Thursday, March 30, 2017

April Hiatus

I am suspending my blog activities for the month of April.

The first reason I am taking a break from the blog is purely logistics.  My fiscal year end at work is during the month of April.  I always struggle to write blogs on time during my quarters, and year end is the worst quarter of them all.  When I look back at last April, my blogs were either “I do not have time for this” blogs or short postings just to get something up.  This year is likely be just as busy, if not worse, because of continuing staffing issues.  I have decided to just say now there will be no blogs during the month.  This way, I do not feel pressure to write some nonsense just to get a blog posted, and you do not feel disappointed if you were actually expecting a real blog.

The second reason I am taking some time away is to reevaluate having a blog.  I question whether I really want to continue to do it.  One of the reasons I started to write the blog was to practice my writing and to encourage a creative writing habit.  I have (mostly) kept up with the weekly posts, but I am not sure the blog really pushes me to do more than that.  Although I am proud of how long I have kept at it, I am not necessarily proud of some of my postings.  There are a number of hastily written posts that do not showcase my best quality.  Maybe if I stop the blog, I can redirect the energy into other writing.  Then again, I just might not write anything at all ever.  Since I struggle with the time commitment and quality performance though, maybe writing is not where I should focus my energies at this point in my life.

If I do decide to continue the blog, I think I need to refocus it.  It was never my intent to focus on a specific subject, because I really do not see myself as a subject matter expert on anything.  However, I think sometimes I have veered into topics that might not necessarily be the best fit for me.  It might help me to be a better blogger if I narrow my focus to a few areas that feel more natural to me.  In my offline life, I am learning to be more true to myself and to discover the things that are fun and exciting to me.  It would be a natural move for me let my blog reflect these areas of interest.  As such, I would probably be writing more about reading and hiking, and less about fashion and decorating.

Lastly, I have never created much of a blog following.  I have not picked up more than about 20 hits per post and I am pretty sure some, if not all, of that is search engine bots cataloging my work.  I am not complaining about the number of readers I have.  Gathering a huge readership was never one of my top priorities, and really I did little to try to market my blog to others.  Instead, I am indicating that ending my blog would probably have little effect on anyone other than myself.  If you do happen to read my blog, do you want me to continue?  Do you have any suggestions or tips on things you like or do not like about my postings?  If I do decide to continue, I am certainly open to advice on how to improve my work.

I will not see you next week, but maybe I will see you in a month.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Quick Hits – March 2017

I am on a mission to read more, and I managed to read four books over the month of March (so far).  I also was able to finish several TV Series, though two of those were started in a prior period.  Finally, I actually went on a movie theater date with my husband which I have not done in a while.  I picked one item from each category to review this month.

Warning:  Although I tried not to delve into plots too deeply, there are potential spoilers in the reviews below.  Read at your own risk.

Book:  Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (2016)
Although Margaret Atwood is a name known by most book enthusiasts, I sadly have read very little of her work.  Many years ago I read The Handmaid’s Tale, and I remember enjoying it.  When I learned Muse Monthly was doing an author curated box by Ms. Atwood, I was very excited to read something else by her.  The book we received was Hag-Seed.  This is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s revenge play The Tempest.  It actually is a double-telling of the story, as there is the revenge story of the main character overlaid across a prison population actually putting on The Tempest.  The book is very well written, though it did take me a few chapters to get into the rhythm of the story.  Although the main character was a bit eccentric, his background was very sympathetic.  In the end, I think he got his revenge and found peace, although maybe not entirely in the way he intended.  I am unfortunately not familiar with Shakespeare’s play (other than what I learned with the prison theater group), but Ms. Atwood has instilled me with a desire to go read or see it for myself.  I definitely want to read more by the author herself.  I would definitely recommend this book for its well written prose as well as its interesting story.

