Archive for the ‘Tips and Tricks’ Category

My Dinner Party (or, What Martha Stewart Never Talked About)

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

At last! After nearly a decade of living with my ugly ‘80’s kitchen, I was able to finance a remodel. Sure, it was three months of doing dishes in the bathroom sink while construction was underway, but finally I had my gorgeous kitchen and was in the mood to celebrate! What better way than to throw a dinner party for friends from my women’s group? It would be SO “Better Homes and Gardens”! And to be honest—amid all my whining during the building phase, I had somehow let it slip that I would have them over when it was done. My big mouth, getting me in trouble again…

Determined and delusional, I committed myself to the event. Never mind the fact that other than cooking meals for me, my boyfriend, and my daughter, and throwing Easter Egg Hunts and pizza parties for my kids’ birthdays each year, I had never singlehandedly made an entire meal for multiple guests in my home. Besides that, I hate cooking!

But any moron can follow a recipe, right? Little did I know that I would later compare my well-intentioned soiree to “giving birth.” Should any of you be toying with the dinner party idea, I beg you— read my helpful hints before proceeding:

  1.  When making dinner for a group, choose dishes that can be prepared ahead of time. This way, unlike me, you won’t be stuck at the stove while your guests stand around, watching you cook. For my main entrée, I chose Sundried Tomato Chicken Spaghetti. After all, according to the food stylist’s website (“food stylist”? That should have clued me in right there), this was an “easy” chicken recipe. The problem was, the sauce had to be prepared right alongside the boiling of the spaghetti. No cooking ahead on this one! I was torn between talking to my friends and cubing heirloom tomatoes. Trust me, both the sauce and my conversation were sub-par.
  2. Read the recipe carefully beforehand. Somehow, I missed the instruction about grilling the chicken breast using a “grilling pan,” even though this was set out clearly in Step 1. What the heck was a grilling pan, anyway? I rummaged through my pans and grabbed what I now know to be a roasting pan, laid it across two stove-top burners, and found a leftover grill from an old toaster oven. Presto, a grilling pan! Not really. I managed to grill the chicken, but also the pan, amid clouds of smoke and the smell of burnt fat and metal. I knew it was bad when my bichon, Oscar, who is normally obsessed with food and immovable from the kitchen during any type of cooking, crept out of the room with his tail down.
  3. Wear an apron! I used to think aprons were unnecessary and somewhat dorky. Wrong again! My plan had been to touch up my hair and makeup, and change to a nicer outfit right before my guests arrived. But once the cooking got underway, I was glued to the kitchen for fear of blowing up the meal! So, in addition to being completely frazzled, I had steam-flattened hair, an oily glow to my skin, smelled like grilled chicken, and was wearing portions of the menu…

A few more lessons…don’t lend your boyfriend your mixer and not get it back. I wound up whipping the cream by hand for my dessert, and after the slog of getting the main course on the table, used up what few molecules of vitality I had left. Forget coffee with dessert—I was too busy whipping cream to make it! Another thing, if you have a guest or guests with very specific dietary restrictions, don’t go overboard trying to tailor the meal to these individuals. I was concerned about my friend who has food-allergy-related migraines and eats only “whole, raw foods,” but she wound up being a no-show anyway because—you guessed it, she was in bed all day with a migraine.

As the dust (and cooking grease) settles, I realize my last, and probably most important lesson from having a dinner party: when entertaining, don’t undervalue the huge merit of caterers, take-out, and potluck! Note to self on that. Bon appétit!

The Idiot Stab

Friday, June 24th, 2011

There are times in life where caution, premeditation, and over-consideration of consequences must be cast aside so that your goals and ideas can become realities instead of constipated brain exercises. Let’s face it, thinking something through completely before taking action could take weeks, months, or forever if you’re hung up on “perfect planning.” In many instances, therefore, I prefer to take an “idiot stab,” which means I take some form of action – ANY will do – that will start the ball rolling in the general direction of my objective.

This strategy works in those countless, annoying situations where you want to try something you’ve never attempted, or achieve some end, but there is an obstruction standing in your way. Many times, the problem is internal, and has to do with your own fears. When you think about doing something to move forward, your anxious mind starts its negative patter of what-if’s. What if I fail? What if I don’t like it? What if people laugh at me? What if I lose money? What if I’m disappointed with the result?

Unfortunately, though, your mind won’t leave you alone for choosing inactivity either. The patter in your head changes its tack, but the talk still crowds out any hope of psychic peace. What if I regret never trying this? What if I don’t try it and miss out? What if I could have been a millionaire? What if I look like a loser to my friends and family?

