Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back in the USA

With everything that is going on here in the USA, there are times when I just need to leave and breathe in the culture of another country. The easiest foreign getaway trips are to our neighbors who border the USA, and now it's even easier with new options for those of us who travel by land or sea.

There is a new government program which allows citizens to travel with either a passport card or enhanced driver's license (the driver's license is presently only available for residents of Washington State or New York State) for travel by land or sea to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. The cards are much smaller than a passport, and easier to use where there are kiosks into which you can insert your card for passage. If you order these cards with your passport or driver's license, it only costs a few dollars more ($15-30).

There are also the new Nexus, Sentri and Fast cards for those who travel frequently between certain borders (like truckers or those who have family or do business across the border); the best benefit to these special cards is the dedicated commuter lanes you get access to if you are a cardholder (think of it as a pass to use the car pool lane on a congested freeway).

The next time you drive across a border or go on a cruise to the Caribbean, use your passport card to get you back in the USA.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Solar Sandals

If you want an all-inclusive package with all your meals, entertainment and transportation taken care of, this is the time to book a Caribbean vacation. Sandals couples resorts is offering a great sale (you must book by September 30th); you get 40% off your resort stay, up to a $550 credit towards your airfare, and up to two extra nights free if you travel before December 26, 2008. Whether you want to go golfing, scuba diving, or just enjoy a day at the beach, it is nice to have options that are all prepaid (a few fees may apply for extras).

It's almost a free vacation. The best part is that Sandals is a very green vacation company, installing solar panels to generate the power for their resorts so that they are almost completely self-sustaining. They are a green resort company: they monitor their waste so that it can be recycled or minimized; they have low flow shower heads and compact fluorescent bulbs in the rooms; they are part of CORAL which is an organization whose purpose is to preserve reef life; and they perform beach cleaning at least twice a year with their local communities.

Vacations are good for the soul, but it is even better when a group of resorts offers greenback savings along with green energy growth for your money.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Trompe D'Oeil

There are many artists who do trompe d'oeil (French for trick the eye) work, making you "see" something that is not at all what your eyes tell you. My favorite trompe d'oeil artist is Craig Tracy who does his work on human bodies, making them look like animals; but there is also Colette, who makes cakes that look like purses and sculptures; Michel Richard, who makes "eggs" that are made of yellow tomato puree and mozzarella; and this building in Lyon has an entire wall of windows and people populating it's front face.

We are often "fooled" by our eyes (magicians would not have jobs otherwise). Sometimes being fooled is good for us; we get to experience a new pleasure for our palates, or we awaken from the assumptions we take for granted. We all need to test and taste new ideas. If you do only one thing today, go out and try something new, even if that means looking at something old and known in a new way; trick your eyes to see a new perspective.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

May you enjoy the next part of your journey as much as we have enjoyed your generous spirit, kind heart, infectious humor, and great talent in your time with us.


Please send donations to The Hole in the Wall Gang to help continue Paul Newman's work with critically ill kids.

Friday, September 26, 2008


A little investigation can save you a huge financial headache. In light of all the news in the financial world, today's subject is FINRA . FINRA stands for Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and they are the largest non governmental regulator of securities firms in the US. They have the ability to impose fines and sanctions to firms and individuals, so even though they are not a government body, they are the law enforcers. Whether you are seeking education as someone who works in the industry, or protection as an investor, this is the place to start. It is the financial equivalent of the Consumer Reports, but with legal teeth.

If we all educate ourselves so that we understand some basics about our own money, we are less susceptible to brokers who promise to deliver all we wish if we grant them access to our cash; but would you buy a car from a dealer who promises you the perfect car sight unseen, if you just sign the contract? Do some homework on your risk tolerance, long term goals (college fund? retirement fund?), and your brokerage house (there were so many compliants and judgments against Merrill Lynch that their demise was of no surprise to anyone who checked FINRA reports). There is information on how to choose your investment professional, how to choose your investment types, how to report a problem with your broker, and compliance information.

Their site offers everything from alerts on frauds and scams, to a broker check which shows current and past cases regarding individuals and brokerage houses. There are also explainations of SIPC protection, (a brokerage version of FDIC type of safety net), how to safeguard your identity from theft, and calculators for savings and loans amounts.

