Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Sorry, What? I Was Thinking About Flowers: Gardening Therapy

(These are "Cut and Come Again" zinnias that I grew in pots on my deck.)

For the last few years, I've been increasingly into decorative gardening and landscaping, especially in the late spring and early summer. This year, however, I've become really fanatical about it. Although it's a great hobby just on its own merits, it's serving another purpose for me, too: a partial antidote to feeling dejected about politics and worried about the future of our environment. I can go outside, get absorbed in the work of planting pretty things, and then be able to watch them expand over time. 

I'm trying to make my yards really wildlife-friendly, so I don't get the "perfect" results one might expect from using pesticides and weed-killers. I don't really think of that weed-free, bug-free effect as perfect, though. I like a more casual, natural look, and apparently so do the birds, because every morning there's a chorus of I don't even know how many kinds of birds, and I love it. I've seen a monarch butterfly in my back yard twice, recently, and a hummingbird once, even though I don't have a hummingbird feeder. There are at least two rabbits that hop around toward the overgrown back of my back yard, and eat the dandelions. I also see three chipmunks that get on my nerves a bit, but they have as much right to live as I do, so I'm working on scent-based strategies to keep them from digging up certain spots. 

I'm also not in any way a fan of grass lawns. Look, if you want to spend hours every week out there with loud machines that make noise and fumes, and fight the never-ending and expensive battle to keep out every last weed, that's your business - although others also get to hear the noise and smell the fumes, fyi. I'm putting my effort into gradually replacing my grass with low ground-cover plants like mini-clover, which only grows four to six inches tall and also pulls nitrogen into the soil, or creeping jenny, which likes shade and also brightens up shady spots with its green-yellow color and pretty foliage. This process is definitely a lot of work for now, but over time it will lead to less work, and (in my opinion) look more interesting than big, flat expanses of grass. I am also breaking up the flat expanses with perennial flower beds and shrubs arranged so that there are curving, flowing paths through the back yard, with something different to look at from every angle. And, since I'm aware that this is not the favored type of landscaping in my neighborhood, I'm also trying to plant things to close off the yard pleasantly - not a solid wall, but a soft and nice-looking enclosure. 


Have you ever heard the expression "if you want to make an omelette, you have to break some eggs?" This applies to my efforts in so many ways. I could actually spend a couple of days each week going around and dealing with weeds and volunteer trees and even nice plants that are overgrown, and then by the time I got all the way back around to the beginning, it would be almost as bad as when I started. That would be soul-crushing, and the yard wouldn't end up looking prettier. So I've been trying to alternate between types of project: plant some pretty things in a bare spot; cut the "lawn" (which could in some places be more accurately described as a "weed farm"); get a life and some rest for a couple days; work on harder and less-fun projects like cutting down small trees and (soon) pulling out the bricks from a super-ugly old patio remnant; and then reward myself with getting to plant some new things again, next time the budget allows. Oh, and sometimes I actually sit on the shady patio for a while in the morning and just enjoy being outside.

If this sounds to you like my new full-time job, you're not entirely wrong, but it's more of a part-time job. It's time-sensitive. The more I can get done in the warm months this year, the better the situation will be next year, and - more importantly - the less time I will spend fretting about what deeply unpleasant actions might come blasting out of the current government next. I'm still Doing the Thing I mentioned in my last post, but I'm taking advantage of the good weather to do this additional gardening thing outside when I can.

Monday, May 21, 2018

I'm DOING the THING. Here's What It Is and Why I Took so Long to Do It.

("A Colorful Cat #2," by Nayad Monroe, in the extra-fancy embellished version.)


For years, I've been vaguely saying that I should post my art online somewhere, to make it available for people to buy. I've sold my art before - to complete strangers, even! That was back when I painted in acrylic, on canvases. I had several coffee shop and restaurant-level shows, where people bought paintings every time. Then I had babies, and felt a combination of less time and interest in painting, and worries about having paints with not-so-healthy pigments around where toddlers might get the notion to eat them. I also had the ambition to write fiction and get it published, and I did THAT thing repeatedly for a decade. I expect to continue writing short stories once in a while, but it won't be my main thing. I like it, sometimes a lot, but I don't get absorbed in it the way I do with art-making. 

My problem with art was that I couldn't decide on how to approach it. Return to painting? Draw on paper? Make upcycled garden ornaments from thrift-store materials? Learn how to do tile mosaics? (I still want to learn how to do tile mosaics.) Make digital art? AHA. Yes. Digital art! And I made bunches of abstract digital art a few years ago. If you scroll down a bit on my Instagram page, you can see it. But I also got involved in editing my anthologies, What Fates Impose and Not Our Kind, back around then, and I was still writing fiction.

Then I went through a big ol' creative slump for a long time, after a certain election here in the United States. You know the one. I dragged some fiction out of myself, but only a tiny bit. The thing that turned me around was participating in the Inktober challenge in October of 2017. I drew my daily ink drawing every single day of that month, and I posted each drawing online. They were in a new medium for me, alcohol marker, and I enjoyed the process. A few people commented that they'd be interested in buying some of the drawings (which were mostly creepy, Halloween-inspired images). Since they were small drawings in a casual sketchbook, I decided I should do some digital work on them and offer them as prints somehow. 

