Shared posts

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).

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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

29 Jul 15:40

"Write an entire monologue with your main character if you have to. Spend a chapter just exploring..."

by capitanoll
“Write an entire monologue with your main character if you have to. Spend a chapter just exploring the life story of an antagonist. They don’t have to be scenes in chronological order. They don’t even have to end up in your book. But they will help you to keep going.

Because you must keep going. Just a little more. You are stubborn. You are exhausted. You are determined. You are a Writer.”

- marielubooks, on making it through the dark swamp.
31 Jul 14:14

UHeart Organizing: How To Feel A Little More Unplugged Without Pulling The Plug

by Jennifer Jones
Jessica Kendrick

If I could, sometimes I wish for an old fashioned landline, with a cord, and a paper planner.

As much as I try to fight it at times, smart phones are a 2014 way of life.  They keep us connected in more ways than one, and offer us a lot of really great applications to simplify our lives.  Ashley from 7th House on the Left, is stopping by today to share how she takes advantage of that sweet little device of hers to ensure she is making the most out of the time she has with her phone, as well as the time she has when she takes a phone break. 



In this day and age of habituated technology usage, our cell phones have become more like appendages than simple communication devices.  I’m sure you’ve seen the ever-so-popular articles floating around about the importance of “unplugging” and enjoying the real everyday. It’s a bit of a hot topic lately, and while some may see it as a passing fad, I think it’s a concept worth trying out.


My husband and I both have very “tech-centeric” jobs (he’s a web developer and I’m a graphic designer / brand consultant), so we frequently (if not always) feel tethered to our phones, tablets and laptops.  In an effort to step away from the devices, we schedule “Official Unplug Days” on our calendars.  It may seem a bit extreme to literally schedule them, but for us, it’s helpful to put them on the calendar because we like to be sure to catch up on everything digital the day before.  I’ve grown to LOVE and look forward to these days.  Not only does it help me truly relax, but since my job is in a creative field, it also helps me keep the creative juices flowing by giving my brain a little rest and some much-needed breathing room.

Despite “Official Unplug Days”, it’s 2014, and there’s no way to get around using our phones.  Even though some days, I want to throw mine into a lake (we’ve all been there), our smartphones should make our lives easier, not more stressed.  Since we can’t travel back to the 1950’s (but oh how I’d love to live in the days of I Love Lucy and telegrams), there are a few things we can do to help organize and simplify our attention-sucking devices.  Here are three of my favorite tips and tricks…


01 / Have a heart-to-heart with your phone.  About a month ago, in an effort to simplify my “tech days", I recently went through my cell phone and completely decluttered.  I got rid of any apps I hadn’t used in the last 3 months and/or didn’t have a viable use for.  Yes, I finally got rid of Angry Birds (much to Greg’s disappointment).  Once I cut through the clutter, my phone was immediately more organized.  Seriously, it felt physically lighter - even though I know that isn’t really possible, haha.  (In a minute, I’ll talk about my top three apps that keep me organized and made the cut.)

02 / Group similar apps together by categories.  On my iPhone, I use the built-in grouping feature and categorize my apps into folders.  (You can do the same on Android phones)  I put all of my news apps in one folder, coupon/shopping apps in another, restaurant/dining apps in another, photo editing apps in another and so on.  By taking a few minutes to do this, I took my 5 pages of apps and condensed it down to two - including the home page.  To organize things a bit more, I keep my most used apps on the home page and use the second page just for my categorized folders.

03 / Categorize your contacts.  Updating and organizing the contacts in your cell phone can make a day out running errands go so much smoother.  To start off, go through your phone and delete the contacts you don’t need/want anymore.  This is basically the phone’s equivalent to throwing away gum wrappers in your purse.  Then, organize the contacts.  I group numbers for take-out places, medical-related offices/people, shops, florists, and such together in their respective categories.  So, for florists, I add “Florist | ” before the name of the florist. That way, when flipping through my phone, the contact would read “Florist | Strange’s (West Broad)” and all of the florist-related numbers would be grouped together.  If there are multiple locations (like our favorite florist above), I add the location after the name in parentheses.  This is something I’ve been doing for a long time (an idea I actually picked up from my 72-year-old-iPhone-loving Aunt Jerrie) and I love the handiness of it.

