February 28, 2012

Pretty New Car from Across State Lines

Yes I have a new car! And I hope to not have to shop for another one for...well forever if I can help it. I picked out a 2008 All Wheel Drive Honda CR-V. The fun thing is that it has all the bells and whistles. Honey wanted just the bells and I just the whistles so we decided to get both. Heated seats, leather, moon roof (which is different from a sun roof, how??), controls on the steering wheel, and dual air.

I really love the dual air so I can make my side as warm as I want and Honey can keep his side freezing. It also has XM radio for now. If I had a real job I might splurge to keep it going whenever the previous owner's contract runs out, but since my meager money will go to paying for the rest of the car, that probably won't happen.

As with the rest of this car buying experience, finding my CR-V wasn't easy. We had to buy one this last weekend because of Honey's schedule. No pressure, right? Once I actually figured out exactly what I wanted and the price I was willing to spend, we found 2 possible cars. One in Florida. One in Virginia.

The one in Florida had less miles and was a little newer so I had Honey on the phone with the dealer trying to make the numbers work while I worked furiously on Orbitz and Mapquest to figure out how to get to Pompano Beach and back between work on Saturday afternoon and work on Monday afternoon.

They wouldn't budge on price and had crazy high fees. So no trip to Florida.

We kept our fingers crossed on Virginia. Friday morning we drove the 4 hours up there in a crazy little rental car to save on gas. Has anyone ever been in a Toyota Yaris? They are the most uncomfortable, weird little cars. And ours had power nothing, no cruise control, and I think the windshield wipers might have been optional as well.

Anyway, we made it to Virgina, liked the car and bought it. Honey tried to haggle a bit, but the price was in my budget and I was ready to sign. I think the salesman knew he had us--after all, we'd just driven 4 hours and were not likely to go home empty handed over a hundred bucks.

So here is my car. Yay!

Even Honey likes it--he's borrowed it once already and has offered to drive it to get gas when it is empty. Such chivalry!

February 24, 2012

Best Toy Ever

There is a magical connection between a child and a camera. Cameras, like a smile, break all language barriers.

While traveling in Laos, my friend Casey and I decided that a 5 day treck/2 day kayak trip sounded like fun. The first day, after backpacking for many hours, we made it to the first little village and had time to chill out while the family prepared chicken stew (this is a whole other story that will be told at some point...)

A group of neighborhood children were poking around, checking us out but trying to pretend they weren't. I was writing in my journal and a couple of girls were very interested in watching me write. I then tried to draw pictures like trees, birds, dogs, houses, etc. They would tell me the name of the object in their native language and I would say it in English. Well, if you have ever seen me draw, I can pretty much draw a tree, a bird, a dog, and a house. That is it. And even those barely resemble the actual object.

So drawing brought in a crowd of kids but couldn't keep them so out came the camera. They LOVED it. Here are a few shots:

The kids in Loas wouldn't take the pictures themselves, but they got the greatest kick out of us taking pictures of them and then looking at the photo on the camera screen. They would giggle and giggle. We did this for hours while our chicken was getting slaughtered, plucked, and cooked--sorry, different story.

The magic of the camera appeared again this weekend while visiting Honey's sister and our neices in Hilton Head. During an extremely long wait for a table at a restaurant, we were all getting hungry and cranky. So I pulled out the camera and our 4 year old neice went crazy. She very likely could end up a famous photographer...we'll see in 20 years! 

Here are some of her photos--they have a "face between fingers" theme to them:

You gotta love things that make kids smile.

February 21, 2012

Fuchia be Damned but Bring on the Strippers

Honey and I have yet to find a new car, so we plopped ourselves into his diesel-sipping truck for the 3 1/2 hour trek down to Hilton Head, SC this weekend. A friend of his watched the house and puppies so we had 3 whole days that didn't involve getting up at 6 am or cleaning up poop. Good times.

We truly had a wonderful time, but there was one thing that kinda bugged me. Hilton Head, for those who haven't been there, is a somewhat unique place--in that it won't let you be very unique. Many beach areas I've visited have a little bit of a live-and-let-live hippy vibe. A WINGS store with crappy souvenirs, a shop selling sarongs, bright happy colors bouncing off the glistening water of the ocean while children's laughter dances on the breeze.

Well in Hilton Head that is strictly not allowed...at least the bright happy colors. On their development website it reads:

"Soft shades of tan, green, rose, and dusky blue are among the only colors allowed because Hilton Head ordinances require everything to blend into the environment instead of looking over-developed. Few streetlights line the roads and no road signs are lit, so if you plan to drive around Hilton Head Island after dark, it would be in your best interests to familiarize yourself with the area beforehand so that you can find what you are looking for."

