Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Cyber Monday!

Well, so I've been busy.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we spent the afternoon with out-of-town guests.

"Out-of-town guests" is easier than randomly launching into the story of how my cousin is married to my other cousin who isn't really my cousin but may as well be. It deserves exposition.

Then Wednesday night, we started in with the casserole cooking and turkey brining and setting up rented equipment for the holiday weekend.

I finally figured out a table solution. I did end up using the runner (even though it didn't extend to the add-on leaves). I also found some mini-apples at Whole Foods and cut some hydrangeas from our yard, and everything looked simple and lovely.




I rented a buffet table for the food itself, adorned with some Bartlett pears, extra mini-apples, and vases full of vines I clipped from outside.

You can't really get the feel for it, but it was nice.
I should have taken better photos. OH WELL.

Once everything was set to go, the rest of the weekend was a blur.

We hosted three couples (one with a three-year-old boy) and between food and wine and a baby, I'm not sure how anything got done at all on Thanksgiving. Eve melted down right as we were trying to get dinner on the table, and it took everyone's help to get the food out and kept relatively warm. Eventually, Eve just fell asleep in a sling while I was sitting at the table.

The food was good. I did some hybrid turkey prep that turned out just fine. I brined the turkey using Whole Foods brine mix and the directions on the brining bag box (from Williams-Sonoma). I then cooked the turkey to Alton Brown (Food Network)'s specifications, using Giada's recommendations for aromatics inside the bird and her butter blend for outside (instead of Alton's plain ole canola oil). It was the easiest combination of instructions I could find and felt comfortable trying.

The stuffing was great. I highly recommend adding bourbon-soaked dried cherries. (Thanks, Ms. Txsjewels.)

Some short time after dinner, we danced to Into the Mystic, as it was playing on our record player.

Some longer time after dinner, there was some bourbon and a holiday viewing of Die Hard.

The next morning was a crazy assortment of kids and breakfast and dish-washing, while guests went from pajamas to clothes in time for Ish's family's arrival. And then we spent the rest of the weekend with his parents, his sister, her husband, and their two kids (aged 8 and 5).

We mostly hung around and ate and worked on jigsaw puzzles. There was a lot of football watching, but I was fairly oblivious.

Saturday was incredibly windy, and our backyard fence blew down. Our neighbor came over almost immediately to say that she'd be having it repaired (apparently, it's their fence and their responsibility, so okay!). The guys were out there working on it yesterday and today.

Another stunning photo you can't make out. Mostly, it's the neighbor's yard,
which you usually can't see because there's a fence in the way. Not so at the moment.


And that's the weekend round-up.

I finished all my Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving, but I am only about 3/4 way through wrapping, and have barely begun to figure out shipping it all. On the one hand, I'm psyched to have it all done. On the other hand, I hate missing out on all the Cyber Monday fun.

OH! And? For those of you not on Twitter, WHAT THE HELL?

I mean, well, let me start this way: My sister and her husband are currently separated. (That's very weird to write.) She is living in a short-term rental house in MA, and the house does not have any sort of Internet connectivity. My sister doesn't feel she needs it, because she and I live on entirely different planets.

But we are visiting her for Christmas, and the idea of being without Internet access on my laptop for a full week makes me break out in hives.

So I thought, "Oh, hey, I'll just get a mobile broadband card thing."

AM I MISSING SOMETHING? Why is this so hard and/or expensive? Every option I've found from phone carriers require ridiculous contracts. No, AT&T, I'm NOT going to sign up for ANOTHER contract from you, I'm fine with the one I already have for my phone, thanks.

The ones that don't require contracts are pricey, because you have to buy the USB modem thing, and those seem to cost between $200-$300.

I've seen rental options -- where you can rent the USB modem thingy for however long you need it, and those options still end up costing around $200. FOR A WEEK.

My friend who works in the mobile industry recommended I try Cricket, but that service isn't available in either my zip code OR my sister's.

So it seems there isn't an option for me. Short of borrowing someone else's, there's no cheap way to get wifi for a couple weeks. Seems very weird to me.

Lastly, I thought -- oh, you know? I could just use my iPhone the whole time...I wonder if there's a keyboard available for it. See, I don't mind using my phone to get email or read websites, but I hate writing emails back from such a limited keyboard, and I certainly can't blog from that tiny thing. But no, such a thing doesn't exist yet.

Oh well. I guess I can always take my computer to Starbucks...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Have A Very Special (Read: CRAZY) Thanksgiving Post In The Works

What was the over-under on my completing NaBloPoMo? I was doing well there for a long while, yeah? But also, weren't those posts kind of lame? ( Don't answer that.)

I'm using the baby as an excuse. But also? I finished my Christmas shopping. So neener, neener.

I need to figure out some computer equipment and wait until Eve naps to be able to bring you this Very Special Thanksgiving Post, but for at least one of you, I hope it will be worth it. Either that, or it will confirm that I have officially lost my mind.

Yesterday, I realized that The Hallmark Channel had started on its Christmas Movies from noon to midnight jag, and I accidentally saw parts of two movies that I cannot believe exist. The first was called Smoky Mountain Christmas and starred -- yes, starred -- Dolly Parton. I think she was supposed to be a music star, and then there were seven orphans of varying ethnicity and a witch(??) and I'm pretty sure the story was loosely based on Snow White. I don't know what to do with any of that.

Then later there was a movie called Meet The Santas and I only caught a few moments of it, but apparently it's a SEQUEL, not kidding, and there's Steve Gutenberg (hair dye? plugs? a little lift?) and Crystal Bernard (nose job, lips, hair extensions) PLUS a very masculine-looking Mariette Hartley attempting a southern accent. So, yeah.

I wanted to follow up with you guys about my Thanksgiving plans.

Ms. txsjewels: I think your stuffing add-ins sound awesome, but I have a couple questions and I can't figure out how to contact you. Please email or FB or IM me!

Ms. bzh - you were right on the money with those napkin rings you suggested:



I love them, and the seller agreed to work with me to get them here by tomorrow. (Twigs and berries!) But for real, they're grapevines, which seems appropriate for our location.

All of your suggestions have been helpful and I'll let you know what all ends up getting put together. I gathered a crazy assortment of potential centerpiece-y things and I'm still not 100% sure where I'm going with it all...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What About Table Settings, Centerpieces & Placeholders?

