Monday, October 10, 2011

(Ten and) One-Year Anniversary

Today is our one-year anniversary. 

One year plus the 10 years we were together before we got married, that is!  You know, I think this is a great opportunity for me to say to everyone who told us that things would feel different after we got married.... you were wrong.  Thanks for the advice, though!  It feels exactly the same.  That's because commitment and what constitutes a family lies within your heart, thoughts, emotions and actions.  Not in a piece of paper, a ceremony, a few words or any other pomp and circumstance.  Well, I guess commitment does lie within a ceremony if that's what you choose.  We give things meaning and power in our lives.  A wedding ceremony doesn't carry any power until someone decides it does.  For us, it held no power.  It was a great reason to get all of our friends and family together at the same place and time, though!  Which is the wonderful thing about weddings in my opinion.  When else does that happen in life on such a grand scale?  I love weddings for that reason.

The decision to go on a trip somewhere for our one-year anniversary was an obvious one.  I constantly have the urge to travel.  I'm a bit of a wanderlust, if you will.  Luckily, Andrew enjoys me dragging him all over the globe.  He enjoys it so much, a dragging doesn't even actually occur!


At first I wanted to go back to Europe to catch some things we missed. Okay, we missed lots of things on our trip last year so I'll be more specific.  I was thinking Switzerland, Southern Germany, or Ireland.  Unfortunately, however, trips to Europe are expensive.  And while we can swing the expense,  do we really want to?  What else will we have to give up in order to do that?  Do we really want to see our savings account dwindle so soon after the big trip we took last year?  Are politicians honest?  The answer is no, folks.

So I was thinking maybe something on this continent.  Boring, I know!  First thought was some place we've never been and one city that came to mind was Montreal.  I loved Paris so much, to get another little taste of it, even if only by imitation, would be wonderful.  My second thought was New York.  I am dying to see Book of Mormon and I'm sure Andrew would enjoy Spiderman.  Besides, I always love New York.  I've gotten so familiar with the neighborhoods and subways, I don't feel like a traveler when I'm there anymore.  It's like visiting an old friend!  The last thing we considered was Disney World.  Exciting, yes, but there is no way to avoid big expenses with a trip like that.  So I wasn't setting my heart on that one.

Upon pricing out all those options, it got to be a little more than I wanted to spend.  Even with hotel discounts (we have points and gift cards) and 1 free flight we've earned on Southwest!  Not to mention that every seat is sold out for Book of Mormon for as long as shows are scheduled.  The resale value on middle-man vendor sites?  $700 for orchestra seats.  $250 for nose-bleeds.  Booo!

So this brought us to the decision to get the most bang for our buck in lovely Vancouver!



(Not my photographs above, which is obvious from the fine quality.)  I have plenty to tell about our trip and a few pics to share but I will have to do so on another day.  I have laundry, grocery shopping and sewing to do.  Holy crap, I guess marriage does change people!  No, wait.  I did all those things before marriage.  Never mind.  Phew!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Frosted or clear?

We need help!  You don't hear/see that coming from my mouth/fingertips often so lets take a moment to acknowledge this.  "Great job for admitting you need help, Christina!"  Okay, done!

Andrew and I have to decide on a new shower door.  We had a new tub and shower put in about 2 weeks ago and we had to special order a shower door if we wanted frosted glass.  We decided we wanted frosted glass so we waited for it to come in.  Well the door was broken when the contractor went to pick it up from Home Depot so now we either order a new one and wait again or we just get what they have in stock, clear glass.  This brings back the frosted vs. clear debate and we're suddenly more torn this time around.  What should we get?

Only a stock photo, our shower is not this nice!
Clear glass pros:
  • It makes the bathroom seem bigger and since the shower is the first thing you see as you go into the bathroom, it will be nice to have a bigger, more open feel.  
  • We can get it quickly.  
  • It might motivate us to keep the bottles of beautifying agents more tidy. 

