Thursday, February 19, 2009

Beauty Salon Hussy

I'm a self-hating curly-haired person. From the time I was a pre-teen (except for a short bohemian spat in college), I've been neurotic about finding ways to straighten my tight poodle curls. After experimenting with numerous processes containing harsh chemicals occasionally resulting in (at times, painful) mishaps, I found a product called Anticurl made by Rusk that was a godsend. It is a fairly mild relaxer, it's pretty safe and just slightly lightens my hair color which I like. For some reason, not many NYC salons use the product. For much of the last 10 years, I've been getting the Anticurl treatment done at a nondescript hair salon by a hairstylist there I'll call Janet (because that's her name). Janet has always done an adequate job even if at times annoying me by forcing me to acknowledge how great my hair looks when she's done and pushing unwanted products on me).

Last year, Janet convinced me to try a product called Coppola Keratin Complex. It turns out, that Coppola works miracles - it leaves your hair smooth and shiny and healthy. It is supposed to be nontoxic (although the fact that it makes my eyes tear up makes me a bit skeptical). Most importantly, it makes hair incredibly easy to blow dry. A job that used to take me nearly an hour now takes 15 minutes. This is a product that has literally changed my life!

Problem is Coppola doesn't really straighten my hair, it just works really well on the hair that's already relaxed. When I first had the treatment done, which was expensive, I was annoyed with the results because Janet had touted it as a replacement for Anticurl, but after paying a lot of money I still had curly roots. I called the salon to complain (perhaps I should have spoken directly to Janet) and they told me to come in. I saw Janet who told me that the product wasn't a hair straigtener. (Thanks for letting me know a couple of hundred dollars later). I asked her to apply Anticurl on the roots and she had a hell of an attitude while doing it, all the time complaining in some Eastern European language to her cohorts. I was frankly quite hurt that she reacted this way after I'd been patronizing her for the better part of a decade. To add insult to injury, I still had to pay for the additional treatment when it was done! Fine, I graciously tipped her anyway, gave her a kiss and said my goodbyes all the time thinking that it was the last time I'd see her.

So, around the end of the year my hair is needing to be touched up. I do my research and find a salon that does Anticurl called Dueto Salon. I should've been forewarned when every other client was an octogenarian, and the owner made me wait for my appointment while he gossiped with one of them. We do the Anticurl and I notice a lot more breakage then usual after it's done - you know, those embarassing little short strands that stick up from your head like you've been electrocuted (I felt a little better after noticing it wasn't as bad as the case of shorties Caroline Kennedy had). Being too obtuse to have learned my lesson, I asked the owner if they did the Coppola treatment, which I thought might help since it improves damaged hair. I stressed that I meant the Keratin product that did not contain formaldehyde. He said they did, and I come back a week later for the treatment. After he's done he leaves the bottle out and I notice that the label says Brazilian Keratin - a different product. I pick up the bottle and read the ingredients and sure enough it has formaldehyde (i.e., poison) in it. I'm livid. Also, for months afterward, my hair was limp and lifeless. Perhaps because my hair is naturally fine, but the process does not work well for my hair.

Eventually, I discover that my favorite salon for hair cutting, Arrojo Cutler (different salons serve different purposes), carries the actual Coppola treatment and I am thrilled. I have it done and my hair gets back that silky texture. Problem is Arrojo doesn't carry Anticurl and my roots (and every other secret I'm trying to hide) are starting to show. Do I go crawling back to Janet? NO! I decide I'll go in on her day off and ask for someone else to do my hair. Turns out they schedule me with Serge! Serge is Janet's professed nemesis. While doing the job, Serge is the consummate professional (and a flaming queen - not that there's anything wrong with that). He adds some protective cream to all of the hair strand except the inch of new growth that he's going to treat so as not to use the product on previously relaxed hair. All the time, Janet's Eastern European mafia posse is eyeing me and I feel as if I'm having an illicit affair. The discomfort. Serge meanwhile has no qualms about shamelessly offering me a discount for his services the next time I come in even though he knows that I'm "Janet's client". Anyway, when my hair is done, I'm quite pleased with the results. I feel so guilty and underhanded, but Serge was great. Can I keep seeing him behind Janet's back? Can I even go back to Janet now and snub Serge? Perhaps I should have tried to work things out with her, but at some point I must get on with my life. Yes, I know that I at least could look for someone who doesn't work in the same salon and not rub it in her face, but I've tried, I've really tried . . . and finding someone you trust to do your hair is very difficult. What exactly do I owe Janet anyway?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Outliers by Macolm Gladwell

I just finished reading "Outliers: The Story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point and Blink, neither of which I have read). Mr. Gladwell argues that to understand the reason for why some people have incredible success we must look at a variety of factors such as culture, family background, birthplace and even birth date in addition to the personal qualities of the successful "outlier". Although some of these ideas may not be new, his hodgepodge of anecdotes contain the most fascinating tidbits of information. For example, out of the 75 richest people in history going back to the Byzantine empire, no fewer than 14 are Americans born in the 1830s (OK, three of these were born in the year 1840 if you want to be picky); the most successful hockey players are born in January, February and March (no, it has nothing to do with those being icy months); the most successful New York lawyers were Jews born in the 1830s to parents who worked in the garment industry; Colin Powell's family is from Jamaica; and traditional wet rice farmers in Asia fertilize their rice paddies with a combination of burned compost, river mud, hemp and human manure (this factoid is not especially relevant to his central argument, but I thought it interesting as well as gross). At any rate, I was, frankly, enthralled. I'm sure Gladwell will have his detractors - those who will argue that his ideas are recycled, that the rigor of his research is suspect, that he chooses his anecdotes selectively to support his arguments or that he does not give enough credit to the qualities of grit and perseverance over the element of social determination, but I thought the book was a fascinating and provocative read.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Curse of the Black Cardigan

At any point in time, my wardrobe typically consists of about 4 or 5 pairs of black pants, three or four black jackets/blazers and, depending on the season, anywhere from 6 to 10 black cardigans. See a pattern here? I find having mainly black clothing makes life easier. Black is versatile, it can be dressy or casual, I don't have to worry about matching colors, and I can wear the same pieces over and over again and (hopefully) nobody notices. But mainly I stick to black clothing because it's safe and I don't have the imagination or courage to mix it up. Every now and then, I go crazy and buy a white turtleneck.

