Monday, June 19

New Stairs!

When we moved into our house five years ago, it was abundantly clear that the primary driving factor for where the previous owners had located things could be summed up in one word: convenience.

Nothing was square to anything else, nothing was intentionally aligned with the road, the path of the sun, or pretty much anything else you might logically expect. The randomness of their choices was perhaps most glaringly evidenced by a set of stairs leading down from the driveway to the front yard... that aligned with exactly nothing. It wasn't near the garage, or the front door, or anything. 

The front porch, just after completion.
After trekking through the driveway and yard back and forth every time for a while (there were bigger fish to fry first, as anyone who has ever moved or bought a house knows), we made a point that first year of moving those stairs across the yard to line up as closely as possible to both the garage and the house.

For five years, our impromptu adjustment held. But the stairs weren't particularly well built to begin with, and in the last year or so they've started to show their age in ways that leaned toward the unsafe. This year, replacing them was a priority. Because there are so many code-related details involved in stairs, it wasn't worth doing it ourselves. We called the guy who built our beautiful front deck, and he agreed to make us a matching stairway.

Our gorgeous new stairs (and one of my furry supervisors, who approves this post.)

The local shale and river stone walkway connecting the stairs to the front porch.

It was supposed to take one day. It took three very long ones. But, in the end, the results were perfect: safe, lovely, and pretty much designed to last forever.

And, with that, the last of our major house projects are done for the year. Which is good, because goodness knows there's enough else going on!!  : )

Friday, June 16

Tenth Unikitty

At work, one of the other trainers (also a geek girl) and I convinced the managers a while back that we needed a "Shout Out Board" where we could leave thanks and positive feedback to other associates - especially those whom we never saw because we worked different shifts. (Nothing makes closers feel more appreciated after a rough night than a thank-you from an opener the next day recognizing their attention to detail in spite of being tired/frustrated/so.very.done.)

Being uber artistic, the other trainer decided to take pictures of each trainer, print them, and paste them onto magnets that we could stick next to whatever we wrote on the board. Which was fine, I explained, except that I don't show up on film. Given my disinterest in having a photo taken, she decided to make this for me instead based on conversations we'd had:

Do you recognize it?! It's UniKitty from The Lego Movie and the Tenth Doctor from Dr. Who!!

This is my litttle magnet, and it makes me unreasonably happy every time I see it. Hope you have something random and fun to make you happy today!

Wednesday, June 14

Pandemic: Play It Now!

The weather this year has been beyond awful. From a late (and heavily damaging) snow storm at the end of March to non-stop rain and unseasonable cold from then straight to now, being outside has been inhospitable at best and sometimes just plain not all that safe.

Together with a variety of other factors, the gross weather led us to discover an awesome new game: Pandemic.

If you can get your hands on one, I cannot recommend giving it a shot highly enough. Unlike most games, it is collaborative - not competitive. (And unlike Cards Against Humanity, it's safe to play in all company!)

Everyone (2-4 players) works together to try to stop the world from being wiped out by four different diseases. Each person has unique abilities, and the different combinations of "roles" each game (in addition to the random pulling of game cards) means you never play the same game twice - it's challenging in new ways every time! There's all kinds of opportunity for strategy, creative thinking... and creative cursing when you lose. Because you will. A lot. But you'll still have a good time.

As Will Wheaton (of Star Trek: TNG fame) puts it in his video review, "I've had more fun losing this game than winning a lot of others."

Looking for something new that is inexpensive, doesn't involve screen time, and will stretch your brain (in all the good ways covered here)? Try this! 

Monday, June 12

Giving Old Methods a New Shot

When you're in school (especially college), you're taught not to leave big projects to the last minute. Everyone urges you to do things in small bites, a little at a time.

I have always hated that advice.

Not because I don't see the logic, but because I'm so often one of those people who does better by digging into something, getting into The Flow, and staying with it until it's hammered out. Doing small chunks makes me stressed, because there's so little to show for the time I've put in, whatever it is remains on my to-do list unchanged and, in some cases, I feel like I lose more time getting in and then out of the project materials than it's worth.

