Tag Archives: Personal Stuff

See You at the Polls

If you don’t vote, you’re giving away your power.

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Vote for your favorite or vote against your least favorite.

Go in educated about the issues or go with your gut.

Carefully consider what you’re doing or decide at the last minute.

Do it as cheerful exercise of your citizenship or do it as an unhappy obligation.

But whatever you do,

VOTE.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She can’t wait to vote on November 8.

Everyone loves Whole30. Except me.

I ate squeaky clean for thirty days. I’m never doing it again.

IMG_2809I first heard of Whole30 on the internet. It seems like everyone loves this eating plan, with people posting before and after pictures and Instagramming their meat-and-veggie lunches. Whole30 isn’t a diet. It’s more like pushing the “reset” button on your eating habits. By cutting out sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol, beans, soy and peanuts for a month, you’re supposed to change your relationship to food, and eat more mindfully ever after.

The testimonials sound too good to be true. By eating like this for just thirty days, people report effortless weight loss, clear skin, sound sleep, boundless energy, and an end to all food cravings, forever. Some people say that Whole30 cured their high blood pressure, asthma, or diabetes. Who wouldn’t want to be in on that? I filled my grocery cart with delicious, whole foods and for thirty days, ate nothing but meat, eggs and vegetables, with a small amount of fruits and tree nuts for a treat.

For people who eat a lot of restaurant meals or packaged food, Whole30 is a huge lifestyle change. But I was already cooking my own meals from scratch. I was already eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. I never ate fast food or instant ramen or sweet cereal. My big indulgences were granola bars and dark chocolate. Still, I thought that surely cutting out cheese, oatmeal, popcorn and wine, not to mention noodles and bread would give me some of those miracle benefits the internet was raving about. Everyone who does Whole30 says “It changed my life.”

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Let me tell you what Whole30 did for me.

Nothing.

My skin looks the same. My energy levels didn’t improve. I didn’t lose a single pound. And if anything, my insomnia got worse.

And I missed out on so much.

I’m not talking about sandwiches or stupid store-bought cookies, because who cares about those? I’m talking about meaningful treats that people put real effort into. My friend opened an ice cream store, which was his dream come true. I attended the celebration without tasting a single one of his homemade creations. I went to a birthday party and didn’t eat any of the cake. I told my writer’s group that I wouldn’t bring muffins this week.

But the worst was when I had a spat with a family member and after we made up, he went out of his way to bring me my favorite dessert and I didn’t eat it. He was nice about it and said he admired my dedication to my goal, but I could tell he was hurt. I should have said “screw Whole30” and eaten every last bite, because no eating plan is worth harming a relationship with a loved one.

Whole30 wasn’t all bad. I learned a some new recipes. I made a couple of new Instagram friends. I learned that my diet was already quite healthy. The reason I didn’t receive huge benefits is because I didn’t make huge changes.

It took eating super clean for thirty to days to learn that while my normal diet isn’t perfect, it is good enough. Now that I know that, I never, never, never have to do Whole30 ever again.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who is passionate about helping new writers, no matter what they’re eating.

Taking Chances

Women make minute-by-minute calculations about their own safety all day every day. And sometimes we get it wrong.

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I was waiting to cross the street. Waiting through two light cycles. The crosswalk signal changed from “stop” to “walk” for the second time, and still I hesitated. Because like all women, I’m constantly scanning my surroundings, and I could see what was waiting for me on the other side.

I don’t know if he was dangerous or not. It was hard to tell, and I didn’t want to risk finding out. All I know is the guy standing on the other side of the street scared me. He was underweight, unwashed, wearing lounge pants and a t-shirt and a camouflage necktie as a headband. He was yelling incoherently at the top of his lungs. He stood on the balls of his feet, his entire upper body leaning forward in an aggressive way that said he was going to take a swing at the next person who got too close.

This was in broad daylight, about 11:30 in the morning on a Thursday, downtown Ann Arbor on the corner of Main and Ann, across from the courthouse. There were other people around, but not enough people. Nobody else seemed to be going my way.

I couldn’t cross on the other side of the street. Sidewalk repairs. Street closed. I’d either have to walk a two-block circle or take my chances with yelling guy.

