May 25, 2011

Go shopping at the store that is your own home

Blog, I had a sorta cool idea the other day. Well, yeah, I'm just a font of sorta cool ideas, aren't I? Anyway, you know how sometimes a person just gets an urge to buy something new? I was thinking how, with all the possessions some of us have in affluent nations like the U.S., we can actually satisfy that huge by shopping at home. And no, I don't mean on the Internet.

Here's the thing. Everyone has stuff. On a packrat scale from 1 to 10, in which 1 is "live like a monk" and 10 is "should be on Hoarders," Davie and I are about a 3.5. Nevertheless, we have lots of stuff in our house we seldom think about. We purge our home every six months to a year, so virtually all of it is Keeper Stuff and worth owning.

So why not occasionally take a look at some of said forgotten stuff and see if it can't be enjoyed for awhile? It's almost like getting something new and costs nothing! Let me give you some examples, Blog.

I recently got new salt and pepper grinders from a Pampered Chef fundraising party. In putting them away, I found myself once again organizing my spice cupboard. In doing that, I found a number of spices I've hardly ever used. Like garam masala. I got it for one recipe I wanted to try out last year. So I thought, why not make that recipe again and get some enjoyment out of this spice I own? So I did, and it was even tastier than I remembered. (Here's the recipe for Hot Dogs a la Rose.)

Meanwhile, a couple days ago I tossed out a plant that had seen better days, and used the pot it was in for another plant that needed more space. In the original plant I had put some glass rocks I got from who-knows-where, who-knows-when. (We all have some belongings like that, right?) So, I cleaned up these rocks. Like rocks often do, they looked better wet than dry. So I tried the same trick on them that I often use on polymer clay items: I painted them with a couple coats of Future acrylic floor polish.

What will I do with these rocks? I might just put them on display, or incorporate them in an art project. At any rate, I will enjoy them until it's time to rotate them out for something else cool that I own. The key to this idea is clear from two famous adages: "Familiarity breeds contempt" and "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." We take for granted what we experience every day...we love stuff that has been gone awhile. So, Blog,  why not get more out of what we already have by replacing familiar stuff with sorta-forgotten stuff?

A few ideas of where you can shop in your own home forgotten stuff:

  • Boxes of clothing you wore years ago. Some may be back in style or can be converted to a fun new purpose like a costume or a throw pillow. That tie-dyed tee shirt would work for either!
  • Wedding presents on the back shelves. Make use of that vase, dish, or candle holder out in the open for awhile.
  • Your old photo albums and scrapbooks. Seriously, when's the last time you just sat down to enjoy old memories? So many of us take photos or scrapbook, going through a lot of effort, but forget to enjoy the fruits of our labor later.
  • Your jewelry box. A lot of people fall into the rut of wearing the same rings, necklaces, etc. Bring out something new--it might go great with some outfit you got recently!
  • The scented candle cupboard. If you're like me you have a bunch but can't possibly display them all. Bring out a new one and burn it for a fresh experience for your nose.
  • Your recipe box. Take a run through your collection; I'll bet you find something you love to eat but forgot you know how to make! 
  • Your cosmetic cabinet/drawer. Another thing a lot of us have is soaps, lotions, facial scrubs, and other spa-items we haven't touched in awhile. Give yourself a facial, a bubble bath, a foot massage.
  • Your game cupboard. I bet somewhere you have an old board game you haven't touched in a decade. Might be fun to play again some night!
  • The closet where you keep the pictures you took down. We all get tired of the stuff on our walls and replace it from time to time. But the replaced art can be nice enough to keep. So why not see if there's some piece their you'd like to look at on the wall again?

You get the idea, Blog. Now, imagine if we all thought about shopping at home once a week...we'd get a lot more enjoyment out of our own belongings, and it wouldn't cost us a penny! I'm just sayin'.

May 18, 2011

Having trouble finishing what you start?

This is Nita Zayas, one of the members of Aggie’s Nine Heroes (Diana’s upcoming novel), and I’m delighted to be guest blogging today. Blog, I’m told you have some questions for me on the subject of how to reach closure with your projects. Project management is a specialty of mine, as you’ll learn from the book when you read how I got on the team. So let’s get started!

Blog: It’s really great, being an anthropomorphized non-entity such as myself, to talk with an imaginary person such as YOURself, Nita! First question:  What’s your best suggestion to people who have a lot of trouble finishing projects?

