Thursday, August 11, 2011

More Coupon Craziness

Yet another couponer who has taken it way too far.

Coupon junkie busted stealing precious newspapers
12:40 pm August 11, 2011, by George Mathis

"An Arkansas woman’s penny-pinching ways may cost her. “Extreme couponer” Jamie VanSicker, whose last name is not made up, failed to pay for more than 180 newspapers she grabbed from various racks, police say."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

GNC Total Lean Transformation – Week 2

Day 8

Goodness gracious. The way my weight yo-yos is so annoying. I was back up to 153 this morning. It may be due to hormones since I’m ovulating. Who knows. I drank my first shake and took the AM Pak after my workout this morning instead of before. Breakfast was one of my concoctions. I had a leftover banana that was getting really mushy so I put it in a bowl, added 1/3 c. of old-fashioned oats, and then put ½ c. plain yogurt over that. I let it sit in the fridge overnight so the yogurt softened the oatmeal. When it’s ready to eat, I add about 20 drops of stevia and stir it all together mashing the bananas. I’ve also made this using cantaloupe and apples. On occasion, I’ll add wheat germ, ground flaxseed, and/or a tablespoon of raisins. It’s a quick, easy, yummy breakfast. Lunch was a homemade turkey burger on a whole wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, and a little mayo. Dinner was the last of my balsamic chicken with sweet potato, and broccoli. Snacks were a boiled egg, apple, and a second Lean shake. My workout today was the Firm Vol. 1.

Day 9
No weight change again today. I had a major case of the lazies this morning and could not get myself out of bed to exercise. Breakfast was 2 eggs scrambled with broccoli, spinach, onion, and tomato followed by the AM Pak. I was traveling for work today and was surprised that I did not get hungry in about 2 hours like I normally do. I drank my first Lean shake at around 11 am. My coworkers and I went to Panera Bread for lunch. I did my best and ended up getting the half Roast Beef sandwich with a cup of French onion soup and an apple. I love French onion soup mainly for the cheese. Luckily, they didn’t put a lot of cheese in it or else I would have been in trouble. I ate ¼ c. mixed nuts and an apple for my afternoon snack. I was supposed to work out when I got home but ended up cooking instead. I made a big pot of beef stew, brown rice, and Rachel Ray’s Mac and Cheese Dog Casserole. I think she is one of the most annoying people in the world but she has some pretty good recipes. I did not eat dinner or drink the second shake since I tasted my food while I was cooking.

Day 10
Arrgh! No weight change today either. Today should be the end of ovulation so I am trying to hang in there. GNC recommends that you follow the plan for 12 weeks. If I decide to do that, I don’t suspect that next week will be any better. The past 3 days have confirmed what I’ve suspected for some time now - that I only have a two-week window to lose weight every month. The week of my period and the week after. Once I start ovulating, I’m pretty much stuck at that weight and can expect to gain another pound or two until my period starts. Don’t get me started on the bloating and irritability. It’s very frustrating. I had another case of the lazies this morning but worked out in the gym at work. Since I woke up so late, I did not have time to fix breakfast. So breakfast was one of my no-nos, just a Lean shake and the AM Pak. Lunch was a turkey burger from the cafeteria. I did manage to throw a ½ cup grapes, ¼ cup nuts, and an apple into my lunch bag for snacks today.

Day 11
No weight change this morning. Usually by now, I would've thrown up my hands and given up but I am determined to finally get this weight off. Today, I went to Country’s BBQ for lunch with some of coworkers and in anticipation of the limited healthy options, I only had a Lean shake and the AM Pak for breakfast. At lunch, I got the Backfire Wings minus the sauce. When they arrived, I was relieved to see that they weren’t breaded.I didn’t drink the afternoon shake or take the PM Pak today. I just ate my usual snacks - grapes, nuts, apples and ate 1 cup beef stew with 1 cup broccoli for dinner.

Day 12
Finally some movement! I was down to 151.5 this morning. I am keeping my fingers crossed that my PMS won’t wreak havoc with my weight next week. I don’t plan to have any shakes today either. I think if I just cut out the shakes, I’d be in the calorie range I need to lose more weight. I had egg salad on an English muffin for breakfast with some coffee. Lunch was a flatbread pizza with grilled chicken, spinach, and mushrooms. Dinner was the same as yesterday. Snacks were nuts, an apple, and 1 c. watermelon. I’m hoping, I can stick to around 1300 calories for the next two days and see where it gets me.

Day 13 to 14
I tried my best to stay on plan over the weekend. I had another work event on Saturday and drank a chocolate Lean shake on the way there. The event lasted about 3 to 4 hours. I was able to ignore the cookies and donuts and ate fruit and nuts only. I also went to Ruby Tuesday for dinner and ended up getting the chicken wings with no sauce and the roasted spaghetti squash as a side. They have got to come up with a way to dress that squash up. It was seriously dry and bland. My final weight was 151. So, a measly 4 pounds lost over a two-week, mostly hungry period. Not impressed.

Monday, August 01, 2011

GNC Total Lean Transformation – Week 1

I don’t believe that diet supplements work but I need help. I have been struggling with my weight for far too long and I’m tired and desperate. I eat well most of the time but I lose weight so slowly that it’s hard to stay motivated. I’m almost 40 and I have a cruise coming up later this year. I refuse to go on my vacation feeling fat and unattractive. I also refuse to go into my 40s with this weight struggle.

After reading the reviews online, I decided to try GNC’s Lean Transformation system to help jumpstart my weight loss. My goal is to lose at least 7 pounds at the end of the two weeks. For about $50, it doesn’t come with much – 28 packets of GNC’s Lean Shake, 28 supplement packs – one for morning and one for evening, and a diet guide with a 14 day meal plan.

Lean Shake

There are 14 packets of chocolate and 14 packets of vanilla shake mix in the box. The shakes don’t taste bad but have a noticeable chalkiness to them. Oddly enough, the vanilla tastes better than the chocolate to me. I’m a little disappointed that each shake only had 9 grams of protein but GNC touts it as “filling”. They base this claim on the fact that it’s an oat-based shake so the higher fiber content will help you feel full longer. I think it’s well established that protein is more satisfying and thus keeps you fuller longer.

Supplements

The supplements are individually portioned in “AM” and “PM” paks. The morning pack has 5 supplements total, 2 GNC Burn 60 tablets, 2 CLA softgel capsules, and a small chromium tablet. The evening pack is a bit harder for me to swallow – literally. It has two large white tablets that they refer to as a “restoration blend” and 3 softgel CLA capsules. If nothing else, the sheer size of the pills means I’ll have to drink lots of water to wash them down.

Meal Plan

The meal plan is usually the sticking point with me on most diets and GNC’s Total Body Transformation System’s Meal Plan is no exception. It’s supposedly based on a 1500 calorie diet but, like most diets, there’s very little to it. There are a few days where the Lean shakes are given as options for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. No thanks. I also have a problem with so many days of lunch being in a wrap. If it’s a burrito or enchilada, I’m all over it, but I really don’t like sandwich wraps.

Since the AM Pak is listed with breakfast, the meal plan also seems to presuppose that you exercise after eating breakfast. Maybe most people do, but I don’t. I work out first thing in the morning and eat breakfast when I get to work. The Burn 60 description says “Burn 60 is a powerful thermogenic formula clinically proven to increase calorie burning by up to 60% for up to one hour after a workout.” I get to work about 90 minutes after I work out so this says to me that I should take the AM Pak before I work out or shortly after. There is also lots of variety in the meal plans which usually spells disaster for me. I much prefer to eat the same things for at least one or two meal a day. Too many options and I get overwhelmed. Despite my issues with the plan, I am happy to see that they’ve included a note that comparable substitutions can be made.

Week 1 Observations
Day 1
I started the day at 6 am with an AM Pak and a chocolate Lean shake followed by my workout, Firm Vol. 1. The meal plan doesn’t tell you what to mix the shake with but any shake mixed with just water is a no-no for me. I made mine with 4 oz. 1% milk and 4 oz. water. I had already mixed and matched some of their meals to suit my tastes so I prepared 2 eggs scrambled with 1 pat butter (the meal plan calls for “butter spread” but butter is a superior food to its artificial substitutes) broccoli, spinach, onion, pepper, and tomatoes to take with me for breakfast. I made a vanilla Lean shake for my afternoon snack and packed it in my lunch bag with baby carrots and an apple for my other snacks.