Seriously. Those are some damn good responses to my turkey-and-stuffing inquiry. I'm tickled, and will absolutely be using one of the suggestions. Probably the one with whiskey because hi.

This leads me to the next item on my "Hmmmm" list. And that is figuring out how to make the table(s) look beautiful. I mean, I can probably figure something out, but if you have fantastic, pretty ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Of note(?): My table is dark wood, almost black, and I'm not planning to use a tablecloth. My plates are plain white. I have chargers in red. I have a table runner (also red) but I don't think it runs the length of the table while the table is fully extended, which it will be.

So I guess mostly I'm looking for ideas for napkin rings, table decor -- like unobtrusive centerpieces -- place holders, that sort of thing. I'm picturing like, twigs with red berries. Except I don't know where to get twigs with red berries. Napa doesn't have a Michael's or Jo-Ann's and it certainly doesn't have a Twigs With Red Berries store. (Napa DOES have enough wine that it probably thinks you won't notice the table decor, though.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Let's Talk Turkey

It's 10:15 and I totally forgot that I'm supposed to be blogging.

Also, tomorrow it's Thursday. Which means Thanksgiving is in ONE WEEK. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

So rather than post a random photo or two (though I'm tempted), I thought I would ask you to please tell me:

- Where is the best place to get a Thanksgiving turkey?

- What is the best way to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey?

Last year I cooked a turkey for the first time, and after exhaustive research and like, three near-panic attacks, I decided to get the bird from Whole Foods, brine it with a bag and brine from Williams-Sonoma, and roast it according to Alton Brown's instructions (which rely heavily on the use of aromatics).

The result was quite good...


Seriously. Not bad for a first time!
Also, nothing caught on fire!


...and I plan to follow the same procedures this year. The only thing I didn't like about last year's bird was that it cooked a lot faster than an un-brined bird would have. Which is fine on the one hand (fast is efficient!), but kind of sad on the other because part of the joy of Thanksgiving is having the smell of turkey wafting through the house all day long. I also think the aromatics didn't get an opportunity to do their thing for the same reason (even though I microwaved them in water to get them going).

Also, I need a better stuffing recipe. I want something with a LOT of flavor that doesn't involve sausage or rely on celery. I have yet to find a stuffing I like better than the stupid Stove Top mix (yes, shutup), even though I've gone to elaborate lengths to try and find a replacement.

Lastly, what do you use to tie/truss the turkey with? This part eludes me. Can someone explain, please?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time To Win Stuff Again

Hey! So, by now the winner of my last "She Just Reviews It" review thing and $200 Best Buy gift card giveaway should have been notified, so I will take a moment to say congrats to Miss Thystle. I'm SO pleased that the winner is someone who's been an IIF for a long time, and not just someone who read about this contest on some random web page and then entered and doesn't care one iota about my lack of balance or my boobs the size of my head.

And this means I am now free to direct you to my NEW contest. Mostly you can win an Aquaphor product gift basket (and Aquaphor products ROCK and I believed that pre-free product samples), but you can also win a $100 Visa Gift Card aaaaannnd enter to win a $1000 prize from BlogHer.

So you know, go read the review.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Like a melon ball on a toothpick."

Tonight's a cappella rehearsal began with a discussion of skinny jeans. The conversation was led by the Loosie who works at GAP. (Not in the stores, mind you; at their corporate offices.)

For the record, skinny jeans is a trend that I have ignored and will continue to ignore until probably forever. LA LA LA JINGLE BELLS I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE SOUND OF MY BOOT-CUTS, SKINNY JEANS, JINGLE ALL THE WAY.

It's not because I don't have skinny legs. All things considered, I DO have skinny legs. Well, I mean, relatively speaking.

Note: despite that my legs have like, ZERO flab below the thigh, my calves are still somehow giant and I cannot wear 90% boots and it makes me sad. Apparently, ~16" is GIANT.

Remember in the 80s when everyone wore giant tops and leggings and big socks? That worked for me then because I was young and skinny and I could have worn anything anyway.

But today's skinny jeans look is NOT the look of the 80s. Today's tops aren't boxy and 17 sizes too big. (Also, you do not pair them with crimped hair and frosted pink Wet 'n' Wild lipstick.) They are curve-hugging and, well.

The effect of me -- with my excessive top-heavy-ness -- in skinny jeans and an on-trend top would be like...well...picture a bowling ball balancing on a golf tee.

Worse yet if paired with heels.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2009 Gift Guide: Stuff I Love #1

Maybe you really don't care what sort of material possessions I own and love. I would not blame you. But.

As I suggested below in my Gift Guide For Guys, I take gift-buying VERY seriously. (More on this in future issues.)

So I thought I would create a few choice posts about stuff I love, would never want to live without, in a gift-guide-y like way, in case you can use this info to shop for someone this holiday season.

(And if you think these are stupid entries, YOU try writing something every day.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

#1 Thing I Own And Love: Any (And All) Of The Harry Potter Books On Tape/CD, As Narrated By Jim Dale

Let me make two things very clear about this.

FIRST, understand that I never read fantasy. Shameful though you may find this, I've not read The Lord of the Rings, or The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, or any of those I should have.

Perhaps understandably, then, I started the first Harry Potter book three times and just didn't like it, didn't get it, didn't care.

Finally
I forced myself through it and got to the end and was like, "Eh."

Then I read the second one, egged on by my ex, and was even less enthused. I just couldn't bring myself to think it page-turningly amazing. Yes, I was mildly curious in how things would eventually go down with old Voldemort, but I wasn't exactly losing sleep over it, either.

But, I allowed my mild curiosity to lead me to the third book. And by the end of that one, I was hooked.

I devoured the fourth, which had come out not long before I started on the whole series, and was miserable when it ended because I couldn't wait for number five.

Oh, and I waited and waited and then -- well, by then I was in San Francisco and with El_Gallo and the day The Order of the Phoenix came out the both of us walked down to Borders on Powell St. and got in line a block away and made our way through the store and purchased two copies and walked home and read them both that weekend.

As maybe a couple of you miiiiiiight remember, number six came out the week before I left one job for another. I took a week off in between, and (quite serendipitously) was able to enjoy The Half-Blood Prince at my leisure.

