Friday, July 30, 2010

Skip's Tips: 10 Things I've Learned From My Dog

This Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the day we brought our sweet little beagle Skipper home from the shelter.  She has since become my constant companion, my best (non-human) friend, my confidante (she's excellent at keeping secrets), and my shadow. And while I'd like to say that I've taught her a lot in these twelve months (e.g. roll over), upon reflection, it seems she has taught me even more. Here is just a sampling of good ideas I have picked up from watching my little dog interact in the world.

1. Naps Are Awesome.  Skip spends about 18 hours of every day snoozing. Whether it's on her favorite wingback chair, in a small patch of sun on the kitchen floor, or on JM's lap the minute he sits down, she takes the most wonderful looking naps all over the apartment (so good, in fact, that her tail frequently wags in her sleep). But the second the buzzer rings, JM walks in the door, or I open the closet where I keep her leash, she pops up, full of energy and raring to go. I now approach naps with the same philosophy- find a comfy spot anywhere (no darkness or bedding necessary), close your eyes for a few minutes and just enjoy the relaxing feeling. Whether you fall asleep or not, it does wonders for recharging your batteries.

2. Anywhere Is A Good Place To Make New Friends. It is difficult to walk Skipper around the block quickly, because she approaches everyone we encounter (canine or human) with an irresistible smile and wagging tail. Before we got her, we hadn't met a single one of our neighbors, but after this year, we know everyone (and every chihuahua, basset hound, and dachshund) on the block. And she is completely non-discerning- she loves little kids, surly teens, homeless people, and cops all equally. She even loves the vet and the mailman. Through her, I have made great new friendships with everyone from the five-year-old downstairs to the dry cleaning delivery guy to every doorman this side of Central Park.

3. Greet Like You Mean It. Whether you have been out all day, or just went around the corner to get a coffee, Skipper will greet you upon your return as if you were made out of beef jerky. It is hard to feel down on yourself, even on the worst day, when there is someone waiting for you at home for whom you are the whole world. I try to remember to express that same joy and love when JM walks in the door after work (although it's awfully hard to top the dog).

4. Food Is A Wonderful Thing. I have always been a great appreciator of food, but no one loves food more than my pup (probably because she was so underfed in her early life). Every day at mealtime I am reminded of the Far Side cartoon which shows two dogs being fed, and one is saying to the other, "Oh boy! Dog food again!"- that's Skip.  I try to remember to savor my food as much as she does, and to be grateful for all that we have, when there are so many who do with so much less.

5. Be Curious. Skipper is endlessly fascinated by everything that goes on around her- whether it's an ant trail on the sidewalk, a newspaper blowing in the wind, or the sound of drunk kids down on the street making their way home. Watching her frequently makes me notice wonderful things that would have otherwise passed me by. And if curiosity killed the cat... well, that's just fine with Skipper.

6. Persistence And Patience Pay Off. When we first got Skip, we were determined to keep her off the furniture. She would hop up and we would gently push her off, over and over again. After about two weeks, we realized we sort of liked having her up with us, and she won. While I'm not so proud of my dog-training skills, she has reminded me to try to apply that same kind of moxie and never-give-up attitude to my own endeavors.

7. Forgive. Over the course of this year, part of the problem with the "shadow" thing is that I have accidentally stepped on, kicked, and sent Skipper flying with a hastily opened door. I have cut her nails too short, dressed her in mortifying outfits, attempted to brush her teeth, and dragged her from her hiding places to force her into the most dreaded and terrifying warm baths. And every time, without a moment's hesitation, she has forgiven me and showered me with love.  It is not hard to admire this as a virtue (even if you think she only does so because she knows I'm the keeper of the #4).

8. A Good Personality Goes A Long Way. Conversely, Skipper leaves an endless trail of dog hair all over our apartment which daily sweeping and lint-rolling does little to combat. She eats JM's snacks off the coffee table, leaves disgustingly chewed-up toys all over the apartment, gets into anything you leave unguarded below waist-level, and occasionally forgets her housetraining. All of this would be unbearable in a dog of lessor virtue, but one look at her waggily tail and, um, puppy-dog eyes, and she wins us over again. When in doubt, it seems a kind heart, good intentions, and a goofy smile can cover a multitude of sins.

