Going Abroad: What Not to Do

Well, hello there! Long time no...write! It's not like life hasn't been going on. Since the last time I posted, Holy Week happened, we took a trip to Ireland, and just this past week we got to go to Budapest for work. It's been a very long time since Chaz and I have been able to travel for work together, so this was a novelty. As an added bonus, three other co-workers were on the trip, so we had a grand time checking out the city outside of our work responsibilities.

I learned a few things from this trip, which I will pass along to you so that you can avoid making the same mistakes I did.

1) If you must choose between forgetting your hairbrush and forgetting your razor, DEFINITELY FORGET THE HAIRBRUSH. I forgot both, and while I was totally fine finger-combing my hair and then throwing it into some sort of up-do every day, I could.not.handle. the hairy legs situation. We found a grocery store on Day 2 and solved that with some disposable ones.

One of two possible hair solutions, plus one solution for forgetting about hairy legs.

One of two possible hair solutions, plus one solution for forgetting about hairy legs.

2) If you plan to carry a camera plus an extra lens around with you when walking around a city, plan to bring a bag big enough to fit everything. I didn't, so I bought one. It has an owl on it, and we joked that it will be a family heirloom because it's better suited to a child's life than an adult's.

Go ahead. Tell me he's not cute.

Go ahead. Tell me he's not cute.

3) Sneakers are your friend. I don't own any, but I think it's time to invest. My Converse shoes would start chafing my pinky toes around miles 4 or 5, so while they weren't the worst ever, they weren't the best either.

Or...forget the shoes and take a taxi.

Or...forget the shoes and take a taxi.

4) Always, always, always carry Advil! This was a dumb oversight on my part, since I normally do have Advil with me at all times, but I got a headache around 3pm on one of our work days and was stuck without it. I ended up having to skip the first half of a nice group dinner because I had to lie down for an hour. On the plus side, when I did walk to the restaurant, it was magically dusky outside and lent itself to some lovely photo ops. 

5) Never forego an opportunity for ice cream. We didn't make this mistake. We ate the ice cream and have zero regrets.

6) Captain Obvious here, but...milk the trip for all it's worth. Otherwise, we could have spent the entire trip doing this:

Screen blurred for privacy, of course!

Screen blurred for privacy, of course!

And the work is important! That's why we were there, after all! But it was wonderful to take some time to explore. 

And there you have it! 

The Ultimate Decorating Project

As I know I've mentioned before, interior decorating is not my forte. If I was describing my decorating style to anyone who stopped me on the street and asked (a likely scenario, of course), I'd probably just describe it as "sparse." I think my biggest hesitation is that I don't want to buy things to hang on the walls, because it seems like things on your walls should have some sentimental value. Things that you buy at Home Goods generally do not have the sentimental value appeal, and so I'm stuck.

However. The time has come for me to up the ante on decorating, because Chaz got a new office. It already got a subtle improvement when I went to Ikea and got some picture frames and a plant, but we're still working with this:

We're really lucky to have a lot of flexibility in the decor department at work, and this flexibility has been effortlessly, flawlessly displayed by both the wives of the other large-office occupants. Needless to say, there's a pretty high bar for me. 

Challenge accepted.

Yesterday, we ordered a couch and an end table. That should make it feel more homey already, I think. I also got some fabric to make pillows for the couch, and prints for the frames are already in the mail. 

So I think it's safe to say that in theory, I have the right materials. And when it all arrives, I guess then we'll see if I can channel my inner Fixer Upper to make things look snazzy. I'll keep you posted...

Business Casual

Last night, Chaz and I were discussing the personal skills that we to work toward while we're in the workforce. For me, that skill is a rather specific one: I want to succeed at looking not awkward while standing and talking to someone. 

I've gone through a variety of poses in my head while thinking about it, and each one seems worse than the last.

Option 1: Crossed Arms

DSC_0553[1].JPG

This doesn't seem like a good one, because it can often appear defensive and off-putting. It could potentially be acceptable if leaning up against a wall though, so it gets points for that.

Option 2: Arms at Sides

DSC_0556[1].JPG

Probably the most logical option. HOWEVER. Maybe it's just me and my need to go see a chiropractor, but leaving my arms at my sides always makes me look like I have bad posture, but throwing my shoulders back is actually very uncomfortable.  So then I just stand there looking like I'm having an internal battle with my shoulders, and....awkward.

