Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book Review:: Gone Girl

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a sweet friend Brooke's birthday girls'-night-in.  It was a blind book date!  Everyone who came brought a book to swap, which was to be wrapped with only a couple of words to describe the book on the authors or titles disclosed.  So much fun!

The book I chose is a Sophie Kinsella novel, which I'm very much looking forward to reading on our upcoming beach vacation!  My friend, Kendall, and I carpooled, and on the way home, after happily ripping open our books, she discovered she'd gotten Gone Girl.  She's read it once before, so we continued the swapping, and I took home Gone Girl, which she highly recommended!

My goodness, I loved it!  I'm beginning to notice a pattern in the books I prefer: they all switch between the first-person narratives of the primary protagonists (although, after reading Gone Girl, I'm thinking that antagonist would be the better descriptive for everyone in the book).  I honestly cannot tell you much about the plot of the book without giving too much away, but the gist is that it's a whodunit with devious, sinister twists and turns which always keep you guessing.  Nick Dunne's famous wife, Amy, disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, apparently murdered, and all fingers point to him, but the evidence is contradictory and open to interpretation at best. And once the truth is revealed, it somehow gets even darker and scarier.  Not like boogey man in the woods scary.  Try psychotic scary.  Like, you end up having no idea whether you like a character at all, but you want to take their side anyway because the alternative is terrifying.

For those of you who like a warning, there is a fair amount of cursing sprinkled throughout, along with some pretty sadistic thoughts and actions.  But it IS a crime novel, revolving around scumbag people...sooo, that's to be expected.  If you love mysteries and thrillers, you'll love this book.  Just prepare to think, "WHAT?!" often.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

We live here

When I first became a mother a little over seven years ago, I was confounded by how much stuff comes with such a tiny little baby.  My once pinterest-worthy house was now cluttered with gigantic contraptions that were designed to stimulate, entertain, or corral my squishy little kid.  As he's grown, his belongings have both multiplied and shrunk in size.  Now, instead of one huge teddy bear, there are forty million tiny legos and hotwheels.

Parking lots for the OCD-inclined can be found tucked into random corners of my entire home.
The battle to contain the mess used to really stress me out to no end.  I have always had this vision of what my home would be like:  uncluttered, organized, welcoming, warm, cozy, well decorated and coordinating in every sense.  For the first few years, I was able to maintain a pretty convincing facade.  The dishes were always done and put was the laundry.  All of Wyatt's toys were separated into awesome little bins, and we'd always put away one mess before creating another.  I always rushed to tidy up as soon as anything else caught his interest.  I obsessively vacuumed and mopped and dusted and polished.  My house was perfect.  But my son was bored, and I was depressed.  The depression lasted a couple of years, ebbing and flowing, until I finally started getting to the root of its cause:  the constant struggle for unattainable perfection.

Evidence of my kid everywhere.  It's inescapable.

So I decided to just see what would happen if I relaxed a bit.  I saw how much more Wyatt's creativity and imagination blossomed when he was allowed to have completely unstructured play, making giant messes in the process.  I realized how he would come back to something he'd walked away from a few hours before, and find an entirely new way to play with what he'd left behind.  He began making collage art from scraps of previous art projects that I didn't maniacally throw away as soon as they left the scissors' blade.  My boy was set free...and so was I.

So that's where those are...nothing ever in its place.
Believe me, this has been a long mental process with plenty of bumps along the way.  I've fought the urge to literally throw everything laying on the floor into a garbage bag and be rid of it.  I have to internally chant the mantra, "he's just being a kid" over and over and over in my head to keep from getting annoyed at the messes.  I still insist that my house be clean, even if there are the scattered messes everywhere.  I do still require responsibility of Wyatt when it comes to tidying up periodically when it is obvious he's truly done with any particular bit of chaos.  This new attitude of "let him be little" does not mean that I've thrown up my hands and decided to live like pigs.  It means that rather than having a total freak out session when every Lincoln Log is strewn about on the floor, I give him time to be an engineer of fun....and sometimes, I join him.  I let him build blanket forts.  I let him fill up the sink with water and splash.  I let him tape twenty pieces of copy paper together to make a life-sized canvas for his art.
An every day occurrence.
He said this is going to be a "real size picture of me."  We go through so much tape and paper in this house, it isn't even funny.

