Writing Complicated Creatures – Insight from Author Alexi LAWLESS

Getting Real with Alexi LAWLESS

Complicated Creatures_ebooksmI’ve been asked several times who my favorite character is in Complicated Creatures. Is this where writers are supposed to say, “I love all my babies equally?” Because that’s how I feel to some extent. If I wrote the character, I thought about her or him and deemed that the character was worth the word count to create for the express purpose of interaction and to move the story forward. Ergo, each character in the book has tremendous value.

I’ve been asked, “Are you Sam?”

Oh, Hell, No.

Is the Vampire Lestat Anne Rice just because she imagined him?

I do think all characters are somewhat autobiographical since they’re born from the dark imaginings of a writer’s mind, but the closest I’d say Sam is to me is that she’s got some snarky one-liners that would absolutely come out of my mouth.

Now, do I base certain aspects of characters off of people I know? Oh, yes. Carey, Mitch, and Willa in particular are modeled off of real folks to some extent, though this is a work of fiction, and names/physical descriptions vary radically in order to protect the “innocent.”

Similar to the “who is your favorite character” question, I don’t think about my characters in a love ‘em or hate ‘em way. The key here is they must be interesting and bring something to the story. Otherwise, why bother? I’m not interested in wasting words anymore than you are interested in reading a story about mediocre characters with “meh” dialogue and unclear motives & intentions.

Now, are there some characters that are harder to write? Absolutely. I really struggled with the third major character in the book, because I couldn’t visualize him clearly in my head. When I wrote his character sheet, I had a lot of conflicting personality traits and his motives were unclear even to me. So what did I do? I stopped writing. When in doubt, consume a libation and take a break. That’s a trusted go-to.

I didn’t want to read someone else’s work while I was having trouble writing my own, so I ended up surfing around for the “best-written TV shows” according to the Writer’s Guild of America, and stumbled upon Friday Night Lights. I hadn’t loved the movie when it came out years ago, so I’d discounted the series. I decided to give it a try. After all, I already had a cold beer in my hand and football season hadn’t started yet. I was in Asia and feeling a little homesick for some good old-fashioned Americana, and I ask you, “What’s more American than high school football”? I watched episode one of the first season, saw Timothy Riggins’ character calling out, “Texas forever,” and BAM! There’s the third character I couldn’t figure out an hour earlier.

Moral of the story?

  • I don’t mess around with writing characters I don’t like. They each serve a purpose and they have to be interesting to earn space on the page and your time and attention as the reader.
  • When in doubt, drink. (Okay, I didn’t say get schlitzed–but you can use “drink” as a euphemism for “take a break” if it’s not your particular vice).
  • Character inspiration comes from some unexpected places once you let go long enough to let it happen.

If you want to know more about my approach to writing, feel free to check out the LAWLESS Rules for Writing Like a BOSS.

about Alexi

Alexi LAWLESS.

Corporate Runaway. Novelist. Wanderer. Bourbon Drinker.

Alexi LAWLESS has been a closeted writer for thirty-odd years—from way back when she was banging out stories on a Commodore 64 to her years writing the corporate strategies for some of the largest companies in the world. But it was two years ago, laid up after foot surgery, that she started to seriously consider whether it was time to come out as the novelist she’d always wanted to be.

Armed with a laptop and an around-the-world ticket, she quit the corporate scene and set out to see if her passion for writing was more than a pipe-dream. Less than a year later, Alexi’s debuting her first published novel, Complicated Creatures: Part One, with the second book due out this summer. And while you may catch her sipping a drink in Miami Beach, you’re more likely to find her indulging her nomadic tendencies somewhere in Latin America or Southeast Asia.

Interested in knowing more about Alexi? You can stalk her here at: AlexiLAWLESS.com.

Be sure to follow Alexi:

o       Twitter
o       Facebook
o       Google+
o       Amazon
o       GoodReads

Of course, if you LOVE the book, your review on Amazon and/or GoodReads it would mean a lot to Alexi, too!

