Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ End-of-the-Year Round Up

Don't you just love those End-of-the-Year articles that start coming out this time of year in magazines, newspapers and on the Internet? They tell the best and the worst stories of the year, the big events that occurred and also, remind of us of people that died that year. I do a similar round up myself when I transfer birth dates and anniversaries over from my old calender to my new one. As I am copying the dates, I read what occurred, month by month in the year that is almost over. So, as I reviewed the year: In January I saw the Eagles in concert and then stayed in a Haunted Hotel while I visited my niece in Colorado. In February, I hosted six couples for an aphrodisiac dinner party at my house. Very sweet (and naughty!) In April I fulfilled a life-long dream and surfed at Cocoa Beach! In June, my hubby and I celebrated five years of married bliss and in July, I took my daughter to Italy for two weeks. November proved to be eventful as I had an article about my Aunt Josie published in the Miami Herald, my youngest son turned 21 and I turned 50! All these events, milestones, benchmarks mean something and I think the end-of-the year is the perfect time to review them. What did you accomplish? Where did you go? What did you do? What is left to be done? As for me, I still want to have a Spa party (for girls only), a wine tasting party (for couples), I want to publish an article I've written and write some short screenplays that have been brewing in my head. I like to look at my New Year's Resolutions from the year before and see what I've accomplished and what is left to be done. Some items may no longer be things you want to do, so lose them. As for me, I didn't learn Spanish or lose weight this year, but hope springs eternal each New Year. Happy New Year Y'all and Feliz Ano Nuevo!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Top 10 Christmas Albums

One of my favorite things to do in this hectic Christmas season is sit by our Christmas tree, with it's twinkling white lights, and listen to Christmas music. Sometimes I have a glass of vino, this morning it was a cup of coffee. I used to have a strict rule about "no Christmas music after Christmas", but I've loosened up a bit and figure until New Year's, it's okay. One Christmas, I spent eight hours in the car driving from Tallahassee to Miami and I think I heard every Christmas song ever known to man. The other day in the car, my 11 year old stepdaughter said "I hate when they don't sing the real song!" She was talking about all the covers of Christmas songs that are playing on the radio, but since she was born in 1998, the "real" songs for her were probably "covers" of originals. "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is one of my favorite Christmas songs, originally sung by the great Judy Garland in "Meet Me in St. Louis", but it's been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Pretenders. I just found out that another favorite- "Christmas" (Baby Please Come Home) sung by U2 on A Very Special Christmas was sung before that by Bruce Springsteen. And I love the Boss's version of "Merry Christmas Baby" and "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town". Sometimes we end up loving the covers more than the originals. I make sure to buy a new Christmas album each year to add to my collection. This year I purchased Andrea Bocelli's "Christmas" and I think it's a keeper.
Here are my Top Ten:
1) A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi
Charles Schultz credited the music in this special for making it so popular. This is my absolute favorite album- sometimes I will play it in the summer if I need cheering up.
2) A Very Special Christmas
The original and, I think, the best! Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" was one of my first exposures to rap. If you can call it that.
3) White Christmas Bing Crosby
A classic- love the movie too!
4) The Christmas Song Nat King Cole
What would Christmas be without Chestnuts roasting on an open fire?
5) Ally McBeal with Vonda Shepard
The TV series is gone, but the music lives on in this album my daughter gave me. Love it!
6) Kenny G Miracles
Not a big Kenny G fan, but digging this album's quiet holiday jazzy spirit. Perfect for sitting by
the fire with a hot toddy or wine.
7) Elvis's Christmas Album
I'll have a "Blue Christmas" without it.
8) The Nutcracker
I played this album to prepare my little daughter for the ballet. Unfortunately, she fell asleep
during the production but still love this classic fairy tale's tunes by Tchaikovsky.
9) Time Life Treasury of Christmas
Some great classics (and the Chipmunks) are included in this collection.
10) Merry Christmas from The Beach Boys
Perfect if you're spending the holidays in a tropical location.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Caroling

When you ask someone "Are you ready for Christmas?", usually what you're really asking is: "Are you done with your shopping?" Why do we correlate Christmas with shopping and presents? (and crowded malls and cranky shoppers?) Why indeed? Of course, there are other duties associated with Christmas- decorating, baking, sending Christmas cards, hosting parties, but most of our energy lies with buying, buying, buying. Maybe I keep thinking about this because I have done so little shopping (the Grannymobile is dead and we've been relying on one car), but I really object to the obsessive pressure to purchase. I am really thinking about the day when Christmas is just spent with family and friends and the gifts are not relevant. The day of Christmas, I am sometimes cranky because I didn't get what I wanted, it wasn't the right size or color and then I think about taking it back and having to fight the after-Christmas crowds. Really? Is that what Christmas is all about? I sound like a bratty child. And speaking of children, don't you find it disturbing...Kids ripping savagely into gift after gift, wrapping paper flying, not even getting to appreciate one gift while searching for the next, bigger, better, more promising one under the tree. I always tell my kids about Kathie Lee Gifford and how she only gave her children three gifts for Christmas- like the Wise Men. Of course, they moan and groan, but you would certainly savor those gifts if you only got three. Wouldn't it be wonderful and revolutionary NOT to shop for Christmas? To write thank you notes to people we appreciate, to spend time with them, to reflect on Christ and his meaning for the holidays? Some of my favorite Christmas memories are of caroling with my childhood friend Chrissy and my family around our neighborhood. We continued the tradition into our adulthood with caroling parties after we had children. Singing Christmas carols really puts me in the Christmas spirit and of course, once again, costs nothing. I watched Elf last night and he says "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loudly for all to hear." I have to agree. So here we come a caroling... But I refuse to shop till I drop!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Nanny Money

I have not done much Christmas Shopping this year and I don't plan to do as much as usual. I asked my kids if it was okay for me to give them a check instead of a bunch of presents. My daughter was delighted with this idea and, along with the check I will give her at least one other gift just "to open up". Although this may seem like an impersonal gift, let me tell you a story about "Nanny money". My grandmother started giving us checks, instead of stuff, when we became adults. She also always gave us one gift so we had "something to open up." Oftentimes, it was perfume. As we got older, the checks got bigger. Around October, I would start thinking about how I would spend my "Nanny money". I kept a running list of ideas. One year I got a colorful pastel Aubusson style rug for the living room, another year I got a beautiful oak sideboard which my husband nicknamed the "widow maker" when I sent him, alone, to go pick it up from the antique store. Some years I used it to get all the gifts I wanted, but didn't get, for Christmas. Other years, it was used for trips or classes I wanted to take. The last year I got it, I used it to pay for my first semester of graduate school and my daughter's private school. I don't know how I would have managed to swing that without my "Nanny money"; it was a lifesaver. The point is, the anticipation of the "Nanny money" lasted for months before it was actually given and set my imagination spinning wildly. It promised hope, dreams fulfilled and, most importantly freedom. Who can put a price tag on that?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Top 10 Holiday Movies

