Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Spread the Wealth

Last year I donated a hundred dollars to a charity in the Miami Herald- Wish Book. Each day there is a story about a person or family that needs a donation. This year I donated, but instead of $100 to one charity, I donated $10 to 10 charities. This was inspired by hearing about a politician who got elected in a grass roots effort, with mostly small donations. I decided to spread the wealth around a little bit. I collected donation envelopes from charities I wanted to give to in the last month or so. I ended up giving to FIU (alma mater), the Tropical Audubon Society, the USO, Habitat for Humanity, Fairchild Tropical Garden, as well as the Herald Wish Book again. I had given to Adopt a Classroom, Water.org and St. Jude's in earlier months. Some of the charities were local, some national. All were causes I care about. I meant to do it before Christmas, but just sent the bulk of them out today. As an added bonus, I get a tax deduction. Next year, I'm going to try and keep a running list of charities I want to donate to so I'm not scrambling around at the last minute. But whether you do one bigger check, or several smaller ones- Donate! It does a body good.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Make a Plan for Christmas Shopping

Now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over, if you are like some people who didn't participate in either event (moi), it's time to get busy Christmas shopping. According to reports, the first week of December still offers some very good deals and that is NOW! I went to Micheal's today to get a few items to trim the tree (photo above) and it was a nightmare! Shoppers were cramming the aisles, pushing to get into the bargain $1 bins and there was a long line to check out. I gave up and went home. This was partly my fault as I went at 11:30 am, prime time for late risers and people on their lunch break. The ideal time to shop is between 5 and 8 PM, dinner time. Most people avoid shopping at that time. Here are some other shopping hints to make your bargain hunting a little merrier.

  • Make a list (and check it twice). Write down everyone you need to buy for and possible gift ideas. If you are stumped ask them directly (or ask the parents for kids). Make sure if you are buying clothes, make sure you have written down the correct size. My secret weapon is a little notebook I keep in my purse. Besides my lists (one for ideas and one for items I end up purchasing), there is even a spot to hold coupons and receipts.

  • Make a budget- of how much you want to spend total and how much on each gift. Add it up and see if it works. If it doesn't, you may need to cut back. While giving is great, having to pay for the generosity for the next year will not be.

  • Go online and compare prices to find the best deals, especially on big ticket items. Sites like Shopzilla will do this.

  • Cut out or print coupons for stores or items. Bed, Bath and Beyond typically offers 20% off one item and they honor expired coupons. I keep coupons in the car, just in case. And gather your recyclable bags, unless you want a bunch of plastic ones cluttering your house.

  • Make a plan of where you are going to shop and hit stores in the same general area. Walking through the mall waiting for inspiration to strike is rarely a good idea, so know what you want and where to get it.

  • Bring your energy. Take your vitamins, get enough rest, eat well. Shopping takes it out of me like nothing else and you need to bring your A game when you shop. Take an energy bar and a bottle (reusable of course) of water so you have something to refuel.

  • Plan for the unexpected. I always buy a couple of nice, but generic items, to have on hand for people who surprise you with a gift. Candles, bath salts or soaps are good options.

  • Try to enjoy it. Play holiday tunes in your car, smile, be nice to fellow shoppers. The sooner you start, the sooner you'll finish and can enjoy a nice beverage in front of the tree.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ The Many Wonders of Cabbage

Cabbage. At 89 cents a pound, a head of cabbage purchased for about three bucks can go a long way. I made coleslaw, to go with our barbecue dinner the other night, but since my husband and I are the only ones who eat coleslaw in the family, I have more than a half a head left over. I can stretch it into two more sides- braised with dill or stir fried with garlic, or incorporate it into a tasty entree. Ground Meat with Cabbage and Noodles sounds good or perhaps Unrolled Cabbage. It's also a welcome addition to Minestrone soup and (just in time for flu season) an excellent source of vitamin C. There is something comforting and homey about cabbage and, as a bonus, it has quite a long (refrigerator) shelf life. Here is my recipe for coleslaw. It's really good.

Coleslaw Serves 6

1 large head of cabbage
1/2 cup finely diced or grated sweet onion
1 cup Low Fat Mayo (I like Hellman's)
1/2 cup Buttermilk
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 tsp fresh pepper
1tsp celery salt
1 T poppy seeds

Grate or shred the cabbage as thin as possible. (I use a mandoline.)
In a bowl, combine the cabbage with the diced onion and all other ingredients.
Allow to sit one hour.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Low Calorie Holiday Treats

The Holidays are officially here! Whether you love or hate them (and I fall into either camp on any given day), I DO love Holiday food. Pumpkin, cranberries, gingerbread and egg nog are some of my favorite things, but not the calories they contain. When I made myself a steaming cup of Celestial Seasonings Holiday Candy Cane Lane tea the other night, sweetened with agave (lower glycemic than sugar) it was like sipping a liquid candy cane and it got me wondering what other holiday foods could be made healthier. Pumpkin, a super food naturally low in calories, loses something in translation when made into super fattening desserts, but I found a crust less pumpkin pie with only 121 calories a slice. At that rate, you could even afford to put a plop of Cool Whip on top. And what would the holidays be without egg nog? I hated the idea of skipping this scrumptious beverage entirely, but at 200 calories a half cup, it is a nutritional disaster! I looked at low calorie alternatives online, but frankly, they sounded disgusting. My solution (thanks to Season's 52) is to pour a bit of the real stuff in a shot glass (1/8 of a cup), grate some fresh nutmeg on top and savor every sip. It's only 50 calories! Alternatively, I mix some into a cup of cold skim milk. You still get the flavor, but it is diluted with lower calorie dairy. Of course, you still have to work these treats into your daily intake of calories and adjust accordingly. But HO HO HO, at least you don't have to give up your holiday treats! Here's the recipe for Crustless Pumpkin Pie.

