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21 Nov 17:21

Track Runner 5.0 wants to run free, and donations are encouraged to help keep it that way

by Derek Kessler

The Track Runner app for Windows Phone is incredibly popular and highly-rated (4.8 out of 5 with over 600 reviews), but making so awesome of an app free of charge and free of ads means making money can be tricky. So developer The App Cauldron is offering users the option to donate to support the app, and development of version 5.0 of Track Runner.








21 Nov 15:08

6 tips to extend the battery life on your Microsoft Band

by Mark Guim

The Microsoft Band has been advertised of having 48 hours battery life, but that can vary significantly depending on your settings, usage, and other factors. On the days we track workouts or runs, and sleep, we find the Band to last until about lunchtime the next day. Want to extend the battery life on your Microsoft Band? Here are some tips that can help you out. These tips include turning off some features when you aren't using them and other settings that can save battery.








15 Nov 01:16

IHeart Blogging Series: Photography Tips

by Jennifer Jones
Jessica Kendrick

A lot of work to make a blog look good. Dang.

What we look for within a blog will vary for everyone.  Some love to read for the comedy, some love to check in on family updates, some read blogs for ideas and inspiration.  There are millions of blogs with millions of missions, but one thing many blogs have in common are images.  Whether creating images with words or images with photography, they play an important roll within the blogging community. 

When I head to a website or a blog, most often times it is the images that grab my attention.  It is also the images that keep my attention, and again, what will most likely bring me back a second and a third time.  I am such a visual person, and I can become instantly inspired upon viewing a beautiful photograph, a page in a book or magazine, or even watching a movie.

Knowing how much photography plays a role in this blog, I decided to spend a good chunk of time on the topic within the fourth and final post of my 5 Year Blogiversary Series.


I probably could have spread this post into about eight different posts, however, I would love to get back to DIY'ing and organizing, so I am going to put a bunch of information into a single place.  And my first tip is the most important of them all; have fun and be patient.  I am learning something new on a frequent basis, and know I still have so much photography exploration ahead of me.  It definitely takes practice!  For a few giggles, let's take a peek at some photos I took at the beginning of my blogging venture:




So much has changed in five beautiful years!


Let's start with my equipment.  I have gone through three cameras since I began blogging, and I can tell you that they do make a difference. Buuuuut, you do NOT need an expensive camera to take good quality blog photos.  There are things you can do with just about any camera to get a good shot, and majority of the tips in this post apply to any camera.  Heck, my iPhone does almost as well as my DSLR at times.

one / two / three / four / five / six / seven / eight

- one -
I have been a Canon girl for as long as I can remember.  I began with a Canon Powershot point-and-shoot and then upgraded to my first DSLR, a Canon Rebel XSi.  Almost three years ago now, I realized that I really loved photography and took a major plunge by investing in the Canon 5D Mark II.  I have never looked back, that camera is like another appendage of my body and I am rarely seen without it.  It was a large expense, but for a gal who uses it daily, it has been worth every last penny.  However, there are times I still grab for my smaller Rebel, and it still does a fantastic job.  In fact, it is what I would recommend to any blogger who is looking for a DSLR for blogging at a decent price point.


- two -
Many of you probably know that using a tripod will ensure you are getting the sharpest photos possible.  I try and use my tripod for majority of my photos, but there are times when I also like the freedom of just getting into a funny position to get the "money shot".  Either way, a good tripod not only provides a crisp photograph, it also holds your investment, which is a very important thing to remember and consider.  The first tripod that I purchased was from Target and cost around $30-$40 and it worked great with my smaller DSLR, giving me a couple of years worth of use.  After I upgraded my camera, I failed to also upgrade my tripod.  A few months in, the Target tripod couldn't manage the weight of my new camera and toppled over.  All I can say is thank goodness for my camera warranty.   I quickly purchased a heavier duty tripod that is also easy to manipulate to many positions.  I may have cried when spending a bit more, but I have never had to cry again.


- three -
Let's take a moment to talk about my secret weapon... LIGHTING!  This lighting kit was by far one of the most beneficial kits I have purchased over the years.  Many of you have asked me how I get bright photos in my windowless rooms.  Now you have the answer.

I recently photographed a storage basket in my lower level bathroom.  Again, a room with no light.  I actually shot the photo around 10:30 p.m.


And here is what was happening behind the scenes.


That's how I do it.

The lighting kit comes with two adjustable stands, brilliant white bulbs and light filtering umbrellas.  They really take away a lot of the yellow effect that our lightbulbs put off in our windowless areas, while also bringing in extra light.  As you may know, the more light you have, the lower you can keep your ISO, which will ultimately lead to crisper images.

Not only do I use the lighting kits in windowless areas, I also use them to offset harsh shadows and even aim them up our stairs when shooting the entryway.   Hands down, best photography money I have ever spent.

Another tips to get rid of the "yellow" effect that overhead and lamp lighting tends to put off, is to replace the lighting in your home with bright white or day light bulbs.




- four -
Something else you may notice in the photo above, is that my camera is tethered to my computer.  I only recently began doing this and it has saved me so. much. time.  Raise your hand if you have spent many minutes and even hours photographing a room or a project, only to transfer images to your computer and feel a pit of frustration at how they turned out.  All of that time lost, and then having to go back, re-arrange, and try again.  After installing drivers for my camera directly from Canon's website (most likely also can be found on the software that came with your camera), I was able to tether my camera to my laptop.  Then, photographing either directly from my camera or remotely with my laptop, after the image is snapped it feeds instantly to my screen.  I can see if something looks off, if the coloring is bad, if it is too bright or not bright enough... fix it and then retake it.


- five -
We all know that lighting is such a crucial part of a good photograph (turn off overhead lights, use natural light, shoot at certain times of the day, etc...), but sometimes too much light comes streaming in, causing harsh shadows.  Diffuser kits will help to block those shadows or bounce your light just where you need it.


- six -
Often times when working on a project, we like to display the tools and items needed for that project.  It is just a nice gesture to give a visual of everything needed from the start.  There are also times when we like to display the final result of a project, or create a solid backdrop for photographing items to be used in our Etsy shop.  That is when I break out the foam board.  I pick this stuff up at our local dollar store and use it to provide a nice backdrop for photographing different objects and projects.

Simple is the key here!  It instantly reminds me of a project in which I laid out our picnic quilt to photograph how we use different pouches to organize items in our car.  The busy background of the quilt completely took away from the items I was attempting to focus on.


So now I use foam board, which I pair with simple contact paper, different shades of paint, or even just leave white.


I prefer to use my marble contact paper to give an elegant effect, or paint the foam board in a subtle color, as white can be tricky to photograph.  To snap a shot of the lightbulbs, I used the blue board I was painting above.


The nice blue backdrop brings attention to the items I was photographing, while another foam board was blocking the direct light coming in our patio door.




- seven -
 All cameras should have some sort of strap as another way to protect your investment.  Now, if only I was better about using it!


- eight -
The organizer in me loves to keep all of my camera gear together in one easy to access location.  Because I sometimes photograph on the go, I store everything in a padded camera bag (long time JoTotes fan).  The bag comes with many pockets and compartments, allowing me to store my lenses, camera cards, card reader, lens cleaner, cords, etc... all in one spot that hangs on a hook in our entry or my office.

____________________________

So now that you know all about my favorite equipment and tools, let's talk about taking that beautiful image from your camera, and making it blog-mazing.

The ultimate goal of the image itself, is to portray a story.  On this blog, I try to use photographs as a way to share the process and outcome of a project and to also share moments around our home.  To me, the editing process is just as important as the equipment and photo taking process.  The editing allows you to crop out the junk that clutters the story, and also allows you to highlight specific components of the project and outcome.  The goal is not to make the image so overly processed that it isn't an accurate portrayal, just enough to tell that story and provide a bit of inspiration.

I recently shared some updates we made to our master bedroom, so I thought I would grab a random image and go through the editing process I used.  

Here is the before, straight out of the camera.


The image was one of the last images I had taken of the space, and the coloring in the room started to get warmer as the sun was setting.  My ultimate goal was to straighten, crop, and get the color to a more true to life mid-day tone, while also drawing the eye to some of the key pieces in the update.

I typically do simple edits in Photoshop, however, I know that many people are terrified of it (I have been there), or do not have access to it.  So for the sake of offering some tips that anyone can use, I edited this photo in iPiccy.  Other online editing tools that I have used are PicMonkey and Ribbet.

Once the photo is loaded into the editing software, I begin by rotating it and using the grid to straighten it.


For this step, I try to find a line near the center of the photo to work with, and get the image as straight as possible.  In the image above, I used the molding behind the bed as well as the top of the headboard.  It is important to remember that there will be a small natural curve to your image, as your camera lens is curved.

Because I try to shoot most images on a tri-pod, they come out of my camera fairly sharp.  However, I like to make certain elements really pop.  Typically it is a bouquet of flowers or a pillow on the bed or even objects on a work surface (or the items on top of the foam board). 


Using the Sharpen option, I click the paint brush to give myself the ability "Revert Mask" the painting tool.  This then allows me to paint the items I wish to sharpen, again, only focusing on key moments in the image and letting everything else sit softly in the background.


My main lens is currently being repaired, so I have been using an older lens for the past few months.  There is a spot inside the lens that shows up on every image I photograph.  That spot is extremely distracting to my eye, so I use the Clone tool to remove it.


The clone tool also makes a great vacuum!  Random crumbs on the floor or table draw your eye away from the main story, so use the clone tool to clean them up quick.  One of my favorite quick editing tools.

Instead of using the white balance feature on my camera, I white balance during editing.  The goal is to rid the photo of unnecessary yellowing that can occur if shooting during a warm time of the day or under interior lighting.


Many of the online photo tools offer a temperature slider to adjust your white balance, while Photoshop has a color balance option.

I also tend to shoot my images a bit on the darker side, to preserve some of the quality, and again do the brightening during the editing process.  


A simple pull on the Curve tool will brighten the image just a smidge, really allowing it to shine on the screen.

To be sure I don't miss anything in a shot, I tend to shoot a little wider and then crop almost each image I take.  The point of the crop is to remove some of the clutter that is taking away from the focal point of the image.


In the image above, the random piece of molding in the upper right corner was pulling my eye away from the pillows.  I wanted to crop out the molding in the corner, but in doing so, I also watched where my crop lines were landing to be sure I wasn't creating new distractions.