The final installment came out right before the first annual BlogHer Conference I was responsible for planning, and I waited until the final night of the event to crack it open. What a divine gift to myself, being able to enjoy that when the even was all finished!

The point is, I didn't immediately love the series, but came around and fell in love. It's really something special.

THE SECOND point I want to make is that, regardless of how you feel about the series or books on tape in general, these are A-MAZ-ING. Jim Dale is the narrator and I have never heard anyone like him. He's fun and enthralling and you just want to listen to him tell you these magical stories over and over and over.

Great for trips to the gym. Great for long car rides. (I discovered these when I bought the first four books on tape for my car drive across the country, moving from Connecticut to San Francisco.) Ish didn't think he cared for Harry, either, until I begged him to start over, from the beginning, with Jim Dale as his guide.

Ish was totally converted.


Bottom line: Give them to someone you love, ask for them for yourself. Jim Dale's narration makes it worth it to start from the beginning and get lost in the series all over again.

The whole audio collection is available at Amazon and on iTunes.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Guys Shouldn't Get To Have All The Fun

Last year, about half the people I knew emailed me a link to the Straight, No Chaser video. You know, the one of the male a cappella group singing a mixed-up version of The 12 Days of Christmas.

Okay, for those of you who somehow missed this a cappella gem (and I'm really not sure how that would be possible), here it is, sort of:




I say sort of because the version above is from a recent show. The original recording was of a performance they did ten years prior, while at Indiana University.

Regardless, the versions are awesome. And I decided that, if it was possible to get my hands on a copy of the underlying arrangement, I would....and then I hoped that we (our all-female a cappella group) would be willing to try our version of it.

Well, I did. And we are.

Today I spent nearly several hours in an extra rehearsal with The Loose Interpretations working out this very number. And you know? We may not have the charm and appeal of college(esque) boys in tuxedos, but we make a damn good run of it. We've tweaked it to be a little more "us," but I think we do the arrangement proud.

I will try and get a recording of us performing it before Christmas.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"As you love to promote savings." (Updated 11/13)

UNBELIEVABLE update below!

I never do this, but I'm exhausted (Eve is adjusting to her new sleep schedule far better than her parents are), and in this case, "exhausted" means "okay, I'm calling you out."

Here is an incredible PR pitch I got today. Word for word.

* * * * * *
Hey Kristin,

I enjoy coming by your site for all your great gift ideas from a stylish standpoint. I thought you may love how stylish and frugal but chic Elisabeth Hasselbeck is being with her fashion. You can buy a super nice outfit for very cheap, and look super stylish. It would be a perfect gift.

I thought you would love this, as I thought this would be a great look on She Walks. As you love to promote savings.

If you do choose to post this, can you please send me the links.

Thanks in advance,

Best

[paragraph with links and photos of Elisabeth and her clothing line]
* * * * * *

Where to start? What is there even to say?

My name is not Kristin.

I do not blog about sales or value or style or frugality.

I LOATHED Elisabeth Hasselbeck before she tried to get me to buy shit; this has only upped my loathe quotient, and I didn't think that was possible.

But! Even with all that, the thing I find MOST offensive about this pitch is the grammar. The writing is maybe the worst I have ever read from someone who (presumably) speaks English.

Maybe for fun I will spend all of Friday using "super" as my only adjective, and starting every other sentence with the word "As."

***************
UPDATE!

Today, I received this email from a different PR person!


Hi Kristy!

Please let me start by introducing myself, my name is [nevermind] and I work at [sigh] Media.. we handle a lot of music, fashion, beauty, & film accounts nationally. I'm a project manager here and have a few opportunities I wanted to talk about with you. One of our clients is QVC - and they are offering some awesome discounts and gift giveaways for the holidays. I'm wondering if you could post this copy below for Elisabeth Hasselbeck's holiday clothes that are priced affordably for women everywhere. I know you've wrote some blog entries on Elisabeth - so I'm thinking it's the perfect fit. Her program launches today! Going forward, I'll keep you updated on other products - as we usually have quite a few things we can offer up as giveaways.

Thanks!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dear The Hallmark Channel

I couldn't help but notice you have a "Countdown to Thanksgiving!" going on right now. Except I've also noticed that you have a "Countdown to Christmas!" going on as well.

WHICH IS IT?










Yes, that's all for today. But in my defense, we're going out tonight and that gift guide took a lot out of me!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2009 Gift Guide For Guys

This was written for (and is cross-posted at) BlogHer.
I have some general gift-guide additions I'd like to make that aren't guy-specific, but I'll post those separately.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Let's face it: shopping for men is stupid.

We want to get them something they'll love, something other than grilling tongs or cologne, and so every year we ask hopefully, "What would you like for Christmas?" And every year we hear the same, mumbled, "I dunno."

Seriously. How is that even possible? I don't know what it is about the Y chromosome that makes men gift-dumb, but each year I feel like shopping for the guys in my life -- especially the in-law males, good grief -- makes me want to get everyone a Best Buy gift card and be done with it. (And by "Best Buy gift card" I mean "bottle of bourbon." FA LA LA LA LA.)

That said, I have been doing this a long time. And for every failed gift (I thought he'd LIKE Celtic Christmas carols), I've had some real successes, too. (Aside from the bourbon.) So I'm passing the fruits of my exhaustive hunts on to you. Thus...

Here are my Top Ten Official Suggestions for Gifts for Guys this holiday season! They are many and varied, in no particular order OR price range, but will hopefully prove useful for at least one hard-to-shop-for guy.

1. If you're going to go the "traditional" gift-giving route, do it with style.

Just because wallets and cufflinks are standard-issue male gift ideas doesn't mean they're bad ideas, especially if the items themselves don't suck. (Just sayin'.)

Tumi Wallet

I happen to love Tumi bags and accessories, and their wallets are just as nice. I got one for my husband last year and he said it was one of his favorite gifts. I ordered it from Nordstrom.com and was very pleased with the quality of the Tumi packaging. It was evident the gift was high-quality.

This is the Tumi Wallet, $88 L-fold ID version, but there are cheaper and more expensive versions as well.

