Archive for November, 2009

10 Cheap Date Ideas for Fall

The weather may be getting chilly, but that’s no reason you can’t heat up your love life as autumn turns into winter. Here are 10 cheap-or-free ideas to spice up your dating life. 🙂

  1. The Great Pumpkin. Hit a pumpkin patch (it’s getting late in the season, so better go soon!) and find your pumpkin-soul-mate. Carve it up (it’s never too late to do some pumpkin art) or try your hand at some pumpkin recipes.
  2. Warm Up. Grab some coffee or cider at a cafe and work through some questions in the IF… book. Or do it for free by perusing it at a bookstore coffee shop.
  3. Cool Down. Ready to get into the winter spirit already? Brave the cold and go ice skating (or find an ice rink in your area if its not cold where you live, you lucky duck). Sure, your butt may meet the ice a few times, but if you can’t laugh about it at least you have an excuse to cling to your sweetie. 😉
  4. Toss Around the Pigskin. Football season is upon us, so whether you love it or hate it, why not embrace it? Play some tackle football in the park or get some yummy, unhealthy snacks and root like crazy for your team (whether you know what’s going on or not). 🙂
  5. Down, Set, Hike. The weather’s getting colder, so head out for a walk in the woods before it gets too cold. You still have time to catch some fall color! Up the ante by bringing a picnic.
  6. Lookie-Loo. If you’re in (or near) a big city, go to a weekend art gallery opening. They’re usually free, offer a great chance to take in and discuss some culture (how mature!), and often offer munchies, too.
  7. Starlight, Star Bright. The crisp, cold air of autumn makes it a great time to take in the starts. The Leonid meteor shower was this past week, and you can check here for more meteor shower dates & times. Bring a blanket and something warm to eat, and be prepared to huddle together for warmth.
  8. Lots of Drive. I’m a sucker for the vintage charm of a drive-in movie–they’re cheesy and fun, and you can bring blankets and food so you’re perfectly comfy. Plus it won’t bother the people behind you if you crack jokes or peel off a candy wrapper. Pick up some food at a drive through and then drive-in for your main feature. (Find nearby drive-ins at
  9. Do Good. It’s the season of giving thanks for what we have, so why not pay it forward? Spend a Saturday morning helping out at a soup kitchen, or pitch in at a local or national food bank like Feeding America.
  10. Swedish Dinner and a Movie. Ready to release your inner film student? For a ridiculous group date (and some great blackmail material) head over to Ikea with your crush and some other pals. Dine on some Swedish meatballs and then use the sample rooms as your own personal film stage, like this group of improvers did. Just be prepared for some funny looks from your fellow shoppers. 😉


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3 comments November 20th, 2009

Cheap + Easy College Recipes: Butternut Squash Soup

I have a confession to make. Before my sweetie started med school, I didn’t cook. I can cook (sort of), I just… didn’t. He was happy to do it, and I was happy not to. But as we’ve worked through the new dynamics of our relationship-in-med-school (he studies, I cook) I’ve discovered that I actually like it! And trying to eat well on a student’s budget makes it almost like a game; I have to find good new fresh foods for super cheap.

And butternut squash, right now, is about $0.99/lb at my grocery store, which is why I searched out a recipe for some yummy (and EASY) soup. Try it out – it is SO yummy for a cold fall evening!

Butternut Squash Soup
simplified from this recipe

3 1/2 c peeled butternut squash
2 1/2 c  fat free less sodium broth OR vegetable stock (I used veggie stock and it was perfect)
3/4 c chopped carrots
1/4 c milk
1 Tbsp butter
1/8 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

1. Start by peeling and chopping your squash, using a large sharp knife and a cutting board. (Directions how to do it here; don’t worry it’s easy.) Cube it, measure out your 3 1/2 c, and set aside.

2. Chop your carrots, measure, set aside.

3. Put the butter in a medium saucepan (any medium-to-large pot) and heat to medium-high (about a 7 on your stove). Add squash and carrots, and sauté for about 12 minutes.

(If you’re not sure what sauté means, basically you just toss your veggies in with your butter and stir every 20-30 seconds so it doesn’t burn. It will start to smell nice and buttery!)

4. Pour in your broth or stock, and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, put a lid on your pot, lower the heat to medium (a 5 on the stove dial) and let simmer for 30 minutes. You don’t have to stir.

5. When 30 mins are up and your veggies are nice and soft, take the pot off the heat, stir in the milk and salt, and then pour into a blender. Blend to a nice smooth consistency.

6. Ladle into bowls, add pepper to taste (I used just a little), and eat. 


Butternut squash has a sweet, almost pumpkin-y taste to it, but without the stringy factor. It blends up smooth and creamy.

The original recipe calls for chopped onions to be sauteed and mixed in as well. I didn’t do that.

The original recipe also calls for chicken broth, but I used veggie stock for a more uniform flavor and really liked it–makes this a great, filling vegetarian option, too.