Last but not least, you can add a little extra vibrancy to those items you want to stand out, just as you did with the sharpening process.


Through some of the editing and transferring of the image from life to camera to computer, you may lose some color.  I like to add a bit of that back with the vibrancy tool, once again, painting only key items and leaving the rest alone.

And I was left with this.


And a quick side by side for comparison purposes.



A few other tips for managing and creating images for the blog:


IMPORTING AND SAVING IMAGES

I always start by pulling all of the images from the project off of my camera and into a single folder titled with the project name.  I then look at each image, and pull my favorites into a "To Edit" folder.  Those are the images I edit for my blog post.  Once the photo is edited, I save the full size of that image in an "Edits" folder.  I also be sure to name my photos according to the project and post.  This will help people find your blog if someone is doing a Google image or web search using the key words you used in your photo naming process.  So yes, I have the "To Edit" version and the "Edited" version both saved on my computer.  I do this because I never know when a publication will want or need an image and may need it in either format.  Once all of my images are edited, I then resize them to fit my blog.  Before I knew better, I would load all of the full size images into my blog and then have blogger compress them down.  This was causing so much lag and delay on my site, so now I resize them to 500 px wide for portrait and 550 px wide for landscape images, and also compress the images for web.



By resizing and compressing, I am now uploading an appropriately sized image to my blog.  So much better.  And I apologize, I always do that in photoshop so that is what is shown above.  However, I believe you can also do this step with the online editing tools.

Once I have my photos done and uploaded on my blog, I then delete all of the images on my computer that I never used from the project.  Then, every couple of days I move all of my blog post photos to our external hard-drive as well.


MORE IS BETTER

I know that I typically spout that "Less is More", which I do believe to be true with most things in life.  But not when it comes to photography.   When I am photographing a project or room, I take about 100 photographs.  I take them from far away, from up close, from down low and up above.  I like to have a lot of options to select from when writing my post.  What doesn't get used ends up in the trash, but I am always glad I took the time to take a few extra shots.


LIGHTING MATTERS

I know I have talked about lighting already, but it really can make or break a photo.  I have been known to try and plan my picture taking around specific times of the day, when the sun is directly above our home.  When that can't happen, that is when I use both equipment and editing to manage the changes in light.  As the sun goes down, your rooms will be warmer.  Shooting right away in the morning may mean direct light that causes harsh shadows.  Where your overhead lighting is aimed, will also determine your shadows.  Yellow lights create yellow images, blue lights create white images.  In the game of photography, lighting is either your best friend, or your enemy.


SHOOT REMOTELY

And no, I didn't just give you permission to jet set off to a remote location.  I am talking about using a remote shutter to trigger your camera.  I am not going to lie, I typically prefer to hold my camera when photographing a space.  It is easier and quicker to just get myself exactly where I want the photograph taken from, and snap.  But for the really good quality images, it is best to use a tripod and then take your photograph with a remote (or with your computer using the tethering cord).  Even just your motion of pressing the trigger on your camera, will cause enough movement to slightly blur an image.


DO WHAT YOU GOTTA DO

As I mentioned, sometimes I just like ditch the tripod and organically photograph with camera in hand.  Some of my favorite shots are done this way... but I may have looked a bit odd in getting those perfect angles.  Scrunched up faces leaning back as far as possible?  Check.  Laying down on the job?  Check.  Climbing and straddling?  Check and check.


I say the funnier you look taking a picture, the better the picture will be.


CONTINUOUS EDUCATION

I have come a long way with my blog photography over the years and I am learning something new all of the time.  I also have a long wish list of items I still hope to learn in the future.  Something that helped me tremendously was taking an Intro to Photography class through a Community Education program at a local University.


That class really helped to get me familiar with my camera and gave me the confidence to begin shooting in manual mode.  And when I started photographing in manual mode, it wasn't pretty.  Most days I would start in manual and end in auto just to get the job done.  But practicing everyday has given me more confidence in what I am doing and now the dial never moves.  Manual every day and I LOVE it.  I have also heard really great things about Shoot Fly Shoot in terms of classes.


LENSES

I am not super familiar with which lenses are best for interior photography (something on my list of things to learn), so I will guide you towards Google with those questions.  Majority of the photos taken over the past few years on my blog have been with either my main lens, which is a Canon EF 24-105 f/4, or my Tamron 28-75 (back up lens).  And sometimes even my iPhone.


Speaking of iPhone, real quick because I get asked this quite a bit, my favorite photo applications are shown below:


With all of the great and recent options added to the Instagram app, I haven't found the need to do much editing outside of it any longer, however, below are a few of my favorites just in case:

Camera+:  I shoot all of my photographs in this app, I prefer the camera and editing options over the standard built-in iPhone camera app.

Retouch:  Retouch allows you to quickly and easily remove unwanted items from your photo.  I have used it to remove a random person walking behind us on the beach, and another time to remove power lines jetting out of my kiddo's head.  Much cheaper than surgery...  It is also a great vacuum, just like the clone tool I chatted about above.

moreBeaute2:  I love to use this for giving my photos a pretty white balance or glow.  Really great for snow or our white fluffy dog.

ProHDR:  My favorite editing tool for scenery photos.  It allows you to really enhance the colors and overall statement of the photo.

Squaready:  Takes a standard sized photo and turns it into a square.  This is perfect for Instagram because you can upload the Squaready version without losing any of the image.

ShutterballA cool toy for taking an image remotely with your phone.


PS Express:  Phone version of Photoshop.  Great for cropping, straightening, sharpening, etc...


I know there is SO much more we could chat about on this subject, and I am happy to answer additional questions in the comments below if I missed anything.  Aside from learning some basics about aperture, shutter speed and ISO at the community ed class, everything else I have learned over the years has been by Googling for a tutorial or watching You Tube videos.  So much great and free knowledge out on the internet... don't you love it?!

And some final words of photography wisdom from a few of my fellow friends:



"I think all bloggers should ask Santa for a 50mm lens and a tripod. Both transformed my photos. The other thing I have learned over the years is that it's all about natural light for me. I cringe when I look back at my older photos. Turn off all of your lights and throw open every window. Try to schedule photo shoots in your home when you know you have the best natural light. When the natural light is beautiful, it also cuts down on any editing you may have to do to the photos." - Courtney, A Thoughtful Place



"Take photos from different angles and shoot one subject for a significant amount of time, taking lots of pictures, adjusting your camera settings as needed. Sometimes you get the best shot right away, but most of the time, it’s those last few that are really great. I tend to get into a photographing groove after I’ve been at it for about 20 minutes. Think about leaving “empty” space if you want to add graphics to your that don’t interfere with the picture. Also, take photos that you don’t intend to post on your blog, just for practice and fun." - Megan, Honey We're Home


 
"Natural light is king! It's not always possible, so a DSLR and tripod are a must." - Cassie, Hi Sugarplum





"I imagine everyone is going to say use natural light - which really is the #1 tip if you want beautiful, crisp photos.

But I would also like to add, when you think you've finished taking your photos, try and take a few more from different angles - try flat lays and take photos from above, zoom in for detail shots, put the camera on a diagonal...Check out your favourite bloggers and try replicating the format of their photos to inspire you. By experimenting you'll find some amazing new shots and then just practice, practice, practice!" - Serena, Pretty Fluffy




Check out more from this blogging series here:

A Day in our Life
The Bread & Butter of the Blog
Ten Things I Have Learned Along the Way

20 Nov 19:31

Google Contribute to make ad-free blogs a reality

by Dan Thorp-Lancaster

It looks like advertising isn't the only way way to fund your favorite sites anymore. Google announced a new program called Contributor today that allows people to contribute money to participating websites via a monthly subscription to get rid of ads.








20 Nov 19:43

Telltale's Game of Thrones will include some of the actors from the HBO TV show

by John Callaham

Telltale Games has not only released the first teaser trailer for its upcoming episodic game series Game of Thrones, but it has revealed that the six-part series will feature voice acting by some of the members of the HBO television cast.








20 Nov 11:54

Consumer-focused Windows 10 preview may launch in early 2015

by Harish Jonnalagadda

We won't get any more new builds for Windows 10 Technical Preview this year, but it looks like Microsoft is cooking up a host of changes for the first preview of 2015. WinBeta has learned that the first Consumer Preview of the OS is likely to debut early next year, which may include Cortana for the desktop, a new Start screen, access to the desktop-to-tablet UI switching mode called Continuum and more.








04 Nov 19:27

What Habits Are Best for Creativity?

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)

creativitystringWhen I tell people that I’ve been working on Better Than Before, my book about habit change, many people ask, “What habits are best for creativity? What habits help people think creatively — and also, actually produce?

Often, people make the case for adopting a particular habit by pointing to a renowned figure who practiced that habit, with great success. For instance…

Maybe we should live a life of quiet predictability, like Charles Darwin.

Or maybe we should indulge in boozy revelry, like Toulouse-Lautrec.

Maybe we should wake up early, like Haruki Murakami.

Or maybe we should work late into the night, like Tom Stoppard.

Maybe it’s okay to procrastinate endlessly, like William James.

Or maybe it’s better to work regular hours, like Anthony Trollope.

Should we work in silence, like Gustav Mahler?

Or amidst a bustle of activity, like Jane Austen?

Maybe it’s helpful to drink a lot of alcohol, like Fried­rich Schiller.

Or a lot of coffee, like Kierkegaard.

Are we better off produc­ing work for many hours a day, like H. L. Mencken?

Or maybe for just thirty minutes a day, like Gertrude Stein.

The sad fact is, there’s no magic formula, no one-size-fits-all solution—not for ourselves, and not for the peo­ple around us.

We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.

In his fascinating book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, from which these examples are drawn, Mason Currey exhaustively examines the work habits of 161 writers, composers, artists, scientists, and philos­ophers.

These examples make one thing perfectly clear about creative habits: while brilliant people vary tre­mendously in the specific habits they follow, they all know very well what habits work for them, and they go to enormous lengths to maintain those habits.

I used to tell everyone that working slowly and steadily was the best way to produce creative work. Because that’s what works for me.

And I used to encourage everyone to get up early, to work in the morning. Because that’s what works for me.

And I used to say that it was better to work in a reasonably quiet, calm environment. Because that’s what works for me.

But as I worked on Better Than Before, it became increasingly clear to me that the opposite habits work better for some people.

I’m a Marathoner, but some people are Sprinters.

I’m a Lark, but some people are Owls.

I’m a Simplicity-Lover, but other people are Abundance-Lovers.

