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#AmReading Summer 2014


I love to read. Always have, as long as they make glasses strong enough to correct my vision, I expect I always will. At the beginning of each summer I go on a book spree. I pick a book store, or book section of a store I frequent (Target is a favorite), and buy every single book I find interesting. Or at least the top 10 or so. I try to stay away from books I’ve heard much about, tend to allow the titles, cover graphics, and back blurbs draw me in.

Once I get my purchase home, I’m like a kid at Christmas – sorting the books by size, re-reading the jacket cover blurbs, prioritizing the order in which I will read the new stack. This is how I discovered Shelter Me, by Juliette Fay. The story was refreshing. Janie became a real person within the first few pages. A widow, a mother, and eventually a woman finding her next chapter – this was someone I could identify with. I was impressed with the way Juliette incorporated the children into the story. They were not simply there to fill space. They were part of Janie, infiltrated into every aspect of her life. Real. I enjoyed the story and was sorry when it ended.

Jump to a month ago, BookQuest 2014. My intention was slightly different this year.  In the midst of writing my own first novel, I am hungry to read more of what has inspired me thus far. Looking back at my favorites from last year, I searched for anything new from Amy Sue Nathan (The Glass Wives), Kimberley Freeman (Wildflower Hill), Juliette Fay (Shelter Me), Vanessa Diffenbaugh (The Language of Flowers), or Meg Waite Clayton (The Wednesday Sisters).

I was thrilled to find Deep Down True and The Shortest Way Home, both by Juliette Fay. So they are not brand new, better I find these late than never. Partially through Deep Down True, I have not been disappointed. I’m again impressed with the use of the children to bring the story to life. ‘Dana’ just wouldn’t be a real person if not fully developed as a mother. Another trend I notice in Juliette’s writing style is her use of plot twists. There are many instances I find myself holding my breath, expecting to have the rug pulled out from under the latest revealed truth. But the twist ends up being that there is no twist, face value is true. When so many novels these days appear to be written simply to incorporate as many plot twists as the author can squeeze in, whether they advance the story or not, I appreciate this straight forward style.  I look forward to diving into The Shortest Way Home as well, although I’m sure I’ll need a few extra days to let go of Dana and her crew once I reach the end of her story.

I have this crazy habit of extrapolating a particularly good book – allowing the characters to live on for a while after I finish the last page. Imagining what happened after the last word was written, was it really happily ever after, etc. Do you ever do this?

I have a question thought, for anyone else who may have read Deep Down True. There is one sentence in chapter 23 that is bugging me. Completely no big deal, but it keeps coming back to me. Dana and Tina are wrapping up a very uncomfortable phone conversation when Tina says, “The nurse is waiting. Bye.” …and the call ended. What nurse?? What did I miss? Any insight? Please clue me in!

What are you reading this summer? Do your reading tastes change with the season? Leave comments, let me know!

 

 

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Ten Items to Include in Your Hurricane Preparedness Kit


The Atlantic Hurricane season officially starts June 1st of each year and runs through November 30th. But that does not mean that one cannot surprise us and form prior to June 1st. Do not wait until the last minute to prepare. Living the majority of my life on the coast of either the Chesapeake Bay or Atlantic Ocean, I have finally perfected my Hurricane Preparedness Kit, mostly by trial and error, but also with input from the Red Cross. Please use the guidelines below to create your own kit.

Before we begin, please know…

The MOST important item in your Hurricane Preparedness Kit is a good evacuation plan!!!

Having made that clear, your Preparedness Kit will be necessary to take with you if you do need to evacuate, or to keep you and your family comfortably at home if conditions cause you to be without power or water for a period of time.

To construct your preparedness kit, start by selecting a proper container. It should be water tight, large enough to hold all items, but lightweight enough that you can move or carry it if necessary. Next, create an inventory card. This should be laminated or kept in a zip lock plastic baggy. Your Inventory Card should be kept visible at all times and should list all items in the kit.

Your Hurricane Preparedness Kit must contain:

1. Evacuation Plan. This includes a map with multiple routes highlighted, a full tank of gas, and cash. (the gasoline will obviously be in your vehicle gas tank, not in your preparedness kit!) If power is out, ATMs, gas pumps, or any other ‘check out’ device that would normally scan your card will also be down. In an emergency, cash is king.