I was about to take the detour when I saw him. A man of about thirty, in a dress shirt and pants, walking in my same direction down Main Street. He wasn’t huge, but he was big enough. More importantly, he looked confident. He sized up the situation and maneuvered himself to stand on the other side of me, so that he’d be between me and yelling guy when we passed him. We crossed the street together.

“Thanks,” I said when we’d put half a block between us and yelling guy. “I really didn’t want to walk past him by myself.”

“No problem,” he said. He held out his hand. “My name is Christopher.”

“I’m Alex.” I shook his hand. “Thanks again, Christopher. Have a great day.” I kept walking.

Christopher kept pace. “Are you single?” he asked. “Can we be friends?”

I stopped walking. My jaw dropped. “Are you serious right now?”

“What?” he asked. “We can’t be friends?”

“Don’t be that guy,” I half-whispered. “Please, don’t be that guy.”

“Yeah, all right.” He smiled as he sauntered off. “Have a nice day…Alex.” He added that special little lilt at the end, the one that says, “I know something about you.”

I had at least ten years on Christopher. Maybe fifteen. My hair is going gray. I was wearing what I describe as “mom shoes.”

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None of that mattered. Christopher had walked me across the street. He had bought my attention.

I should have taken my chances with yelling guy.

And that’s what I hate most about this whole thing. Of the two men, Christopher looked like the safer bet. Women make these moment-by-moment calculations all day every day, and sometimes we get it wrong.

It was a small encounter, more annoying than dangerous, but it might not have been. What happens when a man like Christopher walks a woman to her car, in the dark? What happens when he insists on being more than friends?

I told this story to some girlfriends and they sympathized with me. They understood it because they’d all been through some version of this. But my guy friends all said, “Oh no! What a tool. I would never do that.” And I believe them. They wouldn’t.

But guys, here’s what you have to understand. For every one of you, there is at least one Christopher out there.

And he’s ruining it for the rest of you.

#YesAllWomen

About the Author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who walks almost everywhere. 

[Image: Google maps]

Ten Ways Being an Adult is Super Awesome

Don’t believe the coffee cups, t-shirts, and internet memes.

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“I can’t adult today” is one of the internet’s favorite sayings.

And I honestly don’t get it.

I’ve wanted to be a grown-up since I was five years old. That’s when I realized adults don’t have a bedtime and can say “no thank you” to green beans. Now that I’m actually grown up, it’s even better than I thought it would be and I don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t love it, too.

Of course, I’m not talking about people who have depression or anxiety. Sometimes those issues can deplete someone’s daily store of energy before they even get out of bed. And I get that. I do. Self-care is important. In fact, self-care is part of being an adult. You get to do that now.

And you get to do so much more. Here are ten great reasons being all grown up is the best thing ever.

10. You’re in charge of you. You can choose your own bedtime, what to wear, how to color your hair, and your own music in the car. You can eat your dessert without finishing your vegetables and you will never, ever be grounded, no matter how sassy you are.

9. Coffee. Wine. Sex. Swearing. Would you really want to trade in these adult pleasures for fewer responsibilities and a daily nap?

8. You can choose your own friends. Heck, you can choose your own family if you want.

7. No one asks you what you want to be when you grow up, because they can clearly see you already are. You get to have your own identity. You’re not just “so and so’s child,” you’re you.

6. Knowing how to do things feels really, really good. Grown-ups can drive a car, cook a meal, program the DVR, vote, and write in cursive. Or at least do some of these things. And these things are awesome.

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5. Paychecks > allowance.

4. Your parents get smarter every year.

3. You can watch all the scary movies you want. And read books with sex scenes in them. And see TV shows with lots of blood and maybe naked butts.

2. You don’t have to sing with your classmates, exercise with a group, deal with mean girls, or fill out a bubble form with a #2 pencil ever again. If you want to learn something, you get a book and learn it at your own pace. :::Wipes away a tear of joy:::

1. You can have children if you wish, and spend time with them feeling like a kid all over again.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the afternoon building a blanket fort and then I’m going to sit inside it eating graham crackers while reading books. Because I’m an adult, which means I get to spend my free time any way I want.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor living her best grown-up life.

Weird Visual of the Day

Humans are infinitely varied creatures. Why not celebrate that?

