Monday, June 30, 2014

Blog Hoppin': Why I Write

A few weeks ago, my good friend Laurie Luh over at Mimosa Lotus contacted me to see if I'd like to take part in a blog hop. I didn't really know what a blog hop was, but I told her as long as it didn't involve dancing, I was in. As part of it, I was supposed to answer questions about my writing—which is kind of a funny exercise for me because although I write this blog, this blog, occasionally contribute to this one, and churn out buckets of marketing copy for my day job, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my writing methodology.

Writing has just always been something I've done.

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was about 9 or 10, and immediately penned my first paperback in a 5x7 notebook. It was called Chester the Cat and I'm fairly certain my mom thought she was raising the next Danielle Steel. In high school, I was a staff writer for the yearbook and when I became co-editor-in-chief my senior year, I decided I wanted to purse a career in advertising. I majored in Communications and Advertising, snagged an agency job two weeks after graduation, and have spent the last 15 years using words to try persuade people to buy things.

Day job aside, writing is something that feels like a necessity to me. It's like breathing. Or maybe burping. I don't know. Something so natural, I can't imagine not doing it. To me, there's always a story to be told. It doesn't have to be done by way of the great American novel (although I do have a chick lit manuscript collecting dust in the closet). Stories happen in birthday card messages, blog posts, emails to friends, 140-character tweets. Stories are everywhere and I live to tell them. Even when I know no one may ever read them, I still feel compelled to write them.

So that's my back story. And here are my answers to the official blog hop questions...

1. What am I working on/writing?
When I'm not writing email campaigns for clients like Dropbox and Google, I'm trying to keep up with blogging. I love to blog. It's so immediate and it makes my day when I know I can entertain a reader or two with a funny tale. I also write Love Letters for a list of lucky subscribers (it's free—you should sign up). And I continually come up with ideas for books I want to write. Snippets and ramblings for those are always in the works over here.

2. How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?
I'm not sure mine fits into one particular genre. Maybe that's what makes it different. I have no idea... Sometimes I'm writing DIY instructions. Sometimes I'm simply relaying funny stories. Sometimes I'm pouring my heart out. I would like to think that if anything makes my writing memorable, it's sincerity. 

3. Why do I write what I do?
I write what I do because I can't stop. I come from a big family of storytellers. There's nothing we love more than being able to recount some amusing tale to each other (usually over dinner and adult beverages). Writing lets me do this—but with the power to perfect the story even more on the page. I can noodle sentences and rearrange things until I feel I'm saying them just right. On this blog, I usually write because I'm trying to keep family and friends up on my adventures with Mr. W. And I usually want to try to make people laugh in the process. Over at The Path to Wonderful, I write because I want to empower readers. If I can help them feel understood or less alone or point them in a direction that might assist them in hopping over a life hurdle, I'm elated.

4. How does my writing process work?
Steven Pressfield has a great quote about putting your ass where your heart is. That is a method I wish I could master. Usually my process involves getting up a thousand times and distracting myself with dishes or laundry or the cat. I get my best ideas when I'm gardening or doing things totally unrelated to writing—and then when it comes time to put them into words, I fight it like nobody's business. A lot of times (like right now) my process involves sitting at the dining room table pounding on the keyboard when I should really be in bed.  

So, enough about me.

Meet some of my other favorite writer/blogger friends:

Laurie Luh is a career counselor, HR consultant and the co-founder of Mimosa Lotus, a lifestyle website that inspires personal growth by providing tools to live a happier, more fulfilled life. Laurie was the head of Human Resources at Participant Media since the company's inception in 2004, and left in 2013 when she realized that it was time for her to jump into the next phase of her career life. Now Laurie writes about the practicalities of "jumping" and dispenses overall career advice for Mimosa Lotus and greenlightjobs. She will also be a featured blogger on a new online career center that's still in development. Laurie has been a guest lecturer at USC and has spoken on several panels. Outside of writing and career counseling, Laurie lives by the beach in Los Angeles and is an active runner and hiker hoping to add surfing to her list of activities very soon. She's easy to find over at Mimosa Lotus, or you can follow her on Twitter, where she's often tweeting photos of favorite SoCal hotspots.