2. First Aid Kit. This should include absorbent compress dressings/4×4 gauze squares, assorted band aids, cloth tape, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic wipes/alcohol pads, Tylenol, breathing barrier, instant cold pack, non-latex rubber gloves, hydrocortisone ointment, scissors, three elastic bandages of assorted sizes, oral thermometer, two triangular bandages/slings, tweezers, and a First Aid instruction book.

3. Water. A good rule of thumb is one gallon per person per day, and to keep at least a seven day supply on hand. Don’t forget to include pets in the count.

4. Food. Include items that have a long shelf life and are easily prepared/can be eaten without cooking. Remember to look for pop-tops on canned food or to include a hand turned can opener. Also include pet food.

5. Medications. This should be a seven day supply of any prescription and/or over the counter drugs taken regularly.

6. Battery operated radio and flashlights, and extra batteries.

7. Sanitation and personal hygiene items (toilet paper, female products, diapers and wipes for babies, etc.)

8. Copies of personal documents sealed in a zip lock bag, inside two to be safe. This should include birth certificates, social security cards, driver’s licenses, and/or other ID cards, health insurance cards, life insurance papers, lease or mortgage papers, medication list, pertinent medical information and doctor contact list, proof of address, etc.).

9. Cell phones and chargers.

10. Bedding and clothing. A pillow, blanket, and two changes of clothes for each family member. Space Bags are great for storing these. Place all items inside bag, zip closed and remove excess air with your household vacuum. The bag will now lay nearly flat and can be placed in the bottom of your preparedness kit.

Now that you have gathered your supplies and created your preparedness kit, it is important to get in the habit of reviewing the contents a couple times a year (going down your inventory card will be helpful) and rotating the supplies as needed. Remember to change out water, make sure food items are still good and in good condition, clothes still fit, and so on.

Notes:

1) This list contains the absolute basic necessities. Please add anything additional needed by you or your family members.

2) Although we are labeling this a ‘Hurricane’ preparedness kit for the purpose of this article, this is a basic survival kit and should be kept on hand by every household, regardless of location. Rename it your Blizzard Survival Kit, or your Blackout Preparedness kit, or whatever may best fit the unforeseen situations that are possible where you live. The important thing is to be prepared.

3) I have recently added two blue plastic tarps and several rolls of duct tape, and a hammer and several assorted screwdrivers and pliers to my personal kit.

Get A Life!


An old acquaintance got in touch with me a few days ago, we hadn’t talked in several years. Parts of the conversation are still rolling around in my head. That typically means I have something to share.  I believe this is it:

I did not hate my job. I was one of the lucky ones, I thought, that enjoyed working. I was in a position that allowed me to constantly learn additional skills. As the years passed I grew, I thrived. I was proud of sleeping only 5 hrs per night. I welcomed running back to the office to approve projects or make last minute decisions for several departments – all hours of the night and weekend. My motto’s became ‘I thrive on impossible deadlines,’ and ‘My great joy is making order out of chaos.’ To be referred to as anal was a compliment. I loved the career I had built in a mid-sized national corporation. Every life decision I made revolved around the job. Then cancer pulled out the rug, and nailed me to the floor. The dust has settled and I find myself permanently retired on disability. There are 24 hours in each day, and 7 of them each and every week! What the heck am I supposed to do to fill the time? When they told me to get a life, I should have listened.

My message? Enjoy your job, earn money, learn and grow your career. But above all, make sure you GET A LIFE. When the job is gone, what will you be left with?

Is Your Computer Hurting Your Health?


Neck and back pain is on the rise as portable computers are becoming more popular than the standard desktop variety. In the excitement to buy our first personal computer and set up a home office, most of us were conscious of proper ergonomics – an appropriate chair set at the correct height, the monitor set up on phone books or actual monitor stand to raise it to accurate eye level, a keyboard and mouse that fit the natural curve of our hands, and whatever else was advertised as necessary.

Unfortunately, the convenience and portability of the laptop, notebook, netbook, and now tablet has pushed the thought of ergonomics far from our minds. And we are paying for it with pain.

Even when placed on a desk, the distance between a laptop monitor and keyboard is not sufficient for proper physical alignment. This is causing us to hold our heads at awkward angles, hunch forward at the shoulder, and leave our elbows floating in the air unsupported. But how many of us place our laptops in front of us on a desk or table? Be honest, we can usually be seen balancing the computer on our knees as we contort over it. And if you wear glasses, specifically with bifocal lenses, some of the positions needed to utilize the ultra-convenient laptop can rival those seen in Cirque du Soleil.