9. Make Your Own Fun. In the few hours a day that Skipper is not sleeping, she can be found engaging in some seriously ridiculous behavior. Whether it's wrestling and pouncing on a rubber band, sniffing around the kitchen for errant crumbs, running laps around our ottoman, or trying to climb into the pile of warm, clean laundry as I fold it, she is a gal who knows how to have a good time.  We'd all do well to have such  joie de vivre.

10. There Is Dignity In Resilience. When we got her, Skipper was underweight, scabby, suffering from parasites and infections, and had recently given birth to a litter of puppies (when she herself was still just a puppy). Despite all that, she is a warm, loving, goofy, funny, exceedingly friendly pup, with surprisingly little baggage.  Would that we could all emerge from our hardships with such grace.

Oh, and...
11. Squirrels And Vacuums Are A Menace And Must Be Destroyed. I'm less convinced about this one, but she makes a pretty strong and compelling case.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pumping Iron

When we were in college, my husband, JM, had the distinction of being the only guy I ever met who had an ironing board set up permanently in his dorm room. Which is probably one of the reasons I married him- I thought, "this is a man who will make my life ship-shape" (little did I know).  However, now that we're in the real world, and JM is Mr. Suit-and-Tie Businessman, he of course has no time for ironing, and he goes through at least one pressed button-down shirt per day. Which leaves me slaving over a hot telephone while I call the dry cleaners to come make a pick up. Seriously- if I ironed his shirts, I would spend my whole life ironing his shirts. However, while the dry cleaners charge a very reasonable $1.50/shirt for men, they categorize my button-down shirts as "blouses" and charge a whopping $6.50 (and they say the gender gap has been bridged!) Luckily, before he put away childish things (and by that I mean his iron), JM did teach me the proper way to iron a shirt- it's not totally instinctual, and there are a few tricks to it.  But if you do things in the right order, the whole process is quicker and easier, and your shirt ends up looking better.  Even if you aren't much of a "blouse"-wearer yourself, this is a skill everyone should have in their back pocket, just in case. Alternatively, if you know a good lawyer, we could get a civil action law suit going and sue the dry cleaners of America for sexual discrimination. But this seems easier.

Step 1: Set up your ironing board so it is about waist-high in a spot where you have plenty of elbow room and the floor is clean (just in case a sleeve drags on the ground). Plug in your iron and set it to the appropriate heat for your shirt's fabric. Spritz the whole shirt with a light mist of fresh, clean water. Lay the shirt over the pointy end of the ironing board. Iron the back of the collar of the shirt, starting at the points and moving toward the center. Flip the shirt over and repeat with the front of the collar.

Step 2: Pull the shirt up so the yoke of the shirt (the flat part on the back between the shoulders) is flat on the ironing board- it may help to put the pointy end of the ironing board into one of the sleeves. Iron until smooth.

Step 3. Lay one of the shirt cuffs flat on the ironing board, first ironing the inside of the cuff, then the outside (reverse this for french-cuffed shirts).

Step 4. Then carefully lay that arm of the shirt flat on the board folding the sleeve at the seam, and, ideally, the crease from the previous ironing. Iron the back of the sleeve first, then the front. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with the other sleeve.

Step 5. Now you can iron the body of the shirt. Starting with one of the front pieces flat on the board, carefully iron it flat from the bottom hem all the way up to the shoulder seam (taking care around the buttons, pockets, buttonholes).

Step 6. Carefully rotate the shirt so that one half of the shirtback is on the ironing board. Press this, taking care around the armpits and any back pleats. Continue to rotate and press the shirt, until you come to the other front panel. Repeat step 5.