My plan for lunch was to get a turkey burger from the cafeteria. While driving into work, I realized I forgot to weigh myself to get a start weight. I ate breakfast when my stomach started grumbling around 9:00 a.m. I was starving again by 11:00 but since I already had my shake, there was no morning snack. I hung in there until noon and devoured my turkey burger. For some reason, I started feeling light-headed around 2:00. So, I drank the shake and munched on carrots and an apple for the rest of the afternoon.

I was hungry when I got home but not starving. I stopped at the grocery store to get more milk, ground turkey, and more fruits and veggies. I made dinner for the week when I got home. I baked a few chicken breasts and made Savory Balsamic Chicken with the rest. I also made my own turkey burgers so the cafeteria wouldn’t bleed my bank account over the next two weeks. Dinner was ½ cup brown rice, 1 c. steamed broccoli seasoned with Mrs. Dash, and ½ Balsamic Chicken Breast. I took the PM Pak right after and that was it for the day.

Day 2
Pretty much the same as day 1. I started the morning with AM Pak and a vanilla shake, ate the same breakfast and had one of my homemade turkey burgers on a whole wheat bun for lunch. The afternoons are a struggle but I try not to focus on how empty I feel. It’s bearable because I’m hungry but not starving. Drinking hot tea also helps. My toddler did not sleep well so I ended up working out when I got home after eating first - 2 Exercise TV workouts Paul Katami’s Total Band workout, and Marco Reed’s Circuit Training workout. I remembered to weigh myself today. Not pretty.

Day 3
I started the day with an AM Pak and a chocolate shake followed by my Firm Vol. 4 workout. I also had a different breakfast today. One of the meal plan breakfasts calls for ½ whole wheat English muffin with 1 tablespoon light butter spread and 2 hard-boiled eggs. I used the two boiled eggs to make an egg salad using 1 Tablespoon light mayo instead of butter spread. I also added a slice of tomato. I just spread the dry but still delicious egg salad on top of the English muffin half for a quick easy breakfast.

Lunch was a real test. I went out for a preplanned lunch with my coworkers. I think I did OK. I got a turkey sandwich with mustard, lettuce, tomato, and a cup of fresh fruit instead of chips. I only ate half the sandwich. The restaurant was nice enough to bring everyone a slice of cake on the house but I did not eat it. I didn’t really feel hungry today like I have the past two days so I hope that sandwich did not derail me. I know from history that when I actually feel satisfied, it’s pretty much assured that I’m not going to lose any weight. I may cut back on dinner depending on how I feel.

Day 4
I’m down to 153.5 (a pound and half from Day 2 weigh-in) this morning so I guess yesterday’s lunch wasn’t so bad after all. I woke up with a really stiff neck and ended up doing Yoga Zone Intro to Power Yoga instead of my scheduled cardio. The meal plan for today was the same as yesterday except I ate the 3 oz. of tuna salad (with light mayo) on a whole wheat bun option for lunch. I’m writing this at 2:00 and I’m starving. I’m afraid to drink my shake now because that is it until dinner. Ugh. I have a work function tonight that I’m going to have to get out of since it involves pizza.

Day 5
I decided to go to my work function last night but did not eat the pizza. Yay me! Down to 153 today. I was not as hungry today as I was earlier in the week. Maybe my body is adjusting to eating less.

Day 6 and 7
I’m combining these two days since it’s the weekend and I’m not really on a routine. I drank the two shakes and took the AM & PM paks at the usual times. Although, we were on the go most of the weekend, I managed to eat according to the plan. I did eat two of my mother-in-law’s awesome fried corn cakes for breakfast on Sunday though. The rest of the day I stuck to the meal plan. I was down to 152.5 today. That’s 2.5 pounds lost since Day 2. I don’t consider that the best progress but it’s better than nothing I guess.

So far, I’m not seeing anything remarkable about the GNC plan. I honestly think I could lose the same amount of weight in a week by just following any 1500 calorie meal plan. Then again, I have proven to myself over and over again that I just don’t lose weight quickly at 1500 calories. That’s more my maintenance calorie range than weight loss calorie range. I lose best in the 1200 to 1300 calorie range but I am just too hungry eating at those levels to stick with it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Millionaire Manual Step 5 - Invest in Yourself

In a previous blog post, I talked about the Millionaire Manual and committed to getting a few more steps completed. Step 5 is about investing in yourself through educational books, seminars, and courses. The section has two questions and a space to write action items. Here goes:

What investment in yourself are you planning this year?

I've really thought about this long and hard and I really don't want to start over in my career. I've identified that I like doing work that involves organizational development and business operations and process improvement. I need to identify the areas within my company that do that kind of work and strive to get there. I may go back to college for a Masters after I've had a few years of doing this kind of specialized work. For right now, I think the best way to invest in myself and advance my career is to start working on earning a process improvement or organizational development certification such as Six Sigma.

Does your employer have a tuition reimbursement plan?

Yes, but it is severely limiting. They only pay for attending certain local colleges, none of which I have any interest in attending. This is not an option for me at the moment.

Action Items:

  • Narrow down my interest in organizational development into more specific areas.
  • Research quality but afforable six sigma or organizational development certifications.
  • Start the process of earning the certifications
  • Sign up for a non-fiction writing course.

My target completion date for these tasks is the end of the year.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Potty Training Update - Week 2 to Week 6

The second week arrived and we again went back to the morning and evening "potty time" ritual. As soon as he wakes up in the morning, I give him a few minutes to get somewhat awake and then I remove his diaper and sit him on the potty. Since, I'm usually pressed for time, I'm usually in the shower or putting on my makeup while he sits on the potty in the mornings. This week, I decided to start going to the potty with him. While he's sitting on his potty, I'm sitting on the toilet. Some mornings, I even resorted to holding it so that we could do it together. Of course, he thinks the sound of me peeing is pretty funny. But, by midweek, he is peeing in the potty in the morning too. So, we've made some big steps so far. The first big step was that he actually started enjoying sitting on the potty and stopped resisting it. The second big step is that he started peeing in the potty every day at both potty times.  The second weekend proved to be a bit more challenging. But, we only had two accidents all weekend. The no diaper thing puts a cramp on when we have to go out but until he starts telling us when he has to go, that's the way it's going to be.

He is fascinated with flushing the toilet and we've been using that as his reward. When he uses the potty, he gets to put it in the toilet with my help and flush it. Somewhere in the third weekend, the light bulb came on in his head and I couldn't keep him off the potty. He was getting on it even when he didn't have to pee. I had to reinforce that there was no flush without him making a deposit into the potty first. He even started asking his daycare teacher to go potty. We're in week 5 or 6 now. I've lost count. The novelty of the potty has worn off for him but he still goes without resisting and he still loves to flush the toilet afterward.

He's still not good at telling us when he has to go but we starting using his training pants this weekend anyway. He had one accident on Saturday. Still, I think he's slowly understanding that the training pants are not diapers. With our guidance and patient, persistent reinforcement, he is doing really well with peeing in the potty. Poop is another story all together. He seems to be a lot more shy with that. We've realized that he's more likely to poop in the potty if we leave the bathroom or close our eyes. It's a work in progress but I'm confident we'll get there.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Free Motts for Tots juice coupons from Vocalpoint!

Vocalpoint is offering information and coupons on Mott's for Tots juices. The last day to sign up for this special offer is Friday 7/8/11. So, hurry before they're gone!


Mott's for Tots juice has:

•40% less sugar than 100% apple juice

•Delicious taste!

•No artificial sweeteners

•100% vitamin C

•Conveniently pre-diluted with purified water

•Available in 64 oz. multi-serve bottles or 6.75 oz. 8-pack juice boxes

The Writer Magazine - Worth Every Expensive Penny

I subscribed to The Writer magazine last summer when I decided to become more serious about my writing aspirations. When the first issue arrived, I wondered if I'd made a mistake. The magazine is not an easy read. It's not like the magazines that I thumb through at the doctor's office. Nice pictures but nothing really worth reading. Each issue is filled with informative articles that are helpful to a novice writer like me and, I'm sure, more experienced writers too.

I don't have a few hours each month to devote to going through each issue. As such, I am perpetually behind. The February through July issues are still waiting to be read. This past Sunday, I sat down with a cup of coffee and started on the February issue. Almost two hours later, I was only on page 16. On page 8, I found an inspiring article about Zora Neale Hurston that included the following quote from one of her essays.