Clear glass cons:
  • If we don't keep the beautifying agents tidy, it will look terrible.  
  • Water spots will show a lot easier.  
  • We have to clean more often.

Again, a stock photo.  Our shower is not this sleek and cool.
Frosted glass pros:
  • Shows less spots.  
  • Clean less often.  
  • No biggie if bottles of magic potions aren't tidy.

Frosted glass cons:
  • The shower is the first thing you see and creates a narrow walkway into the bathroom so it might make the room feel smaller/more crowded.  
  • We have to wait to get it.
So, what do we do?  Are there some pros and cons I'm leaving out?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Andrew, the video game star!

Last  year I posted something on facebook about Andrew taking a trip to Liquid Entertainment in Pasadena because his friend Steve works there and decided Andrew's likeness was exactly what the company needed in their new game!  So he went up there and they photographed him and a bunch of time passed, then just yesterday Steve emailed him that the game was up and running.  He got the email on our evening walk around the neighborhood with our dogs but Andrew couldn't log into the game right away (No Flash? Still, AT&T?  Really?  Lame!) so he had to wait a whole hour to see it!  It was torture I tell you, TORTURE! But when we got home, he rushed to his computer and logged onto the game.  The game is called Deadline Hollywood.  I guess it's like those other online games like Mafia Wars and Farm Town, etc.  I don't know exactly because I don't play those games.  But that's besides the point.  Andrew is in the game!  He's one of the characters you can choose!  Take a look:

That's so cool, right?  We think it's so cool.  It's very clearly Andrew... not just a "sorta" image, it's totally him!  I made the image his new profile pic on facebook:

My husband is a video game star!  But don't worry.  We'll remember the little people.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

To Utah or Not to Utah?

That is the question!  A couple of months ago I announced on here that we were moving to Utah.  Andrew had been accepted at the University of Utah in a dual-degree MBA and MS in Engineering program.  Cuz he's a smarty-pants.  He was also accepted at UCI and USC, both of which are local but have less-appealing programs.  So we began hatching a plan to move to Utah.  It has been very exciting to think about moving someplace new!  I like new stuff!  But there are a lot of other things to consider as well:
  1. This program in Utah would be full-time so Andrew would not be able to work.  And here's some shocking news: engineers in the biomedical industry make more money than university administrators (at any level, not just my lowly slave-girl level which it doesn't seem I'll ever be able to break free from unless I start doing such a crappy job they'll do anything to get me out of my position as opposed to how I think they feel now, that they want me doing the same thing until I DIE, which will happen sooner rather than later if I am doing the same job forever!).  *** Sorry, where was I?  I blacked out for a minute.***  Oh yeah, so monetary issues are a big consideration.  We could get by on 1 income in Utah and be happy... if it were Andrew's income.  On my income alone... let's just say we'd have to make some serious life changes.
  2. I don't know how well we would fit in in Utah.  I don't know how well I would fit in, in particular.  I'm not sure if anyone knows this about me but I tend to have a difficult time keeping my mouth shut.  Utah is pretty politically conservative.  We are (mostly) not conservative.  Also Utah is well-known for a particular religious group and Salt Lake City is 50% Mormon.  We are (very much) not Mormon.  I know that this might not seem like a big deal to some people but I am a social being.  I am interested in those around me and I like interacting with people.  I love hearing other perspectives but constantly being bombarded with ideals that are not your own, whilst considerably outnumbered, and possessing the temperament I do (Lady Gaga tells me I was "born this way, baby" so I accept it) with the burning need deep inside my soul to be heard and understood and given just a modicum of respect from time to time... well, these are just things to consider (to say the least).
  3. Andrew and I really like the freedom we currently possess.  That freedom comes at a price (discussed in item #1) so to give up income is to give up those freedoms, including making choices like flying to New York for a long weekend just to see Spiderman on Broadway, going to visit a new country every year on our anniversary, eating dinner out "just cuz we feel like it" or having kids when and how we want to.  Yes, school would only be for 2 years, but we are not making the choice between school vs. no school, we're making the choice between [good school + fun life] vs. [better school + less fun life].  And let's face it, we're not getting any younger.  Two years can make a world of difference if we want to have children.
  4. In addition  to those freedoms we enjoy, we also enjoy having a savings account, stocks, 401Ks, etc.  We might have to make a serious dent in those if we go to Utah.
  5. Despite my rant in item #1, I like where I work, I like my job and I like my friends there.  Andrew likes his job too.  He's doing really important (and currently well-recognized) things there.
  6. We like living in Southern California: our condo (which we just fixed up), the dog beach, theme parks, the variety of things to do or little cities to visit every weekend, the weather, how close we are to family and friends throughout California and in Vegas.  We would be sad to leave here.
  7. Our dogs don't like snow.  We drove with them to Colorado once, in December.  They got out of the car to go potty along the route and each time they would hurriedly jump back into the car and sit there shivering for a good 5-10 minutes.  We ended up bundling them up in blankets.  Such California dogs!
So, as you can see, we have a lot to consider.  But we've come to a conclusion.  We decided "not to Utah!"  I mean come on, how can I stand to watch my puppies shiver every day in the winter?  They'd stare at me with those big brown eyes, "Mommy?  Why are you doing this to us, Mommy?  Why don't you love us?  Where is the dog beach, Mommy?  Why won't you take us there?"  Have you seen Maisy's face, people?  She has powers.

