Valentine’s Day Roundup

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I can’t believe Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. Not because I’m not ready, I bought my cutesy husband and hearts cards, but because the past year has zipped by. I hoped once we got married in April, time would slow down a bit. Not the case.

I pride myself on being a pretty good gift-giver, but once V-Day rolls around I’m all out of gift-spiration, having celebrated back-to-back family birthdays in the fall, followed by Christmas and last but not least, Mainman’s birthday in January.

I figured I’d post some links here in case you needed some help getting in the Valentine’s Day mood. Girls, if you’re like me, you have insisted in the past on not wanting anything on 2/14, “You know what honey? I don’t need anything. Just get me a card.” Then, famously, when Mainman listens to me and doesn’t do anything, I’m disappointed. So this year I told him to buy me a nice pair of underwear and call it a day. For those of you who are single, don’t fret, friends and family can be your Valentines, too.

Top 10 Aphrodisiacs and where to find them in New York (my first blog, Mona’s Apple)

Best spots for a first date in New York (Mona’s Apple — I wish I could offer my own romantic restaurant guide to Angelenos, but my dining out knowledge here still pales in comparison to when I was living in New York as a single gal.)

Where to Eat in L.A. on Valentine’s Day (LA Times)

Your pet is the best Valentine ever
(HuffPo)

Animal odd couples (ABC)

Eco-conscious flower options (La Times)

Alternatives to dinner and a date (NYMag)

Gratuitous bulldog cuteness (Cute Overload)

What to watch on V-Day if you’re single (HuffPo)

Valentine’s Day Gift Guide (InStyle)

Best Movie Love Stories (Vanity Fair)

Chocolate desserts for Valentine’s Day (Martha Stewart)

Cocktails for Valentine’s Day (Saveur)

Top 50 Love Songs of All Time (Billboard)

Ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day if you’re a parent (ABC)

Hearts in nature (Pinterest)

Have fun and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Stuck in a Rut? Here Are a Few Things That May Help

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Joshua TreeI read a friend’s Tweet Wednesday morning: “Stuck in a rut. Uninspired. Unchallenged. Unmotivated. Unfulfilled. New career on the horizon?”

And I couldn’t help but think, “DITTO!” and is there any way I could help this friend?

What tools/nuggets of wisdom might I be able to share with her that she doesn’t already know/have? And being that I continue to grapple with my own career apathy, why would anyone listen to me?

Well, first things first. You’re not alone, D. Maybe we’re over the brutal snowstorms and antsy for spring (excluding us in sunny California of course), maybe it’s the new year and we’re bored with our resolutions, or maybe we just want to experience a momentous change in 2014. Whatever the reason for the doldrums, I decided to curate a bit of inspiration here for all (myself included) when we feel ourselves slipping into the sticky funk.

Some things you can read/do immediately. Some might take a bit more exertion. I’ve shared ideas, quotes and articles I’ve read recently, even job-related tips that may help you re-vamp a dusty resume or network with a long lost friend.

discovered quotes on friend’s instagram feed. scroll to bottom for more details.

READ

*It sounds cliche, but my dad bought me “What Color Is My Parachute?” a long time ago, and I think it’s time for a re-read. I’m hoping despite its big and bold “2008″ on the cover, much of what Richard Nelson Bolles had to say then is still relevant.

*Another book staring me in the face is “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I’ve only gotten through the first several pages, as I’m reading two books at the moment, but I plan on finishing it up with a notebook handy.

*”Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. My mother-in-law sent this to me and I hope to find what Sandberg has to say inspiring. It certainly sparked enough debate online. Check out the NYTimes review here. (D, let me know if I can forward it to you when I’m through with it.)

*Pick up an autobiography/biography of someone in history you admire. Scratch that. It does not have to be someone in history. If Tina Fey inspires you, get her book. Artist. Writer. Politician. Anybody. I love reading the journeys of successful people. Often it seems they just stumbled upon success, but this is rarely the case.

*My brother shared this book with me: “Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days.” Again, it’s all about the journey and failure is a part of the process, particularly in the start-up world.

*Other books I’ve heard whisperings of, but have not yet picked up: “Wild,” “The 4-Hour Work Week” and “The Happiness Project.”

