Getting Older as a Lifelong Reader – Some Realizations About my Reading Habits and an Argument for Fantasy

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Last year at about the time I was getting married, one of my bosses had me compile a list of books she’d read to completion over the course of the year. She had read fifteen books, and that number didn’t change by December, or so she told me. Compiling that list got me thinking: how many books had I read over the year? I’m not the reader I was in high school – I love my life so much more now and no longer feel the need to escape into an alternate reality the way I used to – but I’ve been trying to get back into it and I figured that I’d probably read at least fifteen books!

My list probably wasn’t completely accurate. I probably missed a few novels that I’d read and counted a few that I hadn’t read that year, but by January 1, 2017, I figured that I’d read about 32 novels and novellas. I didn’t count magazines, blogs, or fanfictions because those don’t require any commitment… and there’s no way to accurately figure exactly what I’d read since fanfics are notorious for never being completed. But, thirty-two novels and novellas aren’t anything to sneeze at!

I told my boss about my accomplishment a few weeks ago and she was suitably impressed until she learned that pretty much everything I’d read were science fiction or fantasy. Then she dismissed it as if it were nothing but fluff reading because she’d read fourteen self-help books and one emotional tragedy.

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Not an Emotional Tragedy

Well, that kind of ticked me off. I started raging at her in my head (not aloud because I wanted to keep my job) that Sci Fi/Fantasy is way smarter than that crap she’d read. Fantasy – be it futuristic, modern, or historical in nature – involves monumental amounts of world building. In urban fantasies you have to show how the magical world fits in with our known world: What do the muggles know and how much do they understand about magic? Do the worlds of magic and the mundane touch or are they separated by a wardrobe door? Does the future have angels? Does technology continue to develop or is it nullified by an electromagnetic pulse? Does a middle age of magic look like Rivendale, or more like a great throne made of swords? The imagination it takes to visit these worlds we can only see through words written by another mind is so powerful that people make movie and television series to help bring them to life (though the book is always better).

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One of my favorite authors, Juliette E. McKenna, wrote an essay that was published at the end of her book titled The Swordsmans’s Oath where she argues that Sci Fi/Fantasy always asks the question “what if.” Fiction has always been a medium to explore human nature and ethics, and fantasy pushes those definitions even further through questioning the natural order. It isn’t always easy to get through, either; Game of Thrones was too darkly convoluted for me even though I love all the heartbreaking tortures in Anne Bishop novels.

But, that conversation with my boss got me thinking more about my reading choices of late. When I was in high school I had needed an escape from the tedium that was my life. In middle school I would bang through an Animorphs book in a day, and during my senior year I could read my then-favorite book, Exiles; The Ruins of Ambrai by Melanie Rawn, an 800 page masterpiece, in three days. I also loved reading Star Trek novels despite never having seen a single episode at that point, as well as mysteries like The PMS Outlaws and the historical fiction novels of Jean M. Auel. On top of all that fun stuff, I was forced to read boring crap like Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, and Mark Twain for school, the latter of which was the only book along with To Kill a Mockingbird that I actually enjoyed. It all made me think that maybe I should broaden my horizons a little bit and read some “better” material.

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Though nothing can be better than an alternate past!

Then my love of reading was killed in college. I’ve read a meme that says 77% of college graduates will never pick up another book after graduation. It makes a lot of sense when I remember that one week I had to read eleven 50-page chapters from one textbook for a single class. Every week was like that, and I got very good at learning while never cracking open my texts. That’s when I got into manga and fanfiction – short bursts of story that took little time to read and had no commitment.

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Very handy knowledge. Helped me deal with a monster of a boss.

Now I’m thirty and past my Master’s program by a few years, soI can safely get back to reading things I enjoy. Since that conversation with my boss a few months ago, I have been trying to incorporate some different genres into my reading if only to branch out and play at self-improvement. Most self-help books, I’ve noticed, assume that their readers are dumb and talk down to them. That’s why John C Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, was such a pleasure to read – he assumed his reader was intelligent and striving for betterment! But, for the others, I’ve taken to writing arguments to the author on mini post-it notes that I stick in the pages of the book. The author will never read them, but in my head I am confronting him/her for being a verbose dumbass who can’t get to the point and I feel better (btw, the secret they keep referencing in the book The Secret is positive thinking, and the author never says it directly).

