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The Crayon Chronicles

In 2016 I’ve resolved to do more writing and more creative crafts (to use up my craft supplies, recycle, and keep my brain alive). I’ve taken Twitter off my mobile devices to help me steer time toward those endeavors.

Sounds like a great plan, right? Yeah. But as my friends at Freakonomics say: There’s a hidden cost to everything. Twitter off my mobile devices has only led me to a deeper commitment to Pinterest. Honestly I think Twitter was better for me because Twitter is the mostly harmless deadly sin of Pride, whereas Pinterest is greed, lust, envy and gluttony combined. Pinterest’s dark underbelly leads one down time-sucking dark alleys from which I may never return. I will recount for you my latest foray in a minute.

It’s a time-suck but the whole idea of Pinterest is endlessly amusing. Hope springs eternal in each and every post. And the results are hilarious. Nothing on the Web makes me laugh more than “Nailed it” pics – the before/after results of picture-perfect Pinterest projects and their poor reproductions by mere mortals. Seriously, I *CRY* laughing at these pics.


Click on the pic to see some of the fecking funniest “Nailed it” pics in history

At my funeral, I want you all to play a slide show not of my life but of the best of the worst of these testimonies to the eternal – and confounding – power of HOPE.


OK. Back to my latest Pinterest Project.

As I said, I’m trying to recycle what I have in the house, as opposed to bringing new materials in for craft projects. Having two children has led to an extraordinary large build-up of crayons. So I thought I’d do this:



Read on to see what really happened. (This post was banged out angrily late at night on Facebook. My friends mocked me, as that’s what friends do. See? The Pinterest amusement is a gift that keeps on giving.)

Gettin’ Real up in Pinterest Valentine’s Day

  1. Collect all the broken crayons in the house (send any decent ones to a teacher for her classroom).
  2. Soak the crayons in water to dissolve the paper wrappers (Make sure you take out all the “washable” crayons. Those will just disintegrate into glops of gooey goo).
  3. Separate by color (after you scratch the paper off each one, because soaking won’t work), then break up into pieces.
  4. Melt them in the oven in a silicon Ikea heart ice cube mold. Follow temp and time directions found online.
  5. Realize people online are idiots and/or my oven sucks. Increase oven temp by 10%. Increase baking time by 400%.
  6. Open all the doors and windows and run every fan in the house. In the dead of winter. Because: stankage.
  7. Repeat 3 times. The mold has 16 hearts. You have a shit ton of crayons.
  8. Struggle like you’ve never struggled before. Break 2 hearts in the process of extracting hearts from mold.
  9. Try a microwave experiment.
  10. Go back to using the oven.
  11. Struggle like hell again to get the crayons out, after sufficient cooling time.
  12. Days pass. You are still working on this.
  13. Ignore complaints of crayon smell in the dining room.
  14. Son tells you he isn’t planning on handing anything out for Valentine’s day at school.
  15. SOLDIER ON. You still have more crayons to melt.
  16. Add more crayons to each heart halfway through melting process. This produces huge hearts that don’t match the rest but it gets it all done faster.
  17. Search around for a box to hold 44 heart crayons.
  18. Do unnatural things to cardboard for display purposes in box.
  19. Stuff crayons in the box even though they don’t really fit.
  20. Spend 4 days trying everything to save the $1 mold from Ikea then eventually toss it in the recycling bin.

VOILA! Crayon hearts from Pinterest. That are taking up space in your house.



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Interview over at First Site Guide

Firstsiteguide homepageFirst Site Guide is a place where total web n00bs can get some beginner ebooks about building websites and blogs. All one has to do is hand over their email address. The site’s revenue model seems to be email advertising but I’m not quite sure, as I myself haven’t signed up for any mailings.

Why I’m posting about it: The site asked me last year to be a blogger interviewed for their personal experiences area. Sure, interviewing bloggers is a sneaky way to get backlinks, but it turns out there’s a good bit of advice happening in those interviews. It’s not the be-all, end-all resource for new website owners but the interviews can give you a good idea of how web people/bloggers work.

Firstsiteguide.com just redesigned all their pages, so go over and take a look. You can find my interview here.