Another thing I've had to embrace:  not constantly apologizing for living in the home that we live in.  I mean, come on.  My house will probably never again consistently look like company is about to come over.  About once a month, during the school year, every single thing is in its place.  Every dish is washed and put away....laundry, too.  Every bed is made.  The dust has been conquered.  Horizontal surfaces are visible.  Then, my guys come home and we live here.  Dishes get dirty, clothes get worn, things get put down where they didn't start.  It's okay.  Why I felt the need to explain away these very normal happenings of life, I'll never know.  

Wyatt lives here.

And here.  He takes great pride in his collections of stuff.
Instead of seeing every mess as something undesirable, I've started viewing them through another lens:  this is where my little boy pretended to be a Kratt brother for an hour.  This is where my little Picasso created the most incredible collage I've ever seen.  This is where he built a restaurant out of legos, then spent time using his imagination, pretending his army men were having a meal together there with the lego men.  This is where he sat for two hours researching bugs and snakes and sharks, learning enough to recite endless interesting facts to me while I prepared dinner. 

A Kratt brother has been here...

And let's be real:  not every mess can be blamed on Wyatt.  I get lazy about putting things away, too.   Sometimes I'd rather read a few chapters of a good book than unload/load the dishwasher.  I've been known to totally skip folding and putting away a load of laundry until the next time around.  I don't make my bed every single day anymore.  I have often waited until the number of roly poly corpses is beyond ridiculous before I haul out the vacuum.  I'm human.  And I live here.  And I'm not sorry.

My bathroom after the Sunday morning rush.

There's still space on the counter...not an emergency yet. 
So, let's all give each other a break.  None of us live in the perfect world that the magazines and pinterest put on display.  Relax.  Support one another.  Love one another.  Be real with each other.  You really never know how badly someone else needs to see your sink full of dishes and toys all over your floor.  I needed that desperately at one point.  I truly pray and hope that for someone out there, this has been somewhat liberating and encouraging!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Review:: The Very Thought of You

This was another one that caught my eye with a pretty cover.  I had no idea what it was about when I bought it...but I was intrigued by the vintage suitcase with the "Eden" sticker.  Okay, so I don't have the most scientific means of selecting my reading material...what are ya gonna do?  I've had fairly good luck with my method, so I don't see any reason to change.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this was somewhat of an historical novel.  It's set at the beginning of WWII, and documents one family's decision to evacuate their daughter to an estate outside of their hometown of London during the war to protect her from the eventual bombings that would come.  Eight year old Anna finds herself on the sweeping estate owned by the Ashtons, a childless couple whose love for one another has become strained and complicated in their barrenness.  Anna unintentionally becomes intertwined in several circumstances that children should not witness, which combined with the tragedies and length of the war, steal bits of her childhood from her.

Many parts of this novel are just sad, for lack of a better word.  Other elements are very redeeming; the saving grace that is love spurs the characters on toward happiness despite their surroundings.  Anna's character is so strong and loyal, urging you to hope for her best.  The Ashtons will break your heart into pieces as you witness the miserable disintegration of what could've been a beautiful, long life together.  As with all wars, senselessness abounds in the lives of all involved.  I found this to be an eye-opening story about love...true love, broken love, unconditional and conditional love, blind love, confused love....and the way that love binds us to one another.  Definitely worth the read!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Book Review:: The Weight of Silence

Our local library has a section of voided books that are for sale.  Every time I'm in, which is about once every other week, I end up buying more books than I borrow.  I mean, they're only fifty cents!  Anyhoo, this little gem was in my last pile, and I'm not going to lie, I bought it because I loved the cover art.

I truly loved this book.  It was incredibly genuine, and I immediately related to each of the characters in one way or another.  Each chapter was written from the perspective of one of the primary characters of the story, and it was refreshing to switch between those points of view.  The story was suspenseful, endearing, and heartbreaking all at the same time.  I read the entire book in three short sittings, which I attribute mostly to the fact that it was mostly written in prose.  Very good read...I recommend it!

The plot of the story:  two first-grade girls disappear from their homes in the middle of the night, unexplained.  One of the girls, Calli, is a selective mute, having witnessed a devastating tragedy when she was four years old; the other girl, Petra, her best friend, is her voice.  As the story unfolds, fingers are pointed in every direction, especially towards Calli's abusive, alcoholic father.  Glimpses into each person's experience keep you guessing the entire time you're reading this emotional roller coaster.  The novel ends with a very realistic, yet hopeful tone. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Mexican Chicken and Rice

Oh my goodness.  This is delicious.  