I’m also reading more humor books and my guilty pleasure: gay romance novels. I’m a straight cisgendered female myself, but I find a story about two guys defying the odds to develop a loving, functional relationship to be endearing. But, my true love will always be fantasy, no matter how much I try to branch out into other genres. I will forevermore pre-order upcoming Kevin Hearne books so I can get them the day they are released! I have over 380 books on my e-reader, and a vast majority of them are Science Fiction or Fantasy.

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Just to name a few that I own in paperback 😀

And do you know what? As of today, May 10, 2017, I have completed reading 18 novels and novellas, and I’m working on two more including Tom Sawyer and a lovely fantasy detective book about a world where dinosaurs didn’t go extinct and are hidden among us humans.

Not bad, huh?

All the highlighted links above lead to books on barnesandnoble.com that I recommend, even if I complained about them. I feel it makes quite a decent reading list! What books would you recommend for me???

The Economy That Comes From Having Too Much Stuff

 

Three weeks ago I went and got married. We did all the parties that are associated with it – bridal shower, bachelor/bachelorette party, wedding, reception, and even an after party. I was registered at Amazon and Target, and for several weeks before the big event we were receiving packages in the mail about every other day, maybe every third day. Combine that with the gift cards and money that was also coming, and later with the cashing in of the gift cards… I found myself in a unique position where I needed to pare down my belongings a little.

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My desk today. Can you believe that this is the cleaned up version?

 

It’s not like I’ve never been in this position before – living at my parents’ house for the past several years and trying to cram a single-bedroom apartment’s worth of stuff into a bedroom, half an office, and half an outdoor shed made me really appreciate the duplex in which I now live. My things had the space to linger in cupboards, and if I was given a lovely new bed spread, there was a spot for it in the linen closet. My beloved husband moving in didn’t disturb my possessions very much as I had left space for him and he didn’t bring in much in the way of towels.

But now my kitchen doth overflow, and I am very happy because I can do all the baking I want! But, I had to bring in those tricks I used to use to cram more stuff into less space again. That’s when I realized (also when I was helping my then-fiance pack up all his stuff for his move) that I’m a master at the game of Tetris. When it comes to packing things away, or fitting them into a cupboard, I am the expert. Don’t know where to put your furniture? Place each piece next to the other around the perimeter of the room. Need a place to put that filing cabinet that just doesn’t fit anywhere? Consider the closet. Too many lids and not enough space for your pots? Line your pots with paper towels and stack them, then use commando strips to create a hanging place for the extra lids.

I’m the master of this ancient game of, “Where does this thing go?” Of course there are some tips (don’t worry, I’ll keep them brief).

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I swear, I wasn’t drunk when I set this up!
  • Remember that size only matters if it fits, and that bigger things go in the back. You see in the above picture that I have all my baking ingredients on a single shelf, with smaller things in front and bigger things in back. I also have them arranged so that if I need the sugar (big white container on the left) I only have to move a couple things out of the way.
  • It doesn’t matter where it’s supposed to go in the design of your house or kitchen, it matters where you need to put it. I put the electric griddle above the vinegar and below the baking stuff because I wanted it in the kitchen and within easy reach. Also, the Crock Pot Trio is on the bottom, and the cook books are easier to reach on the shelf above it. Everything is the level of reachable-ness that I need it to be based on how much I expect to use it.
  • Everything should have a system, even if you are the only one who understands that system. In the picture below, you see the “mess” that is my spice shelf. The thing is, I know exactly where everything is, even though I can’t see past the first row. Sometimes, if I’m grabbing something I don’t use as often, I’ll have to make two attempts, but in the nearly seven months I’ve been living here I only had to use a step-stool to see up there once – when I was arranging everything the day I moved in.
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My Glorious Spice!
  • It doesn’t matter what an item is meant to be used for, what matters is what you can use it for. Command Strips are my favorite tools. You can find them easily at any hardware store, they’re inexpensive, and they don’t ruin the paint on your walls. I’ve used them to hand everything from calendars to pot and pan lids, even a bead curtain. Measure twice and stick once, and you’ll be fine! And it is on our to-do list that we are going to arrange them so we can hang some pot and pan lids inside the cupboard doors. I just have to measure the ones I got to make sure the lids will fit first. I also love my filing cabinet. The top two drawers  contain most of my manga collection, and this picture below is of my third drawer, where I keep our office supplies. Finally, they’re off my desk!
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Yep, we have two staplers. Actually, there’s three, and they’re all mine. I… also have a million packs of staples hidden in there. Let me know if you need any. I’m set for life!

