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.