Archive for the ‘Books’ category

Re-Evaluating My Time

May 14, 2013

It’s been a really rough 12 months.  Some things in my life really came to a head in the past year on top of the major exhaustion of having five kids, including a newborn.  I feel like I’ve just been hanging on by the skin of my teeth, just trying to survive each day.  I’ve been in private counseling since last May, and it’s probably the only thing that has kept me sane.

A lot of my problems have stemmed from not having good boundaries.  Over the years I developed a bit of a martyr complex, thinking I had to sacrifice my health and well-being (physical, mental, and emotional) in order to take care of everyone else in my family first.  With the help of my counselor and some good books, I have been re-evaluating my life and making some changes to get myself back on track.

The book I read most recently is The Rhythm of Life by Catholic motivational speaker Matthew Kelly.  I have pages of notes and great quotes, but the book has led me down a lot of other rabbit trails.  One of these thought trails had me looking at my daily schedule as if I did everything I should do to take care of my needs (physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual) and the basic work I need to do to care for my family.  I estimated the maximum amount of time it should take me to do each of these things on a daily basis, or in the case of chores the minimum amount that needs to be done.

  • Exercise:  45 minutes (includes changing clothes)
  • School:  2 hours
  • Shower/Brush Teeth/Dressed:  30 minutes
  • Lunch Break:  1 hour (includes recreation time)
  • Read 1 Book to Little Kids:  15 minutes
  • Fix Family Dinner:  30 minutes
  • Eat Dinner:  30 minutes
  • Eat Breakfast:  15 minutes
  • Afternoon Snack:  15 minutes
  • Bedtime “Meal”:  30 minutes
  • Feeding the Baby:  3 hours (nursing/solids)
  • Preparing Snacks/Meals for Kids:  1 hour
  • Sacred Hour (Quiet time recommended by Matthew Kelly):  1 hour
  • Chores:  2 hours

If you total this up it equals 13.5 hours.  Of this time, 4 hours and 45 minutes equals self-care.  I classify the other 8 hours and 45 minutes as my “work” as a full-time homemaker, mother, and homeschooling teacher.  Ideally this leaves about 10.5 hours to sleep (I wish) and recreate.  Of course, there are a lot of little things that aren’t mentioned on this list but can really add up:  dressing kids, changing diapers/bathroom assists, cleaning up spills and messes, and handling other disasters.

Some of these are the maximum time.  For instance, school time doesn’t always take 2 hours, especially on days when we don’t have school at all.  I have started jogging 3 days each week which normally takes the full 45 minutes, but on other days I just do the Wii Fit for about 20 minutes without having to do a special change of clothes.  (But I am also hoping to take some exercise classes through our parks district which will take longer than an hour, including travel time.)

Matthew Kelly recommends taking a Sacred Hour of quiet meditation and prayer each day (very reminiscent of the hour of Eucharist Adoration that the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen insisted on every single day no matter how busy his schedule).  Considering that taking a shower is problematic given the amount of supervision my young children require on a daily basis, the chances of me getting an entire hour of silence, especially alone, on a daily basis is very unrealistic at this season of my life.  But I may try to find a few 15 minute segments here and there.

Overall, it’s been an excellent exercise for assessing where my time does go and should go and if I am capable of striking a good balance between upholding my responsibilities and taking care of myself.


Hunger Games Trilogy

May 16, 2012

******SPOILER ALERT*******


Last month I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  Overall, I thought the series was a pretty good science fiction read.  I think my favorite character was Haymitch, the alcoholic former Hunger Games champion.  Yes, he was kind of an ass at times, but he was also one of the funniest and funnest characters in the books.

As I was reading, though, I couldn’t help being reminded of that other very popular series of young adult fiction:  Twilight.  There are no werewolves or vampires or other supernatural creatures, but Katniss kind of reminded me of Bella.  While neither one is a mean girl, neither one is particularly that likable either.  They are both kind of cold, distant, and condescending towards others, in thought if not in deed.

Yet despite this, or because of it, all of the guys are in love with Katniss and Bella.  I think that Gale and Peeta from the Hunger Games were both better men than Jacob and Edward (or “Mr. Immature” and “Mr. Whiny Wishy-Washy” as I think of them).  Gale is doing everything that he can to feed his family and be the man of the house since his father’s death, while Peeta is just an all-around nice guy despite his verbally and physically abusive mother.