Mandy Fishburn writes for Lowe Campbell Ewald, an advertising agency in Detroit. Before she became a copywriter, she taught high school English and creative writing at an independent school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She holds a BA in English from the University of Michigan and she is currently working on a Masters in Education as a Reading and Writing Specialist. Her blog has been nominated as one of the BlogHer Voices of the Year in the Humor category.

Suzy is a stay at home mom living in New Jersey with her husband and 2.5 year old daughter. She has her Master's degree in Nutrition and taught nutrition, health, and diabetes classes for over ten years before becoming a full-time mom. Her passion for nutrition is now channeled in her blog She focuses on teaching others about real food and real ingredients, and hopes to inspire others to eat less processed food and cook more from scratch. You can find her at Google+ and on Pinterest.

Nilsa is the founder and writer for SoMi Speaks, a blog about urban life in Chicago with her husband (Sweets), their son (Gavin) and dog (SoMi). In addition to writing for her blog, she juggles a full-time job and full-on social calendar. She started blogging in March 2007 as a creative outlet for writing, but has been astounded by the discovery that she also belongs to a pretty amazing community of bloggers and reformed bloggers. Her hope is that readers will go to SoMi Speaks with an open mind, respect fellow readers and have fun while visiting her little corner of the internet!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Our Baby Girls Done Gone and Growed Up

I can't believe how fast the chicks have grown up. We hit an interesting, but kind of sad milestone over the last couple weeks—all but one seem to have gotten their big girl voices. Instead of cheep-cheeping, they're now clucking. It's weird. Parents, how do you deal with your children growing up?? I remember a friend once telling me she cried every time her daughter grew out of a piece of baby clothing. I think I would be the same way. I mean, look at these sweet faces!

They're definitely looking like their namesakes now, though, don't ya think? 

In spite of the sadness over how quickly they've grown, we're still totally loving having our girls. They crack us up on a regular basis. We've quickly realized that calling someone a "chicken" is well-founded in their panicky behavior. It doesn't take much to send them running about clucking up a storm. I went into their run with a cat litter scoop to clean their sandbox one day, and you would have thought I was carrying a hatchet. Anything unfamiliar sends them into a total tailspin.

But after awhile they calm down and come perch on whatever body part they can reach. We were squatting in their pen watching them play in the sand yesterday and Carrie Birdshaw hopped up onto Mr. W's leg and immediately started pecking at his beard hair. Highly entertaining.

I guess our next big milestone with them will be when they start to lay. I think that can start around 5 months, so we may be finding eggs around late September. And then I'm sure we'll have quiche and frittatas coming out our ears....

In addition to watching the girls grow, we've been watching all kinds of fun stuff grow in our garden, too. Here's just a little sampling of what's been popping up:

Although it looks like there are only weeds growing in our lower section, there's a bunch of tomato plants, peppers, and squash blooming.
Beets and herbs
Ferns on the asparagus, which will hopefully produce edible veggies for us next year.
Our potato boxes are going crazy. Mr. W put in a little irrigation line last weekend and said he accidentally dug up a couple of fingerlings. Very exciting!

Now if we can just manage to keep everything alive long enough to eat it later in the season...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What We're Making: Peach Butter...and I Have a Bad Attitude About It...

It's no secret around these parts that Mr. Wonderful is a mad scientist. He loves to cook, he owns way too much kitchen and garage gear, and he lives to disassemble things when they break. Whether he's mixing mortar or sourdough starter, anything that feels scientific gets him all dreamy-eyed and twitterpated.

So it wasn't a big surprise when he informed me he was going to take a bunch of our ripe peaches and make peach butter.

He's made jelly before, and of course there was the wine-making madness back in Hollywood. But fruit butter was a new undertaking and, being the devoted wife I am, I offered to help. For the record, there is no butter in fruit butter. I have no idea why they call it that. It's really just fruit and sugar. They should just call it Peach Tooth Rot.


I couldn't help but make about a thousand dirty jokes while I was helping. Mr. W: "I'm going to make some peach butter tonight." Me: "I got your peach butter right here, baby." And so on and so forth.

