Sunday, May 31, 2009

Up For the Win!


Hubbs took me to a movie yesterday - a matinee. I'm so glad for matinees, because when I'm done the movie I still have part of the day left for other stuff, like running errands all over the Greater Van area. ;)

Anyway, we sent to see UP in 3D, the new Disney-Pixar flick. It was the best animated movie I have ever seen, even better than Wall-E (which says a lot since Wall-E is like one of my all-time favourites).

The movie, in case you haven't heard, is basically about an old guy who uses balloons to float his house to South America. After take-off, he discovers a boy-scout-esque kid on his porch, and is forced to take the boy with him on his adventure.

Aside from a few holes in logic in the movie (and don't most make-believe stories have holes in them? Yes.), it tells a very touching tale about a guy and his relationship with his past, as well as his newfound friendship with the kid on his porch. I laughed out loud at the funny parts of the movie, and there were also some very sentimental parts of the movie that made me cry...a lot. Whoever says that this is a kid movie is kidding themselves; UP is predominantly an adult-themed movie that happens to be animated and happens to contain a sufficient number of funny scenes for little kids to laugh at.

**SPOILER** (highlight to read)

What makes the movie so touching and heart-rendering is the first 15 minutes of the flick, which very poignantly describes the loving relationship between the main character (the old guy) and his wife. This back-story explains why he wants to go to South America and also why he doesn't take an airplane to get there; his attachment to his house and his past become like an albatross on his back, weighing him down and holding him back from living the rest of his life. I cried, no, bawled like a baby because as I watched the movie, I could envision Hubbs and I and growing old together. I could feel the sense of loss and loneliness that the main character feels after his wife passes, and it caused me to consider my mortality and my life. Hubbs and I both decided that we probably cannot recommend this movie to our parents or our grandparents without a big fat disclaimer warning them about these first 15 minutes. But what was so sad about the movie also made the movie that much more meaningful, and this is why I think that its main target audience isn't so much the 8 year old, but the adults in the audience.

Anyway, I loved this movie and I would recommend all of you to go and see it. Bring Kleenex, because I didn't and the napkins at the concession are really awful and abrasive on your face. I will probably see it again, though likely not in a theatre, and there is a 100% chance I will be buying the movie when it comes out on DVD (but don't wait til then to borrow it from me; see it in 3D)!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Scratch Not, Itch Not


Eczema is a problem.  It has always been a problem for me, but has exacerbated exponentially since the year that I moved to Hong Kong.  Now, nearly a decade later, I am still grappling with skin issues.

My most recent problems? Massive eczema rashes on both of my upper arms (spreading slowly south of my elbows), a patch of what I think is eczema on my face, and a weird random as-yet-undiagnosed rash on the back of my right hand.  All are itchy.  None have responded to hard core steroid creams.

Before you start wondering if I should be sent to a leper colony for the eczema-ridden, I'm not contagious, and I am seeking medical help in the form of a skin specialist (dermatologist) in a couple weeks' time.  The appointment was made a few weeks ago, but you know how it is with specialists - you have to wait and let things get worse before they can see you; that way, you will have a nice big nasty problem to show them, and maybe then it will be easier for them to diagnose ;)  I kid, I kid...sort of.

Anyway, until that magical day of June 12th, when I expect miraculous healings to occur, I am stuck with major skin itch.  My mom always said that I should never scratch an itch, lest it get worse.  The temptation is huge, though, especially when the itch flares up (which it does several times during the day).  If it's not one arm, it's the other, and if it's not the arms, it's my face, and if not my face, the back of my hand.  Vicious cycles.

My make-shift, non-scientific solution to try to curb the itching? Mineral oil and fragrance, also known as Johnson & Johnson's Baby Oil (original formula).  Believe it or not, the greasy oil helps to tame my burning desire to scratch, because my itch settles down when the oil is applied.  I have no idea why this is, and frankly, I'm a pragmatist and if it works, I really don't care to know. ;)
Anyway, this simple homeopathic remedy has worked on all of my eczema patches, and even on the weird unidentified rash on my hand.  Although the redness isn't completely eliminated, it has gone down somewhat, particularly on my right arm (the one that I don't tend to scratch as much).  

I am trying to find the silver lining in all of this skin-diseased madness.  The only one I've come up with? I smell great, like a freshly bathed baby! ;)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thrifty and Frugal are my Chinese Middle Names


Kidding.  However, it is in my genes to be cheap and to try to spend as little as I can to get what I want; my parents were great inspirations to me of how to live frugally, and those are values I want to one day pass on to my progeny.

My friend Rain recently posted about living within her means, and when she solicited comments, of course opinionated little me had to chime in.  My name isn't Loquacious for nothing, so it's hardly a surprise that my comment ran long and I decided just to make a post out of it.

Rain was asking for other suggestions on ways to live economically and/or lessons learned along the way, and here (edited and extended) were some of my ideas:

1) Tithe first. When finances get tight, it is tempting to give God our last-fruits, not our first-fruits. As the month drags on, that tithe money that you've set aside looks larger and larger. Therefore, if it's not a direct withdrawal tithe, it should be done at the very beginning of the month or the moment that you're paid.  

2) Mix and match. If you mix and match between Dollar Store goodies and regular items, nobody is going to think you or your home looks ghetto; in fact, few will notice.  Some things are just as good at Dollarama as anywhere else, such as small kitchen items, school supplies, craft materials, organizational items, gift bags & wrap, and cleaning supplies.

