She Puts the Lotion on Her Skin…Or Not?

You know how sometimes you need something, but you only think about it when you need it, so then you end up forgetting to add it to your shopping list because the only time you think about needing it is around midnight when you’re heading to bed?

Okay, maybe that’s just me.

In any case, I like to put peppermint scented lotion on my hands before I go to bed. While that might seem like an odd choice, my sinuses are frequently rebelling against…whatever, and when I lay down, I tend to have issues breathing. Brushing my teeth before bed helps (minty fresh!), but having that peppermint scent on my hands helps me keep my airways open so I can easily drift off to sleep.

My husband does much the same thing with Mentholatum on his lips every night, which would make my skin break out just thinking about it (and also, all those petrochemicals? No thanks – he can keep ’em.).

Anyways, I ran out of peppermint lotion a couple weeks ago, and I kept forgetting to even put it on the list, because the only time I’d remember is when I reached for the non-existent lotion bottle at 12:15am or so, and figure I’d “add it to the list tomorrow”. Which didn’t work at all, obviously, or there would be no story here.

This past Saturday I was at our local Strawberry Festival with my mom (celebrating her birthday), and I came across the Lazy Daisy Soap Co. booth. This woman and her husband take in rescue goats, and then use the milk to make all sorts of soaps and lotions to sell. I tried a tester bottle, and promptly bought two lotions and a jar of cream (it’s good stuff, and they operate in a very socially responsible manner, with all healthy ingredients – what’s not to love?). Then I kicked myself for not buying soap as well.

When I got home and told my husband, he asked if I’d gotten peppermint lotion.

No, no I had not.

Which is completely ridiculous. There I was, buying lotions, and I just skipped right over the one I’d needed for weeks. Again. Seriously!

I used the ever-popular crowd-sourcing method of finally remembering to buy peppermint lotion that afternoon by posting my dilemma on Facebook, of course. And in the course of the most well-documented grocery shopping trip in the history of…well, my timeline…I finally bought peppermint lotion.

Of course now I’ve been using my new Lazy Daisy lotions, and they are far superior to what I’ve been buying here in the store, so I wish I’d gotten one of those when I was *right there*. Good grief. Although to be fair, she didn’t have a hand lotion in peppermint, only a body cream, so I didn’t really see it. But I didn’t think to look for it either, even when my mom stuck a bar of peppermint soap under my nose to smell.

I wonder what it is that makes things “invisible” to our brains like that? Things we normally really need and/or enjoy, I mean. It makes sense that I’d block out getting something we’re both ambivalent to, but something I use nightly and that helps so much? Odd. Very odd.

The mind is a very strange thing, sometimes. Annoyingly so.

It’s probably because grocery shopping, for all the stops I make, is a pretty rote thing for me. I make a list, I get what’s on the list, I talk myself out of buying everything that looks or smells good in the store (okay, maybe not everything, but I do my best…I love food, which is a problem), and I move to the next thing. So if lotion isn’t on the list, well…it’s not food, so odds are I won’t even give it a second thought.

And I don’t make grocery/shopping lists in the “normal” way either. I’ve been relying for years on digital lists, the most recent of which is Grocery Tracker (before that it was an app called Out of Milk). On grocery day, I don’t start in the kitchen, I start on my cell. I pull the master list up (which has everything I’ve ever put on the list on it), and start checking off things I know we need, which adds them to that week’s list for the appropriate store. When I get to something on the list that I’m not sure of, I’ll go check the quantity I have (GTracker will keep inventory too, but I’m too lazy to use that feature).

Lotion was never on the list, so while scrolling through, there was nothing to jog my “check the lotion inventory” memory.

Now that lotion is finally on the master list, I’ll probably never forget it again. Unless my cell dies, and I can’t get to the backup files.

Or an EMP kills all electronic devices on earth (or just in my general vicinity).

I dare say if that happens, I’ll have more important things to worry about than whether I have lotion or not…


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On Personal Rituals

A week and a half ago, I broke my Matcha bowl. For those of you asking “your what-now?”, a Matcha bowl is a small bowl or cup used to make matcha, which is a powdered Japanese green tea. It’s got a gentle form of caffeine that makes you alert without giving you the jitters, and like most green teas, it’s got all sorts of good-for-you compounds in it.

Matcha is what I start my weekdays with, without fail. And while you can certainly make it in a regular mug, it’s never going to come out as well as preparing it more traditionally in a bowl with a bamboo whisk, IMO (and yes, I have tried).

So, when I dropped my first and only matcha bowl after my shower that Thursday morning, I was pretty horrified. Matcha bowls – good ones, aren’t sold just anywhere, and normally I’d have to order one online. Luckily, I’d seen several at the local bookstore just down the block from where I work the week before, and I had enough money to splurge on a locally made one instead of going with something cheap and mass-produced. Whew!

That afternoon, I walked to the bookstore on my break, got a cup of tea and spent a good 10 minutes choosing which matcha bowl I wanted, and headed back to the office with a sense of relief that my morning matcha ritual would still happen the next day.

I’ve run out of matcha before, and it’s not pretty. So it goes for a few other “rituals” in my life – not normal routines, though messing with one of those throws me off pretty heavily too, but there are certain things I do either daily or weekly or whatever, that when I don’t get to do them, my whole world feels so off-kilter that I have trouble functioning until I can “reset” and partake in whatever ritual it is again.

