Friday, April 24, 2015

Obsessed with the weather

I began to suspect I might be a little bit obsessed with the weather just about a month ago, when, whenever someone would make any kind of comment or passing speculation on it, I would respond instantly with a detailed forecast for the next two days, and usually state the current temperature to the exact degree.

I never for a minute think this indicates I should have gone for a career in meteorology. However, I do think it's a useful obsession to have, for all it stems from a comparably un-useful curse.

What curse, you ask? Well, the curse of my almost complete inability to maintain a consistent body temperature. I feel this makes me a rare breed, like some kind of magical unicorn of thermoregulation.

Some people are always hot. I feel a little sorry for them in the summer, but at least they're consistent. Some people are always cold. This was me until a few years ago, and, while I don't miss those days at all, it was predictable at least, to know that I was never going to get overheated no matter what I did.

Now, my comfort zone is all across the board. 

Once again, they turned off the heat in our building as soon as it hit 70 degrees outside for one day, leaving us poor souls shivering in our shoes now that the temperatures have returned to April normal. The rest of my coworkers are handling it all right, though complaining. I, on the other hand, am running a space heater all day, wearing fingerless gloves, and still feeling miserable. I don't start getting warm until midafternoon, when all of a sudden my torso is sweltering in my blazer, while meanwhile my fingers are still sticks of ice.

On the other hand, while 65 degrees in the office is like 8 straight hours of torture by ice, just let me walk outside in the same temperature for 10 minutes, and I'll be stripping off layers like I'm in a sauna. Any small amount of exercise usually heats me up to uncomfortable levels—hence my careful choice of biking clothes—but all the same, my nose is still running and my hands are still frozen.

I live for the days when it hits 80 outside (about the only days when it's warm enough for me to wear sandals), but come 86, and I start feeling lightheaded. 

When we ride together in the car in winter, my boyfriend and I both love to crank the heat way up, but while he can survive the whole ride in his puffer jacket without any sign of discomfort, I am always having to remove my coat and gloves (and subsequently losing them) after only a few miles. But then comes springtime, when all of a sudden he wants to drive with the window open. Naturally he's fine with the breeze, but it is enough to turn me into a blue-lipped popsicle.

I have calculated (by a scientific process of wild guessing) that I have a temperature comfort zone of approximately 5 degrees Fahrenheit...but that zone shifts by 15 degrees or more depending on what I'm doing, what I'm wearing, and whether it's sunny or windy.  Unsurprisingly, this means that I'm rarely comfortable. But it also means that I always make an effort to prepare for whatever climate I'm going to be in—and in the spring or fall when the climate is so unpredictable, that often means checking the temperature and forecast dozens of times a day.

I might be a slave to the thermometer, but it does have its upside. At least for my friends and companions, who can be confident that, no matter where we are or when it is, if they ask me, I will have a weather forecast ready for them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Savings

I have a reputation for extreme thriftiness, but since Hansel's expensive accident, I have been making an extra effort to save money, which has of course gotten me thinking about all the ways I conserve my cash on a regular basis. Here are some thrifty tips that I hope you can benefit from too!

Target:

The Target Redcard is a credit card that allows me to save 5% on every purchase at Target. I don't know of any other store that offers such a consistent discount on their store card, and since Target usually has the best prices on everything, and I shop there regularly, it is pretty much a no-brainer. Those leery of holding another credit card can also opt for a Target debit card, I'm told. I am also a member of the Cartwheel club, which basically allows me to select coupons for a variety of products, usually the Target store brand, for a trifling discount (usually 5 percent). Plus, I have Target Pharmacy Rewards, which gives you a gift card after 5 prescriptions filled at the pharmacy. These loyalty programs aren't worth much—in the year and a half I've been a member of Cartwheel and Pharmacy Rewards, I've saved about 30 dollars, but every little bit helps!

Discover Card and Bank

All credit cards offer rewards these days, but my favorite is Discover Card, which offers a 1% Cash Back Bonus on every purchase. You can sign up for additional bonuses every quarter (if you remember, which I usually don't). Additionally, I have Discover Bank checking and savings accounts, which offer their own perks. I get a pretty darn good interest rate on the savings account, and a 10¢ Cash Back Bonus on every debit card purchase through the checking account. So I use my Discover debit card to make all my small purchases under 10 dollars. The only downside is that a lot of businesses don't accept Discover, so sometimes I'm stuck using my regular Capital One debit card or cash, which offer no bonuses at all!

