Category: how to

How To Do 10 Things (At Least Slightly) Better

how to do things better


We’re knee-deep into summer and I’m going to take the smallest of breathers. I’ve got two weeks of travel coming up, along with my birthday, and launching a big ‘ol offering. I’m going to go to the lake, eat one metric ton of raspberries, and remember what the stars look like outside the reach of street lights.
We’ll be back to business as usual with Web Time Wasters on Sunday and there’s some exciting stuff coming in August. Till then, I dug through my archives and found some of my best how-tos and tutorials. Have a dig through ’em and I’ll see you next week!


Looking through these, it’s painfully obvious how much I like lists and parenthesis, isn’t it?

If you have any how-to requests, leave ’em in the comments!

photo by Magdalena Roeseler // cc

What To Do When Someone Says Something Offensive

If you're not particularly confrontational but you're sick of your friends using words like "gay" and "retarded," this post is for you. //

A few years ago, my insanely smart, insurmountably sassy friend Cathy inadvertently created The World’s Best Response to

a) catcallers
b) people who drop the n-word or r-word
c) anyone who just generally says ignorant, offensive stuff on the regular

Cathy was walking to the bus after work, deep in thought. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw a man trying to get her attention.

Putting on her best Polite, Accommodating Voice she inquired:
“I’m sorry. What did you say?”

The man stammered/blushed/mumbled/stumbled away and that’s when Cathy realized he’d actually been catcalling her and she’d inadvertently politely confronted him. And when she actually responded to him, he nearly turned inside out with shame and cowardice.

From then on, Cathy used this method with almost every man who catcalled her. And apparently it has a 90% success rate of inducing shame!

And really, I think you can use this whenever anyone says something offensive that you both know they shouldn’t be saying.

When your friend says she feels like a ‘retard’ because she dropped the ball on a work project.
When a co-worker uses a racial slur.
When someone describes a movie they didn’t like as ‘gay.’

Some direct eye contact and a polite “I’m sorry. What did you say?” goes a long way. Usually, people know they shouldn’t be using those words, but they might be testing the waters to see if they can say them around you. Or they might have forgotten themselves.

Asking people to repeat words they probably know are hurtful forces them to recognize their word choices. Click To Tweet

If that doesn’t work, I like to say something like “Yeah, that move suuuuure was homosexual. Lots of homosexual sex in that film!”   Or you could even say “I think what you mean is the movie was poorly plotted and acted.  Right?”

Of course, this won’t work every time.  Sadly, there are down-to-the-bone racists that exist in the world and men who would see a polite inquiry as an opportunity to yell crass things in your sweet face.

But most people?  They’re good and just need a reminder that there is a human on the receiving end of those unpleasant words.

How do you deal with catcallers?  Or when people say offensive things?
Photo by on Unsplash

Things We Don’t Say Enough (And When To Say Them)

Be a better friend. Say these things we don't say enough.
Long ago, in a land far away, I went through a terrible break up.
Two weeks after The Awful Breakup, I attended my cousin’s wedding.
Alone, instead of (as planned) with my boyfriend.
The highlight (sarcasm!) of this wedding was when I arrived to the reception before any of my extended family and found myself balancing a paper plate of hors dourves and a plastic cup of wine
on my lap
in a bathroom stall
trying not to cry.
Once enough time had passed to render this story hilarious instead of tragic, I regaled a group of girlfriends with it, laughing as I mimed the universal sign for “bathroom stall crying.”
We all laaaaaauuuughed at the Bridget Jones-ness of the scenario but then my friend Abby turned to me and said with seriousness: “You know, none of that is your fault.”
And I had to look at the floor and blink away tears at the truth and kindness in what she’d said.
Because she was totally, totally right. And even though I knew that the break up wasn’t my fault, it helped more than I ever imagined to hear those words from someone else.
With that in mind, here are a few other things we don’t say enough – and when I think you should say them.

“That takes guts.”

When to say it:
When someone breaks up with that Really Great Person who just isn’t right for them
When someone finally leaves the (steady, lucrative) job they hate
When someone moves to a new city/state/country where they don’t know anyone
When someone does something on their own that’s usually done in pairs

“It’s not your fault.”

