Friday, April 30, 2010

Stripper Lessons

Back in 2003 when I moved to New York, I was going through a real "Shabby Chic" phase where put linen slipcovers on all my furniture and painted everything white. Now that I'm a little older (ugh, where did those seven years go?), and have developed a more complex sense of style, it kills me to look at all that white paint and think of the pretty mahogany or oak hidden underneath it. So, slowly but surely, I am determined to remove as much of it as I can from the pretty antique pieces worth saving. I had been warned that stripping furniture is a messy, unpleasant and toxic job. To be clear, just breathing near these chemicals will likely take a few hours off your lifespan (just don't say I didn't tell you so when you're all light-headed afterward).  Ah, the price we pay for beauty. 

So, I decided to start small and strip a pretty mohogany mirror that my mom and I had picked up at an antiques mall back in the 90s. Obviously, JM was disappointed when I told him I was "stripping" and he came home to find me wearing a protective facemask and gloves and spraying noxious chemicals all over our patio, but he and I were both pretty pleased with the results- a mirror for our hallway that is very chic and decidedly not too shabby. And while I may not be able to finish the Times crossword puzzle anymore due to brain-cell death, the process was surprisingly easy.  Here's how to strip and refinish wood furniture (the stripping process is similar for metal, but the finishing would be different). I may just get started on.... wait, what was I talking about, again?

Step 1:Apply the stripper directly onto the painted surface. I used a spray stripper, but I've heard that there are paste/gels that work very well. I'm fake posing for the picture, but if you are actually using this stuff definitely wear gloves (trust me- this stuff will burn a whole in your hand). Spray it all over- don't be shy about it.

Step 2: After the amount of time specified on the container (usually 5-10 minutes) you'll notice that the paint is bubbling away from the surface. Use a plastic throw-away scraper trowel thingy to scrape off the paint. This is a very satisfying process. When you finish, there will likely be a few stubborn patches (usually in corners and seams). Just apply more stripper to those spots, and repeat the process.

Step 3: Using a fine sandpaper, sand the whole piece, removing any last bits of paint and varnish that are on there. Be thorough, lazybones.

Step 4: Using a disposable brush (and wearing those gloves again, please), apply a stain to all of the wood. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then wipe it off with a clean rag. If you would like it be to darker, repeat this process until you have reached your desired shade.  Let dry completely (at least overnight).  If desired, apply a coat of polyurethane finish to give it a glossy look.

Enjoy the stripshow.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fancy Footwork (5 Essential Shoes for Summer)

In my apartment the biggest closet is my shoe and tool closet.  A shoe rack as tall as I am covers one wall, filled with my massive footwear collection, and the other corner houses a cabinet which contains my (equally loved) power saw, drill, and hand tools. That just about sums me up, I think.

But just like I don't use every tool all the time (it's been a while since I reached for my awl, for example), I don't actually wear most of those shoes very often. In fact, I was thinking about it, and I think I could easily get through the whole spring and summer with just 5 pairs of shoes.  Granted, I don't have a working-girl life with the pumps and the power suits and whatnot, so if you're some kind of fancy exec, you might need to add a pair or two of corporate-ladder-climbing shoes to the list, but for those in more casual workplaces, I think I've got you covered. So without further ado, here are my

Five Essential Pairs of Shoes Every Gal Should Have This Summer

1. Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Slim, $50; 2. Seychelles Araxi II snakeskin sandals, $75; 3. Kate Spade Frenchie flats, $156; 4. Elie Tahari Cassandra heels, $398; 5. Kate Spade Blooming Espadrilles, $225.

1. Cute Sneakers: There's something so very Audrey Hepburn about wearing cute simple sneakers in the summer time. I wear mine with shorts, linen pants, skinny jeans, and even short dresses. My mom has been wearing simple white Keds with everything for years, and she always looks adorable. I should have listened to her sooner.
2. Flat Sandals:  Cute flat sandals can make any outfit stylish. I wear mine all year, with everything. They are particularly lovely with maxi dresses, or short shorts (and tan legs).
3. Comfy Flats: These aren't just my summer go-to shoes, but my anytime-there-isn't-snow-on-the-ground go-to shoes. Flats are pretty, feminine, stylish and put together looking, and they're appropriate for any activity: work, play, or dinner out. You cannot go wrong- I walk all over Manhattan in mine. And they are a must-have for flying- they slip right off for security, but keep your toes warm in-flight. Perfection.
4. Killer Heels: Every girl needs at least one pair of great, sexy heels. I think a metallic (like gold or silver) is more versatile than black, and will look great with your power suit at after-work drinks, or any bridesmaid dress you have to don this year (at least your feet will look great).
5. Fun Wedges: These are the shoes you switch into from the flat sandals or sneakers once the sun goes down. They make any outfit- dresses, shorts, jeans, more dressy and fun. I love a modern take on espadrilles like these.

