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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.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Today... I need a soap box

Things in this post have been on my mind for a long time. I realize they will offend people, but I believe they need to be said. I shall attempt to be as civil and factual as possible. However, if anyone chooses to get up and walk out after reading this, I will not blame them.

On Hillary Clinton

Her using private server for business e-mails does not make her a "lying piece of shit" (something I actually read on one of the public forums). Many of us, especially those who work remotely, use home e-mail to send work file backups or save business contact information somewhere other than the work computer in case it crashes. Network connection problems are very common, and having backups of work on a home computer is a normal thing people do. How would you feel if you were called a lying piece of shit for copying your teammate's e-mail address into your home contact list? Give it a break. Had Mrs. Clinton not been a presidential candidate, no one would have blinked an eye at this.

On GMOs and organic foods

For crying out loud! Stop generalizing! Don't you understand that most of the fruits and vegetables today have been genetically modified? This has been done since the dawn of time, when humanity discovered farming as an alternative to gathering and started cultivating stronger strains of various plants. Learn to differentiate between things that have been genetically modified through cuttings and transplants and things modified by using scary chemicals. Not the same thing.

In addition, stop telling people what they can't eat and being snooty toward those who prefer brands you don't like. If you want to be helpful publish lists of brands that are better and places where they can be purchased at lower costs. It is a well-known fact that organic foods and heirloom vegetables are significantly more expensive than other comparable foods in most parts of the country. The difference can be as low as 10% for organic brown rice (manageable, especially if you buy in bulk) to the whooping 134% for organic beef (definitely not manageable). Average difference between organic and non-organic foods is 68%. (The data comes from a report published in a Colby College study in 2011. More recent information is available here and here.)So, unless you are prepared to foot the grocery bill of every person who has to get by on food stamps, shut the hell up. And if you threw out Amy's products when it was bought by General Mills? That was an idiotic thing to do. You are no better than Russian government burning foreign foods just to spite Europe and US.

On race and poverty(US only)

What is wrong with you - all of you? White people, if you don't think racial divide exists you are delusional. A simple example - look at the wage scale. It is a well-known fact that, given the same job and the same skill level, the highest salary goes to a white man. There is a toss-up between a white woman and a black man, depending on the location and the industry. Black and Hispanic women fall at the bottom of the scale, frequently earning 50 - 65 cents per every dollar earned by a white man. (Information on the wage gap is available here and here). This is out there. It exists. Deal with it. The same trend permeates other aspects of workplace and society in general. Probability of getting a job, all things being equal... Probability of getting good customer service... Probability of being treated well on the job and in social situations... Likelihood of getting arrested... Likelihood of being treated crappy by the police regardless of guilt... Everything is affected. Acknowledge it. Deal with it.

Black people, for goodness sake, stop treating everything so black and white (pun completely and utterly intended.) You can't force white people to treat you better, but you do have a choice as to whether or not you treat white people like shit when they live in predominantly black neighborhoods or work in predominantly black workplaces. I've done some of both - having lived and work in places including mostly minorities. I never offended anyone, I did my job, I was polite - I was treated like shit. When I was nice, I was accused of trying to weasel my way into the group where I didn't belong - I wasn't trying anything, I was just being nice. When I kept to myself because I got tired of such accusations, I was accused of being snooty. For no reason other than being white. That's racism too. And it too is out there. I quit saying "Some of my friends are black" because I know what I'll hear in response is "That's what you ALL say". Whatever. Some of my friends are Jews, whose ancestors died in the Holocaust, and they don't choose to treat German people like crap - but nobody gives a damn about that.

I don't care whether your ancestors were slaves (so were some of mine - there was such a thing as slavery in Russia, which you know nothing about), I don't care how horrible you may have been treated, it is your choice and your responsibility to decide how you want to treat others. Quit blaming history, quit blaming jerks in your life, think for yourself. And quit assuming that white poor have it any better than black poor - they don't. Their life is shit too - they don't lose the right to have problems and struggles just because they are white.

