Posted in Uncategorized

Hack Into the Deadline – A2Z Reflections on Niches and Motivations

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

On the one hand, I like deadlines. Its existence spurs me to action.
On the other, I don’t like them. It forces me to make sacrifices and prioritize decisions.

What did I end up sacrificing this past month? 
Time with my blog 
Heart was willing. To-Do's ever so increasing. Energy was waning. 
Out of all things, why does it have to be something that brings me joy?
Life doesn't make sense at times.

This year’s A-to-Z blogging challenge was a bust! I truly wanted to explore these topics more in depth! In the past, I was very spontaneous with my prompts and wrote whatever I was in the mood for which was surprisingly quite successful.

A2Z Survivor? Hardly (at least not for April)! Below features all the topics I wanted to write about this past month. I’ll certainly save them for later! I’ll probably change this blogging challenge month-long sprint into a year-long marathon.

a - Axolotl 
b - Burj al Arab
c - Ciselure
d - Dogme 95 
e - Entremets
f - Fallingwater
g - Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
h - Hanno the White Elephant
i - Isicathamiya
j - Juggernaut
k - Krampusnacht
l - La Tomatina
m - Michael Jackson's Manifesto
n - Neottious 
o - Orlov Diamond
p - Paisley Underground
q - Qasida
r - Rose Trellis Egg
s - Songkran / Shibuya-kei / Sagrada Familia
t - Trumpets of the Martians
u - Umbilicanimism (American Beauty)
v - Viking Metal / Venetian Mask
w - Wonky Pop
x - Xuan Calligraphy Paper
y - Yag (Carmen San Diego Fanfiction)
z - Zen Manifesto

On top of that, I started a separate blog about project management for school thinking I could juggle another challenge…simultaneously! That was a certainly a no-go. I did manage to write about how AI is helping Save the Ghost of the Mountain. A pat on the back for something launched!

These overall reflections of my recent A2Z experience leads me to think about a question that Dr. Tanya asked sometime back in February.

Do you have a niche?

– Dr. Tanya, Blogging Insights #18

Do you have a niche for your blog? If so tell us more about it.
I think it would be visual storytelling – I called my blog Culture Shocks to focus on sharing my reactions to new cultural experiences. I wanted to undergo great periods of growth, and jarring experiences would help me stretch outside my own boundaries and meet new people.

At the very least, it would attract those who relish in new adventures and seek novel experiences because variety is the spice in life. I figured I would have plenty of fresh content so long as I didn’t pigeon-hole myself as to how I conveyed these experiences to my audience.

Have you ever thought of niche-ing down and why?
Yes, plenty of times! I think it gives me great purpose to be intentional about the audience I would be writing for who is serious about reading your content. It would motivate me to write even when I may not always feel like it because I wouldn’t want to let them down. I actually found old blogs I wrote years ago before Culture Shocks:
2009 – Trash to Treasure Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects
2012 – Exploration into World Literature
2012 – Confessions of a Parapsychologist Assistant

At the time, I thought it was just easier having separate audiences for vastly different topics. I felt like if I could focus on a particular niche, then I might be more prolific. It’s difficult to write regularly for separate blogs and maintain different brand personas. Even while doing this challenge, I thought to myself, “Gee, wouldn’t it be easier to explore deeply about one topic rather than write from five categories?”

If you chose just one as your niche, how much would you miss writing about the others?
Too much! There’s times where I feel like a skimmer rather than a diver. Though I do wonder: If I chose a niche, perhaps I can tie those topics with something unrelated and find some point of commonality which can provide a new angle on an established topic.

After Dr. Tanya’s question, Fandango shared a provocative question that also made me reflect:

As a blogger, what makes you tick?

– Fandango, FPQ #67

What DID make me write today in the midst of my busy life? My last post was 2 weeks ago. I just finished working on a rigorous 3-month long project for work this morning. Safeguarding my sanity meant encasing myself in a bubble. My supervisor and CEO said to me, “It’s time to take a well-deserved break!”

I take such a deep breath, I didn’t realize how much oxygen I missed. I realize I blog when I want to chat about something, but I don’t really share in public. I can share random trivia tidbits without worrying about wasting other people’s time.