Crustless Pumpkin Pie

Serves 8

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
1 (12 ounce can evaporated skim milk
3/4 cup egg subsititute
1 -2 T pumpkin pie spice (or make your own with 1 T cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp cloves.)
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup of Splenda

1) Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.
2) Pour into a 9" pie pan sprayed with cooking spray.
3) Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, reduce temp to 325. Bake 45 minutes.
4) Pie is done when knife inserted into center comes out clean.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Woman's Words of Wisdom

I saw an interview with Jane Fonda on Oprah the other day and she said the secret to staying young is to be more interested than interesting. (That and a little plastic surgery.) Also, that she tries to learn something every day, in every situation- to be constantly curious. I like that advice- it's never too late to learn something new and it does make life more interesting. I enjoy reading biographies and autobiographies of strong woman. I read Jane Fonda's a year or two ago- My Life So Far (great title) and I highly recommend it. She did her first interview with Ted Turner since they got divorced in 2001 (it's on her blog) and she said they were both "works in progress", which I think is a great mindset at 70 plus years of age. Another biography I really enjoyed reading was Katharine Hepburn's - Me: Stories of My Life. I read it after Hurricane Andrew destroyed our house, and reading how she rebuilt her family home after a hurricane had leveled it, was just the motivation I needed to pick myself up and start again. But in any bio I read, I take away something worthwhile- whether it's admiration, inspiration or just a little better understanding of another human being.

"If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased." Katharine Hepburn

"I feel we are all islands- in a common sea." Anne Morrow Lindbergh

"It's never too late- never too late to start over, never too late to be happy." Jane Fonda

Friday, November 19, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Where to Find the Cheapest Checks

Does this scenario sound familiar? You go to write a check somewhere and suddenly realize you're down to your last couple checks. Panicked, you call the bank and order more and maybe even put a rush order on it, resulting in beaucoup bucks! Unfortunately, this usually happens to me. Despite my best intentions (usually when I get the "STOP! Time to reorder your checks!" notice in my box of checks) I typically don't do anything about ordering checks until I've run out.
This time, however, I was determined to do better and to find out how much my procrastination was actually costing me. Of course, I researched it on the internet and read that Cotsco (the subject of other gleesganders posts) cost 50% less than regular checks. That's quite a savings! I thought it would be a pain to have to make the trip to Cotsco, but you can actually order online and they are delivered to your door. I did run into a snag after I ordered them, where they needed a cancelled check or to talk to my bank in order to place the order. Once I got that resolved (it took a week before I was notified of the glitch) it definitely did save me money; I got 500 checks, so I'm good to go for awhile! Here's how the check comparisons broke down.
1) Checks Unlimited
You see the fliers for this company in your newspaper and they were voted #1 for checks direct by Equifax. Selection of checks is good with designs featuring Disney, Dogs, Wizard of Oz etc...
1 box of singles (125 checks) is $5.50 but this is only for 1st time orderers. 2 boxes is $11.00.
Takes 2-3 weeks and can be ordered over the phone or on the Internet. Free Shipping and Handling.
2) 4 Checks.com
Another flyer company, this one offers over 800 designs (if that is important to you), including the scenic landscapes, I Love Lucy, religious designs and College Team Logos.
1 box of singles is $6.95 but the second box is as low as 10 cents, so if you're going to order more than one box, this is a better deal than the above. Free Shipping and Handling.
3) Checksconnect.com
This is where I usually order my checks from, the company my bank uses. As I suspected, I was paying a lot for my laziness! Although they said it depends on my financial institution, it is normally $20 for 150 checks. Rip off!
4) Cotsco
The clear winner! I paid $13.18 for two boxes of checks-totalling 500 checks, which comes to about $3 a box. They didn't have a big selection of designs to choose from- I got a Monet painting, but it sure did save me MONEY, with or without the French accent. Ooh La La!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ How To Be a Flapper

I recently attended a "Puttin on the Ritz" Gala where the dress was roaring twenties or fashionably attired. I've always loved that era of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald so I decided to dress as a Flapper. I didn't want to buy a new dress, or (God forbid!) RENT a costume so I put on my thinking cap and came up with a flapper costume out of my own closet. With just a couple purchases (adding up to less than $10), I was transformed into Daisy Buchanan, or some reasonable facsimile. If you have a short black dress and a string of pearls, "You're In The Money!" I googled Flapper Fashion to get some ideas. I already had a short, black, loose fitting dress with asymmetrical hemline that fit the bill perfectly. I found some shoes that looked similar to the ones flapper's wore (velvet, closed toe), put it together with my long string of pearls (purchased at Target) and a cute clutch and voila! I was almost good to go. The only thing missing was a head band, so I bought some sequined stretchy fabric at Jo Anns (about 3 bucks) along with a bag of black feathers (2 bucks) to complete my outfit. I hot glued the headband together, inserted a feather and my outfit was almost complete. Short hair was in fashion (the bob) back then. so I tried to dry mine as straight as possible and of course, flappers need red, red lipstick. I wanted one that wouldn't wear off so I researched it on the computer again (how did I ever live without Google?) and found that Revlon's ColorStay Ultimate Liquid Lipstick (Top Tomato) would last all night. And it did- through sipping champagne, dinner and dancing. I had to use makeup remover a couple times the next morning to remove the final vestiges of it. I added a mink to my outfit, but a feather boa would do as well. Check out the results. I got a lot of complements and it was fun.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Start a Fire

