Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Useful remodeling of space

Notice the wood paneling (isn't it so not lovely?):

Paneling off, carpet out -- down to the studs!

Studs are out, now to rebuild...

Ka-pow! Built it!

Wowza! Food stuffed it!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

So you're 30? Get over it.

I'm going to post about this topic just one time and then, having said my peace, try to bite my tongue ever after...

For several years now, my friends have been reaching and passing the great life landmark of turning 30 years old. During the next year, many more of my friends will turn 30.

I'm dreading their birthdays.

So far it has mostly been my experience that people approaching this milestone freak out. They stress. They whine.... a lot. Apparently if you wake up on February 1st and it's your birthday and you are now 30, you've transform into a gray-haired, hobble-stepped person with wrinkles. In other words, you suddenly and magically got really old.

At the very least, can we please stop with the excessive hyperbole about how "old" you feel when you turn 30?

(I'd really like it if you would refrain from whining, too.)

In the first place -- and I know this is weird, but just to get it off my chest -- me, personally? Not so much with the worrying about the big 3-0. I am actually very, very excited about the end of my twenties. I look forward to being a comfortably adult age and shedding the last obnoxious vestiges of my (perceived) youth. In some ways, I've always been a lot older than my age anyway. I like to think that when I hit 30, the numerals attached to my lifespan will indicate the grown-up-ed-ness I've long felt. (Yes, I know I have a propensity for pranks and a love of technology, both of which make me seem pretty youthful, but I assure you there's a very old soul inside this rambunctious exterior.)

Now here's the other thing: I don't think you should be worried about turning 30, either. Perhaps you could do me a favor and try to see this landmark from a different angle. Will you consider something for a moment?

You can't stay in your twenties forever, so there's only one alternative to turning 30...


Don't laugh. I'm being serious. Dead serious. And this is the real reason it bothers me so very, very much when people complain about turning 30: Not everyone gets to turn 30.

Just think about that for a moment. Please think about it.

This is the moment in the post where I planned to throw a bunch of statistics at you (want to talk about Africa, anyone?) and then some true, tragic tales of young death. But as I sit here typing, I don't think either of those options are the best course. Instead I'll just use a bit of simple reasoning...

We're all going to die at some point. If you're reading this, how blessed are you, you are still alive. You have made it to your current age. Is your body the springy, flexible figure of youth? Or have you started to stoop and ache with age? Do you have a few gray hairs, or maybe a whole head of them?

Who cares? You're alive.

Too many people die young. Childhood cancer. Car accidents. Freak accidents. Abuse. Disease. Stupidity. We're fairly blessed in the United States to have a long life expectancy and low rates of childhood mortality, but we're not immune to loss. That we -- you and me -- are the ones who have made it this far is a blessing.

Because you could be dead.

So yes, while I have my own freakish reasons to be genuinely excited about turning 30, I also feel there is a Universal Reason to embrace the transformation into a triple-decade winner: YOU ARE ALIVE. And with time to spare, perhaps? You still have time to chase your dreams and enjoy life's pleasures and hug your loved ones.

This is why it irks me to hear people complain about turning 30. Every time the muttering and whining slips out of their mouths -- even when it's people who I deeply, truly love -- I want to shout: YOU SHOULD FEEL BLESSED TO BE ALIVE. Too many people do not get the opportunity. There are people younger than you or me who, right this very moment, are at the end of their lives, and they would give anything if they could live long enough to turn 30. Hell, they'd be happy for one more month or week or even just one more day. But they don't have that much time left.

Meanwhile, you made it to 30...

(Or to forty, or fifty, or whatever age you've reached and you want to complain about being -- because really this post goes beyond the unhappy middle-years folks. It's something I wish we would all remember and take to heart...)

You are alive. You are blessed.

Every breath you take, every morning you get to wake up and have yet another day on this earth, you are blessed. I know life is not always easy or pretty or fun, but the alternative is death, and there are young people who lay dying who would gladly trade places with you and turn 30, and they wouldn't care at all. They just want one. more. day. How many days you have! How fortunate you are!