If you have investments, make sure they are building you a nest egg, not just building your broker's nest egg.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nothing But Nets

I contracted malaria in 1985 and had recurring bouts of it for years afterwards. Every year (I got it about the same time every year), I felt as if I would have preferred death rather than endure the torture of the high fever, chills, vomiting and diarrhea which lasted for a week. It all came from a mosquito bite which swelled up my shoulder and made me look like a female hunchback of Notre Dame. To add to the joy, there was one other side affect which came from the prolonged high fever; I lost about 40% of my hair. Since you never know which mosquito is the one carrying the disease, it is imperative that you do all you can to prevent mosquito bites, and that you take the correct medication if you contract it (better yet take an anti-malarial drug before you travel). These days I cover my entire body with mosquito repellent every time I go anywhere mosquitoes live (one time I forgot to apply behind my ears and I got bitten!), and I sleep under mosquito nets whenever possible.

Thankfully I was not a child when I got malaria, because children do not always survive. So is a child's life worth $10? All you have to do is buy a mosquito net (treated with insecticide) for them so that they will not get bitten and infected with malaria. Nothing But Nets will ship and install the nets to the places most affected by malaria for only $10 per net (they last an average of 4 years). About 3,000 children a day die from malaria, so just sending one net will help eradicate the problem from our planet.

Several schools are getting involved in drives to send nets to Africa (the continent where this is the biggest problem right now). If children are helping children, shouldn't we help them?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Music, Music, Music

Guitar Center has stores all over the United States, and as you can see from the photo, they stock just about any guitar you could want, along with keyboards, DJ equipment, drums, and amps; they offer musician services that include getting your music onto iTunes and into a musician database. If you don't play, they offer a virtual teacher for beginners (but please find a live one through their database). Any supplies you need, from strings to lighting effects, are also available. Go just to see the place; it will inspire you to listen to music, even if you don't want to play it.

West L.A. Music is the professional musician's haven, supplying everything you need to begin a band, from guitars, to keyboards, drums, and studio equipment. It's no wonder that music studios rent equipment from them. For the individual musician, they offer a price guarantee good for any in stock item you may find elsewhere at a lower price (they will match it). The sales staff may be a bit hit or miss depending on the person you get, but the quality of the merchandise speaks for itself.

Mc Cabe's is the grandfather of guitar shops; they carry mandolines, banjos, ukeleles, and every other kind of stringed instrument, including exotic instruments (from various countries I had never seen before and could not name if my life depended on it). They offer lessons upstairs and concerts some nights, so if you seek a knowledgeable, personable, and educational place to begin your musical education, McCabe's is the choice.

Some of us will only listen to music and never play, but it's nice to go to music places; like fishing, we do not have to catch a fish to enjoy fishing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Above Water

I have crewed on large sailboats (one raced in the America's Cup, but did not win), but I get horribly seasick (the the point where I pass out); I actually turned down a free trip as a crew member to Hawaii because I knew I would not survive the voyage with any semblance of dignity. Even though I love to scuba dive, I get sick almost every time, feeding the fish upon both my arrival and departure from the dive site.

My friends bought me a relief band "watch" that seems to work; it sends electrical pulses to my wrist at various intervals (you can choose the intensity). Maybe now I can finally get on a boat again without providing fish food. For those who either don't get seasick, or don't care about getting seasick, boats are great ways to travel, spend a vacation, or play on the water. Marine West is for those who love boats and all things nautical. If you own a boat, you already know this is the place to feed your addiction; if you know a boat owner, buy a gift certificate to Marine West and they will beam with joy. Whether you seek a simple light bulb for your running lights, or a piece for your engine, Marine West will have it or can order it for you. The fact that marine repair shops come to them for supplies speaks volumes about them.

And if you just want to keep your head above water, but not necessarily on a boat, they also sell life jackets!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Below Water

Many many moons ago I learned how to scuba dive in Moorea, French Polynesia, so I was spoiled by clear visibility of about 80 feet, warm water with no need for a bodysuit, and a scuba instructor (whom I dated) who allowed me to dive even though I did not know how to swim (I have learned how to swim since then).

If you are not already certified, then maybe you would like to learn. If you are certified, maybe you need to renew your PADI certification. Maybe you would like to help clean up the area by the Santa Monica Pier. Maybe you would like the latest underwater equipment, books, or toys. The best way to satisfy any of those needs or desires is to head over to Eco Divers. They are the best scuba shop in the Los Angeles area and provide knowledgeable service and education; the fact that the huge chain Sports Chalet refers divers to Eco Divers for specialty equipment is one of the best testaments to their expertise.

