Thursday, August 27, 2015

What It's Like to Be a Morning Person

A Seemingly Rare Breed

When I check Facebook I am constantly confronted with funny jokes about how horrible life is in the morning.  Here is one that I actually shared to my timeline:

I shared it, not because I feel this way, but because this is a very accurate description of the way my husband is in the morning.  I thought it was funny because I am the opposite.  I get up ready to engage in in-depth philosophical debates.  Sometimes I'll start talking, and I'll say all kinds of interesting things, and my husband won't even hear me.  His excuse?  He hasn't had his coffee yet.

If what I see on Facebook is any indication, I must conclude that most of the world is like my husband.  They need just a little time to get going in the mornings.  Because I never see any funny posts about actually being happy in the mornings, I thought I'd share that here.

Not a Night Person

The way most of the humorous Facebook posts describe mornings is how I normally describe evenings.  My brain starts to shut down at around 7:00pm, and by 8:00 I'm pretty much useless.  I also can't handle a lot of noise and activity at that time of day. 

My children are older and quieter now, but I still shudder when I remember evenings with toddlers.  Their bedtime was 8:00, and I allowed very little wiggle room because I knew that if they stayed up much later than 8:00 I would start to get extremely irritable and it would result in a miserable time for all.  Sometimes it was a true effort just to endure their childish activities until bedtime.  There were days when I wished they could go to bed at around 6:30, but I knew what an insane rule that would be, so I bravely toughed it out until 8:00.  And at 8:00, the bedtime ritual began.  Of course by this time of the night I was pretty much comatose, so getting the kids into the bed was an interesting process, especially considering that my husband is a night person.

Here's what would happen.  After spending at least half an hour miserably counting down the seconds until the kids were in the bed and the house was peaceful and quiet, we would finally go into their room and help them into their pajamas.  At this point my husband would get into a playful mood and start picking the kids up and throwing them around, or grab one of their toys and make it talk in a silly voice, or any number of things that the kids loved.  And of course, because the kids loved it they would start running around the room shouting and laughing.  I would be standing in the corner with my hands over my ears waiting for it to all be over.  8:00 at night was just not an appropriate time for that much activity.  I was frequently convinced that my brain was going to literally explode.

Morning: My Alert Time

While I complained grumpily about the kids making noise at night, my husband would frequently complain about them making noise in the morning.  I, not being bothered at all by morning noise, would shake my head and say, "They're kids.  Making noise is what they do."  The fact is, in the morning, after a full night's sleep, I feel ready to take on the world.  In fact, if there's a task that I need to finish, and I start to get tired at night, I will frequently set my alarm a little earlier the next morning so that I can get up and work on it when I'm feeling fresh and energized.  Which I don't feel at night.  Ever.  But in the the morning...nothing stresses me out.  I can do the morning.

Not Necessarily an Early Riser

Maybe other morning people experience this differently, but I at least do not jump out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off.  If I'm awakened from a deep sleep, the only thing I want in that moment is to return to that blissful state.  I do not want to get out of bed.  That is not what being a morning person means to me.  And it also doesn't mean that I'm up before sunrise every single day.  I occasionally sleep late (and by late I mean 8:30).  But when I do get up, all it takes for me to be completely awake and ready to start my day is being upright for about five minutes.  I don't even need coffee.  I drink it, but only because it is part of my morning routine and I like the taste.  I could easily switch to decaf and still be able to function perfectly well in the morning.  In fact I do drink decaf quite a bit because it prevents insomnia.

Any other morning people out there?  I would love to hear from you.  Feel free to leave a comment and let me know about your personal experience.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Practical vs. the Artistic: A Look at Two Conflicting Worldviews

The Practical

Your name is Carla.  You were a good student in school, which enabled you to get into a decent college.  While choosing your major, your only thought was, "What will allow me to have a stable career and a reliable source of income for me and my family?" On graduation you immediately found a good nine to five job with good pay and great benefits.  You married, bought a house, and had a couple of kids.  Because you work for such an amazing employer, you were able to take plenty of time off when each child was born.  Also, because of your great job, your family has never had to worry about being able to pay medical bills.  Your insurance covers everything.

