Natural Spring Cleaning Ideas and Tips

By Lia

Despite temperatures hovering in the 50s, I went ahead today and put on a lighter jacket with no scarf, and left my gloves at home. Was I a little cold on the walk to the subway?  Yes. Did I care too much about it?  Absolutely not. And flying directly in the face of the fact that I saw the potential for snow next week, I’m declaring it spring.

And with spring comes one of my favorite home rituals – spring cleaning. The time of year where I let the sunshine in and I purge myself of things I haven’t been using, clean the things that need a good scrubbing and just generally get organized so I can be outside as much as possible.

We were so happy when the folks at About.com sent us a really great infographic on natural remedies for spring cleaning. A couple of years ago, I actually developed a cold after I honestly thing I singed my lungs cleaning the bathroom using a variety of cleaning products. It was scary. Ever since then, I’ve tried to find natural ways to whiten and brighten – so this was up my alley. Erin, being pregnant, is equally passionate about keeping it au natural. Here are some of their tips:

About.com Infographic 1

I love, love, love the lemon idea. The bottom of my new sink tends to stain yellow for some reason, so I can’t wait to see if lemon can’t get that sucker white. At the same time, I can totally see my new hardwood floors shining up and smelling great with the lemon and OO combo.

About.com Infographic 2

 

Baking soda is another one of those products that I just need to use more often. It has so many uses! And I love how they break down the small amounts of time it takes to stay clean.  For more information, see:

 

About.com Infographic 3

Lucky Number 13

By Lia

First and foremost, we apologize for having to take a hiatus at the end of 2012. As most of you know, Erin had the most perfect baby girl in the history of mankind (second only to my own niece, of course) and has had her hands full ever since.  I’ve had an insane amount of work and personal stuff to deal with, which left absolutely zero time for crafting, cooking or anything that didn’t involve taking care of those things. It made for a pretty hectic last few weeks of the year, and something had to give. Unfortunately, it was this blog.

But with the start of the New Year, we are back!  As we have done the last few years, we wanted to write down our New Year’s resolutions in the hopes it keeps us honest.

For me, 2012 was a year of very high highs and very low lows. I think my biggest realization was turning 32 and realizing for the first time, that no, the clock isn’t going backward. Never has the time been more ripe to make every single moment count. My second biggest surprise was the huge impact of seemingly small decisions.  I’ve always been a very “this will make sense in hindsight” type of person — and that was proven to me so many times in 2012. So it is in the spirit of those two things that I’ve compiled the following list of resolutions.

1.) Get out of credit card debt. I made absolutely HUGE strides in this in 2012, getting more than $10k worth of debt down to almost nothing. Then, I had a few tough breaks and am back up to about $5k.  Through good fiscal decisions, there is absolutely no reason I shouldn’t be able to get rid of this debt by June. Then, I can double down on pesky student loans, which are significant, but have interest rates that are laughable when compared to my credit cards.

2.) Finish.That.Book. In 2012, I gained my confidence as a writer, not only through this blog but by writing for other sites including The Hairpin and The Gloss. The reaction to those pieces from their readers, as well as my own friends and family has been nothing short of amazing to see and hear. It’s finally proven to me that there just may be an audience for me afterall.  Writing a book is all I have ever wanted to truly do. The only real item I’ve ever had on my bucket list. There is no reason I shouldn’t be able to do this.

3.) Stop cursing. Omg, I curse so much in my day to day and I don’t know why. I need to stop. It’s okay sometimes. But not constantly like I feel like I’m doing. Especially when strangers are around. Just doesn’t give the right impression.

4.) Put at least $10,000 in my savings. I spent the past weekend with two of my very best friends – one who is a successful small business owner, and the other who has, like, eight different degrees in accounting, tax and finance. Both are ridiculously smart and were talking about all sorts of finance topics that largely go over my head – like the fiscal cliff and the pros/cons of capital gains taxes. It was all I could do to keep up. But as I listened to them debate, my mind inevitably drifted, and I got to thinking about how it’s probably not okay that I’ve been working for ten years and have a savings account the size of the one I do. If I ever want to retire, I’ve got to get serious about my finances. That includes not just getting out of debt, but saving for my future.

