Apr 28, 2016

If You Died This Minute...

So remember how I mostly dislike Fight Club but said there were a few things that made me think?  Still thinking.  In the movie, there's a scene where Brad Pitt and Edward Norton go to a gas station, threaten the attendant, and tell him if he doesn't start pursuing his dream they'll find him and kill him.  The book is a little different, but there's a similar scene where characters are faced with death and asked, "What do you wish you had done?"

I talked to Ryan about this and what our things would be.  And I think, in both our cases, the things we wish we had done are things we are actively working on.  Mine would have been working for myself - and that's happening, and traveling more.  Experiencing more.  There are plenty of places I would have liked to have seen and things I'd like to have tried, but I'm pretty pleased with the amount I've accomplished so far and with the plans my sisters and I have for future excursions.  Travel isn't a one time thing and you're done, it's ongoing, as is my business (which will hopefully continue to grow).

I think this is the first time that I've ever indulged in an existential "rethink my life" and realized I'm good.  I don't need to figure out how to fix this mess, because for once I'm in a good place.

Guys, this is kind of amazing.

In addition to finally, FINALLY, having my life headed in a direction I'm happy with, I'm the happiest with myself I've ever been.  Several years of focused self improvement have changed me to the point that I'm not sure my teenage self would recognize me.  And, despite what she might think, that's a good thing.

Like the first two, this isn't a stopping point.  But I know there isn't one.  Being a good person might be easy for some people, but for me it's a lifelong project and I'm happy with the progress I've made so far and my focus for the future.

When I look back at the times I've been the unhappiest, it's usually been when I'm in stasis.  When I feel stuck, or trapped.  Change makes me happy.  Growth makes me happy.  Having something to work towards and making progress.  Breaks are needed every so often, but when I step back and take a look at my life from a distance, checking the metaphorical line graph of progress, everything's climbing slowly and steadily, and that's all I want and need.

I'll stop gushing now and sum up with: not everyone enjoys a good existential crisis, but they're what's gotten me here.  So if you find yourself in that place, think of it as a stepping stone towards a different path that will (hopefully) be a more fulfilling one.

Do you ever stop and rethink your life?  If you died this minute, what would you regret not doing?


P.S. Going to Disney next week so I'll be back after that with cutesy family photos and stories about how I dragged Ryan to Magic Kingdom to experience THE MAGIC for the first time in his life.

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Apr 26, 2016

House Training - a Toasty Posty


I apologize, but something about Toast makes me baby-talk and babble in the worst possible cutesy manner.  This didn't happen with Luke, but his name doesn't rhyme as well, and he also wasn't quite as young or as helpless.

Anyway, when we adopted Toast, the DHA assured us that she was house trained, and I wasn't thinking about the fact that 8 months old is really only 2/3 of a year, far from full grown (1 year is adolescence and they don't really settle down until 1.5 or 2).  Toast didn't seem very puppy-like with her extreme fear and shyness of humans, and the first several weeks were unmarked by accidents (in part because she was too afraid to get up and move around on her own).  When she started having accidents, we thought the first couple were just fluke incidents, and scolded her (gently), before taking her outside to remind her of the proper place for these bodily functions.

A month and a half in, it became pretty apparent that Toast was not, in fact, house trained in any way.  As she lost her fear of us, and became less concerned about being vulnerable in front of potentially dangerous eyes, she quite freely eliminated wherever she happened to be when nature called.

When the realization that we would have to house train her hit, I was bummed.  So much work!  And I really didn't know where to start.  I googled it and what?  I have to go out with the dogs EVERY SINGLE TIME???  And carry treats EVERYWHERE I GO???

It's not that big a deal.  It seemed horrendous at the time but it only took a week or so for me to settle into the training role.  I have a very cool treat pouch with a shoulder strap.  It's actually convenient since I have to carry poop bags anyway, and this has a dispenser built in.  I also have a clicker (literally a plastic device that makes a clicking noise) so we can let Toast know she's doing the right thing even if she's feeling too skittish for treats (which was a definite problem at first - we'd toss them on the ground but even then she wouldn't always take it).  It's basically a diaper bag for dogs.


It took maybe another week to convince Ryan that this whole training thing would work a lot better if we were consistent and he also clicked and treated and that I'd be much more willing to do my part in preventing lawn burn if he did his part in house training.

And now?  It's easy.  Accidents still happen sometimes if we don't keep a close enough watch, but Toast is starting to expect treats after going outside and we make a point of taking her out every time she gets up and goes to the door, so she knows the right place to go and how to get out there.  I feel a lot more confidence that we will have her successfully house trained at some point, and when accidents do occur?  No big thang!  Cleaning up pee isn't a big deal after you've done it 10 times.  AND my mom said our house doesn't even smell like dog, so I'd say we're winning.

If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that everything new seems hard until you get comfortable with it.  When we first got Toast and I realized we couldn't leave her alone, and she was getting growly if we let her on the bed, but barking in the crate, I hit a point where I was so stressed and frustrated that I was daydreaming about not having gotten her.  Adopter's remorse.

