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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Writer interview - Shari Rood

A couple of months ago, writer Shari Rood added a new book to her formidable body of work - The Secret Lives of the Harvested. We sat down with Shari to celebrate the new release and get her thoughts on heroes, human qualities, and other life's necessities.


What is your favorite virtue? Honesty.

Your favorite qualities in a man. Honesty. I also appreciate sensitivity and humor.

Your favorite qualities in a woman. I would have to say being laid back. Some women are so hectic. I like friends who know how to just sit down, have a drink and chat.

Your chief characteristic. Humility. Just kidding. I’m not sure, is being creative a characteristic?

What do you appreciate the most about your friends? I love it when I can talk about writing with a friend. I enjoy bouncing ideas back and forth and getting inspired by their work. It helps me to work harder.

Your main fault. Probably it is the lack of judgment to do what I know is best for me, before I get into situations that require some patience and a degree of difficulty to get out of. One example is moving to the other side of the world because my husband wanted to do that. I know I’ll look back on the amazing experiences but I don’t know if I would do it over again. Homesickness is a real thing…

Your favorite occupation. Writing. I also love shop keeping. I’ve owned three different shops over the years and I loved them. I want to start another one as soon as I can afford to do it.

Your idea of happiness. Being respected for what you do. Being surrounded by people who care about you. Loving what you do for a living.

Your idea of misery. I’m not sure how to answer that because the world is filled with misery and I have my share of it in myself as well. It’s a part of the human condition.

If not yourself, who would you be? Charles Dickens

Your favorite heroes in fiction. Pip from Great Expectations. Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, Delia from Through the Cane Fields. There are so many, I can’t think of them all.

Your favorite heroes in real life. Countless amazing writers. People who suffer from anxiety and depression but tough it out anyway. People who help others. People who have compassion.

Your favorite food and drink. Ginger ale with extra ice and a slice of lemon. Mexican food is great in fact, all food is great. I never met a sandwich I didn’t like.

What is your present state of mind? Homesick.

Your personal motto. To the victor go the spoils. I have no idea why that came to mind. I’ve never really thought I had a personal motto. Now I do.


For more about Shari and her books, visit her Facebook page or her Amazon spotlight.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Big Little Change digest - January, 2015

Happy new year to all! I hope everyone had a magical holiday season and is geared up to an amazing year filled with positive changes for all.

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - find a place in your home to grow something edible.

Yes, I know many out there have animals and children in the house, and not enough space. Be creative. Hang a pots-and-pans rack off the ceiling and hang small planters off it. Screw hooks into the ceiling and walls and use hanging planters people often put on their porches. Figure out something.

Once you have the "where", pick things that are hard to kill for the "what": rosemary, dill, mint, oregano, lettuce, basil, chives, microgreens, etc. If you have children - that's an excellent way to teach them responsibility. Especially if they've been asking for a puppy or a kitten. You can tell them - they have to keep the plants alive, and then maybe we'll see about that puppy.

The great thing about all this is, first of all, having living things at home (especially if you live in the city) has been proven highly therapeutic. Second, it's always fantastic having fresh greens and herbs close on hand. Even if you have to use the "hanging gardens" approach.

Week 2 - learn a manual skill...

... or a couple. Look, of course we all hope the world will not hit the fan to a point, where we are completely stripped of all modern conveniences. However, it's always nice to have a couple of survival cards up your sleeve just in case.

So, as you survey all you can do, evaluate your skills from the standpoint of survival and sustainability. What would be helpful if you had to rough it for a while? Can you chop wood? Do you know how to make a fire without matches? Have you ever cooked on a camp stove or on a woodburning stove? Do you know how to grow things? How to preserve foods? How are your first aid skills? Can you make clothing or at least mend it reasonably well? Have you ever done laundry sans the washer and dryer?

Most these things are fairly easy to learn, are practical, useful, and give you a great sense of accomplishment - you realize you are not as "soft" as most of the TV-watching, car-driving, fast food-eating first world humanity has become.

Week 3 - remember you are someone's ideal.

I don't mean "ideal" in a sense that someone wants to write an ode in your name or make a sculpture of you (although, what the heck - you never know!). I mean that some aspect of your life today, where you are at this very moment, is where someone else is trying to get. It could be anything - income, job, fitness, fashion sense, your talent for gardening or for making things, your parenting ability, your organization skills.