But I’m not sure that either one was a really good match for Katniss.  I mean Gale obviously really understood Katniss, but he did have that darkness about him.  They would have been a really depressing together.  Peeta fell in love with her “when he heard her sing” as a six-year-old…his feelings seemed more to be for some girl he imagined than who Katniss really was.  And you couldn’t help thinking that he was trying to make up for the fact that his father “lost the girl” (Katniss’s mother) and ended up with a shrew for a wife instead.  I also think that deep down Katniss knows that she is really just not that into either one of them, but she fills pressured to choose one of them when she would have been better off just putting both of them in the “friend zone” permanently rather than waiting for one of them to be killed or bow out gracefully.  (But then where would the romantic tension be in the plot?)

Thematically I thought the books were interesting in their portrayal of governmental tyranny in it’s various forms from the obvious Capitol to the more subtle leaders of District 13.  Then you have the class warfare between the slaves in the districts and the hedonists living in the Capitol.  But I don’t think the Hunger Games had the resonance of a book like Brave New World or 1984.  And I don’t think that it has the layers of symbolism, meaning, and foreshadowing of series such as Narnia or Harry Potter no matter how creative Collins was with character naming.

As for the ending of the trilogy….boy, was that depressing.  I suppose that Primrose had to die, since Katniss’s love for her is what sparked the entire storyline.  It was necessary to completely expose the full duplicitous of President Coin, so that Katniss could see that she was just replacing one tyrant with another.

I did like how Gale realized that Katniss would never choose him as long as it was possible that technology he had developed had been used to kill Prim.  But I never fully bought into Gale working in the technological warfare department of District 13 in the first place.  He was a hunter and a coal miner with absolutely no technological training at all, yet he was immediately working side by side with the most technologically brilliant mind in the story.

There were some other things that just didn’t ring true, either.  For one thing, Peeta had been completely brainwashed until he was a total nutcase.  There is no way that he could have been fixed in the few months between when Prim died and Katniss was sentenced to live back at District 12.  He would have probably needed extreme physiological and psychological help for years to come to deal with his own issues, but within a matter of months he’s the same old Peeta, in love with Katniss and waiting for her to choose him.

And then there is Katniss’s relationship with her mom.  The whole first book she is pissed at her mom for mentally checking out after the death of her father.  Katniss doesn’t trust her at all.  In the second book, she grudgingly tries to be respectful of her mother and rebuild trust in her mother to be her parent.  Then Prim dies.  Katniss has a mental breakdown and is then sentenced to live at District 12, even though she is still barely functional.  But her mother does not come to take care of her.  Her mother is off playing nurse in some other district, because Mrs. Everdeen just can’t face the memories of Prim in District 12.  Never mind that she has another daughter alive there who needs her.  Yet, Katniss just calls her mother on the phone and they have a weep over Primrose.  Katniss doesn’t seem that broken up that her mother has abandoned her completely for a second time.

My final assessment:  Hunger Games is an interesting and entertaining science fiction story.  But I don’t think that once all of the movie versions have their run that the books will hold up for years to come in the annals of classic young adult fiction.  Maybe I’m missing something, though.

2012 Reading Lists

February 7, 2012

Between pregnancy exhaustion, stomach flu, and a head cold, I just didn’t feel up to doing a lot of reading in January.  When I did read,  it was mainly re-reads of books off my shelf, because I also didn’t feel like dealing with the library anymore than absolutely necessary (books for schoolwork).

I really don’t know how much reading I’ll be doing in the future, either.  I am sure once I get to feeling better I’ll get the desire to dig into a new book, but I don’t know when that will be.  And I figure that part of my reading over the next six months will be re-reads of my favorite childbirth books to prepare for August. Lately, though, I just find myself wanting to vegetate on the couch or plow through the entire series of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix on my computer.

I started to put my reading list for January together, but my mind is so foggy these days that I don’t think that I could reconstruct what little I did read since the start of the new year.  Once I get my mojo back, I wouldn’t be surprised if I post about a book that I particularly liked and that I think might be of value to others.  But I’ve decided that, for this year at least, there won’t be any monthly reading lists.

December 2011 Reading List

January 2, 2012

Oh, goodness.  I must admit that the month of December is kind of  a haze to me.  So, I will try to reconstruct what I read for the month.  I know it was mostly re-reads because I was too tired to really focus on anything new that required more attention and thought.  Let’s see.

1, 2, and 3.  Star Wars:  Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn:  These three books basically kicked off the Star Wars expanded universe and introduced many important non-movie characters such as Mara Jade, Talon Kaarde, Grand Admiral Thrawn, and Captain Pellaeon.  After reading the newer Timothy Zahn Star Wars book last month I felt compelled to go back and reread these favorites.