So please, my dearly beloved friends, stop complaining. Stop freaking out. Count your blessings, eat your cake, and kiss the people you love. Because you still can.

"To be alive is to be blessed, no matter your age."

End rant.

P.S. Okay, I couldn't help myself -- I looked up a lot of statistics as I prepared this blog post and I have to share at least one: In 2012, the CIA's World Factbook listed the average life expectancy in Swaziland (southern Africa, population 1.2 million) was 32 years. In other words, the majority of people in that country are dead by age 32. How many of them don't even make it to 30?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Several Uplifting Things

Here are some uplifting things -- the highlights from my week...

1. An empowering message for all women (I've watched this once or twice a day, all week long):

2. Then I found an insightful TED. The title of it is misleading. It's really a video about the importance of having hard conversations and being compassionate:

3. Seth Adam Smith wrote a blog post that was nice but didn't quite sit right with me. Then I read a reactionary post, which I think sums up the situation much better (but yay for Seth and his sudden whirlwind of fame):

4. A video of my brother walking:

5. This new blog, started by a woman with whom I went to high school, which is going to be really fun (and educational) to read during the next year or so:

6. My novel is going to be published tomorrow. Holy. Crap.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Love One Another

This post was originally going to be a FB status update, until it became clear to me that it was going to be ridiculously too long. So it's here on the blog, instead.

I didn't expect to have such an emotional morning. Maybe it's the sleep deprivation. Maybe I'm just going crazy. But I have some thoughts that have been heavily on my mind, today especially but really...always. So here it goes:

Two days ago (9/3) I noticed an article trending in my FB news feed, "FYI (if you're a teenage girl)". I noted it on my to-read list. I didn't get around to it.

When checked FB after I got up this morning, I noticed there was a reactionary post trending on my news feed, "Dear Mrs. Hall, Regarding Your 'FYI (if you’re a teenage girl)'".

So I decided to check out both articles. First I read Mrs. Hall's letter (the original FYI to teenage girls). It bothered me a bit. Not a lot, since I quickly jumped to read the reactionary letter and didn't have time to really ponder Mrs. Hall's letter.

Beth's response letter to Mrs. Hall's post really touched me. It made me cry, in a good way. The part that reached me so deeply was "I’m someone who needed a second chance as a young woman."

Wow. Did I change my name to Beth and write a post in my sleep last night? Those are my words. At least they feel like my words. I made a lot of bad choices as a young teenager. When I was  about sixteen years old, I finally wised up and looked around and realized I needed to make some changes. I turned to the people around me, my "friends," for support. But no one was handing out second chances. Looking back, I might even say that my "friends" were the kind of people who had Mrs. Hall for a mother.

After a few months of struggling on my own, I fell back on all of my old, bad habits. Eventually I felt like the only choice left for me was to physically leave my circumstances. I walked away from my school, my friends, and the life I had known. I will forever be grateful for that decision. I look on it with no regrets -- it was one of the the most important decisions I have ever made because of where it has led me during this second half of my life.

When I started at my new school (this was my senior year of high school), I made new friends. Different friends. They didn't know I was looking for a second chance. Heck, they didn't know anything about me. I was a blank slate to them and thus I could become the person I wanted to be, instead of the person I had always been.

But here's the thing -- the real difference: The new friends I found were the kind of people who I imagine must have Beth for a mother. I still screwed up and made bad choices and did dumb things, but these friends loved me anyway. They could see that I was more than my actions, or even the sum of my actions. They knew something I had yet to learn, which is that I am a daughter of God, loved of Him, beautiful in His eyes, and of immense worth. I deserve as many second chances as I need, which are infinitely many. "Beth's children" gave me those chances, and that strength enabled me to become the woman I am becoming.

(Because let's face it, I'm still not perfect. I still need second and third and fourth chances.)

