Monday, November 30, 2009

Streamlining Gift Giving

Last year's tree.

Without meaning to, I’ve finished almost all of my Christmas shopping. I have a couple of gifts left to buy or make, but I know exactly what they are and they shouldn’t take me very much time at all. I sort of don’t understand the whole “I’m so stressed out I have so much shopping left to do and not enough time left to do it in” phenomenon. I keep reading blog entries about people’s resolutions for this year’s gift buying season to keep it stress-free. While I’m glad they’re working out something that makes their life easier, it isn’t something I really relate to. I literally have never had a panicked gift-giving moment. Oh my, I’m sounding smug. I’ll shut up already and tell you my strategies.

1) We hardly buy gifts for anyone. I get things for Chuk, and together we get things for our parents and siblings; this year we’ll add our niece to the shopping list, but that’s it. (We also have a rule that when a couple starts having kids, we won’t get gifts for the parents anymore, just their kids. This helps keep the list from growing as the family grows.) Nothing for friends or extended family. Chuk makes a batch of fudge and brings it in to a few (three to five) co-workers, but only because he likes to make fudge and we shouldn’t be eating all of it ourselves. When working, I don’t give gifts to co-workers.

When you give a gift out of a feeling of obligation, you’re not really giving a gift. You don’t have to follow the same rules we do, but a good rule of thumb is, if you don’t know them well enough to get them something you know they’ll love, and instead are buying people candles, picture frames, and other “generic” gifts, you shouldn’t be buying for them.

2) I don’t buy (or make) gifts just because someone gave me one. (See above.) Here’s the key: I don’t feel one bit of guilt about it either. Most people want to shorten their lists but don’t because they’re worried about what the other person is going to think about them. Be the brave one, let go of the fear and guilt and be the first one to stop. They’ll be grateful you did and you will be too. Let’s face it, you’re spending $5 or $10 or $20 or hours and hours on something they don’t even like or want. (Have we not all gotten some stupid knick-knack and thought, “I wished you had just saved your $10.”?) Get off the consumption roller coaster. It will hurt for a few days, but after that, you’ll feel liberated, I promise. (Long, beautiful, specific thank you letters that you write, as opposed to preprinted cards, go a long way in assuaging guilt.)

3) I always know what to get someone because I have my radar up all the time, year round. If someone mentions something they like, they want, or they need, no matter what it is, I make a mental note of it. (Even if you know you’re not going to give them that, it will help you generate other ideas.) If I’m at someone’s house and I notice something they need, I make a mental note of it. If I see something cute in a store, I make a mental note of that too. As soon as I get home, I dump my mental notes into the document on my computer called “gift ideas”. (It's important to note I don't buy the item when I think of it.) I list each person I’m going to get gifts for name and then list possible gifts for him/her. Whatever I buy/make them, I delete from the list, but keep adding to it as I think of things.

Example: When we were in Florida for some friends’ wedding, the groom’s mother folded a bunch of origami cranes as favors. Hardly anyone took them, so when I was cleaning up after the wedding, I took many of the extra cranes and brought them home with me. I’m saving them to make a mobile because I know the couple tried to start having a baby as soon as they got engaged. Because I know it’s likely I’m going to their baby shower in the next year, I already started planning the gift, making sure it is personal and specific to them.

4) I do almost all of my shopping online. It saves me time and money by allowing me to comparison shop all the stores at once for the best price on a particular item. Plus, I don’t know about you, but browsing through stores leaves me open to temptation. Because I have a list and shop online, I only buy the things I’ve set out to buy, not little extras that are being marketed to me. I do a lot of ordering all at once, which eliminates shipping costs. I love Amazon’s wish list and especially their new Universal Wish List button. (I'm not compensated by any company for saying that.) These tools help me facilitate shopping. (They help people shop for me too!)

That’s it! Stay tuned because I have some ideas for streamlining gift wrapping too.

What about you? Have you had your holiday shopping done since July? Do you wait until Dec. 20 to start shopping? How long is your list? Do you go the “three presents” route or is it less structured? What works for you?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tire Pressure

We arrived home from North Carolina this evening and I'm glad to be back. Dorothy was right; there's no place like home.

Wednesday, I didn't have time to adjust the air in my tires before we left home, so on the way down to my in-laws, we averaged 34 mpg. This morning, before we got on the road, I checked the tire pressure and inflated where necessary. It cost me $0.75 for compressed air at the gas station. On the way home, we got 39 mpg even though we were in stop-and-go traffic for most of the way which reduces fuel efficiency.

Check your tire pressure! It makes a huge difference.

