Friday, July 26, 2013

Not-So-Cheap Stuff I Love

The other day I blogged about the top ten things I love that are inexpensive or even free. But today I’d like to share my top ten favorite things that are NOT cheap – but that, to me, are still well worth the (considerable) expense. Obviously, “expensive” is relative, so for the purposes of this article, I’m considering anything that costs at least $100 to be “expensive.”

Keurig Coffeemaker

Of everything in my kitchen, I think I love my Keurig the most. I don’t think I could survive raising two children without it. As a one- or two-cup a day coffee drinker married to a non-coffee drinker, a full-size coffee maker just isn’t practical, and with two small children, neither is taking the time to measure, grind, and wait for a full pot to brew. With my Keurig, I put some bread in the toaster then pop in a K-cup and push one little button and before my toast is ready for buttering I have a steaming cup of joe creamed and sugared and sliding happily down my gullet.

Honda Odyssey

When I was pregnant with my second child, my husband and I agreed that it was time to turn in one of our sedans for a minivan. Since I was the one who would be hauling the kids around most of the time, it made sense that I would be the minivan driver. I hadn’t driven a large car since I learned to drive in my parents’ 1979 Plymouth Gran Fury (which easily seated 11), and I was vaguely terrified of the idea. But after renting a minivan for a weekend trip, I gave in and bought my Odyssey. Having always owned Hondas, the familiarity of the Honda cockpit and dashboard layout made the transition easier. Now, whenever I drive my husband’s sedan I feel like I’m sitting on the ground. I love my minivan. I love how comfortable the seats are. I love the extra safety of the back-up camera. I love the CD changer. I love the DVD player. I love how much stuff it holds (right now there’s a bike, a ride-on giraffe, and a large trash bag full of clothes waiting to go to Goodwill in the back and there’s still room for a full Costco load including diapers, toilet paper, and bottled water), and I love how easy it is to fold down the seats and to pop them back up again.

Kindle Fire HD

I really didn’t want a Kindle Fire, particularly since I already had a Kindle. Little did I know how much I would come to love it. We bring it to restaurants for the kids to play with when they finish eating before we do; I’ve used it to play lullabies and induce naptime when we’re away from home; I can catch up on email and Facebook while I’m waiting for an appointment; I even play games to lull myself to sleep when I have insomnia. And that’s not even counting using it to, you know, read books.

Window Air Conditioners

I grew up in a house with no central air conditioning and only fans in most of the bedrooms, including mine – which was on the second floor and a sweltering illustration of the rule that “heat rises.” So having room air conditioners in our bedroom and the kids’ bedroom as well as the office where I spend much of my time has been a wonderful luxury during this very hot summer. And on nights like last night when we can turn them off and open the windows, they help me appreciate the joys of fresh, cool night air even more.

Video Baby Monitor

When my kids were infants, it was reassuring to be able to see as well as hear them when they were in their cribs. As they grew older, it was even more reassuring to be able to see them in their bedroom and know that they weren’t ripping down the venetian blinds or coloring on the walls with crayon or getting their chunky thighs stuck between the bed slats (or at least, if they were doing any of those things, to be able to halt it quickly). And even beyond the reassurance factor, the monitor allows me to peep in on them without disturbing what they’re doing, which has led me to see amazing moments like my son “reading” my daughter a story, my daughter climbing into her brother’s bunk and hugging him awake, and both children quietly – and peacefully – building castles of blocks together. Those precious moments are worth every penny we paid for that monitor.

Artificial Christmas Tree

A few years ago, I would never have imagined my including a fake Christmas tree on this list. But after finally giving in last year, I’ll never go back. No more spending hours making sure that the tree is straight in its stand and that the “flat side” is facing the wall. No more detangling endless strings of lights. No more scraping the skin off our fingers along with the lingering sap. No more still vacuuming needles out of the carpet at Easter. No more discovering too late that a precious sentimental ornament went to the garbage dump with the tree. Our tree is realistic-looking, and a few lengths of pine roping on the mantel provide plenty of festive aroma. Merry Christmas to us!

In-ground Swimming Pool

I’ve never been much of a swimmer. But having a pool literally in my backyard has taught me to enjoy the water, even though I’m still not much of a swimmer. Aside from the actual swimming (or, in my case, bobbing), the ambiance of the pool is a wonderful thing. My husband and I have spent countless evenings having quiet romantic dinners next to the pool, the reflection of tiki lights flickering on the water and the soft hum of the pool pump joining with the hum of summer insects. Our pool deck is our oasis all summer long. You can’t put a price tag on that kind of relaxation.

Costco Membership

I’m not sure this actually counts as “expensive.” True, the price tag is over $100 for our annual Executive Membership, but we save well over $100 over the course of the year. Kirkland brand diapers, clothes, detergent, and even wine are staples on our shopping list, and party foods like pre-made veggie platters, gourmet meats, rich chocolate layer cakes, bulk bread and rolls, wheels of Brie, and frozen pre-made appetizers make a regular appearance at our house. Right now, I’m wearing jeans that cost me about half of what the same brand of jeans would have been at a “regular” store, drinking coffee brewed from a K-cup costing pennies rather than dollars, and planning tonight’s dinner of double-thick pork chops that cost the same as chops half their size at the local grocery store. Oh, and the computer I'm typing this on came from Costco, too!

