Amanda Cade

Worth It! (Things to try, read, watch, hear, and discuss)

Last Sunday, I wrote about how the universe had conspired to force me to stop stressing over hosting the perfect parties, by throwing some truly insane monkey wrenches into several events. I did take that lesson to heart, and started to relax more. What I still needed to get through my thick skull, though, was that letting people help you is a glorious thing. Because I am so often a reluctant student, this lesson was also driven home in a rather dramatic fashion.

Sharing the Workload (I was making progress)

For my first Friendsgiving, I actually started off with the right idea. Three of us split cooking duties, with everyone planning to bring their contributions to my apartment at the appropriate time. I even chose to make the side dishes, letting the others handle the critical main course and desserts. My friends Tom and Cathy, who lived next door, were on turkey duty.

Of course, because I was still me, I had planned multiple, elaborate side dishes that were going to take hours to prepare. Still, I was making progress with this whole “stop being an obsessive control freak” thing.

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However, I had yet to fully master the arts of chilling out, focusing on the fun, allowing myself to rely on others, etc., so it was time for an object lesson.

The Best Laid Plans…

So I’m in the kitchen, following my carefully prepared cooking schedule (it was on a spreadsheet), and I was feeling pretty on top of things, when I made a minor miscalculation with a very sharp instrument.

Actually, it was a fairly major miscalculation. Not to the level of cutting off a finger or anything, but I managed to slice an impressive gash in my left hand. There was a lot of blood (thankfully, none of it got on the food) and, according to Tom, I “screamed loud enough to wake the dead”.

Tom and Cathy were at my door within seconds, and immediately took charge of the situation. I don’t remember the next few minutes very clearly, but Cathy swears I said, “Do you think we can just wrap it up for now? Maybe I could just finish the casserole?”

I have no doubt that she’s telling the truth, because that sounds like perfect Amanda logic.

The answer was no, of course, and Tom took me straight to the emergency room. He assured me that I had not ruined Friendsgiving, that everything was going to be fine, and that I just needed to relax and get my injury treated. So, wonder of wonders, that’s exactly what I did.

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And in case you were wondering, no, it would NOT have been a good idea to wrap it up and try to finish the casserole.

With a Little LOT of Help From my Friends

When we got back to my place, I discovered that Cathy had called in reinforcements, and that my friends had cleaned up the kitchen, finished all the cooking (including everything I had intended to make), and had just been waiting for Tom and me to get back so we could have a slightly late dinner. I had never done less work for a party, and with my useless left hand, I wasn’t much help for the rest of the evening.

And I’ve rarely had so much fun. Being physically incapable of running around and obsessing gave me the chance to focus on the moment and enjoy spending time with my amazing friends, and that is what a party should be all about.

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Lesson learned. After that night, I officially said goodbye to the quest for perfection, and fully internalized the fact that people are always willing to help out (with or without emergencies).

I'm Ok

Anyone else have a tale of an inconvenient injury? Let’s compare notes in the comments!

For the first week of January, I was on top of the world. I was all caught up at work, I’d finished my blog an Instagram content calendar, the house was organized, and I was writing every day, with half a dozen future blog posts in various states of drafting. I was all over it.

Then the rest of the month hit like a freight train.

Challenges

Half of my family got sick at some point in the last three weeks, including me. Twice. I missed two days of work, and was ragged and unfocused for days, both times.

working

This did not create a great situation at work. With lower energy comes lower productivity, and so I was soon completely buried, and it just kept coming. As soon as I felt like I was getting close, something else came up, or went wrong, or ended up being way more time consuming than I had expected. Even with working at home on the weekends, I spent most of the month just trying not to get further behind. Adding to that (and forgive me for going negative for a minute), I also got hit with some extra work that was tedious, confusing, incredibly time-consuming, and definitely not in my job description. In fact, this migraine-inducing project is part of someone else’s job, but she convinced the higher-ups to let her hand it off because…

…you know, I think I’m just going to cut off that rant. The point is that work was incredibly busy and very stressful.

nogasI’m sad to say that I barely did any writing this month. I’ve been so mentally exhausted most of the time that I’ve been consistently choosing reading over writing when I’ve had some time to spare (or just had to shut down for a while). I have a lot of trouble writing when I’m sick, stressed, or tired, and that’s where I’ve been for most of the month. I’ve been sitting on several nominations and tags that I really want to finish, but I just haven’t had the energy. To those of you that tagged and nominated me, I really appreciate it, and I promise that I haven’t forgotten. It’s just taking a while.

