Black & White Argyle

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Halogen Lights

If you have halogen lights in your car, you might find this handy. It was news to me this morning, and something that could have caused me some serious problems (like, you know, death). 

Helpful information: I drive an all black Toyota Prius; it was 6:30 a.m.; my city has no auto care/parts store that could have helped; changing these dang lights has taken me 60-90 minutes in the past. 

Last night when I got home from work, I noticed that one of my headlights wasn't working. I just replaced both low beam headlights maybe three months ago (if even that). It really made me mad because those lights are not cheap. Even $40 on a tight budget is, well, a big deal. I was whining to Mom about it because I didn't have it in my budget to spend that kind of money, especially on something I took care of not long ago. I was also tired when I got home, so I decided to forego leaving the house again to purchase and install new bulbs, and opted instead to drive with one headlight for another day until I could get to the store tonight. 

Well, life has other plans. Rude! 

When I got out to my car this morning and started off down the street, I realized it was way darker than I remembered it being from the previous day. I turned my lights off and on again to see what the problem was. The problem was I didn't have any headlights. Both of my low beam lights had blown out. It kind of freaked me out because I was worried last night that it might be a fuse problem which would be even more expensive, especially if I had to take it in to get the fuse(s) fixed. 

Anyway, at that point I'd already been flashed by one car and was on the main road leading from my house to the next city. I decided to drive with my parking lights on (I didn't want to blind anyone by driving with my high beams on) and just flash my lights at intersections where cars might be tempted to pull out in front of me. Thankfully, I made it through town without any incident, and when I got to the main street in the next town I noticed an Advance Auto Care parts store with a sign flashing, "Open." 


And then I remembered how freaking long it was going to take to change the dang lights. GR!

So, I pulled into a parking space, sent a quick email to my boss about my situation saying I'd be late, and ran into the store. They quickly helped me find the correct lights (on sale for $10 off - woot!), and as I picked them up I said, "I don't suppose there is anyone here that could help me change these, is there?" The girl that was ringing me up didn't say anything or respond to the question, so I thought, "Okay ... now what?" Next thing I know, a guy comes walking through the aisle in the back, and he's pulling on some latex gloves. He asked where I was parked, the girl gave him the lights while I finished the purchase, and he took my keys out to the car. By the time I had paid, he already had my hood up and was yanking out the first light. 

As soon as he pulled the light out he said, "Yep, it's exactly what I thought. Who changed these for you the last time?" Gulp. "Me," I said. "Ah, well, you wouldn't have known then, but you actually can't touch these halogen bulbs with your fingers because the oil from your skin gets on them and creates a 'break' in the glass when it heats up. You can see here where it burst." 

Sure enough, there's a big black hole in the old light. D'oh! I could have saved myself $40 (plus!) if I'd known to put on some rubber gloves. LAME. 

He changed out both lights in a jif (about 15 minutes - record time), and I was on my way. Well, I was on my way after I asked, "Is it kosher to give you a hug?!" At which point I threw my arms around him in a hug and he said, "Don't let me get you dirty with oil or grease!" He even took my old lights and tossed them for me. 

THAT is crazy good customer service. Another girl even came out with a flashlight (I was using my phone to light under the hood of the car) and said, "Let's use this light so you don't burn through the battery on your phone." What? So thoughtful! 

Sometimes I'm amazed at the things people will do to help. It didn't used to be uncommon to receive that kind of service. That's the kind of service Dad taught us to give at the family business. Always go the extra mile. Make the customer feel good. Do everything you can to make going there or buying there a good experience. But not everybody or every place does that now, even in smaller towns. We've lost that connection to good customer service, and by customer service I mean treating others like you'd want to be treated. And yet, when I needed it most, there was a whole group of people willing to help me out and get me on my way to work safely. Blows my mind that it still happens. And because of that, I will definitely go back to that store over and above other auto parts stores. 

Win - win. I got new headlights and a safe drive to work, they got rave reviews on my blog and Facebook. Plus, word of mouth advertising never hurts, especially when it's good. Thanks to Dad for teaching me what good customer service means, and thanks to those at Advance Auto Care this morning for being taught the same. 

For future reference, I'll be using latex gloves if/when I have to change those dang bulbs again. And if you have halogen bulbs in your car, take note! Keep your greasy paws off those halogen bulbs or you'll be driving to work in the dark. 

Lesson. Learned. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

All Things Pumpkin

It's kind of tradition every year in the Fall to do lots of things with pumpkins. Pumpkins run a plenty around us, and you can usually find a good-sized one for a decent price for carving purposes. The last several years, Mom and I have spent time with David and his girls/family while I carve a pumpkin. Mom never participates in the carving, but I think she really enjoys listening to us talk, laugh, joke, and encourage each other as we gut those Jack O'Lanterns and make them into something cool. This year is no exception. David has already invited us for our annual carving fest, and I hope to pick up my pumpkin in the next couple of weeks so I get my pick of the litter and don't have to take whatever is left. 