"I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish of life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world - I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife."

I need to remember that the next time I'm having a down day. Life is a fight, a struggle. I wish it weren't but it is. On page 10, I find a humorous take on Jeff Foxworthy's "You Might Be a Redneck" comedy bit. This one is called, "You Might Be A Writer If..." On page 14, Scott La Counte chronicles how his blog became a book deal. I'm not just reading, I'm taking notes along the way. The front of the magazine is soon filled with my hand-written notes as inspiration strikes me while I read. Numerous pages are dogeared so that I can easily find the most memorable and useful pieces.

I hestitated and thought about whether I should get this subscription for a long time. Compared to other magazines, it is not cheap. I bit the bullet and signed up for the 2-year subscription since it offers a bit more savings than one year. It's one of the few magazines that I do not regret subscribing to. For the inspiration alone, I think it's worth every expensive penny.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Potty Training Update - Week 1

Our mornings are already hectic. I can’t tell you when was the last time I made it to work on time. Luckily, I have a boss who is a mother and she understands. Nevertheless, I decided to set aside some time in the morning and right before bath time in the evening for “potty time”. During the first week, 90% of the time, he peed in the potty during his evening potty time. We didn’t have much success in the morning because I honestly didn’t have the time to sit there and entertain him. It was more for practice than anything else. Over the weekend, I decided to use another of Dr. Lekovic's suggestions. Remove the diaper completely and let him run around the house bare-bottomed. I decided to do this because we've tried training pants and he just treated them like diapers. He is not the kind of child that is bothered by a wet diaper or training pant. So, the training pants were not effective. We had many accidents the first weekend and a few showdowns when it was clear that he was holding his pee and poop to avoid using the potty. We were gently insistent that he had to go in the potty. There were some tears which I responded to by hugging and comforting him because I don't want him to think of the potty as a punishment. I ended the first week looking forward to Monday again because I was tired of the constant vigilance that not wearing a diaper or training pant requires.  

Friday, July 01, 2011

Really. It's not that serious.

Since I've been couponing, I am often surprised at the lengths people will go through to use a coupon and to get a deal. There are some things I'm just not willing to do. Arguing with a cashier or manager about whether they should accept a  coupon or price match an ad is one of them. If they won't take it, I just get my coupons and leave. There will be another sale and another store will be happy to take them. Couponing is not worth this much headache.

Extreme Couponer Temporarily Banned From Walmart

Extreme couponer April Cuevas says an altercation with a Walmart employee regarding coupon policies led to her temporary banishment from the company's more than 4,000 stores.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Potty Trained by 3?

This is the lofty goal I have set for our family – to have our toddler fully potty trained by the time he’s 3 years old. In past decades, children were potty trained much earlier than they are now. So, I don’t think this is an unattainable goal. We started introducing the potty when our little boy was 18 months old. He wanted nothing to do with it. So, in response to his disinterest, we’ve started and stopped the potty training process many times since then. He recently turned two and was still showing no signs of readiness. He treated the potty like another one of his toys mostly.

In his resistance to using the potty, our son became very good at holding his pee and poop. This alone let us know that it wasn’t a matter of readiness. It was a matter of willingness. He could use the potty. He just didn’t want to. We decided to take the bull by the horns. We were not going to wait until he was ready or even until he was willing. We were going to help him understand that it was time to start using the potty - now.

Since we decided to abandon the whole readiness/willingness idea, I went in search of books that would support the potty training method we were going to use. I settled on two books – Diaper-Free Before Three by Jill M. Lekovic and Mommy, I Have to Go Potty by Jan Faull . Diaper-Free Before Three advocates starting potty training in the 9-to-12 month range when children are more pliable and less mobile. The author maintains that waiting until later can lead to the power struggles that most parents want to avoid. The first part of the book talks about everything that’s wrong with the whole “readiness” theory. Although I found some useful bits of information – which I’ll discuss in future potty training updates - overall, I was disappointed in this book. The author has no real method and other than not waiting until your child is ready to potty train, there is nothing here that can’t be found in other potty training books.

I did appreciate her overall message of consistency and realized that not being persistent was our first mistake with Cayden. He learned that all he had to do was resist a little, hold his pee and poop, and we would give up. I also liked the way she explained establishing a potty training routine and designating certain times of the day as “potty time”. Up until now, we’ve been putting him on the potty only if it’s painfully obvious that he had to go. She acknowledged that most families today are too busy to dedicate the time that potty training takes but offered no real solutions other than finding/making the time.

Mommy, I Have to Go Potty has a softer approach to potty training but she stresses that parents should expect resistance. While it’s OK to wait until your child is ready, there is nothing wrong with starting potty-training before then. So far, this book has offered reassurance that we are not going to cause our child to have future potty issues by potty training him before he showed signs of readiness. As long as we’re not abusive or demeaning in our effort to potty training him, he will be fine. I’m not quite finished with this book yet and will write more about it as I get further into it. So, based on what I’ve read so far, here’s our plan.
  1. Establish special potty training times at least twice day. No pressure. This is mostly for practice. If we have some success, great.
  2. Don’t ask him if he has to go potty. Just announce that it’s potty time and lead him to the potty, even if he resists.
  3. Do not give up when we know he really does have to go and he’s just holding his pee and poop waiting for us to put his diaper back on so he can go.
  4. When he does have accidents, tell him it's OK but gently reinforce that he has to go in the potty.
 That’s as far as I’ve gotten. We’ll see how this goes.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Publix Trip This Week

It's rare that I post details about my grocery shopping trip because my savings aren't usually that great. But, I think yesterday's trip was a good example of how I shop and my basic philosophy with couponing. Sale or not, coupon or not, if it's not something we need, want, and will use, I don't buy it. Some things - produce, milk, and eggs for example - are staples for us, so whether they're on sale or not, I buy them. I tend to choose produce that's on sale but sometimes that's not possible.


My total before coupons was $40.15. After coupons, I paid $26.87.

Coupons used:

2 - $1 off coupons for Pompeiian olive oil (had raincheck from last BOGO sale)
$1.25 off 2 Del Monte pineapples
2 - $.50 off Eggland's Best Eggs (each coupon doubled to $1)
$2.68 Publix penny item coupon for apple juice
$5/$30 purchase Winn Dixie coupon (competitor coupon)

The only things I bought that aren't on sale were the milk, broccoli, and onions. I stock up on meat when it's on sale so meat is not something I purchase regularly. I've gotten to a point with couponing where I pretty much go to the store each week for our staples and a few other things that I may have a coupon for. No extreme savings here but, savings nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Experience as a Newton County Juror

Well, it finally happened. I've been a resident of Newton County Georgia for over 7 years but have never been summoned for jury duty. I finally got a summons in early May. This may sound crazy, but I was actually excited about it. I have been waiting for this opportunity for years. After filling out and mailing back the juror information form, I showed up at the appointed time with bells on. Potential jurors are kept in a large room away from the court rooms. The Newton County clerk seems very organized. I was instructed to check in at the window and have a seat. The clerk then started calling names off the juror roster and we were seated in the order she called our names, Apparently, all the people who had been summoned were already  assigned as potential jurors for specific cases and she was making sure the right people were seated together.

After they arranged us the way they wanted, I was seated in one of the first rows. When our "panel" was called, we were ushered into a courtroom where the judge informed us that we were potential jurors for a DUI case. He instructed us to stand up and introduce ourselves to the attorneys. The attorneys then proceeded to ask us general questions about our experiences with the police, car accidents, prescription drug abuse, etc... Based on our responses, certain jurors were subjected to extra scrutiny by the attorneys. Since neither attorney had any extra questions for me, I pretty much knew that they would pick me and I was right. I mistakenly thought that the trial would happen the same day. No. Jurors are picked for all the cases scheduled for that week. So, the first day is just to seat the jurors for each trial. Depending on when the case you get picked for is scheduled, you have to come back later in the week. Lucky for me, my case was scheduled for the next day.

I arrived at the courthouse thinking that the case was a run-of-the-mill DUI case and we should be out of there in a few hours. It turns out that the case involved prescription drug use, not alcohol. The defendant had not submitted to a drug test so other than the officers' suspicions, there was no clear evidence of her guilt. Alcohol cases are so much easier since most people can't cover up that telltale smell. I was surprised to learn that the defendant had actually run off the road and crashed into a building. When the officers arrived on the scene, the fact that she was disoriented and a little incoherent made them think she was under the influence of something. Every time the prosecutor mentioned her demeanor, I thought to myself she just had an airbag explode in her face. What was her demeanor supposed to be like?