The difference between routines and rituals for me is…a routine is something I can do without much thought. It needs to be done, and I do it at a set time on a set schedule so I know that it gets done, and I don’t give it much thought aside from “it’s time to do [whatever]”. The only tools that really matter for a routine are whichever tools will allow me to complete the task as quickly and efficiently as possible so I can move on to the next thing.

A ritual is something I pay attention to. Something that gets my full attention and focus, even if just for a few moments. Something comforting and restful that centers my mind. And something where the tools are just as important as the motions.

Making the tea that my husband and I each take to work every morning and afternoon is a routine. I use travel bottles with tea strainer inserts and a loud timer because I’m always multi-tasking while it’s steeping. I fill the baskets with our favorite daily black teas, do other things while waiting for the water to get hot, fill his first because he likes more bitter brews than I do, do one more thing, go back and fill mine, and when the timer goes off, take the baskets out and let them sit to cool for just a minute while I do one more thing and then come back screw the bottle bottoms back on and put them in my work bag to keep warm while we’re getting ready for work. Pure routine, I could do it in my sleep.

With my matcha though, I put the water on to heat, get my bowl and set it on the counter. I notice the texture on the outside, the smooth glaze on the interior. I get the matcha power from the fridge and sift through it with my little bamboo scoop, noting the texture of that and breaking up any lumps in the tea powder before putting two small scoops of tea in the bowl and tapping the scoop on the side. I put the powder back in the fridge and get my bamboo whisk, feeling how light and small it is in my hand, and then I pour a little warm water in to make a smooth paste with the powder before pouring enough water to make the brew (maybe 1/4 of the bowl full…depends on the bowl and how thick/thin I want it).

I whisk it briskly, watching the water take on that beautiful emerald green hue and those creamy bubbles form on the top, feeling the texture and how much resisting energy there is. I tap my whisk on the bowl a couple times, rinse it under water and put it back on its ceramic stand to dry.

Then I hold the bowl up to my nose and breathe in deep, letting the fresh, grassy scent start to wake me up. I take a small sip to test, close my eyes and enjoy the flavor and the texture on my tongue, and set the bowl on the counter to wait, carrying it with me to sip on as I go through the rest of my morning routine.

The ritual part of that routine takes an incredibly small amount of time – only a couple of minutes before I’m forced to refocus on the routines that get me out the door (mostly) on time. But that few minutes makes all the difference in the world as to how my day starts and continues. It’s a quick but satisfying reset in the middle of my normal morning bustle. I perform this particular ritual every single weekday without fail – even Tuesdays when I’m in a bigger hurry than normal.

And that’s why breaking my one matcha bowl was such a huge deal to me – the incredibly rare times when I’ve run out of matcha powder have consisted of poor substitutes and serious angst on my part simply because I can’t recreate the actual “ritual” with anything else. Can I survive without it? Sure – absolutely. In time, I’d learn to live without it if I had to. Do I want to? Not if there’s any way on earth I can hang onto it.

As I mentioned earlier, I have lots of routines (I am 100 percent routine-driven), but very few actual rituals, and that’s because it’s very difficult for me to make time for such things. I have that little bit of time in the morning, and a tiny slice of time late at night…and sometimes, I don’t even get that depending on what the other “lifeforms” in my house are doing/needing/whatever. If I can’t keep a very rigid schedule, then I generally give up on elevating something from routine to ritual, because it’s frustrating and generally futile. In order to “care” and focus, I need the time and mental space to do so. Mental space and quiet are often harder to come by than time, just due to interruptions, unfortunately.

I think we as constantly busy people don’t make enough time for personal rituals. We’re forced by tradition or family or social mores to make time for social ritual, but taking/making time for personal ritual is too often seen as “selfish” or “introverted” (like that’s a bad thing…which it’s not), or a snub to others around us. Or it’s just not taken seriously, and we’re interrupted constantly, which keeps us from that deep focus and tactile/sensual attention (“mindfulness”, if you want to use a buzzword) that a ritual really requires.

Do you practice a particular ritual regularly? Something where the tools and environment matter, and it’s not just a rote routine? Do you find it difficult to maintain, or are you better at protecting yours than I am at protecting mine?


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Progress & Health Check

I think I’m probably the worst person in the world at following my own advice, which means I have to “check in” with myself often and sort of wag a finger in the mirror to set myself back on track. One of my biggest problems is being that person who gets so wrapped up in accomplishing a goal or fixing a problem that I let such things consume me, and pretty soon, I’m making excuses as to why I’m not taking care of myself anymore. From simple things like forgetting to brush my teeth, to willfully looking at the clock and thinking I can just work for “ten more minutes” instead of getting ready for bed, I am the ultimate self-saboteur. It’s not a healthy quality.

If this post isn’t done and schedule by 10 minutes to midnight, I have to wait until tomorrow, no ifs, ands or buts. Because after a good week/week and a half of ignoring my bedtime and other simple self-care to-dos, I need to make that sort of boring, mundane thing a priority again. *sigh*

It’s no fun. It’s annoying. I wish I could just work myself into the ground now, while I’m young-ish, and not have to worry about being cognitively sharp and physically healthy when I’m older, but that’s not who I am, so here we are, caught between a personal goal I want to accomplish, a work problem best worked on while the rest of the world sleeps, and not enough super-human strength to make either a priority for long. Dammit.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a priority of writing 500 words a day, no matter what, and before anything, including sleep. Honest-to-God, you’d think I put that out to the universe as a dare, because if I told you all the things that happened to derail/sabotage that goal (all out of my control), you wouldn’t believe me. It’s insane. But I can’t live like that, with all that angst and frustration over my daily word count that clearly isn’t meant to be. I hate that, because I want, more than anything, to write for an hour a day (even half an hour!). But man, I tell you what. It feels like an impossibility when every writing session feels doomed from the start.