Learn to dive so you can see our oceans while there is still live coral (you can experience what Nemo did outside his fish tank); better yet, learn how to dive so you can help clean up our underwater world so there will be fish and coral for our future life above water.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Beach Therapy

A Beach Therapy session is where you spend the day enjoying the beauty of the beach, reading, snoozing, listening to music (with earphones) or meditating. Pick a beach, any beach, then head out and leave all your chores and worries behind.

My favorite beach in Southern California is Hermosa Beach for its' small town feel (and the fact that I used to live there). I like beaches with on site toilet facilities, shops to get food, drinks, sunscreen, and accessible parking (where I won't get run over or ticketed trying to park). Another one I like is across from Chautauqua Blvd. in Pacific Palisades; parking there is harder to find, but the peaceful beach is worth the hunt.

Beach Therapy may be the most natural original therapy; my favorite therapist is on Motu Tapu where there are no facilities or inhabitants except the sand crabs and fish....

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Take A Walk

So many of us work indoors all day long and although we may see the sunlight, we are never in it. Taking a walk outside is good for our emotional, mental, and physical health. Like the song, Walking in Sunshine, says, "Don't it feel good?" There is a reason; you get Vitamin D from the sun.

Several of my friends take daily walks (with or without pets as a reason to step outside) and they all swear that their daily walks are essential to their well-being. It's an easy and accessible exercise that nearly everyone can do anytime. With the price of gasoline these days, some people make their walks a productive means of accomplishing both exercise and transportation goals at the same time; if you are heading to the market a few blocks away for some bread, why not walk instead of drive?

There are also many causes that sponsor walks as charity donation vehicles, so if you want to add even more value to your walk, sign up and get people to sponsor you; what could be better than being paid to walk?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mani's on Main

Mani's Cafe and Bakery has been around for years; Mani is no longer the owner, but his recipes live on and like any good thing, they thrive because they are good. From their Fairfax location, you can even order online and get your breakfast or lunch delivered.

I like their Santa Monica location with it's outdoor patio and location 1 block from the beach; all this means that if you would like an easy beach day, just order your lunch at Mani's to go and walk over to the sand a block away to enjoy a beach view with your meal. I love their gourmet salad with freshly grilled shrimp, candied walnuts, and blue cheese. If you want a splurge, go for one of their pastries for dessert, you can't go wrong with a carrot cake muffin or a blueberry tart. They always have a stand at the Sunday Farmer's Market on Main Street, so if you are awake before noon on a Sunday, head over to their stand and sample their croissants while listening to the live music in the park.

It may not be Chicago, or Saturday, but Sunday in the park, with good food and good music is almost as good as the Fourth of July.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Luxury Link

Luxury Link is the priceline of the luxury hotel market; they offer vacations with bids starting at only $1! Yes, you read that correctly, $1 for a vacation. Some of their deals are only for the last minute, so if you have an urge to get away for a week-end in Paris, or five days in Huahine (French Polynesia), check the auctions here before you book with your travel agent. All the hotels are top of the line brands like the St. Regis or the Hyatt, so you will get a package with upgrades like suites or complimentary spa services for less than you would pay if you booked only the room directly. Look at the different packages offered to see which suits yours preferences, is it more nights and less extras like meals, or it is less nights and more amenities like spa treatments?

The destinations range from Russia to the Rocky Mountains with everything in between. The only common denominator is the discount pricing and the quality of the resorts. My pick would be to bid on the Soneva Gili resort by Six Senses package in Male, Maldives with it's overwater bungalows, breakfast and lunch, transfers, and spa treatments all offered at 50% off the list price!

Bon Voyage!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Blue Wednesday

Some of the best things in life are free. The House of Blues is famous for its' music and food, but most of the time all that goodness comes at a cost. In Las Vegas, their location at Mandalay Bay offers a regular free Wednesday night admission to their Nothing but the Blues show. That's right, every Wednesday it's free admission to hear great live blues. They have all the American classic food (ribs, fried chicken, burgers) and drinks you could imagine, plus a few creative ones, like the Louisiana Cajun Bloody Mary which comes with a pepperocini and pepperoni attached to the celery stalk!

If you save your receipt from your bar or dinner tab, you are entitled to a 2 for 1 breakfast the next day! If you like the food and music idea, come for their Sunday Gospel Brunch where everything you could want for brunch comes with inspirational music for your soul. Music and food is always a good combo, especially when each is great on its' own merits.

