Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snow Jobs and Staycations

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. A lot sure has happened since the last time I posted, huh? First, I spent a week in New York City running around like a headless chicken buying and wrapping Christmas gifts, decorating and cleaning our apartment, cooking, buying booze, and getting organized for our holiday party, cleaning up from said party (it was a blast), packing for our two-week bi-coastal holiday tour, baking six raisin coffee cakes, and readying the apartment for our absence. Then, we loaded up the car, drove up to Boston, and spent Christmas Eve and Christmas cooking, shopping, putting up Christmas trees, eating, drinking, opening gifts and playing with them, and visiting with JM's family (we also saw The King's Speech-amazing- run, don't walk, to the theater. But I digress). Then, on Sunday, we packed up all our stuff and gifts, and got ready to fly to California, only to learn that there was a huge snowstorm coming, and there was no way we were getting out. What followed was a circus of scrambling to re-think and re-book our plans ("Do you have any flights from Providence to Las Vegas?"), set to the mellifluous tones of 12 continuous hours of airline customer-service hold music. Somewhere in the madness, my in-laws' golden retriever ate one of the aforementioned raisin coffee cakes whole, and had to be driven through the blizzard to the animal hospital (raisins are potentially toxic to dogs, as you know if you read this, but he's fine now). Then, yesterday, as we carefully drove our way back to New York City (in a rare and precious rental car) to make our flights, we got word that they had been canceled again.  So, we decided that sometimes you can't fight fate, that we weren't going anywhere, and we settled back in to our own cozy apartment, from which I am writing this.

But all is not lost! If we can't have a vacation, at least we can have a STAYcation, and enjoy ourselves while we are holed up. We plan to take long walks in the Park, read our books by the fireplace, go to the movies, play board games, get drinks at fancy hotels, and generally try to ignore/put off non-pressing responsibilities until later. So for those of you who can't get out of town, be it for meteorological reasons, or logistical or financial ones, here are some tips for the perfect staycation. As a bonus, you might actually end up relaxed at the end of it.

1. Plan Ahead
he real trick to a successful staycation is getting yourself to treat it like a real vacation. Obviously, we didn't really have the luxury of doing this ourselves, but, if you can, set beginning and end dates for your staycation. Let your office know you won't be in or available during that time. Resist the urge to say, "I'll just be at home, so if you really need me..." Then, start scheduling things you want to do for each day. If you really want to unplug, schedule a cleaner to come in on the last day of your staycation, to do all the laundry and dishes, and change the sheets. That way you can completely ignore your chores, guilt-free. 

2. Do Research
You may think you know everything these is to do in your own town, but do some research on the internet, or in guidebooks for fun activities. You may be surprised by how many local tourism attractions you have never seen or done.  I've lived in New York City for seven years, and the list of museums, art galleries, tall buildings, boat and walking tours I've never seen or been on is far, far, longer than the one of those I have. Not to mention all of the cool shops, restaurants and neighborhoods I haven't yet explored. Like pretty much all of Brooklyn.

3. Do Activities
Sitting around the house watching TV does not a memorable vacation make (no matter how much you want to catch up on the last season of Dexter). To make a staycation work, you have to get out of the house. Think of what you would do on your ideal day (other than watching TV)- be it ice skating, skydiving, or reading in a coffee shop, and find out where to do it (if you have kids, make sure to ask them what they would like to do, too, and incorporate it into the plan). Buy tickets to a local theater production, amusement park, sporting event, festival or concert. Make reservations at restaurants and write out a plan and schedule for each day, and then follow it!

4. Be Nice To Yourself
Schedule a massage, spa day, or manicure and pedicure one day of your break. Go to that yoga class you've been wanting to try but never had the time for. If you eat out and order take-out during your break (as you should, unless grocery shopping and cooking are your idea of a fun vacation activity), just be mindful of not overindulging- a dessert or two is fine, but at the end of your vacation, you should aim to feel well rested, healthy, and good about yourself.

Stay classy, everyone!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In The Fold

Those of you who have read every post I've written since I started blogging 2+ years ago (Hi Mom!) may have wondered to yourselves why I have gone this long without ever doing a post on one of housekeeping's greatest mysteries and challenges- how to fold a fitted sheet. Well, the truth is that nobody's good at everything, and this is a skill I can honestly say I don't have. In the past, even when I have tried my hardest at neatly folding, my fitted sheets typically come out looking like some giant's used hankie. But that may be because I was doing it wrong! Check out this video my friend, Irene, alerted me to, via This lady takes the sheet and turns it into a perfect, flat rectangle, like some kind of sweet, nurturing magician, set to gentle guitar chords.  I could seriously watch this video all day. And maybe after I watch it a few more times, I'll actually go into my linen closet and attempt it. Or maybe I'll just have a cup of tea.

For those who prefer written instruction, here are the basic steps she takes (although, to use an idiom I think I just made up, "no one ever learned to walk by reading a book!").

Note: Your sheet will end up with much fewer wrinkles if you do this when it's still warm out of the dryer.

1. Take the fitted sheet, inside-out and place one hand in each of two of the pockets, along one of the long sides. Bring your hands together, and transfer the pocket on one hand on top of the other, so that both pockets are over one hand.

2. Using your free hand, follow the edge of the sheet down to the next loose pocket. Bring that up and tuck it inside the two pockets that are already folded together. Repeat with the fourth pocket so that all of them are nested together.

3. Still holding the sheet by it's corners, straighten any folds and the edges, so that the sheet forms a rough rectangle. Lie the sheet down on a flat surface and smooth further.

4. Fold the sheet in thirds width-wise, and then in thirds again lengthwise. If it turns out badly, just watch the nice lady do it again.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hic Town

One of my college roommates/besties just had a baby girl named Kyla, who is maybe the cutest thing going in the under-two-week set. While I was over there gaping and marveling at her teeny little fingernails and eyelashes, she did something amazing. (No, she didn't talk. Seriously, get real). She hiccuped. And her mom (weird, my friend is a mom) said that she has had hiccups a lot (I mean, a lot for an 8-day old), and that the doctor said that some people are just more prone to them than others. And when I heard that, my affection and sense of loyalty to this little squirmer - which were already pretty high for someone I just met - shot off the charts, because suddenly I knew that she and I had something in common (I mean, in addition to our favorite hobbies- sleeping and eating). Because, I am ALSO a hiccup-afflicted individual! And before you wiseacres pipe in, it's not just because I drink a lot of beer, so shut it- I've been hiccuping abnormally oftenly since I was but a tiny tot myself. In fact, my mom says I got them moments after I emerged from the womb, although I can't verify that information myself, because I don't remember that day very clearly. I was probably too distracted by the hiccups to take much notice of anything.

Anyway, all of this is to say that over the intervening years, I have become a bit of an expert on the hiccups- what they are, why they happen, and how to get rid of them, as I suspect my friend's poor baby will have to do, as well, as a fellow sufferer, once she is no longer a baby. So, as a gift to this wee human (who needs another bib?), I decided to put down the veritable hiccup encyclopedia that I have in my brain for posterity.  I give you:

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hiccups if You Are a Baby or Adult Who Gets Hiccups A Lot

What Are Hiccups?
Hiccups, or hiccoughs, if you like to spell things the pretentious way, are involuntary spasms of the diaphragm or esophagus caused by a reflex triggered by the vagus nerve. You don't really need to know that, except if you are ever on a game show, and they ask you that specific question (if that happens, you should probably send me some of the money you win- it's only fair). Also, it's good to understand that for when I reference the vagus nerve in a pun the next paragraph.

