Waiting for a Volcano

My family moved to Alaska in 1990, a year after the last volcanic explosion. I remember the Asian tourists wouldn't go outside for all of 1990 without white face masks and people sold souvenir ash in little jars for months. Alaskans are amazed whenever we see the rest of the country paralyzed by natural disasters or cold weather, canceling school and hunkering down at mere -20F temperatures. We have never experienced runs on bleach and double-A batteries in the face of a hurricane.

Our natural disasters usually are of the Earthquake variety, which you don't know are coming and can't dread while watching them advance. We just keep a few canned goods and our typical "stuck in the ditch" survival kit from the car which we use to survive until help comes when we run off the road in the winter avoiding a moose. The most we prepare for is tsunamis in the coastal areas and where to stand/brace/hide in an earthquake. So, knowing that Mt. Redoubt is going to explode in advance is really freaking them out.

The volcanic ash will probably spew 30-50,000 feet and isn't the silty stuff you find in your fire place, but more of abrasive volcanic rock particles. If it gets into the jet stream it could probably give a few frequent fliers some heart-burn. In Anchorage they are making runs on hardware stores buying dust masks, goggles and tarps to cover their cars so their paint jobs won't be messed up when they wash the abrasive ash off. Its not going to be one of those cool lava volcanoes like they have in Hawaii, *sigh* everything is better/warmer in Hawaii. In Fairbanks we don't have anything to worry about, but a few people who moved up from Florida are buying bleach, just in case.



Have a Cup of Tea

It's Friday, have a cup of tea, it revives you. I'll be posting over the weekend a response to one of the questions I get asked a lot.

I want this teacup from Bailey Doesn't Bark, but it's out of my price range at $53.00. Available on Etsy.


Things Hubby Says

You have no idea what fear the 4 words "I'm starting another project." brings me!


Help for Military with Finances

This is a post I was sharing with fellow military families in my husband's unit. I have edited out the non-applicable parts before posting it here, but it is still geared towards Army and Reserve. I found the response that I got pretty surprising. I didn't realize how few soldiers knew what resources were out there for them so I'm posting it here, just in case it is useful to anyone.

Finances are always an issue that all families, not just military ones struggle with. So this months topic is financial readiness and resources for you.

I don't know where to begin!
Attached you will find a pdf copy of Suze Orman's 2009 Financial Plan book. (This was available as a free download fro Oprah.com for a week, but is now pretty easy to find on Google. You can also buy it here.) It is an easy read that teaches you a lot of terms that I found confusing, and gives you step-by-step actions that you can take to get yourself off to a sound financial start for 2009. It is also written very recently so it takes the current "bad market" into account in all of its advice.

I'm so disorganized!
When can you throw that receipt, bank statement, check book register, etc. away without panicking (assuming you shred it of course). Suze Ormon ~ Financial Clutter, What To Keep And What To Get Rid Of

Can I talk to somebody locally?
The Army has an office on most posts called Army Community Services, and each of them have a Financial Readiness Program (FRP) whose goal is to assist all soldiers, retirees, and families with improving their financial situations. Our local post is Fort Wainwright and they have a Financial Readiness Program Handbook that will give you a good idea of what these types of programs have to offer.

I need new ideas, I'm stuck!
Money for Military - This daily blog offers tips geared towards military members and their dependents. Everything from how to get military pricing on Disney Land tickets to GI Bill advice. http://www.moneyformilitary.org/ (look here for older posts: http://moneyformilitary.blogspot.com/)

Two of my other personal favorites, albeit without a military spin, just common sense:
Get Rich Slowly - http://getrichslowly.org/blog/ (just like dieting, saving takes time, but is worth it)
My Money Blog - http://www.mymoneyblog.com/ (this guy dug himself out of $35,000 in debt and shares his advice)

Where should I focus first?
Do I have too much debt?
How do I start saving?
Do I have enough insurance?
None of the above, but still confused?

Companies like USAA offer financial advice as well as banking/insurance services. Military One Source can also point you in the right direction. Either call their 1.800.342.9647 number or go to their website. (http://www.militaryonesource.com) They have a whole separate Money section, customized for Army Reservist and their families.

Military OneSource, in partnership with National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), offers six counseling sessions per financial issue, per calendar year for each eligible client. These confidential sessions are available to active-duty, Guard, and Reserve members (regardless of activation status) and families located in the U.S. For those unable to attend in-person counseling or in locations where in-person counseling is not available, Military OneSource will provide telephone consultations.

