Monday, August 30, 2010

Sink or Swim

Our summer cottage is on a beautiful, clean lake with an island in the middle of it. I grew up going there every year since I was born, as did my mom, and her mom before her (we are a rather matriarchal society, if you had any doubts).  And each summer since as long as I can remember, some brave, industrious souls have swum from the island back to the shore where our house is, in what is considered, among our small, isolated community up there, the ultimate feat of fortitude and courage. Which is why, when I was constructing my "Thirty Before Thirty" list, I felt compelled to put this on it.  It seemed like a good idea at the time – after all, I've run a marathon, I can do this, right? But, as my vacation wore on, I became increasingly nervous, realizing that it was now or never – I will be thirty before my next warm-weather visit to the lake. And, while I am a capable swimmer, I am hardly a pro- I can't really do the crawl without inhaling water, and I'm frequently called upon to do my "butterfly" as a source of comedic entertainment.   JM and my brother, Andy, also intent on proving their masculinity, said they would attempt the venture with me, adding to the pressure not to back out.
On the big day, I put on my sportiest bathing suit, got myself all worked up into a fester looking for goggles, and was a bundle of nerves on the boat ride over (it's all a blur, but I think I remember asking JM about our life insurance).

We jumped in, and.... it was easy. I stuck mostly with the sidestroke (and the occasional lazy floating backstroke), and we all made it home in less than an hour. I have never experienced anything so anticlimactic in my life. Maybe it was Skipper "helpfully" barking at me from the rescue boat the whole way, or my irritation at JM for taking off at high speed and leaving me in his wake, but I didn't really have that inner struggle or moment of prevailing-over-obstacles that one associates with major life accomplishments.  I just swam, and then it was over. I wasn't even really tired afterwards. Frankly, it was a bit of a letdown.

But then I had a chat with myself, and I realized that things don't have to be hard in order to be accomplishments. Just because the doing turned out to be easier than I thought, doesn't mean that it wasn't hard to gather up my courage, grow some cojones (see goal #25)  and make myself take the first stroke. Like rolling a boulder down a hill, sometimes the tough part is just getting started. And if it turns out to be a breeze from there, well, I should consider myself lucky.

So, three down, twenty-seven to go! Now, who wants to teach me how to sail (#23)?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lunch at Midge's

Remember when you were a kid, and you had to write essays at the beginning of every school year about "What I Did on My Summer Vacation"? Well, I am fresh back from spending two (glorious) weeks at my family's lake house, and because I was a little bit delinquent about posting on the blog, and being home is making me feel very "Back to School," I feel like I need to catch up with you in a similar fashion. So I'll be sharing a few of the highlights of the last couple weeks with you this week. Hold onto your Trapper Keepers, because here we go.

Clockwise from top: lunch was a local whitefish with butter sauce, potatoes and arugula salad- so simple, and so good; The garden where all the magic happens; Yellow lab Finn is a good boy; The group of us (no, I'm not expecting- I'm going to put that unflattering dress in the trash as soon as I finish writing this); The cherry on top of it all was, natch, a cherry pie (I had seconds); The sunlit staircase to the second floor; My mom and her sister with a bounty of tomatoes- hearing these gals laugh (more like "cackle") together is one of my great joys in life; The flowers on the table all came from Midge's garden; A butterfly perched on a flower in the garden; The awesome tractor- next time I'm taking it for a spin; The dining room is so pretty and warm; The farmhouse; My uncle told me what kind of tree this is, but I forget- all I know is it's very old and very awesome. 

Right when I got up to the North Woods (leaving JM to toil away in New York), my parents, Skipper, and I hopped in the car and drove up to visit my Aunt Midge and Uncle Bob on their lovely farm, which I had never seen before. My cousin/bestie Andy, was also in town visiting his parents, so it was a double treat. It probably won't be hard to believe this if you know me at all by now, but I have always harbored a secret fantasy about living on a farm with a big barn and a garden, and a tractor, and dogs, and a huge, gorgeous tree. And I would just pick flowers and vegetables, and ride around on my tractor, and sit under my tree, and bake pies all day. And I would probably wear a lot of gingham (but that's neither here nor there). Well, it seems that this dream is hereditary, because when we arrived there, it was just like stepping right into my fantasy- right down to the charming red tractor. Midge made us a delicious lunch of locally-caught fish, and we finished it off with, you guessed it, a scrumptious homemade cherry pie. It was heavenly, and uncannily perfect.

