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Sam Dobson Writes: October 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Review

* Caution: May contain spoilers!
The previews for the new Hunger Games movie has me reverting back to the first two movies and, of course, the book series. I never really hopped on to the Harry Potter train and was a begrudging reader of the Twilight books, but the Hunger Games series got me hooked and I thoroughly enjoyed the suspense of all three books. All the hype for the new movie give me nostalgia for the first book of the series. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
The Hunger Games Review
A rebellious uprising and the war that followed has torn apart what used to be known as North America. The nation of Panem is what remains, comprised of a metropolitan Capitol surrounded by the twelve outlying districts it controls through oppression. To keep the citizens under control and to avoid another rebellion, every year each district is forced to sacrifice two children, one male and one female, between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. These 24 children are taken to arena where they are forced to fight to the death while the entire nation watches until there is only one left standing. These are the annual Hunger Games.

Sound grim? It gets better as Katniss Everdeen, only 16 years old, volunteers as tribute after her younger sister was randomly selected at the District 12 Reaping Ceremony. Taking her sister's place in the arena, Katniss must fight for her life amongst 23 other children, some trained, savage, and lethal, others innocent and fragile. The harsh reign of the Capitol forces not only Katniss, but all of the district citizens to weigh their survival instincts against humanity. Bottom line, it's pretty brutal.
One of the strongest pieces of the novel is the heroine. Suzanne Collins not only writes a refreshingly real heroine that doesn't annoy us with her vulnerability (a la Bella Swan), but she creates a Katniss that can be respected for her intelligence and courage. The world in which Katniss is captive is harsh and unjust, a world many can relate to. She shows real emotion, compassion, and incredible strength when forced to fight for survival. To sum it up, Katniss is a badass.

If there is one thing Collins can do, it's keeping the reader coming back for more. Collins kept me one edge, biting my nails at times, with shocking surprises and stressful dilemmas. However crafty Collins is with creating anticipation, the first novel in The Hunger Games series does not steer clear of criticism. Collins has drawn a lot of scrutiny for the amount of violence she has portrayed in a young adult novel (Even my mom refused to read about "teenagers killing each other"). This is where I call bullshit. This novel is no more graphic and violent than hundreds of different video games played by even younger children. Yes, it's hard to imagine that you would actually be cheering for a 16 year old girl to kill 23 other children, but Collins gets you there multiple times throughout Katniss's ordeal. Of course, basic literary analysis tells us that Collins is simply using the text to portray an unjust society with a corrupt political system by using an extreme example. It is graphic, but that's how the novel makes us think about important things regarding "real life", versus a mindless read meant only to swoon women into fantasizing about vampires. 
The thing I struggled with was the relationship between Katniss and Peeta and how it was handled in the novel. It wasn't the ill-fate of Peeta being sent to the arena with the girl he loved, it was more so how the conflict was resolved. While I was captivated by their conflicted relationship, it was just a little bit too convenient when the Capitol decided to let them both live. For most of the second half of the book you are left with nail-biting suspense and the assumption that Katniss will in fact, have to kill Peeta. When they "trick" the Capitol into sparring both of their lives, I found myself rolling my eyes a bit at how simply their heartbreaking fate was eradicated. I will admit I was relieved too because, well let's face it, I love Peeta's earnest character. The only detail that saved the ending from becoming implausible and annoying was the set up for the second novel, in which it is made apparent that the Capitol now holds a grudge against the District 12 winners.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the suspenseful story of Katniss Everdeen. Anxiously turning page by page, I felt the emotional conflict she shared with her sister and the feelings she developed for Peeta. I was kept on the edge of my seat and fully expected the death of Peeta (maybe I even shed a few tears too). I was left all too eager to run out and grab a copy of the second book and I think you will too. 

What, if any, are your qualms with The Hunger Games novel? What did you enjoy most about it and what could you have stand to see done differently?


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tips For Surviving Disneyland As An Adult

Yesterday we took an impromptu trip to Disneyland with another couple, one of Blake's besties and his lovely girlfriend. We haven't been in a few years so it felt long overdue. Added bonus, the parks are all decked out for Halloween! We had a blast, but it was a long day and I'm paying for it today. All the walking, the screaming, and bad-for-me food caught up to me fast. No joke, I sat down any moment I could in the last two lines, my voice started getting raspy, and my stomach started feeling heavy on the ride home. Sure enough, this morning I woke up with no voice, sore feet and lower back, and an upset tummy. 

