Archive for May, 2009

Summer Wise: Cooking Prep

I’ve always had a hard time keeping myself entertained during summer break, so I thought it might be kind of fun to do a series of posts about how you can use the break to prepare for next year. So watch for these “Summer Wise” posts over the coming weeks, and let me know if you have any ideas!

Top Ramen, Be Gone.

So, clearly, today I wanted to give you a few suggestions about cooking. If you’re going to be lucky enough to have an apartment for school, you’ll have a real kitchen to work in, but even if you won’t I’d recommend getting a jump on your cooking skills. (After all, you’ll have an oven and stove someday so you may as well prepare now.)

Learn the Basics

While you’re home, take the opportunity to practice in the kitchen. If your mom or dad cooks, ask if you can help (you’ll learn more by doing than by watching!). Even just sitting and chatting with the family cook during meal prep can help–I learned a lot of my cooking skills by quietly observing my mom as she prepared dinner. (Sorry, Mom, should have stepped up to help with that…)

If nobody cooks at your place, this is your chance to fill that mold. There are tons of websites that offer how-tos. I am a huge fan of Cooking Light Magazine (nobody paid me to say that, promise!), and they have an AWESOME collection of Cooking 101 videos and articles, teaching you everything from grilling techniques to how to make a marinade.

Try it Out

Once you’ve learned some basics, grab a recipe and try it out.

Cooking Light is also my go-to source for recipes. While you can buy their magazines and cookbooks, they have a huge online recipe collection you can browse for free. Their food is healthy, fresh, and mostly pretty easy to make. They even have a section devoted to meals you can make in 20 minutes–they range from basic chicken dinners to Mediterranean dishes. (On a side note, the only cookbook I use is one of theirs–I like it because it has more than just casseroles in it!)

Feed the Fam

Practiced? Good. Now give yourself a real test–and butter your parents up for that new laptop, maybe?–by making dinner for your family. If you want to really force yourself to learn how to cook, make it a weekly commitment.

Here’s to a little less Easy Mac in your everyday life!

photo from Cooking Light

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1 comment May 30th, 2009

How to Enjoy Obligatory Family Time


Lots of us–I’d hope to say even most of us–love our families. But that does not mean that we want to spend a day riding mini-rides at Legoland or following Mom around Monticello. So if your parents are insisting on some family time when all you want to do is go to the mall with your friends, I am happy to say that I have a few tips for how to (hopefully) enjoy fulfilling the family-time requirements of the summer.

(Okay, and actually, I am secretly a big fan of Monticello… 🙂 )

Plan It Yourself

Want to give your parents a shock and knock out some family-bonding at the same time? I’d suggest planning a family excursion yourself. It will get you some good credit with your parents, and, best of all, it means you can choose something you actually want to do.

Split Up

The best family outings have a little something for everyone–it means everyone can split off in different directions when you start to get on each other’s nerves. This is especially important for families where interests are very different, or there is a huge age range between the kids.

I suggest keeping it simple. Make a trip to the park or the beach. Pack some snacks or lunch for a picnic, and make it clear beforehand that its supposed to be a relaxing time. Mom can read the book she got at the library, your little brothers can build a sandcastle or play frisbee, your sister can feed birds, and you and Dad can go for a run. Its all about being flexible while being together.

Get it Together

If your parents don’t buy in to the separate-but-together idea, or if you secretly kind of want to have some real quality bonding time, try doing something new together. Getting family members of all ages together for something completely new can be fun (and sometimes hilarious, depending on what you attempt–can you imagine your Dad joining you for a hip hop class?).

Try taking a class together, even if it is just a one-day class. Artistic classes like dance or pottery can be good individual activities to do together, or something like a cooking lesson can be good to get everyone working as a team.

Attitude Adjustment

Just like in most other areas of life, your attitude is the real secret to enjoying your family. So if you’re feeling bummed out by your siblings (or parents) try to adjust your point of view.

First, shift your perspective. If you have the kind of family that wants to spend time together, that is something to be grateful for. Not everyone can claim that. It means that your parents and sibs value you, your presence, and your place in the family. So that’s pretty cool.

Second, make the decision to have fun. That really makes a huge difference. Decide that you’re going to try to make everyone else enjoy themselves, too. So if you’re waiting in a long line or trapped in the car, play games with your bored brother. If you’re visiting the same museum for the fouth time, learn something new, or compete with your sister to see who knows the museum guide’s speech better.

