Monday, October 20, 2014

Be Royal - And We're Headed to the World Series!

Kansas City Royals World Series

So since my last post, the Royals clinched their spot in the World Series! It's has been fun and crazy in this town! The first game against the San Francisco Giants is tomorrow night. Be Royal! "

On another note, I've made the decision to take a break from blogging. The new job takes quite a bit of time, that's true. But to be honest, I'm just not that excited about it anymore. I've gone from "What will I write about this week?" to "Ugh. I have to write a blog post." That means it's time to take a step back. 

Thanks to everyone who reads regularly. 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real. And ROYAL!

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Little Somethin' Somethin' Called Kansas City Royals Baseball

I'm Down With the Crown Kansas City Royals
The Midnight Assassins. The 11th Inning Specialists. The Wizard of Hos. Raisin' Cain. These are just some of the clever monikers used to describe the Kansas City Royals and some of the players. How fun! 

If you haven't heard, the Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs for the first time in 29 years. I was 14 the last time they were crowned World Series Champs. It was the era of George Brett, Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen, Frank White, Willie Wilson, Dick Howser and so many more. While I wasn't that into baseball then, there was no mistaking the energy and magic that engulfed our city. Everybody knew the names and face. 

And now we're back. And it's just as energetic, fun and magical as it was 19 years ago.

Tonight is our third game against the Baltimore Orioles. We opened a big ol' can on them for the first two games in this Best of 7 series. Boy, wouldn't another sweep be sweet? 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Society6 and One Other Favorite Thing

I was going to get all "deep thoughts" on this post, but when I sat down to write, all I could think about was this awesome online store I stumbled across and the framed pics I ordered yesterday for my new kitchen

If you haven't browsed Society6, you should. It's just so fun. Even if you don't order anything, the site will make you happy. And, it will make you feel hip and cool. At least, that's been my experience. 

Here's what I ordered: 
Society6 David Olenick
By David Olenick

Society6 Teo Zirinis
By Teo Zirinis

My other favorite thing for this week is this book:

I'm listening to the audio version, and it's such an amazing story. Crisp writing that accurately captures the confusing emotions of young children at that bittersweet sliver moment in time that marks the transition from child to young adult. The Snow Queen fantasy plot only makes me love this story that much more.  I look forward to every moment I can get away and plug in.

What are some of your favorite things this week? 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, September 29, 2014

You Must Be New Here: My Adventure in Going Back to Work

Willy Wonka Meme
Willy is one of my all-time faves.
In last week's post, I hinted about an upcoming adventure. Well, that adventure is in full swing! Last Monday, I started a new job as the content development coordinator at an area hospital. Not as awesome as Mexico, but still awesome in my world. 

The whole thing happened pretty quickly. In fact, my head is still spinning. I decided over the summer that I would start poking around the job market. I knew I wanted something close to home and that I wanted to work for a community-oriented company I also wanted to transition to marketing. 

I revamped my resume with the help of a friend/mentor and sent it out into the universe. Actually, I sent it to just three places. I expected no bites. At the very least, I thought I'd brush up on my interview skills. Very high expectations, yes? 

The hospital called me almost immediately. Two interviews and a writing assessment later and BAM! I had me a job that met all of my criteria and a nice salary! Ideal Reality Meets Real Reality! In my world, that translates to "meant to be." 

My first week went well, and I think I'm going to like the position and my co-workers. What this means for my blog and my freelancing, only time will tell. I think this job is going to keep me hopping, which I love. 

What about you? Any new adventures or job stories to share? I'd love to hear them! 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Playin' in Playa

Every year, my BFF and her twin sister plan a Girl's Weekend and invite a bunch of their friends. Usually, we hang out in the US. But this year, we headed to Playa del Carmen to celebrate a milestone birthday of their younger sister. We had 11 ladies travel this year. That is a lot of ladies! 

We stayed at the Viva Wyndham Maya, an all-inclusive resort. This was my first time at an all-inclusive, and I would definitely do it again. It was pretty much worry free, and I could use a little more of that!

Here are some trip highlights: 

Viva Wyndham Maya
My view all day Friday. Pure bliss.
Cabana man included. 

