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, April 9, 2014

Mama Masha's kitchen - quick hits - Sangria Maria

This is a rather marvelous combination for summer parties - flavorful and bubbly.

In a large pitcher combine:

- 2 cups of red or white wine (or 1 cup of each)

- 2 cups of cranberry, pomegranate, or black currant juice

- 1 can of Canada Dry green tea ginger ale

- 1 single-serve bottle of club soda

- If you have any fresh or frozen fruit, like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries, add a cup of those as well.

- Stir carefully, chill and serve.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Big Change Through Small Change digest - April, 2014

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - pick a song, any song.

Sometimes, it is tough to find time to exercise. Even when you already don't watch TV, there are still plenty of distractions, especially the ever-present Internet. I find that the easiest way to build any habit, including the exercise habit, is to start small.

So, find some songs that never fail to get you moving. Make a playlist on your MP3 player, your smartphone, or on your computer. Every morning, as you pop out of bed, queue up one song and come up with a little exercise routine to go with it. Most songs are less than five minutes long - surely, you can squeeze it in somewhere. Maybe set the alarm five minutes earlier - it's just a few minutes, it's not like it's a whole hour or half an hour.

This will get your heart pumping, get you moving, give you an energy boost, and start you off with good mood.

Week 2 - realize that what works for you may not work for others.

Finding any job can be tough these days, let alone one's dream job. For those of you who managed this feat and found your perfect employment - congratulations. I am happy and proud of you. Have fantastic fun at work - you'll be awesome.

My current job is only half my dream job. It is in the sense that I LOVE being an analyst. I eat, drink, sleep, and breathe numbers, and that is fantastic. I don't care if the rest of the world thinks my job is boring - I love what I do. It is not quite as dreamy, because of being a part of a corporate workplace, complete with the pompousness, and politics, and other traits thereof that make it less than palatable at times. That said, most time, the love of what I do and the benefits (such as the ability to work from home) vastly outweigh the issues.

That said, while I might ask people whether they have considered a career as an analyst, I am certainly not going to insist that it's the best thing since sliced bread if they show no natural inclination for it. The same goes for any other job. Much as you may love your career in programming, or life insurance, or real estate, or online marketing - or anything else - recognize that it is YOUR dream job. It works for you. It might not work for others. It seems easy, pleasant and rewarding to YOU. But it may not appear the same way to others.

If you tell other people about your job, try to recruit them into the same field, and feel pushback from them, don't get offended and, more importantly, don't get snooty as in, "Fine, I'll collect my paycheck and yours while I am at it."

There is a reason why there is such a vast multitude of various professions in the world. Many things need to be done, and many different people get to do them. We can't all be astronauts, or writers, or ballet dancers, or college professors. There are jobs out there for all of us. By all means, tell people about the opportunities, but don't bash people when they thank you politely and state that it's not for them. Respect other people's choices.

Week 3 - resist the temptation to troubleshoot.

Life is not perfect. Nor should it be - it would be awfully boring if everything went our way 100% of the time. And so, we all have days when something goes awry - sometimes more than one thing. Social animals that we are, we need to tell someone. Sometimes we seek advice and sometimes we just want to talk it out and let out the steam.

As a type A and an engineer, I am constantly in the "what can I fix" mode. So, when someone tells me about a problem, it is VERY hard for me to not to go Wonder Woman on them and not to start spewing solutions at the rate of ten per minute. However, with time, I had to discipline myself to pause, take a breath, and ask, "Are you looking for advice or do you just need to vent?" That's all it takes, really.

I cannot tell you, how much difference this makes in your interactions. People appreciate you more because you listen better and you respect their right to find their own solution. So, if you are a troubleshooter, like me, consider forming this habit. Repeat after me, "Are you looking for advice or do you just need to vent?"

Week 4 - it's NOT going to be one of THOSE days.

Sometimes, you get up and slide your foot into your slippers only to discover that a dog threw up into one and a cat left you a dead mouse in the other. Sometimes, you go to brush your teeth and stub your toe on the nightstand leg. Sometimes, you go to get dressed for work only to discover that the shirt you were going to wear is missing a button, your jacket needs to be dry-cleaned and your shoes are scuffed. When things like that happen, what's the first thing many people are tempted to say? "Oh, sheesh. It's going to be one of THOSE days."

No. No, it's not. Do not pre-program your day to be lousy. It's just a mouse - if you have pets, you know things like that happen.

Yes, that stubbed toe hurts - put some ice on it, make sure nothing is broken, and take an anti-inflammatory. Wear comfortable shoes to keep from bothering it too much.

It's just a button - it takes five minutes to sew back on.

The dry-cleaning can wait a day - just brush your jacket as well as you can, maybe steam it if there is time (hanging it in the bathroom while you take a shower and closing the door to trap the steam actually works quite well).