I look over to my left and my eyes fixate on my cute, whimsical owls, and my thoughts drifted into how I missed my whimsical blog. I once read a journal article titled:

The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus

Hiroshi Nittono, Michiko Fukushima, Akihiro Yano, Hiroki Moriya

I’m exhausted. I almost don’t want to stare at a screen. Yet, I miss the people in this community and want to stay close the proverbial campfire. While eating some ambrosia salad, I wrote this poem below with intertwined quotes:

Take a Deep Breath. 

Do you know the feeling that DEADLINES induce?
Future date unmistakably marked
Yet, why does it feel imaginary?
Why doesn't iit feel as real as The Present?

Deadlines just aren’t real to me until I’m staring one in the face.

― Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief
Deadline looms around the corner
Like a shadow in a dark alley
Skin tingles. Hair prickles.
Its impending presence

…grind us to the lowest depth of subjugation…

– William Williston Heartsill, Diary of William Williston Heartsill (entry Mar. 1863)
Everlasting companions: Anxiety, Stress, Exhaustion
Gradually creep into one's well being
Despite Deep Breaths' attempts to squash its vitality,
Lassoing the infamous Trio proves quite difficult

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:12
Calling in for reinforcements
Spiro-meters are important
To measure the shortness of breath, but to tackle it?
A Blessing Counter. A Kindness Barometer. A Playfulness Gauge.
Maybe, a flexible Salvidor Dali's clock
Or... a Clock that breaks quite often
So that you can take a break along with it.

Focusing on the act of breathing clears the mind of all daily distractions and clears our energy enabling us to better connect with the Spirit within.

– Author Unknown
Not ready to receive my comeuppance
Deadline taps me on the shoulder
Delivers the final pummeling blow
Just as quickly as It arrived
It was gone in a flash and left without a trace.

Breathe deeply, until sweet air extinguishes the burn of fear in your lungs and every breath is a beautiful refusal to become anything less than infinite.

– D. Antoinette Foy
Posted in Concepts, fiction, Nature, Photography

#A2Z – Director’s Dilemma of Dogme 95 (fiction)

“CUT!!!” Director Cavanaugh acerbic voice sliced through the air.

Buzzing with energy from the two cups of coffee he drank, he chewed on his pen cap as he witnessed an interesting snapshot on his screen. It was linked to an underwater videographer’s feed. A fish inside a jellyfish! Could he turn this bizarre moment into a symbolic story left to the audience’s interpretation and imagination? The fish’s expression says it all. The gears were turning in Cavanaugh’s head

Try as the little fish might to direct its own path, the jellyfish will inevitability drag the fish wherever it pleases. Realizing its loss of autonomy, the fish’s eyes bug out in horror!

Image Credit: Tim Samuel

Cavanaugh wondered if he was insane for trying out an ambitious experiment after a period of hitting the doldrums. He was inspired by some prize-winning photos in a BBC article that he was browsing.

Image Credit: Anita Kainrath, from Austria, won Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year with Shark Nursery, showing baby lemon sharks in a mangrove in the Bahamas.

He wondered if he can authentically capture a live stream story letting the animals share their own stories. He was fascinated by their behavior. He couldn’t direct the animals, but then it wouldn’t really matter since his name wouldn’t be credited. During his time in film school, he was intrigued by a film movement founded in 1995 by Danish director Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. They wrote a manifesto called Dogme 95. The “rules” were as follows:

The question is… can he stick to the rules?

Posted in Culture, fiction, Quotes

#A2Z- The Ciselure Shop (fiction)

The chimes on the door clanged. A portly gentleman dressed in an olive-green tweed suit just entered Vpyshit’sya, a small shop nestled within a mountain village of Dzembronya, Ukraine. Novak took a burgundy handkerchief from out of his breast pocket, and wiped the dust off his gold rimmed glasses. He breathed a sigh of relief that he arrived in one piece as the foggy weather made safety of the travelling conditions questionable.

After taking a quick glance inside, he decided to walk around the shop quietly studying the craftsmanship of the metal pieces that were on display. He displayed a keen perspicacity in recognizing quality pieces. He heard about this shop as he chatted to the barman last night. Ukraine was well known for a variety of metal and wood carvings.

He was immediately enthused by the diversity of products he found: unique jewelry that was encased by glass display boxes, brass Viking shields that hung on the walls, intricately engraved kitchen knife sets, engraved metal wall decor.

He slowly found his way to the check out desk in the back of the shop. He noticed a young lady diligently working in the back room. Sophia’s family has been in the ciselure business for five generations. Her family taught her everything they knew, and precocious Sophia became a young master in the craft. She was inspired by a few techniques from a video she watched.

