Friday, 31 January 2014

Five Minute Friday: Hero


For the very first time, I'm linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker's Five Minute Friday.  Here's my five minutes:

I've been reading, today, several of the Compassion Bloggers' posts from their trip to Uganda.  As in, they're in Uganda right now meeting sponsored kids and blogging about it.  The Nester, her sister Emily, and the others have all just about made me cry several times as they share their experiences, and the lives of the kids and families that Compassion is helping.  They are heroes, for spreading the word about these kids who  need help, and the sponsors are heroes too.

And they remind me of the time I tried to be a hero, but wasn't.  When I was 12-years-old, I saw an ad in a teen magazine, featuring my hero Michael W. Smith, about child sponsorship.  At the time, all the money I had in the world was my $12 per month allowance.  The monthly cost to sponsor a child with that organisation was $12 per month.  I talked to my mom about it, and she tried to make sure I really wanted to do this before she agreed to let me.  She even agreed to pay the charges for getting a US-dollar money order each month.  The little girl they matched me with was so sweet.  I still think about her.  She was four years old, from Brazil, and her name was Fatima.  She had long coppery-brown curls and deep dark eyes framed by impossibly long eyelashes.  My brother was 4 at the time, so in the letter I sent her, I told her all about him, and I don't know what else.

I lasted three months.  Then I quit.  I don't remember my reasoning exactly, but I'm sure it had to do with having no spending money ever.  Selfishly.  I could have done something to earn money.  I could have lived without the candy or whatever else I thought I needed to buy at the time.  But I didn't.  Instead, I quit.  And there has been guilt every time I've thought about Fatima or any other child sponsorship since then.  I hope she quickly found a new hero.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Purposeless



I'm nearly thirty-one years old.  And I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.  I know my main purpose is to serve God, and my family.  And I know my dreams: to write, to edit, to publish a magazine.  But I am so afraid to start.  Oh, so afraid.  I'm afraid that if I commit to something long term, like a magazine, I will fail.  My usual lazy tendencies will overrule any ambition and I will quit.  I always begin something with so much enthusiasm.  But I can't ever sustain it.  Not even long enough to finish the first draft of a novel.  Not even long enough to spring clean my house.

I'm scared to be self-employed.  It would be so much easier to just give in and get a traditional job.  To not be a writer.  To not be an editor.  To be content reading magazines instead of creating them.  But that is not the life I've dreamed of since childhood.  I have to create.  Something.  And I know from past experience that I only enjoy a traditional job until the novelty wears off.  Ok, so I've had only two jobs before.  But both experiences were the same: after about a year and a half, I was bored. Two years, and I was desperate for a change.

When I write or edit, I love it.  I love these creative acts (yes, editing—even editing for someone else—is creative).  But my difficulty is in getting started.  I have serious inertia issues.  So I procrastinate.  I'm scared to commit to a purpose because I know my history and my tendencies.

And I feel the same about this blog.  I've been doing this a lot longer than many of the top lifestyle bloggers out there today.  And I'd love to be bigger and more consistent and more focused.  But again, I'm afraid.  What if I commit to a series and then quit?  (Again.) Who cares what I have to say about anything anyway?  In blogging, I kind of feel like I did when I was a teenager.  I'm just a little fish swimming around on the outside of the school, unable to be noticed or heard or welcomed.  And the school is a whole lot bigger now than when I started in 2008.  Why am I here?  What is my purpose?

I don't have any answers to this, especially not today as a migraine is pounding away at my right temple and I slept away the morning trying to get rid of it.  Maybe I'll think of something late tonight when I'm lying in bed wide awake.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Sunlit Sunday: My Brown-Eyed Boy


My mother-in-law is updating her picture frames.  Since my boy doesn't yet have school pictures, I took him outside in the late afternoon light to get some pictures.  These are my two favourites.  This boy is growing up way too fast.  The scrape on the side of his nose is from sledding last weekend.  The snow here has turned to sheer ice from our two weeks of above-freezing weather.


Linked to: Sunlit Sunday

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Formerly-Black Desk...

...is now pale grey and lightly distressed (instead of distressing, with its former cigarette smell).  I used homemade chalk paint, mixing paint I had on hand: the white from the stairwell, the dark grey-brown from the bathroom, and a bit of the blue from my son's furniture (to counteract the brownness of the grey) mixed with plaster of paris.

I used my homemade furniture wax that I made for the kitchen dresser makeover, and it worked perfectly.  Better than last time, since I didn't put too much on this time.  Unfortunately, the lovely beeswax smell it once had has now faded.  But it still smells so much better than the commercial wax I've used before.