Now, for the icing on the cake… apps! As I mentioned earlier, I’m a huge advocate for not boggling down your phone with a ton of useless apps that just clutter it (and your mind!) up.  Here are three apps I think are worth holding on to…



01 / Swipes.  I’ve been through my fair share of task apps.  (In reality, I think I’ve gone through 12 or so in the past few years) I always end up using them for a few days then forgetting I have them or getting frustrated with the design.  That’s definitely not the case with this app.  It’s very well designed (which makes the graphic designer in me very happy), uncomplicated and - best of all - it’s fun.  Basically, it keeps your daily to-dos on a timeline and allows you to easily prioritize each task.  If something comes up and you have to switch your priorities around, you can “snooze” the rest for a later time.  Under each task, you can be as simple or as detailed as you want because you have the option to add elements like notes, contact info, reminders, and categories.  Yet another perk, if you’re an Evernote user, this app will sync to your Evernote account, allowing you to have pretty much everything in one list.  One of my favorite features of the app is the screen that pops up after all of your tasks are done for the day - which comes complete with a quote/saying about productivity and an option to share it on Twitter or Facebook.  If you’re on the hunt for a really good all around app to keep your days organized, be sure to give this one a spin. *Swipes is available for iPhone and iPad, as a web app, and it’s currently in beta testing for Android. Oh, and it’s free!




02 / Tick.  This app is a lot more powerful than how I use it, but I still easily consider it to be one of my top favorite apps to keep me organized.  Tick has the capability to keep track of lists, project/task due dates and reminders, and it even syncs to iCloud to keep track of the reminders that you dictate to Siri.  I use this app to keep track of my long-term lists (Christmas gift lists, article ideas, future dog names [yes, I have a list for that!], beauty products I want to try, etc).  Up until I found this app, I’ve been keeping my long-term lists in the standard Notes app.  It worked out okay, but it just wasn’t as versatile or fun to use as Tick is. (Here’s a little video to see it in action)  I also love that you can customize the colors and icons for each list.  All in all, it is what you make it.  So, if you’re looking for a super-simple yet customizable list-keeping app, this is your guy.  *Right now, Tick only available for iPhone. You can find it in the App Store for only $1.99!



03 / Dropbox.  This app definitely falls in the “simplify” category.  I use it at least a few times a week and it has proven to be a lifesaver.  Basically, Dropbox ensures that files you’re working on or important documents you need to keep track of will be easily accessed on another computer or mobile device.  I’ve been using Dropbox on my computer for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I downloaded the app.  Cue: “A Whole New World” from Aladdin.  Whenever you add a file to your Dropbox, it’s instantaneously pushed to all of your computers and devices.  That way, you have hassle-free access to all of your important files, photos, videos pretty much everywhere you go.  If you’re one of those people who finds yourself running out of space on your phone for photos, you can easily transfer your photos over to Dropbox to free up space on your phone while keeping all of your photos.  *The Dropbox app is available on iPhone, iPad, and Android. You can sign up for a free account, which gives your 2BG of storage space.

If you have any favorite organizing apps to add to the list, be sure to share them in the comments!


"I'm Ashley from 7th House on the Left - a blog where my husband, Greg, and I talk about renovating, decorating and living in our first house here in Hanover, Virginia. I’ve been an interior design enthusiast and a long-time fan of all things organizing. Yep, I was the kid with the perfectly arranged Disney stuffed animals, alphabetized coloring books and the categorized and color-coded sticker book. When I'm not busy writing or doing projects around the house, I love classic TV shows (particularly I Love Lucy) and curling up with Greg, Bentley (our 9-pound Pomeranian), a blanket and a good black and white classic movie – I’m a complete sucker for Audrey Hepburn, Doris Day, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant films. I'm thrilled and honored to be a part of the IHeart Organizing team and excited to get to work!"
29 Jul 15:21

three-ingredient summertime salsa

by deb

three ingredient summertime salsa

There’s nothing worth eating in Texas that Lisa Fain can’t teach you to make better in your own kitchen, from perfect, simple carnitas, kolaches, and chicken-fried steak to breakfast tacos, frito pie and peach buttermilk ice cream, plus two cookbooks worth of wonders (drool break for the buttermilk and bacon fat flour tortillas from her latest) but my favorite recipe of hers uses only three ingredients and is addictive enough to put on everything.