What Causes Them?

There are many ways of overstimulating or irritating the vagus nerve, triggering hiccups. You can do it by eating too fast, or too much, or spicy foods, by swallowing air, taking some medications, laughing a lot, or drinking alcohol or carbonated beverages- pretty much anything fun). In other words, what happens in vagus does not stay in vagus. (That joke was so worth it). So, theoretically, you could try to avoid getting the hiccups by eating small, bland meals very slowly, accompanied by flat, non-alcoholic beverages for the rest of your life. Or you can just find yourself a sure-fire, never-fail, hiccup cure, and be happy. Here's what works for me.

How to Cure Hiccups
The way to cure hiccups is to essentially "reset" the vagus nerve by stimulating it in another way. Here are some methods that work:

1. Hold Your Breath: Interrupting your breathing patterns typically will end your hiccups. The best way I've found is to take in a deep breath and hold it as long as you can, while swallowing a few times. Hold your breath until you turn red in the face, and then a few seconds after that.

2. Drink Water Upside-Down: This is the cure that works the most consistently for me. Unfortunately, it also is the most ridiculous-looking one. Fill a glass of water to the brim, plant your feet a few feet apart, bend at the waist, and drink from the wrong side of the glass.

3. Sugar Overload- Put a tablespoon of sugar or a sugar cube in your mouth and let it dissolve on your tongue. The extreme sweetness will jar your nerves.

4. Pull On Your Tongue- No idea why this works, but it does- stick out your tongue, grab it with your fingers, and pull it outward for a few seconds.

5. Get Tickled- Seriously, if the thought doesn't make you super uncomfortable, ask someone to tickle you- it will make the hiccups disappear. Personally, I'd rather drink water upside-down.

6. Take an Antacid- Antacids containing magnesium (Rolaids, Milk of Magnesia) can help calm the nerves, almost instantly. 

"Cures" That Aren't Worth It
Sadly, because everyone and their mom has a favorite hiccups cure, there are a lot of terrible ones floating around out there. These ones might work, but just don't seem worth the effort, really. 

1. Drink Vinegar- Um, gross. Also, all that acid can't be good for your teeth.

2. Get Scared- Seriously, have you ever seen this work? There's nothing scary about your friend saying "boo" when you're expecting it.

3. Stand On Your Head: Oh, for Pete's sake. What's more inconvenient- finding a place to safely stand on your head without flashing the other bar patrons, or having the hiccups for a few minutes? (Kyla, honey, Aunt Lily will explain what "flashing" and "bars" are when you're a little older).

One final note: if your hiccups last longer than a couple hours, or are impeding your ability to eat or sleep, stop reading blogs, and go see a medical professional.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Styles: A New Spin On Things

There aren't many things in life that I like as much now as I did when I was twelve. For instance, I no longer listen to the Backstreet Boys on repeat, I don't have a crush on any of my older brother's friends (unless you consider my husband his friend), I doubt I would watch TRL, Dawson's Creek or Party of Five, anymore, even if they were still on the air, and I've finally accepted that I am not someone who should have bangs. But if I had to hang out with my twelve-year-old self for an afternoon, I know exactly what we could do that we would both enjoy: a drug store shopping spree. Ever since I started getting an allowance, I have taken a tremendous, unexplainable pleasure in shopping at the pharmacy. I love the cosmetics aisle, I love the non-perishable food aisle (pretzel buckets!), I love the home-improvement section, the greeting cards and magazines, the school supplies... I could honestly spend hours browsing the aisles of the drug store. And, while I occasionally have rung up some whopper bills, I usually escape for under $30- try to have that much fun for $30 at the mall!  I couldn't even take my tweener alter-ego to see the Justin Bieber movie for that.
One of my favorite things about the drug store is how often to find something wonderful that you didn't know you needed, nay, didn't even know existed, until you spot it on the shelf. On a recent cold Sunday, I ducked into my local Duane Reade to pick up some necessity I had run out of, and found myself in that familiar happy place, wandering up the aisles checking out mustache trimmers and denture cream (neither of which I needed, thank you very much). I landed in the hair-care section, and that is when I discovered something that has become one of my favorite new products- the Goody Spin Pin, $5.99 for 2, from, or most major drug stores). I am (obviously) a sucker for anything that promises to make my life easier, and I was actually amazed at how well these things work (Goody claims they take the place of 20 bobby pins, and I believe it). All you do is form your hair into a knot or bun and twist the pins in, and miraculously they hold it. I have thick slippery hair that's cut in multiple layers and, if they work for me, they would work for anybody.  I feel like these are one of those things, like the Internet, or cell phones, or running water, that once you have, it would be hard to go back to your life before them. Which is why I would buy several sets for Preteen Lily.

Unfortunately, as miraculous as these things are, though, there isn't anything they can do about those terrible bangs.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Picture This

JM and I have lived in our "new" apartment for almost two and half years, now. In that time, I've painted every room, put up wallpaper and wood paneling, refinished the floors, and arranged and rearranged the furniture in every room at least twenty times. But, for some reason, we had not hung up hardly any of our artwork. We simply couldn't commit or agree on what should go where, so instead we left all our paintings and prints stacked in a corner of our kitchen, cluttering up our house as their frames got dinged and our walls stayed bare. It was madness, I tell you, madness. Finally, last weekend, we came to our collective senses, and decided that hanging artwork anywhere, even if it wasn't the perfectly right place, was better than the status quo of no artwork, nowhere.

One thing we agreed on was that our tiny guest room/office needed a serious artsy pick-me-up. But the room is so narrow, we were concerned that hanging anything on the main sidewalls would make it feel claustrophobic in there. The solution? Lots of pieces arranged on the smaller walls, all the way to the high ceiling (to emphasize the air up there).

Whenever you are hanging a bunch of artwork on one wall, it's important to play around with the arrangement to make sure it all fits together, and the proportions work in the space. A good way to do this, without committing to hammer and nail, is to cut out paper sheets the same size as each of your pieces of art. (We used newspaper, which works well, because it's readily available, free, and comes in big sheets. But if you go this route keep in mind you may have to Mr. Clean Magic Eraser some ink smudges off your walls when your done).  Make sure to label each paper with which piece it represents, and which way is "up"). Then, use masking or painter's tape (so your walls won't be damaged) to play around and arrange the paper pieces on your wall, until you are happy with the way they look and fit together.

Measure the length from the top of the frames to the hanging wires, and mark the distance on each sheet. Then you can simple hammer the hanging hook (I like this kind, $5.70 for 50 pieces, from right through the paper, for perfect placement. Rip the paper away, throw the art up on the hooks, and voila! - perfectly spaced art. So much easier than rearranging the furniture.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Apple Appeal

So, am I predictable, or what? Here it is, the first day of December, and I'm on the blog with a sweet bread recipe. Just like last fall, and the fall before that. I can't help it: I am an entirely unsurprising human- I've had the same haircut and used the same makeup for eight years, I'll watch every Real Housewives Bravo can throw at us, I like exactly the same movies Roger Ebert does, and you could set your watch by my seasonal cravings. What were you expecting: a sorbet recipe? And this kind of bread is perfect for this time of year- it's easy to make, makes your kitchen smell amazing, works as both a breakfast pastry and simple dessert during the entertaining season, and travels well as a gift.  I bake up a bunch of loaves at once, wrap them up attractively, and bring them to holiday parties as a welcome alternative to another bottle of wine (not that I would turn down a bottle of wine, ever).
Anyway, I sort of improvised this recipe to make it a little spicy and flavorful, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it turned out. So, see? It seems predictable ol' Lil has a few tricks up her sleeve after all.