Run-Off Election

There was a tie between bees and chickens in the Heifer International giveaway. We're going to have run-off voting between the two to settle the tie. Please vote once again for which animals you'd like to giveaway to a needy community to provide a sustainable gift towards self-sufficiency.

Hive of Bees
Bees help struggling families earn income through the sale of honey, beeswax and pollen. Beehives require almost no space and, once established, are inexpensive to maintain. As bees search for nectar, they pollinate plants. Placed strategically, beehives can as much as double some fruit and vegetable yields. In this way, a beehive can be a boost to a whole village.

Flock of Chickens
Heifer helps many hungry families with a starter flock of 10 to 50 chicks. A good hen can lay up to 200 eggs a year - plenty to eat, share or sell. Because chickens require little space and can thrive on readily available food scraps, families can make money from the birds without spending much. And chickens help control insects and fertilize gardens.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shows I Don't Watch

I know I watch a lot of TV, but there are some shows I have never seen before that make me feel as if I’m missing out on crucial elements of pop culture. Everyone is always talking about them and then when I admit I’ve never seen it before I hear, “Oh my God. That’s such a good show. You should watch it. Well, actually, if you haven’t seen it from the beginning, it’s too late to start. I can’t believe you’ve never seen ____!” Then they give me a look like I have a hairy eyeball.

So prepare to gasp. I’ve never watched:

1. American Idol
2. Dancing with the Stars
3. So You Think You Can Dance
4. The Bachelor or The Bachelorette
5. Heroes
6. Thirty Rock
7. Mad Men
8. Lost
9. The Hills
10. Entourage
11. Jonas Brothers/Hannah Montana/High School Musical (Covered by the media more than talked about by my friends.)
12. Arrested Development (Which I know is off the air, but I feel like I lose cool points because I didn’t watch it when it was on the air. I put Freaks and Geeks in this category too.)

I’m sure I’m forgetting some too. And what the heck is Twilight?

What books/movies/TV shows make you feel left out?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Reflections on Happiness and Gratitude

The happiest time in my life was the three months before I left China. The remarkable thing about that is that during that time I was homeless and carried all my possessions on my back. I spent those months traveling from the northernmost part of Siberian China (in January no less!) to the fuzzy border between China and Tibet in the west to the very southern tip of China on the Laos border. I rode in old busses that seemed always on the verge of careening off cliffs and slept with strangers in hostels. I went days without showering and weeks without washing my clothes.

I also saw parts of the world that 99.99% of people will never get to see. I met some of the kindest people I have ever known. I had transcendental experiences. It was as close to perfection as I have ever known. It was a magical time. It changed my life forever.

I worry less. I care less about material things. My standards are lower. I’m more trusting. I’m more assertive. I’m more confident. I got perspective. I recognize a unity in humanity I never saw before. I learned to appreciate more and take nothing for granted.

As I think back today on all the things I’m thankful for, and it is a very long list, perhaps above all I’m thankful that even though we get tough times, we get great times too.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Last Chance to Vote

Reminder, today is the last day to vote in the Heifer International giveaway. As one reader pointed out, this is your only chance to participate in a giveaway and know you'll come away a winner.

Made-to-Order Pancakes and Waffles

We love having pancakes or waffles on the weekends, but because it’s just the two of us, a whole batch is always more than we can eat. We used to freeze or refrigerate our leftovers, but they never reheated well for us.

I recently came up with a solution to this problem that works for me. I took apart an old salad dressing bottle (the cap that controls the flow pops out easily with a butter knife) and put each of the pieces in the dishwasher. When they were clean, I took them out, filled the bottle with my batter (using a funnel) and then reassembled the pieces.

The batter refrigerates beautifully and we now have made-to-order pancakes or waffles. We never make more than we can eat. No more wasted food.

I could also see this being a solution for camping trips when you don’t want to fuss with the possibility of broken eggs, or if you’re having guests and everyone is getting up at different times, you could put a couple of bottles of batter in the fridge and let people make their own breakfast. It would be like a hotel with a breakfast buffet; the make-your-own waffle station is always the busiest.

This could even work if you're always in a rush in the morning, but you want to have hot breakfasts. If you have the batter already prepared, it would take as much time to make a couple of pancakes as it would a piece of toast.

I love it when organizing and thinking through things ahead of time makes my life easier.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Just Breathe

For many of us, this is a stressful time of year. For much of the United States, this is a stressful economic period. For me, this is a stressful season of my life. How should we cope?

