Monday, August 18, 2014

Why I *Despise* the Ice Bucket Challenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge has raised 15.6 million dollars for ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), which is a very good thing.  I am not bashing fundraising.  Lord knows, I've done plenty myself and am currently involved in a gofundme project.

HOWEVER ...

The Ice Bucket Challenge is nothing more than bullying for a good cause in my mind; the ultimate form of peer pressure.  You are called out in a public forum (social media - about as public as you can get) and have 24 hours to do the challenge (and still pay $10) or cough up the money.  To me, this is like the playground bully telling a child that he can either give up his lunch money for the week or get a swirly and give up just today's lunch money.

It doesn't sit well with me. 

I donate to charities a lot.  I give both my time and my money. 

I haven't forgotten that just a few short years ago we were living hand-to-mouth and I never knew from one month to the next if I was going to be able to keep a roof over our heads.  We went three entire winters with nothing more than extra blankets and space heaters because I couldn't afford the $300+/mo natural gas bill.  There were times when we'd wake up and the house was a balmy 40* F.

Now that I'm in a position to be more free with my money, I don't think twice about giving charities that I believe in my money, but I won't be bullied into it. 

Maybe it's the still-too-fresh-memory of having nothing that makes me hate this challenge so much.  I worry about the people who are challenged who don't have the money to donate, who are playfully "called out" by their friends.  I put myself in their position and can feel very clearly the pressure to perform.  I'm sorry, but back in the day, giving up $10 would have been taking food out of my kids' mouths.  The $100 for not doing the challenge would have been my entire month's worth of groceries.

Even though it's "for a good cause" it's still nothing more than bullying.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Stuffed Potatoes

A couple of days ago, one of my FB friends was asking for cheap ideas for dinner.  I love threads like that, so I contributed my favorite versatile recipe and watched closely for any new ideas.  One caught my eye, but it was for sweet potatoes.  I hate sweet potatoes, so I substituted regular potatoes.

You'll need:
  • baking potatoes
  • can of corn (drained)
  • can of black beans (drained)
  • sour cream
  • cheese
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Bake the potatoes either in the oven or microwave. It was almost 100* F today, so I opted to "bake" them in the microwave until soft.  Nebalee gave me a good tip:  after cooking in microwave for ten minutes, cover with a glass bowl and let sit for another ten minutes to let them steam.

Cut potatoes in half and scoop out the innards, leaving a "boat".  Mix the innards with the rest of the ingredients and spoon into the boats.  Stick back in a 350*F oven for fifteen minutes.

They turned out okay, a little dry, so I should have added more sour cream.  Jay suggested next time, in addition to sour cream, I should use some queso dip.  Sounds like a good plan to me.

I've also heard that chorizo is pretty good in the mixture.  That sounds really good, too.  When I started to think about it, there are a ton of things you could mix in the "stuffing" that would be really good.  I'll definitely be trying these again.

So You Want To Be A Writer

Every once in a while, someone on one of the FB pages/groups I follow or am a member of will pipe up and ask opinions on whether or not they should write a book.  The post usually looks something like this:

so ive been thinking about writting a book lol i've just allways wanted to rite n i no i have a good book people wuld by it's title is: the next best amurican novel n i no it wuld be a best seller what do u think shuld i do it

Now, I know I'm not an expert on all things writing.  Heck, there are some days when I just can't get the right words to come out of my mouth for anything.  I have not, and will not, write the Next Great American Novel.  Frankly, I don't have the time, patience, or creativity to do so.

I'm proud of the two books I've written and published.  They are solid books, good for entertainment, nothing more, nothing less.  TALES FROM THE TRAIL has hit #1 on Amazon's free list a couple of times and hovered in the top twenty for a while.  HUNTED LYON faces much stiffer competition, but has still sold relatively well.  Since I don't intend to make a living from writing, the little bit extra is kind of fun, but mostly I just enjoy my books and hope other people do as well.

I am a voracious reader, though, and have some very strong opinions about writing from a reader's standpoint.  When I see posts like the one above, I want to scream and tell the person who posted not only no, but hell no, they should not write a book.

