Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas 2012

The Man and I are officially Christmas-ed out.  We still have another celebration gathering next weekend, so hopefully a little break will put us back in the spirit of the season.

Between my last post and today, I've been tearing up my kitchen with all of the baking, cooking, and general food mayhem the holidays always bring.  I candied clementine peels (instead of orange peels, and let me tell you, just stick to oranges).  I made gingerbread man cookies and sugar cookies.  I whipped up two quickbreads, an apple steusel and a cinnamon streusel.  And then I made over eight hundred peppernuts.  Because apparently I've lost my mind.

In addition to baking until I dropped (literally, multiple times), I went all-out for Christmas this year and put together Christmas stockings for both sets of our parents.  While we did give out a few gift cards, for the most part, I wrapped real presents for under our tree.  Three weekends full of errands and shopping left me plenty to wrap on several weeknights.  The other weeknights included much cleaning and continued letter writing to my sister (she's in basic training for another month in Texas).

Meanwhile, I have two kittens that demand attention every five minutes.  They have both gained a pound and a half in the last month, so Eddie is now a 5-pounder, and Annie is about 4.5 pounds.  They are eating so much and growing very fast, but we're absolutely in love with them.  Well, when they're being good, that is.

And then there are all of my little projects that never seem to get done.  I made a couple cards from scratch using my Cricut this year, and I hope to have time to get some more pictures taken of our kittens using some new camera equipment I got for my birthday.  I have an office that needs to be cleaned, a craft table that needs some attention, and a bedroom that needs a couple coats of paint.  I won't even get into what I want to do in the backyard.

With any luck, some determination, and good timing, we hope to have an open house in the early spring and finally have people over to see our not-quite-new house!

Now you'll have to excuse me: my pillow is calling for me, and tonight I intend to listen.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Growing with Kittens

The Man and I both had pets growing up, or so we thought.  In truth, our parents had pets, and we simply coexisted with our "sibling" pets.  We didn't feed, water, or care for the pets as much as we were entertained by them.  However, with both sets of our parents, we learned by their example how to be good pet owners. I remember Dad lecturing that the pets always get fed before the humans (if only as a reminder that they should be fed now and then), and that cleaning a litter box at least once a day is simply the minimum we can do for cats.  I'm sure The Man picked up loads of tips about dog ownership from his parents as they cared for his beloved childhood puppy and his parents' current less-than-ferocious canine.  Bottom line, we both took on pet ownership fully realizing we intend to be responsible and loving "masters."  ("Masters" because, let's face it, cats really own their people.)

In my attempts to be a responsible--and not crazy--cat lady, I've spent countless hours researching food, litter boxes, toys, and behavior related to our new best buddies.  We want to give them the best without breaking our bank, and finding the happy medium isn't always easy.  Online information can be unreliable.  Products don't work as advertised.  Or, and easily the most frustrating, every other cat except ours just loves something (cat treats, I'm looking at you).  After all of my research has been completed about an item and I make a decision about what to purchase, the next step involves money and a lot of trial and error.  What follows is an account of some of those trials.

Cat Toys
The toys from Petco, including two small stuffed and slightly crinkly animals and two jingly balls, were all pretty much a complete waste of money.  I crafted two small fleece toys out of fleece and flannel scraps.  The Man attached a shoelace to the smaller of these, and Annie will go after it like a mighty hunter.  She loves to play with it, and I've even seen them playing with it together.  Leftover scraps and just a little bit of my time?  Free.  Love it.  The feathers on the end of the fabric snake that dangles from a stick thingy was a $3 toy that has since broken.  They have nearly chewed off all of the feathers.  While they do like to play with the toy, it isn't holding up very well. I have spoken before about the paper bags and packaging from our Black Friday purchase.  They have completely destroyed the paper, but for free paper, it was the best. toy. ever!  Seriously, those kittens have gone absolutely bonkers playing in the paper.  Of course, the laser pointer is a huge hit.  Just about any cat owner should know this one.  We were lucky that we already owned one.  They have chased the little red dot all over the living room, and they've figured out the origin.  Smart kitties, but they still chase the dot whenever we make it appear.  Lesson learned: free is the best choice with cat toys.  They like cheap, so we LOVE cheap.

Cat Food
We were feeding them Nutro Naturals kitten food, both wet and dry, but it made them have horrible smelling poop.  The wet food actually smelled very little, so I was surprised it morphed that much inside them.  Wet food was a hassle, and the dry food didn't go over very well.  Hours upon hours of research later, we settled on Orijen Cat and Kitten food.  A week of transitioning from the Nutro to Orijen went pretty well.  They weren't happy for a while, but now they inhale their food.  While Orijen is about a dollar more per pound (Nutro was about $12 for 4 pounds, and Orijen is about $22 for 5 pounds), we only have to feed them half as much food through the day.  Also, Orijen is better for them.  Their dull coats have become incredibly shiny and soft.  Their poop still stinks, but less so, and it's much firmer.

While we're on the topic of food, I have to address treats.  We tried feeding our kittens commercially-made treats.  They were less than enthusiastic about munching on them.  Since we had to give them medicine for the first ten days after adopting them, we really wanted a treat for them afterward.  We tried fish treats, chicken treats, and even meatless treats.  They would eat them, but they weren't interested in more than one or two a day.  After a tip I found online, I tried tempting them with a shred of cheese one day.  We're talking an amount about the size and thickness of a pinky fingernail or a single strand of finely shredded cheese.  They almost went insane trying to get me to give them another, trying to smell around to see if I'd dropped more than one or two shreds, trying to get more cheese, mommy, more cheese!  So we have stopped buying treats and simply give them a bit when they've been extra good.  We only give them two or three shreds maximum in a day.  Phew, saves us money, and we get a little treat too. :)

Cat Litter
Do you ever have to admit that your parents were right?  Oh my.  When we got the cats, we started them straight off on ScoopAway, the same unscented stuff my parents have been using for their cats.  But, after ten seconds of use, we realized how dusty and yucky the litter was.  It didn't track much, and the clumping action was fantastic, but oh! the dust!  Time to try something else.  On a trip to Petco, we found the Tidy Cats dust-free litter.  Solves all of our problems, right?  Wrong!!!  Yes, it has very little dust, but it is scented.  I should add that the scent is akin to rotting chicken.  It doesn't clump as well or stay clumped as well as our previous litter, and it tracks everywhere entirely too easily.  We'll be switching back ASAP!  My parents were totally right, and we promise to listen to them about cat litter in the future.

Petromalt didn't go over well at first, but now it's the bee's knees according to Eddie and Annie.  We give them a dab once or twice a week to help with hairballs and digestion.  The gooey formula isn't appreciated as much as the original toothpaste formula, so hopefully the manufacturer will wise up.

We got them a bed and a cat tree at the same time, and they pretty much live in the cat tree.  I've only seen them in their bed once, and I think there was a treat in it or something.  The bed was a waste of money.

Their big fleece-covered pillows I made have been slowly growing on them.  They finally used one last night to sleep on, but it took quite some work to get them to settle down on it.  A precious half-hour of quiet sleep with them on the pillow between our desks?  Priceless.

In the end, we've learned that, with the exception of food, less is more.  Thankfully we're only out a few dollars on the experiments.  Even more thankfully, our cats seem happy, healthy, and pretend to love us.

Well, that's their story for now.  I have a litter box to clean.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

I Write, I Think

In my nine-day absence from this blog, I've written more than you can imagine.  However, rather than blog writing, I've been letter writing.  With my sister away in her basic training for the Air Force, our only communication is through letters.  I have been writing a ton, and it ends up in such fine print (trying to cram text into a single page) that she is having a hard time reading the letters.  We're trying to get a letter out from this house every day, but it doesn't always happen.  Sometimes three letters go in one envelope.

Also, I've been cutting fabric to use in my king-sized quilt that is for my parents.  After a six-month break due to moving and settling in, I had to put the quilt on hold.  I finally have my craft stuff situated and ready to go at a second's notice, so I can quilt a little bit or a lot whenever I want.  The blocks are done, and I just need to cut the last of the sashing that will go between the blocks.

The Man got a cold last weekend, and I came down with a cold just a few days later, so I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday on the couch.  While curling up with our kittens was really nice, having to get up every ten minutes to keep them out of, off of, or away from whatever they weren't supposed to be in, on, or around was exhausting.  The Man is all better, and I am just putting up with the last of a tiny cough.

This week is shaping up to be super busy.  I have Christmas card to send out, a house that desperately needs cleaning, a home visit from some insurance lady for a blood and urine test, a quilt to work on, and other holiday crafts that are calling to me.  I think we're doing most of our Christmas shopping online this year, mostly because it's so much faster and easier than going from store to store.  Free shipping is a huge bonus, too, so we're using that as much as possible.

