Mootness, Ripeness, Staleness

Hope everyone had an enjoyable and contemplative Memorial Day. Political beliefs aside, I am grateful for all the men and women who bravely serve/served our country.

Since Constitutional Law is the next topic I'll be tackling in my bar classes, it's only appropriate that I try to have some fun with it. Judicial review and federalism issues are certainly important, but not very entertaining. I understood ripeness, mootness, standing, and political question, but that was only the tip of an iceberg that I couldn't scale completely. Individual rights was more fun, my 90-page outline notwithstanding. There aren't very many subject areas in which a mentioning of BBQ instantly rings a bell.

Speaking of food, let's turn to that. Con law is boring enough, and this blog is all about fun (well, most of the time anyway). I scrimp and save on a lot of things, but there are a few things I allow a bit of latitude for: well-fitted pants, health care, and groceries. Eating well is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. With food prices going up due to increased energy costs and high demand of corn-based products, I'd rather cut back on clothes and entertainment and used that money for good food.

Discount chains such as the 99 Cents Store and Big Lots offer cheap canned/boxed foods, and supermarkets often have an unfrequented corner devoted to discounted products that they want to make a few bucks off of before they expire. I've bought expiring meat before, but I'd make sure the color is still good and I cook it the same day. I'm much more weary when it comes to packaged products when I can't see the contents.

After my recent purchase of a couple of discounted packaged products, I think it's time to write about them. There are a couple of things to watch out for:

-Check the expiration date, if any. Packaged products are usually loaded with preservatives and will last a long time, but it's always good to check.

-Compare multiple packages of the same product. Make sure what you're buying isn't faded. Even if the expiration date hasn't arrived, faded labels are indicative of prolonged exposure to sunlight or heat, which in turn makes food go bad.

-Shop at a clean, reputable store. While it's no guarantee that the food is fresh, big stores tend to take customer service more seriously because they have a reputation to worry about. They're less likely to pawn off patently bad food, and if there's a problem, you might be able to return it.

-Think about the reason for the markdown. The fact that the products wound up in a discount store also tells us something: they weren't very popular to begin with. When I see an excess of a particular product in a store, they're usually in perfectly good shape, but maybe the flavors or shapes aren't particularly popular. I'd buy things with unpopular shapes since I could care less about what they look like. But the flavor is the issue, I'd be a little more careful. If the flavor is pretty common, I have no qualms with it. I generally steer clear of exotic flavors unless I already know the flavor and like it (sometimes I have strange tastes) or if I feel particularly adventurous. There were a few times where the flavor was so awful that I had to throw the whole thing out after a few bites.

My most recent experience was with a can of Swanson's seasoned chicken broth (with herbs and garlic). They were marked down at my local Ralphs. Herbs and garlic is pretty common, but I suspected that they went un-bought because most people go for the regular chicken broth. It was a good decision for the most part--the flavor was delicious. There's only one reason I won't buy it again: I bit into some hard garlic bits. I still have another can, so I'll try to strain it as I pour it next time.

-Sometimes perishables are marked down because they aren't ripe. Use your best judgment as to what lasts longer and what shrivels quickly without refrigeration. Also, another consideration is whether something will ever ripen on its own after it's been picked off the tree our plucked out of the ground. It takes bananas a while to ripen, but it won't go bad too quickly. Tomatoes don't do as well, but it'll survive. A lot of fruits, however, won't be in very good shape.

-If it's been marked down more than once, it's a red flag for how long it's probably been around. A long stint on the shelve suggests staleness. I learned this the hard way.

I bought a bag of cinnamon-flavored sweet potato chips from Big Lots last week. The flavor isn't the issue. I've had sweet potato chips before and liked it, and recently I had a great basket of sweet potato fries, so I'm a big fan of sweet potatoes. What I didn't notice was that the chips had 2 labels on it--one was 99 cents, and on top of that it was a 50-cent label. Since discounters often get their food from another store, which probably had it for a while to begin with, who knows how old the bag of chips really is. The discounter probably marked it down some more because it's been sitting there for a while already, and the management figures a price cut would help force them out sooner.

When I got home, I was eager to try the chips. Once I got around to eating it, I was very disappointed. The chips tasted like cardboard. It wasn't gross or anything, just...off. I kept eating it anyway since it was strangely addicting. After ingesting a few more chips and getting a second opinion from my roommate, I came to my senses and threw the whole bag away.