Based on my limited experience as an author and my extensive experiences as a reader, here are a few "tips" for people who want to write a book:

  • Punctuation.  It is a really go idea and helps the reader understand WTF it is you're trying to say.
  • Spelling.  Try it some time. Even if you can't spell, your computer can and it will helpfully underline the misspelled words in red ink.
    • There is no "x" in eSpecially
    • No is there an "x" in eSpresso
  • Text-speak.  See Punctuation and Spelling
  • Sentence Structure.  A very basic understanding of  how to build a sentence will go a long way in your writing endeavors.  
  • Word Choice.  Your computer cannot decipher if you are using the wrong word, but spelling it correctly, to help you out here.
    • Could've, should've, would've are contractions for could have, should have, would have = NOT could OF, should OF, would OF
    • You must know the difference between homophones.  Your and you're are not the same thing.  Neither are there, their, they're.

In all seriousness, though, I think people need to pay attention to how they come across online.  The people who post things on FB/Twitter/Instagram need to pay attention to how they present themselves.  I know the social media thing has been done to death when it comes to professionalism, and I'm preaching to the choir here, but if you want to be taken seriously, you must put forth an effort.

I know that I have blog posts up with errors - I try my best to avoid them, but often, I'm just jotting something down to get it off of my chest (like I'm doing here) or because I'm excited.  My blog posts are written very much the same way I speak.  However, my books are not.  TALES is a narrative, but I put a lot of effort into cleaning it up and "formalizing" it to make it more readable.  HUNTED LYON is written in a completely different manner, much more formal, but my voice still comes through.

I know I've posted things on FB with errors (usually simply swype-os), but I always try to maintain a certain level of professionalism.  After all, I want people to buy my books and I know they won't if my posts, especially on my author's page, are so full of errors that they are almost unreadable.

The people who post that they want to write a book, yet have zero apparent writing skills are people I'll never buy a book from - even if the book is free.  Those people have killed their market even before they know they have one.

I know self-publishing has opened up many doors, for which I am very thankful. However, for every well-written self-published book out there, there are many more poorly-written books by people who post statuses like the one above.

My advice to the people who post statuses like the one above:

Just don't.  Please.  You're killing those of us who put time and effort and a bit of pride into our work.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Weekend Project #2 - Kitchen Cabinets

The same weekend we did the picnic table, we started the kitchen cabinets project.  At Habitat for Humanity's ReStore, we found a 13-piece cabinet set for $600, which we thought was a pretty good deal.  But the deal got even better, we happened to be shopping during "Habi Hour", so Jay got to spin the wheel to see what our discount would be.  I was happy with a $600 set of cabinets, but I was even happier with 40% off those cabinets!

Getting them home was a bit of a problem.  We thought we'd be able to shove them all into the truck bed, but we were sorely mistaken.  Jay called in reinforcements in the form of his family with their big excursion and we were able to shoe-horn the three cabinets we couldn't fit in the truck into the excursion.

Kitchen before

With the cabinets unloaded
This pantry? Enormous.

We couldn't find a counter top at ReStore, so the salesman suggested getting a solid-core door and cutting it to size.  Why not?  It would give us a nice solid counter top and we could tile over it.  The door they had in stock was HUGE, something like 7 feet by 4 1/2 feet and weight a zillion pounds.

To get it cut, I called in my own reinforcements with a circular saw.  Nebalee and family came out to cut our "counter top".

Huge, heavy door undergoing its transformation.
It had taken most of the day to get the cabinets home, unloaded, and the door transformed to a counter top.  We laid out the base cabinets, slipped to top on, and called it a night.


I was determined to at least get the base cabinets put together, so I took a day off of work.  When I called Mom to tell her what I was going to do, she sent Bill down to help.  Instead of just getting the base cabinets done, we were able to get all of the cabinetry put together and hung.

Me and power tools - a dangerous combination

All together

We took a break and Bill played with Skeeter before heading home.  I decided I wanted to paint the cabinets and had just gotten started when Jay came home, so he jumped in and we knocked it out in no time.



After a break for dinner, we put the doors back on and it started to look like a real kitchen!


I love our "new" kitchen.  The gaping space in the upper cabinets will be a wine rack (eventually).  We also need to replace the shelves in the two right upper cabinets and all of the shelves in the pantry.  Why on earth those didn't come with the cabinets is beyond me.  It never occurred to me to check, because who takes the shelves out of cabinets?  What does one do with lengths of board that were formerly shelves?  It's a mystery.

We haven't actually gotten around to unpacking and putting things away yet, but I'm sure I'll love it even more once we get our kitchen stuff moved in (and the shelves replaced).