Personalized Cufflinks

In the same vein, I love these cufflinks. Yes, I know, cufflinks, yawn. Plus who even wears French-cuffed shirts anymore? But still. Cufflinks are arguably something every man should own, and possibly something older generation males on your list might actually like, want, or need. These are monogrammable AND let you pop in mini photos. I think of it as a man-locket.

I should also note these are from Red Envelope, which always has beautiful gifts and gift packaging. $119 for silver, $99 for gold.


2. I have never gone wrong with gifting assortments of salsas and hot sauces.

Hot Sauce Gift Pack

Why do guys like condiments as gifts? I have absolutely no idea. But they always seem to love these!

Great as stocking stuffers individually, you can go crazy and buy "fancy" gift assortments as full-on gifts.

There are always interesting finds at Williams-Sonoma (and even more cool-but-expensive versions at Dean & Deluca), but I like trying things that are harder to come by.

Consider a site like "Hot Sauce World." For one, it's called Hot Sauce World. For another, I've ordered from them several years in a row, and have never been disappointed.

The gift pack shown here is $31.98 (and easy to wrap, unlike individual bottles). They also have interesting BBQ sauces and coffees, such as those flavored with Maker's Mark. (Yes, bourbon again.)


3. Man books.

Of course, it's entirely possible that your guys are like mine and prefer lengthy, detailed non-fiction books about something that happened a hundred years ago in a part of the world you didn't know existed featuring "historic" figures no one's ever heard of.

What's Your Poo Telling You?

But if that's true, then your guy probably also likes anything having to do with poo. Because if there's one thing my husband thinks is ENDLESSLY ENTERTAINING, it's poo.

I cannot roll my eyes hard enough.

Anyway, have you seen this poo book?

I like to think of it as a way to keep the poo-happy men in your life amused AND healthy. And now Chronicle Books has come out with a sequel, "What's My Pee Telling Me?" and I am not even kidding. Visit their site for the entire collection of books, calendars and well, other gifts.

Moving on...

There's nothing that says that gift books need to be specifically FOR the men you're giving them to. For example, every dad who has children could benefit from a copy of The Daring Book for Girls or The Dangerous Book for Boys. (About $18 through Amazon.)

Or you could snag my favorite Guide To Guys of all time for your guy, even though you'd actually be buying it for you. Try Dave Barry's Complete Guide To Guys. It's a classic.

And I suppose we must include a golf book, yeah?

Lost Balls

I'm kind of fundamentally opposed to getting guys ties and golf paraphernalia of any sort as gifts, but this book amuses me. At $29.95 it's good coffee table fodder.

I also really like the store/catalog it comes from, www.signals.com. Cool stuff there!



4. That thing that will mostly just take up space in your kitchen but that you buy anyway because the 6 times a year you use it you will feel like Martha Stewart.

I don't need to tell you about how awesome grilled cheese and tomato soup can be - everyone knows it's the ultimate comfort food. Soup & Sandwich PlatterBut really, what soup-sandwich combo isn't great? Enter this handy-dandy soup and sandwich platter from Uncommon Goods. Pretty, useful, and doesn't take up the kind of space that those other kitchen items you never use will. Plus, it can double as a chip-and-dip type serving platter. $30 for a set of two.



5. Because any Guy-themed gift list is going to include beer-related products.

The Beer BellyThis is a ridiculous item and I'm sure it's mostly a joke, but I had 4 different guys email me about it when it made the news last year, so it's got to be worth mentioning.

It's called the beer belly (www.thebeerbelly.com), and its express purpose is for smuggling beer into sporting events. I feel like you can't even say the product name without prefacing it by yelling, "DUDE!"

(I wish there were better product photos, but I don't know what I should be expecting. Still, this image...am I allowed to say "Gay Porn" in a gift-giving guide?)

Anyway. You wear this God-awful thing under your shirt, and then you discreetly suck from the beer straw. Ta-da!

Yes, they sell a version for women called The Wine Rack. Ahem.

The Beer Belly costs $49.95 which is a little much for a gag gift. But who knows? Maybe some DUDE! out there reaaaaaaally wants this.

Beer Belt

Classing it up just a tad...

Here's another Red Envelope special. The beer belt still has a DUDE! feeling, but somehow more civilized and less porn-y.

It's $34.95.

Last but not least of our beer-themed gifts we have the Ring Bottle Opener from Urban Outfitters. It's $8 and exactly what it sounds like. A sort of macho/metro man-ring that doubles as a bottle opener.

Ring Opener Ring Bottle Opener Ring Bottle Opener


6. And wine, too.

The folks at Crushpad run a nifty operation, where you can have your own blend of wine made for you. If you live near Crushpad (in SF or NY), you can actually go visit the operation, but this "Fuse Box" is their do-it-at-home version.

Basically, Fuse Box Wine Blending Kityou take the kit and futz around with various blends until you have the wine blended to your exact preferences. Then you send away for an actual case (or more) of the wine you created, complete with custom labels.

You can learn more about it here.

The kit itself is $79.99. If you go through the steps, find a wine blend you like and order your wine, the finished product will cost $336 per case. Not cheap, but not bad ($28/bottle) if you go in on a case with friends. And you can always invite those friends over to help you create your personalized blend in the first place.


7. And something to put the drinks in...

Tiffany TumblerWho doesn't love that telltale blue box? Believe it or not, there are some reasonably priced, gorgeous items available at Tiffany & Co. Among my favorite (uh, and only) things to purchase at Tiffany are glasses.

Side note: glasses (highballs, wine, whatever) from Tiffany make excellent off-the-registry wedding gifts.

These tumblers are attractive, well made, great for anything (not just booze) and come with the cache of being from Tiffany. A set of two is $30.


8. For the man who's handy in the kitchen.

You will think I'm totally lying but I'm not: this was my husband's second favorite gift last year:

Pot Scraper

Yep. A $15 pan scraper from The Metropolitan Museum of Art store. (Leave it to me to see a MoMA catalog and pick out a pan scraper.) But seriously. My husband does the dishes most of the time, and loves this sturdy, all-around useful tool. It's really pretty amazing.

Chopping Boards

I also really like this set of chopping boards because one chopping board is never enough. Plus it looks all clean and organized.

Of course, this handy, easy-to-clean set is a bit on the expensive side, coming in at $85.