Celebrations

I hope you didn’t think this post was going to be all doom and gloom, because that’s just not how I roll. Despite the craziness, there were definitely upsides…and I’m all about the upsides.

First of all (drumroll, please), as of last night I am officially caught up with the backlog at work. Starting today, I’ll be able to throttle back and restore some equilibrium.igotthis

Second, I feel fine. Actually, I feel good. I think I’ve finally kicked the lingering traces of both illnesses, which is such a relief.

Third, in spite of everything I managed to keep the plates spinning just fast enough. I was able to get my Sunday posts finished on time, didn’t neglect my family, avoided the temptation to work myself to death, and read fourteen books.

Speaking of Books

This has been a good reading month.

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I’m already a little behind on my 2019 reading goal, but I know I’ll catch up. Of the fourteen books I read this month, all but one were fantasy books that I’ve been meaning to read for some time. I really enjoyed the majority, and the rest were at least ok.

High Point: Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares. Totally amazing and wonderful. I started recommending these like crazy before I was halfway through the first book. Just make sure to get both. Trust me.

Low Point: I feel like I’m inviting people to throw rotten fruit at me, because they’re immensely popular, but I just didn’t care for Caraval and LegendThey weren’t bad, and there were elements that I enjoyed, but on the whole they just didn’t work for me. I loved the setting and the concept, but in my opinion they weren’t fully realized, and the story’s eventual focus just, well, sort of bored me. I’d be more specific, but that would involve spoilers. At any rate, I was disappointed.

So this month has been crazy, but all is well. Time to bid January adieu, because…

Here comes February!

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How was your January? What’s ahead for you in February? Let’s discuss!

Back in November, I shared my tips for low-stress parties and gatherings. Lest anyone think that my life always goes smoothly (although if you read my post about wrapping Christmas presents, you already know better), I have to tell you that I only learned to relax about these things through some very strong lessons.

Here are a couple of those learning experiences.

Who turned out the lights?

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In my early twenties, I hosted a weekly dinner party. It was essentially the same group of people every week, and it was pretty low-key. Well, it was low-key to everyone but me, because this was before I finally learned to chill and understand that I don’t need to dazzle people every single time they step into my home. True confession time: I spent hours every week trying to outdo myself and continuously be impressive. I had a lot to learn, and my lessons started with…

…a power outage. Three hours before people were due to arrive, during the latest of a recent rash of thunderstorms, I was suddenly plunged into darkness. The area I was living in at the time was plagued with power outages, but they usually only lasted a few hours. Hoping that this was just a temporary setback, I lit a few candles and finished as much dinner prep as I possibly could. By then the storm had ended, but the power wasn’t back.

If you’re thinking this would have been a good time to cancel dinner, I don’t disagree…but whether you want to call it my can-do attitude or a ridiculous level of stubbornness (and whichever you choose, you’re right), I wasn’t yet ready to throw in the towel. After all, if it turned out that I couldn’t cook, we could make sandwiches and enjoy the ambiance. I just had to get out of the area of the power failure and stock up on bread, lunch meat, cheese, and pretzels.

Unfortunately, I soon discovered that there was no “getting out of the area” because this power failure was massive (in the end, it would be three days before everyone had power again). After half an hour of fruitless driving, I had finally resigned myself to calling off the evening (and wondering what the heck I was going to eat, since almost everything I had on hand required cooking), when I happened to stumble across a convenience store that had a big sign outside saying, “Come on in. We have a generator.”

