November Reads and Listens

By the start of November, I had already to reached my Goodreads Book Challenge goal of 57 this year and I was starting to feel a little burned out. My hardcopy books were becoming harder for me to get in reading, We had friends come visit for an overnight– we haven’t had people come visit in I-don’t-remember-how-long, then there was Thanksgiving and my birthday. So I was tired at night, more so than usual and I wasn’t able to read as much or for as long. This was one of my initial problems when it came to reading actual physical books.

I decided to listen to a short story by Alice Hoffman. I have enjoyed other books by her so I decided to give this one a listen. The title intrigued me and I have been thinking about my mother who died in February this year.

Everything My Mother Taught Me by Alice Hoffman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is a great example of how big messages can come in small packages. Everything My Mother Taught Me is a powerful quick listen – under an hour, packing a punch. A story about a young girl who learns the toughest lessons early on.

Mark, my other half and I have been meditating daily for the past 254 consecutive days. This year, we have set an intentional routine for ourselves which includes: morning coffee while listening to short lectures by meditation teachers on an app called Insight Timer which I highly recommend. I started using this app about 5 years ago when a very traumatic event occurred in my life. Since then I have mediated on and off a total 485 days, the last 254 consecutively for an overall total of 13.7k minutes. The lectures have covered topics such as learning about the the basics of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, learning about the sacred power of Shakti, the power of Tao and simply given more tools to mindfully managing stress and anxiety.

After our lecture, coffee and moving meal we will gather our Zafu Zabuton Set, light some candles and settle down with the dogs around us for a mediation session which will last on average 30 minutes, 20 minutes of which will be in silent mediation. This has helped both of us tremendously in calming our minds and nerves during these very unsettling times.

A number of times different philosophers were quoted or discussed a little and this is what brought me around to listening to Sophie’s World. I have the paperback version of this book but the text is small and I decided to listen to it instead, fearing that I would be battling the act of actually reading the text rather than absorbing what was being said. The book had been recommended to me almost ten years ago and now after having finished it, I wish I had read it sooner.

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was a great book – which I know I will come back to again – it’s the type of book I just feel I will read/listen to more than one time. Jostein Gaarder does a magnificent job sending us down the rabbit-hole where through the adventures of Sophie and her philosophy teacher, Alberto where we are given a nice light brief history of philosophy without going so deep that you drown in all that you could with each of the philosophers and philosophies that you cold possibly get lost in.

This book sets it up so that if there is something that you would like to explore further, you can made note and further delve into that in other books. Sophie’s World is written for middle school aged children, so that it would spark their curiosity and possibly open the door to further explorations into our existence.

The book is a lengthy 16 hours and 53 minutes but the narrator, Simon Vance does a fantastic job.
Highly recommend!

With the Christmas season upon us, I know I am slowing down a bit as we head into the end of this year. I have been hard at work on my illustrations which you can see on my art Instagram @segalascreatives. I am also in the editing stages of a book that I have been working on which once it has been tighten up I will hopefully preview with you, as I am working on getting it published. The book is about my dogs – I don’t have a title yet, I just keep referring to it as the dog book.

Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror, despite the fact that the oil is still in the deep fryer in the garage and the turkey soup is frozen on the screened in porch. Christmas decorations are already up, gifts are almost all purchased and yesterday I remembered to order a few Christmas desserts and cookies so the meal will be complete. The rest of the month I will continue to work on my illustrations, book and end the year by reading and listening to some good books.


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February/March AudioBook Club

It’s hard to believe it’s March already. The last month has been somewhat of a blur to me. A week into the month, my son called to tell me that he hurt his knee while sitting on his air mattress which has been doubling for a couch while he waits for the couch he ordered in December to arrive. The good news is that we learned just yesterday that it is scheduled for delivery the last Friday of this month. Finally.

Me and Mom

The second week of the month started with my mother experiencing her second stroke in 5 months – this stroke ultimately took her life 5 days later. Since then we have said our goodbyes to her as a family graveside and with extended friends and extended family via a zoom memorial. I miss my long conversations with her and now continue to grieve. It will take some time but life goes on.

