Monday, August 23, 2010

September Eat-In Challenge

As I was balancing my checkbook a few weeks ago, it became painfully clear that I spend way too much money going out to eat.  It's expensive and unhealthy, but I do it all the time.  Giving it some thought, I realize that the last thing I want to do when I get home from work is cook.  I also *hate* cooking for one person--it's just no fun.  I love cooking for family and friends, but I rarely do.  Eating out is also fun--there's the whole social aspect of going out for drinks with friends after a long day, or after a function at church.  It's a great way to catch up with friends I haven't seen in awhile, and what better way to reconnect than by breaking bread?  However, this past weekend a friend and I went to Ruby Tuesday for lunch, and we were both surprised at the calorie listings on the menu.  Although I opted for a "lower" calorie option (660 calories, not including the cheesy biscuits they gave us to start), I later discovered it had well over 20 grams of fat...and let's not even go into the sodium content!

As convenient and fun as eating out may be, it's eating up money I could be saving, or putting towards more productive things.  Rather than deflate my checking account only to inflate my waistline, I've decided to eat in the entire month of September.  With very limited exceptions, this means that I will not eat food at any restaurant, the cafeteria at work, vending machines, cafes, etc.  The exceptions will be going out for an occasional coffee with friends, two birthday celebrations, and dinner one night at my favorite monastery.  The bulk of the month, however, I plan to invite a few friends over for dinner and try some recipes that I've been wanting to make.  I enjoy watching the various cooking shows on PBS, and this is a great opportunity to try some of Sara Moulton's "Weeknight Meals," and some recipes from "America's Test Kitchen".  My September blog won't be anything like "Julie & Julia," but I hope to expand my usual grocery list and try new things, and eat in with some great company.  If you have a delicious recipe you'd like to share, please feel free to put it in the comment section!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vacation 2010

After a month away from the blogosphere, I'm back! Most of July was spent back home in Michigan--two and a half weeks with a variety of family and friends, all over the Mitten! Much of my vacation was spent in the Lansing area with my parents, two sisters, 8 month old niece and 3 year old nephew. We played, danced, sang, read, celebrated Mom and Grandma W.'s birthday, travelled Up North, shopped, ate plenty of delicious food, saw the sights, had fun in two of the Great Lakes, and took naps. When I wasn't doing all of that with them, I was off to Grand Rapids to visit with two of my professors (Guten Tag, Seegers!), and a bunch of friends from my college years. It was a great time visiting our old haunts, discovering new places, and it was especially fun spending an afternoon at Lake Michigan with one of my closest friends on her birthday. I had a fantastic time seeing everyone and travelling the state, but when I returned to DC I took two days off to recuperate--a short vacation from my vacation!

Shortly after I came back to DC, my youngest sister came for a visit.  Since we had only seen each other a few days prior, it really felt like an extension of my vacation.  We went to Eastern Market, the Basilica, and went to see the movie "Inception" (which, btw, is really amazing--a visual marvel with an intricate storyline, I highly recommend it!).  When we weren't out, we continued our tradition of watching DVDs of "Will & Grace", and just enjoying each other's company.  Lil Sis left a week ago and I've been missing her ever since.  However, in the midst of two very busy weeks at work, I'm looking forward to returning to Michigan in a little over a week to say farewell to one of my cousins who is being deployed to the Middle East.  Not a fun reason to go home, but I am looking forward to seeing my family again...and so soon! 

That's all for today--hope to post a few pictures once I figure out how to do it properly.  Hope you are having a peaceful week!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cunning Kiddos

Little Miss Hailey is one smart seven month old.  She's fun, always ham for the camera, and has her Auntie(s) wrapped around her little finger.  "Let her cry it out," says Mommy, but Auntie just can't help herself.  And the little girl knows it.  Want sympathy?  Just start crying and crawling toward Auntie.  Auntie meets her halfway, scoops her up, bounces, sways, and does whatever it takes to make that little girl happy...sometimes much to Mommy's dismay.  Auntie might be a sucker for this cunning little girl, but it's worth it to see the smile on her face and hear the cooing of a happy baby.