Serve with toasted french bread for some crunch. 🙂

Bon appetit!

photo from Cooking Light

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1 comment November 16th, 2009

Help Make SCL Better: Site Updates

The site is growing, and that means it’s time we do some spring cleaning around here. I’m looking for ways to make SCL more of what YOU want because without you, dear reader, what am I writing this for anyway?

Party in the Front

I’ve already received some great suggestions about building a better SCL, but I need to hear from you if I want to make your reader experience more personalized! I’m counting on you to help out, so jump on the bandwagon! 🙂

  • Survey Says. Help make SCL a better place by filling out a quick 10 question survey. This survey will only be available for a limited time, so share your opinions now!
  • Suggestion Box. Go here to share your ideas about how to make SCL better. I’m looking for ways to make it more interactive, streamlined, and focused on what you find helpful and interesting. The suggestion box is always open.
  • Wish List. Go here to share what posts you’d like to see in upcoming days, weeks, and months. You can visit this page at any time, I’ll leave it up permanently.
  • Polls. In addition to the occasional college experience polls, we’ll be posting polls about what kinds of topics and posts you want to see. Check it out–we’ve already got one up and ready for your thoughts.

Business in the Back

And now the boring business side of things.

  • Comments. We have a “no-drama” comment policy here at SCL. That means that when you’re leaving comments–even about a post or comment from another user that you don’t like–we ask that you keep them constructive, kind, and helpful. Critiques and suggestions are welcome, but spam or malicious comments will be removed. We want to keep SCL a positive experience for all readers.

That’s it. Pretty easy, right?

You guys are the best–help me make this site even better for you!

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Add comment November 12th, 2009

Prioritizing & Balance: Defining Core Values

It’s about time to wrap up my thoughts on how to find balance (and move on to something new) but I have one more thought to share. Since I moved to the east coast, I’ve found living in a new place (far, far away from my family and friends) has been both challenging and liberating. I love the sense that this new home–and the new school year–are opportunities to start fresh and really get my life in order.

On Finding Balance

For the past couple weeks I’ve been sharing some thoughts on how to balance your life, and I’m actually enjoying working on this right along with you. It’s no simple thing, really. How do you decide what time gets allotted where?

A few months ago I came across an article in Real Simple that talked about defining your “Core Values” and how it could make your life more streamlined and successful. I tucked it away for a long time, but pulled out the article a few weeks ago, and decided to give it a shot.

If you worked in your personal mission statement, you’re already halfway there. If not, why not get started with me now?

Core Values as Priorities

The point of deciding on your “Core Values” is to help you pre-align your priorities, before the opportunity comes up for you to get off track. I literally have a list of them written down, and plan to post it where I will see it all the time–that way if I’m wondering if I should take on a new bit of work or spend more time with my friends, I’ll have my personal values (and pre-made decisions) staring me in the face.

For me, a Core Value is either a “focal point” or a “way of life,” so to get you started, here are a couple of example core values (some are my own) and how they could apply to everyday life.

  • Education. The way of life here is to “always be learning” so this will apply even after school. During school, it means education is a priority and deserves time and effort devoted to it–so no skipping out on study sessions to watch TV (especially when you can DVR it for later).
  • Family First. This is one of the first items on my list, and it basically means that if necessary I will drop everything to support my loved ones. I will buy a plane ticket using money I’d saved for something else, I will miss a big deadline, I will do whatever it takes in an emergency situation. And in day-to-day life, it means I will make time for my family, even when I’m tempted to do something for myself.
  • Health. Besides eating well and making time for exercise, this could apply to getting enough sleep (a common problem in college, especially for yours truly). It also applies to mental health, so taking time to relax could fall into this category.

These are just a few ideas. You could really go anywhere with it. Some other items on my list are “People Before Things” (or “forgive your brother when he breaks your bike”), Gratitude, and Communication.

The Bottom Line
Again, there is no sure-fire way to get yourself completely organized and balanced, but making a list like this helps you be really aware of what you want out of life–and that can help you make better decisions in the long run, because you know where the balance of your priorities will go.

It’s as simple as asking yourself: How does this fit in with my core values? Give it a try–How does taking on an extra class/quitting your job/spending free time reading/anything else fit in with your core values?
What about you? What focal points, goals, and values get the most attention and emphasis in your life?


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Add comment November 9th, 2009

Brain Break: How to Put a Stapler in Jello

We’re big Office fans at my place, which of course meant we were pretty excited about the premiere episode in September. To celebrate, I surprised my sweetie with the smashing dessert you see above–office supplies (including a small stapler because my big one wouldn’t fit in the bowl) suspended in Jello.

And because you’re in college and need to know this kind of thing, I thought I would pass the how-to on to you.

So without further adieu…

How to Suspend a Stapler (and other things) in Jello

(Please forgive the bad lighting in my pics–this was my first try and I should have used a lighter Jello flavor!)