The trial was over around noon. We took a short break for lunch and then came back to deliberate. Everyone was pretty much in agreement that the county did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant may not have been completely innocent but we really could not identify any proof that she was guilty of DUI. We deliberated for a little over an hour and let the bailiff know that we had reached a decision. We had to wait for a little while because the judge had another trial in session. We were escorted into the courtroom, the judge read our verdict and then we were excused. About two weeks later, I received a check for $50 in the mail for my two days of service.

I know people tend to think of jury duty as a chore but I was happy to be chosen and I really enjoyed the experience. When the clerk said that jurors who were selected wouldn't be called again for at least another year or so, I was disappointed. It might take another 7 years but I'm sure I'll be called upon again. I'm already looking forward to it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sesame Street Elmo and Cookie Monster Birthday Cupcakes

I was inspired by the Cookie Monster cupcakes on Amy's blog. As I searched the internet looking for assembly instructions, I found thousands of sites with different variations of this cupcake. The Elmo cupcake idea came from the Wilton baking site. Since I used sugar Elmo decorations, they were super easy to decorate. The Cookie Monster cupcakes were a bit harder. I bought two single serve bags of chocolate M&Ms thinking that they would have all the brown M&Ms I needed for Cookie Monster's eyes. Each bag had exactly two brown M&Ms in them. Is there a brown dye shortage that I don't know about? I had to finish the rest of the cupcakes using the blue M&Ms for the eyes.

I also thought that buying the Wilton colored frosting in the tube would save me the trouble of dying my own icing to get that really intense blue Cookie Monster color. The icing was from the tube was really hard to work with and the icing tips that I bought were too big for decorating a cupcake. For the  first cupcake, I used a star tip but quickly abandoned that idea because the icing from the tube was not sticking to the cupcake. I ended up just piping the icing on the cake in circular shapes to cover the top of the cake and frame the mouth.

I didn't realize when I decided to use this design that Oreo cookies would be so hard to break in half perfectly. I ended up eating quite a few of them because the cookies kept breaking every which way. A super sharp knife might help get a clean break but I didn't have one handy.

Since I found lots of pictures and very few assembly instructions for the Cookie Monster cupcakes online, here's what I did. I also included some of the things that I will do differently next time.

1. Make and tint your own icing. The frosting in the tube is a nightmare to work it.
2. Apply a prep layer of frosting before you start piping Cookie Monster's "fur". In hindsight, I honestly don't think a piped layer to make the "fur" more realistic is necessary.
3. Gently stick an Oreo half on one side of the cupcake. It's best to separate the cookie so it doesn't sit too high on top of the cupcake.
4. Pipe Cookie Monster's "fur" around the edge of the cookie and the rest of the cupcake. Be sure to cover the edge of the cookie so it looks like the cookie is in his mouth.
5. Cut a marshmallow in half and place each piece smooth side up slightly above the Oreo cookie mouth.
6. Dab a little untinted frosting on the back of brown or blue chocolate M&Ms and stick in center of marshmallow.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Recipe: Queso Lime Chicken Wings

The food served for my son's 2nd birthday celebration was served hot off the grill. Chicken wings are a staple in our house. We absolutely love them. I joke with my husband that I should go on the chicken wing diet because it's probably the only diet I could stick with. This recipe was inspired from a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com. I made the original recipe and thought the marinade would be great on chicken wings. So, I tried it at my little ones party and they were a big hit.

Queso Lime Chicken Wings

5 pounds chicken wings, tips removed and cut into individual wing pieces.
1/3 cup canola or olive oil
1/3 to 2/3 cup fresh lime juice (depending on how strong you want the lime flavor)
2 packets Desert Gardens queso dip mix
salt and pepper to taste

Mix oil, lime juice, and dip mix to make marinade. Rinse and clean chicken wings. Put in dish and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour  marinade on top and mix to combine. Marinate in refridgerator for at least 3 hours. Thoroughly cook chicken wings on grill. These can also be baked in the oven but you may need to put the wings under the broiler for the last few minutes to crisp the skin.

Notes: My mother taught me to always clean chicken in hot water with some vinegar or lemon juice added. I also have this thing about feathers on my chicken so I inspect each one and pick out any feathers I find. I used 1/3 cup lime juice but didn't think the lime flavor was strong enough so I'll probably up the amount to 1/2 cup next time. I'm also thinking that adding a splash or two of tequila to the marinade might add even more kick.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Elmo Sesame Street 2nd Birthday Party

My freshly baked cupcakes, 6" round cake, and homemade icing.
I've been busy planning my little one's Sesame Street 2nd birthday party. I used Elmo as the main character since he's the only one he really knows. Although they hardly show him, he's getting more and more acquainted with Cookie Monster now too. I tried my best not to spend too much money since his only memories of this event will be from looking at pictures when he's older. But, I still think I went a little crazy.

- I spent about $65 on Partycity.com buying Elmo Sesame Street decorations and utensils -  half of which I did not even use. I was serving cupcakes - more on that later- so the dessert plates were really unnecessary. I bought two table covers but only needed one. I also bought matching Elmo Sesame Street themed cups. The adults preferred to use larger cups so those went unopened. Same with the matching red and yellow utensils and themed napkins. I think the biggest waste was the Elmo table confetti. Seriously, what was I thinking?

- I spent $10 getting balloons at the grocery store. In my defense, I did blow up balloons the day before completely free but my child couldn't resist and popped most of them while trying to play with them.

-I bought too much food. In my experience, only about half the people I invite actually show up. I let the "what ifs" take over though and had plenty of leftovers to show for it. It will all get eaten but still, that's money I could have kept in my pocket.

-I was brave enough to make my own cakes this year. I used a chocolate cake recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine. The cake was easy to make and was egg and dairy free. The recipe also didn't have baking powder so I was worried that it wouldn't rise but they came out beautifully, albeit a little denser than I prefer. My son had his own personal 6" birthday cake and everyone else had cupcakes. So, at least in this area, I saved some money.

-Once again, I was out buying cake decorating supplies. You would think I had enough from last year. At least with my 40 and 50 percent off Joann coupons, I was able to save something. I've decided I need to take a cake decorating class too if I'm going to keep making his cakes every year.

At the end of the day, it was a fun small 2nd birthday celebration for my little guy with his two favorite Sesame Street characters, Elmo and Cookie Monster. I think I just have to work on not trying so hard. I do so many unnecessary things and end up exhausted when its all over.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Yardwork Leads to Moment of Clarity

I was in the yard yesterday afternoon helping my husband rake the last of the leaves - yes, we're still working on that - when it occurred to me that I have intentionally filled my life with distractions. Every time I look at my yard, I see it's potential. I even spent some time, drawing up a plan for how to turn our 1.5 acres into a beautifully landscaped oasis. Those plans were drawn up around 2005. I have yet to act on them. It dawned on me that I need to spend more time working on things that will make me happy and lead to accomplishing my goals.

I was listening to an audio recording by Elizabeth Jeffries and she said that many of us get into trouble when we start acting on "should" instead of "want". I do spend a lot of time doing things I think I should instead of what I want. Thinking of life solely in terms of what you want and what will make you happy is an entitled and selfish way to approach life. But, I realize now that there needs to be a balance between what I should do and what I want to do.

I came up with a list of what will and/or what does make me happy:

  1. Getting the outside of my home as beautiful as the inside.
  2. Having time for a social life.
  3. Embracing the people who have tried to befriend me and stop treating them with unexpressed suspicion.
  4. Having time for a social life and spending more time with people that aren't related to me.
  5. Truly forgiving my mother for being such a bad mom. I've stopped blaming myself but I still have so much resentment.
  6. Accepting that my family will always be dysfunctional.
  7. Ensuring that the family I've created is as un-dysfunctional as possible.
  8. Accepting that I will not change my husband's family and I have to learn how to deal with them in a way that won't harm my relationship with my husband.
  9. Actively working on  and accomplishing our financial goals.
  10. Finding a career I like that offers me the flexibility and autonomy I need - preferably with my current employer.
  11. Purging the clutter from my house and my mind.
Here are the things I think keep me from staying focused on what will me make me happy.

