The Home Improvement Cycle

Hammer with Glasses

I better safety up before using this bad boy!

I’ve been watching home improvement shows again. I really should just stick to watching Tiny House Hunters and feel smug in my smaller than average house, because my bed could be a “claustrophobic morgue-drawer nightmare” as Chuck Wendig says in his hilarious post: An Open Letter to Tiny House Hunters. Watch out, bad language warning!

Anyway, because of all this Property-Brothers-Fixer-Upper-House-Hunters-Moon-Edition viewing, we have decided to have some work done in our garage. The problem is that having any large-scale work done on your house is like planning a party. And while I love going to parties, planning them makes me doubt I will ever smile again.

Instead of caterers, you are dealing with painters, installers, and HOAs. It’s all a dance, too. Before you can paint, you need to have the electricians install the new outlet, but before you do that, you need to plan where the cabinets are going. Do you want a new garage door that is up to code and looks better than the one with two-by-four crossbeams and old bumper stickers all over it? Then you need a permit and approval from your HOA. Oh and also, you need to either paint the new garage door the same color as the old one, or paint the entire house. If you want to paint the house, then you really should get your gutter work done so they can be painted at the same time.

This is where my head explodes. If I can’t get it done “I Dream of Jeannie”- style, then I’m just not doing it.

Then I calm down. Eventually, I will watch another HGTV show and think, maybe…just maybe…it’s not so bad. What’s the number for the electrician again?

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Portland in August

Portland

“The Dream of the 90s is alive in Portland.” –Portlandia

It was really hard not to sing that song as I toured Portland for my first time. I was only there for a weekend and most of that time was spent in a hotel for the Willamette Writers Conference (which is an excellent conference that I highly recommend). However, I was able to get out to explore downtown for one day.

It’s a very interesting city. People bike everywhere, which is something I totally endorse. I rented a bike and rode around the Willamette River and had the sore legs and bottom to prove it.  Living in Florida, I am NOT used to hills! Of course, the warm weather of Florida followed me up there and the temperature was in the 90s (ha!) during my visit. Everyone complained about the heat, but I would just smile. They don’t even know heat.

There was so much I didn’t get to see, so I will definitely be making a return trip at some point. I would love to hike the surrounding forests and explore the mountains. While I didn’t get to see much, I did get to have a doughnut from VooDoo Doughnut. Oh my gosh! So good. Here is a picture of my Portland Cream. I only had to wait in a line of twenty people to get it!

Portland Cream

Here is the shop with the line out of the door:

VooDooDoughnut

The people from Portland and other parts of Oregon and Washington were so friendly. I met lots of great, interesting writers. I can’t wait to go back with the entire family.

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Salad Woes? Tips for Eating More Salads

Salad_ZoomOh, salad.  I love thee.  I hate thee.  I eat thee. I avoid thee (at times, with every fiber of my being).  Our relationship is complicated, to say the very least.

Why?

Because salads are not simple.  They’re not just the tossing of leafy greens with an oily substance to bind them together.  Salads require effort…and a certain mindset.

In my years of tedious salad eating, I have accumulated some tips on making an adequate, healthy salad. Without further rambling, here they are:

Lowered Expectations

You must accept the fact that your meal will only be mediocre when you are making a salad.  This is absolutely necessary.  If you embark on a meal where salad is the main course and you are thinking about burgers or pizza, you will be crushed.  A salad, even at its best, can only reach a certain level of okay.

It is best if you focus on the fact that you are being healthy.  Think of it as dues paid for your cheat day.  You could also just try not to think about food at all, focusing only on fueling your body.  Either way you look at it, you must prepare yourself for a subpar experience.

Lettuce Choice is Crucial

Lettuce is basically leaves and to make matters worse, the healthier the lettuce is, the more it tastes like a weed you pulled from your back yard.  This is where you have to make a personal decision by weighing health benefits with quality of life.  If you can gnaw on dandelions  with a light coating of a raspberry vinaigrette without diminishing your mood, then more power to you.  You should reach for Kale in the produce section with pride.

If you prefer your lettuce to be crunched rather than tasted, don’t be embarrassed to reach for iceberg or butter as both are still healthier than a grilled Nutella sandwich with it’s warm chocolaty goodness…damn it…go back to the first step immediately.

Add-ins: Not so Important After All

When you first decide to make salad a main staple in your diet, you go all out.  Tomato, check.  Cucumber, check.  Olives, peppers, onions, celery: check.  You slice and dice your way to a gourmet salad that rivals a restaurant’s creation.  Since you are being so healthy, it’s even okay to add a few croutons.  Hard boiled egg?  Not a problem, you’ll just boil one up really quick.  You sit down with a napkin in your lap and consume the bowl of healthiness with the highest manners.