The last six months I've been gathering twigs, sticks and logs around the neighborhood like a squirrel gathering nuts. While it's been 80+ degrees outside, I've been dreaming of nights where the temperature dips below 70 and we can make a fire in our fireplace. Last Friday night, it happened, and we rushed home from a Homecoming parade to make a fire and eat s'mores. Just as anticipating a vacation can be as much fun as the actual trip, it has cheered me up to gather fire supplies, while it is suffocatingly humid and hot outside, knowing that eventually cold weather will come. Luckily, in Miami, it never gets too cold for too long, but on those rare occasions we try to enjoy the cold snap as much as possible. Long before there was TV, our ancestors gathered around a mesmerizing fire and enjoyed the fellowship it afforded. It is supposed to reach 80 again this week, but in the meantime, we've had three fires the last three nights. Fire- free and priceless. If you don't have a fireplace, firepits (purchased at Target or hardware stores) are all the rage and quite affordable. Try it, you'll like it! Savor the season.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Kick Your Lean Cuisine Up a Notch

Today, while eating my standard Asian Lean Cuisine, along with a very boring green salad with shredded carrots and rice wine vinegar, I had a stroke of genius. (Perhaps I exaggerate, but I was very excited). If I combined the two, and added some fresh herbs (mint, Thai basil), chopped green onions and siracha (red chili garlic sauce) I would have a very close replication of one of my favorite lunches. At Miss Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant in Coral Gables, my favorite dish is the Miss Saigon Noodle bowl. It is a big bowl of noodles, mixed with chopped lettuce, shredded carrots, grilled chicken, grilled shrimp and (the best part) sliced spring rolls. They bring it to the table with chopsticks and the siracha, ask you how hot you like it and toss it together for you right there. It is delicious, but as for calories, I wouldn't even want to guess. Taking an Asian Lean Cuisine (this one was 260 calories), you know exactly what you're getting and the rice wine vinegar is only 20 calories per tablespoon, the siracha and herbs- zero. And the taste, priceless. It really improves the flavor and sneaks a couple of the six servings of veggies you're supposed to have each day. Luckily, my mint is going crazy in my garden and I'd just bought some Thai basil at a plant sale, which has a lovely, licorice flavor that is perfect complement to Asian cuisine. There are other Asian Lean Cuisines you could use this idea with- Chicken with Peanut sauce, or my new favorite Thai Chicken Noodle; in fact any Asian entree with noodles will work beautifully. As Rachel Ray says so perkily- Yummo!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Don't Be Tricked by your Treats!

Buying Halloween Candy weeks ahead of Halloween rarely works out, especially if it's a candy you like. But it's so tempting, the huge colorful bags lined up as you walk into the grocery store, like sandbags preventing a flood. I did buy candy early this year because I had a Halloween Bunko party, but deliberately bought candy I would not be tempted to eat. That is why you see Wintergreen Lifesavers (only 20 calories each and individually wrapped so you can't just toss them into your mouth), Autumn Mix (150 calories per 22 pieces but I don't like it) and pumpkin seeds mixed with Dark Chocolate M & M's, which I have been trying to avoid. While this choice seems healthy, I'm sure is loaded with calories, healthy or not.

Halloween seems to usher in the season of overeating, and weight gain. It starts with the Halloween candy and continues on through the pig-out known as Thanksgiving and then, of course, all the food that goes with the festivities of Christmas and other holidays, ending with champagne on New Year's Eve and a resolution to do better next year. Here, to give you a head start, are some Halloween candies that won't break your calorie budget, along with others you should avoid at all costs. ("I'd Turn Back If I Were You!")

  • 3 Musketeers 63 calories for 3.

  • Dum Dum lollipop 77 calories for 3.

  • Tootsie Roll 50 calories for 2 small pieces.

  • Now and Later 53 calories for 4 pieces

  • Reese's bite size peanut butter cups 72 calories for 2 pieces.

AVOID Butterfingers, Twix bars, Reese's pumpkin bars and Milk Maid Caramels like the Black Plague.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Fall Back

In South Florida, when Fall comes, you barely notice it. Then one day, the temperature drops slightly, it's not as sticky outside, stone crabs are back in season, and you know Fall has arrived. While very subtle, I have always noticed a difference to the angle of light outside in the Fall and Fall has always been my favorite season. New beginnings, football games, hot apple cider and reading The Scarlet Letter while waiting for the city bus to pick me up, are my memories of Fall. I think of how it was "in the old days", before air conditioning changed our lives and how much of our conversations revolved around the weather. Now we retreat to our chilled boxes when it gets too hot, but I'm sure in those days, a dip in the weather was a cause to rejoice. And it still is. That, and pumpkin recipes, good maple syrup, apples, fresh stone crabs, kids trick or treating and that certain angle of light outside this time of year. Celebrate Fall in all it's glory.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ The Zen of Rapberries

Raspberries. Lovely and delicious, but very perishable. As I was popping one into my mouth yesterday, I told my husband "Have a raspberry. They're only 10 calories each!" as I continued popping, mindlessly. And that was the problem. Mindlessly. Yes, they only have 10 calories, but if I pop ten of them, there's 100 calories and it's these extra "discretionary calories", ones we don't really need but eat anyway, that are preventing me from losing weight. Although if you have to spend those calories on some treat, fresh fruit is a pretty virtuous way to do it. For me, they are usually spent on a glass of white wine, or a piece of dark chocolate. I have been enjoying Lindt's Touch of Sea Salt lately. Sounds gross but is oh so good. But the point is, SAVOR that raspberry. Don't pop it. I always remember Oprah interviewing this lady who had been imprisoned unjustly and was released and she asked her what she missed most when she was in prison. Her answer? Fresh raspberries. So savor that little ten calorie raspberry as if you were in prison for ten years and were eating your first one after your release. If you don't like raspberries, eat blueberries... or whatever! You get my point.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Time in a Bottle