1. Gather Your Supplies.

You will need:

  • 5 packages of light colored Jello (or only 2 packs if you are doing a small bowl with small objects.)
  • Large bowl
  • Floss
  • Tape (the stronger the better… I only had invisible tape and it wasn’t so great)
  • Things to suspend (I used paper clips and a stapler)

2. Begin prepping Jello by boiling water.

Follow the directions on the package… I don’t think you need a picture of this.

3. While water boils, suspend your items in the glass bowl.

To do this, tape down one side of a string of floss to the outside of the bowl. Thread it through some portion of your object. Adjust the tension of the floss so the item is floating somewhere around the middle, then tape down the other side. Keep in mind that heavy objects sometimes take a couple pieces of floss.

4. When water has boiled, stir in Jello powder.

Like so.

5. Pour hot Jello mixture gently into your bowl, then add cool water according to package directions.

Be careful not to just dump the liquid in as it can mess up your floating-office-supply placement. Also, fill it as close to the brim of the bowl as you can!

6. Refrigerate for 4 hours.

You don’t have to put yours next to the yogurt like I did.

7. Remove floss.

When the Jello has… uh… jelled… take the tape off the floss. Slowly slide the floss out of the Jello, pulling gently from one side so it will slip out like a thread through a needle. Don’t pull directly up, or you’ll get lines where the floss was and you could mess up your object placement.

8. Remove Jello from bowl…

This part is a little tricky, so take your time. You’re going to want to fill a larger bowl, or the sink, with warm water. Hold the Jello bowl in the water (without letting water spill over the brim!) for about a minute to help loosen the Jello mold. Remove from water.

Terrible picture of my jello masterpiece, but can you see the stapler?!

Now put a plate on top of your bowl, and while holding the plate in place, flip the whole thing over. Just lift the top off (you may have to wiggle it just a little) and your Jello mold is complete!


* I suggest using yellow Jello, because you can see things better through it. I chose Strawberry because it’s my favorite flavor, but as you have noticed, it is harder to admire the stapler and paper clips.

* Do NOT put your roommate’s iPod in Jello. Or anything else you can’t afford to have replaced or repaired. 😉

* For more details, and a huge collection of photos of things in Jello, check out

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2 comments November 6th, 2009

Prioritizing & Balance: Your Personal Mission Statement

Do you ever feel like just when you’ve finally got your act together, life throws you a curve ball? Whether it’s a hostile roommate, a sick parent, or just the demands of maintaining a healthy job/academic schedule/relationship, the shifts and changes of life can really throw a wrench in carefully laid plans.

Last week I shared some of my simple life-balancing secrets to success, and this week I want to share another one. Bear with me, because it sounds totally cheesy, but now that I’ve done it, I love it.

Man (or Woman) on a Mission

Let’s say you’re the CEO of Nabisco. You know you’d like to make some money, but you haven’t really planned out how you want to get that done–you just know there might be Oreos involved. You figure, you’ll just wing it. How’s that going to go for you?

Probably not so well.

One of the ways big companies stay big (and successful) companies is by defining what they want–exactly what they want–and then breaking it down into small pieces so they can get there.

(And I don’t actually know anything about Nabisco, so sorry, econ majors, if that was a poor example.)

You: a Definition

So now that I’ve hopefully talked you into doing this thing, it’s time to sit down and figure out what your mission statement is – in words. Start by visualizing where you want to be–in one year, five years, ten years. What do you want people to think about you? What do you want them to feel when they’re with you? How do you want to affect your family, your friends, your community, the world?

Basically, what do you want to DO with your life–NOT necessarily your CAREER–but your life.

Write it Down

Go ahead and roll your eyes (I probably would, too, if I hadn’t already done this) but when you’re done, write down your mission statement. It might take some finessing to get it right, but write down your mission statement. Google “mission statement” plus the names of some companies (or even your school) to get an idea of what yours might look like.

Apply It

So, once you’ve got your ultimate lifetime mission statement, what are you supposed to do with it?
Simply put, you apply it. Start looking at your day-to-day activities and tasks from the perspective of how it helps you reach your life mission–and think about that when you are tempted to waste time messing around on the internet or even staring at the ceiling (it has been known to happen!).

So if you felt your life mission was to effect political change, you might spend time researching, networking, volunteering with a political party, etc. If you want to make people happier, you might focus on smaller things like making a phone call to your lonely grandparent or holding open the door for someone at the caf. If you want to write a book, you might shift your classes to focus more on writing techniques, or spend time you used to spend blogging working on a manuscript.

Keep it in Check

That said, now that you’re looking at life with your mission statement in mind, remember that the mission isn’t everything. Your mission statement is not a ruling force of life, but instead a reminder of where your free time could be spent. Don’t give up your job, relationships, or, uh, stop washing your laundry… Just think about your mission statement when you’re building your week schedule, or find yourself with a few extra minutes.

In the end, its all about making the world a better place–and getting to your goals–one step at a time.


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2 comments November 2nd, 2009


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