After eating salads for a few months, things change.  When you open your fridge, you will pick up the lettuce and glance at the other fixings, shake your head, grab the dressing and close the door.  Since you aren’t adding anything else to it, you should probably have more croutons.   You don’t bother to sit and eat it; instead, you stand at the kitchen counter with lettuce slapping the sides of your face as you shove it in your mouth and finish it within a minute.  The relief of choking down the mandatory leafy veggies will cause a physical reaction in you.  Savor the feeling; it is the only good one that you will have during the experience.

Dressing: The One Redeeming Quality

If you are a person who can eat a salad without dressing, then you should just go back to your home planet, because you must be an alien.  The only reason to somewhat enjoy a salad is the dressing.  There are plenty of options, as displayed by the wall of choices in the grocery store condiment aisle.  All of them are filled with flavor designed to make your salad experience bearable.   Here are some rough guidelines to help you choose your dressing:

  • Ranch – When you feel wildly optimistic and fun-loving.  Everything is going your way when Ranch is the choice of the day.
  • Thousand Island – When you miss fast food and really want a Big Mac.
  • French – When you feel sassy and sophisticated—it’s called French after all.  Oui!
  • Greek – When you need an escape.  While you eat, you can picture yourself on a boat off the coast of Greece with a hot guy named Yannis Angelopoulos slathering sunscreen on you.  Or if you are a guy, it’s a busty brunette named Katerina.
  • Oil and Vinegar – You are too boring and too perfect for your own good.

Common Side Effects and Misconceptions

Now that we have learned about making a salad, there are two important things you must remember when eating salads regularly.

Rejection

Don’t fret when one day your mouth, body, and soul reject the salad.  It will happen. You will feel guilt. You will pile vegetables on a plate to feel better, because even though they may be the same things you would normally put in a salad, it is not technically a salad.  The distinction matters.

The important thing to remember is not to force the salad at this point, or you risk permanent damage from which the salad will not be able to return…ever.  Instead, focus on other foods for a while.  Be gentle with yourself and nurture yourself.  When you do go back on salads, do it gradually—for instance, just have a side salad with your meal.  Try to remember something, anything, you might have remotely liked about it in the first place.  Often, a useful tip is to remember your waistline when you ate them regularly.

Those Other Salads

Salads are not defined by lettuce.  There are plenty of other salad options that can be just as tolerable.  When you tire of one, move on to another or create your own.  Some to consider are egg, bean, potato, pasta, chicken and tuna.  Okay, some of those might not be the healthiest, but they sure are delicious.  Sometimes you need to treat yourself with something scrumptious that has salad in the name.

Please feel free to share your experiences with salads, good and bad.  And remember:

Salad Poem

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Tidy Up, Y’all!

This summer I am home with my three young kids, working on final edits for a book I am pitching at a writer’s conference at the end of July, blogging, and spending time with friends. Sounds like the perfect time to reorganize my entire house, right?

Anyone who knows me well knows I am a self-improvement junkie. As much as I love reading fiction, I devour good non-fiction books that challenge the norm.   When I heard about Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingI knew it was a challenge I must accept.

I should have waited to read this book until after my upcoming writing conference, but it came available at the library and was automatically checked out onto my Kindle. I tried to resist it, but when I see the word “decluttering” it is like catnip to me. Or like Vicks VapoRub to my cat.

I succumbed to temptation and spent a couple of days reading it. That would have been fine had I not been driven to implement some of her suggestions, but more on that later.

What This Book is About

While the author may be a small, soft-spoken Japanese woman, she has big ideas on home organization.   In her book she introduces the “KonMari” method, which consists of taking everything you own and determining if each item brings you joy.  If it fails to “spark joy” tell it “doumo arigatou” and promptly discard it. She advises to do the process in one big effort and to start with clothing, since it is usually the easiest to make decisions around. After clothes, move on to books followed by papers, miscellany and finally memorabilia. By starting with easier decisions and progressing to more difficult ones, you get a chance to hone your decision-making skills.

To begin, she instructs you to take everything in a certain category, clothes for instance, and put them on the floor.   When she says everything, she means every single thing: hanging clothes, clothes in drawers, underwear, jewelry, shoes, coats in the closet by the door, etc. After the wave of nausea over the amount of crap you own passes, take each thing in your hand and ask yourself if it makes your heart pound with excitement.   Note: it’s important to move everything to one pile, because when you leave things in their current place they can be invisible to you.