Tulum Mayan ruins
The beach at the Mayan ruins in Tulum

Ixmoja pyramaid (138 ft) is the tallest pyramid on the
Yucatan Peninsula.
Ixmoja pyramic coba
I climbed Ixmoja! I am scared of heights! No fear.
Ok, there was a little fear. 
We also went out into the ocean on a catamaran and swam in an underground cenotes (say-no-tays). I loved the catamaran, and the 30-minute trip was perfect. Any longer than that and I would have been bored out of my gourd. As for the cenotes, it was an interesting experience and I'm glad I did it, but it was also a tad creepy. Can't say I'll do that again. 

What interesting adventures have you experienced lately? I have another coming up, but it's much closer to home. Stay tuned!

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep it Real.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Home Improvement Phase 6: It's Beautiful!

Last Friday, the Old House Magician and his Trusty Assistant packed their bags and left. With the exception of a few odds and ends, our big kitchen remodel is done! And I love it! As I mentioned previously, the picture in my head is what unfolded before my eyes. I can't believe it!

Kitchen remodeling
Added cabinets and counter tops to this wall
kitchen remodeling
The long view. Excuse the fan. 
kitchen remodeling
Another gorgeous view!
kitchen remodeling
Hey! Hey! Goodbye! The old kitchen

I do have a confession to make. Around Thursday of last week, I was starting to backslide toward Phase 4. The end was in sight, and I was just ready for it to be done and for everyone to get out of my house! But I held it together. 

(Side note: I doubt I'll post next Monday. I'm headed to Riviera Maya later this weekend, and a little R&R and girl time will take priority.) 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Light at the End of the Kitchen Remodeling Tunnel

Here we are at the beginning of Week 6: 
kitchen remodeling
See the Blue Pearl granite counter tops? See the subway tile?

kitchen remodeling
Picture my stainless steel oven where the ladder is. I'm lovin' this tile job!
What do you think? I am in L.O.V.E. with this space. This is one of those rare moments in life when Ideal Reality meets Real Reality and my little world explodes in sunshine, Oreo cookies, hugs and good beer. In other words, the picture I created in my head exactly matches what is happening in my kitchen.  

The OHM and his Trusty Assistant should wrap up this week! There will be a few odds and ends that I need to take care of, such as finding some knobs and pulls that match the ones we salvaged from the tear out. That task has proven to be a tad more difficult than I expected. And, of course, we have to put everything back into the kitchen and clean the entire house, which is idling under a layer of construction dust. 

My plan is to post Phase 6: It's Beautiful! soon, with Before and After pix. 

Until then, wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, August 25, 2014

You Know You Have a Fantastic Contractor When You Don't Want Him to Leave

Here we are at the start of Week 5 of the Great Kitchen Remodel: 

kitchen remodeling
The breakfast nook is painted and trimmed! 

kitchen remodeling
The trim work around the cabinets is amazing!
You likey? ME lovey!

I'm thrilled to report that we are sailing through Phases 4 AND 5 of my Six Phases of Home Improvement program. I am NOT ready for "these people" to get out of my house, and I have yet to feel like I hate everyone. Quite the contrary. I've been scheming about how I can talk my husband into another home improvement project. (I already know the answer ... NEVER. But a girl can dream.) I wish I could keep the Old House Magician and his Trusty Assistant all to myself and always at the ready. Yes, I have a contractor crush. Hearts. Rainbows. Unicorns. 

This week's activities should include installation of the tile floor, granite counter tops and possibly the back splash as well as the cabinet doors and drawers and electrical stuff. The OHM thinks he'll be done by the early part of the next week! 

I can't wait to share the finished project!

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Phase 3: Unexpected (aka Expensive) Problems

Here we are at the start of Week 4: 

kitchen remodeling
Check out my new beadboard in the breakfast nook! (You may have to squint a bit.)
Thankfully, we seem to have skated through Phase 3 with our financials still intact. While there were a few unexpected problems, which I asked Old House Magician to refer to as challenges, nothing too expensive popped up, and certainly nothing that couldn't be fixed. I probably just jinxed myself.

This biggest snafu (what a fun word!) involved our counter top vendor. My salesperson has been great. Friendly, responsive, happy to take my 50% deposit with the promise the granite guy would call in a couple of days to schedule a time to make the template. Five days and two follow up phone calls later ... crickets. 