This occurred to me when I was jogging at the park and realized some people bigger and slower than I was were looking me with the same mix of admiration and envy, with which I looked at slimmer more athletic men and women passing me on a second lap in a row. I am not the most athletic person by any stretch - I know I still have a long way to go. And yet, apparently, where I am NOW is someone's goal - possibly even a BIG long-term goal.

When you struggle, remind yourself of that. You HAVE achieved something. You HAVE completed things. You HAVE gotten to some point that is still far in the distance for other people. You are someone's inspiration. You are someone's ideal.

Week 4 - celebrate your wholiness.

I dislike the expression "my other half". Almost as much as I dislike it when someone successful gets on stage at a training or celebratory event, points at his or her spouse, and says something like, "And this is the brains of the operation - I definitely married up."

First of all, we none of us are halves. We are all whole people. Just because something is missing in our lives by way of a relationship, does not make us half-a-person. And if we are in a relationship - then we have two whole persons together, trying to make it work. And that ought to be celebrated.

Second, by saying that your spouse or significant other is the "brains of the operation" - even as a joke - not only are you implying you are stupid, but you are also insulting your spouse. Because what you are essentially saying is your spouse is so bad at picking partners, that he or she married a total idiot without even looking. That has to stop. There are things you love your spouse for, and there are things your spouse loves you for. You both contribute something equally important to the relationship. It's not the competition, it's not the idiotic stereotype of "I am the smart one - she is the pretty one" or some such.

You are whole, the love of your life is whole, your friends are whole - off with all of you to get together, sort out your differences, revel in your shared passions and celebrate your wholiness!

Member contributions

Sometimes, the small thing comes from a big company. In terms of the company's dollars, this is a tiny gesture. In terms of the smile on the little boy's face - that's not so small, at all.

I did something today I haven't done for many years. I gave a stranger a lift. I was making an appointment to see a dentist and while I was waiting, a young woman asked for a phone book so she could call a taxi. I was there maybe 20 minutes and this woman was still there waiting for her cab. As I was leaving I turned to her and said her taxi was really taking his time. She was concerned she was going to miss her bus. Not just a local bus but Greyhound. I knew the bus station is in town, maybe 5 miles from where we were so I offered her a ride. We had a lovely conversation. Turned out she is a recent dental school graduate and was interviewing there. They were running behind so her interviewed ended late. She had ½ hr to catch the bus at 2:30 or she would have to wait until 10pm. She offered to pay for gas but I didn't want that. I told her to do a favor for a stranger. Pay it forward.

I was at the grocery store today and the bagger accidentally dropped my jar of spaghetti sauce which broke the seal. He looked at me like I was going to blast him. I just said, guess I'm having spaghetti for dinner! Remember, especially this time of year with people a little on edge, that plans can change, things aren't set in stone and go with the flow. Also, remember the people you come in contact with are just as stressed as you are. Take an extra second to look at their name tag, smile and say Have a good day, Jane or Merry Christmas, Tom. You have no idea how good you can make them feel.

Public service announcements

What you need to know about Locks of Love

Next year - rent your Christmas tree.

Give a year of school

Recommended reading

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

Friday, December 5, 2014

Writer interview - Vivienne Tuffnell

Vivienne Tuffnell is a woman of many talents and interests, writing being not the least of them. This holiday season, we sat down to pick the mind of this fascinating woman.


What is your favorite virtue? Kindness to those unable to return the favour.

Your favorite qualities in a man. Integrity of heart and soul.

Your favorite qualities in a woman. Ditto. I think they're equally important for all genders. Women can often be quite nasty to other women, so I'd add something about sisterliness to off-set that terrible problem.

Your chief characteristic. My spiritual teacher once told me he thought I was a visionary, a mystic. This side of my soul infuses everything I do. It's often very hard to define what a mystic is but Evelyn Underhill managed to contain it all in one neat sound bite anyone could understand: Mysticism is the art of union with Reality. The mystic is a person who has attained that union in greater or less degree; or who aims at and believes in such attainment.

What do you appreciate the most about your friends? Loyalty and tolerance.

Your main fault. Pessimism and a temper that takes a lot to fan the flames but which is hard to halt once someone gets me really angry. Ooops, that's two.