I hope this helps you get off to a great start in the new year.


New Orleans in an Hour

There is nothing like air travel to make you wish more people were fans of TLC's "What not to Wear." You know how they call those lower-back tattoos that girl's get "tramp stamps"? Well, I think the air travel equivalent is the Victoria's Secret Pink collection sweat pants. You know the type, where regardless of brand, it looks like they rolled out of bed, slid into their Uggs and threw their hair in a pony tail? Whether their ass says Victoria's Secret, Juicy, or something else, the message is the same, "I don't care what I look like right now, I'm just being crammed like a piece of cattle into a steel tube for 6 hours, don't talk to me."

I flew to New Orleans for a meeting this weekend and I must say there is nothing like the red eye to bring out the best in public displays of pajama wear. I had the misfortune to be routed through Houston. Now that's an airport I dread. We landed 5 minutes after my next flight began boarding. And Houston isn't one of the big airports that has made it easy to get around. Instead I'm sprinting through the airport avoiding the people who should have to pass a test before being allowed to drive wheeled luggage, don't understand what the phrase "walk left, stand right" means on the moving walkways, and generally desired to get wherever they were going without acknowledging the presence of any other humans along the way because otherwise they would have to realize that they are standing around in public in their pajamas.

By the time I arrived in New Orleans I was wasted. The red-eye always does that to me. The last time I was in NOLA it was the Saint Patty's Day before Katrina. The french-quarter has come back rather well, but the area to the East of town is still hard-hit. A friend of mine who has lived in NOLA his whole life and who has traveled the world with me took me out for dinner. K-Paul was the restaurant. Chef Paul Prudhomme is the 2nd most famous NOLA chef to Emeril, but the best cook (according to my local friend who has all of both of their cookbooks anyway). I ordered all traditional local food which was both fresh and delicious. I avoided the traditional alcohol choices after my long flight and went with an Old Fashioned instead. The gumbo was dark and delicious and the seafood topped veal was to die for. I highly recommend it.

The next day was my meeting, which ended 3 hours before my return flight, not leaving a ton of time to look around. You can walk most of the french quarter in about an hour and get a good feel of what all is there. Having already been there once I didn't feel the need to go out at night and "experience NOLA." I've already seen enough co-eds, green barf, beads, and female-impersonators to get the sense of that part of town. I've also seen the art museum, historical neighborhoods, graveyards, the super dome, and driven the surrounding area, so a quick walking tour was enough to give me the sense of the place again. I was tempted to skip my walking tour and go to the Nine West shoe outlet instead, because really, shopping in Alaska stinks, but I resisted the temptation.

The best way to see NOLA is definitely on foot. Stroll along, admire the iron work, buildings, have a few drinks and soak in the environment around you. Then come back at night and watch how everything transforms. Here is my quick walking map that takes about an hour at a slow stroll and takes you down Chartres (pronounced Charters), over to the waterfront, down past the artists set up around the Cathedral and then back through the heart of the action along Bourbon Street. Here is a map of a few places I saw and a short 1 hour walk. There are tons more places to go so Google the tourism bureau before you go, or better yet, try and get a local to show you around.


Have a Cup of Tea

Have a sip of tea. It revives you. I'll be back soon with updates from my last two weeks!
Tea cup shown is from Zara home and is their Maya Tea Cup.


Am I Ready to Give up my Right-Click Button Privledges?

We have a planned tech-refresh cycle at our house. Rather than impulsively buying the iPod, digital camera, cell-phone, or computer that we crave as we used to do, we plan these purchases and buy them at specific intervals based on how far technology has advanced and how well our current tech meets our needs. We used to buy a new computer every time the game that we just bought no longer met the minimum requirements for memory/hard drive space etc.. Now we buy a more expensive computer, but keep it longer, usually 3-4 years. My laptop was on its last legs after 4 years and was getting so frustrating to use that I basically didn't use it except to download photos off of my digital camera. My blogging slowed/stopped, I lost touch with friends, hadn't updated Facebook in months, and basically had to buy a new one.