You have no regrets about your career choices.  Your job allows you to provide for your family and that, after all, is the most important reason for having a job to begin with.  And when you leave work, you truly leave work.  You don't bring it home with you.  As a mother and homemaker, you are amazing.  You come home in the evening, throw a load of laundry in the washer, and oversee the children's homework while you work on preparing dinner.  Your meals are never fancy, but they are filling and the kids think they taste good.  After dinner you usher the kids off to the bath while you diligently wash every dirty dish in the kitchen.  You follow up with a quick wipe-down of counters and table just in time to say goodnight to the children.  Then you decide to watch a little television while you fold the clothes that you just washed.  Afterward, you go to bed and prepare to do it all again tomorrow.  In your humble opinion, you have a very good life.

The Artistic

Let's fast-forward twenty years.  Your name is Anna.  Carla is your mother.  You and she could not be more different.  You are anything but organized.  Like your mother, you also made good grades in school, but only because you were fascinated with what you were learning.  And when you decided what your major would be in college you primary concern was, "What am I passionate about?  What will I find fulfilling?"  You chose to study something incredibly impractical, but you loved every minute of it.  After college, you worked a few different jobs just to get money to pay the bills while you waited for your true career to take off.  You eventually got married and had kids, which required you to lay aside your dreams for a little while, but you never intended to neglect them forever.

Now the kids are getting older, and it's time for you to get on with your life.  You revive old hobbies that you once loved in the hopes that one of them will turn into an incredible career.  Your day-job is only part-time, but you do not suffer from having less money.  You are happy to drive an old car and find no shame at all in occasionally buying a dress from a thrift store.  It's all worth it.  After all, there is nothing more important that being fulfilled in your life, and you know that money is not the source of ultimate happiness.  You are pursuing more lofty goals than simple financial security.

The Conflict

You are Carla.  You look at your daughter, and the word that usually comes to mind is "flighty." You wonder if she will ever grow up.  When she was a child, you were happy to provide her with piano lessons and dance classes because you knew she would cherish those memories for a lifetime.  But now that she is an adult, you wish that she would just settle down.  You cringe when you see how your grandchildren are dressed, and you constantly remind your daughter that if she would just fold the clothes as soon as they came out of the dryer, they would not get so wrinkled.  When Anna responds that she doesn't have time to do that, you think back over your own life and remember how you always made time.  You can't understand why Anna won't make time as well.

You are Anna.  You look at your mother and think to yourself, "What a miserable existence."  You remember those years when your children were small and you had no time for anything that did not include diapers and laundry and play dates and bath time.  You would not trade that time for anything in the world, because that was quality time that you spent with your kids.  But you know that you could never have been happy doing that indefinitely.  You just need a little bit more from life.  Of course, you still spend time with your children now that they are older, but it's different.  In fact, it's more fulfilling because you can share with them all of your many interests and passions.  You look back on your own childhood and wish that your mother had taken the time to share those things with you.  You wonder why she never did.  You also wonder why your mother never indulges in those passions now that she is older.  After all, a retired woman with grown children should have plenty of time for hobbies.  But Carla doesn't have hobbies.  You don't understand this.  You think she is selling herself short.  You think that she poured so much of herself into raising her family that now there is nothing left of the person she used to be.  You almost pity her for that.

Other Scenarios

It's not always the mother who is the practical one and the daughter who is the artistic one.  Sometimes it's the other way around.  And the resentment can still exist when the tables are turned.  Sometimes the daughter resents the time her mother spent on all of her little hobbies instead of spending that time with her family.  Sometimes the mother thinks her daughter is squandering her potential by working a steady "sensible" job instead of following her dreams.  Sometimes this conflict erupts between fathers and sons, or even among siblings or close friends. 

Must There Be Conflict?

The obvious question here is: why?  Why must Carla and Anna judge each other so harshly?  Why can't Carla be proud of all of her daughter's many talents and just accept that keeping her clothes wrinkle-free is not one of them?  Why can't Anna see that her mother is happy in her life?  Why can't she accept that Carla does not need any kind of creative outlet to be fulfilled?  Just knowing that she did a good job taking care of her family is enough for her.

In truth these two women should be very happy for each other, celebrating each other's strengths and accepting each other's weaknesses.  After all, everyone has weaknesses, right?  So there's no need for us to judge someone else just because they are bad at something that we do well.  Or even because their priorities are slightly different from ours.  The truth is we are all different.  Anna cannot force herself to be like her mother.  Giving up the things she loves to do would be too painful.  And Carla cannot force herself to be like Anna.  Spending all of her time on things that she does not consider important would just make her life unnecessarily stressful. 

