Why Challenge Yourself? (Book and Project of the Month Pep Talk)

March Read: The Mistaken Wife

March Project: 5K and The Only Two Reasons I Run

The month is halfway over. I am more than halfway through my book, but failing at this running challenge. I won’t give up, though. I have friends who have gone back to college and set far higher fitness goals than I have- out of respect for them, and myself, I’ll keep plugging away. They truly inspire me!

Need a reason to challenge yourself with new projects, plays, and books, recipes, etc.? Go online, look up “neural plasticity” and follow links on reputable websites. (here’s some!) Even better, enter “neural plasticity” into the search bar on Pinterest… now sit back, and start reading. In a nutshell: when you experience new things your brain is energized.

Doing something new every day and going out on a limb is my way to help get over years of anxiety.

If I also end up expanding my cognitive abilities, broaden my perspectives and become more creative, even better!

“Creativity is just connecting things.
When you ask creative people how they did something,
they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it,
they just saw something.
It seemed obvious to them after a while.
That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had
and synthesize new things.
And the reason they were able to do that was that
they’ve had more experiences
or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.
Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity.
A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences.
So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions
without a broad perspective on the problem.
The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
Steve Jobs

Read the whole WIRED interview here: http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/4.02/jobs_pr.html

March Read: Abby Picks Historical Fiction…. “The Mistaken Wife” or “Hild”

It is time to choose a new Book of the Month! Today, Abby the Labby gets to pick, and she’s quite excited… because we are bribing her with a treat to keep her sitting down and posing for this photo. What’s it gonna be? She knows I don’t want another edjoo-ma-cative read after January’s “The Happiness Project” and  February’s “Nikon D3300 for Dummies.” She also knows that I am fond of historical fiction, and have picked up two recently.

Hild,” is book number one by Nicola Griffith, who, through much research created a novel about what 7th century Britain would be like for the woman who would be later known as Saint Hilda. This book came highly recommended by staff at a favorite small bookstore. Book number two is “The Mistaken Wife,” third in a series including “The Blackstone Key” and “The Counterfeit Guest,” all by Rose Melikan.

Abby during the discernment process:

Sure looks like she is leaning toward "Hild," and check out all the wine we won at the school's raffle! We've NEVER won anything like that, WOO HOO!!!
Sure looks like she is leaning toward “Hild,” and check out all the wine we won at the school’s raffle! We’ve NEVER won anything like that, WOO HOO!!
Is Abby choosing "Hild?" Is she in a 7th century Britain mood? Hmmm...
Is Abby choosing “Hild?” Is she in a 7th century Britain mood? Hmmm…

So what is Abby going to choose for me? It’s…

IT’S “THE MISTAKEN WIFE!” But, how do we know which one Abby chose? It came down to which book she drooled on, honestly. Remember, we had treats for her, and she was quite aware of it. Maybe she also knew that I already read Melikan’s first two stories about Mary Finch, reluctant heiress and even more reluctant spy during the close of the 1700’s. Either book presented a win-win situation for me- I’m a sucker for well researched historical fiction,  And Harry Potter. If you ever feel like discussing the minutiae of that universe, I’m your Potterverse Pal.

Boring Post Alert! Learning Camera Controls (Unless You Dig Photos of Shrimp Salad and Freshly Baked Bread)

I played around with my Christmas camera tonight, trying to make some headway into my February project- learn how to operate my Nikon 3300. I swear, I’m going to figure out this piece of technology and I am paging my way through my “Nikon D3300 For Dummies” book to help. Tonight I learned about several different auto and semi-automatic controls, and that I can type the word “exposure” twenty-five times in 30 minutes, and spell it wrong each time. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I can’t spell in three- count ’em- THREE different languages. Go me.

First shot is in Manual Exposure Mode, and I have no idea what I am doing. This proves that the camera is way smarter than I am.

Shrimp Salad... better shot...
Shrimp Salad ingredients… decent shot…

This next one is too bright, but I think I am figuring out how to use the Exposure Compensation button:

Shrimp Salad ingredients, monkeying with the Exposure Compensation button
Shrimp Salad ingredients, monkeying with the Exposure Compensation button.