So, Old House Magician got on the horn. You don't mess with the OHM and his schedule. Turns out, the granite guy had been canned because of ... wait for it ... his unresponsive approach with customers. Oops! 

Before I could get too nervous, I received a phone call from Mike at Rocktops. Apparently, our vendor recently started contracting work with his company, and he was set to send out someone the next morning to get the job done. Jess appeared on my doorstep promptly at 8:30 a.m., and the remodeling train started chugging along. Whew! 

Phase 4 (click here for my six phases of home improvement), better known as "I Don't Care If It's Not Done. I'm Ready for These People to Get Out of My House." reared it's ugly head one day last week. But I kept it together. 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Home Improvement, Phase 2: What the H was I Thinking?

Today starts Week 3 of our kitchen remodel. Here is our current state of affairs:
Kitchen Remodeling
Houston, we have cabinets! Sort of ...

As of yet, I have not reached the point of yelling, "WTH was I thinking?" In fact, things haven't been nearly as awful as I expected them to be. Sure, walking around Robin Hood's barn to get to the sun room to heat up food is slightly annoying, and washing dishes in the bathtub is, well, weird. But, we're dealing. We're good. It's fine.

Overall, the project is going smoothly. Probably because the Old House Magician rocks it.  

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Home Improvement Phase 1.5: Kinda Super Excited

Just a quick update ... 

We survived Week 1 of our kitchen remodel. Here's where we are: 
Complete Kitchen Remodel
We moved the 'fridge into the dining room. So now we're living like this: 

Complete Kitchen Remodel
Home Sweet Home? 
The first week was all about prep work. Our back splash was cemented to the wall, so that was a bit challenging for the guys. They are adding outlets and lighting under the cabinets, moving the gas line, shifting a vent from the wall to the floor, and updating the plumbing. Next week should bring the start of cabinet installation. 

I've shifted from Super Excited to Kinda Super Excited (it didn't take long, did it?) I'm already over the daily hunt for various items, shuffling meals between rooms and washing dishes in the bathtub. 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Six Phases of Home Improvement - Phase I: Super Excited!

Our big home improvement project for this year is a complete kitchen remodel. We're talking new cabinets, counter tops, floors and back splash. This is what we have now.
Galley Kitchen Remodel
Our current kitchen
It's a charming galley kitchen, perfect for the family who designed it in 1942. But we need (OK, want) something a little more functional. 

Our new cabinets have been sitting in our basement since April, waiting for our contractor to clear his schedule. I call him the Old House Magician, and he is well worth the wait.  He arrives tomorrow. Tomorrow! The cabinets come out tomorrow (cue "Annie"). I can hardly believe it. It's finally our turn! 

In anticipation of the big event, our house currently looks like this:
Galley Kitchen Remodel
Our dining room pantry

Galley Kitchen remodel
Our sun room storage area
I cannot wait to get this project underway! Yes, I am in Phase I of Home Improvement: Super Excited! I am living in my Ideal Reality where, with a strike of a hammer, my kitchen will be transported into 2014.

The Real Reality in which I will be without a kitchen for at least a month while home with two 7-year-olds while trying to interview company CEOs for freelance projects has yet to sink in. That's Phase 2 of Home Improvement: What the Hell was I Thinking? 

Stay tuned for that as well as the remaining four phases ... 

Phase 3: Unexpected (aka Expensive) Problems
Phase 4: I Don't Care If It's Not Done. I'm Ready for These People to Get Out of My House.
Phase 5: I Hate Everyone.
Phase 6: It's Beautiful!

Interested in one of our previous home improvement projects? Here's what we tackled in 2012: When Ideal Realty Becomes Real Reality: Home Improvement. I just realized I never posted our 2013 project, which was where the Old House Magician transformed our dungeon in to a third bathroom and a revamped laundry room. Maybe someday I'll at least post pics. 

What are your Phases of Home Improvement? Any tips on surviving? 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Time I Found Swimming Lessons on Craigslist

swimming lessons; craigslist
After five years of swimming lessons, my 7-year-old twins barely have the basics down. This year, they were adamant about not taking lessons. I almost acquiesced, but my own love of the water and my fear of them drowning kept me from caving. It took several meandering Q&A sessions before I got to the root of the problem: They don't care for group lessons. And I can't say I blame them. 