BUT HOW??? That was the final problem. I wanted to find a way to not have to produce, package, and ship things out myself. I'm willing to do that on a limited basis for friends, but I didn't want that to be a big feature of my life. So I glanced at a bunch of print-on-demand sites, and decided that I would start with just one for now: Zazzle. Since I was working on it, I started to look at other artwork of mine that I could post, and I ended up making two Zazzle shops for the very different styles of art I was posting.

As it turns out, the brightly-colored, whimsical art like the cat above is now my main focus, in my shop called "by Nayad Monroe," and I've been drawing lots of new images for it! Every time I draw one thing, I get ideas for approximately seven new things to draw, so my to-draw list is huge. The smaller selection of Inktober art is in "Nightmares by Nayad." I still like those drawings, and I may do another round of Inktober this year to add to them.

The way Zazzle works is that you can make shops for free, and you have the option to add images and text to a staggering array of product types. You can actually design a product just for yourself and buy it, but you can also offer it for sale to other people. Then, if someone else buys it, you get a royalty. It's a well-established site where you can reach people worldwide, but it also takes work to get your stuff noticed among all the other stuff. I've been reading advice and watching tutorial videos, and I think I'm making progress, but I know there's more I can (and will) do. For whatever reason, I find this type of effort more appealing than having to fulfill orders myself. Things I post now can stay on the site and have the potential to sell for as long as the site exists. I want to expand to other sites, too, but I want to get a good start on this one first.

So what I'm going to do now, since I'm here, is post links to some items I've designed, since that's recommended by Zazzle as a way to make my shop more visible. PLEASE BEAR WITH ME. I promise this blog is not about to go all selly-sell 24/7. These WILL be affiliate links, fyi. Thanks for reading this far! 


Note: This post contains affiliate links to products that will earn me royalty money if you buy them. I hope you will, because I worked hard on them! But no pressure. :)

Monday, April 16, 2018

I've Been Making Some Art!

"The Dragonfly Key" by Nayad Monroe

"The Reach of Light" by Nayad Monroe

Sometimes I get absorbed in making pictures, and I forget to use my words! But here are some new-ish artworks I have made lately. 

About the "-ish" part: I actually drew and painted small, somewhat different versions of both of these compositions back in 2014. Those are 6" x 6" acrylic paintings on canvas, and I'm keeping them unless someone can figure out and fork over my "make me sell" price for the originals. I'm not actually sure what that would be, but I guess I would know it when I saw it! I tried to scan them and turn them into prints, but a combination of issues -  their size, square shape, and the texture of the canvas - made the results displease me.

For these new, print-worthy versions, I re-drew the images on larger paper, with some composition changes, and scanned them, and then did a lot of digital development to the color and texture of each until I got them looking the way that I wanted them to look. I have a couple more from the original group of little paintings, so I'll probably give those a similar treatment before moving on to adding completely new compositions. I'm working on building up a selection of images before choosing some online venues where I can make them available as various products: definitely prints, but I'd like to get into some other things, like t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other nifty swag like that. I've also been creating print versions of some of my creepy black and white drawings from Inktober 2017. I think it would probably work out best to create separate shops for the different styles, though... THERE IS MUCH WORK TO BE DONE.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Spring! Cleaning! Frenzy!

(When there are no real flowers: FAKE FLOWERS)

One thing I can count on every year is that I will get to a point when I sense spring coming, and at that point, I will need to not just clean my house as if my life depends upon it, but also CHANGE THINGS AROUND and GET RID OF THINGS and GET NEW THINGS. I behave almost as if I am a biological organism acting upon seasonally-triggered instincts. I need to basically clear my schedule for a while and do this thing with every available moment. Because of that, this post is going to be short! 

In the last week, I have rearranged the furniture in four rooms, moved furniture from one room to another, moved art from place to place, and cleaned out my walk-in hall closet (which had somehow been neglected by my efforts for the last three years). I have also created a different set-up for my yarn storage, chosen some furniture items to repaint, and ordered a bunch of seed trays and seeds so that I can start growing plants to put outside after the last average frost (which will not be until MID-MAY). And? I'm not even done. I have to get back to it and accomplish as much as possible within the next few days, because another thing I can count on every year is that I will lose steam after a couple weeks of this, and go back to doing my normal things. Except for planting things outside. I expect to dive into that for the last few weeks of May, and then be over that by mid-June at the latest.

It's a system? I guess? It keeps me from being bored with my environment and letting unused things pile up.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Art of the Selfie: Natural to Supernatural

(WARNING: This post contains many selfies of me. 
If you don't like selfies - or me - you are in the WRONG PLACE.)

Here's what's happening. About a month into my process of growing out my very short hair that I am no longer dyeing various colors, I'm already SO BORED WITH MY HAIR. So I thought I'd fix that by doing some selfies with wigs, and now here I am with a post that may be self-indulgent, but may also be helpful for anyone else who wants to level up in selfotography.

This post is not a tutorial on how to get any exact look, but it will include lots of general tips and ideas, plus information on products, devices, and apps I use. Plenty to experiment with! Also, the stuff about styling yourself is applicable to times when someone else will be taking your picture.

First of all, I take all of my pictures with my iPhone 6s, with the regular camera flipped so that I can see myself on the screen. I use some apps that are available for the iPhone, but I suspect that other types of smartphones have similar apps available. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of photography apps, and plenty of outstanding ones that are free.