Laissez les bons temps roulez!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wynning and Dining

As those of you who read this Blog know, my favorite hotel in Las Vegas is the Wynn. I just came back from a few nights there on the package deal I wrote about and tried a few new places.

Parasol Up is the bar at the top of the Lake of Dreams (which features free shows changing every half hour, nightly starting at 8pm). It does not offer the view of the shows like Parasol Down, but it is a beautiful bar across from the registration desk which serves premium wines and cocktails (at premium prices). I had a fruity Sancerre and enjoyed both the service and atmosphere even to disregard the price of the drink. Since Las Vegas is one of the last bastions of smokers, you may also order a cigar from the Dominican Republic (they have a full page of cigar offerings) and enjoy it with your snifter of Louis XIV if you are so inclined.

The SW Steakhouse is directly opposite the Lake of Dreams, so you get a nice show to go along with your dinner facing the huge waterfall and forest of trees around the lake. The showstopper here is the food; from the appetizers of yellow tail and toro carpaccio tower, or the prosciutto and asparagus, to their famous steaks, everything here is delicious. The only thing to note here is that they do serve their meat for American tastes, so ordering your meat rare means it is warm not cold in the center, so if you are not American (or love truly rare meat like I do) make sure that your server knows how you want your meat cooked.

Ah, a nice glass of wine, a gourmet dinner and a free show at the Wynn; the only thing better is to win enough to pay for it all!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Save on a Vegas Dinner & Show

Nearly every time I go to Las Vegas, I go to see a Cirque show, but since the Criss Angel show was postponed due to technical difficulties, I did not have any show tickets upon my arrival. It's good to know that Tix4tonight exists at five locations all over the city. You can go in and peruse the flyers or talk to one of their knowledgeable staff about a show that would be to your taste. For last minute or first time show goers, this is a great place to start; you can see the stage version of Mammma Mia or see a classic showgirl performance like X Burlesque for 50% off the list prices. Be sure to print out their coupon for even more savings.

I learned by visitng their Fashion Show Mall location that they even offer dinner discounts with entrees at 50% off; some are for buffets, but others are for full service restaurants like Ah Sin at the Paris, so you can sit outside and watch the beautiful fountains of Bellagio (my favorite thing to see in Las Vegas-go at 8pm for the Bocelli song) while enjoying your (mediocre) meal (do NOT order the sushi, the cooked entrees, like the tempura, are much better); think of the discount price of the meal as payment for a seat to the best free show in Vegas.

Somethings are worth paying full price for (see tomorrow's post), but sometimes all it costs is time: if you can stand the wait at Paris' other terrace restaurant, Mon Ami Gabi (it's usually at least an hour wait because you can not reserve a terrace seat), the food and view of the fountains are fabulous.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Usually the only things I like about churches are the stained glass and the choirs; both inspire me to believe that there is a higher power which seeks only beauty and peace for all. As anyone who has ever been to a gospel concert knows, there are some choirs which do more to enrich and enlighten souls than any sermon.

The Soweto Gospel is one of my favorite inspirations; enjoy and pass the joy around to others.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Flowers from the Heart

Very few things in the world make me smile like flowers; they are one of the creations which remind me that doing is not as important as being. I have had the fortune to have people who love me send me beautiful bouquets of my favorite flowers, red roses; I know it's a classic, but I am a classic too (not quite as old as a Shelby, but close). My favorite Florist is Santa Monica Florist because their flowers always last and they are happy to help make other people happy with flowers; they once gave us free flowers for our professors because we were buying flowers for our classmates.

Sometimes the flowers are sent in sympathy (thank-you Dar), sometimes they are sent in celebration of a great memory (thank-you Cindy & Tiger), sometimes they are sent as an apology (no name here as it was his faux pas, not mine), and in the best of times, they are sent simply in love (thank-you Mark).

If flowers can do it, so can we; we can simply exist and by our very existence, we give people pleasure and happiness.

No matter the reason or the season, flowers are always beautiful, and it is a beautiful world because of the people that flower it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hawaiian Know How

Psssst! Wanna live like an Hawaiian? If you want to spend a month or more in Oahu, you owe it to yourself to contact Glynnis Rissmiller for a long term (or vacation) rental. She will set you up in the kind of place a native would rent. You can see what the current offerings are on her website. The best connection you can have is one where the agent actually lives on the island, and Gylnnis lives on, works on, and loves her adopted home.