Nita: The best way to prevent Epic Project Fail is to do some “likelihood analysis” before you even begin. Ask yourself honestly, what are the odds you will bring this project to fruition? Set aside the reasons why you’re thinking of doing this thing: because you feel obligated, because someone else did it and was a success, because it would bring a result you really badly want. Ignore all that and you honestly have the time, money, resources, motivation and talent to get to the end? Because time spent on a project with only a 50/50 chance of completion is, frankly, wasted time. And it’s time, energy and resources you could be using to actually finish something else.

Blog: So is it always a bad idea to try something new?

Nita: Not at all.  There’s nothing wrong with taking a chance now and then, trying something new that you aren’t sure you can do. But limit those experiments and recognize them for what they are. Watch carefully for the point at which you’ve proven you can’t take the project any further successfully, call it a learning experience, and move on.

Blog: Okay, let’s say you’ve done a “likelihood analysis” and really feel this project is something you can carry through to the finish. What’s the next important step?

Nita: It’s really important to develop a complete plan, not just plunge in. Make a complete list of what you’ll need for the project and either obtain it all or make sure you can within the required time frame. And speaking of, make sure you have a time frame. Set a definite deadline and swear to yourself you will keep it. Think through all the steps to completion, and make task lists. Determine, based on your deadline, task deadlines along the way. And make sure you stick to them.

Blog: Are deadlines really so important?

Nita: If you just want to dabble or play around, and don’t care about ending up with a specific deliverable, no.  But if you’re serious about project completion, then you need to plan for more than just the final deadline. I know some people work best under pressure, but the people with the best project completion success rate, work to avoid pressure. Pressure can be motivational, sure...but it is also an added obstacle.

Blog: This sounds like it would be hard for some people. Aren’t distractions natural? I mean, so your deadline is to have the dresser stripped by Saturday evening, but then a friend calls and wants to go for coffee.  Can’t there be some flexibility?

Nita: Definitely. Which is why another key to project success is building in a lot of wiggle room. Estimate how long it will take you to complete your project and then build in an extra 33%. If you know you’re the kind who lives an impromptu life, make that 50%, or even more. That way you can shift task deadlines but still stick to the overall time frame.

Blog: Well, that works. Is there a particular attitude that will especially improve your success rate?

Nita: There sure is. Be the Boss of You. I mean, you need an internal voice that will crack the whip. That internal boss has to have a strong conviction that the project needs to reach closure. S/he is motivated to get the final result, so will tell you “DVR that show for later, get the dresser stripped first.” And this goes back to my first piece of advice: If you don’t want the end result badly enough, recognize that up front and don’t do the project. You’re going to need to rely upon your desire for completion to keep you going till the end.

Blog: But what about the projects you’re forced to do, but don’t want to? How do you find motivation for those?

Nita: With those sort of projects, I look at the final goal as “Not Having to Work on This Anymore.” I picture how nice it will be to have the job behind me, not to be fretting about it or dreading it. I focus on that rather than the distasteful project itself. Actually, negative motivation like this can make a person even more efficient than the positive kind!

Blog: Makes sense. What do you suggest for people who find themselves overwhelmed by too many projects?

Nita: I recommend that you never commit to more than five projects at once, tops. Three if they’re large ones. If you’re at that limit, don’t even entertain the idea of starting something new until you’ve completed something old. If you must take on the new project for some reason, then choose your least important ongoing one and mentally table it--don’t even think about it until you’re back down to four. Life is all about multitasking, but too much of it can really cripple efficiency and overwhelm the brain.

Blog: So, Nita, do you have any final tip for those suffering from the dreaded Lack of Closure in their project lives?

Nita: Be sure to balance projects with down time. Achieving closure is the goal, but not at the expense of other aspects of life. If your life is getting out of balance, it’s never too late to chop some projects. You can always move them to your Bucket List!

Blog: Thanks, Nita! You know, as an anthropomorphized non-entity, I have a lot of projects. And now I’m excited to get them finished!

May 15, 2011

Jackson Galaxy said to get a cat tree

And Blog, the man was right.
Davie and I met Jackson Galaxy through Animal Planet, where the cat behaviorist has appeared as a guest many times. Now he has his own fantastic show, "My Cat from Hell." It's not just for people with problem cats (or as Jackson might put it, cats with problem people). No, Blog--this show teaches you super useful things about being the guardian of any cat. And today I'll tell you about only one of them.

Jackson has pointed out several times in the first two episodes of MCFH that many cats are "tree cats." While some are "bush cats" and feel most comfortable in settings low to the ground, it is instinctual for most cats to enjoy being high up. And when they have access to high spots--shelves, rampways built by handy folks with power tools, and cat trees--many cats are much happier.

So, we decided last weekend to get a cat tree. I researched the heck out of the subject (like I obsessively tend to do) and found this economical, well-reviewed, simple cat tree available from PetSmart.