But now that I'm back home in drizzly New York, I have to wonder if any of my relatives are living my "breezy tropical island bungalow" dream. And want some visitors.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let's Get This Straight

Sewing is one of the housewifey things that it seems like the domestically challenged have the hardest time wrapping their heads around. I'm not just talking about sewing on a button, or fixing a saggy hem (although those pose their own challenges to some folks), but actually taking fabric and making something out of it. The idea of it almost seems quaint, in an era when you can get a cute outfit at H&M or a full set of patio cushions from Ikea for less than the fabric it would cost to make them. Of course, they (both) will start to fall apart the first time you sit down, but still.
However, because my parents took a sort of Laura Ingalls Wilder approach to child-rearing, I actually like to sew. When I was an awkward preteen, my mom enrolled me in a sewing class which culminated in my being forced to model a pair of culottes of my own creation in a "fashion" show at the county fair. While it was among the most mortifying experiences in a lifetime full of mortifying experiences, the sewing know-how seemed to stick. While I don't have much of a desire to attempt to create my own skorts or palazzo pants these days, I still take a certain pride in my ability to make my own curtains, pillows, tablecloths, and baby quilts that don't cost a fortune, and have that handmade-with-love vibe to them.
All of this is has been a very long-winded (and cathartic) intro to the topic of one very simple sewing trick that might be the solution to a problem vexing the sewing-phobes among you- how to cut fabric straight. It's one my lanky, bespectacled (in retrospect, creepy) bachelor of a sewing teacher imparted to me, and one that has come in handy many times over the years. And does it work? You bet your culottes.

How to Cut Fabric Perfectly Straight

 Step 1: Cut a slit in the fabric about where you would like to cut the straight line. Pick at one edge of the fabric until a string comes loose that you can grab on to.
 Step 2. Yank on the string, causing a pull that runs the width of the fabric. Pull the thread until it breaks, or comes completely free of the fabric. The run you have made in the fabric will leave a perfect line in the weave of the fabric.
Step 3: Using your sharpest scissors, cut following along the line that the string left. Voila- a perfectly straight cut! Now, whatever your sewing-related traumas may be, wonky edges won't be among them.

top photo credit:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Old School

It is a gloriously beautiful hot day outside (the first great one of my vacation), and frankly, there are a hundred things I would rather be doing than sitting inside blogging (like, pretty much anything). So, instead of writing my own little version of 2010 Housekeeping Daily, I present to you this actual magazine article from Housekeeping Monthly from 1955. Just in case you think I'm too much of a throwback, take a gander at these Good Wife tips. There are some real gems in this one, so I'll just let it speak for itself.  We've come a long way, babies!

Transcribed text:

-Have dinner ready. Plan ahead,  even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favourite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.

-Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives.  Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.

-Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.

-Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.

-Gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper, etc and then run a dishcloth over the tables.

-Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering for his comfort will provide you will immense personal satisfaction.

-Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children's hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair and, if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimise all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.

-Be happy to see him.

-Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.

-Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first- remember his topics of conversation are more important than yours.

-Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax.

-Your goal: Try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquility, where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

-Don't greet him with complaints and problems.

-Don't complain if he's late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day.

-Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or have him lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.

-Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.

-Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

-A good wife always knows her place.

Article found
Finder credit: John Fink (thanks, dad!)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Travel Tip #006: The Squeeky Wheel

As you may or may not have noticed as a reader of this blog, I'm not much of a complainer. I know my life is pretty great- I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I tend to look for the silver lining, since I know I'm having my cake and eating it, too (and a lot of other corny idioms and rainbows and unicorns). However, I have learned that in certain circumstances, a little complaining can be a positive thing, especially when it is warranted.
I happen to love to travel, which is a good thing, since it feels like JM and I find ourselves on an airplane, in a car, or on a train just about every week these days. In the summer we are like nomadic gypsies, rambling our way from wedding to wedding, with barely a stopover at home to water the plants (RIP, boxwoods). But, every once in a while, while traveling, you encounter a situation where the service or amenities are less than what was promised, and in that case, I think the best thing you can do is to air your grievances. In the last couple of years, I have lodged complaints about an airplane that was stiflingly hot, one where the tray table, reading light, and earphone jack at my seat were all broken, and at restaurants where I waited an hour past my reservation to be seated, or was double-billed. Just last week, at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, our shower drained very slowly, and it took two days for a handyman to come fix it. Did I complain? You betcha!
In all of these cases, the companies were extremely gracious in accepting the complaint, and I was rewarded in the form of travel vouchers, refunds, and in the case of the Bellagio, an $85 "inconvenience credit." But before you start going around on a complaint rampage, bellyaching about every little thing, here are a few tips for how to properly, and profitably, lodge a complaint.