I still think it's worth it if it means separating HIS space in the kitchen from YOURS. (Or is that just my issue? Hmmm.)

KnifeBlocks

Lastly, we know that boys like knives. They just do.

Personally, I think that's awesome (I love cooking with good knives), BUT. I hate the look of standard, clunky wooden knife blocks.

These alternatives to a standard knife blocks are attractive, simple, and a great idea. (You just stick the knives in among the bamboo reeds.) My sister-in-law requested one for Christmas two years ago and I have loved them since. So for no particular reason, I'm assuming this means men will love them, too.

They range in price from $49 (small) to $89 (large) from VivaTerra.

Onion Goggles

Lastly? Let it be known that these things rock. Men, women, it doesn't matter. Get a pair of onion goggles! They will save your onion-cutting life.

Sure, anyone wearing them looks ridiculous -- note that the catalog image does not include someone IN the goggles -- but hey, it's better than looking like dinner has made you weep uncontrollably. $22 at Sur La Table.




9. For the Metro you know and love (or for the man you just want to spruce up). Especially those who shave their heads.

Shima Scarf

If you have a Metro guy in your life, you know how impossible they are to shop for. Things must be just so. At least, in my experience.

That's why I LOVE this scarf, also from the MoMA store. It's chic, urban, artistic and high quality. Frankly, I think men who can pull off wearing this (which is basically any guy WILLING to) is sexy.

What? Aren't men in scarves sexy? Am I getting sidetracked?



Remember how I mentioned men like knives? I think razors count, too.

Art of ShavingIf you've never heard of it, let me introduce you to The Art of Shaving line. It's all old-school shaving tools, like when men used to go to the barber to get a shave with their haircuts. Except they also offer updated grooming products and beautiful gift sets. Check them out.

The good? The items are incredibly high-quality and really attractive, frankly. They're the kinds of products you don't mind sharing bathroom space with.

They are excellent for men who shave their heads.

The bad? The products are all super expensive. Arguably worth the cost, because they're items men will use almost every day for years. Then again, for what a basic set costs, you could get an iPhone. The "Manual Shaving Set" pictured above runs $275.

Speaking of shaved heads...

HeadBladeIf you are shopping for a man who has to shave his head regularly, you can always try one of the HeadBlade products.

HeadBlade is a razor developed specifically for guys who have to run a razor over their skulls, which requires a very different motion than shaving one's face. Apparently. I don't know, it seems really cool and there are lots of accoutrements you can get to go with it. And unlike the shaving systems above, the basic HeadBlade costs $13.


BY THE WAY. The best after-shave, bump-reducing tonic on the market is called Tend Skin. One bottle runs $20 but is TOTALLY WORTH IT. Why? Because not only is it the best product for reducing redness and bumps on men's faces and necks, but it's the best stuff for addressing redness and bumps post-lady-waxing. So you can give it to the man in your life ("It's the best stuff out there!") and then steal some. Win-win!


The Man CanAnd if you're just looking for a nice gift set for a non-metro guy, something not too girly or expensive or weird, how about The Man Can by Orvis?

This $50 gift set includes all the things you'd want from a spa kit, but dressed up in manly colors, names, and scents.

Nice, huh?

Plus the non-metro recipient of this gift will perhaps rest assured when you tell him it's from a website that has a man in a canoe with a dog on its homepage.


10. Into every life, a little geek must fall.

If you haven't seen it, haven't heard of it, haven't visited Think Geek, you can thank me now. Honestly, if I were a little less creative and just a little more lazy, my entire gift guide would be "Go to ThinkGeek.com. You're welcome." If the men in your life skew even slightly geeky, this is the only place you'll need to shop for them, ever. (You might pick up something tricked-out-geek for yourself.)

I couldn't possibly showcase all my favorite products because there are too many. Flasks that say "Meh." T-shirts with Shakespeare in code. Products displaying "WTF." LOLCats fridge magnets. Toys for cubicle wars. Light sabers.

Oh, it's a goldmine.

Stealth CopterBut if I had to pick just one...I'd probably select the ever-popular, ever-fun, ever-awesome-to-open-Christmas-morning remote-controlled helicopter.

Think Geek claims that this little gem is the "easiest to fly, most precise controlling R/C copter yet!" Okay! As of the time of writing this, it's also 23% off -- just $22.99! Not bad for such a fun gadget.

Bonus: Cats love these things. I speak from personal experience.


But of course, we all know that techie, code-loving guys aren't the only kind of man-geeks out there. There's also the reader-y, writer-y geek, too.

I don't know why it is that men I know love -- LOVE -- writing on graph paper (????) but they do. So rather than question them and/or fight it, I just go with it.

And everyone loves Moleskine notebooks, yes? Moleskine NotebookBig, small, graph paper, normal paper, you name it. These high-quality notebooks are beloved in our household, and I think it's safe to say that if you know a guy who likes writing, taking notes, keeping track of...oh...anything...these should be a hit. Hardcover, softcover, sketch, graph, lined, large, small, you name it.

All available at Chronicle Books. Small graph notebook pictured above, $12.


Now, this next gift suggestion is extra special, because it works for geeky guys who read, but ALSO for geeky (and NON-geeky) guys who are "handy" AND/OR guys who might not have anything to do with geeky but who HIKE and are all outdoorsy and stuff!

It's like the omni-guy gift!

Headlamp

It's called the Headlamp. And, well, here's the thing...

A couple weeks ago, I wanted to go to bed and crash at around 8 p.m. My husband wanted to stay up reading The New Yorker. (Different kind of geek altogether.) I felt bad and said he could keep the light on, but he said "No, I have a thing, let's see if I can find it."

Next thing you know, my husband is lying next to me in bed in his boxers, looking like he's about to go on a spelunking mission.

"What is THAT?" I ask him, having never seen this device in the years we've been together.

"Oh, it's a Headlamp thing. I can use it to read at night while you're sleeping. But originally I got it for when I used to go running before the sun came up."

HeadlampOnMyHusbandI was awestruck. I took a picture. (It looks like I took it using nightvision goggles or something. Also, how thrilled is he to be featured mostly naked in my blog reading The New Yorker? OH SO VERY.)

I didn't understand why anyone would own one of these things, it looks so ridiculous. (And let's not get me started on how ridiculous "running before the sun comes up" is.)