2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 tub of Knorr concentrated chicken stock (I use the low sodium)
1/2 cup water
1-2 lbs frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders
1 small onion, chopped
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 7 oz can green chiles
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
salt & pepper (I use about 1/2 tsp each)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 bag of boil in bag rice
shredded fiesta blend cheese (garnish)

Line your crockpot with a liner (you're welcome for the reminder!).  Add bouillon cubes, stock, water, chicken, onion, beans, peppers, chiles, tomatoes, and spices.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.  About 20 minutes before serving, add cilantro to crockpot and stir.  Remove chicken, shred, then return to crockpot.  Prepare boil-in-bag rice according to directions.  Stir into crockpot.  Garnish with about 1/4 cup of shredded cheese on top.

This made four really generous servings for us, with each serving being around 42 carbs.  

I Heart Faces Photo Challenge: All Boy

A paper crown for the little prince.
A royal cape made from his beloved Blankie.
A wooden sword to defeat the dragons.
A pair of puddle proof boots.
The wild blue yonder.
My Wyatt.  
All boy.

Photo Challenge Submission

Friday, June 6, 2014

How to Have a Successful Garage Sale

The monstrosity that is our sale.
This is going to be a super long post, but one of the most asked questions I get is, "how in the world do you make so much money at your garage sales?!"  Well, the most obvious answer is that when your mom is a hoarder who brings 8 truckloads of stuff to your house per sale, how can you not make a ton of money?  Seriously.  See that picture up there ^ ?  Only about two tubs worth and one table is my stuff...that I accumulated over a year.  The rest is hers.  I am just as horrified as you are...and I know how much she didn't bring that is still at her house.

So anyway, for the non-compulsive among us, I figured I'd break down the science of what makes a really great, successful garage sale.  I've been going to and having sales my entire life, so I'll share some best practices, and some things to avoid.  Brace yourselves, here goes:

  • Pick a date (Thurs, Fri and/or Sat):  This sounds crazy, but Thursdays (and even Wednesdays!) are good days for sales because there isn't much competition.  My biggest sale day in the history of having sales was on a Wednesday. Once you've marked your calendar, start praying for good weather. 
  • Round up your neighbors to join you:  Once I know when I'm having mine, I usually post on my neighborhood's site and call or text the neighbors I know to join me on those dates.  Multiple garage sales in one neighborhood are much more attractive to shoppers than a single sale.
  • Ask friends to help:  My mom is my built-in helper....primarily because it's almost all her stuff...but it's much easier to prep and have a sale with at least one person helping you.
  • Find some tables, tubs, and racks.:  Ask around.  Friends, your church, your grandma.  People usually have one or two they can lend you.  Or you can make some with a couple of saw horses and a sheet of plywood.  Get creative if you've gotta.  Two ladders and a pipe makes a clothing rack.  Those storage tubs are great, but the grocery store usually has plenty of cardboard boxes for free if you need them.
  • Make signs:  This part is really a big deal, so it gets its own segment.  Look below. 
  • Get some starting cash:  Many people forget this part.  The first hour or so, you're going to be breaking lots of twenties, maybe even a hundred, and you're going to want at least $25 in ones, $30 in fives, $30 in tens, plus a few dollars in quarters.
  • Advertise:  Other than signs, you need to tell people ahead of time about your sale.  The local newspaper's classifieds.  Craigslist.  Facebook swap pages.  Your own facebook page. 
  • Grab a legal pad and a calculator:  It just makes adding up piles so much easier, and the legal pad is a must if you've got several people selling items in your sale.  Keep one page toward the back for totals...the pages up front are "scratch" pages for adding up piles.
  • Gather bags and boxes, as well as newspaper:  You'll want to be able to bag up or box up purchases, and the newspaper will be good for wrapping up fragile items.
The day before the sale...prepping.
  • Keep It Simple, Silly:  All you truly need is the word, "SALE," plus an arrow.  Since I have a few neighbors joining in at their homes, I made it plural, and included my neighborhood name.  For the love of everything, don't use your signs to tell people what you're selling!  They're just a tool for directing traffic, not an ad.  If getting to you might be complicated, your address is fine to'd put that where I've got my neighborhood name. If you want to include the dates of the sale, keep it simple with "Friday & Saturday" or "Saturday Only."  Then you can reuse the signs next time!
  • Get Creative:  Don't want to spend a fortune on premade signs?  Don't!  I used the foam-filled posterboard, cut in half lengthwise, and used the metal stands off of political signs I picked up after the last election.  Boxes with colorful paper taped to them and a big rock inside work, too.  Posterboard taped onto both sides of a wooden stake works, too.  Just remember, write BIG, and legibly. 
  • Pay Attention:  Every town has their sign corners.  You know, where on a Friday and Saturday, approximately two thousand sales signs can be found....?  If you're not familiar with your town's sign corners, take a little time one Friday to drive around and see where they're accumulated...then put yours there!
  • Help people find you:  One tiny sign at the entrance of a huge, labyrinth of a neighborhood through which people have to wind around to find you....well, that just bites.  Draw out a map if you need to (see image below) of the major thoroughfares around your home, plus any neighborhood streets that would require a sign.  If you live on a really long, straight road without a ton of landmarks, be nice and give people an, "almost there" sign.
  •  Follow the rules:  Don't place your signs in right of ways.  All towns are different, so check your codes, but for us it's at least 15 ft from the roadway.
  • Take them down!:  Seriously, don't be that jerkapotomus who leaves their signs up until they turn back into dirt.  After your sale is over, go get them.
"SALE," arrow, address.  Boom!  That's all you need.

