Pictures of the Day: Skeletal Drummer

For those of you who missed my slideshow of a few of my brother’s carvings, here’s a picture of the Skeletal Drummer he made years ago. It was his first commissioned piece. He made everything on the sculpture from whatever he had lying around.

[singlepic id=177 w=500 h=390 float=center]

[singlepic id=181 w=500 h=390 float=center]

[singlepic id=182 w=500 h=390 float=center]

[singlepic id=178 w=500 h=390 float=center]

[singlepic id=179 w=500 h=390 float=center]

[singlepic id=180 w=500 h=390 float=center]

They Grow Up Too Fast! Part 2

Gianna Crawling Toward Gretel

So yesterday I was taking about how kids grow up too fast (They Grow Up Too Fast!). Not long after I posted that, Gianna started saying Mama and Dada on command. For months, she has been able to say Mama and Dada, but rarely would she actually say them (and almost never when we’d ask her to).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdbsnFreiCA[/youtube]

This morning she keeps doing it on command. And she managed to flip her bedroom light switch up and down a bunch of times. She couldn’t do that yesterday either.

It happens way too fast.

So what do I take away from this? Get to it. Live your life. Do what you can while you can. Tell your people that you love them. Make the world a better place. Write that story, paint that picture, do something you loveGianna in the Backyard.

Passion, Enthusiasm, Motivation: Get Your Mojo Back!

Taco the English Bulldog Head Shot

Passion can be elusive.

It comes and it goes. It’s wrapped up in motivation and creation, feeling good about something, enthusiasm, happiness. It often turns into obsession. When we’re in the middle of something and everything is going right, feeding our passions is one of the best things there is.

And when passion leaves us?

The world becomes grey and humdrum, boring. Maybe sad, maybe melancholy. Losing your passion is just about the worst thing around. Life loses meaning and you just want to sit around watching the Price is Right.

In my brother Josh’s case, it was nothing quite so dramatic, but it illustrates my point: this winter, he got back into taking care of his 135 gallon saltwater aquarium. He tends to become obsessed about some new thing every winter while we’re not painting much, whether it’s firearms, Toyota 4Runners, cuckoo clocks, cooking, wood carving, you name it.

When he is passionate about something, Josh does amazing things, as you can see from some of his carvings:

[slideshow id=10]

Saltwater aquariums were his thing for about 3 years–he read everything possible about saltwater chemistry, corals, fish, lighting, you name it. He built his 6-foot-long tank into mostly self-sustaining ecosystem with fancy lights and high-tech gadgets, and plumbed it into his house’s water supply. When we went to Hawaii in 2006, he could name everything he saw. His knowledge was impressive. A few years ago, the tank was overrun by green and red algae, his corals mostly died, and he lost interest in maintaining it.

[singlepic id=175 w=500 h=390 float=center]

The mandarin fish, pictured above, can be a tricky one to keep. You need a healthy tank–this one lived for years before the tank died. It was fun to watch, with its weird red eyes and swirly blue and green pattern. My brother sure spent hours and hours staring at the creatures that lived in his saltwater tanks (for some weird reason, I don’t have any good pictures of the crabs, snails, corals, or most of the other amazing stuff he had). I do have a couple decent shots of his favorite fish, the cowfish (pictured below).

[singlepic id=176 w=500 h=390 float=center]

What’s interesting here isn’t so much that he had a really cool tank filled with amazing corals and hard-to-keep fish. It’s how fast a turn for the worse in something you love can kill your enthusiasm.

So the spring the tank went to hell, he picked up a couple new coral fragments in Spokane, Washington. Well, little did he know, but the frags came with tiny bits of invasive algae that pretty quickly spread all over the tank.

The bubbly purple stuff in the following picture is Cyanobacteria, a tank killer that’s tough to get rid of. The green hairy stuff is undesirable algae.

[singlepic id=173 w=500 h=390 float=center]

He tried everything he could find to kill the stuff, from frequent water changes, changing out his light bulbs, you name it. He fought it for a long time, but green hair algae just crept in and took over. Then one day, his favorite, the cowfish, died. That crushed him–the cowfish used to swim up to the top of the tank and eat right out of his hand, if you can believe that. It was practically like a dog in the way it would cruise by the glass and look at you.

The cowfish’s death, combined with the invasive algae, just sort of killed my brother’s passion for aquariums, and he just let the big tank sit there for 3 years. The corals died and so did  a few other fish, but it kept humming away, a hairy green mess. I wish I could find a picture to show you before and after, but some of my old pictures have been corrupted.

This winter he decided to clean up the tank and get it looking good again. He got back into the swing of things, cooked and scrubbed his rock, cleaned out the tank, replaced the lights, etc. About $1,000 later, he stumbled across a broken o-ring that had caused his protein skimmer (the main cleaning mechanism in saltwater aquariums) to stop cleaning the tank properly. It had all gone to hell because of a $0.20 o-ring!