These are some of the things I’ve done to conserve space in my home. What sorts of things do you do to fit things in?

 

Some Thoughts on Motivation

 

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Recently, a friend of mine wrote up the list of books that she’s read so far this year. There were 15 books on her list, and a lot of them were either feel-good tear-jerkers or self-help books. Not my kind of reading, but to each her own. That got me thinking about the books I’ve read this year – lots of urban fantasy and a few fluffy romances – and I tallied them up. However, I wasn’t entirely sure which books I had already counted – sure, I meant to only tally up books after I finished them, but was that mark for this book or the last book? – so I went through again and wrote out an actual list. Turns out I have ready 25 novels and novellas so far this year.

I know that seems impressive! We are currently 41 weeks into the year, and I’m averaging about 1 book every 2 weeks. Considering all the other stuff I do in a day, that isn’t surprising. However, I remember a time (back in high school) where I would bang through a book in a day! If it was really thick, over 800 pages, it might take me as many as 3 days to finish. I can’t lie on my bed all day and read like I used to, but I know I’ve actually read more than 25 books. The thing is, I just haven’t finished the books. There’s at least another 5 that I nearly finished reading, but just never read the last few chapters. There are another 20 books that I abandoned when I got to about chapter 2. Many books I never got past the Introduction.

This distinct lack of motivation I’ve had to finish books honestly bothers me. Its the same lack of motivation I had to look for a better job when I worked at Barnes & Noble, and its the same lack of motivation I have for keeping on a health regime. I go at it full tilt, and then I run out of steam. There are some things and projects that I managed to power through – crocheting a blanket, planning my wedding, just to name a few – but most of the things I start, I’m not able to finish. And it’s all about motivation.

Sustaining motivation is really just hard. Whatever you want to do is worth doing well, but getting out of bed and actually starting to work on it is a royal pain in the ass. Once I’ve started, I’m fine, but starting to work on it every day is super hard; its like doing homework. I could do anything else in the world, but sitting down to start my homework without my dad telling me to was virtually impossible.

I’ve found that keeping a positive mindset about what I want to do helps. It is so easy to bitch and moan, or to procrastinate with another episode on Netflix, but reminding myself of the happiness at the end of the tunnel – being married to my husband or having a job that pays a living wage – keeps the attitude positive while I’m working on it. Even better would be to enjoy what I’m doing, because then the difficulties aren’t impossible, they’re challenges.

Also, having a support system is crucial. I did my best when Andy and I decided to do Fitness Blender together, so we set aside time every day to do one of their routines. Because somebody was there to day, “Come on, lets do this thing,” we actually wound up doing this thing. Mom nagging me about job applications I’d put out and asking about interviews got me to actually apply to a place that I customer recommended to me, which led to my current job at Club Z Tutoring (an awesome place to go if your child needs a little extra help on homework, BTW). The support system can be friends, family, or even apps. If I didn’t have my FitBit app, and if my friends and I didn’t start doing the Workweek Hustle Challenges, I wouldn’t be nearly as active as I am. It’s really been a help, and sometimes I just need that help.

Having a deadline, especially if it is set for me by somebody else, keeps me on track better than anything else has. It’s a basic part of goal-setting – Create a big goal, determine small, measurable goals that will help you achieve your main goal, have a support system, create a system for achieving each goal. Deadlines a big part of that. For example, today I need to do this list of items if I want to have a clean house. Therefore, I have to do all of this by dinnertime today (because activity ends for me after dinnertime). I’ll probably need to start at about 10am to get it all done. Then I will wake up at 9, eat breakfast, drink coffee, and get to work.

But, keeping an attitude of thankfulness has really been helping me to stay on track lately. Little things, like saying “thank you” at the end of my emails, even when I didn’t get what I wanted, has helped to keep me a pleasant person despite the disappointments and challenges that have come my way. Having to say thank you forces me to accept the setback for what it is – a setback and not the end of the world – and gives me the opportunity to think my way around the challenge. I can say thank you, and then I can decide to do better. I can find a new motivation to do what I want to do. My favorite quote is something I found on a plaque in an antique shop: “If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.” Failure isn’t the end, it’s just one path that won’t work and you need to find another way. Then you just keep up your positive attitude, and work your way onward and upward.

