About Me

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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, March 4, 2015

Big Little Change digest - March, 2015

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - meet someone new.

This one can be tough for those of us who live in isolated areas and work from home. However, there are still ways. There's the internet, of course. There is Meetup.com. There are grocery stores, book clubs, dog parks and other venues where new people are ripe for the meeting.

The new acquaintance may yield nothing. But then again - it might yield a new friendship, a potential customer, or a business venture.

Week 2 - dress up for no reason.

People ask me this all the time, "You work from home, you hardly ever go anywhere - WHY do you bother getting out of your pajamas?" Because. That's it. That's the answer. It just does it for me. Some days I wear something nicely casual. And some days I might go up a notch and dress as if I have a special event coming up later - like a visit to the theater or a cocktail party. I might go to the grocery store like that or for a walk through downtown. And feel good.

Try it. One day - for no reason at all - pull out something you normally save for a big presentation or a party or some such, put it on and wear it. Listen to yourself when you do this and notice the difference in how you feel and carry yourself.

Week 3 - reconnect with an old friend.

Whatever happens to some of the amazing friendships we enjoy in our childhood, at school, or in college? Some people stay in touch consistently for decades. But more often than not, they promise to do so and then drift apart.

Social media made it easy to track down and reconnect with old friends. So, dig up someone from your memory - someone you know you liked a lot and were close with all those years ago - and consider looking him or her up. What's the worst thing that can happen? The person might not be available. Or might not be interested. Or maybe the old friend has changed so much you don't have much in common anymore.

But, on the other hand, you might be on your way to reviving a great and positive relationship. And, let's face it, it's hard to beat having someone in your life who knows all those embarrassing stories from your past.

Week 4 - the day of help

Choose a day, preferably when you know you'll be out and about, open your eyes and ears wide, and spend the day giving and helping everyone who asks for it. If you know you'll be going into a downtown, bring a bunch of change and give to every street beggar. It doesn't matter what they might or might not spend that money on - just give. If you are at a grocery store and see someone struggling loading their car - walk offer and lend a hand. If you get an e-mail about your local soup kitchen or pet shelter needing a hand - go and help.

In that one day, you'll become a point of origin of a whole slew of big little changes.

Member contributions

Anyone can be a hero - including a librarian.

Public service announcements

Did you know? In addition to being a movement, a Facebook group, a book, and a web site, Big Little Change is also a Kiva team. Come join us and change the world - one person at a time.

A city residence can be a pollinator habitat.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Writer interview - Hannah Audrey Warren

Hannah Warren was born in Paris (Fr.) in 1956 as a second child to a Dutch father and an English mother. She has lived in The Netherlands almost all her life but maintains strong ties with her own favorite triangle: France, UK and Holland.

Hannah studied Dutch literature and Mass Communication at the University of Amsterdam and later obtained a B.A. in English Literature and Language and a B.A. in Translation from Rotterdam University. After having been a lecturer and a translator for many years, she now works as a staff member at the International Office of HZ University of Applied Sciences in Vlissingen.

Her free-time is taken up by writing fiction and doing Yoga. She also likes to go on long hikes while listening to audiobooks. After having been a single mum for nearly two decades, her three children have flown the nest. The great sadness that befell Hannah in March 2014 was the loss of her eldest child, daughter Joy, who died after an intense two-year struggle against bile duct cancer. Currently her second child, son Ivor, is fighting a brain tumor. Her whole life and the future of her children (-in-law) is totally upside down. Writing fiction is Hannah’s main outlet.

From the age of 8, Ms. Warren has written poetry and short stories but it took her over 50 years to become a published author. Her debut novel – the literary romance Casablanca, My Heart was published by Thorstruck Press in June 2014.

Psychic Confessions, first book in the series The Cottage on The Border (November 2014, Thorstruck Press) is Hannah's second novel and positions her as a writer of suspenseful family sagas. The sequel The Angel Within will be published in July 2015.

In December 2014 Hannah participated with 10 other authors in the first Thorstruck Press Anthology The Secrets of Castle Drakon with the short story called The Blood Red Nails of War.

In August 2015 the first book in the Daughter of the Alvar Series “Ingrid” will come out. This is a historical family saga situated in south-Sweden in the 1890s.

