Friday, March 29, 2013

30 Day Experiment: Social Media Sabbatical

Hi, everybody! I hope you've been having a great week. Today I wanted to talk about something that's been on my mind for a while.

I've been hooked up to the internet for a long time--since I was around 12. First, it was forums. Then it expanded to social media, and finally reading blogs. While I love how the internet can connect people from all parts of the world, and that's how I've met a lot of my friends, I also think that in a way it's gotten to be detrimental to me, personally.

I was watching Jonathan Field's "Good Life Project," specifically this episode.

And I stepped back and looked at myself and realized that I was one of those people that Jesse Jacobs had built his "tea oasis" for. I was distracted, unfocused, always plugged into the internet and social media. I'm on the computer a lot for my admin assistant duties for my volunteer work, and while I've gotten a lot better at managing my time and upping my productivity, I still am only half-focused on my work. The other half is checking for updates on Facebook.

So I've decided to commit to a social media sabbatical for the month of April. 30 days of no social media, except on the weekends (since, again, social media is how I talk with my friends and I don't want to completely ditch them for a month).

I've unbookmarked all my social media from my main bookmarks bar and put them into a hidden-away folder. Offline, I plan to read more books, watch more movies, play more guitar, and of course hang out with my family and work.

I'll also be attempting Camp NaNoWriMo... long-hand, in a notebook. I'm shooting for 30,000 words. We'll see how that goes.

I'll try to keep you all updated on how I'm doing when I log in on the weekends, and I'll also probably be journaling about how this all is going for me.

Wish me luck!

Do you have any projects you're attempting right now? What are they, and why? Share in the comments!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Waxing on Purpose and Ellie Goulding

So I'm a big fan of Spotify... I just tried it out about a month ago, and I wonder why I never tried it before. It is awesome, like Pandora and iTunes had a beautiful baby together.

I've been trying out different stations and genres in the Radio feature. Right now, I seem to have found a happy balance of contemporary Christian, Ellie Goulding, and Sarah Bareilles by turns.

A song popped up on my Ellie Goulding playlist called "Your Biggest Mistake." I was just casually listening to the songs as they played through, but this one caught my attention for the message it contains, at least for me. Take a listen (and a read-through of the lyrics snippet below):

It's a shame you don't know 
What you're running from
Would your bones have to break
And your lights turn off
Would it take the end of time
To hear your heart's false start? 

You know this is your biggest mistake
What a waste, what a waste, what a waste
And of all the things you never explained
You know this is your biggest mistake
--Ellie Goulding, "Your Biggest Mistake"
This song really speaks to me, because I often feel the same way about myself. I don't know what I want in life, at least not on a concrete level. I also feel like I take the good things in my life for granted a lot of the time. Would something catastrophic have to happen in my personal life for me to "wake up," for me to take advantage of my abilities and the opportunities I'm presented with?

In the past (and even now), I've felt like I've been wasting my life and potential, watching the world go by. When I was in the pit of my depression, I felt this huge despair that I would never have anything to offer or show for my life when it came to a close. Now that I am more stable mood-wise, I don't feel the same level of anxiety, but that doesn't mean it's not still there.

I think a lot about what my purpose is in my own life and others', what God put me into this world for. 

I know that thinking and praying about it is only part of the equation, though. The other half of it is putting those thoughts into motion somehow. I'll be the first to admit that I have issues with wanting to control my life and where it goes. Even though I feel like I've gotten a bit better at communicating with God and letting Him "take the wheel" in a way, I still constantly find myself fighting Him to drive my own road sometimes.

Spoiler: It hasn't really worked so far. 

Whenever I say, "Bugger off and let me do things my way for a bit, please," God finds a way to tell me, "Uh, no. Let me remind you who's really in control and has the best plan for you, here."

So back to my point, which is how I'm trying to find a good balance between thought, prayer, action, and trust. Let me know if anybody has the answer to this, because I'd love to know what it is!

Do you have any songs that speak to you on a personal level? Share in the comments!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Album B-side: Handmade Finds

Hi guys, I decided to do something a bit different today. We have our favorite books we like to read, favorite music to listen to, and favorite sites to visit. One of my favorite sites to visit is Etsy. I go on there at least several times a week and spend some time perusing the handmade goods available for sale on there, as well as the blog posts, just for fun.

Etsy is basically an online marketplace where anyone can put up things for sale that they have made by hand. Being a handcrafter, myself, I really enjoy seeing the creations that others have brought into the world and how others are receiving them through the Etsy platform. I also love the idea of directly supporting average folk like myself rather than always going to faceless chain stores. Even though my wallet doesn't really allow me to dip into the Etsy waters for personal things, I would love to be able to turn to the stores on there later when I am in need of a special gift for someone.

I figured that since I find a lot of things I like on there, I would share some of my favorites with you on here. I have to admit that I got this idea in part from my crafty photographer friend Tori Yardsley, who shows off handmade finds of her own on her blog via her Etsy Anthology series.