Last week I got an ominous phone call from my Dr's office saying my blood test showed an "abnormal" result. I spent the weekend worrying about it until I could get in to the doctor. It turns out, my cholesterol is high, which is actually normal for me, but it got me thinking about life in those few days I pondered my mortality. I recently read an article asking the reader to consider what they would do if they had #1 24 hours left in life #2 1 year and #3 10 years. So, as I went for a walk and tried to put the worry out of my mind, I contemplated my answers. If I only had a day, I would want to spend it surrounded my my family saying goodbye. If I had a year, the thought that came to me was: take more walks. Also, travel more. At ten years, the first thought was: Do more with my writing and then, learn Spanish (a constant goal I have yet to fulfill) and travel. It seems our bucket list shortens to the essentials, the less time we have. Since I am 50, I probably (hopefully) have at least twenty more good years left. In that time, besides the aforementioned goals I would like to: Have more fun, laugh more, love more. The question is why aren't I living those goals right now? Why indeed?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Dare to Dream

Lay down for a while and let me probe your inner thoughts. No, I am not a therapist but you have an: instant shrink, entertainer and problem-solver right at your fingertips every day (or should I say night?) of your life. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the power lies within you and that is the power of your dreams. It costs nothing to employ this remarkable ability to provide insight into the inner workings of your subconscious mind, but you do need to make some effort to remember your dreams.

For at least a couple years now, I have kept a little notebook by my bedside, so when I wake up I can record my dreams. Remembering your dreams starts even before you go to sleep. Follow these steps to help you get the most out of your sleeping hours.

1) Make a conscious decision to remember your dreams.

2) Put a pad and pencil within easy reach of your bed.

3) Try waking up gently (without an alarm), since sudden noises can jolt you out of your reverie.

When you awake, avoid changing positions when trying to remember your dreams. Talking to someone, turning on the TV, even standing up can cause the delicate memory of your dream to evaporate. Dreams can uncover subconscious worries, or point us in a direction in making a decision. While we've all had dreams where one person looks like someone else, or things didn't make any LOGICAL sense, the important factor is your own reaction to the person, place or thing. This is your show, you invented it and the best person to interpret it is you. When I am completely baffled by a dream, I sometimes turn to a friend (with an outside perspective) to give me some insight. There's also, The Dream Dr. on the internet to interpret symbols and meaning to your dreams. So what are you waiting for?
Dream...dream, dream, dream......

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Second Hand Rose

Another "secret" store I frequent (but don't advertise) is the children's consignment store in my neighborhood. It's inevitable that children grow up and outgrow clothes, shoes, toys etc... and it's a pity that things you spent your hard earned money on, end up in the rubbish bin. Every couple months, I have the girls go through their drawers and closets and get rid of clothes they no longer want or have outgrown. Sometimes, it is an outfit a relative insisted on buying for them that they didn't really want and never wore. Ideally, this should take place four times a year (with the seasons), but before Christmas, before Easter and before school starts, works as well. Since there are three girls in our family, the youngest two get first dibs on the oldest one's clothes. If they don't want an item, I then evaluate it to see if it is consignment-store worthy. These items must be stain-free, hole-free, in perfect condition and seasonally correct. The store lets you know when they accept what kind of items- for example, right now they are taking Halloween and fall fashions. It's easy to sign up and consignors get half of the sale item's price. If the merchandise hasn't moved in a couple months, they donate it to charity. To me, this is a win-win proposition. Of course, there are also adult consignment shops if you are so inclined. Designer fashions in last year's seasons and classic items that never go out of style, are your best options. So, don't just let your old duds grow dust- clear them out and make some dough! But shhh.... it's our little secret!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Feed the Ducks

Take a peek inside my bathroom cabinet or my freezer and you might think you're watching an episode of Hoarders. I hate throwing away perfectly good toilet paper rolls- I keep thinking one of the kids might need them for a craft project or we could make paper mache objects with them. As far as the freezer, that is old bread that is not fit for human consumption that I keep thinking I will feed the ducks that live in a park near our house, one day. Apparently one day is not good enough for my husband. After having a couple beers and dealing with an overstuffed freezer, he put all the bread out on the kitchen counter with a "FEED THE DUCKS" sign that I encountered the next morning. I have a hard time throwing things away and I hate wasting food, but I realize this may be a problem. First, there is the practical result that we have no room in our freezer and that when I open my cabinet door, empty toilet paper rolls fall on my head. Also, clutter is bad Feng Shui. The chi (energy) gets trapped in the clutter and is not able to function properly, thereby draining energy and overall quality of life. So, I need to finally FEED THE DUCKS and see if there are any art teachers or schools out there in need of a bunch of toilet paper rolls. I will feel better when I have cleared out my clutter. What about you?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ 113 Days Left

Another thing that I drink everyday (didn't mean to imply I drink wine EVERY day) is coffee. Many of the coffee beans you buy are grown in countries where they don't regulate the use of chemicals and pesticides. It reminds me of when my kids were little and they were talking about applesauce and how it was filled with pesticides and little kids eat a lot of applesauce. If it's something you eat (or drink) every day, you probably want to look at it. Milk and meat were also on the dirty dozen list. Do you want to be ingesting organochlorine/organophosphorous or methyl carbanamate (pesticides found on coffee beans) every day- something you can't even pronounce? I started drinking Whole Foods organic coffee because it was delicious. I am still drinking it because it's a smart thing to do. Their store brand is called 365 and comes in different flavors; I prefer French Roast. Speaking of 365, there are only 113 days left in 2010. What are you gonna do with them?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ The Dirty Dozen