Crude though it may be, this will help you to make sure you don't forget anything!

  • Spring clean :  Go through every drawer, cabinet, and closet.  Start piling up that unused, unwanted stuff!
  • Edit realistic about what you need and use:  Come on.  If you haven't used it or worn it in a year, you aren't going to.  And if you forgot you even had it, you do not need it.  Let someone else have a go with it.
  • Reorganize as you go:  Put stuff back neater than you found it.  That way, a year from now, it won't be one of those things you forgot you had because it was hidden under junk.
  • Sort and price items as you gather them:  This will save you so much time later.  Grab some price stickers at the store, and as you add stuff to the main pile, add price stickers and sort like items together.  As for how to price items...what would YOU want to pay for it at a garage sale?  What you paid for it years ago really doesn't matter.  It's a garage sale, not a boutique.  Price stuff cheap, and it will all sell.
  • Store everything together before the sale:  I use my extra bedroom to stack it all in a tall tower.  Keeping it all in one place where it's fairly visible is just that little extra push to actually follow through with having the sale.  Plus, you won't have to remember random items from all over the house when it's time to move it out.
  • Pre-sell big items on swap pages or craigslist:  Got anything big?  Furniture, appliances, collectibles, antiques...?  You can usually get a little more out of those items online than you can at a sale, so it pays to try to sell them ahead of time.  About a week out, post those items on facebook swap pages or craigslist, requiring that they be picked up prior to your sale dates.  Trust me, don't hold that stuff until after your sale...then you're stuck with it if someone flakes. 
Prepping-At least a day before your sale starts (get this done!  It's super annoying to show up to a sale to shop but everything is still in boxes and nothing is marked with prices or on tables!)
  •  Sort everything by "department":  Think like a department store.  Kitchen stuff together, clothes together, toys together, shoes together, etc.
  • Wipe down anything that needs it:  A little bit of elbow grease with some paper towels or clorox wipes will help you to get your asking price. 
  • Sort clothes by gender and size:  For kids' clothes, bins are really a great way to sort by size and gender.  Also, you'll sell so much more clothing if you set general prices (all shirts $1, jeans $2, etc).  If you've got a few name brand items that are worth more than that, or multi-piece outfits, pull those out and hang them somewhere, pricing them separately.
  • Set up tables and fill with items:  All you'll have to do in the morning when you take this prep step is move the table outside.  Easy peasy.
  • Use tubs/boxes/bins for smaller items or grouped items:  Think hats, bags, jewelry, cds, movies, picture frames (way easier to shop standing in a box!), etc.  Any "sets" of anything should be grouped together in a box.
  • Price everything with stickers, or make signs for general pricing (this table $1, clothes $1 ea):  Yes, this is time consuming, but unless you like hearing, "how much is this?" 45 trillion times in a day, do yourself a favor and mark things!  Want to be lazy?  Get a piece of copy paper, write, "Everything this table $1" and call it a day.
  • Put up signs the evening before:  Just before dark is usually the best time to do this.  Putting up signs after dark can be dangerous, but putting them up too early is going to have people pulling into your driveway early.  Use common sense, but get them out the night before if at all're going to have too much to do in the morning at the opening of your sale!
  • Try to plan to keep everything outside:  It's sad, but there are some bad people out there who will case your garage to rob you later.  So, if at all possible, pull it all out to the driveway and keep your garage door down.  Also, it's probably a good idea not to let anyone use your restroom.  If you simply must have it inside, use tarps to cover everything that's not for sale.
  • Arrange tables, racks, & tubs with plenty of room to move around on all sides:  Make sure people can move easily around all of your set up without tripping or having to step over anything or squeeze between anything.  You can place boxes of items under tables to maximize space.
