Thursday, September 18, 2014

3 Ways to Create Authentic Communications

I was listening to a speaker at a blogger event I was doing at the Utah Food Bank tonight and he said something that reasonated with me.  He said "Everything Communicates" and then he went on to explain exactly what that meant.  His name is Spencer Taggart and he is a social media professor at LDS Business College.  You can find him on Twitter at @SpencerTaggart.

What Spencer meant by "Everything Communicates" is that while we spend so much time thinking about our words and the way we think we are presenting ourselves to people, there are dozens of other things about you that are either confirming that impression or denying it.  

Everything from the kind of car you drive, the way you are dressed, your energy level, your body language, the people you choose to surround yourself, just EVERYTHING speaks to what kind of person you are, what your values are, and what your deepest self is all about, regardless of what message you think you are trying to put across.  

So, does that mean you go out and buy a Rolex and a Cadillac, and a diamond pinkie ring so people will like you?  Absolutely not.  We are talking about authentic communication here and people are incredibly adept at spotting a phony.  

But if you want to be seen as a professional person, dress like a professional and speak like a professional.  Surround yourself with like-minded friends and advisors. Show good customer service to your clients.  If you want your family to show respect and listen to you, you have to lay a little groundwork by showing them respect and listening to them as well.  Otherwise you lose your credibility and they aren't likely to pay attention to you.  

He gave an example of a business man who decided to entertain a potential client at a restaurant he worked with.  They visited and the restaurant was dirty and disorganized.  The client's enthusiasm started to fade as he looked around the messy restaurant and he started to wonder what kind of a business man he was dealing with that would bring him to this place.  At that point, the man could have made the best presentation on earth, but the surroundings would have drowned out his message.   

This is kind of a good news/bad news message.  The bad news is that factors you may not be aware of might be sabotaging the good impression you are trying to make.  The good news is that a few simple changes might boost a so-so impression into a great one.  

For instance, look at the front steps of your house.  What does it say about your family?  Are there weeds?  Toys strewn all over?  Hose not rolled up or porch not swept in weeks?  In 5 seconds, that tells a visitor a lot about what they are going to find on the inside of the house and it is probably 100% accurate.   

At this point, I would post a photo of my front porch, but it's too depressing.  Weeds - check, hose - check, welcome mat all crooked, dead plant sitting in a pot right in front of the door.  These items are communicating the world that here is a busy family who doesn't take the time to take good care of their house, which to be honest, is right on the money.  But now that I'm aware of that, I can turn that impression right around by taking 15 or 20 minutes tomorrow night and doing a quick tidy up.  Straighten the doormat, pull a few weeds, sweep off the porch, and dump out the dead plant.  Now when I welcome a guest into my home, they won't be expecting to see something out of the Munsters!  

So, how do you create authentic communication in your life?  I think it's not that hard.  It's mostly a matter of awareness.  

Step 1:  Put some thought into it.  Whether you are having a conversation with someone, completing a project for work, or putting something out on Facebook, just take a second and think about the impression you want to create.  I call this setting your intention.  What is your goal in this interaction?  Maybe it's just to entertain, or show someone you care about them.  That's fine - you are just taking a quick moment to clarify your thought rather than just throwing any old thing out there.  

Step 2:  Now that you've set your intention - get your ducks in a row.  Take a second to proofread the project and make sure your numbers all add up.  Brainstorm any questions the boss might ask about the project and be sure you have answers.  Think about the Facebook post - is it really funny or might it injure or offend someone?  Today one of my friends posted a Halloween costume that showed a headless horseman.  Typical Halloween fare, but with all the terrorism activities going on right now, some people took it the wrong way and she received a negative backlash for something she had not given a second thought over.  She handled the situation extremely well and created a positive impression out of a negative one, but I'm sure it caused a lot of unnecessary distress for her because she didn't think through this step.  