This can be completely comfortable and have no lasting damage – if done in small doses. However, according to an article published by UNC School of Medicine, repeated and prolonged use can lead to debilitating physical problems ranging from sore muscles to repetitive stress injuries.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons agrees, and gives the following suggestions to set up a proper computer workstation to include a standard desktop pc:

Chair: Position so that your knees, hips, and thighs are horizontal with feet rested flat on floor or footrest; seat should be padded and an inch or more wider than your hips, tapering down so that it does not touch the back of knees.

Desktop: Height should be level with elbows when seated, legs should fit comfortably underneath; keyboard should be one to two inches above thighs.

Monitor: Placement may vary slightly for each individual, but goal is to prevent eye, neck, and shoulder fatigue and strain. An arms length, anywhere from 20 to 26 inches away from face when seated; and raised or lowered so that the top of the viewing area is at eye level when looking straight ahead is usually most comfortable. Height and distance should be adjusted as needed based on individual’s vision.

Laptops, notebooks, and other portable personal computers are wonderfully convenient for checking emails, viewing funny cat videos, and doing a little shopping but are not a replacement for a solid, well-planned workstation complete with ergonomically situated desktop pc.

Your body with thank you.

Four Tips for Writing Online


The World Wide Web has opened up many new opportunities for aspiring writers to see their by-line in print. A writer for years, but yet to be published, I decided to take advantage of this and experience the thrill of seeing my words online. Four primary lessons I have taken away from the experience are as follows:

1. Blogs – Perhaps the best-known vehicle for getting your thoughts recorded for all to see on the internet is by blogging. There are many sites that will allow you to start your own blog, will furnish stylish templates, provide hosting, statistics, and all needed support – for free. There are as many types of blogs as there are people with imaginations. Some dedicate their writing space to discuss their children, some focus on home repairs, or health concerns, or what they ate or wore to the park that day. Once you have a number of followers, you can easily offer space on your blog to advertisers – and get paid for it.

2. Content Contributors – A slightly less known opportunity is to sign up as a content contributor for one of many well-known sites. Most allow you to submit articles on the topic of your choice for publication. The compensation for your articles varies from site to site. Some offer a small monetary payment based on the number of views your article receives, some pay a small set dollar amount. Other sites do not pay but are valuable for the exposure you receive. If you aspire to become a published author in the ink and paper world, this is not a bad place to start building a name for yourself.

3. Social Media Regardless of where you write your words, no one will read them if they do not know they exist. Always thinking SEO and keywords when you title your article and write your introduction paragraph will give it a fighting chance of being found in a web search, but you must learn to market yourself on social media. This means using Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon,Tumblr, and the like to spread the word each time you publish something new. It is also important to be a good neighbor. This means finding and reading other folks writing on the subjects that interest you and leaving appropriate comments. These folks will typically return the favor, increasing your readership.

4. Reputation – Perhaps more than in person, your online reputation is everything. All anyone has to form an opinion of you by online is what he or she sees your name attached to. If you wish to be taken seriously as a writer, it is important that everything you write, every tweet you send or retweet, be something your readers would expect of you. Once you have lost a follower, they are unlikely to return.

 

Family Vacation Destination – Virginia Beach


Wondering where to take your family on vacation this year? Although you may be tempted to look for an all inclusive family package vacation, or a discount vacation destination, you may be better served to find a location that meets the needs and desires of the entire family – a la carte, and at a reasonable price.

Location – If your goal is a vacation packed with family fun with activities both parents and kids will
enjoy, consider Virginia Beach, Virginia. Located directly on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Beach is an easy two day drive from the southern tip of Florida or the Northern tip on Maine. Minutes from the Norfolk International Airport in neighboring Norfolk, Virginia Beach is easily accessible to all, allowing your family to spend the maximum number of days relaxing in the sun instead of traveling to get there!

Beaches – Complimenting the sun and relaxing fun on its miles of free public beach, Virginia Beach offers three miles of boardwalk to enjoy. In addition to the well-tended pavement, benches, and amazing views of the ocean, the 28-foot wide boardwalk includes a separate path for bicycling and rollerblading. Bicycles and surrey rentals are available from local vendors conveniently placed along the way.

Resort – Atlantic Avenue is the main road that travels the length of the resort strip and is occupied on both sides with hotels of every cost and level of luxury; restaurants offering fine dining, fast food, step up window service, and every variety in between. Dispersed between accommodations and eateries are many attractions you would expect from a coastal resort – surf and gift shops, fun photo boutiques, a retro style amusement park; and some you may not expect such as haunted houses, fine jewelry stores, and an art gallery offering amazing local talent.

