Pardon the interruption but check out these blogs

biohazard

image courtesy of pixabay.com

In addition to this blog, I have a number of other jobs. I’m a manager, novelist, and a designer. I’m a daughter, sister, and a wife as well as friend, aunt and dog owner, but I’m also a mom which means that at any given time I’m a volunteer janitor, baker/short-order cook, event planner, mediator, cheerleader, chauffeur, counselor, and occasional nurse/doctor.

Unfortunately, that last role has decided to disrupt my regular schedule by taking priority over all others.

I’m writing this update in between medical rounds, reassuring my patient that he’ll feel better soon, and disinfecting everything that he has remotely come in contact with (up to and including our dog). In the meantime, I would invite you to take the time you normally might have spent here by reading some other posts I’ve recently enjoyed:

Over at I came for the soup, there is an inspirational piece for the spiritually inclined entitled “The Art of Being Happy: The Expression of Faith in Creativity” which examines the happy creativity of children.

The Pain Pals Blog shared a list of things they don’t tell you about in the what to expect when you are expecting books in a post entitled “Things I’ve Learnt Since Being a Mum” in honor of Mother’s Day on the other side of the pond. Many of these things I had to learn the hard way too.

Susie Lindau’s Wild Ride invited readers to face the possibility of fear and abject humiliation in a piece entitled “10 Reasons Why a Challenge is Worth the Whiplash.” You don’t have to be a skier or a snowboarder either to appreciate the message.

Nicholas C. Rossis provided an infograph of “7 of the Most Successful Rejects,” proving that there may be still hope for us all, courtesy of guest writer Roxanne Bracknell.

Tara Sparling amused me with another installment of what literary characters might be in real life with her mash-up of “Why A Crime Novel Cop Should Never Live With A Chick-Lit Heroine.” This entire series cracks me up so you might want to read more than one or two.

Or feel free to go over to Journey To Ambeth and nominate another blog of your choice for the annual bloggers bash blogging awards, the official ceremony will be here soon.

 

 

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The great grain-free reboot: a thirty-one-day challenge

“You have to stay in shape. My grandmother, she started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven today and we don’t know where she is.” – Ellen DeGeneres

The great grain-free reboot. A 31 day challenge - www.alliepottswrites.com #healthylivingI recently experienced the joy that is the annual check-up at the doctor’s office. After sitting for some unknown period of time under a piece of paper thinner than the stuff I blow my nose with, my doctor entered the room and took a look at my chart. “Have you been exercising?”

I don’t know why she felt the need to ask as we both knew the answer to that question. I’d seen what number appeared on the scale minutes prior and though I have let my hair grow long since my last appointment and was wearing boots at the time, I’m pretty sure those two things combined didn’t weigh enough to fully account for the difference. But I could be wrong. My hair is quite thick after all.

“Yeah, well I kinda sorta stopped going to the gym.” My gym had upped their monthly fee from only an arm and a leg to the whole thing. Being fired by my personal trainer hadn’t helped either (some people are simply un-trainable). “But I regularly take the dog for walks and I do have to run after two boys.”

My doctor raised an eyebrow. Admittedly, I could have found another gym that charged less for a monthly membership, but I’d rationalized, not only would I save money, I had more time for writing this way. (The sacrifices I make for my art)! Besides, walking the solid mass of muscle and squirrel-lurcher-extraordinaire that is my dog, Her Royal Highness, often results in a full body workout.

My doctor put her pen down and made full eye contact. Never a good sign. “You know, after thirty, your metabolism slows down drastically.”

I grimaced. I’d passed that particular milestone … er … it doesn’t matter how long ago – just accept it happened. Okay?

fruit crustini - www.alliepottswrites.com

How I got to where I am – Exhibit A

My doctor didn’t have to say anything more. I knew what she meant. After a winter of excess, it was time to do some damage control. I was going to have to be mindful of what I ate again. In other words – may God have mercy on all my friends, family, and co-workers.

While I agree that lifestyle changes are more effective in the long-term, I decided to kickstart my rebooted effort with a thirty-day (or in this case thirty-one-day) challenge. I announced to the hubby that for the month of March, I would go grain-free, thereby forcing myself to eat more veggies, while still allowing me the occasional bit of sugar (and let’s be honest – a glass or two of wine).