DO

*Exercise! It clears my brain. I joined the local YMCA with my husband, and while I admit this makes me feel like a suburban mom, whenever I leave a class (spinning, yoga, etc.) I’m so happy I did something for myself. D, I know you’re a mom of three, so you rarely get these moments. And if you’re housebound because of snow, maybe rent/buy a fun workout DVD and get your sweat on that way. Tracy Anderson and Jillian Michaels are both badass chicks with killer bods and great workout DVDs, but you can even go with some classic Jane Fonda ones. One of my favorite interviews recently was of Evangeline Lilly, who when asked what she did to stay fit, replied, “I’m kind of old school. I’m not into yoga or pilates. I’m on a mat sticking my foot in the air with Jane Fonda.” A girl after my own heart.

*Write lists/goals. I’m a little neurotic when it comes to this, but if it’s not on paper, I forget about it or worse, blow it off. Right next to my keyboard sits a white pad and every day I jot down anywhere from four to 12 things I want to accomplish. So far today I’m 2-2.

*Check out some podcasts you’ve never listened to before. I have a great list a new friend on Twitter sent me. Just ask and I’ll forward it. Once in a while I’ll listen to a TED talk here and there, as well.

*Get your LinkedIn profile up-to-date and connect connect connect. If nothing ever comes of your account, you’ll at least be able to see what your peers have been doing with their lives and who knows, maybe you’ll discover a field you never knew existed. Not to mention, it’s a great resource for resume-building. I checked on several former colleagues to see how they explained their roles at certain companies I’ve been with, and it’s helped me frame my resume bullet-points and objectives tremendously.

*Find a local cause you’re excited about and volunteer. You never know, if you put in the time and heart, there may end up being a permanent position you can apply for. And typically it ends up being just as rewarding for you as it is for the organization/people you donate your time to. VolunteerMatch is a helpful site if the task of choosing an organization sounds daunting.

*Step 1. Subscribe to a few magazines that cater to certain hobbies you like or interests you have. Step 2. Tear them to shreds. This may sound odd, but when I was thinking about starting a dog collar business, I found a lot of neat ideas in various dog and design magazines. I created a corkboard above my desk where I began to tack up pictures and photos. If you want to save paper you can go the Pinterest route.

*Check out a local “meetup” in your area. Since MainMan isn’t really into stand-up paddling, I hope to either create a group in El Segundo or find some people who’d be interested in joining me on a paddle to the Manhattan Beach Pier. I’ve even thought about seeing if there are dog-owners in town who’d like to join Agnes and me on our morning walks. I’m at home alone most of the day and I miss interacting with people. A former New York blogging buddy, Coodence, who coincidentally lives here now, told me before she got her job she was getting coffee with people almost every day. “Meet for coffee, meet for coffee, meet for coffee!” she said.

*If your career path is your main source of angst, maybe see if there’s a career counselor in your area. I find Entrepreneur and Inc. magazines, in addition to the Business section of The New York Times, helpful and inspiring.

*Sometimes simply rearranging a desk, a dresser or even furniture in your home can help change the mood. I keep saying I’m going to buy washi tape and bring some of our old antique wooden furniture to life (our color scheme is blander than a sugarless cookie: white, cream, light brown, dark brown, zzz). If you want to take this a step further, do a big overhaul/clean-out of clothes you don’t wear anymore/things you no longer use in the house/even books you can pass on to the next reader. Spring cleaning always feels therapeutic to me. It symbolizes letting go and starting a new season fresh and lighter. For an extreme take on this concept, read up on Dave Bruno’s 100 thing challenge. There’s no way I could do this, but you might surprise yourself by trying it, if only a little bit.

*Learn something new/take a class. It can be a useful skill like sewing or just plain fun like painting or how to play the banjo! The Olympics in Sochi have inspired me to learn Russian. I’m still working on Italian, so there will be a bit of a lag before that begins.

*Open an Etsy store. Find yourself making particular crafts over and over for friends and relatives? Time to step up and share your talent with the world. You never know, what starts off as a small enterprise could blow up like The Bearded Pigeon. Nasty Gal Sophia Amoruso sold vintage stuff on eBay five years ago and now she has a +$100M brand! Her forthcoming book “Girl Boss” could be a fun read, too (hat tip Fashionista).

*Join an alumni group in your area, whether it’s for your alma mater, high school or even sorority/fraternity. Who knows, there could be like-minded people in your area that you already have a strong bond with simply because of where you went to school.

WATCH

*Instead of flipping through the channels at 8 p.m. to check out the latest sitcoms, see what’s floating around the documentary channel of your OnDemand, Apple or Roku TV. It can be a Warren Miller film on skiing, or a Ken Burns rerun of “The Civil War.” I find documentaries to be extremely inspiring if done correctly.

