Friday, March 31, 2006

Finding Storage Space

By Christina VanGinkel

When you live in a small house as I do, with no exterior storage such as a garage, you are constantly in search of additional storage space. Sometimes, believe it or not, I might suddenly think of an ingenious way to store something that I have never considered before, and it might be in a spot that has been obviously under used up until this point. Take for example my antique buffet. It is large, with two deep and wide drawers, two smaller drawers that are side by side, and a large open space on the bottom behind two doors. I have used it through the years to store an assortment of, let us just say junk!

Sure, I have had my seed beads in one of the drawers for quite some time, and they are to some extent arranged, but the remaining space inside this hulking piece of furniture has been a constant source of frustration. It has housed everything from stacks of magazines, to books, checks, craft projects the kids might be working on, to an assortment of any of the million little items one might find in a junk drawer, though multiplied by the thousands, as I have managed to create a whole junk buffet!

I had not that long ago decided to use one of the drawers to store kitchen linens, as the buffet is just off the kitchen in the living room, but the drawers do not open the easiest, and everyone complained about this, me included. So the linens were moved back to their smaller, but more convenient drawer in the kitchen itself. Again, this left a lot of wasted space not being utilized. Then it occurred to me that if I took the time to put dividers into the drawers and used removable storage shelves and inserts in the open space behind the doors, I might better be able to come up with a use for all of this space.

Once I decided on this plan, instead of just racing out to buy the first dividers and organizers I came across, I sat down with pen in hand to sketch out the dimensions of the drawers and open storage area to better help me visualize how it might be best put to use. I came up with several ideas, including adding cubbyholes to one of the drawers, similar to how storage is provided in items such as fishing tackle boxes, where the spacers are inserted into slots and can be moved around depending on current storage needs. After much designing and then shopping, I could not find a system to fit the space that was even close to what I had visualized, but I still was not daunted. Turning to the Internet, I did a search at FunritureDestination.com for drawer dividers and found exactly what I was looking for!

Drawer Dividers from Stacks and Stacks are strips that come with clips that allow the user to assemble the strips into various arrangements, allowing them to make any design of drawer dividers they would or could want to make. Priced at less than fourteen dollars for a kit that includes four strips that are each twenty-four inches long, and two inches high, the strips can be easily scored and snapped into any size the user might need, making for a perfect fit each and every time! The strips are suppose to also be available in a three and a half inch high version, but were not available when I was searching, so am not sure what the price difference would be for the added height. Each kit also includes 16 clips for not only securing the strips together, but also enough to make sure that once they are assembled, they stay that way, keeping what you put in them neat and orderly for a long time to come! You can order extra clips if you are assembling the kits into smaller dimensions and need to be able to be sure that the small storage areas stay separated.

I have ordered several sets and can hardly wait for them to arrive. The possibilities for what I will be able to store in the drawers alone with this ingenious system in place is exciting to think about. I still have to decide on a system for the open space on the bottom, but I have several options under serious consideration. When I think of how long this huge amount of space has gone mostly unused, all I can say is better late than never.

The Quality of New Clothing after the Sale

By Christina VanGinkel

I thought I knew it all when it came to shopping for children's clothing. Check the stitching, check the comfort of the fabric, check the brand, check the size, and check the price. Well, on a recent shopping trip to pick out a couple pairs of jeans for my grandson, my daughter and I did all of the above plus. We even let the future owner of the jeans, my 32-month-old grandson; give his opinion, as he is actually quite choosy about what he wears. (Anyone who says that fashion sense cannot be inherited has obviously not met my daughter and grandson!) For a toddler, he can tell you in a heartbeat what he considers matching, and what is not. He knows how to match up characters on the fronts of his t-shirts, with those on their matching jeans or shorts. He knows which outfits he should wear his sandals with, and which ones call for his cowboy boots!

Well, on the day in question, we found a sale that offered you the option to choose a second item from a line of kids clothing for fifty percent off, with the discount being given to an item of equal or lesser value. My daughter picked out two pairs of pants, both in an identical cut, with pockets all over, which my grandson thought were just the best. One pair was in a camo pattern, and the other was a typical jean material, though a bit on the thin side. With spring arriving in our part of the country with seemingly above average temperatures, they seemed like an ideal choice.

He wore the camo-patterned jeans the very next day, and the jean ones within a day or two also. She washed them, and the next time she put on the jean ones he complained that they felt funny. The wais still fit him, and the length seemed ok, so she did not really think they had shrunk; besides they were not one hundred percent cotton, not even close, so she doubted that was a problem. Well, yesterday, he had them on again, and from the minute he walked in the door, I noticed he was tugging at them. I asked him what was wrong and he told me that he did not want to wear his pants. I pulled up his little t-shirt to look at the waist of the pants and that was when I noticed his pocket linings were sticking out. I asked my daughter about it, and she said she had noticed the same thing, but just thought he had tugged them out. I tucked them in, or I should say I tried. That was when I realized that while the pants might not have shrunk when my daughter washed them, the pockets had!

Just a guess on my part, but the pocket linings appeared to be one hundred percent cotton, and they had shrunk to the point that they were pulling on the stitching all around them. I immediately changed him into a different pair of pants and got out the receipt for the jeans. We had to run up town for a few other items, so I told my daughter she should return the pants right away. She thought they might question the return because the pants had been worn and washed, but when she told the sales lady the details, she looked at the pockets, and responded that she would have said she had never heard of such a thing happening before, except two other people had already returned the identical pair of toddler pants for the very same reason. It was being considered a defect, yet when my daughter walked back to the toddler department to look for a different pair of pants, she noticed the sale was still going on, and there was still a whole rack of the same toddler pants.

If we learned anything form this episode, it was that you could never examine the details of an item of clothing too closely. Save your receipts, and pay attention to the condition of a new item of clothing the first few times you wash and dry it, as if there is any defect in quality or workmanship, it is apt to become apparent after being washed or dried.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Women's Lib and Cooking at Home

My mom was never one to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. She taught me at a young age that women were always being pushed into the kitchen, but that I did not have to grow up that way. It being the late 60s and early 70s, and she being the quintessential women's libber in training, she told me that there were people who could be hired to do the cooking (and cleaning and anything else that I might not want to do.) While this did not make for the best role model for a stay-at-home-mom, it was the way my mom was and I do not fault her for it. She was a product of her environment, to a large extent, and she taught me a lot.

Ironically, my mom was very socially conscious. While she preached to me that I never had to cook, she spent a lot of her own time trying to cook; or more specifically, trying to find easy and speedy ways around cooking. She loved the concept of frozen dinners, and she was always trying to cut corners. The microwave oven was, to her, the next best thing to sliced bread. My mom cooked when she had to - to feed the family - but she never put a lot of time into cooking and food preparation other than during the holidays or when she was having people over to the house.

I do remember the one time my mom was having a formal luncheon at our house, and she spent all morning in the kitchen, making various goodies. She could make almost anything, and had a whole slew of cookbooks, but she really only made something unusual when company was coming. Since a bunch of church ladies were coming on this day, my mom had prepared a huge, green jello mold. It contained fruit, cottage cheese, and a bunch of other things that she whipped together and put into her large plastic bundt cake mold the night before. I, being the know-it-all teen that I was, popped into the kitchen when she had just gotten her hair done and was all decked out in her Sunday best. It was at this time that she decided to take the jello mold out of the refrigerator and put it on the serving tray. As she took it out of the refrigerator, I quipped that I hoped she didn't drop it or break it, with all those people coming. Well, guess what? The serving tray was lying on the countertop, just next to the kitchen sink. My mom, being ever so careful, turned the jello mold upside-down and onto the tray, where she hoped and planned that it would sit, right-side-up. But something went terribly wrong. The serving tray was not steady and was somehow lying partly over the edge of the sink. As soon as the jello hit the tray, it flopped into the sink. My mom attempted in a panic to somehow save the whole mold. She grabbed the tray to set it right again, but she overcompensated and jello flew all over her and onto the floor. Needless to say, the jello mold was not served that day. I watched my poor mom collapse on the kitchen floor in tears.

Now that I am grown with a family of my own, I must admit that the entire jello mold incident has been permanently branded into my mind. I have since apologized to my poor mother for my lousy teenaged attitude, but I also have never even thought about attempting to create my own jello mold. I have struggled mightily with the whole women's lib thing that my mom pumped into my brain from an early age. I am now a stay-at-home mom who would rather read a book or take a hike than spend any exorbitant amount of time in the kitchen. I actually envy women who enjoy cooking and baking, but I cannot seem to wrap my brain around the idea of why anyone would really want to do it.

Thank heavens for fast food, quick meals, mashed potatoes that come in a box, and of course, bread makers. I can stay and home and still have a bit of women's lib in me. My mom would be so proud.

Baking from Scratch

When I was growing up, my mom was not much of a baker. She cooked our meals every night, or most nights, anyway, sometimes giving us a frozen pizza or taking the whole family out to a local restaurant. But when I think back on scrumptious baked goods, I do not remember my mom spending hours in the kitchen making cookies, pies, cakes and other goodies, unless it was Thanksgiving or Christmas. The few times I remember having fresh baked cookies when I came home from school was when an aunt or other relative or friend was staying with my brother and me while my parents were out of town. Don't get me wrong: my mom always had goodies for us, they just were not the home baked variety. She always had Oreos, Nilla Wafers, Pop Tarts, and other kid-friendly sweets, and we were happy with those. I never wanted for something to eat and I never wondered why some moms baked and some did not. My mom was who she was; she was good at a lot of things and not so great at other things, just like every single one of us.