And I'm thrilled that my free desk got a free makeover!  Not like my son's dresser, which cost me $20, but then I spent $60 for paint and hardware (worth the cost, but more than I was expecting).

I'll post better pictures once I have the laundry room cleaned up and decluttered (and maybe drywalled?  Please, honey?)  This is now my sewing desk.

cigarette smoke removal, homemade chalk paint, desk


Friday, 24 January 2014

How to Get Smoke out of Wood Furniture.

Earlier this week, I scored an amazing solid wood desk for free on kijiji (online classifieds).  As soon as I saw it, I knew I had lucked out!  There is no MDF or chipboard or even plywood in this piece.  Even the bottoms of the drawers are 1/4-inch solid wood.

But there was a reason it was free.  It smelled strongly of cigarette smoke.  The last free bit of furniture I got smelled like creme brule, so I didn't have to do much to remove the smell.  I asked on Instagram and Facebook for smell-removing tips, and did some Googling.  Here's what worked for me:

After sanding


Step 1: Spray it down with vinegar and let it soak in to the raw wood (especially the inside of the drawers, which had the strongest smell). Let it dry.

Step 2: Generously sprinkle baking soda in each drawer, close them, and leave it overnight  to absorb the smells.

Both these steps only had minimal impact on the smell, so next time, I might just start with step 3.

Step 3: Using the baking soda already in the drawer, and a dish scrubber dipped in hot water, scrub all surfaces, especially any raw wood.  I didn't bother rinsing after this step.  Let it all dry, at least partially.

Step 4: Mix vinegar and hot water (I did about a 50/50 mix), and wash everything  You don't need to be too concerned about getting all the baking soda off at this stage.  Let it dry completely.  Overnight is ideal.

Step 5: Vacuum all surfaces to remove the baking soda.

Once I completed all these steps, my desk smelled no worse than any other old piece of furniture would.  I found a stamp inside saying it was built in February 1967.  I have since sanded all the surfaces, and I plan to paint it today.  I'm not sure what colour it will end up, but I think I'm going to start with gray homemade chalk paint, to be followed by homemade furniture wax.

Right after I brought it home.  This is the main reason I love having a minivan.


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Perfect Spring Flats

I really really want to order these shoes! But I must remind myself that I'm not spending money this month.  And my Christmas money is earmarked for something else.  And I've been selling household things so I have some cash from that, but it is meant to get things for the house.  Being a grown-up is hard when you just want to buy pretty shoes!

Merrell Wonder Glove Shoes


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Boxing Mama




On Friday, I showed you my weakness, so I thought today I'd show you where I'm gaining strength.

About mid-November, when my boot-camp was about to end, I began thinking about what I wanted to do after.  I didn't want to just do nothing.  I had to keep the momentum going and stay active.  I knew it had to be something more than once per week too.  While once per week was good, and my endurance was improving, my overall fitness wasn't really affected.  There were too many days of couch-potato living from Monday night to Monday night.

Initially, I planned to take a couple of classes with the city's rec centres.  Twice per week would be good.  But I was a bit reluctant to be out of the house two evenings in a week.  And childcare at the rec centres would essentially double the cost of each class, if it was even offered at the time I needed it.

Then I remembered 30 Minute Hit.  My friend had mentioned it on Facebook once, months ago, and then I saw their booth at the Women's Show I went to in September.  The person manning the booth mentioned off-hand that many women bring their kids.  The workout is a kickboxing/boxing/self-defense circuit that takes exactly 30 minutes.  While my son can be crazy at times, I thought he could be good for 30 minutes at the kids' table provided at the gym.  So, after calculating and comparing the cost to the rec centre classes, I decided to go for it.  I joined at the beginning of December, and it has been the most fun I've ever had exercising.  I decided that if I was going to do this, I needed to make it an inviolable part of my schedule.  So every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the same time, I go, unless I have a very important reason (like Christmas, or the worst migraine of my life).

I did the free trial first, with my friend for moral support, and after that I was a little concerned that I'd get bored with the circuit.  But I haven't had a chance to get bored!  Unlike regular gyms, you don't workout anonymously.  The trainers know my name, cheer me on, and challenge me.  Even when I haven't been for a week.  They don't let me slack off!  And since I'm a very competitive couch potato, I will do anything they tell me to do.  Sit ups? Yes ma'am! Burpees? I'll die, but I'll do it anyway.  Double-time? Sure!