1. Go To The Right Person: You will only frustrate and embarrass yourself and everyone around you if you raise a stink to a flight attendant or a waitress at a restaurant. Those people rarely have the power to redress your issue, and while you are tying them up with your rant, you are causing them to neglect all of the other customers. Instead, quietly and politely ask to speak with the restaurant or hotel manager. Or in the case of airlines or retailers, wait until you are at home, and place a call or send an email to the complaints department. I have found that when they are expressed at the right time and place, companies are not only receptive to complaints, they welcome them, and are grateful to be made aware of the problem.
2. Don't Lose Your Temper: The minute you show yourself to be angry, the person you are speaking to will get defensive, and you will have lost. Not only that, but if you allow yourself to get riled up and pissed off, it will make a bad situation worse. Don't make a scene and spoil a vacation over a little problem. Try to keep your voice soft, your language clean, and your tone professional and polite. I always say, "You'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." (You didn't think I was out of corny idioms, did you?)
3. Make It Logical, Not Personal: When you lodge your complaint, make sure you describe and itemize the actual problems that caused you to be inconvenienced. "I believe there was an error on our bill" will yield far more positive results than "That jerk waiter is trying to swindle me".  You will come off a lot better to your dining or travel companions, too, who might start wishing they could disappear if you throw back your chair and start yelling.
4. Put It In Writing: If your complaint is not handled to your satisfaction at the time of the problem, go home and write a letter or an email to the proper party. Often, companies will take a written complaint more seriously than a spoken one.
5. Be Respectful and Reasonable: You can't fault a hotel for your room lights going out during a tropical storm.  But you should definitely mention it if your lights go out due to a blown fuse and the hotel takes an unreasonable time to respond. Have some restraint about what you complain about, and your issues will be taken more seriously. And, sometimes, when it seems like more trouble than it's worth, just force yourself to overlook the problems and have a good time in spite of them. If you go around whining about every little thing, you will spoil all the fun of us silver-lining folks.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Viva Las Vegas!

I spent last weekend at (and am still recovering from) a bachelorette party for my friend, Claire, in Las Vegas.  After all the travel and weddings we have been lucky enough to be a part of this summer, I'll admit that I debated whether I had a wild Vegas weekend in me (and, trust me, with Claire involved it was bound to be wild). However, this may take some of you by surprise given what a mild, domestic, soul I am, but I can't say no to Vegas. I just love the place. After many wonderful weekends there (including my own bachelorette weekend), I consider myself a bit of an expert on Sin City (especially for such a square). Here are some of my tips for a successful, rowdy, wild, fun time. But, without getting into any, you know, trouble.

Bring Your Wallet: First things first, don't try to go to Las Vegas on a really tight budget (maybe go camping or something, instead). Things in Las Vegas are pretty expensive, and anything that's cheap is cheap either because it's depressingly terrible, there's a catch, or both. And this is coming from a girl who once spent a summer writing a budget travel guide to Las Vegas. Trust me, if Dante had ever visited the Las Vegas Youth Hostel, there would have been a far more terrifying level of Hell in The Inferno.

Do Your Homework: There are plenty of nice rooms in Strip hotels for cheap (have you seen the size of some of those hotels? They are rarely sold out).  The very newest hotels aren't likely to have deals, especially on peak weekends, but if you look you can always find a deal at one of the slightly-older-but-still-great hotels, like the Bellagio, Venetian, or Mandalay Bay. Check for deals on the hotels' sites, on, and on

BYO: No, I'm not suggesting you tote around a flask, but stock up on a few beverages and snacks at a drugstore, and avoid the mini-bar mark-up. Trust me, that $10 bottle of water and $15 tube of Pringles will look mighty tempting after a night out dancing.

Use the Concierge: All of the big Vegas hotels have professionals whose job it is to make your stay more fun. So feel free to call them for dinner reservations, show tickets, or any questions you might have. As a bonus, they can usually get you free or reduced admission to nightclubs.

Cabana Style: It may seem unnecessarily opulent, but if you are in Vegas with a group of people over a weekend, it can make sense to book a cabana by the pool. It can be hard to find groups of empty chairs together by the pool, and the cabanas are private, fun, give you lots of space for lounging and hanging out, and come with free snacks, and mist-ers that keep you cool in the desert heat. (Cabanas typically run from $300-400 for the day). So worth it.