Movie:  Logan (2017)
This was one of the best Marvel films out there.  The story in this film is familiar and yet fresh.  Wolverine is old and beaten down.  Charles Xavier is slowly losing his mind with horrible consequences for those around him.  The other X-Men are all dead; it is indicated that at least some were killed by Charles during an episode.  These last few struggling superheroes have long outlived their heroics and are just trying to get through however many days they have left on earth.  Then, it is discovered that there are new mutants out there and they need help.  Suddenly, there is some purpose to our superheroes lives as they are drug somewhat reluctantly out of hiding to save the day.  The R-rating of this movie allowed them to do a much darker, much grittier movie than the previous X-Men fare.  It was needed to tell this end of days story with justice.  It was violent, disturbingly so sometimes, but it was also incredibly emotional and thought-provoking.  I left the theater feeling completely drained by the ordeal I witnessed.  I spent many moments that day falling deep in thought about just what truths the movie made us face about our superheroes.  Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are fabulous actors, and I feel they especially shined in their roles here.  If neither comes back to portray their characters ever again, then they have ended their journey on a superb note.  I would absolutely recommend this film, but do not take your children.

TV Series:  The Magicians:  Season 1 (2015-2016)
A found a new series to love.  This was billed as a “Harry Potter for adults”, and it definitely has its similarities.  Humans gifted with magic walk among us every day.  The lucky are enrolled by a secret school to learn magic from the masters.  The not so lucky have their memories erased or have to fight for learning among the less educated/less informed/infighting hedge groups.  Quentin, a gifted but perhaps not the most gifted student, is singled out by The Beast, a monstrous creature that comes from a hard to access “otherworld”.  The Beast threatens Earth’s very existence, and it is up to Quentin and his friends to defeat him.  This show veers off the known path though by being more based in realism than the legendary children’s works.  Magic is very much a tool that can be good, bad, or indifferent, and sometimes has lasting consequences the maker did not intend.  Sex, drugs, and violence are forefront in the storytelling, even sometimes playing a necessary role in the magic itself.  The material may not be entirely original, but it is still the fun magical fantasy I love.  I burned through the series in a week or two, and now I desperately want to both read the source books by Lev Grossman and see season 2.  Again, I would recommend for mature audiences only.

TV Series:  The Expanse:  Season 1 (2015-2016) – Yes.
Book:  The Fall Guy by James Lasdun (2016) – No.  I just could not get into this one.
TV Series:  NCIS:  Season 12 (2014-2015) – Yes.
Book:  Nicotine by Nell Zink (2016) – No.  It is not bad, but there seemed to be little point to it.
Book:  The Mortifications by Derek Palacio (2016) – Maybe.  This is well written and interesting, 
     but it is sad and depressing.

See you next week! 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Closet Reorganization

During my staycation a couple weeks ago, I gave myself a few projects for the week.  One of the biggest was a major closet overhaul.  My goal for the week was to only do a little bit of work each day and to wrap up when the week was over.  I knew whatever was not completed by the time I went back to work was note likely to be accomplished any time soon.

My closet was a disaster.  It is another area of the house that never was put together correctly when we bought it three years ago.  Since then, it has only become worse.  In addition to clothes that did not fit and poorly designed storage options, it had become a dump spot for household items that had no other home.  I could barely reach half the clothes in my closet, tripped over stuff on the floor all the time, and truthfully did not even remember what all I had in there.

Here is what my closet looked like at the beginning of the project. (1 - My side, 2 - Husband's side, 3 - Top shelf)


Day 1:  The first day I just pulled stuff from the closet.  I separated out all the things that did not belong in an upstairs closet and relocated them to another part of the house (sadly most are not in a permanent home yet).  I went through all my clothes.  Items I wore regularly I put back into the closet.  Things I had not touched in a while went into two boxes for further scrutiny.  I also made myself pare down on the little boxes and bags I have collected.  I do use some of these at times (traveling, storage, etc.), but I had more than I can feasibly put to use.