Haven't blogged in a week. Can you say Holiday Stress anyone? Shopping this week with hubby hoping to get it knocked out (for at least part of the family) this week. I proposed to the girls last week: "Wouldn't it be fun for Christmas to just watch Holiday movies, listen to Holiday music, sing Christmas Carols and forget about all the presents?" Needless to say, they were not too fond of that idea and of course, I am neglecting to mention that Christmas is really supposed to be about Jesus's birth, not gifts. But, when you are young, Christmas, at least for most of us, is all about the "stuff". For adults, however it's all about shopping in madness, eating and drinking until we're ready to explode and being stressed out over too much to do, to buy, to accomplish before December 25th arrives. I have no illusions that we will ever have a Christmas where I don't buy ANY gifts, but I will give you my top Holiday movies to watch. This costs nothing if you watch them on TV, not too much if you buy them and they will give you years of Holiday pleasure without having to step foot inside a store. Hallelujah!

Top Christmas Movies

1) Charlie Brown Christmas

2) How the Grinch Stole Christmas

3) A Christmas Story

4) White Christmas

5) It's a Wonderful Life

6) Miracle on 34th Street

7) Holiday Inn

8) A Christmas Carol (with Alistair Sims)

9) The Bells of St. Mary's

10)The Santa Clause (I am actually not too fond of this one but my nephew swears by it)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Gifts

I just read two interesting articles regarding gifts and happiness. The first talked about a survey given to people of all income levels regarding the satisfaction they recieved from different gifts. Surprisingly, those who had gotten pricey gifts, such as sports cars, were less satisfied with life than those who treated themselves to: long walks, warm baths and bars of chocolate. The little luxuries resulted in "short bursts of positive emotions" which led to happiness. The pricier items, I'm supposing, lost some appeal after the novelty had worn off. The second article, actually a column by George Will, discussed the findings in a book (Scroogenomics) by an author from the Wharton Business school. His conclusion was that gifts that people buy for others are usually poorly matched to the recipient's preferences. In other words, the gifts we get from others are not what we would have bought for ourselves. While sometimes this can be a good thing (a day at the spa or box of Godiva chocolates), it can definitely also be a bad thing. I know I've gotten gifts that were either grabbed at the last minute, or re-gifted. A photo box from Walgreens and Hickory Farms knockoff gift box with bloated salami and cheeses, comes to mind. I've also been on the other end, dashing out at the last minute to get something... ANYTHING, for someone I forgot. Usually, these gifts end up being a waste of time and money - two things I hate to waste. One option that seems to be foolproof- giving a gift card- has a surprising downside. 10% of the gift cards purchased are never used! Billions of dollars are spent, but never redeemed.

So, what are we to conclude from these studies? #1 Expensive gifts don't make us happier and #2 Most gifts are a waste of money. What is the solution? Obviously, think about what the person wants or needs. Listen to the person when you're together to find out what they're dying to have or are interested in. If all else fails, just flat out ask them. I also have luck when I buy something for a friend, that I would like to get for myself. Certificates for services rendered (car wash, hug, homemade dinner) are always great and don't cost a lot, but if you give them, make sure you follow through and actually do it. This time, it's not just the thought that counts, but the action. And, Santa Baby, I wouldn't mind an expensive sports car underneath the tree, for me. I'

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Tropic Hunt

I LOVE the Tropic Hunt! The crazy scavenger/mental cruelty game of wits takes place in downtown Miami this Sunday with a Holiday "Bizarre Bazaar" theme. I've been participating in the Hunt since 1985 (when I was pregnant with my daughter AJ). Back in those days, the clues took you to different locations that you had to drive to and so, if you got the wrong answer you were really sent on a wild goose chase (kind of like The Amazing Race). I'm not sure if there was a fatality or traffic violations occuring, but eventually they changed the Hunt to take place in one central location in the Miami area. Consequently, I've "Hunted" in Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, South Miami, Coral Gables and Downtown Miami. All have been fun, exhausting, mentally challenging and a great way to check out different neighborhoods. And, of course, completely free (unless you buy a T-shirt). People hunt in teams, but only four can win the final prize (usually a cruise). One year we only solved one clue, another year we solved all four before getting stumped by the final clue. (Damn that coffin on the phone!) Personally, I don't even think a dream team of Albert Einstien, Bill Gates, Steven Hawking and Marilyn vos Savant (genius lady in Parade) could come up with some of the solutions to these hunts. Dave Barry himself admits he'd never figure it out if he hadn't (along with Tom Shroeder) demonically thought them up. BUT that's not the point. It's fun, it's free and it's going to be great weather to be out and about with friends pretending like you're Nancy Drew. So Alert Hunters, see you there!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Experience a Cruise

Some of the best gifts I've received haven't been physical objects that end up collecting dust, but experiences I will treasure forever. About nine years ago, my parents gave us a Disney cruise for Christmas. Being able to have our family together on a vacation- and spend time with my Dad who died from lung cancer two years later- was a gift I will never forget. We had a great time. For my 40th birthday I took my first cruise- on Costa- with my sister around the Mediterranean. I had never been to Italy before and we went there, as well as Tunisia, Africa, Barcelona, Spain and Marseilles, France. How do you put a price tag on going someplace you've never been before and experiencing different cultures and people? For Christmas this year, my sister Kelley is taking her kids on a cruise. This will be their only gift and a gift to my sister as well, since her shopping for them is done. Cruises are at all time low prices right now so what better time to cruise? When you factor in the fact that you have room, board and entertainment included on a cruise, it's one of the best bangs for your vacation buck. My husband and I are going on Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Sea's inaugural voyage where they christen the ship. It cost $500 but was a donation for Make a Wish foundation and a gift for my 50th birthday. It's only one night, but in the words of the Four Seasons "Oh, What a Night!" Can't wait and will report back on my findings.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Dance