I was at a football game the other day and we were sitting next to this guy who got drunk and became my husband's best friend. You know the type. Anyway, he's a lawyer in Miami but owns a vineyard in upstate New York and was telling us about his wines and how good they are, blah, blah, blah and how he's not quite organic, but almost and how other vineyards spray ALL kinds of pesticides on their grapes and he's convinced that's why everyone gets cancer these days. Well,... it got me to thinking about how that lovely glass of straw-colored liquid I love to sip might be more like a cup of poison these days, than the elixir of the gods in the past. I drink a fair share of wine (ahem), and that got me thinking about grapes, one step closer to the source. Imported grapes are at a much greater risk of contamination than domestic, since there's not as much regulation. Vineyards can be sprayed with different pesticides at different growth periods, and no amount of washing or peeling will eliminate the contamination. So, while I hate spending extra money on organics, some things (like your health) are more important than cold hard cash. Here is a list of the dirty dozen- the fruits and vegetables you should buy organic. They are chosen each year based on the number of pesticides used on them and how easily the chemicals penetrate the skin. I try to cut this list out and keep it in my purse as a reference when I shop for groceries.

2010 Dirty Dozen

1) Celery

2) Peaches

3) Strawberries

4) Apples

5) Blueberries

6) Nectarines

7) Bell Peppers

8) Spinach

9) Kale



12) Grapes

If you want one of these fruits or vegetables, but can't get organic because it's out of season, consider an alternative. As a bonus, fruits and vegetables are usually much tastier when bought in season. So, carry this list around with you and I will toast "Salute" to you and your health. With a glass of organic wine, of course!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Meet a Star

Have you ever gotten the feeling that you should just go someplace, or do something, even though you didn't know why? I had that feeling in 1992 when I went to Mass (even though it wasn't something I normally did) where I met a couple who'd just returned from spending 66 days stranded at sea on a sailboat. I interviewed them and that article turned into my first published article in Catholic Digest. Anyway, I had that feeling the other night; that I should go to this book signing for Carl Hiassen, a mystery writer and columnist for the Miami Herald. If you bought the book, the admission, which included wine and appetizers, was free. I went a little early and ended up talking to this couple in front of me. She's a cookbook author who has a column in the Miami Herald that I've been reading for years and he is the executive editor of the Miami Herald. After I googled him (to find out his official title), found out his brother is a movie director, and his nieces and nephews, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhall! Although that didn't come up in the conversation, we did know a lot people in common and had a nice chat about food, films and Miami. The food was from Whole Foods (shrimp, arepas, empanadas, cheese and fruit) and they also had Shiraz and Chardonnay to sip while waiting. Carl Hiassen ended up speaking an hour after schedule but, Dave Barry (another Herald columnist and funny guy) was
in the audience, taking photos with fans. It is always a treat to see him. I waited in line to get my book signed and went home feeling satisfied and wondering what fate has in store for me from this chance meeting. I know what this Labor Day weekend has in store for me: reading Star Island.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Live Each Day as if lt's your Last

Synchronicity- not just an album by the Police, but the occurrence of 2 or more events occurring together in a meaningful manner. Lately, I have been getting signals from the universe to PAY ATTENTION in my life. I remember an interview with Diane Keaton talking about Goldie Hawn and how positive she was, like if she was drinking a cappuccino she would say "Isn't this the best cappuccino you've ever had?" Diane Keaton said she was so NOT like that and I have to admit, most days, I am so NOT like that either. Appreciative. Grateful. In awe and wonder of this world.

  • In Women Food and God, the author recommends eating each meal like it's your last. If you were on Death Row and had a final meal, what would you have and how would you eat it? You would probably savor every bite, just like Goldie Hawn savors every sip of her cappuccino. I've been trying to meditate lately and the lady on the CD I listen to instructs you to "Feel every breath as if it were your first breath, feel every breath as if it were your last," and talks about how we take the breath, which is the force of life, for granted.
  • I watched Our Town last week and have always loved Emily's monologue at the end:

"Goodbye world. Goodbye Mama and Papa. Goodbye to clocks ticking, my butternut tree, mama's sunflowers and food and coffee and new ironed dresses and hot baths and sleeping and waking. Oh earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you."

  • And then there's a quote a friend posted on her facebook page this week:

    "It is only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, that we begin to live each day to the fullest; as if it were the only one we had." Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

The truth is we don't know which day, meal, breath, sip of cappuccino will be our last, so we should make the most of all of it. Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, says this is the secret to living. If you are walking across the room to get a pen, put all of your attention into it. Whatever you are doing, give it your undivided attention. (This, by the way, is the opposite of multi-tasking.) So no need to visit the old man at the top of the mountain or spend months in an ashram in India searching for wisdom and happiness. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the power lies within you. Carpe Diem!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Make the Most of Your Massage

How to Make the Most of your Massage

  • 1. Schedule after you've done what you need to do for the day, like work or exercise. That way it will be a treat and you won't have to worry about the things you need to do.

  • 2. Try to do some light, body-conscious exercise like yoga or Pilate's. This will help stretch your muscles and get you in the right mindset for your massage.

  • 3. Eat lightly. Try not to schedule a massage right after a big meal. Sometimes I eat a "Spa" Lean Cuisine as my meal, to continue the healthy theme.

  • 4. Drink lots of water, before and after your massage. Drinking before helps hydrate your muscles and makes them easier to massage. Drinking after helps flush toxins out of your body. I bring my own, refillable water bottle because they use Styrofoam cups (horrors!) at my Massage Envy.

  • 5. Meditate. This really helps you focus your mind on your massage. So instead of going through your grocery list or thinking about your car needing to get Super-Lubed, you can concentrate on your arm, neck, back being massaged and how good it feels.

  • 6. Make sure you allow plenty of time to arrive at your appointment. The other day, I went with my husband for a massage and we were running late, it was pouring rain and we parked at a meter but had no change. I walked in frazzled, soaking wet and stressed. Not a good way to start my massage.