what you'll need + onion I add
getting ready for the broiler

Google offers windows into at least 3.8 million iterations of “perfect homemade salsa” — I mean, the red, spicy stuff we went through two jars a week of when I was a freshman in college — but I find most of them terrifyingly complicated. Many have nearly a dozen ingredients ranging from sugar to cumin, or call for very specific brands of tomatoes, like Ro-Tel, which isn’t particularly easy to find outside of Texas or well-stocked bodegas in NYC. Fain’s recipe shrugs at all this fussing, and tells you to go to the market when tomatoes are overflowing, halve a bunch on a tray along with a couple garlic cloves and jalapenos, broil them until they’re charred and blend them until you get your desired consistency and just forget about eating salsa another way ever again.

broiled until charred

... Read the rest of three-ingredient summertime salsa on smittenkitchen.com


© smitten kitchen 2006-2012. | permalink to three-ingredient summertime salsa | 91 comments to date | see more: Photo, Quick, Summer, Tex-Mex, Tomatoes, Vegetarian

10 Jul 15:09

brownie ice cream sandwiches

by deb
Jessica Kendrick

delicious

brownie ice cream sandwiches

Within reason, I think if you’re craving something, you should go for it, although this theory is mostly born of my own poor logic. I’ve all too many times craved, say, a brownie but thought I shouldn’t eat a brownie and so instead snacked on (just for a completely random example) 12 almonds, 1 slice of cheese, half an apple, 1 banana and then, oops, a handful of chocolate chips, amounting roughly 3x the calories of a brownie, a brownie that I craved exactly as much as I did 500 calories ago. And so, when I really want a brownie, I make my favorite brownies and we each eat one and then I stash the rest in the freezer, so they are not out on the counter, calling to me that we haven’t been cut in a straight line and you should really even us out or we’re going to go bad soon and you don’t want us to go to waste or any of those things that brownies tell me when we’re alone together.

salt, chocolate, vanilla, eggs, butter, flour and sugar

[Hm, here I should probably interject some sort of "sure, okay, brownies talk to me but I'm not like crazy or anything; it's not weird. Brownies talk to everyone, right? Haha?" reassurance but I'm not going to. I'm going to make this as awkward as possible.]

melt the chocolate and butter

... Read the rest of brownie ice cream sandwiches on smittenkitchen.com


© smitten kitchen 2006-2012. | permalink to brownie ice cream sandwiches | 166 comments to date | see more: Chocolate, Ice Cream/Sorbet, Photo, Summer

17 Jul 15:36

grilled peach splits + news!

by deb

grilled peach splits

The problem, if there could be one, is that if a 30-something with a kid out of diapers ever says to a group of people, “I have news!” certain presumptions are made. So, to quell any wild ideas before they take off, no, this is not that kind of news. I’m sorry; we’re bummed too.

pecan sandies crumbles
tangy whipped cream

But I have other news, which means we are so overdue for a catch-up/tell-all/gossip session, so pull up a chair. I’ll go first:

oops, too dark!

... Read the rest of grilled peach splits + news! on smittenkitchen.com


© smitten kitchen 2006-2012. | permalink to grilled peach splits + news! | 244 comments to date | see more: Announcements, Grilling, Ice Cream/Sorbet, Peach, Summer

25 Jul 17:24

Garage Update: Outdoor Toy Organization

by Jennifer Jones
Jessica Kendrick

Organized garages are sexy. Hint hint Arthur.

This has been one of those projects that seems to drag on FOREVER.  I was looking up old posts and we started finishing our walls back in August of 2012 when we installed our sports station!  That is almost two years now that we have had a stack of beadboard paneling waiting to be installed on our walls and trimmed out.  Well, one wall is finally done!  I guess waiting two years makes the celebration process that much sweeter.


You can catch up on our garage story and progress here.  Long story short, the entire space is getting brand-spankin' new storage so that it is simple to maintain.  We built in boatloads of overhead storage which I will share when I finish painting it up.  That will get a lot of the larger items up and off the floor and tucked away out of sight.  All we want left out on the walls is the items we use daily, such as lawn toys / games, sports equipment and bikes.