Attractions – Slightly off the main resort strip, Virginia Beach offers other family friendly attractions such as the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center and Ocean Breeze Waterpark, Captain Jacks Pirate Ship Adventures, the Rudee Rocket speedboat thrill ride, and parasailing with Air America Parasail, and several large scale miniature golf courses.

In Season – Depending on the timing of your vacation, you and your family may enjoy one of several local’s favorite events including the Virginia Beach Patriotic Festival, the 55th Annual Boardwalk Art Show and Festival, Sandstock (think Woodstock but family friendly), Hardee’s Latin Fest, the Rock ‘n’ Roll 5k and the East Coast Surfing Championship to name just a few. The boardwalk area is also host to many free concerts, wine festivals, and local art displays through out the summer months.

Off Season – If you prefer to plan your vacation slightly off-season, the Neptune Festival in late September is great fun offering something for every member of the family. Usually scheduled the last weekend of September, it includes an annual International Sandsculpting Championship (you have to see it to believe it!), the Neptune Art and Craft Show, and open-air concerts to meet every musical taste. The entire boardwalk and beach area is transformed with tents and kiosks offering a variety of foods, crafts, and entertainment.

Consider Virginia Beach for your family vacation this year. Truly something for everyone – newlyweds or new parents wanting to start an annual family tradition, parents wrangling unpredictable toddlers, or weary parents trying to get a spark of emotion from sulky teens – Virginia Beach will meet your family vacation needs!

Information on Virginia Beach, Va gathered from vbbound.com, VB Neptune Festival, ECSC 2014, and 30+ years of being proud to call myself a local.

Meditation for Beginners: In 7 Easy Steps


Meditation is a term that is often misunderstood. Meditation is simply the act of purposely relaxing your body and mind to release stress to achieve a desired outcome, usually clear thinking, calm demeanor, and better health. Sound good?

Styles of Meditation – There are as many types or styles of meditation as there are people it seems, and just as many reasons to do it – purposeful imagery to draw positive energy to a specific outcome, opening the mind for particular insight or resolution, healing of a specific condition, and so on. We are not going to go that deep, rather simply learn to accomplish the basics. Once you become comfortable with this process you may want to research a bit on your own and try some of the styles and techniques that are popular these days. Our only goal in this process is to achieve focused relaxation, so feel free to accommodate any of these steps to your personal needs.

How to Meditate

1. Sit or lie on your back in a comfortable, secure spot. The floor is best, but an armchair will do as long as it is sturdy, comfortable, and you fit in it well – no chance of toppling out of it if you reach a completely Zen state.
2. Regardless of position, your goal is to expand your middle section, either sitting tall and straight or laying flat with your arms and legs gently extended.
3. Once comfortably seated (we will use ‘seated’ for the sake of this article) with your middle section gently expanded, quiet your mind. No heroic efforts needed here, it is difficult to do at first but try it. Pay attention to your breathing.
4. Place one hand gently on your stomach, the other lightly on your chest. Notice them going up and down with each breath you take. Just concentrate on feeling them, up and down, up and down.
5. Next, try to feel the air coming in and out of you. For the moment you can breathe through your nose or your mouth, which ever feels most natural for you. Once you feel a steady rhythm to your breathing, try to breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. Do this several times until it feels very comfortable, natural, and relaxed.
6. The next step is called belly breathing. Try to fill your belly with air as you breathe in, concentrate on your stomach rising on inhale, falling as you exhale. Do this for several minutes, until you are able to push every stray though from your mind and are concentrating fully on the breath entering and exiting your body. Feel your entire body relax. You may feel as if you are sinking into the chair or floor; or you may feel light, as if gravity has left you.
7. Continue to breath. Your breathing may slow and become deeper. Your heart rate will slow, and stress will simply melt away.

This is meditation in its simplest form. Try to do this for 15 – 20 minutes daily, each day for a week. You should notice a decrease in any feelings of depression, a significant improvement in stress level, and a general feeling of well being. It’s worth the effort.

The information above is gathered from Project-Meditation.org,StopandBreathe.com, and my personal experience. I began meditating a few years ago in an attempt to lessen negative side effects of cancer treatment. It has since become a part of my daily routine, can’t imagine starting a day without it.