Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Scholarship Searching

I saw one of my cousins over the weekend and we were talking about how it's officially the most wonderful/stressful time of the year for her and her friends - yes, it's college acceptance (or rejection) time. Luckily for her, she's already gotten into two really good schools and is just waiting to hear from a few more that she applied to, so she's happy. She told me that some of her friends are still going nuts waiting for those envelopes to show up in the mail.

Of course, then we got to talking about the absolute most fun part of the college experience...paying for it! She knows that like most people her age, she's going to need a student loan or two or three or four to help her afford the education that she wants, so she's already looking into her options. I told her to just get used to the idea that Sallie Mae is going to be her BFF for quite a few years after she graduates, but she'll have plenty of repayment options to choose from to make it easier for her to manage.

And since she is such a smart cookie, I also encouraged her to keep up her scholarship search and not just settle for whatever scholarship money is offered to her by her top choice schools. There are so many different scholarships out there that no matter who you are or where you come from or what your talents happen to be, there's probably something to suit you.

I told her some stories about some of the wacky scholarships that I remembered finding when I searched (write a poem about your favorite vegetable contest, anyone?) and she said she'd definitely keep up her search and try to top me. I know she has a bright future ahead of her, and I'm glad that I'm able to give her some helpful advice. Even if I secretly know that she could never write a better vegetable poem than my amazing broccoli haiku. I was totally robbed of that scholarship.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Music Monday: Ke$ha's "Blow"

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Belated Foodie Friday: Restaurant Supply

I haven't done a Foodie Friday post in awhile, so even though it's Sunday I figured I'd go ahead and post about my latest cooking obsession. I've always watched a ton of cooking shows, but lately for some reason I've been noticing the supplies that different TV chefs cook with more and more - pots and pans, mixing bowls, etc. I got all excited when I was out shopping the other day and I found some cool glass bowls that look like the ones that I've seen on several different Food Network shows. (Yeah, I know I'm a dork.)

I've found that one of the best places to find some really cool kitchen stuff is a website like Tiger Chef that sells restaurant supplies. Check it out:

Giant stock pots (I make chicken stock a lot so I'm all over stuff like this):

Pizza supplies like pizza stones, cutters, and pans:

They also have tons of cool bar supplies like this salt and sugar glass rimmer. If you make cocktails a lot you'll definitely find something here that you have to have.

And while they're not exactly practical or affordable for the home kitchen, I love that a product exists that's actually called a cheesemelter:

I could definitely spend a ton of money on this site, and overall I'd definitely recommend a restaurant supply site like this one if you're into cooking and entertaining. You can get great quality, unique products that you can't always find in other stores, and really good prices too. Now if you'll all excuse me, I'm off to make a whole lot of chicken soup.

Happy Hosting

I just got an update from my friend who's in the process of starting a business. She's about to start work on the company's website, so she's researching her hosting and web design options. I'm really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with.

This is a topic that I've looked into myself in the past, because eventually I do want to upgrade this blog. (One of these days.) I sent my friend some of the info that I've collected, but I know that her web hosting needs are going to be different from mine since her site is going to be for a business. Luckily there are some good sites out there that can help you size up your options.

She really liked one of the sites that I sent her because it has a ton of web hosting reviews and breakdowns of pricing, features, and customer ratings for various hosting companies. It's really helpful when you're trying to quickly weed out companies that have bad technical support and/or aren't user-friendly. There's also a really helpful web hosting FAQ so that the tech-challenged among us can get the basics down and avoid being taken advantage of or making avoidable beginner's mistakes. So I'm hoping that this site can help her find the perfect hosting solution for her business.

Seeking Fulfillment

Just got my weekly update from my friend who is working on starting her own business. Today she was telling me about the research that she's been doing into the her fulfillment options. No, not the "I'm so satisfied with my life right now" kind of fulfillment, but order fulfillment.

If you want to start a small business like my friend does and sell some sort of product, you have to think about product fulfillment options - that is, unless you want to try to turn your garage into a warehouse, process your own orders, and end up on a first name basis with everyone who works at your local post office.

So basically, a fulfillment company takes care of the warehousing and order fulfillment for you, so you can focus on other aspects of the business. The company that's at the top of my friend's list right now even works with you to make sure that you're staying within your budget and things like that. Which is really cool, because starting a business can be complicated enough, so it's great when you can find companies to work with that provide services that make things easier. Every little bit helps when you're trying to create a successful business.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Project Runway Makes A Comeback

Guest post written by Sidney Owens

Everybody seemed slightly apprehensive and worried after the much anticipated sixth season debut of Project Runway on Lifetime was more than lackluster, to say the least. The contestants were boring, the challenges were blah and the collections were beyond drab. I think we were all starting to wonder, “Has our favorite fashion show lost its mojo?”