As soon as hubby finished caulking up the last hole in the beadboard, I couldn't wait to get to work on the newly empty corner of our garage.  The corner previously held our gardening supplies, but we actually put our garden shed to use, and that left this corner as the ideal location for outdoor toys.  In fact, it is right near the opening of the garage, making it super simple for the boy's and their pals to access everything they need for a day of outdoor play.

After we had ripped out our previous walk-in closet a few years ago, we saved a few pieces of the track shelving system (which I believe was purchased at Menards back in the day).  It was the perfect solution for this nook, as it is durable and the open shelves prevent too much dust build up.  I also love that they are adjustable to allow us to customize each shelf to our needs.


Installation is simple and only requires locating the studs in the wall using a level to make sure the top rail is installed correctly.  It went up in a jif!

You may recall that in the chaos of the garage, I had dumped their items onto the front porch.  Then we cleaned that up and moved them to the backyard until storage day.  


Before filling up the shelves with all of the boy's belongings, I took inventory of everything and gathered bins and baskets from around the garage and home.  I began sorting everything down by type, and made a list of the labels that I needed to create.

For any bin or basket with a flat surface, I cut word labels with my Silhouette die cutting machine.  For everything else, I painted up some unfinished wooden tags, and affixed the vinyl lettering to those.  In typical Jen fashion, I went a little label crazy. 


My entire thought process was sticking with what has worked well for us in the past.  I break the toys down by type and put everything into portable bins.  This allows the boys to grab a bin to take out to the yard and easily return the bins and contents to the shelf when they are done. 


For outdoor storage, I always select finishes which are weather friendly.  Galvanized steel, plastic and outdoor rattan were all used for this project.  That way if anything is left in the rain, no worries.  These finishes also make for easy dusting and cleaning.


The teal and green plastic totes were purchased at the dollar store and are lightweight and portable, which is perfect for quick trips to the park.


The green metal pails are my favorite.  They are from IKEA and remind me of the adorable versions from PB Kids. 



For all of the random sized balls that are used for impromptu neighborhood dodge ball matches and kickball games, I found an oversized wire basket from Target.


Bike gear remained in a bin we were using previously in another area of the garage.  It just received a sweet new label.


Squirt guns, life jackets and other water gear is in a portable plastic tote which is ideal for day trips to the beach.  Didn't those labels turn out darling?  Happy sigh....


There is a step stool nearby for the boys should they need anything higher, and for the items we didn't want little hands to reach, they we placed in bins on the top shelf.




Sometimes it is the quick and easy projects that really motivate us to continue on with the less fun items; like installing the rest of the beadboard and trim and finishing up the painting of the overhead cabinets.  But oh the difference the beadboard walls are making to the entire garage.  It is like ten windows were installed with how open, clean and bright it feels.  And we also have plans to update the lighting, build a new step and paint the doors.  One day at a time my friends, one day at a time...

I couldn't even finish getting everything in bins and on the shelves before half the neighborhood kiddos were down grabbing things and playing in the yard with the boys.  I love that leaving everything out and easy to access really promotes instant play.  A total summer saver for sure!


Sandbox toys are stored in our outdoor bench in the backyard, you can check that out here.
23 Jul 16:02

13 Tips for Getting More Reading Done.

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

Agree or disagree? What makes reading a super skill?

booksfromsideEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 13 tips for reading more.

Of my hundreds of happiness-project resolutions, and of the habits I’ve tried to form, one of my very favorites is to Read more.

Reading is an essential part of my work. It forms an important part to my social life. And far more important, reading is my favorite thing to do, by a long shot. I’m not a well-rounded person.

But reading takes time, and there aren’t many days when I can read as much as I’d like. Here are some habits that I’ve adopted to help me get more good reading done.

1. Quit reading. I used to pride myself on finishing every book I started. No more. Life is short. There are too many wonderful books to read.

2. Read books you enjoy. When I’m reading a book I love—for example, I’m now reading Charles Portis’s True Grit — I’m astonished by how much time I find to read. Which is another reason to stop reading a book I don’t enjoy.

3. Watch recorded TV. It’s much more efficient to watch recorded shows, because you skip the commercials and control when you watch. Then you have more time to read.

4. Skim. Especially when reading newspapers and magazines, often I get as much from skimming as I do by a leisurely reading. I have to remind myself to skim, but when I do, I get through material much faster.