Now just don't make me choose between my tools.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Virtual Cleanliness: How To Clean Out Your Inbox and Voicemail

A tidy and organized life doesn't just mean shiny, clean floors, dust-free lampshades, and every object in it's place (although that's an excellent start). It also means that you have all your information sorted and put away, too.  And it helps if your conscience is clear of unanswered emails and voicemails, as well.  While my apartment is starting to feel quite clean and fresh from all the spring cleaning I've been doing (if I do say so myself), sadly my email inbox is a jammed, disorganized mess, and the answering machine on our landline (yes, we live in the 1990s), has been flashing "FULL" for a week. So if you've tried to call or email me lately, please accept my humble apology- I'm working on it.

Here are my strategies for managing the "digital clutter" that makes its way into our lives, and keeping on top of all that virtual mail of the e- and voice- varieties. Now, I just need to employ them myself...

1. Separate Email Accounts: I have one email address that is for personal email, one that is for the blog, and one that I give out for reservations, online purchases, and anything else that I expect to generate spam or ads. That way, I can prioritize, and the most important emails don't get lost in a sea of spam.
2. Archive, Don't Sort: Don't bother sorting emails into folders, simply create an Archive folder. Once you have read and responded to the email, or dealt with it, either delete or archive the email. This way, you can just keep things you actively need to deal with in your inbox, and you won't waste time unnecessarily sorting emails into folders. And you will be able to search for the email just as easily in the archive as you would in your inbox.
3. List As You Listen: Get a paper and pen as you listen to voicemails, and write down the info for the one's that require active attention, and then immediately delete them. Be honest- you are far more likely to deal with it if you have the info in front of you than if you save the message to your voicemail, where it just sits making you feel guilty every time you look at your phone. Then return the calls one by one.
4. To Maintain: Try to answer the phone when it rings, even if you don't feel like it (just don't do it in a restaurant or  when you're with a friend)- don't put off til later what you can deal with right now. Also, don't always have your email open- it will destroy your productivity.  Check your email at regular intervals- like every two hours, and only when you have time to answer them immediately. 

Right, now I've just got to go archive the 1254 emails that have come in while I was writing this.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fired Up: How To Clean A Grill

Sorry for the delay in my posts, folks.  JM and I had friends in town from London this weekend attending a wedding, and didn't get around to posting (or finishing my Spring Cleaning, for that matter). So Spring Cleaning Week extends into this week, and we aren't going to quit until every last speck of dust and dirt is eradicated (or until I feel like writing about something else- whichever comes first). 

I am aware that "manning" the barbecue grill is typically the domain of, well, men, but, then, so are taking out the garbage and walking the dog, both of which are my jobs (JM, meanwhile, is a master organizer and silver polisher). And, as I have mentioned before, I relish any opportunity to combine my great loves of cooking and being in the sun. Thankfully, the weather has turned lovely, and as soon as that happens my thoughts turn to the sweet smell of hot dogs and buttery burgers. But before that can happen, I have to tackle one of the most undesirable tasks of all: cleaning the grill.
If I were a more organized person, I might think to clean the grill at the end of barbecue season, so that it is fresh and clean when I unveil it in the Spring. But that would force me to admit, each October, that the last warm weekends are over and that I won't be grilling again until April. By the time I am willing to concede that it's no longer grill season, the whole apparatus is buried in snow, and it is way too cold to stand out on the patio scrubbing a grate.  So, our grill usually festers in it's own gross juices all winter, which is fine, because even grease freezes at a certain temperature. But then, when the sun starts shining again, and the rancid meat juice starts to thaw, well, then I find myself in a bit of a pickle.  Luckily,  I have discovered a cleaning method that really works and is totally non-toxic, while exposing the unfortunate cleaner to as little charred fish skin and congealed animal fat as possible. You'll be ready to officially welcome Spring in no time and with very little elbow grease.  Then, all that's left is sweeping up all the outdoor spaces and wiping down the patio furniture.  But I'm pretty sure that's man's work, isn't it?