We began by cutting x's in the bottoms of the peaches and blanching them in boiling water. Then they were given a little ice bath and we divided them up to peel.

There might not be anything more disgusting than a de-skinned peach. I imagine holding one is similar to holding a freshly harvested kidney or gall bladder. However gross they felt, it didn't stop me from carrying on with the dirty jokes. Mr. W: "These peaches are so slippery!" Me: "I'll show ya a slippery peach..." Sorry, Mom.

Once all of the peaches were peeled, we added them (4lbs worth) to about 1/2 cup of water and 3 1/2 cups of sugar and let it simmer until the peaches were soft.

Then Mr. W busted out one of his favorite pieces of lab equipment—the hand mixer—and pulverized them until they were smooth. They continued to cook until the mixture was thickened.

This is about where I remembered that I don't like to cook.

I was in charge of sterilizing the jelly jars in a pot of boiling water and all of the sudden I felt this overwhelming hatred for the kitchen. Why would I be using every pot in the joint to make something I could go buy at the store? My attitude became bad very quickly.... And Mr. W told me I should go sit in my flower room (AKA our guest room that has all my girly stuff in it). Instead I sat nearby and calmed myself with Pinterest.

After about forty minutes—or four days, I can't remember—the peaches were reduced enough for Mr. W to spoon them into the jars.

He then sealed up each one, boiled it again and then did an overnight test without the screw portion of the lid on so we could make sure all the seals held.

We ate some of his butter on some steamed bao pork buns today and it was pretty delicious.

That said, next time he decides to do a big experiment in the kitchen, I probably will plan to have something really important to take care of in my flower bedroom...

Monday, June 9, 2014

Bathroom Renovation Bloopers

We're deep in the throes of bathroom renovations and like with any good DIY project, there have already been more mishaps than I can count. Because it's still early in the overall remodeling of our home, I still have my sense of humor and although I hope it stays intact until we hang our last picture on our freshly painted walls, there are no guarantees...

But for now, I'm finding the bloopers entertaining.

Our pink bathtub was made of cast iron, which meant getting it out was not going to be easy. Mr. W tried putting it on Craigslist in hopes that some vintage-lover would bring 5 friends and emancipate it from our property, but after a couple days he got antsy and decided he would "remove" it himself.

And out came the sledgehammer.

He did most of the big hits and then asked me if I wanted to take a swing. I waltzed over, whacked it once, got hit in the nose by a piece of flying debris (please ignore the crows' feet and large pores below), and immediately started bleeding. I'm so lucky it didn't get me in the eye because I wasn't wearing safety glasses. (Note: ALWAYS wear safety glasses when you're smashing things. Not only does it make you look more official, it could save you from a future pirate's patch.)

After we got all the shards of tub cleaned up and relocated to our side yard (for eventual transfer to the dump), we were left with a hole in the floor where the pipes connected to the tub. Of course, we lost a cat down that hole a day later... She went spelunking and took her sweet time coming back when we yelled her name into the crawlspace. Finally, with a plate of cat food in one hand, I was able to reach down and grab her by the scruff of her neck with the other hand. She's been grounded all week.

Mr. W successfully installed the new shower valve and was trying to remedy a tiny drip coming from one of the pipes when he accidentally turned the water on and shot it from the shower head pipe right down onto his crotch. I stood by and laughed hysterically like any good helper would.

The latest endeavor was the installation of two retro-looking globe pendant lights over the sink. Of course they presented some sort of wiring issues which forced Mr. W to suit up and venture into the attic multiple times to get everything sorted out. Thankfully he got them fixed up this morning so we (read: he) can move on to the next thing: tiling the shower.

I'm not yet posting any pictures of our latest progress, but I will give you a little tease of the bathroom's new materials, along with some of our inspiration pictures from Pinterest. Enjoy!



Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Perils of Chicken Parenting

If you're reading this thinking, "Another fricken chicken post?" I apologize. You know how sometimes when people have babies, that becomes one of their top topics of conversation? That's me. With chickens. On this blog. I promise it won't last forever.