I decided to bite the financial bullet and started searching for private lessons. Except by the time I jumped in, everyone else had been in the water for awhile. All the local facilities were booked. Mamma as instructor was NOT an option.  

I'm an infrequent craigslist user, but on a whim I did a search for swim instructors. I found two within 10 minutes of our house. I reached out to both and ultimately picked one. The gal was willing to wrangle my kids for one hour each week for $20 total. Yes, I had low expectations. After all, you get what you pay for. As the girls and I left for our first visit, I gave my husband the address with explicit instructions to call the police if we didn't return by a specified time.

As it turns out, the girls love the instructor, and with her encouragement they have both taken risks and learned new skills. Are they learning to swim? Not the way I had envisioned, but they have gained confidence and some survival skills. For $20/week, I'll take it. 

The experience has definitely dropped me into the deep end of my comfort zone. Our instructor is super nice, good with the girls, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. But I've had to go with the flow several times and remind myself to keep an open mind. She's a Millennial; I'm a Gen Xer. In many aspects, we are at opposite ends of the pool. She's clad in tattoos, and I'm not. She collects skulls, and I do not. She runs with the Festival crowd (as in Renaissance), and I have no idea what that means. She's ok when her phone dies; I start twitching. She's loosey goosey when it comes to scheduling lessons and returning messages. Me? Hahahahaha. No one will ever describe me as loosey goosey.

Overall, it's been a good experience for all of us. I've enjoyed getting to know her, and I think we'll all be a little sad when the pool season comes to an end. 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Travel & Leisure; Living Vicariously

Viva Wyndham Maya Cancun
Viva Wyndham Maya, Cancun, Mexico
I love traveling pretty much anywhere. I'm addicted to the adventure of wandering new roads and discovering new experiences. I love challenging myself to step out of my comfort zone. (Read about one of those times here.) I'm fascinated by the cultures, customs, foods, dialects and everyday routines of people who live in different places. The possibilities of an open road make me giddy. I am a road trip junkie, although planes, trains and boats are awesome, too.

But I haven't been able to get my travel fix lately, unless you count the 10-minute round trip from my house to Target. Which I do not. I'm feeling a tad cagey. Stuck. In a rut. And that makes me crazy. And cranky. 

To alleviate some of my restlessness, I've been trolling Travel + Leisure's website, The blog, appropriately named Carry On, is a bite size bit of travel yum. I'm going to subscribe to the hard copy so I can drool on the pages and live vicariously through the travel writers who get to go and do. 

Living vicariously will have to do for now because life demands it. I do have a trip planned to Cancun in September that I'm really looking forward to. The pic above is of Viva Wyndham Maya, the resort where I'll be staying. I've never been, so I'm super duper excited, especially because I'm going with some fun friends.

How about you? Is there something you love to do but have to live vicariously through someone or something? Please share.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real

P.S.  I also drool over the Viking cruise ads on PBS. Check with me in 15 years because that's my timeline for hopping on one of those pleasure rides. Footloose and kid free.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Am I Ready for Hillary?

Ready for Hillary Super PAC
Ready for Hillary
 A couple of weeks back, Hillary Clinton stopped in KC on her Hard Choices book tour. For $40, I got a signed copy of the book, an hour of intelligent and engaging conversation and some time with me, myself and I (bonus!). 

The funny things is, I almost didn't bother with buying a ticket, even though I find HC one of the most fascinating women of my lifetime. Then, my husband pointed out that she could possibly be the next President of the United States. Sold. 

Attending that talk was one of the most exciting adventures I've had in awhile. People of all ages, genders and backgrounds lined the sidewalk outside of The Midland Theatre. A gaggle of  protesters lined the opposite sidewalk. I don't think I've ever been that close to protesters. It was scary, yet exhilarating! And funny. As in, hilarious.

Hillary Clinton protesters
Funny protesters
There is no doubt that HC is intelligent, sharp, wise and a genuine supporter of rights for women and girls around the world. She's also funny. More so than I expected. I can certainly see her as our president. 
But am I ready for Hillary? I don't know. Experiencing a female president in my lifetime would be PHENOMENAL. But it needs to be the right woman, not just a woman. 