4.  Mr. Darcy’s Daughters by Elizabeth Aston:  I like Aston’s Pride & Prejudice sequels because I think they are in keeping with Austen’s style and give one a really good understanding of the time period.  I just kind of grabbed this off my bookshelf on the go for a reread.

4 1/2.  Star Wars:  Vision of the Future by Timothy Zahn:  This is actually the second in a two-book series that takes place about ten years after Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy.  I’m only counting it has half of a book, though, because I just skipped through to read the sections about Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade.  I was surprised to realize for the first time that the closing scene of the book is a throwback to the closing scene of the Thrawn Trilogy.



It’s hard to believe that another year has passed, or that I’ve been keeping track of my reading for three years now.  I decided to take a detailed look back through three-years of books as I organized my stats for 2011.  I considered noting which books I had reread multiple times, and which genre or subject I had read the most.  But then I wondered how insane I was to even consider such a project much less think I had the time or energy to do it.  But I do like keeping track of what I have read.  It’s almost like a diary in and of itself.

In 2011 I read a total of 66.5 books.  My book count was down from the two previous years (90 and 91 respectively).  At first I thought this was because it took me an entire month to get through Anna Karenina, and then I gave up reading books for Lent.  Surprisingly I read more during the first half of the year (36) in spite of Anna Karenina and Lent.  June ended up being my biggest month with 12 books.  (Two of those were books that I previewed/read along with Bailey.)

So, I don’t know what happened in 2011.  In the end, though, reading is about enjoyment and learning and not just racking up tally marks.  We’ll just have to see what good books 2012 brings.


December 7, 2011

My NaNoWriMo journal is a sad tale in and of itself:  the excitement, the perseverance in the face of slight concern about word count, the rally, the desperate rationalization, the final disappointment.  It makes me laugh to think about it now.

As I mentioned at the end of my journal, the whole process put some things in perspective for me.

  1. I really did have delusions of grandeur.  I figured I would breeze through the 50,000 mark, and then perhaps I would send my novel off to some publishers and one would eventually love it.  Or I would self-publish it, and a fancy publisher would hear about it from word of mouth and have to have it.  LOL
  2. Writing a novel is extremely time-consuming.  And I’m not sure that this was the point in my life to really be jumping into that ocean.
  3. Over the years I had begun to suspect, and this process may have confirmed, that I am not a really creative person.  My current story was inspired by a movie from 1998 (it gave me the general idea but not the characters or plot).  I think I am really good at taking someone else’s idea and organizing/improving it/expanding it.  I don’t know, though, that I could come up with a story that wasn’t inspired by something else I had seen.
  4. No other idea has haunted me like that one, so if I couldn’t get 50,000 words out of it, then I doubt that I could come up with something next year to make the word count.  I probably will not be doing NaNoWriMo next year.
  5. Now this a little big bigger thing that I realized, why I write:

Writing is something I have always had an interest in.  In my valedictorian speech from high school I remember saying that I hoped to write a novel some day.  I don’t remember if I used the word “published”, but I am sure that I meant the word published.  At that point I had been writing “stories” for years, but they were mostly long rambling things about me and my friends, except we all had sassy pseudonyms.  Back then I wrote to entertain my friends and deal with teenage angst and/or get a grade.

In college, I took some creative writing courses to fulfill my requirements as an English minor.  Looking back I don’t think I learned a damn thing about writing in those classes, nothing like what I learned from reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.  My stories had a little more focus, but they had no real over-arching theme.  They were really just empty plot.  Back then I wrote to impress my friends and deal with college relationship angst and/or get a grade.

For the past 12 years, since I graduated from college, I started stories from time to time, but I never finished them.  Some of my ideas for my current story have been fermenting, like I said, since 1998.  NaNoWriMo kind of gave me a real reasons to write beyond just  a vague desire.  It gave me a goal of 50,000 words; a goal which I failed to reach.  And maybe I failed to reach it because I was writing for the wrong reasons.  Maybe I wasn’t writing what I was supposed to be writing, and I was writing just to serve myself.

I write my blog mostly to serve myself, too.  It’s really a journal of my thoughts/reflections/goings on that I have decided to make public.  It’s also a hobby, one that I don’t want to feel tied to every single day like popular bloggers are.  As a result I rarely ever look at my blog stats.  I really don’t care how many people are regularly reading my blog or how popular/unpopular it is.