A-Tisket, A-Tasket: How to Make a Bargain Basket

We’re always looking for frugal ways to enjoy the holidays, so we asked Ashley McCann, PushPenny’s expert on running a home on a budget, to give us some ideas we can put into action for Easter. Enjoy!

MomsGetReal Contributor Ashley McCann

Spring is here and that means Easter is on the way. Don’t fall into the trap of waiting until the last minute and being forced to choose from overpriced, picked-through items in the specialty aisle of a convenience store the night before the big day. The Easter bunny can be on a budget and still put together a bountiful basket without breaking the bank, with a few practical and heartfelt homemade ideas to help celebrate the holiday.

The foundation

Get creative with container choices and enjoy long-term use with something like a beach bucket, a hard-sided lunch box, a decorative storage container, a flower pot, a popcorn bucket, or a small wicker laundry hamper. Your Easter basket certainly doesn’t have to be a basket, and doing something different can set the stage for a fun theme or more interesting presentation. Consider containers that may make life easier and see if you can incorporate those ideas.

The filler

Don’t waste your money on that annoying plastic grass; you’ll regret it when you’re vacuuming. Trust me, I know. Use inexpensive tissue or crumpled solid colored paper to prop Easter basket items up. This is more about eliminating a mess than about cost, but they are equally important in creating an enjoyable holiday. I’m just trying to help you out here, from one mom to another! But if you don’t mind the potential mess, you could run some colored paper through a shredder for do-it-yourself Easter grass.

The fun

Of course, the real cost and effort usually comes from what fills the basket, but you can save money and still make it fun by going homemade. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the thought if you’re not so crafty.

Here are a few easy ideas for the Easter bunny to bring, and you can always fill in the blank spots with items found in the dollar aisle:

playdohPlay Dough: Let kids use their imagination with this safe-to-ingest clay that’s so inexpensive that you won’t even mind when your child mashes all of the colors into one big brownish glob. It will be colorful and pretty in the basket, though. Mix together ½ cup of salt, ½ cup of water, and 1 cup of flour. Knead in food coloring until you reach the desired hue and store in plastic eggs, baby food jars or small plastic food storage containers with decorative labels.

Sidewalk chalk: Spring means more sunshine and time spent outdoors so let your kids make a more colorful world with egg-shaped sidewalk chalk. Mix 1 cup Plaster of Paris (available at craft stores), ¾ cup of water, and Tempera paint for color, and mix. Wipe inside of plastic egg halves with petroleum jelly and pour mixture inside. Allow it to dry halfway before reattaching egg halves, and then set aside to dry fully. Once you remove the chalk from the mold, let it harden for 24 hours before use. Wrap in cellophane and tie it with a ribbon or put the chalk in a small egg carton.

Crazy Crayons: Gather up all of the hopelessly dull and broken crayons you have lurking in the corners of the craft box, remove the paper labels, grate or chop them into pea-sized pieces, combine different colors and bake in a mini muffin tin or candy mold at 150 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool before popping the crayons from the mold and packaging them together prettily for your petite Picasso.

tweetiesCandy Krispie nest: For a sweet treat that also looks lovely, use Rice Krispie treats, candy Peeps and M&Ms or jelly beans to create a cute little love nest. Melt one 10-ounce bag of marshmallows and 3 tablespoons of butter in the microwave for about a minute and a half and then stir in 6 cups of Rise Krispies cereal. Push the warm mixture into small, pre-greased bowls or a muffin tin to create a nest shape and add candy Peep chicks and eggs to complete this adorable tasty treat.

The Finishing Touches
Go the extra mile by letting the Easter Bunny make his or her own simple traditions. I always knew my mother was not the bunny because my baskets were shrink-wrapped (and I didn’t know she had the capability to do that with just a blow dryer and a basket bag). Whether it’s a fancy bow or scavenger hunt clues leading to the basket, doing something small but special can help create memories that last a life time.

Easter doesn’t have to be expensive! With a little time, effort, and planning you can create a beautiful basket on a budget that any bunny would be proud to present. So hop to it!