3) They don't call 'em fillers for nothing.  Learn to add bread or oatmeal to ground beef when making burgers or meatloaf.  That way, you can get bigger and more moist burger patties and loaves for the pound of meat that you bought.  Ditto with adding stuff like celery and chives to tuna salad; increased volumes go a little farther.

4) Get grungy...sort of.  Don't wash your hair every day. It saves water and is better for your hair if you rinse every other day instead.  You'll be using half as much water as if you had to shampoo and condition.

5) Two are better than one.  If you can shower with your honey, all the better!  Half the time, half the water, and twice the fun. ;)

6) Collect points.  Then, take advantage of bonus deals or redemption freebies. I've banked enough Shoppers points to claim over $150 in goods there now; over the past year I've probably redeemed another $75, and all from buying my cosmetics and filling my prescriptions there.  Airmiles collectors can sometimes get 5x the points on certain purchases, or with a coupon; we always shop at the grocery store (Safeway) where we can most effectively collect points that are actually redeemable.  Even our credit card collects points for us; in our case, it gives us Avion points towards flights, and we now have enough on each of our cards to probably fly anywhere within Canada on a short-haul.

7) Become a swag junkie.  If you buy cosmetics during "Bonus Time," you can get some very lovely freebies that will last you another month or two, or even longer.  Things like mini-mascaras, make-up remover, lipsticks and eye shadows, lotions and cosmetic brushes are great for traveling and for those times between when you run out of your regular stuff and another promotion comes up!  All of my current lipsticks are from freebies or gift cards, as are all of my eyeshadows.  My current primer, eye cream, and face cream are also freebies.  In cosmetics, a little goes a long way!

8) Curb your inner boozehound.  Try not to drink alcohol when dining out. That sets you back quite a few dollars, especially with alcohol taxes and such.  Our bills in the past have literally doubled from having just a drink or two each.  If you really need some booze in your system, have a glass before you go out for dinner.  It will usually cost two people as much to have one drink apiece at a restaurant as it is to buy a bottle of decent wine that serves them each two drinks (or more)!

9) Look for free fun.  Creativity is key when you want recreation without having to pay up the wazoo.  However, it's not an impossible task to find ways to be entertained.  Go for walks at the park or go to the park and get on the swings!  Go for a drive around the city (especially the new development areas).  Have a picnic.  Find a firepit and make some smores, or make smores at home! :)  Catch a free movie at the park (they show these in Edmonton during the summer).  Watch TV together with some buttery microwave popcorn.  Borrow a DVD from a friend for a movie night.  You get my drift, right?

10) Walk.  Walk instead of drive if you can.  Park for free further away and walk the remainder to your destination.   Gas isn't that cheap and we know meters are crazy expensive, so why pay when you can help it?

11) Support the locals.  We try to grab our produce from the local market; it's half the cost of produce at Safeway.  We find the fresh seafood from the market is also a little more cost-effective than buying the stale stuff at the grocery store.

12) Need and Want aren't synonymous terms.  The ability to differentiate between the two is huge.  I want new sandals but my survival, my happiness, my health and my safety aren't dependent on having them.  However, I need food to live, and without food my health is put in jeopardy.  Needs always come before wants, and knowing is half the battle to saving money.

13) Freeze and cool it!  Sometimes we freeze stuff we can't consume, like black bananas (for banana bread).  Other times, we stick our food in the fridge; it keeps a lot longer, and well past expiration dates (bread is good in the fridge for like 2 weeks beyond the expiry).  

14) Shop patiently.  One reason why people buy regular priced items is that they do not have the patience to wait for stuff to go on sale.  If you're willing to let time do its work, sometimes you're able to score the things you need at ridiculously reduced prices.  For instance, buying sandals in the fall vs. the spring means you will be able to get them at huge discounts.  For non-essential items like throw pillows or decorative wall art, if you are patient you can wait until you come across an amazing deal on that perfect item before you buy it.

15) Freecycle. No, I didn't make that word up.  It's an email group (there's one in every city) that you can join for free and list items you either want or want to get rid of, also for free.  We got rid of our old TV that way, and when something awesome comes along, we'll be emailing to take advantage of these giveaways.

16) BYO Bottled water?! Evian, Dasani, and all those other brands of bottled water - not necessary.  Bring your own water bottle and save many dollars.  One should never have to pay that much for water, and $1.00 for less than a litre is truly much too much.

Those are just a few ways that we've been thrifty and frugal in the last little while.  Sure, we're big spenders (ask my siblings, they think we're loaded..ha!) when it comes to others, but often when it comes to ourselves, we try to find ways to be economical and shrewd with our dollars and cents.  We aren't experts in the world of savings (not by any stretch of the imagination), but at least we're making the attempt.  

In this day and age when retirement funds and old age pensions are being eaten up by bankrupt major corporations and bail-out government spending, it's never too early to start saving up!

What Does It Take to Get Some Respect Around Here?

I'm pondering the dilemma of professional designations and regulations.  This stems from a discussion my RMT and I were having during my last massage.  She was lamenting the fact that in her profession, there's a wide range of people with varying levels of experience and credentials who go around offering "massage therapy" services.  In her industry, there has been talk of setting up a national standard that would require all registered therapists to have worked and trained a minimum of 2200 hours before getting a formal registration.  Currently, different provinces have different standards and RMTs in AB can get "registered" with one of the multiple bodies after working only a couple hundred hours.  As a result, RMT charges cannot be claimed under personal income tax as a health expense in AB, even though it can in BC (where all RMTs must have well over 3000 hours and are registered with one provincial body).

