Monday, October 31, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Get Your Freak On

My grandmother would occasionally take us to the movies on Sundays, after spaghetti. Some of the movies she took us to were not quite age appropriate, making them all the more appealing to us as pre-teens. One of these movies that stuck in my mind is The Last of Sheila. Since it was released in 1973, I'm guessing I was 13 when we saw it. The story, about a wealthy man who invites a group of people onto his yacht for a weekend trip who each have their own secrets, scared the s**t out of me. This started a love-hate relationship with horror movies. Some of the scariest ones I have yet to see. Here, in time for Halloween, is my personal list of favorite scary movies, along with expert's suggestions (which I haven't seen yet but should eventually check out). Pop up a big batch of popcorn, sprinkle some M & M's (or Milk Duds) in, pop in one of these movies and have a Happy (scary movie kind of) Halloween.

1) Silence of the Lambs I took my son Brad to see this when he was about 11 and he has never forgiven me.

2) Psycho I love Alfred Hitchcock and this movie was a departure from anything he had made before and was the original "slasher" movie (even though we never see the knife enter Marion Crane's naked body). A classic.

3) Jaws Not typically your Halloween type movie, but scary nonetheless. Our younger children did not find this scary at all, perhaps because it is much better seen on a large screen. From the first tug under the water, they've got you "hooked".

4) Rosemary's Baby Roman Polanski directed this movie in 1968, before he was a fugitive. A cute couple move into a New York apartment, only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife (Mia Farrow) gets pregnant, things go downhill from there.

5) The Shining I watched this a couple years ago for the first time, and then stayed in the hotel that inspired Steven King to write it. The movie is scarier than the hotel. "Here's Johnny!"

6) Carrie Another Steven King vehicle- who can't relate to being a High School outcast at some point? Well, I'm sure there are some but it did feel kind of good when she seeks revenge on the popular crowd.

7) Cape Fear This one caused my husband not to sleep at night as a child, fearing the Robert De Niro character was going to jump out of his closet and come get him. Now that I look at the date (1991), that would have made him close to thirty.

8) The Sixth Sense When we saw this movie on a Disney Cruise my grandmother declared it "the worst movie" she ever saw. I asked her why she didn't leave. She said she wanted to see the end of it. The end of it ties it all up in a perfect, twisted bow. "I see dead people."

9) Poltergeist A family moves in to a house, only to find it's haunted by ghosts. "They're heeeere!" Creepy to the max, directed by Steven Speilberg so of course, it's set in the suburbs.

10) Frankenstien Being a screenwriting major, I had to throw one old-school movie in there. This classic, with Boris Karloff playing the creature assembled by a mad scientist, is both scary and ultimately sad.

The rest of these, I cannot vouch for, but many others can. No explanations, just the facts ma'am.

1) The Exorcist (1973)

2) The Thing (1982)

3) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

4) Dawn of the Dead (1978)

5) Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

6) Halloween (1978)

7) Friday the 13th (1980)

8) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

9) The Ring (2002)

10) The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Upside to the Down Economy/ This Spud's For You!

As I am writing this post my daughter A.J. is headed to see her cousin Kate at University of Colorado in Boulder. A.J. made a delicious potato recipe the other night and I wanted to share it because it is a) inexpensive to make b) pretty easy to make c) meatless. Kate is a vegetarian and always looking for new recipes to try and as a student, she's on a budget. Potatoes are pretty cheap and most cooks should have the rest of the ingredients on hand. This makes an impressive, meatless entree.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Start with a baking potato, russet, Idaho, whatever. Scrub it clean and dry it well. Place it on a wooden spoon and make slices, almost all the way through, about 1/4 " or closer together with a sharp knife. This is the scalloped part; the wooden spoon prevents you from cutting all the way through the spud. Take slightly frozen butter and slice into very thin pats. Take some Parmigiana-Reggiano (or Locatelli which is what I get from Cotsco) and slice into thin slices. Now, insert butter pats and hard cheese slices into the potato slits, alternating cheese with butter. Season with salt and pepper and olive oil. I skipped the olive oil- with all that butter and cheese, who needs it? Place on a foil lined baking sheet and bake until potato is fork tender, about an hour. Remove from oven and pour cream over potato (I also skipped this part) and top with grated sharp cheddar cheese and bake 15 minutes more, until cheese is melted and bubbly. Voila! A lovely meal for two. Top with sour cream and chives, if desired. I would serve this with a salad and maybe some sorbet for dessert, as it is very rich.

