About eighteen months ago, I began to KonMari my house based on the principles in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The experience took several months, and I learned a lot about myself during that time. I figured I was about due for a refresher when we moved into this new house. Obviously, in moving, everything I’d done in terms of storage and knowing where everything was at no longer applied. I didn’t know where anything was, and of course, a person changes over time, and I figured it was time to go through the KonMari stages once more.

Except…as it turned out, I didn’t need to. In her book, Marie Kondo talks about never needing to tidy again. She says that she herself goes through her house twice a year just to refresh things, but that it takes only a tiny amount of time because she already knows exactly what she does and doesn’t love. As it turned out, the same applied to me, even after a cross-country move!

Now, I won’t even begin to claim that my entire house falls under the KonMari rules. I live with four other people who have their own way of interacting with the world. While I generally know where everything is in our kitchen, that’s mainly Jason’s domain. The same applies to my boys’ bedrooms, and things like tools that I don’t really do anything with. However, when it comes to the living room, my bedroom, and the office (mostly), I know exactly where everything is, and I’ve created my own personal sanctuary in those places.

bedroom-1 bedroom-2

My bedroom is my own. Every single thing here brings me joy. Sure, there are some pieces of clothes that I need to donate and some things I don’t use as often, but they are so few and far between that I feel no compunction to weed them all out immediately. They’ll wait. This is where I do my yoga in the mornings, lights off, sun coming in through the window. It’s perfect.

liv-rm-1 liv-rm-2 liv-rm-3

The living room, of course, doesn’t just belong to me. The movies, books, and decorations belong to us all. Yet, I make sure this room stays a refuge. The shelves are organized and lovely. I keep the floor clear and the couch cushions straight. We finally got curtains for the room, light gauzy things that help with the room’s airy feel. This is my second sanctuary.

office-1 office-2

The office is a work in progress. Some of the furniture in it is cobbled together and needs to be replaced with pieces that aren’t falling apart. Everything is not quite settled into its resting place. The walls are mostly bare, and the room needs repainting. However, the curtains are of the same light gauzy kind as the living room, and the sun shines through to me when I work on my blog in the morning. I have all my little sentimental pieces in sight, and I’m excited about how the walls will eventually look. The world map has pinned all the non-US places I’ve visited, and will eventually have strings leading from the pins to photos from those trips. On the adjoining wall, I plan to put up a US map for the same purpose in the future. Eventually, the office will become a third sanctuary.


And while the rest of the house is more communal space than personal sanctuary, I did add one more touch to make me feel at home. As I sit at our dining room table, I face a wall of photos above a lovely piano that my husband and son like to play. The dining room – with three teen boys – is often a messy, haphazard kind of place, but that wall is my own personal little retreat, bringing a bit of calm and happiness into a chaotic world.

I’m really grateful that I first heard about Marie Kondo’s book back in 2015. It’s amazing to see her words come true, that when you keep the things that bring you joy, you remember where everything is, and it’s no trouble to keep your space tidy.

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Wellness Wednesday #45 – Nimi

buttonFebruary hasn’t gone well in Mandaland. I had the one, brief spurt of energy on the second, and tried to keep up the momentum, but some health issues got the better of me. I’m in the process of working with a doctor on them, but for about a week, I was unable to do yoga or any exercise due to this particular ailment. Coupled with some rollercoaster temps and the general fug of sluggishness that comes from being unable to move much, I’ve been feeling far more depressed than usual. I admit, I huge chunk of my brain just threw up my hands when it comes to February and said, “I’ll start again after I’m home from vacation.”

One part of my brain rebelled, though, and said it wanted a small bit of happiness. That part started looking at cats. Yes, I already have two cats, but 18 months ago, when Gavroche entered our lives, he became an integral part of my therapy process. I knew I wanted a third cat to complete our family, a cat that I could smother in love, and a cat that would become a playmate for Gavroche so that Ash wasn’t being harassed all the time. I figured I’d wait until after vacation to get that kitty, but then Jason took me out for Valentine’s this past weekend, and we fell in love with Nimi.


Nimi was a stray of unknown age, though the vet estimates around two years. She was recently spayed and just became available for adoption this past week. We watched her in the social-cat room, and saw a few necessary things. First, she didn’t mind other cats at all. Second, she didn’t mind not being the cat in charge, which is good since Ash is definitely our alpha-cat. Third, she didn’t let other cats push her around, either. Fourth, when she warned other cats, she didn’t use her claws, just gave them a warning paw. And fifth, when we had to carry her for fifteen minutes while we filled out paperwork, she obviously didn’t like being held still, and wiggled a lot to try to get free, but never lashed out at us with teeth or claws. I’m not sure how a cat goes through two years of living on the streets and becomes this people- and cat-friendly, but hey, I’m not complaining!