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Tiny house? Nope.

Biz Author Ann Handley's Writing Shed

Biz Author Ann Handley’s Writing Shed

Back to life

Backlash reality articles are finally critiquing the Internet’s-darling “tiny house” craze. Like everyone else, I was fascinated by the trend. As kids, we all dreamed of an awesome clubhouse or treehouse of our own.

I mused over building a tiny house in the backyard. The kids could have sleepovers in it, we could put guests out there or even AirBnB it. It could double as a writing shed, like the one my friend Ann Handley (author of Everybody Writes) has. (links below)

Despite all the hype, something about the tiny house movement struck me as iffy. I credited my suspicion to the knowledge of my township’s ban on too-small living structures (tiny house advocates scream foul when it comes to such “oppressive” zoning). Honestly, though, after my initial fascination, I didn’t lend it much thought. Turns out, my suspicion wasn’t about zoning. It was about feasibility.

Back to reality

I like simple living. Right now I’m all about The KonMari Method of simplifying and streamlining. I’m decluttering the house, room by room, following along a calendar of assignments on a home storage website. Having grown up in a very messy, very cluttered apartment and then house, and having a hoarder grandmother whose house was a death trap, I regularly revisit the amount of things I own. I keep a tidy house, but I often fall short of my “simple living” goals (Hello, craft supplies).

When I’d read about tiny houses and their owners, I would notice a few things:

  1. Most tiny house owners were white, single or coupled people, no kids.
  2. Their hobbies were outdoor-related, if any hobbies were mentioned at all.
  3. They were looking to save money and/or simplify and/or live off the grid/in nature.
  4. They worked outside the home.
  5. They had no pets or just one pet (generally small).

Early adopters of the movement abandon their tiny houses when one of the above criteria changes. Pregnancy and babies. Enforcement of local ordinances against housing less than a certain square footage. Loss of Internet access or other utilities. etc.

Some people just run out of the energy it takes to live in such a cramped space, especially with another person.

Minimum space requirements are a thing. Zoning laws exist for a reason (many reasons, actually). I hate to admit to schadenfreude, but I found a huge sense of relief when I finally found some articles talking about these issues.



Writing sheds on Pinterest

Back from a fantasy

Living space, privacy, and community are inextricably linked to physical health and happiness. Most people need connection with many other humans. A tiny house out in the woods, far from everyone and everything may sound great, but for the overwhelming majority of people, living so isolated wouldn’t be a long-term solution. (Some of the articles below demonstrate this).

Having very little privacy and space of my own growing up was hard, to say the least. Cramped living isn’t good for anyone long term. It’s a form of poverty those of us who’ve lived it constantly strive to escape.



Tiny House, Big Lie (awesome article that says it all)

365 Days of Decluttering

KonMari Method

Ann Handley’s Writing Shed

Writing Shed Search on Pinterest

Tiny Houses abandoned and why on Tech Insider

Soul II Soul Lyrics

Everybody Writes by Ann Handley (I’m thanked in the credits!)
Affiliate link (not that I ever earn anything from these):

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Y axis= Challenge Level, X Axis=Skill Level. Axes cross at "low" and range to "high". High challenge level + high skill level is opposite of Y&X axes cross, and that is the state of "Flow"


This chart is a favorite of mine. The concept of “Flow” (Csikszentmihalyi) or “Being in the zone” (Michael Jordan) is that state of balance between the perceived difficulty of the task at hand the the perceived potential of one’s own abilities. When “flow” happens, a person is using all of their skills at their fullest potential on a task that is almost beyond their reach. People describe losing hours of time to a “rhythm” or “groove” when they are in this state. Religious people may describe it as engaging in one’s destiny, or communing with one’s spirit.

Research coming out of the Positive Psychology camp tends to be total crap. It’s not replicable. The sampling is pathetic. The methods are just plain bad. But I hope the concept of “Flow” keeps getting some hard inquiry. Despite my fear of corporate America twisting it to enslave as many workers as possible, I look forward to more insights into the study of purpose and mastery in one’s work. (Daniel Pink proposes we need 3 elements to fuel strong motivation: Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy. More on that in a minute.)