We have to think about ourselves. It’s helpful to ask, “When have I worked well in the past? What did my habits look like then – and how can I replicate them?” Maybe you work more creatively with a team – or by yourself. Maybe you need deadlines – or maybe you feel strangled by deadlines. Maybe you like working on several projects at once — or you prefer to focus on one project at a time.

With habits, as with happiness, the secret is to figure out ourselves. When we shape our habits to suit our own nature, our own interests, and our own values, we set ourselves up for success.

How about you? What habits contribute or detract from your creativity?

06 Nov 00:15

Do You Agree with These 7 Quotations about Habits?

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)

pilesofbooksopenandclosedjpgEvery Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: Do you agree with these 7 quotations about habits?

Whenever I read a book, I love to copy my favorite lines and passages into my giant trove of quotations. (If you love quotations too, sign up for my “Moment of Happiness,” a free daily quote.)

When doing my research for Better Than Before, my book about habit change, I naturally began to collect quotations about habits. Working those passages into the book was one of my favorite things to do.

Certain quotations, however, had a particularly strong influence over my thinking about habits.

1. “Every time you break the law you pay, and every time you obey the law you pay.” — John Gardner

I love this quotation, and almost made it the epigraph of the entire book. Gardner is a Rebel, and made that observation from his Rebel perspective, but it’s just as true for everyone. Nothing stays in Vegas; everything counts.

2. “The greatest of empires, is the empire over one’s self.” — Publilius Syrus

I made this quotation the epigraph of the book, instead. With habits, as with happiness, it all boils down to self-knowledge. When we truly know ourselves, we can master ourselves to create the lives that suit us best.

3. “A stumble may prevent a fall.” — English Proverb

With habits, it’s very important to think about safeguards, and to plan to fail. The idea that a little failure might actually be constructive  — that a stumble may prevent a fall — is very helpful idea to help to re-frame lapses.

4. “Researchers were surprised to find that people with strong self-control spent less time resisting desires than other people did. . . . people with good self-control mainly use it not for rescue in emergencies but rather to develop effective habits and routines in school and at work.”  — Roy Baumeister and John Tierney

This quotation lacks that aphoristic quality of the others, but it really sparked my thinking about habits, and why they’re so valuable. Auto-pilot! Habits help us escape the drain of making decisions and exercising willpower.

5. “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

The issue of reward is extremely complicated in the field of habits. Rewards are very, very tricky to apply. But the one reward that never fails is the satisfaction of the good habits itself.

6. “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” — Iris Murdoch

We must have treats! More and more, I’m seeing that the idea of deprivation is an enormous challenge to good habits. When we start to feel deprived, we enter into the “I need it, I deserve it, I’ve earned it” cycle. Getting lots of healthy treats help ward that off. When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more of ourselves.

7. “If I consider my life honestly, I see that it is governed by a certain very small number of patterns of events which I take part in over and over again…when I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life, on my capacity to live. If these few patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can’t.” — Christopher Alexander

This is a reminder of the central role of habits in our daily existence, and also a reminder of the very purpose of mastering habits: to live well.  It may take time and effort to change our habits, but in the end, they make our lives better.

Do you agree or disagree with these statements?

Do you have any habit-related quotes you love? Or any quotation at all, really. I do love quotations.

To pre-order Better Than Before, go here. If you’re inclined to buy the book, it really helps me if you pre-order it. Remember, you won’t be charged until the book ships, so don’t worry about that.

19 Oct 12:57

How to End This Sentence? “There Is Certainly No Greater Happiness Than To…”

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)

Samuel-Johnson-reading

How would you end that sentence? Here’s how Dr. Johnson completed it:

“There is certainly no greater happiness than to be able to look back on a life usefully and virtuously employed, to trace our own progress in existence by such tokens that excite neither shame nor sorrow.”

–Samuel Johnson, “Rambler No. 41,” August 7, 1750

I love the work of Samuel Johnson. I was looking back through the draft of Better Than Before, my book about habit change, and I realized that I’d quoted him several times — and I cut out several more quotations, as well. (To pre-order Better Than Before, click here.)

What authors do you find yourself quoting most often?

08 Oct 12:48

7 Tips To Make It Easier To Have Healthy Eating Habits.

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)

placesettingEvery Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: 7 tips that make it easier to have healthy eating habits.

Many people were very intrigued by my interview with behavioral scientist Brian Wansink and his ideas. He studies eating behavior and consumer habits, and has a book that just came out: Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

I asked him for some of his top tips, and he gave me these excellent suggestions to “Help your kitchen make you slim.”

  1. Serve vegetables first.
  2. Serve the main dish from the stove or counter, so that to get seconds, you have to stand up and go get more. (This combines the Strategy of Inconvenience, because you can’t just reach out to take more food, and the Strategy of Monitoring, because you can keep track better of how much you’re eating.)
  3. Use dinner plates that are 9-10 wide. We eat less when we use a smaller plate, but American plate sizes have been steadily growing.
  4. Sit at a table, with the TV off. People eat more, without noticing, if they’re watching TV. And if you have to sit at a table to eat, you’ve made it harder to have impulsive snacks.
  5. Keep two or fewer cans of sugary drinks in your fridge.
  6. Keep your kitchen counters organized, not messy. (I was interested to see this one — it confirms my argument about the Strategy of Foundation and the importance of “uncluttering.”)
  7. Keep snack foods in one inconvenient cupboard. (Again, the Strategy of Inconvenience.)

What would be your best tips? I remind myself of one of my Secrets of Adulthood for Habits: It’s easier to change my surroundings than myself. It’s easier to put cookies on a high shelf than to boost my willpower.

I talk about all of these tips in Better Than Before, my forthcoming book about habit change. The most fascinating subject in the world. To pre-order, click here. If you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate your pre-order. Pre-orders really matter.

 

01 Oct 02:30

IHeart a Great Giveaway - Getting Organized with Madesmart!

by Jennifer Jones
This week's giveaway is another one of those that are especially near and dear to my heart.  Not only is the company sponsoring this week's giveaway locally grown {to me that is}, the start up story is especially inspirational for a small business gal like myself.  Introducing madesmart!


Madesmart is based in St. Paul, Minnesota and they work hard at creating organizational items that encompass style, function, quality and affordability.  Um, yes please!

And they also believe that if they can create beautifully designed and useful products, that they can in turn make the act of getting organized enjoyable and fun.  I can fist pump to that!


Bonus points that madesmart actually rhymes with iheart.

In 1990, Devee dreamed up “the Junk Drawer Organizer®” and it was the first of its kind that lucky for us, became very successful. That success moved Devee into an amazing career and super cool new category of storage and organization. Today, her company now has over 300 unique products that are offered in most major retailers (like Target and The Container Store!).  See, inspiring!  I couldn't be happier for her success!

So, now that you have some information as to why I personally heart madesmart, here is what they will be giving away to one lucky iHeart Organizing reader this week!  A complete kitchen storage pack!




2-Tier Organizers: A stacking system that works in all areas of the home. This system makes the most out of the vertical space we have throughout the abode. Each basket slides easily on each tray and their handles allow for easy transport.








Clear Stackable Cabinet Shelves: These stackable shelves help maximize your vertical space. They feature rubber feet to keep things in place and they fold flat when not in use.








Fridge/Pantry Collection: These versatile bins store items efficiently in the fridge or pantry. Features include durable, high-quality plastic; rounded corners for easy cleaning; non-slip handles for moving and dry erase labeling area. Its nonslip lining rubber feet keeps things in place. BPA free and food safe.



2-Tier Organizer, Small Clear Stackable Cabinet Shelf, Medium Clear Stackable Cabinet Shelf, Fridge/Pantry 4W Deep Bin Green, Fridge/Pantry 8W Deep Bin Green, Fridge/Pantry 4W Shallow Bin Green, Fridge/Pantry 8W Shallow Bin Green 


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck everyone!  IHeart Organizing official giveaway entry rules can always be found here.
28 Sep 11:25

“It Is Easy To Be Heavy: Hard To Be Light.”

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)

chesterton“It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.”

–G. K. Chesterton, “The Eternal Revolution,” in The Everyman Chesterton

Agree, disagree? This idea haunted me as I was writing The Happiness Project. It seemed relevant to everything.

23 Sep 19:41

“No One Wants to Admit They Were Tricked by the Size of a Scoop or the Shape of a Glass.”

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)

wansinkHabits interview: Brian Wansink.

I’ve been a big fan of behavioral scientist Brian Wansink for years. He does intensely interesting research on eating behavior and consumer habits, and his book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think was a resource for me as I was writing Better Than Before.

For instance, he’s done a lot of research to show how much convenience influences whether and how much we eat. It’s astonishing how much convenience matters. The lesson for habits? Make it easy to do things right, and hard to do things wrong.

Brian Wansink has a new book, Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. It’s crammed with ideas to make it easy to eat healthier–without even noticing that you’re making changes. The book is fascinating, and surprisingly lively and funny–this isn’t a dry review of the literature. It’s a fun read.

I so agree with this approach of “mindless eating” to eating habits. Whenever someone tells me, “I need to make healthy choices,” I think, “No, don’t make healthy choices! Choose once, then stop deciding. Use habits. Mindfully use mindlessness to get where you want to go.”

I was very eager to hear what Brian Wansink had to say about habits in general, and about his own habits.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research on the subject of habits and eating. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?

Brian: After conducting hundreds of food studies, I’m increasingly convinced that our stomach has only three settings: 1) We either feel like we’re starving, 2) we feel like we’re stuffed, or 3) we feel like we can eat more. Most of the time we’re in the middle, we’re neither hungry nor full, but if something’s put in front of us, we’ll eat it. I all but guarantee that most people with a few spare pounds would lose 20 pounds in a year if every time they had a craving they would announce – out loud – “I’m not hungry, but I’m going to eat this anyway.” Having to make that declaration either prevents you for eating, or if you do indulge, it prevents you from overindulging.

A second finding is that most people think they are too smart to be influenced by candy dishes, television, or the shape of a glass. When we show someone that they ate 30% more because we gave them a large scoop at the ice cream social, they will deny it. That’s what is so astonishing. No one wants to admit they were tricked by something as mundane as the size of a scoop or the shape of a glass. That’s what makes these cues around us so dangerous to our diets.

What aspects of habits would be most helpful for people to understand?