  1. I really am not a people person and I just feel safer at home and when I keep to myself. Putting myself out there is hard and uncomfortable. To compound things, I tend to attract the crazies which make me even more reticent.
  2. I get discouraged too easily. The distractions that I have picked up over the years reliably occur when things are not going well in certain areas of my life. I'm not comfortable with failing. I guess nobody is, but I need to come up with a better way of dealing with it.
  3. I waste a lot of time at work surfing the net. As much as I hate my job, I'll never get anywhere if I don't focus my energy on productive things that will help me achieve my career goals.
  4. I take on too much. I intended to tackle landscaping the yard myself. We have a large yard and it's a big task but in my mind, it's doable.
  5. I tend to avoid things when I feel overwhelmed. The thought of tackling the entire yard, overwhelmed me. It was easier just to ignore it and grit my teeth every time I pulled into the driveway because I hate the way the front of our house looks.
Looking over the list, I think 2, 3, 4, and 5 are related. I didn't think I was but I am an avoider. Although I'm throwing myself into something else, I'm doing it to avoid other more important issues. How can one be an avoider and a doer at the same time? Hmmm.

 Anyway, I am now resolved to focus on tackling the issues I've been avoiding. We've made the difficult decision to move back to our house in Covington since we can't seem to unload either house. We'll rent the house in Columbus. Although, I don't like the idea of the long commute, I know that being back in our true home will make us happier. Despite the drawbacks, we're pushing forward. My employer is willing to work with me so I don't have to drive to work every day. I'll also be able to tackle my yard once we're back in Covington full time. I'm going to start by hiring a landscaper to carve out the beds in the front yard. Now, I just need to stop avoiding the things that need to be done to make the move happen.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama is Dead? Really?

I went to sleep last night oblivious to this news since I was wrapped up in the Deadliest Catch marathon on Discovery. This morning after I finished my workout and switched on the news, there it was. "Osama Bin Laden Dead." I felt a fleeting moment of elation and then disbelief set in. That's still where I am right now. I just do not believe that he is dead. The thought that this is a political ploy to help secure re-election has crossed my mind. But, I sincerely hope that Obama is not that devious or calculating to perpetrate such a fraud simply to be re-elected.

We've accomplished something that didn't seem possible. I want to believe it. I really do. Mission accomplished? Can we bring our soldiers home now?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

I'm Officially on a Cooking Strike!

I love food but I really, really, really, really hate to cook. So much so, that Saturdays are usually reserved for figuring out all our meals for the week and cooking everything so I don't have to do it again for the rest of the week. I decided a little while ago that I was not going to pull out my cookbooks or browse allrecipes.com to figure out what we're going to be eating this week. I.just.don't.want.to.cook.ever.again. That's a fantasy that won't be realized so I'll settle for taking the week off. I checked the fridge and cabinets. We've got bread, peanut butter, jelly, eggs, cold cuts, lettuce, tomato, cheese, crackers, tuna, cereal, and canned soup. I'm just going to ignore that head of broccoli that's been in the fridge for over two weeks and probably should be steamed and eaten before it goes bad. We'll be just fine without a homecooked meal for a week.

Zits: Natural Ingredients That Fight Acne

I've been making natural skin and body care products since 1996. I started off just making cold-process soap but along the way my interests expanded into herbs, essential oils, and natural skin care. From my many experiments, here's what I learned are some of the most effective ingredients that help fight and control acne.

Natural soap- Everything you read warns against using soap to cleanse your face because it can clog pores and dry out the skin. This is simply not true for most people. It's important to understand that most of this advice does not make a distinction between true soap and the synthetic cleansers that we now consider soap. At least 99.9 percent of the cleansers available in retail stores today are not true soaps. They're synthetic surfactants masquerading as soap. Cleansing with a true natural soap is one of the best ways to keep your skin clear because it doesn't contain the synthetic ingredients that are often the culprit of clogged pores and overly dry skin. To get as close to natural as possible, it's best to stick to cold-process bar soap. Natural liquid soaps are also available but harder to find. I currently use Savon de Marseille liquid soap to cleanse my skin but Vermontsoap.com and Dr. Bronner's liquid soaps are also great options.

Essential oils- Aromatherapy is what most people think of when they hear this term but essential oils contain powerful antibacterial and anti-fungal properties that help fight problem skin conditions like acne. Some of the most effective essential oils for acne are tea tree, lavender, and rosemary.

Witch Hazel- This is the best toner for people with acne prone skin. There are many witch hazel toners available today but most are mixed with alcohol. Alcohol should be avoided in skin care products because it dries out the skin. The best way to avoid alcohol in your toner is to use witch hazel hydrosol which can usually only be found online at specialty stores. In retail stores, look for witch hazel toners that list witch hazel as the first ingredient on the label and are not heavily diluted with water or excess alcohol.

Aloe vera gel-The flesh of the aloe plant is one of the most soothing things you can put on your skin. Unfortunately, this is another ingredient that is often combined with ingredients like thickeners, colors, and synthetic fragrances, that are not good for acne-prone skin. Now Foods, Lily of the Desert, and Aubrey Organics all offer a 100% pure aloe vera gel. To make an effective, light moisturizer, add a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, 3 drops of lavender essential oil and 1 drop of rosemary essential oil to 1/2 cup of pure aloe vera gel.

Keeping your regimen simple is the best thing you can do for your acne-prone skin. Cleansing with a natural soap, toning with pure witch hazel, and using a light moisturizer like aloe vera gel will help improve your skin significantly.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Yoga Basics

Yoga is a lifestyle and philosophy that combines body, mind, and spiritual elements. It often involves a physical practice and meditation. Proper breathing and maintaining the correct posture are two of the basic elements of yoga. It’s important to be aware of your breath and your posture because something as simple as sitting straight in our chairs can help us be more alert and productive.

In yoga terminology, the word vinyasa means movement that is coordinated by the breath. The practice of controlled breathing, called pranayama, is believed to increase oxygen flow to the body and improve one’s overall sense of well-being. Making the connection between breath and movement is key to creating the consciousness through meditation that many yoga devotees aspire to. Although meditation can be challenging and requires a level of concentration that many of us have difficulty mastering, diligent practice will make it easier to master over time.

Yoga also offers many physical benefits. When practiced consistently, yoga helps your body grow stronger and more flexible. While yoga likely won’t build big muscles, it will help build overall muscle tone and improve posture. If you don’t already practice yoga, start your practice by attending a live yoga class or using an exercise DVD so that someone with more experience can guide you through the poses initially. Size and fitness level typically don’t matter because there are modifications for every yoga pose. Also, don’t be confused by the many styles of yoga that you may read or hear about. All forms of yoga are based on one basic type of yoga despite the many names you will encounter.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Versatilty of an Xertube

Xertube is a fancy brand name for resistance bands. They resemble jump ropes but some have handles on each end that allow you to grip the band while using it. Some have no handles on the end so you have to loop them around your hand to keep them in place. The bands are made of a strong elastic and provides resistance as you perform certain exercises. Resistance levels vary from light to heavy and can be adjusted by looping each end of the band around each hand. Xertubes are a great way to work out for people new to exercise. They're also portable so you can exercise just about anywhere.

All resistance bands are not created equal however. You have to buy a quality band or you risk the band snapping and causing possible injury. Thanks to the web, there's never a shortage of band workouts to try. So, grab your band and get started!

Ultimate Resistance Band Workout

Resistance Band Workouts

20 Minute Resistance Band Workout

Resistance Band Exercise DVDs

Weight Management

As some of us age, it becomes harder to keep the weight off. I've had this personal struggle since around 2000. After losing 40 pounds in 2002, I've slowly been putting it back on. The only reason that I haven't gained back every pound and then some is because I started exercising and I'm fairly active throughout the day. Exercise is clearly not my problem so my weight management issues can be traced back to my diet.

I recently attended a wellness seminar sponsored by my employer. Most of what the speaker said, I already knew. But, he did mention five things that I know would help me if I could just stick to them.

1. Consume no more than 25 grams of sugar per day --including fruit. I've always had a sweeth tooth. I gave  up sugar completely when I lost the first 40 pounds. The only way I survived was eating lots and lots of fruit. I would eat whole pineapples for dinner because I wanted sweets so much.  There are 20 grams of sugar in one cup of grapes, 23 grams  each in an orange and an apple. Fruit is my favorite snack.  This is not something I could sustain long term. I don't think I would last a day.