So what am I trying to say in all of this? I think my message is that we should be gentle with each other and follow the example of Jesus Christ, our Savior. He taught us to not judge, and to love and forgive. We should not permit or encourage negative and damaging things, but we also should not neglect our duty to love and forgive and be a light unto the world.

Here is one of my favorite stories about Jesus, as an example of what I mean (see Luke 7:36-50): When a sinful woman came to see Him while he was dining at the home of a Pharisee, Jesus did not say to her, "Too bad. No second chances for you." He permitted her to come and bathe His feet with her tears, and wipe them clean with her hair, and anoint them with oil.

The Savior of the world said of her, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." And to her, Christ said, "Thy sins are forgiven. Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace."

Let us please give people room (opportunity) to change. Let us give them all the second chances they need. Let us enable and encourage each other to become better people -- our best selves. And let us love others even if they don't.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Home Improvements in the Yard

My daughter is down for her nap and the kitchen is clean. I can't continue working on my ciabatta rolls for another 30 minutes. It's too early to start dinner. It's Sunday so I can't (shouldn't) work on my novel, hang drywall or go outside and shovel stuff. I've written my ROW-80 post for the week. I'm caught up on The Bachelorette. I'm not interested in the novel I started reading yesterday. There's no laundry to fold. I'm not in the midst of any sewing projects. Darling's toys are put away....

So I guess I will just have to write a blog post. :o)

I'm not sure what has gotten into me lately. I've been driving full-steam ahead on various house projects. I think it's just because I am fed up with being halfway through so many different things, and having so many goals and dreams that just aren't going anywhere. I've said, "Screw it. I am going to get some things done!" It probably helps a lot that Nate is off work for the summer and the weather is finally good.

Outside in the backyard, we (Nate) got the tree stump from that old, massive pine tree out of the ground. That was a huge task all by itself. Then came the trouble of how to chop it up and haul it away. The thing probably weighed 300 pounds! The short version of the story is that it's gone now. (Of course, before we were finally rid of it, the !^@%ing stump broke the back window in our truck. The window is fixed now. In retrospect, it would have cost less to hire a tree removal company to take out the stump than it cost us to put in the new window. Ugh!!!)

The stump went away a couple of weeks ago. Since then, we've been working on clearing and leveling the ground that use to be at the base of the tree. Part of it is going to be planted with new grass in the fall. Another part of it will be a play area for our daughter.... I just need to find her a playet or a yard. (I really want this one from Costco... but something like this would be great too.)

Here's a series of picture of the backyard, from when we moved in until today (sorry, these are not the best photos; I didn't do a good job getting the "before" shots):

It's a huge difference. There's still quite a bit that we need to do, but I am very happy with the progress we've made, especially this last year

In the front yard there have been a few improvements so far this year, with several more planned this summer. We re-did the planters that lead to our front door. I have a "before" picture from when we first moved into the house, but unfortunately I don't have any "between" pictures. Then again, the current look of the planter is still not final -- it's just a nice-looking improvement until we can afford to make a rather drastic set of changes. Oh well. Here's the original planter, and the current version (noting that we did not make all of these changes this year, but have been working on it for the last four years):

On the north side of the front yard, projects include rebuilding the planter with new stonework, pouring a "BBQ" patio just off the kitchen, and pouring/building a new shed for our garbage cans.


And with that, I'm out of time. I need to go work on cranberry ciabatta rolls and start thinking about dinner. I guess I will need to find time for an inside-the-house post later this week!

(P.S. I'm also posting updates to my writing blog:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

This week: Recovering, rebuilding, and re-attempting

My work sent me to Nashville last week. As I mentioned in my last post, my mom came with me so that I could bring my daughter, too. My mom wrote two blog posts about our trip -- one that highlighted all of the negative experiences (mostly caused by our hotel), and another about the good/fun stuff. You can check out her blog for the details; I don't have anything to add.

Darling girl has had a rough time this week, transitioning back to being home. She missed her dad but at the same time is being a total mama's girl and wants nothing to do with him. (Paradoxical much?) I think it's just really confusing for her that he's here-and-gone so much.