Anyway, having been on vacation the last two weeks, I decided that I was going to take advantage of all the current sales and try to update my wardrobe. (Plus, I have almost no tops to wear under my black jackets and/or cardigans.) Inspired by an older gentleman who shops as a sport (and is not gay!) and buys only when he finds the absolutely best deals, I was determined to do my research. I spent hours browsing retailers' internet sites and then set upon expeditions to the stores to see the actual pieces and try them on.

I started at my fallback, the DKNY store in SoHo. I had seen a pair of trousers on their website that looked great, but that did not fit quite right when I tried them on in the store. I was able, however, to find another nice pair for under $80 and a cool boxy jacket for under $140. I also found a pair of shoes at the nearby Anne Klein store for $20 bucks that looked just like a $300 Taryn Rose pair I had been eyeing! Score! So all in all, I had bought a suit and pair of shoes for under $250. Problem is everything I bought was black. That's OK, we were just starting out.

Next stop, JCrew. JCrew is so ubiquitous and the go to place for so many teeny boppers that it is really best for only basics because otherwise everyone will know you got your clothes there. I did make an exception for a black and gold print silk blouse that was only $35. It was the wrong size, but when I tried it on it fit! I also bought a wool and cashmere WHITE turtleneck sweater from their website that they didn't have in the store for $50 (although it was almost $60 with shipping). OK, so I was regressing a bit.

Next, Bloomingdales. I spent three hours here and came home with a black cardigan to show for it. (I may be mentally challenged.) However, this was a cool silk Marc Jacobs cardigan striped with this metallic threading that was $240 on the website but only $90 at the store. Can anyone really have too many black cardigans anyway?

The true payoff to all my hard work however was this beautiful silk blouse by Milly that I tried on in the store. I knew from my research that it was $96 dollars on the website (but it was not marked down from its almost $300 price tag in the store!). Of course, I ordered it as soon as I got home. See, isn't it pretty?

Anyway, I love it and it will go well with my new trousers.

I also ordered this short raglan sleeve turtleneck to go with my new boxy jacket:

So besides a fuller closet, a somewhat diminished bank account and a blister on my foot, I came away with the following lessons from my shopping extravaganza:

1. At least for me, black is still beautiful. I can keep it simple with black pants and jackets and mix it up with the tops I wear.

2. It pays to look for sales both on a retailer's website and at the store. I found certain items marked down on the website but not in the store and vice versa. Also, especially if you're buying final sale items, you need to be able to try them on to make sure they fit.

3. Make sure you factor in shipping and handling when you order online and that you still consider it a deal after adding in that cost.

4. Shopping, if done with the object of getting the best price, is hard work. Note that I was on vacation during this time and I still only visited one store per day when I actually went out to shop. Some days, I spent a significant amount of time on the internet. For me, I think it paid off. For about $600, I was able to get a blazer, pair of trousers, pair of shoes, a turtleneck sweater, a cardigan and three blouses. (OK, I probably could have done without an additional black cardigan).

5. Know when to stop. Like with investing, you don't want to put your money into the market all at once. There is always another sale around the corner.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Last Year's Resolution

I happen to have a goal right now - getting my driver's license. After years of procrastination, I went as far as taking the written exam and getting a learner's permit months ago. I once had a driver's license which I obtained when I was seventeen. While practising, I crashed my mother's car which she never let me use again. After that, I was either living at school where I had no money for a car or in NYC where I had no need. I unwittingly let my license expire many years ago and today, at the age of 38, it has become a small source of pride that I don't have a license (woohoo, I'm a true New Yorker!), but it has also been an inconvenience at times and a limitation on the life choices I can make (i.e., I know that I could not move out of NYC and be able to carry groceries for more than two blocks). Today, I had my fourth driving lesson. (So I am still taking my sweet time about the whole thing.) I decided that I will schedule the five hour safety course (required by NY State) for next weekend after which I will schedule my road test so that there will be the pressure of a deadline to make me practice regularly. After getting my license, I hope to occasionally drive. Hopefully, it will not be my downfall. After all, driving can be a dangerous thing and so far I've managed to keep that element of uncertainty out of my life. (Visions of squished guts lying by the side of a highway dancing in my head. . . .)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Year We Were Excused From Christmas

A lot of people out there recently have lost their jobs and/or financial security or know someone close to them who has. And I know many of us are worried about it happening to us. I guess that's why, judging from the dismal retail reports, many people cut back their holiday spending this year. I know it is small consolation to anyone who has recently lost their job or is struggling to make ends meet, but I do wonder whether there isn't a lot of good that can come out of the current economic mess. (At least for the time being, I am still fortunate enough to be employed, so I realize it is still relatively easy for me to say.)