I do know one thing: I am ready to educate myself about this possible candidate as well as any other candidates that throw their hats in the ring. 

And that's about as political as I'll get in this space. 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Most Awesome Book Series for Kids You Have Never Read

If your family hasn't read The Sisters 8 series created by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, her husband Greg and their daughter Jackie, you need to get yourself to a bookstore. NOW. Seriously. NOW. I'll wait.

Are you back? Okay. Hopefully, you picked up Book 1: Annie's Adventures. The series is centered around the 7-year-old Huit octuplets,  a group of intelligent, snarky, sassy and creative female problem solvers. When their parents disappear on New Year's Eve, the Huit girls aren't sure what to do. At first. They find a cryptic note in a loose fireplace stone stating that each girl has a yet to be discovered power and gift. Fearing that if they call the police or a relative that they will be separated, this tight-knit clan decides to figure out how to survive on their own without letting on their parents are missing.

The peeps and I just started Book 5: Marcia's Madness. They beg me to read with them each night, and I admit that I'm always curious as to what happens next. We can't get enough of the suspense and the humor, and we love reading about how the girls solve the various problems usually reserved for adults (paying bills, driving a car, cooking food). Fun illustrations and hilariously evil criminals add to the experience.

We are excited about our summer book series! 

Trivia: I read about the series on The Simple Dollar blog post Five Children's Books That Teach Useful Money Tactics.

Have you discovered The Sisters 8 series? If so, share your thoughts!

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing  ... Keep It Real.

Monday, June 23, 2014

5 Mesmerizing Memoirs All Women Should Read

Every once in awhile, I delve into a memoir. I tend to gravitate toward the recollections of women who have had to navigate their way through a male-dominated world. I've gleaned so many life lessons by reading how other women handled themselves in tough situations. I find their stories about their unimaginable struggles, overwhelming heartbreak and disappointing setbacks fascinating. I find myself thinking about what I would do should I ever find myself in similar situations. More than once I've thought, "I would have totally given up."

But these women don't. And I find their bravery, determination and perseverance so encouraging and inspiring.   

Here are five books that make my list of the most mesmerizing memoirs. 

Travels with Myself and Another - Martha Gellhorn

Personal History - Katherine Graham

Madame SecretaryMadeleine Albright

Breaking News: God has a Plan: An Anchorwoman's Journey Through Faith - Harris Faulkner

What about you? Are you into memoirs?

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing  ... Keep It Real.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Project 2014: Mark Twain, I'm Just Not That Into You

slow no wake
This year, I decided my themed reading project would center around Mark Twain. You can read the story here

I started out strong, but here it is June and as you can tell by my progress (check out my Project 2014 page), it's been slow going. The first two volumes I picked out of our collection were short stories and clips. While some showcased Twain's clever brain and sharp, I had to force myself to make it through  most of them.  

I started reading Tom Saywer Abroad, but finally decided to ditch it. It just kept going on and on and on. Plus, I got sidetracked by The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, which I read for a book club. Highly recommended.

Recently, I resurrected Twain from the book pile on my nightstand and read Tom Sawyer, Detective. Loved it! I just started reading The Innocents Abroad, and although I'm just a few chapters in, I think I'm going to enjoy it as well! 

What I'm discovering is that I don't care for Twain's shorter pieces, essays and commentaries as much as I do his novels. The shorter stories seem too disjointed, too rambly, too something that I can't quite put my finger on. I just can't get into them.

What's your favorite Twain piece? Why? Or are you not a fan? 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, June 9, 2014

From Blog to Website: How Do I Know When I'm Ready to Make the Move?

My Ideal Reality

One of my professional goals this year is to create a website for my freelance editorial services. Here is it June, and I have yet to get started. I have ideas floating around, but haven't acted on many of them. Honestly, moving from a blog site to a web site seems a bit daunting.

Whenever I start looking into it, I begin to realize how much I don't know about converting a blog into a website. Never mind the whole website maintenance issue.Or host selection. Or design. I've seen some really fun designs, and I want to measure up. After all, visual appeal is what gets people in the door these days, right? And what about promoting it? Marketing is a whole other animal.

