Finding the Purrfect Pet

Did you know that March is Adopt a Guinea Pig Month? Now you do! Guinea pigs are as adorable as the sounds they make. In honor of guinea pigs, let’s discuss which furry friend (or feathered, scaly, etc.) may or may not be the best fit for you, your family, your home, and your lifestyle—including but not limited to felines, as the title of this article might suggest (or guinea pigs, as this month might suggest).

There are many factors to consider when choosing an animal, including space, cost, time commitment, and more. Choosing a family pet is a big decision that will affect your daily life in many unexpected ways. Although many of them are loud and messy and require a lot of upkeep, the rewards of love, companionship, and better health will easily outweigh the costs. Most days.

Let’s begin with “man’s best friend”.  Close to 40% of U.S. households own a dog. Do you love having someone stare into your soul every time you eat? Would you enjoy getting knocked down in a frenzy of jubilance every time you get home, even when you were only gone for 5 minutes? Are you in need of a home alarm system that will ferociously defend you from the mailman but happily greet a burglar? How about someone that loves you so much it eats your shoes? If this sounds like you, then it’s time to adopt a dog! People with dogs tend to be more physically active and socially involved, what with all the walking and dog park visits. Dogs develop close bonds with their owners, offering a huge emotional payoff, and many other benefits. Some breeds require lots of exercise and a large yard to run, while others are nice and lazy and do great in apartments.

If you have a smaller space and less time to devote to a pet, the second most popular pet option could be for you. Would you enjoy having a perfectly engineered killing machine wrapped in a blanket of warm, squishy softness sleep on your face? Do you find pleasure in having everything purposefully knocked off your countertops, one by one? Are you tired of all your black clothes not having fur all over them? If so, then you should get a cat! A third of American households own cats. Additional bonuses include quiet companionship and the magic of a therapeutic, healing purr. Ever heard the saying, “If you put a cat and a bunch of broken bones in the same room, the bones will heal”? There’s actually scientific evidence to back this up, despite how crazy it sounds.

Want something bigger? Do you wish you knew how to turn money instantly into poop? Do you dream of spending hours each day as part of a giant Zen Garden, raking satisfying lines into the dirt while scooping out those nuggets? Would you relish the opportunity to have itchy hay permanently lodged in your bra? Do you hate walking? Then a horse is the right pet for you! If you have room to spare and time for mucking, grooming, riding, and training, horses are wonderful companions that can live to be 30 years old. There are many wonderful benefits to adopting an equine friend.

If you are a bit afraid of such a commitment, there are plenty of other options. Do you hate yard work and love things that scream? Consider a goat! How about something messy and noisy that repeats every bad word you let slip? Much like a 3-year-old human, but smaller and with feathers—you should look into adopting a parrot! Or, if you prefer something quiet and low maintenance that you can use to freak out your friends and family, a snake or tarantula would be perfect for you! A less frightening option for a quiet pet would be a fish—and its aquarium can double as a beautiful art piece for your home.

Being a pet owner offers a number of health benefits, regardless of your species choice. Pets combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, generating better moods and overall happiness. Everyone uses that ridiculous voice to talk to their fur babies, whether they admit it or not; even if they don’t reply in kind, it’s nice to have someone to chat with…and to cuddle. Having pets is also proven to reduce our stress levels and decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Worried about allergies? Having a pet in the home can actually lower a child’s likelihood of developing pet allergies; many children exposed to animals develop stronger immune systems overall. Even mild allergies in adults can be reduced just by being around pets.

Adopting a pet can also save a life. There are many rescues for all types of critters with thousands in need of loving homes. Just consider the pros and cons to each variety, and be aware of what you are committing to. Think about how your new family member will fit into your household—does it need a terrarium? A kennel? A barn? Where will it sleep? What happens when you aren’t home? Do your research and think about the day-to-day.