At any rate, for the last five years or so, I have spent Christmas with my boyfriend's family during which time I exchanged gifts with his Dad, three siblings, and a varying number of their significant others. I then typically visited my family where I exchanged gifts with my sister, her husband and my parents. In the last few years, I have gained two nephews and my boyfriend has gained one. While buying presents for this number of people was not exactly an economic hardship for me and I derive (as I assume many people do) a certain pleasure from gift-giving, the task had become daunting. Also, I have to say that I was troubled by what seemed to me to be excessive waste in terms of time, effort and money spent in buying all of these material objects. I was often left with an uneasy feeling after all the presents were unwrapped and we were left with all this STUFF, most of which we didn't need and was frankly a drag to have to figure out how to carry home.

This year, something in the air made my boyfriend's family decide to do a "secret santa" instead of the traditional exchange of gifts. Inspired by this development, I informed my family that I was liberating myself from the tyranny of the Holidays this year and that they should not buy or expect to receive gifts from me (except in the case of my nephews). I ended up buying a few extra gifts anyway, but these were more in the nature of tokens made with no sense of obligation or expectation of receiving anything in return. The result: I didn't spend the days leading up to Xmas in crowded stores stressing out about getting the right gifts for everyone and running myself ragged. I stressed out about other things instead. My boyfriend spent more time with his siblings. I had only a small bag of stocking stuffers to carry home and enough room in my closet to put them all. I spent time with my family and it felt nice just to visit. (Although I still wish my that my older nephew had been more excited over the spectacular pop-up book I gave him (Winter's Tale by Robert Sabuda)!).

Anyway, I don't know what will happen next year, but this year, it felt more like Christmas to me than ever. We went back to the basics - spending time with family, relaxing and making the little ones happy. I was even able to maintain my anxiety in check as I sat back and watched the nephews open their presents, play with their toys and begin accumulating all this stuff that they don't really need.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Clothes, Woo hoo!

With all the election hullabaloo and the world falling apart and all over the last few weeks, I totally ignored NY Fashion Week, which is kind of sad because it really is very important that we all have clothes. Anyway, it's that time of the year again when the wardrobe needs refreshing, and so I thought I'd share my favorite recent purchases. I've previously sung the praises of DKNY, which I think has chic easy clothes at a range of prices (some more reasonable than others). Below, their classic cozy (in silk or wool) for under $200, can be worn 12 different ways:

I love to wear this wool v-neck dress over a black turtle neck tee and tights with knee-high boots. Nice and cozy for $175.

And, finally, cool, comfortable shoes for under $100.

Now, I just need to stop myself from shopping anymore for a while . . . .

Monday, September 15, 2008

Kill, Baby, Kill

Source: BBC News

According to this BBC News report, the International Fund for Animal Welfare is reporting that the level of noise in the world's oceans are causing serious problems for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals, blocking their communication and disrupting their feeding. Apparently, the noise generated by ships' engines and propellers, seismic airguns used in oil and gas exploration and military sonars have been implicated.

Whales and dolphins are cool, and this makes me sad. . . .

Friday, September 12, 2008

First Job - $$$

Thanks for helping to rake the leaves, Bobby.

You must share with your little brother, Bobby!

When I grow up, I'm going to be a Republican!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Let Her Take It Like A Man

The latest in the sideshow that has become Sarah Palin's bid for the VP-ship is that the McCain campaign is accusing Barack Obama of using sexist remarks for using the colloquialism "a pig with lipstick is still a pig". Let's assume he did intend it as a dig at Ms. Palin (I'm sure she would prefer "Mrs." but, for now, this blog is still a bastion of political correctness (no, not really, but anyway)). . . .

By the way, does anyone remember McCain's off-color joke of not too long ago about Chelsea Clinton who isn't even running for anything (at least not yet):

"Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?
Because her father is Janet Reno."

Yup, he said it. Funny? Maybe. But the point is that hypocrisy is everywhere, so let's start calling it when we see it. Anyway, let's assume Obama did mean his remarks as a dig against Palin. Why does she need so much protection anyway? I must take issue with the strategy because it is so transparent that it offends my intelligence - paint her to be the victim (ooooh, they're talking about her children, that's off limits; oooooh, they're questioning whether she can do the job b/c she has 5 children - that's sexist; ooooh, they're looking into her background and questioning whether she's qualified) so that when she comes out swinging she looks like a big vigilante hero. She's a victim when the PR people are handling things but a "barracuda" when she steps into the limelight.

Of course, she wouldn't come out herself and cry "stop picking on me!" while she's trying to prove that she can play with the big boys. But stop doing it for her already and let her speak for herself. All we've heard from her so far is her speech from the Republican convention, which she repeats verbatim wherever she goes. Enough, with introducing me to your kids, woman, come out and tell me where you stand on the issues! And please reassure me that the books in my public library will be safe if McCain ever gets elected and then croaks.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I digress

I consider myself to be a generally apolitical person. Certainly, I have my leanings but I generally keep my views to myself. And zealots who share my political beliefs are almost always as annoying to me as zealots who have opposing viewpoints. Although I may have a stance on various moral issues I rarely feel a strong need to persuade others to come around to my way of thinking. Perhaps this is due to a lack of strong conviction in my own belief system or to an indifference about what others think so long as I am not personally affected. But mainly it's that I think it's futile to try to change people's minds. The cynic in me believes that people are generally hard-wired to believe that which it serves their best interests to believe. Certainly, there is a strong correlation between a person's background and socio-economic status and their political affiliations and/or leanings. (I even remember recently reading somewhere that people's political inclinations may be partly genetic.) Anyway, the foregoing are all generalizations to which there certainly exist caveats and I appreciate that people will often adjust their beliefs when presented with data that challenges their views. But I digress before I even start to make my point. The point quite bluntly is that I am fairly moderate so you should trust me. ;-) No, but seriously, in the interest of full disclosure, I feel the reader should know where I come from so that they may judge my opinions accordingly. No one is truly objective after all.