5.) Complete six half marathons. I ran the NYC marathon in 2010 and it was the most rewarding experiences of my life. Vowing to keep up the running, I ran one half marathon in 2011…and then stopped running all together. But I loved running! I loved the free T-shirts, the sense of camraderie, the fact that when you are running you literally cannot do anything else until you are done. So I took the first step by signing up for the Austin half marathon in February and am going to put a few more on the docket to keep me honest. I have learned that I need to run for a goal. There are worse things in life than to wake up early on a Saturday morning and take a nice long run.

6.) Learn to say what I want. I think one of the very, very, VERY best things about entering your 30s is this switch that totally flips and suddenly you have absolutely no tolerance for being pushed around by anyone. Boss acting annoying? Tell them. Have a bad friend in your life? Cut them off.  I am a nice person and I hate confrontation, and more often than not, I opt for staying quiet rather than speaking up because that’s just easier. But no more. The most stressful things about the last few weeks of the last year have stemmed from me not saying something when I should have. It may not be the easiest route to take at the time, but it makes your life infinitely easier. #YOLO, you know?

So that’s it for me. If I can do even half of these things in 2013, I’ll be in good shape, indeed.

Hope everyone out there enjoys a very happy, healthy New Year and has kicked off 2013 right! Looking forward to getting back in the blogging swing….

Must Do: Stand Up Paddleboarding

By Lia

While I love living in New York and the northeast, there is a large part of me that remains a Florida girl at heart. Growing up, I was hardly ever indoors if I could help it. I rode my bike to the beach almost every weekend until I could drive there. I played sports. Went fishing with my dad. And even though I’ve lived in New York for nine years now, I’ve never stopped missing the fact that in Florida the sun shines almost every day and you can take advantage.

So when I found myself there last week, knowing I was going to come back to a crisp Northeast, I was determined to get out on the water somehow, someway. I’ve noticed that just about every single person I know who lives down south has tried or posted about Stand Up Paddleboarding in the last two years. It looked kind of intimidating – like a mix of surfing and kayaking – but (and not to be mean) I’ve seen some of my more un-athletic friends give it a go and if they could do it, I know I could too!

We found an incredible place in Tampa called Urban Kai along the Hillsborough River. This appealed to me because in the ocean, you have to deal with keeping your balance with waves coming at you, but on the river, you can practice on flat waters. The shop is owned by a husband and wife team who not only rent paddleboards, but teach fitness classes on them as well (more on that in a sec!)

After a quick lesson – mainly just how to hold the paddle, maximize your stroke, and how to get back on if you fall off – we were off to the races.

I really think that hardest part was just kneeling on the board for the first time. Here I am celebrating my success for getting on without making a total idiot of myself:

After you get the hang of paddling and feel where your balance is, the next step is to actually stand up. This is harder than it sounds! First step, transfer your weight forward:

Then push up quick before you can think too much about it:

Then it’s just a matter of keeping your head up (looking at your feet messes you up!) and pretty much rowing. The beginner boards we were on is very stable:

When you get super advanced, you can even graduate to a board that has a built-on yoga mat. People actually do this! Here is what I’d look like if I lived in Florida and could actually practice.

Maybe. Ok probably not, but I can dream! Isn’t that amazing?

Image courtesy of Lululemon.com

If you are in Tampa, visit Urban Kai and visit their Facebook page here! You won’t be disappointed. Or, if you live anywhere near water, this really is a great form of exercise and very easy. You don’t have to do yoga, you can also just paddle around. Especially because you can’t bring your phone or anything of value with you in case you fall into the water – and it was so peaceful just to be out there with your thoughts. I really think that was the biggest benefit I took away!

Send us your snaps if you try it!

How To: Not-Too-Sexy but Still Cute Halloween Shirt

By Lia

I really love Halloween. It falls during my favorite month of the year, it means my favorite season is in full swing, is full of great memories from childhood right up until college, and just symbolizes the start of the cozy winter months.

