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Monday, January 26, 2015

To the 15 years ago me

My dad would put his calloused, meat hook of a hand in mine and tell me to squeeze it as hard as I could and I would. It wasn't until I was in high school that he finally pulled his big paw out of my grip and told me with a mix of respect and relief, "You're stronger than you know." He then put his theory to the test when he passed away. 15 years ago to be exact.

The timing couldn't have been worse for me. I know, you're probably thinking there is never a good time to lose your father, but that's not true. Even if I just had one extra freaking week more, he would have at least known my future was in good hands since I received my first college acceptance letter the morning of his wake. Or a few months more and he would have at least been there to see me graduate high school, go to prom, becoming an adult.

The timing couldn't have been better for him. I could tell he was scared about the prospect of dialysis and he was never scared of anything. Pain, both physically and mentally was a constant for him, but the thought of being tied down to a machine had him finally reevaluating his life. We didn't talk about it and I regret that now, but he was probably dreading me going off to college too. We saw each other every Monday after all, during his only day off. What would he do on Mondays now? In the end, I was the one who had to figure out what I would do on Mondays without him.

I remember how supportive my school guidance counselor was. She also lost her father when she was 17. In an attempt to explain that she knew what I was going through, she shared that just the other day she was crying thinking of her dad. I know she was being nice, but her words terrified me. All I could think of was 'great, this painful ache never goes away.' It does though. 'Time heals all wounds' was the platitude that everyone kept telling me, but I wanted to shout, when!?

Yes, I'm always thinking about my dad, my friend, one of the few people who really got me. But thankfully, that painful gut wrenching ache has finally dulled. Yes, some days I'll even feel like his memory and presence is almost palpable and I'll start crying while driving some place or when thinking of some memory that only I remember. However, those attacks on my soul are less frequent now.

So, if I could talk and hug that 15 years ago me, I wouldn't lie and tell her that it's all going to be okay, because we would both know it would never be OK again, but I would tell myself that it does get better. That elusive time that heals will eventually come, at a slow crawl, but it will arrive. Then, believe it or not you'll feel sorry for its loss, because although time heals, it also erases.

How can I have possibly made it 15 years without him in my life? I guess I am stronger than I know.
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Friday, January 23, 2015

Interview with Artist Peter Max

I recently had the chance to meet and interview one of America’s most popular living Artists, Peter Max.

Since I've interviewed a lot of celebrities over the years, I can be a bit blasé about it sometimes, yet I found myself quite nervous about doing this one. Mainly because while I enjoy art, I've never really written about it before, so I was a bit out of my wheelhouse. Plus, after reading his bio and resume, I couldn't help but be in awe. After all, by age 23, he was on the cover of Life magazine. Imagine that? I've also seen a lithograph of his sell upwards of $25k at a Princess Cruises art auction.

Known for his psychedelic iconic Pop Art designs commemorating Woodstock to Lady Liberty, he has painted for five U.S. Presidents and his art is on display in Museums, Presidential Libraries and in U.S. Embassies across the globe. He has been the Official Artist of five NFL Super Bowls, the 2006 Olympics, the World Cup USA, The World Series (Yankees vs Mets), The U.S. Open, The Indy 500, The NYC Marathon and The Kentucky Derby.  He's even painted a Boeing 707 and the hull of Norwegian cruise ships (which I previously got to see here), thus, it's easy to say that Peter Max and his vibrant colors have become part of the fabric of contemporary culture.

Personally, I find his vividly colorful pieces to be optimistic and I like how they can always make me smile and lift my mood. I especially like his heart designs like this one:
Peter Max ©2015
During my conversation with him, the artist said that even at age 77, he still gets an adrenaline rush as he nears his studio in New York. I felt that same feeling and inspiration when talking to Mr. Max on the phone before his recent exhibit in Naples, Florida.

Presented by Road Show Company, the pop-up gallery showcased a never-before-seen collection of Max's exquisite paintings at The Mercato in Naples. As part of the show, Peter Max made two open to the public appearances, where I then got to meet the artist in person and even purchase one of his works. For more meet the artist opportunities with Peter Max in Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Short Hills, NJ, you can find the full list here.
Fortunately, he was as friendly and humble as he seems in his on-camera interviews. He started off by asking where I was located and how long I've been writing. He then provided me with some background on how he got started by taking private lessons as a child and going to art school. Although born in Berlin, Germany, his family moved to Shanghai, China when he was very little for 10 years until they moved to Israel and later New York, where he lives 'til this day.