Good luck with your search! Here are some helpful links to get you started. And please feel free to contact me if you need referrals to a housecleaner or a contractor for those pet-related messes and projects.

https://www.petfinder.com/

https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Selecting-a-Pet-for-Your-Family.aspx

https://www.homeoanimal.com/blogs/blog-pet-health/81144452-bringing-your-new-pet-home-the-ultimate-guide-to-pet-adoption

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Valentine’s Day History Lesson

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Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is on the way. Get ready for lots of pink and red, chocolates and Cupids, flowers and hearts, and stuffed gorillas that sing “Wild Thing”. According to the Greeting Card Association, approximately 1 billion V-Day cards are sent each year. While the majority are given to significant others, lots of us send them to friends and other family members (you know your grandma has sent you a Valentine with a cute puppy on it once or twice). Whether rooted in actual history or invented by Hallmark, it’s the holiday that many people hate to love or love to hate.

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. While the idea of giving hand-made valentines began in America in the early 1700s, the first mass-produced ones came about in the 1840s, thanks to Esther A. Howland (known as the “Mother of the Valentine”). February 14th was officially declared Valentine’s day much earlier—by Pope Gelasius at the end of the 5th century. Choosing that date may have been to commemorate the anniversary of St. Valentine’s death, but also perhaps to compete with a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia, in which priests slapped women with strips of hide from sacrificed goats. Romantic, isn’t it?

The legends of St. Valentine himself are slightly more romantic, although they all end in him being martyred. One says he helped Christians escape Roman prisons. Another contends that he was a priest in third century Rome who performed marriages in secret after Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for young men. Still another suggests that St. Valentine sent a love letter from prison, signing it “from your Valentine”. Interestingly, another one of the oldest known valentines was also written from a prison—a love poem by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, in 1415 after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.

It would seem that the holiday of love has an ambiguous and multifaceted background. Maybe take this newfound knowledge to think creatively about your Valentine’s Day gift-giving, beyond the chocolates and flowers this year. Adopt a furry friend from your local shelter—a gift of love that keeps on giving love! Plan a romantic trip to create memories. Make some romantic red velvet sandwich cookies! Or surprise that special someone by splashing a new coat of paint on the bedroom walls.

If you need more inspiration, please feel free to contact me for ideas. I can personally attest to the fact that showing your home a little love, say, with a pretty new backsplash or light fixture, will be much more appreciated by your wife than a generic card and roses. Or hire a housecleaner—a wonderful gift for anyone who appreciates a clean home (without the work!). I have references for all these and more.

I can’t, however recommend gifting anything that involves a sacrificial goat hide, but to each his own.

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New Year, New You! …or Not.  

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The pressure is on. It’s the beginning of a brand new year, and it’s your chance to start fresh! What big changes will revolutionize your entire existence this year? Or, what big changes will transform your life this month? This week? OR…what big ideas will momentarily cloud your mind with guilt over your lack of execution before you completely forget and move on with your life as usual?  

New Year’s Resolutions are wonderful in theory. It’s akin to the theory that if you really work hard to make Monday a great, productive day, the rest of your week will follow suit; that the first hour of your morning can set the tone for a fantastic day. It’s the anthem of motivational speakers and motivational memes everywhere you look. It’s an excellent idea, and if properly implemented, really can change your day, your week, your year, or your life. 

However, too many of us get a bit too enthusiastic at first, setting too many goals and drastic lifestyle changes that are impossible to stick to in the long-term. Pack-a-day smokers will quit cold-turkey on New Year’s Day, compulsive cookie fiends will swear off all forms of sugar on day one, and chronic couch potatoes will jump right into a grueling Cross-Fit membership. 

Sometimes the cold turkey method works, but you have to have some serious mental fortitude and self-control. Some people are able to jump into a dramatic change and stick with it. Most of us can’t, at least not for long.  

For big long-term goals to really take hold, we need to break them down into smaller, more achievable steps. A motivational meme I can get on board with is the popular Lao Tzu quote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Another great anthem for lasting resolutions is “Progress not Perfection”.  