So without further ado, let's get this show on the road!

To Admire
Dandelion painting from LisbonStore on Etsy. $75.
Dandelion painting from LisbonStore on Etsy. $75.
Dandelions have been on my mind a lot lately, especially their supposed connection to the granting of wishes should you blow off all the fluff. The legend of these flowers brings out the daydreamer in me. They're lovely, simple, and romantic, and this painting from LisbonStore really brings out those qualities with the dream-like style and a muted color scheme that is subtly dramatic at the same time.

To Wear
Wool Felt Bow Barrette from LoftFullOfGoodies on Etsy. $12.
One shop that I count among my favorites is LoftFullOfGoodies with its adorable yet elegant felt accessories. When you combine the character of wool felt and the appeal of a simple, pretty hairbow, I'm all over that. 

To Use
Plant markers by fromArtisanHands on Etsy. 3 for $21.
Spring is coming! Besides warmer weather, it also brings about the perfect time to garden. My mom loves growing her own flowers and herbs, so even though I'm terrible at keeping plants alive, myself, when I saw these plant markers I instantly thought of her. Aren't they charming? I love the look of glazed ceramics.

I hope you enjoyed this little peek at the wonderful creations that can be found on Etsy. I encourage you to do some browsing around yourself. Maybe while you're there you'll find something that you absolutely have to have, or a gift for someone else.

Friday, March 15, 2013

My Week in Review: A Birthday and Music

Photo from seriousbri on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons license.
Hi everyone, how are you? Today I thought I'd just sum up my week really quick, since it did get better after last weekend. Here's what went down:

  1. I crocheted a saddle blanket and a feeding bowl/basket for my niece's toy horse as her birthday present. She liked them, and is now asking if I can make her a bridle, too. I was actually planning on making her one, but before her birthday I didn't know how to sneak her horse off to get the size down without her noticing.
  2. One of the cats accidentally scratched me, and now my finger might potentially be infected... it's swelled up a bit and I had to take a pain killer because it was so sore. Fortunately, the pain killer worked, as well as putting some ice on it. Also fortuitously, the cat in question's immunizations are all current, anyway.
  3. I've been playing more guitar, and I can notice that I've improved a lot. I can now switch between chords faster than I could before. I'm still stumbling and making mistakes, but not as many as I used to, which makes me happy.
  4. I've drunk a lot of coffee. Yummm, coffee. Yes, that warranted mentioning.
  5. My family and I went out to eat at a hot pot restaurant. If you like Asian food and you ever get the chance to eat hot pot-style, I highly recommend that you jump on the chance. It's fun cooking your food in your own little pot, and it's delicious as well!
  6. I went to Mass last Saturday, where I sang in the choir and went to Reconciliation. Both were good experiences for me, emotionally and spiritually.
  7. My sister and niece made some strawberry jam from the strawberries we picked on Saturday, and it is really good and sweet! We use it to spread on biscuits.
Wow,  that was a lot that happened; I guess it was a pretty eventful week. Overall, I think it was a good week, and I hope there will be many other good weeks to come during my time here.

Now, if you'll excuse me, my niece just made some strawberry smoothie. I think I hear it calling my name.

Your turn; how was your week? What did you do? Share in the comments.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Taking Back Time with the Pomodoro Technique

Photo by barbourians on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons license.
Hi everyone! You know how I've been in a slump lately? Well, part of that was not knowing how to manage my time. When I realized this, I started looking into how I could learn better time management skills.

I wanted to tell you all about a time management technique I just tried today (Monday at the time of writing this). It's called the Pomodoro Technique.

The basic goals of this technique are setting a timer for 25 minutes and doing a task for that entire amount of time. After the 25 minutes are up, you can take a 5 minute break. There's also a system for keeping track of how many "pomodoros" you've done, as well as how often you're distracted (or tempted to give in to distractions). That's the general gist of it, but you're curious to learn more, there's a free e-book available to read on the site.

I decided to give it a try; after all, I didn't have much to lose and lot to gain utilizing the technique. At best, I'd tame my tendency to get distracted by every shiny thing that came my way. At worst, I'd still be distracted by... ooh, shiny!

Starting and Finishing

I used the timer option on my trusty phone as my pomodoro timer, and I typed up my to do list in a spreadsheet--nothing fancy, mind you, just what was needed. Then, at around 9am, I picked a task to focus on for 25 minutes and hit the timer's "start" button.

I ended up noting down several... okay, four or five times I got distracted during those 25 minutes. But I managed to pull through, and I gladly took that 5 minute break. Then it was back into the fray.

25 minutes later, I took another break. Rinse and repeat until 4 pomodoros were finished. I felt like patting myself on the back and tooting my own horn as I took a glorious 15 minute break!

Pretty much the rest of the day passed like this; I stopped for lunch, of course... even my desire for motivation can't get in the way of me and food. Plus, a break was in order anyway.

