How to Pack for a Trip

Make a Packing List

I recommend making an actual packing list, unless you like to live in chaos. I typically use the Microsoft To Do app (formerly Wunderlist) for packing as well as my normal grocery list. You can sync the list to a desktop or share with other people, and it has a satisfying check off with sound options. For a short trip, I typically use this list to jot down items I cannot pack until the last minute (e.g., makeup, glasses) or things I absolutely do not want to forget. If you haven’t nailed down your basic necessities, a template packing list is a great place to start! You can download free templates online, make your own in a Google doc, or use a paper version.

For longer trips or special events, I will use either a Google doc or piece of paper to plan out my clothing as well as any specialty items needed, such as formalwear, hiking shoes, etc. Be sure to note destination-specific items, such as extra sunscreen and a swimsuit for the beach.

Choose Your Clothing

Narrow down the clothing you need to bring by asking yourself a few key questions:

  • What is the typical and forecasted weather of your destination?
  • How long is your trip? What portion is travel time?
  • Which items can you wear multiple times? Will you have access to laundry?
  • Do you need any special types of clothing? E.g., formalwear, athletic wear or hiking gear, waterproof gear, head or shoulder covering for religious sites, etc.

Keep in mind that shoes, jackets, and other bulky items will take up the most space in your luggage. Mentally walk through your normal day and add everything to your list you will need, such as underwear, socks, jewelry, or sunglasses.

Try to pick items that are either neutral or in a similar color family so you can mix and match everything you bring on your trip. Layers are also great to adjust for different temperatures as well as get more wear out of sweaters and heavier layers. It’s much easier to pack an extra t-shirt to wear under a sweater than to pack multiple different sweaters.

Prepare “Travel-ready” Items

If you can, prepare and store travel-specific items so they are easy for you to toss in your bag. After I forgot a toothbrush one time, I started keeping my travel-sized toiletries ready to go in a zippered pouch complete with a spare toothbrush, contact case, mini hairbrush, and razor that always stay in that bag. I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. I don’t usually bring my own shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, but also have refillable travel containers of these that I’ll add in if needed. I even have one that acts as all 3 plus soap or laundry soap – REI or camping products are great places to look for space-saving or multipurpose items.

I store my other travel accessories in one plastic bin in my closet so when I go to get one item, I can quickly see if there’s anything else I might want to bring. This includes an inflatable neck pillow, waterproof phone bag, jewelry holder, extra TSA lock, and more.

Odds and Ends: My Favorite Travel Items

1. Portable Charging Bank

On every trip, I will bring a normal phone charger (extra-long USB cable and block). For longer flights, car rides, amusement parks, or any doubt of access to a power outlet, I will also bring a portable charging bank. I have a pretty large one that came with my Away suitcase, but also recommend this lighter Anker bank and an enormous one for camping that can be recharged via solar (similar one here).

2. Earplugs

I bring earplugs on every trip, and there is usually a pair in both my backpack and toiletry bag at all times. I have several family members and good friends who snore, plus you never know if there will be noise from the road, crying babies, or other people! The earplugs also come in handy on planes, trains, and other transport to block out noise at any time of day.

3. Snacks

I always travel with a heavy-duty granola bar (e.g., a full sized Clif bar) and empty water bottle to fill up at the airport. Okay, so the Clif bar is usually in my purse or backpack because I get really grumpy when hangry, but I’ll always have snacks in my bag for travel. This helps with any unexpected delays or if you don’t have time to pick up food. I like Clif bars because they are calorie dense for the size, and are pretty difficult to crush or crumble in your bag.

If my trip spans a mealtime, I’ll also bring a heftier snack like a sandwich or something easy to eat out of a plastic Ziploc bag like some pasta. I recommend something you would pack in a sack lunch that is simple and low in odor.

4. Contact Lens Cases

A great, inexpensive toiletry container is an empty contact lens case. I have several small 1-2oz plastic bottles for items like lotion or shampoo, but really struggled to find a smaller container for things like makeup (foundation) or fancier face lotions or serums. Contact lens cases are great for these smaller quantities and I have not had one leak either.