She was finishing up an jewelry box for an exhibit held at the Metal Working International Trade Fair in Kiev, the capital. She was looking forward to learning new things in metallurgy and the innovative tools in metal industry.

Novak cleared his throat, “Excuse me, mam. I was told that you can create metal designs for a wide variety of things.” Sophia broke from her trance, got up from her workstation, and walked towards the man. He took out a wooden box from his bag, and set it on the table.

“Careful now, there’s a golden pocket knife I would like to engrave for my son. It’s his birthday and there is something I would like to inscribe.” He took out a note for Sophia to read:

My son, take time to sharpen your skills, your tools, your resources, and you’ll be more productive. Much love, Novak

Image Credit: Pixabay

In response to:

Posted in Culture, Dreams, fiction, poetry

#A2Z – Burj al Arab (quadrille/cinquain)

Listen
Near string quartet
Enjoying 3-toned drink
Seeking closure from past mistakes
Sharp shame

Image Credit: Pixabay

Hotel
Burj Al Arab
Shields from disappointment
From its opulent interior
New life

Image Credit: Harrison Jacobs – Business Insider

Golden
Seashell Entrance
Tries sweeping memories
Welcomes those who choose a new path
Journey

Dubai’s bright allure!

In response to:

Posted in Culture, fiction

#A2Z- Axolotl Meets Charlotte (Fiction)

“Alrighty Watson, you can do this! Just one step in front of another!”

Charlotte chatted to her Hierex prosthetic leg as she would a close friend and gave good ole’ Watson a pep talk as she began her morning walk in nature. She gazed at the gorgeous sunrise glimmering across Lake Xochimilco, Mexico. The skin on her arm felt the warmth of the sun. She enjoyed the precious rays of light peeking through between the trees.

Image Credit: https://lakesofmexico.com/lakes/xochimilco/

Whoosh! Competitive bicyclists rang a bell as they passed by her in a flash on the sidewalk. Athletes determine to make their regular rounds around the lake. As she felt the fresh breeze, Charlotte’s mind unconsciously revisited an old memory seven years ago.

She was excited to jog with the bustling crowds. Crowds on the sidewalk gathered near the sidewalks of Boylston Street. She trained hard and conditioned herself to participate in the famous 24.5-mile run for an entire two years. Charlotte was proud that her breathing was steady this entire time as her feet hit the pavement in the city.

She smiled as she noticed she was nearing the finish line when all of the sudden she heard a loud explosion. Screaming in pain and blinded by the smoke, she wondered what in the world could be piercing her leg. The last thing she saw were medical personnel tending to her before she blacked out.

Charlotte shook the flashback away as she tried to calm her racing heart beat. After her leg was amputated, she had a case of phantom leg which made her leg feel like it was always there. When the doctors showed her the Hierex prosthetic that they would attach, she cried. It was difficult to accept.

To get over this new alien limb, she decided to call her new leg, Watson, a beloved fiction character. Emulating Sherlock Holmes, she was delighted to have a reliable friend that will support her.

Charlotte has been living in Mexico for the past few years wanting to start fresh. As she walked along the path, she noticed a movement in the grass by the lake. Wanting a closer look at what was ruffling the grass, she hobbled over hoping to see a baby duck.

Shift the grass aside, she gasped! “What an adorable looking alien!”

Charlotte was in shock. She read about this creature in one of the tourist brochures. This cute amphibian is an endangered species called the Axolotl! One of the remarkable qualities that intrigued her the most was that it could regrow limbs.

“You know, lil’ guy, I’m slightly envious of your ability to regrow limbs.”

Image Credit: https://lakesofmexico.com/lakes/xochimilco/

Inspired by:

Posted in flashback, Food/Recipes

A-to-Z Challenge: Zest

“Orange Creamsicle Poke Cake is a wonderful addition to all your summer parties! A lovely vanilla cake that is bursting with orange flavor and topped with a fluffy orange and vanilla frosting that no one will be able to resist!”

Trish, Mom on Time Out
orange-creamsicle-cake-recipe
Image Credit: Mom On Time Out

I finally caught up! So I will end this year’s A-to-Z challenge with another yummy delight involving some orange zest: Orange Creamsicle Cake! Trish created and featured this recipe on her blog “Mom on Time Out“.

