Wednesday, October 18

Parked, Plugged and Pickled

Despite the disgusting, erratic weather and uncooperative work/travel schedules, our beautiful Errant Venture served us admirably this year. When we could make the stars align, it took us on adventures to new places. Over the summer, when the weather was perpetually damp and too often cold, we moved out there full time (even when it was just in the driveway) and let it provide a much-needed modicum of sanity. (There's a tremendous amount to be said about and grateful for when your living space takes only moments to clean and almost nothing to run heat/energy-wise when seemingly everything else is trying to be as difficult as possible.)

Throughout the entire process - from buying it to bringing it home to adapting to and experimenting with it - the EV has taught us a lot. It challenged how we think about things, gave us a push to try new things (and to stick with figuring them out wherever initial attempts didn't go smoothly), and adjusted our perspectives and mindsets in valuable ways.

With the first frost upon us and most campgrounds in our neck of the woods closing down for the year, we bit the bullet and packed up our sweet EV, tucking her in next to the garage for the winter and making sure all the hatches were battened down for winter.

Now, I feel like one of those Master Gardeners who views Winter as the season of planning for the coming Spring. Instead of seed catalogues and gardening books, though, we'll be curled up with campground guides and travel guides, scouring the pages for places to go and things to see next year. In the meantime, we're finding ourselves grateful for space enough in the house to throw the Ball and let the babies careen after it for much needed exercise when it's too cold/gross to play outside.

Tuesday, October 17

Seaweed Salad

Baby Soup and napping kelp... not to
be confused with the type you eat.
Recently, while traveling, My Prince had occasion to try a seaweed salad. It was reportedly delectable and he returned home with a request that we attempt to find a recipe and give it a try at home.

I was a bit skeptical, seaweed being well outside my usual purview, but game to give it a try. We ended up using this recipe from Genius Kitchen.

Once you got beyond the small prep (dicing and toasting), the entire thing was stupidly quick and easy. We made double the recommended amount (to use up the whole package of wakame), and it held really well in the fridge for a couple days. (Yay!)

I was pleasantly surprised! It had a fresh, gingery taste and otherwise tasted just like a fairly dense green salad. It was a little chewy, which was a satisfying texture, and extremely filling. Nutritionally, as long as you're buying clean stuff, seaweed is also tremendously good for you, so it was a win-win all around! Considering that we can get dried wakame shipped to our door inexpensively and conveniently compliments of Amazon, this is definitely something we'll make again!

Sunday, October 15

I Need That Search Program They Have On Cop Shows

Not a wallet I will ever own.
Have you ever watched any of those cop shows (or almost any spy/government agency movie) where the heroes need to find one elusive thing, so they feed everything ever into the computer/connect to every corner of the interwebs, and then systematically narrow it down until *POOF*. Exactly what they wanted/needed was the only thing left, glowing miraculously back at them off their screen.

Yeah, I need a program like that.

I recently killed my wallet beyond the point of repair and was (extremely) reluctantly forced to go searching for a new one. I dislike shopping for wallets almost as much as I dislike shopping for purses. (Hence why my awsome husband actually *made* my current purse for me.) I feel like there's very few things I need a wallet to reliably do and yet none of those are things you can search by.

Why, I ask you, is there not a feature that allows you to require (in addition to RFID protectiveness, naturally) something as basic as ID slots that you can actually get your ID out of when you need it? Why is there not a feature that lets you require that you be able to fit your checkbook into it in order for it to show up on your hits list?

And why, in name of the Force, is there not an option to mass exclude things you will NEVER pay money for? Like hideous patterns in garish colors. Or wallets that have no place to put change. Or ones so bulky they weigh more than you do - before you put anything in them.

(Incidentally, I wished for something simliar last time I had to shop for shoes online. There are an obsene number of hideous red shoes in the world, and sifting through them all one google search at a time is slow and painful work.) 

Anyway, I finally found something and was delighted when it both shipped quickly and proved to be durable and just what I needed. But I'd still really like some of that magical search software...

Monday, October 9

DIY Dry Cleaning

On this date last year it was already snowing here. Cold, wet, unpleasant stuff that bore no resemblence to the light, fluffy, magical flakes that always seem to show up in movies and nostalgic memories. Though we didn't know it at the time, it was the advent of an exceptionally wet, weather-crazy year.

Dryel... just another thing you
can learn to make instead of buy!
As I have complained to my (exceptionally patient and understanding) husband repeatedly over the last couple months, I feel as if I have been running laundry and wiping things down with Lysol constantly for an entire year and not making any progress. Sure, it keeps things from getting moldy and nasty, but that's it. It's been so damp and either unseasonably cold or hot (depending on the time of year) that it feels like nothing ever dries out and stays clean.

In an effort to get ahead of this nonsense last Spring, Eric thoughtfully bought several really good garment bags for both our closets. We stashed anything we weren't actively and regularly wearing in them, zipped them up, and sighed with relief at the thought of one less thing to worry about and keep up with. For good measure, we mostly left our closet doors open, too, to encourage circulation.

It didn't work.

I said all kinds of bad words last week when I went to pull something out of one of the bags and discovered mold spots on it. My leather boots, my leather skirt, three of my nice dresses - I ended up taking everything out of the closet. A load of laundry took care of most of it, but all the leather had to be cleaned by hand. The dresses were all supposed to be dry cleaned, except that two of them had boning in them and dry cleaning isn't actually particularly good for them... to say nothing of the fact that it would be ungodly expensive.

So I did some research and discovered that the maker of at least one of the dresses strongly recommends using a DIY at-home dry cleaning process, using Dryel or one of the equivalents and your dryer. I ended up giving it a shot and was extremely relieved and impressed when it worked very well!

In case it's something everyone else doesn't already know and/or might be able to use someday, I thought I'd copy the recipe I used here.