Give your shoes a quick shine - another couple of minutes. Done!

No, it is NOT going to be on of THOSE days just because the start was rough. Unless your roof fell in, a tree fell on top of your car, and a loved one had just gotten hurt or something equally disastrous happened, other things are small by comparison. You can fix it, take a breath, and go on to have a great day.

Week 5 - smile on the treadmill.

Or on the elliptical. Or while stretching on a mat. Or on the running track. Wherever you happen to be exercising. Seriously, why do so many people look so glum when they exercise? I can understand a look of grim determination - because fitness is a challenge, and I get that. But some people look like they would rather be hanged by the neck than be exercising. The last time I checked there were significantly worse things one could be doing. Hauling cement. Cleaning elephant poop. You know... It's a long list.

No, exercise is not easy. Establishing a steady fitness routine is SERIOUSLY not easy. But one thing to remember is that by doing that, you are doing something well and truly incredible for yourself. You are doing your future self a huge favor, by keeping your current self in the best possible shape, by getting some muscle, by boosting your metabolism, by keeping your joints moving. Considering all that is involved in the physical process of exercise, that is an awesome thing! And you get free endorphins on top of it.

Smile. Put some kick-ass uplifting music on, visualize whatever you have to but smile. People will notice. First they will think you are insane. Then they will think you are up to something. And then they will realize it's possible to be happy while exercising, and might even decide to give it a shot as well. Smile.

Member contributions

Great idea for low-maintenance, limited-space gardening.

When you teach your kids right, they can start some big changes of their own.

One mom decides to make a change for her wheelchair-bound child.

Public service announcements

More small-space garden ideas.

Kid President delivers a few profound thoughts.

Amazon offers a way to support Kiva microloans.

Recommended reading

How to live in flip-flops by Sandy Gingras

We always welcome new members to our Facebook group and new choppers and change enthusiasts to our Big Little Change store.

Friday, March 28, 2014

About translation

As I started working on my 30-something translation project, I came to an interesting realization. The best translators are like the best butlers, waiters, and wedding photographers - they are invisible. For example, at our wedding, we told our photographer that we didn't want posed photos - just candids. And he delivered - well over 400 shots. But no one remembered him being there. Not even I - even though, as I walked down the aisle, he stepped out for a fraction of a second, took a shot, and stepped back in. That was how good he was.

The best translators must be that way too. When working with truly excellent conversation interpreters, people talking to each other eventually lose the sense of the third person - they truly feel as if they are talking TO each other, not through the third person. And with literary translators, when someone reads their work, the impression must be clear - this is Pushkin, this is Tolstoy, this is Zola, and this is Neruda. Not "this is thus and such author translated by" - but "this is THAT author". It has to be unmistakable. Such is the great challenge of those of us who choose to leap over the language barriers and introduce readers to works outside of their own language.

The foreign language offerings at American book stores and on line remain scant. I was reminded of that just yesterday, as I was re-reading a Russian-language science fiction anthology including fourteen writers from five different countries. Having read some of the stories in their native language as well as in Russian, I can honestly say - Russian translators have done a great job, because there was - unmistakably - Bradbury, and there was Asimov, and there was Priestley. So, clearly, countries outside of America exchange their works back and forth - and I think it's really important for the same to happen here, because American readers are very much missing out.

Once again, I urge those of you out there who are fluent in more than one language, to consider translation. Yes, there are legal headaches involved, and the translation process itself is far from easy - it can be a delight one day, and a nauseating headache the next. But when you see the readers' response - that "Oh, my God, I've never heard about this writer - and I love this stuff!" reaction - it is absolutely worth it. Best of luck!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Writer Interview - Paul Trembling

Our guest today is Mr. Paul Trembling - a man of many talents and many stories.

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What is your favorite virtue?

I don’t think that I have one favorite virtue. The problem is that virtues don’t come in individual packages. They merge, they blend, they mix. So a person who shows patience will also be showing self control, and will probably be diligent as well. Kindness, compassion and charity (in the old meaning as well as the new) are all found together.

We can analyze the virtues, break them down and file them under different headings, but that seems to me to be somewhat artificial. In the world, in people, they come together, in untidy clusters. Nobody has all of them, and perhaps nobody is entirely devoid of them (though some people do a good job of hiding it!). Where they exist, they make the world a better place.

Your favorite qualities in a man. Your favorite qualities in a woman.

I’ll put these two together, if that’s OK, because gender specific qualities wouldn’t be among my favorites.

The problem I have in defining favorite qualities is that (somewhat like virtues) they don’t come separately.

For example – decisiveness is a quality I definitely admire in people (probably because I lack it!). Decisive people don’t mess around, don’t dither. They get things done, they make things happen. The world needs that quality.

