Thursday, May 5, 2016

My blog has moved to my new website, Check it out! It's not quite finished but I don't anticipate that it will ever be finished. It's the nature of web design and creative work.

I've been blogging for ten years and it was time to update. See the recap of those years of blogging and what I learned.

Thanks for all the comments and support. Hope you like it.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

My 2015 reading

My 2015 handwritten book list showing the first 10 items, The Ironhand, Mirror Mask, Silvertongue, Sketch, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Delivering Happiness

This is the time of year that the "Top [fill-in-the-blank] of 2015" lists abound.

For me it's booklists that always succeed in tempting me to click in. I love to see how many I've read or imagine which one will be the next great read. (Do you have a favorite book list? Send it to me!)


These are the lists that have inspired me lately...

So, inspired, I took a look at the lists of books I've read. I've been keeping lists for years and have read hundreds (but probably thousands) of books in my lifetime.

It's said that what you do every day matters more that what you do every once in a while.

Of all the daily habits that have defined my life, reading is near the top for most defining. (I don't count social media fluff-n-stuff, which soaks up so much time. This year less FB and more reading FTW! )

I do count the audio books that I listen to on my commute and while doing housework. Hearing a book read aloud is a powerful way to hear the author's voice or be transported back in time or into a new world.

I don't have a complete lifetime list, which makes me sad. There was a span of life where I didn't keep track...too busy, too tired, not reading much.

But I've started to add all the books I can remember reading to my Goodreads bookshelf. Some day I'll dig out all the old early lists and catch up...or not.

I have kept track faithfully over the last eleven years, though.

By the numbers

2005 Started to keep track again
32 Average books read per year over the last 11 
2010 Began listening to audio books regularly 
1-5 Ratings for each book: 1- hate it, 2 - didn't like it, 3 - OK, 4 - liked, recommend, 5 - loved it, must read. 
31% average for Rating 5 
In 2015...
41 books read or listened to (more if I had kept track of children's picture books)
11 books with Rating 5
66% Audio books compared to paper books 
Genres 21 fiction (11 sci-fi), 15 nonfiction (6 memoir/bio, 3 biz), 5 YA/children
Themes Creativity, sketch art and novels about art, Neil Gaiman, Ursala LeGuin 
Summer Reserved for light fluffy beach reads or YA/children's books or favorite book rereads...Crazy Little ThingThe Ocean at the End of the LaneEat Pray Love
Overdrive App of choice for reading or listening, because it's free with a library card (I have 2). Downside, it's difficult to find recent books on audio, or you have to wait. Can now listen streaming on the web, though. I mostly download the books so I don't trash my data plan when I'm away from wifi. Sometimes I use Kindle, but finding good free books is harder.
I take notes or post gems of truth on my Twitter feed, @ellenking. I used to keep a notebook of notes and quotes and enjoy looking back through them, but it's very time consuming.

Yes, I read a real book with a yellow highlighter to catch the parts that ring true. No, I won't mark your book if you lend it to me.

I do love reading on my phone too. It's easier to read faster, just flicking through the screens quickly scanning the words. I feel like I'm making so much progress in less time. Downside, highlighting and bookmarking is possible by not convenient. And it doesn't have that book smell or weight in your hand.

Some of my favorites from 2015:

Book cover of Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher, with a green roaring stone dragon with red eyes.

The Stoneheart Trilogy, Charlie Fletcher. Three books about a 12-year-old boy, Eddie, who runs for his life in London, and across time, to fight the strange powers that animate the statues and monuments. He finds friends and discovers his own power and strengths. This series would be a great read-aloud for your kids.

The Goldfinch, A novel by Donna Tartt, showing a bird peeking through a torn bit of paper

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, is about a tragic accident that allows teenage, Theo, to become obsessed with a work of art and risk so much for it. It drags a bit in the middle but listening to it on audio keeps it moving along and engaging. What part does fate play in our lives? How much can we shape outcomes? How do we handle tragic grief? What power can the love of art have in our choices? "A really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart, in ways that are particular to you. Yours, yours, yours."