My family has this game we call “Weird Visual of the Day.” Whenever we’re out and about, we look for people and things that are ever-so-slightly out of the ordinary. We’re not looking for the kind of full-on strangeness that’s sad or dangerous. We’re not looking for spectacle. We’re not looking for people whose hobby is looking outlandish. We’re looking for the kind of everyday oddballs that you find in any medium-sized city, especially in a college town like ours.

It’s not competitive. My family doesn’t keep score. It’s just a way to remind ourselves to keep our eyes open, because humans are such wonderfully varied creatures.

Like the woman and her dog wearing matching coats…and shoes. Or the couple wearing deer costumes and glittery masks doing a slow-motion dance in the middle of Maynard street, accompanied by a tambourine. Or the guy sporting a hairstyle I can only describe as “Elvis Mohawk.”

Or the people who put a tiny volcano in their front yard.

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Or the time we were at a high school football game and the woman two rows ahead of us took it upon herself to turn around and teach our entire section the words to the school song. Patiently. Loudly. Out of tune. Her companions were embarrassed for her. I was delighted.

I was shopping with a friend when we saw this in the mall parking lot.

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My friend was horrified. “Who would do something like that?” she asked.

“Someone way more fun than us,” I answered, reaching for my camera. Seriously, how can you not love this stuff?

Weird Visual of the Day is my favorite thing because I love quirky people. Happily, this weekend, I’ll be surrounded by them.

I’m going to a science fiction convention called “Life, the Universe, and ConFusion.” I’m sitting on four panels. When I’m not paneling, I’ll be mingling with scientists, gamers, authors, and artists.

At ConFusion, I don’t expect to see the weird visual of the day. I expect to see the weird visual of the hour.

I know my fellow con-goers will not let me down.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She is sure that at some point, she has been someone else’s Weird Visual of the Day.

We Are Not Things

Words to remember. Words to live by.

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My dearest friend Chris bought me this bracelet. I love it (and her) so much that it finds its way onto my wrist nearly every day.

It’s a simple aluminum cuff stamped with the words “We Are Not Things,” which is one of the taglines from my favorite movie: Mad Max Fury Road.

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“We Are Not Things” is a cry of liberation from desperate women fleeing across the wasteland in search of a better life. But truly, it applies to every character in the film, including Mad Max himself.

And it applies to me. And to you. And to everyone I meet.

We are not things.

I always wear it on my right wrist, with the words facing me.

I catch glimpses of it at odd times during the day. When I’m cooking. When I’m putting on chaptstick, and especially when I’m at the computer. I spend most of my time alone so usually I’m the only one who sees it.

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But I’m the one who needs to see it. Because in this internet age, where wit is social currency, I sometimes forget that there’s another human being on the other end of the computer.

As a writer, I put a lot of stock in words. I know what words mean. I know how to use them. I know how to combine them to achieve exactly the effect I’m hoping for. The problem comes when I’m on social media, having fun with my snarky friends, trying to top one joke with another. On social media—especially Twitter—many times the effect I’m hoping for is “making myself look good at the expense of others.”

Most of the time this is okay. Even hilarious. Nobody is hurt when I mock Comcast for their poor service or make a joke about the latest political debate. But there have been times when I’ve let it get more personal, and more nasty, than that. Once, I trusted my words far too much.

I made some observations about a friend I’ll call Stephanie (not her real name). Then, I used those observations to talk about my own shortcomings. I thought it was okay to use Stephanie as a platform because ultimately, I was the butt of my own joke.

Just typing those words make me cringe. I thought it was okay to use my friend as a platform. I thought it would be funny.

It wasn’t funny. Stephanie didn’t care that the joke was on me. She cared that I’d used her to get a laugh. I’d treated her like a thing. She took me to task for it and has not yet forgiven me. Nor have I forgiven myself.

I never want that to happen again. So I wear my bracelet, and I remind myself that we are not things. And I stop and think before I tweet.

Chris has never met Stephanie. She didn’t know any of this when she gave me the bracelet. She simply wanted to give me a memento of a movie I love, a reminder of my own liberation, a token of our friendship, and a pretty piece of jewelry to wear.

But she also gave me a beautiful reminder to take care with my words, because I am not, you are not, and we are not things.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who is passionate about helping new writers. 

Lessons From a Lifetime of Cooking

My mom didn’t teach me how to cook. She taught me something more important.

