Yesterday, early afternoon. We left the house to go pick up our older daughter from a friend’s, then proceed downtown to check out the Philly Home Show. My husband is crazy about home improvement stuff. So we left our house, drove 6 blocks to our friends’ place, got our daughter, drove another 1/2 block to the service station for some oil, turned around and drove another 12 blocks to go get on the expressway, when we hear this loud scraping noise. WHAT WAS THAT?! My husband stops the car. He hops out to discover

his favorite coffee cup’s been hitching a ride on the roof all this time. The coffee was still in the cup, and from what he said, tasted as good as it did when we left the house. Now if that isn’t a testament to my husband’s impeccable driving, I don’t know what it.

So we get downtown, park, and we’re walking through Chinatown to the convention center. I love Chinatown. It’s so neat. Where else would people sell chicken feet out of a box located right on the sidewalk? Now THAT’s convenience. My older daughter was thinking there isn’t a whole lot of meat on a chicken’s foot. Silly! These look plenty meaty. Yum-YUM.

We were so happy to finally reach the convention center because it was REALLY REALLY COLD outside. BBBBRRRRR!!! But unfortunately when we got to the convention center, and went through the door that said ENTRANCE and were just about to walk over to the booth for our tickets, we were stopped by a security guard who told us that we had to go back outside and around to the other end of the building and use the OFFICIAL ENTRANCE DOOR FOR THE HOME SHOW. We pointed out that the ticket booth was a stone’s throw away, and there were lots of other people standing around but apparently at the PA Convention Center you must use THE PROPERLY LICENSED DOOR. So we had to go back outside into the freezing cold and walk around to the other end of the building to wind up exactly where we’d just been. b/c THAT’S HOW IT WORKS HERE IN PHILLY and don’t you forget it.

We finally bought our tickets, paid another $6 to check our coats, then spent the next 20 minutes at the restroom. You see, when you have children and you are THE MOM, you spend a lot of time in bathrooms. I have seen the inside of so many of them that I have my own personal Potty System™.  I am a patient woman. That works in my favor. I ask my kids once, twice, sometimes three times, DO YOU HAVE TO GO? I rarely listen to the answer because sometimes they lie.  So instead I say, YOU WILL GO NOW BECAUSE THIS IS YOUR CHANCE. My older daughter is very good, she is older and listens to me. My younger daughter is a crap-shoot (no pun intended). Like yesterday. We were all tightly squeezed into the stall and she adamantly denied having to go.  Then we get outside and 5 minutes later she’s hopping up and down. This is the norm. So I spend a lot of time in bathrooms. I critique them silently while my child/ren are doing their business. I award mental points for cleanliness, stock-age and overall aesthetic appeal. Bonus points are given to places w/pull-down plastic changing tables.  My kids may be out of diapers, but no one should have to change their baby on a cold & often filthy floor. Restrooms with sanitary product dispensing machines with ACTUAL PADS AND TAMPONS get extra bonus points. The convention center bathrooms are new and fairly clean.  They have multicolor tile patterns on the wall above the toilets, placed to interest mothers just like me. They have soap dispensers with the foamy type of soap I prefer. The bathrooms at the Franklin Institute (where we went Saturday) are nice. They are very clean. In fact, I noted seeing the same cleaning attendant in three of their bathrooms as we made our way through the building. She was very diligently sweeping up stray bits of TP.  A+

The home show itself was okay. We went last year, and it was exactly the same this year. Aisle after aisle of people trying to sell you stuff. Flooring, kitchens, bathrooms, home security. Saunas and spas. HOT TUBS!! My older daughter helpfully pointed out that several of the large tubs have built-in places for your WINE. WOW. There were a few people set up with those head-mics, yelling at you to buy their knives, or wonder towels, or amazing dirt sucking up mops. I saw one guy actually toting his purchased mop around the place and couldn’t help thinking a GUY WHO MOPS!! WOW. We even saw GM selling cars, though i don’t know many people rich enough to have a car inside their house. As I told my husband, we have been there 2 years in a row, do not ask me to come a third. Fortunately, we are in complete agreement. I found out on the last aisle, the only reason he wanted to come was to buy more stained glass for our house. Unfortunately, he forgot that he bought the stained glass at last year’s FLOWER SHOW. Oh well. We’ll be back to the convention center for that in March. I will try to remember to use the right door.

Great ideas for Valentine’s Day. Creative. Thoughtful. AND CHEAP!!