As usual, feel free to add more indicators of bad products. Most of the time the food at discounter stores are good deals, but it's good to make sure things stay that way.


Of Rocks, Papers, and Scissors

I've been playing with rocks for quite a while now--not throw them at houses or anything, mind you, but string them on wires to create jewelry. Having seen what all the wonderful things people make on Etsy, I decided to try my hand at making cards while shopping at Big Lots right before final exams.

It all came together out of the blue. I was in the stationary aisles to pick up some papers and cardstock that I use to package my orders. While I picked up the ones I usually I found some very colorful cardstock, which I assume have no takers because of their bright colors. Being me, of course I had to go for the bright colors. I figured that it's strong enough to use as packaging materials. At $3 a pack of a couple hundred, it's cheaper than the cardstock I've been buying, so I figured I can give it a try.

Right behind me, I found some $1 stamps. And I saw some metallic gel ink pens, too. That's when the lightbulb went off. Dark and metallic inks would be perfect on brightly-colored cardstock. There were no ink pads for the stamps, so I figured I can go to an office supply store and get one. The nearest Office Max happened to be right next to a Target, and like Odysseus' men drawn to the Sirens' song, I walked into aptly-named Target first. Normally my wallet would fall prey to the Scylla and Charybdis known as the shoe and clothing clearance sections, but this time it didn't. Instead, my money was well-spent on some cheap ink pads. I got black, silver, and gold for a dollar each.

I got home that night and had my way with the stamps and pens. I think I'm gonna start making my own cards for birthdays and such:

Argggh...the blue metallic ink just doesn't photograph very well. Red is too intense for the camera.

I made a few others that didn't make it to Picture Time--they are no longer in my possession. At first I thought about selling a few sets on Etsy since they are so cute, but the fear of getting sued for copyright infringement (technically this is a derivative work) nixed that. Instead, I decided send my creations off to a few customers as gifts (including the lovely Bernie of Magic Realist).

Every time I'm done with a Big Leafiness necklace, I'd save the bigger leftover scraps and see what I can do with them. I've made some small cutouts with the scraps, but I didn't know what to do with them, so I saved them in an envelop. Lightbulb #2 went off. Here's what I did with them:

Now this is probably something I can sell without fear of getting slapped with a complaint. I love the feather cutout and I'm so glad that I can put it to good use.

My cards can use lots of improvement, that's for sure. In the meantime, I might turn to other free alternatives. Jess of How About Orange has generously put up a birthday card and envelop she designed for those days when you're in a hurry to go to a party and, darn, forgot that birthday card. You can find them here. I wish I have a color printer to take advantage of that, but I'm gonna have to wait until after the Bar to be able to afford one.


Death of a Camera

Remember how I was hoping that my camera would last until graduation day? Well, it didn't. It was fine before, but when I busted out my camera before the ceremony, it wasn't working. I tried the usual tricks, but I couldn't coax it into submission. Unfortunately, I missed a lot of picture-taking opportunities with my school friends, but I managed to grab my sister's camera before we had to take our seats.

I'm gonna keep the little guy just because a) I'm too lazy to take it to a toxic waste recycling facility at the moment, b) we had a good 5 years together, and c) it takes some awesome psychadelic pics, like these:

I have no idea what this is a picture of. A stack of papers, I think?

Another shot of the same thing after turning the camera on/off:

I tried the camera again today, since usually things go back to normal after a while. As you can see in the picture directly above, there's something rotten in the state of Denmark. You can't even tell what this is a picture of (it's supposed to be my desk).

This shot of the living room lamp (on a table) is sorta neat, along with the blinds as a backdrop:

With any death, we also celebrate the life that was. I got my Canon PowerShot A60 camera 5 year ago for around $140, including shipping. For a budget camera, it did a lot of stuff and took great pictures. There were plenty of functions with which I could develop more advanced photography skills. Once I learned to use the manual settings on my camera, I never went back to point and shoot again.

When I opened shop, I wanted to do more than snap pictures of my products. I wanted the pics to be artwork in of themselves. As an elegy to cheap cameras, I present to you some of my favorite pics taken with the recently departed (that is, when it worked as it should):

Fortunately, there is a happy ending. Talk about the cavalry to the rescue--my dear friends got me a new Canon Powershot as a graduation present! I absolutely love it to bits, especially the manual focus function, and I'm so grateful that I have such great friends.


