October 26, 2012

The Magnificent Seven aka my all-male fantasy team

Blog, fans of my books know that I get a lot of inspiration from my celebrity crushes. I've also written elsewhere that oftentimes my fantasies feature a couple of guys vying for my attention (hey, if it can happen to Bella and Katniss, it can happen to me).

Well, nothing succeeds like excess, so I said to myself, "Why stop at two guys? Really, is there a limit to the number of attractive men you'd want vying for your attention?" Actually, Blog, there is: and the number is seven. More than that and a girl just can't keep track.

So, I put together my team of truly awesome celebrity crushes, all of whom have at various times been the stars of my daydreams, and voila...The Magnificent Seven. You may think of them as a Leverage-esque team (referring to the TNT show) that provides the various and sundry talents necessary for my complete range of romantic/adventurous scenarios. Or you may think of them in Jungian terms (referring to the developer of psychoanalytic theory), as various manifestation of my animus. Either way, they make a stunning group.

Let me introduce the Magnificent Seven:

The Mastermind: Sherlock Holmes (aka Benedict Cumberbatch of the BBC/Masterpiece show "Sherlock").

My most recent crush is on this enigmatic, charismatic genius, portrayed in the updated version as an expert in technology (i.e., really good at using a cell phone). As a British interpretation of the same literary character who inspired America's Dr. House, he is self-absorbed, egotistical, and manipulative, only with much more charm and refinement.

This is the kind of personality that (1) captivates you with his brilliance, and (2) makes a woman dream of taming him and improving his character. Blog, in my fantasy plots look for him to solve mysteries, attempt to hide his undying devotion to me, and run the operation by sheer egotism.

The Healer: Dr. James Wilson (aka Robert Sean Leonard, late of the show "House").

Wilson, who was the Dr. Watson-style sidekick to House, was the member of the team with heart and conscience. As a particularly nurturant character, he's long been the one I turned to in my fantasies when I needed comfort or relief. He's definitely a representative of the Knight in Shining Armor archetype, and every pantheon of dream men needs one of those.

Expect, Blog, that I run to Wilson when hurt, confused, or irritated at one of the other guys. I can endure the sexy capriciousness of Sherlock as long as I have Wilson to turn to.

The Science Geek: Jack Hodgins (aka T.J. Thyne, from the show "Bones").

Hodgins has been in my stable of fantasy men for awhile now--I just can't resist a guy who's good in the lab, particularly if he's funny and has curly hair. Perhaps he's more adorable than sexy, but adorable goes a long way. Hodgins is super smart but also a tenderhearted, nice guy.

Blog, watch for Hodgins to explain some of the universe's mysteries, provide comic relief, and be a true friend when I need a more lighthearted shoulder to cry on than Wilson's.

The Computer Geek: Harold Finch (aka Michael Emerson, from the show "Person of Interest").

Michael Emerson invaded my brain and heart while playing the role of Ben Linus on "Lost." While this newer character is not quite so powerful (largely because he's a good genius rather than an evil one), Michael is always captivating in any role. On "P of I" he acts almost as God, overseeing the entire population of New York City and intervening to protect the innocent from harm. That kind of stuff is great archetypal fodder for sure.

Mr. Finch will be serving a dual role as both introverted genius and guardian angel. He has the cred to be Mastermind himself were he not so private, so expect him to butt heads with Sherlock more than once.

The Musician: Christian (aka Christian Borle, Broadway star and Tom on the show "Smash").

In this case I'm having to invent a bit of a new character rather than just going with composer Tom Levitt, for the simple reason that Tom is gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I kind of need my romantic fantasy guys to like girls, that is, me. Plus it happens that Christian himself is a straight guy. Anyway, as a Broadway fan I just have to have a team member who can sing, act, play the piano, etc. To top it off, Christian is cute, sweet and funny.

Besides providing entertainment, Christian's role will be reminiscent of Tom's (and likewise that of Emmett, the romantic lead he played in "Legally Blonde"): he'll be a great counselor. I envision him providing tremendous support in a crisis as well as insightful day-to-day advice.

The Bodyguard: Eliot Spencer (aka Christian Kane, from the show "Leverage").

Yes, Blog, I stole him from the Leverage team. I find Eliot an absolutely marvelous character, because he may be the brawn of the operation (read: 99% invincible in a fight), but he's also really intelligent, sensitive, a little mysterious, and absolutely hilarious. He's got a spine of iron and is practically fearless, which I find extremely inspirational. But you can also count on him to take a stand for right, with strong but quiet determination.

Look for Eliot to be humorously annoyed by Sherlock but make friendships with the other low-key heroes: Wilson and Mr. Finch.

The Gentleman: Matthew Crawley (aka Dan Stevens, from the show "Downton Abbey").

Why does a woman need Matthew on the team? Other than the blue eyes, boyish good looks, and great accent? For pretty much the same reason why chicks always dig aristocratic British men from other periods (see also Mr. Darcy). Seriously though, Blog...Matthew is another white knight type who Does the Right Thing, albeit a flawed one. He's also a shining example of good manners and fine vocabulary. Any drama a person invents could use some of those elements, true?

Matthew will be cutting quite the romantic figure, I'm sure. And while he won't always agree with Sherlock's approach, they will share some aspects of British heritage and attitude, which is bound to create some fun.