Gift cards

 Last year, I learned that you could buy gift cards at several online marketplaces for a discounted price—I always start at Gift Card Granny, which scours all the gift card sites so you can find the best discount. I buy gift cards for all the stores I shop at frequently—Home Depot gift cards at about 8% off (for all my hardware, home improvement, and occasionally artistic needs), Joann Fabrics cards for around 15% off (for the rest of my artistic needs), and various clothing store cards at 10-30% off (for all my fashion needs!) are my favorites. And if I use my Discover card to purchase the gift cards, I get my Cash Back plus the discount on the cards!

Reward Points

In my free time (when I'm too lazy to be artsy or active), I try to fill it with brainless activities that also reap rewards. I'll fill out surveys for any number of companies. If you qualify, you spend a few minutes answering easy questions, and at the end of the survey, you earn points which you can redeem for prizes or cash cards. Sometimes the surveys can be painfully tedious, and it can be very frustrating when you submit a whole series of screeners only to find you don't qualify to complete any of the full surveys. But every once in a while, you'll hit the jackpot and get invited to participate in a product trial (a few months ago, I got 6 free cans of Diet Pepsi to try out and review, and I got compensated for it!). The points don't add up fast (I'd say I earn about a 25 dollar gift card from each company once a year, when I'm participating a few times a week), but it's easy to earn a few pennies instead of loafing around watching TV or playing computer games, so why not? If you're going to get into the survey-taking business, steer clear of the companies that only offer sweepstakes entries as a reward—you want a guaranteed compensation. My favorite is Ipsos i-Say, which usually gives you a few points just for trying, even if you don't qualify for the full survey.

Hand-me-downs

 If you have the time to wait, you can get almost everything you need for free secondhand. My couch (yes, the sagging disaster) was free. My guest bed, comforter, and one of its sheet sets were free. My toolbox (to replace the one I got as a gift at age 16) was free. Two of my nicest coats were free. A significant portion of my clothing was free. My dining table was free. Bike rack—free. Wardrobe—free. Dresser—free! Bookcase, bed, doormat—all free! The list goes on and on. How do I get all these good deals? Mostly from Freecycle, a network of local people who give away the old things they don't want any more. But also, because I have a reputation as a scavenger, other people I know who are not Freecyclers also give away their old things to me. When you're not paying a red cent for most of your possessions, you don't always get the cream of the crop, nor all the features you want, nor the best matched collection of anything, but you do get a lot more money to spend on the things you are particular about!

These things really only scratch the surface of my obsession with saving money, but they are some of the simplest websites and groups anyone can join, put in minimal effort, and reap the benefits! Happy Penny Pinching!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sticky Fingers sandwich cookie


I ate my first cookie from Sticky Fingers way back in 2011, just a little before I began reviewing Giant Cookies. It's taken me four years, but I'm finally getting around to writing up this vegan cookie from a DC eatery.

I want to love it and love a local business in the process, but sadly, I find it kind of lacking in flavor. Fortunately, this is not just any cookie—it is a sandwich cookie, meaning it's filled with decadent vanilla frosting that amps up the experience a bit. It also has a dash of saltiness here and there, making it a bit less boring.

The cookie itself is made with oats, which I always love for the texture they impart—this cookie is no exception, being good and chewy, and mostly passing the Crumble Test, although I lost some tiny bits of cookie here and there. Eating a sandwich cookie is never simple, apparently.

As for price, well, that's probably the worst aspect of this cookie.

It weighs 135 g (not much more than your standard single-layer Giant Cookie), but costs $3.25 (according to the Sticky Fingers website since I don't have a receipt to verify), adding up to 2.41¢ per gram.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 3 out of 5 stars
Texture: 4 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A series of unfortunate events

It has been a very unlucky fortnight for me, so this is one of those posts where I entertain my desire to just vent.

It started months ago, when the power jack on my laptop started to go bad. It only costs 3 dollars for a replacement jack on eBay, so I could even fix it myself...but...have you ever tried to open up an Asus laptop? Hahahaha—just replacing a hard drive took my boyfriend nearly a half hour with all the screws, panels, and wires he had to move out of the way. Getting at a component like the power jack would be even more work (and may require soldering, which I've never gotten the hang of), so I decided that, for once, I would just leave the job to the professionals. Last Friday, I called my neighborhood computer shop, got an estimate for 100 dollars, and planned to bring it in on Monday, as soon as I had posted all the photos from my Iceland trip.

