Thursday, March 31, 2011

Laura Loves {March 2011}

I do a LITTLE too much internet surfing and impulsive shopping. But I wind up finding some fun stuff to watch, read, and try! And I often share these things on various social media outlets…but I thought it would be fun to do a monthly post about things I recently found that I LOVE. My goal is to do this toward the end of each month…so everyone can share in my personal best of the best!
So here are the things I loved in March!

Snickers Peanut Butter Squared
A lot of times, candy brands will come out with alternate versions that don’t always survive. When Snickers came out with Snickers Peanut Butter Squared…I had my doubts. Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE peanut butter and chocolate. I also love Snickers. I actually suggested a Halloween Whoopie Pie flavored after both Reese’s and Snickers (MonsterMashup). But I just know how I’m usually never 100% satisfied with *new* versions of an already good candy…no matter how good it sounds.

Let me tell you…this Snickers Peanut Butter Squared was WAY better than my expectations. It is seriously delicious! I think what really makes it work is that the peanut butter they used wasn’t exactly like a heavy Reese’s peanut butter…but more of a peanut butter flavored nougat. And they even left some regular nougat in there too! I love it! If you need a second opinion…Rebecca highlighted it as a Snack of the Week on her blog!

Blog: Born This Way
Born This Way started a few short months ago (before the release of, and not related to, the Lady Gaga single). It features one person each post who is either gay, lesbian, or transgendered with a picture from when they were young showing how obviously (or sometimes not obviously) they were “born this way.” In their own words, the individual writes a short explanation of how that picture speaks to them and their journey with self acceptance. In the creator’s own words:
…Some of the pix here feature gay boys with feminine traits, and some gay girls with masculine traits. And even more gay kids with NONE of those traits. Just like real life, these gay kids come in all shades and layers of masculine and feminine…Thus, the "Born This Way" blog is not about furthering stereotypes. It is, simply: 'This is me and this is my story' - in living color and black & white. And this blog only speaks for each person here, as their nature and their truth.
~ Paul V., Creator
This might be one of the more political things I write about on my blog…but I absolutely love this blog. I think it is a great way for happy gay adults to reach out to a younger generation dealing with being teased or bullied. It was a great idea for a blog and I’m so glad it has exploded to become so popular in such a short time! You might love it like me…you might hate it…but this post is called Laura Loves…and I love it!

I found Runkeeper from an old college friend James (who is awesome because we are birthday buddies AND we were old Aussie mates!). He posted one of his dog walks on Facebook using Runkeeper’s handy phone application and website. I decided to download it and try it this past weekend walking around town with Milo. It rocks! Using the GPS on my phone and Google Maps, it automatically maps our walks, keeps track of my pace, and the elevation. If I want to stop and let Milo play in the park, I can “pause” my activity so that it doesn’t mess up my data. During the workout, the app can give you updates…and at the end it tells you how many calories you burned! The updates have motivated me to walk further just to see how far I can go or to try to get to that extra mileage point.

walk screenshot

You can also connect with other friends who use the site to motivate each other! (Don’t worry…you can keep some or all workouts private if you want as well). This weekend, Milo and I walked a total of 10 miles! This work week we have walked over 4 additional miles. This coming weekend we may attempt to go further down the Mall than we ever have! I love this thing! And the best part? The app and basic account are FREE!

Hoodies with Earbuds
My mom got me a white zip up hoodie sweatshirt from Old Navy that had earphones in the drawstrings of the hood. At first I thought it was a little odd. But since trying it out…I love it! They are decent earphones and you can keep your iPod or phone in your pocket without worrying about the wire hanging out all over the place. Not only does that help with accidental tugging…but the “thud” noise that tends to happen when you hit the cord on headphones…doesn’t really happen with these sweatshirts. It is perfect to use with my phone to listen to Pandora and Runkeeper at the same time!

Oh did I mention you can wash it??? Yea even with the earphones in! You just can’t throw it in the dryer.

The other day I was on Hautelook (another site I’ve been loving) and one of the deals was for a pullover hoodie with headphones! Yup…I ordered a navy blue one….and I can’t wait for it to get here!

The only downside? A few double takes from the occasional passerby wondering why the drawstrings of your hoodie are in your ears…

One Man Disney Movie ~ by Nick Pitera
The other day, I found this video by Nick Pitera. If you haven’t heard of him…he is a Pixar employee who has an absolutely amazing vocal range. I’m talking female soprano to male bass. Its crazy! If you don't believe his range from this video...check out the rest of his channel! I am in love with his new video (it’s a little long…but worth every second!):

If you love old school (and 90s) Disney movies…his medley is bound to be nostalgic. I even got on a Disney kick and have been nonstop listening to my Disney Pandora channel!