Go team.

So, I've already "shot"--that is, imagined--the first two episodes of "The Magnificent Seven." in Ep 1:01, the boys arrived at my house, eyed each other with curiosity, and let Eliot tend bar (which I appreciated a lot because it left me free to ogle). In Ep. 1:02, Sherlock pronounced himself in charge and proceeded to look at each man and predict the role they would play in my life going forward. Believe you me, Blog, that inspired some priceless dialogue.

[Sidebar: I can do spot-on impersonations of voices in my imagination. I'm wondering if this is a common ability or if I'm weird in that way? Readers?]

I think one more solid episode like the first two, and the "network" will be ordering a full season.  

August 31, 2012

Help Blog and me stamp out Partyism

No, Blog and don't want to ban celebrations...that's not what this post is about. We're here today to talk about the terrible bigotry that has run rampant across America for some time now, a bias we should tolerate no more than racism, sexism, and all other forms of prejudice.

Yes, it's Partyism--the bias against those of differing political leanings than you. Blog, I'm sure our U.S readers agree that the liberal vs. conservative, Republican vs Democrat battle been ugly for a long time now. Few of us enjoy it. But how many of us recognize this conflict has actually resulted in bigotry? How many of us won't tolerate bias based on gender, religion, or sexual orientation, but have no trouble indulging in bad behavior if the issue is party affiliation or ideology?

Before we go any further, Blog, I want to clear up two things:

Thing 1--Of course it's okay to disagree, aka believe you're correct and the other side is incorrect. That's what it means to have a different opinion, and there's no law or moral code against that. In fact, each of us ought to have convictions and be willing to express them and act upon them.

Thing 2--You run into trouble, however, if you go too far using those opinions as a measure of judgment. In other words, if you are too quick to decide someone else is "evil," or "morally abhorrent," or "opposing God's will," or "as bad as Hitler," you are venturing onto a slippery slope. I'm not being a moral relativist here, Blog--I believe there is objective right and wrong. However, as mere humans, we do better to look at the world in shades of gray, and oppose wrong ideas and behavior rather than condemning "wrong people," except in the most extreme, truly criminal cases.

Now, if you're unwilling to look at political opinions as beliefs people hold in good conscience, arrived at by their own particular lights, then read no further. This post won't be of use to you, so carry on. The rest of you, thanks for sticking around.

Now let's begin and make our case of how bad Partyism can be. We'll achieve this by looking at nine elements of bigotry, comparing classic examples of racism, sexism, etc. with similar behaviors of Partyism.


Racism: "Blacks are lazy."  I remember this from my childhood. Who can get away with such a statement now? And we shouldn't be able to! We should bridle at portrayals in old movies of African-Americans as slow and shiftless--we should feel shame at such hurtful stereotypes.

Partyism: "Republicans want to take away women's rights." "Democrats don't love America."  Have you ever had someone from across the aisle assume something about you based on how you vote? Maybe they say because you're Republican you don't care about the poor (even though you give more to charity than that person does)? Or maybe, because you're a Democrat they think you want to kill babies (even though you think of abortion as a last resort and only want to protect mothers)?

We have to stop creating caricatures of the folks on the other side, straw men and women that embody everything we hate, and projecting those images on our friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Even when there's a reason for a stereotype, and it truly is something of a norm, nothing is universal. Before you assume you know how the other person thinks and feels, how about asking him or her? People are not political cartoons, they're people.


Sexual orientation bias: "All gay men just want to sleep around--why should they care about getting married?" Alarm bells go off when we hear "all" or "every single" or "always." Haven't we learned you shouldn't generalize about any particular group? People who share the same religion, ethnic heritage, gender, etc. are all individuals. No duh, hey Blog?

Partyism: "All Republicans are heartless and greedy." "All Democrats are bleeding hearts who never use their heads." These are the sorts of statements and implications you read every day in comments, on blogs, on Facebook. If you're talking about political persuasion, apparently it's okay to make sweeping generalizations and ignore all the complexities and subtleties that make up political opinions.

Just like each gay person is a unique individual, so is each liberal, each conservative, each independent. The labels can be useful, but as often as not they will give you the a wrong or incomplete impression. Best to keep that in mind before you really misjudge or insult a friend.


Racism: "I don't trust black people. They're criminals." One of my former in-laws would simply not let go of her bias against African-Americans because a neighbor was once robbed by a black person. Well, obviously that didn't say anything about the entire race, but it was reason enough to her to make the dislike universal. She ignored the Jackson Brothers' great lyric, "One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, girl."

Partyism: "Conservatives think rape is okay." "Liberals don't care if their protests destroy private property." Blog, one thing that really frosts my cookies is when someone takes an example of really bad behavior by a member of a group and then throws it in the faces of the entire group. Did Senator So-and-So just say something ridiculous / do something horrible? Well, maybe he's in my party but guess what, I'm not so stupid to think he's right. You'd never yell "Shame on you!" at all gays because one football coach abused a bunch of young males, would you? Yet it's okay for you to lay a guilt trip on me because of one kook--and feel self-righteously smug about it? Seriously, Blog! It's ridiculous!


Racism: "Whites are more intelligent than blacks." As hard as it may be to believe, when I was a kid this was a commonly held opinion in my community. It's appalling--as such attitudes should be.

