I have many Egrets

My laptop faces a wall, but my office has a window that looks out over farmland, a marsh and a pond. With spring in full swing, I often crack open the window to listen to the birds and frogs sing. When I need to stretch my legs, I walk to the window and check out the activity.

Canadian Geese and Mallard ducks are standard fare. Sometimes, I see a muskrat taking a swim. Occasionally, Merganser ducks put on a diving performance.

But my favorite are the egrets. Once, five egrets waded in the shallows; most days two stop by. With their high-stepping black legs and neck that extends out of the standard “S” shape as they walk, I find them delightfully slow and awkward. When they spy a snack, they go statue still for a moment. In the blink of an eye, they snatch the tadpole or fish or insect and jerk their long neck straight. Even at a distance, I can see them swallow and pause before starting the process anew.

I may have some regrets in life, but time I waste watching egrets is not one.

Please 2017, or Hope Springs Eternal

After a year which wore out its welcome sometime in August, I’m really hoping for a better 2017.

Sure, a few great things happened in 2016 – I took two terrific vacations with the family (Jamaica and San Diego, CA), my near two-year battle with dizziness came to an end, and the Cubs won a World Series but on the whole, hope seemed hard to find.

I grieved for the loss of human beings who inspired me – David Bowie and his art of reinvention, Umberto Eco whose pinball scene in Foucault’s Pendulum is sexy perfection, and for Carrie Fisher, who lived life with such fearlessness, wit, intelligence and honesty that for this child of the 70s at least, she was a role model of both what not to do (the drugs) and how to live. When Mohammad Ali died, I grieved once more for my grandfather who died from Parkinson’s disease 35 years ago. And I grieved for my grandmother-in-law who passed away in the spring.

I grieved for the loss of civility, and for my hometown, the City of Chicago, which seems incapable of stemming the tide of violence.

In 2016, I suffered many professional shortcomings. I expected to end the year with an agent, or at least a contract. I put forth a solid effort, but simply put, I failed. It’s not a good feeling, even though I understand that larger industry consolidations make it harder for a well-reviewed mid-lister like myself to break through that magical ceiling that divides the best-sellers from the rest of us. It’s easy to get down and think about quitting, but then something magic happens.

January first, 2017 is a new day. My calendar is not entirely blank, but it may as well be a clean slate. Today, I will do some serious exfoliation and scrub off 2016. As of this writing, no-one has died in 2017, so there is no need to grieve. No-one has teased my children or been unkind to them. No-one has told me no. Look out 2017, here I come.

 

 

First Friday: Five great games!

I’m a huge fan of games, note I did not write board games, or card games or video games. I love them all. In this season of giving, whether to a loved one or to a toy drive, here are five games I highly recommend because not only are they fun, but they can also be adapted to accommodate a range of ages. I’m not part of any affiliate program. The links are there for your convenience.

  1. Labyrinth – The original German title translates as “the crazy maze.” Why? Because with each turn, the game board changes. As you race to collect treasures, you can work with or work against the other players to reshape the routes to the various treasures. It says 8 or up, but we started playing it when my son was 5 and he not only kept up with the adults, he usually beats us. This is a great game for spatial reasoning. Available at Toys R Us and other retailers.
  2. Perpetual Commotion – This is basically the card game I grew up calling “Nertz.” It’s a high-speed game with elements of solitaire that can easily be adjusted for younger players by dealing them fewer cards. You could also play in teams where one person is responsible for watching the feeder pile and one person flips the deck. It’s available at Amazon and other retailers.
  3. Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It! In this cooperative game, the highlight  is spinning a Goldbug, when sets off a timed search for objects hidden throughout the game board. Cards indicate if you will be looking for kites or hot dogs or something else in the overstuffed and often comical drawings of Richard Scarry. Unlike Hi-Ho-Cherry-O or Candyland, I have no urge to stick a fork in my eye to avoid playing this game. Available at Amazon and other retailers. 
  4. Apples to Apples – This game comes in myriad versions. I’m partial to the kids version, especially when playing with family because it contains cards such as “My mom” and “under the bed.” While the former should always be paired with “beautiful” or “nice,” the latter is best played on the person with the messiest room. Available at Creative Kidstuff and other retailers. 
  5. My last game I recommend this year skews older and is the newest one in my household, but also one became a quick favorite. Evolution: The Beginning. Even though the instruction book almost as overwhelming as those for King of Tokyo and Settlers of Catan (two other games our family loves), the card-based game play is straight-forward and fun. The artwork is beautiful and the structure of the game allows for multiple strategies to victory.  The action is low-key and it takes less than a half an hour making it a great way to wind down before bedtime. I believe it is a Target exclusive, but may be available through resellers.