Step 7. Gently hang the shirt on a hanger, buttoning only the top button or second from the top to hold it in the hanger (so you don't wrinkle the shirt unnecessarily in the process of buttoning and unbuttoning).
See? So easy even a silly woman can do it.

top image credit:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Smooth Sailing

I've been talking non-stop about the lovely weddings we attended in the past two weekends, and idly promising pictures, but the truth is that I don't really have many to show you. Two of my main personality traits/hobbies (namely, my pushiness with my help whenever someone has a party, and my full-throttle enjoyment of parties while they are going on) conflict with my ability to take pretty pictures of said parties. It seems I'm always either too busy preparing for the event or too busy sampling the libations and doing the room once the party starts to bother with shutterbugging it. So, for actual wedding pictures, you may have to wait until I can get my hands on the real photographers' shots. However, I managed to put down my drink and take a few shots at my brother- and sister-in-law's recent Rehearsal Dinner, which I helped my lovely mother-in-law design and plan. It was in a gorgeous old house overlooking a harbor in Cape Cod, so we (fittingly) chose a nautical theme. Happily, my in-laws indulged (and embraced) my party-planning gusto, while managing to keep me from going... well, overboard. Here's to a lifetime of calm seas and smooth sailing for the happy couple, and to the best kind of ships- friendships- for us all. (Did I just make you cringe? Good.)

Clockwise from top left: The floral arrangements where made by Courtney's Floral Creations in tall metal floral buckets which we decorated with bows of grosgrain ribbon. The soon-to-be-weds arrive at the party. We placed pretty metal lanterns tied with ribbon around the property to light the way when the sun went down. Each escort card was decorated with a different sailboat design. The tables were decorated with striped fabric tablecloths, and each napkin was tied with a square knot. The escort cards were displayed alphabetically in a box filled with sand, seashells and sea glass.

Clockwise from top left: The centerpieces contained daisies, button mums, viburnum, grasses, and rosemary. Each one was topped by a striped flag displaying the table number. The first course was a delicious heirloom tomato salad. The beautiful view from the lawn was decoration in and of itself. Hand-designed sailboat-shaped sugar cookies were an appropriate party favor for guests. Each guest's placecard was decorated with a little cording knot. Me, enjoying the party with, from left to right, my mom, Sharkey, my baby brother-in-law, Christian, and my mother-in-law/party-planning partner-in-crime, Marta.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sew Smart

Last weekend, at my brother- and sister-in-laws' beautiful wedding reception, the dance floor was wildly, awesomely fun and crowded from practically the band's first note (particularly when the mother of the bride took to the stage to play the cowbell). In this merry fracas, however, some reveler (who shall remain unnamed) accidentally snagged an appendage on Ali's (the bride) gorgeous lace wedding gown, tearing a large hole in the cap sleeve, only midway through the evening.  Where, oh where, was the torn and tattered bride to turn? Well, if you have me for a sister-in-law, the answer should be obvious: to me and my bottomless bag of tricks. Did you really think I would agree to be a bridesmaid and not bring my trusty sewing kit? Oh, ye of little faith.
Okay, fine, I have no idea how to sew lace (I'm pretty sure most people in this country stopped learning "tatting" once the TV was invented). And after one (or three) too many celebratory drinks I probably would have poked lovely Ali twenty times with a needle had I given it a shot (speaking of shots...). But, luckily, I had my other secret weapon with me there, as well: My Mom. Quick as a bunny, she patched up Ali's dress good as new, without drawing blood, and sent her back to shake it on the dance floor before she missed another song. Sure, my mom is the real hero in this story, but the point is that her heroics were only made possible with the use of MY sewing kit. Which is why I am taking 50% credit.  Mama didn't raise no fool.
Here's how to make your own perfect on-the-go emergency sewing kit, to help you save the day (okay, and sometimes help you help save the day) wherever you go. Forget those pre-made sewing kits they give away in hotel rooms or sell in drugstores- the boxes are alway flimsy and break, and there is always a ton of stuff you don't need (A measuring tape! Purple thread! Tiny, dull scissors!) and not enough of the stuff you do. But feel free to poach the useful items from those kits. Get a little creative, get the essentials, and you'll be prepared for anything. Mama says.

What you will need:
An Altoids or other sturdy metal candy tin
A sturdy cardboard jewelry giftbox with a lid
A rubber band to hold closed

Put inside:
*Sharp scissors with rounded tips (so they won't get confiscated at the airport).
*1 bobbin each of black, white, and a mid-tone gray thread. One of these will work in almost every situation.
*Assorted sharp needles.
*A needle-threader (especially if you have poor eyesight or shaky hands).
*Assorted safety pins.
*Assorted straight pins.
*Assorted buttons.
*A seam-ripper.
*Toupee tape. (It's super sticky, and will fix anything from a droopy hem to a cleavage-revealing neckline).