I swear I’m not making that up.

I bought everything I needed for sandwich night, including a few bags of ice for my cooler, and some extra supplies in case the power stayed off for a while (and you’d better believe I was grateful for that as the hours turned into days). When I called my friends and told them the new plan, they were up for it, and we had a candlelit pseudo-picnic that turned out to be a lot of fun. Everyone’s ability to roll with that situation was the first hint that maybe I had been taking things a little too seriously. The next lesson came just a few months later…

What was that noise?

My annual Christmas party used to be the ultimate in my compulsive event planning. I invited tons of people, made custom invitations (related to each year’s theme), planned a quirky gift exchange, decorated like crazy, and had prizes for a variety of things (also related to the theme).

Oh, and I made a LOT of food. Way too much food. An epic variety of way too much food.

So about an hour before party time, my sister Amy and I were busily assembling the aforementioned way too much food, when suddenly we heard a terrible noise from the living room. We rushed in to discover that a two foot chunk of the ceiling had collapsed, and ice and water was pouring into the room.

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After a second of stunned gaping, we ran for buckets and pots and began a lunatic sort of two woman bucket brigade. When the torrent stopped a few minutes later, we put an empty bucket under the drip and stared, shell-shocked, at each other, just beginning to process what had happened. Amy recovered first, and went for towels and a mop. Before she returned, another (somewhat smaller) section fell in, and we had to repeat the process.

After that, she started cleaning, and I started crying. I hadn’t even thought yet about the possible ruination of my furniture…I was just horrified at what I saw as the ruination of my party.

Thank heaven for Amy, whose crisis management skills developed much earlier than mine. She cleaned up the water on the floor, and then called the landlord. It turned out that a massive amount of ice had accumulated on the roof of the building (it had been a pretty intense winter), and the weight was just too much. He promised it would be fixed as soon as possible (in case you’re wondering, it ended up being two days).

Amy told me, gently but firmly, to stop crying and help her rearrange the furniture before the couch was beyond saving. She then said, and I quote, “We’ll keep an eye on the buckets and crank up the heat, and no one will care because we’re feeding them.”

In other words, “Amanda, stop being ridiculous.”

As people began arriving, they were surprised, then concerned, and finally amused as Amy and I nonchalantly told the story of our “little snag”. The party was a success, and helped me have a little more perspective the next time disaster struck.

And believe me…there was definitely a next time.

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What are your favorite “disaster” stories? Let’s compare notes in the comments.

 

angels flight

Towards the end of 2018, I read a lot of thrillers and procedurals. For a few months I burned my way through recent works by Lee Child, Michael Connelly, John Sandford, and others. It’s a genre I binge on every couple of years, catching up on what I’ve missed since the last time the urge hit me. They’re fun, light reads, and as long as you’re willing to suspend some disbelief, they’re pretty entertaining.

A few weeks into the binge, though, I stated having a tiny bit of difficulty combating my disbelief. Don’t get me wrong-I’m still enjoyed the books, but my “seriously?” moments seemed to be coming a little more frequently. I mean, how many times will even the most “maverick” police detective commit illegal searches, destroy evidence, or cover up a killing? For me, these eye roll moments are more amusing than anything else, but it did pique my curiosity, so I brought up the subject with a few police officers I know. Let me tell you, that was an interesting conversation. The two officers both said that they had difficulty reading or watching procedurals, because they just couldn’t turn off the fact-checking part of their brains. They had lots of examples, and I actually learned a lot about how police investigations work. During our talk, I also noticed that the two officers had very different emotional reactions to the topic. One was ruefully amused, while the other became seriously annoyed.

Reflecting on that conversation led me to conduct some totally unscientific research to see how other people reacted to their jobs or circumstances being inaccurately portrayed in fiction. Luckily, I have a wide circle of acquaintances, so I was able to get some broad perspectives.