2. Don't eat after 9 pm. I'm a snacker and I tend to snack at night. Stopping would be hard but I think I can stick to this one with a little practice.

3.  Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning and right before bed. I'm really bad about drinking water but this seems like a good way to at least establish a good habit.

4. Eat at least 25 grams of fiber per day. The theory is that a high fiber diet keeps you satisfied so you don't eat as much. I guess that would be true if hunger were the only reason I eat. It's not. Boredom and anxiety are the biggest reasons I eat, not hunger.

5. Get 8 hours of sleep per night and sleep in complete quiet and darkness. He mentioned that a big reason why some people struggle with their weight is because they're not getting enough sleep.  I am usually in bed by 11 pm and the alarm goes off at 5 am. That's about 6 hours of sleep per night. I would love to get more sleep but with everything we have going on, it's the best I can do right now. I'm also guilty of sleeping with the TV on. One of us will wake up and turn it off eventually. But, apparently falling asleep with noise and light interferes with natural sleep patterns and prevents you from getting restorative sleep.

I believe we all know how to live a healthier lifestyle. But, most of us don't want to make the sacrifices that lifestyle requires. Weight management is mostly mental and the right attitude makes all the difference. I'm really hoping that this is the year I get in the right frame of mind so I can get back to my goal weight and get off this diet roller coaster.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

St. Thomas United States Virgin Islands

Since I’m running behind again and since so many other blog posts are reminding me of home, I’m going to catch up with a post about where I grew up. It conveniently includes all the letters I’m behind on –T, U, and V.

Picture source: Freebase
 St. Thomas is the second largest and most populated of the four islands that make up the US Virgin Islands. Although I was not born there, my family moved there when I was seven so I consider it home. I was actually born on another Caribbean island, Antigua. Since most were formed from volcanic eruptions, the Caribbean islands typically have hilly topography and St. Thomas is no exception. Lush green mountains and the crystal clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea can be seen from every direction. St. Thomas and other Caribbean islands were originally inhabited by three native Indian tribes, the Ciboneys, Arawaks, and Caribs.

Columbus and his crew descended on the Caribbean island chains in 1493. The islands are now known by the English version of the Spanish names he gave them –San Tomas, Santa Cruz, and San Juan. Other European expeditions eventually descended on the island chains as well. This resulted in most of the Indian population being enslaved, exposed to deadly foreign diseases, and eventually killed. Thus, it’s not surprising that most of the islands' current inhabitants are not direct descendants of these original Indian tribes but are instead, descendants of African slaves.

After the Danish gained control of the island in 1666, they established major industries around distilling rum and growing sugar cane. Africans were captured and taken to the islands to support the bustling economy. The Caribbean slave trade eventually became the largest in the world. Several slave uprisings soon brought an end to slavery in the Caribbean. In 1917, the Danish reluctantly sold St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John to the United States for $25 million in gold.

The islands are now considered an unincorporated territory of the United States. Although the residents of the US Virgin Islands are US citizens, they do not have the right to vote in US elections. They vote for candidates for the US presidency in primaries through a certain number of delegate votes. The islands do have representation in Congress but they are called “delegates to Congress” and are not full voting members of US government.

Interesting US Virgin Islands Trivia 
  • Drivers still drive on the left side of the road.
  • The official flower is the yellow trumpetbush.
  • With the exception of a few private schools, all school age children are required to wear uniforms to school.
  • Although English is the official languages, natives typically speak in an English Creole dialect. It may sound weird but if you listen closely, it's essentially a form of broken English. 
  • The Virgin Islands has the world’s highest marriage rate. (This surprised even me!)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Scheduling Time for What's Important

As much as I hate the thought of it, life has gotten to a point where it seems that everything must be scheduled. My days go much more smoothly when I have a general plan already mapped out at the start of the day. I also have to schedule time for the things that are most important to me and the things that will throw my day off if they're not done. It's hard to do this when everything you do seems important to you. I've read articles that tell you to free up more time by removing nonessential tasks, activities, and even people. The fact that people would even be included in that advice always makes me sad but I won't go into the reasons why here.

My important things...

Goals
Scheduling times to work on  my goals is something that I am pretty anal about. Things don't happen by sitting around thinking about it. You've got to make them happen through focused actions. I resent it sometimes because it can take so much time away from other things. But, I do it because I know it's really the only way to get my life the way I want it.

Exercise
I've been a regular exerciser since 2004. While exercise is not my favorite activity, it's on my priority list because it's become a habit. I've found a way to work out that I can stick with and that's convenient. I have no excuse since all I have to do is pop a workout in the DVD player. Working out at 5:30 in the morning doesn't help me stay motivated but I push through it -- most days.

Housekeeping
I've already written about my intense dislike for housework but it's still something I schedule. I blame this completely on my mom but I just can't function if I think my house is out of order. Keeping a clean and comfortable home is important to me. I'm not nearly as diligent about decluttering (I tend to be a bit of a book, magazine, and paper hoarder), dusting, and vacuuming but the overall cleanliness of our home is important enough to me that I dedicate at least an hour to it every day. It's a major time zapper but I can see no other way around it.

Family
I love my family and I want to preserve it. My little one always takes priority. Unfortunately, sometimes my husband doesn't fare so well. Scheduling time with him often doesn't happen. Hmmm. So, does that mean he's not as important? It feels awkward saying that but maybe it's true. My husband may just be on the back burner while I prioritize other things. That's definitely something I should fix. Since we're two hours away, we do try to schedule time with his extended family and see them about twice a month. My family lives in Alaska so time with them is not as easy to schedule. I plan to visit every year but it actually happens every few years. As crazy as they make me when I get there, that's not nearly often enough.

Friends
I've done a really poor job of maintaining contact with my friends, especially the ones I had in high school. It's like I graduated and they didn't exist after that. I didn't attend my 10 or 15 year reunion and am still debating whether I should attend the 20 year reunion next year. I did have a few good friends so the fact that I didn't at least keep in touch with them bothers me. I think the reason I'm avoiding my reunions is because it will feel like walking into a room full of strangers.

I also made some wonderful friends in the military but lost touch with them and haven't seen or spoken to them in ages. I've done a much better job with former coworkers. I say former because it seems that I don't realize how much I liked them until after I leave the job. Although, I've lost touch with some of them, there are still a few that I talk to regularly and some I reach out to now and again. I'm off today and would love to enjoy my day just hanging out around the house with my little one and getting some writing done during nap time. But, a few of my former coworkers and I have been trying to schedule some time for lunch for months now. Since our schedules never seem to have a free moment. I'm driving to Atlanta to meet them at their workplace so we can have lunch. Even with the price of gas, it's a worthwhile sacrifice, I think.

I guess my job should be on my important list but it's simply not. It's a means to an end and it's a shame I spend 8 hours there and another two hours (including getting me and the baby dressed, packing lunch, etc...)solely dedicated to getting to and from it. I love my employer and the people I work with, but this is pretty good sign that I should find more meaningful work.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's on Your Reading List?

How many of you have a stack of books waiting to be read but you have no time to read them? Here's a list of the stack of books sitting on my nightstand.

All is Forgiven, Move On - Janice Taylor
The Millionaire in the Mirror - Gene Bedell
The Truth About You - Marcus Buckingham
Making it Up - Penelope Lively
Rachel's Holiday - Marian Keyes
Under the Duvet - Marian Keyes
Cracks in My Foundation - Marian Keyes
Something to Write Home About - Rachel Ingalls
The Girl Who Played With Fire - Steig Larsson
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Steig Larson
The Automatic Millionaire Workbook - David Bach
The Energy of Money - Maria Nemeth ( I am ashamed to say I've had this book since 2006 and STILL haven't finished it)

Of course, there's also the books that I insist on checking out from the library which take priority since I have to return them. I have three library books that are overdue now because I ran out of renewals and I still haven't finished reading them. Most of the books on this list can be blamed on perusing the bargain book section at Barnes & Noble. I think I have an addiction to books because I keep buying more. I've got two in my Amazon shopping cart right now. I'll never get through them at this rate.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Query Letters...Where to Start?