5. Get calm. I have a sticky note posted in our bedroom that says, “Quiet mind.” It’s sometimes hard for me to settle down with a book; I keep wanting to jump up and take care of some nagging task. But that’s no way to read. Incidentally, one of the main reasons I exercise is to help me sit still for reading and writing — if I don’t exercise, I’m too jumpy.

6. Don’t fight my inclinations. Sometimes I feel like I should be reading one book when I actually feel like reading something entirely different. Now I let myself read what I want, because otherwise I end up reading much less.

7. Always have something to read. Never go anywhere empty-handed. I almost always read actual ye olde print books, but I travel with e-books, too, so I know I’ll never be caught without something to read. It’s a great comfort.

8. Maintain a big stack. I find that I read much more when I have a pile waiting for me. Right now, I have to admit, my stack is so big that it’s a bit alarming, but I’ll get it down to a more reasonable size before too long.

9. Choose my own books. Books make wonderful gifts – both to receive and to give – but I try not to let myself feel pressured to read a book just because someone has given it to me. I always give a gift book a try, but I no longer keep reading if I don’t want to.

10. Set aside time to read taxing books. For Better Than Before, my book about habit-formation, I tried a new reading habit, “Study.” Every weekend, I spend time in “study” reading — which covers books that I find fascinating, but that are demanding, and that I might put down and neglect to pick up again. The kind of book that I really do want to read, but somehow keep putting off for months, even years. Right now, my Study book is E. H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion: a Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation.

And finally, some tips from great writers and readers:

11. Randall Jarrell: “Read at whim! Read at whim!

12. Henry David Thoreau: “Read the best books first, otherwise you’ll find you do not have time.

13. Samuel Johnson: “What we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.”

Maybe you don’t love to read, so finding more time to read isn’t a challenge for you. The larger point is to make sure you’re finding time to do whatever it is that you find fun. Having fun is important to having a happy life, yet it’s all too easy for fun to get pushed aside by other priorities. I have to be careful to make time for reading, or, even though I love to read, I might neglect it.

Also, having fun makes it easy to follow good habits; when we give more to ourselves, we can ask more of ourselves. If reading is a treat for you, it’s a good idea to make time for it. To hear when my habits book goes on sale, sign up here.

If this list appeals to you, check out Daniel Pennac’s The 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader.

Have you found any good strategies to find more time to read – or to do whatever it is you find fun?

24 Jul 15:47

Battling Clichés & Tired, Old Tropes: Foreigners as Food

by ollintern
Jessica Kendrick

I've never thought about this.

image

It’s an age-old writers’ question: What do I do about clichés and well-worn tropes? This month, we’ve asked authors about the clichés and tropes they find themselves falling back on, and how they fix, invert, or embrace them. Today, Mitali Perkins, author and editor of , discusses the problem of using food as a descriptor:

CLICHÉ: Using food to describe a character’s skin color or race

Have you noticed how writers sometimes describe the physical appearances of non-white characters? A default strategy is to use food-related metaphors and similes. Does your Chinese character have almond-shaped eyes? Does your Nigerian love interest have skin like dark chocolate or espresso? If so, you may have fallen into the dreaded “Foreigner as Food” trope. (If all your characters are white, you’ve probably managed to avoid this particular trap, but consider asking if your setting and plot truly demands that sort of cast—but wait, that’s not my beef here. Even though my skin is the color of a well-done burger.) 

I have no idea why we default to food when we describe the skin, eyes, and hair of people who aren’t white. And believe me, white writers are not the only ones who do this without thinking. It affects all of us who grew up reading fiction mostly featuring white characters. Maybe we have good subconscious intentions. The edible stuff we use to describe nonwhite appearances typically is familiar and tasty—maybe we’re trying to help our readers feel closer to marginalized characters. Now they are neither strange nor foreign! They are yummy!

Our English-language capability for describing the physical characteristics of white characters has deeper roots: English is an Anglo-Saxon language by origin, and the Western literary tradition has long been used to describe those of European descent. But times are a’changing, and so is this amazing language. It keeps accepting new words from other lands and generations, setting a great example of mutability and flexibility for writers.