I knew logically that we'd get through it, but I spent several days tense and stressed.  The best thing I did (my go-to coping mechanism in similar situations) is focus on the end result.  Just like with Luke, in 6 months or a year, the idea of feeling this stressed and unhappy about the situation will be laughable.  And we'd probably love her just as much then as any other member of the family.

It's not 6 months later, but it's already gotten much, much easier.  Each look from her sad, little eyes, each (rare but increasing) tail wag, and each time she breaks out of her shell and does something incredibly doggy, she burrows a little further into my heart.  I already can't imagine not having adopted her, and I'm that much more excited to see where we'll be in a year.

How do you stay focused on the positive in stressful situations?  Did you love your pets from the get-go or did you need an adjustment period?


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Apr 21, 2016

My Cooking Style and Crockpot Chicken Chili Recipe

"I made something that didn't taste horrible!"

This is my typical refrain when I successfully prepare a meal.  Because unless I'm baking, I tend to be a bit loose with my measurements.  As in, I eyeball it or I ignore the proportions altogether.  I also substitute wildly and frankly, I appreciate all the reviews on AllRecipes.com that mention their substitutions with their recipe ratings, because the chances that I have everything I need are LOW.

I don't usually cook with Ryan, but when I do this is not a methodology he's very fond of.  Ryan wants instructions, exact measurements, and to minimize our chances of messing up.  I don't mind messing up and I don't mind consuming my mistakes for the next 2 or 3 days.  It sucks, sure, but I almost always learn something and you have to screw up pretty badly to remove the nutritional value, amiright???

However, this tolerance for risk and indifference to precision does mean that even when I successfully create something, chances are not high that I'll be able to recreate it exactly and thus I must celebrate when it comes out right!

I recently made this baller chili and just to further illustrate my "style," I've got my recipe here.


Crockpot Chicken Chili (by Jenn, the Kitchen Magician)


Ingredients

  • 4 Frozen Chicken Breasts
  • 1 Can O' Beans (Black beans to be specific, but you know me - I'm not picky.)
  • Tomato Something (What's that, unwanted can of V8 Original, and the last remains of some very old salsa?)
  • Spices (Surely chili has spices?)

Instructions

  1. Google ingredients (I think I used this recipe as a basis)
  2. Ignore the stuff about bell peppers, onions, canned tomatoes, and fresh herbs
  3. Assemble chicken and tomato substances in the crockpot
  4. Realize you don't know what to do about beans in a crockpot and google crockpot recipe to check
  5. Verify that beans can go in the whole time and ignore new list of ingredients
  6. Add beans
  7. Sprinkle chili powder, paprika, cumin, red pepper flakes, onion powder (to make up for no onions), and pepper over mixture with reckless abandon
  8. Carefully sprinkle a tiny amount of garlic over mixture ('cause garlic is nasty)
  9. Skip the salt because V8 original and canned beans are plenty salty enough
  10. Set crockpot to 8 hours on low and forget about for 6 hours.
  11. Check on it (because you're going to bed and don't want to have to get up in 2 hours) and realize the liquid is way too thin
  12. Pour a little bit of cold water into a cup, and stir in as much corn starch and flour as it will take before it stops dissolving
  13. Add to crockpot and hope
  14. Have someone else turn it off at 1am and put it away for you
  15. Reheat and eat for lunch the next day
  16. Revel in your culinary prowess
  17. Brag

And that's it!  Hopefully this simple, 17-step recipe has given you a starting place to being able to master the occasional recipe and totally ruin the rest of them.

What's your cooking process?  Do you tend to follow recipes or experiment?


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Apr 19, 2016

Positivity Project Part 2 and Focus Word

Remember the "getting out of the slump plan"?  So of my 5 action steps, the only one I really stuck with was saying something nice to Ryan every day, which, frankly, was the most important one.  An unexpected side benefit was that my "here's why I love you today" messages inspired Ryan to start sending them back.

I'm kind of kicking myself, because there have been so many days that I was feeling down and I'd ask Ryan to try to cheer me up or "say something nice."  And he struggled to come up with something, because he's not great at switching gears like that in the middle of the day.  And because he's more of a reactive person.  In a lot of ways, our relationship is a mirror, and the more I work on myself and the better I do, the more positivity reflects back at me from him.

So it should have been obvious that the way to get positive messages back was to send them in the first place.  But it wasn't, despite the lesson I learned a couple years ago that if you want to make blog friends you have to visit their blogs first.  Basically the same lesson I keep relearning ever since childhood: if you want people to be nice to you, you have to be nice to them.

Anyway, tangent aside, that's what's been happening with my daily positive message to Ryan and it's fantastic!  It's almost like the couple's version of affirmations and it's an awesome reminder to celebrate the good every day (or at least search for it if it's less apparent that particular day).  I'm letting the "word of the day" go, along with the selfies, and picking a self love activity every day.  It's too much and I don't mind admitting that not every single one of my ideas is as effective as I'd like it to be.