 

Kids First: 5 Ways to Make Your Children Feel Secure During a Divorce

MomsGetReal Guest Contributor Anika Oaks

Parents provide the stability in life for children and when that foundation is taken away by divorce, it disrupts the entire process of growing up. Parents can exercise a few basic steps to give the child as much security as possible in an awkward situation. Here are five ways to make your children feel secure and loved during a divorce.

No Conflict

divorceConflict is the natural lifestyle of some parents. Children caught in the middle suffer greatly. Both spouses must make the effort to keep the fighting away from the children during and after the divorce. If an argument starts to brew, take a step outside or move it to an isolated room. Arguments are so easy to fall into, and their repercussions can last a very long time. Show enough self control to minimize your children’s exposure to this negativity.

Avoid Recriminations

A wife may think her philandering husband is the worst person in the world, but to a child the same man is a loved, faithful daddy. Spouses who take their anger and emotions out on the other parent in front of the children can provoke mixed emotions in the children. Avoid blame and negativity toward the other spouse in front of the children, even if your points are valid.

Provide Stability in Living Arrangements

Children are flexible in what they can withstand, but they still need a place that they feel is their own. Ensure they know that there is a bed, a room or even a corner reserved for them. They can live though temporary and necessary times of instability, but when it stretches too long they become insecure. Try to resolve any custody issues as quickly as possible with minimal dramatics.

Make It “No Fault”

Children old enough to reason become adept at understanding blame. Unfortunately, they are far too willing to blame themselves for the parents’ breakup. This is very hard for them to admit to others and it becomes a festering sore on their spirit. This is not solved overnight, but both parents must make an effort to comfort the children and let them know repeatedly that it was through no fault or blame of theirs that mom and dad could not work things out. This subject is important to address, as children can internalize the idea, first, that they contributed to the separation, and second, that relationships and marriage are scary and not to be trusted. These ideas can have long-lasting effects.

Seek Mediation

A divorce mediator works for both parents to come to agreements that everyone can live with. Silvana D. Raso, writing for the Huffington Post, states that the mediation process allows divorcing parents to stay cool. Companies such as California Divorce Mediation provide the parents with the tools to help them focus on the children’s welfare and security while hashing out the details like custody arrangements and who keeps what.

It is sometimes hard to put children first when parents’ lives and needs are abruptly turned over. However, it is the responsibility of the parents to ensure that their children come through the divorce process with as little harm as possible.

 

Anica Oaks is a recent college graduate from University of San Francisco who loves dogs, the ocean, and anything outdoor-related. She was raised in a big family, so she’s used to putting things to a vote. Also, cartwheels are her specialty. You can connect with Anica here. This article uses information about the mediation process from California Divorce Mediation.

Look, There’s a Car in Here! Six Steps to Clearing your Garage

MomsGetReal Guest Contributor Anica Oaks

The point of having garage space is to have somewhere you can park your car. Instead, some garages turn into huge storage rooms where people will stuff to the brim with unnecessary things. If you are looking to clear that clutter and make some room in your garage, here are six tips for cleaning it up.

Tool Bench

Look, There's a Car in Here! Six Steps to Clearing your GarageIf you have a ton of tools lying around your garage, then the best way to start cleaning up is by creating a place to store them. A tool bench will give you a place to work on DIY projects, but also somewhere to keep all of your tools neatly organized and placed. Consider a corkboard or similar material you can hang other tools on. That way you don’t waste space on the bench itself.

Lockers

Lockers are a great way to store your lawn equipment and other items that you use on a seasonable basis. And rather than just putting them in the corner, a locker gives an added look to your garage area. Lockers can also be slightly lifted off the ground, to make even more room for storage below.

Storage Unit

If you simply don’t have the space or desire to add storage to your garage, then you can easily get a storage unit for your extra stuff. You can find a place like Extra Space Storage to keep your belongings until you need it again. Storage units are a practical way of storing things without too much effort.