In any case, this week’s priority is healthy habits, and those other two things when I can work them in without jeopardizing the whole healthy thing. I still want to write 500 words per day (1/2 hour), but if I can’t, I can’t. No stress, because stress is unhealthy, and we’re done with that, at least for a few weeks.

We pushed things way too hard this past weekend too, which is part of my weariness tonight (Monday around 11:30pm, for reference). Saturday we did yardwork, put up a new mailbox (which is now the prettiest, coolest on on the block, thankyouverymuch), and then went mattress comparison shopping (which is exactly as tiresome as it sounds, honestly).

Sunday, we got up late, drove out to get the mattress we’d decided on, brought it home, went bed frame shopping (we’ve just had a regular metal frame for eons…it was time for a nice wooden one), brought that home, hauled out the old, put together the new, and collapsed in another fit of weariness.

Monday (a holiday here in the States) I did the bare minimums for weekly housekeeping that I normally do on Sundays, and we had dinner with the BIL for his birthday. By that time, we were so worn out from running all weekend we were not very sociable company, I’m afraid.

We ate out once on Saturday and ordered in, then ate out again on Sunday and ate the leftover Chinese from Saturday, and then Monday ate out for BIL’s dinner. Way, way too much restaurant food, which didn’t help at all, even though it tasted good. My body is more than ready to get back to healthier, home-prepared meals without all that added salt and far lower carb counts.

And all throughout, I was monitoring my work problem, taking notes, finding patterns, making discoveries and trying new things to fix it (none of which worked) all while checking my email at intervals due to someone asking me to be available in case needed (special situation). I’m glad I did all that, because I have a good idea of where the problem is and what to work on next to fix it, but it did take a lot of time and energy that I don’t normally put into work stuff on the weekends.

It was a lot all in one fairly small time frame, and I may take Friday off this week just to sort of relax and recalibrate for a day. We’ll see. That would make an already short week even shorter, which isn’t always a good thing, but it may be exactly what I need to keep the mind and body both healthy. So, I’m keeping it as a possibility.

When was the last time you “checked in” with yourself, as far as health and self-care priorities go? Are you doing okay, or is it time to step back and revisit some of those goals you have/had to be healthier, no matter how small?


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On Food, Cooking, & Eating

No, I don’t have a menu plan drawn up yet this week, though I have the beginnings of one in my head, and by the time you read this, I might have actually committed it to “dry erase magnetic menu board”. It was another incredibly busy weekend (don’t see those ending until the snow flies again, honestly), and while I need to figure out how to make time for menu-ing, it hasn’t happened yet.

But I do make time for meal prep on Sundays – making things ahead of time to keep the freezer stocked with “homemade fast foods” and the fridge stocked with my weekday breakfasts (two hardboiled eggs and five prunes, eaten in the car on the way to work – yay fiber/protein rich finger food!). I try to stagger the larger freezer-stocking recipes so I don’t have to do so much all at once, but this past weekend, I needed to restock both oatmeal bars and burritos, and I found myself sort of grumbling under my breath about having to take the time and thinking about buying such things pre-made like we used to in order to save the time on Sundays.

I do that often – complain about the work I create for myself, that is. And then I remember why I do it, and shut up and get it done, thankful that I’m lucky enough to be able to make the time. Health and taste are almost always the reason I make something rather than buying it. I started making oatmeal bars at home because my husband (who isn’t even eating them at the moment) didn’t like the fiber bars we were buying because they tasted too much like coconut (and honestly, I wasn’t all that fond of them either). The burritos we used to buy came/come in beef or bean flavors, but not both together, which always annoyed me. And of course after reading the labels on both packages and finding a lot of stuff I’d rather not have in there for various reasons, I decided to make my own.

As I was standing there, rolling burritos with less filling than I personally would have liked but just enough to fill them without over-filling, I got to thinking about how every Monday I eat one of those burritos that look somewhat “scant” when I’m making them, and it’s plenty of calories to take me all the way to my 4:30pm oatmeal bar snack. I don’t feel hungry, and I don’t need more…it’s plenty, even though it *looks* like it won’t be enough.

Which made me think about how little we really *need* to eat for optimal health (not even just survival, which is less yet, but truly optimal weight and performance), and yet we so often blow right past that need just because…well, because it doesn’t look like much, for one thing, and for another, we have access to a lot of really good food, whether we buy it or make it. It’s *so* good that we don’t want to stop when we’ve had enough. Or even when we feel way too full. We still want more, and we often have it.

I love food, and I love to cook and bake. I love a lot of different tastes and textures and colors and scents, and affording them wasn’t always a luxury I had. When I was young, we were poor, and we ate a lot of antelope meat (couldn’t afford beef, and antelope was easier to find than deer when my dad went out hunting with my grandparents). I like deer quite a bit. Antelope, not so much. It’s often tough and “gamey” and the only real way to make it less so was to cook it with a lot of spices. By the time I hit high school, I’d perfected using just enough pepper and garlic to make an antelope steak taste like sausage. Ironically, I don’t get wild game anymore – hubby didn’t grow up on it, and as is pretty common, it’s too rich for his system.

I learned to cook pretty young, first helping my mom and grandma in the kitchen, and gradually doing more myself. My mom went back to work when I was 13-14 or so, and that year, it was my job to make dinner every night. We had a lot of Hamburger Helper (with wild game, of course), but I also went through my first recipe book as well as my mom and grandma’s old ones, and since we often didn’t have the ingredients needed for any given recipe (and couldn’t just go buy them), I learned early on how to experiment with substituting in pretty much every recipe.

