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Archive for May, 2010

This post is going to be a little long and involved.  I’m currently on a mini-vacation, visiting my family and attending my baby sister’s high school graduation.  As the baby in a family of five, Alice gets some cool perks (several trips abroad already and the ability to hang out with friends on a school night to name a couple) but she also rarely has family attending any of her events.  And, as a senior this year, our little Al was crowned Homecoming Queen and only had my parents there to cheer her on.  Last summer, as we discussed her upcoming senior year, Alice told us (her four sisters) that the one thing she really wanted was for all of us to be at her actual graduation.  So, that’s where I am when this post, well, posts.

The other major piece of info that is essential for this post to make sense is that we have this tradition in our family that we give sentimental gifts for high school graduation (not college), and that the main gift comes from the next youngest sibling.  So, when I graduated, the sister below me made me this amazing laminated book of pictures and lists of things she was going to miss when I went to college.  Since Alice is the baby, I (as the oldest) was charged with doing her gift. 

I started working on this back in January.  I got a list of all of her important friends, contacted all of them on Facebook and asked them to write Alice letters about what they like about her, will miss about her, etc. 

The full effect...

After several months of these contacts, I got about 40 letters from friends, family, coaches, etc.  Then, I put each letter on its own page of a scrapbook, decorated the whole thing with many stickers, and created photo collages for the blank pages. 

Thanks Lana!

It was quite a project, and I had never created a real scrapbook before (note: I probably won’t do it again anytime soon!).  But, I was just blown away by the things people wrote to Alice, the nice letters they sent, the effort they put in. 

Dining Room aka New Craft Room???

Stickers are always fun.

I've spent more $$ at Michael's than should be legal...

I’m writing this before I actually see Alice’s reaction, but I’m hoping for lots of tears.  Let’s be honest: Tears = Success!  My mom said that Alice has been crying at pretty much every event leading up to graduation (all the senior nights and concerts), so I have high hopes for the gift unveiling.   Also, I’ll include pics of the final product later in the week when I show her reaction and ask her permission!

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Best Pickles Ever

When I was in Brooklyn a few weeks back, I visited a cool outdoor flea market where I picked up some of these:

YUM!

I was trying to find a gift to bring home to Drew and these were perfect.  They cost a pretty penny (like $10!), but they have been so worth it!  I did a little research on the company, and I guess they are quite well-known, having been featured on the Food Network several times. 

I have enjoyed these bad boys plain and on mini pulled pork sandwiches (made for the baby BBQ, and yes, I forgot to take a picture).  So good!

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So among the many funny things my dog does, this one borders on dangerous.  Many dogs fear loud noises or strange appliances – thunderstorms and vacuum cleaners come to mind.  Basil isn’t afraid of anything.  Including one thing he should be afraid of – the lawnmower.  No, when he sees the lawnmower, he knows that someone will be pushing that mower around for a while, thus making them available for simultaneous ball throwing.  A captive audience.

And, since we want to keep our dog safe, either Drew or I, whoever lost the coin toss that day, will keep throwing Basil his ball, working to keep him as far away from the mower as possible.  He drops the ball back at our feet and the game continues. 

Last weekend, the grass was incredibly long, and despite the hot, dry day, the bottom of the grass was still a little damp.  With all the running, Basil’s paws were completely green by the end of his mower playtime.  He didn’t notice. 

Green!

That's my pup hard at work.

And then it was time to go back to ‘work’ watching the goings-on in front of our house.

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Travel Day

I’m leaving today to visit my family in Indiana.  I’m so excited to see everyone and to have a few days off!  I am a travel junkie and more than anything, I like to research travel and anticipate upcoming trips.  While I’m on one trip, I can’t help thinking about the next one.  It’s a bit of an obsession.

Anyway, while I’m a huge fan of travel, I actually don’t like flying that much.  There are the normal annoyances of airports and delays, but my fears are rooted in the  fact that we hurtle through the air at 500 miles an hour and how is this possible and I better watch out the window to make sure we’re not falling.  And I especially hate turbulence.  I’ve been through some scary turbulence once or twice and it was scary enough that now whenever the plane starts to tremble the tiniest amount, I get all nervous and clammy.  This fear is definitely not bad enough to limit my traveling, but I just look at is as a necessary evil and remind myself over and over that I’m safer in the air than I am in my car.

Back to the point of this post.  Here are a few tips to make your airport stays more pleasurable, or at least tolerable:

This could ruin anyone's day!

1. Pack right.  I like to carry on but that also comes with the burden of lugging a bag around in the airport that is heavy and a hassle to store in the plane.  If it’s free and I’m on a direct flight, I’ll check my bag.  If I’m connecting or the airline is charging for luggage (about 90% of the time), I just deal with it and carry on.  Which brings me to Tip #2…

2. Have your toiletries packed right.  I hate, hate HATE it when I get stuck in a security line behind some dimwit who is all, “wait, I can’t bring my huge bottle of shampoo in my carryon?  When did that happen??” I pride myself packing my toiletries in the right size bag, with the correct bottles, and leaving the rest at home.  It will save you time, energy and extra weight that you just don’t need.