“Creamsicles have always been one of my favorite summer time treats. That combination of orange and vanilla is just so magical! Today I’ve recreated that magical combination in cake form. “

Trish
Image Credit: Pinterest

Yes, I know exactly what Trish means when she says this! I remembered when I first bit into an orange ice cream dream bar one hot summer day. It was a great taste combo. I haven’t made this cake yet, but I do enjoy baking with citrus. Oranges are one of my favorite fruits. I might try to bake it for next year’s blogger’s bake-off. It seems that I will collect recipes along the way!

Orange Creamsicle Cake Recipe

COURSE: Dessert
CUISINE: American
PREP TIME: 10 minutes
COOK TIME: 28 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 38 minutes
SERVINGS: 24

INGREDIENTS
Cake
– 15.25 oz boxed vanilla cake mix
– 3 eggs
– 1 cup Almond Breeze Vanilla almond milk
– 1 tbsp orange zest
– 3.4 oz orange JELLO
– 1.25 cup boiling water
– 1.3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

Frosting
– 15 oz can of mandarin oranges (do not drain)
– 3.5 oz package vanilla instant pudding mix
– 8 oz Cool Whip

INSTRUCTIONS
Vanilla Cake
– Prepare cake mix according to package directions, substituting vanilla almond milk for the water and adding the orange zest. (Your exact measurements may vary slightly depending on the brand of cake mix you use.)
– Bake using package directions. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for approximately 10 minutes.
– Use a skewer to poke holes in the top of the cake.
– Place orange JELLO mix in a heat proof bowl and slowly add boiling water. Whisk until the JELLO has completely dissolved.
– Stir in fresh orange juice.
– Carefully and slowly pour JELLO mixture over the top of the cake. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Mandarin Orange Frosting
– Beat mandarins and pudding mix together until combined.
– Gently fold in the Cool Whip or whipped cream until incorporated.
– Spread on cooled cake.
– Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Previous Posts in 2019 A to Z Challenge 
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Posted in Culture, flashback, Food/Recipes, Photography, Technology

A-to-Z Challenge: Yummy

Mini computer next to a local-based energy drink
Allgen’s Computer Hardware Warehouse

A few weeks ago, I had a lovely dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant called Dallah Mediterranean Cuisine after hanging out at the computer hardware store. My boyfriend and his friend wanted to go after seeing this ending scene in a Shawarma restaurant from The Avengers. Yes, interesting reasoning for choosing a restaurant! 🙂

The Avengers – Complete Shawarma Post Credits

As for me, I appreciate a novel experience and I’ve read various articles about how Mediterranean food is very healthy. We walked over to Dallah’s down the street. The moment I walked inside the restaurant, I was taken to another world. I gazed at the beautiful unique decor.

Not sure if the company I was with was joking with me, but the dog on the shelf is a Greek god named Anubis. If I stare into its eyes, I would supposedly die. 😉 Anubis is affiliated with mummification and the afterlife. Anubis had various roles as a protector of tombs, an embalmer, a guide for souls.

The symmetry and pattern of these paisley designs kept my attention for a while. It reminds me of the flourishes I would see on old US dollar bills.

Not sure what this map was all about, but the story around the perimeter made me wonder what was going on. I thought it was like a profile of various explorers of a crew.

I have never seen a chandelier quite like this star-shaped one below.

Rested in the view from my seat – enjoying the twinkle of the sparkling lights above table.

I ordered a beef souvlaki wrap: a beef tenderloin kabob wrapped in a homemade tanour bread with garlic sauce, tomato, lettuce, pickles. The salad is light and refreshing. The souvlaki was delicious and filling.

I also ordered a set of 4 falafels which are golden brown spiced chickpea patties fried to perfection. Crispy on the outside and savory on the inside. The tzatziki sauce was a white cream that was light and creamy with a touch of lime. Dipping this warm bun into the cool cream was a delight!

I couldn’t forget the yummy dessert! I loved the baklava. I love the layers and the cream. Overall I had a wonderful day and will cherish this rich experience with friends. The waitstaff was responsive and understanding even when I accidentally spilled a glass of water on the table as I was trying to take a picture.