DIY Dryel

3/4 cup water
1/4 cup (white) vinegar
1 tsp borax
1 tsp dry oxygen bleach
5-10 drops Essential Oil(s) of choice (optional)

Combine all in a bowl. Soak a clean wash cloth in the mixture, then squeeze it out. Place the wash cloth and the item to be cleaned in a clean zip-top pillow case or lingerie bag. Toss it in the dryer and run on high for 30 minutes. Remove promptly and hang to finish drying.

Notes: I used baking soda instead of borax and it worked beautifully. I also used liquid Oxyclean stain remover instead of the dry oxygen bleach. If using essential oils, consider using lavender, Thieves Oil, or some other mix that will help maintain freshness (not just make it smell pretty).

I hope no one ever needs this, but I'm grateful it worked for me. We'll be running the dehumidifier from now until we start using the fireplace for the winter... I'm done with this craziness!

Monday, September 25

Special Features

It turns out my truck has special features I didn't know about! I knew it was all kinds of equipped, of course, but I completely missed the fact that it has dedicated Puppacinno servers!

I've read that if you go to Starbucks and ask for a 'Puppacinno' they'll give you a small cup of whipped cream. We're not Starbucks people, but needed some terrible coffee while on the road and that was what there was, so we stopped. Eric actually had the presence of mind to remember to ask and the server did, in fact, offer up a cup of whipped cream.

Nenya turned her nose up at it ("that's not gravy!!"), but Arthas happily helped himself. Which is when I realized that there are actually cup holders in the back of the center console of my truck, perfectly positioned for happy border collies to nom on cups of whipped cream from the back seat.

The picture doesn't do the adorableness of the moment justice, but I thought I'd share anyway. Hope your week is off to a good start! 

Tuesday, September 19

Random Fun: Which Halloween Monster Are You?

Just for fun, a quick quiz to see what kind of spooky you do best.

(I got a witch... I'm okay with that. Cauldron! Bubble me up some cider!!)

: )

Monday, September 18

The Communication Skills They Didn't Teach Me in College

So, I was a business major and, as part of the curriculum, we learned all kinds of models for communication. Some, obviously, were better than others.  Recently, I ran across a new model I haven't seen before that I really liked. I haven't really tested it with other people yet, but I'm finding it a fantastic structure for sorting things out for yourself or to pair with Brene Browns SFD method.

It's the Whole Message approach, for lack of a better term, and it involves breaking down what you are trying to communicate into four parts:

(1) Facts
(2) Thoughts
(3) Emotions/Feelings
(4) Needs 

Using this framework to imagine what I'd say to someone about some situations that have happened recently has been really eye-opening. It significantly changes how I'd word things. It also provides an unexpected feeling of calm, I think because there's tremendous power in separating hard fact from how we feel about that fact. Because someone can attack 'feelings' all day long - automatically inciting defensiveness and the slippery slope that conversation usually slides down once you're there. 

It's a lot harder to argue with a fact. And once the fact is established, there's a lot less ground for someone to stand on to try to assail you from.

There's also enormous peace to be had in figuring out what you need before you have a conversation. Even if that 'need' is just "I need you to understand that this behavior is outside my boundaries" or "I need you to be aware that, because of above fact, I no longer trust what you say to me." Even if the other person doesn't like it or isn't interested in acknowledging/cooperating/changing, it's powerful to know you did everything you could, expressed things clearly and calmly, and can move on from there however you need to without guilt.

Now if only they'd taught me this in business school a decade and a half ago!!

Saturday, September 16

Bottom of the Bottle


If you know anyone who is a fan of Blue Bottle coffee, please pass along word that it's being purchased by Nestle.

Probably the only reason this is blog-worthy, for me, is one of the lines in the article linked above:

“When consumers see a brand being built by a large multinational, and they see it marketed as a craft beverage or craft product, they view those products with a heavy dose of skepticism,” he said. “But when it’s a brand that’s acquired, people can still view it as what it was before.”

Setyan agreed, saying there’s little evidence to suggest customers change their behavior after these deals.

“Most consumers don't pay enough attention to even know,” he said. [emphasis mine]
Giant conglomerates buying popular, top-quality small companies and infiltrating through the back while taking pains not to advertise or make the association obvious up front is certainly not new. On the face of it, it isn't necessarily immoral, either.

But as someone who is deeply aware of the challenges your average individual faces in sorting through the mass of marketing, misinformation, and carefully worded pseudo information that surrounds our food system, this kind of thing just aggravates me. People pay good money for 'craft' or small-business products because they've invested the time, done the research, and worked darn hard to find people and businesses they trust to produce foods and beverages that align with their personal standards - whether those are culinary, health-related, or social (i.e. conforming to certain practices/belief systems). For them to be intentionally left in the dark as much/as long as possible when conglomerates who openly admit to not knowing or caring about the same things take over the reigns is a form of defraudment and deception. And Force knows our system has enough of that already.

So, anyway, if you know anyone drinking Blue Bottle please pass thing along. If you're not currently drinking the stuff, don't start. And maybe bear in mind going forward that in our food and business communities - often and unfortunately -all is not what it seems.

Thursday, September 14

Inktober and NaNoWriMo

I wanted to make this post creative and inspirational, full of tidbits of the random facts stuffed away in my brain about exploration/experimentation, practice, how doing things we love is healthy, and about the power of feeling a part of something bigger than ourselves. But my brain's just not there at the moment, so imagine I said all those things, okay?
The NaNoWriMo badge.

In any event, the point of the post is to tell/remind everybody that October and November are great opportunities to challenge yourself or inspire a young person in your life who likes art or writing!

October is host to the Inktober Initiative: a challenge to artists all over the world to pick to do one ink drawing a day for the month. Any kind of ink, any kind of paper, any subject, any size - just draw!

November, of course, is NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. Writers of all stripes commit to writing 50,000 words in the month of November. Again, any topic, any style, no judgement - just write!

