Coffee heat rising

Stress Control: Second insight

Yesterday I described a small epiphany that freed up as much as two hours a day of precious morning time. It helped to relieve the stress and frustration aggravating the bruxism, the insomnia, and the general irritability that help to make my life miserable. Surprisingly, a day later another, equally significant revelation dawned.

Second moment of insight: blogging has been consuming way too large a chunk of my day. And because I’d been doing it first crack out of the box, every single day, it added to the time-stress created by a huge raft of daily chores that need to be done before I can even think about going to work or having a life. It prevented me from getting any exercise in the morning, and…well, it can’t be healthy to spend hours on end staring into a computer monitor.

The minute I would roll out of the sack, usually around 5:00 or 5:30 a.m., I would take the dog out briefly and then stumble directly into my office to call up WordPress. This had become such a firmly established routine that Cassie would run straight to the office after finishing her morning business.

Then I would spend one to two hours writing and cruising the blogosphere. From there it was on to cleaning the pool and watering the plants, another one- to two-hour set of tasks. All this took place before I so much as brushed my teeth, to say nothing of feeding the dog, brewing a pot of coffee, and fixing my own breakfast.

I don’t want to quit blogging, first because I enjoy it and second because FaM is just beginning to make a little money. But long before this, I’ve thought that I devote far too much of my attention to computer screens and far too little to living a normal life.

A day after the pool insight, I happened to feel rested enough to write three posts in one day. As I was about to publish the second one, it occurred to me that I could buy a day of vacation from blogging by scheduling that post to go live 24 hours forward. And the third post could go up two days forward. Hmmm…two days in which I would not have to write for the Internet.

I already had a guest post in-house and was about to ask Stephen Taddie for permission to post his latest investment letter: two more days off! Suddenly, I had the makings of a five-day break.

Next morning I stayed far away from the computer, much to the dog’s confusion. Didn’t even check the e-mail.

Now, with neither the pool-and-yard frenzy nor the writing-and-surfing session starting my day, a good four hours of the morning were returned to me. If I got up at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m., by 7:00 or 7:30 I was ready to get on the road.  And best of all: I felt neither frazzled nor horsewhipped!

So, that’s how I’m going to deal with blogging from here on out:

Write about three posts twice a week, and schedule them out over the coming days.
Do at least one easy-to-scribble retrospective “Best of FaM” post a month.
Solicit guest posts to give friends and fellow bloggers a say at FaM.
On days when I’m not writing, stay away from the computer monitor as much as possible.

After a couple of blog-free and pool labor-free days, I began to feel a lot less stressed. It’s no wonder my temper has been short, and no wonder I’ve been grinding my teeth. On top of the workplace headaches, I’ve been trying to do too many at-home jobs—half of them unpleasant jobs—in way too little time.

So, two small flashes of insight led to reorganizing routine activities so as to free up four hours of time—every day. Have you had a similar experience? What strategies do you use to keep yourself from being overwhelmed by responsibilities and tasks?

Frugal Crafts Friday: How to make upscale casual jewelry

Do you get the Sundance catalogue? Ever covet the cool, hand-crafty necklaces and earrings? Or, if you’re a guy, ever want to buy one of the things for your lady friend? Maybe you were given pause by the prices.

Here in this month’s catalogue, for example, is a strand of lapis heishi beads with a silver charm dangling from it: $118. The bead earrings sold with it are a bargain $38. A bracelet of manufactured beads and semiprecious stones sells for $188, and lo, here’s a double-strand necklace of labradorite beads for a mere $540. We must hurry out and buy them, no?


These bead necklaces are easy and inexpensive to make, with a minimum of crafting gear. All you need is a small wire cutter, a crimping tool, a stringful of beads, a clasp, and a couple of tiny metal crimps. And a modest budget.

