Monday, August 31, 2009

to do: get pet insurance now

I could have been here with Husband and friends:
US Open

While Griff spent his day here:

Instead I'm alone here:

Because Griff was:

We spent the first part of our evening enjoying a leisurely dinner outdoors at Pipa with some old friends, sipping on sangria and savoring what could be one of the last warm summer nights in NYC. Returned home to a vomiting puppy with diarrhea. Now Griff has thrown up before, and he's certainly had his fair share of nasty number twos. But this seemed different, so around midnight, we packed him up and headed to the nearest 24-hour animal ER. Small dogs - especially puppies - can get dehydrated and hypoglycemic VERY, we wanted to make sure there was no strange obstruction in his stomach (we are transitioning to dry food and he seems to swallow most of the kibble whole!).

Several hours and many $ later, we were able to take our baby home. But not before a battery of tests - bloodwork, fecal tests, a radiograph for his stomach, etc. For months now, we've been meaning to purchase pet insurance...putting it off with little thought that we may actually need it. It's complicated enough figuring out your own health insurance, and possibly just as difficult for pet insurance! Most people wonder if they even need health insurance for their pet. But then, they face a vet bill that costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars...most of which could have been covered by pet insurance.

I'll admit...Husband is far more knowledgeable about this then I am. I know that higher deductibles tend to mean lower monthly premiums (and vice versa), and in most cases you must pay your vet upfront and later submit your claims for reimbursement. Reimbursement is commonly around 80%. is a great site to compare plans, with detailed reviews of certain plans and coverage options. These: (article #1, article #2) are great lists to get started with. Finally, to learn more and get in touch with other pet parents, the forums are a wonderful resource.

The plans we have been focusing on are Trupanion, VPI, and the ASPCA Pet Insurance, but there are many plans out there. My advice is to look through the options and consider what kind of coverage you need. Many people opt for illness and accident coverage, while others prefer comprehensive coverage that expands to routine veterinary care. Yes, it can add up, but as with human health insurance, you rarely use what's available until you truly need it. Consider the cost-benefit ratio - what it would cost you to pay for veterinary services upfront, versus the potential reimbursement you could have received. Additionally, where are you located? In the city, the sidewalks and streets are a perpetual hazard for dogs and dog walkers..there are more threats to avoid than the suburbs or country.

Did I mention that we left the animal ER with no actual diagnosis for Griffin? Yeah. Just some anti-nausea medication and an antibiotic. And many many dollars spent. We plan to decide on an insurance plan by the end of the week. If you're a pet parent, I urge you to look into insurance if you haven't already. September is Canadian Pet Insurance month (random, I know), so it seems as good a time as any!

Friday, August 28, 2009

nailing it

Looking back at S in high school, you would never guess that this former sporty and nerdy tomboy would later count a shoebox full of nail polish among her most prized possessions. No kidding. My first manicure was for my senior prom...I, the naive and weak beauty virgin, was somehow talked into getting tips (my nails needed a full year to recover after that debacle). Hey, it was a high school prom in Jersey, what can I say! I think the manicure featured large french white tips, accented with a gold stripe, and a single crystal on my ring finger nail. Quelle horreur!

Fast forward to college. Living on an all-girls hall - and then a sorority house - helped me get in touch with my girly side. Always the artist, nail polish was a fun and simple way to spice things up. Every week, I would painstakingly wield an orange stick around my cuticles, inevitably make a mess on said cuticles with polish, walk around like a bear about to attack waiting for nails to dry, and get ready for the weekend's festivities. The sacred box of polish made me everyone's friend. Sure, I've got a polish to match your gold pleather pants for that date party! And 5 shades of red for every skin tone.

Somewhere along the way, I got lazy and stopped caring...probably initiated with a bad move during which my father shook the box at me yelling 'Do you REALLY need this???' My personal style probably changed as well (not that I was ever the flashy type) to much more simple and low-maintenance. Nails were kept bare, short and neatly filed...toes were naked in winter but enjoyed a pedicure every 2-3 weeks during the summer.

Nowadays, professional manicures are saved for occasions (weddings, family gatherings, etc.) In fact, the last time I went, the technician merely pushed my cuticles back, quickly filed my already short nails, and polished. $8 is a small price to pay for lovely, perfect nails walking out of the salon, but for everyday randomness, I can totally do that myself! [Emily over at cupcakesandcashmere has a great mini-tutorial on the perfect home mani.]

My supply box has been whittled down to a small makeup bag, filled with tools and a few signature polishes:
1) Revlon nail clipper & nail file: I'm always losing the paper files...if not lost, then they fall apart on me. This nail file will last forever and I can sterilize it regularly with an alcohol wipedown. It also doesn't make my nails split like paper files do.
2) Cuticle Oil: If you want to make like the professionals, a swipe of cuticle oil across each nailbed and a quick soak in warm water will do it. It greatly facilitates the task of pushing back cuticles into a clean, rounded shape (using a towel out of the shower is great too).
3) Burts Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream: This has saved my nails and I sing its praises nightly. I massage it into my nails just before more hangnails or bleeding cuticles in the winter! It can help extend a manicure's life and even works well on chapped or ultra-dry skin. It's a wonder product, and one container will last forever. Buy it.
4) Orly Bonder Base Coat: MUA reviewers love this stuff. It dries quickly and really does create a rubberized finish that polish clings too. I get far fewer chips when using this.
5) Sephora by OPI nail drying drops: This stuff is pretty amazing. After you do your base, color, and top coats, apply 1 drop to each nail. They will be dry to the touch in less than 60 seconds. Amazing. You still need to give nails some time to fully dry, but you can at least have some use of your hands shortly after a self-mani.
6) Healthy Hoof Lacquer: This stuff is like a cult, insider product. My former Russian manicurist constantly described it as 'good stuff.' It is the perfect, cheap top coat...drying shiny and strong, but quick. It's wonderful as a clear coat on it's own too. OPI's Chip Skip has worked well for me too, but Healthy Hoof is cheaper!
7) Polishes: I don't use polishes enough, so I keep just a few around:


*Sephora by OPI Metro Chic: The best replacement I've found for my beloved (and discontinued) OPI Root Beer Float. A wonderful purply mud that is subdued and perfect for fall.
*Essie Ballet Slippers: This comes out fairly light and semi-opaque on me. I like it for summer, on hands and toes.
*Essie Prima Ballerina: My go-to for special occasions. The perfect pinky-white neutral on me. Lasts forever.
*OPI Lincoln Park after Dark: Maybe others have moved on, but this is still my go-to for a dark brownish purple. A hint of sparkle increases longevity.
*Essie Wicked: Another favorite vampy purple. More matter than OPI's LPAD.
*Essie Jelly Apple: The perfect red on my skin tone. I wear this year-round...most fun in winter on toes.
*OPI Russian Navy: The most recent addition to my rotation. This comes out quite it on short, short nails in the dead of winter. It lasts forever with few chips.

Fall is perhaps my favorite time to sport polished nails. Temps drop, air gets dryer, and I find my nails stay healthy with a few coats of polish. I always feel a bit more chic with clean and pretty nails. And, there is nothing more relaxing than doing a self-mani with a glass of wine on a cold or rainy day...such a guilty pleasure!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

review: hair-minimizing lotion & deodorant

Retail: $8.49 (10.3 oz.)
Review: Hair regrowth is finer and slower. Hair is sparser. Greatly reduces irritation when shaving. Adequate moisturization - may be too light in winter. Expensive for the amount...only use on affected areas to get the most out of bottle.

Retail: $4.99 (2.6 oz.)
Review: Hair regrowth is still thick, but slower. Experience little to no irritation when shaving. Virtually invisible when applied, and keeps me dry all day!

There are very few people in this world who I hate, but I do include the fair-haired and naturally hairless in this category. My own hair is thick and dark, while my skin is ultra-sensitive. Shaving in the summer means using the thickest, most protective shave gel available, along with an ultra-calming post-shave lotion...and forget about daily hair removal (ouch). You can usually see regrowth on me by the end of the day...this dilemma has prevented me from being able to wear sleeveless tops or skirts/shorts at will. Yes, it seems trivial, but I know my dark-haired friends out there understand.

I'm probably a candidate to get some kind of refund from the American Laser other words, laser hair removal totally failed on me. Oh, it worked fine when I was actually going through the treatments. But, the regrowth came back in its original glory as soon as I stopped visiting the clinics. (Note: ALS is a crock...visit a dermatologist if you want real results or honest feedback).

Enter these two products. I had used the Jergens hair-minimizing lotion years ago, but found it to be very irritating and saw little difference in body hair. At the time (high school, I believe), I couldn't justify the price tag to my parents, over the standard Vaseline and Lubriderm products we kept around the house. When I found out about the Aveeno lotion and Dove deodorant, I was curious...had they improved on past failed attempts? Indeed, there is some debate about how effective such products actually are...with some users defending up and down the merits of the (now discontinued) Jergens.

I'm here to tell you that the products work! Even for a stubborn-haired user like myself. I've waited a good 3 months, just to do these reviews justice. First, the Dove deodorant...I'd been a loyal buyer of Secret deodorants for years. They were the first women's brand to come out with a product that had a high concentration of sweat blockers, in a formula that was easy on the skin and virtually invisible. The Secret eventually stopped working for me...same story with the brief experiment with Lady Mitchum.

The Dove formula has a 14.8% concentration of the active ingredient, which is pretty darn high. It keeps me dry on all but the hottest, most sticky summer days. The formula is an invisible solid (although it can come off on clothing if you're not careful), while the scents are pleasant and not overpowering. As far as its effects on hair, Dove claims it will "minimize the visual appearance of hair over time" with a "Pro-Epil Complex." Within a week, I noticed that the hair regrowth had slowed considerably...I could even go 3 days without noticing any substantial growth, and confidently still wear sleeveless tops. When I did shave, I experienced none of the usual irritation, and actually got a much closer shave. I can't attest to whether it makes hair finer...mine still appears thick. But, after 3 months of daily use, I can go up to 5 days without any substantial regrowth - and THAT is amazing! One negative: if you apply more than 2-3 swipes, the formula tends to ball up on the skin. Strange, but using less is just as effective and avoids this issue.