What does this mean? It means I'm getting old and no longer are the days when I could run around a theme park all day and night, eating whatever I want and screaming as loud as I can without any repercussions the next day. I've been blessed with a working Disney family which means I've been to The Magic Kingdom more times than most kids could ever dream of. Now that I've grown up, I've taken up the offer less and less overtime and now I remember why. Clearly, the next time I decide to venture out to Disneyland I'll have to be better prepared. Here are a few tips for surviving Disneyland as an adult. 

1. Plan your timing wisely. 

When I was in middle school and dragged along a few of my closest friends to the most magical place on earth, we would plan to go as early as our parents would take us. We wanted to soak up every minute of Disney fun, so naturally we'd stay until close. That's a long day. Now that we've slowed down a bit, it makes sense to decide on the time of day is important to your experience. Can't miss that firework show? Consider starting your Disney trip late morning or early afternoon to ensure you won't tire before the sky gets lit up. If you prefer sunshine to enjoy those water rides, get an early start. Yesterday we walked through the front gates at just after 11am and had thought it was a possibility we'd stay until the park closed at midnight. In reality, the only reason we stuck around long enough to see the fireworks at 9pm was because we were stuck in line for the last ride of the night. 

2. Wear comfortable shoes. 

I know this may seem like a no-brainer but I've recently found this out the hard way. I've done entire Disney days no problem in a pair of Rainbow sandals many of times with no problem. Yesterday I wore knock-off Van style tennis shoes and my feet were killing me about half way through the day. I started putting my weight along the outer edges of my feet and sitting down on anything I could while waiting in line. I've even had some discomfort today, what the heck!? I guess it's not so fashion-friendly running shoes next time. Trust me, it's easier to focus on the fun when you're feet don't feel like they are about to fall off. 

3. Bring snacks. 

Yes, this is a necessity even for adults without little ankle-biters in tow. Every time I forget to bring a few little things to munch on, I always regret it. My hubby gets "hangry", anger caused by hunger, if he goes too long without food. Aside from keeping my beast fed, it's super handy to have some snacks stowed away. This time I thought I had us covered as I insisted on stopping by Starbucks for a coffee and breakfast sandwich on our way to the park. The lines were long enough that we quickly found ourselves hungry but going from ride to ride. We finally had to consciously make the decision to stop and get food. We ended up needing to stop on our way home between 10 and 11pm for food because we pretty much didn't eat the rest of the day. Bottom line, pack a few granola bars or some trail mix. Your stomach will thank you for it. 

4. Don't forget the alcohol. 

Unless you are a member of the highly exclusive (and expensive) Club 33, you won't be able to find a drop of alcohol in Disneyland. You can, however, pop across the way to California Adventure if what you crave is a refreshing adult drink. Head over to the Pacific Wharf for your choice of half a dozen or so craft beers or a frozen margarita. I'd opt for beer as the margaritas are pre-mixed and quite sugary. If you fancy yourself a wine-o, not to worry, there are a few places you can satisfy your thirst. Grab a glass at Mendocino Terrace, indulge in dinner and a bottle at Wine Country Trattoria, or visit the Sonoma Terrace for a tasting. If you crave something a little stronger, you'll have to head outside the parks to Downtown Disney. I don't recommend going too hard, it most likely won't go well. You could succumb to heat stroke or nausea. Plus, it's Disneyland for crying out loud. If all you want to do is get wasted, go to your local bar. 