This chat caused me to think about Hubbs' and my professions.  In education, all teachers are certified by provincial bodies that have different standards across the nation.  The common denominator is the B.Ed. degree, which all teachers must have in order to teach, and the absence of a criminal record.  However, it has been suggested in BC that a professional designation be used to delineate between practising, qualified teachers and those who hold degrees but are not certified to practice.  The rationale is that a designation would offer the profession a bit more respect, since currently the career of "teacher" garners little respect and compensation relative to other professions.  Engineers have designations, as do accountants and doctors and financial analysts.  Why not teachers?

Hubbs' industry is a funny one, where anyone can claim the title of "developer" with little or no formal training whatsoever.  In some ways, his line of work is even less regulated than massage therapy is.  There are no bodies to certify whether a developer is qualified or not, and there are no checks and balances to ensure that consumers are not being ripped off by some "IT professional" who produces a poor and costly product due to their incompetence or ignorance.  How does one determine who is an "expert" in the software development world? Is it the MVP award, given to individuals recognized by Microsoft to be knowledgeable in just one specific area of development?  Or is it the experience of a given individual working within the field over the course of decades?

Of course, not all industries or professions require a designation or registration or a guild.  My sister the banker is promoted through the ranks based almost completely on her ability to manage accounts (a quantitative measure) and build positive relationships with her clients.  These are easily observable products of her competence over time, and movement up the corporate rungs are based on her performance alone; those who do poorly simply never move up very far, and the banking world seems to be sufficiently small that one knows via references who is "good" or not in the city or province.  

My other sister, the Public Affairs Officer with the provincial government, also does not require a union (though maybe she belongs to one?) or a bunch of letters behind her name in order to be seen as an effective staffer.  Again, her work is judged by her peers and her bosses and she will climb the proverbial ladder based on her performance and the services she provides.  

However, I suppose their types of employment are different from RMTs (with a transient clientele), teachers (where recognition as a profession does not translate into respect nor proper compensation), and developers (whose oft-changing clientele ranges from small start-up companies to large government and private corporations).  

On how to regulate, I have no ready answers, but I recognize the complexity of the issue and the need for something to be done in all three cases.  However, I see a problem with any possible quantitative measure, and none appears to be a perfect solution.

1. Education 
With RMTs, the training ranges from a few weeks in a course to four years in a university-type program (my RMT has her B.Sc. in BioChem as well as her 4 years in Massage Therapy training).  Some have no training save for those sketchy massages they offered when they lived in a developing country prior to moving to N. America but I suppose there are a few guys out there who think these therapists are the best ("happy ending," anyone?).  However, as my RMT was telling me, there are some very educated therapists (full 4-years, >3000 hours) in the city whom you wouldn't want to find yourself in a closed room with.  

Teachers all have B.Ed. degrees, but that is no guarantee that they're effective in the classroom.  Some (like many I taught with in HK) have other bachelor degrees and yet are among the best and most creative educators I've seen.  However, both are compensated equally, and not highly, and are treated with little recognition of the training that is involved with such a huge responsibility as educating young minds for the future.

In development, some folks have little formal education but tons of hands-on experience.  Others have 4-year Comp. Sci. degrees but have no idea how to write a test or a decent line of code.  Still others fall in the middle somewhere, with diplomas and certificates and varying levels of experience and ability and training.

So how can education be a criteria? 

2. Experience
This is a slightly better measure, but only in instances where products and services can be quantitatively measured (or qualitatively judged against some perfect standard).  I mean, my "massage therapists" in HK probably had decades of experience (some of them were pretty old) but does that mean they understand the biomechanics of how muscles and tissues and pressure points work?  Maybe, but maybe not.  It is no guarantee.  Just because they worked for many years also doesn't mean that they gave a good massage, either.

I've also met a few teachers who, decades into their profession, are past their prime and need to retire.  These are educators who have tons of experience under their belt, but haven't stayed relevant to technology or new developments in pedagogy over the past couple of years.  As a result, they are only effective in teaching things "the old way" and cannot wrap their brains around inclusive, student-oriented, differentiated instruction or the way to use modern technology in the classroom.  

The development world is even more random.  Some guys, like Hubbs, have been coding since they were 6, but that in itself can hardly count as experience.  However, Hubbs keeps up with what's new in his industry, and he's up to speed with current best practices.  This is what legitimizes his experience and allows him to remain effective in his current role as a software architect with the provincial government.  However, there are just as many people who have decades of dev experience (from adolescence), but all with just a handful of languages and in the same job over those many years.  The result is a lot of experience, but with a limited knowledge base in "legacy code" that isn't very relevant to the ever-advancing .NET 2.0 world of today.

So can experience really be an effective criteria for regulating or designating a profession?  Not in and of itself.

3. People Skills and Products
Some would argue that in the end, it's about an individual's ability to do well with people and produce an end product.  If clients keep coming back to that massage person, whether it's an RMT or a masseuse, the proof is in the numbers.  But how is one to know if the person kneading their flesh is really helping them to work through the knots and help their bodies heal, or if they're just giving them a feel good session with no long-lasting health benefits?  