I've been watching Project Runway on DIRECT TV since the first season, and it is true that the nasty legal battles which provoked the move from Bravo to Lifetime definitely took its toll on the show's overall vibe. Heidi ! seemed less glam, Michael Kors was practically nonexistent and Nina Garcia's usually blunt but hilarious comments seemed to have transformed into too nice to be possible.

But alas, rest assured that the Project Runway we all know and love just hit a small bump in the road. Season 8's return to Lifetime was full of egos, drama and catfights, not to mention some crazy and off-the-wall challenges. Personally, I had tears of laughter streaming down my face during the party store challenge. Season 8's hilarious hijinks restored my faith in Project Runway; I am now looking forward to hopefully watching contestants create evening gowns out of plaster or business wear from their grandparents' closets.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lugging My Laptop

I love my laptop. It does everything that I need it to do, from blogging to photoshopping to wasting countless hours playing The Sims. The only problem is that it's heavy, so taking it places with me can be a bit of a pain. I've been through quite a few laptop bags and still haven't found one that can stand up to my laptop and is comfortable for me to carry around.

So I've been looking at this laptop messenger bag from Rickshaw. It's a little on the expensive side but it looks like it's really well made with a comfortable strap, a waterproof laptop sleeve and a bunch of pockets to hold all of my necessities and accessories. If it lasts a long time, it'll be worth the investment because I won't have to replace my bag every couple of months.

I think this might be the laptop bag for me, but one very important question remains. What color to get? Do I go bright red, basic black, or girlie pink? I think I might go with this nice gray:

What does everyone think? Anyone else have any laptop bag recommendations?

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chicago Car Shopping

My cousin recently moved to Chicago for school. She found a great apartment and is pretty much settled at this point - the last big thing she needs to do is get herself a car. It's the first time she's gone car shopping on her own, so she asked me to help her find something. Thanks to the magical wonders of the internet, I can help her find used cars in Chicago from here on the East Coast.

She's looking for something relatively small. And of course being a student she's on a budget, so she needs something affordable, but also wants something reliable that won't give her any problems. So we've been looking at cars like the Toyota Corolla and the Ford Focus. And yes, if she finds one in a cute color that would be the icing on the cake.

I found this really helpful site called Used Cars Chicago 101 that has a lot of great information about buying a car in the Chicago area as well as listings from a bunch of local dealerships. It's been the perfect site for my cousin to use to start her search. They even have a blog, which is a bonus because you can never been too well-informed when you're trying to buy a car. (This is especially true for women because there are still some dealers out there who assume that women are clueless when it comes to cars.) For example, their current featured blog post is on Used Car Economy and the Recession, which has some interesting insights on how the economy has affected the used car market.

My cousin is going to go out to some dealerships this weekend, and based on the research that we've been able to do I'm pretty confident that she'll find a great deal.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fighting Breast Cancer

You might have noticed that commercials for Avon breast cancer walk have started popping up lately. I got a call from a friend who is thinking of trying to get a group together to do that or one of the other breast cancer walks that are coming up this spring and summer. It's usually not too hard to get a group together for these things since so many people have been personally touched by this issue.

Of course, as important as it is to participate in these events that raise money and awareness, it's also important to make sure that you stay informed and keep up with the latest news about breast cancer. Make sure that you're familiar with the signs of breast cancer and that you have a doctor that you feel comfortable talking to about your potential risk and the steps you should be taking to protect your health.

I also think that a walk like this presents a great opportunity to talk to your friends and the women in your family and encourage them to educate themselves about breast cancer symptoms and to be proactive where their health is concerned. With all of the (sometimes conflicting) information that's out there, it can be difficult to navigate, so it's helpful to communicate with each other and make sure that we're all getting the best information and health care possible.

See you at the walk!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Music Monday: Sara Bareilles - Uncharted

This video is so freaking adorable. I especially love Josh Groban's "performance":

Friday, March 11, 2011

Money Matters

I have to admit that I'm not always the best at managing my money. I'm not one of those people who started saving for retirement the minute they got their first job, and I definitely didn't set up an account with an online stock trading site as soon as I turned 18 like one of my high school friends did. Most months I don't even attempt to balance my checkbook.

Lately I've started to feel a little guilty about my lack of financial savvy, so I've decided to get my act together. I'm going to start balancing that darn checkbook, open a savings account, and get more informed about my investing options so that I can stay financially stable (as much as possible) throughout my life. Luckily, one area where I'm in really good shape is my credit. My credit score is pretty high and I have no credit card debt. And I was never one of those people who ended up with 37 different credit cards because I jumped on every offer that came my way. (Yes, I do have friends who do this. Coincidentally, those are the same friends who have major credit card debt.) It's a relatively easy thing to stay on top of since it's so simple to get a free credit score these days.