CLICK

*New York Times “You’re the Boss” blog

*Scroll through Kickstarter. Check out what other entrepreneurial/creative people are doing. This could stoke your inner Van Gogh or Victor Hugo.

*Everyone has a story in Humans of New York.

*Inc.’s page “Hiring” has some fun articles.

*Tumblr’s “positivity” feed is great.

*1,000 awesome things

*We’ve already established I like lists. Every few months or so I scroll through “best places to work” and “best places to live” lists. Forbes springboards off of Glassdoor’s list: 10 best places to work. While I prefer Outside Magazine’s list of best places to work. Also, here is some guidance on industries that are hiring right now.

*If you like the quotes seen here, go to my friend Kelly Bechtold’s Instagram feed. She’s a leather bag designer and posts some incredible photos and quotations. (I discovered the last two quote images on my own :)

Give us a shout and tell us what you do to feel inspired.

From Los Angeles to Carmel: Your Guide to Driving Up the Pacific Coast Highway

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I’ve shared the following itinerary/email with countless friends driving up the coast of California (most recently Janet Lawler, author and keeper of the blog The Screenwriting Life), and I felt it was time to formalize my recommendations in a searchable post here. The article I published on campsites in Southern California has attracted a lot of readers, so maybe I’ll have the same luck with this one.

My familiarity with Carmel/Big Sur (thanks to my parents who bought their first house in Carmel-by-the-Sea shortly after I graduated from UVA in 2001) far surpasses my knowledge of towns between the Monterey Peninsula and Santa Barbara (I hear San Luis Obispo has its charms), but frankly, and maybe I’m just biased, Big Sur and its Carmel environs are the most beautiful, and where I believe you ought to spend the majority of your time if you’re doing this breathtakingly stunning coastal drive.

Upon leaving Los Angeles, you can take the long(er) way, Rt. 1, straight off the Santa Monica Freeway (Rt. 10) and drive through Malibu and Ventura Counties, before meeting up with 101N. Or you can take the 405N to the 101 (which is our preferred route) and you’ll see the coastline in Ventura, about 30 minutes south of Santa Barbara. Keep in mind if you do it right, with various stops along the way, it could take you a good seven to eight hours.

Carpinteria is the first place I’d recommend stopping. You’ll find a small, sleepy beach town with one main drag. There’s a hot dog stand, aptly called Surf Dog, right off the highway if you need a snack. Also worth checking out, and you’ll want to limit yourself to one beer if you’re road-tripping, is the Island Brewing Company, along the train tracks. For dog-owners, there’s a small patch of beach towards the north side of town that is dog-friendly.

Surf Dog, Carpinteria

Carpinteria, 8/13

In between Carp and Santa Barbara is Montecito. We celebrated my parents 40th wedding anniversary this past year and ate dinner at the Stonehouse at the San Ysidro Ranch Inn. It is one of the most spectacular settings for a restaurant I’ve ever encountered. No wonder it’s frequented by many a Hollywood A-lister.

Pismo Beach is another good place for a pit stop. We’ve never spent too much time here, but it seems like a funky little town.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle, 04/13

Your next stop should be just north of Cambria at Hearst Castle. I’d driven by the signs dozens of times, and it wasn’t until this past year before I got married that I stopped in with FoxyLady. We had a blast (for once, all photos in this post are mine). Keep in mind you MUST have a reservation. You can call the day of, typically, but I wouldn’t risk it if you’re here from out of state. We did the grand rooms tour, which is a quick 40-minute overview of the property, and after you’re free to wander the exquisite gardens. This is perfect if you still have a long drive ahead, but there are more thorough tours of the extravagant estate for diehard historians. Don’t forget to be on the lookout for zebras.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle, 04/13

A few minutes north of Hearst is one of my family’s favorite stops: the elephant seal rookery/beach at Piedras Blancas. You can spend 15 minutes or you can spend hours here. There’s never a dull moment. Just be prepared, some of what you’ll see can be gruesome (the hefty males often squash pups to death just moving from one spot to the next). I like to walk as far north as the trail allows and sometimes you’ll find a deserted spot with several seals. Depending on what month it is, the beach will look like this below, while at peak times you won’t see an inch of sand.

Elephant Seal Beach, Piedras Blancas

Elephant Seal Beach, Piedras Blancas

The rest of the drive to Big Sur speaks for itself. You may even recognize part of the winding, cliff-side road from the countless car commercials which have been filmed there. Make sure you have a full tank of gas and a full battery on your camera and you’ll be good to go. Binoculars couldn’t hurt either. If you hit the timing right you could see dozens of whale spouts (greys, humpbacks and even killer whales are known to migrate along the coastline).