You Will Need:
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 cup very soft or melted butter
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups peeled and chopped apples (about 4-5 apples, any variety)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 325, and grease two loaf pans and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, place the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt, and whisk to combine.

 Step 2: Peel the apples, and chop finely, and set aside. A combination of whatever varieties you have floating around in your fruit bowl will yield a more complex flavor. I used Galas and Granny Smiths.

 Step 3: In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, butter, sugar, and vanilla, and whisk to combine. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, and stir well to make sure all is well combined. Then, fold in the apples and walnuts. Divide batter evenly between two greased pans, and bake for about 75 minutes (or until a toothpick can be poked into the center and comes out clean- you know the drill). Cool for 15-20 minutes on a rack before inverting pans.

Step 4: Wrap cooled loaves tightly in foil, and store at room temperature. They will keep for up to 4 days... not that you will be able to resist eating them long before that. Predictably delicious.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The End of Static (and Stasis)

I know I've been gone for a while, lovers. Have you missed me as much as I've missed you?  I've been making excuses about being really busy lately, but, truthfully, I've always been busy, and somehow managed to pump out some marginally interesting posts on a fairly regular basis, anyway. So, now the real truth can be told - I've been taking a little bit of a mental break from the blog because I was suffering from a wicked case of writer's block. That fickle wench Creative Inspiration disappeared, leaving me alone and bereft staring at a blank computer screen. So I buried myself in other projects (so much to tell you about!) and let the old blogerooni simmer for a while, and finally my blogging mojo seems to have sidled it's way back to me. So consider this a bit of a renaissance, if you will.

Now, after that dramatic and confessional intro, you might be expecting a real doozy of a post, that will revolutionize bathroom cleaning, or something, and change your perspective and the whole way you think about things and stuff. That's not going to happen. We're going to start the renaissance with just a little tip- a tiplet, if you will - and ease our way back in. After all, we don't want to scare the muses away, again. So, to thank you for sticking with me, and to apologize for all those times you checked in only to see that "Move It" post was still up, for, like, the the twenty-seventh day in a row, I am going to solve one of life's little annoyances- static cling in your clothes- here and now. Maybe you already know these tips, and this will be super-anti-climactic after weeks of waiting for my (triumphant?) return, but, hey, at least you got a new picture to look at.

How to Get Rid of Static Cling

You know how sometimes, as you go through your work day, your clothes seem to take on a life of their own, and be drawn like magnets to each other and your body? And then your hair starts sort of sticking up on end, and you get that unpleasant electrical-charge feeling all over your body (this especially tends to happen when you are wearing tights or clothes made out of synthetic material)? If you don't know what I'm talking about, congratulations on avoiding this common problem, but you should probably go to a doctor to get checked out because there's a good chance you are an alien.

There are three no-fail methods that will cure you of the cling:

Method #1: Dryer Sheets
Not to put in your dryer, silly (although that might help with the cling, it also leaves a residue on all your clothes and prevents your towels from absorbing as much). Instead, keep a box of dryer sheets handy in your desk at work (or one or two in a Ziplock in your purse), and if the cling attacks, simply rub one of the sheets over your clothes and hair. I don't know why, but it works. I'm pretty sure this is one of those mysteries that science hasn't figured out yet, like what's smaller than a quark or the Loch Ness Monster (that was poorly phrased- most things are smaller than the Loch Ness Monster, probably, but you know what I mean).

 Method #2: Hand Lotion
If you don't happen to have a dryer sheet handy, there's a decent chance you'll at least be able to find some hand lotion. Pour a tiny bit into your hand and work it into your skin underneath where the clothes are clinging. Be very careful not to get it on your clothes in the process, as lotion will leave greasy marks on some fabrics. But for some reason, the lotion will kill the static, and your clothes will start to behave again. Once you have rubbed in all the lotion, gently run your hands over your hair to tame the wildness without looking like you haven't showered in a few days.

Method #3: Hairspray
In a real pinch, you can spray hairspray on your legs or skin to keep the clothes from clinging. But what's worse- static cling, or hairspray on your skin?

photo credit: via jbcurio on flickr

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Turkey Day!

Here's wishing you a wonderful day of food, family, football (if that's your thing), friends, feasting, and way more fun than these people are having. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

photo credit: via Bricolage

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Where's Wife-O?

When I'm disappointingly absent from this blog, you may wonder to yourself what it is I'm doing that is so freaking important. Most of the time, I'm actually in the kitchen whipping up my little concoctions, or cleaning up the inevitable mess created by said whipping. Or I'm lint-rolling my lampshades, organizing the linen closet, tending my mini-garden, cleaning out the fridge, and all the other mundane things I write about. Otherwise, what would I have to write a blog about? Writing a blog? That's so meta, I would bore myself to sleep, and the whole blog would just be a long line of zzzzzz's.
But sometimes, when I'm not here, it's because I'm over blogging at  Like today, when they posted a little story I wrote for them about how to host a cookie swap party. Sounds like fun, right? I know! So be good little girls and boys and hop over there and check it out.  It's like during sweeps when TV networks do crossover episodes and characters from CSI: Miami show up to help solve a crime on CSI: LA, or CSI: Las Vegas, or CSI: The Moon, or whatever.  Only it's me, instead of David Caruso, who's popping up. And there won't be any dead strippers involved in impossibly disgusting deaths. And it's about a cookie party. Actually, okay fine, it's not really like CSI at all. It's better! So go over and check it out, and click on the links and comment (if you feel like it) about how you've never read a better story about cookie swap parties and whatnot, so they think I'm super popular. In the meantime, I'll be here, washing my dog.

How To Throw A Holiday Cookie Swap Party at

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Perfect Blend

New York City is both the best and worst place to live if you are a food lover. On the one hand, there are an endless number of incredible restaurants and gourmet shops, plenty of people to enjoy them with, and even the most obscure ingredients can be found all year round. On the other hand, if you want to use those ingredients, chances are you will be doing so in a kitchen the size of breadbox. Wait, a shoebox. No, a matchbox. 
Because I suffer from tinykitchenitis myself,  I am always on the hunt for kitchen tools that work well for a lot of purposes and don't take up too much space (I love you, citrus juicer, but you have six parts, take up a whole shelf and only do one thing). That's why I have a special (very compact) place in my heart and kitchen cabinet - same thing, really-  for my stick blender. I have the Kitchenaid KHB300 model, $89 at, but there are other good ones out there for as little as $20.
This little sucker has essentially replaced my blender, Cuisinart and hand mixer, and takes up less space than any of them. It's basically the Optimus Prime of kitchen that it's a transformer (get it?) The blender blade can do anything a traditional blender can do, only it does it right in the pot/bowl/pitcher, so you end up with fewer dishes. Pureeing a huge batch of soup is a messy pain with a normal blender, but oh-so-easy with a stick blender. Pop on the food processing attachment and you can chop onions in a few seconds, without any mess. Need to whip up some mirangues for dessert? Pop on the whisk attachment and boom, you're in business. Then, the attachments go right into the dishwasher to clean, and then stow away in no space when you're done.  If it sounds like I am doing an infomercial, it's because I actually feel like I am in an infomercial when I'm cooking with this thing.
So much functionality packed into such a tiny package... kind of like my kitchen.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Other Half