To his credit, my hubby decided to take on a dietary challenge too, choosing to go the ketogenic route or keto for short.

I wasn’t familiar with the ketogenic diet at the time, but now, after a week into our individual challenges, I can say that I believe the butter and egg lobby groups got together to cook this one up and maybe the avocado group too as evidenced by the empty egg cartons that keep appearing on my countertop as if by magic and the wall-o-butter packages that now fill my fridge’s dairy compartment. From my perspective, it seems to be a lot of work (so many labels to read), but we are finding there is enough overlap between the two to keep each other honest.

So far, the kids haven’t noticed we’re doing anything different. They have homemade pizza. We have homemade pizza (albeit with a tapioca and cheese based crust which proved to be pretty yummy and crisper than the cauliflower kind I’d tried before). They have tacos. We have tacos. Okay, ours were more of a taco salad as the “super easy” zucchini tortillas I attempted to prepare for the adults proved to be more dip than a shell (that may have had something to do with the lack of eggs when it came time to make them – see above).

And is it working? One week in and I’m down two and a half pounds, while the hubby has dropped somewhere closer to six. I’d say he is an overachiever, but he can lose that much just from skipping a soda now and then. (Guys, seriously, that is so unfair).

But just as importantly I have yet to take my grain deprived frustrations out on an unsuspecting co-worker or loved one (at least, not that I’m aware of). So that’s a plus.

Will that continue to be the case, or will the news coming out of the city of oaks include a crazed woman demanding spaghetti? Will I soon be able to pass as Cookie Monster’s understudy? Or will the next several chapters of my current WIP include excessive references to cake? Only time will tell. I’m posting this to help me stay accountable. But one thing is for sure – a month from now, with any luck, I hope you’ll be seeing less of me.

Final food for thought (aka related reading)

2 things kids pick up in seconds which many grown-ups haven’t learned in years

2 things kids pick up in seconds which many grown-ups haven't learned in years - www.alliepottswrites.com #Dr Seuss #children #quote

background image courtesy of pixabay

I’d been booked for a reading, but not just any reading. No, this would not be some open mic style event at the nearby coffee shop, nor would I be reading to empty chairs at the local bookstore. I would be reading to a packed room, made up by the most discerning of audiences. An audience, I should add who isn’t afraid to tell you as well as their friends and family exactly how you failed to live up to their expectations in excruciating detail.

I would be reading to my son’s kindergarten class.

It was Dr. Seuss week at his elementary school and guest readers were invited to come in and share their love of reading with the next generation.

I arrived early armed with not one, but two books (affiliate links are included in this post): The Sneetches and Other Stories, by Dr. Seuss himself, as well as Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DiPucchio. I was only expected to read one story but felt the need to ensure I had a backup plan if the room turned on my selection.

I waited in the hall, eager to start, but hesitant to spoil the surprise (we hadn’t told our son I would visit the class that day) or interrupt the lesson at hand. The school principal saw me in the hallway and smiled.

Then I was waved in and invited to sit in front of a group of smiling faces.

I made my choice. It was Dr. Seuss week after all. I held up The Sneetches for all the children to see.

“I have that.”

“I’ve heard it before.”

“My dad reads that to me too.”

Had I made the wrong choice? I wondered. Too late now!

I opened the book to the story of The Zax, which is a tale of two creatures called Zax – one north going, one south going – who meet one day in the prairie of Prax and neither Zax will budge from the direction of his tracks.

And so they stay stuck there, unbudging, for years while the rest of the world grows and leaves them behind.

The kids laughed at how silly both Zax had been, but they also pointed out the dangerous situation the Zax found themselves in. An overpass had been built around those stubborn Zax and fast-moving cars now surrounded them. They couldn’t have gotten to where either of them was going at this point, even if they tried. It was an aspect of the story I hadn’t previously considered.

Afterward, I asked the children what the Zax should have done. Hands shot up.

“They should have gone around each other.”

“One Zax should duck and roll forward so the other could jump over its top.”

“One Zax could split in two so the other could go through the middle.”

Admittedly that last suggestion is a little more problematic than the other two, but I’d like to point out that at no time did a child suggest one Zax push the other out of the way, knock one to the ground to be stomped over, or otherwise use brute force to get where they were going. Instead, all they came up with were creative compromises.