To this day, even though I can afford the “proper” ingredients and have a very well-stocked pantry, it’s extraordinarily rare that I make it through a whole recipe without changing something, even if it’s just because I think it will taste better. More often, if I want to learn to cook something, I’ll go look up a bunch of different recipes and then make up my own version using a bit from this one and a bit from that, etc. Yes, even with baking, though I don’t do that too often any longer due to the carbs and calories involved.

Which brings me back to portion sizes, and health, and how little we need for optimal “performance”. I try to keep my portion sizes down, but man…it’s hard. Mostly because I love food, and love to cook, and the correct portion sizes for my body are really very small. The correct foods for my body don’t include carbs, but who doesn’t love a beautiful french bread for dipping, or corn chips for chili, or pasta here and there? It’s kind of a delicate balancing act, and one I’m still a long way from perfecting.

Even without carbs, it’s hard to get in all the fiber and veggies I need for one day. Fiber takes up a lot of calories, but thankfully veggies don’t. By the time I get in all the fiber, protein and good fats I need, I’m either right at or already over my calorie limit for the day. It’s crazy and fascinating all at once.

Obviously, exercise is something I need to do often (and I’m working on it), but so is cutting those portion sizes even smaller, and accepting the fact that I really don’t need nearly as much food as I’m taking in. Acknowledging that I eat too much, and I do so because I enjoy it, and the consequences of that is a less than optimal body.

I’m not judging anyone for the food choices they make, and I hope that’s not how this sounds. I’m completely focused on myself here, and what I need. Which is “less”. And my most recent food project is to do exactly that – eat less, and accept that I need less. Part of that is presentation – making “less” look nice with good presentation, and part of that is looking into smaller plates and such, so that “less” looks like more than it actually is. Mind games are sometimes handy.

I’ve lost about 2lbs in the last six weeks or so, which is slow going, but it’s going in the right direction, so I’m not complaining. Cutting portion sizes and lowering carbs way, way down has been very beneficial, and so has the weight training program I put myself on (not to mention all the concrete blocks I’m building garden walls with in the backyard). I’d like to lose about 15 more pounds, but I’d settle for 5-10. We’ll see how it goes over the next few months. This stupid over-forty metabolism is for the birds, I tell you what. But hopefully by Christmas I’ll have good news there, and also some smaller-portion meal examples to share.

And tonight, we’ll probably have fast food for dinner, because we have to go get another load of cement bricks for the back retaining wall. And I don’t cook when we have to go out and about right after work. Baby steps!

Do you like to cook? Love to eat? Tell me your favorite recipe (or three)!


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Vanity (Chair) Found

So. I bought another chair last week. I know, I know. But much like the rocking chair (which I’m still completely in love with, by the

The new vanity chair.

way), this was a very special case, and I got a really good deal on it. Considering chairs like this in good shape sell for hundreds of dollars, and I got mine for $28, I’m pretty happy with the purchase.

It’s not just an ordinary chair though – it’s a vanity chair, or vanity stool, if you will. For those not in the know, a vanity set or dressing table is a table with a mirror and a small chair, bench or stool where one sits to put on makeup and jewelry and do hair, etc.

I suppose a lot of women probably do those things in the bathroom these days, but I share a bathroom with my husband, and he’s generally showering when I’m doing my makeup, so my vanity set gets daily use. With my poor eyesight and the need to have my glasses off when putting moisturizer and makeup on, it’s easier not to have to lean over the bathroom counter to get closer to the mirror anyways (and the bright bathroom lights are counter-productive with my sensitive eyes) – so I use the dressing table even when the bathroom is free, and even when I’m just putting on moisturizer without makeup or whatever. I keep my deodorant there too, and if I wore perfume, it would be there as well.

Excuse the mess, please…I do use this every day!

The vanity set I have now was a hand-off from my sister, who decided she didn’t want it anymore years and years ago. I’m not overly fond of it (aside from it’s very handy functionality) – I tend to prefer darker woods to light, and more of an antique look than the modern. But, this was free, they aren’t generally cheap, and I’m not terribly picky when it comes to functional stuff. This one also fits nicely in the small space I have available for it.

But I’ve always wanted a nice, dark wood vanity with a huge mirror and several drawers on each side. Someday, I’ll come across just the perfect one at a reasonable price, and I can almost guarantee that even if by some miracle the mirror is still intact, the one thing it won’t have is…a chair/stool. It’s pretty rare that I see an antique vanity with a chair or stool – most have been lost to time along the way. And vanity chairs are…well, considered a “luxury”, and they’re priced accordingly.

So when I saw the red chair sitting on the sidewalk in front of the thrift shop just around the corner from my favorite pizza place last week (yes, I was getting pizza – it was a Thursday), I went right in and asked how much. The condition of the upholstery isn’t great, so I went home and thought about it. The frayed out fabric spoke to me, gave me a semi-creepy plot point that may or may not turn into…something, eventually.

I went back to the thrift shop on my lunch break and bought it.

I’ll probably need to make or get a cover for it at some point – either that, or have it re-upholstered. But for now, I’m going to enjoy it as it is, maybe as a seat to go in front of my sewing machine (should I ever get that put back together), or even a fancy footstool for the bookshelves in my office.