Along with pumpkin carving, there are tons of pumpkin recipes that are so delicious. I could eat anything pumpkin year round. One of my favorite recipes of all time is one we used to make around Christmas every year. It's a pumpkin log with a cake-like pumpkin outside, cream cheese frosting inside, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. We use to freeze it and eat it over weeks during the holidays. Such fond memories of the pumpkin log. It's been years since we've done it because it's very messy and takes a lot of time and effort (and the entire kitchen to get it done). Maybe this year I can change that and keep a frozen stash. Mmmm mmmm mmmm. 

Something else that has become a tradition more recently is making pumpkin stew. This is a hearty meal and very filling. It makes great leftovers and warms up well in the microwave or reheated in the oven. Even Dad, who doesn't like squash of any kind, liked this recipe and gobbled it up. It's great served with a side of garlic bread or dished up on its own. And usually there's not much room, if any, for dessert. I thought it would be fun to include the recipe here for future reference. Just keep in mind that the recipe doesn't contain any measurements. It takes adjusting depending on how many pumpkins of stew you plan to make. And you don't have to add everything listed here. You can pick and choose and cater to your own tastes (or your family's tastes). I guarantee that kids will love it, especially if you have them help you make it. They think it's pretty cool when you take a pumpkin out of the oven and have dinner baked inside of it. Yuuuuuuuuuumy! 

Pumpkin Stew (the basics) 
Small pumpkins (usually one per person, depending on size; some people call them sugar pumpkins, but they're not the really tiny ones used for decoration)
Rice or potatoes
Tomatoes (canned or fresh; used to help create moisture, so do not drain the juice)
Green beans
Peppers (of any color, although yellow and orange give it sweet flavor, while red and green make it a little spicier)
If you're David, add jalapenos! 
Hamburger (you could probably use chicken, turkey, or pork, but I like it with red meat)
Any other veggies you want (cabbage, zucchini, etc.)
Meat or veggie stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Cheese (my personal preference is a sharp cheddar)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 
Gut the pumpkins (use the seeds for a treat later!) by cutting off the tops and leaving as much flesh as possible inside. Lather the outside of the pumpkins (to avoid burning and over-drying) with olive oil or vegetable oil. Place on a cookie sheet (or other heavy pan where they can sit flat). 
Cook the hamburger (or other meat) and rice or potatoes (separately). Drain the hamburger for less fat intake if you want. It helps to keep a little bit of fat with the meat so the "stew" stays semi-wet. If using potatoes, cut them up into bite-sized pieces. Cut all the other veggies into bite-sized pieces. If you want the harder veggies (like carrots and peppers) to be fully cooked (soft to the bite) saute them in a bit of butter and/or olive oil before adding them to the stew combination. 
Combine the meat, starch, and all the veggies together using the juice from the tomatoes and the meat or veggie stock until you get a thick, consistent stew-like mixture. Spoon the mixture into the pumpkins. Bake at 400 degrees for about an hour (sometimes less, sometimes more depending on the size of the pumpkins). You'll see the outside of the pumpkins start to "shrivel", and that's how you can tell it's done cooking. 
Remove from the oven and let rest for a few minutes. It's best to eat a whole pumpkin in a bowl, but they can be cut into sections and eaten on a plate as well. Top with cheese, and eat the pumpkin out of the shell along with the rest of the stew. 

There you have it! Pumpkin stew to feed the masses. You won't regret making it. In fact, it might become your new Fall family tradition. I'm not sure if we'll make it this year, but I do know that it's one of my favorites and well worth all the work. 

And if you have a David around your house, persuade him into making homemade caramel ice cream to go along with it (or vanilla with caramel topping). It will be the perfect and complementary dessert for your pumpkin stew. Plus, ice cream kind of fills in all the little holes in your stomach that didn't get enough food, so there's ALWAYS room for ice cream. 

I'm looking forward to Fall (and other holiday) traditions this year. Fall is my favorite season. I love everything about it. There's nothing better than the sounds of leaves falling to the ground and crunching under foot, the wind blowing, the air getting crisper and cooler, the smells of cinnamon and nutmeg and spice and pumpkin wafting in the air, the vibrant colors of leaves, the sweaters and scarves that come out of hiding, and the taste of romance in the air (even when there's nobody to be romantic with). Fall is just an amazing season. Even 'The Bear' likes Fall. He perches himself on the porch and surveys his kingdom for longer amounts of time in the Fall. I think he knows what follows ... snow and freezing cold! 

