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Travel Simplicity for 13 Destinations is One $10 Tool Away

Okay, fine. Bill and I haven’t actually got 13 destinations we go to regularly, and with our cross-country move1 one of destination (New York City) will be a lot less common. However, this little piece of plastic has dramatically helped us over the years, and even with a likely reduction in travel, will still be used constantly.

Nope. Not a credit card. A a check organizer.

A closed check organizeer against a grey background.

Travel to the same places often enough, and you are going to pick up things like transit RFID cards and loyalty cards. A check organizer is the perfect place to store them.

You may be wondering why it’s worth it to pick up transit cards when you travel. Even if you do not live in any given city, they are still convenient, and will save you money. In Chicago, you can only purchase single ride passes (no transfers or similar) without purchasing a transit card. In the San Francisco Bay area, only their Clipper card will get you all all the different forms of transit there AND the street cars cost less when using the Clipper card versus paying with cash. (This is so important for the Bay Area that we really did buy a second round of Clipper cards when we lost our first set; since found.)

Four clipper cards and one Long Now membership card, half in its sleeve.

Loyalty cards are useful for far more obvious reasons, but they’re easy to misplace. It really sucks to have purchased nine out of the ten coffees you need to get a free one, only to forget or misplace it for the next time you go. (Staying in a hotel with a coffee shop across the street? You could rack up those nine coffees faster than you think.)

In the check organizer, I also store anything small and necessary for a trip to a particular city. So, for example, Bill wanted to reinstitute his Long Now membership, so we popped his membership card in there for his next trip to San Francisco. As it happens, he’s there right now, so hopefully he remembered to renew it.

And, as I typed this out, I realized that I OUGHT to be storing our Southwest Airlines drink coupons in there. Right now they live on the fridge with intentions for me to remember them “next time.” That never happens. If I slid them in the front of our check organizer, I could just grab them every time I fly.

As for the check organizer itself, any kind will do. I got mine at Container Store, and I like that mine can be stretched to stand up on its own. Mostly that’s because it has a large capacity, and some of the cities we visit (say, any place we have lived) have a lot of associated cards. If you don’t have a ton of cards, this may not matter to you.

An open check organizer, labeled with several cities such as PDX, ABQ, NYC, and more.

I truly cannot recommend a check organizer enough for keeping your transit passes, loyalty cards, and other city-specific ephemera together, especially if you travel to the same cities time and again. It’s one spot to keep all of these things organized by city, and it will pay for itself with a few free coffees (or leftover rides on transit cards) the next time you visit your sister, friends, and/or second office.

The link to Amazon in this post is an affiliate links. Click here to read more about that.


1 And, for the record? If you end up moving to a place you used to visit a lot, this thing is even more handy in that initial move. Why? Because you already know exactly where your transit passes and loyalty cards. Ask me how I know! (Portland. We moved to Portland, which was previously a place we visited at least once a year.)

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What Would YOU Give to Help Someone Get Ready to Go?

One of my friends, I think Jen, asked me if I was going to write a gift guide here, as she liked the two I did over on MetaCookbook. I have to admit it hadn’t crossed my mind. It’s not that I don’t have ideas for useful things for travel (lots of this blog is about that!) but that I rarely give gifts out of this category.

Bill and I have, many times, given someone an Aeropress Coffee Maker, but I think that is literally it in “travel”. We have, once, received some very short extension cables that have honestly made our lives easier both at home and while traveling, and I’d give them away at this point, if I knew someone else could make good use of them. However, beyond that, I’m at a bit of a loss.

A close up of an Aeropress.

So, after pondering the request for awhile, I realized I should just ask if you have recommendations!

What’s one travel-related item you’d love to give or receive?

Big or small, it doesn’t matter. I’m very curious what you find endlessly useful enough (like we do the Aeropress) to give to someone else when it’s relevant. I’m going to be taking notes, and thinking more about this for next year.

The links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links. Click here to read more about that.

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Got Ready to Go: Ireland!