Overhead Storage

You can also make your own storage by adding overhead units in your garage. These will likely take a lot more effort than alternative options, and are typically best used for items that you need to store away for a long time, such as Christmas ornaments or Halloween decorations. If you consider overhead storage, make sure that it is safely secured, so it doesn’t come crashing down on your car in the middle of the night.

Shed

Getting a shed for your house is an easy way to clear everything out of your garage. The trick, though, is to make sure that you don’t take it from the garage and go directly to the shed. Instead, use the change in location to organize and clean up everything that you are moving.

Clothing Receptacles

If you have a family full of people who are coming in and out all the time and leaving their stuff everywhere, consider clothing receptacles for them to store their coats, hats, and shoes in. This is especially great during the winter, and it’ll also teach the children how to clean up after themselves.

If you follow these tips, you can get back to using a garage for what it was made for. Take back your garage and enjoy that space.

 

A recent college graduate from University of San Francisco, Anica is a full-time freelance writer. She has already published articles for a variety of industries, ranging from technology to beauty to health. She loves dogs, the ocean, and anything outdoor-related.  This article was cowritten by leaders in self storage. You can find Extra Space Storage in Irvine CA and across the US.

5 Tips for Talking to Your Kids about Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is a powerful force in the lives of our tweens and teens, and once they enter adolescence, it’s likely your kids’ friends will have more influence on them that you will. Parents can take a proactive approach to help kids resist negative influences around them. One of the best ways to do that is to keep family lines of communication open from an early age. Follow these tips to involve your kids in conversations that count:

Talk to your children about right and wrong

Anika DancingWhen parents don’t set moral standards, children are left to navigate a challenging peer culture without direction. Begin speaking to your children about right and wrong even before they enter school and help them understand how to make good choices.  These early lessons will provide a strong foundation when they face ethical dilemmas as teens.

Encourage your kids to cultivate their talents

A child who is involved in fulfilling activities is less likely to be tempted by rebellious pursuits. Let them dabble in the things that interest them when they are young – baseball, ballet lessons, nature walks, arts and crafts. Teach them to express themselves by using their talents in music, arts, or sports as they grow older.

Talk to your kids about their friends and get to know them

Often the first sign that teens are on the wrong path is that they start hanging out with a crowd that uses drugs or alcohol. Get to know your kids’ friends. Make your home a gathering place so you can spot potential problems and steer them away from these harmful associations.

Tell your children that you care, and be there when they want to talk

If kids are assured of your love and support, they are more likely to come to you when they have a problem. Build self-confidence by letting them know what they are doing right. Let them know what you expect of them, but don’t shun them if they make a mistake. Some teens may have to seek help at a and they will need their family’s support, says professionals from a Utah drug rehab center. Going to a rehab center is not something that is easy for the child or parent, but if it is needed, offering support is essential.

Set the right example for your kids

Actions speak louder than words, especially in parenting. Set a good example for your children. If you take drugs or drink heavily at home, your children may be less equipped to resist those influences from their peers. Parents should model strength, confidence, positive thinking and similar attributes that will show children how to face challenges in the future.

Whether your children are toddlers or teens, keep the conversation going so they have the tools and knowledge they need to successfully handle negative peer pressure.

Anita is a freelance writer from Denver, CO. She enjoys writing about home and family, finance and much more. This article was written with information from Ascend Recovery.

How to Lower Your Weekly Spending

MomsGetReal Guest Contributor Jessica Watts

Lowering your overall spending begins by monitoring how much you spend in the short term. Creating weekly and even daily budgets will result in an overall reduction in your spending habits and an increase in your savings. By examining where you waste cash and taking actionable steps to start better habits, you can be on the road to saving money in no time. One of the main places where people spend cash on a daily basis is food. Here are three quick and easy tips to lowering your weekly spending on meals and getting your finances on track for the long haul.

penny pinching momsgetrealCut Coupons

You might think that only stay at home moms cut and use coupons, but these cost saving squares can add up to big savings for anyway. Free monthly circulars and grocery store mailings can offer a variety of different coupons that are catered to you based on your spending habits. You can also search online for coupons related to specific products. While each coupon only saves a few cents or dollars, over the course of your weekly meals you will notice a difference in your spending. By the end of the year, you may have saved hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Rethink Your Shopping List

Refine your shopping list to include only the essentials. When you cut back on even a few items you will see a difference in your long term budget. During your weekly grocery shopping trip, consider buying the store brand of your necessities instead of a name brand. You may be able to save at least a dollar on each item just by getting the store version of a food item, and the ingredients are usually similar or identical to the name brand you’re used to.