I have, however, started try to incorporate small elements into my routine to help balance and raise my mood on a daily basis.  Other than just striving for a healthier lifestyle, I'm trying to do 3 small things every day:

1. Start the day with a "power pose"

There's a great TED talk on the biological impact of simply holding yourself a different way.  It takes 2 minutes and has a proven impact on your hormone levels, so why not, right?

2. Take a 15 minute nap in the afternoon

This is harder, but I've read that studies show that a short nap (not long enough to experience a REM cycle) can reduce the negative impacts of sleep deprivation, repairs cognitive functions, AND helps you commit to long-term memory the things you learned that day.  This one is harder for me, both because I have to force myself to take a break and because I don't nap well.  But I'm trying!

3. End the day with tea, stretching, and contemplation

The tea is both calming and a replacement for the sugary things I'm all too apt to take to bed with me.  As much as I like to read before bed, it's better for me to stretch and wind down.  I want to keep it open for journaling, meditation, or following the May Cause Miracles workbook so "contemplation" seemed like a nice catch-all term for it.  I've struggled with this one a bit, as well, both because I sometimes get stressed out with the dogs in the room (Toast has a habit of growling whenever she hears a noise and it always startles me and makes my heart pound), and because when I'm tired and burned out my impulse is either to drop into bed or to "treat myself" with books and bad food.  However, if I make that cup of tea and tell myself I only have to do this until the cup is consumed, it makes it easier to get started, which is 90% of the battle.

Prior to this, I've built numerous routines, all beautifully efficient, to maximize exercise and sleep, or bonding time with Ryan, or keeping the dogs active.  But they don't work.  And that's because it's impossible to focus on everything I want to focus on every day.  I cannot fit the amount of work, leisure, health, and interpersonal time I want into every day.  So the focus shifts and some days I get enough sleep and pamper myself, and some days I work myself to the max.

But this schedule involves a mere 22 minutes of effort, spread out throughout the day.  Even with my (sometimes impressive) lack of discipline, this I know I can do.  And I'll continue it until I've gotten a sense of whether it adds something to my day or not, at which point I'll find other things to try.

I know I titled this "positivity project" but I really want this to be a new focus for my life in general.  I don't want to coast by anymore, giving brief spurts of attention to my own happiness, and then going back to work mindlessly.  I've always been a journey person rather than a destination person and while I adore goals, it's way too easy to spend so much time working toward them that you never stop to enjoy the now.

A goal might be a year of work, then one or five days of celebration, and then a new goal, because I'm never done growing and changing.  That's fine, but it also means I can't only focus on those one or five days, because the rest of the year will be time that doesn't actually add to my happiness!  And that's the biggest goal for me.  To be happy, as much as humanly possible.

This year, the biggest thing standing in the way of my happiness is me.  I'm living the life I've wanted for years, I'm happy with the people I've surrounded myself with, and I have a plethora of healthy hobbies and activities to choose from.  The things in my way are my own pain, my own flaws, and my own mental obstacles, which I'm finally read to tackle.

With that in mind, my focus word (for the year, or for now, or for however long it makes sense) is healing.  I want to overcome those obstacles, heal the pain behind them, and forgive my flaws, even while I continue to work on them.  I'm looking at negativity as the weakest, most broken part of myself, and I want to heal that, rather than add to it by denouncing it.  I wrote just the other day about not being perfect, and I don't expect that, but I do hope to achieve a greater happiness by creating peace within myself.

Do you use focus words (and if so, what's yours)?  What are the parts of your routine that boost your day the most?


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Apr 14, 2016

The Side of Me You Don't See

Tanya wrote an awesome post about not subscribing to the false veneer of perfection that so many of us coat our real lives with on the Internet and social media.  Now, I know some people get caught up in the race.  There's a need to present a perfect front, in order to keep up with everyone else's rose-tinted, perfect white background-ed snapshots of life.  But I think it also happens because a lot of the negative is so intensely personal.

I could tell you about my road rage, and we'd laugh it off.  But if I casually mentioned a lifelong pattern of anger that's taken years and a growing collection of self-help books to manage, how do we move on from there?  It's a downer, and it's also an invitation to pry into the areas of my life that I might get emotional about.  I don't necessarily want to do that publicly on the Internet, and I definitely don't want to do that in a 1 or 2 sentence post on Facebook or Twitter.

I feel like blogs are a much more inclusive look at each other's lives.  When there's no character limit, there's room to expand and explain.  Blogging seems to draw kindred spirits, and so instead of the awkward silence you might create on another social channel, you get comments like, "I know what you mean."  "Me too!"  "It really is the worst."  "Good job."  "Keep working at it."

And maybe that's why we should continue to share, and overshare, here.  Maybe blogging can combat the pseudo-perfection the other social media networks purport.  My favorite part of Tanya's post was her full assessment of her own personality, virtues, flaws, and all.  In the spirit of honesty, and living with integrity, here's the side of me I don't usually share on social media.