[singlepic id=185 w=500 h=390 float=center]

Now he has corals again, and a few black and white clownfish (one of them survived the bad years). Coraline algae is starting to build up (this is the good stuff, something you want in your reef tank). His water quality is perfect and the tank is on its way to looking great again.

He is really excited about aquaria now.

So the question is, what does it take to get back into the swing of things? How do you rekindle your passion? Where the hell do motivation/passion/enthusiasm come from?

That’s a great question, isn’t it? I wish I knew, really. I may not know why we feel passionate about something, but I do have a few ideas about how to go about regaining it.

Here’s the process I do:

Step 1: Examine yourself. Why did you lose passion? Did you do something wrong? Was it guilt or laziness? Were you sick? Self indulgent? (I’m listing all my problems here!). Did someone else make you feel bad about yourself? Did you screw up something? Take a good hard look at your feelings and figure out where they came from. Once you do that, you’ll be able to try and cut away the bullshit.

Step 2: Do something! Like my brother, you just need to start with a baby step. You need to force yourself to get off your ass and do something. Get up off the couch, turn off the tv, and do something. It could be anything. Maybe you’re trying to find the motivation to work out (like I am). So force yourself to get back into it. The first step is to do it. Set a realistic goal, and do it. You don’t have to run 10 miles right out of the gate. You just need to walk around the block. Get up and get moving. If you love working on cars, go open the hood. Grab a rag. Clean the air filter. Check the oil. Just get started.

Step 3: Keep doing stuff. That baby step needs to be followed by more baby steps. Those baby steps will turn into speed walking then running. Once you get going, you build momentum. Keep it up. Do it every day, just a little. Do what you can handle.

Step 4: Hope like crazy that your success will get you fired up again. You can’t control your feelings, but you can try to nudge them. Once you get up and running, you will probably feel good about doing something, accomplishing something. This can be the seed that grows into happiness and passion. Once you’re reminded that you’re good at something, it’s a hell of a lot easier to keep going.

Gianna's Tongue
It's not so easy to be enthusiastic like kids are, is it?

Step 5: Be positive/retrain yourself. Once you get on a roll, you MUST remind yourself that you’re on a new path. You’re not going to just sit and watch tv. You’re going to work out first. You’re going to carve something first. You’re going to write that story first. Or even just 100 words. You need to re-train yourself not to be lazy, not to beat yourself up for being a loser. Remind yourself of your victories, all those baby steps you’ve been taking.

Recap: Take a look at yourself. Why did you lose passion/motivation? Did you hit a setback like my brother did? When his tank went to hell and his cowfish died, he was so disappointed that he just lost interest. He tried for months to fix it, but the tank just got worse and he felt like he couldn’t get it. He lost interest.

And what did it take for him to get back into it? Well, he finally decided to try and start it up again, figured out what the problem was (the faulty o-ring), then regained confidence about his ability to keep a touchy reef aquarium. Every day that his tank improves, he becomes more motivated to transform it into something awesome.

This is  a picture Josh took of himself yesterday from inside his aquarium (he has a waterproof case for his camera).

[singlepic id=172 w=500 h=390 float=center]

Now that I’m finally done writing what I meant to be a short little filler post, I am going to take Clyde for a run. I have been indulging my laziness all winter, gaining fat, losing fitness, and drinking far too much coffee with half-and-half and sugar (like a pot a day, at least). I know this run is probably going to really suck, but at the same time, I know I’ll feel better once I get home. Then hopefully I’ll get in some writing.

Georgia Cornbread: A Simple,Tasty Treat.

Georgia Cornbread

A few weeks ago, my brother and I went to visit our friend Hank. He’s a very generous older gentleman who is trying to get rid of things, not accumulate more. So in an effort to do something nice for him, we decided to bring him something to eat when we came over. It took me a while to figure out what would be the best thing to bring, especially since I wasn’t too sure about what he would like and I didn’t want to make him feel like he was ordering up something (if I asked him what we should bring).

So after thinking about it for a while, it finally hit me that this Montana guy could make a batch of Georgia Cornbread. While it’s not much to look at, it’s simple to make and tastes great–my mom has been making it the last few years as a quick dessert for family gatherings. The recipe she pointed me toward is from a lady named Barb Gertz from over at Food.com, and from her short bio there, she knows her stuff.

Georgia Cornbread
Georgia Cornbread

I think it’s a really weird thing to call what is basically pecan pie in cake form. It doesn’t include any corn at all but since it’s un-frosted, it looks similar to a pan of cornbread.

Instead of using my fancypants [amazon asin=B0002Y5X9W&text=KitchenAide Professional 600] mixer, I used my new [amazon

asin=B005GYRXA0&text=Ninja Kitchen System Pulse] blender, just to see how it would work as a quick, self-contained mixer.