The Crossroads of Should and Must. Find and follow your passion, Elle Luna, book cover showing colorful hand written letters on white paint on a brown paper-like background.

The Element, Finding your passion changes everything, by Ken Robinson, Ph.D. with Lou Aronica, book cover showing a script style title with a tiny flame below it and a colorful border. From one of the world's leading thinkers on Creativity and Innovation.

The Element, How finding your passion changes everything, Ken Robinson, and The Crossroads of Should and Must, Find and follow your passion, Elle Luna, are two books about creativity, finding "flow" and discovering what your passion is. So inspirational and informative. Maybe I'm not unique in my fears and blocks, but I am unique in my combination of talents and passions. And so are you.

Dozens of sticky notes pink, yellow and orange on my bedroom wall and closet door by my bedside table to help me organize my thoughts

I was so motivated by these two books I ended up covering my wall with post-it notes in order to organize my ideas about where I spend my time and what I love and value. Highly recommended. (The books, not the post-it notes activity.)

We Were Liars book cover, by e. lockhart, showing teenagers standing waist deep in water in the bright sun. "Thrilling, beautiful, and blisteringly smart, We Were Liars is utterly unforgettable." John Green, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars.

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart, was such a page turner. Lie upon lie. It has a surprise ending that I didn't guess at all.  Couldn't put it down.

A Kiss Before You Go book cover. An illustrated memoir of love and loss by Danny Gregory. Pink and orange water color background with hand-written title.

A Kiss Before You Go was a touching memoir of love and loss after the death of his wife, done by designer and artist, Danny Gregory. So honest, so vulnerable, so touching. Taking up sketching again helped him heal and move on. Sketching is good for the soul, just saying.

You Are Stardust, Elin Kelsey, Artwork by Soyeon Kim book cover of illustrated children in paper origami diamonds breaking off from a paper star.

You Are Stardust, Kelsey and Kim, is a beautiful children's book that reminds us of our place in the universe and our relationship to the earth. Wonderful illustrations and poetic writing. A gem to share with your child and cherish yourself.

Big Magic, Creative living beyond fear by Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat Pray Love, book cover showing pink and blue paint spatters in background and a yellow spatter partially obstructing the i in Magic.

Currently I'm finishing up Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert and loving it. I like her writing style and I'm really absorbing the ideas. We think creativity is reserved for a talented few, but if you're human you're creative. It's part of what makes humans human.

This has been fun summing up my 2015 reading. Every once in a while it's good to take inventory of the things you love. Now it's time to get back to reading.

What should I read this year?



 “A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic,” Carl Sagan asserted in his iconic Cosmos series, admiring the “funny dark squiggles” that have the uncanny power to transport us, across time and space, into the mind of another.

Also read, Galileo on why we read and how books give us superhuman powers, at BrainPickings.

I have never known any distress that an hour's reading did not relieve. ~Montesquieu

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

About illness

My sketch of the miseries of influenza.

There is an art to being sick. And one's philosophy of life plays into it.

I came down with a nasty strain of influenza in July. For two weeks, I was flat out in bed unable to move much, headache, body aches, fever and chills, sore throat, laryngitis, congestion, coughing, know, the flu. It's been a very long time since I was this sick.

I had the chance to live my Stoic philosophy. I failed in the moment, but learned much.
If you didn’t learn these things in order to demonstrate them in practice, what did you learn them for? ~Epictetus
Stoicism (not the "stiff upper lip", stand-and-take-it with no emotion kind) is an ancient Greek and Roman philosophy with some coping techniques for the ups and downs of life. One outcome is increased positive emotions and decreased negative emotions. Another is peace of mind.

You seek through virtue (courage, temperance, justice, wisdom) and logic to respond to life in a way that helps you find happiness in adversity.