Plan Ahead

Make a weekly schedule with the meals you will prepare. Having a solid plan eliminates your need to eat out, which is usually far more expensive than preparing a meal at home. You can enjoy fresh produce and ingredients every night of the week by using your own groceries instead of getting food to go, and save eating out for special occasions. Make it a habit to sit down on Saturday and make a list of meals and shop for the ingredients. When you stick to it, you can avoid most mid-week grocery store trips and the need to purchase meals from restaurants. Planning also lets you send your kids to school with meals instead of having to pay for a meal plan in some cases.

Lowering weekly spending will ultimately lower your overall spending. By sticking to these few tips, you can create new habits for your family that allow for more saving and the ability to spend your extra cash elsewhere. Don’t feel guilty about splurging on a nice meal for a special occasion – changing your weekly budget doesn’t mean you can never indulge, just that it shouldn’t be done every day if you want to lower your expenses.

 

Jessica Watts is a finance expert. She loves writing about saving money on personal finance blogs. She recommends Sumo Coupon website for money saving tips and fascinating vouchers and coupons.

 

The Language of Savings: How to Avoid Being Misled By Coupons and Rebates

Contributed by BuyVia

When it comes to coupons and rebates, the savings are in the details. What seems like a great deal in large, bold letters may no longer be as appealing after reading the fine print. Mail-in rebates require following instructions closely, while coupons can be misleading if you don’t have a grasp on the language used.

Here are some ways to know how much you’ll actually be saving and how to make the deals a reality.

Translating coupon language

shutterstock_130416152Before you get too excited about how much money you’ll apparently be saving from coupon, you need to take a moment to consider what these following bargains really mean:

Buy One, Get One Free
If you purchase the exact product that is part of a Buy-One-Get-One-Free Deal, then you truly will get an additional one for no extra cost. The catch is that a price limit is usually put on that additional item. For example, the fine print may read something like “item may not exceed $4.99.” If the shelf price of the item is higher than this, you’ll be responsible for picking up the difference.

Buy One, Get One “X%” Off
These offers are designed to entice you to buy a second item when you were only planning on buying one. The most common deal here is “Buy One, Get One 50% Off,” which boils down to saving 25% on each item.

Don’t be misled by the picture
Don’t be fooled by the picture on coupons. Often times, the most expensive item in the product line will be shown, implying that the coupon can only be used for that item. If you read the fine print, you’ll most likely discover that the coupon is also valid for other, less-expensive products.

“One Per” Coupons

  1. Per Transaction – No matter how many copies of a coupon you have, you can only use one for each time you go through the checkout line. Of course, you can ring up multiple times and use a different copy of the coupon each time.
  2. Per Visit – You can only use these coupons once each time you visit an establishment.
  3. Per Purchase – You can use one of these coupons for each item you buy. For example, if you purchase three rolls of paper towels you can use a separate coupon for each one.
  4. Per Customer – You and everyone in your party may each use a separate coupon.

Expiration dates
Pretty much all coupons have an expiration date, so make sure to keep an eye out for it. The coupons are good until midnight of the expiration date.

“Redeemable at…”
Some coupons may say something like “Redeemable at Mega-Mart,” but this doesn’t mean that you have to go to Mega-Mart to use it; rather Mega-Mart is just one of several places where you can redeem it.

“Only at…”
If the coupon says “Only at Mega-Mart” then you must go to a Mega-Mart store to use it.

“Available at…”
These coupons can be used anywhere. This is simply the store’s way of advertising itself.

