Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Hostess with the Most-est

For Saturday....another from my favorite book: 

Anna Johnson

Today, I will be sharing her wise and witty secrets on the subject of
 Food.....Part 1
The "Ten Laws of Shrewd Service"

1. Prepare Like A General
Lists save your bacon and save you money as well. When it comes to entertaining, there is no such thing as being too organized.  What can be cooked the night before should be made ready.  Last minute expense can be avoided by buying mineral water, crackers, olives, mustard, nuts, candles, cheese, and extra wine in bulk or when it's on sale.....
.....Experiment with lighting for the table long before the guests come, but never light the candles until three minutes before they arrive: you don't want to get down to the wick too early-and nothing is more romantic that allowing the guests to leave with the flame begins to wane.

2. Accept Pivotal Offerings
"Can I bring something?" helpful friends will ask.  And to that you swiftly reply, "Yes," and give fairly specific instructions.  Here's the equation: if three couples bring one to two decent bottles of wine each and two guests bring dessert, you have saved almost two hundred dollars in expense.  Discourage the bringing of "any old" flowers as often they won't be your taste or theme, and instead request white blooms only.  White always looks good, even white carnations can blend sweetly into a larger monochrome bunch.

3. Slip Into That Cocktail Dress, Then Serve Like A Soldier
Never answer the door with your hair still pinned up from the bath.  Be dressed in your goddess hostess-wear beneath your apron; if you look read, people will feel welcome and honored by a certain amount of formality.

4. Be Proud of Simple Fare
Abundant food is more impressive than expensive food.
A mountain of clams steamed in a simple tomato and garlic broth and a basket of rough cut warm baguettes cost peanuts but immediately set the mood.  The same goes for three or four simple roasted chickens trussed up with dried herbs, lemons, and olives along with a platter of roasted winter vegetables.

5. Dress Up The Table
If you iron some cotton table napkins, use pretty mismatched china and make little handmade place cards, then even pizza starts to look good.  I always get a big whoosh of confidence if my table looks elegant when the guests arrive.  It's inviting and involves more time than money.

6. Never Make a Guest a Guinea Pig
Experimental recipes are no fun for guests because they take longer and--after too much Riesling for the chef--they can have mediocre results.  It is better to be known for a cassoulet you can cook blindfolded than weird marinades and quirky raw soups.  Guests feel a sense of homecoming when you establish favorite dishes and serve them often.
In the dead of winter, people want hot food not cool concepts.

7. Cook Frugally Instead of Fashionably
Obscure ingredients are simply gourmet foolery.  Chicken sold with its skin in pieces is usually at least half the price of chicken that is skinned, and the irony is that fatty skin cooks better.
Chicken is also a great base ingredient for a curry or a savory pie.
Meat like fish can be prone to snobbery, but it really does come down to snobbery rather than taste.  Whole fish and large ones are rich, visually dramatic, flavorsome, and are worth the bother of baking and serving in one piece.  Fillet is dreary in  my eyes, and always costs more, so bypass this convention and give your guests credit for the ability to find a bone and not pick one with you.

8. Cook Seasonally. Period
The earth, your body and your pocket all flourish when you choose to buy food seasonally.  Even though I've been known to devour a Mexican mango in the dead of winter, nothing beats the integrity (and the reduced carbon footprint) of a locally grown seasonal fruit of vegetable.  It's an invitation to your creativity to find a million ways with apples or squash or blueberries when they are cheap and plentiful and I feel the same way about flowers.  When lilacs come I want nothing but lilacs, wild and on the stem, and all the hothouse roses in the wold can't change my mind.

9. Save Drama For Afters
Change the music at dessert and change the tome; clear away the clutter of a big roast or a stained cloth and create a mood of fresh repose.  Shuffle the guests if they are starting to coagulate into the overly intense conversational knots or if married parners are starting to get openly bored.  Why not move dessert to a candle-lit sitting room and have small bowls of berries, nuts, and chocolates waiting?  Shifting the lighting at the end of a meal softens the night and intensifies the flirting, which, I find, is excellent for one's digestion.