I have been reminded of that fact this last week as I have been consumed with dealing with my son’s knee surgery and having to care for him during his recovery. My mother always said ‘the job of a parent isn’t ever really fully done.’ She was always there for me when I needed her and I will always be there for my kids when and if they need my help. In the last 7 days, I have averaged 3.4 miles of walking and 10 flights of stairs daily in my own house simply running around, going up and down the stairs (the house unfortunately is not set up with a first floor bedroom). My left knee hurts a little bit.

I find listening to my books to be such a relief. It’s my me-time. I have been downloading my tax forms and filing stuff from last year that never got filed in 2020. I haven’t felt very artistic lately but I am trying to relax and get back into the routine of drawing.

I listened to 2 books in February, the first was a title I had in my library for a while and as part of my resolution to read the older titles in my library and stop accumulating more books – which I still do anyway – I finally tackled it. I am so glad I did too! Beneath a Scarlet Sky is a phenomenal story by Mark T. Sullivan. The audiobook which I listened to is narrated by Will Damron and runs 17 hours and 43 minutes and is just amazing! Wow! I found this to be a fascinating book.

“It all made Pino realize that the earth did not know war, that nature would go on no matter what horror one man might inflict on another. Nature didn’t care a bit about men and their need to kill and conquer.

Mark T. Sullivan, Beneath a Scarlet Sky

The story is about the remarkable life of Pino Lello, a young boy from Italy during WWII. I was on the edge of my seat plenty of times throughout the story. I highly recommend this read to anyone who is interested in history and adventures. 5 Stars.

I decided to switch gears afterwards and listened to another Taylor Jenkins Reid novel – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I found this book to drag in areas, granted that’s a lot of husbands to go through. Overall the plot is interesting and Evelyn Hugo character who I found to be very deep and complex. However, the character of Monique annoyed me bit. She seemed a bit whiny at times and I don’t like hanging out with whiny people and I have begun to notice I don’t like books as much that feature whiny protagonists. The book is narrated by Alma Cuervo, Julia Whelan and Robin Miles and runs 12 hours and 10 minutes. 3.5 Stars.

I am able to focus so much better on things and block out all the external clutter of the world which has been great lately. I continue to listen to The Word of Promise Audio Book, New King James Version which is narrated by Michael York, Jason Alexander, Joan Allen, Richard Dreyfus, Louis Gossett, Malcolm McDowell Jr., Gary Sinese, Marisa Tomei and Stacy Keach. This behemoth runs 98 hours and 1 minute. I’m only 2 hours 26 minutes into it so far but I have enjoyed listening to it. I have only read parts of the Bible and it is one of my resolutions to complete.

I began the March with A Burning: A Novel by Megha Majumdar. A classmate of mine who now lives in Australia recommended the book. The audiobook runs only 7 hours and 22 minutes and is narrated by Vikas Adam, Priya Ayyar, Deepti Gupta, Soneela Nankani, Neil Shah and Ulka Simone Monhanty who all take on the voices of the various characters features in this story about class, corruption, justice and the individual roads fated in life.

I found this to be an interesting glimpse into a different culture. The characters are unique and captivating – yet, all somewhat relatable despite living in a country where societal norms differ greatly from those in the western cultures. I felt frustrated for Jivan and Lovely and what they endure as women in India.

Many years ago I would have been asking why is this happening? But now I am knowing that there is no use in asking these questions. In life, many things happen for no reason at all.

Megha Majumdar, A Burning: A Novel

I thoroughly enjoyed the The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Since finishing it, there are descriptive scenes which have stayed with me and I thought about repeatedly. I love old fairy tales and I love the idea of taking a children’s story and turning it into a novel. I loved the passages about the landscape and I found the characters to be as deep and full as the Alaskan snows they endured. I highly recommend this book to readers who are interested in adventures in the Alaskan wilderness with a touch of old fashioned fairy tale weaved into a modern day story of love and survival. 4 stars.

Currently I have started to listen to The Garden of Evening Mists by Tang Twan Eng, a recommendation from my cousin who first heard about the book from my Aunt. My cousin raved about it and thought I would enjoy since I love nature and gardening so much. I’ll let you know what I think about it next time.