A note from Tasha: The title is because my cousin, Sarah, wrote me this back in July, and I totally dropped the ball on getting it up. I hate to admit that, but honesty is, as always, the best policy. There’s a lot of good suggestions in here, particularly for you KNITTERS, so check it out for your next trip overseas! (And definitely read to the post script.)

First, a brief introduction: I am Tasha’s cousin. Err, well, my husband is her second cousin once removed. Turns out we are kindred spirits and I’m happy to call her family, so when she buttered me up and asked me to write a guest post I said yes. It just so happens that I am going to Ireland with my family for 12 days (with 11 family members in total, yikes!) so no better time than the present!

I am an obsessive list maker and packer. My dad taught me to pack a bag in a very precise manner which maximizes space, a skill the rest of my family do not possess, which we have termed “Tetris brain.” If I go on a short trip where we won’t be moving around much I don’t worry too much, but these big trips “require” obsessive thought and planning on my part.

For my many lists I love the Word “Notebook Layout” templates because I can create tabs for different aspects of the trip (one for me, one for my husband, and one for the dog/house sitter) and I can add boxes that can be checked as we go. This fancy list goes into Dropbox so we can both look at it as we please.

A computerized packing and to-do list.

We will arrive in Dublin on July 15 and will leave for our tour around the coast on July 19. During the course of this tour we will be doing a lot of hiking and exploring various cliffs, islands, and castles. The tour company has suggested that we travel light and that each person can have a suitcase that is no bigger than 30 inches at the longest side. Additional recommendations from the travel company include “walking trousers” and “face cloths” as apparently they use something called wire-wool. I love any excuse to go to REI, so we went out and got some fancy light-weight travel towels and a folding duffle for any extra goodies we might pick up along the way.

Two small, lightweight washcloths, two lightweight towels, and a collapsible duffle bag.

My plan of attack is to take everything I think I might need and put it in a laundry basket. I can (and do) always edit from there, but it is easier to take things out than forget things that might be important.

Two backpacks full of travel gear in front of a laundry basket also full of travel gear.

The business of what to bring on the plane is a serious one for me. We will both be checking a bag and bringing a backpack on with us. After having my luggage lost on a trip to London about 15 years ago, I have a few (okay maybe a lot) things that I carry on with me for an international flight. This list includes: any medication, toothbrush, toothpaste, collapsible water bottle, sweater, snacks, book, headphones, phone, tiny pillow, camera, and something to knit.

A travel pillow, ginger chews, medicine, water bottle, and more. Carry-on goodies.

What to bring for knitting was probably the most difficult choice I had to make when planning this trip. I have a busy brain and must do something with my hands at nearly all times. It is a meditative practice and serves not only to keep me busy on the plane, but also to calm myself when certain relatives might get on my nerves. Several variables contributed to my choice of what to bring. It needed to be something fairly small, interesting but not too difficult, and it also had to be something that would last the whole trip. I finally settled on a pattern I had my eye on for a while, The Bee Keepers Quilt from Tiny Owl Knits, which is made up of hundreds of “hexipuffs.” These adorable puffs are fun, relatively quick to make, and can be made with scrap yarn I have from other projects. I made a few practice puffs so I wouldn’t get frustrated trying to figure out the pattern, and I was ready to go.

A knitting project containing 2 yarn balls, some needles, and a knitting bag that has a robot on it. The robot, adorably, is saying,

Two hexagonal pieces knitted from beige fiber.

Now that I’m all ready I will dream of Guinness. Possibly on the plane.

Post Script: This post was written before I left for Ireland on July 14. On July 19 I stepped between two cobble stones (totally sober) and managed to break my foot. Needless to say, the trip went a little differently than I had imagined. I’m really glad I brought the knitting project I did because I was able to knit myself a little sock (more like a cast hat) to keep my toes warm, as they stuck out of the cast. I’m also very happy I took a whole bottle of Advil.

Center Foreground: Sarah's broken foot with cute knit cap. Background, the Land Rover she had to hop in & out of with a broken foot.