But as we've worked our way through another serious round of life editing, I decided to give the "small bites" method another shot in respect to my [massive, overwhelming, unreal] reading list. Between the books I'd collected as part of my NTP training, other nutritional/health related literature I'd snatched up when the opportunity arose from Paperbackswap or other free/cheap sites, and the stuff that accumlated from my participation in read-and-review programs, the gorgeous shelves in our library were sagging with stuff I felt responsible to read or re-read and pull notes from, or that I simply couldn't give away/sell (because it was an Advanced Reader's copy, etc.).  Sometimes just looking at it all - on top of my already bulging to-do list - made me want to cry.

So back in January, I took action. I cancelled my Paperbackswap account so that I'd stop adding books to the pile. (It wasn't a huge loss since my ecletic reading tastes meant I was going the better part of a year before anything I wanted came available anyway.) Then, I set up accounts on and Amazon Seller Central. (Neither nearly as hard as I expected once I  made time to do it.)

After that, I started going through my stack. I gave away anything others expressed interest in, and tossed ARC copies of anything that wasn't amazing. That got me started.

Since I've discovered that digital copies are VASTLY faster and easier to use for books I'm keeping for research/reference purposes, I sold, gave away or tossed anything in that category that was available in digital editions (bookmarking the titles for future purchase as I actually find need of them). That helped a lot.

[It also made the local used bookstore love me, because I just donated what I couldn't sell without taking store credit... just to make sure I didn't accidentally start accumulating again.)

Of what remained, I started reading one chapter a day. I told myself that if I read just one chapter a day, I'd finish a book every couple weeks, and that would be enough. With "one chapter" as the item on my to-do list, I could legitimately cross it off and feel done and accomplished every day. My Prince has been incredibly supportive (and done a bunch of streamlining of his books, too), and our formerly groaning shelves have been transformed.

We now have a small collection of books that are genuinely valuable and meaningful to us, from his collector's edition Tolkien to my battered copy of Chrome Circle and long-out-of-print Perilous Guard. A short stack of books not available digitally still sits waiting for me to get through them, but it no longer feels like a struggle.

I will never lose my love for "real" books, and maybe I'm just getting old, but I've come to appreciate the ability to weigh the value of things in the big picture. And right now, our big picture says (in most cases) digital books are better for my mental health and the practical realities of our lifestyle. So here's to never being too old to learn and change, and making changes for the better!

Friday, June 9

Catching Up

If you had told me a year ago what life would look like right now, I would have told you that you were crazy. Given that we are (somehow, impossibly) already in JUNE, it seemed high time that I make at least some effort to catch up.

I thought I had a picture of the beautiful job my talented husband did on the water heater setup in the basement, but it is MIA now (of course). Suffice it to say he did a fantastic job of not only installing a new (energy smart) water heater, but building a riser for it to sit on. That may not sound like much, but (a) it's gorgeous, (b) it prevents water damage and pest hiding places, and (c) makes the whole corner vastly easier to keep clean!!

He also removed the monstrous and ancient oil bowser from the corner; between those two things and a significant amount of cleaning and fresh white paint, the whole basement looks dramatically better. You'd never believe the mess it was when we bought the place!

 These are the lovely dishes I got for Christmas that I have been promising to post pics of for, oh, six months now... *sigh* The top photo is my Bennington Potters' stoneware; the lower one are wooden 'rice' bowls (found after significant research on Amazon). It has been amazing and slightly mind-boggling to have downsized my dishes so substantially, and still find I have more than I need (and now lots more cabinet space, besides!).

I somehow don't have pictures of syruping either though, given the weird weather we've had from the start of the year straight through, it was a much longer than normal process. Either way, it was successful and (once all the time and steam intensive stuff was over) we were delighted by the outcome.

The other big news thus far, which everyone already knows, is that we parted with my long-beloved Jeep... and got these:

Meet the Starry Ice (my new truck) and the Errant Venture!! [Fun fact: both are named after ships owned by some of my favorite people in the Star Wars Legends Universe - Talon Karrde and Booster Terrick respectively.]

It's been slightly entertaining to discover just how accustomed I was to having an older model vehicle without frills... it took longer than it should have to get used to shiny things like the backup cam and iPod compatability on the stereo, to say nothing of how long it feels compared to my Jeep. That said, the Starry Ice has more than proved her worth already. The EV is teaching us a lot and although some days it feels like everything is endlessly crazy, it's been amazing all around.

And there we go! Mostly caught up. Sort of, right? Either way, I'll make an effort to do substantially better moving forward this year!