I've met a few grumpy teachers who count down the days to summer in early October.  These educators may have sufficient people skills to survive the year and even teach a few things to their students before the end of June, but does that make them effective?  Are their kids really learning concepts and big ideas, or just regurgitating information from rote memory?  Those "products" can never really be measured until the next year, or the year after that, when the same students are challenged with more difficult concepts, and must demonstrate an understanding of the fundamentals in order to learn these new ideas.  Unfortunately, those who should not be teaching are sometimes in the classroom, and that's probably where the disregard for education as a trained profession comes from.  

Finally, you've got some developers who can turn out a product, but of such shoddy quality that to maintain it would cost twice as much as it cost to build it in the first place.  The slickster devs out there (or their placement agencies) might talk a big game, but when it comes to producing a viable application using development best practices, they're utterly incompetent.  There are also developers who are so devoid of basic social skills that to interact with a client in a professional, non-passive-aggressive or awkward manner is a virtual impossibility.  They might produce a good product, but their odd interpersonal qualities make them difficult to work with on any team over time.

Can social skills, or workable end products, be a good measure of how a profession is regulated? It paints an incomplete picture, non?

So basically, at the end of the day, I am left to conclude that there are many many factors that go into deciding how any profession is regulated or how designations are assigned.  Not only are there multiple factors to be considered, but each of these must be weighted against the others to come up with some equation that both protects the professionalism of said industry and its members, and also ensures that the clients out there are offered the best possible services from the most qualified individuals.  

I got a full brain today, methinks ;)

Oily Clean! and Smooth as Buttah...

My new ritual before bed is to rub my entire face with oil.  Seriously.  I read about it when I was looking for a new facial cleanser, and after my curiosity was adequately piqued, I headed to my favourite new store (Shoppers Drug Mart Beauty Boutique) to try it out. 

Turns out, if you use the proper kinds of oil, they work really well to pick up the dirt from your face, as well as melt the make-up off.  Then, when you add a bit of water to the rubbed-on oil, it emulsifies and brings the dirty stuff to the surface.  Once you rinse with water, all of your make-up is off, and you end up with this soft skin that hasn't been stripped of its natural oils.

One step! Now I don't even need a separate eye-makeup remover anymore.  I just use the oil.  My product-of-choice is Lancome's Huile Douceur; it has been super gentle on my eyes (which have been itchy and sensitive due to allergies lately), and also incredibly good for my skin, which feels softer now than before (even Hubbs has noticed this).  

Another item that works some serious illusory magic is Clarins' Instant Smooth Perfecting Touch.  It boasts the ability to instantly reduce the appearance of fine lines & wrinkles, and dilated pores.  I was of course skeptical about its claims, and know that pores cannot really be reduced in size.  However, I got this as part of a "bonus" with my new mascara, so I thought I'd give it a go.

It was indeed magical.  The pores beside my nose and on my schnoz, which are the largest on my face, instantly looked smaller upon application.  Wanting to experiment a bit more, I decided to make Hubbs my guinea pig, and applied the cream on his pores too.  I watched with amazement as the pores beside his nose seemed to disappear, while the other pores on his honker also seemed to shrink a little (not as much though, since those are rather large pores - sorry Hubbs! - that will take some serious microdermabrasion to sand down).  Still, it took me by surprise to see that this little cream did such a big job of making our skin smoother...smooth as butter, even! 

So now you know where all of my frivolous spending has been going.  To be completely honest, however, I did go during a promo so I got a free Lancome swag bag of stuff (justifying some of the cost), and the Clarins mascara also came with 2 free mini-products, plus I collected some good Optimum points to boot.  I would never buy if there wasn't a freebie or bonus attached; I'm just that cheap.

For the amount of product I've been pushing on here lately, you'd think someone would send me some free stuff to advertise for them! Sheesh...but hey, if it's good, I like to share, and everyone who knows me knows that I've been representing my fave things, like Advil, pro bono for the last decade.  :)  It's just in me to give ;)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

6 Strikes Against Jen, or Why You Should Avoid Her at Axis Hair


I used to think that anyone with the most basic Hair 101 training can cut bangs.  I also thought that nobody could mess up a trim of my long sleek locks.  I was proven wrong on both counts last week.

My original hairdresser, Jasmine from Axis Hair, upped and moved to Tofino a few weeks ago, and she was not allowed by the salon to contact her existing clientele to let them know the news.  As a result, I didn't find out that she had moved until I called the salon and asked for her; I was left having to find another person to trim my long bangs and even longer hair.  I requested that the reception folks book me in with someone who was as good as Jasmine (whom I liked very much and who was a very good junior stylist), and they set me up with Jen.

When I went in for the trim, I was pretty explicit about my preferences.  I told Jen that I had just been to the salon 3-4 weeks prior, and that I liked having longer bangs that I could either sweep to the side or wear down the front of my forehead.  I also explained that I like longer layers that aren't too obvious in my hair.  She reassured me that she knew what she was doing and she would simply give me slightly shorter layers (for volume) and would trim up my bangs.

I started to worry when large chunks of my hair began falling on the floor; this was bad sign #1.  The second bad sign occured when she tried to part my hair to the side (it normally parts in the middle) and I had to stop and correct her, even though my part should have been painfully obvious to anyone who was paying attenion and knew what they were doing.  