Step 3:  Can you take it to the next level?  In other words, is there anything additional you can do to help enhance your effort?  If your conversation with your friend is meant to show them you care about them during a rough time - ask if you can follow-up with them in a week to make sure they are OK.  Give them a hug or offer to do something thoughtful for them.  Can you add a chart to your presentation to clarify your point?  Think about what the A+ student does rather than the B- student - they go the extra mile.    

I was lucky this week.  I had a couple of conversations that I felt were really authentic.  It was one of those rare moments where I was able to express my feelings in exactly the manner I wanted to and where I felt the other person understood exactly what I wanted to convey to them.  

Does that mean blue skies and everything is hunky dory?  Not necessarily, but it means I was HEARD and I let people really know my heart.  That is definitely a great first step.  Having those authentic conversations gave me a terrific feeling and it just doesn't happen often enough.  I'm going to work harder at speaking more from the heart and less from my head and see if I can continue making these types of conversations an on-going trend.  

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Three GENIUS Products for Cats

OK, in my last post about cats, I promised you a couple of products for your own feline friends.  As I mentioned, I have owned a whole passel of kitties, so I have tried just about every product out there and these are the ones that have worked out well for me.

If you will click on the link, it will take you right to the Amazon page where you can find out more about these products and buy them if you wish.  Disclaimer:  Yes, I will get a tiny kickback from Amazon, but sponsoring these products was entirely my own idea and these are my honest opinions about them.  

First, I give you the FATTY CATTY FEEDER:

OK, it's not really called the "Fatty Catty feeder", but that's what we call it.  It's really called the SmartCat Tiger Diner Portion Control Feeder by Pioneer, but that's a mouthful and I think think the Fatty Catty Feeder is so much more poetic!  

And if you have an overweight cat who loves to eat, this is the bowl for you.  I wish they made it it color so you could see it better.  But all you have to do is pour the dry food (any kind) in the center compartment and put the lid on firmly.  Then, when they want to eat, they have to scoop the kibbles out a few at a time through the bottom holes with their paw.  It stops them from gobbling up their food so quickly (and barfing it up again - ew! - we've had that happen too many times) and after a while, they get full or get bored and wander away from the buffet line.

I will warn you that this is not for cats who are too smart, or too dumb.  Our Russian Blue - Shamus O'Sullivan - too dang smart!  Even if it took him an hour, he would keep at it until he knocked the lid off it, which is pretty firmly seated.  Then he would thoroughly enjoy his victory dinner - the little stinker.  This is the same cat who would get up on the counter, nudge open the door with a sneaky paw, grab the foil packet of cat treats out of the cupboard and then carry them off to enjoy at his leisure under the couch!  I finally had to resort to putting them in Tupperware!  Like I said - sneaky...  But he was also fairly skinny, so we let him get away with it.  If he had been one of our fatty cattys, I would have brought out the duct tape.  Take THAT, smarty cat!

On the other hand, you have the too-dumb ones, like our little cow-colored Moo Moo (pictured above).  She is definitely a chunky monkey, but she could not get the hang of eating out of this feeder.  She didn't seem to understand how to fish out the food with her paw and would just look at it and cry piteously.  She probably would have figured it out eventually, but we finally took pity on her and just went back to a regular food pan with just small daily portions.  But for our not-too-smart and not-too-dumb cats, it works brilliantly and they did lose weight from it.  

Second, I give you the ROLLING CAT BOX

Over the years, I have "scooped the poop" probably thousands of times, but now I literally don't have to any more.  This thing is brilliant!  All you do is fill it with litter and let nature take it's course.  Then you take and roll it all the way over on it's top and tap on the bottom.  Then you roll it back and voila!  All the nastiness is in that nice, neat little drawer on the side.  You just dump it in a little bag and DONE!  So much easier and nicer to clean.  The only downside is that I did see a lot of reviews about the clips that hold the two parts together, so I am very gentle with it.  About every month or two, we carefully disassemble it and give it a good rinse out with the hose because sometimes the little screen in it gets clogged.  But I highly recommend it.  