I'm sure everyone has seen this conflict in one form or another.  So the next time you are looking at someone else's lifestyle and thinking to yourself, "I just don't understand people like that," ask yourself why.  Is there something fundamentally wrong with the way that other person has decided to live, or is it just different from what you would do?  Remember that different does not mean bad.  It just means different.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

What Kind of Supernatural Fan Are You?

Two Kinds of Fans

No, I am not asking whether you prefer Sam or Dean, though that is a valid way to categorize Supernatural fans.  But when I look at people's comments online and read people's blogs about the show, I see another organizational system emerging.  I have come to group fans by which season they like the best.

Based on my observations, I have come to the conclusion that Supernatural fans basically fall into two broad categories: those who say seasons one and two are their favorite seasons, and those who prefer seasons four and five.  Yes, I know, a true fan loves every season of the show, but which one is your favorite?  I'm sure you have one.  And I'd be willing to bet you would choose one of the four that I've just mentioned.

Why do these seem to be the favorites?

If you are a fan of the show, I don't think I need to explain to you how truly powerful season two was.  And I personally tend to lump season one with it because the two seasons together basically formed one story that culminated in...well, I won't spoil it for anyone who may not have watched it yet.  Season three, for me at least, seemed to be a bit of a letdown after the spectacular ending of season two.  But of course, that's just my opinion.

And then came season four, and the beginning of a whole new story arc.  Okay, technically it was a continuation of the events set in motion in the very first episode, but if you watch the show you know that a lot changed in season four.  The mood was different.  The consequences of Sam and Dean's actions were on a much larger scale.  The survival of the very world was at stake.  This continued until the end of season five, after which the show went into a couple of awkward seasons where the writers seemed to be trying to figure out where to go next.  After all, where do you go after you've just saved the world from...oh yeah, I promised no spoilers.

Which one is my favorite?

I have to say that I will always prefer seasons one and two.  Why?  The first reason is that I'm a horror movie buff, and I was attracted to a TV show that was based on my favorite genre.  This was something that made Supernatural somewhat unique in the beginning.  Do you remember how spooky the episodes were back then?  There was a creep factor there that just doesn't seem to be present in the show anymore.  Starting with season four, the show began incorporating more fantasy elements into the plotline, and leaving some of the horror behind.  I think this was probably necessary.  After all, how many times could Sam and Dean clean a haunted house before that story started getting old?  And don't get me wrong, I like the more recent seasons too.  I enjoy fantasy from time to time.  After all, who doesn't want to cheer for their team in the epic battle between good and evil?  But if given the choice, I'll take creepy over action packed any day.

The second reason I prefer seasons one and two is that I am a stickler for consistency, and the first two seasons of Supernatural followed very logically on one another.  The story arc never took any odd twists that made me stop and ask, "What a minute...what about (fill in the blank here)."  Season four, in my opinion, seemed to take the story in a direction that it had not intended to go in the beginning.  Again, no spoilers, but think about Sam and his psychic abilities.  Think about how the nature of those abilities changed in season four.  Now, you can argue that it was all due to the events at the end of season two.  Those events changed things for Sam and so afterward he needed to...oops, that would be a spoiler.  But anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I didn't buy it.  Where Sam ended up at the end of season five just did not seem to be where he was supposed to be going in seasons one and two.  But again, that's just my opinion.

Please remember, of course, what I said in the beginning about real Supernatural fans.  I am a real fan, and so I have loved all seasons.  I just have a special place in my heart for those early episodes.

And you?

So what are you?  Are you a seasons one and two fan, or a seasons four and five fan?  Or do you fit my categories at all?  Maybe you prefer seasons eight and nine.  Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if you agree or disagree with my analysis of this great series.  Just remember to keep it positive.  We fans have got to stick together!

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter if you want updates about this blog.  Also, check out my paranormal mystery, Amelia's Children, now available on Amazon Kindle.

Friday, August 7, 2015

10 Tips to Help You Become Fluent in a Second Language

Let me begin by saying that I am not offering a quick fix here.  Learning a new language is hard, time-consuming work.  It will not happen overnight, regardless of what method you use.  I also need to emphasize that just one of the following suggestions taken in isolation will probably not get you to your goal.  A combined approach is best.  So, now that the disclaimers are out of the way, let's get to the list.

These are not in any particular order.