Both challenges are open to all age groups and both websites have tools, resources, and links for connecting with other participants if you're interested. Fall can be a busy, hectic time for sure, but it's also one of the most important times to invest in yourself and to open yourself up to new possibilities. Even if these aren't for you, please consider passing them along to anyone who might be interested - the world can always use new Makers!!

Wednesday, September 13

Something to Chew On

Clicked on this TED talk on a whim this morning... and now I want every church everywhere to watch it. (Not out of condemnation, but because of what both the author and Brene Brown both preach: when people know better, they do better.) Thoughts?


Tuesday, September 12

An Unsought (But Critical) Opportunity

Photo Credit
It's not a secret that America's infrastructure has been borderline abysmal for an embarrassingly long time. (We earned a dismal D+ on The American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card!)

These infrastructure failings have been equally rampant on the public (bridges, roadways, water/sewer/electric lines) and private (individual homes/property) fronts. How many people do you know who've bought a house - not even a particularly old one - and found themselves having to deal with the stress and expense of ancient appliances, inefficient and shoddily installed wiring/insulation/windows, or a dozen other things that somehow were never made it into the list of priorities monitored by code? Shall I tell you about the number of the grants I worked on related to public infrastructure that were requesting money to redo or replace projects funded by State/Federal money in the last twenty or thirty years?

With all that in mind, I can't help but think (as I watch the headlines scream about the destruction in the Caribbean, Houston, and throughout Florida) that we, as a nation, have a rare opportunity about to land in our laps. It's not something we'd ever have sought, but that's not an excuse for not rising to meet it.

If we're going to have to rebuild anyway, now is the time to do it RIGHT. 

 Put in the money now - on both the public and private levels - to lay down the infrastructure we want and will need in the future. Don't just replace what was lost - consciously choose to put something better in its place. Insurance companies and strategic tax law can make it not only possible but the easier, more attractive choice for homeowners to upgrade. Get Energy Star appliances, windows, insulation. Go solar. Put safe, affordable, Universal Design housing where there used to be McMansions or trailers. Communities overhauling public assets with taxpayer money should be required to justify their proposed investments with hard numbers demonstrating that they've chosen the option that will best serve the public moving forward over the long-term. Is it the most efficient they can get? The most durable? The most fortified against future disasters? Does it align with applicable best practices? If the answer isn't yes to every one of those questions, they need to head straight back to the drawing board or find private funding.

Do I have any faith that our government will do anything this logical or in the best interest of the nation and the public? Of course not. But I sincerely wish that for every person who looks at this mess and says "we need to talk about climate change" there would be another championing a serious national discussion on infrastructure. Because, honestly, there's a heck of a lot more we can do to improve the latter than the former... and one of the best roads to the kinds of changes climate change proponents want to see is through infrastructure changes in the first place!!

So no, we didn't want this - any of this. But since it's fallen into our laps anyway, let's at least be smart about it, okay?

Sunday, September 10

Protect The Asset



Just a brief thought to share from Greg McEown's book Essentialism this crisp Sunday morning as we head into the thrall of autumn:

Protect the asset. The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we under-invest in ourselves – and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits – we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.”

Fall can be a wonderful time of year - full of rich smells, vibrant colors, seasonal adventures, cozy sweaters, and steaming mugs of delicious things - but it can also be hectic and stressful. There are new habits/schedules to adapt to, fresh rounds of the plague going around to avoid or weather, and the inexorable count-down to the holiday crunch. (Especially with all the chaos and upheaval going on down south right now, weather-wise!)

Can you carve out a minute (or five) this morning or this week to make sure you're "protecting the asset" that is you? Maybe:
  • Get a few coffee dates with friends on the books before your calendars fill up
  • Stock up on your favorite tea or seasonally flavored coffee to enjoy when you can steal a few quiet moments to yourself 
  • Write a short bucket list for Fall - everything you loved most last year, or wanted to do and couldn't - and find a place for them in your calendar between now and December
  • Buy something small and shiny that makes you happy and put it somewhere you'll see it every day
  • Defer, delegate or drop one project, responsibility, or activity/commitment to open up some breathing room in your schedule
  • Give yourself time and permission to get a full night's sleep as often as possible (and extra when you can! (Remember: sleep deprivation causes the same or higher levels of physical/mental/emotional impairment as consuming alcohol!!) 
How can you take better care of yourself this Fall?


 
 


Thursday, September 7

What's In A Name?

Just for fun, I thought I'd share this list of Puritan names I ran across recently. There was an ongoing conversation among Star Wars fans about how terrible some of the names in SW universe are. (Korkie Kryze and Talon Karrde both got mentioned more than once, just to give you an example.) In response, one of the participants offered the above list of actual names from various historical records that Puritans gave their children. While some of them are quite lovely, others were obviously from an era before anyone had to write their name in the tiny little lines/boxes that are now standard on any kind of official form... they also make you wonder what some of these poor little kids' nicknames were! 

The whole list is worth checking out, but here are my top three (cringe-inspiring) favorites:
(1) If-Christ-had- not-died-for- thee-thou-hadst- been-damned
(2) Helpless 
(3) Fly-fornication

And, just in case you thought horrible names were getting more rare in our 'enlightened' (not sci-fi) times, my sister texted me last week that there is a child at the school she works at whose name is 'Panera'...   

What's the worst name you ever saw/heard a person given? 

Wednesday, September 6

Your Tax Dollars at Work

I try very hard to filter my "news" intake, if only because so much of what is considered news these days makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Recently, though, I couldn't help but notice a headline on a local-ish paper that read Dairy Farmers' Lobby Fights Milk Alternatives. Against my better judgement I looked the article up online later, and spent most of it shaking my head.

