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Jaym Gates – Publicist, Editor, Author

Jaym Gates is a publicist, editor, and author. She is currently editing a military science fiction anthology, War Stories, coming soon from Apex Books, and writing a Middle Eastern-inspired epic fantasy serial.

Good things to read.

The RangerUp! Blog/Rhino Den. I was on a military science fiction panel at Dragon Con a few weeks ago, and the moderator asked, “Where do you get your facts if you’ve never served in the military?” The answers were almost unanimously a version of ‘read this, read that’. There are a lot of books and blogs around, with varying degrees of awesome and accurate content. RangerUp is one of the best. Run by veterans, many of them former Army Rangers, it’s a fabulous blend of humor, sense, bad language, reporting, and insightful looks at the state of the military and its members.

Agha Shahid Ali’s poetry. Agha Shahid Ali was an Indian-American poet. His work is exquisite, shaped by the Kashmir conflict and a lifetime of travel and immersion in several very different cultures. “They make a desolation and call it peace. Who is the guardian tonight of the gates of Paradise?”

Al Jazeera. My introduction to Al Jazeera was probably like that of many Americans: the voice of the enemy after 9/11. (Exacerbated by growing up in an ultra-conservative family.) The irony is that this is where I—and many of my friends—now turn when we want real news, and real reporting. They also have a strong opinions section, frequently talking about things American outlets won’t touch: rape, discrimination, cultural differences. With media becoming increasingly imbalanced and unreliable, I can look here to get a view of the world at large.

Good things to watch.

So, I like animation. Not anime, as a general rule, but animation. The Pink Panther cartoon, Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, Mulan, How To Train Your Dragon…yeah, I like animation. I ALSO love action, and very dark, gritty, awful films, but the first three things to come to mind were animation.

Vimeo. Okay, so I’m cheating. But I have too many favorites. Kagemono: The Shadow Fox is one of my favorites, but there are hundreds of amazing little short films there for you to go through.

Rango. Sure, it’s an animated movie, but this was very much not made for kids. It’s a journey through an existential crisis, complete with facing your demons and finding your place in life.

Dragon Hunters. This is, hands down, one of the more beautiful films I’ve seen. It’s from a French studio, but it’s in English. The soundtrack is incredible, the animation is gorgeous, and it’s funny and sweet.

Bonus: Pacific Rim. Because really. Guillermo del Toro. This is one of those rare films best re-watched after reading some of the critical analysis pieces. The subtlety of the detail in the visuals is easily overlooked.

Good things to use.

Pinterest. It’s a great place to collect visual inspiration. You can pin almost any image directly to your boards, which means you aren’t taking up space on your hard drive, and you can organize more easily.

A paper planner. What? I’m anachronistic. I know it. But have a phone die on you one too many times, or your favorite technology or software go obsolete, or a computer crash… I like combining a paper planner with technology like Google Docs, DropBox, and Google Calendar. All are useful, but the paper planner makes it easier for me to see my commitments, and something about writing out a to-do list or schedule makes it more real for me.

TripIt! I travel a lot. I also have ridiculously bad travel luck. So if I land with twenty minutes to make my next flight, I don’t want to have to try and find a screen somewhere to tell me where to catch my connection. TripIt pro sends me up-to-date info on delays, gate changes, luggage, etc. It’s there, waiting for me, before I leave, and when I land, sent straight to my phone. It also tracks my airline and hotel points, and lets me share travel plans.

Connect with Jaym at jaymgates.com, or on Twitter as @JaymGates.

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Monica Wilcox- Writer and Kung Fu Fear Fighter

Photo by Monica Wilcox

Photo by Monica Wilcox

If “Professional Blogger” were a job title, Monica would claim it.  She’s loves to write about the environment, spirituality, women’s issues and parenting (most notably for Care2.com, OwningPink.com, and FemmeTales.com) She is the Spiritual Columnist for FemCentral.com and finishing the final copy edit of her novel, The Birthing Grounds. Here are her good things.

Good things to read.

Body language- Our bodies do not lie. Ever. Not only can we pick up the truth in someone else’s body language but in your own. Like a car engine, I regularly run a diagnostic check on my physical body each day. It takes only a few seconds and will improve your health, energy and overall awareness. Close your eyes, take a few deep breathes, relax your shoulders and do a cat stretch. Now take note of the sensations flowing through your body. Is anything tight, hot, itchy, numb or in pain? If there is anything negative or uncomfortable imagine letting it go. Allow it to slip from your body as if you were taking off a black coat. If it persists, don’t ignore it. Your body may be sending you a signal that something is wrong.

Heron Dance– Described as “The art and words of wild rivers, wild nature and the Tao”. My parents got me hooked on this nonprofit literary journal and art studio in 1994.  Heron Dance was created by artist Roderick Maclver, who touches thousands with his nature inspired art, poetry, and introspective musings. Rod regularly interviews and quotes many of the greatest philosophers, artists and explorers of our time. He’s a man trying to connect to life’s flow through nature, relationships and art. I particularly love and recommend his daily A Pause for Beauty emails.

Old Diaries- They remind us that today’s mountain is tomorrow’s mole hill; today’s crisis is tomorrow’s growth curve. There is nothing like the day-to-day trials of our ancestors to make us appreciate how much life has changed. Reading about the hours it took Great Grandma Bertha to do the wash makes you want to kiss your washer. Knowing Great Grandpap left his kids to manage the farm for five weeks while he drove the cattle eases the guilt off your latchkey kid situation. The personal stories of the past can whitewash our perspective on the present.

Good things to watch.