I just try to keep breathing. Ten slow, deep, rhythmic breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth are my cure all. If I feel angry or anxious, I breathe. If I can’t fall asleep or am feeling sluggish in the morning, I breathe. If I hurt myself in the kitchen or someone hurts my feelings, I breathe. No matter what it is, when I feel like I just can’t take it anymore, breathing helps me feel better, maybe not 100%, but better. (After all, many women get through childbirth with only their breath, so you know it’s a powerful relaxant and pain reducer.)

So if you’re feeling frazzled, take a deep breath (or ten) and carry on. You can do this.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Friend Makin' Monday: Thanksgiving

If you want to make some friends, check out Friend Makin' Mondays.

1. Turkey or Ham? Turkey. I thought that was the law.

2. Favorite side dish. Stuffing

3. Favorite dessert. It's a tie between pecan and pumpkin pie.

4. Black Friday: Are you going or not? Not. I never go. It stresses me out to try and do things in a crowd.

5. If so, what's on the top of your list? I do internet all the way.

6. Going out of town or staying close to home? Out of town to my in-laws' in North Carolina.

7. Hosting or helping? Neither. My mother-in-law doesn't like help. Correction: She likes help with the dishes, but I don't load the dishwasher the way she likes, so she redoes it after me, so I'm not really such a help.

8. Name one family tradition at Thanksgiving. This is our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, so we haven't really established traditions yet. So far, our most established tradition is alternating Thangsgiving and Christmas between my family and his.

9. What do you do after dinner? I don't know. Sleep? Try not to throw up?

10. What are you most thankful for this year? That I have a loving and supportive partner and a sweet, cuddly cat.

Are You Freaking Kidding Me: Skinny Jeans

As a friend, I need to tell you something. Take off those skinny jeans. They don’t look good on you. How do I know this? Because they don’t look good on anybody. Seriously.

If I was Jerry Seinfeld, here’s how the routine would go. (Pretend I’m doing his voice too.) “What’s the deal with skinny jeans? Your thighs to look like two sausages making out.”

When skinny jeans first came out, stylists said they were just for the skinniest of people who were trying to give themselves the illusion of curves. Now, they’re saying they’re flattering on anybody. Oh please. If you believe that, you need to get your eyes checked.

99.9% of the women I see wearing skinny jeans look terrible. We’re talking about real women with average bodies, not supermodels whose bodies are anatomical anomalies. Skinny jeans make you look heavier than you are. Plus, they make you walk funny and make you more likely to contract a urinary tract infection. You wouldn’t wear tapered jeans, right? Well, skinny jeans are like tapered jeans on steroids.

I say, let this trend pass you by. When you’re looking at pictures of yourself and your friends in five years, you’ll be glad you did.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Plans Change.

Yesterday I was supposed to have a job interview, my first since May or June. (I can’t remember. It’s been a long time.) I was nervous and didn’t sleep well Thursday night. I was awoken yesterday morning by a phone call from the interviewer calling to cancel. He was too busy that afternoon to meet with me. I was both disappointed and relieved. The stress was temporarily relieved, but we’ve rescheduled for Tuesday.

It’s hard for me to think of anything I want more now than to work outside of my home. Though this interview isn’t for my dream job, it’s a good job nonetheless. It’s similar to what I used to do, but I went to graduate school to make a career change and this is not a career change. Having said that, I desperately want to get this. I KNOW I would be good at this job. (It’s a slight step down from my last job, so it’s work I have a lot of experience with.)

I also know my chances are slim. Seventy-five people applied for the position. (That tells you how competitive the job market is.) They are interviewing six or seven people. That means that even though I was in the top 90% of applicants, I still have only about a 15% chance of getting this. I’m guessing they’re attracted to my experience and contacts, but I think my crappy Chinese language abilities are a major weakness. I guess it just boils down to which qualities and skills are most important to them.

Please keep your fingers crossed for me.

In happier plan changing news, Chuk got us free tickets to a Robin Williams stand-up show last night that was being filmed for HBO. Through work, Chuk is affiliated with a concert hall, so we often get $5 tickets to concerts and other performances and get to sit in the fourth or eighth row.

He had signed up for this show, but didn’t get the tickets. Then a security guard he is friendly with offered him free tickets that afternoon. The seats weren’t as good as usual, but we saved ten bucks. It was our date night and we had planned to take a long walk and share a coffee in a local coffee shop, but this worked out much better.

If you get HBO, look for Robin William’s special “Weapons of Self Destruction” in the coming months. You’ll see me in the audience. (Sorry for the bad picture. I only had my phone with me.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's Begining to Smell Like Thanksgiving

Yesterday, I made a 22 pound turley because it was on sale for $0.38/pound. (We're going to my in-laws' for real Thanksgiving.) We had a pre-Thanksgiving dinner last night, but froze most of the cooked meat for later. At that price, it's cheaper than chicken.