Mail-in rebates
You see it all the time: offers of saving hundreds of dollars on items such as computers or TVs through a mail-in rebate. But statistics show that less than 50% of customers who purchase these items actually follow through with the rebate, and the percentage is even lower for rebates offering savings that are less substantial. This is because redeeming your rebates require filling out a lot of tedious paperwork that takes a while to process. Here’s what you should keep in mind when considering a rebate:

  • Is it worth all the trouble? – Many companies make it as difficult as possible to successfully fill out your rebate. From requiring the UPC bar code, receipt, and multiple pages of confusing paperwork, these companies are in the business of making you not want to follow through with the rebate. If the rebate is only for a few dollars, it’s probably not worth your time.
  • Turnaround time – You need to make sure you’ll be getting your product in time to submit the rebate. If you’re ordering your product online and the rebate expires in two days, you won’t be able to submit it before its expiration date. Also, after you’ve mailed it in, don’t expect to get your rebate right away. It can take up to two months to receive it. You can call the company’s 1-800 number to check on its status.
  • Your personal information – Many times, companies will use your personal information that you put on the rebate form for data mining studies of consumer behavior.

Do you have any other suggestions for understanding coupons or rebates?

Norman Fong is Co-Founder of www.buyvia.com, an online, Android and iOS App smart shopping service that lists reputable products from top online stores, at the best price available. By downloading the BuyVia Android and iOS App to their Android Device, iPhone or iPad, consumers can be alerted to the best deals on the most popular products, anywhere and anytime.

A Short or Long Engagement: Which is Right for You?

After getting engaged you will no doubt want to spend some time celebrating and enjoying the time together as a newly engaged couple. Once you are ready to start the planning there will be one main question to answer first, do you want a long or short term engagement? There are a number of benefits to both types and it is a matter of personal preference to which one you choose.

Choosing a Short Engagement

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou may be a couple that like to live in the moment and will therefore benefit from a short engagement. A spontaneous wedding can be exciting and full of surprises for the guests as well as yourselves. Weddings that are arranged in a matter of months or even weeks can be achieved and have even sparked programs such as ‘Don’t Tell the Bride,’ in which the groom arranges the nuptials in only three weeks. This can often be very stressful but by compacting the time spent on the organization you will save yourself a huge amount of worry in the long run.

You may have circumstances which alter the time constraints for you to get married such as a family member suffering with illness. You also may be getting married later on in life and simply do not see the point of waiting around. This way you can enjoy married life for even longer and make the most of the time you have together.

You may be under the impression that by having a long engagement, that you will be able to save money and get certain deals. However, if a venue has a slot that has become available unexpectedly, they will be concerned about it being left untaken. You may therefore be able to knock their regular price down significantly, grabbing yourself a bargain.

One further benefit of a short engagement is being able to keep on trend. Fashions and styles change at a fast pace and it can often be hard to keep up. Therefore, choosing your colour scheme and outfits years before the actual event could be a huge mistake when further down the line you see them as old fashioned.

Choosing a Long Engagement

You can alternatively pick a long engagement which has a range of benefits to both the couple and also the guests. It can often be difficult to find a date soon after becoming engaged which everyone can attend. Therefore, by having the wedding later on you can give plenty of notice to all of the people who are special to you so that they will be sure to make it.

If you are the laid back type, a long engagement could be just right for you. You will have plenty of time to make the arrangements as and when you wish, giving you time to really consider what you want from the occasion. You will be able to visit a variety of venues so that you can get an idea of exactly where you want the nuptials to take place. It will also allow you to get the date that you were hoping for as they are far less likely to be booked already.

With a lot of the wedding depending on budget, stretching out the time before the big day will give you and your other half time to save so that you can have exactly the day you have always dreamt of. This will also be highly beneficial if there are any money mishaps that occur unexpectedly. It can be very hard to recover from these with a shorter engagement and can cause excess stress.

Whatever option you choose, it depends on your personal preference and the needs of your relationship. With benefits to both options, the main thing to bear in mind is to enjoy the time and make the most of being the bride and groom to be.