That anger thing?  Yeah, that wasn't just a convenient example.  My road rage is relatively mild, but anger tends to be my first response to a wide variety of stimuli and the best I can do is to not act on it or let it show to others.  I am quite honestly proud to be able to say I haven't slammed a door in 2+ years.

I am unkind.  Mostly to myself, but also others.  Every little mistake sparks the mental (and sometimes verbal) refrain, "Stupid, stupid, stupid."  My unkindness towards others exists, like my anger, mostly in my mind, but those poisonous, foul little thoughts add nothing positive to my life and I'd like to extinguish them altogether.

My way is the only way.  I'm far from a perfectionist.  I start every task intending to hit perfection, and then somewhere along my intended path I hit "good enough" and drop it.  But I'm far less proficient at accepting "good enough" from other people.  It's my way or it's wrong, and trying to accept help from others, knowing they won't do something "right" is a constant struggle.

I'm indecisive.  I agonize over life decisions and even after being forced by an impending deadline to choose one or the other, I don't fully commit until I've gotten comfortable with it.  I'm getting better, here, but it's not uncommon for me to daydream about an option long gone even after deciding to focus all my energies on the path I've taken.

Marriage is hard.  Here I am, 7 months in, newly moved into our first home, adopting our 2nd pup and full steam building our life together.  But there's no such thing as a perfect marriage, and I can write all the sweet messages, and "things I like about Ryan" posts in the world, but that doesn't negate the fact that there are times that all the power of my anger and negativity and indecisiveness has been directed at this one human being.  Times when I have daydreamed of other things, and times when I'm sure Ryan has felt the same.

I don't want to inspire pity or sympathy.  I know people who want what we have will look at statements like that and blow it off as a lack of appreciation for what I have.  But the truth is, I appreciate the crap out of Ryan and our relationship, and we work at it every day to make it even better and more fulfilling for both of us.  That doesn't change the fact that it's hard.  Not every day, not every week, not every month, but there are moments, and days, and weeks, that test us, that bring out every one of my negative qualities, that force me to choose between self improvement and self destruction.

And I guess I want to say this because marriage, more than anything, is portrayed as a state of perfection.  Social media, movies, books, even by our close friends and family.  Familial issues stay between spouses, and the rest of us look at that perfect exterior and think, "If I just had that, I'd be happy."  Or we think, "My marriage isn't like that.  I must have chosen the wrong person."

With the possible exception of Mr. and Mrs. Rogers (and my mom's parents, who were absurdly perfect), there isn't such a thing as a "perfect marriage."  Because we're not perfect, and we can't expect perfection of our partners or of a union formed by 2 imperfect beings.  Imperfection isn't bad or wrong.  It is hard sometimes, but it's just a fact of life, and continuing through the hard times means we're growing as people and, hopefully, as a couple as well.

And now, returning from my marriage tangent back to social media, I'd like to think we can break through the fakeness and embrace our imperfections.  I think I can say, "My negativity took over for part of today, but it's a work in progress, and I can forgive myself for it" with some certainty that you guys know what I mean, and can sympathize, because you're fighting battles of your own.  Most of you, in turn, don't subscribe to the pretense of perfection, and that's what keeps me interested.

What things do you find hard to talk about in a public medium?  Have you ever been caught up in the race to perfection?


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Apr 13, 2016

Modern Romance and Master of None

I first watched Aziz Ansari play Tom in Parks and Rec, and I didn't have much of an opinion of him.  His character is pretty vapid and I didn't know enough about the actor to know if there was anything else going on underneath of that.

Choosing to watch Master of None was done mostly at a whim.  Ryan and I were looking for a light hearted show to watch together and figured we'd give it a shot.  It took me a while to get into, but I was really surprised by the social issues Aziz covers in his show.  Now that I've listened to Modern Romance, I'm less surprised.

Aziz did a TON of research for his book.  A big chunk of it discusses romance and technology, but he also goes over gender roles, both past and present.  He talks about cultural norms for dating, and how this impacts women (and men) in different countries.  And at the end he nicely summarizes what he's learned and makes a point that I agree with - technology is just a tool, and whether we use it for good or evil is up to us.

I also really liked his discussion of choice - how the multitude of choices now available can actually be a hindrance, because we become paralyzed by the need to have not just a good option, but the "best" option.  In reality, this concept holds us back, because there's just too many to give serious analysis to every single possibility, and it's a little ridiculous to think you can truly get the whole picture based on the few facts presented in someone's online dating profile.  Plus we spend more time online searching than actually connecting with people in the real world.

This is a concept that applies to a lot more than just dating.  I had an argument with a coworker once, where he talked about how exhausting it is to make sure he finds the best option whenever he researches anything: a product, an activity, a vacation.  I argued that it would be worth not getting the "best" option if he saved some of that time for other value-adding activities rather than researching AND he made up his mind to be happy about his option and not worry about what he was missing out on.