The problem lies in the role model that I was given. I grew up thinking that baking day meant taking the Betty Crocker box off the cabinet shelf and making a cake from a mix. As far as I knew, cakes came in two flavors: yellow or chocolate, because those are the only mixes my mom ever had in the house. Frosting came in a little package, as well, and was magically mixed with water to make a perfectly iced cake. Cookies were scooped out of a plastic tube, put on a cookie sheet, and miraculously became warm and tasty in less than ten minutes. Pies came out of the freezer and were cooked for an hour and then served. Usually they were made by someone named Mrs. Smith.

Now that I am all grown up and have a family of my own, I have struggled mightily at the concept of baking day. A few years ago, I realized that my own two daughters, then eight and nine-years-old, thought, as I did for many years, that cakes came out of a box. I realized this when their little friend came over and began asking if things were made from scratch. She pointed out that HER mother made everything from scratch and that SHE only liked things made from scratch. My daughters didn't have a clue what she was talking about, so I explained it. They very logically asked me why anyone would spend a large amount of time and energy making a cake from scratch when one could be made much more easily from a box? I told them that most people think that home made cakes, cookies and pies are better. They were interested. Cookies can be home made as well? What about those cookies we make from the tube bought at the grocery store? No, I explained, those don't count as home made, even though we put them on the pan and bake them ourselves.

So at that point, I began a crusade to teach my girls how to bake; really bake. I bought a package of chocolate chips and used the recipe off the back of the package to make chocolate chip cookies. I looked through an old, unused cookbook my mother had given me years ago, and learned how to make a cake using flour, eggs, sugar, butter, and all the other ingredients that go into a cake; those things that somehow end up in the box from Betty Crocker. I even made home made blueberry muffins from the wild blueberries we picked at the end of the summer. But the results surprised me; my daughters told me they did not like the blueberry muffins from scratch. It turns out they preferred the muffins from the mix, with blueberries that came in a neat little silver can. Oddly enough, I had to agree.

I guess it all comes down to familiarity. We were all used to the boxed muffins, so that is what we will continue to eat. We love the cookies made from scratch much more than the plastic tube variety, so we will continue to make those instead. Cakes are debatable. I spoke with the mom who makes everything from scratch, and it turns out, she has a secret of her own. Some of her cake recipes are right from the box, but she simply adds a few touches of her own. If that's baking from scratch, then count me in!

How to Save Big Money with Seasonal Passes

By Christina VanGinkel

If you live in an area where there is an activity such as skiing or snowboarding, now is the time of year to buy your season pass for next year, often at a deeply discounted rate. While not all seasonal places will offer discounts in the off-season for the following season, many will, the reason being that it provides them with a look ahead to the next year's business.

Some places will also offer their newest customers reduced rates for the end of the current season if they are farsighted enough that they are buying for the first time a pass for the next year. For example, our local ski and snowboard hill has been offering a discount on season passes for next year. This is a great deal for all their customers, current and new, but especially for anybody that does not have a current season pass, as they have the added benefit of being able to ski 'free' for the remainder of this year's season, when they buy ahead their pass for next year, right now while this season is still open. Compare that a daily pass at our local hill is thirty five dollars a day for an adult, and twenty nine dollars a day for a junior (ages ten through eighteen), and a season pass is $269 for an adult if purchased right now, and $209 for a junior, if purchased now. Consider if an adult bought a season pass now and used it to ski free for the month of March, say eight weekend days, that would equal a savings of $280 just for the four weekends, which is more than what the season pass's total cost is, and they will also ski all next season on it also. When doing the math such as this, I am always amazed at how many people will go up weekend after weekend, or drop off their kids just as often, and buy a pass on a daily basis.

This discounted price will continue through spring, and then raise about twenty dollars over the summer months, but the summer price will still be less than what the price of the pass will be this coming fall, when there will be a sudden rush for everyone to get their pass for the upcoming season.

Another way to purchase discounted passes for places that operate on a seasonal rotation is through radio programs that offer auction style sales. The places receive advertisement in exchange for them providing passes to the radio stations to sell. Last year, one local radio station that regularly holds auctions on Saturday mornings had passes at less than fifty percent of their regular in season price. For anyone wanting to buy a pass for themselves or a child, but cannot afford the whole price of a seasonal pass, but also does not want to pay out the daily cost week after week, then this can be an option, though this is not by any means a sure way to get a pass. They usually sell as fast as they become available, but it is still a possibility for major savings.

Some seasonal passes may also be available at different rates, depending on what amenities are added. The ski hill one town over from us allows you to add pool passes, and passes to their onsite gym onto their seasonal ski pass. Depending on what amenities you build your pass with, affects the discount of each activity. For example, an adult swim pass for the year is $150, the gym is $300, and the ski pass is $300. You can build a season pass though that includes the ski pass and the gym for $450 and add in swimming for only fifty dollars more, for a grand total of $500, and a savings of $300. On the other hand, you could choose to use the gym and the pool, and forego the ski pass altogether, for $350, a savings of $100.

If you are interested in purchasing a seasonal pass for a recreational activity that, you participate in as frequently as you are able to find the time, consider these different ways to both enjoy the activity and save money at the same time.

Maximizing Your Wardrobe for a Minimal Amount of Cash

Have you ever woke up in the morning, looked in your closet, and thought to yourself that you do not like any of your clothes? If you have, you are definitely not the only one. Many people like a few pieces of their clothing, like their favorite pair of jeans, or their favorite little black dress, but hate the rest. Many people would love to change their wardrobe, but do not have even close to enough money to start. There are a few ways that you can get some new great pieces into your wardrobe without having to spend a fortune.

The first thing you should do is pick out your favorite pieces in your wardrobe, and all your basic pieces that you can build an outfit around. These basic pieces include white blouses and shirts, solid color belts, any jeans and slacks that you like, blazers or jackets that are in style and still fit you well, and anything else in your closet that you like that is not a funky color print, fits you good, and is in style. Also go through your socks, underwear, and bras, and take out any pieces that do not fit you well. Check out what you have kept for yourself. Plan to shop for clothes that you can make outfits out of, combined with the clothes that you have kept out of your closet. Write a list of pieces that you would like to buy, including accessories like jewelry, belts and shoes. After you do this, you are ready to start adding more clothes to your wardrobe.

One of the first places you can go shopping for new clothes without having a lot of money is your local thrift stores. Many people think that thrift stores only carry junk, but that is completely untrue. Just because somebody gives something to a thrift store does not mean that it is junk. Some people bring their clothes to thrift stores because their shirt is missing a button, and they do not know how to sew, or the zipper on a pair of pants does not work, and they do not want to bring the pants to a seamstress to get it fixed. Besides that, people bring their clothes to thrift stores because they no longer fit into them, or they have a stain that they cannot get out. Some people also bring clothes to thrift stores out of the goodness of their heart. They know that if they have not worn something in a few months, it would be better off being sold to someone who would love to wear it more often. If you have the patience to search through the clothes in a thrift store, for something that fits you and you like, it will be worth your time. If you know how to sew, or how to repair buttons, zippers, and seams, you will most likely find a lot of pieces that you love. Another thing you will find a lot of at thrift stores, is accessories. You can find great deals on jewelry, belts, and maybe even shoes and purses. Although the jewelry you find might not be genuine stones, you can still look great in costume jewelry.

Besides shopping in thrift stores, you can go to the stores around you that you would normally visit like J.C. Penny's, and Braun's. You can look for clothes on sale, or your best bet would be to find clothes that you like on the clearance racks. That is where you are going to find your best deals. Clearance racks are usually marked down by fifty to seventy five percent, which makes a big difference in the final price. You can also join clubs in many stores. Usually you will get a punch card, and for every five to ten dollars you spend, you get a punch on your card. When you card is full, you can redeem it for a certain amount of cash. Ask inside of your favorite stores to see if they run any deals or clubs where you can redeem points for store cash.

Another place you can shop for clothes and get great deals is on-line. If you do not mind waiting for your clothes for a few days, and not being able to try them on, on-line shopping can get you great deals. Make sure that you read the fine print so if your clothes are not what you expect, you can easily return or exchange them. There are many on-line stores that offer close out prices and other great deals. You can even find stores that offer free shipping and handling if you spend a certain amount of money in one visit.

Also, if you have a friend that is the same size as you, you may want to ask her to exchange some pieces with you for awhile, that way, both of you can spice up your wardrobe without spending any money! Ask if you could exchange a few pieces once a month, but make sure that you always return her clothing the way it was when you borrowed it. Your friend probably will be less likely to go along with you if you return her clothes stained or torn. If any of the clothes need to be dry cleaned, take care of it before you return the clothes to your friend.

If you have the time and the patience, but not necessarily the money, there are many ways to get new clothes for your wardrobe. Keep your eyes open for good deals and clearance racks, and you will be well on your way to updating your look and your wardrobe. When you have achieved what you are trying to, you will look and feel great!

Throwing the Perfect Pizza Party for a Pre-Teen

By Christina VanGinkel

I had to swing by a friend's house the other evening to pick up a suitcase that my son is borrowing for a trip he is taking later next week. I arrived at about the same time, as several children were being dropped off for a birthday party she was holding for her daughter who was turning twelve. All of the kids were carrying in gifts or cards, and each child was toting what appeared to be a Ziploc bag with vegetables, pepperoni, and various other items of food.

