So, you've probably already packed up your lights for the year, but keep this trick in the back of your mind for next year.
I don't know what made me try this in the first place 15 years ago, but now I would never store strings of lights any other way.
In 15 years, I have never had a string of lights tangle, and I can find the specific string I'm looking for the first time, every time. This system cost me $2.99. Once. 15 years ago.
Ready for the secret? Lunch-sized paper sacks. Buy one package of them and keep them with your holiday decorations. You'll still have some left over in a few decades.
Put each strand of lights in its own paper sack. Feed the lights in like you're stuffing a sleeping bag into a stuff-sack, don't roll them up or fold them or bunch them first. This is part of the secret. Start with the non-plug end at the bottom of the sack, so the plug always comes out first.
Need to test a light strand? No need to remove it from the sack, just pull out the plug end a few inches and plug it in. Don't worry about a fire hazard, the lit lights won't be in the sack long enough to matter. In 15 years, I've never had a sack even start to get brownish from lit lights.
Another brilliant aspect of this system is easy labeling. I always include on my sacks:
1. Number of lights in the strand
2. Color of bulbs
3. Color of cord (green looks good on the tree, white looks good against white walls)
4. "Plugs one end" or "Plugs both ends" for decoration planning purposes
5. Any other distinguishing characteristics (like "LED" or "icicle style" or "faded color" or even how you typically use them, like "goes above the fireplace")
You can fit a remarkable number of these paper sacks full of lights into a large plastic tub, with other holiday decorations or by themselves. The sacks are also conveniently squishy, so you can really pack them in to any available space.
Next year when you pull them out, you'll know exactly what you've got without even opening any sacks. Throw away (or recycle) all those stupid plastic clips and cardboard boxes the lights came in but never fit back into. One flimsy paper sack will last for many years (I use the same ones over and over again. I've replaced a few over the years, but not many; the sacks tend to last longer than the lights themselves).
One more bonus: decorating the tree is easier. Pull out the plug end and plug it in. Keep the sack full of lights in your hand as you walk around the tree, feeding out only as much of the strand as you need for that part of the tree. The tail end of the strand won't get caught on lower branches, or, you know, the cat. Work in reverse to take the lights down.
How to erase scratches in wood floors and furniture with a walnut:
Let me start by saying that the example floor you are about to see is not in the best condition. I decided a year or two ago to remove the hideous blue stained wall-to-wall carpet from the house, and I love the results. Under the blue crusty monstrosity, there were lovely honey-colored wood floors. The wood was infinitely better than the carpet. But—the floor itself was fairly scratched and stained. This walnut trick works better with new scratches; not so much with scratches that have existed underneath wall-to-wall carpeting for 30 or 40 years.
Sometimes, when I see large buildings like this, I think to myself that it's a pity there can only be two sides of any given apartment with windows. And some must have only one side.
These windows are of course made more magnificent by their floor-to-ceiling nature, but they still only allow for light from one side, or two if you happen to be in a corner unit.
So, then I picture a single unit occupying an entire floor. Four sides of floor-to-ceiling windows! What luxury! Natural light from all sides! All the time!
But—where would I put my books? Bookshelves need walls to rest against. You can't just go putting a bookshelf in front of a window.
And—where would I hang my art? The creative minds of the world create so much wall-worthy art that I can barely frame it fast enough.
Maybe I don't need so many windows.
Meet Natalya. She's a nudibranch (pronounced NOO-di-brank), or a sea slug to some. The name translates to "naked gills," which isn't any more appealing than "sea slug," so she would really just prefer that you call her "Nat."
She lives on the Pacific Coast, and although she looks fluffy and cuddly, she's very dangerous. She eats anemones for breakfast. Anemones are armed with stinging cells, but Nat just gobbles them up anyway and incorporates their defenses into her own system. Nothing scares her. This is her "fierce" look (she practices in front of the mirror):
Nat knows that she and her fellow nudibranchs are the most beautiful creatures in the sea. Check out her family photo album. Don't you dare try to tell her that mermaids are more beautiful. She'll just walk (slide?) away.
Natalya was knitted by my mom, using this Knitted Nudibranch Pattern designed by Hansi Singh. Hansi's patterns include all kinds of sea creatures, vegetables, and more.
One of the dangers of selling one's wares at craft shows, is that one spends all day surrounded by amazing crafts. It was on one such day that I ended up adopting Simon.