My mother was an indifferent cook. She put nutritious meals on the table every night, but she didn’t find it interesting or satisfying in any way. What she liked to make most were simple baked dishes. Anything she could put together, slide into the oven, and walk away from was ideal. We ate a lot of casseroles.

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Mom’s real passion was sewing. Since my siblings and I liked wearing custom-made clothing, as teenagers, we took over the kitchen so Mom could stay in her sewing room.

With the kids in charge of the cooking, bland casseroles gave way to stir-fries, slow-cooked meats with fresh herbs, and complex pasta dishes. Given freedom in the kitchen, my siblings and I have all become excellent, self-taught chefs.

Even all these years later, after cooking countless meals for my own family, I’m still picking up new ideas. Here are three things I’ve learned this year.

1.Most cookbooks are aspirational, not instructive. I’ve bought a lot of cookbooks. Some of them I’ve only used once. But I’ve learned that it’s perfectly okay to look through gorgeous illustrated recipes for French cuisine and then cook a simple stew. If the cookbook got me into the kitchen, it’s done its job.

2.  No two loaves of bread are ever the same. I recently learned to bake artisan bread and it’s changed my life. It’s the only bread my family eats, I bring it to every potluck, and it’s my go-to thank you gift. With this one recipe, I feel like I’ve been given the cheat code for life. But I’ve also learned that effort and outcome are two different things. I’ve baked gorgeous loaves worthy of a magazine photo. I’ve also baked misshapen lumps, flat bread where I wanted puffy, and high-rising tall loaves where I wanted focaccia. They were all delicious, but every time I put the dough in the oven, I cross my fingers that I’ll get the results I was working toward.

3. When cooking a new recipe, always have a special dessert, in case it flops. Cupcakes always work. Not the grocery store ones, but the really fancy ones that come from the specialty store and look too pretty to eat. You bust those out after dinner and everyone will forget the curry that tasted like dirty socks.

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These lessons all have one thing in common: acceptance. You can only control so much. At some point, you have to let go and let the heat do the work, trusting it will be okay. And that you’ll survive if it’s not.

That’s one thing my mom did well. Most of the time, her recipes turned out just fine. But when they didn’t, it never bothered her. She had so little of herself invested in the outcome, she could take a Zen approach to it all.

A tiny bit of my heart still breaks when I spend hours on a meal only to have the roast turn into a chewy brick and the vegetables become a bland mush. But it helps to remember how lucky we are to have this food, and it helps to think of my mom, who knows that one kitchen fail doesn’t mean much in a lifetime of cooking.

Especially if there are cupcakes for dessert.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who hasn’t eaten a casserole since learning to cook.

The Top Ten Benefits of Being a Low-maintenance Gal

The less I care about how I look, the more I feel like myself.

I’ve had exactly one manicure in my life and that’s because someone gave me a gift certificate to a spa. I don’t color my hair. My favorite lipstick is chapstick. I’m always clean, well-groomed, and appropriately dressed, but everything else is optional, and I prefer not to opt in.

This is my current twitter picture.

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No makeup, unfussy hair, not even trying to hide the circles under my eyes. But it’s exactly how I look day-to-day and I want to be my authentic self online. My authentic self is a low-maintenance gal.

Being low-maintenance does not mean I’m lazy or I don’t like pretty things. Nor does it make me less of a lady. I smile a lot. I flirt. I love to hold babies and my favorite color is pink.

My style icon is Firefly’s Kaylee Frye.

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She’s sweet, she’s feminine, but she’s just not interested in obsessing about her looks. Kaylee dresses up sometimes, but only when it’s fun to do so.

So in honor of Kaylee Frye, here are the top ten benefits of being a low-maintenance gal.

10. I don’t spend money on makeup. I slap some sunscreen on my face and I’m good to go.

9. My bathroom is tidy because I don’t have a zillion little jars all over the counter. There is always room on my countertops and in my vanity drawers.

8. I travel light. That TSA rule about 3 ounce bottles in a quart-sized ziplock? No problem.

7. I can walk for miles and miles in my very cute, very flat shoes.

6. I’m a good role model for my kids. I’m showing them what a healthy, confident woman looks like. I don’t criticize my own looks and I hope they never criticize theirs.

5. Getting dressed up can be fun sometimes. It’s even more fun when it’s outside my usual routine. And special occasions feel even more special because I’ve made an effort.