Last week, we moved our baby girls into their coop full-time. It was sad that first night not to hear their peeping coming from the pen in the living room. When we went out to lock them in their coop for the night, we had to encourage them to get up on their perch (apparently that's where grown chickens sleep) and I pretty much wanted to grab a blanket and pillow and hunker down in there with them to make sure they were okay until morning.

But by night #2, they were putting themselves to bed when it got dark and had already snuggled up with each other on their perch when we went to close the door to their run. It almost brought a tear to my eye. Such grown-up little girls.

All was well in chickenland until Sunday afternoon when we went out to the run to say hello and found our sweet Samantha puffed up in her coop with one eye closed. Like any good new parent, I immediately panicked. We brought her in the house and set up a quarantine station to watch her. As I furiously scoured the Internet for a diagnosis, I came across one too many stories that ended with "and then we woke up and the entire flock was dead." Seriously. Don't look up chicken stories on the Internet.

Of course I wanted to call the home-visit vet, but Mr. W (the more rational one in this operation) insisted we just try washing out her eye with some saline and seeing that made her perk up. He wrapped her in a kitchen towel (and yes, we called her the chicken burrito) and held her in his lap while I carefully dripped saline drops in her affected eye. There were no signs of any other issues (respiratory problems are common with chickens), so by evening we decided to put her back outside with her sisters.

She was acting completely normal by bedtime and the eye was bright and open. She's been fine ever since.

And we've told her siblings that the next one to kick dirt in someone's eyes loses worm privileges for a week. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Byproduct of Looking on the Bright Side

Back in the fall, as part of my coachy coping mechanisms for living in a new house in the country sans-husband, I started writing in a daily gratitude journal. I've done this in the past (usually when I'm down about something) and the practice always seems to peter out as soon as I start feeling more joyful.

This year, I decided to keep the practice going even after I got settled in my new home—and even after Mr. W returned to it full-time.

In the last couple weeks, I've been aware of a sort of rewiring that seems to have set in. And I think it's from consciously, continually trying to practice gratitude.

I think I first realized it when our power went out for an entire day. It was a tricky workday that involved several hours at a local sandwich shop, mooching off the free wi-fi. We had to throw away groceries that went bad in the fridge, and we accidentally killed a big patch of grass when we ran a generator to charge our laptops. But we went to dinner that night and strolled through Solvang, enjoying the electricity humming through that part of town. When Mr. W suggested we duck into a local bar to play pool, I felt kind of giddy. Being there, drinking a beer with him, playing hooky from our darkened home made me have one of those moments when all seems right in the world. Even when we came back to our pitch-black house, we opened the curtains and let the full moon stream in and light up the living room. It was such a beautiful night.

Later that week, when a loose drain pipe behind our washing machine caused a flood on our nice hardwood hallway, I found my initial horror softened by massive gratefulness that Mr. W was there to help get the situation under control. It was so lucky we were home and could start the clean-up effort so quickly—it could have been so much worse had we not been there.

After we got all the sopping wet towels into the washing machine, I walked into the dining room and discovered a snake lizard hanging out under our table. But again, I was eternally grateful to have my partner in crime to handle the reptile wrangling.

This weekend, Mr. W demoed the shower and bathtub in our under-construction seahorse bathroom and I honestly don't think I've ever seen so much dust. People warned me about remodeling dust, but I had no idea it would be a mop-twice-and-it'll-do-nothing-to-the-layer-of-film-on-the-floors situation. When my dear friend SBW came to visit Saturday, I launched into a lengthy round of complaining.

And then Mr. W tore out the floor in the seahorse bathroom. And he had to work until he had blisters on his palms. And while I was putting on my makeup to go run errands, he was on his hands and knees scrubbing off the last traces of linoleum glue. All my frustration with the dust melted into gratitude for his hard work.

I'm not consciously trying to find the upsides. My initial, natural reaction to the bumps is annoyance. But in time, something else rolls in—like a tide smoothing rough sand. It sweeps out the irritation and replaces it with a sort of delight.

And if continuing to write in my gratitude journal will help sustain this new trend, I'll do it as long as I can keep feeling the waves of appreciation wash over me.