Option 3: Pockets

DSC_0557[1].JPG

This is a great option! If...you have pockets. Most of the time I'm wearing a dress, and dresses often don't have pockets. If they do, it looks weird to stuff your hands into dress pockets, so while I will never waver in how much I love dresses with pockets (to the moon and back!), they don't really do anything for me in this case.

So what's left? What secret am I missing? Some people just seem to be born with an innate understanding of how to control themselves to look suave all the time, and I guess I'm just not one of them. Help.

Chocolate + Peanut Butter = Heaven

A few days ago, Chaz was reading some blogs after work and stumbled upon something interesting. "Hey, come look at this!" he said, and then he followed up with, "...I'm going to email you something, because it's amazing." 

Within a few  seconds, my phone buzzed and I got an email containing a link to this. That's right. It's a giant peanut butter cup. After looking at the picture I could have started drooling, but I restrained myself and instead swore that I'd make it soon. 

Fast-forward to yesterday. Work had been a constant stream flood avalanche of finish-one-thing-to-find-10-more-things, and baking, at least for me, is the perfect de-stressor activity. Actually, to quote the best movie (Julie and Julia - don't argue), "You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure and when I say nothing, I mean nothing, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a comfort." She's talking about chocolate cream pie, but I say the principal applies to baking in general. And so I found myself at 8pm breaking out my tart pan, crushing up chocolate wafer cookies, stirring peanut butter into honey, and melting chocolate to pour on top. It was heavenly, until the reality of having a fresh pile of PB-covered dishes happened once it was finished.

Regardless of the dishes, it was 100% worth it. I mean, take a look!

When you get an outcome like that, the dirty dishes are secondary. We haven't sampled it yet - that's on tonight's to-do list - but it served its purpose yesterday. The stress of the day melted along with the chocolate in the double boiler. Too cheesy an analogy? 

Home Alone

As I mentioned in at least one (if not multiple) previous post(s), Chaz is currently traveling for a usually extended period of time. 10 days? No good. He's in India, so it's not just a quick phone call away. 9.5 hours time difference is a beast, I tell ya. So here I present to you a most definitive* guide: Five Ways to Occupy Yourself While Your Husband is on a Business Trip!

*Definitive if and only if you're me. 

1. Fill the House with People

So far, since Chaz has left, my family has visited and I've hosted a movie night. Tomorrow night I have choir rehearsal, then Friday night I'll have dinner with a friend, then Saturday contains two separate social gatherings. This schedule makes me sound like I just have this overwhelming social calendar and can't you tell I'm just so popular?! I promise you this is not the case, and I don't think I've had this many social events in a single week since...oh, college. But that would just be called "life in a dorm." 

Dominoes with my brother. So social!

Dominoes with my brother. So social!

2. Costco

I could devote a whole post to Costco. Next week! Look for it! Costco might just be the best non-human thing to emerge from Washington (state). The best human is Chaz, but that is not what we're talking about here. Costco is a magical land where you can find everything from a giant package of toilet paper to the world's best muffins to a 100000000-inch TV (false - just a huge one) to fresh flowers to mattresses to a hot dog and drink combo for $1.50. They also have samples. It is the ultimate place for people of all ages, and we got there at least once a week. Usually after church on Sunday. Yesterday, I went there for bacon. Because bacon.

3. Parenthood

No, not parenting. Parenthood the show. Ok, ok, I know I'm several years late to this party, but honestly, there's no better time to binge watch a show than when you're home by yourself. And season five? SAD. I do not cry at movies. I do not cry at shows. I do not cry almost ever...EXCEPT for during pretty much every episode focused on Julia and Joel with legitimate tears. This is a whole new world for me. Anyone else want to 'fess up to doing the same?

[ source ]

4. Cook

It's not that I don't cook when Chaz is at home. But experimentation is so much easier when you're the only person that has to deal with slash eat the consequences. And we already know how that turned out.

5. Practicing a long-neglected instrument

It's true. The oboe made an appearance, and it wasn't horrible. A little Brahms, a little Tchaikovsky, a little Bach...it's making a comeback. Heck, if it can happen to a blog, it can happen to an oboe, right?

The overly-dramatic instrument shot. It's a classic.

The overly-dramatic instrument shot. It's a classic.