Hey, now it is getting better! I think I need a different lens for close up shots, yes?

Manual setting, Exposure Compensation brightening up things
Manual setting, Exposure Compensation brightening up things

This one I knocked the exposure down a tic or two. Next thing to learn is how to correctly use the technical language of photography… The daylight really looks nice here as opposed to the next few pictures of the bread.

Manual, less exposed with using the Exposure Compensation button...
Manual, less exposed with using the Exposure Compensation button…

On to the bread ingredients. OK, it’s even obvious to ME that the flash should not be used in this type of lighting (kitchen table overhead lighting, after sunset)

Flash with bread ingredients...
Flash with bread ingredients… bad.

All righty then! Not enough light in this, but not too shabby, either. I can’t seem to get the little stuff in focus- like the millet and bulgur wheat (two of the ingredients in the small bowl).

Fully auto focus. Pretty good! But it needs to be focused differently, maybe on the millet and bulgur?
Fully auto focus. Pretty good! But it needs to be focused differently, maybe on the millet and bulgur?

Switching back to the simple auto focus-

Auto Focus... (it smells as good as it looks)
Auto Focus… (it smells as good as it looks)

And with Aperture I got what I expected- better light but lost focus. Guess I need to learn how to compensate for this.

Aperture Priority auto-exposure- good lighting but bad focus?
Aperture Priority auto-exposure- good lighting but bad focus?

OK- if I use a better light source, is this the shot I wanted?

Shutter Priority auto-exposure. Too dark, good focus.
Shutter Priority auto-exposure. Too dark, good focus.

And here we have my standard favorite, my iPhone 5s. Notice the lighting is fine, the focus is fine… good depth of field, too, huh? You can clearly see the dirty napkins from tonight’s dinner:

iPhone 5s took the best shot, argh!!!
iPhone 5s took the best shot, argh!!!

Side by side- Nikon and iPhone:

Nikon- What napkins?
Nikon- What napkins?
iPhone- Those napkins, right there.
iPhone- Those napkins, right there.

So, there you have it. My iPhone and I have been doing a great job all along. I can really make it sing. This just makes me want to understand how to use the Big Person’s camera even more. I’m not (too) discouraged. Yet.

February Read: “Nikon D3300 for Dummies”

I have had good luck with the “For Dummies” book series when I need a general, basic introduction to random subjects. Maybe their “Nikon D3300 for Dummies” will be an appropriate place to get acquainted with my Christmas present? I have no idea what white balance is, and don’t know the difference between aperture control and depth of field.

I am familiar with what an F Stop is, that’s a subway stop on Boston’s Charlie, right?  lol…

I’m going for basics, here, obviously.

All of my favorite photos are a result of being in the right place at the right time- totally luck. Sometimes they turn out fabulously, where I wouldn’t change a thing:

Tidepools along the 17 Mile Drive, Monterey, CA
Tidepools along the 17 Mile Drive, Monterey, CA

But sometimes you can see that if armed with a better camera and a little knowledge, what is simply a neat-o photo could have been quite fabulous. Maybe both spiders could have been visible? Could the lighting/focus/depth have been adjusted to really make these beautiful contrasts pop?

A green garden spider on red coleus. provides striking contrast.
A green garden spider on red coleus provides striking contrast.

Maybe by the end of the month I can learn the techniques of how to take much less sucky photos of foods, too! Housework be damned today, I’m off to read and snap some pics.

January Read: “The Happiness Project”

Along with a new project every month, a new book sounds like a great idea!

Both my husband and I picked up a few books while shopping for Christmas, 2013. NEITHER of us read those books. I don’t think I finished an entire book during the entire year of 2014, and in the past I was a voracious reader. What happened? Can I just blame this on Pinterest and Tumblr being so DARN interesting? No? I didn’t think so…

All right then, no more excuses.

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin Click the photo to a link to Amazon

This month’s read is “The Happiness Project,” by Gretchen Rubin. I love the alternate title even more: “Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sin in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun”

Got any great reads you’d like to suggest? Please share, I love hearing what others are reading.