The Arby's sign, for example, is brown--not red. The Red Roof Inn can't have a red roof. Odd, huh? Everything is muted like the color has slowly drained out of the signs and buildings. Yet, they do have two strip clubs on the island. I am sure they only have non-neon, rose and tan signs to beckon in the hopeful gentleman in from the golf course.

Now I am a big proponent of vibrant joyful colors so the aesthetic kinda bummed me out. Not to mention, the lack of any lights on the signs makes getting gas, finding an ATM, or just driving your drunk husband home in the rain, WAY more difficult than it needs to be. And considering most of the residents of Hilton Head are older, I am amazed any of them can even venture out after dark. It is a death-trap I tell you!

Besides the color thing, Hilton Head really was nice. Everything looked very neat and tidy and the beach was gorgeous. It had tons of running trails, lots of beautiful trees, and fun bars. It rained most of our visit so we didn't do much on the beach but it was beautiful. I especially liked the Spanish Moss.

I look forward to visiting again during the summer when the sun is shining more and really makes the grey and tan buildings sparkle :)

We also checked out Charleston which is gorgeous. We didn't get to spend enough time there so I will definitely have to go back, but I was there long enough to learn they embrace colors. The even have a row of houses celebrating the rainbow.

Rainbow Row
That's my kind of town!

February 17, 2012

Travel is Like Oxygen

Antigua, Guatemala

Travel is like air to me. Really. If I go too long without it I feel like I start suffocating. Then the only way to feel better is to start planning a trip. I definitely prefer international travel because the places are so different from the US, though the South has often gotten the reputation for being a country of its own. Didn't Reese Witherspoon say you should need a passport to come down here in one of her movies?

This weekend we are headed to Hilton Head, SC to visit Honey's sister and brother. This led me to think about the need for travel and vacations and how some people don't take them. I can't imagine. I save for travel before I save for retirement. And I realize kids, jobs, puppies, etc get in the way but people in the US have the bad rep for not using their vacation days and that makes me a little sick inside. I usually over spend my vacation days and have to take some with no pay. I'm totally okay with that.

Vacations are amazing and (this may sound a tad bit exaggerated, but it's not) vacations are one of the things that makes life worth living. Yes I said it.

This thought process continued and led me to think about my first big trip by myself--Central America. I had been working at a well-known learning center as one of the directors. I had to deal with sales goals, parents, scheduling teachers, organizing all the tutoring, and I hated it. My stomach would start cramping up when I pulled into the parking lot because of the stress. One time I had to go straight into the bathroom when I arrived because I thought I was going to throw up.

So I told them I quit and was moving to Central America. 

Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

At the Mayan ruins in Honduras

I didn't really move there but I did spend about 3 months traveling around and kinda learning Spanish. I explored, rode chicken buses, stayed at hostels, learned to scuba dive, met amazing people, lost 10 lbs because of some scary Honduran sickness, tried surfing, learned about the Maya...

Maya women
Bonus: I gained more understanding and awareness about myself than I could have ever working in the US 40 hours a week. The different people, experiences and perspectives you find when you travel are so enriching. 

This trip inspired me later in my career as a teacher to write a book about Guatemala with students and it inspired me to be a better, well-rounded person in every endeavor I take on. So yes it even helped my work. Now even the career minded Americans should be okay with it. Check out this link if you want to see the book.

I am positive I will write about bits of this trip again on this blog at some point, but I will leave you with a few more pictures to enjoy.

Sunset over lake in Guatemala
Huge ceiba tree in Tikal

Temple I in Tikal

Boats to cross a river

February 15, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake with Peanut Butter Glaze

Valentine's Day is pretty low-key in our household. Honey and I agreed that Little Lucy was our gift to each other but I still want to do a little something so I thought I would make a cheesecake. Honey loves anything that combines chocolate and peanut butter. I found a recipe I had used before for chocolate chip cheesecake then decided I would create some type of peanut butter glaze to drizzle on top.

The thing with cheesecake is there are some little tricks to know in order for it to come out with minimum cracking on top and maximum ease from the pan. What the recipe doesn't tell you is that you should cook the cheesecake in a water bath...what I did was fill a broiler pan with water and then put the springform pan inside. To make sure no water gets into the springform pan, it is best to wrap the bottom and sides with some aluminum foil.

I got most of the following recipe from Allrecipes.com but added in my changes below. In making it I don't have a 9 inch springform pan, I only have a 10 inch so my crust doesn't go all the way to the top but my filling doesn't either.