But very often, decisive people can be difficult to work with. Once the decision is made, they want to go ahead with it, and aren’t interested in different points of view, or perhaps even inconvenient facts. They don’t change course easily, and can be intolerant, or downright pig-headed.

So, whilst I like decisiveness as an idea, when I meet it in a person I might not find it so attractive.

Honesty is a favorite quality. Honesty means facing problems, admitting mistakes, confronting the real issues. Without honesty there is no growth, no improvement, and this applies whether we’re talking about individuals or communities or entire nations.

Yet honesty can be cruel. It must be tempered with compassion, balanced with sensitivity. Otherwise, instead of helping a problem it creates one.

And of course I could go on. I love to see creativity and passion, gentleness and strength, humour and beauty and craftsmanship and skill and joy. I try and recognize these good things in people, to affirm those things, whilst not being blind to the dark side that we all carry round with us, the negative aspects of these qualities. I accept that there is a dark side to all of us, that’s part of being human, and we all need to face up to that and work against it – but still see the good wherever it can be found.

That’s the theory, at least! I can’t claim to be that wise or that discerning in practice. But I’m in favor of any positive quality in anyone.

Your chief characteristic.

My sense of humor. Others might disagree.

What do you appreciate the most about your friends?

Simply the fact that they are my friends!

Being a bit of loner, and not overwhelmed with social skills or self-confidence, I found it hard when I was young to believe that people might actually enjoy my company. Over the years I’ve developed a better view of myself, but I still find myself a little surprised and perhaps a bit wary when a friendship develops.

Developing a sense of humor (see above) was probably a response to this insecurity. If I can make someone laugh, I can be reasonably sure that we are getting on OK.

Your main fault.

Lack of self discipline, in my opinion. My sense of humor, in other people’s opinion.

Your favorite occupation.

Writing.

There are a lot of other things that I like to do, and if you catch me at a particular moment, my favorite occupation might at that moment be cuddling up to my wife, watching a good film and eating chocolate. Or walking the dog on a beautiful day. And so on.

But when I’m in the zone, when the ideas are crisp and fresh, the words flowing and joining themselves together, when characters and plots and background and an entire world is taking shape in me and being created in words – that’s an incomparable thrill.

The other side of that particular coin is that when I can’t write, for whatever reason, I get very frustrated! Like having an itch I can’t scratch.

Your idea of happiness.

I probably covered that under ‘favorite occupation’. Did I get those two mixed up?

But perhaps happiness goes deeper than that. Not just the passing pleasure from doing something enjoyable, but a contentment that comes from knowing your place in the world, from being secure in your relationships, from feeling that what you do and who you are is of value, from having meaning.

I’ve struggled with that in the past. And sometimes still do. But over the years, things have come together to make me a happier and more contented person than I was. Meeting my wife, Annie, sharing our lives and having a family, has been a big plus. In recent years, developing my writing and some self-confidence in my writing has been a huge blessing. And my faith as a Christian has always been my foundation on which all happiness is built.

Your idea of misery.

There is so much real misery in the world, so much incredible suffering going on, that for me with my comfortable life to talk about misery seems a little shallow and petty. I have seen misery on the TV news, heard stories of it. I’ve been unhappy, I’ve been down, I’ve been really depressed and felt crushed with life. But I have barely scratched the surface of real misery.

But what would get me there? Loneliness is the surest route, I think. A strange thing to say, perhaps, for a person who has been, and often still is, a bit of a loner. A writer and a daydreamer who is often more comfortable with the worlds in his own head than the world outside it.

But when I come out of my head, I need a place to come back to. A place where I belong, and people I belong with. I don’t mind being alone for a while, but that’s not the same as lonely. I’ve been there, and never want to go back. It is a miserable place.

If not yourself, who would you be?

I’ve been struggling with this question, because it seems a little arrogant to say ‘no one’. But the thing is, however wonderful someone else’s life might seem from outside, you know that they must have their own problems and hang-ups and dark places. To truly be someone else would be to take on all that baggage as well.

Of course, I’ve got plenty of baggage of my own that I’d like to get rid of. But at least it’s familiar stuff. I know which cupboards the skeletons belong in. There’s much that I would change about myself, but not to the extent of not being myself.

So I’ll pass on becoming another person. Being me, and trying to become the best me I can be, that’s enough of a challenge!

Your favorite heroes in fiction.

Gandalf, from Lord of the Rings. For his incredibly long years of patience and persistence in his enormous task. And for the way he recognizes and values the small things and the little people (like Hobbits!), and for his capacity for love.

Also from LOTR – Borimir. For his flaws, his weaknesses, his failings. And his overcoming of them at the end.

Your favorite heroes in real life.

C.S. Lewis. A man with an incredible mind, able to deal with deep concepts of life and faith, but then communicate with clarity and freshness and wonderful imagination.

Your favorite food and drink.

