Merry… Halloween?

I know every year it seems as if Christmas comes earlier and earlier.  Last year I was appalled to see that Santa was allowed to come to the local mall BEFORE Thanksgiving.  Tonight, however, sealed the deal.  I walked into the mall to return some pants at Old Navy and lo and behold, I was looking up at a large stocking decoration hanging among various banners and other Christmas decorations.  While Santa is not due to make his appearance until next Fri. his visiting area was already set up.  I was livid and proceeded to text my boyfriend, mom and sister to vent.

I love Christmas.  I am the biggest Christmas loving non-Christian I know.  It’s not even Christmas Day I love; it’s the entire season.  It’s the decorating, the baking, the gift buying, and just the entire feeling that there is magic in the air.  I love the music, the lights, the food, and the surprise on people’s faces when opening gifts. 

I am a firm believer though that the Christmas season does NOT start until midnight on Thanksgiving Day.  I will turn any radio station that begins playing Christmas music prior to this starting time, and loathe any store that plays it before then.  I don’t recall ever buying a gift prior to Black Friday (though I refuse to shop with all the crazies that day) either.  Not a single Christmas decoration will be put up in my house until Black Friday at earliest; a tradition that began at my parents’ house despite my dad saying every year that he should’ve hung the lights outside weeks prior when it was warmer. 

There are so many people who dislike Christmas, who chastise it for its consumerism, greed and commercialism.  I feel as if the holidays were allowed to be celebrated in the order that they occur then maybe people wouldn’t feel this way.  If people weren’t bombarded with Christmas decorations before Halloween arrives or Santa showing up before Thanksgiving, maybe then they would actually be able to look forward to the holiday instead of wishing for it to end sooner. 

It’s a nice thought, but I know big money hungry corporations would never see to that.  Why they think turning the Christmas season into a 3 month long one is a good idea is beyond me.  Most people I know wait until Black Friday for the sales before they begin shopping, and plenty of people still wait until the weekend before Christmas or even Christmas Eve to do their shopping. 

There is still hope though.  If people refuse to be “sucked in” to the notion that Christmas is nothing more than spending money on the most gifts or most expensive ones then maybe they’ll get to enjoy the holiday magic that I do.  I’d encourage the Christmas haters to ignore the holiday until Black Friday.  Then, instead of feeling compelled to go shopping and spend oodles of money, write out a Christmas card to a family member or friend.  Bake some homemade cookies.  Dig out some old family ornaments to hang on the tree.  Watch a Christmas classic like Frosty the Snowman.  If anything else, find some quality time to enjoy the company of those you love.  That is what the true spirit of Christmas is.

Canning – My First “Self-Sufficiency” Experience

Inspired by a combination of worry of potential economic collapse, overall independent nature and a dose of Doomsday Preppers my boyfriend and I have taken an interest in prepping and homesteading.  While we haven’t gone and ordered a year’s supply of MREs we have both been reading various material geared towards homesteading and want to take steps to become more self-sufficient.  While the world may not see its end during our lifetimes, we see no harm in being prepared for even small scale disasters such as floods or power outages.

I took my first big step in learning a homesteading skill this past Saturday – canning.  An older coworker of mine had sold me homemade jelly before, and a few weeks ago sold me a jar of homemade applesauce.  I inquired if she’d be willing to teach me how to can applesauce, and she thought it was a great idea as she very much sees a lack of homesteading skills in the current generations.  I bought a set of Ball canning jars and headed to her house to learn.

I was very fortunate in that she gets her apples free from a local orchard, but I can say to start that to buy apples to can with from a grocery store would be a very costly investment.  We had a large pail’s worth that fortunately she was able to peel through rather quickly.  I lack skills with a peeler (I buy refrigerated mashed potatoes because to make homemade would take me ages to peel the potatoes), but was able to slice the apples without too much trouble.  I got better the more I did though I definitely could not match the speed that she was capable of.  My hand cramped at various times and my thumb got a bit sore, but overall I was proud of my ability to improve my hand-eye coordination.

One thing I did not anticipate was the amount of time it takes to can things.  While I expected it to take a few hours, I did not realize how long it took apples to soften on the stove.  The smell once the lid was removed to stir them though was definitely a great “homemade” smell.  Yet again my physical weakness came through in both smashing the apples and later in stirring them.  It was a struggle to push through such a big heavy pot of apples.  We used Gala apples which are a naturally sweet variety, but still added sugar and cinnamon in for added flavor. 