However, I said “mostly to serve myself”.  I also hope that something I write might help one person see things in a different (and what I think is better) way or just help them period.

But I was writing my novel completely just to serve myself.  Even though it had some religious over-tones, I didn’t really think that it would help anyone solve their own moral quandaries or teach them much more about faith.  I was writing with a secret dream of being famous, and maybe a little rich.  LOL

My priest gave an interesting homily the second Sunday of Advent in which he noted that fame does not make a person great.  A person becomes great by serving something bigger that himself, by serving God.  The next time I write something I hope that I am writing something that might help people, that will allow me to serve others more than myself.

This has got me thinking that maybe novels aren’t really what I should be doing.  I’m not saying that other people can’t serve a high purpose by writing novels.  Sometimes people just need good entertainment.  I’m not sure, though, that one of my strengths is being entertaining (unless its the entertainment that being an unconscious idiot can provide).  So, maybe I should focus my time and energy and desire to write in a different direction other than fiction.

November 2011 Reading List

November 28, 2011

1.  Star Wars:  Fate of the Jedi:  Ascension by Christie Golden:  This is just the next book in the Star Wars series that I read.  Although I must admit, that late middle-aged Luke Skywalker is a much more appealing man than early 20’s Luke Skywalker.

2.  Fertility, Cycle, and Nutrition by Marilyn Shannon:  I read this book a few years ago, and it didn’t do much for me.  This time I got a hold of the latest edition which was totally revamped.  I don’t know if it’s the new format or if I was just more receptive this time around, but now I’m thinking I need my own copy.  While I’ve never had an issue with my fertility, this was the first time I learned that my long, heavy, and painful periods might be within the range of normal for the population at large but they might not really be normal for me.  They might actually be signs of inadequate nutrition.  As a result, I’ve started ProCycle vitamins, flax seed oil capsules, and a Vitamin E capsule every day to get my cycle in better working order.

3.  Signs of Life by Scott Hahn:  This book is a wonderful and informative book about 40 Catholic customs.  For non-Catholics it offers some great explanations about what Catholics believe about these things.  For Catholics it offers bite-size opportunities for learning about and meditating on the faith.  The book has inspired me to incorporate a few different customs into my daily life and given me a greater understanding about others, such as the controversial indulgences.  I read this book slowly over the course of two months; it’s definitely a book to be savored rather than devoured.

4.  Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis:  This book offers an insider’s view into competitive Scrabble.  I’ve always liked Scrabble, and I’d already been playing lots of Words with Friends on Facebook.  But reading this book made me kind of obsessed with the game.  I actually ended up by a Scrabble PC game because of it.  It asks the question, though, are crazy-people naturally attracted to Scrabble or does Scrabble make people crazy?

5.  Star Wars:  Choices of One by Timothy Zahn:  This “sequel” story takes place between the movies A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.  Zahn goes back to explore more facets of Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn, two legendary characters he first introduced in his Thrawn Trilogy (which basically kicked off the Star Wars expanded universe in the early 90’s).  It was a little strange, though, going back to naive and inexperienced 18-year-old Luke Skywalker after recently reading about Grand Master Luke Skywalker fighting the Sith with his teenage son.


6.  Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery:  I actually listened to this on Audio book over the course of two months while I ran errands in my van (that’s why I almost forgot to count it).  Of all the Green Gables books, the first two are probably the ones that I have reread the least, so a lot of it was new again.  And there were certain insights about the story that have come with age.

October 2011 Reading List

November 1, 2011

1.  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller:  I saw this booked recommended in blog circles I frequent.  For the first few chapters I couldn’t imagine why, but when it kicked it, I understood.  Miller re-examines how we live our lives and offers tips for making the story of our lives better and more meaningful.  My only concern is that Miller is able to control much of his story because he is single.  I wonder how he would expect some of this to work when you have to include another person (or more if you have children) into your story-making process.

2.  Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey:  This was a reread for about the bazillionth time.

3.  The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson:  This book offers more background information about “the girl with the dragon tattoo” as she becomes a murder suspect.

4.  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson:  This is the final book in the Millennium Trilogy.  All three books were published posthumously, and I can’t help wondering if Larsson would have whittled down all of the exposition.  There is supposedly a fourth book of the series that was 3/4 finished by Larsson and may be finished by his

5.  Story Engineering by Larry Brooks:  This book was recommended by Jen at Conversion Diary, and it is a must have for anyone who is considering writing a book.  I’ve been using it to prepare for National Novel Writing Month, and I have learned so much.