Here are the top two highlights (with commentary, of course):

"Coffee shops, supermarkets and other outlets increasingly feature cow milk alternatives made with extracts of almond, soybean, coconut, rice and other plant-based products."     Um, yes. Of course they do. Because guess what?  "Approximately 70 percent of African Americans, 90 percent of Asian Americans, 53 percent of Mexican Americans, and 74 percent of Native Americans were lactose intolerant.  ... substantial [insability to digest milk] is also common among those whose ancestry is African, Asian, Native American, Arab, Jewish, Hispanic, Italian, or Greek." src  It's not the fault of the "milk alternative" industy that the customer base for commercial dairy is declining, guys! Do what every other industry has to do... adapt.  


"Republican Representatives Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, and John Katko and Elise Stefanik of New York have urged the FDA to strictly enforce the definition of milk and crack down on the alternatives. Michigan Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters are co-sponsors of a bill introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., making it illegal to describe a product as milk if it does not come from a “hooved animal.”  Seriously? There's *nothing else* that strikes you as possibly a better use of governmental time and energy right now... nothing at all?!?

-sigh-

All I can think of is the very sweet girl who once worked for me at a Panera years ago who was 110% convinced that two percent milk and half-and-half came from different kinds of cows. The dairy industry can gripe all it wants about people "falsely believ[ing] they are buying real milk and its nutrients" when they buy milk alternatives, but I can tell you from first hand experience that the average public knows a LOT less about milk than dairy producers tell themselves they do. All in all, they might want to rethink their approach. Just a thought...


Tuesday, September 5

Sunk Cost

Have you ever had one of those weeks (months? years?) where the same idea or theme just keeps popping up? Different places, different ways, but defintitely recurring?

For months now, maybe even the whole of this year thus far, I've been seeing the Sunk Cost Fallacy come up over and over - in passing conversation, in choices friends and family have been grappling with... just kind of all over.

If you're not familiar with the term, a "sunk cost" is any investment - time, money, energy, emotional involvement - "that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered". [src] The year you invested in a work project that just got canceled. The weekends you dedicated to remodeling your house. The friendship you worked so hard to cultivate that's spiraling into bad territory.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy (SCF) - and related Escalation of Commitment Bias - occurs when people make decisions about their future based on "cumulative prior investment" rather than on the evidence, numbers, or other information they have about the realistic costs and benefits of a choice moving forward.

Two really simple examples from my professional life are the FDA/USDA's unwavering hardline position on promoting patently unhealthy diets and the US Department of Education's continued funding of a myriad of programs that we know don't work. In both cases, decades of research prove beyond doubt that what is being championed has not - and will not - serve the public good. But enough high-ranking people have so heavily invested their careers, reputations, and trillions of dollars of tax payer money into those faulty programs that the agencies continue to toe the line rather than acknowledge the good intentions, the new information, and the losses in between the way they'd need to to move on constructively. 

It's not always pride that prompts people to act from this bias; sometimes it's an aversion to/feeling of shame about waste. (I paid for these tickets, it'd be wasteful not to attend the event even though I really don't want to.) Sometimes its a fear of grappling with the grief, shame, or self-doubt that would accompany letting go. (If I let this go, it means owning up to having made a really bad call. How will I trust/respect myself after that?) Sometimes its just about not feeling up to taking the risk of trying something new. ("The devil you know is better than the devil you don't," or "just thinking about trying to figure out what I'd do instead if I gave this up is exhausting!")

And sometimes it's all just freaking complicated because this is life and sometimes it just is.

There isn't really a point this post, except to share my observations of a pattern I've been seeing more and more of lately, and to wonder (semi) publically if anyone is seeing the same patterns or aware of this trend. Is this a thing where you are right now? In your life, or the lives of people in your circle? Are you noticing other trends, instead? I'd love to hear about it, either way!

Saturday, September 2

The Napping Cave

Curtains puddling on the floor: a romatic look, until
your Roomba gets involved...
Once upon a time, I took a trip to London and Amsterdam as part of a Model UN trip in high school. (We were vastly underprepared for the actual MUN part, but the rest was awesome.)

Obviously, being in Europe, we visited a bunch of museums and they were full of completely different kinds of things than we usually find in the US, for the sole reason that they had centuries and centuries of extra local history to include. One of the things that I remember being a bit intregued by was the different styles of beds tucked into odd corners of the galleries. They tended to be shorter than modern beds (as people were generally shorter back then), but many of them were either essentially large boxes (with closable doors) or heavily draped canopy beds.

Pinterest and other modern media tend to give us a mental image of canopy beds like the one pictured here but, historically, the design was both more utilitarian and entirely practical. Drawing the curtains on your bed kept all the body heat in! That was a huge deal back in the era of drafty homes heated solely by fireplaces that all got banked at night (so that you didn't burn said home down, naturally). They also provided some privacy in eras during which noble/well-to-do families tended to have servants bustling about at all hours and less-well-off families saw children sleeping in the same room as their parents.

It wasn't something I really thought about until we got the RV. We intentionally chose an RV styled such that the bed is on the opposite end of the trailer from the door. With a window at the head and foot of the bed, a solid wall on one side, and a curtain you can pull across the open side, it is for all intents and purposes a canopy bed. (Or, as the babies consider it, a Napping Cave.) I had my doubts about the curtain initially, to be honest, but once we tried it, I was seriously impressed!

It's not a solid black-out curtain, but it does an excellent job of mitigating light. It does an even better job keeping heat in! Stick two border collies in there with you and close the curtain and you'll be toasty warm. I've discovered that by pulling the curtain almost all the way across and closing both blinds I sleep like a rock, which I think has something to do with the very dark and very warm thing it has going for it (both psyschologically and physiologically, but I'll spare you the science). Either way, it's definitely made me think about all the "technologies" we used to know and use and have more or less lost in our pursuit of higher tech things. This, at least, is one technology I'm glad isn't entirely gone!

Friday, September 1

August: Five Random Things

I'm having a little bit of a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it's officially September already. (But the twenty-degree temperature drop and the distinctly 'crisp' air on my way out to work in the mornings is bringing it into perspective pretty quickly!) As I looked forward to what's coming up in this new month, I also did a quick glimpse back at August and thought I'd share a couple random interesting things from the month around here.