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Here are a few highlights:

  • Attorneys discussed rules of evidence, discovery, and trial procedure. One spoke at length about the myth of the “courtroom gotcha”.
  • Teachers lamented the portrayal of classrooms as either highly engaged learning meccas or difficult classes that magically turn around when the right teacher inspires them. “I’m not saying it doesn’t happen,” one teacher said, “but Hollywood makes it look so easy.”
  • Medical professionals cited examples ranging from speed of recovery to treatment protocols.
  • A journalist contrasted the glamour of dashing around chasing a story (Hollywood) to the mundane hours spent on research and fact checking (reality).

I discovered that once I got them going, people had a lot to say about fictional inaccuracies. They talked about dating, marriage, parenting, travel, and even pet ownership. I also found that once again, there was a range of attitudes, from “It’s hilarious” to “Whatever, it’s fiction” to “It makes me crazy”.

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Continuing my completely unscientific analysis, I found a few factors that seemed to influence people’s reactions:

  1. The aforementioned teacher was not alone-many people commented on how fiction downplays the difficulties involved in various tasks and industries.
  2. The happier people were with their job/situation/life, the more likely they were to shrug off fictional inaccuracies. Those who were struggling or frustrated tended to really get annoyed while they talked about how authors, filmmakers, etc. get it wrong.

Did I come to any earth-shattering conclusions? No. Did I have a lot of really interesting conversations? Absolutely. In the end, it was definitely something worth discussing.

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What do you think? How much does it bother you when art fails to accurately imitate life? Any particularly interesting examples? Let’s discuss!

Glass fusing final

At least once a year, during the week before Christmas, my best friend Katie and I set aside a day to spend together. One of our rules is that we have to do at least one thing that we haven’t done before. This year, it was glass fusing, which involves creating a picture with colored glass and then having it fused and shaped into a platter, bowl, etc.

Before I get into the details, there’s something I should mention. I think craft projects are awesome. They’re super fun, provide great bonding time, and are generally amazing experiences. For example, I’ve done pottery painting half a dozen times with different groups of people, and I’ve always had a blast.

The other thing about crafts is that…well, I’m bad at them. Really, really bad. My artistic ability is in the negative zone. I literally have trouble drawing a straight line with a ruler. I’ve managed to glue my fingers together and glue my hand to a table (not even at the same time). My nine year old niece does better work than I do, and I’m sure that the four year old will eclipse my skill level any day now.

My point is that I’m in it for the experience, not the final product. However, I discovered some really cool things about glass fusing, like…

Glass fusing is hard to mess up.

So you start by choosing the size of the piece you want to make (different sizes cost different amounts). Then you’re given a pane of clear glass, like so:

Glass Base

After that, all you have to do is put colored glass on it and move it around until you have it looking the way you want. It’s that easy. There were lots of examples of amazing artistic designs around, but I know my limitations, so I decided to go with something a little more abstract. For an inept artist like myself, it was perfect. There were tons of precut glass pieces available, so I started with those.

 

 

As you can see, I originally planned to use mostly big pieces, largely because I thought I would be less likely to mess it up that way. However, as I started rearranging things (and watching Katie, who’s much better at this kind of thing), it really hit me that…

Glass fusing really allows for trial and error.

One of the things that gets me with a lot of crafts is that once I make a mistake (and I make so many), there’s no going back. You can’t get the paint off the canvas, or reconnect a piece of cloth you cut after measuring in inches instead of centimeters (not that I’ve done that…more than five times). Pottery painting is especially unforgiving, because I just can’t visualize what the glaze is going to look like after the piece is fired. Oh, and because I tend to drip paint all over everything.

In this case, though, I didn’t have to commit to anything until the very end, so I had total freedom to experiment. I went fishing around in the smaller precuts and even, with some coaching from the shop’s owner and encouragement from Katie, tried out the cutting tools. I ended up taking off my safety gloves to give me a better chance of cutting straight (and before you ask, I definitely was not successful with that) and didn’t even cut myself once (you really have no idea how big a deal that is for me).