How To Clean A Barbecue Grill:

What You Need:
Aluminum Foil
A scouring brush
A gentle dishwashing soap
Baking soda
A Sponge
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

Step 1: If you have a gas grill, lay a layer of aluminum foil over your grill and turn it on. Close it and let it "cook" for 30 minutes or so. Turn it off, carefully remove the foil, let cool, then use a wadded up piece of foil to scrub at the grates, thoroughly covering every surface. Like the "self-clean" option on your oven, everything gross caked in the grill will have turned to ash and will scrub right off. If you have a charcoal grill, skip this step.

Step 2: Wait a few hours until the grill is completely cooled off (I suggest watching a few old episodes of Law & Order to pass the time). Remove the grate, and use a scrub brush and warm soapy water to scrub the grates totally clean.  Set aside and allow to dry. In the meantime, remove whatever componants are under your grate and scrub them clean, as well (sprinkle on baking soda to help with any tough bits), disposing of any charred cakey bits and ash.  Remove any catcher things that are attached under the grill and clean them out using the same method. 

Step 3: Replace all of the components inside the grill. Then, using the same soapy water and baking soda (Bar Keeper's Friend works great, too), scrub the dust and dirt from the outside of the grill using the sponge. Finish up by cleaning all the plastic parts and knobs with the Magic Eraser. It'll look like new.

Step 4: Make mine medium-rare, please.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Light Up Your Life: How To Clean A Chandelier

In my first rental apartment in New York, all the lighting fixtures were hideous eighties-era flourescents that gave off light that made everyone look green and made a disturbing buzzing sound when they were turned on (which was almost always, since we lived in what was essentially the basement). My roommates and I just lived with it for a while, but when we renewed the lease and decided to stay another year, I knew the ugly lighting had to go.  After some serious eBay trolling with my mom, I won an auction for a gorgeous sparkly six-bulb crystal chandelier for some insanely low price, and awaited it's arrival with bated breath. The first time JM, then in the Navy, got a weekend off and came to visit, I made him help me unpack and hang this thing, and all it's drippy, shiny jewelry in my teeny little bedroom. Once it was up, we took a step back to admire our work, and JM smiled wryly and said, "Razzle dazzle!" He was right, of course, it was way too much chandelier for my little room (this thing would have fit right in at Versailles) but I loved it immediately. And when we moved, we lovingly packed it up and hung it in our new bedroom. Which is all the say that chandeliers aren't just for Daddy Warbucks and wedding banquet halls- sometimes they are at their best in the most unexpected places- hanging over a tub in a bathroom, or from a tree over a picnic table, say.

But the problem with chandeliers is that they are magnets for dust and extremely daunting to clean when they get dirty (more like "ruzzle duzzle"). You can ignore it for a while, but during Spring Cleaning everything gets a bath. So here is the method I have developed in my many years as a chandelierophile for dusting and washing that crystal monster. It'll put the "shine" back in "chandelier".

1. Spread a soft blanket or towel on the area under the fixture. This will prevent your floor or furniture from getting nicked if you accidentally drop a crystal, and makes it more likely the crystal itself will survive the fall.

2. Pull out the diagram of how the crystals hang if one came with your fixture. If you don't have one, take a few digital photos of the chandelier to use as a guide later.

3.Carefully remove the crystals from the fixture. All chandeliers are different, but there are usually long swags of crystals hung between the arms, and then straight drops (called pendeloques) hanging from each bulb. Don't twist or turn the chandelier to reach the drops- instead, leave the fixture hanging as it is and move around it- twisting can compromise the connection to the ceiling and cause it to fall.

4. Soak the crystals in a mixture of warm water and gentle dish soap (I use Palmolive). Meanwhile, standing on a ladder if it helps, clean the base of the chandelier with a 1:1 mixture of water and isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle, gently wiping off any dust with a clean, non-linty rag (like an old soft t-shirt). Be very careful near any electrical wiring (getting it wet might create a short) and the lightbulbs (as they may be hot).