My second favorite litter box - a plain old Rubbermaid storage bin.  It has nice tall sides, so they don't fling the stuff all over the place.  And if you're squeamish, you can just cut a cat-sized hole in the top and it hides away the yucky stuff, but my kitties were a bit too tall for a lid idea.  

Sadly, over the years, we have had numerous problems with catbox habits.  I wish I could figure it out because some cats go their whole lives without ever having an "accident" while others just seem to forget the habit altogether.  It doesn't matter if you clean the box every five minutes, once they get out of the habit, it is near-impossible to get them back on track again.  

If there's one thing that I absolutely can't stand, it is a cat that does not use a litterbox.  We recently had to remove every scrap of carpet from our basement, and then they started peeing on the brand new tile.  I wish I could say that this was a miracle product that saved the day and brought them back on the path of righteousness, but I think it did help quite a bit to reduce the frequency of unpleasant incidents.  If anyone does have a sure-fire way to solve the litterbox issue, please SHARE in the comments. 

I do recommend this so much more highly than the store brands and especially the kitten version.  I plan to start using it as a starter litter for each new cat we get, just to cement their litter box training from the start.  The kitten version has a very soft feel so they like the feel of it on their paws.  It doesn't have offensive smells, and in fact, has some herb or chemical that does seem to encourage their use.  It is a bit expensive, so I would probably only use the kitten litter for those critical first months.  After that, they have an herbal powder you add to regular litter and that seems to help also.  

I hope these little tips will help you and the kitties that live in your house to live longer, happier and more harmonious lives.  Cats can be such wonderful pets - we need to do what we can to keep the little buggers happy!  

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Think College is a Rip-Off!

There!  I said it.  I think college is a huge rip-off.  I know it's supposed to be the American Dream, but I was skeptical of it when I was a kid and if anything, I've gotten more skeptical as I've gotten older.  College tuition has skyrocketed FAR more than anyone can explain satisfactorily.  The latest stat I've seen is that it has increased by 1,122% over the last 30 years, while medical costs have increased by only half of that and housing has increased by just one quarter.  If cable TV had increased that much, nearly all Americans would be spending a lot more time playing cards and listening to the radio!  

Next to your house, probably the biggest expense you will have in your life is paying for a college education for your kids.  Therefore, it would only make sense to give it a LOT of thought.  However, for most people, the only thought they give to college is HOW they are going to pay for it, not IF they should be paying for it.

Admittedly, this is an unorthodox and probably controversial view, but I really question if today's college programs are worth these ridiculous prices.  Why do I say that?  Well, for one thing, I think most colleges are not only drastically overpriced, they offer a lot of irrelevant material that isn't useful in the real world - things like French literature, Philosophy, and Western Civilization.  They are interesting and might have some small usefulness, but I would estimate that probably 1/4 of the classes a college kid is required to take teach skills and concepts that kid won't use again the minute he steps out the classroom door.  

I also think they do a terrible job of helping kids pick their major and stay focused in the right direction. I have known so many kids who waste a lot of time changing majors, dropping out, or going into a totally unrelated field because they start out not knowing what the heck they want.  Admittedly, kids change as they get older, but they could do a lot more aptitude testing and educating kids about realistic expectations in various job fields.  I think it would be smart to require short-term internships and job shadowing in 3 to 5 different fields before a student is allowed to select a major.  

Another problem is that parents have tremendous social pressure to put their kids though college whether they can afford it or not.  It's the ultimate "keeping up with the Jonses" situation.  All the kid's friends around the neighborhood are touring colleges and visiting financial aid offices - it's embarassing to admit that you just don't have the cash to take that path.  

So parents end up mortgaging their homes, using their retirement savings, or going into huge amounts of debt to pay for it.  Or the kid takes on a huge burden of student loan debt without any clue of what a serious handicap that is going to be once they get out of school and trying to start their adult life.  And the problem with that is that it is centering around an 18 year old kid who really doesn't have a clue in the world what direction he or she wants to go in.