What I like about this tree:

1.  It's tall. Which is the point. The upper shelf of the tree is about five feet high, putting a cat there at eye level with humans, which is nifty.

2.  It has curved perches. I read on a blog that platforms that are curved or nest-like are appreciated by many cats, because they feel less likely to fall.

3.  It looks good in our house--matches the carpet and doesn't have too big of a footprint.

4.  It's sturdy and stable, but light enough to move from spot to spot.

Which I did. First we put the tree by the patio doors, the intended spot. It lets the cats watch the trees and birds outside. Then I moved it to the living room, where they could look out another window or just nap by us while we talk or watch TV. At night I moved it next to my computer desk, so Cody could hang out with me while I worked. Beats the heck out of his former fave spot, draped over the keyboard!

It's possible to enhance a simple cat tree like this too.  I added a second dangle, using some chain I had and securely stapling it to the wood through the carpet. We have several dangle toys so now can change them up easily on the tree. I set up the tree next to a silk tree for some fun foliage to hide behind. I installed a catnip fish on a wire out of the silk tree, within batting range from the upper perch, and that was a big hit.

All our cats find the tree intriguing and fun. Tiny tuxedo cat Selke digs the lower perch. Our Norwegian Forest Cat Alice seems to be a bush cat, but she likes staring at her siblings and playing with the lower dangle toy. Cody (our brilliant tabby) has definitely fallen in love. I made a video of Codes demonstrating for you some of the awesome things a cat can do in a cat tree. I hope you'll turned out really kind of beautiful (I love the background music) and sure captures the happiness that can come from a cat tree.


Thank you, Jackson Galaxy! You've made our cats' lives (and ours) better already. Next up: I've started getting Cody used to a harness and he's going to learn to walk on a leash, like the cat we saw on Jackson's show. As much as he loves being on the patio, Codes is going to flip over being able to go for walks and explore!

May 11, 2011

Let's play Imaginary Rock Band

This is an old favorite game of mine, Blog, but I have a feeling I may be one of 17 people on the planet who does it. I'm hoping someone will comment and admit they've done it too, so I don't feel it's just my warped imagination at work. Or perhaps others will give it a try after getting the suggestion. Anyhoo...

Hugh: bass guitar, keyboards and vocals
Imaginary Rock Band entails casting a band with some celebrity favorites and letting them play in your head along with actual music. I will illustrate that confusing statement now. The other day I was listening to my iPod in the car and "Authority Song" by Jimmy Eat World came on. Jim Adkins' voice is just so cute and fun, it brought to mind another cute and fun celebrity (upon whom I do have a bit of a crush), T.J. Thyne from "Bones." I started picturing him as lead singer in place of Jim, and decided he could play rhythm guitar. I have no idea if T.J. can play guitar in real life but there are certainly no photos of him doing so, unlike Hugh Laurie, who is an actual musician. Here's Hugh with a guitar, and everyone knows he's fabulous at the piano.

Danny: lead guitar
I'm pretty fond of "House M.D." too, so it seemed only natural to put Hugh in the band. Meanwhile, I got this conviction that the lead guitarist really needed to be Danny Pudi, aka Abed on "Community." You see him as a quirky, funny guy, but I see him as having "dark and mysterious rock star" potential. I even found this photo of him pulling a "dark and mysterious rock star" face, so there, Blog. So Danny plays the awesome lead guitar in stoic silence, which leaves Hugh to the bass and vocals. And keyboards when needed, of course.

Scott: drums, backup vocals
And leaves me needing a drummer. You wouldn't guess in ten attempts, so don't even try, Blog. I chose Scott McGillivray, the handsome star of HGTV's "Income Property" and stuff. I can see him on the drums! Well, obviously I can.

So, dear readers, crank up your brain and picture these four performing "Authority Song," with me singing back up. T.J. really rocks this number. What a blast. However, next up on my iPod comes "We're Not in Kansas" by Big Country. Too dark and gravelly for the perky T.J. However, Hugh pulled it off nicely in my head, probably because House is a messed-up guy, like I guess Stuart Adamson was (R.I.P.). Anyway, I'm pretty sure these four guys can do a decent job with a large percentage of rock songs. As I type this, Cat Galaxy Radio is playing "Woodstock" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and that works.

T.J.: rhythm guitar, vocals "Lady, You Bring Me Up" by Lionel Richie is on, so that's not working.

But if I hear a song with a chick singing lead, so much the better! Then I get to perform with the band. I'd just love to do Linda Ronstadt's "When Will I Be Loved?" and share a mike with T.J. for that classic opening line. "I've been cheated...been mistreated..." Now that would be sweet, Blog.