What I hate about Halloween started in college, though, and involves one single thing: the ooooohhhh-its-Halloween-and-ooh-I’m-so-sexy on this one day a year. I don’t find any creativity in a sexy cop costume, and I think it’s actually more sexy to be creative and funny. I take a stance in my own little way – my last two costumes have been Gilly from Saturday Night Live and Papa Smurf (the anti-sex symbols if you will) – but I think that’s why I gravitated toward this adorable DIY idea from the folks at Hurley.

They simply took their Solid Perfect Crew Tee and cut some messy holes in the back reminiscent of a skull. I love this idea. It requires $20 and a pair of scissors. It’s a really cute idea and I think satisfies the need to be seasonally appropriate and if you’re so inclined, show a little skin.

The only thing I’d modify would be the size and placement of the holes so you could still wear a bra without it showing like it kind of does in the photo (though I don’t mind that too much). You could just cut the holes for the eyes a little smaller and closer together and strategically place the nose so that none of your straps will show. You’d want a friend to use chalk to help mark everything off for you, unless you are extremely flexible and can roughly mark it yourself.

Or, you can just get the shirt in a different color, so if you did want to go bra-less, it wouldn’t be during fall wearing white.  (That just screams a little dangerous to me!) Perfect little project.

How To Trick Your Best Friend into Having a Baby Shower in 11 Simple Steps

By Lia

Step 1: Don’t listen when she says she absolutely, positively, does not want a baby shower. She actually does and is totally lying.

Step 2: Have a very sensitive and thoughtful co-worker physically hear her tell someone on the phone that she wants a baby shower but is pretending not to. Have said co-worker offer up her fabulous apartment as a venue.

Step 3: Start a Facebook e-mail chain  among her closet friends figuring out how to trick said pregnant friend into thinking she should travel into city on the weekend. Enlist her husband. Enlist everyone, really.

Step 4: Plan to have all of the things “her baby” craves served as food at the wedding. This mostly includes chicken McNuggets from McDonalds and macaroni and cheese. Think of hilarious ways to package these foods to make you feel less guilty for eating them by the pound.

Step 5: Whatever you do, try not to forget this is a surprise. That means no mentioning it at work. And no mentioning it at dinner. For a month. This will be the hardest part. Because you are loud and want to tell everyone, everything, all of the time.

Step 6: Assemble early! Pray your friend is late. When she is actually perfectly on time, marvel at her efficiency.

 

Step 7:  Surprise her! Yay! Somehow you did it. Miracles DO happen.

Step 8: Eat the McNuggets and mac and cheese. This will be the easiest part!

Step 9: Open presents!  Tell everyone the absolutely hilarious story of how you two became friends, which includes the key detail of your now-pregnant friend letting you borrow her underwear when you two were no more than acquaintances.

 

Step 10: Pat yourselves on the back. Ten of you kept a secret in the age of social media!

Step 11: Have husband come and pick up wife. Take adorable pictures before they leave.

The end. :)

Please note all the AMAZING photos are compliments of  the insanely talented Jessica Inglis. Find her blog at zenjess.tumblr.com. If you want her contact information for parties or your own needs, contact Erin or me!

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a happy and safe New Year and hopefully this finds you enjoying the extra day off before returning to reality tomorrow!

As we did last year, I wanted to write my resolutions down and share with you all so that I would be obligated to do it.  Last year, I vowed stop talking and just DO.  To just act when the impulse to do otherwise was present. And I think, overall, I did just that! I ran the New York marathon,  posted on this blog almost every single day, took the sewing class I had talked about for years, cooked more, got a dog, the list goes on! I kept busy and it was a h fairly productive year for it.

So this year, I have a two-fold resolution that I hope will continue to improve the quality of my life.