Before I make the leap, I want to be sure I truly need a website. It's a big commitment. Part of me thinks I should focus on building my client base a bit more before diving into this project. But part of me thinks it would be easier to build a client base if I had a website to promote. Chicken before the egg scenario.

To get things rolling, I took two baby steps. I updated my About Me page, and I created a Hire Me page on this blog. I know there are freelance gurus out there who would say this is a no-no. But, I'm going to try it. It's what makes sense to me right now. I've never been a bandwagon jumper, and sometimes I like to take the long way home. I'll make this work until I'm prepared to take the giant step.

What about you? How did you know when you were ready for your own website? And what one piece of advice would you give a website newbie?

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Time is Money: How I Track My Freelance Time

easy tempus smartphone app
As a freelance editorial services provider trying to make a living, delivering a quality product with quality service to my clients is my No. 1 priority. Running a close second is tracking my time. Until recently, pen, paper and an Excel spreadsheet were my go-to tools. They served the purpose, but sometimes I forgot to log my time. Of course, this oversight always worked to the benefit of my clients because I always erred on the side of caution, shorting myself instead of running the risk of overcharging my clients.  

One of my professional goals for this year is to put even more effort into building my client base, making the need to track my time more efficiently that much more important. Enter Easy Tempus, a free app for Android devices. 

Easy Tempus is the perfect tool for me. I can organize multiple clients by project and task, and I can track my time by either running a timer or setting a start-and-stop period. The app generates a detailed history, tallies my earnings  and creates reports to view or export. I can also take photos and write notes, although I haven't had the need to do so yet. The premium version (just a few bucks)  lets users generate invoices, view an expanded history timeline, sync to Google calendar, and store expenses and receipts. 

The app definitely helps me more precisely track my time on hourly projects, but I also use it for flat-fee projects. By doing this, I can gain a better understanding of how long various projects take me to complete. Over time, I will be able to use this data to develop project-based rates that are fair but competitive and that more accurately reflect my talents and the value I provide to clients. 

(True confession time: I do still enter my time into an Excel sheet. Old habits die hard. I just like the security of a hard copy backup.) 

How about you? What time-tracking tips have your discovered for your freelancing adventures? 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.   

P.S. No one paid me to use Easy Tempus or write a review. This was all me.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Where Did I Come From? Life's Big Question is About to be Answered

Where Did I Come From?
Based on some recent conversations and some regular viewing of PBS's Nature series, my recent order of Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle (author) and Arthur Robins (illustrator) was perfectly timed. It's only a matter of time before the peeps put 2 + 2 together, if you know what I mean. It won't be long before I'll have some 'splainin' to do.

My mom had this book when my sister and I were kids. I remember the two of us lying on the floor on our stomachs, glued to the pages, giggling at the cartoon-like illustrations of a naked dude and his wife. What I didn't remember until the book arrived and I thumbed through the pages was the level of DETAIL the book offers. Whoa!

I can't share this book with the peeps! Not only will I laugh hysterically during the conversation ( you have to admit that the process typically followed to bring a baby into the world is rather ridiculous when you think about, especially when orally translated), but my peeps have sponges for brains, and I have no doubt that the lurid details will be repeated at the most inappropriate times, resulting from phone calls from disgruntled school officials and parents.

Now, please excuse me while I go giggle and point at the illustrations of the naked people.

By the way, how did you explain where babies come from to your sweet angels? Please share. Please?

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Why I Broke My Vow to Never Join a Book Club

Book club

To regular readers of the My Ideal Reality blog, it's no secret that I am a bibliophile. (Be sure to check out my Project 2014 and More Books! pages).  Despite my love of the written word, I vowed to never join a book club. I've always derived a large amount of satisfaction and comfort from reading in isolation and pondering the book in my head, although I do engage in casual book chat with friends from time to time. The whole book club thing has never appealed to me for reasons I'll keep to myself to avoid sounding like an anti-social book snob.  