5. Waterproof Dry Bag for Phones

This one isn’t appropriate for every trip, but it’s inexpensive and has been a lifesaver on trips where your phone will get wet or dirty. I have taken this phone bag tubing or to the beach. Note that for tubing or rafting, you might want to also clip this to yourself with a small caribiner in case you flip over. I have also taken it on longer trips – in Thailand this came in handy during songkran water festival and surprisingly, an elephant preserve where we weren’t necessarily getting in water but were getting covered in mud and dirt!

How to Cook Rice

In my adult life, I receive an unusual amount of compliments on my rice from other people. Glad to see my daily childhood chore has paid off! If you weren’t so lucky to have 10+ years of practicing this daily (and getting it thoroughly inspected and approved by your mother), read on to learn a few tips and tricks for getting the fluffy, perfect rice you desire.

Wash Your Rice

I think this is the single most important differentatior for getting great rice versus just good rice. I wash mine once, but some people and specific recipes will call for a double wash. Washing rice really refers to rinsing it. This removes some of the excess starch on the outside of the rice grains, allowing it to cook more evenly and preventing the starch from forming a gummy paste in your pot that makes the rice mushy.

To wash your rice, measure out the amount you need and place it in your rice cooker insert or cooking pot. Run cold water over it until your rice is covered, 1-2 inches above is fine and this doesn’t need to be exact. Swirl the whole pot around with your hand about 5-8 times. Carefully pour off the starchy, cloudy water. You don’t need perfection here either, since you’ll just be adding more water anyway to cook the rice.

Add the Right Amount of Water

I won’t lie here, adding water to rice without measuring may be my superhuman power that comes from decades of doing this by eye. For a standard size rice cooker (7-9 inches in diameter), my mom’s rule is your water should be a “knuckle” above the rice. Of course, my knuckles are an entirely different size than my mom’s, so this really averages out to about a 1-inch depth of water above the rice.

When in doubt, reference the back of the rice bag. Most of them use a 1.25 or 1.5:1 ratio of water to rice, depending on the type. Use a measuring cup or scoop to get the recommended proportions. Remember that it is easier to add more water and cook it longer than to undo watery or mushy rice.

Add some buffer time to the end of your rice cooking time (typically 25-35 minutes). This will let you extend the cook time if needed, but I also like to let it sit with the power or heat off for a few minutes to get cool enough to eat and redistribute the excess steam or condensation in the cooking pot. Kind of like resting your meats before you slice them. If you use a pot on the stove instead of a rice cooker, the resting steam will also help naturally release the rice from the sides of the pot.

Learn About Other Tyupes of Rice

The most common type of rice is long grain rice. The longer grains hold less moisture than other varieties and that “dryer” consistency makes it really versatile for multiple cuisines. This is the rice you will most often receive from an Asian restaurant. The problem with this is that it also dries out the fastest. As in, is terrible left over.

I typically buy medium grain or Calrose rice. The shorter grains absorb more moisture, so it is a bit stickier or chewier in texture than long grain, which I love (think more like sushi rice). I prefer the texture, but the rice will also retain that moisture longer when kept leftover. You can reheat medium grain rice (plain or with a little water sprinkled on) and it will keep for a few days. You can find this in most grocery stores, though it may be in the Asian section rather than the rice and pasta section (Kroger does offer store brand medium grain rice, Publix does not). In my opinion, leftover long grain rice can really only be repurposed into fried rice.

Final Note: Rice Cookers

If you eat rice regularly and can afford the expense and storage, consider investing in a rice cooker. Pretty much every household I know of that eats rice reguarly (daily in some cases) has one. There is a lot less risk of burning or drying out your rice. I’ve made rice on the stovetop less than 5 times my entire life and did not enjoy watching it boil, then simmer, then try to fluff it off the pot. Rice cookers are much easier to use and you can use a lot of the newer versions for other purposes such as steaming, or the functionality may be part of something very multi-purpose like an InstaPot. I’ve had this Aroma brand rice cooker for several years. We got it through a rewards program redemption but I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well it works. and it works pretty well. The Zojirushi rice cookers are also highly rated at a slightly higher price point.

