The most memorable books I read during October 2014

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Starting this month, I am starting a new series of posts where I will list the most memorable books I have read in the past month and why they made such an impact on me. These aren’t necessarily “the best” books, but instead are the ones that really stuck with me for one reason or another. This list may include books for any age group or genre. I read a broad range of books, both fiction and non-fiction, so you never know what you may find in my monthly list! To get us started, here is my list of the five most memorable books I have read in October 2014!

  1. The Flat Rabbit by Barour Oskarsson. This had to be one of the weirdest, least politically correct picture books I have ever read! It had me, my mom and my husband laughing out loud though. It is morbidly hilarious to see a rabbit flattened, then to see his neighbors scrape him off the road, attach him to a kite and fly him in the air. Not sure this is really a great book for kids, but it is hilarious for adults.
  2. Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin. This middle grade historical novel stuck with me because it is the story of a child who grew up thinking Stalin and communism are the best things in the world, only to see how flawed the system truly is and how he has been led to believe things that aren’t true at all. To me, this idea that it is possible to fight for something you believe is right and then find out later that it is actually wrong is a profound lesson to learn.
  3. History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life by Jill Bialosky. This adult memoir struck a little too close to home, but then again, that is why I picked it up in the first place. Since I have also had a sister commit suicide, I could easily and sometimes painfully relate to much of what this writer had to say. The circumstances and details might be different from case to case, but anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide would likely see much of their own suffering and search for healing reflected in this memoir.
  4. I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings & Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-44 by various authors. As the title states, this nonfiction book is a collection of poems and drawings that were created by children imprisoned in a WWII concentration camp. Some of the book is funny and cute, some of it is sad and depressing, but it all shows the innocence and strength of the children who were mistreated during this horrible time. It also shows the loss of life and joy this world suffered due to ignorance and hatred.
  5. The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz. This middle grade fantasy novel was a fun and enjoyable read. By the time I finished it, I was wishing to be a night fairy myself. I’ve always been a night owl anyways, so why not? Although the story starts out rather sad (with the fairy losing her wings in a terrible accident), things quickly start to look up and by the end of the novel, the little fairy is better off for the experiences she has had – both good and bad.

Job hunting with autism in a non-autistic world

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I’m currently searching for a part-time job. I do make some money off my writing and art, but let’s face it, it can be hard to make a living off those things alone. I hope someday to do so, but right now we need some extra money. However, hunting for a job isn’t easy for me. First off, I have some health problems. I can’t work long hours, especially if I need to be on my feet for long (due to severe Plantar Fasciitis) and I can’t lift much of anything that is heavy, which has ruled out many jobs. Add to that, the fact that I have Asperger’s Syndrome and the job market is awfully slim.

Although Asperger’s doesn’t make me unable to work, it does cause some real issues. First off, I have social anxiety which can become overwhelming if I work a job with too much forced socialization. Secondly, although I have a great eye for detail (a gift from having high-functioning autism), I am not very good at multitasking. In fact, it can cause a lot of anxiety if I have to do too much at once all the time. I also need a job that is relatively predictable every day. Too much change in environment or job duties can actually induce panic attacks, which isn’t at all uncommon among those with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Then of course you have the problems with job interviews. First off, do I be totally honest about my physical problems and the issues caused by autism? If I do, I know it may ruin my chances of a job. I hate to think someone wouldn’t hire me just because I have health problems and was born a little different than everyone else, but I know it happens all the time. They may not say that is the reason, but they can still choose not to deal with the restrictions I have. Also, interviews are hell for people who feel socially awkward and nervous to begin with. Often, I can’t tell what someone thinks of me when they first meet me unless they directly tell me, so I often sit there the whole time wondering if I am bombing the interview or if I am doing ok. I am naturally bluntly honest, which can be an issue too.

All of this stress and confusion really makes me wish there were job placement services to help people with high-functioning autism. Unfortunately, almost all of the services around here require that you have a low IQ, which I do not have. In fact, my IQ is quite a bit above average, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still struggle with issues from the autism. Overall, job hunting feels like an alien world to me. One I just don’t get and will probably always have to “fake it to make it”. Unfortunately, I’m not good at faking things for long.

Ask me an author question on goodreads!

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This is a short post to let all my fans and readers know that I have just signed up for the Goodreads “Ask the Author” program. For those who are unfamiliar with Goodreads, I would suggest you check it out. It is a great place for book lovers! Not only can you showcase all the books you have read and share what you thought of them, but you can also see what your friends are reading, send suggestions to people looking for books to read, join groups and online book clubs interested in various genres, enter to win free books in their giveaways and much more!