But then an amazing thing happened! When I asked people on my blog to come up with suggestions for the ultimate guy gift, I received precisely ONE reply. And it was for the Headlamp. The commenter said that her husband uses it for EVERYTHING, particularly for fixing things around the house. Which is when I realized that the Headlamp is maybe the best geeky/non-geeky guy gift that ever was.

Now you know. Petzl Headlamp, available at REI for $39.95.


Ooh! Extra #11! Because sometimes, you just want to give a guy something romantic or meaningful (that isn't so schmaltzy he won't admit to owning it).

Night SkyThat's where this comes in.

It's a personalized "Night Sky" poster.

I know it sounds cheesy, but it's kind of cool and I liked it and thought it was worth mentioning.

See, you can pick your date and location, and they will provide a personalized photo of what the night sky looked like then and there.

You could pick a birthday, anniversary, any special occasion, really.

So that's my guy's gifting round-up! May it serve as at least a somewhat useful starting point for your own impossible-man-shopping this season.

Good luck, and happy holidays!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Briards


Some people will see this photo and feel fear.
I see this photo and feel nothing but the same,
unadulterated glee that this awesome dog is experiencing.


More Cronie photos below.


I don't write about pets because if I started to tell you the story of how I've loved the dogs in my life -- Cronie the Briard, Folly the Golden Retriever, Boggle the Briard, Kismet the Lhasa Apso, Tyson her mixed-up cross-breed son, Basker the Australian Shepherd, and Scarlett the cute mutt rescue -- I would begin weeping and just never ever stop.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I LOVE LOVE LOVE dogs. Dogs bring me endless joy and make me happy with every fiber of my being. Nothing tickles me quite the way dogs do. I love puppy breath.

This also means that I absolutely cannot handle the suggestion of animal cruelty, or of dogs being sad, or of anything bad happening to them. I have the emotional maturity of a three-year-old when it comes to dogs and that's all there is to it.

So this post will NOT be about dogs I've loved or how pets are special or anything sentimental because seriously, I'd be a pool of dog-loving goo. Instead, I simply want to take this opportunity to say that Yep! Indeed, Crony (actually, my parents spelled it "Cronie," I'm sure for some reason, maybe because it was a name?) was a Briard, and he was great and you should get one.

A Briard is a French Sheepdog. If you're unfamiliar -- and most people are -- basically picture giant English Sheepdogs (sort of like Barkley on Sesame Street) except brown and black, with ears that are "trained" to stick up.

Contrary to popular belief, dogs with long hair shed less than dogs with short hair, and are therefore far kinder to folks who might be allergic. And sheepdogs, while they have a propensity toward heel-nipping, are great family dogs.

Apparently, Cronie didn't have a very kind temperment, but he was perfectly angelic with his family. When I was born, my parents were still living in New York City; no matter where my mom took me, Cronie was my protector and guardian. (A bit like Nana in Peter Pan except circa 1970s Manhattan.) He was gentle and patient and loving toward me and my sisters, always.

Cronie was, as you may have noticed, a giant dog. You'd throw a stick for him to retrieve, and he'd come galloping back toward you with a giant branch. Cronie also loved tires. He'd find -- and bring you -- discarded tires whenever he happened to see them. My dad would put on firewood gloves and wrestle with him in the backyard for fun.

He was a great dog, and made me fall in love with Briards, and I hope I get to have one again someday.


My mom with Cronie as a puppy.


A slightly older Cronopio, happily teething on my mom's hand.


Cronie the teenager.



Peek-a-boo! Where are you?


There you are! Ha!
Ever the patient dog.
This explains why, to this day, I'm convinced that all dogs
just want to be my friend.



Cronie, full-grown.
(House, full-70s.)



In our NYC apartment. Gotta dig the hair, all around.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Are You Kidding Me WIth This?

I get it now.

I had a pretty easy pregnancy. My body, for whatever reasons, adapted to it quite well. I eased into it and never got that sudden kind of "what on EARTH is happening to my body???" feeling that so many women do, especially when they're spending the first three months puking their brains out.

Ah, but.

Here I am after. And now I'm feeling the effects. Now I'm going through some slow, torturous hormonal adjustment period that I'm not entirely sure will ever end.

I was THRILLED when, 10 weeks after giving birth, I was feeling (reasonably) rested and energized and could not WAIT to get into the gym. ME! Excited about the gym! And I started eating better and even lost my taste for bad foods (the kinds that were absolutely required in my third trimester).

Apparently that was a phase, too. One I'm trying to reclaim, yes, but still.

I can't even begin to describe the hormonal imbalances I'm feeling now. Way worse than wondering why I'm crying at the sad mop in the commercial. No. I FEEL my moods shift. One day I am happy to eat a balanced meal, the next day I am so ravenously hungry that I become a bottomless pit and want to eat for days and days. My hair has started that awesome stage of postpartum fall-out (sexy!). One week my skin will look as blemished as it's looked since I was a teenager, the next week it's as clean and smooth and fresh-looking as it's ever looked ever in my life. I am gung-ho about the gym one day, and the next it's all I can do to get dressed. I'm not depressed (there is no sadness, no dread)...it's just...my moods, energy levels, appetite, concentration are alllllll over the map.

Four months after giving birth. WAHOO.

I know I need to just rein it in. I need to take control, keep my diet balanced now more than ever (yay, protein!) and force myself to go to the gym.

The problem is that those swim classes I relished at first now seem like giant hurdles. I like the classes (obviously, I need my regular dose of Doris), but what was at first the best way for me to get out of the house -- having a scheduled class that required planning to get to, and allowed me a full 1.15 hrs away from the baby -- now just takes too much energy. Even if I drive instead of choosing to walk and push the stroller, the whole expedition is going to take at least two full hours. Which isn't the end of the world, but two hours is a lot when everything else takes ten times as long to do.

So, I'm working on figuring something else out, and trying not to eat my weight in sugar in the meantime.

At least I got Ish to bring the last of the Halloween candy into work with him.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

A Good Day

Today was absolutely gorgeous here in wine country. It was chilly and sunny and very fall-like. No, Napa doesn't have foliage the way New England does, but the vineyards do indeed change colors. Which is pretty spectacular, if not particularly Pilgrim-like.