The moment she snipped at my bangs and I saw the end result of said snip, I almost cried; bad sign #3.  She had cut the bangs to the same length as where my eyebrows sit! Given that my preferred length was somewhere around my lower lash line, this was a big problem and I knew I was not going to love this cut.  I mentioned, calmly, that I was concerned that the bangs were too short.  She insisted they weren't.  
Bad sign #4: after she had cut more of just the front layer of my bangs, she began cleaning up the back.  I had to stop her to ask her to cut the remainder of my bangs (which run a little deeper into my scalp and aren't limited to one straight layer across the front).  She then proceeded to challenge me on this decision (bad sign #5) until I absolutely insisted.  As she cut the rest of my bangs, I asked if she could leave those layers a little longer and blend them into my shorter bangs so that I had at least a bit more length in the front.  She insisted she could not do this without the bangs looking even shorter.  

When she had finished with the now-very-short bangs, she asked me if I wanted to have them layered.  Um...NO?!?! If she couldn't layer the longer portion of my bangs to blend with the short front layer, I wasn't about to have her layer them to be shorter than they already were!  I told her absolutely not, and insisted on a blunt bang.

As she blow-dried my hair, she was very quiet.  I think my upset and disappointment came through loud and clear in the tone of my voice, and even though I didn't tell her off, she knew she had messed up royally on my bangs.  When she was done blowing out my hair, she apologized for the bangs being too short for my tastes, even though she remained insistent that they weren't actually too short, and that they looked good.

I left the salon feeling ticked off and disappointed, as well as embarrassed by my stumpy bangs.  Despite reassurances to the contrary by friends and Hubbs, I still could not shake the feeling that this cut sucked arse.  I tried consoling myself with the knowledge that bangs grow quickly and my misery would be short-lived, to little avail.

Jen from Axis Hair needs to go back to beauty school and get more training, or find a new profession.  I realized this when, a few days later, I tried to pull up my hair into a ponytail, only to discover that the "blended layers" she had cut into the length of my hair left me with several very short layers, several chunks of medium-length hair, and two lone chunks of freakishly long hair.  Bad sign #6 is that there was no subtlety whatsoever to the cut, and in the ponytail position everyone could tell that the haircut was poorly executed and blended.  Even Hubbs, who usually makes up something to compliment me and will almost always avoid making critical statements, had to concede that my ponytail looked wacky.

By this time, I had hit my breaking point.  Usually, 3 strikes and you're out.  Now we have 6.  I called the salon in my most panicked and upset voice and demanded a re-cut with a senior stylist who knew what she was doing.  Luckily, such a stylist existed and they booked me in to see her the same day.

When I arrived, the stylist was attentive and pretty quiet as she listened to me rant about the shoddy quality of my haircut.  She grew extra quiet after she examined my jagged ponytail.  She apologetically informed me that the bangs would simply have to grow out; there is nothing she'd be able to do about them.  She then explained that she could help me blend those jagged layers back in while maintaing most of the length, although I knew that this meant that she would have to take off more of the length in the back to even things out.

This stylist was obviously experienced; I could tell by the way that she re-cut my layers and explained things to me.  She also apologized for my crappy experience with Jen, although she was careful not to be critical of her even as I continued to rant about how horrible my initial haircut was.  

In the end, the back of my hair was repaired, even though I lost about an inch and a half from the length.  With this new stylist still there, I tried pulling my hair up in a ponytail to confirm that the layers now looked blended.  They did.

The salon also comped my second haircut, as they rightfully should, and I tipped this new stylist well and also bought a product from her.  However, I'm left wondering if I should ever return to this particular salon (or this location), or whether this was a sign that I should move on to a more upscale and experienced salon like Suki's.

I haven't made up my mind yet, but I'll be that by the time these bangs grow out two months from now, I will.

And now you know...not everyone who goes to hair school knows how to cut bangs, or layers, or hair, period.

BLACKLISTED: Jen from Axis Hair

Tightening the Reins


You know, I had a whole post written about how Hubbs & I were going to eliminate our respective spending on clothes and shoes, and how we were going to limit our dining out, just to try and save a bit more during this recession.

My post was going to be a tongue-in-cheek sort of rant, poking fun at my uncontrolled spending on skin care products and my inability to quit shoe shopping despite having a full shoe wheel and an increasingly-cluttered hallway.  

However, I decided to delete that post even as I was finishing its composition, because I did not want to make light of the very somber reality of these economic times.  I found myself sounding trite, and the last thing I want to do is be careless and flippant with a topic that is for many, a hardship and a reality.

The truth is that Hubbs & I are incredibly blessed, and God in His mercy and grace and infinite wisdom has somehow decided to provide for us in an abundant material (and immaterial) manner, even though there is nothing inherently good or worthy about us that would merit such favour.

Sure, we're not wealthy like many I have met in Vancouver; I would never drop hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on a handbag or a pair of shoes, nor do I own multiple homes with pools and other fancy amenities.  Neither Hubbs nor I zoom around in an import sports car, we don't have time-shares and vacation homes in tropic locations, and by no means can we even pretend to keep up with any "Joneses," but I recognize that in these tough economic times, we are among the blessed.  

Hubbs has a job, and so do I.  Neither of us is in imminent danger of losing our employment, and the work that we do is work that we love.  We have shoes on our feet and clothes on our back (and extras to spare!), and we can afford to buy groceries even though the cost of food is rising.  We have a car to drive and don't have to rely solely on the mercies of public transportation.   We live in a modern, amply-equipped condo in a safe and quiet neighbourhood in downtown Vancouver.  God has allowed us to be debt-free (except for car payments on the new car), so that we won't have to worry when interest rates go up (which they inevitably will).  We don't have to watch the "market" to make sure that our real estate investment or net worth doesn't plummet as the recession deepens.  Unlike so many others, we are healthy (save for a cold here and there).  Even when we get sick, we have health care and extended health benefits to help pay for the bills.  