  • 7. Take a warm bath. I have a friend who is a massage therapist and she wishes she had room for a little tub in her space, so her clients could soak, relax and let their muscles loosen.

  • 8. Put a soothing CD in your car to listen to, on the way to, and from, your massage. Something like Enya, relaxing classical or a spa CD (they sell them at Target) will help set the mood for your massage. I played my Arizona Spa CD on the way to my last massage and enjoyed it so much, I've left it in. Chaos, traffic and road rage can be happening outside, but inside my car I have a tranquil sanctuary (except when the kids are in the car).

  • 9. Tell the massage therapist if you have any physical issues or if there is a place you want him/her to focus on. Likewise, if the pressure is too hard/soft let them know. The other day I went and she asked me if I wanted medium pressure or firm. I asked the difference and she said "Pain". I opted for medium. In this case, no pain is gain!

  • 10. Make a note if you have a particularly good therapist. Thank him/her for the massage, congratulate yourself on being good to your body and have a great day! Namaste.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Rub me the Right Way

A couple years ago my full time nanny quit and about a month later, as I was getting a lovely massage at a hotel spa, I decided to make getting a massage a regular part of my life. I reasoned with the money I was saving with the nanny (and since I was the one becoming Mary Poppins), I would treat myself to a monthly massage. I joined Massage Envy and never looked back. It costs $59 (plus tip) a month for one "pre-paid" massage and if you get another massage in the same month, it's only $39. While some might consider getting a massage an extravagance in a shaky economy, I find with the multiple stresses and negative energy circulating in these precarious times, I need it more than ever. It's one luxury I hope never to give up; the benefits to my physical and mental well being are well worth every cent. Having said that, I do try to make the most of my massage, so I can get the most bang for my buck. I joined Massage Envy because it's relatively inexpensive and convenient for me, but there are also massage schools that give inexpensive massages and individual masseuses (I recommend getting a referral) that are also options. Some masseuses will even come to your house, saving you the stress of driving to and from the massage. Next time, I will follow with tips on how to make the most of your massage.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ God Bless the King of Rock n Roll!

A Good Elvis movie may seem like an oxymoron but since today is the day when Elvis officially "left the building", here are my picks for top 10 Elvis movies. One of Elvis's stated main goals as a young singer was to become an actor, in the vein of James Dean and Marlon Brando. Although he got off to a promising start in the first movies he made, once he got back from serving his time in the Army, good ole Colonel Parker stuck him in one predictable musical after another. With names like like Scott Heyward and Mike Edwards, he had cool jobs like airline pilot and a race car driver; there were always girls, girls, girls and lots of singing. but not a lot of acting. Creativity was out the window and the money came rolling in. Until it didn't. After a while, the viewing public tired of the paint-by-number flicks and stopped going. We all know the story of how Elvis turned down the role opposite Barbra Streisand in A Star Is Born (eventually played by Kris Kristofferson). What would have happened if he had taken a risk and taken the role? Would it have revitalized his career, given him a new lease on life, saved his life? We will never know. Luckily, he lives on in his music and in these movies.

1. King Creole (1958)

Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca), this is one of the movies Elvis made before working for Uncle Sam. He plays a brooding nightclub singer trying to escape the mob's reach in the Big Easy. Walter Matthau and Carolyn Jones, no slouches, were also in this one.

2. Jailhouse Rock (1957)

Elvis plays Vince Everett, a guy in jail for manslaughter who befriends a country singer with connections to the music biz. After he gets out, he becomes a teen sensation (a la the real Elvis), but forgets the friends who got him there. Unlike Vince, Elvis never forgot his friends, sometimes to his detriment. Elvis choreographed the wonderful Jailhouse Rock dance sequence.

3. It Happened At the World's Fair (1963)

I had to put this one in there because this was the movie where I first discovered Elvis. I asked my aunts who he was and they answered "Elvis? He's old enough to be your father!" Actually, he was 6 months older than my Dad. Watch for the scene where a young Kurt Russell kicks Elvis in the shins, his first paid gig. I also love the revolving restaurant atop of the Space Needle.

4. Clambake (1967)

Maybe not the best Elvis movie, but it has a couple things going for it. It takes place in Miami, and stars Shelley Fabares, the actress who starred in more Elvis films than any other girl. Elvis plays Scott Heyward, a millionaire who trades places with a water ski instructor, kind of a sixties version of the Prince and the Pauper. "You Don't Know Me," a great song, is in this one.

5. Flaming Star (1960)

The first Elvis movie I ever saw at a theatre, I went with my sister and a friend and was incensed when a girl sitting in a row behind us asked her friends "Is that him?" Of course, girl. Even though he was sporting a deep tan in this Revisionist Western (he was supposed to be a half breed), she should have recognized Elvis, for Pete's Sake! A still shot of a gun-toting Elvis from this movie was used by Andy Warhol in multi-color frames, a la Marilyn.

6. Viva Las Vegas (1963)

Probably my favorite, old school, Elvis movie. From the time Rusty (played by Ann Margret) rolls into Vegas with her little sports car and short-shorts, we are entertained. Love the dancing, singing scenes with Elvis and Ann Margret (The Lady Loves Me and C'mon Everybody). They had so much chemistry together (along with his and hers Harley Davidsons) it's a real shame they never made another movie together.

7. That's the Way It Is (1970)

Made at the start of his Las Vegas period, the best of his concert films.

8. Elvis On Tour (1972)

This was released around the time I saw Elvis in concert in Miami at the Jackie Gleason Convention Center. He was in great shape physically and vocally. Another concert film, it won a Golden Globe for Best Documentary and the montage sequences were edited by no less than Martin Scorsese.

