Friday, June 28, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Real-Life Things Part 1: Food

When I set out to write this blog, I did so with the intention of creating a guilt-free space for reality's readers. You see, sometimes, when curling up with a magazine or a fresh feed of Pinterest pins, I get that unmistakable sinking feeling...the one that indicates I could do so much better, be so much more, if I shopped at the farmer's market every weekend, or spent my free time crafting paper lanterns, or cleaned with handmade, organic cleansers, or jogged for 180 minutes every morning before my kids woke up.

My reality more like this: I am lucky to be wearing matching clothes when I leave the house. My bathtub gets cleaned maybe once a month, and I use the Method stuff I purchased two years ago during a Target clearance. Farmer's markets don't always have what I need and I couldn't run for 180 minutes even if I wanted to. This is my real life.

Now I'm fairly certain I'm not alone, despite how many repins I saw for that homemade granola bar recipe (Oh yea I pinned it too....and no, of course I haven't tried it).

This feeling of shared imperfection inspired me to create a series of posts describing my favorite, real-life things. First up: FOOD!

I love food. I like to know where my food comes from. I enjoy reading ingredients and understanding what they are. I also eat processed foods and feed them to my children. Even the small child. Yep.

I would love to grow everything myself and live off the grid. I don't see it happening for a bit. And even then, I will always need my dear, sweet, succulent Diet Coke. Flaws forgiven, people, flaws forgiven.

So in my mind, the next best thing to being an All-American Organic Farmer is to be an All-American Educated Consumer! We have access to many fantastic products that strike a pretty decent balance between perfect eating and suckin butt.

1. I love this stuff because it has a high protein content with very little sugar. It isn't too sweet and it fills me up.

2. This is my go-to, post-strength-training snack. I'm sure the cows are fed like crap and you're reading the package right, this is not the low-fat variety...but this one tastes better and is worth the additional fat calories. Plus I read somewhere full fat can be good. Or something.

3. The radio told me Diet Coke makes your mouth look like a meth-head's mouth. This inspired me to seek alternate resources for my daily caffeine injection (I do not drink coffee). This is a individually-packaged tea, unsweetened, no calories, no sodium. Just steeped tea leaves, water, and caffeine. Tastes like cold, unsweetened tea. My boss thought it was a bottle of Jack one day so that was a bonus. Comedy with your caffeine. ***Please ignore the large carton of Coke Zero next to the tea. Nothing to see here, people.***

4. I eat two of these a day. It's the only way I feel like a real person. They are 50 calories each... awesome as a snack or as an addition to your breakfast.

5. I shove this stuff in a baggie to maintain a reasonable portion. It is lightly salted to perfection and you don't get a million of those un-popped corn kernels. I eat this instead of chips and don't feel cheated.

6. Are they really organic? Who knows. But I don't have to grow them and the packaging is enough to make me feel better about myself. I eat these whole, raw, and without peeling them. They are quite delicious and I love making my kids laugh by acting like a bunny.

 7. Local honey is awesome, bees are awesome, and shockingly, putting this in some Greek yogurt is awesome.

8. These are cheap whole-wheat noodles. If you haven't made the switch to whole wheat I totally recommend it. The benefits are undeniable, the stuff is more readily available than ever, and once you start you'll never go back.

9. Aaron makes the best risotto ever with this rice. I never really liked rice before. I eat this at least twice a week and am obsessed. Super easy prep, he just adds chicken broth, some onions, and stirs it up for a while and then WHAMMO... flavor country.

10. Every now and then I buy a couple of these suckers. They are pretty expensive, but good to have when Aaron is devouring his bone-in KFC. They are low in calories, easy to make, and tasty.

11. I don't shop at Trader Joes. I like to get all my stuff in one, giant, singular trip and Trader Joe's doesn't have everything I want. Buutttt, my in-laws shop as the spoiled daughter in-law, I get these bad boys by default. They are absolutely phenomenal.

12. The next couple items are my favorite picks for kids...kinda. I mean, I eat whatever they don't finish... so in all actuality, this is really just a list of more of my favorite things. I'm not a huge fan of most baby products because I can't read what the hell they put in their products. These "happy people" include some complex things in their ingredients list, but they are vitamins. I can handle vitamin chemicals, man. Annabelle loves these puffs to death. They have a sweet, airy taste.

13. Again, I can read the ingredients...and this stuff is cheap....only fifty cents more than the store's generic brand. Plus the cereal is heart shaped. Sold. 

14. I don't want to spoon-feed my 13-month-old anymore. I also don't want to clean up spilled, smelly yogurt. Problem solved.....more from the "happy people."

15. Annie's is the bomb like tic-tic and when you find a sale you pay just a few cents more than the Kraft stuff. Plus Kraft injects toxic coloring into their USA mac-and-cheese. Seriously. Google it. They inject a food colorant that's been banned in Great Britain and other European countries. Seeing as how they have a less corrupted governmental body controlling their food laws, if they care, I care.

16. Good snack. Yummy, cheap, and easy. I included the ingredients on this one so you could see what I was talking about. I can read those. Sold.

17. This isn't for kids, but rather for those who must deal with them. It's delicious and low-calorie (meaning, it has a lower alcohol content). Good with Diet Coke, of course. 

18. This last one is to prove I do sometimes go to the farmer's market. Last week I got these peaches, which were delicious, but shipped here from Georgia, because Illinois doesn't have peaches in June. So there you go. I went to a farmer's market to get peaches from Georgia.

There you have it! My favorite foods. I hope a few of them made you realize you don't suck for not growing all your own food and scratch-cooking three meals a day.

I'd love to hear from some of my readers and opened the comments up to the general public (you do not need to create an account). What are some of your favorite standby foods? 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The "What-If" Syndrome: Fighting Fire with Fire

Ahhhh Mondays.

Woke up Sunday to shooting pain in my neck and left shoulder. Aaron gets this all the time; I always thought he was being a bit of a nancy about it. Nope. Nope, he was really in pain.

I missed work yesterday because I couldn't get to sleep with the pain. Turns out it was a good thing I didn't leave the house. I was needed for bigger things.

One of my close friends, a new mom, texted me about her sleepless, teething, screaming baby. Another dear friend reached out about the potential implications of an abnormal lab test. I hastily called my mama, who was unaware of tornado weather headed right for her town. My Anya had some trouble with her new friends. Aaron's mom, who truly is another mother to me, called with devastating news about the return of her cancer.

People I love were trapped in various webs of "what ifs." See? Bigger things.

I'm a fairly anxious person. I am quick to run a defensive play because I assume people are out to offend....even when they're on my team. I have "daymares," overactive imagination will take over at random moments throughout my day and force me to visualize horrific things, almost always happening to the people I love. It can be terrifying and paralyzing.

Here's where it gets real.

I've (legally) taken medication to help calm my worry. Yes, the pills dulled my what-ifs and essentially solved my problem...but moments after anxiety left the apartment, a new family of crazy moved in.

First, Mr. Fifteen Pounds unloaded his bags right in my stomach region. Next, Mrs. Indifference parked herself in my heart and barely blinked at those Humane Society commercials. Lastly, I was smothered by Baby-Don't-Care. Baby-Don't-Care was perhaps the worst of the three; the wee thing sucked the passion for life right out of me.

The medications removed "me" from the equation. I am defensive. I worry. I plan for the worst. This is who I am, the person I identify with and recognize. So meds, while an obvious solution, weren't the answer for me.

No, I had to get nasty.

We are a society fixated on the "what ifs" of life. What if the test is positive? What if sleeping under all these blankets makes my kid suffocate?
What if that storm hits here? What if that rosy-cheeked Santa at Macy's is really hiding a weapon under his big fake stomach and planning to take this whole place out while escaping in a secret unmarked vehicle covered by those reindeer over there?? <****Ireallythinkthingslikethis****>

Anything can happen. We've been educated of this truth through the tears and broken souls of those we love and those we will never meet. Many of us are capable of empathizing to levels of extreme sorrow and consequently, begin to fear becoming a victim ourselves.

So what do we do? How do we take these fears down?

Suck out the fire and burn the rest. Told ya it was nasty!

When I really look at my what-ifs, my fears, my worries, I can break them into two parts:

A. Fiery Motivation: This is the portion of my worry that contributes to my internal forge of motivation. Fearing death, for example, motivates me to pay attention when driving, eat healthy, and research the best physicians when something is wrong.

B. Smoldering Stress: This is the portion of my worry that smothers the life and joy right outta me. It is sheer imagination gone wild and completely sets my goals back. Allowing myself to dwell on a daymare of a car crash, for example, does nothing to help me drive better. It simply terrifies me into a dangerous state of fear.

This is where we really need to put our scorching abilities to the test....ignite your fire of self-awareness so high those ashes of stress literally disintegrate.....cuz ain't nobody got time for that.

What follows are a couple examples of how I enact my scorching abilities:

Scenario One: Accident Daymare
Jen, you're freaking out. What's scaring you?
-----uhhhmmm, I don't want to lose my kids to some idiot driver.
Gotcha. So I'm going to scan the crap out of the roads real quick, kay?
-----Sure, sounds good, whatever
(****I scan the road, laser my focus on the vehicles in my area, and proceed into intersections with caution.****)
Mkay Jen, so all is well. We safely made our way through that intersection and everyone is happy and sound.
-----Yea, but what if.....
-----But really it happens all the ti...
-----How horrible would that have been had I....

Debrief: Notice the "what if" ceased to fuel my forge of motivation once I did everything I could to be safe. Once you reach the point where you've done all you can do, that's it. Time to scorch that noise.

Scenario Two: Losing a Loved One Daymare
Oh hey Jen, you seem down. What's up?
-----Someone I love is going to die.
Uh, ok. Well, how do you know?
------Because it happens all the time. It could happen right now.
Well is someone sick?
Did the doctors say they are not going to make it?
Ok, well I'm going to go research everything I can about the illness and get some professional opinions.
(****I call around, research online, read books, engage in dialogue, and educate myself****)
Good news, turns out we have a number of options and not a single one of them includes death.
-----What if those options...
------No that's a valid question, what if they.....
-----Alright well illness aside, my kids could be taken at any moment. So could Aaron.
Well what can you do to prevent it? Want to lock them away? Teach them to be afraid all the time? Live in constant fear? Miss out on the joy of life because you are afraid of losing someone?
-----No.....that would be sad.
Damn right it would be sad.
------Doesn't solve the problem of what would happen if......
Yes it does.
------No it really doesn't....
Oh look! The kids are laughing! :) Go play with the kids.
------Oh the kids, what would I do if....

Debrief: My fear motivated me to conduct some valid research. It also irrationally led me down a path of smothering doom. Scorch 'em.

Engulf yourself in productive motivation....and when your "what if" ceases to be productive, scorch it. I still have daymares. I battle my anxiety everyday. This method of blasting my way through negative thoughts and moments of panic, however, helps manage what previously destroyed me. I'd say that's some pretty hot progress.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Video Games for Hott Chicks, Working Women, and Moms

I love video games. Luckily, my husband is the best, most strategic and powerful gamer I know. Equally awesome is the fact our oldest daughter is starting to show signs of her own budding gamer genius.

Some call me nerdy, some call me a dork, but I think my choice to game is an intelligent one. You see, I can either:

A) be ridiculed occasionally by people who really have no idea what they're missing while playing exciting games that capture the very essence of life, love, and tragedy


B) live life without video games.

Easy and obvious solution here, people.

Games are fun. They allow you to solve problems without ever leaving your couch. You're invited to enjoy riveting storylines full of action, whoopie, death, and joy, all while basking in the splendor of today's graphic talent and technology.

Games are relatively inexpensive, especially if you purchase from resale stores like Gameworks. Oh and yes, you can sell your games back to these stores. For money. Real money. Money you can use for other things. Like more games.

Another attractive element within the wondrous world of gaming? The anticipation of yet another golden egg on which to feast. New games are constantly developed. New consoles arrive every 3-6 years. You have a constant stream of clear, blue innovation to dip your toes in. It's delightful, really.

The only problem I've found with gaming (aside from an obvious lack of time....stinkin' responsibilities) is the fact our gamer market is dominated by.... well....... dudes. We have a plethora of dude developers, dude players, and dude-targeted marketing strategies. This is not to say I'm unable to enjoy a dude game. Quite the contrary; I've never seen men be so romantic. The storylines can be as captivating and detailed as any romance novel.....better, even. Yes, you can read about Triss being rescued by a shirtless, ripped man who can see in the dark and prefers making love in elven pools filled with wildflowers......or you can act it out. Yourself. With chocolate and wine. In your pajamas. BAM.

This lack of female-developed games perhaps creates in me the very thing our dude developers wanted all along: the desire for more. Much, much more. You see, when I'm done playing a game I've just lost myself in for, oh, let's say five or six months, I am dying for more. I reach out looking for something comparable to drown my loss in, but almost always turn up short. These fantastic, chick-friendly games are, in my humble opinion, hard to find.....and yet so worth the search.

Below are a few of my favorite games. My gamer taste is specific: no online, multi-person games, no shooting games (although they can have combat elements), some sort of pretty environment/music, and a fantastic storyline.

If you are on the fence about gaming, I beg you try one of these games. Just for me. Just for a sec. It's a beautiful, unexplored world.....go on an adventure and try something new!

Jen's Top Seven:

Honorable Mention: Viva Piñata (this one is specifically for those with kids - it's funny, cute, and addictive): Create your own piñata land! This game is very simple to play, but can keep you entertained for hours.
Jen Attract Points: Bright colors, funny characters, unicorns
Annoyances: The need to strategize to attract the larger piñatas - too much work for a game with no storyline

7. Assassin's Creed: You are a highly-attractive Italian with an amazing penchant for climbing walls and jumping rooftops. The graphics are so good I literally become nervous when leaping from insanely high cathedral steeples. The storyline keeps you going in this one; much of the terrain is the same olive-tinted hue.
Jen Attract Points: You can swim, fly, ride, run, climb, jump...your actions are limitless
Annoyances: I need more variation in my town and land graphics

 6. Darksiders II: Death: I just started this game and immediately fell in love with the fact I could ride a horse pretty much anywhere I wanted. Your character, as creepy as he looks, is actually quite hilarious.
Jen Attract Points: Hard to die, pretty environments, easy weapon upgrades
Annoyances: Glitchy environments (you get stuck in rocks and cliffs sometimes), too few leveling-up benefits

 5. Heroes of Might and Magic IV: I like to play this game with Aaron. A LOT.  Multiplayer mode is fun because you can be a team and take turns tearing up the computerized players. You can also choose to be a gorgeous elf who lives in a fantastic tree. I took a screenshot of it once. Really. Look at my picture (below).
Jen Attract Points: Beautiful and creative factions, very exciting leveling-up rewards (DRAGONS!)
Annoyances: Multiplayer maps are restrictive and redundant

4. Fable II or III: You can choose to be a woman or man...but more importantly, you can choose to be good (earn your wings and halo) or bad (earn your horns and scars). The game is hilarious, the towns are stunning, and the storyline is great.
Jen Attract Points: Time to explore, side quests, humor
Annoyances: Fight sequences/quests can get repetitive (I left Fable I out of my list because I couldn't stand how repetitive the quests were becoming)

 3. Civilization IV: The Civilization series is fantastic. Civilization was the first PC game I ever played. It hooked me. You build your civilization from the ground up, utilizing resources, diplomatic relations, cultural monuments, and military leaders. It is SO much fun, do NOT be intimidated by the slight learning curve when you first begin.
Jen Attract Points: You can be a Russian Czarina, horses, building cut-scenes
Annoyances: I heard Civ V was awful. This disappoints me greatly.

2. Titan Quest: Immortal Throne: You are a hero and must save the world from complete chaos. Think amped-up gladiator surrounded by enchanting music and creative character options. You can summon howling wolves to fight by your side, raise a dead army to assist your cause, or even call forth a fairy archer to help take out your enemies from afar.
Jen Attract Points: The nature specialty, female character, incredible weapon sets
Annoyances: The desert world absolutely sucks

1. The Witcher I and II: These are the first two Role Playing Games (RPGs) I ever officially beat. Your main character, Geralt is sexy, funny, smart, and powerful. His female companions are equally interesting. The dialogue is detailed and captivating. The storyline is unmatched. Aaron found this game on a whim....I'd never heard of it. It is absolutely phenomenal, life-changing even. You must play it. I insist.
Jen Attract Points: Sexy cut-scenes, non-linear gameplay (like a choose-your-own adventure), gorgeous graphics
Annoyances: The third one isn't out yet

So there you have it. The working mom's list of video games. You don't need to spend hours at a time in front of a computer to enjoy video games. I play when I want to, no pressure. Try one! It's fun :)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dog Gone Insane: How to Protect Your Family and Finances

I'm going to paint my yesterday afternoon for you.

Preface: Father's Day weekend was pretty bad. We were grumpy, sensitive, and caving under the pressure of what I'd hoped would be the Best Father's Day Ever. It absolutely sucked.

I went to work Monday morning feeling exhausted, but hopeful. It was a new week, we could turn this around! At about noon, I received a text from Aaron, asking me if I needed anything from the grocery store. He had a project due for his cultural class ("Cultural Cuisine"....gotta love those elective courses) and needed to pick up a few items. He would love my help, he added, if I was willing.

I was absolutely willing. Anything to make up for the weekend. I brainstormed the entire way home how I could "spice up" our food preparation date.

The evening went along as usual. Dinner, cleaning up, and the youngest went down a bit early. My oldest, being on summer break, was granted a rare opportunity to play outside in the front yard in lieu of showering and getting ready for bed. This was partially because she's a good kid and partially because I wanted to tease her daddy in private.

My glorious plan? I was going to wear my pink apron while kneading the bread he was baking from scratch. With nothing else on. Yay for marital creativity.........and for the movie Empire Records.

My plan worked and the husband was extraordinarily pleased by my choice in apparel. We kept things rather PG-13, of course, because our oldest baby was just in the front yard, but I put on a Tease Show worthy of The Lumberyard (yep, you read that right, it really Des Moines, Iowa, google that noise). It was great! I felt awesome and was so happy we were back on the good side of the moon. Until suddenly, I heard screaming.

Now, this wasn't your typical, I'm-outside-playing scream. This was the unmistakable sound of someone who needed help........NOW. It took less than a second for me to swivel my head and process the scene in my front yard.

Large, boxer-mix dog running full-speed up my driveway. Terrified, frantic child running only inches in front of it.....MY terrified, frantic child.


Aaron took about 3 seconds to get out the door. I, however, was wearing a pink apron. And nothing else.

Don't think I didn't consider doing it. That was my kid out there. I certainly considered doing it.

Luckily, the dress I wore to work was still sitting in a pile on my bedroom floor. As I raced out the door, I ran smack into the wild, outstretched arms of my hysterical daughter, who was shaking so bad I thought she might be having a seizure. I quickly assessed her injuries (none), asked her if the dog bit (it did not), and told her to go sit on the couch.

That's when Hulk Mom came for a little visit. I went out of my house ready to take. Someone. DOWN. I swear I could feel my biceps growing like Popeye.

Aaron was near the top of our driveway, staring at the dog, who was barking, stiff-necked, no tail-wag, back hair on end. I started to scream at the thing. I was so angry, I just screamed. KNOCK IT OFF! NO! QUIT! GET OUT OF HERE! GO HOME, STUPID! SHUTTUP!

No more than 30 seconds later, a woman came around from the back of a house two doors down. She calls for the dog. I'm screaming again.


*loud sigh as she keeps walking towards her truck* yeesss.....


(woman says nothing, just keeps walking)


*another loud sigh* alright, alright.....


(Still not looking at me, just walking away), she's harmless.


I walked away, loudly cussing her out, being a real gangster with my terminology. Aaron, who hadn't uttered a word this whole time, just looked over at me and said, "I shoulda let Zeus out."

Zeus is our Doberman. I adopted him for protection. He's gentle, shockingly unintelligent, and completely aggressive with other animals.

Aaron's comment got me thinking. What would happen if Zeus were to attack that dog, assuming it was unleashed and in our yard?

The owners of offending animals are rarely, if ever, protected. Some states, like mine, have dog bite statutes. This essentially means a dog owner is liable if their dog causes injury, regardless of how the injury occurred or if the owner did anything wrong. Apparently if someone comes onto my property and has reason to do so (garbage man, mailman, campaign solicitors), they are protected in the event my dog bites. I would be liable for all medical bills, damages, etcetera.

The golden loophole? In the state of Illinois, the injured party must prove lack of provocation or trespassing (510 Ill. Comp. Stat., § 5/16). In my case, the unattended dog was both trespassing and provoking with aggressive behavior.

But what about other situations? What happens if we're out on a walk and an unleashed dog comes at Zeus? It's happened to us before... luckily the owners were right behind the animal and Zeus' aggressive behavior squashed the poor little thing's curiosity.

Many of the attorney sites I visited stressed one major thing: keep your dog leashed. It significantly bolsters your defense if you are operating lawfully and have no history of non-compliance. Sure, the fine in my area is only about $50 for an unleashed animal, but if a child is accidentally (or purposefully) bitten, the owner can be charged with, at minimum, a Class 3 Felony.

HA! Shoulda screamed THAT little nugget of information when I confronted Ms-Don't-Care.

No matter. Now I have a plan.

I practiced this afternoon. This is war. I secured a reinforced wire lead to our front porch, measured out enough to allow Zeus approximately 3 feet from the end of our driveway, and observed his behavior while the kids played out front. He was amazing. He just stood there, holding his stance, looking around. He sprawled out a couple times, only to bounce back up at the sound of a distant bark. I'll need to stay out there for a while until I can really trust he'll be ok with minimal supervision. But it's a start, and I'm feeling better already.

It pays to know the laws in your area, both in regards to your legal rights as a pet owner and as an individual susceptible to the bad decisions of others. Had Aaron let Zeus out without a leash, we could've ended up with two hefty vet bills, or worse, a date in court to settle a property loss claim. Cuz my dog's a boss.

Click here to learn more about the Illinois Animal Control Act
Click here to see dog-related statutes in your state

Friday, June 14, 2013

10 Lessons from DIY Roofing on the Fly

The roof. Is. Complete.

It took over a week of hard, long hours, and a group of incredible friends, but for the love of all things sacred, it is done.

Could not have come at a better time.

We survived our first storm earlier this water damage, no random wooden beams falling on my head, no horrific moment of failure. She is a big, strong roof :)

For those who missed my earlier post, Why My Roof Makes Me Smile, Part I, here's a picture of the roof before we decided to lose our minds and rip it off:

And now:

Nice right?

Would you like to know what I learned during this process? Please allow me to share, if for no other reason than to give you a good laugh or two.

1. Friends are Key
Good friends are incredibly important. Many won't help, and that's ok, but the few that do are like golden nuggets of love powder and should be treated with the utmost care. I fed them breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We kept a cooler stocked with water and beer. I picked the rug up off the bathroom floor. They were kings in this castle of momentary pain.

***Added Bonus: Guys on a roof in hot weather are, well, hot.

2. Good Supplies Mean More than Expected
We originally priced our supplies at a few big-box stores. They were cheaper, yes, but we had to essentially split our supplies in groups........the underlayment, for example, was cheapest at Menards, but Lowe's had the best shingle prices, and Home Depot had a sale on roofing nails and lumber. We could've saved about $500 ordering individual supplies at three different stores....but our time, as I mentioned in my previous post, was limited. We chose to get everything from Copley Roofing in Crystal Lake, Illinois. They are a small, but growing business run by an incredible people. We were given top-of-the-line supplies and shingles, but even more importantly, we were blessed with invaluable time from a professional roofer who assisted us with our flashing, shingle placement, and measurements.

***Added Bonus: I have a "guy" now. You know, like when you're talking to someone and they say, "Oh man, I really need a plumber, or a baker, or a roofer." Now I can reply with, "I've got a guy." Cool points!

3. Demo is Not Just Ripping Off Shingles
Once the shingles are off, you need to replace any loose or rotted boards, and you need to remove nails. Hundreds upon hundreds of nails. Give yourself plenty of time to get your roof clean and remember to....

Demo is a fickle thing. It starts off daunting, teasing almost. Then you develop a niche, a habit, a procedure. Before you know it half the roof is uncovered and you've only been up there for a couple hours. It can be rewarding to see all you've done. Now get over yourself. Clean the half you've uncovered. Put down your ice and water barrier. Put down your felt or paper. Make it watertight. Then move along with your demo.

***Flawed Moment: We did not do this. Once the guys started rippin, they didn't stop. They were animals. It is intense, very manual labor. It rained. Oh boy did it rain. Right into my attic. Do number 4. DO NUMBER 4.

5. Never Underestimate the Power of a Smartphone
We have a beautiful, architectural mini "dormer" on top of the garage. I love it, it's so cute. Not so cute when it creates four valleys you need to shingle. Even uglier when you realize you have no idea how to use architectural shingles on a valley. Shingling valleys was just one of the things we YouTubed from the roof. Having something at your fingertips was highly helpful.

***Added Bonus (courtesy of Aaron): You have something to call your wife with when you need beer or food. Yep, he's all mine.

6. Chalk Lines Rule
With the six valleys and one long stretch of roof near the back of our home, we needed to really plan out how the shingles would lay. It took some careful planning. I watched the planning process. Got a little bored. Kinda listened. Started nail-gunning the crap out of some shingles. To correct my mistakes, the guys would draw a new chalk line.

***Added Bonus: Chalk lines are FUN to use. You get to snap a little string and your line pops right onto your surface. Very entertaining stuff when you've been looking at the same brown shingles for about 6 hours!

7. Call 911 for Flashing Assistance
When I have an emergency, I call the pros. When your roof comes into contact with your actual house, you want to ensure it is sealed properly. If you can afford to pay a trusted pro to check your flashing, do it. We were lucky to have Mr. Copley. We wouldn't have completed the chimney correctly without him.

***Flawed Moment: We still have one piece of flashing we need to fix. The house is officially watertight, but the weak flashing poses a leaving a window cracked. Could have perfect conditions to leak, could not. We are risking it at the moment, because frankly, we are tired of the roof. It's on the list.

8. Circling the House Like a Buzzard is Good
You will get trash and debris all. Over. The. Place. Put on some good shoes and walk the perimeter of your house every few hours to collect debris. I pushed a wheelbarrow around with me to help collect everything. A magnetic strip on a stick helped with the nails, but my eyes and ears were even better. I found you needed to get the strip really close to the nail for it to alternative method? I kicked the stuff around and listed for a "tink tink" sound. It worked quite well, actually.

***Flawed Moment: I did not circle every few hours. I circled twice. I am now paying the price, as I continue to find little pieces of shingle and felt in my yard. Try to keep up on it if you can!

9. Pet and Kid Sitters are Glorious Angels from Heaven
A roofing job is no place for animals or kids. The nails get everywhere, there is dust and asphalt in the air, and you have no time to keep them entertained or safe. I had my youngest with me on Day 1, demo day. Naps were hard because of the pounding. Feeding was hard because I was cooking for huge friggin guys. Bath time was hard because I didn't want the guys to be forced to use the downstairs bathroom. I was very lucky to have my in-laws available for Day 2. They watched both the kids from sunup to sundown, like a boss.

***Added Bonus: You get some time to be an adult. I drank a couple beers, nailed some shingles, got some sun, and talked with the guys. It was refreshing.

10. Don't Be Afraid to Try
If I had listened to the many, many people who doubted our ability to complete this job, I would've never gone through with what is, to date, our proudest homeowner moment. You CAN do it. Yes, you will run into problems. Yes, it may cost more than you think. Yes, you will owe your friends big time. It is absolutely worth it.

 ***I'm serious. Do it.

If you have any specific questions about the materials we used, prices, measurements, or anything else you wouldn't mind gambling on this DIY Newbie, please leave a comment below. As a side note, we were not paid anything for mentioning Copley Roofing. They really are just that good.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Body, Your Body, Everybody: Protect Your Girls

Google, "Mommy body".

No, really. Go Google it. I'll wait.

hmmm ta-tum-tum-tum....

Did you do it? No? That's cool. I'll make it really easy and just tell you what I found.

You know how Google runs a string of common possibilities while you type in the search box? These were the suggestions they gave me:
"mommy body makeover"
"mommy body pillow"
"mommy body workout"

The first search result after hitting the enter bar? A blog created by a beautiful woman who needed to talk herself through the reasons why her body looks the way it does. The next results? More blogs about losing weight and "inspiring moms to achieve their best life" by fitting into a bikini.

How does this relate to me? I'm coming clean now. Prepare yourselves.

I grew up in an accepting home. We accepted and forgave and complemented each other regularly. Still, pop culture influences and my own weakness caused me to commit (again and again) a cardinal parenting sin.

I complained about my weight in front of my daughters. I didn't realize how much my insecurity was affecting my 7-year-old until I heard her shout one day, "Mommy, my stomach is too fat!" My sweet baby. My gorgeous 7 year old.

Now I've messed up quite a bit with this first kid. I've broken many promises to myself about how I would raise her and to what standard I would base my parenting decisions. I have many, many regrets, but this one is thankfully one I am on my way to rectifying.

I needed to lose weight. I was close to 200lbs and my youngest one was nearing the 9-month mark. Time was ticking. Plus Beyoncé had her baby and was still smokin hott, right? NO, JEN.

I needed to break the cycle. I felt fat, I felt ugly, and I felt unworthy....but damned if I was going to let my girls feel the same way five years down the road.

So I changed. My big girl, as smart as she is, caught on immediately. She wanted to know why I was working out and not eating as much at dinner. Now here's where I faked it.  I told her the baby changed things about my body and I needed to eat good foods and exercise so my body could go back to normal. Simple. She accepted this answer without question. She even cheered me on during workouts. Amazing, considering I was lying at the time. I didn't want to be healthy. I wanted to be sexy and skinny and not afraid to see pictures of myself tagged on Facebook.

As time went by, I continued to explain my decision to "get healthy" (kids never ask once). The weight came off slowly. It was cool. I was happy.

....but that's not the best part. No, the best part is that with all that lying, I found myself unconsciously repeating a mantra of health and strength...yes, I initially started the viewpoint so I could protect my budding babies....but after time? After time I started. To. Believe it.

I didn't know how to set this flaw of mine straight. I mean, who really likes to be negative about their body all the time. If it were so easy to be positive, we would all be happy in our own skin. What worked for me, though, was faking it for my kids. They are innocent souls left in my care for only a fleeting moment in time. How could I justify setting them up for body-image failure when I could potentially create in them a diamond against the rough world.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, fake it till you make it..........and you will make it. Maybe not fast, and certainly not with ease, but it will happen. And when it's all said and done, you will have created an example worth remembering, blogging about, and heck, maybe even finding through a Google search.

Friday, June 7, 2013

How to Find the Good in Your Hood

My neighborhood is an unincorporated little settlement nestled between an up-and-coming suburb and a long, winding river....depending on who you ask.

When I tell people where I live the white collar folks ask, "where?" and the blue collar folks nod their heads in appreciation and acceptance. We've got plumbers, contractors, garage-door technicians, septic tank rooters, and a wide variety of unemployed. My neighbors burn their garbage to avoid paying for a disposal service and I wake up to the sweet sounds of diesel trucks grunting into the day.

We've got a bar down the street where a good number of people roam in tricked-out golf carts and motorcycles. We walk Dobermans and Pitt Bulls as opposed to Golden Retrievers and Collies. We are not patrolled by a Police Department, but by the County Sheriffs' Department. I called them once when a homeless man popped out at me from the bushes during a night run. Nice guys, those Sheriffs.

When we protested a re-zoning attempt by an idiot business-owner who wanted to pollute our water supply, the guy brought pictures of our hood to court as proof we didn't really give a shit.

He was right, in a way. We hoard old cars for fear of needing parts down the road....and because we don't know what else to do with them. I've seen couches and old kitchen cabinets on fire (remodeling project two doors down). I was sitting outside last summer, enjoying a beautiful evening, when a very large, shirtless man rode by with a very large dog riding shotgun in his golf cart. He had Journey's, "Don't Stop Believing" blasting loud and proud from a hotwired boombox and a 6-pack of Old Style perched precariously on the cart floor. An insanely humungous American flag waved behind him. Smile, nod, beer lift, and away he went. What did I think? Well, he didn't really give a shit what I thought. And isn't that the point?

When I bought my house I was in a rough state of mind (another story for another time). I didn't care about neighborhood stigmas and I certainly didn't care about what others did with their lives. But I remember hearing others mention a few things here and there about this hood being a bit trashy. Can't say we aren't. But like many flaws, the trashiness of my hood deserves appreciation.

I went for a walk with the girls tonight and snapped a few shots of our usual hood route.

It's no picket-fence perfection....but really, who wants that when you can be serenaded by the incredible lullaby of golf-cart Journey and domestic disputes that almost always end in outlandishly loud lovemaking?

Get out and appreciate what you're surrounded by, for I guarantee there's beauty there somewhere.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why My Roof Makes Me Smile

When I bought my home in the spring of 2011, the inspector told me I'd need a new roof within three years.

"You've got three layers of shingles on there, Jen. It will need to be torn off so the integrity of the wood can be inspected."

Right. New roof. Got it.

Flash forward to January 2013. Our refinance went through and we received a nice little parting gift from the mortgage lender. Roof Fund! Step 1, fund, complete.

March came. We barely noticed the two year anniversary of owning our cute little house. We'd had a baby, adopted a dog, and decided we were going to complete this roof ourselves. Sure, it would be hard. Heck, we've encountered worse. Bring on the DIY books and awful looks from professionals!

We went into the library with our hopes high and our quest simple: get a roofing book. We left with three beautiful, colorful, perfect-smelling library books chalk full of roofing expertise. We were two human sponges, my husband and I. We were ready to learn!

Then, as we rode home on a euphoric cloud of problem-solving wonder, we realized our little trip to the library cost us valuable dinner prep time. Almost on queue, the baby cried from the backseat. Bubble popped, reality is baaaaack...

We left the books in the car for almost a week. I looked at them once, during that ride home from the library. Aaron also looked at them once. They settled into a dusty place under a stack of to-dos on our kitchen peninsula. I forgot about them for a while....a "while" meaning until the library started sending those threatening overdue notices.

No bother, I thought, we've got YouTube! Who needs books. Not this resourceful chick, no way. Not now, not neva. Step two, research, complete.

We decided June 1st would be the day. Step three, lock in a date, complete. This was almost too easy! I peppered my conversations with my dear, lovely man friends with as many references to the roofing project as I could. They had completed the same project at their bachelor pad. I had every bit of confidence they could teach me how to roof my own place.....And then help me do it.

We also jumped at the chance to have Sears come give us a "free estimate" on doing the work for us. This was a twofold benefit for me:

1. I received free measurements (Step four, get measurements, complete)

2. It snapped Aaron down from the crazy he was swinging from when he thought the labor "really wouldn't cost that much more"

My friends and local Sears representatives weren't the only ones falling deep into my manipulative roofing hole of servitude. Aaron is studying to be an accountant. Guess who needed a real good quote for roofing supplies using measurements she swiped from an unassuming sales man.