This post was inspired by my blog buddy, Hayden, who just wrote about The Big Day. And it got me thinking. I’ve done lots of sweet things for my husband on Valentine’s Day, I really should share some of them. So whether you lack creativity or money (or both), here are some ideas to make V-day sizzle. JUST REMEMBER: You do not have to spend a lot of money to make someone’s Valentine’s Day the best they’ve ever had. Romance is in the eye of the beholder and thoughtfulness always trumps money when it comes to true love.
Now.. onto the ideas!!

Image courtesy of ValentinesDayIdeas

1) I don’t normally toot company horns, but this one is so great, I am making an exception. My husband and I made books – REAL books – as presents for some of our loved ones this year, and they were fabulous. It was beyond easy to do and truly affordable. Go to BLURB.COM and download their bookmaking software for FREE. Then upload photos of you and your sweetheart, personalize everything, and order. does the rest. Choose from soft and hardback styles. We’ve done both and they are simply AWESOME. Your loved one will be touched beyond belief.

2) Not into that? Then make your own scrapbook. I have made several of these for my husband. One with all of the emails we exchanged in college. Sweet and silly. Another with all of our wedding mementos. Another with poems. You get the picture. All that matters is that it’s from you, filled with loving memories of your time together. They will LOVE IT.

Image courtesy of BlissTree

3) Make a gift basket filled with treats he or she especially loves. This does NOT have to be expensive! One year, I went to the dollar store and bought a brand new woven wicker trash can, a silk red rose garland, and every single Reese’s peanut butter cup variation I could find – 12 packs, singles, white chocolate, candy bar interpretations, etc. I went home and arranged everything artfully in the basket, wound the garland round the top, then delivered it Valentine’s Day to my husband’s office as a surprise. I cannot tell you how many women SQUEALED IN DELIGHT!! when they saw me coming. My husband was floored when he came back to find this sitting on his desk. They charge a fortune for this stuff online. DO IT YOURSELF. Just vary the basket filling according to what your significant other likes. Candy bars, snacks, health food, fruit, specialty foods, beer, wine, arts & crafts supplies, beauty supplies, sporting goods, you name it. IT’S ALL GOOD.

Image courtesy of Cookerie-Girl

4) Decorate your bedroom to set the mood. One year I went to the Dollar Store and bought a bag full of party decorations. Streamers, hanging lanterns, hanging hearts, etc. Then I pulled out some white Christmas lights and I decorated our bedroom, weaving the lights around our bed, hanging the hearts above, etc. My husband was so surprised!! And it was so lovely with the fairy lights and everything, it looked like our own private wonderland. We kept the stuff up for weeks afterward it was so nice.

Image courtesy of DesignFling

5) Instead of taking him/her out to eat, cook dinner yourself – or hire a friend, family member, someone else to. I dated a chef years ago – he made me dinner one night at his apartment and I still remember the meal – figs stuffed with cheese, softshell crabs. Amazing. But you don’t have to be a professional cook to impress. Check my website for recipes! Heck, email me and I will even talk you through it. Just take the time to show your loved one how much you care. Skip the expense of a faceless meal. Make your own. Or pick up take out food and pretend it’s your own. Still impressive! You can confess later, after you’re both full and happy.

Image courtesy of TripAdvisor

6) Couples massage ROCKS. But you don’t have to pay a professional to touch the one you love. DIY, baby! Buy a bottle of scented massage cream or oil, at home place a clean sheet over the bed, dim the lights or better yet, light some candles, and put on some relaxing music. Invite them to their very own “spa”. Crack your knuckles and work it. They will LOVE YOU for it. Trust me.

Image courtesy of SheKnows

7) Make your loved one a card. Hallmark doesn’t know them, BUT YOU DO. What is it about them that you love? Their smell? Their eyes? Their sense of humor? EVERYTHING? WONDERFUL!! If you’re good with words, write your own poem for them. They will never forget this most simple gesture, ever. If you’re not good with poetry, just write out your feelings. That’s all that matters. Even just, Honey, I love you. Always. For a woman this is everything.
I still have the only secret admirer valentine I’ve ever gotten. It was handmade, just a piece of plain white paper with blue pen. 18 years later, I still think it’s one of the sweetest things anyone’s ever given me.