How to Make Your Workspace Comfortable

First check that your desk, chair, and computer or other equipment setup is at a good level for your height and posture.

You ideally want to be looking at your screens straight on with a slight downward angle so you are not craning your neck to view any computers or monitors. Your arms should have a relaxed bend at the elbow that allow you to lay your forearms and palms at level height with your tabletop or a keyboard tray. You can typically adjust your chair up or down to achieve this, though you may want to try a cushion, laptop stand, or monitor riser. If you have the option, you may want an adjustable height desk or looking for a desk that is a particular height. An easy way to test this out is to use books, boxes, or reams of paper you already have at home to rearrange your desk.

Your feet should comfortably rest flat on the floor from this position. I am short so mine never do, and you can use a box or a foot rest for this. In full transparency, I used this the least in the office and no longer use one working from home (my feet often rest on the spokes of my chair).

You want your chair to be comfortable if you’re spending hours and hours in it! Office outlets or FB marketplace are good places to find discounted professional chairs. A less expensive alternative to a new chair is a good seat cushion. I use a seat cushion to make myself a little taller for my desk and to keep my back from hurting after sitting all day. I have used this cushion at work for 5 years and more recently bought another one (different brand) for home. These are not the cheapest options available (just under $40 at time of posting) but are highly rated memory foam options, cheaper than most new chairs, and long lasting. The two I have are still in great shape at 5+ and 1+ years respectively.

Standing desks are also very popular to promote health and reduced back pain associated with sitting. There are standing desk add-ons to move up and down, and entire desks that are adjustable. In an unpopular opinion, I personally dislike standing desks since I tend to get knee and foot pain from prolonged standing.

Other accessories I like for workspace comfort are the gel pad wrist rests for your keyboard and mouse. If you’ve spread out your workspace a good external keyboard will provide you a better range of motion. I also highly recommend blue light glasses if you do a lot of computer work. I don’t notice them proactively during the day, but do notice my head and eyes are more fatigued on days or afternoons I forget to wear them.

My most used, favorite items are the blue light glasses, gel pad wrist rests, and seat cushion. These are fairly inexpensive and I feel such an impact from them that I actually purchased an extra of each to have at home versus in the office. The most important thing is to find what works for you!

Note: This is my personal opinion and recommendations. You should consult a medical professional to address serious pain, injury, or fatigue.

Easy Ways to Destress

Work it out, physically. I haven’t run regularly in several years, but this is still a good way for me to release stress. If you’re not into running, try any kind of exercise you like whether yoga or other vigorous cardio. You want it to be the right pace for you to get out of your own head and burn off some of the stress through movement. In a real pinch of serious frustration, you can even punch out your couch or bed.

Make something with your hands! Personally I like baking something complicated to literally get my hands dirty. There is something very distracting and calming to kneading dough or shaping out cookies. This doesn’t have to be difficult – you can start with kits or doughs. Some other ideas here are gardening (I have small patio container-only garden) or working with clay.

Clean. I’ll start cleaning sometimes instead of choosing a physical activity because vacumming and scrubbing down my house gets my blood pumping but also gives me some benefit of having a cleaner house afterward. I choose things that will have a successful outcome, like vaccuming up dog fur or scrubbing shower tile. You don’t want to choose a long put-off task in your house here that will only add to your frustration.

Talk it out. This can be a friend, family member, partner, or sometimes a stranger is easier to open up to (online or in person. You can also indicate if you just want to rant, want support, or want solutions to come out of that conversation feeling better.

Write it down. This is a great way to let it all out. I will literally write it out or type it out on my phone (just be careful not to send it anywhere if it’s sensitive). I don’t actually do anything with this afterward but it feels very freeing to get those thoughts out instead of letting them swirl around my head.

How to Make Your Makeup Last All Day

One word: primer.

Makeup primer is a serum, cream, or lotion that primes your skin for makeup application. Similar to paint primer, or sanding and wiping down woodwork, this creates a smooth, even surface for your makeup to stick to the best. The primer helps your makeup last longer as well as appear better in color and evenness. There are many types of makeup primer, but most are silicone-based. The primary types are 1) general, all-over face primer and 2) eyeshadow primer. Some primers will also target a specific purpose, such as large pores, hydration, or color correction for redness or undereyes.