Simon is a banana slug, and though his relatives can grow up to 10 inches, Simon's just a little guy.
Simon eats decaying matter, spreads seeds and spores, and deposits fertilizer wherever he goes. He was a little bit chilly during the craft show, so I crocheted him a scarf (my first attempt was way too big!) He likes it so much, he wears it all the time now.
This little slugger spends most of his time in a snifter. It's just the right size for Simon, and he feels safe in it (he's terrified of beetles), even though I assure him that nothing will eat him in my house.
It's a new year. The thing about a new year is that it's usually just like the old one. Nothing magical happens at midnight. You aren't granted magical resolution powers with the turning of the annual digit. If you want to make a resolution, do it whenever you want.
In fact, resolving to make a change in your life precisely at the time you're most ready to make that change is when you're more likely to stick to it. Putting off a change you're ready for right now (because you're waiting for the new year) is a good way to lose your resolve. Changing something right now (because it's the new year right now) when it would make more sense to wait a couple of months is also a good way to lose your resolve.
That said, I have a goal. Not so much a resolution, because I'm not really changing any habits for this one, but the time frame is prompted by an external source. I keep track of everything I read on GoodReads, and the site offers a reading challenge. In the calendar year of 2012, I can choose to read a specific number of books, and GoodReads will track my progress for me. I can change my goal whenever I want.
Perusing the statistics from past years, it looks as though I have read ludicrous numbers of books some years, but not all of them count. Some books are children's books (quite a lot lately, as I have been reading as many Caldecott Medal winners and honor books as I can get my hands on), and many of them are reference books. While I don't necessarily read a reference book cover to cover, I still like to review the ones I've come across for my own future needs. I also re-read books I like.
What GoodReads doesn't do is allow you to choose which books count toward your reading goal. I don't want to count books that I can read in 10 minutes, or books that are really meant for just looking things up. I do want to count books I finished for the first time some other year, but I read again this year. So, my reading goal tracker on Goodreads falls short, but that's not gonna stop me from reading.
Here's what I read in 2011 (including re-reads, excluding picture and reference books)
1. Taking Sides by Gary Soto
2. The Skirt by Gary Soto
3. A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
7. The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein by Robert A. Heinlein
8. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris
9. Camping Therapy: Its Uses in Psychiatry and Rehabilitation by Thomas P. Lowry
10. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
12. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
13. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
14. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
15. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
16. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
18. Kidnapping the Lorax by Patricia K. Lichen
19. The Professor's Daughter by Emily Raboteau
20. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
21. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
22. Farnham's Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein
23. Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley
24. The Wannabes by F.R. Jameson
25. Son of Raven, Son of Deer: Fables of the Tse-Shaht People by George Clutesi
26. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
27. Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
28. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
29. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
30. The Devil in the Details by E.B. Maxwell
31. Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields by William B. Seabrook
32. Was it a Dream? by Guy de Maupassant
33. Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou
34. What Would McGyver Do? by Brendan Vaughan
35. The Pearl by John Steinbeck
Thats 11,831 pages, an average of 338 pages per book.
Books that I started in 2011, but I'm not done with yet are:
36. Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury
37. Cosmos by Carl Sagan
38. The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco
39. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
40. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
There are some patterns in this list... I felt compelled to re-read the Harry Potter book series one more time before seeing the final installment of the movie series. There is a healthy smattering of young adult fiction and science fiction / fantasy, both of which are inspired by what people around me are reading most. It doesn't take much for me to want to read something I hear about, or see sitting on someone's shelf.
And yes, I frequently have approximately 5 books that I am in the middle of reading. I have no problem keeping them straight, and I can set one aside for months sometimes, and pick right back up in the narrative without too much trouble. People sometimes ask me what kinds of books I like to read, and I really don't have an answer to that. I will read basically anything anyone puts in front of me, as long as it's good. I'll read all kinds of fiction, non-fiction, and sometimes I do read those reference books cover-to-cover.
So, 40 books seems like a reasonable goal for 2012. I have some other resolutions, too, but internal motivation is enough for me. What are your goals for 2012?
Turns out neither mirrors nor microscopes are needed for these two amazing feats of science. This video describes not only how to find your blind spot, but also why it's there in the first place.
So, that's pretty neat, but then it goes on to show how you can see the network of blood vessels in your eye that your brain usually ignores. You can do it using your own hands and the computer screen. Without mirrors. Without microscopes. See the inside of your own eye.
My mind is pretty much blown.