Not to say that starting your morning off right is a bad idea, but if you sleep in and chug coffee as you scurry out the door one day instead of doing yoga and meditating over a daily devotional and chia smoothie, don’t take it too hard. You can still have a good day. If you cheat on your diet at an office birthday party, you can still eat right the rest of the day—you don’t need to give up for the week and eat a gallon of ice cream each night because your resolution to eat healthy is “already ruined”. If you have to walk half the time instead of running, just keep at it. You will improve with each attempt. Pace yourself.  

January 1st is just another day. Monday is just another day. You can start fresh on February 1st (and, the gym won’t be so crowded anymore because all the New Year’s Resolution-ers will have already burned out). You can start fresh on August 17th. You can start fresh on Wednesday at 3:24pm. When you start is arbitrary, but making a decision to better yourself is always a good choice. Just remember to be gentle with yourself. Be patient. You got this!  

Happy New Year!

Have Yourself a Merry (Little?) Christmas

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Indecisive holiday planners, unite! Every year when the Christmas rolls around, it’s time to choose: stay home and keep it simple with your nuclear family, or travel to the big extended family gathering. Or that party your neighbors are throwing? Or your work party? Or all of them? Although that could mean a rushed, chaotic day. What to do…?

For homebodies and introverts, it’s an easy choice, but can be guilt-inducing if you don’t participate with others. On the other hand, even social butterflies among us will acknowledge that if you over-book and spend too much time driving between events, the magic of Christmas day will be diminished.

For me, an unhurried Christmas morning at home is paramount. Your kids may not let you sleep in, but it’s still vital that everyone remains in their pajamas until at least noon, drinking coffee and hot chocolate, and eating a large breakfast with lots of festive baked goods while we open presents. We then typically make the trip to the big party, where we can catch up with all the people we only see a few times each year.

Of course everyone’s situation is different, as are everyone’s social preferences. Some folks thrive with nonstop action, and somehow manage to attend every event and see all the people. For them, that is Christmas magic. For many of us Christmas is our only family reunion—the only time of year the extended family is together. However, many of us treasure the intimacy of a small gathering, and value simplicity and slowing down.

What’s important is doing what makes you happy (if you have children I suppose making them happy is important too). Sometimes that means saying no (either to extra parties…or to your children). It’s about finding balance between bustling about and staying in; between being so overwhelmed with obligation you can’t enjoy yourself and being a lazy hermit.

It’s the same way we get caught up in the commercialization of Christmas: sending hundreds of cards to everyone you’ve ever known and getting the “perfect” gift for everyone you know slightly more, when in reality almost everyone that gets your Christmas card has already seen the same photos on Facebook, and nobody really wants that Spruce-scented candle you got them. We cause ourselves so much undue stress keeping up with all the holiday expectations. It’s important to slow down and ask yourself what’s really important. Spend time instead of money. Small, thoughtful gifts. Actual quality time.

Naturally it’s much easier to have quality time at smaller get-togethers. But even if you go to the extended family Christmas, or a big work party, or a celebration with all your friends, make a point of trying to get past the fleeting, pointless small-talk. Connect with friends and family. Do something fun. Make memories.

Whether you’re having a large or small gathering, a great way to create memories is to have activities beyond drinking spiked eggnog. This article has some great ideas, from charades and card games, to outdoor sports, to storytelling and watching old (preferably embarrassing) family videos:

https://tolovehonorandvacuum.com/2017/12/10-ways-to-laugh-with-extended-family-this-christmas/

Although…spiked eggnog is a great addition to most of them:

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/57028/amazingly-good-eggnog/

So…have yourself a Merry Little Christmas…or a Merry Big Christmas…either way, as long as it’s your kind of Merry.

The. Elf.

elf2When my kids were barely more than toddlers, a family member gave us a present. It was a gift set keepsake box: a Christmas-themed book and accompanying figure. The book was cute—nice watercolor illustrations, fun story—but the stuffed, footless, plastic-headed toy looked like a creepy doll from the 1940s. We all now know him as the Elf on the Shelf.

The kids, inexplicably, named ours Keeko. At the time, I had no idea it was becoming a worldwide phenomenon. I just thought it was a fun idea, albeit a tad disturbing. Now almost everyone we know has their very own elf, with names like Jingles and Ralphie, and it’s a tradition that kids love (despite the pretense that he is used to manipulate them into good behavior)—and one that parents torture themselves with each year.