I hope this has helped us (yes, me too) to continue doing what we need to do to get what we want. What other advice would you give to us to help keep us motivated? I’m pretty sure this wasn’t a complete list by any means.

Weddings – Important Things to Know to Avoid Going Crazy

So, that magical thing happened to me last weekend: I got married! It was a wonderful day, with a 30 minute blessing ceremony and a party afterwords. It was a magical day, despite the priest having a minor melt down at the rehearsal a few days before because he didn’t like our choice of music and I couldn’t find a connector I had for the sound system to connect to my computer (I found it! But only after Andy’s uncle drove to our house to look through our mess in a mad dash). Of course things went wrong, but they were handled and I didn’t go nuts. Apparently, that’s pretty rare.

So, I do recommend a few things when planning your wedding so that when you’re in that final stretch you don’t feel the need to rip your hair out. Do them in this order:

1. Choose a date that’s far enough away. This is the biggest party you will ever plan, with the most moving parts. You will have up to two venues if you’re having your ceremony in a place that is different from the reception, photography options, cake and food vendors, flowers and other decorations which need to be put up and broken down, dress, hair, makeup, nails, tuxedos, ties and pocket squares, party favors, invitations, a bridal shower and a bachelor/bachelorette party. Make sure you have enough time to shop around and make decisions because I promise you, that 15 months of time I started with didn’t feel like long enough at the end. I recommend at least 8 months, preferably a year.

 

2. Figure out who you want involved in your wedding. How many people do you want in your bridal party, and who exactly do you want standing up there with you? Is your father going to walk you down the isle? Are your parents going to pay for anything, and what are they going to pay for? Do you want a little kid to be responsible for not losing your rings? You can’t choose an appropriately sized venue until you know about how many people you are willing or able to invite. I was lucky that my parents paid for the reception venue and Andy’s parents paid for the church. Then the best man’s mother offered to make me a wedding dress, and ended up altering my mother’s dress for far less than it would have originally cost despite having to re-fit it after I gained some weight. All that financial help allowed us to put our savings to better use elsewhere.

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My husband, me, and our entire bridal party.

3. Decide what your deal-breakers are in advance. Must you have real flowers, or will fake suffice? Do you need professional photos, or will disposable cameras distributed to all the tables be more affordable? Must you have your reception at a restaurant that provides food, or do you need to have it catered? Decide what you have to have first, and get an idea of how much it will cost.

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Me and my AMAZING photographer, Dee Yates, who was integral in making my reception run smoothly. Could not have done it without her!

I knew that alcohol at my wedding wasn’t necessary, nor were real flowers, and I found it far simpler to have my reception at a restaurant where food would be provided either by buffet or by plate. I had fake flowers, a real-life photographer, and I knew I wanted to make my own dance playlist. Andy really wanted to get married in the Catholic Church. Our budget reflected that, and we got what we wanted. A friend of Andy’s is getting married later this year and is paying $35,000 because she wants to have a bar and gambling in a casino. So, now you know what you want and what you can live without, it is time to…

4. Create your budget. I know it seems counter-intuitive to not create your budget first, but it is super dependent on who is helping to pay for the event and knowing the things that cannot be sacrificed. Both my mom and I wanted our weddings to feel like parties, and that affected what we spent money on. I have a couple of friends who have had back yard weddings on the cheap, but they spent a fortune on fancy invitations and their party favors need to be shipped from Florida. I bought fake flowers at the dollar store, ribbon from Wal-Mart, and honey sticks from Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies to make bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, and party favors by hand, but I paid $400 for a live group to play at the ceremony. We figured as much as we could into the budget once we had all our volunteers and we knew what we wanted and how much we could afford to spend. The budget just fell into line after that.

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The fake flowers that decorated my table at my wedding!