I wound up reading the second book, Dragon was Terrible, too. It was a story the majority of kids hadn’t heard before.

A dragon, who is terrible, of course, performs a series of, you guessed it, terrible acts around a kingdom (like taking candy away from a baby unicorn). The King announces he’s had enough of the dragon’s shenanigans and issues a challenge to his knights to do something about the beast. They aren’t instructed to kill it but tame it. Their attempts to beat the dragon into submission only serve to make it more terrible. Then one day a small boy arrives and he does something no one else in the kingdom has ever thought of – he gives the dragon a chance to be a hero.

Once again, I asked the kids at the end what the story had been about. Hands shot up. Although the story was new, they immediately understood its subtle theme about the power of inclusion.

Either this next generation is super smart or I’m starting to think more grown-ups should celebrate Dr. Seuss week too.

We forget too many of these lessons.

 

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesignEarlier this year I featured a mock-up movie poster based on a conversation I’d had with my youngest son. The image produced more comments than anything else I’d published that day. It was a good reminder as to the importance good visuals play in getting a message across.

In full disclosure, I created that image using the Adobe Creative Suite of products, which are powerful, professional grade tools, however, I wanted to find out if I could create similar images with easier to use (and less expensive) applications. Because – why not?

My selection criteria

  • Must be able to use masks and layers – This eliminated Microsoft Paint (to be fair, Paint was never really in consideration)
  • Must be able to edit photos (meaning change colors, erase bits, etc. not just add filters) – This eliminated Canva
  • Must be able to upload as well as download edited images without a subscription – This eliminated PicMonkey

For those of you unfamiliar with the terms above, layers allow you to move and edit isolated elements of a design while masking aids with an element’s transparency and shape.

The experiment

I found Sumopaint and clicked on it’s “Try Online” option. (Note – Sumopaint does require Flash so may not be available on all devices)

SumoPaint Screen ShotI expected another window to open, but instead, a screen similar in appearance to Microsoft Paint appeared at the bottom of my browser window.

For the purpose of this trial, I planned to add and edit multiple image layers, adjust transparency (opacity), add text, and alter an image’s size and shape (free transform tool).

Now, I had to upload the first image to edit.

I found a nice background photo from www.pixabay.com showing a number of posters hanging in a row. I then used the File>Import To Layer Command to import my mock movie poster for Poisonous Zombie Tsnumani Sharks. SumoPaint automatically created a new layer.

My poster was originally larger than the background. I resized it using CTRL+T which is the shortcut for the Free Transform Tool.

I recommend you resize your image immediately upon import as SumoPaint has a tendency to crop out anything exceeding your window otherwise.

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesign

I wanted my poster to go where the map was in the original image, but I also wanted it to look like it was behind the frame.

I moved the layer with the Poisonous Zombie Tsunami sharks to the back so as not to mess it up as I worked on the map.

I selected the layer with sidewalk frames and used the eraser tool. Unfortunately, rather than creating a transparent area as I expected, this resulted in a white area.

Ultimately, I was able to find a workaround by selecting everything in the background image except the white area where the map had been and copying and pasting it as a third layer.

A little decrease in brightness here, a little blur there, and a little more adjustment using the Free Transform>Distort tool and voila.

The results

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesign

Having passed my initial test, I decided to try out some of SumoPaint’s additional features such as its filters, color, and text adjustments as well as layer effects resulting in some other mock-ups.

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesign

The planet was created with gradients and 3D filters

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesign

The scales were made using a rock texture which I then recolored

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesign

The font for the title is Impact which I then stretched for well… um… greater impact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, now I want to write the books to go along with all these covers, but that is a problem for another day.

Final Review

Things I like:

  • Can’t beat the price
  • The learning curve is relatively short (compared to Adobe Creative suite)
  • The User Interface was relatively straightforward and easy to navigate
  • The built-in filters can be customized for a unique look
  • Colors and gradient maps can be added and adjusted with a click of a button
  • Text can be stretched, warped, or otherwise transformed, giving it an edge over most other online editing tools

Things I didn’t like:

  • Text can’t be edited once you have released a text box
  • I couldn’t find a way to make the background transparent once an image was loaded short of adding a new layer and deleting the old
  • Layers would only allow for a handful of text boxes before the program became buggy.
  • When transforming an object, the object automatically reverts to 100% opacity until the transform is completed which is problematic if you are trying to distort an object so it matches the shape of something behind it
  • There are no rulers or align tools so object placement requires some guesswork (Canva has a clear advantage here)

While Adobe still remains the gold standard in my mind, it is good to know I have another option when I need to perform quick and easy edits on the fly, and now I hope, so do you.