As I entered her kitchen, she was busily preparing a dozen or so six-inch pizza crusts, one for each of the kids attending the party, along with one for herself, two for her husband, and one for her daughter. Kids were also filing into the kitchen and putting the bags they had arrived with into the fridge. She asked me if I had time to stick around, and when I said I did, she immediately mixed up dough for one more pizza crust, and told me to flour the countertop where I was standing, and had me knead the dough a bit. She pulled out a box of tinfoil, and proceeded to cut several sheets. She then took the dough back and pressed it into a pan she had improvised like all of the others from the heavy-duty tinfoil.

She pre baked all of these crusts, set them out on the countertop, and then took all of the bags the kids had arrived with and dumped them into serving bowls with spoons, and lined the countertop with them. She added a big bowl of sauce, and another big bowl with cheese. She then called several of the kids into the kitchen from the den where they had been being supervised by her husband for the last half hour or so since their arrival, playing ping-pong, card games, and where they had set up an older video game system that was playing Pac Man. They all apparently knew the routine, as they grabbed up a dishcloth that I then noticed had been stacked neatly to one end of the counter, and with the cloth, picked up a still warm crust in its makeshift pan, and proceeded to create their own masterpiece of pizza.

As the kids finished topping off their individual pizzas, four at a time, she would pop them back into the oven for a few minutes, to melt the cheese, etc., and called four more kids into the kitchen to start creating their own creations. This went on for the next hour, kids filing in, adding their toppings, handing them back to her to pop into the oven, where a few minutes later she would pull them out and call the same four kids back to retrieve their finished pizzas. They would then move them to the dining room table to eat, where she had also put out bottles of soda and cups, along with several big bowls of chips and salsas.

The kids not only had fun playing old-fashioned ping-pong and Pac Man in the den, they also had a fun time making and eating their pizzas. With kids of this age group, finding enough activities to keep them occupied, especially when in a group, can often seem like a daunting task. This was one of the most innovative ideas I had ever heard of, let alone witnessed. Yes, it did take some work on my friend's end in the kitchen, and her husband's end as far as supervision went, but I never once heard a single child exclaim they were bored, and they all definitely seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The next time you are in need of a group activity for kids, such as a twelve year olds birthday party, I would highly recommend a scenario such as this. I ended up sticking around until the final child was out the door several hours later, and what I also noticed was that the parents seemed to end up having as much fun as the kids did too. Constant activity a bit out of their normal range, with games that recall a simpler time, coupled with good food of their very own making and choosing, seems to add up to solid fun and good times for everyone.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Condolence Food Gifts

When my grandmother passed away a few years ago, my mother received many cards and flowers from loved ones and friends, all expressing their condolences. My mother appreciated every single card and letter that she received. However, one of the most helpful condolence gestures she received was a platter of gourmet deli meats and cheeses and some sandwich rolls.

Now while this may seem like an unusual condolence gesture at first, it proved to be the most useful things my mother could have asked for. First of all, because my mother was the eldest child of my grandmother, in the days before the funeral my mother's house became somewhat of a clearing house for visitors, out of town guests, etc. The deli platter was a huge help in feeding some of these visitors-- indeed, my mother didn't have to go to the trouble of preparing meals, and she could just offer her guests a sandwich.

If you are wondering what type of condolence gift to send to a friend or loved one, a food platter can go a long way in helping them out during their time of mourning. Flowers are great of course and, but most mourning families receive many of them and although they are pretty to look at, they really are not as useful as a food gift. Grieving families still have to eat, although it may be the last thing on their minds, but it is especially important during a time of mourning that they keep their strength up. That said, here are some suggestions for great food gift basket gifts to send to a friend or loved one:

--Basket of muffins. Many bakeries and gourmet food shops can prepare a large basket of muffins and other breakfast cakes and pastries that you can send. Giftbaskets.com has a complete line of sympathy gift baskets to choose from--their Condolence Basket features mini muffins and brownie bars. You can add some tea packets, hot chocolate or gourmet coffee to make a complete breakfast package.

-- A fruit basket. This timeless gift is always a wonderful one. Everyone loves fruit, children and adults alike, so sending a quality gourmet fruit basket is a great gesture. Harry and David are known for their beautifully made gourmet fruit baskets and they even have a line of condolence gift baskets-- their "4 Star Sympathy Basket" is filled with their signature gourmet pears, as well as apples, some cheeses, nuts and more. You can upgrade to a larger size sympathy basket if you are sending the gift to a large family and personalized gift cards are also available. Giftbaskets.com offers a fruit and flower combination basket, so the recipient can enjoy the beauty of the flowers even after they have eaten the fruit-- this is a great choice if you are torn over whether to send food or flowers.

-- A snack basket. A mourning family will most likely be in the mood for a four course dinner party-- they will more likely just nibble on food throughout the day as they try to work on funeral arrangements and family business. It's a hard time and many people don't have much of an appetite, so a gift of cheese, crackers and other snack-like dibbles is always helpful. Many snack-type baskets can come with gourmet jams, crackers, cheeses, nuts and chocolates. A meat and cheese basket from Hickory Farms can include such staples as summer sausage, cheddar cheese, crackers and mustard. You can even send an entire ham, which the family can use to make nibble on or to make sandwiches. Other ideas include sending gourmet preserves, like blueberry or strawberry, which go great on bagels or muffins.

--Cookies. Send a gift of sweet cookies to show the family that you care. Mrs. Fields is known for their gourmet cookie selection and gift baskets can be made filled with their mouth watering cookies and brownies. Besides their delicious cookies, the online site David's Cookies also offers such items as mini cheesecakes and ruggalach, any of which would be perfect to send.

All of these goumet food items can be ordered online, with a personalized condolence card included. You can send your condolences anywhere across the country to express to the mourning family how very sorry you are for their loss

Shopping for the Perfect Gift Every Time

By Christina VanGinkel

Who does not like being the person who arrives at a party with the perfect gift, the one gift that the host or hostess oohs and aahhs over with real emotion, or the spouse that everyone talks about with that little smile on his or her face, bemoaning the fact that they wish they had as good-hearted a spouse as we. You can be that person if you take to heart a few shopping tips for the next time you are in need of the ultimate gift!

Rule number one is actually the definitive rule of them all. It is also the hardest one for most of us to abide by. However, it is truly the one rule that will make a difference between our gift quickly being hidden from view by the recipient with thoughts of how in the world did we come up with that, to the type of reception we all wish we would get at least once in awhile. That rule is to not shop at the last minute. We all know when our spouse's birthday is, or our own anniversary, so there is really no excuse to wait until the last minute to shop for such a gift. Other dates are just as accessible, such as in-law's birthdays and anniversaries. Gather up all of these important dates, and make a list, in either a small pocket style calendar or your handheld PC. Do not assume that you will remember any of them, or their significance, even your spouse's birthday, if you have ever forgotten them even once, or remembered it at the very last minute. Put as much information with each occasion as you have available. Your anniversary for example should list the original date, so you can keep up to date with any milestone anniversaries. It is in these small details that you will often find the most inspiration for that very memorable gift.

But what about those times when a scenarios such as you suddenly hear around the office cooler that it is your boss's birthday, and everyone who is anyone in the office is bringing him or her a gift to show just how much they are appreciated, is played out? How can you possibly shop ahead and not at the last minute for such a gift? Assemble some gift ideas that are fitting for different occasions, and make note of their exact information. Such as where you saw the item, what it's cost was, why you felt it would be an ideal gift for such and such an occasion. Each time you come across an idea, write it down, and never rely on your memory to recall this information when you might later need it. While this will still result in you doing some actual shopping last minute, it is at least not leaving all of the decision making to the last minute.

Ok, I know, you are all saying what about those truly last minute occasions, those times when you have just arrived home from work, or have been caring for your sick toddler all day, and the phone rings and your Mother asks you if you are ready. Ready for what you ask, while she in turn asks you if you honestly forgot your Aunt Myrtles 85th birthday celebration! These situations are often way to real, and they are the ones that most often leave us the most befuddled. For those occasions, you should create a gift cabinet. This can be the top shelf in any closet, or a box you keep in your kitchen cabinet, some place that is easily accessible, but out of sight most of the time. Fill it with a few different gift bags and ribbons for a variety of occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, housewarmings, and Bon Voyage events. Along with these, keep a few items that you would love to receive yourself, or at least suitable for such affairs, a bottle of good wine, a lovely teapot with a box of fancy teas, a box of to die for chocolates. The thing to remember though with this box is that you will need to go through it at least quarterly, and replace anything that might be time sensitive, such as that box of chocolates! If you often find yourself in these types of situations though, you will more than use whatever you tuck away, and on the occasion that you are forced to eat that box of chocolates yourself, well, that is pretty good reward for at least trying to stay on top of the gift giving whirlwind that many of us take as second nature to our busy lives.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jewelry is Sometimes More than Skin Deep!

By Christina VanGinkel

'To each their own' has long been a saying that I have both heard since I was just a child, and that I have continued to say to my own children and others, now that I am an adult. I truly believe that everyone has a right to their own individuality, and that while some of us may not stand out from the crowd in as expressive of ways as others might, we each ore wholly entitled to do so if that is our wish.

Last night, I was watching a show on television, about spouses who trade places with someone else's spouse for a period of a couple of weeks. Well, the one husband had plates surgically implanted in his forehead so that he could screw on frontal head jewelry. There was some reference to horns, but what I saw looked more like two small silver studs. He and his real life wife also had several other forms of jewelry that some people might consider extreme. Top be honest, all I could think of when I heard him talk about the plates in his forehead was wow, that must have hurt. I was not appalled by them, nor was I impressed. I just thought, 'To each their own'. Because of these plates though, he missed a job opportunity that he really seemed to want.