5. Turning the plan into action is the hardest part. So, between deciding on your must-haves and creating your budget, a plan has mostly formed in your mind of what you want for your big day. It won’t be completely solid, but you’ll have a good idea of what you want and need. That is good – you don’t want it to have too many details because getting other people to do what you want at the price you want will be supremely difficult, and you will find yourself at the mercy of others. Some things you will have a firm vision of in your mind, and other things will be more a concept than a picture. For instance, I knew I wanted to get a manicure, but I didn’t have a picture in my mind of exactly what I wanted my fingers to look like. I’m glad I didn’t because I ended up with the perfect nails.

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Diana Nails ladies do amazing things to fingers and toes!

My cakes were beautiful, my dress fit me perfectly, and my music was lovely. By not having a solid vision, I could direct things into the direction I wanted them to go instead of forcing them into my teeny-tiny little picture, and my vendors all appreciated me more because of it. In essence, I didn’t create an impossible standard for others to try and make, and when things turned out beautiful organically, I could be happy about it.

6. Sacrifice hurts, but it isn’t anybody’s fault when it happens. I’m not going to say that I wasn’t disappointed when our Priest started freaking out when he found out that I had chosen secular music for our religious ceremony. I hadn’t chosen anything inappropriate – no swear words or foul subject matters – and in fact had chosen some oldies that Peter, Paul, & Mary and Bette Middler had sung, which are often played at Catholic ceremonies. It was just that, two days before my wedding, my Priest found out and couldn’t get his head around it. It was too late for our musicians, the Issac Howl, to learn new music, so we decided to compromise by not having them sing. It bothered me, but there wasn’t another option. I was fine with it. I had to be. Throwing a fit wouldn’t have made it better, and it wouldn’t have reflected well upon me. And it was still lovely!

7. Remember, there is an after-the-wedding time, which will last the rest of your life. After the wedding we had an after-party, then our honeymoon. This week we paid off everybody who did something for our wedding, and next week we both start back at work. After that we will have to pay off our bills and credit cards where we accrued costs during our honeymoon and during the course of our existence. Life will go one, and one day, no matter how amazing, does not make or break how the rest of our time on this Earth. I want to thank all the people who helped me make my wedding day so wonderful, and I wish you, future brides and grooms, a truly enjoyable day to share with your loved-ones. Congratulations!

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Some Facts About Raw Honey

So, several months ago I bought some Really Raw Honey from one of those online retailers, Thrive Market. I like that place because it’s pretty inexpensive on many items, and if you look on Facebook you can find those deals where if you buy a certain amount, you get an item that’s normally pretty expensive for free. I don’t shop there often because a regular grocery store tends to cost less overall and I get my food immediately, like this Honey from Raley’s.

Anyway, I’ve been holding off on opening my Really Raw Honey because I was sure it’s good stuff, and at the time I had a little bottle of cheap stuff that didn’t taste very good, and I didn’t want to get spoiled, run out, and find myself stuck with a bottle of cheap crap afterwords. I like honey better that sugar because it helps me control my allergies, it tastes good, and it has soothing and antibacterial properties. So, imagine my surprise when I finally opened my special jar of Really Raw Honey and saw a bunch of gunk at the top!

Not one to automatically presume that my honey had gone bad, but very worried that it had, I went online and found this Article that explained raw honey, and some other things about organic honey, strained, and filtered honey as well as honey bees. It calmed me down enough that I ate my Really Raw Honey, and now I really am spoiled on it!

Hope you find this useful. Tell me what you think!

Cleaning the Coffee Pot – Not a Metaphor

Its happened to all of us. A coffee pot we are supposed to drink from, be it a friend’s, a relative’s, a client’s, or, heaven forbid, our own, is absolutely disgusting. You find little black floaters in your drink, the inside of the pot is scummy, and there may be mold growing in the water reservoir. I’ve seen it all – the mold in the water reservoir is the toughest to clean out because my whole hand doesn’t fit. Well, you don’t have to throw it out. It’s easy to clean, and all you have to invest in is a big jug of white vinegar and maybe a clean washcloth.

Why You Should Clean your Coffee Pot:

There are several reasons to clean your coffee pot regularly – at least once a month. When I worked as a barista, we had to clean our giant coffee canisters every day with a super-strong non-toxic cleaner just to get rid of the old coffee residue in the brew pot and the canister itself. You know when you go to a place and the coffee is just bad? It tastes burned in the canister and just kind of yuck? They are probably brewing it right, but they aren’t cleaning the pots. The chemicals that make coffee taste good when its fresh break down after two hours and make the coffee taste bitter. That is what is left in the residue, and when it builds up it affects the taste of the fresh coffee poured into the container.