 

 

While I was rejoicing over not needing my miniature first aid kit (yes, I came prepared), I reflected that…

Glass fusing is fun.

Katie and I were having a great time talking, giggling, and experimenting with our designs. The projects didn’t take our full concentration, so we were able to socialize. Because the process wasn’t too difficult, we were excited to see our creations taking shape. Because (as previously mentioned) it was hard to mess up, we didn’t feel any pressure or frustration. Before we knew it, the time had come to glue down our major design elements, and fill in the gaps with glass dust.

Fusing with dust

Then we decided on the shape of our final products (I chose a candy dish, but there were several options), paid, and left them at the store to be actually fused and finalized. A week later, we came back to pick them up, and that’s when we realized…

Glass fusing is totally worth the price.

We each spent about $38 to make our projects. Before we went back to get them, I got curious about how much it would cost to buy a similar item outright. So I did a little research and discovered that we’d probably be looking at $25 minimum (for a basic design like the ones we made). So if we ended up with something worth having, we paid, at most, $13 each for a really fun afternoon. Given that I’ve been know to spend more than the $38 total cost to make pottery, paintings, etc. that I would never want to show anyone, it’s a total bargain.

And I think my candy dish actually turned out pretty well. Here it is again:

Glass fusing final

It’s my understanding that glass fusing is available in a lot of pottery and craft stores, and Katie and I found several local options with a quick Google search. If it’s in your area, I highly recommend it, for the artistic and fumble-fingered alike.

I’m definitely going to do this again.

Luv It

Have you tried glass fusing? Any suggestions for other activities I should try? Let me know what’s on your mind.

Bee Poppins 2

Happy nostalgia! During the holidays, I managed to see four movies in the theater. First it was all about the superheros (see my review of Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse and Aquaman), and then came two films that went straight to my childhood.

Let’s break it down.

Bumblebee

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I went into Bumblebee with a lot of trepidation. I’ve had very mixed reactions to the Transformers movies, and actually never got around to seeing the last two. However, Bumblebee has always been my favorite Transformer (I think his 1980s action figure might still be somewhere in my parents’ basement), and this looked like it might be a departure from some of the things that annoyed me about the other films. Plus, my parents wanted to see it.

At any rate, I’m glad we went, because the movie is a lot of fun. Bumblebee is delightful as he stumbles through adjusting to Earth (a problem complicated by damage to his memory cells) and forms a bond with Charlie, his new human friend. (I definitely preferred Charlie and her family to the Witwicky clan of the first three movies. Did anyone else groan when Sam’s parents came to visit in Dark of the Moon?) The action beats are appropriately paced, and very well done. The scope of the fights fits the scale of the movie, and are exciting without being overwhelming.

The movie is set in the 1980s, and this affects more than just the props and scenery. The soundtrack is filled with period favorites, there are several fun references to The Breakfast Club, and we even get over the top rich kid bullies. The film is firmly grounded in its era, and I really appreciated that.

The storyline is fairly predictable, and at times goes a little cheesy, but that’s really a minor quibble. In my opinion, Bumblebee is definitely worth it. And robot fights are cool. I just needed to say that.

Mary Poppins Returns

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Does Mary Poppins Returns measure up to Mary Poppins? That’s the question everyone seems to be asking, and I honestly think it’s the wrong question. The first movie has over fifty years of memories, cultural relevance, and resonance. It’s a cherished childhood experience and a true classic. I’m not sure it’s even possible to find the level of objectivity necessary to answer that question.

So instead, I pose this one: Is Mary Poppins Returns a worthwhile sequel to the beloved film?

I say yes. It takes us back to the setting, atmosphere, and magic of the original. It pays homage to many of the touchstones of Mary Poppins, including the critical live action/animated musical number. The grown up incarnations of Jane and Michael Banks are completely believable based on their characterizations as children. Emily Blunt had some very big shoes to fill, but she pulls it off, with a portrayal of Mary that feels very close to Julie Andrews’ interpretation of the role.