Fear of missing out is such a huge thing, and it's silly.  Using dating as an example: I've never believed I had one soulmate.  I believe I'm very adaptable and therefore compatible with tons and tons of different people.  I never thought there was one option or even a "best" option, just different paths I could take, and each would be different and interesting and worthwhile in its own way.  Of course, I wanted to make sure that the option I ultimately chose would be one that provided an acceptable level of satisfaction, and I don't think my standards were low.  But once I made it past a certain level, any of many, many options would suffice and worrying that one might be fractionally "better" is just a waste of time that I could be spending enjoying the option I did choose.

Back to Master of None.  The show builds on a couple of these concepts.  There's an episode where the women describe ways they're overlooked or diminished by men (I particularly admire Aziz here for allowing his character to be guilty of some of the mistakes they describe).  There's a couple episodes tackling race issues and ageism.  Infidelity, immigration, fear of commitment, fear of settling.  Overall, I was just blown away by the breadth of topics and how subtly Aziz manages to discuss very serious issues while keeping the light-hearted tone of the show.

I hope to see more of this kind of show - it really gives me hope for a more inclusive discussion of social issues, to be discussed calmly after watching a favorite TV show, instead of reserving difficult issues for enraged Twitter arguments.

Have you listened to Modern Romance or watched Master of None?  Do you fear missing out or experience difficulty making choices?


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Apr 12, 2016

"Outside of a Dog, a Book is Man's Best Friend...

Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read!"  (Groucho Marx)  Haaaahahahaha, ahem.  Anyway.
 
Reading = happiness.  I've been reading a lot and I love it.  Every once in a while I'll say I don't have time for something (like video games, which I like but aren't as important to me) and Ryan will point out that I have plenty of time for books.  And that's true.  Because I will always make time for books.  They keep me sane when things are crazy, happy (or at least distracted) when things are tough, and comprise the best self love activity I can think of.
 
This linkup comes at a good time this month because I just finished an awesome, awesome book that I will gush about and, looking back, I had a bunch of 5 star reads.  I'm also going to switch up my format and put it in star rating order, instead of chronological.  Here goes...
 

♥♥♥♥♥ - 5 Star


 

Graceling

Just finished this over the weekend and I loved it!!!  Honestly, the writing is probably more of a 4 star, but I decided to give it a 5 just based on how much I enjoyed it.  My resolution to not buy new book is going completely out the window, because I am absolutely buying the rest of this series.
 
The main character is kind of a trope; the female assassin, jaded by the world and uninterested in love.  It felt a little disingenuous at first, after recently having read Throne of Glass, BUT unlike other books I've read, I feel like this one does a much better job of accurately depicting the inner conflict someone would suffer if they are, or want to be, a good person, but consistently do horrible things.  The main character is far from perfect, and I like that because I'm sick of unrealistic, charming, perfect ladies, but she struggles through her inner turmoil and allows other people to help her master her flaws and become something better.  I identified strongly with that element, and the plot took me to very unexpected places, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of this (after I realized it wasn't a cliché after all).
 
 

The Last Olympian (and the last 3 books of the Percy Jackson series)

So you know how I said I wasn't going to follow up with this series?  I lied.  I was trying to find something quick and lighthearted, and it was easier to buy the next book than scrounge the Internet (or Roommate's books) for something new.  And I'm super glad I did, because each one just got better!  About book 3 or so, the author started ending on cliffhangers, and I'd buy the next book immediately after finishing each one.  The main character grows up and matures a bit, and each book introduces more characters from Greek mythology, which I absolutely adored.  And the plot kept me guessing.  I felt reasonably confident that they'd survive and win all their challenges, because that's the kind of book it was, but I never knew how.
 
Note: some people compare this to Harry Potter.  Don't.  You'll be doing yourself and the book a disservice.  It's a good story, but it doesn't have the depth or complexity of the HP world.  I'd say it's more like the Artemis Fowl series (which I also highly recommend if you're into YA/teen books).
 
 

Modern Romance

I actually have a post about this scheduled later this week because I had way too many thoughts about this for a short summary.  Basically Aziz did a buttload of research and gives us several interesting thoughts to consider about romance and human interaction in the modern age.  I had several take-aways, which is my criteria for a 5 star book that's not fantasy, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him narrate, as he's a good speaker and highly entertaining (he makes up fake accents for some of his focus group quotes that are just ridiculous and good fun).
 
 

What Are You Hungry For?

I wrote about this once already, so I'll just quickly summarize.  The book talks about emotional eating, mindfulness, and an entirely new take on healthy eating.  This went on my game-changers shelf because it has such good concepts that can apply to health and other parts of life as well.
 

♥♥♥♥ - 4 Star

 
 

Emotional Freedom

I think I strung this out a bit too long - 4 months is a bit much to remember and retain cohesion from ending to beginning.  Despite that, this book had quite a few good concepts for me to think over and the end, especially, had some very poignant parts for me.  It was weird, because I was finishing this and What Are You Hungry For? at the same time and the content started to overlap.  (And then I got superstitious and thought it had extra meaning because of that coincidence, but whatever.  It was stuff I needed to hear.)  A lot of this is about mindfulness, and getting in touch with yourself, how you're feeling, why you're feeling it, and how to let it go.  Things I've been working on for the last couple of years!
 