1. Use a language-learning website or app.  I have used Duolingo and Memrise and found them both to be very effective, though in different ways.  Memrise is generally better for expanding your vocabulary, while Duolingo is great for improving your grammar.  Used in combination, you get the best of both.

2. Read books in your target language.  I've heard a lot of arguments regarding when you should try to do this.  Many people say that you should get a firm grasp of grammar and have at least a modest vocabulary before attempting to read an actual book.  While I understand these arguments, I also feel the need to point out that when I began studying Spanish four years ago, the first thing I did was grab a book and start reading.  What book?  La última cáncion (The Last Song) by Nicholas Sparks.  I admit that it was a grueling process.  In the beginning it took nearly an hour to read one page!  However, the more I read the easier it became until now I can read entire books in Spanish without the need of a dictionary.  I also feel that I have a stronger understanding of the flow of the language because I immersed myself in books from the very beginning.

3. Listen to music in your target language.  People laugh when I suggest this one, but it really does work.  Why?  Think about it.  Have you ever had a song stuck in your head?  When you do, does it make you want to sing the lyrics?  Well, the same thing happens when the song is in another language.  It makes you want to learn the words so you can sing along.  And once you've learned how to pronounce all of them, you find yourself wanting to know what they mean.  So you look them up.  And because you've already memorized the song lyrics, you'll remember what those words mean for a very long time.

4. Watch movies and television shows in your target language.  This can be one of the more discouraging ways to study a language because the people on television just seem to talk way too fast.  I watched telenovelas for years before I got to a point where I could understand what was being said.  My only advice here is to stick with it because you will make progress, even if it's so slow you feel like you're standing still.  This is an opportunity to practice your listening skills, which is one of the hardest things to do when studying a new language.

5. Take a class.  This is the most obvious method, but it can also be one of the more expensive methods.  True confession time here:  I have never taken a Spanish class.  Do I want to?  Absolutely.  I've just never set aside the time or the money to do it.  What I can tell you is that you can learn on your own pretty much everything that you would learn in a class.  The difference is that, without the teacher to guide you, you have to discipline yourself to study.  That discipline can be extremely difficult, especially when you're plugging through pages and pages of verb conjugations that just don't seem to want to stick in your head.  So if you have the time an money, I would recommend taking a class.  Just remember that if a class is not an option for you right now, you can learn in other ways.  Don't give up.

6. Join a conversation group in your area.  This one may not be an option for everyone.  The town you live in may not have enough people who speak your target language to have a group like this.  And even if they do, finding them may be difficult.  The first place I would go to find out would be  You might just find something, and if you do this is a great opportunity to practice what you have learned.

7. Get a good grammar book.  These are everywhere, and should be easy to find.  My main advice here is to be aware of your level.  If you are just starting out, get a book that clearly states that it teaches basic grammar. You don't want to put too many rules into your head all at once because you'll just get confused and won't remember them.

8. Try language-learning software.  Rosetta Stone is the obvious one here, but there are others.  Some are very expensive, some more affordable.  I have used Rosetta Stone and liked it, but it is not the only method I have used for studying Spanish.  Shop around and find out what will work best for you.

9. Incorporate your target language into your daily life.  What most people think of when they hear this one is tacking sticky notes with vocabulary words all over their house.  That is certainly one way to do it, but there are others.  You could talk to your dog in your target language.  You could use your target language for writing out your shopping list.  If you have small children, you could speak to them in your target language. (I say small children because mine were already school age when I began studying Spanish, and they quickly grew tired of me constantly talking to them in a language they did not understand.)

10. Travel to a country where your target language is spoken.  I saved this one for last because, while it is the best way to learn a language, it is not realistic for everyone.  I have been to a Spanish-speaking country once, and that was over three years ago.  I wish I could go again, but that's just not an option right now.  What I want everyone to know is that, if you are using a few of the above suggestions, international travel is not absolutely necessary.  Fun...yes.  Educational...absolutely.  But not necessary.  So if you want to learn Italian but don't think you'll ever make it to Italy, don't despair.  You can still become fluent in that language.  And if you ever do get to take that trip, you'll be more than ready.

If you are struggling to learn a new language, I hope that these suggestions have been helpful.  Remember, have patience. It can take years, but it's so rewarding. That moment when you're watching television and you realize you can understand ninety percent of what is being said is indescribable.  So pick two or three of these, and start today!

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