So there you have it – some awesome ways to spend the time with friends and family throughout the winter. With these games, your only awkward discussions will involve what to play next.

If you have a favorite game, please share it below. Thanks.

First Friday: The #TealPumpkin edition

If you’ve followed me on social media or on this blog, you may have noticed I’m a passionate supporter of the Teal Pumpkin Project to ensure even those with food allergies can have a safe and happy Halloween.

My daughter has severe peanut allergies and as much as we love Halloween around my house, it is a high-risk period because, let’s be honest, how many of us can resist a Reece’s? My daughter, yes, but some kids snack on a few and then dig their hands into a bowl filled with all kinds of treats and spread that peanut-butter around and let’s not talk about school lunch the next day. Instead, I’m offering 5 ways to get your house ready for a safe, fun and happy Halloween.

  1. Don’t let the kids grab the candy in a free-for-all when the bell rings. Have the designated door opener give each trick-or-treater a generous handful instead.
  2. Keep a bowl of peanut-free treats. We give out a lot of Skittles, Starbursts and Laffy-taffy. If a trick-or-treater gets a Snicker’s bar at my house, it is only because my children have returned home and we are redistributing the stuff they can’t eat. Wondering what candy is safe to give out? My Target had a terrific display and handy list of ingredients.
  3. Remember that peanut allergies are not the only allergies. Some kids are sensitive to gluten, eggs, dairy, or others. Accommodating all food allergies can be a challenge which leads to
  4. Offer a non-food alternative. I’ve given out Halloween themed rubber ducks, Play-dough (although it’s not safe for kids with wheat allergies), pencils, bubbles, stickers, spiders and noise makers. You can buy large quantities at Oriental Trading  but since I get less than 100 kids at the door, I head to Dollar Tree. With 12 pencils or a 4 pack of eyeball bubbles for a dollar, I can offer something fun and safe without breaking the bank.
  5. Last – but not least – make sure trick-or-treaters know you are part of the Teal Pumpkin project. Paint a pumpkin teal, hang a sign at the door, post a yard sign, or do the house up in teal. And don’t be surprised if you get a few extra thank yous. The Teal Pumpkin is such a small thing to do, but your compassion makes a huge difference to those of us on the front lines of food allergies.

 

 

Renewing a hobby: Instagram

I am a latecomer to the Instagram party. I thought about setting up an account dozens of times, but the thought, “I have to learn another social media network,” held me back.

This past month, I took the plunge. I want to learn more about it, because my kids will be on there. Also, I want to get back into photography and this seems like a good place to share work. Instagram has motivated me to make better use of my phone as a legitimate camera, capable of creating artistic shots, and not simply quick snaps because I cannot reach my digital SLR before the moment passes. I have a lot to learn, but I love this shot of a grasshopper.

A guest in my reading nook. #insectsofinstagram

A post shared by Lola Karns (@lolakarns) on

I have yet to post the obligatory #authorsofinstagram post of my work space.

In the meantime, there will be cat photos. And nature shots, and food, and whatever else tickles my fancy. Follow me, @lolakarns, on Instagram

First Friday 5 Back to School

My kids (finally) go back to school on Tuesday. They are ready and so am I, especially since those days my husband works away from his home office, I’ll be alone and unsupervised. I’ll be free from the pressure of being a role-model. Here are five things I’m looking forward to doing, although not necessarily all on the same day:

  1. Ice cream for lunch.
  2. A two-hour power nap.
  3. Cake for lunch, possibly with ice cream on the side.
  4. Finish the manuscript I started in April.
  5. Binge watch something. Should I rewatch Firefly, Fargo, or Orphan Black? Should I try something new like Stranger Things or Mr. Robot? What do you suggest?
    With any luck, I’ll get through a couple of programs before the next school break.