But, when two friends asked me to start a book club with them I went for it. Why? Mainly, because I like these two gals. They are both super smart and serious about their books. I met Laura in grad school a few years ago, and I met Laurie last year when her son and my Ruthie became buddies. Laura and Laurie recently met at a church group, discovered they both knew me and pitched the idea of creating a book club. We got together over coffee one morning, selected a book and off we went. One thing I'm going to love about this club - aside from getting to spend some time with some smart women - is that it's super informal. I'm excited to head off on this new adventure of friendship and literature.

Our first book is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. It's the first book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series. I'm already about halfway finished. I love it! It's a good old-fashioned whodunnit, not the blood, terror and horror that passes for mystery today. Bradley created a one unique narrator in 11-year-old Flavia and plopped her down into one of the most enthralling and unusual plot lines.  Add to this Bradley's flair for weaving in exquisite detail, and I'm hooked. So hooked, in fact, that I've put my Mark Twain Marathon on hold until I finish. 

And speaking of book clubs, my friend Jennifer Scott just released her second novel for women called, The Accidental Book Club. Check it out today!

Wherever you are, whatever your doing  ... Keep it Real (and grab a book)!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Gardening With Children: Ideal Reality Vs. Real Reality


Like every other sick-of-winter person on the planet, when the seed catalogs start appearing in February, I start planning. I make detailed lists and charts and diagrams of everything from the seeds I want to buy to which plants will go where and why. I am all up in it. 

And then, I wait. And wait a bit more. Because spring doesn't really arrive here until May. Sometimes June. Last year, I planted my garden on May 2, when it was 80 degrees, and it snowed on May 3. And while I'm waiting, I revel in my Ideal Reality of family gardening. In this annual indulgence, I visualize a Norman Rockwell-esque day of garden planting with my peeps. Laughing, giggling, playing with earthworms, chatting excitedly about anything and everything. Tired and exhausted at the end of the day, we lounge around with Flavor-Ice (them) and beer (me). It's the quintessential "mother-and-child gardening together in true harmony" picture. 

Enter Real Reality. When I have a plan, especially one that includes lists and charts and diagrams, everyone who is not on board or who has no intention of following my directions, needs to steer clear. I am a big 'ol ball of OCD and anal retentiveness. The peeps just want to dig for buried treasure and dinosaur bones. They have no need for straight lines, organization or directions. And I have no patience. So ... about 15 minutes into our day of gardening, I am alone. And I am in heaven. La la la. 

While the kids and I might not make the best planting team, we harvest like beasts. As we tiptoe through the vines and narrow rows, peeking under leaves and snapping off veggies, we laugh, giggle, play with earthworms and chat excitedly about anything and everything. Yep, harvest time is rather Norman Rockwell-esque. 

On a related note, check out Amber Dusik's post on SheKnows. It's called Gardening With Young Children: What Could Go Wrong? Amber is the author of Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures, and the writer and illustrator of the blog Illustrated With Crappy Pictures. And I am thankful for her every day because she reminds me I'm not alone. 

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep it Real

Monday, May 5, 2014

8 Audiobooks Your Ears Will Thank You For

books wrapped in headphones
I got hooked on audiobooks last year when I had an hour commute to work each day. Even though I work from home now, I still find ways to sneak audiobooks into my day. I listen to them while running, cleaning, folding laundry. Pretty much anytime I can get away with plugging in some earphones and escaping. 

Audiobooks are tricky little things because if you get a crummy narrator, it's a rather painful experience. Strangely, I have found that the narrators for children's books are, for the most part, dreadfully boring, but the ones for adult books are quite talented. I wonder why?

Below are 8 audiobooks that I highly recommend. Happy listening!

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. If I hadn't listened to this this book, I would have likely given up on it. The narration by Jesse Bernstein was out of this world!

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. The story picks up right where Miss Peregrine left off, and it is just as imaginative, suspenseful and wonderful as the first book. Riggs weaves in new characters, plot twists and locations with the exquisite detail I've come to expect from his writing.  

The American Heiress: A Novel by Daisy GoodwinI listened to this while jogging on the treadmill, walking through the neighborhood, emptying the dishwasher, folding the laundry ... anywhere I could steal a few minutes. The narrator was amazing and really helped bring the story to life. That said, I would have loved this book just as much if I had held a hard copy. Early English drama, scandal, politics and secrecy at its best! I'm excited for Goodwin's latest novel, The Fortune Hunter.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. Better than Gone GirlWow! So good!