(1 - Stuff that does not belong in closet, 2 - Clothes I need to sort through, 3 - Bags & boxes, purge on left, keep on right)

Day 2:  The second day I made my first trip to The Container Store where I bought a case of shoe boxes and several sweater boxes.  Additionally, I went through all of the clothes I pulled the first day, evaluating condition and trying them on for size.  I separated out the many items that did not work for me anymore into trash and donate piles.  I found a few forgotten things that fit and were usable which went back into the closet.  I also boxed up a small (I swear small) amount of things that I love but do not quite fit with the hope that I can wear them again someday.  I also saved one dress that really is a stretch to think I will wear it again, but I just could not part with it.

(1 - New containers, 2 - Clothes I sorted through, back keep, front purge, 3 - Dress I cannot bear to give up even though it does not fit)

Day 3:  On Day 3, I pulled everything off the top shelf and sorted through it.  I managed to part with a few things that I no longer use, but most of this stuff went right back onto the shelf.  It is mostly bags I rotate through, summer clothes that I purged when I was switching my drawers out last fall, and memorabilia that I want to keep.  I wanted my husband to purge clothes from his side of the closet too, but he is resistant to this process.  I decided small chunks at a time might be more obtainable that trying to get him to sort through it all at once.  To start the process, I pulled the T-shirts out of the basket on his side.  He sorted them into two piles, get rid of and keep but does not currently fit.

(1 - Top shelf, left keep, right purge, 2 - Husband's shirts, left keep, right purge)

Day 4:  Day 4 found me making a trip to drop off boxes at Goodwill.  I also hit up The Container Store for another case of shoe boxes, and Target where I bought some nicer hangers.  I went through all of my shoes, but only tossed three pairs.  Truthfully, I wear all my shoes regularly according to season with the exception of a couple fancy shoes that I only pull out for weddings/parties.  I continued the process of purging my husband’s side by asking him to go through all the pants in the basket on the floor.  Again we split them into two piles, get rid of and keep but does not currently fit.

(1 - All my shoes from the closet, 2 - The three pair I am tossing, 3 - Husband's pants, left keep, right purge)

Day 5:  The big project for Day 5 was to buy a box, pack up my wedding dress, and ship it to Brides for a Cause.  Although it was a little sad, the truth is I am never wearing that dress again.  It seems like a much better fate to let someone else enjoy it, than to let it waste away in my closet forever.  I also moved my clothes from the old hangers to the new ones.

(1 - Wedding dress, 2 - See all my new hangers)

Day 6:  The final day is here.  I made my last trip to The Container Store where I bought two big storage boxes and a few more sweater boxes.  I had my husband do his final sorting of all the accessories and random stuff in the basket.  Although he kept things I do not think he uses, he did at least get rid of all the old, ugly baseball caps.  He also went through the hanging shirts, although most of those are worn on a regular basis.  The rest of the day I sorted clothes into their new homes.  I took the clothes out of the one thin box on the top shelf and put them into a big storage box.  Both thin boxes I relocated to under our bed.  I got rid of the hanging storage and replaced it with the sweater boxes.  I also migrated some of the shirts/sweaters out of my dresser into the sweater boxes.  My husband’s "keep but does not fit" pile went from the basket into the other large storage box I bought.

(1 - Husband's random accessories, left keep, right purge, 2 - New boxes on the top shelf)

I am quite proud of the work I managed to accomplish in a week.  For a final recap, here are my before and after pictures.  Now I have space to shop for new clothes.

(1st pair - My side, before & after, 2nd pair - Husband's side, before & after, 3rd pair - Top shelf, before & after)

These types of projects always seem overwhelming to me.  I found that doing it during my staycation was helpful.  I was not stressed out by work, other chores, and daily distractions.  I also had a finite amount of time to accomplish what I could, so it would not loom into infinity.  It might not be perfection, and I probably will continue to tinker with it over time, but it is a huge improvement over the unmanageable situation I had before.  Hopefully my journey inspires you to tackle your own scary space.

See you next week!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Month of Questions

For the month of February, I asked a question on Facebook every day.  Why you ask?  Because I was bored, because I was tired of seeing emotional political hatred spewed everywhere, and because I thought it would be interesting to see people’s responses.  For this week’s blog, I am sharing the questions, my personal answers, and any interesting tidbits from the responses I received.