Most people believe they are Master and Commander of their food choices. They aren’t, but I want them to see that they can make small changes that can put them back in the driver’s seat. I want people to see that making small changes in their kitchens and routines will make all the difference with no real sacrifice.

What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Before both breakfast and lunch, I think of one thing that’s happened so far that day that I’m grateful for. At dinnertime – if I’m home and not traveling – I have a slightly different routine. Each person in the family (including me) shares what happened that day by answering 4 questions: 1) their high point, 2) their low point, 3) who they appreciate most and why, and 4) their plan for tomorrow.   It gives them a chance to celebrate the good things that happen, realize that each of us has daily disappointments, thank a person who helped them out, and to raise their eyes toward the future. All three of my daughters get their moment in the sun, and it makes me happy to see each one shine.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

When you get up in the morning, you can say “This is going to be a tremendous day,” “This is going to be OK day,” or “This is going to be a terrible day.”   Regardless of what you say, you’ll be right.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

The most top of mind that gets in the way of my happiness is very vivid right now:   It’s thinking my work is more urgent than my young daughters.

I’m in DC now because I gave a House and a Senate Briefing on something related to Slim by Design. An hour ago, I was on the phone with my middle daughter, and she asked if I knew these people and I said, “No.”

She replied, “But Daddy, why do you have time to read your book to strangers but not to us. We’re more important than strangers. We’re your little girls.” I’m still choked up and wiping my eyes.

Which habits are most important to you? (for heath, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

Dreaming big, staying positive, building other people up, laughing as much as possible and making other people laugh.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

The only way I can do it is by avoiding what I call the Tyranny of the Moment.

Generally speaking, we can commit to making a small change in life, such as not eating sweet snacks before dinner. We can write it down, cross our heart, and announce it to others. We can really, really mean it. But fast forward two days. It is been a hard day at work; you finished a 45 minute commute; you are drained, and you know frozen Snickers bar is waiting in the right corner of the freezer door. It is easy to break your cross-the-heart commitment. After all, today is an exception – it was a tough day and, come to think of it, you did not have a very big breakfast. Your plan of the year has just been thwarted by the tyranny of the moment. And the moment – this one exceptional moment – tyrannically wins every time.

Sometimes that inner voice actually whispers to us, “I know I said I’m not going to eat out of vending machines at work, but today’s different – it’s been crazy,” or “I know I still have to do my sit-ups today, but it’s late – I’ll do twice as many tomorrow when I wake up.” I know I should have had only one glass of wine but this is really a great dinner and a really good wine.” [I talk about this problem in the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.]

There is only one thing that is strong enough to defeat the tyranny of the moment.

Habit.

As mentally disciplined as most of us like to think we are, nothing beats having to face facts each night and check off a box. We have very selective memories, but I use tools such as this checklist to let us know just why – or why not – we have painlessly lost two pounds on the 31st of the month.

This basic approach works for well or other habits also.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

80% Upholder, 20% Rebel.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

Since I try to invest heavily in other people, I’m tripped up when a key relationship isn’t going well — it’s tremendously disorienting. A while back, my wife and I were having difficulties, and it threw me out of balance so much that it distracted me away my mindlessly healthy routines. One day I woke up and realized I had gained over 20 lbs.

I went back to these routines (they’re in Mindless Eating, chapter 10), and lost the pounds in about 4 months. It was an unfortunate reminder about what happens when we let healthy habits (and relationships) slip.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

You were raised in Kansas City [wow, good memory, Brian!], and I was raised up the Missouri River in Sioux City, Iowa. My parents were extremely loving and supportive, but there wasn’t an expectation I would go to college or the means to very easily make it happen. I did go to college, and to try and support myself, I struggled selling Amway. I worked all the time, but I blamed my lack of success on being too shy, not smart enough, not having a suit, and so on. One day a friend gave me a copy of an old book called The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz.

This book gave me a transforming level of confidence in myself and my mission.  I reread that book 10 times within the first month and at least 30 more times since. Within a semester my grades went from a 2.5 to a 3.8, I met my wonderful college sweetheart, my college money worries disappeared, I ran for the student senate, and I committed myself to become a professor who changes eating behavior – oh, and I bought a suit.

I’ve given that book to over 200 people over the past 25 years.   Most think it’s pretty hokey, dated, or simple-minded. I understand that, but I would also understand if their thinking – as a result – never grew any bigger than the thinking they inherited from their parents.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Embrace. That was the theme of Mindless Eating, and that’s also the theme of Slim by Design: “For 90 percent of us, the solution to mindless eating is not mind­ful eating—our lives are just too crazy and our willpower’s too wimpy. Instead, the solution is to tweak small things in our homes, favorite restaurants, supermarkets, workplaces, and schools so we mindlessly eat less and better instead of more. It’s easier to use a small plate, face away from the buffet, and Frisbee-spin the bread basket across the table than to be a martyr on a hunger strike. Willpower is hard and has to last a lifetime. Rearranging your life to be Slim by Design is easy.”

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

Absolutely. This happens all of the time. I am a very coachable person. Sometimes that coach is a 5-year old daughter who tells me drink less Diet Coke, and sometimes it’s an author whose book I’ve read over 40 times.

17 Sep 22:11

Are You a “People-Pleaser?” What Do You Feel Obliged To Do?

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)
Jessica Kendrick

I'm a total obliger.

blue-number-four-mdI posted yesterday about “Do you resist when anyone asks or tell you what to do?”, about some questions I had about the Rebel Tendency, as part of the Four Tendencies framework I’ve created.

The  Four Tendencies are part of what I discuss in Better Than Before, my book on habit change.

A key piece of self-knowledge — which is crucial to habit change — is “What is your ‘Tendency’?”  That is: How do you respond to expectations?

-outer expectations (meet a deadline, perform a “request” from a sweetheart, follow traffic regulations)

-inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution, start flossing)

Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.

In a nutshell:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (my husband is a Questioner), so they make everything an inner expectation
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves (they often describe themselves as “people-pleasers”)
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

 

I gave a talk at LinkedIn about the Four Tendencies, so if you’d like to see me discuss each category in  a video, you can watch: for Upholders, watch here; Questioners, here; Obligers, here, and Rebels, here.

I’m always trying to deepen my understanding of how they play out. So this week, I’m going to pose some questions. Yesterday, I focused on Rebels.

Today’s questions relate to the Obliger Tendency.

Obligers, and Obliger-observers, I’m curious: what do you feel obliged to do? It seems to me that Obligers vary tremendously in their standards. They often describe themselves as “people-pleasers” but some do much more to please than others!

Some Obligers seem to feel obliged to do all sorts of things — perhaps even things that no one is actually expecting from them. “I have to make a homemade dessert for the bake sale.” “I can’t go to sleep with dirty dishes in the sink, because someone might see.” “I have to do the yard work myself.” They may exhaust themselves meeting obligations for others — and feel burned out, and also resentful, because they don’t meet their expectations for themselves.

Other Obligers seem to feel obliged only to do things if they’ll actually get in some kind of trouble if they don’t. “I won’t work on the report until my boss comes looking for it.” “I won’t clean up the kitchen unless someone is coming over.”

Another variety: I have a friend who is an Obliger, and very ethical. She feels obligated to anything that she considers morally necessary. So  she feels obliged to be on time, because that shows respect for others, which is morally worthy, but she feels no obligation to go to the gym. I said, “What about your duty to yourself?” (That’s the Upholder perspective.) She just waved her hand and said, “Meh.”

Note: For Obligers to meet expectations for themselves, they need to create systems of external accountability. This is key! Essential! And makes an enormous difference.

What do you think? Does this ring true? What spectrum of Obliger behavior have you noticed or experienced?

If you want to know when Better Than Before goes on sale — and of course you do — sign up here.

09 Sep 15:58

aglow

by Jane Brocket
Jessica Kendrick

I wish there was more art in public spaces. it's so enjoyable.

IMG_1661_edited-1

The colours of this last burst of late summer warmth in old stained glass window in the Cloister in Bristol Cathedral. The corridor is effectively a gallery of stained glass presented at eye level - not high up above - which means you can examine all the robes, tassels, folds, drapes, patterns, colours, and ribbons close up, 

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and wonder at the incredible artistry of the makers and staying power of this medium. 

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08 Sep 15:29

Why the Issues that We Ignore Often Come Back to Plague Us.

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)
Jessica Kendrick

These are interesting concepts. They totally tap into the idea that if I just avoid it, ignore it, it will take care of itself: ostrich syndrome. Which everyone knows, doesn't work! I wonder if you did an experiment with the areas of your life that you were feeling like an ostrich in, if you you tackled those, what would happen?

austerpaulNovelist Paul Auster wrote a memoir, Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure.

He writes, “By the end of 1977, I was feeling trapped, desperate to find a solution. I had spent my whole life avoiding the subject of money, and now, suddenly, I could think of nothing else.”

This reminded me of a thought-provoking interview I did with personal finance expert Zac Bissonnette a few years ago. I’ve never forgotten a story he told:

A few years ago – when I was in high school — my dad was going through a ton of financial problems that culminated in him living at a friend’s house.

My dad was born in 1948 and is a classic hippie; He lived in a tree-house in a state park for a while in the early 1970s, he’s a carpenter, and he is probably the coolest, most loving person I know.

But he’s never really given much thought to money. He always said that it wasn’t important to him and that it didn’t matter. So I was sitting on the couch with him at his friend’s house watching the Red Sox…and I asked him, just off the top of my head: “Who do you think thinks about money more? You or Bill Gates?”

And I’ll never forget his response: “Without a doubt, me. I spent my whole life thinking I was above money and that it didn’t matter and now it dominates my life and is all I think about. It’s like money is exacting its cruel revenge on me.”

I interviewed you [meaning me, Gretchen] once for a piece and you told me that “Money affects happiness primarily in the negative” and that’s exactly right. When it comes to happiness, the less money matters to you, the more careful you need to be with it. If you don’t like thinking about money and don’t pay enough attention to it, it will one day become all you think about.

I think this is true about money, and I think it’s true about habits. All too often, the areas of our lives that we decide to ignore can become the areas that dominate our lives, later. And not in a good way.

Perhaps this happens most with health.

Habits allow us to put a behavior on automatic, so we don’t have to think about it or make decisions related to it anymore. In this way, habits can free us from the things we don’t want to think about.

For instance, if you hate to think about money, you might decide to follow the habit of never carrying credit cards, so that you can’t impulsively buy things that you can’t really afford.