I will declare that I am left of center. I am a registered democrat and cautiously liberal. I am a Hispanic female. I am 38, unmarried with no children (I live with my boyfriend of 7 years who sometimes demands almost as much attention). I am an attorney in the financial services industry, where I assume that most people would not share my views if I expressed them. I never saw the point in alienating half of one's audience anyway. But I also have some intellectual appreciation for why some people feel that small government is best or the philosophy that people cannot be made to feel responsible for the welfare of their compatriots against their will (perhaps because I myself do not care to part with my money so freely). I AM a strong believer in individual liberties. Show me a right and I will probably be supportive - the right to privacy, the right to die, the right to fornicate (responsibly if with multiple partners), the right to generally be indifferent to other people's misfortunes.

Anyway, the foregoing is a long prelude to what I originally wanted to say, which is that I watched Senator Obama's speech when he accepted the Democratic party's nomination the other night and found to my chagrin that I was being moved. I'd watched him in debates but (although I had read his speech on race and was quite impressed with his skill or that of his speechwriters) had never actually heard him make a speech. I had been a Hillary supporter (there I go alienating at least three quarters of my audience) and although I was resigned to support the party's nominee had started out a bit deflated. His speech impressed me for what I was shocked to find it made me feel - I felt like he had held up a mirror and showed to me my cynicism - it made me wish I was a better person. When he said words to the effect that we are better than a country that says to people that "you are on your own" I felt guilt. As I've aged, I have progressively (or regressively depending on whom you ask) embraced the attitude that it's me or the other guy and rejected any suggestion that I bear any social responsibility other than to do no harm, which I still contend is not a terrible place to start. I also resent it when people tell me that I must "give back to my community" (whatever that means) or words to that effect. Having been born to poor parents, my attitude when choosing a career was that serving society should best be left to the rich kids who could afford the luxury of self-righteousness. My primary goal should be to "get ahead" and any success itself would represent progress. Of course, that thinking goes against much that was instilled in me growing up and I never fully freed myself from guilt for doing well while leaving others behind (not to exaggerate my financial well-being since I am far from financially secure and almost every other person I meet has a lot more money than I do). A few days after listening to Obama's speech, my views are not dramatically altered, but the fact remains that I was moved and challenged by a political speech. While listening, I kept asking myself - "could this seemingly right-thinking individual be for real or is he just a smooth operator?" - and I found myself hoping that . . . . Well, that's just it - I found myself HOPING. How embarrassing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Amtrak Sucks!

I travel to Philadelphia from NY and back once a week for work. The Amtrak train typically takes about an hour and a half and is ordinarily not a terrible ride. However, often, there are delays. Especially, on the returning evening trains. Yesterday, I went to Philly, in part, for a dinner for a colleague who was going to London for a year. I had timed it perfectly to get on the returning 9:10 p.m train hoping to be home by 11:00 in time to catch some of the Olympics and get to bed at a reasonable time. The train, however, was delayed by more than an hour. Basically, I found myself boarding the train when I should have been arriving at my destination. How frustrating! There was hardly an explanation or apology from the railroad, much less a rebate of any kind. Yes, I know about "the best laid plans of mice and men" and all that crap, but the fact that delays happen so often, I think, displays a basic lack of consideration for passengers' time and priorities. Unfortunately, there are few options for rail service on many Northeast routes and so we're basically at the mercy of Amtrak's piss poor service. Interestingly, Amtrak's Acela Express trains, which are more expensive, are rarely ever late. And, sometimes, they hold up the regular trains to let the Acela get through first when there are backups at the train station. I guess these days one must pay a premium to have one's train arrive and depart at the scheduled times (the Acela makes the trip in one hour, so the premium paid is presumably for this benefit; when someone decides to pay less and take the longer ride I don't think they should have to sacrifice punctuality as well). Anyway, I hope some entrepreneur out there will read this and come up with a plan to provide a competitive service because at this time all that's left for this frustrated customer to do is bitch about the problem on her blog. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bought Them: Fit Flops

I've spotted at least one wearer of these shoes almost every day for the last month. I actually looked up the company that makes them to see if I could purchase the stock. It turns out that they're a private company, so boo hoo. At any rate, I found out afterwards that Oprah has already endorsed them so I'd probably be too late to the party. Still, I predict these will be bigger than Crocs.

Recently, I've heard a lot in the media about the dangers of wearing flip flops. Regular flip flops reportedly accentuate pronation (the rolling in of your feet), which causes fatigue and stress in your feet and lower legs and can lead to overuse injuries. They can also accelerate bunion formation by increasing the stress on the great toe joint (eek, I have bunions!). The fit flop, on the other hand, is supposed to increase muscle activation and make the muscles that stabilize the foot work harder and over a period of time can actually strengthen your feet. Fit flops are touted as helping to tone your calves, thighs and butt. I don't know if that's true, but they actually make your legs look good while wearing them, and after wearing them all day, it felt wrong to wear my regular flip flops at home in the evening.