First and foremost, this is the year I’d like to get out of debt. Several years ago, I thought I was moving out of New York and believing I’d live expense free, ran up about $5,000 on a couple of credits card. Ill-advised on how to balance transfer those debts, that $5,000 became almost $18,000.  I found myself drowning at 26 and it was a frightening place to be.  Unable, really, to do anything else, I started chipping away slowly and surely at my principal.  Five years later, I’m down to about $9,500 left to go. This does not count student loans, but those are at a much lower and more manageable interest rate.*

Recently, I took a close look at my spending and saw some ugly things. First and foremost, while not surprising but still painful – I spent more on takeout than I did on groceries.  My travel expenses were also more numerous than I thought. Granted, I had to factor in Thanksgiving and Christmas flights within the last few months, but knowing I had those,  I should have cut back on things like taxis – but oops, I didn’t do that. The list goes on.  When I did some quick math on my own, in the last three months I spent about $5,000 more than I had coming in. I don’t think I have to state that this is NOT okay. Especially when I have debt.

So, I’m taking my financial future by the horns – better late than never – and buckling down. Using mint.com, I’m uploading all of my accounts and loans and setting realistic budgets that will leave me at a more healthy end of the money spectrum. The scary thing is that changing your finances also means some changes in lifestyle, but I think that the end goal is worth it and I’m up for the challenge.

Secondly, ever since I got an iPhone, I find myself wasting a LOT of time playing nonsense little games for hours on end. Time that should be spent reading, writing and HELLO, crafting. So on December 31, I deleted them all and replaced them with apps like Instapaper, which lets you read long form articles from newspapers and magazines you find during the day and read them offline.  I always say I find I don’t have time to read like I used to – but that’s not true. I do have time, I’m just not using it properly! (See 2011 resolutions again.) So this is more silly, but ultimately something I think will be very beneficial.

Wish me luck!

Silly Fun with the AKC's Meet the Breeds

Do you have any kind of ritual that is super silly on the surface but provides such fun and laughter that you just have to do it regularly?  For GC and I, it’s become an annual outing to attend a very fun little showcase held each year at the Javits Center called “Meet the Breeds.”

And it’s a showcase of…

….dogs.  Specifically, every breed the American Kennel Club recognizes – more than 160 types! It’s completely silly…and insanely fun for dog lovers like us.

Stuffed animal or chow?

Lined up alphabetically, the owners/dogs let you pet, ask questions and just generally inform you of the background of each dog.  The pups are oftentimes show dogs and the breeders recognized as best in class, so everyone is super friendly and informative and the dogs have great temperaments. Case in point, GC up close and personal with a Boston Terrier and sheep dog! (Can you tell he is into this?)

Some of the owners also get reallllly into it.  I missed the name of this dog, but the owners left very little to the imagination in terms of letting you know where it came from:

Some owners also get into their own costumes, as demonstrated in the Corgi booth!  The Corgi, as some may know, are the favorite pet of Queen Elizabeth.

Some other favorites included flat faced little pugs:

Massive Irish Deerhounds:

Parsons Terriers (formerly Jack Russel Terriers, and the main breed that makes up my sweet little mutt, Pelusa):

Additionally, one of the coolest things is coming face to face with rare dogs you won’t see just roaming the streets. Such as the Komondor, which has hair that grows in as soft natural dreadlocks:

Or massive Mastiffs, which reach a full-grown man’s height when they stand on their back legs and reach 180 – 200 pounds…but remain so sweet:

There are also some cats, but cats give me insane allergic reactions, so we kind of skip them…but we spied a couple beautiful breeds like these aptly named “jungle cats.”

Anyways, a totally carefree way to spend an afternoon, especially if you have children that love animals! All the booths are so great about having kids come over and pet the animals. Here’s to ridiculous traditions!

What's on Your Bucket List?

As Erin mentioned yesterday, things have been slightly slow around here thanks to us both running the ING New York Marathon this past Sunday.  While Erin and her fiance are multi-time runners of the marathon, this was my first one!

I played soccer for many years and even ran track for a few, and despite all the running that those sports require, a marathon always seemed absolutely impossible to me.  I think I was once quoted saying the only idea more attractive to me than running  more than three miles in a row was death. And I know I was serious.

Meeting my sister at mile 11.

Last year, however, I tried stand up comedy for the first time…putting aside my general discomfort with public speaking in an attempt to learn how to control my fear of it.  When that went really well, I got to thinking – what else have I not been giving myself credit for?  What was on my bucket list anyway? A marathon was the almost instant answer.  Writing a book a close second. But I still didn’t think I could do it.