5. Use a clean, dry, non-linting rag to dry each crystal. Using the photographs as a guide, hang the crystals back on the fixture. Bask in the sparkly dazzling glow of your chandelier, and be glad that's done until next year.

photo credit: Curbed NY

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Big Chill: How To Clean Your Fridge

About most things I write on this blog, you may have noticed, I am consciously quite fastidious and organized. Especially about things in my kitchen. But it might surprise you (unless you actually know me) that it's all a facade. That's right, I'm outing myself- even though I act all tidy and organized, I'm a closet slob. Literally. (My closets are sometimes really slobby). For years, when I lived at home with my too-forgiving parents, or in cinder-block dorm rooms and tiny, cramped, rental apartments with roommates, I just didn't care enough to keep things organized and tidy- my clothes and papers were strewn about my room and you could usually find me by following the trail of discarded shoes on the floor (my dad once left me a note that said, "Dear Lil, Please close us! Love, Your Drawers).
But love does funny things to a girl. Once JM and I bought our place, and started building our life together, suddenly I felt driven to make a change and to try very hard to make our home as nice as it can possibly be.  Every day is still an internal battle between the angel and devil on my shoulders to overcome my own innate disorganization- every fiber of my being wants to dump that jacket on the ground rather than carefully hanging it in the closet - but most of the time, the angel makes me reach for the hanger anyway, because my desire to keep my home and my things looking as good as possible, and to provide a lovely place for our little family to live, wins out. (But sometimes I still drop it on the floor. Nobody's perfect).
And nowhere is my own lingering internal messypants more evident than in my fridge. I finally have a new, amply-sized, cold-all-over, stainless-steel, big-kid fridge, but I'm still working out how everything should fit in it. Let's just call it a work in progress. With the emphasis on the progress.

How To Clean Your Fridge

1. Take all the food out, throwing out anything that is moldy, spoiled, expired, or old. Also throw out that mustard bottle with 1/8-inch layer of yellow at the bottom- seriously, it's gone. Make a list of things to replace.
2. Take out all the removable parts of the fridge, like the shelves and the drawers. If your fridge has a drip-tray underneath, pull that out, too. Use a sponge, and warm water mixed with a mild non-toxic dishwashing soap to scrub them clean. (Just be careful not to take a cold glass shelf and expose it to very hot water- the temperature change might cause it to crack.) Also, don't use any ammonia or bleach-based cleaning products in your fridge- you don't want that stuff in with the food you eat, trust me. When everything's all clean, wipe dry with a clean towel.
 3. Wash out the inside of the fridge and the door with the same very mild soapy water solution, and wipe dry. If there is a residual foody smelliness, wipe the whole thing down with a solution of baking soda and warm water.
4. Put all the shelves and drawers back in. Make sure you place them so that one shelf is tall enough for your milk carton and other tall items. Every fridge is different, but here are a few rules of thumb for grocery placement.
     a) Veggies go in the crisper drawer. Usually the temperature is calibrated to be ideal for veggies.  I put mine in Ziplock bags to keep them fresher, but still make it easy to see what's in there.
     b) Don't put meat, milk, or eggs in the door- it is almost always significantly warmer than the rest of the fridge, so save that space for condiments, wine and juices.
     c) Keep fresh meat wrapped in a plastic bag on a shelf where it will be kept cold, and cannot drip on anything below it.
     d)Keep like with like- all cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products should be kept together. All fruits should be together. And lining up all the beer and canned sodas in tidy rows will give you that super-organized tv commercial look.
5. As you put things back in the fridge, make sure you wipe off each item with a damp rag, to make sure there is nothing sticky or gross is going back into your gorgeous, sparkly-clean fridge.  Oh, and put a box of baking soda in there to keep it smelling just as clean.
6. Think you're done? Sorry.  Repeat with the freezer.

 Pretty cool.