A.J. found this recipe through Stumble Upon, which my friend Lisa York likes better than blogspot. The blog it was posted on was Tasty Kitchen Blog, where there are more detailed, step-by-step directions. Maybe A.J. and Kate with enjoy this baked potato on her visit. Happy Trails to you!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ New and Old T.V. Shows

Wednesday night is my favorite night of T.V. Why? Well, let's start with The Middle at 8, move to Modern Family at 9 and Top Chef on Bravo at 10. Absolute Heaven! The Middle is probably my favorite show on T.V. right now. It's about a middle class family, set in middle America with children who probably resemble our own, more than those "My child is an Honor Student", eagle scouts, scholar-athlete offspring, those perfect PTA mothers tout. My friend Martha is convinced most of American families are like The Middle. I think The Middle is better this season than ever and is just hitting it's stride. The episode where mother Frankie eats son Axel's toenails (by mistake) was hysterical. I actually am enjoying it more now than my former, favorite sitcom, Modern Family. My biggest letdown of returning shows has been 2 1/2 Men with Ashton Kutcher. While it has its moments, it's just not the same without Charlie Sheen. Even though I felt the pill-popping, hooker-loving, lush character he portrayed had probably run it's course, I didn't realize how much I would miss him in that role. As a tennis friend said "It's like they're trying too hard." Indeed.

Another show I would put in that category is Two Broke Girls. While it is occasionally funny, it seems to try too hard in that self-congratulatory manner some sitcoms get when they've proved they are popular. It's not there yet. I found New Girl OK. Zooey Deschanel is charming, but they need to do more with the plot lines than rely on her personality. I am going to name Last Man Standing, with Tim Allen, as my favorite new sitcom of the Fall season. It's funny and bottom line, that is what a sitcom should be. I also like Tim Allen and the actress who plays his wife. Being a former flight attendant (with a Dad who was a pilot for Pan Am) I have enjoyed Pan Am on ABC Sunday nights, but agree with my friend Katy's assessment that it is "good, but not great". Evoking Mad Men in this drama is fine, but in Mad Men, the deep, dark secrets of Don Draper were hinted at in the beginning, and not revealed until a couple seasons later. In Pan Am, they're revealed almost immediately, leaving less of a character arc, and less mystery. Simply put, the writing isn't nearly as good as Mad Men and it's a fluffier puff of a retro show. Although I've only watched Revenge once (shown on Wednesday nights as well) I do have to say everyone left my Bunko Halloween party by 9:30 p.m. in order to get home in time to see it. That speaks volumes and it has that juicy, cliffhanger effect that keeps you coming back for more. It seems to be taking the place of juiciest new show you talk about around the water cooler, usurping Desperate Housewives (at least the first season) in that role. Having said that, I'm going to miss those Housewives when they go (last season) and I already miss Brothers and Sisters. Luckily, I have other shows to take their place. Best thing about all these shows? On T.V. and perfectly FREE!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Upside to the Down Economy/ Power Clutch

Well, sure enough, my sister checked the pro biotic yogurt she has been eating faithfully to help her tummy troubles and discovered it had more sugar in it than the Jello dessert she bought for her son! An educated consumer is the best customer, so READ YOUR LABELS. This is harder for me now, since I need reading glasses to see the small print, but you should know what's going into your body- it's worth the time and effort.

We had more than a week of solid rain here in Miami the last few days. While it is nice now, it was miserable then. This made me think (trying to be positive) what are rainy days good for?