I travel 150,000 miles a year and hate to lug my 7+ pounds of current laptop, not including chargers or other accessories. Most of my flights are over 3 hours in length so battery life is important and only 2-3 of them are international trips so the seats don't usually have chargers. Like the engineer that I am I tried to quantify my laptop buying decision to help my naturally indecisive nature. I wrote down all of the characteristics that were important to me, ranked how important they were on a scale of 1-5, then ranked how well each option met that characteristic and multiplied the two then added up the total points. It went something like this:

Some of the Characteristics:
Light Weight (worth 4 points)
Cost (worth 2 points)
Long Battery Life (worth 5 points)
Reverse compatible with Windows XP (worth 5 points)

Macbook = 5*4+2*2+5*5+4*5=69 points
Dell XPS = 4*4+4*2+3*5+3*5=54 points

I was totally floored when I ranked all of the options and ended up having the 13.3" Macbook come out on top. I resisted, I went and looked at my numbers to see if I could tweak it and get the XPS Dell that I thought I wanted to come out on top, but then I stopped and realized that I was defeating the purpose of the ranking system in the first place, to take emotion out of the decision. So I took the plunge and am now the owner of a 13.3" Macbook. Ack, "what have I done?" was the sensation as soon as I hit the final purchase button.

What will my geek/nerd/tech guy friends think?

That just cost me how much?

Oh my God, my laptop has a glowing Apple on it! Can I find a sticker thick enough to cover that?

And once the laptop arrived I continued having questions:

How the heck do I right-click?

Where is the Home button? Or the End button for that matter?

How in the world do you get the cd to eject? Uninstall something? (Drag to trashcan!)

After a week, the Mac still didn't have a name. I definitely decided that she was a SHE and not a he like Fred, Fred Jr. Freddie and Felix before her. I hated not having a native copy of Microsoft Office installed and didn't understand gestures.

Then, after that first week, things began to click. I discovered how to right-click, how to Home, End, uninstall, eject, and a bunch other things. I discovered how everything was designed to go so well together and what a difference that can make. And, as you've probably noticed, I'm blogging again.


How to Annoy Me

I work a salaried job, but if you work weekends you're supposed to let your supervisor know and get their permission. So I walked into my boss's office and said: "I know that my project needs more of my time if it is going to be done on time so I plan on working this weekend. Is that ok?" He turns to me and says: "That was my expectation." Um, how am I supposed to know what your expectations are if you don't tell me? This is the same guy that complained about my communications skills at my performance evaluation. Otherwise good to work for, just hard to fulfill expectations when they aren't communicated, *sigh*.

~Yes, I stole the tagline from Dooce, but the content is all mine.


Way to Win Hubby Points

Hug me before you pet the cat even though he's so excited you're finally home from work that he's jumped up on your back and wrapped himself around your shoulders like a fur stole.


Not Everyone is Cut Out for Napping

The fact that people say you should get 8 hours of sleep a night really is an average. My husband for instance continually amazes me be cheerfully hopping out of bed, eating breakfast, dressing in a color coordinated outfit, feeding the cats, brushing his teeth and washing his face plus occasionally showering and shaving before leaving for work. I, on the other hand, with an equal amount of sleep barely manage to assume a mind over mattress vertical orientation after the 3rd snooze button session, eating no breakfast, and wake up at my desk 20 minutes after leaving my pillow wondering who let me out of the house in that outfit and grateful that I at least have something on both my top and bottom and wishing that I kept a hairbrush and toothbrush at work, not to mention makeup and a spare outfit.

There will always be people who can live with 4-8 hours a night and "not only walk the following morning, but also make remarkably informed fashion decisions; and those of us who need "eleven" or more hours of sleep if we even hope to fall successfully onto the wooden floor beside the bed." as Dooce says.

Like Dooce, I remember taking kindergarten naps. The other kindergartners would bring balls to throw back and forth during nap time, eager for the time when they could all hop up and begin doing kindergarten things again. I on the other hand could completely zonk out and get some real rest during that time. My husband falls into a whole other category. I imagine him lying on the mat in kindergarten, his teacher shaking him awake, wiping the drool off of his face and creating a complete zombie for the rest of the afternoon. He may be able to fully function on only 6 or 7 hours of sleep instead of my 9-11 hours, but that man just isn't cut out for napping. As much as he may whine about wanting a nap I know its better to just send him packing to bed, because if he naps he'll be a zombie for the rest of the evening. Amazingly enough the man can sleep on planes like a baby whereas I, who fly 150,000 miles a year, can't sleep at all. I guess there are trade-offs. Wouldn't want both of us to be the same way, we would either never both get to work on time in the morning or both walk around airports like zombies unable to string a sentence together.