 

Image Source: DaSh factor

 

This post was written by Amy Bennett who recently got engaged to her long term boyfriend. Choosing a short engagement was an easy decision after 8 years together and after seeing her beautiful ring from 247 Engagement Rings, she can’t wait to get a wedding ring to match.

 

 

Freshen Up Old Furniture for Fall

MomsGetReal Guest Contributor Jennifer Lutz

Many of us have old pieces of furniture that have seen better days. Time-worn hand-me-downs or impulsive yard sale finds sometimes become glaring eyesores that can ruin the look of your home. Don’t be in a hurry to relegate them to Furniture Heaven though. With a bit of paint, you can breathe new life to shabby, outdated, yet still functional, furniture pieces. Oftentimes, redone furniture becomes statement pieces that draw the most attention and conversation from your guests.

Wondering what colors to use for this painting project? Look outside and let the lovely colors of fall serve as your source of inspiration. Shades of red, orange, and yellow rouse feelings of warmth on cool days, and green imparts a sense of freshness and health to any space.

1. Red desk

A perfectly good piece of furniture is a shame to waste. Rejuvenate an old, tired desk with a fresh coat of paint and it will become the darling of any room it occupies.

Give your old desk a stunning make-over with an attractive shade of red paint. Simply polish the brass pulls so that they look brand new.

Pro-tip #1: If you’re raring to try your hand at painting furniture, it’s good to know a few fundamental steps. Begin by dry wiping your furniture, then wet wiping it with a non-toxic cleaner to remove waxy build-up or oily spots. Place the piece in a well-ventilated area and place newspaper or a drop cloth underneath it.

Pro-Tip#2: Smooth out rough spots with an electric sander or 200-grit sandpaper. Aside from making the surface flat and even, sanding helps the primer adhere to the surface, preventing paint from peeling off. Remember to sand along the grain.

2. Orange ombre dresser

A well-constructed dresser is a versatile item that is meant to be used for a long time. Update an old, reliable dresser by painting the drawers ombre-style, or in a series of shades of a single color. The result is an eye-catching fixture that looks perfect in a casual bedroom.

Paint the bottom drawer of the dresser with the main color. Mix in varying amounts of white paint for the subsequent drawers. If you’re not very confident with your paint mixing skills, you can just head to the paint store, ask for a gradient color swatch, and request samples of each shade. Depending on the size of your drawers, the samples should be enough for two coats.

Pro-Tip#3: Apply a coat of high-quality primer with a paintbrush or foam bush and let it dry for a full 24 hours or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Once the primer has dried, you can start painting. For hardware that you don’t want painted, remove the parts or cover them with painter’s tape. If you are concerned about seeing brush strokes, use spray paint. Position the can about 12 inches away from your piece and spray using a sweeping, back and forth motion. After the paint has dried, check for any spots you may have missed, then spray on a second coat.

3. Yellow chair

If you have an old, sturdy chair languishing in your garage or basement, bring it out for a little sunshine and a new paint job. With a few coats of homemade chalk paint, you can turn a beat-up brown seat into a happy, yellow garden chair. Paired with a snazzy, new fabric for the cushion, this charming chair adds a vibrant splash of optimism to any indoor or outdoor space.

Pro-Tip#4: If you want to use a paintbrush, use flat finish or semi-gloss paint since high-gloss paint tends to accentuate the flaws and imperfections of the wood. Allow the paint to dry for about two hours, and then lightly sand the furniture with fine grit sandpaper before applying the second coat of paint.

4. Green side table

Spruce up a drab, brown end table with a healthy helping of green paint. If you want a semi-dark shade of green, you can apply a black glaze on your newly repainted side table to darken it. Add a vase of flowers for accent, and this little table brings a beautiful pop of color in a neutral-hued room.

Pro-Tip#5: After allowing the paint to dry overnight, protect your furniture with a clear coat. A clear coat helps enrich and preserve the finish of high-traffic pieces, such as kitchen tables, desks, and chairs. Beginners will find water-based, brush-on clear finishes the easiest to work with. Apply the first coat and allow it to dry. Sand the piece with 220 grit sand paper before applying the second coat.