In the meantime, I'm going to savor every delicious, delightful moment of my favorite season. Please stay forever, Fall! 

Monday, September 21, 2015

I'm a Realist ... and a Perfectionist

I'm a Realist. And a Perfectionist. This creates many problems for me, as you can imagine. I'm all about sharing examples so that other people "get it" when I'm trying to explain something, but honestly, there's not an example that would make sense to anyone else. 

My mom is an optimist. She loves to expect and look for the best - in any situation, in any person, in EVERYthing. I like that about her. In fact, I love that about her! We need optimists in this world. Otherwise, it would feel like it was all going to pot with no chance of redemption. And that's just not the case. 

For the realist (at least in my case), I hope for the best and think the best of people, but I mentally and emotionally prepare myself for the worst to happen - just in case. In other words, I try to prepare for disappointment before it happens so that if (or when) it happens I'm ready to deal with the fall out. Sometimes I'll even say, "I knew it. I knew that would happen." Other times I think, "Well, that wasn't what I expected, but at least I am prepared to deal with it." 

I can't divulge anything right now, but I've been in the middle of a ... circumstance (for lack of a better word), and I've found myself in the position of Realist. I want the best, and I'm hoping for the best, but I'm also preparing for the worst (or an end that I don't really want). 

So where does the Perfectionist part come in? 

"Failures" are really, really difficult sometimes! Failures are actually good for us - if we learn from them. I'm choosing to learn, and that's a good thing. What lesson is to be learned? That's yet to be known. The Perfectionist in me says when I've failed I've done something wrong. That's not always the case, but the Perfectionist says, "You didn't do it perfectly. Try again! And this time don't fail!" We can be tough on ourselves. 

When I know more about my circumstance I'll share. Or should I say when it ends I'll share? Either way, I'm choosing to be a Realist in the meantime and not let Perfectionism take over and tell me I've failed or faltered. Wish me luck! This could be a loooooong trial. Or not? 

Friday, August 21, 2015


It's a soapbox day today. Are you ready? No? Well, get ready. 

There were limited cafeteria options at work today because of some party in the park that an affiliate was hosting (which I never heard about and did not go to), and usually I'm not pleased with work cafeteria food anyway, so I opted to walk across the street to the mall and take my chances at the food court. (And considering yesterday's thoroughly disgusting Chinese food fiasco, this was a mighty feat for a second day.) ANYWAY ... 

I got my Mexican food (kind of hard to mess that stuff up) and went to a more quiet corner and sat where I could people watch while aimlessly surfing the apps on my phone. The apps got boring quickly, so I ate lunch while I people watched. Great fun. If you've never sat back and watched people you should try it some time. It can get pretty comical. When I'm with good friends who are also people watchers, we've made up conversations between the people we're watching. It gets crazy fairly fast. What - that doesn't surprise you? Huh. 

My lunch was good, so nothing to complain about there, but as I sat there watching people interact, walk by, get their food, find places to sit, chat with their friends, etc. I had this overwhelming realization that we're all SO different. There were tall people, short people, skinny people, larger people, round shapes, straight sticks, curvy figures, white people, Asian people, Latin people, African people, adults, kids, moms and dads, and everything in between. As I stewed over that realization, I also realized how easily it was to judge them all for one thing or another. 

That one is really tall. I wonder how they find pants long enough. 
That one is so skinny. I bet they have to buy their clothes in kid's sizes. 
That one is so round and curvy. I wonder if they wear "plus sizes" (I hate that term, by the way). 
That one is so short. I bet his/her friends tease him/her. 
And so on, and so on. 

There were also thoughts about fashion (I can't believe they walked out of the house in that! Whoa - that's a short dress. Good grief, those pants look awful on him.) Now, I get that fashion is an individual thing. What some people wear I wouldn't be caught dead in, but I know very well that much of what I wear is too bland for other people. My aunt tells me all the time when we go shopping together to "get some more color" in my clothes. We have much the same coloring, and she looks great in very vibrant colors (I do, too), but I'm just not as comfortable as she is in those colors. I feel like I'm shouting at people with my clothes saying, "Look at ME!", yet that's not what I think when she wears those colors. It's personal preference, you know? 

As I'm watching all these people and having all these thoughts go through my mind I started to feel small for "judging" these people without knowing anything else about them. It's not that I was intentionally doing it or even doing it with a negative approach. They were just thoughts that kind of rambled through my head. ("Ye shall know them by their thoughts" ... is that a thing? Because if it is, based on today, uh oh.) 