I don't have a roasting rack, so I experimented with cooking the turkey without it and happily it worked. I sliced some potatoes thickly and layered them on the bottom of the roasting pan then placed the turkey on top. The turkey was elevated out of the pan drippings and air was able to circulate under the bird. I can buy a lot of potatoes for the price of a roasting rack. (You can see a little bit of the potatoes below.)

I spent the day before yesterday baking three loaves of pumpkin bread, so I've been putting a lot of time in the kitchen lately. It should pay off now though. My fridge and freezer are stuffed so I shouldn't have to do any cooking for awhile now.

It's a good thing, too...I'm tired.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Giveaway Reminder

Yesterday was a record breaking day...199 visitors! Yet, we still only have 7 votes for the Heifer International Giveaway.

This is a great cause and a chance for all of us to get involved with helping others during this time of year when we are appreciating all that we have. Please vote today in the poll on the right side of the Unintended Housewife website, or in the original post's comments.

Reducing the Spread of Germs in the Bathroom

With cold and flu season upon us, we’re all thinking about how to reduce our exposure to germs. In addition to hand washing, there is another simple step we take at our house to prevent the spread of germs. We close the toilet lid before we flush the toilet, every time.

This is such a small thing to do and becomes a habit so easily yet, I don’t know anyone else who does this at their house consistently. Every time you flush the toilet, millions of particles fly into the air and then eventually settle back down onto your surfaces. (We keep our toothbrushes behind the closed door of our medicine cabinet for that very reason.) When you smell an unpleasant odor in your bathroom, that is molecules of whatever you’re smelling going into your nose. Pretty gross, right?

Well, if it’s going up your nose, it’s also getting on your hands and face and counter and everywhere else. Closing the toilet lid traps most of the germs inside the toilet so they aren’t spreading as much. Our bathroom is less germy and we have very few stomach ailments at our house as a result of this simple step.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chuk is Sweet

I've been getting lots of thoughtful gestures lately. He made me a "breakfast appetizer" (his words) and even cut the tangerine skin into little hearts.

He grew these flowers at his office and then picked them and brought them home.

Zuzu liked the flowers too. (She is ten years old and this is the first time she has EVER gotten on the coffee table.) I wasn't fast enough with the camera, but she was actually smelling them. Very cute.

I'm so grateful for these two. They bring such joy to my life.

The Handy Switch Delivers

My 1920s apartment has almost no overhead lighting and the switches control outlets that are totally inconvenient for lamps. When we moved in, I struggled with the only two choices I could think of:
1) Arrange the furniture and lamps in a way that accommodated the switches but was otherwise inconvenient and visually unappealing to me, or
2) Try running extension cords behind and under furniture so I could put the lamps where I wanted them and still use the switches.
We rent, so rewiring was totally out of the question.

Luckily, one day, not long after moving in, when I was at Target picking up some other things we needed for the new apartment I saw an ingenious little device called the Handy Switch. (I am not compensated by this company in any way.) After some initial skepticism, we were pleasantly surprised by how convenient and useful it was. We are now the owners of several Handy Switches and have been using them with much success for the past year and a half.

There are two parts to it: a wall mounted switch and an outlet adaptor. You simply nail the switch where you want the light switch to be and plug the adaptor in to the outlet where you want your lamp to be. Plug your lamp into the outlet adaptor and, like magic, it is now controlled by the switch.

We were able to arrange our furniture in the way that we wanted without the mess and hassle of extension cords all over the place. The Handy Switch definitely works for me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Making Your Spouse Feel Special

I haven’t been married long, but I have figured out one sure-fire way to make Chuk’s heart melt. I surprise him as soon as he walks in the door. I certainly don’t do this everyday (or else it wouldn’t be a surprise) but even once a month (I try to do more than that though) is enough to make him feel like the most special person in the world.

Sometimes I surprise him with a pre-dinner appetizer, garnished and presented as I would if we were having guests. Other times, I’ll have a cold martini made and waiting for him. If I don’t even want to go to the hassle of a martini (which takes up to two whole minutes!) I’ll put a beer glass in the freezer and then pour him a beer. We don’t drink alcohol everyday (or even every week) so this feels special.

If I don’t want to spend fifteen minutes making him an appetizer or even one minute making him a drink I have a third way to surprise him which only takes ten seconds. As soon as he walks in the door and closes it behind him, I shove him into the door and give him a ten second kiss. Then I smile and say in a normal way, “Welcome home. I missed you.” Seriously, you’d think he won the lottery. Dudes love it when you get a little aggressive.