  • Open early: Really hardcore garage sale goers start as soon as the sun is up.  8am is really the latest you should open.  I'm not exactly a morning person, but getting out there early and having it all set up so that the people who roll up at 7am have something to buy and carry's worth it.
  • Have someone check to make sure signs are all still up:  This is always a good idea in the morning.  Whoever goes on the donut run (let's be real, someone's gonna) can take your handy map that you made and make sure they're all still up.
  • Have a plan for rain:  I'm apparently cursed when it comes to garage sale weather.  It rains every time.  This isn't a deal-breaker...just have a plan.  Keep plastic sheeting or tarps handy, as well as something to weigh them down with.  Keep the lids to bins close by so that you can just slap those puppies back on in a hurry.  Have a space cleared in the garage so that you can quickly run tables and racks indoors before the pitter patter turns to buckets. 
  • Greet customers & thank them when they leave:  I'm not really sure why this isn't common sense, but I can't tell you how many sales I've been to at which I was never even acknowledged.  That's so weird.  Good customer service isn't just for stores.  Talk to people.  Answer questions.  Tell them about the items they're perusing.  Be nice.  They'll buy more.
  • Have a "still shopping" table or area:  When you see someone starting to accumulate a handful of items, offer to start a pile for them in a designated area.  I use those giant IKEA bags and laundry baskets just for this purpose.  If you keep their hands free to shop, they'll be able to buy more. 
  • Throughout the day, add to "free pile":  This is a tradition my mom and I started years ago, and people love it!  As the day passes, you'll notice things that are just not worth taking someone's money over.  Get a big box, slap a huge FREE sign on it, and set it at the end of the driveway.  Anything missing parts, anything that doesn't work, clothes with holes, stains or tears, you know, stuff you're too embarrassed to put a price on.
  • Be flexible on prices; bundle:  Haggling is just a part of garage sale culture.  Try to remind yourself that the goal is to get rid of everything.  If something has a higher value, consider marking it slightly above what you'd really like to get, and allow someone to talk you down a little on the price.  They'll feel like they're getting a good deal, and you'll get rid of it.  And if someone buys a ton of stuff, round them down to the nearest even number...for example, if they bought a box load of clothes that came to $23, let them have it for $20.  Doing nice things for people makes the world go round.  And in my experience, those people will either come back again to buy more, or they'll call their friends and send them your way.
  • Offer bottled water/soda for small price:  More than likely, it'll be toasty during your sale.  Go grab a couple of cases of drinks and sell them for 50 cents to a buck apiece.  Every sale, I generally make about $75 profit on water alone.
  • As things start thinning out, combine tables and eliminate bins:  You want your sale to look full.  I'm not sure about the psychology behind this, but if everything looks sparse, some people won't even get out of their car.  So as things sell down, rearrange things so that you can fill the tables and bins and boxes.
  • Consider reducing prices toward end of last day of sale:  About halfway through the last day, it's always fun to let customers know that everything is half off!  They take twice as much stuff out of your driveway!
  • Pack away like items together.:  If you put it all away in a neat, orderly fashion, next time you have a sale, that part will be done for you!
  • Better yet, load it up and donate it:  Just want it gone?  Most donation centers will give you a receipt...did you know that it's all tax-deductible?  Well, it is!
  • Remember to remove starting cash amount before dividing sales between participants:  You always want to give petty cash back to whomever it belongs before adding up totals.  That's a big time rookie mistake....don't just give your money away!
  • Take down signs:  For real.  Do this.