I did not realize there was such a preciseness in how lids are placed on canning jars until we began filling them.  We used a funnel to spoon the applesauce into the jars, and then I had to take a wet cloth along the rim to make sure nothing was sticking to it before placing the lid on top.  Apparently any bit of dirt can cause the lid to not seal properly.  We then placed 7 jars in a large pot of water and got it boiling.  Then we had to let it boil for 45 minutes upon which we could remove the jars to cool and put in the next set to boil. 

I’ve been told that pressure canners are a faster way to can, but the way I learned was through the water bath method.  I ended up with 15 pints worth of homemade applesauce, some of which I plan to share with family.  I had hoped to learn how to make apple butter as well but time was against us and after 6 hours of canning, we didn’t have the time.  I’m grateful for having learned the new skill and that I had someone so experienced teaching and helping me.  Even if I don’t ever get into regularly canning things, it was a good afternoon and I believe I’ll be set with applesauce until next fall. 

Yay Congress… You did what you’re supposed to do

When I read CNN articles about the government shutdown and debt ceiling lately  they seem as if they should fall under the category of “Entertainment”.  Then again maybe “politics” is just a fancier word for entertainment because it seems as every year it becomes more and more of a comedy act. 

Politicians have become like college students who procrastinate.  They know well in advance of a deadline for a big project having been given an outline at the beginning of the term, and yet there they are, staying up late and cramming to get in the final details the night before it’s due.  The ironic part though is while a student may get a poor grade for their rushed work, politicians seem to think they deserve an A+ just for completing the task regardless of how well it was done.

Boehner’s statement of “We fought, didn’t win” honestly outrages me.  Keeping the government open and funding it should not be a contest; it is the duty of the elected.  I feel as though the idea of defunding Obamacare by adding that as a requirement to pass legislation to keep the government open should never have even been considered.  Congress should’ve been required to pass a spending bill that did not include any “special requests”.  This whole shutdown was nothing more than Republicans being stubborn children, trying to throw added treats into their parents’ shopping cart which was already filled with what was required. 

I may not always agree with Obama, but I felt his comments about Republicans “holding hostages” by trying to defund Obamacare was dead on.  They had tried to pass numerous times the same type of legislation to no avail.  Why exactly would threatening to not open the government until they got what they wanted result in anything more?  If anything I believe it made more people angry at them and gave Obama and the Democrats more fuel to bash them. 

I often wonder what goes through the heads of the men and women in Congress.  I’m sure there are some, though likely very few, who do propose legislation and vote based upon morals and what their constituents really want.  Their numbers are too small though to have any real impact though, and if term limits were imposed I think that would greatly alleviate the issue.  If someone knew they were only to hold a position for say 4 or 6 years, then I believe they’d be more motivated to accomplish things and not so fearful to voice opposing opinions on issues.  Maybe then they would do more than the bare minimum of passing a budget that no one really agrees with and that they really just “kick down the road” to work out the details on at a later date.  Seeing as how they’d have to be the ones to vote to impose term limits on themselves, however, I really doubt that will happen.  They’ll continue to bicker and vote for whatever they believe will continue to get them reelected.  And they’ll celebrate their “accomplishment” of doing what they were elected to do.

My Cobalt Hates Northeastern PA

When I turned 16 I was given the option of either having a large birthday part or getting a car.  Always one for practicality and not all that social anyway, I of course chose the car.  It was a teal 1995 Ford Escort.  It was a great first car in terms of gas mileage and reliability.  In the 7 years I had it I only ever needed to replace the timing belt.  I tried to make it as cool as I could… swapping out the wheels for ones from another Escort model and putting my Miami Dolphins license plate on the front and flame-designed seat covers inside. 

It was far from my dream car though.  That had always been a Ford Mustang though those were always out of my price range.  Given my friend Josh’s inability to drive his in the slightest bit of winter weather, it wasn’t a practical car for me anyway.  A year after I graduated college, living at home and still hoping the few interviews I landed would merit a “real job”, I began to consider buying a newer car.  I figured while I didn’t have any rent or mortgage payments it would be a wise investment.  I longed to buy a Scion TC but unfortunately given the newness of most of them, they too were out of my price range.  I was torn between a Ford Focus and a Chevy Cobalt.  I should add here that my family is a “Ford Family”.  My dad has driven nothing but Fords as his dad did.  He had 2 Ford trucks most of his life, my mom has both a Ford Explorer and Fusion and my sister’s first car was a Ford Explorer as well.  I should’ve known to stick with tradition, but the sleek appeal of the Cobalt just made me want one.  Flipping through an Autolocator one day I found the perfectly priced 2005 silver Chevy Cobalt.  My dad, likely cringing on the inside, and I went to test drive and sealed the deal on it that day.