Other than the whole broken foot thing, the beer really was fabulous and I can’t recommend our tour company enough. I’m already saving up to go back so I can get the full experience.

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Live Blogging: Thanksgiving Getting Ready to Go!

Tomorrow’s the big event, and it takes a lot of prep to get Thanksgiving ready. Last year, I was hosting it and days in advance I had made several different things (like cranberry sauce, which didn’t gel).

This year, I am not hosting it. I’m going to someone else’s holiday dinner. At this point in my life, that is exceptionally weird. But, hey, life changes. So I got to thinking about it, and I realized, I should share what it looks like to get ready to go to someone else’s holiday dinner. That’s perfect, right?

So, my first somewhat in-real-time “getting ready to go” event!

It started with rolls. We’re the ones in charge of bringing rolls and cranberry sauce to the family. Which wouldn’t be hard, but there’ll be 18 diners there, 8 of whom cannot consume gluten but do want rolls. Bill’s been testing recipes for a few days now, and I think we have it down. We’ll find out tonight. But these rolls were damn tasty, even without gluten.

Two rolls nestled in a red and white pinstriped towel.

I planned the beers I’m taking, which are some from my MetaCookbook post about ruling the beer fridge and some from my general recommendation guest post at The Kitchenista Diaries. And, since I just found out I PASSED, you can bet I’m going to use that if I have to to show my expertise on beer and food. It’s good to be a Certified Cicerone® on Thanksgiving. This year, at least. But I just put them in the fridge. I’m trying to figure out right now how to keep them upright in the cooler, as the two big bottles have still got yeast in the bottom that I don’t want to kick up.

Five beers lined up in a row. Names: Troublesome; Tank 7;The Kimmie, the Yink and the Holy Gose; Gillian; Blood Orange Gose

Ok! It’s 11:04 am PST, and I’m going to hit “publish” and I will edit throughout the day to show you guys what else we do. Like make the cranberry sauce! Or go see if I can find good Ground Breaker beers for our loved ones who cannot eat gluten!

1:43 pm: I’ve forgotten breakfast and had a doctor’s appointment. I attempted to go to the grocery store.

My list:
Unsalted butter
Delicata squash
Gluten free flour blend x2
Milk

It’s a short list, but it’s all over the store. The store nearest the doctor’s office had a 100% full parking lot, and no street parking many blocks. I decided to go to my favorite grocery store, because 1) I know where everything is and 2) they have a giant empty lot nearby that I bet I can park in if needed.

I also decided that the headache from the doctor’s appointment was probably also a lack of food and a lack of hydraytion. So I paused for fortifications of the fast variety. I am typing this over a lunch at Wendy’s. The fries are fresh and salty.

Out!

3:31 pm: I’ve been to the grocery store. Twice. My list was supposed to include instant yeast, but I didn’t manage to add it, so I forgot it and turned around and went back. I got the last packets of instant yeast on sale.

At the store the first time, I gave very fast directions to a nice woman who needed gluten-free rolls for her family. Luckily, since Bill and I had just figured out what to do, it was easy to help her. That’s a nice feeling.

A small shopping carte filled with groceries: beer, butter, dog food, gluten-free flour mix, and kombucha.

I nixed Delicata Squash. I didn’t like the looks of any of the squash, but this means I cannot bring a surprise custard to the party. Oh, well!

On the plus side, I found gluten-free beers for our family. Better yet? I found a gluten-free dubbel; which is one of the styles I recommended as general good beers for Thanksgiving! That felt pretty darn awesome, and I can’t wait to try it with our family.

Two Bottles of St. Denny, the dubbel from Ground Breaker Brewing Company.

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The Work Gift Exchange: A Love/Dread Relationship

My friend Jen is back again! She told me she had some suggestions for plotting out the dreaded highly amusing work event: the holiday gift exchange. I figured, anything to save us all from the risks of a fourth copy of Jessica Simpson’s debut album.

So you’ve been invited to an office holiday party. Merry holiday to you! May the conversation not be awkward and the potato salad at the potluck not be of questionable safety!