1. Rising Strong. In preparation for Brene Brown's new book coming out in a couple weeks, I reread/finished reading her last book, Rising Strong. It was one of those books that rewires your brain... literally and powerfully. It entirely changed my perspective on several on-going situations and I'm still processing it.


2. Bullet Journaling. I've seen bullet journaling all over the interwebs for a couple years now and never been inspired to try it. But this summer I found myself with a bunch of different systems I'd never quite been able to make work as well as I wanted them to and a frustrating list of things I wanted to prioritize but was abysmally inconsistant on. So I did some research (I'm an ISTJ, of course I did), selected a simple starter format that would cover just the stuff essential to me, picked up an inexpensive bullet journal, and gave it a whack. Results from my first month are good! My version won't ever be artsy or Pinterest-level-pretty, but it's working, and I'm happy. (And it's the reason I'm remembering to write this blog post tonight.)

3. Small Indulgences. It's a proven fact that small indulgences make a huge difference in quality of life and daily happiness. (There's actually a quote from I think the 1700s about people giving up all kinds of major things before they'll sacrifice their little happinesses, because those are what make the hard things bearable.) In August, we added two indulgences to the list. The vinyl decal shown at right, which graces the cabinet above the sink in the EV. (It's a Tolkein quote, if you're trying to remember where you know it from.) The second was a set of vanity plates for the truck, which say ERNTVNTR... yup, the truck and the EV are now both ridiculously coordinated, and it makes me stupidly happy!

4.  Vitamins. I minorly adjusted my vitamin regamin and almost immediately saw a big difference. Weird, but true. And I'm grateful because, honestly, when it comes to improving your quality of life, adding/subtracting a couple vitamins is one of the easiest changes to make!

5. Wizarding Weekend - this one is completely random and just for fun, but did you know there's a Wizarding Weekend in Ithaca in October? I didn't, until a bunch of my coworkers were talking about wanting to go recently. It restores my faith in humanity to see people drawn to things like Harry Potter, magic, fantasy, and all things geeky!
What did you learn/celebrate in August?

Tuesday, August 29

Judgement Day

Image Credit
Happy Terminator Judgement Day!

Monday, August 28

Why It Occasionally Sucks to Be Conscientious

How NOT to do the sub-flooring over a
split-line in your house.
When we bought our house, it had an ancient, hideous and thoroughly-abused red/orange carpet in the living room area and weirdly patterned vinyl in the adjoining dining room/kitchen area. I vacuumed for literally hours for the first few weeks with our take-no-prisoners vacuum and it was still seemingly impossible to make the carpet anything that resembled clean.

Accordingly, one of our fairly early projects (once we'd finished all the usual unexpected surprise kinds of things you have to do once you buy a new house) was to rip all of the carpet and vinyl out and put down pre-finished hardwood in the whole of the kitchen, dining room, living room, and hallway. We went with a gorgeous warmly-colored hickory in fairly wide planks that we paired with an equally warm, wheat-colored paint, transforming the space into something we have been proud of and delighted in. Part of the reason for choosing hickory was that it's all but indestructible; you could drive a tank over our floor and it would probably have been fine... a desirable trait in a house that's going to see lots of mud and border collies.

Unfortunately, as time went on, we discovered that we were getting a serious swelling/gap problem. In the winter, the floor shrank and we got a distinct gap between the planks along the center of the house. In the summer, the planks swelled, pushing up in a peak at the some point. Research (and some exploring when we ripped up the flooring the bedrooms to put engineered bamboo down in there) revealed that when our house was put together, the idiots in charge (true to form) didn't use their heads. Instead of laying the sub-floor ACROSS the split line, they laid it out from either side of said line... ugh. Despite doing everything we could without taking the floor up, it eventually became obvious that that floor was going to have to come up and be redone from at least several feet to one side of the split line to the far wall. 
Bridging the gap... how the split line SHOULD look.

Needless to say that was NOT a project we wanted to do. We'd put the floor down with the intention of only having to do it once... aka a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and T-nails. Finally, this year, other things being what they are, Eric decided the floor simply had to get done. We waited until the height of summer when everything was as humid as it was going to get (and it was stupidly humid this year!!), then he took the floor up. (Thank God for brilliant and incredibly organized men, right? His system was incredible!)

Once everything was up, he cut out a chunk of the subfloor and put in a new chunk the way it should have been done in the first place. While he was taking everything out, we decided to open up the pillar in the center of the archway between the living room and dining room/kitchen. It was noticeably out of square, and we were pretty sure it was at least half hollow (and therefore pointless).

Yup. Not only was it half hollow (why?!?), but:
(a) It wasn't a solid pillar. It was a bunch of pieces of lumber bolted together. Technically, it does the job but it seems like more work than just getting to industry-standard single pillar and just using that instead.
(b) They never put a proper bracer under it, so it was resting directly on the subfloor. Not real bright, guys...
(c) The header on one side isn't supporting anything... it's just there, and stops before it reaches the center. Again, structurally it doesn't matter, but it really doesn't make any sense. At all.

On the bright side, with the unnecessary extra removed, the space opened up and we're getting a lot more light now! It will also make it easier to square what remains off so it no longer looks cock-eyed.

One main pillar or a bunch of individual pieces of wood?
This option seems like a lot more work, but what do I know?
When Eric started putting the flooring back down, he discovered that the couple days the stuff that hadn't come up had been allowed to sit, it had shifted a full 1/4 inch! There was that much pressure on everything! As much as it severely sucked, he then had to take up another couple feet of flooring in the kitchen so that when everything was laid back down all the lines would match up down the length of the house. After that, there was some really creative, very talented cutting of thin strips to bridge the narrow space between what had to be relaid and what never came up.




It was a terrible project that Eric did entirely by himself. (All I did was try to keep up on vacuuming and such so that we didn't lay the floor over a permanent bed of sawdust.) I am incredibly grateful to have such a talented and conscientious husband, and very happy to have this project (and all the dread associated with it) off the to-do list!!