  • Curling up with a good book

  • Working (you don't feel bad it's a great beach day)

  • Cleaning out your closet

  • Listening to sad (or happy) music on your record player

  • Playing on the computer

  • Watching movies in bed

  • Making whoopie

  • Scrapbooking

  • Organizing photos

  • Watching a marathon of any TV episode

  • Making a big batch of soup

  • Making a batch of chocolate chip cookies

  • Selling stuff from around your house on e-bay

  • Giving yourself a facial

  • Giving yourself a mani/pedi

Anyway, you get my drift. You can take a depressing situation and make the best of it.

And my latest favorite nail polish color? Power Clutch by Essie. This collection is inspired by fashion and this color is kind of a gunmetal grey, making it perfect for Fall fashions. At $8, it is reasonable splurge to update your look without spending a fortune. And, my friend Susie found a place in Miami on Coral Way that sells it for just $3, making it an even better deal. Hand and Nail Care products have increased in sales by more than ten percent from 2009 to 2010, thanks to our down economy. Known as the "lipstick effect", it is thought that women will forgo making major fashion purchases and opt to buy something small, like a lipstick or nail polish. So while you may feel powerless over the economic situation, put some Power Clutch on and feel empowered!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Is Sugar Evil?

OK, so I get a hot flash in the middle of the night, Google "Diets That Work", start reading one diet that says Sugar is Evil, Sugar causes Belly Fat, Sugar will sabotage your diet etc...and then the next morning I'm eating my delicious Activia with Fiber and take a gander at the sugar content and OMG! I knew it tasted too good to be healthy- 23 grams of sugar! And that's for a little teeny container. I started thinking about sugar and how my Organic skim milk tastes suspiciously sweet, so I looked at the sugar grams on that- 13 per cup. Sometimes I like to have a cold glass of skim milk before bed, but now I am thinking about the evil sugar attaching to my (growing belly fat) and it will not go down as smooth. The organic 2% milk has less sugar- 11 grams- and I am less concerned about it because I use it in my coffee, so don't use that much. So, I decided to check out my 2% Fage Greek yogurt, which is what I was eating before Activia and it has 8 grams of sugar per 7 ounces. The difference is, I usually only eat a third or half of a container (it is tart) and mix it with fruit, so that's only 4 grams of sugar, plus the fruit, versus 23 grams of sugar. A big difference.

Is sugar evil? I'm not sold on that, but I also don't think it's the healthiest thing in the world and it makes me feel bad, as in, when I eat it, I get a surge of energy, but eventually crash. The other thing is, if I'm going to have it, I want to know about it straight up, as in a delicious red velvet cupcake or homemade chocolate chip cookies. Don't sneak it into my "healthy" food, like Activia. I wonder what Jamie Lee Curtis has to say about that? Maybe it would make her Scream! The moral of this cautionary tale is: READ YOUR LABELS.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Upside to the Down Economy/ Shop Online

My friend Katy's birthday was yesterday and as of yesterday morning, I hadn't gotten her a gift. This was a problem because she lives in Orlando and I'm in Miami. Last year, I got her a couple bottles of her favorite bottle of wine and had them shipped to her house, but even then I needed a couple days notice. I decided to get her a gift certificate to a salon in Orlando that we'd gone to when I visited a couple years ago. We had Egyptian paraffin pedicures where they encased your legs in wax, that were heavenly. I saved the card from the salon and called. They recommended I go to their website online and it was so easy! I picked the dollar amount, got to pick the background of the gift certificate and they e-mailed her the gift certificate that day, so I was even on time. Contrast that with the presents I got for my niece Allison (birthday tomorrow) that I bought, wrapped, packaged and then had to go to the post office to send, and this was a lot easier. So if you run out of time, think online!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ History Miami Tours

I have written before about being a tourist in your own town. In Miami, we have such a wealth of neighborhoods, cultures, architecture, peoples that you could probably find something new to discover every week. Yesterday I did a historic walking tour of the Morningside neighborhood with local historian Paul George. Morningside is a gem of a neighborhood filled with a wealth of architectural styles and neighbors who take great pride in their little slice of heaven, located right off Biscayne Bay. The architecture ranges from Mediterranean in the 20's, to Art Deco in the 30's and MiMo (Miami Modern) in the 50's and 60's. It's very close to where Lemon City originated, where working class people pioneered on Biscayne Bay at the birth of Miami. On our tour, we had people invite us to look into their houses and backyards and took the time to explain the history of their homes. Their pride in their neighborhood was plain.