Onto the Aveeno! I love most Aveeno body creams and lotions...they are great for sensitive skin and incredibly moisturizing and soothing. Alas, they are fairly expensive when compared to similar amounts of other drugstore brands. Aveeno is the only hair-minimizing lotion available right now that is under $10, and found in drugstores. I actually experienced more of an advertised effect with this lotion than the Dove deodorant, although it took at least 4 weeks to notice a difference. My leg hair has gotten significantly finer, and is even sparse in some areas. Shaving is a skin is left totally smooth with little to no redness or irritation. I can go a full week before the hair becomes super noticeable again. Best of all, the lotion has never irritated my skin - even post-shave! The only downside is the cost for a relatively small bottle...I only use the lotion on my legs and arms. I also cannot find it at any drugstore in my area, having visited several Duane Reades - I ordered 2 bottles from, and plan to order more. I pray they don't discontinue this product!

I'm guessing these 2 products would work even better for those with finer body hair. You must be patient to really see the full effects...reserve your judgement for at least 3-4 weeks. I'm hoping to see continued effectiveness even after 3 months!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

wedding review: Moghul catering

Review: Wonderful food and presentation. Amazing variety and creative menus. A bit disorganized at first, but they pulled through in the end.

When quizzed on the best Indian restaurant in NJ, most Indians will respond with Moghul. I still remember those random trips to Edison, NJ (AKA: little India) as some of my earliest memories...going from shop to shop for groceries, jewelry, or saris, and finishing up with lunch or dinner at the restaurant. I've always known that I wanted Moghul to cater our wedding. Moghul handles several events throughout the year, all over the country. We were lucky enough to have them close by, and also have them be an exclusive outside caterer of the Hyatt.

The good:
*The food is outstanding. People still come to us and rave about our wedding food...and not just the dinner at the reception. Our guests remember the kati rolls served at the Saturday lunch, and the assorted mithai artfully displayed for consumption at the Friday night dinner. Because our guest list was mixed, we requested that the food be mild to moderately spicy. Moghul came through without sacrificing flavor!
*Moghul has grown tremendously in the last decade or so, during which time they opened Ming, a Pan-Asian fusion restaurant. Ming-inspired food is available through the main catering wing. Thus, we had Manchurian chicken passed out during cocktail hour, and a few other Asian-inspired pieces to mix things up.
*Our main liaison was Payal, who has been working in the family business of catering and food management for years. Although she appeared disorganized at first, she was critical in helping design a creative and varied menu for the entire weekend...from every lunch and dinner, to the warm kachoris provided at the Sunday brunch. She was also quite patient with us as we adjusted our guest list numbers and finalized menu options...always drawing up new contracts and negotiating reduced rates here and there where she could.
*Moghul's presentation of the food was superb. They'll take a plain, long catering table, and display the food so's almost too pretty to eat! Our cocktail hour featured a few food stations manned by staff, housed underneath sequined umbrellas and canopies. It was a spectacle, but in a good way!
*The food tasting is generous and thorough. We left stuffed, and confident in our choices. We also were able to bring the entire family to enjoy the free food!
*Like many of our other vendors, Moghul has worked with the Hyatt, and Elegant Affairs in the past. The setup and communication between vendors happened seamlessly and behind-the-scenes.
*Moghul provided detailed cards next to each food, with a name and brief description. This was greatly appreciated by many of our non-Indian guests.
*They are not limited to North-Indian fact, our Friday night dinner was pretty authentic South-Indian! If an item isn't specifically on the menu...the chefs will try and create it!

The not-so-good:
*As previously stated, they were a bit disorganized at first. We were originally in contact with one liaison, only to be shuffled to another...and then another! Our tasting was scheduled quite late (even though we booked them over a year out), and only after we sent a gentle reminder. This disorganization disappeared as time went on, and we were able to have timely and productive meetings in the month or so leading up to the wedding.

*Be familiar with the rates and contracts up has several 'hidden' costs in my opinion, that can really add up. Having your guest list numbers ahead of time (or a good approximation) can help tremendously.
*Keep an open mind during the food tasting, but go with your gut (har-dee-har). Yes, many people love pav bhaji...but I don't, and argued not to include it in our menu. And rasmalai is my favorite Indian treat, so I insisted it be served at lunch just after the wedding, when most guests could enjoy it.
*Make sure you inform each of your vendors about each others' main contact people. Moghul has so much staff, that it was imperative I keep the Hyatt in the loop about who I was working with.

As you can see, we have so few gripes, and only praise for Moghul. Strangely, I have spoken to a few people who were less than pleased with their catering experience. In fact, I've had Moghul-catered food at other events, and was less than pleased! I'd say that you should keep things fairly simple...choose standard but flavorful dishes that will appeal to a variety of people. They aren't cheap, and they certainly aren't the only Indian caterer in the tri-state area, but they are the best (in my opinion). If you can't use them for a wedding...consider them to cater your next lunch party! Really, our only regret with Moghul Caterers is that we were so busy during the wedding festivities, that we were unable to eat and enjoy the food ourselves!

Monday, August 24, 2009

travel review: dreams los cabos

We had an absolutely fabulous time at Dreams Los Cabos. Because we had set aside the first 5 days of our vacation to attend a wedding and visit with family, we were only able to spend 3 nights (2 1/2 days) at Dreams. We definitely could have used about 3 more!