If you want to live like a native on another island or for a shorter stay, then try VRBO which has every Hawaiian (and other) destination for rent by owners with detailed pictures and descriptions of the properties. It's always better to have your own kitchen and living area (called a suite in hotel terms), even if you don't use them; it's like having extra closet space (does that really exist?), having the option of more and than you will use is always better than not having enough.

If you decide you want to become a native, Glynnis can help you purchase a property so you will automatically know someone when you move in, and it's always best to ask a local for the inside scoop.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Zen Bakery

Zen Bakery is one of those places started in the health conscious 1970's which thrives as a rebel in the face of today's overly processed packages of chemical sweets. Zen Bakery was actually started in a monastery with the intention of making delicious and nutritious muffins, scones, cookies and fiber cakes. They have succeeded in providing both a tasty and a healthy alternative to the mass produced enriched flour, high fructose, and corn syrup laden products that pass as food offered in the chain megamarkets.

If you don't live near their Pico location, they distribute through Trader Joe's, so you can find their blueberry fiber cakes (like mini blueberry bran muffins super loaded with blueberries), oatmeal cranberry cookies, or apple cranberry bran muffins in a location close to you. It speaks to their skill that their products all taste delicious (even to a 4 year old I know who ate two of them and asked for more) and are all flavored with only the most natural and pure of ingredients (they use fruit juice for sweetness).

Zen bakery products are good enough to make you silent with grateful meditation on their goodness.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Landmark Theatres

I recently went to one of my favorite movie theaters, the Landmark in the Westside Pavillion. The Landmark specializes in small independent and foreign films, and they even hold screenings where the directors and actors come to answer questions about their films. This is a cinephile's dream movie house with offerings from Caramel (a wonderful film from Lebannon) to Roman de Gare (from Roman Polanski). There are usually displays of props from the various movies being shown in the lobby, and the stand alone concession stand offers non movie goers gourmet snack food including La Brea pretzels, Pizza Rustica whole grain pizza, 70% cocoa bars, and popcorn made with real butter.

Special movie nights are offered for adults which add the unique experience of being able to bring in a glass of wine from the adjacent wine bar (at a discount) to your screening. My favorite part of this complex are the two Living Room theaters which offer cushy couches and side tables (for your wine glasses and snacks); it is the closest thing to feeling like you are watching a movie in your own private screening room that you can have in public.

A movie in a Living Room theater with a glass of wine...now all we need is a baguette and some cheese.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


After my insurance agent of over a decade retired, I stayed with the same company out of simple laziness. As my rates started to rise (with no accidents or violations on my part), and as customer service declined (I spoke to a secretary to get my questions answered and never once received a call from the agent who replaced my retired agent), I finally decided to do some insurance shopping.

I found that nearly all insurance companies now offer online rates, with questionnaires for quotes and websites that range from from the insanely complex and intrusive, to the simple but heavily sales oriented. Prices ranged from nearly 20% more to 15% less than what I was already paying. So after nearly two weeks of research on sites which rate insurance companies for their service (Consumer Reports) and financial stability (A.M.Moody), I decided to switch to Esurance.

Esurance had one of the easiest website interfaces with an simple (but sales heavy) questionnaire to obtain a quote. Their rates were lower for higher coverage than my former company, and I liked the easy document print out. The one time I had a question and called them, they answered me promptly and knowledgeably.

I am happy to report that I am still happy with my decision to switch, especially after a car backed into me on Monday (Labor Day). Not only did they answer the phone promptly at 7 pm on a holiday, but they scheduled the inspection within 48 hours (he came to me) and he had the estimate for me to take my car in for repair within 3 hours after the inspection. My insurance adjuster even made the call to the other driver's insurance company (ironically my former insurance company) to report the claim. Everyone I dealt with was personable, professional, and efficient, explaining every step clearly. It was wonderful to have every person I talked to ask me how I was after the accident before asking me about anything else. It was wonderful to have my every call or email returned within hours. It was wonderful to feel secure knowing that that any questions or concerns I had would be answered and addressed quickly.

Rarely do you get to compare a new choice with a former choice, but I got to do that, and found that I had chosen wisely.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Japanese Grill

Gyu-Kaku has several locations throughout Los Angeles, but I recently stopped by the one in West Los Angeles for their happy hour BBQ. I have never been to one of the chain, but I have heard good things about it from two food knowledgeable non-Asians, so I wanted to give it a try.