Let's Dance... David Bowie Just Dance...Lady Gaga Dance with me... From the past to the present, human beings have felt the need to dance. I love watching Ellen and I always try to see the opening because that is when she dances. I get up and dance with her and figure, if that's the only time it happens, at least I've danced once that day. Dancing... We seem to be a nation obsessed with it these days. Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance... The Flash Mob dances ala the Black Eyed Peas on the opening Oprah Show. Why? In the Depression, the movies were mostly escapism- Big Production Busby Berkeley Musicals, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Dance-a-Thons. People needed a way to escape the harsh conditions of life and watching an unfolding kaleidoscope of dancing women, or slipping into the top hat and tails and feathered ballgowns of these performers was their ticket out of reality. Not so different from our present situation. Dancing- completely free and uplifting. I have always been struck how the people of Cuba seem able to enjoy life, even though they have very little in terms of material goods. But they seem able to scrabble together meals, eat with gusto, put on some music and cha cha cha. Have you seen the guy that does little dances as he arrives at his destination, all over the world? It will put a smile on your face. Even babies seem programed to dance, so it's not something that needs to be taught. It's instinctual, primal, within us. Dancing makes you feel better no matter what else has happened that day. So in the classic words of Lee Ann Womac "when you get the chance to sit it out or dance. I hope you Dance."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ A Good Night's Sleep

Getting a good night's sleep- completely free and priceless. I slept well last night, for nine hours, and it feels like a gift. With the present economy- people fearful of losing their jobs, or jobless, worried about making mortgage payments, or in foreclosure, God only knows it is hard to get a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, worrying about things doesn't do anything to make it better. I love this quote by Jesus "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" Who indeed? Sleeping well will allow you to be more refreshed, creative and able to handle whatever the day's challenges may be.

Here are some tips to get a good night's sleep.

  • Establish a routine. Not always easy, especially during the holidays, but try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

  • Exercise during the day (but not right before bedtime). Yoga also can help you get a better night's sleep.

  • Establish a routine for bedtime. Wash face, brush and floss teach, put eye cream on.

  • A warm bath. My favorite pre-bed ritual. If you add lavender to the bath water, even better.

  • Do not watch TV or go on the computer right before bed as it over-stimulates your brain. Although, I have to admit some TV shows put me right to sleep.

  • Sleepytime tea from Celestial Seasonings. It really works and now they have an even stronger version (Sleepytime Extra).

  • A relaxing CD. They have CD's that play sounds like the ocean, a forest, babbling brook. Play your favorite and imagine you're there.
  • Temperature. Studies have shown that people sleep better when they are in a cooler environment, so make sure it is cool enough.
  • Make your bed. It sounds silly (thanks Mom) but you really do sleep better in a bed that has been made before you get in, otherwise the sheets get all tangled and twisted and you're tossing and turning all night.

So, get into your jammies, slip into your nicely made bed and have a good night's sleep. Like Philomena, a pyschic I once visited advised me: "Tell yourself you'll worry about it tomorrow."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Public Schools

Public Schools. Really. They are free, which, if they are good, is looking like a great bargain these days. We have three in private school and it is a small fortune. We went last night to DASH (Design and Architecture Senior High) which one of our daughters is interested in. It is one of the top Magnet Programs in the country (according to US News and World Report) and completely free. Even the public transportation on Metro Rail is free. They offer 32 courses (instead of 24), executive internships so students can get experience in their field and college classes with a local university taught on campus. One student left DASH and entered Cornell as a Junior because he had so many college credits. So not only are you saving money in high school, you are saving time and money in college. The only downside is the immense competition to get in. 500 students go through the intensive audition process, but only 120 earn a slot. DASH offers architecture, graphic design, fine art, industrial design, visual communication and fine art. My only regret was that it wasn't around when I went to high school.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ La Dolce Vita

When times are bad and people don't want to splurge on fancy restaurant dinners, treats like ice cream become a way to get out and eat a treat, without breaking the bank. The other day I had a craving for pumpkin frozen yogurt, but since all the TCBY's have practically disappeared, I went to my local ice cream store (Whip and Dip) and treated myself to pumpkin spice ice cream in a sugar cone. Yummy! An even cheaper alternative is buying your favorite ice cream (Chunky Monkey) at the grocery store and making your own cones (or cups). And making your own ice cream, if you have an ice cream maker, offers the opportunity to "Have it your way". You can make lower fat ice cream, different flavors of sorbet, or mix in your own goodies for a customized blend. I made a biscotti- almond ice cream that my family loved. So when life gives you a lickin', get lickin' and enjoy a little bit of bliss in a cone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Play Tennis

Play tennis! Well, it doesn't have to be tennis, it could be another raquet sport or even softball or basketball. It's great to get outside in the fresh air and have the physical and mental challenge of participating in a sport. If you are on a team or have a partner, you also have the camraderie and support of fellow athletes having a good time. Tennis is a great way to get some exercise (even better if you play singles), get away from the everyday worries of life, and relieve stress. All you have to focus on for a couple hours is that little yellow ball! My teams have gone through a lot of major life challenges- divorce, death of a spouse, breast cancer, losing custody of a child, but through it all we have been there to support each other. My mother and I were partners (until she got injured) and when my teenage son and I had nothing we could agree on, we could go out and whak the ball around. There is joy in hitting that perfect shot, so much so that I sometimes dream about them in my sleep. When life has so many things you can't control, it's a relief to be able to go out and just have some fun.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Glimmers of Hope

I was in Starbucks today and it was packed. Could this be a sign that the economy is improving? Starbucks had been having a hard time as people gave up their $2 coffee a day and started brewing at home. Perhaps Starbucks is a barometer of economic strength. According to my son Brad, they do a lot of research in neighborhoods before they decide to open a store. So if there is an iffy neighborhood "in transition", and a Starbucks moves in, it's a good sign. Although I usually make my own coffee at home, sometimes I'm on the road, want to try a new type of coffee (this time it was Thanksgiving Blend) or just want to treat myself. I read in the paper that Americans are getting a little tired of saving and depriving themselves over this extended period of economic hardship and are beginning to open up their purse strings a bit. Apparently they've opened them up and bought themselves a cup of coffee (or hot chocolate or chai).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Twilight Tastings