 

Throne of Glass

So remember that female assassin trope I was talking about?  This was thoroughly a cliché.  I did enjoy the read, which is why it's 4 instead of 3 stars, but I thought the main character was a bit unrealistic (she's soooo concerned with right and wrong and moral integrity, but why?  She's killed people for a living her whole life and that was fine, but offending her friend makes her a horrible person?  Totally illogical).  Also, the book would occasionally shift perspectives and give you the point of view of the 2 male characters (are you sensing a love triangle yet?), but all 3 of their "inner voices" sounded exactly the same.  I felt like the men weren't given their own personalities, and the book probably would have been better if the author had stuck with just one POV.  I did appreciate that she didn't dive straight into the love triangle, and that it's developing slowly over time, as people falling in love in the first week of the book timeline drives me up the wall, but I anticipate more cheesiness in the next book and I'm not going to read more just to find out which guy she picks.
 

♥♥♥ - 3 Star

 
 

Fight Club

Mehhh...  So I read Fight Club as one of my "branch outside of your preferred genre" type books.  I didn't know what to expect, but I'm not terribly surprised that I didn't like it.  It's Chuck Palahniuk so graphic, violent, unpleasant to read, all that fun stuff.  I'm avoiding his stuff in the future now that I've forced my way through the "classic."  I am glad I read it, because there were a few things I thought about later (how much power do our possessions have over us, and what would you regret not doing if you died this minute), AND because I like comparing books to movies (a lot of differences and a far more realistic ending).  I'm glad I was able to borrow this from a friend and I can give it back and get it out of my house!
 
 

Heart of Ice

This is by my favorite Kindle Unlimited author, K. M. Shea, and while I hate to say anything less than flattering, because I love her (she has a super awesome blog where she talks about the writing process and does surveys to get reader's input on future stories), I just didn't like this as much as some of her others.  The main character wasn't as compelling and I had trouble getting into the story.  I don't have any huge beef with this one, but I wouldn't recommend it either.
 
Currently...
I will definitely be diving into the Graceling series!  I'm also trying to work my way through May Cause Miracles (which I finally bought in paperback), but it requires a fair amount of discipline to pick the book up in the morning and before bed every single day, so... we'll see how this goes.  I also have a stack of books on my night stand just waiting for me, which I really ought to read first before buying more books BUT now I can justify putting it off because Dani and Erin are doing a challenge in June to finish already-owned books!  Can definitely get on board with that.
 

What have you been reading?  Have you read anything from my list and what did you think?  Do you have a stack of "should read" books that you ignore while you read fun ones instead?


Linking up with Steph and Jana
 
Life According to Steph

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Apr 11, 2016

Video Game Orchestra - An April Adventure

Remember how I'm supposed to find an adventure for each month?  Well this one wasn't anything too crazy, but it was fun.

I'd been wanting to take a trip, so after a couple of false starts, Ryan found a Zelda symphony in the DC area and we decided to make a weekend of it.  Zelda is one of the games we both like (and have actually finished Windwaker) so hearing a full orchestra play the music sounded pretty interesting.


Interesting is an understatement.  I think when you play a game, you don't tend to give much heed to the music other than an initial "I like it/don't like it."  Or at least I don't.  But hearing the full orchestra play was captivating, and beautiful, and a few different songs gave me chills.  It upped the nostalgic value by running scenes from the game behind the orchestra, and watching the different instruments as they traded off to evoke different moods was amazing (scary, shrieking music?  Watch the violins yank those bow strings up).


It's hard to convey in words, but there was one song where the choir's voices joined the instruments and it just felt like exaltation.  Beautiful and powerful and it gave me a whole new appreciation for the amount of work that goes into video games (I have a Pandora station that is mostly Skyrim music).

If you're curious, there's some versions of it on Youtube, but it's definitely better in person.

The rest of the weekend was equally amazing.  We did a lot more wandering and exploring and shopping than usual.  Just a general spontaneity that's very unlike us.  It was awesome.  We also visited some friends we hadn't seen in quite some time and played Boss Monster (which is hilarious because you play the monsters, build your dungeon, and attempt to kill all the heroes), ate so much tasty food, and wandered a good 8 miles of trail in Arlington.

This is a hummus plate and a "ham and jam" tray.  I also had my first ever "pork wing" which I somehow did not realize would have bones and were much too messy for the upscale, kind of snooty place we happened to be eating in.  Glad for the cultural experience; don't intend to repeat.

Have you ever been to a concert for a game, or other fandom?


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Apr 7, 2016

An Update on the Teetotaling Lifestyle

I somehow just realized that 2 months have gone by since I wrote about giving up alcohol and it's close to three months since I had my last ever drink (a beer in a pub in Australia - consumed primarily because we were playing a trivia game and while Team 'Murica could not answer questions for shyeeet, we certainly could win the between-round games for free beer).