Critical reception has been mixed, with the average trending toward “meh”, but personally, I think that if you liked Mary Poppins, you should give Mary Poppins Returns a try.

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Have you seen Bumblebee or Mary Poppins Returns? Do you want to see them? Any other good movies in theaters right now? Let’s discuss!

Grandparents 2

Let me preface this by saying that I could not have been blessed with better parents. They always have been, and continue to be, loving, honest, supportive people who are my very best role models. I had a wonderful childhood, and would have to struggle to find anything to criticize about the way they raised us. I should also mention that since they’re retired now, they have a lot more free time.

Disclaimers aside, now it’s time to poke fun at them. You see, almost ten years ago my parents became grandparents, and now they say and do things that occasionally make me suspect that maybe, just maybe, these aren’t the same people I grew up with.

Here are some examples:

“I have everyone’s favorite.”

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Dessert was never a common thing in my parents’ house. It was for special occasions, and if it was your special occasion, then you got your favorite, naturally. However, there was one dessert, and that’s what you ate, and you were thankful to have it. Granted, our family is larger now, so we probably need two (or one jumbo size), but we never need four desserts.

Four. At every family dinner. Because we need to make sure everyone has something they love. I mean, that’s also good for me (hooray for chocolate), but this is certainly a change from the parents I used to know. Speaking of dessert…

“A little extra sugar won’t hurt.”

If there’s four options, and one of the girls wants all four, what’s the harm? There’s nothing wrong with one more cookie. Let’s have donuts on Christmas morning. Or just because it’s Saturday.

Keep in mind, these are the same people who restricted our weekly soft drink intake. Suspicious behavior indeed.

“Let’s go to a movie/amusement park/concert/zoo…”

Don’t get me wrong, my parents were big on spending time with us. We had dinner together every night, played games, had constant conversations, went out to eat once a week…Mom and Dad always had room for family time.

Going out for activities, however, was neither constant nor spur of the moment. These kinds of things were planned, scheduled, budgeted, and long anticipated. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times my parents planned an outing with less than 72 hours notice (and 72 hours was a pretty short timeframe).

My nieces’ grandparents, however, do this all the time. Forget schedules and planning-let’s go to the Magic House! The people who taught me the importance of scheduling (and introduced me to the joys of to do lists and calendars) are suddenly whimsical and capricious. My Spider-Sense is tingling.

“I saw this and just had to buy it for you.”

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You know what else my parents taught us to do? Save! Budget! They took care of everything we needed, and were generous to a point, but only to a point. Beyond that, if it wasn’t Christmas or your birthday, then you knew how to get the things you wanted: use your own money. For larger purchases, they would pay half if we saved the other half (which I totally support, because it really helped us learn about priorities and responsibility), but other than that we had our allowances, and then we had jobs, and that was that.

So who are these people who are randomly buying presents all the time? On a related note…

“Here, have some money.”

There have been no chores, and it is not a special occasion, but I have some cash so I’m just going to give it to you?! *What is happening?!*

“Don’t worry if you’re late.”

Once upon a time, in the not so distant past, my father would have insisted that tardiness was the eighth Deadly Sin.

These days, as long as the grandkids arrive at some point, it doesn’t matter if the rest of the family has spent twenty minutes watching dinner get cold. And don’t think my sister doesn’t take full advantage of this.

“Be sure to let the kids win.”

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You know what else my father used to be? Competitive. Super competitive. He refused to let us win at Candyland. He formed coalitions in Monopoly, and then ruthlessly turned on his former partners. He stayed up late trying to learn to beat us at video games. He could handle losing, but only after fighting to the death.

So it probably won’t surprise you to hear that his daughters grew up to be much the same. Now, however, we all have to lose. All the time. No exceptions.

“Go ahead and eat that in the car. It’s ok if you spill.”

I can’t even talk about this one.

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How widespread is the pod people invasion? Anyone in your life acting suspicious? Let’s compare notes!