Partyism: "Liberals are crazy." "Conservatives have no souls." Seriously, Blog...how much of an effort does each of us make to keep in mind "All men were created equal." It's perfectly possible for a person to have liberal sensibilities and be utterly sane, now isn't it? And it's perfectly possible a conservative thinker might not be morally bankrupt, isn't it? Just because a person disagrees with you doesn't mean they are less smart, thoughtful, well-informed, sane, etc. They simply have arrived at different conclusions than you. Feel free to think them mistaken, but leave your arrogant sense of superiority behind, if you please.


Sexism: "Well, of course she shouldn't head the company, she's a woman and the job needs someone strong and steady." We can laugh at this attitude while watching "Mad Men," but it's just not cool in real life.

Partyism: "He actually believes in creationism--don't bother to talk to such an idiot." "My wife's a liberal--you know how emotional they are." Paternalism is treating the person like a child--it's treating a group like children who can't be reasoned with and must be coddled, manipulated, or ignored. Blog and I hate to break it to you, but intelligent adults can have an infinite number of different political opinions. Just because they don't think exactly as you do doesn't mean they're immature, silly, and hopeless. Until you can treat the other side like adults, you won't get anywhere.


Religious/cutural bias: "The Jews are out to get us, so we have to get them first." Yup, this kind of thinking was one of the forces that fueled Nazi Germany. Repulsive, isn't it? In every way.

Partyism: "The liberals are going to destroy every last one of our traditional values." "The conservatives are going to set back women's rights 50 years." All right, everyone just step back from the panic button. While it's fine to be vigilant and discourage political trends you see as harmful--in fact, that's the job of all citizens--don't let it turn to panic and unreasonable fear. Ease up on the hyperbole. Take a calm look. Ponder rationally for a moment. Do you really think every single liberal in America wants to overturn every moral principle you were taught as a kid? Do you really think every single conservative disrespects women's rights (including the females)? And do you really think you can get anywhere by assuming the very worst possible motives for those with whom you disagree?


Racism: "Hey, n***er, this drinking fountain is not for your kind." Wow. It's unbelievable the cruelties people have inflicted on others without compunction, just because their race or religion or ethnicity or orientation is different.

Partyism: "You voted for So-and-so? Well, you're a Nazi." Blog, we manage to eradicate the old N-word from our national vocabulary, but now we have a new N-word. Do I seem like a Nazi to you? Well, I've been called one. I've been called plenty of other things too, not necessary directly every time, but by association. The same people who claim to detest bigotry employ its cruelties all the time without batting an eye, because the difference is political. Blog and I say--it's just as bad! We're sick of the name calling and disrespect already!


Religious bias: "I can't believe my daughter wants to marry a Catholic--I'll disown her." It used to be commonly acceptable to have an attitude like this. Different kinds were expected to segregate themselves. Intermarriage was taboo, people didn't want to adopt children of other races, communities shut each other out. Nowadays the vast majority of Americans recognize this as wrong thinking.

Partyism: "I'm unfriending all my [Republican/Democrat] friends." Because heaven forfend you should tolerate those evil people in your circle! Of course it's better if you don't have to deal with the fact that people you like think differently than you! Of course you don't want to have to consider that there are people on the other side that you share things with, enjoy the company of, and actually like! Yes, Blog, sarcasm. Instead, how about we ponder the fascinating fact that people we like and respect have arrived at different opinions than we have. How about we face the awful truth that both sides have a point, both have something to contribute, both can benefit from hearing out the other? At the end of the day, maybe no one budges an inch, but we can still care for each other.


Sexual orientation bias: "Those faggots are going to hell." Yikes, Blog. There's nothing like the pronouncement that because people are different than you, they are evil. That's the ultimate in bigotry, isn't it?

Partyism: "How can you be a [Republican/Democrat]? You might as well be [Stalin/Hitler]!" Blog, have you ever had someone say to you something like "I can't believe I married a [this]?" "I can't believe I raised a [that]?" "You people are so [destructive/hideous/evil]?" Well, seeing as you, Blog, are an anthropomorphized non-corporeal being, I suppose not. Well, it hurts.

So here's a news flash, all: None of us is in a position to declare others to be "evil." That politician you so loathe isn't evil, s/he just disagrees with you. Voting for him/her is not a sinful act, it's exercising a right that belongs to each of us, an exercise based upon opinion to which we are entitled without being judged.

No one should have the right to ridicule or insult you or abuse you for your political opinion, no more than for your race, religion or ethnicity. They have the right to question you respectfully, disagree with you, ask you politely to change the subject. They even have the right to tease you or poke fun at your opinion, if it's done respectfully and with good humor. But the name-calling, the guilt by association, the bigoted assumptions, the personal judgments need to be recognized for what they are: something just as bad as racism: Partyism.

Blog and I are here today to cast our votes against Partyism, and for mutual respect and understanding. Who's with us?

And if you liked this post, please do share! Feel free to steal our graphic and link to this URL: http://dianalaurence.blogspot.com/2012/08/help-blog-and-me-stamp-out-partyism.html

August 27, 2012

A Bird House, as in, if birds built a house

Blog, bird houses and the making thereof are nothing new. But the other night I asked myself, if birds had opposable thumbs and carpentry skills and tiny tools, what sort of houses would they build? The construction would be more elaborate that you see in your typical nest, but wouldn't there still be a bird-ish sense of style? Twigs, twine, bits of found objects? And seriously, how cool would the result be?