My sister told me, “Now I’m free from French fries.” Not everyone would use habits the way she did, to get free from French fries — the Strategy of Abstaining doesn’t work for everyone — but habits can bring freedom.

This idea, of how habits can be confining but how we can use them to feel free, is a big theme in my forthcoming book about habit formation, Better Than Before. If you want to hear when it goes on sale, sign up here.

 

 

04 Sep 12:00

our favorite waffle recipe.

by elise blaha cripe

Advertisement Wholewheatstrawberrywaffles

I was recently contacted by Got Milk? to see if I was interested in partnering with them for a blog post.

Considering that milk was such a huge staple of my childhood (like a totally normal person, I collected Got Milk? mustache magazine ads in a binder) and because every member of my family drinks milk every day, this was a no-brainer for me. I was raised on glasses of milk. From age 1 to 18, my brother and I had milk with our dinner every single time my family sat down at the table (so six of seven nights a week). When I go to Sacramento to visit my parents, they pour my glass of milk without asking. (And I drink it without compliant.)

"Drink you milk" was part of the chorus I heard growing up. (Along with "do your best," "take the laundry upstairs" and the Full House theme song.) If I do my job right, it will be part of Ellerie's as well. (Along with "finish your Harry Potter," "bring in the backyard tomato harvest" and "do you want to go craft supply shopping?")

Wholewheatwaffles

Anyway, I'm excited to share one of our favorite whole wheat waffle recipes with you today. We eat cereal and milk for breakfast most mornings, but on weekends, we get a little more exciting (you can see our pancake recipe here) and sometimes that includes waffles (made with milk, of course).

Waffles1

This recipe makes three dense (and delicious) waffles, feel free to increase it to fit your needs.

  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 C wheat flour
  • 1/4 C white flour
  • 2 Tbsp wheat germ
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 C milk (we used whole milk)
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp butter (melted)

Waffles2

Separate the egg. Set aside the yolk (to be used later) and beat the whites with a hand mixer until stiff.

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Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

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Combine the wet ingredients. I like to beat the egg yolk then mix with the melted butter and honey before adding the milk.

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Mix the wet into the dry and stir just until you can't see dry ingredients anymore (do not over mix).

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Add in your strawberries (or other fruit choice).

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Fold in your egg whites. This is what will keep the waffle more on the light and fluffy side (again, take care not to over mix).

Pour the mixture into your waffle iron (we have this one). This is a thick batter and you can sort of scoop it into place. Follow the cooking directions according to your waffle iron.

Strawberrywaffles

Serve right away...ideally with whipped cream and more fruit! Since I had the hand-mixer out for the egg whites anyway, I decided to make up some whipped cream. I combined 1/2 C cream, a dash of vanilla and 1tsp sugar and whipped until it was the right consistency.

Familybreakfast

So good. And as far as sweet breakfasts go, these are pretty healthy and properly filling (we're not all starving again at 10am). All three of us are fans (though Ellerie perfers that hers is broken into bite-sized pieces).

This post is sponsored by Got Milk? As always, opinions, post concept and text are all my own.

03 Sep 12:00

wait for it.

by elise blaha cripe

Sunflower

After Ellerie was born I started having a lot more fun taking photos. Don't get me wrong. I have always LOVED taking photos. But I am learning that, for me, it's more fun when my subject moves. And it's more fun when my subject grows. (No offense, potted plants and cups of coffee.)

Waitforit

I also now take A LOT more photos. (Again with the moving and the growing.) I've gotten a few questions on Instagram about how I get "good" photos of Ellerie and while I have shared technique tips here and cropping tips here I thought I'd share another secret.

I wait for it.

Waitforit2

Generally I know the shot is possible - the light is right, Ellerie's in a good mood, the background is decent - so I get my phone ready. Then I set the shot, which for me means lining things up, either by crouching to Ellerie's level or by setting my phone on the ground.

Waitforit5

And then I start snapping. Over and over and over. I don't say anything to her, I just let her move around naturally. I usually know when I've got it and, no joke, my breath catches in my throat. The one perfect photo. It's there, caught in the 8 to 12 other decent shots that aren't quite the shot.

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As you can see in these "outtakes" the camera doesn't really move. I keep things lined up and just let Ellerie do her thing within the frame. The key for me is to keep the camera out long enough. Usually the best photo comes a few snaps in (though not always).

Waitforit4

I like to share stuff like this to keep the mystery out of my photography. It's just about getting things squared up and then...waiting for it.

all of these were taken on my iPhone 5s and the final images were processed with the VSCO app and shared on Instagram (along with photos of my coffee, projects and plants).

Dottedline

Today on ELISE GETS CRAFTY I am chatting with Kathleen Shannon of Braid Creative about all sorts of small busines things including her killer weekly newsletter. Click here to subscribe or stream the episode from your computer here.

27 Aug 11:50

Putting Off Some Horrible Task? Try These 7 Tips.

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)

ProcrastinationEvery Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: Seven tips for forcing yourself to tackle a dreaded task.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood: Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happy. Often, I know I’d be happier if I do something I really don’t feel like doing. Making that phone call. Dealing with tech support. Writing that email. Going to the gym.

Those dreaded tasks hang over my head, though; they make me feel drained and uneasy. I’ve learned that I’m much happier, in the long run, if I try to tackle them as soon as possible, rather than allowing myself to push them off.

Here are some habits I use:

1. Do it first thing in the morning. If you’re dreading doing something, you’re going to be able to think of more creative excuses as the day goes along. One of my Twelve Commandments is “Do it now.” No delay is the best way.

2. If you find yourself putting off a task that you try to do several times a week, do it every day. When I was planning my blog, I envisioned posting two or three times a week. Then a blogging friend convinced me that no, I should post every day. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I’ve found that it’s easier to do it every day (well, except Sundays) than fewer times each week. There’s no dithering, there’s no juggling. I know I have to post, so I do. If you’re finding it hard to go for a walk four times a week, try going every day.

3. Have someone keep you company. Studies show that we enjoy practically every activity more when we’re with other people. Having a friend along can be a distraction, a source of reassurance, or moral support.

4. Make preparations, assemble the proper tools. Clean off your desk, get the phone number, find the file. I often find that when I’m dreading a task, it helps me to feel prepared. There’s a wonderful term that chefs use: mis-en-place, French for “everything in its place.” It describes the preparation done before starting to cook: gathering ingredients and implements, chopping, measuring, etc. Mis-en-place is preparation, but it’s also a state of mind; mis-en-place means you have everything at the ready, with no need to run out to the store or begin a frantic search for a sifter. You’re truly ready to begin to work.

5. Commit. We’ve all heard the advice to write down your goals. This really works, so force yourself to do it. Usually this advice relates to long-term goals, but it works with short-term goals, too. On the top of a piece of paper, write, “By October 31, I will have _____.” This also gives you the thrill of crossing a task off your list. (See below.)

6. Remind yourself that finishing a dreaded task is tremendously energizing. Studies show that hitting a goal releases chemicals in the brain that give you pleasure. If you’re feeling blue, although the last thing you feel like doing is something you don’t feel like doing, push yourself. You’ll get a big lift from it.

7. Observe Power Hour. I get enormous satisfaction from my new habit of Power Hour.  I came up with Power Hour because, as I was working on Better Than Before, my book about habit-formation, I wanted to create a habit of tackling dreaded tasks.  But how could I form a single habit to cover a bunch of non-recurring, highly diverse tasks? I hit on an idea. Once a week, for one hour, I steadily work on these chores. An hour doesn’t sound like much time, but it’s manageable, and it’s amazing how much I can get done.

In Better Than Before, I identify the “Essential “Seven,” the areas into which most people’s desired habits fall. Number 5 is “stop procrastinating, make consist progress.” Often, it’s dreaded tasks that block us. (If you want to know when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)

How about you? What strategies do you use to help yourself tackle a dreaded task?

25 Aug 21:50

DIY Paper Box Drawer Organizers and an Organized "Everything" Drawer

by Jennifer Jones
Jessica Kendrick

huh. Maybe I can actually make something out of all that extra scrapbook paper I have.

Happy Monday!  I hope you all had a beautiful weekend!  School starts next week for us so we are doing all we can to soak in those final days of summer.

Today I have a fun and free project to share that was inspired by a messy drawer I opened this weekend.


I have grown completely understanding that organizing is an on going process and that occasionally some systems don't work out the first time.  Or the second. 

Our junk drawer never seems to stay organized.  No matter how many times I have re-organized it, it always ends up becoming a catch all for anything and everything.  That means that the items we should be storing within the drawer become lost in the shuffle.


There is only so much you can do with a junk drawer.  Half of the items I dumped out have a dedicated place to call home, they just never made it that far initially.  So lesson learned team Jones.  put stuff away where it belongs instead of tossing it in the "junk" drawer.  Problem solved.


So I did what I always do and dumped everything out, sorted, tossed and put things away where they really should go.  I even found a dollar and two gift cards!  See my friends!  There is always value in organizing!

I decided that in order to remedy the situation, I would have to add a few more organizers.  This would allow me to categorize a few more items as well as prevent the previous organizer from sliding around within the drawer.  Lastly, this time I would be adding labels so there is absolutely no confusion about what belongs within the drawer.

Once the previous organizer was empty, I added a little life by lining the bottom of the tray with decorative paper.  I have a few bins of pretty paper from my scrapbooking days, so I was able to use what I already had on hand.


Next up, I made a couple of boxes out of more sheets of scrapbook paper.  And they were so darn cute and addicting that I made a few extras for other drawers as well.


All you need is some scrap-paper and you can easily make a little box/tray for organizing or anything you wish really.  However, I did find that the stronger the paper, the stronger the box.  Go figure right?


  1. Start with a square piece of paper.
  2. Fold it down the center and then down the center again to create four equal sections.  Open the paper back up.
  3. Fold each corner into the center of the paper.
  4. Visual of progress - all corners folded in.
  5. Fold one edge to the center. 
  6. Fold opposite edge to the center.
  7. Open back up to reveal new creases and only two corners folded in at the center.
  8. Now repeat on the opposite two sides, folding each edge to the center {leaving the other two edges unfolded}
  9. Visual of progress - two edges folded in meeting at the center.
  10. Fold one edge over at the crease in paper.
  11. Push in edges of paper.
  12. Fold over edge to create one side of the box.
  13. Repeat on opposite side, folding over the edge to create the opposite side of the box.
  14. Wiggle a little bit until all edges are straight.
  15. Celebrate!  Pretty sweet huh?