It's a little ironic, I suppose, that my last drink was beer, since it's not one I've ever enjoyed that much.  But it doesn't really matter.  I mean "going out with a bang" never turns out that well with giving up unhealthy food, so maybe it's just as well that my last few drinks were not enjoyable.

There's not much point to this post.  But if any of you were curious about what it's like to live without alcohol, I'm about to ramble all around that topic.

I haven't made a big deal about it.  Unlike this blog, where my intentions are loudly and grandly announced whenever I make a decision, I don't tend to fill people in unless it's relevant.  So we gradually started going out and attending events.  It was easy to turn down a drink or two in a smaller context - just a few people hanging out, whatever.  I didn't even have to explain why most of the time.

As it came up in conversation on various outings, friends had different reactions.  Some were disappointed, some were supportive.  Some that I had expected to be supportive were disappointed and vice versa.  But overall no one made a big deal about it.

Each outing that we attend and where I don't drink feels like an affirmation.  This was absolutely the right decision.  It gets easier and more natural every time.  I'm completely comfortable talking about it, and I don't need to rely on a drink in my hand to socialize, even when it's a crowd I don't know as well.

I think the most alcohol-centric event I've been to since quitting alcohol was a night out dancing a week or so ago.  I offered to DD, but even so my group did ask if I wanted a drink at the beginning of the night (we typically buy the DD a drink early on and then they switch to soda or water).  In addition to being out in a crowd of drunken bodies waving erratically on the dance floor, we were combining a few different friend groups and trying to find common ground - not always an easy task!  But you know what?  It was fine.

I talked to whomever I felt like, danced with people I'd just met, and was amply supplied with water by my awesome friends all night (and I needed it!  Dancing is so much work!).  There was not a single point that night where I wished I could have a drink.  And the next morning?  Waking up refreshed after a night out is such a new experience that I almost didn't know how to deal with it.

At one point the next day, Roommate asked, "Wait, you weren't drinking???"  Apparently when we'd come home from the bar, I'd been so giddy and chatty that he just assumed I'd had a few.  Nope.  I can do that all on my own.  Alcohol not required.

Have you given up alcohol or another social habit?  If so, were people supportive?


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Apr 4, 2016

My New Home - a Virtual Tour

I moved, it's mostly put together, you guys want to see, right?  I figure I'll do this in the same order that I'd show it off to a new guest.

Entryway



Welcome Friend!  (I know - this is going to be cheesy to the max.  You'll love it, I swear.)  Please enter our home.


Not much to say about this area, although the slogan that came above the door was adorable so we have no plans to remove it ("Every heart was whispering 'Home, home at last!' ") and we'll probably add a storage bench opposite the hall closet so that we have somewhere to sit and put shoes on.  (And just because storage benches are awesome!)

Main Floor




Here's our big empty ballroom.  It's actually a bit less empty now that we've got rugs, art, stools, and a couch.  But it still has that open floor plan feel that attracted us to the house in the first place.


In the past we've had a unified theme of Medieval European for the whole house.  Since we've got so much more space, we're trying to branch out a little.  For the main floor, we're going more Japanese/medieval Asian, but toned down.  Clean, simple lines for the furniture, with a few fun touches like our Chinese guardian dog bookends!  Oh and plants, both to add interest and to help purify the air, a la Nadine's post from last year (I ended up choosing aloe).

Kitchen



Not much to say here - it's cute, everything works, and we finally have a pantry!  No more need to stash extra foodstuffs above the cabinets or in plastic storage containers against the wall.

Deck/Backyard




This area is awesome!  Ryan rigged the runner for the dogs, so it's easy to let them out and wander around despite not having a fence, and without getting quite as tangled as they did with the long leashes (plus the poop bags are right there so we can't forget them!).  We're still figuring out what to do about lawn burn, but this setup has been awesome in the cold, snowy season.

Upstairs

The "Nook"



This little space here gave us a bit of consternation.  My mom jokingly suggested that it become an "art gallery" and we've been talking about our nonexistent bust of Venus (allegedly to hold the center spot here) for a month or so.  But then I realized that my former kitchen paintings don't work with our Asian theme and I still really like them (plus the framing was expensive), so... maybe we will have an art gallery after all.  Plus we have tons of paintings from Painting with a Twist - so we're thinking this'll be our spot for our own art, plus family photos and mementos.

Master Bedroom


White balance was seriously off here but whatevs.


It's green!  I finally got to paint, which I've been wanting to do for years.  Green wasn't my first choice, but I have to concede - it turned out well.  Of course, we now have to replace the curtains and bedspread, but I think we're well on our way to having a soothing, comfortable room to unwind in.