As someone who has now done it two different ways (and redone it unwillingly, once), here are my top suggestions for putting down wood flooring in a house:

1. Use engineered wood - bamboo is great! We heard a lot a bad things about bamboo's durability when we were initially making our choices, but we put it down in all the bedrooms and have been extremely impressed and pleased with it's look, feel, function, and durability. (And it's way cheaper than something like hickory!)

More lack of logic and common sense from the morons who
built our house.
2. Always double check the subfloors! If in doubt about anything at all - quality, positioning, whatever - replace it. It won't take that long or cost that much, and it will save you oodles of grief later!!

3. Plank width matters. Shoot for something not too narrow, but also not too wide. (Helpful, I know.) But trust me. Do you homework here, because it will make a much bigger difference than you think to a lot more than just aesthetics.

4. Don't get pre-finished hardwood. They tell you it's easy to clean. It isn't. If you want pre-finished, go with engineered. I don't know why, but it's so much better/easier to maintain.

Anybody else got house projects on the mind before Fall/Winter hit?








Sunday, August 27

New Books Worthy of Note

Just a quick PSA this morning to let you know that two wonderful authors I think very highly of have new books coming out this Fall! If you're like me, your reading list probably doesn't need any additions (and may, in fact, be towering over your head in I'm-never-going-to-finish-this-ever kind of way), but sometimes it's nice to throw a change of pace there, right?

Brene Brown - shame reseacher, author of the incredible books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong - has a new book coming out September 12th titled Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.  (Not familiar with Brene? Check out some of her awesome TED Talks here.)


Caitlin Doughty of the Order of the Good Death (linked in my 'followed blogs' to the right of this post) and author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory has a second book coming out October 3rd: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death.(You can see Caitlin's (very funny and fascinating) Ask a Mortician videos here.)

[As a side note, my husband spoiled me with a Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday... if anyone's in the market for a new e-reader, I highly reccommend them. It's awesome!!]

Tuesday, August 22

Below The Root Line

The things that people think they know about food occasionally make the nutritionist in me want to cry. Or sit right down on the floor in Panera and laugh until I cry. Or both.

For example, Sunday I had a couple in with their college-age daughter.

Woman: Yes, I'd like a You-Pick-Two with chicken noodle soup and a Turkey Apple Cheddar.
Me: Sure. Would you like bread, potato chips, or an apple as your side?
Woman: Oh, not bread! I'm don't want to eat any wheat!
Me: ...Okay, I think I might have typed in your order wrong. You wanted the chicken noodle soup?
Woman: (Nods vigorously.) Yes.
Me: And the Turkey Apple Cheddar Sandwich?
Woman: Right. What kind of bread is that on? Is it gluten free?
Me: (Bites my tongue, then answers very politely.) Unfortunately, no. We don't have any gluten free bread.
Woman: Oh, well what kind of bread do you have that doesn't have a lot of wheat in it?
Me, in my head: Do you even know what bread IS? And if you're trying to avoid wheat, shouldn't you not be getting a *noodle* soup?
Me, out loud: Um, well, we can do the flatbread, which will be a little lighter than most of our other breads. Or maybe sourdough???
Woman: Oh, yes, sourdough would be good! That doesn't have a lot of wheat in it!
Me: ...
Me: Okay. So an apple for your side, then?

This morning, I was doing something else and listened to the GM ring in a couple.

Husband: I want an egg white breakfast sandwich on ciabatta.
Wife: I'll have the same thing, but on an asiago bagel. But can you have them burn it, first?
GM: Well, it doesn't actually get toasted - it goes on the panini press.
Wife: Yes, but I want them to burn it.
Husband: Mine, too.
GM: ...We can grill it a second time.
Husband: (Sounding very pleased with himself.) Good. Do you know why we want them burned?
GM: No, I don't.
Husband: Because there's sugar in bread. And if you burn it, you burn all the sugar out!
GM: Here's your pager.
GM to me, after they walk away: You make me ring the crazy ones on purpose, don't you.

And the one that always makes me want to bang my head against a wall.

Woman: Yes, I need a plain bagel, toasted with cream cheese. But I need it to be just the tops of two bagels - my son has a nut allergy.
Me: (Tries REALLY hard not to look at her like she's got two heads.) Just the tops of two plain bagels, toasted?
Woman: Right. That way it won't have come in contact with any nuts or anything.
Me, in my head: THAT'S NOT HOW THAT WORKS!!! HOW HAVE YOU NOT KILLED THAT POOR CHILD?!??!
Me, out loud: Have you had the 'manager speech' about allergies? You know we can't guarantee -...
Woman: (casually waving me off) Oh, it's fine. We do it all the time!
Me: Okay... (cuts bagel by hand with a clean bread knife and asks for it to be put on the panini press with fresh grill papers instead of through the toaster... because it's the best we can do, even if she doesn't care.)

Note: Bakers don't change gloves, etc. when dealing with raw bagel dough. Everything gets baked on the same trays. Bagels get piled haphazardly in baskets 'European style', and then dropped through the slicer into the slicer tray in every which direction they please. Then through the toaster, again, in any which direction. I hold my breath every time that family comes in and pray the kid doesn't have a seizure in the dining room because there was nut exposure in there anywhere!!

Anyway, there is no point to this except that I have spent the last three days all but gaping at the sheer astonishing bizarreness of people and the things they think they know. Thought everyone else might enjoy it, too... (especially since you don't have to keep a straight face!!).

*Title is a reference to a class I took in college where some of my fellow students believed that root vegetables were veggies that grew "below the root line", which they seemed to believe was something like the Mason Dixon Line... it was a loooong semester.