First Friday 5: #Summer Fun Unplugged

summer is coming

For many of us, summer means vacation and extra family time since the kids are out of school. In my house, this means hanging out with friends and being outside until past sunset. But sometimes, the weather doesn’t cooperate. For those times we are stuck indoors, we break out the games.  Here are five fun and portable games that are great to play inside or outside, at home, at the cabin or in a hotel.  And yes, these will work for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere too.

  1. Perpetual Commotion. This reminds me of the card game Nertz, which I grew up with, but could never quite explain to my husband and his family. It’s organized chaos. Although the box says ages 12 and up, my 8 yr old loves it. There are even instructions on how to make the game more equitable for younger players. It all makes sense once you’ve seen it in action, so here’s the official video.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88XOzNEfxZI
  2.  Spot It!  We have a lot of Blue Orange games in my house, but none travel more than Spot It.  This matching game has multiple ways to play and many thematic variations (NHL, Frozen, Camping & more). You don’t need much space to play it and the container is pretty small, so we often take it with us when traveling. If you see me on the floor in the airport, stop by, say hi, and I’ll deal you in.
  3. Feed The Kitty by Gamewright – This is a variation of the classic dice game LCR (Left Center Right), but way cuter because you try to get all the mice instead of poker chips. When we travel, we take the dice and mice and leave the bowl at home, but the rest of the time, we use the bowl. Part of our fun comes from making stories about the mice and what they are up to, as well as smack talk.  This is another quick paced game and great for filling in those little gaps of time while you are say, waiting for one person to get ready so you can head out to the park.
  4. Scrabble. Scrabble comes in many forms. We have at least three non-electronic versions, including a travel one that folds up to be the size of a hardback book only much lighter. For my kids, it helps keep them engaged with words and spelling. I get to think about words too, and my husband gets to correct all of our spelling mistakes. In spite of that, we still have fun.
  5. Moose in the House by Gamewright. Because Moose in the House is a card game, it’s portable but you need some space to play. The winner is the one with fewest moose in residence at the end of the game. We love to make bad moose puns and offer up false flattery as to why the moose picked one person’s bathtub over the other. We always end up in giggles, which makes this simple game a winner.
    I’ll save board games for another time, because some of the best don’t fit easily into a suitcase. Since I’m always looking for suggestions, what are your favorite travel games?

First Friday 5 Cheap ways to help the Environment

To celebrate Earth Day that falls later this month, I’m sharing Five Cheap Ways to Help the Environment. No fooling in this post.  I love when being green helps me save some green.

  1. Make your own foamy soap. I used to pay $3-5 dollars per bottle for luxurious foaming soap in the bathrooms. Now I spend less than $3 per year for three sinks. soapHow? I ran across this recipe a few years ago. Now I buy scented dish detergent at Dollar Tree, mix 3 Tablespoons of it with 2/3 cups warm water and voila. I refilled the same container for two years, although, I confess I recently splurged for more stylish bottle that has the fill lines marked right on it. I save money and reduce packaging.
  2. Forget buying special potassium rich fertilizer for your roses. Feed them banana peels instead. You can chop them up and scatter them up top or bury the peels. I heard this from an avid gardener, but here’s some online info.
  3. Compost. Depending how much space and waste material you have, you can go big or keep it small. Either way, composting reduces the waste stream and helps your other plants grow strong and healthy. Your local Cooperative Extension Service is a terrific resource for practical information whether you live in an urban apartment or on rural acreage.
  4. Use a reusable shopping tote. Some stores, like Target, take five cents off your purchase for each bag you bring. Those pennies add up almost as fast as those plastic bags full of plastic bags used to.
  5. Take care of those jeans you bought secondhand. I wear jeans almost every day so the news that some washes are not so environmentally friendly was a tough blow. I also used to wear out at least one pair a year. Unfortunately, the brand that fits me best costs over $120/pair when new. The brand that fits second best is about $80/pair new. If I shop at consignment shops in the nicer parts of town, I can get those brands for about $20, sometimes with the original tags. When Tommy Hilfiger said he never washed his jeans, I was intrigued. For the past 18 months, I’ve pretty much stopped washing my jeans, unless they get too dirty to spot clean. I air them out after wearing and pop them in the freezer for a day or two once a month. I have significantly cut back on my overall laundry – saving time, electricity, water and detergent. Even better, the fibers stay strong. I haven’t had a single rip appear since I started doing this, which means I haven’t had to buy a $20 replacement.