This is a situation where I have some personal experience. My own in-laws went through all sorts of sacrifices for nearly a decade to help my sister-in-law get her Master's degree - I think in Communications.  Then she for whatever reason, she has chosen to work a string of basic low-paying jobs in retail instead of leveraging her degree to earn what she should be making with that level of education. I don't really know the whole story, but it certainly seems like a lot of time and money down the rabbit hole.  

Same thing with our oldest son, Ryan. He went through one of those pricey computer trade school programs, loved it, got great marks in it, but then he got frustrated with the lack of placement services at the end.  So he decided to go off and get a job as an exterminator with his best friend. He has a much better job now, but it isn't particularly computer-related and after nearly 10 years, a lot of his education, particularly in the fast-paced computer world, is throughly outdated.

And on the other hand, I see people all around me who have done quite well in the world without having that all-important college degree.  I don't have one and I've had a great career and never really suffered for the lack of it. Same thing for my mother, sister, my nieces & nephews, and both of my older sons.  Yet they all have great jobs, pretty nice houses, and they aren't rich, but they're getting by OK.  And they have none of those huge debts for a college education.  Could they earn more if they had a diploma?  Possibly, but hard work and solid job experience are nothing to sneeze at.  And don't forget how many kids do graduate with a degree - even an advanced degree, and still end up working at Starbucks or Target.  

I have some friends who have kids in college who are in their early 20's.  They never made them work a job because they were so worried about keeping their grades up for college.  So, these kids have never actually worked at a full-time job ever in their lives.  I keep wondering what is going to happen if they get out of college with that shiny new diploma and discover that they have no work ethic or ability to put up with a bullshit that is frequently a big part of life in the big city.  My son may not have a college degree in his back pocket, but at the age of 25, he already has 10 years of solid job experience and a few good lessons from the school of hard knocks.  

I'm at a tough point, because my youngest is now a High School Junior.  So this question is about to get a lot more "real" for me over the next two years.  And I honestly don't know what I'm going to do.  His grades in High School are just so-so and he has not got a lot of motivation or interest in going to college.  I keep trying to convince him that the scholarships and grants mostly go to the kids with the A and B averages, but just like his brother, he doesn't want to hear it.  

I don't think we could afford a big-ticket college, but we have enough set aside for a few semesters of Community College if he decides he wants to go in that direction, but after that, he's going to have to get very serious, very fast about getting some scholarships, getting into a fast-track trade school program like his brothers, or doing a half work/half school program and plan on living in our basement for the next four or five years.  Oh joy...

I think college probably IS the golden key. It definitely does open a lot of doors. But some of those same doors are still going to open for a silver key (trade school), a brass key (community college or night school, hopefully on the on-your-own-dime plan), or even the aluminum key (just skip college and work your butt off for your success).

Another thing to think about before you tie yourself up in a boatload of student loans.  You know, there are college loans and all sorts of other loans, but there is no such thing as a retirement loan. We all want to give everything we can to our kids, but you have to put that retirement first, or you and your brilliantly educated kids could end up with a broke Mom and Dad living in their basement.  Now, THAT'S a scary thought!  

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Photo credit:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Boost Your Pinterest Account with Viral Tag

Pinterest is such a big tool for maintaining a blog - it's the one platform you really can't afford to ignore, or even to not use to it's full potential.  Kind of like the 800 lb gorilla of the blogging world.  Like most bloggers, I get at least half my traffic from Pinterest.  

There are several tools available for this purpose, but the BEST one I've found is Viral Tag.  It used to be called something else, I think Pinerly.  But it's the best tool I've seen so far for boosting Pinterest traffic and beefing up your boards.  

It's basically a bulk upload tool specifically for Pinterest.  You can either use it to bulk upload pins to multiple boards on a schedule with very flexible options.  You can space them every 10 minutes or every hour, schedule them for tomorrow or next week.  

