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!