Jewelry has long been a most personal expression of how someone perceives his or her life. From the person with the plate in his head, to the woman with a small fortune in diamonds on her fingers, our jewelry tells others a lot, about who we are. It might show that we care about our looks, which is not a bad thing no matter what you might hear. It might tell others that we like to be noticed by them, at least a bit. Even those of us, who might just wear a single ring or two, or maybe a small pair of stud earrings, or a thin chain, it still shows ourselves, that we care enough about ourselves to want to make our own self feel good. On the other hand, it might just exclaim to those around us that we like jewelry, we like the shine, the glitter, the fun designs and colors! If we wear a simple item because they belonged to someone else, such as the ring I wear that belonged to my now deceased mother, it might show that we cared about someone else, or that they cared about us. Some of us might also wear certain pieces of jewelry because of a religious conviction we have.

What I am getting at is that people wear jewelry for all different reasons, and no one should judge somebody else because of an item they wear, or because of some item they do not wear. The man with the plates lost out on a job, because he had made the choice to express himself. The man who declined to offer him the job had every right to do so, but even he admitted that the man had done a good job on his trial run. They both lost out, but at least the man with the plates had the conviction to stand by his choice, explaining that it was not as if he could simply pull them out, as he had them surgically implanted. Now that is a commitment to your jewelry unlike any I have heard of recently! I wonder how many people would choose to so blithely slide that wedding band so many of us wear onto their ring fingers if they had to have them surgically implanted, and the only way to remove them was to also have them surgically removed!

Jewelry is oftentimes an expression of our deepest self, of our likes, dislikes, wants, needs, and more. The next time you pick out a piece of jewelry that you intend to wear, consider how much of a commitment you would be willing to make to have it adorn your body. In the meantime, I am going to stand by my life long belief of 'To each their own'. I am also going to ponder a bit more on how brave someone must be to undergo surgery just for the sake of wearing an item of adornment!

Shopping for a Bed in the Bag Set

By Christina VanGinkel

The ad said that they were selling Bed in a Bag sets for the amazing low price of $28.88. This included a comforter, dust ruffle, top sheet, fitted sheet, and one or two pillowcases or shams, depending on the size and or pattern. They initially offered four different patterns in the ad, but upon arriving at the store, they actually had six different ones to choose from. The big problem with the selection though, even though they did have six different patterns, was that only one was available in a Queen size, which was what I needed. This was in comparison to every single pattern being available in the twin size. I am not that choosy about patterns, as our bedroom is not finished yet anyway, and is a mix of patterns and colors, but the one pattern that was available was a flower and rose colors design. I am definitely not a flowery person, and neither is my husband. Still, at the price listed, they were at least worth considering.

Still, the flower pattern would not be my first choice, let alone second or even third, so I decided to look through the other bedding sets the store had available, as it seemed like all of their bedding items were on sale and some were even on clearance. I found several other sets that I liked, but ran into the same problem as far as size goes. Anything that I found that I liked, it was not available in a Queen. I could probably have gone with a King if I were just shopping for a comforter, but because I was interested in sheets too, the original set I had gone to look at was by far the best choice price wise. No other set or combination of comforter and sheet set even came close.

I had finally decided that I could live with the flower pattern over the summer (I have a beautiful hand made snowman quilt that graces our bed through the winter), and I could always find a different set by next summer. I could then just pass this set on to a friend who I know has a queen bed the same as mine, and would not care one bit if it were flowered or not. Standing in line at the checkout though, I had a total stranger come up to me and tell me that she bought the exact same set just a few days before. She took it out of the packaging and washed everything before making the bed with it. When she opened up the washer, the stitching had come out all over the comforter, and the edging was actually shredded! As she is telling me this, another woman over heard what she was saying and comes over to tell me almost the identical tale. She had actually purchased the same set a few weeks before and when she washed the sheets for the first time, they ripped!

This whole scenario was enough to make me put the set back on the shelf. I ended up picking up just a comforter for about the same price as what the set would have cost. This got me wondering though, if the store had marked the sets down so low because they knew there was a problem with the material and workmanship. I will probably never know, but I am thankful that these women were kind enough to be so upfront with me when they saw that I was about to purchase such an obviously flawed item.

When I walked the set back to the department it came from, I did unzip the bag and feel the fabric, something that I would normally do before buying something like this in the first place, but had not. The fabric was stiff, rough, and without doubt, not something I would want to put on my bed.

I did learn something from this whole episode too. No matter how good a deal might seem, still take the time to check out an intended purchase the same as if you were paying top dollar. Even at less than thirty dollars, I would have been quite disgruntled if the set fell apart the first time I washed it.

Bacalao - The Taste of Lent

by Deb Powers

St. Patrick's Day fell on a Friday again this year - a Friday in Lent - so it came as no surprise when my mother called me early that morning to tell me that the Pope had issued a dispensation for Catholics worldwide: we could eat meat this Lenten Friday. Corned beef and cabbage would be on the table. And I did make it... but I found myself remembering my childhood Fridays.

Growing up with a devout Italian grandmother meant that those Catholic traditions were not only observed, they were studied with a gimlet eyed intensity most reserve for life or death situations. As well they should be! Eating meat on a Friday was a sin.. it was more than life or death - it was a matter of putting your immortal soul in peril! That meant that throughout the year, Friday was the day for tuna casserole, fish sticks, fish cakes, spaghetti alio e olio (with garlic and anchovy oil) - or on a very good week, thick slabs of fresh-caught haddock, deep fried and steaming next to a pile of Nana's hand-cut, home-made french fries. Good Friday called for a different kind of seafood though - the New England standby known her in the U.S. as 'salt cod'. In Nana's tongue it was bacalao, and even if we all hated it, it was the traditional way to break the Good Friday fast.

These days, you buy bacalao in little wooden crates the size of of a sardine tin, or wrapped plastic and styrofoam packages. Even then, in the early sixties in the North End, few people had the patience to go through the soaking and cleaning and soaking and draining and soaking and boiling that it takes to make bacalao palatable. Just for them, during Holy Week North End fishmongers laid out their dried salt cod in wooden tubs to soak, rinsing and draining the barrels several times a day. By the time Thursday came, the fish had lost its wooden stiffness and was ready to soak one last time before being cooked up in a pot with potatoes and onions.

My grandmother did not believe in shortcuts. When she brought home a slab of bacalao on Monday of Holy week it was a whole side of dried salt cod, stiff as a board and impossible to fit in her wooden tub. Too thick to break, and to tough to cut with a kitchen knife, the bacalao suffered the indignity of being sawed into pieces with the saw she'd used all through the winter to saw firewood, then tossed into a washtub to soak for days. It sat in the corner of the kitchen, covered with a cloth to keep out the dust when she swept the floor. Three or four times a day, she hefted the heavy tub to pour the water off into the sink, letting the salt drain away as she refilled the bucket again with fresh water and set it back in the corner. For the entire week before Easter, the kitchen stank of brine and fish - the smell, I was certain - of penitence and sorrow.

By Thursday the bacalao was ready to cook, softened to pliability that allowed it to be forced into the enormous stewpot on the old gas stove. It had been drained and rinsed one last time, the slightly salted rinse water declared to be suitable, then put on a slow fire to simmer for the day with onions and garlic. In the late afternoon, Nana would add the potatoes and let it continue to simmer for another hour before she finally added the stewed tomatoes and covered the pot to stand overnight.

The end result was a fishy tasting slurry, salted beyond comprehension despite the days of soaking and rinsing. Orange and oily, it could be spread on thick slabs of Italian bread, or spooned over polenta, or stirred into hot, plain spaghetti. There is not now - nor has there ever been - anything in the world that tasted like it. It tasted like Lent.

And it was the taste I found myself craving that Friday St. Patrick's Day in Lent when my mother said that the Pope had continued the tradition of offering a dispensation for Catholics so that they could eat corned beef and cabbage. Perhaps after years of drifting, I'm beginning to come full circle. I want my traditions back. I want my bacalao.

Must-have Shoes for Every Occasion

by Deb Powers

Imelda Marcos had it right. No woman can have enough shoes. Shoes are more than a fashion statement - they're a statement of identity, style, practicality and function all rolled into a size 7 (if you're lucky). Every woman has her favorite shoes - mine at the moment are a pair of turquoise slip-ons with a molded sole and cork inner sole that make my toes wiggle in ecstasy whenever I slip them on. They cost me $5 on the markdown shelf at the local Payless Store, and at least three days a week, I have to bodily remove them from my daughter's feet. They're so deliciously comfy that I built my summer wardrobe around them last year so that I could wear them almost every day.

There are some places, though, that my turquoise sandals just aren't welcome. For those other days and events, my closet boasts a variety of shoes that every woman needs to own. They're shoes that never seem to go out of style, and that are de rigeur for particular occasions. They may not woo your feet with the exciting dash of a rhinestone ankle strap or the whispered seduction of suede Ferragamo's, but they'll always be there when you need them, like your brother's best friend who took you to the prom.

The wedding shoe:
Unless you can manage to choose exactly the perfect shoes for that new dress you bought for your cousin's wedding, you need a pair of wedding shoes in your closet. Classic dressy black heels are perfect for a winter wedding. In the spring and summer, opt for gray or taupe heels, unless you've got the perfect match for your dress.