I use this option with every post I create.  I typically will post it to 6 or 7 Group Boards that I belong to specifically for bloggers.  I pick a very high-traffic time frame like a Saturday morning and space them about 60 to 90 minutes apart, so everyone in my data stream has half a dozen different chances to spot and pin those posts.  

Or sometimes if I join a new Group Board, I will use it to share some of my existing pins with the new board.  I have an art Group Board called Zentangles are the New Black - it's gorgeous freehand artwork, typically done in black pen on white backgrounds.  There have been a few times when people in my group invite me to share their Group Boards as well, so I will usually reward them by sharing several dozen of my favorite pins.  

Another way I use it is to increase my boards exponentially.  I have added about 5,000 new pins to my boards over the last six or so months I've been using Viral Tag.  I've created 6 or 7 new boards and I've boosted the contents of just about every other board to make them more robust and useful to people.  And I've gained about 3,000 new followers lately with more coming on every day.  

For instance, I've created this board "Scouts are Awesome" - it has hundreds of pins for camping, Eagle ceremonies, merit badges, all sorts of Scout resources.  And whenever I find someone else's Scout board that I like, I can go in and in one step, I can harvest the pins from their board - just a handful or hundreds of them in one step.  And again, I can schedule and time them out any way I choose.  What a powerful tool.

Here's a little snippet of my board on Scouting.  We were researching hobo dinners for a campout, so I have a bunch of them right on the top.   

Here is the link to my Boy Scouts are Awesome board on Pinterest.

It's funny - I used to laugh when people said they used Pinterest to do research, but now I do it all the time.  I know a lot of ladies use it for all their recipes and DIY ideas, but honestly, I'm not the least bit interested in stuff like that.  Sometimes I just use it for relaxation and I just pin pretty pictures of celebrities, or jewelry, or just funny cat pictures.  I even have a board of my favorite SciFi pins called Talk Nerdy to Me.  But usually, I'm using it to build resources that I can share with my users.  For instance:

I have a board of Blogging tools on my Bliggity Blog Stuff for Bloggity Bloggers Board 

I have tips for various issues related to Fundraising on my Putting the FUN in Fundraising Board

For parenting resources and tips for children of all ages, I have an extensive board called Mommy (and Daddy) Bloggers

If it's Thrifty Tips you want - then you'll like my Show Me the Money board

Or if you're looking to be more organized, I have several organizing boards - Adrian's Organized Life is my favorite.  

Here is a video that shows exactly how I use this marvelous tool.

Now, you're probably wondering about the price.  I'm not exactly sure because it has changed recently.  You used to be able to share an account between five people for $29/month.  That's what I am able to do, so it costs me less than $6 a month, but I am hearing that we have been grandfathered in as a Beta test and they aren't letting new people sign up for shared access.  

So you'd be smart to find someone with one of these shared accounts and see if they have an empty spot on their account.  It might be worth $29/month if you have a business or a wildly popular blog, but for small potatoes bloggers like me, that's pretty steep.  I'm sure it will change pretty soon, but for the time being, that $6 a month is a heck of a deal for such a powerful tool.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

How to Choose the RIGHT Cat for You

I consider myself something of an expert on cat ownership. Over the years, I've had probably 35 or 40 different cats and due to the amazing variety of personalities that cats can have, I've learned a lot and maybe it will help you if you are looking for a kitty to love.  

I got my first cat for my sixth birthday.  My Mom arranged for a neighbor boy to bring the cat over and he arrived at our doorstep with a tiny striped tabby kitten in his pocket.  It was love at first sight and we were inseparable.  I was an only child (well, much older and married sister) so often my cats were my only friends.  

Yes, that is adorable six-year old me with my cat Aladdin
and her two kittens Aladdin Junior and Bob
 - hey, I was six!