Among places to eat in Big Sur: Deetjen’s is a little ramshackle old log cabin of an inn/restaurant (built in 1937); Nepenthe, while a total tourist trap with marginal food, is worth stopping in for a drink or an appetizer to check out the spectacular views; and my family’s favorite is the Big Sur River Inn – with award-winning bloody Marys and wooden Adirondack chairs smack dab in the middle of the river that you can sit in. Ventana is another restaurant we enjoy, though on the fancier side (better to come here with a formal reservation for lunch or dinner than to stop in in road trip gear/bedhead).

Big Sur River InnSomewhat of a hidden treasure in Big Sur is Pfeiffer Beach. It’s at the end of a long, windy road through the woods where you’ll feel like you’re off-roading on the set of “Lord of the Rings” or “Jurassic Park.” Just be patient. Two or three miles in you’ll come to a parking lot and when you emerge from the forest you’ll meet one of the most spectacular beaches in the world. Locals notoriously steal the signs from the road making it challenging for tourists to find.

Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach

One of the last restaurants before you hit Carmel is the California Market, at the Highlands Inn (a Hyatt hotel). The views here are spectacular and every table on the patio is equipped with binoculars in case there are animal sightings. You can get breakfast, lunch and dinner here and all are delicious. They make a great mojito.

Just a few miles more and you’ll have reached Carmel. Take a left on Ocean Ave. and celebrate. You made it! The best welcome to town is grabbing a sandwich at Bruno’s or the 5th Avenue Deli (next to the Post Office) and picking up a coffee at the Carmel Coffee House. Park your car at the bottom of Ocean Ave. and either picnic on the Carmel Beach (look north to the Pebble Beach golf course and sprawling mansions) or walk along Scenic checking out the charming houses overlooking the ocean.

In addition to recommending stops along the way to Carmel, I’m including in this portion of my post things to do in/around Carmel. See something here that you didn’t like or have any additions to this list? Please email me with your comments.

LODGING

La Playa Hotel is an attractive, welcoming hotel just off downtown Carmel where I used to wait tables. If the rooms here are pricy, there are several other B&Bs and small inns where you might find more reasonable rates. Check out hotels in Monterey, too, as they tend to be more affordable. Among my favorites is the Monterey Plaza Hotel that sits right on the water.

The Cypress Inn, owned by Doris Day, is a pet-friendly hotel. If you’re staying elsewhere, it’s worth a stop for food and drinks. Its happy/yappy hours are famous in town for puppy-watching (and people-watching). We always try to stop in here with Agnes.

FOOD

Club Jalapeno: They serve great Mexican here with fantastic margaritas (closed Tuesday for lunch).

Katy’s Place: It’s an institution for breakfast in Carmel, though a little pricy.

Il Fornaio: Yes, the chain, but it’s always a wonderful time with its boisterous atmosphere and quality Italian fare.

Flying Fish Grill: Not sushi, necessarily, but a great spot for fresh fish, almost Asian fusion.

Mission Ranch: Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry used to be the former mayor of Carmel) bought the ranch in 1986 saving it from becoming a condo. It’s a favorite of locals and if you can carry a tune, you’ll want to stop in for their open mic performances. They are a HOOT. To this day, my brother is still waiting for my debut performance.

Fandango Restaurant: This spot in Pacific Grove is a favorite of ours. We’ve enjoyed at least three holiday meals here. It’s not really Italian, it’s not really French, but it’s Mediterranean cuisine. Tons of atmosphere and great service always make for a special evening.

Some others to consider: Forge in the Forest, Casanova, Little Napoli, Sea Harvest and Little Swiss Cafe.

ACTIVITIES

The 17-mile drive through Pebble Beach is an absolute must. Tourists end up paying about 8-$10 to pass the security checkpoint, but if you slow down and wave casually you might be able to pass for a resident. Otherwise, stop and tell them you’re grabbing a drink at the Tap Room and they’ll either charge you and you can get a refund with validation on the way out or they’ll just wave you through. The drive along the water is beautiful (don’t forget to pose by the Lone Cypress), but you’ll definitely want to get out, walk around and enjoy the lodge/shops, as well. Make sure you check the calendar before your visit. There are several events here every year, of the two most popular are the AT&T Pro-Am the first week in February and the Concours d’Elegance car show in mid-August. If those are of interest to you, great! The more the merrier. If you’re trying to avoid crowds, then choose another time to visit because town is mobbed those weekends.

