New Book Release: The Bloodthirst Gene

A moment before the Pesach cleaning marathon begins, and just as the world is caught up in the coronavirus panic, I am celebrating sanity by releasing volume IV of my Frozen World Antarctic sci-fi saga, now available on Kindle and in print.

Violence is a necessary trait for human survival

“Could the genetic makeup of humankind be altered in a way that eradicates violence, aggression and warlike tendencies, eliminating armed conflict and creating a utopian society?

It sounds almost too good to be true. And perhaps it is, because messing with genetics can get risky.”

Putting the finishing touches to this sci-fi/dystopian novel had been incredibly cathartic for me at this time. I believe writing (and reading) dystopian stories is actually very good for the mental health of anxiety-prone people (like me). It helps us explore various Big and Bad scenarios and grapple with some scary What Ifs in the safety of our private corner. Then we can get back to reality with a new, calmer view.

So in case you are looking for an entertaining escape at this time, why not check out Frozen World? You can start from the first volume or dive in straight into The Bloodthirst Gene, which is a New Generation step in the series and provides enough background so that even people who didn’t read books 1-3 can enjoy it.

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Otherwise, it’s pretty much business as usual here. We haven’t felt much of the coronavirus panic as we work from home and are seldom out of town. Most of our neighbors don’t travel either, so we feel safe enough socializing with them. We are well-stocked on all essentials and, barring the worst-case doomsday scenarios, things should be fine.

Please stay safe and take care of your health! Don’t take any risks. Better to delay any planned trips and avoid large gatherings if at all possible.

A cold morning

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Cold and windy outside, snug and warm inside.

Shelling peas with the help of an enthusiastic 2-year-old.

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Venturing briefly outside to gather eggs.

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By and by, some crochet – this time making something for yours truly for a change.

Happy first day of March, everyone! Stay warm and cozy.

Boundaries: book review

One of the books I have finished reading recently is Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr.John Townsend. Although it’s a Christian book, the concepts it teaches are pretty much universal, and I sure feel how they are making a difference in my life and helping me become a calmer, happier, and more secure person.

Its basic principle is simple: think of your life as your house and yard. You are charged with the maintenance of your house and yard, and nobody else’s. If someone unexpectedly barges in and starts enforcing their own order, they are violating your boundaries. If you try to barge into someone else’s house and start washing the dishes and mowing the lawn because you believe they cannot do it themselves, you are violating their boundaries and also burning yourself out. Even and especially if that someone comes to agree and actually expect you to take care of their stuff.

Having boundaries doesn’t mean you don’t care or that you don’t offer help to those who are struggling. And it also applies to married people – that was a novelty for me. Turns out it’s OK to tell your spouse, “I’m not responsible for your schedule, moods, successes, failures, or disappointments. I’m here to HELP, but we are both mature adults responsible for their own stuff.”

For example, if my husband has a meeting in the morning and asks me to wake him on time, I say OK, I can do that. But once I do, if he chooses to remain in bed or otherwise kill time, I don’t fret saying time and time again, “the meeting! You’ll be late! It’s already 9:00! Get up! Come on! I’ll run upstairs and get your coat to save time!”

I just get on with my own thing. And if he IS late, I refuse to be made responsible for “not reminding enough times” and “not making sure he went to bed on time the night before”. It’s incredibly freeing.

Similarly, I can tell him, “I don’t think you are using your time wisely. Days are precious, and you have a family to provide for. I think you should accept a job, any job that will give the family a steady provision”. But once I have said that, I walk away. I don’t nag. I don’t bang my head against the wall trying to get him to accept a job. I don’t spend hours looking for a job for him. I don’t run around in circles saying, “Will you please open a profile on Upwork? I’ll help you set it up.”

You know what? It’s not that easy. Especially when you KNOW you are probably right and the other side doesn’t listen. But it doesn’t help killing yourself carrying someone else’s burden. So I just go on doing my thing, focusing on my own growth, and accepting that I don’t have control over anybody else’s life.

And, of course, I also refuse to be made responsible when I’m told “I don’t have a good job because you didn’t try hard enough to teach me English” or “you should have tried harder to get me to set up that Upwork account”. No, I shouldn’t have. This is ultimately your life and whatever you make of it. Freedom. Choice.

It plays out even in our relationships with our children. For example, if I tell my daughter, “I think X is a nice girl. Why aren’t you friends?” and my daughter tells me, “We just don’t get along”, I accept this, even though I do happen to think X is an exceptionally good kid and I’d love to see her around. These are my daughter’s friends, not mine, after all!