For a chain, this is a good one; the servers are friendly and efficient, the food is decent, and the prices for their Happy Hour (the BBQ special at half price changes daily) are great. They offer nice combinations served with several side dishes, including a cup of miso soup, edamame, a miso dressed salad, rice, and kim chee. The proteins include lobster, salmon, shrimp, ribs, and filet mignon; they also include your choice of marinades and vegetables, ranging from garlic to sweet soy with your BBQ protein choice. If you are vegetarian, they have vegetables for grilling or steaming, including portobello mushrooms and a Japanese tofu platter. For drinkers they offer a 99 cent beer and $5 large sake during happy hour that can't be beat.

If you have never had Korean BBQ, try Gyu-Kaku. Gyu-Kaku may not have all the options, atmosphere, or taste of an authentic Asian grill restaurant, but their kind service and English menus help sway the balance in their direction, espcially for virgin grillers; it is a good introduction to grilling your own food in an easy, accessible, and friendly atmosphere. If you like it, try a Korean place in Koreatown for a more authentic experience, but be forewarned that the service and ease you find here may be lost in translation in a Korean BBQ, especially if you do not look or speak Korean*.

*So far the only place I have found which treats non-Koreans as well as Koreans is Cham Sut Gol.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Christmas Lights in September!

Week-ends are when I write about inspirational themes/things/times and since yesterday's post referred to Thanksgiving and an old friend, today's post will have Christmas and ease as its' themes (yes I know, it is still September).

The Westfield Mall in Century City has always been one of my favorite shopping centers; they have been undergoing a major transformation that will eventually include high rise luxury apartments and a park-like open space. The open air food court already has upscale eateries ranging from Coral Tree Cafe Express (my favorite), to Lawry's Carvery, and live music; the shops include brands like Louis Vuitton, Cole Haan, and Juicy Couture; and if you want to enjoy a movie and a nice restaurant meal, there are 15 AMC movie screens, and date worthy restaurants like Savannah.

One recent improvement has made it look like Christmas in the underground parking structure, but not with holiday decorations like wreaths and trees. They have installed a new parking system which shows the number of spaces available in every direction, along with a light above each space that lights up in red (space taken) or green (space available), so you can look down a row of overhead lights and see if there is a green light instead of having to drive down the row only to find every space already taken. There are sensors over the spaces, so as a car pulls out, a red light turns green and visa versa. Not only is it an ingenious and unobtrusive way of indicating available parking, but it is pretty!

Now when Thanksgiving and Christmas shopping season comes, you may actually enjoy going to the mall just to see the lights in the parking structure; if there aren't any green lights, remember there is always valet parking.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My Oldest Bob

It is my old friend Bob's 50th birthday this year and I hope the next 50 will be filled with as much fun and good food as we have had since we have known each other. Bob is probably my oldest friend; I met him 28 years ago at the first job I had after I graduated from college. Through nearly three decades of life, we have both held a variety and plethora of jobs, moved several times, been married and divorced (Bob is now remarried with a child and a dog), and shared nearly every Thanksgiving together. Just as in life, our Thanksgiving traditions have evolved and improved with experience.

I cooked for our first Thanksgiving group, but ever since then, Bob has been the lead chef (his latest job is F & B manager at the Del Rey Yacht Club). Even though his first turkey was roasted with the giblet package still inserted inside the neck cavity, the fact that he managed to feed 30 people was laudable enough for us all to return year after year. Last year he had the aid of two of us as sous chefs and managed a four course meal worthy of a five star restaurant (with no giblets left in the turkey), complete with printed menus and four dessert choices. Because everything was made from scratch by hand for our family of friends, it was the best of all meals.

I think the best meals are like the best old friends; they are held together by the shared love of those who are willing to do the work of creating and maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship.

Happy Birthday Bob!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Free Food in Vegas at the Venetian

In the last ten years I have probably gone to Las Vegas at least ten times and gambled a total of ten dollars. I go to Las Vegas for the food, not the gambling, and whenever I can get a good deal on a room in a good hotel, it's worth a trip for me to just go there to eat.