Different workplaces approach the gift-giving aspect of the holiday party differently, but every place I’ve ever worked asked attendees to bring something. Some places do a secret Santa, where you pick a name out of a hat and get a specific person to buy for, but my current workplace does what they call a Yankee Trader gift swap. I’ve seen the same idea described as a White Elephant gift exchange. Everyone brings a wrapped gift and puts it on the table (ideally in secret so nobody sees who brought which gift) and then when the party starts everyone picks a number out of a hat. First person picks a gift, and opens it in front of everyone. The second person can either open another gift off the table, or steal the first gift away – at which point the now-giftless person opens another one. It goes on like that until everyone has a gift, and then the first person who started the whole game gets one last swap1.

It’s fun to watch the great gifts get stolen – chocolate is usually a winner, as is fancy coffee. But what’s even better is when the gifts are ridiculous. The person who’s stuck with something crazy then spends the whole swap trying to talk everyone else into stealing the gift away. And sometimes what you think is a nutty gift is something a colleague will find useful or hilarious!

Last year’s big hit with my group was the Mr. T talking keychain. The guy who opened it didn’t want it stolen, because he loves the idea of muting conference calls with the corporate office, and hitting the “Quit your jibber-jabber” button over and over as a self-soothing mechanism.

A phone off the hook with a 'Mr. T in your pocket' keychain positioned at the mouthpiece.

The “Snapjack” pancake cutter didn’t go over quite as well, but listening to my boss come up with other uses for it was like the world’s best infomercial. You could use it for regular pancakes, but it’s tough enough to get through blueberry pancakes! Banana pancakes! Buckwheat pancakes! The possibilities are endless! And you could probably also slice waffles with it! Maybe drip wax on letters, stamp them with the Snapjack and call it your new formal seal!

Sleeved blankets show up at these exchanges a lot, and I don’t know why they get such a bad rap. You look a little dorky, maybe, but as a person who’s always cold, I see the utility. Also, they come in superhero prints now. Why be cold when you can be dorky Superman?

There’s really no good reason for the existence of a plastic banana protector with a carabiner clip, but I just love that someone looked at our hectic, wonderful world and thought “hey, you know what’s missing here? A PLASTIC BANANA PROTECTOR WITH A CARABINER CLIP.” You keep doing you, humanity.

Of course, you may want to get something nice for your coworkers. Maybe you like them and want them to leave the party with a smile. I love magnetic poetry kits in general, but an office-themed one full of buzzwords is especially fun if you work in a place that values synergizing potential user-driven collaborative endeavors to maximize productive end-game reliability. And this passive-aggressive notepad is probably encouraging a bad attitude in the workplace, but filling it out for irritating infractions, even if you never send them to the perpetrator, is oddly satisfying.

Or you could buy a gift card, but then you’d be boring. Don’t be boring.

The links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links. Click here to read more about that.


1 Natasha here: I have never played this variant. Usually being the first to pick is just the worst position.

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An Amateur Beer Photo Shoot

I love beer, but I don’t always love beer photography. My own or other people’s. I got so fed up with the same few boring photos (again, even mine) that when Bill and Nicky finally convinced me almost a year ago I needed to have an Untappd account, I quickly made a rule that my photos would mostly not be of beer. It keeps me entertained to have a slightly surreal account, and I like to think it keeps my followers entertained.

However, that’s not going to cut it for blogging. A photo of a candle through a water glass is fine and fun for something quick like Untappd, but is actively not helpful for a blog post. And while I think most of my photos for the beer section of MetaCookbook are well-suited to the post they’re each in, I have to admit I took some extra steps for the most recent post, If I Ruled the Thanksgiving Beer Fridge, and I’m glad I did. But here’s what getting these three photos took.

The list started as a stepladder, $40, a camera, a beanbag, a bottle of beer, a champagne flute, and a can of beer. It increased to include a couple rolls of paper towels, some collapsible bags, a quart mason jar, a napkin, a kitchen towel, a backpack, a second lens, and a chilled injury pack.