I think what "caused" all of this is, sometimes when I'm not feeling so great about myself, I wonder what people actually think of me. (It's actually rare that I care what anyone else thinks about me. Take me or leave me. What I am is what you get.) Do they think I'm average or kind of pretty? Do they think I'm dressed fashionably or slouchy/frumpy/out-of-date? Do they look at my short pixie hair cut and think I look like a boy/man? Do my ears stick out so they think I look like Dumbo? Is my makeup smearing so they think I look like a raccoon? 

SERIOUSLY? Seriously. 

Not that I felt about myself that way today, but the thought did cross my mind, and then I wondered how many other people do the same thing. Honestly, this probably all stems from circumstances in my own life where people made fun, pointed, stared, whatever. I remember in junior high a particular instance. I have never been thin (or anything remotely close to it), and as I was walking in the hallways during lunch one day with a friend who weighed a lot more than I did, some very rude and stupid boys yelled, "Hey, it's Shamu and her friend, Shamu, Jr.!" Really guys? Thank heavens for me I've also been witty, so I came back with some snarky remark that shut them up. Those same boys were like that throughout high school. They were cruel to this friend of mine. It stopped with me because they knew I'd be vocal back and point out their worst features without thinking twice. Coping mechanism? Probably. Words work though. Sometimes they're piercing. 

And now that this has become a novella, I'll try to get to the point. I realized that as much as I know Heavenly Father loves me, I also know He loves all of His children. ALL of them. Even if they don't know Him or even recognize that He exists. Because He's our Father, He created us as we should be. Sure, we fluctuate in weight, our shape changes as we grow older, our looks become different as we age, but through it all He loves us just as much as He ever did. So who am I to judge what another person is or isn't? Who cares what they're wearing or whether they combed their hair? What does it matter that their personal habits are different than mine? What does height, weight, size or anything else have to do with anything? It doesn't! Heavenly Father sees us as we are now and as we can become. He sees us through "rose colored glasses" (if you will) because He sees our untapped potential as not only human beings, but as His imperfect children. 

As lunch wound down, I found that instead of looking at the outward appearances of people, I was looking more inward. I watched the couple sitting across from me with a set of twin girls (about two-years-old) and a young son (about 6 months) as they tried to get their daughters to eat and keep their son happy all while trying to connect in some way over what was probably his short lunch hour. I watched the young girl sitting across from me as she studied out of a text book and wrote notes furiously as she tried to better herself. I watched as friends sat together and talked and laughed and enjoyed each other's company as they caught up on life adventures, sorrows, mishaps, and joys. I saw an older couple help each other to the restrooms, wait for each other to finish, and walk hand-in-hand back through the mall the way they'd come without saying anything at all to each other, and I knew they were still communicating. 

I think I got a small glimpse of what our Heavenly Father sees in each one of us: His children doing the best they can with what they've got. The reality is we're much more alike than we are different. Even though we're on similar journeys, we're still on different journeys. And hopefully, somewhere along the way, we're enjoying our journey and not worrying so much about what others think or what society says we need to be. 

From now on, I hope I can keep that perspective and, instead of judging those I see, love those I see. I have a sneaky feeling that people watching is going to be much better. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

I'd Love to Renovate a House

There. I said it. I think it would be so much fun to buy an older home with sturdy bones that was looking unloved and abandoned and whip it into shape. Renovations can be a pain, I know that. It would be still fun, however, to take something from a run-down status to a thriving space. The only problem? I have this thing called a job. And student loan debt. And I haven't won the lottery yet. But when I do ... 

... that whole renovation thing is going to happen. 

DIY is awesome. 

Turning an old door into a coffee table? Yes, please. 
Turning an old dresser into a bench with storage? You betcha! 
Making a wood block lamp? Bring it on. 
Using old windows as photo frames? Easy!
Turning an old shutter into a bill organize or mail holder? Totally cool. 
Using mason jars as hanging lights? Awesome. 
And we don't even need to mention the fire pit I've already discussed. 

There's something fulfilling about being creative and making something new out of something old. Re-purposing is a better way to say it, I guess. 

But you don't re-purpose a house. You RENOVATE. And I would love to do that. 

Busting out walls? Fun! 
Laying new floors? Exciting! 
Shopping for colors and appliances and furnishings? Delightful! 
Gutting bathrooms? Cool! 
Re-doing a kitchen? Exhilarating! 
Demolishing gross cabinets? Awesome! 

We're not renovating our house currently, nor do we have plans to buy a home and renovate it any time soon, but one of these days I've GOT to do a renovation. Even if it's only to say I did it, I want to do a renovation. 

If you're doing a renovation invite me over, okay? Maybe if I kick in your walls I won't feel the need to do it in a home I own. Deal?