The chart above works for me with my many hobbies, like knitting or crafts projects. Knitting patterns with simple, repetitive stitches are my tv-watching companion. Simple knitting, which is low challenge for me, puts me in the “Relaxation” corner of the chart (High skill, Low challenge). If I need to concentrate more on the pattern, that brings me into the “control” area, and I may have to pause the TV until I get past a particularly tricky bit.

I have to say, though, I don’t think I reach a state of “Flow” when I’m knitting. Maybe once or twice I hit my stride but knitting patterns change stitches quite often, so I get halted in the movement. Long stretches of tricky stitches definitely can be a flow-inducing thing but I don’t knit too many of those kinds of patterns. Maybe I should.

Crossword puzzles, for me, were addictive. Hours a day were wasted on NYT Crossword puzzle app. Perhaps if my skills were a bit better, I’d get out of “Control” and into “Flow” when I was doing the puzzles. But as it was, I spent too much time on them. Reading, writing, doing photography or other crafts were more worthy of my efforts and had a better chance at keeping me in either “Relaxation” or “Flow.”


The most informative part of this chart is the upper left corner: Anxiety. Anxiety is the result of a huge challenge being met with low skills. Anxiety builds up when we think we don’t have what it takes to overcome whatever is coming at us.

So how to lessen anxiety and calm-the-F-down? Break the problem down into smaller steps, so you can attack one hurdle at a time. Also: take a more realistic/optimistic look at your own skills and resources. You probably have a friend you can talk to, or can find a library book having to do with that challenge (This is why the “For Dummies” books are so popular. They break down challenging subjects into small, manageable-by-anyone steps).

The “mindfulness” movement also encourages us to break moments down to this very one, and asking the question: what must you do right now? (Most of the time the answer is: just breathe. And sometimes breathing and staying present is enough of a challenge in itself). The next question to ask: what small step can I take now? Baby steps on the bus, people! Slow and steady can win a race. This is the approach I’m taking to the novel. Sometimes my days are so busy I write in 5 minutes here and there. It’s better than nothing.


Author Dan Pink talks about the best ways to motivate employees in his book Drive (Linked below is my podcast interview with Mr. Pink about the book). Mr. Pink says 3 elements have to be present for any worker to find that sweet spot of flow at one’s job. First, the employee must have the most amount of autonomy as possible. Choosing one’s own tasks and methods is a key requirement for loving one’s job. Next, the skills for those tasks must be acquired in a way that is possible for almost total mastery to be achieved by the worker. Finally, one’s work must have meaning over and above the salary earned. Pink found that salary alone is a very poor motivator, no matter what the level of salary is. Flow in one’s work is achieved by a high moral sense of meaning in the results of the work and the ability to sit right on the edge of mastery, always learning new skills while completing each task well.

In the “Flow” chart above, Autonomy is in the choosing of the task, so you don’t see it on the chart.

“Mastery” (ranging from total newbie to elite pro) would be placed at “Skill level”

“Purpose” (ranging from No fucks given to One’s Whole Reason for Living) would sit at the “Challenge Level:”



So if you aren’t feeling motivated right now, ask yourself where you are on the chart. What’s your skill level? Can you gain more skill? What’s the challenge level? Can you break it down into smaller steps? Take a different look at it. You may eek out some motivation yet!


My Interview with Dan Pink about DRIVE

Y axis= Challenge Level, X Axis=Skill Level. Axes cross at "low" and range to "high". High challenge level + high skill level is opposite of Y&X axes cross, and that is the state of "Flow" 0 comments

Snowy Philly

Snowy Philadelphia

Technical.ly has a great drone video of Philadelphia-O’-Snow, after the 4th largest snow storm in recorded history here. The amount doesn’t look that bad from a hundred feet up… but let me assure you, it was a shitton of snow. We spent the entire weekend clearing it. Fisticuffs are undoubtedly happening in South Philly over saved shoveled-out parking spots.

Drones are awesome. Amateurs can now make crazy overhead videos like this.

Snowy Philadelphia by Matt Satell

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