If anyone would like to send words of encouragement or thoughts to my sister while she's away, leave your message in a comment.  I'll include your message in a letter to her (and if you don't want me to post your message here for everyone to read, just let me know--I always moderate my comments).  Every little thing helps, so a quick "way to go!" or "thanks for helping to protect our country" or "don't give up!" is greatly appreciated.  She told us that she wants letters every day, and it's a lot of work to write that much.  I need your help.  She needs our support.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Eight Weeks to Go

The Man and I have had a very heavy week this week, thus my complete lack of desire to blog.  Our family bid farewell to my little (only) sister on Monday as she left for the U.S. Air Force.  She is now completing eight weeks of basic training, and we only have contact with her the old-fashioned way.  Her husband is living with us until she is done with that training and also her technical school training immediately following.  When she returns in the spring, she and her husband will be packing up for a move to her new home on an Air Force Base (we're all hoping for something on the west coast).  With the exception of the few letters she'll have time to write, we're incommunicado for eight weeks.

Meanwhile, on the homefront, our Furballs of Doom have had a busy week attacking or destroying boxes, paper packaging, and a shoelace we attached to a stuffed bird toy.  Eddie and Annie both had "shelter flu" or upper respiratory infections, and we're giving them antibiotics to help them get better.  Eddie was pretty sick on Monday, and he has gone from a docile, kind kitten to a holy terror with claws as he's gotten better.  Annie, his sister, didn't get a sick, but she's even kicked into high gear.  We had some packaging from a Cyber Monday purchase (woot! TV is mounted on the wall now!), and they've gone absolutely nuts playing in the paper.

I researched cat food for more than ten hours this week in the hopes of finding a healthy, natural, and not bank-breaking cat food for them.  Everyone insists on feeding wet food to kittens online, but the veterinarians that I work with (and we have a half-dozen on staff in our department with another thirty or more over at our vet school a couple blocks away) told me not to feed them wet food.  The wet food isn't any more or less "natural" than dry food, and it doesn't prevent tarter buildup on teeth over dry food.  Really, the only difference for the cat is water.  Ours have absolutely no problem draining their bowl each time we put it out, so dry works just fine for us.  Also, the dry food really is more convenient.  We have some cans of wet food that we fed them while they were sick (mixed with dry food), and we put it out as dessert sometimes, but we're going the dry route for day-to-day feeding.  In my attempt to find the "perfect" dry cat food, I found a ton of snooty cat foods promising to cure my cat of being a cat (or something), but the only ones that made sense also cost a fortune.  I had certain criteria: no corn, no wheat, no "animal or meat by-products (see also: hoofs and snouts)," and no other junky fillers.  The only food that really made sense was Orijen cat and kitten food.  The first six ingredients are meats, and the quality is super, super high.  The food is made in Canada, and it doesn't cost much more than the Petco junk we found first, about a dollar more per pound.  Our first attempt at feeding a few bits of kibble to them went well, so I mixed a few pieces into their current food.  So far so good.  We'll transition them off the corn crap soon and hope to see healthier kittens in a few weeks.

Seriously, between playing with Eddie and Annie at night, cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, I haven't had but a few minutes to spare each day.  I fell into bed last night around 10pm completely and totally exhausted.

This weekend should be relaxing.  We have friends coming over tonight to help us socialize our Furballs of Doom.  We might do some Christmas shopping.  And we might even get to sleep some (oh sleep!).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

We Have Been Owned

The Man and I have found new owners for our little home.  We are, once again, tenants.  The only difference is that this time we get to keep our house.  Our owners, demanding as they may be, prefer a life of eating, sleeping, and chasing that darn little red laser pointer that won't stop moving!

After trips to three different shelters, The Man and I found two precious kittens that needed a new home.  I'm still working to get them to hold still long enough for a picture.  Our all-grey kittens are three months old, make very little noise, and seem to like their new home very well.  They are especially fond of their litter box, which we appreciate.  I don't think they're as crazy about the toys we got for them, so we probably won't get any more of those.  Though the cats were named, we elected to change their names right away.  We were originally going for crazy names, but Eddie and Annie seemed just perfect for them.

We wanted two cats so they could play together, and we were keen to get siblings so they would really know each other.  Also, if possible, we wanted cats that are young without being complete babies.  The shelter in Corvallis was clean enough, and they had quite a selection of kittens, but we just didn't fall in love with any of them.  Also, they didn't have many sibling duos, and I'd hate ripping the third one away from the other two.  The shelter near Tangent was pretty bad.  They had a terrible selection of cats--most of them apparently sick--and no siblings.  We decided to go up to Salem Friends of Felines to see if they had any kittens.

Our drive to Salem was rewarded.  SFOF had plenty of cats of all ages, some sibling pairs, and two small rooms of kittens.  The facility was much cleaner than the other two shelters, smelling hardly at all of litter or food.  We held several kittens, none drawing our eye, until we spied Annie asleep on a cat tree.  She awoke and started playing readily, and she also laid down into The Man's arms without hesitating.  Her brother, Eddie, was asleep when we officially purchased him.  He has proven to be a lap kitty even more than his sister.  She's a mighty hunter: he's a mighty lover.

Both of the cats have been microchipped, had all of their vaccines, and been fixed already.  We knew we'd have all of those things done ourselves soon, but it was nice that SFOF just took care of things before adopting out the kittens.  We paid less for the cats through SFOF than we would have paid a vet to do the surgeries and shots, and a shelter wouldn't have bothered with any of it.  And the people at SFOF were incredibly helpful.  They introduced us to cats, knew temperaments and likes for each cat, and really encouraged responsible ownership (making sure we won't declaw, know appropriate discipline, etc.).  What a fantastic experience!

The Man and I have new owners.  We're pretty okay with that as long as they promise to snuggle lots and give us love.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Still Unpacking

I must have awoken this morning with a bit more gusto than usual.  In the last twelve hours, I've managed to tear the house apart and put it back together again.  The Man and I ran our errands in town just before lunch, so after eating, I set out to clean the master closet.  That sounds simple, but we crammed three closets full of stuff in there, so it was an undertaking.  I emptied all but one remaining box of stuff out, sorted piles from other piles, and redistributed piles to new homes.  Now the only things on the carpet are the few things staying on the carpet.  An hour later, sweaty and out of breath, I heaved the last of the cardboard out to the recycling bins.  I think we're now finally, officially unpacked from our move in August.

One thing that has bothered me since we moved in three months ago was the stains in the dining room carpet.  The little dark dots mocked me each time I walked past them.  Our carpet cleaning didn't remove them, so I set out to do some spot removal.  That extra gusto must have paid off, because they're all gone now.  All of them.  Seriously.  And I didn't use any expensive cleaners or toxic junk.  I used a toothbrush to work some baking soda into the stained areas, and then I dotted vinegar over the baking soda areas and made small volcanoes in my carpet.  I stood on some clean, dry rags after that to sop up the vinegar.  Poof!  The stains disappeared.  Any remaining baking soda should just be vacuumed up next time we vacuum.  This method did not remove the stain in our office carpet, unfortunately, but I am pretty sure that's either rust or blood, and there's little anyone can do for it at this point.

Speaking of gusto, I actually started hanging pictures on the walls of our house last weekend.  We have pictures in the downstairs bathroom now, and I have a few hung in the living room.  Hopefully I will get our college diplomas, some other frames, and our Las Vegas souvenir poster hung tomorrow.

While getting all of my many, many tasks done this weekend, I've been listening to old Loveline episodes.  Loveline is a radio broadcast that airs from 10pm to 12am Sunday through Thursdays, and it has been airing for nearly thirty years (1983 was a good year, but I'm totally biased).  I used to clandestinely watch Loveline when it was also a TV show on MTV back when MTV didn't totally suck (being all of eleven years old didn't exactly make me the target demographic or even remotely allowed to watch MTV).  The show--whether radio broadcast or on TV--is a call-in show where people call in and ask the hosts questions about anything, specifically sex, drugs, and all things taboo.  I have no idea why I like listening to this show, but I enjoy the commentary and Adam Carolla's ranting through the 1990s and 2000s.  Dr. Drew Pinsky has hosted the show since the very beginning, and he's the driving force behind the quality of information and help the callers receive.  I especially enjoy the older clips from when I was in, say, seventh or eight grade, and can remember who I was when Adam was going on and on about something happening in the world or how Dr. Drew answered questions about the current health thoughts and trends.  It is just interesting.

Also?  While I don't think we'll go broke on my nail polish habit by a long shot, I think I need to start investing in a storage setup.  I have almost twenty bottles now and no place to put them.  Suggestions?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Man's Yoga Pants

What follows is a transcript (slightly edited for your reading pleasure, but the content hasn't changed) of an actual conversation my husband and I had today over an instant messaging service.  He had found a great deal on two OSU sweatshirts and wanted to let me know that he purchased them.  You have to understand that he's rather secure in his masculinity and that this entire conversation was unprompted and completely unexpected.  Mild swearing, you were warned.