Mommy, Daddy, I'm a California girl!

So, in California we shall remain.  And we're happy to do so.  Okay, so there's a little bit of remorse, "But the program was so great in Utah."  But we'll get over that.  The nice thing about all of this is that we had 2 wonderful choices in front of us.  If only everyone had that problem!  By staying in Cali we kind of  get to have our cake and eat it too.  Trust me, we'll enjoy every bite!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Our New Car!

So, the new car we picked is..... THE FORD EXPLORER!  The Mazda just didn't have enough room in it, the Enclave wasn't awesome enough to pay more for it (and too much wood trim), and the Highlander was too small and not comfortable enough.  It came down to the Traverse and the Explorer.  We really wanted to buy American and both are great SUV's.  The Traverse had more room in the back but the Ford was so awesome for the driver and passenger.  And Andrew was so darn happy in it with all of it's toys and features.  I think we'll love it and it'll be an exciting, yet comfortable car for us for YEARS.  Here are some lovely pictures (again) to help you get a better idea of what we love.

Modern, yet classic looks.  Ours is white just like this!

Sleek, beautiful interior.  Ours is black just like this.

Modern console - the big selling feature.  We love!!!

Car Hunters

Is there a show called Car Hunters?  If not, there should be.  Finding the right new car for your family can be very challenging.  I also find it a rip-roarin' good time!  I like shopping.  I like new things.  I am a good candidate for retail shock therapy.  When I started college, there were tons of credit card companies who set up shop on campus during the first week of school, seeking out fresh meat to attack and turn into consumer zombies.  I was one of them.  I thought it was so awesome that I could have my own credit card and buy stuff I didn't have to pay for... yet.  The "yet" part didn't really matter that much to me then.  If I had a bad day at work, I'd go buy a new outfit or pair of shoes, then just pay the minimums on my credit card.  Well, after a few years, that didn't turn out so well for me and the "yet" now matters, quite a bit!  I'm just glad I made those mistakes when I was young and now I am so much more careful about what I buy and I've turned retail therapy into something that works for me and my bank account.  It's all about the research!