To me this was the closest I was going to come to my dream car for a long time, and I felt awesome driving it.  Like my Escort it was great on gas mileage though had much lower mileage and power everything.  I had gone from manually cranking my windows up and down to being able to control the radio on my steering wheel.  Yes, this car rocked in my eyes.

Then I moved to northeastern PA in fall 2011.  While only 3 hours from my former south central PA does not sound like much, the weather is definitely colder.  Winter starts earlier, is chillier, and lasts longer into spring that I ever realized winter could.  I wasn’t the only one to notice a difference though – my car apparently did too.  Ever since I moved north I have struggled with car issues that I never encountered before.  Only in the cold weather does it decide to not start at times when I’m leaving for work.  I have googled this issue many times, finding many who share my pain, but none who has uncovered the secret to fixing it.  I’d go with the idea that it’s just faulty manufacturing but 1-it never happened until I moved and 2-it only happens in the cold. 

The other issue my car seems to have with this area is the numerous potholes in nearly every town as well as on highways in spots too.  While I try to avoid as many as possible, new ones that I’m unaware of tend to spring up as well as those masked at nighttime by the dark.  I firmly believe these treacherous ditches are the reason that I have had to replace my turn signal light bulb on the passenger side at least 3 times.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if my car was normal and allowed you to pop off the headlight to reach the bulb.  No, my wonderful Chevy requires basically the entire front end to be removed in order to reach and replace it.  About a month ago my driver side bulb decided to go out on me.  I’ve been holding out until Nov. to get it fixed when my dad or sister’s mechanic boyfriend can do it for me.  On my way home tonight my passenger side bulb decided it wanted to join the club and went out as well.  Mind you this bulb was just replaced in Sept.

My thought is that my Cobalt hates northeastern PA.  It longs to be back closer to the MD line when spring comes when it should and winter doesn’t have quite the same bitter biting chill to it.  It wants to cruise down roads that while not always pothole free, aren’t nearly as frequent.  Either that or somehow there’s a secret family curse bestowed upon those in my family who choose to deviate from the Ford tradition.  While my dad had taken more heat than I ever did for this (many guys at his work were like you let her buy a Chevy?!?), I have learned my lesson.  My next car WILL be a Ford… or maybe a Scion TC.

Lazy College Kids… Not Really

I tend to read a few news articles daily, usually on CNN because I like the formatting of their website, but in past months I’ve actually found the comments section to sometimes be more informative, and always more entertaining.  One topic that seems to be discussed quite a bit in these comments regardless of what the article is about (though typically it has something to do either with finances or the government) is college kids. 

There is an endless battle it seems of old vs young.  The older generation claims the younger one wants everything handed to them, that they’re the “entitled” generation, that they don’t know how to work hard, that they’re living off their parent’s income in the basement playing video games.  The young fire back stating that they do indeed work, that their college degree hasn’t landed them a job, and that they’re not in the basement playing video games.

From my perspective many of the older generation take for granted the ability they had to simply go out and land a good paying job with pure hard work.  Many jobs that they were able to get straight out of high school (and sometimes not even requiring a high school education) such as secretary or laborer, now require some form of specialized training or previous experience.  Very few jobs exist that don’t require at least a 2 year degree or technical training.  Even jobs that used to pay well as long as you had a 4 year college degree are now becoming tougher to land because they either require a Master’s degree now or multiple years of experience. 

If my generation and those coming after me are considered an “entitled” generation it is only because we were brought up to believe that we merited things.  I grew up being told that as long as I was smart and worked hard that I could get into college and land whatever job I desired.  I was told this by my parents, teachers, coaches, and anyone who was familiar with my educational achievements.  I rode that wave of ignorance throughout high school, collecting awards in history and English and finally graduating as salutatorian in 2005. 