This book grapples with the following questions:

– Can I set limits and still be a loving person?
– What are legitimate boundaries?
– What if someone is upset or hurt by my boundaries?
– How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, energy, or money?
– Aren’t boundaries selfish?
– Why do I feel guilty or afraid when I consider setting boundaries?

A must-read for anyone who has ever struggled with setting boundaries in their lives, or even wondered what boundaries actually are.

Modified Dragon Scale Crochet Gloves

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The crocodile stitch is one of the most fun crochet techniques I have mastered lately. Once you get the hang of it, it’s quick and easy.

I was determined to learn it because I had my heart set on making a pair of these dragon scale fingerless mittens for a friend who had actually written a book about a mysterious disease that leaves human beings covered in dragon scales – I figured it would be the perfect gift for her book launch. DSC_0347.JPG

I followed this tutorial, but once I got to the wrist part, I did a stretchy ribbed cuff in the round by working single crochets in the back loop only – you can find a tutorial for working stretchy ribbing in the round here. I am now really addicted to making stretchy hat brims and cuffs!

Because I was working with color-changing yarn and no two skeins are exactly the same, there were slight differences between the two mittens, but I was pretty pleased with the dramatic “dragon color” effect.

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And here is the recipient with her newly published book! If you’re into dystopian sci-fi with dragons, deadly disease, and major conspiracies, check out The Dragon Plague by Anna Mantovani.

Helpmate vs. Enabler: Discerning the Difference

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“And the Lord said: it is not good for a man to be alone. I will create a helpmate for him.”

The actual Hebrew words for helpmate here are “ezer k’negdo”, meaning “a helper against him”, which creates a sort of cognitive dissonance: how can a helpmate be against one?!

There are many interesting tractates on this verse, but an explanation I find beautiful in its simplicity is as following:

Consider marriage as a seesaw. If two people sit on the same side with one always attached to and behind the other, the seesaw won’t move. It will only function if the other person steps over to the opposite side, creating a dynamic balance.

The image of the wife as a helpmate evokes a beautiful picture of a godly and hardworking man and a woman who stands behind him and supports all his endeavors. So far, it’s all sweet and simple. But the Torah doesn’t just exist to guide us in simple situations. It is universal and everlasting.

Consider the following scenario: a husband becomes addicted to video games. He is perpetually glued to the computer screen and refuses to turn away from it even at mealtimes. Instead, he demands that his wife should serve him sandwiches which he can eat while playing.

If a wife is supposed to always defer to her husband, she will serve him those sandwiches out of misguided respect and submission. Does this make her a good helpmate? Nope, it makes her an enabler of bad behavior.

A real helpmate will tell her husband, respectfully but in no uncertain terms, that he will get no assistance in his destructive habits from her. She will refuse to support his addiction and will insist on a normal functioning family.

The Jewish sages have written, “A good woman does her husband’s will”. Does this mean that a wife simply caters to her husband’s every whim? No, that would be doing them both a disservice. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with complying with a reasonable request (“could you make pea soup for lunch, please?”), but what if the husband says, “I don’t want you to visit your parents anymore, ever again”? In that case “doing the husband’s will” would mean encouraging good tendencies, turning his will towards positive things (like making him understand that he cannot cut his wife away from her family).

We are all imperfect flawed human beings walking the bendy road of improving and growing, in the hopes that when we finally meet our Creator, we will be able to testify with a clear conscience that our time in this world had not been in vain. Living in a marriage is one of the ultimate hardcore tests of this personal growth (but that doesn’t mean one should put up with abusive patterns for the sake of “personal growth”). Even if you love your spouse and have a healthy, loving marriage, it’s easier to live alone than together, to make one-sided decisions rather than work as a team.

No one can be charged with the impossible task of changing one’s spouse because real change can only come from within. However, it is not healthy, loving, godly or spiritual to bend to character tendencies that are clearly flawed. Being a good helpmate does not always mean going the route of minimizing conflict. It does not mean complying with laziness, rudeness, disrespect, irresponsibility, or passive aggressive behavior.

In my case, the most obvious way such misguided rigidity of principles manifested was the area of our family finances. I believed that my calling was to close my eyes and cling to my husband on his end of the seesaw, even as our family was freefalling into a bottomless pit of financial crisis. I believed I was supposed to act and think like my husband’s decisions about money were the Voice from Mount Sinai, rather than what they were: human reasoning that could, and often WAS, flawed. He might not have liked to admit it, but what he, and my children, really needed was not for me to keep “trusting” his reasoning even as I reached deep into the corners of the freezer for some leftover flour to make a loaf of bread with. My job back then, though it took me way too long to recognize, was to jump on the other side of the seesaw and call out, “Hey, this isn’t working! We have to figure out something different!”