LG Gas Range

My dishwasher died right before Thanksgiving last year, and since the broiler of our oven hadn’t worked in years, we decided to replace them both at once. And I love my new dishwasher, but I ADORE my new oven. The built-in griddle gets daily use; the “Superboil” power burner considerably shortens the time it takes to make pasta; the “proof” feature on the oven makes bread dough rise perfectly; the convection oven bakes things quickly and evenly; the oven is large enough to cook multiple dishes at the same time; and instead of having a buzzer or beeper to signal that the oven is up to temperature or that the timer is done, it plays a cheery little melody. It makes both cooking and baking a pleasure.

Sleep Number Mattress

This past spring, I was diagnosed with multiple allergies, including a fairly severe allergy to dust mites. So my husband and I decided to bite the bullet and replace our old mattress with the Sleep Number bed we’d been eyeing for a few years. Since we got it, we’ve both been sleeping better than we have in years. The ability to adjust the firmness separately on each side is great, and it still amazes me that even with a pretty significant differential between our preferred firmnesses, the mattress doesn’t feel like two different mattresses stuck together. Getting into bed every night is a pleasure, and the mattress does more than I would have imagined to erase the stress of each day and give me a new start every morning.

I am grateful that I am able to have these luxuries that make my life both easier and more pleasant. And I’m glad that I’m able to use many of them to make my friends, my family, and my guests safer, happier and more comfortable as well. 

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cheap Stuff I Love

I’m a big fan of a blog called The Bloggess (, written by the quirkily hilarious Jenny Lawson. She wrote a blog the other day listing a bunch of her favorite things that are “worth spending money on or that are totally free anyway.” It occurred to me that it would be fun to put together a list like that of my own, so here it is: Ten things that are, to me, worth their low price – or, even better, free.

Free Kindle Books – free
There are plenty of websites dedicated to posting links to a few ebook titles every day that are either free or only a few dollars. A simple search for “free Kindle books” on will come up with a long list of titles in various genres that can be downloaded at no cost. Some of them are worth exactly what you pay for them, but I’ve stumbled across enough gems to make searching every now and then worthwhile. And even the horrible ones are occasionally so horrible that they circle around to being entertaining.

Dunkin Donuts Butter Pecan Iced Coffee - $3.24
For less than 4 bucks, I get half an hour of caffeine- and sugar-laced nirvana over ice. I avoid splurging on them too often, due to the calories rather than to the price, but every now and then the indulgence is worth it.

Shoes from Payless - $12

I have enough issues with my feet that my shoes need to be either ridiculously expensive (so they actually fit – and last) or absurdly cheap (so I don’t care that they don’t fit that well and don’t last that long because I can throw them out in six months without feeling guilty). Since I love shoes, in my closet right now I have two very expensive pairs of shoes (sneakers and black dress shoes) and literally dozens of cheap pairs that I got at Payless Shoes. I have two pairs of red patent pumps (different shades of red), black patent pumps, navy pumps, white pumps, black and white tweed pumps, black slingbacks, black booties (that my husband fondly refers to as my “Captain Kirk boots”), red tennis shoes, black ballet flats with leopard print toes, ivory peep-toe heels, and at least twenty more pairs of shoes, all of which cost me less than 20 bucks apiece and many less than 15.

Lush Bath Products - $5.25
For the past few Christmases, my husband and/or stepdaughter have given me a carefully-selected collection of bath stuff from Lush. Bath bombs that fizz and spin when you drop them in the water, glitter bars that add a shimmer when you slide them over dry skin (I mistook one for soap once and was washing glitter out of my various crevices for about a month), cubes that add beautiful colors and scents to the bathwater, cubes that make your skin soft and smooth, cubes that make you feel refreshed and alert, cubes that make you feel relaxed and mellow. Soaking in a tub full of scented bubbles erases the mental and emotional (and occasionally physical) scars from a bad day, assures me a relaxing night’s sleep, and readies me to face the next day with a clean slate.

Schick Intuition Razors - $11.99
The first time I saw these razors with the built-in chunk of moisturizing…um, stuff, I rolled my eyes a little. But Santa tucked one into my Christmas stocking last year and now I’m a convert. No more flaky dry skin after shaving. No more nicks on my knobby knees. No more running out of shaving cream after shaving a single leg. I can even shave my legs without getting in the shower, just by running a damp washcloth over them first. (OK, the website says you’re not supposed to do that. But I do it anyway. I like living on the edge.) It’s faster, it’s closer, and it’s smoother. It’s fabulous.

Non-Stick Reynolds Wrap - $3.48
The only thing I bake directly on a cookie sheet rather than a cookie sheet covered with non-stick Reynolds wrap is actual cookies. Anything else – chicken, pork, potatoes, pizza – goes on wrap that gets tossed without needing washing. Corn on the cob gets buttered, salted, and wrapped in its silvery embrace, then roasted on the grill. Ground beef gets frozen in it and then thawed without needing to pick off miniscule shards of metal one at a time. I’ve even been known to line the crock pot with it.