We considered Cabo for our honeymoon about a year ago, closing in on Las Ventanas, Marquis Los Cabos, and the One and Only Palmilla as options. At the time, the pricing was pretty high, and we decided our money would be better spent in Europe. Only when we rsvp'd for this recent wedding in College Station, TX did we consider Cabo for our anniversary trip destination. I had read that tourism in Cabo had been reduced over recent months because of swine flu concerns, even though there hadn't been any reported cases from the area. This meant lower prices and better deals for vacationers. Wanting to save even more money, we decided to try an all-inclusive option, and Dreams came up as the best in the area. We arrived late Tuesday morning and left early Friday morning.

The weather in Cabo this time of year is hot, but completely bearable because of ultra low humidity levels. 100 degrees feels pleasant if you're under shade, and there was a perpetual light to moderate breeze. When we arrived at Dreams, we were greeted with cold, scented towels and glasses of champagne. The entrance is gorgeous and airy:

It leads out to the main pool and beach:

Our room wasn't ready upon arrival, so we headed to El Patio for a buffet lunch. Once we settled into the room, a complimentary bottle of champagne was sent as an anniversary gift. We enjoyed this on our balcony, chatting and overlooking the pool and ocean:

After a brief champagne-induced nap, we headed down to Oceana for a casual seafood dinner in the open-air restaurant. The golf concierge later set up a round of golf for Husband at the nearby Cabo Real course...the cost was around $200, which included a rider fee for me, and unlimited drinks and snacks for us both. The course itself was one direction was the desert mountains and cactus-filled the other direction was the gorgeous beach:

We spent the rest of our day lounging by the 'quiet pool' and sipping on frozen drinks. We chose Asian cuisine that night - dining at Himitsu. The next day was entirely spent lounging under our own palapa on the beach. It was so quiet and peaceful...we felt like we were in our own world:

Only the pelicans and occasional local peddlers interrupted the day:

Our final night's dinner was at Portofino, the lovely Italian restaurant. We chose to wait for one of the 3 tables out on the veranda, next to a small pond and dimly lit. The wait was short - just enough time to snap some pics poolside and enjoy a glass of champagne. The setting was beautiful and tucked away at the far corner of the resort...we slowly enjoyed our meal, which was a perfect end to a wonderful getaway.

The weather:
I'm not one to shy away from hot weather, as long as the humidity is low. The highs were around 100, with lows in the 80s. The sun is strong, and the sand gets hot, but under an umbrella or palapa roof, it feels warm and pleasant.

The transportation:
We used Olympus tours for our transport to/from the hotel. As with most of the tour companies, they load up the van and often have several stops along the way. The only time this can be a pain is if you have an early departing flight...we had an 8:30am flight on Friday morning, and our pickup time was 5:30am! Yuck! We picked up 1 other couple, but even with the early pickup, we arrived at the airport before security was open. A friend who travels to Cabo often advised us to rent a car, and we just might on our next trip. It seems very easy to get around, and it would be nice to have more flexibility had we stayed longer.

The golf:
Husband described the course as moderately difficult. Although the quality of the grass itself wasn't top-notch (rather dry due to a lack of rain), the setting and vistas were really unique. He felt that it was absolutely worth the money. The course was fairly empty, so he was able to take some time on the practice range, and we were never rushed to move through the holes. The beverage/snack cart came around often...we mostly enjoyed ice-cold Coronas, but she found us at the 18th hole with some lime juice for margaritas. The staff was extremely friendly!

The accommodations:
I was getting anxious before our trip after reading reviews on several trusted sites. Some people truly loved their experience at Dreams, and others hated it! I have to say, we had NO complaints with the resort itself. We had an oceanfront suite, which was spacious and cleaned thoroughly every day. There are 2 pools - a big one with an infinity pool and water slide, and a 'quiet pool' off to the side of the resort - both with swim-up bars and towel stands. The families with children stayed around the larger pool...most of the lounge chairs here were filled by 11am. There were always plenty of empty chairs around the quiet pool, as well as hammocks from the trees. The beachfront palapas were even better...never full and fairly quiet. We found the common areas to be extremely clean as well...we even saw them scrubbing the pool areas with bleach solutions! I am a germaphobe, and felt completely comfortable at all times.

The service:
Every employee was pleasant and efficient. Many of the reviews I saw insisted that you must tip early and often for even adequate service. We didn't necessarily find this to be the case. Yes, we tipped our waiters by the pool and beach, who brought us drinks and snacks all day. We also tipped our restaurant waiters and maid service. But, the service was excellent even when we did not tip (e.g., when getting a single drink or water at the bar). The turndown service was a mystery to 2 days it came at the inopportune time of 6pm (when we were just returning to the room)...on the last night it came at 10:30pm! The complimentary chocolates are gross, but you're provided with 2 extra towels and a 1-page newsletter for the following day.