Happy Reading –
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin

Meditation

For the last five years or so, we have been trying to get in the habit of mediating. We’d be on a roll for a while and then something would interrupt our flow and we wouldn’t mediate, then we’d try again but never been able to make it stick.

This year has been different, in more ways than one. We’ve been meditating on a fairly regular basis this year. The quarantine kicked it into high gear, and we are on a regular roll. I found mediating particularly helpful in early March when the shit was hitting the fan for our family in more ways than the lockdown and COVID19. Our family was dealing with some personal stuff which highlighted to me how life continued despite the quarantine. I found that there were more moments where I started to feel panicky, the anxiety levels were entering uncharted territory. Mark and I weren’t able to be together for three weeks (one week away, two weeks in quarantine) – away from me and the kids. He’d been out in the Petri dish, we had to be cautious.

It was during this time that I clung to my meditation sessions although I had altered when I did them. Mark and I always start our day out with mediation but during that time we were separated I needed to mediate at night when I was alone in our bed. I never have trouble sleeping – it drives Mark insane since I can fall asleep in the midsentence while talking to him in bed at night. He needs to read and unwind. My head hits the pillow and I’m out cold. By 8pm. I wake anytime between 4am and 5am usually though.

But in mid-March when everything was so uncertain, I needed help falling asleep as my mind would race with all sorts of thoughts. I turned to my mediation app which I knew had nighttime, help you fall asleep mediations. I need guidance to help settle my mind.

The app we use, Insight Timer has all sorts of meditations that you can easily filter the length of time, whether you want background music or not, whether you prefer a male or a female voice, the benefits you seek, etc…They also offer courses and after over a year of using the app, we have decided to give a try. Later this morning we will do Day 8 of our 10-day course, each day has been building upon the next; teaching us how to body scan and different visualization techniques. It also keeps track of how much we’ve mediated and rewards us with milestones that help encourage you on your progress. Since using the app, I’ve meditated for a total of 2.5k minutes and reached 7 milestones. One of which is 128 days with at least one session and another being that I have meditated 23 consecutive days. I believe that is a record for me. As I said doing it everyday in the beginning was the challenge as we worked towards working it into our routine.

Since Mark has been out of quarantine, we have gone back to our usual morning sessions. My daughter would join us in the mornings when she was here – sometimes coming downstairs to sit with us in the family room while we meditated, other times simply joining in from her bedroom upstairs as she would sometimes wake up to our sessions. I’d love to get my son more involved as I know it would be a good habit for him to get into. He was usually sound asleep when we meditated. We have found our sweet spot to be around 7am before 8am when the phone starts to ring and we start off our work day. We work from home, so we have control over the schedule but have found it best to get things started earlier than latter here in the homestead.

Life is always about having to deal with unknowns, they just aren’t usually on the intensity level that they have been recently. Life will always throw you curve balls and you just try to deal with them a pitch at a time. The mediation sessions have helped me deal with each pitch, by helping me to take a step back, take a deep breath and calm my mind and my body which has allowed me to take on the challenges of life a little more effectively.

In the Hen House – The Mystery of the Disappearing Xylophone

It will be three weeks this Sunday since getting our four Rhode Island Red pullets. It’s been an eggciting week here as we have had a total of 9 eggs laid since Monday. We thought we had narrowed it down to two of the girls, but that third egg yesterday made us think three hens were laying. But today we only got two eggs – so maybe they are all laying and take a day off every so often. They just started laying their eggs for the first time, so they are still figuring things out I’m guessing, as am I.

I’ve had so much fun watching them in the outdoor run hop around on the old wood ladder we never got around to putting in the wood furnace this winter. So glad it was too big to throw in and too lazy to fetch the sawz-all to slice it up, The chickens love it! After seeing that some enjoy sitting up on a swing, I made one out of some parachute cord and a thin piece of wood, also not burned this season.