So I've decided that if I can keep my credit in good shape, I can do the same in other areas of my financial life. Of course, if anyone has any tips or advice I could definitely use it.

Easy Internet

I was talking to a friend recently and I realized that I often take my internet access for granted. I'm lucky enough to live in an area where I have a bunch of different options to choose from when it comes to internet service. My friend lives in a more rural area where her options are more limited and the service isn't always as good.

So in addition to the reality check, I also learned a lot from talking to her about this. Since she has the internet challenges that she does, she's done a lot more research on internet access than I have. She was telling me about a company she found that offers cheap dial up - yes, I know that dial up is a thing of the past for many of us but there are a lot of areas where it's still used - as well as DSL service. She said that even though it's affordable the service doesn't seem "cheap", and the customer service has impressed her from what she's learned so far. She also likes the fact that it's an American-owned and operated company - why not support good American companies when you can, right?

She's inspired me to take another look at my internet options. Who knows, maybe I'll make a change too.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is it summer yet?

I'm way too excited about summer coming. It's not even technically spring yet, but it's been so nice the last few days that I'm just really getting for beach season! I love the summer so much... swimming and tanning and beach volleyball.

And right now, it's a very special season that I like to call "shopping-for-beach-season season"! Yes, that's right, it's time to shop for beach apparel! Fun!!

Unlike most people, I really don't mind swimsuit shopping... because I'm just so happy thinking about going to the beach! And with swimsuits comes coverups and shorts and beach hats and sunglasses and flip flops and tote bags! Love it. I'm obsessed with shopping almost as much as I'm obsessed with summer.

I found a website for this really cool store called A Shore Thing. No, it's not in New Jersey, haha (and it has nothing to do with Snookie's novel of the same name) although a lot of the items would be appropriate for hanging at the Jersey Shore.

Look how cute this stuff is!

This year I've decided to move beyond just lounging on the beach getting a tan... I already found myself a hot surfer (yummy) to give me surfing lessons this summer.  Another excuse to shop... because now I need surfing apparel. (I'm not crazy enough to shop for a surf board just yet... but if I get good enough, you know I'm getting my own for next summer!)

What gets you excited about the summer coming?

International Businesswoman

So my friend the entrepreneur is coming along nicely with the new business that she's working on. I just did a little bit of research for her based on something that she mentioned to me last time we talked. She mentioned that she's gotten some emails from fans of her products in Canada, the UK, and a few other countries. One of her concerns in switching from hobby/side project to legitimate small business is figuring out the best way to serve international customers, since there are a bunch of issues that can crop up with that as far as communication, time zones, shipping costs, etc.

I was looking into it a little bit and I found this service that offers international call forwarding. Basically, you can get an international phone number in almost any country you might need, and have calls to that number forwarded to your cell phone or land line at home. Oh yeah, and they offer toll free forwarding, which is extra important to a new small business without a massive communications budget.

I just emailed the info to my friend - I'm not sure if this tollfreeforwarding idea will work for her, but it definitely sounds like a great option so that she can keep giving her international fans great customer service.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Music Monday: Britney Spears "Hold It Against Me"

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Getting Healthy

So I've been working on my New Year's resolution of getting healthier. (I know, it's totally the most original resolution ever.) I've been eating better and working out more, and I've also been reading a lot about health, fitness, diet, etc. It's going pretty well so far.

One of the things that has come up a lot in my research is how important it is to try to track your progress accurately. The more information you have about yourself and your body, the easier it will be to design a program that works for you. There are so many different workouts and diet plans out there that you could follow, and many of them work well, but not all of them are going to be great for you.

One good piece of information to have is your resting metabolic rate, which is basically how many calories your body burns in a day without exercise/activity. You can actually get a small device called BodyGem that you can breathe into to measure your resting metabolic rate at home. (If you work with a personal trainer, a nutritionist, or a doctor or other health/fitness professional on a weight loss plan, you may have seen the professional version of the same device, which is called MedGem.)

If you need to take it the next level, you can work with your health care professional to gather even more information. The Cholestech LDX is a small device that uses a drop of blood to create a quick analysis and provide a complete lipid profile plus info about your glucose levels. This is valuable information that can help in the development of the best fitness plan for you. Losing weight and getting healthy can be a slow and sometimes frustrating process even when it's going well, so why not take advantage of all of the technology that's out there to make sure that you're on the right track?

Anyone else working on getting healthier right now? How's it going for you?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tips for Medical Professionals: Buying Scrubs

Despite the fact that I am completely squeamish about all things medical (I even faint at the sight of blood sometimes!) a lot of people don't know that many of the lousy jobs I've held over the years have been in the medial field. Don't worry - I wasn't performing surgery or anything... that would've been scary, haha! But I'm way too familiar with medical offices than anyone with my fear of blood and stuff like that should ever be...