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup butter melted

3 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese--I use low fat
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips--I don't actually measure I just put as many as look good

1/3 cup peanut butter chips
1 tbsp butter

  1. Preheat oven to 300. Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, butter and cocoa together and then carefully press onto the bottom and sides of the springform pan. This is the most annoying and patience testing part as you are trying to get them to stickup on the sides. It is do-able but usually involves some cussing on my part until Honey takes over in his calm, relaxed way that makes me feel like a nut for freaking out over crust placement.
  2. Beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add sweetened condensed milk (I LOVE this stuff), beat well. Then add vanilla and eggs and beat on medium until smooth. 
  3. Mix about 1/3 cup (or a little more) of the chocolate chips into the filling.
  4. Wrap the bottom of the pan in foil and put it in a water bath.
  5. Pour into the prepared crust and sprinkle the top with the remaining chocolate chips. I also added a few peanut butter chips for good measure.
  6. Lick the bowl, and spoon, and your fingers.
  7. Bake cheesecake at 300 degrees for 1 hour. Turn off oven (don't even open the door) and leave cake in oven for 1 more hour. Remove from oven and cool completely. Refrigerate before removing sides of springform pan.
  8. Make glaze by melting the peanut butter chips and butter in the microwave about 1 minute at 50% power. Add time if needed. Add more butter or chips to your taste so that the consistency is smooth and moderately runny. 
  9. Drizzle glaze over cake with a spoon.
  10. Take pictures, drool, eat, enjoy.

February 12, 2012

Tommy Boy Tried to Sell Us a Car

I wish I liked shopping more. More than one person recently, when told that I have spent part of the day car shopping, has gotten an excited glint in their eye. They would love to go car shopping. Not me. I mean I want a new car, but I would rather it just appear in my driveway all shiny with a bow like those Christmas Lexus commercials.

I think I am too analytical for shopping, so I have a hard time making a decision until I have absolutely every single tiny piece of information and have test driven every option. Which makes for lots of shopping. Which I hate.

I started out thinking I knew what I wanted. A Subaru Outback. It matched me--low maintenance, outdoorsy, and low frills. Until I drove one, then kinda wanted a little more frills and some more get-up-and-go. Maybe this says I am more maintenance than I like to own up to?

So the I actually had to drive a whole bunch of other cars and read Car and Driver and look and look and look. It is exhausting and I still don't have a shiny car with a bow.

At times like this I really wish my dad lived near us. He gets that magical glimmer in his eye when talking about car shopping. He adores it. He does it for FUN. When he is visiting a city with nothing to do for a day, instead of hitting a museum he goes to car dealerships. I am not kidding, ask him. He is like the dad from The Christmas Story who lights up when buying a Christmas Tree. All business, ready to haggle, getting the job done...pretty much opposite of my shopping persona.

(I have no idea why everything reminds me of Christmas right now)

Image from
And somehow I have managed to get the least knowledgeable sales guys ever. They are always "new" which means even more trips to the manager to get information. One poor guy, we'll call him Tommy Boy because he is Chris Farley of the movie reincarnate, had been at his dealership for 3 weeks and regaled us with all the things he had done wrong in those 3 weeks (burned out a clutch trying to drive a stick, broke a key in the big key lock box so no one could get keys to the cars, fell down the stairs, walked into the glass door, etc) Of course he couldn't tell us the difference between where the oil goes verses the coolant but he was endearing.

He also was a tad overweight and told us that he kept getting in trouble by "the meanies" which were his managers because his shirt would come untucked. He was proud of his shirt because it was a great deal at $10 and had come with the tie too. This led Honey to gently but repeatedly tell him when his shirt was untucked in the back. But it was a losing battle.

After hours of learning zip about cars but getting a glimpse into what it would be like to be a young, overweight, inept salesman, he and his "meanie" let us go. We shook hands, turned away, and shook our heads--poor Tommy Boy had a button undone, the back of his shirt half-untucked and hadn't made a sale.

So the car shopping continues...

February 10, 2012

Office Organization Please

I am weird. I know it, and I'm okay with it. Like I LOVE home improvement stores--the smell of the wood and the lighting area, oooh and the paint colors...ahhhh. And I also LOVE office supply stores--all the little stickies and I adore desks, and really all things organizing like baskets and files. I am not sure where these obsessions came from but luckily I enjoy looking at these stores but don't end up buying much.

Anyway, when we moved, the first area I wanted to work on was our office. We have a large room called an "office" but really limited space in it for office stuff (because of the gun safe, Ms. PacMan Machine, and 80's Pepsi Machine...don't ask). We also only have a small desk that I found in a thrift store in San Diego and have finally just refinished so I wasn't ready to part with it and buy a bigger desk like we probably need.