We decided to foster-to-adopt, to make sure things didn’t go crazy when we brought her home. Ash, of course, would take some time to get used to her, and Gavroche maybe a little, but you never know how these things will go. We predicted fairly correctly, though. Ash hissed and growled for a day, then took to mewing uncomfortably whenever she came too close. Nimi didn’t let him intimidate her, but also didn’t challenge him. She gave him a wide berth but never backed away. Gavroche sniffed curiously and tried some intimidation tactics, but Nimi just kept lying in her spot looking up at him like he was weird, not in the least bit scared. By the time a day had passed, we were able to let Nimi walk around the house without an escort, though the other kitties kept a bit of an eye on her:


We did have one incident the day after Nimi came home. Right around lunchtime, she disappeared. We spent two hours looking for her, and I was terrified that she’d managed to escape while we brought in groceries, despite us being very careful. I was teary and panicking by the time she finally showed herself again. She’d crawled into the plumbing behind my shower and into the rim of the bathtub. !!! Crazy girl. Obviously we need to work on getting a decent access panel in place so we don’t lose her like that again!

It didn’t take a week to know she was perfect for our home. Nimi officially became part of our family yesterday.


She is such a pretty girl. Mostly tortoiseshell, part whatever-else, she’s full of color splotches all over, some big, some small. As we brought her home, Jason told her a story. He said that he thought she had been a cat many times, hundreds of times, and that each of her little colorful patches with the history of another cat she’d once been, so that she carried the wisdom of lifetimes of kitties with her in her skin.

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The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout (audio)

sociopathSubtitled: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us

Four percent of the population – about one in every 25 people – has no conscience. They are not all criminals, serial killers, or the Hitlers of the world, which is what most people think of when they hear the word “sociopath.” Sociopathy is more complicated than that, and this book acts as a primer to this disorder, also known as psychopathy and anti-social personality disorder.

There was a whole lot jammed into this very short book, so I’m going to review this in bullets:

– Sociopathy doesn’t necessarily make a person unlikable. Often, in fact, they are charming and can easily fool and manipulate others. We always think of villains as sociopaths – think Voldemort, who has no connection to anyone and cannot love, which is essentially the definition of not having a conscience – but there are many non-villains that fall under this definition as well. In popular fiction, for instance, characters such as Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters, Ferris Bueller, Jay Gatsby, and Sherlock Holmes would all fall under the sociopath umbrella.

– Speaking of Voldemort, I’d like to contrast him with Bellatrix, who unlike Voldemort, does appear able to connect with other human beings, thereby having a conscience. This does not mean she is incapable of doing many horrible, evil things. It just means that when she breaks her moral code, she feels remorse, shame, and guilt. Her moral code is ridiculously skewed, but she does show attachment to others and the ability to feel true emotions. This illustration points out that not all crime and evil in the world is committed by those without a conscience.

– This leads me to one point in the book that I disagree with. The book says: Unless under the spell of a psychotic delusion, extreme rage, inescapable deprivation, drugs, or a destructive authority figure, a person who is conscience-bound does not – in some sense he cannot – kill or rape in cold blog, torture another person, steal someone’s life savings, trick someone into a loveless relationship as sport, or willfully abandon his own child. I think this blanket statement is far too simplistic. I don’t believe conscience is all-or-nothing. While the nothing part may be there, in terms of sociopathy, I think that people can range from having a very weak conscience to a very strong one, and that moral codes can take many forms. (Bellatrix, of course, was under the spell of a destructive authority figure!)

– There were two things in this book, published in 2005, which I found extremely relevant to our country’s political climate today. The first were a series of different quotes about sociopathic leaders, and the ways to spot them. While I have no idea if our current president qualifies as a sociopath, some of these quotes are very apt today, in a way that is terrifying to me:

Using fear-based propaganda to amplify a destructive ideology, such a leader can bring the members of a frightened society to see the its as a sole impediment to the good life, for themselves and maybe even for humanity as a whole, and the conflict as an epic battle between good and evil. [Note: the its being whoever the leader reduces from human to nonhuman.]

Quote from Benjamin Wolman: Usually human cruelty increases when an aggressive sociopath gains an uncanny, almost hypnotic control over large numbers of people.

The politician, small or lofty, who menaces the people with frequent reminders of the possibility of crime, violence, or terrorism, and who then uses their magnified fear to gain allegiance, is more likely to be a successful con artist than a legitimate leader.