I also think they're pretty cute. I bought the Walkstar II model in patent bronze shown above. I had the hardest time finding this particular model in my size on the internet. Finally, I walked into Macy's and bought the last pair they had in my size (I generally wear U.S. size 7, but these run large so I bought a 6) for $59.99. Score!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bedbug Nightmare

This is the crap we had to deal with last week after discovering a bedbug in our apartment (once again). We had to have every item of of clothing and fabric in our apartment laundered or drycleaned, vacuum virtually every possession we own and then pack everything in plastic bags so that the exterminator could come in and douse everything with chemicals. It was as grueling as having to move, but much more aggravating because it was certainly not by choice. Coincidentally, around this time last year, I also found a bed bug. I informed the so-called "resident manager" who only asked me if I’d been travelling but basically shrugged it off. I hired a pest control company which charged me a large sum to come and spread chemicals in my apartment three times. I threw out a bunch of my possessions, including a semi-antique couch that I purchased on Ebay because I thought that maybe it could be the source, and had to dry clean almost every article of clothing that I own. A huge expense and ordeal as you can imagine. A few weeks after that nightmare, I found out from one of the other employees of this venerable, luxury building that another apartment on my floor had had a major infestation. I only ever found two bedbugs back then and the pest control company confirmed when they were done that there appeared to be no infestation in my apartment – the logical conclusion being that they came from outside the apartment. Now, almost a year later, I’ve found another one! There is no reason I should have bedbugs – I haven’t been travelling or staying in hotels, I’ve brought no new or old furniture into my apartment and I vacuum religiously because I have terrible allergies. This time, I wrote an angry e-mail to the management company, and they at least got an exterminator in here; he came and sprayed everything last week and we're now in the process of unpacking and putting everything back. He'll have to come back and spray again in a couple of weeks but we won't have to repackage everything for the second treatment. I've sent my drycleaning receipts to the management company asking for reimbursement and also asked what they've done to ensure this never happens again. They have not responded. As far as I know, they have not inspected any other apartments on this or adjoining floors or even bothered to alert people so that they can be vigilant. I've at least alerted my neighbors on my floor and actually stuck underneath their doors copies of the correspondence between myself and the management company, including the management company's feeble attempts to cover their asses at my expenses (such as by suggesting that I was taking my sweet time preparing the apartment for extermination, even though the exterminator told me right in front of the "resident manager" that he was booked for a week). Anyway, this is a video of the preparations we made for the exterminator to come in, which is admittedly goofy, but now, that (hopefully) the worst is over, I can talk about it . . . and let the healing begin.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Brand New Skin?

Generally, I am not a huge proponent of spending a hundred bucks on a beauty product that comes in a tiny jar. However, I have previously written about my ordeal in trying to find a great facial in NYC, and when I saw an endorsement in Domino Magazine for Tracie Martyn's enzyme exfoliant, I was, for some indefinable reason, intrigued. This tiny jar costs $90, but my face has been looking horrid. And a facial can easily cost upwards of $100. So if this works, I thought, it could actually save me money. I received it in the mail yesterday and tried it for the first time this morning. The results? BRAND NEW SKIN! My skin looks radiant today and feels great. I can easily forgo the "spa experience." I've bought at least 10 facials in a jar - worth every penny. Finally, a purchase for which I can congratulate myself!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Celebrating Artistic Achievement

Last night, I was treated to a night at Lincoln Center to see the New York City Ballet's production of Russion Roots which celebrates the works of Jerome Robbins. The ballet was mesmerizing. I kept thinking that so much hard work and effort by so many people must go on behind the scenes to create such a work and that it is important that this kind of achievement be celebrated. I spend my days analyzing transaction documents and arguing about their terms. Eventually, issues get settled, deals close and money changes hands. Life goes on. It is reassuring to know that there are people in this world who devote their lives to creating beauty.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Required Reading: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

I may be a "Johnny-come-lately" here since this book was written in 2003 and has been on the New York Times best sellers list, but I just finished reading it and cannot rave enough to anyone who will listen. The author, Azar Nafisi, is an Iranian-born woman who was sent abroad to complete her studies as a child after her father was arrested for political reasons. She receives her doctorate in English and American literature from the University of Oklahoma and returns to Iran in 1979 to teach at the University of Tehran. She is enthusiastic and idealistic. The following year, Islamic extremists take over the universities and begin their purge. She recounts with horror and disillusionment how seemingly overnight the most private aspects of everyday life become subject to scrutiny under the Khomeini regime. Women are required to be veiled in public places and may not be accompanied by men other than their father, brother or husband; they are subject to being flogged and jailed if they are perceived as bearing the slightest trace of immodesty by the morality patrols that become part of everyday life; they are searched and at times subjected to the indignity of being examined to determine if they are still virgins. People's homes become subject to arbitrary searches for illegal satellite dishes or other evidences of Western decadence. Classic works of art, literature and film are banned. Dr. Nafisi is ultimately expelled from the University for refusing to wear the veil, and she begins to teach a private class to some of her most dedicated students in which they study forbidden works of classic literature.

The book is a memoir in which she describes her experiences, and those of the seven women in her class. In it she interweaves their stories and those of the works they read. She ultimately spends eleven years in Iran. There, she experiences the birth of her children and lives through the Iranian-Iraqi war and the death of Khomeini, before she and her husband make the difficult decision to leave the country that she loves despite her suffering there. Reading her work, one is provided with a literary review of many of the works of Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Austen and James; learns about the history and politics of Iran; and, through beautifully written, poignant prose, experiences the frustration of these women who, because they live so far away, we easily can forget are so much like us. I finished reading this book a couple of days ago and still feel like I have said farewell to a close friend.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I'm Still Alive

I've tried to keep this site light and cheery, but lately things haven't been going that well for a number of reasons. So I haven't posted anything for more than a month and even thought of giving up blogging. Besides being extremely busy at work (I'm my own worst enemy in that regard - I'll run myself ragged until I'm completely drained and then get depressed), the noise issues in my apartment are taking their toll on my mental health. I hear my upstairs neighbors walking back and forth in their apartment as if there were no barrier between us, and they refuse to get carpeting in their living room. But worse, I was idiotic enough to buy an apartment adjacent to an elevator. It turns out that parts of the elevator machinery seem to get lose (it's a very old building), and when they do, I get clanging and thumping in my apartment that vibrates through my very soul. Making it worse, is that dealing with the management company and the superintendent has been a nightmare. They'll eventually call in some mechanics after I complain enough and make some adjustments that seem to help, but the problem always returns after a couple of months. To add insult to injury, they act like I'm the problem and claim that they don't hear the noise and that noone else has complained. However, I'm on the second floor and the closest one to the elevator motor so of course I'm bearing the brunt, and it's complete BS that they can't hear the noise. I've spoken to a couple of the porters, and they know exactly what the sound I'm hearing is. (And this is supposed to be a top-notch building.)