As for the “Ask the Author” program, it is a neat way to learn more about your favorite authors and to ask them anything that you would like to know. I definitely plan to try to answer any questions I receive (unless they are offensive or I simply start receiving too many to respond to them all). I have already answered a few questions, which you can see the answers to on my Goodreads author page. I hope if you are a Goodreads user that you will stop by and ask me something!

New children’s ebook published! “Petar: An inspiring story about an unexpected friendship”

Petar cover

I just wanted to write a short blog post to let all my readers know that I just released a new children’s short story ebook! This ebook, Petar: An inspiring story about an unexpected friendship, is a heartwarming story about seeing past outward differences into the true heart of a person. The main character, Petar, is actually based on a real-life child that I met when I used to work as a teacher’s aide in our public school system. The courage and sweet personality of this child I knew made me want to tell his story. I also wanted to show how kind and compassionate many of the other children in his classroom were when it came to dealing with their classmate’s special needs.

Petar: An inspiring story about an unexpected friendship is geared for ages 7-11 (can be read independently or aloud). You can purchase the short story from Amazon for only $.99 per Kindle download. I hope you will check out my new ebook! If you do read it and enjoy it, please consider letting me know by leaving a review on Amazon!

5 reasons why I’m glad I left fundamentalist Christiandom behind

“Crick in the Neck”, mixed media 8.5″ x 11″. Breaking free of old chains!

“Crick in the Neck”, mixed media 8.5″ x 11″. Breaking free of old chains!

Before I get into my list, first I want to state that not all people considered fundamentalists or conservatives are like the fundamentalist Christianity I am most familiar with. I’ve known some evangelical Christians who are extremely kind, loving people. However, I grew up and struggled with a very strict religious tradition (where women weren’t allowed to wear pants, makeup or cut their hair, tv was considered evil and everyone who thought the slightest bit different than us was going straight to hell). After I grew up and married I went to a denomination that was somewhat less strict, but still as a whole was definitely conservative. I try hard not to judge those who believe differently than myself, although it is hard when I see people who let their religious beliefs overcome their human compassion. Having come from such a strict background and choosing to walk away from it has made me a little sensitive to criticism and rejection from those who believe like I once did, but I still try to see the good inside of them, because almost all of us have good shining through if you look for it. As you read this post, please keep in mind that these are the things I struggled with and am glad to have changed, but they are not meant to be stereotypes of all conservatives.

Anyhow, with all that said, here are 5 of the biggest reasons I am thankful to have left behind fundamentalism:

#1 – I no longer live in fear of going to hell or of those I love suffering eternal torture in hell. This does not mean that I don’t believe in justice and that if you live a horrible life you may not face some karma or discipline or whatever you choose to call it. However, I do not believe in a cruel God who would eternally torture or punish those who happened to live a short lifetime with some mistakes or with the “wrong” beliefs. Personally, I tend to believe that our greatest judge of our misdeeds after our death may be our own soul, not a higher being. It always interested me that in most near death experiences, when people went through their life review, they didn’t feel any judgement from God or Jesus for the wrongs they did, but they felt all the pain they had caused others through their actions and this truly changed their outlook and heart.

#2 – I don’t have to exclude anyone. I don’t have to believe that anyone is worth less than anyone else or that some of us are “better” than others. I don’t have to turn away gays, liberals, infidels or anyone else. I can be around people who drink or smoke or are openly sexual without fearing they will somehow “contaminate” me. I can focus more on my own spiritual growth rather than focusing on any perceived lack of spirituality in others. I can love and befriend anyone without trying convert them.

#3 – I don’t have to read the cringe-worthy bits of the Bible and try to find some kind of reasoning for why it is ok. I can look at the Bible and see that it was written by humans who were trying to understand and please God, but who were still just plain old humans after all. I can see that in the context of certain cultural beliefs and time periods that things may have once seemed much different. I can see that just like all ancient cultures, the Jewish people tended to see anything good happening as God acting on their behalf and anything bad happening as God punishing them. They didn’t completely understand the idea of chance or even some of our most basic scientific laws. I also understand that much of the Bible (particularly the old testament) was written down long after the events happened and just like with any society, centuries of oral tradition passed down can greatly change or exaggerate a story.

#4 – I can be a woman and not believe I am inferior or subservient to men. I can be married and have an actual partnership with a husband who respects me just as much as I respect him. I don’t have to feel bad about my gender because “Eve messed it all up”. I don’t have to believe that a woman’s body is something to be ashamed or afraid of. I can choose to be modest because that is what I desire, without judging every woman who dresses differently than myself. I can see how ridiculous the belief that women invite rape by dressing sexy really is. All of us have a responsibility to control our own actions and it is never right to blame our wrong actions on another. I can believe that all of us are born innocent and that it is our experiences, choices and actions that determine if we grow up to have a positive or negative influence on this world, not some curse put upon us all because of the bad choices of two humans eons ago.