 

 

Lessons learned over one hot stove and several cooking classes

lessons learned over one hot stove - www.alliepottswrites.com #valentines #datenight #cookingclassFood.

Food is a magical thing.

Though everyone who sits at a table will have a unique experience, we still refer to a meal as being shared. You can disagree about a particular taste and the other people at the table with an opposing view will actually support your preference so that nothing goes to waste. Love pickles? Here, have my share. Hate chocolate? Please, by all means, pass that my way.

Food brings us together in a way that nothing else can.

My husband and I decided several years ago that we would rather exchange memories than things and so unless there is a specific pressing need, our gifts to each other are typically printed out confirmations of bookings or tickets to an upcoming event. This year was no exception. I’d booked us a couple’s night out at a local cooking class.

Now, not all cooking classes are created the same and so it is always important to read a class description as well as reviews before signing up.

Words to look for:

Home Chef – unless you are trying to learn to be a professional in the kitchen, classes that cater (pun intended) to the home chef typically feature more commonly found ingredients and utilize the types of equipment and/or appliances found in the average kitchen. Meaning there is a remote chance you might be able to recreate a recipe at home on your own. The downside though is you will learn a recipe you can recreate at home – meaning don’t expect a once in a lifetime experience.

Hands-on – If you are looking for dinner and a show, a class that is not advertised as “hands-on,” is the one for you. A hands-off class is like being part of the live studio audience on a cooking show. You get to sit at a bar drinking wine while the chef talks you through what he or she is doing and then you eat the results. At a hands-on class, you should expect to work for your meal. Hmm, now that I’ve put it like that, I am beginning to question my preference.

Class size – The best classes are smaller classes with a high teacher to student ratio – ideally you don’t want to share your instruction with more than nine other students.

Instructor – It should go almost without saying that you want to be lead in your cooking class by someone who actually has formal training in the subject matter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to teach. This is one of those times you may want to pay attention to a person’s resume.

Location, Location, Location

This wasn’t our first cooking class together. We’d gone to one offered by chefs at one of the high-end restaurants in town. We’d learned about wine pairings, how to properly trim (and store) a steak. Though the class hadn’t been quite as hands-on as we would have liked, we still left with more food than we could eat.

We also left with significantly less money in our wallets. That class hadn’t been cheap, nor had the schedule been flexible as this class sells out months in advance with no refunds offered.

The second class we took together was easier on the budget (as well as the calendar) but was located within a cooking supply store rather than a restaurant. As a result, in addition to our meal, we also had to listen to product pitches for the latest and greatest kitchen do-dads. Still, the food we made all by ourselves (four words – black truffle mashed potatoes) was worth the occasional commercial interruption.

This year I tried to find a happy median between the two. I found a small, hands-on class offered by a chef whose primary business model was the cooking school. The advertised meal (Chicken Saltimbocca) looked delicious, the price was right and the schedule, convenient. But the class itself was not entirely what I expected.

Instead of each couple preparing our own meal from end to end, we each were given a specific course along with a recipe card while the chef instructor hovered between stations. If I ruined the chicken, I’d ruin it for everyone. Right – no pressure at all! I decided it was in the best interest of the group to pass that duty over to my hubby while I peeled potatoes instead.

I will admit that I was disappointed not to be at the dessert station as baking is where my talents lie, but that would have meant spending the evening apart from my other half, who is never so happy as when he is cooking, hence the reason for the night out in the first place.

Then it was time to eat.

The eight of us took our plates to an adjacent room and sat down and this is where the real magic happened. I might not have learned how to make a raspberry almond torte, but instead, I learned of one couple’s adult twin daughters now making their parents so proud. I learned of a documentary on wine tasting, I need to check out, and of one woman’s semester abroad.

Food has a way feeding conversation as well as people.

But I also learned that my hubby still makes me proud (and continues to make me laugh) as he entertained the group with our stories both at the table and over the stove preparing a meal we enjoyed together. And that’s a lesson always worth learning more than once.