When to say it:
When someone feels guilty that they couldn’t save/rescue/change a person who has significant issues
When someone’s partner cheats on them
When someone gets laid off
When a relationship falls apart after years of effort and therapy
When someone’s been robbed/mugged/assaulted/raped

“I really admire the way you’re handling this.”

When to say it:
Anytime anyone is handing a stressful situation (divorce, break up, family struggles, debt) with grace

“I’m glad we’re friends.” 

When to say it:
When your friend tells you something that you needed to hear
When your friend does something super amazing and inspiring that makes you want to be half as awesome as they are
When you get in a fight with your friend and then make up
When you do something super fun and ridiculous that you know you will reference years later and laugh about

What are things that you wish someone had said to you? When do you need to hear these things?


Photo by jens johnsson on Unsplash

When 'No' is better than 'Yes'


Dear Sarah,
Your blog is about saying “Yes” to adventures in life and great opportunities. I was wondering if you could share what you’ve had to say “No” to in your life and why you said no to certain situations/opportunities/friendships/relationships etc? Sometimes, at least for me, it’s helpful to hear what boundaries others have set to craft their lives and why.
– Carleen

Funnily enough, a few friends refer to me as “The One With Boundaries.”  
I have no idea if this is a compliment but I’m choosing to interpret it as one.  While I’m (obviously!) a positive, yay-saying lady, I also have approximately zero tolerance for bullshit and I work to add awesome and subtract foolishness from my life.
Here are the things I say no to.  With gusto!
People who engage in the same damaging, negative behavior repeatedly and then complain about the outcomes
It is 100% none of my business if you’re broke because you can’t control your online shopping.  Or if you got fired from another job because you’re always late.  Or your car broke down again because you (still) haven’t had that noise checked out.  None of these things make you bad person or a bad friend.  We all make mistakes.However.

If you want to spend our time together complaining about bad things that have happened to you – things that have happened before and should not come as a surprise – well, that’s not particularly enjoyable or enriching for anyone involved.  I want to spend time with people who inspire me.  I, personally, do not find repeated bad decisions inspiring.

Random, crazy, difficult things happen to all of us.  But some people seem to invite the crazy.  Clients who are late or mean, friends who do crazy, drunk things or yell or cry or throw things?  Nope.  I am too old for that ish.  Really, anyone over the age of 22 is too old for that ish.  I will happily be Facebook friends or see-you-at-the-party friends with a Drama Inducer, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go.

People who complain constantly about things they have the power to change

We’d all like to change certain things about our lives – our bank balance, our weight, our job, the people we live with.  And it’s human nature to vent from time to time.  But when someone complains every Friday about being broke while drinking three $12 cocktails?  Or never-endingly snipes about his roommate but refuses to talk to him or kick him out?  It bums me out.
Non-exclusive romantic relationships
For every thing there is a season, and I’m not in that season of life where I’m interested in dating someone who wants to date other people.  If I like you enough to date you, I like you enough to date just you.  Dating multiple people works for a lot of folks – I’m just not one of ’em.  I’d rather spend my time + energy on one person and one relationship than spreading myself thin with several dudes I’m lukewarm about.
Having a data plan on my phone
Does it strike you as ridiculous that a professional blogger can’t check email from her phone?  Fair enough.  But, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I’m addicted to the internet, and one of the ways I curb that is by making my phone an internet-free zone.  Plus, it’s super annoying when you’re trying to have a deep and meaningful with your friend and she’s googling “Grumpy Cat + Santa hat.” I would be that friend.  We’re all better off when I can’t get online from the nail salon.Taking on clients I wouldn’t be friends with
Of course, this doesn’t work out every.single.time but I try to limit my clients to people I’d want to meet for coffee or who appreciate my taste in stinky cheeses.  I want to build my proverbial ‘tribe’ of like-minded awesome people whose products I, myself, would use.


Interacting with clients anytime after 6 pm CST or on weekends
Nope. If I’m feeling really twitchy, I’ll respond to their email (because I love an empty inbox) but schedule the email to send at 8 am the next morning.  I don’t want to create the expectation that I respond to emails at 9:30 pm on a Friday night.What do you say ‘no’ to?  How do you set boundaries in your life?