I love the fact that I'm actually learning a skill, too.  I've had countless nightmares involving the necessity of fighting, and always it's like I'm moving in slow motion.  And even in waking hours, I've always "known" that I wouldn't be able to defend myself.  If I try to imagine punching anyone, I can't fathom that there would be any power behind it.  But I'm starting to change those thoughts.

I wasn't sure what to expect of myself, physically.  Since having children, certain muscles just aren't working like they used to.  But I quickly noticed improvements.  First in my endurance, then in my balance (roundhouse kicks, double-time anyone?), and now I can feel that my punches are much stronger (don't get in the way of my right hook!), and my legs have way more definition than they ever have before.

My kids think I'm really cool with my boxing gloves, especially when I "punch that guy again" (the man-shaped punching bag).

And my easily-offended eleven-year-old self would like to tell a certain Jonathan B. (the brother of a friend) that these scrawny wrists are good for something after all!  He told me once that my wrists were too skinny to learn the roping that was being demonstrated at a home-school event.  Honestly, the cowgirl demonstrating probably has skinnier wrists than I do now.

sneak peak of my latest furniture project, found for free on kijiji

Disclaimer: This post contains nothing but my opinions, and I have not and will not receive any compensation for it.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Shaky Eucharisteo


This morning, I was involved in a minor accident.  It involved one of my imagined fears: two people changing lanes at the same time into the same lane.  I left bits of my driver's side headlight strewn across three lanes of traffic.  It was minor.  No injuries.  So why have I been shaking all day?  Like physically shaking.  And crying anytime I have to talk to anyone.

As soon as I got home after the accident, I needed sugar.  Hot chocolate.  Then I went to my lifelong default: hiding from what scares me in the pages of a novel.  It hasn't worked.  It doesn't help that the novel I picked is a bit ridiculous, so it's hard to get lost in it.  I expected myself to calm down as the hours went by, but instead I find myself even more on edge.

Why?  Why can't I handle a little fender-bender?  Am I not mature enough?  Why did the very idea of going to file the police report make me cry?  Why do I nearly hyperventilate when thinking of the driving and changing lanes?  I should be able to handle this!  Car accidents happen.  I've known that all my life, since my dad acquired serious brain injuries from two accidents before I was born.

The accident happened just before 10:00 this morning.  Once the other driver and I exchanged info, and we both pulled away, I parked in a nearby parking lot to try to calm down and to call my husband.  On my way to park, the reminder alarm on my iPod went off.  I knew what it said before looking at it:

Eucharisteo.

I've been reading Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts.


Just like you, Ann Voskamp hungers to live her one life well. Forget the bucket lists that have us escaping our everyday lives for exotic experiences. "How," Ann wondered, "do we find joy in the midst of deadlines, debt, drama, and daily duties? What does the Christ-life really look like when your days are gritty, long, and sometimes even dark? How is God even here?" In One Thousand Gifts, Ann invites you to embrace everyday blessings and embark on the transformative spiritual discipline of chronicling God''s gifts.It's only in this expressing of gratitude for the life we already have, we discover the life we've always wanted—a life we can take, give thanks for, and break for others. We come to feel and know the impossible right down in our bones: we are wildly loved—by God.
So "eucharisteo", the Greek word for giving thanks, is my daily reminder to look out for the little gifts each day brings.  Little things like my daughter's bubbly and unashamed laugh, and my son's warm morning hugs.  I've been counting my own one thousand gifts.

God's timing is interesting.  That my little reminder, set weeks ago for the arbitrary time of 10:00 AM, would go off right after the shock of the accident cannot be coincidence.  Right away, in the midst of my tears and stress and shakiness, I began thinking about the little gifts around this accident.


16. No injuries
17. A friend with a shoulder to cry on.
18. iPod reminders at exactly the right time.
19. A calm and gentle husband.
20. Distracting questions from a little boy: "Do we eat fish teeth?"
21. A nice stranger.
While I'm still shaky, and planning to dive back into my ridiculous novel for a while, I am keeping a sharper eye out for those hidden little gifts to be grateful for.  Like,
22. Not having to drive again 'til Monday...I hope

Monday, 13 January 2014

Last-minute Christmas Apron

In making my lists for Christmas gifts, I somehow completely forgot to add Kevin's grandma to the list.  She refuses to accept anything she sees as costing us too much money, so I usually try to make her something.  So here it was the very day we were seeing that side of the family for Christmas dinner, and I suddenly remembered.