Photo credit:

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Clean Slate

I know I'm a little late with the Spring Cleaning post, but, to be honest I've been putting it off. I try to keep up with our apartment cleaning on a day-to-day level, but there are some tasks, like cleaning the chandelier, or dusting under the furniture, that I am not just itching to do. But then, last night, JM and I got caught up watching Hoarders until 1:30 am, and, seeing those poor people stuck in their own unbelievable messes,  I decided there was no time like the present- that is one slope I do not want to test for slippery-ness, thank you very much.  Not that I suspect you are reading this with your computer perched atop a monstrous heap of rotting garbage, either, but we all have the tasks we put off. And that's what Spring Cleaning is for. So this week on the blog is officially Cleaning Week- each day I'll give you my best ideas for cleaning around the house.  Hopefully that will actually make me do the things I write about, and we'll all be inspired to move forward together.  But, if you aren't game to get on the clean house bandwagon, feel free to print out this week's posts and add them to the pile of paperwork that is spilling off your desk.  See- something for everyone!

 Today's Tip: One Thing At A Time.  
 This is a good attitude for tacking anything difficult or unappealing in life, and particularly Spring Cleaning.  If you are lucky enough to share your home with a brood of kids and extended family members, you can knock out Spring Cleaning in an afternoon- just set a date, pump some tunes, and get everyone in on the action- many hands make light work (and those teeny little hands are particularly good for dusting the hard-to-reach spots).  But, more likely, if you are still reading, the brunt of the housecleaning falls to little ol' you. If this is the case, fear not the dust bunny- you can do this. Just break the tasks into easy-to-manage pieces and you'll find yourself living in the sparkling clean and organized home of your dreams. Okay, fine, the sparkling clean and organized home you already have.

1. Get Organized. In Your Head. Before you can get anything done, you need to figure out what needs doing.  Grab a clipboard and a pen and make a list of every little task that needs doing at your place.  Be thorough- go from room to room (and outside, too) and make a note of every single thing that needs to get done- from big jobs like cleaning the oven to little tasks like emptying the bathroom trash can- and write 'em all down. Your list will probably be dauntingly long, but that will just make it feel all the better when you accomplish everything on it.

2. Get Started. No time like the present... or tonight when you get home from work.  You don't have to take on a whole room- just choose a few things from your list and get going. Be smart, though, and work from top to bottom (don't sweep and mop the floors before you dust the ceiling fan, or you'll just have to do it again). If you are feeling ambitious, take on a bathroom, a closet or your pantry or kitchen cabinets. Focus on purging things you don't use or need (think "What Would A Hoarder Do?" and do the opposite), and on organizing the things that you keep in a way where you can find and access them easily (otherwise, you might as well not have them).

3.  Get Creative. You can be a little creative when it comes to attacking your tasks.  For instance, you may find it more efficient to grab the Windex and paper towels and clean every window, mirror and glass picture frame in the house in one fell swoop, rather than focusing on doing things room by room. And don't forget to clean the things you don't often think about- your air conditioner filter, the tops of doors, the garbage can lid. It might help to stand on a chair, or sit on the floor in order to get a better view on what needs cleaning.

4. Get Inspired. Turn on the radio or your iPod. It makes the cleaning go so much faster and, if you let yourself dance and sing a little while you work, even a little fun.  I find Motown (..."the way you swept me off my feet, you know you could have been a broom"...) and Reggae particularly helpful for mood-elevation.

5. Get Finished. Once you've accomplished each task, cross it off your list. You'll be amazed at how quickly you are able to work through them. Once you've done enough, and start feeling lazy, call it a day. Just make sure you pick up where you left off tomorrow night. For now, sit back and admire your work. And if you need extra motivation, Hoarders airs on A&E on Mondays at 10. Seriously.

Photo credit: Martha Stewart

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Styles: Bowled Over

Most of the time, writing this blog is one of the high points of my day. It is my hobby and my great escape. But, for some reason, all the pleasure and joy I take in blogging goes out the window on Fridays, like a miracle in reverse. So my latest solution to this problem is to start a new feature: Friday Styles. These posts will feature something that I own that I think is awesome, and that I think you should probably buy, too. Hopefully, this will also help me rediscover all the great stuff I have stashed away in my place, and remember to be grateful for it. I hope you enjoy.