Previous Posts in 2019 A to Z Challenge 
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

In response to:

Posted in Nature

A-to-Z Challenge: Xeriscape

I first learned about xeriscaping from a customer who was xeriscaping his garden area. At first, I thought it was a type of Japanese Zen garden technique. Later, I think I misunderstood because I thought he was watering the rocks. Silly me, there’s no need for that unless it’s a xesturgy process where the stones are gradually being polished from an incoming stream of water. Here is the dictionary definition:

“It means using plants that require less water to survive and using objects such as bricks, rocks, benches, gravel and deck areas instead of water-siphoning grass. “

SAWS
Photo Credit: SAWS

7 Steps to Xeriscaping

  1. Plan and Design
  2. Use turf appropriately
  3. Irrigate effectively
  4. Condition soil
  5. Mulch
  6. Plant Selection
  7. Maintain Landscape

Pinterest Inspirations

Previous Posts in 2019 A to Z Challenge 
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Posted in Books, Culture, fiction, flashback, Quotes, Volunteer Experiences

A-to-Z Challenge: Volunteer

“There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book.”

Frank Serafini

Fueling the Desire to Rise Up to the Challenge

This past school year I have been volunteering with a local youth literacy group helping improve the reading levels of two second graders. It all started when I was listening to a young girl I encountered while helping sell books and other types of media at a local flea market with my friends. She told me she hated reading and as a teacher’s pet, she only reads during school.

I have to admit that her statement stung a bit. The love of reading has been instilled in me ever since I was a young girl. The library is my second home and it was where I felt the mental freedom to explore. Even if it wasn’t hers, there are so many stories out there that I think she would enjoy!

At my school, there was a research symposium at my school where I read the poster about literacy research. According to its community profile, San Antonio has the 2nd highest illiteracy rate in Texas. According to the US Census 2005, even though it ranks 7th among US cities in population, it is 60th in literacy. (Source: City of San Antonio Planning and Development Services Department. Statistics and Map Book. Rev. February, 2010. )

After catching up with a former colleague who is now the youngest state representative in our state legislature and listening to his teaching experiences, I felt inspired and decided to sign up to be a volunteer to understand the common problems that these kids were facing.

Reading Buddy Experience

“Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.” 

Vera Nazarian

I was pretty excited to learn more about the two students I was assigned to. I enjoyed learning about the boys’ families and friends, what they love, and what they want to be when they grow up. It was difficult at first because they didn’t like the books that the program had selected. So I invited the boys to browse the shelves for a book they would like. They introduced me to the world of Mo Willems. Apparently, they already treasured the adventures in any book written by Mo Willems.

“If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads.”

Francois Mauriac
The adventures of Piggie, Gerald and friends

I showed them an atlas, and they seemed really excited to learn that there was a world outside their bubble. They enjoyed following along the words of my origami book. I read them stories from RL Stine and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I really enjoyed this experience, and come to deeply care about these kids.

“Fairy tales in childhood are stepping stones throughout life, leading the way through trouble and trial. The value of fairy tales lies not in a brief literary escape from reality, but in the gift of hope that goodness truly is more powerful than evil and that even the darkest reality can lead to a Happily Ever After. Do not take that gift of hope lightly. It has the power to conquer despair in the midst of sorrow, to light the darkness in the valleys of life, to whisper “One more time” in the face of failure. Hope is what gives life to dreams, making the fairy tale the reality.” 

L.R. Knost

Previous Posts in 2019 A to Z Challenge 
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Posted in Concepts, Culture, flashback, Quotes

A-to-Z Challenge: Weird

It started out as a scrapbook and just kind of mutated…I call it the Wall of Weird. It’s every strange, bizarre, and unexplained event that’s happened in Smallville since the meteor shower. That’s when it all began — when the town went schizo. So what do you think?

Chloe, Season 1 Pilot
Chloe Sullivan in front of her wall

I remembered when I first watched Smallville and was intrigued by Chloe’s wall. I wonder about my own attraction towards weird things: interesting things that are out of the ordinary. Ten years ago, I lived in Austin, TX where its city motto is “Keep Austin Weird”. It is a vibrant town bustling with activity. I visited many art museums, local shops, and attended a variety of events around town. I encountered many strange things and had lunch with people who shared with me their enlightening world views and opinions.

“We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.” 

Robert Fulghum, True Love
Cathedral of Junk
Photo Credit: Nomadic Matt

“Weirdism is definitely the cornerstone of many an artist’s career.”

E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

My latest weird discoveries were found in a shop called Earthbound! I think this particular T-shirt design is strange, bright, and colorful. It just reminded me of the aliens that I might encounter on an episode of Futurama. The caterpillar below is either playing an instrument or smoking a hookah

Previous Posts in 2019 A to Z Challenge 
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

In response to: