Sunday, March 31, 2013

35 Day Project: Sweet for my sweet

Today's act seems pretty small, in the grand scheme of things, but it had been a hectic day.  We got up early to travel to Ohio to have Easter Brunch with my family.  As always, we brought the dogs, which means bringing their food, crates, blankets, and leashes.  It is never a simple affair.  We also were bringing our contributions to the meal.

We had brunch, then spent time watching movies and visiting with the entire family.  Before we knew it, it was time to drive back home, as Hubby has to work tomorrow.  We stopped at a Sheetz near home, to fill Hubby's car with gas.  While he was doing that, I went inside, to use a coupon I had for a free donut.  I picked out a donut I knew Hubby would like, and promptly presented him with it in the car.  He was pretty excited, and immediately ate his treat.


He said it was delicious.  It makes me happy that I was able to do some nice little extra thing for him.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

35 Day Project: More than just a tip!

Today, Hubby and I decided to go out for lunch.  There was a place we had been wanting to try in Butler, so that is where we headed.  We went at just the right time, between the lunch and dinner rushes, so we got a seat immediately.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch, and great service from our waitress.  By the time we were getting ready to leave, the evening rush had started, and there was a crown waiting to be seated.  Our waitress brought us our bill, and we paid it, along with a tip.  But I had come armed with something extra for our waitress.


I had a small bag of really cute purple, black, and silver trinkets (a votive candle holder, charm ornament, pen, and notecards), which I had placed in a purple bag.  I left them at our table, next to our bill.  I clipped a note to the front, stating that this was for our waitress Emily, thanking her for great service, letting her know she was appreciated, and wishing her a beautiful day.

It was, perhaps, the most fun part of our lunch!

35 Day Project: Easter Lily

Yesterday, I had an appointment at my doctor's office.  I often rave about how wonderful my doctor is.  She always listens to my concerns, pays attention to my comfort level regarding treatments, encourages me, supports me.  In short, she is awesome.  But the truth is, every person who works in that office is awesome. I have dealt with them all over the years, and it has been the best health care I have ever received, hands down.

Many times, people going to the doctor are, well, sick.  And when you are in pain or are not feeling well, it is hard to be cheerful, or thankful.  So I know a lot of health care providers go unthanked.  My goal, then, was to make sure the staff at my doctor's office knew how much I appreciated them all.


I wrote a thank you card to them, explaining how much I appreciated the high quality health care and customer service their office always provides.  Then, I purchased and Easter Lily.  When I went to check in for my appointment, I gave the card and the flower to the girl at the desk.  They all were very appreciative, and it was the high spot of my day.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

35 Day Project: A Movie on Me

Today's act of kindness required stealth which made it some super sneaky fun!

Hubby and I have plans tonight to spend and evening with some friends of ours, sort of a couples night in.  The guys will play board games, while my friend and I plan on watching Les Miserables.  I offered to get the movie, specifically so I could carry out an act of kindness.  I thought I would just rent the movie from Redbox, and while I was there, I would leave a surprise for the next Redbox user.


I took a dollar (the cost of a Redbox movie), and paper clipped it to an index card.  Then I wrote a little note on the card explaining that the next user should rent a movie on me.  Yes, I know you have to have a credit card to rent a movie, but still, it will cover the cost of their rental.  I also wished the person a great day.

I stopped at a couple of different Redboxes looking for the movie, only to discover that our local Redboxes are not carrying Les Miserables yet, so I ended up buying the movie.  But not before I left my surprise for someone to find!


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

35 Day Project: Endorse Me

In the past, I have not been very active on LinkedIn, a social media site that focuses on professional networking and job searching.  However, quite a lot of people I know are very active on the site.  In a time when so many people are unemployed, or underemployed, a site like this can be a fantastic tool for locating job opportunities and showcasing one's skill set.


I have a decent amount of connections on my LinkedIn account, but have never really used LinkedIn to interact with those connections.  Tonight, I spent a bit of time looking around at my connections, and making endorsements for quite a few of them.  It is a small act, only took a few moments of my time.  But perhaps it will make a difference for those connections.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

35 Day Project: Secret

Today's act is going to have to remain cloaked in secrecy for a bit.  All I can really tell you is that I nominated someone to receive something special.  However, it will take some time for my partners in this endeavor to deliver this something special to the nominated party.  I really want the nominated party to be surprised, so unfortunately, I cannot give out any more details right now.  But rest assured, I will write more about this in the future, once this something special has been delivered.


Aren't secrets fun?

Monday, March 25, 2013

35 Day Project: Guest post by Jessi

Jessi is a woman I know through the Pittsburgh social media scene.  I first connected with her when a group of Pittsburgh bloggers got together to raise money to purchase socks and underwear for the Light of Life Rescue Mission.  Since then, Jessi has consistently shared uplifting messages, and generally makes social media a happier place for me.  I am so glad she is participating in my project!  

At the foot of the cross

I was visiting a close friend of mine who is in the hospital getting cancer treatment. She was leaving with a nurse in a wheelchair to be taken down for radiation when her childhood church's priest arrived for a visit. She stayed to have him pray and bless her and then was on her way. She had asked me to stay to keep an eye on her laptop, etc. until her family came back from lunch. I had intended to get some work done while she was gone, but the priest settled on in. "Nooooooo," I thought. While I identify as a Christian, I'm not Catholic. I have never understood the reverence Catholics, in general, have for priests - I'm the kind of Christian who likes a church where the pastor is a passionate brewer of his own beer and has a tattoo or seven. But I've known some nice priests and am a big fan of a few Catholics in particular like author Henri Nouwen and of course Mother Teresa. And my dad.  So, while I certainly have no "problem" with priests, I'm just not totally sure how I'm supposed to act toward them. Do I call them "Father?" That seems weird. Are we supposed to just talk about church and churchy stuff?
In any case, this priest decided he was going to make himself at home. I reluctantly put away my iPhone in an effort to communicate attentiveness and respect and we engaged in polite conversation. For, oh, an hour. Every ten minutes or so, I thought for sure he would leave. But he didn't. I was feeling anxious about the work I needed to do. And I was really resenting him for it. I also kind of thought maybe he'd ask me a question or two about myself - you know, in a pastorly fashion. Nope. He just sort of talked about himself and about how you get from one part of town to another. In great detail. I was starting to really feel put out. I wanted to get some work done! And I thought that if I wasn't able to turn my attention to my growing queue of unread email at least I could be having an interesting conversation. I started to get a tiny bit bitter that this leader of the Church had apparently no inclination to interact in a caring, others-centered way.
For all he knew, I was really emotional about my friend's illness. I was, actually...and I kind of would have liked to have maybe talked about it. Or prayed about it. But instead we were waxing philosophical about the various ways one can avoid the Squirrel Hill Tunnel. But then, I got a hold of myself. I'm a leader in the Church, too. Not in a priest kind of way, of course. But I know the gospel just like this guy does. And I know how to pay attention, listen well and extend care toward someone. I know how to set my own needs aside and focus on someone else. Why was I expecting that God provided this person in his frock to meet MY needs. Perhaps I was in the right place at the right time to meet HIS.
I made the choice to be kind. And as soon as I got rid of the garbage in my head that I was letting distract me, we had a lovely conversation. When the family returned, the priest asked for directions to the parking garage. I offered to escort him there myself. We got a little turned around in the hospital hallways, actually REALLY turned around, and it was my fault. To the point where I started to feel embarrassed about it - he was elderly and I was dragging him all over this gigantic building. But he was quite gracious and good humored about it. He kindly extended grace to me, when he would have been totally justified in being grumpy about it. We parted ways warmly and I felt happy that I had changed my attitude - it made all the difference.
We all know this, but we forget, so I'll say it. Kindness doesn't just affect the person who receives it. It changes the one who gives it.

35 Day Project: Snow, Snow, Snow, Snow SNOW!

Every year, December 1 rolls around, and I start to long for snow.  There is just something appealing about a white Christmas.  The idea of a blanket of snow on the ground, and bright shining stars in the Christmas Eve sky is kind of my idea of holiday perfection.  Then, once Christmas is over, the snow can leave until next year.  This year, however, I was pretty content with the amount of snow we got.  Since I had a large project keeping me home for most of January and February, I did not mind the snow, so long as Hubby was safe on the roads.

But now it is March, and officially spring.  It is most certainly time for the snow to be gone.  Yet, here we are, with another fairly heavy snowfall.  And this snow is particularly sloppy.  It is wet, and heavy.  And it is still coming down.  While this snow is a major annoyance, it is also a GREAT opportunity for kindness.

Hubby cleared the snow as best he could when he left for work at 7 am.  But it has continued to fall at a pretty good clip since then, so that meant our walk and steps were once again covered.  Most of the block was pretty clear, but I noticed my next door neighbor's sidewalk was pretty covered as well.  Mid day is around the time the mail gets delivered, and I always worry about the postman slipping on a snowy, icy sidewalk.  So, just now, I bundled myself up, and went out to clear not only our walk, but also my next door neighbor's.  I also used the rest of our ice melt to put down on the sidewalk in front of both houses.   This way, the postman can safely walk on our block.  Hopefully the snow stops soon, and is gone for the year. At the very least, the ice melt will continue to melt the snow that does fall, and keep the sidewalks clear until the temperature drops.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

35 Day Project: Spreading Blogger Love

Blogging can be, at times, an incredible outlet.  It allows us to showcase our interests and talents, it allows us to connect with like-minded people, it allows us to not feel alone.  People who are "not into the whole blogging thing" often do not understand why we bloggers put ourselves out here as we do, why we invest so much time and energy into our blogs, why blogging is an valuable part of our identity.  But other bloggers, we totally get it.

I admit, I do not interact with other bloggers as much as I used to.  Mostly I interact with other Pittsburgh area bloggers, and leave it at that.  I have gotten stagnant and lazy.  But that changed today.


I was taking a trip down memory lane, and thinking of books from my childhood, the titles of which had long escaped my memory.  I remembered one quite clearly, about a cranberry recipe, so I googled the phrase "children's book cranberry".  The search results led me to a real treasure of a blog, called "Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves".  The blog is written by Burgin Streetman, a mother who had worked for years in the publishing industry, and now, among her other pursuits, wrote this blog about vintage children's books.  She had written an entry about the book I was seeking, "Cranberry Thanksgiving", as well as so many other truly wonderful books that I remember from my childhood.  The blog brought back so many great memories of summer trips to the library, schoolday trips to the BookMobile, and endless hours reading with my parents.  I really believe that the love of reading that my parents and teachers cultivated in me led to my passion for reviewing books as an adult.

For today's act of kindness, I am spreading love to this wonderful blogger.  Her blog has tapped into the collective childhoods of many of us booknerds born in the late 70s and early 80s.  She is cultivating a love of literature in her son.  She is making the internet a happier place.  She deserves recognition.  So today, I am trying to give her some.  I do not know her personally, I do not even think we live in the same area of the country.  I have never spoken with her, electronically or otherwise, though I will be contacting her to let her know I stumbled upon her blog and am spreading love for it.  She is just a woman, a stranger, doing something I adore and appreciate, and I want to tell her so.  I think it would be great if you visited her blog and left her some comments of love as well.

Thank you Burgin Streetman, for a blog that will be sure to become one of my all time favorites.

P.S. Burgin, I love that your blog header was drawn by the same artist that drew the cover art for the Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick Christmas Album.  Zack Rock is amazing!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

35 Day Project: Run For a Reason

I have been deliberately trying to perform acts that cost little or no money.  There are about a million worthwhile charitable organizations, and it is always difficult for me to select just a few for monetary donations.  However, for today's act, I decided to donate to my friend Becky's fundraising efforts for her upcoming half marathon run.

run becky

Becky is running the race for charity.  That means she has committed to raising a set amount of money to go toward a charity of her choice.  If she does not raise the full amount, she has to make up the difference out of pocket.  Her charity of choice is Genre's Kids With Cancer Fund.

I told you a few days ago how awesome Becky is.  This just proves my point.  She has committed to helping  in a real tangible way.  Today, I did what I could to help Becky get a little bit closer to her goal.  I took a small, tiny, minuscule step toward helping them eradicate childhood cancer.  Becky is over halfway to her fundraising goal.  A goal I feel confident she is going to surpass.

Friday, March 22, 2013

35 Day Project: Gratitude

Sometimes,we get frustrated.  We have days where we don't feel well, or can't sleep, work makes us cranky, someone cuts us off in traffic, a countless number of small nuisances.  Yet there is still so much for which we can be grateful.  It is gratitude that has inspired today's act for the 35 Day Project.


Today, I decided to give a gift to a random stranger.  I had this really lovely bracelet that is comprised of beads, some wooden, some metal letters spelling out the word "gratitudes".  The idea is you use the 10 letters to count 10 things for which you are grateful, and you repeat this every day.  I think this is such a lovely idea, and I wanted to share this gift of gratitude.


I got a card in which to put the bracelet.  Since we are dealing with prolonged winter weather, I got a very springy card.  Inside, I wrote a short note, briefly explaining that I am performing 35 acts of kindness to celebrate my upcoming 35th birthday, and today, I wanted to show someone how grateful I was for them.  And that person was, well, it was whomever found the card.


I sealed up the card, and tucked it into my purse.  I then went grocery shopping in Butler.  I decided to find a place in the store to put my gift.  After much thought, I left it in the baby food aisle.  I am hopeful that I was able to brighten the day of a whomever it was that found it.


35 Day Project: Guest post by Jan Shapin

I first got to know Jan when I reviewed her novel "A Desire Path" last fall.  I was stuck by her gracious nature.  She sent me a personal thank you, and I was quite touched.  I knew she would be a wonderful addition to my 35 Day Project.  She wrote the following piece about her experience.  It is lovely.

The Kindness Project

Ever since Tiffany contacted me about her kindness project and asked that I participate I have been reflecting on what kindness is. And is not. The first thing, it seems to me, is that kindness comes from inside – that acts of kindness are products of a state of kindness and that first and foremost one must cultivate that. The second is that kindness is not something that comes with the expectation of reciprocity – I’ll give you something and then get something back. That is a problem with charity, the easy good feeling itself undercuts the kindness. I think real acts of kindness are not so easy to execute.

I’ll give you an example. A week ago I went to visit an old colleague, also a writer, who is now in a nursing home. Another writer friend who accompanied me remembered that he liked mincemeat pies, so we had lots of fun planning to bake him a mince meat pie. I looked in the Joy of Cooking for an original recipe and found one that made twenty pies and started with two pounds of ground beef or better yet, an ox heart. We didn't do that one, but we did find a not-easy-to-locate jar of mince meat and made the pie and visited our friend.
An act of kindness you say? Maybe. Or an act of guilt. Or voyeurism. Nursing homes are not pleasant places to visit and it was deeply distressing to see my old friend, an accomplished professional and long time aspiring novelist, curled up in a fetal position on his bed in a room with no adornment but a bust of Abraham Lincoln. No books, no pictures on the wall, no color in the room. Nevertheless, he was glad to see us. At least I think he was. He was gracious even though I’m not sure he remembered who we were.

But did I want to go back? No. Making the pie was more fun than the visit. I knew with sinking heart that real kindness meant a huge leap of commitment—to visit my friend often. No one off visit and I was done. So the next time I went (Monday March 18 with Tiffany kicking me in the rear) I went alone, with potted yellow tulips. My friend was eating breakfast in the day room. When he saw the flowers he said, “They’re beautiful.” I sat down next to him and we had a lovely twenty minute conversation. I asked if I could help him make his room more pleasant – say, a bright colored blanket. “That would be nice,” he said. Then I asked about going out for a ride once a week. “Mmm.”  I could see the eagerness on his face.

So now I am in the land of real kindness. We still don’t have a lot to talk about but on the drive home I realized we both come from Detroit. And my next novel is set in Detroit at a time when he was a young man. So he can tell me about Detroit in his youth. And not feel like those drives are charity. And I can get something unexpected back. A gift.   

Thursday, March 21, 2013

35 Day Project: Dinner for a friend

Sometimes, you just do not feel like cooking.  I know that feeling well.  Even though I love to cook, there are days when I am happy that I have left overs, or meals I have frozen, because I just cannot stand the thought of setting foot in the kitchen, and going out to eat, even take out, gets to be pretty pricey anymore.  I love the luxury of a day of not cooking, and I imagine most people do.  Which is why today's act of kindness was extra fun for me.

dinner collage

Today, I cooked dinner for our friends, Erin and Jason.  In July, their beautiful baby boy, Welles, was born.  Over the last 7 months, I have gotten to spend a lot of time with them, and see what truly fabulous parents they are.  Jason works a full time job, and Erin is currently working several part time jobs, including helping direct the musical for a local high school.  Rehearsals are getting down to crunch time, and that means Erin is often not home in the evenings when Jason first gets off of work.  They both work hard, both inside the home and outside of the home.  To add more to their plates, poor Welles has been teething this week, and not resting well.  All of this added up to the perfect excuse to show them some extra kindness.   So, last night, I sent Erin a text message saying "I am cooking your dinner tomorrow."

I decided that I would make a casserole for them.  Cheesy chicken and noodles topped with bread crumbs. Sounds pretty yummy!  I also made them roasted Brussels sprouts and herb bread.  I even included a couple of monster brownies that I made yesterday.  I packed it all up and dropped it off to Jason, while Erin was at practice.  This way, they both can relax when they get home, and enjoy their time together as a family.

In the Big City: Madama Butterfly

This week, I had the good fortune to win tickets to one of the Pittsburgh Opera's performances of "Madama Butterfly".  It had been many years since I last saw the Pittsburgh Opera, and I had never seen a full performance of this particular opera, so I was over the moon.


"Madama Butterfly" is the story of a young Japanese woman, whose name is Cio-Cio San, but who is affectionately called Butterfly.  Butterfly has fallen in love with an American Naval officer, B.F. Pinkerton.  The marriage broker has arranged a marriage between the two.  To Butterfly, this marriage is a new beginning; she flees from her past as a geisha and embraces a new identity as a wife, an American, and a Christian.  As she rejects her culture and her religion, her family, in turn, rejects her.  But she fears not, for she has love.  However, Pinkerton's view of the marriage is not so steadfast; he sees this as a temporary folly, to sate his desire, until the time when he can have a real marriage to an American wife.

Pinkerton leaves Butterfly, and three years pass.  Butterfly is now poor, and has no family support.  Her only supporter is Suzuki, one of the servants.  In Japan, marital abandonment is tantamount to divorce, but Butterfly refuses to lose hope.  She is certain her husband will return.  Butterfly is visited my the American consul, Sharpless, who tries to tell her Pinkerton will not return to her.  Butterfly stresses that her husband will return, for, you see, he has a son.  Sharpless leaves, without telling Butterfly the truth.  Soon, Butterfly spies Pinkerton's ship in the harbor.  She waits for him to come to her.

Eventually, Pinkerton does come, but not for Butterfly.  Pinkerton, with his "real, American wife" in tow, has come to take custody of his child.  When Butterfly learns this, she is devastated.  She now has nothing.  No family, no husband, no child.  She has lost her will to live, and, after sending her son to play, she commits suicide.  As she lay dying, Pinkerton cries out her name.


The staging of the opera was simply beautiful.  The set was simple with clean lines, which allowed the beauty of the story to be the main focus.  Similarly, the costumes, while beautiful, were understated.  The actual stage aspect that struck me was the gorgeous lighting.  At times, I found myself watching the shadows of the actors projected by the stagelights; the effect was quite haunting.  I also was bewitched by the use of colored lights to convey different emotions.  Red for rage and the heartbreak of Butterfly's death.  The colors of moonrise and sunrise to signify Butterfly's hope for Pinkerton's return.  There were also a few moments that left me breathless, including a moment in Act II when flower petals fell from above as Butterfly and Suzuki decorate the house for Pinkerton's return.

What can I say about the music, other than it was phenomenal.  The orchestra and singers worked in perfect harmony, and the result was magic.  Particularly impressive was Roger Honeywell, a last minute replacement for Pinkerton.  He stepped in to replace an ill cast member, having not sung the role in 14 months.  He was wonderful.  But the stars of the show were Maria Luigia Borsi as Butterfly, and Mika Shigematsu as Suzuki. The depths of the emotion conveyed by both women left me shattered.

After the show, I stayed for the Meet the Artist session.  What a treasure this was.  I loved hearing more about all of the artists, and I have to say, Maria Luigia Borsi is simply enchanting.  Listening to her speak about her love of opera as a child was nearly as beautiful as listening to her sing.  Maria confessed that she cries every time she sings Butterfly.  I am not surprised, for she left me in tears as well.


A note of particular interest: during Act II and Act III the Pittsburgh Opera's general director, Christopher Hahn, was seated just in front of me.  Watching him watch the performance was an amazing opportunity to see the impact of this performance on someone who has spent his life around the opera.  He was as enamored as I was; that is the power of this show.  The Pittsburgh Opera has much to be proud of.

There are two shows left, and I encourage you, if you can, to attend one.  Be sure, also, to check the gorgeous photos on the Pittsburgh Opera Facebook page, and the videos, not only of some performances, but of the Meet the Artist session, on the Pittsburgh Opera YouTube Channel.

Disclosure: I won the tickets to the show from a contest on another blog.  I was not compensated for this review, nor was I asked by the Pittsburgh Opera to write a review.  I simply wanted to share the beauty of this performance with my readers.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

35 Day Project: Games for Change

Games for Change is the leading global advocate for supporting and making games for social impact.

If I were a millionaire, I would give a lot of money to worthwhile organizations.  Sadly, though, I am not a millionaire.  So I try to find ways to help charitable causes without necessarily giving money.  Every once in a while, I stumble upon a way to help that ends up feeling like an excuse to have fun.  Such is the case with Games for Change.

Games for Change is an organization that aims to create social change through playing video games.  Sounds a little too good to be true, right?  How can I create change just by having fun and playing video games?  Well, tonight, I found out.

I played a game created by Games for Change called Half The Sky Movement.  The game aims to raise awareness of the global need to empower girls and women.  The game stories involve women being able to empower themselves through micro loans and small business ventures, obtaining books for their childrens' education, and bartering goods and services for healthcare.  I really love the fact that the gameplay involves a story of empowerment, and the game tasks themselves are relevant to the story.  The best part?  After a certain level of gameplay is reached, a real life chartable gift is unlocked.  For example, while I played, I unlocked a real life gift, so that an organization called, part of the Pearson Foundation, donated a book (a real book, in the real world) to an actual child through Room To Read.  So, I played a game, and a child gets a book.  Seems like a great trade off.

play to help

What an amazing concept.  I think this will be an act of kindness I will be able to do more in the future.  The Half The Sky Movement game is played through Facebook, so be sure to check it out!  Also check out some of the other great games available to play through Games for Change.

35 Day Project: Sharing the prize

On Sunday (the day the project kicked off, which I find to be less than coincidental) I got some very exciting news.  My friend and fellow Pittsburgh social media maven Sue contacted me to let me know I had won a contest on her blog.  She had two tickets to the Tuesday night show of the Pittsburgh Opera's production of Madama Butterfly.  As soon as the contest had been announced, I relentlessly entered every single way offered (daily tweets, blog comments, etc.).  It was pretty clear I wanted to win.  And, as it turned out, my tenacity paid off, because I did indeed win the tickets.  I was pretty over the moon.


The show would begin at 7.  I knew that it was unlikely Steve would want to, or be able to go with me, so I asked him if I minded if I shared the prize with a friend.  Another fabulous Pittsburgh woman, Becky, had entered to win the tickets as well.  Becky is, in short, awesome.  She is a hard working mother of two, she is training for the Pittsburgh half marathon, she is a weight loss champ, and she is just a good person.  I felt like she deserved to have a night of operatic magic.

So, my act of kindness yesterday was that I shared my prize, and invited Becky to go with me.  We met after she was done working, and sat in some amazing seats for 3 hours of sheer brilliance.

As we were talking, Becky mentioned that she had mentioned the contest to her husband, and he, like my husband, seemed less than interested in attending.  So, in the end, it all worked out.  My act of kindness to Becky was a night at the opera, and my act of kindness to our husbands was a night NOT at the opera.

Monday, March 18, 2013

35 Day Project: Make Room For Kids

Image courtesy of That's Church.
There is an amazing organization championed by one of my most favorite Pittsburgh folks ever, Virginia Montanez, of the awesome blog That's Church.  The organization is called "Make Room for Kids", and it is an extension of the Austin's Playroom Project at the Mario Lemiux Foundation.  Their mission is to bring video games, and dvd/entertainment equipment to the kids staying at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.  These are kids who are bravely battling some serious illnesses, often confined to their hospital rooms for very long stays.  Make Room For Kids provides the hospital with gaming equipment that these kids can use during their stay, helping them pass the time, and for a little while, just feel like kids.  There is so much more to their backstory, which Virginia has outlined here, and I really encourage you to read it.

The program continues to expand and grow, and with it, so do the needs for additional equipment and movies.  Remember, these are for sick kid.  How does one say no to that?  They answer is, you don't.  Today, in her blog post, Virginia made an appeal.  An Amazon Wish List has been created, with some of the items they were hoping to add to the collection for Make Room For Kids.  So, for the second day of the 35 Day Project, I decided to purchase and item off of the wish list.  It was something small, a movie.  And I was able to use some Amazon points we had accumulated.  It was a simple act; to me, it was just a movie, but to a sick kid, it is a few minutes of happiness.

Yet another example of why Pittsburgh is so great, and why I am proud to be a part of it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

35 Day Project: Acts by my friends

I am super excited that already, several of my friends have begun performing acts of kindness as part of the 35 Day Project!

A close high school friend, Laura, made a donation to our college alma mater, Ohio University, in my honor. I cannot tell you how deeply touched I was!

My friend Becky blogged about how she paid for the person behind her in the drive thru.  What a great example she is setting for her kids!

My author friend Lily told me she gave blogging awards to several of her blogger friends.  I hope it made their day!


Great work friends, the project is off to a smashing start!

35 Day Project: Richard G. Snyder YMCA Triathlon Volunteer

Hopefully by now, most of you have read about how I am celebrating my upcoming 35th birthday with 35 days of kindness, and that many of my friends are also performing acts of kindness during that time to help me celebrate.  Well, the kickoff for the 35 Day Project was today.  I decided to kick this project off with style (and a little early) by spending both mornings this weekend volunteering.  


I live very close to the Richard G. Snyder YMCA campus, and this beautiful new facility is such an asset to our community.  I am also a board member for the United Way of Armstrong County, and the YMCA is one of our recipient agencies, so I was excited to be able to support them on a personal level.  The YMCA held its very first triathlon this weekend, and I was pretty excited to be helping out.  The event was being broken into two days.  Saturday, March 16th, was the adult triathlon.  It consisted of a 5k run, 300 yard swim,  and 10k bike ride.  I woke up Saturday morning and it was cold and wet, and I was wondering how these athletes did it.  I had no idea what was in store.  When I got to the event, I helped with the registration process.  Once all participants were registered, and the run portion had begun, I then moved out to help make sure all runners crossed the finish mat, to ensure their times were correctly recorded, and direct them to the pool area. Once they finished swimming, I helped direct them to the start line for the bike ride.  Then I got to stand at the finish line and watch all the participants finish.  What. A. Rush.  I was totally in awe of every single participant.  The weather was certainly not pleasant, as rain/snow/ice fell intermittently, and parts of the bike train were muddy and mushy.  But they pushed on.  I have so much respect for the tenacity of these participants.  After everyone was finished, times were tallied, and awards granted.  All in all, it was a great morning.
Our first finisher!

Today, the second half of the event was held, a kids' triathlon for children 14 and under.  Their event consisted of a 1 mile run, 100 yard swim, and 5k bike ride.  These kids were hard core!  Our youngest participant was a 6 year old girl!  I helped for registration again this morning, then I moved out to the running and bike trail to help as safety patrol.  There are spots where the trail intersects with a street, so I was positioned at one of those points to stop any car traffic and allow the kids to safely continue along the trail.  This meant that I got to see each participant twice during their run and twice during their bike ride.  I was so tickled to see these kids pushing themselves, and they seemed like they were having a total blast in the process.  To see the looks of accomplishment on their faces made standing in the cold totally worthwhile.  One of the perks of being stationed on the trail was the fact that I got to cheer for each and every participant as they competed.  And the thing that impressed me was, as I cheered, nearly every single child thanked me for the encouragement.  (This whole kindness thing is totally working.)  I even got a hug from one girl after it was all over.

1 mile run for kids' triathlon

Youngest participant!

What a great resource the YMCA is to our community, offering a wonderful facility and fantastic events such as this to help support a healthy lifestyle.  It was such an honor to help out with the triathlon, and I can think of no better way to have kicked off the 35 Day Project.

Second day of volunteering

To see more photos from the triathlon, view my flickr set here (sorry they are grainy, all I had was my iphone and it was so cold out!)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tiffany's Soapbox: Inbox Zero

tiffanys soapboxBy now, the term "inbox zero" is a buzzword in tech and social media circles.  The first time I ever heard about it was from Merlin Mann, who was the first person talking about it, and he first started talking about it years ago.  The idea is that people need to reclaim their lives, and their email.  By having your inbox consistently having zero messages in it, you have nothing hanging over your head.  All things are in their proper places, and dealt with in a timely manner.  Merlin Mann's original ideas had a lot of depth, and wisdom.  I could never ever be mad at Merlin Mann, he is simply too awesome.

However, this idea has been morphed into several phone applications that promise to lead you to the land of the mythical inbox zero, and in the process a lot of Merlin's original wisdom has been glossed over.  For example, the Mailbox app has been raising a lot of eyebrows, and claims it will have you "winning at email" in no time.  First off, can we let the whole "winning" thing die already?  No?  Ok.  Moving on.  In order to download the Mailbox app, you had to wait in a virtual que with other potential users.  When I signed up, there were over 600,000 people ahead of me in the virtual que.  My place in line moved about 15,000 spots a day.  Finally after waiting over a month, probably close to six weeks, my turn to become a Mailbox user came this week.

Guess what?

I hate it.  First off, it only works with gmail, from what I can tell.  While this is primarily what I use, I do have other email addresses as well.  Second, all of the preset filters and folders I created in gmail do not show up. Instead, all my old emails are archived (without being organized).  And the solution to getting to inbox zero is basically to have messages delayed until you are willing to deal with them.  There is a "later" option that lets you determine how long you want to delay them.  You can also make lists to add emails to to sort them and get them out of your inbox.  But that is what I already did by having filters and folders set up in gmail.  I was so annoyed that I gave up on the app completely.  In fact these issues I state may be easily fixed, I was just too annoyed to bother.  It just seemed like it was not going to work for me.

Here is the rub: if I delete the app, I have to start all over in the virtual que.  So, instead, I kept the app, but do not use it.  How crazy is that?  It has actually made my email more complicated!

This app may be great for business people, who live and die by email.  However, for the everyday man on the street, I am not sure this is a real solution.  This version of inbox zero, taking emails and delaying them or shoving them, unanswered, into lists, just to have an empty inbox?  It sounds like a five year old pushing their toys under the bed and claiming to have cleaned their bedroom.

I will stick the system I already have.  Until the next big thing comes along of course.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cartoons by Hubby: The Beans Got Burned

The Backstory: I had a bit of a cooking catastrophe today, which is pretty rare for me.  I wanted to make black beans as part of dinner.  I had dried beans, but forgot to soak them overnight.  However, I know you can cook them in the pressure cooker without soaking them first, you just need to cook them a little longer.  Apparently, I judged poorly.  The beans burned, and charred bean residue was stuck inside my pressure cooker.  Hubby had a unique suggestion on how to clean it.  A suggestion, as I pointed out, that could have messy consequences.  As a result, he drew an entire comic strip dedicated to the Burned Bean Issue of 2013.





Friday, March 8, 2013

Announcing the 35 Day Project

35 collage

For months now, I have been thinking of ways to celebrate my upcoming 35th Birthday next month.  While a trip, or a big party, would be fun, I am really feeling the need to do something bigger, something more, something....for others.  After much thought and consideration, I have decided to undergo a large scale kindness project for the 35 day leading up to and including my birthday.  And I would like your help.

Presenting: The 35 Day Project

Here are the details:

  • The 35 Day Project starts on March 17th, and ends on April 20th (my 35th birthday).
  • The idea is to spread kindness to others during these 35 days.
  • I am asking each person who wants to participate to engage in at least 1 (one) act of kindness during the 35 days (March 17-April 20).  If you want to do more, great, but I am only asking for 1 act, on 1 day, sometime during this time frame.
  • Those who are on Facebook can ask to be added to a group I set up for the project here.
  • Those who use Twitter, when taking about the project, make sure you use the hashtag #35DayProject
  • If you do participate, and would like me to feature your act/acts of kindness on the blog, contact me.  I would like to share your stories!
  • If you want to participate but want more details, either join the Facebook group or email me using the links above.  I am happy to bounce around ideas!

Throughout the 35 Day Project, I will also be doing acts of kindness, both for people I know and people I do not know, and I will be talking about them in future posts.  I really hope this inspires you all to join in.

One of my friends suggested I make up cards that can be handed out by participants, explaining this project. I am working on this, and will be happy to provide any of my readers with the completed resource.  Just contact me.

My biggest wish for my 35th birthday is to put kindness out into the world.  Will you help my wish come true?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

It Made My Day: After All These Years

Hubby has made a pastime out of teasing me.  He knows exactly what to do to get me riled up, knows exactly what buttons to push.  It always ends up being something we laugh about, he is never malicious in his teasing.  But sometimes, he teases me about things that can be a little, well, personal.  Like he will tell me how much he likes my butt in a pair of jeans.  Or he will tell me how sexy I look wearing one of his old t-shirts.  And, like a young school girl, I inevitably blush.

Yesterday, he, in great detail, told me how much he liked the way a particular pair of pants looked on me.  It got me so flustered, I turned red, and tried to exit the room.  As I was almost out the door, he grabbed my hand and pulled me back, putting his arms around me and saying "I love the fact that after all these years, I can still make you so flustered."

He paused a moment, and then said "And I love the fact that we have been together so long that I can properly use the phrase 'after all these years'."

This was taken within the first two months we were dating, we look so young!

It was like a line from a movie, and it totally made me melt.

But beyond that, it made my day.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

In The Big City: East End Book Exchange

Anyone who knows me at least a tiny bit knows I love books, and I never met a bookstore I did not like.  Which is exactly why I was super excited to learn a few weeks ago that I had won a $25 dollar gift certificate to the East End Book Exchange, courtesy of IHeartPgh.  Not only was I going to get some more books (like I really need more), I was also going to get a chance to visit a new used book store and support small local business.  That is a win all the way around!


First thing first, let me tell you how excited I was that the book exchange had Sunday hours, a rarity with used bookstores.  I knew Hubby would want to visit with me, and weekends are our only option.  We were finishing up the paint in the living room the weekend of our visit, so Saturday was out.  It was exciting that we got to have a Sunday morning afternoon date in the city (we visited a few other places while we were there and even got to have brunch!).

If I could sum up the vibe of the East End Book Exchange in one word, it would be "swoon".  I loved everything about the store, and could easily see myself spending an entire afternoon there.  It has a very cozy vibe, with several little reading areas set up.  It would be a perfect place to tuck yourself away on a cold day 
with a great book.  


There was even an area for kids, and I think it would be so cool to host a story hour there!

The book selection had a lot of variety, and the prices were very reasonable.  I took the opportunity to get books I would have never selected for myself normally.  It never hurts to expand one's literary repertoire.  There is a section of rare books, and I found that incredibly fascinating.  I could have spent hours poring through just that section alone!

The store is brightly decorated with artwork, which is a cheerful addition.  They are also going to be continuously adding more cool vintage furniture from a local dealer.  Probably one of my favorite aspects of the decor were these gorgeous book sculptures displayed in the front windows, made by a local artist.  I was seriously drooling, I wanted one so badly!

Awesome little finds like the East End Book Exchange really make me miss living in Pittsburgh, and make me all the more determined to spend more time in the city.  After all, it is not that far really.  One thing is certain, however; the East End Book Exchange is now on my list of "must visit" places in Pittsburgh.  As in I "must visit" it each time I am in the city.  And you should too.

Check out the rest of my pictures of the East End Book Exchange here.

Disclaimer: I am not in any way affiliated with the East End Book Exchange, nor was I asked to write this post.  I simply wanted to share a great Pittsburgh find with my readers!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Home Improvements: Living Room After

After two months of hard work, hours of time spent on the floor and new paint, weeks of eating our dinner at the kitchen sink because all of our living room furniture was crammed into our dining room, we finally finished our living room last weekend.  We finished touching up the paint, moved the furniture back in, and we are finally enjoying the fruits of our labor.

I present to you our completely redone living room.



What do you think?  I adore it.  There are lots of little details, including the vintage crates we found in the basement that we are now using as mini bookcases.  We even have a cozy little reading nook.


There are a ton more pictures in a flickr set you can view here.

The first night after the room was finished, as we were sitting down to dinner, Hubby glanced into the living room and whispered "Our house is awesome."  In that moment, the past two months totally became worth it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Home Improvements: Living Room Before and During

When Hubby and I bought our house 3 1/2 years ago, it was pretty much move in ready, which is exactly what we needed.  We were in a time crunch, due to my apartment's lease running out.  So, we closed on the house the end of July, and moved in the very next weekend.  And then our wedding was in October.  As a result, we did not have time to do much with the house.  No painting, no major changes in decor, nothing.  Therefore, we had to make the best of it, which we did.  The living room was a soft yellow color, with cream carpeting.  We bought some neutral furniture, and made the best of it.


Living room- before

Two rounds of puppy housebreaking and crate training later, our carpet was completely ruined.  Which is why, last summer, we decided to pull the carpet up and take our chances with the hardwood underneath.  So the living room, stairs, and upstairs hall were de-carpeted.  What we found was, well, disappointing.  The wood was structurally sound, but cosmetically trashed.  Scorch marks, large paint smears, and even concrete/plaster covered various sections of the floor.  It became clear that we were going to have to do something.  New carpet would just get ruined, and refinishing the hardwood would be a little too costly.  So, I decided to investigate different do-it-yourself strategies.

The floor in the living room when we started

I stumbled upon a web article that talked about using brown paper bags to cover a floor.  You glue pieces of bags down, and cover with several coats of varnish. While the brown paper looked nice, I was struck by a moment of inspiration.  As a book reviewer, I get a ton of Advanced Reader Copies of books.  These are uncorrected proofs that cannot be resold or donated.  And it seems like such a waste to just throw them away.  So, I thought, why not use them to cover my floor and decorate my home?  I got busy making a board on pinterest, but waited a while to pitch the idea to Hubby.  When I finally did, he was a bit skeptical, understandably so.  What I was proposing was unlike anything we had ever seen before.  So we waited, and waited, and waited.  I even bought stuff to do a test patch, but we never did it.

Finally, on New Year's Day of this year, we bit the bullet and did a test patch.  And we loved it!  So, I immediately got to work.  

The first step was to take the books were were using, remove them from their bindings, and tear the pages into pieces.  We opted to go with old books, because the typefaces used in them would give the floor the vintage feel we were looking for.  Then I could use all those Advanced Reader Copies in decorations.  Once we had all the pages torn up, we used a 1:1 mixture of glue (just regular old white school glue) and water to make a thin paste.  We brushed a layer of paste on a small section of floor, then began overlaying pieces of book page on the floor, covering with another later of paste.

Upstairs hall in progress

 We slowly did this until the entire floor was covered.  We allowed this to dry for a day.  Then we covered with a layer of a polyurethane that had varnish mixed in.  This gave the paper a slight tint.  We allowed this to dry for a day, then did a second coat.  Another day of drying was followed by a third coat.  The result was amazing; it looked almost antiqued.

Third coat of varnish

We did the upstairs hall first, then every other step on the staircase, then the remaining steps, and finally the living room floor.
Nearly covered

Each different section presented it's own set of difficulties, and at one point the cat ended up in the duct work.  But finally after about 5 weeks, the floor was completely finished.

Since we had to move all the furniture out of the living room to work on the floor, I suggested we go ahead and paint as well.  We selected paint colors, and purchased all the accouterments.  Another 3 weeks were devoted to painting the walls, ceiling, and trim.

Paint color chips against the floor

So, how did it all turn out?  Stay tuned!

To see more pictures of the floor in progress, view my entire flickr set here