That’s all I have for my first installment of “Laura Loves.” It was sort of hard to narrow this down to only a few things…and truth be told…I already have a few items that have started to make an impression on me for April!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Girl Scout Cookies (and Memories)!

This afternoon, my sister Leslie emailed me:
I finally got some Girl Scout cookies…I was anticipating them for forever. They are really good. I hope you get some of your own. I wondered if maybe you could do a blog post about Girl Scout cookies and talk about which ones you love.
My sister is extremely creative and when she gets into an idea…she usually has a specific vision for the end product. True to form, her email continued to lay out many of the post's details. The request and all the ideas for the post were great! So told her she should write a guest post. A few hours later her post was in my inbox!

Before I give you Leslie’s post, I need to share a few memories of my own (both because she suggested it and because it totally fits here as I write). I was a Girl Scout for a pretty long time. I started in Brownies and actually went all the way up to Seniors (mid high school)…all those years selling cookies with the same troop! I went to Girl Scout day camp at Camp Dewitt, and eventually earned my leadership pin by volunteering a few weeks as a leader at the same place. My first experience away from home at age 11 was summer 1996 at Girl Scout camp where I spent a week three long hours away from home in PA and LOVED it. I credit that experience with being so confident away from home during overnight middle and high school trips, going away to college, and traveling abroad in Australia. I never really experienced the homesickness that some of the others did and I believe that getting to go away to camp at a pretty young age had a lot to do with that!

I recently found some old photos from my Brownie years (circa 1993-1994) in a photo book that one of the leaders had made for us. A few photos needed to be shared:

gs camporee

The above was at Camp Dewitt during an overnight camp event called Camporee in 1994. I am on the bottom second from the right. All of the girls and women leaders are from my Brownie Troop, except my sister Leslie (third from the right on the bottom…next to me)…and my dad (I don't think I need to point him out). Yes Dad volunteered to go to this event with Leslie’s younger troop. He was such a great sport having all girls! He coached soccer AND volunteered with Girl Scouts!

The next picture is more relevant to this particular post:

gs sale

This was my troop’s cookie sale that same year outside of the local A&P. As you can see (if you purchased a $4 box of cookies this year) the price has gone up a bit since 1994. We all had to volunteer at the stand…but we did four person shifts and this was the only picture in the book I found. I don’t remember the store next to the A&P (the one they are in front of) being such an odds and ends shop…I’m pretty sure it’s a liquor store now.

Our troop sold Girl Scout cookies AND Girl Scout Nuts. Around DC, a lot of people don't even know that the Girl Scouts sell nuts…but my mom had purchased some this year from a local Girl Scout so I know they still sell them. I never knew the nuts weren’t as universal because we sold them each year. I was always partial to the cookies though…I think most people are.

So without further ado…here are Leslie’s thoughts on Girl Scout Cookies!
My run with the Girl Scouts of America was short lived. I took on brownie-hood during the rebellious stage of my childhood. After a year I left having received just as many time outs as troop-achievement patches. Despite the odds, I grew up to be a successful confident young woman. Also surprisingly, I have a serious nostalgic affection/addiction toward girl scout cookies. No, they are not homemade, they are not certified organic and they are not cheap, but they are seriously delicious (plus they're made with real sugar, no high fructose corn syrup).
I associate this vice with the coming of spring. At the first sight of a robin hopping in my front lawn I realized my urgent need to contact a local girl scout. If only I had a cell phone number to text. It's hard to find a girl scout if they aren't in your close network of friends and family. I was relived to find an order form left in the kitchen at my workplace. I jumped on it and ordered: 1 peanut butter sandwich (do-si-dos), 1 caramel delites (samoas), and 1 thin mints. In my eyes these are the best of the best. I didn't feel a need to try the newer "dolce de leche" and "thank you berry much" but perhaps I should, considering how delicious the older ones are. I go for the nostalgic ones, although I did pass up on the shortbread (trefoils) which is a great choice. Please vote in the poll for your favorite cookie and comment on why. Its tough for me to pick a favorite but I have to go with the Samoas (Caramel DeLites), they are simply divine.

PB Sandwich_3qrtr Caramel-deLitescookiehistory_1990s_12

(For those of you in Google Reader...the poll won't show'll have to click through to vote!)

