Thursday, May 31, 2012

Baby Bamboo

This weekend I had a bit of a "moment" causing Howie to be on a mission to have us have a great bonding day together, especially since we haven't relaxingly hung out together in a couple of months due to law school/clinicals/etc. We ended up having a very nice, low key day: watched our townie Memorial Day Parade (I love my town), had a couple margaritas outside at the local bar, went food shopping for goodies, and then went to see the Avengers that evening.

Let me preface our food shopping trip with this statement: every time I go food shopping I spend at least 3 minutes pondering whether or not I want to purchase a baby bamboo, baby orchid, or baby money tree plant... depending on what is on display when I walk in the door. This pondering habit has been going on for at least 2 years but I can never rationalize the decision to commit. So I usually just longingly look at the little plants and then move on to my regular agenda.

Our First Plant! 
This day, however, I already had two margaritas before we decided to take the 2 block walk to the grocery store. As soon as we walked in, without even thinking I blurted "Wait! Howie, can I have a baby bamboo??" I leaned over to examine all the little ceramic pot designs. "Don't you want a baby bamboo plant in our house?" Sarcastically he replied, "Of course, I'd love a baby bamboo plant, Jessica. Why don't you pick one out?" As he was replying in his you-are-out-of-your-mind voice, I hear a lady behind us start giggling at our little interaction. Embarrassed, I ran out of the way as Howie handed me one of the little plants saying, "Just get the bamboo, Jessica." In all honesty, she really could have been standing there waiting for us to get out of the way, in which case she witnessed the whole thing, and if you know how Howie and I interact it really could have been quite comical.

Later that night I realized I have no clue how to take care of a plant, let along a baby bamboo. So, I started googling as per usual. News Flash: Apparently those baby bamboo's aren't even from Asia! The indoor baby bamboos, aka, the ribbon plant, is from West Africa! Anyway, I did my proper research and now its time to take bets how long I can keep this little one alive! Wish me luck!

*Here is primarily where I got my info, if you choose to follow my footsteps and get your own baby bamboo :) I did also supplement by browsing multiple search hits, but this particular site just seems to sum it all up neatly. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend: An American Holiday; A Northeastern Holiday

Living with a southerner, I have to annually explain the importance of Memorial Day Weekend. According to him, in Texas Memorial Day is just another day... like Columbus Day or President's Day. Yes, we all know the technical reason for the holiday - remembering the men and women who have died serving in the armed forces - but he doesn't quite understand why northerners go bonkers with celebrations this weekend.  Granted, our celebrations are seemingly unrelated to the actual point of the holiday, which may not be very honorable of us up here in the northeast, but for us, Memorial Day serves a dual purpose.

Summers are a precious fleeting moment in the lives of those north of the Mason-Dixon Line. The cycle of misery approaches at the beginning of school as Labor Day indicates the end of the summer season. We bear the wind, the loss of color in our world, the rains, and then the snow. We freeze, we brace against more wind, and some years blizzards. Finally we start to thaw, but it is always an unpredictable time in our lives. One day it may be sunny and 50 degrees, the next it might be 55 with torrential downpours, the next we are back in the low 40s. The snow melts, the sandy roads are left stained brown. The grass slowly turns from a matted yellow-green to dull green to vibrant green each time it rains. The trees bud and we grow giddy. Summer is coming.

April showers bring May flowers and school work suddenly becomes less serious, parents plan summer programs for their children, the shorts and skirts come out, and bathing suits are purchased. Propane tanks are filled, patio umbrellas assembled, outdoor furniture is cleaned, boats are put back in their respective bodies of water and backyard pools are opened. The gardens get weeded and mulched, and suddenly it is time. Prayers for sunshine start and Memorial Day Weekend arrives.

After 9 long months BBQs are scheduled leading friends and family to assemble. Grills are rolled out, beer is purchased and placed in coolers, and blenders are put on the counter next to the line up of daiquiri and pina colada mix. Let the celebrations begin, for summer is back again!

Note: This is my take on the holiday, I am particularly fond of summer and particularly unfond of winter. I also claim no knowledge or understanding about how the holiday is viewed in other parts of the country aside from the northeast and what Howie tells me of Texas.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What to do in Ft. Lauderdale

It seems to be the general consensus among those far and wide that Miami is the place to be in Floridafor vacationing as a young person. However, being full time graduate students, we had no money to spend in Miami. Ft. Lauderdale was the place for us to be, though more reserved and "conservative" as our airport shuttle driver noted. Some of my friends have previously visited the area and knew the beaches are nice and that there would still be enough entertainment for us for the 4 days we would be there. 