I had so much fun researching cars!  I started with the basics of what Andrew and I wanted: the smallest SUV we can find with a comfortable 3rd row, some fun toys (electronics), leather seats (dog hair), a sun roof, decent fuel efficiency, fun to drive (fast) and all at a reasonable price.  I found the potential in several vehicles: 

The Chevy Traverse

 The Mazda CX-9

The Buick Enclave

The Ford Explorer

The Toyota Highlander

At just the first glance, my favorite cars are the CX-9 and the Traverse (the first 2).  I like sleek, simple and a little curvy.  For Andrew, the CX-9 was his favorite on looks alone.  The looks of the Enclave drove me to that, even though the Traverse and Enclave (and GMC Acadia too but it's more boxy ) are virtually the same cars on the inside with some little features here and there that drive up the price.  We test drove each of these cars.  Here's a little summary of each experience:

The Chevy Traverse is nice, comfortable and pretty darn roomy!  You can actually seat adults comfortably in the 3rd row.  Big plus!  It also offers 2nd row captains chairs so getting into the 3rd row is easy (it's just like a minivan on the inside with this setup).  It drives nicely, is smooth and quiet, has a decent get-up-and-go when you put the pedal to the metal and the sticker price is very pleasing!  The sun roofs are awesome.  There is 1 in back and 1 in front. The car has USB ports for our iPhones and an AC power adapter to plug in our laptops on road trips.  We love that!

The photo doesn't really do it justice but it IS roomy in there.  And what's really nice is that the 2nd row seats recline and they shift forward and backward in case you've got adults in the 3rd row, you can make more room for them. This car has the option for navigation and DVD player and power seats, etc.  We do not like that when you close the sun roofs, the cover is this net fabric and the sun still shines through the net.  Kind of annoying! But one cool feature is the back-up camera.  It shows up in a square on the left side of your rear view mirror, then disappears again when you're done reversing.  Love that!  It's not an option, though, if you buy the navigation.  Then it's just in the dash on the regular screen.  Boring! 

The Mazda CX-9 is a little different from the Traverse in good ways and in bad ways.  First, it has all of these really cool features.  It has a blind spot detector - there's a little amber light that glows when there is a car in your blind spot and there is a beeping noise if there's a car in your blind spot while you have your blinker on.  Cool factor and safety factor!

The console was beautiful and modern with lots of digital stuff and best of all, this SUV is fast and maneuvers like a car.  We were thrilled about that.  Zoom zoom, indeed!  The big problem with this Mazda, though, is that the 3rd row seats 2, not 3 and is built only for children.  Which is fine and dandy if you will only haul children.  But we want the capability to put anyone back there.  We want to keep this new car for 10 years or so.  We've got to have the option to seat more adults.  The price of this car, was surprisingly low, though.  Even for a fully-loaded one!

The look of the Buick Enclave really grew on me as I was looking at cars.  It's just really pretty - the shape of it, that front grill, the chrome trim.  A lovely car.  And we already knew it had the same roominess as the Traverse.  But we wanted to drive the car, sit in the seats and see the dash and extra features.  The inside is very comfortable, maybe more so than the Traverse.  It drives a little more sluggishly, though, just because it's a bigger car, I'm sure, but that doesn't make us happy.  

The dash and console are nice but it's geared towards the luxury car lover with a lot of wood trim.  Honestly, too much wood trim for us.  We feel about 20 years older just siting in the car.  The wood would have been nice just on the dash but you can see in the picture that it's on the steering wheel and the gear shift and cup holders, etc.  We don't love that.  The car did drive more quietly than the other cars, though, which makes our road trips a lot nicer!  But that comes at a price.

The 2011 Ford Explorer is a brand new model.  It is definitely more truck-like and more boxy than the other cars we've looked at so far.  I don't love that in general.  However, there's a modernness to the car that makes the overall look pretty pleasing.  It drives really nicely.  It's probably not more quiet than the other cars but it seems to be a bit smoother ride compared to the other cars.  I hate an SUV that rocks you all over the place on every dip and pothole.  This didn't do that at all!