She covers how to organize the things that pass your strict joy assessment. She insists on storing things vertically instead of stacking horizontally, because that leaning tower of shirts are hard on that old N’Sync concert T at the bottom. You know, the one you would totally wear if only you could see it or reach it.

Why Being Tidy Matters

The premise of the book is that we have a limited amount of time, space and capacity to truly enjoy objects we bring into our lives. Having an extraneous amount of things to maintain, to clean and to manage can have a negative impact on our health and professional lives. Weight loss was one benefit that her clients have apparently experienced after implementing her “KonMari” method. I doubt the things she claims can be verified, but I can see their validity.  Once we rid ourselves of the excess things in our life, we are able to see what we need with more clarity.

At first, some of her suggestions sounded silly; such as thanking the objects you are disposing of and greeting your house when you arrive home. What she is really suggesting is to practice gratitude for your possessions.   I believe that happiness begins with gratitude. This is why you should thank your underwear every day for covering your…well, you get the point.

What I Have Done

Tidying Pics

I tried to wait until after my trip to try some of her suggestions and I am proud to say that I am a rock. I waited until the next day to gather all my clothes and put them on my bed to create a peak that rivals Pike’s. I picked up each item and asked myself if it sparked joy. Some answers came quickly. If it didn’t, I tried on the item to obtain the solid “yes” or “no”.  I surprised myself by generating four large bags to donate and one bag of trash. What the hell? I thought I would have enough to fill one bag max. I felt like a big failure toward my minimalistic claims.   I still have a lot of work to do.

While I have not lost weight, I have found that I definitely feel lighter. I also gained a ton of extra space in my closet and dresser. My clothes are no longer squashed together and my drawers actually close without needing to put my weight behind it. Looking at my remaining clothes is now a surprisingly peaceful experience.

I also implemented her suggestion on emptying your purse at the end of the day. I created a place to put my wallet and other items each evening, which allows my purse to rest.   It works hard lugging around all my stuff day after day. When I read this in her book, I thought it sounded so ridiculous that I had to try it. For something that only takes a few minutes, I find that it has surprising benefits. For one, I use all of my bags equally depending on my needs (and colors) for the day and, for two, I am more prepared when I am out since I am purposefully choosing what to pack each morning.

I am resisting the urge to tear apart the remainder of my house until I get back from New York. My house better watch out in August, cause I am going to descend on it like Taz from “Looney Tunes”.  You might find me in the middle of a mound of my stuff spitting and spouting off gibberish, “Soaooo maauch crrappp!”

Final Words

Overall, I think it is a great book to help you if you struggle to part with clutter. I don’t know if will transform your life, but it will definitely help you make more space and create a more peaceful environment in your home. There is much more in her book that I didn’t cover here, such as how to think about gifts and memorabilia.   If you feel like your home is busting at the seams or you like big challenges, this book is for you.

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Summer is here!

This summer I will be vacationing with my family in Colorado. I have been there three times in my life, all of which occurred over twenty-four years ago. When I was a freshman in high school, my family drove an RV through southern Colorado, visiting Pike’s Peak, Colorado Springs, Cripple Creek and others. The remaining two trips were band trips, one as a freshman and one as a junior. I think our band performed in some contest, but I was more interested in the skiing. Out of all three trips, this is one of the only pictures I have:

Age 15

Me in Colorado at age 15

Where do I start? First, how disappointing that there are no pictures of mountains in my collection? That will be remedied on this trip. Second, my hair is big and frizzy, but not much has changed there. I think that is about all that is wrong with this picture.

Oh, the butt on the wall? I would like to inform you that I have pictures of two other girls cupping the butt, so it wasn’t just me. I think the question you should really be asking is why was the butt there to begin with?

I am looking forward to the downtime of my vacation. I am going to read, I am going to hike, I am going to manage my kids, and I might have a drink or two.   Here is my ambitious reading list:

  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler – I am almost done reading this and am hoping to finish.
  • Summer Sisters by Judy Blume – I heard this was a quick, light read, which is perfect for vacation.
  • Funny Girl by Nick Hornby – I probably won’t get to this one, like I said this is an ambitious list for a week long vacation.

The rest of my summer is going to be filled with spending quality time with the kids while they are on break, blogging, and finishing the last revisions on my novel. I will be attending the Writers Digest Annual Conference in NYC at the end of July, where I will get the opportunity to pitch my book to a bunch of agents, speed-dating style. My expectation for the event is not to get published, but to network, get insight on the publishing industry, and learn a plethora of new things at the educational sessions.

If you have any additional summer books to suggest, please comment below. I am always working on my to-read list. Have a wonderful summer!

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