What is there to do in Ft. Lauderdale you may ask? Aside from the beaches (which are beautiful), here are 4 recommendations if you are going to be in there area, in order of importance. 

1. Location: Stay within a 2 mile radius (1.5 miles is better) of Las Olas Blvd. We stayed at a cheap beach hotel (secured with just the necessities) on Ft. Lauderdale Beach Blvd, which is also N. Atlantic Blvd, about 1.2 miles north of Las Olas Blvd. Our resort was beach front and the beach was in spectacular condition. Las Olas is apparently the "happening" place and the stretch on N. Atlantic surrounding Las Olas contains the bars, restaurants, and general entertainment.

2. H2O Cafe: End of story. This cafe had the best meal of our vacation: scrumptious breakfast consisting of french toast, waffles, and egg sandwiches. It also had excellent coffee. We went there a second time for dinner, and although the menu looked tantalizing, the prices were a bit out of our budget range so most of us just got the fish taco appetizer. Even that, however, got rave reviews.

3. Spirit of Lauderdale Sailing:  This was a 3.5 hour trip on a catamaran that took us to the ocean, a wildlife sanctuary, and on a tour of the mansions. Cocktails and complimentary snacks were available on board. We found it in a marina a block inland on Las Olas Blvd during a walk we took on the "cloudy" day of the trip - though at least half of us all seemed to get burned while out on the boat.

4. Beach Place: Just north of Las Olas is a complex called Beach Place. It contains multiple restaurants and shopping and was the location where we raided the huge CVS (which contains clothing, food, beer, and wine in addition to the usual CVS commodities), ate 2 of our meals, and started out one of our nights. The food is not outstanding, but still solid and at the right price, and you have an excellent view of the ocean from all of the restaurants.

Not my own picture - but conveys the complex

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hello again

Its amazing how good it feels to come home after being away for a length of time. I've been gone for 10 days and I have yet to leave my bed for more than 2 hours at a time. The persistent rain encourages this behavior, but its just the relaxation I need right now. So lets take some time to chit chat.

I left Sunday night to pop over one of my besties' house to prepare to leave for our trip Monday morning at the crack... actually before the crack of dawn for what we hoped would be warm, sunny Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. While most of the time it was quite hazy, we all got some color (some of us more than others...) and we all had a great time. I'll soon be adding a couple "Places to go" type posts with some more trip details. We spent four days in hazy, humid Ft. Lauderdale, met up with my home girl from Villanova for a day (Holla Jenniferrrrr!), relived all of college in one night, went sailing, had the largest margaritas on the planet, and enjoyed being sandy at the beach. We arrived home at 11:30 pm Thursday night sleepy and tanned/burned.

Friday morning Howie and I left at 8:00 am to head down to Philadelphia for my brother's graduation from Villanova. We had a jam packed weekend there as well: We met with our priest, we met with our new wedding coordinator at our reception venue, we ate lots of meals, had a siblings night with the college seniors and a keg, attended the Engineering Recognition Ceremony, attended the Baccalaureate Mass, and attended the Commencement Ceremony Sunday before finally returning home after a 4 hour drive, which should normally be 2 hours. Whew! What a week!

Yesterday morning I woke up in my own bed with the rain pouring down and the sky darkened by the clouds. Perfect sleeping weather. As you can imagine I took advantage and stayed in bed most of the day watching brainless tv: aka reality shows on E!. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Remembering a Mission: The hospital in Bamako

Since I have been away from home for the past week, I've decided to include tidbits from the 4 days we spent at the main hospital in Bamako in one post. This was my first clinical experience as a student in a medical profession and it was absolutely eye-opening in so many ways. Enjoy! 