Image courtesy of HomeLifeWeekly

8) Plan a date night out. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE!! Be thoughtful. What does your s/o like? Art – take him/her to a museum. Nature? Go to a local park or arboretum. Sports? Take them to an event. Music? Go see a local live band. And so on. For our first Valentine’s Day together, my husband – then boyfriend- and I were flat-out broke. He took me ice skating along the Delaware River. It was magical and cost almost nothing.

Image courtesy of LakeGeorge

9) Instead of buying chocolates, make your own. Check my website for a decadent peanut butter truffle recipe. Bake them a heart-shaped cake, or a big tin of cookies. DELICIOUS + MADE IT YOURSELF > CRAP CHOCOLATES IN HEART-SHAPED BOX FROM CVS

10) Print and frame a nice photo of the 2 of you. My husband framed my favorite picture of us and gave it to me as a Christmas present this year. I burst into tears, it was so sweet. I LOVE IT. And he/she will too.

Image courtesy of PersonalizationMall

11) Have a special skill or talent? SHARE IT. Are you good at making things? Then make something for your loved one. Write them a story. Draw them a picture. Build them a birdhouse/ bookshelf/ mailbox. Good at fixing stuff? Fix that broken cabinet that’s been annoying her. Or the car. Or the dishwasher. EVEN If you’re totally talent-less, you can still do something thoughtful. CLEAN THE HOUSE! Or the basement, or the WHATEVER. Do the laundry. The dishes. You get the picture. I know you don’t want to do it, but neither does she, and trust me, she WILL REMEMBER THIS, and in a GOOD WAY.

Image courtesy of Anonymous8

12) This one’s more for the men out there. Buy something to pamper her, especially something that she wouldn’t normally buy herself. A treat. Is she a waitress, a chef, a nurse or doctor? Someone on her feet all day? Buy her a foot bath, foot cream, and give her a foot massage. Is she an overworked mom? Give her a night of relaxation away from the kids. FOR INSTANCE: at Trader Joe’s they sell gorgeous French-milled natural soaps, with scents like lavender and lemon verbena. Since they go for $4-5 bucks EACH, she won’t splurge on herself, but YOU CAN. Buy her four different scents, along with a new thick bath towel, scrub brush, and a scented candle. Throw in a CD of her favorite relaxation music – I recommend Astrud Gilberto. Chill a bottle of wine for her. Fill the tub. Then take the kids to the park.

Image courtesy of SupremeMassage

13) Are you musical? Write her a song and she will be yours forever. Can’t carry a tune? Then make her a mix-tape of songs that remind you of her. Even if you can’t sing, they can. And that will woo her far better than you crooning the hits if you can’t croon, though she’d probably still like it anyway.

Image courtesy of IndiaForums

14) This one may take some doing, so it’s good I’m posting this early. Make her a movie or simple video asking her to marry you, or just proclaiming your love. You can upload it to YouTube, or put it on your own website – or even just email it to her. Or you could invite her over for a special screening. Be creative.

Image Courtesy of GreenvilleDailyPhoto

15) NEW!! JUST ADDED!!!!!!! Order a one-of-a-kind portrait of you & your sweetie!!

***Whatever you do, IT’S the gesture that counts. If it comes from the heart, it’ll be amazing. Just think of the person you love, only of them and what they enjoy. Then imagine how you can make them happy. Can you bring them something? Do something for them? It’s often the simplest things – not the most expensive or elaborate – which mean the most.

The one TRUE New Year’s Eve

I am really truly psyched for this weekend. Not only am I feeling terrific, but my husband & I have managed to secure a babysitter – and not just for tonight – BUT FOR TOMORROW NIGHT AS WELL. I know, UNBELIEVABLE.

So all of this excitement and anticipation and giddiness has left me reeling and today I find myself feeling positively like a Russian orthodox. What? Well, you know how they celebrate Christmas roughly 2 weeks after the rest of us? Well, PREPARE YOURSELVES FOR WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SAY. I don’t know if any of you realize, or are open enough to even ponder the possibility, but this weekend may actually be the one TRUE New Year’s Eve.

You see, having spent Christmas 2007 out of town, by the time we got home the OLD Near Year’s Eve was upon us. And although we’d been invited to a kickin house party here in West Philly, scrambling for a babysitter 2 days before the big event was no picnic. Even my husband’s 86 year-old grandmother had plans. So rather than indulging in a night of wild revelry, dragging our bleary-eyed selves home at 5 am, we did what any other babysitter-less couple would do. We spent the day dragging our kids through the art museum, torturing all of the sensitive types, so I could catch the Renoir exhibit. As Aunt Esther would say:

“Take THAT, Suckas.”