The eyes of our white characters are rarely described by a comparison to food. They’re as blue as the Scottish sea, or the summer sky, or the jays that wake you with their song. Alternatively, they’re emeralds, or sage, or moss, or—well, you get the picture. Why aren’t non-white characters compared to this wider range of beauty?

Writers, here’s the challenge: let’s create fresh ways to describe the appearances of God’s children. Let’s leave behind the kitchen and grocery store for a while to see—really see—all the colors of our beautiful planet. Let’s commit to using the fast-changing breadth and width and depth of the English language to describe a diversity of characters with integrity and imagination.

Are you in? Good, because I want to see those milky, chocolate, or caramel fingers flying across your keyboards … Oh, shoot. Do as I say, friends. Do as I say.

imageMitali Perkins has written nine novels for young readers, including Rickshaw Girl (chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the top 100 books for children in the past 100 years) and Bamboo PeopleMitali graduated from Stanford University in Political Science and received her Masters in Public Policy from U.C. Berkeley. After spending the last 13 winters in Boston, Mitali now lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area.
15 Jul 21:35

Video: For Habits, the Strategy of First Steps.

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

I normally dont watch her videos but for whatever reason I did and this one makes a really interesting point. Stopping is a habit. I've never thought about stopping as a habit!

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To hear when it goes on sale, sign up here.

I identify four strategies that are so essential that I call them the “Pillars of Habits”: Monitoring, Accountability, Scheduling, and Foundation.

Today I’m going to talk about the Strategy of First Steps, which is one of the three Strategies that relate to “The Best Time to Begin.” (Here’s a complete list of the Strategies.)

 

Want to read more about some of the ideas I mention in the video?

I mention “tomorrow logic,” which is related to the ever-popular Tomorrow Loophole. The fact is, once we’re ready to begin, the best time to start is now.

I also mention that some people do better when they start small; others, when they start big. This is a key distinction to understand about yourself, one which I cover in the Strategy of Distinctions.

I suggest that we should be wary of stopping. There are many reasons for this, and one is the danger of the finish line.

Finally, I refer to the “don’t break the chain” approach to habit-formation. Many people find this very useful.

How about you? Have you found First Steps to be a particularly important phase in your habit-formation?

If you’re reading this post through the daily email, click here to join the conversation. And if you’d like to get the daily blog post by email, sign up here. You can ignore that RSS business.

16 Jul 11:00

Wardrobe Wednesday - Stitch Fix Review

by Megan // Honey We're Home
Jessica Kendrick

Honestly this seems like the best idea in the world.

I'm so excited to share a fun and new (to me) clothing find- Stitch Fix!  One of my favorite mom's at my son's school told me about it a few months ago.  I signed up, but wanted to see how it went before sharing it here with y'all in case I didn't like it.  I've been a member for awhile now and I'm pretty hooked on it!  

With Stitch Fix, you fill out a personal style profile, including info about your size (height, weight, bra size, how you like things to fit, etc.), and then they send you five pieces of clothing to try on in the privacy of your own home as often as you want (I get mine once a month, but you can get them every 2-3 weeks or every other month).  You can keep everything or return it all if you don't like it.  I've found the prices are pretty reasonable too (in the $30 - $80 dollar range).  

Have y'all heard of Stitch Fix or tried it?  I swear, I must be living under a rock sometimes . . .   If you try it out now and use my referral link, I'll get $25 in Stitch Fix credit.  You'll get a referral link to share if you sign up too.  I'm so curious to see what other people get in their fixes.  Please feel free to share with me!

Here are some of my Stitch Fix items I've received in the last few months.  This dress is something I might have passed up in the store- I wasn't sure how the colors would look on me, but I liked the pattern.  As soon as I tried it on, I knew I was keeping it.  The fit was so good and it's made of a lightweight cotton material that is perfect for this time of year.  It's hard to tell in this picture, but it zips in the back.


I'm wearing the dress with my Sam Edelman Alva sandals (they sold out at Nordstrom, but are currently on sale at Zappos).  One of the things I like about Stitch Fix is that, when they send you your box of items, they include a wardrobe card that gives you several outfit options using the things they sent you.  This gives you lots of ideas for how to get the most mileage out of your clothes.  I don't think they suggested pairing this dress with a denim vest from Marshall's, but I threw it on and I like how it looks!  