Usually my responsibilities were restricted to 'safe' stuff like making appointments and answering the phones, but that was at 'people' doctors. Working for veterinarians was usually a whole other story. Sometimes I had to clean out cages and prepare fecal tests (let's just say it was the job was overall... shitty). Puppies and kittens are cute. The stuff that comes out of them? NOT SO CUTE. 

But every once in a while I did get stuck holding down a squirmy cat while the vet drew blood or petting a dog as it came out of anesthesia post-surgery. Scary... and sometimes gross.  Although my responsibilities varied from job to job - and from day to day - one thing was always the same. The uniform. Yep, I'm talking about scrubs.

At the 'clean' jobs (the people jobs) the scrubs I was required to wear were purely... ornamental. They were for show only. I guess they just wanted us to all match... or maybe they didn't trust us not to come to work dressed inappropriately (I am prone to showing excessive cleavage when left to my own devices). Or maybe it was a 'just in case' policy. It's not your job to treat patients - and we would probably get sued if we let you - but god forbid someone bleeds or pees on you by accident at least you didn't ruin any real clothes. Don't worry, no one ever did... at least no people ever did.

As I already said, the 'not-so-clean' jobs (the animal jobs) were... not so clean. So the scrubs were absolutely a necessity. 

Did I mention that they made me buy my own scrubs? They didn't even provide them for me. And since every office had their own separate, different 'theme' going on, every time I started a new job, I had to buy a new pair of womens scrubs. If I was dealing with children or animals, I wore those ridiculous scrubs with cartoon characters or puppy paw prints. If I was dealing with adult human beings, it was respectable solid colors only.

Over the years, I've held so many jobs like this that I've become somewhat of an expert at buying nursing uniforms. So for those of you who work in this industry... here are a few tips:

  •  Wear the right size! It sucks to have to constantly pull up your pants while you're trying to look professional and treat patients. And if your scrubs are too snug you'll look - and feel - ridiculous.
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Scrubs
  •  If you're able to pick your own colors (that is, if you don't have to follow the office dress code) make sure you pick a color that doesn't make you look washed out or sickly. Patients do not feel like they're being taken well care of if their doctor/nurse/technician looks sicker than they do.
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Scrubs
  •  The better you look, the better you'll feel and the better you will do your job... and the happier your bosses and patients will be. 
  • On the same note - you  need to be comfortable. How can you take care of others if you're not feeling good? When possible, look for all cotton scrubs or anything else that won't be itchy and annoying.
    BONUS: A couple of cheap scrub tops can also add to a some great Halloween costumes for the kids! But just don't wear these to the office or you might get fired! haha....

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Carpet Cleaning Crisis

    I just got off the phone with a friend of mine. She has two little kids and one big dog, so I'm always hearing stories about their wacky (and messy) hijinks. Today's story involved a momentarily distracted mom, a full glass of grape juice, and a beige carpet. Oops.

    Now, this isn't exactly the first time that my friend's carpets have gotten stained. But a giant purple splotch in the middle of the living room can definitely be filed under 'last straw'. So, suddenly finding the best carpet cleaning in Austin went way up the priority list. This took some doing because she moved last year - in her old neighborhood she was practically on a first name basis with everyone who worked at the local carpet cleaning place, but she hasn't really hit the Austin carpet cleaning scene yet.

    Anyway, she told me that she found a really good company to come and clean all of her carpets and get some carpet protector put on. (If they were up to the challenge of her family, they must be really good.) They even offer some "green" cleaning services, which my friend really liked because not only is it better for the environment, but she feels better using fewer potentially toxic chemicals in her home since she does have young kids. They even gave her some professional carpet cleaning tips so that she can handle the next grape juice crisis herself. Can't beat that.

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Skin Care Update

    A few weeks ago I mentioned that I wanted to ditch my skin care regimen and experiment with something new. At the time I said that I was thinking of going with Murad, and that's what I ended up doing. I've only been using the new stuff that I got for about a week, but I'm definitely liking it so far. I'll probably update again after a few more weeks when I have a better idea of how well it's working.

    Over the weekend I happened to mention my new routine to my aunt and cousin, and they laughed because they both use Murad too. My aunt uses their Resurgence line, which is designed to help with wrinkles and fine lines and help to keep skin firm and hydrated. And my cousin has acne-prone skin, so she uses their Acne Complex products - she said that it has really helped to keep her skin clear. They both looked great, which gives me confidence that my skin will keep improving too as I keep using my own Murad products.

    Since good skin care products like Murad's can be a little bit expensive, if you're interested in trying it out be sure to check out these Murad Coupon Codes for some great deals like free shipping and free trial size products. Those free samples are a good way to test out new products so that you'll know they work for you before you make the investment. And let me know in the comments if anyone has any great product recommendations of their own.