Most of this was for transportation to the places I’d decided to shoot. The backpack, for example, carried everything but the stepladder.

An upside-down champagne flute wrapped in a kitchen towel, stuffed into a quart mason jar.

Gotta keep the glassware safe. And I don’t currently own a stange, leaving me to the champagne flute. My father-in-law was dismayed at this.

A can of Anderson Valley Brewing Company's Blood Orange Gose on the left hand side of an Ace cold pack.

The lunch beer’s got to stay cold, man.

A 40mm Canon lens in a small pouch in a blue and grey backpack.

The “pancake” lens Bill got me for my birthday last year. I love it, and it shoots so nicely. Especially for food and beer.

A Trek-Tech MagBag 2 with ground liner and one of the two mounts it comes with.

The “beanbag” was actually my MagBag 2 which I have used and abused since 2009 and I cannot sing the praises of highly enough. It’s a good way to stabilize a camera to turn anything into a “tripod”. Like, say, a stepladder.

A close-up of my magbag on top of a stepladder outside near a picnic table. I used it as a stabilizing force a lot for this shoot.

But that’s not why I needed the stepladder. I needed the stepladder because I had to climb upward. Because I wanted the following shot:

A bottle of Gillian in the crook of a tree, placed there by yours truly using the stepladder referenced repeatedly in this post.

I had to use a stepladder.

A stepladder in the almost-mud at the foot of a tree.

And so what sounded like “a heist movie waiting to happen” was actually a beer photo shoot.

And then lunch, with more photos taken. Because lunch is not only delicious, it is necessary.

The link to Amazon in this post is an affiliate link. Click here to read more about that.

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Two Ways to Get to A Wedding

Hi. I’m Marielle. I’m a staff writer for Chicagoist and I love to travel. I used to live in New Mexico, and have friends scattered throughout the country, which means plenty of travel, especially for things like weddings. Weddings are great, but they complicate packing. Here are my hard-learned tips on how to make it all work.

Recently, my boyfriend and I packed up to go to my cousin’s wedding. It was just a few hours south of our home, so we drove. This is a HUGE advantage when it comes to getting ready to go to a wedding, and made me consider the differences between flying and driving with regards to my packing advice. The differences and similarities ended up being interesting to assess!

Weddings generally require an entirely different set of apparel and shoes than you’d otherwise bring with you. We’re not discussing one pair of pants you can wash once a week and pair with five tops, we’re talking about a nice outfit (that probably requires extra care). We’re also now talking about finicky small things like cufflinks, ties, dress shoes and socks, jewelry, shoes, hair products and makeup. This is not the time to Reader’s Digest it, folks. And if you want to be comfortable and enjoy yourself, there’s even more to think about.

A platter full of colorful, circular cakes from LUSH cosmetics. Two are squares. Orange, pinks, blue, green, gold, beige.

IF YOU’RE DRIVING:

You will have more space. This is awesome, but going overboard can hurt. First things first: Pick and pack the outfit. The WHOLE outfit, from top to bottom, underwear to jewelry. If you can, use a garment bag to hang it all up. It’ll help prevent wrinkles, and ensures if your shampoo somehow explodes, your carefully picked outfit will not be DOA.

Immediately thereafter, pack the gift and card. When there’s “can’t miss” items, cross them off the list first.

Plan on a shoe bag, since you will likely not want to wear your shiny, pinchy wingtips or 6 inch heels the day AFTER.

Got makeup? Think back to the days of the Caboodle1 here. You will probably need a handled box or bag which you can store your makeup, nail polish and hair goodies in. I like to keep this in the car to grab first when I’m checking in, since all these things are prone to melting.

Once you have the outfit down, consider backups. Extra socks, extra shoelaces, another tie or Oxford or consider a second, backup dress or outfit. I once got to the hotel to find an impossible grease stain on my dress with no backup and no coverup. Bad news. The Tide Pen worked, but it was pretty tense. Ladies will likely also want different shoes for the ceremony than the reception. What I find brilliant for weddings are the VERY minimal ballet flats. They come in tons of neutrals, are pretty comfy, and still manage to look nice with more formal wear. The smaller they pack, the happier you’ll be, and they might even fit in your purse!