Later I’ll do a more general , in-depth review of the Ninja Pulse, but at this point, I’m glad my wife got it for me for my birthday. It

Ninja Kitchen System Pulse
My Ninja Kitchen System Pulse

is a great multi-purpose blender and smoothie maker. It’s really powerful and I’m impressed that its so well-built. I expected something called the “ninja” to be total junk, but the thing isn’t just made of standard cheapie plastic–it’s very durable and I think it’ll last a long time.

All that being said, I should have used the Kitchenaid for mixing  and the Ninja to chop up the pecans. The Ninja had a hard time mixing the cornbread batter (the batter is extremely thick, especially once you add the pecans). It worked, but a few days after making this, I made another batch using the Kitchenaid.

They call it a mixer for a reason–it worked perfectly.

My Kitchenaid is their beastly model–I use it to knead bread dough and to make meringues more than anything. I don’t make a lot of stuff like this Georgia Cornbread, but I tell you what. If you don’t have a Kitchenaid mixer, get one. You might not need the gigantic one I have, but they make good stuff. If you plan on using a mixer to knead bread, you should seriously consider the Pro

KitchenAid Professional 600 Mixer
KitchenAid Professional 600 Mixer

model since it has a re-settable fuse inside that temporarily blows if the thing gets bogged down and overheats–which mine did once while kneading a heavy-duty wheat bread. It’s not a big deal since you just let it cool off for a bit (then it works again). Cheaper models don’t generally have safety measures like that and will just burn up (I don’t know if this is the case with the Kitchenaid Artisan or the Heavy Duty models, which are both smaller and cheaper than the Pro 600).

So all in all, try out the Georgia Cornbread–you can certainly mix it by hand, but the batter is so thick that you’ll have a dead hand pretty quickly. You can also modify the recipe pretty easily–I made a batch with a handful of peanuts and some coconut in it. That turned out too.

I’m curious if any of you have had something similar to this stuff. Did you have it growing up? Is it a Southern thing, like I have read?

You Don’t have to Worry, Bozo

I’m not a worrier.

Worrying is  not in my makeup. I’ve never really wasted the energy or the time worrying. Well, I say never, and I mean it, although just like anybody else, I have certainly worried about specific things here and there–maybe the night before giving a speech or a test, or in the minutes before some important event. But I almost never worry about anything.

Why?

Who knows? I sure don’t. I suspect it’s genetic–if you could examine my makeup, I bet you’d see that whatever gene or genes are responsible for making us worry are just not expressed in me much. It’s a chemical thing that I can’t control one way or the other. I guess my way of thinking is also just not compatible with worrying. I’m always thinking about the things I’m working on–this keeps me busy enough that I am generally constantly moving from one project to the next and don’t take the time to sit around thinking about how things aren’t going to turn out.

There’s a reason this website is called Hey! There is No Try.

So, even though I’m the way I am and don’t have to worry about worrying (pun intended), I have one idea for how you worriers might be able to forget about your problems: do something.

Be creative or productive, or do something fun. On the rare times that I do find myself feeling anxious or tense about something coming up, I just throw myself into a project 100%.

I write, or blog, or jump into the MisCon schedule, or play a video game (damn you, Skyrim! *shakes fist at sky*), take Clyde for a

On a Walk
I recently took the dogs and the kid for a walk by myself.

walk, go for a run, play with Gianna, kiss up Melissa, whatever. Exercise is probably one of the best ways to divert your attention to something positive, especially since it saps your energy and whips you into shape.

Try it.

You’ll still worry, but you’ll have accomplished something and feel better about yourself.

As a side note, I got thinking about worrying this morning after reading an excellent blog post from Dakota over at Creative Chimera. She’s talking about being present and in the moment. Plus, she’s cool since she helped put together the program book for MisCon 25. Anybody who volunteers for a great science fiction convention like MisCon has to be pretty cool, don’t they?

So, as usual, get out there and do something. Don’t just sit around worrying.

Do or Do Not. There is no Try.

Sharpening Your Knives the Easy Way

Kitchen Knives and Gatco Sharpener

Sharpening knives can be tricky, especially if you don’t do it very often (which most people don’t).

Gatco Knife Sharpener
Gatco Knife Sharpener

I’ve watched YouTube videos on sharpening, and I’ve tried all the classic sharpening methods over the years. My knives have always been pretty sharp, but I always knew they could be sharper. I think it’s because I don’t do it often enough to develop some level of knife sharpening skill.

Recently, an extremely generous friend gave my brother and I a number of quality kitchen knives. Some are American, some German, but the best are Japanese. I have had my Cutco chef’s knife for maybe 5 years and use it all the time, so it takes  a beating–I use my ceramic hone on it fairly regularly, and as of last year, I started sharpening it with my brother’s [amazon asin=B003774RF2&text=Gatco knife sharpener].