Sunday, August 13

Bitter Food for Thought

Author Peter Bergen reviewed the cases of over three hundred Americans who “were charged with some sort of Jihadist crime” and translated the lessons, trends and stories he uncovered in the process into United States of Jihad. The book purports to be “an essential investigation of 'homegrown' Islamic terrorism and it was in many ways, a tough read for me. (i.e. I read it in chapter-long chunks instead of sitting down and plowing through and did a lot of swearing in the process.)

There were some components of the book that made it ultimately well worth reading. Insights from law enforcement and military advisors on what makes 'home-grown' and 'lone-wolf' terrorists so hard to spot ahead of time and stop before they can strike were extremely interesting and informative. Peeks into different approaches and concepts of threat management, how they've been applied, and their respective strengths and weaknesses went a long way towards helping me more effectively assess and appreciate where a lot of political moves and law enforcement plans have come from (whether they worked or not).

That said, I seriously struggled with the author's presentation of Islam/Muslims and at several points I was extremely frustrated (and a bit disgusted) by his dismissal and reproof of authors (like Robert Spencer), officials and law enforcement officers/agencies for taking a harder line/less sympathetic approach to individuals seeking to join jihad. Bergen took great pains to interview 'moderate' Muslims and show cases in which they attempted to intervene with family members/friends showing signs of radical or unsafe behavior; likewise, he extensively explored the powerful influence of ISIS media messaging. Nowhere did he address or acknowledge the messier truths that people like Spencer tackle: the Koran explicitly encourages devaluation/subjugation of women and disdain/disregard for any non-Muslim, calls the necessity of reestablishing the caliphate, etc. The 'moderate' Muslims he profiles can ignore those bits if they want, but it doesn't change the fact that those realities exist and the people we've entrusted to protect us have a right to take them into account when trying to do their jobs.

The most powerful and unexpected take-away for me (though it wasn't necessarily the intention of the book) was that many of the American terrorists profiled got started on their path through a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves and a deep longing to do something with meaning. This is a universal desire, and part of a much bigger conversation; I would love to see this explored more somewhere.

At the end of the day, I give this three stars. It was technically well written and it did offer a lot in terms of food for thought. But the author's soft brush around some very real, very hard issues that had a very real place in this discussion (and the way he finished the book with feel-good reassurance about cross-religious partnerships to broaden understanding and communication and how low the statistical likelihood of any one person actually being hurt in domestic terrorist attack) utterly failed to deliver on the “and how do we stop them?” component promised by the book's subtitle and, theoretically, the whole point of doing the research that inspired the book to begin with.

Monday, August 7

Mass Exodus

People in our lives have been talking about leaving New York for years now. As the state has gotten increasingly more liberal, more heavily taxed, more politically correct, and more obnoxious those plans have escalated in both seriousness and agressiveness of timeframe.

This year has marked a distinct tipping point. My sister picked up and moved to Florida in May. Eric's brother pulled up stakes this month and is on his way to South Carolina. Our neighbors (who have lived on this road for decades) are in the process of selling their house and eager to get back to the friends they've already made in New Mexico.

Other friends/family continue to plan their escape, caught where they are a few more years yet by other factors. We had someone come walk through our house, interested in buying it, at the start of the summer. That didn't end up going anywhere, but the larger trend has played a lot in our thoughts. It's interesting to ask oneself where you'd go if you just picked up and moved. What would you look for? What would you do (or hope/plan to do) differently?

Errant Venturing this summer has been really good for me/us on this front, as it brings up a lot of new ideas and questions and possibilities we just wouldn't have really had any reason to run into before. It's too early to know what the future holds and when (I've given up trying to anticipate much, given how the last year has gone), but we know we're not staying here long term and the writing on the wall has reached a new level of clarity, for sure.

I don't really have any conclusions or pearls of wisdom to offer or anything on this front, except that it's made two things really stand out for me.

First, it's totally okay to decide that something that worked for you before doesn't any more. Life changes, relationships and jobs and all of those things grow and transmute and if you find that a system or a habit or whatever no longer serves, trade it in for something else. No guilt necessary - be grateful for the season it was good and move on.

Second, nothing else I can do will match the impact of properly taking care of myself. Which always sounds selfish and weird when it's in writing, I think, but it's just true. Nothing's going to serve me better in the face of change and opportunity than having the physical, mental and emotional reserves and resources to meet the day head-on and make the most of it (even if that just looks like being able to enjoy little things like frisbee with the dogs or having the patience not to smack someone at work).

I have no idea if that matters to or helps anyone else right now, but it's been a big lesson in my life this summer, and I thought I'd throw it out there!

Sunday, August 6

Maine

Generally speaking, we're fairly bad at taking vacations. When we do, we do them really well... we just tend to go a pretty long time between them. It's something we're actively working on.  One of the things we've been wanting/planning to do was take a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. At the beginning of July, after much anticipation, we went! We both took a full week off from work, and we packed up the babies and the Errant Venture and set off.

"Oh look! Napping kelp! Don't mind if I do!"
Our GPS was not in our favor. We thought we had it set up to take us well away from the Springfield (Massachusetts) area (which is notorious for abominable traffic), but somewhere en route it recalculated and sent us through there anyway. What should have been a six or seven hour trip took ELEVEN hours... large chunks of it gridlocked in Massachusetts with people who drive like lunatics and apparently have never heard of blindspots and are unaware that their vehicles come equipped with a bunch of mirrors for a reason.

As we passed through the Portland area, we started seeing signs for lobster rolls and decided we totally needed to find some before the trip was out. (We always look for good coffee, too, everywhere we go.)

Thankfully, it took almost no time to get set up once we arrived at Bass Harbor Campground. The dog run looked like something out of a horror movie (we used it exactly once) but the pool was nice and we appreciated being able to swim. We didn't plan a lot of excursion-ing: the goal was to relax. And, given what a sopping wet, unseasonably cold winter we've had at home, to enjoy sunshine and being warm! I had a very good time soaking up some sunshine while reading a good book and, for once, didn't burn because I finally found sunscreen that doesn't make my skin crawl. Hooray!