So there you have it: the guide to what I've been up to for the past four days. What else should I add to my routine? Knitting? Parkour? Shape Note singing? Skydiving? This is my chance to live large, obviously. Can't let that go to waste...

Portrait of a Business Trip

By this time, it's a generally known fact that I take a lot of business trips over the summer.  Thus, because I'm totally positive that you must be interested in every second of what happens on one of those trips, here's a recap. 

There are three things to arrange ahead of time: plane ticket, hotel, and transportation. Normally, transportation means a rental car, but that might be either a train (if in Europe) or other public transportation (if anywhere else near a city) depending on where you're going. At my best, I'll arrange that a month or two before the trip. At my worst, well...let's just say I've booked a rental car while flying on a plane with wi-fi. That's never a good idea though, because they have absolutely no incentive to give you a good rate. 

Three quick recommendations: for flights, sign up to get miles from a couple different airlines. I try to always fly JetBlue in the US and American outside the US, because miles have pretty great benefits if you stock up over time.

For hotels, Hotels.com is also really good. They have a lot of hotels to pick from, and for every 10 nights you stay at a hotel booked through them, you get a free night! 

For rental cars, I recently discovered Sixt. Their cars were new and clean, I got a better car for the amount paid each time, their customer service is really friendly, and most importantly, their lines move about 50% faster than all the others. What more could you want from a rental car company?

I usually pack the morning of the trip, because I'm a procrastinator. Fact of life. I'm also a pretty minimalist packer, so a carry on + a personal item is more than enough room. I'll get to the airport around 1.5 hours before leaving, where I'll often meet up with anyone else who's going on the trip. 

Obviously, flying on a plane is flying on a plane. Nothing earth-shattering to report there. Except! JetBlue has FREE wi-fi on some of their planes. Best perk of all time.

Eventually, we get to the hotel and I usually collapse before getting ready for bed.

DSC_0152[1].JPG

Doing this is always a bad idea, because it takes me about 30 extra minutes to motivate myself to get myself back up again and ready for bed. 

Eventually I'll get myself there though, and the next morning, we'll head to the school, where we'll train all day long. I looooove having co-workers along with me, because it makes the day go so much faster when you get to share training with someone else. At the very least, it's nice to not end the day with a sore throat!

Explaining a database is just that exciting. Let me tell you ALL about it!

Explaining a database is just that exciting. Let me tell you ALL about it!

Depending on the school, the time we finish varies. If I'm by myself, I'll usually go somewhere else, spend an hour or two catching up on the other things that have happened during the day, find some food, go back to the hotel and watch junk tv (I watch the Bachelor on business trips - don't judge), and fall asleep. If I'm with someone else, we'll try to go see some of the sights. 

Usually we'll be wherever we are for two or three days, and when that's all over, we'll fly home.

And now you know how I spend a lot of time in the summer. Your life will never be the same.

Catching Up with Common Sense

Believe or not, but the TSA has invented something that just might be the greatest thing since sliced bread. I don't think that's an exaggeration, because let's be honest...most of the best inventions came before sliced bread. The wheel? Toothbrushes? Keys? All before sliced bread.

Two words: TSA Precheck. Or TSA Pre✓, if you want to be totally literal.

[ source ]

I discovered the magic this summer while traveling for work...but it wasn't because I had it myself. No, why would I take the easy route? Instead, I was stuck going through normal security while my two coworkers breezed through in five minutes or less with their own special line.

This picture was actually taken before we went through security at the Reagan airport in DC, but this is exactly how they felt afterward while they were waiting for me.

This picture was actually taken before we went through security at the Reagan airport in DC, but this is exactly how they felt afterward while they were waiting for me.

Here's what happens. You fill out an application online and then schedule an appointment for an in-person interview of sorts. On the day of your appointment, you go to wherever that appointment is, answer a couple of questions, pay a fee, and you're good to go through security for the next five years with a special line, no need to take your shoes off, no need to take your computer out of your bag, no need to remove your jacket, and five extra springs in your step PER TRIP because you just saved yourself time and the humiliation of someone patting you down because you had a few bobby pins in your hair. Because that happens and it's way awkward.

So finally, Chaz and I came to our senses and filled out the application on Monday. Our in-person appointment was this morning, and now, or at least within 45 days, we will officially each have a Known Traveler Number and can enjoy all the benefits of the government being aware of the fact that we aren't bent on destroying things en route to a school to train them on how to use software. Or vacation, I suppose.