Once I had some little boxes created, I popped everything back into the empty drawer.  I also added a couple of pieces of clear packing tape to the bottom of the newly created paper boxes for a little added strength.


I categorized the items I want access to on a daily basis because we actually use them within the kitchen frequently... and the added some labels to the organizers.


For the labels, I used some Martha Stewart stickers labels {found at Staples awhile back}, which I paired with my label maker and clear label maker tape.

And a full view of the after.


This view makes me giddy inside!  Maybe those sweet little flower boxes and labeled organizers will actually do the trick this time?  Or maybe I will just have to be OK with the fact that the junk drawer clean-out is an annual task.  Either way, all is right in the drawer for today.

I love anytime I can use what I have at home to whip up something pretty and functional.  You can also see how I used cereal boxes for drawer dividers here, as well as cardboard boxes paired with fabric for great storage bins here.  Now to put the rest of those sweet little paper boxes to good use in other drawers around the house. 



Have you been DIY'ing any storage big or small?  How about taking back a drawer that is always a small thorn in your side?

21 Aug 15:30

UHeart Organizing: Be Prepared To Party!

by Jennifer Jones
Jessica Kendrick

I actually like these ideas. I never remember friend's birthdays in time to get gifts and I don't know what the rule is now that I'm older.

One of the reasons I heart to organize is because I can't stand spending time digging and searching for things, especially when I am in a rush to get out the door.  Another reason I organize is to be prepared when special occasions arise.  I have been in situations where I am making last minute dashes through Target ten minutes before my kiddos have a party to be at, and it is stressful with a capitol S.  Not to mention expensive.  Megan of Honey We're Home is joining us today to chat about how she prepares for events, and is offering up some great tips to keep you on top of your party attending game.



The month of August found us celebrating six little friends' birthdays with parties almost every weekend.  When the invites started arriving (via mail or Evite), I started to feel a little overwhelmed.  I wanted to make sure we had all the dates/times/places calendared, that none of the parties overlapped, that we RSVPd on time, and that we had gifts for everyone.

I hadn't considered "preparing to attend a party" a process until we got all these invites at once.  If you have more than one child, I'm sure keeping up with their social calendar of birthdays can be quite the juggling act at times- especially during the school year when you're also dealing with sports/dance/gymnastics or other activities. Today, I'm sharing with you some tips on how to stay on top of the birthday parties (or other events where gifts are appropriate) and some cute handmade cards to keep the costs down and make the gift more personal when it's for a child. 

ONE - CALENDAR THE EVENT

I write the party on our family kitchen calendar that way we can quickly see if something is occurring on a weekend.  I also put the date and location on my iPhone calendar with details like "bring socks or swimsuit" so we don't forget.  Then, I "invite" my husband on my iPhone calendar so he knows what's happening on the weekend too, but it doesn't mean I don't still have to remind him. ;)

If you have an Evite account (just sign up with your email and password), you'll be able to log in and see all at once the Evite events you've been invited to.


TWO - TIMELY RSVP   

As soon as we receive the invite, I confirm that we can attend, and RSVP right away so that I get it done and the host has enough notice that we'll be coming.  At a lot of these kids' parties, if the party is at a venue, parents pay by the number of children attending, so it's polite to let the host know if you won't be able to make it. 

THREE - GIFT BUYING

I have simplified kid gift buying by purchasing all birthday gifts online.  It's more convenient than in-store shopping with a toddler and the selection is better.  I find Amazon particularly usefully because you can search for gifts by gender, age, type of gift (arts/craft, animals/figures, puzzles, sports, etc.) and read reviews from other purchasers about whether the item is quality and a hit with the kids.  The "best seller" items are usually good.  If I give a gift that is particularly well-received, I've been known to purchase it in multiples and have it on hand for future gifts.  Who knew 2 and 3 year olds would like a $10 Mickey Mouse play dough set so much?! 

For the adults in my life, I keep a Pinterest "gift idea" board and refer to it often.  Or, even better, I'll search my friends'  Pinterest boards to see if they have one for "stuff I want" - sneaky huh?!   Shhh...  Although Amazon is great for kid presents, for adults I like Mark & Graham (for monogrammed items), Minted/Paper Source (for personalized stationery), C. Wonder (for unique, cute items) HomeGoods & Hobby Lobby (for teacher gifts), and let's not forget the grocery store for wine!  La Crema Chardonnay, Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio, and Liberty School Cabernet are three solid, inexpensive choices.

FOUR - GIFT WRAPPING/CARD MAKING

When a gift arrives, I tag it with a small post-it note with the recipient's name on it and put it in our bar area until I'm ready to wrap.  Then, I make sure I have the appropriate sized gift bag or proper wrapping paper. 


I've stopped buying birthday cards, opting instead to make our own as we sure have enough supplies for it!  I love having craft supplies of all kinds on hand from markers, to washi tape to stampers and stickers, so it's fun to actually use them!  I have a wrapping cart for organizing wrapping supplies in my office closet, but I like to take the top two divided holders out and keep them in my office for easier access for making notes and sending cards. 



I've kept our stickers in a plastic file folder from Wal-Mart for years so I can find what we need quickly.  You can always find cute stickers on sale at craft stores like Michaels or Hobby Lobby.  Markers are kept in an old candle box and cup. 



Getting my son in on the gift giving process helps instill in him the value of giving, and gives him some letter writing practice!  A foam board or vinyl tablecloth protects the table from scratches and stains when he's creating at the white table.  


Or sometimes, he likes to get on the floor. 





I found these cute "Handmade with Love" stickers at Michael's. 



Do you have this birthday party thing down to a science or does it stress you out sometimes? 


"My name is Megan and I am a lawyer by day, design and decor lover by night, and Mama to the sweetest 4-year old boy you've ever seen.  I'm passionate about fitness (and chocolate!) and could not live without my relationships, girl talk, and my morning coffee.  I've been blogging for four years over at Honey We're Home, sharing my love of keeping things organized and beautiful at our house.  My efforts to live in the moment and cook more are an adventure in progress."

21 Aug 18:52

Painted Wooden Boxes

by Megan // Honey We're Home
Jessica Kendrick

I hate the word hustle. I hate it so much! It makes it sound like hard work should be a blur, a hive of constant activity! Hard work isn't always a hustle. Hard work is sometimes quiet, slow and deliberate. Sometimes its incremental. Sometimes you must wait for the work to be done by someone else or something else-- in which case hustling aint gonna help nobody. BAN THE WORD HUSTLE!!

A design trend I'm seeing everywhere these days is the colorful geometric pattern.  I'm crazy for it, and have some fun notebooks that make me happy just looking at them.  I wanted to bring more geometric pattern into my life and yesterday, created a colorful, decorative box for my office.   All you need for this project is an inexpensive wooden box from the craft store, craft paint, paint brushes, painters tape, and clear enamel spray to give your box a glossy finish.






MAKE A GEOMETRIC PATTERNED BOX

I started with a rough sketch of how I wanted my pattern to look, then used a ruler to draw straight lines on the box.  I used one of my favorite color combinations: hot pink, light pink, black, white and gold and dotted them on the box where the the paint would go.  Then, I taped off the first areas to paint.  It's key that you press the tape down very firmly so that you get crisp lines and no paint seeps through.  I used Scotch Blue Painter's Tape With Edgeblock and it works great.  I only had a couple of minor spots to touch up with a small paint brush when I was done.  Which reminds me to tell you to use a better quality paint brush.  My first brush was a cheap one and the bristles kept coming off onto the paint and I had to dig them out with tweezers- annoying.  The project was much more enjoyable with these brushes.  

follow these steps


I painted three quick coats before removing the tape and moving on to another section.  The paint dries quickly on this wooden box, and taping over a dry section was fine. 


Continuing the paint down the sides of the boxes looks cool too. 




I painted the box with a piece of paper in between the top and bottom, but it still nearly sealed closed while painting- I should have used painter's tape!  I haven't painted the entire inside yet just the edges so that when it's closed, you don't see any wood peeking through.  


When all the paint has dried, spray a light coat of  Crystal Clear Enamel for a glossier finish.   
I'm kind of in love with the finished product!



_____________

You can also find me at I Heart Organizing today, where I'm sharing my tips for preparing for all the kids' parties we attend.  Hope you stop by!

The Weekend Steals & Deals post will be posted a little later than usual on Friday- see you soon! 





21 Aug 17:16

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats

by Michael Wurm, Jr.

I’m fairly certain that 90% of the recipes here on IBC involve dessert or buffalo chicken. I can’t help what I love. It’s a problem.

Anyway, I hope you won’t be mad for long because these Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats are bangin’! If you like buffalo chicken and want to find a way to get more veggies in your diet, look no further. Also, with a couple substitutions (light dressing and low-fat cheese), this recipe can be fairly healthy. I opted for the full-fat version, however, because that’s how I roll.

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats | Inspired by Charm

This recipe is my brainchild after seeing lots of zucchini boat recipes on Pinterest. It’s a quick and easy meal that will certainly satisfy.

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats | Inspired by Charm

The recipe starts off with cooked chicken breast. My favorite way to cook chicken is to put it in a sheet pan and sprinkle it with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. I bake it at 300 degrees F until it’s cooked through. This keeps the meat nice and moist. Depending on the size of the breast, it will take about 20 minutes.

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats | Inspired by Charm

While the chicken is baking, slice your zucchinis in half lengthwise and hollow out each half with a melon baller. You’ll want to save about 1/2 cup of the zucchini for your filling.

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats | Inspired by Charm

Once the chicken is cooled and cut up and the zucchinis are prepped, you’re ready to mix everything together and bake!

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats | Inspired by Charm

For the filling, I used blue cheese dressing. I also added some blue cheese crumbles. If you don’t care for blue cheese, what’s wrong with you? Ha! Just kidding. If you prefer, use ranch dressing and omit the crumbles.

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats | Inspired by Charm

Also, I used celery and carrots in my filling as they go really well with buffalo chicken. However, if you have something else on hand, use that. You could even use a bell pepper or tomato for your “boat” if zucchini isn’t your thing.

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats | Inspired by Charm

Other than that, you’re good to go. The recipe is below so you can whip up a batch of the Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats in your own kitchen. Hope you enjoy them!

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats

Here's what you'll need:

2 zucchinis
1 pound cooked chicken, diced
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 carrot, shredded
1 rib of celery, diced
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 cup blue cheese crumbles (optional)
3 tablespoons buffalo sauce
3 tablespoons blue cheese (or ranch) dressing

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking oil. Set aside.