Plan on bringing a bit of a pharmacy. There will likely be drinking and dancing. This is no time to be caught without standard pain relievers, some antacids for funky road food bellies, band-aids and the like for random accidents.

Plan for DEVICES: Chargers, SD cards and batteries get expensive if you’re always buying them. Make sure your camera and its accessories are in shape, you’ve cleared off your cards, and that you have what you need to make your laptop go. You’re going to need to know where you’re going and how to get there, and there’s no room for error.

Lastly? Plan for comfort. Once you’re done shellacking your hair or hanging out in a blazer WHILE dancing and dining, you’re going to be tired. Exhausted, even. The day after the festivities IS the time for loose, casual clothing, sneakers, comfy pjs and outfits you can roll out of bed into.

IF YOU’RE FLYING:

Flying is a different animal. Weddings aren’t the time to pack light, but if you’re watching your budget and don’t like forking over $50 just to check bags, then you’re going to need to be savvy about your stuff.

Again, pack the outfit first. Keep EVERYTHING together except for shoes. Check and double check to make sure it’s all there and all in order, and if you can, plan some “sides.” This could mean flats for after dancing or a neutral sweater for if it’s cold.

For gifts: If they can’t be shipped ahead (though lots of things can now, it’s neat!) consider gift cards. Some may consider it boring but, especially in the case of weddings, I feel a financial gift of any sort is more than appropriate for starting a life together.

If you have room for a backup outfit, I still recommend this. Even if nothing happens to your outfit, you may find yourself suddenly invited to a party at the family’s house, and a second formal option will mean you don’t stand out as an unprepared guest.

Try to limit yourself to two pairs of shoes for the whole trip, and try to fit them in your main bag. The key to shoes is versatility and comfort.

Tech: Make sure you have something with you capable of googling for nearby necessities, like restaurants, grocery and convenience stores. Make sure you have chargers. Bring a camera, and make sure you have all its cards. An extra battery is a wonderful idea for those with DSLRs going anywhere.

Here’s my controversial tip for wedding packing if you’re flying: Plan on using what hotels have to offer so you can pack lighter. Hair dryers are a good example of this, and most hotels will also have an ironing board and iron that can be used, if not already in room, just a call away.

Take the money you’d have spent on checking your bags, and budget some for most toiletries. In almost every town, you’ll find a Walgreens or similar store. If you’ve got your own wheels, you’ll be able to purchase shampoo, soap and various other things that could easily leak or not make it past the 3 oz rule. For me, this saves the worry of spills or leaving my favorite bottle of hairspray in the hotel.

This does not apply to makeup, sadly. But, if you save space on things like hairspray or shampoo, you’ll have more room for palettes, foundations and brushes.

If you’re not going to be terribly mobile, consider travel size items if possible, and solid shampoo bars2, like those sold at Lush.

Two piles of blue and yellow circular cakes of solid shampoo in the foreground. Black tubs of other cosmetics in the background.

IN GENERAL:

Be strategic. Consider what you can’t do without, and be prepared for weird situations like last minute parties, late night or early morning (late morning!) hangovers, and stains. (Get a Tide pen!)

Then? Go celebrate love, because there’s way too much bad stuff to not celebrate every last ounce of good. Eat, drink, be merry, and then drive home in yoga pants and your favorite tee. You’ve earned it.

The links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links. Click here to read more about that.


1 Natasha here! I actually still have and use my 1980s-era “Caboodle” carrier. I love that thing, though I do not own makeup. It’s just useful for wrangling small items.

2 GUYS! LUSH makes solid conditioner now too!

Foreground is some slightly blurry seafoam green cakes of conditioner. The background is a sign describing the conditioner.