The inside is decently roomy.  Technically, there is just as much leg room as the Traverse and Enclave but unfortunately the 2nd row seats don't slide forwards and backwards to give more leg room in the 3rd row when needed.  It's not hard for adults to sit back there, though it's only built to seat 2 people.  This car does have some pretty awesome gadgets on it: USB and AC power, everything is digital aside from the speedometer and our phones can integrate to load all contacts and play music that you can control from the touch screen.  Andrew spent a good amount of time playing with the electronics with a big grin on his face.

The Toyota Highlander had the best fuel efficiency and they make a hybrid while the other cars we drove do not.  With the long-term investment we're making on a car, spending money on a hybrid would be worth it.  It drives nicely, doesn't stand out or fall behind the pack in speed or maneuverability but it does seem like a bumpier ride.  I like the console, the way the buttons were set up and what was really cool was that the center seat in the 2nd row can be removed and replaced with a center console.

The 3rd row, however, seats 2 and is small.  It's hard to get into as well.  The 2nd row seats fold in half, then scoot forward, but don't fold forward a second time to give you a clear path to get to the back.  You end up kind of having to step over the 2nd row seat.  Not awesome.  Lastly, the storage space in the back wasn't great.  I didn't mention it with the other cars because it was equally good in each of them.  This one left something to be desired.

So, this is our hunt and these are our choices.  It was exhausting driving all the cars and researching everything, but for me it was really fun too!  It feels so great to gather all of this information in order to make an informed decision.  In some cases I knew more about the car than the salesman did like towing capacity and where the USB was located and whether or not sun roofs were available for front and back... it helps that I have a good memory but trust me, I did my research.  I will say the only problem is when you have a lot of information, it makes it more difficult to come to one conclusion sometimes.  What are the sayings?  "Ignorance is bliss" and "Analysis Paralysis."  Oh, they can be very true!  But I would rather err on the side of too much information than not enough.  What feels REALLY good is that at the end of all this, we purchased a new car and we feel very confident in our decision.  Any guesses on what our final decision was?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Christina Can Cook!

Alright, I can cook SOMETIMES! When I want to, basically. Just like everything else in life. Last weekend we were stuck at home nursing Maisy back to health. I use "stuck" loosely here because I happen to like my home and my husband and my silly little dogs. I have the comfiest bed in the world, a nice TV, TONS of DVD's, a plethora of kitchen gadgets at hand and the disposable income of a dual-income household with no children. Home ain't so bad! So over the weekend I decided to put some of those gadgets to use and make some recipes I've been holding onto.

I read a few blogs. One of them is The Pioneer Woman. I like her a lot! She's funny, charming and talented. And although she lives on a sprawling ranch in the middle of nowhere, she doesn't act like it is the ONLY way to live your life. I appreciate anyone who doesn't come across so egocentric. I like to LEARN about other people's lives, not be beat over the head with how much better theirs is than mine. She gets it.

The Pioneer Woman has an AMAZING food blog! AH-MAZE-ING! I love it! She's a little too spicy for me but I just omit the spice and everything turns out oh so nice! Let me share with you what I made last weekend. Not all of these are her recipes, but I got all of them from her page.

The first thing I made on Friday night was this delightful little twist on a burger:

It's a Long Boy Burger from this website. FANTASTIC! Such a "DUH, why didn't I think of that?" kind of recipe. A french bread burger, just like the (brilliant) french bread pizza! Delicious and fun to eat! The only change I would make is to saute the onions a little bit first. These don't stay in the oven long enough for the onions to caramelize. I also added more garlic to the recipe. I do that to most recipes. With the exception of cakes.

The next thing I made was this wonderful Strawberry Buttermilk Cake, recipe found here:

I screwed up this cake. I will never forgive myself for it. I made it in the morning so I was still kinda sleepy. (Yes, for breakfast. If you can have buttermilk pancakes with strawberries for breakfast then why not this? If you still question that perfect logic, check out Jim Gaffigan's "Cake" segment on YouTube. He'll set you straight!)