Lucky for me, I had a mostly-completed apron in my sewing stash  All it needed was the neck ties attached.  I had been experimenting with a new design, but had to clean up before I was done, and so never got back to it.

I quickly completed the apron, and put it in a mason jar instead of wrapping it.  Then we left for the dinner...forgetting the salad I was supposed to bring.  Oh well.



Friday, 10 January 2014

Midwinter Afternoon


I love the soft light that filters into this room in the late afternoon of winter.  In the summer it's too glaring through these west-facing windows, but in the winter (when it glares through the south windows), it's perfect here.  I'm so glad I moved the furniture.  Like my new curtain ties?  They're strips of fabric ironed in half and held in place with large binder clips.  I'll sew them properly eventually.


Linked to Sunlit Sunday

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Not Afraid to Mix It Up


The sun is out!  Quick, take some pictures! Oh no, the battery is dead after four pictures.  I did manage to revive the battery later to get some more pictures before the clouds returned.  And the later pictures actually have a softer light than the glare of the first few.

So my husband isn't exactly thrilled about the new furniture arrangement in the living room.  I think turning his desk around was a bit too drastic of a change.  We'll live with it for a while and see how it goes.  I LOVE the fact that I can't see under the desk from most of the room.  Ideally, I'd like to turn the desk parallel to the sofa, giving us a bit more room back there.  But I don't have the right kind of extension cord.

My goal for this room was to give it better flow.  There was so much wasted floor space before, or at least it seemed that way after we took the Christmas tree down.  I also wanted to try to improve the look of the desk area, which I think I accomplished.  I tried to make the argument that we should move the computer out of this room, but wasn't very convincing.  With two children in 1200 sq ft, there are only so many places it could have gone.  I also wanted to allow better views out my windows.  When you have full-length windows, it's a pity to permanently put a huge desk and a couch in front of them.

And, at the very least, the room is clean: floors swept and washed, even under the furniture, windows clean, curtains no longer falling off the rods.  Speaking of the curtains, I really want to replace them. And the rug  Something with colour and/or a graphic pattern.  I made the curtains when the living room was still red, yellow, and brown.

The one thing I did not accomplish with this shuffle is finding a permanent home for my laptap and work papers.  I don't have many work-related things, but what I do have constantly gets shuffled from pile to pile around the kitchen.  So I'll have to address that when I do the same deep-cleaning in there.






How to Avoid Offending your Blog Readers - Google AdSense Mini-tutorial

How to Block Ad Categories in Google AdSense

In the past week or so, as I've been browsing blogs, I've been encountering this one particular Google ad for an adult-only computer game, with barely-clad boobs front and centre, and a CGI woman undressing.  I hate it, and have no interest whatsoever in anything remotely related to such a game.  Have I been browsing questionable sites?  No.  I've been finding this ad on sweet, innocuous sewing or homemaking blogs.  The lovely women behind these blogs probably have no idea this ad is even showing up.  And would probably be quite offended themselves if their kids happened to see that ad.

All this made me pop over to double-check my own google ads settings.  Whew!  I'm ok, on that count.  Any category that I would find offensive, I've blocked.  So today, I'd like to offer a quick tutorial on

How to Block Ad Categories in Google AdSense
Step 1: Go to your AdSense Dashboard.  From Blogger's dashboard, this is as simple as clicking on "Earnings", then clicking on "View Dashboard"
Step 2: From the row of links along the top, click on "Allow & block ads."
Step 3: The first tab is "Advertiser URLs". Use this if you know specific urls you'd like to block.  In my case, I had no idea, so I moved to the second and third tabs.  I recommend beginning with the third tab, "Sensitive categories."  You may find some more offensive than others.  I blocked all of them.  Next, go to the second tab, "General categories."  Here, you can pick and choose which categories and sub-categories you'd like to block.  Since it only lets you block a total of 50 categories, you will need to be selective.  Overall, I'm happy with what I was able to block.
Now, about offending your readers with your post content...well, I figure if they don't like my posts, they won't be back anyway.  So post away, and like-minded readers will find you (if your ads don't scare them away).

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Cleaning: It's all or nothing around here

9:30 AM - I suddenly decided that I needed my living room to make sense again.  The Christmas decor is gone, and it feels empty, and yet at the same time too full.  The furniture, having somehow lost their rubber feet, were never in the right place on our slippery laminate floor.  So I threw in an overdue load of laundry, and began moving every single thing possible out of the room.  Never mind that I have work to do! Columns to edit!  Bathrooms to clean!  Articles to write!  The chaos in my house was keeping me from being focused on any of that.