Do we deserve any of this abundance?  Is this our "reward" for being faithful to God?  If the blessing heirarchy was a meritocracy, nobody would be wealthy or healthy or blessed.  We are all by nature objects of wrath, sinful and fallen and selfish and unacceptable to a holy God.  Nobody deserves anything good, and God is the only source of goodness.  Our material abundance only demonstrates that God is merciful and gracious in His goodness, even to someone as imperfect and self-absorbed as I am.  

I do not claim to understand why God has been so good to us.  I have met many other believers who are far more faithful than I, who "deserve" far greater blessings than I do, and yet sometimes I find myself sitting on the greener grass.  

However, what I do know is that God's will is to be glorified.  This is His greatest desire, and His foremost purpose.  As such, whether we live in need or in plenty, Hubbs & my purpose is to give glory to God and to worship Him.  It is to proclaim Him and to further the work of Jesus on earth.  To that end we strive, and take no blessing for granted.  Instead, our heart's goal is to use what God has entrusted to us to bring Him honour.  

We aren't perfect, of course.  I still spend a bit too much on make-up and shoes, and we still eat out more than we need to (does anyone ever "need" to eat out?!).  However, as the economy falters and the recession moves closer to a depression, we recognize and direct our thanksgiving and hope to the Giver that allows us to live in plenty, and we focus our eyes on Him, and not on what we have been given.

We do not take lightly the tremendous responsibility as well as enormous privilege that we have been entrusted with.  Though I joke about purchasing all sorts of crazy things, the reality is that we try hard to be good stewards of that which we have been given.  We hope that we have been, and will continue to be, faithful in using God's gifts for His glory and for the building of His kingdom.

And in these tough times, we are also being called to be more shrewd and wise with God's gifts.  We are being prompted to tighten the reins on our own selfish spending, and challenged to use what we have even more purposefully for Him.  May we be proven faithful for His name's sake.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Wardrobe...Flashback to 1999


...sort of. I recently found myself shopping at a store that I haven't visited in over a decade. The store? Bluenotes. It's a denim and casual cotton-wear shop that I used to frequent in my early university days, when I was a poor, broke student surviving on cheap pasta and ground meat. After a while, I had to upgrade my wardrobe to more work-appropriate attire, and my visits to Bluenotes became more infrequent. After a while, it was just one of those stores that I'd walk past at the mall and not think twice about going into.

Well, everything changed on the weekend. Hubbs & I were both in the market for some new jeans, but neither of us wanted to drop a ton of money on them since we figured we might be skinnifying a bit in the next few months.

Anyway, after looking at our usual jeans places (without any luck), we came across a Bluenotes and I saw the sale sign prominently displayed across their denim display walls. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I went in and tried on some jeans. In the end, Hubbs & I walked out of there with 2 new pairs each...and all for the same price that we probably would have paid for just one pair of jeans elsewhere. :)

Bluenotes now offers several cuts of jeans, and like many other denim places, sells jeans with various inseams for short, regular, and tall people. This is definitely an improvement from a decade ago, when I don't recall them having jeans in any other length than "standard." Each of their current styles also comes in a variety of washes, which is perfect for me since I am only allowed to wear dark non-faded denim to school when I am teaching, but prefer a slight fade when I'm going out on the town.

Bluenotes' prices are relatively low, even though the quality of the jeans (at least so far) seems to be pretty good. Sure, these pants don't have any fancy brand-name patterns on them, but they make my butt look round and J-Lo-ish, and they sit really well on Hubbs too. Sometimes, brand names aren't necessary if the clothes look good, right?

Anyway, I'm pleased to see that I can still shop at these stores, even a decade later, and it pleases me even more to know that they sell stuff that I can fit and wear comfortably. Quite frankly, I don't mind if my wardrobe is reverting back to 1999 so long as I'm only paying 1999 prices ;)

Halo and Cookies


Sometimes topics just don't segue properly, and this is one of those times. ;)  Two things I recently discovered to be awesome are:

1) Smashbox Halo Hydrating Perfecting Powder Mineral Make-up
and 2) 3-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies.

The first - HALO - is my newest mineral make-up discovery.  I am still a big Pur Minerals fan, and its lightweight coverage is all that I need, most of the time.  However, for those days when my colouring is a bit rough, or when I have circles under my eyes and need a little more *correction,* I've been turning to Smashbox's Halo Hydrating Perfecting Powder.  It's a costly powder, to be sure (nearly twice as much as the entire Pur Minerals starter kit for just one powder), but it contains pure gold, it has hydrating properties, it fills in fine lines, and it offers mondo coverage.  It's also not messy, since it has a built in "shaver" that you turn to dispense the amount of powder that you want.  No waste!  

I love how even my skin looks after I've applied Halo, and it also feels lightweight (though perhaps not quite as light as the Pur).  If I use the Light Photo Finish primer by Smashbox before this powder, it makes applying the powder even easier, and the result is a totally smooth complexion.  The last few times I've used Halo, Hubbs has commented on how beautiful I look.  I'm pretty sure it's the powder ;)

The second - 3-Ingredient, Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies.  These things are the tastiest and easiest cookies I've ever baked.  How easy is it?  Let's see:

1) Preheat oven to 350F.
2) Mix in 1 cup of PB, 1 cup of sugar (or 1/2 cup of Splenda brown sugar), and 1 egg.
3) Shape dough into cookies and make a fancy forking pattern through the middle of each cookie.
4) Bake for 8-10 min. on a parchment lined tray.
5) Cool on tray for another 5-7 minutes, then cool on a rack.