Labradorite beads of the sort pictured in the current Sundance catalogue sell for $9.99 for a 15½-inch strand. For $12, you can buy about 160 lapis heishi beads. Sterling silver charms will set you back somewhere between $6 and $15. For $3 to $5, you can buy a nice silver clasp. A crimp tool costs $10.50, and you probably have a wire cutter in your tool box; if not, you can get one online for $7.25. The cost of bead-stringing wire and crimps is negligible.


You can make pricey-looking jewelry items for a tiny fraction of what they cost at upscale outlets. And you get a bonus: making bead jewelry is fun. Like many crafts that busy your hands without overly taxing the brain, it is relaxing and stress-relieving. So you get a double benefit: relief at the cash register, and relief from whatever is making you grind your teeth today.

Here’s how:

1. First, get the materials and gear you’ll need. Beads, wire, crimps, claps, crimping tools, and wire nippers are available online. But for your first adventure, it’s a good idea to go in person to a bead store. Look up “beads” in the Yellow Pages, or Google bead suppliers in your area. Go to a store dedicated to selling beads and bead supplies, not a more general craft store such as JoAnn’s. Craft stores carry some supplies, but the selection and quality are sadly wanting. Also, at most bead supply shops, staffers are happy to show you how to use the tools and parts. About ten minutes of coaching is all the training you need to make Sundance-style necklaces and bracelets.

2. For expensive-looking jewelry, select semi-precious stones such as lapis, coral, turquoise, iolite, aquamarine, tourmaline, and the like. KEEP IT SIMPLE! Note that Sundance necklaces are not embellished with a lot of baroque-looking carved silver beads. Save your money and purchase only a string or two of stone beads in a color you covet. For a classy look, remember: nice but not gaudy.

3. To make a necklace, measure out a length of stringing wire a few inches longer than the strand you plan and nip it off with your wire-cutter. You actually can use dental floss strung like thread on a thin sewing needle, if your beads have holes large enough for a needle to pass through. Personally, I prefer wire because it’s easier to work with and will not break. Assuming you’ve chosen wire, run one end of the wire through a metal crimp (looks like a tiny silver cylinder). Then run the wire through the connecting loop on one of the two parts of your clasp. Poke the end of the wire back through the crimp, forming a wire loop that passes first through the crimp, then through the clasp’s connection, and then back through the crimp. Push the crimp up firmly against the clasp, and use the crimping tool to clench the metal crimp down on the wire. To secure it, turn the crimp 180 degrees and clench again at right angles to your first effort. Nip off the short “tail” up close to the clenched-on crimp, leaving a single strand of wire on which to string beads.

4. Slide beads onto the wire, one at a time, until you reach the desired length. You can add decorative metal beads, contrasting semiprecious stones, or pearls to give variety. I like to put one to five contrasting beads about ¼ of the way down the strand. You also can place one or more charms along the length of the strand or up near the clasp.

5. When the necklace is as long as you like, run the end of the wire through another crimp, then through the loop of the remaining part of the clasp, and then back through the crimp. This is the only “hard” part-and it isn’t very hard. Pull on the “tail” and of the wire and work the crimp, the clasp part, and the beads together so they fit together snugly. Now clench the crimp tightly onto the wire, as you did before. Nip off the spare “tail.”

And voilà! A fancy necklace for about a fifth of what you’d have paid for it in a tony shop!

You can make earrings to go with it-bead suppliers sell earring wires (ten will lighten your wallet by $1.49) and an incredibly handy part called a “headpin.” A headpin is a strip of wire with a decorative or flat head at one end, onto which you can string beads. Then, using a small pair of needle-nose pliers, you bend the free end in a loop through the loop on the wire, and that’s all there is to it: bead earrings.

None of these products look like they came from Tiffany’s. But they certainly can look like they came from Sundance. They’re perfect for wearing with jeans and sportswear. They also can go to the office with certain kinds of business wear. And they make great gifts.

Less clutter = less stress!

Freeing the house of kitsch and clutter worked! In the time it took to draw a bath, I managed to dust the entire four-bedroom house, including picture frames, mirrors, and light fixtures. Since the bathrooms were already cleaned, all that’s left of the dratted weekly housecleaning is to vacuum and mop 1680 square feet of tile, scrub the grease off the stovetop, and shine up the kitchen counters with vinegar.