Found another great deal at the Miami Book Fair. Something called Twilight Tastings, that occur between readings and are sponsored by a different restaurant each night. Last night it was sponsored by Xixon Cafe, a tapas bar and restaurant on Coral Way. It was held in a beautiful building, with Corinthian columns and blue lighting inside. You got a ticket for a free drink (red wine) when you walked in and then they brought in a huge Paella, which they served with bread on little plates. The glasses of wine were reasonable ($4) if you wanted a second glass. We got ours to go and then walked over to another building to hear Isabella Rossellini talk about her latest project- Green Porno. You might be asking how Spanish cuisine ties in with the Blue Velvet actress speaking about the love life of insects (and fish). Well, not much but she is the daughter of Ingrid Bergman (Swedish actress) and Roberto Rossellini (Italian director) and you can't get much more disparate than that. And from that odd pairing, we got the stunning and intelligent actress, writer and director Isabella, so somehow it all works out.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ho Ho Ho! Guess what's right around the corner? The pumpkin's barely rotted and already we're inundated with Christmas decorations and sales pitches. Despite reports to the contrary, I don't hate Christmas (even though my husband calls me Scrooge this time of year), it's just the mindless spending, the glut of stuff and the bills that arrive in January that I hate. But, having said that although we resolve to cut back, eliminate some recipients, there are always some gifts that must be purchased. While, we don't want to spend a lot of time or money on certain gifts, we want them to look like we did, or at least look like some thought was put into them. So, I decided to go to my local drugstore and see what items could be picked up at the last minute, that are thoughtful gifts, without spending a fortune. Blank CD's can be purchased and burned with favorite songs, as a very personal gift. As Seen On TV items are for sale at reduced prices, if you go in for that kind of thing (Snuggie, anyone?) although these may fall into the "gag gift" kind of area. I am surprised at the quality of some of the wines available at local drug stores. Paired with a box of nice chocolates (Lindt Truffles) and tossed in a wine bag, this makes a nice hostess gift. If you have basket lying around the house, you can assemble specialty baskets from items purchased at CVS or Walgreens. A loofah, some bath bubbles and a candle, make a relaxing Spa Basket. Some slippers, a Christmas mug and hot chocolate make a cozy Winter Nesting Basket. I have always been a fan of the movie basket- Popcorn, movie candies and a great DVD. You get the idea- use your imagination. A classic gift, that shows thought and doesn't break the bank, is buying a frame and putting that perfect photo in it. Speaking of photos, most drugstores have amazing photo departments where you can make personalized gifts in minutes. Nothing says you care more than plastering your face onto a mug for your friends or family to drink out of. Burt's Bees has a Starter Kit in a pretty tin, for only $14.99. And if none of these gifts appeal, there are always gift cards (although read the fine print because some of them depreciate over time or expire.) The nicest gift my former sister-in-law gave me was pretty decorated box with a gift card to the movies and a card to Outback for a "night out on the town".

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Cheap Eats

When I go out for a meal, I want to get the most Bang for my Buck. I think consumers nowadays not only want good food, they want good deals. Take, for example the Bento Box I had today at my favorite Sushi place. They have different lunch specials with various combinations. I got a miso soup, salad with ginger dressing, California roll, vegetable and shrimp tempura and chicken teryiaki, all for eight bucks. You can't beat that! Only wish I would have taken a photo to show you. At another sushi place near my house, they have specials on happy hour and a little bottle of sake for just $3. There's also an Italian place that has amazing happy hour deals like 2 for 1 drinks and half-off appetizers. The apps are delicious- stacks of nicely fried eggplant parmigiana and huge platters of calamari with marinara. With a glass (or two) of wine, it's dinner. And Mamma Mia! you haven't spent a fortune.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Do Something Free

Last night I attended a talk by Ruth Reichl, former editor for Gourment magazine. It is part of the Miami Book fair (now in it's 26th year) and was completely free. Because the fair has grown so big, they now charge for some of the events, but this particular one (including parking) was completely gratis! I went with a friend, we got great seats, heard Ruth speak and answer some intelligent questions and then left the auditorium to have her book signed. I turned around to look for my friend Martha and, there she was chatting up Ruth Reichl, asking where she was going to have dinner in Miami and suggesting a few Cuban restaurants. Last weekend, there was an art show in South Miami (free) and we took the kids to UM's homecoming parade and "boat burning" with fireworks, all for free. At the Homecoming event, they were even giving away bottles of water, pizza and ice cream. You can't beat that. No matter where you live, you probably have something going on for free- whether it's cooking classes at a department store or a concert at your neighborhood church. If you go, you might see old friends, make new ones or even talk to your favorite author!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Smell the Cheese

"Don't be pennywise and pound foolish." Did Ben Franklin say that? At any rate, don't be as stupid as I was last week. Took a long awaited trip to Orlando to visit a friend in my 11-year old Toyota Avalon, not-so-affectionately named the "Grannymobile". (So named because it smelled like Granny, my husband's mom.) We bought the car after she died. Ignored trouble signs like billowing white smoke that erupted every time I started her. I had gotten her Super-lubed and the tires aligned recently, so I tried to convince myself she was ok. Ignored that little inner voice that told me to get a tune-up and plowed on to Orlando. Until... halfway to Orlando. The Grannymobile started to feel different, then there was a loud explosion where it felt like something flew out of the bottom of my car, it started decelerating and I eventually came to a stop on the side of the Florida Turnpike. I called AAA, was towed to a garage where they sponsored kids who raised and sold pigs. They concluded my engine melted, threw a piston and, blew out the oil pan. I asked "Is that is bad as cracking the block?" "It's worse than cracking the block." was the answer. So the Grannymobile is D.O.A. Had it towed to Miami, rented a car and drove on to Orlando. So instead of paying for a simple tune-up, this cost me: $55 to be told it was dead, $200 for towing and $140 for the rental car. Not to mention the cost of: either a new car or a new engine. Morale of the story: Don't be stupid like I was. Pay the money to have your car tuned up regularly, or at the very least stop off at a service station where they can check your car out before you head out on a road trip. And may the Grannymobile Rest In Peace.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I can't stand Braid Lady. SHE'S BACK!!! The door rang on Wednesday and there she was, braid and all. I was supposed to try out a new housekeeper who seemed great on the Tuesday before Braid Lady returned. She was one of the many who responded in the first rush after I listed it on Just Ask Boo. I called her and got a message in Espanol, so I went on to the next candidate. After interviewing three other people with no luck, I went back to this one. I'm willing to sign up at Berlitz at this point.She came with her husband who said she could clean, iron, cooked great and had an excellent driving record. She herself, said very little and seemed shy. When I called her reference (who she still works for 1 day a week) she recommended her highly and said she had even "lent her out" to friends who needed help at dinner parties etc... I was going to have her come Tuesday, before Braid Lady returned from Ecuador, but her husband called Monday and told me she had taken a job for the week. She reasoned a week's worth of work was better than two days, but I was planning on hiring her permanently. I thought I would have Braid Lady back and see if she still bugged the crap out of me. She does. I left the panini maker open, because it needed to be cleaned. When I returned, it was closed up, with stuff on top of it. I assumed she had cleaned it, but checkedanyway. It was still full of gunk. I opened it back up and asked her to clean it. "Do the things come out?" she asked, speaking of the grill panels. "No. I just cleaned it last week. It's not that hard." Rolling of the eyes. I told her I needed her to dust, mop and vacuum Every Week. She said yes, she understood, but I found a fake fingernail where she had supposedly mopped and she definitely didn't vacuum ("Your vacuum stinks"). My friend Martha says "You need to get someone who doesn't speak English." I'm not sure how this will help them clean better, but I'm willing to try anything at this point. My husband said "We've had a revolving door of nannies. We're due for a good one." I may give the quiet, Peruvian one a try next week if she is still available. I don't think I can take another week of Braid Lady's passive aggressive responses.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Horror Stories