 I'm back in New York now, baking pear bread and making soup and wearing Ugg boots (only in the privacy of my own home, don't worry) and generally coming to terms with the reality that it is, in fact, fall, and actually almost winter. It was easy to pretend that wasn't true in the 75-degree weather I enjoyed while I was in California, which generally kept me outdoors (and away from my computer- sorry).
But it wasn't all fun and games and Frisbees and swimming pools while I was out there (although there was a fair amount of that, I admit). I also accomplished something on my "Thirty Before Thirty" list! I ran a half marathon! And, what's better, I ran it with my best friend, Chloe!
Chloe and I have been friends (sometimes against our wills) since we were toddlers when our moms, who have been friends since the Kennedy administration (seriously), made us be friends. In the 29 years since then (the Reagan administration, for those keeping track), Chloe and I, both competitive by nature, have been amiably comparing ourselves to each other ever since. It doesn't help that, aside from the fact she's a brunette and I'm blond (Veronica to my Betty) we are so similar by nature: our heights, weights, shoe sizes (big), bra sizes (small), body types, personalities (bossy), and taste in decor and fashion are, and have always been, almost exactly the same. We went to high school together, moved to the East coast for college the same year, were married two weeks apart (and were maids of honor in one another's weddings), and bought our first homes the same year.
Chloe left me in her procreating dust when she and her husband had a baby last summer (not yet, thanks!), and she started running with a jogging stroller this spring.  And when I heard that, I did what any good friend would do: I peer pressured her into training for a half-marathon with me. So, since September, Chloe and I have been running the same training runs, and sending each other text messages with our times and distances, and how we felt. Even though she was in California and I was in NY, and technically, it's three hours earlier there, she usually finished the runs before I even started mine (babies wake up early, it turns out).
Unsurprisingly, when I got to California, and we were actually running our training runs side-by-side, we discovered that we naturally run the same pace. So when the race happened, we stayed together the whole way- each of us sometimes slowing down to accommodate the other, sometimes pushing ourselves to catch up- and 2 hours and 14 minutes later (10 minutes faster than my previous half)- we crossed the finish line. At exactly the same time. And I thought what I've thought a million times before, "I'm so lucky to have someone to do this with". 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I Like To Move It, Move It

To answer your question ("Where ARE you?"), I'm back in California this week. The purpose of this trip is multi-fold: I'm visiting my parents before the holidays (as we will be spending both Thanksgiving and Christmas with JM's family this year), I attended a family milestone birthday party, I'm checking up on my baby brother-in-law who recently moved to L.A., and I'm running a half-marathon on Saturday. Here's the thing: Whenever I'm out here, I am struck by how active my days are. And without my even trying (half-marathon aside, of course)! It seems like all the fun things I do- swimming in the pool, going to the beach, playing croquet, volleyball or Frisbee (if you can, in fact, call my efforts "playing Frisbee"- I might be the only person in the universe incapable of putting spin on a Frisbee), hiking, yoga, chasing after my friend's baby- are all inherently active and athletic pursuits. In fact, the only thing I do that isn't exercise is sun-bathing, and even then, I break a serious sweat. It's like the exercise just happens without my even thinking about it.
Which, now that I think about it, is probably why my parents, who are senior citizens, actually look more like seniors in college (okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea). It seems like instead of allocating an hour at the gym every day, you can achieve similar, or better, health results just by keeping moving all the time. So my new motto for life (I have a few of them), is "Just Keep Moving".
Here are just a few healthy habits for things you can do in your real life to keep your body in shape, without setting foot in a gym. Admittedly, these aren't as much fun as beach volleyball, but they sure beat the treadmill.

-Walk It: Instead of taking the car, walk your errands (or even better, run them). Carry your laundry to the cleaners and pick up your dinner as take-out, instead of having it delivered. Take the stairs instead of the elevator (or better yet, move into a 5th-floor walk-up, like us). If you have to drive, park on the far side of the parking lot and walk across, like my dad does.

-Bike It: Put the new bike lanes in New York City to use, and bike to work and around the city. Just please wear a helmet- if the pedaling doesn't get your heart pounding, near accidents with taxis certainly will. It's just like Spinning class, but without that hamster-on-a-wheel feeling.

-Carry It: Instead of getting a cart at the grocery store, grab a basket. You'll work your biceps carrying it around, and you'll be less likely to buy junk you don't need. And while you're at it, bring your own bags to the store and carry your groceries home yourself (this is especially good exercise if you live in a walk-up, see?)

-Build It: Earlier this week, I assembled my parents' new grill. At one point, I was in a crunch position for about ten minutes attaching two parts, and I realized that even that is pretty decent exercise. So next time you make a run to Ikea, load the car and assemble it yourself. And since you'll have to deal with sorting out all those screws and washers and deciphering those directions, this one will be a good exercise for your brain, too.

-Fix It: Anyone who has ever tried to move a toilet, or held a 50-lb lighting fixture while someone else screwed it in to the ceiling, knows that DIY is as good for your bod as it is for your house. And it's so rewarding!

-Clean It: Next time you have to clean your place, put on your workout gear and some pump-up tunes (I recommend Sean Paul), and treat it like it's exercise. It'll be a better workout than a jazzercise tape, and you'll get so much more done.

-Grow It: If you have the space (and green thumb) for it, start a garden. Shoveling, weeding, mowing, hoeing, mulching and watering are all great exercise, and you'll have pretty flowers or tasty veggies to show for it (in addition to your rock-hard abs).

Here's hoping this moves you!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chard-er Club: White Bean and Chard Soup

Every year, right around this time, I get the uncontrollable urge to make huge batches of soup. Just like the squirrels somehow know that it's time to store up their acorns, and the leaves somehow know to change color (don't try to enlighten me with real science on this topic- you'll waste your breath), I know that I cannot rest until our fridge is crammed full of soup. It's pure instinct- like "fight or flight" (only it's more like "bisque or borscht"). This year, my soup compulsion happened to coincide with the arrival from our organic produce delivery service of a huge bunch of chard. After trolling the Internet for chard soups, I combined elements from a few recipes to create my own delicious Frankenstein monster of a soup recipe with not just chard, but cannellini beans, bacon, pastina, and sage (so, basically all of my favorite things). You'd be hard-pressed to find an easier or quicker recipe (and still be able to call it "cooking"), and it will satisfy all of your soup-making urges. Best of all, this soup is hearty enough to be a whole dinner- just serve with a salad or a crusty roll. Or dinner every night for a week, as JM and I have. My instincts tell me you're going to love it.

You Will Need:
2 white or yellow onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 slices smoked bacon (thick-cut, if possible)
12 leaves fresh sage, minced
1 handful fresh parsley, minced (optional)  1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed
10 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bunches chard (or spinach or other greens will do in a pinch), washed and dried
1/2 cup dried pastina or orzo

freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

What You Do:
Step 1: Finely chop the onions and bacon into no larger than 1/4-inch cubes. Finely mince the garlic.

Step 2: Put onions, garlic, bacon, sage, parsley, nutmeg and pepper flakes into a large saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, and bacon is mostly cooked, about 5 minutes.

Step 3: Add beans and broth, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. When soup boils, add pasta and reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Step 4: Meanwhile, prepare the chard. Remove the woody stems, and chop the leaves into 1-inch squares.