Come to find out, the story was originally written and self-published in 2004 by a stay-home mother and her two adult daughters, based on her own family tradition growing up in the 1970’s. After several years of self-promotion, it won numerous awards for best toy and book of the year. The Elf himself (giant and inflatable) appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2012, skyrocketing the book to the #1 spot on the USA Today Bestseller’s List the following year.

The doll was closely modeled after the “Knee-Hugger Elves” and/or “Pixie Elves”, interestingly from 1960s US-occupied Japan. The modern-day elf, much like its predecessor, has an mishchievous expression on its plastic head and lightweight felt body, making him easy to set him up wherever you so choose. (I will say, however, a little wire would have been a nice addition for posing him.) Some parents really take it to the next level, having him get into all sorts of imaginary trouble with the most elaborate set-ups, but I’m lucky if I remember to move him at all.

The elf is essentially a delightful parental crutch, used to threaten children who behave badly. He or she allegedly sits around and spies on the kids, then flies home to report to Santa each night. When he returns the next morning, he sits (or hides) in a new spot—IF parents remember to move him. If not, we say “he really must like that spot”, or “he doesn’t go to the North Pole if there was nothing good to report”, or “the weather must have made travel difficult”.

The daily search to see where Keeko ends up is what my kids seem to enjoy the most, and it’s helpful getting them out of bed in the morning. Sometimes they talk to him, mostly about their Christmas list, expectant that he will relay the messages to Santa. Or ask him if he knows their friend’s elf. All the kids and their friends are abuzz with talk of their elves: when they appeared, if they brought gifts or wrote notes. I might have to step up my game. According to the kids’ friends, their elves came earlier than our own. My son insisted that Keeko would appear as soon as we put up the Christmas tree, aelfnd dragged our fake tree out of the crawlspace to set it up himself.

And what do you know…it worked. We had our tree up on November 27th, before we had even recovered from Thanksgiving. But Keeko was there the next morning.

TBD on whether or not the surveillance/behavior-modification will be as effective.

To Thanksgiving Decorate or Not to Thanksgiving Decorate

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It seems like the heat of summer was moments ago, and boom! October arrives and stores everywhere explode with both Halloween and Christmas gear. I always wonder why Thanksgiving gets completely skipped over. I mean, aside from a few generic autumn pieces of décor—a leafy harvest wreath, a gourd-filled cornucopia, a cheesy cartoon turkey—Thanksgiving really doesn’t trigger the same commercial hysteria as the big October and December holidays. Turkey Day just doesn’t get the same attention. 

In a way, though, it’s pretty nice. Thanksgiving provides a retail boom in the massive amounts of food purchased, but otherwise is regulated to the private sphere. I really appreciate how un-commercialized it is. It is all about family and food—out-of-town relatives and heirloom recipes and everyone getting so full and sleepy that you all take naps in your stretchy pants. No pressure to buy everyone gifts that they probably don’t want, or to make all the snacks look like various monsters and body parts and things that they probably don’t want to eat. Only to make enough delicious food to feed a small town, and then annihilate all of it with ten people.  

Of course some fall décor is nice, but not expected. You can totally have a Thanksgiving without that pumpkin and corn centerpiece, but if you threw a Halloween party without ghosts and jack-o-lanterns or a Christmas party without lights and a tree, your friends and family might disown you. Thanksgiving is really just about relationships—and food, of course—two wonderful things to be thankful for!  

Still, if you feel compelled to celebrate beyond those two factors, keep it simple. A warm, earthy colored tablecloth with a classy little centerpiece is plenty—like white candles and fall berries, or an antique silver pumpkin filled with autumn-colored flowers. If you need a little inspiration, Pinterest is chock-full of it. For general ambiance, have some cider on the stove or in the slow-cooker for that amazingly inviting smell, perfect for a Thanksgiving gathering. Hot mulled wine is incredible for that same reason, and also adds to the spirit (pun intended?) of celebration. In my opinion, you can spice up pretty much anything with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and it is instantly and deliciously festive. Even a pork loin baked with fall spices and apples is a marvelous alternative (or addition) to the traditional turkey.  