One exercise is to imagine a loss, or being without, for a brief time every day, and then through the day keep that perspective in mind, along with thoughts of gratitude. This helps you not take for granted what you have (job, possessions, family, friends, health) and prepares you for the certain losses that life brings.

Among other techniques, you manage your emotions and achieve peace of mind by evaluating what you can control and what is beyond your control, and through practice, learning to become indifferent to that which you cannot control.

In theory.

You definitely can't control the flu. I was not indifferent.

I was miserable, complaining that it wasn't convenient, that it never let up, that I was taking too long to get better. I was counting the minutes and dreading the night. My emotional misery added to my physical misery. It was only after I finally gave in and rested, and did what I needed to do to get better, that a bit more peace of mind came to me. I eased up on my own expectations.
Things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; so our perturbations come only from our inner opinions. ~Marcus Aurelius
Forced suffering teaches.

I learned that not as much matters as we think it does. Your health is a precious thing to appreciate and protect above all. It can be worse quickly. We are all temporarily able-bodied. Wellness will be more appreciated.
‘Being healthy is good, being sick is bad.’ No, my friend: enjoying health in the right way is good; making bad use of your health is bad. ~Epictetus
I learned that our stuff, our things, what others think, and the events that happen around us should all fall into a low priority, really, illness or no. Keeping that perspective is important to peace and well-being.
Being attached to many things, we are weighed down and dragged along with them. ~Epictetus
I had confirmed clearly that I am too soft and spoiled, and privileged, in my life in general. More Stoic practice is needed.
“But my nose is running!” What do you have hands for, idiot, if not to wipe it? “But how is it right that there be running noses in the first place?” Instead of thinking up protests, wouldn’t it be easier just to wipe your nose? ~Epictetus
I became grateful for food, water, a deep breath of air, throat drops, ice, soft Kleenex tissue and sleep. I've just been rushing through life, not paying attention to or appreciating the simple act of living.
Very little indeed is necessary for living a happy life. ~Marcus Aurelius
Moments of ease between pain are precious. Living more in those moments extends them.
The present is the only thing of which a man can be deprived, if it is true that this is the only thing which he has, and that a man cannot lose something he does not already possess. ~Marcus Aurelius
Loved ones and friends became more dear. Their concern and kindnesses however small were so welcome. We need to treat each other with more TLC.
To care for all men is according to man’s nature; and man should value the opinion only of those who openly live according to nature. ~Marcus Aurelius
And, I didn't get worse. I'm still here among the living. I didn't get bronchitis, pneumonia, sinus infection, strep throat, dehydrated or a list of other complications. I very Stoic kind of appreciation.
It isn’t death, pain, exile or anything else you care to mention that accounts for the way we act, only our opinion about death, pain and the rest. ~Epictetus
I feel changed, clearly, and don't think I'll be the same again. Unless I forget.
How quickly things disappear: in the universe the bodies themselves, but in time the memory of them. ~Marcus Aurelius
My duty is clear.


For the next time, for others. To be more "artful", to be more philosophical in practice than in theory.

Read more about Stoicism:

How to Be a Stoic, Massimo Pigliucci
Indifference is a Power, (Or why Stoicism is one of the best mind-hacks ever) Lary Wallace
Stoicism 101, How to be a Stoic
Stoic Ethics, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Thursday, April 23, 2015

My Pastry Box article is live

On a whim last New Year's Eve, and with encouragement from a friend, I pulled together some thoughts on Sketching. It's just been posted on the Pastry Box! Check it out.

While my writing skills have improved a lot over the years, it remains a challenge to get what I want down on paper. See if you think it's coherent.

I'm a bit disappointed in the quality of the cover photo. Ah, deadlines and technology.

All in all I'm pleased. Hope you are too.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Word of the Year

(Hey, look what I found in my drafts folder! Too late for a resolutions post?)

A word of the year works for me.

Rather than a list of resolutions that are more wishes than determination to better myself, I choose one word every January to guide my life for the year, to send me off in one direction.