So! I'll start with the relatively natural approach to selfies, for getting pictures that look like you at your best. You can obviously use your very own hair for them, but wigs are an option, too. Here's one of me with an auburn wig from Arda Wigs, in the style Vivien Classic. This is a great, shoulder-length wig I'd be comfortable wearing out in the world, and it's only $30! It arrives already styled, but you can use heat tools like a curling iron or straightener to style it differently. The top photo is completely unfiltered, but I'm wearing piles of makeup (more on that in a minute). For the second version, I used a pre-set "look" filter called Portrait, in the Snapseed app. I wanted to show you that even a perfectly good photo can be elevated to a more magical, glowy look without taking you too far from reality.

Tips for natural-looking photos:
  • Get yourself some good, ideally full-spectrum, lighting. For nearly all of the photos in this post, I took the original picture in front of the one window in my house that lets in perfect daylight: nice and diffuse, but bright. You want to have enough light, but avoid harsh, direct sunlight - at least for the way I do it. There's one shot coming up where I used a full-spectrum light that's sold for helping with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The effect is the same as whitish light from outside.
  • If you never wear makeup, because that's not part of your look, the lighting could be plenty for you, but you might like the effect of reducing shine on your face with some powder. If you're aiming for enhancing your prettiness, I recommend mascara and/or eyeliner, at least. Or continue on with the next level of makeup...
  • Whether or not the camera adds 15 pounds, it definitely subtracts makeup. So if you look at the above "natural" pictures and think I'm hardly wearing any, what you need to know is that this look includes a layer of pore-filling primer, a thick layer of full-coverage foundation, another layer of full-coverage concealer under the eyes, translucent powder, heavy, dark eyeshadow, fairly dramatic false eyelashes, and a couple of layers of mascara on both my real and false eyelashes, plus lipstick and some eyebrow pencil. It actually looks kind of gross if you see it in person. So the guideline is that if you usually wear makeup to go out, try tripling the coverage for your selfie. 
Ready to go for more glam?

In the green-hair photos, I'm wearing the Candy-Striper style from Arda Wigs, in the color blend "Dryad." It's long, with a blend of three colors, great quality, and only $35! I LOVE THIS STORE. (I should mention that I do not have any connection to the company - I just like it.) I'm wearing even darker eye makeup in these - literally black eyeshadow all over the lids, black liquid eyeliner on the upper lids, false eyelashes of course. Oh, and on the bottom, I have white waterproof eyeliner on the waterline, which is the name for the bit of skin above the lower eyelashes. Using white or skin-toned eyeliner there makes your eyes look bigger and brighter. I think I also had some shimmery green eyeshadow beneath the lower lashes. Dark eyeliner under the eyes looks too harsh on me.

The bottom two photos in this set look filtered, but they are not! I just took advantage of how the camera responded to the light as I moved around in front of the window. That brings me to another few tips:

  • Take lots and lots of photos, and pick the best ones to use.
  • Move around and try different angles. If you have age-related developments happening around your eyes like I do (thinning and sagging skin, dark circles, puffiness, wrinkles), shadows can be a problem. It's easier to control that problem if you're open to holding your head at different angles, and/or let your hair hang down over one eye so you only have to manage the look of one eye instead of two!
  • Make sure you crop your photos to bring the focus in to your face, and eliminate distractions from the background as much as possible.
On to creative filters!

In these photos, I'm wearing the Amber Classic style in Lavender. Each of the photos has gone through at least one filter, and this post is getting long already, so I think I'll have to take any discussion of filtering to another post. But this gives you a look at just a tiny bit of the range you can get from iPhone photo editing apps. My favorites, used in all of these, are Snapseed, Mextures, Union, and ImageBlender, 

And now for the supernatural!

Look how creative you can be! These looks are not even that extreme (check Instagram and Pinterest under "Fantasy Makeup" and "Cosplay," if you have doubts). I used bolder colors, face gem stickers, and artificial flowers, plus a more lengthy, artistic filtering process for the mermaid one. The apps I use let me layer photos and erase bits of the foreground image to let the background through, or change the opacity of the foreground for a more transparent effect, or use other image-blending techniques to make colors brighter, more subdued, higher- or lower-contrast, or just about anything else I can think of.

I hope this post is giving you ideas about how to rock your next selfie! And I hope you have an excellent day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Open Endings in Fiction: Terrible, or THE WORST?

(A sunset view from my house)

Nayad: Overly Dramatic, or INCORRIGIBLE?

There are good examples of open-ended stories. I'm sure I could definitely think of some. They're probably all by Kelly Link, now that I think about it. I do love a Kelly Link story.

However, I'm not a fan of completely open-ended fiction. Let me back up and explain what the hell I'm talking about.

What do I mean when I'm ranting about a story with a completely open ending? I mean a story where it's left to the reader to figure out the meaning of what just happened, and the clues given could be interpreted in a number of ways. It could be written as a series of vague hints and suggestions, or there's conflicting or missing information, or there may be an unreliable narrator. The story goes along, full of fascinating possibilities, and then leaves all the possibilities equally possible. 

The reason I'm writing about this is that I just finished reading The Grip of It, by Jac Jemc, It's a haunted house story. A young couple gets a suspiciously amazing deal on a beautiful Victorian house with some quirky features - lots of hidden compartments and passages - and then the weird stuff starts. I love the weird stuff. The weird stuff is not the problem. It's just that, in this book, the weird stuff is so abundant, and so escalating, that I could never develop an opinion about what's really going on. What I want is for the author to know what's going on, and to write a book full of weird stuff that allows me to guess what's going on. And if the author would be so kind as to set up two or three equally plausible ways to interpret the story, that would be the best thing. A not-completely open-ended story: one that allows for forming opinions that make sense, but then doesn't tell you which interpretation is the right one. 