However you celebrate, be it a “Friends-giving” or huge family reunion, enjoy it. Enjoy the people, enjoy the food, and take a moment to really consider all that you are thankful for. Appreciate Thanksgiving as one of the more relaxed holidays—save the stress and commercialism for the next day: Black Friday. And, of course, don’t forget to wear the stretchy pants. 

DIY Art

I wrote a while ago about a friend of mine and how her home decor changed over time. She put together some information for us on how you can create your own home art. Thanks, Sarah!

Many of us don’t really know how to approach the concept of artwork in our homes. Most of us can’t afford to cover our walls in original works of art from internationally acclaimed fine artists, but we can still have an element of gallery elegance if we make the right choices.

For example, when my kids were 2-5 years old, I’d give them a canvas and some paint, and…voila! Instant abstract, modern art with a personal touch. Just paint the edges black and you don’t even need a frame. (Pro-tip: use fast-drying, water-based paint, one color at a time. Let it dry between colors so it’s not a grey-brown muddy mess.)

For those of you without small children, I highly recommend trying your hand at the acrylic pour. No artistic skill required, and you will have a beautiful, colorful abstract piece of artwork in a jiff. You can even choose the colors to match your couch. Plus it’s a lot of fun. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwbgfEitYztRWdayz2ZQksQ or https://acrylicpouring.com/beginners-acrylic-pouring-tips/)

If you aren’t into DIY, I suggest finding a local co-op of artists. Typically their prices are lower than other galleries because the commission structure is different, and you can score some gorgeous original artwork for less. Most of the time they’ve already chosen gallery-worthy framing, but if you buy an unframed piece, get a black or gold frame with a simple white matte for the gallery look in your own home.

Framing is key to the way you display any artwork in your home. However, many paintings on canvas don’t require frames, especially the “gallery-wrapped” ones, which have a deeper edge. Typically the image wraps around the sides in those cases, or, as mentioned above, will be painted black. Prints and photographs should be matted and framed behind glass. Even a greeting card with nice framing becomes fine art on your wall.

The way your art and other décor elements work with your home should be a reflection of your own personal style. Similarly, I’ve found that interior design rules often reflect the rules of fashion. Fans of the show “What Not to Wear” have heard Stacy and Clinton’s elements of an outfit: color, pattern, texture, and shine (not unlike the artistic principles of design: line, shape, color, value, form, texture, and space). While this subject alone could comprise a novel, it’s something to keep in mind while you decorate. Looking around my living room as though it were an outfit on WNTW, I see that the ornate brass mirror provides “shine”, the striped rug is “pattern”, the velvety couch gives “texture”, and our old red duck supplies “color”. Of course, there are many other things in the room that could stand in for these design elements, but the point is to have things of varied interest that work together as a whole, whether your style is eclectic (like mine) or more minimalist. Try selecting things that complement each other but still represent your family’s style and personality.

Hang your children’s paintings or your own acrylic pour art in a group like a gallery; frame your snapshots and arrange them like an art wall. Have some fine art next to them, and then a funky mirror, and then a large empty wall. Don’t feel too restricted by color scheme or subject matter. Western art in brown next to a vibrant abstract? Do it. Your home, your art gallery. Have fun with it!

BBQ Maintenance

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more than 160 people are injured each year in BBQ mishaps. That doesn’t sound like a lot considering the thousands of people who flip burgers on their backyard grills each year. But, you certainly don’t want to be one of those injured!

The best way to prevent fire and injury is maintenance. Remarkably, few people are even aware that BBQ maintenance is necessary. But, it is.

Every spring, experts say you should clean out the venturi tubes. Those are the little metal pipes that carry propane or natural gas. Pipe cleaners work well, although hardware stores also carry specialized tools for this purpose. The goal is to clean out any built-up dirt and debris. Don’t be surprised if you find spider webs inside a venturi tube!