The Man: I found a deal for two OSU hoodies for $33. I got one of each they have (but not the pink one).

Me: Why didn't you get yourself the pink one?

The Man: I don't have any pants to go with it.  My yoga pants split up the ass.

Me: Oh, that is tragic.

The Man: No, that's awesome!  Now I can showcase my sexy panties.

Me: *dying

Yup, this is the man I married.  For better or worse or yoga pants split up the ass.  *sigh

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Blog Year Retrospective #7

Happy Seven Years to Me!  I get to celebrate a blogiversary again and look back on the exciting things that have happened in my life over the past twelve months.  This year wasn't so much about big events and things but about growth.

And no, The Man and I aren't talking about our expanding waistlines.  Those have--thankfully--been just fine.

We've grown this year.  We have lived a little.  We were lucky enough to both finally find permanent employment and two real incomes.  With that income we have been able to spend a greater amount of time with loved ones in new places (a long weekend in Sisters, Oregon, and a short week in Las Vegas, Nevada, come to mind).  We are also growing much closer to my sister and her husband as they've moved in with us for a short while (we planned this long ago).

We increased our space by buying a house this last summer.  In a mostly painless process after months of penny pinching, The Man and I put down some serious roots and went headfirst into home ownership.  Though neither of us are as excited about painting the interior as we once were, we're determined to get a few more rooms painted before calling it good.  We are loving "our" space and having the ability to change or fix things according to our whim.  We get whims a lot.  Thankfully our whims haven't been too expensive thus far.

With the independence of a house and the responsibility of more income, The Man and I have grown and started thinking about our future.  We're entertaining ideas we haven't had the luxury of considering before, things like saving for retirement, more vacations, and simply saving for children (should we ever find ourselves in that situation).  That independence and responsibility has finally made us feel like adults.  Yeah, at 25 we were both "adults," but neither of us felt it.  We sort of feel it now.  We're adults.

Well, we're adults that watch cartoons, play video games, and eat Kraft Mac like it's going out of style... :)

Our marriage has grown this year as well.  It's not that we're adding to the family as much as that we're finally deepening--or seeing the deepening--of our love.  We bicker and squabble in different ways now and get less frustrated by the same ol' things (or we've just been able to stay quiet better).  We have wisdom now, a few years of ups and downs to rest on, a smattering of experiences that help us know we'll get through things or celebrate things after this.  Our love has grown.

On a personal note, I have grown this last year.  I've branched out into hair dye, nail polish, new makeup, and even bought new earrings!  I've spent most of my life hating all of those things, and being able to open myself up to the accessories as options for me has helped me grow.  I can actually sit down with other women and understand what they mean when they say "no foundation matches my skin tone ever" or "ugh, would you look at that dye job, seriously bad!"  I feel more comfortable in my skin than I ever have, and I'm really glad I feel comfortable with none of these accessories on or with all of them on.  It's less about making myself look better as much as it is just me having fun.

Lots of growth this year, and I'm hoping for even more growth over the next year.  Can you believe this little project I started waaaay back in college is seven years old?  Here's to many, many more!

Monday, November 05, 2012

29 and Counting

I celebrated my 29th birthday this weekend, and while I didn't get to eat any cake, I had a great birthday.

Last weekend was hectic with my sister and brother-in-law moving in with us.  That's right, we have roommates now!  My sister is leaving for the Air Force at the end of the month, and we offered to have her husband stay with us while she's in Basic and her technical school.  She will be back with us for a couple weeks in March, 2013, and then they will both move out to wherever she gets stationed.  They get to save on paying rent, and we get a little help with the food costs and utilities.  Plus my brother-in-law isn't from this area and will be more connected to people by staying with us.  He and The Man are both videogamers, so they get along famously (and I still have my quiet time for crafting or TV!).  This past week has been crazy as we all settle into new spaces and roles.

My sister joined The Man and me as we ventured to Woodburn to the outlet mall.  Visits to Columbia, Jockey, UnderArmour, and Eddie Bauer proved fruitful.  The Man got a wonderful winter coat for a third of the original price, and I scored two more fleeces to keep me warm until June.  We also visited Ulta in Keizer Station where my sister downloaded her brain full of beauty product information to me.  I learned a lot and bought an eyeshadow palette that I think I will really like.

After shopping until we dropped, we went out to dinner with my parents to The Depot.  I haven't been there in years, but it hasn't changed much.  The food was amazing.  I had a small shrimp plate and substituted in clam chowder instead of the fries.  My four panko breaded shrimp were perfect, and the little pink shrimpies on the salad were delicious.  I'm usually not a chowder fan, but theirs was the best I've ever had.  It wasn't gooey or snotty in texture, more of a creamy stew, and the clams weren't as chewy as others I've gagged down.  I really liked the potato chunks: done, but not overcooked.  And the appetizer of havarti cheese and crackers?  I could have died right there and been completely satisfied.  YUM!

I feel 29.  I really do.  I know we celebrated our birthdays by going to Las Vegas this year, but it was still a nice birthday at home.

Just need to get me some cake still.  Working on that...

Friday, November 02, 2012

Random Questions XVI

Holy cow, it has been over two years since I last posted any random questions and answers!  I'm long, long overdue.  After some hunting, I found some new questions.  Enjoy!

Do you like fish sticks?
I will eat them, but I much prefer fish filets.  The Man taught me to eat fish sticks over white rice, and while I thought that was an abomination at first, I've come to really appreciate his bachelor food concoctions.

What is your favorite cereal?
Frosted Mini-Wheats or PB Cap'n Crunch

What kind/brand of deodorant do you use?
Ban, the green thing with the purple stripe, unless they changed the packaging again, in which case I'm going to be mad when I go to the store next time.  I swear they change it every time I buy any.

What is your favorite mythical creature?
Bigfoot.  Think about it: all of the other mythical creatures are dangerous or weird abominations of half-man-half-something.  Nobody, in the history of the whole world, has ever been proven to have died at the hands of Bigfoot.  I think, therefore, that Bigfoot is probably a romantic at heart.  I don't think I'd make friends with Bigfoot if I met him, but I'll take my chances.

What is your favorite cheese?
As an Oregonian, it is my duty to declare my solemn allegiance to Tillamook Cheddar.  But when I'm not loving my way through a Baby Loaf, I do enjoy havarti cheese, especially the Danish stuff.

How do you eat your eggs?
I don't eat eggs by themselves.  They're fine in things like cake and breading, but apparently I am allergic to eggs by themselves.  My body will not tolerate scrambled eggs.  The fake eggs are okay scrambled, and I make a mean overeasy egg, but none for me, thanks.

What would you do if you were the opposite sex for a day?
After thoroughly investigating my new plumbing and assessing its ability to function as designed, I'd probably write my name in the snow.  I would stand while peeing throughout the day.  I would enjoy not waiting in lines at restrooms and utilize that spare time to adjust myself in public.  I would have a guys' night and learn what it is that men do at those things.  I would sleep on my stomach without boobs to get in my way.  I would belch and pass gas without worrying if it was ladylike.  I really do think men have it easier...

What is the nerdiest thing you do in your spare time?
Since cooking isn't nerdy, housework and paperwork are necessary, and quilting is more of a hobby, I'm going with blogging.  That's pretty nerdy.  I also read.  A lot.  Nerd.

Do you prefer Wheat Thins or Triscuits?
Going with Wheat Thins on that one.

Do you face the showerhead or away from it while showering?
I face all different directions, but I think I'm mostly facing away from the stream of water.  The best part of my shower every day is that first moment when I tip my head back and get my hair wet for the first time.  Hot, hot water... oh, that is the best part of my day sometimes.

What is the oldest thing in your refrigerator?
Tabasco sauce, I think.  I have a good turnover of refrigerator items.

What is your favorite breed of dog? cat?
Dog: Vizsla or American Labrador Retriever, but the Australian Shepherds or Huskies are close.  Cat: Bengal, Egyptian Mau, or plain ol' tabby cat.  Shorthaired, please, and no smushed faces!

How are your survival skills?
I'd like to think I'd do pretty well left to my own devices in Oregon.  I'm still learning about plants here, but I'm comfortable with my ability to find water, make shelter, and defend myself using found or improvised items.  Don't want to try it, but I have confidence.

Do you prefer tacos or muffins?
Oooh, tough!  I like both pretty well and dislike the extremes of both just as much.  I'm going with a muffin simply because sugar can cover a multitude of crap, but tacos really need to stand on their own.