Before I knew it (no, that's not actually an exaggeration), it was 4pm. I'd made it through my allotted working hours like nobody's business! I had gotten things I needed to do done, and I didn't feel like crap or like I was slowly withering away from boredom. I was focused for much of the time, and I took my deserved breaks only after every 25 minutes was up.

I feel great, guys. I feel really good about myself, and I'm soooo glad I found the Pomodoro Technique. For the first day, it worked out pretty nicely! If any of you has trouble with managing time and staying focused, I'd definitely recommend giving it a shot.

Now I can go and relax without a huge stormcloud of guilt hovering over my head. Whooo!

What have you gotten done lately that you're proud of doing, or are at least glad to have gotten out of the way? Share in the comments.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Notice Something Different?

Just a quick update! I changed up the blog layout design... a lot. I personally think that this is much cleaner and easier to read. Not to mention just plain prettier, period.

I want to give kudos to Katrina over at Pugly Pixel for providing the free template, Strawberry Shortcake, that I ended up using and modifying to get the look you see right now. Her site is simple and attractive and full of pretty posts to browse through. I suggest you give it a look-see.

Just for comparison:

Old blog design:

Unedited Strawberry Shortcake template:

New and improved finished product!

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

What about you? Got any recent accomplishments you want to share, or a resource you want to recommend?

One Step at a Time

In case you're wondering about how volunteer work is going for me, well... I'll admit that I've kind of gotten into a slump. It's gotten a bit better as I'm more motivated to do things of my own, and that motivation has overflown a bit into my volunteer work as well. But I'm honestly not doing the level of work that I'd like to. I don't feel like I'm contributing that much to my sister or LFP.

My strategy last time was to let the depression and guilt consume me and basically hermit myself away in my room, only coming out to eat and use the restroom, pretty much. This time, I know what I have to do to not fall into that same rut again. So far it's working, at least a little.

I'm hanging out with my family more often, even if I don't feel like it initially. Being around them does cheer me up and break me out of that "fog".

I'm doing some work every day, even if it's not as much as I'd like. As long as I get around to doing anything at all in that respect, that's what matters right now to me. Not giving in.

My niece's and nephew's birthdays are coming up soon, so I'm also preparing their birthday presents. Well, for my niece, anyway; my nephew's present is already taken care of.

I've also been playing some guitar, and I can tell that I've improved a little, which does help my self-esteem/mood.

I haven't been going out to see the babies in the baby home as often, which is another blow to my so-called volunteer work. When I do, though, I am always amazed and it warms my heart to see what Serena and Brent have worked so hard to build. The children are so loved and happy and well cared for... it's something that you really have to see to get the full effect of, I think. When I see that, when I hold a baby and know that they wouldn't get this kind of love or care were it not for people like Brent and Serena, it bolsters my resolve to help, to do something to contribute to LFP's mission.

Then I go home and fall back into my slump. Or so it seems.

For right now, I don't have the answer to what's going on with me. I don't have the knowledge of a miracle cure, and frankly I'm not sure if there is one. All I know at the moment is that continuing to move forward, putting one foot in front of the other step by step, is better than sitting there too paralyzed to move an inch.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hobbits and Strawberries

Fun Picking Berries...

Hello, everyone! It's a very windy day here in Beijing, as in dust-storm level. We went picking strawberries today and just walking to the greenhouse from the van was a battle against nature!

Fortunately, we won.

After getting out of the wind, we had fun picking all of the juicy red berries we could find. We almost couldn't wait until we got home to eat them, but fortunately our willpower remained strong, because of the potential pesticides and such that might have been used on the berries.

Upon arriving back at the house, it was a race to the kitchen to wash off a few berries and finally eat them. Seriously, they smelled so good coming back, and they did not disappoint. They were really sweet, and we picked a lot so there are more where that came from!

I see many strawberry smoothies in the future. And strawberry shortcake. And strawberry jam? Strawberry everything! Good thing it's one of my favorite flavors, next to chocolate, of course.

...And Going to the Movies!

Yesterday I went to see The Hobbit with my niece and nephew. Traffic was terrible, and we got there too late to go to the showing we were intending to see, so we bought tickets for a later showing and grabbed lunch first.

We ate at a small cafe in the mall called Hercules Cafe (or something like that). I ordered sushi and a caramel latte. The sushi was actually pretty good for a non-seafood-oriented place... or maybe I was just hungry. Probably both. The caramel latte was good, too; I'm glad, because one of my favorite beverages is an iced caramel macchiato. Yummm just thinking about it is making me crave one!

My niece and nephew weren't as enthusiastic about the movie as I was; their favorite Lord of the Rings movie remains Return of the King. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and they did enjoy The Hobbit. Oh well, they liked the last two movies I recommended to them, at least (The Emperor's New Groove and Rise of the Guardians).

What's something fun that you've been up to lately? Share in the comments!