Now Aaron came up with an amazing quote. I was truly impressed. About $2k for all the supplies, using various big-box stores and rental supply companies. He even factored in a food-and-drink budget for our friends. I had a price using good shingles. I had a price using the best shingles. Heck, I had a price using no shingles. He broke it DOWN for me, Barney style. Step five, set up a list with prices and supplies, complete.

The only, and I mean only, drawback to his supply and pricing list was we'd need to shop at various stores and pay for separate deliveries.

I went through the next couple of weeks feeling on top of the world. We had a date, a couple of verbal commitments from amazing friends, and a ridiculously detailed supply list with sneaky measurements. Steps one through five, complete!

....but as the days trickled down, and our attention shifted to everyday life, our resolve weakened.

My baby turned one the weekend prior to our roofing date. I wanted a party. It became the battle of the Jens.....

Logical Jen: Skip party so we can have a roof!

Party Jen: Have a huge party and live in a mud hut in the backyard!

Crazy Jen: Do both!

......Guess which one I chose?

Can I please point out, despite my best intentions to give both events my all, when faced with the choice between planning a big party and gathering supplies for a roofing project, my attention automatically and joyously fixed on the party. Roof? What roof? I'm collecting baby food jars for backyard tea lights at dusk, don't bother me.

(......Side note: The party was beautiful, aside from the rain. Annabelle didn't care one way or another and Daddy and I enjoyed the time with friends. But that roof. Oh did it loom in the background the entire time. Literally....)

I began to panic about three weeks out from our roofing date.

"Aaron, do you know what we need to do? Aaron, when should we get this stuff? Aaron have any of your friends agreed to help? Aaron Aaron Aaron!"

Lucky man, ay?!!

My controlling nature was brewing one hell of a storm and I needed to do something. I'd heard great things about a family-owned roofing supply company in our town. No, they did not pay me anything for writing this. The praise is plentiful because it is well-deserved.

I called Copley Roofing with confidence. I knew what we needed, I had my measurements, we were golden. It was going along swimmingly. What is your name, check. Where do you live, check. How many valleys do you have? I made it three questions before the wonderfully patient woman on the other end of the line began to realize she was dealing with a roofing moron.

She sent someone out, free of charge, to measure our home. Turns out Sears really sucks at measuring. Good thing they've got Ty Pennington. Bedding, Sears. Stick with bedding.

So after numerous calls back and forth, a couple embarrassing moments where I mispronounced the word "architectural," and about $3k later, we had our supplies lined up to be delivered. Yep, we needed a lot more than we thought. Stupid library book!

We started the roof Saturday, June 1st, as planned. Mr Charles Copley, the owner himself, delivered our dumpster and supplies (minus the shingles, which were delivered the next day).

Mr. Copley was an incredible man, walked me through each item and offered some highly-warranted professional advice. You've gotta love your small-business owners. So much better than the box stores. Heck, when we went to Menards a sales lady tried to get us to buy her leftover roofing supplies directly from her garage for a cheaper price. She actually gave us her cell phone number. Weirdos.

So I had some gorgeous men show up early Saturday morning.

I don't think a girl could have better friends. I was loving it. They worked hard, fast, and with determination. It was ugly, tearing off three layers of shingles. Not pretty at all.

Mr. Copley was due back Satuday afternoon to deliver the shingles. We'd hoped to finish demo and have the roof watertight.

No such luck.

Mr. Copley came back with his son, way after business hours, his brow wrinkled in worry. "Clouds are looking gray, guys. Better get that paper done." He was genuinely concerned and I wanted nothing more but to run and hide. The guys were moving as fast as they could. But we couldn't beat the weather.

Moments after the guys finished hauling 70lb bags of shingles off Mr Copley's awesome rooftop conveyor belt, the sky opened up and rain came pouring down.

Now, we found out our roof is not your standard plywood roof. Our home was built with 1x6 wooden beams. I remember this measurement because I had to purchase more of these beams, by myself, in my Toyota Echo, when we ran across a few rotten planks over the garage. Please, just for a moment, picture me driving down the highway with huge wooden planks hanging out my passenger window. You're welcome.

So back to the roof. No plywood meant larger gaps between the beams. Rain just drip-dripped into my attic.

Note: do not tear off what you cannot put back on. And if you do, make sure you have tarps. Lots of tarps.

We did what we could and the troops retreated in what they felt was defeat.

Sunday rose grim and cold, but dry. I was freaking out, worried about the drywall, the insulation, everything. My beautiful in-laws agreed to take both kids and leant us a fan for the attic. It was the only time I'd ever been up there. Spooky!

Four of my dear friends returned. I got up there. I made my girlfriend get up there. I would've plucked Santa from the sky on Christmas Eve if the timing been right. It was go time.

We are now four days into the roofing project. We'd hoped to complete it in two but cannot complain; we've had one amazing guy help all four days. Two of my other buddies have joined us after work, too. They are gold to me, more valuable than the clearest diamonds.

Even though it is not yet complete, I love my roof. It's a complete representation of the love I'm so incredibly lucky to have in my life.

More to come :)