Because, speaking of the hubs, he had this awfully busy week that made for stress all around. It was the last week of school. So he spent many long hours getting files in order and helping his staff get the sites cleaned and ready to close for the summer. Thankfully the next couple of weeks should be much easier for him, and then he will be off for the summer.

Unfortunately, he's probably going back to work full time in September. I can't remember what, if anything, I've shared about the changes going on at his work. We don't know exactly what's going to happen yet so I won't speculate. When there's solid news to share, I'll share it.

To keep myself from going crazy while Nate was gone this week, I fell back on a very dirty habit: I worked on the electrical wiring in our basement. I spent my evenings standing on a four-foot ladder, shoving wires through tiny holes in the ceiling. I'm not kidding about it being dirty -- I came away from these adventures with sticky black dust up to my elbows, and chunks of I-don't-even-know-what in my hair. Nasty. But I can proudly report that, at long last, all of the lighting on the west side of the basement is rewired and it all works. There's one part that needs a fix (the wiring is backwards), and there's a bunch of old wiring that I still need to strip out. So maybe there's an evening or two of cleanup before I will be done.

This also means we can work on putting our basement back together! We can hang drywall, close up the ceiling, and do some finishing work. Neat.

As if that wasn't enough, I also made three batches of macarons this week. I finally had a taste of some real macarons when I was in Nashville and they were amazing; totally worth all of the fuss. I also had a duh moment, as I realized that I don't have to make a massive batch of macarons every time I want to try cooking them. I can half or even quarter the recipe. (Like I said, it was a duh moment.) So each little batch this week was just a quarter-sized batch. It only makes half a cookie sheet worth of macarons.

Batch One: Every single shell was cracked and none of the cookies had feet, but the insides were perfect. That's some serious progress after so many hollow batches.

Batch Two: Every shell was perfectly round and pretty with beautiful feet, but I baked them too long and they were very hard. (Grr!!!)

Batch Three: I had a toddler yanking on my pants when I was piping the cookies, so they came out in a variety of sizes and kinda oddly shaped, although most of them had feet. The insides are excellent, although perhaps a tad undercooked. I think two more minutes would have been just right.

I'll make another batch again soon (tomorrow???) and I anticipate that my cumulative knowledge is going to yield some perfect cookies here very soon. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Highlights of the last six weeks

Oh my, has it really been six weeks since I last wrote a blog post? How is that possible? I was thinking that it had been about a month but nope, my last post was April 8th. In my defense, I was sick for most of April, and life has been crazy busy...

But when is life not busy? Seems like all the careful efforts I've made recently to make life less hectic has just meant I have more time for one of the 1,000 other things that are clamoring for my time. (Sound familiar, friends?)

At this very moment, I am sitting in a hotel conference room, very far away from home. I'm here for a week-long work conference. My mom came with me to see the sights and so that I could bring my daughter. (There's no way I could have left Darling at home for the week; I would have been miserable.) They are at the public library this morning, which is just one block down the road. Yesterday they did a bit of sight-seeing. Tomorrow it is supposed to rain so I think they will get trapped inside. Thankfully we have a whole bunch of toys and books with us because we needed a lot of things to keep Darling busy on the long airplane ride, so I think they will have plenty of things to do tomorrow.

Now let's see if I can remember all of the things I've been doing and working on during the last six weeks...

We had family in town, which is definitely the highlight among recent event. Nate's brother, who currently lives in southern California with his family, had some work-related meetings in a city near us. His wife (my SIL Amy) and their daughter Maddie came with him so they could visit us and Amy's family. We got to spend several days together.

It was great to spend time with them, talk, play, and cook. Darling and Maddie had a great time together. They played and read books, and even took a bath together. Darling spent the whole long weekend saying Cousin. We tried to get her to say Cousin Maddie but she didn't seem to get that Maddie is Maddie's name -- I think she thinks that Maddie's name is Cousin. Lol. She still asks for her cousin every couple of days. It's adorable. We loved their visit but did not get enough time with them. Hopefully we'll be able to go to southern California sometime soon and visit them.