Someday though, hopefully it will fulfill its destiny as a vanity chair again, in front of a gorgeous dark dressing table with a huge mirror and generous drawers. Time will tell, I suppose. A friend and I are going to a flea market at an antique mall this coming Saturday…

Of Wheels & Motion & Things That Go Round

I’ve had wheels on the brain a lot lately. The back tire of my bicycle, specifically, that needs a little pump-up before I can continue the journey I half-started last year of reacquainting myself with bike-riding after falling off my skinny-tire ten-speed as a teen. I left those two wheels behind soon after for four wheels and an engine.

I loved that bike. It was a gunpowder blue and had black curly handlebars that made me feel “like, so adult” when I cruised downtown to work and back or to the park to hangout with friends. I saved up for it, bought it myself, and went all over on it for several summers back when I was in lifeguard-shape, often sitting up and riding “no-hands” because that’s what all the cool-kids did.

Understand, I was not a cool kid. I just wanted to be one.

I also hated backpacks back then (still don’t care much for ’em, honestly). So I carried a bag over one shoulder. Not cross-body, because…I never have understood how people can do that comfortably, but just slung over one shoulder with a wide, preferably padded strap.

When you have skinny tires and gravel on the road and you think you’re so cool you can adjust the strap of a bag heavy with wet towels while balancing on a bike…well, gravity has a way of keeping you humble. Half a mile from home I found myself tangled up in my bike and bag on the street, and unable to use my right wrist for anything, including balancing said bag or getting back on my bike. I tried.

I walked the bike home (no cell phones back then, we just…dealt with stuff), told my mom I’d fallen and couldn’t move my wrist. My mom’s a practical, resourceful sort who doesn’t tend to panic (thank goodness), and she splinted my wrist with a wooden spoon and towel and off to the hospital we went. After she finished what she’d been in the middle of, of course.

Several hours later, I came out with a bright purple cast that started at the very tip of my upturned thumb, and covered not only my wrist and forearm, but also a few inches above my bent elbow. I could not unbend my arm, or twist my wrist. It was nearly impossible to deal with my waist-length hair, and I had to write with my left hand because you can’t really grip a pen without your thumb.

As it turns out, I’d broken the bone at the bottom of your thumb, shattered the back of my hand and put hairline fractures up into my wrist. To this day, I feel the weather in that hand/arm, and the doc said it was going to be like that forever.

Eight weeks I was in that huge, unweildy cast, and then a smaller one that allowed movement of my thumb and ended just below my elbow for another four. Three months in a cast will atrophy some muscles, I tell you what, and it took awhile and some really annoying stretching/lifting to get the movement and strength back in that arm/hand.

The itching. OMG…the itching!

By the time it was healed up, it was the dead of winter and my bike was safely in the garage while I took driver’s ed that following spring. I may have ridden it a couple of times the following summer just for kicks, but cars were cooler

Last May was the first time I’d been back on a bicycle since. And when I stood in the parking lot of the local bike shop and prepared to push off, I really wasn’t sure I’d remember how to ride a bike, much less keep my balance. But as everyone says, muscle memory took over, and I was fine.

The road bike I bought that day (there’s a pic of it here somewhere – probably last May’s blog posts) is mint green and white, and the frame and tires are at least twice the size of that old 10 speed. It’s stable and strong and comfortable to ride for the most part, though I wouldn’t say no to more seat padding. I’ve been itching to get back on it this spring, and start cruisin’ around the neighborhood, building up those leg muscles again, not to mention some stamina.

Yesterday was payday, and after I got home, I went on a bike-accessory shopping spree (gotta love Amazon). By Thursday, I’ll have a new basket for the front, a new big tire pump with a pressure gauge attached, a mini-tire pump that attaches to the frame, some patches, a bike-specific multi-tool and front and rear USB rechargeable lights. Weather-willing, this weekend I’ll be cruisin’ around town, making my legs and heart actually work in a way they haven’t for quite a long while. It’ll be fun.

My plan is to incorporate a good bike ride 2-3 times per week. Good for metabolism and muscle, good for clearing the head and just getting out for a bit after the nightly dog walk. Maybe a good way to run small errands on the weekend too, depending on where I need to go.

If that goes well, who knows what’s next? I have been thinking it would be fun to have a pair of roller skates again (not inline, just regular quad skates)…hmm.


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The Chair, Assigning Value, & Fear

The Thinking Chair

I’m a member of the local online rummage sale group on Facebook, which is a great way to get rid of unwanted stuff in a hurry, but it’s also a great way to find/buy stuff you never knew you needed (and really, you don’t). Like the old Red Robin booth I got for my writing desk. And the old fabric and wood rocking chair I bought this past weekend. I didn’t/don’t need it, had to rearrange a bit to make room for it, it doesn’t match the rest of our furniture or the decor, and according to hubby, I don’t look like I “fit” it when I sit in it. Apparently tattoos, a cap, and a superhero shirt clash with beautifully carved thick wood and faded tapestry fabric. Who knew?

Whatever. My personal style may not match the chair, and the chair may not match the rest of the house (though it does blend well with the tapestry and wood dining room chair that it’s close to, and the antique sewing machine behind it that I still haven’t put back together), but I love it. I love just looking at it – it’s calming and reminiscent of past lives and lifestyles that I sometimes wish we could incorporate into today’s world, even if just in a small way. It’s not the kind of chair you’d spend hours in…it’s comfortable, but not plush. But it’s the kind of chair you could sit in when you need to noodle something out, or deal with something that’s been on your mind, maybe with a crochet hook or knitting needles in hand.

