Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snow Jobs and Staycations

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. A lot sure has happened since the last time I posted, huh? First, I spent a week in New York City running around like a headless chicken buying and wrapping Christmas gifts, decorating and cleaning our apartment, cooking, buying booze, and getting organized for our holiday party, cleaning up from said party (it was a blast), packing for our two-week bi-coastal holiday tour, baking six raisin coffee cakes, and readying the apartment for our absence. Then, we loaded up the car, drove up to Boston, and spent Christmas Eve and Christmas cooking, shopping, putting up Christmas trees, eating, drinking, opening gifts and playing with them, and visiting with JM's family (we also saw The King's Speech-amazing- run, don't walk, to the theater. But I digress). Then, on Sunday, we packed up all our stuff and gifts, and got ready to fly to California, only to learn that there was a huge snowstorm coming, and there was no way we were getting out. What followed was a circus of scrambling to re-think and re-book our plans ("Do you have any flights from Providence to Las Vegas?"), set to the mellifluous tones of 12 continuous hours of airline customer-service hold music. Somewhere in the madness, my in-laws' golden retriever ate one of the aforementioned raisin coffee cakes whole, and had to be driven through the blizzard to the animal hospital (raisins are potentially toxic to dogs, as you know if you read this, but he's fine now). Then, yesterday, as we carefully drove our way back to New York City (in a rare and precious rental car) to make our flights, we got word that they had been canceled again.  So, we decided that sometimes you can't fight fate, that we weren't going anywhere, and we settled back in to our own cozy apartment, from which I am writing this.

But all is not lost! If we can't have a vacation, at least we can have a STAYcation, and enjoy ourselves while we are holed up. We plan to take long walks in the Park, read our books by the fireplace, go to the movies, play board games, get drinks at fancy hotels, and generally try to ignore/put off non-pressing responsibilities until later. So for those of you who can't get out of town, be it for meteorological reasons, or logistical or financial ones, here are some tips for the perfect staycation. As a bonus, you might actually end up relaxed at the end of it.

1. Plan Ahead
he real trick to a successful staycation is getting yourself to treat it like a real vacation. Obviously, we didn't really have the luxury of doing this ourselves, but, if you can, set beginning and end dates for your staycation. Let your office know you won't be in or available during that time. Resist the urge to say, "I'll just be at home, so if you really need me..." Then, start scheduling things you want to do for each day. If you really want to unplug, schedule a cleaner to come in on the last day of your staycation, to do all the laundry and dishes, and change the sheets. That way you can completely ignore your chores, guilt-free. 

2. Do Research
You may think you know everything these is to do in your own town, but do some research on the internet, or in guidebooks for fun activities. You may be surprised by how many local tourism attractions you have never seen or done.  I've lived in New York City for seven years, and the list of museums, art galleries, tall buildings, boat and walking tours I've never seen or been on is far, far, longer than the one of those I have. Not to mention all of the cool shops, restaurants and neighborhoods I haven't yet explored. Like pretty much all of Brooklyn.

3. Do Activities
Sitting around the house watching TV does not a memorable vacation make (no matter how much you want to catch up on the last season of Dexter). To make a staycation work, you have to get out of the house. Think of what you would do on your ideal day (other than watching TV)- be it ice skating, skydiving, or reading in a coffee shop, and find out where to do it (if you have kids, make sure to ask them what they would like to do, too, and incorporate it into the plan). Buy tickets to a local theater production, amusement park, sporting event, festival or concert. Make reservations at restaurants and write out a plan and schedule for each day, and then follow it!

4. Be Nice To Yourself
Schedule a massage, spa day, or manicure and pedicure one day of your break. Go to that yoga class you've been wanting to try but never had the time for. If you eat out and order take-out during your break (as you should, unless grocery shopping and cooking are your idea of a fun vacation activity), just be mindful of not overindulging- a dessert or two is fine, but at the end of your vacation, you should aim to feel well rested, healthy, and good about yourself.

