Friday, January 30, 2009

Dry be gone

It's pretty much criminal how much winter takes a toll on your skin. I've wanted to cry, my legs are so itchy and dry. So dry that it stings when I put lotion on them.  Ditto my back, my arms, my get the picture.  I prepared myself for the snow and the temperatures so cold that you can't take a deep breath, but I somehow blocked out the nasty dryness of winter.

Out of necessity, though, I have developed a combat strategy, mobilizing seven, yes SEVEN moisturizers (actually, make that eight because I'm trying a new one) to keep the hounds at bay. And so far, we seem to have reached detente. Here's what I'm reduced to, simply to survive the winter:

AM:   Shower. Don't dry off, but immediately slather Vaseline Intensive Rescue moisture-locking lotion on skin. Then towel off (This, of course, means washing one's towel every day or two.)  Now coat face with Avon's Anew 10% Vitamin C Serum. Then apply Kiehl's Ultra Facial Tinted Moisturizer SPF 15. (My normal mineral foundation brings out the flakiness in my skin in the winter.)

At regular intervals throughout the day, hands must be treated with L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream or Burt's Bees Almond Milk Beeswax Hand Cream, whichever is convenient. (We're talking three or four times a day, or the side of my index fingers will snag my clothing.)

PM: When getting ready for bed, slather Kiss My Face Olive and Aloe lotion on skin before donning pajamas. Now coat face with Exuviance Evening Restorative Complex or Kiehl's Abyssine Cream, and you're ready for bed.  (I never thought I'd be one of those women who needed a different moisturizer in the winter. But now I am. Yikes.)

God help me, I'm missing the dampness of England. My skin was supple, my hair was curly, and though I was occasionally chilled to the bone, at least I looked good.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ways other than Paul Blart and lipstick to combat economic depression

They say that, when the economy tanks and you can't see any way through your pile of bills and are wondering who you'll look wearing one of those barrels with shoulder straps, women buy lipstick and everyone goes to upbeat, escapist movies to take their minds off their troubles. But I'm here to tell you that any lipstick worth having is nigh 'bout $20 or more and you'll just end up regretting it, and Hollywood has not caught up with the times yet. Plus, it's Oscar season, so once you've seen Slumdog Millionaire your choices are sexy Nazis seducing children, attractive suburbanites mourning the death of their dreams, and nuns and priests talking about child abuse. (That said, I hear Gran Torino is a good diversion with a message, and if you don't hate Brad Pitt as much as I do you could probably sit through that Owen Meany movie where he ages like he's from Ork.) And while I'm as big a Kevin James fan as the next person, you can't ask him to shoulder the whole burden. It's another few days until the Valentine's Day romantic comedies start hitting theaters....and you may need help before then.

Well, here comes the New York Times to your rescue. They have two great features that will fill the void, and they're both free as long as you have a bit of imagination and are willing to share a bit of demographic information by registering as a user.

Real Estate Porn: The Grey Lady doesn't call it this, what since that would be kind of tacky, but that's what it is. They have endless slideshows about cool dream homes and real estate around the can read the article if you're like that, but I usually just skip to the money shots and spend some time looking at what $1.5m will buy me in Colorado or what $440k buys in Maine. I think about how I'd decorate differently (I hate that pretentious fake-Tuscan-new-money crap,) or where I'd drink my coffee if I lived there. Sometimes I plan parties in these houses. Or make fun of the poor sap who paid $440K for a condo in Telluride but has to sleep in a loft over the closet. I mean, all that money and he has to climb down a ladder to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Oh. And FYI, exposed beams attract spiders and other nesting insects...think of THAT next time you see a vaulted ceiling in a tropical paradise.

Real-life Romance: They make movies about this, and they're not nearly as fun as the actual column. I am not one of those women who dreams of getting married and plans her wedding a thousand times and lives for romance and true love. In fact, I've become quite a cynic about it all. Somehow, though, the NYTimes wedding columns make it past all my attitude. I love them. For the uninitiated, each week they feature one couple with a compelling love story. They interview them and their friends and family, and they write a column detailing their courtship, the obstacles they faced, and the things about their relationship that will tug on the heartstrings of the audience. They seem particularly fond of the rich and famous, people who work with the homeless or drug addicts and long distance relationships. And there seems to be some sort of bonus if you've given up on love.