Photo by Beth Moore // cc

13 Fresh Starts For The New Year

Scheduling this post is becoming something of a yearly tradition. I first wrote it in 2010, reposted it on New Year’s day of 2011 and, well, here we are again. But it’s one of my favorite posts and – I don’t know about you – but I could certainly use a yearly reminder to freshen up.
1. Get rid of the clothes you don’t love and don’t wear
Now, you should know that getting rid of things? It’s, like, my second favorite hobby. But cleaning out your closet and getting rid of the things that don’t fit you, suit you or please you anymore – it’s a great thing. I promise you’ll feel so much better once your closet is pared down to things that look great on you and bring a smile to your face. You can even make a few bucks off your old clothes at a consignment shop!
2. Clean out your car
Goodbye empty Cheetos bags, two extra ice scrapers and orphaned mitten. Vacuum out the sand left over from this summer, splash out on the $8 automated car wash that includes a wax and switch to a new air freshener.
3. Organize your email/photos/online profiles
Do you have email folders? Dude, you need to. Even if those folders just consist of ‘friends,’ ‘work,’ ‘misc. important’ and ‘funny pictures of cats’ I promise you will feel so clean and smug when your inbox is not 254 emails deep with spam and emails about Christmas presents.
Spend a bit of time organizing your various online haunts. Maybe weed out a few Facebook friends, adjust your privacy settings, delete your Myspace account, print out your favorite photos. Again, you’ll feel all clean and smug, I promise.
4. Change up your fitness routine
I’m talking to you, self. Sure, 30 minutes on the stair climber listening to Ke$ha is awesome – and better than nothing – but how about a ballet class? Or aqua aerobics? kettle balls? hot yoga? You’ll work different muscles, meet new people and probably have heaps of fun wearing that awesome flowered swimming cap.
5. Reevaluate the relationships in your life
This is something that I don’t think we do enough. Are you happy with your partner? Are you headed in the same direction? When you look at them, do you think “How’d I get the best one?” Is everything pretty good, but a bit boring? Take stock of what’s working and what’s not. Think about ways that you can spice things up and re-connect. Have adventures. Try something new together. Have Big Important conversations.
And what about your friends? Do they inspire you and support you? Are they full of life and fun? Do you look up to them and respect them? We all know people that drain us and suck the joy out of any interaction. Maybe it’s time to let those friendships go? I’m not suggesting some epic break-up conversation, but maybe limit yourself to hanging out with them in groups, or allow them to initiate plans for once.
How about those people that you’ve met and would like to be better friends with? Make it happen! I’m totally the girl who will meet a person once, recognize a kindred spirit, and announce to them that we will now commence being friends. Really. And you’d be amazed how often this works! If you meet someone you like – tell them! Friend them on Facebook and suggest an adventure! The worse they could do is ignore you.
6. Clean out your cupboards and fridge
Not unlike your closet, you surely have things wallowing in the depths of your fridge and cupboards that are never going to see the light of day. Canned beets, anyone? Commit to eating them up, toss them or donate them to a food shelf. Give everything a good wipe down and then stock up on yummy, nutritious food that you love – feta! nutella! mandarins!
7. Update your resume
When you have a job, it’s easy to let your resume rot in the depths of your hard drive, but why not spend a few hours spicing it up? Update it with new skills you’ve learned at your current job, experiment with different fonts and layouts, make sure that all the dates, emails and phone numbers are current. You never know when you’ll need it!
8. Clean out your bathroom cabinet
I won’t bore you with those statistics about how makeup’s shelf life is supposedly 3 weeks or some such, but why not toss those old prescriptions, the frosted lipstick and that shampoo that makes your hair weird. Give everything a wipe down, wash out your makeup brushes and buy yourself a few new products you’ve been meaning to try.
10. Change out your ringtone/alarm/screen saver
Yes. Download something new and fun. Wade through the gillions of gorgeous photos on Flickr and find something new for your screen saver.
11. Try a new scent
Aroma therapy is for real. Why not try a completely new scent for your home? Or a perfume that’s completely outside of what you normally go for? I’m usually all over what I call ‘cougar scents’ – musky, spicy things that make me smell like a 50 year old woman who flies first class, drinks too many martinis and pinches the bums of stewards. But I’m going to give something light and floral a try!
12. Switch up your surroundings
You don’t need to engage in an extreme home makeover to get the feeling of a new space. Switch out the shams on your pillow cases, put some different pictures in those frames, put something different in that decorative bowl, replace the Venetian blinds with some thrifted curtains, paint an accent wall a color you love. You don’t need to break the bank to see a huge difference.
13. Make a list of new things you want to try
I’m in the process of trying 34 new things before I turn 34, but you can try any number of new things. And they don’t need to be epic, expensive, life changing things. ‘Cook something with lemongrass,’ ‘Watch Citizen Kane,’ and ‘Try Hip Hop Karaoke’ are all equally valid. It’s just important to try new things!
What fresh starts are you making this year? Leave your ideas in the comments!
original image (without text on top) by maybe sparrow’s place, for sale here.