Decorating the outdoor run with old logs and rocks has been so fun and I love watching them climb and hop around on all the obstacles I provided for them. As a new chicken mama, I couldn’t help but buy them a couple of toys as well. I read that they enjoy pecking at a xylophone, so about two weeks ago I bought a colorful, cheap xylophone and threw it in the outdoor run. They only seemed to peck at it when I tossed some grass on top of it and as they pecked at the grass it chimed a little. Not a lot. Occasionally one of them would walk on it and cause it to click, clack for a second.

A couple of days ago, I was in the outdoor run tidying things up when I noticed that the xylophone was gone. I had been raking their dust bath area and adding in more wood ash from our outdoor wood furnace and herbs from our garden, so I was pretty certain they hadn’t buried it somehow. But how could that happen? I had Mark take a look too just in case I missed it somehow. He didn’t find it either and is a little concerned about potential poltergeists with weird musical tastes now.

Photographic evidence of the missing xylophone

There is no way that an animal like a chipmunk or anything else could have dragged it out. We both just checked for breaches in our runs security – no breaches. This seems like a case for Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsie Twins perhaps!

Monday Morning Eggcitement!

This morning when I went out to the see the girls, I discovered the first of what I hope to be the first of many eggs. I was so excited, like a little girl who just got her Barbie Dream House excited. What an unbelievable feeling! I realize I didn’t actually lay the egg but wow! This is very cool for a first time chicken mama who was born and raised in NYC, let me tell you.

So excited, I went out about an hour later to reward the girls with some dandelion leaves when I noticed Gertrude was in the nesting box. So I gave her some privacy and returned 15 minutes or so later to discover she had laid an egg. So we collected our first two eggs ever today. Who the other layer is eggactly I’m not sure since there are three other candidates.

Gertrude

Happy Birthday Boomer and Gunner!

My boys turned three today! It’s so hard to believe they are three. Where did the time go? We were all going to go on a boat ride today and when we were exiting the car, Gunner jumped out and ran into the street. Thankfully the truck that was coming near didn’t hit him. He saw what was going on and slowed. I was able to get a hold of Gunner in time to pull him back to far side of the car and take a breath. That dog still hasn’t figured out how to use his noggin and almost had it flattened as a result!

I needed to take a deep breath and steady my nerves. I still had Boomer to get out of the car. Mark had Marley who was whining once we parked the car and was so anxious to exit the car she practically trambelled Mark on the way out. Boomer thankfully was well behaved although excited, he knew where we going. They all knew where we going from the time I put their life jackets on back at the house before leaving.

My baby boys at 9 weeks old

Watching Boomer and Gunner grow and mature these last three years has been a fantastic experience. Although they are littermates, they each have their own unique personality. We were all able to settle into a routine among the rest of the pack. When they joined our family we had three other dogs: Artemis, Winston and Marley. Artemis and Winston died within the first six months. They were 14-1/2 and 15 years old respectively. Each one taught the puppies something about being in a pack.

Currently, the pack is three with Marley, our six year old mixed shepherd with the occasional visits from grand dogs Kona and Blue who both just spent ten weeks with us due to COVID-19. I like the pack at this size knowing that the others dogs will be coming and going the way they do. Kona spends the most time with us but on occasion goes on an adventure with her father.

Three years old today

Three years seems to have whizzed by. The boys have learned so much but obviously still have so much more to learn. They have learned to simply watch the chickens and not run around all crazy barking at them, thankfully that got old quickly. Happy Birthday Boomer and Gunner and here’s to many more years together!

Adjusting To the New Norm

My daughter just called, she returned to her home today and has safely arrived. She has been here with me at my house for the last two months. About 10 weeks ago she sustained a concussion which considering the quarantine, we thought it better for her to be home on the mountain. It was already difficult enough to get food for someone who could deal with masking up and possibly having to wait in lines outside the store because they only allow a certain amount of people in the supermarket. Plus all the anxiety that the quarantine initially caused made it an easy decision to bring her home. She needed to be in a dark room and completely shut down which she had not been able to do on her own in her curtainless house. It’s just that at the time we were all in a bit of denial as to how long this lockdown could actually be and what it ultimately would mean for all of us in the near term and medium term, let alone the long term.