All of these ideas are cheaper than a weekend away and less of a time commitment than marriage counseling. I’m telling you, it will keep your relationship alive. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Monday, November 16, 2009


This is my 100th entry. I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to mark this first milestone with a giveaway as a thank-you to all my readers. I spent a lot of time trying to think of the perfect giveaway, but wasn’t coming up with anything good. So I’ve decided that instead of giving you something, we’d all give someone else something. I’m going to donate an animal or animals to the charity Heifer International on behalf of all the readers of Unintended Housewife.

Before you sigh that you’re not getting anything, YOU ARE! You get to choose which kind of animal(s) we give! Please vote in the poll on the right of your screen. (If you follow using a reader, you’ll need to come to the site to vote.) If you’re having trouble voting, please vote in the comments. You have from now until Thanksgiving to cast your vote.

The nominees are:

Bees help struggling families earn income through the sale of honey, beeswax and pollen. Beehives require almost no space and, once established, are inexpensive to maintain. As bees search for nectar, they pollinate plants. Placed strategically, beehives can as much as double some fruit and vegetable yields. In this way, a beehive can be a boost to a whole village.

Flock of Chickens
Heifer helps many hungry families with a starter flock of 10 to 50 chicks. A good hen can lay up to 200 eggs a year - plenty to eat, share or sell. Because chickens require little space and can thrive on readily available food scraps, families can make money from the birds without spending much. And chickens help control insects and fertilize gardens.

Flock of Geese
Some geese can lay up to 75 eggs a year. Geese are easy to care for because they don't require much shelter and can adapt to hot, wet or cold weather. Geese can also find a good portion of their food by themselves, and they efficiently dispose of weed seeds and gobble up insects, slugs and snails. And they're vigilant "watchdogs," loudly warning when uninvited guests arrive at the homestead.

Two Shares of Goat
Goats can thrive in extreme climates and on poor, dry land by eating grass and leaves. The gift of a dairy goat can supply a family with up to several quarts of nutritious milk a day - a ton of milk a year. Extra milk can be sold or used to make cheese, butter or yogurt. Families learn to use goat manure to fertilize gardens.

Two Shares of Pig
Pigs are a valuable source of protein, income from the sale of offspring & manure to nourish crops. Pigs need little land & can thrive on crop and garden by-product scraps. An average sow can provide a family with up to 16 piglets a year. Pigs usually double their birth weight in their first week & can grow to more than 200 pounds in six months! This fast-growing gift means communities can be quickly transformed as offspring and training are passed on and on.

Two Shares of Rabbits
Rabbits are easy to care for; they eat simple foods, such as carrot tops, sweet potato vines and grasses. Rabbit manure can be applied directly on gardens without composting. And because rabbits have so many offspring, the process of passing on the gift multiplies each gift quickly and helps many other impoverished families better their lives.

Two Shares of Sheep
Entire communities depend on wool and meat from sheep. Struggling families use sheep's wool to make clothes, or sell it for extra income. Sheep often give birth to twins or triplets and can graze even the hilliest, rockiest pastures unsuitable for other livestock.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

On the Road Again

I know I said I wasn’t going on any more road trips until Thanksgiving, but I’m getting back in the car for another six hours today. It’s for a good cause though. I became an aunt for the first time last week and I’m going to meet this little cutie.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Salade Nicoise

Another French-inspired dinner.

Clean Out the Fridge Dinner

It’s been raining here for days, so I haven’t wanted to go to the store. Does anybody like loading groceries into the trunk while getting soaked? It’s the worst.

I’m going to have to break down and go to the store today, despite the continuing bad weather, but last night I was forced to come up with a meal based on odds and ends left in the fridge. The result was an unexpectedly delightful French-inspired dinner of brie and green onion frittata, garlic bread and fresh tomatoes.

The result was good enough to keep. I think it could reappear as a brunch, lunch or dinner. I would use mushrooms in the frittata next time though. I love having another vegetarian meal to add to the repertoire.

Are You Freaking Kidding Me: 80s Edition

A public service announcement to all the teenage girls out there:

Sweetheart, I’ve been in your shoes before. You want to be trendy and cool so you’ve latched onto the 80s fashion bandwagon that is sweeping the nation. But I’m here to tell you, “COME TO YOUR SENSES.”

You know you look ridiculous because you saw the pictures of women in my generation wearing those clothes the first time around. At what point did you stop laughing and think, “Well, maybe I should try a look like that?” Why are you repeating our mistakes?