News item - neither American white poor nor American black poor have it the worst in the world, be it in terms of living conditions, income, racial, or religious persecution. You know who has it worse? It's a long list - are your ready? Women in certain Middle Eastern nations. Jews in Russia (well, actually, just about anyone who is not Russian these days). Jews in Palestine. Palestinians in Israel. Aborigines in Australia. Immigrants - legal and illegal - in America and Europe. Heck, Africans who were actually born in Africa. All these people right this second have it worse than you. So, be thankful for hitting the cosmic jackpot of being born in America, by all means acknowledge you have struggles, but handle them like a grownup, instead of waiting to win a lottery. Yes, we have tons of enormous holes in our welfare and social security systems. It's common knowledge. All you can do is work with them - one thing at a time. There is no formula, no panacea for overcoming extreme poverty, near-homelessness, near-deportation. I can only tell you it can be done - with no money and no connection. I know because I've done it.

On race, crime, and publicity

Having reviewed US Department of Justice prison mortality reports for 2012 and 2013, I discovered something fascinating and counter-intuitive. Unlike those overblown Facebook videos, this really will make you question a lot of things. The person likeliest to die in a US prison is not, in fact, a young black or Hispanic male from police brutality. It is a white male, aged 45-50, with no prior conviction, from an illness or a suicide. There are no protests or riots on the subject because, I suspect, most people don't know this and think they know something altogether different. So much for making assumptions solely on your own personal perception of the world.

Of course, our darling media does little to alleviate the ignorance on the subject and makes a concerted effort to frame racially- and gender-charged events in as inflammatory manner as possible. Here are what I think certain headlines should have read at the time these events happened:

- In Ferguson, Missouri, a policeman oversteps the use of force boundaries and kills an unarmed local petty thief while trying to arrest him.

- In Tulsa, Oklahoma a policeman bungles an arrest and shoots an unarmed suspect in a drug sting.

- In New York, a harmless man dies in police custody after being arrested on bogus charges and put in an illegal chokehold.

- In Salt Lake City, Utah, a policeman shoots an unarmed man at 7-Eleven after mistaking him for a suspect in a 911 call.

- Young woman dies in police custody under suspicious circumstances, having been arrested after a disagreement over a traffic violation.

- In Clairmont, South Dakota, a young woman dies in police custody after being arrested for a bond violation.

- In Seneca, South Carolina, undercover police officer shoots a teen trying to sell weed.

- In Lynn, Mass., a drug dealer dies in a hospital after being shot by a police officer.

Yes, there are crimes that are obviously and unequivocally racially, sexually, or religiously charged. The recent Charleston church shooting. The recent Louisiana shooting. Heck - 9/11! But not all of them are like that, and we must learn to differentiate on a case-by-case basis. If any riots ensued after headlines formulated as I described above, they may have taken place for the right reasons: like, yeah, petty thievery and bullying is bad, as is driving like a jerk or breaking bond, but they don't deserve a death sentence. As it was... some of these cases might not even come across as very familiar. They weren't publicized because those who died in them were not of the specific race. That should not be ok. Nor should it be ok, that I could not bring some of them up on par with the others without being called racist.

On crime and mental illness

There is one huge point that upsets non-white people in this country, and this one I totally agree with. I support them with arms and legs, because it's preposterous. Mental illness as a crime diagnosis. When a crime, particularly a mass shooting, is committed by a black or a Hispanic suspect, the media immediately says "thug", "gang member", etc. But when it's committed by a white suspect it's "aww, he's had a history of mental illness". Bullshit.

First of all, mental illness is not race-exclusive. So, why isn't it being looked at or publicized when the suspect is non-white? Second, there were plenty of mass murderers in the history of crime who were, for all intents and purposes normal. We could argue that someone cannot be normal if he or she is ok with killing a whole bunch of people. Great. Then we are back to point one - the investigation into the mental health history should not be race-exclusive. If that is going to be the first question asked in some mass shootings - it should become the first question asked in all mass shootings.

Race aside, it pisses me off as someone who has a legitimate, certified, confirmed by four doctors mental health diagnosis. And, because many mental patients reach out for support, I have many friends and acquaintances who also struggle with mental illness. None of them have gone out and killed people. Not one. So, why is this such a common conclusion. Instead of "suspect with a history of mental illness shoots ten people" I want to see "suspect shoots ten people because he is an asshole". Mental illness already carries plenty of stigma, thank you very much. We don't need to have the label of "potential mass murderer" added to the list. Most functioning mental patients are also responsible adults, who realize their mental illness is not society's responsibility, and work hard to operate within the boundaries defined by normal people. They do not use their mental illness as an excuse to commit crimes.