I made these cookies in record time, and they are soft and sweet and so tasty (especially with a nice cold glass of milk).  Hubbs & I tried these cookies a few weeks ago at small group, and the other day I saw a TV segment of someone making the very same cookies.  It wasn't hard to memorize the recipe and convince me to give it a go.  The results? Delicious.

Anyway, those are my two new favourite things for now.  If/when I discover more goodies, I'll let you know. :)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Slow Saturdays Warrant Self-Indulgent Meme-ing


There are days when you wake up and the sun is shining expectantly on your face, waiting for you to haul fanny out of bed and do something with your life.  Those days are productive, and you feel pretty good about yourself by the time you hit the pillow in the evening.  

Then there are days like today, when the sun is barely poking its face out from behind the massive cloud cover overhead, and you wake up to the dreary gray day feeling as quick and nimble as a geriatric snail (I'm guessing on this one but you get the idea).  You feel like you could stay in bed all day, and wait for the sun to emerge again before leaving the comfort of your warm, soft surroundings.

I woke up at a respectable 7:00 a.m. this morning, and decided after breakfast to return to bed.  Hubbs & I have been out to eat a few times this week, and I feel like my week has been eventful and productive thanks to the awesome temperatures and bright days.  Today, however, the sun decided to sleep in, so I figured I was justified in crawling back into bed.

Now, however, at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon, there's little justification for sleeping (unless I was still down with bronchitis, which I am not any longer).  So, what to do?  We're thinking of heading to see Wolverine tonight...maybe.  We also think we'll be going out for dinner, but we haven't decided much about the details of that yet.  I'm supposed to go pick up some more Pur Mineral make-up at the drugstore but I'm not yet convinced that I want to go outside.  Yeah, it's just one of those days ;)

Time, then, for a meme.  When the clouds come out to play, so does my inner biatch.  It's loads of fun, especially for Hubbs ;) 

The Word Association Meme, brought to you by the letter S and the number 6.

1. Where is your cell phone? ………….Purse

2. Your significant other?…………….…Couch

3. Your hair? ……………………….…… Dirty

4. Your mother? …………………………Home

5. Your father?……………………………Coffee

6. Your favorite thing?…………………... Hubbs

7. Your dream last night?……………….. Sex (too much info, I know)!

8. Your favorite drink? ……………………Lavaflow

9. Your dream/goal?……………………... Kids

10. The room you’re in?…………………. Dining

11. Your ex?………………………………. Dead (to me, anyway)

12. Your fear?…………………………….. Bugs

13. Where do you want to be in 6 years?…….. Vancouver

14. Where were you last night?………….. Out

15. What you’re not?……………………… Tall

16. Muffins?………………………………..  Soy

17. One of your wish list items?………….. Sectional

18. Where you grew up?………………….. AB

19. The last thing you did?………………... Eat

20. What are you wearing?………………... Comfy

21. Your TV?………………………………... Off

22. Your pets?………………………………. None

23. Your computer? ………………………... On

24. Your life?……………………………….... Meh. (It's great, really, just a little boring today.)

25. Your mood?……………………………… Gray.

26. Missing someone?……………………… No.

27. Your car?…………………………………. Parked

28. Something you’re not wearing?…….. .... Contacts

29. Favorite Store?………………………….. Shoppers

30. Your summer?………………………….... Busy

31. Like(love) someone?……………………. Hubbs

32. Your favorite color?……………………… Blue

33. Last time you laughed?………………..... Hubbs

34. Last time you cried?……………………..  Forget

35. Who will re-post this?……………………. Nobody

On an unrelated note, it seems that our windows have officially been elevated from dirty to disgustingly filthy.  Those spiders that I mentioned months ago have now hatched, and baby webs dangle from the exterior ledges in random patterns that become ever-visible in the reflected light of the sun.  There are also smears of bird droppings running down the windows, which I'm sure isn't hygienic, and could prove to be hotbeds for disease.  

Upon careful inspection one can even see the nasty full webs in some of the ledge corners, and I'm sure there are a few bugs stuck in those orbs, but I try not to look too carefully.  Some of the baby spiders have also found their way into our place, putting me on vigilant web-cleaning duty yet again for the next few weeks or until our building gets its crap together and finally washes our disgusting windows.  I am not pleased.

Anyway, now for a Hubbs that in theory he should complete himself, but since he doesn't do the meme thing, I will do it for him (with his permission, of course!).

1. Boxers? Briefs? Boxer briefs? Thongs? Commando?
- Boxers and boxer briefs.  Anything less is unacceptable in his books (and mine).

2. What’s your fussiest personal care routine?
- Where to start? Hubbs has several tools for hair removal from various parts of his face and body.  He washes his face with multiple scrubs and cleansers, and moisturizes afterwards.  He then applies his Shiseido eye cream, blow-dries his hair with the diffuser on (using the positive ions setting from our tourmaline ion dryer), and styles said hair with a couple of different styling products.  In between those times he also puts on deodorant and cologne.  I'd say that it takes him nearly as long as it takes me to get ready, but then again he would probably dispute this claim since I do take a long time.

3. Do you have a favorite tool? Power or manual?
It's the Bodygroom by Philips.  It's waterproof, rechargeable, and electric (not manual).  Hubbs doesn't do power tools of the home-repair/reno variety.  He's just not wired that way.