Trust me when I say you need to bail on the 80s trend. You are going to look back on pictures of yourself from this time period and regret it. I know; I’ve been there before.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Amazing Date Night: Ben's and Blind Pilot

We try to have date night every week and last night was the night. We went to Ben’s Chili Bowl, which is a D.C. institution. It is frequented by Bill Cosby and the Obamas, amongst many others. Personally, it’s not the best chili I’ve ever had even though it’s still good, but I go for the atmosphere rather than the food. It was Chuk’s first time there, which is shocking considering he’s lived in DC for 30% of his life at this point.

After dinner, we went to the Blind Pilot concert, which was, in a word, amazing. We go to lots of concerts, perhaps a dozen a year, and this was one of the all-time best concerts either of us had ever been to. The band just seemed so nice. Like you could invite them over for beers and a game of Taboo and you’d be best friends. Do I sound psycho?

What I’m trying to say is the performance was outstanding, but on top of that, you could really tell they were having a good time and were happy to be there. It created a wonderful vibe in the whole room. Everyone was just totally into it.

But beyond the good food and the fantastic show, the company was outstanding. I’m pretty lucky to have a guy who still likes hanging out with me after so many years. I love date night.

A Less Expensive Way to Dry Clothes

One of the most disappointing things about my current apartment is that I don’t have in-unit laundry. Fortunately, I do have laundry in the basement, which is more convenient than going to a Laundromat, but is more expensive than in-unit.

The machines in my building cost $0.75 for washing and another $0.75 for drying. While I do line dry many things (by simply hanging them on hangers in doorways), I also don’t have any outdoor space, so I have to do some machine drying. I have found I can reduce the cost of drying clothes by drying 1½ loads at a time.

If I add a clean, dry towel to the dryer with the wet laundry it will dry 50% more items in the same amount of time. Even if you had your own dryer, trying this trick could save you some money because machine drying clothes uses a lot of energy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Surviving a Road Trip

Since we’ve been taking oh so many road trips lately, I’ll let you know what’s been helping us get through the long hours in the car.

1) A whole pizza. We buy a huge one from Costco for $10, and it lasts us 3-4 meals. I wrap two slices together in aluminum foil (because there are just two of us) and keep all the little packets in a cooler on the backseat. Pizza is great because it can be eaten hot or cold, it’s easy to eat with one hand while driving, and we can eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Plus it's cheaper than fast food and you don't need to make an extra stop.

2) Oatmeal cookies. They’re very easy snacks that hold up well for days, are high in fiber which is good for keeping you full in the likely event that you’re having irregular mealtimes, and you can eat them for breakfast in a pinch. (I particularly like oatmeal chocolate chip or oatmeal craisin.)

3) Cans of diet cola. My husband is a reformed diet cola addict, but we indulge on road trips because the caffeine helps to keep us awake. Also kept in the cooler.

4) A whole gallon of water and plastic cups or stainless steel water bottle. No more paying for expensive bottles of water.

5) Grapes washed and picked from the stem stored in Tupperware in the cooler. More easy nibbles.

6) Audio books procured from the library.

7) Books or magazines and a book light.

8) Pillow

9) Eye mask and ear plugs. Helps the passenger catch some sleep before his/her next shift behind the wheel.

10) We often bring a portable DVD player and a small selection of movies, but we haven’t been using it at all lately. I keep all the books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, DVD player, etc. together in a cavas shopping bag called the "entertainment bag" within easy reach on the backseat too.

11) Air pressure gauge. Keeping your tires properly inflated will help you get better gas mileage. The gauges at the gas station are often inaccurate.

12) While I won’t publicly admit to doing anything illegal, I would like to note that if one were to drive 10 mph over the speed limit, he could shave approximately two whole hours off of a twelve hour drive.

Keeping road trips as stress-free, convenient, inexpensive, and short as possible works for me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kreative Blogger Award

I’ve just won the Kreative Blogger Award! While I have the impression many blog awards are the equivalent of a chain letter, it still feels good to be nominated. I write this blog primarily as a way to encourage myself and keep my spirits up during this challenging period of my life, so I am shocked every time I find there are people out there who think it is interesting enough to spend their time reading it. I truly appreciate all of you who virtually share my days with me. And a special thank you to Jessica, of Acting Adult, who nominated me.

Part of accepting this award is that I have to share seven things about myself that few people know.