Primers have gained a lot of popularity over the last 10 years or so. I first tried makeup primer for better eyeshadow pigmentation as well as making makeup last longer for special events like weddings. I didn’t really use any primer regularly until I moved to the South. Once the heat and humidity pick up in the summer you’ll want to use primer or you can easily sweat or melt your makeup right off.

The shine and color pigmentation on the bottom is not just a lighting trick! There is primer under those swatches. Eyeshadow is the Lorac Unzipped palette (warm tones).

For everyday makeup, I can get away with letting my sunscreen double as a primer. This is a listed purpose of the Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen, which is a clear gel that has velvety feel similar to many standalone primers. In all honesty, this sunscreen is not cheap. However, I only use it on my face so it lasts me several months, and because of it’s non-greasy texture I actually put it on every day. The rest of my body gets “normal” sunscreen like Neutrogena, Coppertone, or up & up Target brand.

For a special event that needs long-lasting makeup, I will use a separate face primer and eye primer. The Smashbox Original is great and was one of the earliest primers I recall going mainstream to regular consumers outside of professional makeup artists. I’ve also recently been trying this Tatcha primer. The Smashbox original primer is clear, while others like the Tatcha primer come in a peachy skin color. Both blend in colorless on my skin during all seasons, but I would test a sample if you have a much lighter or darker skin tone than me. My favorite eye primer is the Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion (Original).

Appy primer after your lotion and sunscreen, but before any makeup. I like to let each of these layers sit a minute or two before continuing. A little goes a long way! I use about an M&M sized amount of face primer and just a small swipe of eye primer (one brush worth for both eyes, on the eyelids and undereyes).

Solely to document the difference primer makes, I put primer on half of my face a few weekends ago, applied makeup, and then went about my day, including taking my dogs on a nice, sweaty 30 minute walk. In the photos below, you’ll see my eyeshadow starts out pretty evenly. However, just 4 hours later you’ll notice that one side has fared much better through than the other.

As another example, I recently took my first work trip in almost two years. I had an early flight, so I did this makeup at 5:30am and did not take the second photo until 11:00pm. On top of lasting 15+ hours, this makeup made it through 4+ hours in a KN95 mask as well as happy hour outside in the Texas heat.

Never tried primer? Try a mini size or ask for a sample if you are able to shop in person. Most department stores and beauty stores (Sephora, Ulta, brand stores) will provide several product samples for free with enough to try for several days.

Get Yourself Some Kitchen Shears

I love my kitchen shears, or kitchen scissors. These are scissors specifically for use in the kitchen, and they are one of my top used kitchen accessories. As long as I can remember, this is also something my mom has always had on hand, so they must be good!

What are kitchen shears?

Generally speaking, these are scissors designed especially for the kitchen. The blades tend to be sturdier than standard scissors, and the blades and handles are typically equal size. Most of them come apart for easy washing. Some may have extra features like an herb stripper or bottle opener built in. You will want to keep these with your kitchen supplies and avoid using them like regular scissors (opening food wrappers is fine, but avoid regular use on things like paper and boxes).

Where do I get kitchen shears?

You can purchase a pair online or at any home or kitchen store. This Kitchen Aid pair is highly rated on Amazon, and this fancier pair at Williams Sonoma. They often also come included with a knife set, so you may already have a pair at your disposal! I prefer the kind that are more like scissors rather than a spring-loaded garden snipper.

What do I use these for?

Cutting herbs or fine garnishes. I use kitchen shears to cut up a single green onion, or a little bit of herbs like parsley as a garnish. They provide enough dexterity to get a fine chop and avoid having to get out a knife and cutting board if you haven’t already used one. You will want to chiffonade your herbs still, which means roll them into a little tube and then snip off small bits from one end.

Cutting pizza. Geoff thought I was crazy that I cut my pizza with scissors instead of a pizza cutter. However, at 5’1″ I get pretty much zero leverage to push weight into a rolling pizza cutter and don’t find them particularly effective. The shears let you cut it across and also cut off smaller pieces and slivers as needed when you don’t quite want a whole extra piece.