History Miami offers other walking tours and, to tell you the truth, I want to do all of them. This month alone offers a Matheson Hammock Eco Walk, a Dinner Key Twilight Aviation Walk (hello Pan Am!) and a Ghosts of Miami Cemetery Night Tour. These tours cost money, of course, but I consider it money well spent. Dr. George is a local gem himself, with an amazing recall for facts and history sure to entertain. If you can't bring yourself to part with the cold, hard cash, History Miami even offers a FREE walking tour of Little Havana. It starts at 7 PM on the last Friday of the month, in front of the historic Tower Theatre. Dr. George conducts these tours and with money you save on the tour, you can treat yourself to an authentic Cuban meal for dinner.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Inspiration and Perspiration

I've never been an Apple girl, I've had PC's since the '80's, but still cannot deny the impact Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, has had on our modern world. With his recent passing, the world has lost a visionary who found a way to make technology cool, original and colorful, instead of boring, clunky and grey.

Yesterday I visited Thomas Edison's house, gardens and laboratory. He was another incredible inventor who patented more than a thousand ideas in his lifetime. Even our symbol for getting an idea came from him- the light bulb. Add to that the vote reader, stock ticker, phonograph, motion picture camera, generator, electric car (just coming into vogue now) and you see the results of a truly remarkable life. According to our tour guide, he often worked 20 hour days, taking cat naps in between inventing and experimenting. His quote that "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration" was backed up by his actions. Most of us would give up after ten or twenty attempts at doing something. Heck, I'd probably give up after one, but he made over ten thousand attempts before succeeding in inventing the electric light bulb. His comment? "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." That "Can Do" attitude is what made our country great. Steve Jobs had that attitude as well.

In reading about Steve Jobs, quotes from his commencement speech at Stanford came up that I found very inspirational.

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything- all external expectations- all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure, these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. ...Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become." Steve Jobs

Not to be outdone, here's a quote by Edison that I find a comfort in the troubling times we live in.

"Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!" Thomas Alva Edison

And so we shall. Which calls to mind one of my favorite quotes from my favorite author.

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Meanderings on October

Can you believe it's October already? Amazing. Well, my swimming in the summer is tapering off a bit, as I start running with the cooler weather. Went swimming the other day and it was a little cool at first, but warmed up. All this swimming has made me look at my pool in a new way. It desperately needs to be refinished (the plaster is coming off the bottom), the bronze tiles rimming the edge are hopelessly dated (circa 1970's), I worry the chlorine I'm swimming in is giving me cancer and thinking about switching to salt and wonder how much it would cost to heat the pool by solar power. We have a flat roof and plenty of sun here in Miami, but anything is solar is expensive.

All of these thoughts are circling my brain while I'm swimming and is supposed to be an "active meditation", not a worry, problem-solving fest. Anyway, my sulfate-free shampoo is doing well on my itchy scalp, but bought a new fragrance (coconut milk) because how long can you wash your hair with tea tree mint? Now that I have discovered the benefits of natural cleansers, I've noticed other products claiming to be sulfate-free. Just read a statistic in the paper about how if you've had a pillow more than 2 years, the majority of it is filled with dead skin and dust mites. Gross! I think it's time to buy new pillows, pronto! And if that's true of our own personal pillows, what about hotel pillows? Or airline pillows! Yuck! So as you can see, I have a lot of projects (and problems) going on this month. Here's wishing you a happy, healthy, sulfate-free October!