In a few months you’ll be back at school, so make the most of this time while you have it–you might actually miss it when you head back.

Photo: Family’s Happy Day by Marcos Santos

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1 comment May 27th, 2009

Easy Recycling for Old Electronics & Cell Phones

Every time I’ve moved, even just going home for the summer, I find a bunch of stuff I don’t need. In fact last time I started packing up, I came across not one but TWO old cell phones, which I kept because I know you’re not supposed to throw them away (they’re hazardous) but I didn’t know how to recycle them.

Until now!

Drop it Off

Old PDAs, cell phones, batteries, and lots of other electronic accessories can be dropped off at:

Ship It Out

If you don’t feel like making a trip to the store, just make a trip to your mailbox. These retailers and groups have mail-in programs, too, and some offer free shipping.

Check out EPA.gov’s Wireless Recycling page (where I found some of these links) for more information and updates.

Do Some Good

The above recycling programs are a great start, but did you know that your old cell phone could actually help other people? Programs like Cell Phones for Soldiers (http://www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com/) and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (http://www.ncadv.org/takeaction/DonateaPhone_129.html) have donation programs that put cell phones into the hands of people who need them. Also check out:

photo by erwinbacik

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1 comment May 23rd, 2009

5 Ways to Stay Productive this Summer

Oh, summer. The perfect time to sleep in, spend hours at the beach, and catch up on those 62 hours of House you missed because you didn’t have DVR at school.

But I think you’d have to agree that even the amusing antics of Dr. House can get old after twelve straight hours (too much of a good thing). Plus, Mom won’t let us keep using the DVR if Oprah comes on. 😉 So if you want to avoid the “too much of a good thing” syndrome, I suggest getting some work done so your “play” time will be more meaningful. Here are a few ways to get started.

Win Some Scholarships

Well, at least try to win some.

Deborah Fox of the Pay for College Blog has several tips about how to increase your odds of winning scholarships. She recommends applying to local scholarships and those targeted to a specific personal trait (hobby, sport, religion, major, etc.), because those will have a smaller applicant pool than the traditional national essay contest.

She also recommends that you do a little background research on who has won in the past. Often times winning essays or short bios are available–these can help you figure out how to present yourself as a good candidate (or if you should move on to the next opportunity).

Study, Buddy

What? Are you serious? STUDY during summer?

Definitely.

I’m not saying you have to start writing existentialist essays in French or spend the afternoon decoding the human genome, but make sure you keep your brain working. Read a book, even if it’s only for fun. Make a field trip to some local tourist or historical spot you’ve never visited. And if you’re planning to take the MCAT, I’m afraid you’re going to want these homework-free summer months to prepare for that.

Volunteer

If you really need convincing, volunteering is good because:

* It looks great on your resume and scholarship, grad school, and med school applications,
* It is a great way to meet other people who are passionate about the same things you are,
* It can give you experience in a new field, and, the big one,
* It helps other people.

I am hard pressed to think of a field that doesn’t want volunteers. You can do everything from working at an animal clinic to building houses for homeless people, so if something really floats your boat, find out how to become a volunteer!

Resources:
http://www.volunteermatch.org/
http://www.volunteer.gov/gov/
http://volunteer.united-e-way.org/

Go to School

This is probably right up there with studying on your summer to-do list, but taking a couple of extra classes can be extremely helpful. First, if you take the right courses, it could actually speed up your graduation. Second, it keeps your mind active so you are less likely to lose all the stuff you’ve learned this year. Third, you can take the opportunity to take classes you wanted to take but haven’t had time to do during the year.

Clean Up

Want to make your mom happy, and your wallet a little fatter? Spend a couple days going through all the stuff you left behind this year and thin out your clutter collection. If you didn’t use your desktop computer for those 9 months away because you got a laptop, you can probably move on.

Once you’ve separated your stuff in to a “trash” and “sell” pile, post the sellables on eBay or craigslist.org and try to make a little money. Don’t forget to sell back your text books, too. Amazon.com and Half.com are good bets for getting a reasonable return on them.

photo by benipop

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6 comments May 20th, 2009

Cheap Ideas for Summer Vacation

It seems like we are hearing everywhere that times are tough–tougher than they’ve been in a while–and its time to cut back. Well our grand dreams of European summer vacations may be on hold, but that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to spending June through August cleaning pools or taking the “stay-cations” to your local mini-mart. It’s just time to get creative, cheaply. And isn’t that what college students do best?