4. Can you change your own oil? Do you?
Hubbs probably can, but I'm not totally sure of that.  He knows how to check it, though, but prefers to get someone at the dealership to change it for us.

5. What’s the “manliest” thing you do on a regular basis?
He provides. ;) He also takes out the garbage.  I don't know what manly things are...he belches, farts, and chews with his mouth open, but only on occasion.  Oh, but he does do air guitar.  Only guys do that.

6. What’s something “manly” that you never learned how to do?
Home repairs/renos.  Hubbs has also never learned how to chew & spit tobacco, scratch himself in public, wear a beer-brand T-shirt, and drive a truck.  Frankly, he's a better person for it, IMHO.

7. Do you ever cry? If so, what’s your trigger?
Hubbs never cries, or at least, he has never cried in the 6.5 years that I've known him.  I'll bet that if he got "canned" or something, he'd get tears in his eyes.  Sometimes when he laughs too hard his eyes water too, but I don't think those situations count as "crying." 

8. Do you have a chivalrous streak? How does it manifest itself?
Hubbs is chivalrous to his own detriment.  He carries *all* of the groceries himself, even when there are over a dozen bags to carry up.  He usually does this all in one trip, too, which I find incredibly stupid.  He opens doors for me, he pays, he carries my shopping bags, he helps me with my jacket, and all those typical things that make a guy a "gentleman," he pretty much does.  He's a sweetie! :)

 9. Do you have a chauvinistic streak? How does it manifest itself?
Yes, Hubbs does.  I won't get into details, but I think his chauvinism is limited to me, and not women in general.  I also attribute it to the fact that in his mind, he perceives me as a cute animated cartoon character, and not a full-grown adult woman.

10. What’s your favorite movie?
Hubbs says it's 300, Zoolander, and Driving Miss Daisy (don't ask).

11. What’s the dumbest, testosterone-inspired thing you’ve ever done?
Gone on a canoe trip hitching his canoe to one with a motor.  

12. What quality do you think makes a good man good? Do you have that quality?
Integrity, and Hubbs has that in spades.  He is also a big fan of honesty and faithfulness, both of which he possesses.

13. Toilet seat up or down?

14. If your wife/partner/significant other is away, do you cook for yourself or eat out of cans and boxes (or rely on local drive-throughs and delivery)?
He scavenges the fridge looking for already-cooked or easy-to-prepare foods, and then if Hubbs runs out of these, he'll inevitably find his way to a Subway or a Quizno's, as well as the local Save-On-Foods or Urban Fare for some emergency supplies.  While I'm gone, the only pot he'll use is the frying pan.  He might also use the grill.  The rest of the pots will without a doubt remain untouched.

15. What societal expectation of being a man do you most resent?
Hubbs doesn't really subscribe to social "expectations."  He follows Jesus Christ, and he does what the Bible says.  So I guess he really doesn't resent any of these expectations since they don't factor into his life.

16. What’s the best part - societal-wise - about being a man?
Hubbs said that the best part is that he doesn't have to dress all skanky-like, or in skimpy clothing, to be appealing to the opposite sex, or to climb the corporate ladder. 

17. Will you stop to ask for directions?
Hubbs would probably point to his head and say, "Internal GPS."  Usually he relies on the GPS or on his map-reader (me) to navigate us to our destination.  He will ask for directions, but very very rarely.  As in almost never.

18. What’s the one thing you wish your wife/partner/significant other understood about how you think or behave?
Nothing, says Hubbs.  He claims that I understand him pretty well.  After all, I *do* have a degree in psychology ;)

19. What’s one thing about your wife/partner/significant other that you just cannot understand, no matter how hard you try?
Ooh...there are many things about me that are a mystery to Hubbs.  Here's a list of just a few things:
-why it takes me so bloody long to put on make-up or why I wear make-up at all
-why I think certain outfits are "skanky" and "slutty" when he figures women are just trying to show off their bodies
-how I can be so intelligent and yet subscribe to eastern medicine and old wives' tales when it comes to medication and how the body works
-how I can switch moods at the drop of a dime
-why I wear sexy shoes that aren't comfortable to walk in when I know I'll have to walk even a few blocks
-how I organized our kitchen; he still can't locate a lot of our stuff

20. What do you need to have in the shower?
Body wash, several shampoos, a good conditioner, a mirror, and his razor.

21. Do you burp/fart/scratch in public? Do you do anything stereotypically male?
No, Hubbs is pretty polite about that stuff.  Sometimes he'll burp but he'll keep his mouth closed so as not to belch and be offensive.  I can't think of one thing that Hubbs does that's stereotypically male, although I'm sure he does do some things that somebody will think is typical of guys.  

22. How big a part does porn play in your life? Your thoughts?
Maybe before he knew Jesus, as a young adult I'm sure he dabbled in it.  However, nowadays Hubbs hates porn and he does not view it nor condone the viewing of it.  It plays no part in his life, and to my understanding, he never thinks about it either.  
23. What scares you?
Heights, mutilated stuffed animals and puppets, and really long escalators.  Oh, and putting stupid people in charge of anything.

24. What’s your best feature (physical or otherwise)?
Hubbs thinks his sense of humour and his relationship with Christ are his best features.  I think that in addition to those, his loyalty, trustworthiness, honesty, his smile, and his ass are among his best features.
25. What would you do for love?
He already did it.  He married me! ;)