Ask my husband, and he will tell you I have an unhealthy attachment to some of my possessions that verges on the ludicrous. What, you might wonder, am I so attached to? Is it handbags or expensive shoes, like many women?  No, that's not me (don't get me wrong, I love a pretty pair of stillettos, just not to unhealthy levels). Is it a luxury automobile or my apartment? Nope.  My object worship is directed at something a little more quirky- mixing bowls. 
 I know it's a little weird, but I have tons of them squirreled away around our apartment, and I love and use them all. But if I had to choose between them (please don't make me), my favorites just might be this set of glass bowls I got as a shower gift before my wedding three years ago. 
There's just nothing not to love about this set- there are ten bowls, ranging from the 10.5-inch big daddy, which is perfect for mixing up cake batter or serving salad, to the adorable little 2.5-inch baby which I use to hold salt and spices while cooking in my kitchen. And the ones in between serve every conceivable function, from holding cocktail sauce to serving as a cute jello mold- without exaggeration, I use at least one of these bowls every single day. The style goes with any kitchen decor and they are super affordable. And, just when you thought they couldn't get any better, they are dishwasher, fridge, microwave and oven-safe, not to mention very durable (I may or may not have dropped them a couple times), without being heavy, clunky, or too inelegant to use as casual serving pieces. Clearly, a wonderful choice. 

Now, just don't get me started on my cakestand collection.

 Set of 10 nesting glass mixing bowls, $29.95 from Crate & Barrel.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Singing a Different Tuna

Here's a confession: On nights when JM gets stuck late at the office and eats there, I don't really like to cook dinner for myself. I think I need to be feeding someone I love in order to really put my heart into it, and enjoy making food. I also don't really care to grocery shop when I'm just making things for myself, so I just pick at what's already in my kitchen. I guess it's a good thing I'm not still single or else I'd be stuck blogging recipes for toast and hard-boiled eggs (not to mention the title of this blog wouldn't make any sense at all).
But last night, I rummaged through the cupboards and fridge and came up with a delicious meal for myself, sort of by accident. It's a light, healthy, tuna salad (I haven't trusted the mayo-based kind since my freshman year of college when I ate it everyday and gained 25 pounds- though the beer may have had something to do with that, too), with my favorite - cannellini beans. And the best part is that it mostly came out of cans, making it super fast and easy, and cheap, cheap, cheap, to boot. This one will definitely make a repeat appearance on the menu on a night when JM is home. Unlike the bowl of cereal I had for lunch.

Tuna and White Bean Salad

1 can (19 oz) cannellini beans
1 can (5 oz) tuna packed in olive oil
2 tablespoons capers (drained)
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
salad greens, sandwich bread, or toasted bread rounds (optional)

What you do:
1. Drain and rinse the beans. Drain tuna, reserving the olive oil in a small bowl (you can use the lid of the can to hold the tuna in while draining the oil). Combine tuna and beans in a medium bowl. Add the capers, parsley, and onion and mix.
2. Add the vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, salt, and pepper to the reserved olive oil. Stir to combine and then dress the tuna mixture to taste (you may not want to use all the dressing).
3. Serve salad on top of greens, or as a sandwich, or atop grilled or toasted bread rounds as crostini.

Eat and be happy- even if you are eating alone. Look at it this way- at least you get to control the remote!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mail Management

When I was a kid, I loved getting the mail. I loved looking through my mom's magazines and catalogs and I was over the moon when a letter actually arrived with my name on it. Over the years, as I was introduced to the concept of credit card bills and guilt-causing charity drive letters, and watched as unchecked catalogs and magazines have piled up into cluttery mountains in my kitchen, that love has faded into something more akin to dread and loathing.
Don't get me wrong- I still get excited when the new New Yorker shows up, or when the odd calligraphed envelope slips out with it's tidings of wedding celebrations to come.  But with the majority of my mailboxes contents, I would rather just not deal, please. And when I think of the environmental impact of all of that wasted paper ... well, that just does me in.

But it's not like me to introduce a complaint without providing a solution, is it? Happily, there are lots of things you can do to reduce the amount of unwanted mail that makes it's way into your apartment, and slowly erodes your happiness.  Cutting down on your junk mail will help save your sanity, keep you organized and help save millions and millions of trees.