Anyway, today I had some soundproofing folks from City Soundproofing over to evaluate the situation. They were very professional and made me feel better because they totally validated my belief that the elevator noise is excessive (yes, I realize I'm paying them and it's in their interest to make me feel that way). They're going to go back and formulate a proposal but they tell me that although we may be able to treat the ceiling, there's not much I can do about the elevator noise on my end. So tomorrow I'll go back to the management company and start this dance again. It's really draining.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Avery Bombe Chest from Crate and Barrel

Rarely do I see something at C&B that I feel I MUST have, but I am loving their Avery Bombe chest for $799. The dimensions (41 x 17 x 34) make me think that I can get two and use them as nightstands. I think they'd go well with my high bed and I need a little extra storage for clothes and the like. I also love that the drawers are lined with this silk screened black and white paper with a vine pattern. Don't know that I'll actually get it, but I think it's cute, cute, cute!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Stop Those Pesky Unsolicited Catalogs Today!

I just spent 15 minutes at removing my name from the mailing lists of unsolicited catalogs that I've been receiving. Catalog Choice is a free service that helps you to decide what gets into your mailbox. Use it to reduce your mailbox clutter, while helping save natural resources. You'll be asked to create an account when you go on and all your information will be saved. As you get new catalogs, you can just log on and add them to your list of unwanted catalogs. At the moment, the site only offers opt out requests for individual catalog titles – unfortunately, there is no way to stop all catalogs with one click. It works best if you have your catalogs on hand when you log on so that you can type in the customer number (usually found on the mailing label at the back of the catalog) for each catalog you want to stop receiving. If you don't have the customer number you can indicate that it's not available and they'll still process the request. I've tried calling merchants in the past to get off their mailing lists and, believe me, this is a lot easier. And you don't have to talk to anyone!

Catalog Choice is a sponsored project of the Ecology Center. It is endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and funded by the Overbrook Foundation, the Merck Family Fund, and the Kendeda Fund.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Signature Scalloped Percale Bedding by Garnet Hill

I have not been very lucky in the bedding department. Recently, I wore a hole in the fitted sheet of one set and was duped into buying another set that turned out to be of very poor quality (despite a 620 thread count!). So I set about looking for a new set that was: (1) made of cotton, (2) crisp and (3) white. I ordered this particular sheet set from Garnet Hill which fit the bill nicely and am very pleased with my purchase. It is made from a 220 thread count cotton percale weave, is nice and crisp and to me looks quite elegant. I've gone back and forth on the question of whether I prefer silky soft or crisp sheets and am firmly in the "crisp" camp now. Of course, these things are a matter of taste. I personally prefer sheets the breathe. Also, I understand that bedding made from smoother fibers may not last as long. (The one I recently had to throw away was from a costly sateen set). BTW, "percale," for those who do not know, refers to the weave of a material - it has a thread count of 200 or higher, is typically woven tightly, is of medium weight, firm and smooth with no gloss, and warps and washes very well. Also, note that, as Cheryl Mendelson points out in her book, Home Comforts, the durability of cloth is a function of many factors of which thread count is just one. It is affected by the weight of the cloth, the type and quality of the fibers comprising the material, the overall construction of the cloth, the nature and quality of the weave and the type of finish used. So don't be duped by a high thread count alone like I was!

Monday, February 18, 2008

True Love? Hans Olsen Compact Dining Set

I saw this dining set on the Apartment Therapy website some time ago and I've never been able to get it out of my mind. It's a 1930s Danish teak four seat dining set by Hans Olsen for the Frem Rojle Company. Do you see how the seats fit neatly into the table when they're not in use? I have a tiny dining area that I have not yet been able to furnish despite countless hours on the internet and this set would seem to be a perfect size. Also, I sat on the chairs at ABC Home and they are surprisingly comfortable (note the triangle shaped seats). The price, however, is steep - about $5,ooo. I'm not quite ready to take the leap but I AM getting desperate. And although I've been claiming to be a "traditional" girl for a long time, I have found my recent "modern" purchases to have been quite satisfying. Aaahhh, love . . . how can one ever know if it's the real thing or just a passing fancy?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Around the House and In the Garden - A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing and Home Improvement

Back in July of last year, I posted an entry about Dominique Browning, the editor-in-chief of the now defunct House & Garden and how I loved her editor's letters at the beginning of each issue. A few months later the magazine stopped being published. I am surprised at the outpouring that the magazine's ending provoked. Even now, most of the hits I get on this site are from people conducting web searches for "Dominique Browning," and, in the comments to that entry, people bemoan the loss of the magazine and wonder about her whereabouts. I have never met Ms. Browning and have no idea where she might be, I just posted an entry giving kudos to a woman whom I thought admirable. But for those who never got enough of Ms. Browning's writing, I wanted to recommend this book, Around the House and in the Garden - A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing, and Home Improvement, which I read a while ago and kept meaning to post about. It is a collection of essays written in the personal style of her editor's letters, with the same poignancy and wit, about her sense of loss after her divorce and how her home often expressed the various stages of her grief and healing. Here's a short excerpt:

I cannot say my home healed my heart. But I can say that, as my heart healed, my home reflected it. Perhaps my house forced my hand, at times, with its unrelenting demands. And perhaps at times my heart, gladdened, let me turn my attention homeward. Whatever the strange, looping path I took out of sadness, it wound its way from room to room, like a recurring dream I had as a child, in which I kept lo looking for something in a cavernous, empty old house, never finding it, but never being able to stop the ceaseless searching, either. Maybe my subject is yearning; maybe that's the case for most of us. We yearn to live in houses full of love, happiness, passion, and peace, too. We yearn for domestic bliss. Even when we have found it, we are restless about wanting things to be better. As soon as we get what we want, we want more. That's the nature of being alive, of persevering, of striving. And that is the nature of redecorating.