To be fair, that's probably the hardest kind of book to write, so I will support you in your opinion that I am demanding and difficult. And I still think you should read The Grip of It, because I like the prose, and the possibilities. It starts very well, and you may very well have the kind of imagination that would appreciate being handed no answers but dozens of questions. It will give you lots to think about!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Frugal February

(The Tabitha of Judgment says I need to save my pennies! 
Kitty wants a new scratching post.)

Okay, I'm not broke, but... It's been a spendy few months. There was Christmas, and then new tires for my car, and then a trip that I didn't strictly need to take, and then property taxes, and then the quarterly water/sewer bill here in my town where the water apparently is MADE OF GOLD. I budgeted for these things, but this month still feels like a good time to let the majority of my dollars have a little staycation in the bank.

If there's one thing I know about how to deal with money, it's that having a budget is the most helpful thing. Here's the basic way to make one. If you have a regular monthly income, you figure out how much you actually must spend each month, in your current situation: bills, housing payments, etc. You make note of the expenses that are quarterly, annually, or whatever, so that you can divide them up and set aside an appropriate percentage of those each month, to be prepared for them in advance. Then you figure out what to do with what's left over, if anything is left over. Ideally, some of that goes to savings. If nothing is ever left over, that's the time to start thinking about how to change your current situation, but that's a topic for another post.

For me (and most Americans who are not absolutely broke), the most flexible category of required spending is groceries. You have to eat, but there may be ways to do it more cheaply than usual. Many people buy more drinks and snacks than they have to, or don't comparison-shop as hard as they could. There's nothing wrong with that, if you have money for it and that's what you want to do. However, in times when you're struggling with money, or you want to save up for something, this is a good category to examine for those areas where you can cut things out. 

Not everyone can do this, but I have enough of a grocery budget that if I find something on sale - if it's a thing I always use and it won't get wasted - I'll buy extras of it to stock up. I have a small extra freezer that doesn't jack up my energy bill, so I can keep things like extra bread, butter, shredded cheese, and much, much more. When I cook, I often make two batches of the same thing at once and stick the extra in the freezer, which saves time later. I do this enough that, sometimes, I can do a thing called "shelf cooking" for a month, mostly using the stocked-up food, and spending $25 or less each week to get produce, milk, and anything else that's better to get when it's fresh. In the long run, it's less expensive to do things this way because I'm getting better prices on a lot of the ingredients; when I cook double batches that's only one time that I fire up the oven or stove, instead of two, which I think more than offsets whatever extra I'm spending on running the freezer. 

Anyway, that's what I'm doing this February! I have other frugality-boosting methods I may post about this month, too. What are some of your money-saving methods?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Tracking 2018: What I Did In January and How I Recorded It

(Here's my monthly "hair-growth progress" photo. Um, not much progress yet.)

Happy February! I hope you're having a good 2018 so far. I am! Since I ended last year feeling like I couldn't remember much, I set up a system to keep track of my activities this year, and here's how that worked out in January.

I needed to come up with a system that I would actually use. While I like the idea of putting everything in a digital format, I know that I'm more motivated by being able to write things on paper. I like to make lists and cross things off, and fill boxes, and make check-marks. So just know that I recycle and buy recycled paper products and try to be as efficient with my uses of paper as possible. 

The system I came up with is a binder with three pages for each week: one page for noting how much time I spend on the activities I want to do, as well as ones I'm trying not to do as much; one page for nutrition (like how many servings I eat per day of fruit, vegetables, nuts, etc); and a page with spaces to write the notable events of each day of the week. This might sound incredibly tedious to people who are motivated differently than I am, and that's okay! But when I want to put in a certain amount of exercise each week, for example, I enjoy writing that I did it, and I find that I'm more likely to fit it in if I look at the page for that week and see that I haven't done it yet. 

I'm probably not going to post much detail about exactly how many minutes I did this or that, but I may sometimes write about how a certain category is working out, especially if I find it particularly helpful or particularly vexing and in need of an overhaul! 

Generally, I have an idea of how much time I want to spend on various things each day or week, such as blogging, reading fiction, reading non-fiction, making art (which can be either visual art or any artistic form of writing I'm working on), meditating, exercising, crafting, and doing "life maintenance chores" like cleaning the house and doing the dishes. I'm starting the year with just tracking what I do, and I hope to improve on my stats as I figure out better ways to arrange my time.

Anyway... In January I:

  • Went on a six-day trip to Michigan to attend ConFusion SF.
  • Finished reading four novels: Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson (which I had started to read in December), and the first three Dublin Murder Squad books by Tana French, which are In the WoodsThe Likeness, and Faithful Place. I don't usually read mysteries, but my current favorite author, Jeff VanderMeer, posted that he had really enjoyed reading Tana French's novels. So I thought I'd better give those a try, and they turned out to be extremely good and hard to put down. One thing I especially like about them is that the main character is different from one to the next. You get to know them as a side character in one book, and then they become the main character in the next (and the impression you've gotten of them from the outside can change a lot once you get to see things from their perspective: this series is a master class in character development). Speaking of VanderMeer, btw, I am super-psyched to see the movie Annihilation this month, which is based on his Annihilation: A Novel.
  • Got the new tires my car needed BEFORE going on a road trip in the middle of winter, because that's the way to be an adult in spite of much preferring the idea of spending that money on, say, ANYTHING ELSE.
  • Also read most of Better than Before, by Gretchen Rubin, which is an outstanding book about making and changing habits, and I think it will deserve its own post after I finish it. It was a lucky find on the day that I was walking around while waiting for my new tires to be installed. Anyone who knows me understands that I can spend hours in Barnes & Noble. When I worked there (over 20 years ago! Jeez!) they said that they wanted to encourage people to read the books in the store. I have learned exactly how effective it is for their sales, when they let people get attached to a book and then feel the urgent need to buy it.
  • Went on a few fun outings with my boys, mostly involving restaurant food, because that's what teen and tween boys are talking about.
  • Spent many lovely hours with the man in my life, who is shy and doesn't want to be written about, but deserves the occasional mention for being awesome nonetheless. :)
  • Achieved my goal of losing one pound this month. I'm trying to be more about changing my eating habits for long-term health, and less about dieting to get to a certain weight as soon as possible, but I think it's reasonable to adjust my eating habits to aim for losing a pound a month for a while.
  • I exercised every week. Not quite as many times as I think I should (I want it to be three, and I mostly managed two), but that's better than not at all, ever. I'm trying to make my exercise about benefits other than weight loss. There are so many benefits, and it's more encouraging for me to focus on those. Maybe this philosophy will become another post!
  • I meditated one single time in the whole month of January, right on the last day, because I didn't want to have to say I never did it at all. I don't know why I resist it. I like it when I'm doing it, and it's usually only ten to twenty minutes. So I'll be working on finding a good time and/or trigger to get myself to do it more frequently.
  • Finally, I'm very pleased with the illustration I drew for the story I co-wrote with Maurice Broaddus, "What the Mountain Wants." I really want to post it to show you! But I'm saving it for a more impactful reveal sometime in the future. I may post a smaller detail portion of it before the full thing, though!
It was a good month! I do have ups and downs in my moods, and I don't want to give the false impression that nothing bad ever happens in my life. January was a happy time, though. :)

Monday, January 29, 2018

I Went to ConFusion and Found that ConFusion Is Great!

(Check out this beautiful print by Rachel Quinlan! I bought it at ConFusion.)

Weekend before last, I was away at a speculative fiction convention I'd never attended before: ConFusion SF. It was in a suburb of Detroit. Normally, the idea of traveling from Wisconsin to Michigan in the middle of January would be a non-starter for me, but when Maurice Broaddus tells you it's a must-go convention, you must go. That's just the way it works. He was right, of course. It's a well-run event, in a good space, and I lost count of how many pro writers were there after the first couple dozen I saw.

I find it very mentally stimulating and creativity-boosting to hang around with writers and artists, and to be around books and art for sale. Even though I didn't participate in or attend a single panel, I had conversations with amazing, creative people - old friends and new - all weekend, and looked at so much artistic goodness that I came home with a whole new battery full of creative energy. And some goods. It was really hard to choose which things to buy, but in addition to the beautiful print above, I also got a lovely, embellished key pendant made by Sara Goodwin, and some awesome-looking new reading material from Apex Book Company.

I did talk business a little bit, but mostly I was there for the social time. I plan to return next year!

Oh, and I have to report an actual miracle. I can be confident in this because I've been back for a week now. You ready? I went to a large convention, in the middle of winter, and didn't catch any illness of any kind! THAT NEVER HAPPENS. I used my standard precautions, but nothing extreme. I am amazed.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Quitting Hair Dye

(Does this hair color make me look crazy?)

After three decades of constantly having dyed hair - age 15 to 45 - I'm out! I've actually tried to stop dyeing my hair a couple of times in the last few years, but I was trying to keep my hair longer at the same time, and the difference between the roots and the ends made me want to scream every day. Then last summer I felt inclined to partially shave my head, and eventually got to the point where I could do a pixie cut and get rid of all the dye. So here we are.

An interesting thing has happened pretty much every time I've mentioned this to women my age. I don't have a huge sample size because it's not like I go around telling everyone my hair goals... at least not until today... but I've mentioned it here and there. Every time so far, the woman I'm talking to has responded with "Oh, I could never stop dyeing my hair. I would hate it!"

I just want to stop right here and say that I'm not promoting this as a universal lifestyle choice. Really, do what you want with yourself. I don't have any motivation to stop you. Okay? Okay.

But I do find it interesting that you think it would be so terrible. I am really enjoying it! I might have an unusual perspective because my mom has never dyed her hair even once in her life, and hers was already much more gray than mine is now by the time she was in her 30s. I think that silver and white hair can look stunning.

One thing that pushed me toward this decision was that as my skin changed over time, the warmer red colors I used on my hair started to make me look washed out. Cool brown looked better, but then it would turn a brassy gold after a while, which was even worse than red. Having some silvery hair seems to brighten up my face. The silver strands are shinier, too, especially after being used to all the damage and dryness I had from dye chemicals. I'm looking forward to seeing how it looks as it grows out!

More importantly, I'm here to fight the widespread idea that being middle-aged and older is bad. I don't feel like a much different person on the inside than I did when I was younger, but I do have more knowledge and skills now. Wrinkles can be discouraging, but I actually feel better about most things these days. I know that I can handle what life brings. On the occasions when I feel down, I know that it will pass. What I'm saying is that it's good to see the benefits of whatever age I am. And it's good for the world to see me out there, having an excellent time as my 46-year-old self with my graying hair.