The interview shoe:
The job interview is not the place to show off your sexiest pumps. Dress to impress means the subtle, no-nonsense styling of mid-heeled black pumps to go with the understated business suit. Save the funky heels for the office Christmas party.


The beach walker:
Barefoot can be dangerous - and it's certainly not as sexy as a pair of strappy, bejeweled thongs that show off that snazzy pedicure and flash a little toe cleavage. Comfy flip-flops in bright colors, trimmed with fake flowers or rhinestones, tatami-soled slip-ons and the classic beach thong all have a place in your closet - or walking on the beach. They're the perfect footwear to accent shorts, skorts, skirts or bikinis, showing off those sexy feet.

The classic tennie:
Or another pair of sneakers. No woman's foot wardrobe is complete without a pair of perfectly worn-in sneakers. Whether your style is Keds or Reebok, Air Jordan or Nike, the only thing to wear on your feet for a casual kickaround weekend is a pair of comfortable sneakers.

On the town with the girls - or that special guy:
Drop-dead sexy strappy heels, of course! The dance floor is the place for those shoes that you wouldn't DARE where to the office. Suede, patent, trimmed or plain, the only requirement is heels high enough to give your back porch that sexy swing. You get bonus points if you don't kick them off to dance!

Running and athletic wear:
This is one of the places that there should be no skimping. For your morning jog, cross-country walking or tennis game, invest in the best, well-fitted athletic shoes you can afford. The fit is vital - uncomfortable shoes can do more than give you blisters. Shoes that don't fit right can seriously compromise your balance and safety when you're doing something active like running.

Add in a pair of comfy slippers - preferably furry black kitties with emerald eyes and a pink bow - and one pair of dazzling, drop-dead boots, and you'll have a shoe collection that's fit for a queen - or at least a First Lady.

Finding Big Bargains on Movie DVD's

By Christina VanGinkel

I am always looking for a deal when I shop for anything, but a brand new released DVD never seems to be available for less than top dollar. You can find almost new releases marked down, and older movies at deep discount, but the newest releases are usually only had for top dollar. Because of this, I rarely purchase a new release, instead waiting for any movie I might be interested in being moved from the new release list, in hopes that I will be able to find it cheaper. Then I noticed Amazon.com offered new releases at discount, and if you pre-ordered certain videos, they were being offered for as much as fifty percent off!

I am a fan of old movies, and I have enjoyed many of the remakes that Hollywood has done of some of my old favorites the last few years. When I heard King Kong was being redone I was as thrilled as when I saw that they had remade Planet of the Apes. I think I am giving away my age here a bit, but nonetheless, I love the remakes of some of these classics as much as the originals. The thought of waiting for King Kong to move off of the new release list was going to be just too much to bear though, especially when my young grandson, a fan of anything dinosaur, saw the television ad for it and asked me if I would get the movie for him. Anybody who reads any of my blogs knows what a pushover I am for my young grandson, so I was resigned to pay full price for it when it was released today, as he will be visiting again this weekend, and I figured we could have a movie night with him on Saturday.

I had a coupon to use at Amazon.com in the meantime, so decided to browse through their movies to see if I could find any deals, when I noticed the link about pre-orders at up to fifty percent off! Sure enough, they had King Kong, and they had it available in widescreen, full screen, and in a two disc special edition. I ended up ordering the widescreen version for only fifteen dollars. The two-disc set was available for twenty, and in retrospect, I wish I had ordered that one, as disk two appears to have some very interesting special additions, such as a look at Skull Island, and New York in the 1930's. My thirteen year old would have most likely enjoyed this disk as much as the one with the movie on it. With their shipping on DVD's less than three dollars, even when adding that factor into the cost, I was still far ahead price wise by ordering it through Amazon than I were if I bought it locally.

Browsing their DVD's a bit more, I also found another movie I have been wanting to get as soon as it is released on April 4th, The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for a very good price too. The single disk is available for $19.98, and the two-disk set for $23.26. In addition, if you order it through them now, you gain instant access via the Internet, to a behind the scenes tour of battling evil through the eyes of Lucy, Susan, Peter, and Edmond. Amazon has a special feature called a Digital Locker, where this will be stored until a certain date, at which time it will be erased to make room for future special features much the same as this one. It is a nice added bonus for those of us who cannot stand waiting those final days for a new release to become available!

What I have learned from this whole experience, and I hope you will take away from it too, is that there are deals to be found on just about any product you wish to buy, even brand new released DVD's. Take the time to browse sites such as Amazon.com to see if they are offering any specials such as these the next time you are in search of a movie that you have been patiently waiting for its release.

Perfect Potato Salad

Over the years I have tasted many types of potato salad-- it's one of my favorite side dishes. From heavily mayonaissed and bland grocery store brands, to homemade types that have just that extra something, I have tried it all.
So what does it take to make a perfect potato salad? Personal preferences aside, there are a few keys to doing it just right:

-- Choose your potatoes wisely. My sister in law, who makes the best potato salad I know, is very particular about the potatoes she uses-- they have to be the small red bliss potatoes. Idaho potatoes can work as well, but be sure to cook them long enough-- nothing is worse than "hard" potato salad". That said, there's a fine balance between potatoes that are too hard and potatoes that are so soft they turn to mush. Leave the super softies for your mashed potato recipe. You can also try using sweet potatoes-- one of my favorite recipes calls for a half and half mixture of sweet potatoes and white potatoes. In the meantime, learn to cook your potatoes until they are just done enough--depending on o many potatoes you are cooking they may need to boil anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Use a fork prong to test for doneness and once they are cooked, let them sit in the hot water for a few minutes after you remove them from the stove. I despise peeling potatoes, so I usually boil them with the skins on and then pull the peels off after they are cooked (it's much easier that way, in my opinion). If a potato seems too hard, I won't use it in my potato salad.

-- Cutting and dicing. Once your potatoes are cooked, it's time to cut them into bite sized pieces. My sister in law cuts them into perfectly sized cubes. I have seen other potato salads (usually store bought brands) that come with potatoes that are sliced potato chip style. Whatever your preference is, go for it. Just keep in mind that a potato that crumbles when you slice it and turns to mush should be set aside for another use-- mush does not belong in potato salad!

-- Dressings. Potato salad needs dressing and here are a few of my favorites. Mayonnaise is the classic dressing to use, but make sure it's good quality mayonnaise. I like to use Hellman's or a gourmet brand of mayonnaise-- this is not the time to use fat-free mayonnaise! Also, for a little tang, Miracle Whip is a good choice but if you're serving the potato salad for a party, remember that not everyone loves Miracle Whip. Another option, for a lighter taste, is to use an Italian salad dressing or vinaigrette. This will obviously create a very different type of potato salad, which goes great with meals like grilled steak or chicken. Whatever type of dressing you use, remember that less is more. If you dump an entire quart of mayonnaise in you potato salad, it will be too much. Use a little dressing and add more as needed. A friend of mine thins the mayonnaise out with a little milk before adding it-- this makes for a creamier, less gloppy dressing.

-- Extra add-ins. The little "extras" that you add to your potato salad is what will set your recipe apart from everyone else's. If you love onion, add some minced onion to your potato salad-- be sure to mince it small so that your guests won't get a mouthful of onion in every bite. Some other great add-ins include hard boiled eggs, shredded carrots, green onions, Dijon mustard, minced garlic, celery, pickles, relish, pimentos and green pepper. My friend adds a little sugar and vinegar to her recipe and it's just great. My sister in law (the one with my favorite potato salad) skips the celery and coats her potato salad with ground celery seed-- it adds just the right flavor and there's no celery to dice! At party I once had a bacon and blue cheese potato salad-- it had bacon bits and blue cheese crumbles in it and it was absolutely to die for. Always top your potato salad off with a little bit of salt and pepper-- two staples that go well in just about any recipe.

Work on your recipe until you get it just right and soon you will have your own "signature" potato salad recipe that your family and friends will be clamoring for.

A Baseball Birthday Party

Even if you're not an entertainer by nature, planning a children's birthday party can be fun. There are so many themes to choose from-- from Disney Princess to Thomas the Train to Dora the Explorer. But sometimes it's fun to go with a classic theme instead of a commercialized theme, so what is more classic than that all American baseball theme?

While researching ideas for my son's baseball themed party, I was thrilled to find many resources. Here are some of my favorite ideas for a baseball themed birthday party:

-- Score a home run with your invitation. Homemade invitations are always the best kind, so if you're the least bit crafty you can easily make a baseball card style invitation. First photograph your child wearing a baseball cap and holding a baseball bat. Print the picture out on card stock and add your child's birthday "stats". A more simple invitation idea is to cut a baseball shape out on white paper and draw red baseball stitching on it. Then add the birthday party information and you're all set. If crafts aren't you're thing, there are also several types of ready-made baseball themed party invitations available online and at party stores.

-- Decorating baseball style. Balloons are a great touch and are relatively inexpensive. Look for baseball themed balloons and streamers. You can also decorate the party area with mini pennants of all of the baseball teams-- as a bonus you can let guests each take one home as a party favor.

-- Serve ballpark style food. This is the fun part. For you baseball party, you can serve ballpark style food-- which luckily happens to be the kind of food that most kids love! Some menu suggestions include hotdogs with lots of fixings, pizza slices, submarine sandwiches, french fries and of course, peanuts. Serve root beer and other types of sodas and always be sure to have juice boxes available for kids that don't drink soda. Bowls of popcorn and soft pretzel nuggets can serve as great appetizers-- and don't forget the mustard!