Frilled Toothpicks - $2.49
No, really. My 3-1/2-year-old will eat almost anything if I impale it with a frilled toothpick. Boring appetizers are instantly transformed into “crudités” by the addition of a frilled toothpick. And when my 2-year-old locks herself in the bathroom and can’t (or won’t) get out, a frilled toothpick makes a great lock pick.

Velcro - $3.99
As a costumer, a performer, and the mother of small children, I bless the inventor of Velcro every single day. It’s so much easier to sew into a costume than a zipper, and faster and easier than buttons when you have a quick costume change. And as for children’s clothes and shoes, my kids can dress themselves in ways they never could if they had to learn to zip and tie first. Besides, that distinctive rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrip sound is extremely satisfying.

Bubble Wrap – free (usually)
Speaking of distinctive and extremely satisfying noises, there is none more distinctive or more satisfying than the sound made by popping bubble wrap. It’s been putting the “fun” in ‘functional” since 1957!! Much like a child who opens a birthday gift and plays with the box instead of the toy, when I receive a package with the contents carefully padded with bubble wrap, I always go for the wrap first. The item is just an afterthought until all the bubbles have been deflated. It’s so much cheaper than therapy.

Gift Bags - $2.49
In my childhood, there was no such thing as a gift bag. If you received an oddly-shaped gift, it came lumpily swathed in yards of paper (wrapping or news – if you were lucky, they used the Sunday comics) and scotch tape. If you received an oversized gift, it came wrapped in a black trash bag. But thanks to the modern miracle of gift bags, one trip to the Hallmark store and you can wrap any conceivable gift in festive fashion in seconds merely by popping it into a bag.

For the low, low price of only $41.45, you can invest in all ten items on this list. For less than fifty bucks, you get entertainment, stylish feet, luxurious pampering, therapy, classiness, silky smooth legs, and time. Hours of time saved that would have been spent on dull chores like dressing your children and wrapping presents – now it’s all yours to spend on pure reading, soaking, popping, drinking pleasure. Trust me, it’ll be the best fifty bucks you ever spent, AND you’ll still have enough cash left over to catch a movie. Well, a matinee, anyway. (Don’t forget to bring your own popcorn.)

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Men’s vs. Women’s Fashions: Summer Edition

Since time immemorial, women have complained about how much harder it is for a woman to dress for events than it is for a man. For a man, the dress code for nearly any kind of function, be it business or social, celebratory or grief-filled, formal or semi-formal, can be summed up in two words: dark suit. For a woman, however, even a clearly specified dress code can leave confusion as to the required attire: Long dress or short? Jacket or blouse only? Sleeves or sleeveless? Fancy jewelry, costume jewelry, or no jewelry? Heels or flats? The list of options is endless. Look, for example, at this list of what is acceptable attire for men and women, respectively, at the following events or functions.

Business meeting

Cocktail Party


Church Service


Wedding (formal)

Wedding (semi-formal)

Wedding (In Wedding Party)

Wedding (Own)

But there is one time when women have the advantage over men in terms of fashion: Summertime. Which would you rather wear to an outside wedding in New England in July, this?

Or this?

And what would you rather have on your feet, these?

Or these?

Speaking of shoes, which are easier to slip off unnoticed under your desk in the heat of summer, these?

Or these?

I don't know how men survive in a non-air-conditioned church or an sunny outside venue while wearing a suit and tie. For me, as a woman, my biggest fashion concern in the summer is rarely a fear that I’ll be too hot, but only that, in the evening or in an overly air-conditioned venue, I might get too cold. But even that’s not much of a fear, since I know my husband will always be prepared to help.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Keeping Your Cool

Today is the 6th day of over-90-degree temperatures here in the northeast. And many of us are starting to get a little desperate in our quest for some relief from the heat. So I did a little googling and came up with a bunch of ideas of how to keep your cool during this ongoing heat wave.
Ice is Nice
Most of us don’t have to wear a fur coat all summer long, but we could still benefit from this dog’s solution to the heat: ice, ice, baby.
Personal Protection
Wearing your own personal sunshade will keep you free from sunstroke, sunburn, and possibly social interactions. But at least you’ll be cool (literally if not figuratively).
Find a Friend with a Pool
Good fences make good neighbors, but good pools make better ones. Figure out which of your neighbors has the nicest pool and drop by with a casserole to say “Welcome to the neighborhood.” Even if you’ve both lived there for years.
Frozen Friends
Defrost your freezer and make a snowman. Give him a nice, big hug. When he melts, pull out the steaks you unearthed while defrosting and thaw them…creatively.
Take It All Off
If you’re brave, do it publicly (preferably in an appropriate venue, thanks). If you’re shy, your fenced-in backyard or your own living room with the shades drawn are also acceptable.
Water, Water Everywhere
Grab a hose, a bucket, a squirt gun – whatever source of water is handiest – and go to town. Take turns wetting down a friend, or keep it all to yourself. Just remember that wetter is better!
 And now if you’ll excuse me, I think my breakfast is ready.

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