Go forth and save the day. And call me if you need my mom.

photo credit: Craft stylish

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mad Skill(et)s

First off, I want to apologize that my posts have been so few and far between lately. I always think of myself as being busy, but then I get really busy, and the rest of the time looks like a vacation in retrospect.
When things get like this, it's easy to fall into the bad habit of ordering take-out for dinner every night, for ease and convenience- it can quickly add up to be expensive and unhealthy (if I'm already ordering a burger, why not get the onion rings, too, right?)
Instead, I'm trying to create a few make-ahead meals that are not only cheap and delicious, but will keep in the fridge for quick eats while the craziness blows over. One such creation is this light zucchini frittata, made from ingredients you probably already have in your fridge (if not, feel free to sub in whatever IS in there about to go bad- this would be deelish with asparagus, leeks, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes... you name it).
And it gave me the opportunity to use my beloved cast-iron skillet- a kitchen item that goes from the stove to the oven (to the campfire pit) with ease, and which, if you treat it right, will last you your whole life (if you don't have one of these heavy suckers already, I recommend this one because it's cheap and it's great).
You can slice it and eat it with a salad for dinner (like a crustless quiche) or put it on a toasted roll with melted cheese for a new take on the classic egg-and-cheese sammie. And, best of all, it's like the onion rings come built in. Eggscellent. (Will I ever tire of egg-related puns? I think not.)

You will need:
1 large white onion, sliced thinly
2 medium zucchinis, sliced thinly
6-8 eggs (depending on the size of your skillet)
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons butter or olive oil (I use a combo of the two)
chopped parsley and basil
salt and pepper

 What you do:
Step 1: Into a normal frying pan over medium heat, put one tablespoon butter or olive oil and the onions. Saute until transluscent.

Step 2: Add the zucchini and stir occasionally until cooked through and lightly browned.

Step 3: Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Step 4: Add the sauteed veggies to the egg mixture, and 5 tablespoons of the cheese. Stir to combine.

Step 5: Put your cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat, and add two tablespoons of oil or butter, and coat the bottom. Pour the egg/veggie mixture to the skillet, sprinkle with herbs and remaining cheese, and cook (no stirring!) until the sides and bottom are firm, but top center is still wobbly (about 10-20 minutes).

Step 6: Transfer the the skillet to a hot broiler, and cook until the top center is set, and cheese is melted.

 Step 7: Slice, eat, and forget your worries for a minute.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Repping Prep

Growing up in California, my summer attire (heck, my year-round attire) usually consisted of the "daisy dukes and bikinis on top" that are spoken of so eloquently in Katy Perry's ubiquitous hit single. (I'm sorry I keep bringing it up, but if you have not had this song perma-lodged in your head since June, you must be reading this from the moon).
But I've been an East Coaster for (gulp) eleven summers now, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my style of dress has transformed over the years from "California Gurl" to more like "Rear Admiral"- not only have I gone preppy, I've gone nautical preppy.  After spending the last two consecutive weekends at weddings in Newport, Rhode Island, and Cape Cod, (more about all that later this week), I've become fully convinced that the world would be a better-looking place if everyone would just follow my plan to dress like they had recently stepped off a yacht.  But even if you aren't on board (get it?) for the full boating look, my favorite pieces are timeless classics that will look great on anyone and can be incorporated into any style of dress (well, maybe not vampire goth).  So pull in the mainline, pour yourself a dark & stormy, and set sail for  the world of Nautical Prep. Even Katy Perry is doing it.
 1. Persol sunglasses, $255, from the Sunglass Hut; 2. Boat and Tote canvas bag, $25, from L.L.Bean; 3. "Know The Ropes" bracelet, $78, from Kate Spade; 4. Ropebelt seersucker shorts, $75, from Tory Burch; 5. Ruffle stripe bikini, $68 each piece, from Anthropologie; 6. Sperry topsiders, $75, from; 7. Saint James "Meridien" sailor shirt, $85, from J.Crew; 8. Aerie sailor shorts, $25, from American Eagle; 9. Nantucket rope bracelets, $14, from The Sunken Ship; 10. Striped espadrilles, $69, from Toms; 11. Silk scarf (for tying over your head or around your neck), $305, from Hermes; 12. Straw fedora, $22 from the Village Hat Shop.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Feelin' Hot, Hot, Hot