Next time you're craving an escape, give these a try. They're cheaper and a lot less time consuming, and won't be affected by your tan. Or try The Sartorialist, because it's always fun to see high fashion walking on the street.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Unsolicited product endorsement - Dorset Cereals

Food is a part of daily life and, especially as someone who treats cooking and eating like a hobby, it's a fundamental part of my memories of people, places and events. Pigs-in-a-blanket remind me of eating at a table where my feet didn't touch the floor, and my mom making a special meal just for my brother and me. Grilled fish reminds me of my friend Pam or of the time our friend Kip tried to make us salmon it took about seven hours. Muffins remind me of Uptown Espresso in Seattle, because they made a killer rhubarb one that was the size of your head. Grilled chicken reminds me of my dad, especially if it's a little over done. Dim Sum reminds me of Tom and George.

In every stage of my life, I make food memories that follow me, and when I want to really cuddle with that part of my history I simply find that food and savor it, and it's as close to being there as it gets.

In England, one of my favorite things was Dorset Cereals. They were an entrepreneurial group who made muesli and other wholesome-y cereals chock full of nuts and dried fruits and whole grains and flavor. I would have some for breakfast most days, usually with a bit of yogurt and a glass of pink grapefruit juice. Dorset Cereals are fine fine examples of what cereal can be. The flavors are complex, they are sweet without artifice, and it sticks to your ribs and gets you going for the day - an imperative where breakfast is concerned. When I moved back to the US I bid them goodbye, and though I tried a few things that seemed similar when I got here, nothing quite compared. It all tasted like something you'd get on a breakfast buffet at some low-end hotel in Switzerland. So I switched to toast.

And then about a month ago I decided to try making a Nigela Lawson bread, and I sent Beth to Whole Foods to pick up the ingredients. The bread's basically whole wheat bread flour, milk, yeast and muesli, so I asked her to pick one that looked really does make the bread. And what did she bring back? Dorset Cereals simply delicious muesli. Yippee! Whole Foods carries the whole line! I am saved!

My favorites are the Berries and Cherries and Fruit, Nut and Fiber. But I've tried them all and there's not a bad one in the bunch, so go with your gut. They're about $4.89 a box and I know this seems high, but considering that each box is almost two weeks of breakfast it really isn't as expensive as it seems. And it is well worth the price, if you ask me.

Now my only problem is the package directions for enjoyment. I get the milk and yogurt options, but fruit juice? Who puts orange juice on their cereal?

Unwittingly a Fashion Maven

In these times of economic trouble, one has to find a few luxuries to make one feel special. For me, this usually means fat free, sugar free chocolate pudding and a glossy magazine. Specifically this week, I went for the Jello-brand Dark Chocolate and a copy of the February Lucky. The pudding is delicious. And Lucky? It has revealed that I am the epitome of February style.

I didn't even make it past the table of contents before I saw a picture of a sexy black lace cocktail dress. Lo and behold, on page 41 executive editor MK Rollins tells us about how lace is what she wants NOW! And while their stretch dress is from and mine is not, it looks surprisingly similar. (Mine comes in chubbies.) I flip the page, and senior associate fashion editor A Brady is on about Navajo-inspired designs for a dose of relaxed chic. Look at my clearance sale sweater.

And the hits just keep on coming. Their market editor loves braiding to add interest to understated pieces, and I have a cool blue sweater that has a crochet/braided texture to it, which makes it feminine and pretty for a plain blue top. The foolproof outfit and bargain hunter sections talked about oversized, bigsturdy watches - I wear a stainless steel Kenneth Cole men's watch, which while it might be dainty on a gentleman's wrist is more a bangle bracelet on mine. Did I buy it because women's tiny watches are dwarfed by my big bones? Sure. But does that matter? Heck no! I'm a trend setter! By the time they started showing wedge heels, wingtip heels and motorcycle jackets I was beginning to think they'd just come to my closet to look for ideas.

Perhaps next month they'll be contacting me for their new feature: Ways to make odds and ends you've bought over the last 15 years into outfits that don't make you look foolish. I'm an expert at that. And note to Lucky...we'll be doing it WITHOUT harem pants. I mean, come on. Look at yourself.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mini-blogging is more fun

I'm sorry for my absence. I've been preoccupied by twitter. I like the mini-blogging format - I mean, ultimately, I'm not saying anything different than I do here...I just have to limit my irrelevant ramblings to 140 characters or less. And if you're following me, you can request that my tweets be sent to your phone so you never have to wait for my pithy observations. Lucky, lucky you!

And sometimes you can tweet to win things. No one ever gives me things for this. Wait. I take that back. Madame L sent me delicious caramels last year and is knitting me a hat, so I HAVE actually received things from this blog. Not that I'm in it for the money. Just saying.