1. Go online and get your name on  junk mail prevention websites. They won't prevent every scrap from showing up, but they don't hurt, either.
For credit card offers:
 Or sign up for a paid service to stop the junk:

2. Sign up for online billing statements: Instead of receiving paper bills in the mail that are vulnerable to theft and pile up and need to be shredded, sign up to get your statements via email instead. You can save them in a file on your computer for future reference.

3. Recycle, right away: When the mail arrives, walk directly to the recycling bin (do not pass GO, do not collect $200), and weed it out. Make sure you shred anything that has personal information (bank acct #s, or your social security number, for example). Get rid of catalogs immediately- this will also keep you from spending money on things you don't need.

4. Sort the rest: We use these task clips, $9.50 from Knock Knock to sort and folders to file. Something about having these clips tell me what to do really kicks me in the pants.  Keep a file for financial statements (didn't I tell you to start getting them online?), personal letters you want to keep, and tax documents. So much better than riffling through piles and piles of unsorted papers on April 13th. Trust me...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Well Suited (with Guest Blogger Amber)

I just got back from spending a week in California with my family and friends. While I was there, I kept up a very busy schedule of sunbathing, reading, yoga, swimming, eating home-cooked meals and and drinking wine- you can imagine how stressful and exhausting it was. One day, while I was lounging poolside, my friend Amber showed up wearing a super-cute and flattering ruched bikini top. "Where, pray tell, did you get that adorable suit?" I asked. Her answer stunned and amazed me: It turns out that her suit was just a plain old cheap-o triangle top from Old Navy (shop for your own here), that she had rearranged and tied unconventionally in order to create a better-looking, better-fitting bikini top.  And that wasn't all! Amber had several other suit-tying techniques up her sleeve that could turn that same suit top into a variety of different styles- letting you make one suit look like a bunch of different suits. So you can avoid tan-lines, make a statement, and pack lighter, like a miracle! Even more miraculous, Amber agreed to model the looks and show us how to do them, so if you're lucky enough to have a little Spring Break of your own in the works, you can employ her bikini-top macrame techniques yourself. One caveat: This works better for us small-breasted girls than for you well-endowed ladies. But don't be sad if you can't wear a triangle top- you're already stacked, and you can't have everything!

Style #1: Upside-Down. (See on Amber, above). This is an easy one- simply tie the two bottom strings (BR and BL) together around the back of your neck. Then tie the strings that would normally go around your neck behind your back. Then adjust the cups til they are flattering.


Style #2: Bandeau. Tie the two bottom strings (BL and BR)tightly together in a bow. Then wrap the two remaining strings (TL and TR) around your back and tie it. If you prefer, you can tuck the bow into one of the cups for a cleaner look.

Style #3: Keyhole. This one is very similar to #2. Twist the two bottom strings (BR and BL) together in a half knot. Then tie them around the back of your neck. Then tie the two remaining strings (TL and TR) around your back.

 Style #4: Center Bow. Slide the triangles away from one another.  Tie the two top strings together in a bow.  Loop the string between the two cups over your neck. Tie the two remaining strings (BL and BR) behind your back. If you prefer, you can trim the ends of the bow short (but that's a permanent change).

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Fly On The Wall

Now that it's warm and sunny, and the world smells all earthy and lovely, and there are soft romantic breezes blowing about, it's time to open all the windows and doors and let the outside in.  But, as with everything in life, there is a downside to all this breezy openness: flying critters. It's happened to everyone- you get yourself all tucked in, get your pillows plumped just right and your body in the perfect position, and you switch off the light, and then, bzzzzzz! - a fly, bee, mosquito, or other irritating winged creature goes buzzing past your ear. No chance you're going to get a good night's sleep with that erratic buzzing, not to mention the thought of it- whatever it is- landing on your head and crawling in your ears or mouth. (Oh, you weren't thinking about that? Well, now you are).

How to solve this problem? You could spend the next 20 minutes chasing the thing around with a rolled-up newspaper (at least it will get your heart-rate up), but then it'll be at least an hour before you really calm down and get back to sleep.  Instead, use the bugger's own stupid instincts against him: Keeping the lights in your bedroom off, open the window (or a door to the bathroom in a pinch), and turn on the outside (or bathroom) light.  The dumb thing will be irresistibly drawn to the light (why, I don't know- do I look like an entomologist?) and go buzzing right out the window or door. Turn out the light and quickly slam the door, leaving your winged nemesis locked out of your room. And your nostrils.