I have a wingback recliner in the office that I use as a reading/writing chair. I think I’ll dub this new rocking chair the “thinking chair”.

The Reading Chair

And perhaps look for a small, tapestry-covered footstool to go in front of it since I can rarely reach the ground to rock when I’m in a rocking chair (relatively short legs, I guess).

I’ve been thinking a lot about value lately, and how we assign value to things – including how much we’re willing to pay for something. A week ago, I was raising the price of my alter-ego’s new book to “normal retail” online, and I decided to raise the prices on all of my other books too. Previously, I’d priced books by what I thought they’d sell for – the value I expected others would put on them. I determined that almost exclusively by page count/length, and genre. I was trying to get them to sell based on price alone, and sales generally trickle at those prices for me.

Here’s the thing. It takes a lot of time for me to get a book written – even a short one, and even more time to edit, check the formatting, write the blurbs and create the covers. It takes money to get the formatting done (I’ll probably go back to formatting the digital versions myself…more time!), and money to buy cover art images. And even pricing for the lowest-spending reader, I still get only a handful (sometimes not even that many) of sales in a month.

Does this mean I’m not a stellar writer? Possibly (I’m certainly not a “bad” one, considering some of the incredibly/inexplicably popular messses out there for sale). Does it mean I’m not good at marketing? Absolutely. Does it mean that my admittedly possibly mediocre books should be priced at bargain basement?

No. No it does not. $3 is nothing for a story, even a short one. Some people spend more than that on coffee in the morning or lunch during the work day. I spent just shy of that on a cup of tea at the bookstore last night. $3 for all the hours and work I put into that story is a pittance. And if people won’t pay that for one of my short stories (and $4-5 for a longer novel), then I’m really not doing a very good job with either writing or promoting them, and don’t deserve the sale.

With that in mind, I raised all my prices. And sales went flat. And that’s okay. It is what it is, but I’m done with bargain-basement pricing. I’m assigning more value to my work, and my time, and readers can decide whether it’s worth that to them or not, but at least I feel like I’ve shown some confidence in my abilities, and that I’m not undervaluing what I do (or try to do, anyways).

I am going to be going through and redoing cover art and blurbs on some older books, to bring them up to date. And I’ll be working on some promotional things as well, just to draw attention to them and let people know what I have available. I have one book I’ll be going back through and re-editing too, but that won’t be a normal thing. most of my books are already well-edited, this particular one sort of slipped through the cracks and it won’t take me long to fix the minor nits within.

So, I’m assigning more value to my work, and whether it deserves that valuation or not will depend on each individual reader. And my mission/goal is to make sure that what I put out is worthy, in my own eyes, of the value I assign to it. Fair enough, I think.

As far as that whole promotion thing goes, I need to be more “forward” (aggressive?) about letting people know that I write. I don’t know why it’s such a difficult thing, but somehow, it seems stranger and uncomfortable to talk about being a writer (and even openly acknowledge it) locally than it does to say I’m a database administrator for the county. Probably because I make a good wage as a DBA, and there are measurable activities that tell me I’m fairly decent at my day job. But because I make very little money as a writer, and that’s really the only measurement I have for that particular “job”, it’s harder to acknowledge/admit to. I feel like people will think I’m a fraud, or a “wannabe” writer (even though I’ve published around 40 books now…it’s only the ones people have heard of that matter).

And we all get annoyed by those people who claim to be writers and never write or publish anything, don’t we? Even though I have written and published quite a few books, a lot are under pen names, and none are popular, so I feel like I come off like the wannabe, even though I do actually write and publish (okay, so I took a couple years off, but I just published two stories this year, and I’m working on a couple more). Gotta love “imposter syndrome”, eh?

In any case, I went to the annual shareholders meeting for our local bookstore co-op last night, and beforehand hubby was looking at the site and asking why my name wasn’t on the author/shareholder page. My answer was that I guess they overlooked me, or that I haven’t really pursued getting my books in the store yet (I don’t currently have any that meet their “criteria”), but really, it’s probably just because I haven’t emailed them and said, “Hey, I’m an author/shareholder – would you add me to the list, please?” Because it’s probably just that easy. And I’m just…not that forward. But there’s no reason not to be.

Aside from fear.

Fear is why I priced my books so low to begin with – I was afraid no one would see the value in them and pay a higher price. Fear is why I don’t talk about being a writer with people I know personally – because I’m afraid of all the negative connotations that might bring, and also the “oh, I’ll read your book” or “I’m reading your book this weekend” statements that never result in feedback.

Incidentally, if you’re going to read my book(s), be kind. Don’t tell me you’re going to. Just do, and then if you liked it, tell me (or just leave a review wherever you got it). If you didn’t like it, we’ll both be happier (and things will be less awkward) if I don’t even know you read it.

But seriously. I’m more afraid of what people will think if they know I’m an author than what they think when they see my tattoos. Even I know that’s seriously messed up and backwards. Especially when I’ve devoted an entire arm to tough, resilient animal tattoos reminding me to be bold and strong and fearless. I really need to work on taking my own advice.

And yes, I got the bookstore manager’s card, and will follow up with that whole “will you add me to the author page, please?” thing. And getting my books into the store.

Do you have a “thinking” chair? What are you afraid of? Post a comment – as Red Green says, “We’re all in this together!”


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Beauty, Patience, & Dog Food

This past weekend as I was working in the yard and exposing my oh-so-pasty legs to the sun for the first time since last summer, I thought about beauty, and the patience it often requires. Effort too, to a certain extent, but while I trimmed the rose bushes and maple saplings and cleared away last year’s weeds, it occurred to me that while in that moment it felt like a lot of effort to facilitate growth and eventual beauty, the effort on my part wasn’t actually necessary.