Point Lobos State Reserve

Point Lobos State Reserve

If you’re ready to get out of the car and get some exercise, head over to Point Lobos for a hike, or if you’re into SCUBA diving, paddling or kayaking they have those, as well (you just have to reserve your spot ahead of time). You can make the trip as short as a half-hour or as long as three hours. Park along Rt. 1 to avoid the parking fee — you’ll see the cars — and walk into the park where you’ll be climbing mountains and walking paths overlooking the ocean, waves and seals below. The round trip hike is roughly seven miles and can take at least three hours, so go prepared with a snack.

Point LobosFurther down Rt. 1, back the direction you came from, is another favorite hike: Soberanes Canyon (east side of the street)/Soberanes Point Trail (ocean side). You can choose between a moderate forest hike on one side, or an easy ocean walk on the other, or if you’re feeling adventurous do both. Dogs are no longer allowed at all on Soberanes Canyon, unfortunately, but it seems they can go leashed on the Point side.

Soberanes Point Trail

Soberanes Point Trail, 12/13

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a fun stop for the whole family. It’s generally always crowded, so make it a first stop of the day. They’re doing great things for education and conservation and the kids will certainly enjoy an up close encounter with an otter.

If you’re in the area for a night or two, definitely go to the Inn at Spanish Bay around 4-4:30 p.m. (look up when sunset is) to hear their bagpiper. Sit around their massive stone, California firepits with blankets and a hot toddy and enjoy the sunset and music. My mom and I always get misty-eyed here.

Even if you’re not religious, seeing the Carmel Mission can be awe-inspiring. It’s a beautiful church and one of Carmel’s most iconic landmarks.

If you have some extra time check out some of the digs of some famous writers. The Steinbeck Museum in Salinas is a worthy stop, as is the Tor House of Robinson Jeffers along Scenic Drive in Carmel. In keeping with the Steinbeck theme, you’ll also want to check out Cannery Row in Monterey, though today it’s a bit heavy on the tchotchke-as-souvenir side.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for future travel guides. Next up Sonoma!

Oven-Roasted Clam Recipe

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While some are freezing their limbs off and getting their tongues stuck to poles in frigid temps — the buzzword I heard this morning on the news was “polar vortex” (*shudder*) — MainMan and I are making the most of our new town/beach life. This includes spending more hours surfing and stand-up paddling, and trying to get into better shape so we can enjoy said ocean activities for extended periods of time.

Part of this process includes just getting on the water more and eating better. MainMan’s been a huge advocate of the Zone diet for years. We own two books on how it works and how to eat the Zone daily. I got the gist: less carbs = skinny butts. Balanced diet = better nutrition. But for whatever reason I’d been disinclined to jump on the bandwagon. I love my chips and dip, and pasta, and baguettes, and cheese, etc. etc.

Well, much like I suddenly gave up meat on my 30th birthday to many a “What?!” and “Why!?”, 2014 hit and I looked at my bowl of Special K thinking, “This is doing absolutely NOTHING for my body or for improving how it works.” So, with that, I decided I’d try hard to only ingest items (wine and beer, excluded) that had some sort of health benefit. I went to a website I thought might have some useful tips/ideas to get started, SELF Magazine, and low and behold they’re having a 14-day shape up plan. I printed out their healthy recommended grocery list. It’s not all Zone-friendly, as MainMan pointed out, but a hell of a lot better than any of my previous “must buy” lists.

Mondays are our Sundays around here, as MainMan has Sunday and Monday off, so we devoted it to errands and cooking. MainMan made about 4 quarts of chili (unfortunately with meat so I can’t eat any of it) and for dinner we decided to have clams. Protein is big in the Zone diet and I can’t eat salmon and tofu every night so we have to mix it up somehow. We bought 2lbs of clams from Gelsons and looked up a recipe that would work for us.

I followed Seattle chef Tom Douglasoven-roasted clams recipe from his cookbook “Seattle Kitchen,” though we skipped the chanterelles, olives and bacon. Sometimes keeping it simpler is better and the broth already felt crowded with tomatoes and garlic. It calls for 6 tablespoons of butter — we used about half that and you could probably get away with even less.

The result was fantastic and I am definitely adding this recipe into the rotation. MainMan’s reaction to my food-gasmic response was, “Have you never had clams before?” I most certainly have, but none quite so good.