-- Play baseball-themed games. It's a no brainer that, space and weather permitting, you can have your guests join in to play a little game of baseball. Other fun party games include "Pin the baseball on the Bat", your own version of "Pin the Tail on the Donkey". While some pin the baseball games are available for purchase, you can also make one if you have trouble finding one. You can also test your guest's knowledge with some baseball trivia.

-- Serve a baseball cake. Even if you're not a baker, it should be easy to have a baseball themed cake for your party-- most bakeries and grocery stores carry baseball themed party cakes. If you would rather bake your own, try to find embellishments, like plastic baseball players, to decorate your cake. There are also baseball shaped cake pans available. You can take vanilla ice cream and shape it into baseball shapes-- wrap in plastic wrap and freeze until firm, then make red stitching on the ice cream balls with red gel icing or red licorice strips .

Don't forget these extra touches:

-- Goody bags are always a favorite favor at any birthday party. Fill your guest's goody bags with items like Cracker Jacks, peanuts and packs of baseball cards. Check your local dollar store for other baseball party favors like whistles, bubbles and pinball games. For an old time baseball themed party, look for classic candies like root beer barrels, Mary Janes or baseball bat taffy.

-- Download classic baseball tunes like "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", "Mighty Casey at Bat" and John Fogerty's "Centerfield" from reputable music download sites like iTunes -- these are great songs to play during the party or to even use for games like "Musical Chairs".

-- Tell guests to dress in gear from their favorite baseball team. You may be surprised to see that not everyone comes dressed in your hometown's team gear.

Use your imagination to come up with unique and innovative ideas to make your baseball themed party a one of a kind event. All of the planning will be worth it when your guests tell you what a wonderful time they had at your party!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Food and the French Woman

The other day on The Oprah Winfrey Show, one of the guests was Mireille Guiliano, the author of the bestselling book "French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure".

Ms. Guiliano was on the show to promote her book-- and also to reveal a few secrets of how French women seem to stay so slim even though they dine on such fattening indulgences as croissants, cheese, chocolate and wine. Apparently in France only 11 percent of the women have a weight problem, as opposed to 67 percent of us here in the United States. So yes, I was intrigued by what this French woman had to say.

According to Ms. Guiliano, French women just look at food differently than American women do. They eat whatever they want, but only in small portions. They never eat until they are stuffed. They put their food on pretty plates and relax and take it in a calming environment-- no standing in front of the refrigerator or TV while they eat.

And the there was something about a three bite rule. That is, if you want something really decadent, like a piece of cheesecake or something, go ahead and eat it-- just stop eating it after three forkfuls.

Huh? That one seems a little difficult to me. But if you look the figures of French women, I guess it works. The point being, that if you are eating solely for pleasure, you will get that satisfying experience in only three bites. Apparently anything more than that is excessive.

One of the other guests on the show was an American woman who had successfully lost 22 pounds in just three months using the "French Women Don't Get Fat" plan. Now this woman looked skinny. Looking at her before and after pictures, it looked like she lost a heck of a lot more than 22 pounds. Still, she swears by this plan and they even showed a little video clip of a typical meal that this woman ate. It was a few apple slices with paper-thin pieces of parmesan cheese between them. Oh, she also washed it down with a big glass of wine. Oprah asked the woman if the apples and cheese were just a snack and the woman said that no, that it was her lunch. She also went on to say that she had managed to lose 22 pounds in three months while still drinking three glasses of wine a day. Sounds like she may be trading one problem for another, but that's just my opinion.

There were a few other points that the author made. French women don't diet. There is no billion dollar diet industry in France. There are also no gyms. The French women don't pump iron-- but they do walk a lot and they always take the stairs. They treat every meal as if it were a divine experience. No unconscious snakcing on chips out of the bag or eating the leftovers off of their children's plates.

Ms. Guiliano also divulged that she has a secret leek soup fast that she recommends to be done a few times a year. A whole weekend of nothing but her homemade brew of leek soup, to cleanse the body. Then it's back to the croissants and wine.

I would like to take a tip from the French women, because I do believe that eating should be an enjoyable experience. If you're choking down a bland salad in the name of cutting calories, surely you will break down and binge on something more substantial later.

So why not quit the charade and just eat the foods that you enjoy? Bask in the preparation of the foods. Create interesting recipes that are filled with the ingredients that you love. Buy high quality ingredients. And just enjoy.

Oprah asked Ms. Guiliano if the French women talk about how fat American women are. Ms. Guiliano smiled coyly-- she obviously didn't want to say anything negative-- but it was clear in my mind that we look very different from the women in France. So they are doing something right

So now, with a license to eat chocolates and croissants what will you do? Will you et a whole bag of grocery store chocolate or will you seek out a high quality chocolate and enjoy juts a few bites. Will you inhale two croissants in a sitting or just take a few mindful tastes of a deliciously fresh baked one?

The choice is yours.

Setting an Easter Table

By Christina VanGinkel

Make this Easter as special as can be, beginning with the dinner table. Start by planning a table setting that is as fitting for this spring holiday as you can conjure up. No matter what centerpiece or place settings you choose, start your table off with an elegant tablecloth, or at least a plain white or cream colored one to provide a nice backdrop for the centerpiece and place settings of your choosing. To further help you come up with your own unique arrangement, I have come up with a wide assortment of ideas for you to pick and choose from, and to personalize in your every own unique way.

Fresh flowers are always a welcome table addition, but you could make them extra special by placing them into a clear vase that you have filled with colored Easter candy. Then, by each place setting, place a single bloom, tied with a small satchel of candy and ribbon, with a hangtag for the person's name.

An assortment of small stuffed animals in a basket or two, set amidst some holiday 'grass' is always a fun centerpiece. Place a miniature animal by each seat, with the name of the seat's occupant tied around the tiny stuffed creature's neck or propped in their hands.

If you and your guest are the epitome of candy lovers of this Easter holiday, then fill some cut glass, or gaily-colored bowls with an assortment of Easter delicacies, such as chocolate bunnies and jellybeans. On the other hand, go the more traditional route and fill a bowl or two with decorated eggs. Make a party of it, and have your guests arrive early to help you decorate them all! As a parting gift at the end of the evening, have a small basket ready for each guest to place an egg or two in and take home with them. Make the baskets small enough to hold just a single egg, and they can do double duty, holding the name of each guest by their place setting.

If the idea of colored eggs is to your liking, but you would really want to avoid the mess of coloring them, then go the route of the plastic ones used for hiding candy. Fill them up with all sorts of surprises and fill a few bowls with them. Send them home the same as you would the hand colored ones, for a small token of thanks for your guests coming to share this all important holiday meal with you and your family.

If you want something a bit more elegant, go for a grouping of pitchers filled with greenery. I collect teapots, and love to place them in the center of my spring table with their tops off, and fill them up with everything from dried grasses from the craft department, to dried flowers, and pussy willows.

One crafty friend of mine decorated five various sized wicker bonnets with ribbons and flowers, and piled them in a pleasing arrangement along the middle of her rectangular table. She also used a one-inch wide ribbon, and had it run the length of the table in both directions atop the tablecloth, but beneath the bonnets. She finished off the fancy look with a place card made from a miniature hat for each guest. Guests were told to take the small, decorated hats home with them at the end of the meal. I stuck a magnet on the back of mine and used it on my fridge that whole spring and summer as a reminder of the lovely meal and conversation I was lucky enough to be a part of.

A small gift, wrapped in Easter themed or a spring floral paper would also be a fun addition to each place setting. Wrap a few small gifts in various sizes and pile in the middle of the table for the centerpiece. The gifts could be a small novelty gift in an Easter theme, or something more personal, depending on the range of guests you have invited to the meal.

No matter how you ultimately decorate your Easter dinner table, accompany the meal with good conversation, laughter, and friendship for an Easter that will linger in both your own memories and that of your guest's for many years to come. Happy Easter!

Packing a Lunch for a Loved One

Most of us have been there; somewhere in our past, someone lovingly prepared a sack lunch for us. Perhaps we trotted off to school each morning with a brown paper bag full of edible lunchtime goodies, with our name scribbled across the front of the bag with a black magic marker. Or maybe we were one of the lucky ones who had a metal lunch box with the Brady Bunch or the New Zoo Review colorfully decorating the sides. Plastic lunch boxes have been on the scene for quite some time now, but my take-lunch-to-school days were over before I was lucky enough to own one. I had one of the metal boxes with the plastic thermos that always, somehow, smelled funny to me. Either way, I remember each day finding a boring bologna sandwich safely wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag (this was before zip-loc) along with some potato chips or Fritos, a couple of cookies, and maybe a fruit roll or an apple. To finish off the product, my mom always wrote a little note on the napkin. Sometimes it said "hi" or "I love you" or "study hard." It was nice to find a little secret note from my mom in the middle of the busy school day.

Now that I have children of my own, some of whom are past the age of taking a sack lunch or lunch box to school, I find that I really missed out on packing their lunches. You see, we have home schooled our children, so if I ever had to pack their lunch, I packed mine as well - and I put them all into a large picnic basket. We took our packed lunches to the beach, the local park, the bench outside the museum, or wherever our home schooling excursions took us on a given day. I do remember the rare occasions when my children accompanied another home schooling family on an excursion without me, and I relished the opportunity to pack a lunch for them, complete with a loving note from me. Nowadays, I pack my husband's lunch for work. He works at a shipyard and although there is a Subway and a McDonalds nearby, we trying to stay true to our budget, so he goes off to work each morning with a new-fangled plastic, padded lunchbox. No more rusty latches; today the lunch boxes have zippers and shoulder straps.