Heading in...

Heading in...

They don't let you have a phone out while you're doing the short interview (for obvious reasons), so I can't give you any fantastically enthralling images of the nice lady taking my fingerprints or me filling out a survey, but that's pretty much all it takes. Aside from the fee and the slight inconvenience of the fact that the TSA Precheck booth is only open during regular business hours, there no reason not to do it. I mean, look how happy we were walking out! Don't you want to experience that kind of joy when traveling?

Arguably, I can't really profess the full benefits until we actually get the number and try it out for the first time, but you can count on getting an update when that day comes. Won't that be the most interesting blog post? Don't get too excited.

Traveling Solo

I used to dread going on business trips by myself. It meant that I needed to talk for an entire work day and then either sit alone at a restaurant ("Party of one? Come this way!") or grab food from the grocery store and eat it back at the hotel. Actually, come to think of it, those things haven't changed at all. But lately I've come to appreciate the fact that business tripping by myself means that I have the evenings (after catching up on work) to do whatever the heck sounds like fun without worrying about whether someone else might find it entertaining. 

On this particular trip, that meant wandering around downtown Seattle while ignoring all hunger pangs and the urge to find a restroom in favor of taking pictures. 

It was a beautiful night; who needs food when you can wander? I mean...eventually, I did...but I was glad no one else was around because I didn't eat until 9:30 pm. And I got my dinner at Target in the form of microwaveable chicken tiki masala. Super high class over here...

In addition, without Chaz around to tell me to go to sleep at a normal hour, I typically stay up until I feel like I don't have anything else I could possibly do. That usually means that I binge watch TV shows (ahem...Parenthood, I'm looking at you...) until I can't keep my eyes open.  

Given the fact that I have zero bedtime self control, I wind up heading home with a significant sleep deficit. And then I feel old, because in college, I did that on the daily for a full semester - went to bed at midnight, woke up at 6:30. And I was fine! Now if I try to do that for more than one to two days, I can barely function. 

So I guess I'll never learn, because here I sit at 11:47pm blogging instead of sleeping despite the fact that I need to be up at 6:00 tomorrow. But hey...at least you got to see what Seattle looks like when it's not raining, right? 

The Office Pepper

I really like gardening. It's pretty satisfying to grow something from a small seed (or in my case... seedlings; let someone else do the really hard work) all the way up to a REAL plant, with vegetables and stuff. I also like bell peppers. Preferably green, but red, yellow, orange, or any other variety is also acceptable.

Last year, I bought three pepper seedlings from Home Depot - two that would produce green peppers, and one that would produce red peppers. One seedling died in my car, because it fell over. I carried the remaining two up the stairs to our apartment, and then placed the second green one on the steps while I fished out my keys. It was only after a week that I realized that my second green pepper was missing. I had never picked it up from the stairs, and apparently the upstairs neighbors decided it wasn't the perfect adornment for the center of their second to last step and disposed of it. I secretly hope that they felt bad for the poor pepper, took it in, and fed and watered it, but I don't know that for sure. Nevertheless, I use that scenario to comfort myself when I start feeling bad for abandoning it to the wilds of a second-floor landing.

The third pepper survived. Red must be heartier than green. Or you could conclude that I just started taking better care of my plants. Whatever floats you boat. I brought it into my office, and I put it in a pot, and I watered it every day. It grew big and tall, though it was plagued with horrible gnats for awhile. Eventually, it grew its first pepper.

The first pepper got to be about two inches long. Then, one day, I went to squish one of those godforsaken gnats, knocked the pepper's stalk, and broke off the pepper's stem. Alas.

Over time, it grew another pepper. This one grew to be about an inch before it just gave up on life, and stayed as a one-inch pepper until it loosed itself from its stem and fell to the abyss of the pot beneath it.

Finally, we moved offices. The pepper plant LOVED its newly discovered exposure to sunlight, and it happily grew a third pepper. It was a hardy pepper, and it outlasted all its other brethren, until one day it was ripe. I picked it, brought it home, and turned it into part of a fajita. It was delicious.

And that is the story of the office pepper. It has also become about 4.5 feet tall and has more buds, so stay tuned for more riveting updates as the plant becomes bountiful once again.