It's not an original idea.

I trace it back to a post on the Happiness Project blog a few years ago about setting the tone for the year, and this one with a video about choosing a one-word theme, and this recent one that I just discovered, one-word theme.

Then there's this author who believes you can change your life with just a word. (Haven't read it, so I can't recommend it, but it seems like a popular idea.)

My daughter told me she was doing it as a way to simplify and still move forward, and, of course, remove the guilt when resolve usually fails.

Who needs one more thing to fail at, feel bad about, or stress over? Not I.

How I choose

Every year I ponder on something that I think will benefit me personally and possibly others. I try to keep it broad, but not nebulous; focused and measurable, but not restrictive and too defined. I ask others, but not to copy, just to be inspired. I make lists, look at a thesaurus and dictionary sometimes, but essentially it just comes to me at a random moment.

The implications

I like this one-word approach because I already put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed and improve, and I don't need the extra pressure of a long to-do list. Besides, at this point in life I've exhausted the long lists (either as impossible, fruitless, or trivial).

So here's why I choose just one word:

  • It's easy to hold in my mind.
  • It can apply in so many ways. 
  • Anticipating how it will manifest is half the fun.
  • Every year can be a success.
  • The outcome usually surprises me.

A few examples

One year I chose Color. I felt life was a bit drab, a bit boring, a bit colorless.

So I focused on buying fewer gray or neutral pieces of clothing and more items with color. I didn't realize that I was always pulling beige-colored or gray pants off the rack to try on.

I live in a house with beige carpets and off-white walls. So I took a risk and bought richer curtains, rugs and towels, and a red chair!

More colorful food is better for you, richer in vitamins and variety, better for digestion and cancer-fighting goodness, instead of the processed, soft, white, starchy diets many of us have. I choose colorful food.

That word color continued with me through the years since that first one. I think about color more and not just in clothing, food and home decor. Color lifts my spirits. I look for that really blue sky in October and really green grass in May (and the azaleas!)1 and all the shades and seasons in between. I notice the "pops" of color that make life good and interesting.

The point was to get out of my comfort zone, or climb out of a rut or two, and get some variety and zest into life.

The year I chose Authenticity, I strove to bring my home self, my work self, my church self, my family self and my inner self more into alignment.

I stopped myself from pretending when I didn't really feel it, and smiling when I didn't want to (or when someone told me to!). I started keeping quiet when my opinion wasn't really needed, and speaking up when it was important.

I cherished real life moments (good and bad) rather than rushing to the next thing or wishing away a situation. A lot of healthy goodness came from that year.

For example, it was a relief and a revelation when I finally said to self and family I hate to cook. In our culture it's just assumed that women like to cook and nothing pleases them more than feeding their families. And for some that is true. I gave up trying to fit a mold when it comes to cooking. I now put together nice, simple, balanced meals to nourish us, but I'm equally fine with picking up prepared meals on the way home from work, eating leftovers, or warming something from a can. It's all good and doesn't reflect on me personally, or as a wife and mother.

The point of Authenticity is that my thoughts and opinions are a valid as any other, how I express myself in word and dress and action is unique. My preferences are mine, and I value those ideas.

Last year I chose Truth. As the year unfolded I did a lot of pondering and listening to my heart and soul for answers. I ended up writing in a journal a lot more than I have in years. It was so good to take the time I needed to just think about what's important in life and to me. I knew I had a whole year to figure a few things out and I wandered (and wondered) down many avenues of thought, sometimes aimlessly and sometimes with dogged determination.

What felt serious and heavy at one point gradually flattened out, thinned, and dissolved away. I equate the feeling to a Bible scripture, John 8:32, "and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

The point is that some things can't be forced, but need time to mature or resolve. A year to focus on one word provides that for me.

If resolutions don't work for you or you just don't want another thing to do, give a Word of the Year a try, instead.

Share with me and I'll give you a thumbs up and whatever cheering and validation you need.