Since I'm known for changing my mind, there's a chance that I'll go back to dyeing my hair again sometime, but I've decided to at least take a break from it for the year of 2018. And I'll be posting at least a monthly photo to keep track of how quickly it grows. :)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Dealing with the Northern Winter: Some Things I Do and Products I Use

(A view from my front window this month.)

I live in a small town near Madison, Wisconsin. Intellectually, I know that it seems cold to people in the south when it's only, say, 50 degrees Fahrenheit outside. However, what I'm dealing with today is, without considering windchill, 4 degrees Fahrenheit. FOUR. And that, reader, is not actually the coldest it gets around here. 

We didn't much of a gradual progression this winter. It went from being more normally cold, in autumn (like in the 30s and even 40s) ,straight to frigid right after the winter solstice. I typically like winter better than summer. If you're cold you can put layers on, but if you're hot, you can only spend so much time submerged in a tub of ice before your life starts to fall apart. However, even I, the winter-preferring freak, can begin to struggle when it's this cold, and so very, very, constantly dry and electrosparky. In the summer, my skin is so oily that I develop sensory issues about my own face, but in the winter that completely reverses itself and I'm so dry that I lose the ability to move my mouth or blink.

Hyperbole? I don't even know that word.

Whatever! Here's a tiny list of the products that help me feel more comfortable. I'm not affiliated to any of them. Maybe you'll find them helpful.
  • For dry feet: Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Creme with Vitamin E
  • Facial Moisturizer: Garnier SkinActive Ultra-Lift Wrinkle Reducer 2-in-1 Serum + Moisturizer (they give you your money's worth in the title length alone)
  • Eye Area Moisturizer: Skyn Iceland Icelandic Relief Eye Cream
  • Lip Balm: Fresh Sugar Lip Caramel Hydrating Balm 
The latter two are a bit pricey, but you get a lot and you only need to use a little at a time. The "lip caramel" truly looks and smells like caramel.

One product that does not live up to its hype, in my opinion, is the Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm. I tried it after seeing a lot of good reviews, but it doesn't stay on as well as a basic Chapstick, I tried the most pleasant-sounding scent for my taste, Black Tea and Blackberry, and even when I diligently avoided eating the stuff I ended up with a weird taste in the back of my mouth from the scent. At least it wasn't expensive! But I can't recommend it.

So far, I haven't gotten to the point of needing hand or body moisturizer (and I honestly have no explanation for that), but I probably will get there. Please leave recommendations in the comments if you have them.

For my mental well-being in winter, I like to make sure I use a full-spectrum light for part of the day (it's good lighting for doing my makeup, it turns out), and I take extra vitamin D because we in the north cannot get enough vitamin D from sunlight between November and February. Not that we're supposed to be sunbathing the rest of the time, anyway. As always, if a medical expert tells you not to take it, then don't.

I also like to make sure I have green plants around. I grow low-maintenance, cat-safe spider plants in my house, and occasionally visit the not exactly nearby Olbrich Botanical Garden's tropical conservatory. Once or twice each winter, I find it very worthwhile to take the 40-minute drive to a place where I can hang up my coat and enter a warm, humid environment of tropical plants and flowers where there's a waterfall, koi swimming around in the pond, and birds to look at. 

And to avoid colds, I have zinc lozenges (Cold-Eeze brand; I found them at Walgreens). The instructions are to start taking them immediately after cold symptoms start. I also take one after I get home from going anywhere crowded (that's in addition to washing my hands frequently and trying not to touch my eyes or nose). The idea is that zinc fights cold germs, but it's better to have a lozenge or use a spray than to swallow zinc supplements, in order to keep the zinc in the location where you want it to rough up some viruses. It doesn't taste great, and you should eat something before you use it, because it can be unsettling to stomachs, but I think it's helpful. There's a lot of chitchat about this on that newfangled World Wide Web. (Remember when we used to call it "the web"? I rewatched an episode of Charmed last night while I was knitting, and that intrepid researcher Phoebe reminded me of olden days when she used that term.)

What are your winter tips and recommendations? 

Monday, January 1, 2018

How to Have a Good Year

(Here's Annabelle being a helper)

Sometimes, a day, month, week, or year is demonstrably bad. Plenty of objective evidence will back up your argument that it was simply and objectively a bad stretch of time full of bad events. SO MUCH is beyond a person's control. Anything you can't control is not your fault. This post is a list of ideas for the things you CAN control, because even if you can't fix everything it can often make you feel much better to improve something. I'll break my ideas down into a few categories. Please comment with your ideas, too.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: These are things to voluntarily try if you WANT to. Probably no one can do all of them. Maybe attempt one at a time, to see what works for you and what doesn't. If you find one you like, stick with that and then (if you WANT) try adding another. Perfectionism is a known way to ruin a year!

Oh, and for every single idea, mentally add the words "if possible" to the beginning. Don't do anything you can't or shouldn't do, just because I suggested it.