5. Download a Disneyland app.

One of the most annoying nuisances at Disneyland is deciding which ride to go on next, making your way through the crowds to the other side of the park, and then discovering the ride in question is either temporarily closed or has a ridiculously long wait. Avoid frustrations like these by downloading an app that allows you to check wait times, show times, and other helpful information. Yesterday, we attempted to get in line for Indiana Jones three times before actually getting in line. It's the one ride Blake's friend, Martin, really wanted to go on and it was the one ride that persisted to break down throughout the day. Halfway through the day, Blake downloaded an app to monitor wait times and we were able to better decide which rides to wait for and when. We ended up getting in line for Indiana Jones upon re-opening after a temporary break down, thanks to the app. We only waited twenty minutes or so, which was a huge improvement over the daily average wait time of 60 plus minutes. There is a good variety of free apps to choose from including the following:
  • Disneyland Wait Times
  • Disneyland Lines from TouringPlans.com
  • Disneyland MouseWait

6. Bring entertainment for lines.

While you're at it, you might as well download some free game apps to keep you busy during long lines. Most days, you'll have an average wait time of 40 to 60 minutes (or longer) for those popular rides (Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion to name a few). Making small talk and getting to know your fellow Disney travelers is fun, don't get me wrong. After a whole day of waiting you start to get bored or just can't think of anything else to talk about. Keep the fun going while you're waiting in line with a game. Try Ellen's Heads Up game or Words With Friends. A game for the whole group is just the thing to keep your mind off the wait and before you know it you'll be flying through the air on your favorite roller coaster. 

What's your tip for an adult Disney day?  

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Top 5 Affordable Champagnes

Champagne Friday is my favorite day of the week, when the hubby and I get to pour a cold glass of bubbly and talk about our weekly success stories or if nothing else, our weekly survivor stories. We kiss, we toast, and we sip. Champagne Friday is just an awesome tradition and if you are new to my blog and a bit clueless on this notion, click here for the 411.

Like I was saying, Champagne Friday is one of my favs so it's only natural to dedicate this week's Fab Five Friday to that delicious, bubbly beverage that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Let's take a look at some of the best and affordable (because I'm poor and chances are, so are you) champagnes.

1. Moet & Chandon Imperial ($50)

This is the priciest bottle on my list, but in the world of Champagne it's relatively cheap. This champagne goes down easy with fruity flavors and a smooth yet crisp finish.

2. Veuve Clicquot Brut ($40)

Veuve was my wedding champagne and my celebratory "we bought our first home" champagne. So, my attachment may be sentimental. It's refreshingly crisp with flavors of apricot, peach, and vanilla.

3. La Marca Prosecco ($20)

Okay, so this isn't technically champagne, but hear me out. When you want a tasty flute of bubbles but don't want to fork over the cash, this prosecco hits the nail on the head. It's light and a bit more creamy than the others on this list. It's my go-to when bottom-shelf champagne just won't cut it. 

4. Veuve Ambal Brut ($15)

Light and zesty with notes of citrus, this bottle champagne really gives you bang for your buck. It's got a sharper taste with a subtle sweetness to it. Not bad for under $20. 

5. Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut ($10)

This is my champagne equivalent to the "two-buck-chuck" wine. When the purse strings are super tight, you can't go wrong with a simple and affordable bottle of bubbly. 

What's your go-to champagne?

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

DIY Halloween Frame

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, I get an urge to get crafty. Most of the time I end up just pinning project ideas without ever actually bothering to attempt them. Once in great while, I'll actually being a project...and finish it! Most of the crafts I manage to conquer are holiday inspired. They are just so fun and festive, like the googly-eye frame I made last Halloween! It's super easy and makes for a cute seasonal way to display your favorite past Halloween memories.

DIY Halloween Frame

What You'll Need

    DIY Halloween Frame
  • An unfinished frame. The one pictured here is from Michaels for $1. It get's the job done with lots of surface area, but take note that it does not come with a glass pane. 
  • Paint for the background of your frame. Pick any color you'd like. I choose black because it's neutral.
  • A hot glue gun and glue.
  • An assortment of googly eyes. If you will be doing this project with kids, ditch the glue gun and go for the googly eyes with the adhesive back. 
  • Some sort of Halloween adornment. I used this little felt bat ornament that was most likely made to decorate some sort of Halloween tree. 


What To Do

  • Paint the entire face of your frame and let dry. 
  • Decide on placement for your Halloween adornment. Glue it in place. 
  • Glue as many googly eyes as you see fit. 
  • Insert your favorite Halloween pic and display proudly.