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A Big Exam

Almost a month ago, I discussed over on MetaCookbook what I was doing to prepare for a big exam. It took most of my energy for the weeks in between then and now.

But not so much I didn’t remember to document a bit of what it took to get ready to go tackle the exam.

I wanted quiche for breakfast the day of the exam. A really tasty caramelized onion, goat cheese, sun-dried tomato quiche. I love quiche, and I really wanted a solid protein-filled breakfast before a four to five hour exam that ENDED on samples of 13 beers.

I like to blind-bake the crust, so it’s extra crispy. For those who don’t know what this means, the basic gist is prebaking the crust with some sorts of weights to keep it from cracking, bubbling, or pulling away from the sides of the pan. I usually use beans, because that’s what I always have enough of on hand.

In which I attempt to blind-bake a pie crust with beans. And just beans. No parchment paper. Totally forgot it. To say I was distracted and stressed would be accurate. Of course, until I pulled this thing out of the oven, I'd convinced myself I was chill.

I also usually use parchment paper between the beans and the crust to be able to pull the beans back out, but apparently I wasn’t running on full capacity the day before my exam. Thus, instead of having a beautiful crust just waiting to be filled with delightful food, I had as one friend put it “Panic Bean Pie.”

After running back to the store and buying yet more pie crust, then trying again, I did manage to make a quiche, but it was more work than expected. Still, it smelled delightful.

Bill and I also made comfort food: Green Chile Cheeseburgers (with added bacon). It was a great evening to sit outside and just not think about the upcoming exam. I’d thought I’d be doing last minute cramming, but my brain rebelled. That was probably for the best.

Grilled burger patty, grilled buns. Crisp bacon. Hot green chile and some smoked cheddar cheese? This is homemade heaven on a bun.

The next morning I was up a bit earlier than average. Bill was awesome and made sure to get me a slice of quiche and made my tea while I showered. The tea was a gift from my friend, JP. Not only is JP fantastic, she’s also a Certified Cicerone® herself and a tea person like me. She’s also the person who told me about the style of mug I used to brew the tea. It helped. Hey, if she’s a Certified Cicerone® and I’m trying to become one, this is like channeling her awesome, right?

(I’m very scientifically-minded, but little rituals that soothe the inner lizard-brained, superstitious self have got to improve exam performance. Not because they call to anything out there, but because they calm you the fuck down.)

No, I did not manage to clean the table before sitting down to tea and a slice of quiche. But I HAD tea and a slice of quiche, which is far more important.

Then, after I had half a second helping, I made sure I had three very fine point black pens in my backpack and, because he is super awesome, Bill offered to drive me to my exam so I could stay a bit later and finish my tea. I did that while filling my favorite water mug (previously seen waiting for a wine party). Which I promptly forgot. Of course.

Luckily, they had water for us. So I was prepared when I arrived.

The instructions said to bring a black pen. I brought three. What if one had run out of ink? Or exploded? No chances to be taken here! (They supplied the water.)

Or as prepared as I could be. I guess I’ll find out in about five weeks how prepared I actually was.

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Only 15 Minutes to Wine

Imagine receiving an invitation to join a new friend and a friend of hers on the roof for wine, but you must absolutely arrive within 15 minutes of getting the invitation.

Oh, and the complete stranger doesn’t know you’re coming and is supplying the wine.

Here’s how to show up with something while not making yourself wild (or worse, late!) with preparations.

A white platter containing a broken up dark chocolate orange, dried figs, dried apricots, smoked cheddar, feta cheese, and cherry tomatoes. My contribution to an invitation to drink wine on the roof deck in 15 minutes..

First things first, as soon as you get in the door (because you certainly weren’t in your home when you got this invitation), set a timer. For me, this was 11 minutes of the 14 I had left. Adjust accordingly, and respect the timer. Absolutely no “just one more thing.” Try, in fact, to beat the timer.

Grab a platter and any dried fruits you have in your house (at least that are in easy reach). Grab at least one and no more than three kinds of cheese, a cutting board and a knife. If you have anything else that looks like easy finger food, especially dessert-y finger food, grab it too. Grab a box of crackers.