Ryan, my three year old nephew, also knows how to work the system.  He'll climb into his Auntie's lap being cute and cuddly and say, "Hi.  I love you."  This is usually followed by something to the effect of, "Want some lemonade?"  "No, thank you.  I don't want any lemonade."  "Ryan lemonade?"  Sometimes he's just too cute to resist!  His Aunties, not wanting to be outdone, have also slapped him with an "Aunt tax".  Yesterday he was eating a doughnut when both of his Aunties fined him a bite.  :) 

Other fun things we've been doing include piggyback rides, playing soccer and hockey, finding fun games/parts for the old N64, and visiting Grandma Wright.  It's all absolutely exhausting, especially as the kiddos wake up at 6:15 most mornings...oy.  But, it's lots of fun, too.  Plans (and daily pace) will shift a bit in another day, as I'm heading over to Grand Rapids (GR) for lunch with two of my college professors.  After that, I have plans with various friends for a couple of days before I make my way back to Lansing for Mom's birthday weekend.  Pictures to post this weekend.  Hope you're having a blessed week!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Body Imaging at BWI

Today I'm blogging from Gate B2/B4 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI).  Tis the beginning of my vacation, when I take some time off and head back to my beloved Mitten state.  Fortunately, I was able to take much of the afternoon off from work and get to the airport with a few hours to spare.  Check-in was quick and easy, and lines for security were short...but today, I would have gladly waited an hour through security in order to avoid what was waiting for me once I got to the metal detector and x-ray machines.

Today was the first time I have ever had to go through the L3 ProVision body-imaging machine.  I chose the short line for the x-ray machine, only to realize which line I had entered.  Quickly grabbing a bin and switching to another line nearby, I unloaded my belongings into bins, hoping the TSA hadn't noticed.  I stood in front of the metal detector when a TSA agent directed me to the L3 machine.  We had a brief discussion about why I didn't want to go through and what I knew about the machine, but was ushered through anyway.  What added to the embarrassing scan is what happened after I stepped out.  I was patted down.  Really?  After one exits the L3 ProVision machine, Big Brother (or, hopefully Big Sister, in my case) lets the TSA agent know what to do next.  Subjecting me to the scan evidently didn't reveal enough of what was under my clothing, so I had to be patted down.  Absolutely ridiculous.

At first I thought the pat down was retribution for muttering a few not-so-nice words on my way into, and out of, the machine.  However, as I sat on a bench to put my shoes and belt back on, I noticed that others were being patted down as well, depending on what the TSA agent's all-powerful earpiece told him/her.  Taking a brief look at the company's website, it appears that one of the many features of this machine is that it "reduces need for time-consuming and intrusive pat-down searches."  Apparently this wasn't the case today.  The ProVision fact sheet says, "The system provides options that allow blurring of faces and other areas of the body."  (Emphasis mine)  This suggests that the system is capable of blurring the most private areas of the body, but those entering the machine cannot be certain that those options have been enabled.  To be fair, the fact sheet also says, "Images cannot be saved after security personnel review them."  If true, that would be plus one point for L3, but as far as I can see, nowhere does it say that the images cannot be printed out. 

At the end, I thought about two things: (1) I'm going to pay better attention to the security line I enter, and be more adamant that I be allowed to go through a normal x-ray machine, even to the extent of citing that I do have the right to refuse to enter the machine and (2) if I absolutely, positively, must go through the machine, Big Sister might have a not-so-nice hand gesture pop up on her screen.  Hey, I'm Catholic...not perfect. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wheel Want