Yikes – by about this time, you’re headed for the nearest liquor store!

Sometimes, another person is standing between you and what you want to do. An example – the longed-for promotion you know you deserve, except that your boss hasn’t offered it and seems less and less likely to do so every day. Or the spouse who keeps promising he’ll clean the garage so you can actually park your car in it, but it’s a year later and he still hasn’t started organizing his 145-piece tool collection housed on every square foot of floor space.

Is it any wonder that I’ve been driven to the idiot stab by these frustrating quandaries? I have to say, the stab has provided me instant relief many a time. Just a week ago, for example, I noticed my boyfriend’s long pants were so worn, they were fraying at the bottom. Since he only has one or two pairs of non-jeans pants, I decided he could use a couple new pairs. However, being a guy, the last thing he cares about is shopping for pants. I got positive lip service to my proposal that we go out together to buy them, but I knew actually doing this would rank a negative on his numbered list of priorities.

So I took a stab – went to a men’s clothing store myself, and picked out two pairs of pants. Because he’s a tall man, I had them adjust the bottom hems to match the length of other pairs I had peeked at in his closet. So proud of myself, I was – I had done my research, taken action, and would now present him with two new, lovely pairs of pants!

Well, here’s the downside of the stab…it often results in calculation errors. Probably because there is basically no calculation used. Go figure! Anyway, the pants were too tight in the hips, and too short. Ugh! Why can’t these tricky manufacturers agree on the actual length of 34 inches? I wondered if my over-$150 speculative pants purchase was to go down in flames.

But here is the glory of the stab technique. Even though I blew the particulars of the project, my actions resulted in my boyfriend putting attention and effort toward making things right. We met at the store, and exchanged the non-fitting pairs for two others that fit and were even more stylish! Plus, I lost no money on the exchange. A happy ending, thanks to the stab.

I have used the stab in countless other areas that appeared too awesome to accomplish via thoroughly-planned execution: going into business for myself, writing, getting my kid admitted to and enrolled in college, going on a vacation with no particular destination in mind.

I even used the idiot stab on the example above, trying to get my husband to clean the garage. Finally, without consulting him (stab), I hired a team of maids to get the place in shape. They worked all day, organizing, dusting, mopping, and throwing away trash. Well, was my husband surprised when he came home from work! Perhaps “surprised” isn’t the word I should use. “Mortified” might work better, on second thought. He viewed this triumph of cleanliness as a conspiracy to make it so he couldn’t find his “stuff” for a year. Actually, his complaints continued for well over a year, maybe even up until the time of our divorce.

See what I mean? The idiot stab, which anyone can use (no minimum intellect required), stirs the pot and sets things in motion. More often than not, I’ve been happy with the results: I’ve either eventually reached my goal, or gotten something much better. In the case of my husband and the garage, not only did I get a clean garage, but also eventually a handsome, new boyfriend with very nice pants.

Insider Tips for Finding Money

Sunday, April 24th, 2011
Times are tough, without a doubt. The economy of our great nation has certainly seen better days, and for some, even the simple things present a challenge: eating, paying the rent, getting adequate medical care, keeping up our perfect attendance record at Friday Happy Hour, maintaining our spa membership. Need I go on?

With an eye to ending some of the whining, however, I herein divulge some of my most closely-held trade secrets of advanced money-finding. Friends, these techniques are culled from decades of hands-on and eyes-down experience.

While the salad days of finding fives or even twenties lying underneath the front counter candy display at the car wash may be long past, money-finding is still a lucrative venue for anyone with cash-flow issues.  Those of you who have been laid off or “down-sized” out of a job – put your hands in the air! You have simply been offered more time to find your money, an occupation requiring no prior training or experience, and immediate commissions.  Hours previously frittered away at some job can now be productively spent scouring the neighborhood or local mall, hitting street fairs and sporting events, or surveying the front-line check-out area at the grocery store. They don’t call this the Land of Opportunity for nothing!

First and foremost, keep in mind that with money-finding – just as in real estate – success is based on location, location, location. Go where the people are, or better yet, have just been. Anyplace where people gather is a potential cash-cow for the advanced money-finder, particularly places where people gather and get inebriated. Hello bars, clubs, and casinos! Coins thoughtlessly flung onto tables and bars hydroplane over pools of beer onto the floor. Your strategic positioning at the next table will pay off in double-decimal-digits when the group starts breaking up, and most of the coin-flingers leave for the restroom.