P.S. I know this pic has little to do with today's post, but sometimes I come across a photo so ridiculous, I just can't help myself. Thank you for your indulgence. 
P.P.S. Seriously- who built that bike? It's too much.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Go With the Flowers

Everyone likes to receive a bouquet of flowers- it's one of those human universals like blinking or yawning when someone else does. But not everyone likes to pay for pre-assembled bouquets that contain a lot of fillers and tend to die quickly. That's more subjective, like whether you like reggae, or creamy or chunky peanut butter. In case you are wondering, the answers for me are yeah, mon and chunky and I hate buying those bouquets. But by the time I usually get around to purchasing a bouquet, I'm typically already late to the dinner party, or the airport or the hospital, or piano recital or whatever, and my options are typically limited to whatever they are selling at my corner deli.

Deli flowers might seem cheap, but if you know what to look for, you can walk out with a fresh, beautiful bunch that isn't expensive. And with minimal labor, you will be able to transform it so it looks like it came from a fancy florist, with no one the wiser.  And as a bonus, you can pick me up some chunky peanut butter while you're there.

1. Read my tips for choosing the freshest blooms at the deli, then go buy some. I got all of the flowers above for $25, and that included a splurgey bunch of renunculus that I just couldn't resist.  Try to stick within a color palette- I chose a springy mix of yellows and pinks- it will keep the bouquet looking sophisticated.

2. When you get the flowers home, remove the plastic protector sleeves and rubber bands.

3. Remove any wilty leaves from the stems, as well as any that branch off from the lower half of the stem. This will keep them from rotting in the water and shortening the flowers' lifespans.

4. Mix up the blooms, aligning the blooms at the same height. I like to put clusters of similar flowers together, and make sure the colors are roughly evenly distributed. Trim the stems to the same length at the bottom.

5. Wrap the bouquet in tissue paper. Start with the bouquet on a diagonal across a few sheets of tissue, then fold the bottom corner up over the stems and wrap the sides around the bouquet tightly. Tie with a pretty ribbon to keep it all together.

6. Present them to the sick, pregnant, traveling, pianist hostess, and watch her delight!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday Bunday!

Not that I pay that much attention to fashion shows (until someone does one featuring sweatpants, in which case they should put me in the front row next to Anna Wintour), but I couldn't help but notice that a lot of the runway shows during recent fashion weeks have featured models sporting messy buns in their hair. I must be ahead of my time, this has been one of my "signature looks" ever since I took ballet when  I was nine and could never figure out how to get the straggly bits to stay put (sadly, my jetés and pliés were just as sloppy, but that's a story for another day). I've worked on my technique since then, and I'm pretty sure I've mastered the art of creating a bun that looks pulled together, but not too polished, with just the right dash of laissez-faire attitude. It's equally appropriate for a night on the town or a night spent polishing your floors. And it goes particularly well with sweatpants.

Here are my step-by-step instructions for creating a loose bun that looks like you just threw it together (which, in fact, is kind of how you do it). I couldn't bring myself to force a friend to pose for these pictures, so please excuse the weird faces I apparently make when bunning myself. Good thing ballet prepared me to be comfortable with public humiliation.

Step 1: Figure out where you want your bun to be, and pull your hair back into a ponytail, and secure with a rubber band. I generally try to make my hair as smooth as possible during this step, and then mess it up later.

Step 2: Twist the ponytail from the base to the top, and coil the hair around the base of the ponytail. Don't worry if a lot of the hair is sticking out of the twist (like mine)- that's what makes the bun look so easy and breezy, and whatnot.

Step 3: Use large bobby pins to secure the bun in place. It helps make it hold if you are able to slide one side of the pin under part of the rubber band. You can use smaller pins or hairspray to tuck in stray hair pieces. Then, if you want loose strands at the back of your neck, or in front of your ears, pull them out. Tada!

Try a high bun, a low side bun, or add a headband for a Brigitte Bardot look while you are washing your dog or doing the dishes.

top photo credit: via Bella Sugar

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Wishing you a joyful Easter with all your favorite peeps!