I’m not going to go all cuckoo over the Gatco, but the thing works very well. It’s hard to describe how it works, so I’ll just show you in this little video clip I took of my brother using it on my [amazon asin=B005FNPY7G&text=Cutco chef’s knife]:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2rSGKPXpaw&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

Basically, you clamp your knife into the holder, then figure out what angle your edge is. You just select one of the sharpening rods

Gatco Sharpener In Action
Gatco Sharpener In Action

and guess at the angle your knife was ground at. So far 22 degrees has been most common. But you can easily tell the angle of your edge without using the sharpening system–if you have the right one, go for it. If not, put the rod in other positions until you get the right one. From there you just run the sharpening rod along the blade edge, letting the system do all the work for you.

My brother’s kit includes coarse, medium, and fine stones, as well as one designed for serrated knives. The thing works well.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to spend $90 on a sharpening set like this to do a good job. I AM saying that something like the Gatco is an excellent way to sharpen your expensive knives, especially if, like me, you don’t have the skills to use traditional sharpeners.

Helpful Distractions

Snowy Night

We finished up work early this afternoon, so after visiting with my mom and Gianna for a while, I went over to Hastings (a bookstore/coffee shop in case you don’t have them where you live), and worked on my current novel. I figured it would be good to get out of the house and away from the tv and secure internet (I don’t like to use unsecured WiFi if there are a lot of people hanging around since they might be trying to snatch my info) and get some writing done.

Usually, when I write in a coffee shop, I put on my headphones, crank up the music, and only rarely check Facebook. I put myself in a solitary spot within a group of people I’m not interacting with, and somehow, it stimulates me to get things going.

Well, today I forgot my headphones.

At first I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal–I would just tune out the music, the conversations, and the coffee machine then get to work. But the place was packed, and it took a while for me to tune out everybody and get into the flow of the story. This was especially due to a pair of older ladies sitting behind me who kept talking (really loudly) about things: hot flashes, irascible husbands, bible study groups, their kids, crocheting, among other things. One lady kept going on and on about her daughter (Jessica), and it became pretty quickly apparent to me that this woman felt a huge desire to show off to her friend.

Still, I persevered and managed to get into my character’s angry discussion with his current nemesis (an ancient lady who has screwed with his life since he was a kid and now wants him to do some things for her, even though she helped ruin his life). I kept hearing about Jessica’s amazing-ness, and the hot flashes, but I just kept going.

In the end, this conversation between 2 older ladies became part of the background of my story, part of the creative soup that I drew from in putting together this scene. In a weird way, I think the old lady nemesis will have had some hot flash issues in her past that she wouldn’t have had before, and her husband will probably have been a numbskull who always thought he was right and was obsessed with reading Val-U-Pak coupon books instead of exercising. I don’t think the amazing Jessica will make an appearance any time soon, but you never know.

So get out there and get to work. Turn off Facebook, tune out your neighbors, and make something. Write. Draw. Cook an excellent dinner. Pick up your pencil, and do it. Don’t tell yourself that you need the stars to align, that you need absolute silence, or your special writing music. Don’t make any more excuses. Just get out there and do it!

Do or do not. There is no try.

Be Defined By What You Do

Well-Worn Tile Floor

You are what you do.

I’m not talking about your job, but how you spend ALL your time.

I divide this into 2 categories:

1. “Take In” activities: This is stuff we absorb, think about, passively bring inside ourselves. It’s reading a book, watching tv, cruising Facebook, reading Wikipedia, studying, etc. These things are generally passive and don’t require us to interact with the rest of the world.

2. “Give Out” activities: These are things we create, make, and do–things we give to the world. It’s going for a run, making a cake, posting on Facebook, taking your kid to the park, playing a game, making spaghetti. These are activities that require you to interact with outside forces and somehow change the world. It could be as simple as smiling at someone or a big as writing a novel.

Of course, what we give the world is a combination of both types of activities. You can’t make a cake if you don’t read a recipe book at some point. You can’t write if you can’t read. I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch tv or do passive things. You absolutely should! But I AM saying that too many people spend most of their time taking in and not enough time giving out.

It’s easy to think about writing a novel, but it takes a lot more effort to actually write one.

So what should you do? Evaluate yourself from time to time–what have you been doing? What are you creating these days? How are your actions influencing the world? Do you create things? Do you actively spend time doing stuff? Do you waste time thinking about your story ideas but not actually writing? Do you plunk your kid down in front of the tv instead of playing a game with him/her? Do you affect the world in a positive way? What is your contribution?

We all fall prey to laziness or loss of focus at some point. I know I do! But I am usually able to get myself back on track and start giving back to the world again.

Do or do not. There is no try.