I'm not going to need to access my kitchen at all today, right?
9:45 AM - My living room is just about as empty as I can make it.  The dust bunny colonies have been unearthed, and dozens of lost little toys have been found.  Now what?

10:00 AM - I ask as I sweep, "What is the purpose of this room?"  The answers: family, rest, haven.  I was going to add "play", but I think, with the open concept tiny house, play is best kept to the playroom in the basement, for the most part.

10:35 AM - Oh yeah...I should probably have some breakfast.

10:45 AM - We interrupt this program to bring you a 15 minute bathroom cleaning challenge from a dear friend.  Set your timer...GO!  Even though I was already deep in the middle of the living room mess, I said yes to the challenge when my friend called.  In 15 minutes, I was able to get the entire half-bathroom clean, like on hands and knees scrubbing the grout clean.

If you're going to clean, you may as well CLEAN, right?
11:30 AM - Another interruption.  I need to go to the library and to the grocery store.  I've been putting off grocery shopping because I was waiting for the 15% off day.  Which was yesterday, and I didn't go because I spent 2 hours in the medi-centre instead.  So our food stores are quite low.  Maybe I'll make it to the sale day next month.  In the meantime, I'll do my best to shop the sales.

1:24 PM - Back home and a little overwhelmed by the mess I've made.  4-year-old N is playing ball-hockey in the empty living room while I put away the groceries.  I ask him, "Do you want a sandwich?"
   He answers, "Yeah. Wif just da dark red stuff on it."
   "You mean jam?"
   "Yes.  Why do dey call it jam?"
   Why do they, indeed?

And this is how you move heavy furniture without help on a scratch-prone floor.
1:40 PM - Oh yeah...wasn't I doing laundry?  That first load is still in the washer.  So I put in a second load.  And discover all the dish towels, washed and dried, that have been chilling in the dryer for the last two days.  I don't have time to fold these!  They can wait 'til the living room is no longer in the kitchen.  I feel like I haven't accomplished anything yet, and I have to go pick up my daughter in an hour or so.  Really though, I've done more today than I usually manage on a week day.  But I haven't gotten any editing done.

4:00 PM - I wish I had a bigger rug that I liked.  What can I sell so that I can get one?  Oh, and a plug in the middle of the floor (or at least a 3-prong extension cord).

4:40 PM - It's getting dark...I should probably put the curtains back up.  And what's for supper?  Who's doing laundry?

5:00 PM - As it stands now, the living room is in order, and the kitchen is a mess.  A frozen lasagna is in the oven.  My husband gets home in half an hour.  Can I get everything done? Tune in next time . . .

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Photoshoot


My friend and blog sponsor Julie did a photoshoot of me (and my boots) in the fall.  I love her vision, and the look of the photos she takes.  I expected to feel awkard and posed, with a frozen fake smile, but Julie quickly put me at ease, and it was so much fun.  We capped off the evening with dinner and dessert on Whyte Ave.

I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with all these too-flattering pictures, but I know I need to finish putting together a media kit, and redesign the blog a little.  In the meantime, I put up a new header.

In other news, I had an article published in the November issue of FellowScript, called "Bartering: How to Get What You Need for Free (Sort Of)".  We editors are just diving in to editing the next issue, due out in February.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Faux Taco Salad Recipe - Who needs meat anyway?


I love taco salad.  And I love having salads for lunch.  But I don't cook lunch.  Lunch (and breakfast) at home with no guests should always only involve pulling things out of the fridge to assemble something quickly.  I have a hard enough time cooking supper every day, never mind lunch too!

So I wanted a way to get the taco salad flavour without having to fry up some ground beef.  I made this salad for lunch every possible day in the past month until I ran out of salad dressing.  Tuesday is the %15 off day at the grocery store, so I'll be stocking up!

MEATLESS TACO SALAD
  • Lettuce (choose your favourite variety.  I prefer romaine, but for the picture used a spring mix because that's what I had)
  • Grated Cheese
  • Your favourite Taco Toppings (like tomatoes, green onions, avocados, salsa, sour cream, etc)
  • Broken Tortilla Shells or Chips
  • Catalina Salad Dressing
  • And the secret ingredient, the one that makes it taste like tacos: Cumin!  As in the spice.  I usually sprinkle a pinch or two of it over the cheese.
Combine and enjoy.
What's your favourite at-home lunch?

PS: Anyone want to volunteer to be a recipe tester for my Girl-Who-Hates-To-Cook-Book?  To be released sometime this year...I think.