Also, where there is damp, mold will grow. Mold grows most easily on the plastic that makes up most coffee makers, but it will also grow on glass and metal if given enough time. That’s why you get those little floaters in your coffee or hot water after a while – you either have mold growing in the water reservoir or it is coffee liquid that had dried beneath the filter and is now flaking off. Regardless, you don’t want to drink it.

Materials:

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You will want white vinegar – not white wine vinegar or balsamic, but white. White vinegar has the mildest flavor and has the least amount of sugar in it of the vinegars. Most vinegar will probably work as well, but the white stuff won’t discolor anything and has a good amount of acidity for cleaning. Don’t worry, you won’t be using just vinegar, because it needs to be diluted with a lot of water and rinsed with water afterward. Also, if you’re anything like me, you will be getting water and vinegar all over the place, so a wash cloth or rag would come in handy.

Cleaning the Coffee Pots:

So, there are several different styles of coffee pot, but I’ve narrowed them down to three types – Mr. Coffees, Espresso Machines, and Keurigs. I don’t mean to favor a brand, but all other coffee machines are of a similar style to these brands and can be cleaned in the same way.

Mr. Coffee:

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Cleaning a Mr. Coffee is simple – for every five cups of water you pour into the reservoir you pour about  3/4 cup of vinegar. Use more if it is really dirty, and less if this is more of a spot-cleaning. Fill the reservoir to the max with vinegar/water mixture. Then run the brewer without coffee or a filter. Then you want to fill the reservoir again with tap water alone and brew again to rinse. Do this twice to make sure you get all the floaters and the vinegar. Leave open to dry completely.

Espresso Machine:

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All espresso machines are different with varying levels of automation. The above picture is my espresso machine, which is not automatic at all. If your espresso machine has an internal tank in addition to a refillable reservoir, refer to the Keurig section. If yours is simpler, like mine, then cleaning it is very much like cleaning a Mr. Coffee. Simply fill your reservoir 25% or so with vinegar and the rest with water. Brew without espresso in the pod, and rinse twice by brewing water alone. Again, leave open to dry completely.

Keurigs:

Oh, Keurig, how I love and hate you at the same time! Your convenience is wonderful, while cleaning you is a pain in the ass. You see, most types of Keurig machines have an internal tank that never empties, so cleaning them becomes problematic. Keurig does have a cleaning agent that you can buy through them, but the internal tank is a sanitation problem through-and-through because the tank never empties, and the water in it never boils so it never gets hot enough to decontaminate itself. So, mold tends to grow in there and come out in your coffee as little black floaters. So, using their cleaning agent is a must.

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Or, you can get the kind of machine I have – you only put in the cup of water that you need, and if you follow the instructions for the espresso machine, you can keep it clean. The K-15 is a simple machine with one reservoir that I fill every time I want a cup with only the amount of water I need. By leaving it open all the time, it dries out a little more, and by washing with vinegar (25% solution) and then rinsing twice I can clean out any buildup.

Leaving the Machine Open To Dry:

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Very important: let your machine dry out. This prevents mold and bacteria from growing inside it because you aren’t giving it a nicely moist, warm environment to grow in. Also, be sure to clean anything that can come off the machine, like trays or inserts, so that nothing can grow there, either.

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So, my friend, I hoped this helped. A big part of living a low-cost life is to not get sick, so please make sure you aren’t ingesting anything gross. I raise my cup to you and shout, “Viva la Cafe!”

BBQ – My Secret for Making Food Fast

One of the awesome things about getting married is that I could register for things that I want, and an awesome friend of ours got us a grill. So, of course I went and got meat. And now, I’ve enjoyed several wonderful meals, and the average cooking time is 20 minutes.The trick is to get everything in your meal on the grill, and maybe one thing in the microwave.

Today we had a marinated pork tri-tip that came from Dee’s Meats, an awesome little meat shop just outside of Galt, CA. I was able to get a box of grilling meats for under $100, and since I paid cash I got 5% off (and I’m always one to shop bargains, especially when the food is such high quality). This tri-tip was marinated in salsa, so it was nice and tender, and it only took 15 minutes to cook since I cut it up into slices instead of letting it cook fully in one large lump of flesh. Smaller pieces cook faster and use less fuel.