– The second and more complex of the two relevant bits has to do with the psychological training that military folks undergo to make subverting the conscience possible (thus making soldiers able to kill when at war). This goes back to the its quote above. Part of this training involves dehumanizing the enemy. It’s done by belittling local customs and culture, by presenting leaders of the other faction as Voldemorts, by emphasizing the moral imperative of us vs them. Which leads me to a disturbing question that the book, published in 2005, did not address: What happens when 15+ years of war leads to millions of people undergoing said training, and then coming home post-duty to readjust to civilian life? Can you just undo all that dehumanization? Or does the media emphasis on Middle East = Bad, America = Good, Muslim = Bad, Christian = Good, Arab = Bad, White = Good continue to feed that dehumanization? Are we slowly populating our country with more and more people who think in terms of us vs them, and diminishing the consciences of people who then commit destructive acts of violence under this influence? Can this, in part, explain the rise in hatred and hate crimes against at least one group of people? For me, this is a very disturbing idea.

There is so much more in this book. Illustrations on how various kinds of sociopathy look, comparisons of sociopathy vs narcissism vs attachment disorder, biological research into the genetic portion of sociopathy, warnings signs and ways to deal with the sociopaths you meet in your daily life, the ways that rates of sociopathy vary across the globe, etc. It’s funny – I feel like I’ve written tons here, and yet I also feel like the book only scratched the surface on this topic, making me want to read more in-depth research and writings on the subject.

Performance: This audiobook is read by Shelly Frasier, who did an excellent job. I was engaged the entire time and listened to the book in one afternoon.

Posted in 2017, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Sunday Coffee – Nine Years

img_7407It’s blogoversary time! While this latest version of The Zen Leaf has only been in place since August 2014, my book blogging goes back to February 15, 2008. I was suffering dreadful jet lag after returning from my visit to Palestine, and I was wide awake in the middle of the night. My friend Marcia had started a blog on Blogger, and while I’d been putting up an occasional blog post on MySpace (ha!) for a couple years, I decided to start blogging in earnest that February. My first post was in the middle of the night on Valentine’s day, and the next day, I put up my first book review. (It was awful, as these things usually are.) I count that first review as my “official” blogoversary. Heh.

Over these nine years, blogging has changed a lot, both in the community and for me personally. I’ve bounced around from blog to blog, platform to platform, subject to subject. Sometimes I spend more time on books, sometimes on writing, sometimes on wellness, sometimes taking long months away from the blog altogether. I’ve watched blog friends come and go, some decisively quitting their blog with a notice, others just kind of trailing away and never returning. I’ve met dozens of fellow bloggers from around the world, and a fair handful of authors as well. I’ve had lovely moments in blogging, and some terrible moments. And I’ve read nearly 1000 books – many of which I never would have known about if not for fellow bloggers – since I began this project nine years ago.

While not always good or easy, these have truly been amazing years. I can’t imagine what my life would be like today if I hadn’t followed a middle-of-the-night, jet-lag-fueled impulse to write that first blog post nine years ago.

Posted in Book Talk | Tagged | 7 Comments

Arcanum Unbounded, by Brandon Sanderson (audio)

arcanum-unboundedSubtitled: The Cosmere Collection – Fiction From the Worlds of the Cosmere

This collection of stories and novellas all take place in the giant world of Cosmere that ties many of Brandon Sanderson’s books together. The collection contains a number of works already previously released in various places, as well as a new novella related to the Stormlight Archive. Additionally, there are notes on the various worlds of the Cosmere, post-scripts about each story from the author, and (in the print edition) illustrations. (As I have the audio edition, read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading, I of course had to go out for a print edition to check this out. Which turned out to be good for another reason, detailed below.**)

So let me start by saying that I didn’t realize that this collection was made up mostly of already-published works. I thought it was mostly new stuff, and was surprised when The Emperor’s Soul was the first piece in the collection. I immediately looked up the collection online and discovered my error. While I hadn’t read all of the previously published works, I’d read about half, including most recently Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, just last month. I love the idea of all these pieces being collected together, and I’d like to get a beautiful print copy for my Sanderson shelf, but my expectations for the collection were definitely disappointed.

arcanum-britishStill, that’s not to say the works themselves were disappointing! Yes, I wanted more new stuff, but even the rereads were lovely. Some of them I hadn’t read in quite some time, and so re-listened to them. Some I’ve read in the last year, and skipped through those parts. Of the new-to-me works, I was happy to be introduced to two new Cosmere worlds, and I’m itching to get my hands on the graphic novel White Sand, of which there was only an excerpt here**. I do wish there’s been something new from the world of Nalthis, where Warbreaker is set, but I guess one can’t have everything, right?

Of course, my favorite part of the collection by far was the novella Edgedancer, the never-before-published piece. The Stormlight Archive has become one of my favorites after my obsession with Words of Radiance, and I’m dying to get the next book, Oathbringer, due out in late 2017. This 40K novella was a lovely bridge piece, showing some of what’s happening in the world post-WoR. Several familiar characters show up, including the narrator, who is the focus of one of the interludes in WoR. Immediately after listening to the novella, I wanted to dive back in and revisit it, and start piecing together all the little connections to Stormlight. It. Was. Fantastic. And totally made up for discovering that most of the collection was going to be rereads for me.