Give neglected furniture a second lease on life with a little attention and a bit of paint. You will love how such a small change can instantly liven up the look of your home.

 

Jennifer Lutz is the home décor expert at www.christmastreemarket.com. A collection of DIY projects can be found on the Christmas Tree Market blog at http://blog.christmastreemarket.com/category/diy-decor/.

 

Once a Year or Once In a Lifetime: Do You Know How Often to Get Tested?

Ladies: You know you should get your hair colored every eight weeks or so. You know that your manicure will only last for two weeks; if you’re lucky. You know that you need to go to the dentist every six months, and you know when your kids need to see the pediatrician for vaccines. But do you know how often you should have certain health screenings? This guide will help.

Skin and Breasts

The Road to Skin CancerPerform self-checks once a month on your breasts and skin. Check the girls for bumps, lumps and other abnormalities. Wait until after your period ends as your breasts can swell before and during your period, making it difficult to feel what you should be feeling.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, you should check your entire body for new spots once a month. It only makes sense to combine your skin check with your breast self-exam. When it comes to skin, remember your alphabet: asymmetry, borders, color, diameter, and evolving size and shape. Make an appointment with your dermatologist immediately if you notice anything “off.”

Pap, Pelvis and STDs, Oh My!

Once a year, you will need a physical exam, a pap smear, a pelvic exam and, if you are sexually active, an HIV test and testing for STDs. It’s also a fantastic idea to have your eyes examined at least once a year, especially as you age.

Plan on having a full physical exam every year. Follow your doctor’s recommendations when it comes to blood tests. She may want to check your thyroid levels, a general blood count, and hormone levels. In addition, have a bit of blood drawn for an HIV test, and get yourself tested for other STDs while you’re at it.

You’ll need a pap smear every year, until you have three consecutive normal smears. At this point, it may be safe to wait a few years in between tests, provided that you do not change sexual partners and have no other risk factors. While it may be okay to skip a pap smear, it’s not okay to skip a pelvic exam; you should have one every 12 months. Many women mistakenly assume that these tests are on in the same. A pap smear is completely separate from a pelvic exam.

Cholesterol, HPV and Thyroid

Unless you are at high risk for thyroid issues, your doctor probably won’t test you during your annual physical. Instead, she will test you once you hit 35 and then once every five years. Your doctor won’t know if you have a family history of the disease if you don’t tell her, so be sure to share your knowledge of any immediate family members with over- or under-active thyroids.

Your doctor will check your cholesterol once in your twenties, once in your thirties, and as needed thereafter. Additionally, expect a test for HPV once every five years during your pap smear. In women under thirty, this test may be relatively unnecessary as some strains of HPV are common and self-resolve.

Mammograms and Colonoscopies

Expect a mammogram when you turn 40. Likewise, plan on a colonoscopy is coming when you turn 50. If you have an immediate relative that has had breast or colon cancer, these screenings may happen sooner rather than later. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for the frequency of these tests.

The important thing to keep in mind when it comes to your mammogram is that no woman wants one, but every woman needs one. Do not be so afraid of getting a mammogram or a colonoscopy that you skip them altogether. The early any abnormalities are detected, the earlier you and your doctor can take steps to restore your health.An allergy test featuring 8 needles simultaneously. Afterwards, she said it felt like a pinch.

Other Health Issues

There are other diseases and issues that your doctor may want to screen you for, depending on your health history. She may order blood tests to check your hormone levels, your blood sugar, and even your iron levels. Know that, if your doctor wants these tests, there’s a reason. Go with the flow, and do what she says.

 

Author Karen Alton is a health care advocate who blogs for testing centers where diagnostic and routine medical testing are performed. Follow her on Twitter @HTCKarenA, to stay informed. She recommends speaking to your doctor if you are worried about your health. Your doctor will tell you if you’re worrying about nothing or if there is a reason to be tested, either in her office or at one of many health testing centers.