The food:
Another frequent complaint on the travel sites. We liked the food! Sure, it wasn't gourmet, but it also didn't taste super mass-produced. There are 5 restaurants at the resort - 3 that are good for a nice dinner, and 2 that are good for breakfast/lunch or casual dinners. Additionally, there is the Coco Cafe, which has pastries and yummy (but decadent) coffee drinks. El Patio was mainly buffet...the lunch was mostly Mexican, while the breakfast was a good mix of western-style and Mexican cuisines. We had a great omelette made by Bety, yummy french toast, and freshly cut fruit. We ate lunch at Seaside grill one afternoon, which had some decent sandwiches and burger options. Our first dinner was at Oceana...the grilled mahi mahi was super tasty and Husband's grilled tuna was perfectly cooked. Himitsu, the Asian restaurant, has some good and unique sushi and lots of other Pan-asian options. Portofino, the Italian restaurant, was actually the most disappointing of the 5, even though reviewers raved about it! We found the setting to be gorgeous, but the food mediocre. The great thing is that you don't need reservations at any of the restaurants...any wait would be at most 15 minutes, and they give you a pager so you are free to roam the resort or grab a drink at the front bar/lounge.

I'd say 3-5 days is the maximum amount of time you could spend at Dreams, before you get bored of the resort and the food. The resort is a hotspot in Cabo for destination weddings and honeymooners, and the staff lead tons of activities throughout the day. But, you can totally do your own thing as well. We were warned about the persistent and annoying timeshare hawks, but didn't have to deal with any! The local peddlers hawking their wares beyond the hotel's beach boundary were WAY more annoying than any timeshare people. Overall, we had a fabulous time, and I'd recommend Dreams to anyone!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

packing 101

We're back from a glorious, relaxing, and too-short vacation. First, we hit Texas (Dallas and College Station) to attend a wedding and visit with family. Then, it was on to Cabo San Lucas for 3 nights at Dreams Los Cabos. We spent our time relaxing on our balcony with champagne, golfing on a course sandwiched between the desert mountains and Pacific Ocean, and lounging under a beachfront palapa sipping frozen fruity drinks. But, more on that later...

The real achievement was how well we packed for the trip...ending up with one carry-on and one medium-sized checked suitcase. Although we had to pack for both Texas and Cabo, I am fairly confident that we could have packed only one suitcase (if we were just packing for 3 days in Mexico). I'm usually a chronic overpacker, but this time, I was meticulous and deliberate in my selections. I ended up using every single piece that I brought, which never happens! Below are my clothing and accessory selections, along with a few products that turned out to be surprisingly useful!
Cabo (clothing)
[Roughly clockwise]
1. Alternative Apparel Stevie wrap in petal (perfectly lightweight and neutral)
2. F21 scoopneck tee in cream
3. American Apparel tri-blend v-neck tee in grey
4. F21 floral sheer tunic
5. Cool Change halter dress
6. F21 ruffled magenta silk top [Substitute pictured from F21]
7. J Crew white chinos
8. J Crew favorite ribbed tanks in black & white
9. J Crew chambray shorts
10. F21 knit tank dress in teal [Substitute pictured: AA tank dress]
11. Juicy Couture terry shorts
12. F21 silk romper
13. F21 skinny jeans in dark rinse
14. Rachel Pally cropped leggings
15. 12th Street by Cynthia Vincent silk slipdress
Cabo (accessories)
[Roughly clockwise]
1. Target tankini
2. Juicy Couture striped halter bikini
3. Anthropologie (Eberjey) bikini
4. Long gold necklace with open rings
5. Gold filigree-style earrings [Substitute pictured: F21]
6. Gold earrings with turquoise beads [Substitute pictured: F21]
7. Gold hoop earrings [Substitute pictured: F21]
8. Lightweight cream scarf [Substitute pictured: Alice+Olivia scarf from Shopbop]
9. Turquoise-colored bracelet [Substitute pictured: F21 cuff]
10. Gold bangles [Substitute pictured: F21]
11. Havaianas bronze rubber flip flops
12. Bernardo leather pewter sandals
13. Tory Burch Ali black sandals [Substitute pictured: Tory Burch Thora patent flip flops]

As you can see, most of the items pictured can be swapped out and matched up. I wore the F21 tunic on the plane, layered over a tank and with skinny jeans...and later used it as a swim cover-up with knit shorts. The Cool Change dress worked mainly as a cover-up, but could have transitioned to a casual dinner dress. The J Crew lightweight chinos served me twice for dinner - once with a plain black tank and heavy gold accessories, and again with the magenta top and simpler jewelry. The resort (and Mexico vacations in general) was fairly laidback and casual. 'Formalwear' simply meant a collared shirt and full pants for men. This meant that I could easily get away with 'resortwear' for dinner, and throw on a cover-up to eat lunch or stroll through the resort.

As for products, we loaded up on travel-size products that could be used up and tossed over the 3 days. This significantly lightened our toiletry load on the way home. A few products were a pleasant surprise, and I must give them credit:

1. Fekkai Glossing Sheer Shine Mist: Blowdrying my hair was unnecessary before dinners, but I still needed to tame the frizz and define my waves. This spray was perfect...after towel-drying, I spritzed this fairly liberally through my hair, scrunched, and air-dried. What resulted was a head of perfect beachy waves that also looked just messy enough and textured the next day. The travel-size purchased from Sephora was a great size and should last through several more trips.
2. Gillette Venus Breeze: I had seen these in Duane Reade and was intrigued. Husband has ditched his Edge shave gel in favor of Kiehls Shave Cream, so I could no longer get by with just taking 1 razor and extra Mach 3 blades for both of us. Having super sensitive skin, I was pretty skeptical of this product. I ended up using it 3 days in a row (unheard of!) on legs, underams, and bikini area. The shave isn't as close as my standard Mach 3, but the gel strips really do moisturize and protect well. After 3 days, they were barely worn down and I had no razor burn or irritation. This is a perfect item to take on a 3-5 day trip.
3. St. Ives apricot scrub: I've been using this cult item for years...every so often I stray to another scrub or microdermabrasion product, but I always return. The small travel size is perfect for a 3-day trip. Not only did I use it on my face to clear sun-dried dead skin, but I mix it with some shower gel for an instant and effective body scrub. It's especially useful just before shaving, and has never irritated my sensitive skin. You can probably use the medicated version to ensure even smoother and clearer all-over skin!
4. Kiehls Creme de Corps body lotion: We first purchased this for our honeymoon, during which we had to bear the hot Greek sun for half the trip. This lotion is heavenly and takes me back to the Greek Isles every time I use it. The bottle is fairly small compared to drugstore-brand lotion, and quite expensive, which is why we reserve it for vacations and getaways. It smells like coconut oil and moisturizes like might be too greasy for everyday use, but for pre- and post-sun exposure it is perfect. The SPF is only 30, so I layer a stronger sunblock on top, but we'd still never leave for the beach without this.
5. Aveeno sunblock spray: When I grew up, the only spray sunblocks around were by Banana Boat, and were too low an SPF for us. As you can imagine, we rarely came out of the pool for the arduous task of reapplying a lotion sublock. These days, everyone from Neutrogena to Aveeno makes a spray sunblock. The Aveeno version is great for sensitive skin (it never makes my skin sting), and smells yummy. It is so easy and quick to use, that we never forget to reapply. The bottle doesn't go very far though, and in 3 days, it was nearly empty, but it's great for days on the go or short vacas.
6. Clinique Up-Lighting Liquid Illuminator: I received this in my last Clinique bonus and figured a trip on which I knew no one was the perfect opportunity to test it. Although I heart my Nars powder foundation, I hate the powdered look on summer nights out, when I crave a more dewy and natural face. Usually I mix a bit of Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer with my regular moisturizer and slather my face. This Clinique Illuminator was like heaven in a bottle...a drop or two mixed with my regular moisturizer gave my face a healthy and glowy complexion that was neither glittery nor resembled an oil-slick. It had a healthy luminescence, and all I needed was a light dusting of All-Over Color on my apples, mascara, and bright pink gloss to feel polished and ready for dinners overlooking the ocean.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

the eye of the tiger

No matter how Type A or strong-willed you are, everyone falls off the wagon from time to time. I used to be the most organized and on-top-of-my-shizz person, but somewhere in between getting married, moving, adjusting to a new city, and puppy parenting, I lost my motivation and took my eye off the prize (a completed dissertation, the chance to be listed before Husband as "Dr. S," and getting back into the workforce). Excuses are easy to make - I've been making them for months now! All I have to show for them, though, are pages of data I have yet to analyze and stacks of journals I have yet to read. No longer! I've had a motivational plan in my head for months now...combining some of my old tricks with my new situation...and now is as good a time as any to move forward.

1) Recognize the guilt, own up to it, then move on.
There is usually a reason why people procrastinate beyond that, simply, the task is too daunting. I was paralyzed by having to become completely self-motivated and autonomous...setting my own deadlines, with no one to answer to but myself. Instead of coming up with a plan sooner, I wallowed, feeling worse about myself every day, and continuing to fall shorter of my ultimate goal. But one day, I sat down with Husband and talked about EVERYTHING...what I was feeling, how I was disappointed, and what I think was really holding me back. By the end of the conversation, we had a plan for starting to improve things. They haven't all worked, but just thinking about them has energized me to move forward.

2) Pretty workspace = Pretty work product.
I've always been a firm believer in keeping a neat and organized workspace, to stay efficient and clear-headed. But beyond this, it's important to make your space work for you. My workspace had to allow me to sit comfortably for blocks of time, not get distracted, and still keep an eye on Griffin. Having the desk facing the window (with my back to the apartment), and our puppy pen next to me, lets me watch the little one and sit at the computer with my books and papers. Back when I worked in a cubicle, I found that little changes (such as using a desk lamp instead of the fluorescent, or rearranging my desk) would help me move along. Assess your habits and needs, and try to adjust your physical space as much as possible to accommodate.

3) Make a schedule.
From my first day in college, I had always used a planner...being unable to function the few times it was misplaced. I first utilized a planner with a full calendar, and notes spaces for each day, eventually moving on to an all-calendar format, which I covered in Post-its. These days, I really only have one main working task, and lots of smaller 'life tasks,' so I have little use for a monthly calendar (though we do keep a household calendar). In a weird way, I think discarding this physical scheduler I used religiously made me mentally check out from being judicious with my time. Making a new schedule for each day of the week (from the time Husband leaves for work until about 9pm) has helped me manage my day. My strategy was simple...there are a few points during my day that can't be shifted (my weekly gym classes and Griffin's feeding times), so I filled in the surrounding blocks of time with work as much as possible. Be realistic though! I typically spend 30-45 minutes a day catching up on emails and going through my Google Reader, so I made sure to schedule this for just before I hit the gym. Try your schedule for a week, and adjust accordingly.