Side-note: Growing up, and growing into my own writing style and skills, I became obsessed with the idea of having all of my books/stories interconnect in some way. I’ve done this to some extent with my novels, setting many of them in the same fiction midsize town and sometimes having their paths cross, or have main characters in one book show up as brief side characters in others. Etc. It’s a minor thing in comparison to the way all these novels, stories, and worlds interconnect, and I admit that this connection is a huge reason that I don’t just love Sanderson’s books, but fully geek out about them. These are the books I was always looking for but never found growing up, and I’m ever greedy for more. If this is your kind of deal as well, I highly recommend getting into Sanderson’s work, and I have plenty of suggestions on where to start!

Works contained in this collection (world in parentheses):
– The Emperor’s Soul (Sel)
– The Hope of Elantris (Sel)
– The Eleventh Metal (Scadrial)
– Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Episodes 28 through 30 (Scadrial)
– Mistborn: The Secret History (Scadrial)
– an excerpt from the graphic novel White Sand (Taldain)**
– Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell (Threnody)
– Sixth of Dusk (First of the Sun)
– Edgedancer (Roshar)

**In the print version of this book, there is an excerpt from the graphic novel, as well as part of a draft of the original story that was adapted to graphic form. On the audiobook, only the story was read out. I didn’t even know that the actual visual/script portion was included until I got the print copy. Hence, being glad I wanted to check out the illustrations! I got this bonus as well.

Posted in 2017, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wellness Wednesday #44 – A funny thing happened on the way to circuit training…

buttonFebruary. Circuit training. That was The Big Plan. I had it all worked out. Half an hour alternating minute by minute between strength training and cardio, designed to be a full body workout. It was a good design, but as February approached, there was part of me that looked toward this circuit training with dread. I told myself it was just worry about trying something new, and I’d come to love it. And if I didn’t love it, I told myself, if it hurt too much on my foot, I could drop the plan. I gave myself a way out.

February 1st. First day of circuit training. The dread intensified. I looked back and saw that I’d been exercising daily for over a week, and decided that I needed a rest day. It was a day of audiobook and puzzles and eating more than normal. A proper off day. I could always start on the 2nd, right?

February 2nd. First day of circuit training, part 2. The dread intensified. I found myself typing up blog posts, fiddling with the current puzzle-in-progress, unloading the frickin’ dishwasher. Anything to put off the inevitable. Which, of course, is when I had my aha moment. Why inevitable? I didn’t want to do that circuit training. It wasn’t as if I didn’t want to exercise, which is a different thing altogether. It was that I didn’t want to do my planned cardio/ST combo. I wanted to do my yoga! Thus the decision was made. Scrap February’s plan. Goodbye circuit training. Hello yoga!

loveyogaI did some yoga, smiling the whole time. Afterwards, I took this picture and posted it on Instagram. Part of what I wrote there said, “They say that to maintain a good fitness regimen, you must find fitness you love. And I love yoga. Through yoga, I’ve become stronger and more flexible. My posture has improved and I rarely need to see a chiropractor. I’ve found peace of mind in yoga, and a love for my body despite injuries and obesity. I look forward to my workouts and have even doubled up some days. … And here I am, post-workout, messy hair, no makeup, obese body – and feeling so alive and self-loved that I can grin at my reflection. This is truly the definition of find what feels good.”

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Twelve Angry Men, by Reginald Rose (audio)

twelve-angry-menMost people know this story already. A teen is accused of murder, and the jury must be unanimous in its decision: guilty or not guilty. It seems a slam-dunk decision, until one man votes not guilty, and sets out to convince the rest that there’s a reasonable doubt here.

My first exposure to this story was in middle school, when a teacher had us watch the first part of the movie – right up until the one man votes not guilty – then paused for us to guess which of the men might change their votes, and in what order. My guesses? Completely wrong. I didn’t know enough about human nature then. The experience left a huge impression on me, though, and I was happy when the movie was assigned in my paralegal course a couple years back. I had to study the movie for the way evidence was handled, and so kept a better eye on it than my middle school self. So when I began listening to the full cast audio production of the original play, I pretty much knew everything that was going to happen before it did. That didn’t lessen the story, though.

If you haven’t seen or read Twelve Angry Men, I highly recommend it. It’s a beautifully worked look at both human nature and the legal system, as well as the prejudices that exist so strongly in our country. The play is over 60 years old now, but in today’s political climate, it’s very relevant. For myself, while I enjoyed listening to the play, and the full cast audio is really good, I actually prefer the movie version. Nothing is left out, and there’s a lot to be gained by seeing rather than hearing some of the movement. However, both are excellent, so I highly recommend this audio for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, or for those interested in the origins of the movie.

Posted in 2017, Adult, Drama | Tagged , , | 5 Comments