Stay classy, everyone!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In The Fold

Those of you who have read every post I've written since I started blogging 2+ years ago (Hi Mom!) may have wondered to yourselves why I have gone this long without ever doing a post on one of housekeeping's greatest mysteries and challenges- how to fold a fitted sheet. Well, the truth is that nobody's good at everything, and this is a skill I can honestly say I don't have. In the past, even when I have tried my hardest at neatly folding, my fitted sheets typically come out looking like some giant's used hankie. But that may be because I was doing it wrong! Check out this video my friend, Irene, alerted me to, via This lady takes the sheet and turns it into a perfect, flat rectangle, like some kind of sweet, nurturing magician, set to gentle guitar chords.  I could seriously watch this video all day. And maybe after I watch it a few more times, I'll actually go into my linen closet and attempt it. Or maybe I'll just have a cup of tea.

For those who prefer written instruction, here are the basic steps she takes (although, to use an idiom I think I just made up, "no one ever learned to walk by reading a book!").

Note: Your sheet will end up with much fewer wrinkles if you do this when it's still warm out of the dryer.

1. Take the fitted sheet, inside-out and place one hand in each of two of the pockets, along one of the long sides. Bring your hands together, and transfer the pocket on one hand on top of the other, so that both pockets are over one hand.

2. Using your free hand, follow the edge of the sheet down to the next loose pocket. Bring that up and tuck it inside the two pockets that are already folded together. Repeat with the fourth pocket so that all of them are nested together.

3. Still holding the sheet by it's corners, straighten any folds and the edges, so that the sheet forms a rough rectangle. Lie the sheet down on a flat surface and smooth further.

4. Fold the sheet in thirds width-wise, and then in thirds again lengthwise. If it turns out badly, just watch the nice lady do it again.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hic Town

One of my college roommates/besties just had a baby girl named Kyla, who is maybe the cutest thing going in the under-two-week set. While I was over there gaping and marveling at her teeny little fingernails and eyelashes, she did something amazing. (No, she didn't talk. Seriously, get real). She hiccuped. And her mom (weird, my friend is a mom) said that she has had hiccups a lot (I mean, a lot for an 8-day old), and that the doctor said that some people are just more prone to them than others. And when I heard that, my affection and sense of loyalty to this little squirmer - which were already pretty high for someone I just met - shot off the charts, because suddenly I knew that she and I had something in common (I mean, in addition to our favorite hobbies- sleeping and eating). Because, I am ALSO a hiccup-afflicted individual! And before you wiseacres pipe in, it's not just because I drink a lot of beer, so shut it- I've been hiccuping abnormally oftenly since I was but a tiny tot myself. In fact, my mom says I got them moments after I emerged from the womb, although I can't verify that information myself, because I don't remember that day very clearly. I was probably too distracted by the hiccups to take much notice of anything.

Anyway, all of this is to say that over the intervening years, I have become a bit of an expert on the hiccups- what they are, why they happen, and how to get rid of them, as I suspect my friend's poor baby will have to do, as well, as a fellow sufferer, once she is no longer a baby. So, as a gift to this wee human (who needs another bib?), I decided to put down the veritable hiccup encyclopedia that I have in my brain for posterity.  I give you:

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hiccups if You Are a Baby or Adult Who Gets Hiccups A Lot

What Are Hiccups?
Hiccups, or hiccoughs, if you like to spell things the pretentious way, are involuntary spasms of the diaphragm or esophagus caused by a reflex triggered by the vagus nerve. You don't really need to know that, except if you are ever on a game show, and they ask you that specific question (if that happens, you should probably send me some of the money you win- it's only fair). Also, it's good to understand that for when I reference the vagus nerve in a pun the next paragraph.

What Causes Them?

There are many ways of overstimulating or irritating the vagus nerve, triggering hiccups. You can do it by eating too fast, or too much, or spicy foods, by swallowing air, taking some medications, laughing a lot, or drinking alcohol or carbonated beverages- pretty much anything fun). In other words, what happens in vagus does not stay in vagus. (That joke was so worth it). So, theoretically, you could try to avoid getting the hiccups by eating small, bland meals very slowly, accompanied by flat, non-alcoholic beverages for the rest of your life. Or you can just find yourself a sure-fire, never-fail, hiccup cure, and be happy. Here's what works for me.