The thing is, despite the dead leaves and weeds and dead grasses, the roses were budding out (and in one case, growing new canes under the weeds), the trees were budding out, and geraniums were pushing up through the dead leaves. Nature really does “find a way”, no matter what we do for (or to) it. And even weeds can be beautiful if we’re not trying to keep them from strangling our favorite “domestic” plant or tree.

Beauty is a very subjective thing, of course. We used to have an apple tree in the backyard that I absolutely adored. Every spring, it would bloom with these huge clusters of single pink flowers that filled the yard with a divine scent – especially at night. It provided shade and privacy for the yard, and the apples it produced were small and tart and perfect for just eating or making all sorts of fun treats with. I found great joy in just watching the flowers in spring, picking the apples in the fall, and having shade from the hot afternoon sun.

My husband, on the other hand, hated that tree. The sprawling branches that I found intriguing and interesting just got in his way while he was trying to mow, the fallen apples made a mess all over the lawn and attracted yellow jackets, and the leaves were just one more thing that had to be cleaned up in the fall (along with any leftover apples).

Needless to say, the tree needed to be trimmed, and when we decided to replace the back fence it was growing by, hubby happily said the tree had to go. They could have worked around it, I think, but I knew hubby would never be happy with that tree in the yard, so I agreed to let it go.

Yes, I miss it. One day hopefully our maple trees will be as tall and provide their own kind of beauty to the back yard (without annoying the hubby). Will we put effort into supporting them with water and nutrients and pruning? Absolutely. But they’re tough, and I’m fairly certain that without any interference from us, they’d still leaf out and be beautiful every summer. It’s just the destiny of a tree. Or a rose bush, as it were.

In other, completely different news, I’m on the hunt for new dog food again. For the second time, a favorite dog food brand made in Canada has set up a plant somewhere in the southern US, and I hate to say this, but even though the ingredients list doesn’t change, the quality of the food goes way, way down when that happens. Murphy and Mica are both having problems with the food they’ve been on for several years now, so it’s time to find new foods for them both.

This sounds like it should be an easy task, but my dogs are never *that* easy. Murphy needs fish, and lots of it for the anti-inflammatory properties of the omega-3 oils. Too little omega-3’s, and he’s gimping around like he’s 80yrs old, due to the self-inflicted damage and resulting arthritis on his right front foreleg. Good omega-3’s, and he’s hopping around like a puppy. Magic.

Yes, we can supplement, but it’s a tough balance without a predominantly fish-based food to start with (too much fat alone is just as bad as not enough). There are few foods out there based solely on fish, and none raw that I could tell, so we’re going to try a dehydrated human-grade food instead. Hopefully that will work, otherwise it’ll be back to reading a million dog food labels again. Oh goodie! Said no one ever.

I’m going to try a dehydrated food for Mica too, though he’s hard to find food for too, because he’s allergic to pretty much any grain and…yes, he’s allergic to fish, too. Trying to find a kibble without added fish oil is next to impossible. The food he’s on right now used to be fish-free, but they added herring oil awhile back. He can tolerate it, but it’s pretty obviously not optimal for him. He’s an odd dog in that he doesn’t do well with raw feeding either (tried that back when I was making Lucy’s food from scratch), so raw is out too. I’ve considered cooking for him, but it’s a big time commitment (which is why I stopped making raw food…though I regret that, which is another story for another time).

I have to order the fish-based food in specially…our local pet shop carries The Honest Kitchen dehydrated line, but not that particular food. She’ll order it if I ask her too, but I want to have Murphy try it first, to make sure he’ll do okay with it. I got a box of a limited beef-based/grain free version for Mica to try, and gave some to both dogs last night with no ill effects, so I’m optimistic, but you just never know.

It’s expensive, but health always is, it seems. I haven’t always been able to afford specialized diets, and I did the best I could (especially with Lucy’s very specialized needs). That’s all any of us can really do. But I do feel like I need to make the best choice I can at the time, which generally involves a lot of label-reading and googling and gnashing of teeth until I find something that “might” work. And then there’s testing, and trying again, and maybe trying something different….

Crazy process, that, but if I’m patient *and* put in a lot of effort, I should be rewarded with beautiful dogs in good health for however many years they have left (too few, at this point).

Except they’re already beautiful, without any effort *or* patience on my part. Which is exactly as it should be.

What kind of beauty have you noticed recently? Did you put any effort into it, or was it just…there?

Recalibration, Spring, and Dreaming

I don’t know if this works the same way for everyone, but every time I make a plan, I end up being surprised at how much longer things take than I expect them to. Occasionally I’m surprised the other way, but for the most part, I think I’ll be able to fit more in than I actually am. Which is why I’m constantly recalibrating.

It’s kind of annoying, honestly.

Of course there are always those tasks that take longer initially, and then I get more efficient the more I do them, so I can shave the time down some. And I hate to say it (because I hate sounding like a whiner), but a lot of the time my “allotted time” gets encroached on either by my own laziness, or the dogs, or other humans/plans going on around me that I have to be flexible for. That annoys me too – mostly when I have a nice routine going and finally have all the things in a time slot perfected to fit there, and then…the routine has to change. And that just blows my fragile little mind for some reason. I don’t know why I can’t just adjust and recalibrate to keep moving forward “on the fly” so to speak, but I can’t. My mind needs time to process the new order of things, and re-do my routines, and then settle in again and then…usually something happens to change it again.