9. Elvis the TV show (2005)

I loved this show, documenting the early years of EP, played by Irish actor Rhys Meyers. Although it didn't last long, I remember Priscilla, Elvis's ex-wife, being involved in the show, either as producer or consultant.

10. Elvis (1979)

This T.V. movie, produced by Dick Clark, kind of brings my list full circle. Kurt Russell, who kicked Elvis in the first movie I saw him in, does a remarkable job playing Elvis. I remember at the time it was made,Kurt Russell talked about how he studied tapes of Elvis for hours on end, to get his portrayal right. It paid off. As a bonus, Bing Russell, Kurt's dad. plays Vernon Presley. Season Hubley, who later became Kurt's wife, plays Priscilla. Slasher director John Carpenter, best known for his horror flicks like Halloween, directed this one.

While Elvis may have left the building, his memory (and his celluloid images) remain.
God Bless the King!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Mine that Textbook Gold

It's August now, when a young man's fancy turns to... textbooks. Oh no, thinking of springtime and love, but in August, my thoughts turn to selling textbooks. Around three years ago, sick of looking at a stack of textbooks that had accumulated over the years, I decided to sell them on Amazon. While I had an account with e-bay, I choose Amazon because that is where I shop on-line for books, so I reasoned it would be the best place to sell them. Amazon makes it really simple to sell your books, another plus. After you set up a Seller's Account, you click on "List Single items", then you type in the title or ISBN code of your book and up pops the same, or similar books for sale. You then click on "Sell Yours Here" and it gives you spaces to fill in. It will ask you for the condition of the book: (New, Just Like New, Acceptable), the price, and what type of shipping you will offer. I research the book first to see what it is going for. If I can't sell the book for more than $5, I don't list it. Amazon takes out 15 percent of the price of the book as a referral fee, plus $1.35 for closing costs and a per item fee of 99 cents. After you list your books, you need to check your e-mails daily, especially if you have offered expedited shipping. Once you get a notice that you have sold a book, you are supposed to ship it out within two business days.

Amazon automatically charges $3.99 for shipping but, there were times, that $3.99 did not cover the cost of shipping, and I ended up paying more. After two days in a row of the shipping costs eliminating my profit, I complained about it to a post office employee. He asked: "What are you running, a charity?" Not intentionally. If a book is especially heavy, it may be more to mail than the standard rate, and it also depends on where it is being shipped. I try to offer my books at the lowest price (even by a couple cents), so I can be sure they get sold. Once you list them, you can check "Manage Inventory" from time to time, to see if you are still the lowest price. If not, you can edit your posting.

When I listed my textbooks for sale, I made a wonderful discovery. My textbooks laying around like lumps of coal, were actually hidden gold, waiting to be mined. Textbooks, it turns out, can cost a pretty penny. I made close to $500 selling textbooks that year, but had a friend who took it to another level, selling books for friends and family. She made close to $1000! So if you have textbooks lying around, what are you waiting for? Mine that gold!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Miami Spice

August here in Miami means two things: it's so sultry and steamy that my compost heap is growing mushrooms and it's time for Miami Spice. Yipee! Miami Spice was dreamed up by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau as a way to entice locals into frequenting South Florida restaurants during the typically slow months of August and September. For $22 for lunch, and $35 for dinner, you get a three course meal with an appetizer, entree and dessert. While there were some complaints last year about lackluster menus (with similar entree offerings of fish, steak and chicken), this year many of the participating restaurants have stepped up their game and added inventive, and pricey options to their menus. While paying a hundred bucks for a dinner for two may not seem like such a great deal in this economy, Miami Spice gives you the opportunity to eat a restaurants that are normally out of your price range. Choosing the right restaurant is crucial, as some deals are better than others. I took my son to China Grill for lunch a couple years ago and a lunch that would have cost $50 or so, was had for $20. This is also a chance to experience the master hand of great chefs in our area, like Michelle Bernstein (Michy's and Sra Martinez) and Scott Connant (Scarpetta at the Fountainebleau), both seen as judges on Top Chef. My husband and I decided to try Timo, an Italian-Med restaurant on Sunny Isles Beach, Saturday night and had a lovely meal. We stuck to the Miami Spice menu, ordered a $30 bottle of wine and got out of there for a little over a hundred; a splurge, but well worth it. I ordered the lamb chop with goat cheese potato gallete (delicious), but actually loved my husband's veal shank with Gorgonzola cheese and truffle gnocchi so much (with an actual shaved truffle!), we switched. Nothing stingy about Timo's menu! For dessert I ordered a chocolate, peanut butter dome thing, with peanut brittle candy and milk gelato. I was so happy with my mound of yumminess, I didn't even venture near his Key Lime Mojito tart. Why kill a good chocolate buzz? For my next Miami Spice, which I plan to pay for with the refund for buying my energy star dishwasher last April, my sights are set on Asian themed, and supposedly awesome Hakkasan at the iconic Foutaineblue Hotel. It is my own little (delicious) contribution to stimulating the economy. Someones got to do it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ One Woman's Trash...

Today I participated in an All American rite of passage. OK. I'm not sure if it's All American (as I've witness versions in London) or a rite of passage, but what I'm talking about is a good, old fashioned Garage Sale. Yes, even in this time of E-bay and Craig's List, there's still a place for this familiar weekend ritual. I have concluded that you're either a garage sale person (as in having and shopping at them) or you're not. I am. My husband, on the other hand, hates them. He reasons it's just as easy, and tax-deductible, to give our junk to Goodwill. While he may be right, having a yard sale motivates me to go through my stuff, re-assess, decide what to keep and what to get rid of and organize! I didn't make much money with this garage sale (it was a hot, muggy day), but my stepdaughters made more than a hundred bucks. In addition, I found a lot of loose leaf paper (about to be thrown out in some binders), pens, pencils, a t-shirt to work out in and $25 from my last garage sale! While it is a lot of work, it's always interesting and entertaining to have a garage sale. I especially loved the lady who wanted to buy Lauren's Louis Vuitton knock-off purse from Chinatown for a buck.