This is great stress control when I’m looking forward to several hours of dumbing down my (already finished and posted!) syllabus and assignments to accommodate twice as many students as I agreed to teach this spring. That task will absorb time I’d planned to use on something more entertaining. Or at least more useful.

Lights in the night

At first I thought it was a helicopter. But copters don’t dodge around at sharp angles, reverse themselves on a skyhooked dime. Then I decided it was undoubtedly a flying saucer. Well, except for what looked like a red tail light. Helicopter viewed through the atmospheric distortion of a cold desert night?

Tonight is clear and crisp. Just outside the front gate, Orion is climbing up the eastern sky right behind his scout, the god of war. The saucer or helicopter or whatever it is jerks back and forth in the sky, somewhere between the earth and the cosmic hunter. I walk in its general direction, east and south toward the park.

My neighbor has, bar none, the best Christmas display in the city: the Burning Bush. Every year he wraps the big deciduous tree in his front yard with what must be several million lights. Somehow he contrives to have them glow in different colors every night–don’t ask, I have no idea! The colors rotate, so if you stand and watch for a while you see the tree’s trunks and branches burning red and then blue and then gold and then white and then red. . . . Tonight as I pass they’re mostly white, with a few flecks of blue here and there.

As I draw closer to the park, I realize the saucer is not somewhere over downtown Phoenix but actually is doing its acrobatics much closer to hand. And it isn’t just white and red; it’s glowing red, white and blue. Lo! It’s a model airplane, all tricked out in colors, its wings outlined in blue, its tail lit red, and its fuselage dinged in white. Up and down and around and around it swoops through the air like an illuminated swallow, tracing its owner’s delight.

When m’hijito was little, we used to bring his model rocket ships into this park to launch them into orbit. One of them, I’m sure, actually did reach those heights. It shot through a leaden gray overcast and–I swear!–never came back down. We snooped in all the neighboring yards and found nary a sign of it. As we speak that rocket is passing over southern Australia.

A mile’s walk through a cold dark, lights earthly and unearthly marking your way: stress control, and it’s free.

Seven ways to save money on clothes and cut shopping stress

Like a shot, it was out the door to the mall to buy some much-needed office togs on mega-sale. Talbot’s, my favorite vendor of grownup-appropriate clothing, provided two pairs of washable wool slacks – 40-freaking-PERCENT off! – plus a beautifully designed blouse and a very snazzy blazer at the same markdown. Chico’s sold me a very pretty gray sweater (also washable) at half price to go with the dressy gray Talbot’s slacks, and of course no trip to the Biltmore is complete without a stop at the Apple store. . . .

So smug do I feel about these little coups that I presume to offer my pointers for saving dough at the mall:

1. Shop the sales around major holidays, especially the post-Christmas season. Never pay full price for anything.

2. Reconnoitre your wardrobe before leaving the house. Have a clear idea of what items you need and in what colors. If more than two or three items are needed, make a list. Shop only for those things; don’t spend time window-shopping or browsing through racks of tempting but irrelevant items.

3. Go straight to stores where you have had success before. Avoid departments or shops whose clothes don’t fit well or aren’t your style, and stay away from stores where staff have been rude, pushy, or inattentive in the past.

4. Never shop when you’re feeling especially cheerful or blue; either cast of mind can lead you to overspend.

5. Shop alone. Shopping is a herd activity – you may find yourself buying things for no other reason than that your friend bought something.

6. If it fits and you really like it, get it. If it doesn’t quite fit right or you’re not so sure it’s the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever wrapped around your body, leave it.

7. Learn to embroider and appliqué. With a needle and some colored thread, you can make a $20 pair of Glorias from Costco look like a $200 pair of designer jeans.

How do you feel about shopping for clothes, and what do you do to minimize shopping angst? What are your strategies for getting the best value for your clothing dollars?