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What is your favorite virtue? My favorite virtue is ‘courage’. The courage to be honest, compassionate, persevering. Courage is not something you can train for or develop. It is an inner, in-born quality that you either have or don’t have. At the basis of every other great virtue lies courage. It’s the only real virtue that will change anything for the better. It are the cowards, liars and weak minds in this world that either deliberately or unconsciously destroy it. The opposing force to this is courage.

Your favorite qualities in a man. Inner and outer strength,passionate,respectful,intelligent,understanding, warm,courageous

Your favorite qualities in a woman. Inner and outer beauty, sisterly, tenacious, compassionate, intelligent, peaceable, courageous

Your chief characteristic. Observant

What do you appreciate the most about your friends? Loyalty, freedom from expectations, freedom from judgment, intelligence, fellowship

Your main fault. Impatience

Your favorite occupation. Writer

Your idea of happiness. The health of my children.

Your idea of misery. A world torn apart by rigid minds

If not yourself, who would you be? The Boudica

Your favorite heroes/heroines in fiction. Vincent Van Son in my latest novel Psychic Confessions, Konstantin Dmitrijevitsj Levin in Anna Karenina, Jean Louise Finch (Scout) in To Kill A Mockingbird, Old Jolyon Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga, Ingrid Gunarsson in Daughter of the Alvar (my new novel that will be published this summer), Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre, Yury Andreyevich Zhivago in Doctor Zhivago, Hassan in The Kite Runner, Mary Yellan in Jamaica Inn

Your favorite heroes/heroines in real life. Dalai Lama, Ruby Bridges, Ahmed Aboutaleb (mayor of Rotterdam), my deceased daughter Joy (although she may no longer be part of ‘real life’ she fought a heroic fight against bile duct cancer), Pope Francis, my neighbour Alie, who is always is open and smiling and wise and kind to anyone she meets, my son Ivor who’s currently fighting his battle against cancer, Malala Yousafzai

Your favorite food and drink. Food: Ayurvedic cooking: rice, vegetables, vegetarian dishes. Drink: coffee, tea, wine and water

What is your present state of mind? Waiting for the hailstone shower to pass over.

Your personal motto. You can’t do it alone; find a compassionate heart, hold a warm hand.

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Find more information about Hannah and her work:

- Website and blog

- Facebook author page

- Twitter

- Thorstruck Press author page

- Goodreads

- Instagram

- Pinterest

- Tsu

- LinkedIn

- Amazon author page

- Psychic Confessions

- Casablanca, My Heart

- Casablanca, My Heart (audiobook)

- The Secrets of Castle Drakon

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Artist interview - Stan Baldwin

I've been a fan of Stan Baldwin's incredible art for a long time now. Much to my delight, I was finally able to lure him in for an interview - no doubt through a combination of my feminine wiles and persistent nagging.

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What is your favorite virtue? My personal virtue is to be able to let my imagination run wild. In others, I like creations that are beyond the ordinary…it can be something in pottery, writing, or on the athletic field or just about anywhere..

Your favorite qualities in a man. Honesty and humbleness

Your favorite qualities in a woman. I love the character in a woman’s face, even more as she gets older. I love women who know what they want and go after it..

Your chief characteristic. I love art…..you will seldom see me without paint on my fingers…

What do you appreciate the most about your friends? Honesty and originality

Your main fault. Laziness

Your favorite occupation. Artist

Your idea of happiness. Staying vital

Your idea of misery. boredom

If not yourself, who would you be? Marlon Brando or Steve McQueen

Your favorite heroes in fiction. Lucas Davenport, detective in Sanford Novels..

Your favorite heroes in real life. Too many to name…. Elizabeth Warren stands out..

Your favorite food and drink. Lime juice and Cherry phosphate…..most smoothies. I love Mexican and Chinese food…occasionally Greek..

What is your present state of mind? My mind is like a continuous movie, before I fall asleep, a slide show..

Your personal motto. Never Quit..

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To find out more about Stan and his art, please visit his Facebook page.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Big Little Change digest - February, 2015

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - share the warmth.

A few weeks ago, when I was paying my electricity bill on line, I noticed a small paragraph added under the bill total amount. The paragraph asked whether I would like to add a small amount to my bill (not recurring - on a time-by-time basis) to help heat the homes of the less fortunate. Hell yeah! Money was tight, but this seemed like such a great idea - and so in sync with the Big Little Change concept - I tagged on a few dollars to my bill and happily paid a larger amount.