This cool:

Yes, I decided to make this daydream come true with my own crafty crafting skills.  What a blast I had too, in the nine hours it took me to construct this Bird House from the ground up.  I dare say I called upon almost every skill, tool, and technique in my repertoire (and also benefited from some lessons I'd learned from previous mistakes).  I'm pretty stoked about the result if I do say so myself.

Here's how it all went down.

First off, I went around the house gathering up all the materials I had on hand that a bird might use if he were some feathered combo of Mike Holmes and Scott MacGillivray. I also perused the neighborhood for twigs and pine cones.  Here's the stash I compiled to your right.

I happen to be a sucker for driftwood, rocks, moss, silk plants, and other natural or faux-natural materials, so I had a lot of that around. I also had things like wood scraps, jar lids, a tiny flower pot, charms, felting wool, potpourri, ribbons, buttons, yada yada.

So, I started with a basic construction plan. For that I needed a sturdy base and some components to serve as a basis for the rooms of the Bird House. I fooled around and ended up with this set of items that looked like they would work.

That dome on the left is a broken wine glass. I was really sad when I found the glass had broken on the way home from our vacation, but it occurred to me to save it in case it would come in handy one day.  A couple months later...heck yeah! (I should mention here that I'm not as huge a packrat as I seem--all my craft equipment, tools and supplies would fit easily in a medium size closet if consolidated.) I got to employ my Dremel tool to do a little woodworking, always a thrill!

Now, how to make these items look like bird construction materials.... Well, one polymer clay technique in my arsenal is the making of faux wood.

Here are "veneer" sheets ready to be applied to the boxes. I also had some leftover faux marble-like stuff that was a good fit for the project. So here's the main box covered with faux wood, with a stone and wood door with iron hardware added.

The lump on the side is a piece of stick mounted in place, which was to support the patio deck. I really had to apply my engineering skills a few times during this project.

And here to the right is the wine glass, which I confess worked out even better than I hoped. I cut windows in the clay on both sides so the light would shine all the way through.

Now of course it's nice to vary the building materials a bit. I thought it would be cool to have some stone walls, but I didn't want the rocks to be falling out all the time. So I reasoned that birds might make the walls of mud and small rocks mixed together, so I went for that. I'm not gonna lie, Blog--doing this on the four sides of this room took a very long time. Anyway, here's the room with just mud, and a doorway cut in the front of the box.

I also covered the jar lid with the same stone stuff as the front door, and applied some wood vines to the jar itself. Everything was ready to bake at last. While the pieces were in the oven, I fixed up my little flower pot with fake dirt and flowers. I also used resin in one of the jar lids to look like water, and glued birdseed in the other lid. The oven timer went off...

Not bad, but I wanted to add a mossy look to my faux wood. You know Blog, like the actual sticks I was using had. So, I used Swellegant faux finish for this; the copper paint turns green, so it worked like a charm. Meanwhile, I also added rust patina to the door hardware.

I gathered all the key components, hammer and nails, and my Gorilla Glue and went to town putting everything together. Here it is, the basic construction of the Bird House:

Now, you see in that shot that I already did some festooneries on the jar. I mounted a tea light inside the lid (with a cunning design of rubber bands and electrical tape). I put some moss in the bottom and settled in my little bird's nest from a previous project. Voila, an incubation room to provide relief to a busy bird mom! Ribbons and a pine cone finished it off--for now, anyway. You also see I used a mushroom Christmas ornament to top off the wine glass. It has an opening in it, and inside I tucked a little cushion of moss.

So, after a break for dinner and TV with Davie, it was time to come back and do the rest of the festoonery. Now this is the truly fun part! I got out my white wood glue and my Superglue, and went to town--as you will see in the detail shots here.

Mama bird is from the aforementioned previous project. And here you see how the mud-and-rock wall came out. Some sticks, a potpourri pine-coney thing, ribbon, moss, and a golden leafy vine charm compliment the beauty of the wall. Inside the room is some comfy, curly wool...this is, after all, the master bedroom.

Atop this room is the windowed cupola, candlelit inside for cozy reading or billing and cooing. It's crowned with the mushroom playhouse, currently occupied by the resident family's fledgling daughter. Festooneries here include twine and fungus, neat.

Talk about curb--er--branch appeal...check out the front door of the bird house's "great room." I framed up this part of the building with pretty sticks and a stately pine cone. The rosebuds and little seed cluster thingies were in my potpourri bag. I made a "wreath" from a button and some ribbon. And the welcome mat is flower petals.

Here's the final shot of the nursery. Moss conceals the glue around the pine cone topper, and decorates the base. I think you can tell, Blog, how much I dig moss.

Closeup of the nest. The eggs and sticks are polymer clay, and I also used bits of thread to construct the nest.  Chip away, little hatchlings!

The patio is a great place to entertain guests, or just relax and refresh. The family can enjoy water and food in a spacious setting framed out in rustic sticks, and resplendent with greenery and a collection of beautiful stones and raw gems. Here the daddy bird, also previously made, enjoys a drink in the shade of the potted plant.