May 16 – Monday
          We arrived at the main hospital, Point G, which was situated at the top of a mountain overlooking the city at 9:30 a.m. to meet with the hospital director to discuss how we would be involved. It was decided that we would split up into teams based on specialty and be prepared to round the next day with our respective departments. We received a tour of the hospital, which was set up like a university campus with individual buildings for each department. While most of the names of the departments were French cognates of the English versions (i.e. pulmonologie for pulmonology), one interesting difference was the term they used for their intensive care unit: the Reanimation unit. That evening we had our first debriefing session in which we discussed our first reactions to Mali. It was an intimidating experience since we were being videographed for a possible documentary of our trip. During this session everyone who spoke seemed to only feel comfortable sharing their surface opinions. We finally went "home" to the volunteer house where we spent a few hours organizing the medical supply bags.
             Once the preceptors left and we all showered, a classmate wanted to sneak out to the street to play with the children. At first the kids did not know what to make of us, but eventually they realized we were there to have fun with them and we spent quite a bit of time playing out in the street until late into the night. We weren't able to communicate verbally, but we were still able to have a great time. The kids were thrilled to have something new in their routine and we were able to see the true spirit of Mali in their eyes. They were happy and carefree. 

May 17 – Tuesday
            Today two classmates and myself were to rotate in the obstetrics & gynecology department. We started by observing the Malian version of morning meeting. The attending physician sat at the front and the residents and students posed cases to the group. The attending led the discussion and asked questions about each case. The major topics were eclampsia, pre-eclampsia and fibroids. Eclampsia is a rare complication of later pregnancy in the United States, but is devastatingly common in Mali. Pre-eclampsia precedes eclampsia and is usually characterized by high blood pressure during the later phase of pregnancy accompanied by a few other abnormalities; it becomes eclampsia when the blood abnormalities become to extreme and cause the mother to start having seizures. Fibroids is a common condition unrelated to pregnancy. These discussions were strikingly similar to the meetings we have had in class about clinical conditions.  
A wing in the OB/Gyn building
           After morning meeting, we followed on rounds from patient to patient. We saw patients with newborns, sepsis (bacteria in the blood), and pre-eclampsia in the same room laying in cots next to each other. There were no curtains, there was no privacy. Newborns were on the cots at their mother’s sides waiting for the go-ahead to go home. Family members sat in the hallways or on the foot of the beds offering support. It was a shocking environment.
            Since this day was our first real day in a clinical setting as PA students, our preceptor brought us outside to do our own “debriefing” of the disease processes we saw. We discussed eclampsia, preeclampsia, and fibroids in detail: etiology, risk factors, pathology, clinical manifestations, treatment. Just like the old days in our clinical medicine class. 

May 18 – Wednesday
            MY FIRST SURGERY! Sort of... 
            Yesterday, our preceptor, who happened to be an Obstetrical surgeon, had apparently met up with on of the Malian surgeons and asked about scrubbing in… he was told if we got there at 8am we might have a shot. We played rock-paper-scissors for the order in which we would get to attend the surgeries; I won!  So this morning we were going to attempt to jump in on a C-section. Unfortunately we got there a bit late - as we rushed into the OR, the baby was coming out wrapped in garments in a metal basin. I really didn’t comprehend at that moment how strange it was to carry a baby out of a C-section in a metal basin, but looking back on it now, such a thing would never happen in the United States.
            Where the baby was taken, I’ll never know, but we got caps and masks and peeked our heads into the back of the OR. I had never seen anything like it anywhere in my life. I had nothing to compare the experience to at home. This truly was the first surgery I had ever seen. Men were dressed in green from head to toe standing around a huge pink balloon they were tying knots in that was draped on all sides with green cloth. It was the new mother's uterus. I tilted over to ask, “Is that how it always looks?” As I later found out, it was. I could barely take everything in because I was so stunned by this open belly with the uterus out of it. Then it happened, as I feared it would. I started getting hot and clammy. My throat felt weird, my breathing pattern changed. I tried fidgeting, tapping my feet, swaying. My swaying kept me going though without really being able to pay too much attention. I was so determined not to pass out that I made it out of the surgery and through the walk up to the conference room before my body had enough and became nauseated and cold. I quickly went and sat on the steps, head between my knees and closed my eyes. I didn’t really need to close them; I already lost my vision as I used my hands to guide my body into a sitting position with my balance was barely intact. This was not the first time this happened to me, and would not be the last. I think all the excitement and nervousness of not wanting to touch anything caused me to stand to straight, allowed all the blood to pool in my legs... why I have these episodes remains a mystery. 
            That afternoon my classmate was able to jump into a fibroidectomy - the removal of a fibroid, and finally the next morning my other classmate got her turn in the OR. Each of us gained a life changing experience and life long memory. 