I am anxious about her returning to her home two hours away. She’s anxious but excited. Thankfully she has her dog, Blue to keep her company. In a few weeks, she will be called back to work at the retail store that she had started about a month before the quarantine. There will be retraining and work to be done to change the store for the new norm. It will be good for her to see her co-workers again. Soon after that they will reopen the doors to the public. She’ll be exposed to people, strangers – something that I never considered the way I do right now before this pandemic: the total amount of people we come across in our normal daily lives. At this point in my life, I don’t come see a lot of people on a daily basis anymore. But that was my choice and it had nothing to do with the pandemic, more to do with the fact that I prefer dogs (and now chickens) to most people.

I was born and raised in New York City and lived there the first quarter of my life before easing myself out of the crowded city. When I think about the number of people that I used to see on a daily basis – in my building, on the bus and subway, at work, after work, hanging with my friends in crowded bars and clubs…The crowds I’ve been in at Grateful Dead shows…hugging everybody.

But leaving all that was my choice. But for my kids, they don’t get as much of a choice right now and this experience will change their future choices most likely. I love New York City but I just couldn’t live there anymore. and had left New York City before 9/11 but lived within commuting distance at the time. Although relieved not to be in the city on that tragic day, I remember thinking that ultimately I would need to move further away someday.

Last night, my son sent me an article about how ‘tidal wave’ of people from the city are frantically looking for houses in Connecticut now. Being in quarantine has made a lot people reassess where they really want to be when the shit hits the fan scenarios come up. I am exactly where I want to be and this pandemic has reinforced what I good decision I made four years ago in moving up here.

I am grateful for the time we have spent together these last eight weeks. Eight more weeks of waking up under the same roof together, being able to give my little girl a hug when the feeling struck. Fumbling around working together in the garden, watching our TV shows, making cookies together or playing a game together. Time I never imagined being alloted. Now I don’t know exactly when I will see her. She has a lot to do in getting back to where she lives, settling back in and into some sort of new routine in the place she has chosen to call home. There is one less in the pack at home now, two actually including Blue of course, her faithful mini Aussie companion.

It wasn’t easy the first time she left the nest and after such a long visit under these stressful conditions, it hasn’t gotten any easier. I just take comfort in knowing that she knows she has a place here at our home on the mountain where she and Blue are always welcome for however long — or short they want to stay.

Daily Word Prompt

A New Door Has Opened

About a week ago I walked through a new door to a new chapter in my life – raising chickens. So far five days in all seems to be doing well. I had four Rhode Island Red pullets which are 18 weeks old. I am told they could be laying eggs sometime in the next couple of weeks.

The first few days in their new hen house, they have spent getting to know the place. The weather has been cold for May as we have had snow and two freeze warnings in the last week and it’s been windy, blowing the dogs off the chain for days making the temperatures feel like it was mid-February. Every morning around 5am I head out to the hen house to check on the ladies and open their door to the outside run which is enclosed with chicken wire and hardware cloth.

On Tuesday, I was sitting on the blue painter’s bucket I had flipped over to use as my perch so that I could spend some time getting to know my chickens. I sat in the corner watching and photographing them as they pecked around at the food and jumped on the roost. Then there was a moment when they were all down by the food near the door to their run when two of them poked their heads out and walked down the plank to the grass. The third one quickly followed suit and then the fourth. The fourth one who is the only one to have a nickname so far of Khaleesi/White Pants. She gained the nickname Khaleesi after having been pushed on the swing and held on for dear life as my friend’s seven year old rocked the swing wildly back and forth. They had been the ones to get the pullets and were dropping off the four we wanted and they were keeping another 8.

I’ve never been around chickens but I figure like any animal they need some time to acclimate to their new environment. On the other side of the door to the hen house are our dogs. They stare through the glass door to the hen house which depending on the time of day and lighting, reflects back their own images. They can smell them though and unbelievably one curious girl came out to check the dogs out.

The morning that they all four walked out the door of the hen house and into their backyard enclosed run, I was so happy. New doors were opening up for all of us and we just have to trust our instincts about when it is the right time for to walk through those doors.