Preparing the fastest cheese, fruit, veggie, and chocolate plate ever. Including photos, took 10 minutes.

Plate anything dry and easy to plate first. In my case, this was the chocolate orange (dark, of course), the dried figs, and the dried apricots. If you want, take a moment to make it look good on the platter, but do not get all perfectionist here. There’s no time and it’s not fun. And, frankly, the differing colors and shades will be enough to look good even if you don’t help.

Next chop more cheese than you think you need. Slice it reasonably thin, and roughly cracker shaped. If you, like me, are also using a crumbly cheese, try to make the crumbles a bit big, but don’t worry too much. People will eat it no matter the size of the crumbles.

Clean and then add any fresh finger fruits or veggies. Don’t take time to chop anything at this stage. Baby carrots or cherry tomatoes are good. Full size carrots or broccoli or bell peppers are a bad idea.

Box of crackers. Platter of fruits, cheese, tomatoes, and chocolate. Most importantly? A wine glass! (Also, the travel mug is water.)

Finally, and this is really important, grab yourself a wine glass. Do not expect the person who doesn’t know you’re coming to supply you with one. Otherwise, maybe you won’t get wine!

Plating the above and making sure I had a wine glass, the box of crackers, and some water (not a requirement, but I like to do so) took me 10.5 minutes. I was upstairs right on time, and thus didn’t keep anyone waiting.

And I got a ton of compliments on my gourmet set-up. You will too, I’m sure.

Half eaten platter of cheese, fruit, tomatoes, and chocolate. Someone else also brought cheese. And she brought a really crisp bottle of Pinot Grigio.

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Checking In

It’s been about three months since I launched this blog. Sometimes it makes me laugh (usually at myself) and a few times it’s been rather interesting or useful.

But, the other day my dad asked, “Why did you start that other blog?” And I understood why he was asking.

This isn’t a prelude to closing Getting Ready to Go down, let me be clear about that. I do believe there’s interesting stuff here. It is, however, acknowledging that this blog hasn’t hit its stride, and maybe that’s because I’m not sure what to do. I suspect this hasn’t been the clearest or easiest blog to get into and I know it’s occasionally a challenge for me to write.

A giant orange flower. Because it makes me happy. Much like blogging. But it needs care. Also similar to blogging.

The answer to my dad’s question is that the blog seemed like a fun idea that would also allow useful recommendations1. What I said on the about page regarding having an old URL lying around and substantial regret about the dog shoes/booties I purchased is totally true. I wanted a place to record recommendations on making life easier, while also documenting what it takes to get from one place to another. Both for me and for others, hence the permanent guest post request. And, frankly, I have a dream of being able to ask awesome people like my friend and former lab mate, Anna, what it takes to go on months of field work to vaccinate dogs or similar stuff. Though, I’ll be honest, that seemed and seems like something that’s in the distant future. Something for when this blog is a bit more awesome itself.

When I started MetaCookbook, I made the decision to ignore Google Analytics for a long time, because I was afraid I wasn’t going to write authentically if I was too obsessed with what made people tick. I think that was the right choice. At least for me, on that blog, at that time. But now, on this blog, I think I need to go the exact opposite way. This blog is, in many ways, even more about connecting with folks than MetaCookbook is (color me surprised at realizing that). Thus, not only am I going to be paying a lot more attention to metrics, I figure today’s as good a day as any to ask directly.

So, I’m wondering what you guys, my readers think. What would improve the experience for you? What have you liked or disliked? Is there a post you kinda liked, but would have questions about?

Most importantly, do you have a post that you would love to read? Something that’d be super useful or just incredibly exciting? (Again, mine’s to ask Anna to share what getting ready to go to Tanzania for months to vaccinate hundreds of dogs looks like.)

Thank you so much.


1 My friend Araina has pointed out that it would be helpful to have a place where all of said recommendations are listed at once. I will be working on that this weekend, and will update this post accordingly.