So now, in time for Halloween, are Horror Stories from the down recession. These are true stories (I think) with the names omitted to protect the innocent.
  • Horror Story#1 A man sells his profitable business for a million bucks and plans on living off the interest. He makes enough to live comfortably for a while, until interest rates go south and then he can't make it. He goes back to work at his business, under the new owners. He now works at his old job at his old business, under "bosses" that are half his age and micro manage his every move. Scary!
  • Horror Story #2 A well-known businessman who owns a chain of sports bar restaurants gets "in trouble" for permitting gambling in his establishment. After he returns from his unplanned "vacation" he needs to find employment. He now works, as a cook in the kitchen of his chief competitor's sports bar restaurant.
  • Horror Story #3 A friend of mine who is a writer/editor with her Master's in P.R., has lost some of her writing gigs, so she's decided to sell designer handbags/clothes on E-bay. She actually enjoys it and has, so far, been quite successful.

Since this "Upsides to the Down Economy", the last story may be the upside. When you lose your job or your hours are cut back, this may be your opportunity to try something new. You may actually find something you love doing, are good at, that you never would have dreamed doing before. Maybe you will pursue this, instead of your old career, or when the economy recovers, use it as a supplement to your income. People today have to be creative and inventive in order to survive. But, as Americans, this is what we do. So here on Halloween, don't duck under the covers and Boo Hoo. Get out there and do something, anything to further your dream. You never know where it might lead.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Rainy Days

Most of us have never suffered through the harsh economic climate we are now faced to deal with. Double-digit unemployment, real estate market in the toilet, banks who've been bailed out who now won't lend to anyone. It's depressing. When our parents or grandparents talked about the Depression, it was hard to relate to the devastation and impact that period of time had on them. My grandmother Julia, born in 1918, was a child of the Depression. She hated bouquets of flowers for her birthday because they were wasteful, rarely ate out, re-used whatever she could and saved everything. I know this because when she died, I inherited her house and had to go through everything. Receipts for items long gone, photographs given to her by others (she didn't own a camera), newspaper clippings, holy cards, homemade gifts from her grandchildren and, of course, every greeting card that had ever been given to her for any occasion. This was probably the most fun item to go through. She and my Aunt Josie passed back and forth a birthday card for probably 10 years, just signing their name and the date, so they wouldn't have to waste money on a new card. While she was frugal to a degree, she also had a lovely house filled with quality items, took nice vacations, gave generous gifts and always had a little money stashed away. So that's one good thing about this recession- Americans are now saving more than they ever have in the past. Because now we know what a rainy day looks like.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Reusable Bags II

Update on reusable bags. Just got back from CVS and if you buy a little reward card for 99 cents and attach it to your reusable bag, you get $1 every fourth time you use it for purchases. I think I like the getting-money-back plan, better than the-charging-you for bags plan. Yeah USA!

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Recyclable Bags

Went to my favorite store (Target) yesterday and brought a couple of reusable bags with me. To my delight, the cashier informed me that if you bring in your own bags, you get 5 cents off per bag. So, not only am I saving the environment, I'm saving money! You can't beat that. When I was in Italy this summer, we went shopping at a local grocery store for dinner that night. As we went to pay, the cashier kept trying to explain something to us (in Italian) that we didn't understand. We finally figured out that we were being charged for the plastic bags to carry out the groceries in. Maybe, if we started doing that over here it would be a good incentive to remember the recyclable bags. I always try to keep a couple in the trunk for unexpected stops. If you forget yours, you can usually buy one at the store you're shopping at. They're usually only 99 cents and I find you can never have too many. As Martha would say, "It's a Good Thing."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Pray

Pray. Okay, you can eat and love too, but the very act of prayer gives comfort and hope. When I feel I have no control over my life, when I feel powerless and helpless, I pray. Since I was raised Roman Catholic, I've been saying a lot of Hail Mary's lately. It's a mantra that soothes me in uncertain times. I also have a fool-proof Little Flower Novena (a prayer for nine days) to St. Theresa that I seem to be saying on a constant basis for different people and causes. Even if my prayers aren't "answered", I get something just from the act of praying. I try to do it first thing in the morning, to put my priorities in order. When my grandmother died and I moved into her house, I found a stack of prayers to different saints tucked away in her nightstand, right next to her "exercises to be done in bed". You always knew you were in trouble if she prayed to St. Jude for you. (St. Jude is the patron saint of impossible causes.) She was praying to St. Michael for Cancer patients (my Dad) at the time she died. Of course you don't have to be Catholic or any particular religion to pray. Thank you is quite a nice (and easy) prayer.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes on prayer:

"Pray and let God worry." Martin Luther
"Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays." Soren Kierekegaard

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ The Bucket List

I've heard people talking lately about their Bucket Lists- you know, the things you want to do before you kick it. Maybe, it's becoming more relevant because, when things get tough, we tend to focus on what's important to us. Or maybe we just want something to look forward to- to keep our spirits up on days when life throws us a curve ball. I got to check off one of the items on my BL list this year that I'd hope to do since high school. Surf! Went to my sister Elise's beach house during Spring Break and took a surfing lesson in Cocoa Beach (where Major Nelson lives with Jeannie). Getting up on the surfboard and "catching a wave" (even a small one) was as fun as I'd always imagined it would be. The Beach Boys weren't kidding- I was "sittin' on top of the world" at that moment in time. Now, I just have to visit all 50 states ( I have 17 left to go), read the Bible and sell a screenplay. What's on your Bucket List? Is it the same as it was ten years ago? Have you checked anything off? Maybe it's time to revise, renew and pursue it. Mazel tov!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ A Priceless Gift