May 19 - Thursday
           Today we got to change our department to Internal Medicine for the morning. We attended rounds in which we were exposed to tuberculosis. Because there are no isolation rooms, or even curtains separating patients, everyone – patient or doctor – is exposed to each other’s illnesses. I found myself attempted to hold my breath as long as possible while inside the rooms and breathing quickly while walking out side between rooms. We also saw a patient with a rare form of pneumonia abbreviated PCP. It is an opportunistic disease that is found in patients whose immune systems are compromised – most notably in a patient with HIV/AIDS.
Old Fashioned Fetoscope:
Wide opening placed on belly,
your ear placed against the base...
the one in Mali was flimsy and bent in certain places
             We then made the journey through the complex to the OB/Gyn building for afternoon clinic. We started off in the Gyn side (the two are separate rooms - each consisting of a desk, an half-wall partition, and an exam table). We encountered women who needed well visits, as well as women who had unusual complaints by American standards. The main concern was fertility. One women had only 3 children and wanted to catch up to her husband's first wife who already had 7 children. Another women wanted to ensure she could get pregnant as fast as possible once her husband returned from working in France next month. My classmates and I each took a turn in the OB clinic as well. This was run by midwives instead of doctors. We performed well exams on the women check the eyes for jaundice, the thyroid for enlargement, the breasts for milk production, and the belly for uterine growth. We measure the women's bellies with a measuring tape and attempted to listen for a fetal heartbeat with an old fashion metal fetoscope. As I said ... this was my first clinical experience as a PA student, and having had no prior OB/Gyn experiences I had no idea what I would find upon my rotation here at home. Needless to say, this is not the way we do things here, though it is quite resourceful in Mali considering their lack of access to supplies. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Remembering a Mission: The first day in Mali

May 15 – The first day

            This was our first full day in Bamako. Our trip began Friday the 13th with frantic packing and a flight to morocco. Our flight on Royal Air Maroc was good. During our flight to Bamako we flew into a monsoon – literally. We ran across the tarmac to the shuttle bus, all of 200 feet, and were soaked head to toe. The bags that were missing we discovered were left in Casablanca due to weight restrictions on the planes. We spent a couple of hours trying to get all of our bags together which communicating with Malian supervision through 1 translator (for 20 people). Everything in Mali is French. As we go to our accommodations, the rain had stopped leaving red muddy clay puddles for us to drudge through. Murphy’s law was at play when we discovered we had no electricity and not enough beds… Welcome to Africa.

            On our first night in Bamako we arrived at the house close to 2:30 a.m. local time. We spent a ton of time determining how we could best survive in a muggy 100 degrees F without ventilation or fans. We attempted placing mosquito nets over the windows – we failed. We then had no choice but to suffer. After NOT sleeping in the stifling heat, we rose at 7:00 a.m. when the power returned and the AC began chugging along – YAY SLEEP.

           Since we were only able to fall asleep at 7:00 a.m., we got 2 hours fo sleep before the alarm went off and my roomies awoke. I, however, continued to sleep until 11:00a.m. We spent the afternoon as tourists: we got lunch and we went to the market. Then we shopped …

5,000 Franc = $10.00

            At the beginning, the shopping trip was going very well. As we turned a corner we were suddenly mobbed with men speaking mostly French and some broken English trying to convince us to buy their goods. They would shove them in our faces and ask “how much will you pay?” We were surrounded, we were scared, doe-eyed Americans. It took a solid 45 minutes to round us up and get out of there! The mob followed us to the bus and continued to harass us through the windows until we started the engine and left.

3 Bracelets: 7,500 f = $15.00           
 1 Necklace: 5,000 f = $10.00
Time spent at market = Priceless

Monday, May 14, 2012

Remembering a mission: The flights and arrival

May 13-14 – The flights

            We flew Royal Air Maroc from JFK International Airport to Casablanca, Morocco. We were each given blankets, pillows, and eye covers for sleeping – free of charge. We were served a hot dinner after we took off and breakfast just before we landed. As expected, it wasn’t a comfortable night’s sleep. We arrived tired, and trucked along following Nana, our classmate from Mali. She had worked out a deal to have us spend some complimentary time at the airport hotel in Casablanca during our 15 hour layover. We had spent time relaxing, sleeping, and eating.