Take in the Scenery

Sure, it’s nice to hop on a plane and read a magazine all the way from Point A to Point B, but if you bank account looks anything like most college students’, first class probably isn’t an option. Instead, round up your best pals and set off on an adventure by car, train, or bus.

Resources

Sleep on the Floor

Need a place to stay but don’t want to spend a lot? Consider:

  • Best Western/Holiday Inn Express (relatively inexpensive and usually non-creepy)
  • Checking out a guidebook for your trip area to find cheap, quirky hotels
  • Crashing on a couch or floor of a friend/relative/friend-of-a-friend (but be a good house guest!)
  • Stay in a suburb of a big city (like NYC) and make trips in during the day
  • Camping out (in a tent, or if the weather is good & you’re feeling brave, right under the stars)

Resources

Cook for Yourself

If you’re going the camping route, one of the best ways to scrimp on food costs is to cook over your campfire (or if you’re staying with friends or family, cook there–or see if they’ll share a meal!) It’s easy to carry milk and cereal in a cooler for breakfast, and for other meals check out:

photo by bjearwicke

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3 comments May 16th, 2009

How to Apply for Summer Jobs

With summer finally beginning, I know a lot of you are starting to think about how to earn money over the next few months. In fact, reader Jessica recently requested an article about how to snag a job even if you don’t have much experience. So Jessica, this one’s for you!

First Things First

Before you can apply for a job, first you have to find one. Keep your eyes open around town, ask your parents to look for Help Wanted signs, and check out the offerings on craigslist.org (just be sure to take safety precautions–some of those listings are scams!). Check with friends parents’, grandparents, and old workplaces to see if they need more help during the summer months. Also, pay close attention to tourist spots–theme parks, restaurants, etc.–who tend to need more “seasonal” workers.

With the economy tight, you should probably apply for a few positions in case your top choice doesn’t come through. And remember, the earlier you get started, the better your chances!

Look Good on Paper

Whether you have years of paid experience or just a few hours as a library volunteer, you should definitely type up a resume. It will help you fill out your job application, and when you’re done you can clip it to the back. A good resume can make a great impression.

If you’re a good student, include your GPA on your resume.  Employers know that hard working, conscientious students tend to be good employees.  Also include any extracurricular activities or leadership positions that would put you in a good light.

Check out How to Write a Basic, Easy Resume and Your Resume Writing Questions Answered for tips and a sample resume.

Look Good in Person

When you get called in for an interview, the best rule of thumb I’ve found is to dress one step nicer than the typical “uniform” in the office.

For example, when I applied to work at a hobby shop where everyone wore jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers, I opted to upgrade to a button down and some flats, but keep the jeans. For an office position, I kicked it up a notch to heels, a blouse, and a skirt (guys wear might translate to nice shoes, khakis, and a tie).

Basically, you want to look like you’ll fit in AND like you’ve made an effort to look nice, but you don’t want to wear an evening gown to apply for a construction position. Get it?

Be Honest

One thing I’ve learned from my working career (which started when I was 14) is that there is no point to lying during an interview. It will only get you into trouble. If you are the right person for the job–and the job is right for you–then your true colors need to show at an interview. So don’t pretend that you can handle 40 ringing phones if you can’t!

That said, though you should “be yourself” you also need to be professional, so save the Office Space references for your friends. 😉

Keep at It

It is okay to check up on an application, especially if you really want a certain job. If you haven’t gotten an interview, you might want to call once a week to see if they’ve reviewed your application. Be friendly and professional on the phone, even if they put you on hold.

If you have gotten an interview, ask before you leave when you can call them to check in. (If they tell you not to call, though, don’t call. That’s probably a good indicator that you should start looking for other options.)

The economy is hard right now–there’s no getting around it–and that means that even seasoned vets and college grads are having a hard time finding work. So if you don’t get called back right away, don’t give up! Keep applying for new positions until you find a good fit.

Got any tips of your own? Please share!

photo by woodsy

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3 comments May 12th, 2009

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