People- Children playing, dogs wrestling, gentleman playing chess, butterflies feeding: life is motion. As a writer, I appreciate the power of observation.  Watching two elderly girlfriends on a park bench reminds me to call my lifelong best friend. The squirrel stealing birdseed reminds me to find opportunities in unlikely places. Toddlers running in a fountain conveys the power of fun. Our species is fortunate; we don’t have to experience every situation ourselves to obtain value from it. Being a witness is enough.

The Universe– or any other T.V. program that will take you a few galaxies beyond your understanding. Who cares if you don’t have a full understanding of astrophysics, you’ll gain an appreciation for how small we are in this grand Universe, and yet, how rare and perfectly positioned the Earth is for life. One hair closer to the sun, one percentage point less oxygen in the atmosphere, one more degree of gravity and YOU would not be here today. It’s a good thing to be in a state of awe on a weekly basis.

Patterns- Being consciously aware of our life gives us the power to see, break or strengthen the patterns forming within it. When the same events begin to play out in my life, but my responses to them change, I know I have grown. Patterns are an opportunity to learn something new. If the same undesired pattern keeps playing out in your life, you can bet an alternative action will be required to break it but you have to SEE the pattern before you can cut the threads.

Good things to use.

Patio decks- Eating, reading, writing, drinks, visiting, thinking: it doesn’t matter much what you do on it, just get a seat. Years ago I found the energy of our family dinners was more relaxed and cheerful when we ate outside. Since then I strive to have as many meals on our patio as we can. It’s easy to forget that drywall is not a natural setting. The blue sky, fresh air, curious birds, creeping spiders, twirling seeds, potted plants and towering trees make for a relaxing space. Never give up a seat on the deck!

Optical Transformers- Cameras, binoculars, microscopes, telescopes, kaleidoscopes: actively use any tool that will alter your view of the world. A camera is a perspective changer. Forget the point and shoot, challenge yourself look at your surroundings in a new way. Take pictures of the textures you encounter in a work day. Shoot images of anything smaller than your palm. Take shots of the color purple. Try Vine and see what kind of magic you can capture in a 6 second video.  Check out an eclipse. Study an ant pile.

Pinterest- Since social media is an unspoken requirement for writers, I’ve become proficient on a number of sites. My best advice is to stick to the sites that bring you enjoyment. What I love about Pinterest is its feel good energy. There are no “this dog will die if you don’t adopt it now” stories. No drama. No one complaining about their Big Mac. Pinterest shares the best of the human experience in bright, colorful pictures. It’s a line up of the best recipes, decoration, styles, nature scenes, cities, art, motivational quotes, crafts and animals. This is my go-to site while I’m waiting on the grocery store clerk, the bank teller, my kids and spouse. It’s also a great way to meet others who share your same interests.

Connect with Monica on Twitter – @monica_wilcox.

Sarah – The Early Bird Mom

Sarah is mom to 4 boys and blogs at Early Bird Mom about how to increase productivity at home and in home business.

Good things to read.

Overdressed is the story of why most of America’s clothing is so cheap and the effects it is having on everything from our wallets, our manufacturing industry, and our over-stuffed closets. After reading this book, I understood why I have a terrible time finding anything in the stores that I want to buy. Maybe I’ll take up sewing.

Grace for the Good Girl – Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life was another impulse read for me. I apparently have been living under a virtual rock, only recently having discovered Emily’s blog, Chatting at the Sky. But after reading a couple blog posts, I was hooked on her honest, straightforward style. I feel like Emily could be my neighbor across the street. Emily encourages her readers to accept the grace that God has offered us, not just work so hard to be “good” when we can never really be good enough. Thank goodness we don’t have to be.

The Bible. I use the Bible daily to commune with God, to get advice, encouragement, and entertainment. Did you know there are a lot of great stories in there?

Good things to watch.

Good Eats. Now in syndication, I love Alton Brown’s witty scientific approach to cooking. There’s always a Good Eats episode waiting on our DVR.

19 Kids and Counting. This show is such a refreshing look at a real family. The Duggars are so likeable, real and encouraging to moms like me who are working hard to raise our children the best way we know how. Plus, they have the best adventures. Can you imagine taking that many kids all the way to China and Japan? It makes this mom of 4 shudder to think of the logistics that their trip required.

House Hunters. I guess I’m an HGTV junkie. This show really brings home how one’s expectations of a house are all relative. People in California will be thrilled to pay $1 million for a little bungalow that “needs work” while another couple in Mississippi gets a mansion for one quarter that price.

Good things to use.

Essential Oils. My collection of essential oils is used daily. I have found lavender to be a very effective remedy for seasonal allergies – better even than conventional allergy medicine. Peppermint applied to the temples stops most of my migraines in their tracks. Eucalyptus helps with congestion. I diffuse orange and lemon oils for a pick-me-up in the afternoon. Mountain Rose Herbs and Plant Therapy are two of my favorite places for essential oils.

Cast iron cookware. Cast iron is so useful in the kitchen. Clean up is fast – most of the time I can wipe my pans out with a paper towel or a little water and a washcloth. Due to the even distribution of heat, pancakes come out much better in cast iron than in a stainless steel pan.

Mason jars. I have several sizes of mason jars from 1 cup all the way up to a half gallon. They are in use all over my kitchen. I use jars to store iced tea, nuts, uncooked rice and popcorn, homemade yogurt, chicken stock, and leftovers. Since they are virtually indestructible, my kids use them as drinking glasses. You can bake in them, too! If you’re looking for quick decorating ideas, Pinterest has you covered as well.

You can also find Sarah on Twitter – @theEarlyBirdMom.