10. Be A Sweet Tart
Guest feel spoiled if you do something special at the end, for some reason hand-whipped cream is irresistibly scrumptious to men, especially with a drip of real vanilla and a dusting of icing sugar.
Fresh berries and cream, a slender wedge of store-bought chocolate torte, or an easy homemade cake like tarte tatin  (nothing cheaper than apples) all sing with runny heavy cream.  Serve ice cold, very dry prosecco (cheaper by far than champagne) at dessert, just a glass or two each feels like a splash of cold water after heavy wines and embroiled conversation.  And don't fuss so much over coffee.  Better that people leave on a cloud of bubbles, don't you think?

I don't know about you....but I think I want to go to that party!! ;)

~excerpts taken from Savvy Chic by Anna Johnson

Friday, January 30, 2015

Happy Trails!

So, today, I thought we could enjoy the Bargainista's Guide to 
Economy Class Bliss!'s back to my favorite book:
Anna Johnson

She is from Australia, and jets back and forth between there and New York, so she is no stranger to travel.
In her book, she collaborates with Jessica Adams, managing editor of the intrepid women's travel website
Anna says of Jessica: "she is a business-class girl with an economy budget, so she spends a lot of her spare time nutting out clever ways to spend like a backpacker but arrive like a superstar.  We all have our tricks and tips.  She never travels without enormous F-off black sunglasses, and I never leave home without gourmet tea bags-because there is nothing that makes cramped economy seats better than drinking Marriage Freres tea from Paris."
Onto more tips:

Use Muji earplugs (http://www.muji/eu)
A botanical essence face spray such as rosewater, geranium, or lavender in a clear pump pack is the cheapest, loveliest way to keep skin and senses alive during flight.  I spray liberally in the loo so as not to smother my co-passengers in a hippie mist.
Grumpy men don't like roses.
Be prepared for a sinus migraine or a bad dose of gas.  Pack a nasal spray, de-bloating tablets, an aspirin, and a small bottle of eucalyptus oil to dot on your pulse points.
Carry rich eye cream and hand cream, as the air up there is so drying.
Wear tinted lip balm instead of lipstick and waterproof mascara, as you will likely be splashing your face with cool water often.
Indulge in a blowout before you fly, even at the airport.  Limp, nothing ponytails look so much worse on arrival; and there is something implicitly dignified about landing somewhere new with big fat glossy hair, and big fat dark glasses.

(Have I mentioned I love this woman?!) 

Pack a single fresh orange or tangerine and open it an hour before landing; the zesty spray that greets your nose breaks through that stale cabin air, and the fresh citrus is so hydrating and enlivening.
Always carry a small bag of raw nuts and dried fruit.  No matter how bad the (airplane) food is you won't perish....or cave in to bad choices.
Dress as well as you can in a soft casual style.  Jeans and an oversized cashmere sweater and scarf.  A cool knit dress and leggings.  An a-line shift and slim sandals in the summer.  And pack a light jacket (I like safari best) that makes you looks smart on landing.  I got slipped a pass to the admiral's lounge from an older businessman who liked my wrap dress, and I wordlessly thanked him when standing under that hot shower between flights.  Alone. Of course.

Bon Voyage!

excerpts from "Savvy Chic" by Anna Johnson

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Excuses, Excuses

Today's wisdom comes from a book entitled
Learn to live better with less
Mary Carlomangno

(and I JUST noticed that this book was written by the same author as "Live More Want Less" that I featured on Monday and Tuesday.")
Way to go Mary Carlomangno.
You are rocking my blog this week!
In some aspects, her books are similar.  Both address the art of simplifying.
What I really like about "Secrets of Simplicity" is that it breaks things down into seven chapters/categories....and each chapter offers not only advice and good information, but also questions for you to answer, which makes you really think about the areas in your life that may be holding you back.
The first chapter is "Release."
It discusses routines, habits, and excuses.
I know that I am notorious for coming with excuses for not doing things.
(Like hopping on that darn treadmill, cleaning the bathroom, organizing my office, etc.)
Here are some of the things the author has to say about it:
We all have excuses and justifications for why we hold on to things and habits.
While teaching a group of students in Manhattan, I learned that excuses are as creative as they are plentiful.
Identifying our excuses can be a good start when we are deconstructing what makes us hold on to our habits.
At the start of each class, I asked each student to write down and excuse, post it on a bulletin board, and release it to the universe.  By the time the class ended, each student was asked to defend his or her excuse to see if it was still valid.  Typically, more than half of the students would amend their earlier idea of what the actual excuse is, learning that most, if not all the excuses revolve around four major areas: time, motivation, emotion, and energy.