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4. I have nice skin. Maybe it’s because I don’t put makeup on it. Or maybe it’s the other way around and I don’t have to put makeup on already good skin. Either way, I’m happy.

3. I can get ready to go at a moment’s notice. You want to go somewhere fabulous five minutes from now? Come pick me up. I’ll be ready.

2. I’m compassionate. With my own very low beauty standard, I’ve got no place to judge yours. I have never—not once—commented on someone’s weight, hairstyle, or clothes, not even in my own mind. Because I literally do not care. I notice what people wear and how they fix their hair. I enjoy their efforts. I don’t keep score.

1. I’m never going to be the prettiest or best dressed person in the room. It’s incredibly freeing. I’m the opposite of self-conscious. I’m okay with not being the pretty one or the cool one or the fashionable one. I can just be.

Other people like to go all-out with clothes and shoes and makeup and that is great. A chic hairstyle and flawless makeup is a joy to behold. Fashion is an art form. It truly is.

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Like Kaylee, I appreciate all the pretties. I love that these women make our world a more beautiful place.

And I especially love that they never ask me to go to shopping with them.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire who owns exactly one lipstick.

[Photo credits: Fox Film Corporation / Mutant Enemy Productions]

I Never Meant to be Evil

Fictional villains—just like real ones—have reasons for what they do.

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When I was in sixth grade, I went to girl scout camp for two weeks. I ended up in a cabin full of girls who were all older than me, all knew each other, and had already formed their own clique.

I tried everything to get on these girls’ good side. I went along with their decisions about who got which bunk, how we would line up for meals, and which celebrities it was acceptable to have a crush on. I laughed at their jokes and tried not to feel left out when they talked about kids from their school or teachers they hated or places they knew.

Still, I spent most of my free time by myself. One day when I was alone in the cabin, I got the great idea to tidy it up.

I thought I was being nice. I thought my cabinmates would appreciate my efforts.

I thought wrong.

I accidentally put one girl’s Tiger Beat magazine in the wrong place. When she returned and couldn’t find it, she accused me of stealing it. The magazine was soon found, but the damage was done. I was labeled a thief and the other girls stopped talking to me for the rest of camp.

I didn’t try to defend myself, and maybe that was my mistake, but really, what was there to say? I thought it was obvious that I hadn’t taken the magazine and in fact, the other girls should have praised me for picking stuff up off the floor. But from everyone else’s perspective, I was a villain, even though I had done nothing wrong and everything right.

The same thing is true of fictional villains. They have reasons for what they do, and those reasons have to make sense not only to the bad guy, but to the reader. The antagonists do what they do not only for their own selfish reasons but for what they perceive as the greater good. Even Hannibal Lecter killed people who were (in his opinion) worse than he was, thus lowering the world’s total quota of evil.

When I was a brand-new baby writer, I once got back a critique from a writing contest. The judge said of my antagonist, “What’s his motivation? Is he just evil?” I thought, um…yeah. Isn’t that what villains are?

Well, no. A good antagonist has motives as strong and worthy as the protagonist’s. The reader, and even the hero, must (just for a moment) almost believe that the villain is correct.

One writing teacher even suggests outlining the entire novel from the antagonist’s point of view. Although I’ve never quite gone that far, I’ve found that time spent developing my antagonist benefits every other aspect of the book. After all, no one, wants to be evil.

Sometimes, we just want to tidy up the cabin.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire who is passionate about helping new writers.

Pen in Hand

Do you love your handwriting? Hate it? Does anyone else ever see it?

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Some say handwriting is a lost art, but I don’t think so. Pen and paper are cheap and we all use them. We take notes, we write lists, some of us journal. We’re very used to seeing our own penmanship.

But what’s lost, I think, is the chance to read things written by others. Besides your kid’s homework papers and holiday cards, when is the last time you read something handwritten by someone else?

When I was a kid, I used to love watching my dad write. He held the fountain pen in his left hand and wrote beautiful cursive full of swoops and flourishes. I have recipe cards for dishes I will never make. I keep them because they are in my grandmother’s spindly writing. I’m fascinated by old diaries and letters as much for the handwriting as the words themselves.

So I wrote this blog post, so someone besides me could see something written by my own hand. 🙂

About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who only works with manuscripts that are not hand-written.