Wednesday, June 7

Why Dungeons & Dragons is Good for You

Watched this TEDx talk this morning over coffee and was inspired - thought I'd share. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 16

Flea and Tick Season Is Coming

Generally speaking, I have tried since we first got Arthas to use all natural stuff with our dogs as much as possible. I use Diatomaceous Earth for deworming and love it, and most of time it's all I need to ensure we don't pick up any fleas, either. Unfortunately, it does nothing to combat ticks. Last year was a nasty year for ticks, and this year already isn't looking promising on that front.

As we have been examining plans for the summer and realizing that our furry babies are going to be exposed to (many) more unfamiliar dogs than recent years, we also recognized the need for stronger protection against fleas, as well.

Which brings me to this two-part PSA.

First, if you know anyone with a standard collie or border collie, please warn them to check any anti-flea/tick products they may use for Ivermectin. It is the base drug in  many over-the-counter options, and collies/border collies have a genetic predisposition to adverse reactions to it. In some cases, it can even be fatal. Many vets are not aware of this, so professional warnings are much fewer and farther between than would be ideal.

Second, read labels carefully. There are lots of products on the market, but only two that I found that prevent against deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease (which is an increasing problem), especially in east coast states. The problem is they all say "protects against ticks"... you have to actually check to make sure deer ticks are included in the list, though!

We ended up going with K9 Advantix II, which protects against everything and is Ivermectin free. (If you do the same, may I recommend grabbing yours off Amazon? The local stores here only carried two-packs for $40+, but Amazon had six packs for $60. Even those of us not so good at 'the maths' can tell that's a better option!)

Regardless of your needs or situation - or the stupid amounts of snow and cold you're getting assaulted with - spring will soon be with us. Consider taking a moment to reassess what you need and make sure you and your furry companions are covered?

Tuesday, March 14

Persnickety Paint

When we lived in apartments (for years and years), one of my biggest frustrations was that everything was white. (Or, in a few cases, just primer - but hey, close enough, right?)

It was just so... bland. I'm a warm neutrals kind of person when it comes to wall colors. I want my space to feel warm when I walk in, and that just never happens in apartments unless you're allowed to paint - which you usually aren't.

It wasn't until we got this house that I appreciated exactly how absurdly difficult picking paint colors can be. As with most things, I blame that on the morons who built the house initially... because they lined it up with exactly nothing. Not the driveway, not the road, not the prevailing sunlight. Zilch.

Ergo, when trying to pick the first few paint colors we used here, I discovered that the weird natural light we get makes the same paint look completely different on adjacent walls. Inevitably, a color works on one wall and looks atrocious on another... which makes it really hard to choose a good one!

I was reminded of this again recently when I undertook an attempt to find a paint color for the master bathroom. We're not redoing it yet, but there are a lot of components involved and we want to be ready to hit the ground running when everything else comes together. Seeing as it's March and Winter decided to kick us hard one last time, it seemed like a good time to do research. Which translated into paint samples and frustration and then, finally, success!

The winner? Valspar's Sea Salt Blue... which is actually a very light (but not pastel) sea green. (Bottom right in the pic above, although it doesn't really show very well, there.)

Cross one more thing off the To Do list... and, hopefully, the last time I'll have to choose paint colors for a long time!

Sunday, March 12

Broth & Stock (A Review)

Broth and stock are big buzz-words in the food community these days, both among nutrition advocates and trendy 'foodie' types. Broth & Stock skips the hype and takes an accessible, down-to-earth approach to demystifying why these ancient foods have suddenly become a Big Deal again and how the average person can (easily) incorporate them into their life and diet.

McGruther blessedly starts with the basics, all well written and long enough not to feel rushed but short enough not to wax imposingly lyrical, either. The book's intro covers: a brief history of broth/stock, the differences between the two (and why they matter or don't), how to choose bones for making your own (and where to find them), and what you'll need to make and store them (ingredients and equipment).

The book then becomes essentially a top-notch primer on how to make and use broths, bone broths, and stocks. It starts with a comprehensive list of “master” stock recipes, which includes traditional standards (chicken, beef, etc.) and less common but equally versatile variations (mushroom, sea veggie, kitchen scrap). Everything that follows is either a recipe for how to use the broths/stocks you've made (because it's no good making it if you don't know what to do with it!), or a fun/helpful fact or side note on related topics.