Your BBQ grills should also be cleaned with soap and water each year. Just scraping them before barbequing isn’t enough. Fat and oils from cooking can build up on grills and harden. If you’re getting a lot of flare-ups, this may be the cause.

Finally, make sure nuts and bolts are tightened regularly and replace any rusty hardware. Regular use, heat, and weather can loosen or weaken bolts, particularly on the frame. Several fires each year are caused by BBQs tipping over or collapsing.

Indicators it’s Time to Sell

There are many good reasons to put your property on the market. Some examples include a relocation, the kids leaving the nest, the need for something bigger or smaller, and the list goes on and on.

Here are some you may not have thought of:

Your Property is no longer a Good “Fit”

Your home may have been perfect for you when you bought it. But things change. Families grow. Needs evolve. For any number of reasons, your property may no longer be a good fit for you. If that’s the case, it makes sense to at least take a look at what’s available on the market. Who knows? Your next “perfect” home may be for sale right now — within your price range!

The Neighborhood is Changing

You may have been in love with the neighborhood when you first moved in. But, over time, the characteristics of any area can change. Those changes don’t necessarily mean the neighborhood is getting worse. In fact, it may be changing in a positive way; perhaps adding an HOA. But, “an HOA” may not be what you want. So take a look at the direction your neighborhood is heading. Ask yourself, “Do I still want to be living here in two years?”

You’re Ready for Your Dream Home

Remember when you purchased your current property? Did it have every feature you wanted? Was it your dream home? Or, did you have to compromise on a few things, such as the size of the kitchen? If you had to make some tough choices back then, it might be time for you to finally get the home of your dreams.

Those are just three indicators it may be time for you to make a move. Of course, there are many others.

If you’ve been entertaining the idea of selling your property and finding your next dream home, give me a call. I can show you what’s available on the market, and keep you informed of new listings that match what you’re looking for. Contact me anytime.

Planning for a Successful School Year!

ACK! Is it already that time again? If feels like we JUST went to the last day of school ceremony. On the other hand, it feels like ages since we had any type of schedule beyond breakfast at noon and way too much video gaming. The hot days are individually long and slow, but the months themselves are a flash. Suddenly it’s time for registration and back-to-school nights.

Maybe you’re the type of family that is so busy with summer camps and activities that the coming school year is a reprieve of your summer schedule, in which case, good for you! Preparing for back to school will be a cake walk.

The rest of us need to get our lazy-yet-chaotic summer selves into school mode. Here are five things we can all focus on:

  1. Supplies: Make it easier on yourself by getting your supplies early. Many times I’ve been a two-days-before-school-starts shopper. Picking through the dregs of the supplies isn’t fun for kids or parents.
  2. Clothes: Purge. Your kids have probably either outgrown or destroyed most of last year’s wardrobe. Plan out the basics of what is needed for the new year—a few pairs of pants, several shirts, a new pair of sneakers, and of course some new socks and undies—and let your kids pick out that one special outfit for the first day of school.
  3. Re-schedule: A few weeks before going back to school, we all need to start re-adjusting. Go to bed earlier. Get up earlier. Get plenty of sleep. Eat healthy food, at regular mealtimes. No more pizza for brunch and ice cream for dinner, or board game marathons until 1am. Sadly.
  4. Get involved: Show your kid that school is important. Be present. Even if you dread that back to school open house, go. Volunteer to help in the classroom, even a little bit. Get to know their new teacher(s) as well as other parents. Even if they don’t say so, kids appreciate it, and it demonstrates that we value school…so they will too.
  5. Goals and organization: Think back, way back, to last year—what did and didn’t work in terms of homework and studying. Discuss with your children to give them some responsibility and autonomy. Formulate a plan and maybe some goals. Get a study space ready, somewhere distraction-free.

Best of luck! But don’t panic. Even if you can’t fully accomplish these steps, you’ll be fine. Your kids will be fine. Even a chaotic first week of school will smooth itself out, at least into a slightly less chaotic school year routine. And you’ll always have your fond summer memories of midnight games and ice cream to keep you warm when the snow falls.