I headed off to college, confident that my intelligence and hard work would pay off like everyone said it would.  I completed 2 internships, one of which was for my dream job of being a high school athletic director.  I put in a full semester, 600 hours of work, which was unpaid, thinking that it would surely seal the deal on my resume as being qualified for jobs once I graduated.  Spring of 2009 came and I collected my Bachelor’s degree with honors and an honor society medal around my neck. 

I applied to various positions with confidence, sure that I would at least land a job interview.  A year passed.  I grew discouraged.  The hours at my part time job, a grocery store, fluctuated immensely anywhere from nearly 40 to barely 20.  Had it not been for my parents letting me live at home and even paying my car insurance and cell phone bill, I would have been in some tight financial spots.  When I did finally land a few interviews they all came up empty.  What I found most frustrating is wanting to know why exactly I hadn’t landed the job; if I knew then I could at least build upon that to try to get the next one.  In spring 2011 a position became open at another branch of the grocery chain I worked for and I was able to take a full time position.  This felt like a total blessing as I could now have health insurance through the company (I was paying for my own after graduation) and have a set amount of hours and guaranteed pay each week.

I am now employed by a bank and make the best salary I have ever made in my life which given I was excited to hit double digits at the grocery store isn’t saying too much.  I live comfortable and am ok with my job most days.  I’m sure having a college degree helped me be chosen for the position though there are still times I’m resentful feeling as if it didn’t truly pay off to obtain one (usually when I’m making my monthly student loan payment) because I’m not working in my chosen field.  Sometimes I wonder what I could’ve or should’ve done differently, but I feel as though I did everything I was told growing up.  I studied hard, took challenging classes, got a college degree, and did internships.  At times I feel a bit cynical, that I was lied to growing up, and that people should encourage the younger generations but err on the side of caution before making anything seem like a guarantee for the future.

To those in the older generation who think that us younger “kids” can just walk into jobs like they did, I really wish they’d look at society a little harder.  Being smart, working hard and even getting a degree isn’t a no-fail plan for anything anymore.  All of my friends from high school followed this same method and while a few have gotten careers in their chosen fields and others have at least found passion in their work elsewhere, none of them lived in their parents’ basements playing video games.  Many of them, like me, struggled to even land interviews after graduation let alone entry-level jobs.  We are not alone as many of the upcoming generation are falling into the same trap; believing all it takes is hard work and they’ll get everything they want.  Maybe instead of the older generation making that empty promise they should be working to find ways to make that closer to a reality. 

Facebook Free… For Now

For the first time since I joined Facebook the summer of 2005 (back when it was only open to college students and required a valid college e-mail address to register), I have deactivated my account.  I guess part of the ironic part of writing about it on here is that I don’t think anyone typically reads my blog unless I promote having a new entry on my Facebook.  Oh well, the blog is my own creative outlet regardless of who else chooses to read it. 

I know this freedom from Facebook will most likely be temporary.  Living nearly 3 hours away from my family and close friends means the website is a predominant means of communication for me.  This week, however, I found I just needed to break my dependency on it, at least for a bit of time.  I guess it will be a social experiment for me in a sense, seeing how I’m affected on a daily basis by not including checking it for updates as part of my usual routine.  While I like certain people’s updates, and pictures are always fun, the tediousness of certain people’s posts have finally made me break and just want to isolate myself for awhile.

Between people posting about Obamacare who have clearly read nothing more about it beyond what other people have posted on Facebook about it and other people who have to put every piece of daily drama in their statuses, I’ve just had enough.  I’m guilty of updating my status often enough that people tend to know most of my life story, but I at least keep all personal drama off of it.  I also voice my opinions on various topics including political ones, but they tend to be in response to articles that I’ve read and posted, or ideas I’ve formed from having read things.  The number of people who post things without having any background knowledge never ceases to amaze me.  Also the number of people who write subliminal statuses (you know which ones I mean, where they say just enough to make you know something’s wrong or going on but don’t elaborate on it) just grates on my skin.  People need to either tell the full story or not post it at all. 

If anything I’m sure the amount of time I waste daily on Facebook will now be put to better uses either writing more blogs, doing more surveys (www.mysurvey.com is a legit way to earn money doing surveys – I’ve made $10 already and am close to making another $10), or reading more newsworthy or intellectual articles.  Who knows, maybe I’ll find out there are people out there who actually miss me enough to want to contact me outside of Facebook?