Cath Kidston Stationery

Who?! Who doesn't like stationery?! OK, maybe men don't (Do men like stationery? Maybe they just don't care about it). Anyway, one of the gifts I received this past Christmas, which I love, is this set of Cath Kidston stationery. I love all things CK (although I'll be the first to admit that the merchandise is overpriced), and this cheerfully decorated stationery in her classic patterns is no different. The only problem is that I love the stationery so much, I can't bear to use it.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Silly Fridays: A Thief in Paris

(source unknown):

A thief in Paris planned to steal some paintings from the Louvre. After careful planning, he craftily got past security, stole the paintings and made it safely to his van. However, he was captured only two blocks away when his van ran out of gas. When asked how he could mastermind such a crime and then make such an obvious error, he replied, "Monsieur that is the reason I stole the paintings: I had no Monet to buy Degas to make the Van Gogh

Sorry, I know this is pretty bad, but I figured I had nothing Toulouse!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Dream Team?

(Photos courtesy of Associated Press)
Who would've thunk that turquoise jewelry and a burgundy suit would go well together? But Hillary managed to pull it off nicely at last night's debate. I have to hand it to her hair, makeup and wardrobe people - she's been looking FANtastic!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Fuerza Bruta

Last Sunday I stood outside for an hour in freezing cold weather to get tickets to see Fuerza Bruta (transl.: Brute Force), a new show by the makers of the long-running hit, De La Guarda. Regular price tickets are $70 but two hours before the show, they will sell 20 tickets at the door for $25. Fuerza Bruta is hard to describe. Much of the show takes place overhead and is set to a soundtrack of clubby thumping music - dancers traverse vertical shimmering curtains, a man smashes into oncoming walls while running on a treadmill, nymph-like beauties frolic in a pool of water suspended inches above the audience's head. The show is visually captivating and often beautiful to watch. Some scenes were a bit abstract for me and there seemed to be no unifying theme, but it was a novel way to spend an hour in NYC (audience members stand the entire time and are herded around while the props are moved). So, am I glad to have waited an hour in the freezing cold? Definitely, if only because I'm not sure I would have been thrilled if I'd paid the full $70, but, as it was, the show was definitely entertaining and worth watching. Fuerza Bruta is playing at The Daryl Roth Theater at 101 East 15th Street (Between Union Square East and Irving Place), New York, New York.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

In Search of a Great Facial

Many years ago, I used to go to a little salon for a facial that left me with brand new skin every time. The results were so dramatic, my mom would ask incredulously what I'd done. The facialist soon left the salon for whereabouts unknown. I don't remember the name of the salon, but I remember that her name was Irina and she was from Brooklyn. Even if Google had been around back then, I don't think I would have had much luck finding her with that info. Anyhoo, since then, I've been in search of similar results with varying degrees of success but none have come close. I've been to Ling's on E 14th Street in NYC (relaxing and thorough but no "new skin") and Oasis on Park Avenue (varying results but consistently stressful long checkout due to ditzy staff not worthy of McDonald's) and a number of other places. The routine is always the same, the facialist looks at your face and proceeds to tell you what's wrong with it (as if I didn't know, it's why I'm getting the facial), interrogates you as to what products you use (Lady, just give me the service I paid for) and ultimately tries to sell you a bunch of pricey products when you're done (Irina, where can you be?!). Yesterday, after having pulled a near all-nighter in order to turn in an assignment that was ultimately crappy, I decided to take the afternoon off and treat myself to a facial at Metamorphosis Day Spa on East 56th Street. Their waiting room is tiny and doesn't have the ambiance of the "relaxation room" at Oasis, but that's OK - I'm there for the facial and there's always a group of yapping bridesmaids-to-be disrupting the relaxation at Oasis anyway. My facial begins, I'm sleepy and want to rest while my facialist does her job. She proceeds to ask me what products I use, and I begrudgingly disclose the information. After her inspection, she proceeds to recommend their pumpkin peel which will renew my skin and make the extractions easier (ok, whatever you say). It will be another $40 (oh, it's all becoming clear to me now, but fine. Can I rest now?). She goes about her routine - slathering, massaging, cleaning - she doesn't spend much time on the extractions except on my nose, where I've asked her to go easy due to excessively sensitive skin there. She puts a mask on and leaves for a while, thank God. She eventually comes back in with a bang that startles me out of my snooze. Before the facial's over, she's asked me how I'm doing about 5 times. She let's me know that she will leave me my "prescription" at the front desk and tells me how I should use the products she's recommending. I'm not listening. When it's over, I look at my skin, it looks nice and clean. My prescription and recommended products wait for me at the checkout counter, there are 4 very expensive looking containers. I don't buy any and pay my bill. My boyfriend doesn't notice a big difference (no big deal, what does he know, anyway?) and today my skin feels a little dry again. Oh well, no lasting effects, but I guess the experience was worth the $160 I shelled out (Wasn't it?).

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

It's Not About the Packaging: Infusium 23 Works!