Although we went Mummering New Years Day like all good Philadelphians do and of course MUST, we certainly did not celebrate NYE in quite the same manner as the rest of the world. And so we have decided, after much prolonged and brain-aching deliberation, to SCHISM from the rest of you. We will from now on (or at the very least, this year) be celebrating the one and only TRUE New Year’s Eve holiday tomorrow, January 12th. And in keeping with this Orthodoxy, we will be celebrating in a familiar, but DIFFERENT sort of way. Gone will be the masses of blithering idiots, drunken beyond speech. Public vomiting and lewdness are optional, not mandatory! No Dick Clark and his dropping ball. Our holiday – the new TRUE New Year’s Eve – will retain its preciousness like no other.

And so, I must cut this post short. Lots to squeeze in before 2008!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Home again home again jiggety jig

Returned from Atlanta last night, about 1 am. It was a LONG trip. 13-1/2 hrs there and another 13 back, and it rained both ways. I don’t mind driving, but 800 miles in a torrential downpour is a test of wills. I made a point of renting audio books from the library to pass the time. We listened to Charlie & the Chocolate Factory on the first leg and a Wrinkle in Time on the 2nd. I enjoyed both greatly, but Wrinkle seemed to terrify as much entertain my older daughter and had her asking questions a little too perplexing for a road trip. Is it possible to condense a rudimentary explanation of Evil into a 5-minute potty break at a rest stop?? Note to self: throbbing disembodied brains not for 7-year-olds.

Christmas itself was lovely. We got way too many presents, my mom & I cooked and we all feasted merrily.

The rest of the week was spent relaxing. We hit the wine cellar, did a little mindless shopping, ate out a few times. Explored my parents’ property. Watched TV (my parents have CABLE!!) and I especially loved the holiday Dirty Jobs marathon. We also watched a bunch of episodes of Arrested Development from my sister’s box set (*Annyong*) – that show is absolutely hysterical. I got a new board game called EAT IT! which is a lot like trivial pursuit for snack food junkies. My mom, the eternal gambler, staked a $5 Starbucks card for the winner, which turned out to be my sister, Queen of Cookies. We played quite a few games, which we haven’t done as a family in a long time, and it was really fun.

Today we did just what you want to do after spending a day and a half in the car. We drove to Bucks County & back, returning the rented minivan and picking up our beloved pets.

Don’t I look thrilled? I think I may have carbuncles. Fortunately, we do have a whole host of new CDs to listen to. I have to say the best of new order is awesome. I must be old.

Unfortunately, we spotted this poor creature by the side of the road:

You might be able to swing this into a joke about Santa’s sleigh or some such nonsense, but I will not. I took it simply as one more reason to get the hell out of the car.

For the rest of the photos, click HERE.

General miscellany

So, last night – not surprisingly – we (more like me) watched another movie. Prime with Uma Thurman. I was surprised by how much I liked it – but then again, the story did revolve around a 37 year old woman linking up with a painter 14 years her junior. So.. yep really not much to interest my husband there. But we did have a good laugh about the whole age-difference thing. He is a year older than me – which works just perfectly 🙂 But if we got divorced and I decided to pull an Uma Thurman style coup, at 35 my new boyfriend would be 21!! Virile young stud.  JOKING!!

ANYWAY, I am getting excited for the weekend, because contrary to my movie-watching habits we actually do have plans. Woohoo!

My First Cruise

We left a week ago, October 28th, for 6 nights of fun onboard the Norwegian Spirit: departing from New York, with stops in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Bar Harbor, Maine; Boston; and Martha’s Vineyard.

I’d never taken a cruise before, had never really considered taking one, but my parents (former cruisers) were treating the whole family and how could we say no to that? I was psyched to visit Nova Scotia, a place I’d always wanted to see, in addition to Acadia National Park. And so we went, no need to ask twice.

My maiden voyage was an experience and I’ve certainly come away from it a more enlightened person. The most amazing thing to me was actually living on the sea for a week, on a massive ship, and to think about what it’s like for the employees who live and work there.