Anyway, I screwed up this cake because I set the temp too high. It scorched on the top and it was goop in the middle. I (by "I," I mean Andrew) caught the temp problem early and we turned it down to save the majority of the cake. Thank goodness! Because it was friggin delicious!!!! You have got to make this cake. But don't screw it up like I did! There is lemon zest in this cake. Do not skip that part! That gave it this bright, summery flavor that just made your taste buds do a happy dance. Bake this today! Don't change a thing in the recipe!

I also made an omelette for Andrew & I to split that morning. Omelettes are boring. Moving on.

The next thing I made in the afternoon (by "I," I again mean Andrew) was homemade guacamole. Andrew always does great with his guac but this time it was magnificent! There's no recipe, we just wing it. Works every time.

To go with the guac, I made these super delicious Creamy Baked Chicken Taquitos:

OMG, OMG, OMG! This is my new favorite recipe! I followed it exactly with 1 exception - only use 1 to 2 tablespoons of filling in each tortilla. Otherwise too much of the creaminess oozes out and/or your tortilla will split and then get soggy! I used the extra thin tortillas but there still would have been oozing if they hadn't broke. By my second batch these were perfect and let me tell you... they are the ideal balance of creamy and meaty and the tortillas actually get nice and crispy without frying! I did do one extra thing the recipe doesn't say to do. I squeezed lime over them before I salted them. That was a nice little something extra. Make these! You won't be sorry!

Okay everyone, are you ready for some indulgence now? This isn't going to make some people very happy. But this is real life. And cake made from candy bars happens in real life. So just man up and deal with it! Ladies and gentlemen... I bring you... the Milky Way Cake:

I both love and hate The Pioneer Woman for sharing this with the world. It was thoroughly delicious. I followed her steps to the letter and clung to every photograph like a life preserver bobbing in the stickiness. The milky ways melted weird and I was worried about the frosting but it all turned out just grand! I halved her recipe and made an 8x8 cake. It was so rich and beautiful. The frosting set nicely and I didn't have the problems she described about the cake not holding together. Perhaps because I was patient and let it set before cutting it! The cake was actually more like a brownie by the time I cut it. It was even better the next day. You need to make this cake. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the next day. But put it on your bucket list, okay? It's so unique yet you feel like you've known it your whole life with those familiar milky way flavors all throughout. It was kinda shabby-chic!

For dinner that night I made beef stroganoff. Nothing new and exciting for us. It's a regular 'round here. Snooze.

On Sunday I made my second batch of taquitos and then mozzarella sticks from scratch. With panko crumbs, of course! Because there is no other way to make them. Just go out for fast food if you plan on making them with regular bread crumbs. Save yourself the hard work that will be worthy of excellence but only produces mediocre results. I used some tips from Pioneer Woman for my sticks, found here, but I pretty much know how to make them. It isn't hard! The trick is getting the breading to stick and then figuring out your heat so you get that sweet spot between un-melted cheese and exploding cheese. A few of mine exploded. But they were STILL delicious!

We had leftovers for dinner on Sunday night so this ends our culinary weekend. I am so proud of the stuff I made! I have a love/hate relationship with cooking. I get frustrated very easily when I screw something up. But then when I do something well, I think to myself, "Big deal! People have been cooking since the beginning of time. Put down the wooden spoon and go create something new in the world, dummy." I'm finding the balance between the challenge, the enjoyment, and finding my favorite recipes. That really helps, to find your favorite foods are things you make yourself - it's kinda cool! My love/hate is turning more love and less hate. But it's not likely I will become one of those people who takes pictures of my food and posts it on facebook every night. I just can't shake the, "Big deal!" feeling or the feeling that I'm being braggy or being inauthentic. I'll do the occasional cooking post here, I guess, when appropriate. Maybe pictures too. When I have better lighting in my kitchen and everything doesn't turn out dull and yellowy! Bad food pics just aren't appetizing, people! And sometimes bad pictures happen to good food. Not in my house, sir. Not in my house!