Another excellent spot is one I fondly call my own “automated teller machine.” But I’m not talking banks, silly! I’m referring to the fast-food drive-up window. Or, more specifically, the pavement underneath the drive-up window. Have you ever noticed how much coinage is dropped as people are paying for their tacos and burgers? And avoiding suspicion is very simple: “accidentally” let a dime or nickel slip from your hand as you’re paying the cashier, then exclaim, “Oh, that was my last dime!” Of course, you simply have to open the door of your car and reach down for it, giving you the chance to scoop up yours and everyone else’s last dime.

The second huge factor in winning at money-finding is timing. Like the old saying about the early bird, the closer to daybreak you’re pounding the sidewalks and parking lots, the less likely someone else will have already picked up last night’s spillage. Additional fine-tuning of your technique will have you scheduling your sweeps immediately after routine trash pickup and street cleaning. My personal theory is that quarters, nickels, and dimes are too small to be trapped in these utility trucks’ holding areas. They wind up filtering down through the debris, then out to the street through joints in the machinery. Ca-ching!

Another advantage of early-morning legal-tender-trekking is that as people leave for work at this hour, they move their cars from curbside parking spots. Left exposed is the money that slipped from their hands, purse, or wallet the night before; coins and bills that then bounced, rolled, or drifted underneath their vehicle. Safely out of view until you appear for the beginning of your own “work day.”

If you happen to be putting in overtime at night, be sure to make effective use of the “reflective technique,” which depends upon ambient evening light sources for illumination of round, shiny objects.  I have actually found the reflective technique a more reliable indicator of currency on the ground than a search in broad daylight! This advanced strategy is definitely one to remember, silver-scavengers. It has paid off for me in piles of found coinage under what might otherwise be considered adverse environmental conditions.

As you may be gleaning, money-finding is a science which requires good eyesight, quick reflexes, and strategic planning. Strong legs and back don’t hurt either! However, the pay-off is well worth the effort, and this industry truly imparts new meaning to “living off the land.”

What’s more, the occupation of money-finding has potential for personal growth and fulfillment. In my own case, I can proudly say that after years of experience in the field, I no longer stoop for pennies. Nowadays, nickels are my collection minimum. My higher standards are a victorious reflection of my growing self-esteem. Today (I tell you with a tear in my eye), I am worthy of more than just copper. Silver and bills are the hallmark of my new quality of life and existence.

So despair not, financial strugglers. There is a job for you, with no application or interview necessary. All it takes is commitment, effort, and discipline. The ultimate American dream of a tax-free living is indeed within your reach…literally. 

The Antidote for Tedium: Pick Five

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Sometimes, even after my second cup of morning coffee, I’m still engulfed by a paralyzing sense of “tedium overload” as I consider what’s next on my agenda: a pile of dirty clothes to wash, a stack of bills with unexplored due dates, papers to file or new file-homes waiting to be created for those papers, calls to make, dishes to wash, dogs and cats pressing for breakfast… Quite frankly, just thinking about it all makes me want to go back to bed!

What is a healthy, positive-thinking, goal-oriented person to do in the face of such dreariness?

It’s time, no doubt, to play a game I call “Pick Five.” I want to share this with those of you who, like me, crave a sense of accomplishment even in the face of a written or mental “to-do” list longer than the grass on the front lawn (which needs mowing, by the way). Pick Five is simple and brilliant and brings me back to life when I feel defeated before I even start.

Here it goes: simply pick five tasks – your choice – from that list of drudgery items. Then have at it! Depending on your level of motivation and/or energy, which could be depressingly low, you can choose “big” or “little” chores. They just need to add up to five in number, and you need to complete them. Remember, it’s just five, not the whole ridiculous list!

The effect of finishing those five items, keeping even that much of a promise to myself to make some sort of forward progress on my responsibilities, can turn my day – and my attitude – around. And once my attitude is better, sometimes I’m motivated to do even more. Even if I just complete the five, though, I still get to feel a sense of accomplishment instead of disappointment in myself for putting off what I know I need to do…

Give this a try. But if it doesn’t work for you, you might want to back down to “Pick Four” or “Pick Three.” There’s magic in the numbers, and in that little, doable commitment. Maybe there’s something inherently positive in fulfilling a promise, whether it’s to yourself or to others. All I know is, the resulting boost turns the monotonous parts of life into winning at my own game!