Yesterday, I gathered at my Aunt Josie's house with my sisters to a take a photo to accompany an article I wrote about her for The Miami Herald's Miami Stories. Although Josie said to the photographer "You're not going to use all the stuff she wrote, are you? Some of its just stupid!", I thought it was important to write the history of how she (and my grandmother and aunts) came to Miami. My great grandfather started the first Italian restaurant in Miami and my grandfather (with his mother and my grandmother) started the first nursing home here. At the Pinecrest Library the other day, the librarian talked about an upcoming speaker who was going to teach children how to write down questions for their grandparents, so they could interview and video tape them. I think this is a great idea and the perfect gift for someone who has everything (like my father-in-law). She explained it was a wonderful way for kids to ask questions of their grandparents now, before they are gone. How many of us have thought about questions we should have asked our loved ones who are no longer around? In this day and age of electronics, where everything passes by us at the speed of light, there is still some inherent value to sitting down and talking to our relatives about the "good old days". Which is what my sisters and I did after the photo shoot was over. Look for the story next Sunday, November 1st, in Neighbors.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Halloween Costumes

Some of my favorite Halloween memories are of trick or treating in costumes my mother had sewn for us. I became a Geisha Girl, Turn-of-the-Century bathing beauty and even Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz (I was in my 30's for that one). I'm not a seamstress, but when my kids were growing up I still liked the idea of homemade costumes, rather than the cheapo-looking ones you got at Kmart, so I improvised. One of the favorite costumes I "made" was The Joker (original Jack Nicholson version) for my son Brad. I got a cheap cotton jacket and long sleeved shirt at Goodwill and dyed them purple (jacket) and orange (shirt) with Rit dye. A chiffon aqua scarf I wore for my sister's wedding was tied into a bow, and some gloves, a large felt hat and walking stick, rounded out the outfit. Of course, the Joker's make-up was essential to make the costume complete. He looked great and I think it was one of his favorite costumes. Goodwill is a great source for cheap costumes and Party City has a lot of accessories to complete your outfits. As long as you get the main items right, people will get the idea of your costume- it doesn't have to be Martha Stewart perfect. I keep a costume box that I pull out for inspiration for new costumes. With the fake pearls, long white gloves, a cigarette holder and a tiara I have, a young girl can become Audrey Hepburn at Breakfast at Tiffany's (just add a black dress). Another alternative is exchanging costumes with a friend who has a child the same age, or shopping at the consignment store. As for my stepdaughters, one is re-using her Whoopee Cushion costume, one is going to be a cowgirl (we bought a hat and gun) with a flannel shirt and jeans she already has and the third, of course, is undecided. Family Fun's website has good ideas for homemade, no-sew costumes and I'm sure there are other ideas on the Internet. Although people seem to spend a fortune these days on Halloween costumes, my point is, you don't need to. It's more fun and rewarding to be creative.

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Appreciate Your Job

People bitching about their jobs is nothing new, but, in this economy, just to have a job seems to be a blessing. Where I live, in Miami, unemployment is in the double-digits, higher than the rest of the nation. I have talked to a lot of people who work in offices that have been down-sized and they are having to pick up the slack for positions that have been eliminated. While not an ideal situation, at least they have jobs to bust their butts for. I just interviewed a lady looking for a housekeeping job. Her husband had been working 80-90 hours a week driving a medical supply vehicle, and with the overtime he made a comfortable living. They cut out overtime at his job and now they cannot make it on his 40 hour work week, so his wife is taking a job cleaning houses. If you love your job- great!, if you don't, try to do whatever you do well and keep a positive attitude. Even the most menial jobs can be done with love, attention and pride in your work.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Shoe Repair

I was in the shoe repair shop yesterday and guess what? It was packed. with 4 people waiting to get their shoes fixed. Usually, the place is a ghost town. I guess it just goes to show, we are learning that fixing quality items is better than running out and buying cheap replacements. I had to laugh when my grandmother, a product of the depression, was taking in her manicure scissors to get repaired. To me, it didn't make sense, factoring in the time spent and money used for gas to run the errand, when you could buy a new pair for $5. But it is also one of the things that bothers me about our society- that everything is so disposable. That we would rather do the cheap and easy thing, than possibly the right thing. Because, when you think about it, where do the old scissors go? In the trash, of course, along with all the rest of the trash we generate. I still have my grandmother's pair of manicure scissors (she died 8 years ago) and I guess when they break, I'll take them in to get fixed. Again. Not exactly an heirloom passed down to generations, but maybe just a good lesson from a child of the depression to an adult in a recession.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Shop in your Own Kitchen

Trying to save money or just too lazy to go to the grocery store? Shop in your own kitchen. Check out the contents of your freezer, fridge and pantry and see what forgotten items you come up with. When I recently did this I was rewarded with two lobster tails (wrapped in aluminum foil) and a flank steak from Cotsco. Paired with a baked potato, it made a delicious surf and turf Saturday night meal my hubby and I. Find a petrified ham hock in the freezer? Delicious (and inexpensive) split pea soup is a comforting solution. Once you identify your holdings, go through your recipes to come up with ways to pair things or, if you need inspiration, Google items (Chicken breasts, cream of chicken soup, couscous) for recipe ideas. Pasta is one staple that is always in our pantry so here's an easy recipe using items you may already have on hand.

Greek Spaghetti

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 pound spaghetti or linguine
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (6 ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts
12 Greek or Italian style black olives
1 teaspoon oregano
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup grated Romano or Parmesan chees
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Cook pasta according to package. Drain and set aside. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and garlic, saute 1 to 2 minutes. Drain artichokes, reserving liquid; cut artichoke hearts in half.
Add reserved artichoke liquid, olives, oregano and lemon juice to onion-garlic mixture. Mix well. Heat 2 to 3 minutes. Add reserved artichoke hearts. Heat through. Combine pasta, artichoke mixture, Romano and feta cheese. Serve and enjoy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Make Memories

Yesterday was a beautiful, fall cool day here in Miami so we decided to make some Halloween Place mats. Is this the most necessary item in the world? No, but my youngest stepdaughter had asked to make some to fill in for the two we already had. Last year, we had a big Halloween party with a haunted house, fortune teller and mad scientist laboratory, but this year, I have neither the time or inclination (or disposable income) to do it again. So, the place mats were a little something to do to put us in the Halloween spirit. We went to Joanne's fabrics, waited in a long line (apparently the cool weather had inspired other crafters) and picked out a cute fabric and some batting to cushion the place mats. Since the batting was 50% off and the fabric was $11, it cost about $16 for the whole project, with a little fabric leftover. Although it took me until the third place mat to perfect the method (fold over a side and put the batting in between), once I figured it out, it went quickly. Rachel, our resident seamstress, sewed them together. We made 5 place mats for about $3 each. I think they turned out cute and they will always remind us of a fun, cool fall day every time we eat on them.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Be Grateful