DIY Halloween Frame

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Friday, October 17, 2014

5 Essential Dog Accessories

I'm a mom, but not of humans. While my furry kids don't cost quite as much as their human equivalents, their care still requires plenty of purchases. I still lug around items especially for my dogs' sake. Instead of carrying around bottles, baby wipes, and pacifiers, my purse is loaded with poop bags, a lint roller, and miscellaneous treats among other things. Yes, I am a full-blown dog mom. No shame here. You run through each day with three dog leashes attached to your wrist, you'll have random dog crap (no pun intended) stuffed in your purse and car too. But that's the boring stuff. Just like moms of human kids adore dressing their little ones up in new outfits, dog moms enjoy the bells and whistles too. Today's Fab Five Friday goes to the dogs! Here are a few of my favorite essential dog accessories.

1. A Cute Dog Collar

This is a necessary accessory, for safety and for style. A dog collar is an easy way to fancy-up your pup without becoming that crazy lady who dresses up their dogs in pearls and sparkly flats (yes, people really do that). I know simplicity is usually a good thing, but I would encourage you to have some fun with your dog collars. Allow your or your dog's personality to shine through with the help of a decorative collar.

5 essential dog accessories

Look at this popcorn collar I found on Etsy. You know that smiley face emoji with the bulging hearts for eyes? Yeah, that was me when I discovered this collar. Just in time too, collars were on my list of stocking stuffers for the dogs this year (yes, I do that). This collar is from the Etsy shop xfauxpawsx. My dog mom friends and I highly recommend checking this shop out; my friend Jessie has several. There are already a ton of cute patterns to choose from; seasonal, super hero, geek, chic, etc. Don't see something you fancy? No biggie. She is open to custom orders. With low pricing of just under $20, you can't beat this deal for quality novelty collars.

2. A Functional Yet Fun ID Tag

Another very essential accessory for your pet. You know those super cute collars we were just discussing? Well, you'll need an ID tag with valid contact information to really finish off the look. I shouldn't have to convince you why an ID tag is so important, this is common dog people knowledge. What I will try to convince you is to spruce it up a bit. As I was saying above in regards to collars, you don't have to go boring when it comes to tags. Have some fun with it! You can find tons of cutesy tags and artful tags, I prefer funny. This laugh-your-ass-off ID tag is from the Etsy shop BadTags. At just over $10, there are tons of funny and sassy phrases to choose from or create your own. One of these tags will surely gain the attention of passer-bys in the unfortunate event that your dog gets lost. 

5 essentials dog accessories

3. A Comfy Dog Sweater

I know that I was just making fun of those nutballs who dress up their dogs, but I have a good defense for the dog sweater. So, my littlest pup has a problem with itchy skin. When the stars are aligned and the right allergens are in the air, the poor guy just can't stop scratching. We even get woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of him chewing away. Aside from hypoallergenic shampoos and dietary supplements, the only other tool we have to combat the itching is to put a sweater on him. Both my husband and I were hesitant to become those dog people, I still get a little embarrassed when checking out at the pet store with a few new sweaters in tow, but they help to keep Iggy from chewing his skin raw. They also do wonders to keep him warm in the winter. You can find cute ones like this from Target for $12.99 or you can do what I do and search for them at Marshalls and Ross for half price. Can't beat that!

5 essential dog accessories

4. A Good Quality Dog Bed

If you have better will power than I do and you want your pups to stay off your bed, you'll need to give them good reason. Quality dog beds that won't deflate upon first use can be a tough find. Many pet stores sell so-so beds for astronomical prices. I always have and probably always will go to Costco for my dog beds. Yes, Costco, the place where you can buy enough toilet paper to last you a life time. They sell a few different styles and sizes of dog beds. The quality is pretty top notch (mine have always lasted a long time even with three dogs using them) and the price is just right. The large one being modeled here by gorgeous dogs cost around $40. Most pet stores would sell something smaller for double the price. This huge, comfortable dog bed (yes, I've laid on it before) is their most expensive. The prices only go down from there. We have two, one downstairs and one upstairs, and even though my dogs love them, I still wake up to find them taking up all of my leg room.

5 Essential Dog Accessories

5. Something To Keep Them Busy

Dogs want your attention just as much as children do. With three furry kids just begging for some love and attention, sometimes it's hard to get things done around the house. They do keep each other occupied, but with three dogs running around and clobbering each other, chaos quickly ensues. Toys or bones that can keep my dogs busy and quiet, even only a few minutes, are treasured possessions of ours. The one toy that has been able to keep my dogs' attention longer than any other is the Nylabone Dinosaur Dental Chew. Random, I know. I got one for Hades as a puppy because I noticed plaque build up already on her pearly whites. Ever since then, every single one of my dogs has been hooked. 