Beneath the patio is the leaf swing, a real leaf (from the potpourri) hung on twine ropes. A great place to "hang out."

Of course I had to make sure the back of the house was also attractive--don't want the neighbors to have a boring view!  By the way, the toppers on those two tall sticks were more weird natural items from the potpourri bag...no idea what they are, but they look nice!

Here's a close up of the back wall. Tiles leftover from our bar backsplash project fit right in with the faux wood, and support more clumps and dangles of fun moss.

The Bird House looks uber-cozy by night.

The candle flickers in the cupola room.

And the eggs stay cozy in the nursery.

And here, Blog, is the Bird House as a centerpiece in our dining room. I'm expecting the birds on our patio to be pounding on the patio doors asking for a home tour.  You know, like aviary House Hunters.

So, Blog, that's the story of what happens when our feathered friends meet HGTV. At least the way we imagine it here at Magic House....

[For larger resolution images, see my Flickr feed.

August 9, 2012

Twelve top tips from an efficiency expert

Okay, Blog--I'm not licensed or anything, but I did realize the other day that I seem to have a natural-born ability to be efficient. For one thing, if I had a nickel for every time someone asked me, "How do you get so much done?" I'd be up to my nose in nickels. For another, I often notice people around me doing things that seem all kinds of inefficient, but they don't seem to notice.

Now, I tend to think this efficiency of mine is just another symptom of my anality (not a word but should be). But on the other hand, who these days wouldn't like more free time?

So for that reason I decided to share twelve of my top tips for how to save yourself some time (for more rounds of the Ten Minutes o' Fun Game, perhaps). Hopefully one or two of them will be helpful to our readers!

1. Keep your email inbox empty.

Your email inbox can serve as a to-do list without any extra effort on your part. Try by the end of each day to clean it out except for items you still need to address. Delete the stuff you don't need to keep right away--that's easy and saves you the time of looking at it a second time.

File items you may need later into designated folders: examples are notifications of bills to be paid (calendar those, too!), and coupons you might use later (it'll be easy later to delete the ones that are old). When you have responded to an email, delete the original. If you keep the text of the original in your reply, then the version in your Sent box is all you need to keep.

The goal of the clean inbox will motivate you not to procrastinate, help keep you organized, and keep you from forgetting things you need to do.

2. Have a pending folder.

Could work at home, and essential for office jobs. If you send out an email that requires a response from the recipient, just pop over to your Sent box and move the message to your Pending box.

Keep it there till you have an answer, then delete or otherwise file. If the recipient dawdles in responding, you won't lose track--and can send a reminder quickly by just forwarding the original message. You can monitor ongoing issues easily by reviewing your Pending box each morning.

3. Back up everything!

This is a case of investing time to save time. Backing up everything shouldn't take more than ten minutes once a week, once you have a system in place. You need to tailor this plan to your own electronics, but here's how I do mine, every weekend:

  • Computer files--Search for changed documents from the past week, copy to backup files on detachable hard drive.
  • Email--Copy outlook.pst file to detachable hard drive.
  • Electronic journal (on flash drive)--Use software backup program to back up to PC.
  • Phone--Use backup software to back up to PC; sync calendar, contacts, and photos.
  • Camera--Off load photos to PC, delete from camera (yes, really!), back up to Walgreens.com.
  • MP3 player--Keep copies of all music on Amazon Cloud.
  • Nook--Keep copies of books on PC and/or Barnesandnoble.com.

And when you're working on something really important, frequent saves and more-frequent-than-weekly backups are the order of the day. NO EXCUSES, START DOING #3 FROM NOW ON!

4. Learn and use keyboard shortcuts.

If you type a lot, you'll be amazed the time you save by using these instead of dropdown menu steps.

  • Ctrl + s = save
  • Ctrl + c = copy
  • Ctrl + v = paste
  • Ctrl + x = delete
  • Ctrl + z = undo
  • Ctrl + y = redo
  • Ctrl + b = bold
  • Ctrl + i = italics
  • Ctrl + u = underline

If there is any sort of word processing step that you do a lot, check (by googling) if there's a shortcut. Also be mindful to copy and paste multiple text rather than retyping it each time ("Ctrl +" for example, LOL).

5. Throw (or give) things away.

Clutter not only looks messy and takes up space, it slows you down. If you have 24 pairs of shoes, and only wear 12 pairs of them, the other 12 pairs just get in the way of your finding the shoes you want to wear. Same principle applies to books, paperwork, DVR'd shows you'll never watch, stuff in your pantry and fridge you'll never eat, etc. 

If you haven't worn, used, touched, or looked at something in an appropriate amount of time (e.g., one year for clothes, six months for non-perishable food, etc.), then give it away or toss it. If you occasionally pick an area of your house to "purge"--the kitchen junk drawer, your jewelry box--the task needn't be time consuming or dreadful.

6. Stay organized.

The sister principle to #5. I know it's easier to just throw something in a drawer than to take the trouble to put it in the right drawer. And it's also easier to have the drawer just a big open drawer o' stuff than put an organizer in it with a spot for everything. But doing things in an organized way actually saves time when it comes to finding what you need. 

I hated the tangle of charger cords in my electronics drawer--having each neatly bound up and in it's own cubby saved me time and hassles.