From Tom Douglas' "Seattle Kitchen"

From Tom Douglas’ “Seattle Kitchen”

Top 10 Holiday Gift Ideas for Everyone

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I’m all about lists. I write them almost daily. And come holiday season, I can’t get enough of gift guide slideshows. I stalk every magazine, newspaper and website for them. Even if you think you’re a pretty decent gift-giver (like I do), some fresh ideas and new product finds are always helpful and inspiring.

Two years ago I did a 12 days of Christmas countdown. I suggested a gift idea and a charity idea for each day leading up to Christmas. By clicking on the highlighted links above you can check out some previous yet still awesome gift ideas.

This year I decided to keep it simpler. If you’re like me and still trying to figure out the perfect gift for someone special, maybe these broader suggestions will help you out.

In no particular order:

10. Anything personalized. Check out Zazzle, Things Remembered or Red Envelope. I’ve ordered stamps and mugs from Zazzle and beautiful silver engraved frames from TR. All are perfect for parents. As I’ve experienced, parents typically have everything they need, but a photo with a personalized frame or a cute mug with a message makes an excellent gift. Don’t forget about photo books and calendars, too. Check out CVS‘s reasonable options. Stationery is always a big hit in my family. You can also get personalized address stamps and/or thank you cards for someone on your list.

9. Something crafty from Etsy. I’ve Nevena Art Glassfound a lot of fun gifts on Etsy recently. Search anything your heart desires and you’re sure to discover loads of variety. For my mom’s 60th birthday I ordered some hand-painted stemware from an incredible artist in Bulgaria. Click here for her shop Nevena Art Glass. I custom-ordered a couple of wine glasses with pelicans on them and my mom cried when she saw how beautiful they were. She does the work quickly and they are hugely under-priced ($55 for a pair of handpainted wine glasses). So buy them quick before she’s discovered. If you have a yogi on your list you can find yoga mats and bags on Etsy as well.

8. Bags, bags, bags. Have a lady friend to buy for? You can never go wrong with a new handbag. Or a cute pouch for gadgets and/or toiletries. I love the ones at Iomoi. Have a gentleman to buy for? You can’t go wrong with a cool Dakine backpack, or if you’re thinking more high end try Saddleback or Filson. If you’re stuck on what brands to buy, Kate Spade is always a classic (and Jack Spade for the men), Sea Bags has lots of nautical options, Clare Vivier has beautiful clutches and iPad cases, and Foley + Corinna is a favorite of mine. A good friend and former neighbor runs this beautiful leather bag company “Girl on a Motorcycle.” I proudly wear one of her totes daily. Check out her selection and custom order a fine leather accessory today.

7. Gadgets. Everyone loves a new toy for the holidays. Pick up the latest Consumer Guide mag and zip through for ideas. My parents-in-law just bought us an iPad for Christmas and we are thrilled. If you don’t have the budget for this, consider a Kindle or Nook for someone on your list. My dad just got the iPad mini and he loves it. Smartphones and tablets not your thing? Perhaps a GoPro is more up your alley or new speakers. Try the Jambox by Jawbone. Headphones were a hit in our house for Christmas last year, though I wish we’d done a bit more research. The Sol Republics are not comfortable. Try ones with bigger pads that fit all the way around your ear. Check out Quirky for all kinds of new affordable inventions/home goods. A new favorite in my household is the telephone that plugs into your smartphone. Find them at Native Union.

6. Accessories. Who doesn’t like a new flashy watch? ToyWatch is a favorite brand in this house (I’ve had mine for four years and it’s made out of plastic!) And you can’t go wrong with Swiss-made Luminox. As far as sunglasses, try Tom’s (shades being their latest one-for-one item), Neff, Spy and Ilori (for a variety of choices). MainMan isn’t much of a scarf-wearer, but ladies love their scarves. You can find a pretty selection at Anthropologie. Blankets or throws are always nice, too. Shoes are a bit risky, but if you have a lady friend who loves flats, check out French Soles. They’re my favorite ballet flat and my mom buys me a new pair every year.

5. Artwork. Check out Fab. My brother’s frequently directed me there for products and design inspiration. I suppose you could find artwork on Etsy, as well. Here’s a list of some fun resources for online art purchasing from Apartment Therapy. If this is too daunting, how about creating a piece of art from your own photographs/Instagram feed? Check out Canvaspop. You can do all kinds of things with their help.

