Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Third Annual Gingerbread House Party

We had our annual gingerbread house party last Saturday. (I blogged about the first one here.)While we kept it a lot simpler this year than in years past, it was still a good time and I don't think anyone even noticed. We served chips with seven layer dip, veggies and dip, and Hello Dollys. To drink, we offered hot and cold apple cider (with optional rum), egg nog (with optional rum), iced tea and water.

While our preparations weren't elaborate, people's creations were. Everyone really stepped up their gingerbread house game.

I was the only person who made a traditional gingerbread house. Notice my Christmas tree in the front window.

The backyard of my house, covered in snow, made from coconut, with a tree and snowman.

A close-up of my snowman. My neighbor made the face for me out of nerds and the hat out of smarties.

My neighbor's Star Trek-esque spaceship.

A minimally decorated pagoda.

Chuk made a TARDIS from the TV show Dr. Who. I have no idea either. He used a cashew for the doorknob, which I thought was clever.

Chuk also made an ice hockey rink. He used a pretzel to make a hockey stick.

As always, it was a lot of fun. As people were leaving, they were already talking about what they were going to make next year and all the new ideas they had. I took it as a good sign that people enjoyed themselves.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Olive Oil Hair Conditioner

Where I live, it is quite humid in the summer and quite dry in the winter. My hair hates this. I thought I'd give deep conditioning with olive oil a try.

My method was pretty basic. I poured some olive oil in a ramekin, to have a more manageable amount to deal with and poured it on my dry hair and massaged it in, then poured some more in and massaged it in, until my hair was completely saturated with oil. I let it sit for twenty minutes and then shampooed and conditioned my hair as usual in the shower.

Verdict: No difference at all. Save you olive oil for cooking because it's not going to help with your hair.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Storing Boxes

It seems that at this time of year, we're up to our eyeballs in boxes. We're receiving packages and sending packages and wrapping up gifts in boxes. I think, the majority of the time, when we're done with these boxes, we should either offer them up on Craig's List for people who are moving or just recycle them, but it can be helpful to keep a few boxes at home too.

As someone who has always lived in small spaces, one of the most convenient places I've found to store boxes is under the couch. Many of us are already storing things under our beds, which tends to have a little more clearance, but there is a lot of floor space under your couch too. It's not a very high space, but if you flatten your boxes, you you can fit quite a few under there.

I tend to keep mostly medium sized boxes, which I find are the most versatile for moving, holding donation items, crafts, and, of course, sending packages.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Just What the Doctor Ordered: Date Night

I feel like I haven't seen my husband in two weeks. He's been so busy with work and school that he just hasn't been around much. It's been tough without him because these last few weeks, for reasons I'm not going to go into here, have been full of drama, stress, and angst for me. But tonight, TONIGHT, he finally finished everything he's been working so hard on and we went out to celebrate. Delightful!

We had dinner at the new local BBQ restaurant everybody's been talking about. It was good, but didn't live up to the anticipation or hype.

Then we walked down to the candy shop and shared a "diva hot chocolate". (Their name for it, not mine. It takes a man secure in his masculinity to drink diva hot chocolate without hesitation.) It was dark chocolate with toffee. It was both the most expensive hot chocolate I've ever had in my life and the richest, most decadent hot chocolate I've ever had.

Then, we walked around the neighborhood to look at everybody's lights. This house, which I call "the house Christmas threw up on", is on our street the most elaborately decorated house every year. They even have music playing outside. While we were looking at it, the owner drove up and started talking to us, which I thought was going to be really awkward, but he turned out to be a very nice man.

Throughout the night, Chuk and I just talked and talked and talked. And I remembered how funny and interesting and nice my husband is. He really is my favorite person in the whole world and if this perfect night was my Christmas present, that would be enough. It was exactly what we both needed.

We ended the night by going to CVS and buying toilet paper, because romance has to meet reality somewhere (and I didn't want to make you barf with how cute we are.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Preventing Food Spoilage

In the last ten years, I've never lived with more than one other person, yet I cook family-size meals and love to shop at Costco. You'd think I'd be throwing out rotten food all the time, but food almost never goes bad on me and I attribute it to this one little trick: I set my fridge for slightly cooler than is recommended. I haven't noticed any increase in my electricity bill, but I have noticed my milk and veggies stay fresh much longer than they would otherwise.

Having an extra cold fridge works for me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Stockings were Hung by the "Chimney" with Care

I spent Friday afternoon decorating our Christmas tree. It's three feet tall. I had bought it a week and a half earlier at Costco, just like the Christmases of yore. Ha!

Growing up, we would always cut down our own tree. Since I moved to the big city, I've mostly bought my Christmas trees from farmers' markets. This year, my husband is up to his neck with board week at work and finals at school and I'm up to my neck in pregnancy. I decided to respect our limits, so a tiny Costco tree it was.

Decorating it was a snap. It only took one strand of lights and I used our smallest ornaments to keep things in scale. The star we normally put on top of our tree was much too large, so I stuck an angel my late grandma had crocheted on top. It was meant to be a toilet paper cover, so it keeps flopping forward, but I love it anyway. I might even use it as a tree topper next year.

I spent some time Saturday wrapping all our presents. I hate theme wrapping paper, but Chuk brought this Christmas paper into our relationship years ago. Normally, I won't use it at all, but we were close to the end of it so this year, I was determined to use it up. I used it to wrap all of our presents, and wouldn't you know it, we still have some left! It's the loaves and fishes of wrapping paper.