4) Write down short- and long-term goals.
I was once the queen of lists. I kept lists on my computer, lists in my email, and lists on Post-Its all over my planner and apartment. I am working to reincorporate this habit. First, I wrote down my long-term goals...not just 'finish dissertation,' but 'finish data analysis for Paper #2.' Then, I fleshed out each of these points with more detailed outlines. Finally, I jotted down some lists for each day of the week. You want to keep these tasks manageable, and be realistic about what you can truly accomplish (especially in the beginning). Or, you could make your daily list first thing in the morning, or just before you wrap up a day's work. I know that there are all sorts of online or electronic ways to maintain your to-do lists, but I always prefer a paper version. What is more satisfying than scribbling out a completed task in bright red ink?

A quick and easy read. The basic premise is that if you make a commitment to working for a small block of time, you will quickly become motivated and actually accomplish more. If you are procrastinating or having a mind-block, just work for 15 minutes to get something...anything...on paper or the computer. Chances are, you will get into the rhythm of working within just 5 minutes. If not, you can always pick up at another point and come back to're getting past the starting point, and that is progress. I'm ashamed to say that I literally have to unplug the internet router to allow myself 15 uninterrupted minutes...this is how unmotivated and easily distracted I've become! But whatever...I've recognized my weaknesses, and I'm trying to be proactive about them!

6) Change things up.
I realize it's not as easy to do if you're an office worker, but changing the scene is a good way to get motivated. If you set up shop at the coffee place around the corner, or the public library, chances are you'll be able to move forward without the distractions that typically hold you back. I plan on checking out the New York Public Library as soon as I get my new driver's license for a library card!

7) Find an alternative outlet.
For me, it's this blog or Griffin. If I'm really not feeling the work situation, I'll take 15 minutes and outline a new blog post or do some training with Griffin. It's slightly more productive than watching tv (though I'm not a big daytime tv watcher in general), or aimlessly surfing the web. Yes, I realize this very blog post is a form of procrastination, but if nothing helps me see what I need to keep doing for myself. I hope it helps someone else!

recipe review: lazy loaf

Review: So easy, even a child could do it. Dense and heavy, but super healthy!

So I've been on a health kick for the past few months...more on that to come. Realizing that dietary changes are just as important as fitness changes, I've been reading health/food blogs and health-related articles every day. It's been a tough road so far...trying to educate myself on ingredients and nutritional values, while considering the cost-benefits associated with healthy foods. After all, eating better - filling your cabinets and fridge with wholesome foods - ain't cheap! Sure, chia seeds (the new flax seed for the uninitiated) are high in fiber, protein, and can help keep you satiated for long periods...but they are $6 at my local health food store!

This bread has just a few ingredients you could find just about anywhere...all of which are relatively cheap (esp. if you buy the flour or muesli in bulk). It might just be my easiest recipe to date...a touch more difficult than, say, PB&J. Seriously. If you can measure out ingredients, stir them together, and operate an oven, then you're golden. Six super healthy ingredients (5 if you don't count the water) is wonderful warmed up with a touch of butter or jelly. Peanut butter might be too rich a condiment for this, but if you're feeling wild, hey, go for it. To summarize, I'll leave it to Nigella:

"It is heartening to know that you can be in a permanent hurry and spend no more than a few minutes at any time anywhere...and still make a beautiful loaf of bread." WORD.

*2 3/4 cups wholewheat bread flour [I used pastry flour and it seemed fine.]
*2 cups oaty, unsugared muesli [Purchased from Whole Foods.]
*2 1/2 t. rapid-rise or instant yeast [I used 1 1/2 packages]
*2 t. kosher salt or 1 t. table salt
*1 cup lowfat milk
*1 cup water

1) Mix the flour, muesli, yeast, and salt in a bowl, pour in the milk and water, and stir. [Seriously, easy!] It should be the consistency of thick oatmeal.
2) Transfer to a greased or silicon 2 lb. loaf pan [I used a standard Crate and Barrel 1-lb. loaf pan. and it was fine.] Put this into a COLD oven, turning it on immediately to 225 degrees. Bake at this low temp. for 45 minutes.
[I greased my pan with butter. I find that it works much better than Pam, and slightly enhances the taste of baked goods.]
3) After 45 minutes, turn the oven temp. up to 350 degrees and bake for 1 hour. The finished bread will be golden and dense, and should feel and sound slightly hollow if you knock it from underneath.
4) Remove to a rack and cool.

[I'd advise cutting the loaf after just a few minutes of cooling...use a potholder if you feel the loaf is too hot. I made the mistake of trying to cut the completely cooled loaf and it was HARD. Hard to cut and hard as a rock.]
[You should refrigerate the slices until you're ready to consume. I made the mistake of ziploc bagging them and leaving them out on the counter. A week later, our final bag had gone moldy - sick! - and we had to toss 5 precious pieces.]

I managed to cut the loaf into 14 pieces. After a rough calculation, I found that each slice had about 150 calories, 2.3g fat, 7.9mg sodium, 31.1g total carbs (5.5g fiber), and 5.4g protein. Not bad, I suppose. I would eat this for breakfast with some coffee, or pair with a Green Monster if I planned on doing heavy cardio or weights.