Don't Forget to Eat: All of the very best chefs in the world have restaurants in Las Vegas. So, while you could get all-you-can-eat mac & cheese at the buffet, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to at least one great meal while you're there. I recommend Aureole, Sushi Roku, or Craftsteak.

Attention, Shoppers: Similarly, every great designer fashion label has at least one store in Vegas. If you have money burning a hole in your pocket and want better odds of leaving with winnings, avoid the tables and go straight to the shops. You won't find great sales here, but even those on a shopping budget can appreciate the spectacle of what passes for a "mall" in Vegas (think replicas of the Venetian Canals and the Coliseum).

Let the Sparkles Fly:  Where else but Vegas are you ever going to have the chance to wear sequins, sparkles, crystals and feathers, and have it be appropriate? Before you make your trip, make a stop at Express, H&M or and pick up something a little sassier, shorter and showgirlier than you normally wear out.

Fancy Footwork: Give some serious thought to your footwear. While it can be tempting to wear the highest stilettos you can find, getting around Vegas is all about walking.  Even if you take a cab from hotel to hotel, you can still walk blocks inside the hotel, just getting from your room to the lobby. I suggest you wear a comfy, but still sexy, pair of platforms. And pack a few band-aids, just in case.

Now, I've just got to rest up for Claire's wedding...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book 'Em

Even though our tastes in literature differ tremendously, both JM and I are avid readers (yes, that's a euphemism for "severe geeks"). Yet, neither one of us has actually bought a new book since 2009. How can that be, you ask? Have we switched, so he is now catching up on my florid, relationship-based novels and I his military historic non-fiction? Decidedly not. Have we stopped reading and instead turned our intellect toward other pursuits, like chess or solving Fermat's last theorem? Um, no (and what intellect?) Have we run out of space on our color-coded bookshelves? Well, yes, but that's not the reason. The real reason is that we are now both now fully converted to reading on our Kindles ($139-379 on As you know, I like to write about the things I love, and the only reason I haven't written a post on this topic before is that I thought everyone sort of already knew about them and had their own preconceived opinions, positive or negative. However, thrice in the last week, people (okay, they were all foreigners, but still...), have stopped me on the subway platform, in the airport, and walking down the street (yes, I can read and walk at the same time), to ask me what was this strange screened tablet I was staring at, and whether I liked it. Also, Amazon announced the new generation of Kindle last week (It has 3G wireless! And comes in black!), so I figured this post might be timely after all. Don't get me wrong, I still love the look and feeling of a real book -- the smell of the ink, the texture of the paper, the feeling of that first time you crack the spine -- that's all like porn to us nerdy bibliophiles.  But there are a lot of benefits to the Kindle that give real books a run for their money. Here are just some of the reasons I love my Kindle.

You Can Take It With You- at any given time, I have a lineup of five or six books waiting to be read on my Kindle (including The Fountainhead, which, in physical form is a real honker). And when I travel, I can take all those books with me, without having to actually carry six books. My Kindle is light enough to carry anywhere in my purse, but even when I don't have it with me, my books automatically sync to the "Kindle for iPhone" app, which means that I can seamlessly pick up right where I left off, right on my phone.
Immediate Gratification- I was recently talking books at lunch with a friend (we geeks band together), and as she made suggestions, I was able to download them to my Kindle right away. So much better than writing them down on a napkin I would inevitably lose.
Privacy, Please- When you read on a Kindle, no one can look over your shoulder or read your book jacket. And while there is something amusing about the communal experience of finding yourself in a subway car with eight other people all reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it was a relief to me to be able to read the Twilight series without being judged by my fellow commuters. Oh, shut up, you've probably read them, too.
Easy Does It- Even if you are a technophobe, the Kindle is surprisingly instinctual and easy to use. My husband's grandfather, who has never really used a computer, picked up how to use the Kindle very quickly. It also has a screen that uses real ink, instead of backlighting, so there are no problems with glare when you read in the sun. Also, you can turn the page with the push of one thumb, which makes it much easier to read one-handed while in the bath, or while cooking, or walking the dog (yes, I do read in those places).

The only downsides I have encountered with the Kindle are that you have to remember to charge it (although the battery lasts a very long time), you have to turn it off for takeoff and landing on an airplane, and you can't lend out the books once you've finished. But that last one isn't really a problem for my husband and me, anyway. 

And, no, Amazon isn't paying me to write this (but, hey, Jeff Bezos, you can if you want to).