5 Essential Dog Accessories

At around $10 a pop, they work good for me because my dogs will work on them without tearing huge chunks off. If your dog can chew through a Nylabone with no issue, this may not be the right busy toy for your. Broken off chunks can be a choking hazard, so may be best to find a more durable chew toy. My dogs chew on them slowly overtime. We've only gone through two, they keep busy with the third one as we speak. Be careful! They can be a household hazard. The hubby often yells out "damn dino bone!" every time he's taken an unsuspecting step on top of it. 

What is your can't live without dog accessory?


Monday, October 13, 2014

Halloween Snacks

Thanksgiving and Christmas get the most attention in the holiday food category, but Halloween can serve up some tasty grub too. Don't make the mistake of righting off All Hallow's Eve as a holiday strictly reserved for candy. Hand out that sugary candy to those ghouls and goblins ringing the door bell, serve yourself up some real treats.

Halloween Snacks

Gingerbread Skeleton

Halloween Snacks
These are (or should I say "can be"?) so freaking cute! Yes, mine came out more like fat bodies with wobbly bones. Oh well! Here's a few tips so that your gingerbread skeletons come out with appropriate size and shape. 
  • Whether you make it from scratch or use store bought gingerbread dough, make sure to roll it out evenly. If you leave the dough too thick before cookie cutting, your men will come out fat... like mine. 
  • When it comes to icing, there's a trick to getting nice, thin lines. If your icing is too warm, it will run. The same goes for icing when the cookies are still warm. You'll want your icing chilled just enough that it takes the shape you want without running. Too cold and you'll be squeezing like crazy just trying to get a drop or two of icing. 
  • As always, take your cookies out the oven a minute or two earlier than the suggested bake time. Leave them in too long and you'll end up with rock hard cookies, take them out a little early and you'll end up with soft and moist cookies. 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Halloween Snacks
Roasted pumpkin seeds are a Halloween tradition in my house. Seems like such a waste to let perfectly good pumpkin guts go to waste. After the hard work of carving has been done, it's time to clean off those seeds and roast them for snacking. 
  • For easing cleaning, let those seeds soak a while in water to separate them from the pumpkin guts. Pat dry before seasoning. 
  • Spread out the seeds evenly on a baking sheet lined with foil. 
  • Lightly drizzle EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) to act as seasoning glue. Season with whatever tickles your fancy. I especially enjoy Lawry's Seasoned Salt. Go crazy, garlic salt, lemon pepper, cayenne pepper, etc. 
  • Added Bonus: Pumpkin seeds have amazing health benefits for your furry best friend! Grind up some unseasoned seeds and sprinkle on top Fido's food to help with digestive problems, weight issues, and general nutrition. 

Interested in more festive goodies? Check out my recipe for Pumpkin Spiced Cupcakes with Cinnamon Vanilla Frosting. They are to die for!


Friday, October 10, 2014

5 Books To Empower Women Everywhere

It's that time again, time to stock up on some reading material. I've been feeling inspirational lately, not as in I am an inspiration to others but more of a need for inspiration. Nothing does this better than a few good reads by women, about women, and for women. After all, "who run the world?" That's a Beyonce reference for those of you who don't know. Anyways, here are five fabulous books to fuel your "girl power". Enjoy.

books to empower women

5 Books to Empower Women

If you want inspiring in a kick-ass from scratch to success story, look no further. Sophia Amoruso's book "#GIRLBOSS" is part autobiography, part self-help/advice. Sophia uses her own story, from being a misfit teen, selling a stolen book on Ebay to becoming the CEO of her own clothing company, to share her wisdom of how to conquer the business world as a women. Her book is smart, funny, and sassy. Learn how to kick ass and take names, just like Sophia.

2. If You Have To Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You

5 Books to Empower Women

Kelly Cutrone offers brutally honest advice for young professional women in "If You Have To Cry, Go Outside". She shares her stories, personal and professional, to provide the reader with the know-how for discovering what you want and how to go out and get it. If you want to be a female powerhouse, read this media maven's memoir-style advice. 