Your favorite occupation. Day dreaming.

Your idea of happiness. A bluebell wood in May.

Your idea of misery. Being forced to watch musical theatre with no escape, alongside people who love it, sing along and try to get me to sing along, or even, (shudder) dance.

If not yourself, who would you be? A nun. Probably an anchorite. I considered a vocation to the conventual life when I was 19.

Your favorite heroes in fiction. Can I be a bit narcissistic and say my favourite heroes are the ones I created myself?

Your favorite heroes in real life. That's harder. Most of the real heroes are the unsung ones, who don't get lauded in public. They don't like being singled out and praised, either.

Your favorite food and drink. I really love Green Chartreuse, the teeny tiny bottle that comes at some astronomical strength and is a glorious green. It's like a kaleidoscope of tastes when you have a sip, and you can identify dozens of the several hundred herbs used to make it. Food? Anything with tomatoes. My feel-better comfort food is cream of tomato soup.

What is your present state of mind? Bouncing between depression and elation. Welcome to bi-polar world.

Your personal motto. “If life is a journey, then any short cut is a death trap.”


You can find Vivienne's books on Amazon.

There is always something fascinating going on at her blog Zen and the art of tightrope walking.

You can also catch up with Vivienne on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Big Little Change digest - December, 2014

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - learn how to tell people what you do and own it.

Considering how much quicker connections between people are made these days and how much more extensive their networks, it is truly puzzling, why doesn't everyone have their elevator speech prepared and memorized. In this world, where it is so much easier to find the right person to help out with the right thing at the right time, the ability to explain what you do and why it's important has to be essential.

Many of us who can explain our occupation in under two minutes have a tendency to undermine it. "Oh, I'm just an admin." "Oh, I'm just an editor." "Oh, I'm just a project manager." Stop it! Even if you are not passionately in love with your job (yes, I've been there, I know what it's like), as far as anyone else is concerned, what you do is fascinating, important, and crucial to... well... maybe not the survival of mankind but definitely the survival of the company you work for. You are tough, you are knowledgeable, you are confident, and you are ready to take on anything. If you are, indeed, not in love with your current job - those are the characteristics that will help you find another one.

If you are self-employed, the well-worded, to-the-point, competently delivered elevator speech is just as important, because your next client, next referral, or next reader might be just around the corner.


Week 2 - know what you want and ask for it.

You might not always get a positive answer, but hey, you'll be no worse than you were before you asked. On the other hand, you never know who and when might come up with just the thing or the idea you've been looking for.

Consider all aspects of your life - home, family, work, income, health, responsibilities, etc. Think of the challenges you are facing in each of these areas. For each area, write down on a card, what needs to be done or has to change to alleviate the challenges.

And then start asking. Obviously, it's not as if you can just walk up to anyone and say, "Give me a million dollars to solve my financial problems". BUT you can share with your circle of friends or with a group you are a member of - here is my problem, here is how I want to solve it, any ideas what would make the solution possible? The brainstorming is bound to be all over the place and generate a lot of ridiculous ideas. But there are bound to be some good ones that you haven't thought about because you have been looking at the problem for too long.


Week 3 - let go of something you used to love.

It might be your wedding dress. A CD given to you by your ex. An outfit you wore when you christened your children. It might be something that still evokes positive memories, or something that used to mean something positive but no longer does. You don't love the object itself anymore - you are only holding on to it out of guilt, or duty, or for sentimental reasons.

In fact, consider everything in your home - do you truly love all you have or are these things just debris of years past, the "has beens", the things that are only there because of their past claims to fame in your life? Let it go. The memories won't go anywhere. If you want to have some sort of a reminder, take pictures of them and make a "my past" scrapbook. Only surround yourself with things you well and truly love, things that reflect the best of you and the best of your life.


Week 4 - replace one thing on your grocery list.

It's tough keeping yourself and your family eating well and healthfully. First of all, so-so eating habits are tough to change, and second, with demand still low, organic and gluten-free products still cost significantly more than the regular stuff.

So, to soften the blow, start with just one thing. Next month, replace just one thing with a better, healthier, or more environmentally-friendly option. For example, replace General Mills' Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal with one from Cascadian Farms or Kashi. Replace regular rice with brown rice. Replace regular pasta with a gluten-free one. Replace soda with a sparkling-water-and-fruit-juice combo. After a month, replace another regular item. Then next month - another one. In a year, you will have replaced 12 things on your shopping list with something that's better for you and yours.