Living in the city, I'm within walking distance to work, church, Metro, and plenty of shops and restaurants.  Fortunately, I do not need or own a car.  But as I was out walking this evening, I saw this car and did a double take.  This is a Dodge Caliber.  I want one.  But I don't need one.  It would be nice to have the freedom to not be reliant on Metro--especially on weekends when delays and track work are inevitable.  Perhaps my want stems from my lack of owning anything more expensive than the bed I purchased last winter.  If I need wheels, I have Zipcar.  I don't own a condo or house, but rent a studio apartment.  The most expensive things I do have, like much of America, are student loans and some credit card debt.  And, until those are paid off (only 3 years left on that student loan!) I won't even begin to seriously consider a major purchase.  Window shopping is fun, though!  :)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Long weekend at Long Beach Island

...had a wonderful time at the Jersey Shore!  A good friend of mine has a beach house on Long Beach Island (LBI), NJ, so we headed up there for a few days of respite.  It was a much needed break from the busy which has been work, and served as a wonderful prelude to my actual vacation which begins in just a few days!  We both took off Friday afternoon, me taking the MARC train up to Baltimore where we would meet up and drive to LBI.  LBI is a skinny island, but about 18 miles long.  Friend's house is in the Barnegat Light area--the northern end of the island--and the house backs up to a lagoon.  After exceptionally refreshing margaritas on the dock, we were off to dinner and what else does one eat so close to the ocean but seafood?! 

We walked over to a quaint little shopping/food/boating area called Viking Village and ordered take out at Off the Hook.  Now, I'm a fresh water girl myself, and haven't eaten much seafood outside of shrimp and the occasional crab cake in the past six years I've lived in the Mid-Atlantic.  That being said, the broiled seafood platter (crab-stuffed flounder, scallops, shrimp, and clams casino) was absolutely delicious.  Everything seemed to be fresh and cooked/flavored just right.  The clams casino were my favorite, but I truly believe that bacon does make everything better.  After all of that scrumptious food, it was time to explore the beach!

We decided to walk over to the ocean, and from there walked all the way around the northern most tip of LBI, to Barnegat Lighthouse.  It was a pretty long walk, but a beautiful night--we waded into the ocean, were amazed by the stars, and mused where the various planes were headed as they set out on their transatlantic flights.  It was a simply delightful evening with great food, perfect weather, and exceptional company.

On Saturday, we both slept in and awoke to find ominous clouds which would produce quite a bit of rain.  It was necessary, although somewhat disappointing, we remembered that on our walk we had seen a movie rental place.  Set up in the garage of a private residence, Ives Five Seasons rents and repairs bicycles for sunny days, and rents DVDs for the dreary ones.  We picked up a couple of movies and went back to the house, broke out the potato chips and dip, and settled in for an afternoon of lounging.  So nice!  The weather eventually cleared up in the evening, and we went to a local family restaurant called Scojo's.  Entrees were enough to feed two people easily, and it was pretty good home style grub.

Sunday was another day for sleeping in, and then we were off to boat!  Some friends of my friend picked us up at her dock, and we weaved our way out of the lagoon, through the bay, and into the ocean!  This was my first time actually on the ocean and although I thought it was incredibly choppy, I was a little proud of myself for not getting seasick.  The last time I had been bumped around like that was on an awful commercial flight which included what the pilot called "evasive maneuvers", which has led to some minor anxiety during air travel.  Since I can swim, I figured there were worse things than being knocked out of a boat, so I was able to enjoy the trip up to Martell's.  Martell's is a unique restaurant as you can actually pull up in your boat, secure it to one of their mooring balls, and then a water taxi (pontoon boat) picks you up and takes you to the waterside restaurant!  We dined outside where the food wasn't anything special, but the atmosphere was casual and relaxed.  A very enjoyable afternoon with good company!

After we made our way back to the beach house, it was time to pack and close things up.  I would have loved to stay a week, until my proper vacation started, but we were both back to work Monday morning.  However, it was a much needed weekend with a great friend, new adventures, and a lot of fun. 

Soon enough it will be onto the next adventure--home to Michigan!  If there's time, I'll blog from there a bit.  In the meantime, hope you're having a blessed week!