4. Books. I think we’re permanently banned from buying my dad another book. He’s a huge non-fiction snob and I think he likes picking out his own tomes. If you have someone on your list who doesn’t mind getting books, however, they can be a fun option. Seek out a first edition on Ebay. Check out the hottest cookbook section if you’re buying for a foodie. The New York Times just published their “100 books of the year” article and I’ve clipped it out to visit for inspiration. The Observer has an interesting list of coffee table books. If you’re planning a trip in 2014, guide books are a great way to get the excitement going.

3. Subscriptions. Who doesn’t love a gift that keeps on giving? Whether it’s to a magazine of the person’s choosing (Bon Appetit, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, etc.) or to a monthly food/wine club (though can sometimes be a hassle since they typically need a signature to leave wine at your door, and you don’t want a bottle of nice Cab left out in severe temps). They even have flower clubs like H. Bloom where you can get a bouquet delivered to your door once a month. If my parents stayed in one place I’d strongly consider this idea.

2. Experiences. Check out your local Groupon, Urban Daddy, Gilt and/or LivingSocial deals. If you’re over the gift-wrapping, buy your loved one an activity that’s sure to create memories that will outlast your newest gadget’s shelf life. You can buy anything from a hot air balloon ride and flight lessons to spa days and driving lessons at the racetrack. Check out concerts, plays and sporting events coming to your area, too.

1. Pet gear. Does someone on your “nice” list have a cat or dog, or betta fish? I’m sure they’d love anything pet-inspired. Check out linenworkshop‘s cute silhouette art/pillows. I love this idea for a gift. Mungo and Maud is one of my favorite shops, though they’re in the UK so keep in mind for shipping purposes.

And there you have it. See something I left out? Leave a comment and I’ll keep this list fluid. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

The Best Broccoli Soup Recipe Ever

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Trust me, this is the best broccoli soup recipe you'll ever try.

This is what the soup looks like before it goes in the Cuisinart.

I can go out to eat and try broccoli soup in a dozen places, but they’ll never come close to the one my dad makes. I can’t say it’s his OWN recipe. He’s been making it for as long as I can remember, but the trouble is, nobody knows where the mysterious recipe came from.

It was a cold, damp day here Friday — a rarity in southern California — and I felt it was the perfect day for soup, not to mention I had a heaping bag of broccoli that was two days away from the trash as we’re headed to Florida this morning. So I asked Dad for the recipe, thinking he could send me a link, but he didn’t have one. When he got home, my mom had already dictated the recipe to me over the phone, because there was no trail of what book it came from.

So, here it is, Dad’s Broccoli Soup from Who Knows Where:

1qt fresh broccoli heads, packed tight
2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups warm milk
2 cups chicken broth
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
3 tbl lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbl Worcestshire
1/4 tsp Tabasco, or favorite hot sauce
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

2 cups heavy cream (optional)
3 egg yolks

1. Cook broccoli in a saucepan with butter til soft (this takes a while so be patient). Stir occasionally so you don’t burn the bottom of the pan like I did.
2. Blend in flour, simmer until bubbling. Stir occasionally.
3. Add next eight ingredients (everything to the dotted line above). Stir constantly til thick.
4. Remove from burner and whirl in blender. Add cream if desired.*
5. Strain concoction then put back in saucepan.
6. Stir in remaining cream (we skipped this step).
7. Bring to boil and remove from heat.
8. Beat egg yolks in small bowl. Whisk trace of hot soup in with egg yolks. Pour egg mixture into soup and stir constantly.**
9. Taste for salt and adjust.***

A couple family notes:

*My dad is anti-cream. My mom loves cream. Maybe next time I’ll try adding a little cream, but honestly it’s so rich with the milk it barely needs it.
**I don’t think the eggs are necessary. The egg yolks we used ended up getting cooked and as much as I like eggs, I didn’t like seeing the cooked whites in the soup.
***This soup can easily be on the over-salted side. Add salt with caution.

If you’re looking for some other Thanksgiving day fare, enjoy an old post from Mona’s Apple. It has some of my family’s tried and true Thanksgiving Day grub.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Doing Some Market Research for My Pet Line

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I’m in business plan weeds right now. I have the ideas in my head of what I want to produce/design, but it’s challenging translating this into a structured/chaptered document. I know it’s a good exercise and I have to do it, but man, I’m ready to get on with it and just create something that people will love and hopefully want to buy.

I wonder what percentage of the people selling goods on Etsy actually have business plans? Hopefully this will be one more way to differentiate myself from the masses.