For those who’ve never taken a cruise, it’s sort of like being stranded at a resort. There’s more than enough food, plenty of booze and entertainment, but you really can’t leave. If you get bored, if you want to stay longer in port, if you want the effing motion to STOP ALREADY – it ain’t happening! If you cruise in a warm climate, you’ll probably be so busy sunning, swimming, and drinking that you couldn’t care less. But the cruise we took had by necessity more of an indoor theme (it was cold + windy), the water was rough, and we spent a lot of time wandering around the ship, gambling in the casino, and of course eating. Having Meniere’s disease, I undertook the voyage with slight trepidation, thinking overly rich, salted cuisine was gonna throw me for a loop, but the food was delicately seasoned and everything was fine.

The ship itself was beautiful and unbelievably enormous – like a floating hotel, but more.

And the decor was lovely (other than our circus tent bedspread) and subdued with a lot of Asian detail. The trained staff continually amazed me, performing all of the requisite functions without regard to the movement of the ship. It must come with practice, but was impressive nonetheless. The Kids Crew children’s program rocked and the girls couldn’t wait to go back every night. On Halloween they took the kids all around the ship for trick-or-treating and many of them said it was their best Halloween ever (not surprising – they made out like bandits).

Our first night on the ship though.. UGH. I wasn’t seasick – I’d taken a ginger pill or 2 earlier and felt peachy in that regard, but I’d been fighting a cold before we got onboard and wasn’t feeling 100%. The water that night was rough and the wind raged and howled against our balcony most of the night. Between the rocking of the boat and the screaming wind (and the newness of it all to me), by bedtime I was a nervous wreck, convinced I’d be awakened in the middle of the night having to jump ship. By 6:30 am, while most others were sleeping off their hangovers, I was out of bed practically dancing I was so happy to still be alive. I threw on my jacket, headed to the top deck and walked laps for an hour. The sky was gorgeous, and the sea sparkled and stretched for miles in every direction. The dolphins I saw swimming off the bow were just icing on the cake.

The remainder of the trip (save for the last night) was great. We visited the Citadel and art museum in Halifax, bought some Nova Scotian whiskey for my husband. Stood on the top of Cadillac Mountain in Bar Harbor, took in the spectacular foliage, walked all over Boston, as well as treating the kids to the children’s museum, and rode bikes around half of Martha’s Vineyard. We had a blast in the casino, won over $350 on the slots, and enjoyed nightly shows – especially the Second City comedy troupe and Richie Byrne.

But the last night.. When we left Martha’s Vineyard on Friday evening, Hurricane Noel was coming up the coast – and fast. The small transport (temper) boat that we rode back to the ship was being slapped around like a naughty child, and people were frightened. The captain of the Spirit wisely decided our best chance was to try outrunning the storm, which we did manage – blazing from Martha’s Vineyard to New York full-steam ahead. The gale force winds shook us like popcorn, heaving the island-sized boat around like a toy. People kept making jokes about us eating our last supper onboard. HAHAHA – Not funny. After spending a week at sea sanitizing my hands 30 times daily, it seemed unwise to actually press lips to the dirt, but when we arrived in NYC Saturday morn I wanted to kiss the ground.

It’s great to be home, though I’m still swaying back and forth with the movement of the ship. At this moment the room is tilted at a slight angle and I feel as though I may teeter off my seat. Last night while uploading photos from the trip, I felt positively nauseous. It must be an effect of Meniere’s as the rest of my family are fine, but oh how I wish it would stop. How ironic for me to be seasick now – back in PHILLY – when I felt great all week on the boat. Cursed sea legs ear!

In Bar Harbor: The biggest lobster claw I’d seen in my life – you could live off that guy for a week!

My older daughter is obviously thrilled to be participating in the emergency drill. Go Team Z1 !

A photo of the pool on one of the calmer days – looks like the water is trying to liberate itself. John and the ladies went hot tubbing while I snapped pictures snuggled warmly in my parka – it was about 50 degrees outside and WINDY – then of course John had to go swimming in the big pool (which even at 80 felt cold). We were all surprised to learn the pool’s filled with salt water. It makes sense – but we weren’t expecting it.

A pilot boat had to escort our ship each time we entered or left a port. Here’s a pic from Bar Harbor of the escort returning to his boat. It was always neat to watch – and the first time we saw we didn’t know what was going on. I was like hey – did someone miss the boat? are those pirates? Duh. Good thing my parents were there to explain all those little things.

The hardworking Canadian border patrol. This one’s strictly for my sister who marveled (several times) about the quality of the men in Halifax. (She is from PHILLY after all).

For more pix – check out my photo gallery.