            We took off for Bamako at 2:00 a.m. on what seemed to be a clear night. As we continued on our 3 hour flight, the weather took a dramatic turn. The wind cause the plane to rock and the downpour was torrential. There was a bit of terror in our eyes as we landed – the bumpiest landing I’ve experienced on a pitch black night. Nana assured us “it’s always like that, it’s because it’s too hard to see the runway in the rain and there aren't that many lights.” I guess this was the norm here. 

           By the time we arrived we were hungover from exhaustion only to discover we couldn't communicate with anyone. It was a zoo trying to use one individual - Nana - to do all our translating while trying to find out what happened to our luggage. Not only were all of our personal luggage and medical supplies completely soaked through, but a few bags never made it on the flight. We were all crazed running around trying to put leaky bags on the luggage wagons, each weighing 50lbs dry, and to keep track of exactly what we were missing. As a plan was finally developed about getting the lost bags, we shoved into a bus with what we had, sitting on top of each other, and began the trek to our volunteer housing…


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Remembering a mission

Now that I am officially done with my clinical year of PA school (YAY!!) I can jump back on the posting bandwagon. I've decided I'm going to make the next series of posts into story time. This week commemorates the 1 year anniversary of a trip I took with my classmates to Mali, West Africa, to donate medical supplies and volunteer our clinical services. Over the next several days I'll be uploading bits and pieces from the journal I wrote while I was there to share what we did and what I experienced. 
May 13, 2011

          It is the Friday morning of our departure... Friday the 13th. I'm patiently waiting for the arrival of my parents, who will take me to lunch and then the airport. I'm about 90% packed but still feeling very overwhelmed. As I'm looking at my bags while sitting on my couch "taking a break" I'm getting more and more nervous. What I'm nervous about, I'm not quite sure. Perhaps its that I'm going on this 10 day journey during which I will have little to no contact with my parents or fiance. Perhaps I'm worried about the food - I'm a picky eater, I have a GI condition, and I'm petrified of being sick the entire trip (Because of this, I've resigned myself to the fact that I'll probably lose 10 lbs and will be surviving on dry cereal and peanut butter). Perhaps I'm afraid of flying after recent political events (namely, the death of Osama bin Laden). In an effort to combat these fears, my fiance matter-of-factly rattled off statistics about the un-likelihood of plane crashes over the phone (he left for Texas last night to visit his parents). Unfortunately, this does not help me.

            In reality, I know it all boils down to the unknown. I'm stepping far out of my comfort zone and the 
honeymoon excitement phase is over (hopefully it will come back when we land!). Deep down, my "logical" brain knows I will be just fine and that this will be an absolutely wonderful experience - but it’s my "unlogical" brain that feels the stress and the desire to just stay home and sleep for two weeks after finishing our last didactic semester of PA school. One thing I know - it will be an awfully big adventure. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The easiest home-made truffles ever...

I have no idea where I found this recipe originally, but it is so simple and so delicious. Now, I don't have a picture because I made them for my mom for mother's day and forgot to take one before giving them to her... but they are still delicious and worth trying!

Oreo Cheesecake Truffles
8 oreos
4 oz of cream cheese 
Your favorite type of chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet morsels)

In a food processor, process the cookies, add the cream cheese (softened/room temp) and pulse. Form the mixture in to little balls and place in the freezer x 1 hour. I usually just mix the cream cheese into the cookies after they've been processed because it lessens the clean up on the food processor from really having to clean off the cream cheese to just getting rid of crumbs. 

After 1 hour (I usually let them sit in the freezer for longer because I'll prep them then go get distracted with errands), Melt chocolate morsels according to package directions ... I melt them in the microwave for a minute or two stirring intermittently. Dip the oreo/cream cheese balls in the chocolate, place back in the freezer for 1 hour. Eat and ENJOY!

Note: I'm really terrible at melting the chocolate chips so I usually use a spoon to help me apply the melty chocolate to the oreo balls as if it were like icing. In the end, still tastes just as good! 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A lovely letter to any patient

Since today I am busy studying for the last exam of my clinical year, I will leave you with a re-post to a lovely letter to every patient about the ever changing practice of medicine. I hope you can grasp something out of this because though we will not all work in the medical field, we all have been and will continue to be patients to our doctors.