Then, last November I saw Erin running.  Even though I’ve lived in New York for seven years, somehow I had always managed to miss marathon weekend. But when seeing her go by, lost instantly in the crowd behind tens of thousands of people, I couldn’t believe how much energy there was in the air. And how cool it looked to see all those people running! I thought about it a few more months, and then decided I was going to go for it. It was now officially a bucket list item. If for no other reason than I hated thinking there was something in this world that I could not do.

Almost a month to the day after I started training, I found myself one afternoon paralyzed on the bathroom floor with what I thought was a kidney stone.  ( I  wouldn’t recommend self-diagnosing while on the bathroom floor.) Turned out, it was my appendix and it needed to be taken out.  I spent nearly a week in the hospital and when I finally got out, I learned recovery would take six weeks.  This pushed me into almost mid-May to actually start my regimen.  Every first timer who told me they ran the marathon said they trained for 6-8 months intensely…so I thought that this was a major setback.  But with Erin’s bullying coaching, I started running again as soon as I was well.

With my parents at 15.

The first long run of pain was six miles.  I literally screamed my way through Central Park at Erin. That we were going too fast. That it was too hot.  That I wasn’t built for this. But I finished. And to my extreme surprise at the end, I was still alive.  I did this through eight miles, as well.  Then ten.  Then 12.  Every week, I was convinced this was the week that I would hit my limit.  That even the Pitbull Pandora station couldn’t keep me going.  But week over week, month over month, I managed to add a few miles onto my long runs.  Even when work was busy and I couldn’t run for a few days during the week (and sometimes there was no time to run at all) I carved out the time on the weekend (which sometimes meant going to bed early or not going to dinner with friends – both painful) to get those long runs in.  And each time, I felt a little stronger.

On October 15, about five months after I started training, I completed my last long run of 20 miles. For me, this was the true test.  Out of the teens and into the 20s.  I ran from my house in Queens to Central Park, around the park a few times, and then back to my house.  I took quite a few breaks.  There were several times that I questioned my sanity.  But I finished just a few blocks from home, a little more than four hours after I started, slightly in disbelief but finally confident that maybe, just maybe, I could finish this thing.

Running up to the fam at the 18 mile mark.

The night before, I have never been so nervous for anything in my life.  I literally cried from fear.  What if I couldn’t find my family in the crowd? What if I got a cramp?  What if I missed my ferry? What if I couldn’t sleep tonight and was exhausted tomorrow? I broke down from fear of hitting my limit coupled with fear of the unknown. But Erin talked me through how I would get there again, and my dad whipped up one of his famous Bloody Mary’s so I could calm down and get some rest.

Final family meet up at 23!

And thanks to those words and the smooth Svedka vodka,  I got a good night’s sleep (even though, literally, there was a police chase and a car crash outside my window at 4 a.m.. I heard the crash and the sirens but literally told myself, “you cannot deal with this” and went back to sleep.) And I made my ferry.  And I got to my area, checked in and got to the start line. And I didn’t get a cramp.

And for 26.2 miles, I ran through this amazing city – observing the nearly 47,000 runners around me the whole way, listening to the 2.5 million people lined on the streets who give up their Sunday to help the runners make it to the end by playing music, yelling their heads off and screaming encouragement the entire way.  To my surprise, I was not as emotional as I thought. The training was difficult. But the marathon was a freaking awesome time.

And 4 hours, 36 minutes and 51 seconds later…I was done!  I sprinted through the finish line like I was being chased…arms raised and in a little bit of shock that I was on my feet, not in gut-wrenching pain and actually still smiling.

I swear I'm not crying.

After all was said and done, the months of training was worth it.  I couldn’t have finished without my amazing family, friends and boyfriend – who managed to show up at every turn (literally I saw people at miles 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 18, 23 and 24 and apparently in the case of my sister, brother, boyfriend and assorted others in that group, running a bit of a marathon of their own to make this possible) with surprises, hugs, supplies and encouragement.  It was truly one of the coolest days of my life and I felt so lucky and blessed to just have the best friends ever.  And of course, my coach Erin had everything to do with it. Without her stares of disapproval when I wanted to skip a run, our chats during our weekend Central Park long runs, or my general fear of her wrath – I simply would not have finished.