"No, five dollars," I said. She countered with:

"It's not even real."

"Yes, but my husband paid $30 for it in Chinatown."

Her last stab at it: "I'm sending it to Haiti."

"I don't think the people of Haiti need a fake Louis Vuitton. Food, clothes, shelter, yes, but not a fake Louis Vuitton."

We held firm and ended up getting $5 bucks for it, from somebody else. I also met some of my neighbors and the girls, who had hid at my first garage sale, collected items to sell, priced, displayed and marketed items, negotiated with customers (sometimes in Spanish), calculated amounts and made a little spending money. After it was over, we decided what would go to Goodwill, what to the consignment store, e-bay, Craigslist etc... The printers and paint have been set aside to dispose of at place that accepts them. And we packed the rest of it away...
for our next garage sale.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Goodwill Shopping

Sometimes I come home with a new movie or book from a secret little store called Oodwillga. Pig latin for Goodwill. Before you go "gross", let me clarify the items I purchase at my secret little store. My sister Kelley recently said she was going to head to Goodwill to pick up a yoga mat. My reaction was "yuck!" Certain items, that have been in intimate contact with previous owners, are not things I would buy at Goodwill. This includes yoga mats, undergarments, shoes and hats. I don't shop for clothes at Goodwill (I have gotten Halloween costume pieces there) but if I did, would probably stick with denim and khaki items. Some of the items I regularly look for at Goodwill are: hardback books, VHS movies, glassware, pottery and silver plate items. I picked up some beautiful Christofle silver plate salt and pepper shakers for a couple bucks last year, and hardback books that retail for $20 and up, sell for only $1.50. On a recent trip to a Goodwill Superstore, I saw a hip, well-dressed young woman among the shoppers. I imagined her to be either an antique/vintage clothing dealer or movie producer looking for wardrobe or props. I always take a look at the artwork (located near the restrooms) in the hope of finding a gem among the junk. This has been my fantasy since I saw a lady on Oprah who bought a little painting at a thrift shop and it turned out to be painted by a famous French Impressionist (can't remember who) and worth a bundle. Location matters when shopping at Goodwill, as the ones located in an affluent part of town will be more likely to carry high-end stuff. Of course, shopping at my secret little store is very hit or miss, depending on what merchandise they've gotten in, but this is also part of the fun. I usually limit my purchases to $10, which is how much I paid for the items shown in this picture: a straw purse, first edition of The Prince of Tides, silver plated tea pot from Argentina and a classic John Ford movie. The photos should be titled: Buy This, Not That! at Goodwill. Or as I am going to start calling it, Bonne Volente. It sounds so much better in French, mais non?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Hail to the Chic

A recent eight dollar purchase has given me an immense amount of happiness. It's a little bottle of purple-grey colored nail polish, Sally Hanson Salon Manicure, #370 Commander in Chic. Given Chelsea Clinton's recent nuptials, it seemed a good time to blog about it. I had admired the color on a friend at a dinner party. She told me where she'd gotten it (CVS), so I ran out and bought a bottle. Not only do I like the color, the Salon Manicure includes base coat, top coat and hardener, so you don't have to go through all those steps that you normally would to give yourself a mani/pedi. It also has a rounded tip brush, which is genius and makes application a breeze. I love getting a mani/pedi at a salon, but the price tag (about $40 when you factor in tip) is prohibitive in this economy so I have been doing it myself, a lot more lately. While I like the color in the summer with a tan, I believe it will transition beautifully into fall, which is right around the corner. When I saw this same friend at another dinner party last night, she was wearing Commander in Chic, and so was her best friend. And so was I. To all those Commander in Chic's out there, I salute you! Mazel Tov.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Shrimp Salad and Lipstingers

Recently went down to the Florida Keys for a girls weekend. It was just what the doctor ordered. Very relaxing, a little bit silly, with lots of good food and drink. While lying on the couch watching the Food Network, saw Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) make a delicious roasted shrimp salad. It was full of orange flavor, dill and red onion. I was so inspired, we bought the ingredients at the local grocery store the next day and whipped it up. It took ten minutes to make, was delicious and even better the next day. I served it with grilled pita bread, but it would also be lovely in an avocado half. I bought the shrimp already cooked and de-veined, instead of roasting them. And, just to let you know, the shrimp from the Keys, rescued from the Gulf of Mexico, were delicious. The perfect drink to serve with this would be a Lipstinger, a drink I recently tried while sitting by the pool on fourth of July weekend. It was made with New Age White (an Argentinian wine with a little effervescence), poured over crushed ice, with a squeeze of lime. The fizzy wine and tart lime is what "stings" the lips, but what a sweet sting it is! Unfortunately, I neglected to take a photo of the lovely shrimp salad, but here are photos from dinner our first night there- and the recipe for the shrimp salad. Dinner that night was conch fritters, salad and watermelon gazpacho with feta cheese. And wine. Lots and lots of wine.

Shrimp Salad

2 1/2 pounds cooked shrimp (12-15 count)
1 cup good mayo (I used Hellmann's)
1 TBL grated orange zest
2 TBL fresh OJ
1 TBL white wine vinegar
1/4 cup minced dill (take off the stalk and chop)
2 TBL capers
2 TBL red onion, chopped

Take tail off shrimp. Mix rest of the ingredients for sauce. Add shrimp. Put in fridge for at least 30 minutes. Serve at room temp. Yum.