Rant over. Until next time.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Big Little Change digest - August, 2015

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - find a simple pleasure.

One of the most touching stories about making room for fun even when you have very little is told in "Secrets of a millionaire mind" by T. Harv Eker. In the chapter about financial buckets (charity, savings, fun, etc.), he talks about a woman who was in very dire straits financially and had only one dollar at the end of each week to distribute between her "buckets". This meant - she had only 25 cents to spend on fun. Her solution? She bought a 25-cent pack of gum that came with a little cartoon insert - and that was her fun for the week. Eventually, through discipline and wise use of the "buckets", she pulled herself out of the financial hole and was able to move on to a better job and a better life.

Not all simple pleasures have the same impact, but they are important and necessary. We are not meant to work all the time - and there is plenty of proof that, after a certain point, more work doesn't mean better productivity. In fact - it can mean less.

Find a simple pleasure that is easy to enjoy on a fairly regular basis and make it a regular ritual. Something you can always rely on. Something you can always look forward to. You deserve it.

Week 2 - do something you've always wanted to do but haven't.

If it costs money - brainstorm how you can make it happen. If it costs courage - meditate, ponder, do whatever you have to do - but make it happen. If it requires help from friends and family - be brave and ask them. Some will look at you like you are crazy. Others will pitch in and cheer you on with delight.

We all have dreams - great and small. We deserve to allow ourselves to find time and means to bring those dreams to reality. Pinpoint one - and get to it.


This concludes our second year of small change challenges. I'll probably do a few "re-runs" from prior years, but not with the same regularity as before. The first year's small change challenges are available in "Big Little Change" the book. This second round will come out shortly in "Big Little Change - the journey continues". As always, group members are welcome to contribute their own small change challenges and stories of big and little successes.

Week 3 - supplemental.

Find a body part and/or a character trait and tell yourself why you love it. For example, I love my big butt, because it hurts less when I fall on the ice. Seriously, I took a bad fall on a slippery ramp a year ago, and my chiropractor said, had it not been for the extra padding, I would have broken my hip.

So... pick something and figure out why you love it. Extra points for a trait or a body part you feel REALLY self-conscious about.

Week 4 - supplemental. Don't be a prisoner.

Some time ago, we had a zumba class with a whole bunch of new people. Now, it's pretty normal for the new folks to be a bit lost to start with, and our instructor always makes a point of telling them it's completely ok. One group of the new attendees took her advice to heart. Even though they were lost and stepping on their own feet, they were clearly having fun. By the end of the class they were actually catching up very nicely. The second group didn't even try. They just barely shuffled their feet and moved their arms. They looked like they've been dragged there and forced to stay.

My husband's teaching colleague calls such people "prisoners". Instructors see them quite often, regardless of what they teach - people who are in the classroom making an extra effort to show just how much they don't want to be there.

Don't be that person. Don't be a prisoner. If you go somewhere because you were told to (like mandatory work-related training), make the best of it. If you are in a fitness class, and realize halfway through it this might not be for you, don't suck the energy out of the room - finish it gracefully. Having "prisoners" in the room is very tough both on the instructors and on other students. Not only such people undermine themselves - they undermine others. Don't be that person.


Big Little Stories

- Artists get fed up with inhumane homeless policies and set out to change things.

- A new fantastic initiative to give kids the right start in life.

- Students get to work to make sure their low-income classmates never have to worry about groceries.

- A well-kept secret changes lives.

- A golf course gets a makeover - as a farm.


Big Little News

Big Little Change: the Journey Continues is now available on Kindle, Nook, as a paperback, and as a hardcover.

For all things Big Little change - the group, the books, the store - please visit our web site.

Mama Masha's kitchen - Snacky Sunday

A few weeks ago my husband and I decided to start a new food tradition at our house. We call it "Snacky Sunday". No fixed, ordinary meals are served, but rather, small plates of various snacks are prepared and set out through the course of the day. They might or might not include something like, say, a potato or a pasta salad that can be chilled and eaten as leftovers through the rest of the week. But otherwise, it's all sorts of small finger foods.