This lace top from Stitch Fix is awesome!  Again, I was a little iffy about how it would look on, but it ended up fitting perfectly.  The cut is great and it has two small slits in the back that give it more charm.  I wore it in Dallas at the Haven conference and would also wear it out to dinner or to church and brunch.  It came with a white stretchy tank top to wear underneath too.   The necklace is the Stella & Dot Avalon- one of my go-to's.


The jeans are Stitch Fix too.  They are slightly distressed (not too much) and really comfortable.  I love it when I don't have to alter jeans!  This same outfit would look good with boots and a scarf when the weather gets a little cooler.  And add a blazer.  Nice, new outfit!


Here's another Stitch Fix top (navy and white stripes) that I wore in Dallas recently.  It's so easy to wear and would also look great with denim or white jeans.  I like the way it's cut in the back too.  The strawberry necklace was a gift from one of my close friends years ago.  The shorts are Express and I've worn those Nine West wedges forever! 


This Stitch Fix drapey light-coral top is so good!  It's really soft and the blousy nature of it is pretty forgiving in the waist.  I probably would have passed this up in the store because it doesn't look so good on the hanger.  And that's the Stella & Dot Rebel Pendant necklace- super popular.  The white jeans are old from Express.  


It's pretty fun to get a surprise package in the mail and see what's inside. My first "fix" I kept two of the five things, and returned the other three.  (They give you a return envelope with pre-paid shipping for you to drop off at any USPS location within three days of receiving the package).

One of the things I returned was a heavy sweater and on the feedback you can provide, I made sure to tell them that I live in Houston and it's hot here, so no sweater necessary right now (was a couple months ago).  Had it been Fall, I would've kept it because it was really cute (rust colored asymmetrical with a zipper).  I also returned a black and gold cuff bracelet in a chevron pattern because I figured I have enough accessories.  And it was $35.  I figured I could probably find something similar cheaper.   

The two items I kept were a black and white striped lightweight long-sleeve top and the pair of jeans above.  The top has become one of my favorite things in my closet.  It has a bit of a frayed edge seam at the neck and cuff.  Those small details are part of what I like with the Stitch Fix clothes.


When my friend was initially telling me about Stitch Fix, we were excited about it because we both find it difficult to get to a store to try things on and sometimes we just want someone to suggest things for us!  I shop mostly online and often order two sizes, in case one doesn't fit.  Most everything I've gotten from Stitch Fix fits, I just have to determine if I like the item enough to keep it and if the price is right.  

When you fill out your style profile, they try to get a read on what kinds of things you like by asking if you you like/don't like/love a specific type of look and how often you're dressing for work, casual, cocktails, etc.  But, you can provide feedback and I pointed them to my Fashion Pinterest board too. 





Have y'all heard of Stitch Fix or tried it?  I swear, I must be living under a rock sometimes . . . My next fix is scheduled to arrive on Friday, July 18!  I'll Instagram what's inside so you can see how the shipments come and what I keep/return!  

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On Honey We're Healthy: Healthy Meal Prep










27 Jun 18:33

ISIS Execution Site Located

The photos and satellite images from Tikrit provide strong evidence of a horrible war crime that needs further investigation. ISIS apparently executed at the very least 160 people in Tikrit.

Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director

(Baghdad) – Analysis of photographs and satellite imagery strongly indicates that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) conducted mass executions in Tikrit after seizing control of the city on June 11, 2014.

The analysis suggests that ISIS killed between 160 and 190 men in at least two locations between June 11 and 14. The number of victims may well be much higher, but the difficulty of locating bodies and accessing the area has prevented a full investigation, Human Rights Watch said.


On June 12, ISIS claimed to have executed 1,700 “Shi’a members of the army” in Tikrit. Two days later, it posted to a website photographs with groups of apparently executed men. On June 22, Iraq’s human rights minister announced that ISIS had executed 175 Iraqi Air Force recruits in Tikrit.

“The photos and satellite images from Tikrit provide strong evidence of a horrible war crime that needs further investigation,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director. “ISIS apparently executed at the very least 160 people in Tikrit.”

On June 12, ISIS first announced on its now-closed Twitter feed that it had “exterminated” 1,700 Iraqi troops. The same day, the group posted videos of hundreds of captured men in civilian clothes, who it claimed had surrendered at the nearby Iraqi Speiker military base. On June 14, ISIS posted roughly 60 photographs, some of which show masked ISIS fighters loading captives in civilian clothes onto trucks and forcing them to lie in three shallow trenches with their hands bound behind their backs. Some of the images show masked gunmen pointing and firing their weapons at these men.