I hate filing, and I used to just throw my filing at home in a big pile and then once a year or so face the huge chore of putting it all in the right places. But during the course of the year, I was constantly having to go through that whole huge pile when I needed to find something--huge waste of time. Gotta keep on that stuff.

7. Go digital.

Of course, my filing problem has been greatly alleviated these days because I have almost nothing on paper. Examples: I pay bills online, so those websites keep records for me; bank statements are online, correspondence is electronic; I have Google Maps and GPS on my phone so no need for maps and directions on paper, etc. 

Not only does this eliminate paperwork, it makes things way easier to find, because everything is searchable. Where did I put those theater tickets to "The Book of Mormon" next January? Well, when I downloaded them, I named the file with "tix" in it, so I can do a search in My Documents and find them in a sec. So even misfiling isn't a problem! (And you bet I have a backup copy!!!) Which reminds me, you should learn how to use the search function both for files and in your email--you'll eliminate a lot of frustration.

8. Multitask.

Be mindful of times when you can do more than one thing at once. Even if the task is small, the cumulative effect can save you tons of time. This example may be ridiculous, Blog, but here it is: In the morning when I'm getting ready, I simultaneously do my leg stretches, brush my teeth, and pull out the beauty care stuff I need to use that morning. This saves me maybe 1.25 minutes a day, but that adds up to almost eight hours a year! 

More crazy but effective examples: cleaning old mail and photos off my phone while going to the bathroom (TMI, Blog?); letting the cat, who requires supervised feeding, eat while I pack my lunch; and catching up with my Dad on the phone while doing some mindless type of task at work. A no-brainer: save up "sitting chores" like mending and menu planning for TV watching that doesn't need your full attention (like sporting events and SyFy channel movies).

9. Plan weekly menus.

Speaking of, unless you enjoy grocery shopping as recreation, menu planning is something you should do. We only buy food once or twice a week, so no struggling with "what to have tonight" and repeat trips to the store. I put the menu on the top of the grocery list I make each weekend, and then we tack it to the fridge so we know what to thaw out for the next day and so on.

10. Remember electronic calendars are your friends.

If you have a smart phone, sync it to your PC calendar. And use your calendars, both at work and at home! They have handy, built in to-do lists and note areas where you can keep information at your fingertips. If you have something to do and a sieve-like brain like mine, put a reminder on your calendar (phone and otherwise). 

This works for everything from dates to pay bills, to reminders of stuff you need to bring to work, to birthdays. If you make a date with someone, note it right away while you're thinking of it. Then (and believe it or not, I know a lot of people who fail at this), check your calendar each day and each week!

11. Consider using a password program.

Some people use the same password for everything--which is an invitation for disaster involving hackers and identity theft. Some people write all their passwords down--which is fine if you have those notes handy all the time, but who wants to risk having something like that that could be lost or fall into the wrong hands? 

I use a system called Roboform, which not only stores my passwords, it lets me access them via web anywhere, and also lets me fill in forms online with a single click. Roboform itself is password protected both locally and online, obviously (and that's a complex password I change often and only keep in my head!). I can't even begin to guess, between entering passwords and filling out forms, how much time this saves me in a year. Lots.

12. Think like an efficiency expert.

Only you can really improve the time you waste by being inefficient in key areas of your life. Spend some time thinking about the things you do that take up a lot of time, and figure out how you might reduce that time. Here are some examples to spark your brainstorming:

  • Make homemade chili often? Cook up a huge batch at once, divide up and freeze.
  • Tired of waiting at the coffee shop each day for your morning latte? Think about making your own coffee. Even if it's only for you, the combination of a good thermos and your microwave could mean only making coffee two or three times a week.
  • Still prefer getting the lattes at the coffee shop? Figure out something you can do while in line each morning, like tasks on your smartphone (Facebook catch up, reading the headlines, emails), reading a magazine or newspaper, checking your to-do list or making the grocery list.
  • Hate spending time paying bills? Set up automated payments with your bank or the utility in question. (Just make sure to subtract them all from your checking account each month.)
  • Struggling with medical recordkeeping--FSA, HRA, health insurance issues? Create a spreadsheet to track the status of claims, funding levels, etc.

And if you're not the type of person who is inspired by the joys of efficiency and organization, look at it this way, Blog: just like saving money for something you want to buy, you can save time for something you want to do. Think in terms of that long bubble bath, that extra hour to play a game or read a book, or just a chance to sleep in later. Sounds like a great plan to me, and I'm the expert!  :-)

August 7, 2012

The 10 Minutes o' Fun Game

Hey Blog, did you ever have a stray hour or so of free time, and wish you could convert it to as much fun as possible?  Well, this is what happened to me, and while pondering what to do with said 60 minutes, I had a sudden epiphany.

I invented the 10 Minutes o' Fun Game!

No--don't say a word, Blog...I can see on your non-corporeal face how eager you are to learn how to play! Hopefully our readers are too.  Here's how it works:  Think of a small thing to do, something you know you will enjoy, but won't take more than ten minutes. Do said thing, and after you're done, think of another ten minutes of fun and do that!  Allowing for one or two of these ten minute things to take a little longer, you still should be able to do five--count 'em, five--fun things in your free hour!