The advantage of Snacky Sunday is - it can be extrapolated to any day of the week and any number of people. So it's not just a fun way to wrap up the weekend, but also a great formula for entertaining.

Here are the snacks we have tried so far (in various quantities and combinations):

- Caprese (home-grown basil and home-grown cherry or Roma tomatoes, on toothpicks with small bits of mozzarella, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar).

- Crabmeat bites (unfortunately, we can't afford real crabmeat, but the fake stuff can be pretty good too. We serve it chilled with some good cocktail sauce on the side.)

- Home-made chicken tenders (chicken tenders dipped in egg spiced with Tony Chachere's spice n' herbs seasoning, then in Panko crumbs and fried or baked).

- Home fried (potato wedges treated about the same as home-made chicken tenders).

- Sweet and salty sticks (bits of smoked sausage on toothpicks with gently sauteed dates).

- Home-made pickles (dill and bread-and-butter cucumber slices, pickled squash, hearts of palm).

- Radish revelry (large radishes with centers hollowed out, filled with butter or yogurt, sprinkled with coarse applewood smoked salt)

- Sangria Maria (any leftover fruit mixed with red wine and flavored seltzer)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Introducing Paradisi Chronicles!

About the Author

Cheri Lasota writing as Tristan James
Author Tristan JamesAudavoxx.com Founder Cheri Lasota has beenÊaÊfreelance author, editor, ebook designer and marketing consultant for over a decade, Cheri has dedicated her life and career to helping authors succeed in publishing. Her bestselling debut novel, Artemis Rising, is a 2013 Cygnus Awards First Place Winner and a 2012 finalist in the Next Generation Indie Books Awards. Echoes in the Glass is her second novel. She is currently writing a scifi trilogy and a fantasy series. CheriÕs Paradisi Chronicles novella series is written under the pen name Tristan James.


Massive Multi-Author Book Launch coming September 1!


A science fiction adventure through time, space and generations, brought to life through the creativity and independent perspectives of multiple authors. Enter the world of the Paradisi Chronicles, where every new journey is a surprise ride youÕll never want to get off.
  Astronaut in the tunnels

What is the Paradisi Chronicles?

Deep Space WhenAuthor Hugh Howey put out the challenge in 2014 for writers to band together to write in the same universe, our group of seven authors took up the challenge. We spent a year building out a fictional planetary system, complete with a massive world narrative with multiple peoples, languages, and storylines as well as detailed maps and a large amount of research into advances in Space Elevator, EmDrive, Ford-Svaiter Mirror, and spaceship technologies. In addition, we came together with a clear goal: the Paradisi Project is an open-source world, meaning any author who wishes to join in may write any story they wish. Thus far, we have written in a variety of genres: YA romance, a contemporary romance, two action-adventures, a coming-of-age action-adventure, and two near-future scifi novells on offer coming up September 1.

And so it begins...

In the last decades of the twenty-first century, ten wealthy men and women, seeking to escape the increasingly devastated Earth, focus all their power and wealth on developing the technology and building the spaceships that will allow a select few to leave Earth and colonize the world they call New Eden. Here, on their new home in the Paradisi Planetary System, these Founding Families hope to avoid the environmental and political mistakes that were destroying Earth. But they find that the world they claim for their own is already inhabited, and the Ddaeran, the original inhabitants, although human-like in their appearance, possess abilities that the Founders and their Descendants will find both intriguing and frightening.  

Paradisi Escape

Book 1, Paradisi Exodus Novella Series

Paradisi EscapeMy novella series, Paradisi Exodus, details the origin story of the Paradisi Chronicles. I adore origin stories in general--hello every superhero origin story! =) While researching another scifi series I'm writing, I got obsessed with space elevators and realized I could add that technology to the world of Paradisi. Much of the tech in Paradisi originated with my various geeky obsessions with astronomy and near-future tech. Mea Culpa! Here's a bit about the story that kicks off my series:

In near future 2094, Earth is on the brink of nuclear winter. A secret evacuation is already underway, and Solomon Reach and his crew have guaranteed passage on the last starship to leave for colonization and exploration of a new planet in a distant galaxy. When Solomon learns of a betrayal that will have catastrophic consequences, he is faced with an impossible choice: who will live and who will die?