Here are some pictures of before:

While the top of my desk isn't usually this messy, I will in all honesty admit this picture was taken about 3 months after we moved in and I had been simply setting my computer on top of all the papers and crap. Now if someone had been coming over I would have smushed them all into a pile and possible shoved some of them into the filing cabinet but these are true before pictures, sad as they may be.

I took most of my inspiration from Better Homes & Gardens January magazine. Especially for the filing system that we now have in place, which includes an Inbox and files for Do Now, Do Later, and Pending. I also added a Receipts folder and then hanging bins for each of us and for Filing. I found some pretty fabric to go with my color scheme so I covered some cheap plastic hanging bins from Target with the fabric so they look nicer.

The other big help was a label maker. I love label makers (part of my organization fetish) and Honey gave me one for my birthday a few years back and I truly was SO excited. In the office I made labels for everything! Greeting cards, different types of paper like Cardstock, Photo Paper, etc, and for all our filing. If I ended up on a desert island, I might want to take a label maker, just so I would have something to keep myself entertained.

Greeting cards and stationary.

A folder for each type of paper.

Throughout the years I have collected about 15 different types of paper...don't ask me how. And before, they were all over the place getting shuffled around and making a mess of the shelf under the desk. So now I put them all in their own labeled folder in mesh bin so they can be easily found and now take up way less space. 

I wanted to find a way to keep the cords for my printer, iPhone, camera, and charger off my desk and out of my way when not using them. I have seen the great idea on Pinterest where people use binder clips to keep cords neat, but my desk edges wouldn't allow that so I rigged some tacks and twist-ties to make little holders for my printer cord and charger cord. Then I found a great little box at Target in their $1 section for all the other little cords that hang about.

And finally I added a calendar, little cork board and white board as well as a cover for my ugly, beat-up, filing cabinet. In the end this is how it looks...

Yes I am loving it! It also makes me feel way more productive and once something is neat and organized, it is easier to keep it that way. 

Let me know if you have any questions or if you have any further recommendations. Hopefully all my notes made sense!

February 7, 2012

Puppy, Puke and a Cheerleader

As many of you know--my lovely little Toyota, that I bought myself for my 21st birthday, is dead.

So let me tell you what happened...

It all started Saturday morning with Little Lucy throwing up. Now we had been fighting a case of diarrhea with her since the third day we had her. She'd eat, have some diarrhea, we'd make her fast, she'd get just rice to eat, then finally mix in food...then have more diarrhea. Our fat little puppy was no longer fat at all.

Then she threw up inside her cage. And she wouldn't eat.

Bad, very bad. In the world of puppies this could mean a disease called Parvo.

As I found out when I finally got a hold of a vet that was opened on Saturdays. Parvo could be deadly if not treated, they told me, right before they said they could not possibly get us in.

So, in my head I am thinking I have killed my new puppy because I was too cheap and laid-back to get her to the vet at the first signs of diarrhea. I frantically search the web for every vet and vet hospital within a 50 mile radius, my fingers flying on my phone trying to find someone, anyone that could see us on a Saturday.

Thank god for the PetSmart here which has a vet hospital in it. Pretty handy and open 7 days a week!

So you are wondering what this has to do with my car--I'm getting there.

I get off the phone with PetSmart hospital and they say bring her in RIGHT AWAY. No appointment needed. Which leads me to a mad dash into the bedroom to get dressed and tell my sleeping husband we needed to go to the doctor. I had already had 2 hours to work myself into a major tizzy and his slow movements out of bed and into the bathroom were NOT fast enough for me.

So, I run into dining room, put on a shoe, then see Lucy throw up again. At this point Honey comes out of the bathroom to see me trying to hold back Lucy, clean the puke with a giant wad of paper towels while muttering, "Where the hell is my other shoe?"

In between laps of the house where I am searching for my shoe, while wearing one and grabbing my purse, keys, etc, Honey stops me. As I struggle to put my coat on upside down, he asks what the problem is and why I am in such a rush. I yell to him about "Parvo" and "dead puppies" and "hurry" as I run back into the bedroom throw off the one shoe and put on a full new pair still muttering, "Where the hell is my other shoe?"

Finally we are in the car with the dog, and both shoes, headed to PetSmart. Halfway there a little Jetta decided to make a U-turn...without looking...and slammed into us. Honey swerved, we spun, Lucy shook, we avoided a tree, and stopped facing the destroyed Jetta.