So, I've decided to start trying to pitch articles to print publications. From what I've been reading, it's virtually impossible for an unpublished author to get work with national publications. So, I'm going to start writing query letters to local newspapers and regional magazines. As I see it, the biggest challenge I have is keeping up with the magazine's relevancy schedule. The thought of submitting a holiday article three to six months in advance is a bit daunting. I'm going to have to be super organized. Staying one step ahead is not the way I usually operate. I'm usually just catching on to trends when everyone else has already moved on to something else. I also need to develop a thicker skin because I know there will be many rejections at first.

I checked out a copy of Writer's Market from the library and unfortunately, it does not contain a category for regional magazines. I'm sure I could find a few if I waded through every category but there's got to be a more efficient way. The Writer magazine often has articles about freelancing but most are written for people who are already freelancing. I've had the subscription since last fall and, although it contains so much valuable information, I have yet to read an article that explains how to successfully break into freelancing. So, to all the freelance writers out there, how did you get started?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Summer Porch Pots and Peonies

Since I'm so far behind, I thought I'd make this a picture blog.

Here's a picture of my freshly planted porch pots. I hope they make it through the summer. It gets so hot here in the summertime that even when I water the pots every day, it's not enough to keep them alive. I think I'll try watering twice a day when it gets really hot outside to see if that helps.




And a shot of my fledgling peonies. I separated a larger peony plant about two years ago and these are its transplants. They finally bloomed but the blooms aren't full like they should be. Hopefully this will change as they grow. I haven't had much luck with peonies in the past so I am thrilled that they're progressing, albeit slowly.

What is Operations Analysis?

For the past ten years, I have spent my days working as an operations analyst. When I was in college studying operations management, I had a clear idea of what the field was about. I enjoyed my core curriculum classes and looked forward to a career practicing what I'd learned. Operations management is about helping businesses operate more efficiently using concepts like total quality management, continuous improvement, and supply chain and logistics management. Unfortunately, I have yet to apply most of what I've learned to either of the jobs I've held since I've been out of college.

I now know that most businesses see operations analysts as generalists. People who can do just about anything the organization needs whether it coincides with the job description or not. I guess the same thing can be said for all jobs. I've also observed that corporations tend to use the word "analyst" in job titles even when the job requires little to no actual analysis. Although I can be bitter about it at times, I know my mistake was not choosing my jobs more carefully. It appears that the operations analysts who actually "analyze" the majority of the time are ones with specific titles like "IT Operations Analyst" or "Operations Research Analyst". I did not take ownership of my career and ended up working for good companies and with good people but doing work that I mostly hate and do not find challenging.

I have been busily trying to figure out how to correct this  and unfortunately, it looks like it involves going back to school and/or earning an expensive certification. A certification and another degree that have little to do with what I do currently. So, essentially, it would mean starting over. The thought of that does not excite me. I've invested ten years into this muddled career path. There's got to be a clearing. Or am I not seeing the forest for the trees?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Natural Sunscreens

I'm cheating a little here and posting a condensed version of info I posted on my other blog.

There are two types of sunscreens, chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens are synthetic and provide protection from the sun by being absorbed into the skin. Chemical sunscreens feel lighter on the skin and generally have a higher SPF level than physical sunscreens. However, chemical sunscreens are more likely to irritate sensitive skin. Apply chemical sunscreens at least 20 minutes before heading outside since they need time to absorb into the skin.

Physical sunscreens are the natural sunscreens that provide protection from the sun by sitting on top of the skin. They reflect or scatter ultraviolet light as it hits the skin forming a barrier between your skin and the sun. They start to work almost immediately after applying. The most common natural sunscreens are the natural minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These mineral compounds work by reflecting UVA rays and have long-standing safety records.

Antioxidants are often combined with titanium dioxide to slow down the oxidation of oils. Some popular natural antioxidants are vitamins E and C, rice bran oil (SPF 4), sesame seed oil (SPF 4), natural shea butter (SPF 6), and green tea (increases the sun protection activity of ingredients).

Recent research also shows that antioxidant supplementation may protect our skin. A paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that supplementation with carotenoids (25 mg/day) and vitamin E (500 IU/day) "may be useful for diminishing sensitivity to ultraviolet light."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Millionaire Manual

The Millionaire Manual is a book that teaches you how to build wealth step-by-step. I decided to purchase it last year because I'd grown tired of reading books about building wealth that were mostly pep talks. At only 147 pages, it's a very short book. The book outlines 106 steps that one should take to start accumulating wealth. At first, this seemed a little daunting but upon closer inspection, I realized that some of the ideas were quick and simple to execute and others were simply substeps. So, completing the substeps is inevitable as I work through the main step. Since the author does not go into much detail, the book would work well as a companion to a more comphresensive financial guide. There were a few sections where I felt that he should have expounded more. He writes a lot about investments, but each investment topic is about a page. Half of the page is dedicated to questions for the reader to answer. Of course, if you don't know enough about the topic you can't answer the questions. That's really my only complaint with the book. Otherwise, I think it's a very comprehensive guide and I was relieved to see that a some of the steps are things that we're already doing.

Step 1: Assess your financial condition to determine your assets and liabilities. We did this with the help of this spreadsheet. Unfortunately, our two mortgages, with one house that is underwater, made our net worth lower than we'd like. The good thing is that we have room to grow our net worth in other areas like our savings and investments.

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with the tax code. I do our taxes every year so I'm pretty familiar with the rules and deductions that apply to us. With the help of this book, I've realized that we need to focus more on decreasing our adjusted gross income since we don't qualify for most of the tax credits.

Step 63 and 64. Enroll in and contribute to a 401K and IRA. We've been doing this for several years now. We plan to start contributing to our Roth IRA more.

Step 72. Use financial planning software to help you manage your money and investments. Unfortunately, he doesn't recommend any in the book but we've been using one for a couple years. I've researched this thoroughly and unfortunately there is not one program that offers a complete solution. We just picked the one that came closest to meeting our needs.

Step 74. Keep track of your financial investments using free online resources. My personal favorite is MSN Moneycentral. I also like to use my.msn.com because I can view our investments along with news, weather, and other topics that interest me on one page.

Step 76. Pay bills by the due date. This is a no-brainer. Some people's situations may prevent this but the penalties that come with paying late only put you further in the hole.

Step 78. Review your credit report each year. I am fortunate to live in a state where credit bureaus are required to offer one free credit report per year. Even if you have to pay to get a fee to get a copy of your credit report each year, it's important to know what's on there.

Step 79. You only need two or three credit cards. We only have two and neither of them are store credit cards that charge such ridiculous interest rates.

Step 87. Donate to charity. We don't do it enough but we do make a few donations every year. This is another area where we can step it up a little.

Step 92. Know your FICO score. This is one step that I disagree with. Although we do know what our score is, we know it because our mortgage broker told us. I don't think this is something anyone should pay for. If you're tracking your credit history, you should have a good idea of what your FICO score is. If you apply for credit on a car or mortgage, just ask what your score is. We've found that they're happy to tell us.

I'm commiting to tackle step 5- invest in yourself, step 6 and 93- complete a written and photgraphic asset inventory, and step 13- complete a wealth planning cycle, in the next 30 days.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It Takes More Than Love

Today is my 16th wedding anniversary so I decided to write about what makes a successful marriage. My marriage is far from perfect so I am not an expert. But I’ve learned a few things over the years that may be helpful to someone else.
  1. Always be who you are. This is more applicable at the beginning of the relationship but it’s probably the most important thing I’ve learned. Too many people, especially women, pretend to be something they’re not because they think it will make the other person like them more. If you hate football, say so. If you don’t like to cook or clean, don’t let your partner think that you’re the next Martha Stewart. If you’re the jealous type, don’t pretend that your partner talking to someone else didn’t bother you. Eventually, the façade will come down and your true self always emerges. If a person can’t like you the way you are, move on.
  2. It is imperative that you and your partner’s family get along. I’ve heard the saying “you’re marrying the person, not his or her family”. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The last thing you want to do is create discord and come between your partner and his or her family. This will breed resentment in your relationship. Meet the family, spend time with them, and decide whether you can get along with them for the rest of your life  
  3. Your partner should not be all things to you nor should you be all things to him or her. It’s important for a healthy marriage that each person maintains their own identity. You will be doing a great disservice to yourself if you center your life around your partner. Doing all the things they like to do while neglecting your own interests and neglecting your friends are signs that you are too wrapped up in your partner. In the same vein, a partner who resents you having your own interests and friends is a huge red flag. Successful relationships are built on finding a happy and harmonious medium where each person’s interests are respected and appreciated.  
  4. Don’t try to change your partner. This relates to lesson #1. If you observe qualities in your partner that you find annoying, they’re not going to magically disappear when you get married. And no amount of nagging or working on it is going to change the other person. When your partner does something annoying, ask yourself if you can put up with this for the rest of your life. If the answer is yes, accept it, let it go, and do not bring it up again. If the answer is no, it’s best to end the relationship.  
  5. Communicate openly and directly with your partner but do it respectfully. This is a big one for me because, like most couples, my husband and I have different communication styles. This presents a challenge in itself but yelling, using a demeaning tone, and name calling only make it worse. It’s important to learn your partner’s communication style so that you can communicate with them effectively.
  6. At the end of the day commitment is what keeps you together. The initial euphoria of relationships wears off within two years or so. That is when the real work begins. Thinking of marriage as a lifelong commitment will go a long way toward keeping you together. When the going gets tough, remind yourself that you committed to this person and put everything you have into making your marriage work.
Disclaimer: Ignore everything I posted if you are in an abusive (physical, verbal, emotional, sexual) relationship. If you are being abused, the best thing to do is leave.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Catching up- St. John's Wort & Kava Kava