The babies spent most of the trip overstimulated, damp, and thrilled. We took them for a walk to a nearby lighthouse, all over the campground, and then to the ocean. It was their first exposure to any kind of body of water bigger than a mud puddle, and their reactions were pricelessly delightful. Arthas deigned to get just the tips of his toes wet and stand there enjoying the scenery. Nenya flopped her furry little self directly in the seaweediest spot she could find and beamed. She tossed her head in indignation that the water was salty and not drinkable, but otherwise was quite content to stay there. Both enjoyed exploring the forested, seaside trails with us. (Though they slept for days when we got home.)

It took forever to find halfway decent lobster rolls - apparently nothing around there opens much before 4pm or on weekends (which was ridiculous); we never did find good coffee (except what we took with us, of course). I did find that my appreciation for people-watching has improved; I wasn't ever much of a fan, but now that I am doing it in some sort of context it's much more interesting. (It was interesting to watch the people at the neighboring campsite grapple with four little girls, a 13 year old terrier mix and two enormous Great Pyrannies puppies!)
"This is plenty close enough, thanks.
Have you not seen Jaws?"

It was a wonderful trip and, on the way home, we decided to overnight in Vermont. That not only cut the driving time for the day in half, but kept us well away from the Springfield mess. We also learned a few things that will positively inform our planning for future trips:

-  First (which we'd already kind of suspected), major holidays that everybody has off are not great times to try to camp. The roads are nuts, everywhere is completely full (and booked a year in advance), and there's a lot more of the loud-families-with-kids dynamic at shared facilities like swimming pools.

- Second (which we hadn't thought about, but makes a lot of sense), by contrast, the weekend after a major holiday (or even mid-week, right when everybody else is going back to work) is a great time to travel. Rates, populations, and traffic are all lower. Definitely something to keep in mind as we look ahead!

- Third, hopping in the pool (when there is one) as soon as we're set up and the dogs are walked is something we should make a priority. It definitely refreshes both body and perspective after you've been in the car navigating traffic for hours.

- Fourth, the whole "level sites" tag on campground websites is worth paying attention to. The first couple places we went were very level and gave us unrealistic expectations; we now appreciate that we need to either keep some spare planks of wood on hand for leveling or pick up some of those lego-block style RV levelers to make up for less well set up sites. (Not a big deal, but good to know!)

- Finally, the whole overnighting somewhere on the way home thing is something we should consider more often.

Aside from being told by our coworkers that they don't appreciate having to survive without us for a full week, it was a fabulous trip all around and we look forward to more!!

Saturday, August 5

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

You know the saying "Truth is stranger than fiction"? It is SO true. (Anyone in the customer service business will swear to this.)

Thursday I read one of the craziest examples of this that I've seen in a long time, and it was so bizarrely great that I want to point it out here in case you, too, could use a little eyebrow-raising in your life (of the sort that doesn't also come with spiked stress levels).

Rhinestones, Madness, and Resurrected Corpses: The Love Story of Tony & Susan Alamo

Everything you need to know about this story before you read it can be summarized in the following lines: 

- "I’m watching them and it’s like a tennis match of horse crap." 
- ...they [got] married another couple of times to make sure it stuck."
- "Stricken with grief, [he] did what any heartbroken evangelist would do. He created his own fashion brand."

Seriously... go read it. Be entertained. Then go hug your significant other and thank them for not being a cult-leading Elvis wanna-be... just because.

Friday, August 4

How Not To Apply For A Job

A little free entertainment for your Friday, inspired by something that actually happened at Panera earlier this week... 

How NOT To Apply For A Job:

- Show up a solid 40 minutes before the business opens (while it's still dark outside and nothing else nearby is open) and lurk creepily

- Wait for the opening manager to go outside to do things like set up the umbrellas, grab the newspapers, etc., and proceed to demand that she turn on the Wi-Fi. (Bonus points for grousing about how the Wi-Fi should never be turned off to begin with when she politely explains that she has no control over that and it will auto-turn-on when the cafe opens.)

- Stand around inside the cafe as soon as it opens, scowling at the menu, touching and leafing through everything you can find, and mumble incomprehensibly and menacingly to yourself. When asked if you can be helped with something, refuse to talk to anyone except the manager.

- Loudly complain (two minutes after opening) that the Wi-Fi STILL isn't up and announce that you're going to call Corporate to take them to task for failing to have it turned on when it was supposed to be.

- Announce that you are going to apply for a job at the cafe. Type in the wrong internet address (even though the correct one is listed sixteen places readily at hand, or available via Google). Upbraid the manager (who is busy trying to do her job) when the site asks for a credit card to charge you for submission.

- Find some reason to demand to see the poor beleagured manager every fifteen minutes or so for the full two hours that you stay lodged in the cafe's back corner, grouching or complaining every time.

- Leave about ten minutes before the General Manager comes in, so he can't tell you to knock it off and/or ask you to leave.

Note: I requested that if my GM actually interviewed the gentleman who did exactly all of the above, he do so on one of my shifts during my break so I that I can sit inconspicuously at a nearby table and be stupidly entertained. I know, I'm a horrible person...ha!

Thursday, August 3

Another Passing

Baby Kimber
In 2010, I posted this picture here on the blog of my parents' newly found GSD/Burmese Moutain Dog mix, Kimber. She was a precocious ball of fluff with an attitude and followed Arthas around like he was the Best. Thing. Ever.

Last week, sweet Kimber left us.

Her life was respectably long by the standards of her breed and filled with so much love -given and received. She was a valiant protector and a beloved companion and is dearly missed. 

Before she left, she made sure my parents were in good hands, mentoring Grendel (another GSD/Burmese mix) on the proper supervision of humans.

It's been a rough year for pets in these parts - Ruger's loss still feels fresh, too. Please, if you have furry companions, give them an extra kiss and a few treats today and make sure they know you love and appreciate them!


The padawan has become the Master - Kimber and her furry apprentice Grendel.






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 half.com 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!