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Oh. My. Great. Goodness.Just as good as her other two.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. So much fun! A fun literary ride with a complex plot and a parade of unique, quirky characters.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Dark, gritty, detailed. I loved every second of it, except for the ending. Too "wrapped up in a pretty bow" for me. All the same, if you didn't jump on the bandwagon when this book dominated the shelves, make sure you don't miss it.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. This is a children's book, and it is just the sweetest thing. My girls and I loved this one. The narration was amazing. It made us want to dive into the pages and meet every single character. Now, that’s good writin’ right there.

Are you into audiobooks? If so, share some recommendations! Or, tell us which ones to stay away from!

Thanks for reading! Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Working From Home is Hard Work: 8 Tips to Help You Be More Productive

What would you say you're trying to do here?

I've spent the better part of the past 5 years working from home as a freelance writer, editor, blogger and online content creator. I'm a self-motivated, no-nonsense, disciplined individual, and you would think that I'd be bustin' the productivity. Uh, not so much. At least, not always. 

In my experience, working from home is, well, hard work. I've spent countless hours unmotivated and distracted while cultivating the mindset of, “I’ll do that tomorrow.” It’s hard to stay focused and on track. But here are 8 secrets that I use to boost my productivity.

Get out of the house. Not every day, but maybe once or twice a week. You will be amazed at how a change of scenery can boost your productivity. From cranking out projects to brainstorming inspiration, you have fewer distractions (TV, snacks, laundry, household tasks), and a new perspective. Sometimes that's all it takes for me to get unstuck. Head to the local library, coffee shop, park, museum, wherever. In fact, I outlined this blog at the library and then shifted to Caribou Coffee for a Ho Ho Mint coffee and a hunk of warm monkey bread.

Go offline. When you leave the house, leave the devices (exception: cell phone). Bring paper, pen and your brain. Go old school. Some of my best ideas come from scritching and scratching around on a legal pad. Crossing out thoughts, drawing lines from one idea to another, cramming words in the margins. Trust me. It will get your juices flowing. Then, you can talk it all back to your home office and tap, tap, tap it out. Ka-Boom!

Set some office hours and respect them. This is where it gets tough. Because I’m home during the day, the underlying expectation is that I will do the laundry, cook some food, walk the dog, clean a toilet or two. Define your office hours, and stick to them. My hours tend to be traditional office hours because that's what works with my schedule. Find a block of time that works for you. 

Put your phone out of sight and out of mind. If you’re like me (and the rest of the smartphone world), every time your device rings, dings or sings, you jump. And if you’re like me, most of the time that e-mail or text message is scarily insignificant. Schedule time to check e-mail (every hour or so works for me), but remove the phone and turn it off if necessary. If it’s sitting in view, it’s too much of a distraction. It’s too easy to claim you need a mental break and before you know it, you’ve wasted an hour checking Facebook, rescuing pets, crushing candy or whooping up on a friend with a word.

Speaking of mental breaks, take one. After your butt’s been planted in a chair for an hour or two, give yourself a quick break. We’re talking 10-15 minutes. Walk the dog, do some yoga stretches (but not Camel, never ever do Camel), check Facebook, switch out some laundry. Then get back to it. You will feel mentally and physically refreshed and ready to roll.

Schedule a lunch break. I’m guilty of snacking through the day. I use it as a distraction – "Oh, look! A bag of pretzels. Those would go good with a dab of mustard. And now I’m thirsty." You get the picture. Any reason to get out of my chair when I should be working. At lunchtime, I’m not hungry, but by dinner I’m starving. Everything gets out of whack. I try to make myself take a 30 minute lunch around the same time each day. A real lunch. Sandwich, soup, leftovers. I read a book or check in on social media. When I get back to it, I’m refreshed.

Take a shower and get dressed in real clothes every day. Not a business suit or high heels, but not pajamas. 

Make yourself comfortable. By that I mean your environment. Too cold? Put on a sweater or turn up the heat a notch. Too hot? Open a window, turn down the AC. Go potty the instant you realize you  need to go potty. Taking care of those basic needs goes a long way toward productivity.

These are some tips and tricks that work for me. What works for you? 

Thanks for reading! Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.