Maybe once Copper is delivered, we can go back to focusing on getting us settled in.  For now, we've been too focused on outside stuff.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Helmets

You know my passion for the 9HealthFair, though I try to tone it down a bit on the blog.  I've been a volunteer since 1997 and in the last ten years it has become a very big part of my life.  Three years ago, my school was lucky enough to be approved to host our own Family9HealthFair.  Our Family Wellness Coordinator is pretty passionate about helmets for traumatic brain injury (TBI) prevention, so we've always offered free bike helmets to kids at our fair.

Unfortunately, our budget is running a little tight this year and we can't buy the number of helmets we'd like to (25), so she put together a gofundme account and we hope to raise $500 dollars to purchase new helmets.

I hate to beg, but this is something very near and dear to my heart, so if you can donate even just a dollar, that would help us in our efforts to keep Northern Colorado's children safe.

Thanks.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Weekend Project #1 - The Picnic Table

Since we've moved into our new place, we've come up with some "weekend projects" that needed to be done.  Remember the shade tree that needed a picnic table?

See how lonely that tree is?
First order of business was to move the big, wood kitchen table from the kitchen outside so we could strip it and re-finish it.  We knew that we wanted to put kitchen cabinets in the kitchen to maximize the space, but the table had to come out.  The table is roughly seven feet by four feet and weighs a gajillion pounds, because it is solid wood.

Jay and I managed to muscle it out of the kitchen and into the mudroom, but came to a screeching halt at the door.

Off with its legs!
The door was about two inches too narrow to force the table through.  Many cuss words and one amputated leg later, we were able to get the table out.


We were smart enough to buy an electric sander, but not quite smart enough to buy the right grit of sand paper, so stripping the table was slow work.  We stripped the bottom of the table and the legs Friday night, then sealed them with Thompson's Water Seal and left it to cure overnight.

The next morning, armed with 100 grit, we tried stripping the top of the table.  It took us forever and we eventually ran out of the "starter pack" that came with the sander, so off to the hardware store we went.  When we came home with proper sandpaper, the project went much faster.  I hadn't realize how well sealed the table had been.  Maybe if I had thought about it, we would have bought something to chemically strip the varnish instead of spending two hours taking turns sanding.



I love the weathered look of the stripped table, but we had to seal it.  We love this table and want it to last, so on went the water seal.


After all that work on getting the table ready to be an outdoor table, there was no way we were going to let its wooden legs sit in the mud, which meant we had to expand our project to include setting pavers.


I know the pictures make it look like I made Jay to all the work, but I really did do some.  Really!  It's just difficult to take pictures and do physical labor at the same time.


Doesn't that tree look much less lonely now?  We still have no way to sit at the table (yet another weekend project), but it's a nice place to hang out and watch the amazing sunsets.

Allie-bird got to move back in with us now that we're not living in a pet-free apartment and she spent her time surveying her new domain while Jay and I worked.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Living in Paradise

One of my versions of paradise, that is.

Jay and I have moved to another small town, but oddly nowhere near "town".  Our address says we live in said small town, but in actuality, we're probably eight miles from "town".

I absolutely *despise* moving and God willing, this will be our last move until we move into our forever home (God willing, we'll be able to buy/find a forever home sometime before we die).

We moved onto the same property where Skeeter (and her future brother) lives.  She's now 10 yards or so from my bedroom window, so I can wake up, look out the door and see her.  It's quite blissful.

L.E.'s hen house, made out of an old silo.

Farm road

The "back side" of our little house and Skeeter's pen.
Our friend (and landlord) lives on the property as well, in a beautiful big old farmhouse just west of our house.  We downsized a lot to move into our apartment two years ago, but this little house is even smaller than our apartment, so we had to downsize yet again.  It's not too bad. Once you learn to let go and take that first load to Goodwill, the subsequent loads are much easier.

We still have a ton of unpacking to do, though I'm not sure where we're going to put everything yet, and we're going to "build" some cabinets for the kitchen.  Right now, we've got a big, open kitchen with next to no storage or counter space.  We're going to take a page out of Mom and Bill's book and just bolt a couple of base cabinets together and cover them with a counter top and call it good.  It's not super permanent, but it will increase our storage and give us a food prep area.

The big wooden table that is currently the "counter" in the kitchen will come out and be re-finished so that we can turn it into a picnic table.  I can already see it underneath that wonderful shade tree, can't you?

I expect it will be a bit before we're completely settled, but I'm already in love with this place.