I just finished reading Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster. (I believe Marni's book group was reading this, as well.) It was an amusing chronicle of one woman's weight loss journey, and it made me think that maybe I should try writing as a career. If I tried, I could be as funny as her. Stuff happens to me. She lives in Chicago, I live in Chicago. She has dogs...I have a dog, and ours looks like Marley and is afraid of strangers, so I have countless stories of strangers reaching out to pet a celebrity pooch only to have Cali cower as though they are raising a steel-toed boot. And I'm unemployed! And a temp! That's at LEAST two or three chapters of fun. Jen Lancaster and me, we're practically the same! Except, of course, she is a talented published author and I am a blogger who tweets. But otherwise. Twins.

On a totally different subject, do you have a mini bundt pan? If not, you really should help the US economy by running out to get one, preferably one made in the US of A. Bethany wanted cupcakes for her birthday and we didn't have any of those little paper liners so I elected to make mini bundts instead. They are marvelous. Moist and delicious. And when did you last have canned white frosting? Because it is also a tasty, tasty treat.

Grapefruit and leftover birthday bundts. Talk about a breakfast of champions.

Which reminds me. I need a library card. I am planning on rereading a bunch of Vonnegut. It will likely not resonate as it did when I was 15, but it's worth a try.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Unsolicited product endorsement - Boots No7 Lash 360

Ladies (and gentlemen who wear mascara), if you're looking for full, beautiful eye-popping lashes, get yourself down to the Target and make a beeline to the Boots No. 7 cosmetics.  Lash 360 is the mascara for you!

I became quite a fan of other No. 7 products while living in the UK. It's all really Chanel makeup and skincare repackaged for Boots the Chemist as a way to expand their line into a non-department store price point. In fact, it's still a bit of a premium price, but the products I have are well worth it.  I LOVE their liquid liner, and their lipsticks are divine.  With mascaras, though, I've always been a believer in the makeup artist tip that you're wasting money if you buy anything other than the cheap pink-and-green Cover Girl.

Over Christmas, however, I brought the Lash 360 sample with, and the magic it works on my lashes has shocked even me. I don't have especially long or thick lashes. In fact, they're only acceptable because they are brown and therefore visible. But NOW, my lashes are amazing. Strangers are commenting. Even my MOTHER noticed, for Pete's sake.

Perhaps it is my lashes that made the homeless man fall in love with me tonight. But he said I was beautiful, and homeless men don't lie when they're begging for change, right?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My own personal heavenly bed

As most of you know, I've just come off of a ten year career planning corporate events around the world. This means I've slept in some pretty nice beds, and some pretty crappy ones, as well. If you are also one who travels for work, you'll remember about eight years ago or so when Westin started the bed revolution with the Heavenly Bed. Their theory: If you're traveling on an expense account you don't care as much about cost as you do about getting a decent night's sleep when you're away from home. So they invested in a branded package of high-quality, all white bedding on a perfectly firmsoft mattress with big, sumptuous pillows to suck you in and make you weep with joy. Their reps started hyping the Bed months in advance of the roll out, and they promised us it would be revolutionary. It was.

The first time I stayed in a Westin with a HB, I was in Seattle on a high floor in a suite with views of the Sound. I remember sinking into the fluffy comforter after a night out with my friends, falling asleep as I watched the lights of the ferries coming and going from Bremerton in the middle of the night. It was perfect. And though pretty much every chain has followed suit with their own version of sleep-wonderland, I am still partial to Westin. They got it right first, and somehow that makes them better in my book.

When I moved back to the US, the one big bit of furniture missing from my collection was a mattress. I'd sold mine to my brother before I moved, and so I had to come up with something quick. I googled Heavenly Bed. Turns out Westin sells the whole darn package as a turnkey route to perfect slumber. Of course, the whole thing was close to $3000 for a queen sized bed with 300 thread count linens, and what since I am trying to economize that wasn't the best idea. But the Google is mighty clever, and some of the other sites pulled up sent me to chat rooms and other sites pointing me in the direction of the individual elements - and I decided to build myself one from scratch.

Step One: The Mattress - if you build the right foundation, then the rest just follows. So I looked at the details of the HB, and it turns out it's a 13" Simmons mattress with a pillow top and 850 small pocket coils. When you start looking for this, it's not so hard to find. Everyone's got one, and it's just a matter of picking your vendor. I chose Sleep Squad, and I'd highly recommend them to anyone. You pick your mattresses to try, they drive them to your house in a mobile showroom. They set them up, pull the curtains, then leave you in privacy to try them out while they stand on the sidewalk. If you find the one you want, they'll process the sale and carry it into the house for you, setting it up and taking the packaging with them when they go. The Cairo is pretty much exactly's a little thicker, and it's 800 coils instead of 850, but it feels divine and it's a bit cheaper than ones I found at other vendors that would have been a little closer in spec.