Step 5: Add the chard to the pot, stir and simmer until wilted, about 4 minutes.

Step 6: Dish soup into bowls, and top with Parmesan. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Save Your Soles

I'll admit it: I'm hard on my clothes. In order to claim a spot in my wardrobe, an item has to stand up to dog hair, cooking splatters, weird cleaning concoctions, and very cramped conditions in my tiny NYC-sized closet. And, arguably, my shoes get it twice as bad (since they have to deal with all that, plus being walked on).
It's that time of year where I'm putting away my sandals until spring (so long, my darlings!), and pulling out my boots and winter heels.  In fact, in my misspent youth, I used to just buy cheap shoes, wear them until they were destroyed, and throw them in the garbage at the end of the season.  But ever since I met JM, I'm rethinking this strategy. My dapper husband only buys about one high-quality pair of shoes per year. He keeps them carefully shined and taken care of, and has them resoled from time to time. It turns out that cobblers are nothing short of footwear miracle-workers. I swear to you, my husband has eight-year-old pairs of shoes that look brand new (meanwhile, I have eight-month-old pairs that don't even look like shoes anymore).

Before you rush out to buy a whole new fall shoe wardrobe, take another look at those kicked-around shoes in the back of your closet. Here's just some of the things a good cobbler can do for you.  No sole-searching required.

Stretching: If your shoes are too tight, you can have them stretched (up to a full size) for short money. No more pinched toes!

Leather Repair: A quality tailor can fix cracks, tears, scuffs, and scratches in leather to make them almost invisible. And they can clean and revive battered suede.

Resoling: If you find yourself with a Charlie Chaplin-style hole in your shoe, it's probably because you love those shoes. Fear not- a cobbler can replace the whole sole for a fraction of the cost of a new pair.

Reheeling: If you just can't stop yourself from wearing stilettos to a garden wedding (I've been there, sister), you probably have torn and grass-stained heels. A good shoe repairman can totally clean and patch those heels. So you can wear them to another garden wedding.

Dyeing: If you have a pair of white pumps leftover from a wedding (or the '80s), but you still like the shape, you can have a cobbler dye them any color you want, whether they are fabric or leather.

So give those shoes a new lease on life.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Asparagus Tips

Get it? Because asparagus spears have tips and I am going to give you tips about asparagus. See what I did there?

Now, let me ask you this: Is there anything better than asparagus? Pungent urine notwithstanding, there is something so wonderful and fresh about this lovely veg. And it tastes so good with everything- you can throw it in a salad, an omelet or pasta, and it's obviously a great side, too. Technically it's in season in the spring, but it's widely available all year, which is good since we eat it at least once a week.

However, to really enjoy this awesomeness, you've got to know a little bit about how to choose and prepare it. Here are some tips for how to enjoy your asparagus to the fullest.

1. Look for straight, bright, crisp green stalks without any wilting, brown spots or wrinkling. Look for tips that are tightly formed, and dark green or purplish, with no soft or liquidy spots. If you still can't tell, take a whiff- it definitely shouldn't smell gross (or really much at all). Try to buy bunches with stalks that are roughly the same thickness- that way they will cook uniformly.

2. When you get the asparagus home, slightly trim the ends, and place upright in a stable container with an inch of water at the bottom (like  bouquet of flowers), and keep in the fridge until you are ready to use. I swear it will stay fresher longer this way!

3. To avoid cooking the woody stems, use this tip: Instead of cutting off the ends, hold the stalk of asparagus at both ends, and exert gentle pressure to snap the stock.  It will naturally break exactly where the tough internal fibers give way, leaving you with just the most delicious tender part.

4. Asparagus is delicious steamed or grilled, but my favorite thing to do is boil it (you'll know it's done when the stalks turn a uniformly grass-green color and you can insert a fork into the stalk without difficulty). Top with a little butter, parsley, and fresh grated lemon rind.  You won't want to eat anything else ever again.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Selling Power

Earlier this week, I dropped my phone, shattering the display glass (prompting my ever-so-tactful husband to sigh and say, "maybe you just shouldn't own fragile things"). After I shot him a steely glare of fury, I decided that instead of paying someone to repair the phone, I would do it myself (in my typical, frugal, DIY way) using a kit I got off the Internet, and instructions via Youtube. I have a good sense of the mechanical, and better-than-average fix-it skills, and the nerds in the video made the repair process look like a breeze, so I really thought I had it in the bag.  But as I was trying to pry the little fragments of broken glass off the phone, I heard an ominous crunch from inside the phone, which portended what I already knew to be true- I had made a bad situation much, much worse.  All of this is to say that I had an unexpected major expense this week in the form of a new cell phone.

In order to offset the cost, and for a fun little goal for myself, I decided I should try to recoup my loss by selling stuff from around the house. Drawing inspiration and advice from my friend Rachel, who has sold more stuff than Ron Popeil, I got out my digital camera, and set to work. Here are the best ways to sell your stuff- even the junk you think is worthless- to easily get some quick cash. Remember, one girl's trash is another girl's brand new iPhone 4. Or something like that.

EBay: I have long been an eBay buyer, but I recently took my first foray into selling. Almost anything you want to sell, you can find a buyer for on eBay. I mostly have sold clothes- anything brand name in good condition will fetch you at least a few bucks- just take flattering photos of the article on a hanger against a white background. Be honest about any flaws, and start the bidding low. I suggest listing a bunch of things all at once- people who like one of your items might check out the others, and you'll save yourself a bunch of trips to the post office when you ship them.

Craig's List: If you live in a fairly metropolitan area, you should list your items on your local Craig's List. I have used Craig's List to sell old furniture and household goods. Again, nice pictures that show the item in a flattering light are a must. Check to see what the going rate is for similar items, and undercut it by a few dollars, and feel free to haggle with buyers. The benefit of this selling method is that the buyer will pick up the item from you (no shipping!), but to be safe, you should meet them at a well-lit, crowded spot, like the coffee shop on your corner. If you are selling something large like a piece of furniture and must let the buyer in your home, make sure there is someone else there at the time- the world is full of freaky people, and one of them might show up at your door under the guise of buying your old boombox. If you have old computers, cell phones, iPods, video games, PDAs or other electronics lying around, wants to buy them from you. They will even send you secure prepaid packaging in which to return it to them, so you don't even have to worry about postage. I sold them an old laptop that was totally dead and a Palm Pilot that I had in the 90s, and they actually gave me money for them. Ironically, they even bought the cell phone I trashed. 

Second Spin: You know how all of your music is on your computer now? But you still have stacks and stacks of old CDs lying around taking up space, don't you? Second Spin will buy your used CDs and DVDs for a decent price. So you can clear out those drawers or shelves of all those ugly plastic cases (and put money there instead).

At Last Resort:  If you have stuff you can't sell, but is still redeemable (i.e. a whole bag of gently-worn Old Navy tank tops), there's still one thing you can do- give it away. Take it to a non-profit thrift shop (try Housing Works in NYC, or the Salvation Army nationwide) and get a receipt so you can deduct the donation from your taxes. It won't technically make you money, but it might save you a bit come April. Plus, it might actually help someone else out, too.