Craving cookies? Me too! Go to to find a troop selling cookies near you!
This year I purchased cookies from two co-workers' daughters…and I was so excited to find people selling them. As Leslie notes, they are not as easy to come by if you don’t have a personal connection! I ordered Peanut Butter Patties, Thin Mints, and Caramel deLights! These are my top three...I used to pick Thin Mints as my absolute favorite...but lately I think I lean more toward the Peanut Butter Patties. I also used to love the Peanut Butter Sandwich but missed that one this year...I might have to switch it up next year.

For those of you who are curious about Girl Scout Nut sales…here is an example of an area that sells them (and the products). If you do a bit of google-ing I have seen troops sell them on the internet now since they aren’t sold everywhere. However they all suggest looking for them locally first to support your local Girl Scout Troops.

I'll end with two more pictures for good measure! The first is my entire troop at our 1994 Bridging Ceremony, which meant we were going to "bridge" over from Brownies to become Junior Girl Scouts (I'm front row 3rd from the left...and notably more enthusiastic for the picture than some others haha).

Next is me getting my pin upon crossing the "bridge"...and my Mom taking my picture...I can't get over her outfit!

Thanks for such a great idea and guest post Les! Got any Girl Scout memories you’d like to share? Want to tell us about your GS Cookie tastes? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Milo Story…

Two years ago today, my friend Paul and his fiancĂ© Grady were visiting me in South Carolina for the weekend. Sort of on the spur of the moment we decided we’d go run to PetSmart to look at the dogs available from the local shelter. I had been to this particular shelter a few weeks earlier to visit with a few of the dogs…and considered adopting one…but I had given it too much thought and another family had made a faster decision to take her home. That saddened me and I had called my mom to discuss it.

To make me feel better, Mom explained that it wasn’t a good idea that I even get a dog. I would be graduating from school in a few months and who knows where I’d be moving for a new job. Having a dog would make it hard to find a place to live. Training is a big time commitment. She also made reference to the fact that I was single and wouldn’t be able to share the responsibilities of a dog with someone else. The conversation got me down because (and you can ask my sisters) I take my parents’ opinions very VERY seriously. But let me tell you…that last comment about not having a significant other really lit a fire in me…

In life…people “need” to wait for a significant other to have the wedding of their dreams…and perhaps (unless you take other longer & more costly steps) to have children…but to get and take care of a dog??? Nope…I wasn’t waiting for someone else before I could do that. No way.

That being said she had valid points. Owning a dog is a huge commitment and I was having a hard time just going and jumping into dog ownership. My friend Paul on the other hand…is very good at taking big leaps. He took one off the Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand! And off of a high bridge in Cairns, Australia! And out of a plane in Aussie too! He knew I had been thinking about getting a dog for a long time…and had recently adopted a dog himself. So we went to see the pups from Project Pet (now known as Pawmetto Lifeline) at PetSmart.

I had been looking online at these dogs for weeks and I recognized a lot of them…but in one of the top crates…calm and happy as could be…there was a new red/brown 30lb floppy eared “one-year-old” with a perfect puppy face.

Pet Photo

“That’s your dog Laura! He is so beautiful!” Paul said IMMEDIATELY.

“Woah woah woah! Hold on! Let’s look around and see. I don’t even know if I can do this today. It’s a BIG deal.” I said of course being WAY more apprehensive.

We looked around a bit…but when all the other dogs were barking away at something and he just looked quietly to see what was going on…he really impressed me and I decided to see him out of his crate. He was calm and happy, good with me (new people) and good with Paul and Grady (new men)…so I told them I’d think it over.

The three of us left the store and went to the book store and I couldn’t decide what to do. I wanted a dog so so badly…this dog was pretty much everything I wanted (size/age/temperament)…but Mom’s valid points kept popping up in my head. However, I had valid points too:
  • I had more schedule freedom in grad school for training than I ever would with a full time job…and a new one at that.
  • I would want a dog soon eventually so I’d like having my moving options limited to dog friendly buildings…might as well FORCE myself to.
  • I would rather get used to my new life having to make room for a dog than to be used to my new life and then have to MAKE new adjustments for a new dog.
  • Really??? I should wait for a boyfriend??? Yea I mean it would be easier…but no…no no no.

But honestly I credit Paul for pushing me off the edge and we went back to PetSmart and I jumped in and took Milo home. The first few weeks were a bit crazy as we got used to each other and I wasn’t sure if I had gotten in over my head. A week in…all of a sudden he was scared of some new people which I hadn’t anticipated. I also thought he was house broken but we had a fun few weeks training and cleaning up messes. He also had what I like to call “The 10 o’clock crazies” and would do laps around my living room. To make sure dogs are a good fit, the shelter gives you a 2 week “trial period.” There were days when I thought maybe my impulse wasn’t fair for both of us. But we stuck it out and I am so so so so so glad! 