Physical Well-Being 

Your brain is just as much a part of your body as any other part, and it's where your thoughts and feelings come from. So I believe that a solid first step toward feeling emotionally good is to check in with what you're doing for the body you live in. Here are some things to try:

  • Drink more water.
  • Drink fewer sugary drinks (all the way down to zero, if possible).
  • Drink fewer artificially sweetened drinks.
  • Gradually reduce your caffeine intake to see if that reduces your anxiety level.
  • Try drinking tea (especially green tea) instead of coffee sometimes. It has less caffeine per cup, more health benefits, and can reduce your anxiety level if you drink it regularly... if I'm understanding my pop science articles correctly.
  • Reduce the amount of alcoholic drinks you have at a time, and/or the number of days you drink (I'm well-known to not be against drinking alcohol, but I do believe that there's such a thing as "too much.")
  • Add more servings of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans to your diet (obviously nothing to which you are allergic or that you've been advised not to eat by a qualified medical person who knows your situation). Even one more serving a day of nutritious food can make a big difference in the way you feel.
  • Take vitamins that are appropriate for you. That shouldn't replace good nutrition from healthy food, but it can fill in what's missing. Make sure you're not taking too much of any supplement, though, because that can cause problems.
  • Stand up and walk around for a couple of minutes after every hour of sitting.
  • Add more outdoor walks to each week.
  • Add more cardio workouts to your life, ideally on some sort of manageable, regular basis.
  • Take opportunities to stretch your muscles as often as you can.
  • Do some kind of regular practice to build your muscular strength.
  • Sleep on a regular schedule, ideally for 7 to 8 hours each night. You'll probably get better quality sleep if you give yourself some no-screen wind-down time for an hour or two before bedtime, in low lighting.
  • Get medical help as soon as possible for any kind of problem that's messing up your life, whether it's illness, injury, inexplicable pain, or distress. 
Emotional Well-Being

These are some ways to directly make your mind feel better. Some may work better than others for a particular person:

  • Be kind to other people as often as you can.
  • Don't set out to harm someone, even if you think they've harmed you. That will probably make you feel worse, eventually. It might lead to more negative interactions over time, too.
  • Write down three things you're grateful for each day, at a time that fits your schedule. I've often seen suggestions to do this either first thing in the morning, or just before bed. Another spin on this idea is to write down three things that went well either that day or the day before. 
  • Try to assume positive intent from other people, rather than hostile intent, at least before you know for sure. 
  • Don't expect perfection from yourself or anyone else. You're trying. They're trying. Often people have to learn from mistakes. 
  • Learn how to meditate, and try to fit in at least five minutes of meditation time each day.
  • Ask for help when you're struggling. Someone else might think of ideas you can't, or they may have resources you don't.
  • Spend time with friends and family in ways you enjoy. 
  • If you need to meet more people, join groups! You can find them online through sites like Meetup.com or Facebook, or you can check out places like libraries and churches to see if there are groups you can join. My local small-town library has a library volunteer organization, a book club, and free weekly movie screenings, plus activities for children. Most places will have some way to connect with like-minded people.
  • Avoid spending time with people who are draining or who cause you pain, if at all possible. Sometimes there are people you have to see at work, but maybe you can change something about that to make it easier. But in other situations, think about whether you REALLY have to spend time with someone, or you just believe that you SHOULD. Maybe you shouldn't, for your own well-being.
  • Learn something new.
  • Drop something that's a consistent waste of time.
  • Make something, whether it's a craft, a practical do-it-yourself project, a photo you can hang on your wall, or some cookies. 
  • Do or finish one project that's been on your mind.
  • Write in a private journal on a regular basis, and keep it where no one else will see it, so you can clarify your thoughts and express your feelings in a safe way. (If you believe someone's going to search through your stuff and find it, make whatever adjustments you need to free yourself from that feeling. Are you in a toxic relationship? Do you need to set better boundaries? Are you being paranoid? Any of these things might mean you need help from someone you trust).
  • Work on improving your financial situation, so that you can have more control over your life.
  • Get involved with helping others in a way that's meaningful to you. It could be volunteering, donating money or your possessions, writing blog posts to give advice, boosting signals for worthy causes, or anything else that you believe is helpful to people.
  • Make changes. If something about your life is really bothering you, seek out information and advice on how to change it (from friends, books, the internet), and then make a plan with manageable goals and steps to do.
  • Try to see the positive side of any situation, even if it's not completely ideal. "When it rains, look for rainbows. When it's dark, look for stars." (I don't know who originally wrote that, but I saw it quoted recently and I've taken it as my motto.)

Well, this became longer than I had expected it would! I guess I've absorbed a few ideas in 46 years of life. But I'm sure I don't know everything, and probably haven't remembered to write down everything I do know, so I hope you'll add your thoughts in the comment section! Just remember that we can't all do all of these things all the time (I certainly don't), and that even picking one thing to try for a while might really give you a boost. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Here's What You Get for 2017

(It's me, age 46!)

Well, People of Earth, here's a little summary of what I can remember of what I did this year (because as you may or may not have noticed, I did not blog. Except for today).

Let's just get this out of the way: I spent the entire year being mad about political things in the United States, because I'm a proud liberal and I like diversity, equal rights for everyone, taking good care of the environment, and sharing our resources to lift up people who don't have enough. I'm not seeing those things getting enough support. This entire paragraph has been the most understated expression of my feelings I have ever achieved. 