If you could spend today doing anything you wanted, what would you do? (8 responses, not including my own)
I would like to be home curled under the blankets, sipping tea, and reading one of the many books in my To Read pile.

It's Groundhog Day. Is Punxsutawney Phil the real deal? Are you happy with this year's prediction? (1)
Even I never responded to this one.  If I had, I would have said he is a marketing scheme, but he is still cute.  I do not want six more weeks of winter though, so I am glad he seems to have gotten it wrong this year.
This was the least answered question.

Are cats or dogs better? Why? (10)
Cats, definitely cats. They do not demand too much attention, do not knock me down by jumping on me, do not require walks multiple times a day, and still provide plenty of cuddles.
Dogs were the winner by about 6 to 4 (and there was one joke about cooking them that did not answer the actual question).

Someone has given you a check for $100K (all taxes already taken care of...yes I'm an accountant). What do you do with the money? (18)
I would put half away to use toward our house upgrade, then use the rest to take a really nice vacation, give a bit to my uncle, give a bit to my sister, pay off my car, and maybe a bit toward an upgrade to my husband's car (if he's nice to me).
Number 1 answer was to pay off debt.
This was the most answered question.

Your luck continues. Today someone handed you $1,000,000 (after taxes). What do you do with it? (7)
I would use $300K to pay off the mortgage on the townhouse, $250K to invest in stocks, $250K down payment on a second home (unsure if I would go for a single family home in this area and rent out the townhouse, or if I would go for a vacation home somewhere away from the hustle of DC and try to generate some rental income part of the year on it), and the remainder would be used on some nice vacations, some to my uncle, some to my sister, some to charity, and other little splurges or gifts as seemed appropriate.
Number 1 answer was invest and/or real estate.  My favorite answer though was “I would convert it all to coins and ski down it like Scrooge McDuck”.

What are some of your favorite songs of all time? (8)
Although I have many favorites, the two I will list here are Epic by Faith No More (I first heard this in elementary school, in fact I think it was one of the first music videos I ever saw, and it has stuck with me since then) and Straight Lines by Silverchair (favorite song by my favorite band).

What are some current songs you really like (released in the last year or so)? (5)
I find a lot of songs to love, but here are two of my current favorites, Heathens by Twenty One Pilots and Here by Alessia Cara.
My mother stole one that I was originally going to use in my answer Disturbed’s cover of The Sound of Silence.

Oh no, disaster has struck. You can no longer stay in the state where you currently live. Which state do you move to? (16)
Either back to Pennsylvania or to North Carolina.
The most popular answer with five people choosing it was Montana.  I need to go see what they are doing up there to make it so attractive.

Do you like to read? What are some really good or really bad books you have read recently? (8)
I read so many books. Two recent ones that I really liked were We Were Liars by e. lockhart (ending took me by complete surprise) and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. One I did not like so much and thought was completely over-hyped was Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.

Summer, winter, spring, and fall, I just love and hate them all.  Which season is the best? Why? (7)
I am going with Fall. It is sunny and still warm enough to be outside. I love being cozy in sweaters and blankies. I like the colors and the crisp air. Fall feels happy to me.

This used to be L’s (much younger cousin) favorite question. Who's your favorite Disney princess? (9)
In the discussion, it was decided that Princess Leia does now count as an answer to this question.

Are you happy with your career choice? If you could make the choice again, what would you do? Even if you are happy with what you are doing, is there anything else you think might have been a good alternative? (4)
I like accounting, but I sometimes get frustrated with the corporate environment. I am considering making the switch to teach accounting at a college level.

What is something you want to see one day (sky is the limit...event, show, landmark, whatever)? (7)
My first thought was the northern lights. I also want to see the Grand Canyon, the Phantom of the Opera performed live, Paquita as performed by the Mariinsky Ballet Company, and of course, world peace.