In addition to meat, I sliced up a green bell pepper and placed the slices on the warming rack. They cook a little slower up there, but it still only takes a couple minutes to get those beautiful scorch marks on the skin. Then I flipped them over for just a little bit, and they were ready to eat. Easy, and they don’t take any extra time.

Here is where I cheated: I got a three bean salad from a can. It only cost $1.50, and although it had more sugar, all I had to do was open the can before I started cooking and stick it in the fridge. Done. Easy. And, for another veggie, I nuked up a can of beets. Beets are a great source of magnesium, and since I’ve been craving them… Andy got to try them for the first time. But two minutes in the microwave while the peppers are cooking, and I have my whole meal easily timed out. I chose beets, but green beans, corn, or peas work just as well. And, a nice broccoli salad instead of the beans is a nice addition that also has protein.

And, best yet, I didn’t have to have a salad! I get bored of salads, and it can take a while to gather the ingredients to make a really good one. So, I made sure I had a couple other veggies, and at least one was certainly starchy, so I was covered.

Things that make grilling take a while were notoriously absent from my dinner today. Potatoes and corn on the cob are delicious, but they can take extra time. I also didn’t smoke anything – and didn’t need to because of the meat’s marinade. Still, I was able to make a delicious and nutritious dinner with enough time to watch a movie before bed. Not bad, really!

So what are your favorite fast dinners? I’d like to try something new.

Quiet Time

I’d like to take a minute to talk about the importance of taking a minute. Yesterday I came home from a ten day long dog sitting job that had left me exhausted. One of the dogs, a year-old rottweiler puppy, is the reason why I’m particularly tired because, being a product of her breeding, she had tons of energy. Stacking that on top of working my two jobs, exciting things happening in one of those jobs, and we’re coming down to zero-hour on the wedding, it doesn’t surprise me that I got so tired. I was, as they say, burning the candle at both ends.

Partly because of my business, and partly because of the enthusiastic puppy dog, I didn’t get my quiet time before bed. It is so bad that one of my friends who gives massages told me that my deep tissues are messed up after asking me if I get headaches (not in those words, but the same meaning). Being an introvert, having a lot of time to myself helps me to recharge, unwind, and sort myself out so I’m ready to do what I need the next day. I’m a firm believer that a little quiet time is very important.

Now, those of you who are extroverts are probably saying, “But I can’t sit there and do nothing!” Well, neither can I, lol. I read, goof off online, listen to music and pace, exercise, play video games… I’m never lonely when I’m alone. I’m not very good at meditating so I don’t do it, but I know some people who swear by it, including the author of The Meditation Bible. But here’s how I see it: we can’t be on all the time. If we don’t figure out how to manage our stress, we become more prone to flashes of anger and depression, have less and lower quality sleep, and become more prone to panic attacks.

Also, to completely steal an old adage, you can’t give to others without first giving to yourself. So, try making a little time – and you will have to make it if your week is going anything like mine did – to do something fun for yourself. I firmly believe that you are worth it, and the only person who can make things better for yourself is you. After all, the same goes for me, too.

Update, and Me Being Clever

Hey all, long time no see! A lot has happened in the last month or so (not really, I’ve mostly been lazy) and thus I haven’t been writing. Most recently, two things happened. 1) my Fiance moved in, and 2) I took in my parents’ cat for a week while they were away. I’ve been wanting a fur baby for a while, and it was nice to confirm that I am a relatively sane human being who could handle one as docile as Squeakers is.

I did learn something interesting between finding places for the Affianced’s stuff and scootching around the litter box in my bathroom – I’m losing weight. Well, the weight loss won’t be confirmed or denied until I step on the scale in the morning, but both my boss and my Significant Other mentioned to me today that it looks like I’ve lost weight. Yay! But… I haven’t been working out.

That’s when I realized that, although I haven’t been making a concentrated effort to work out or to make my Fit Bit step goal, I have been exercising and being more active. Vacuuming the whole house makes me sweaty every time, and the whole place is half the floor space of my parents’. We also did laundry because we finally got a washer and drier (another yay!) which resulted in both the Significant Other and I washing out the disgusting, chewing-tobacco-spit-encrusted clothing/drainage sink next to them. I have also moved my potted plant garden around a couple times, swam and walked enough to burn over 800 calories at parties the weekend before the 4th of July, and played Pokemon Go.