Yet the types of lunch carrying containers are not the only difference in the packed lunch of today versus yesteryear. Today there are a plethora of foods on the market that can be bought pre-packaged. In fact, rare is the type of food that cannot be bought pre-packaged. Pre-packaged foods are slightly more expensive, unless they are found at one of the large warehouse stores in bulk; but they make preparing a sack lunch much easier. Since many workplaces and schools now have the use of a microwave oven, lunches can be packed with one-serving soups, stews, or pasta dishes, complete with the cup in which to microwave it. Plastic forks and spoons add to the ease of this. Also convenient are the pre-packaged one-serving bags of chips (of all varieties), the packages of just one or two cookies, the pre-packaged (and unrefrigerated) cups of jello and pudding, string cheese, cheese and crackers, yogurt, and much, much more. Perhaps one of the easiest things to do for your loved one is to buy one of the entire pre-packaged lunches, such as Lunchables. These tasty treats began as just packages of ham and cheese, a few crackers, mustard, and perhaps a cookie. Now they can be found in countless varieties with raw vegetables and dip, pizza, and all types of cookies and candies for dessert.

Whichever type of lunch you choose to make for your husband or children, whether home made goodies from scratch, pre-packaged food put together in a lunch box or bag, or an entire pre-packaged lunch, never forget the most important thing of all: pack the lunch with love. Imagine your loved one opening the box and finding all the surprises and goodies you put inside. Think of their nutrition, their comfort, and their well-being; and don't forget to put a note on the napkin!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Saving Money on Groceries

By Christina VanGinkel

Shopping for groceries is seemingly becoming more costly than ever before, because not that long ago, I could easily shop for my family's weekly groceries for about fifty dollars a week, but it now runs me much closer to one hundred dollars. That is double of what I was just spending a year or so ago. While there has been some mention in the news of the rising costs of consumables such as groceries, I do not think it has been given as much due as it really deserves. For the average American family, this cost increase for something that every family has to have, can mean less money available for other things that we might not necessarily need, but things that we have become accustomed to having. For this reason, figuring out how to save on the cost of groceries can be major difference in whether we are able to spend money elsewhere, such as on clothing, videos, and other entertainment items.

Some ways that I have made my grocery dollars stretch include common tactics, such as using coupons when I come across ones that are for items I am going to be purchasing anyways. Also, any coupon, that when combined with a sale price, make an item as close to free as possible, whether it is an item I would normally purchase or not. I also visit websites of the products I often use, and search for printable coupons. More and more companies are offering coupons on their websites and they are often well worth printing. A tea company I recently visited was offering a coupon good for a free box of their tea sampler package! Free is always good for any grocery budget.

I also keep a close watch on the different store sales, and stock up on deeply discounted items. This might cost me more on that particular item for the current shopping trip, but over the long run, it saves me dollars. For example, I use canned mushrooms for a variety of recipes, and my husband and youngest son like them sauteed with butter and garlic salt as a side dish. At a price of nearly one dollar a can, this may not seem like a huge dollar amount in regards to each week's grocery budget, but if you consider that I probably go through three cans a week, when I came across a sale that was offering them for two cans for a dollar I bought a whole case. At an average cost savings of $1.50 a week for the length of time that it will take us to go through the case that is $1.50 that can be put towards other items. I always try to put it towards other items that I can buy in bulk, again, saving even more money. I do this with as many canned goods as I can. They have a long shelf life, so there is not a storage issue and it keeps the weekly cost overall for my groceries more reasonable. It may cost more each week for the first few months that you do this, but once you build up stock of the goods that you use most often, the cost savings will start to reflect in your budget.

I also try to shop in season. If fruits and vegetables are not good quality, or over priced, I try to substitute those that are currently in season and adjust my meal planning around this. I see no reason to pay an over inflated price for vegetables or fruits that are so poor quality that chances are most of the produce will be discarded anyhow. If I do come across very good quality produce, at a good price, I will buy extra, clean, and freeze it for use when it is no longer in season. Green peppers for example can vary greatly in price and quality depending on the season. I love adding green peppers to venison steaks right in the skillet. It makes no difference if they are cut fresh, or from the freezer. Therefore, when they are in season, I will pick up a few extra. I simply rinse them, core them, take the seeds out, and slice them right into a freezer bag. When I would normally just skip the green peppers, all I have to do is grab a bag from the freezer.

Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player Buying Guide

Written by James Fohl

Well, after a few years of mainstream usage, it looks like the DVD format is about to get some competition from two new formats; DVD's successor, HD DVD, and the totally new format known as Bluray. While Bluray players are expected to be released later this year, the first HD DVD players are just around the corner.

If you are a big technology buff, or a person that just wants to watch the latest movies in the high definition format on your new high definition television set, then chances are you are going to be out there buying one of the first HD DVD players. Unfortunately, since the format is so new, not a lot of HD DVD movie players are going to be available for a while. In fact, there are only going to be two different HD DVD movies players made by the Japanese electronics company Toshiba for a while, until other home electronics companies released HD DVD players.

The first Toshiba built HD DVD player is the Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player, which is due to be released at the end of March 2006 with a price tag of four hundred and ninety nine dollars. A lot of people are complaining about the high price tag of the Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player, but then again it is the first high definition DVD video player, and when was the last time a new video technology was released with a hundred dollar price tag?

The Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player is able to play all HD DVD discs, and is also backwards compatible with older DVD discs. That means, that if you spend all of your money on your new HD DVD video player and do not have enough money to buy a new HD DVD movie, you will still be able to watch your older DVD movie discs in the HD DVD player. The only problem is the new Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player will not do anything to your older DVD discs; that means that your old DVD discs will not be played in high definition. Users who want to experience their favorite DVD movies in high definition will have to wait until a HD DVD version of that movie is released, which could take a while if it is not a very popular film.

Since the Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player is the only available HD DVD player on the market, you really can not compare it to anything. No Bluray players have been released, so really the Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player has no competition, besides for regular DVD players, which are much, much cheaper.

Again, the only reason a person should buy a new Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player is if they are going to be watching new HD DVD movies, which are estimated to cost between twenty and thirty dollars a piece. So if you are planning on purchasing a new HD DVD player just to watch your old DVDs, then perhaps you should wait a little bit for other home electronics companies to release other HD DVD players, so that prices will drop on both HD DVD movie players as well as the HD DVD movie discs.

On the other hand, if you have a high definition television set, are a total movie buff, and have the extra money to spend, then you should definitely go out and at least take a look at the Toshiba HD-A1. Sure, it is kind of expensive with a price tag of four hundred and ninety nine dollars, but then again all new technology is expensive. Besides, not only will you be watching all the latest movie releases in the high definition format, but you will also be the envy of all of your friends.

In the end it is entirely up to you. As I mentioned before, there is currently only one company, Toshiba, releasing HD DVD movie players, and as such they control the prices of the HD DVD players. If you must have a HD DVD player, then the units offered by Toshiba are your only choice until other companies release their HD DVD players, which should be within the next couple of months.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The End Of The VCR?

Written by James Fohl

Around this time last year, I was talking about how I still used my VCR pretty much every day. You see, a year ago I could still go to my local Wal-Mart, and find a lot of VHS movies for around six dollars each. These were not older movies either, they were some what new releases. I bought a bunch of these video tapes, because the DVD versions of the same films were around ten dollars more.

Here I am a year later, and well a lot has changed. First off, it seems that I can not find new movies in the VHS format anywhere. The small selection of VHS video tapes my Wal-Mart had is now gone; replaced with yet another rack of DVD movies. Another thing that has changed is the fact that while last year, my Wal-Mart had three different VCR decks, I was completely shocked when I noticed that there were no VCR decks; only a couple combination DVD / VCR decks.

But then again, a lot has changed in my house too. My VCR is not even hooked up to my television right now, mostly due to the fact that new movies are not released in the VHS format anymore. Not only that, but I do not even have to use my VCR to record my favorite television shows anymore.

Instead of using a VCR to record my favorite television shows now, I either just buy from online from the iTunes music store for a modest two dollar fee, or I use my new DVD recorder to record the shows onto inexpensive DVD-R discs. A lot of people think it is kind of stupid to buy a television show from the iTunes music store for a couple of dollars, but I have to disagree for a variety of reasons.

Topping the list is convenience. All I have to do is start up the iTunes computer program, search for the television show, and with a couple ofclicks I am watching the show. If I choose to record the show to a DVD recordable disc, I have to mess with all the settings of the DVD recorder, and make sure I have a blank disc available. In the end, it just seems that the two dollar iTunes solution is much easier.

I still have my VHS video collection; probably over a hundred tapes now. I do not know exactly what I am going to do with these tapes though. I have not watched any for a couple of months now, and those new DVD rental services allow me to watch all the new movies I could want for the price of one DVD a month. So, instead of buying new movies on the DVD format, and since I can no longer buy new movies on the old VHS format, I simply go online to the Net Flix website, find the movies I want to see, and a couple days later I am watching the movies on my DVD
player.

Since I can keep the movies as long as I want, I am not rushed in to watching the DVDs, and ultimately it is kind of like I own the movies, since I usually only ever watch a movie once or twice (which is oddly enough the reason why I have not touched my VHS video collection for a couple of months).

Yes, it seems very odd that just a year ago I was bragging about how I preferred the old VHS video format over the DVD format. But, in a mere year all sorts of things have changed. I can no longer go out and purchase new movies for six dollars in the VHS format; heck, I can't even go out and purchase any newly released movie in the VHS format. Not only that, but instead of recording my favorite television shows on bulky, cheap VHS tapes, I have several options that I now use. In the end, I really do not use my VCR anymore for anything.