*Note: other bloggers have mentioned the concept of re-posting things to their own sites. I haven't done any investigation and don't yet know if that means linking or copy and pasting with a citation so I've simply linked this one for now until I discover if there is a better way of doing this...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Nanner Bread

How banana's got their nickname "nanner" in my household, I'm not quite sure. What I am sure is that this delicious banana bread rocks. I got the recipe here at and have barely changed a thing (usually I tweak recipes as I go, but this one I do the same every time).  The original recipe was designed for 32 servings divided in 4 loaf pans. For me and Howie that would be way too much, so I scaled it down to call for 2 bananas and took it from there. The nice thing about is that they will do the calculations for you! Just type in how many servings you want and it adjusts the measurements. For this recipe, 2 bananas = 10 servings... but of course being Americans I think we end up getting 8 good sized slices out of it. One slice is my breakfast.

Don't be shocked by the bananas... they were in the
fridge for a day which always darkens them
Nanner Bread
Courtesy of
1 tbls sugar + 1/4 tsp cinnamon to coat the pan
4 tbls butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 over ripe bananas
4 oz sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/3 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
Sprinkle of salt
Nuts or chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F, and grease a 9 x 5 in loaf pan (the original recipe uses 7x3 but the bake time is about the same either way). Dust the greased pan with the sugar and cinnamon indicated above. I use butter to grease my pan.
In a small bowl combine the butter (soft) and granulated sugar. Add the egg, bananas (mashed), sour cream,  vanilla, and cinnamon and combine. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and mix. Depending on your tastes add nuts and/or chocolate chips in at the end. I make it more complicated for myself because I prefer chocolate chips only and Howie prefers pecans only; so I put the batter in the pan and then work nuts into one half and chocolate chips into the other half.
 Pop that sucker in the over for 55 minutes, check with a toothpick (should come out clean) and if need be keep it in there another 5 minutes for a total 1 hour bake time. If it's done at 55 minutes that's okay! Mine usually is.
 Once its out of the oven, let it sit for ten minutes, then flip it over onto a paper towel and it should fall right out of the pan. I then flip it onto a second paper towel so it is facing upright. Slice and enjoy the yummy-ness!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Money, money, money

Gosh, don't ya just hate money?? Well, perhaps you love/hate money if you are out there earning an income, but coming from a student, let me just say this: Money can be a total fun-sucker. In recent months money seems to be a constant presence in my life and an ever growing burden. Perhaps because of my care troubles, perhaps because I'm upon graduation, perhaps because my loan money is dwindling at the end of the semester. Truth is, I can't escape it. When I complain, Howie always turns to me and says "That's why every college student should be required to take a business class. I had to take a science, why didn't you take intro to finance?" Well, though I hate to admit it, I think he is right.

So what can I do? I'll have to teach myself, so I'm adding it to my bucket list to learn to manage my finances wisely with my own knowledge, rather than by my parent's continued unsolicited advice (though I'm not quite sure I'll be able to ever stop receiving advice, at least I'll have my own tricks up my sleeve). I'll be graduating in 3 months with a boat load of a debt becoming the new breadwinner of our little two person family. While my breadwinner status won't be official until our wedding day, it will still be in effect to a certain extent unofficially. While I have some time until I'll be required to start paying back my loans, I'd like to get started right away. I'll also be saving for my wedding and be planning to possibly budget more costly living expense if we choose to make the move into the city. With that, aside from reading my bank statements and paying my credit card bills on time... I know little else about truly budgeting and being in full control of my money. What if there are other banks out there that are better? What if there are other ways of reducing expenses I don't even realize I don't need to be spending? What about investing?

The first thing to do is to look at what I'm spending now. No, I'm not totally out of control, but I have noticed my credit card bill escalating over the winter months. Mentally, I've cracked a little from being stringent and had a mini spending spree with various things, especially at the super market. I've fallen victim to buying things on sale even though I may not need to. I also went a little nuts with textbooks and miscellaneous shopping. What can I cut down on? All three of those things.

Goal 1: Reduce my supermarket bill! I used to be excellent at keeping my bill under $100 for 2+ weeks worth of food for two. Lately I keep hitting $120, $110, $130... all of that adds up. Why? I can rationalize treating myself with food because I have to eat to live. That's bad for my tummy and my wallet. So my goal is to become more strict with buying only whats on sale, if the sale price is less than the bargain brand. If its an item I actually need, then stick with the bargain. If it's neither on a quality sale and its not something that I need, forget about it. The things I buy regardless of sale are only the things that I can't stock up on because of shelf life: i.e. milk, fresh produce.