1) No one I know in real life reads my blog. My husband is the only person I’ve even told I had a blog (and it took me a month to tell him), but I’ve never told him the name of it. I feel I have more freedom to express myself honestly because I don’t have to worry about how others are going to react to what I’m writing.
2) I have a very soft voice, but I swear all the time. People are usually immensely shocked the first time they hear a curse word fall from my lips I suppose because the juxtaposition of my voice and my vulgarity is more than most people can handle.
3) I hate dill, cilantro and celery. I’m not especially fond of bananas either, but I do like banana bread.
4) I love my cat, Zuzu. Most people think owning a cat makes me a cat person, but I don’t like any animals except her. I won’t even pet a cat at someone else’s house.
5) I’ve known since I was 12 years old that I never wanted to have children. In the last year I’ve been rethinking my position on this issue, but I suspect I’m only reconsidering it because everyone I know in real life has either just had a baby or is trying to get pregnant right now. Peer pressure.
6) Because I don’t have a job, I feel like I’m wasting my life. I know homemaking is a calling for some, but not for me. I love that this blog gives me an outlet and something to do.
7) My husband’s name is not Chuk. Chuk (rhymes with “book”) is what I’ve called him since the very beginning of our relationship. No one else calls him this but it is difficult for me to call him anything else. I occasionally forget his real name when referring to him in the third person.

The final part of accepting this award is that I have to nominate seven others for it. (Now you see what I mean about chain letters.) I read many wonderful and inspiring blogs, so the list below is by no means comprehensive, but rather other small blogs that you may not otherwise stumble upon.

1) Taryn in The Colorado Desert, one of my most loyal commenters and food dehydrator extraordinaire.
2) Katie with the Messy Kitchen. She isn’t blogging too much these days, but I’m loving her archives. I’m hoping if she gets a bunch of new hits she’ll start back up again.
3) Becca, author of The Earthling’s Notebook for her non-blog approach to blogging, the depth and variety of her articles, and the clarity of her writing.
4) Jill who was a Secret Genius but is now a Budding Genius because she is both an honest writer and a brilliant photographer.
5) Adele and her Musings on the Simple Life because she actually keeps the simple life simple.
6) Katie who is Making This Home because I long for expat life again and because anyone with a kitchen smaller than mine deserves many, many awards.
7) I’m just starting to “get to know” Amy who is defining New Nostalgia, but so far I’m loving her creativity.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Survey: Wedding Attendant Duties

I’m curious; what did you ask your wedding attendants to help you with at your wedding? We only had two official attendants at our wedding, my sister and Chuk’s former roommate, whose wedding we just attended. We did have three readers and an usher though. We asked the maid of honor and best man to give toasts at the wedding, but otherwise, we asked nothing of anyone. My hero, Miss Manners, says it is the job of bridesmaids to calm the bride’s nerves and tell her she looks beautiful, and the job of the groomsmen to dance with any single ladies at the reception.

We took that message to heart and asked our attendants only for their support. We didn’t even ask them to buy new clothes. We told the women involved they could wear any dress as long as it wasn’t black or white. (One of them, my sister-in-law, wore a white dress anyway. Don’t get me started. I’m still bitter!) We asked the guys to wear a black suit and white shirt (we asked ahead of time to make sure they all had these already) and we gave them silk ties to wear with the suits.

While I realize we may have been at one end of the spectrum, I feel like the wedding we went to this weekend was at the other end of the spectrum, but I’m not sure and that’s why I want your input. Here’s the story:

Chuk was the only groomsmen. There were two bridesmaids. I was not in the wedding party at all. Chuk was told (not asked) to: set up the furniture at the reception venue, bring cases of soda and beer to the reception venue, clean the couple’s house, clean out their cats’ litter boxes, pick up the rental car, throw a bachelor party, iron the groom’s wedding clothes, drive the couple from the ceremony to the reception (while I traveled alone and was date-less at the cocktail hour), and clean up after the reception, all this in addition to the more traditional duties of being responsible for the rings, bringing the marriage license, and giving a speech. I was even told to make a furniture plan for the reception so that everything flowed (which Chuk and I later executed), make the centerpieces, help clean their house, bring the programs to the ceremony, and clean up after the reception.

Is this normal? I didn’t say anything at the time, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Chuk is a very laid-back person and I feel like they took advantage of that. They didn’t even give him an attendant gift.