I want to say that I am going to start getting attached to my DVD player, but with the new HD DVD and Bluray formats coming from around the corner, I guess it is safe to say that the DVD format will probably also slowly start to fade in the next year or so. In the end, all I can say is goodbye VCR, you were great for so many years.

Friday, March 24, 2006

In What Style, do you Decorate?

By Christina VanGinkel

An acquaintance from many years ago phoned me up the other day and asked me if I still made dream catchers. For those who might not know what a dream catcher is, it a symbolic Native American artifact that is believed to catch bad dreams before they reach the sleeper they protect, allowing only good dreams to flow through the web that makes up the main part of this woven and beaded craft. Many years ago, long before they became popular with crafters of various ethnic backgrounds, I was making them in.

On the rare occasion, I do, still make them. Mainly small ones for kids as gifts, or when I volunteer to keep a class of children occupied with some type of artistic endeavor, and then I will help them make their own. When people know you have done this sort of thing in the past, they are apt to phone you up and ask you to do it again (the class thing). Well anyhow, he went on to tell me that he was interested in a larger dream catcher, three feet across, for his brother's house. His brother had cut a hole in the wall between two rooms, and thought that a dream catcher suspended in this opening would be a good way to fill the void. Each to their own way of decorating was my first thought, but at the same time, I told him he would have to find someone else to make it, as I do not make any to sell, nor do I take orders for them like I once did many years ago.

This whole phone conversation got me to thinking though, how differently so many people decorate. Sure, you can pick up magazines and books on different styles, such as Victorian or eclectic, modern, or rustic, country, cottage, contemporary, and many other styles that have been named. However, for each one of us that decorates in a style that can be identified, probably half a dozen people have no identifiable style in their homes whatsoever. Not even put together enough that eclectic could be attached to their home's style. That is, there is no term to describe their homes, unless there is a phrase that identifies a mix of rummage sale and store items found on clearance or sale.

If there is, then that is surely the term that would identify my style of decorating! Because glancing around my own home, if pushed to classify it, I would have to rate my own home amongst this class of, shall we call it 'deep discount' style. We have through the years, decorated our house around our likes, around our lives, and mostly around what I have been able to find at a good bargain price, and from that, has come our home. I have touches of modern, touches of rustic, even touches of Victorian (my front bathroom has a very pretty, Victorian print framed and hung on the wall). Still, all of the pieces that make up what I guess could be referred to as my decorating style, is not even assembled in a way that could be termed eclectic. All of the different styles came about because I was able to find the pieces on sale, period.

In the last year or so, I have tried to alter this mish mash of styles somewhat to reflect my love of rustic, but at the same time, I am the first one to admit that I see no reason to discard an item and replace it with another simply because of the way it looks. I was raised that you replace things when they are worn out or broken, not because they do not match.

This all was never brought more home to me than when I was at a Home Interior party a week or so ago. I saw many items I liked, but could not really find my style amongst the many represented amongst the pages of the two large catalogs that the demonstrator passed around. Several of the women in attendance were able to flip right to what they called their styles, and knew exactly what they wanted. There were also several women like me, flipping through the catalogs, from front to back and back to front. All of it was nice, but none of it 'fit'. If you have a style like mine, do not fret! Know that it actually looks like you are in the majority!

Mac Mini Buying Guide

Written by James Fohl

If you have been paying attention to the computer scene, then chances are you have probably heard about a little tiny computer made by Apple, called the Mac Mini. The Mac Mini is an incredibly small computer system that weighs just a little bit under three pounds.

It was first released in January 2005, and has undergone a major revision on February 28th, 2006. Ever since its release, it has been incredibly popular due to its small size, and the fact that it is the cheapest computer that Apple has ever produced.

When the Mac Mini was originally released in January 2005, it was priced at $499. For this price, you got a super small computer system powered by a PowerPC G4 1.25 ghz processor, 256 mb of DDR memory, a forty gigabyte hard drive, a DVD / CD-RW combo drive, and both Ethernet / modem connections.

The computer was a smash hit, and even though new models have been released with Intel processors, the original Mac Minis seem to be retaining their full retail value; something that simply can not be said for most computer systems.

As I mentioned, new models were released this year on the last day of February. Instead of using a PowerPC processor, these computers utilize an Intel processor. Besides the processor change, the systems have been tweaked a lot. A new type of RAM is being utilized, there is a bigger hard drive, and wireless internet also comes standard.

Unfortunately, all of these features cost money, and as a result the price of the Mac Mini has actually went up. Instead of $499, like the 2005 Mac Mini models, the 2006 Mac Minis start at $599.

While Apple only sells the new Intel Mac Minis, many other stores still carry the older $499 model. Some stores are even lowering the price of the $499 model in order to make room for the $599 models.

So which Mac Mini should you purchase? That's a great question, and the answer really depends on what you plan to do with the Mac Mini. You see, the new Intel Mac Mini has a lot of features that allow the computer to be used as a digital hub; where you can listen to music, watch movies etc. The older Mac Mini was made to be a basic computer; to surf the internet, do word processor, watch DVDs, etc.

As I mentioned before, the major change is the processor type used in both Mac Mini models. The PowerPC model will allow users to use older Macintosh software, while the new Intel processor based Mac Mini model will only be able to run Mac OS X software.

That is another valid point. Both Mac Minis (the PowerPC and Intel models) do not run the Windows operating system. Instead they use the Mac OS X operating system. What this means to the user is the fact that while the Mac OS X operating system can play all of your mp3s, show all your movies and digital photos, it can not run all of your Windows programs. This is not really a problem however, since a large amount of software exists on the Mac format. Additionally, viruses and spyware that are quite common to the Windows operating system simply do not affect the Mac OS X operating system. In the end, you will be able to spend more time working on your Mac Mini, and you won't have to spend your time scanning for viruses and spyware.

Both Mac Minis do not come with a monitor, mouse, or keyboard. A lot of computer users are turned away from the Mac Mini because of this reason; for the same price, a person can buy a loaded Windows computer with a monitor, mouse and keyboard.

The Mac Minis make up for this by providing a lot of software you can not find on Windows computer systems. Entitled iLife, its a group of programs that allow you to make movies, edit photographs, and more. Many Mac Mini users say that this software package, and the fact that they do not have to worry about viruses and spyware make up for the price difference.

Both Mac Minis are great deals, but since the Intel Mac Mini just came out, you should probably stick with the G4 Mac until all of your favorite software is available for the Intel version of OS X. Besides, as I mentioned before, a lot of stores are selling the older Mac Minis at incredible prices.

Shopping For Clothes From A Guy's Perspective

Written by James Fohl

Shopping for new clothes.. It is one of a woman's favorite hobbies, while it is probably the last thing a guy would want to do on the weekend. We all know how most women simply love to shop for new clothes, whether it is for a new skirt, a new pair of pants, a new belt, or simply what ever is on sale.

I'm a guy, and I do not like to go shopping for clothes. I simply like to wear jeans and tshirts. I guess you could say if I had to wear the same clothes that in my closet for the rest of my life I would probably still be a pretty happy guy.

Even though I do not go shopping for clothes a lot, I still get to go on the whole shopping experience with my girlfriend. Now I do not mind going shopping with my girlfriend, it is just after a couple of hours I kind of turn in to a zombie. I guess I probably should explain that last statement.

You see, I have no problem going to the mall with my girlfriend to pick up a new pair of jeans for her. You know, if I need a new pair of jeans I just go to the store, find the size I need and buy them; it really is a five minute task. The problem with my girlfriend, (and most women I know) is the fact that it is not a five minute task. It is more of a five hour task.

You see, women like my girlfriend can not just go into one store and buy a pair of jeans. Instead, they have to go to pretty much every store in the mall and try on every style of jeans they can find. After trying on thirty different pairs of jeans, they ultimately can not decide on a single pair of jeans, and buy six.

Whenever my girlfriend is getting rung up at the checkout counter, I kind of get excited, because we were only at the mall for three hours. But then, I forget that because she bought new jeans, she's probably going to want a new belt for those jeans.

So after another half hour looking at belts, she will find a belt that goes great with her six new pairs of jeans. We will pay for the jeans, and while I think we are on our way out of the mall, she will tell me that she needs a new pair of shoes to match her new belt.

One thing will lead to another, and before I know it, my girlfriend will have a new wardrobe. Six hours will pass from the time we entered the mall before we leave the mall. I will have seen so many pairs of jeans, belts, and shoes that I simply just nod my head and say "That looks great."

That is how I become a zombie for the rest of the day.

Now don't get me wrong, I like spending time with my girlfriend, and I don't mind shopping. I am now used to the fact that it takes me five minutes to buy a pair of jeans, but whenever I go shopping with my girlfriend it takes her five hours.

So if you are a woman reading this article, think about shopping from a guy's perspective. Sure, most guys go shopping with their girlfriends just like I do, and say they enjoy it, but inside we're all turning into zombies. You can argue until you are blue in the blue, but its the truth. Most guys hate shopping; we just go into a store and purchase whatever jeans fit us.

So if the next time you go ask your boyfriend / husband / male friend if he wants to go shopping for clothes with you, and he tells you no, don't feel bad. Maybe if you agree to only spend a half hour or so in the mall, then maybe he will go with you. Or, you could always try and strike a deal with him by saying you will go into the sporting goods store, or electronics store with him if he goes shopping with you.