Milo Day 1   Spring 2009 

In the last two years Milo has more than doubled in size proving that he wasn’t the one year old dog they said he was. Which also explains some of his early immaturity. But ONE page of his loads of adoption papers was a bit inconsistent with the others claiming that he actually was about 7 months old when I got him. I’ve since made up a birthday and he is I believe now about 2 and a half.

Milo and the Capitol  Milo's New Bed

We had our moments and it is definitely a big big commitment having a dog. I can’t really stay too late at work or go straight out after work like others. I feel a bit guilty even going out after work when I haven’t been home all day. It’s harder to take trips because I need to find a dog sitter (which not only takes time but $$). I can’t live too far from work because a long commute really affects how much alone time Milo has. I have to take him out for our walk right after work no matter how badly I just want to lie down and take a nap.

But Milo is soooooo beyond worth it! He is my best bud. He loves me unconditionally (well…except for bath time). He is always excited to see me at the end of the day. He will listen whenever I need to talk. If I don’t feel well he will always come and lay with me and just be calm. He is well behaved when we go to NJ and loves it there, but he MAKES SURE that I’m not going to leave him behind. I know he feels most at home with me no matter where we are or live. He keeps me company in the kitchen (not begging…he just likes to lay there when I cook). He warms my feet at my desk. Sometimes he even let's me know when its past my bedtime or when I need to GET UP! He is the most loyal, loving, and sweet dog and I wouldn’t give him up for the world! I’m so glad I took that scary leap 2 years ago! I don’t regret it one single bit…I would have regretted it if I hadn’t. Mom agrees (well at least I think she does…she loves him tons).

Yesterday, to celebrate, we went on a walk to Eastern Market. He got some tots from my lunch and we got super special gourmet peanut butter treats at the local pet store. They look yummy even to me! (He has already eaten one)

Yummy Treat
YAY for 2 years with my Milo!!!

DSC_2865  DSC_2844

(Last two photos were by my co-worker Brenna. you can see more here and here)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

To Finish or Not To Finish?

I used to hate reading books in grade school. Of course there were a few books I really connected with and loved such as The Giver, To Kill A Mockingbird, Othello (Yes...I have a place in my heart for Shakespeare…is that odd being an anti-reader?). But for the most part I couldn’t get myself into books during my grade school years. I think it was the whole thing about having to read certain books as opposed to being able to choose what I read.

Nowadays I find that I enjoy sitting down with a good book. I have a good amount of TV shows that I watch so my reading time is often limited to when I’m waiting somewhere or sitting on the metro. Although I do read before bed from time to time. While I don’t read as fast as my friend Shirin, I do get through some books. I really enjoyed my last big read, Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. I love Dan Brown’s writing style in that he writes short chapters that really keep you on your toes and end with a cliffhanger. The Lost Symbol was especially fun to read because the setting was Washington, DC and the characters were running around a lot of familiar territory…including my commute to work!

I moved on from The Lost Symbol to a book I’ve wanted to read for a long long time: Wicked.

I have always wanted to see the musical, but knowing that there are a LOT more details in the novel, really wanted to read the book. I bought a copy and was really excited to dig in…but it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Right from the start, there was a lot of vulgarity. Now honestly…it wasn’t to the point of ridiculousness…and not more than I could handle…but it just really surprised me. On top of that the language was really complicated…due in large part to the fact that the setting is a made up world with made up creatures, lands, items, and magic. While the language and crudeness were things I didn’t expect, I figured I’d probably get used to it and kept reading.

After about 100 pages, I wasn’t used to it. Opening the book started to feel more and more like those high school reading assignments. But I really had wanted to read this book…so I kept reading…

I’m now 200 pages in…and not only do I rarely pick up the book…but constantly think about other books I really want to read like Water for Elephants and how I feel like I will never get to it before the movie comes out. Or I find myself looking around the bookstore and seeing tons of other books I think sound really interesting. And then I’m sad that I’m in the middle of a different book that am not at all enjoying.

Tonight I found this book at Costco and it just sounded SOOOOO interesting to me for obvious reasons.

I finally gave in. I purchased it and I am literally moments away from digging in…but I can’t help but feel a little bad for giving up half way through a book I used to want to read so badly!

I know this is probably just one of my silly quirks and I should have given up on it way faster than I did. Have you ever given up on a book? Was it a book you really thought you’d love or was really looking forward to reading? How long did it take you? Did you feel the same way I did? (Got any good reading recommendations?) Let me know in the comments!