#5 – Lastly, I am so relieved to leave the fear behind. The fear of never being good enough. The fear of always being evil at the core. The fear of trying to live a good life but still being thrust into hell for any unintentional mistake. I can look at life and people with the view that we are all different and will never see everything the same way, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be compassionate to one another and work together to solve problems that affect us all. Without fearing so much about everyone’s eternal destination, I can instead focus on the here and now – on learning to love others unconditionally, healing the pain of the past so I can forgive & move on, growing spiritually and trying to give back to the world in positive ways whenever I can.

Therapy that works

"Perfection is a Myth", abstract acrylic on art board 8" x 10"

“Perfection is a Myth”, abstract acrylic on art board 8″ x 10″

To be honest, I’m not big on conventional therapy. Now, that does not mean that I don’t think some people benefit from it or even need it, but I don’t believe it works for everyone. For myself, perhaps it doesn’t work as well because I have already read so many psychology and self help books that I know what is likely to be said anyhow. When I was a foster parent, therapy never seemed to do much for any of the kids who were forced to go. In their cases, I think it didn’t work that well because they didn’t want to be there so they didn’t cooperate or act on the advice given them. If you do go the traditional therapy route, I think it is important to find a therapist who will give you tangible strategies to apply to real life situations and (even more importantly) you have to be willing to put in the work and do those things.

Personally, I have been to therapy a couple times in my life. The first time was when I was 12 and my dad died. That was forced therapy that didn’t go very far because I didn’t want to talk about it and no one could make me. The second time I went to therapy was after my sister committed suicide. I do feel that talking through my feelings with a professional helped some in that case, but it wasn’t what healed me. Looking back on the rough patches in my life, I have found that some of the most effective forms of therapy aren’t those you find in a therapist’s office. Here are a few of the “therapeutic” activities I feel have had the greatest impact on my life:

  • Spending time with family and friends, even when I thought I would rather be alone. Sometimes when you don’t feel like seeing anyone is when you need their support the most.
  • Spending time with animals. For me this starts with my pets but extends to living creatures everywhere. Animals speak to my soul on a level I can’t even explain and bring great comfort and joy.
  • Spending time in nature – this kind of goes along with the animal one. Being around bodies of water works best for me personally, but everyone has their own favorite spots, even if it is just your own backyard or a neighborhood park.
  • Music – all types of music can be therapeutic depending on what you are feeling. I have my “sad”, “angry”, “happy”, “relaxing” and “inspirational” songs to help me through whatever I am dealing with.
  • Creating – whether it be writing, painting, drawing, baking, etc., it is a great way to release feelings.
  • Getting lost in fantasy – leaving this real world mentally for a short period of time (through a book, movie, etc.) can be incredibly helpful during awful times.
  • Exercise. The key to this for me is doing things that I enjoy and find relaxing, such as walking, hiking, yoga, etc.
  • Meditation/prayer – connecting to my spiritual self helps me to rise above my earthly troubles and find inner peace even in the midst of chaos.

So what about you? What kinds of “therapy” do you find most healing?

Burning bridges and moving on

"Burning Bridges" acrylic on paper, 9" x 12".

“Burning Bridges” acrylic on paper, 9″ x 12″.

Lately I have been on a “burning bridges” kick. I have decided to let go of some situations and relationships that were unhealthy and quite frankly, were draining the life from me in some ways. For quite a while I debated with myself about whether to give up and move on from these things or not. Part of me didn’t want to give up on people I once cared about and move on. I wanted to hold onto the hope that things would change and magically it would all become better. I don’t think this hope is bad, but sometimes if you cling too tightly to that which isn’t good for you, instead of things becoming better, they actually deteriorate more.

When I realized that even thinking about these people and situations was severely depressing me, I figured it was time to release the attachment and move on the best I can. I wish them all the best, but I realize now that they are not the best thing for me at this time. Perhaps we were only meant to be in each other’s lives for a certain period of time, or maybe we do have a future together but need some time apart to grow and change. I have always prided myself on my loyalty to those I love and care about, but I am now realizing that relationships can’t just be one-sided. I cannot make anyone like or respect me, but I can choose to spend my time with those who do. Hopefully as I move on, I will enter a future full of new experiences and meaningful relationships.

Here are a few quotes about burning bridges I have especially enjoyed lately (sources unknown):

“May the bridges I burn light the way.”

“Sometimes you need to burn bridges to stop yourself from crossing them again.”

“The hardest lesson in life is figuring out which bridges to cross and which to burn.”

“Burning bridges takes too long. I prefer explosives.”