Ok. So give me your honest opinions please. If you tell me I’m crazy (and I haven’t had much sleep since Wednesday night, so that’s a distinct possibility) then I’ll let it go. If not, then I’ll probably be irritated about it for a week and then still let it go, but I’ll feel justified in getting my feathers ruffled.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Shenandoah National Park Last Weekend

It was a wet, foggy day. But it was also spooky and magical, perfect for the day before Halloween.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Relationship Survival in Tough Economic Times

There is no question that unemployment is hard on relationships. Financial issues are consistently ranked as one of the top three causes of divorce. While I’m no relationship expert, this is what’s working for us:

1. Spend less than you earn no matter what.
2. Remember you vowed “For richer or for poorer” not “For richer or even richer”.
3. Keep things in perspective; no matter how little you have, you still have much more than most other people in the world.

This is not to say Chuk and I never have tension about money (we do!) but both of us are committed to weathering this storm. The economy will turn around eventually. When it does, it will certainly be a relief, but until then we’re trying to remember that each hardship we survive helps our relationship to grow stronger, and that’s something we can be grateful for.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Retail Therapy and Comfort Food

I was having a bad day on Tuesday. My mom, who had been staying with us for a week, left that day on a sour note. Her visit had oscillated between fun and difficult, but was consistently exausting. I was worn out and grumpy.

I coped with a little retail therapy. I’m not usually a shopper, but sometimes all you need is Target. I bought the softest, cuddliest flannel sheets on sale for $15. Usually, I only ever buy white sheets (easy to match, easy to clean) but these were the yummiest shade of dusty teal and they matched my gray curtains. I think they’re meant to be wintery, but I think they’ll work into spring and summer too. I also bought a kitchen timer for $3. I’ve been wanting one for a long time to help me time chores and the laundry, but held off. I’m sorry I did. Three dollars is a small price to pay for improved productivity.

My purchases helped me feel a little better, but I still needed some more TLC. As usual, I turned to comfort food and made an apple crisp and avocado ice cream. For those of you would disagree that something as weird as avocado ice cream isn’t comfort food, I would counter by saying that 1. Ice cream is always comfort food, and 2. My Philippines-born grandmother introduced me to avocado ice cream at an early age and anything you grow up eating is a comfort food.

I’m feeling happier now, which is good because we’re driving to Florida tonight. Sigh. I hate road trips and have been making lots of them lately. Keep your fingers crossed that I make it through this last one…well, the last one until Thanksgiving. Argh, I can’t think about that now. I’m off to pack.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cleaning Vinyl Shower Curtain Liners

Is your shower curtain looking a little grungy? There’s nothing worse than scrubbing your bathtub only to have your hard work marred by a mildew-y or soap scummy shower curtain. You don’t have to chuck it out to get a fresh, clean shower curtain. You can wash it…IN THE WASHING MACHINE! No scrubbing required.

Despite the evidence in my bathroom, my mother-in-law does not believe me that the shower curtain can be washed in the machine. She continues to scrub hers by hand when she cleans her tubs, but I’m much lazier than my mother-in-law.

All you need to do is stuff the curtain (sans rings) in the washing machine with a bath towel or two, add detergent as usual and bleach, if desired. (I always add the bleach.) Run the machine on the normal cycle. Voila! Now you have a clean shower curtain, ready to be re-hung. Do not dry!

Clean shower curtain liners work for me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Unexpected Inspiration

Yesterday I went to see the movie Julie and Julia. I like both the main actresses, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, and expected the movie would be cute. What I didn’t expect was to walk away feeling inspired.

Here were two women, in or near the second half of their lives, who were unfulfilled and decided one day to try and make their lives better. Of course they had no idea where those choices would eventually take them, but then again, few of us can ever foresee the impact our small decisions will have on the rest of our lives.

Julia Child decided to take a cooking class and forever changed the way America viewed food. Julie Powell started a blog and entertained millions of people. (It is the latter struck a particular cord with me because I, too, was 29 and unsatisfied with my employment situation when I started my blog.)

I walked out of the theater thinking, “If these women can take control of their own destinies and find happiness, so can I.” You’ve got to love a movie that can build you up like that.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Keeping Up Job Hunting Momentum

For me, one of the hardest things about being unemployed for so long is that I become so discouraged that I don't feel motivated to apply for jobs. Recently, my husband has been helping me by writing first drafts of cover letters for me and it's made a world of difference.

I have four versions of my resume that I can pull up, depending on the particular job I'm applying for, so that part is easy. I customize each cover letter though, so that becomes very time consuming and I have a hard time thinking of my positive attributes and skills. Because Chuk isn't carrying all the emotional baggage I am, he is able to write cover letters for me quickly and with a fresh perspective.

I still do all the job hunting stuff and edit the draft of his cover letter for accuracy and style, but the process is so much easier now. In the last few weeks, I've applied for more jobs than I have in the last couple of months.

If you're having a hard time staying motivated to look for a job, engaging a partner has worked for me.