And out steps a very upset little high school cheerleader all dolled for a big competition that day. We realize everyone is fine but I start crying anyway because now we can't get to the vet and my puppy IS GOING TO DIE. So Honey gets a car that pulled up to take me to the vet and he dealt with the car. This could be one of the greatest/sweetest/most wonderful things he has ever done. And he even called the insurance companies too! This is why I married him.

Anyway, I am bawling in a stranger's car answering the incessant questions of the 5 year old next to me between sobs, but make it to PetSmart. And...of course...Lucy doesn't have Parvo. I mean, she could have had it, but she doesn't. She's fine and on upset tummy meds. And wanting to eat everything in sight.

My car, on the other hand, is not fine. You can't open the passenger door and there are shards of the Jetta inside the quarter panel. But you should have see the Jetta, her whole front was gone. Makes me love Toyota!

This week we should find out what the next step is but I needed a new car anyway so it may just happen sooner than expected.

And yes I finally found my shoe--on the dining room table.

February 3, 2012

Thing I Miss Most About Working

In some circles I might be considered a workaholic. But this is America and we thrive on workaholics so there is no 12 step program to help me recover. Instead I have taken it upon myself to mend my ways by not getting a job...

Well at least a full-time job. I have a part-time one. And I am interviewing for a 2nd part-time one. But still, I don't have a full-time job. So it is progress.

I was that crazy person in college that had a full case-load and 2 jobs: admin assistant and waitress. Looking back I have no real idea why I needed 2 jobs, my rent share was $187/month. $187/month!! But I digress...

There are certain things I really miss about working. Money is a big one--but Fayetteville isn't the hub of culture, shopping, or entertainment so I don't really need money. Friends is another--I do spend most of my daily hours talking to dogs, assuming they know exactly what I am saying, and are answering me back by the movement of their eyebrows. But the thing I miss most is Fridays.

Teacher Happy Hour in San Diego
Friday is a magical day in the land of work weeks that adults get to look forward to like a mini-Christmas. A Christmas without stress or wrapping presents or family dinners or fruitcake. It usually involves unwinding with friends and drinking. I love both of these.

This may sound a bit unaltruistic (is that a word??) but Fridays may also be what I miss most about teaching. Teachers do Fridays like Will Farrell's Elf does Christmas. Teacher happy hours are by far the happiest hours out there. Maybe because they often start at 3:30?

Being partially employed and mostly only being responsible for "potty time" doesn't really change based on the day of the week so Fridays just slide by like a Wednesday or a Sunday with no hoopla, no happy hour, no magic.

It is really very sad.

February 2, 2012

The Marriage Plot

I am going to preface this, as my first book blog post, that I am not sure if my friends/family care what books I read and if I liked them or not. I know there are a few of you who do, and the rest probably won't read my book posts, which is totally fine. I just love books and love to talk about them--which is why I NEED a new book club--so here goes!

I always ask for books for Christmas and usually get at least one. Easy gift with maximum pleasure potential, right? This year the book on top of my list was The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I have read his two other books, The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, so his new novel attracted my attention right away. Not to mention it was about love and an English major. I mean what's not to like?

I would recommend it if:
  • You are/were an English major, especially fond of Victorian literature
  • After college you were distressed at the thought of never hearing about Derrida again
  • You absolutely love Jeffrey Eugenides
  • You like books that end just as they should, but don't really shock/move you
I really wanted to love this book. I loved Middlesex (one of the few books I read more than once), I loved the Virgin Suicides.

It started out strong mixing the confusion of graduating college, going through a breakup, being a slightly unemployable English major graduate, and having undefined romantic feelings for a friend. All good things that I can relate to and Eugenides wove the stories and feelings together very well. The story was fluid and the characters were likable. Madeleine reminds me of myself though I hope I wasn't as naive as she is, but probably was more so.

The rest of the book was okay. I was fairly excited to read each night but it didn't keep me up later than it should. The character of Leonard interested me most in his battle being manic depressive, but he didn't get a lot of voice in the story and so we see him only through his Madeleine's eyes (which weren't all that open or worldly...yes very much like myself at 22). I would have loved to hear more about/from Leonard but at least he did keep the plot interesting.

Of course I won't give away the ending...I guess I will just say it was kinda a let down. No emotional punch. I am pretty sure Derrida would not approve of the book at all. (Completely off topic, the assignment I was most proud of in all my English college courses was inspired by Derrida. Maybe another reason I started off this book thinking it would be fabulous.)

So in the end I liked the book, but I would guess it isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea and it isn't my favorite of Eudenides. It is kinda strange to write a book review again, and I am confident my college professors wouldn't give me high marks, but it is fun!

(This is where Honey, my husband, would shake his head and call me a Nerd.)
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