3. Dress right.  Aiports are hot.  Planes are usually cold.  Belts, loose change, any other metal sets off the security alarms.  You need to take off your shoes at least once.  So, wear slip on shoes, dress in layers and leave your belt at home.

4. Do some research of your airport in advance.  Restaurants and bars have improved greatly over the past 10 years.  I like flying through Reagan in DC because they have a great burger joint.  There are plenty of resources out there now for fun things to do in most major airports.  Read up so you have something to look forward to on your layover.

5. Don’t schedule a too-short layover.  Sometimes you get a better deal when there is a 45 minute layover between flights.  If you tend to stress like crazy over this (like my husband), don’t book these flights.  Instead, book one with a longer layover if it makes you more comfortable.  It’s just not worth it to have a mini meltdown when you’re freaking that your plane is leaving without you.  (As an aside, despite that I might appear to be a similarly frazzled traveler, I don’t tend to not worry about the short layover.  I figure I’ll get wherever I’m going eventually…)

6. When all else fails, play mind games.  If I’m having a really bad travel day full of delays and inconvenience, I just tell myself things like this: “Thank goodness they’re delaying our plane.  What if this delay diverts an accident I was going to be in at 36,000 feet if we had left in time?”  Or like this: “At least you don’t work at the airport and have to deal with crazy passengers all the time, right Julie?  Now go get a cocktail and pretend like your whole plan was to hang out in the airport instead of getting to your destination.”  Morbid, but it works.

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White Teeth is a great book.  I cannot believe it is the first novel written by someone who was just 25 at the time.  She’s only five years older than me and I can barely write a coherent paragraph without the use of expletives and excessive punctuation!!!

Strange angle for picture - but good book!

I am struggling to find a good way to describe this book and unlike previous summaries, I’m not even going to try to write a five sentence plot summary.  In many ways, it’s an epic – it spans three generations of two families who are good friends, it’s quite long, and while there aren’t too many characters (no need to create a cheat sheet or family tree), the stories are complex and thought provoking. 

If you’re not a close, slow, detailed reader (and huge disclosure, I’m NOT!!), you can easily miss key conversations that show up again and turn out to be hugely important.  For example, at the very end of the book there is a startling revelation made by the two main characters (Samad and Archie) regarding a wartime experience they shared many years before.  As I read it, I knew I should remember what they were talking about.  My thought process: ‘What??  What is happening?  Why would this guy be a big deal?  I’ve never heard/seen that character before.  Oh.  Wait.  Should I be remembering something right now that I read 300 pages ago?  Phew, the author is going to help out a little by doing a little flashback.  How clever and smart.  I read too fast.’

This novel has won a handful of awards including several for first-time novels.  I am not surprised at all.  I am blown away by the skills of this lovely author, Zadie Smith, who is still less than 35 years old!  Can you say prodigy?  If you have some time, and are willing to take your time through a book, this one is definitely worth your effort.  I’m glad it made it onto Time’s Top 100 list because I have been wanting to read it but just couldn’t get over the length (and it’s not THAT long…like 450 pages…I’m just a wimp).  I’m so glad I gave it a chance!

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Fake Baking

For our weekend BBQ I decided not to do a ton of baking (I briefly considered a layered ‘0’ birthday cake or 2 week birthday cake), but instead to rely on trusty help from the grocery store.

Hello Friends...

And boy, am I glad I did!  The cake mix I bought was so yummy (I could tell that it was from a box…that vague chemical taste was alive and well) and moist and perfectly perfect.  The cookies baked up in the perfect amount of time. 

Doesn't get any easier than this!

Pre-frosting

Couple quick tips the next time you plan on fake baking instead of real baking.  I bought Reduced Sugar frosting.  Big mistake.  The frosting had a weird gooey, sticky consistency (more than normal!) and did not refrigerate or spread well.  When I was applying it, I had to struggle not to rip off the top of the cupcakes.  I ended up getting a second tub of the real stuff the next day which was much more spreadable. 

Second, I took the mini cookies and made mini ice cream sandwiches with some storebought frozen yogurt.  Just let the ice cream sit out for a bit to soften and it’s super easy to assemble these as well!  I didn’t take any pictures of the finished product because I was too busy cleaning the house to bother.  They were so yummy, but kind of a hassle for an outdoor party.  I ended up keeping them in the freezer and bringing out small batches and pretty much forcing them down the throats of our guests before they got all melty. 

Ta-Da!

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Ack!  I really meant to write a cute post on Saturday about how great the weather was and how I was enjoying a day of relaxation.  But, between errands, appointments and sales that I just couldn’t miss (I love you Banana Republic Outlet), I didn’t sit down until after 6pm.  And then I couldn’t bear to open the laptop and instead spent the evening having dinner with friends and watching a documentary. 

Most of the work I was doing on Saturday was in preparation for a BBQ we had on Sunday.  Our friends Sarah and Tim just had a baby and have been cooped up in their house since he was born.  So we decided to have a BBQ/Open House at our house so all of their friends could meet the little guy.  It was a huge success, the baby was content, the weather cooperated and all was well.  People left by 7pm and I was fast asleep by 9.  And we have a fridge full of beer now so that’s fun. 

Here are some pics of the cutie.  I will be posting more about all the food later in the week.  Too tired to continue now:

Cute Baby Ear

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