Member contributions

Thanksgiving might be over - but many people cook a turkey for Christmas as well. In case you can't remember cook times and are suffering a whole bird...a bit of help. And no, I did not write this, but I only cook a turkey once a year...and thought you all might be in the same (and if you're living in leftovers--I have recipes that will take out ALL of the LEFTOVERS (even the lima beans) over several meals--that aren't soup.)


Madison, Wisconsin takes a new, fantastic, and positive approach to helping the homeless.


Just had this thought while talking about voter challenges.

If you have a kid in high school or in college - that would be an interesting project for him or her. Especially, if the school is in or near a poor neighborhood. Organize a voter literacy program. Many colleges (especially community colleges) now have a community service requirement as part of the standard curriculum. I am sure something like that would absolutely count toward that requirement.

Some years ago, I had a chance to work for a college located in the inner city Charlotte, NC - one of the toughest, poorest, grittiest areas of the city. The kids at the college helped out with several programs - like tutoring school children from the neighborhood (since schools there were pretty awful - and not because of the teachers. Think movie "Dangerous Minds" but first-graders.), grocery collections for the poorest households, summer camps, as well as resume and job search assistance for the grownups, free writing tutorials, etc.

A high school or a community college - someplace with classrooms and a library - is a good place to set something like this up. If you are a grownup of some means, and have the ability to do so, or have a community that can get behind this - consider doing this as well. I am spread a little thin right now, however, if you do go for it - let me know, and I'll be happy to help you promote the effort and spread the word.

Public Service Announcements

'Tis the season when not everyone gets to celebrate the season. Here is one of the ways you can help.

DeviantArt is once again running its holiday card project for people stuck in hospitals over the holidays.

Red Cross is also running a Holiday Cards for Heroes project.

Friends! If you do a lot of your holiday (and other) shopping on line - go through eBates and see if you can get a discount. I've saved a lot of money with them overtime.

Off-the-beaten-path holiday shopping

- Kim Caudell's etsy store

- Uncommon Goods

- Viva Terra

- Bittersweet Herb Farm

- Old World Specialties

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bit Little Change digest - November, 2014

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - declare war on somewhat-bad habits.

Some bad habits are obvious - smoking, doing drugs, drinking too much alcohol, driving around without your seat belt on. Some, however, are not so straightforward. In some cases, they are rather nice, in fact. Just... little indulgences, pick-me-ups and such.

The Starbucks addiction. An occasional high-end cup of coffee - I can dig that. "Occasional" being the key word here. But every day - twice, sometimes three times a day? Even if all you get is one basic coffee first thing in the morning, every morning - say a tall Caffe Americano for $2.49. That's over $900 a year. You can buy a top-of-the-line coffee maker AND take a nice weekend vacation. And for most people it's not just one cup and it's far from basic. There are now coffee makers that can be programmed in the evening and have your coffee ready for you in the morning. Get one and set that money aside for something fun - like enrolling in a foreign language course, going somewhere you've always wanted to go, or paying off your debt (yes, it IS fun - when you see that zero balance on your credit card statement).

Daily TV watching is another time waster and health underminder. Someone said to me recently "sitting is the new smoking". True. People sit for their jobs, sit in the car on the way to and from work, and then come home and sit there in front of the TV. Stop it. You don't need to waste 730 - 2190 hours a year doing that. (That's 30 - 91 days, by the way, or 1-3 months per year an average American watches the damn box.) You can get all the world news in 10-15 minutes from BBC web site, your shows - from Netflix, and your games - over the internet. The rest is celebrity gossip, political wrangling, and other stuff you don't need to wast your time on.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to seek and destroy these sneaky habits and, as The Oatmeal would say, defeat your Blerch.

Week 2 - make one radical change.

This doesn't seem so small, does it? But I am not talking about anything like picking up and moving to Antarctica, or quitting your job to take up professional salsa dancing, or running off with the handsome UPS guy. There are plenty of "I've always done it this way" things in our lives that can be altered. The reason? Thought pattern interrupt.