Goal 2:  Stop buying things just because they are on sale! Its just silly.

Goal 3: Sell things used! I have a stack of old textbooks that I just do not need... Plan to sell them back on Amazon. If I had a yard, I would plan a yard sale of the things I've accumulated but don't really need.

Goal 4: Plan better! If I want to go shopping because I need a dress, make a mental plan that I will only shop for dresses. If I forgot something at the supermarket I need for a meal, ONLY purchase that one item. I need to stop using required shopping trips as an excuse to buy things I never would have gotten anyway.

Goal 5: Educate myself. This is going to take quite a bit of time, but it all starts with the will. I've already been re-inspired today from reviewing several articles I've found on Yahoo! News about saving money: 50 Ways to Improve Your Finances, and 7 Compulsive Shopping Traps. This advice is FREE, and you can find similar articles on any major news site or search engine. With the upcoming changes in my life, I certainly could stand to learn a thing or two about better taking care of my finances. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Being a "real" commuter

My car has been having intermittent troubles for about 3, almost 4 weeks now. I've had it back and forth to CT to my dad, who is my usual "car guy," and to three different shops up near him. The first was our usual townie shop; they couldn't access the transmission with their computer to look for trouble codes. The second was the Dodge dealership; they were scheming thieves who ended up charging me $300 for a transmission fluid change that was not necessary, on top of $100 for needing to rent a car during that time. The third was Aamco of Danbury; they were phenomenal and honest. Rather, phenomenal because they were honest. They went above and beyond checking the car at multiple time points on multiple days to try to replicate the problem before recommending any work. After 3 days of attempts with the car behaving perfectly (I was starting to fear the car was haunting me), they told me to take it home and bring it back when the problem was more consistent without charging me a penny. Rationale: they didn't want to take the car apart without a plan. Too bad Dodge wasn't interested in that kind of logical service....

So I took the car home. Much to my dismay, the problem wasn't fixed and there were no known solutions. It continued to act out at first start up each morning, but then would be fine. However, Thursday the car was misbehaving ALL day. It was the worst behavior I've ever experience and included coasting backwards down a hill even though it was in "drive" facing up the hill. I took it to my local Aamco (hoping they would be as great as the guys in Danbury). Fortunately, they were able to replicate the problem to get a sense of what was happening. Unfortunately they had to keep it overnight to run tests on Friday to rule out an internal transmission issue. I would have to commute by public transportation. Initially planned for my boys sake, we live along one of the metro north train lines and I would only have to get to the second town away. I mapquested and measured the distance from the train stop to my office: 1.2 miles. Do-able.

Friday morning I got my stuff together, packed on bag with my stethoscope, lab coat, wallet, ballet flats (I planned to wear sneaks for my walk), and my water bottle. Weather report stated the current temperature was 61 degrees. I wore my khaki pants, a sleeveless blouse and a sweater. Given the recent cold rainy weather, it never crossed my mind to check the humidity. I got out side and felt instantly dewy. Likewise, I did not realize the ticket booths were only on the one side of the track... the opposite side of the track. I rushed down, across, and up the stairs, raced through the prompts on the screen, and raced back across as my train was pulling in to the station. Photo finish. I arrived to my destination in 2 stops, 15 minutes. The walk turned out to be very pleasant through a typical Westchester neighborhood. It took me a half an hour to get to my destination at a leisurely pace (I could have taken the later train, but miscalculated my timing). By the time I got to the office my skin felt like water, my bangs were curly, and the rest of my hair a frizzy mess. It was humid. I promptly twisted it all into a bun and clipped back my bangs before getting down to business.
At the end of the day I was frazzled. I had only noted 3 return train times and the clock was ticking by. I was concerned I would miss the last one, which would get me home to late for a previous commitment I had to attend to. As I rushed down the sidewalks, no longer wearing my sweater, I began to notice the graceful hills as my calves started complaining about my speed walking. I hadn't noticed any inclines on my pokey walk into this office this morning. I knew it took me a half hour at a slow pace to walk the first direction. I knew I had a bit less than a half hour to get back to the train. I knew I was putting much more effort into walking than I had earlier. But still, I was nervous. Unlike my car, the train won't wait for me. So I rushed... C'est la vie.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

More tips for healthier habits and a bit about fruits

Lets start with the bit about fruits. My world was recently shaken up a bit when I came to the realization cucumbers are fruits, not veggies. Shocker, I know. I was eating my healthful side dish of cucumbers, carrots, and left over pico de gallo (raw tomato and onion salsa) and was thinking about cucumbers being at the top of my fave veggies list. Then I thought, are they a veggie? They have seeds... To Google I went! The verdict: Cucumbers are the fruit of a vine plant, like tomatoes, pumpkins, and squash. So my side dish of veggies was really a side dish of fruit plus a rogue carrot.