Get control of one of these areas and you hold the keys to your escape plan.  In simple terms, clutter and unhelpful habits can be eliminated when:
* Time is devoted.
* A commitment is made.
*  Emotion is released.
*  Everyday action is taken

We must first accept that we participate in a self-perpetuation cycle.
In that cycle, we add new things to our already packed lives in an attempt to comfort ourselves.  But, in adding more, we create imbalance, which leads to the desire to add again.  Recognizing our excuses is a crucial step in breaking the cycle.
Now it's your turn.  What are your excuses?  Be thoughtful about what the real excuses are.  Avoid vague language that is emotional rather than practical.  Challenge yourself to find what is holding you back from release.
1. Write down one of your excuses:
2. What feelings do you experience when you think about this excuse?
3. How would you feel if you didn't need to use this excuse?  What would you accomplish?
4. What do you think your excuse represents in your life?

excerpts taken from "Secrets of Simplicty"by Mary Carlomagno

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Looking Good!

Today's fabulousness comes from the awesome book entitled:
The Art of More for Less
Anna Johnson

So, my impression of Anna Johnson is that she is one of those cool women who lives in a funky downtown apartment in New York (she actually divides her time between New York and Sydney.) She buys her clothes at vintage second hand shops, her food at the farmer's market, and makes a living as a free-lance writer.  Even when she is living from measly paycheck to even measlier paycheck, she finds ways to look fabulous, decorate her apartment, and make a great dinner for her friends.
In other words....she is one of those women who I want to be!!
There are so many things in her book that I love, but I am going to share her wisdom on building the "Chic-Secrets of Simplicityonomy Wardrobe."
My closet is on my to-do list this week...and the fact that there are several items in there that are no longer fitting around my ever expanding waist line means I need to make some changes.
I am also feeling a HUGE need to purge.  I am SO sick of having clutter and just TOO MUCH STUFF.
I will give you bits and pieces of her may want to buy this book.

"Now when I shop I have watertight ground rules that stop impulse buys in their tracks.  Clothes need to be well made, have staying power through the seasons, and interlock with other existing mainstays in my wardrobe.
Because I may want to wear one piece of clothing for several years, I will choose slightly more conservative, classic styles (easy when buying vintage) and then put them hard to work.
Every top I own has to go with my favorite rip-off Balenciaga-stype black tuxedo pants, or an A-line skirt.  Each dress has to fit at least three occasions. and the jackets need to be day-to-night or trans-seasonal.  
One pair of shoes and one bag "matches" but the rest don't have to. 
The palette of my wardrobe is brown, cream, and electric blue for winter and fall.  Then white, black, honey beige, and bright yellow for summer.  The splashes of bright color can change season to season but the bedrock of my everyday clothes is monochrome".....
....choose a trio of neutrals that best suit your skin tone.
If you can only spend one hundred dollars and want to change your wardrobe, buy a dress or some brilliant pants (not jeans) or a vintage coat, then, as money trickles in, build the wardrobe up from one (or all three) of these items.
To gather funds for new clothes be prepared to sell all the major pieces you no longer use--for example, a wedding dress or a designer handbag--or hold a high-quality clothes swap meet at your house, asking your friends to bring their very best things in wearable condition.  If the quality is high, everyone will benefit and have building blocks for a new look without spending a cent.
On a quiet night, lay out the best things in your wardrobe and the things you wear constantly.  Then work out a way to build a bridge between the clothes you love (but never wear) and the standbys (pieces starting to wear thin with overuse.) If your wardrobe is heavy on casual wear but running dangerously low for work and evening, invest in pieces that can be used for both--for example, the LBD, little black dress.  Very simple additions stretch the clothes you have.
I revolutionized my winter wardrobe with a beige cashmere turtleneck and a pair of black knee-high boots, which I wore almost every day through late fall
and winter.
As if by magic, my strange Indian skirt, a kilt, a leather mini, and an electric blue overcoat all looked right because I had the neutral canvas on which to paint.
A recession-proof wardrobe needs to include two fail-proof job-interview outfits, one scary situation outfit (bank loan application, mother-in-law, first date), two evening dresses, and five complete work outfits. (I don't include downtime clothes because most of us have mainly casual clothing.) It only sounds like a lot of clothes when in fact it could be as straightforward as:
*One suit (according to your form) a jacket and pants or pencil skirt
*One cashmere pullover in a contrasting bright color
*One silk dress shirt
*One cotton work shirt
Two skirts: A-line and knit skirt
*One wrap dress
*One little black dress
*One pair of boots
*One pair of heels
*One pair of ballet flats
*One pair of dressy jeans
*One very good quality long-sleeved T-shirt
Excerpts taken from Savvy Chic by Anna Johnson