Service providers in your area might be running similar initiatives. Check on their web sites and find out if there is a way you can help with someone's electricity, water, heating costs, and other utilities. If not, perhaps there is a grocery drive you can participate in.

The season of giving doesn't end with the holidays. It should continue year-round. Share the warmth.

Week 2 - don't post. Do.

There are lots of these things floating around Facebook, "Post in the next five minutes if you love your mom." "Share if you have amazing friends." "See who loves their dog." "Post if your children mean the world to you."

To be honest, I find these kind of silly. Aside from those cases, when people grew up in really unfortunate circumstances, surrounded by abusive family members, or their children became serial killers, of COURSE we love our moms, our kids, our dogs, and our friends. And not re-posting this stuff doesn't mean we suddenly don't care.

So, the next time you see one of these or feel the urge to post one - don't. Do something instead. "Post if you love your mom." - If your mom is still around, call her or send her a just-because card. Or, if she is not, take a moment to bring up one of the good memories you've had together, bake her favorite cookies or some such.

"Share if your kids mean the world to you" - instead, schedule a longer reading time with your kids, send them a "hey, thinking of you" e-mail if they are away in college, have some small surprise waiting for them.

"If you are not chicken, share this in the next five minutes and show how much you care about the environment." - Meh... guilt tripping. Go plant a tree instead. Take a walk in the park. Send a donation to the World Wildlife Fund.

You get the idea. Just... do.

Week 3 - end your vacation 3 days early.

We often struggle withe the end-of-vacation blues and do our darndest to stretch is as long as we can. However, as counterintuitive as it may sound, I'd recommend starting your transition from vacation back to work in advance.

If you are going away for vacation, plan your trip to get home a few days early. That way, you have time to alleviate some of the jet lag, settle in, do the travel laundry, straighten out your house and de-stress. Instead of having a jarring "where did my vacation go" leap from home to office, you can transition smoothly, feeling properly wound-down and rested - as one ought after a good vacation - ready to tackle whatever challenges your job might have in store for you.

Week 4 - a week of learning.

Pick a week - any week. Use this week to learn one new thing every day. It can be anything - a new piece of information, a scientific fact, a new recipe, a knitting pattern, a better way to grow begonias, anything at all. By the end of the week you will have learned seven brand new things you didn't know before.

Who knows? You might find it so addictive - you'll decide to do it every week.

Member contributions

Remember that somewhat esoteric small change challenge we had a few weeks ago? The one about remembering you might be someone's example?

I was at the gym yesterday doing some strength training before my zumba class. I was on a stand that allows you to do knee-ups and leg lifts, among other things. Two ladies walked up and watched me for a little bit while I was doing those, and then asked me if it was hard. I explained it was a tough question to answer because it really depended on a person's ab and leg strength. So, I showed them both how to do those properly and helped spot them while they tried. They both agreed they would need some work. And then they thanked me and said, "But you made it look SO easy!"

I was once again reminded that, while I might not think of myself as an athlete or a fitness expert, where I am today IS a point yet to be achieved for many people. And it was great fun and rewarding to be able to help someone out along the way.

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It snowed this morning and we ended up with about 1½" to 2". We live in a condo but they only shovel when we get more than 4". We bought a small snow thrower a couple of years ago. I was clearing our half of the driveway and kept looking at the other half. Our neighbor just moved in back in August. She's a single mother about 40 and has a 9 year old daughter. I was cold, tired, and couldn't feel my toes. I wanted to call it quits and go inside and thaw out but I couldn't. I cleared her half of the driveway too. It's not completely clear and I didn't do her small sidewalk but I did enough to make it a little easier for her when she gets home tonight.

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Public service announcements

A great idea for helping out someone stuck in the cold.

Some good info on container gardening when you don't have enough space for a full-scale vegetable patch.

Tiny houses could help lower income families get high-quality, wonderfully designed homes.

Pizza slice for a stranger? Why not?

Ideas for random acts of kindness.

Recycle your used electronics.

Authors Supporting Our Troops 2015 campaign is officially underway!

To find out more about the Big Little Change movement, please visit our web site and join our Facebook group.

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.

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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.

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