Last weekend started off on a great foot. My boyfriend and I went to look at a couple of houses for sale, and after the visits, I was seriously considering making an offer on one of them, when all of a sudden disaster struck. We were driving to meet a friend in DC when we got in a small car accident. Small, but destructive! A big dent was punched into my poor Korg's right front side, and the headlight and grill were completely knocked off. Since the accident was our fault, we are responsible for all the repairs, which add up to...I don't know yet, but I'm sure it won't be pleasant!

Already I was thinking maybe this was a sign it wasn't the right time to buy a house, when, the next day, my rabbit got into a high-speed chase with a couple of dogs and somehow managed to break his leg (the day before Easter, poor bunny!). Not many vets work on rabbits, and none do orthopedics on rabbits, so the cost of rebuilding him was astronomical. All last week, I was dropping tidy sums left and right on his medical care. As of today, he's cost me $4,231.37 and still rising. I'm calling him the Six Million Dollar Bunny, but I really hope he doesn't come to that.

The fun didn't stop there, though. Last night, on the way home from the Cherry Blossom Festival, I somehow misplaced my phone (I say "somehow" like this doesn't happen every couple days—but this time, I wasn't able to recover it). I am nearly certain that I left it in the Uber car, but all attempts to call the phone, leave a message on it, and contact the driver failed. When I got home, I was able to trace its location to George Mason University (not anywhere near where I had been), so I'm confident that the driver had it and was ignoring our desperate pleas to get it back. So now my faith in humanity is shaken AND I'm out 200 more dollars! And I'm definitely never using Uber for all my transportation needs.

My boyfriend keeps telling me it will get better in the future, but every time he tells me that, another bad thing happens, so this time, I'm sticking faithfully to pessimism. The world sucks and I will never be happy again!!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cosi white chocolate walnut cookies


If you remember all the way back to my first Giant Cookie Review, Cosi's white chocolate macadamia nut cookies were my ultimate favorite—pretty much the reason I started Giant Cookie Reviewing in the first place!

I kind of lost interest in them after a few years, though, when they replaced my beloved macadamia nuts with walnuts. I do enjoy walnuts in cookies, but they just can't compare to the crisp, splintering crunch of a macadamia nut.

However, a Giant Cookie Reviewer must not leave any cookie unreviewed, regardless of her feelings about walnuts, so I decided to take one for the team and give the white chocolate walnut cookies another try.

They were a little dryer than I remember, but basically the same soft-all-the-way-through texture.

The flavor didn't grab me, though, like it used to. Walnut just goes better with dark chocolate.

Usually when I re-review cookies years later, price is the area that's deteriorated the most. These cookies were $1.99 each and 105 grams, so I'm pleased to say that if anything, their value has improved since my last Cosi cookie review, because there was slightly more mass to the cookie, but the price hadn't changed. However, at 1.89¢ a gram, they are still within the 2-star range.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 3 out of 5 stars
Texture: 3 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Anger Management Fund Annual Report

Have you been wondering how my Anger Management Fund is doing? You should be; it's been over a year since I last mentioned it! Since the purchases I make with the Anger Management Fund are pretty much always clothing and accessories, I've been wanting to wait until I've actually used them and gotten a photo before blogging about them. But (I guess because they're generally also frivolous purchases of non-essential items with limited use), most of them are still sitting around unused. And since the list is getting pretty long and I'd like to pare it down, I might as well share its status.

Two and a half years after establishment, it's still doing its intended job. Not all the time—sometimes you just need to have a major conniption (like when you just drove 4 hours home from a weekend trip and all you want to do is relax, but instead you've found out that your robotic vacuum cleaner somehow shut itself down a mere foot from its base, apparently because it ran over its own power strip and turned it off, and thus utterly failed to make it into your bedroom, which is consequently still covered with dog fur and crumbs, which just reminds you of how the dog got into your food while you were at a rest stop and chewed up a nasty pastrami sandwich all over your coat, which is also, incidentally, covered with dog fur and now crumbs, and you still have to pull the laundry from the basement because you didn't have time to finish it before you left, and the kitchen, which was never tidy to begin with, now looks like a war zone because your boyfriend has decided that, instead of putting the recyclables in the recycle bin, which you just went through a lot of effort to empty after also cleaning your rabbit's cage, because heaven forbid that something could actually be clean and ready to use when you get home, he will scatter the recyclables all over the kitchen to supposedly recycle at some undisclosed point in the future!)