By comparing ground features and landmarks in the photographs released by ISIS, Human Rights Watch established that two of the trenches were at the same location. By comparing these photographs with satellite imagery from 2013 and publicly available photographs from Tikrit taken earlier, Human Rights Watch located the site in a field about 100 meters north of the Water Palace in Tikrit – a former palace of Saddam Hussein next to the Tigris River. The location of the third trench has not been identified.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed satellite imagery of the area recorded on the morning of June 16. The imagery does not reveal evidence of bodies at the site with the two trenches, but does show indications of recent vehicle activity and surface movement of earth that is consistent with the two shallow trenches visible in the ISIS photos. Without visiting the site it is impossible to know if bodies are buried there or were moved.

On June 22, the Iraqi human rights minister, Mohamed Shia Sudani, said at a news conference that the bodies of some of the 175 air force recruits who had been killed were thrown into the Tigris River and that others were buried in a mass grave. A spokesman for the minister confirmed that statement to Human Rights Watch on June 23.

An Iraqi security official said that as many as 11 bodies of the executed recruits had been recovered from the Tigris River downstream from the execution site.

The execution photographs that ISIS distributed suggest that gunmen killed the men at the site in at least three groups. The photographs show one group of men lying in one trench and a second group of men lying on top of the first. A third group of men is seen lying in a second trench.

Based on a count of the bodies visible in the available photographs, Human Rights Watch estimates that ISIS killed between 90 and 110 men in the first trench and between 35 and 40 men in the second.

A preliminary review of the shadow length and angle in the photographs suggests the two groups of men in the first trench were possibly executed around 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. The men in the second trench were possibly executed around 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Photographs from ISIS show a fourth group of approximately 30 to 40 prisoners on, and later next to, one of the two transport trucks on the main road between the execution site and the Water Palace. The photos were probably taken later that day, between 4 and 5 p.m.

One of the photographs that ISIS distributed suggests that the group killed prisoners at a second site around the same time, but Human Rights Watch has been unable to locate that site. That photograph shows a large trench with between 35 and 40 prisoners being shot by at least 8 ISIS fighters. Based on the shadow length and angle, the photograph was probably taken between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. One of the ISIS gunmen visible at that site was also visible in photographs from the killing site with the two trenches near the Water Palace.

The photographs and satellite imagery strongly suggest that ISIS transported its captives by trucks to the two killing sites. Human Rights Watch identified the same ISIS fighters and captured men in multiple photographs, including captives who were photographed in trucks and then again being unloaded from the same trucks next to the execution site at the Water Palace.

Human Rights Watch spoke with one man who said he fled Tikrit after the killings. The man said he watched from the rooftop of his home in the Hay al-Qadsia neighborhood in the late afternoon just after ISIS arrived as armed members of ISIS loaded hundreds of captured men onto trucks and drove them away:

I saw them with my own eyes. It was late afternoon. It was a long line. I saw about 10 armed gunmen with their guns pointed at the line of men, walking them to military trucks. Some of the gunmen had masks and others showed their faces. The [captured] men were not handcuffed. They wore civilian clothes.

The man said he did not know where the men took their captives and could not remember the exact date. Tikrit residents told him later they saw bodies floating in the Tigris, he said.

During an armed conflict, the murder of anyone not taking an active part in hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those in detention, is a war crime. Murder, when systematic or widespread and committed as part of a deliberate policy of an organized group, can be a crime against humanity. Both war crimes and crimes against humanity are considered international crimes, with criminal liability attaching to those who commit or order the crime, but also those who assist, and commanders who should have known of the crime but fail to prevent it.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented serious crimes by ISIS in other areas of Iraq and Syria, including car and suicide bomb attacks in civilian areas, summary executions, torture in detention, discrimination against women, and destruction of religious property. The evidence documented by Human Rights Watch strongly suggests that some of these acts may amount to crimes against humanity.

“ISIS is committing mass murder, and advertising it as well,” Bouckaert said. “They and other abusive forces should know that the eyes of Iraqis and the world are watching.”