All right people, give me some comfort here and cast a couple of your celebrity faves in a rock band! You'll be glad you did!

May 5, 2011

Aggie's on Facebook!

Heyo, Blog, I'm stoked about this:  my novel Aggie's Nine Heroes now has a Facebook page!  For our friends who want to Like the page, we're making it super easy:

And in the interest of making more things easy, here's a little checklist to help our readers determine if they really should Like Aggie on Facebook. If you are into three or more of these subjects, you will find real value in being a fan of the A9H Facebook page:

  • Being a hero in a small way
  • 80s pop culture (esp. if you were born in that decade)
  • Science nerdiness
  • News about the book (like where to get it)
  • Movies and/or live theater
  • Entrepreneurialism
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and other things Whedon)
  • Martial arts
  • The work of
  • Comic books (esp. X-Men and The Sandman)
  • Diana Laurence's writing
  • Being organized
  • Fads
  • The Chicago Cubs
  • Consumer protection
  • Computer geekiness and technology
  • Event planning

Blog, you should go now and Like Aggie's love the 80s, are definitely a techie, and I've seen you practicing your karate chops.  Do. It. Now.  Thanks.

May 2, 2011

Can you guess what these four jars represent?

Yesterday's crafty project at Magic House, Blog, was these four jars which I created in multimedia. What fun! And equally fun is seeing if you can guess what the four jars represent. What do you think?

If you guessed the four ancient elements, you're correct! I wanted to conceptualize each of the elements with its own "Alchemy Jar" and it was a very enjoyable challenge. Left to right, you have Air, Water, Earth and Fire. Let's take a closer look at each one (backlit for a different effect).

Air Jar

I got this jar, which resembles a perfume bottle, at good old American Science & Surplus. Since the top is plastic, it wasn't easy to work with (couldn't go in the oven). All I could do was dress it up with some fine silver metal mesh that I also got at AS&S. And how exactly does one represent air? Well, I made a coiled spring of white plastic coated craft wire to resemble a tiny tornado. Then I echoed the swirling theme with a ribbon of silver polymer clay, which I enhanced with silver Perfect Pearls and fine silver glitter.

Water Jar

I used an old pimento jar for this one (so cute and little). The glass is decorated with a swirly blend of polyclay in metallic blues and greens, in a wave design. The tips of the waves are translucent white. I covered the jar lid in a similar blend with translucent around the rim. All clay was enhanced with some blue Perfect Pearls, and after baking, coated with Future for extra shine. I added a couple of beads for a knob on top. Inside the jar I put colorless glass pebbles (the kind you put in vases) and filled it up with blue-tinted water. I love how that effect turned out and think I'll have to use it again!

Earth Jar

I adore earthy-stuff so this one was a blast. The bottle is another AS&S purchase. Around the base I placed some rough-torn brown clay that incorporated Granitex (hence the flecks). Over that, using liquid polymer clay, I affixed some faux pebbles left over from an old project. On top of the bottle, I was going for a similar look to the dribbled wax you see sealing certain liquor bottles, only with different colors of mud; I dusted the clay with craft sand in tan and black, and textured it with tiny holes using a plastic brush. The bottle neck is circled with a ring of gray Granitex clay. Inside: real potting soil and real pebbles. It came out like a tiny rock garden terrarium!

Fire Jar

This was a jam jar from one of those Christmas gift boxes you get. I thought the squared off shape mimicked a lantern. The clay on the sides is translucent with gold and copper Perfect Pearls blended in; I wanted light to be able to penetrate. The lid is covered in a similar blend with gold clay also included. Again, the clay here was coated after baking with Future for shine. I have to admit, I'm pretty proud of myself for coming up with the contents of the fire jar. I took the plastic "flame" top off one of those electric faux votive candles, revealing the circuit board and tiny light bulb. I covered the circuit board with some thin copper sheeting, and placed the light in the jar. Then I poured over it a mix of small gold beads and super tiny gold seed beads.

I'm pretty happy with the results of this experiment, Blog, and definitely inspired to use some of these techniques to make more jars in the future! And I'm wondering if any of our readers has ever done a creative project using the four classic elements. Please share if you have!

P.S.: Scrutinous readers who click on the photos for larger views will notice cracks in the glass of the Water and Fire Jars. You see, the best way to bring out the translucence in polymer clay is to immerse the work in cold water right out of the oven. As I discovered, though, this also causes the jar to crack! Fortunately, both jars only cracked inside, so they didn't break and don't leak. And I kind of like the effect. (Although I might just be telling myself that! LOL)