After that, we always had cats of every possible variety, sex, size, and age - usually 3 or 4 of them at a time.  Sadly, my Mom would let them go outside, so many of them met sad ends.  Now that I'm an adult, I'm a lot more careful with them, and keep them safely inside.  

So the first important question - cat or kitten?  Unless you have a burning desire to do a good deed by rescuing an adult cat from the shelter - they have a ton of them, but they often have "litter box issues".  I would get a kitten.  Unlike puppies, they are a piece of cake to train, and when you raise them yourself, you can socialize them correctly from the start.  I start my kittens in a bathroom or small storage area with just a litterbox and their food and water. 

There are 3 reasons why I do this:

1.  To cement their litterbox habits.  This usually isn't a problem as long as they are left with the mother for at least 6 weeks.  She will train them for you, and usually (fingers crossed!) they will remember it for life.  

2.  To keep them safe.  Little kittens haven't much sense, and they can chew on electrical cords, strangle themselves on window blinds, or have stuff fall on them.  Or they can just get lost in the house somewhere and if they are very shy, you will have a hard time finding them.  

3.  To protect them from adult cats.  Adult cats are usually pretty tolerant of kittens once they get used to the idea, but at first, they usually will freak out and scare the kitten.  I prefer to supervise all interactions for the first few weeks.  

I let them out whenever I am home and spend lots of time snuggling and socializing my kittens and gradually introducing them to the adult cats.  I will NEVER have another puppy so long as I live, they are just SO much work, but a kitten is usually just a joy to have around.  

Male or female?  I have strong feelings on this.  Male and female cats to me are totally different creatures and as in all things, I prefer males.  I have 3 sons, a husband, a male dog, a male cat (plus a female kitty we inherited from a neighbor) and I prefer to work with men at work.  In my opinion, they are just lots easier, plus I think they are friendlier.  I've had a good mix of male and female cats and I think the male cats (mine are always neutered - so they aren't true males) are more loving, more easy-going, less prone to health problems, and just more mellow in general.  Most of our females have been extremely smart, somewhat skittery, but pretty independent.  Mostly the "you-may-pet-me,-you-peasant" variety.  Whereas the boys are sort of laid back and more outgoing.  Notice that I said MOST - I have had some females who were clingy in the extreme and insisted on being petted constantly, and I've had some males who were super smart, but always friendly.  So, it depends on what you want - lots of love and attention - male.  More independent and can be admired from afar - female.  

Purebred vs. regular cats?  I can't really answer that one.  Most of ours have been rescues of one type or another - either neighborhood rescues or kittens we've bought from the shelter.  I'm always amazed at the money people are willing to shell out on purebred dogs, but most of the time, you can't GIVE a cat away.  I think that is just universal injustice.  If you mix dogs wrong, you can get some very ugly and messed up dogs.  Not so with cats - you can mix them up every which way and still get the cutest cats ever.  So, I would go purebred only if you are looking for something very specific - I would love a ragdoll or a pixie-bob - they are supposed to have very unique personalities, and I've heard that Maine Coons are great cats, but I've had very good luck with just regular cats.  

Now, here is my opinion on some different varieties of cats I have had.  Note, this is only my opinion - your mileage may vary, but I've had several of each type, so I think I've got some good stereotypes going here.  

Himalayans/Birmans - I have had several of these over the years as did my Mom and they were always our favorites. They are extremely smart - will do tricks, understand simple commands quite well, and are very conversational. I've never had one with a litterbox problem, and they have been the most affectionate cats for me.  I have a Birman currently and he stays by my side constantly - he even comes under the covers and naps with me.  I feel like I can just tell he really loves me, as much as a cat is capable.  

If you're wondering what a Birman is - they are characterized by four white mittens (or gloves) on their feet, but can come in a variety of generally Siamese color variations.  My Yeti is a beautiful Birman that I got from a pet shop - the one cat I actually bought because I couldn't resist him.  He has ice blue eyes, and tons of soft, fluffy cream-colored fur that gets EVERYWHERE.  I tell him he's too pretty to be a boy, but he is definitely the alpha male of all time, even when he was too tiny to back it up.  He has picked fights with every cat that has crossed a toe into this house, and he's quite nosy with the human visitors too.  He always has to come and see what they are doing here.  