Cut each zucchini in half horizontally. Then with a melon baller (or spoon) carefully scoop out the center of the zucchini. Reserve 1/2 cup of the center and dice it up for your filling.

In a bowl, mix together chicken, flour, salt, pepper, carrot, celery, 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, blue cheese crumbles (optional), buffalo sauce and dressing.

Place zucchini, hollow side up, on the prepared baking sheet. Fill the boats with your buffalo chicken filling. The filling should be heaping. Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the zucchini have achieved desired softness.

MORE BUFFALO CHICKEN DISHES:

Buffalo and Blue Cheese Lit’l Smokies
Buffalo Cheese Ball
Blue Cheese-Stuffed Buffalo Meatballs

22 Aug 15:32

Wanderlust Gallery Wall

by Michael Wurm, Jr.
Jessica Kendrick

I'm a big fan of gallery walls. In our next place, I hope to do something a little more intentional, a little less hoge-podged then what we have now.

I’m happy to report that the gallery wall in my living room is complete! As you may know, I’m on a mission to get art on the walls of my living room and office. A couple weeks ago I decided to create a large drama-filled gallery wall above my sofa in the living room.

A New Gallery Wall | Inspired by Charm

The theme for this new gallery wall is wanderlust – places that I’ve visited and places where I want to go. One of my goals for the year is to travel a bit more. I’m always on the hunt for inspiration, and traveling seems to be a wonderful way to soak in the personality of a place. To help make my travel goals a reality, I’ve teamed up with Carnival Cruise Lines to share a few posts on IBC over the next few months. From cocktails to gallery walls, I’ll be sharing ideas inspired by some of the most beautiful travel destinations in the world.

To get my wanderlust gallery wall started, I used several photographs that I took myself (you may recognize the images from my trips to Ireland, California, and Oregon). I also purchased a couple on Etsy – I ordered the barn and train from Annie Bailey’s shop. Her collection of photographs is stunning and she’s graciously offered a 20% off coupon code for IBC readers (use “CHARM20” at checkout, valid through 9/21/14).

Ultimately, I’d like to fill the entire wall with my own photography. I’m hoping that will be possible with some of this year’s travel plans.

I’m all about creating artwork that is personal. Using my photography is a great way to create inexpensive artwork that is meaningful.

I use Photoshop Lightroom to edit all of my photos here on IBC. It’s a less -expensive and less-complicated version of Photoshop. I played around with the colors, brightness, and saturation to make my pictures look a bit more artistic and colorful. I also tried to choose pictures that would complement my current decor.

In the photo above the image on the left is the altered image. As you can see there is more color in the sky, the wood in the dock is more visible, the sky is more colorful near the horizon, and the image is sharper.

Once I had my photos printed (I used Walmart), I laid them out on the floor to get an idea of where I wanted them on the wall.

After that, I loaded up the frames, and in no time my gallery wall was complete.

I took a picture as I was making progress with filling my frames. Remember last time I mentioned I ordered bright white mats instead of the off-white ones included with the frame? Can you see the difference? I prefer the bright white mats so much better. It works better with the room and makes the photographs pop!

Now, for the finished wall!

What do you think?

I was a little bit nervous about using my own photography. However, once it’s matted and put behind a frame, it’s amazing how professional it looks.

What I particularly love about this gallery wall is that I can change it whenever I’d like. While I’m certainly pleased with the gallery wall as is, when I travel to new destinations, I can add new pictures to keep the wall feeling fresh and inspired.

Speaking of new destinations, as I was checking out the Carnival site, one of the places I’m most excited to visit is Belize (located in Central America off the Caribbean Sea). My friends and I were recently talking about planning a vacation, and Belize was one of our top choices. However, getting there is a little more complicated when you’re not arriving on a cruise ship. So, visiting with Carnival is going to be ah-mazing. Belize, puh-lease!

How are you loving my wanderlust gallery wall? If you could hop on a cruise ship, what places would you want to visit?

This post was created as part of my collaboration with Carnival.  As always, all of the opinions, thoughts, and ideas in this post are my own.

FOR MORE DETAILS ABOUT THIS SPACE, CHECK OUT THE LINKS BELOW:

A New Couch – Sectional
Rug and Blinds
Hanging Rattan Chair
Coffee Table Styling
Paint Colors
Other Living Room Sources


20 Aug 12:44

Are You “Addicted” to Something?

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)
Jessica Kendrick

I think there are more addictions out there than people realize. Thoughts?

addictionEvery Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: Are you “addicted” to something?

The definition of  “addiction,” and what people can become “addicted” to, are hotly contested issues. In everyday conversation, of course, people throw around the word “addicted” a lot, as in, “I’m addicted to Game of Thrones.”

Addiction, whatever it might be, is a subject that’s related to my current fascination: habits. As I explain in the introduction of Better Than Before, my discussion of habit formation doesn’t cover addictions, compulsions, nervous habits, or habits of mind. Nevertheless, I did a lot of reading and thinking about addiction, because it’s a useful area to consider.

The nature of addiction is highly controversial, but I found it interesting to read, in Kenneth Paul Rosenberg and Laura Curtiss Feder’s Behavioral Addictions, this list of factors put forth by Mark Griffiths. Apart from the question of “what’s a true addiction?” it’s a helpful way to think about whether a certain habit is making it harder to live a life that reflects our values and contributes to our long-term happiness.

According to this definition, a behavioral addiction is marked by:

Salience — this behavior has become the important activity in a person’s life

Mood modification — this behavior changes a person’s mood, by providing a rush of excitement or a sense of calm or numbness

Tolerance — more and more behavior is needed to get the mood boost

Withdrawal symptoms — a person feels lousy or irritable when unable to engage in the behavior

Conflict — the behavior causes conflicts with other people, interferes with other activities, or causes a person to feel a loss of control

Relapse — the behavior returns after being given up

I don’t want to sound like I’m treating addiction lightly. Whatever “addiction” might be exactly, when a person feels powerless to control a behavior that’s destructive, that’s a very, very serious matter. Far beyond the scope of my writing.

But I do think that even for people who aren’t “addicted” to something, these points are interesting to ponder, as they might relate to a bad habit (a habit that’s not good for us, but doesn’t rise to this level of severity).

They help us think about whether we’re engaging in a behavior that’s turned into a negative. That’s when we might want to consider changing a habit.

Sometimes, a behavior that one person consider to be healthy and positive is viewed as another person as extreme and negative. I have a friend, a fellow Upholder, who exercises just about every day of the year. People sometimes say she’s “addicted” to exercise in a way that’s unhealthy, but that’s not how she sees it.

In cases like this, I found this point by Griffiths to be very helpful: “Healthy enthusiasms add to life whereas addictions take away from it.”

My research on habits and happiness have convinced me that it’s very important that we feel in control of ourselves. The feeling that a behavior is out of our control — that we can’t change what we’re doing, even when we know it’s not good for us — well, that’s a bad feeling. Whether it’s an “addiction” or not.

As I was writing Better Than Before, I kept changing the epigraph (I love choosing epigraphs). In the end, I’ve chosen this line from Publilius Syrus: “The greatest of empires, is the empire over one’s self.”

Self-command, self-knowledge…more and more, I’m convinced that good habits and happiness come down to these two. And maybe self-command comes from self-knowledge, so really it’s just self-knowledge.

What about you? Have you ever had a behavior in your life that felt out of your control? If you wrested back control, how did you do it?

 

10 Aug 11:27

“A Man Gets an Immense Amount of Satisfaction from the Knowledge of Having Done Good Work.”

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)

Eugene_delacroixYou increase your self-respect when you feel you’ve done everything you ought to have done, and if there is nothing else to enjoy, there remains that chief of pleasures, the feeling of being pleased with oneself. A man gets an immense amount of satisfaction from the knowledge of having done good work and of having made the best use of his day, and when I am in this state I find that I thoroughly enjoy my rest and even the mildest forms of recreation.

Diary of Eugene Delacroix

Delacroix was an artist, and he was also a brilliant writer, and I highly recommend reading his Diary. It’s fascinating — particularly if you’re interested in subjects like art, creativity, and productivity.

07 Aug 11:00

HomeGoods Happy $100 Gift Card GIVEAWAY

by Megan // Honey We're Home
Jessica Kendrick

Awesome!

As if the Dyson DC59 Motorhead giveaway ($600 value) wasn't enough, I learned that on Friday, August 8th, 2014, HomeGoods (my home away from home!) will be giving away $10,000 in gift cards over the course of the day to lucky participants who share a happy moment on Twitter or Instagram.  

To enter the sweepstakes, share how you made a moment of happiness happen in someone’s life – no matter how big or small – either by posting a photo on Instagram or Twitter using #HappinessHappens and #HomeGoodsSweeps. 

Winners are chosen randomly and will be awarded $100 gift cards throughout the day on August 8, 2014 from 9AM to 5PM EST. Visit www.homegoods.com/hhsweeps for official rules.  



Hope you win!


07 Aug 18:55

“We’d Be Better Served Watching the Carb Content of the Diet Rather than How Much We Eat and Exercise.”

by gretchen@gretchenrubin.com (Gretchen Rubin)
Jessica Kendrick

I am reading this book right now, and I as I tried to explain the argument to Arthur today, little did I know there was a blog post that would do it for me! The book is compelling and interesting... it makes total sense to me.

GaryTaubesHabits interview: Gary Taubes.

I’m so pleased to be posting this interview with Gary Taubes, because it’s no exaggeration to say that his work has had more practical influence on my day-to-day habits than probably any other writer.

In Better Than Before, I describe the multiple strategies we can use to change our habits. One of the most powerful, but also one of the most mysterious and unpredictable strategies, is the Strategy of the Lightning Bolt.

When the lightning bolt hits you, you’re so moved by a new idea or belief that your habits change, overnight. Instantly, effortlessly.

I was hit by a lightning bolt when I read Gary’s book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, in March 2012, when my eating habits changed dramatically. Just a few days ago, I described the lightning bolt in a short video. (Some of you may be a bit tired of this subject, but I wanted to explain the strategy before I posted Gary’s interview. Next week, different topics.)

It’s interesting — I was hit by this Lightning Bolt, and my habits changed. Another habits strategy is the Strategy of Other People; we often pick up habits from other people. My habit changed, and my father picked up that habit change, through me. He’s a Questioner, and as he weighed the book’s arguments and tested its principles on himself, he became persuaded gradually. Now he’s as much of a convert as I am. We got to similar habits through different routes.