Primped and Pampered

A little bit of pampering during stressful times means a whole lot to the body and soul. When I was studying 19 hours a day, I needed to treat myself every now and then, or else I'd go crazy from the stress. I spent a couple of Saturday nights doing a little bit of shopping. I bought a couple of polymer clay jewelry pieces one weekend (more on that another day), then some soaps for myself on another:

I bought a few fun soaps from Naiad weeks ago as a gift, so I decided it was high time to pamper myself. I took advantage of her Saturday Night Sale (a regular event on Etsy) and snagged these two. After using the Moroccan Fig Bar (on the right), I think it's going to be hard to go back to regular soaps. It smells great, and glycerin soap felt so smooth and soothing to the skin. Can't wait to try the cucumber sugar scrub bar!

After the chaotic exams were over, I needed to get a haircut. I neglected to do that for far too long because I didn't have the time. To my dismay, my regular hairdresser took off for vacation and wasn't going to be back for a while. I drove all the way out there, too! So, I went to another place that I've been to once before. I figured that it's going to cost more, but service was probably better. Indeed, it felt goooood to have my scalp massaged and my hair cut. Better yet, the guy who cut my hair was not annoying chatty (in the wanting-to-know-everything-about-your-life way) like my regular hairdresser could be. I had to pay an extra $7 for this kind of experience, but $25 for a haircut isn't too bad. Now I'm thinking peace and quiet might be worth the price to go back again.


What $75 can rent you these days

[Ed.--minor additions made on 5/22/07]

That would be the billowy, uncomfortable frou-frou thing I'm wearing, plus a top-heavy mortarboard with purple tassel (not shown):

The velvety part is actually purple, but my camera is uncooperative. [Ed.--actually, when I went to get portraits done at the neighborhood portrait place for $20, the photographer said that it's hard to capture colors on velvet because the light goes through. So, it's not the camera after all. I'm still trying to figure out how shorter wavelengths reflect but not the longer ones, but I digress.] The purple and red combo gets negative style points in my book, but that's "tradition" for ya (purple is for law grads).

This is what I'm wearing under the billowy nonsense:

The red/white striped thing is the hood on the back of the gown. I like necklaces, but I don't like things going around my neck like the hood. As for the dress, I've had it for ages and it's still lookin' good. The entire outfit (Express dress and Nine West sandals) came from Ross. Yup, you read correctly. Those cheesy commercials do somewhat tell the truth.

Here's a better picture of how the hood drapes. Since I wore red stripes yesterday, I thought it'd be a little silly comparing the two sets of stripes. Yes, I've gotten a haircut to tame all the unruliness.

Oh, I do need the silliness. My bar classes start next Wednesday. Nary a break!


Non-facial Features

Just wanted to share this: Laurie at Blooming Lily wrote a nice post on my Into the Blue necklace. I make a lot of different things--some quirky, some simple, some elaborate, some pretty, etc. Into the Blue falls into the pretty category. It took me a loooong time to get the arrangement just right and a lot of consultations with my roommate to see what works and what doesn't (thanks girlie!), but it was all worth it.

Thanks, Laurie!


Graduating on the Cheap: Wrap-up

The major pointers of graduating on the cheap have been covered, so now it's time to take care of the little things.

Parking: save your guests some money by encouraging them to carpool.

Cap and gown: most people have to buy the cheapy stuff, and some of us have to rent them. I'm not happy with my $75 or so being spent on a gown, hood, and a very ill-fitting mortarboard (it's top-heavy and doesn't stay on). Keep in mind that most rentals have to be turned in right after the graduation ceremony, so that means we need to get our pictures taken with family and friends before then. If you skipped the overpriced school portrait days like I did but still want some wallet-sized photos for family and friends, haul your rented garments to your local photo place and get it done there. It's much, much cheaper.

Degree frames: personally, I don't care for having a frame with a school logo/seal on there. After all, it's already on your degree, so no one is going to be mistaken about where it came from. Better to save the money on a custom framing job elsewhere, or get something nicer from any ol' store, say Target. Getting a cardboard matte for around $2 makes the degree look like a million bucks without spending as much.

Don't forget to send Thank You cards out to your guests afterwards! The increase in postal rates is not cool (it's been a huge headache trying to revise a reasonable shipping rate for my shop, but I'm disgressing), but people always appreciate snail's mail. Getting non-grad theme notecards will leave you with leftovers that you can use for other occasions.

That's about it for graduation planning. Most importantly, go out and have fun. Enjoy your big day!