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Madame Blueberry

Today, I am going to continue with some excerpts from the book
by Mary Carlomangno

Chapter 2 is titled:
Procrastinators, Read This First.
I'm not sure why she didn't just write 
Beth, Read This First.

Anyway....throughout the book, she has what I would call "extra-good advice boxes" that she labels "THE WAY."

I am going to share some of those today, along with her check-list for 
"Possession Obsession."

I know I have too much stuff.  Have you ever watched the Veggie Tales episode titled "Madame Blueberry" where she constantly goes to the "Stuffmart" and brings more and more stuff home to her house (in a tree) until it finally all falls over and ends up in the river?  Well....sometimes my husband calls me Madame Blueberry. (I promise I'm not that bad.  My house has never tipped over into the river.)

First...."THE WAY."

Understand that procrastination is an avoidance behavior whereby a more pleasant task is selected over a less-pleasant task that brings relief in the short term but creates more mental anxiety and physical stress in the longer term

(We shall call that "the description of MY LIFE.")

Practice active decision making, and become emboldened by the power you have over your stuff.  Once you flip from passive to active mode, you will be able to live simply with less clutter.

Holding on to paper is a common tendency that creates a habit of proving ourselves: proof of payment, proof of where we have been, or proof of what somebody said.  Turn this passive thinking around by finding the confidence in the person you truly are, not the person you are on paper.

Being addicted to the idea of acquiring something just because it is free misses the point of value.  Things are of value only when you use them, not simply because they cost you nothing.

Too much of anything clouds our minds, our homes, and eventually our planet.  Let finding the balance between what you want and what you need guide you to living an informed life with less stuff and more meaning.

Take a break from spending by buying only what you absolutely need and only when you absolutely need it.  Differentiating between thoughtful purchasing and frivolous amassing is the barometer for measuring shopping's hold over you.

*Evaluate your motivations for shopping.  Outside influences like catalogs, internet ads, and television can be strong motivators to purchasing.  With the motivation to inner desire rather than outside stimuli, like a sale or promotion.

*Recognize your usage of the word "need" in your daily life.  Often this powerful word is applied to nonessential "wants" and can be contagious.  Use is correctly and sparingly.  Wants are what turn good shoppers into shopaholics.  Establish a true need or expressed purpose for every item before buying it.

*Peer pressure is pervasive in high school, but some battle it later in life, as well.  Look at your peer group to determine if they are encouraging your purchasing habit.  You can always shop with your friends, but you don't have to buy what they buy if you don't need the item.

* Turn to your daily planner and note how many social activities revolve around shopping.  If you were to eliminate those plans from your calendar, what activities would be left?  Now note if some friends are just shopping buddies. In the process, begin to assess the activities and the time spent on accumulating rather than enjoying.

*Do you buy the same item over and over again without realizing that your already have these same items hanging in your closet?  Begin to notice your repetitive purchasing patterns, and eliminate them.  Temptation can be overwhelming when sales abound.  Release the knee-jerk reaction to stockpile.

*Practice conscientious returning:  Make sure that the things you buy, you wear.  Subscrive to the rule of buying with a purpose, and if you do not wear the item within a reasonable time span, return it.  A good gauge is within a week or two.
~Taken from LIVE MORE WANT LESS by Mary Carlomango

Monday, January 26, 2015


This week I am going to share with you some inspiration I have gotten from
some of my favorite books.
It's an opportunity for me to take a little break from writing, as well as pass on some awesome advice and ideas.
I deliberately chose topics and passages that I could also draw inspiration from.
I hope you enjoy. 