It sounds less nice than “I trust you implicitly and you are the supreme hero of the universe and I’m backing you no matter what you do because that is my spiritual calling”. But sometimes having another’s back means giving them what they NEED, rather than what they want. And what our entire family needed was for me to be more proactive about earning money and handling finances.

This didn’t happen overnight or without some sharp growth pains (which included some serious ego-deflating, because if you have never been held accountable in your life and suddenly you are, it might not fly very nicely). But it is definitely happening and our lives are so much better for it.

The Breath of Earth: new book release!

I’m thrilled and excited to announce that The Breath of Earth, the third book in my Frozen World environmental sci-fi series, is now out and available on Amazon in print and Kindle editions. And I already have some ideas brewing for book 4! I couldn’t have been happier.

The Breath of Earth

I can’t believe how far I’ve come as an author, and I’m saying this with the highest degree of humility and gratitude. From writing sporadically, having several projects on the back burner and hoping to publish something someday, I now work on projects in a consistent manner, have published numerous books, and am establishing an ever-growing source of supplementary income for my family. No, money is not the most important thing to me when it comes to writing. I write because I’m alive and breathing! But the fact that people choose to buy my books is tremendously validating for me as an author. There are millions of books out there. Whenever I see that someone had chosen to buy and read something I wrote, I wish I could know who that person is and thank them. This means SO much.

So let me just take a moment to celebrate.

PS: In honor of the latest release, The Last Outpost, the first volume in the epic Frozen World saga, is free until September 13, so go ahead and grab your copy if you haven’t read it yet!

Should you turn your hobby into a business?

There are many success stories of people who have turned their passion into a successful business venture, and it can be extremely tempting to imagine yourself doing just what you love and making money from it.

Except, you know, it never quite works this way.

Let me explain for a moment, OK? I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. In fact, I’m a big fan of playing to your strengths, choosing something you enjoy doing and finding ways to make it into a source of income. It’s just that you must be aware of the changes that come once your hobby is no longer a hobby, but a real business with commitments, deadlines and clients.

I love writing and am absolutely thrilled with building myself up as the author-publisher of my own books. I also work as a novel editor, which is in the same field. It’s all fantastic, but sometimes I miss those good old times when I would curl up with a pen and notebook and dive into my imaginary world, spinning tales whenever and however the whim would hit me, and not worrying about how many people might reauulistically buy my book, when would be the most advantageous time to release it, or how many days I have until deadline.

Nowadays, I do still have that creative happy place, or I wouldn’t be able to write, but I also need to take care of formatting, cover, marketing, and tax information. I need to be consistent and disciplined and can no longer allow myself to jump from idea to idea.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. But it’s a mistake to think that doing what you love means doing what you LIKE, all day and every day.

I also believe some things are meant to remain hobbies, healthy creative outlets that offer us a place to de-stress and unwind with no pressures and no expectations. One such hobby for me is crochet, and people often tell me, “Wow, I’ll bet you could sell that stuff!” – which is very flattering, but considering how long it takes me to make every item, as well as my love for working with quality materials, it would be impossible for me to so much as break even. And I bet I’d soon be unable to look at my hooks and yarn out of pure disgust.

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Making one crochet pillow is fun. Making twenty crochet pillows for a craft booth would probably be enough to put me off crochet for a good long time. So at most, I would consider giving a community class in the basics.

Another thing to consider is the initial cost. I know people who have wanted to start a homemade body care product line and are now stuck with boatloads of shea butter and beeswax nobody wants. Fiber artists naturally need to buy yarn for crocheting, knitting, felting, etc. Writers and other entrepreneurs often spend money on expensive courses and conferences.

My insight could be summed up as following:

1. When you consider turning your hobby into a business, know it won’t always all be fun and games. At some point, and my guess is that it will happen sooner rather than later, your business will involve doing things that must be done rather than ones you enjoy most.

2. Leave something in your life as a hobby, something for pure enjoyment and fun. We all need things like that. Not every hobby is meant to grow into a full-blown business.

3. Consider the wisdom of any initial investment. As tempting as it could be, many businesses fail. It’s better to start small and grow gradually, investing your profits (however small they might be) back into the business.