But for other, littler things, getting a few bucks as a consolation prize does help me calm down. I've been keeping a tally of what these little things are, and they are mostly minor annoyances that belong, essentially, to just 2 categories: Forgetting/losing things, and Minor accidents to my person/possessions.

Observe: From the summer of 2013 to the summer of 2014, I accumulated 5-dollar credits for each of the following annoying events (I also had a few odd bucks left over from my last Fund expenditures):
  • For just missing the train and having to wait 10 minutes for the next one and being about 30 minutes late to my destination.
  • For having to drive all the way home from halfway to the store to get a gift card I thought I'd left behind, only to find it stuck to the back of the cell phone I had taken with me.
  • For walking into walls all day.
  • For putting my phone on the charger all night before a trip only to find that the charger hadn't been plugged in.
  • For leaving my bike basket and my cabbage in New Jersey.
  • For forgetting to pick up bunny food from the grocery store.
  • For the air bag light going on again a week after I took the car to the shop, after having gone off right before taking the car to the shop.
  • For having to stop for traffic 6 times on my ride to work when usually it's only once.
  • For wearing only high heels to walk to the bus (when usually I wear sneakers) on the one day the bus was early (thus missing the bus because I couldn't move fast enough).
  • For spilling my cookies all over the floor and then finding my potted plant had spilled all over my bag and then spilling the dirt all over the floor while trying to clean it up.
  • For one dress ruining itself and another dress in the washer thanks to dye transfer, when I'd never even gotten to wear the other dress, since I had spilled oil on it within 15 minutes of putting it on for the first time, and had spent the last three days patiently removing the oil stain.
And for all these tribulations, I bought myself:
    This wild-looking swimsuit for $19.39. I have worn it, but only for a 30-minute jaunt in a hot tub. http://www.dresslily.com/solid-color-bikini-swimming-suit-product358218.html
     
    A pair of fun fun fun thigh-high socks with rainbow on the top, for 5 dollars. Unfortunately, rainbow thigh-highs have proved the most unwearable accessory I've ever owned, since you can't wear thigh-highs to a rave (they'll fall down with all the dancing) but they're too crazy to wear anywhere else!
     
    A hilarious crop top with cat and galaxy print for $12.05. It's pretty much the embodiment of tackiness, and I do have every intention of wearing this one to a rave. http://www.romwe.com/ROMWE-Galaxy-Cat-Print-Sleeveless-Black-T-shirt-p-79889-cat-669.html
     
    This rainbow-colored, ultra-embellished, cat-covered (of course) hippie shoulder bag from a store in Pittsburgh, for 18 dollars. Fortunately, I don't have any trepidations about carrying crazy purses, so this one will probably be gracing my shoulder for the entire month of April!
      As of today, the fund is still up 75 dollars and I'm feeling pretty happy. You hear that, fate? No more sending trouble my way, because I've had enough in the past to last me at least a few more purchases!

      Monday, April 6, 2015

      Sassy ginger molasses sandwich cookie


      Sassy indeed.

      This ginger cookie was one of the sandwich cookies I bought when I discovered the new brand at my local organic grocery store, and like its chocolate sibling, the force was strong with this one. And by "the force," I mean the taste of ginger.

      If you've ever eaten a mouthful of powdered ginger before, well, that's kind of how it felt eating this cookie. Not very sweet, but very strong. And even a little salty. At least it was not too spicy in the painful way. After a few bites, I got used to the flavor, especially because the lemon filling was delicious. Although it didn't taste much like lemon, it was still the high point of this cookie, being rich, creamy, and satisfyingly solid around the edges.

      The texture of the treat as a whole, however, was another story. It was annoyingly crumbly, falling apart all over its package before I even opened it. The softness of the filling filling kind of made up for the excessive dryness of the baked part—if only this cookie had been all filling, I would have loved it! But it was not. It was too messy to eat in the normal way; after a few bites, I put it on a plate and finished it with a fork. That, however, made even the icing crumble! Perhaps I'll give it another chance later, since I ate it 2 days after its sell-by date.

      The Bottom Line

      Taste:3 out of 5 stars
      Texture:2 out of 5 stars
      Price:3 out of 5 stars