Happy Valentine's Day! Is Valentine's Day primarily a) a romantic holiday or b) a marketing scheme? (8)
B....but I'll still take the chicken parmigiana, asparagus, and cheesecake my husband is feeding me tonight.
Overwhelmingly the people chose B.

Do you speak any foreign languages? Would you like to be able to speak any foreign languages? (6)
Once upon a time, I dreamed of being the person who spoke several languages fluently. It did not come true. I know the little bit of Spanish that I have not lost in the years since college.

Pepsi or Coke? (12)
I like both considering I am a complete sugar addict, however I prefer Pepsi.
Coke was the more popular answer.

How do you cope with stress? (8)
I seem to have inherited my mother's method of coping with stress...eating. I also like to come home and collapse on the couch to watch old crime serials (Law & Order type shows). I am not good with stress management and need help with it.

Do you have any quotes (sayings, poems, quips, etc.) that inspire you? (8)
I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship. - Louisa May Alcott.  I no longer remember where I first heard this one, but it has stuck with me for decades.

Sunday is my chore day (usually). What is a chore you do not mind completing? What is a chore you hate doing? (8)
I like paying bills. I hate cleaning the bathroom.

What are you afraid of? (8)
The dark and being the center of attention.

What are some great restaurants to try? (5)
In this area, we have tons of great choices. A few of my favorites: Kabob Express in Centreville (best Afghani style gyro ever), Stone's Cove in Herndon (a kitbar...most plates are shareable), and Beacon Bar & Grill in DC (Sunday brunch is fantastic...pricey but so worth the splurge).

It was an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini that she wore for the first time today. Was the background yellow and the polka-dots a different color, or were the polka-dots yellow and the background different? (6)
I say yellow polka-dots...for some reason I always envisioned a pink background.
Although not unanimous, we seem to have concluded the polka-dots are yellow.

What is something you wish you could do better? (7)
Be more artsy/crafty.

Today's question comes to you courtesy of my husband. Which is better (funnier?), a rhino the size of a hamster or a hamster the size of a rhino? (5)
I prefer the idea of a hamster sized rhino. I keep visualizing this teeny rhino running around with a Napoleon complex, acting really aggressive and nothing is taking him seriously.
No one wanted a giant hamster.

Can you cook? What are some dishes you like to make? (8)
I like to cook, and I think I am good at it. However, I do not like to do it after working all day. Luckily, my husband does most of it now. I love to make pasta, mostly because I love to eat pasta.

What is your ideal vacation spot? You can be specific like Paris or more generic like beach. (6)
I like more toned down vacations. Beach, mountain resorts. I just want to relax and read, and not run around to all the touristy stuff.

What is something good that happened in February? (9)
I had a whole week off, by myself, no traveling, no obligations. I got a much needed home project done. And I read two complete books!

Thank you for all who participated in my February month of questions. Did you have fun? (3)
I had fun.

I definitely had fun doing it.  I did not have a ton of responses, and what I did get was mostly the same people every time, but those that answered seemed to enjoy it.  I did actually get asked to continue to do them.  I cannot commit to it on a daily basis any longer, but I said maybe a couple on weekends.

What about you?  What are your answers to any or all of these questions?

See you next week!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Staycation Photo Journal

Last week, I took a staycation.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, it means I took a vacation week from work but I did not actually go anywhere on vacation.  I think they are a wonderful way to take time off, and I recommend everyone give it a try now and again.

I set myself a couple of goals for my week:
- Reorganize my closet
- Work on the front room
- Clean out the guest bedroom
- Read good books
- Watch Youtube & Netflix
- Eat great food (meaning tasty, not healthy)
- Relax
- Be happy

Here is a Photo Journal of how I spent my week off work.  There are ten pictures for each day, Monday through Friday.  This does not encompass everything single thing I did of course, but I think it gives a general idea of the week.











So did I accomplish my goals?  I made great progress on the closet project, but not much on the other two house areas.  I definitely spent a good amount of time reading, watching TV, and generally relaxing.  I also managed to fill up on some goodies, including homemade favorites and purchased treats.  Overall, it was a successful staycation.

See you next week!