable strength in numbers: dramatic societal shifts and sustainable change do not happen without support from others.

Alone we can do so little,
together we can do so much.
- Helen Keller

Friday, September 4, 2015

Nature Photo of the Week - Week 35 - Sparkle

For the 35th week of the Nature Photo of the Week challenge, I looked through my photographs and selected this one to go with the theme "Sparkle."

I'm not sure this butterfly truly "sparkles." Yet, when I looked up the definition of the word "sparkle" - there were quite a few synonyms that I thought fit this butterfly as I remember looking at it while Olivia held it:


The colors were iridescent - changing ever so slightly in the slight between different shades of purples and blues.

The stop at the Butterfly House at the Minnesota State Fair was a much-needed break and visual treat. It's always one of the highlights at the fair for us.