This might be worth a flip-through just for new tips and ideas if you're already an experienced stock/broth maker. But it will – by far – be of the most value to anyone new to the subject looking to improve their health or cooking ability by harnessing the power (and delectable flavor boost) of bone broths.

Thursday, February 2

Happy Clean Out Your Computer Day!

This is just a PSA to remind everyone that today is National Clean Out Your Computer Day!

Digital clutter is just as easy to accumulate - and just as distracting and time consuming - as regular clutter. Even if you can't do it today, consider scheduling a few minutes (or longer!) into your calendar soon to clean out old files, run a defrag, weed old pins out of your Pinterest board, address the backlog of old photos on your computer/phone, etc. Do a little mental/emotional purging and give yourself fresh, clean space and energy for current projects and priorities!

Wednesday, January 18

In Memorium

Last Saturday saw the passing of a beloved companion. Ruger, our furry nephew, slipped the surly bonds of earth to rejoin his sister Chloe beyond the reach of the pain and strains of this mortal life. He was almost fourteen - a respectable, noble age for a border collie, but such a short time for those of us who loved him and now must continue without.

Whether your furry children are cats, dogs, or other, will you give them a little extra love (and maybe bacon?) today on his behalf?

Tuesday, January 17

Beef and Pumpkin Stew

Just a quick post today to share a new recipe I found in December and am loving... Beef and Pumpkin Stew from Meatified.

This ends up more of a soup consistency for me than what I associate with stew, but it's incredibly clean and healthy and delicious! Best of all, it only takes about half an hour to make and stretches an entire pound of ground beef over several generous meals.

Tip: Use your biggest pot... it makes a lot! Enjoy!

Monday, January 9

An Important Note for Dog Owners

I was hoping to keep all my initial posts for 2017 unequivocally positive, but this is important so I'm going to make an exception.

If you have a dog, please be aware that a Federal Court recently ruled that police are authorized to shoot any dogs present when they enter a home if they feel the animal is a threat. The dogs do not have to attack them in any way, or even be jumping or growling - just barking is enough. 

Kaine, a GHF baby.
No justification, compensation, or anything else is required, and there is no legal recourse. The police do not have to be in your home looking for you, either - they can be there for anyone who might be staying with you, etc. 

Obviously, this is of tremendous concern to anyone who has a large and/or naturally intimidating dog or a breed that is notoriously subjected to prejudice or considered dangerous (i.e. pit bulls, German Shepherds, etc.). That said, small dog owners need to aware as well, since many small breeds make up in noise what they lack in size. 

Conversations we've had with people who are/have been in law enforcement, as well as recent experiences a family member had with EMTs, bear out that this is not a one-off thing: law enforcement and other public servants who may enter your home are predisposed to consider dogs a threat and react accordingly.

What You Can Do:

Obviously, first and foremost, be discriminating about who you allow to live at, use, or store things on your property. The less cause anyone has to be on your property, the lower you risk of being presented with an unfortunate situation.

Second, if you have a gate or other barrier across your driveway use it. Although this will not always keep people off your property, it does represent a legal barrier that in many situations cannot be crossed without your permission or a warrant, and buys space between law enforcement and your dog. (Otherwise, your front door becomes that barrier, and that doesn't leave much room to intervene!)

Third, talk to the people in your household and make a plan to secure any dogs before law enforcement, paramedics, or others enter the home in the event that you know that they're coming. (I.e. you call for an ambulance, officers are canvassing your neighborhood regarding a crime, etc.)

If at all possible, select a location that is easy for you to get the animal to in a hurry, and one that completely - and visibly - removes their ability to be a threat. [Example - gating your dog in the kitchen with a baby gate is not a good option, as there is still the theoretical possibility of them jumping over, and they are visibly barking, jumping, etc., and may be perceived as a threat. A crate (if you use them), or behind a closed bedroom or bathroom door (as long as your dog can't open these themselves!!) is a significantly better alternative.]

Don't forget to include specific directives to that effect in your emergency plans, so that friends/family (who may not live with you or be familiar with the issue) can act accordingly if you are injured or incapacitated!

While I fully respect the need for the law to protect officers, medical professionals and others who put their lives on the line to do their job every day, our pets have no legal rights and are fully dependent upon us and our awareness, attentiveness, and protection in situations like this. As you make or update plans for the new year, please make sure your furry companions are are covered!