How to Cure Hiccups
The way to cure hiccups is to essentially "reset" the vagus nerve by stimulating it in another way. Here are some methods that work:

1. Hold Your Breath: Interrupting your breathing patterns typically will end your hiccups. The best way I've found is to take in a deep breath and hold it as long as you can, while swallowing a few times. Hold your breath until you turn red in the face, and then a few seconds after that.

2. Drink Water Upside-Down: This is the cure that works the most consistently for me. Unfortunately, it also is the most ridiculous-looking one. Fill a glass of water to the brim, plant your feet a few feet apart, bend at the waist, and drink from the wrong side of the glass.

3. Sugar Overload- Put a tablespoon of sugar or a sugar cube in your mouth and let it dissolve on your tongue. The extreme sweetness will jar your nerves.

4. Pull On Your Tongue- No idea why this works, but it does- stick out your tongue, grab it with your fingers, and pull it outward for a few seconds.

5. Get Tickled- Seriously, if the thought doesn't make you super uncomfortable, ask someone to tickle you- it will make the hiccups disappear. Personally, I'd rather drink water upside-down.

6. Take an Antacid- Antacids containing magnesium (Rolaids, Milk of Magnesia) can help calm the nerves, almost instantly. 

"Cures" That Aren't Worth It
Sadly, because everyone and their mom has a favorite hiccups cure, there are a lot of terrible ones floating around out there. These ones might work, but just don't seem worth the effort, really. 

1. Drink Vinegar- Um, gross. Also, all that acid can't be good for your teeth.

2. Get Scared- Seriously, have you ever seen this work? There's nothing scary about your friend saying "boo" when you're expecting it.

3. Stand On Your Head: Oh, for Pete's sake. What's more inconvenient- finding a place to safely stand on your head without flashing the other bar patrons, or having the hiccups for a few minutes? (Kyla, honey, Aunt Lily will explain what "flashing" and "bars" are when you're a little older).

One final note: if your hiccups last longer than a couple hours, or are impeding your ability to eat or sleep, stop reading blogs, and go see a medical professional.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Styles: A New Spin On Things

There aren't many things in life that I like as much now as I did when I was twelve. For instance, I no longer listen to the Backstreet Boys on repeat, I don't have a crush on any of my older brother's friends (unless you consider my husband his friend), I doubt I would watch TRL, Dawson's Creek or Party of Five, anymore, even if they were still on the air, and I've finally accepted that I am not someone who should have bangs. But if I had to hang out with my twelve-year-old self for an afternoon, I know exactly what we could do that we would both enjoy: a drug store shopping spree. Ever since I started getting an allowance, I have taken a tremendous, unexplainable pleasure in shopping at the pharmacy. I love the cosmetics aisle, I love the non-perishable food aisle (pretzel buckets!), I love the home-improvement section, the greeting cards and magazines, the school supplies... I could honestly spend hours browsing the aisles of the drug store. And, while I occasionally have rung up some whopper bills, I usually escape for under $30- try to have that much fun for $30 at the mall!  I couldn't even take my tweener alter-ego to see the Justin Bieber movie for that.
One of my favorite things about the drug store is how often to find something wonderful that you didn't know you needed, nay, didn't even know existed, until you spot it on the shelf. On a recent cold Sunday, I ducked into my local Duane Reade to pick up some necessity I had run out of, and found myself in that familiar happy place, wandering up the aisles checking out mustache trimmers and denture cream (neither of which I needed, thank you very much). I landed in the hair-care section, and that is when I discovered something that has become one of my favorite new products- the Goody Spin Pin, $5.99 for 2, from, or most major drug stores). I am (obviously) a sucker for anything that promises to make my life easier, and I was actually amazed at how well these things work (Goody claims they take the place of 20 bobby pins, and I believe it). All you do is form your hair into a knot or bun and twist the pins in, and miraculously they hold it. I have thick slippery hair that's cut in multiple layers and, if they work for me, they would work for anybody.  I feel like these are one of those things, like the Internet, or cell phones, or running water, that once you have, it would be hard to go back to your life before them. Which is why I would buy several sets for Preteen Lily.