My favorite Hotel is the Wynn and my favorite restaurant is probably the Capital Grille; but the new Palazzo (the new tower that is a super luxurious addition to the Venetian) just opened and they are offering a deal for their suites starting at just $239 a night with a $100 dining credit per day! Just click on the link or call them with promo code PPDIN08. There are restaurants by Puck, Trotter, and Lagasse among the nine James Beard award winning restaurants at the Venetian; I like Morel's and Solara, but after reading Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain, I am dying to try Sushisamba on my next trip (even though the original owners are no longer part of the enterprise).

Stay in a nice hotel and get $100 per day for food? If this is a dream, please don't wake me.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


For everyone who hates to type (or can't do it very fast), but who wants to keep connected via email, there is a great new solution; the E-Voice Recorder ($39.99) allows you to simply speak your email message and send it as an embedded MP3 attachment! All you need is an USB port and a PC that runs a current operating system (unfortunately, it is not MAC compatible). You simply download the software that converts your recorded message into an MP3 file, record your voice message into the mouse-like microphone, press the send button, and it does the rest. The email recipient doesn't need any special software or hardware, they only need speakers to hear what you recorded!

Somethings are better said than written; especially for those who speak better than they type!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Green Cookware

I love to cook almost as much as I love to eat, so finding a good set of cookware is essential to my sense of well-being and peace of mind. My major concerns are that my saucepans are made well enough to withstand my constant (almost professional) use, that they heat evenly and consistently, and that they are easy to clean. Even though copper is a great heat conductor, it is a pain to keep clean; stainless steel is wonderful, but if you are not completely vigilant 100% of the time, something will stick and burn, leaving you with scrubbing duty worthy of Popeye muscles. Most of my cookware is anodized, but even that choice gives off some unhealthy vapors and residue into the atmosphere and food.

Scanpan is a revolutionary new kind of nonstick green cookware. It's Danish, made with ceramic-titanium interiors and you can put them in your dishwasher! And forget about all the scratches you can cause on other nonstick pans, these are metal utensil safe. They are also oven safe to 500 degrees, certified PFOA free, and on sale for 20-40% off selected sizes at Sur La Table right now.

The only thing better than a great nonstick green saucepan is one on sale!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Recycle Your Cell Phone

Since I like to get a new cell phone every time my contract comes up for renewal, I am always left with an old phone that works perfectly but is useless to me; it's like having outdated jeans, you could keep them but you know you'll never wear them again.

There are several options to recycle your phone, but before you do, remember to erase your personal information (recellular offers a free eraser):

1) If you want some money for your cell phone as you recycle it, then try Cell for Cash. It's not much, but it may pay for (almost) a gallon of gas. You can also donate a portion of the sales price to the charity 911 cell phone bank.

2) One of my friends is in the military and she says that most of the people in her unit can't afford the cost of cell phone bills for overseas calls, so no one calls home unless it is an emergency call. You can actually support our troops overseas by sending your used cell phone to Cell Phones For Soldiers; they will recycle the phones and send out calling cards to the soldiers. The program gives us all a way to recycle cell phones and help the soldiers at the same time and has now grown to a non-profit that expects to raise nearly 9 million dollars in the next 5 years to send out calling cards and even prepaid video phones to soldiers stationed abroad. Not bad for a company started by a 13 year old!

3) If you have a charity you would like to donate your used cell phone to, then check out Charitable Recycling (they also recycle ink cartridges); their list of charitable organizations includes everyone from animal advocates to women's shelters, and includes local charities ranging from local fire departments and schools to hospitals and children's services. If you can't decide which one, you can simply donate your used phone and they will distribute the proceeds. If you want to start your own drive for your favorite charity they even help you set that up.

Recycling is good for everyone, so don't throw your old phone away, give it a new life. You may even help save someone's life by giving it to a charity.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Champagne Fest

After a week-end of weddings and birthday parties, I came home to find that it is time to reserve for the Wine House Champagne Fest; this is an event for anyone who loves champagne or wants to learn about champagne. It will be held Sunday November 2, 2008 at the Wine House.

You get to taste over 40 vintage and non-vintage champagnes for $75 and they have a Tete de Cuvee table (this is the best of the best, like tasting the cream on the top of an old fashioned bottle of milk) for an additional cost of $20 per taste. A better deal is to buy the VIP tickets for $125 which includes 3 Tete de Cuvee tastes and entry into the event an hour before everyone else can enter.

There will be nibbles from the related Upstairs2 restaurant and free valet parking. If you plan to attend, please designate a driver and reward him or her with a bottle bought at the event (at a discount) to make everyone bubble with joy.