  
Also green!  After sharing my uninspired picture and closet woes, and receiving some great suggestions from you guys, I've fixed it up a bit.  I got my cube organizer, which makes my heart leap every time I see it, and acquired a variety of boot shaper/hanging products, as well as a double pole thing for double-tier hanging.  I also bought a somewhat frivolous cube thing for seating (again for putting on shoes), but it's the perfect size to tuck away under hanging clothes or leave out, and I like the pop of white against the green walls.  After seeing how beautiful my half of the closet was, Ryan requested a cube organizer of his own, which we still need to set up, but this little room has already become something of a haven for me.  It's the best place to be at the end of a long day, to unwind, drink tea, and ready my mind for sleep.



In the quest to reduce stuff and clear off our horizontal space, the mirror I acquired (we were in serious need of a mirror big enough to see an entire outfit in) is also a jewelry organizer.  So for the first time ever, I can see all my jewelry at a glance without rotating through several different organizers.  I'm a little sad that it's not out and visible, but it is easier to use this way, if less pretty.



The bathrooms in this place were already pretty gorgeous, so this is just waiting its turn for a pop of color (we have a toned down blue green planned for this room).

The "Library"




The other 2 bedrooms were about the same size, but Roommate sensibly chose the one on the end of the hallway with the larger closet (not a walk-in but surprisingly spacious).  While Roommate's bedroom and bathroom are excused from the virtual tour, this 3rd bedroom became our "library" and puzzle room.  I've got paint plans for this room (beige with a marbled brown top glaze), and we talked color schemes, but I'm not really feeling it yet.  Maybe Tuscan, maybe Persian.  We'll figure something out.  For now it just houses Roommate's huge book collection, my more modest one, and all of Ryan's 5 books (just kidding - it's perfectly respectable to only own 5 books), plus some leftover furniture that we typically only use for parties.

Basement




Since most of our other living spaces from the old place migrated down here, the basement is already pretty well furniture-ed and decorated.  We're keeping the medieval stuff down here, so you'll see swords and sconces, as well as everything gaming-related.  All the computers live down here, which means we work and play down here as well.



Here's my little space!  I've done my best to make it inspiring with the corkboard, efficient with my cord organization, and ergonomic with the footrest (my desk is a weird height so either my wrists hurt or my knees do).  Plus it's heated so my circulation-less toes don't get cold!  I spend well over half the week here, so it only makes sense to make it as comfortable as possible.  I wish I could present you a perfect, clutter-free desk but alas!  Life isn't perfect and neither are my home pictures.

And that's it!  You've gotten a fuller tour than even the people who have visited in person (because I usually forget some of the rooms or I don't want to bore them).  Since I've been in full-on decorating mode, I figured I'd share some of the places I've been using to make our home prettier and more efficient.

Where I Shop

  • AllPosters.com - I really like the "wood mount" option for something that feels more polished but isn't super expensive (screw frames - seriously).  Or "canvas art."  AllPosters has done me really well when I had something specific in mind, like "old world map" or "Renaissance poster."  Straight up browsing is a little overwhelming because there's so much stuff.
  • Amazon - Derp.  Everything is on there and it's usually the best prices (although quality can be pretty up in the air, but since they have such thorough reviews you usually know what you're getting into).  I mostly use them for practical things and organization stuff rather than decorative elements.
  • Ashley Furniture - In part because it's local, and partly because they have furniture with the extra detailing that we like so much.  It's not my favorite store ever, but with bigger stuff it's nice to be able to see it instead of just trusting to the Internet, and I like a lot of their inventory (customer service - meh).  We bought end tables from them a couple years ago and, more recently, the couch on the main floor.
  • Bed Bath & Beyond - A fairly recent discovery - I was struggling to find decorative hand towels for the many bathrooms we now possess (four, we have four bathrooms).  Great selection!  I love the color and pattern on the towels I got (the red and gold ones in the basement bathroom pic) - they're not super soft, but they're absorbent so it doesn't matter that much.  No one's using them to shower with.
  • FabuArt - Such gorgeous stuff!  So far we just have that red and gold painting on the main floor, but I love everything they have, and am already trying to find a way to fit more of their art into our home.  Plus, great deals on Groupon!
  • Home Decorators Collection - They have some really amazing organization furniture and tons of stuff that fits our antique-y/medieval style.  Most of my purchases have been décor, but Ryan and I are seriously eyeballing their storage benches for the entryway.
  • Target - I really haven't used them for much, but I was trying to find decorative candles to put on holders whose contents had finally burned themselves out and IT WAS SO HARD!  I was really surprised, but it seems like all the more popular candle purveyors tend towards candles in glass holders and that's not what I wanted at all.  I found Keystone Candle, which had decent options and I might try out sometime in the future, but Target was the only place I found that had candles that were both decorative and scented.  I bought these for the basement and I'll probably buy some of the other layered ones for other rooms in the house.
I might do another post with before and afters of the library, but I'm not sure how fun that is to read (plus I'm terrible at documenting the process of anything), so we'll see.  Plus it might turn out terribly and then no one needs to see it!

Where do you shop for home décor?  What's the most ambitious home improvement project you've tackled?

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