Unfortunately, as miraculous as these things are, though, there isn't anything they can do about those terrible bangs.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Picture This

JM and I have lived in our "new" apartment for almost two and half years, now. In that time, I've painted every room, put up wallpaper and wood paneling, refinished the floors, and arranged and rearranged the furniture in every room at least twenty times. But, for some reason, we had not hung up hardly any of our artwork. We simply couldn't commit or agree on what should go where, so instead we left all our paintings and prints stacked in a corner of our kitchen, cluttering up our house as their frames got dinged and our walls stayed bare. It was madness, I tell you, madness. Finally, last weekend, we came to our collective senses, and decided that hanging artwork anywhere, even if it wasn't the perfectly right place, was better than the status quo of no artwork, nowhere.

One thing we agreed on was that our tiny guest room/office needed a serious artsy pick-me-up. But the room is so narrow, we were concerned that hanging anything on the main sidewalls would make it feel claustrophobic in there. The solution? Lots of pieces arranged on the smaller walls, all the way to the high ceiling (to emphasize the air up there).

Whenever you are hanging a bunch of artwork on one wall, it's important to play around with the arrangement to make sure it all fits together, and the proportions work in the space. A good way to do this, without committing to hammer and nail, is to cut out paper sheets the same size as each of your pieces of art. (We used newspaper, which works well, because it's readily available, free, and comes in big sheets. But if you go this route keep in mind you may have to Mr. Clean Magic Eraser some ink smudges off your walls when your done).  Make sure to label each paper with which piece it represents, and which way is "up"). Then, use masking or painter's tape (so your walls won't be damaged) to play around and arrange the paper pieces on your wall, until you are happy with the way they look and fit together.

Measure the length from the top of the frames to the hanging wires, and mark the distance on each sheet. Then you can simple hammer the hanging hook (I like this kind, $5.70 for 50 pieces, from right through the paper, for perfect placement. Rip the paper away, throw the art up on the hooks, and voila! - perfectly spaced art. So much easier than rearranging the furniture.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Apple Appeal

So, am I predictable, or what? Here it is, the first day of December, and I'm on the blog with a sweet bread recipe. Just like last fall, and the fall before that. I can't help it: I am an entirely unsurprising human- I've had the same haircut and used the same makeup for eight years, I'll watch every Real Housewives Bravo can throw at us, I like exactly the same movies Roger Ebert does, and you could set your watch by my seasonal cravings. What were you expecting: a sorbet recipe? And this kind of bread is perfect for this time of year- it's easy to make, makes your kitchen smell amazing, works as both a breakfast pastry and simple dessert during the entertaining season, and travels well as a gift.  I bake up a bunch of loaves at once, wrap them up attractively, and bring them to holiday parties as a welcome alternative to another bottle of wine (not that I would turn down a bottle of wine, ever).
Anyway, I sort of improvised this recipe to make it a little spicy and flavorful, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it turned out. So, see? It seems predictable ol' Lil has a few tricks up her sleeve after all.

You Will Need:
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 cup very soft or melted butter
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups peeled and chopped apples (about 4-5 apples, any variety)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 325, and grease two loaf pans and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, place the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt, and whisk to combine.

 Step 2: Peel the apples, and chop finely, and set aside. A combination of whatever varieties you have floating around in your fruit bowl will yield a more complex flavor. I used Galas and Granny Smiths.

 Step 3: In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, butter, sugar, and vanilla, and whisk to combine. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, and stir well to make sure all is well combined. Then, fold in the apples and walnuts. Divide batter evenly between two greased pans, and bake for about 75 minutes (or until a toothpick can be poked into the center and comes out clean- you know the drill). Cool for 15-20 minutes on a rack before inverting pans.

Step 4: Wrap cooled loaves tightly in foil, and store at room temperature. They will keep for up to 4 days... not that you will be able to resist eating them long before that. Predictably delicious.