Coming soon!

Subscribe to our blog at the link in the footer below to receive news of our imminent book launch on September 1. We can't wait to share our shiny new world with you. In the meantime check out the rest of our website where you can learn more about the world and all our stories. Thank you for the challenge, Hugh Howey. We accept!

Books|Authors|The World |Want to write in our world?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Big Little Change digest - July, 2015

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - share a thought.

We spend a lot of time curbing our thoughts. Between political correctness and self-policing ("Oh, that's just stupid!" or "They'll just laugh at me!") there are many fascinating thoughts and ideas that go unspoken and are lost forever.

Dare yourself to express a thought you wouldn't ordinarily mention. See what comes out of it.

Week 2 - who are you?

One of the most challenging, thought-provoking, and profoundly fascinating exercises I did at Jack Canfield's Breakthrough to Success seminar in 2014 was the "who are you?" exercise. People paired up, and one of the partners asked the other "Who are you?" repeatedly for 90 seconds.

For a minute and a half, we had to come up with things about ourselves that defined us. Some were easy: wife, mother, working woman, etc. But that only filled in a few seconds. There was a lot more time left, and a lot more to remember about ourselves - roles we didn't even realize we took on, day in - day out: family account manager, homework assistant, household chef...

Pair up with a friend, or your child, or your spouse and try this out. You are bound to learn much about each other and about yourselves.

Week 3 - do something you don't want to.

That exercise you've been meaning to start doing regularly. That attic you know needs to be cleaned up and organized. That bunch of things with missing buttons and falling down hems waiting to be fixed up and returned to wearable. You know they are there. They are bugging you. You hate them. You don't want to deal with any of them, but your dislike for them doesn't make them go away miraculously.

Pick one. Do it. Get it off your plate for good. Some other time pick another one. Do it. Cross it off your list. Put a big, fat, luscious check mark next to it. And buy yourself ice cream to celebrate.

Week 4 - say what you mean.

I am currently rereading the biography of Chopin by Faina Orzhekhovskaya (for the two hundredth time). At one point, Chopin becomes frustrated by the increasing wordiness of his then-fiancee Maria Vodzinskaya. Instead of "I am waiting for you. I love you," she writes "We shall be delighted to have the pleasure of your presence," and so on.

Ditch. That. Stuff. I am not suggesting being rude or overusing profanity (although, even that has its time and place). But say what you mean and how you mean it. Too often, the meaning gets lost in the profusion of words. This is particularly detrimental in our age of electronic communications, because, without visual, and auditory interaction, we lose over 90% of our communication tools. This makes saying what you mean in a way that cannot be misunderstood all the more important.

It is an art. It is not easy. But it is necessary, for the evidence of constantly worsening communication between individuals, companies, and entire nations is mounting. It's time to speak plainly - we'll all be better for it.

Week 5 - start something.

Kiva web site and Uncommon Goods catalog are among my greatest sources of inspiration, because they often talk about people and group who started businesses and initiated fundamental changes in their communities with hardly anything at all. A sewing circle. A cooking club. A study group. It started small but, somehow, struck just the right chord with people in the community and grew into something the originators never even imagined.

Another great example is the "surprise gift" initiative that sometimes circles Facebook. People commit to send surprise gifts to others who, in turn, commit to the same. So, what could you start today that would have a positive impact on your community - be it a real or a virtual one? It might not catch on. It might not "explode". But there has to be something you could launch today that could change someone's life for the better tomorrow.

Big little stories

- If you have a few shoe boxes lying around, save them - they make awesome shipping boxes for anything small. We like to use them for sending around home-made pickles, preserves and Christmas coffee cakes.

- A different approach toward mental health.

- We still have some awesome cops out there.

- Pet shop owner goes beyond just selling pet stuff.

- Learn to make paper airplanes, hats, boats, and frogs. It's the easiest and cheapest way to make friends with a child.

- Strangers make certain a homeless man doesn't lose his money.

- Maasai women lead a solar revolution.