How do you choose the pop icons and objects that you feature? 
Peter Max: "When I put my brush to canvas I never know what I'm going to paint. It's like when you're walking down the street with your hands in your pockets, humming a tune, you don't know what you'll be humming five minutes from now."
Peter Max ©2015
Your work has appeared in The Hermitage to the Louvre, what's been your favorite appearance?
Peter Max: "You know what I just learned two weeks ago? I thought my work was in probably 40 museums or so, but I was just told that my work is in 2,200 museums worldwide from Brazil to Singapore. It's mind-boggling."

How often do you still paint and create art? 
Peter Max: "Seven days a week, I'm always drawing, doodling or painting whether I'm in the studio or on a plane."
With artist Peter Max
Here is a really interesting video interview with the artist on CBS Morning Show.
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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Visiting the set of DIG

Back in early December, I traveled to Albuquerque (the hardest city to spell!) for the first time for a special behind-the-scenes set visit of USA Network's upcoming action-suspense series DIG.

DIG premiers on Thursday, March 5 on USA and stars Anne Heche and Jason Isaacs as an FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem who, while investigating a murder of a young female archaeologist, uncovers a conspiracy 2000 years in the making.

While touring the set, I especially had fun role-playing in the interrogation room with fellow blogger @TheRealJethro at Yes, I'd be a terrible actor, lol.
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Besides touring the different sound stages and quietly watching a scene being filmed several times, I was also able to interview the cast including its two main stars. My impression of Heche was that she was pleasantly down to earth and seemed relaxed and comfortable with herself. Also, she wasn't as guarded or as serious in her responses as other actresses are, in fact she let a few minor curses slip and seemed able to laugh at herself.

I was especially eager though to meet English actor Jason Isaacs, but I was also a bit nervous since I'm used to him playing such great bad guys like Col. William Tavington in The Patriot and Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter series. However, talking with him you'd never guess he was even capable of playing such evil dudes. I found him to be very personable and funny. Apparently, he also likes to play Motown music on the set for everyone. He even agreed to pose for photos and took us back over to the set to do so.
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My piece on The Huffington Post has more on the new series including Exclusive Photos From the Set of DIG in Jerusalem and in ABQ.

Please retweet!
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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's Eve Cocktail Recipes, Toasts and Drinks

Forget about the food and company, the key to a festive New Year's Eve party is the drinks! Ring in the new year in style with these memorable must have drinks and hostess guide.

Pour a Signature Cocktail
The perfect way for a hostess to start off a New Year's Eve party is by debuting a signature cocktail. I mixed one last year and it was a big hit. Below is the recipe for a "Very Berry in Love" low-calorie alcoholic cocktail with fresh berries that will make any hostess look like a gourmet mixologist. Just remember to have a batch pre-mixed before your guests arrive so you aren't stuck behind the bar/kitchen all evening.
Skinnygirl™ Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade - 12packBerry Lemonade
1/4 cup mixed fresh berries mashed with a muddler tool
1 1/2 ounces Skinnygirl Meyer Lemon Vodka
2 ounces Strawberry Lemonade Skinnygirl Sparkler
Fresh blackberries & Lemon wedge, for garnish

If Vodka isn't your liquor of choice, you can substitute the Meyer Lemon Vodka for any brand of White Rum. The beauty about Skinnygirl Sparklers is that they have a hint of fizz and only 5 calories per serving. It can also virtually be mixed in any way with liquor and will still taste great. You can even mix with white wine to make your own Skinnygirl Spritzer.

Shot through the heart! 
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No bartender? No problem. For those looking to get the party started, try LIQs line of premium "cocktail shots." LIQs takes mixology quality recipes and puts them in pre-mixed, ready-to-drink shots. They are portable and ready to be enjoyed anywhere, anytime, and are perfect for starting off your night in or out! Flavors include: Tequila Cinnamon Orange, Vodka Cucumber Lime, Vodka Lychee Grapefruit and Vodka Kamikaze. Available at retail in NY, Florida, Texas and Massachusetts (Random FYI - I've lived in three of those states and the fourth I was married in, lol.) Six LIQs shots cost only $17.98, but you can easily triple that cost if you purchased six shots from a bartender, plus tip.

What is a New Year's Eve celebration without some bubbly and hearing that wonderful noise of a cork being popped open? As you probably know, Champagne can only be called so if it's from the Champagne region of France. The rest is called just "Sparkling Wine" or in Italy it's referred to as "Prosecco" and "Cava" in Spain.
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An alternative to traditional champagnes and sparkling wines, is a new release from JP Chenet, the #1-selling wine brand in France. Called JP Chenet Ice Edition, it’s crafted to be served over ice without becoming diluted. Pale yellow in the glass with a steady stream of fine bubbles, JP Chenet Ice Edition boasts a lovely nose full of white flowers, tropical fruits and citrus. It's affordably priced at just $19.99 per 750 ml bottle too.