Cutting food into smaller pieces. At every dim sum restaurant (Chinese tapas/small plates), if you ask them to cut or divvy up your dish, the employee will bust out a pair of kitchen shears and snip all the bao, shu mai, hom soy gok, etc. right in half for you. You can pretty much do the same thing for any food soft enough to be cut. This is great for quickly cutting up food from directly above its current plate or bowl, when you may not have the luxury of a good knife angle or transferring to a cutting board. A lot of people also use this for toddlers to cut their meal up smaller for easier eating and reducing choking hazards.

Cutting meat into bite-sized or stir fry pieces. Shears are fantastic for cutting up bacon – no stringy pieces, no stretching, no getting stuck to a cutting board. I hold a few slices at a time in one hand and snip directly into the pan or a prep bowl. I also cut up raw chicken with kitchen shears for soup, stir-fry, or even just trimming off weird fat or cartilage. I find the shears easier to handle than a knife in this case. You will want to use a knife if the size or shape needs to be more exact (e.g., thin slices, perfectly even dice), and you can slightly freeze or thoroughly chill your protein in this case for easier handling.

Trimming fresh flowers. I use my kitchen shears to trim flowers when putting them in a vase arrangement. They work on all but the toughest, woodiest of stems – most are like a vegetable! I don’t, however, use kitchen shears for my patio garden and use garden shears for that purpose.

And there you have it! Go forth and conquer with your kitchen shears.

How to Pose Your Dogs for Photos

Key Items

The most helpful things your dog should know how to do are 1) look at you with attention and 2) sit.

Use Treats

The easiest way to get your dog’s attention, if they do not look at you by name alone, is to hold a treat. Using a treat as a lure will also help you guide the direction your dog is looking for your photo, such as straight at your camera. I hold my phone in one hand and a treat in the other a few inches above my phone. Play around with the distance and angle needed to get the right photo. There are also clips and attachments for your phone that you can use to hold the treat for you.

My favorite treats for any training are Zuke’s Mini Naturals. These treats and dog food are the only items I have on Amazon subscription. They are unfortunately in short supply right now since the brand voluntarily pulled all stock from sale due to a quality control concern. I prefer the peanut butter flavor – my dogs like all of them, but the meat and particularly salmon flavors can come back to haunt you in doggy breath later. In the interim I have been using these Buckley Trainers treats recently and they are very similar but a little larger than Zuke’s, so I’ll sometimes break them in half. For budget-friendly treats, consider making your own, using your dog’s regular food, or small pieces of pet-friendly food like carrots.

Photographer + Erin for these post-wedding pics with Wrigley. Photo by Keira Davis

If you need your dog looking another direction, are going to be more than a couple feet away, or using a professional (two hands) camera, recruit a second person to help you. They can hold treats or toys up leaving you or the photographer to focus on just taking photos. My friend Erin can capture the dogs’ attention without even necessarily holding out treats!

The Pose

A good sit is also important for photos. I find it to be the easiest pose to keep your dog still and be able to move their gaze around. If they have any costumes or clothing on, this also provides a good front view of the outfit or keeping anything like a hat steady (generally, you will need a hat with straps or ear holes to secure it). If your dog can hold a down stay, that is also a good pose for photos.

With two dogs, my biggest challenge is usually getting them close enough together and then looking the same direction. At close range, I nudge them dogs together or lure them into position with treats. Again, a second person maybe helpful to get them both looking the right way. I also find indoors or full shade to provide the best lighting. You can take photos in sun, but will need to be mindful of where any shadows fall, especially if you have your arms extended to hold your camera or treats.

If I am outside in an open area, I’ll usually keep the dogs on leash if I am taking pictures by myself. Tucker is prone to distractions and might startle and bolt if say, a scary plastic bag blows past in the wind. Outdoors, I will lay their leashes down out of the way and step on one or both. You can also tie the leashes to something like a tree if convenient. For photos specifically, a regular clip-on leash on a flat collar is easiest to hide and maneuver for photos versus a harness. I also have extra long training leashes that are great for more space taking photos.