If you have never tried selling things, you'll be amazed at how fun, and oddly addictive, it is. Give it a try- I foresee your closets getting less cramped, and your wallets getting more so.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Separate, but Equally Delicious

Here's a real quicky tip because it's Friday, and I know you're busy and trying to get things done before the weekend, and I'm busy, and really distracted thinking about bananas. Wait, what? You heard me- bananas, people. You know how, no matter what you do, you always seem to end up with one or two overly-ripe bananas at the end of the bunch? It's not really such a bad thing, because it gives you an excuse to make delicious banana bread (you can also freeze them for making smoothies later on), but it's kind of annoying how fast those nanners ripen, right under your nose. So here's a tip for delaying the speed at which those suckers turn brown and narsty: Separate them. You don't have to, like, put each banana in an opposite corner of the room, just keep them from being so snuggled together. Each banana gives off ethylene gas and enzymes which cause all the other ones to get riper faster.  If you break all the bananas apart at the stem when you get them home, you will delay the ripening process.

So, you want your bananas to stay just right for longer? You gotta keep 'em separated.

photo credit:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

When Dogs Fly: Traveling With Your Pet

Exactly one week after I found Skipper in a shelter and adopted her last summer, JM and I were scheduled to take our vacation to my parents' lake house. It was unfortunate timing, but I was sure that Skip was "the one" for us (I was right!) and didn't feel good about leaving her in the shelter for one more minute than we had to. I also didn't feel right about putting her in a kennel or leaving her with  a dog-sitter the week after we got her. So, it seemed my choices were to cancel our vacation or to take her with us.
However, when I went online to search out the whole taking-a-dog-on-an-airplane process, I searched high and low (I'm pretty sure I went to the End of the Internet), and was amazed at how little good information there is out there on the topic. For our first flight with her, I basically winged it (get it?), and happily all went well. Skip has now flown and driven all over the country with us, and is a very happy seasoned traveler.  So I decided to write a post to clear the whole process up, once and for all. Here is everything you need to know about traveling with a dog, hoping that it will make the experience just a little less... ruff.

Dog-Friendly Destinations
The first question you need to ask yourself is whether the place you are traveling to is appropriate for dogs. Skip loves our parents' backyards in California and Boston, and the woods and lake Up North, and she is always welcomed warmly in our families' homes. However, when we travel to big unfamiliar cities, or anywhere for a wedding that will keep us busy all weekend, we always leave her home with a sitter. Sure, there are plenty of hotels that would let us bring her (click here for a list), but how miserable will she be locked up in a hotel room all day? Your dog isn't a toy- make sure you consider her comfort and happiness before you book a trip with her.

Cabin Pressure
If you are planning to fly with your dog, exact rules vary from airline to airline, but the basics are roughly the same. Dogs may fly within the continental U.S., with more strict rules and restrictions for flights to Hawaii or internationally. Some airlines require vet records, as well, so check with the airline before you book. Dogs that are 20 lbs or under and can fit comfortably in a bag 12" X 12" x 19" or smaller (Skip has this one) are allowed to travel in the cabin with you and be placed under the seat in front of you. Larger or heavier dogs must be put in a hard carrier and shipped in the baggage hold. Being sent in the baggage hold can be a pretty intense and traumatic experience for your pup (it can be very dark, loud, and cold or hot down there), so I would suggest only doing it when absolutely necessary, like a cross-country move. Otherwise, I would leave your big dog with a trusted friend, or drive wherever you're going, instead.
Comparatively, traveling inside the cabin with you is quite comfortable for your pup. Just make sure you acquaint your dog with her carrier well before the trip (to do so, put treats and favorite toys in there, and leave it open on the ground until she climbs in herself). Skip loves her bag, and sleeps contentedly through most flights. However, there is a catch to this- you will be charged to bring your dog on board ($50-150 each way) and your dog carrier counts as a carry-on, so you will likely also have to check baggage. Also, airlines limit the number of animals on each flight, so be sure to reserve Spot's spot well ahead of time.

In the Airport
Be sure to allow your dog to go to the bathroom before you enter the airport (some terminals even have designated pet areas, but most will at least have a patch of grass outside). Once inside the airport, your dog will need to be contained in her carrier- you don't want her distracting the bomb sniffing dogs, do you? When you go through security, her carrier will need to go through the x-ray machine, without her in it (unlike the fool smuggler who put a dog through the machine in the photo above). Right before you go through the metal detector, take your dog out of her carrier (removing her collar and leash) and carry her through with you. On the other side, return her to her bag (it's not a bad idea to keep some treats in your pocket to coax her back in).  Never drug your dog before a flight- drugs make your dog unable to maintain her own equilibrium, making her more likely to be injured or become motion sick in transit. If your dog is an anxious flier, you probably shouldn't be forcing her to fly.

On the Road
Most dogs love a road trip (think Travels with Charley), what with all the new sights and smells, and all that time to hang their heads out the window and let their ears flap in the wind. If you decide to take a trip with your dog, though, make sure to stop every few hours at a rest stop to let her stretch her legs, pee and drink a little water. Plan your meal breaks to be short, so you don't leave your dog waiting in a hot car for too long (be sure to roll down the window a bit), and research your hotels ahead of time to make sure they will allow your buddy in the room with you. And if your doggy is the carsick type, don't force the issue.

On A Train or Bus
Technically, dogs (other than service animals) are not allowed on Greyhound or Amtrak. However, I have seen plenty of pups board the Acela, without so much as a second glance by the conductor. Smaller, regional train lines (like the LIRR or MetroNorth) often allow well-behaved dogs on board, so check their policies ahead of time. Never try to smuggle your dog in somewhere she isn't wanted- it can only end badly for both of you.

If All Else Fails...
Some dogs just aren't meant to be jet setters- your motion-sickness-suffering Great Dane, for instance. In that case, make sure you have a wonderful dog-sitter you can count on when you have to leave her. Whether it's a dog-loving friend or a professional, you should feel confident that your dog is in good hands.   If you don't know where to look, ask your vet, trainer, or groomer for recommendations- who knows? One of these people your dog already knows may even be willing to board your little buddy with them.

Happy Travels!

photo credit: Daily Mail UK

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Squash Your Fears

 One of the best things about fall is that, as the nights get cooler, a whole new world of delicious comfort foods, too heavy and warming for summer, opens up. And one of my personal faves of these foods is squash. Now, I know that some of you would put squash lower than "termite sandwich" on your Things I Want to Eat list, but I would argue that it's because you haven't given squash a fair shake. I mean, remember when I told you about Brussels sprouts, and you were like "Ewww", and then I was all, "Try them!" and you did and you were, like "OMG, yum!"? That was a great time. Let's do that again.
Squash, when properly prepared, has a delicious creamy texture, and a wonderful sweet flavor- like pumpkin pie, but you don't have to wait for dessert! It is also rich in vitamins A, C, and B6, as well as folate, fiber, potassium, beta-carotene, iron, and cancer-preventing phytonutrients- it's pretty much up there with the healthiest foods you can eat (which is good, because it sort of makes up for preparing it with butter and brown sugar, if you want to). Also, squashes are everywhere this time of year, and are typically pretty inexpensive, so they make a readily available and easily-prepared main dish (try filling the cavity with quinoa) or a side that tastes amazing with fish, chicken, turkey, shrimp...pretty much anything. My favorites are butternut (see the middle squash in the photo above), and acorn (the front squash, above), but you should also try spaghetti, kabocha, and ambercup squashes when you see them (click here for a list of squashes).

Here is my super-easy, fool-proof, delicious squash recipe. Try it- I guarantee you will love it.
And if you don't, I'll buy you a termite sandwich.