Give a Proper Toast
I pride myself on sharing the right toast at the right moment, however, I'm running out of material, which is why I sourced June Cotner's book Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion. It is the essential reference for any milestone where one needs to raise a glass, including holidays like New Year's Eve.

Here are just two New Year's toasts that Cotner highlights in her useful guide:
  • * "May your jobs be many and the tears be few; peace to the world and much love to you."
  • * "Here's to the blessings of the year, Here's to the friends we hold so dear, To peace on earth, both far and near!"

End the night right. Salute!

Frank Sinatra drank only two spirits: whiskey before dinner and Molinari Sambuca Extra after. Today, it remains the best-selling Sambuca around the world and especially in Italy where it is often consumed as an accompaniment to espresso called “Caffè Corretto” or straight up in a cordial glass topped with three floating coffee beans, a symbol of the Holy Trinity as well as health, happiness, and prosperity. So, what better way to end your celebrations and start off the New Year?

My father also loved the Italian spirit and would order it after dinner at the finer Italian restaurants that would carry it. He would always let me fish out the espresso beans so I could suck out the sweet anise liquor. It feels like just yesterday, but in all likelihood it was probably over 15 years ago.

This year, I'm picking up some coffee beans from Trader Joe's and a bottle of Molinari Sambuca Extra (SRP: $25.99) and for those not wanting to say goodnight just yet, I'll have my Nespresso Pixie machine ready and can simply add a teaspoon of Molinari to their espresso. It's a great way to sweeten the drink instead of using sugar or cream too.

The Next Day for Hangovers

I love New Year's Eve, but not so much the morning after. Last year, it was especially tough now that I have  to be up and ready for the kids by 8 a.m. This year, I have a case of AriZona Vapor Water ready. Basically, the water is distilled through vapor, making it return to liquid in it's purest form (mimicking our earth's hydrologic system.) Once distilled, a proprietary blend of electrolytes are infused (calcium, magnesium, and potassium.) The result is a 0 calorie, pure and enhanced bottled water that contains all the health boots and benefits as a Gatorade, without any sugar, or artificial coloring. Electrolyte infused, this water is easy to drink and is great for hangovers and fighting the common cold. Drink up!
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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

5 ideas for used wrapping paper

In the U.S., annual trash from gift-wrap and shopping bags totals 4 million tons. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields (Source: Use Less Stuff).

Here are some ideas to reuse, reduce and recycle all that leftover wrapping paper this year:

  1. Flip it over and use the white backside as a large coloring page for children to doodle and color on. My sons loved having such a large canvas to work with and quickly made their own wrapping paper designs. I was tempted to save and use the new side for next year's gifts.
  2. Put scraps through a shredder or cut it up to make fun confetti and strips for stuffing in future packages and gift baskets. Or to line bird cages and cat beds.
  3. When packing up your holiday decorations this year, use leftover paper to wrap delicate ornaments. Bonus, your hands won't get all inky like with newspapers.
  4. Use the cardboard tube for kindling and logs + 17 more uses for the cardboard tubes.
  5. Recycle it! Always look for 100% recyclable paper, I found some great colorful ones at Target for this year's presents.
For 19 more Clever Ways To Use Leftover Wrapping Paper check out this BuzzFeed post.
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Monday, December 22, 2014

A Vegetable Field Day

Being new to Southern Florida, I'm still getting a lay of the land. For instance, when leaving my development I always turn left towards the highway, malls, grocery stores, etc. I went right only a few times, but there wasn't anything commercial, so I ended up turning back.

The other week though, I was invited by Monsanto on a Vegetable Field Day for a fun day of learning and tasting in the fields located further down that rural route than I had ever traveled before. Although I was provided a stipend for travel, I only had to drive less than 20 miles to a farm that I would never have known existed otherwise. The other bloggers that attended drove from much further away coming from Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa.
Before the outing, what I knew about Monsanto was limited to the documentary Food Inc. Fortunately, I was relived to learn that out of their 2,000 seed varieties that they produce only two vegetables – squash and sweet corn – have genetically modified (GMO) varieties. Thus, none of the beautiful, fresh veggies that we picked and ate that day (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and watermelons) had GMOs.