3. Be Honest--You're Not That Into Him Either

5 Books to Empower Women

We've all heard of (and some of us have actually read it) "He's Just Not That Into You" from the writers of Sex and the City, the no-holds-barred advice book aimed to give women the tough-love approach about the men who obviously don't really like them. It's a bit harsh, but true. "Be Honest--You're Not That Into Him Either" looks at the issue from the other side, reminding women of why they deserve better than Joe Douche-Bag. Dr. Ian Kerner, sex therapist, uses a bit of humor and a lot of honesty to give women the know-how to stop that bad-date, booty call cycle. 

4. Bossypants

5 Books To Empower Women

I couldn't have been more annoyed by that whole "ban the word 'bossy'" movement started by bored PTA moms a while back. Don't they have anything better to do? I get called "bossy" all the time, ever since I was a little girl, because I am bossy. For good reason too. As a manager of a small company where men easily outnumber women, I have to be bossy. Tina Fey's hilarious memoir reminds us all that it's okay to be called "bossy", in fact, it's a compliment. 

5. The Champagne Diet: Eat, Drink, & Celebrate Your Way To A Healthy Mind And Body

5 Books To Empower Women

Okay, full disclosure, I haven't actually read this one yet (its on my list and in my amazon shopping cart as we speak). Hear me out before knocking me for promoting a book I haven't yet read. Somehow, I stumbled across Cara Alwill Leyba's Instagram account and instantly became interested in her and her work after becoming a follower. First off, I love me some good bubbly, you all know that. Hello, Champagne Fridays! Second, everything Cara, a certified life coach, preaches, resonates as truth for me personally. Her book is about loving yourself and your body. It's not a diet book, it's more like a lifestyle guide for a realistic healthy life while still accepting who you are. Follow her on Instagram, @thechampagnediet, for daily reminders of how awesome you are. 


Monday, October 6, 2014

Keeping Score In Your Relationship

Last week my puppy came down with a nasty bout of diarrhea. Unfortunately, I was not made aware until I woke up at 4am needing to pee. I rose sleepily, swung both feet onto the ground and made my way to the bathroom. I was almost at the toilet when I felt a terrorizing squish beneath my right foot. Instantly that all too familiar smell rose to my nostrils and I knew I had just stepped in poop. I hopped over to the light switch and started huffing and puffing for Blake to wake up. Now wide awake, I explained in an unnecessarily hysterical fashion that one of the dogs had diarrhea, it was all over the floor and now in between my toes. He looked at me confused, said a few angry remarks about the damn puppy, and rolled over to fall back asleep. Needless to say, I was rather ticked off. When I had washed off my foot and finally cleaned every poop mark off the floor, I crawled back into bed and gave Blake a bit of verbal lashing that he most likely slept through.

Now, Blake and I pride ourselves on being a couple who doesn't "keep score". We all know those couples, even have a few in our circles, the ones who count every penny and keep mental notes of every argument for future ammo. Personally I find this quality very annoying when it comes to any relationship. My girlfriends and I don't keep score either. I can't tell you who bought the last round of drinks or made the last coffee run and there's a reason for that. It just doesn't matter to us. The phrase "you owe me" doesn't exist in any of my friendships or my marriage. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a moocher or a free-loader. If I have to borrow money from my mom in a bind, she never has to worry about getting paid back. There's a difference between a debt that must be repaid and a relationship that's constantly keeping score.

Let me pause for a quick disclaimer: I understand that every relationship is different and what may work for mine won't work for others and so forth. This is just my own opinion, formed from my own personal experience and the observation of many other relationships.

I find that in equal marriages or relationships (I mean those where both partner is considered an equal to the other) keeping score is not only unnecessary but it's a cancer. I am aware that many marriages are formed on certain notions such as "the man makes the money, the woman is keeper of the house". If both partners are happy with this sort of relationship, then there is no issue. However, for most relationships in the 21st century, this dichotomy does not exist. There are no boundaries limiting women to the kitchen and men to the office. Without assigned roles, it's common to have both parties contributing financially and domestically. This is where score-keeping can sneak it's way into the relationship.