What you Do:

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Cut the squash in half, lengthwise, using a large sharp knife (don't try this with a little steak knife- you'll slip and cut yourself, and I don't want your blood on my hands). Scoop out the seeds and stringy squash gunk with a spoon, and discard.
2.  Place the squash halves, face up, on an aluminum-foil-lined rimmed baking pan. Spread each half with 1 tbsp butter (or olive oil), and a dash of cinnamon, salt, pepper, and drizzle with 1/2 cup orange juice (bottled is fine). Sprinkle on 1 tbsp of brown sugar or maple syrup, if desired.
3. Place squash in the oven, and bake for 1 hour, or until the meat of the squash is tender and soft.
4.Enjoy while you think about how right I always am.

photo credit: For the Love of Cooking Blog

Friday, September 24, 2010

Travel Tip #008: Red Car(pet) Treatment

JM and I don't own a car, so between destination weddings, weekend trips to Boston, random Ikea pilgrimages, and all our other travels, we end up renting a lot of cars. This used to be my least favorite part of traveling- the whole process of getting off a plane, taking a shuttle, waiting in line, filling out the paperwork, and then having to walk around the car looking for dents... it just really got my goat.  One time, after a long-delayed flight to Denver, we arrived at 1 am at the rental car desk to find a line of twenty people, with just one person working behind the desk, and I almost burst into tears. We didn't get out of there until almost two hours later, and thereafter I had an almost sickening dread of the whole car-renting enterprise (no pun intended).

But then, something wonderful happened! JM and I found out about the premier memberships at car rental places, and signed up for them, our lives changed for the better, and we lived happily ever after. The End.

Premier memberships at rental car agencies allow you to skip the line, go straight to your car and drive out. They also make you first in line for upgrades and other perks. Basically, they eliminate all of the unpleasant parts of renting a car, and make you feel like a VIP (even if it is just at the rental car parking lot).  But, best of all, if you are a little wily, you can get them for free. Shut up, right? But I won't shut up because it's true.  Like you, I always thought that you had to pay for those perks, but it turns out paying is for suckers - the agencies waive those fees for a wide variety of reasons, and some of them may even apply to you (and even if they don't, you can pretend they do). Here's how to sign up for some of the major rental companies premium service totally gratis.   You don't have to thank me- just wave at me as we both zip past the line and out of the parking lot.

The below programs are always free, for everybody. I think the only reason everyone isn't already signed up is because they seem exclusive. Don't be fooled and let the sheep stand in line. One caveat- you will have to enter your credit card information to sign up (and be sure to read the fine print, as with any offer).

Avis Preferred
Alamo Quicksilver
Budget Fastbreak
Dollar Express
Thrifty Blue Chip

Hertz #1 Gold: Hertz offers free Gold membership to American Express cardholders, US Airways frequent fliers, and many others (otherwise there is a $60 annual fee). You can check all the associations to which you belong, to see if you qualify, or you can just use this link, enter
Program Name: US Airways Preferred
Promotion Code: 6173
and be on your way.

A few more tips:
-Try to concentrate rentals on one or two agencies you use the most (we use Hertz and Avis), so you accrue points and free rentals.
-Lots of companies and associations offer discounts at rental agencies, so if you belong to AAA, USAA, AARP, etc. or you work at a large company, make sure to enter that info or mention it at the counter. You'll be amazed at the discounts.
-When all else fails, don't forget to check online coupon websites to find promo codes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A "Better" Rule

 I have a weird habit of telling myself what to do. Like, I'll throw a tissue at a public garbage can and miss, and be about to just walk away and leave it, when the busybody in my head says, "where do you think you're going?," and I have to sheepishly go back and pick it up.  This is probably because I'm very bossy in general, and because I was home-schooled as a child and spent a lot of time in my own head (not much has changed, really, now that I think about it- except now you guys have a window in). I suppose this is what you call a "conscience," but I choose to think of it as my own personal Internal Rule Book.  These rules include things like "Never Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Today" and that old classic "Do Unto Others..."

But one of the best rules I try to live by is "Leave It Better Than You Found It".  Once you get this little phrase knocking around in your noggin, you'll be amazed at how often it applies to your situation. Here are just some of the little ways to try to leave things better as you go through your day.

While Shopping- When you try things on in a store,  hang everything you're not buying back up on the right hangers to give back to the salesperson, and pick up any pins or tags that are lying around.

 Litter- When I take Skip for a walk and have to use a baggie to pick up her, ahem, deposits, I also pick up whatever stray cigarette butts or gum wrappers are lying  around nearby. I am already crouching on the sidewalk with a plastic bag on my hand, so why not?

Bathrooms- When you use a public restroom (or even at a friend's house), replace the toilet paper roll when it's empty, and rinse out the sink when you wash your hands. Even if the mess was there when you got there, the next person is going to think you did it, so you might as well tidy up a bit.

Borrowed Things- If you borrow anything, be it a dress, a car, or a power saw from a friend, give it back in better condition than you got it- send the dress to the dry cleaner, replace the blade on the saw, and fill up the tank on the car.  It's still way cheaper than buying your own.

Parties- I'm not suggesting you turn on a loud Huey Lewis song and start a food fight like in some 80's movie, or try to be the life of the party at every shindig you attend, but if you introduce two people who make a connection, man the bar for a little bit (again, no Cocktail- style bottle twirling required) and help clean up a few glasses at the end of the night, the party will have been better for your being there. 

At the Office- At even the best offices, things sometimes get boring, tedious, frustrating, depressing, and repetitive. Rather than joining in the chorus of complaints, though, shut your mouth and try to make things just a tiny bit better- replace the toner cartridge in the printer everyone's been ignoring, bring in some cookies to share, thank someone for their hard work, and give credit where it's due. At least you won't be bored.

Your Home- Each day, try to make your house or apartment a little better than it was the day before - Whether that's through a big project like re-tiling your bathroom, or a little one like changing a light bulb that's burned out. I don't always succeed at this one (it's a little like swimming against the tide), but I'm always glad I tried.

 Boyfriends- Well... you probably aren't going to change them much for the better. But at least try not to screw them up too much for the next girl.

When you set your mind to the idea of the little contributions you can make to wherever you are, you'll find yourself doing them without thinking.  At least until that little voice in your head says "well done, ol' chap!"

Wait, did I mention that my conscience is British?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Scramble For Dinner

For the last few months, JM and I have been in and out of town so much, that I haven't really had the time or inclination to shop and stock the fridge.  Which means two things: We ended up drinking a lot of tap water, and I found myself trying to scrape together dinners from whatever happened to be left in the fridge. I'm always up for a good culinary challenge, but there's only so much you can do with a couple shallots, frozen spinach and a chunk of goat cheese (for example). Happily, the most disparate elements can almost always be united with the help of one magical, delicious ingredient: the egg. I know I write a lot of posts about eggs, but that's because I write posts about my life, and I eat a lot of eggs in real life. And this is one eggy topic I haven't covered yet — the basic scramble. More forgiving than an omelet, faster than a fritatta, the scramble is the humble cousin of more complicated egg dishes. This is the sort of thing that anyone can cook — even people who can't cook — and have dinner on the table in ten minutes.  And the best part is, you can throw in the kitchen sink from whatever is left in your fridge, and come up with surprisingly lovely combinations. Obviously, this isn't the sort of dinner you make when you have company coming over (unless it's me coming over — I'll be psyched), but when it's just you and your roommate/husband/girlfriend/dog/Glee rerun, there's nothing better. As a bonus, this meal is free... or only costs about $2 per serving (depending on how you look at it).