This is Yeti, getting into trouble on the desk

Grey cats - I've had more grey cats than anything.  Everything from your basic grey tabby to Smoke Persians, and Russian Blues (I think I've had two of those).  They tend to be sociable and smart, very loving, totally easy-going, fairly quiet cats.  Mine tend to be quiet anyway because I talk to them a lot.  If a cat feels "heard" and like you are playing attention to their needs and wants, they typically won't just randomly meow a lot.  After my Himalayans, grey cats are my absolute favorites.  

Shamus O'Sullivan (Guess when we got HIM?) being
adorable and helping me pack for a trip.  

Calico cats - I've had four or five calicos (calicoes?) - both tortiseshell (black background), and traditional white background.  And every one of them has been pretty much the same.  Very smart, very independent, very female (calicoes are genetically female with a rare sterile male).  They clearly consider you staff rather than family, but they are gorgeous cats.  

This is Lucy-fur!  Sweet kitty, but dumb as a rock and crazy to boot!
Black cats - I've had a number of black cats and I like them, but they are always a bit mysterious and I think a little more stand-offish and skittery than grey ones.  Nike was my second-favorite cat and he was a Tuxedo cat - black with a white vee on his face and chest and white paws (high tops in the back, low tops in the front - therefore Nike Sneakers Frankenweenie was his name - the boys had a part in it too!).  Like Yeti, he was almost scary smart - I'll bet he had a 50 word vocabulary of words he clearly understood, and had a very feisty personality where other animals were concerned.  He would chase German Shepherds without any hesitation.  We had him for 17 years and he clearly ruled the roost!  

Nike Sneakers - Tuxedo cat

Siamese/Burmese - I've just had a couple of these.  They are gorgeous cats, but they are known to be extremely vocal and I think a bit prissy.  Not the type of cat you can just roll around on the floor and wrestle with.  And yes, we do wrestle with our cats - gently.  

Orange/White cats - I've only had one orange tabby and he was a nightmare.  The only cat we could never get to use a litterbox, and we lived in an apartment, so he didn't get to stay long.  I would leave him in a bathroom with nothing but a litterbox and would find a small lake in the morning.  I know some people love them, but they are fairly rare, as are true redheads, and I tend to steer clear of them.  

So, there's my cat menu - take your pick and take your chances.  My best advice is to pick the smartest cat you can find.  Smart cats make great companion animals and can easily be taught to do simple tricks like fetch items or sit up and beg for treats.  And they typically don't have the dreaded litter box issues, which is a problem I've never been able to resolve.  

I do have some great tips for cat "stuff", so I will do a follow-up post with some great cat items that I highly recommend for your furry friends.  So stay tuned for more cat posts.  

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

3 Surprisingly Simple Tips for Healthy Eating

These are some simple strategies to get your family to eat a bit more healthy without having to listen to them whine about it, or resort to sneaking veggies into their favorite foods. Also, if you are trying to lose weight, this is a great way to nudge your own diet in the right direction without feeling deprived. 

All it takes is a little understanding of human behavior and a few simple adjustments. Here is the first strategy and a few ideas to make use of it. 

1.  People life to do things that are easy and they don't like to do thing that are hard. (Shocking, isn't it?)

how to eat healthy

Use this to your advantage by having the healthier foods cut up and available for grab & go snacking. The not-so-healthy foods need to live in more inconvenient places like high shelves or the deep, dark cabinet corners. If you have to get on your hands and knees to dig back into a cupboard for the cookies, you’re much less likely to eat them.  

Same thing with sodas. Keep a large pitcher of ice water on the table, but put the sodas on a shelf in the garage or in the basement. Consider offering a small incentive for drinking water or milk with meals – a few extra minutes at bedtime is a nice reward and easy for Mom to follow through with.  