    Yesterday, I struggled to come up with a "J" word. After two drafts and nothing that felt postworthy, I decided to go on with the rest of my day hoping that something would come to me. As you can probably tell, inspiration never struck. I am still thinking about RodneySouthern's post about anxiety disorders and I have decided that I need to do something to help relieve my comparatively mild, but still bothersome, symptoms and improve my overall mood.

    Natural health is something that I've dabbled in for over ten years.  Aromatherapy and herbs are the areas that I think are the most promising. Ironically, the two herbs that are reported to be the most useful for depression, stress, and anxiety fall neatly into the J & K category. Before I use any natural remedy, I read relevant scientific research to help me make the best choices. Here's a brief summary of what I found for these two possible natural treatments.
    
     St. John's Wort
    St. John's Wort is a fairly common garden plant. I have tried to grow it with some success. However, I've learned over the years that the herbs I grow should be used for cooking and making tea, not for attempting to cure a minor physical or emotional ailment. It's best to buy herbs in standardized forms so that the proper dosage is taken consistently. St. John's Wort has gotten mixed reviews from the medical community. Most of the studies conducted show that it's helpful for mild to moderate depression. The study you've probably heard the most about is the one that found it to be no more effective than a placebo. It's important to note that some prescription medications have also been found to not be effective at treating depression. The recommended dose for capsules is 300 mg three times daily. For extracts, 40 to 60 drops two times daily. St. John's Wort can also be consumed as a tea up to three times per day. The downside to taking St. John's Wort is that it is contraindicated for so many other medications. So, if you're on prescription medications, it's best to check with your doctor before using this herb.

    Kava Kava
    Kava Kava has a long history of use in the Pacific. It's often used as a ceremonial drink and consumed after grinding the root into a pulp and mixing it with water. Kava kava can help with relaxation and improving feelings of contentment, well-being, and elevating mood. Several clinical studies have shown that kava kava is significantly more effective at treating anxiety, mood disorders, and insomnia than a placebo. One study even demonstrated that kava kava has a similar effect on brain activity as valium. The German kava kava extract was used in most of the clinical trials. Although some study participants  noticed improvement in as little as one week, it can take up to four weeks to notice any changes. The standardized dose used on subjects were 150 to 300 mg of kava kava that contained 30 to 70 percent kavalactones 1 to 3 times per day. Subjects were also given two to four grams of the crushed root made into a decoction by boiling in water up to 3 times daily.

    There are concerns that taking kava kava could result in liver damage if taken improperly. This finding always leads me to wonder why this side effect has not been observed in the Pacific where kava kava is routinely taken. Kava kava should also not be taken by children or pregnant women. More information about kava kava can be found by clicking the subheading link to go to the University of Michigan Medical Center research page.

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Who Inspires You?

    Until now, there was no one in my life that inspired me in a positive way. I am very self-directed and as a rule, I do not put people on pedestals because it's a long way down. They're human and fallible. They will disappoint you and sometimes, themselves. It's inevitable. Since I started on this introspective journey a few years ago, I have discovered several people that inspire me. I am careful not to idolize them or think that they're perfect. They're simply human beings who have accomplished remarkable things. These three people inspire me to have the courage to be who I am, focus on and develop my strengths, and work on my goals step-by-step. Who inspires you and why?

    Oprah Winfrey- Who doesn't admire Oprah, right? I haven't always admired her. There were a number of years where I felt that she seemed to lose her focus. Every other show was about celebrities, "The Secret", or Eckart Tolle. She was getting too preachy for my taste so I stopped watching her show. Over the past three years or so, she has redeemed herself in my eyes. I find her newfound honesty refreshing. It doesn't seem like she's chasing after what's new and hot but instead focusing on making a lasting difference in other people's lives. I watched her Master Class episodes and actually cried during Part I. Our childhood experiences are strikingly similar. She inspires me because she is unapologetic about who she is and what she believes. She owns everything she says and does. That takes courage.

    Marcus Buckingham- His is not a household name and ironically, I only know of him because of Oprah. Marcus inspires me because he is spreading a message that goes against everything we've always been taught. I read his book, "Now, Discover Your Strengths" and immediately dismissed the idea that all I need to do to be successful was focus on doing what I'm good at. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he was right. His ideas aren't original but he spells them out in an easily understandable and relatable way. One thing he said that has stuck with me is that parents should nurture their children's strengths when they notice them. He used the example of attending a parent-teacher conference and his being so focused on how to help his son be better at art while almost completely ignoring how good his son is in math. Everyone has natural talents and we simply cannot excel at everything yet that is what we tend to teach our children. He's given me the courage to pursue my natural talents and help my son hone his.

    Richard Branson- I am not inspired by his daredevilish ways, brashness, or ego. Richard Branson serves as an example of what you can accomplish when you build something step by step, little by little. I am an all or nothing type of person. I am also very impatient and want things to happen now. For me, Richard serves as a constant reminder that accomplishing my goals will not happen overnight and I need to keep working at it despite obstacles and setbacks.

    Saturday, April 09, 2011

    Housecleaning Hang-ups

    It's a cloudy Saturday morning here and my mind is consumed with how to complete my scheduled household chores over the next two days. Housecleaning has never been my thing. I hate everything about it. Of course, my mother was fanatical about it. She expected the house to be cleaned every day. Who has those kinds of expectations with five kids? She also washed clothes in an old-fashioned metal washing tub and guess who had hand rinsing and hanging on the clothes line duty? Since we were the oldest, my sister and I were treated as my mother's second-in-command. Between the three of us, the house was mostly spotless and everyone had a constant supply of clean clothes and hot homemade meals.

    Fast forward to my household where most of the responsibility for keeping up the house falls on me. My husband tries but he's the kind of man that needs to be told what to do. He won't just put the dishes in the dishwasher because the sink is obviously full. He'll walk by the sink ten times and claim that he didn't notice the sink was full when I point it out. He'll go to the dryer and rather than take out the entire load, fold them and put them away, he'll just take out whatever he was looking for and leave everything else in the dryer. It's gotten to a point where it's just easier, faster, and less annoying to take care of the house myself. I suspect this was part of his plan all along.

    So that I am not completely overwhelmed with keeping the house clean, laundry, ironing, and cooking meals, I came up with a system of sorts to help me stay on top of things. Each weeknight I try to clean at least one room of the house. This is in addition to the kitchen which is tidied every night and bedroom which is tidied every morning. The bathroom is scheduled for Wednesday night and grocery shopping is scheduled for Tuesdays after work. I cook our meals for the week on Saturday and the laundry is done on Sunday. The living room and dining room are rarely used so I pick up toys every couple of days and dust and vaccuum when they look like they need it.

    Although this schedule keeps me from completely losing control of my home's cleanliness and from feeling like my whole weekend is dedicated to cleaning and cooking, it doesn't leave much time for anything else. There are still other errands that need to be run, committments that pop up, and taking care of my toddler. If I get an invitation to go somewhere after work or on the weekend, I immediately start thinking of how far this little outing will put me behind on everything else. I know everyone has busy lives these days but I'm beginning to think that this happy medium I keep hearing about doesn't really exist.