Here are some random ingredients that taste great in a scramble:
Vegetables: Tomatoes, Onions, Shallots, Zucchini, Garlic, Bell Peppers, Spinach, Mushrooms, Leeks.
Meat: Sausage, Ham, Smoked Salmon, or Bacon.
Herbs: Parsley, Basil, Chives, Dill, Sage, Thyme, Oregano

Cheese: Feta, Cheddar, Queso Blanco, Swiss, Goat cheese, Blue Cheese.

1. Chop up your vegetable and meat ingredients, and saute them in olive oil in a skillet, over medium heat, until cooked through.
2. In the meantime, break eggs into a bowl (I usually factor 2-4 per person, depending on how hungry my eaters are). Add chopped herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.  Stir briskly to combine with a whisk (or a fork). Pour eggs directly into the skillet with the other ingredients.
3. Allow the eggs to set for a few seconds, then use a wooden spoon to pull the cooked eggs off the bottom of the pan, and allow the raw eggs to take their place. (Ergo, "scramble").
4. When eggs are cooked through, sprinkle on grated cheese, (and more herbs, if desired) and divide onto plates,  serving with toast and/or a green salad... if you happen to have them around.

Photo Credit: Bon Appetit

Monday, September 20, 2010

Power Play

Have you ever noticed how, wherever your wall outlets happen to be located, they are always in the wrong place? Like, on the end of the room where you would never put your TV. Or just a little too far down the wall to allow for you to vacuum the whole room.
Most notably, in almost every apartment I have lived in, the bedroom outlet seems to be located exactly behind where you would put a nightstand.  Which isn't so bad for plugging in a bedside lamp, but is a real pain in the posterior for plugging in anything else. Especially if you use your phone as an alarm clock (I also use mine as a calendar, watch, notebook, and flashlight), and want to have it close at hand in the morning - moving your nightstand to plug in each night just isn't an option.   Which is why I devised a clever (if I do say so myself) solution to this problem. I bought a simple extension cord with two outlets, and ran it from the outlet behind the nightstand. Using zip ties, I attached it to our bed frame, hiding the cord behind the nightstand (if you don't have something to hide the cord behind, you can use a staple gun to discreetly attach it to the wall along the floor). Now I have two plugs easily at hand, exactly where I want them for charging my phone and my Kindle.  I'll put in a plug for this current idea you can really get a charge out of.

Wow, that was corny.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's A Sign

In case you were wondering what I was up to during that lengthy period of time in August when I was not posting on the blog regularly, here's the answer: projects. Oh, sure, I did I certain amount of reading, suntanning and swimming (with the occasional wedding thrown in for good measure), but for the most part, when my mom and I get together, we end up doing projects. It's probably a good thing that we don't live in the same town because JM and my dad would forget what we look like without sawdust in our hair and paint on our faces. And this summer, one of our projects was creating signage. My family's lake cottage is in an old self-managed association where most things have a lovable, decaying, well-used quality to them. This year, we decided to class the place up a bit by replacing some of the more decomposed wooden signage that had been around since the (first) Roosevelt administration, and had become, essentially, unreadable. I like old signs as much as the next guy, but here's a tip: When you can't read them anymore, it's time to throw in the towel. But why hire a sign-maker, when you can easily make your own professional(ish)-looking painted signs yourself? With simple materials you can easily find, you can make signs for whatever your heart desires- house names, street numbers, "keep out- no boys allowed" for your treehouse- the possibilities are endless. Here are the easy-peasy steps we took to make our fancy new signs. And may they happily point the way and rot until my great-great-grandchildren replace them.

What you will need:
A piece of wood, cut to size
A computer print-out of what you want the sign to say, sized to fit
A piece of graphite transfer paper
Acrylic paint and a small flat-sided paintbrush
Varnish and a disposable sponge paintbrush

What you do:
  Step 1: Using your computer, print out the lettering for the sign in the size and font that you like (you may have to print it in several pieces and tape together, as I did). Place a piece of graphite transfer paper, graphite down, on your wooden board. Place the print-out on top, aligning how you like, and attaching it with tape to secure.
Step 2: Carefully trace the lettering on the print-out with a sharp pencil, pressing firmly. In case the photo at left has you perplexed, I do not have teeny-tiny hands- that is just an abnormally large pencil. For your purposes, any size pencil will do. Even a pen would probably be fine, come to think of it.
Step 3: Remove the print-out and graphite paper. I could have omitted this photo, and almost did, because it doesn't really illustrate anything and reveals that I messed up the placement of my graphite paper, and didn't transfer the top half of the word "courts". But I didn't because I wanted to show that everyone makes mistakes when doing projects, and it's no big thang- just fill in the tops of the letters freehand, and get on with it.Or, just place your graphite correctly in the first place.

Step 4: Using a thin paintbrush and your acrylic paint, carefully fill in over the lettering. The paint will cover the graphite. If you smudge, you will be able to wipe up the paint as long as it is still wet, so keep a rag at hand. Also, imperfections are part of the charm of homemade signs, so relax.

Step 5: Allow paint to dry completely. Cover entire piece of wood with varnish, and allow to dry until set. Hang or place your masterpiece and revel in your handiwork.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Oh, Yes!

It's been a while since I have done a post about a new beauty product, because, frankly, I haven't used a new beauty product in a while. I'm a creature of habit, and once I find a product I love, I tend to stick with it with an almost religious ferocity. I've used the same brand and color of eyeshadow (this one, Nosy McGee) every day for eight years, and if (horror of horrors) it were to be discontinued, I wouldn't be surprised to find myself outside the factory with a ski mask and a grappling hook, planning a raid to gather the remaining shimmery tubs. So, it was not without a certain amount of trepidation and skepticism that I even tried the new(ish) line of hair products from Yes to Carrots. But! They are amazing!

There is very little not to love about this shampoo and conditioner ($7.99 each from, or major drug stores). For one thing, they are made with (almost) all natural ingredients, and have none of the toxic carcinogenic parabens, phthalates, or SLS that is frequently found in shampoos and conditioners. I mean, I like having shiny, pretty hair, as much as the next girl, but I'd rather not have to die for it. And shiny, pretty hair I have, indeed, with these products. I swear, you'll like what it does for your 'do so much, you'll find yourself flirtatiously tossing your hair around like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Even if you're a guy. And, as if that wasn't enough, the products also have a lovely light, clean scent that will make you irresistible to members of the opposite sex. Okay, that last part isn't true- if you have an unpleasant personality and a face like a pit bull, no shampoo is going to turn you into a femme fatale.  But these products do really smell delicious, in a way that's not too fruity or perfume-y, so your fella can use them without feeling creepy about it.

 Yes to Carrots also has a skin-care line, which I am gathering the courage to try, but I'll bet is pretty great, and new lines called Yes to Tomatoes, Yes to Cucumbers, and Yes to Blueberries, which you might like even better. As for me and trying new things, all I can say is "yes, yes, yes!"

Note: You may have noticed that after I posted this, Google Adsense (in it's infinite wisdom) started running an ad for Yes to Carrots on my sidebar. That's because they use some smarty-pants algorithm that attaches appropriate ads to related content, not because I wrote a post endorsing an advertiser. All opinions and endorsements on my blog are my own, and I have never been paid or compensated to say something nice about a product, person, place, or thing. Unless you count not complaining too much about my husband, since he goes to work every day and lets me stay home and write a blog as "compensation".