Holy buckets, it is hot out. Like, really really ridiculously hot. And while we California girls are, by nature, hot (so hot, in the immortal words of Katy Perry, we'll melt your popsicle), after spending the holiday weekend frolicking by the sea in Newport, Rhode Island, and Cape Cod, being back in the stifling city has come as a bit of a rude awakening. Also I have a little sunburn that isn't helping much with my body-temperature issues.
Luckily, if I have picked up anything from the nine summers I have spent sweltering burgh, it is how to dress appropriately for the heat. The trick is light flowy dresses that give your skin room to breathe and allow for whatever upskirt breezes you may be able to find (hey, if it was good enough for Marilyn, its good enough for me). Throw on some cute sandals, jewelry and shades, and grab a big bag to tote a bottle of water, sunscreen, and other heat-busting gear, and you'll be stylin' while you keep from overheating. So it's easy to be hot and cool all at once.

Here are some of my picks for cute heat-beating dresses (okay, plus one romper I couldn't resist), and the accessories I would wear with them. As Paris would say, that's hot.
1. Gray tiered-skirt dress, $35, from American Eagle; 2. Drapy silk dress, $130, from Banana Republic; 3. Bird-patterned romper, $44, from Modcloth; 4. Floral cross-back dress, $60 from The Gap; 5. Adjustable jersey dress (can be tied seven different ways for different looks), $38, from American Apparel; 6. Floral halter dress, $23, from Forever 21; 7. Loose jersey dress, $16, from Old Navy; 8. Blue patterned wrap dress, $168, from Anthropologie; 9. Strappy striped dress with buttons, $4, from Urban Outfitters.

1. Long gold-chain necklace, $95, from Kate Spade; 2. Braided headband (keeps your hair off your face), $16, by L. Erickson, available from; 3. Tortoise-shell framed sunglasses, $120 by Ray-Ban from the Sunglass Hut; 4. Gold leaf-shaped cuff bracelet, $124, by Kendra Scott, from; 5. Nude suede "Gigi" sandals, $50, by Sam Edelman, from; 6. Recycled sailcloth tote, $110, from

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy July 4th!

Happy Independence Day, everyone! I hope you are all enjoying the big four F's today: Family, Friends, Food and Fireworks (just remember not to let very small cherubic children play with explosives, please).

Where liberty dwells, there is my country.  -Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Amazing Glazing

I'm a cheater.  No, I don't copy off other people's tests, lie about my age, or have clandestine affairs behind my husband's back (although, if you are reading this, Mark Ruffalo, for you I will make an exception). What I mean is, I act like I'm this fancy cook who spends all my days bedecked in aprons and oven mitts, and can think of no better way to spend my time than whipping up pie crusts from scratch, but in reality, when I cook, I like to find the easiest recipes, and use every shortcut I can.  Some of my favorite things are pre-shredded cheese, frozen puff pastry,  and limeade concentrate. I figure if I sprinkled it, stirred it or put it in the oven, I still get to say I "made" it.  And also, I try to stick to a very healthy diet (and am mostly successful at it) but I will always cheat on a health regimen for something delicious.  I can't help it- life is too short to pass up deliciousness.

So what's my dream come true? When Amber, who is a frequent Charmed Wife Contributor  (and is also a "Charmed Friend Since Preschool", and a "Charmed Bridesmaid in My Wedding") sends me a text message photo of the most incredible looking salad made with a secret cheater ingredient: Balsamic Glaze. It's a sweet, tangy, sauce that you can drizzle over salad, meat, veggies, or fish to add a tasty layer of flavor.  It's healthy, it's easy, and it's freaking delicious, and it's available at almost every grocery store.  Now that's something I can be faithful to.

Amber's Healthy Salad with Balsamic Glaze
Combine in a bowl:
Mixes baby greens
Shelled walnuts
Crumbled Goat Cheese
Strawberries (If you want to be fancy)

Drizzle with:
Flax Seed or Olive Oil
Balsamic Glaze

Yum yum yum.

Photos are from Amber. Yeah, I even cheated on writing this post. So sue me.