Not to mention I rearranged my entire library and added some of the Significant Other’s books to my own – not a small feat. And hoofing it through Wal-Mart  while looking for a fly swatter was a surprisingly good workout as well. I realized that there are a lot of things to do that are great exercise without having to actually exercise, and most of them seem to involve putting things in order.

So, yeah… I’ve been very active. I haven’t been counting my calories much, either. Since I’ve been trying to eat real food in balanced proportions at almost every meal, and not letting myself feel hunger long enough to let my blood sugar drop, I’ve also been eating healthier. I can still eat half a bag of Flamin’ Cheetos like I did tonight, but overall I’ve been getting most of my vitamins and minerals from food instead of a pill.

It all kind of clicked when I watched a video on Fitness Blender. As I’ve mentioned before, I love Fitness Blender workouts and I really like the ideology that Kelli and Daniel purport. Then Kelli took to digital film the story about her eating disorders and how she has managed to move past them. It’s a pretty emotional story, and one that she didn’t share lightly, but it resonated very strongly with me despite the fact that I don’t have an eating disorder. It made me want to do as well for myself as she has.

So, today I dusted and tomorrow I’m going to vacuum, and tonight I’m pulling out some chicken to cook with bell peppers and onions tomorrow. I think this is something I can do for the rest of my life.

What are some things that have gotten you to make changes for the better in your life? I’d like to have that little extra inspiration in mine.

 

Staying Hot… Wait, no, Staying Cool!

It’s finally happened: California jumped into summer. Up until about last week we were enjoying distinctly spring-like weather (for us) of temperatures that stayed at or below the 80s, chances of rain, and days upon days of not turning on the AC. Well, we’ve been in the upper 90s for days now, and today we’re all set to reach 100 degrees. Its time to turn on all our air conditioners and fans, and hope that SMUD doesn’t gouge us for it!

Or wait… It doesn’t have to be that bad. There are always things you can do to save without having to melt your way through summer!

First, purchase some fans and some window and door stoppers. Get a bunch of them – about 4 big fans, 2 small fans, and one stopper for every door and window in your home. Once the temperature drops below the level of your air conditioning in the evening, open all your windows wide and put the fans in front of them, directing the air to move through your house in a circle. This will 1) bring in air from the outside as it cools and 2) move that air throughout your house so the temperature inside drops about as fast as the temperature outside. When you go to bed, just lock everything that slides open with one of your door or window stoppers. Lock it so that its open about 4 or 5 inches, and make sure that there’s a screen there to protect you from bugs. You’re golden!

The thing is, you will need to get up rather early to close up the house before it starts to warm up outside. Around here that means getting up around 7am. If you trap the cold in and close the shades/blinds on your windows, you won’t feel the need to turn on your AC until after noon! After all, fans cost a lot less to run than central air.

Secondly, make your microwave your new best friend. It cooks heatlessly, and in only a few minutes. Canned soup with sandwiches is your new favorite meal because it doesn’t have to be warmed.If you do need something cooked, the toaster oven heats up the house far less than the stove or full-sized oven. I love making salads with leftover meat – they’re cold and the seasoned meat adds something nice to a boring salad.

Third, you may want to keep away from the booze. It warms you up, causing you to want to turn on fans. Not worth it.

And lastly, and as more of a preventative measure if you can afford it and own your own house, make modifications to your house so that it uses less energy and keeps the weather out. Having windows that close tightly, are double-paned, and are made of materials that don’t transfer heat, you keep a lot of the heat from getting into your house. Whole house fans keep air moving and help air things out quickly when it cools off. Also, because so much power is drained (especially in the afternoons) because people are turning on their air conditioners full blast, having appliances that save money not only helps you save money over the long haul, it can also help prevent rolling blackouts.

Now… your car. Keeping it cool can help you save on gas and repair. Keep it in a garage if you can, or under shade if you can’t. Crack your windows open so that heat isn’t trapped inside. Also, keep a small spray bottle of water in your glove compartment so that you can spray your seat belt buckle and the steering wheel – the evaporating water will cool them instantly.

But ultimately, the trick to staying cool is never letting it get too hot. What are some tricks you’ve discovered for keeping cool in the heat?