Can you play any instruments?
Yes, I can.  I can even play one rather well.  I have played several instruments, some with more success than others (piccolos are not as much fun as they look).  The piano has a very special spot in my heart.

What is the most overrated exercise in your opinion?
All exercise?  Oh, just one, sorry.  Uh, lunges.  I particularly dislike lunges.  My knees don't do that motion.  Also, just the name sounds painful.  Lunge!  No.  No thanks.  I'll push up or sit up or generally do anything that involves a useful motion.

Do you prefer waffles or pancakes?
Waffles.  I like pancakes, but I looooove waffles.  Crispy ones.  With peanut butter and maple syrup--especially the crappy syrup from that missus ladybottle.

What is the grossest thing you've ever eaten?
Mustard.  I get it by accident sometimes when the burger joint doesn't hear "DRY burger, dammit!"  Also, sushi: vommitus maximus.

Who is/was the most influential person in your life (besides parents/Jesus)?
Easily, my husband has the most influence on my life at this point.  I think my sister would be high on that list as well.  My grandmothers would also make the top five.

Do you prefer breakfast or dinner?
Breakfast, since I actually like most breakfast food.  Dinner is so overrated.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

I Thought Acne Stopped at Adulthood!

I admit I never learned how to take care of my skin.  Nobody told me what a t-zone was.  I didn't understand that I should keep my hands off my face.  I had no clue about drinking water and eating right and how that could effect my skin.  They didn't teach skincare in school, and I didn't want to rely on the "ancient herbal remedies" I saw online.

Before you get to thinking I'm about to tell you I have my skin all figured out, let me just put the kibosh on that now.  I don't.  But I'm learning.  That's all I can share.

Just before we went to Las Vegas last month, I finally experienced my first full week of really great skin.  I had no break-outs, no healing patches, no spots that cried out for concealer.  My makeup was flawless day after day for a week.  But then I went to the desert and had to leave a bit of my daily routine behind.  For a day or two, things were still pretty good.  By the time we got home, however, my skin had turned into this super dry nightmare of peeling skin, oil slicks of grossness, and a broken-out middle ground that I won't even get into.  I fought my skin for a week solid after we got home.

Lesson learned: Jaggy does not fare well in the desert in any way.

I have since worked and worked to be diligent in washing my face carefully and gently just once a day before bed.  I use clay masks to absorb oil once a week, toner to balance the skin, and a light moisturizer to heal dry spots.  My make-up is of good quality and gets sanitized a least weekly (except mascara which gets replaced religously every three months).  All of these things have greatly improved my skin, and I'm happy to report no new breakouts since we returned home from our vacation.

The frustrating part of this whole situation for me is that I thought acne stopped with adulthood.  I thought I was supposed to be over this frustration.  I thought I was "too old" now for major breakouts and painful zits and dry, peeling skin.  Sure the odd zit doesn't surprise me (Aunt Flo usually leaves her calling card after visiting), but this... this was unreal!

What do you do to keep your skin looking its best?  What products or techniques do you employ to heal, stabilize, or otherwise calm your skin?  And what is the weirdest thing you've ever heard to help a skin condition?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Las Vegas: Sights to See

Before I get into all of the fun stuff we did in Las Vegas, I have to throw up a quick review of the bag I used as a camera bag and day pack.  As we were planning our trip, I heavily researched camera bags.  I wanted a comfortable camera bag that also allowed for additional non-camera items, was easy to access for quick pictures, and was airplane/TSA compliant.  Not an easy item to find, let me tell you!  Thankfully some other photographers out there turned me on to the Kata DR466i.  Though the bag did get heavy after hours upon hours of walking around, it was very comfortable to wear.  It also didn't let my back breathe well, but no backpack is going to do any better.  I carried my Nikon D5000 and a few accessories in the bottom of the bag and my Kindle, wallet, typical purse/bag stuff, and some snacks in the upper half with plenty of room left over.  I had absolutely no problem carrying my bag through the airport or onto the planes.  The tripod holder functioned very well as a loop to stick my fleece pullover through.  I really liked the chest strap as well, a nice addition.  The backpack is durable and seems to be constructed like a battleship.  I might not carry this bag as my every-day bag (Timbuk2 has my heart in that arena), but it is a great camera pack for sure, especially for hiking or vacations!

Now, onto the fun:

Hoover Dam looking from Nevada into Arizona
Hoover Dam was high on everyone's list.  We ventured out to the dam early on our first full day in Nevada.  Mom, Dad, and I (with my sister) went to Hoover Dam about twenty years ago (saying that makes me feel old), and it was over 110° last time.  This time, we chilled around 90°, a much more comfortable and reasonable change.  Being Oregonians, however, we were all very warm.  Yuck.  Dad and The Man went on a dam tour while Mom and I investigated things from the top of the dam and the gift shop.  I gave The Man my camera, so he took pictures inside the dam.  Being all terrified of heights, not a fan of large bodies of water, and generally hating heat, I was not thrilled to be at the dam.  Mom and I walked over to the Arizona side of the dam, so I can say I've been to Arizona twice now.  The Man and I bought a couple souvenirs at the gift shop, and then we all headed to our next destination.

Hoover Dam looking downriver toward the new bridge (which terrified me)
The Ethel M. Chocolate Factory was a ton of fun.  We walked through the beautiful cactus garden for quite a while before heading in to see chocolate being made, sampling chocolate, and then buying chocolate (hello lighter wallet).  I wish they'd take the Christmas lights off of the cacti in the garden during the non-holiday season, but I understand how difficult it would be to put them on and take them off each year.  The lights were distracting.  Otherwise we really enjoyed this stop.

Ethel M. Chocolate Factory: cactus garden (pretty, but so not my lush, green, allergenic grass)
After lunch, we agreed to check off another big thing on our lists--especially my list--"CSI: The Experience" at the MGM Grand.  I was so excited to do this as I used to be a big fan of the show (until William Peterson left, then I quit watching, because, really, he was the show).  CSI: The Experience is an interactive exhibit that teaches people about crime scene investigation both through videos and text, and the participants get to "solve" a crime as they tour the exhibit.  Mom's background in criminology and the legal system and my experience with science and observation made us a formidable team.  Dad and The Man bundled their extensive logic and craftiness to make the other team.  Our goal, according to the exhibit host, was to get through the exhibit and solve the crime--different crimes for each team--faster than the other team.  Game ON!  We started by watching a little video explaining our purpose, and then we moved on to the "crime scene."  We observed the scene (nothing gory or explicit, somewhat of a letdown actually), took notes, and then moved on to ballistics, trace, and the lab to gather more evidence before reviewing the autopsy and drawing our conclusions.  At the end, we presented our evidence and conclusions to Grissom and were rewarded with a certificate indicating we completed our task if we were correct.  We were.  I don't know if I was expecting something wildly different, but the exhibit was very disappointing.  I didn't have to use much of my brain at all.  Maybe little kids or drunk people would struggle with the exhibit, but we all thought it was pathetically easy.  Every time we went to the next section, we'd see the answer to something we were supposed to figure out in the previous section.  There was no possibility for error.  Lame.  We all finished at the same time and exited through the gift shop pretty quickly.

The one big thing everyone told us we had to do in Las Vegas was see a show.  Shows in Vegas are expensive, or at least more than I'm used to paying in Oregon.  We were shocked that some shows cost as much as $200 or more per seat.  Ouch.  We decided we'd go to a show on our third night, so that morning I started looking for tickets in a price range we didn't hate.  We all settled on going to a Cirque du Soleil show, so after comparing prices and seating availability, I suggested the Mystère show at Treasure Island.  At the last minute, I was able to find seats at center stage in the third row.  AWESOME!  Later that night, after standing in one of the longest lines I've ever seen, we wound our way into the theater for what amounted to an incredible, fantastic show.  The stage was great, the costumes and makeup were perfect, and the changing acts really kept a great pace.  While the aerial acts made me feel a bit lightheaded, I loved the Chinese poles, the hand-to-hand gymnasts, and the trampoline series.  We're all very glad we went to see this show.  The music--all performed live in the theater--was also incredible.  If you get a chance to see Mystère, GO!

That's about it.  Between flights, too much food, hours and hours of walking and seeing casinos, taking in sights along the strip, relaxing in the pool, and visiting the things mentioned above, we had a very full vacation.  I am so happy to be home, though, as there really is no place like home.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Las Vegas: Food Reviews

Las Vegas proved to be a culinary challenge for The Man and me.  We struggled to find moderately priced somewhat healthy non-fast food throughout the vacation.  We made a rule before we left that we didn't want to eat anywhere in Las Vegas that we could eat around home (so no Olive Gardens, no Burger Kings, and no bars--unless the bars were highly recommended).  We also didn't want to spend very much except for our anniversary dinner, and even that shouldn't be too expensive.