I've finished my shopping, but Chuk has some more to do for his family. We're not exchanging gifts with them until January, so there isn't a lot of time pressure. We're spending Christmas in Texas and Louisiana with my extended family, so I expect he'll wait until the new year to finish his shopping. Hopefully, he'll get them large things so we can use up that darn Christmas paper.

As apartment renters, we don't have a fireplace, but last year I bought these JOY stocking holders after Christmas for 50% off, so our stockings are hanging from our bookshelf rather than a mantel. I wish I could hang the stockings from the bottom shelf, but the doors on the bottom half of the bookcase prevent that, so I'm just going to have to deal with them blocking the photos on the lower shelf.

The stocking on the right was made by my grandma, the same one who made the tree topper. I've had it since I was a little girl and I love it. It will always be my real stocking, but for display purposes, we're counting it as the cat's stocking. (We don't get our cat a present or anything for her stocking. So far, she hasn't noticed.) My mom got us the stockings on the left last year. I like them, but I still make Chuk fill the stocking from my grandma. It wouldn't be Christmas otherwise.

This year our decorations are very low key, but fitting for this season in our lives. I'm so glad we are able to have some festive decorations, but that it wasn't stressful at all and other than the $20 I spent on the tree, didn't cost us anything. Despite how busy our schedules are now, everything is so peaceful this year, it's hard to imagine that next year we'll have an eight month old celebrating its first Christmas with us. We can barely wrap our brains around it.

Linking to The Inspired Room's home tour.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Favorite Part of Thanksgiving

We had a really great Thanksgiving, but one of my favorite parts was my niece's excitement at getting to help me in the kitchen. Though she has a play kitchen at her house, when her parents cook they put her in her highchair and don't let her participate. I was raised helping in the kitchen and my general policy with my niece is "anything goes" when we're at my house so I was excited at the chance to give her her first kitchen experience.

When she first got to our place I told her I really needed her help later. All kids love to help. When I was ready, I pulled up a chair, stood her on it and let her sprinkle the crispy onions on the already prepared green bean casserole. She kept yelling to everybody in the other room, "Me cooking! Daddy, me cooking! Capaw [which is how she pronouces grandpa] me cooking! Mommy, me cooking!" She was so excited and proud she could hardly contain herself. She next got to sprinkle the mini marshmallows on the sweet potatoes. In her mind, she was a full blown chef at this point.

All during the Thanksgiving meal, I kept making a point to say "Mmm, Sophia the green beans you made are so good." "Sophia these sweet potatoes are the best." It kept her grinning and helped the picky little eater to taste more than she normally would have.

For the rest of the weekend, whenever I went into the kitchen, she tried to drag "her" chair in to help some more. It takes so little to make toddlers happy. I can't wait to get my own little one in the kitchen to "help mommy" and see him or her beaming with pride from having accomplished some real work.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Use It or Lose It

The end of the year has us thinking about the very un-Christmas-y topic of flexible spending accounts. Because we overestimated the cost of some dental work we needed done and of prenatal care, my husband and I have about $250 we need to spend on health-related expenses before the end of the year or else we lose the money.

In the past, I would use our end of the year FSA money to stock up on over-the-counter medication for the next year. Unfortunately, the FSA rules changed this year and you have to have a prescription for OTC medicines if you want to use FSA money on them. Lame. Fortunately/unfortunately, we've also never had this much money to use up before either.

In researching what I could use the money on, I came up with some interesting ideas and great resources. While you can't use FSA money for massages (again, lame), if you need relaxation you can use it for acupuncture and chiropractic care. You can use FSA money for birth control pills or condoms, and if that isn't your bag, you can use it for ovulation kits and pregnancy tests. While you should check expiration dates, this is the time to be thinking about stockpiling for the year. Sunscreen, bandaids, contact lense solution, and the aforementioned condoms and pregnancy tests can be bought in quantity and used throughout the upcoming year. This is also the time to go ahead and replace your reading glasses, neti pot, shoe insoles, humidifiers, and the like.

As I get ready for this baby, I plan on using the bulk of our remaining $250 for supplies the baby will likely need. Thermometers, breast pumps, nursing pads, nasal aspirators, and absorbent bed pads are all FSA eligible. (Tip: Infant bed pads and pet weewee pads are the same thing. Look for them with incontinence supplies rather than in baby care or pet care. Thinking outside of the box pays off in situations like these.)

You could also think of this as an opportunity to buy some stocking stuffers. Denture cleanser and adhesive may be appreciated by a grandparent on a fixed income. Your althletic cousin could maybe use another ace bandage and a wrist or knee brace. If you have a sibling who loves to camp, why not get him/her a first aid kit and blister pads? I plan on getting my always-too-hot husband a Chillow. (He had one before and loved it so much he wore it out.) It would also be a good gift for your menopausal mom.

I'm not being compensated to say this, but I've found the FSA Store and the FSA section of to be extremely helpful in coming up with ways to spend my remaining FSA money. Both websites accept FSA credit cards, which prevents you from having to submit a claim form and saves you a step. Amazon, in my experience, does not accept these cards.

While I am glad we won't lose the money we put into the FSA, I wish we hadn't allocated so much. We've corrected this problem by seriously reducing our election amount for next year, with the knowledge that with a "qualifying life change", like getting married, or in our case, having a baby, we can increase our election amount.

Do you participate in a FSA? If so, how do you decide on an election amount?

Friday, December 2, 2011

21.5 Weeks

I spent all day yesterday either on my knees in front of the toilet or lying very still on my bed (unsuccessfully) willing my nausea away. I told my husband, "I'm throwing up like it's my job." Then I realized, it kind of is my job. I suddenly became VERY thankful I haven't had to work outside the home during this pregnancy. I have such respect for women who do.