With that I promptly went looking for nutrition information about cucumbers because the major fruits I actually think of as fruits are usually high sugar, which equals high carb, albeit the natural version. This brought me to a great link that gives nutrition information on almost anything you can think of. This link brings you right to the cucumber, but type in any food at the top search bar and it will give you a list of options of raw, peeled, cooked, sauteed, canned, etc. It even lets you pick prepackaged versions of foods, such as Campbell's tomato soup when you type "tomato." I definitely spent 10 minutes typing in my favorite "veggies" (read: cucumber, zucchini, tomato, rogue carrots...) right before I started writing this.

I also recently stumbled onto this great page that summarizes more eloquently the points I was trying to make in my previous posts about healthier habits. In addition to reinforcing the idea that healthy living is a lifestyle, not a fad only for bathing suit season, the author talks about the "paleo lifestyle." I'm not sure if you've stumbled on to this in your travels yet, but it is a lifestyle that seeks to imitate how a human would eat and what kind of activities they would partake in if they lived in nature. After all, our bodies evolved in nature. The focus is on free range, naturally grown meats, vegetables, and fruits. And while I don't intend on ever becoming strictly paleo (as evidenced by point #3 on my post about lunch April 30th)... it makes sense and after reading about it I'm starting to more consciously consider what I really want my food lifestyle to be.

So, with that, click here for some food for thought  if you are interested (pun intended :) )

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My life living with a law student

Today I woke up to Howie peeking out the bedroom window, holding his coffee in his left hand while pulling the curtain back just enough to peer out with his right. I half opened my eyes and repositioned myself under the covers. He looked over at me and said "Hey, buddy," a usual wake-up greeting. He then proclaimed, "I'm waiting for UPS, when do they come?" Of course, being a very terrible morning person this question annoyed me. I rolled my eyes, and told him I don't know. I got up to go to the bathroom and when I finished brushing my teeth he was leaving the apartment. I got back to the bed and answered the ringing phone, "Yes, dear?" "I'm waiting for the UPS man. I see him up the street, but the truck is facing the wrong direction!" I started to chuckle. This is my boy, crazy as ever.

After waiting outside in the rainy day for 10 minutes he comes back in empty handed. Again he starts peeking out the window "I'm huntin' wabbits," he states. Then his body language changes. He starts smiling the biggest smile I've seen in months, "He's Coming! I See Him! He's Coming!" Like a child on Christmas, he peeks into the living room, waits for the doorbell, and starts giggling, "It's here!" He runs to the door and then runs back into the room ripping apart a package. Triumphantly he raises his new prize, Examples & Explanations: Administrative Law.

The lab - neat by usual comparison. 
Welcome to finals season! All the rumors you hear about law school are true. Those videos on youtube, true. Law students are a unique bunch. I would venture to call them insane, but too many of them are my friends and I wouldn't want to insult anyone at this sensitive time ;)

About a month or so ago the real buckle down started for my boy. While he's been in his "Lab" all semester with papers and daily readings. Things have only gotten real weird in the past 2 weeks. The first two weeks of the buckle down don't really phase me; my brain doesn't start registering that the change is semi-permanent until the third week when I start to notice that I'm doing all of the chores and the house is still getting messier. Living with a law student at this time sends you back to the days of simply co-existing with a roommate you just totally are not on the same page with. If I make a meal for the two of us, he inhales it in 5 minutes and that is our "together" time. Other than that, he studies with his noise-concealing headphones, emerges once in a while to say something random or have a 3 second temper-tantrum about hating studying, and that is that.  Recently he got weird enough to tell me I can no longer sit on the couch in the same room with him, even though I'm very quiet and don't interrupt him. He says its too much of a wanted distraction to have me there, I must leave. What can I do? I guess I'll just count down the next two weeks with him until finals are over...