How To Stay Optimistic When Everything’s Horrible

How do you stay optimistic when current events are heart breaking and the earth is slowly warming? It's not easy but here are 5 things I do. //
Dear Sarah Von,

How do you stay so optimistic even though the world around us has so many problems? Everyday I see awful things on the news (war, famine, class inequality, etc), and even my work is slowly taking a toll on me. I work in the environmental justice field, and it’s just sad to see how unfair the world is. I used to be a much happier person when I was younger and more oblivious to these sorts of things! Is this just a normal part of growing up?
– Maya
Girl, I hear you. Just like a lot of people, I spent several years feeling certain that bad things only happened to Other People and that what happened in those dirty, war-torn countries didn’t particularly apply to me.
Then I started watching the news and paying taxes and paying attention to someone other than myself. And stuff got real preeeetty quickly. Here’s how I try to stay positive and optimistic.

I pick my battles

I have three causes that I actively donate to and support: marriage equity, reproductive rights, refugee resettlement. This is not to say that I ignore all the other problems in the world, but these are the issues that speak to me. I find it’s a lot easier to feel good about the world and the difference I’m making when I narrow my scope.

I choose my news sources carefully

Fox News melts my brain as does any radio or television show in which people raise their voices or call each other names. Nope, not interested. I read headlines on The Morning News, I read Slate and Salon, I listen to public radio on the weekends. That’s it. I also make an effort to read things like People Are Awesome and 1,000 Awesome Things to level things out a bit.

I deal with worldly issues in a way that works for me

Sometimes I donate money. Sometimes I donate my time and skill set. Sometimes I donate products or ad space on this blog. Sometimes I say “that’s totally, totally awful” and then I turn off the radio.

I donated money to earthquake relief in Japan, but knowing exactly how many died and exactly how much radio active waste is leaking into the ground isn’t going to change anything or make me feel better.

Please note: I’m not advocating putting your head in the proverbial sand in regards to current events but I don’t think knowing every.last.detail about every.single.catastrophe is productive or beneficial.

I surround myself with positive people

This isn’t to say that my friends and I ignore current events or never complain about anything. But we try not to snipe or to let conversations deteriorate into negative commentary about our jobs/bodies/relationships/the state of the world. Because why talk about that stuff when there operas to go to and fried green tomatoes to eat? 

I realize that the world has been going to hell in a hand basket since ever

My grandparents grew up during The Depression and had to drop out of high school to support their families. My mom grew up with neighbors who built bomb shelters in their backyard.
My dad and uncle were in the military during the Vietnam war. All of those things are scary and challenging and fairly horrible. But you know what? All of those people now lead happy, healthy, productive lives.

Again, this is not to downplay the scary things that are happening in our world today, but scary things have been happening since time immemorial.

Lovely, wonderful, amazing things have been happening for that long as well.

How do you stay positive and optimistic? Leave happy-making links and tips in the comments.

P.S. 101 ways to cheer yourself up

Photo by Ryan Loughlin on Unsplash