I’m a bit of a philistine when it comes to food. I’m as happy with a good sandwich as I am with a three course dinner – possibly more, since the sandwich is probably cheaper and I can read while I’m eating it! Not that I don’t appreciate eating out on occasion, especially in good company, and I’ll try almost anything once. To be on the safe side, though, feed me chocolate. I’m usually OK with that.

I don’t drink alcohol, so I’ll wash that down with coffee, tea or fruit juice.

What is your present state of mind?

Pretty good! I’m working on a story which is coming together quite well, the weather has been really nice, and I’m touching on that deep contentment that I spoke of earlier.

Your personal motto.

Reality is overrated. Hence the title of my blog – ‘The Reality Escape Committee’ and deriving from that, my collection of short stories ‘Minutes of the Reality Escape Committee’.

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To find out more about Paul and his books, please visit his web site, Yearning Blue.

For a list of currently published works go to the Publications section of his web site or to his Author Spotlight on Amazon.com.

Paul Trembling's blog can be found here.

And his Facebook page is this way.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Big Change Through Small Change digest - March, 2014

Big Change by Way of Small Change is a non-political, non-religious group, looking for open-minded people and ideas how we can change the world by collectively doing the right thing - even when the initial change is something very small and simple. You can always join us on Facebook and get all the news, articles, and suggestions as well as contribute some of your own.

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - use your turn signal.

Yes, I know - there are areas where using your turn signal is just begging to be treated like crap on the road. And that is precisely what we are trying to overturn here. Many accidents take place every year because someone failed to communicate which way they were going. Many more are just barely averted, because another driver has split-second reaction and really good anti-lock breaks.

I have no idea, how using your turn signal suddenly became uncool or weak, and why doing so means having a harder time making lane changes or being allowed into a parking spot. In the spirit of big change by way of small change, let us all start using our turn signals. The more of us do so, the more people will take notice and start doing the same.

Week 2 - pretend you are on vacation.

This is equally tough for those of us who work at the office and those who work from home. We get bogged down in a daily routine, where everything takes place the same way, day after day, week after week. We yearn for something different, but there is no time to break away - SERIOUSLY break away.

So fake it. Working from home and being the primary person responsible for most household duties, I rarely go anywhere, and believe me - it does get old, even living in a beautiful house in the middle of lovely woods. So, when I go to the post office, or to the grocery store, or to run some other errand, I pretend like I am on a mini-vacation. I purposely take a slightly longer route to get there, crank up my most upbeat music, and let my mind roam free. Sometimes it's only a 20-30 minute trip, but it's a great way to re-set and re-focus.

Week 3 - slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

I was first introduced to this concept when training in aikido. Many of us, martial arts students, were tempted to attack our techniques at full speed. However, the true skill and smoothness of movement came from slow, painstaking practice, until it finally became possible to go faster and still preserve good form and efficiency.

The same applies to our daily life, if you think about it. When are we at our clumsiest? When we are in a hurry. Suddenly, our furniture grows extra corners for us to bump into, every object we pick up becomes extra-heavy or extra-slippery - just waiting to be dropped, and our elbows and knees seem to add at least ten inches to their size because they seem to run into EVERYTHING.

Slow. Down. Take a breath. Even if you are running late - trying to do everything at a frantic pace will only make things worse. So, take a deep breath, and slow down. Go through your tasks at a more sedate pace. Before you know it, the furniture will shrink to its normal size, as will your elbows. The household objects and articles of clothing will stop trying to be juggling balls and fly out of your hands. By slowing down, you will be able to do what you need to do smoother, and the pace will pick up without your noticing. Even if you start behind schedule, going slower might actually help you get back on time. Pretty cool, no?

Member contributions

CoCoRaHS sister project - observing plants in addition to observing weather to contribute to better understanding of the global climate change.

Some common snacks with healthy alternatives. I like stuff like that a lot. When it doesn't just say, "Don't eat that!" but says, "Ok, this is not very good for you - but here is something else that tastes as good and is much better."

We don't have as big a selection in the drinks aisle as some bigger stores, but we do get Canada Dry. They offer their single-serve drinks, like tonic, club soda, and ginger ale, in small glass bottles. I am saving ours to use later for home-made syrups and infused oils. They would probably also work well if you wanted to buy a large container of juice and take a smaller portion to work with your lunch.

Because why wouldn't you want a bicycle sink? Seriously, I wouldn't do all of these, but great ideas.

Our words have power--and with the cabin fever season--people are breaking down at the library regularly, so the weight of words is drowning me. Here's an illustrative article proving it is better to keep quiet and be thought an idiot, than open your mouth and prove it. And, so much more: “My advice to them is, leave your offenders speechless”

Public service announcements

9 ways to detox your home.

Hilarious and brilliant - the happy secret for better work from Shawn Achor.

Something for Moms and Dads out there to discuss with their daughters.