I have friends who have sat down and figured out exactly who will pay for what. For example, rent or mortgage is split 50/50, cable is paid for by the partner that can't live without it, and extra spending comes out of the shopper's pocket only. This arrangement has it's perks, organization and clarity among them, and seems to suit many couples just fine. The problem is when one or both partners start to literally count pennies. For example, the wife comes home from running errands with a carload of groceries and tells her spouse that he now owes her $72.44, half of the total cost. Soon, this sort of thinking makes it's way into every little expenditure. Perhaps they are hosting her family for Thanksgiving, will she be responsible for all the costs involved? I think you can see where I am going with this.

It's not just about money. The same can go for household chores or taking care of the kids. We all know those 1950s style marriages in which wifey never leaves the house, cooks every meal, and takes care of every kid-related task. Perhaps the stay at home mom attempts to pawn the kids off on the workaholic dad the second he steps through the front door at the end of the day. Naturally, a long argument ensues about who works harder, who is more deserving of a night out or weekend away, and so on. These arguments are kept bookmarked in the minds of both partners, stored as ammo to be used in the next fight.

Rewind to my midnight shit-fest 2014 in which I got absolutely no help from my spouse. Yes, I threw it in his face later, do as I say not as I do. I apologized to him later the next day and do you know why? Because somewhere down the line he has pulled more weight (or will in the future) than I have. He has washed and folded the laundry while I sat on the couch just typing away plenty of times. Yes, there are a few things we have sort of fallen into routine with. For example, I primarily do the dishes (even though I hate doing dishes) but once in a while he will load or unload the dishwasher just because. For the most part, everything is a shared responsibility as it should be. This is a marriage, not a competition. We are a team, not opponents. I literally promised Blake that I would be his teammate in our wedding vows. I also promised to never keep score, because that's how important that is to me.

keeping score in your relationship

This is real life, not a freaking fairy tale. We aren't perfect and we do break this promise from time to time, when we are really frustrated or at our wits end. But on these rare occasions, we always apologize and make up, then our relationship goes back to even-keel. It works for us because we understand the importance of give and take. We would give each other our last dollar no matter what it was for without question. I don't always get the massages I try to weasel out of him but when I suffer from period back pain he always rubs my back.

Many relationships don't possess this natural balance, we don't have this completely nailed down either. I would urge you to talk it out with your partner if you feel the scales are tipping too heavily on one side. "But Sam, I thought you were saying it's bad to keep score?" I'm not telling you to keep score, on the contrary, I am telling you to communicate so that you won't feel you have to keep score. Confused? Let me better explain. Let's say you have come to realize that you always get stuck making dinner and would like a change. Instead of keeping this to yourself and letting it boil up inside you, just festering in your mind until you explode and use it as a weapon in your next fight, communicate with your partner. Make dinner as usual, pour two glasses of wine, and have a nice talk, free of finger-pointing or blame. Explain to your hubby that although you enjoy or at least don't mind doing the majority of the cooking, that it would be nice if he could bust out his culinary skills once in a while for you.

If you feel that there are some serious inequalities in your relationship, attempt to discuss it with your spouse. Chances are, they never really thought about or realized that you wanted help in the kitchen. Seriously, guys can be dense. By no means would I ever be able to be with someone who wasn't willing to share everything. I hate keeping score and counting pennies, it's just not my style, but that doesn't mean I would be okay with someone taking complete advantage of my kindness and generosity. This whole "not keeping score" thing only works if both parties in a relationship are willing to share everything; the good and the bad, the riches and the struggles. If you see each other as equals, if you are willing to help each other out (be it with household chores or a family crisis), and if you see your assets as a community pot, you won't need to keep score. Sometimes we ask each other to "borrow" a few bucks when we are short, it's a ridiculous concept since it all comes from the same pot. What I give him for gas, he returns later for bills and so on. There's just no need to keep score.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pumpkin Spiced Cupcake with Cinnamon Vanilla Frosting

This Sunday is one of my dearest friend's birthday. I always like to do something personable for my friends and family when it comes to gift giving or celebrating. Jessie takes full advantage of her October birthday by loving everything pumpkin. I found this as the perfect opportunity to whip up a batch of pumpkin spiced cupcakes. To make them even yummier, I spruced up the frosting by adding cinnamon. The result was a melt in your mouth, decadent pastry.