While I am a huge fan of routine and stability, I must acknowledge - it can and does lead to the staleness of thought and stupor of new ideas. Sometimes, a minor jolt is required to get yourself unstuck.

Let's say, you've always had the same thing for lunch - a ham and cheese sandwich, an apple, maybe a cup of coffee. Have a champagne lunch with crab cakes instead. Ok, so you might want to pick a non-work day for that - but do it.

If you always shop at the same store - pick a time and go somewhere different. Make a point to thoroughly check it out and see everything they have to offer. This particularly applies to clothes shopping - a lot of people, men and women, ALWAYS shop at the same places, afraid of disappointment elsewhere.

Or, let's say, you always wear black - wear color. And we are not talking - adding a white shirt under a black suit. That's cheating. No. Color. Something other than black. No black garment of any sort anywhere on you.

These are minor envelope pushers - but you might be pleasantly surprised how they impact you. You might discover your thoughts going in new and fascinating directions, your mind acquiring a new sort of clarity and teeming with ideas. It's not an easy task - but very worth it.

Week 3 - let go of other people's stuff.

You probably don't even know this - but your house is full of things that should belong to someone else. Some are obvious - like books or tools you or someone in your household borrowed from a friend or a neighbor and forgot to return. Find them and return them.

Then there are other things. Books, for instance, that you have read and not particularly liked, or thought you might read but didn't, but you hold on to them because they are books, and you can't bear to part with books. Why not give them to people who will read them and like them, and possibly even keep them for the right reasons?

There are clothes that feel good and look fabulous - on someone else. So, what are they doing in your closet? They don't fit you - but you hold on to them in case someday they might, even though, at the bottom of your heart, you know that is unlikely. They don't look good on you - but you can't let them go, because you paid too much for them. Sell them on eBay or take them to a thrift store so that their actual owners might find them and give them a new lease on life.

If your kids are grown up, their baby clothes no longer belong to them or to you ("but what if my children have children!") - they belong to a new mom trying to find good, sturdy baby clothes at a discount. Duplicates and triplicates (or even more-plicates) of hammers, screwdrivers, saw blades, and fastener sets don't belong to you - they belong to a young family trying to whip their fixer-upper starter home into shape. Old magazines, unopened bills and advertisements belong to a recycling facility. Old sheets and blankets you no longer use even for the guests belong to a local homeless shelter. Leftover cans of paint, rolls of insulation, and sheets of plywood really belong to Habitat's ReStore.

Free your home from things that belong to other people and make room for your own life.

Week 4 - read to improve your life.

Many self-help books have a bad reputation, because, it's true, a lot of them are crap. However, that is not a good reason to discard them altogether. They are not all the same and many can well and truly change your life in a positive way.

Pretty much everyone in this group is an avid reader - with more than one book going on at the same time. Make a point to identify the area of your life you would like to improve and add a book on that subject to your current reading material. Here are some ideas:

- Self-esteem, discipline, goal-setting, follow-through, life changes - "Success Principles" by Jack Canfield, "The difference maker" by John Maxwell, "What to say when you talk to yourself" by Shad Helmstetter

- Turning dreams into plans - "Put your dream to the test" by John Maxwell, "Change" by Brandon Burchard

- Style, clothes that fit, dressing appropriately for various occasions - "What not to wear" books by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine (for women); "Off the cuff" by Carson Kressley and "Dressing in the dark" by Marion Maneker (for men); "Dress your best" by Stacey London and Clinton Kelly (for both men and women)

- How to decorate and entertain (including on a budget) - "Freaking Fabulous" books by Clinton Kelly and "Queer eye for the straight guy" by the Fab Five

- Making a house a home, making the most of small spaces - "Style" by Thom Filicia and "Not so big house" books by Sarah Susanka

- Life in general - biography of any person you admire and whose achievements inspire you.

Member contributions

Small-scale gardening with unbelievable results.

Tea bags working double time.

Whether or not you like and buy Dove products, I do rather like the message in their new "real beauty" series of videos. Particularly prominent is the reminder that we really should take care of how we talk about ourselves in front of our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. We might not realize it - but they do listen, and they often inherit our own insecurities.

All hail amazing earthships!

Recommended reading

The Charge by Brendon Burchard

Current initiatives

Operation "Moving Mandy"

Nicola Tesla museum