I just took a drive through my old neighborhood- Mangowood. It was a Desperate Housewives type neighborhood where everybody knew your name. (Wait, that's Cheers) Memories of my life when my oldest kids were young, came flooding back when I saw a group of kids playing football in the front yard. I don't usually like driving, but today I was happy to meander about. By the park Christopher played his first soccer match at (he was only 5), by the church we used to attend, where AJ had her first communion. I was struck by the sheer beauty of my surroundings driving down Old Cutler, and then Red Road; of the regal royal palms against the luminous sky. The autumn light hitting the landscape at sunset was especially beautiful. I then passed my old elementary school and the park I used to take Brad, my oldest, to play when he was a toddler. He's now 29. How fast the years go by... how fast this year's gone by! And then my eyes filled up with tears because I am grateful for every year, every month, every moment.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Nanny Chronicles/ The UN of Nannies

Braid Lady has been gone a week, as of today and the house has not fallen down around us. Unfortunately, I have not been very successfull in my nanny search. Most don't speak English, have no housekeeping experience or don't drive. It doesn't help that my phone has been turned off since Monday (sent the check in Tuesday) so no one can call in. It is peaceful though. Saturday, I interviewed a former Montessori teacher from San Francisco who: sold jewelry at Nordstroms, sold luxury cars at a dealership, worked for a realtor and was a personal assistant for some impossible-to-work-for (according to her) lady. She was personable and enthusiastic but I think more of a Nanny than housekeeper. She said she thought cleaning was "good exercise". I think there's a lot more to it than that and when I asked her about cooking she said her friends say she is a good cook, so she didn't sound too confident with that. Finding a housekeeper is not the hard part, finding one that drives is. I don't even care if they cook at this point- that is the least of my worries. I guess I will send my husband's shirts to the dry cleaners, since Braid Lady usually irons them. One day when she was bringing his shirts up to the bedroom, she asked me how much the dry cleaner charges per shirt. I told her I didn't know (I don't). And when I told her this summer that I was going to Italy on vacation for two weeks, she said "Must be nice." Her exact words. These images and the memory of her horrible attitude remind me of why I must keep on my quest for a new nanny/housekeeper. But, in the meantime, I saved 200 bucks this week. And no attitude.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Top 10 Running Songs

Are you using your CHEVRAlegs? Sometimes even the most avid exerciser needs inspiration to get motivated. When this happens, I download new songs into my I-Pod. I know I-Pods are expensive, but most people have them and to download a song only costs 99 cents, (or a little more). Another option is to download songs from CD's you already own.

Here are my top 10 Running Songs as of today, that will get your legs moving.

1) Walk of Life Dire Straights
2) Stronger Kayne West
3) I Gotta Feeling Black Eyed Peas
4) Bombs Over Baghdad Outkast
5) Material Girl Madonna
6) Guitar Man Elvis
7) Glory Days Bruce Springsteen
8) American Girl Tom Petty
9) Jai Ho Pussycat Dolls
10)Golddigger Jaime Foxx

Update on my wildflowers: Little green things have popped up, but I think they're weeds.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Moments in Time

Life, when we look back at it, is mostly remembered in moments. When you think about the happiest, saddest, most memorable time of your life it is most likely that you're remembering one specific incident, not a whole day. The birth of a baby, the exchanging of vows, seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, cracking up at a joke with a friend, getting your first car, job, kiss- these are all moments. While we wake up each morning hoping to have a great day, don't forget about all the moments that occur during it, happy, sad or frustrating, and try to treasure each and every one of them. Maybe, instead of saying "Have a Great Day!", we should say "Have a Great Moment!" Happy Birthday Allison!

"There is no happiness; there are only moments of happiness." Spanish Proverb

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/Flower Arrangements

I used to occasionally treat myself to a bouquet of flowers when I went grocery shopping and I always made sure to have one on hand if company was coming for dinner. Now, I rarely, if ever, buy flowers or arrangements. Instead, I rely on the natural flora and fauna outside my front (and back) door for inspiration. When I want to spruce up the house, I walk outside, clip some flowers, leaves, palm fronds. bamboo sticks, or whatever I can find and make up my own arrangement in vases I have at home. I am lucky to live in Miami with many tropical plants at my disposal, but I'm sure you could find something in your yard to clip and use. Even small wildflowers, or herbs look good when grouped together in little vases. If you have nothing available, you can also make arrangements out of a bowl full of lemons, oranges or even nuts in the shell (good for fall). Fall leaves look pretty arranged on a pewter plate or in a hurricane lamp; even bare branches can look artistic (or spooky) when artfully arranged. For my last end-of-the-year tennis party, a friend came over and helped me arrange vases full of flowers from the backyard. She used scissors to cut plants down to size and even cut leaves into different shapes. Here are some photos of the resulting arrangements. So- be creative and save money at the same time.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/Coupons

When I was first married (numero uno), money was tight and I was an avid coupon-clipper. I even had a little segmented pouch to separate the coupons into categories. After a while, I stopped using them; I would invariably forget them or when I remembered them, they were expired. Now, when I go to the grocery store, I gather my environmentally friendly grocery bags, anything I need to recycle at the grocery store and I go through the coupons I have clipped. Yes, I have started using them again, but with certain caveats.
1) It has to be more than 50 cents. Otherwise, it's not worth my time to clip.
2) It has to be a product I normally buy. It's not worth buying some new product if I hate it, but give me coupons for Yoplait (save $1 on 6) or Lean Cuisines, and I'm there.
Nowadays, you don't have to rely on your Sunday paper alone to get coupons. The Internet is filled with deals for all kinds of items (not just groceries). Google "coupons for" whatever item you're interested in and see what pops up.
Another money saving idea I use is racking up points for stores I frequent. CVS, AMC, Winn Dixie and Best Buy are just some of the stores that offer cards that reward frequent buyers. I love getting CVS Extra Bucks or a free movie ticket at AMC. It may not be that much in terms of money, but remember what Ben Franklin said.. And somehow eating a bag of free popcorn just tastes better.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/Be Present

Be where you are. This sounds simple, but it's really not. When you are playing PLAY, when you are working WORK, when you are driving DRIVE. Go Dog Go. I was recently at a dinner party where one of the guests left after dinner to run an errand, and when they got back to the party, got on their cell phone. When I play tennis, even in matches, players are constantly checking their phones in between points. I hate that. I leave my phone in the car when I play tennis because I am there to play tennis- I can check my phone calls when I'm done. Unless you have a sick child at home, or some one you know is on the verge of death, I don't see a reason to bring your phone to a match. To be really present in the moment is living life to the fullest. It costs nothing, but pays back so much in return.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/Exercise DVDs

I've never been a gym rat. When I walk or run, I usually go outside and do it. Sometimes, however it's raining, or simply, too darn hot. On these days, I rely on my library of fitness DVD's (and some VHS'S) to get my steps in. I have everything from Jane Fonda to Denise Austin to Billy Blanks. I have ballet, pilates, yoga, step, sculpting, exercise ball, tae kwon do, etc... My lastest purchases were two Denise Austin DVD's from Marshalls for $3.99 each! While I enjoy all my different workouts in my library, sometimes buying a new one helps motivate me and for four bucks, you can't beat it. A lot of stores are clearing out their fitness DVD's so keep your eyes open and get your feet moving!