When serving meals, leave the pasta & other starches on the stove, but make sure large bowls of salad & veggies remain on the table. Lazy creatures that we are, most people will not walk the 3 feet to the stove to get their second helpings if there’s an option within arms length. Same thing for chips, cookies, etc. Serve yourself a SMALL portion, then close up the bag and put it back in the cupboard. If you leave it on the table, your hand is liable to sneak over there, when you’re not looking.

2.  If you want to train a dog, you've got to be smarter than the dog.  Works with kids too.  

Remember Popeye and his spinach? During the 50’s when that cartoon was new, spinach was one of the most popular vegetables. However, I think that particular fad had worn off now. So why not start your own fad? Use your imagination. Broccoli can become “dinosaur trees”, peas can become “power peas” and impart imaginary super powers, and ants on a log are always more fun to eat than plain celery with peanut butter and raisins. How ‘bout Rain Forest smoothies? Come up with fun names and new stories for the items you want your kids to eat.
how to eat healthy

Change your comfort foods. We have certain comfort foods we prefer because that’s what our Mom’s served us when we were sick or feeling sad. Grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken soup, milkshakes, meatloaf – these all fall into that category. So why not start some new traditions for our own kids? A turkey pita sandwich with vegetable soup is probably just as tasty when you’re sick as the cream-laden tomato soup with a buttery grilled cheese, as long as it’s served with a heaping helping of TLC and a warm hug. 

When your kid does well at their piano recital, take them out for frozen yogurt rather than an ice cream sundae. The praise and the concept of a “special treat” is what is important, not the fat content of the food consumed.

how to eat healthy
If all else fails, you have one undeniable option – your checkbook. Chances are, you or your spouse buy nearly 100% of the food your family eats. Set firm policies for what does and does not come into your house. 

My husband can buy ice cream, bacon, and big bags of shredded cheese. He’s over 21 and he can do what he likes, but we have agreed that he won't do it out of our regular grocery budget. If he wants those things, he needs to pay for them with cash out of his pocket. They still show up sometimes, but we don’t have them nearly as often as we used to.
This brings us to strategy number three, which is the best and the easiest.

3.  Your stomach is just plain dumb about serving sizes and so is your brain.  Mine is too...

Study after study has proven that people have no clue whatsoever when it comes to portion sizes. Even scientists who do this type of research for a living have been fooled with a clever enough setup. 

You can use this to your advantage in two different ways – use large portion sizes to fill up on healthy foods and use small portion sizes to eat less of your not-so-healthy foods.

This is a great excuse to get a complete set of new dishes. Make the dinner plates smaller, the salad bowls larger, and the dessert bowls tiny, but exquisitely beautiful so dessert will feel like more of a treat. Soda glasses –
small, water glasses – large – you get the picture. Buy some extra measuring cups too. Make serving sizes “official” and serve foods with the same measuring cup every time, even if you think you know how much a serving should be (you don’t).

how to eat healthyAnother tip is to simplify your meals. If you have more foods to choose from, you’ll eat more by default. They did a study with M&M’s – people with 10 colors of M&M’s ate a whopping 40% more than people with 7 colors. Yeah, we’re goofy creatures that way.

Here’s a big tip that will save you money too. Don’t buy the big Costco sizes. I know America has this love affair with Costco and those fabulous warehouse-sized containers of stuff, but studies show if you have a whopping HUGE container of something, your brain just makes you want to use it up faster. So, you don’t save any money in the long run, and you are getting fatter in the bargain. If you insist on buying the big sizes for the sake of economy, do yourself a favor and split it into two containers with the bulk of it out of sight. Trust me, it works.

Disclosure: Many of these tips came from a fascinating book I read recently called Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More than We Think by Brian Wansink. I recommend you read it to learn even more about this helpful and interesting topic.

Image courtesy of Lobster20 /

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