I will demonstrate by sharing with you what I did with my hour:

10 Minutes o' Fun Thing #1:  Estate Tour

"Touring the estate" is what my parents used to call looking around the yard at the gardens. Magic House is a condo so it has a small yard, but I still like to go outside on a summer night and just look at the plants and trees. I admired my new rock arrangement on the patio (rocks from our vacay trip around Lake Michigan), looked at the front porch and thought about sitting out there on the folding lounge sometime (new idea), and watered the east flower bed. Got to savor the outdoors in that smidge of truly quality time!

10 Minutes o' Fun Thing #2:  Living Room Check

If you never just pause to look at your own stuff, before long you won't even see it anymore. I very frequently just walk around my house and look at the wall art and knick-knacks. This time I combined the experience with letting Selke sit on my lap and be cuddled. Bonus. In the process I noticed a book pile that looked uncool, and this led to...

10 Minutes o' Fun Thing #3:  Scrapbook Repair and Perusal

In said book pile was the scrapbook I made of the aforementioned Lake Michigan Circle Tour trip that we took in June. The cover kinda came off recently. So I was inspired just then to fix the cover, and then just flip through the book again, and then put it away upstairs, making the book pile look better. You may be noticing a theme, Blog: during the course of your fun, you sometimes complete odd little tasks you've been putting off. This adds a sense of accomplishment to the game!

The Cloud Chair in its usual spot
10 Minutes o' Fun Thing #4:  Foot Treatment

While I was upstairs, I remembered it had been a coon's age since I PedEgg-ed my feet. (That's using a PedEgg to get your feet all smooth.) I followed it up with a nice foot massage with shea butter. Now we're talking fun, mes amis!

10 Minutes o' Fun Thing #5:  New Perspective Lounging

We have two Cloud Chairs (normal people call them papasan chairs) at Magic House, one in the living room. I had the sudden brainstorm that it would be fun to move the Cloud Chair in front of the sliding doors that lead to our patio, to catch the breeze and the evening view. With Selke looking on perplexedly, I dragged the chair over, and settled in in the dark room with my backlit Nook Tablet and a good book. What a grand idea this was!  The chair barely fits there, but temporarily...why not? I'll be doing it again soon, I'm sure.

New spot for the Cloud Chair
I read a bit longer than 10 minutes, but all in all, these things took me about an hour and a quarter. And they were varied, so I felt like I'd experienced way more fun than 75 minutes' worth! I still had time to watch an episode of My Little Pony in bed before lights out!

I'm pretty sure the 10 Minutes o' Fun Game hasn't heard the last of me. Or me of it. Give it a try soon, Blog, and you too, readers! Let me know if you enjoy yourself in a disproportionate-to-time-spent way like I did!

July 23, 2012

The Artist's Quandary (or at least mine)

The most popular website I've created
So here’s my quandary, Blog:

On the one hand, I have this passionate desire to create things that are so uniquely, brilliantly original and captivating that they manage to please “most of the people most of the time.” In other words, I want to be the creator of something popular enough that it will naturally also result in some amount of fame.  Isn’t that any artist’s ultimate goal?

However, I’ve experienced--just a little--what fame is like; and that’s the other hand. The public always possesses a sense of ownership towards the famous.  They feel entitled to know whatever they want to know about you. They believe their affection for you ought to be reciprocated, at least a little. Although some of them respect your time and privacy, the majority aspire, however well-meaningly, to rob you of both.

MY favorite website I've created
Meanwhile usually there are others whose success depends upon your fame, and these people will drive you mercilessly…as undoubtedly you would drive yourself even without their demands. Becoming and staying famous is very hard work—hard work that can be utterly inescapable.  Unless, of course, fame abruptly abandons you.

My most famous crafted creation
Yes, don’t forget that any passion your devotees feel is subject to being doused in the next week or day or hour, either by familiarity or some new distraction. Meanwhile, of course, they have lives of their own, and for all their temporary interest in yours, theirs naturally take precedence. The adage “fame is fleeting” the truest of old saws. And as much as I’ve been annoyed by the demands of my flirtations with slight fame, being forgotten or ignored is just as unpleasant.

The creative will create, and if they have talent, will doubtless create some beauty. It is impossible for artists to desire that their work not be too beautiful, lest it attract too much attention. We can’t help but want our art to be admired, and be driven by that yearning. So either an artist will be annoyed by the costs of fame, or disheartened by the lack of it. I want my work to be loved, but I don’t want to suffer anything by consequence. Isn’t that just like a human being to only want the upside?

MY favorite crafted creation
There is another problem—yes, yet another! Sadly for the creator, there is no fairness or justice as to the popularity of art. We’ve all heard the countless stories of unrecognized genius that clearly demonstrate it’s folly for an artist to base his self-worth upon public recognition. The most exquisite work may not attract the slightest attention, the smallest validation, particularly if circumstances do not put it the public eye. “Putting it in the public eye” is, of course, marketing--the most precocious, frustrating business there is.

Marketing is a mysterious science even the greatest expert cannot decisively understand or apply. I’m one of those people who rather like marketing, but even I agonize over it. Who are the people who would enjoy my creation? Where are they? How can I reach them using my limited powers and resources? How can I shout louder than my competitors? Should I shout louder--or is morally wrong for me to try? How much shouting can I do before I exhaust myself and come to loathe my own creation?