Graduating on the Cheap: The Food (Part 2)

...aaaaand we're back! Oh. My. Gosh. I don't think I've had to work this hard in my life. The last 2 weeks have been absolutely brutal--working 19-hour days to prepare for a 3-hour long premiere, another final that lasted 2.5 hours, a 38-page paper due in between, and a grueling 4-hour finale on 3-hour's sleep. I'm still trying to recover. My friends must hate me for sending out graduation invites a week before the event (though I've mentioned it to some of them beforehand), but it couldn't be helped.

So let's get back to business, shall we? Food is always a fun topic. Last time we talked about eating out for graduation dinner, and readers have brought up some excellent suggestions, so check out the comments if you haven't already done so. Today I'll go over some DIY (do it yourself) solutions, which I'm a big fan of whenever possible. For my own college graduation, I had scores of relatives over, and yes, I singlehandedly fed them all. I had a little bit of prepping help with a salad when my cousin's family came over early, but the bulk of the work was done by me beforehand.

The key is to plan a menu that looks impressive but can be assembled piecemeal over a few days. For quick-and-easy dishes that don't look quick-and-easy, I highly recommend Allrecipes.com. The first thing to do is to think about what your guests will eat or not eat. If there are vegetarians, vegans, or people with other special dietary needs, you need to keep that in mind. It's good to have a variety to keep everyone full and happy. If I recall correctly, here's my menu:

-chicken fettucine
-a couple of rising-crust pizzas from the frozen food section of the market (really good stuff, by the way)
-strawberry salad with berry vinagrette
-some kind of baked dessert (can't remember if I made it or store-bought)
-ice cream

Doing everything from scratch takes up time that we don't have, especially if we have to deal with final exams right before graduation. We need a helping hand from canned goods, frozen products, or pre-cut meats, all of which can be purchased ahead of time before studying gets crazy. While you're shopping, don't forget to pick up some snacks and easy-to-heat appetizers. They'll keep your guests happy while waiting for the big meal.

After buying all this stuff, the next thing to think about is cooking time. Desserts and salads are generally easy to deal with, so they can go last (but get the pie crust started early if you're making pie). Usually the main concern is the entree. Most dishes require separate steps, so splitting them up is a good start. We can wash some vegetables ahead of time and chop them up, then store them in resealable bags. The cooking part can also be divvied up into manageable tasks. If a particular dish requires multiple ingredients, it might be a good idea to cook them all separately as time permits, then refrigerate or freeze until it's time to combine all the ingredients. Also, if a particular dish has to be baked, it might be a good idea to cook the filling ahead of time to cut down on the baking time on that special day. Browning certain meats before cooking also helps. Once the prep work is done, all you have to do on the big day is to pop them into the oven or microwave to warm things up, keep guests entertained and occupied with snacks/appetizers.

If you don't want to deal with all the cooking and prepping, an easier alternative is to have a barbeque. The only intensive prep work you need to do is to marinate the meat and make a few side dishes. Granted cooking over the barbeque is not a pleasant task, it's easier than slaving over the stove.

My brain is thoroughly fried and I feel as if I'm not writing everything down as planned. If you've got good ideas to add, fire away in the comments!

Next time I'll cover other small details and wrap up the series.


Graduating on the Cheap: The Food (Part 1)

My life has gotten ten kinds of crazy, as I'm waaay behind schedule and desperately trying to finish my paper by today so that I can get started on other things. Needless to say, the blog takes a back seat. Sorry for the sporadic postings.

After the ceremony is over, you have to feed all your guests, right? There are a couple of ways to do it--eat out or eat in. Today I'll discuss the eat out option.

This is a good option if you have a very small apartment and can't entertain guests, or if you just don't have the time to deal with it. It's also the more expensive option. If it were me, I'd treat the guests because this is a "thank you" to everyone for making the time, effort, and many miles of trekking to get out there. But I also realize that not everyone can afford to do this, so the "who pays" part is really up to your financial ability. I don't think there's any shame in letting everyone pay for themselves; people understand we're poor students.

The choice of place to eat might cut down on some costs. Personally, I like family-style places such as Buca di Beppo's--you get a lot of variety and huge portions for a relatively affordable price. Another cost-containing-but-keeps-everyone-full option is a buffet. People get to pick what they want to eat, and you don't have to worry about picking a restaurant that everyone likes, or that someone orders the most expensive item on the menu and you have to shoulder the costs.

Next time I'll talk about options for hosting the party yourself.