Every now and then, a product comes along that actually does what the manufacturer says it does. Infusium 23 leave-in hair treatment not only instantly detangles hair and improves manageability, it also strengthens damaged hair, prevents breakage and leaves hair smooth and shiny. I've been using it after shampooing since I was in college and have converted a number of people along the way. I don't see much advertising for this product, but the fact that it's been around for more than 20 years leads me to believe that it must have a following. A 33 oz bottle costs just $9.99 at Walgreens. They have changed their look recently, so the container may look a bit different from the one pictured here. I just love to spread the word about a great product, and at the risk of sounding like a raving lunatic, this one may truly improve your life!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Movies To See: La Vie En Rose

Yesterday, we watched La Vie En Rose (aka La Môme), Olivier Dahan's portrayal of the life of the legendary French singer, Edith Piaf. The film has superb acting (Marion Cotillard, in the role of Edith Piaf, is riveting), beautiful cinematography and an amazing story to tell. In the movie, Ms. Piaf's life is depicted in a series of recollections, not always chronological, having a dreamlike quality.To say that her life was tragic is an understatement of the first degree - she was born into abject poverty, abandoned by her mother, raised by her grandmother in a brothel, suffered from blindness as a child, worked as a street performer with her father, lost her young son to meningitis when she was 20, lost her lover in a plane crash, became addicted to morphine and died of cancer at the age of 47. Still, Edith Piaf became an international star and icon. I love to see a film like this one. It still haunts me today, which for me is the sign of a great movie.

I'm Back

I've been away for a while. We recently got back from a short, but sweet trip to Culebra, Puerto Rico, and I am almost ready to face the New Year. It's great to get away from the every day grind, but going away is also useful for putting things in perspective, I think. When I get back from vacation, I find that all of my usual worries and frustrations (about work, noisy neighbors, my boyfriend hogging the computer) come flooding back. But the fact that they've been absent for a while helps me to recognize them for what they are - bad habits. I read somewhere that a person's thoughts create "tracks" of a sort in the mind and that once we have taken a certain path, we are likely to continue taking the same one over and over again. If going away to visit a new place is good for one thing, I think it's to help one learn to form new tracks.

I suffered from a bout of ennui after returning from Culebra. The beaches there were so beautiful, the views breathtaking and the weather - sunny and hot. It seemed senseless to return to the cold, to my job, to my dark little apartment. Needless to say, I had a bit of the post-vacation blahs. I received a small bonus from work and, interestingly, could think of nothing special to do with the money. I'm past thinking that any material purchases can make a lasting difference in my life or happiness. On the other hand, continuing to save for the future while getting insufficient enjoyment in the present makes little sense. So what, then, could add some zest? At first, I resolved that we would try a different restaurant and sample new fine cuisine each week. The food, I then realize, is more symbolic - I want to focus more on experiential pursuits in general. If I have to articulate a New Year's resolution, it's that I want to be constantly forming new "tracks." Alas, I think I have a goal and, for now, the cloud above my head has lifted.

Vacation Pics

(1) aerial view of Culebra (transl. "snake") upon arrival after a 25 minute flight from San Juan; (2) beautiful Flamenco beach where we stayed at a small villa; (3) the road to Carlos Rosario - a 15 minute hike on a trail at the end of Flamenco beach leads to a small lovely beach; (4) views on the way to Carlos Rosario; (5) the pristine waters of Carlos Rosario beach have some of the best snorkeling on the island; (6) me at Carlos Rosario; (7) we took a boat ride to an even smaller island called Culebrita (transl. "little snake"); (8) we were dropped off at this jaw dropping beach in Culebrita - there, I saw a stingray while snorkeling as well as tons of colorful fishies; (9) more of the beach on Culebrita; (10) the view on one of our hikes on Culebrita; (11) another view on that same hike; (12) the end of our pilgrimmage - a lighthouse built by the Spanish Crown in the 1880s.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Home Decor Dilemma: Coffee Table vs. Ottoman

I previously wrote about my need for a coffee table or ottoman and my indecision over which one to get. We really like to put our feet up when we sit, so I'm partial to the ottoman. However, a coffee table seems more classy in that you can serve drinks, etc. on it when you have guests (although I think the right ottoman can do the trick with a tray on it). Also, with a table I don't have to worry about my cats scratching up another piece of upholstered furniture. Still, it's a toughie for me. Below are some options I like and/or think are interesting.

The Devin Ottoman from Crate & Barrel (52"x20"x19") -$899 I'll just show because I think it has all of the advantages of an ottoman and some of the benefits of a coffee table and is reasonably priced. Unfortunately, the style just doesn't do it for me.
The Roth Ottoman at Restoration Hardware (39"Dx17"H) - $1450 in leather is CUTE. As with everything I love, a little pricey. Also, given the layout of my space (very rectangular), I wonder if round in the middle would work.
I love the Lucia coffee table at Restoration Hardware (50Wx31Dx17H) - $775 in brass. I think it's so elegant although I'm worried that it's a bit large for my space.
The Louis coffee table at Anthropologie is currently on sale for $399 (please excuse the quality of the picture). In my space, however, I'm afraid it would look a bit too precious.
Jayson Home & Garden has this nice bench $1,345 (48x29x17). Nice, although it doesn't look like it would hold a tray too steadily.The Lowell bench at Restoration Hardware ("46x24"x16) is on sale right now - $596 upholstered; $1450 in leathers of various colors. I think the dimensions are perfect and it's flat enough to hold a tray. I love the turned legs and the fact that it has casters. The upholstered style is priced right although it's another item I'd have to keep away from my cats' paws, which argues for getting the leather version. Depending on how my wallet is doing after the holidays, this may be the one.

One intriguing option that I stumbled upon on 1st Dibs was this Louis XV style bench and coffee table, but what is more shocking than the $3,000+ price tag is that someone has already bought it!