Who wants to make life into the equivalent of a high school popularity contest? Didn’t I start this just wanting to create something wonderful?

My most popular book
So, to sum up: I want to be loved but not too famous, I’d rather be famous than unnoticed, and either way I want not to lose control of my time, effort, and creative license. Oh, of course I know it’s ridiculous to hope for all this--there’s no such thing as a free lunch, especially at my level of talent. But my problem is, I don’t even know what’s most important to me, or most likely to make me happy. I’m almost 56 years old, and I don’t even know what my dreams and aspirations should be!

I’m sure a guru with a far higher consciousness than mine would give me this advice: Simply create what you wish, and enjoy it yourself! I know I could try this...but there’s something inherently unnatural about that, isn’t there? Would it have been good for Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of his private home rather than the Sistine Chapel? Or for that talented star of the local theater production you enjoyed to not try out for the part? Or for your Aunt Sue to only bake her fantastic apple pie for herself? Of course not--even the humblest works of human minds and hands, such as mine, are worthy of sharing with others. Human society wants and needs such things to be shared.

MY fave book (of course)
I suppose there is another approach, although it’s not the easiest to pull off: create and share, by the simple means at hand, but don’t judge yourself based upon the praise you garner. If there is praise, enjoy it, but if there is not, you can still delight in what you’ve created, and be glad that you have the good fortune to be able to do so.

Maybe that last bit is the most important thing of all. If you are born with a skill, have had the opportunity to cultivate it, to train and practice, then be grateful. There are others around you who would trade a great deal to have your ability. Try not to focus on what you wish you could do, those lofty goals you are highly unlikely to achieve, and think instead how fortunate you are to be gifted with your talents.

It is a cliché that artists are tormented—a cliché based in large part on the truth. But if I want to be a happy artist rather than a tortured one, perhaps there really is a way to make that a reality. As in so much of life, it may depend far less on action, and far more on attitude.

April 27, 2012

Aggie illustration swag revealed

Per my promise, Blog, here's the cool stuff I got incorporating Anna Rettberg's beautiful illustration of Aggie and her heroes.

I ordered this 30 x 10 print from Bay Photo, mounted on gatorboard with offset (so it "floats" on the wall) and laminated. It looks so amazing here.

And I also ordered a mug from Cafe Press. The illustration's layout is perfect for this. I'm drinking out of it even as I type this!

Aggie fans, if you want to order your own print from Anna's online store, here is the link!

April 22, 2012

The Magic House art collection

Blog, here are two of the great things about my life:

(1) I get to meet and know a lot of creative, artistic people, and
(2) My husband loves to shop.

The cumulative effect of these two factors is that my home, aka Magic House, has acquired quite a collection of art pieces I really love. Oh, I'll add modestly that I make a lot of stuff of my own, and sometimes it turns out good enough to display proudly as well.

Yesterday I completed a project I'd wanted to do for awhile: inventorying our art collection. We have over 100 pieces of wall art and displayable objects, so many that we sometimes have to rotate them in and out, like a real gallery. It was fun for me to really appreciate and savor each piece by recording it, the artist, the place we got it, and its current location. (And yes, I am a little bit anal-retentive, why do you ask?)

I photographed a sample of things...some that are my favorites, and some that just seem representative of the sorts of things we collect.  And here they are:

Frank Lloyd Wright Bradley Skylight glass panel, and ceramic bowl with "rock heads" by a local artist whose name, alas, I have lost.

One of our prize possessions, the "Time Travel Orb," which is a fused glass ball with a floating boulder opal by James Yaun. The faux metal cat scupture was made by me. Also love this side table, with a concrete top with embedded rocks, one of a kind, by a Wisconsin company.

Also prized: original Route 66 Polaroid photo by our daughter Katie's boyfriend Chris Robleski (yes, we are fortunately to have a slew of his stuff on display), and painting of Santa Monica Pier bought for us at Dan Rice's Rt. 66 to Cali stand.

A total surprise gift from husband Davie, these are actual "etched" leaves in a shadowbox. Artist: Bookey Morey.

Print of a watercolor/ink landscape of Galena, Illinois by one of our favorite artists, Carl Johnson. We have five of his prints hanging in our house--this one is in the powder room.

Pizza house by Heather Goldmine, and Rinconada cat from Uraguay, on the living room window seat.

Centipede etching, #3 of 3, by daughter Katie Nelson, in the bedroom.

Milwaukee River Renaissance by Lynn Casper, in the bedroom.

A few years ago, Katie and I made custom ceramic cats for each family member for Valentine's Day. Each of us also got a photo of all four cats. Quill (for a writer) is mine, and Scrubs is Davie's (for his cleaning business).

I made this dish garden, which is currently on the wine rack under the installation of 12 of Katie's "textures" photographs.

Love this tile frame with a photo I took of Lake Michigan. Small root wood bowl with rocks. And the inimitable "Magic Bowl" which a local artist painstakingly made and now serves as our cats' water dish because they refuse to drink out of anything else.

If you receive/obtain/create beautiful things, it's very important to appreciate them, Blog. I make a point of walking around our home periodically, just looking at what we have. Beauty is one of the things that simply makes life worth living, wouldn't you say?