Monday, August 3, 2009

wedding review: DJ Shilpa

Review: A crowd pleaser and great to work with! Very accommodating and really listens. Sometimes a bit tough to get ahold of, but the ultimate professional on the day of the wedding!

The first thing you'll want to do when choosing your wedding entertainment is to decide between a DJ or a band. I'll admit...I don't know the first thing about looking for bands! We went with a DJ because there is nothing I like better than dancing to pop or hip-hop at a wedding. We also had a very mixed guestlist (Indian and non-Indian, young and old), and knew that we wanted someone who kept up with both Indian music (and could play the classics and current Bollywood hits) and American music. Enter DJ Shilpa.

We found her (that's right - her!) through my brother's friend from Rutgers University. Shilpa went to Rutgers, during which time she started her business with her partner, Neel. She has been DJing for just about a decade now, and the two of them together are a dynamic and efficient team. They went above and beyond for us...not only dealing with the music aspects, but most of the other technical stuff going on...our lighting, our video screens, etc. We've recommended her to EVERYONE we know, and couldn't have been happier.

The good:
*We met with Shilpa several times throughout our planning process. She took TONS of notes each time and not only answered all of our questions, but asked several of her own. I'd say by the time the wedding rolled around, she knew our personalities best as compared to all of our other wedding vendors.
*Shilpa has an awesome ability to read a crowd and choose music based on this overall mood. She switched between Indian and non-Indian music effortlessly, and amazingly kept EVERYONE on the dance floor throughout the night. Too often, you will see the Indian guests exit the dancefloor when Kanye or JT are played, but this wasn't the case at all at our reception.
*We booked Shilpa when she was really starting to grow her business. She was willing to take risks and experiment with lighting and video, and excited about doing so throughout our planning process. For example, we chose to do uplighting around the entire ballroom to create a more ambient and romantic effect...although we had originally chosen amber light for the entire night, Shilpa decided at the last minute to have the lights change colors in a subtle, morph-y kind of way. It made for an AMAZING backdrop, and was a huge hit with our guests!
*Shilpa was present for the entire day...she oversaw the sound aspects during the wedding, and later, the complete setup (and music, of course) for the reception. She repeatedly checked in with us to see how things were going, but wasn't at all invasive.
*Shilpa was really honest with us, on everything from whether our screens would be too big and in-you-face, to our music choices for introductions. We tended to be on the indecisive side, so her honesty was both refreshing and extremely helpful in moving us along.
*I can't attest to what her pricing is like now, but when we booked her it was very very fair. I wouldn't be surprised if she has since increased her pricing, but in my opinion, her services are worth it (and still cheaper than some of the more well-known Indian DJs in the tri-state area).
*She knew our day's schedule backwards and forwards. It was a real help because she was pretty self-sufficient on our wedding day.

The not-so-good:
*In the beginning, Shilpa was tough to get ahold of....she tended to return our phone calls, but not our emails. It was very frustrating at the time (when you are especially manic about booking everything), but in the weeks leading up to our wedding she totally stepped it up and was there whenever we needed her. I know her business was growing fast at that time, and I think she just needed to get a better handle on managing it all.
*We put together a list of songs that we definitely wanted played at the wedding (*ahem* Journey), but never heard them! We later found out that had we provided Shilpa with the digital files ourselves, it wouldn't have been an issue. I *think* other DJs will just purchase music that you request from them, but I'm not sure. In any was a minor annoyance (although someone did request Britney as our final song and all was right in my world), but something you should be aware of when working with her.
*Our lighting and other technical aspects turned out AWESOME, but it came at a price. I have no means of comparison, but I know uplighting around a room is expensive (and we had an entire ballroom to light!) I still think her pricing is fair, but you can always shop around for the technical stuff, and just leave the DJing to her. We wanted everything in one package, and didn't have the time to research other vendors, so we just went with her.

*I think that personal recommendations are the best way to choose your wedding music! Ask around and ask early!
*Don't hold's better to be honest and open with your DJ about your personalities, as well as those of your guests. If the music is good at your wedding, people will remember...providing your DJ with personal details with really help with the music selection and general tempo of the night.
*If you want specific music played at certain points, make sure your DJ has it in his/her library. If it's missing, find out whether you need to obtain it, or whether he/she will do it for you.
*Give your DJ a detailed schedule of your day's events (actually this is a good thing to do for all of your vendors).
*Make sure you go over the pronunciation of every name with your DJ (Shilpa asked us for these)...nothing more embarrassing than a butchered wedding party name!
*If you are looking for a dramatic punch to your decor, uplighting is the best way to achieve it. It can transform a room! But, it doesn't come cheap, so ask about it early and shop around. Often, your DJ will have this equipment, and you can simply do everything through their service. This might make things more seamless on your wedding day.
*We had 2 projector screens in the front of the ballroom, and a plasma screen in front of the DJ booth in the back. We ran a continuous slideshow of pictures (baby, youth, and family) on the larger screens, and had our photogs show some 'teaser' pics from the morning events on the plasma screens. Shilpa was instrumental in setting all of this up for us, and our guests loved them!

We obviously have more positives than negatives, and on the day of the wedding, DJ Shilpa was the consummate professional. We couldn't have asked for more!