Step Two: The Pillows - Heavenly Beds come with four, so I added four good quality ones to my bed. I had two already, so I just bought one down alternative and one down to supplement (actually, they were a gift from my mom), and presto! I have the pillows, too.

Step Three: The Bedding - HB's are all white, and as mentioned above the go with a good quality 300 thread count. Now THAT'S an easy find. I already had two duvet covers that are exactly that...I believe in pristine white bedding...and I found 350 thread count sheets and a hotel-quality mattress pad on sale at TJ Maxx.

Step Four: Assemble

While the name "Heavenly Bed" is trademarked and therefore I am not allowed to call my bed that, I will tell you that what I have created is a thing of wonder. I sleep through the night and I wake well-rested. I have no aches and pains. It is toasty warm on the coldest night. The sheets are luxuriously decadent with the right combo of silky luxury and crisp-rough cottony goodness. Sometimes, when I'm walking past my bedroom in the middle of the day, I just go lay down for a second. It's a comforting, delicious moment to capture my thoughts and regroup for more networking and emailing for jobs. I love, love LOVE my bed.

And the best part? The whole thing came in well under $1300. That's still a lot of money, but I'm old now. I can't skimp on a quality bed anymore. And I could buy another one for less than the cost of one from the Westin store. I feel so smug.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Get-to-know-you-questions, vol 1

We all need ice breaker questions. Things to jump start conversations when they hit a seven minute lull, or to ask on a speed date to vet the crazies. Here's one you can use, plus when you ask it you'll have time to come up with a really clever response when they ask you, "how about you?"

(And please answer the question. Not that many people read my blog. Heck, I'll even turn off the no-anonymous-comments button for a week or so, just so readers who don't have google accounts can play. But it would be nice if you'd give me some clue to who you are so I can, in fact, get to know you.)

You're going to the Oscars and you know there is going to be a five minute tribute for some lifetime achievement. Whose tribute would you least like to sit through?

Two movies you should see, and other Golden Globe opinions

I haven't seen that many movies this year. But two of the ones I have seen are exceptional, and while I'm sitting here watching the Golden Globes I thought I'd endorse them.

One you've likely heard about - Slumdog Millionaire. I had high'd gotten excellent reviews and the plot sounded intriguing. But my expectations were nothing close to how good this movie is. Don't get me wrong. It is at times brutal to watch - I mean, it's about a kid growing up in the slums of India, after all. But Danny Boyle and his cast manage to find exactly the right path through the madness, blending honest sadness and atrocity with humanity and humor. There is a scene early in the movie set in an outhouse that sets the pace and tone, and from that point forward you know you can trust Boyle with the story he's telling. And it's a doozy. Go see it. Pay full price. Don't miss out on this film.

The other is a bit of a sleeper. In Bruges. Perhaps you didn't hear about it until it got nominated. Or perhaps you heard about it and have the same sort of aversion to Colin Farrell that I do to Angelina Jolie (or anything associated with her, even Brad Pitt.) Or perhaps you live in a smaller town and it didn't come to your theater. I imagine it was a bit of an art film here. In any case, it's an absolute riot of a comedy thriller. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are hitman who are sent to Bruges to chill after a hit in the UK goes down badly. This is a classic buddy film with a mobster feel and a clever script and interesting plot. Ralph Feines is even good in it...he doesn't even seem like a Nazi, which somehow he always manages to do even when he's NOT playing one. I notice tonight that both Farrell and Gleeson are nominated for best actor. I think they both deserve it, and since the kid from Slumdog Millionaire got robbed by the GG, I hope one of them wins. Bruges is a beautiful city, and they capture it well on film. Gleeson is a clipped professional, and he gives one of the more nuanced portrayals of a character that's been done many times before. Farrell is a boy-racer of the gangster world, but he allows the bravado enough cracks to make his character authentic. But the real joy here is watching these two very different actors play off each other, creating a screen couple that will make me buy this film so I can watch it again and again.

And now, a few thoughts on the Golden Globes. With the time difference in the UK, I never got to see award shows whilst in the UK. It just wasn't fun to watch the edited versions later in the week. And while I probably wouldn't be watching this tonight if I were able to do something other than sit on the sofa, it's secretly delightful to see this.