After many, many hours of researching the Big Name restaurants in Las Vegas (those tied to Puck, Batalli, Robuchon, et al.), we decided that we didn't want to take a chance on a celebrity chef taking food we love--chicken, for example--and smothering it in food we hate--any gooey sauce or fungus.  Ruling out Big Names and fast food greatly reduced the offerings in Las Vegas.  Few, if any, of the mid-priced or low-priced offerings had positive reviews online.  What's a family to do!?

In-n-Out Burger.  We don't have these in Oregon, so we've heard talk about the legendary fries and amazing burgers that can be customized into fantastic creations, but we'd never eaten there before.  Straight from the airport, we headed to the nearest In-n-Out to see about all the fuss.  The lines proved to be long, the scent inside delicious, and the turnover incredibly fast considering the crowd.  We only waited a short while for our fresh, hot fries and cheeseburgers to be prepared.  The fries were all devoured quickly, and the burgers didn't slow down much on the way into our bellies.  Very, very good.  We ended up going to another of these fine establishments the next day for lunch as well.  The die-hard In-n-Outers that I know swear by this place, but I have to say I'm a bit more devoted to Burgerville.  BV's fries are not as fresh, but they're a bit thicker (more akin to McDonald's, but better).  BV's burgers are better than In-n-Out due to the cheese and non-greasy buns.  I tolerate plasticky cheese just fine, but if someone gives me the option for Tillamook cheese, there isn't really a debate.  Fork over the cheddar ASAP!  In-n-Out gets a 4.5/5 from me.

My cheeseburger on the left and The Man's "Double-Double" on the right with 2x as much meat and cheese. YUM!
Our first night in Vegas included a long wait to get into Bootlegger on the south end of the strip.  Bootlegger is a family-owned Italian restaurant that you really, really need to have reservations for if you plan to eat there in the evening.  We didn't know this.  We know now.  Once we got seated, the service was excellent.  The menu had many things on it we all liked, and the prices were very reasonable.  My ravioli arrived hot and delicious, and The Man's chicken parmesan with alfredo sauce was to-die-for amazing.  Mom and Dad both complained a bit that while their food was very good, it was a tad salty.  I completely agree, especially about the house meat sauce.  I chugged pop like it was going out of style through dinner just to get the sauce down.  Otherwise this was an excellent meal for a good price.  4/5 from me.

Our second night in Vegas was a doozy.  We struggled to find a place to eat for a long time before we stumbled into Earl of Sandwich.  Not exactly high-brow food, but the sandwiches had excellent reviews.  We all learned why.  My "all american" turkey, cheese, lettuce, and cranberry jelly sandwich was awesome, and the house kettle chips were pretty good.  Not the biggest meal, but the price was great.  Relatively healthy food and lighter fare after a second burger lunch was greatly appreciated by all.  4/5 from me.

On our third night, we celebrated our anniversary at the Peppermill on the north end of the strip.  The menu looked amazing, and the prices were pretty good for mid-to-higher end casual dining.  The Man ordered a steak: he said it was good (if a little fatty), and the side dishes were very good.  I had chicken parm, but it was the weirdest--and most humongous--chicken parm I've ever had.  Two GIGANTIC chicken breasts, breaded, fried, and cheesed, layered on top of at least a pound of pasta, sauteed peppers and onions, and the lightest, sweetest tomato sauce on earth.  The chicken was incredible, and the pasta was perfectly cooked.  My $25 plate, however, could easily have fed two grown men.  I ate as much as I could hold, but there was still a solid meal left over.  The Man finished the majority of his meal at least.  It was all delicious, but I do wish the portion sizes were more realistic.  This is the only time I think I've ever whined about getting too much for my money.  4/5 for me (half a point off for the lack of atmosphere inside and dodgy characters outside, and half a point off for sllooooow service).

Our last night was actually the most difficult meal out of the week.  We were all stuffed from lunch still, and we didn't want a big dinner before going to bed early.  We ended up agreeing to hop down the street to Raising Cane's, a fast-food chicken shop.  We each ordered a small amount of food and took it all back to our room.  None of us thought it was amazing or really worth going back to, but it wasn't bad.  The fries were good.  The toast was rather unnecessary after fries and fried chicken, but whatever (just pile on the carbs!).  2/5 from me.

We did visit two buffets in Las Vegas, partly because everyone talked about how popular the buffets are, and partly because it was easy to please everyone by going there.  The most popular complaint I read online about the buffets was that the food is always cold.  Think about it though: if you start on one end of the buffet line and pick out the hot food first, of course it is going to be cold by the time you wind through the buffet and get back to your table.  Don't ding the buffet for your lack of speed getting the food to your face.  Take smaller amounts of hot food to your table and go back to the line with a clean plate more often.

The buffet at the Bellagio was really good.  The food was fresh, hot, and looked delicious.  The pizza appeared to be rather blah, but it tasted fantastic.  The Man enjoyed his turkey and ribs.  Dad hit the pineapple and frozen yogurt pretty hard.  While neither Mom nor I were particularly enthusiastic about the soup (crunchy potato soup? yuck), we both like the more traditional fare.  Aside from a killer raspberry sorbet and some decent cookies, the dessert bar is where the Bellagio fell flat.  The cheesecake wasn't even cold, not to mention most of the other desserts all tasted the same.  4.5/5 from me.

The Mandalay Bay buffet did not have good reviews online, but it was rated higher than most of the other buffets.  Since we were on that end of the strip on our last day, we had lunch at the buffet.  The selection wasn't quite as vast as Bellagio's, but the offerings looked really nice.  The bread baskets overflowed with rolls and bagels, and the pizza looked incredible.  I was also pleased to see some more ethnic offerings, especially the Spanish rice.  The pizza ended up being not so great.  The bread rolls could have been used to play hockey.  The rice was gross.  We all ate plenty to get full, but the food just wasn't great.  The desserts, however... hidden off to one side is the dessert bar, and there's a good reason it is hidden.  Any more obvious and that place would be crawling with people.  The desserts were AMAZING.  Dad was disappointed that they didn't have any ice cream or froyo, but he suffered through chocolate cake and apple turnovers, muffins galore and cheesecakes high and low like a trooper.  Poor guy, right?  I threw all sense of caution and reason to the wind and ate until I was ready to heave.  4.5/5 from me.

We all looked forward to vegetables and fruit when we got home--and big bowls of chicken noodle soup to detox our bodies from the onslaught of salty/sweet/huge meals day after day on vacation.  I've enjoyed being back in the kitchen whipping out healthier versions of our favorite restaurant food.  Seriously, celery and peanut butter never tasted so good.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Las Vegas: Casino Reviews

We hit the majority of the casinos on The Strip last week, whether as a destination or as a link to another casino.  Though none of us are gamblers (okay, we dropped a whopping $10 between three of us in some slot machines), we did want to see these places we hear about on TV and in movies.  I am not going in any particular order of our trip.  These are my own views that may not be shared by others on our vacation (although I'm pretty sure they agree with me for the most part).

First and foremost, ALL of the casinos allow smoking.  We, the Oregon hippies, did not realize the rest of the nation hadn't outlawed smoking to the extent we are familiar here in our enclave.  We're all used to the restaurants, workplaces, stores, and bars being completely smoke-free.  I don't remember the last time I was in a restaurant and heard someone ask for the "smoking section."  Las Vegas?  Didn't get the memo apparently.  And ALL of the casinos try to cover up the smoky smell with a hideous perfume or air "freshener" that only serves to thicken the air and make everything smell gross.  We all had sore throats and a hard time breathing in the casinos, especially the Luxor (poorly ventilated) and The Mirage (perfumed heavily).  None of the casino floors smelled pleasant.  This was a hard thing for us to get over.

Mandalay Bay was really big.  That's something that struck Dad right away.  The corridors are all very wide and quite tall, so the furnishings have to be equally large to fill the space.  The convention center was enormous, and the pool area was massive.  The casino here seemed so small compared to the rest of the hotel/resort.  We went in a few of the shops, explored the really nice lobby area with beautiful aquarium (containing sharks no less).  Though there was a wedding in the garden outside, we wish we could have explored that area as well as it seemed beautiful and peaceful.

We took a tram from Mandalay Bay to the Luxor next door.  The Luxor was probably the most unique casino on the strip.  Shaped into a pyramid with a spike of light streaming straight out of the top at night, the Luxor was impressive.  There wasn't much to see inside aside from the interesting terrace of hotel rooms above the casino, a few shops on the mezzanine level, and two very expensive exhibits we didn't visit.  Very neat inside, but nothing remarkable beyond that.

Fountains at Bellagio at night from the Las Vegas Strip.