The Nanny Chronicles/ The UN of Nannies

I've had about 8 people call for the position. Not exactly the line out the door from the scene from Mary Poppins, but a good start. The four that speak no English eliminated half my candidates. My husband answered the phone for one of the people that called, wrote down the number one a piece of paper in the kitchen that has now disappeared. Did Braid Lady find it and throw it away? The person called from work, so I really can't call her back. I interviewed one of the candidates yesterday. She's from Columbia (I've never had a Colombian nanny before) and was took care of little kids (infant and toddler). She seems sweet, but was more a Nanny than a housekeeper and when I asked her about ironing, she kind of gave me a blank stare. Not a good sign. Her reference said she is professional, flexible and a good cook. Her English was pretty good and she'd just come from yoga class, which leads me to believe she's happy and centered, although maybe I'm reading too much into the yoga class. I have another interview tomorrow with a candidate from California who has held many different jobs, from pre-school teacher to selling luxury cars. From speaking to her on the phone, she seems over-qualified which is a problem with the present Nanny (doing a job that she believes is beneath her). She didn't seem too keen on housekeeping and also seemed like she might talk my ear off, which is a drawback. It is an unfortunate reflection of the economy that there are so many professional people willing to do this kind of work. I may try out some of them while Braid Lady is gone- kind of a Clean Off. While cleaning is important, personality is even more so and I go more on combatability than references.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Nanny Chronicles/ The UN of Nannies

I got six phone calls yesterday regarding the position advertised. Despite specifying "must speak at least some English", two of them who called barely spoke English, and the other two, not at all. One asked "Spanish?" I said "No" and she hung up. I'm not sure how they are even reading my ad if they don't speak English. Living in Miami, I really wish I spoke Spanish, but I do not and I need to be able to communicate with this person. Comprendo? I have an interview with one of the two English-speaking candidates today and need to call the other one back. I was worried that Braid Lady would overhear them asking about the position on the answering machine since she worked yesterday and the phone kept ringing. I thought she was going to be gone this week, but it is next week. We'll see how it goes.

Upsides to the Down Economy/How to Buy Fruit

This is the second week in a row I have bought strawberries and half of them have gone bad in a day. I hate that! Barring picking through each and every one of them (or picking my own), I'm not sure how to avoid it but wanted to pass on another tip for picking good fruit. I told my 11-year old to grab some oranges in the produce section the other day. She asked how to pick them and I told her to choose the heaviest ones. An older lady in the produce section said "I never knew that!" If you pick up a lime, lemon, grapefruit, orange that feels light, it is sure to be less juicy because the liquid has left the fruit. For melons (another tough one), push on the button. If it gives slightly and smells good, it's ripe. For avocados (just picked one up from my aunt) when you are able to push it in slightly, put it in the fridge to stop it from ripening anymore. Of course, if it over-ripens, you can make guacamole! And, for most fruit, if it isn't ripe yet, leave it out of the fridge to ripen. A paper bag can speed up the process and NEVER put tomatoes in the refrigerator before you cut them. It ruins the flavor.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Nanny Chronicles/ The UN of Nannies

I am trying to find a Nanny/Housekeeper, but mostly a housekeeper because the children are older (15, 12, 11) and don't really need a Nanny. I need someone to pick up the kids from school. and my current housekeeper (Braid Lady as my youngest has knicknamed her) refuses to do this. She also refuses to vacuum because she says my vacuum "stinks", won't wash the windows outside because "it is too hot", complains about having to dust cobwebs in the windowsills "because they always come back" and overall, she is constantly complaining. Although she calls herself a "happy person", I believe she is disgruntled with her current job since she used to be a professional in her native land in South America. She is going home for a few weeks, so I have put an ad on a local website for a new Nanny/Housekeeper. Here it is:

I am looking for a trustworthy housekeeper/Nanny who speaks at least some English, has a cheerful disposition and is good with kids and pets. I would need this person 2 days a week to clean, iron, pick up the kids (3 girls) from school and possibly start dinner.

Someone responded that it sounds like Mary Poppins. Wouldn't that be nice? I am now awaiting calls.

Upsides to the Down Economy/Buttermilk

I know this sounds weird but: Buttermilk. I bought some to make cupcakes for my tennis team's dessert- lemon cupcakes with lemon icing, decorated to look like tennis balls. They turned out cute, but I only needed 1/4 of a cup and buttermilk only comes in the semi-big containers, so I have a lot leftover. This happens frequently when I buy buttermilk for a specific recipe; it usually sits around for a while and then I'll give it the sniff test. Buttermilk is one of those food items, like blue cheese, that I never know when it's actually gone bad because it smells bad when it's still good. Of course, there's always the expiration date, but I mostly take those as a suggestion. At any rate, since I hate wasting food (and money), I decided to find some other recipes to use the buttermilk in and here they are.

Buttermilk dressing

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

3 cloves of garlic

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup buttermilk

Mix together lime juice, balsamic vinegar, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper and olive oil and buttermilk in a blender.

This recipe is used in a Mexican recipe for a salad with mixed greens, feta cheese and fried cubed sweet potatoes, but it also works well in other salads.

Other suggestions for leftover buttermilk: Buttermilk Pie (yummy!) and I've seen it used in cornbread. Buttermilk's delicate tang gives a lightness to baked goods and it's low in fat. You may have other ideas and recipes, but the point is try to use what you have. Be creative!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/Smile

"Smile, though your heart is breaking"... Someone recently reminded me that it doesn't cost anything to Smile. Let's not get into how many muscles it takes to smile vs. frowning (apparently there's some debate about it), but smiling, even if you don't feel happy, has a transformative effect. If you force yourself to smile, even if you don't want to, it can physically change your mood. Not to mention, smiling is contagious, so you can cheer up others around you. Naturally, a real, genuine, heartfelt, teeth-baring smile is best, but faking it till you make it works too. Go ahead, I double-dog dare ya! Smile :)