And I learned some pretty huge lessons in the end.

One, I don’t hate running. Given the choice now between death and a three mile run- I would now choose life.  Two, there is nothing I can’t do if I put my mind to it. I am more capable than I think. And three? Well, let’s just say I better get cracking on that book.

Father's Day Gift Idea: Samuel Adams Utopia(R) Blend

If you’re like me, Father’s Day induces my yearly panic attack. After 30 consecutive Father’s Days, I’m sorta out of ideas for a great and meaningful gift and if you ask my dad what he wants/needs he just says “socks.” Not helpful.  And I know I’m not the only one with this problem.

But if Dad or another special father in your life enjoys unwinding with a nice glass of Cognac or scotch every now and again, this Father’s Day, head to your local specialty liquor or beer store for a very unique gift: The 2011 batch of the Samuel Adams Utopia blend.  Yes, Sam Adams as in the beer company!

I actually love beer, especially craft beer – but this blend is a lot less like the beers you know and more like a fine-aged Scotch. And that’s because it IS fine-aged, placed in a variety of wood casks for up to 18 years to bring out notes of vanilla, maple and cocoa. In a taste test, my mini-panel (comprised of me, my boyfriend and a cousin) all agreed that the first taste of the beer was smooth and then hit you with a second fire, something that was more earthy and spicy.  That is to say – it packed a heck of a punch…but in a good way.  It’s not for the feint of heart (about a minute after drinking I realized I had a warm, pleasant sensation building in my tummy) but it is an interesting drink if your dad likes fine liquors. Paired with a couple of nice cigars it would be an amazing double whammy of a gift.

It also comes in an amazing porcelain decanter that recalls the old copper decanters of the past.  Seriously every guest that has come into the house in the last two weeks has taken one look at my counter and said, “What the heck is that?” So it looks as good as it tastes.

This gift won’t come cheap – it’s about $150 for the decanter – but with just 53 barrels of this year’s blend made, you can guarantee that almost no one else you know will be giving their father such a one-of-a-kind present.   You can find out more about the methods the Sam Adams company undertook to create this year’s blend, as well as where to buy at www.samueladams.com.

A sample of the 2011 Samuel Adams Utopia blend was generously provided by company representatives but all opinions expressed about the product are solely that of myself and Yay! DIY.

Upcycling Jars

So much more!

As previously mentioned, I love a good dirty martini.  But in the collection of all that olive and pickle juice, I realized I was throwing out – recycling, but ultimately still throwing out – a TON of jars.  Mason jars, skinny jars, big fat jars.  Eventually, the guilt became too much and I started to hoard them until I could figure out a good use for them!

Over time, I’ve developed quite a few!  I thought it was worth a quick post to share some of the various ways I’ve managed to make use of them around the house and in the kitchen:

1.) First of all, all the ones that are the right size immediately become drinking glasses!  I think there is something so fun and lovely about a cabinet full of mason jars for drinking glasses rather than matchy-matchy glassware. I wish I had a country house because then I think that would be even more lovely.

2.) Many wind up in the craft room.  Small ones (like for marinated artichoke hearts) are always the water jars when I’m doing a little painting. They are the perfect size for paintbrushes.  Other jars store buttons, ribbon and other bric-a-brac that don’t fit nicely in a drawer or cabinet.

3.) If you’re totally averse to jewelry trees and the like (I am, I hate them because I always get everything all tangled up), larger pickle jars are perfect for storing bangles, rings and other jewelry.  I also like it because you can always see them on display and nothing gets pushed to the back. (I know anyone who buys jewelry seriously is probably rolling their eyes right now – this is only for people who treat Forever 21 as their jewelry counter like I do!)

4.) Finally, don’t forget you can use them as they were intended – for food storage!  This summer, I plan on learning how to pickle veggies, so I’ve kept a bunch of jars on hand so that I don’t have to invest in supplies when the time comes!

What about you – any unique uses for jars around the house that you use to stay organized? We’d love to know!