It’s important to be aware of the forces that can affect our habits, for better and for worse, because when we understand what’s happening, we can direct it.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?

Gary: This one’s easy, but counter-intuitive: that the conventional wisdom on why we get fat or fatter is both foolish and wrong. Ever since the 1950s, nutritionists and obesity researchers have insisted we get fat merely because we take in more calories than we expend and all we have to know about the effect of foods on our weight is how many calories they contain. What I now realize is that this is like having a theory of wealth management or investing that says people get rich because they make more money than they spend, or that the only thing you have to know about an investment strategy is that it makes more money than it loses. If your financial advisor told you this was the secret formula to how they were going to invest your pension plan, you’d fire him or her in a second. And yet this is the way we’re supposed to think about obesity and the way the authorities do. What I suggested in my books is what pre-WW2 European researchers had come to believe: that obesity is a hormonal/regulatory disorder and that foods influence our weight not because of their caloric content (although that’s obviously one way to measure quantity) but because of their effects on the hormones and enzymes that regulate fat accumulation in our fat tissue and whether or not we burn that fat for fuel. If you think about it from this perspective, then the focus becomes on the carbohydrates in our diet, because carbohydrates drive up secretion of the hormone insulin which in turn tells our fat cells to store fat and our lean cells not to burn it. So just by thinking of obesity as a biological problem rather than a mathematical or physics problem, you end up with a conclusion that maybe we’d be better served watching the carbohydrate content of the diet rather than how much we eat and exercise.

 What aspects of eating habits would be most helpful for people to understand?

If it’s true that the way foods influence how fat we are — our adiposity — is by their effects on hormones, and specifically insulin (and leptin, as well, but that’s another, technical story), then any foods that drive up insulin and make us store calories as fat are also likely to make us hungry in the process. These foods will come to taste better than other, foods and these are the foods we’ll quickly come to crave. When we’re hungry or dieting, these are the foods on which we’ll end up binging. This is an idea that came out of school of science in the 1920s-30s known as physiological psychology and the idea is that our most pronounced behaviors are responses to underlying physiological states. The implication is that if you change the underlying physiology, you can change the behavior. So we can change food habits — how we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, when we snack, what we snack, etc. — by understanding that physiology and changing that. It’s not that this won’t require some willpower and restraint in the short term, but once we’ve got our physiology fixed and healthy, our eating habits will be healthier too.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

Is it fair to say “everything?” Or rather anything that I might have thought I knew about forming healthy habits when I was 18 was as likely to be wrong as right. And even if it was right, it might have only pertained to the forming of healthy habits as an 18-year-old. Each age presents new challenges. Certainly as I get older, forming healthy habits is as much or more about unforming unhealthy habits first. At 18 I would have been more of a blank slate.

Which habits are most important to you? (for heath, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

For creativity and productivity, it’s making sure that my morning hours are reserved for writing — it’s the only time of day when I’m smart enough to write — and getting to my desk having already been thinking deeply about what it is I have to write that day. For health, it’s living by the lessons I learned researching my books (with the caveat, of course, that I turn out to be right and they serve me well). For leisure, let’s just say I have to work on that. I’ve always been a workaholic and have never managed to hit a healthy balance of  leisure time with work time. I was writing articles about burn-out when I was in my 20s. Now that I’m in my late fifties, I could write an encyclopedia on the subject if I wasn’t too burnt out to do it. I have to work on the leisure thing.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

Well, let’s see. I used to be a smoker and now I’m not. It was an endless battle, capped by using nicotine gum in my early 40s to finally quit. Then I chewed the nicorette gum for a decade. Recently I quit drinking caffeine. I titrated down over the course of a summer — buying one pound bags of coffee from my local Peets that were first 80 percent caffeinated, 20 percent decaf, then 60/40, then 40/60, then 20/80 and finally all decaf. Then I gave up the decaf. This was last summer. I was off caffeine and coffee entirely by last August. It was as hard as quitting smoking, although in a different way. I never thought of caffeine as anti-depressant until I found out how depressing mornings could be without that first cup of hot coffee waiting for you. Now that I have to write a book, though, and it happens to be almost two years over due, I will probably go back to the coffee or at least caffeine to get it done.  I may even start chewing nicorettes again, with the expectation that I’ll quit both — again — when the book is done. I also gave up fattening carbohydrates about a dozen years ago, first as an experiment and then, when I saw the obvious benefits, as a lifestyle. That’s one healthy habit I’ll keep for the duration.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

Definitely a Questioner. Although doesn’t everyone or at least most people think the same?

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

When you’re a person who doesn’t eat sweets, baked goods or starchy vegetables, as I am, dinner parties are an always an adventure. I try not to be a zealot in any way and will eat anything, but it’s a challenge. Moreover these foods can be a little bit like drugs — the sweets, especially — and so the more we eat them, or at least the more I eat them, the more I want to eat them. So my wife will order a dessert; she’ll take one bite and leave the rest. I’ll take one bite because, well, it’s there, and then have to struggle mightily not to eat the rest, and then everyone else’s left over desert as well. It’s the way I am and the way I’ve been for a long time. When I was young I was like Mikey in the old Life cereal commercial. Remember? Give it to Mikey, he’ll eat anything. Of course, when I was young I could eat anything (and usually did). As I got older I found I couldn’t, or at least not without my waistline expanding. Now I find it easier to avoid sweets entirely than to try to eat them in moderation. But dinner parties and restaurants always challenge that decision. [I describe this as the abstainer/moderator distinction.]

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.? [I ask because reading Why We Get Fat hit me like a lightning bolt.]

When I was turning fifty, I got a life insurance exam which included being weighed. Lo and behold, I appeared to weigh 240 pounds. This was about fifteen pounds heavier than I expected. Now I’m supposed to understand the diet weight control thing, and if I’ve gained fifteen pounds that’s a bad sign. Right? So I started thinking about what could have happened. As I may have mentioned, or should have, I was a caffeine addict. I would have a cup of coffee by my side, at my desk, all day long, and I drank that coffee with cream. One thing I could never understand was why I had to have the coffee at my desk, all day long, even at those periods that I was drinking decaf? Was it the dregs of caffeine in the decaf, or something else — the cream? — that caused the craving? So I did some research, found out that some people  over-secrete insulin response to dairy — even cream — and thought that might explain it. I switched to drinking black coffee, which was easier than I expected. A testament to the addictive power of caffeine. It took me only three days to actually like black coffee. The 15 pounds went a way in six weeks, along with another five for good measure. I’ve been a healthy 220 ever since. (I’m 6’2″ and so this is my healthy weight.)

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

I try to embrace the good ones, obviously. But I realize that I’m disorganized and could definitely use some habits to help me be better organized. I suppose I resist those on the basis that I don’t have time to learn them. But if I did learn them, I’d have more time. I’m working on this.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

Yes. Other than the obvious — my wife, my two boys, my best friend Marion and my partner/boss, Peter Attia — I have an older cousin who lives in Hawaii and was an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War. When I was living in Hawaii between my junior and senior years in college, he gave me a lecture about not working hard enough. He said things came easy to me and so I coasted and was willing to settle for what came easy as good enough. I took his lecture to heart and changed my work habits and my goals. I owe him for that.

02 Aug 20:09

A Clean Dream House

by Megan // Honey We're Home
Jessica Kendrick

Um, worth it for the giveaway folks!

"Decoration can be life-enhancing.  It can make dinner parties more fun, kids happier, relaxing easier, talks more intimate, guests at ease.  And to think decorating is often considered frivolous.  Making a charmed and happy home is a noble endeavor." - Deborah Needlemann


When I first read that quote is resonated with me because after so many years working full-time in the professional world, it can be quite a culture shock to become a stay-at-home mom, even if you fully believe in the "work" you are doing.  Being a mom raising kids and creating a beautiful, inviting home.  I still have contract legal jobs that I work on from home and have not ruled out returning full-time to the career I worked so hard for, but for now, HOME is where I find myself and where I get the most JOY out of life.  We built this home from the ground up and, although I've learned so much along the way, this is a dreamy space that I feel so fortunate to call home.  From the airy kitchen to the comfy living room and the sanctuary bedroom, I'm really happy here.




I mentioned long ago that with our large house, I don't mind admitting I wanted/needed help keeping up with the cleaning and my friend Maria joined me in cleaning on Fridays.  She is a Godsend and truly part of our family.  We've been through life's ups and downs together and her kids and my own are like brother and sisters.  It can be overwhelming to keep a home of any size clean and okay to need help.  But, since I'm home more now, I've been taking on the cleaning responsibility and just have her come help once in a while.  She's been gone this summer, but will return and help me on the big jobs like cleaning the baseboards, cabinets, and windows.  And we get to catch up, chatting away all the while. ;) I'm the type that operates better in a clean house, it just makes me relax and feel better.  Of course, it's not always clean and organized, but I do prefer it that way. 

To clean our floors, I've had the Dyson Animal vacuum for about 7 years, and I still like it, but recently I heard about the Dyson DC59 Motorhead and I'm thinking of making the switch.  It's cordless! and a much slimmer design that our current model.  It's about a third of the weight too (4.9 pounds as opposed to 17.35 pounds).  It cleans both hardwoods (our downstairs) and carpets (upstairs in the bedrooms), so that's a great feature too.  I try to cut corners by not sweeping the downstairs with a broom when possible, just using the vacuum instead, so ours gets a LOT of use. 

I still have to carry our vacuum up the stairs and plug/unplug it, so I think the Dyson DC59 Motorhead would be better in that regard.  Have you tried it?  Any thoughts to share?

Want to WIN one?!



-------- GIVEAWAY --------

One winner will receive a Dyson DC59 Motorhead ($600 value)!

To enter the giveaway:

1)  Visit Dyson DC59 Motorhead site, and
2) Answer this question in the comments: What is your dream space and what Dyson DC59 Motorhead feature do you enjoy the most




Oh man, I could really use this for the car too! 

The WINNER of the Dyson DC59 Motorhead will be announced on Monday, August 18, 2014.  Good luck friends! 

CONGRATULATIONS Carla Jordan, the winner of the Dyson DC59 Motorhead!

* Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway.  The giveaway is now closed. * 


*Thank you Dyson for sponsoring this post.
31 Jul 09:01

Star Wars