Leaving the Hen House

This post is my Wednesday Challenge – The Door.

I Became a Chicken Mama Today!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there! Today I became a chicken mama of four Rhode Island Reds. I’m so excited and a little nervous too as I’ve never raised chickens before. So this is completely uncharted waters for me. But I’m psyched to learn.

Next Chapter in Life: Chicken Farming

So we are getting chickens today! We have been thinking about raising chickens for a little while now. Our house came with a chicken coop/goat shed which we have been using as a garden shed these last four years.

About three weeks ago a good friend of ours, Dennis told us he was getting 12 chickens and wanted to know if we’d want four of them. “Absolutely!“ came out of my mouth quicker than my brain registered what I was saying. “Great, I have to go pick them up sometime mid-May.” Two days ago we ALL found out mid-May actually meant Mother’s Day weekend, including Dennis who is still has to build his entire coop for the 8 chickens he’s holding on to!

When Mark told me the chickens were coming this weekend, my mind instantly flashed to the I Love Lucy episode when Lucy and Ricky had moved out to Connecticut and became chicken farmers. I remember Lucy and Ethel running around with all those hundreds of baby chicks. Luckily, I’m only starting off with four chickens.

Luckily, three days ago we started to clean our garden shed out. I needed to get the Tower Gardens (aeroponic systems) set up anyway and the shed needed to be completely emptied out. Mark is ‘spatial man’ so the goat shed is now the garden shed and the Tower Gardens will have to find a new home for winter. Right this second, they are being snowed on as we are having an unseasonal snowstorm that has dumped about three inches so far.

Mark working on the outside run for the chickens

Thankfully yesterday was a beautiful day to work outside. The temperatures were cool at first but once you got working, vests and jackets were shed. I was so impressed with my daughter, Samantha yesterday. She’s such a good worker and since she’s been recovering from a concussion she sustained three months ago now, it was even better that she had no symptoms reappear. Fingers crossed, since it’s been a rollercoaster.

Mark and Sam working on the frame for the run

Sam helped Mark with constructing the outdoor chicken run. We have dogs so I wanted to make sure that the chickens have their own area to hangout during the day where they will be safe from our dogs and other predators like hawks. The chicken coop was already positioned inside our already chain link fenced area which should help keep them safer as well. Eventually, I’ll gate off the side yard so they can free-range a little more but be safe from the dogs.

Sam attaching the chicken wire to the frame

Since Dennis first mentioned the chickens, I have been all over Pinterest, joined every chicken raising group on Facebook and Instagram so that I can educate myself on what exactly is needed to raise chickens. A poop board was something I quickly saw was highly recommended to have. Chickens shit a lot and that poop is awesome to add to our garden compost. I knew I would have to deal with this, so I built a poop board for the roost. I’m learning all sorts of new vocabulary in this endeavor. Roost, poop board, layers… Thankfully I found a guide to help me get up to speed.

Everything we used to build the coop with the exception of the two post holders and the chicken wire was lumber we had here at Marleywood. That’s what we named our little piece of paradise here on the mountain four years ago when we move up here. It’s also the name of our company that we named after our dog, Marley.

I’m excited and nervous at the same time about getting the chickens. We’ll be receiving four Rhode Island Reds which from my limited reading I understand to be a good breed of layers and should expect 150-250 eggs per year each hen! Plus we aren’t getting chicks, Dennis said they’d be laying eggs in a couple of weeks, so they’re not babies. But from what I understand their not hens yet, since hens officially are over a year old. So I’m not really sure what their called – pullets I think, since that’s the term for a chicken under 1 years old.

I know I have a lot to learn and I’m excited about it! Who thought at the age of 55 years old I’d be entering this new world?! I know my 3 siblings are all probably shaking their heads. Our Nana grew up on a chicken farm in Georgia; her spirit is probably laughing right now. I just hope my ancestors passed a little of their chicken farming blood down to me. And if anybody reading this has any advice, I’m open to hearing about your experiences and what you’ve learned about the do’s and don’ts of raising chickens. I’m going to need all the help I can get.