Today's book is "Live More Want Less"
52 Ways to Find Order in Your Life
by Mary Carlomangno

.......The beginning of a new year is usually when people adopt new habits- or, in a more familiar term, make resolutions.  
They address all the new rituals they will put in place when the calendar page switches over and plan for the new routine to literally take root overnight.
But like countless resolution makers before them who have failed and failed again, some annually, they quickly learn that changing a mindset and a way of life does not come with the end of one year and the beginning of the next as if a switch were thrown.
Anyone who has started the cabbage soup diet on January 1, then crashed and burned on January 4 can attest to this.
Good habits take time; while the beginning of the year is the start of a new daily planner, it does not always equate to the transformation of a new you. The date is arbitrary.  In reality, every day presents the opportunity for a fresh start.
Recognizing the the underlying theme behind resolution making is flawed is the first step.  
Vowing to make swift overnight changes is unrealistic and impossible to sustain.
Like a child when his toys are taken away, you approach the weeks like an avaricious little rebel.
Instead of setting up a feeling of deprivation that accompanies resolution making, choose to cement a ritual that you can live with, day in and day out.  Removing the sense of deprivation will give you a much better chance at succeeding.
This subtle shift in thinking is the key to maintaining good habits over time.
New Year's resolutions do not work.
The only annual resolution to make is resolving not to make them at all.

Lose the all-or-nothing mentality that resolutions engender; instead, practice daily rituals that slowly take root over time.

*Let go of the idea of the calendar date marking when you begin your transformation.
Instead, choose a slow and steady approach to achieving your goals.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and you won't be ready for a marathon overnight, either.
Remember that practice makes permanent.

*Recognize the Mardi Gras mentality that might cause you to yo-yo from one extreme to another.  If you are an all or nothing-type person who is either bingeing or fasting, see the middle ground this week by journaling what your imbalances are.  Once you have recorded an opportunity for change, slowly adjust your habit to be worked on over time.

*To you own calendar be true.  Do you have any rituals that you honor and practice daily, such as a walk at lunchtime or calling a parent every evening?  Recognize your ability to make things that are important to you a priority, and begin to carve out the necessary time to honor them each day.

*Pause to valued each day in the process of your new ritual. So much of our time is spent aspiring to the next level that we rarely celebrate the moment that we are in.  Think of your process as charms on a bracelet, with each charm having its own intrinsic value.  Being present for the daily moments will make you appreciate your efforts that much more.

*Be selective.  Most of our promises to do better in the new year fall short because we simply choose too much to do all at once.  Guarantee your success by being single minded:  focus on becoming better at one area or task in your life.  Do not give in to your knee-jerk reaction to list 10 resolutions to fix ASAP.  Pick one or two areas to improve on over time.

* As you look at the good habits you want to foster, also review the bad habits you have cultivated.  Letting something go at the start of a transformation is a powerful as taking on something new.  Review the rituals that may have become harmful, and choose one to release.
Taken from Chapter 1:Ritual
Live More Want Less, by Mary Carlomango

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Stuck in a Rut

Okay.  Here is the deal.
I am in a rut.
A stinky winter rut.
I have zero energy....or desire to do ANYTHING.
I wear pajamas 24 hours a day, unless I am forced into wearing real person clothes.
When I actually accomplish something, (let's use my craft room as an example) each time I step foot in there...I say "I can NOT believe I actually did this.  How on earth did I find the energy and motivation to do this?"  

I am turning into a big fat blob....but my pajamas all have elastic it's not a huge issue....until I have to put on real person clothes.
I have three zits. (I NEVER get zits.)

In other words...I should probably be running for Miss Universe right now.

I was chatting with my BFF last night, and we agreed that we are both in the "hot mess" category right now.
Something's gotta give.
So....I guess it's probably time for me to start making a plan.

Only....this time, I actually have to stick to my plan.
This last week of January is going to be a doozie.
I am already exhausted just looking at my calendar.
Now that we have the "work-out" room together....I need to at least get on the tread-mill for a little while each day...just to get rid of this lethargic state I have gotten myself into.
It's amazing how easy it is to be a tired, miserable bum.

I am declaring February the month of Beth.
(It's my favorite month there we go!)
Time to turn these winter blues around.

#1 on my list is to figure out how to wake up like a normal person.

I have to figure out what works for me.
I know my current habit sure doesn't.

And I'm still trying to figure out how to convince Mark that my life would be so much better if I just had a new baby to love!

Eh, I figure if I start working on him now...when the time comes...he will be good and worn down, and I will just get the ok without a struggle. ;)


Alright.  I'm off to start working on my plan.
This could take awhile.

Have a relaxing Sunday!