Do you do any of these thing to be green and save green? How do they work for you? As for me, I saved so much money with this post, I think I’ll treat myself to a new book.

First Friday Five: Cheap ways to say “I love you”

February brings with it a pretty high pressure holiday, and I don’t mean Groundhog’s Day. As a kid, Valentine’s day is pretty easy and when you are in the first stages of love, you are so goo-goo eyed over everything your beloved does, Valentine’s Day is the stuff of dreams. But for the rest of us? It can be an anxiety-filled and potentially expensive moment of panic. Whether you are in a relationship or not, chances are there is someone in your life who you love. Here I offer five cheap ways to share the love.

  1. A foot massage, or a back massage. It feels great. If you are in a romantic relationship, do this without any expectation of where it will lead.
  2. Do your beloved’s least favorite chore, whether it’s scooping the litter box, shoveling snow or cooking dinner.
  3. Throw out that awful shirt your beloved hates.  Better yet, gift it to them so they can throw it out.
  4. Take care of that little project your beloved nags you about. This year, I hope my kids clean the playroom. I intend to sort and deliver things in the towering stack of items to donate. IMG_0376
  5. Put down the electronics, look someone you love in the eye, open your mouth and say those three little words, “I love you.” Cheap and powerful.

With so much anger, hostility and frustration in the world, letting someone know you care is a powerful act of courage. Be brave and thank you for reading.

Caring for a special #cat

Earlier this month, I was chatting with Angela Smith, last week’s spotlight guest. Part of our conversation revolved around a mutual problem, a sick kitty. Both of us have cats that have been diagnosed with IBS, or inflammatory bowel syndrome. Worse, this is a conversation I’ve had with several other cat owners since my kitty, Juno, first started having issues ten months ago.

I’m not a vet and I am not offering feline medical advice. If you have a kitty suffering from diarrhea, weight loss, and a change of appetite, you should work with your vet to find a solution that works for your beloved pet. If you are going through this, I hope it takes you less than nine months to find a regime that works for your kitty.

Daily:
a 5mg daily dose of Prednisone (vet prescribed)
Juno and her GI kibble

Juno and her GI kibble

Dry food – Royal Canin GI High Energy Veterinary diet. We saw some improvement with a limited ingredient diet and with novel proteins like lamb, but this has been the best for us. Plus, as you can see, she likes the food.

1/2 can of wet food daily – I split the rest between the other two cats. They all love the “Pride by Instinct” varieties. I feed the same variety every day for at least a week. Too much switching upsets my kitty-girl’s tummy.
1 teaspoon “Firm Up” pumpkin supplement. I mix this with some water and the soft cat food. An employee at my local Chuck and Don’s pet store mentioned using this for his cat with IBS and my vet approved. My store stocks Firm Up with supplements for dogs, but the bag also specifies cats. It comes in two varieties (that I know of), a plain pumpkin and a pumpkin cranberry blend. Juno happily eats either mixed with soft cat food.
firmup
Special:
If the family is headed out of town, we increase the prescriptions because stress aggravates our cat’s symptoms.
It took a lot of trial and error to get to this regime, and I’m sure some of you will have different suggestions on what has worked for you. The most important pieces of advice I can offer are to be patient and to work with your vet to find your ideal regime. My kitty-girl is as feisty and cuddly now as she was in her kitten days seven years ago.