I wish magnesium (or any of the other supplements I take or could take) would fix that too, but unfortunately, it’s more a personality trait than a physical thing. There isn’t any “fix” for personality quirks.

So then I try to “proof” my routines by building in extra time, and that never really works either, so…I just muddle through knowing that I could be so much more productive than I actually am if only I could get into a daily routine and not have anyone change it on me for a good solid six months or more.

Yes, I know. That sounds horribly boring to most of you, but it’s heaven to me (and others like me).

In any case, I don’t have a “meal budget” this week due to routines being thrown out of whack this past weekend, I let my workouts get sidelined for most of last week, and I had to spend “business hours” (ie, 10:45pm – 11:45pm) working on the new book cover/uploading instead of the tasks I wanted to, because time is finite and that had to be done on deadline. I’m trying to just roll with it. I got a quick workout in last night, I’ll try to do a menu plan tonight and I started getting back on track with the business plan last night since the book is all done/uploaded/ready to go, but it still niggles in my head that I lost all that time.

In other news, the garden is waking up, and I love going around and checking out which plants have buds on them, what made it, what didn’t, and seeing all the potential for the beauty that is to come. Both of our maple trees have buds (thought we lost the little one!), all of my rose bushes have green on the lower canes and buds on the stems, and a couple rhubarb plants that I thought for sure were goners because I left them in a big pot on the patio last year are coming up as if winter never happened, which is pretty amazing for our climate (things don’t tend to overwinter well…or at all, in pots here). I’m getting the itch to go out with a rake and clean things up, and then get started on all the “beautification plans” we have for this year. Even if we only get a fraction done, it’s going to look so much better and be so much nicer than it is now…I can’t wait to see what it looks like by the end of summer.

We went out looking for a mailbox last Saturday, but not just any mailbox. We wanted a large, nice-looking, sturdy metal mailbox, with some decorative elements to it (ie, not a big box store “box”, so to speak), so we drove out to a specialty shop on the frontage road. Unfortunately, said shop has closed up business and is waiting for liquidation auction scheduled for early May. We decided to wait and we might go out to the auction and see if we can get a nice mailbox and a patio set, if there are any up for grabs. It’s really too bad we didn’t go sooner. But who knew they’d go out of business? It happens so fast, and always makes me wonder what happened.

The other thing that made me wonder recently was running over two things as I was pulling into my parking spot for work yesterday morning: a nail brush attached to a lid, and a polish bottle. The lid/brush actually fared far better than the bottle, so I can tell you the polish was black.

Things that make you go “hmmm….”

 

Full Speed Ahead & Business Planning

The thing about newly (re)discovered skills is, there’s a certain amount of excitement in seeing just how far you can take them. The whole budgeting thing (and subsequent successes) have reawakened my love of building plans and organizing routines to help execute those plans, which is what I spent some time on last week.

My side-business, Brazen Snake Books (BSB), needs to make money. Or more than it does now, anyways. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and how I could best spend my limited free time making that happen (without burning out/going nutso). There has to be a balance of producing new books and keeping the names producing those books visible, so I took a couple of hours last week and broke down some things I need/want to do in order to refresh old work and make it more visible/attractive, and also all of the tasks I need to do just to keep things churning business-wise. I went through and rearranged my before & after work schedules, and my late night free time to accommodate those tasks in the most logical and efficient way I could think of, and I built in some time for education and motivation too – at the beginning of the week when I need it most.

I made sure to leave enough time for writing – without new books, none of the rest really matters. And I took some time to think about what kind of books I want to write too, and which alter-egos/genres I want to focus on building. Those aren’t really market-driven…in fact, the main ones I want to focus on are the ones least likely to sell, so I’m making things hard on myself there, but I need to enjoy writing or there’s no point. So the trick will be making those not-so-great selling genres at least sell “enough”, to break even. Though I do have a few stories in the works for a more saleable genre as well.

I feel like I have a solid plan now, which is a good thing, and I’m starting to implement it this week. Adjustments will need to be made, of course, but I feel good about the overall outlook.

Now I need to email the city and throw myself on their mercy for letting my business license lapse several years ago. We’ll see what kind of fines they stick me with. Maybe it’ll help that I haven’t been making (or claiming, for that matter) any huge profits. We’ll see, I suppose.

So…budgeting: check. Meal “budgeting”: check. Business planning/organization: check. If I could just carry all of this over into the yard and gardens this summer, that would be awesome. Though I do tend to lose motivation to work outside very quickly when it’s hot.

Part of this week’s activities include finishing up the front cover wrap for the new release I have coming out on the 20th. It’s a kids book, which is so far out of my comfort zone to write it’s not even funny, but I decided to release it anyways just because I find myself wanting to write the rest of the stories in the series and see how it eventually ends up. I’m releasing it under a new alter-ego, Marie Yoch, and I spent most of last weekend putting up pre-orders for the book and an online presence for her (still not completely happy with the web site template and that banner is way, way too big! But it’ll have to do for now – marieyoch.com). I should get the formatted print file back later this week, and then I’ll need to upload it to CreateSpace so it will hopefully be available on the 20th as well.

It’s gonna be a busy week, but satisfying too, I think.

Oh, and did I mention over here that April is National Poetry month? I can’t remember, but if you’re interested, I’m reading a poem a week, and posting a short analysis of it on the BSB blog. If you read a poem and mention it and the author in the comments over there, you can request one BSB book for free. Join us, if you’re so inclined!