We were given re-usable bags and free reign to pick what we wanted. It was like a grown-up version of a kid in a candy store, lol. I filled my bag to the point it was getting heavy to carry. I had never been on a working farm or really picked anything put strawberries and apples before so was enjoying the experience. I especially loaded up on grape-sized snacking tomatoes, their super sweet bite-sized orange tomatoes were my favorite. I couldn't wait to bring them home to my boys to try. I told them they were grapes and although they were skeptical of the color at first they didn't seem to notice the difference, haha.
SunSugar tomatoes
I also used the plum tomatoes that I picked to make a sauce that night with melted brie cheese. For lunch the next day, I made cucumber and cream cheese tea sandwiches and cucumber water. So fun to actually eat food that I personally saw growing on a vine. Take a look at my kitchen counter post the field trip, so healthy:
Oh, and for the first time ever, I ate a raw pepper! I was reluctant, but figured this is why I was there -- to experience new things, so I bit into the pepper like an apple. Even more shockingly, I loved it! My mind was blown. Not being a fan of spicy foods, I was surprised to discover Bella Fina peppers are sweet, crunchy and full of antioxidents, plus vitamins A and C.
Biting into a raw Bella Fina pepper for the 1st time
When speaking with the different farmers and veggie breeders, I learned the following tips & tidbits:
  • Need a tomato or avocado to ripen sooner? Put them near a banana. 
  • Never put ripe tomatoes in the fridge, but if you buy green ones, go ahead and put them in the fridge. When/if you want them to ripen up, put them in a bag with a ripe banana. 
  • When buying peppers, green color is immature and red is mature. Same goes for bell peppers, but stores like to buy them green. Bell peppers are all green from the get-go and gradually change color, getting sweeter as they ripen. 
  • To reduce the need for chemicals, growers will use reflective tarp that disorients bugs. We could see it shining in the distant fields. It costs more, but cheaper in the long run since it reduces the need for pesticides. 
  • Vegetable Breeders will breed certain veggies to produce positive traits like making them brighter in color or reduce bruising so that shoppers are more likely to select these veggies and thus reducing waste. 
Basket of veggies centerpiece, so colorful!
Disclaimer: Travel expenses, veggies and lunch courtesy of Monsanto
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Friday, December 12, 2014

Holiday Gift Guide for Him

Holiday Gifts For Men:

  1. Korus M20 Hi-Fi Mobile Speaker  - $199.99 - Forget the Beats pill or any Bluetooth speaker or docking station that you may have. This mini portable tower weighs less than 2 pounds and has a battery life of up to 17 hours. Delivering BIG sound with incredible clarity, the Korus M20 is a go-anywhere, water resistant and no wires. You simply recharge it using a USB charge cable. Best of all, it doesn't rely on a WiFi network and thus is portable, able to play in the backyard or park as easily as in the living room with enough sound to throw a party. Using SKAA, it provides a stronger signal than Bluetooth and you can use their free app to control the volume and music. Techy dudes will totally geek out over it.  
  2. Contigo Shake & Go Fit Mixer Bottle - $7.99 -  Engineered to be 100% leak proof for easy transport, this bottle is perfect for the gym, home or office. The carry handle on the lid and included weighted shaker ball, makes it ideal for mixing up protein shakes or powdered vitamin drinks like Volo Vitamins. This gift is great for the active, health nut and for travelers.  It's BPA free too.
  3. Pop Scope - $19.95 - POP Scope is a neat device that attaches to almost any smart phone and helps you extend your reach to get pictures or video that you never thought possible. Giving you just the right amount of reach to get that great shot over a crowd or with a background, the device reaches out 21 inches and collapses down to 6.5 inches - with a swivel head allowing for a 90 degree bend.  It is also a great tripod for watching videos on your phone too.
  4. Ace Rivington Homespun French Terry Sweatshirt - $99 - I was immediately drawn to the fashionable style of this sweater and fell in love with it at first touch. The fabric is soft and warming to the touch, this sweatshirt will instantly become a wardrobe staple for your man. Warning: it will also make him more huggable. I only wish they made a female version as I seriously love the quality of this snug sweater. Available in a dusty orange heather, a faded red, a muted mineral green and more. The green and red obviously great for the holidays, but all styles though have a subtle dark red trim on the bottom.
  5. Phone Soap Charger - $59.95 - Did you know your cell phone has 18 times more harmful bacteria than that handle in a public restroom? Luckily, with the new PhoneSoap Charger you can clean and sanitize your phone while it charges. This twofer is the safest and most complete way to kill all the bacteria growing on your phone, while not damaging your phone – just pure, clean light. No heat, no liquid and no chemicals. Rub-A-Dub-Dub, safe soap for your phone!
  6. StufZ Burger Builder - $9.99 + $4.99 shipping - This as-seen-on TV gift is great for men manning the grill. This manly cooking device allows you to make stuffed burgers like a professional chef. We have one and my husband loves it and eagerly wants to make new burger recipes, thus it's the gift that keeps on giving! I'm a fan of blue cheese inside. 
  7. Ole Smoky Moonshine Cherries - $20-$25 - The holidays just got a little merrier. Gift a jar of Ole Smoky®, Tennessee's first legal moonshine. What is moonshine? It is unaged corn whiskey. A jar of Ole Smoky's Moonshine Cherries are especially festive and original. Each jar is handfilled with fresh maraschino cherries soaked in Ole Smoky’s 100 proof moonshine. You can simply pop the cherries whole as a fun way to eat/drink your alcohol or use them as a garnish for another festive drink. Once the cherries have disappeared, enjoy the remaining Cherry Moonshine straight up or create the ultimate Cherry Coke. Moonshine is all the rage in the beverage industry right now, so be hip and pick a jar up for an equally hip guy on your shopping list. 
  8. iFlask - $29.95 -  This flask looks like a smart phone and features an extremely discreet design, fills around 5oz of your favorite beverage, and even comes with a built-in bottle opener. Basically, making this flask one of the world's best drinking gifts and perfect for sneaking in mixers!
Stocking Stuffer Ideas For Him
  • 12 Pack of Cable and Cord Organizer Clips ($8.90) to hold cords in place with sticker. Use in car, night stand, or desk to hold cables for easy access. No more having to search for a fallen cord when charging your phone, etc. My husband even asked me to order more. 
  • Ben Sherman Socks - ($19 for a 3 pack) These quality socks are stylish and comfortable. Each sock features a colored toe, heel and hem.The three-packs include fun, but subtle prints (stripes, geometrics, dots) and a single plain pair too. 
  • Cuban eCigars ($29.99) are the first e-Cigar product to hit retail stores. They are the perfect gift for new dads, dinner parties, graduation, or anyone looking for a healthier cigar alternative without sacrificing feel or taste. Bonus, no smokey smell on clothes or in the house and no guilt. These eCigars contain 1,000 puffs of rich, bold Cuban-flavored vapor - that is like enjoying 8 to 10 traditional cigars without ANY of the harmful side affects! 
  • Headstrap Flashlight - ($15 and up) seems kind of crazy, but my husband uses the one I gave him last year more often then you'd think for grilling, putting up holiday lights and other projects. Provides light while keeping your hands-free. 
  • Tabañero Hot Sauce ($9.99 plus $5 for shipping) is a gourmet all-natural hot sauce that will heat up the winter. Perfect option for foodies and for some who like it hot. The Tabañero Hot Sauce Santa Boots gift set includes two 5oz. bottles delivered in Santa's small boots, which can then be used as tree ornaments.
    Two 5oz Bottles (Gift Set)
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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bananas Salon for Kids in Fort Myers

My sons' hair grows super quick. My husband will trim it himself once a month, but every quarter I like to get it professionally cut to give it a nice shape, which we can then maintain ourselves after. Like I wrote in my Babies' First Haircut Post, you're better off paying a little more or driving further to find a salon geared to children only. We went once to a regular hair studio and it was a nightmare - stressful for everyone.

Since moving though I've been on the lookout for a similar studio for kids down here and luckily I finally found one over in Ft. Myers - Bananas Salon.

Inside, they have a whole play area, which kept the other half of my duo entertained while his brother got his hair cut. They have a wooden train set and a clubhouse, which they both closed themselves in when it was time to go not wanting to leave. I had to knock on the plastic door and go in after them.

Instead of chairs, each hair-cutting station has a different car for kids to sit in from a fire engine, police car to a pink power wheels jeep. My boys sat in the fire engine seat and enjoyed playing with the bell and spinning the steering wheel.

In front of each car they also have a TV and DVD player. When we arrived they asked us what film or show from their collection that we would like. They had about 50 titles to chose from too. We went with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. All of these distractions made for a really easy experience.

Their stylist, Keri, was a pro at weaving around their bobbing heads in order to deftly cut their hair. She was even able to use the electric shaver at the end to get the little fuzzy hairs on the back of their neck.

Be sure and sign up for their mailing list for coupons and other discounts. They don't over e-mail either.
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