  • My, were celebrities glib to the interviewers on the red carpet. I think Maggie Gyllenhal is going to punch the next person who asks her if Heath Ledger should win for The Dark Night.
  • Michael C. Hall should have won for Dexter. Have you seen Dexter? That show is unbelievable.
  • Johnny Depp never goes bad. Neither does Meryl Streep.
  • Why does Rumor Willis seem so awkward?
  • It would suck to be caught smiling in the crowd shots immediately after Heath Ledger won.
  • Drew Barrymore looks like she came in character for her Grey Gardens role, bless her. I think it's the hair.
  • It is a crime, an absolute crime that the actor that plays adult Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire was not nominated for that movie.
  • Emma Thompson's husband is a stone cold fox.
  • I bet Rainn Wilson has trouble picking up women. You want to think he's nothing like the characters he plays, but it's starting to look suspicious. And I bet Aaron Eckhart does, too, if they've ever seen that film he did about seducing the deaf girl and then dumping her.
  • I wonder if Seth Rogan is stoned. (That was rhetorical.)

GI distress on steroids

There's a stomach bug going around and, never one to miss a trend, I caught it with a vengeance. I woke up about 3AM Friday, and I felt like there was kind of an electric charge in my system. I was almost twitchy. It didn't make any sense. And then I realized that it was an adrenalin surge to get me up and running across the hall. Thank God for adrenalin.

This has been a flu of biblical proportions. Friday I actually considered just sleeping in the bathroom, but opted to just stay in bed and hope my sprints to the bathroom got further apart. Yesterday I made it to the couch, but that was an effort. Bethany tells me I have to eat something, anything...and so I've managed some applesauce, a half a packet of saltines and some dry toast. And some Squirt. I'd make jello, but I can't bear to be in the kitchen.

I haven't answered my phone because my voice is weak and it hurts to think. I started tweeting again yesterday, but it takes too much thought to respond to others' tweets on my phone. (That @ symbol is a pain to find on my phone.)

I've also noticed that TV isn't nearly as much fun when you're sick. There's a lot of programming you can't watch. I never realized how much I rely on Dirty Jobs and the Food Network to provide mindless entertainment. Instead, I've had to fill in with on-Demand programs and a day-long Monk marathon on USA. God knows how I'll get by today. I'll try reading, but I've already got a bit of a headache and I'm not hopeful. Plus my concentration is not great, so I'll need to find a book that requires none.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Great moments in my history

God help me.
Is it the eyeliner, the John-Hughes-film-wannabe wardrobe or the Schlitz in my hand
that makes this so regrettable? Thanks to my friend GF, I can now worry what other photos might be lurking out there.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I so missed the trend

I just read an article about things that are now "out". Cupcakes are one of them. This is so not fair. Cupcakes ROCK. The whole giant-luxury-cupcake-as-impulse-buy trend never hit the UK, and outside of that one Sex and the City episode, I didn't even know there was a cupcake revolution happening back at home. So now, just when I discover the joys of a Red Velvet cupcake, or a S'more cupcake with homemade marshmallow on top, THEY go and declare cupcakes obsolete, passe, the Furby of the pastry world.

All I'm saying is apparently THEY have not recently had a delightful treat from Bleeding Heart Bakery or Angel Food. Perhaps they should give them another chance. Killjoys.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Reverse psychology

Here, for public display, are my New Year's resolutions.

1) Stop exercising. I mean, why walk when you can ride? Plus, if you take deep breaths in the cold it kind of hurts, so I'll start smoking a pack a day effective immediately, then up that to two packs by my birthday - I'll never be able to fully inhale again.
2) Gain 15 pounds. And start eating more fried foods. There isn't enough grease in my diet.
3) Swear more.
4) Stay unemployed. Instead, I'll start watching daytime TV and selling Amway on the side. Or maybe Shaklee.
5) In fact, watch more TV full stop. Can you believe I haven't caught an episode of Mama's Boys yet???
6) Buy a deeply discounted SUV and burn as much fossil fuel as I can.
7) Sit home a lot. Socializing sucks. Plus it's more fun to drink alone.
8) Start a Ponzi scheme.
9) Go whoring. Who needs a real relationship?
10) Start volunteering for the RNC.

Chores suck, vol 1

Man, I hate making my bed. You'd think I'd outgrow that.

Movie review in 10 words or less - Slumdog Millionaire

Memento, City of God and Awara on steroids. It ROCKS.

New year, new beginning

I've not been myself the last few months. And now that's going to change. So I've deleted my posts since I moved back (except for christmas memories, which are timeless,) and I'm starting with a clean slate.

Thus, I am reborn.

Happy New Year, folks!