Big things I did this year:
  • Attended the event formerly known as Mo*Con, which will again, in 2018, be called Mo*Con.
  • Repainted the entire exterior of a playhouse/shed in my back yard, which was a bigger project than I thought it would be! Several hours a day for over a week (the priming and multiple colors added to the time, but it looks fantastic).
  • Co-wrote a short story with Maurice Broaddus, which will be included in the Do Not Go Quietly! anthology in 2018. Click the link to see the impressive list of authors involved!
  • Traveled to southern Illinois to watch the total solar eclipse, WHICH WAS AWESOME.
  • Participated in Inktober for the month of October, creating one ink drawing each day for the entire month. You can see all 31 of my drawings in my Instagram gallery, but one of my favorites was Wednesday Addams:

I've also read 32 books this year! Some of my favorites:
  • Borne: A Novel, by Jeff VanderMeer (I also went on a short road trip to see him read from this book, and that was well worth my time. He is a great reader. Also, his outstanding editor wife Ann VanderMeer interviewed him afterward, and it was hilarious).
  • Provenance, by Ann Leckie.
  • Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel.
  • And a set of books by Leigh Bardugo: Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.
And all through this year, that kitten I got in November of 2016 (Annabelle) has been tremendously entertaining, not to mention increasingly LARGE. From a tiny, wee iddle thing, she has turned into the biggest cat I've ever had. Tall, long, solid, muscular, and around 11 pounds the last time I weighed her. As far as I can tell, she is simply a basic American Shorthair cat, but she has personality plus and she caught her first mouse when she was about four months old. I don't get mice in here often, but when one shows up, it is nice to have a team of cats to get it under control while I go and fetch the Mouse Removal Kit, which is a piece of cardboard and an old plastic storage container that is now dedicated to this one purpose only. I put the container over the mouse, slide the cardboard under, and take the mouse across the street to a conveniently-situated field. I assume none I've taken that far have ever returned since there's always been several months in between mouse invasions, so it seems the field is far enough away.

Plus, you know, day-to-day life stuff and knitting a few blankets on a really clever, twisty-shaped knitting loom I found in 2016. It gives me an easy way to make full-bed-sized blankets while watching my way through all the Netflix shows I can take in, which turns out to be a LOT. I just finished Season 2 of Travelers. It's a good science fiction show that I don't hear much about from other people, so check it out if you're interested in time travel!

Even with all this stuff I've listed above, I feel like I've forgotten way too much of how I spent my time this year. That leads me to my plan to briefly jot down what I do each day next year, and to summarize each month for myself, to keep track of it all better. I have a system in mind that I don't want to describe right away; I just want to use it for a while and see how it works out. Taking the premise of "underpromise and overdeliver" to the next level, I guess, wherein I promise nothing and you're happy to get anything. Right?! MAKES SENSE, YES???

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Annabelle has decided to step up and help with my knitting, just like her big sisters.


Today's post is tiny like a kitten, because my time is being gobbled, almost literally. I've been cooking meals for my sons for most of the day, or that's how it FEELS. That's because this morning the windchill around here was in the negative double digits, and although the school district made the astonishing choice to keep the schools open, I decided to keep the boys home. They haven't missed much school this year. I have no regrets, but neither do I have much spare time for blogging. So enjoy the kitten picture and the rest of your day!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Chosen Names Can Get Weird

Given the known and absolutely true fact that the name "Nayad" has been at the top of the baby-naming charts for several decades, it may come as a surprise to you that it's not actually the name I was given by my parents when I was born. Take a minute to sit with your shock and surprise. It's okay. It will all be okay.

They gave me a name inspired by their earnest hopes for me. They meant well. They picked something that they thought would go well with a title, in case I wanted to be a doctor or a reverend or a president. I appreciate that. It's a classic name that was pretty popular at the time, to the point that there were two of us with it in our kindergarten class and the teacher used our last initials to differentiate us. I was "Timeless Classic M" and the other kidlet was "Timeless Classic F."

It's just that the name didn't turn out to match ME. To my mind, it's a boring name. I'm not going to mention what it actually is in this post, for lots of reasons, one of which is that I'm sure there are plenty of completely fascinating, non-boring people with the same name. In fact, I can even think of an example.

I don't want to be a jerk about it, but I chose to go by a different name because it suits me better. That should be enough, but if you need a more practical justification for it, last I checked there was also a professional writer out there with my old name, so now I'm all differentiated. I'm way more searchable this way. And I like the way my "new" (since the 1990s) name sounds, looks, and what it represents. The transition from one name to another came on organically, over time, mostly because it started as my screen name in the early days of widespread internet usage. I never sat down with each person I knew and explained that I'm going by this name now, and I'd prefer that they used it. Some people just took to calling me Nayad and that was that. Others, people I like very much and don't want to upset, were posting on my Facebook page with my old name as of yesterday. The page says "Nayad A. Monroe." You don't even have to include my name when you post or comment there. It's a given that you're talking to me. So it seems kind of pointed for someone to add my old name when posting on that page, as if they're talking to the "real" me they knew before I started parading around with this inauthentic new name.

But which name is more authentic? The one my parents picked before they even knew me, or the one I chose as an adult?

Maybe people aren't trying to comment on my name's authenticity. Maybe they just haven't thought about it. There's something in me that holds me back from contacting each person, each time, to explain my preference, and probably that's a conflict-avoidance thing that I should work on, and how can I expect everyone to just know what I want? It's not fair to expect that. On the other hand, after I started to present myself as Nayad, the vast majority of people I knew just got it and went with it.

This is why I go with whatever name and pronouns my friends want to use, the minute I'm aware they want to use them, even if it's hard at first. I really appreciate being called by the right name. I want to give that to anyone else who needs it.