That excitement happened during the first weekend in May.

The week before their visit, I took a little day trip to visit friends Kimmy, Nathan, and Little. That's the second-best thing to happen in the past six weeks. I got to see their newly fenced garden and recently built garden boxes. We attempted to make macarons, and had many other delicious things to eat. The babes played with each other. I temporarily lost my keys. I started to panic about the lost keys while I was there, but right now I can't think why I was so worried. I'd love an excuse to move in with my friends and never go home. :o)

Since I'm ordering recent events from most-to-least favorite, I guess the next thing on the list is Mother's Day. Nate was kind enough to make it a bit of a Mother's Weekend for me. I didn't get a complete break from the madness of life, but I did get extra time to rest and read, and I had to change fewer diapers. The Saturday right before mother's day, I actually spent most of the day running some errands while Nate was Super Dad. Some of the errands were fun, others were not. But it was nice to be out of the house and able to do things at my own pace, not at the will and speed of the Toddler.

My mom's day gift this year was an ice cream maker. I specifically requested it, and even went with Nate to get it from Costco. I also picked out the gift wrap that Nate used. (He was "allowed" to pick out the card on his own, ha ha.) Nate was a little bit upset that I picked and helped buy my own gift -- he prefers for gifts to be a total surprise. I'd rather have something I know I'll like. I told him the fun part was the beautiful wrapping he was required to do, and the unknown card.

Unbeknownst to me, Nate had decided to spice up the experience. He spent a couple of weeks writing a series of rhyming riddles, which together made a scavenger hunt. I had to hunt down my present! It was great. The riddles were so well done that I thought he'd found something on the internet that he copied. But no, it was completely original! I loved it, maybe even more than the ice cream maker. So thoughtful.

I think that's it for all of the big events. So in other news, we've been working on the garden. We had some uncharacteristically warm weather in April -- it was hot! The cool-weather plants were unhappy, but then I also couldn't seem to get the warm-weather plants to sprout because it was still cool at night. I finished all of my planting last week before I left on this trip; hopefully when I get home everything will have started growing.

I sold one of our Burleys. I can't remember if I ever blogged about the fact that I have three Burley bike trailers. If I haven't explained this, then don't worry about why I have three. Chalk it up to me being crazy. The good news is that we're down to two because someone came and bought one (the little Bee). I'm working on selling the Cub. I had a couple of people show interest -- one offered me a pathetically low price, the other one wants to come see it. Let's all cross our fingers!

I've also been doing a fair amount of writing. I started a new writing project a few months ago. It's a novel about angels and demons. I feel weird saying that because "supernatural" stories are not in my normal realm of writing, and not even the kind of thing I typically read. But an idea came to me one day, and I've been going for it. Between the outline and the sections I've written, I have more than 12,000 words down. (Generally novels are 50,000+ words.)

One of my goals with this project is to create a complete, detailed outline before I dive heavily into the writing. As of right now, I have a skeleton outline for the whole novel and have written detailed scene outlines for the first half of the story. I want to finish writing the actual story by the end of this year (2013), have it edited at the start of next year, and self-publish it in spring 2014. I think I'm going to re-join a writing challenge called ROW-80 in July, when the next (3Q) round begins. Right now my unofficial goal is to write 1,200 words a week.

My biggest cheerleader for this goal has been author-friend J.R. Pearse Nelson. It's good to know someone who has already jumped through the self-publishing hoops; she's an invaluable resource. She also has another novella coming out soon. I just got to Beta Read the story -- it's the third book in her Children of the Sidhe series, called Flight. It was great. It will be out sometime in July. She plans to publish another novella (book 4 of CotS) and a novel by the end of the year! Amazing. She's such an inspiration.

With that, I think I covered the major news. I hope everyone is doing well!