Another tram took us over to the Excalibur, one of the most dated and overrated casinos on the strip.  The air quality was atrocious and musty, the carpets were gross, and there wasn't much to see.  I did enjoy the stained glass windows and interior architecture.  Everything was easy to find inside (bathrooms, information, shops, etc.), but nothing was special.  It just felt tired.  Oh, and the show there with the jousting and a meal? Over $60 per plate after taxes, and they don't even give you silverware.  I get the whole "but it's medieval and they didn't have forks then!" but seriously, give me a damn fork already.  We didn't see the show (did that as a kid).

New York-New York was also nothing to write home about.  Though the inside was attractive and the little shop area on the southwest corner was pretty cool, nothing about this casino evoked a welcoming environment.  The lobby area is a joke, the paintings are cartoonish (miserable fail at art deco), and the general ambiance is lacking.  While I really appreciated the outside architecture, the inside felt empty.

The Bellagio was opulent.  We all really liked the lobby with the Chihuly skylight and conservatory nearby.  I could have found a nice little home near the Chihuly store beyond the flower gardens.  We saw two fountain shows at night and loved them.  My only negative mark against The Bellagio would be the stores at Via Bellagio (the inside mall area): who buys Prada, Armani, Tiffany & Co., and all of those other name-brand luxuries?  Clearly I was not part of the Bellagio target demographic.  We tried to find a place to eat at this casino that served food in our price range that didn't take food we love and smother it in food we hate (leave the chicken alone!), but every restaurant was froo-froo or too high-brow for us.  Pretty, but not my type.
Bellagio lobby skylight with Chihuly glass.

One block up from Bellagio is Caesar's Palace and the Forum Shops.  More of the same expensive stores all over these two places, so it's safe to say our money didn't exactly make a run for it.  Caesar's is just huge.  The casino is quite separated from the rest of the place, which was nice, but it took us forever to walk past all of the shops, restaurants with famous names (and egos) attached, theaters, and slow-moving people.  This casino had an A-List feel, and we were definitely not part of the A-List.  While I liked the indoor shopping mall at the Forum Shops, I wasn't moved by the casino.  Terrible interior directions.

The Mirage had a nasty perfumed smoke that greeted us just inside the front doors.  Getting through the cloud and past the palm tree oasis entrance (pretty, but trite) was a challenge.  We did really like the Terry Fator Theater lobby area and shop nearby.  The casino area is large, but it was easy to navigate and was well well-marked.  We didn't get to see the volcano explode at night out front, but we did take the tram over to Treasure Island.  These trams really saved our feet, knees, hips, backs, and minds from the pavement and heat.

Treasure Island was probably one of the most well-traveled casinos on the strip by our little party.  We were everywhere in this casino.  The atmosphere, while dated, was lively.  The shops were clean and easy to find.  There didn't seem to be much of a lobby area, but the entrance out front was really neat with the lagoon and pirate ship shows 4x daily.  We didn't have any navigation problems here, and parking was super easy (although not well-marked).

The Stratosphere, for all of its height, failed to measure up.  This casino was probably the most underwhelming spot on the strip.  The interior was a bad attempt at everything, navigation signage was lacking, and the escalators were "closed" (hello? they just turn into stairs).  The shopping area was probably the nicest spot in the whole place simply because it was a quiet spot with few people and several penny masher machines for Dad.  I don't think any of us will be returning to the Stratosphere anytime soon.

Planet Hollywood is definitely a planet unto itself.  That casino and resort is absolutely ginormous.  The Miracle Mile shops are exactly that: a mile of shopping.  The size of this place alone is overwhelming.  While we didn't spend much time in the casino part and only briefly glimpsed the lobby, we wound through the maze that is M&M World and the Coca-Cola store forever.  Planet Hollywood is a sensory overload, and I feel like we would have needed a week just to get acclimated to the visual and scented assaults.  Too much!

MGM Grand was probably everyone's favorite casino from our group.  Everything about this place was grand.  The lobby was beautiful and appropriately large.  The casino was well-planned.  The place didn't stink too much.  The theaters and eateries were easy to find but not distracting.  We found maps helpful, and the maps were easy to find.  Shopping, likewise, was easily accomplished along a mall.  Parking proved easy.  Despite the construction happening and an odd layout on the block, the MGM Grand was a very nice stop on our casino tour.

We very briefly visited a couple other spots along the strip, but I didn't get enough of a look to comment on them.  Overall we learned we aren't casino people.  Too much smoke (seriously, it's tough for us), no loud clinking coins anymore (disappointing to see all electronic games), and not enough advertising for the mid-priced restaurants that don't display some big chef's name.

Tomorrow, food reviews.  Tonight, washing the remaining casino stink out of my jeans.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My First Flight!

Taxiing on the runway at Eugene: Las Vegas bound!
Sorry for the absence, dear reader, but I went on vacation to Las Vegas!  I experienced so many things over this last week that I'm going to take several posts to explore everything again.  To start, this post is going to be all about my first flying experiences.

Just popping out of the clouds after take-off (and an hour).
We flew on Allegiant from Eugene, Oregon, to Las Vegas, Nevada on Monday and home again on Friday.  Our airplane was an MD-80 for both flights.  My parents sat in the front two seats on the left side of the aisle, and we sat in the two seats right behind them.  There were three people on the other side of the aisle.  Our airplane was full for both flights as far as I could see.

The clouds thinned out once we reached Nevada.
We went through security in Eugene without much incident.  My zippers on my fleece pullover set off the alarm inside the full-body scanner, so I had to have my shoulder patted down.  The Man had done his hair Monday morning, and his hair gel set off an alert, so he had to have his half-inch hair inspected.  Dad forgot a nickel in a pocket that caused him to get a pat-down also.  Mom was apparently the only one who didn't wear any metal through the scanner.  She didn't get patted down at all.

MD-80: another plane just like ours at Las Vegas' airport
Our flight took off on time, thankfully.  The cabin pressurized quickly as we ascended through the thick cloud layer.  We all realized that the flight was going to be bumpy right away, so nobody was surprised or panicking as we got jostled every five seconds.  It was sort of like riding in a car over a potholed road, nothing too bad.  The plane was very noisy inside, so I wish I'd had ear plugs or something to muffle the engine, air, and people noises.  We broke out of the clouds just before reaching Nevada, so we descended in clear skies over Las Vegas.  I did really well on my first plane trip until we reached Las Vegas.  That's when the pilot turned our jet into a fighter jet and made two very sharp banking turns at what had to be a 90° sideways turn.  I looked out my window and didn't see sky anymore: it was concrete and desert through the glass.  Scary! I went into my happy place and tried to pretend I was just on a roller coaster.  That's about when the pilot turned our fighter jet into a bus for what was apparently a "soft" landing.  I bit my tongue on it, not hard, but enough that I didn't want to do it again.  We screeched to a halt and walked off the plane into Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport.  After a tram ride over to the twelve baggage carousels (that took forever) and a shuttle ride after that to the car rental place, we were on our way to The Strip.

Rain-streaked windows were fun to watch as we descended into Eugene.
Fast-forward to Friday morning about 5:00am, we were back at McCarran for our return flight.  This time I brought ear plugs and an extra fleece to use as a pillow on the flight home.  As we all got up at o'dark thirty, I had no problem zonking out for the duration of the flight.  Though getting through security was more nightmarish, we all went through without incident.  We had a much smoother ride home.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Buggin' Out

The Man and I have discovered we have housemates.  As this was rather unexpected, we are not exactly thrilled.  The only good thing I've noticed is that with the exception of the one eight-legged monster I discovered a couple weeks ago, our new house mates are decidedly less panic-inducing.  I wish I could tell you what the insects are, but I am at a loss.  They look like small maple bugs or boxelder bugs, but they don't have any red on them, and they don't seem to fly.  They are not bed bugs, and I don't think they're any variety of beetle, tick, louse, or roach.  They don't sting and haven't made any attempts to bite either of us.  I have probably killed ten of them in the house this week, all near the front door or in the master bedroom.  We don't store any food uncovered or unsealed, and they don't seem to be attracted to the kitchen for any reason.  The bugs have little triangles on their backs, six legs with antennae just about as long as their legs.  They are all just over a quarter-inch long.  The Man made a large circle around the perimeter of our foundation today spraying for bugs, but we don't know if that will help.  I'm a big fan of keeping all unwanted house guests at the curb.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Some Things are Better Left Unshared

We bought a carpet shampooer, and we're not sharing.

One item high on our list when we bought a house was a carpet shampooer.  I researched these devices at length before we moved, and I settled on a very popular model that was not too expensive.  We ordered it online and received it last week.  With the dust from moving all settled and painting complete downstairs, I set out this weekend to rid our carpet of the previous inhabitants' bad juju.  Or kool-aid.  Or whatever that orange stain is.