pumpkin spiced cupcakes

I usually get a lot of compliments on my cupcakes. It's super flattering and I love to hear it, but I have to admit that I'm cheating. No illusions, I'm not at home with an apron neatly tied around me with rolling pin in hand baking from scratch. Although occasionally I will bake certain things from scratch, cupcakes aren't one them. That's right, I use good old fashioned box cake mix. I can just imagine the gasps from proud stay at home mommies everywhere, for shame! To all you gourmet chefs out there, don't get your knickers in a bunch. I'm okay with using a boxed mix as a platform. For us less talented cooks, we could use a little help and I don't see any shame in that.

Anyways, I used standard yellow cake mix and vanilla frosting. I added a few teaspoons of pumpkin spice to the cake batter and made sure to mix it in well. To the frosting I added a about a teaspoon or so of cinnamon, I sprinkled and stirred until I got the desired amount. You can adjust the amounts of spices to adhere to your taste buds. Some people like a lot of spiced flavor and others only want a hint. These cupcakes go great with hot chocolate, tea, and even your morning coffee. Enjoy!

pumpkin spiced cupcakes

*Cupcake Tip- I never leave my cupcakes in the oven for the full suggested time. Once they start to darken on top, they loose moisture. The secret to really good cupcakes is too keep them moist. Leave them in the oven too long and all the moisture dissipates. I take my cupcakes out when they are still relatively light in color on top and seem a tiny bit jiggly. Always use a toothpick to test a few of the cupcakes. Gently slide a toothpick into the top of a cupcake and pull out. If the toothpick comes out clean, you can pull those puppies out of the oven. Let them sit for a while to cool and firm up a bit before icing. If the toothpick comes out with what appears to be wet batter, they need a few more minutes. Watch closely though! They can start to brown fast. 

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Fall Favorites

So Fall is officially here, even though it still feels like the dog days of summer here in Southern California. I've been ready for cooler weather for weeks now but this heat keeps coming back to bite us in the ass right when we think it's beginning to let up. Fall is my comfort zone for many good reasons. Despite the relentlessness of this tank-top weather, I'm getting ready for those brisk mornings, cool afternoons, and fireside evenings ahead. This "Fab Five Friday" is all about my Fall favorites.

Fall Favorites

1. Fall Scented Candles

Every year I look forward to the day in late summer when the retailers start stocking seasonal crap. In the Fall, it's the candles I load up on. I always give a good smell test in the store before committing to a particular brand or scent. This year my favorite Fall scent is definitely  Glade Pumpkin Pie Diner Candle. I've been burning this one at home and work for weeks now. Gives the house a spiced and cozy atmosphere. 

2. Fall Spices 

You may be scratching your head at this one, but it's true. Fall is the only acceptable time of year to throw cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and other spices in just about every recipe you can think of. I sprinkle a bit of cinnamon in my coffee and tea, I make spiked cider with cloves and star anise pods among other spices, I add pumpkin spice to just about every baked good. You can even throw all these spices together with some water and citrus and boil for a Fall fragrance that will take over your home. 

3. Boots

I freakin love tall boots. They are comfy but still give your look that fashionable feel. Fall is the time to break those boots out from the back of your closet, dust them off and wear them as much as possible. You only have a few months of boot weather, use them wisely. I love brown and tan colored flats like these  Madden Girl boots.

4. Heated Blankets

Once the weather actually brings chills, I run cold, much colder than my husband. So I always keep a heated throw around the house during the Fall and Winter months. It's the perfect amount of warmth for me and a little extra I can share with the hubby if he's feeling a bit chilly himself. It also helps cut down electricity costs. Use one these little babies instead of your heater and you're good to go. Just remember to always turn it off! I like this Sunbeam Heated Chevron Throw for a modern look and comfy feel. 

5. Body Lotion

Cold weather brings dry skin, it's a tale as old as time. Use this festive time of year to splurge on some seasonal body lotion. I like Bath & Body Works Brown Sugar & Fig Body Butter from their Autumn collection. It's a nice Fall scent that I haven't already overdone (like pumpkin) and it's very rich and moisturizing. Apply after the shower, before bed, or in the morning for a seasonal fragrance to last you all day.