If your dogs make too serious a face for a treat (above left), try walking them around or have them trot to you with the come command so they drop their mouths back open or pant. This will look like a smile in a photo. The caveat is if you try this after a long walk or when they are too distracted, their tongues and faces might go too far the other way to hold a nice pose.

Most importantly, be patient and practice! Even if your pet is doing everything perfectly, they might just blink in a picture. For every good dog photo I have, there are 5-10 not so good versions. Keep it fun for yourself and your pet so you can continue to take more photos!

How to Dress for Hot Rainy Weather

When I first moved to Atlanta I was not prepared for summer thunderstorms. In California when it rains, it’s generally cold and miserable, so you bundle up in waterproof layers and heavy boots to keep out the rain. But what do you do when it’s HOT and humid? You don’t want to layer up the same way.

First, you’ll want some warm weather waterproof shoes. I really like waterproof ankle boots from Blondo (like these). These aren’t as clunky as winter boots or full rain boots, your leg will not be sweating inside, and they are more stylish and can be worn even when it’s not raining. I prefer a zipper boot rather for quicker on-off and not having to touch wet laces. For more casual wear or popping out with the dog, fully waterproof rubber or plastic sandals are great. For example jelly sandals or slides. These can be a little slippery since your feet are likely getting wet in these, but you can fully dry them off once you reach inside.

Next you’ll want an umbrella and a lightweight rain coat. In light rain, just one of the two will suffice, but if I personally had to choose one it would be umbrella. The umbrella will keep the rain from drenching you, and the light coat helps block any water blown at you from wind.

I typically pick up a new rainbow-printed umbrella from Target every few years (like this, but striped) because I don’t like anyone to walk off with mine. When this one runs its course, I’d like to give a better windproof umbrella like this one a try. A regular-size umbrella has the best balance of protection and portability in a bag or backpack, though the mini umbrellas are great to carry around in a purse or somewhere like a theme park.

Your next layer of defense is a good, lightweight rain jacket. Look for material that is specifically waterproof and not water-resistant because the latter will not hold up to a real rain storm as well. In warm weather, I like to combine a rain jacket and umbrella. The thinnest, most breathable rain jackets will keep you cooler but due to the thinness can feel cold or kind of unpleasant after they are wet. Likewise, my sturdier jackets are a too warm to wear in a summer thunderstorm.

Columbia has good options for both men and women. They also offer heavier interchangeable options that you can zip apart into separate fleece or shell layers. They are not cheap, but they are 3 jackets in one and I’ve had a version of the Bugaboo jacket for over 12 years now that is still in great condition. You can also typically find great rain gear on sale or well-priced at sporting goods stores, outlets, and stores like TJMaxx or Costco.

If possible, ensure all of your clothing will be appropriately covered or is quick to dry. For example, almost any other material dries faster than wet jeans. In summer thunderstorms, I like to pair a rain coat with shorts or a dress.

Another tip for the South is to wait it out if you have time. Thunderstorms are often patchy and intermittent. Check a weather app and a good portion of the time you can wait 20-30 minutes for the rain to let up a bit.

For a one-day special event (e.g., concert, amusement park), you may want to opt for a plastic poncho instead of the raincoat and umbrella. The plastic ones are really compact to carry around, but you can’t easily fold them up for reuse later.

Hope this helps for your next thunderstorm!

Odds and Ends: August 6, 2021

Happy Friday! Some tips, ideas, and products really don’t merit an entire post of their own, so I’ll be sharing some tidbits under Odds and Ends. Here we go!

1) Rub a dryer sheet over your hair to remove the smoky smell from a fire without a full wash.

2) Binder clips make great, inexpensive chip clips and come in a variety of sizes.

3) Use salad dressing to marinate meat easily and much cheaper than a bottle branded as marinade. Italian dressing is a pretty all-purpose herb flavor.

4) Stop tethering yourself to an expensive, tiny phone charger, and get yourself a flexible, extra long charging cable like this one or this one.

5) Highly recommend Ted Lasso for a good laugh and a show that works for you and your partner (season 2 streaming weekly now). The only downside is it’s on Apple TV.

Image by Colin Hutton / Apple TV+ via NBC News

All images from the linked Amazon listing unless otherwise noted.