I used the shampoo that came with the unit this first time, but I used the majority of the bottle to clean the entire house.  I purchased another type of carpet shampoo (Biokleen) for my next round with the unit, but that may not be for a few months.  The free stuff has a slight smell, not offensive, but not my favorite.  I used it according to the directions.  After a whole house of that stuff, I can say I'm not impressed with its stain removing power.  The carpets seem cleaner, and the water I dumped out was nasty looking, so I know the unit worked.  Stains are all still there, though.  I had some difficulty at first getting the shampooer to dispense cleaning solution, but I missed a critical step in the initial assembly.  Thankfully it was a quick fix.  I didn't oversaturate the carpets, and I had to empty the dirty water just as often as I had to refill the clean water, so I feel like I pulled up the majority of the cleaning solution that got dispensed.  I did two very slow drying passes over the wet carpet, and my entire house was totally dry within six hours (the stairs only took two hours, but I dried them very well).  I think I'll see a bigger improvement with the next go-around.

The Man and I have decided that sometimes it pays to be selfish.  We thought about borrowing a carpet cleaner from family members that have one, but then we got into issues with pick-ups and drop-offs, who pays for the cleaner, and general wear and tear costs.  We were going to rent one, but it was almost $40 anywhere we saw to rent one, plus they make you buy a whole gallon of cleaner (I only used about a pint on my 2,000 sq ft).  I didn't like either option.  Knowing we'll use the one we bought more often since we own it and the fact that it will pay for itself within three cleanings, we went all in.  Though we're sure people will ask to borrow our shampooer, we've decided that we aren't going to lend it out.  With the experience of lending functioning items out only to receive them in worse condition later, we're positive our unit is going to last longer and function better if we don't lend it out.

Think of a carpet shampooer like a big toothbrush.  It cleans carpet, the largest expansive home of dust mites, allergens, and mold in your house.  Carpet is a lot like a tongue with regard to the texture and nasties-trapping ability.  Would you share a toothbrush with someone after they dragged it across their tongue and scraped out all the nasties?  The Man and I have a hard enough time not wheezing on the dust and mold in our house (and we have relatively clean air).  We aren't going to lend out our carpet shampooer, have someone gunk it up with their nasties, and bring it home and introduce those nasties into our living space.

We don't share toothbrushes.  That's just wrong.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Painting, Driving, and Almost Dying

Sorry about the silence around here for the last week.  I have a fantastic excuse though!  The Man was out of town last week for business, and I recruited my father to help me paint the office in our house while The Man was gone, you know, sort of a surprise.  I worked late one night and painted my arms off for two nights, so I was super busy.  I even took Friday off to make sure the office was all done and put back together before he got home that evening.  In my few minutes of spare time that afternoon, I managed to also whip the guest bath upstairs into shape.  Two rooms down in one week!

We have decided, after painting the bathroom and office, the downstairs paint is officially done.  We were waiting to bring in our bookcases and books until after we repainted all of the green walls, but since we actually like the color and are very much over painting ten-foot high ceilings, the green is just perfect.  We dragged our bookcases in from the garage this weekend and arranged them in the dining room like our own little library.  Our twenty cases of books came in one at a time as I unloaded and organized them by subject. Our kitchen counter--and we have a lot of it--looked like a used book store for a few hours!  My least favorite part of that book sorting adventure happened about two-thirds of the way through the boxes.  I lifted the lid on what was a box of my most beloved childhood books (Gary Paulsen, I'm looking at you!).  I was digging around in the box trying to wrap my fingers around a stack when something started climbing out of the box right next to my hand.  I saw skinny legs and lost it.  We're talking shrieking, crying, hyperventilating, shaking, full-out panic attack meltdown.  The Man burst into the room, looked in the box, and declared the spider was too big to kill.  I? was gone.  He fetched the vacuum to rid us of our evil roommate (and I later discovered that actually doesn't kill them--so someone had to empty the canister outside immediately).  My precious books sat in the bad box while I calmed down.  The Man helped me empty each box after that, checking all six sides of every book before handing it to me.  *shudder*

We made a fast trip to Portland this weekend to see my college roommate for lunch.  Of course, that also meant a stop at the Columbia Sportswear outlet in Woodburn.  Pretty sure they own us now.  We both love coats and sweatshirts and fleece, though, so our sale items are going to pay for themselves quickly.

I knew having a house was going to make me busier, but I had no idea how busy that would be.

Also, I hate spiders.  Hate them so much!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Not My 10 Year Reunion

This weekend, The Man celebrated his 10-year high school reunion with over half of his classmates.  With a graduating class of around 30 students, that's a great turn-out.  We spent five hours socializing with old friends and their spouses and reminiscing on a tour of his high school.  I got to see several pictures of my husband as an eighteen year old, and I think everyone can agree he has changed dramatically since then--and all for the better.  While I knew a few of his close friends already, it was nice to meet some of the girls he used to have crushes on and some of the guys that he played soccer with.  It never ceased to amaze me how, even after a considerable length of time, people tended to fall right back into their old roles and remain "popular"--or not.

I also got to see family this weekend.  My sister and I went to visit Grandma and help her celebrate turning 94!  We were able to see our aunt as well, which was fantastic.  On Sunday, I had my parents, sister, and brother-in-law over for dinner and dessert.  I made a crock pot full of jambalaya, and everyone seemed to enjoy that quite a lot.  Three pounds of meat and then vegetables, rice, and spices made for a ton of food, but there wasn't a single grain of rice left.

My sister and I had a good time this weekend doing my makeup in a new way.  I've never felt like I look good with eyeliner on, but she did such a fantastic job that she has changed my mind.  I'm impressed.  I recently discovered the Revlon Lip Butters, a sort of sheer-ish lipstick that feels super smooth and not sticky or drying on my lips.  They've almost converted me from my green apple ChapStick, but not quite.

Between cleaning our house, taking care of a lawn, and putting together an awesome Lego set (more on that later), The Man and I had a great weekend together.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent + Cost Breakdown + Science!

All caught up reading about my other homemade cleaners?  Good.  Now let's dive into homemade powdered laundry detergent.

Why powdered?  I'm lazy when it comes to making these cleaners, so the idea of mixing a huge five-gallon bucket of liquid detergent and having to melt soap and let things sit overnight just seemed like too much work.  Powdered laundry detergent is more shelf-stable over a longer period of time, plus I don't have to worry as much about whether things are gelling, separating, or worse.  Since I am allergic to most detergents (Tide = evil!), I liked the ease of changing out ingredients more quickly with a powdered recipe.  Sure having five gallons of detergent is great, but now I can make smaller batches and adjust as I go until I find a perfect mix for my body and clothing.

This recipe is HE-machine friendly as it is low-sudsing.  While you can substitute Zote or Ivory soap for the Fels-Naptha, do not try to use other forms of body soap.

First, let's try some science:

Borax, available as Twenty Mule Team Borax at the store, is also known to the science world as sodium tetraborate decahydrate. It looks like a white powder, has no real scent, and is not flammable. In very large doses, it can be toxic to humans (so don't eat it, but it's fine to use for cleaning). Borax is a common detergent ingredient, and it is found in cosmetics, as a buffer solution, and as a fire retardant among other nifty things.

Washing Soda, also known as soda ash or sodium carbonate, is a basic (high pH) white powder. When not being all awesome as an ingredient in glass, it can be used as an electrolyte in chemistry labs, for lyeing (a browning agent in food, like on the outside of pretzels), removing flesh from bones in taxidermy, or to clean silver. For the household, washing soda functions primarily as a water softener. It is a degreaser and descaler, and it can help to remove oil and wine stains.

Fels-Naptha is a detergent and stain pretreater.  Just rub a little of the wet bar soap on a stain like you would the Spray'n'Wash stick or any other stain pretreaters.

OxiClean is known as sodium percarbonate in the laundry world.  It is a whitening agent that yields soda ash (washing soda!) and hydrogen peroxide (yeah, that stuff moms put on cuts that fizzles and burns) when mixed with water.

Second, a hard look at the math:

Borax costs $6.49 for 76 ounces or $0.09 per ounce.
Washing soda costs $8.20 for 55 ounces or $0.15 per ounce.
Fels-Naptha costs $1.49 for 5.5 ounces or $0.27 per ounce.
OxiClean costs $7.52 for 48 ounces or $0.16 per ounce.

Third, the recipe for Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent:

1 c Borax ($0.72)
1 c Washing soda ($1.20)
1 bar Fels-Naptha  ($1.49)--Ivory bars are $0.50
1/2 c OxiClean ($0.64)

$4.05 per batch of 60 loads or less than $0.07 per load.  Compare that to All Mighty Pacs at $19.03 for 48 loads or $0.40 per load.  Even if we make the switch to All liquid detergent in a jug, we're looking at $16.36 for 64 loads or $0.25 per load.  We're saving a minimum of 72% on the latter and 83% on the former!