If you’ve landed here and you’re a new reader/pet owner, please take a minute to fill out this simple 10-question survey on pet products and what you buy and how often for your pet(s).

 

What’s Missing From Your Pet’s Life?

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I was reading the Business section of The New York Times and found this article about Meredith Perry.

Perry’s uBeam seems like it may be some time away, but the concept is great: have one stand-alone unit in your home that can charge everything that comes with a plug. Say goodbye to tangled knots of cords and wires shoved in between desks and furniture. I’d buy one tomorrow.

I’m no astrobiologist (Perry is a bit intimidating having worked at NASA for a couple of years), but I’ve kicked around an invention idea here and there. One concept for a foot sponge/scrub attached to the bottom of your tub I had over a decade ago now shows up in “As Seen on TV” sections of the supermarket and it makes me so irritated at myself. I had that idea before it came out, but neglected to follow it all the way through.

I admire Perry’s means to an end:

“I literally would just carry around a notebook and write down any annoyances, because that would be an opportunity to solve a problem and have an invention.”

YES! I love this idea. And I plan on doing this from now on. My hatred for filling ice trays immediately comes to mind… What drives you nuts in your day-to-day lives?

While I believe my next venture will be pet-related, you never know. The makers of ThunderShirt have certainly developed a groundbreaking product that can’t stay on the shelves. For the many friends of mine who are dog/pet owners, what is something you wish you could buy for your pet that isn’t available? Or perhaps there’s something you already have that you wish was made/designed better.

Would love your thoughts!

We’ve Moved!

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It took almost four days, but I’ve finally set up my computer workspace and I’m back online. My “corner office” in the TV/family room won’t be making any “best of” posts on ApartmentTherapy.com, but it’ll do for now.

I can’t even really say the move is over. We still have a storage unit we want to empty. Both our cars still have several boxes and knick-knacks I can’t bring myself to carry up the stairs yet. And I see one too many plastic bins serving as flattened box props in the dining nook. It will get done, just not this second.

For those of you who don’t know about the move, Agnes got attacked by a new neighbor’s dog at our former residence. It was a horrific experience I chose not to discuss here. The 20-second version is a male, pitbull-weimarener from across our driveway had Agnes’ throat in its jaws for about two minutes. Someone turned on the hose, which broke it up, and an ambulance/animal control/vet/ER visit later (MainMan got bit badly trying to detach this dog from Agnes’ face), all was resolved. Or so we thought. Until we left the following days on walks and said dog would bark ferociously at us every time we stepped foot out the door. We were over it, Agnes especially, so we decided to look for a new place to live. The dog attack was really the icing on the cake. I’d been unhappy in our neighborhood for some time and once this happened, I couldn’t handle it anymore.

Luckily a client of mine, upon hearing what happened and what sort of community I was looking for, recommended El Segundo. So here we are.

El Segundo Map

It’s only about six miles, roughly 15-20 minutes south of our old place, but it feels like a whole new world down here. Disregard the A above, that’s not our home, but within the dotted lines is our new town. And note just above (the darkened grey area) is the airport. So if you’re thinking about visiting, really, we couldn’t be closer to the airport unless we hopped the fence.

I will upload photos once furniture and wall art have been squared away so you’ll have a better idea of what our new apartment looks like.

My Sundays With the Times

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I don’t want to regurgitate New York Times articles every week. But once in a while I’ll discover a new person who motivates me, or an idea that seems worth implementing, and I figure it’s worth sharing here for those who don’t get/read the Sunday Times.

I used to once skip over the Business section, as someone who thought they had nothing to learn from stock market figures and tech talk.

Now, it’s the section I go to second, after Styles.

This Sunday I came across an article on testing out new careers via mentoring.

I found the following excerpt amusing for several reasons:

BRIAN KURTH got the idea for what became PivotPlanet in 2001, when he was 34 and a freshly downsized telecom executive, trying to figure out what to do with his life. “I wanted to test my own waters, and I thought of being a doggy day-care owner,” Mr. Kurth said. So he shadowed a local doggy day-care owner for three days. It was a useful exercise: “I realized I didn’t want to pick up poop all day long,” Mr. Kurth said. And it gave him the idea “that there is value in test-driving your dream job before you do it.”

Would I have started my own pet care business had I shadowed someone for a week? The jury’s out. But perhaps this mentoring thing could be useful as I try to figure out what’s next.

What career would you consider shadowing to see if it’d be worth pursuing full-time?

 

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