Ish and I took a leisurely drive with Eve to Sebastopol to pick up some wine that Ish had ordered several months ago from a small, fantastic winery called Radio-Coteau. They weren't having a harvest party or anything, we just basically drove up to a warehouse and tasted some wines in a room that felt like a garage. It was totally unglamorous but that's how things are around here mostly. You don't generally wear your finery to visit a vineyard, you wear a fleece jacket and shoes you don't mind muddying.

On our way home, we decided to stop at a couple wineries near our home that we'd never been to before, just because we could. In fact, since moving here 8 months ago, we'd never spent a Saturday wine tasting and I'd say it was well overdue.

Cuvaison has a new tasting room and it's all open-air and windowed and Earth-friendly and provides quite a lovely glimpse of Napa.



Eve was mostly oblivious, sure, but she seemed to have a fine afternoon regardless. She's gotten very good at blowing spit-bubbles and sticking her tongue out and drooling like a fiend, and just today she's been testing out new sounds she can make which I can't really replicated in type but that sound hilarious. And totally inappropriate at a winery, but what can you do?

I have a feeling the weekends are going to be crazy from now through the end of the holidays, so I'm glad the three of us got to spend a quiet day driving around and enjoying our view.

OOH! AND!? I finally figured out that my phone's camera quality isn't COMPLETE crap, it's that when I use blogger to upload them, BLOGGER messes with the image quality. So I'm back to using Photobucket to host my images, and now they don't suck quite as much!









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Friday, November 06, 2009

The Sammis Family, Circa 1978

I spent all day today writing my holiday gift guide for guys (for BlogHer) which I can't even link to yet because it's not live. It took me forever and at the end of the day, I'm not sure there's anything there that will help anyone.

I bring this up because after a full day of writing, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to blog here. And normally I wouldn't -- I'd wait until I was coherent in the morning. But that's not how this "blog every day" thing works.

So I did what I said I'd do last night. I went perusing my iPhoto files and chose this photo to post and say a few words about:



This is, perhaps quite obviously, a photo of me and my sister, my dad, and our dog, Cronopio (Crony for short).

We're sitting on the front step of our humble abode in non-humble Darien, Connecticut.

I love this picture because it's silly and happy and funny. We were a mess, even back then. A big, happy, hairy mess.

I love that my dad has preppy patchwork pants and a hairstyle to match the dog's. I love that he has absolutely no idea how to hold the baby and doesn't even know it. I love that my smile is so complete and real that my eyes are slits and my cheeks expand to chipmunk status. I love that my t-shirt says "happiness."

We all got older, and I don't think that's what made us sadder.

I think a lot of bad things happened that made us all sadder.

What am I trying to say?

I think I've spent much of my life trying to reclaim moments like these, moments that feel as good as when we were together and messy and hairy and happy. It's not impossible. It's there, at my core. Optimism. Fearlessness.

I was so lucky to have such a good start on and at life. But then a lot of really bad things happened to my family, and everyone's smiles became strained for a long, long time. It wasn't just because we lost the innocence of youth.

This photo was from the "before."

And that is my single greatest fear in raising Eve. I don't want her life to have a "before" and "after." I want her whole life to be lived from one chipmunk-cheeked moment to the next. Of course, there can be bumps and heartache and sadness and bad things. Of course she will experience the un-good parts of life.

But I hope I have the strength and ability to shield against her having a life of "after."

I was lucky that my family's good times were so good that they will always outweigh the bad, even in hindsight, even decades later. It was enough for my always. But I don't want Eve to have to think back to that time that her family was happy together. I want that kind of intrinsic happy and belief in good to be her now, always.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Well, That Solved *That* Problem

Every single word of this is true.

I was lying (laying? God, I will never know) in bed, contemplating the aspects of this season's Project Runway that make it so much less interesting than any previous season, when it occurred to me that I hadn't blogged yet today.

Crap! What am I going to blog about at this late hour? I wondered as I stared at HGTV's Property Virgins and their out-of-control Canadian accents.

I decided I'd just search my iPhoto library (migrated successfully earlier today, thankyouverymuch) and pick out some crazy photo and tell you about its circumstances.

Ish was not in bed yet, he was in the bathroom, so I got up to tell him I had to go blog.

I started to say, "I forgot I have to--" when I rounded the corner to see this:


and I was immediately relieved.

(Well, surprised, too. I mean, I've never seen my husband standing on my bathroom counter before. And even though it was for a good reason -- replacing a lightbulb all on his own, no prompting from me -- I just didn't expect to stumble upon this scene.)

But I was relieved because I knew immediately what photo I was going to blog about. Ha!

Ish sort of asked me what I was saying as I left and reentered the bathroom, this time with my phone/camera. "Oh, I just forgot that I have to go blog. I'll be back up in a few minutes," I said. I snapped a picture of him and came down to blog this.

I'm 99% sure he has no idea that I took the picture or that it's going live tonight. But what am I supposed to do? It's now 11:43 and I can't very well just start over with a totally new blog post.

No, this is it.

Perhaps one of the most meaningless posts in my history of posts, starring a picture of my husband changing a lightbulb until such time as he discovers this is here and gets mad at me and asks me to take it down.

So I guess if you ask: How many cute, bald, MBAs-who-moonlight-as-stand-up-comedians does it take to screw in a lightbulb while standing on a bathroom counter? The answer is: One. But his insane wife will have to blog about it if it happens after 11 p.m. on a night during NaBloPoMo.







Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I'll "Known Issue" YOU

My new MacBook arrived today and I was pee-my-pants excited to open it and get it going. My ex El_Gallo is (among other things) a SysAdmin and a Mac/Linux guy, and he told me that migrating from my old machine to my new one would be a snap. For this reason, I decided I would have no problem setting up my new Mac with a teething 4-month old.

Have I never met me?

It's now 8 p.m. and I feel like I've been through war and am about to fall over exhausted. Here is what happened, probably unedited. (STUPID NABLOPOMO.)

Open box. SO PRETTY. Set up computers side-by-side in dining room on large table. Move swing into dining room beside me. Move cat off chair. Bring baby into dining room. Turn new machine on. Be dazzled by welcome screen movie. (Seriously.) Click "yes" to migrating from an old Mac to new one. Select "via wireless network." Follow instructions on new machine. Follow instructions on old machine. Take crying baby out of swing and bounce her on knee. Wait while both machines whir.