But, not one to leave well-enough alone, I had a revelation: individual soap pods!  I really liked the All Mighty Pacs, but I didn't like shelling out the money for them.  There had to be a way to make my own detergent pods.  Since I didn't want to source my own water dissolving pod supplies (expensive, inefficient use of time), and I didn't want to do something disposable, I had to find a reusable porous material in which to place the soap for each load.  Enter favor bags!  These small bags are made of organza and are available at most craft stores (thank you 50%-off coupons!)--yeah, I could even make your own, but time is money as well.

I placed a tablespoon of my homemade laundry powder in the bag for the picture, but I'd probably almost double that for big loads of laundry.  After a few days of testing, I noticed the Fels-Naptha isn't always dissolving entirely, but that might be the water temperature or that I haven't grated and blended it small enough (though I thought the Magic Bullet did a pretty good job).  I might try using Ivory bar soap next time--or Zote if I can find it, or I might try not tightly pulling the drawstrings and leaving the top a bit looser when I add the pods to my laundry.  Everything else dissolves out of the bag just fine.  Also, as I was filling the bags, I noticed that some of the powder escapes through the fabric if I shake the bags.  If I fill them over a plate and then set them into a storage box without jostling it too much, these work great.  The little bags probably shouldn't go through the dryer, but mine survived just fine so far.  This bag part of the recipe is still a work in progress, but I've really liked this idea so far!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Homemade Cleaners + Cost Breakdown + Science!

It is with excitement that I finally have a chance to share with you this post!  I have been slaving hard testing recipes and analyzing costs and effectiveness before I release my results to the world.  Okay, so that's a tad over dramatic, but it's true.  I really worked hard to make this meaningful and accurate.

First, let's get into some science.  In order to make your own homemade cleaners effective, it's a really good idea to figure out what all the ingredients do (courtesy of Wikipedia!):

Borax, available as Twenty Mule Team Borax at the store, is also known to the science world as sodium tetraborate decahydrate.  It looks like a white powder, has no real scent, and is not flammable.  In very large doses, it can be toxic to humans (so don't eat it, but it's fine to use for cleaning).  Borax is a common detergent ingredient, and it is found in cosmetics, as a buffer solution, and as a fire retardant among other nifty things.

Washing Soda, also known as soda ash or sodium carbonate, is a basic (high pH) white powder.  When not being all awesome as an ingredient in glass, it can be used as an electrolyte in chemistry labs, for lyeing (a browning agent in food), removing flesh from bones in taxidermy, or to clean silver.  For the household, washing soda functions primarily as a water softener.  It is a degreaser and descaler, and it can help to remove oil and wine stains.

Baking Soda, that kitchen stalwart often confused with baking powder, goes by sodium bicarbonate in the lab.  When combined in doughs and batters, it works its magic as a leavening agent by releasing carbon dioxide causing expansion.  You know when you're making pancakes and the bubbles start forming before you flip the pancake?  That's baking soda doing it's thing.  Baking soda can also be used as a fairly effective toothpaste, deodorant, to control fungus, to extinguish a grease fire (on the stove, not a deep fryer), to absorb odors, and even as a heartburn remedy (in small amounts).  When cleaning, baking soda is frequently used as an abrasive material.

Dish soap is a detergent.  It works by making water stick to things like grease and dirt. That's why soaking a baked-on dish in soapy water makes it easier to clean. The water "sticks" to the stuck-on stuff better with dish soap added than without it.  To see an example of how dish soap works to reduce surface tension, watch this.  Another cool example of dish soap breaking the surface tension involves milk and food coloring.

Vinegar--the white variety--is a liquid consisting mainly of acetic acid and water.  Vinegars, the several dozen varieties available, are primarily used for cooking.  When not being used in the jungle to detect cervical cancer (really!), this wonder is a highly effective cleaning agent.  It can help dissolve to mineral deposits, to clean windows, and to polish metal.  According to Good Housekeeping's microbiologist, vinegar is about 90% effective against mold and 99.9% effective against bacteria.

Lemon juice is the liquid squeezed from a lemon.  It is an acid and is edible, although it is quite sour.  It can be used as a degreaser or added to help polish metal (though it must be diluted lest it corrode the metal).

Essential oils are called "essential" because they contain the "essence" of the plant from which they are extracted.  They are extracted using distillation (heat, evaporation, and condensation), expression (squeezing), or by solvent extraction (chemicals).  While many claims are made to the efficacy of various essential oils curing cancer, treating illnesses, or igniting world peace, the only 100% proven thing these oils do is smell.  And some of them don't smell that great.  When purchasing essential oils, strive to get the purest oils possible.  They should not be eaten (but aren't exactly toxic either), and should never be applied directly to the skin.

Olive oil is the fat obtained from olives using mechanical or chemical processes.  This oil is widely used in cooking, cosmetics, soaps, and as fuel for lamps.  In addition to being excellent on or in food, olive oil can be used for everything from shaving (instead of foam), as a moisturizer, or as an ear wax softener.  In the household, olive oil can be used to polish furniture or floors.

Second, let's look at the math.  For the ease of comparison, I selected name brand and widely available products and used Amazon's prices.  Many of these items can regularly be found on sale or you may even already have them at home (yay you!).  I did not figure a cost for water as the cost of water in these recipes is insignificant.  I used this formula to calculate percentage savings.

Borax at $6.49 for one 72 ounce box or $0.09 per ounce.
Washing Soda at $8.20 for one 55 ounce box or $0.15 per ounce.
Baking Soda at $0.97 for one 16 ounce box or about $0.06 per ounce.
Dish soap at $3.75 for one 25 ounce bottle or $0.13 per ounce.
Vinegar at $6.25 for one 128 ounce bottle or $0.04 per ounce.
Lemon juice at $9.99 for one 32 ounce bottle or $0.32 per ounce
Essential oil - costs vary widely depending on the oil, but $5 for 10ml or 0.33 ounces should be a good average.  One drop of oil is approximately 0.05ml or 0.0017oz, so there are approximately 200 drops in one 10ml bottle of essential oil.
Olive oil - $15.84 for one 68 ounce bottle or $0.23 per ounce
Water - free

And third, the recipes!

All-Purpose Cleaner
1 t. Borax ($0.05)
1 t. Washing Soda ($0.08)
1/2 c Vinegar ($0.16)
2 c hot (tap, not boiling) water (free)
25 drops essential oil (about $1.00)
Mix Borax, Washing Soda, and Vinegar in a squirt bottle.  Add hot water.  Cool.  Add essential oil.  Mix well by shaking.  You can also add a 1/2 t. of dish soap if you want a sudsy mix.
$1.29 per bottle or about $0.065 per ounce. Compare to Clorox cleaner at $7.79 per bottle or $0.24 per ounce.  Save 73%.

Shower Cleaner
1c Dawn ($1.04)
1 c Vinegar - hot (tap, not boiling) ($0.32)
Mix in a spray bottle, shake gently before using.  This stuff really works!
At 8 ounces each to make a 16 ounce bottle, that's $1.36 per bottle or $0.085 per ounce.  Compare to Scrubbing Bubbles at $11.56 for two bottles ($5.78 for one) or $0.18 per ounce. Save 53%.

Floor Cleaner
1/4 c Dawn ($0.26)
3 c Vinegar ($0.96)
1 c Lemon juice ($2.56)
4 c hot (tap, not boiling) water (free)
Mix in a half-gallon-ish container.  (Note: I've considered mixing this without water and then adding half as much solution to my water when I use it.  This will make the concentrate more expensive, but it will still be cheaper than Pine-Sol.)
$3.78 for 66 ounces or under $0.06 per ounce. Compare to Pine-Sol at $4.73 for 24 ounces or $0.20 per ounce.  Save 70%.

Grout Cleaner
1/2 c Baking soda ($0.24)
1/4 c Dawn ($0.26)
Mix well into a paste.  Apply using a toothbrush and scrub into grout adding water as needed.  Rinse well.  (Note: My mother loves her brand-name cleaners and swears by 409, Pine-Sol, and other staple cleaners used this when she helped me clean my new house.  She was amazed at how well this mix works on icky grout.  It was cheap and worked very, very well.  Just be sure to rinse well.)
$0.50 for 6 ounces or $0.08 per ounce of very concentrated cleaner.  Compare to Soft Scrub with Baking Soda at $0.16 per ounce.  Save 50% or more.

And for when you're all done cleaning the house, how about a treat for yourself! Lemon Sugar Scrub
1/2 c Sugar
1 T Olive oil
2 T Lemon juice
Mix and scrub away gently.  Rinse well.

I am working on a post entirely dedicated to my laundry detergent next.  I will link to it here when I get it posted.  Seriously, you do not want to miss what's coming up next!