Thursday, January 5

What Worked For Me: 2016

How are you doing on your new year's resolutions? Good, I hope? Did you indulge in an end-of-year-review before you chose them? I know most people got this kind of thing posted in December, but I thought I'd throw mine up now anyway.

I grappled with a lot of things that just didn't work for me in 2016 and what to do about them, which wasn't fun. At the same time, I (re)discovered/ implemented a few things that turned out to be amazing. Here are a few of the good things I stumbled on that I'm rolling forward into this year.

1. A Rotating Menu (Full of 'Peasant Food'). Food is a big thing for me. When I've got it under control, it makes me feel better about everything else. When it's not under control, all of life instantly gets more stressful; it's just how I'm wired. Enter a rotating menu. By plugging favorite foods in to cover dinner three days every week, I instantly (drastically) simplified planning, shopping, and prep. That, in turn, bought me time and energy to explore and play with new things on the other days. It's stupid simple, but totally working for me… and there's a lot to be said for that.

2. Asana. Generally speaking, I'm a pen-and-paper kind of girl when it comes to organization. I still use a paper planner, sticky notes, and colored sharpies to keep my life in order most of the time. But Asana (a free online project-management program) has been a huge help in working efficiently when there's been a lot of little stuff going on. Best part? I can make multiple sub-lists (e.g. 'must do', 'ideally do' and 'reminders') under one main heading ('stuff to get done this weekend'), and one click swaps items between columns if plans or timing changes.

3. AO3. Archive of Our Own is like the perfect book club for writers and busy introverts. Tags (both standardized and customized) make it easy to see what you're getting before you click, and easy to sort when you're in the mood to read something in particular. It's free (always good), and the comments sections can easily evolve into the kind of involved, intellectually stimulating conversations you wish you could find at book clubs. As a bonus, you get to engage from your own couch (wearing your pajamas if you want) while completely avoiding the pitfalls of obnoxious people and bad book club selections, and you can do it all on your own time schedule.

4. Take No Prisoners Snow Tires. Because I live in an area that does a terrible job of plowing. Always. And I still want/need to go places between October and May.

5. Couch Coffee. There is no substitute for time spent with something really good to drink, someone you love beside you, and deep, rambling conversations. Period. 

What's working for you right now? 

Monday, January 2

Happy National SciFi Day!

Image credit

This is a public service announcement to let you know that today is National Science Fiction Day.

I've written before about the very real value to contemporary life of reading science fiction, above and beyond the sheer joy of reading. With Carrie Fisher's passing, the tributes to her serve as a fresh reminder of the bountiful and beautiful ways SciFi can impact real lives.

So, before today is out, consider adding a new scifi book, movie or blog to your reading list, or just send a mental thank-you to an author, actor, or artist in the genre who has blessed you.

Geekery is good for you - celebrate it!  : )

Sunday, January 1

Happy New Year (Plus a Resource for Your Resolutions!)

Happy New Year!!

Does anyone else think that Sunday is an awesome day to start a new year on? I mean, we had a Saturday (which most of us had off) to wrap up the old year. If you're like me, that meant stuff like running errands and finishing projects. If you're the go-out-and-celebrate type, it meant lots of time to primp and then free rein to stay out late because you could sleep in today.

Now we get to start the new year on another day off. Whether that means curled up on your couch dreaming new dreams with the people you love, or jumping in to fresh projects, I hope you're making the most of it!

Whichever way things go for you, I'd like to kick your new year off right by sharing my new favorite resource for fueling projects and dreams: Coffee AM.

If you live somewhere with good coffee already, this may not be super exciting for you. If you live in a decent-coffee-desert like me, this will make your year. Coffee AM ships coffee the same day it's roasted. (For non coffee snobs, that means it's top notch and you can taste the difference.) I genuinely 1/2 to 3/4 as much of this stuff per pot as I do grocery store coffee because it's that much fresher and more potent (and I drink light to medium roasts, so I'm talking flavor, not dark level).

[Note: I am in no way getting compensated for talking these guys up. I am just sitting here, drinking their amazing brew, and wanting to share it with everyone else who could use something good to start their year.]

That's it for now. Whatever you have planned for the new year, may it be a good one!