Detoxing from Anderson Cooper

After spending months rushing home and flipping on the tv to veg on the political fodder for hours each night I've found the last month to be a period of almost detoxing. Instead of abstaining from alcohol, smoking, or a toxic relationship I've been cutting back on the amount of hours spent watching a combination of Anderson Cooper 360 and BBC World News and hitting reload on several news sites at work. In fact I had no idea that there was a war going on other than the two obvious ones until I heard it on the radio in between U2 and Enya (I know, what a combination!) It's probably healthier this way, but I should stay a tad better informed. I will still keep Anderson Cooper on my list of people I'd love to meet in real life, despite my psuedo crush on him Colin Firth and Timothy Dalton. Maybe I should subscribe to Time or News Week for my news, the tv and internets can suck up so much time.


12th Day of Christmas

On the 12th Day of Christmas my husband and I breathed a collective *sigh* of relief as we blew out the candles of our Christmas wreath candles, took down our string of Christmas cards off of the wall and sat down to enjoy some homemade ice cream.

If there is one thing about -45F to -50F overnight lows, it definitely speeds up the creation of homemade ice cream. What normally takes a trip to the grocery store to procure or 4-5 hours to freeze when made from scratch and placed in the freezer can be made simply by sticking milk, sugar and vanilla in a pitcher on the back porch for an hour. It has been so cold this week with temperature peaking at -30F, but mostly staying around the -40F to -45 range. So cold your eye-balls hurt just walking to your car. So cold that we haven't gone grocery shopping in 3 weeks because we just want to race home and climb under our down comforter and watch Netflix on my laptop rather than running around grocery shopping or doing other important things like buying socks and sweaters. As the days drag on and the cold front switches to coming from Canada instead of Siberia the most intelligent thing I have thought/realized is that -40F equals -40C so I don't have to do math to tell my friends in Croatia how cold it is, I can universally complain! My poor brain is frozen.

We have long since run out of groceries that we bought with a specific purpose aka a recipe in mind. We are getting increasingly creative/desperate. Last night we made ice cream from scratch out of sheer desperation from our lack of dessert options. (We were soooo spoiled by Christmas choices.) Tonight we made a well balanced dish consisting of rice (starch) with parsley flakes (that's a veg right) and bacon bits (our protein). Mmmmm... Mmmmmm... Tomorrow we may have to actually go shopping because *gasp* we're out of Bisquick and life without waffles just isn't worth living.

WW Update

Finally had the courage to get back on the scale again today and found out I weigh the same to the 1/10th of a pound what I did on 12/4/08 or the day of my last WW meeting. Ok, holiday didn't totally undo everything and the WW principles totally helped me avoid my typical 5 pound gain and associated guilt. I still need to lose weight, but not more than I did when I started. Yay, go me. Now to tackle my Pilates DVD that arrived in the mail from Blockbuster online.


11th Day of Christmas

On the 11th Day of Christmas my husband gave to me his patience while I watched Mamma Mia and ranted on how Colin Firth should never be cast in a role where he turned out to be gay. I guess upon further research it is true to the original Mamma Mia character, but yeah, enough said. He also dutifully helped me take down the Christmas tree a little early because the actual 12th Day of Christmas is a work day and it would be far easier to take care of those things on the weekend. Our Christmas season this eyar has been full of friends, family and way too much food. We had a traditional and non-over-the-top Christmas, which was relaxing if not particularly memorable. I won't have another day off of work besides weekends for a few months so I'm savoring my last day off of work.


10th Day of Christmas

On the 10th day of Christmas, my husband gave to me 4 hours more of cleaning and scrubbing the house, folding laundry and his new favorite chore vacuuming with not a single complaint. I won a chef for the day and they will be coming over shortly and he thankfully understands my compulsion to clean my house before letting other people come over. Having guests over is a good way to keep our house clean.


9th Day of Christmas

On the 9th day of Christmas my husband gave to me my very own Dyson DC25 Animal because he saw me getting in a clean/purge/organizing mood and was totally on board with that so he enabled me to keep going. He then had so much fun putting together said vacuum and trying it out that he didn't want to surrender his 220 air watts of powerful sucking action and vacuumed the whole house. An embarassing several canisters of dirt later the house is looking good. Now we're off to snuggle and watch another disc worth of House Season 3.


8th Day of Christmas

On the 8th day of Christmas my hubby gave to me one copy of Apples to Apples and Pictionary (because he knows I love having people over), 2 rubbers of bridge, and he brought my own dessert to his parent's house because he knew I wouldn't like what they were making (although the rest of dinner was delicious, I appreciated his thoughtfulness).