Get first error message. Try again. Get same error message. Put baby back in swing. Make bottle. Feed baby in swing with one hand while hitting "Go Back" with other hand. Wireless connection not working. "Network Connection Failed" message repeating itself. Do I have a firewire cable?

Spend the next 30 minutes running through house looking for firewire cable while entertaining a drooling, increasingly fussy baby.

Get back to computers and realize new computer does not have a firewire port. Duh. It's asking for an Ethernet cable connection. Do I have an Ethernet cable?

Burp baby. Provide entertainment for baby. Move bouncer into dining room and set baby in that. Run to "box of cables" and find Ethernet cable. Connect computers. Prepare to be dazzled.

Get same error message.

Call El_Gallo and explain. "Yes....No...No...Uh-huh." Find out I need to call Apple Care. Baby back in lap. Call Apple Care while balancing baby, phone, and two computers in need of something I seem unable to provide. WTF? As I walk through the steps with Mr. Apple Care, baby gets pissed and starts screaming. Have to call Apple Care back.

Take baby upstairs. Calm her, feed her, soothe her, swaddle her, put her down in her crib.

Return to hateful scene at dining room table. Call new Apple Care person. Do all possible easy fixes. Nothing's working. Apparently this is a "known issue." Am not humored by the fact that "known issue" does not come with "known solution."

Finish "System Update" on both computers while Apple Care person gets me off the phone saying she's emailed me the other possible solutions and good luck.

Just as System Update completes, baby wakes up.

Back to bouncing. Did System Update fix the problem? No. DAMN IT. Open email from Apple Care saying the next best thing to a simple migration will be copying my hard drive to a USB external hard drive. SIGH. Happen to have one, but it's upstairs.

Run and get hard drive while singing to drooly baby. Back at dining room table, make sure external drive has enough space for my old computer's hard drive. OF COURSE IT DOESN'T. It's too full by 4 GB. (Out of 100.) Call Ish OUT OF A MEETING. "Hi, um, I know you're busy today, but just tell me: Which of these comedy videos can I delete?"

Wrestle with the "MOVE TO TRASH" function because somehow moving movies to trash isn't freeing up disk space. Figure it out eventually.

Change baby's diaper. Change baby's onesie.

Read further instructions. Discover that in order to copy my old hard drive to the external drive, I need to boot the old computer up from the install disk. HAHAHAHAHA! I moved 7 months ago and had a baby. Do I know where my three-and-a-half year old install disk is?

Grab baby and begin scavenger hunt. Eventually find install disks (YEAH, BITCHES), do a dance of happiness, realize I need to change MY clothes from the last spit-up incident.

Spend 45 minutes doing anything I can think of to soothe teething infant, finally realize baby Tylenol is in order. Everyone calms down a little.

Get back to the dining room, call El_Gallo. "What does it MEAN, launch from install disk? Hold down 'C' when the computer restarts? How am I supposed to KNOW that? That was not in Ms. Apple Care's god damned email!"

Poke around after launching via "hold the 'C' down" method and finally start copying HD onto external drive. WE ARE ALMOST THERE! Oh, except looks like copying entire computer over will take longer than a few minutes.

Tend to drooling, gum-biting, baby. More feeding, changing, holding, rocking, cuddling, and winding down upstairs. Eventually put her to sleep, warm and swaddled.

Return to dining room, awaiting Ish's arrival home. It is 7.5 hours after I began "simple" migration. Old HD has been copied to external HD. I am ready to migrate, again.

And then I realize that the external hard drive is connected via firewire. The external hard drive doesn't have a USB port. In my fury to make a workaround happen, I didn't even NOTICE the firewire-only thing.

I sit, staring at the cable that absolutely will not connect to my new computer.

Ish arrives home.

"Is she asleep?" he asks tenderly.

"This is a FIREWIRE cable," I reply.

"It...yes...it is...?"

"I can't connect this to my new computer!"

"Why not?" he asks.

"Because there is no firewire port. They don't use them anymore I guess. I don't know, the Apple Care woman was as surprised as you were."

"So...martini?"

"Yes, please."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

M2

From a fantastic collection of photos of Eve and our house
which you can see here (no login required).


Last week we had an influx of grandparents.

Ish's parents have some business doings in Sonoma and Tahoe, so they have been coming to visit us Eve about once a month. Which is really great and I totally eat it up. I mean, it should go without saying that I miss my parents as much as (if not more than) ever, now that I have a child. I fall apart when I think about how Eve will never get to meet my mom or dad -- it just...ugh, it just weighs on my heart all the time. So yeah, I love having grandparents around not just for Eve's sake, but for mine. No one can take the place of my parents, of course, but simply being around grandmas is reassuring in a very basic, subconscious, soul-affirming way.

Not only were Ish's parents around last week, though, but my BFF's MOM came! All the way from New York! With her husband, Steven! (Who took the lovely candid photo above!)

This was exceedingly meaningful.

I promise to tell you the story of how I met said BFF, Emily, on the rooftop of a Manhattan building when I was 9 months old. And how I've known Emily and her mom, my "second mother" or "M2" ever since. For now, I will just say that having my M2 here was the closest thing I'll ever experience to having my own mom visit. It was special.

M2 essentially walked in the door, scooped up my daughter and neither one of them ever looked back. (As it should be.) Eve loved her, showed her delight and comfort in being with her G2 as much as a near-4-month-old can. Eve's just starting to get the notion of outstretching her arms to be picked up (she does outstretch her arms, but without any control, in a broad and flailing way) and this originated with M2/G2. I could hardly believe my eyes when, just two days after meeting her for the first time, Eve squirmed with delight in G2's presence, smiled her gummy, coy smile and then stiffened her arms.

"I...I think she wants you to pick her up...?"

And based on Eve's reaction when returned to G2's arms, I'd say yes, that's exactly what she wanted.


My M2 has always been like a Pied Piper to me -- happy, fun, comforting, smiling. She's that rare kind of person who makes those around her feel special; anyone would be lucky to be the recipient of her warmth.

I love that my daughter already knows she's one of the lucky ones.